June 2017 Archives

A Fresh Look at Our Writing

refreshment-438399_1280.jpegI was once again reminded how important a fresh look is on a manuscript. This week a writer friend asked me to look at a picture book manuscript that her agent had said was "too mean spirited." It was a retelling of an old story--good guys against a bad guy--with a very modern twist. I thought it was hilarious. I'd seen several versions and really couldn't see much to tone down. Then yesterday she showed it to a mutual critique partner who had not seen the story before. She pointed out areas that would soften the story. This third writer had fresh eyes and was so right in her suggestions.

I love this imagery from Arthur Polotnik: "You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what's burning inside you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke." When we are writing our own view is hindered by smoke. We're excited about what we're creating--in love with our characters, our words. Setting aside the manuscript and coming back to it later when the fire has cooled, let's some of that smoke of infatuation clear.

When we've looked at a manuscript over and over and over, we get blind. It's too easy to skim because we "know" what it says. Suzanne Paschall says it this way, "Tired eyes become blind to errors that jump out to fresh eyes..." Somehow we need a splash of water in the face to wake us up.

Right now I'm going through my own manuscript using comments from my critique group. Mine is a novel in verse and once I gave the complete manuscript to my partners, I've didn't look at it until I got their feedback. (I also tried not to think about the story at all.) Their questions and comments are helping me see it afresh. It helps me see what I know but didn't put on the page. It helps me see where I wasn't clear or left out details that will add to the story. It challenges me. And I know it is making my story better.

Soon, I'll reread the whole story again to get it ready to send out on submission. This time I'll probably first change the font so it looks different to me. This trick can help fool our eyes into seeing the words afresh.

Do you have other tools you use to look at your writing with fresh eyes? If so, please share in the comments.

Breathe all the life you

Breathe all the life you can spare into your characters so readers would recognize them if they met on the street.
Leila Cassell

Holding Up the Universe

holduptheuniverse.jpgHolding Up the Universe (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016) by Jennifer Niven is an interesting read told from two colliding viewpoints.

On the one side is LIbby Strout, who three years ago had to have a wall knocked down to get her out of the house. She'd lost her mother and ate and ate until she weighed 653 pounds. Now that she's lost 302 pounds, she can walk, run, dance, ride in a car, and Libby's going to high school. Where, of course, she's still the biggest girl there.

On the opposite side is Jack Masselin. He has a secret--face blindness that makes it very difficult for him to tell people apart, even his own family. He covers it up by being the life of the party--being friendly with everyone. Not his girlfriend or even his family know about his problem.

A dare at school makes the two teens meet and they are forced to spend time together. The weird part is--they should be enemies--both are surprised at how well they get along.

I think the bad language could have been toned down, but I do understand there are teens who talk like this.

On her website, Jennifer Niven says her stories are "about ordinary people doing extraordinary things." That definitely fits this story. Read more about her here.

The Passion of Dolssa

PassionofDolssa_PrintzHonor.jpegThe Passion of Dolssa (Viking Books for Young Readers, 2016) by Julie Berry is a historical novel that shows a time of extreme prejudice for those who don't believe the same way as a another group--and the latter are in power. In this case it's the Catholic church inquisitors going after men and women who may have merely talked about the love of Jesus. This story is told in multiple viewpoints and was fascinating. I grieved for Dolssa, for Botille and her family, and even somewhat for some of Dolssa's hunters. At some points it may be a difficult read, but it's definitely worth persisting.

This book is a 2017 Michael L. Printz Honor title, a New York Times Notable Book, and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

The author writes middle grade as well as YA and you can see all her titles here. Plus on that page there's a short video about the setting and historical backdrop for this novel.

Read a thousand books and

Read a thousand books, and your words will flow like a river.
Lisa See

Bob and Joss Get Lost!

Perfect Picture Book Friday

Bob&JossGetLost!.jpegBob and Joss Get Lost! (HarperCollins, 2017) by Peter McCleery and illustrated by Vin Vogel is another hilarious book where the reader gets to be smarter than the book characters.

Here's the opening:

"I'm bored," Bob said, "Let's do something."

"Let's take a boat trip," said Joss.

"We will get lost," said Bob.

We won't get lost," said Joss.

Famous last words! And fun twists as you go along on the journey with them.

This is Peter's debut picture book--I hope we see many more. Read more about Peter on his website where you'll get more tastes of his humor.

Vin Vogel is an author as well as an illustrator. His humor matches up with Peter's. Read more about Vin and his work, especially the Yeti books, here.

Night Animals

Perfect Picture Book Friday

nightanimals.jpgNight Animals (Viking, 2015) by Gianna Marino is a hilariously fun picture book. Possum is scared because it is night and something is out there. Then shunk is scared, and wolf, and bear. What are they scared of? Night Animals! Which bat tells them they are. Duh. This book is deceptively simple, but such a riot. And the ending has a nice surprise. I also love Gianna's drawings.

Gianna has eight picture books out with more to come--see all of them here. I need to do some more reading! In her bio, you'll see her nickname is Boomerang--read more here. And, she's a fine artist--see paintings here.

Resources for Writing for Children's Magazines

Resources for Writing for Children's Magazines.jpeg

"5 Reasons Novelists Should Write & Publish Short Stories" by Chuck Sambuchino

"7 Online Magazines for Kids That Are Worth a Read" by Saikat Basu

"Best Magazines for Kids Who Love Getting Mail as Much as We Do" by Mary Fetzer

"The Christian Children's Market: A Place for Beginning Writers" by Marcia Laycock - although dated, it has good info

"Creating Characters for Children's Magazines" - ICL Podcast

"Magazines for Kids" (online)

"Tips for Breaking Into Children's Writing Through Magazines" by Mary Lou Carney

"Top 10 Kids Magazines" - these are the ones it will probably be more difficult to break into

"Top Ten Writing Mistakes Made By New Children's Writers" by Suzanne Lieurance

"Writing Children's Nonfiction for Magazines - Mistakes to Avoid"

"Writing for Children's Magazines" by Eugie Foster

"Writing for Teen Magazines" (nonfiction) by Ursula Furi-Perry

"Writing for the Christian Children's Market" - Guest Interview with Author Kathleen Muldoon

The following are links to relevant posts I wrote on this blog:

"Do You Remember?" (writing for teen magazines)

"Is That Right?" (magazine rights)

"Keeping Track" (of submissions)

"Magazine Story or Picture Book"

"Nonfiction Writing" - includes more resources

"On the Hunt for Ideas"

"Professional Problem Maker"

"Selling Photos to Magazines"

"Swift Fiction: The Short Story in Focus"

"Theme List Tactics"


Magazine Markets for Children's Writers - buy the current year here

Markets for Children's Writers - databases separated into children and teens and paying and nonpaying

Writing for Children's Magazines, An Ezine - quarterly - plus info about whether magazines are open or closed and links to guidelines

Conflict is an important ingredient

Conflict is an important ingredient that can sometimes get lost amidst the clutter of too many characters.
K.M. Weiland

The only writer to whom

The only writer to whom you should compare yourself is the writer you were yesterday.
David Schlosser

The Tragically True Adventures of Kit Donovan

Kit-Donovan_CVR.jpgI really enjoyed The Tragically True Adventures of Kit Donovan (Albert Whitman & Company, 2017) by Patricia Bailey.

It's 1905 in a Nevada mining town and just turned thirteen-year-old Kit has lost her mother, who made her promise to be a proper lady. It's tough being one when she's worried about Papa and the dangers in the mine, when the kids and teacher at school don't like her, and because she's responsible for her mother's death. Well, indirectly, she'll admit.

Kit is a character to love.

Here are the opening lines of the book: "I killed my mother. Twice, if I am to be completely honest--though she only died the one time." How could you not read on? And when you do, you'll find adventure, danger, friendships, and more.

This is Patricia Bailey's debut novel--I hope she writes many more. However, meanwhile you can read some of her short stories and articles on her website here.