Let’s Get Motivated – September #writemotivation week 3 (or is it 4?)

I may have lost some time from losing consciousness when coughing my brains out and then during the drug induced haze that followed, but I’m very much back in top form as we head toward the end of the month. I love it when a deadline approaches; it means it’s time to really get to work.

Here are my  #writemotivation goals:

1. Participate, post, push, and praise much better this month, especially where #writemotivation is concerned. I did a fair job with this goal. I visited my #writemovitation friends’ blogs and hopped on Twitter from time to time, but there’s room for improvement, for sure.
2. Revise, revise, revise! I worked revising on my middle grade novel this week and it is going very well. Some of the major changes I’ve had to make turned out great and actually increased the tension and added to the mystery element perfectly. I should have made those changes so much earlier.

Why are we so resistant to the changes that are the best for us? Hmmm.

For extra credit, I made some headway on critiquing my friend’s manuscript that I’ve put off forever. I hope to have that done by the end of the month, even though that wasn’t an official goal. It’s just way overdue.
3. Keep on freaking exercising. I actually picked this up again and did well this week. I’m feeling so much better as a result.

4. Read, read, read. I’m almost done with my second book for the week. Matt de la Peña’s Mexican WhiteBoy. It also fits into Banned Book mexwb_tp_cvrWeek as it was challenged by an Arizona school for its racial issues, which I find so ironic. This book is about struggling to find your way in the world when your biracial. I didn’t see it as racist in the least. It’s a very important book for a huge section of the population; kids who can identify with the main character and understand the struggle of straddling two worlds and know what it means to feel the guilt of striving for success, of trying for a better life while leaving your parents and relatives behind. It’s also about baseball. It’s a heavy book.

I had the pleasure of seeing Matt speak again this week here in Tulsa. One of the things I took away from this talk was how a single book can change a person’s life. He talked about how the right book at the right time can do that; change lives. For him, it was Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. A professor at college gave it to him because she thought he would get something out of it. He did. It was the first time he really connected with the characters of a story. He thought his life, his childhood, had been awful.  This story opened his eyes. This book changed his course and he became a writer.

Then, while he was in his MFA program, his dad was laid off from his job at the San Diego zoo, where he’d worked ever since dropping out of school when Matt was born. It was a devastating blow to his sense of identity and he was depressed for a long time. One day, when Matt was visiting, he asked what Matt was reading. It was One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. His dad asked him if he could read it. Matt had never seen his father read a book in his life, but he said of course. His dad read it and then asked for more books. Eventually, his dad started checking out his own books from the library, then secretly got his GED, went to college and is now a third grade teacher.

Wow. I love that story.

Books change lives. That’s why I’m a writer.

We’re taking a break from #writemotivation in October and will return in November, just in time for NaNoWriMo. I’ll probably have one more update for September. Meanwhile, some exciting things are coming up soon on the blog, so stay tuned!

Read Rebelliously! It’s Banned Book Week

Slideshow I was raised in a house where I was allowed to read whatever I wanted. When I ran out of books of my own, I perused my dad’s bookshelves and grabbed books from Vonnegut, Camus, and Updike to name a few. Nothing was off-limits and I’m so glad for that. I think one of the most patriotic things we can do in this country born of rebellion, born of independent thinkers who demanded to be heard and to be represented, is to always question things. Always quest for knowledge. Knowledge shouldn’t be denied because it isn’t pretty.

Catcher in the RyeThis year, to celebrate all of those lovely banned books that helped shape this rebellious country, I read The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger. My husband bought it for me a few weeks ago after I mentioned the number of authors I admired who have discussed this book or the main character, Holden Caulfield, in their own books. I also mentioned that I’d never read it, myself.

Although I didn’t fall immediately in love with this book, I grew to appreciate it.

In these days of three act plays and definitive story and character arcs, I really struggled with where this story was taking me. I did find Holden’s character nicely flawed. Still, it was a very unusual portrayal of a teen. At first I didn’t know whether or not to find his stream of conscious ramblings endearing or annoying. It felt like listening to a one-sided conversation with my daughter when she’s off her ADHD meds. Not pretty.

By the second half of the book, I let go of any expectations and went along for the ride. Holden’s later more pensive and philosophical questionings I found insightful and worth exploring – many of these things we all think about, especially at that age. At least I know I did. Though, maybe I was a weird kid, too.

One thing that never bothered me was the use of strong language or discussion of sex. These issues always stayed within the context of character and relevance of the issue being discussed. Granted, I’m not easily offended by such things to begin with.

I enjoyed the book overall, enough to read it again. I actually think I need to read it a few more times, just to see the story as a whole, and then once more for it’s great little moments of insanity.

What book will you read for Banned Book Week?

Need suggestions? Check out these sites for some ideas:

Banned Books Week

American Library Association Banned & Challenged Books

Online Computer Library Center

List of 100 Most Banned Books

A Hit Versus an Evergreen: A Look at a Fascinating Editorial Discussion


Every year at the SCBWI Summer Conference, there is an editors panel on Saturday morning where a group of editors are introduced and then questioned about a variety of subjects. This year, SCBWI did something new with the panel by giving the discussion a specific focus.

The discussion was entitled: What Makes an Evergreen, What Makes a Hit

What makes a book a timeless classic versus a momentary blockbuster? I found this discussion much more interesting, especially when the discussion turned toward the acquisitions process. Not what I had pictured at all.

Here were the editors involved:


Donna Bray, Co-Publisher of Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins


Claudia Gabel, Executive Editor at Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books


Allyn Johnston, Vice President and Publisher of Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

melissa manlove

Melissa Manlove, Editor at Chronicle Books


Andrea Davis Pinkney, Author and Vice President, Executive Editor at Scholastic

Namrata pic

Namrata Tripathi, Executive Editor at Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

Nice line up, right?

The fabulous Lin Oliver acted as moderator and asked the questions.

What qualities of a work make an evergreen versus a hit?Wonder

Donna Bray:  Evergreens are speaking to universal truths; hits are speaking to a moment in time.

Wonder (by R.J. Palacio) has both – perfectly timed and also has quality.

Melissa Mangrove: Books that continue to speak on the human experience. If I’m understanding the question, it’s a book with long backlist potential versus the big splash.

Hg--jacket-210Andrea David Pinkney: It’s the longevity. I’ll feel myself falling in love and I’ll ask myself if I’ll still feel this way years from now.

The Hunger Games (by Suzanne Collins) during a time of war banged us over the head in a good way. It landed at the right time to be a hit.

Allyn Johnston: Not wanting to buy just one project from the author. Books that continue to have lives is very gratifying.

Claudia Gabel: An evergreen can sometimes be about a close examination of a time period that changed the face of our world.book1

The Book Thief (by Markus Zusak) for example. Having Death as a character made it stand out. The plot around the importance of books is an evergreen point.

Namrata Tripathi:The only thing to add is qualitative. This whole discussion about time is interesting; you don’t really know until after publication. It’s so nebulous. It’s always surprising.

If acquiring a book, do you discuss whether it will earn out versus receive awards?

Andrea Davis Pinkney: More marketing driven? No.

I depend on the expertise of my colleagues. I do go in prepared for objections and speak to them. I fight for the books I want.

Donna Bray:  I don’t think it’s changed; I want the whole team behind me. Sometimes you bring a book in and people have reservations. This doesn’t mean you can’t bring the book in. It’s up to you to start it off on the right foot.

Namrata Tripathi: One of the things we all do; go in the day before acquisitions and line up our allies. (All laughed.)

Allyn Johnston: The great Sid Fleischman used to say, “Point to the problem; if there’s a weakness, make it a strength.”

Namrata Tripathi: It doesn’t even matter what the objection is. There’s so much chemistry involved. We have to carry how much we love the book to others. No matter how much I love my husband, I can’t convince Lin of this. You can’t define it; it’s touched you viscerally and now you have to convey this to others.

What manuscript spoke to you as an example of a good marriage between evergreen and hit?ATW_Caldecott

Allyn Johnston: A book by a new writer, Liz Garton Scanlon called All the World. It’s going to sound cliche, but it felt universal and timeless, with a strong emotional core.  She sent it to Marla Frazee and told her to drop what she was working on to do this first. It won a Caldecott Honor.

Also, a bedtime book about evolution called Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story (by Lisa Westberg Peters).


Namrata Tripathi: It has a lot to do with voice. Voice and character are related. When you’ve rendered a character so vividly that they stay with me. Though I’ve stepped away from a book, my mind hasn’t. When I’m obsessing about characters, I should probably get the book. She felt this way about Lulu and the Brontosaurus by Judith Viorst. It was funny, sassy and fresh. The character felt now and timeless.

Andrea Davis Pinkney: The thing I look for is the voice. There’s a reason the show The Voice is so popular.

Melissa Manlove: Marriage of voice and topic. When an author talked to me about the subnivian zone, I said I didn’t know what that was. It was quiet and I kind of loved it. (The book was Kate Messner’s Over & Under the Snow.)

Donna Bray: It’s like a physical pain. If I lost this book, I would be sad forever. clementine_cover

For her it was Clementine by Sara Pennypacker. It was the character and the voice. The author was firing on all cylinders. It went deeper than most chapter books. This must be what people reading Ramona must have felt the first time.

Claudia Gabel: Really deep, deep love.

When reading the second pass, you can’t wait to read it again. A manuscript that somehow surprises you.

What a great discussion. I think we could continue this over drinks during our next writer’s weekend, what do you think?

I’ll leave you with this nugget of wisdom from the amazing Allyn Johnston that she just dropped in the middle of the conversation like it was nothing. I swear, she makes me want to learn how to write picture books just so I could work with her.

It’s the rhythm that’s missing in the picture books that don’t work – not the rhyme, the rhythm.

CAUTION: Creativity here has been briefly interrupted by INFECTIONS!!!

After a miserable weekend filled with coughing and sneezing and ever growing piles of used Kleenex threatening to bury us alive, three out of the four family members were dragged to their respective doctors to put an end to their misery.


Once all were diagnosed, each with a different infection – ear, upper respiratory, and sinus – we took nine, count them, NINE prescriptions, to the pharmacy, filled them, then returned home, crawled back into our jammies and hoped an end to our suffering was soon to be in our future.


While we’re all waiting for an end to the miserable stuffiness of our state of being, all creativity has been put on hold. Instead, we are taking time out for this:


Fulfilling our need for nurturing. We will return to our regularly scheduled blog posts when wellness has been achieved. May you all be well and take your vitamins!

September #writemotivation week 2

writemotivation_header1I’ve sprained my wrist from too much writing and I have this really awkward splint on that’s making it difficult to type, today. Please forgive any wonky formatting or glaring typos. Yes, I should give it a rest, but it doesn’t hurt in the splint. Why not carry on? Besides, my nurse husband isn’t here right now to make me stop working, so I’ve got some time to squeeze in a bit of writing before he gets back. I’m such a naughty patient.

I will keep today’s post short as a compromise. Let’s get right to the #writemotivation goals:

1. Participate, post, push, and praise much better this month, especially where #writemotivation is concerned. I have been more virtually visual this week and have been cheering on my fellow #writemotivation friends on Twitter and in post comments, so yes! one goal is being actively achieved.
2. Revise, revise, revise! I am making actual progress here as well. Worked on revision of my middle grade as well as two query letters. I had to submit those for our Agent Day event that’s coming up next month, which is now completely sold out! It should be a great time. Who knows? I may even find the strength of will to submit another round of queries with one of those query letters later this month. It could happen.

Getting some nightly prodding from my local SCBWI chap on the listserv, which has kept me honest with my revision progress. It’s also cool to check in every evening to see what others have been working on all day.
3. Read, read, read. Doing a bang up job on this one. I’m only 3 books (or 5%) behind my Goodreads goal of 75 books for the year. That’s tumblr_inline_ms1kh5UqZm1qz4rgpthe closest to caught up I’ve been almost since I made the damn goal. My TBR pile isn’t shrinking, though. My daughter just added I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak and said I had to read it immediately so we could discuss the ending. When the youngling commands, I must obey.
4. Keep on freaking exercising. Hit and miss this week – still more hit than miss, though. We did take a really long, scenic walk with the boy this week and when we told him we could go home when we were done, he took off running. I did NOT have that kind of drive, but I did cheer him on.

Here’s a pic from our walk for your moment of zen before we all head back to our perspective goals.

Zen pic

Enjoy your week!

Exercising Patience – A Few Words from Matt de la Pena


I have a confession to make.

I came away from the SCBWI LA Summer conference with a brand new author crush.


Matt de la Peña.

-Resources-Image-1Matt de la penaH175W175A1

And not just because he is ruggedly handsome. Or because he took the time to notice where I was from when I was in line to get my book signed and then asked me where exactly Broken Arrow was. He even talked to me about an upcoming author event he had scheduled in my area. Very nice.

And it wasn’t because he said it was great to meet me. See?

MAtt Autograph

Or because he took the time to stand up to take a picture with me. Not many authors do that. So thoughtful.

Me and Matt de la Pena. The flash went off and I froze like a deer waiting to be shot.
Me and Matt de la Peña. The flash went off and I froze like a deer waiting to be shot.

Or because he gave me a copy of his short story, Passing Each Other in Halls,  por nada. So awesome of him, wasn’t it?

Matt Books

Okay, okay. Ma-ybe he did that for all of his quasi-mental, yet adoring fans. Still, not all authors take this kind of time with their readers/stalkers/fans, believe me. Better than any fabulous swag I may have gained from the conference was the knowledge he imparted during his keynote speech and break out sessions. For that, I will be eternally grateful and a forever devoted stalker reader.

During his break out session on exercising patience, one of the first things he said was:

The first page is important but don’t mistake this for EVERYTHING has to happen on the first page.

You don’t have to cram all the major drama – the break up, the car crash, the gun shot – in that first page to make your story great and to keep readers interested. Allow your characters to tell the story; let it unfold naturally. Sometimes you have to get out of your own way and let your readers come to their own conclusions.

Which brings me to de la Peña’s next nugget of wisdom:

Not every reader has to get every thing.

He shared the opening pages from Denis Johnson‘s Tree of Smoke with us as an example of writing that allows the story to unfold without tree of smokeprejudice or narrator comment. The opening line is “Last night at 3:00am President Kennedy had been killed.” Within this passage, as the young soldier stalks through the jungle, there is a 2nd assassination with the death of a monkey, but the narrator doesn’t draw attention to it. If the reader gets the parallel, great. It adds another layer, a deeper connection to the story, but the reader doesn’t need to understand this connection to follow the plot.

De la Peña does the same with his own writing as well. In Ball Don’t Lie, a story about a foster kid who’s only constant in life is basketball, you don’t have to understand the game of basketball to appreciate it. In Mexican WhiteBoy, there are tons of Spanish passages that he doesn’t translate. You don’t have to know what’s being said to appreciate the story, but it enhances the experience. De la Peña says that when a kid who isn’t a big reader can translate a passage for a teacher who’s reading aloud to the class, he takes ownership of the story, which is what you want.

When reading a book, you are doing half the work; you take ownership of it. You picture the action in your mind.

 I love that.

When de la Peña returned to the discussion of how we as writers can show patience in our work, he talked about his experience in his MFA program. At one point, he was trying to show off, be a real stylist by throwing everything he’d learned into his current writing project. His advisor told him the story was suffering because of it. She told him to slow the f*ck down.

Just slow down.

She was so right.

This advice has followed him throughout his career.

Sometimes the slow build is the best build.

 When something big is about to happen in your story, slow that moment down. Car crashes, gun shots, even break ups can take seconds. You can slow it down in a book with many different strategies. Do you go with hypersensitivity? Backstory? Try different ways and see what works.

Sit there with the audience in the palm of your hand and make them suffer.

 Ooh hoo hoo! Gives you chills doesn’t it? I’ve heard of hurting your characters, of torturing them until it hurts, but your reader? I’d never thought of their suffering while I write, have you?

But he does make an excellent point. Some of my favorite books have those delicious scenes that have kept me on that edge, prolonging the moment. It’s almost an agony, suffering the pain of the moment along with the character, but I find myself rereading these passages again and again, soaking up every bit, until I’m satisfied enough to move on.

If you are lucky enough to live in the Tulsa area, come see this dynamic author for yourself. Matt will be speaking on September 24th at the Martin Regional Library.

Learn more about Matt de la Peña here.

Follow Matt on Twitter here.

Follow Matt on Facebook here.

September #writemotivation

photograph by Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. httpwww.flickr.comphotossahlgoodeAugust was a month of reflection and relaxation. Now it’s back to serious work. Let’s get right to this month’s #writemotivation goals:

1. Participate, post, push, and praise much better this month, especially where #writemotivation is concerned.
2. Revise, revise, revise!
3. Read, read, read.
4. Keep on freaking exercising.

These may seem a little vague right now, but I may flush them out a bit more as time moves on. I almost missed the deadline and I wanted to keep myself accountable somewhere. (I do agree with you, KT, August was a lie, just like the cake.)

I must keep this post brief as I am preparing my part of the talk for tonight’s SCBWI schmooze about the LA conference. I’ll be sharing it with you all tomorrow. No spoilers here!

Here’s to a fantastically productive (and much cooler) fall.