Saturday, March 29, 2014

SCBWI critique sessions

Elissa Cruz is the ARA for our local SCBWI chapter. Please don’t ask what an ARA is. Basically it means she’s the head honcho for Utah. Neysa Jensen is in charge of the Utah/Southern Idaho SCBWI and Elissa helps her with the Utah end of things.

Elissa is wonderful. She has tried scheduling monthly writing events, last year rotating the locations between Weber, Salt Lake, and Utah counties. This year she is pulling in the southern Utah writers. A while ago she asked for volunteers to head informal critique sessions. Silly me, I volunteered to do the Salt Lake one. My critique partner, Travis, conducts the Utah County session. We run them the fourth Wednesday and Thursday of the month. I must say it has been educational.

These informal critique sessions are unique. A  normal writer’s group has regular writers with a set format and established procedures and expectations. Anyone can show at these SCBWI ones.

Since we started in January, the Salt Lake people have included PB and short story writers, illustrators, and a poet. I’m an MG guy, now dabbling in YA, so I have critiqued PB before. I had never critiqued a poem until this year. Story telling from the illustrator’s perspective in a unique was to think about a tale. The commonality is precision of language. This is a must for the poet and the PB writer. Succinct language is a must for other genres as well.

At each session, there have been people new to writing, new to the writing community. They’ve come out of curiosity, perhaps with a piece to share. It has been a pleasure to watch them observe what I’ve experienced since I became a writer. There is a genuine concern for the effort of other writers in a critique session. Like-minded people gather for the sole purpose of helping each other become better writers. 

Critique is the way our writing blossoms and grows.

This and That:
With April just around the corner, look forward to something different from this blog. The annual 30 Day, 30 Stories will feature a different story every day from a host of writers. There may be days still available. If you have an interest in contributing, leave a comment.

I’ve been made aware of two other writing events since I posted last week. Follow this link for a full list of events, minus these two:
SCBWI Northern Utah Monthly Event Series: Sara Zarr – time and location TBA - - Fri. 4/11

Tell Me A Story: Annual Regional Conference – Boise State University, Boise, ID - - April 25-26

WIFYR registration is now open. Carol Lynch Williams’ amazing conference is a must. More info can be found here.

(This article also posted at

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Dream Press

Benjamin Ehlert and Mitch Stevens sit down to lunch with wide perfect smiles. Seriously, these guys both have perfect teeth. But they aren't just smiling to be polite. They are smiling about their newest venture: The Dream Press.

The concept was first brought to my attention by Rick Walton, and it piqued my curiosity. So I thought I'd meet up with The Dream boys for more details.

"Initially it was hard to find just the right name for this project. But this is our dream: to produce other people's dreams," says Ehlert.

The dream to which he refers is a hybrid type of crowd-sourced publishing of children's picture books that have a focus on inspiring kids to reach for their highest potential and become better people.

Ehlert, who has his degree in business management and strategy, and Stevens, who has worked on ad copy for the likes of Taco Bell and Vitamin Water, came together to create this business venture in "market-sourcing."

Think of it as Facebook meets Kickstarter meets Scholastic.

Here's how it works: authors and illustrators set up profiles on Authors choose how many pages of any number of inspirational picture-book manuscripts to put up for consideration, illustrators provide a mini portfolio of work that would target that same audience. Visitors to the site vote for their favorite ideas and artwork.

There is a Dream Press publishing board who take the "likes" into consideration, then offer to put into print the best and brightest offerings.

"That way the market is pre-built into a project. People are already [emotionally] invested," they explain. But financially invested, too. Like with Kickstarter, interested readers may pre-purchase the book of choice (funds only taken once the book is created and shipped).

In time, Stevens and Ehlert would like that one-time payment to include not only the physical book, but videos, ebooks, and/or apps associated with it—something to ease the physical-vs-digital debate. And while picture books are the focus now, they may expand to MG and YA as projects come forward and the brand and its audience are built.

"We are building this brand to industry standards. We don't want to be just a small vanity press," they say. And they are getting some key players in the kid-lit market on board with them.

The concept is interesting on its own, but what caught my attention was that these guys are already taking it to the next level.

The official launch of The Dream Press this May is called "Dreamathon," a week-long promotion focusing on kid's literacy. Some 150 artists are expected to get involved with creating a dream-like sanctuary of murals and wall-hangings wherein short classes on writing and drawing will be offered to 1500-2000 school children. (They already have a donor providing funds to bus the kids to the event.)

In the evenings, keynote speakers, well-known musicians, and workshops will be available to the public.

Currently five books are in the works and will be part of the initial launch.

Details can be found on their website (which is being updated as the whole company continues to take shape).

And while you can't quite yet set up a profile, you can send story and art submissions to now. Selected stories submitted by May 25th will receive a thumbnail illustration by a professional artist to accompany the author's profile.

So polish up that inspirational picture book and get in on the ground floor of the dream.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Best 30 Days of the Year

April is rapidly approaching, and that means it's once again time for this blog to host our annual 30 Days, 30 Stories event.

It's always fun to see the talent our little blog community possesses. It's one of the highlights of the year.

If you would like to contribute a story or a poem or memoir or cartoon, or drawing or whatever it is you do, leave a comment below and we'll make sure you get on the schedule. Sarah Southerland will get in touch with contributors about how to post your material.

Monday, March 24, 2014

What Would You Re-read for the First Time

By Julie Daines

I've been thinking recently about all the books I love. I re-read book a lot. A LOT. And there's something different I get out of each re-read. Some books never get old to me.

But at the same time, there are certain books I wish I could go back in time an re-read for the first time. If that makes sense.

Wouldn't it be wonderful to get sucked in to the world of Harry Potter all over again.

And what I wouldn't give to be able to experience The Road again for the first time.

To discover Jane Austen or Charlotte Brontë for the first time.

If you could go back in time, what books would you want to read again for the first time?

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Spring has sprung...

…the grass has ris.

We had our winter early and hard and the east has been clobbered, but it feels fresh in Utah.

Just wanted to extend a thank you to Julie Daines for an enlightening talk at the Pleasant Grove Library and to those who arranged it. That’s how some writers greeted the equinox. First chapters are first impressions and Julie gave us tips to make them shine. 

Other Utah writers were in attendance, several of them contributors to this blog. It is said our writing community has caught the attention of New York and other publishing circles. After months of knowing these writers online, it was enjoyable meeting them face to face.

Our community is strong because we are engaged in sharing it. This UCW blog has speakers scheduled monthly into the fall. The next one has Carol Lynch Williams, a friend to children writers and a strong influence in the raising of craft of Utah writing. SCBWI runs informal critique sessions the fourth Wednesday and Thursday and meets in both Utah and Salt Lake County. LD Storymakers is an annual event that comes up in April and Carol’s superb WIFYR conference runs again this June. Sherry Meidell held her illustrators session this year and there was a writing retreat last this month at Sundance.  And, if you read this in time and have nothing to do, make your way to Shannon Hale’s Writing for Charity at the Provo Library. It happens today and probably has already started.  Details can be found here. There are a lot of writing events going on in the state. 

Because there is so much going on, it would be nice to see them all in one place. Perhaps the Facebook page Scott Rhoades set up would be a better place to share them. For now, here is a list of events through spring and into summer. I’ve probably missed some; please leave comment to share others you know of.

Local Up-Coming Writing Events
-Wed. 3/26 - SCBWI Salt Lake critique session - 7:00pm Millcreek Library
-Thu. 3/27 - SCBWI Utah County critique session - 7:00pm Orem Public Library
-Sat. 3/29 - Southern Utah SCBWI Spring Workshop - Cedar City, UT
-Thu. 4/18 - UCW blog event: Carol Lynch Williams and Cheri Earl Pray on writing partnerships - Pleasant Grove, UT
-Wed. 4/23 - SCBWI Salt Lake critique session - 7:00pm Millcreek Library
-Thu. 4/24 - SCBWI Utah County critique session - 7:00pm Orem Public Library
-April 24-26 - LDStorymakers Writing Conference - Layton, UT
-Thu. 5/15 - UCW event: editor’s panel - Pleasant Grove, UT
-Wed. 5/28 - SCBWI Salt Lake critique session - 7:00pm Millcreek Library
-Thu. 5/29 - SCBWI Utah County critique session - 7:00pm Orem Public Library
-June 16-20 - Writing and Illustrating For Young Readers 2014 Conference - Sandy, UT (If I may interject a personal bias, WIFYR is one of the best things writers can do for themselves.)
-Thu. 6/19 - UCW event: Angie Lofthouse on dialog - Pleasant Grove, UT
-Wed. 6/25 - SCBWI Salt Lake critique session - 7:00pm Millcreek Library
-Thu. 6/26 - SCBWI Utah County critique session - 7:00pm Orem Public Library

Spring has sprung, the grass has ris, Utah’s where the writing is.

(This article also posted at

Friday, March 21, 2014

Southern Utah SCBWI Spring Workshop

by Neysa CM Jensen

Down in Cedar City next weekend (March 29), you have the amazing opportunity to learn from some of the best writers in the state. SCBWI (that stands for Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) is sponsoring the workshop.

I always recommend that writers and illustrators attend conferences as often as possible. First, it's great inspiration. I almost always come home ramped up and ready with new ideas and techniques. Second, it's a great way to meet others in the writing community, and we all need our tribe. Whether you form a critique group or just have someone else to talk to, writing friends are essential. And third, you will always learn something. And writing is one of those crafts where we never stop learning. Sometimes a speaker will explain a concept you've heard 100 times before, only now it finally clicks. Often, I find that progress I have made leaves me open to the next rung on the ladder that I wasn't ready to really hear in the past.

Here are some of the highlights:
Featured Speakers: 
Ally Condie, #1 NY Times author of the Matched trilogy
Ann Dee Ellis, critically acclaimed author of This is What I Did and Everything is Fine
Ben Sowards, illustrator of Christmas Oranges and the Levan Thumps series
and Robison Wells, critically acclaimed author of VariantFeedback, and Blackout.

Conference Features: 
         Get tips on improving your writing from bestselling authors and our featured illustrator.
         Discover publication paths from current authors and illustrator.
         Learn techniques for getting and giving feedback, and receive feedback on your work.
         Eat with participants and speakers. Catered buffet lunch included.
When: Saturday, March 29, 2014, 9:00 am-5:00 pm
Where: Cedar City Library in the Park (303 N 100 E, Cedar City)

Book signing by authors and illustrators:
Saturday, March 29, 2014, 7-9:30
Main Street Books (25 N Main, Cedar City)

Participants will also have the opportunity to sign up for a small conversation group with Ally Condie (where they can ask questions about writing and publishing), a one-on-one critique with Ann Dee Ellis or Robison Wells, or a portfolio critique with Ben Sowards. These spots are limited and are $40 each.

To register, go  here and click on the March 29 on the calendar. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

From print to screen

Books are always better than their movie adaptations. Always. Sometimes I've been devastated by the director's interpretation of a favorite book *cough* Percy Jackson *cough*. Other times though, the movie offers a different interpretation of the story that doesn't detract from the image I formed in my mind, but add another view I hadn't considered before (The Book Thief!).

2014 is a great year for movie adaptations. 

The Maze Runner, by our own James Dashner, a Utah native, comes out in September. 

Divergent, by Veronica Roth is out in theaters right now.
Here's the trailer as well:

And finally, The Giver, by Lois Lowry, is also coming out.

What do you think? Are you planning on watching the movies? Have you read the books? What book would you like to see on screen?

I've read all three of these books and I'm REALLY excited about the movies. I would also love to see The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel's Game, both by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Wake Up!: A Writer's Nightmare Comes True (Almost)

I'm almost ridiculous when it comes to backing up my writing. But I was reminded this week that no matter how careful I think I am, I can do more.

I use a program that automatically syncs all of my writing files between three computers and the Web. That means that, at any given time, all of my precious words are on a desktop, two laptops, and a Web site. Not only that, but I have the files in two folders, all synced. At the same time, my writers group routinely posts our critiques on Google Drive, so my latest changes are all backed up there, mostly in 10-12 page chunks. 

If a hard disk crashes or a computer dies or is stolen, I'm covered. I can get my files from one of the other two computers. If something weird happens, and all three computers are killed by a solar flare or zombie invasion or fry sauce flood or whatever, I can get the files off the Web. Nothing could possibly go wrong.


So last week I go into my files to prepare the next section for my group. I open the directory for my current WIP.

It's empty.

I go to the directories for My two previous manuscripts.


Short stories.




Over ten years of writing, wiped out.

I go to backup directories.

The two older manuscripts are there. The current WIP?

Not a trace.

Somehow, most of my writing files had been deleted, probably when I switched to a new computer at work. At some point in the process of moving files from the old computer to the new one, I think, my writing folder was deleted. Unfortunately in this case, the syncing program worked perfectly. How ever the files were deleted, the empty folders were synced across all systems. That meant they were empty. Everywhere.

Panic sets in. I start figuring out how to reassemble my WIP from the files on Google Drive. It would work, but some sections are missing for weeks when we didn't post, so I need to assess the damage and see what's unrecoverable. I have visions of giving up on this story, which I've been working on for a couple years and am starting to like, because too much is missing, not knowing yet what the damages actually are.

I shoot off an email to tech support for the company whose software does the syncing for me, fully expecting the dreaded "Once it's gone it's gone" return email, then start typing a chapter I have in hard copy but not on Google Drive, just to do something to ward off a total mental collapse.

I check email, figuring it's after hours and I won't hear anything.

I hear something.

Deleted files can be recovered. They sent the instructions. The instructions could be more clear, especially in my frazzled condition. But they work. Shaking and drowning in adrenaline, my brain still in panic mode, I recover my files and immediately copy them into two other directories.

But for a while, I thought I had lost everything I had written, despite my excessive (or so I thought) back up policies.

Seriously. This did not make for an enjoyable evening. It's been several days, and I'm shaking as I write this.

My backup strategies worked this time, but it was a frightening experience that pointed out the drawback of relying on a syncing program like DropBox or Syncplicity: deletions are synced too.

It was a reminder to back up at frequent key times onto a flash drive or disk, and to use backup software that regularly backs up the synced directories to a location that is not synced.

To protect against fire, flood, or aliens, you might want to give backups to somebody in another house, like a trusted writers group member. You might even want to send them to a friend or family member in another location. One flaw in most backup systems is that the backups are usually kept near the computer, and a major disaster that damages everything gets the backups too.
No matter how diligent you are, something could go terribly wrong. And let's face it: many of us would rather lose our skin than the writing we created.

I'm still feeling the shock and pain I felt when it looked like I'd lost everything. When it comes down to it, almost nothing that doesn't breathe would cause me more pain if I lost it. Just about everything else could be replaced. And even some of the things I can't replace are ultimately just stuff. But what I write is more than stuff. And I thought I was going the extra mile to make sure I didn't lose it. Turns out, what I was doing was fine and worked as it should have, so I should feel good about that, but for my peace pf mind, I'm going to add a couple more layers of security.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Free Professional Writers Series with Julie Daines!

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.

Julie Daines - "First Chapter Perfection: Learn the Elements Necessary to Make your First Chapter Shine"

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

Julie Daines was born in Massachusetts and raised in Utah. She spent eighteen months living in London, where she studied and fell in love with English literature, sticky toffee pudding, and the mysterious guy who ran the kebab store around the corner.

She loves reading, writing, and watching movies—anything that transports her to another world. She picks Captain Wentworth over Mr. Darcy, firmly believes in second breakfast, and never leaves home without her vervain.

She is the author of A Blind Eye (published February 2013), and has won several awards for her writing.

Monday, March 17, 2014

MG contest

I wanted to share with you a contest for MG fiction that Writer's Digest is running in conjunction with Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents blog. 

The contest is for middle grade works of contemporary fiction, set in our present world and time. The contest closes tomorrow so you need to act fast to enter.

More details can be seen at Chuck's site:

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Knowing Your Premise Before Sitting Down to Write

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of books sent to me from authors that have both traditionally and non-traditionally (be it self-published, P.O.D or any other format out these days) published books from children to main stream. Many I have enjoyed, while others I have walked away with thoughts of how the story could have been better. But the one thing I noticed no matter how the author went about publishing the book is this…the stories I truly enjoyed, related to and found myself lost in as a reader all had a well defined premise.

All well told stories start with a premise. This isn’t me just stating my own belief about writing or how it works for me as an author sitting down to write. This is a hardcore truth we all must face and if we as writers sit down without knowing this premise to our story before our fingers hit the keys—we need to be honestly open to feedback we get before and after we publish our work.

For those new to writing or still learning the ropes, let me explain what a premise is and why it is important to this before sitting down to write—if you truly want to be like the “Great” authors we all cherish—be it Dickens, Wolf, Pearson, King, Rice, Tolkien, Rowling and so on.

In a writing meeting I attended, one of the authors shared the following about premise and I liked it so much, I wrote it down. I now share it with you.
In How to Write a Damn Good Novel, it is explained, “Writing a story without a premise is like rowing a boat without oars.” To go a bit further Carol shared the following:
• The premise is the reason you are writing what you are writing. It is the point you have to prove, your purpose for telling this particular story.
• The premise is NOT a universal truth. It is true only for that novel.

I do need to stress however not to confuse your premise with your stories them. There is a really good article by Rob Parnell at that addresses this.  

When you think of your premise, keep what Hemingway once said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” This quote has always really hit me as an author because as we sit down to write, we are opening our soul to the world. We are sharing bits of ourselves with each word, thought and action our characters take. Each story comes from something deep within us that we either need answered or feel we need to share with others—our original idea or premise.

 You may also notice a premise can be used as your pitch line to an agent or publisher. Premises are also used has the “Hook” on the blurb of most books. Most readers when asking about your manuscript or published book want to know the premise, even if they don’t use this term. As you can see, knowing your premise, keeping it at the front of all your writing and truly letting it guide you through your plot will help you create an original work that will engage and bring your reader deeper into your story.

VS Grenier is an award-winning author & editor, founder of Stories for Children Publishing, LLC, chief editor for Halo Publishing, Int. and also the founder & host of blog talk radio's featured station The World of Ink Network. Learn more at

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Shfting POV

Writers should be readers, we’ve heard that before. Not only can  superb writing strategies be observed, we can see poor techniques to avoid. A book I read last summer I was told in third person POV. It was was quite good except for one glaring problem. Somewhere, a quarter or so through the tale, the author shifted POVs. We were in MC’s head along then a minor character takes over. The change was so jarring, taking me out of the story. I vowed never to shift POVs in anything I write.

Fast-forward to now and the current WIP faces same problem. The story is told mainly through MC #1’s POV, but there are times when he cannot be in the scene. MC #2 and #3 will have to narrate. What to do to make a smooth transition?

A cruise on the internet referenced two experts, Renni Browne and Dave King and their Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. I pulled out my copy and quickly re-read the chapter on POV. The whole thing gets rather involved. They say point of view is how you show who your characters are. It allows authors to convey emotions and readers to share a character’s concerns and to see the world as that character would see it. 

I became aware of point of view at my first WIFYR in an afternoon session. Can’t remember the speaker, but it was when the conference was held at BYU and she said writers need know who’s story it is and which character can best tell it. Most of us write in first or third person. There is also omniscient and others. 

Browne and King place first person on one end of a continuum with omniscient at the other. Third person falls in between. First person allows intimacy with your viewpoint character. In third person, intimacy is sacrificed in favor of a larger perspective of things going on around the MC. Omniscient widens the angle even more, allowing readers into the minds of other characters. Authors can vary the narrative distance and get in close to the character or not.

The best example I’ve seen of a use of an omniscient point of view was an MG book I used to read to my fifth graders called Bat 51. (I’m not sure of the author and a Google search won’t pull it up.) Set in the Olympic Peninsula in Washington after World War Two, it is about graduating elementary school girls preparing for an annual a baseball game against another town, this one in 1951. Each chapter is told by one of several girls who advance the story while adding backstory of their lives affected by the war in which some of them were interred in detention centers or had relatives killed by the Japanese. Each voice distinct and compelling.

I was concerned about shifting POVs in my story but Browne and King say it can be done. They present examples of point of view shifts done poorly as well as those of writers who have pulled it off successfully. A shift in POV is best down with a new chapter. The writer can also end the scene, insert a linespace, and start a new scene from the point of view you need. 

Point of view is a powerful tool and one of the most fundamental means for crafting a story, according to Browne and King. Effective writers learn to master POV.

On another note, registration is now open for WIFYR. Go here to learn about the options for attending this year’s conference.

(This article also posted at

Friday, March 14, 2014

Sculpting from the Writer's Block

Whenever I feel like I'm hitting writer's block I try to remember that a block is a vessel. A block of wood, a block of ice, a block of marble; they contain all the elements needed for the sculpture that awaits within. I just have to start chiseling at it. So it isn't that I don't have any ideas when I think I have writer's block. I'm not blocked by something. I'm just looking at the possibilities of everything and feeling overwhelmed by it.

Sometimes I just pound away at it. Chisel without thinking. Start writing more and more ideas, more and more possibilities. Like doing improv. Just keep acting out the situation on paper until you find the right one. (See also Jensen girls' great March 7th UCW blog post on "Facing Failure.")

I like to do that, but first I like to (if you'll excuse my using the incredibly popular phrase):
Let. It. Go.

For me, walking away helps.

Walking away doesn't mean that I'm not working on it, though. I recently read that the mind spends nearly 80 percent of its time reviewing experiences and creating hoped-for scenarios (both the way we wish things had happened in the past, and how we hope things will happen in the future).

So while we walk away, our subconscious is doing a great deal of work. (I wish it worked the same way with the treadmill.)

Ever notice that if you try to look at a specific spot at a distance when it's dark, that it is hard to see that spot? You have to look to the side of your desired object, and "see" it through your peripheral vision.

One of my favorite activities for taking my mind away from staring at that issue that I don't know how to fix, is reading poetry. The tight language, the exquisite imagery, that combination of brevity and beauty, does magical things to my brain. It makes walking to the mailbox become an internal iteration on the loveliness of nature. It's a mental breath of fresh air. A cleanse, as it were. Like blowing my nose. Except it's my mind. So, I guess I'm blowing my mind.

So, take a minute. Breathe deep. Take a walk. Read some poetry. Wander through a gallery. Take a few days to do other things. And then go back and just write. Anything. Write it all. Write a million versions of what could happen. Write it in the style of The Muppets, Andy Warhol, Republicans vs Democrats. Write it as a haiku. Write it as a poem written by each character. Blow it all out there.

Blow your mind.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Dance with the Shadow

Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance. -- Carl Sandburg

I used to have a writing habit that I think I need to cultivate again. At the beginning of each writing session, I read a poem.

This was a while ago, when I was concentrating mostly on writing short stories. I found that reading a poem put my mind in the right place for writing. My brain looked at words in just the right way and my creative juices flowed. Or, at least, trickled, which is all you ask for on some days.

I don't know when I got out of this habit. Probably during a time when I wasn't writing much, like early in my professional career or when I was concentrating more on my fledgeling family. But I think I need to do it again.

Poetry does something to my brain. I think it's a matter of looking at the concentrated language and imagery of a good poem. My favorite poems are usually very concise in language, if not necessarily clear. They concentrate on images and concrete words, avoiding abstractions, and making sure that each word has a purpose and creates an impact.

As prose writers, we don't need to be quite as concise. We can use several pages to create the impression and the feeling that a poem might create in a couple lines or a single image. Our purpose is different, so we write differently.

But if you look at your favorite sentences, either your own or those of your favorite writers, the most impactful phrases probably borrow, consciously or not, from the rules of poetry. There are no extra words. The words in the sentence are strong verbs and nouns that create an impression greater than the words or the image, creating a feeling in the reader that can't necessarily be explained solely by the specific arrangement of English's 26 symbols on the page.

I receive a free poem every day in my email, thanks to The poetry ranges from old to new, and some will likely never become favorites. Others, however, are like old friends or new loves. I don't always read the poem every day, but when I go back and read them, I remember why I signed up to get a poem a day.

Even though I'm writing different things now, I think cultivating my old habit will be helpful. The quote at the top of this post can apply to all good writing. When we sit down to write, we are asking the shadow to dance with the echos we put on the page. Let the dance begin with good music, the kind that touches that place inside where words form images. For me, poetry is often the door to that place.

Monday, March 10, 2014

A Rose By Any Other Name or How to Choose a Title

By Julie Daines

The big question: Does the title of my book really matter?

Everyone knows that when you publish traditionally, you get little or no say regarding the title of your book. Publishers have marketing specialists lined up to pick a title that will grab readers' attention.

As a writer, my job is to grab the attention of an agent or publisher. The title is my first opportunity to sell it to them. If they see an awesome title in the inbox, they are more likely to take a serious look at the submission.

There are three basic categories of titles (with a lot of overlapping).

1. Character Titles: Romana the Pest; James and the Giant Peach, Keturah and Lord Death; Julie of the Wolves; Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day; Coraline

2. Plot Titles: The Hunger Games; Island of the Blue Dolphins; Princess Academy; The Lightening Thief; Speak

3. Mood or Subgenre titles (very popular now in YA): Paranormalcy; The Dark Divine; The Forest of Hands and Teeth; Daughter of Smoke and Bone; I'd Tell You I Love You But Then I'd Have to Kill You

Some other things to consider while choosing a title:

Be Provocative Provocative titles (especially one word titles) are extremely popular. Just check the Amazon list of best-selling YA books. Choose words that elicit emotion or curiosity and phrases that make book browsers do a double take. The Perks of Being a Wallflower; Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance; To Kill a Mockingbird; Pride and Prejudice and Zombies; Marvin K Mooney Will You Please Go Now

Use Resonance Use words that bring to mind something evocative or reminiscent, and phrases that already mean something to the reader. Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Grapes of Wrath; Gone with the Wind

Create a Strong Visual The Color Purple; Where the Wild Things Are; Love in the Time of Cholera; Cry, the Beloved Country

Use Alliteration, Rhyme, or Repetition This makes the title catchy or memorable, like how we can remember a nursery rhyme we learned years ago as a child. Listen to the flow. I Capture the Castle; The Secret Circle; Maniac McGee; The Wind in the Willows; There's a Wocket in My Pocket 

Words that Contradict Beautiful Chaos; The Death Cure; Sacred Sins; Neverwhere

Above all, be true to yourself and your book. Go with what feels right to you. 

What are some of your favorite titles.

Saturday, March 8, 2014


Registration is now open for one of the finest writing conferences in the state. Carol Lynch Williams’ annual WIFYR conference runs the week of June 16. It is one of the best things you can do for yourself as a writer.

Several things happen at WIFYR. If you go for the full package, your mornings are spent with an established author aware of what it takes to move your story through to publication. These talented people share what they know about the craft, dispensing expertise on setting, story arc, character development, dialogue, and much more. The real growth comes in the critique sessions. Your story improves as others point out areas of weakness. By participating in the critique of others, you see examples of excellence in writing to emulate and become aware of pitfalls to avoid. Learning to critique will make you a better writer.

Afternoon sessions offer a smorgasbord of presenters to instruct and inspire. Topics this year include voice, pitching your novel, killer openings, characters, blogging and author websites. Writers with limited time or funds may find just the afternoons a better fit. It is included for morning session participants.

Every year Carol brings in people from the publishing world. This year she has an editor and three agents lined up. Not only do they provide insight to what it takes to get published, but give your their contact info and instructions for submitting. Just your attendance at WIFYR shows them your commitment to writing excellence and places your submissions above those in the slush pile.

But WIFYR is more than critiquing and learning the craft and getting a step closer to publishers. There is a collegial atmosphere at WIFYR that Carol has established. It is as though a hundred other people just like you, stuck with this obsession for writing who are cheering for you to produce your best writing.

There is just something magical in surrounding yourself with other writers for a week. 

More information can be found at

(This article also posted at

Friday, March 7, 2014

Facing Failure

A couple of weekends ago I was in New York City at the SCBWI winter conference. (If you don't know about SCBWI, I will happily explain it to you.) One of the most memorable talks for me was Kate Messner's examination of the power of failure.

We writers are certainly familiar with failure. How many rejections have you received? How many revisions have you had to make? How many published books failed to sell out? It happens.

What Messner
encouraged us to do is to change our perception about failure. Instead of looking at failure as a negative, she suggested we look at it as the fastest and best way to achieve our goals. In fact, she said, we should be trying to fail as often as possible.

Okay, I know it sounds counter intuitive. Shouldn't we be aiming for success, after all?

Here's an example she gave. A study divided a group of artists into two groups. Let's say they were making pottery. The first group was told they would be graded on achieving one really excellent pot. They did not have to worry about how many pots they made--just one really good one and they'd ace the class. The second group was told to produce as many pots as they could--the more they made, the higher their grade. Quality was irrelevant.

At the end of the study, a panel examined the pottery samples to determine the best ones produced by both groups together. What the observers found was that the group that made many, many pots also produced the best pots. Why? Failure. They produced one pot after another after another. And they learned things. What worked. What techniques produced a stable pot. How to make the pot symmetrical. And so on.

This pretty much applies to any endeavor really. I know dozens of writers who are so concerned about producing the perfect manuscript, that they never produce another. I knew a man in a workshop I attended who had been working the same novel over and over for 20 years.

When I wrote my first novel, I was guilty of this. It took me about ten years of working on it (granted, sporadically, as I was also raising children) to get it "good enough" to start submitting. It got a few positive rejections. Failure.

Since then, I have written several more novels and half a dozen more in my brain. Once I let go of that one needs-to-be-perfect manuscript, I was able to forge ahead and produce many  more, all of which are infinitely better than that first one. In fact, (surprise, surprise) each one is better than the last. What if I just kept writing as many as I could and never stopped. I'd produce a lot of failures. But I'd also produce a few really good books.

I liken this to shooting darts at a dartboard. The more darts you throw, the more likely your chance of hitting a bulls-eye. Right?

So as you start this new week, look for ways to fail. Embrace it. Do it some more. And learn.

If you'd like to explore the topic more, see Fail Fast, Fail Often: How Losing Can Help You Win, by Ryan Babineaux and John Krumboltz.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Authorial Acrobatics

"It's Niagara Falls. It's one of the most beautiful 
natural wonders in the world. Who wouldn't want to 
walk across it?" -- Nik Wallenda

The World English Dictionary defines "acrobat" as "an entertainer who performs acts that require skill, agility, and coordination, such as tumbling, swinging from a trapeze, or walking a tightrope." This definition could also apply to a writer.

No matter what we write--non-fiction, children's books, literary fiction, or whatever--our primary purpose is to entertain. OK, maybe we want to enlighten, instruct, shock, or create abstract art, but whatever we want to do with out writing, it will go nowhere if readers don't find it at least somewhat entertaining. There are a lot of books out t here, and people will go back to the authors they have enjoyed in the past.

"I hope what I do and what I just did inspires people 
around the world to reach for the skies." -- Nik Wallenda

In order to entertain, we perform. We create and construct. We put ourselves in front of an audience and risk failure and ridicule in the hopes of succeeding.

Successful writers require a number of skills. We must have grammar and story-telling skills. We must be able to say old things in new ways. We must learn and practice the arts of writing, including understanding how to structure a story, how to write dialogue, how to make non-existent people live. Many, maybe most, of the basic skills of a writer can be learned, but they must be practiced and be combined with a difficult-to-define something that puts them above others who have solid writing skills but can't write a story.

"The impossible is not quite impossible 
if you put your mind to it." -- Nik Wallenda

A writer must be flexible. A writer must be able to turn on a dime, to perform sleight-of-hand tricks, to create and control puppets while the puppeteer remains unseen. Agility applies both to the flexibility required to create characters and their stories, and to scheduling writing time around a busy life.

Most people who attempt to write fall flat on their faces. Even the successful authors. But the successful writer learns through practice how to keep from falling, even when flirting with the disaster that is present in nearly every first draft.

"I've trained all my life not to be distracted 
by distractions."--Nik Wallenda

We fall. We get up. We make our characters fall and get up. We perform amazing and dangerous stunts, jumps, and twists. We are under a constant danger of stepping out of bounds or landing on our heads. Every step of the writing life is flirting with danger and risking failure. But we learn to "fall with style" so our tumbles become intentional and our rebounds are artful.

Swinging from a trapeze
Every jump we make in our stories risks failure, and failure can be disastrous. We swing in the air, grasping our thoughts and ideas, letting go to grasp at the next one. Will we catch it? We won't ever find out without letting go of the comfortable hold we have on where we are.

"Every walk that I do, there's obstacles in the way. There's always 
somebody or something that comes across negative, 
but I live for that sort of thing." -- Nik Wallenda

Walking a tightrope
The balance required to successfully complete a story often seems impossible. When we're out beyond the imagined safety of our beginning and our end, treading carefully on a narrow line that constantly threatens to swing out from under us, it often seems like we'll never reach our destination safely. Most people who start a book never finish. They either fall or they give up and sit down somewhere in the middle, holding on to the dream but failing to move forward. Those who succeed take one step at a time, blending caution with the requirement to teeter constantly on the edge of disaster. It seems like every force in the universe has combined to knock us off the tightrope.

And so...
And so, if we have to be acrobats, why not make the best of it? How much fun is it to watch an acrobat who does his or tricks above the safe cushion? Sure, it can be fun and you can still be amazed by the perfmorer's talents. But, as an author, if you want to gain an audience and make them share in your nervousness, to make your readers hold their breaths from beginning to end, you have to write without a net. You have to transcend the comfort of the ground and put everything on the line. You have to risk spectacular failure. Make your reader afraid. Make them wonder how you can possibly get out of danger and safely reach the end without toppling into the abyss of failure. What's more, every time you succeed, you need to increase the risk for your next stunt. If you're comfortable, you'll fail. Danger heightens awareness and attention, and makes you respect the tightrope, causes you to keep working, to take each dangerous step, and to put on a brilliant show.
"I'm one of those people who always tries 
to overachieve. I want to do more. 
I want to do bigger things." -- Nik Wallenda

And that's what you want to do. You want to entertain brilliantly, which means hazarding spectacular peril. So discard the net. Go higher. Go farther. Risk it all. It's scary, but the success will be worth it when you look back and see what you overcame to achieve your tale. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

YouTube Goodness: Talent, Structure, Steampunk and GUNS

I like to look for treasures on YouTube.

It's a bit like looking for treasures at the dump. The amount of junk one must sort through is appalling. Thank heaven for decent search engines.

I want to share with you now some of my favorite YouTube goodies that I found in the last month.

1. Howard Tayler on 'Who Needs Talent?'

This is only the first part. But watch all four parts. It completely changed the way I think about writing, 'talent', and what I have potential to do.

2. Dan Wells on 'Seven Point Story Structure'.

This is an AWESOME seminar that helped me a lot. I'm a budding outliner (I used to think I was a freewriter, but I think I'm changing with age) and having only ever freewritten my entire life, I was lost as to how to begin. This helped me through. First of five parts.

3. The Definition of Steampunk

Brilliant. Just brilliant.

4. World's Fastest Gun Disarm

Because maybe one of your characters needs to be able to do this. There are tutorials, but I'm fairly certain most of us can't be as fast as this dude.

Speaking of gun tutorials: do you have a character who needs to know how to intelligently use a firearm?

5. This guy has a channel with, like, 900 videos on how to shoot a gun, for newbies. He's got stuff from the difference between smoky and smokeless powder, to reasons why not to put your thumb behind the slide on a semi-automatic... which is what the next video is about. If you want details, this guy will give you details.

Hope something in this grab bag of a post was useful to you! Tell me about it in the comments, if you did.

Saturday, March 1, 2014


Many agree that the synopsis is one of the hardest parts of the writing process. After penning a 300 page story, authors often are daunted by the task of composing a three page synopsis. 

That may be because there is no real agreement on what the thing entails. While the query letter has a set format, the synopsis, other than to reveal all important plot points, has none. Opinions vary on length, anywhere from one to four pages. Everybody has a different idea what it should look like and, according to Nathan Bransford, there is no one way to write a synopsis.

The general consensus is that a synopsis should tell all, leaving no questions as to how the book ends. The query letter is the place to dance the mystery and intrigue of the story. With a synopsis, an agent or editor is looking to see how each story and character arc plays out. 

YA novelist Marissa Meyers loathed the process. Rather than remain intimidated by it, she decided to embrace the synopsis writing challenge and figure out a method to creating one. The New York Times best-selling author of The Lunar Chronicles shares, in six steps, what she came up with. The full article can be found here

Step 0, Meyers says, is to write the book. Otherwise you would be writing its outline.
Step 1 - Skim through the manuscript and note the important events, boiling down each chapter to one or two sentences. Show each plot and subplot arc.
Step 2 - Embellish the beginning and give the reader a foundation to stand on. Give the same set-up as the first chapter provides, supplying the setting, protagonist, and their problem.
Step 3 - String together the short chapter summaries, using standard synopsis format, which is: written in 3rd person, present tense, with first mention of each character’s names in all-caps.
Step 4 - Read through the notes with a focus on plot. This self-discovery process can allow the author to see plot holes and insure a natural progression of events.
Step 5 - Read through again, this time with a focus on character arc. Insure that your MC evolves as a result of events in the story. Look for those big moments that change their attitudes and goals and show how they effect the protagonist emotionally.
Step 6 - Trim and edit. Like the novel itself, remove excess words and phrases that don’t help tell he story and choose descriptive words carefully.

Piece of cake, right?

On another topic, WIFYR registration is now open. Check it out here.

(This article also posted at