Wednesday, February 29, 2012

LTUE 30: Tracy Hickman - "The Playing Field is Level between You and Me."

by Deren Hansen

Aside from a certifiably mind-blowing presentation first thing on the morning of Thursday, Feb 9, 2012 (about which modesty forbids me to say more) at Life, the Universe, and Everything (LTUE 30), I found Tracy Hickman's Saturday morning discussion about the sea change in publishing as he sees it to be the most thought-provoking.

Tracy made three key points:
  • What makes you an author? Readers.
  • The challenge now is to find your audience, not your publisher.
  • The future of publishing is to find, connect with, and maintain your audience.
In the world before pervasive interconnectivity, getting published was the writer's holy grail because the publisher, who controlled the book distribution system, was the key to getting into the bookstores and ultimately finding readers. Now writers have additional ways to reach readers. More importantly, readers have ways to find and acquire books that don't include bookstores.

Tracy, who estimates that his fifty books have attracted about six million readers, told us how that lesson was made very clear to him when, on his last book tour, only eight people showed up when he signed at the largest sci-fi/fantasy bookstore in San Francisco but many more emailed after the fact to say they were sorry they missed him but didn't know he was at the bookstore.

"The playing field is level between you and me," Tracy said. "My readers were used to finding me in the bookstore, but they don't go there anymore."

It is both sobering and encouraging to think that if Tracy, who has paid his dues many times over, doesn't get a free pass to publishing success no one does. On the one hand, assuming we've written high quality books, you have as much a chance at success as I do. On the other, there are no guarantees.

Deren blogs at The Laws of Making.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The 10 Commandments of Writing and When to Break Them

By Julie Daines

Writing Conferences. We go. We listen. We obey.

Maybe sometimes we obey too much.

My next few posts will be about when to break the writing commandments.

Commandment 1: Thou shalt never tell.

How often have we heard "Show Don't Tell"? Well believe it or not, there are times when it's better to tell.

  • In an attempt to avoid telling, many writers resort to physical cliches. 
Tears sprung to her eyes as she thought about saying goodbye to Mark. At least they still had this one last moment together. Her heart pounded as he moved closer, and when he held her hand, a sizzle of electricity shot up her arm. He tilted his head to the side. When he looked at her like that, she felt the flush of heat in her cheeks.

This is showing, not telling. But it's so laden with physical cliches it's painful to read. The trick is to use inner dialogue to convey these feelings and not tell us what is happening to her physically, but tell us WHY. (Without sounding telly. Not so easy, but it can be done.)

  • In the words of children's book editor Cheryl Klein: "Sometimes readers need the plain straightforward direction of telling to elucidate the point of all that showing."
Klein states, a great technique employed by J. K. Rowling is to have a sentence at the beginning of a paragraph that is a little more telly followed by a few awesome sentences of showing. 

These topic sentences point the reader's mind in the right direction, easing the transition from action to interiority, aiding in a place or time shift, or subtly suggesting a shift in the character's mood or focus.

When used at the end of the paragraph or section of showing, this good telling can act as a confirmation to the reader that the main character is indeed feeling or thinking what we think he/she is. 

Harry had the best morning he'd had in a long time. (telling) He was careful to walk a little way apart from the Dursleys so that Dudley and Piers, who were starting to get bored with the animals by lunchtime, wouldn't fall back on their favorite hobby of hitting him. ... (followed by a few more clever and poignant sentences of showing.)  -The Sorcerer's Stone, chapter 2

Can you think of other times when it's appropriate to use telling?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Time to Start Writing is Now!

I teach writing for my local college's continuing educational program. I love meeting with beginning writers each week and sharing the basics. However, I'm always surprised to find many of them haven't even sat down to write the story building inside them or at least log the ideas they have for story lines.

So my advice to you today if you want to start down the road of becoming a writer...The Time to Start Writing is Now!

Some Idea Starters
For beginning writers (and something I learned when I studied at the Institute of Children's Literature), I have found using visual aids to spark an idea is always a great way to begin the process of writing. You can do this to draft an actually short story or book for submission to just using it as a writing exercise. 

Study the pictures I have below or pick one of your own from a magazine, old photo album, etc. Study the pictures and select one that appeals to you most. 

Also, keep in mind your target readership with picking a picture for inspiration. Young readers’ age groups may be roughly broken down into youngest listeners/readers (ages 3-7), intermediate readers (ages 8-12), and teen readers (ages 13-18).

Things to think about as you sit down to write:
  • Why are the characters doing what they are doing?
  • Can you find something in the picture that suggests a problem?
  • What do the other details in the picture suggest about the setting, the time, the events, etc?
  • What might you infer about the character respective moods and personalities? Their relationship to each other?
Building Your Story Idea:
Begin speculating about what’s going on in the picture you’ve chosen. Keep in mind the picture only exists to help you get started on your story. You can expand beyond what you see—and that your potential young reader will not have seen it. With that said, your story must stand on its own. Don’t feel you must everything you see in the picture or even “match” the scene. Use your imagination and go from there.

Getting to know your main character is important.  
How old are they? As a children’s writer, you’ll write stories with different aged characters all the time for your readership age levels. For this writing exercise or if this is your first time actually sitting down to write, think of the age level where you feel most comfortable. A rule of thumb is youngsters want to read about characters their own age or a bit older.

Don't forger to make trouble for your main character. 
No one wants to read a story where nothing happens. As writers, we get attached to our characters, but we have to remember we need to throw road bumps and trials in our main character's way. It’s how they learn, grow and conquer. Just like our own lives, nothing comes easy. Make sure you also don’t bring in an adult or older character to solve the problem. Young readers like seeing the main character solve the conflict of the story. It builds self-confidence where they think, “Wow, if Harry can do that…so can I!”

Time to Start Writing
If you haven’t started writing your story, now is the time. Don’t worry about spelling or minor editing. Just get your thoughts down. I love to tell my new authors in class, "Just take that idea, chew on it for awhile and then spit it out on the page." As you gain experience, you’ll learn how much advance planning is right for you but for now, getting your idea down is the important part. Every published author/writer will tell you it's called a "rough draft" for a reason. It's the beginning of the writing process, not the end. 

Keep in mind the words may not come easily at first but don’t be discouraged by a few dry runs…you’ll have an opening, ending or a wonder scene idea in no time. You don't have to start writing your story from the beginning either. Start where you feel most inspired and build around, from or backwards from there.

Note: Some writers start from the end of the story and work backwards. Others from the middle building scenes and piecing the story together like a puzzle. Don’t worry about where you start…just start!

Your story’s length is important. 
You are in the home stretch now. Do a rough estimate and see how many words your story is. You can do this in Microsoft Office under the “Review” tab. You should find a “Word Count” button in the “Proofing” section.

Most short stories for youngest readers (ages 3-7) range from 300 to 600 words. Intermediate readers (ages 8-12) range from 500 to 800 words, and teen readers (ages 13-18) range from 500 and up to 2,000 words. Book lengths can vary by publisher and type of book genre.

If you are over your readerships word count, get out your red pen (or delete key) and start cutting unnecessary details.

Once you think your done it's time for the "Check List."
  •  Read your story aloud—what you hear in your head is very different from what you’ll hear when your story is read aloud.
  • Does the story proceed logically from beginning to middle to end?
  • Is there a problem or conflict in the story—a challenge for your main character to meet?
  • Have you included dialogue?
  • Is there a clear sense of the story’s time and place?
  • Is the story within the word count for your readership? (You can be over by 10 percent.)
  • Does it read well aloud?
  • Have you given it a title?
 Now that you made it this far, it's time to start revising. This process can take a long time so don't give up. Most writers don't succeed because they give up too early. To help keep you focused and moving forward, join a local or online writing group. Find a critique partner or group locally or online. Keep reading articles on writing and take a few workshops. All of this will keep you moving forward and most important...Start Writing when you get another story idea even if you haven't finished working on the current one. Some times it is best to take a break from your current story and come back at it with fresh eyes later.


VS Grenier is an award-winning children’s author, founder & owner of Stories for Children Publishing, LLC., award-winning editor-in-chief of Stories for Children Magazine and chief editor for Halo Publishing, Int. In addition, to running her own editorial and critique services, she is a writing instructor for Dixie College's Community Education program and host on the World of Ink Network at Blog Talk Radio.

In 2007 & 2008, VS Grenier was voted one of the Top Ten Editors in the Preditors and Editors Reader’s Poll, won 2nd place for her article on, “Yes, Virginia, There IS a Santa Claus” in the Preditors and Editors Reader’s Poll for Best Nonfiction of 2007, and won 7th place for her article, Dinosaur Tracks in My Backyard” in the Preditors and Editors Reader’s Poll for Best Nonfiction of 2008.

VS Grenier learned how to hone her writing skills at the Institute of Children’s Literature and is a member of the League of Utah Writers (HWG) and its current president, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and Musing Our Children.
Her works include: Babysitting SugarPaw (a 2011 LUW Silver Quill Award-winner), the Best of Stories for Children Magazine Volume 1 anthology, and over 50 short stories, articles and crafts for children, along with newsletter articles for writers.

When she isn't busy talking with authors and illustrators on her radio shows, working for Stories for Children or Halo Publishing and spending time with her children, VS Grenier is busy writing new adventures in the World of Ink. 
A California girl at heart, she currently lives in Southren Utah with her supportive husband, their three children, and the family’s big fat cat Speed Bump and miniature schnauzer Taz. 

Follow VS Grenier On
The Writing Mama blog
Blog Talk Radio's World of Ink Network

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Our Changing Blog

You've noticed our new look. In March, we are beginning a slightly different blog schedule that makes room for new voices. We are also starting to provide more information for our Utah writing community, beginning with info about upcoming conferences. We also plan to provide info about upcoming releases and other announcements about Utah writers. We hope to create a better sense of community. We need your help. If you want to help us track Utah writing events or contribute to the community please let us know. Of course, we are also interested in your feedback. So don't be shy. Talk to us. Let us know what you think about the blog and about our posts.

On our new schedule, Saturdays are left open for anybody. It's our open mic day. If you have an announcement or something to say, please contact any of the regular writers and we'll help you post.

Thanks for all your support.

Friday, February 24, 2012

What Do You Think: Does Fiction Still Matter?

In the early part of the Twentieth Century, fiction had reached new levels of importance. From social satire to the muckraking novels of Norris and Sinclair, fiction writers provided a more realistic view of the world than any medium had before. Novels were the primary form of leisure entertainment in those pre-movie years. Writers took that responsibility seriously. Frank Norris even wrote an important work about the responsibilities of the novelist. The well decorated home displayed fine books with pride.

Now, a century later, bookcases have been replaced by entertainment centers. Even those of us who love books are keeping dozens of books in our electronic devices because they are more modern and more portable, and the limited shelf space around our televisions is full. Fiction is harder than ever to sell, and most of the top titles are aimed at escapism rather than enlightenment. Escapism is an important role, but even there books take a backseat to Netflix and the XBox and Angry Birds. Kids, and especially boys, don't read (or write, or even spell), like they used to.

People are predicting the end of books, and of reading as we know it.

I've painted a bleaker picture than what I think the current reality is, but there's no denying that the novelist's place in the world is not what it once was.

So what do you think? Is fiction writing still important? Why?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

LTUE 30: Non-intersecting Orbits

by Deren Hansen

Two weeks ago the thirtieth incarnation of Life, the Universe, and Everything (LTUE), the BYU symposium on science fiction that has morphed into the largest (and least expensive) writing conference in Utah, convened. This year the conference was held at UVU to handle the crowd.

I always find conferences like this a bit frustrating at the structural level: at best you can only participate in about a third of what's going on. But what they don't mention in the brochure is that there's as much going on in the dealers’ room and in the halls and lobbies as in the sessions proper.

This year I had to officially give up trying to attend every session that sounded interesting because I participated as a presenter.

I learned several things from being the one at the front of the room:
  • There are a surprisingly large number of people who don't simply tolerate but actually have an appetite for abstraction at 9:00 am.
  • No green room is large enough when Larry Correia and Robert Defendi are holding forth on military history.
  • Hydration is critical if you have to speak for more than a few minutes
  • There are an awful lot of professional writers within the orbit of the Wasatch front (LTUE 30 had nearly 150 guest, panelists, and presenters)
  • There are even more people who have the constitution and stamina to be pleasant on the third day of a conference that runs at least three sessions for twelve hours a day—with no meal breaks.
  • Brandon Sanderson is a Martian.
I suppose that last bullet point requires a bit more explanation.

First, let me state, for the record, that Brandon is charming person—generous and gracious with fans and aspiring writers alike. In our few interactions, he's been the very model of how a writer should behave in public. If you've never seen Brandon at a signing or on a panel, you should go simply to learn from the way he handles himself in public.

Brandon was one of the people I hoped to meet at LTUE 30. Other than the excellent panel with Tracy Hickman, Dave Farland, L.E. Modesitt, Jr., and Brandon, I never saw him at the conference—which wasn't a surpirse: Brandon is a busy man. Brandon's Writing Excuses partners, Dan Wells, Howard Tayler, and Mary Robinett Kowal are also busy people (something I confirmed in brief conversations with Howard and Mary).

But as with the Tango, where it takes two, part of the reason I missed Brandon is because I was busy, too.

Largely because Brandon is practically a Utah county neighbor, I anticipated that we might someday strike up a professional relationship. At one signing, for example, I joked that I was there as part of a cunning plan to score a guest spot on his podcast in two years.

What I realized during the conference is that I'd made the same mistake as the owner of a local franchise who thinks he should pal around with the CEO of a major corporation because they both run a business.

Brandon and I currently have non-intersecting orbits. He already has his slate full of professional relationships. So do I.

During one of the battles of the Civil War, a subordinate rode up to General Grant, gave his report, and then asked if the general was worried about what the confederate general might do. "No," replied General Grant, "I'm worried about what I'm going to do."

I'll bet you didn't expect the second best piece of networking advice to come from the Civil War.

The corollary to last week’s post sharing the best networking advice ever is that the way to cultivate professional relationships is to worry about what I’m going to do not what Brandon or anyone else might be up to.

Deren blogs at The Laws of Making.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

6 degrees of Kevin Bacon

The theory goes that you can connect actor Kevin Bacon to any other actor/actress in Hollywood within 6 people/films. (Wikipedia article). Inspired by a college party game, players start with a Kevin Bacon movie and then randomly choose another actor/actress and connect how they knew each other. The idea spread and created multiple websites, countless discussion, and even a new phrase "6 degrees of Kevin Bacon."

So how does that apply to writing?

Writer's Block Help website uses the concept of 6 degrees of separation to create a triple decker writing prompt to get your creative juices flowing. Take three random objects and connect them in a story in as few lines as possible.

Here's some examples taken directly from their website:

"Choose from some of these:
-a bowl of goldfish, a man in black, and a train
-a kangaroo, a bouquet of flowers, a wind chime
-a set of candlesticks, a grandfather clock, a tree stump
-a flat tire, crepe paper, white roses
-cinnamon ice cream, a teddy bear, a picture frame
-a kitchen towel, a pigpen, pistachio shells
-a spoonful of sugar, a roaring fire, a glass eye
-a night light, the funny pages (cartoons), three rubber bands
-a screwdriver, a blade of grass, a kitchen tile
-a schoolbus, a lady in red, a priest
-sand, a videotape, a plane ticket
-an opened envelope, eight dollars, a lipstick print
-a Tic-Tac-Toe game, a styrofoam cup, a kitten
-a bagel, a heating duct, a suitcase

My daughter and I used to play a game where I'd give her three random objects and she'd have to come up with a story tying them all together as she fell asleep. It was a lot of fun for me to try to think of my own story line to share with her and certainly got my own creative juices flowing!

What about you? What random three objects/people/places would you recommend as a writing prompt? Leave your suggestions in the comment section below!

-Sarah Southerland
Living Life at Warped Speed blog
"Not Another Sarah" book 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Knowing Your Readership with Author Kasey Crawford Kellem

I'm lucky to work with a lot of authors between Stories for Children Publishing, its many divisions and the World of Ink Network. Every time I work with a new author, seasoned author or an author at my level of experience, I always learn something new. However, I have found one thing to be true no matter where you are as a writer and what genre you writer for...

You need to know who your readership is before you sit down to write. With this in mind I asked a fellow author to share her insight on this for two reasons, she is a children's counselor and has a unique outlook on understanding children and two because her debut series of books are wonderfully done. She truly as a new author understands how to relate to her readership. So sit back and enjoy this weeks guest post from debut author Kasey Crawford Kellem on Knowing Your Readership.

My Mind Over Matter picture books were written for children primarily under the age of 8. I have several young nieces and nephews, and a number of friend’s children in my life who have been an asset in helping me write the books to their level. In fact, my niece, Jackie Kennedy, was five at the time I created the book idea. She and I spent many hours brainstorming what a child believes, loves, dreams and what makes them laugh and relax. The ideas were later tweaked and broadened with the help of the other children and parents in my life. I feel pretty confident the books are appropriately geared towards young children.

The use of simple wording and whimsical illustrations was a must to reach the children. I knew illustrations were key to engaging a child in a book. My illustrator, Janet Hill, has a special touch that appeals to children with her artwork. She knew the use of both animals and children in the books would captivate them. She knew vibrant colors would keep the child interested in the illustrations, too. In order to really engage the young readers, Janet thought it would be a great idea to add a hidden bug in each book. In Believe, a caterpillar is on each page showing how he believes. At the end, the caterpillar shows how he believes in himself and turns into a butterfly. The children love looking for the caterpillar on each page. The other books each have an interactive bug, as well.

My goal and purpose of these books is to teach children resiliency skills. It is rare to go through life without facing obstacles, challenges or adversity. Unfortunately, some people do not have the coping skills to rebound after such life changing events happen to them. Every child should be exposed to Believe (and the other four books when they come out) to learn the skill to prepare themselves for their future. I feel strongly that given the added stressors in life including increased divorces, disabilities, diseases and deaths, children need to learn early how to face these challenges with resiliency.

My books are a good fit for all children no matter how great their life is now, because at some point they will face some sort of challenge and need to be prepared. The books are both a preventative tool, as well as a reactive tool. For those children who have a pretty good life, this book series will teach them the skills to have when, and if, they ever have to face any challenges. For those children already experiencing adversity, these books can help teach them the tools needed to get through the obstacle in which they have been faced. Either way, any child would benefit from learning to Believe they can get through all that life offers. The same is true for my other Mind Over Matter Books and the resiliency techniques: Love, Laugh, Relax & Dream!

Kasey Crawford Kellem, a School Counselor and former Special Education Teacher, has devoted her life to helping children facing adversity be resilient. Kasey created Mind Over Matter (M.O.M.) books to teach children skills to overcome life’s challenges. She has earned a Bachelor’s Degree and Masters Degree in Special Education and an Educational Specialist Degree in Counseling. She is a devoted wife, stepmother, sister, daughter and counselor.

 Halo Publishing, Int. and the World of Ink Network are sponsoring Kasey Crawford Kellem's World of Ink Tour this February 2012. 
You can find out more about Kasey Crawford Kellem’s World of Ink Author/Book Tour schedule at There will be giveaways, reviews, interviews, guest posts and more. Make sure to stop by and interact with Kellem and the hosts at the different stops by leaving comments and/or questions. You will be entered into the main the Book Giveaway each time.

In addition, come listen on February 20, 2012 to Blog Talk Radio’s World of Ink Network show: Stories for Children at The hosts VS Grenier and Irene Roth will be chatting with Kasey Crawford Kellem about her M.O.M Books, writing, helping children to be resilient and her experiences. The show airs live February 20, 2012 at 2pm EST. You can listen/call in at (714) 242-5259. (Note: if you can’t make the show, you can listen on demand at the same link.)

To learn more about the World of Ink Tours visit:  

To purchase any of Kasey Crawford Kellem’s books, visit Halo Publishing: