August 2017 Archives

Write one good clean sentence

Write one good clean sentence and put a period at the end of it. Then write another one.
M. F. K. Fisher

Cloud and Wallfish

CloudandWallfish.jpgCloud and Wallfish (Candlewick Press, 2016) by Anne Nesbet has an unusual title and is an unusual story. It's a historical set in 1989, before and after the Berlin Wall comes down, but it's way more than that.

Noah's parents came together to pick him up from fifth grade. And as the text says, " Noah's family, picking up kids at school was a one-parent activity." Things get weirder from there. Much weirder. The family is moving to Germany--but "not the usual Germany." They say it's for an urgent expedition. But what expedition has you changing your name and birthday? And when they get to East Berlin Noah can't go to school because of his speech defect--he stutters. But he ends up making a friend anyway. And, well, let's just say things get riskier from then on.

I love this book. I like Noah's personality and the Secret Files. I like how it ends. It was a hard-to-put-down read. Cloud and Wallfish was awarded the California Book Award gold medal in the Juvenile category in June. You can read about that here. See the other awards here.

If you've been following my blog for a while, you may recognize Anne's name as I've mentioned her previous books here too. Here's her website if you'd like more info about Anne or her books.

Rules for Thieves

RulesforThieves.jpgRules for Thieves (Aladdin, 2017) by Alexandra Ott was a satisfying story.

For twelve-year-old Alli adoption day at the orphanage is the worst. No one wants her and she doesn't want to be adopted either. When taken into a room with potential parents, she escapes the orphanage for the final time. Unfortunately, life on the streets does not go well and she is cursed with a spell that will eventually kill her. She meets Beck, a young thief, who not only helps her get food, but has an idea of how she can raise the money to save her life. Through Beck she may have found a home of her own with the Thieves Guild, but will she pass the trial they've set?

I don't want to do spoilers, but was very pleased with the decisions Alli makes in the end.

This is author Alexandra Ott's debut fantasy. A sequel is coming in summer 2018, which makes me happy. Alexandra is also an editorial assistant at Entangled Publishing. Read more about her on her website.


Heartless.jpgHeartless (Feiwel and Friends Book, 2016) by Marissa Meyer is quite the interesting look at Wonderland. Meet Catherine who has caught the eye of the unmarried King of Hearts, but would rather be a baker, plus she's rather too fascinated by the king's new joker. Cath's parents, of course, want her to marry the king. But Cath knows she's the best baker in the realm. What's a girl to do?

There's also the familiar character of the Cheshire Cat and the White Rabbit and the Jabberwocky, but not like you've ever seen before. I loved this story and had difficulty putting it down. I think Lewis Carroll would have approved. And I'd love to see it made into a movie.

Renegades.jpgMarissa Meyer is also the New York Times bestselling author of the amazing Lunar Chronicles. Read about them and the author here. Marissa's newest book, Renegades, comes out in November.

How Do I Scare My Readers?

scaredsilh.pngBruce Hale aka the Writer Guy was asked these questions:

"I would like to hear from you, what tips can you give me for horror stories, whether novel or short story? How do I bring that horror feel to life? How can I keep my readers from sleeping for a few nights? How do I achieve the fear factor?"

And is allowing me to share his answers here:

Having just finished a horror series for kids (The Monstertown Mysteries), this topic is fresh in my mind. Creating a sense of horror is all about the expectation of something awful happening. As Alfred Hitchcock said, "There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it."

From early on in your story, you should plant the seed in the reader's mind that all is not well in this world, and then with each turn of the page, you bring that horror closer and closer. How? Here are four techniques:

1. Hide the monster
Take a tip from scary movies, and have the *effects* of the creature/ghost/whatever turn up much earlier than the creature itself does. You'll notice we don't see the shark in JAWS until well into the film. There's a reason for that. Spielberg knows that the longer we delay the actual monster sighting, the more punch it will pack.

2. Mislead the reader
Be sure to employ a few red herrings, spots where you make us think that the creature is about to appear but it turns out to be the cat, a neighbor, or whatever. This can also be used if your hero is trying to figure out what's behind the spooky happenings. Have them initially suspect the wrong people.

3. Hook 'em over and over
Horror is all about hooks. Your concept should hook your reader from the get-go. But that's not the only hook to employ. Rather than having chapter endings resolve an issue, have them hook as well. End each chapter on a cliffhanger note of suspense, the equivalent of "and then..." in a picture book. Try this technique and you'll have your readers flipping pages like mad.

4. Play on your fears
Have the source of horror in your story be something that particularly frightens your hero. If they're clown-phobic, have them face sadistic clowns. If they're kitten-phobic, have them encounter Evil Fluffy. Bonus points if you can draw from your own fears when building your hero. Because the more you feel it when you're writing, the more your readers will feel it when they read.

MantisCover4.jpghat-club-fedora.jpgBruce Hale is the author-illustrator of over 45 seriously funny books for young readers, including the Clark the Shark tales (one of which ended up in a Happy Meal -- not the way you think) and the award-winning Chet Gecko Mysteries. Find out about his newest series, the Monstertown Mysteries, online at:

You are the ONLY person

You are the ONLY person in the world who can write that exact book. Keep going.
Meghan Bliss

Best descriptions tend to be

Best descriptions tend to be impressionistic, seizing on a few select details...letting the the rest.
Peter Selgin

Prisoner of Ice and Snow

PrisonerIceSnow.jpgPrisoner of Ice and Snow (Bloomsbury Children's Books, 2017) by Ruth Lauren is a compelling fantasy that I found difficult to put down.

Thirteen-year-old Valor wants to go to prison. It's the only way she can save her twin sister, Sasha. So Valor does the only thing she can think of--shoots at the royal prince during a parade. She misses, but is sentenced to life in prison for threatening a royal's life. Once in prison, however, she can't find her sister. How can Valor and her sister escape if she can't even find Sasha?

The book is a Junior Library Guild selection.

This is Ruth Lauren's debut book. You can read about her on her website and see the UK cover, which I actually like better than the US cover. Her next book, Seeker of the Crown, comes out in 2018.

Tracy Marchini
is a Literary Agent, freelance editor and children's author. Prior to joining BookEnds Literary, she worked as a Communications Manager, an agents' assistant at Curtis Brown, a children's book reviewer, a newspaper correspondent, and a freelance copywriter for Scholastic Book Clubs.

As an author, her debut picture book, CHICKEN WANTS A NAP, is forthcoming from Creative Editions (Fall 2017). She is an Amazon bestseller that's been accepted for publication in Highlights Magazine and has won grants from the Highlights Foundation, the Puffin Foundation and La Muse Writer's Retreat in Southern France. She holds an M.F.A in Writing for Children from Simmons College and a B.A. in English, concentration in Rhetoric from Binghamton University.


CHICKEN Wants a Nap smaller.jpgWhere were you when the idea for this book came to you?

I was actually working on my MFA in Writing for Children and the assignment was to write about a character's best or worst day. I was so tired that night but still had so much to do, that the idea of taking a nap became the end-all be-all. For Chicken, being able to take that nap kind of defines her best/worst day.

I was also inspired by Remy Charlip's Fortunately, which I'd been introduced to years before at a keynote speech by Brian Selznick when he was talking about The Invention of Hugo Cabret. This was probably a bit more of an unconscious thing when I was writing, but I've always loved the kind of humor that Fortunately uses.

What makes your book unique?

Well, I think it's a barnyard tale that's still relatable to parents and kids. Who doesn't feel better after a good nap? And I think there's a lot of humor in the page turns, as Chicken keeps getting her perfect nap interrupted. I especially love what Monique Felix did with the final page. It's my favorite beat in the book!

Your website says, "loves ducks." Did you ever think of making this character a duck instead of a chicken?

Honestly, it was always a chicken. I do have other stories about ducks in the works, but I guess I wasn't feeling in tip-top, ducky shape when I originally drafted the story!

And why do you love ducks? 

Honestly can't point to a particular reason. They're just one of those animals that always makes me smile when I see one. Domesticated ducks make great pets if you have the right space for them (alas, I don't), and will even act as "guard ducks" to protect their human family. Plus, they start as ducklings. Who doesn't love a fluffy duckling?

This is your first picture book. Have you written others that didn't sell? If so, can you share about your journey.

Sure. I've written other picture books that made it to editorial boards but weren't picked up, and some that never made it that far. The truth is that the majority of writers won't sell everything they write, and some projects can be shelved for years before the market conditions make the project viable again.

But ultimately, I think my journey is similar to a lot of writers, in that I wrote for years and in that time turned out a couple of real clunkers. But I kept reading, kept writing, kept submitting and eventually got to that place where I could write a marketable picture book.

Finally, I think it's good to remember that everything you write is a step towards publication - even if that particular manuscript will never find a home on the shelves. As long as you're taking the time to revise and learning how to improve your craft - be it through conferences, strong critique groups, or a more formal program - then that time or project isn't wasted.

What challenged or surprised you about writing this story?

Chicken Wants a Nap is written in a tighter, more rhythmic prose than I usually write. So when it was time to revise, there was an amazing amount of time spent finding just the right word that still fit into the structure. The book is 160 words or so, and yet the revisions took much longer than you would expect for a manuscript that fit on one page.

(That's the nature of picture books though, isn't it? They look so deceptively simple, but you can spend months to years perfecting those 400 - 500 words!)

Do you sell your own books or do you also have an agent?

I was previously represented, though this book I sold myself. I had worked with Tom Peterson, the Publisher, when I was working at my previous agency, and so when the manuscript was ready to go out I immediately thought of him and The Creative Company.

How do you balance all your different hats--writer, freelance editor, agent?

Well, sometimes I am still looking for that nap! But I tend to split my day the way a lot of other writers do. Agenting is my full time job, so I spend the majority of my time getting work done for my clients. My other work is done on evenings and weekends. (I'm typing this on a Saturday afternoon!)

But I'm also just very careful about how much I say "yes" to, how I schedule my time and the barrier between the three. There have been pitch contests and critique giveaways that I've had to say no to because I was already booked to work on something else at the time. And when I go through my submission pile as an agent, I'm always reading with the knowledge that I'll probably read the book another three or four more times. So I have to really love what I take on, because I know that for me, as an editorial agent, there's got to be enough passion about the project to sustain the whole process.

I also feel like each hat works in a kind of synergy with each other. Sometimes when I'm editing for a client, I also realize that my manuscript has the same problem - e.g. maybe both need another look at their respective character development. Or maybe I'll be thinking about potential projects to write, and I'll have an idea that I realize I would love to read but don't feel ready to tackle myself. Well, that ends up on Twitter as a #mswl!

The other truth is that I love the three hats - so even when I'm working, it doesn't always feel like it!

THANKS SO MUCH for this interview and your insights, Tracy!

Reader, if the hashtag #mswl doesn't mean anything to you, read this explanation here.

Just a Normal Tuesday

JustaNormalTuesday.jpgJust a Normal Tuesday (KCP Loft, 2017) by Kim Turrisi is a powerful book with an inside look at grief.

It's just a normal Tuesday until sixteen-year-old Kai finds a suicide letter from her older sister Jen. She tries to save her sister, but it is too late and Kai's stuck letting their parents know. Jen meant everything to Kai. How could Jen do this? Kai saw nothing to warn her of Jen's unhappiness. To deal with the loss, Kai self-medicates with alcohol and the same drugs Jen used to kill herself, until she inevitably crashes. To save her, Kai's parents send her away to grief camp. There she can begin healing.

Warning: the book does have language that may be offensive

This is author Kim Turrisi's debut novel. Although not an autobiography, she's not a stranger to this kind of grief. She wishes grief camp had been something available to her. Read more about Kim on her website.

A love of writing is

A love of writing is far greater than any word count.
Molly Looby

How Do You Choose?

light-bulbs-1822112_1920.jpegI've heard people say they have so many ideas they don't know which one to write. Having a lot of ideas is great, but it can also be a form of procrastination or indetermination. Don't get caught in a trap of endless idea generation that means you never write.

Here's what works for me when choosing ideas. I'll address different categories of writing.

Magazine Piece Ideas

I've sold over a hundred and fifty short stories and articles. If I'm in the midst of writing a story and another idea comes to mind, I open a file write down my ideas and save it in a folder labeled Story Starts or Article Ideas. Then I get back to the original story. When I finish my first draft of the piece, then I can move on to a new idea or an unfinished story or article.

But let's say today I have no stories or articles in progress--just ideas. How do I choose? I look at my ideas. Some may feel "meh." (At least at the moment.) Others may look interesting, but I'm missing something to make it compelling and I'm not sure what, so I set it aside. Another idea is intriguing, so I start writing. Why look for other ideas if this one looks good? Go ahead and write it. If no ideas grab me, I look at editorial calendars and theme lists. I may have something already written that fits or need minor adjusting, or this outside input may be the missing inspiration I need for an idea on file. Or it may inspire me to write something totally new.

It helps me to finish stories by knowing these things:
1. The main character's problem
2. How he/she will solve the problem
3. Something of the character's personality
4. Setting

For most articles, some research will be required. What information can I find? Are there books on the topic? Good internet sources? Good articles written for adults? Interviews? Diaries? While I'm looking at this material and taking notes, I ask myself, "What will be the focus on my article?" "What will be especially of interest to kid readers?" Sometimes the research will point at another idea, which goes in my idea file.

I've also done interviews for articles. That takes preparation too. Finding someone interesting to interview, arranging the interview, preparing intelligent questions, taking notes on their answers and taking pictures. If allowed, I tape the interview. My notes might include details about the person and setting and observations about what they do as well as direct quotes. Then I have to look over my notes, perhaps listen again to the interview, look at the pictures, and start organizing my article. I find it helpful to make a mini-outline after I've written a piece to see if it works or needs rearranging. (I'm not an outliner.)

When I'm done with the first draft of a story or article, I can move on to another idea. Giving the draft a week or more to settle while I work on other things helps me come back with fresh eyes to do editing. After that, I share with my critique group and do another rewrite (or two or three) before submitting.

TIP: If you never finish any stories or articles, you'll never have the satisfaction of a complete piece. Nor sales.

Picture Book Ideas

Picture books are usually going to take a lot more work to get right than a short story. I have to be really motivated by the idea. Does that mean I jump in and write it? Often, not. I might look and see if there are similar books out there on the topic. If too many, then it's not a good topic to write unless I have a fresh twist. I might abandon the idea or throw it in an idea file.

I may need to do some research on character or setting before I begin to write. What will work the best for this story idea? Who will be the right character for this story? I have to think of character names that fit. I might do research on objects or an experience I want to include in the story.

Sometimes ideas come almost full blown. I lie down at night and keep thinking of the story. I wake up in the morning and the story is nagging me. I may not want to get dressed, eat breakfast or do anything, but get to the keyboard. Does that mean the picture book comes out perfect first time? Absolutely not! But it usually means I'll get a first draft written in a hurry.

Again, all my picture books go through revisions before my critique group sees them. They may go through several rounds with my group as well. Sometimes I get a professional critique, too.

TIP: Write to the end, even if you don't like your first draft. You'll learn something by doing so.

Novel Ideas

Novels are a big commitment--usually a number of years for me. I have to know the main problem, have a character, and have an idea how the problem might be solved before I write anything. I have a number of novel starts--a page or two or even a chapter--where I didn't know enough and couldn't get going because of it.

Ideas I'll develop into a novel have to have a theme that resonates with me. I've discovered that many of my manuscripts deal with the theme of facing fears. Having a theme helps provide a partial roadmap for the story.

These story ideas may be inspired by past experiences, by the voice of a character, or by a predicament I've read about or imagined. I start with the one that is tugging me most.

I try to finish a draft of one novel manuscript before starting another. However, sometimes a new story is pressing me so much, I work on two projects. Of course, at any time, I may stop and make notes on a new idea that I'll attack later. While writing that first draft, I spend a lot of time thinking about what my characters are doing, do any necessary research, and keep plugging away until I reach the end. Once I have a completed draft, I may let it "sit a spell" and work on something else so I can come back to it with fresh eyes for revisions.

Just like with the other forms of writing, my critique group gives me feedback.

TIP: As a pantser (versus an outliner), I find the use of a story timeline or story ladder helps me keep track of the who, where, and when of each of my scenes and chapters.

Assigned Writing

Sometimes writers are asked to write on a specific topic which means they didn't have to find the initial idea. This often includes a deadline. But I'll leave that discussion for another time.

Does It Matter Which Idea I Choose?

Eventually. But I've found all writing, helps develop my writing muscles and skills. I find the more I write, the more I want to write. Picking an idea and going with it will get you in the habit of writing. So, don't agonize too long over which idea to develop--write!

I love this quote from John M. Cusick, "Writers, your job today is to sit down and start. Finishing, getting better, getting through it--that will happen on its own. Just start."

Ive published 20 books the

I've published 20+ books, the last 10 or so of which have all been best sellers, and I still get rejections. All the time.
Shannon Hale