GETTING TO KNOW YOU . . . (sing on)


by Judith Enderle
Birthing characters can be challenging.Iin a book, each one must have a reason to be there and each character—whether protagonist or antagonist—must be unique. So how do you do that?

(Right at this point I’m tempted to say: “If you find out, let me know.) But I know how. It’s the doing that is the challenge.

Here are a few details that help me get to know my characters (please expand these lists as you birth your book characters):
Traits: like temperament, intelligence and knowledge, determination
Appearance: height, weight, coloring, health
Family: number of siblings, is your character oldest, youngest, or in the middle? Living situation. Parents and relatives. Economic status.
Personal: secrets, brags, embarrassing moments
Friends: longest, newest, best, many or few?
What matters most to your character? What is your character worried about?

Sometimes interviewing the characters helps you find the details you need.
You’ll need the most information about the protagonist and the antagonist, but get to know the secondary players so their actions and reactions make sense as the story unfolds.

Last, but not least: don’t forget the little things: good and bad habits, tics, favorite words and phrases, great smiles, evil eyes, favorite piece of clothing, nicknames . . . This can be the longest list of all.

Guaranteed, your writing will be easier if you know your characters so well you’d recognize them if they moved next door.

Happy Spring!

Two Way Interview: Dandi Daley Mackall and Laurie Lazzaro Knowlton

Laurie: Question
When you were reading the letters of correspondence between your parents, that led to your latest book, With Love Wherever You Are, how did you decide what letters should be shared with your readers and what letters would remain private?

Dandi: Answer
That was one of the hardest parts of writing this book! I wanted to include all 600 letters because they were meaningful to me. But I had to cherry-pick the ones I thought would be interesting to readers and ones that advanced the plot and stirred up conflict or showed a side of WW2 rarely shown. My first complete draft ran about 1,000 pages, so I had to cut, cut, cut. If my mom were still alive, I might have let a few of the letters remain private. But I didn’t want to soften or undercut the reality of newlyweds separated during war.

Dandi: Question
So, Laurie, what do you think? Should writers refrain from writing things that might embarrass or upset relatives?

Laurie, Answer
Most writers use their personal experiences to pull from for their writing. Anyone who knows a writer well should realize that most any interactions between them may end up as a character or a scene in a book.

It’s funny, because I have an example between the two of us. I shared a story with you about my daughter’ s ex-boyfriends. She was collecting dogs from each ex. I remember you laughing and saying, “Wouldn’t that be a funny premiss for a book!” and thus My Boyfriends’ Dogs was born.

I believe that an author needs to consider the collateral damage against the assets to the story. I remember having many discussions with you on how you would proceed with the letters and I believe you truly struggled with your choices. You considered the collateral damage and used strong letters that would move the story forward without being disrespectful to your parents.
Laurie: Question
You were a writer from an early age. Your book, A Girl Named Dan, was inspired by an essay that you wrote when you were 11years old. What advice do you have for young aspiring writers?

Dandi: Answer
1. Good for you! Most kids (and grownups) hate to write. So, if you like to write, you should go with that and hone your gift.
2. Read, read, read! You need to study the way writers do things you want to do. If an author creates suspense so you can’t put that book down, ask yourself how she did that. If you laugh at something, figure out how the author got you to laugh.
3. Be observant. Writers are people who notice things other people walk past. Writers find significance in the details and little things of everyday life. Jot your observations in a notebook you keep with you at all times.
4. Write! Write like crazy.
5. Welcome criticism. Yep—It hurts. But you want to improve, right? Take all the advice and criticism you can get for your writing. Just don’t take it to heart.

Dandi: Question
Laurie, do you have some advice of your own? What about where a young writer could submit a story?

Laurie: Answer
I’d suggest that when you find a book that catches your attention that you write out segments of the text, paying attention to:
A ) how punctuation is used
B) how dialogue gives information to the reader
C) what physical action is used to move the story forward
D) what sensorial words are used
E) how tension is used in a scene.

By writing the text you will get a firsthand experience of how the writer used punctuation, dialogue, action, sensorial words and tension to strengthen his/her story telling.

Where to submit written material:
I did a little research and The Children’s Book Guild has a wonderful list of publishers who publish the work of young people. Here is a connection to their web site.

https://www.childrensbookguild.org/about-the-guild/faqs/73-where-can-i-get-writing-by-children-published
Laurie: Question

The Secret of Tree Taylor is based on an event (or a murder) in your hometown. How do you as a writer decide to write fiction or non-fiction?

Dandi: Answer
Much of that novel actually happened, and the people are real too. If I’d stuck with the facts, I don’t think I could have told the story I wanted to tell. I wouldn’t have been able to create dialog, and I wouldn’t have been able to guess at thoughts. I love writing almost-true novels (fiction based on true stories and events). That way I can fill in the blanks and stay honest with the reader. I can adjust the timeline and weather to suit the needs of the story. I can leave out boring dialog, change names (as “Dandi” to “Tree”), and intensify conflict. My husband does a beautiful job of writing nonfiction narrative (Plain Secrets: An Outsider among the Amish). He would never combine characters or change events or weather or dialog in any way. He and I agree that I should stick with fiction because I’m never satisfied with fact.

Dandi: Question
Laurie, have you written any nonfiction? How did you stick with the facts?

Laurie: Answer
I have written some non-fiction in craft books, Christian materials, and a cookbook. It is important that you triple fact check and always use original sources when possible.
Laurie: Question
In Larger-Than-Life Lara, you used the vehicle of written storytelling to unfold the story of Laura’s being bullied and a Laney’s dysfunctional family. How do you think using this additional layer added to the significance of Larger-Than-Life Lara?

Dandi: Answer
I think writing LARA was the most fun I’ve had writing any book. The layers surprised me, and so did the characters. Our narrator, Laney, doesn’t want to talk about herself or let the reader in, but she does both of those things inadvertently as she tells her story. That book has been used in elementary schools, English and language arts, but it’s also used as a text in high schools and universities. I consider it my miracle book.

Dandi:Question
Laurie, do you remember how you called me every day to see what was happening with Lara and Laney?

Laurie:Answer
I do remember that fondly. Larger than Life Lara, is in the top three of my favorite books you have ever written. Being a part of, listening, and watching the characters coming to life was a personal experience for me. Each of the characters was REAL, and I couldn’t wait until the next day to hear where they were going. I know when you got to the end that it felt rushed and we discussed ways to make a more satisfying ending. With some rewriting you totally nailed the ending, and I know many children have grown from reading your beautiful prose.

Laurie: Question
Who was the most influential storyteller in your family?

Dandi: Answer
Honestly, it’s a tie between my mom and my dad, both great storytellers, with great stories to tell. I loved hearing how they met in Army training, Army Nurse and Army Doctor in WW2. Then they married in haste and were sent to the front-lines, to different countries. So many stories!

Dandi: Question
Who was the most influential storyteller in your family
Laurie: Answer
That would have been my father. He had a quick wit, and a story for everything. He was very animated when he told his stories, and we’d all sit glued to our chairs waiting for the twist at the end of every story. For a child who couldn’t sit still, it was quite a big deal for me. I know I learned my storytelling skills from him and will forever honor him by telling my stories.

Laurie: Question
How has that style of storytelling affected your voice as a writer?

Dandi: Answer
My favorite stories were about the lives of my parents and their relatives. Maybe that’s why I don’t seem to be able to write a story that doesn’t have my relatives and me in it somewhere. They used details that embedded each story in my brain, and I try to use the power of the right details in whatever I write.
Dandi: Question
How has that style of storytelling affected your voice as a writer?

I know that I am a better speaker from watching my father’s style at storytelling. He was a prosecuting attorney and would practice his closing arguments after we were sent to bed. I’d listen by the furnace grate late into the night. I got caught one night because I was so enthralled by his speech that I crawled down the steps and gave him a standing ovation at the end.

I held onto how his voice would rise and fall, and how strong a pause could be in the middle of a sentence. I was able to transfer that knowledge into my writing and it has served me well.

Well, Dandi, I’ve enjoyed our conversation. Thank you for sharing with our readers!

GET OUT OF THE BATH BEFORE THE WATER GETS COLD (and, if you are any good at this, it will)

by Stephanie Jacob Gordon

Well New Years has officially come and gone, along with everyone’s New Year’s resolutions. I have not forgotten mine nor procrastinated on any I made. Mine are still 100% intact. I didn’t make any. I never keep them so I figured why waste time writing any down, feeling guilty because I don’t keep them, and having to find excuses for my lack of follow-through. The only reason I am writing my blog entry in the month it is due has nothing to do with making a resolution to be more conscientious. No. It has to do with the paper I found on the floor behind my printer that was Judy’s November e-mail telling all the Mavens when their blog posts were due. I had forgotten all about it. And, since I am going to stay at Judy’s house next week and I don’t want to give her ANOTHER reason to nag me, I am on it. She has plenty to nag me about already and I deserve the nagging. No New Year’s excuses here, either. Anyway Happy New Year, one and all.

My subject for the January 2017 Official Maven’s Blog is” THINKLING-IDEATING-CREATORISTABLE ENVIRONMENTS

In the spring of 1979, when I was young and beautiful, had an Afro, and believed in talking frogs, I took a class at UCLA from Eve Bunting (yes–the amazing one), and met my writing partner of thirty-eight years, Judy, and learned Eve’s Greatest Secret to Writing Superb Books for Children. THE BATHTUB! SHSH. . . IT’S A SECRET!

Actually I should start with Eve’s second Greatest Secret–the media. If there was anything in the newspapers, or on television, or in a magazine that might make a fabulous children’s book, by the time the rest of us saw it, Eve had already finished her beautifully-written book about it, had a publisher, was speaking worldwide, and making phenom sales. Judy or I would say, “Did you see this?” Then the other one of us would say, “Yes, but Eve probably has it in bookstores already.”

The Great Secret here was not to bother with anything in print or on the airwaves. You were already too late.

But Eve’s first Greatest Secret was something any writer, old or young, taking newspapers, magazines, or watching television, published or unpublished, prolific or writing one book in a lifetime, beginner or professional could use and never be too late: THE BATHTUB!

Well, Eve’s Greatest Secret was actually threefold. You needed a bathtub of bubble-bathed glorious water. You needed a glass of delicious wine. And, you needed a tape recorder. (Now, you might use the memo function on your phone but you may not want to after you read on.) Personally, I needed two more things, not things but attributes: I needed the ability to talk into a recorder and make sense and not stutter and lose my place and the ability to balance the recorder on the side of the tub. I ruined my tape recorder, my son, Jonathan’s recorder, and . . .someone else’s (I forget his name) recorder. I did great with the wine. . .until I dozed off and the bubbles died and the water got cold. Cold water did save me from drowning!

But I know a great idea when I  hear it. After hours of contemplation (one), I put on my shower-thinking cap and considered alterations to the original Eve’s Greatest Secret. In my case: #1 forget the tape recorder. In fact, I’ve learned there are now waterproof notebooks and pens, too. Check out your local art supply store. #2 forget the wine.

Just yesterday I took a bath with no plan except to soak my knees, my back, my left arm and shoulder and my . . . butt enough about me. I was just lying in my tub (more like wedged in–new-style tubs suck–soaking tubs, my . . .), and I was doing my stream of unconsciousness day-dreaming and a strange movie began to play on the screen of my brain. It wasn’t a children’s book but I went with it. And it was great (Eve’s-Greatest- Secret great–ask Judy). I am excited. I’m adding to it. I’m deleting things. My brain is whizzing along. The story is becoming outer-world-y–outer limits-y. We had another story in this genre. I am seeing a book of stories. I am loving this. I am . . . freezing! THE WATER IS COLD! Time to get out of the tub and call Judy! She makes me make notes–darn!.

There are days when a good idea, seems for me, to run away from home, wallow in depressed steph, blame the world, blame the government, blame myself, worry about Israel, to think of all the beautiful young people who are in other countries waiting to get maimed or die for my freedoms. Those are bathtub days, too. It is a good place to cry.

There are days that are perfect, days to celebrate, days to laugh, days to remember all my blessings, days to sing out at the top of my lungs all the patriotic songs no one bothers to teach kids these days, it seems. It is a good place to smile.

All those bathtub days have Eve’s-Greatest-Secret stories to tell.

THANKFUL VS. AWFUL VS. GRATEFUL AND MORE

by Judy Enderle

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Tick tock, tick tock. Turkey time is closing in which makes one pause to count blessings. It’s a time to give thanks or Thanksgiving.

I am thankful for family, friends, the beauty of the world out my window, the energy to dig in my garden, the ability to write, the patience of my critique group and my agent, the joy of living to see another birthday. (I am a turkey baby!)

I am thankful, full of thanks. And that word got me thinking (which can sometimes be a dangerous thing).

If thankful always means full of thanks, why doesn’t awful always mean full of awe? It can mean that, but not always. Then there’s grateful, which doesn’t mean full of grates, but is derived from the Latin gratus. Another word tied to gratus is the word graceful, which means pleasing form or movement and not full of God’s grace. The word grace has a nice paragraph in my Webster with eight definitions and several sub definitions.

It was fun perusing the —ful words. Check out baleful, which has nothing to do with hay. There’s more than one kind of bale. Gleeful, woeful, helpful, sorrowful, eyeful and earful, tearful and cheerful and more.

So, here’s a blogful for this month. Have a turkeyful, pieful Thanksgiving.

P.S. For those of you making Christmas lists, check out Twelve Days of Christmas Starring Chickens, by Janet Lee Carey and illustrated by Molly Blaisdell. Lots of zany chicken fun starting with a penguin in a pine tree.

7 Reasons for Belonging to a Writing Community

by Laurie Lazzaro Knowlton

Buddies

Writers are a unique group of people. We live in our heads, surrounded by characters that tell us their stories and expect us to record them on paper. Sometimes those characters keep us up at night, interrupt our daily chores, and become more real to us than our everyday lives. To outsiders we are loners, a wee-bit crazy, and not always understandable.

1. That brings me to the first reason for the importance of a writing community:
UNDERSTANDING Who else is going to understand you missing a meal, staying up all night, or holeing yourself up in a locked room? Only other writers. They understand that writing is a consuming, demanding job. They understand that if you don’t get the ideas down on paper NOW, that later, when time allows, you may find yourself staring at a blank screen. They are the only ones who get where you are coming from, so join a group! (Check out SCBWI.org, and local writers groups that meet at libraries. If you can’t find a group, start one!)

2. ENCOURAGEMENT: When you hit a glitch, and your characters have taken a long weekend in Neverland. only another writer understands those dry spells. We need encouragement. The great thing is that not only do other writers encourage each other, but when they are gathered together, an energizing ripple effect begins to roll. As each writer discusses their latest project, your own brain’s ideas begin to flow and the next thing you know you are excusing yourself to rush home to your computer to write.

3. Every manuscript requires many sets of eyes. CRITIQUE groups are a must. Every time I finish a manuscript, I just know it is an award-winning book. But the reality is that good writing begins with rewriting. Even though the story is clear in your head, the reader isn’t always able to see things the way you pictured them. That’s where many sets of eyes are helpful. Your peers can tell you the manuscript’s strengths and where it needs some work. Fellow writers are your first readers and helpful editors.

4. A good writing community is needed for NETWORKING. I attend as many conferences, workshops, and critique meets as possible. Writers know what is happening out there in the big world of publishing. You hear things about editors who are wonderful to work with, publishing houses that have recently opened their doors to unsolicited manuscripts, and houses that are now requiring a query letter. Go, listen, and grow!

5. Who are you ACCOUNTABLE to? Unless you are under deadline with a publisher, writing requires you to be your own boss. Some writers are diligent, setting aside a set amount of time to write daily, but many writers are so creatively wired that they get off task easily. I am one of those people. I am a crafter, a nature lover, a thrift store hunter, and a five-year-old at heart. Unless I have someone to answer to, I find it is unbelievably easy to get distracted. My writing community helps me to be accountable.

6. A writing community is vital because they will CHALLENGE you. Many times when brainstorming together, I have challenged my peers by saying, “If you don’t write it, I will!” Two friends that I challenged this way ended up with contracts! A challenge can be as simple as setting an amount of words to be written by the next meeting, or getting a manuscript out by a set time, or review a manuscript you put aside. But whatever the challenge, you will better off as a writer.

7. Last but not least, a writing community is valuable is for CELEBRATION. When you get that first publication, who else is going to understand your journey? No one besides another writer realizes the hours you’ve poured over your creation. No one else understands the angst felt before you turn your manuscript over to the U.S. postal service, or the daily walks to the mailbox wondering…”Will there be another rejection? Did I get an acceptance?”

Other writers get it. They value the days, months, and often years it takes to get from idea to publication. So when it is time to celebrate, your writing community will be full of high fives, balloons, and maybe even a glass of Champagne.

So don’t hide yourself off in a room by yourself. Get out there. Find a group of like- minded creative writers. They will understand and encourage you. They will critique your work and they will help inform you through networking. Your community will challenge you and make you accountable. But the best part is, they will celebrate with you every step of your journey from idea to publication.

 

WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU DATED?

by Stephanie Jacob Gordon

OLD PICS ARE THE BEST PICS

It might surprise you to know that I date a lot. At seventy-six, I believe I date more than most women my age. I cannot get enough of dating. I probably date a little each and every day. And I suppose there’s many of you, older and younger, who also love to date. My favorite dates are Scottish, Irish, and some English dates, but I can also get enthralled with American dates—although most of my American dates are much younger than the others. If you have never tried dating, you should. It will enrich your life more than I can say.
I do much of my date research on the internet, but my favorite research comes from old books and newer books about earlier times. I am a dating junkie. I can’t get enough historical information on the dates I love most. That would be the 9th century to the 17th century. I don’t know what I love most about dating, the researching or the reading for pleasure.

I like biographies, but lately I read those mostly for factual information on specific times. Also bios have information that can help me visualize my fictional characters. I am a fiction writer, so manipulating the real characteristics of a long dead Scot is exciting and challenging. And because I am not bound by the truth, I can include a bit of the blarney.
In another life I was Egyptian, and Hebrew, and German, and English, and Scottish, and Irish, but not all at the same time. Historical research may talk out loud to me in particular because I am looking for the parts I played in the history of mankind. I know I was at Mount Sinai when Moses read the Ten Commandments. Now that is way back when.
Bringing history to life for readers is opening new worlds to them, no matter how old those worlds are. I believe that many writers are beginning to see the historical trees that have been over shadowed by the forests of sci-fi and apocalyptic books that are filling the bookstores’ shelves. I loved CATHERINE, CALLED BIRDY and every book I could get my hands on about medieval history. And I have to confess . . . I read adult books set in eras like Catherine’s. I began many eons ago in England and have traveled across the British Empire to Italy and beyond. Of course Scotland has a special place in my heart as my name is Scottish . . . Gordon. Right! After it was Gordonski or some such, and then my ancestors got off the boat.

I know very little history of my own family, when my ancestors came from Russia, Lithuania, and Romania. The children of my grandparents wanted to be “real” Americans. My father and mother and uncles and aunts asked very few questions. Their parents handed down very little of who and what they were in the Old Countries they came from. I actually know more about my mother-in-law’s family, where they came from and why, than I know about my own. Maybe that is what drives me. That could be the very reason I date so much. Even the reason why I feel as if something is missing and needs to be done when I am not dating. No matter what I am reading or writing, I am waiting to date.

Join me. Enter into the world of dating. It is not too late. History will always be there waiting for you to discover.

PRESENTING: AN INTERVIEW WITH MAVEN CHERYL ZACH

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CHERYL ZACH, AUTHOR OF SOUTHERN ANGELS

1. How much research did you do and how deep did you have to dig to make the Southern Angels series feel authentic? What was your best source of information? What was the hardest information to find?

I did a great deal of research for the 4 book YA Civil War series, Southern Angels. All in all, I spent three years researching and writing the four books. I did as much primary research as possible. That means info from sources who lived during the time period of the books and who wrote letters, newspaper stories, private journals or diaries, and they give the best look at the time period. The only downside is that you have to take into account that everyone will have his/her own bias. Three people who knew Lincoln would have three different opinions of his characters, for example. I did also use secondary sources, i.e., history books about the Civil War where the authors have done their own research and gathered it together into a book such as The Civil War in Virginia, and so on. These authors will use footnotes to show their sources, which helps me judge the value and accuracy of their material. Although my books are fiction and more concerned with romance and relationships, and what happened on the homefront–where women and girls had a challenging time during a war happening all around them–I still wanted the background to be accurate.

2. What made you decide to reissue the series yourself and did you find the self-publishing path difficult?

I decided to reissue these books because I think they are among the best of my young adult novels, and because I put so much effort and time into them and I hated that they were out of print and unavailable. In particular, the fourth book was never printed by the New York publisher who originally put out the books–loooong story there, basically that I lost my editor who moved to another publishing house and thus lost any support–and I had many unhappy readers who never found the final book in the series. I wrote an earlier column on doing it yourself–I had some problems early on, but it wasn’t too hard overall.

3. Why did you choose to write the books as a series rather than as one long novel?

I wrote four medium length books because I showcased four girls, to give as many views of the conflict as possible. Elizabeth is from a wealthy Virginia plantation but has a domineering, cold-hearted father. She originally supports the South, but falls in love with a Yankee soldier and changes her views on the war and on slavery. Victorine is a Creole beauty from New Orleans who is a die hard Confederate, though she also becomes more enlightened about the evils of slavery. When New Orleans falls to Yankee rule under General ‘Beast’ Butler, she is almost thrown into prison. She will reject the man her father has chosen for her to marry in order to make her own choice. Hannah is enslaved, grows up alongside Elizabeth on the Stafford plantation. She aides other slaves to escape on the Underground Railroad. Though she has sworn never to marry while she is still a slave and her children could be torn away from her, she falls in love with a free man of color (some did exist in the larger Southern towns) and eventually makes the dangerous race toward freedom herself. And last, Rosamund, the Tennessee girl, lives under Yankee rule after Grant has taken the Tennessee valley. She has one brother in the Northern army and one brother who supports the South. Although her family has never owned slaves and she supports the Union cause, she finds it hard to live under a conquering army, especially when despite herself, she falls in love with a dashing vagabond Confederate soldier. The four books cover the conflict from the first cannon fire upon Fort Sumter (three of the girls are attending a boarding school in Charleston, SC.) to the end, when weary soldiers finally make the journey home. And all along, the girls grow and mature and learn that they can make a difference, each in her own way. And love may survive, despite the peril and uncertainty of war.

4. What do you want readers to discover and take away from reading about the civil war? What makes this period of history fascinating to you?

The biggest theme of the books is that what an individual does, the actions a girl/woman takes, does matter, and that you can make a difference.
The Civil War itself, parts of the country fighting against other parts, was an exercise in tragedy and futility, something we might remember.

5. Does this series fit into the school curriculum and at what grade level? Will you be doing a study guide when the series is complete or will there be a separate one for each novel?

I am putting a study guide on my website, http://www.cherylzach.com,/ which would be helpful to teachers, home schoolers, and reading groups. Schools study the Civil War, depending on the state, often in 4th or 5th grade, again in middle school, and in the junior year of high school. These books are rated 6.5 in reading level, but good students usually read above their grade level, and as a former high school teacher myself, before I stopped to write full time, I know the difference in reading levels between middle school and high school is actually pretty small. As for the interest level–well, I’ve had letters and emails from readers from pre-teen to adult!

6. How long will readers have to wait for the next three books?

All four books are now available, in ebook and trade paperback, from amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and other retailers. Hearts Divided is Elizabeth’s story, taking her from Charleston to Virgina and back to Charleston. Winds of Change sees Victorine home to New Orleans and then farther afield. A Dream of Freedom gives us Hannah’s tale and finishes Elizabeth’s love story, and Last Rebellion takes us to Tennessee and Rosamund, last of the girls to find her true love, and gives us final glimpses of all four girls

7. What one bit of advice would you offer writers who want to write historical fiction?

Finally, my advice for a would-be historical writer: history is a wonderful tool for the imagination. With so much going on, you never want for ideas. You need to do your research in order to make the background and settings accurate, but beware of allowing the research to slow down or stop your story–keep the pace fast and stay focused on your main characters–even if George Washington did sleep here!

WORD GENES

by Judy Enderle

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Where does it come from, the love of words? Are word lovers born or created? Maybe both.

In my family, my parents were both avid readers. Until his death at a 101, my father was a weekly visitor to the public library where he checked out the LARGE PRINT books. Give him a good adventure, action, suspense, mystery novel or a historical biography and he was happy. My mother was an English teacher and it wasn’t unusual to receive a letter from her with a “story idea” for her aspiring author daughter. She also loved crossword puzzles as much as books and passed that love along to my sister and me. Words!

As life moved ahead, my children and I visited the library on a regular basis. They all loved science fiction and fantasy as well as animal stories. I took writing classes, met my author friend and writing partner, Stephanie. Publication happened first with “Highlights for Children,” then with children’s book publishers. Words!

More time has passed. I’m now a grandmother. My daughter is publishing books in the adult market to strong reviews. Her books are the type my dad would have loved, full of action and intrigue. Her latest is The Shadow & The Sun. My older son is dabbling in science fiction short stories and a novel is getting birthed. All three of my kids wipe me out in Words With Friends, especially my younger son, and I have to work hard to match wits with both my grandgirls at this game, too. Words!

Yeah! Words! Is it the sound, the meanings, or the challenge of using those 26 letters to create an entire world populated with intriguing characters that makes them so appealing? Most likely all three and more. Whatever it is, word genes thrive in our family. How about yours?

 

YOUR WRITING SUCKS!

by Stephanie Jacob Gordon

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Warning! A critique group can be hazardous to your health…but only if you let it.
When I began to write for children, I took classes at UCLA. I was not looking for a career. In fact I didn’t have any idea what I was looking for. Whenever I get a desire to try something new, I go back to school. I take classes. That is what I do.
Over the years I have dabbled in many related and unrelated subjects, taken numerous interesting classes from many skilled (and unskilled) teachers, and accumulated a library of “How To” books. I fit the saying, “Jill of all trades and master of some.” I know it is none, but I have mastered some. Along the way I have learned more, experienced more, and discarded more useless information than I can name. Still I have enjoyed the ride that led me to all my diverse areas of knowledge. If institutions of learning gave out medals like the army, I’d have a chest full of them. I’d like that.
One of the hardest lessons I had to learn on my path to becoming a children’s book author can be said in a single word, CRITIQUING. No one likes to hear a negative word about anything they love. Especially their children. And for writers of children’s literature, our manuscripts are our babies. Our beautiful new- born expressions of a love for the written word. And WHO are you…to judge my baby?
It doesn’t matter if those terrible words come from and agent, an editor, or a colleague who doesn’t have such a perfect story anyway…so there! We become half Pit Bull and half Rhodesian Ridgeback, and one hundred percent Nose Out Of Joint. It is how you have to react at first. You have just been told your baby stinks. At least that’s what you heard. But, for the most part I can honestly say, that was not what was said.
When you first step into the writer’s bullpen to face the critique bull, you are wearing Medieval armor with a hole cut out where your feelings are, and you are carrying a huge sword to protect yourself. Every non-positive word goes right through your armor and stabs your heart. That is the price we pay to become children’s authors. I wish I could say that is the worst price you will have to pay…it isn’t. But those payments are not what this blog is about.
Writers need thick hides. They need to take everything someone tells them, that they don’t agree with, and practice closed mouth, a still tongue, and a smile. Your brain may be saying, “idiot,” but your face should be saying, “uh huh, oh, thank you for that thought.” You don’t have to do a thing with the critiquer’s ideas if you don’t want to: Hit delete.
Defending your writing will start a battle and a battle can cause a war. There are always casualties in a war. Your critique group could end up dead. Realize that things can be said that might drive you or the other person out of your group. A writer’s group blood bath can poison the waters for a long time and make members afraid to say anything at all to you. A nod and a smile could keep all that from happening.
And if you are the one who is trying to drive home your thoughts regardless of how they are affecting the critiqued writer and implying who the devils cares—because YOU are right—STOP! You could be next. You are setting a terrible precedent. You may be the reason the group disbands—or so they tell you—wink, wink. Yes. You could be right. Maybe the baby needs a change. Say your opinion once and let it go. An argument never changed a hurt heart.
BEST: BEFORE YOU SAY SOMETHING ABOUT WHAT YOU DON’T THINK WORKS—SAY SOMETHING ABOUT WHAT YOU DO THINK WORKS. EVERY BABY HAS SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL TO DISCOVER. SOMETIMES YOU NEED TO LOOK CLOSER. AND IN A MANUSCRIPT, SOMETIMES IT ’S HIDDEN BETWEEN THE LINES, OR IT ’S THE WORD CHOICES, OR IT ’S THE NUGGET OF AN IDEA WAITING TO GROW.
Being kind is always the best way to treat a new writer, even if her baby is stinky. (And are you so sure your baby’s you-know-what doesn’t stink?)

REALIZATIONS AND RESOLUTIONS

BY JUDITH ROSS ENDERLE

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In January one is supposed to make resolutions to mend one’s ways or achieve greatness or rid oneself of unhealthy habits.

Well, I don’t want to mend my ways; I realize I’m pretty happy with the way my ways are now.

I’ve achieved some greatness and lost some greatness and have landed back in the middle which isn’t a bad place to be. No need to resolve other than to keep moving forward and let the words fall where they may.

So that leaves unhealthy habits, usually involving food and exercise. I can swear off sugar entirely (I’m quite sweet enough), but that would be a wasted swear since I know right well that I’ll still have two biscotti with my coffee in the afternoon. So why waste a swear? As to exercise, I walk and I garden and I clean house, so my parts are moving, not too fast nor too slow. No need to promise to exercise more than that.

Thus I’ve come to realize that this resolution business is more of a taking stock, but it doesn’t mean you have to change a single thing. And how many of the resolutions actually last more than two months? Still, it is the first of a new year. How can I break tradition? So in the spirit of the new year, here are my resolves:

1: Change what I don’t like; keep what I like about me.

2: TRY to be more patient with myself and with others.

3: Make Words with Friends a reward, not a replacement for writing. A paragraph counts as writing, doesn’t it?

4: Make it one biscotti with coffee instead of two. (I know I won’t keep this one. See? A wasted swear.)

5: Be thankful for loving family and friends. This one I can do! I am so very blessed.

6: Get back to work. I can do this right now.

Off to a fine start. Six is a good number of resolutions for a year that ends in 6. May 2016 be a great year for you and yours and good luck with your resolutions. (Save your swears, you made need them when rejections show up, unless you’ve resolved not to let rejection bother you. Let me know how this works out, so I can use it for my resolution next year.)