Monday, November 28, 2016


We hear often about how empowering it can be to say no to other people. To stop people-pleasing to the point that you've run yourself ragged and granting favors feels like a burden rather than a pleasure.

It's hard to say no to others. Really hard. Inevitably that feeling creeps in--that awful feeling of letting someone down or hurting their feelings.

But so often, it seems easy to say no to yourself. We all get those new ideas--that desire to do something a little outside of the box. Try a new genre, maybe. Indie publish. Illustrate our work. Try a screenplay. But doubts start creeping in: we worry about how branching out will be received. Or we wonder if all the time spent will result in a project that winds up in a drawer, never to see the light of day.

 No, we wind up telling ourselves, I could never do that. (Whatever "that" is.)

But here's the thing--the obvious thing: by never attempting, the project winds up in a drawer anyway. And more importantly, by not empowering yourself with a Yes! I can--I'll figure out a way to make that work!, you wind up digging away at your own self-confidence. Doubt has been invited in to sit on the couch beside you. And for anyone involved in a creative pursuit, doubt is a total dream-killer.

So give yourself permission. Make it your early 2017 resolution to tell yourself yes to that thing (whatever it is) that's been floating around in your head for a while. Do it. Jump in headfirst, without a life jacket. Make yourself figure out how to make it work. One yes leads to another...another. It becomes every bit as confidence building as nos can be confidence destroyers.

Do it: say yes to yourself.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Smack Dab in the Classroom: Stack of Butter, Stack of Books by Dia Calhoun

When I was ten to twelve years old, sometimes I'd go with my Dad to his shop on Capitol Hill in Seattle. I'd hang out there until my ballet lesson at Cornish. He'd give me a dollar, and I'd walk around the corner to a cafe. As soon as the waitress saw me coming, she'd yell back to the cook, "Stack of Butter!" Those three beautiful words meant toast.

I sat at the counter under her watchful eye and pulled out my book. Toast and a good book--what more could you want? I've always loved to eat while I read. Kids today are glued to their phones during meals. I was glued to my book. (Now some would say this is not "mindful" eating. I would say their is more to the experience of eating than the food that goes into your mouth.)

So in this holiday time of delicious foods, I ask you this: What book would you read at Thanksgiving dinner (if your parents or spouse or family would let you!) and why? Or perhaps break your meal and books into courses, like pairing wine with food. What book would you read with the stuffing? Which with the pumpkin pie?

This would be a fun assignment for kids.

Wishing you a Thanksgiving surrounded by everything you love--family, food, and books of course,

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

NO!vember by Laurie Calkhoven

I had a powerful reminder about the importance of saying no not to long ago. I do a lot of freelance writing and ghostwriting in addition to writing “my” books. Some of these projects have my name on them, some of them don’t. Some pay a royalty, and some don’t. I’d rather be writing these books than working in the corporate world, but my income can be unpredictable. There can also be uncomfortably long gaps between assignments. And that’s when I get into trouble.

An educational publisher – actually a vendor working for an educational publisher – was putting together a new line of hi/lo readers. I was in one of those uncomfortable dry spells, and they were looking for authors for lots of books. I said yes. I should have said no. The pay wasn’t high enough, there were too many moving parts (multiple stories, multiple authors, too many cooks in the kitchen at the vendor/publisher), and the dates kept shifting. Of course, right after I signed on to write two novels for them, I got a much more lucrative and more interesting offer from a trade publisher.

I was able to use their shifting dates as an excuse to leave the project (and happily they were gracious) and take on the book I wanted to write.  But first I went through quite a bit of angst. I had never quit a freelance job before, and I didn’t want to appear like a flake. But it was a relief when it was all over.

And the thing is, I knew from the beginning that I should say no. A few years ago I put together a list of four freelance “musts” – things I absolutely had to have in order to take a job on. Then I added a list of four “very importants” – things that weren’t essential but would go a long way to tipping the scale.  That educational publisher job had only one of my musts and none of my very importants. The only thing it had going for it was a much too low paycheck.

So I am reminded again not to say yes just because someone asks. Saying no can be much more powerful, and make room for better, more interesting work to come my way.

Friday, November 18, 2016

A Default Setting of YES by Claudia Mills

When my boys were little, I desperately devoured parenting magazines each month. There was one article I've remembered forever. I don't recall the title. I don't recall the author. But I've never forgotten the central point. It said that too many parents, in their interactions with their kids, make their default setting NO. "Can I go outside to play?" "No, not now." "Can we get out the Play-Doh?" "No, not now." Then, if (actually, when) the child screams and begs enough, perhaps hurling himself onto the floor for extra effect, the parent relents: "Oh, well, okay." Of course, all this behavior ends up doing is teaching the child that parental no's are lazy automatic replies ripe for reconsideration. The article suggested that parents lead with "yes" more often, keeping "no" for refusals that will then be non-negotiable.

I thought, and continue to think, this is excellent advice. 

These days my default setting is YES.

After all, 100 percent of my biggest life regrets are not for things I did, but for things I didn't do. I regret not having studied abroad when I was in college. I regret never having uprooted my family for a sabbatical in, say, Budapest, when I was a professor. I regret not spending the money and time to visit a music librarian friend who had a work-exchange for a year in Edinburgh. (Hmm, I'm seeing a pattern here...)

I don't find myself regretting the (many) things I did that turned out badly. Despite hideous outcomes, I'm basically glad I did all of them.

John Lennon shares the story of how he fell in love with Yoko Ono. He saw an art installation of hers in London, where one work required the viewer to climb a ladder to peer, through a spyglass, at a seemingly empty black canvas affixed to the ceiling. But when he looked through the spyglass, he discovered that in little tiny letters, he could read the single word "YES." 

So, I'll close with this quote from Molly Bloom's famous soliloquy in Ulysses: "yes I said yes I will Yes."

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

When No is a Beautiful Word

by Naomi Kinsman

As an improviser, I've been trained in the art of saying "yes, and ..." If you've taken acting classes (most of us have at one time or another) you have seen the power of "yes, and ..." and the disaster of no.

No blocks.
No embarrasses.
No shuts people down.
No stops the scene.

One doesn't even have to say "no" to bring the full power of "no" into a scene. A dismissive look, a side-step that ignores what has been offered, or a snarky comment can all dissolve a possibility into a dead end.

So, no is obviously a bad word, correct? All evidence points that way, yes, but ...

Gretchen Rubin points out that the opposite of a great truth is also true. I believe her claim is true in many cases, and particularly when it comes to yes and no.

Yes is a powerful word. With yes comes possibility and options and movement.

However, no is a powerful word too. With no comes focus and decision and the ability to stop and take stock.

As a writer, learning to say yes was absolutely essential to my growth. Now, after an extended season of growth, I'm finding that resisting my immediate yes is also important. Yes has started to lose some of its oomph. I say "yes," but I really mean "I'm not sure," or "I hope I can," and my forward momentum doesn't have its original spark. Now, "no" is my more powerful word. When I say "no" to opportunities or to ideas, a little more wind stays in my sails. The wind doesn't take long to collect, and soon I've built up the oomph for a real yes, a yes with strength and enthusiasm.

Yes to the offers and ideas that fit.
No to the ones that distract.
Yes to my dreams and goals.
No to the desire to make everyone happy all the time.
Yes to communicating kindly, honestly, and up front rather than stringing people along.
No to allowing requests from others to become my daily to-do list.

In order for my yes to have strength, my no must be strong too.
No is a beautiful word.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

I’ve Got Problems by Bob Krech

Sticking with the NOvember theme, I started thinking about how “No” relates to problems and how problems are often at the heart of many stories. Here are a few example “NO’s” from stories I know:

No clues
No suspect
No murder weapon
No evidence
No alibi
No parents
No friends
No escape
No one to play with
No money
No confidence
No direction
No love

A fun way to utilize “NO’s” to generate a story is to pick a scenario, for example, a child planning on going out trick or treating on Halloween. Now we use our “NO’s” to create some problems to give our character. For example:

No costume
No one to trick or treat with
No permission to go out
No where to go trick or treating
No time to go out (too much homework, have to take care of a baby sister, etc.)
No good weather

It’s fun to help a character figure out ways to overcome these “NO’s.” In the end, if we are successful, and find interesting ways to effectively defeat these problems, we  remove the “NO’s” and leave our character and the reade, with a big… “YES!” instead.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Three "NO'S" Writers Should Say Yes To: by Darlene Beck Jacobson

If we writers take every negative comment obstacle in our path to heart, many of us would never have our books out in the world.  Sure, there are times when NO means, "maybe I need to try something else".  But, there are three instances where NO should be changed into YES.

1. Don't write of things you know nothing about: I wouldn't attempt to write about a character who is proficient in quantum physics, but as a writer of historical fiction, there is much I don't know about the past.  Research fills in the gaps and makes me an expert on the era I'm writing about.

2. This story is NOT what we're looking for: Repeated by editors and agents over and over again, this litany can derail a writer and make you question the integrity of your work.  Should I give up?  In my case, after 36 no's, one said YES.  It only takes one.

3. Quiet stories are a hard sell:   Really?  Then why are so many so called "quiet stories" nominated for awards?  A good story, well told,  is what matters more than whether the narrative is fast paced and action packed.  If we make our characters relate able and their quests real, we'll find an audience.

Takes these NO's and use them to make your next story the best one yet.

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Importance of No

from Jody Feldman

Yesterday, I submitted my latest novel to my agent. Again. She’d already said no once, though it had taken her many more words than that.
“You’re off to a good start.”
“The book needs more drive.”
"Too much banter...interrupts the forward motion of the story.”
You get the picture.

But no is an important part of the process. I don’t want participation ribbons or empty smiles or “your hair looks great” comments when it’s apparent I’ve come straight from sleeping in a wind tunnel. I want to put my best work out there even if it takes sleepless nights, all-consuming thought patterns, and dust monsters. (I’ve been known to skip the bunny phase.)

The day I stop hearing no, as I go through the earlier stages of writing a book, will not lead to parades and confetti. It will make me wonder why the critique world has plotted against me, why they want to see me put out mediocrity.

No is hard to hear. Every time I expose my work-in-progress to readers, I am in a delusion-of-grandeur state. The characters are fascinating. The plot is tight and exciting. They can’t possibly find fault in the story. And every time, it’s the same. No. Sorry.

In the end, no is important. No, it’s vital. Because without these nos, I will never hear my readers—the real ones, the kids—say what every author wants to hear: YES!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Getting to Know Your Story Characters

By Marcia Thornton Jones

For those of you that have accepted the NaNoWriMo challenge, and also for those of you who, like me, know it’s not a good match for your personal writing process, here are a few writing prompts that will help you get to really know and love your characters!

Getting to Know Your Characters
Marcia’s 10 Prompts for Developing Round Characters

1.      What are three of you character’s favorite childhood memories? What happened? When does she think back to those memories?

2.      What is the one childhood toy she won’t throw away? Why? Where does she keep it?

3.      What are her ticks? Her habits? The quirks that others notice but that she’s unaware of?

4.      What is the one thing she cannot stand? The one topic that results in a rant?

5.      What energizes her? What spurs her into action? What creates intense focus and persistence?

6.      What was one of her childhood fantasies? What is a fantasy she has now? How have her fantasies changed over time? What elements about them are the same?

7.      What secrets about herself does she keep? What secrets about someone else does she keep? Under what circumstance(s) might she be tempted to betray those secrets?

8.      What do her parents, siblings, friends, lovers, teachers/bosses say about her when she’s not around? What would they say about her if they were testifying in court?

9.      When she walks into a room full of strangers, what is she thinking? What does she tell herself? What are her first three actions?

10.  How is this character like you? How is she different?

2016/Marcia T. Jones

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

NO HOLDS BARRED --- by Jane Kelley

This month, I'm going to write with No Holds Barred.

You've heard the phrase. It comes from wrestling. You win a match by grabbing hold of your opponent and pinning her to the mat. But as in all sports, there are restrictions. You can't use illegal holds like headlocks. You can't pull your opponent's thumb or less than four fingers. You can't use a hold that restricts breathing or circulation.

But sometimes, you need to forget the rules in order to win. Sometimes, just like in this Hulk Hogan movie, you need to fight with no ring. No ref. No rules.

That's how I want to write. No holds barred. 

For months, I've been struggling with an unwieldy project. I've tried to fix it by using my typical methods. I've adjusted the character arc. I've fiddled with the plot outline. I've added thematic descriptions. Funny minor characters. Inciting events. Exciting events. But all that thinking has been far too restrictive. I've spent more time analyzing the problems than writing the damn novel. It's time to say, no holds barred. 

No Ring -- I won't restrict my imagination. I will find ways to explore uncharted territory.

No Ref -- I won't pass judgment on my ideas. I will allow myself the chance to make mistakes.

No Rules -- I won't use someone else's plan for success. I will be myself.

This November, I won't say "no." I'll do whatever it takes. I'll write with more abandon. I'll jump off cliffs and out of airplanes. I won't check to see if the parachute works or even if there is one. I'll leap.

And then, when that wild, passionate, inventive draft is done, I'll return to rules and regulations. Maybe.


Because in government, some holds should be barred.  

Monday, November 7, 2016

Guest Post – How The Wishing World Came to Be Written - TODD FAHNESTOCK

I (Holly Schindler, administrator of Smack Dab) got my hands on a copy of THE WISHING WORLD, and I instantly fell in love. This imaginative, addictive story is sure to sweep your young reader off his or her feet. (And if you decide to make this one a family read-aloud, I guarantee you'll be swept away, too...) I'm delighted to share Todd Fahnestock's writing journey:

From Todd Fahnestock:

This is one of my favorite stories to tell because this whole novel took me by surprise. The Wishing World is my first middle grade novel, and it was never intended to be published, not in the beginning, anyway:

It all started as a series of bedtime stories. I just wanted my children, Elowyn and Dashiell (at that time, ages 3 and 5 respectively), to go to sleep. Both have active imaginations, but Dash is a morning lark and Elo is a night owl. Her mind is alive with stories, and she’d much rather talk with Daddy than go to bed. Elo had my number (pretty much from the moment she was born). How could I resist a little girl, so unbelievably talented at age 5, who wanted to make up stories with me?

So I executed some parental aikido. I circumvented, giving her what she wanted and getting what I wanted at the same time. I started telling BORING stories. Smart, right? Boring story. She’ll nod off. What a great plan. What could go wrong?

Hugo the Turtle (who is not in the actual book) was the first Wishing World character, and I told the story in true stream-of-consciousness. Hugo lived near a weedy bank by a lake, and he slept upside down in a dent in the ground that fit his shell. He was slow and methodical, and he put the kids to sleep after ten minutes. But to intentionally create a slow story about a flat character, with no plot and no tension... Urgh! Nails on a chalkboard to a storyteller!

After a week or so, I reverted to type. (The Plan! Remember the Plan?!? Bad Dad…) I added Gruffy the Griffon and his two friends, Pip and Squeak. Gruffy was everything I loved in a hero: courteous, dashing, adventurous, noble. Pip kept the dialogue hopping with a high-pitched, sing-song voice, and Squeak added mystery by saying things the kids couldn’t understand but the other characters could.

This trio discovered the bell-bellied Bulwort at the bottom of the Booferous Bog. They narrowly evaded Gruffy’s parents during the infamous bedtime escape caper. They even went looking for Hugo the Turtle on a wisdom-gathering trip at that weedy bank near the lake. This visit kicked off the quest that eventually became The Wishing World. Gruffy, Pip, Squeak and Ripple visited the Sandspinner’s Azure City, with his life-sized sand castles. They shook hands with the Shake and Bake, walked through the land of the Leaf Laugher. By the time these four friends reached the Eternal Sea, Elowyn begged me to write the story down. By that time, I thought it might be a good idea.

I gave the story the working title “The Gruffy Book,” and wrote…nothing. The very first file I made for this book still just says: Write down the stories I told Elo and Dash about Gruffy.

The problem was simple: When I write I feel like an adventurer cutting a path through new country. But in this case, the adventurer became a glorified lemming, plodding in pre-made footprints. Yawn. I put the project aside.

But the oral stories continued full force. In fact, we took them on two road trips, one to Carbondale, CO and one to St. Paul, MN, to visit friends of ours with kids the same age as Elo and Dash. They all loved the story. My friends (and even some strangers who were close enough to overhear one of these story sessions in the park) told me I should write it down.

So I tried again, failed again. I stewed on that for a few days until the Big Idea hit me: I was going to put my kids into the story.

And so spunky, imaginative Lorelei was born, based on Elo, and I did something that she still hasn’t forgiven me for. I took her greatest fear and made Lorelei face it in Chapter 1. To this day, Elo refuses to read the first chapter and won’t stay in a room if I’m reading it aloud. But this was the piece I needed, and the rest of the story flowed like a river in flood.

And that is how The Wishing World came to be. There are videos on YouTube and on my facebook author page where I narrate this whole story, if you’re interested in seeing me tell it to the camera.

Thank you so much for inviting me to blog for you at Smack Dab in the Middle. I look forward to seeing you in Veloran.


TODD FAHNESTOCK won the New York Public Library's Books for the Teen Age Award for one of his short stories, and is the author of the YA bestseller Fairmist as well as The Wishing World. Stories are his passion, but Todd's greatest accomplishment is his quirky, fun-loving family. The Wishing World began as a series of bedtime stories for his children.

In the Wishing World, dreams are real. You can transform into your own hero, find wild and whimsical friends, and wield power as great as your imagination. But Lorelei doesn't know about any of that. All she knows is that a monster took her family.

It happened during a camping trip one year ago. Hiding inside the tent, she saw shadows, tentacles and a strange creature. By the time she got up the courage to crawl outside, the monster--and Lorelei's mom, dad, and brother--were gone.

Lorelei is determined to find her family. When she accidentally breaks into the Wishing World, she discovers a way. It's a land more wonderful than she could have imagined, a land of talking griffons, water princesses, and cities made of sand, where Lorelei is a Doolivanti--a wish-maker--who can write her dreams into existence.

There's only one problem: the monster is a Doolivanti, too. What he wishes also comes true, and he's determined to shove Lorelei out, keep her family, and make the whole Wishing World his. To save them, Lorelei must find the courage to face him, or her next wish may be her last.


Saturday, November 5, 2016

Saying No to Your Characters by Deborah Lytton

Writers love our characters.  We spend so much time writing our novels that the characters become like family to us, so of course we want what is best for them.  But sometimes, what is best for them is to tell them no.  People grow through adversity and our characters must do the same.  So that is why when things are moving along smoothly with my work-in-progress, I stop and consider how much more moving or interesting the story could become if I suddenly blocked my character's way. 

What would it have been like if Dorothy had just walked right down the yellow brick road and found the Wizard of Oz who sent her directly home?  Saying no is difficult to do because it forces us to find creative ways to bring the ending around the way we envision it.  But it is in that creative process that we can find our best work.  So take a look at your writing today and say no.  Make your characters fight for their happy endings.  I know they will find their way home in the end, just like Dorothy.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Navigating NO with a Personal Mission Statement for Writers

ways I am serving my personal
mission statement at NCTE!
I'm just coming off a very busy year in which two books released and I've traveled to 11 different states -- some of them more than once! And soon, after NCTE, I will have three months off. Three glorious months of no travel, no book events. I'm positively giddy! But I still struggle.

Just the other day a writer friend and I were talking about a conference I love to attend. She asked if I'd like to join her for a proposal for 2017. My first impulse was excitement -- wouldn't that be fun? But then I remembered: NO. Stop. Think.

See, I'm trying really hard these days to only say YES to the things that serve my personal mission statement.

Don't have a personal mission statement?

Stephen Covey talks about the in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He says a mission statement is for "defining the personal, moral and ethical guidelines within which you can most happily express and fulfill yourself."

There are all kinds of articles out there on how to create a mission statement. A quick way to get started is to ask yourself these three questions:

1. Who do you admire? What are they doing right? What qualities do you see in their way of living that you would like to incorporate into your own? Write down some descriptors of the ideal you.

2. What's most important to you? Think about your priorities. What is your purpose? When are you happiest/most fulfilled? If you only had one day, how would you spend it?

3. What would you like your legacy to be? What would you like to be known for? This is not a question for accomplishments, not an obituary question. Think about how you want people to feel when they remember you. Write down what you would like to give the world.

Okay, so once you've answered these questions, fashion them into a statement. Here's one I wrote in 2014.

And then, when you are faced with a decision -- attend conference or not? -- ask yourself: DOES IT FIT MY MISSION? And if it doesn't, say NO without apology. (Most often this involves setting aside ego, pride, fear of being left out/left behind....) And if it does fit your mission? YES! Go forth and change the world!
Irene Latham's first bits of writing were love poems – for her mother. An award winning author of two novels for children LEAVING GEE'S BEND and DON'T FEED THE BOY, she was named the winner of the 2016 International Literary Association-Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award. Her poetry titles for children include DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST, FRESH DELICIOUS, and WHEN THE SUN SHINES ON ANTARCTICA.