How Writers Learn From Reading

cropped-Bigstock_24054800.jpg   by Judy Enderle

Being a writer changes the way you read. First you read a book to enjoy the story. Then you reread the book to figure out how: how did the author work the magic that kept you turning the pages?

On your second time through treat the book like a class in writing. Look for:

● what happened on that all-important first page.

● when were you aware of the problem and the conflict.

● why you cared about the main character. And if you didn’t care, what made you keep reading anyway?

● what important character traits helped to make the plot work. How were these traits shown?

● the roles secondary characters played. Why was each one important to the story?

● what the author did to put you inside the main character’s head.

● what made you “see” the setting. What part did the setting play in the story?

● how the plot built. How did each page, each paragraph, each chapter move the story forward?

● how the author created tension and conflict.

● surprises. Was there any foreshadowing of these surprises?

● the way the main character solved the problem. How did the main character change? How did the author show both and when?

● the balance between dialogue and description.

● the kind of sentence structure the author used. When were sentences longer? When shorter? And why did the language and word choices fit the story?

● chapter titles. How did they suit what happened in the chapters?

● the book title. Did it draw you in and represent the book well?

Writers never stop learning with so many great books available written by authors who show you “how” on each page.

What’s New in the Publishing World?


I attended the 2015 Summer Conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in Los Angeles, as usual, with no particular expectations except that it has always been a positive experience.  This year it seemed particularly filled with exuberant energy. (Having the delightful Mem Fox give the first keynote may have set the mood.)  I won’t try to give you an overview of the entire conference–there were official bloggers who can be found on the website, as well as–for members–the annual Market Report.

In general, however, it was reported that children/YA book sales were up 21% in 2014, and up though somewhat less the first part of this year. (Last year’s sales were increased by movie tie in’s.)  Several new children’s imprints have been formed, including Epic Press, Flat Iron Books, and Imprint, the last from MacMillan.  We did not get a printout of the report this time, and most attendees I talked to are hoping they go back to that next time.

Publishers are again more open to short picture books, (short as in 500 words or less) character or narrative driven, and nonfiction is also of interest, especially on nature or the physical world, and they prefer that nonfiction also read like a story.

We were told that anything goes in middle grade: quirky action, classic MG, mystery, adventure, fantasy, nonfiction. Apparently 60% of kids read both digital and print.

YA is still the industry hot spot, but there is a lot of competition. Editors are very selective, and they receive many submissions. Contemporary realism dominates among published books, but editors are open to other genres, including S-F and horror. Pubs are keen to find new ways to reach readers, trying e-book subscription services, among other things. And of course, editors are always looking for good writers and illustrators, the ones who go just a little bit further.

I know I came home ready to write. : )  Hope you are, too!


P.S.  I would have made the photo smaller if I could have figured out how, and that is if it comes through at all. I’ve already wiped out the whole darn blog entry once, aggggg.



What’s New in the Publishing World?

tnI attended the Summer 2015 Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrator’s Conference In Los Angeles without any set expectations except that it’s always a worthwhile experience and found it infused with an upbeat attitude this time around. I won’t try to give you any comprehensive report–there were official bloggers who reported on the conference, which members can find on the website, along with the latest Market Report and other members’ comments.

Basically, however, the market report said that sales of children/YA books were up 21% for 2014, also up so far this year but not as much; apparently media tie in’s drove some of the sales last year. The demand for picture books is picking up,  publishers open to short, character-driven or narrative-driven fiction, and also non-fiction especially about nature and the physical world.  They also want non-fiction picture books, bios and others, that read like a story.

Middle grade: anything goes, the presenter said:  quirky action, classic MG, adventure, mystery, elements of fantasy . Apparently 60% of kids read both digital and print.  And YA is still the industry hot spot, although editors are very selective, and there is a lot of competition. Editors receive many submissions, and contemporary realism dominates published books. They are open to other genres, too, especially S-F and horror. But editors and agents are looking for good writers and illustrators.

I came home ready to write. : )  Hope you are, too.


by Stephanie Jacob Gordon


I am going to be honest here…I have not been writing. I was on a roll for a while. Then the editor we were working with went up in a puff of smoke and the publishing house disappeared. I just lost momentum and desire. Since then, I have avoided writing like the plague. The only writing I have wanted to do…have done, is the poetry I share with my group, The Cottage Poets. And my poems have rarely been warm and fuzzy, they’ve been mostly venting. This last year and a half has been up-ending. I feel like I have been walking on my hands with my head in my underwear. I have not had a clear vision of how I see my life proceeding or if I expect an upward or downward progression facing me in the future. I suddenly don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

I can’t decide whether this came about because, after 74 years living in Southern California, I decided to move. A move I felt I had to make for financial reasons. A move that took me away from my family and some of my dearest friends. Or perhaps it is because some of my personal setbacks…like turning 75 this month, finding there was no more cartilage in my knees, learning to live (again) with a fifteen year old (my beautiful granddaughter, Sarah), or because my dog, Izzi, has decided she likes my daughter best and pretty much ignores me.

It is amazing to me, at my age, to live in a place where I don’t know where anything is or how to get there if I find out. Where I don’t know anyone I see, although every lady looks like someone I am sure I met at an SCBWI Summer Conference at one time or another. Where people are genuinely kind and courteous and young and old hold the door for me, waiting patiently while I limp through. Where traffic in my town goes 25 MPH and I am fine with that. AND the scenery is mind-boggling, stunning, peaceful, green-green-green. There are lakes everywhere. Quaint abounds. Vintage is the norm. And I have never yet met a tree I didn’t love. On our meanderings, my daughter Jackee driving, me looking right and left so quickly I get car sick, my favorite exclamation has become OMG! OMG! OMG!

The best OMG! My birthday. It was amazing. Laurie Knowlton came from Ohio, and Dawn Dixon came from Arizona, and Judy came from Bellingham (WA…lol). We partied and laughed and talked and talked and talked for 9 days straight. It was everything a birthday celebration should be. Thank you, Loveys.

My life in Mount Vernon, Washington is everything my life in LA environs wasn’t. I am older than I have ever been before. I am happier than I thought I’d be. I am gearing up for something. Judy, ever positive, hopes it’s writing. I miss my grandkids and my great kids. I miss my friends…you know who you are. I am up here waiting…when can you come by? I’m ready for another party (and it’s a great excuse for not writing.)

To Outline or Not to Outline, That is the Question. . .

by Cheryl Zach

With due apologies to Will….
Some writers call it jumping into the mist–that is, you have the idea and you just leap into the writing, with no outline to guide you. Other writers pale in horror at the prospect of starting a book with no concept of where they or their characters are going. When I took a decade off from writing for teens and children to create historical romantic adventure for grownups, the first few books (penned as Nicole Byrd) were written with my daughter, Michelle Nicole. (Later she felt overwhelmed by life and small babies–hers–and I went on as Nicole Byrd by myself, with good wishes all around.) We had similar writing habits–except for plotting.
I have the kind of brain that jumps from point c to point g, then maybe back to f and on to p. That used to drive Michelle bananas; she wanted to go from c to d to e to f, much more logical, I admit. But my brain wouldn’t work that way, probably why I’m not a plotter, but a pantser–another nickname for ‘flying by the seat of your pants.’
I do know where my characters are at the start and where I expect them to end up (once even that changed, and I had to call my editor and explain meekly that–honest to goodness–my main characters wouldn’t do what I wanted them to, and the book was going to end differently than I had expected.  However, that book, RUNAWAY, became an award-winning YA novel.) I know the conflict that faces each character, I know their backgrounds and motivations. From there, it’s a matter of following my characters and seeing where they lead me.
Right now, I’m working on a YA novel, and the middle is frustrating me because I’m a little unsure of where it’s going. That’s the problem when you don’t outline–but as I said, it’s not really a choice. Some writers profit by having a chapter by chapter outline, and they relish its security and guidance. Some writing books will tell you a plot outline is totally necessary. But some authors just don’t work their best from an outline, if they can make one at all. (Yes, from long practice I can fake a synopsis for my editor when I need to. But trusted editors understand me well enough to know the story will take its own direction.)
For me, the most important thing is knowing my characters inside and out, knowing where they’re coming from and what conflict/problem they are facing. Then I just watch to see what action they will take to overcome the obstacles, and how they will grow in the process.
In this book I knew my main character had to end up in Egypt but wasn’t totally sure why. She has a big problem–her mother has been abducted, and now her whole family is in danger. (Always ramp up the conflict, heighten the peril as the story progresses.) How is my MC going to rescue her mother and defeat the Baddies? I’m not yet sure, but I can’t wait to find out–it’s sure to be exciting!
Stay tuned, and good luck with your own plotting, whether you outline or not. : )


by Judith Ross Enderle

MAGIC can happen when you clean your office or your desk or your garage files, or when you go through your computer documents.

The magic is in rediscovered manuscripts that you abandoned or that were rejected. (Even happens to famous authors.)

You may be surprised at how good the manuscript was and still is. Perhaps it was rejected because the timing wasn’t right (YA wasn’t selling; yes, there was that time) or there were too many books about . . . or no one was interested in American History (and now there’s a children’s book award for this very thing). Whatever the reason, you abandoned the manuscript.

But another look, fresh eyes, more experience as a writer can make a difference. Old manuscripts can be revived, reborn, become new and better.

As you sort, start a possibility file. And, when you are ready, analyze one or more of these abandoned manuscripts. Ask yourself:

Would the title tempt me to take this off the shelf?
Does the story need to start in a different place or time?
Did I pick the right main character? Did I choose strong names?
What if I changed past tense to present tense or vice-versa? Same with first or third person.
How much do I read before my mind wanders? Why?
Is the pacing off with too much time getting started, a slow middle, an ending that happens too quickly?
Do all the characters sound alike?
Does the main character solve the problem? Is there a problem?
Do I even care about the main character? Why or why not? Is there a reason for every secondary character to be in this story?
Are there sensory details? Is the story grounded?
Will today’s kids want to read this story if I revise it?

While much of this applies to novels, take another look at picture books and nonfiction manuscripts and all of the writing you’ve tucked away in boxes, bins, drawers, and on your computer. Maybe you didn’t have enough for an illustrator to work with in those picture books, but they might be magazine stories. Maybe you need to update your research for that nonfiction project and find out how it fits in the school curriculum. Perhaps it can be made more reader friendly.

Whether you are moving to a new home or doing spring cleaning or just procrastinating about your current writing project, dig deep. You never know what magic might be waiting.

No Butts About it!


I have no New Years resolutions, but that’s because I was not very successful in fulfilling last years. The problem, I find, with writing is that it is so easy to get distracted. I can find a zillion other things to drop my writing down my daily list of “to do’s,” until it slides right off the end of the page. So this year, I plan to go back to the basics—


1) Butt in chair equals writing.Unknown

2) Create first, edit later.

3) If there’s no flow, just write any way,(Butt in chair still

equals writing, even if it’s Gobble-de-gook.)

 4) I hereby promise to finish one manuscript before I begin another. (just have to choose which unfinished one I should start with.)


5) I have decided that “slow but steady (writing) wins the race, not creative spurts here and there, that I think are pure genius until I look back later with an editor’s eye. (As I am working on a Sea Turtle book, I think that is quite apropos. )

I love motivating sayings. If you have a favorite, please post it. We all need help to get over the bumps and through the potholes in our New Year writing journey!

I wish everyone a brand new start, and great success. Reach for your goals. You can do it in 2015!Unknown-2

FRIENDLY ADVICE by Laurie Knowlton

Promotion Photo  Recently a friend posted on her face book an amazing statement that I so wish I was the author. It went like this:
“Sometimes when I am bored I go to the garden and cover myself with dirt and pretend I am a carrot.”
I called my friend the minute I saw her post and said, “Please take that statement off your page and let me have it.”
(We are really close friends)
She laughed, and said “I got it from a friend, but go for it.”
I told her, “I love it! That statement is a great beginning of a children’s book—actually it would be a great beginning of a middle grade, a mystery, or even a YA.”
Now you have to understand my enthusiasm. It has been a long time since I have had a smidgen of an idea. The past two years have been consumed with the illness and the death of both of my parents, my father-in-law, and then the death of my youngest daughter’s marriage. Grief, anger, sorrow, and numbness have been my constant companions.
That one wonderful sentence woke me up. It was magnificent! It was unique! It was fun! It was inspiring. It has also traveled all over the internet like wild fire.
I wanted that idea. I needed that idea. I clung to that one statement like a drowning person. But after a day or so I knew I had to give it up. I had to stop with the obsession of owning that one fantastic line.
It wasn’t mine. But it did get me thinking.
And then it happened… a smidge of an idea. My idea. My emotions. My writing. And I realized all I had to do was change my focus from all those sad consuming thoughts and look around me. Ideas surround us daily begging to be claimed.
Sorry, I have to go. I’ve got some writing to do.

What Writers Are Thankful For

Cheryl Zach

It’s November, and in the U.S., that means an annual holiday: Thanksgiving. Like everyone else, writers are thankful for loved ones: family and friends and pets; for good health; a reasonable prosperity, and a place to call home.

Writers are also thankful when the computer doesn’t eat your last and best chapter for no apparent reason. . . there’s never an apparent reason!

Writers are thankful for notebooks and pens of just the right size and color: variable according to individual. I have a friend who swears that lavender pens produce the best ideas–I wouldn’t dare argue.

Writers are thankful for odd minutes when ideas come from the strangest places.  Maybe in overcrowded waiting rooms when you’ve quietly made up life stories for every stranger coughing along side you, and suddenly the plot problem of your latest WIP seems ready to untangle itself because a character in your book has become easier to decipher.

Writers are thankful for hours when they actually get to write. Somewhere between baking the pies and marinating the green beans and wrestling with the turkey, somewhere among the blessed days of left-overs, when you sneak back to the sneakier computer, there will time to write!  And the annoying relative or dear but trying friend has surely jarred loose another promising idea. . .

Happy Thanksgiving.  Happy writing.





OLD PICS ARE THE BEST PICS                                   How many times have I begun again? Somewhere between 96 and 1,811 times. It is what I do. I am not only talking about my writing, I am talking about my life.

It’s not so much because I’ve failed a lot, it has more to do with my expectations failing me. What else is new?

It wasn’t my daddy’s fault that he could finally buy a house so we moved one month before the end of grammar school, leaving behind my 6th grade teacher—the only one who ever liked me–far behind. It’s a long story about my other teachers and it has to do with my working in studios since I was 17 days old. My new teacher at my new school really hated me—I bit my nails—the whole class lost hearing Kon Tiki until my nails grew out—the kids hated me, too.  One month until Jr. Hi arrived.

Begin again.

It wasn’t my fault that at 74, having live around LA my whole life, I have moved To Mount Vernon, Washington. Yesterday, missing a slew of old friends, I was griping a “little,” and my granddaughter, Sarah, said, “Bubbe, go make lemonade with all those lemons.” She was right on. Upward and onward.

Begin again.

My oil painting teacher said I had talent—I painted and painted—my watercolor painting teacher said I had talent.  Really  Me?  My artistic soul dreamed, but it was not to be. My dream of a garret in Scotland and becoming famous—Poof! Three wonderful kids.

Begin again.

Then there was my stained glass window class of 10,000 cuts. Even if I was good at it (?), I felt I might need my fingers in later life. I took my 10 X14 masterpiece home, and covered my hands with Hello Kitty bandages. I found out I am blood type B negative.

Begin again.

Piano—zip. Violin—zip. Ballet—zip. My mother’s dreams for me—zip—zip—zip. My dreams—not so much. What was there out in the big world meant for me?

Begin again.

The UCLA Writing program? I liked children’s books, didn’t I? I liked essay exams, didn’t I? I loved writing stories for kids, wouldn’t I? Besides, if that didn’t work I could always…SIGH.

Begin again.

So I went back to college. I took classes from the best, Sue Alexander, Eve Bunting, Sid Fleischman, and met Judy Enderle. Authors, editors, agents, publishers. A new friend who was already published! Good start, right?

Miracle! Someone wanted to buy my first YA. All 140 pages of it. Problem was; it was 250 pages long. What did I do? Of course. Nothing new here.

Begin again.

Second book—perfect! Almost. Begin again!

Third book—exceptional! Nearly. Begin Again!

Sometimes the editor can be wrong. You have begun again so many times you’re not sure what you were writing in the first place. It happened to Judy and me, and the editor had the book for six years. Changes after changes.Beginning again and again and again. The editor was fired. The book was returned. We sold it to another editor. The last time when we began again, we put it back in its original form. Sometimes you are right—your book is perfect.

BUT, if you want to sell it you smile and…Begin again.