Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Eye of the Beholder

The final assignment at the Missouri retreat was to design a book jacket for our works-in-progress. It had to include flap copy, an author bio and cover art. Writing flap copy is fine practice for a query letter pitch, so I had no objections there. The author bio is also potentially useful.

But drawing cover art? You’ve got to be kidding. I pointed out that some books simply have the title printed in an interesting font. Nope. We all had to draw a picture. Everyone else accepted the assignment cheerfully, so I stopped complaining. The participant who is a published illustrator drew with her left hand so the rest of us wouldn’t feel bad.

In desperation, I remembered K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid) and decided to draw a pawn from a chess set. My three-word title easily fit inside the pawn’s outline. When it was my turn to show my book cover, I told the group what it was supposed to be. Someone even said it was good. Obviously, she meant the idea of a pawn, not my artistic rendering.

When I got home, I showed my book cover to Jeremy. “Is that a light bulb?” he asked.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Revising the Day Away

I returned from Missouri with many suggestions for improving my two works-in-progress. The amount of work involved is daunting, but I know where to start. One person expressed a logical concern about driving around Chicago, the time of day and the places my characters would stop. That’s an easy technical fix – with Google Maps’ assistance. The suggestions that are harder to implement involve deepening the emotional impact of the novels. I need to bare my soul and bear my characters’ souls.

One of Jennifer Mattson’s talks included a section on broadening characters’ reactions to emotion. She listed five possibilities.

1. Sensual reaction inside the body (for example, heart rate)
2. Sensual reaction outside the body (jittery leg)
3. Emotional flashes from past (remembering a past experience)
4. Emotional flashes from future (concern about something that may happen)
5. Sensual selectivity (focusing on a specific sight, sound, etc. to heighten emotion)

I have the manuscripts; I have the tools; I have no more excuses.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The SCBWI-MO Revision Retreat

I left home early on Friday morning and drove to Kristin Nitz’s house on the west side of Michigan. We continued on to the YMCA of the Ozarks in Potosi, Missouri. It was a long drive, but well worth the trip.

Each participant met twice individually with Jennifer Mattson of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. We were treated to superlative story telling and creativity exercises by Lynn Rubright. We had two in-depth writing workshops presented by Jennifer Mattson. In addition, there were two sessions of peer critiques, and we even had time to revise our manuscripts before our second meeting with Jennifer. We ended with a fun exercise presented by Stephanie Bearce on designing a book jacket for our works-in-progress.


I’m full of new ideas, thanks to the helpful suggestions of Jennifer, Kristin and the other retreat participants. Having two sessions to meet with an agent or editor was so helpful. During my revision time, I brainstormed ways to address the issues Jennifer raised. In the second meeting, we discussed my ideas, and she suggested additional way to strengthen the manuscript.

I'll post more details later in the week. 

The retreat was awesome, the weather imperfect. I went out in the sleet to photograph the lake.

Spring in the Midwest


Sunday, March 27, 2011


I was lucky to find that red leaf.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Overheard #138

"Love has no expiration date."

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Revision Workshop

Tomorrow I leave for Missouri to attend a SCBWI writing workshop. I hope to return with inspiration both for my manuscripts and this blog. Maybe I'll even take some pictures. Please tune in on Friday and Sunday for regularly scheduled posts.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


This year I beat the deer to the snowdrops.

Monday, March 21, 2011

More on MG and YA

In last week’s post about MG v. YA, I mentioned writing two tween manuscripts. Today, I use them to test my definitions.

In G&G*, the protagonist risks everything to help a friend. This is a YA theme since the main character choose a path that leads away from everything he’s been taught. A secondary theme in the novel is the relationship between the protagonist and his estranged father. Since they resolve their issues and begin to rebuild their family, this could be classified a MG novel.

G&CBS** is about two brothers with nothing in common who manage to resolve their differences. My definition of MG regarding the search for home and family would encompass this story. A secondary plotline is the main character’s attempts to attract his father’s attention. In the end, he decides to go his own way, without his father’s input. That means YA.

My definitions seem to work perfectly since I couldn’t classify these novels before and I still can’t. ;-)

*an old manuscript that I’ve put aside.
**formerly known as TAoCBS

Sunday, March 20, 2011


photo by me
In honor of the first day of spring, here is my Melting Ice Photo. I took this a week ago, and thanks to a spell of lovely weather, the river is now running. With any luck, the Ice Photo Challenge is over for this winter.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Overheard #137

"I’m unconvinced that you can apply algebraic topology to finance and not commit white-collar crime."

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Welcome Back the Guest Photographer

Ice season seems to be ending, but TimInMich and I each have at least one more ice photo to share. This is his Sunshine on Water. It looks like a babbling brook, but it's actually a parking lot.

photo by TimInMich


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Difference Between MG and YA

As someone who tends to have 14-year-old protagonists talking in her head and has written at least two “upper-MG/tween/lower-YA” manuscripts, I keep coming back to this question, and I’m not alone. Check out agents Erin Murphy and Michael Stearns for wisdom and insight. I’m not going to discuss character age, word choice, writing style, or first versus third person. This post is about story.

Midgrade tends to revolve around a search for home and family. The protagonist moves from being alone to having love and support. Consider Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Bud Not Buddy, The Higher Power of Lucky, Ellie McDoodle: have pen will travel, Moon over Manifest, Star in the Forest, and Waiting for Normal.

Young Adult novels tend to be more genre-focused, however the plot often revolves around the protagonist’s need to strike off into the unknown. To search for the Deathly Hallows, Harry must leave Hogworts. In Dairy Queen, DJ challenges her family’s traditions to go out for football. In Suspect, Jen solves the mystery and resolves her issues about her mother’s disappearance. The Everafter is a paranormal novel, and even though Maddie is dead, she has to rediscover her past then leave it behind.

Feel free to argue with these opinions in the comment section. I’ll continue this discussion later in the week or next week.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


photo by me
Don Quixote
(my literary ice photo)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The World’s Best Writing Advice

Our niece has to write a 2000-word paper for a college class. Her young son said, "Mummy, you should really get started. That's a lot of words.”

Friday, March 11, 2011

Overheard #136

"Never argue with a crazy person."

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Listen and Learn

Recently I started listening to the audiobook version of Playback by Raymond Chandler. My first impression was that the short sentences and choppy writing style would drive me nuts. Then I realized I was getting an excellent lesson in voice. The story is told by Philip Marlow, a hard-boiled private eye, and the short, almost brutal writing style makes his character come alive. I love hearing about Los Angeles in the early 1950s and seeing the other characters through Marlow’s eyes. I find myself listening for turns of phrase that are unique to this particular character. That’s what voice is, the expression of a unique personality.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Guest Photographer Day

Here's TimInMich's Prettiest Ice. I have to agree.

photo by TimInMich

This year I didn't get a startlingly pretty ice photo, so my Sunday entry will be Literary Ice. 

Sunday, March 6, 2011


This is my Close Up Ice photo.

photo by me

Friday, March 4, 2011

Overheard #135

"Fear is a great motivator."

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Guest Photographer Strikes Again

Welcome back to the Ice Photo Challenge. This week is Close Up Ice. TimInMich's photograph reminds me of lace. The definition on those crystals is amazing. (Stop back on Sunday to see mine.)

photo by TimInMich

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

When In Doubt, Write the Sequel

(or at least plan it)

I was having trouble fleshing out a character in my WIP. He was irritating and mean but two-dimensional. I added and subtracted dialog for a while, but it didn’t help. Then I started outlining the sequel. (I doubt I’ll ever write it, but I typed up some ideas.) Suddenly my flat character had a past and a future. His actions had motivations. I snuck a few bits into my WIP and so far, it’s working well.