Friday, February 28, 2014

The Writing Relationship

I have two main neuroses when it comes to my writing. And the more I think about them, the more I realize that I am kind of a cad in my relationship with the written word.

I can be a wall-flower, unable to get up the courage to engage my writing at all. Or, I rush in passionately with an idea that pervades my every thought for a while, but I quickly move on when the easy part is over; an inept lover to my work by not finishing it off.

Neurosis #1: Taking the Plunge - otherwise known as that horrible, awkward, intense, embarrassing moment that requires walking across the room, introducing myself, and putting myself on the page with the high chance I'm about to fail.

There's that story. Or, at least, those loose threads of a story that have been weaving and unweaving themselves in my brain for years. I'm so wrapped up in how I should write it that I can't seem to make the first move. Which point of view should be used? Whose story is it? What if it doesn't come together at all? Maybe tomorrow ...

On the other hand, there are those love-at-first-sight experiences when inspiration hits and all I have to do is write fast enough to keep up with the thoughts flooding my mind. This is easy writing. Writing that comes to you. I adore playing with that kind of writing. Shaping, molding, and stretching the concept to see just how far I can take it.

At least, I do until the flood gates dry up and it pretty much has its shape.

Neurosis #2: Long-term Commitment

I mean, I made it way past first base. The idea was just there. The words joyously tumbled about. It was effortless.

But a long-term, take-it-to-the-end commitment? The hard day-in, day-out work of an enduring relationship built on trust and editing? And editing ... and editing? And researching and querying? And querying ... and querying?

What's the fun in that?

Luckily, I have author therapists: wise, successful mentors who have had these problems and allow me to lay back with my head in their books while they offer sage advice.

Scared of taking the plunge? The late Tom Clancy answers: "Do not over-intellectualize the production process.... Tell the damn story."

Terrified of the work involved in a serious commitment to publish? E.B. White admits that writing was difficult for him. But, "all this about inspiration—I think writing is mainly work. Like a mechanic's job. A mechanic might as well say he was waiting for inspiration before he greased your car." In other words: do the damn work.

So, my dear Writing, I promise to be a better author to you. I promise to:
  1. make an appointment with myself for writing,
  2. make an appointment with myself for bringing written projects to fruition,
  3. not open my email during the above-mentioned appointment times,
  4. set deadlines, 
  5. and, most importantly,
  6. tell the damn story.
Love, Tabitha

So, tell me about your writing neuroses. We can all share. Then we will join hands and sing "Everybody Wants to Rule the Word."

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Your team, your corner, or in other words, your critique group

I'm a lucky person.
At the beginning of my writing journey, a friend of mine with more experience than me raved about her critique group. I so wanted to be part of it, or one similar to it. So four years ago, I sent a request on the Utah Children's Writers Yahoo group, to see who'd like to start a new critique group.

Five people replied, and then, another friend, who had just started on her writing journey, expressed her interest in joining too. Two people dropped out because of personal reasons, but the remainder ones are the same. There are five of us, and we meet (or try to) once a month. Once a month we also post a chapter on Google Drive, which has worked perfectly for us. There are times during the year when it's very hard to arrange to meet. So we post on Google Drive and leave our comments online. Sometimes we post 10 pages, others a little more. I've been trying to finish my current work in progress, and my group has been super supportive as I post more than 10 pages. Also, when I need emergency help with my query letter or my pages for a contest, they always agree to give me a hand.

What I have loved the most about having a writing group is the encouragement. Even though they've read a lot of my stories, some of them of dismal first-draft quality, this is the first time they've actually critiqued a book of mine from idea to NaNo wreck to final draft. They give me encouragement when my spirits are low, and when I'm doing better, they encourage me to do my best.

I love my Sharks and Pebbles.

As an introvert I love working solo, but writing doesn't have to be solitary. In fact, it can't be. I need my team behind me; my corner telling me I can do this.

What about you?

Leave a comment to tell us about your critique group. Does is have a name? Do you meet in person? Online? Do you want to find a critique group?

Maybe if you're looking for your writerly BFFs, you can find your match here.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Query, Synopsis, First Chapter, Oh My!

By Julie Daines

With conference season coming up, it seems everyone is frantically working on putting together queries and first chapters and such. Here's a post from the past that might help.

Selling your novel can be harder than writing it.  So when it comes time to start sending your precious story off like a lamb to the slaughter, it pays to do it right.

Most agents request three elements: the query, the synopsis and the first chapter.  These are your tools for selling your book.

Here’s a basic guide that I’ve found helpful in preparing each of these elements.

The Query:  In the query letter you are selling the concept of your book.  It should identify the main characters and setting, and then a quick idea of the main themes, the conflict, and what’s at stake.  It should have a hook to grab the agent's attention and make them hungry for more.  

The Synopsis:  In the synopsis you are selling the story of your book.  The plot, what happens, the character arc, and how it all comes together in an exciting and wonderfully original, thought-out way.

The First Chapter:  With the first chapter you’re selling the writing of your book.  This is where you let them see your amazing style, the original voicing, and the way you turn a phrase just right.  With these pages you convince them that they can’t possibly live without reading the rest of your novel.

This is, of course, a general guideline.  Ideally, you want an overlap, letting each element carry a hint of the others. For example, the fact that you are a good writer should also be evident in the query. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Query letters

The WIFYR assistants have been at it already prepping for this summer’s conference. I am blessed that Carol Lynch Williams has asked me back again. 

Besides the numerous emails, coordinating with faculty, and planning, we have been critiquing each others’ work. WIFYR is a place for serious writers who hope to get published. Besides bringing manuscripts up to snuff, we’ve discussed query letters and synopses. 

A query is a one page letter to introduce yourself to an agent or editor and to try to get them interested in your work. It sometimes is confused with a cover letter which is similar, but attached to the complete manuscript. A query is more fleshed out and stands in place of your book, the hope being it will prompt a request for your manuscript. 

Writing your book is only part of the story. Selling the thing to an agent or editor is an undertaking of it’s own. A killer manuscript, needs a killer query letter to get them to take an interest in it. 

A query letter, according to, is meant to “elicit an invitation to send sample chapters or even the whole manuscript to the agent." It has a rather precise format that writers should not stray from. A query letter must stick to a single page in length with three concise paragraphs. The first is the hook, the second a mini-synopsis, the last your writer’s biography. The hook is a succinct, one sentence tagline for your book. Its obvious purpose is to peak interest and snare the editor/agent. The mini-synopsis is an expansion on that one sentence hook. It takes your 300 page novel and boils it down to 150 words or so. Your writer info is where you do your best to sound like a writer. List published works if you have them. As I have not, I would probably list my association with writing conferences such as WIFYR and time I’m involved with the local Salt Lake area SCBWI group. The only thing left for the query letter is a closing thanking them for their time and consideration.

This is a short summary. You should seek out the linked article for complete information.

Where as the synopsis reveals the ending and every plot point along the way, the query does not have to do that. Marissa Meyers, who loves the challenge of writing them, says a query should distill the novel down to its essence, providing just enough information to draw the editor, yet not so much that the story loses all sense of mystery and intrigue.

Brian Klems of The Writer’s Digest offers DO’s and DON'Ts for writing them, some of them reiterating what the AgentQuery people said. You should address the person by name rather than a mass blanketing of query letters. When pitching to an agent, research them and what kind of work they represent. Show how your’s fits and explain why you’ve chosen that specific agency. Klems also says to mention your platform if you have heavy blog or Twitter followings and to study other successful query letters. You should not include meaningless writing credits and  be sure to avoid arrogance by telling how fantastic you or your work are. Again, the complete article is found at the link.

No matter how good the manuscript, a good query is important or the novel won’t see the light of day. 

The AgentQuery folks sum it up best. They say to “write a professional, intelligent, concise, intriguing query and not only will you entice an agent to ask for more, but you’ll move yourself one step closer to a book sale.” 

(This article also posted at

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Giveaway results! And a little request

Has it already been a week? It has! And as promised, here is the winner of Julie Daines' book Unraveled, A Tale of True Love. Thank you all who participated, and please, please, read this book. You'll love it!

Since there were only 10 entries, I used the old fashion method of strips of paper in a hat. Also, my assistant wanted to... assist, so I let him. Isn't he adorable? Who wouldn't let him help?

he almost fed the resulst to the dog, but then wanted to it instead

If you can read the name, props to you! If you can't here it is:

Send me an email at with your mailing address and I'll send you your book.

Thanks for participating!!!

One last thing before you all go:

A friend of mine has always wanted to write, and this is the year she will start, for real. The only thing is that she doesn't know how. I gave her some advice and shared how I started. One day, I found out about NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. It was already November 6th, so I had missed almost a week, but I started anyway and went ahead and wrote my first novel. That was six years ago. After that came a lot of self-teaching, reading every book about the craft I could get my hands on, and, my favorite, writers' conferences. 

Will you help me in giving her some advice? How did you start? What would you do differently if you could back in time?

See you next week!!!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


by Deren Hansen

We occasionally say, with a touch of nostalgia, that all good things must come to an end. But the way a thing comes to an end determines, to a large extent, how good the thing was.

The ending matters. No matter how beautiful the prose, how evocative the characters, or masterful the dialog, if a short story fails to deliver a satisfying ending, you walk away feeling cheated out of your time. Given the far greater investment of time required by the long form, readers expect a commensurate payoff.

The long form is the most powerful medium for strong, satisfying endings because it affords authors the time to develop multiple story strands, each significant in its own right, and then weave them together for a strong finish. All those strands also mean, if you're not careful, that you've got enough rope to hang yourself.

Finishing, however, is much more than the ending.

Of the few network sitcoms I've enjoyed, nearly every one of them stayed on the air for one or two seasons too many. In some cases the final season was so disappointing that it soured the entire series for me. The best programs delivered consistently and came to a graceful and satisfactory conclusion.

A strong finish is the capstone of a consistently good performance. That's why world-class gymnasts are expected to make a perfect landing after everything else in their routine. 

* * *

And on that note, it is time for me to take my final bow and leave the stage, allowing others their turn in the spotlight. It has been an honor to be associated with the Utah Children's Writers blog and I look forward to great things here in the coming months and years.

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

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Free Professional Writers Series With Sharlee Glenn!

Pleasant Grove City Library presents: 2014 Professional Writers Series

Come meet local authors from a variety of genres. These authors will share their views on the creative process. Discover what makes a storyline, how to write historical fiction and what drives writers. You could come away from this exceptional series with a new sense of purpose and direction, not to mention ideas that should spark your imagination for days to come.

Mark your calendars for all these free presentations now! Each presentation will begin at 7:00 p.m. and will be on the lowest level of the library. There will be a Q&A after each session.

Sharlee Glenn - "The Nuts and Bolts of Writing Picture Books"

Thursday, February 20, 7:00 p.m.

Sharlee Glenn writes essays, stories, poetry, middle-grade novels, and picture books.  Her publications include Keeping Up with Roo (Putnam), winner of the Dolly Gray Children’s Literature Award, and Just What Mama Needs (Harcourt), which was featured on the Emmy-award winning PBS children’s show, Between the Lions. Sharlee can milk a cow and stand on her head—but not at the same time.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Hemingway's Truth

It’s only in the past month that I’ve started reading Ernest Hemingway. I’ve really been missing out on a writer who is an excellent example of writing simply but well (very well, as his Pulitzer and Nobel Prize would suggest). He makes it look so easy, but we all know how hard it can be to cut out our precious excess words.

In A Moveable Feast, he spends a lot of time writing about writing. In one section, he talks about how he gets through his writer’s block. He tells himself:

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.”

He said that when he went back later, he could cut out everything before his “first true simple declarative sentence.” Everything before would be “scrollwork or ornament.” Before, he was writing like he was presenting something, when all he really needed was that one sentence that said it like it was.

It’s hard not to get caught up in the all the flowery words that are available to us. We love to write elaborately enough so that readers can see how much work we put into it, so they’ll know what good writers we are. That’s what always caught my high school English teacher’s attention, anyway. But a lot of times, the best writing is invisible. The words communicate so well that you forget they’re there—you’re too caught up in what they’re saying to you to notice them.

Which goes back to Hemingway’s emphasis on truth. If you focus on the truth of your sentence rather than its structure or its vocabulary or anything else, then the meaning can become clearer. You stop worrying about what the reader of is thinking of your writing, and instead worry about telling them the truth. Without formality or introduction, you simply tell them what it is you’re here to say.

Again, Hemingway makes everything look easier than it really is. But I think when it comes down to it, that’s the core of good writing. You stop writing to impress and just focus on communicating clearly your truth, your focus, whatever it is you’re trying to say.

And if anyone out there has taken as long as me to get to reading Hemingway—I recommend him!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Story structure, part 2

It’s been said that there are only a few basic plots in all of literature. Every other story is a variation on these plots. Oodles of writers have penned zillions of stories, all different and unique. 

Yet the best of them follow a specific pattern. This post is a continuation on last week’s discussion of story structure. John Truby (Anatomy of Story) lists twenty-two elements of successful stories. KM Weiland (Structuring Your Novel) boiled Truby’s down to ten, the last five of which are below.

The First Half of the Second Act: The second act is where the MC reacts to the first plot point. Up until that point, life for the MC was steady and predictable. Now the MC has had his life upended. The second act is a series of events dictated by how all the characters react and counter-react to various events. Equally important here is how the antagonist shows their strength in thwarting the protagonist. Half-way through the first act comes the midpoint. This is a second inciting incident which changes the MC from reactive to proactive. After reacting to interference by the antagonists, MCs here go on the offensive and move into attach mode.

The Second Half of the Second Act: After the midpoint, things should start to heat up in your story. Your MC is becoming someone new, realizing his power and discovering what he can do with it. He’s finding strength to do battle in spite of inner conflicts that may be getting in the way.  He may not be in control of his destiny but at lest he’s doing something about his lack of control. Characters should grow and change and the second act is where that change is orchestrated so that it doesn’t abruptly appear in the third act. The second pitch point occurs here at which point the antagonist shows his power and potential ability to defeat the protagonist.

Third Act: The last quarter of the book is short, yet a lot has to happen in it. Act 3 is what the story’s been building up to all along. All character arcs are satisfied, subplots tied up, foreshadowing fulfilled, protagonist and antagonist plans played out, the MC’s inner demons faced. It opens with a bang and never lets up until final resolution. The writer must be cruel author must throw down every obstacle; all seems lost until MC rises from the ashes with wisdom and a new inner strength. 

Climax: As dramatic events have been happening all along, and racketed up in the third act, the climax is the final thrust of the MC to accomplish all of their objectives. The reader wants a satisfactory ending, one they can say, “yep, that’s just how it should have ended.” Weiland goes one step further. Contrary to the inevitability a good ending can fulfill, she says a story should end with the unexpected. Rising from a logical extension of things foreshadowed, you also want the reader to say, “wow, did not see that one coming.” Again, it must make sense to the story and can not be pulled out of nowhere.

Resolution: After the climax comes the bittersweet moment of the resolution. It is where the writer says goodbye to their characters and where the reader says goodbye as well. After the emotional stress of the third act and climax, they want to see the MC rise up and move on with life. They want to see how the ordeal has changed the MC and glimpse of the new life the character will live now. And if you’ve done your job right, says Weiland, readers will want to linger just a moment longer with the characters they’ve come to love.

Take a look at your WIP. Which stage is it at right now?

(This article also posted at

(This article also posted at

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Valentine to My Favorite Kid Lit

Feb. 14, '14
Happy Valentine's Day!

Today is a perfect day to begin as a UCW blogger, because I love children's books!

Seemingly simple stories of children's lit are filled with mixtures of classic archetypes, whimsy, the joy of the ridiculous, and commentary on social structure, even while often under the guise of short sentences or rhyming verse. MG and YA categories often tackle the most difficult social and emotional issues head on—more so than adult novels, I'd argue. (And life is really just high school played out less openly, right?)

As a writer I often go back to my favorite children's books to review how that author dealt with arc, character, setting, or language. When I'm knee deep in writing my own story it helps me to go back to the classics. I re-read and ask myself, 'What unique characteristics make this book timeless and how can I bring that to my own work?'

Here's a Valentine to my Favorites:

Winnie the Pooh and House at Pooh Corner - A. A. Milne
Milne is a master of character and social commentary. Yes, we all know the Disney version, but have you actually read the original Winnie the Pooh? My fave is House at Pooh Corner, but you just can't have one without the other. (Having enjoyed the recent UCW post on audiobooks, I should say that the Peter Dennis readings of these—available on iTunes—are excellent. And Dennis is the only person authorized by the Milnes to do public readings, so that's saying something.)

A Time to Keep - Tasha Tudor
Tudor is one of my favorite illustrators. Jann Brett's highly detailed borders evoke Tudor's work. And Tudor is a great storyteller about times gone by. I never got over the idea of having a glowing birthday cake floating down a river at night.

Anne of Green Gables - L.M. Montgomery
This is a classic princess tale of a girl rising up from orphanhood. But the best thing about Anne's story, of course, is the dichotomy between her over-inflated "romantical" view of life and the real-world scrapes in which she inevitably—continuously—finds herself.

Bear Snores On - Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman
Can you even get over those adorable illustrations?! And the language is scrumptious:

An itty-bitty mouse,
pitter-pat, tip-toe,
creep-crawls in the cave
from the fluff-cold snow.

Nuff said.

The Lottery Rose - Newberry Award-winning Irene Hunt
This is one of the most poignant books from my childhood. I found it in the school library when I was in fifth grade and chose it because the title was "romantical" (thank you, Anne). What I found instead was a book that dealt honestly with child abuse. It made me aware of what writing is capable of doing ... and that beauty in the written word can come from handling ugly truths.

I hope this literary valentine list will add a new book to your reading library.

Send your favorite book a valentine by commenting below!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

It's all about the love + giveaway

Valentine's Day is just one day away, and what better way to celebrate than with books?  Everything is better when you celebrate with books, especially if the book is beautiful, magical, timeless love story.
If you're a guy, and you just groaned and reached to close this post, please, don't. Even Star Wars is a love story, everything a consequence of Anakin's love for Padme...

My favorite love stories are those that don't only present me with two people in love, but also introduce me to a fascinating time period, a sweeping setting, rich mythology , and yes, a brave heroine and a chivalrous hero that together are much more than they ever were on their own.

One such book is Unraveled, A Tale of True Love, by our own Julie Daines. It was released just a few days ago. I love this book!!!!

The story is about Bronwen, who after an illness that took most of her family, is crippled. One night, she and her mother receive the visit of a mountain witch, who leaves Bronwen a pair of enchanted shoes. When Bronwen puts them on, she's whole again. Thrilled with the possibility of living a normal life, and urged by her mother, Bronwen makes the trip to the King's Court to present herself as it's the custom with girls her age. There, Bronwen will find true friendship, the attention of the King's son, who falls in love with her beauty, and also the attention of the Head of the King's Guard, who knew her first, when she was just Bronwen. Most importantly, Bronwen will learn to love herself as she discovers that sometimes a pair of magic shoes can't solve all of her problems.

Seriously, read this book. It's thoroughly researched,  expertly crafted, and it will sweep you off your feet with its beauty. In celebration of love, I'll be giving away a copy of Unraveled to one lucky person. All you need to do is leave a comment and tell me about your favorite love story, in a book, movie or song.

Spread the word for extra good karma!!! I'll be announcing the winner on my post next week. Good luck and Happy Valentine's Day!!!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Dan Blank's Epiphany: Your Audience is Unorganized

by Deren Hansen

Sometimes someone says something that organizes what you heretofor have known in a fuzzy, muddled sense with crystal clarity. Dan Blank did that for me, in a recent article on Writer Unboxed, when he shared his epiphany: Your Audience is Unorganized.

"You want to find a group of ideal readers for your books, but do you ever feel like you are herding cats?

"The truth is: your audience is unorganized. They do not stack neatly, they don’t always form logical groupings, and they do everything possible to obscure their tastes and behaviors from your view."

Why would we think our audience is organized?

"You hear of others’ success and begin to feel that there is a secret that they found and no one told you about. So we begin to look for best practices, shortcuts, and magic buttons.

"As if there is some secret place your readers are hiding: some mysterious section of Amazon or Goodreads, or some social media hashtag that no one told you about, and these things have already done the hard work of bringing together EXACTLY the right people who want to buy your books. And once you find this magic button, all you have to do is press it."

But there is no such thing as a pre-assembled audience: this is a strictly DIY affair.

What does that mean?

Dan offers the analogy of a wedding--your wedding--where the chapel or reception hall is filled with people who are there for one reason: you (and your new spouse). You, not some ready-made marketing list, are the organizing principle.

So how do you organize your audience? Dan uses the example of the lone dancing guy at an outdoor concert who started a dance mob.

"I’m going to end on with this classic video by Derek Sivers, who makes the point in a unique way:"

"He frames the message as being about “leadership,” but I think it applies here as well. That “lone nut” dancing guy didn’t come to this concert and find a group of other dancers. So, he started dancing. Then he found one other person who would join him. Then two. And so on."

Read the full article here, and then come back and tell us what you think.

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

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Story structure, part 1

Ever had those moments when the  writing just doesn’t want to happen? Perhaps you’ve spent days or weeks spinning your wheels trying to write through the problem. In times like this I turn to study of the craft and pull out writing books or link to various articles online.

One of the biggest reasons my writing stalls is due to lack of direction.  KM Weiland is the one to seek on that matter. She’s got some stuff on her site about story structure and outlining. The two go hand in hand. Story structure is the framework around which the tale is spun. Outlining, or plotting, is the blueprint for that structure. John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story is another source to turn to, though Weiland presents it in a simpler manner.

Think of it like a new home under construction. Rising out of the foundation, framing goes up that defines the size and location of each room. Load-bearing walls on the perimeter and down the center support the roof rafters.

Stories need a firm foundation, a logical premise for a character’s tale to be told. Upon that, walls of setting and protagonist and antagonist support the roof of storyline.

Once the framework is in place the builder adds the brick and wood trim, windows, heating, electricity -  details that make the house a home. Writers similarly add story details that marks their creation different than the thousands of other books written.

Weiland, in her Structuring You Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story, says many authors are unaware of story structure, yet write using many of its elements. There are several basic components that all good stories employ. She and Truby site effective uses of the components in literature ranging from Pride and Prejudice to The Godfather.

Truby presents twenty-two elements of structure that Weiland has boiled down the the ten listed below. I’ll address half of them here.

The Hook: Ideally the hook forces a reader to ask, what the heck is going on here? Curiosity engages the reader and invites them to read further.

Act 1 - Setting the Scene: Besides grounding readers within the story world, “a well-planned setting can empower your story with continuity and resonance.” (Weiland.)

Act 1 - Introducing Characters: Stories are about people. Without people you have no story. In the first quarter of the book, you should introduce your main characters and give readers a chance to learn about them. Be sure to include the goals the MC is striving for. Martine Leavitt calls this their object of desire - both physical and physchological. Most importantly, give readers a reason to care about characters.

Act 1 - Introducing Stakes:  As your characters first walk on stage, they should bring their objectives and the stakes involved to accomplishing it. Your first authorial duty to torture you characters happens here.

Plot Point #1: This is the point that moves the story forward from the introduction and set-up to meat of the tale. Stories are a series of scenes and the plot points are the major ones, the game changers that significantly alter the course of the story and jolt the MC into action. Some refer to this as the inciting incident. 

Next week, the remaining five: The First Half of the Second Act, The Second Half of the Second Act, Third Act, Climax, and Resolution.

(This article also posted at

Thursday, February 6, 2014

To be like children

The other other I came across this article:

This is the story of Jake, who's 13, and wrote a book last summer. Not only that, but after he was done writing, he researched ways to be published. When he found out he needed an agent, he started... calling. Cold calling.
Luckily, Jake had a great book, and once one of the industries top agents read it, (Daniel Lazar!!!!), he signed Jake on the spot. Jake's book, Just Jake #1, came out last Tuesday.

Here in Utah, we have our own prodigy. Mackenze Wagner was only 11 years old when her book, Benotripia, The Rescue, was published by Cedar Fort. She has three books out right now. Not only is Mackenzie a great writer, she is also one of the bravest kids I know. She loves doing school assemblies to talk about her books and books in general. She also does several signing events all over the valley (ies), especially on Saturdays. I met her one day at the Sandy Costco. She was super sweet and confident. She looked just right in front of a table signing books.
MckenzieWagner, author

This is her facebook page: Benotripia The Rescue

I clearly remember what it was like to be a kid again. I was one of those who spent hours writing and hoping to be a published author one day. It wasn't until my late, late twenties that I finally decided to reach my goal and started my first novel. For real. I'm still trying to break through, but I'm so much closer to my goal than I was that night I started my first novel.

If there's anything I get out of these stories, of these kids' example, is that if you want something, you have to keep at it, go at it. But there's no way I'll be calling any agents though. After years of practicing, I think I got an okay query letter.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

David Farland on Plotting

by Deren Hansen

David Farland recently addressed plotting on his "daily kick in the pants."

"We often begin a story with very little in mind—a powerful image from a dream, a play on words overheard during a conversation, an emotion that we want to capture, a clever idea for a twist. As these ideas begin to stack up, we begin to form a story.

"I often feel that the ideas that give me the genesis of a story are like pieces to a puzzle—a puzzle that I will create. Yet when I first imagine them, I only glimpse parts of a complete image—a flash of blue sky here, the eye of a monster there, a mouse in a meadow.

"As I imagine the story piece by piece, a novel eventually takes shape. But I want to emphasize that for me, at least, books don't "take shape" by accident."

The plots (yes, there are more than one) of a novel, as Farland explains, are not step-by-step assembly instructions for your prose, they are the road maps that help you remember where you're going while still leaving plenty of room to discover new and better things about your story along the way.

"But I have a confession here to make. I don't plot my whole story and then write it all thereafter, at least not in most cases. Some people like to pre-plot a novel, but I find a lot of joy in “discovery writing,” making some things up as I go.

"Years ago, I wrote a Star Wars novel where I had to create the plot and sell the book based on an outline. I had a lot of fun outlining the novel, but halfway through I realized that composing it felt too much like real work—like digging fence-post holes or working on an assembly line. I'd had all of my fun up front, in creating the outline, and thus the writing became drudgery. So I don't write strictly by plot anymore. Instead, I will have a vague notion of how my novel will end. I then sit down and outline the first 1/3 of my novel, write it; outline the next third, write it; and then outline and write to the end."

Read the entire article here and then come back and tell us what you think.

Deren Hansen is the author of the Dunlith Hill Writers Guides. This article is from Sustainable Creativity: How to Enjoy a Committed, Long-term Relationship with your Muse. Learn more at

Monday, February 3, 2014

Let's Prepare for a Victorian Era Zombie Apocalypse!

What would it be like if the zombie apocalypse happened during the Victorian era?

'Game of Shadows' meets 'World War Z'*. Or, H.G. Wells writes his own version of 'The Walking Dead' as a brilliant newspaper serial. 'Around the World in Eighty Days... CHASED BY THE LIVING DEAD!!!' Yall know you want to read this story. It's a genius concept, if I do say so myself, and sooner or later somebody is going to write an awesome book with it, if it hasn't happened already.

So much has been said about how to survive a zombie apocalypse, from Max Brooks' authoritative Zombie Survival Guide (cited and linked later in this post) to the blog from the CDC. The basic principles remain the same no matter what era you are in. But it's all about the details, folks, and I've done my homework and found some details that your Victorian Zombie Novel may find useful!


Before the advent and widespread use of the automobile, people walked. A lot. Yes, there were horses. And yes, there were a lot of horses. But horses, then as now, had a price tag affixed, and if you were a poor factory worker in an industrial city, you probably didn't have a coach and four to get you to the fish market. You likely walked.

But sometimes just walking isn't enough. Especially when you hear the moanin' and the groanin' and the shuffling feet. And running only gets you so far. What do you do?

Horses are a fairly good option, particularly if you're going to spend time offroad. But I think that there is a better-in-general, much more distinctly Victorian option - The Bicycle.

Yup. Bikes have been around in one form or another since the mid 1800s, and by the Victorian era, they had reached the point where they were as widespread and recognizable as modern bikes. 1888 saw the first air-filled tire, which made the ride much more comfortable than wooden wheels would ever be, but even before then many people were turning to the bicycle as a means of transportation.

As made clear in Max Brook's indispensable 'The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead', bicycles are one of the best ways to transport yourself from one place to another during a zombie apocalypse. They're fast, relatively silent, easily repaired, can be carried short distances if necessary, and are powered by your own caloric intake. In the Victorian era, if you already have horses and are good with them, sure, use a horse, as long as you can feed it, house it, water it, and properly care for it. It'll provide, if nothing else, good compost for the garden you're going to have to grow. But for everybody else - get a bicycle.


Canned food is a lot older than one might think - the development of this technology actually began in 1795, when the French military offered a big fat reward for anyone who could find a way to preserve food in large quantities for the French army. In 1810, they awarded the prize to a guy who created a way to put food inside hard containers, and in the many years between then and the Victorian era, steady improvements to the science of food preservation were made. By the Victorian Era, canned food had been around for the better part of a century, and it had come a long way.

Of course, your average Victorian era folk were a lot better at prepping and managing fresh food than your average modern American. They didn't eat out nearly as much, and didn't rely on pre-packaged food to anywhere close to the extent that we do - TV dinners and Hamburger Helper were scores of years away. While food would definitely still be an issue, especially in heavily populated and industrialized cities, it would not be nearly as much of an issue as it would be in modern day America.


The best defense from a horde of zombies? Distance. Barriers. Speed. Agility. Yeah, you can fight them if you want, but when you do you run the risk of getting swarmed and eaten. Discretion, my dears, is the better part of valor.

But when lurch comes to shove, you don't want to caught empty handed. There are, of course, the usual weapons (guns, knives, swords, etc.) but here are a few more interesting options that you might find handy during the Victorian Zombie Apocalypse.


Nope, that's not a typo. I meant to type that U there. A slungshot is not a slingshot, although slingshots (following the advent of vulcanized rubber) were on the scene in the Victorian Era. A slungshot, however, was a much nastier weapon. It involved a length of rope, onto the end of which a metal weight was tied. It was common and widespread, and with enough force, it could probably do the requisite damage to bash in a rotten zombie skull.


As swords fell out of fashion due to the increasing availability and quality of firearms as a personal defense weapon, people started using them more as wall decorations, though there were still a fair amount of people who used swords, particularly in the military. But the days of openly wearing a sword as part of your daily wardrobe were over.

Enter the swordstick. A sword, inside of a stick. Brilliant. There were other variants on the secret-weapon-inside-a-cane idea, included canes weighted with lead and gun-canes, but the swordstick is my favorite.


Guns are loud. Guns attract zombies. But sometimes subtlety and silence must be set aside, and when you set it aside, you want something that will more than compensate for the loss of stealth. A firearm might be just the trick.

There were a lot of options, as far as guns go. Here is a link to a more intriguing, if not the most effective option - a six barreled pistol. Because why not?

In Conclusion

I hope you found this a useful beginning to your research into Victorian Zombie Preparation!

Between you and me? I'm pretty sure that late nineteenth century folks were hecka better prepared to deal with the practical concerns of a zombie plague than you or I. The really fascinating part, then, would be the cultural impact and societal reaction to a zombie plague. How do you think the people would have reacted to such a thing in Victorian London or San Francisco? How would it change the way things developed? Would significant later events such as World War I have occurred in the same way, or would they have been drastically changed? Let's talk about it in the comments.

*Minor note: in my opinion, the World War Z film sucked. And I'm not just saying that because the book is brilliant and Hollywood totally disregarded the book.** I'm saying that because there were plot holes that made the first draft of my last NaNoWriMo look like a ALA finalist.

**Although it did, and that irritated me.

Saturday, February 1, 2014


Carol Williams says it. Everybody agrees. If you want to learn to write,  then read.

If you haven’t got time to do everything they, tell you, an audiobook is a nice way to do two things at once. The day-to-day go to work, drive about town is a great time to catch up on some stories. Listening is kind of like reading.

And in pursuit of an audiobook, our modern day has an answer for that: borrowing audiobooks from city and county libraries. OverDrive is a great app that does just that. You enter your library card number when you sign up then it allows downloads of e-books or audio from the public libraries. They don’t have electronic versions of all titles, but  they’ve got plenty of kid lit to choose from, some of it fantastic.

For example, The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates: Magic Marks the Spot is delightful. Caroline Carlson gives us feisty Hilary, who wants nothing more that to be a pirate. The VNHLP’s rules strictly forbid girls to become pirates, so they and her father, Admiral Westfield, instead set her up to go to Miss Pimm’s Finishing School for Delicate Ladies. Along the way she meets Jasper, a real pirate, who recruits Hilary to join him on the high seas to find a buried treasure.

Carlson’s story has it all. She has a resolute MC surrounded by marvelous characters including an enchantress, a friendly gargoyle, and Hilary’s governess who accompanies her on the voyage. Carlson’s story is humorous and smart and full of plot twists. The story is set in the country of Augusta and on the high seas and the whole thing feels very prim and high-society proper. One reviewer calls it a “whimsical, swashbuckling romp into a deeply imaginative world” and says the novel is a spunky as Hilary, herself.

The audio version brings the story more so to life. Katherine Kellgren’s reading is lively and compelling.

If you write, you should read. If you don’t have time to read, multi-task with an audiobook. If you want an example of classic story-telling, give The VNHLP a try.

(This article also posted at