May 2011 Archives

Keep away from people who

Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.
Mark Twain

What Would Sue Do?

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My dear friend and writer buddy (1) just gave me this shirt. Isn't it a crack up? Jenn has called me her writing mentor and comes to me with questions. She's my social media mentor and got me started on twitter. When I have twitter and tweetdeck questions, I go to her. We encourage each other in our writing as you can tell by this gift. Thanks again, Jenn!

What Would Maggie Do?
A former critique partner (2) recently gave me this testimonial: "I worked with her on a picture book draft that she suggested I make into a chapter book based on the voice and age of the character. When the manuscript was complete, she helped me with my query and final revisions. I just sent it out and I am already getting requests from agents!!" So we've joked, "You should listen to Sue."

What Would Lorie Ann/Joan/Sue Do?
Years ago I was in a critique group with two great writers and friends (3). We met every three weeks and got each other's voices in our heads. I remember once during a critique when one of us commented on a manuscript, the writer said, "I knew you were going to say that." The gal spoken to responded, "If you knew I was going to say that, why didn't you fix it." We all laughed.

What Would Dan Do?
I hear a current critique partner (4) when I see sentences like this in my own or in my student's writing: She heard the cat meow. Dan would say, "Don't distance your reader." From him I learned to write: The cat meowed. It's more active and more immediate. One of his other sayings is, "What's the purpose of this chapter?"

What Would Lisha Do?
Pursue her goals and learn the writing craft. I met Lisha (5) when she was a writing newbie. Not only had she come to our Kansas SCBWI workshop, but when she heard we were looking for volunteers, Lisha raised her hand. She has grown so much over the years by going to conferences and workshops, participating in two critique groups, researching agents, etc., etc. On top of that she's a terrific hardworking volunteer doing the fabulous Sunflower Scoop, our region's list serve.

What Would Donna Do?
When I first became a Regional Advisor for SCBWI in Washington state, I used the conference notebook my predecessor (6) provided and followed her advice on handling volunteers. Still used same info when I did a stint as RA in Kansas.

What Would NAME Do?
Sometimes my What Would NAME Do is something I learned from a speaker. One I recalled recently from 20 years ago was Peg Kehret, mystery author saying, "Give the kid the good lines." Another of her recommendations that has stuck with me is to use the terms from whatever the main character's hobby or interest. For example, a baseball fanatic not only will talk about baseball itself, but can use baseball terminology in other areas, too. That character might say something like "foul ball" when someone makes a mistake at school.

What Would Dorothy Do?
Most of us need support in our writing. We all need others in our lives in other areas, too. One of my life long heroes is my aunt (7). She sees something that needs to be done and quietly does it. She's not afraid to tell you something you should do either.

What Would Kathy Do?
It was my sister (8) who got me started many many years ago on a laundry process that didn't leave my family with baskets and baskets of clean clothes to fold. Now it's a good habit--hang them up and fold them from dryer--but at first it was hard and I'd have to remind myself to do what she'd do.

So in life and writing who are your inspirations? Feel free to share about them in the comments, and/or tell them yourself how they've inspired you. (To comment: if you don't see comment box, click on the title above. It's "What Sue Would Do.")

(1) Jenn Bailey - her blog, her social media site
(2) Maggie Viles - on jacketflap
(3) Lorie Ann Grover and Joan Holub
(4) Dan Schwabauer
(5) Lisha Cauthen - her blog
(6) Donna Bergman - her books on Amazon
(7) Dorothy Uhlig, missionary to Thailand since 1951! (facebook)
(8) Kathy Bender

Something a bit different - Ashes


In some ways there are so many books written about Nazi Germany and the holocaust that one might think, how can there be another? But Kathryn Lasky has done it well with Ashes (Viking, 2010). The book gives a view into what was happening before much of the world was aware of the looming danger.

From the viewpoint of 13-year-old Gaby, we see the rise of Hitler Germany's Chancellor in 1932. Gaby witnesses things she worries about - some she shares with her parents, some not. She reads material that is later banned. Her family is friends with Einstein, which gets them called "white Jews." Later in the story some tough decisions are made in this award winning book.

I like reading the Q&A about the book on Kathryn's site and what she herself says about the book.

Fearful stuff - Countdown

countdowncoverwtext.jpgCountdown (Scholastic, 2010) by Deborah Wiles is a story about fearful stuff.

It's 1962 and 11-year-old Franny has so much to worry about: her great uncle doing crazy stuff and thinking he's in one of the great wars, her little brother Drew who is perfect, her older sister Jo Ellen who disappears, her best friend Margie who is her friend no longer due to handsome Gale moving back to the neighborhood and wanting to hang out with Franny, Communists, and the atomic bomb. Oh, yeah, throw in the Cuban missile crisis, too. Yikes--life's definitely not easy at her house.

This historical novel is very well written. Just today I read this quote from Deborah: "Story is everything. It's all around us, and it's every breath we take, every thought we think, every word we utter, every experience we have. It's both inner and outer. There is always an outer story-what's happening here?-and an inner story: how do I feel about that? That exchange sets up a cause-and-effect that becomes story." That's definitely what she's done in Countdown!

And added bonus in this story is the graphic novel feel with the inserts from ads, news reports, etc. from the time period.

Going to Deborah's site, I discovered Countdown is book one of a sixties trilogy! I'll definitely be reading the others.

I conceive that the right

I conceive that the right way to write a story for boys is to write so that it will not only interest boys but strongly interest any man who has ever been a boy. That immensely enlarges the audience.
Mark Twain

Attribution or Action?

photo courtesy of Mary R. Vogt
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In a discussion of dialogue punctuation, someone recently asked me, "But where is the line drawn between an attribution and an action? For example: she laughed, she promised, she sighed, she groaned, etc. Are those treated as attributions or actions?"

Laughter, sighing, groaning are actions. We can't laugh words. We sigh before or after we say a word(s). The more I think about it, groan is a tricky one. I can groan one word, "Mom!" or "Oh!," but I couldn't groan a whole sentence of words. I can simply groan. So another way to think about it, does the action stand alone or make sense without the words the character said? She laughed, groaned, sighed can stand alone. "She said" leaves us wanting to know what she said.

Promised is another tricky one. You make a promise and you state a promise. So when it is used with dialogue, I would consider it an attribution. Perhaps the simple rule would be if you can replace said with the verb without changing the meaning, it's an attribution.

After reading my article on "Perfecting Dialogue Punctuation," someone else asked, "What about when the dialogue is broken by an attribution? How do you punctuate it then?" It's easiest to show with examples.
"Dad," I said, "that was a lame joke." Here the attribution interrupts the sentence at a natural pause. The punctuation is commas.
"Janie, that was so stupid," he said. "I can't believe you said that." Here the attribution is at the end of one sentence before another begins. The punctuation is a comma at the end of the dialogue and a period at the end of the sentence.
Either way, you want your attribution at a natural place. You'll probably hear where a good break is when you read it aloud.

What about interruptions to dialogue? That is usually indicated with an "em dash"--type in double dashes and your computer usually will convert.
"Stop kicking my seat, Jo--"
"I'm not!" Jonah said. "It's Liam."

This works with either dialogue that interrupts or with action.
"Mom, how come Willy gets to--OW!" Leslie grabbed her arm. "Hey, no punching!" She glared at her brother.
"Hey, let's go to the movie and th--"
Katie put her hand over my mouth. "Shh, Mrs. Wilson's coming."

Pauses in the speaker's dialogue are another issue. If he interrupts his own words or deliberately leaves something out, use an ellipses.
"I wanted to ask her, but . . ." He shrugged.
"Did you get problem six . . . omg, there he is!" Tanya clutched her shirt somewhere near her heart.

If in doubt about punctuating attributions or actions, you can always looks at dialogue in published books or short stories. A resource I like is the book Errors in English and Ways to Correct Them by Harry Shaw. My 25-year-old copy is so well-used it's falling apart!

If you have more questions or comments, click on the title above and a new window will open. The comment box will be at the bottom.

You have to write whichever

You have to write whichever book it is that wants to be written. And then, if it’s going to be too difficult for grownups, you write it for children.
Madeleine L’Engle

Humor and Heart - How to Survive Middle School

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How to Survive Middle School (Delacorte, 2010) by Donna Gephart is both humorous and touching.

11-year-old David Greenberg wants to be a superstar talk host like his idol, Jon Stewart. David has top 6 ½ lists that he records on his videos which he posts on you-tube. The start of middle school doesn't go well when he tells his best friend Elliot, who has been mooning over a girl all summer who put two hearts in his yearbook, that she put two hearts in everyone's yearbook. Then he meets a new girl named Sophie, who helps his videos go viral by sharing with her homeschool network. Unfortunately, the "today's acne forecast" on his sister gets him in trouble with her and his dad. Mom has gone awol and he can't even call her. Then his hamster, the star of his show, dies.

Donna, a winner of the Sid Fleischman award for as if being 12-3/4 isn't bad enough, my mother is running for president!, has another funny book coming out in spring 2012. See more details on her site.

Love the opening - Ratfink


Ratfink (Dutton, 2010) by Marcia Thornton Jones is very fun. And touching. It involves an embarrassing photo, blackmail, fights, misunderstandings, and one confused grandfather. 5th grader Logan had planned for this year to be different--no more getting in trouble--and a pet for his birthday. But when his grandpa moves in, everything changes for 10-year-old Logan.

How can you resist these opening lines? "Grandpa was naked. It wasn't as if his doodly-flop was flipping around when I opened the front door. He did have a towel wrapped around his waist."

I'm definitely recommending this one to my nine-year-old grandson!

Ms. Jones is a prolific author with 131 published books! You may have heard of her Adventures of the Bailey School Kids written with co-author Debbie Dadey. Read more about Marcia's books on her site.

Kids, especially, feel that everyone

Kids, especially, feel that everyone else has it all together, and that they're the only ones that feel like an outsider.  And there is a lot more satisfaction when a misfit succeeds.
Louis Sachar

Don't Throw in the Towel

I just read a fantastic kids book! You know the ones--unforgettable, award winning, really really good. Will I ever write like that? Can I ever write like that? My first reaction is: NOT LIKELY! The book was so real, so powerful that I just want to give up. Yet, I can't stop writing--the ideas and characters in my mind won't let me. "Real courage is when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what," Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, said. If she feels that way, then it is okay for me to as well.

"This is a marathon, not a sprint," author Marilyn Singer said. "Don't throw in the towel, use it." She's seen what she calls the TOWEL principal in her successful career. "TOWEL stands for talent, optimism, widespread interests, endurance, and luck." I can't change talent and luck, though I can definitely work on craft so that when a chance comes my work is the best I can make it. But I can work on the other three.


(Image courtesy of Michael J. Connor)

This is where it is helpful to have a good support group. It might be your family, your critique group, or as Jenn Bailey, Social Media Expert, calls them: your Jedi Council, aka writing partners. I get encouragement from all three. Let them know when you're down and want to quit. Read an inspirational book where someone succeeded because they worked hard and endured. Remember you aren't alone; many authors had many many struggles and rejections on the road to publication.
• Margaret Mitchell rewrote the first chapter of Gone With the Wind 70 times.
• Madeline L'Engle had a ten year dry spell before she sold A Wrinkle in Time.
• Dr. Seuss received the following rejection: "...too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling."

Widespread Interests
Shake yourself up. Don't just read in your genre. Maybe you should try writing a picture book or a magazine piece for a change. Learn something new. Maybe you need to learn more about a hobby or career that someday you'll give to one of your characters. C.S. Lewis said, "You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream." What other dreams do you have? Can you follow up on them?

At a conference author Lorie Ann Grover used the analogy of filling a soup pot. Before you can scoop out any stew, you have to put in some ingredients and let them simmer. Live some life and you'll have more to write about or more breadth to add to your writing. "Writing tends to spring from what you know, what you think, what you imagine, and you can build on those by reading and being actively involved in life and remaining curious about things you see, hear, read, etc." - Victoria Sherrow, author

Elizabeth George in Write Away: One Novelist's Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life said, "You will be published if you posses three qualities: talent, passion and discipline. You will probably be published if you possess two of the three qualities in either combination--either talent and discipline or, passion and discipline. You will likely be published if you possess neither talent nor passion but still have discipline. But, if all you possess is talent or passion, if all you possess is talent and passion, you will not be published."

Discipline goes hand in hand with endurance. Keep on keeping on. Two things that keep me going are my critique group and my writing partners. If they're going to endure, so am I. And one last quote from Harper Lee: "To be a serious writer requires discipline that is iron fisted. It's sitting down and doing it whether you think you have it in you or not. Every day."

So I shouldn't give up. And neither should you.

When I was a new

When I was a new writer, I couldn't wait to throw my manuscript in the mail and send it off. Over time, however, it became more important to me to hold back and polish until the manuscript was as good as I could make it.
Lori Mortensen