Wednesday, April 30, 2014

So long, farewell... Yahong Chi

Time flies. It's a cliché, but that's because it's true: I joined Project Mayhem over three years ago (three years! So long ago!), and yet it seems like nearly no time at all has passed between then and now. Now, when I must sadly announce my departure from Team Mayhem. I'm looking to focus on my higher education studies next year and on, and therefore am bidding a farewell to the blog and to all our amazing readers.

Never fear, however: the team behind the mayhem is about to get even better, with some new contributors coming around to stay! Visit again tomorrow for the announcement of our new mischief-makers. Be ready to expect great things!

Writing for Project Mayhem has been a wonderful opportunity, and you'll always be able to find my posts under my name. Thank you to everyone who ever scrolled through one of my posts, and especially to those who took the time to comment; my gratitude is yours. To the rest of the team, thank you for everything.

May the mayhem live on!



Tuesday, April 29, 2014

New Series: Interview with a Young Writer -- Felicia from Stanley and Katrina

I'm starting a new series on Project Mayhem today. In coming posts, I plan to feature young writers. I've noticed how many talented young writers there are out there--and I say "more power to them." I remember the thrill I had when I was first "published" in my school magazine in 4th grade--I still have a well-worn copy--and I think it cemented from a young age my desire to be a writer.

The current crop of young writers are something else, however. They are super-talented and confident, as well as being media savvy. I am positive we are going to see great things from these guys in the future.

So, to kick-off the series, I invited Felicia, a.k.a. Neighbor Girl, to be my inaugural interviewee. I saw Felicia on an interview with Rick Riordan on HuffPost Live and, quite frankly, I was blown away by her intelligence and her naturalness under pressure. I would have been a basket case at her age! Felicia (and her mother, Christine, who is her media contact) produce the Stanley and Katrina website, which I hope you will immediately go to and enjoy once you finish reading this interview with Felicia.

Without further ado: Hi there, Felicia. I am a huge fan and I hope you'll answer a few questions for me. Here's the first one: When did you write and publish "The Perpetual Papers of the Pack of Pets"?
I wrote The Perpetual Papers of the Pack of Pets in November of 2012 and published it January 2013.

What was the most enjoyable part of the writing, and then the publishing, process? The most enjoyable part has been knowing that I actually wrote something, and that people liked it.

It really was a job well-done. Can you give our readers the "pitch" for "The Perpetual Papers of the Pack of Pets"?
My book is about a dog and a cat who have lived in the same house for about three years but never bothered to learn each other’s name. They exchange letters to build their acquaintanceship. Katrina loves treats, naps and bossing the dog around. Stanley loves snow, attention and turkey. The diva kitty, Katrina, will have none of Stanley’s antics and most certainly will not stand for him eating her food. The only reasonable solution is to take him to Kitty Court.

I'm sure those people who have dogs and cats at home are nodding sagely at this. Are you writing anything else now?
I am working on the second book in my series.

How much time per week do you spend writing?
It depends what time of the year it is. Sometimes I don’t write at all but when I am in NaNoWriMo I write like crazy.

I like your attitude. Tell me, how did you get to be invited to talk with Rick Riordan on the Huffington Post Live? 
I sent in a request to HuffPost Live to be on their Tell Me Why Program. After my initial interview, the producer said she was going to get an author to be a guest, and I recommended that they contact my friend, Erik, who is also a young author. The producer thought it would be great to have us on the program together, and was able to get our favorite author, Rick Riordan (YAY, YAY, YAY!) as the expert guest for our program.

As I said before, I was so impressed by you and Erik. Hopefully I can get Erik to stop by this blog in the future too. What about school work? Besides writing (and reading) what are your favorite subjects at school?
Well, I like Language Arts (of course) but I also like Humanities.

What books are you reading right now? 
The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series by Maryrose Wood.

Oh, I loved that series! When you read, do you like hard copy books, or e-books--or both?
I like both, but prefer hard copy.

Me too! I'm wondering if you have had an inspirational teacher?
My Mom, since she homeschooled me most of my life.

Awesome! As for "awesomeness," would you mind filling the blank: "I am awesome at..."
directing movies.

Okay, I see you are talented on many fronts. Finally, I so loved learning about the adventures of Stanley and Katrina, it got me to wondering: Is there a real Stanley or a real Katrina living in your house? If so, are their personalities similar to their fictional counterparts?
There is not a real Stanley and Katrina in my house, as we have no pets, but I wish there were. :)

Thanks so much, Felicia, for being my first young author interviewee here at Project Mayhem. I look forward to following your career as author and movie director!

Here's Felicia's bio:
Felicia is known as Neighbor Girl on Stanley and Katrina’s website. She is a ten-year-old sixth grader attending the University Scholars Program at PALCS. She adores writing, reading, acting, gymnastics, stuffed animals and working with technology. Felicia is a member of the Davidson Young Scholars Program and her latest creative project is organizing the D.I.R.T. Kids - a small group of performing kids who want to raise money for charities.

Book Trailer: Connect with Stanley & Katrina:
Google +:
Free Printables for The Perpetual Papers of the Pack of Pets:
Katrina's Words of the Week:

Monday, April 28, 2014

To Whom Do We Owe the Honor Mister Dahl? by Matthew MacNish

There was a tragedy in my house the other day. An absolute miscarriage of justice which left me short of breath, emotionally and legally concerned, and utterly disappointed in my progeny.

Let me back up.

Start from the beginning.

My younger daughter, who is twelve, is in her middle school production of the stage adaptation of the film adaptation of the wonderful Roald Dahl Middle Grade novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which has tragically been mis-titled Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (or sometimes just Willy Wonka) since time immemorial.

Anyway, opening night was last Friday, and I went on Saturday afternoon to see the production, and it was a lot of fun, but that's not what I'm posting about here.

What I'm posting about is an argument I got into with my child and her older sister after the final dress rehearsal on Thursday.

We were discussing the legacy of the greatness of a story like the one that takes place in the eponymous Chocolate Factory, and they tried to make this ridiculous argument that the legacy of such a thing is owed mostly to whoever adapted the novel for the silver screen, and then after that, owed secondly to whoever adapted the screenplay to a stage play.

I was obviously appalled.

I don't mean to imply that adaptations of such a wonderful and culturally important story are not important, necessary, and deserving of praise and historical import, but I was aghast at my children's insistence, especially after I tried to bring it up, that in a legacy like that of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, less appreciation is owed to the original creator, the man who dreamed the whole thing up, Roald Dahl himself, hands down the greatest children's author who ever lived, in my own humble opinion, than it is to whoever adapted it, and admittedly probably cemented it in the psyche of the American Mind.

I don't mean to discount the role those people played (FWIW, Dahl himself wrote the screenplay for the 1971 film, which was directed by Mel Stuart, and John August wrote the 2005 screenplay, while Tim Burton directed. For the stage musical, assuming we can trust Wikipedia, it seems it was written by David Greig, with music and lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman), and like I said, I have no intention of denying the contribution those people made to the legend of this book, but I must say, I was surprised, offended, and a little ticked off when my kid's tried to say that Disney, of all entities, had more to do with the popularity of the tale of the Chocolate Factory than Dahl himself.

I mean, really?

How could the story even exist if Dahl had not dreamed it up? People can adapt great works until the cows come home, but unless a genius like Dahl imagines them in the first place, no one will have anything to adapt.

What say you?

NOTE: In other news: Apparently Steven Spielberg will be directing an adaptation of Roald Dahl's The BFG for Dreamworks.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Happy Book Birthday to Dianne Salerni--Middle Grade Mafioso's Interview and Review of THE EIGHTH DAY

We are always thrilled, here at Project Mayhem, to celebrate the successes of one of our own. Tuesday marked the book birthday of Dianne Salerni's THE EIGHTH DAY (HarperCollins), which I for one can't get enough of. In honor of Dianne, I am reposting a review and an interview from Middle Grade Mafioso--with the blog owner's permission. (Hey, the blog owner happens to be me, in partnership with Don Vito, so who's arguing?!)

What It's About (from Goodreads): In this riveting fantasy adventure, thirteen-year-old Jax Aubrey discovers a secret eighth day with roots tracing back to Arthurian legend. Fans of Percy Jackson will devour this first book in a new series that combines exciting magic and pulse-pounding suspense.

When Jax wakes up to a world without any people in it, he assumes it's the zombie apocalypse. But when he runs into his eighteen-year-old guardian, Riley Pendare, he learns that he's really in the eighth day—an extra day sandwiched between Wednesday and Thursday. Some people—like Jax and Riley—are Transitioners, able to live in all eight days, while others, including Evangeline, the elusive teenage girl who's been hiding in the house next door, exist only on this special day.

And there's a reason Evangeline's hiding. She is a descendant of the powerful wizard Merlin, and there is a group of people who wish to use her in order to destroy the normal seven-day world and all who live in it. Torn between protecting his new friend and saving the entire human race from complete destruction, Jax is faced with an impossible choice. Even with an eighth day, time is running out.

Opening Lines: "Jax pedaled home from the store and muttered in cadence with the rhythm of his bike wheels: This sucks. This sucks. This sucks."

Great Stuff: This is truly a fast-paced book which I couldn't put down. It starts with a mystery: after Jax's father's death, why is Jax no longer living with his his aunt Naomi? Why is Riley Pendare, a teenager whom Jax despises, his new guardian? And what did Riley say to Aunt Naomi and the lawyer to make them change their minds?

I loved the character arc, in which Jax little by little begins to understand his situation. I loved the interweaving of Arthurian legend, and the fantastic world Dianne Salerni creates, with Transitioners and Kin, and the mysterious Eighth Day. And the final battle atop a Mexican pyramid is a heart-stopper.

Dianne kindly agreed to answer some of my nosy questions:

1. Have you always been interested in Arthurian legend? Do you have a favorite novel set in this time period?
I’ve long had an interest in Arthurian legend. I can’t say that I have a favorite, but what I really enjoy is seeing the legends retold in new and surprising ways. (For example, I read an early draft of Camelot Burning, an Arthurian steampunk novel by Kathryn Rose. Highly recommended!)  

To be honest, when I started planning The Eighth Day, Arthurian legends weren’t part of the story at all. Then, while researching something else, I randomly stumbled upon the story of Merlin’s apprentice Niviane tricking him into a place of suspended time. Some versions of the tale call it an eternal forest; others describe it as a cave. There were similarities in the way this place was described and the vision I had for the eighth day. Once I’d noticed the possible connection, the idea stuck – and blossomed.

  1. Is this your first published middle grade book? Can you tell us about the process of working with your editor?
This is my debut as a middle grade author. It’s strange that I waited so long to write a book for this age group, since I’m a fifth grade teacher.

Working with my editor, Alexandra Cooper, and her assistant, Alyssa Miele, has been wonderful. Originally, my book was acquired by Barbara Lalicki, and when Barbara retired, it was a few months before I was assigned a new editor – and I had a lot of time to worry if the new editor would love my book as much as Barbara did.

But Alexandra was great to work with. We went through several rounds of revision, and boy, did she make me work hard! But she got a better book out of me, and when I submitted my second manuscript to her, I couldn’t wait to receive her editorial notes. I trusted that her instincts would pinpoint the strengths and weaknesses of my story and help me take it to a higher level.

  1. If you were a Transitioner, who would you choose as your liege?
Without question, I would swear my allegiance to Riley. I know he doesn’t make a good impression at first, but Jax has reason to resent Riley in the beginning. We get a biased view of him. He’s not perfect, certainly, and he’s only 18 and inexperienced at leadership. However, by the end of the book, I think he’s someone worth following.

  1. I loved the battle scene set on top of an Aztec pyramid. Did you travel to Mexico for research? Did you have any help in creating such a melee, or are you a military strategist in your own right?
I am in no way a military strategist! Originally, I planned the scene based solely on books, photographs, and YouTube videos of people who filmed themselves climbing the Pyramid of the Sun. For military expertise, I called on my brother-in-law, who’s a retired federal agent with combat experience. He laid out basic strategies for me, and I wrote the scene. Afterward, I sent him the chapters to read, and he let me know where I needed to tweak them.

Dianne: "Those steps were hard!"
But I worried a lot about writing all this based on the photographs and videos of strangers, so my husband said, “Let’s go to Mexico.” And we did! I can’t tell you how amazing it was to visit Teotihuacan after writing the book – and best of all, to discover that my scenes worked in that setting!

Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacan, Mexico

  1. How do you balance working as a teacher and being a writer, as well as being an involved parent?
There are many days when it’s really hard to juggle those things. I’ll have schoolwork to do when I want to be writing. I’ll have emails from my editor I want to answer when I have a class to teach. Sometimes, I wonder why my family tolerates me when I’m holed up in the basement, writing and ignoring them.

In February and January, we lost a lot of school days to snow, ice, and power outages. We no longer have a spring break, and we might be going to school in July, but I used the days to make significant progress on the draft for Book 3 in the series. So for me, it was a blessing.

  1. Are there any sequels in the works? Or any movie deals on the horizon?
Three books are planned, with the option for more if the series is successful. My editor and I completed revisions on Book 2, The Inquisitor’s Mark, in January. I’m hoping to get Book 3 written before The Inquisitor’s Mark boomerangs back from copy-editing.

Book 2 is tentatively scheduled for release in the Winter of 2015, and I think Book 3 will come out late that same year. No movie deals yet, but my agent is in contact with a Hollywood film agent with plans to shop it around.

Doesn't that sound exciting?! Dianne, the Project Mayhem cohorts are proud to have you in our midst. Happy Book Birthday!!!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

12 Essential Rules to Live More Like a Zen Writer

“Simple is good.”
              -  Jim Henson

I am not a Zen monk. I am not posting this blog from a monastery perched atop a remote, cloud-
shrouded mountain. But I recently read an article that shared “12 Essential Rules to Live More Like a Zen Monk” and I thought that these rules translated well to the writing life.

Barefoot and breathing and listening to the sound of one hand clapping, I give you…

12 Essential Rules to Live More Like a Zen Monk Writer:

1. Write one project at a time. Find your main project and focus on it. It is easy to collect new ideas, to become infatuated with the potential new story. However, a dozen started projects is easily a dozen unfinished projects. For every project you are simultaneously working on, you are slowing down every other project you are trying to juggle. And not only that, each of these other projects takes creative energy and focus that could be better spent fueling your novel-in-progress. Write them down. Record those ideas. File them away and come back to them...but stay focused on one primary project. If you need a creative break, allow yourself a small side project, but keep it as that; a side project. 

2. Write it with determination and deliberation. Write like a shark. Keep moving forward. Be determined to finish that draft. Be deliberate in your actions, letting every word, every sentence, serve your story. Know your characters, believe in yourself, shrug off doubt, duct tape your internal editor and write your way to your goals.

3. Write it completely. DO NOT edit along the way. A well polished first 50 pages is just that...50 pages, not a book. Write through (not necessarily in linear fashion) to the end. Complete the draft, and then ride into the magic of revision on the backs of rainbow unicorns. And while you're writing your way through the entire draft, be completely IN each scene. Be in that moment...don't worry about the entire forest. Focus on that one tree you are hugging...and then move on to the next and do the same. Be IN that scene, be on THAT page and eventually you'll string together a story, page by page, scene by scene. Otherwise it gets pretty darn scary.

4. Do less. That's right. Say "No" to things. What's that? Nope, can't mow the lawn. Novel to write. Sister's wedding? No. Cricket tournament. No. Call of Duty 17 for the Xbox? Nope. Ok, occasionally you are allowed to take a break and get to do something with other humans...but stop watching television every night, or tricking yourself into feeling obligated to attend every social event. But it's National Canned Peaches Day next Wednesday and everyone is getting together at Sven Jorgenstein's to make Peach Syrup Margaritas!! Write your novel.

5. Put space between things. Make time to step away from your story. I believe that we have creative batteries and that they are rechargeable. But they need time to recharge. So maybe step away and take a nice walk (while talking to your character in your head. See multitasking?). Or throw a Frisbee with the kids. Or lie on the grass and watch the clouds. Or read a book. But hey! You just said no breaks! No, I said "Don't go to Sven Jorgenstein's for Peach Syrup Margaritas." At least these breaks recharge your creative batteries and don't end with you suffering a severe fructose syrup hangover.

6. Develop writing rituals. Establish routine. Are you a night writer? A morning writer? A coffee shop writer? Do you need to write barefoot or on a unicycle or on a typewriter or with Scandinavian Yodel Quartet music blasting? Find what works for you and make these your rituals. Own your process.

7. Designate time for distractions. Facebook, Twitter, checking emails, etc., etc....all those wonderful little interwebs distractions right at our fingertips. Don't tell yourself "no," tell yourself "not yet." Write for 50 minutes and then take 10 for social media. Wash, rinse and repeat. Use them as rewards.

8. Devote time to sitting. That's right: BIC (Butt In Chair). MAKE the time to write. Nobody is going to do it for you. Sure, it'd be easy to just plop down on the couch and make origami penguins. And yes, you're tired from sitting through classes or a day at work. Sure, there's laundry and the living room needs to be vacuumed. But you know what? Making origami penguins is hard...and those other things can wait. Maybe until tomorrow. Maybe for an hour. Excuses collect entirely too easily and the next thing you know a week, a month, a year has passed. And you're no further along in your novel.

9. Smile and serve your characters. This means knowing your characters. Follow them through the story. Listen to them. Trust them. Ask them what they want, all of them, from the protagonist to the secondary character in chapter eleven who surprises the heck out of you and reveals a side of your antagonist you never knew existed! What!? Yep. Serve your characters and they'll serve you.

10. Make research and revision become meditation. When it is time to embrace these processes, be mindful of where you are and what you are doing. Do not be afraid to make the tough cuts. Know your purpose in research and what your research goals are, lest you fall into the trap of becoming lost or encumbered. Be mindful and embrace these roles. They are vital pieces of the Zen writing process. 

11. Think about what is necessary. Does everything in your story serve a purpose? Put nothing in your story for its own sake; not for shock, not as a gimmick, not because it's cool. It all must move the story forward, it all must have a purpose. If not, it is your job to remove it. Be strong.

12. Write simply. Don't overcomplicate your story. Rita Williams-Garcia, author of P.S. Be Eleven, One Crazy Summer, et. al, once told me that I had "too many things in the lifeboat. Start throwing some of them overboard." It's easy to start adding in all kinds of ingredients to the soup, but then you get some kind of convoluted inedible jumbo. No. Keep it simple. Simple, straightforward...a story that your readers can follow. No, that they are eager and anxious to follow. Be a storyteller. Just like Jim Henson said up there at the beginning of this post: "Simple is good."

While I cannot promise you enlightenment, or the path to publication, I can offer you this:
"Listening is the first step and the last step." - Cantus Fraggle

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Heroes and Villains #3: The Evolution of an Antagonist by Dianne K. Salerni

Character Art by Rachel Gillespie
We all know a villain when we see one. Black cape, nefarious cackle, possibly a mustache or long, sharp fingernails. Villains generally have evil goals, so they’re easy to spot even when they're not dressed in standard villain attire. But what makes a character an antagonist?

By definition, an antagonist is a character who stands in the way of the protagonist’s goals. An antagonist doesn’t have to be evil or act with open hostility against the hero. Sometimes, the antagonist might not be what he or she appears to be, as is the case for Andrew Clements’s character Mrs. Granger, the teacher who tries to thwart Nick’s efforts to adopt a new word for pen in Frindle.

In my latest book, The Eighth Day, which releases today (Today! Today! Today!), I have a few villains (some minor, some major), but there's also an important antagonist who, like Mrs. Granger, is not what he seems to be: Riley Pendare.

In an email regarding his review of The Eighth Day on Middle Grade Mafioso, fellow Mayhemer Michael Gittel-Gilmartin said that he liked how I “made a couple of initially not likable characters into people that by the end we were rooting for completely.”

I’m guessing Riley was one of them, since I deliberately set him up to be disliked. The protagonist, Jax, lays it out bluntly on the first page:

Riley sucks.

Riley Pendare is the 18 year-old tattooed and motorcycle-riding stranger who showed up after Jax’s dad died, claiming to be his legal guardian. Riley whisks Jax away from the only family he has left and then proceeds to neglect him.

What Jax told the caseworker was that Riley had forgotten to pay the electric bill and almost missed the gas bill; that he only brought home as many groceries as he could carry on his motorcycle; that he could barely take care of himself and was in no way capable of taking care of Jax.
Even after Jax gets an introduction to Grunsday, the secret eighth day of the week, via his guardian, he stubbornly refuses to revise his opinion.

Just because they shared this weird Grunsday thing didn’t mean he liked Riley.

Change happens slowly – and only as Jax learns about Riley’s backstory. They have more in common than he realized, and there’s a reason (a sad one) for his guardian’s neglectfulness. Almost against his will, Jax starts seeing Riley as person instead of an obstacle …

“When did I start worrying about Riley?”

… and eventually as someone to be admired. By the climax, when Jax is steeling himself to do something brave and daring, he knows who he needs to model himself after.

Riley would do it, he told himself.

They say that a villain is always the hero of his own story. Likewise, antagonists might not really be blocking the way to the hero’s goal – but, rather, pointing out the right path to a better goal!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Tax Time for Writers

I think taxes have been on my mind lately since I filed mine a few weeks ago. (A whole 13 days early this year—woohoo!) Someone recently tried to convince me that as a writer, I could legitimately claim as a business expense any book I had purchased in the prior tax year. Yes, any book. It didn’t matter if it was directly related to research for a specific writing project or was actually a book on writing craft. I should claim any and all books, this person claimed, because in reading these books I am honing and sharpening and studying the art of writing and storytelling, even indirectly, and therefore they are valid expenses related to my writing. This person went on to say that I should consider claiming all the money I spent on movie tickets or plays throughout the year, (again, I’m studying story), as well as any DVDs I purchased. By this line of reasoning, I suppose my Netflix subscription fees for the year should be deductible as well. After all, I only ever rent and watch DVDs because I’m studying the art of storytelling in an effort to hone my writing skills, right?

Sure, right.

I guess I’m just not as comfortable claiming as wide a variety of expenses as some people. The general rule I’ve always gone by is that if I would have incurred the expense even if it wasn’t related to my writing, it’s not a valid deduction. Would I have seen all those movies and purchased all those books even if I wasn’t a writer? Probably. That makes them not a business expense in my mind.

I do claim books I purchase specifically to perform research for a writing project, author website maintenance expenses, fees and expenses and travel costs related to writers conferences and events, membership fees for writers’ organizations, and things I feel I can directly connect to my writing. I want to be fair and honest in claiming deductions, and I certainly don’t want to send up any red flags for an audit.

Do you have any tax tips for writers? What do you view as valid deductions?

I have this memory of someone once telling me she claimed a pedicure she got in anticipation of making an author appearance as a business expense. Lol—no comment on that one.

-Dawn Lairamore

photo credit: kenteegardin via photopin cc

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Researching Historicals - Down the Rabbit Hole

“One Breakfast Cape - $3.00” What is a breakfast cape, you may ask? I’m going to tell you if you didn’t ask, but first, I wanted to share something I’ve learned about historical research. Be warned-once you start down the path of research, you may disappear in a rabbit hole of discovery you don’t ever want to leave!

Even though I’ve always loved history, and took several history classes in college, I’d never done research at a history museum archives until recently, and it was more amazing than I ever imagined. I can’t recommend it enough for the fascinating bits of information you can find, which can add incredible detail to your stories. My trip wasn’t even related to a story, though it did spark a story idea. My daughter had to research a Civil War event for a history project, and because she’s not yet sixteen, this particular facility required that I stay with her and help. To give some background on what we found, her project was on a major exhibition in our city to raise money for the war. The archives had twelve boxes of material on the exhibit, from lists of items donated (in beautiful handwriting) to actual tickets people purchased. She had already found a book on the event, but seeing the items from the event gave life to it in a way the book did not.

It was easy enough to get copies of newspaper articles about the event, but we also found a newspaper in the archives that was only printed for the event by the people involved, and detailed the events of each day. It was quite a find, because the newspaper had never been scanned and made available anywhere else.

Here’s one of the tidbits from the paper:
“A gentleman requests us to apologize to the lady, whose dress he trod on and ripped off the skirt, last evening. He is diffident, and she appeared so very angry, he was afraid to express his regret. He hopes she did not break the China vase she dropped during the incident.”

I love this, because I can picture it vividly.

Here’s another:
“There was an incipient fire at Greenwood Hall on Monday evening, creating quite a sensation. The decorations of a chandelier caught fire, falling upon one of the refreshment tables and setting things thereon in a blaze. In a trice it was denuded of its sweet contents, the flames smothered under shawls and cloaks, (not the first time these articles have covered “hidden fires”), but soon order was restored, and the table resumed to its former state.”

With these two descriptions, a writer could add such detail to a story to bring the reader right into the event. I wouldn’t have been able to imagine these on my own.

So if you are writing a historical and have a chance to get hold of some primary source material, you may find some real treasures.

And the breakfast cape? It was one of the items donated. After some further research, we discovered it was a very common item of women’s clothing from the mid 19th century, usually knitted, and worn by ladies when at home (not to be confused with an opera cape.)

Happy research!

~ Dee Garretson

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

You got a book deal? Now What? Continued....

Do not lick your editor. Maybe your agent though....

I posted this a while back, but have been asked about this a lot, so here is my list of things to consider after you get your book deal, with some brand new additions. Please feel free to add anything I might have missed and you don't have to be published to contribute! This list is for all!

1. Don't be scared of working with your editor! You'll do fine! Generally, they are very nice people who will be indispensable to the success of your novel.

2. Be prepared to take what you consider the most special parts of your book...OUT!

3. Concerns? TALK TO YOUR AGENT! He/she knows the business and they will tell you if you're concerns are justified or you're freaking out for no reason. (I would fit into the freaking out for no reason category). If you don't have an agent, don't worry! Ask your friends. Check forums, author websites. The information is out there.

4. Don't be afraid to ask your publisher LOTS of questions-- if you don't ask, you won't get.

5. Your publisher may change your release date several times--this is totally normal, especially for a debut.

6. Know that you have NO control over the cover art...but be happy when your publisher does ask for your input and if they don't, have a nice piece of cake (preferably tiramisu) and tell yourself, they know what they're doing.

7. Keep in mind that Barnes & Noble, along with Indie stores, do NOT pick up every book, even from big publishers! There is nothing you can do if they decide not to carry your book in their brick and mortar stores, so don't worry about it--it does not mean your book won't be successful and this happens to authors all the time.

8. Don't fret if you only get a one book deal (becoming the norm these days), but be merry when they buy the sequel six months later--off a proposal no less! That means they like you, they really, really like you!

9. There are a lot of things out of your control in publishing--in fact--most things. Before giving yourself a facial tick, take a step back, inhale a deep solid breath, and realize no matter what's in store for you, you made did're a first-rate writer--YOU!

10. If you're publisher wants you to speak somewhere--DO IT! Suck it up and say yes. I was terrified the first few times, but it gets easier and you will get BETTER! Speaking engagements can be thrilling! They are a fantastic way to connect with readers and to land more speaking gigs, which can be very lucrative! :)

11. Remember QUALITY, not quantity. It's not a race! Put out good books and the deals with come!

12. Ask ALL your friends to help you with a blog tour and return the favor!!!

13. Walk into indie stores and introduce yourself! DO IT! They will be happy that you did. Don't be shy. Tell them you're an author. Give them an ARC! They may order your book and do a whole lot more. Indies are GREAT!

14. When you get your first royalties statement, don't freak out about returns! Even bestselling authors have returns--lots of them! It's a normal part of the business!

15. Sleep is for suckers.

16. Foreign rights are awesome! If at all possible, keep your foreign rights. Your agent can sell them literally all over the world and you sit back and watch it happen. Generally no work involved on your end, let alone seeing your book translated into another language with an amazing new cover. If you don't have an agent, check online to see how other indie authors sell their rights. There is tons of great information out there!

17. Getting published is no guarantee that it will happen again. In other words, you can be published, well published, and still not get play on your next manuscript. It happens a lot more than you'd think.

18. Projects get squashed! Yes, it happens all the time. I can't tell you how many times I've seen it happen. You get a deal, but 6 months down the road the publisher changes their mind, your editor leaves, the economy slumps, the publisher merges with another...there are millions of reasons. If this happens, DON'T FREAK! You got a deal once, you can do it again. Take a deep, deep breath, regroup, and move forward.

19. If you slack on your blogging, Facebook, and Twitter duties, don't sweat it. Use it as an occasional break from writing/editing and explain to your peeps you're underwater. They will understand.

20. Sleep is for suckers. Yes, this one gets two slots. :)

What would you add to this list?? :)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Chris Eboch on Finding Time to Write

In my January post I talked about defining success and setting goals, and in my February post, I talked about respecting your own path. Last month, I covered developing a support system and getting friends and family to take your writing seriously. This month as part of my “Surviving the Writing Life” series, I’m tackling a big question:

How do you find time to write?

Most of us don’t have the luxury of focusing on writing full-time. If you have a day job or kids at home, how do you squeeze in time to write?

Set small goals and keep them. Write 2 pages or 200 words a day (or whatever your goal is), no matter what! Some people find it easiest to get up early and work before the rest of the family is awake. But if you can’t squeeze in the writing during the day, you do it before going to bed. (You may want to give yourself one day a week off. This can be motivating earlier in the week, as you want to save that free day in case you need it more later.)

Remove distractions. When you sit down to write, write first. Don’t check email or Facebook. Close your email and browser window. Apps such as “Freedom” block you from the Internet for a set amount of time. “Write or Die 2” gives you rewards for writing and punishment for procrastination by images and sounds. There are many others. You can also turn off your Wi-Fi or unplug your Internet cable, and only check  email at set times.

Leave the house if you have to – go to a coffee shop or the library to write. One writer commented that she turns off the phone when she’s writing. Everyone knew to call her husband in case of emergency, which never happened. If she had her phone on, would people have come up with a lot more “emergencies”? Ellen Rippel, author of Outlaws & Outcasts: The Lost Cemetery of Las Vegas, New Mexico, says, “They usually say, ‘I know you said not to call at this time, but I thought you should know….’” 

But what if you have to research? Schedule times specifically for research, but don’t stop your writing to fill in one small blank. Checking a fact could lead to hours of book browsing or Internet distraction, so make a note in your manuscript such as [add appropriate clothing] or [check definition] and keep writing.

Look for small chunks of time. When I had an office job, I wrote during part of my lunch hour. Some writers keep a notebook or tape recorder in the car and take notes while waiting in line to pick up the kids. A few minutes here and there can add up over the course of a week. Building habits takes time, so write anything, anywhere, to get in the habit, and don’t worry about quality or whether it’s something you’ll ever use.

Look for bigger chunks of time. Some people may find it easier to schedule several hours to write on one weekend day instead of trying to write daily. Writing retreats – a weekend or a week away, with critique partners or alone – are also an opportunity to get substantial writing done. If you can’t afford an official writing retreat, see if you can borrow a friend’s house while they’re on vacation, in exchange for pet and plant care.

Multitask. One of my friends wrote a novel over the summer, while her kids swam at the pool or had soccer practice. Look for similar situations, where you have to be physically present but can divide your attention.

Use a notebook or tape recorder to capture ideas when you can’t get to the computer. You can get a small digital tape recorder for about $30 and dictate while you walk the dog. Even brushing your teeth can provide an opportunity to ponder a plot problem or brainstorm ideas. For those who think in the shower, bathtub markers can allow you to jot notes.

Focusing on writing while doing other things can take some practice. When I walk with my mini tape recorder, usually the first ten minutes involves churning through all the garbage in my mind, but I won’t allow myself to turn around until I start focusing on my story. I also find that a menial task like emptying the dishwasher can let me think about how I want to word the next section, but it’s important to concentrate and not get distracted by the “to-do list” or random thoughts.

Track your time. Just as dieters are advised to keep a food diary of everything they eat, keep a notebook for a week noting exactly how you spend your time. You may find that you are wasting more time than you realize on social media or watching TV. You may realize that a volunteer obligation has become too much of a burden. You may decide that it’s time to put other family members in charge of more household tasks. Or you may determine that you are doing the best you can already and should give yourself a break. Chances are you’ll learn something.

Set your priorities. When you die, do you want people to say, “She was a fantastic writer” or “She kept a clean house and could always quote the latest TV show.” Fellow Mayhemer Joy McCullough-Carranza says, “I homeschool two children and manage a heavy freelance load, but I make time. It’s the only way. I’m the only one who cares if I write, when it really comes down to it. Family and friends are supportive, but if I don’t make time, then I’ll never progress. So I work really late at night and watch very little TV. Basically I have no social life, which suits me. If I were a more social creature, I would need to find a way to balance things, but I’m happy in my jammies with my laptop.”

Stay organized. This is worthy of its own article, so I won’t go into detail now, but if you have a problem with disorganization or trying to do too many things at once, seek out resources to help. One great one is Managing Your Writing Space and Your Writing Time, by Kristi Holl, available as a free e-book on her blog,

Analyze why you procrastinate. Does it happen when you’re hungry? Keep some quick, nutritious snacks handy. When you’re tired or stressed? Take a 15 minute break for a walk, meditation, or yoga. When you are lonely or discouraged? Set a timer for 10 minutes of journaling about the situation, tell a family member or friend that you need a pep talk, or review some inspiring quotations – but set a limit so you don’t get distracted for the rest of your writing time. See Kristi Holt article on “Silent Sabotage“ for more insight.

In some cases, you may have more serious issues to tackle. If you are suffering from depression, get professional advice. Perfectionism, fear of failure, and insecurity can also interfere with your work. These may be life issues that need work before the more practical suggestions here will be effective.

Tip: If you have an issue that is interfering with your writing, chances are it is showing up in other areas of your life as well, such as exercise habits, eating, and even relationships. Look for these patterns. Do you binge, indulging in an activity to excess for short periods? Do deadlines and expectations immobilize you, leading to a cycle of guilt? Is your identity dependent on being perfect, so that you take on too many tasks and work yourself to the point of exhaustion? If you identify an ongoing problem in your life, take steps to mitigate it. This might include joining a support group, getting counseling, or discussing options with your doctor.

More help: read the comments as well as the post on the Writer Unboxed entry Protecting Your Writing Time – And Yourself.

Kristi Holl deals with many of these issues in her regular blog posts. She also recommends the book Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, by Randy Ingermanson, and Switch On Your Brain: The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking, and Health, by Dr. Caroline Leaf, who also has a video series available online (she speaks from a Christian perspective but brings science to the discussion).

There’s a pair of fun and insightful illustrated posts from Wait but Why on “Why Procrastinators Procrastinate“ and “How to Beat Procrastination.”

Chris Eboch writes fiction and nonfiction for all ages. Her book Advanced Plotting helps writers fine-tune their plots. Learn about her editorial and critiquing services, and find advice for writers, on her website.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Poetry Isn't Just About Love and Flowers

Happy National Poetry Month! I want to step aside for a moment from our typical discussion of middle grade novels and talk about middle grade kids and their experiences with poetry.
It's interesting to see that at a very early age, kids already form biases about poetry. In my teaching days, when I'd start my poetry unit each year, kids would invariably say all poems were about "love and flowers." It didn't matter where I was teaching or what grade. It didn't matter how immersed kids had been in Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky and the like. I got these answers every time.
A Light in the Attic Special Edition  The New Kid on the Block
Part of my goal in presenting poetry to upper elementary and middle school kids was for them to see poetry is much broader than they'd previously thought.* I shared poems everyday on varied subjects, served as "museum director" in a classroom-turned poetry gallery, assigned secret poetry pals, pounded out the meter of poems we chanted as a class, sang Emily Dickinson stanzas to the tune of Gilligan's Island (it works!), and ended the unit with a coffeehouse, where kids presented their memorized poems and filled up on sugary coffee and cookies.
Before we got very far, I made the point to share a few things with my kids:
Poetry should be seen and heard.
You can understand poetry by listening. You can admire its interesting look on the page, but I think you miss out if you don't blend the visual and aural together. Poetry is pleasing to the ear (word choice, rhythm, repetition, rhyme) but is also pleasing to the eye. A poet uses structure to communicate (line breaks, for example) just as language is used.
Poetry packs a punch. 
Each word counts and better deliver.
Poetry creates mental images.
Words build pictures. Readers must approach with their eyes and minds open. Often readers will be given a fresh way to see the familiar.
Poetry speaks to the emotions.
This fits with the "love and flowers" idea my students were initially sold on. But poetry is so much bigger than one emotion and one topic. A poem is really a request for the reader to respond.
*This is what Sharon Creech tackles so beautifully in her verse novel, LOVE THAT DOG.

What is your gut reaction when someone brings up poetry? Is your response something that formed in your early years?