MY OCTOBER BLOG

by Stephanie Jacob Gordon

file000910989872I belong to an online poetry group, we call ourselves The Cottage Poets (you know who you are). As usual we had taken this last summer off…until the end of October. It was a long hot summer! Each month, one of us takes a turn coming up with our prompt, and then everyone writes about the same prompt. I mention this because the last prompt was perfect since we didn’t begin our after summer return to The Cottage until nearly November. That prompt was…WHY I HAVEN’T WRITTEN. I do not make this stuff up.
My poem was terse and a little funny and a lot true. But it didn’t make me want to write. Thus, my October blog in November. I am writing this now because I am feeling overwhelming guilt. Not for not writing. I have really great excuses for that, and some are true. I have seen more doctors in 2015 that I ever saw from 1940 till December 2014. While the good news is that I have absolutely nothing fatal (except aging), I am not, nor will I be, getting any younger. My guilt is knowing that someone else has to pick up my slack. My fellow bloggers and I are aware of who that will be. Judy, of course. So here I am…writing.
I guess what I am trying to say here that whatever you are feeling, gung-ho or gummed-up, you are never alone. When you are writing, you have other writers who are there for you in so many places. Critique groups are a good place to start. You will become friends, fellow suffers, writing confidants, and shoulders to cry on. You will share insights, information, accomplishments, and successes. There are workshops, classes, conferences, retreats, and more. And when you are not writing, who understands why not? Those same fellow writers, your writer friends, your buddy non-writers in a slump with terminal writer’s block. Writers like me.
So, do we give up? No, of course not. We write blogs about why we don’t write. We write poems to say why we may never write again. We write emails begging for a kind word from a dear writer we know and love and who loves us enough to forgive us for not writing. And then they email back all the reasons they can’t write. What do we do when we have nothing, absolutely nothing to write about? We write about it.
Happy Writing!

REDISCOVERED WRITING

by Judith Ross Enderle

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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!

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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.)

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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

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.

Cheryl

 

Time and the Writer

Some writers I know have been discussing how unfair it is that more and more editors and agents are not responding to queries or manuscript submissions. That is, if the writer doesn’t hear back, you are to assume that the publisher or agent is not interested in your submission. If the editor does want to read more or make an offer, or if the agent is interested in representing you, of course, they do contact you, although there might be a long wait first.

The writers feel this is unprofessional and, as I noted, unfair. The editors and agents usually note that they regret this necessity, but they are receiving more and more submissions and simply do not have the time and perhaps lack the staff to send out rejections for each one.

I can see both sides of this. I can’t help remembering my husband telling the kids when they were younger, “Who said life is fair?” when they made the same complaint over some household rule. And goodness knows the old form rejections were not satisfying. “Tell me what you don’t like,” we wanted to scream, when we got the meaningless: “This does not meet our needs at the current time.” Most published writers remember the immense relief when we finally graduated to a “good” rejection when the editor scrawled something specific on the rejection letter.

I know most editors are hard-working people who wish they could do more for hopeful writers. They often read queries or ms. on the subway home or while they eat a hurried lunch at their desks. And I’ve seen their desks–overflowing with paper, even in these computer driven days! They’re not out there plotting to make us miserable.

And yet, it’s more than frustrating for us writers. Time is what writers also don’t have, what writers snatch out of hours and minutes of their days and nights.  I remember well trying to write after a full day at work, after coming home to throw together dinner, get kids through homework and baths and bedtimes.  I remember going to sleep with a pad of paper in my lap–the original laptop! So what can we do? No magic answers, I’m afraid. Keep writing, keep sharpening skills, most of all, just keep on keeping on. Go to conferences for greater access to editors and agents, and as Winston Churchill famously said, never, never give up! Talent, hard work, determination, the same answers as always, are the ones that will- sooner or later–and sadly, it’s most often later than we wish–carry us through. Mostly, don’t give up!

And of course, there are more avenues today than traditional publishing, but that’s a whole other column. : )

That’s SO Cliche’!

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I am Queen of the cliche’. I worked in advertising as a Copywriter and Creative Director.  Using snappy sayings and refurbishing cliche’s was a big part of the business, so I am always tempted to use them.  My writers group also knows that I am very good at spotting those sneaky ones and most often suggest rephrasing the line.

But what exactly makes a phrase a cliche’ you ask?

It’s very simple, over-use. In the beginning the expression was probably regarded as clever and unique—so much so that it started getting repeated, and just like the Faberge shampoo commercial …I told to friends about it, and they told to friends and so on and so on and so on! The phrase took on a life of it’s own loosing it’s originality and depth of meaning.  In the words of  French poet Gerard de Nerval: “The first man who compared a woman to a rose was a poet, the second, an imbecile.”

 So why shouldn’t you use cliche’s?

They are no longer interesting or very effective, and of course, they show a lack of originality. Of course ,sometimes they work in dialogue or in special circumstances but, generally your unique descriptions will have far stronger effect on your reader.

 Is it easy to fix cliche’s?

Once you have identified a cliche’ try to change it so your reader will feel what you are trying to express. A thesaurus can help. Look up the action words and try to replace them. Dive into your characters head and choose words she would use from her environment and sense of the world.

 Example:

Cliche’: She avoided Anna like the plague

Instead: She stepped off the path every time she saw Anna coming; the blackberry thorns were a better friend.

 Are you up to the Challenge?

Now you know how to avoid them, let’s have a little fun. Do you have a few favorite cliche’s? Here are a few of mine strung together.

Cliche’s are about as useful as a lead balloon. They bug the heck out of me, so don’t be all talk and no action.You may have to work like a horse to weed them out of your writing, but at the end of the day when the eraser dust has  settled, it was all in a writing days work!

(I showed you mine, now you show me yours.)

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NOTHING TO WRITE ABOUT

By Stephanie Jacob Gordon

I always thought that someday I would write the Great American Novel.   At the time I decided this I was reading JOHNNY TREMAIN, which I loved.  What I hadn’t decided in the third grade was…should it be about history (next to reading, my favorite subject) or about my daddy.  I loved reading historical books, but I loved my daddy more.  One thing I knew I would never write about was me.  Look how long I’d already lived and nothing wonderful or interesting had happened to me yet.  While I waited for something to happen, so I could write about it, I worked in the movie studios, met a gazillion great actors, rode on a fire truck, and went to school.

I took violin at the Los Angeles Academy of Musical Arts—I was not going to be the next Itzhak Pearlman.  Mommy and I rode the Red Line Streetcar.   My auntie Mimi came with sometimes.  One time I fell getting off the streetcar and slipped down the gutter drain.  Auntie Mimi saved me from disaster by grabbing my long curls and yanking me out.

I took tap dancing from Willie Cohan–Anne Miller was safe, no Music City Rockettes in my future.  I can still do a ball shuffle…but that’s all I can do (then and now).

I often went with my daddy to his fire station and hung out with the firemen he worked with.  I sat in the fire truck and read, made ice cream with the cook (my talented chef daddy, Jack), and watched black and white tv from the old theater seats that had been donated to the station, Palms 43, Los Angeles, California. Sometimes my daddy and I went across the street from the station to the Tootsie Roll factory and got a crate of candy for the firehouse to give out to visiting kids.  Believe me, I ate more than my share.

I took Piano—not a Hogie Charmichael, either.  Not even a Snoopy.  My mom got a note from my teacher thanking Mom for letting me quit.

I took ballet from Nico Charrise—no “Silk Stockings” lead dancer name Syd.  No tip and toeing through life for me.  The first day I tried toe…I broke one.  I can still feel Nico lightly hitting the back of my legs with his stick and yelling, “Right-right-right! And no back-knee, Stefff-fanny!”

After what seemed like a lifetime of waiting for something to write about, my indecision began to bug me.  Did we say “bug” in the 40s?  Then in the 6th grade, as part of the art committee for our Simon Bolivar presentation, I made most of the slides.  My portrait of Sen᷉or Bolivar was great, fantastic, and got me a big fat A+.  A light went on.  Why wait for something to write the Great American novel about…I would paint the Great American painting.  I had seen Grandma Moses’ pictures, and people thought she was amazing.  I wasn’t all that impressed.  I could do better.  So, what did I want to paint about?  I sat down to wait for an inspiration.

I entered the Miss La Ballona Creek Beauty Pagent—chubby, pig tails, tone deaf—what was I thinking?  “Do you have a talent, dear?”  Let me think…  Violin, tap, ballet, piano, singing, whistling, wood burning….  “Reading!”

I moved back to LA and got a 9th grade boyfriend—but I doubt any other girl wanted him.  For a long time (last 1/2 of the A9),I was in Jr. Hi Love Land…That’s Disneyland with hand holding and a little lip touching.  Then we went to Hi School…  Love and heartbreak followed me!

While I was still waiting to become a better painter than my little brother, Stevie (the commercial artist), I went to College, fell in love twice, my one true love was killed, taught school, got married, lost my daddy, had three children and seven Grandchildren, studied children’s book writing, found my life-long writing partner, became an author and editor, put a ton of get-up-and-go into SCBWI, lectured and taught writing for young people, wrote a tv series, edited a kid’s magazine, met my true soul sisters, lost my mama, Sylvia, divorced, became religious, got published in every genre for children I can name, and gave up my non-starter art career.

AND, I still can’t decide what my Great American Novel will be about.  History?  My daddy?  My mama?  Certainly not an autobiography.  In all these years, what have I done that anyone would want to read about?

If you get the message…  Start taking notes NOW!

THE TAIL OF A DOGGY BAG

by Stephanie Jacob Gordon

 

IN THE BEGINNING… (no, not that beginning)

In the beginning there were two writers who became friends (with no idea of what the future held for them…yes, I know that is foreshadowing).   They were at the Writer’s Conference given by SCBW in Santa Monica, CA, all wide-eyed and overwhelmed.  The speaker they were listening to was so famous, so respected in his field that the two friends were rapidly writing down every word the speaker said.  After all, he was the renowned children’s book writer, Sid Fleishman. And they, Stephanie and Judy, were conference newbies (of absolutely no renown).

That day we, the newbies, learned two very important things from Sid (who would become a dear friend) that have served us well throughout our careers.  One: If we ever got a contract it would be so terrible that Sid would never sign it.  And two: Never throw away good words and ideas—put them in a doggie bag.

THE BOOK…

Not much later, when we, Stephanie and Judy—now writing partners, were contracted for the Scholastic YA Sunfire series and asked to set our first historical novel at the time of the San Francisco earthquake and fire. We were excited.  Much of Old San Francisco was still there, alive and well. There was an Earthquake Room in the Main Library downtown packed with facts and pictures and old newspapers on microfilm.  The turn of the century mansions, that had survived earthquake and fire, were still there, so lovely, and the cable cars still ran on their original routes.   San Francisco was (and is) an historical writer’s died-and-gone-to-heaven.  There were newspaper stories of Enrico Caruso’s short stay and quick get-away, swearing never to return to such a dangerous place—and he never did.  Were we especially proud of finding an article about a little dog that survived the earthquake and fire in the basement of the St. Francis Hotel.  Francis the dog lived the rest of life at the hotel.

Practically skipping to the post office we sent NORA to our editor (it was her mother’s name).  This is what her editorial letter to us said, “KILL THE DOG!”

We were desolate, but Francis was no longer a part of our book.  We loved him…  He was so funny and cute…  Oh Francis we have been undone!

And then a little voice said, “Do not despair Stephanie, Judy, and little Francis.  Remember… Sid’s doggy bag!”

And in went Francis head first.  And there he stayed until…

AN IDEA!…

One day we remembered our fabulous trip to San Francisco and began to reminisce.  We knew so much historical stuff about the city, why not write a book about it?

“FRANCIS!”

Not a book about San Francisco—A BOOK ABOUT FRANCIS! And we will call it…

FRANCIS THE EARTHQUAKE DOG

And out of that doggy bag that Sid told us to keep came Francis and his picture book that was sold all over San Francisco, bookstores, bakeries, candy stores, souvenir shops and the St. Francis Hotel.  On Francis’ fifth anniversary the St. Francis Hotel commissioned a stuffed dog to accompany our book.  Amazing!  All that because we heard Sid Fleishman speak, kept a doggy bag, and killed the dog!

This is definitely a case of the tale wagging the dog!

AN OLIO

BY The Mavens

file000910989872 This summer has been one in which “life” takes over from the usual routine of writing. Some of the events have been tough: Laurie’s dad passed away; Judy’s dad passed away. Others involved relocation: Cheryl moved. Steph’s house is for sale. And then there are family stages: Dawne has been hither and yon organizing kids. So rather than the usual individual maven post, this month we offer an olio (it’s a great crossword puzzle word) of thoughts, favorite quotes, and writing advice.

From Stephanie: You have got to love the book you are writing. If the plot doesn’t drive you and make you want to know what happens next, your reader can, and possibly will, put your book down and walk away. If you don’t love your characters, the good–the bad–the ugly, your reader won’t care what happens to them, either. If you are writing because you think it’s what will sell, what young readers need to know, or perhaps someone just made big bucks by writing the same kind of story, forget it!  Stories that come from inside you, that only you can write, are the stories that will get inside your reader and change them forever.

Cheryl shares some of her favorite advice:  “Never, never, never give up.” (Winston Churchill)  And paraphrasing beloved author Sid Fleischman: “A good villain is your story’s best friend.” i.e. You’ll have to have a strong hero to defeat a strong villain. Plus, it makes the story more interesting!

Judy says, Never assume that because a book is classified as an easy-reader that it was easy to write. There is nothing easy about them when it comes to finding the right blend of character, plot, theme, pacing, vocabulary, sentence length, page turns, and all the many details that go into these all-important first readers. (Guess what I’m working on right now?)

We hope your summer has been a bit more cheerful, a lot less hectic, and very productive writing-wise. See you next month!

The Kids Book Mavens