Sunday, September 30, 2012

Banned Books Week

by Scott Rhoades

This year, banned books week starts today, running from September 30 to October 6.

I admit, I have a problem with the concept of banning books. On the other hand, I recognize that it is not as simple as saying "Don't ban books." As with any art form, there are a number of possible personal reactions to a controversial book. For example, a book that depicts abuse of a child might cause a dangerous emotional reaction in one child who has been abused or has witnessed abuse, while another might find solace and comfort in seeing how a character handles the trauma within the safe environment of a book. As parents, we know our children, and we should have the right to opt our child out of reading certain kinds of books. The problem is, as I said, the book you challenge for your child might be one I want my child to read.

So, what upsets me is when one parent or set of parents attempts to restrict a book from everybody else, whether it's in a school, a library, a bookstore, or anywhere else. I have no desire to withhold controversial topics from my kids, and a book is, usually, a safe way to introduce kids to discussions on racism, sexuality, political theories, and other subjects that often result in challenges. At the same time, if I truly believed a book could harm my child or cause issues based on my child's particular sensitivities, I'd like to be able to opt my child out of that assignment. However, I will never attempt to opt your child out, or to restrict the book's availability to others.

This, unfortunately, is what book challenges are about, restricting books from others because one group of people dislikes it, is offended by it, or doesn't agree with the book's message. That's why I fully support the activities of Banned Book Week.

This year, one of my reading goals was to read ten books that are often found on the ALA's list of most challenged books. I achieved that goal back in June, but continue to go to the ALA lists now and then when trying to find my next book. Here are the frequently challenged books I've read so far, in order of completion:

1. The Two Towers, JRR Tolkien
2. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
3. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
4. Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
5. The Giver, Lois Lowry
6. To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee
7. The Return of the King, JRR Tolkien
8. The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
9. The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman
10. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
11. Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert (This one actually got its author arrested)
12. Rabbit, Run, John Updike
13. 1984, George Orwell

Books on this list have been challenged for containing magic, sexual content, racial subject matter, violence, and religious or political ideology.

I have little doubt than anybody reading this list won't look at some of the titles with disbelief, finding it hard to understand how it could be on the list at all. It also wouldn't surprise me if several readers look at some of the titles and support restricting availability of the book in schools, questioning age appropriateness or whatever. And a few of you might not even want a couple of these books to be available in your child's school library whether your child is assigned the book or not, or even in the public library.

Every one of these books is partially responsible for making this maybe my most amazing reading year ever. Many of them are books I had never read before, and most of them blew me away with their literary artistry and the messages they deliver. To be sure, I wouldn't assign Rabbit, Run or Lolita to a junior high school English class, but I would have no issue whatsoever assigning either one to an AP English class in a high school. Both are amazing books. If somebody tried to make either one unavailable from my local library, you'd better believe I'd raise a stink of my own.

When I see those lists of banned books, especially the ones with details about the nature of the challenges, it shocks me how often people challenge the availability of the book to anyone at all, not just to themselves or their own children. Some of the challenges are silly. Some are well-meaning but misinformed. Others have validity but should remain matters of personal choice. And few people will agree on which challenges fit in which bucket.

By all means, exercise your rights as parents of your children. If you challenge a reading assignment, I hope it will be an informed decision based on more than an emotional response or over-protectiveness, and will be done with careful thought and with consideration for the rights and beliefs of others. I hope it will be specific to your child. I also hope it will take into consideration the teacher's skills at presenting difficult subject matter in a sensitive way. An excellent teacher can present a tough subject in a way that goes far beyond the quality of the book.

My youngest child is 14. There's not one book on my list above that I would not want him to read. (Actually, I'd be thrilled to see him reading anything at this point.) Some of the books might merit extra discussion based on his own sensitivities, and I might question the age-appropriateness of one or two of the books, based on his own level of emotional maturity. But at his age, maturity varies greatly from child to child, and each child's reaction to various subjects can also be quite different. A child who is well equipped to discuss subjects like race and sexuality might have difficulty with violence, for example. My child's reactions will not be the same as your child's for all books.

Controlling access to controversial ideas is a questionable activity, in my opinion, but, as I said, I respect the rights of parents to have a say in what their children read, even if I disagree with them. However, I also believe that attempting to control access to ideas for people who are outside your own realm of responsibility is disrespectful of the rights and beliefs of others, and, frankly, is just plain bad manners.

Remember, if one group is allowed to withhold ideas from another, then sooner or later, it will be a group you support who is told you are not allowed access to an idea that is important to you. That's why we should all be concerned whenever a book is challenged, whether we agree with the challengers or not.

Ultimately, Banned Book Week is about celebrating the freedom to read what we choose, without having our choices restricted by others, whether they are political despots or well-meaning concerned parents.

Saturday, September 29, 2012


Writing the story is the fun part. The revision phase is not as enjoyable. Unfortunately, it is a step that must be taken.

After months and months, I’m ready to move on to a next project. Yet the old one is still there, like a bad cold that won’t go away. I’ve put in my time. I had fun developing it. Can’t I just be done with it?

Not if I want it published.

My critique group looked at it and had wonderful suggestions. Some were the obvious, slap-your-forehead, yeah-I-knew-that type of ideas. At other times, I wondered why those guys weren’t getting it. It’s so obvious to me. Evidently, it isn’t apparent to everyone. That kind of reality check is why I keep them around.

The fixes should be easy, a piece of cake. A week, maybe two then I can send it off to someone. At that point it will be out of my hands with nothing more I can do about it. I’ll have time to work on something else.

But two weeks then three pass and it’s still not done. Revision takes time.

Moving a work to publication is new to me. I think I know how to proceed. Pretty much, anyone who would consider putting this on the market wants it to be good, wants it clean. I think I’ve got story but that’s up to others to decide. The cleansing part is all mine and a necessity to move forward.

The grammar and spelling are easy to fix, the missed or extra word as well. You’d think spell check would have caught it but my critique group found more.
It’s the other that takes so much time. Tightening the language takes time.
Comments like “too much exposition” require a decision. Is it really too much? Does it really slow the story? If so, how much do I keep, what do I pitch out? It’s these kinds of things that take so much time. And why spend all this time now? The agent or editor will just have me do it again, to their liking.

Okay, that’s off my chest. I feel better now. Need to get back to the revision.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Artisan Publishing

by Deren Hansen

The food industry in the United States is a curious one. Some words that appear on labels, like, “organic,” are carefully regulated and may only be used if the food or the process by which it was produced meets certain requirements. Other words, like, “artisan,” may be used with abandon.

The word, “artisan,” long carried the sense of common practitioner, as opposed to the artist who brought genius and inspiration to the work. But as mass production, and increasingly mass customization, has blessed us with a collective and mostly uniform affluence, artisan has come to signify a means of production where low unit cost and economies of scale are not the primary objective. Artisan bread, for example, is made by hand even though there are bread factories that are far more efficient in purely economic terms.

Why, if we are rational economic actors, would we ever choose a product that is more expensive and less available than a mass-produced equivalent? People who prefer artisan breads may argue in terms of the varieties or flavors available nowhere else, or the virtue of supporting local production, but for most people it simply tastes better.

In response to sandwich chains that have recently began advertising their bread as, “artisan,” people who produce food products that actually deserve the label were asked to define it. Some answered in terms of small production batches and traditional, hand-made methods that invite skilled crafts people, who control the means of production, to take greater care in their work. Others spoke about love, attention to detail, a greater concern with quality than quantity, and integrity.

It was in the particular sense of craftsmanship and pride in the work that I realized what I had set out to do in publishing my series of writers’ guides was best characterized as artisan publishing. It certainly wasn’t about the money. While I hope in time to see a reasonable return on the effort I invested in the project, I have no more illusion that my efforts will lead to a publishing empire than an artisan baker believes they will be the next giant food conglomerate.

Artisan publishing isn’t simply a variation on the theme of doing it yourself. The large, well-stocked home improvement centers dotting our suburban landscape owe their existence more to naivety, false economy, and hubris than to a genuine and supportable conviction that doing it yourself is the best way to get the job done well, right, and in a timely fashion. The path of an artisan publisher begins with having something worth saying and a thorough effort to determine the best way to publish that material. As with our writing, where no character, scene, or sentence is too precious to come under scrutiny, artisan publishing has nothing to do with shortcuts or showing the gatekeepers how wrong they were about your manuscript and everything to do with what is best and right for the project.

Deren Hansen is the author of the Dunlith Hill Writers Guides. Learn more at

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Picking our Stories' Focus Elements

Everyone wants to experience different things when they read. Some want an escape, some want their minds and values challenged, some want to be able to relate and be moved and some just want a good laugh. I personally prefer books that move me and remind me of my own experiences and especially my own relationships. I want to feel the characters love for each other and their goals and be able to feel at home in their world as well as mine.
What do you look for in your entertainment? Think of your favorite books or movies; the ones that you simply must just sit for a while afterwards and smile; the ones you experience over and over again and somehow still fall in love with each time. This is what we want readers experiencing when they read our work.
How do we accomplish this? We know our audience. Everyone has different preferences, so we generally write what would please us and those who share our opinions concerning the elements in their literature. We need to use elements from all the things we love in our own entertainment and weave together something that will get our audience experiencing—as deeply as possible—the things they are looking for. Whether that be in characters, worldbuilding, theme, plot, relationships, or better yet; a beautiful mix of them all.

First of all, I’d like to apologize for my lack of posts over the summer. It’s been a crazy couple months but hopefully I can get back into the stride of things this fall.

Secondly; it was rather difficult to put these specific ideas into words in this post so I would humbly accept any comments or criticism ;). I will also be delving deeper into this subject—though on a slight tangent--with my next post concerning Aristotle’s six elements of theatre and relating them to literature.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Never Use "Was"

By Julie Daines
The Ten Commandments of Writing and When to Break Them

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.

Comandment #5

Thou Shalt Not Use the Word Was

As with all of the posts in this series, I agree with this commandment on most levels. However, as with other commandments, the problem comes when writers take this rule too far. 

Usually, the best way to say something is the simplest and most direct. Writers who beat around the bush with fancy words are guilty of what is known as purple prose, which I define as trying too hard to make each sentence a work of art unto itself. Each sentence's purpose should be in contributing to the beauty of the whole.

From the first bite, the rich, chocolate cake saturated his tastebuds with mouth-watering flavor. 
First of all, this doesn't sound at all like what a MG or YA character would say. And secondly, it sounds forced. So unless your character is Anne of Green Gables, simple and direct is best. 
The chocolate cake was delicious. 
Straight and to point. We get it, and now the story can move on. 

The object of avoiding the use of the word was is not to write forced prose, it is to use a stronger, better, more descriptive verb. So try to replace was with something better.
The chocolate cake tasted delicious. 
Or rewrite the sentence in a way that says the same thing, only better.
Mack loved that chocolate cake from the first bite.
If the tasting of the chocolate cake is the pinnacle plot point to your story, then go ahead and elaborate. If it's a passing part of dinner, keep it short and simple. 

Example 2:
The sun beat down on the road. When I opened my car door, the heat assaulted me, wrapping its burning fingers around me and choking me. The hot asphalt attacked my bare feet trying to burn its way through my skin. 
At first glance, this may seem ok. But it's a problem I see a lot in descriptions. Whether it's meant like this or not, the entire paragraph is personification--a type of literary device.

As with all literary devices, it should be used judiciously. Save it for the important parts of you story. 

If Cami just ran out of gas in the middle of the desert and she faces imminent death by heat stroke, then this example is ok.  

If all you want to do is get across how hot it is when Cami pulled up to the swimming pool, then keep it simple and direct--even if it means using was
By the time Cami pulled up to the swimming pool, it was beyond hot.  

Bottom Line:
  • Use was, but only when it's the best and simplest way to get your point across. Sometimes, there is no better substitute. 
  • If you can, use a stronger verb in its place or rewrite the sentence. 
  • When you need to describe something important, pull out all the stops and elaborate--always keeping in mind the YA or MG voice.

As you're reading, watch for when the author uses was appropriately, and when they should have used it, but instead made one of these mistakes. 

What are your thought on using the word was?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

My group

My critique group is fantastic.

We’ve only been meeting for sixth months or so but we clicked at the outset. Our schedule is ideal – often enough though, not overwhelming. We deal with something regularly, sending 2000 words one week, meeting live to discuss them the next. It keeps us on task and with only four of us, time is very manageable.

It’s a drive for all of us, arriving from Brigham City to Salt Lake and points in between. But they’re worth the trip. We’re dedicated writers, committed to craft. We all attended WIFYR this summer. We view the world from differing time frames, with one each in our 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s (until one of us messed that up by advancing to the next decade). We vary in culture and lifestyle as well. Each brings to the table a unique perspective. And they are sharp.

After WIFYR, we dispersed. Summer family plans made critiquing hard to arrange. We’re back now and these people are just as good as they were last June. I was ready for a beta read to which they readily agreed. Explicit instructions were for them to take their time, a full MS more than our 2000 word limit. That would give me time to spend on a new endeavor.

Those little over-achievers didn’t listen. They returned it the next session. And they’ve forced me back into the old project. I’m really tired of that timeworn thing, but their counsel is amazing, advancing it toward completion.

Yet, at times their guidance is discomforting. They tell me things I disagree with or don’t want to hear, things that chip away at the story’s foundation. A few days later I come around to see they are right. Or I figure out a way to ignore them or work around their ideas. But mostly they’re right.

I’m revising now, as per their suggestions. The rougher edges are being smoothed out, the wholes getting plugged. I’m free to disregard their suggestions or be impressed by their insight. I hope I contribute as much as I take.

Thanks, people.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Hairy Little People: An Anniversary

by Scott Rhoades

Today is the 75th anniversary of the publishing of The Hobbit. Tomorrow is September 22, the birthday of both Bilbo and Frodo Baggins.

Back in junior high school, like many boys, I had pretty much stopped reading, even though it had been one of my favorite things to do since I was four. It wasn't that I no longer liked to read. I was too old for the books I used to enjoy and had not yet discovered something older that excited me, other than some Twain and a few other classics.

Then, one day, I came across The Hobbit, which my younger brother had brought home from the library as a reading assignment, although I don't think he ever actually read it. I was instantly hooked, from that brilliant first sentence that so many of us know by heart.

I became a Tolkien geek before I was even aware that such a thing existed.  I would love to be able to read this book and The Lord of the Rings for the first time again. I devoured them and was amazed that such books existed for so long without my knowing it. I still have those ragged first copies I bought, and I don't plan to ever get rid of them. Few books have been such a big influence on my life.

For quite a while, much of my leisure reading was fantasy, with a few classics mixed in. Tolkien's books led me to look at his sources and influences, a major factor behind my raging fascination with medieval literature, which continues to this day. If not for Tolkien, I would never have discovered Beowulf before being required to read it in class. My introduction to that poem was to read it for fun. As a result, I've always loved it. For a number of years, I've read it at least once a year. Beowulf led me to the Icelandic sagas, which have become chocolate for my reading soul. The sagas in turn led me to one of my very favorite novelists, Halldor Laxness.

If not for Tolkien, I might not have become fascinated with the Sigurd/Siegfried legends and might not ever have discovered Das Nibelunglied, Volsunga Saga, Thidrekssaga, and other forms of the legend, as well as non-fiction explorations of those stories. I almost certainly wouldn't have discovered The Kalevala. I might never have gotten into Welsh and Irish myths and legends.

Much of my education would be vastly altered, including my post-collegiate self-education. My first novel might not be a Viking story. It started out as a retelling of the Sigurd legends, but then I changed my mind and did something else, although that influence remains in some scenes. A Sigurd retelling is still in my mind and could still happen sometime, although  have several original ideas in my files. Those legends are to me, though, what the King Arthur stories were to Steinbeck, and pop up in various ways in much of my writing.

There are a lot of books that have influenced my thinking and how I look at the world, and that have inspired me in various ways. But few secular books, and maybe none, have had the impact on my life that The Hobbit has had. I have gone from Tolkien geekdom to mere fandom over the years, but I treasure The Hobbit and what it has done to my life.

So, happy anniversary to a book that has meant so much to my life, and happy birthday, one day early, to those most wonderful Bagginses, Bilbo and Frodo. May the hair on your feet never fall out.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

First book, first love

Maybe it's the arrival of Fall, the need for comfort food and comfort books; the thing is, every September, I go back to my favorite stories and authors. I have a long drive to my kids' school, and on the days that my baby isn't crying in his carseat, I listen to The Shadow of the Wind audiobook.

The other day, this paragraph went straight to my heart:

"Once, in my father's bookshop, I heard a regular customer
say that few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the
first book that finds its way into his heart. Those first
images, the echo of words we think we have left behind,
accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a palace in our
memory to which, sooner or later - no matter how many books
we read, how many worlds we discover, or how much we learn or
forget - we will return. For me those enchanted pages will
always be the ones I found among the passageways of the
Cemetery of Forgotten Books."

I have a hard time falling into a book these days, but The Shadow of the Wind with its intricate plot, the real life characters and the compelling voice of the narrator is the very reason I love books. The first book that I read and touched my heart in this way was Little Women. But the book I really loved as a kid was Illusions: Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah, by Richard Bach. I know, I was precocious and very much lacking in fun, appropriate for my age books. I've been making up the lost years of no middle grade or young adult. However, I gravitate to books that make me think and leave with the feeling that this beautiful life is a grand stage on which we practice for what comes next.

What was/is your first book love?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Finding the Words

by Deren Hansen

Just as many of us suffer from innumeracy—the inability to think rationally about large numbers—many of us also tend to assume that if something has been a certain way for a long time that is how the thing is supposed to be. This is very much the case right now in the world of publishing.

For a substantial portion of the last century and most of the first decade of this, the publishing industry has been defined by the logistics of distributing books to bookstores and the companies controlling that channel. There were innovations, like mass-market paperbacks and book stands in supermarkets and big-box retailers, but none of these changed the fundamental distribution pattern. Setting yourself up as a publisher required a second-mortgage-level investment to print books and a tremendous amount of legwork to arrange for distribution.

Everything changed with the advent of electronic publication. The barrier to entry was reduced to little more than the time and effort required to write the book and some initial, minimal expenses like purchasing ISBN numbers. While electronic publishing doesn’t provide an easy avenue into bookstores, for a variety of reasons their importance has waned in the last few years. The number of new, e-book-only small presses attests to the viability of the new model.

Change is difficult for many reasons. One of the subtle but most vexing ones is that our ability to describe and define the change always lags the change itself. What we used to call simply publishing (or commercial publishing if we needed to distinguish between the standard pattern, where authors were paid by publishers, from vanity publishing, where authors paid publishers) now gets qualified with words like, “traditional,” “legacy,” or even, “dinosaur.” The swelling ranks of individuals taking advantage of the opportunities offered by electronic publishing use these terms to help define what they are doing differently. And now we're awash in terms like, “self-publishing,” “independent” or “indie publishing” (an attempt to align with the success and credibility of independently produced, or indie, films), and even arguments that trading a 70% royalty for a 15% royalty and recognition by a publisher is a new kind of vanity publishing.

The problem with all those labels is that they speak primarily in terms of how you are not publishing. “Traditional,” implies you’re not publishing through the new electronic media, or that you’re not using those channels well. “Self,” and, “Independent,” imply that you’re not publishing with partners.

So how are you publishing if you choose to do it yourself?

The label that fits best is, “Artisan Publishing.”

An artisan, according to Webster, “is one trained to manual dexterity in some mechanical art, mystery, or trade; a hand-craftsman; a mechanic.”

In its current usage, “artisan,” suggests craftsmanship and pride in one’s work, which of all the reasons bandied about for undertaking to publish your own work is the only one—as we shall see in the coming weeks—that stands up to scrutiny.

Deren Hansen is the author of the Dunlith Hill Writers Guides. Learn more at

Saturday, September 15, 2012

No time

I’ve had an alteration of my daily schedule and it’s really getting in the way of my writing.

I didn’t have enough time before and have precious less of it now. The sad part is I was on a roll. Not to say people are banging on my door to read my stuff, but the writing was working. I’m getting it. I’m finally figuring out how to do the kind of writing I want to do.

And then they took away my time.

One of my favorite WIFYR people, Claudia Mills, offered a breakout session once. She called it something like 60 Minutes A Day. The gist of it was to find a minimum of sixty minutes each day to work on your story. An hour a day makes for a good goal. It’s sometimes hard to find sixty minutes in a busy life. Conversely, it may seem too little to get anything done. But it’s ideal because it forces you into your story without taking a huge block of time. Unlike a set number of words per day, one hour has a definite stopping point. Chipping away, day after day could give you a rough draft in a few months. I’ve been a weekend warrior before, writing several hours at a time on a Saturday afternoon. Writing daily keeps the story fresh, your brain working on it as the story percolates in the subconscious.

I came away from that conference singing the 60 minutes a day mantra and managed to get it in most days. There were some days when it didn’t happen, but mostly it worked and one day at a time, my story grew. There were days when the rest of my life got in the way and I would go a week or more before remembering I need to write an hour daily.

The story doesn’t get done, “the end” doesn’t get written, the book doesn’t get published until there is some serious seat-planted-in-a-chair time. If you have to start small and build it up to 60 that’s okay. Claudia gets up early to write before heading out the door for her college teaching day job. Early isn’t my best time. I do better in the evening, after things settle down. Some days they never do and that’s okay, too. The key is to get into a routine of writing every day. When you are there, those days you can’t fit it in becomes a minor interference, not a bad habit. Dedicating sixty minutes daily may seem impossible, but if you can figure out a way to eek that much time out, you should do it.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Feeling Fortunate

by Scott Rhoades

Today I want to write about a topic I know better than any other, one that brings me endless hours of fascination and enjoyment.


But stick with me. There's a point to this self-reflection.

This month (if I remember correctly, this coming week, to be exact) marks my 24th anniversary as a professional writer, one who makes all of his living from the written word. It's not the kind of writing that I dreamed of as a youngster, perhaps, but it's been a good gig and I'm happy to have it.

When I was hired that September day by Atari as an editor with additional writing responsibilities, it was with mixed feelings. I wanted a job where I used my writing skills, but, being in my twenties, I felt like corporate writing was kind of a sell-out, and I only planned to do it long enough to get my "real" writing career off the ground. I was, of course, going to be a famous-but-somewhat-reclusive novelist. Never mind that I had never written a novel, and didn't really know how. How was I to know it would be almost fifteen years before I made my first serious attempt at writing one, my first try that amounted to more than a few notes and ten pages or so of actual writing? I was writing poems at the time, and an occasional short story, so how hard would it be to turn that into a career as a novelist? Publishers would jump at the chance to help me live my dream.

Of course, it doesn't work that way. For one thing, to become a novelist (a famous but somewhat reclusive one, remember, with an emphasis on keeping my privacy intact), one must write novels. One must also be willing to sacrifice other priorities, and these were my starting-a-family years.

So, this short-term sell-out job turned into a career, and nothing has been better for my writing. Atari gave me an opportunity to be creative, especially when writing story lines in game manuals, or when designing and writing the stories for comic book posters that came with some of the games. More importantly, it taught me how to treat my writing like a professional, to work toward deadlines, and to work with people who wanted to change my precious words.

It was after I left Atari, by then a sinking ship, two years later, that I took my first writing contract, doing freelance technical writing on the side while working a day job. I wrote for other companies and edited for a book publisher, all as a contractor. I had to manage my freelance work along with my "real" job, learning how to manage my time, and how to keep plugging along even when I didn't feel like it after a long day of writing at work.

This was a busy time for me, with all that work. Unexpectedly, it was also a very productive time for my creative writing. I don't know how I found the time, but somehow I wrote several short stories that were actually pretty good, and poetry besides, all while getting up at 4:30 in the morning to work on my freelance stuff, then working all day at my day job, and coming home at night to a wife and two, then three, children. Still no novels, but I felt like a real writer.

That was still a long time ago. As the years passed, I started earning enough to rely less on freelance work. Around my fortieth birthday, I finally got serious about a novel. The skills I had picked up over the years were a big help. On the other hand, I must admit, it is not always easy to write in my free time when I spend all of my work time writing. Several more hours in front of a computer is not always an attractive prospect. But I suppose that's the life of an adult. Coming home from work often means doing more work of one kind or another.

Here's the thing. I no longer viewed my career as a sell-out. I had a writing job, a good one that used many of my skills (although it wasn't particularly creative in the way I had hoped my career to be). My buddies from school who had planned to be writers all had other jobs that had little or nothing to do with writing. I was a writer. I felt like one. My family was supported by writing. I could afford to buy a home. I finally realized how fortunate I was.

I said there was a point to this, and I suppose it's about time I got to it.

Just about everyone who participates in this blog, either as a writer or a reader, does so out of some hope to become a writer, and probably because we are working toward that goal. Usually, being a writer means only one thing to us, to write stories or books. To become famous, or at least to be known. That's a noble goal, and I'm still pursuing that dream myself. But there are many ways to be a writer. Companies need people who can write instructions, training material, marketing copy, Web site copy, and many other kinds of writing. You'd be surprised how few good writers there are in the corporate world, and how many positions require good writing skills. Magazines and newspapers might be struggling now, but they are still pumping millions of words each month into our cultural sphere. Educational publishers need people who can write. True, we live in an area where there are relatively fewer companies and fewer opportunities than in major urban centers, but many companies are becoming more open to remote workers, if the skills are a good match. To be real about it, these days there aren't exactly thousands of doors that open automatically just because a person can write, but writing is still a valuable skill and the opportunities are there if you're willing to do the work to get there.

Really, the opportunities are nearly endless. If you want to be a professional writer, there are many ways to do it beyond that novel or picture book you want to write, and most of them pay a lot better. By all means, keep the dream of being a creative author and work toward it, but don't be afraid to "lower yourself" to take on a writing job. In addition to paying your bills, you'll learn valuable skills that will help you take a professional attitude toward your "real" writing.

So, take it from me. If you want to be a professional writer (or if you have a young person in your family who wants to write), and you have the skills and the willingness to work at it day after day, you can probably find a way to do it. You just have to adjust your dreams a bit, and look at different things that "professional writer" can mean. Of course, there's nothing wrong with concentrating solely on creative writing if you can afford it, and if you are one of the lucky few that manages to live the dream, you'll be the envy of a huge percentage of corporate writers who are spending our days pumping out words for other people. But there are many ways to be a professional writer, and one of them might just be a surprisingly good fit.

And, then, if you are a very lucky person, as I am, you can sit in your chair 24 years later and write about how fortunate you are to have found a way to make a living from your writing.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

An Announcement and a New Topic

by Deren Hansen

We don't do much self-promotion here on the Utah Children's Writers blog, so I'll be brief: I have published a series of writers guides that incorporate much of the material I've shared on this blog. You can learn more at

While I would be thrilled if you were to rush out and purchase my guides, devour them in one sitting, give them glowing, five-star reviews, and evangelize them to all and sundry, my reason for mentioning their release is to explain why I'm going to run a series of posts to share what I learned through the process of producing and publishing the Dunlith Hill Writers Guides.

You see, when I began collecting, arranging, revising, and expanding the material for the guides, I guessed the project would take two months. That was nine months ago. As much as we feel entitled to grouse about how slow things move in publishing, I now have a bit more sympathy for the production side of the process.

But I'm not going to cover the how-to's. There's a wealth of information on formatting e-books, cover image dimensions, pricing and promotion strategies, and so on. Much of it is confusing or contradictory because the details frequently change.

I'm going to discuss the why- and why-not-to's--something I considered a number of times when I felt I was stuck in an editorial quagmire and the project would never see the light of day. What I discovered is that the single most important factor in completing such a project is to be very clear about why you're doing it and what you hope to accomplish.

I call what I learned, "Artisan Publishing." I'll begin to explain what that means next week.

Deren Hansen is the author of the Dunlith Hill Writers Guides. Learn more at

Monday, September 10, 2012

Help! How Do I Write a First Draft?

By Julie Daines

So, I've written three complete novels. One to be published late next year.

I just finished my third a week or two ago.

And now, as I stare at a blank Scrivener document, I can't remember how to write something new.

Oh sure, I have lots of stories percolating in my brain. I don't have writer's block per se.

I just can't remember how to get the ball rolling.

So I need your advice.

What are your tips and trade secrets to spewing out that first draft? Do you outline? Do you wing it? Do you write without chapter divisions? Do you write in scenes? Where do you go to generate plot ideas? What is your one, fail-proof step that helps you get the story flowing?

Please feel free to elaborate!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

How Do You Find Your Writing Voice? with Author Maggie Lyons

I’m lucky to work with so many authors at Stories for Children Publishing and the World of Ink Network. I learn so much from them and I find it helps my personal writing. Not many authors get to sit on both sides of the writing desk like me, and so when I get the chance to share some great advice I learn from an author I’m working with like Maggie Lyons, I’m happy to post it here.

Maggie Lyons is one of the few authors I have had the chance to see grow as a writer. She was born in Wales and brought up in England before gravitating west to Virginia’s coast. She zigzagged her way through a motley variety of careers from orchestral management to law-firm media relations to academic editing. Writing and editing nonfiction for adults brought plenty of satisfaction but nothing like the magic she discovered in writing fiction and nonfiction for children. Several of her articles, poetry, and a chapter book have been published in the children’s magazines Stories for Children Magazine and knowonder!

Maggie is very talented but is always looking to grow as a writer and when we started chatting about the different types of voices authors have when it comes to writing, her comments inspired me. I asked her to share some of those thoughts with you today.

How Do You Find Your Writing Voice?
with Author Maggie Lyons

I’m still in the process of finding my writing voice. Finding is the key word here. I can’t force my writing voice to shoot up like a hothouse plant. I can’t learn it like a foreign language. It’s not merely about writing techniques—asyndetons, paraprosdokians, zeugmas, and that fun bunch of language tricks. It’s not about narrating in first person, third person, or even second person. I have to let it appear in its own good time. That’s because a writer’s voice grows from experience. It represents everything the writer has absorbed and synthesized over time. It’s about what the writer chooses to write about and how the writer expresses the results of that choice. It’s about how fictional characters express themselves and the approach a writer takes to reach the target readership. In the words of literary agent Rachelle Gardner: “Your writer’s voice is the expression of you on the page. It’s that simple—and that complicated. Your voice is all about honesty. It’s the unfettered, nonderivative, unique conglomeration of your thoughts, feelings, passions, dreams, beliefs, fears and attitudes, coming through in every word you write. Voice is all about your originality and having the courage to express it.” (

The online researcher is presented with a plethora of advice for writers intent on finding their writing voice. Some say that finding your voice is about finding out who you really are—which may be an unnerving experience, so the idea of courage pops up frequently. “Don’t be nervous,” Henry Miller advised. Jeff Goins claims that being afraid means “you’re on the right track … Fear is good” ( Writer Holly Lisle insists that “Voice is bleeding onto the page, and it can be a powerful, frightening, naked experience” (

Is all this suffering really necessary?

I have not bled all over the pages of my manuscript. I have not consciously sought out the inner, “real” me, and therefore have not challenged myself to a battle with fear. I have written “joyously” as Henry Miller once advised. Does that mean my book does not have voice?

Others say it is not and never could be about your authentic self because, as Steven Pressfield puts it, voice is “artificial” ( It’s something the writer has crafted to convey a particular impression. Put another way, writers must follow the dictates of their material, a classic example being J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye with its angst-driven teen narrator, Holden Caulfield.

But isn’t this a chicken and egg situation? My writing voice was driven by the characters and the situations they found themselves in. Yet the plot, settings, characters, dialogue, actions, and thoughts are still products of my imagination, even when my characters take control. Isn’t that also what people mean when they say the writer’s voice represents what the writer is all about, or am I believing too many impossible things before breakfast, to misquote Lewis Carroll?

Conscious of my readership, as we writers should be, I crafted story, characters, dialogue, and narrative style in a way I hoped my middle-grade readers could relate to. That has to affect the writer’s voice too and, along with the dictates of the material, can change the writer’s voice from book to book. This is totally obvious when the narrative is written in the first person, but voice can be customized in a third-person narrative just as readily. Jerry Spinelli voice riproars its way through his middle-grade landmark Maniac Magee but treads softly and fearfully in his heart-aching Wringer. Yet, both books are recognizably Spinelli’s. His voice doesn’t lose its flesh and blood. It simply changes its outfit. That has to be the mark of a real writer’s voice that even a bad editor can’t obliterate.
Maggie Lyons hopes her stories encourage reluctant young readers to turn a page or two.

Her middle-grade adventure story Vin and the Dorky Duet is available as an e-book at MuseItUp Publishing’s bookstore (MuseItYoung section:, on Amazon at, and as a paperback at Halo Publishing International at, and on Amazon at

Her middle-grade adventure story Dewi and the Seeds of Doom will be released by as an e-book by MuseItUp Publishing in October and Halo Publishing International will release the paperback.

More information at:, and

You can find out more about Maggie Lyons and her book through her World of Ink Author/Book Tour at