Sunday, June 23, 2019

An Imagination of the Heart: Smack Dab in the Imagination by Dia Calhoun

"An imagination of the heart is an embodied act."

~Nathan Schwartz-Salant 
  Mythology and Clinical Practice, Jungianthology Podcast

This wonderfully multivalent quote by Jungian analyst Nathan Schwartz-Salant, made me think of different kinds of imagination. As a creative professional I try to convey emotions, through both my writing and sculpture practices. Would imaginations of the heart be those centered on emotion? Emotions are always "of the body." 

What about an imagination of the mind? Would this be more related to thinking? For me, thinking often feels disembodied. It is easy to rush around thinking of the "ten thousand things" one must do, attend to, and be absent from my body. The body becomes simply a vehicle for thought.

To bring a thought into the world however, to write about an idea or to execute a plan requires the body to carry it out. 

Feelings, when conscious, are always "felt" in the body; the sweat of fear; the heart-pounding of rage; the tears of joy. Writers must embody their characters, their be concrete instead of abstract. As a writing exercise this week I will try to write with the imagination of my heart instead of the imagination of my mind. I'm curious to see how that changes my work.

Also, it is interesting to speculate about other types of imaginations. An imagination of the soul? An imagination of the throat? Hands? Would a dancer have an imagination of the feet?

 What fun to think about.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Flowers, Writing, & Process

One of the things I love to do is walk in my neighborhood, and at this time of the year, one the things I love most is looking at all the flowers people have planted. I don't know the names of many of them or know much about them, but I enjoy all the colors, the shapes, the sizes.

This year, I decided, for the first time, to plant a few flowers of my own. So I went about trying to figure out what containers I would put them in, which meant several trips to a few stores to see what was available. Then I perused the outdoor nurseries looking at the available flowers and deciding which colors and kinds I liked best. Once my final decisions were made, I purchased - two round flower pots and one rectangular box, seven different kinds of flowers, three bags of soil, a cushion to kneel on, and some blue gardening gloves. Then I went to work.

Now I not only get to enjoy flowers when I take my walks; I also get to see all these colors, shapes, and sizes every time I look out my office window. I'm thankful for their beauty and their inspiration, and I'm also thankful for the way they remind me of how so many things in life are a process. 

There are flowers growing outside my window right now because I first enjoyed flowers on my walks in my neighborhood. Then I decided I wanted to plant some of my own. Next I took time to make a plan so that could happen. And finally, I was able to enjoy accomplishing what I set out to do. 

In many ways, it's similar to writing. I began my journey as an author by enjoying other people's work. I liked middle grade books so much, I wanted to write one of my own. In order to do that, I made a plan so that I could make that happen, and after many years of focused effort, I was blessed enough to have my dream come true.

Happy Flower Month!

And Happy Reading & Writing,

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The Value of Waiting by Claudia Mills

Here is something that happened to me that happens to VERY VERY few writers.

The first full-length middle-grade novel I ever finished got published RIGHT AWAY.

And here's what I learned from this: I wish it hadn't.

My remarkable luck in getting published was owed to several factors. First of all, this was a VERY VERY long time ago. That book came out in 1981. Getting published was vastly easier back then. It truly was. Second, the company that published my book was the same company where I worked as an editorial secretary. They liked me - I think they even loved me - and this helped them to like, and even to love, my book. Third, I took pains to try to come up with a topic that would be publishable: that would have that "extra something" that might come to a librarian's notice. So, although I am not Cuban-American myself, I took my experiences from having a Cuban-American boyfriend and spending time with his extended family and drew on these to write a book about a Cuban-American girl's search for identity. This was also WAY WAY before (most) people realized the importance of "own voices" narratives.

So my first book was published. Hooray? No. It was a not-very-good book that received lukewarm reviews (and one scathing review rightly calling me out for my clumsy portrayal of Hispanic culture). It's been out of print for decades.

My second book was published, too. Hooray? Well, this time it was a book I ripped from my own heart, sharing my own most deeply painful childhood experience. I honestly thought this book would win the Newbery. I even made some notes for my Newbery acceptance speech. But it didn't win the Newbery. It, too, received mixed reviews, including this one (which I can't locate now but quote from memory) that said: "Mills's new book is so good one devoutly wishes it was even better."

I now devoutly wish that second book had been even better, that I had had the skill and experience to write the book that story deserved.

My next few middle-grade manuscripts were rejected: surprise, surprise. And then a few more were published. And finally, with my SEVENTH published book, I wrote one that I don't now cringe when I remember it. In fact, I still like this book. I like it a lot. The literary world did not go wild over this book, but they had already gotten used to me as a writer of somewhat mediocre mid-list titles. Would they have gone wild over this book had it been my first book? Maybe. Or maybe not. But at least with this book I published a book I'm still proud of today. I'll even tell you the title, though I don't have a jpg image to post of the cover: The One and Only Cynthia Jane Thornton. I doubt you can find a copy of it anywhere, but you have my permission to read it, if you do.

So the moral is: it's okay not to publish your first book. Or your second, or third, or fourth. Or fifth or sixth. It's okay to give yourself time to learn your craft and grow into the writer you want to be, with these growth pains happening in private spaces rather than in the public sphere.

There's value in waiting. There really is.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Flowers, Art, and Writing, by Michele Weber Hurwitz

It seems there's a month or day to commemorate everything now, and June is no different. It's National Rose Month! The rose is one of the oldest known flowers -- rose fossils discovered in Colorado date back 35 million years. Ancient Romans used roses as room decorations and wore the flowers as necklaces.

In reading many interesting facts about roses -- such as the world's most expensive rose took 15 years to breed and cost 5 million dollars -- I started thinking about flowers in relation to art and writing. A red rose is often used to symbolize love and passion, but many other flowers have meanings and significance as well.

The mistletoe, of course, is synonymous with Christmas kisses (remember Harry Potter's and Cho's sweet kiss under the mistletoe?). Mums, the national symbol of Japan, are said to represent a long life. The white daisy symbolizes innocence, and the forget-me-not flower was supposedly named for the last words of a young man who fell into a river and drowned while picking these flowers for his lover. Maybe that legend isn't quite right for a middle grade story!

Flowers make great character names, too. Think of all the ones J.K. Rowling used in the Harry Potter series: Petunia Dursley, Lily Potter, Pansy Parkinson, Moaning Myrtle, and Lavender Brown. She even used the French name for flower with Fleur Delacour.

Suzanne Collins used two flower names for characters in The Hunger Games -- Primrose and Katniss (a real plant), and of course, how can we forget Chrysanthemum, the title character in Kevin Henkes' picture book?

Many writers like to use flowers for inspiration as they work. I plant annuals just outside the window of my writing space, and an author friend of mine hung her children's floral paintings over her desk.

A Rutgers University study found that flowers create a feeling of happiness and well-being and can also improve memory, which is sometimes very much needed during intense manuscript revisions!

I love this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: "The earth laughs in flowers." They certainly lift my spirits and change my frame of mind.

Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of several middle grade novels, from Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster. Find her online at

Saturday, June 15, 2019

The Importance of Patience and Perseverance

I’ve long studied American folklore and history. In fact, I earned my MFA in writing for children from Vermont College in 2001, and was awarded honors with distinction for my MA in children’s literature degree from Simmons in 1995. During both of these degrees, I studied the folklore process in children’s literature. Children’s literature at that time showcased the best storytellers of the genre, including Eric Kimmel, Rafe Martin, and Aaron Shepard, among many others. Folklore was a staple in picture book collections. I graduated from Vermont with a four-book contract for picture books that highlighted my love of American folklore and history. But, as much as I knew about writing and story, I knew nothing of the business of children’s publishing.

And publishing is, foremost, a business.
I signed on with the first agent who would help me with the multi-contracts. What I didn’t realize is that an agent-writer relationship is akin to a marriage. While this agent helped seal the deal with the contracts, other issues arose. Needless to say, that relationship didn’t work out. I was referred to another agent, and more problems arose. It turned out that the contracts contained a couple of damaging clauses. According to this new agent, I couldn’t submit work elsewhere, and she couldn’t renegotiate the clauses. In other words, my career was not only stalled, but completely derailed. The relationship ended, of course. Determined, I went to Author’s Guild, learned what I had to in order to understand these clauses and renegotiate the contract myself.

My first two picture books came out in 2009, eight years after signing the contract. The third book came out in 2012, eleven years after signing the contract. The fourth contract, however, was cancelled. Thankfully, I had a strong circle of friends, in particular Eric Kimmel and Marion Dane Bauer, who understood that business side of things and shared their wisdom and support through the years.

But there was yet another, stronger riptide I had to steer through. Beginning in 2001, the children’s market was changing dramatically. The folklore picture book market was bottoming out. The very genre that I had studied, loved, and sought as my career was no longer an option. What the heck do I do now?

Writers have to find a way to adapt. So I moved to middle grade fiction. 

The challenge became in combining all that I had learned and loved in folklore and history with this new format. For a long while, it was a hit-and-miss effort. Finally I had this manuscript, Big River’s Daughter. By now, I was unsure if it even fit in a market that no longer viewed folklore as relevant. Even historical fiction was having a hard time.

And that’s when I learned my greatest lesson: the importance of patience and perseverance.
I met Emma Dryden via Facebook, when she was describing her recent experience as a passenger on a Windjammer cruise – the very one I had gone on as I was researching my book, Big River’s Daughter! I’ve known about Emma for decades; she’s legendary in the field. It turns out, she had just started her own business, drydenbks. I signed up, asking her a crucial question: Where do I fit in now?
And of course, Dumbledore that she is, she helped clarify my thinking and create a plan that would help me achieve my goals. Not only do writers have to adapt to the shifting markets, sometimes they have to make their own place. And we need a business plan!

Part of that plan included an introduction to agent Karen Grencik, who it turns out had just started a new agency, Red Fox Literary. This time I wasn’t shy about asking questions – even dumb ones. One month later after teaming up, Karen sold Big River’s Daughter to Holiday House. Three months after that, she sold my second middle grade novel, Girls of Gettysburg, also to Holiday House. 

All things happens for a reason at the time they are supposed to happen. As River plunges into the wilds of the frontier, taking on the Pirates Laffite and the extraordinary landscape of the mighty river herself in the rough-and-tumble Big River’s Daughter, there is that truth of River’s journey:

If one perseveres, life can be full of possible imaginations.

--Bobbi Miller

Thursday, June 13, 2019

The Secret Is, There Is No Secret, by Chris Tebbetts

When I first tried my hand at writing for kids, I thought I wanted to create picture books, not novels. I couldn’t even imagine writing something as long a whole novel. How did people even do that? 
Flash forward a few years, and my picture book manuscripts were going exactly nowhere. Meanwhile, at a summer manuscript workshop, I met a guy who told me about his work on the Sweet Valley High series for a book packager in New York. When he suggested that I contact his editor to see if she was looking for additional writers, I felt conflicted. 
Part of me thought, what’s the point? I have no idea how to write a novel. 
And part of me thought, So what? Just email the editor and see what happens.
A few weeks, several emails, and two sample chapters later, I had an offer from the book packager--not to work on Sweet Valley High, but to write a new four-book fantasy-adventure series they were developing, called THE VIKING. Just like that, I had six weeks to write the first draft of the first book, and eleven months in which to complete the entire four book series.
Talk about trial by fire! The pressure was on from day one, which was arguably a good thing. I usually need some kind of pressure to get my work done. Mostly, though, the feeling was something along the lines of, AUUUUGHHHHHH! WHAT HAVE I GOTTEN MYSELF INTO????
And then….
I just started writing. There was no other choice, but to get my fingers on the keyboard and develop some good writing habits, ASAP. 
That’s when I learned first-hand about the benefits of working every day, whether I felt like it or not. It’s when I learned to ignore the abject awfulness of my first drafts, put my head down, and just keep going.  
But maybe most of all, it’s when I discovered that there’s actually no big secret to writing a novel. Just the opposite. Writing those first books completely demystified the process for me, and showed me that a 600-word picture book is written in the same way as a 40,000-word novel: one word at a time. One paragraph. One chapter. 
Over and over, and over, and over again. 
Step by step...
And to be clear: I’d never say that writing a novel is easy. Of course it's about more than just putting words on a page. But in terms of actually getting it done, at its most basic level, there is something very simple about the process.
Showing up is everything. Butt in chair. Fingers on the keyboard. Filling pages today, and worrying about making them better tomorrow. There’s no magic in that, but realizing the truth of it was a bit like learning how to do magic. Or maybe more like learning the tricks behind the tricks—not how to make a card disappear, but how to palm that card so that the “magic” can be performed.
To this day, I still feel a sense of overwhelm when I start writing a new novel. How did I ever do this before? What if I can’t get it done this time? The difference now, though, is that I know what I need to do if I want to start getting some answers.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Lessons Learned.

Stuck in the closet in my work room, buried under copy paper and assorted office supplies lie two completed manuscripts. Two finished novels, written back in the 90's when I first thought  about writing BIG. I'd had some success in publishing short stories in literary magazines and magazines for kids such as CICADA, and CRICKET. But I'd always wanted to try and write a book-length story.

So write, I did. Both stories had a beginning, middle, and end. Both stories had an arc and characters who changed through the story. But, like many newbies to the art of novel writing, both stories went unpublished. It wasn't for lack of trying - I'd mailed out each manuscript several times, waiting for responses that came in the form of the dreaded DEAR AUTHOR. Why wasn't I making progress? Why wasn't my work at least getting personalized rejections?

It wasn't until I joined critique groups and began getting constructive feedback on my writing that I was able to answer those questions.

Here is what those manuscripts taught me:

1. It takes time to hone and develop a VOICE. That difficult-to-describe-unique-quality all writers have once they become better at the craft of writing. My VOICE in those initial manuscripts was all over the place - sometimes MG, sometimes YA, sometimes adult. No wonder those stories haven't seen the light of day.

2. You need more than one pair of eyes to read a manuscript and find the gems amid the mess that is a first, second, or umpteenth draft. Sharing work opens up so many paths for the story to grow and develop beyond initial expectations.

3. It takes much more than just a character "doing something" or "having a problem" to make a novel worth publishing. Reading the books of other authors gave me valuable insight in character development, conflict, emotional impact, figurative language, and many other aspects that make a successful story. Reading widely makes writing better.

4. Finally, just like the characters in our stories, we can measure our own growth as writers by recognizing how much we've learned since those first manuscripts. Our characters don't solve their problems without some kind of struggle and more than one attempt. Neither should we expect to pen a successful novel without a dud or two.

Those unpublished manuscripts proved that I could write and finish a book-length tome. That was enough encouragement to keep on writing. They are a reminder of how far I've come.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

How I Knew

by Jody Feldman

These are flowers in my yard. I didn’t plant them. I hired someone to do that. I don’t have the patience to garden even though I know how. I don’t have the patience to sew, even though I’ve taken several classes. Believe me; I’ve tried.
But I do have the patience to write.

There was a time when I didn’t think that was possible. I wanted the words that poured from my fingers to be perfect. Sure, I was up for a snip here and a tweak there, but I didn’t understand (or didn’t want to understand) the concept of wholesale changes.
Of digging up the flowerbed.
Or ripping apart the seams.
Of doing what was necessary to create the vision that was my goal. I was still at a point where I craved instant gratification from any creative process.
And then...

I signed up for a workshop on revision. The leader, the wonderful Darcy Pattison, told us—
Well, I don’t remember what she told us exactly. But here’s what I came away with. To create a story that might match my expectations, I’d have to get my fingernails dirty. Not just a little crusty, but downright filthy.

After that weekend, I grew hyper-aware of what it would take to create a publishable book. And I had doubts. Could I really rip apart my sentences and paragraphs and whole chapters like that? Could I rethink entire scenes? Could I bear to throw them out and completely retool?

Those doubts bombarded me,
for about 15 minutes.
Yes, I could. I could do all of that. And more.
That when I knew, how I knew, I could become a writer.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

What I DIDN'T Learn ... by Jane Kelley

This month's topic sent me digging through the actual folders in my actual filing cabinet. My first completed children's book manuscript was typed and mailed to an editor in the year 1984.

I wrote BERT TO THE RESCUE at a time when I was also writing plays, short stories, adult novels, essays -- basically anything I could think of in hopes of success. I had no idea what I was doing. No plan. No mentor. Just a naive belief that somehow or other success was around the corner.

"Bert" was based on a family legend. My great great aunt Elizabeth Moffett, who wrote for the Milwaukee Journal, used to talk for an imaginary cat named Bert. I combined Bert with my own miserable year at 4th grade. I knew someone who knew someone who knew someone at Knopf. And somehow got my manuscript read by an editor.

I remember being thrilled by this response -- even though, despite the praise, the envelope also contained my manuscript.

I incorporated the advice as best I could and resubmitted "Bert." A few months later, "Bert" came back, rejected once again, with more feedback from more editors.

So, dear readers, I'm sure you think that I immediately wrote another middle-grade novel, which was much much better because of the advice given to me by those three editors, and sent it to the first editor who had asked to see more of my work.

Nope. Instead I wrote more mediocre adult novels and esoteric plays, and half of a cancer memoir. None of which ever received half the praise that "Bert" had.

TWENTY YEARS later, I finally started another middle-grade novel.

My husband used to encourage me to take another stab at fixing "Bert." But I always told him that no one had any interest in a novel about an imaginary cat.

Looking back, what do I wish I had learned then--instead of twenty years later?

Pay attention.

Find the positive.

Learn how to absorb criticism.

Trust your instincts.

Be patient.

But above all else, keep writing.

Monday, June 3, 2019

What I Learned from My First Completed Middle Grade Manuscript

gift-pillow my mother made
to commemorate my
first "book"

The first middle grade novel manuscript I completed was called WISH YOU WERE HERE, and it was about a girl's adventures as she searched for her birth-father.

When I attended my first SCBWI conference I signed up for a manuscript critique with an editor. My ms landed with Summer Laurie, then editor at now-defunct Tricycle Press.

I'll never forget how it felt when I met with Summer, and she told me she loved main character Cricket, and she thought I was onto something here, and would I send her the full manuscript? She was saying the words I'd always hoped to hear... my dream was coming true!

So, I sent her the manuscript. I waited, I hoped, I dreamed some more. When I heard from Summer a few months later, it was not the news I was hoping for. The manuscript wasn't ready, wasn't a good fit, wasn't – whatever. But would I please keep her in mind for future projects?

What did I learn from this experience? Well, about a billion things! Here are a few that leap to mind:
  1. SCBWI is awesome. I don't know where I'd be without this organization. Everything I know about publishing, and getting a book ready for publication, I learned at an SCBWI conference. (Shout-out to my Southern Breeze region!)
  2. Getting a request for a full ms does not guarantee a sell. There are a thousand reasons a manuscript gets rejected. Ultimately I'm glad that manuscript didn't sell. It wasn't the best first book for me. But I'd never have gotten to THAT book had I not written this one first.
  3. Children's book people are THE BEST. I'm still in touch with Laurie. She has continued to champion my books (and occasionally give feedback) through the years since we first met at that conference.
  4. The most important thing I learned from this first completed manuscript was... YES, I can finish a book. YES, someone out there will want to read it. YES, writing can be its own reward. And I will be “learning” to write for the rest of my life. I'm so grateful!

Irene Latham lives on a lake in rural Alabama. Winner of the 2016 ILA Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award, she is the author of hundreds of poems and nearly twenty current and forthcoming poetry, fiction and picture books from publishers including Penguin Random House, Macmillan, Lerner, Boyds Mills, and Charlesbridge. Her books have been recognized on state lists and honored by NEA, ALA, NCTE, SIBA, Bank Street College and other organizations.

Sunday, June 2, 2019


Claudia Mills launches a new series for younger-middle-grade readers - After-School Superstars - set in an after-school program, with a different themed "camp" each month. The first title, Nixie Ness, Cooking Star, with illustrations by Grace Zong, comes out on June 11 from Holiday House.
Next up in the series will be Vera Vance, Comics Star, set in a comics-book camp.
Then Nixie and Vera will be joined by followed by Lucy Lopez, Coding Star, set in a coding camp. The theme for the fourth camp is still to be determined. Suggestions welcome!

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Judging a Book by Its Cover

I have to admit, even six books into my publishing career, the initial “cover reveal” continues to thrill me.  I’m not talking about the social media practice of revealing our covers to the public, but the private moment when the cover first appears in my email with the thrilling and slightly terrifying discovery of a stranger’s visual interpretation of my book.    Encountering the cover for the first time, I see in living color what the designer has imagined from my words.   If I’ve done my work well, the cover fits.  The mood is right, the tone exactly what I’d hoped for as I wrote.  In a perfect world, the thematic threads that mean the most to me are somehow surprisingly captured by another’s imagination.

And yet, what does it mean to love two covers for the same book—the hardcover and the paperback—to admire the interpretations of two very different designers?  Does one cover have to be better?  Does one cover have to be wrong?  Is it possible for two wildly different covers to capture the heart of the same book?
I had some time to think this through in April, when the paperback of UNTIL TOMORROW, MR. MARSWORTH launched with an entirely new cover.  Sharing the new cover on social media, I immediately heard from readers who preferred one over the other.  There were those who loved the first cover: the color, the peace sign at the center, the way it held the protagonists and hinted at the tale.  And there were others who clearly preferred the second: the simplicity, the absence of character clues, the mystery of the red-haired girl, and unidentified subject.  A novel with letters yes, that much was clear from that new cover, but who was Mr. Marsworth, and what was the book about?  Some readers saw the paperback cover as an invitation, raising questions the other cover may have answered. For my part, I confess I love them both.  I am happy Reenie and Mr. Marsworth starred on that first cover, happy the first cover clearly spoke of peace, but I am equally happy to have that mysterious girl penning a letter. 

In the case of both SPARROW ROAD and UNTIL TOMORROW, MR. MARSWORTH, I’ve loved the experience of having two covers, and I’ve also enjoyed sharing the dual covers during school visits with interested readers.   When I’m sharing both covers with a school, I like to ask the students what they think the images achieve.  If we do indeed judge a book by a cover, what judgment do we reach with each rendition?  Which one would they be most likely to read?  Which one would catch their eye in a library or bookstore.  Like the artists who designed them, every reader has their own opinion, their own aesthetic inclinations that draw them toward a book.  It’s very possible the reader who picked up the book based on one cover, wouldn’t be attracted to the other, wouldn’t read the book, even though both covers held the identical story.

As an unexpected gift, this cover conversation presents an invaluable and immediate classroom lesson on the adage: “Looks can be deceiving.”   Or, “you can’t judge a book by its cover.”  And yet we do.  It’s a lesson on packaging and sales, on how an artist’s vision shapes our expectations for a book.  But perhaps most importantly it’s a lesson on how frequently we judge the inside by the outside, rightly or wrongly; a lesson that often has as much to do with living as it does with choosing books. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

.And The Title Is...

by Charlotte Bennardo

I have no freaking clue.

photo courtesy of Pexels, Inc, Energepic

I'm working on a new book and a title is eluding me. Whether it's for young adult, middle grade, chapter book, or even picture books, a title is a necessary thing. Sometimes we authors (with the okay from the editor) can take the easy way out and use one word, like Owls. If it's non-fiction, how easy is that? Trucks! Photography. And just as easy are several-word titles like: The Titanic. Amelia Earhart. The Civil War. Composing non-fiction titles I can do in my sleep.

Now fiction... sigh. Sometimes the titles come to me easily, like in my young adult novel, Ripples on Water. It's a line in the book, where a mischievous faerie is told by the King that the effects of her actions will be like... wait for it: ripples on water. It jumped out at me. That'a how it usually happens; I'm reading the manuscript and I know what the title will be, almost like the line or word is in bold, it's so obvious.

For my middle grade series, Evolution Revolution is the series name because that's what the book is about, a sudden intellectual evolution of a squirrel who learns how to use machines. So book one is Evolution Revolution: Simple Machines. The second book is Evolution Revolution: Simple Plans and the third is Evolution Revolution: Simple Lessons. All the titles reflect the main idea behind that book. Easy, peasey.

But now I'm struggling to find a title for my new YA sci fi, an homage to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (which had a sub-title: Or, The Modern Prometheus). I cannot for the life of me construct a title. And even if I figure out what I think is the perfect one, an editor may change it. (Keep in mind they can make you change your title and you may not like it. Just like artwork, you don't always have a say.) Sirenz was originally Sirens but the editor thought that the 'z' would be more modern and appealing, even though we never spelled it that way in the books.)

Whether it's from a line in the manuscript, or a description of some aspect of the story, titles need to be attention grabbers. My colleagues have listed numerous successful titles in their posts. So here are some of the worst, courtesy of Book Riot. (Some are risque, so I'm not including a link, you'll have to look it up on your own.)

1- Reusing Old Graves.
2- Old Tractors and the Men Who Love Them
3- Fancy Coffins to Make Yourself
4- Corpses Say the Darndest Things
5- Nostradamus Ate My Hamster
6- What's Your Poo Telling You?
7- Divorcing A Real Witch
8- If God Loves Me, Why Can't I Get My Locker Open?

You have to wonder what the author and/or the editor was thinking (although to be fair, maybe the titles fit the books perfectly and that's the awful part.) Somehow I don't think any title I come up with can be this bad.

For fun, I made up several really, terribly, awful titles:

1. Everyone Really Hates High School, So There's No Happy Ending
2. Teen Drama, Get Over It
3. My Cat Beat Up Your Cat
4. Homework
5. Ask Your Mother What She Thinks
6. Chores I Love To Do
7. Playground Death Arena
8. How To Stuff Your Enemy Into A Locker

After the above, maybe the title I create for my manuscript won't be so bad... but then again... 

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

And Now for Something Completely Different...

It's "Get Caught Reading" Month, and I never would've guessed what you'll catch me reading this May!

I was never one for math and science (my physics and chemistry teachers from high school probably still have PTSD!), but this month, I'm working on a STEM project, so I'm reading all sorts of things I never thought I'd look at twice.

So far, I'm loving Jack Challoner's Smithsonian STEM Lab, which explains lots of things I never bothered to even wonder about (if you need me to build you a raft out of empty water bottles, just let me know) and Catherine Thimmesh and Melissa Sweet's  Girls Think of Everything, which had me at chapter one...when they paid homage to Ruth Wakefield, inventor of the chocolate chip cookie. I can't decide whether I should thank her profusely or curse the day I first savored one of her incredible inventions, but it was neat to learn her story!

I find that reading things outside my usual comfort zone is pretty cool. What about you? What will you get caught reading this month?

Ginger Rue is the author of the Aleca Zamm series from Aladdin and the Tig Ripley series from Sleeping Bear.

Friday, May 24, 2019


I have to admit--I just completely fell in love with this one:
Molly Hurford's SHRED GIRLS has a pitch-perfect MG voice and features a young comic book junkie who learns, over the course of the summer, that perhaps the real-life adventures on a bike just might be even cooler than the adventures found on the panels and pages of her much-loved comics.

Violet Lemay's illustrations are also fantastic:

And I love the asides--the "Training Log" and "Superhero Tips" that often wrap up chapters:

A great under-the-tree read this summer. Would be a perfect match for young readers who often gravitate toward illustrated works. Also a solid choice for classroom libraries. I'm betting teachers will have to create a waiting list for this one!

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Imagination Station: Smack Dab in the Imagination by Dia Calhoun

I love the phrase Imagination Station--the playfulness, the rhyme, the meaning. Whoever thought of that was abounding in imagination.

We should all create our own Imagination Stations. As a writer I especially like the parallel with a train station. I can pull into my Imagination Station when ever I'm stuck on a project to figure out a next chapter, plot element, or even a new story.

I think I'll start with a medium size station, with say, seven platforms. All connect to a train heading to different destinations. I'll hop on one and see where it goes. Then I'll return to the station and hop on a different train until I find my way.

Einstein hopped an imaginary train to "ride on a beam of light" as he delved into his theory of relativity. Consider how many platforms he must have had in that genius mind!

Create an Imagination Station for kids at home, in a classroom. Have it filled with colored pencils, paper, scissors, clay, books, old magazines for collage.

An Imagination Station is a point of departure. Where will you go?

Monday, May 20, 2019

Let's Talk Titles and Covers

For this month's topic, I'm going to brag a little about the fabulously talented and creative people at Sourcebooks who do so much to make my books far better than I could on my own.  I'm blessed enough to be the author of four middle grade books, all of which have been published by Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky.  Each one of those books has received a title created by my editor, and each title has an awesome cover designed by the artists and freelancers who make my books look more amazing than I could have ever imagined.

While working on my debut novel, my title for it was simply Ratchet.  My editor Aubrey Poole came up with This Journal Belongs to Ratchet.  As soon as she suggested it, I loved it!  And as soon as I saw this cover, I was over the moon.

My working title for my second novel was more like a tongue twister - Sixth Grade Lists and Letters and Lots Lots More.  Aubrey did her magic once more with the amazingly creative - Always, Abigail.  Again, in an instant, I was in love with another title and cover.

My summer camp story I called Camp Sisters.  The consensus was that title was "too quiet."  As a result, Aubrey proposed Just Like Me, and my third book and its wonderful cover came to life. 

By the time I was writing the book I called Saving Elsie Mae, I was working with my new editor at Sourcebooks, Steve Geck.  He came up with Elsie Mae Has Something to Say, and it was time for me to fall in love with another new title and cover.


Besides titles and covers, 
the entire Sourcebooks Team does so much to take each one of my books to a level I never even thought was possible.  
That's why being a Sourcebooks author really rocks!

Happy Reading,



Sunday, May 19, 2019

What's in a Title

I've long written titles. I'd like to think I've become better at the practice over my four- and five-year-old self, who pretty much stamped every story I wrote with large block letters: The Cat Who (insert verb here). That little girl aspired to be taken seriously as a writer, but it wouldn't be until much later that I'd actually start learning to be one and varying my writing in all forms.

As a journalist, I'd write headlines - a sister to the title, really - mostly to politics and crime that I covered in a small town. Short, impactful, to the point. I did shoot for wordplay where I could - it draws in the reader in a place where one already is competing for such short attention spans.

Moving on to titles for novels became an entirely different story, however, despite the same goal to grab the reader's attention. I was attempting to snag readers of a different variety, here. This time middle grade readers, parents, potentially educators and other book lovers who might pick up a mystery relayed from the point of view of a cat.

The Great Cat Nap. The Clawed Monet.

I found selecting titles for my middle grade novels fun and entertaining. I even have the working title for the third in the series (stubbornly stuck in Writer's Block Land in this current timeframe). Those titles never changed from working title to past my agent and editors at the time.

In writing young adult, I struggle more for those titles. Often, I've thought I've had the one that best fits it, only to have a critique partner (or two, or three) tell me it needs to be changed. It seems trends in recent years have swung towards giving young adult longer titles, almost poetic in nature. A long song lyric or piece of prose. I'll Give You the Sun. All the Bright Places. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian. The short, quick titles of the past - The Outsiders, The Giver, Twilight - seem to be fewer now than they used to be.

I have no idea what the next title of my next completed manuscript will be, as I currently don't know which of my works in progress will beat the other to the finish. That's part of the fun of being a writer, however. The next big thing is just one more keystroke or pen swipe away.

Happy Reading!

AM Bostwick

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Reading with My Sister

When I think of being caught reading, I think first not of where I loved to read as a child, or when, but with whom. I did all my childhood reading with my sister.

She and I are just a year apart in age - 361 days to be exact - and we spent our summers together doing nothing but reading. Back then the public library would let you check out only four books at a time, so we would walk to the library every two days, check out our four books, walk home and spend two days in nonstop reading, and then walk back to get four more. Actually, since we could each check out four books, that gave us a stash of eight titles to devour.

We loved - and still love - all the same books: the Betsy-Tacy books of Maud Hart Lovelace, the Shoes books of Noel Streatfeild, Half Magic and other titles by Edward Eager, the Adventure books of Enid Blyton: Castle of Adventure, River of Adventure, Island of Adventure, Sea of Adventure, Valley of Adventure, and so many more.

We kept returning to our favorites, but each favorite was initially discovered purely by chance. We found the Shoes books, for example, because one of us opened up Skating Shoes and found it had a character named Aunt Claudia. There aren't very many books about Claudias (The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is another). We poked into our first Adventure book and loved it for its British expressions: the children eat "tinned pineapple" and carry "torches" - it was only much later in life that we realized they really just eat canned pineapple and carry flashlights.

We loved the Adventure books so much that for these books alone, we decided it was unfair for either one of us to read a new Adventure book first. So we would sit side by side, in the shade of a big backyard tree, each holding one edge of the book, as we read silently. Because I am the older sister, and could read a tiny bit faster, I remember pausing at the end of each double-spread for her to be ready to turn the page.

Now we are all grown up, and my sister and her husband own a bookstore in the charming town of Nashville, Indiana: Fallen Leaf Books. The store carries new titles, but plenty of used titles as well, which my sister and I prefer. We want to read these books of our childhood in discarded library copies with the reinforced binding; we want that childhood experience repeated in every sweet detail.

Now for Christmas, when I open my presents from my sister, I often gasp with pleasure at finding a treasure that she alone knows I would cherish. Could it be... Circus of Adventure? Or Movie Shoes? Why, yet it could!

How lucky we were to have had a childhood spent reading together.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

What Should a Book's Title do? By Michele Weber Hurwitz

Sometimes, coming up with the perfect title for your book can be a frustrating experience for authors and editors. How to capture the essence of the book in just a few short words? How to make it stand out? How to find just the right tone and impression?

A book's title should do three important things: it should be unique, be memorable, and provide insight to the story.

It's becoming more difficult to choose a title that hasn't been done before, but you and your editor should aim to come up with something that is uniquely personal to your book. Second, choose a title that readers and prospective readers will instantly remember. Nothing's worse than a reader who loved your book and wants to tell a friend, but can't remember the title. The title needs to be something that easily comes to mind when searching for the book online or at a bookstore.

Perhaps most important, give readers a glimpse of what they can expect from your novel. A good title begs readers to open the cover.

Simple, one-word titles often work in middle grade, such as Pax or Crenshaw or Holes. In fact, I think Holes is an amazing title because it works on several levels for the story. Longer titles are also used in middle grade and can draw readers in too, such as with my second book, The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days. Or, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and How Lamar's Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy, which is such a funny and spot-on title.

When you're trying to come up with the perfect title, ask yourself some important questions, such as WHO is the book about? Many titles are just that, such as Flora & Ulysses, or The One and Only Ivan.

WHAT is the novel about? The Hunger Games, or The Crossover, or Brown Girl Dreaming, which is a lovely mix of who and what.

Also consider WHEN and WHERE your novel takes place, and that may give insight to the perfect title, like One Crazy Summer and Beyond the Bright Sea.

Often, titles are pulled from a line of dialogue or illustrate an overall theme of the book, such as Wonder and Esperanza Rising.

Last tip is to think of your title as a mini Haiku poem with a flow of syllables and a few words. It can be alliterative, action paced, mysterious, or descriptive, like The Girl Who Drank the Moon, or Inside Out and Back Again, or Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.

I've found that I spend weeks fretting over the title and then something just comes when I'm not even thinking about it. For my next book, coming in spring 2020, my editor came up with a variation of the title while she was walking her dog, emailed me, and we tweaked it slightly to give it just the perfect ring.

Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of four middle grade novels from Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster. Find her online at

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

A Title by Any Other Name

I’ve enjoyed reading how everyone at SMACK DAB comes up with titles for their books. Some writers I know can’t write the book without coming up with a “working title”. While everyone agrees it’s an important marketing decision, there’s no consensus on the perfect way to create an attention grabbing, memorable, informative title. In searching for some resources to share, in hopes of finding the perfect tactic, I discovered many articles on writing a title, supporting a vast array of advice, from the trite (go with your gut!) to the complex (it’s like writing a poem). Ultimately, I discovered there’s no real code to the process, and what worked for one author, or book, may not work for another author, or book.

Some titles are sentences or snippets of dialogue. (Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng; I Know What You Did Last Summer, by Lois Duncan)

Some titles are poetic. (The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman; The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera; One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez).

Some titles are punny wordplays. (A Rogue Not Taken, by Sarah McLean; The Toyminator, by Robert Rankin; Cockatiels at Seven, by Donna Andrews; No Use Dying Over Spilled Milk, by Tamar Myers).

Some titles are more direct, and informative. (Girls of Gettysburg, by Bobbi Miller; Pandemic, by Yvonne Ventresca).

There’s a lot of titles with Girls in the title, such as my own Girls of Gettysburg. But let’s not forget The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Cat Valente; Girl, Interrupted, by Susanna Kaysen; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and its sequels The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, by Stieg Larsson; The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank; Girl with a Pearl Earring, by Tracy Chevalier; Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli; Wintergirls, by Laurie Halse Anderson; Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell; Blueberry Girl, by Neil Gaiman; Strawberry Girl, by Lois Lenski; Kiss The Girls, by James Patterson; All-American Girl, by Meg Cabot; The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, Heidi W. Durrow.

There’s a few with Boys in the title, too. Including The Horse and His Boy, by C.S. Lewis; The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne; About a Boy, by Nick Hornby; Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder; Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman; The Boy Next Door, by Meg Cabot; The Whipping Boy, by Sid Fleischman; The Raven Boys, by Maggie Stiefvator; The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, by William Kamkwamba; Roller Boy, by Marcia Strykowski.

Some of my favorite titles include a combination of poetic punny wordplay.  Something Wicked This Way Comes, By Ray Bradbury; The Boy Who Cried Fabulous, by Leslea Newman; Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Seth Grahame-Smith, as well as his Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter; Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, by Judi Barrett; To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee; and Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants, by Dav Pilkey (I mean, really, that one is the bestest title ever!).

What do you think of these titles? Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick; The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams; Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, by John Berendt; The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky; The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler; and Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst.

What are some of your favorite titles?

-- Bobbi "I Have No Idea What Makes a Good Title" Miller

Monday, May 13, 2019

Catch Me If You Can, by Chris Tebbetts

This image is a slide from a presentation I gave a few years ago, where I was asked to speak  about the influences that made me a writer. And, predictably enough, one of the first things that came to mind on that topic was the kind of reader I was as a kid. Which is to say, a voracious one. On any given day, I was known to have been found in any number locations around the house with my nose stuck in one book or another. 

Besides the predictable spots (in my room, on the couch, etc.) I also had something called The Chris Club when I was maybe ten years old. I was its sole member—president, vice president, secretary and treasurer—and the entire agenda of the “club” was to hang out in our little clubhouse-sized walk-in storage closet and read as much as possible.  

Another favorite reading spot was under the dining room table. I’m not even sure why, except that with the chairs all pushed in, it gave me a sense of hiding out in plain sight that somehow appealed to me. I’ve always been comfortable with solitude, which is another part of what makes writing a good gig for me, and I didn’t become a social creature until middle school. So, during those early middle grade years, I was just fine on my own, as long as I had something to read.

I even had my own version of a treehouse—well, something short of a “house,” but my dad did nail a board to a sturdy branch in the largest tree in our backyard for me, and that was enough. During the warmer months when my mom was more likely to shoo me outside, I’d frequently climb up into that tree with a book and lounge there on that piece of plywood like some kind of outdoor couch for long stretches of time.

I only wish I read as much and as enthusiastically today as I did back then. I mean, don’t get me a wrong. I love a good book. But those middle grade years were like book magic for me, and if anyone wanted to go back in time to catch me reading, that’s exactly where I’d send them.  

Sunday, May 12, 2019

A Rose By Any Other Name...Might Be Better.

For this month’s TITLE TALK theme, I took an informal survey of fellow children’s book authors asking them if their original titles were the ones used on the published book. I was surprised that most were able to keep their titles at publication. Those that ended up with different titles decided they were better choices for the book. Only one hated the final title chosen.

In my case, BOTH my middle grade historicals ended up with different titles than I’d started with. When I submitted the manuscript for WHEELS OF CHANGE, it had the title THE CARRIAGE MAKER’S DAUGHTER, which is what the story is about. But, the editor thought we would be in danger of excluding boys from reading the book with that title. Boys and girls love the book, so the editor was spot on for that choice.

My soon-to-be-published second historical had the working title of FISH, WISH, AND OTHER FOUR LETTER WORDS.  This was the title I woke up from a dream with and it helped guide me through the poems that make up this novel-in-verse. Many of the entries were indeed four letter words.  But, we all know that kids would see that title and come up with all the WRONG four-letter words!  So, it was no surprise that the tile was changed, and is now WISHES, DARES, AND HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY.

For those of us who lament and wonder why our editors seem to want to change titles, take heart.  Be thankful that someone is looking out for you and wants your book to be well received. That isn’t always the case as you can see in these awful titles of actual children’s books:

Here is a link to the Worst Book Titles Ever.

Do you agree?  I’ll let you decide. Makes me grateful that the changes editors have made for most of the children’s books out in the world are for the better.