Saturday, May 31, 2014


It is one of those elusive things. Writers try to develop it. Publishers look for one that is unique. It is an essential element of effective writing. So what the heck is voice?

Simply put, voice is the way you write, your individual writing style. As there are a zillion of us tapping away at keyboards, there are just as many variations on voice. As a trumpet, a clarinet, and a violin all are capable of playing a melody, the sound of each produces will be different. Voice conveys the author’s attitude and personality. It’s what makes writers unique; it’s what makes your writing pop. It’s what draws a reader into a story.

Ann Cannon posted recently on her blog about voice. She says that “we all recognize it when we see it—a narrative style that makes you sit up and take notice, one that feels fresh and wholly original—a style that is as unique and individual as an author herself.  Voice elevates an ordinary story and makes it memorable, even extraordinary—and when a voice feels authentic, we as readers feel like something so natural must also be easy to pull off.” Then she confesses it is not easy.

I will be the assistant for Ann at the Writing and Illustrating For Young Readers (WIFYR) conference again this June and my guess is she is planning something on voice. She has assigned us to read the works of two masters of voice, Carol Lynch Williams and Ann Dee Ellis, both Utah writers.

I had read Carol’s The Chosen One a few years back. Rereading it does not diminish the power of her voice. Carol writes with such authority. The main character Kyra’s story is so compelling, the reader is completely pulled in. It is hard to put down and the voice stays with you after you close the book.

Ann Dee Ellis displays her gift of voice in both her first two books, This Is What I Did and Everything is Fine. I’ve just begun hearer latest, The End Or Something Like That, and it promises to serve a big slice of voice. Ann Cannon can’t think of another YA writer “who has the gift of voice in the way she does…  Ann Dee’s voice draws you into fictional words that simultaneously ring both eccentric and true. Her use of language is startling.”

Ann Dee will be doing the WIFYR Friday mini-worship and her topic just so happens to be, drum roll, please,  voice. Carol and Ann are running morning workshops. Carol’s class is full, but if you want to learn a thing or two about voice, there are still spots available with both Ann and Ann Dee.

(This article also posted at

Friday, May 30, 2014

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night ...

I recently finished reading the classic book "Wrinkle in Time" with my eight-year-old. It begins with the famous—and much maligned—line, "It was a dark and stormy night ..."

Writers look down on this opening phrase as being "obvious" and "too moody." It has been the butt of jokes from "Throw Momma from the Train" to Peanuts comics. But I'd like to write a brief defense of Madelaine L'Engle's linguistic choice as well as take a look at what makes descriptions work ... or not work.

L'Engle's phrase, at its most basic, does, indeed, set a tone for the book. And it describes the intensity that the character Meg feels. It also foreshadows the "dark"/sinister beings the characters will encounter, as well as the darkness through which the characters travel during their cross-planetary adventure. So I think that mentioning a "dark night" is thematic and relevant to L'Engle's whole book; she writes it as a fight between love and "the dark."

So what about the complaint that to describe night as dark is too obvious? I would argue that there are all kinds of nights. There are nights that seem like a faint orange hue hangs between the greenness of piled snow and heavy-set clouds. There are purple nights. There are also cold bright nights when the sky is clear and the moon shines like a shadeless pendant bulb.

And yes, there are stormy nights when the darkness seems to swallow up every detail out of reach, as though a cocoon of black velvet envelopes you: a dark and stormy night.

But these days, readers want more than that. We expect writers to paint with words in a more extraordinary way.

On the other hand, overly long or beatific descriptions are considered passé: Flip to almost any page in the classic "Anne of Green Gables" series and you'll find paragraphs of detail like: "a veritable apple-bearing tree, here in the very midst of pines and beeches ... all white with blossom. It's loaded [with apples]—tawny as russets but with a dusky red cheek. Most wild seedlings are green and uninviting."

While most of us still appreciate (and even love) L.M. Montgomery's lengthy stylistic descriptions for its time, these days such florid language is considered "purple prose."

Needless to say, descriptions can make or break even the best concepts and plots. Writers need not only to be gifted storytellers, but word makers and image creators of a new bent.

One author who excels in this is Mark Zusack. Consider some of these images from "The Book Thief":

  • a short grin was smiled in Papa's spoon
  • one [book] was delivered by a soft, yellow-dressed afternoon
  • empty hat-stand trees
  • the gun clipped a hole in the night
  • the summer of '39 was in a hurry
  • the smell of friendship
  • [the] crackling sound ... was kinetic humans, flowing, charging up
Zusak has an uncanny ability to describe. A grin is offered up as if it is a picture from a film director's storyboard. A sound is described using imagery. A feeling is described as a scent. Ideas are personified and people are chemicals.

So think well when you are describing. Go over your story and take the time to find new ways to bring imagery to your reader. And keep it somewhere between "purple" and "dark and stormy."

Do you have a favorite metaphor or simile? Share it below!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Online Contests

One of the hardest parts of the writing process for me is finally submitting to agents. This entails crafting the dreaded query letter and subjecting oneself to the agony of rejection and waiting. For some lucky ones, query misery lasts a few days or months. For others, i's a much longer process, at least if the writer is pursuing traditional publishing, which I am.

One wonderful alternative to querying are online contests. Mind you, they won't let you off the hook of writing a query letter. In fact, in most of them, a query is essential. In most contests, the point is to submit a killer query or pitch or first page, or all three of them.

I've been on Twitter for a while, and every few months, I heard calls for #PitchMadness, #Pitchmass, #QueryKombat, and The Writer's Voice, among others. Every time I saw them, I vowed to inform myself a little better for the next time I had the chance to enter.

Well, I found out The Writer's Voice had a entry date on late April, and I put it on my calendar with various reminders. I entered. I have to say, I didn't escape the agony I had experienced with querying because, you see? There were almost two hundred entries for this contest, and only 32 spots for the agent round. Four coaches would pick their team of eight writers who had submitted their query and first page.

To my utter surprise, I made it into the rafflecopter pre-selection that trimmed the entries down to one-hundred and fifty. The day the coaches were announcing their teams--by commenting on the entrants' blogs--I was a nervous wreck. That night at nine, I had prepared myself not to make it to the next round. To my surprise, I made it! Elizabeth Briggs and Krista Van Dolzer chose me to be part of #TeamRockstar. They helped me hone my query and first page, and on the day of the contest, I ended up with three full manuscript requests. More importantly, I met a lot of wonderful people, from my team and the other teams, who cheered me on and inspired me with their own stories.

Right now, #QueryKombat is taking place, and honestly, even if I don't make it to the next round, I've already learned so much from the querying process! I have a better query right now and I'm more confident with my first chapter. And again, I found a wonderful community online that makes me feel less alone during this difficult times of waiting and waiting and more waiting.

Brenda Drake hosts several contests every year. I also participated of The Writer's Digest Middle Grade First Chapter Contest and #YAHugs, of which I also was a finalist. The common denominator in all of these contests has been the support of fellow writers and agents.

Here's the link to a success story from a contest. I invite you to jump into Twitter and take part of the opportunity these contests offer. For some, I've had to tweet my pitch in no more than 140 characters. And guess what? After much trying and experimenting, I was able to, and I also secured a full request this way.

If you are on Twitter, look me up. My handle is @YamileSMendez and I tweet about books (of course), diversity in books, and now with the upcoming World Cup, I'll be tweeting a lot about soccer. Now it's your turn: tell me, have had any experience with online contests? Share it with us!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Mobile Author, Part Four: Planning Your Story

Even pantsers need to do some planning. Today I'm going to tell you about some apps that can help the mobile author plan a story.


There are many ways to plan a story. My favorite is to make notes that summarize key events in the story. The note apps I described in last week's article are perfect for that. But there are some other useful tools that you might find helpful, depending on your work style.


Many writers like to start with a detailed outline. I'm not one of them, but for this article, I looked for a good outlining app. Outliner seems to be almost perfect for you Android-using planners. It enables you to make a detailed outline, and even create a task list based on the outline. If you're an outliner, you might try this app. I also see several outlining apps in the Apple App Store for a variety of prices. Let us know if one of these works for you.


I admit it, I like mindmaps. I've used them to organize projects for my day job. I've also used them to help me spawn ideas by creating word associations and following character traits through a map. If you want ideas for using mindmaps to create a novel, you might start with this article.

 A character mindmap in SimpleMind Free

There are several mindmapping tools you can try, but the one I've used on my tablet is called SimpleMind for Android. SimpleMind is also free in the Apple App Store, so iOS mindmappers rejoice.

SimpleMind is easy to use, even on a small screen. It's easy to create nodes and move them around, and the mind maps are simple but attractive. I haven't tried syncing a map or saving to Dropbox. You're more likely to want to use this on your tablet than your phone because the bigger screen is nice, so syncing between devices might not matter much unless you have more than one tablet.


The whiteboard is a perfect tool for story building. What can be better than a blank slate and colorful pens? You can free-associate thoughts and words, make mind maps, do whatever. When you have a blank white board, you have no limits.

I've been playing with a whiteboard app called SyncSpace Shared Whiteboard (Android and iOS). In addition to being a cool whiteboard with the features you'd expect and infinite zoom in an out, you can share your board across devices, including over the web, for collaborating. It's free for Android. The iPad version will set you back $9.99, but you get significant additional features.

There are tons of whiteboard apps for both Android and iOS. This is another app category where the best thing to do is try a few and decide what works for you. Go to your app store and search for "whiteboard." If you find a favorite, let us know.

Bulletin Board

I mentioned Trello in the previous article in this series. Trello is essentially a bulletin board that you use to pin and organize cards. Like a real index card, a card has two sides that can contain anything you want it to, and you can organize your cards in a list, which is basically a bunch of cards pinned together in a column.

Think of the possibilities. You could have a card for each character and include whatever information you want, including a picture. Then, keep all of your character cards in the character list. Or, you could write a summary of each scene on its own card, then organize the scenes in order or into chapters. You could easily rearrange scenes, add new ones, or discard them into a discard list.

Because Trello is a Cloud application, all you have to do is set up an account and install the app, and your cards are available wherever you are, on any device.


Back in December, I wrote a detailed review of the Cardboard index card app and how it can be used for storyboarding. I'm happy to say this app has gotten even better since then, with better terminology and some interface changes. Best of all, the plug-in that included card styles for writers is no longer needed because those cards have been added to the main app. There are cards to help with common story elements, plot in traditional acts, or follow the journey of the hero.

If you like storyboarding with index cards, or if you like the storyboarding feature in programs like Scrivener, Cardboard could become one of your go-to apps in your mobile office.

Next Step

Next week, I'll get down to the nitty-gritty with some suggestions for using your tablet to actually write your story. I'll discuss some full office suites, some minimalist text editors, and some ways to use the features of your mobile office to keep you focused on meeting your writing goals.

The Mobile Author, Part Five: Writing
The Mobile Author, Part Six: Submissions
The Mobile Author, Part Seven: Managing Your Writing Life

Saturday, May 24, 2014

WIFYR special guests

I don’t know how she does it, but Carol Lynch Williams seems to always pull in some big names to the WIFYR conference and this year is no different.

Thursday’s keynote speaker will be The Maze Runner author, James Dashner. The trilogy includes The Scorch Trials and The Death Cure and the movie hits the theaters in September. The Maze Runner is what he is most notable for, but Dashner has also written The 13th Reality series, the Jimmy Fincher series and two books in the Mortality Doctrine series.

The book I’m reading now is book one of The Infinity Ring, A Mutiny in Time. As a WIP is a time travel book, I wanted another perspective on the genre and Dashner starts with an interesting premise. Modern society is dystopic, and Christopher Columbus did not discover America. Dashner’s characters must travel back in time to repair breaks in history, such as the one in which the mutineers on the Santa Maria prevented his famous discovery. Similar to the 39 Clues series, each the book is written by a different author, including Utah’s own Jennifer Nielsen and Matt Kirby (a current and former WIFYR instructor respectfully). Scholastic Books has picked it up and has online games that go with it. Talk about use of social media.

Attendees at WIFYR will have greater access to the publisher guests. Editor Kristin Ostby will be there from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. Agent John Cusick returns and he represents Greenhouse Literary Agency. The other agents are Michelle Witte from Mansion Street Literary Management and Amy Jameson of A+B Works.

The once thing about this conference is that these agents and editors respect the time and energy writers put into writing and their commitment to the craft. Utah has been noticed by the publishing world and they come to WIFYR seeking that talent.

James Dashner’s keynote is Thursday afternoon, June 19. Conference attendees, of course, get in. Others may come for free, however they must have a ticket, a copy of which just happens to be below and above. Print it out and present it for admission. Print out several and bring your writer friends, too.

(This article also posted at

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Mobile Author, Part Three: Managing Your Project

Once your work space is organized, you'll want to organize your work life and your projects.

It helps to think of a writing project as a job. Not the boring 9 to 5 kind, but rather a totally awesome job with the hours that work best for me. And, being a mobile author means I can write wherever I want to. I can write in an office or den if I want to, and that's often the best place to do it. But, if I want to, I can also go to a cafe or coffee shop, or I can work from a hotel room, or on the plane, or a train. I'm mobile; I can do what I want.

A calendar, a notebook, and a task manager should give you everything you need to stay on track.

Wunderlist task manager app


If you treat writing as a job, you'll want at least the basic organization tools. A good calendar is a must.

There are many calendar apps, many of them free. You might be happy with the one that came on your phone or tablet, or you might want to experiment a little with other apps until you find one you like better. As always, check reviews and feature lists to make sure the calendar you choose is going to work for you.You'll want to make sure your calendar can sync with the calendar for your day job, if you have one. You'll also want it to sync with your personal calendar, like a Google calendar or iCal.

Use your calendar to schedule deadlines, even if those deadlines are no more than personal goals. You can also use it to remind you of local writing events, conferences, signings, and presentations. If you are in a writing group, you might use your calendar to keep track of your group meetings, with reminders to prepare your chapter for critiquing. A shared calendar, like a Google calendar, used by all members of your group, is perfect.


You're also going to want a good notebook. My definition of a good notebook is one that you like to use so much that you actually do.

For me, that means having the ability to keep multiple notebooks so I can place certain types of notes in the right notebook. It also means being able to search the notes so I can find what I want. Finally, I prefer a notebook that syncs across devices without me having to remember to copy my notes. Or having to remember to do anything at all, really.

I find it useful to keep two kinds of notebooks, a fancy robust one for serious note keeping and a lighter notebook for quick notes. Kind of like a composition book and a stack of stickies.

One of the most popular apps in all of appdom is Evernote. Evernote is one of those rare apps that has the ability to be almost everything for almost everybody. You can store ideas and notes, write a whole scene, store photos, record voice notes, draw diagrams--you name it, you can do it in Evernote. Evernote lets you create your own organization style, with notebooks for each project, for your ideas, or whatever you need your organizational style to be to actually stick with it. And of course, everything you put into Evernote is automatically available everywhere you have the app, as well as on the computer in your home office. You can put an icon or widget on your device for easy access. And it's available for Android, iOS, Windows, and Mac. And it's free, although you can also pay for additional features and more storage space. You want this app.

If you have a recent version of  Microsoft Office, you likely have Microsoft OneNote, which is very similar to Evernote. I use both, although I tend to use OneNote more for my day job. If you have it, use it. It works well, and has a handy app for most major devices.

There are many other note apps, so if you want to try another one, check out your app store. You might want something that looks more like a paper notepad, for example. Many notebook apps let you save to Dropbox or Google Drive so your notes are available wherever you need them.

In addition to a robust notebook, I like having a second app for quick notes. Although you can use Evernote or OneNote, I find it convenient to use a smaller notebook. The iPad and iPhone come with a good note pad, but Android somehow neglected to add one. The recently released Google Keep fills that hole. I use Keep for short reminders, pictures, or short voice notes. Notes are stored on Google Drive, and are synced with any device where I've installed the app. It can't compare to Evernote or OneNote for sheer awesomeness, but it's a good part of my mobile writing toolkit, and it's a perfect app for that smart phone you always have with you.

Just remember the number one requirement that I mentioned above: a good notebook is one you like to use so much that you actually use it.

Task Manager

The third app you'll want is a good task manager. You could use your notes app for tracking tasks. Evernote and Google Keep are both good for checklists of tasks.

The best task managers, though, give you more than a checklist. The ideal task manager lets you create and track subtasks, the many little tasks that need to be done to complete a larger task. It also syncs with your calendar. Of course, it goes without saying that you can access your lists from anywhere and from any device. And, it's a joy to use, so you'll use it.

Two of the most popular task managers that meet my criteria, both available for Android and iOS, are Wunderlist and Any.Do. Both are free.There are many others, so find the one that does what you need.

For a task manager that goes beyond to-do-lists, especially if you are visually oriented, you might try Trello, which I've recently discovered. Think of it as a bulletin board (or as many bulletin boards as you need) where you can pin cards for each task or group of tasks, and move the cards around as you work on them. For example, if a card is in your to-do stack, you can move it to your Doing stack while working on it, and when you finish that task, you can move the card to your Done stack. If you are collaborating with another author or an illustrator, or want to review your plans with your writing group, Trello includes collaboration features that let you share and work on your boards with others. Trello works on pretty much anything, either through the mobile app or a web browser. You'll see this app mentioned more than once in this series.

By the way, your smart phone is a great place to keep your task manager. Most task managers don't require a large screen, and you probably have your phone with you all the time.

Next Step

Now that your portable office is ready and you're set up to manage your projects, you can start to plan your story. Come back next week to find out how to use your mobile device as a convenient story planning tool.

The Mobile Author, Part Four: Planning Your Story
The Mobile Author, Part Five: Writing
The Mobile Author, Part Six: Submissions
The Mobile Author, Part Seven: Managing Your Writing Life

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


I used to think I had to wait for big bursts of “inspiration” in order to write. But I found that my most productive writing spurts were when I was bored. I had nothing else to distract my thoughts and so they went to writing and my invented world made up for my boring reality.

Unfortunately, adult life generally leaves little space for boredom. It didn’t take me long to realize that if I waited around for “inspiration” while running around my busy life, then I was never going to get any writing done.

Luckily, I figured out what had been true all along: “inspiration” came when I gave myself time to focus on my story. If I can make myself sit down and just write gosh-darn-it and give myself enough time to really get into that flow state—then the “inspiration” came. I can make my “inspiration” happen if I want it to.

It takes discipline. I don’t have any kids yet so I probably don’t know the half of it, but when I set a New Year’s resolution to wake up early and write every morning, I did not realize how hard that would be most mornings. To say I’m not a morning person would be something of an understatement. But I finally caved because it’s so wonderful to write at a time of day when there’s nothing to distract you. Except for maybe your lovely bed.

I am far from keeping my New Year’s resolution perfectly. But I’ve learned that the key is to remember that I can always start over. No need to give up because you’ve failed to keep your goal for a day or two, or even much longer (guilty). We can always start again today getting those juices flowing, getting that stuff to come out of you! Because we all know how great it feels when you really get into it and the time is just passing and you don’t even know it and all of a sudden you’re late for work (also guilty). But it’s so worth it!

So here’s to lots of “inspiration” in our future—the kind that we make happen every day.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Join Us on BlogTalkRadio's World of Ink Network show Stories for Children

The Stories for Children show is on Mondays and hosted by Mom's Choice and Award-winning Author Virginia S Grenier, who is joined weekly by guest authors to talk about writing for children and/or their favorite children's/YA books. Grenier, with her guests, hope to not only share their love of the written word, but also what makes a good book for young readers and much more.

This week on Monday May 19, 2014 at 3pm Pacific - 4pm Mountain - 5pm Central - 6pm Eastern, Grenier will be joined by two members of the Utah Children's Writers blog team.

Our guests are: 
Scott Rhoades has enjoyed writing since he was about five years old, when he used to make his own books by tracing pictures and making up stories to go with them. He especially enjoys writing stories set in the Middle Ages. He was a technical writer for Novell, Inc. from 1992 to 2007, after starting his career at Atari in 1988. He currently runs his own company, Write Field Documentation Services, LLC. He is also on the Board of Directors of The Tiferet Center, a center for Jewish education, ritual, and community service based in Vermont. Learn more at

Julie Daines spent eighteen months in London where she studied and fell in love with English Literature, Sticky Toffee Pudding, and the fellow who ran the kebab store around the corner. After editing for other authors, she decided to take up writing again--this time in the young adult genre. Learn more at

Writers are invited to call-in during the show at (714) 242-5259 or join us in our chatroom located on the show page (!

Learn more about our shows and network at our website
Find great books and articles on our blog or follow us on our Facebook Fanpage

You can also catch the show through Facebook, Twitter, itunes and many more!

Listen in Monday May 19th at 4pm Mountain at

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Social media update

Okay. I’ve been on Facebook for a week now and can’t say much has happened. 

It could be my fault. I haven’t added much since setting it up. Posting writerly things would be a start.

I did have contact from several long lost friends. I clicked on some of them to see what they’re doing with their lives. I’ve learned FB can be a big time-suck.

Scott Rhoades commented and said social media is trending toward generating more discussion than blogs. He says that people wanting to know more about you as an author are more likely to seek you out on Facebook.

One author that effectively uses social media is John Green. I recently heard about this guy on the WIFYR blog. Becca Birkin was talking about an author who knows how to “speak teenager.” I have consumed several of his books hoping to develop an ear for that jargon.

John Green is an outstanding author which probably pushes his “likes” up to 1.3 million. (Beats my 31). His The Fault In Our Stars is coming out as a movie this summer. Besides his talent, what also is impressive about him is his use of social media. For TFIOS as well as Looking for Alaska, he uses this technology to answer readers’ questions about things in the books. He has a FB page, Tumblr and Twitter accounts, his own website, and a YouTube video channel he created with his brother.

So, what is a poor unpublished writer to do? I guess go out and write a book that people would want to inquire about. Write like John Green. And quit frittering away valuable writing time on Facebook.

And… WIFYR is still accepting writers wanting to lift their craft. Go to

(This article also posted at

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Great Critique

Giving and receiving critiques on your writing is one of the most helpful and necessary parts of the process. I value my critique group beyond any other writing tools I have. They let me know what works and what doesn't, when something I thought was crystal clear is not, and when my characters are acting out of character. They offer encouragement and cheerleading.

Not only has constant critique made me a better writer, it has made me a more professional writer. When I receive notes from agents, editors, and other professionals, I am able to receive the notes with a professional calmness. I don't get defensive. I get revising.

I hope everyone who writes is able to find a group or a few trusted beta readers who can offer valuable critique, but I know that there are quite a few writers in our SCBWI region (Utah and southern Idaho) who may not even know any other writers in their community. Or perhaps they don't know how to get a group started. Or have never critiqued anyone else's work and feel inadequate.

That is why we started a region-wide event called The Great Critique. We give you the opportunity to meet with other children's writers in your area and critique away. On one day, August 9, we all meet throughout the region, helping each other become better writers (and illustrators--they get to participate as well!). During the summer, you'll receive excerpts from manuscripts by the others registered in your area. You'll read them, prepare comments, and then meet in August for live critiquing. And if you don't have a meeting close by, we offer an online location as well. This event is FREE, and we hope you take advantage of it.

In addition, if you wish to have a critique from a publishing house editor or an agent, you can register for that through our web site. And for an extra bonus, you can get a professional query critique.

You'll find all the details on our registration page. So there are no excuses. Sign up NOW. Registration is open until June 15.

by Neysa CM Jensen
your regional advisor for SCBWI
(I live in Boise, Idaho, but don't hold that against me.)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Mobile Author, Part Two: Getting Organized

The Mobile Author, Part One: The Portable Office

Today, I'm going to cover some mobile apps you can use to manage your mobile workspace.

Organizing Your Workspace

A phone, tablet, or computer quickly becomes a disorganized pile of apps and files. You'll want to make it easier to find your things. It's the difference between having an organized workbench in your garage with all your tools sorted and safely stowed away and having your hammers and screwdrivers scattered throughout your house, stuffed into kitchen junk drawers, or hiding with the dust bunnies under the bed. I know that last "organization" method all too well.

When setting up your mobile writing space, the goal should be to have everything--writing programs, manuscripts, notes, schedules, files, and contacts--as readily available as they would be if you were sitting at your desk. Because you're packing everything into a smaller space, you might even discover that you can be more efficient with a tablet than you can be with all your stuff stacked in piles in and around your desk.

If your device provides multiple pages, take advantage of them. Keep all the icons for your most frequently used writing apps on one page so you don't have to search for them. If your device supports folders, use them to further organize your stuff. If folder support isn't built-in, there's an app for that.

Create shortcuts to your favorite websites (like, ahem, this blog) and keep them handy. Use an app like Pocket to store info you find on the Web so it's handy, even when you are not connected.

Apps that you want to access quickly, like your camera and your note-taking app, should never be more than a tap or two away. If you have to search for anything you need in your mobile office, you could probably organize your workspace better.

Your organization scheme should be a natural extension of the way you work, and will differ from person to person, but the key to a successful mobile office is keeping everything you need within easy reach. You should never have to look for anything.  It's just there.

Your Filing Cabinet

Of course, you'll want to have your files wherever you go. You can carry a flash drive or external hard disk (with an OTG cable, if you use a tablet) with you, but the cloud is perfect for storing essential files. If you use Google Drive, Dropbox, or a similar service, your files are available anywhere without requiring you to carry more stuff with you. 

If you have a file on one device but not the others, you can use a Bluetooth program, such as the aptly named Bluetooth File Transfer app, to copy the file between devices.

An app like Android's AirDroid is essential if you want to manage your mobile devices from your computer, including moving files around, without even plugging in a cable from the device to the computer. I don't know if there's a similar app on iOS devices, but if you use Android, this one is a must.

Manage your mobile device wirelessly with AirDroid

And, if you really want to get fancy, you can use a remote access app, such as PocketCloud (Android or iOS), to actually access your Windows or Mac computer from your mobile device. With one of these apps, your tablet or phone becomes a sort of remote control for your "real" computer. You can run programs on your computer and edit that file you forgot about, then transfer it to your Dropbox so it's available wherever you are.  You could even remotely access your computer, find the file you need, and use AirDroid to transfer the file directly to your tablet. These kinds of programs tend to run slower than using the computer itself, and feel a little glitchy, but they're great when needed--as long as your computer is turned on, even if you're not home. If you're computer is off or asleep, you can't access it.

The recently released Google Remote Desktop also lets you access your computer from your mobile devices (Android and iOS). It's similar to PocketCloud, but feels a little less laggy. There are some things I can do on PocketCloud that I haven't figured out yet on Remote Desktop, like keyboard combinations, and the way you move the cursor around is odd for a touch screen app, but it looks promising. Unlike PocketCloud, with Remote Desktop you can use your tablet and your computer at the same time, if you ever need to. Whatever you do on your remote desktop also shows up on your computer's screen.

Next Step

Now that your portable office is ready and organized, you'll want to organize your work. Come back next week to find out how to use your mobile device to track your time and your tasks, and to keep your project notes handy.

The Mobile Author, Part Three: Managing Your Project
The Mobile Author, Part Four: Planning Your Story
The Mobile Author, Part Five: Writing
The Mobile Author, Part Six: Submissions
The Mobile Author, Part Seven: Managing Your Writing Life

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Author Interview with Mom's Choice Award-winning author Camille Matthews

Tell us a little about you: I live in Reading PA along with the real Quincy. I am a clinical social worker and equine assisted growth and learning specialist. The real Quincy, who inspired the Quincy the Horse books when he was 7 is now 24 years old. He is an American quarter horse who was a trail riding horse for many years and is a mainstay of my equine therapy program.

Tell us about your book: It is called Quincy and Buck. It is the third book in the Quincy the Horse series. In this book I tackle the problems of overcoming fear and dealing with a bully. Quincy dreams of trail riding in the desert near his home but he is afraid of meeting wild animals out on the trail. His friend, Beau, an old horse who has done everything, explains to him that he will never become brave if he stays home, so he goes on his first trail ride. He hopes to find a trail buddy who will guide him but the horse he chooses turns out to be a bully. Over the course of the ride, he discovers that he is more confident than he imagined and that Buck is afraid underneath his façade of strength. The story of the day’s ride along with the illustrations takes kids into the desert of the Southwest which has breathtaking scenery. 

How did you find your publisher? I decided to self-publish the Quincy the Horse series. I did this initially because I wanted to have control over the entire project including the illustrations which were a very important part of the vision that I had for the books.
What do you like about them?  What I have liked about self-publishing is the chance to have so much input into the creation of each book. The illustrator Michelle Black was actually the one who encouraged me to do it and we have had a close collaboration on all the aspects of the process.

Do you have any advice for writers looking to get their first works published? Since I have not worked with a traditional publisher, I cannot compare. Self-publishing requires a huge commitment of energy. Over the 6 years that I have been doing this I have seen a huge change in how small independent publishers are accepted and there are many more resources for reviews and coop marketing.  However the vertical integration of publishing, sales and distribution makes it very hard for the independent on the business side of the equation.

What is your favorite type of book to read and why? I love British mysteries. I suppose I love the puzzle and suspense but it is also fun when there are ongoing characters to follow. I recently reread the entire series of mysteries written by PD James.

When did you first start writing? I have always loved writing and keeping a journal but writing a set of children’s books is an entirely new venture which I started about 6 years ago

What inspired you to start writing? The year before I wrote the first of the Quincy Books I participated in a training to learn how to do Equine Assisted Psychotherapy. EAP works because the client observes, interacts and empathizes with the horse/s. In the midst of the training program I had the idea of creating a series of books for children about Quincy’s adventures because the things he experienced were things that children also face. I thought they would be able to identify with Quincy and therefore learn more about the world of relationships and their own feelings and problems.

Have you ever gotten writers block or gotten stuck while writing?  Yes.

Do you have any tips for overcoming this? I try not to force it but just get involved in other activities until I reconnect with my writing voice. One activity that helps is cleaning the stalls in my barn. If it works and I reconnect, I try to sit and write things down asap.

How did you come up with the title and the story idea of your book? The events recounted in Quincy and Buck really happened and I always thought about using them for one Quincy’s adventures. Originally I was focused on the problem of Quincy’s fears and doubts which is a theme throughout the series. In the midst of writing the story I saw more ways to highlight Buck as a character and explore the theme of bullying and the fact that bullies are afraid underneath their façade of strength. I thought the title would illustrate that the book was about their relationship rather than just a story about Quincy.

What was your favorite part to write and why? I loved writing about the desert and the beginning of the trail ride. I am really happy with the way the description of Quincy’s actual experience of walking in the sand wash and his tripping on the rocks brings the trail ride alive for the reader. It also puts me back there and brings back happy memories as that was one of my favorite trails in New Mexico.

Describe your favorite writing spot. I had a study in my home in New Mexico with a picture window that looked out into the yard and the pasture where the horses were. I had my computer and also an old photo printer. As Michelle Black would send me photos of the paintings, I would print them out and then cut and tape them together with the printed text to make a mock up of the finished book.

What made you decide to write young/middle grade/YA readers? Having illustrations that were beautiful paintings of the horses was a crucial part of my vision for the series so that led to children’s picture books rather than chapter books.

Are you a re-reader or do you normally just read a book one time through? My old favorites are definitely re-read.

Besides writing, what are some of your other hobbies? I love to garden and have spent the last few years building an extensive organic garden and chicken keeping area on my farm. I also love photography.

Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers? Write about what you know and love and write down everything.

What would be one thing you would be lost without? My animals and the joy and structure of my daily life with them.

Describe your idea of 'the best day ever: It would  be a fall day with cooler temps and I would harvest vegetables in the morning, do some cooking and then ride. I would have everything on my to do list caught up of course.

Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers and fans? I hope they enjoy Quincy and Buck. It may be my favorite Quincy book and I am excited to share it. I also hope that parents find that this book is a good way to start a conversation about fears, bullies and problems and a chance to reinforce that asking for help is always ok.

Where can readers find out more about you and your books? Our website is and my blog is I can be reached directly through the contact form on our website if anyone has specific questions or requests. We also have a great Facebook community at Quincy’s previous adventures are Quincy Finds A New Home and Quincy Moves to the Desert.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Social media for authors: Facebook

I’ve been working with Elissa Cruz, our local SCBWI chapter Assistant Regional Advisor, looking ahead to a potluck social this summer. (It is Friday, July 18 at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City, by the way.) As it is a “social,” we were thinking social media and how it impacts writers would be the theme for the evening.

Publishers are more interested in taking on authors who have a strong social media platform with which to help promote their books. It stands to reason that establishing an online presence is something writers would want to do. But how does one go about that?

In the next few weeks, this very question will be examined. Being woefully deficient in this phenomenon, others better qualified to lead such a discussion will be referenced. Of course, your comments and suggestions on the matter are appreciated.

Various internet articles discuss the specific social media sites best to use and the general consensus seems to be Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Goodreads, Google+, and Linkedin. Facebook is the granddaddy of them all and it would be prudent to ride along its coattails. I was surprised Goodreads came up on several sites as I subscribe to it just for the reading suggestions it makes. One site declares Goodreads and Facebook as mandatory in the writer’s social media inventory. 

Let’s start with Facebook. I’ve had an account for a while but rarely went there. Then people kept telling me my brother is a funny guy on FB. I started checking out his page and yes, he is. Who new? Now I’m lurking there more frequently, occasionally “liking” something or leaving a comment. 

So, what am I supposed to do now, start spouting writerly things on Facebook? Probably only my family would notice and they wouldn’t care. 

Nathan Bransford, whose blog I follow, has posted twice on the subject. He says it is possible to have multiple pages on FB so you can keep your personal connections separate from your author pages. One of his posts, Facebook for Authors - How to get Started was written in  2011, but is relevant today. Bransford suggests authors create two pages, one an author fan page to create now and a book page once you have a cover for it. Admittedly, the fan page is presumptuous if one isn’t a celebrity. But, he says, you should create a fan page now even if you aren’t yet a publish author.

Want to set up a fan page? You can follow his link and he gives directions on how to do that. I just created one and it was fairly simple. Scott Rhoades created one for this Utah Children’s Writes blog. You can access it here:

I still have few things I’m not sure about. Bransford says  if you want to “promote your book stuff,” you should turn on subscriptions, thus allowing people to subscribe to your public posts. Do I want to do that? Not sure. I tried to edit settings and got stymied by the instructions. Nathan Bransford’s post also has more information on optimizing your page with Like Buttons, something I need to look into.

Nonetheless, I now have an online writing presence. My page is here: If more of us create fan pages then share, we could “like” and help build each others’ platforms. 

Happy social media platform building.

And: WIFYR is still accepting writers wanting to improve their craft.

(This article also posted at

Friday, May 9, 2014

Another Take on Diversity in Kid Lit

Recently our blogger Yamile wrote about including diversity in our books for children. One of her great points was to make the character of ethnicity the hero or heroine rather than the sidekick.

I'd like to continue with that topic as I am currently working on a picture book to help young children understand how to approach people with physical disabilities.

There aren't a lot of books that include differently abled leads, but (UCW's own) Julie Daines' book, "Unraveled" offers young readers a heroine whose legs are crippled. Daines said that she wanted to provide a love story without the perfect princess-type heroine.

Frankly, I'm surprised there aren't more heroes and heroines with such issues. Not only does it increase understanding of diversity in readership, but in the most clinical of writing terms, it can be very useful to the drama of the story as it adds another layer of difficulty with which the character must contend.

Another tough, but useful, subject is long-term illness in children.

Lupus is a topic dear to my heart (in the interest of full disclosure, I am the board chair of the Lupus Foundation of America, Utah Chapter). And I get to interact with some of our youth who are dealing with this disease. They are bright, enthusiastic, and overburdened--trying to balance the regular social interactions and school with fatigue and other health-related complications.

Lupus causes flares and remissions of widely variable time frames--sometimes within the same day. This is difficult for a lot of adults to understand. But kids are often labeled by their peers as "fakers"; symptoms ebb and wane, affecting different parts of the body at different times, and fatigue is always lurking in the background.

So, while I add a rousing cheer to Yamile's great post and remind you, our UCW blog readers, to consider diversity of all kinds in your lead characters, allow me one latitude (I promise to only take the blog sideways ONCE this year):

Tomorrow is the Walk to End Lupus Now in Salt Lake City's Liberty Park.
I invite you to join us. Walk. People watch. And see some really heroic characters.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Mobile Author, Part One: The Portable Office

Summer is almost here. It's always a challenge for a writer to find time to work on that latest project, but it's especially difficult in the summer. At this time of year, we tend to spend a lot less time indoors, tied to our desks.

Fortunately, over the last couple years, it has become increasingly easy to take your work on the road. I'll  leave it to you to decide whether that's a good thing, but it's certainly useful when you're up against a deadline or in the middle of a project to have your work available if you have some time to work on it or if an idea strikes you while you're sitting in a cafe in Paris. Or a McDonald's in Cedar City.

Over the next few Wednesdays, I'm going to give you suggestions for setting up a mobile writing office that can go everywhere with you. You might find many of these ideas useful for more than just your writing life, but because this is a blog for writers, I'm going to focus on writing.

I'm going to show you how to set up a mobile office, then I'll lead through using that office for the key phases of a writing project: planning, writing and revising, sharing and critiquing, and submitting. I'll provide brief overviews of useful apps and websites that will help you through each of those phases. Because my own portable office uses Android and Windows, there will be a slant toward those operating systems; however, if you use Mac and iOS, don't worry, I won't forget you. I promise.

I hope you find my suggestions useful. If you have questions, or have suggestions of your own, we love comments.

So, let's get started.

Setting Up Your Mobile Office: Your Portable Desk

The first thing you need if you're going to work away from your home office is something to work on. Until about five or six years ago, that meant a laptop, unless you wanted to carry your computer system on the road. The advent of tablets and smart phones provided more options, but until fairly recently, their usefulness for writing was pretty limited.

In the last year or two, the capabilities of those mobile devices have exploded. The devices themselves have increased tremendously in power, and the number of useful apps continues to grow.

When it comes to spending long blocks of time writing, nothing serves the mobile author better than a trusty old (or new) laptop. The keyboard is usually more comfortable and accurate than those little phone and tablet keyboards, and the larger screen is easier on the eyes. A laptop also lets you open more than one screen at a time, so you can have your notes and your writing program open next to each other.

If you're on the move, it's not always easy to carry a laptop everywhere you go. Even if you usually have a backpack with you, a laptop gets heavy and takes up a lot of space. A tablet is much more convenient. It's much lighter and can easily fit in a small backpack pocket or a purse. This series of articles will concentrate on tablets, under the assumption that you already have what you need on your computer.

But let's not forget the smart phone. Although the small size makes it less-than-ideal for serious writing for long periods, the size is an advantage for other writing tasks, such as making notes or taking pictures. If you are out somewhere and suddenly have an idea, you probably have your phone with you so you can jot your thoughts before they slip away. Or, if you see something that gives you an idea or would work well in your story, you can snap a quick picture.

Other Useful Gadgets

If you're going to do much writing on your tablet or even, if necessary, your phone, you'll want to invest in a Bluetooth keyboard. You can find a keyboard designed specifically for your tablet, one that comes in a case for your tablet that essentially turns it into a mini laptop. In theory, any Bluetooth keyboard should work with any Bluetooth-enabled device, but you'll want to scan reviews carefully before making a purchase in case others with your device had trouble with a specific keyboard. You might also want to check out keyboards in an actual store (remember those?) to make sure the one you pick is going to be comfortable for you to type on for a couple hours at a time. There are many types of keyboards with different styles of keys, and chances are good you won't like some of them.

Less necessary but definitely useful is a Bluetooth mouse. You can do without it, but chances are you'll eventually wish you had one.

You can also get an inexpensive little OTG (On-The-Go) cable that plugs into your tablet where you usually plug in your power charger and lets you connect any USB device, like a mouse of flash drive or external hard drive. If you get one of these handy little cables, just make sure you get the right connector for your device. A microUSB connector works for many tablets, for example, but won't work for an iPad, so if you have an iPad make sure you get an iPad-compatible cable.

For me, the ideal mobile office includes a laptop, a tablet, and a phone. Each is useful for different things.Although I don't think it's the perfect situation, having just one of these gadgets is enough to keep you writing when you're away.  I use the laptop in a hotel room, and a tablet if I'm away from a desk. Add a keyboard and mouse, and you can do just about anything on the road you would do at home.

Next Step

Come back next week and we'll discuss using your mobile device to organize your office.

The Mobile Author, Part Two: Getting Organized
The Mobile Author, Part Three: Managing Your Project
The Mobile Author, Part Four: Planning Your Story
The Mobile Author, Part Five: Writing
The Mobile Author, Part Six: Submissions
The Mobile Author, Part Seven: Managing Your Writing Life

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Taking Control of Your Story

Planning and organizing a whole story in your head or on paper may seem like an unnecessary bother. Many new writers feel it is easier just to sit down and start writing with a few characters in mind, then let these paper people take the story where they will. Isn’t that a far more creative way of storytelling? No!

Without some forethought on the part of the author, plots tend to play naughty tricks. They can wander, wind up at dead ends and become vague and/or confusing. They can even fail in resolving the problems and conflicts they set.

There are many different types of story form and styles—but each may be described as consisting of the unified sequence of events having a beginning, middle and an ending. By creating a road map by outlining your plots, you maintain control over what happens in your story. You can use a lose outline or a very detailed outline. The main thing is to have a very good sense how the story should play out. For example, a typical magazine length for a middle-grade story is 1,200 words. Since we know an average typed page is 250 words per page, using double spacing, that means a manuscript can be no more than five pages long.
By visualizing that limited space, you will see the affect it has on your plot. You will see right away how the story needs to jump right into the action and quickly as possible identify the conflict/problem of your main character, etc.

Let’s briefly consider three elements common to storytelling.

Characters—It’s important to make your characters life-like. Whether they are human, animal or completely imagined, they are the lifeblood of your story. Main characters need to have more detail and a background/history. Note: When you create character for your own stories, remember that what a character thinks, feels, says and does is often more important than what they look like.

Setting—Denotes a story’s timeline and place. A setting may be merely a backdrop, such as a home, school, park, office building, spaceship, courtroom, etc. Another kind of setting is the action setting that either creates or is directly related to the story’s conflict, like the storm in “The Wizard of Oz.”

Theme—This is the point of the story. It’s important not to have your story be devoid of ethical or moral content (even in adult lit). By adding this element, you will have a more satisfying story and some degree of healthy growth or change in the main character(s)—about themselves, others, their world, and perhaps about the larger world beyond.

Children’s Authors: Young readers do not want to feel a moral is being taught while reading. The primary purpose of a story is to entertain…not point to an explicit moral. Let me say this again another way…stories entertain while hiding the moral being taught to the young readers.

It’s important to note a good story’s form will seem natural and organic to the reader. The opening paragraph leads logically into the second and then third; the middle, climax and resolution all seem part of the natural flow. Nothing feels added in as an afterthought or just there for the mere purpose of detail.

It’s also important to remember the main character(s) resolve the problem and must go through some type of effort—a crucial action or decision that constitutes the story’s climax before the problem is resolved. A common term you’ll hear is the “Rule of 3”. This means your main character must go through at least three challenges (each one bigger than the first) before resolving the problem/conflict. This helps build climax and keeps the pacing of the story engaging for readers.

Many factors may determine the climax and resolution of your story from a lucky chance to a surprising turn of events. No matter the problem (which can take form as an urgent conflict, puzzle, question or challenge) the plot structure is the strongest and most compelling when it generates suspense for the reader. Master this classical story style first and then you can apply its lesson to other kinds of stories.


VS Grenier is a Mom's Choice Silver and a 2011 League of Utah Writer's Silver Quail Award-winning author for her picture book "Babysitting Sugarpaw." In 2007 & 2008, Grenier was voted one of the Top Ten Editors in the Preditors and Editors Reader’s Poll, won 2nd place for her article on, “Yes, Virginia, There IS a Santa Claus" and 7th place for her article, “Dinosaur Tracks in My Backyard” in the Preditors and Editors Reader’s Poll for Best Nonfiction. Learn more at