Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The Easter Bunny Is an Essential Worker -- by Jane Kelley

In these trying times, I have been struggling with not struggling. While medical professionals, delivery people, warehouse workers, and grocery store clerks risk their lives for us, much of my life has not altered. I have always worked from home. It really doesn't feel like a sacrifice for me to stay inside. But I didn't know what else I could do to help people.

Then yesterday I learned that the Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern has declared the Easter Bunny to be an essential worker.

Here are two hard-working rabbits. They've got a lot of eggs to deliver. And a lot of kids to visit. I'm glad to see them in sensible shoes and with backpack baskets. You can carry a lot more that way. But is what they're carrying really essential? I love candy and I eat a lot of eggs, but let's be real. Jelly beans????  (Apologies to those of you who really do like them. I suspect my father only pretended to enjoy the purple ones because someone had to eat them.)

Those rabbits are delivering a lot more than sugar. Rabbits and eggs are symbols. New Zealand is in the southern hemisphere. There, Easter isn't a harbinger of actual spring. But it is a celebration of what spring means. New life. New growth. Something sweet. Something kind of absurd and whimsical. Hidden surprises that can be found. In other words, something fictional. 

Yes, the Easter Bunny and I are essential workers. I'm going to keep bringing together unusual elements (like rabbits bringing eggs) and find a way to make them into a story. Hopefully those stories will make people laugh and take a break from grim realities and encourage people to care about each other and inspire readers to tell stories of their own.

I will never actually save someone's life. But I do have an important contribution to make. We all do. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Smack Dab News - Coronavirus Edition

Authors at Smack Dab in the Middle have a slew of activities and freebies to help you and your young readers during these trying times. We hope this will help fill the hour, provide some fun and laughter, keep minds busy, even help teachers looking for some additional online resources.

Holly Schindler

My Invent Your Own Superhero: A Brainstorming Journal - Deluxe Edition is currently free in e-book form:

Download links:



1) I have a new YouTube channel, where I'm offering read-alouds from my books, as well as a couple of "pause-and-write" video workshops for grades 4-8--one on Good Story Beginnings; and another on Four Elements of Character.  Both workshops incorporate my co-authored series books as examples. (Lousy pic, but you get the idea... :-))

2) I'm also offering free Skype/Zoom visits for any kids who would like to have a chat about my books and/or the writing process. Happy to chat individually or with whole classes.

3) And I'm currently offering a limited number of free mini-mentorships as well, for motivated creative writers (grades 4-12) who would like some extra help with a story, novel, or with their writing in general, between now and the end of the school year.


Best to everyone out there!


Teachers, librarians, classrooms, book clubs -- email Michele to set up a free 20 minute Skype or Zoom session about Michele's new middle grade novel coming in May -- Hello from Renn Lake. Very timely topics of the climate crisis and youth activism, as Annalise Oliver, 12, tries to save the lake in her small Wisconsin town after it's closed due to a harmful algae bloom. Kirkus says the story is "An earnest and disarming tale of human and environmental caring."

In a unique twist, the lake is one of the narrators.


Over the past weeks, as less cars have been on the road and buildings have been shut, scientists are noting that our air and waterways are cleaner. This is a message loud and clear -- we need to take better care of our planet and all of its living things.

Stay healthy!


Free down-loadable Curriculum Guides for her new novel-in-verse WISHES, DARES, AND HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY. Guides include study questions, vocabulary lists, Curriculum guide on anti bullying. Lots of kid-friendly activities on her blog.

She also has wordsearch puzzles and will do a Skype visit to any classroom who uses her book. Visit

Alone together...we can do this! xo

And I'll answer with

Hi! It's Jody Feldman. I originally set this offer up with virtual classes in mind, but if you, as a group, a class, a family (in any shape or size), would like to ask me questions about my books, about writing ... hey, I'm happy to answer anything ... this is your chance.
Click here for more info!

Celebrate National Poetry Month (April) with FREE poems! Poetry can be a balm and a joy during these difficult times... and over the years I've shared hundred of poems on my blog. For 2020 I've been adding to the collection by sharing a poem each Poetry Friday as part of ArtSpeak: RED (in which I write a poem after a piece of art that includes/features the color red). You can find the poems (along with graphics, videos, poetry-writing tips) at the Poem Index tab of my Live Your Poem blog.

Additionally, my latest book with Charles Waters, DICTIONARY FOR A BETTER WORLD: Poems, Quotes and Anecdotes from A to Z, offers all kinds of connections to this current crisis. You can find the Discussion Guide here and videos of Charles performing many of the poems here.

Feel free to contact me via email: irene (at) irenelatham (dot) com. Together we're going to get through this! xo


Ginger Rue / Tig Ripley Series:

Virtual Storytimes & Book Recording Guidelines During COVID-19
By posting any book online, you agree to all terms and conditions outlined below. Sleeping Bear Press may adjust these terms in the future, as necessary.
Please clarify at the beginning of your reading that you are reading with permission from Sleeping Bear Press.
Please delete any publicly posted videos (on Youtube, Instagram. Facebook, etc) by June 30, 2020.
For recordings available on password protected or virtual learning sites, we are allowing the use with no deadline at this time.
Please email to let us know which title you are sharing and on which platform.

Are you a teacher or parent with a request of your own for one of the Smack Dab authors? Please don't hesitate to get in touch at smackdab(dot)middle(at) Stay safe and well! 

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Where Art Thou?

by Charlotte Bennardo

The theme this month is art: cover art, juvenile art, graphic art, etc.

Photo by Marko Blazevic from Pexels

For a short time I read comic books when I was very young. My father was a graphic artist but didn't share that talent with me. My brother has artistic talent, but didn't use it. My mother did some painting, but gave it up. My stick figures are pathetic.

My artistic 'skill' is limited to what I am drawn to and can appreciate. I have favorites- like Van Gogh's Starry Night. Like Monet's Les Jardins de Giverny. Vistas of brilliant sunsets and tropical beaches.

As for cover art, there are a lot of covers that don't thrill me (my books included), and some that do.
With this Covid-19 pandemic, I think art will reflect this dark time: not only in pictures, photography, and graffiti, but also on book covers. Writers all over the globe will write stories, fictional and non-fictional, about this time and there will need to be covers for those books. I wonder how they will look, what art directors and cover artists and illustrators will use to portray how we were feeling and dealing with this pandemic, our lives so overwhelmed with the spread, the fatalities, the upheaval, and the pain of it.

The artist's job is to be a witness to his time in history.

Wishing you all health, safety, and comfort. 

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Cover Hate (or at Least, Dislike)

Since Nancy Cavanaugh blogged about loving her book covers (and I don't blame her one bit--they're awesome!), I thought I'd talk about the flip side.

I was so excited to have my first book published in 2009, but when the publisher showed me the cover design, I was crestfallen. I thought it was...let's just say, unattractive. But don't take my word for it...what do you think?

I didn't want to be a diva because, hey, what do I know about art? But I knew I didn't like it.

The book was reviewed for possible inclusion in Scholastic Book Fairs but didn't make the cut. I didn't know why...until....

The paperback was released. The paperback had a much nicer cover, in my opinion. Do you agree?

Once it was released in paperback, the book was selected for the book fairs, where it did pretty well. I actually somehow wound up with the opportunity to speak to someone at Scholastic about the whole thing, and she confirmed that the sticking point on the first go round was that they didn't think the book would sell with the original cover.

So there you go. Same book, different cover. Art makes all the difference. I still don't know much about art, but I know when I'm thrilled with a cover. I practically did back flips over the Aleca Zamm covers. Here's the first one in the series:

The German version was a totally different artistic concept, but super awesome as well:

I can't draw a stick figure myself, so I'm always impressed by people with this much artistic talent. As an author, I know it makes all the difference between a book kids want to read and a book they pass right by. Like Nancy said, most authors don't have much say in our books' artwork, so when you get lucky like this, it's a wonderful thing. Art matters!

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

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Ode to the Paragraph: A Visual Work of Art (Holly Schindler)

When my first book was going through edits, I was shocked by what happened to my paragraphs.

This happened fairly late in the editing process--when I got first pass pages. This is the stage during which the interior of the book has been designed. The trim size has been set, along with margins, the fonts officially chosen, line spacing determined.

It really doesn't matter what trim size your publisher chooses (in my experience, the 5x8 or 5.5 x 8.5 seems the most common), the pages will be smaller than the pages in your Word doc. Which means your paragraphs are inevitably longer. Sometimes a lot longer. Which means your work can suddenly seem really description heavy.

Even if it's really not.

Nothing can turn a reader off like long winding paragraphs of description. It's true of adults, and it's especially true of kids!

It really is amazing how the mere appearance of a page of text can turn a reader off--even before they dive in to the actual words.

Do yourself a favor: during the drafting process, make it a point to keep your paragraphs short and tight. During your own editing process (as you're revising before submitting to an editor or agent), try adjusting your margins--make them extra wide. Or, if you're able, compile in an ebook format to read on one of your devices (which will have a smaller screen than a destop or laptop).

Eyeball your paragraphs without reading them--do they look inviting? Like something a reader could speed through? Or do they look like quicksand you might never get out of?

So much of a book's appearance is outside the writer's hands. But the shape of paragraphs is something all writers can use to help give their pages a welcoming appearance.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Smack Dab in the Imagination: Masks are Beautiful! by Dia Calhoun

We are at war with COVID19. We need to find ways to help the war effort while maintaining social distancing. I had to DO something. So my neighbor and I began sewing desperately needed masks.

When I started sharing photos, many friends asked for directions. Here is a link. to a video with directions. It's not hard, but like anything new, takes making a few before the process feels easy.

If you and your family are isolated at home, this is a project you can do together. One person can cut fabric pieces, another elastic lengths, another iron in the folds, another sew, another iron the final. These masks have a twist tie inserted in the top seam, so the mask can be molded tight over the nose. You can also used pipe cleaners or floral wire. Kids could decorate the masks with permanent marker with words like hope, love, smile, laughter, or even little phrases. And someone else can deliver/mail the finished masks.

Note: These can be washed and reused. Be sure to use a cotton fabric that is prewashed--so when the mask is washed it won't shrink. This design has an open top so a filter piece of non-woven fabric, like interfacing, (think unscented bounce sheet) can be inserted. Those can be tossed.

My neighbor prepares the pieces and I sew them. I can sew one in 10-15 minutes now. We will be mailing them to homeless shelters, senior centers, fire stations,clinics, anywhere in our community the need is urgent.

This feels wonderful. I am DOING something! If you like the social media connection, there is a FaceBook page called Seamstresses Unite who are sewing masks too. They call themselves Rosie the Riveter, ala WW2.

Stay well. Stay home. Stay engaged!

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Going Off Topic (To Talk About Anxiety and Panic Attacks), by Chris Tebbetts

Like a lot of people, I've been thinking about (and grappling with) anxiety lately, as well as the possibility, for me--already realized by some friends--of panic attacks. For some of us, those feelings can take on a life of their own, and when they do, it's not rational, and it's not always controllable. If you're one of those people, I recommend finding an empathetic ear, where you can talk about it to someone who knows what these feelings are like. (I'm happy to be that person, if I can help.) For what it's worth, I scribbled down these few lines the other day, and it feels like something I want to remember: 

"Look down on your anxiety, not up at it. It is a piece of you. It is maybe even a child. You made it." 

For me, it's been helpful to do anything I can to see anxiety in the larger context of my experience that always exists around it, and to remind myself that the all-encompassing feeling of anxiety (which is not to say the anxiety itself) is an illusion, like a movie close up that keeps me from seeing the larger picture. I can't make the anxiety invisible, but I can pull the camera back and shrink its relative size, if I remember to do that.

So for instance, if I’m spiraling down, and someone were to say “You’re going to be okay,” or if I try to tell myself, “I've got this…I can handle it,”… the answer from my anxiety-ridden mind is, “YOU CAN’T KNOW THAT. MAYBE I’LL BE OKAY AND MAYBE I WON’T.” And it’s true. Those kinds of reassurances are, ultimately, opinions, not facts. And even if those well-meant expressions of reassurance are likely to come true, they just don’t stand up against the certainty of my anxious state.

So… if the question of whether or not everything will be okay isn’t a useful one at a given moment, because it relies on unknowable things—on opinion—then what kinds of actual, factual things CAN stand up to the anxiety? For me, these days, that answer has centered on gratitude. 

For a lot of people, a focus on gratitude can be (and has been) hugely powerful. For others, the word itself, “gratitude,” is like a new-age dog whistle. People hear “gratitude” in this context and inevitably, some eyes will roll. But hear me out. If I’m experiencing a high level of anxiety, or even worse, edging toward an actual panic attack, one of the things I’ve found useful is to ask myself, or to be asked, “What am I grateful for?” As far as I can tell, answering that question helps me in two ways: 

1) It distracts my brain, requiring me to focus on something other than the anxiety itself. (SIDEBAR: Moreover, any kind of interruption can be useful for me: like picking up a book and forcing myself to read it and, even harder, force myself to process and understand the words as I read them; or as another example, I’ve found tapping to be useful; it’s a prescribed sequence of finger taps against various points on and around the face. It screams “placebo effect,” but to that I say: if it works, who cares?)

And 2) While reassurances like “You’ll be fine” don’t have the power to stand up to my anxiety, the fact of my gratitude (for my husband, family, friends, home, sense of humor, or whatever it is) does stand up. So if someone says “You’ll be fine,” my internal response is essentially, “YOU CAN’T KNOW THAT FOR SURE!”

However, if I say or think “I’m grateful for my husband…my family…my home,” or whatever it might be, my brain (even from inside my anxiety) doesn’t have the ammunition to convince me otherwise. It doesn’t try to say, “No, you’re wrong. You’re not grateful for those things.” Because it can’t. And in that acknowledgment, I’m inevitably widening the lens a bit, or a lot, to make my experience something more than just the anxiety itself. 

And again, the power here for me isn’t about making the anxiety go away. It’s about diluting the anxiety’s dominance of my mental picture. It's "yes, and" as opposed to "don't worry, be happy." 

It also reminds me of Anne Lamott’s prescription in the face of the various creative fears that writers often feel as they set out to write a story. To that anxiety, she says, “Okay, you can come along if you must, but you have to sit in the back seat.” 

Is all of this easier said than done? For sure.  I don’t mean to over-simplify anything here. But for me, there’s something very practical to all of this — like actual tools I can use — and those have been a big help.

All best,

Friday, March 20, 2020

Cover Love

We all know the saying, "You can't judge a book by its cover." But we all know we do. Young or old, we reach for that book with the cover that, for some reason, grabs us and compels us to pick it up. That's why this month my post is all about "Cover Love," specifically the love I have for the covers of all my books. And I have to warn you, I'm going to brag here a little, okay, maybe a lot.

I'll start by saying that all my covers are amazing! And not all authors can say that about their books. I know authors who really aren't all that fond of what their book looks like on the outside, so I'm super thankful that I can truly say I love the way my books look on the shelf. But who can blame me.  Take a look:

Now maybe you think I'm being a little too boastful showing off these beauties, but I didn't have anything to do with how fabulous these covers are. The art and design team at Sourcebooks is amazingly smart, talented, and creative; and as far as I'm concerned, they come up with a winner every time. So my "Cover Love" is all about "hats off" to them. They're the ones who make readers want to pick up my books to find out what's inside. And that, after all, is one of the things authors want more than anything in the world.

Happy Reading,
Nancy J. Cavanaugh

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Art+Writing, Art or Writing: All the Arts Sustain Us

While writing was always my first love, art was a close second. 

As a high school student, I kept those two worlds fairly separate. I enjoyed my English, creative writing and journalism courses, though I also fully immersed myself into fine art,  sculpture, drawing and painting classes. It was my art teacher sophomore year who suggested I intertwine the words and the art. Mostly, she wanted me to have enough to do and create and test my limits. I agreed. My teacher (ironically named Mrs. English) bumped me up a level to a senior art class project. There, second graders at the elementary school were writing a short story. We, as the artists, were to take those words and interpret it into a illustrations and a book cover. Together, it would bring words and art to live - in what better way possible - than a book. 

I loved the assignment. I worked with a young girl who wrote about a misfit penguin, who, though lost and lonely for awhile, ultimately found a friend on on another iceberg. Intertwining art and writing together brought me an entirely new love. It was a new way to see the words I wrote and translate them to imagery outside of my head. The little girl kept her hardcover first-print book. I still have the photocopy version. 

While I never became a children’s book illustrator nor children’s book writer, it has continued to be a medium I pick up when I’m writing. The distraction of pulling out what’s in my head onto the page as watercolor pigments and ink lines, pouring over the page and taking up space, calms my mind and opens it to where I can get back to writing. Art has always been a form of healing for me, one that opens my mind an doors.

I’m fortunate to have worked with many awesome illustrators in my time as a small town author. Artist Tadgh Bentley took my words of my first middle grade novel, The Great Cat Nap, and did such an amazing, beautiful piece of art for the cover. Every time I see that cover - now as a poster on my wall - I stop and stare into that little world I wrote about and pictured, now brought out so stunningly with details and emotion in layers even deeper than I could have drawn. 

One last thought on art in these often frightening days as we quarantine and work to regain and maintain health as a nation and as a world: In these darkest of hours, in these days of fear and ever-changing uncertainty - it is art to which we turn to. To the writers and the dreamers and the drawers and the dancers and the producers. We pick our books we want to read, we loan library books through e-readers, we watch TV for shows and movies and plays where the artists are acting and writing and bringing us hope and light. It the artists who remind us, there is always something to hold onto, to look into, to find peace in. 

Happy reading!

Monday, March 16, 2020

Visual Inspiration, by Michele Weber Hurwitz

There was an old abandoned barn near my house that fascinated me. It was on the route of my usual afternoon walks so I passed it often. It had once been part of a farm no doubt, but now it was the only structure remaining amidst an empty, overgrown plot of land full of tall weeds and discarded items. I loved its worn gray siding and the way it stood a bit lopsided, but mostly, I couldn't help but imagine the life that was once was a part of it.   
Outside the door was a mud-stained baseball. A tangled red ribbon. A smashed plastic milk jug. There was a clear and present sign not to trespass on the property so I didn't go close, but I often stopped on the road just to look. And imagine. There's a story here, I would always think. What happened to the people? Where are they now? Did they have to leave quickly for some reason, so fast that a boy forgot his baseball and the ribbon loosened and fell from a girl's ponytail? What did the area look like when it was all farms? Filled with their neighbors. Their friends.

Soon after I discovered the barn and took this picture, it was torn down, and in its place -- what else -- brand new row houses were being built. I cried a little at the sight of bulldozers and torn-up earth. The baseball and ribbon were gone.

Like many writers, I think visually. When I see something like the barn and it sticks in my mind so strongly, it helps me create settings and scenes. For my new middle grade novel releasing in May, Hello from Renn Lake, I had such a vivid visual scene for the opening chapter. One moonless night, a baby girl is abandoned near the back garden of a store in a small Wisconsin town, and the ancient lake across the street is the only witness. I could see the garden, its flowers and long grasses bending in the slow summer breeze. I saw the lake, as still and dark as the black sky. I saw a figure holding a baby wrapped in a blanket, one tiny hand poking out.

Sometimes, I'm so immersed in the visual world I'm creating while I write, I feel like it's a real place and I'm there. I have literally jumped when the doorbell rings (just FedX delivering a package, because who else would it be in this day and age). Everywhere, there are sights to be found that can help writers visualize and create. Be on the lookout! And when you see something that sparks your soul, stop and imagine.

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

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Rise UP

Talking a slight detour from this month’s focus on art, I thought I’d share some words on the frenetic activities swirling around my life, and have no doubt touched all of our lives in some way. I admit, it’s hard to focus on making art during these mad times of pandemics, economic recessions, elections, emergencies, layoffs.

But I find comfort in these words, by Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Courage is that quality which enables us to stand up to any fear. It is the final determination not to be stopped or overwhelmed by any object, however frightful it may be. Many of our fears are very real, and not mere snakes under the carpet. Trouble is a reality in this strange medley of life and dangers lurk beneath our every move….Courage is the inner determination to go on in spite of obstacles and frightening situations; cowardice is the submissive surrender to the forces of circumstance. The man of courage never loses the zest for living even though his life situation is zestless; the cowardly man, overwhelmed by the uncertainties of life, loses the will to live. Courage breeds creative self‐affirmation; cowardice breeds destructive self-abnegation. Courage faces fear and thereby masters it; cowardice represses fear and is thereby mastered by it. So we must constantly build dykes of courage to ward off the flood of fear.”

Music helps, too. 

You're broken down and tired
Of living life on a merry-go-round
And you can't find the fighter
But I see it in you so we gonna walk it out
And move mountains

And I'll rise up
I'll rise like the day
I'll rise up
I'll rise unafraid
I'll rise up
And I'll do it a thousand times again
And I'll rise up

--Andra Day. Rise Up (Warner Bros. Records, Aug. 28, 2015)

And, when all else fails, there’s a bit of scary humor. Because pandemics and zombies go together like Michael Jackson and Thriller.

What are your favorite words of courage? Your favorite songs of inspiration?

For Martin Luther King’s full sermon on overcoming fear, see "The Mastery of Fear or Antidotes for Fear". MLKP, MBU, Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, Boston University, Boston, Mass.

--Bobbi Miller

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Book Cover Art...Do Author's Get to Choose?

In answer to the question posed in the title, in most instances, authors who are not illustrators have little say in what ends up on the cover of their books. It can be frustrating when the choice isn't what we hoped for, or something to celebrate when it is much more than we imagined.

For my latest book WISHES, DARES, AND HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY (Creston April 2020), I had the unique opportunity to weigh in on the images that appeared on the front and back covers of the book. My editor/publisher asked me what I thought should be included.
      Set up as a NOTEBOOK written by an eleven-year-old boy, the images reflect the summer of adventure and discovery he shared with his family and new friends.

The story takes place in the summer of 1964, so the rocket represents the new Mercury space program. The main character Jack, discovers his Dad's old Schwinn bike and rides it all summer. Jack, sister Katy, and a new friend named Jill camp out in the backyard tent on many nights. The one-eyed fish - named FRED - grants wishes that change the lives of everyone that summer.

On the back cover, Katy draws a face on a beach ball Gran gives her and names the ball Bouncy. Bouncy becomes a character of sorts in the story. The key opens a box Jack discovers in the dusty attic. A box that holds his Dad's notebook that was written when he was a boy Jack's age. And, what would a summer be without milkshakes and ice-cream sodas?

It was a joy and honor to have made the suggestions for the images that appear on the final cover. A cover that tells a story of it's own.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Art = Art by Jody Feldman

Bug by Jody Feldman, age 6
I knew, from a very early age, that when I grew up, I’d never become an artist. Don’t misunderstand. I loved to draw and paint and create. And the things I drew were completely recognizable.

It’s just that the man whose bedroom was around the corner from mine WAS an profession. I’d stand right next to his drawing table, mesmerized, as my dad made things appear from nothing but a blank piece of paper and a pencil or marker or paintbrush or airbrush.

I knew I could never be that good. What I didn’t know, and what I try to tell kids when I visit schools, is that he didn’t draw like that when he was my age. It took him years of school and work; years of developing and honing; years of trials and mistrials and, especially, dedication before he climbed to the top tier of his profession.

It’s funny. From my current perspective, I can see the parallels; how we, as writers, also make magic appear from a blank piece of paper. How we weren’t born with this ability. How we’ve needed to find the dedication to work and develop and hone. How we go through mistakes and mistrials to produce a collection of words that are worthy of others to read.

Even at the close of his career, my dad still played with new techniques and media while he worked on his craft. As for me? I hope; no, I expect these parallels to continue.
Self-portrait of the artist

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Doodles To The Rescue -- by Jane Kelley

When I started my first MG novel, Nature Girl, I was just as naive as my character. Megan thought it would be easy to hike twenty miles on the Appalachian Trail--even though she had hardly any food or water, no camping gear, and no real knowledge of how to survive in the wilderness. That pretty much described me too (although I did have food and water). I also had some excellent advice. My husband and daughter were early readers. My agent Linda Pratt understood my novel and was very wise about the publishing world. Before Linda matched me with my excellent editor Shana Corey, I got a great suggestion from another editor.

Your character is alone through most of the book. Can you give her something to do? 

Alone? Of course she's alone! That's the point! Megan discovers her inner strength by reaching her goal on her own. But her solitary journey was also a problem. When she was alone, with just her thoughts and that yucky voice, she became one note.

Maybe Megan can doodle?

In early versions, Megan only doodled during "Art Time." Doodling was just something else she didn't like about herself. It never occurred to me to let her continue to draw her adventures. Those additional doodles helped the book in so many ways.
Art by Heather Palisi
Megan's sketches became a dialogue with herself. In this one, she is imagining the happy ending to her story. This is pretty important because the reader needs to know that Megan isn't lost or running away. Megan has a positive reason for what she's doing. Oh--and Megan needs to know that too!

Megan was wrong about her doodles. They weren't just trash, as she thought. Art isn't only something that hangs on a museum wall. Art is anything that encourages us to look at our world in a new way.

By the end of Megan's journey, she has accomplished her goal. She has arrived at Mount Greylock. She is a stronger, better person. In reality, she can't stand up on top of the monument and she won't meet her friend for a few more pages. But this picture shows us how she feels--on top of the world.

In fiction we always strive to show not tell. Even if you don't have an amazing illustrator like Heather Palisi, you can incorporate visual thinking in your story. Art will add dimension and perspective. Art takes us outside of ourselves. Maybe most importantly, art is fun.

There are many great books in which characters make art. One of my favorites is Meena Meets Her Match by Karla Manternach. The sequel, Never Fear, Meena's Here, will be out later this month. I'm eager to read how Meena continues to turn trash into treasure to transform her world.

Friday, February 28, 2020

"...Came In Like a Wrecking Ball....

By Charlotte Bennardo

This month, the first topic is about Hot Breakfast month but I rarely do hot breakfasts because it's easier just to eat a bowl of Raisin Bran. Everyone is out of the house very early so there's no one to cook for and I taught my boys in middle school they have to be responsible not only for their own laundry, but for their own breakfast.

The other topic for the month is how do I get started on a project.

I'm in a restaurant, or walking down the street, or reading the news- and BAM! A new idea hits me like the wrecking ball in that Miley Cyrus song/video. My brain goes into overdrive, instantly formulating plot, twists, endings, characters. In a few minutes of frenetic brain activity, I have a general concept for a new book. Hopefully I remember to write it down, because the next day, another idea might hit me and crowd out the details of the other brilliant idea.

Once written down, I go to Wikipedia (hush for a moment, you'll see where I'm going with this) and get basic information. At the bottom of each Wikipedia page is a list of citations. I sort through those which are solid: academic papers, news reports, memoirs, non-fiction books, etc. (See? not all Wikipedia is bad). I probably spend several days Googling info because I get sidetracked, as more thoughts about plot and characters and possible other stories slam around in my head. Sometimes, it gets a little crowded in there...

Photo by Ana Bregantin from Pexels 

I make copious notes. As a former newspaper reporter, magazine writer, and paralegal who had to write concisely, I don't want to omit anything that might be important to the story later on. Many times, I have too much information, which requires me to sort through for the most salient facts. Many times throughout a manuscript, I refer back to my notes, or have to do more research, so that's on ongoing thing. Plus, I try to find pictures either of the characters or something that has to do with the idea. With Sirenz 3: A New Trend, I kept a copy of Sirenz 2: Back In Fashion on my desk because it has the picture of Hades and it helped me remember his character (such a suave beast). 

I always have a beginning and an end, so it's that whole middle part that's tough. Over the years I've discovered that being a 'pantster' (writing by the seat of your pants- whatever comes to mind) is great for beginning a novel, but not sustainable for the whole book. So now I outline; one sentence per chapter. Then I'll go back and make it several sentences per chapter. Usually I try to create bios for my main characters: what they look like, their flaws, a secret they have, a bit of background, etc. I don't like to make their profiles too specific because they have to tell me about themselves as we more forward into the story. 

And then I write, for hours on end when I can, or every 15 minutes I can take a break from other things that need to get done in my life like cooking, cleaning, errands, etc.

Once the draft is done, I put it away as I work on revisions for a previous manuscript. I always have several I'm working on, whether it's a #NaNoWriMo project from a previous year, or an old manuscript in the 'fix me' drawer. After that revision is done, it's back to my new project to do the first of many run throughs and revisions. 

Not rocket science, but it works for me.

Eating What Faulkner Ate for Breakfast Doesn't Make You Faulkner

In 1950, William Faulkner was so famous that he was pretty sick and tired of people wanting to come to Oxford, Mississippi, to get a look at him. He was also annoyed with the fan mail he received. "Now I get stacks of letters asking what I eat for breakfast and what about curves and linear discreteness," he wrote to a friend. "Suppose I ought to answer them, but I don't."

Why would anyone care what William Faulkner ate for breakfast? Because he was William Faulkner.

At this very moment, I could read any number of articles online or in magazines that will tell me which eye cream Jennifer Lopez uses or what trick Kerry Washington swears by for her glowing skin or which diet plan Jennifer Aniston follows to stay so slim and trim. And I could buy said eye cream or try said trick or eat said food and guess what? I would still not look like J-Lo, Kerry, or "Rachel."

But hey, the eye cream might be worth a try, right?

Same thing with writers. People always want to know the "tricks" or routines successful writers use. And sometimes they're especially helpful. No kidding--I'm reading a book right now that lays out which page of a manuscript each plot point should fall on, and it's amazing. But if William Faulkner ate squirrel dumplings for breakfast every morning, that doesn't mean that if I do the same, I'll suddenly become the writer that Faulkner was. (Thank goodness because I don't want to eat squirrel dumplings.)

So far, the only successful "trick" I know of for writing comes from a shoe company: JUST DO IT. Work steadily and work hard.

Of course, if you know of anything easier and more foolproof, I'm all ears. Just as long as I don't have to eat a squirrel.

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

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Writing the First Draft of Your Novel: Don’t Fear the First Draft Mess – Holly Schindler

My first draft is a complete and utter…


What it is not is disorganized or unruly or chaotic.

Doesn’t make much sense, does it? We’re trained to think of a mess as something out of control. Something untamable, even. Something that needs to be fixed.

After going through the first-draft process as many times as I have, I’ve come to welcome the mess. I’m also able to deal with it in a much more streamlined way—because I’ve learned to accept the mess.

Here’s my process:

1. Outline. This is also not a neat process. It’s not some tidy little outline with points A, B, C, subpoints 1, 2, 3, all laid out. It’s paragraphs. It’s sketches. It’s a giant wad of brainstorming. I write about the characters—their wants, their needs. I figure out the main plot points. I branch off into the possible subplots.

2. I REVISE MY OUTLINE. I’m not kidding. I hone it, get rid of points or characters that I don’t think will work. I figure out the shape of the overall novel. (You might want to check out some books on plotting here—you can start with Save the Cat or even Googling the beats for your genre.)

3. I write random chapters. This works because I also use Scrivener for drafting. Each chapter appears in the “Binder” on the left side of the screen. I write whatever appeals to me that day—whatever scene I find the most intriguing.

4. I REVISE MY OUTLINE. This is inevitable. After a few chapters, I’ve happened upon a few ideas that I never could have anticipated. It gives me new ideas for how the story should be structured. What the turning-point should be. What the best sub-plots are.

5. I write more random chapters. See #3.

At this point, the whole thing looks like an apartment that’s half-moved-into. Open cardboard boxes all over the place. And it will probably get messier, because I'll alternate between #4 and #5 for a while.

But don’t worry, because we’re soon on to the next step, which is one of the most fun:

6. Move the chapters into order. In Scrivener, you can just drag and drop your chapters.

7. Finally, I write a narrative thread connecting all the scenes and linking the chapters together.

Voila! The first full draft of the novel is now complete. And it’s complete because I embraced the mess right from the beginning. Seriously—it’s soooo tempting to write chronologically. To go for that edited-as-I-go nice neat draft. In my experience, the “neat” drafts are deceiving. There’s far more work tht needs to be done to a draft written chronologically and tidily than to one written messily.

Go for it—embrace the mess!