Monday, November 30, 2015


I should start off by saying that I've come to believe a story is a living, breathing thing. That in some magical way I don't understand (and hopefully never will), it exists separate from me. To be honest, when I'm writing true, when the words flow from their bottomless place, untethered, it scares the crap out of me. In that tummy-drop roller coaster sort of way. Because it feels as though I've connected with, or scooted too close to, something ginormous and if I make a wrong turn, it just might eat me up.

With that in mind, I just typed "The End" last night on book number two. The real book number two. What started three years ago as a Vietnam era story about a girl and the aftermath of her Dad coming home changed from the war, has turned into a contemporary novel in verse about a girl dealing with an accident that has put her father in a wheelchair. Her larger than life, dancing in the supermarket aisles, smooching on her mom, father.

The first version never worked and I didn't know why. Both deal with fathers who are less than they were, and daughters who feel overly responsible. The answer came when I broke the news to my agent that the latest draft was coming in verse. She said, "Just don't manufacture anything."

Up until that point, I realized, that's all I'd been doing. Not a single piece of that first story came freely. I had to yank and pull and scream and rip out my hair. I wasn't listening for the story. I wasn't getting still and asking all the right questions. I wasn't writing true.

I really don't want to do this again.

I'm certain I will do this again.

So here is a recipe of sorts. Things to consider along with me when in this very particular place:

1. Listen.

2. Be passionate about the subject or set it aside.

3. Be scared, if that's how you feel, but only if you use it as fuel.

4. Story doesn't come from the intellect, so don't look for it there.

5. There is no shame in giving up. Not every idea is The One.

Please add to my list in the comments section. We're all in this together!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


A conversation Mom and I had last spring:

Me: "Why's this measuring cup gray inside?"
Mom: "Oh, yeah. I used it to spread grass seed."

Which pretty much sums up the way Schindler women feel about baking. Or cooking in general. We're not exactly domestic, frankly. I mean, folding's a word you could use to describe the process of putting clean clothes in our drawers. Cramming's another--and far more accurate.

But that doesn't mean we don't do it up for Thanksgiving, celebrating our gloriously non-domestic selves over a store-bought pie...

Here's to celebrating the perfectly imperfect people in your your own way.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Me & Jake givin' thanks...

Monday, November 23, 2015

Grateful for Books: Smack Dab in the classroom by Dia Calhoun

Thanksgiving smacks of gratitude. Or do we smack our lips with gratitude? Either way, this is a good time to ask kids gratitude questions about books,

  1. What book are you most grateful to have read since school started? Why
  2. What book are you most grateful to have read in your entire life? Why?
  3. What character are you most grateful to have met (in your imagination). Why?
  4. What place in a book are you most grateful to have been (in your imagination). Why?
Here are my answers.
  1. Ego and Archetype by Edward Edinger. Because it expanded my understanding of the immense role the unconscious plays in our lives.
  2. The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes. I first read it in grade still and I still read it every year. It taught me about richness of imagination, narrowness of prejudice, and largeness of heart.
  3. Jo March. Because of her passion for writing and climbing trees in a time when ladies didn't do such things.
  4. Middle Earth. Because it is the whole wild world.
Happy Books and Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Critique Group Turkeys by Laurie Calkhoven

Critique groups are formed because writers want support and validation and because we want to make our work the best it can be. When I first started taking formal writing workshops, the rule in most was that the writer was not allowed speak when being critiqued. At the end we were asked to sum up what the group said, and had an opportunity to ask questions.

It can be hard to receive the most constructive of criticism.  We want to jump in to explain (that’s not what I meant!) or defend (of course my character would wear a pink tutu!) or tell the other person that she’s wrong, wrong, wrong!  Being silent gives us no other choice but to listen. In the end we can disagree, but first we have to listen.

My own, much less formal, critique group evolved in a more loosey goosey manner. Writers do talk during their critiques—to answer and ask questions, to explain why we made a certain choice, etc.

I thought that loosey goosey format was working for us until we got a new member. He never stopped talking.  He spent all his time defending, arguing, and explaining. When we questioned a character’s motivation, he said we were wrong. When we made a suggestion for improving something or other, he was ready with reasons why he couldn’t. He spent a lot of time explaining what he was setting up or what was coming next.  It didn’t matter how many times one of us pointed out that that he couldn’t sit on every readers shoulder to explain, that if it wasn’t on the page it didn’t matter. He persisted.

A lot of the same issues came up session after session. I realized that he wasn’t listening. He was too busy defending and explaining to listen.  And then I realized that he didn’t want a critique group. He wanted an audience.  He was the dreaded critique group turkey.

Since then, I’ve closely monitored my own behavior to make sure I’m not doing the same thing. I keep my mouth shut, I listen, and only then—after all the talking is over—do I ask questions.

It’s hard, but it’s important.  Don’t be a turkey!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Recipe for Honey Pie (November theme) by Claudia Mills

My most recent book is the fourth title in my Franklin School Friends chapter book series, titled Simon Ellis, Spelling Bee Champ.
Part of the fun in writing the series, for me, is finding some way for exuberant, ebullient principal Mr. Boone (to use two of Simon's favorite spelling words) to throw his always abundant enthusiasm behind the central activity of each book. Here Mr. Boone comes "buzzing" into each classroom to generate enthusiasm for the grade-wide spelling bee, offering as a prize for the winning team a chance to attend a pie buffet starring his famous honey pie.

My editor read the book and said, "We should definitely include the recipe for honey pie."

"Yes!" I said. And then remembered one small problem. I didn't have a recipe for honey pie. I had no idea if honey pie even existed.

So add to the many uses of social media for writers: putting out a Facebook call for honey pie recipes. Within an hour I had several replies, including one from brilliant middle-grade author Lisa Graff, whose delightful National-Book-Award-long-list title A Tangle of Knots is filled with mouth-watering cake recipes. I took Lisa's recipe, added a tweak or two of my own to simplify, and another editor at my publisher did one last tweaking. The book now has a recipe for Mr. Boone's famous honey pie.

We've had snow here in Colorado this week. Maybe I should bake a honey pie this afternoon and cut myself a nice warm slice to enjoy with a cup of tea and gratitude for Facebook and the generosity of fellow authors who not only know how to write wonderful books but know how to bake wonderful pies as well.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Recipe for a NaNoWriMo Novel (November Theme, Sarah Dooley)

Hello! It's November, and what does that mean? It's National Novel Writing Month!

If you aren't familiar with this project, the idea is that people all over the world take time out of their daily lives to sweat, cry, procrastinate, tear up pages, hide under desks, guzzle coffee, and ultimately churn out a 50,000-word novel between November 1 and November 30. Although I'm a novelist year-round, there is just something about November -- the energy! The camaraderie! The typos! -- that brings me back for NaNoWriMo year after year.

It works for me -- after all, Livvie Owen Lived Here and Body of Water were both NaNoWriMo novels. So, since we're talking about recipes this month, I've taken a moment to pin down just what it is that goes into a fully-baked NaNoWriMo novel.


You will need:
-An empty notebook, blank computer file, or some other method of recording words
-A functional coffee pot and a supply of coffee that would last you at least 60 non-November days
-A character (generic is fine)
-50,000 words

-A plot (some swear by this; others find that it is not necessary to the baking process)
-A little dialogue (for flavor)
-Some punctuation (can be added after novel comes out of the oven)

1. Open notebook/computer file.
2. Don't panic.
3. Separate words into 1,667-word chunks. Set aside.
4. Slowly sift character, coffee, plot, and punctuation onto the page using one of your 1,667-word chunks.
5. Repeat daily for 30 days.
6. If you are still following this recipe, you are a rock star. If you deviated at step 4, you can still salvage this thing.
7. Recalculate your word-batches and continue to sift with coffee and tears.
8. Stir furiously with nonsensical plot twists from the Internet community.
9. If you pray, this would not be a bad time. Also, buy more coffee.
10. Search and replace main character's name, Mary, with Mary Beth, which ups your word count by 67 words. Do the same for each character. Refer to all characters by full names and titles.
11. Name all your chapters.
12. Now give all your chapters alternate names. Then recalculate the daily batches of words still needed to reach your goal.
13. Coffee.
14. Continue to sift character, plot, unnecessary descriptive passages, coffee, and energy drinks onto the page until --
15. The novel begins to set.
16. Keep going.
17. Let the novel take over.
18. See where it takes you.
19. This! This is somewhere you didn't know you were going to end up!
20. Bake until November 30.
21. Go to sleep.

And now, a recipe for the only food you'll have time to eat if you're writing the above novel:


1. Place bread in the toaster.
2. Forget you have a toaster.
3. Wait three hours.
4. Gnaw on cold crusts.
5. Order pizza.

Happy noveling!

Monday, November 16, 2015


Today, we're joined by Danai Kadzere, author of THE PRINCESS GAMES--a fun read that can also lend itself to some important discussions with your young reader regarding femininity and what it means to be a girl today, as revealed by our recent discussion:

Tell us about the inspiration behind THE PRINCESS GAMES.
I am often inspired by my surroundings and the idea for ‘The Princess Games’ came to me when I was touring an old castle near my grandparents’ home in Niedersachsen, Germany! It was beautiful in a sleepy way and I was so excited to bring the castle’s world-that-could-be to life in the story!

There’s been much discussion lately about the “princessification” of little girls. (Especially in toy aisles, where formerly neutral toys—doctor’s kits, etc.—have been moved to the boy section.) Were you thinking of this at all when you drafted THE PRINCESS GAMES? How do you feel about the “princessification” issue?

I think it’s always important to teach girls that they can be and do more than be something nice to look at, especially in a time where popular culture has a strong idea of what a girl ‘should’ be and we see it in the media every day from young ages on and throughout our formative years. ‘The Princess Games’ isn’t there to lecture girls in any way, but I populated its world with different versions of girlhood, to reinforce the message that there’s no single correct way to be a girl.

In the opening pages of the novel, Emma is quite clear that she doesn’t want to be a princess. Do you think it’s become a dirty word? How so?

I think in the same way as something being described as ‘girly’ tends to carry a very strong connotation of a certain type of femininity, ‘princess’ has some negative (or at least, strictly defined) connotations that many girls would want to distance themselves from, rightfully. I think that shouldn’t be the case – ‘princess’ and ‘queen’ should carry the same weight, power, and seriousness of ‘prince’ and ‘king’! Emma learns that in the book.

I also love the line regarding how “girls don’t participate in competitions.” It made me think of Obama’s recent definition of what it means to play like a girl. How did you approach definitions of femininity and strength / competitiveness as you drafted? Did you find that especially tricky when writing for a younger audience?

I grew up with sisters (one older and one younger), was a Girl Scout, and grew up with the ‘girls can do anything (at least) as well as boys can’ attitude, so it wasn’t particularly tricky to translate my experience of girlhood into something age appropriate. It was important to me to show both possibilities for competition among girls in ‘The Princess Games.’ There is both the destructive me-against-you competition and, later, the constructive challenging-each-other-to-be-better competition.  

What can we expect to see from you next?

I’m working on a sequel to ‘The Princess Games,’ so keep an eye out!


Danai is giving three e-copies of THE PRINCESS GAMES! Fill out the form below to enter;  the giveaway ends November 30.

UPDATE: We're extending the giveaway! Just leave a comment below to enter.  Giveaway ends Dec. 8. (All entries in the Rafflecopter will also still count.)

a Rafflecopter giveaway