Monday, October 5, 2015

Turning Chocolate into Kale - October Theme by Deborah Lytton

If I had a magic wand, I would wave it over chocolate and make it as nutritious as kale.  Then I would eat it for every single meal.

To me, creating a novel comes in several stages.  First is the idea stage.  I think of that as eating candy.  It's instant gratification because a new idea is so exciting, it whets the appetite for more.

Then comes the second stage, the drafting stage, which is like eating kale.  This is the substance of the work where you have to put the story together.  A great idea all alone isn't a novel.  It needs a plot, a heroine or hero and loveable supporting characters along with a really detailed setting.  There is no instant gratification here but instead the satisfaction of commitment and craft. 

Finally, you have the third stage, which is the revision stage.  This is my favorite treat of all because here you can polish the story until it gleams.  This is like the best of all worlds, a healthy dose of leafy veggies with a dark chocolate heart on the side.

I hope when you are crafting your stories, you remember to balance the ideas with the craft and wave your imagination over it to create magic.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

5 Quick Writing Tricks and 1 Treat by Irene Latham

1. When you want to get to know your character better, write 100 affirmatives in the character's voice:

I am 11 years old.
I love horses.
I don't like riding the bus to school.
I am good at climbing trees.
I have a secret.
I am not good at keeping secrets.

2. When you're stumped, try writing a scene from the antagonist's perspective.

3. When you're ms is sagging, introduce a new character. (You don't have to keep said character, but it can really help open your mind/keep you going.)

4. Scan the ms for the word “feel” or “feels.” Convert those sentences to body language to SHOW the feeling instead of telling it.

5. Use a thesaurus to amp up your verbs

...and now for the TREAT:

Just puts things in perspective, doesn't it?! Happy day!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Trick or Treat . . . ? by Ann Haywood Leal

It's easy, right?  Just treat your readers with your tricks.  We beat ourselves up and rack our crazy writer brains trying to come up with the latest wowing trick.

Writer, Merrill Markoe says she struggles with her tendency toward “contrarianism”.

“If I know there’s something I’m supposed to be doing or saying or wearing, I feel compelled to resist—particularly with creative endeavors like writing.  If I see an obvious punch line or plotline driving toward me, I can’t help but make a sharp left turn into the unexpected.  I don’t like to replicate what I’ve seen done before—I don’t like to give people what they expect.  I think it’s my job to come up with a surprising angle or add some personal twist.” –Merrill Markoe

She made me think about how some people are trying to follow the market and write what they think is “hot” or selling right then.  Of course we all want to sell our work, but if we aren’t writing from our gut and our heart, it shows in our work.  It ends up feeling derivative.  We need to make our work our own, with our original, distinctive voice. 

In comedy, I think one of the reason’s that David Letterman has had such success, even early on in his career, is that he felt a strong rapport with his audience, making them feel as if they were in on the joke.

As a fiction writer, that’s exactly what you are doing.  You are making the audience feel as if they are in on the story.  –You are sucking them in without their even knowing it, from the very first page—even the very first line.

Nobody likes to feel as if they are on the outside, looking in, and not a part of things.  Remember how you felt as a kid, or even as an adult, when you were at a party, or on the playground, and you weren’t included in a conversation.  Or you felt as if you had entered in the middle or towards the end and you didn’t have the details to jump in.  Sometimes, the people were doing that on purpose, hoping that you would go away, or wanting to control the group, giving them the upper hand.  When this happens in a story, the reader never gets a chance to connect with the characters, and may, in fact just put the book down. 

One of the ways you can include your readers in your story—letting them feel as if they are “in the know”—is to give them things to which they can relate.  You have to dig deeply in order to do this.  This doesn’t always happen for me until I’m heavily into my revision process.  Again, you have to climb into the minds of your characters—not just your main character, but all of your characters—and figure  out how they would feel and react to each situation in which you put them.  What you are shooting for is for your readers to think, “I’ve felt like that, too.  That’s just like me, or that’s just like when I …”

So dig to the bottom of that plastic pumpkin.  That's where the best treats are hiding out--waiting to be discovered.

Thursday, September 24, 2015


Alistair Grim's Odditorium (Odditorium, #1)  
I was delighted to get my hands on a copy of ALISTAIR GRIM'S ODDITORIUM by Gregory Funaro. What a truly imaginative adventure, from start to finish. I was equally as delighted to talk to the author...

 I I  I love to hear about an author’s inspiration. Where did the idea for ALISTAIR GRIM’S ODDITORIUM come from?

The inspiration for ODDITORIUM came from the birth of my daughter—but I didn’t see it as a children’s book at first. In the original premise, Nigel (Mr. Grim’s right hand man) was going to be the focus of a story about Frankenstein’s monster being reunited with his long lost daughter. That idea rolled around in my head until the following summer, and by the time I started ODDITORIUM, the monster’s daughter had somehow become Grubb and the focus was on his journey with Alistair Grim. Nigel and his daughter’s story still exists in the book, but it’s one of the subplots.

2.      What’s your writing process? Plotter or pantser?

Funny, I had never heard of the term “pantser” until fairly recently. I think I’m a combination of both. I give myself a general idea of where the story needs to go, but at the same time give myself plenty of room to make things up as I go along.

3.      How do you write a series—all at once, then divide it up? Or do you finish one, start another? How do you pace it? Do you ever feel you need to remind readers what happened in book one as you write book two?

I originally envisioned the series as a trilogy, so I had a pretty clear idea of what needed to happen in each book. However, in the first draft of ODDITORIUM, I crammed in too much toward the end. Fortunately, I had a great editorial team at Disney-Hyperion who really helped me cut and postpone major plot points until the next installment. The pacing in the second book was challenging at times because, yes, the reader needs to be reminded of why things are the way they are. Keeping the voice and the characters’ personalities consistent, as well as making sure there are no plot holes, offer certain challenges, too.

4.      What’s your best piece of advice for penning a series?

Have an idea, even a vague one, of what you want to happen at the beginning and the end. Everything then in the middle can be up for grabs, as long as you keep heading in the right direction. Most important, I think, is to write each book as a complete work in and of itself, while at the same time hinting that there is more to come.

5.      When you began to envision the Odditorium, was it a place you would choose to spend your own childhood?

Probably not. Grubb is much braver and more resourceful than I ever was.

6.      I love the saying early in the book: “A blunder in the gloom leads a lad to daylight or to doom.” Do you find yourself “blundering” about—writing early drafts—at night? If not, how do you work writing into your daily schedule?

Given that I am also a full-time professor and father, I write when I can—usually beginning at 3:30-4am until my daughter wakes for school, and then picking up bits here and there during the day. My goal is to write one thousand words before she goes to bed, but lately I’ve been falling short of that.

7.      I found Grubb to be an engaging character. How much of yourself do you put in your characters? Have you ever put a person from your own life into one of your books?

I think every character that I write is a product of my experience, real-life or imagined, but I’ve never purposefully modeled a character after myself or anyone else. However, I suppose I see bits of me in Mr. Grim and Nigel. Maybe also Cleona and Lorcan Dalach from Book 2.

8.      The language and descriptions are so right-on for the middle grade set. How do you connect with the readership in order to stay relevant?

I just write stories that I would have liked to read as a middle grader. It never ceases to amaze me how bright and insightful middle graders are, so I am conscious of keeping the language both accessible and challenging.

9.      What can we expect to be reading from you next?

Book 2 in the series, ALISTAIR GRIM’S ODD AQUATICUM, comes out in January of 2016! Needless to say, I’ll be on pins and needles until then…

 Greg Fuanro can currently be found teaching drama at East Carolina University and directing a play by Lynn Nottage called Las Meninas. According to Funaro, "The play takes place in the court of Louis XIV, and is about an illicit love affair between Queen Marie Therese and her African servant, Nabo Sensugali--a dwarf from Dahomey. Brilliantly written, funny, moving and downright surreal at times, the play has been a joy to work on" He can also be reached at

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Endings and Beginnings

I’ve never been a writer who can write to discover who my characters are and where my story is going. I do a lot of noodling when I get an idea. I meditate, come up with scene lists, think about what my characters want and what they need. I do whatever research I need to do. I wait for my ending to come to me.

Often I get impatient. I want to START already. But the one time I did that – start already – without knowing my ending, I just flailed around and created a mess.

But if I stick with my process—my noodling and my lists and my meditations—eventually an opening scene comes to me. And then a closing scene. I almost never know what’s going to happen between those two scenes. But once I know my final wrap-up scene, I can discover how to get there. Then I’m ready to begin.

I’m open to changing the ending, but I almost never do. When I was researching and thinking about MICHAEL AT THE INVASION OF FRANCE, I realized that Michael would choose to stay in France to continue working with the French Resistance, helping American airmen who crash landed evade the Nazis. While I was writing, I started to worry about Michael and my readers. Could I leave Michael in limbo? Why didn’t I just bring him to England with one of the pilots he saved?  Hadn’t he earned that?

I tried very hard to make that new, safer ending work, but it didn’t. Michael, who finds his courage and his self-confidence during the course of the novel, would never abandon France for safety in England no matter how much I might want him to. And so I went back to my original vision. Adults sometimes have a problem with that. But kids understand. That’s who Michael is. He couldn’t do anything else.

I’m working on a new idea now. I’m spending a lot of time with my main character and his friends. I’m meditating. I’m noodling. I’m making scene lists. Over the weekend the final scene came to me and now I can start already.

I know my ending, and so I can begin.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Endings (September Theme) by Kristin Levine


I think endings are one of the main differences between books and real life.  When writing a book, you get to decide, "This is the point where you know everything you need to know to understand these characters and this story."

But in real life, you never really reach that point.  Sure, you may break up with a lover or end things with a friend.  You might even never see them again.  But years later they'll pop up on Facebook.  Or you'll hear their favorite song, and you'll discover you never really listened to the lyrics before, and they cause you to see this person and your time with them in a different way.  You'll realize your story wasn't really over.

I love this about book endings.  It makes them so final.  So concrete.  So hopeful, that we can all, eventually, come to some place of true understanding.

It also makes them really hard to write.  Because the best book endings hint at the real life conflict.  You know what you need to know, but you also believe that these characters will go on, will continue to grow and change.  And as a reader you are left with the bittersweet wish that you could be there to see that too.  Even though it's over.


Friday, September 18, 2015

What It All Means (September theme) by Claudia Mills

I already know how your personal story is going to end. I know how mine is going to end, too.

Spoiler alert: we're all going to die.

This may be why, when it comes to endings, I'm less interested in what happens than I am in what it all means. Why did the author choose this particular stretch of experience in the life of one particular fictional character to enclose between the covers of a book? Unless the main character does die within the time frame of the story, lots more stuff is going to happen to him or her later on. So why end the story here? Surely the reason has to do less with plot than with theme.

Do Rhett and Scarlett get back together or not? Even on the last page of the novel, Scarlett thinks she'll win him back at some near or distant future time, and maybe she can and maybe she can't. But if she won him back at the end of this book, it wouldn't be called Gone with the Wind.

So what I read for is not to see how the events of the story play themselves out, but to see what the character or reader learns along the way, what central truth about the human experience is revealed in the all-important epiphany moment. That's when I get tears in my eyes: when I reach that achingly wonderful moment when the main character finally gets it.

No author is better at delivering fabulous epiphany moments than the incomparable Katherine Paterson. Here are two of my favorites. (Note: Paterson also delivers her stunning epiphany on the very last, or next to last, page, something I can never quite manage to do.)

Lyddie opens with a great first line: "The bear had been their undoing, though at the time they had all laughed."After scaring off a literal bear intruder into their Vermont cabin, Lyddie is determined to save herself and her younger siblings from the bears of debt, poverty, and her mother's inner demons. But at the end of the book she realizes that the bear she needs to stare down is not what she had thought it to be: "The bear that she had thought all these years was outside herself, but now, truly, knew was in her own narrow spirit. She would stare down all the bears!"

The Great Gilly Hopkins closes with an epiphany moment that changed my own life, as Gilly talks on the phone to her foster mother Trotter, after she has thrown away her best chance at happiness by pursuing an empty dream. Trotter tells Gilly that "life ain't supposed to be nothing, 'cept maybe tough." Gilly asks her, "If life is so bad, how come you're so happy?" Trotter replies, "Did I say bad? I said it was tough."

Yes, yes, yes!

So, as I write my own endings, I care first and foremost what that epiphany take-away will be, even if I may not discover it myself until my character finds it for me. Epiphanies are the reason I read. They are also the reason I write.