Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Encore presentation: WRITERLY WISDOM


 


***I have a number of writing deadlines coming up over the next couple of months so I have decided instead of stepping away from my blog completely to concentrate solely on my writing, I will bring back an encore performance of my WRITERLY WISDOM series from three years ago. WW is 52 glorious posts by authors, agents, and editors from around the country providing writerly wisdom in categories from why even become a writer all the way to how to publish and market your books.
 

There will be two posts loaded per week...Mondays & Wednesdays...so be sure to stop by and check out all the encouraging information given by my lovely writerly friends! I hope you enjoy the encore presentation of my WRITERLY WISDOM series and I will return with shiny, new posts in the fall!***
 
 
The Aliens, Inc Series: Coming Fall 2014
by Darcy Pattison

To write a series of books, my biggest tip is to plan ahead. You may get by with writing one book on the fly—plenty of people do that. But for a series to hang together, to have cohesion and coherence, planning is essential. Here are XX decisions you should make early in the planning process.

Decision #1: What type of series will you write?

Strategies for a series vary widely. For THE HUNGER GAMES, the story is really one large story broken down into several books. Or, to say it another way, there is a narrative arc that spans the whole series. Yes, each book has a narrative arc and ends on a satisfying note; however, we read the next book because we want to know what happens in the overall series arc. Jim Butcher’s ALERA CODEX is another series with an overall series arc; it was fun to hang out in this world for a long time.

On the other hand, series such as Agatha Christie mysteries (in fact, many mystery series fall into this category) are stand-alone books. What continues from one book to the next is the characters, the setting and milieu, and the general voice and tone of the stories. Once a reader gets to know a character, s/he wants to spend more time with that character. These readers just want to hang out with a friend, your character. A sub-category is the series of standalone books that adds a final chapter to set up the next book in the series and leaves you with a cliff-hanger.

I distinctly remember when I first read Edgar Rice Burrough’s John Carter series about Mars. Each story is a standalone novel, but he hooked me hard. I started reading at noon on a Saturday and found myself hotfooting it to the bookstore at 4:30 pm because they closed at 5 pm and I had to have the second book to read immediately.

Rarer is the series that crosses genres. This type series begins with one genre, but moves into other genres as the lives of the characters progress. For example, a romance might continue with a mystery for the second book.  And the third might move into a supernatural genre. These are rarer because one reason a reader sticks with a series is that they know what they are getting. It will be this type of a story, told in this sort of way and will involve these characters.

On the other hand, some series unabashedly cross genres but they do it for every book. Rick Riordian’s Percy Jackson series is a combination of mythology and action/thriller with a dose of mystery.

Notice that this decision centers on the plot of the stories in the series. Will you plot each separately, or will there be an overall plot?

Decision #2: Characters.

Besides plot, you should make decisions about characters, and as with plot, you have choices. One choice is an ensemble cast that will carry over from book to book. Here, you have Percy Jackson, his friends and his family as constants. Each book introduces new characters, of course, but there is a core that stays the same.

Another option is to have just one character remain the same. Agatha Christie had Hercule Poirot traveling around and the only constant was the gumshoe and his skills.

Whether you choose one character or an ensemble, you can add or subtract as you go along. But the characters must be integral to the story’s plot.

In developing series characters, think about cohesion and coherence.

Cohesion: Elements of the story stick together, giving cohesion. For example, if one alien in the family can use telekinesis (moving objects with your mind), then that possibility should exist for all members of the family. Of course, some might not have the power, or it may develop slowly for a child, but the possibility should exist.

Coherence: Elements of a story are consistent from book to book. If Kell’s eyes are silvery in book one, they are silvery in books two, three and four.

Decision #3: How long do you want the series to continue?

Many easy readers series go on forever. Think of THE BERENSTAIN BEARS, who continue their adventures and lives throughout multiple volumes. For this type series, the story possibilities are endless. Or think of a TV series, where the situation set up is rich with possibilities. I Love Lucy ran for years and years on the premise of a slightly crazy wife of a musician.

On the other hand, some series have a finite life span. For stories with a narrative arc that spans a series, the life span is built into the plot. However even for these, there can be spin-offs into related series. Think of Percy Jackson and the Olympians series and Heroes of Olympia series. The A to Z Mysteries by Ron Roy and John Gurney had a built-in limit of 26 books.

Sometimes, the length of a series depends on the publisher and the early success of the series titles. When Dori Hillestad Butler’s first book in The Buddy Files series, THE CASE OF THE LOST BOY, won the 2011 Edgar Award for the best juvenile mystery of the year, the publisher contracted for more.

For Sara Pennypacker, author of the CLEMENTINE series of short chapter books, the answer of series length depended on something else. In a presentation about writing, she said that she had to ask herself what she wanted to say to third graders. She came up with eight things. Pennypacker focused on the themes of each book (friendship, telling the truth, etc) and found that eight was the natural stopping place for her. Of course, she reserves the right to many more, if other themes present themselves. But she deliberately stepped away from doing a Christmas book, a Halloween book, a 4th of July book, a fall book, a back-to-school book and so on and so forth.

My books, THE ALIENS, INC. SERIES, which will be out fall 2014, is about an alien family that is shipwrecked on Earth and must figure out how to make a living. It’s been interesting developing these stories and thinking about these three issues.

They accidently fall into party planning and each book features a different type of party or event put on by Aliens, Inc, the family’s company. KELL, THE ALIEN, the lead-off story, is about a birthday party and of course, it is an alien party. Can the aliens pull off an alien party? The second is about a Friends of Police parade, entitled, KELL AND THE HORSE APPLE PARADE.

Can you tell just from the description some of the decisions I made? There isn’t an overall series arc. Rather, the characters, setting and milieu are set up and there could be endless stories in the series.  However, like Butler’s dog mystery series, I am starting with four books and their success will determine future titles. There is a main character who is surrounded by friends and family and, of course, a villainess. These characters weave through the stories and provide cohesion and coherence.

Plan ahead and your series will be stronger. For those who accidently fall into a series, it will be harder to sustain coherence. You may realize in book three that it sure would be nice if your character had to wear glasses. Yes, you can add it—but you run the danger of it being obviously done for the story itself. So, in my series, early readers have questioned things like the art teacher who is from Australia.

They ask, “Does it matter that she is from Australia?”

“Not yet,” I answer. I just know that I have seeded these early manuscripts with possibilities. If the series goes to books 5-8, I will have hooks to draw upon.  So, while I haven’t plotted those books, I have still allowed room for them.

Resource: Writing the Fiction Series: The Complete Guide for Novels and Novellas by Karen S. Wiesner (Writer’s Digest Books)

Want to write a series? What is your favorite series and how will your stories compare?







Storyteller, writing teacher, Queen of Revisions, and founder of Mims House publisher, Darcy Pattison has recently been motivated by zombies (which helped her meet a goal of running a 5K) and chocolate (which keeps her young). always active, before her tenth birthday, she (almost) climbed the Continental Divide, turning back at the last 20 yards because it was too steep and great climbing shoes hadn't been invented yet. This year, she biked in Poland and hiked the Rockies (her first 14-er! Made it to 13.) On her bucket list is kayaking the Napli Coast, eating curry in Bombay, and catching a glimpse of a puma in South America. You can reach her at her website (http://www.darcypattison.com

 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Encore presentation: WRITERLY WISDOM



 



***I have a number of writing deadlines coming up over the next couple of months so I have decided instead of stepping away from my blog completely to concentrate solely on my writing, I will bring back an encore performance of my WRITERLY WISDOM series from three years ago. WW is 52 glorious posts by authors, agents, and editors from around the country providing writerly wisdom in categories from why even become a writer all the way to how to publish and market your books.
 


There will be two posts loaded per week...Mondays & Wednesdays...so be sure to stop by and check out all the encouraging information given by my lovely writerly friends! I hope you enjoy the encore presentation of my WRITERLY WISDOM series and I will return with shiny, new posts in the fall!***

Warrior Writer: Business Plans & Stretchy Pants—One Size DOES NOT Fit All 

by Kristen Lamb

Too often a writer is left to sink or swim on her own, relying on tenacity, trial and error, or plain damn luck in order to enjoy the fruits of her hard work and sacrifice. There has to be a better way, right?
There is, but before we get to that, let us take a tour of other common writer business models…
How many of you out there think that buying lottery tickets is a good investment portfolio for your retirement? Maybe diversify with some scratch-offs? Bingo anyone? And I know you laugh, but too many of us approach the publishing industry with roughly the same mentality…which brings us to our first writer business model.
The Instant Blind Luck Fame Plan
We just KNOW our idea has never been done before, so why write other books when THIS ONE is going to be the key to our success? And our book is really meant to be part of a series anyway. Oh, and we don’t want to give away the ending, because, well, the real ending is in Book Fourteen of this long and lucrative series we have mapped out in our mind. We can’t tell you who the antagonist is until Book Three, because this villain is the villain behind the villain behind the villain—and there is the merchandising to consider.
Most of us made excellent grades in English, so we don’t bother going to the craft workshops at conferences. We are there to pitch to an agent. We just need an agent. Why? Because with this one manuscript, we just know we will be instantly catapulted into a life of fame and fortune. We have endless enthusiasm, and are known for our daring. Speaking of which…did you hear about that guy who sent his query letter in a pizza box? Genius!
The Spaghetti Noodle Plan
Some of us are more realistic in our approach to publishing. We aren’t fools. We know there are instant successes, but they are few and far between. We know it will take years of hard work and sacrifice to get to the top…but we still don’t have a real business plan. Why spoil all the creativity? We became writers so we could delete Excel and free up some space on our hard drive, right?
We have a nice Social Media Network. We are on Facebook and Myspace and Twitter…oh, but our sites are either 1) a collage of family photos or 2) are locked down tighter than Fort Knox as Private. You have to know the secret handshake to see our pages. Self-promotion is so gauche. Twitter is about happy inspirational quotes. Facebook is a good way to keep up with high school pals, and MySpace a neat place to post cute pictures of our kids and dogs.
And we are a gentle, polite sort who would never dream of sliding our query letter under the stall to an agent trying to pee. We go to all the craft workshops, attend writers’ groups religiously, and write and write and write. We don’t like business plans, because they cramp our free spirits. We know, deep inside, that “Persistence prevails when all else fails.” We don’t know who said that. We saw it on a Successories poster at the office of our real job, so we posted it for all our writer friends on Twitter. We are hard workers and know if we toss enough noodles (manuscripts) against the wall, eventually one will stick.
And, lastly there is the…
Bug the Crap out of People Long Enough and They Will Buy It Plan.
This plan is frequently a course taken by the overzealous non-fiction writer. Often we were salespeople or marketers in a former life. Most of us figure, “Heck, if I can sell a million dollars worth of software, rubber dog poo, whatever, books will be EASY!” We are charming and confident, great at advertising and promoting…but learning how to actually write? We’ll get to it later once we hit the NY Times Best-Seller List.
Adherents of this plan are easy to spot. The back of our cars tend to ride a little low due to the added weight of boxes of books in the trunk. Many of us are very tech-savvy and can tell you all about how to print CD labels for your e-books while simultaneously giving you the skinny on the latest PayPal applications for your iPhone. And while most people are content to fritter their lives away, we eager beavers Twitter ours away with endless self-promotion.
Some people call it a family reunion, a wedding or a funeral. Not us. We call those chances to market and sell lots of books. We figure that if we hit enough Lions Club meetings, Bar-Mitzvahs, and flea markets that Random House will come knocking with that million dollar book deal.
If only Oprah would return our call.
Okay, so this is a bit of a parody, but you have to admit one of those made you laugh because it hit home with some of your own thinking. I think I saw a little of myself in all three :) .
What makes the Warrior Writer approach so radically different is that, when it comes to a business plan? To be good, it must be as unique as the individual. Personality has to be the primary consideration.
Warrior Writer focuses on the author. Why? Because everything stems from us—the product (book), the marketing, the business savvy, etc. That is why Bob’s first question is WHO? We have to understand who we are before anything else.
Each of us are going to gravitate to a different genre, topic, style of writing because of who we are. The same goes for how we will approach (or not approach) the business side of publishing.
While we all had a good laugh at the poor souls above, all three of those types of writers had notable strengths. The first group? Enthusiasm and confidence. These authors laugh in the face of adversity. They aren’t afraid of anything, and that is a tremendous asset. The second group? Persistence and hard work. Talent will only take one so far. We have to be willing to do the work and never give up. The third group? They understand writing is a business, and they are passionate and willing to work harder and longer than their competition.
This is the key to being a Warrior Writer. We all have weaknesses and blind spots. But the good news is we also have talents and strengths. Face it. We aren’t going to win a marathon wearing One Size Fits All shoes. Why would we expect to achieve our greatest writing goals with a One Size Fits All business model? Until now, many of us have been relegated to piecing together a patchwork business plan from on-line articles and inspirational stories mixed with snippets from “Marketing for Dummies”—that is, if we bothered to make a plan at all.
Editors and agents, being overworked and spread far too thinly just aren’t going to sit down and help us formulate our strategy for success. Meanwhile, the publishing industry remains content to play the odds. The question is, are we content to remain playing the numbers as well? Warrior Writer is a holistic understanding that incorporates all of who we are for maximum advantage that is tailored to fit. Bob teaches us not only about the industry (no sending queries in a pizza box), but more importantly, he helps us learn about ourselves. This translates into better writing, a better writer, and better business. So while we are waiting on Leno’s people to get back with us, we can learn how to tackle the publishing industry in true warrior fashion.
(At the time Kristen wrote this wonderful post back in 2009, NY Bestselling author Bob Mayer offered writer workshops like the Warrior Writer one.  Now you can go to www.bobmayer.org for more on his often sold out  Write On The River Retreats. Who knew such a wonderful writing resource lived in my own town? )

Kristen Lamb is the author of the #1 best-selling books "We Are Not Alone--The Writer's Guide to Social Media" & "Are You There, Blog? It's Me, Writer." She is the CEO of WANA International, a company dedicated to empowering artist of the Digital Age. She's also the creator of WANATribe, the social networking site for creative professionals. 
You can find Kristen at her website (http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com)

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Encore presentation: WRITERLY WISDOM







***I have a number of writing deadlines coming up over the next couple of months so I have decided instead of stepping away from my blog completely to concentrate solely on my writing, I will bring back an encore performance of my WRITERLY WISDOM series from three years ago. WW is 52 glorious posts by authors, agents, and editors from around the country providing writerly wisdom in categories from why even become a writer all the way to how to publish and market your books.
 

There will be two posts loaded per week...Mondays & Wednesdays...so be sure to stop by and check out all the encouraging information given by my lovely writerly friends! I hope you enjoy the encore presentation of my WRITERLY WISDOM series and I will return with shiny, new posts in the fall!***
 
 
Writing a Masterpiece Ain't Easy!

by Margot Finke


Like any other job or career, a writer must spend time learning the craft of writing - an apprenticeship if you will. The rules are available for those who take the time to learn them. And once you learn the rules, you can take an occasional deep breath. . . and break them with impunity.

Active and powerful words are a BIG Plus:

The creation of active and powerful plots is much the same whatever the age or the genre.  It is all in the words you choose, the dialogue you use, and the way you put it all together. Whether you are trying to appeal to adults, kids on the cusp of adolescence, or teens with raging hormones, success depends on HOOKING your reader.
If you plan to whip up an action packed book that will HOOK reader interest, here is a preview of the ingredients you’ll need to dig out of your imagination and your well-honed craft box.

·       Think out of the box.
·       Tight writing + action and pace
  • Active and powerful verbs.
  • A plot that’s cool and fast paced.
  • Characters alive with authenticity.
  • Dialogue that is true to the characters.
  • A background rich with possibilities or mystery.
  • Your own unique writing voice.
  • Hints and clues that are woven into the fabric of the plot, and tell of past history and things yet to come.
  • End of chapter HOOKS that keep readers turning the page.

·       A Thesaurus (either a book or Shift F7 in Word) is your best friend when looking to replace problem words.
·        For further clues regarding weak "Stuff" to cut from your chapters, visit my



When completed, your MG or YA masterpiece needs to be somewhere between 30,000 and 80,000 words. Yes, I know Jo Rowlings upped the ante with her succession of Harry Potter books, and if your plot and characters have the same appeal as her Harry, you too might get away with a bumper word count. However, first-time authors might be wise to err on the side of fewer words. Adult books can have a much higher word count. 

WARNING: there needs to be a pile of really good “meat” in the plot sandwich to make that larger word count worthwhile.

Action Rules:

Action does not have to be a gun fight, a car chase, or a fight to the death.  Great action means keeping your story moving along. Scenes that have good pace, great humor, or introduce intriguing clues also qualify as action. Your plot, characters and dialogue, must tease, lure, and draw the reader in. If your story keeps the reader turning the page, eager to discover more about the characters and the plot, then you have ACTION covered.

Lack of Action is when. . .

Stagnant “waffling on” does not move the plot along to the next cool scene.  You add long descriptions that interrupt the build up to a momentous scene. Lots of “telling,” rather than using actions and dialogue to show what happens.. If your book is billed as a mystery, a thriller, an adventure or the like, chapters that drag will turn off readers. NOTE: short punchy sentences build better pace and tension.

A Sample: 

From my latest young teen ghost mystery, the “Revenge of Thelma Hill.” Note the shorter sentences and the word choices.

Heavy rain clouds hid the moon, turning her room into a dark cave. Half awake, Frannie shivered.  Brrrr. . . Might as well sleep in the fridge. She tugged the comforter over her ears.  The prickle of goose bumps slid up and down her spine. The room had frostbite. Wow! Could this mean the return of the gray ghost?  Why didn’t I put that camera closer; like under the pillow?
Nervous excitement battled dread. Was the ghost there? The urge to know overwhelmed her. Pushing herself up on one elbow Frannie peered at the foot of the bed.
Frost covered her quilt, the dressing table and the curtains. Icicles dangled from her bedside lamp, their eerie white light shimmering over everything in the room. The Ghost hung in mid-air, swaying gently. A low moan escaped her. The gray spidery veils clung to her like a drowned woman’s gown.
Frannie gasped. Her breath went in just fine, but it refused to go out again. The camera lay on the bedside table, forgotten.


As a professional Critique Service Provider, here are snippets of advice, hot from my latest manuscript critiques.

Wordiness:  (Tight writing rules)


Nothing kills tension and fast pace quicker than wordiness. When fingers hit the keyboard, and their owner has a fresh document begging to be filled, many writers never know when to quit. I prune and trim acres of unnecessary words, sentences and paragraphs. Think of these words and sentences as frills on a fussy looking ball gown. Rip off those frills, and you have an elegant and exciting gown. Your writing needs to be like that gown – elegant and exciting. Sure to make an editor drool. Tight Writing keeps the pace and action moving along. It is also vital for tension building. A few short punchy sentences create tension far better than one long ramble.


Puny Verbs:


The writer who understands the value of verbs already has the battle half won. Great verbs, active verbs, and powerful verbs, they all have the same goal - pages and chapters that crackle with excitement, dynamic plot twists, and vibrant dialogue. Strong verbs create strong characters, memorable plots and evocative scenes. If your plot and characters read like a bowl of over-cooked noodles, look at your verbs. Your verb choices probably don’t deserve all the blame, but they definitely led the retreat into a big yawn!


Lack of Focus:


Focus is a juggling act. Everyone admires the way a juggler keeps all those balls in the air at the same time. He can do this because his focus never wavers. A good writer must also juggle. It our case, it involves juggling the plot, the subplot, the main character, and the lesser characters. While keeping these vital elements in place, a writer must also juggle word choices, character enrichment, pace, and the action. Lack of focus on one or more of these fundamentals, and your story loses momentum. The pace and action wanders, and other crucial elements scatter.

Having a really good critique group nit-pick your chapters will help a lot.  And picking the brains of the published and established members of the group is a bonus. Their advice and support will be invaluable.


"Stuff" That Only Adds to Your Word Count:


These I find in manuscripts everywhere: irritating tag-ons, and add-ons that waste space, yet offer zero in the way of plot enlightenment pace or action. Some are adverbs that snuggle up to weak verbs. Some are overused and tired adjectives. Others appear as twenty ho-hum words that need to be exchanged for 8 more evocative words that explode with meaning. Here are examples:

  • Prune the Fluff: very, some, just, like, that, and words ending in LY.
  • Verbs to Strengthen: Any verb preceded by WAS or ending in ING. Plus: ran, sat, looked, talk, ate, fell.
  • Adjectives That Need a Boost: pretty, happy, nice, good, big, small.
  • Unneeded Thoughts: it seemed, perhaps they will, maybe they can, he felt, they feel, would catch, would do etc.
  • Runaway Sentences and Descriptions: Put those long compound sentences under a microscope. Cut them in half. Do this by using more active and powerful verbs, and breaking it up into at least two shorter sentences that offer more punch and active content.
Your Competition:

Today, writers must compete with action heroes, action movies, and computer games that hemorrhage violent bloody battles. This is especially true for men and boys. These movies and games do not bother with good story lines – violent action rules! The trick is, for you to offer compelling stories that also have fast pace and action. Give them heroes and heroines they can root for and identify with, and you will HOOK your readers. Research your readership ( your niche market), and bring them characters and plots that have meaning to them. When done right, tension intrigue and action can effectively GRAB readership.


The Author’s  “Voice”:

And finally, it all comes down to the “Author’s Voice.”  The unique way you string sentences together: your word choices, verb choices, and the phraseology that makes a story YOURS.  Sometimes voice comes early. At other times it takes time, experience, and lots of rewrites.





Margot Finke is an Aussie transplant, now living in Oregon with her husband and family. She has 13 published books (PB to young teen), and runs a well known Manuscript Critique Service. 





*Website :
http://www.margotfinke.com
*BOOKS
: http://tinyurl.com/bg9dtxt
Latest: Kangaroo Clues
   -  The Revenge of Thelma Hill

*FREE “Sneak Peek” inside all her books:
http://tinyurl.com/9npjy9n
*SKYPE Author Visits (schools etc) : www.youtube.com/watch?v=g-LLo_eWdxk    
 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Encore Presentation: WRITERLY WISDOM




 



***I have a number of writing deadlines coming up over the next couple of months so I have decided instead of stepping away from my blog completely to concentrate solely on my writing, I will bring back an encore performance of my WRITERLY WISDOM series from three years ago. WW is 52 glorious posts by authors, agents, and editors from around the country providing writerly wisdom in categories from why even become a writer all the way to how to publish and market your books.
 

There will be two posts loaded per week...Mondays & Wednesdays...so be sure to stop by and check out all the encouraging information given by my lovely writerly friends! I hope you enjoy the encore presentation of my WRITERLY WISDOM series and I will return with shiny, new posts in the fall!***
Building Tension
by Nicole Zoltack
Tension is such an important part of writing. The greater the tension, the higher the stakes, the faster a reader will turn pages and the greater the chance that a reader will be so gripped and caught up in your story, they’ll read it all in one sitting!

So how do you build tension in your story?

Pacing and Action – Pacing and tension go hand in hand. Pacing revs up during a conflict and then slows down after it’s resolved until the next conflict point. As the story continues on, the slowing down period shortens as tension ramps up as the climax nears. During action, high-paced scenes, use shorter sentences and sparingly use adjectives and adverbs. Shorter sentences heighten paces and increases tension. Choose heavy duty action verbs. Moving the story along at a faster pace with action helps to build tension.

A ticking clock – A deadline, a race against the clock, is a strong way to heighten tension. Any time a goal has to be reached by a set amount of time, the tension is automatically raised. Drama, suspense, tension—all results from a ticking clock. If a serial killer is taunting the police, leaving them clues as to who they are going to kill next, promising they will kill again and again, the police officers are going to be scrambling to locate the murderer before he can kill again. Talk about tension! Especially if the clues point to a family member of a police officer, or even a police officer himself.

Stakes – Increasing the stakes build tension. If your character’s sister is kidnapped, there is plenty of conflict. If the ransom call comes in and demands more money than they could ever afford, the stakes are raised. If they rob a bank to get the money and are caught, the stakes are even higher because now they have to elude the police and still find a way to get the money. And if their brother is then kidnapped… Stakes can be built upon to build tension throughout the story.

Obstacles – Make it as hard as possible for the main character to reach their goal. Block them at every turn. If the reader fears the character will not succeed, the tension will be sky high. The bleaker the outlook for the character, the more the tension. Going back to the ransom story, if the main character is the next one to be kidnapped, but by different people than the ones who have his siblings, that is a huge obstacle for the main character to overcome.

All stories need different levels of tension. A suspenseful mystery will need a ton of tension. A romantic comedy, not quite as much. Determine the level of tension that is correct for your story and then add that amount of tension through pacing action, timing, stakes, and obstacles. Tension is a wonderful tool in a writer’s arsenal. Do not overlook it.






Nicole Zoltack is the author of The Kingdom of Arnhem trilogy: Woman of Honor, Knight of Glory, and Champion of Valor. Black Hellebore, the first book in a superhero romance trilogy, will be released on October 21st. She loves to write romances with lots of tension, and it’s no surprise her favorite TV show is the action-packed The Walking Dead. To learn more about Nicole and her works, visit www.NicoleZoltack.com or her blog at http://NicoleZoltack.blogspot.com

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Encore presentation: WRITERLY WISDOM







***I have a number of writing deadlines coming up over the next couple of months so I have decided instead of stepping away from my blog completely to concentrate solely on my writing, I will bring back an encore performance of my WRITERLY WISDOM series from three years ago. WW is 52 glorious posts by authors, agents, and editors from around the country providing writerly wisdom in categories from why even become a writer all the way to how to publish and market your books.
There will be two posts loaded per week...Mondays & Wednesdays...so be sure to stop by and check out all the encouraging information given by my lovely writerly friends! I hope you enjoy the encore presentation of my WRITERLY WISDOM series and I will return with shiny, new posts in the fall!***


On Writing “Multicultural” Literature
By Miranda Paul

For those of you who don’t already know, I’ll put it out there: I’m white.

It probably shouldn’t matter, and at the same time, it should and does. Here’s why:

Not every story is mine to tell.

I know that, and I respect that.

That doesn’t mean I only write stories that originate my Midwest hometown, about characters who look like me, grew up like me, talk like me, etc. In fact, those of you who know what I write is far more diverse. But what I write is also based upon experience, research, passion, and personal connection.

Let’s consider this current kidlit dilemma:

Even though people have been advocating for more “multicultural” literature for decades, we still need more stories about all kinds of people who come from all sorts of backgrounds and live and talk in diverse ways.

Oh, and they need these stories written by authors who are just as diverse.

Back in 1970, award-winning poet Lucille Clifton published two children’s books—The Black BC’s and Some of the Days of Everett Anderson. This certainly wasn’t the beginning of multicultural kidlit, of course. But I begin with Lucille because she was my first professor of children’s literature, and because she championed the idea that children needed both “mirrors and windows. Mirrors in which they can see themselves, windows in which they can see the world.”

I was blessed to be initiated into the craft of writing for children by such a kind, strong, and gifted woman. Her books offered positive, contemporary portraits of African Americans without racial stereotyping. Her books are wrapped in authenticity, humanity, and universal truth.

Lucille’s example of consciously giving children access to “windows and mirrors” stuck with me as I headed off to teach in West Africa later that year. There, my students had a significant lack of books that accurately depicted individual, contemporary African settings and characters, and I’ve been working over the last few years to build libraries with relevant books. I also married interracially and when we had children, this idea became very personal. Most picture books were “window stories” for my children. Far fewer were “mirrors”, with characters who looked like or had families like our own. Thus, I’m always on the lookout for great “multicultural” books (although sometimes, the separation and separate-shelving of that label irks me) that depict biracial families, children with grandparents living abroad, immigrant parents, a second language in the home, West African and Caribbean cultures, etc.

Let me now get back to an earlier point, about not every story being mine to tell.

Although I’ve written several stories that are classified as “multicultural”, they’ve mostly been stories I have a personal connection to and resulted from experience, research, and collaboration with people within the culture.

There are a lot of underrepresented cultures or lifestyles that interest me, and I see a need for stories about them in the publishing market. But ultimately, at the end of the day, each story should be about a character, in a specific place, at a specific time. That means DETAILS. I am not always the best person for writing those details, especially if the culture is one I’ve not experienced firsthand.

The thing is, not only do children deserve stories that contain “mirrors,” but the author bio or photo needs to reflect diversity as well. Growing up, I never got the chance to actually meet anyone who wrote for a living, and the lack of a model seriously affected my confidence that writing for a career was even possible.

So when I got invited to a school with other authors, I noticed immediately all four of us were white women with blond hair and blue eyes. I had to question what unintentional message this was sending to the kids. Perhaps our lack of diversity meant nothing on a conscious level. Maybe the kids didn’t notice. But what if there was some sort of subconscious message at work? Don’t they deserve to see authors who look like them, in order to ignite a sense of possibility that they, too, can be authors?

I think it’s extremely important for authors who are not of color to remain encouraging and supportive of the organizations who are consciously making an effort to address the call for diversity in children’s books. I am thrilled that publishers such as Lee and Low are hosting a New Voices contest (http://blog.leeandlow.com/2013/09/04/lee-lows-new-voices-award-writing-contest-deadline-is-september-30) for authors of color and it’s still open to entries until September 30! The Coretta Scott King award (http://www.ala.org/emiert/cskbookawards) and Pura Belpre multicultural children’s book awards (http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/belpremedal) are critical in realizing visions where all children can find both windows and mirrors in books.

Whatever your race or ethnicity, don’t feel as though multicultural literature means only writing about your own heritage, or about making the culture more important than the story or character. At the same time, don’t feel as though a marketing need or lack of books on a subject qualifies you to write that particular book. If you feel like an outsider, your narration will seem distanced and inauthentic, and your reader won’t have access to a true window or mirror.

Writing multicultural literature is a daunting task, but there are individuals and organizations out there to help you. Mira Reisberg at Hummingbird Literary (http://hummingbirdliterary.com) has made it a point to seek out multicultural stories, and a few agents at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency (http://www.andreabrownlit.com)   and Full Circle Literary (http://www.fullcircleliterary.com) mention a desire to see multicultural submissions on their websites. The Highlights Foundation (hey, I’m there right now!) can help you find out which stories might be yours to tell, and how to present authentic and diverse characters and settings. In fact, they have an upcoming workshop called Writing Across Boundaries (http://www.highlightsfoundation.org/workshops/writing-across-boundaries) that will address these very subjects from October 27-30.

Remember, if you have the passion to write a multicultural story, and if you honestly address your bias or fear of writing across boundaries, keep in mind the child who deserves that window to another world or a mirror of her own. Then go immerse yourself in that world.






Miranda Paul is a teacher, world traveler, and mother of two. As she raises an international family, her writing goals include depicting diverse characters (and animals!) with positive and sometimes ridiculously funny stories for children. Miranda Paul has served as a volunteer teacher in Gambia, West Africa and also has family scattered around the Caribbean — so she occasionally escapes her Wisconsin homeland for tastes of the tropical life.

Two of Miranda's picture book manuscripts won her the 2012 SCBWI-WI Mentorship award and her debut picture book, ONE PLASTIC BAG, is forthcoming from Lerner Publishing (Millbrook Press). Her second book, WATER IS WATER, to be illustrated by Jason Chin, is forthcoming from Neal Porter Books (Roaring Brook / Macmillan) in 2015.

Miranda also works for-hire writing and editing children's stories for digital and print markets, and has published pieces in national magazines such as POCKETS and TURTLE. She's also finishing up her first YA novel and has plans to save the world someday.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Encore presentation: WRITERLY WISDOM




***I have a number of writing deadlines coming up over the next couple of months so I have decided instead of stepping away from my blog completely to concentrate solely on my writing, I will bring back an encore performance of my WRITERLY WISDOM series from three years ago. WW is 52 glorious posts by authors, agents, and editors from around the country providing writerly wisdom in categories from why even become a writer all the way to how to publish and market your books.
There will be two posts loaded per week...Mondays & Wednesdays...so be sure to stop by and check out all the encouraging information given by my lovely writerly friends! I hope you enjoy the encore presentation of my WRITERLY WISDOM series and I will return with shiny, new posts in the fall!***


CREATING ANTHROPOMORPHIC CHARACTERS
By Judy Cox

Grumpy bears, curious mice, lost toasters—the world of children’s literature abounds with animals and objects that act like people. Giving “people” traits to things or animals is human nature—just eavesdrop on a child playing with a favorite toy, or a doting pet owner speaking for her pet. People love to pretend that non-humans think and talk and feel just like we do.  
Here are a few of the reasons why children love books with anthropomorphic characters:
  • Anthropomorphic characters are gender, age, and ethnicity neutral, allowing a child to project their own image on them.
  • Anthropomorphic characters can be stand-ins for adults, allowing children to engage in grown up activities like living by themselves, driving, cooking, or throwing parties.
  • Anthropomorphic characters can be stand-ins for children—behaving in exaggerated ways that real children could not.
Children’s literature reflects our love of anthropomorphic characters, whether they are animals, toys, or objects. Animals make particularly appealing characters, and I have used many in my books, both picture books and those for mid-grade readers. Anthropomorphic animals fall into three groups:

1. ANIMALS THAT ACT LIKE CHILDREN:

Franklin by Paulette Bourgeois, Arthur by Marc Brown, Frances by Russell Hoban, Olivia by Ian Falconer, Kevin Henkes’ mice,  One is a Feast for Mouse by Judy Cox

2. ANIMALS THAT ACT LIKE ADULTS

Babar by Jean de Brunhoff, A Visitor for Bear by Bonnie Becker, Go to Sleep, Groundhog! By Judy Cox, Redwall by Brian Jacques, Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham

3. ANIMALS THAT ACT LIKE ANIMALS, BUT WITH HUMAN TRAITS

Watership Down by Richard Adams, Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White, The Case of the Purloined Professor by Judy Cox
Of course, animals aren’t the only anthropomorphic characters in children’s books. Here are some other examples:

  • TOYS -- Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne, The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams, Corduroy by Don Freeman
  • OBJECTSThe Brave Little Toaster by Thomas Disch, The Spoon by Amy Rosenthal, The Pencil by Allan Ahlberg, The Little Yellow Leaf by Carin Berger
  • MACHINESKaty and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton, The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper, Thomas the Tank Engine by Rev. W. Awdry

WRITING ANTHROPOMORPHIC CHARACTERS

First, decide how human to make your character. There is a spectrum of behavior to consider—will your characters be completely human? George and Martha in James Marshall’s series never behave like real hippos.
Maybe you’ll want your characters to act more like animals, like the duck family in Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey. Mrs. And Mrs. Mallard have human feelings, but they always behave like ducks.
Perhaps your characters will be somewhere in between, like Frederick and Ishbu, brother rats, in my Tails of Frederick and Ishbu series. My rats climb, jump, swim, and gnaw—like real rats--and I use these attributes, as well as animal behaviors like brushing whiskers, scratching, and marking territory, in all of their adventures. Unlike real animals, however, Frederick and Ishbu also talk to each other (although not to humans), and Frederick can read.
Sometimes, the choice is up to the illustrator, not the author. Initially, I imagined Mouse (One is a Feast for Mouse) as a real mouse. The illustrator chose to dress him in a striped T-shirt and glasses—a brilliant move, by the way!

Whether you choose to clothe your character or keep them au naturel, balance animal characteristics with people characteristics so you don’t end up with the dreaded “people in animal clothes” syndrome in which the animals do nothing animal-ish. Keep characters true to their animal nature—fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly! Besides curious mice, cuddly bunnies, and grumpy bears you can also play against type—a shy lion or an owl who isn’t as wise as he thinks.
Your anthropomorphic characters must be as three dimensional as human characters. They need charm and personality, as well as a goal and a conflict.

WHAT NOT TO DO

  • Avoid overdoing the cute factor. Too much sugar becomes cloying.
  • Avoid alliterative names. They’ve been so overdone that they are clich├ęd.
  • Avoid strange or unappealing beasts that children find repulsive.
  • Avoid following the above guidelines too closely!

             Be thoughtful about inanimate objects. When I first started writing, I was given the advice to never use non-toy objects as main characters. The reasoning was that inanimate objects are not as innately appealing as animals or toys. That said, there have recently been a number of successful children’s books that feature objects—leaves, tableware, machines--as main characters, proving (once again) that rules are made to be broken!
Whether toy, animal, or object, the only unbreakable rule is that your characters must appeal to readers, both children and adults. A main character must be someone the reader can identify with, someone the reader can root for through trial and tribulation. In the end, it’s the quality of the story and the writing that are important—traits that are true for any good children’s book.




Judy Cox is the author of twenty-six award winning children’s books, including many with animal characters. In 2009, the first book in the Mouse series (Holiday House), One is a Feast for Mouse, won an Anne Izard Storytellers Choice Award.  Her latest book is Ukulele Hayley, (Holiday House 2013) which features humans acting like humans.