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Writing is simple, right?


Humans need to simplify. We listen closely to those who explain things easily because we assume they’ve figured it out. Sure, there are things in life that are that simple: You gotta eat, you gotta breathe, you gotta move. Clean up after yourself. Honor your commitments. Wash your hands before you eat.

 But much of life isn’t so delineated. Our values can’t be color coded into Blue vs Red. Morality and ethics exist beyond religious labels.

 The goal for a nonfiction writer is to simplify topics to make them readily understood. We adapt a point of view (often determined by whoever pays us to write it), then research, interview, analyze facts, consider differing opinions, write, strip away half of what we wrote, rewrite some more. Eventually, if we’ve done our job, we make that point so concisely readers will say “Aha! I get it!” And we’ll have taught them something new.

 Fiction, like life, is complex. We still adapt a point of view. We research, eavesdrop, ponder, recall, write, strip away half of what we write, rewrite some more. But instead of making our point in two columns, we must layer in fears, longing, smells, tastes, sounds. We veil an essential truth with all the complexities that make us human. If we’ve done our jobs, our readers will say, “Ah. I get it.” They’ll clutch our books to their chests and sigh. And we’ll have made their word a richer, more complex place.


Check Your Facts


I just read a graphic novel that made me furious.  It's obvious the writer had an anti-military agenda.  The author and editor and publisher is entitled to express that.  Whether you or I agree or disagree with their view isn't the point. 

What made me angry were story facts that were flat wrong or didn't make sense.  Here they are:

  • a Marine corporal shows up at the door to tell this teen boy his father has been killed in Iraq
    • FACT - Marines do not send corporals to report a service person's death, but send someone of higher rank. (Only someone familiar with Marine insignia would be able to tell the image is a corporal, but I showed the book to a Marine Sergeant.)
    • FACT - Marines don't go alone to deliver this sad news; they always go in pairs. See 4.f. and page 5 c. (1)  http://tinyurl.com/yf6evfc
    • FACT - any military personnel reporting a death would not tell the teen directly, but would tell the teen's guardian - it's policy.
  • teen boy, who has been practicing boxing and fighting with two other teen friends, overpowers the Marine
    • FACT - Marines are trained in hand-to-hand fighting.
    • QUESTION - Would a teen boy really be able to beat up an active duty Marine?
  • teen boy and 2 teen friends, tie up Marine and haul him into the woods and put him on the edge of a cliff.  It is unclear whether they push him over or just abandon him, but snow is on the ground, so unless rescued or able to free himself, implication is the man will die.
    • FACT - a strong Marine core value is Honor (which a son of a Marine would know) - what this kid did in the story is not honorable.
  • teen boy spends rest of night in regret and next morning decides "only one thing to do"
    • LOGICAL OPTIONS - rescue the Marine, - turn himself in, - tell an adult
    • WHAT HE DOES - signs up to join the military
      • PROBLEM WITH HIS CHOICE
        • FACT - whoever sent the Marine would know that he'd been assigned to go tell this family and someone would follow up - his vehicle would be found at the boy's house and an investigation would ensue
        • FACT - he must be 17 to join (his exact age is unknown)
        • FACT - when the boy is found out, he will receive at the very least a dishonorable discharge. But if the man is dead, he and his friends will have criminal charges of manslaughter or murder pressed against them. Even, if the man lives, they could be charged with assault and battery.
So my challenge to you, and to myself, is CHECK YOUR FACTS!  (Especially those your story's climax hinges on.)

Meet and Greet Tim Kehoe


They say “write what you know” and that’s what Tim Kehoe, inventor, did when he wrote The Invisible Mind of Vincent Shadow a wanna be toy inventor. Tim lives in St. Paul Minnesota with his wife and five children.

Q. After being a successful toy inventor, what prompted you to write a children’s book?

I've wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. In fact, just like in my new book The Unusual Mind of Vincent Shadow, I had a secret attic "lab" growing up too. But instead of inventing toys, I invented stories in my secret lab. But then I didn't do much writing until Brad Pitt's production company contacted me about creating a children's movie together. That's when Vincent Shadow was born!

Q. When did you start writing this story? And how long did it take you to finish it?

I started in the fall of 2007 and worked on it for about eight months.

Q. What did you find the most difficult about writing your book? How did you overcome that?

I find it difficult to judge my own writing. Toy inventing is much easier. If you set out to build a toy plane that really flies, you know it is working when the plane takes flight. It can be much harder to know when a scene or chapter is working. I rely heavily on my wife and kid's reactions.

Q. I understand you self-published your book and then got picked up by Little, Brown. Can you tell us about that process?

Yes, I originally self-published the book. And I really enjoyed the process. I hired an illustrator, purchased Adobe's InDesign software, and laid out the entire book myself. I printed a few hundred books and started knocking on the doors of local bookstores. I had a lot of support from local bookstores in the beginning, but it was local author Vince Flynn that finally helped me land a publisher. Vince put me in touch with his agent and we received a couple of offers within weeks.

Q. Do you have another book in progress? If so, will it be about the same character or a different character?

Yes, I actually just finished the second Vincent Shadow book. It will be out later this year.

Q. Do you have a writing tip to share with our readers?

I found that I need to develop a detailed outline before I write a word. And then I give myself permission to completely ignore it when the characters decide to go in another direction.


Read all about Tim here: http://www.timkehoe.com and specifically about his books here:
http://www.vincentshadow.com


Attention toy inventors – check this out.

YA & MG Contest

 Mary Kole, associate agent at Andrea Brown Literary, is sponsoring a contest at her Kidlit blog.
Here are a few of the details:

She is looking for examples of great novel (YA or MG) openings.
Enter the contest via mary@kitlit.com with the subject line "Kidlit Contest."
Paste the first 500 words of your completed novel in the email.
Entries must be in by January 31, 2010.

Prizes include critiques of the winning novels.

Even if you don't want to enter the contest, you'll want to visit Mary's blog for wonderful agent and writing tips.

Meet and Greet Ronica Stromberg


Ronica Stromberg’s book Living It Up to Live It Down, the second novel in her new series, has been nominated for the Cybils Middle Grade Fiction Award. The book has also been nominated for the Sid Fleischman Humor Award.

Q. Your publisher, Royal Fireworks Press, lists this series as inspirational fiction. What inspired this series?

Like most writers of inspirational/religious/Christian fiction, I like to think God inspired it. :) I have ideas for eight books in the series, and they all came to me in different ways. The second book, Living It Up to Live It Down, was probably the most unusual. I was just going about everyday life when, one day, the phrase "living it up to live it down" popped into my head. I didn't know what it meant—or even if it had meaning—but, as a writer, I appreciate words and different turns of phrases. I kept thinking about the phrase, and over time, it became clear that this phrase was actually a story—about a young teen "living it up" at school and in her community to "live down" the fact that she is a pastor's daughter.

I am not a pastor's daughter. My father was a rough, agnostic Marine. But I felt compelled to write this story, and when I sat at my computer to do so, the words came so quickly I felt as though I were taking dictation. Some writers refer to this as writing "in flow." It had never happened to me before. Most often when I write, I plod.

Q. The first book in the series, A Shadow in the Dark, is a mystery. What prompted you to not continue with another mystery in the second book? Or does the publisher’s website just not mention the mystery aspect?

I came up with these books as stand-alones, but when I learned the inspirational market favors series, I stitched the books together with the same main character. The series is unusual because some books in it are mysteries, some romances, etc., but they all are inspirational young adult books about a young teen named Kirsten Hart. And even though the second book, Living It Up to Live It Down, isn't defined as a mystery, it has mysterious elements. One of Kirsten's main quests in that book is to understand her friend Sarah, the pastor's daughter.

Q. In your first book for Royal Fireworks, The Glass Inheritance, the main character learns about the Depression and WW2 and her grandmother’s involvement with a man who belonged to a pro-Nazi group. Can you tell us about the research you did on that project?

I've been fascinated by the Depression Era, World War II, and the Holocaust for years, trying to understand what led people to such depths. Besides reading tons of books about this, I've visited Japan; the Auschwitz, Dachau, and Buchenwald concentration camps in Germany; other German sites associated with Adolf Hitler, including underground bunkers; Pearl Harbor; The Heart Mountain Relocation Center (the Japanese internment camp in Wyoming); and many Holocaust museums around the world. I had researched far more than I was able to put in The Glass Inheritance, but the book gives upper elementary children an introduction to these historical events.

Q. How long have you been writing for children?

I first attempted writing a children's novel at eight years old. I started many books throughout my childhood and early adult years but never finished them. I always wanted to write though. About thirteen years ago, I started finishing what I wrote and submitting. I sold The Glass Inheritance first but had magazine articles and stories in anthologies hit print before it.

Q. Would you like to tell us about your current work-in-progress?

To be honest, I haven't been working on novels much lately. I've been immersed in promotions and presenting. I have started the third book in The Kirsten Hart Series and need to rework an inspirational romance I wrote a couple of years ago. I have some fun ideas for picture books and short stories also and need to take the time to get them down on paper.

Q. What’s the worst part of writing for you?

Rejection. Specifically, not knowing why a piece is rejected. If I've made mistakes in my writing, I want to know what they are so I can overcome them.

Q. And the best part?

The finished product. I love books. It thrills me to have a part in something I've always loved.

Read more about Ronica on her website: http://ronicastromberg.wordpress.com/my-books/

Altitude and Attitude

Recently I’ve had ICL students set at the wrong “altitude” in relationship to their main character. They’ve talked about “little arm,” “tiny mouth,” “short body,” and more. That’s adult-size looking down to see child-size. When we are in a child’s viewpoint, arms, mouths or bodies of kids are viewed as the right size unless part of plot/character issues. In that case the main character likely views his shortness, skinniness or cuteness as a flaw, not a simple description of who he is.

So this got me to thinking. We’re so used to seeing the world at the adult height that it is easy to forget what it looks like from kid height. Recently I experienced a direct example. My six year old grandson looked up at me and said, “you have hairs in your nose.” After struggling with that brief moment of being offended, I said, “yes.” Then I told him everyone did. I explained the purpose of those hairs. Of course, later I checked the mirror to see if, gasp, I needed to trim my nose hairs.

These both have reminded me that I need to think about what my young main character is seeing from her altitude. I may have to walk around on my knees a while to see what the world looks like from that height. I need to dig back and remember when I had to look up at every adult. I need to remember how I had to use a chair to reach the upper cabinets in the kitchen, and sometimes even climbed up on the countertop. I need to pay more attention to kids who are the age of my main character and see the things they have to deal with in an adult sized world and convey that in my writing.

The other thing I sometimes see students do is write with the wrong “attitude.” As an adult we think it is funny or cute when kids do certain things. Unless they are trying to be funny, often what they are doing is very serious business. The two year old pretending to go to work on his ride-upon car is practicing what he’s seen a parent do. The four year old ballerina believes she dances beautifully. At that age anything is possible. The six year old asking about nose hairs is not trying to offend, he’s being honest. Let’s not taint those experiences with adult reality and attitude in our writing.

My adult daughter let me read her sixth grade diary. She wrote about boys, boys, boys, her friends, and her older sister. She wrote about stuff that happened at school. We, her parents, were only mentioned once. That was when her fish died and she said we laughed. I look back and can’t remember laughing. I don’t know why we would have laughed. Whether we did or not isn’t the point. She felt we didn’t care or didn’t care enough. To her that little fish dying was important. Callous parent me, I can’t even remember what kind of fish it was. In my defense, I do remember her winning it at a Vacation Bible School and remember what she named it. But to that sixth grade girl the life and death of that fish was an important event.

I need to convey the child attitude in my writing. I need to share child concerns, questions and experiences as honestly as I can to make my stories more believable to my child audience.

I plan to be checking my altitude and attitude often as I write. How about you?

One of the great things about writing YA is that there is a ravenous blog community, eager to pepper the Internet with reviews and giveaways and interviews on top of interviews.

Since HATE LIST was released, I don't know if I could even count how many interviews I've given, especially with YA bloggers. And almost every single one of them has asked the same question:

"What inspired you to write this book?"

It's a great question, and a pretty basic one, really. Of course readers want to know how a writer came up with the idea behind her book. And at first I was really eager to answer it. I love to talk about my process, including my inspiration. But after a while I wasn't sure what to do with this question. Copy and paste from interview to interview? Well, that seemed like cheating. But how many different ways can I explain the same thing? Not to mention I sort of give a 45-minute speech about the inspiration behind my book when I'm visiting schools. It's kind of a long story -- how do I condense 45 minutes into a blog-short answer?

Plus, I really began to crave different questions. And I've gotten a few really different ones:

"Who would win a war between zombies and pirates?"

"What was your favorite flavor Koolaid?"

"What do you think about hot dogs?"

"Do you have a question for my magic 8-ball?"

Those are fun to answer! They wake me up, make me think, let me show a little of my personality in the interview.

So recently I've been answering queries for interviews with a plea to receive unique questions. And so far I've been really pleasantly surprised. I've been asked about the names of my characters, how I personally relate to my characters, what role social networking plays in my writing life, what kind of response I've gotten from readers so far, how I feel about school visits, and how music influenced my book. All questions, by the way, that in answering, I reveal bits and pieces of the inspiration behind the novel, without having to re-create the same answer over and over again.

As a YA author, of course I interview other YA authors for my own blog. And until I began answering interviews I never would've thought to mix it up a little, to stay away from the questions that everyone asks. But now I'm keenly aware of the Unique Interview and how it can feel like a breath of fresh air to the author I'm interviewing. I, personally, like to "have lunch" with the main character of the novel in my interviews. But there are other techniques that are intriguing. For example:

Sarah Ockler threw my main character a debut party, complete with decorations, other literary guests, and food.

Lauren Bjorkman's main character answered a Dear Abby-style question for one of my main characters.

Megan Frazer
entered my main character in a pageant, where she had to show off a talent, pageant-style.

So don't be afraid, interviewers, to get a little creative with your interview questions. You would be surprised just how much you learn about the author, the characters, the storyline, and, yes, the inspiration of a book when you go for a unique interview.

Perfecting Your Pitch

 Last month I journeyed south to Nashville--no, not to enjoy the music, although I did manage to squeeze in a bit of that as well--but mainly to attend the MidSouth SCBWI Conference. The conference offered many opportunities for writers to perfect their craft. One of the fun sessions was on "Perfecting Your Pitch." Your elevator pitch to an editor or agent you're dying to impress.

This pitch lesson was set up like a speed dating session. Each writer had a minute to present another writer with her pitch, and vice versa. A quick minute of feedback from each writer, and then--as in musical chairs, a new set of writers faced each other and the pitches began all over again. This continued through about 10 changes of writers. By the end of the 30 minutes, I was perfecting my pitch--and getting some exercise as well.

Here's the main points you need to highlight in your pitch:

TITLE
GENRE AND AGE RANGE OF AUDIENCE
NAME AND AGE OF MAIN CHARACTER
HOOK (what makes the story unique) 
MAIN CONFLICT OR ACTION

Condense those elements down into a one minute grabber and you have a perfect pitch.
Sound easy?
Of course it's not, but give it try.

Ready, set, pitch!

*****
Cynthia Reeg is perfecting her pitch for her WIP, a middle grade fantasy with lots of slimy stuff. To find out more about her books and writings, visit www.cynthiareeg.com.

Spring Ahead...Fall Back

Here's a great fall motivational tip:

If you're ready to start a new habit...maybe getting up early to write, or trying to squeeze in that morning workout...this is a great time to get started. We change the clocks and "fall back" on November 1st.

Take advantage of the time change! If your body is already programmed to wake up at 7:00 a.m., you should wake up at 6:00 a.m. feeling very refreshed and ready to take on the world. Set your alarm an hour earlier and take advantage of the time change to get something accomplished. If you do this the first few days after the time change, your new habit should be much easier to adopt!

Mark it on your calendar! PLAN to get up early and start a new habit!

Want Success? Take BABY Steps!


For those of you who have followed my blog, or who follow me on Twitter or Facebook...or (gasp!) know me in real life, I apologize. I know you've heard this story too many times to count. I promise: it does have something to do with writing...

This has been a year of changes for me. In many ways, I've reinvented myself, although I didn't intentionally set out to do that. Tomorrow, I will run in the Kansas City Marathon. This will be my second half marathon; my first was just three weeks ago. But, the fact that I'm running tomorrow is not the spectacular part of this story.

The real story (and how it relates to writing) is how I went from total non-runner to half marathoner in nine months' time...and how you can use the same process to reach your writing goals!

I've always put in a lot of time at the gym--about two hours a day, Monday through Friday. One day in January, I was on the elliptical machine. My friends, who had both run half marathons last year, were red-faced and drenched on the treadmill, while I was barely breaking a sweat. They were (and are) in great shape, and my weight was at an all time high.

At the time, I hated running. I hated it so much, I was going to quit training with my trainer because she made us run. Running hurt my ankles, my knees...my entire body. Although I devoted a lot of time to working out, I couldn't run 1/10 of a mile back then. That morning, as I watched my runner friends, I decided it was time to do something about my level of fitness. That day, I decided to approach fitness and nutrition as an athlete would.

Over the next two weeks, I built up to being able to run a mile on the track. I stayed at that distance for a while...and even when I could run a mile non-stop, I still couldn't run on consecutive days. It  hurt. A lot.

But, I was determined. Eventually, I increased my distance, and eventually my body became strong enough to run every day. (I now run 30-35 miles a week.)

I set a goal of running a 5K, which I did with a friend in March. By then, I was hooked, but I knew I needed a really big goal to work toward. We booked a family vacation to a major 1/2 marathon (which is coming up...but for safety reasons, I will not mention time/location here.) and that gave me the incentive I needed to NEVER GIVE UP.

Since then, I've trained consisently with my group of runner friends. I've run a few 5Ks, 10Ks, and my first half marathon. I did a team run with a group of special running women I've become close to at my gym (we took first place!), and I have plans to run my first full marathon in the spring. (I also lost 45 lbs, a whole lot of body fat, went off all my cholesterol and triglyceride meds, lowered my resting heart rate...)

So...what's the point? I am asked to tell this story several times a week. I was recently at a writing conference with people who hadn't seen me in a long time. I look very different from how I looked a year ago, and people ask about it. The one comment I get all the time is, "I could never do that!"

I'm here to tell you YES YOU CAN! If I can do it, you can too. I didn't run 13.1 over night. I ran 13.1 by putting in the effort every single day this year. EVERY. Single. Day. I didn't take a week off. I didn't take a month off. I didn't decide to run 13.1 in January, sit on my butt all spring and summer and fret in the fall when I wasn't prepared. I worked at it every day.

And that's what this has to do with writing--if you want to be published, if you want to be successful, it takes WORK. Not wishing. WORK.

Look at some of the key points above:

1) Baby steps.
2) Daily focus on the goal.
3) Never giving up, even when discouraged.
4) Setting goals.
5) Setting bigger goals.
6) Enlisting the help and support of friends.
7) Having fun!

Me after my first half marathon:



Wishing you all the success in the world...one baby step at a time!

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Children's Writers from the Central United States

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