Friday, June 29, 2018

The 'Best' Advice?

By Charlotte Bennardo

So our theme this month is the best advice we've gotten (and passing it along to you.)

  • Write what you know
  • SBICAW (Sit Butt in Chair and Write) 
  • Write it first, revise later.
  • Write what interests you.
  • Don't write other people's stories
  • Write every day

There is a ton or more of advice about writing: not using cliches, use active verbs, don't overuse dialog tags, etc. All these are great points for writer, but the piece of advice I give when asked, and what I live by, is:


There's no "Some day when..." because somehow that someday never arrives. I've heard uncountable excuses, reasons, and stories why people who want to write can't. It's b.s. I wrote my first novel during my lunch break when I was working full time, going to school at night, was married, and had a home to take care of. When the kids came along, I wrote during soccer/baseball/taekwondo/fencing
practice. I snuck in sentences while waiting for the cable guy/plumber/appliance repairman. After dinner, I stole a few minutes to jot down some words. 

Why not make a time line of your routine and schedule writing time, even if it's only in 15 minute blocks? You make time for manicures or a night at the ballpark; you can block off some time to write, and those 15 minute blocks can add up.

And here's my advice: channeling my inner Kate Beckinsale from the movie Von Helsing when a vampiress yammers on about killing her, but Kate slides the stake in while said vampiress is waxing poetic instead of killing:


Monday, June 25, 2018


It took seven years to sell my first book. Back then, I used to think that if I just sold one, everything would change. I'd be "in" the industry. I pictured it as one giant hurdle I needed to scale, and once I got over it, the hard stuff would mostly be over.

I'll wait a minute while you finish laughing...

Okay, we all know that life doesn't magically change because you sell one book--or ten. It doesn't change once you get awards. You still have daily ups and downs, rejections, disappointments.

Just keep going.

And having a popular or well-received book doesn't magically change the world, either. The next book might get negative reviews. It might not sell.

Just keep going.

You have bad interviews that don't go your way. Your publisher doesn't push your work. You might feel overlooked. Wonder if your readers are out there.

Just keep going.

Because here's the thing: underneath all the disappointments and the nearly-non-existent paychecks, underneath the rejection and the struggle, there's this:

There is just nothing in this world--nothing--that is quite like sortytelling. There is nothing like writing and literature and reading. It's something I don't want to ever, ever, ever lose.

So I keep going.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Smack Dab in the Imagination: Imagination, Reverie, and Originality by Dia Calhoun

Imagination is, of course, all about images. As an author, and even more so as a poet, images are the powerhouses of my work. So how do creatives tap into a free-flowing well of images from the imagination?

It’s all about the unconscious.

As a developing species, humans perceived and processed the world in images long before we had language. A tree was a an image long before it became a word. The deeper layers of the brain still retain that way of perceiving the world. A creative artist who wants access to those images in original and free flowing ways, needs to tap her unconscious mind.

For many years I envisioned a tunnel from consciousness to the unconscious well. Now, I know there is not one, but hundreds of tunnels, some big, some small, some straight, some twisting, still others in spirals. Now I envision a sphere with many tunnels on the surface all reaching down to the Great Well at the center. Usually many of these tunnels are active at once. We just aren't aware of them.

One way that I tap into these tunnels is through semi-conscious reverie. Sometimes I do this right after waking. I drift in that state and hold an image, often from a dream, in my mind. Then I start describing it by speaking directly into a note on my phone, recording whatever comes out. Sometimes I grab a pencil and paper. Something about speaking though, allows me to stay in the creative drifting reverie more easily. I don’t edit in any way what I say or write. I allow myself to stop and start as the words an images come and go--no forced, timed writing.

Sometimes this process turns symphonic. I will say a phrase over and over, building on it, repeating with variations. Sometimes it’s pure rhythm. Only later, after breakfast, do I go back over this. First I read it aloud, then begin editing. I always preserve the original. This process has lead to some of my most original writing.

Why not try it yourself?

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Writers READ

The best piece of advice I'm able to offer would-be writers can be summed up in one word:  READ.  For me, reading was the key.

First, reading inspired me to want to become an author in the first place.  The books I fell in love with as a young reader like Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary and Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder planted the author seed in me even before I knew I wanted to write.  Later as an elementary school teacher, the books I read aloud to my third graders like The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes and The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo caused that author seed to grow, and my dream was born.  But simply having the dream to write a book doesn't necessarily make it happen.  As would-be authors often do, I spent many years collecting rejection letters, but it was my continued passion for reading, especially reading middle grade books, that taught me what I needed to know about what a story really must be in order for it to become a book.  Every book I've ever read, the ones I've loved, as well as the ones I haven't enjoyed all that much, were examples of how "story" actually works.  It was all those examples that allowed me to finally take one of my works-in-progress to the level necessary to achieve that sought-after acceptance letter instead of another rejection.

So, my best advice:  Spend time reading to unlock creative inspiration as well as gain wonderful examples of the essentials needed to write a great story.

Happy Writing and Reading,

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Best advice I’ve received as a writer


Likable characters.


High concept.

There are a lot of terms a writer will read about in publishing when if they start down that path to see their manuscript become a bound novel.


If one writes for the market – to be commercial, or try to hit a trend, there’s likely to be a fair amount roadblocks and letdowns, I’ve found.

If one writes not for the market, but for oneself, ones love of the craft and love of the literary world, they won’t fail.

For me, writing and publishing have had to be two different worlds.“You’ll always love writing, but you’ll grow to hate publishing.” At times, this has been true. Publishing isn’t out to eat your heart, but it is a competitive business. To be an author, you have to be pretty okay with hearing the word “no.” Rejections are the norm.

It only takes one “yes,” however. If you keep knocking on doors, however, eventually you’ll hear an enthusiastic “yes.” 

Whether it’s for a novel, a blog post, a poem, a short story, it only takes one yes in that sea of no’s to keep you going and heading towards your goal – whatever that may be.

I don’t personally continue to write as I think I’ll hit the best-seller list one day. I don’t write trends, or commercial or what I think will sell to the next big agent or publishing house. I write what’s in my mind, and in my heart, and what I’m passionate and motivated for.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d certainly love to hit that best-seller list.

But at the end of every single day, I write for myself. I write because I love to write. I write because it makes me feel whole. Like I have a voice and a place in the world. There are many, many places for a writer to find their community. It may be online, or in the local newspaper, on a private blog or a public one. In a magazine or literary magazine.

Never give up.

And always keep writing.

For you.

That’s the best advice I’ve ever been given in this world.

“Keep writing for you.”

Happy reading!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Facing It

My sister posts a quotation from some famous person every day on Facebook, in honor of that person's birthday. Writer Joseph Conrad was born on December 3, 1857, so one December 3 my sister posted this line from him, which has become one of my favorite pieces of writing advice: "Facing it - always facing it - that's the way to get through."

It's so simple. And so true.

My biggest problem with any writing project - actually, with all projects and with everything in my entire life - is just this: facing it. I build up dread to the point of incapacity. Maybe, in the end, that's all writer's block is: a refusal to face what needs to be faced.

The strange and wonderful thing is that as soon as I face something - just sit down at my writing tablet or computer and spend TEN SECONDS staring at it - the rest is relatively easy. All I need to to is get over that first hump. That's all. And yet getting over that first hump can seem impossible.

So what I've started doing for any daunting task in my month's massive writer's to-do list is to add, as an extra to-do item, "Face [task x]" (whatever it is). As the facing takes just ten seconds (well, to be fair, probably more like five minutes), it's low-hanging fruit if I need the satisfaction of crossing at least something off the list. From that point, momentum takes over, and I'm all set. Hooray!

I tell the world, with some frequency, how I rely on a cherished hourglass to accomplish my day's stint of writing. Here it is.
For some tasks, however, even working on them for a mere hour is more than I can bear, so I also have a half-hour glass (it looks similar, just a tiny bit smaller). Then this past week a student who knew my fondness for hourglasses gave me a "travel" one, which is actually an eight-minute timer in a small sturdy cardboard case. Behold!
I don't think I'll take it with me on trips, though. Instead I'm going to save it for when I can't face even half an hour of work on some scary writing project, when eight minutes seems about all I can handle.

Then I'll turn over my adorable, teensy-weensy, itty-bitty, baby hourglass (cute is good for terror-defusing purposes). How scary can it be to work on this task for eight measly minutes?

VoilĂ ! Eight minutes later, the task will have been FACED, which was all I needed.

Because facing it, just facing it, is the way to get through.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Priorities, by Sarah Dooley

When I was fifteen, I wrote a story from the point of view of a 32-year-old woman (and how grown and wise she seemed to me at the time!) named Patsey.  I was obsessed with the story. I lived and breathed it and, if my best friend Stacie is to be believed, I even talked about it in my sleep.

But I had a concern. At a student writing ceremony, I had been cautioned, "Write what you know." Having never been a 32-year-old woman (those were the days!), I was afraid of breaking this writing rule by trying to write from Patsey's POV.

"I don't know how to be 32," I told my mother and best writing coach. (News flash, kid: You never will, not even when you're 37.)

My mother was silent for a few seconds. Then she picked up a pencil and sketched a quick shape on the back of a receipt.

"What do you see here?" she asked, pushing the sketch across the table to me.

Being completely obsessed with the animal in question, I immediately answered, "A pretty little pony!"

"No, you don't," she said. "You see lines. None of them are touching. They only hint at the impression of a pony."

My mind was blown. But wasn't I supposed to write what I knew?

"You are writing what you know," my mother reassured me. "You're writing from the point of view of a character you identify with. That doesn't mean you have to be afraid to take a chance or two. I'm not worried about every connection yet, not in your first draft. Give me the impression." 

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Everything Else in the Universe: An Interview with Tracy Holczer

First, congratulations on your powerful new middle grade novel, Everything Else in the Universe.  As a fellow writer who has also recently released a middle grade novel concerned with the U. S. involvement in the war in Vietnam, I’m delighted to talk to you a bit about your own process in particular and about historical fiction in general. 

Tell me a little bit about the book’s premise, and how you landed on this subject.

Everything Else in the Universe is first, and foremost, a story about family and healing. I had a disabled father, and grew up in the 70’s, so the Vietnam era seemed a natural fit. I wanted to explore the viewpoint of a child with a parent serving, the sacrifices made by children when their parents are sent to war. As the novel progressed alongside the runup to the election in 2016, it seemed important to lean more heavily on the division of feeling about Vietnam at that time in history and the political ramifications. Not just about protest, but of the very real conflicted feelings a child might have about loyalty, not just with regard to patriotism, but to a parent who has suffered a great loss while serving. To me, when stripped to that level, whether the war was just or unjust almost became irrelevant. It became a story about a girl trying to figure out her place in the world, but more importantly, her place in her family.

Did you set out to write a book about the effect of the war in Vietnam on the families of the American soldiers that served? 

I set out, primarily, to write about one family. To shine a light on the sacrifice this country expects not just of its military personnel, but the children in those families. I watched films of parents returning from war and was struck by the pure relief of the children. Wild, uncontained, relief. And I just wanted to try to capture the whole picture. What came before and after that moment.

Could you share a bit about your research process for the book? 

I am a bit of a scatterbrain. So, my research was all over the place. I went to San Jose, California, where the book is set, and went through their newspaper archives for the summer of 1971, the summer Lucy and Milo became friends. I read Farmer’s Almanacs and World Book Encyclopedias and Life Magazines. I went back to my own childhood photos and ordered a Sears catalogue from the summer of 1971. I interviewed Vietnam vets and heart surgeons. I also read letters from Vietnam vets to their families. It was very surreal doing the research as history seemed to be repeating itself. 

What do you think a book like Everything Else in the Universe offers contemporary readers, especially middle-grade readers? 

Sadly, I think our Vietnam stories are now showing middle-grade readers that history can, and will, repeat itself if we are not vigilant.

The writing process, especially for the novel, is a long, hard road, and the publication of a book marks a major achievement.  As the book makes its way into the hands of readers, what about the book or the project brings you the greatest sense of accomplishment? 

My sense of accomplishment comes from finishing. There were times, many more than I’d like to remember, where I was certain I wouldn’t. That this story was too much for me, and I’d bitten off more than I could chew. But every time that happened, I took a breath (or three), and went back to it. I look forward to talking about this difficult process with kids. The importance of holding a goal and seeing it through, no matter what.

Thanks so much, Tracy.  Congratulations!

I'm delighted to be the first stop on Tracy's blog tour.  Readers who want to learn more about Everything Else in the Universe can follow Tracy's blog tour here:

Mr. Schu Reads - June 17th
Kidlit Frenzy - June 18th
Teach Mentor Texts - June 20th
Caroline Starr Rose - June 22nd

Friday, June 15, 2018

Just Keep Swimming

We all understand the old adage, writing is hard work. It’s excruciating at times. And so is surviving the business of writing. Long, long ago (and in a galaxy far far away), I graduated from Vermont College of Fine Arts Writing for Children and Young Adults (VCFA) 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 it is, foremost, a business.

I signed on with the first agent who would help me with the multi-contracts. This agent wasn't a hard find. I already had the contract in hand, or rather contracts, and so the hard work was done. But I had forgotten an important lesson. Like any relationship, you want to get to know each other, ask questions, and make sure it's a good fit. You don't get married after only a first date. And an agent-writer relationship is akin to a marriage. This agent sealed the deal with the contracts, but a couple of significant issues arose. She had signed the boiler plate contract. This means that the contracts included a couple of  very strict clauses: the option clause, which gives the publisher the privilege of publishing your next book, and the non-compete clause, which restricts the author from publishing another book that competes with the work in question. This first agent didn't negotiate to reword or remove them, and I didn't know enough to ask what they meant. Because of these clauses, I couldn’t submit work elsewhere until after and unless I give these publishers first look, and they weren’t looking at new works until these books were published. I fired the first agent, and found another but she couldn’t renegotiate the clauses because she wasn't the agent on record. Because she couldn’t sell my work, she let me go.

My first two picture books came out in 2009, eight years after signing the contract. The second book was published a year later. The third book came out in 2012, eleven years after signing the contract. The fourth contract was cancelled. I went to Author’s Guild, learned what I had to in order to understand these clauses, and then I renegotiated the particular clauses myself.

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. Patience and luck will out. I found my third agent and thought it a match in heaven. She sold my two middle grade novels in our first year together. But then, change happens. The agent decided to focus on picturebooks, and she let me go.

I was an orphan again. And two years later, despite having now seven books (I sold my first graphic novel) under my belt, I have yet to find a home. Lucky for me, whenever I felt like giving up, I have a circle of friends who remind me to never give up.

Or, as Dory says, Just Keep Swimming.

Along the way, I’ve gathered some inspirations and wisdoms I hope you find helpful. First is Vivian Kirkfield's inspiring story. In 2012, at the age of 65, she decided to become a traditionally published picture book author. In 2019, she will have four books debut, including a compilation book of nine full-length picture book biographies. She details the strategy she put together to make this happen. I think her plan is brilliant and already I am working on my stockpile.

Then there’s this wisdom from Caroline Starr Rose, in which she states : 
  “The writing life (and the publication process) is a long-road, long-view, long-term journey. There’s no other way to look at it…So, my friends, if you are on this journey, too, take heart. There is no right way. There’s no quick fix. There is no easy road. There is a fair dose of frustration and disappointment. But there is joy and satisfaction, too.”

And, then, remember this:

People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn’t like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that’s all there is to it. – Harlan Ellison

Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer. – Barbara Kingsolver

Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.
William Faulkner

Tell the readers a story! Because without a story, you are merely using words to prove you can string them together in logical sentences. – Anne McCaffrey

Exercise the writing muscle every day, even if it is only a letter, notes, a title list, a character sketch, a journal entry. Writers are like dancers, like athletes. Without that exercise, the muscles seize up.
Jane Yolen

If you write one story, it may be bad; if you write a hundred, you have the odds in your favor.
Edgar Rice Burroughs

In other words, just keep swimming!

Bobbi Miller

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Desire for Validation, by Michele Weber Hurwitz

As a writer, a big part of my working life is intertwined with validation. Is what I wrote any good? Will it sell? Will readers like it? What will reviewers say? It's natural, of course, to worry about these aspects. Writers want to be praised and respected, complimented and lauded. Awards are wonderful things. Best-seller lists catapult you into another category. And, admit it, we all secretly have the book-being-made-into-a-movie dream.

But what about when these things don't happen? A manuscript you believe in gets rejected numerous times. Your work gets published but sales are dismal, and worse, no one's even bothered to review it on Amazon, not even your mom. You get lambasted by a reviewer (dare I say Kirkus?).

One important lesson I've learned in almost ten years in the business is that much of the validation we receive is 1) external, and 2) out of our control. It comes and goes with the wind, and there's usually not much we can do to affect the outcome.

This piece of advice wasn't shared by anyone in particular, rather, it's something I came to know and understand by writing and publishing, and by being a part of the children's writing community. I  know that unless I find a balance and "center," and learn to rely more on internal validation rather than external, then I won't be able to weather the strongest, most punishing wind.

It's most and always about the work. About the creating. Making something, where nothing existed before, except in your beautifully scrambled brain, pulsing with ideas and thoughts and leaps of faith.

I remind myself of that every day, because those external factors can be daunting, and at times, like a black cloud hovering above my desk.

I know a debut author who stopped writing after a pretty awful review. Her book was published by a big house, and I'd seen it displayed under "new releases" in my local library. But she couldn't overcome the sting of the critical, harsh words about what she'd created, the words and story from her heart and soul. It upsets me greatly to think that one negative review stopped this writer in her tracks. While I have many positive, inspirational quotes hanging above my writing desk, I also have one that says: "Internal, not external." That, I think, is the most important piece of advice in writing. Actually, in anything.

Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of three -- soon to be four -- middle grade novels, published by Wendy Lamb Books (Penguin Random House) and Simon & Schuster's Aladdin imprint. Find her online at

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Letting Go of the Story I Can't Write (To Make Room For the One I Can)

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten came in the form of a quote from Ann Patchett, in her essay, The Getaway Car, where she says: 

"Stop here for a few breaths and think about this, because it is the key to making art and very possibly the key to finding any semblance of happiness in life. Every time I have set out to translate the book (or story, or hopelessly long essay) that exists in such brilliant detail on the big screen of my limbic system onto a piece of paper (which, let’s face it, was once a towering tree crowned with leaves and a home to birds), I grieve for my own lack of talent and intelligence. Every. Single. Time. 

“Were I smarter, more gifted, I could pin down a closer facsimile of the wonders I see. I believe that, more than anything else, this grief of constantly having to face down our own inadequacies is what keeps people from being writers. 

"Forgiveness, therefore, is key. I can’t write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book I am capable of writing. Again and again throughout the course of my life I will forgive myself.”

I like the combination of reality check and inspiration paired into this bit of wisdom. And I love the way it tackles something that I’m not sure we (writers, but also creative people in general) don’t talk about enough, which is the inevitable gap between our aspirations and our achievements. 

It’s easy to be frustrated by that difference. Over time, though, I’ve come to see it as not just inevitable, but also inherent to the creative process. Recognizing it as such helps free me up to do better work than I might otherwise do, by allowing me to let go of the mythical "perfect" stories I'll never write.

For me, the process of writing is, in one way of looking at it, the process of surrendering to the unachievable, without surrendering the ideal of it, all in service of the achievable.  Which is also to say, I can never fully succeed, and, I can never use that as an excuse for not trying.  

I love the way Patchett captures this idea; the way she takes something that might be seen as a creative liability and turns it around as an opportunity to fully discover our best actual work.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

If at First You Don't Darlene Beck Jacobson

When I first set out to find a home for my middle grade historical WHEELS OF CHANGE, I decided to bypass editors and pitch the project to agents.  I studied agent lists and requirements and began submitting query letters - a couple at a time - and waited.  And waited.  Many of them never wrote back.  Some sent the "Dear Author" response we all got in our early days of writing.  A few were kind enough to personalize the rejection with a statement as to why they were not interested. 

After a year or so, I was up to 36 and counting. I had serious doubts as to whether I should continue to punish myself.  But I remembered reading somewhere along the line to BE PERSISTENT. That old addage "Nothing ventured, nothing gained" has often served me well whenever I've stepped into unfamiliar territory.

With that in mind, I attended the NJSCBWI conference back in 2011 and vowed to "be bold" and put myself "out there".  I worked the Meet n Greet cocktail party, walking up to agents and introducing myself.  I pitched a picture book idea and the historical fiction project to two agents.  One was interested in the latter and asked me to send 30 pages after the conference.

Okay, maybe I was finally getting somewhere.  I excitedly sent the requested pages the next day.  I waited.  And waited.  For three months.  Like all pre-published writers, I wondered why I hadn't heard anything on the REQUESTED material.  I contacted the RA from the conference and asked her what the proper etiquette was for a follow up e-mail about the status of the piece.  She was kind enough to contact the agent and asked what was up. 

Wait for it...the agent had never received the 30 page submission!  She contacted me immediately and asked me to resubmit.  Within a day, she asked for the rest of the manuscript and less than a week later offered representation.

The moral of this story?  BE PERSISTENT. AT EVERY STAGE.  If you do your work and write the best you know how, keep at it and eventually you will succeed. Don't be afraid to follow up  and check the status of submissions.  If I hadn't been an anxious, nervous Nellie, I might have dismissed my future agent as uninterested.  But agent number 37 was my lucky number.  What's yours?

Monday, June 11, 2018

But Do We? by Jody Feldman

When I was first entertaining the notion of writing for kids, I suspected I was a picture book author, an idea that was underscored as I was reading White Palace by Glenn Savan. (Note: It was subsequently made into an R-rated move with Susan Sarandon and James Spader. In other words, not for kids.)

There came a point in the story which described the main character’s living room with such detail—down to the angle of the sunlight hitting the coffee table—that I clearly remember thinking, “How did Glenn know this? That is totally out of my league. I could never know a tenth of that about any character or setting.”

So when circumstances compelled me to start writing The Gollywhopper Games, I was haunted by that memory. Could I possibly know enough? Could I accomplish this? I had to try.

Skip a bunch of years and countless revisions until the day I finally got my initial editorial letter. Point #1: cut 20% from the book. Then came a sustained period of hyperventilation, followed by a furious review of the line notes. There it was, the same note probably a dozen times: YOU need to know this, but do WE?

I had to laugh. I’d been so worried I couldn’t measure up, I’d gone overboard with detail. TMI. I came to realize the story didn’t need all that information because I’d successfully conveyed the essentials in subtext, in nuance, and in the choices I made for my characters. In developing their backstories, I could predict their behaviors and their dialogue. It wasn’t important that my readers knew how I came to those conclusions; more so, that they happened.

Just last week, I participated in an SCBWI-sponsored, one-time critique group. As I was going through the first chapters, I had a sense of reverse deja vu. This time, I was the one, making the same comment time and again: YOU need to know this, but do WE? 
Thanks, Virginia Duncan. You taught me well.

Friday, June 8, 2018


When I started writing for kids, I was lucky. My target audience was sitting next to me, drawing pictures of girls with cats. As I scribbled the first draft of my novel, Nature Girl, in a notebook, my daughter Sofia eagerly devoured the pages.

This is great, I thought as I heard her laugh at my character Megan's misadventures with her dog Arp.

Then came the horrible day when Sofia lost interest. I was devastated. "What happened?" I asked her. I didn't expect her to be able to tell me. She was only nine. But her analysis was excellent. She said, "You ran out of story, Mom."

She was right. I fixed that problem. Months went by. I completed the draft and once again asked for her enthusiastic praise--I mean, "feedback."

Before I tell you what she said, I need to explain a little more about the plot. When Nature Girl begins, Megan is miserable. Her best friend Lucy decided not to go on vacation with her because Lucy's mom has cancer. Megan decides to run away and join Lucy. Her adventures hiking part of the Appalachian Trail make her a better person. And so, at the end of the book, after many trials and tribulations, Megan and Lucy are reunited. BRIEFLY. Megan is now so wise and mature that she accepts Lucy's choice to be with her mom. "See you in September," Megan says to her friend.

I was proud of my book's conclusion. Characters had changed. Megan had succeeded in reaching her goal--which was to climb Mount Graylock. She even started to like nature.

"That's a TERRIBLE ending," Sofia said.

I patiently explained the importance of life lessons and making sacrifices to become a better person.

Sofia didn't buy any of that. She said that, after all Megan went through, she had to be with Lucy. Friends want to be together.

Eventually I understood. While showing that Megan had matured was important, it shouldn't be the main priority. I rewrote the ending. Megan was willing to make the sacrifice, but Lucy had a revelation too. Her mom would feel better if Lucy was having fun--with her best friend Megan. 

Now everybody was happy--my characters, my readers, my daughter (because she got to tell her mom was to do), and me. I had learned a valuable lesson. 

Don't think of your reader as your child who needs to be taught a lesson. Think of your reader as your friend.

Nature Girl illustrations by Heather Palisi. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Advice from the Heart by Deborah Lytton

I once had the opportunity to interview the dynamic writer and activist Terri Farley about two of my favorite subjects--writing and horses, specifically wild mustangs.

Terri gave me this advice in our interview:

"We are one book away from changing the world; it might as well be yours."

I printed this quote out and placed it on the bulletin board near my desk. Her words are a reminder that as writers, we can change the world through words on a page. We have the opportunity to inspire thoughts that can turn into action for the young people that read our work. I think about this when I begin a new manuscript. What do I want to say to my readers?

Terri's words are also a reminder that you are unlimited in your potential as a writer.

We can write that one book that will change the world, if only we dare.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Best (Most Heartbreaking) Writing Advice Ever

first book I sold
in the children's market
When I first started writing for children, I did what most beginners do: I imitated the books I loved best. I worked to get better and better at the craft of writing. I wrote quite a lot of books... that didn't sell.

And then I did get better -- better enough to sell some books and see them published, which was a wondrous, amazing thing!

Only those books didn't perform wondrously in the marketplace. They did fine, and I am lucky that all my children's books are still in print. But bestsellers? Nope.

So, like, many authors, I knew I was a "good" writer. Maybe even "better" than some of those bestsellers out there. What could I do to be MORE successful? How could I write that "break-out" book?

That's when I decided to to think like a marketer and not like an author. Forget about good-best-better. Think different. Think innovative. Write books in a way that has never been done before.

Which is exactly what Charles Waters and I did with CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR? Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship (Carolrhoda/Lerner). The book was released in January, and is now in its 3rd printing. It's sold more copies than any of my previous books. We are so grateful and humbled... and validated.

So. Here is the advice I have to offer you striving writers:

It's more important to be different than it is to be better.

Since making that decision, making that turn to "different," I have sold at least half a dozen new books that will hit the marketplace over the next several years. I don't know yet how they will perform in terms of sales, but I can tell from the excitement of the publishing houses that this commitment to innovative work is me finally finding my voice in this industry. I couldn't be more excited!
IreneLatham is the author of more than a dozen current and forthcoming books, including two novels for children Leaving Gee's Bend and Don't Feed the Boy. Winner of the 2016 ILA Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award, her poetry books for children include Dear Wandering Wildebeest, When the Sun Shines on Antarctica, Fresh Delicious and Can I Touch Your Hair? (with Charles Waters). Irene lives on a lake in Alabama where she does her best to “live her poem” every single day by laughing, playing the cello, and feeding the birds.