#TBT Post – Why Sensory Detail is Important

I wrote this #ThrowBackThursday post for The Great Noveling Adventure blog and it was originally published on April 21, 2014. 


 

Oriental Poppies by Georgia O'Keefe

Oriental Poppies by Georgia O’Keefe

 

If you’ve ever been told that your story was boring that it lacked excitement or depth or maybe that your dialogue felt like floating heads talking in an empty room, it might have been because you neglected the sensory details.

Tapping into what your characters see, smell, touch, taste, and hear can allow readers to experience the characters’ world on a deeper level. Adding sensory details can anchor your readers in your world, and make your story breathe with believability.

The key is to do this without overwhelming your writing with too many details. Page-long descriptions of what your character looks like can slow the pacing and lose your reader’s attention, sometimes forever. How do you strike that balance between talking heads in empty rooms and info dumps that put your readers to sleep?

I find studying poetry helps.

As this is National Poetry Month, it’s also a nice segue into the importance of reading more poetry for its own sake. What the poets can teach us, aside from paying attention to the rhythm and flow of words, is one thing many of us struggle with – economy of words. Poets also pay close attention to how words sound and feel when they come off the tongue. And more importantly, the emotions words evoke.

This can be the heart of sensory imagery. Word choices that trigger deep memories connected to our senses and can help paint pictures and allow readers to fill in the visual background themselves without you needing to describe every detail for them.

I reviewed a book of poetry this week on my blog that was a collection of poems about my home state. I was amazed at how some of the poems put me in touch with long-forgotten memories. Just the mention of ice old bottles of orange Fanta pulled from a lay-down cooler in one poem took me back to Oklahoma summertime and riding bikes with my friends to the town pool. It was an awakening of the senses from a few stanzas.

With the barest of words, poets can evoke scenes in your mind. “Brushstrokes” as one of my writing friends calls it. This is what you want in your own story.

Just in case you’re not familiar with sensory detail, I thought I’d show a quick example from a writer who does this so well. Here’s what a scene would look like without its sensory details from OUT OF THE EASY by Ruta Sepetys (and then I’ll show you the scene as it originally appears in her book).

 “Hello, Louise.”

“I said, ‘Hello, Louise.’”

“Hello, Willie,” said. Mother. “Willie, this is Josie.”

“So…you’ve returned.”

“Well, it’s been a long time,  Willie. I’m sure you can understand.”

“You look good.”

“I’m keeping to myself,” said Mother.

“Keeping yourself…yes. I heard you had a greenhorn from Tuscaloosa last night.”

“You heard about Tuscaloosa? Oh, he wasn’t a trick, Willie,” said Mother. “He was just a nice fella.”

“A nice fella who bought you those pearls, I guess,” said Willie.

“I’ve got good business,” said Willie. “Men think we’re headed to war. If that’s true, everyone will want their last jollies. We’d work well together, Louise, but…”

“Oh, she’s a good girl, Willie and she’s crazy smart. Even taught herself to read.”

“I don’t like kids.”

“I don’t like ’em much, either.”

“Really? So what do you do…if you don’t like kids?”

“Well, I go to school. I read. I cook, clean, and I make martinis for Mother.”

“You clean and make martinis? Your bow is crooked, girl. Have you always been that skinny?”

“I wasn’t feeling well for a few years,” said Mother quickly. “Josie is very resourceful, and-”

“I see that,” said Willie.

“I skipped first grade altogether and started second grade. Mother lost track I was supposed to be in school-but it didn’t matter much. She told the school we had transferred from another town, and I just started aright in second grade.”

“You skipped the first grade?”

“Yes, ma’am, and I don’t figure I missed anything at all.”

“Don’t ma’am me, girl. You’ll call me Willie. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Mrs. Willie,” I replied.

“Not Mrs. Willie. Just Willie.”

“Actually, Willie, I prefer Jo, and honestly, I don’t care much for bows.”

“I didn’t ask for a light,” said Willie.

“No, but you’ve tapped your cigarette fifty-three times…now fifty-four, so I thought you might like to smoke it.”

“Fine Jo, light my cigarette and pour me a Scotch.”

“Neat or on the rocks?” I asked.

“Neat.”

This is what “talking heads” dialogue looks like.

Although, the writing isn’t bad, as is, you have no sense of where they are in time or place, how they are reacting to what’s being said, etc. Let’s see how the scene changes when we add all of the sensory details back in:

 

 “Hello, Louise.”

The voice was thick and had mileage on it. Her platinum-blonde hair was pulled tight in a clasp engraved with the initials W.W. The woman’s eyes, lined in charcoal, had wrinkles fringing out from the corners. Her lips were scarlet, but not bloody. She was pretty once.

The woman stared at me, then finally spoke. “I said, ‘Hello, Louise.’”

“Hello, Willie,” said. Mother. She dragged me in front of the chair. “Willie, this is Josie.”

I smiled and bent my scabby legs into my best curtsy. The arm with the red nails quickly waved me away to the settee across from her. Her bracelet jangled a discordant tune.

“So…you’ve returned.” Willie lifted a cigarette from a mother-of-pearl case and tapped it softly against the lid.

“Well, it’s been a long time,  Willie. I’m sure you can understand.”

Willie said nothing. A clock on the wall swung a ticktock rhythm. “You look good,” Willie finally said, still tapping the cigarette against its case.

“I’m keeping to myself,” said Mother, leaning back against the settee.

“Keeping yourself…yes. I heard you had a greenhorn from Tuscaloosa last night.”

Mother’s back stiffened. “You heard about Tuscaloosa?”

“Oh, he wasn’t a trick, Willie,” said Mother, looking into her lap. “He was just a nice fella.”

“A nice fella who bought you those pearls, I guess,” said Willie, tapping her cigarette harder and harder against the case.

Mother’s hand reached up to her neck, fingering the pearls.

“I’ve got good business,” said Willie. “Men think we’re headed to war. If that’s true, everyone will want their last jollies. We’d work well together, Louise, but…” She nodded in my direction.

“Oh, she’s a good girl, Willie and she’s crazy smart. Even taught herself to read.”

“I don’t like kids,” she spat, her eyes boring a hole through me.

I shrugged. “I don’t like ’em much, either.”

Mother pinched my arm, hard. I felt the skin snap. I bit my lip and tried not to wince. Mother became angry when I complained.

“Really?” Willie continued to stare. “So what do you do…if you don’t like kids?”

“Well, I go to school. I read. I cook, clean, and I make martinis for Mother.” I smiled at Mother and rubbed my arm.

“You clean and make martinis?” Willie raised a pointy eyebrow. Her sneer suddenly faded. “Your bow is crooked, girl. Have you always been that skinny?”

“I wasn’t feeling well for a few years,” said Mother quickly. “Josie is very resourceful, and-”

“I see that,” said Willie flatly, still tapping her cigarette.

I moved closer to Mother. “I skipped first grade altogether and started second grade. Mother lost track I was supposed to be in school-” Mother’s toe dug into my ankle. “But it didn’t matter much. She told the school we had transferred from another town, and I just started aright in second grade.”

“You skipped the first grade?” said Willie.

“Yes, ma’am, and I don’t figure I missed anything at all.”

“Don’t ma’am me, girl. You’ll call me Willie. Do you understand?” She shifted in her chair. I spied what looked like the butt of a gun stuffed down the side of the seat cushion.

“Yes, Mrs. Willie,” I replied.

“Not Mrs. Willie. Just Willie.”

I stared at her. “Actually, Willie, I prefer Jo, and honestly, I don’t care much for bows.” I pulled the ribbons from my thick brown bob and reached for the lighter on the table.

“I didn’t ask for a light,” said Willie.

“No, but you’ve tapped your cigarette fifty-three times…now fifty-four, so I thought you might like to smoke it.”

Willie sighed. “Fine Jo, light my cigarette and pour me a Scotch.”

“Neat or on the rocks?” I asked.

Her mouth opened in surprise, then snapped shut. “Neat.” She eyed me as I lit her cigarette.

 

See the difference? You get sight, sound, and even touch. These sensory details connect you in the world and let you feel what the characters are going through. They paint the scene. So, ready to get started?

If you think you could use a little more poetry in your life to help you get in touch with your sensory details or even to work on your rhythm and pacing and you need some reading suggestions, our state Poet Laureate had a few recommended poets to get you on your way:

Stephen Dunn

Ted Kooser

Billy Collins

Sharons Olds

Tony Hoagland

Mary Oliver

Martin Espada

Charles Bukowski

George Bilgere

Wendell Berry


 

Our Oklahoma Poet Laureate at the time of this post was the dynamic Nathan Brown. I highly recommend his poetry (and maybe even his singing.)

2016 Reading Challenges Update – 1st Quarter Results

Reading Challenges Rock2

 

Reading Challenges Rock2

With the lofty reading goal of 80 books this year – more than I’ve ever read before – I’m hoping the three reading challenges I’m participating in will help spur me on to victory.

I’m on target so far with another 12 books under my belt, making my total for the year at a respectable 23 books read. I may just make that crazy goal, yet.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the new books I’ve read, shall we? Maybe you’ll find something that sparks your interest to add to your reading list.

 

ROCK-1#RockMyTBR 2016 Reading Challenge

New books I’ve managed to clear off my TBR pile:

GLORY (The Dust Chronicles #3) by Maureen McGowan

Mcgowan-Glory-CV-Front_031814-264x400This is the final book in the series that I started late last year. (I won signed copies of the first two books while participating in the YA Scavenger Hunt a few years ago – sweet!) Nice to finally finish the series and see the ending of Glory’s journey. She was a fun character.

Good read. Really enjoyed the series.

Glory is a Deviant. That is what she was always taught, growing up in the domed city of Haven. She has the power to kill with her gaze, but she’s learned to control this power and use it only against the monstrous Shredders who survive on the asteroid dust that mutated their DNA.

Now, living in a settlement Outside, Glory has the chance to embrace her “Gift” and reunite her remaining family. But she can’t hide from the threat of Shredder attacks or the knowledge of what Management is doing to the employees of Haven.

Can she face losing everything she has left to bring freedom to Haven? Will she choose the familiar safety of Cal’s love or risk Burn’s dangerous passion? Ultimately, Glory must decide how far she is willing to go to keep her family safe, and what it really means to be a monster. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Maureen McGowan here.

Follow Maureen on Twitter here.

Follow Maureen on Facebook here.

 

KIKI AND JAQUES by Susan Ross

Kiki and JacquesI received a copy of this book from the publisher from their fall catalog. This was a debut novel that had an intriguing premise, although it mostly fell flat for me. I reviewed this book in detail on the blog.

All in all, it wasn’t a great read for me, just an okay read.

Twelve-year-old Jacques’s mother has passed away, his father is jobless and drinking again and his grandmother’s bridal store is on the verge of going out of business. Plus he’s under pressure from an older boy to join in some illegal activities. At least Jacques can look forward to the soccer season. After all, he’s a shoe-in for captain.

But the arrival of Somali refugees shakes up nearly everything in Jacques’s Maine town, including the soccer team. So Jacques is surprised to find himself becoming friends with Kiki, a cheerful and strong-minded Somali immigrant. Despite their many differences they are able to help one another triumph over problems with friends, family and growing up. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Susan Ross here.

Follow Susan on Twitter here.

Follow Susan on Facebook here.

 

REQUIEM (Delirium #3) by Lauren Oliver

bookcover_home_requiemI read the first two books in this series about three years ago and then I somehow missed the last book until now. (I think I was waiting for it to come out in paperback.) Great series. I especially loved exploring the concept of love being a disease that made you insane. That whole argument about are we better off with our emotions or without them?

So glad I finally got to find out what happened to Lena.

Now an active member of the resistance, Lena has transformed. The nascent rebellion that was underway in Pandemonium has ignited into an all-out revolution in Requiem, and Lena is at the center of the fight.

After rescuing Julian from a death sentence, Lena and her friends fled to the Wilds. But the Wilds are no longer a safe haven. Pockets of rebellion have opened throughout the country, and the government cannot deny the existence of Invalids. Regulators infiltrate the borderlands to stamp out the rebels.

As Lena navigates the increasingly dangerous terrain of the Wilds, her best friend, Hana, lives a safe, loveless life in Portland as the fiancée of the young mayor. Requiem is told from both Lena and Hana’s points of view. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Lauren Oliver here.

Follow Lauren on Twitter here.

Follow Lauren on Tumblr here.

What books are waiting to be read on your TBR pile? Have you taken any books down from your TBR pile, lately?

 

2016 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge – There are some crossovers from list to list, so I’m choosing which ones count here.

There are always wonderful ideas given in the discussions of the Book Riot’s Goodreads Read Harder Group. I love looking through the conversations here – so many great reading suggestions for each category! (You can also follow the Twitter hashtag #ReadHarder, if you’re curious.)

 

Read HArder 1st Qtr

New books I’ve read for this challenge:

 

ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD by Kendare Blake
(Read a horror book)

Anna Dressed in Blood coverAn agent who read the beginning of one of my WIPs suggested this book to me as a comp title. I have to say, it was enlightening, and it did help give me some great ideas for my own story. I don’t read too many horror novels, so it was nice to branch out and read a good book in a different genre.

The cover had a quote from a famous YA author I like, touting this book as, “spellbinding and romantic”. While I did really enjoy it, I didn’t exactly find it romantic.

Not one bit.

It was still definitely well worth the read…just maybe keep the lights on. ALL the lights. (Did I mention I don’t read may horror novels?) This book would count as definitely branching out of my comfort zone. Funny, since I’m now writing my first paranormal story. Probably need to read a LOT more like this. *shivers*

Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead.

So did his father before him, until he was gruesomely murdered by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father’s mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. They follow legends and local lore, destroy the murderous dead, and keep pesky things like the future and friends at bay.

Searching for a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas expects the usual: track, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he’s never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, now stained red and dripping with blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home.

Yet she spares Cas’s life. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Kendare Blake here.

Follow Kendare on Twitter here.

Follow Kendare on Facebook here.

 

REQUIEM (Delirium #3) by Lauren Oliver
(Read a dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel)

bookcover_home_requiem(See the description details above in the TBR challenge.)

Yes, I’m counting this book in two separate challenges.

Why? Because I can.:)

And because it seems like every dystopian book I’ve been reading lately has also been coming from my TBR pile. Go figure.

 

LADY MIDNIGHT by Cassandra Clare
(Read a book over 500 pages long)

Lady Midnight coverI absolutely love the Shadowhunters world and each series set there that Clare has written. I’ll read these books over and over and never tire of them. Says something right there about Clare’s storytelling ability, doesn’t it?

I’m especially excited about finally getting to read more about Emma and Julian, best friends with that extra parabatai bond. *swoon*

Did someone say chemistry? Clare has that in spades with her characters as well.

Fantastic story, which I devoured only too soon. I will be in agony until the next book in this new series arrives.

And that cover? Too die for!

In a secret world where half-angel warriors are sworn to fight demons, parabatai is a sacred word.

parabatai is your partner in battle. A parabatai is your best friend. Parabatai can be everything to each other — but they can never fall in love.

Emma Carstairs is a Shadowhunter, one in a long line of Shadowhunters tasked with protecting the world from demons. With her parabatai Julian Blackthorn, she patrols the streets of an secret Los Angeles where vampires party on the Sunset Strip, and faeries teeter on the edge of open war with Shadowhunters. When the bodies of humans and faeries start turning up murdered in the same way Emma’s parents were murdered years ago, an uneasy alliance is formed. This is Emma’s chance for revenge — and Julian’s chance to get back his half-faerie brother, Mark, who was kidnapped five years ago. All Emma, Mark and Julian have to do  is solve the murders within two weeks . . . before the murderer targets them.

Their search takes Emma from sea caves full of sorcery to a dark lottery where death is dispensed. As she uncovers the past, she begins to peel away the secrets of the present: What has Julian been hiding from her all these years? Why does Shadowhunter law forbid parabatai to fall in love? Who really killed her parents — and can she bear to know the truth?

The magic and adventure of the Shadowhunter Chronicles have captured the imaginations of millions of readers across the globe. Fall in love with Emma and her friends in this pulse-pounding, heart-rending new volume sure to delight new readers and longtime fans. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Cassandra Clare here.

Follow Cassandra on Twitter here.

Follow Cassandra on Tumblr here.

 

HOLES by Louis Sachar
(Read a book that was adapted into a movie, then watch the movie. Debate which is better.)

Holes CoverJust about every one of my writing friends could not believe it when I said I’d never read this book. “I’ve seen the movie” was not good enough. I promptly agreed to read this book as soon as possible. I’m glad I did. It’s a fantastic story and well told by Sachar. (And of course it’s better than the movie – which was pretty darn good.)

I watched the movie, again, after reading the book, and even though the acting was outstanding – how had I forgotten that Henry Winkler was in it? (I just met him at a book signing, so weird.) and I love Sigourney Weaver in anything she does – the book just delivers a stronger sense of emotional impact. It’s a little heavier, more realistic. You get a better sense of the relationships between the boys in the book and you feel how they suffer day to day at the camp. No Disney gloss-over. So my vote is a resounding, “the book was better”.

Stanley Yelnats is under a curse. A curse that began with his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather and has since followed generations of Yelnatses. Now Stanley has been unjustly sent to a boys’ detention center, Camp Green Lake, where the boys build character by spending all day, every day digging holes exactly five feet wide and five feet deep. There is no lake at Camp Green Lake. But there are an awful lot of holes.

It doesn’t take long for Stanley to realize there’s more than character improvement going on at Camp Green Lake. The boys are digging holes because the warden is looking for something. But what could be buried under a dried-up lake? Stanley tries to dig up the truth in this inventive and darkly humorous tale of crime and punishment—and redemption. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Louis Sachar here.

Follow Louis on Facebook here.

 

What books have taken you out of your normal reading pattern this year?

 

Bookish Cassie’s Reading Bingo Challenge – Cassie is the dynamic gal with a head of fantastic curls, always at the ready with great book recommendations. She writes the glorious blog Books and Bowel Movements that I just love. Cassie is doing this reading challenge on her Instagram account, which makes it fun and really easy.

If you’re on Instagram, feel free to join in with the hashtag #readingbingo2016. It’s that simple. You can find me on Instagram at litbeing. You can find Cassie there at bookishcassie.

Reading Bingo 1st Qtr

New books I’ve read for this challenge:

 

THE MIRROR KING (The Orphan Queen #2) by Jodi Meadows
(Book with more than 500 pages)

 

MirrorKing-HC-198x300I read Jodi Meadows’s debut novel INCARNATE a few years ago and I’ve been hooked ever since. I loved the whole Incarnate series, and I know going forward I won’t be disappointed when I reach for one of her books. I did torture myself by waiting to read this series until the second book was coming out because I know how she likes a good cliff-hanger.

I was so right! She loves torturing her readers!

Right after I closed THE ORPHAN QUEEN, (Arg! That ending was golden!) I immediately purchased THE MIRROR KING, the sequel and the conclusion to this duology. (I have to admit I haven’t read many of these!) That is the sign of great writing in my book – when you want to find out what happens next. Without delay.

Wilhelmina has a hundred enemies.

Her friends have turned. After her identity is revealed during the Inundation, Princess Wilhelmina is kept prisoner by the Indigo Kingdom, with the Ospreys lost somewhere in the devastated city. When the Ospreys’ leader emerges at the worst possible moment, leaving Wil’s biggest ally on his deathbed, she must become Black Knife to set things right.

Her magic is uncontrollable. Wil’s power is to animate, not to give true life, but in the wraithland she commanded a cloud of wraith mist to save herself, and later ordered it solid. Now there is a living boy made of wraith—destructive and deadly, and willing to do anything for her.

Her heart is torn. Though she’s ready for her crown, declaring herself queen means war. Caught between what she wants and what is right, Wilhelmina realizes the throne might not even matter. Everyone thought the wraith was years off, but already it’s destroying Indigo Kingdom villages. If she can’t protect both kingdoms, soon there won’t be a land to rule. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Jodi Meadows here.

Follow Jodi on Twitter here.

Follow Jodi on Facebook here.

Follow Jodi on Instagram here.

Follow Jodi on Tumblr here.

 

THE FIVE RED HERRINGS by Dorothy L. Sayers
(A book with a mystery)

Five Red HerringsI enjoy a good old fashioned murder as much as the next person. And I thoroughly enjoyed reading my first Dorothy L.  Sayers novel last year, STRONG POISON. This one, I’m sorry to say, fell a little flat for me. Missing not only the fantastic chemistry between Lord Peter and Harriett (whom I hope returns very soon!) but also missing was some clarity.

In understandable dialect for one thing! The Scottish vernacular was so thickly shown that I had difficulty discerning what was being said much of the time – NOT ideal in a mystery novel! And the plot was a little lackluster as well. Still, I did adored the scenes with Lord Peter in them, especially when he was full of enthusiasm for a good murder. I hold out hope that the next book in the series will show this one to be a mere stumble.

During a painting retreat, a killer takes a creative approach to the ancient art of murder

The majestic landscape of the Scottish coast has attracted artists and fishermen for centuries. In the idyllic village of Kirkcudbright, every resident and visitor has two things in common: They either fish or paint (or do both), and they all hate Sandy Campbell. Though a fair painter, he is a rotten human being, and cannot enter a pub without raising the blood pressure of everybody there. No one weeps when he dies. Campbell’s body is found at the bottom of a steep hill, and his easel stands at the top, suggesting that he took a tumble while painting. But something about the death doesn’t sit right with gentleman sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey. No one in Kirkcudbright liked Campbell, and six hated him enough to become suspects. Five are innocent, and the other is the perpetrator of one of the most ingenious murders Lord Peter has ever encountered. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)

Learn more about Dorothy L. Sayers here.

 

PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ by A.S. King
(An award winner)

askbooks_35_739671589King has become one of my must-read authors, and I am knocked out by each new novel she publishes. She is a master at using magical realism with astounding impact. This book is where it all began, and it won her a Michael L. Printz honor in 2011.

I chose this book for my February Relaxed & Groovy Book Club pic. Find the full blog discussion about the book here.

Eighteen-year-old Vera’s spent her whole life secretly in love with her best friend, Charlie Kahn. And over the years she’s kept a lot of his secrets. Even after he betrayed her. Even after he ruined everything.

So when Charlie dies in dark circumstances, Vera knows a lot more than anyone—the kids at school, his family, or even the police. But will she emerge and clear his name? Does she even want to?

An edgy, gripping story, Please Ignore Vera Dietz is an unforgettable novel: smart, funny, dramatic, and always surprising. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about A.S. King here.

Follow A.S. King on Twitter here.

 

SUNSETS AND HAIKU by Una Belle Townsend
(Collection of poems)

Sunsets and Haiku coverI received a copy of SUNSETS AND HAIKU from Una Belle herself, when she read about my participation in this reading challenge. So thoughtful!

Una Belle is one of the many generous and talented authors that belong to our local SCBWI Oklahoma chapter. I just adore her. I also wrote a review of her book on the blog. Find the full discussion here.

Ever-changing. Exotic. Thought-provoking.
In this exquisite photography collection, Una Belle Townsend, author and photographer, captures nature at its most elusive–when the sun, earth, clouds and atmosphere collide to create stunning tableaus from firecracker red prairies to picture-perfect pastel skies.  Famous worldwide, Oklahoma sunsets explode in a kaleidoscope of colors as the sun disappears beyond the horizon. Paired with her stunning photos is a Japanese poetry form, haiku, which traditionally calls to mind nature and its seasons. (Plot summary from publisher’s website.)

Learn more about Una Belle Townsend here.

Follow Una Belle on Facebook here.

 

So what have you been reading, lately? What are you looking forward to reading next?

 

 

Book Review – SUNSETS AND HAIKU by Una Belle Townsend

I received a copy of SUNSETS AND HAIKU from Una Belle herself, one of our most resilient and thoughtful SCBWI Oklahoma members, when she read about the reading challenges I am attempting this year. She saw that I could use a collection of poems to complete the Reading Bingo Challenge and sent me one of hers – so sweet!

Una Belle has published several picture books with Pelican Publishing Company, including GRADY’S IN THE SILO, for which she won the Oklahoma Book Award. This is her first book of poetry and her first book with Doodle and Peck Publishing, a new local publishing company right here in Oklahoma.

Sunsets and Haiku coverSUNSETS AND HAIKU by Una Belle Townsend

Published by: Doodle and Peck

Release Date: October 15, 2015

Genres: Poetry, Photography

amazonindieboundbn-24h-80

 

 

Plot Summary:

Ever-changing. Exotic. Thought-provoking.
In this exquisite photography collection, Una Belle Townsend, author and photographer, captures nature at its most elusive–when the sun, earth, clouds and atmosphere collide to create stunning tableaus from firecracker red prairies to picture-perfect pastel skies.  Famous worldwide, Oklahoma sunsets explode in a kaleidoscope of colors as the sun disappears beyond the horizon. Paired with her stunning photos is a Japanese poetry form, haiku, which traditionally calls to mind nature and its seasons. (Plot summary from publisher’s website.)

The gorgeous photographs, taken by Una Belle herself, are paired well with inspiring, and sometimes playful, poetry. I loved the variety of sunsets and the vivid colors and how familiar all the landscapes felt to me. What a challenge to select one subject of nature to pay homage to, and yet Una Belle takes it on with such deftness of skill.

Here is one of my favorite poems from the collection:

 

Vivid papaya

Luscious orange and melon clouds

Fruit for hungry eyes

 

This book is a lovely treat for the soul.

It left me feeling relaxed and content, and maybe wishing for a little more.

 

Learn more about Una Belle Townsend here.

Follow Una Belle on Facebook here.

February #okscbwichat – Special Guest Gwendolyn Hooks

#okscbwichat

SCBWI OK Banner

 

I hosted this month’s #okscbwichat on Tuesday evening with our Special Guest, Children’s author Gwendolyn Hooks.

 

Gwendolyn Hooks

G._Hooks_PhotoGwendolyn Hooks is the author of twenty published books, including her popular Pet Club series. Two of her Scholastic early readers, The Mystery of the Missing Dog and Three’s A Crowd, sold over 100,000 copies each. She’s also written nonfiction picture books, including Arctic Appetizers: Studying Food Webs in the Arctic.

Her latest book, Leona Mitchell: Opera Star, was released this past fall as part of the I AM OKLAHOMA series. In 2016, Lee & Low will publish her picture book biography, Tiny Stitches – The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas. 

Gwendolyn blogs on The Brown Bookshelf to push awareness of the myriad of African American voices writing and illustrating for young readers. The American Library Association selected The Brown Bookshelf as a Great Website for Kids.

Learn more about Gwendolyn Hooks here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

Follow her on Facebook here.

Follow the Brown Bookshelf blog here.

 

During our Twitter chat, Gwen discussed her relationship with her agent, her favorite writing moment, and the pros and cons of writing a series. Gwen also talked at length about her upcoming book TINY STITCHES: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas, and when we could expect its release. (Soon!)

 

If you missed the chat, you can view the Storify version of the entire conversation here.

 

#okscbwichat

 

**Join us next month for a special edition of #okscbwichat on a special night when our guest will be one of our SCBWI OK spring conference speakers, Literary Agent Victoria Selvaggio. See you March 29th!

To see a full list of our upcoming Twitter chats on #okscbwichat for 2016 CLICK HERE.

January #okscbwichat – Special Guest Sonia Gensler

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I co-hosted this month’s #okscbwichat on Tuesday evening with our Special Guest, author Sonia Gensler.

 

Sonia Gensler

sonia-gensler-225Sonia is the award-winning author of Ghostlight, a contemporary middle grade novel, as well as The Dark Between and The Revenant, both young adult historical novels. She is obsessed with Gothic horror and loves to write ghostly mysteries.

Sonia grew up in a small Tennessee town and ran with a dangerous pack of band and drama geeks. As an adult she experimented with a variety of impractical professions—museum interpreter, historic home director, bookseller, and perpetual graduate student—before finally deciding to share her passion for stories through teaching. She taught literature and writing to young adults for ten years and still thinks fondly of her days in the classroom. Sonia currently lives in Oklahoma with her husband and cat.

Learn more about Sonia Gensler here.

Follow Sonia on Twitter here.

Follow Sonia on Facebook here.

Follow Sonia on Tumblr here.

 

Sonia opened our 2016 Twitter Chat season to an enthusiastic group. She shared her loathing of first drafts and her love of all things Gothic, including some of those Gothic influences that shaped her own writing. Sonia also discussed how setting shapes her writing, and how it actually comes before character or conflict.

Sonia discussed some of the differences in publishing and marketing she’s experienced between her YA and MG novels, and gave her younger writer self some sage advice. She also talked about her latest work in progress.

If you missed the chat, you can view the Storify version of the entire conversation here.

**Join us next month when our guest will be Picture Book author Gwendolyn Hooks. See you February 23rd!

#okscbwichat

 

**Stay tuned next month when our guest will be picture book author Gwendolyn Hooks. See you February 23rd!

To see a full list of our upcoming Twitter chats on #okscbwichat for 2016 CLICK HERE.

Upcoming SCBWI Oklahoma Twitter Chats for 2016

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As the newly appointed Social Media Coordinator for the Oklahoma SCBWI region, I am very excited to announce the first half of this year’s Twitter Chat lineup. Most chats are held on the fourth Tuesday of each month, however, we do have a few special dates running up to our Spring Conference in April, when some of our speakers will be joining us. How amazing, right?

TweetNo matter the date, each Twitter chat session will last one hour, from 7-8pm CST, and we’ll be using the hashtag #okscbwichat.

 

Here is our Twitter Chat Line-Up:

JANUARY- Sonia Gensler

sonia-gensler-225Sonia Gensler is the award-winning author of Ghostlight, a contemporary middle grade novel, as well as The Dark Between and The Revenant, both young adult historical novels. She is obsessed with Gothic horror and loves to write ghostly mysteries.

Sonia grew up in a small Tennessee town and ran with a dangerous pack of band and drama geeks. As an adult she experimented with a variety of impractical professions—museum interpreter, historic home director, bookseller, and perpetual graduate student—before finally deciding to share her passion for stories through teaching. She taught literature and writing to young adults for ten years and still thinks fondly of her days in the classroom. Sonia currently lives in Oklahoma with her husband and cat.

Sonia will be our guest on January 26th, from 7-8pm CST. Her Twitter username is @soniagensler. To participate in the chat, please use the hashtag #okscbwichat.

 

 

February – Gwendolyn Hooks

G._Hooks_PhotoGwendolyn Hooks is the author of twenty published books, including her popular Pet Club series. Two of her Scholastic early readers, The Mystery of the Missing Dog and Three’s A Crowd, sold over 100,000 copies each. She’s also written nonfiction picture books, including Arctic Appetizers: Studying Food Webs in the Arctic.

Her latest book, Leona Mitchell: Opera Star, was released this past fall as part of the I AM OKLAHOMA series. In 2016, Lee & Low will publish her picture book biography, Tiny Stitches – The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas. 

Gwendolyn blogs on The Brown Bookshelf to push awareness of the myriad of African American voices writing and illustrating for young readers. The American Library Association selected The Brown Bookshelf as a Great Website for Kids.

Gwendolyn will be our guest on February 23rd, from 7-8pm CST. Her Twitter username is @GwenTheGweat. To participate in the chat, please use the hashtag #okscbwichat.

 

 

March – Victoria Selvaggio

Victoria SelvaggioVictoria Selvaggio is an Associate Agent with The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. She has a strong background in business ownership, and she worked for over seven years as a volunteer and Regional Advisor for SCBWI: Northern Ohio. Drawn to the publishing scene first as an author writing all genres, with her most recent publication in the 2015 Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market, Vicki’s passion for honing the craft carried over into reading manuscripts for the agency in 2013.

Currently, she is excited to read compelling manuscripts that will resonate with her long after she’s done.

Victoria will be one of our fantastic speakers presenting at our OK SCBWI Spring Conference in April. To learn more about our conference and to register for this event, CLICK HERE.

Her current wishlist:

“I am currently looking for all genres (lyrical picture books, middle grade and young adult fiction, new adult, mysteries, suspense, thrillers, paranormal, fantasy, narrative nonfiction, adult fiction), but find I’m particularly drawn to middle grade and young adult. I especially love thrillers and all elements of weird, creepy stuff. If it’s out of the box, and it will make me think and think, long after I’m done reading, send it to me. On the flip side, I yearn for books that make me laugh, cry and wonder about the world.” (From agent’s website.)

Victoria will be our guest on March 29th, from 7-8pm CST. Her Twitter username is @vselvaggio1To participate in the chat, please use the hashtag #okscbwichat.

 

 

April – Karl Jones

KarlJonesKarl Jones is an Associate Editor with Grosset & Dunlap/ Penguin Young Readers. Karl works on a variety of licensed and original middle grade and activity books, as well as some early YA projects. He acquired and edits the Just Jake series from New York Times best-selling kid author, Jake Marcionette and edits a middle grade/YA transition series by established stage and screenwriter, Justin Sayre-the first book in this series, Husky published in September 2015.

He also develops, acquires and writes unique original activity books like Day of the Dead Activity Book and Build A Boyfriend, as well as hiring work-for-hire authors for several licensed book programs for entertainment and gaming properties including Star Trek, Powerpuff Girls, Uncle Grandpa, Regular Show and Shovel Knight.

He is particularly interested in realistic middle grade and YA fiction and format-bending storytelling projects. In his free time, he enjoys comedy and storytelling events, outdoor adventures, and live music. He is a native Oklahoman.

Karl will be one of our fantastic speakers presenting at our OK SCBWI Spring Conference in April. To learn more about our conference and to register for this event, CLICK HERE.

Karl will be our guest on April 5th, from 7-8pm CST. His Twitter username is @karljones. To participate in the chat, please use the hashtag #okscbwichat.

 

 

May – Timothy Lange

Tim LangeTimothy Lange has been a graphic designer, illustrator and fine art painter for over 30 years. He graduated from the Colorado Institute of Art in 1982 and studied at the Art Students League of Denver (off and on) from 1989 to 2003.

He is an active member of the Oklahoma Chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). He was was transplanted to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma in 2003. Aside from the bugs and humidity, he says its not a bad place to call home.

Tim will be our guest on May 24th, from 7-8pm CST. His Twitter username is @TJ_Lange. To participate in the chat, please use the hashtag #okscbwichat.

 

June – SPECIAL FACEBOOK EVENT!!! Q&A Event with YA Author Courtney Summers & her Literary Agent Amy Tipton – This is a special event for our SCBWI Oklahoma Members ONLY.

Courtney Summers Twitter PhotoCourtney Summers was born in Belleville, Ontario, in 1986 and currently resides in a small town not far from there. She likes writing books about girls who only have themselves because sometimes that realization is the scariest and most important thing–the slow untangling of the difference between ‘lonely’ and ‘alone.’ Her favourite kind of stories are the ones that make you wish so badly they’d ended differently but deep down you know they really couldn’t have gone any other way.

To date, she has authored five novels. Her first novel, Cracked Up to Be, was published when she was 22 and went on to win the 2009 CYBILS award in YA fiction. Since then, she’s published four more books. They are 2011 YALSA Top Ten Quick Pick and White Pine Honor book, Some Girls Are, 2012 YALSA Quick Pick, Fall for Anything, 2013 YALSA Top Ten Quick Pick and White Pine Honour book, This is Not a Test, and most recently, Please Remain Calm (an e-novella sequel to This is Not a Test) and All the RageAll the Rage was an Official Tumblr Reblog Book Club pick and named a Best Book of 2015 by Bustle, Book Riot, Chicago Public Library and the B&N Teen Blog.

When Courtney is not writing, she enjoys playing video games, watching horror movies, Supernatural and planning for the impending zombie apocalypse. Her favorite color is green.

AmyTipton2-150x150Amy Tipton joined the Signature Literary Agency in 2009. She graduated from Naropa University with a B.A. in Writing and Literature and received her MFA from New College of California in WRiting. She comes to the agency after working as a literary assistant and office manager at several literary agencies including JCA Literary Agency, Diana Finch Literary Agency, Gina Maccoby Literary Agency, and Liza Dawson Associates. Amy has also worked as a book scout for Aram Fox, Inc. dealing with foreign rights. She became an agent with Peter Rubic and continued to agent with FinePrint Literary Management. In addition to her agenting experience, Amy also worked as a freelance editor to Lauren Weisberger, author of The Devil Wears Prada. Her work is published in the anthology, Controlled Burn, and pieces of her first and second novel can be found in a variety of literary journals.

Courtney & Amy will be our guests on FACEBOOK on June 11th. On that day, Members who have been invited to join in this private chat can post questions for Courtney & Amy to answer. Our guests will be popping in and out of Facebook during the day to answer questions. This is NOT a live chat. 

In order to participate in this Q&A an OKSCBWI member must:

  1. Have a Facebook account
  2. Be invited or asked to be invited into the private group

 

July – Brenda Drake

Brenda-Drake-Author-Photo2Brenda Drake, the youngest of three children, grew up an Air Force brat and the continual new kid at school until her family settled in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Brenda’s fondest memories growing up are of her eccentric, Irish grandmother’s animated tales, which gave her a strong love for storytelling. So it was only fitting that she would choose to write young adult and middle grade novels with a bend toward the fantastical. When Brenda’s not writing or doing the social media thing, she’s haunting libraries, bookstores, and coffee shops or reading someplace quiet and not at all exotic (much to her disappointment).

Brenda is the host of the ever-popular Pitch Wars, Pitch Madness, and the Twitter pitch of all pitches, #pitmad. Brenda will be discussing what it’s like to host these mind-boggling contests, and how in the world she still makes time to write! Her debut novel, THIEF OF LIES: A Library Jumpers Novel, experienced a very successful release this month.

Brenda will be our guest on June 28th, from 7-8pm CST. Her Twitter username is @brendadrake. To participate in the chat, please use the hashtag #okscbwichat.

What an outstanding lineup!

The chats really are a lot of fun. Don’t worry if you can’t make it to every event; I’ll post a link to the Storify version of each chat after every event has concluded.

We have a few more surprises we’re working on. Once we can announce them, I’ll update this page.

I hope you’ll join us!

 

 

Fan That Spark OK SCBWI Fall Retreat – The Recap Part I

 

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Our Fall Retreat for Oklahoma SCBWI last month had something for everyone, with specific tracks for novel, illustration, and picture book that allowed you to focus on your area of interest. The theme “Fan the Spark” encouraged all to turn those beginning creative sparks into fully developed stories.

I attended the Novel Track.

(I heard rave reviews from everyone I spoke with who attended both the Picture Book Track taught by Janee Trasler, and the Illustrator Track taught by Tim Jessell.)

The first speaker had a background in theatre arts and showed us how writers could learn from actors when developing their characters. She also stopped by this blog prior to the retreat to introduce herself. Click on this link to get a more detailed view into her background..

Ginny SainGinny Sain – with more than 20 years experience as a working director, choreographer, playwright, theatrical designer, performer , and theatre arts teacher, she has worked as an artist in residence teaching theatre arts workshops in Arkansas and Oklahoma schools as well as teaching and directing all classes, workshops, and productions for over 18 years with the very successful Stages Theatre for Youth program.

“Generality is the enemy of all art.” – Stanislavski

When creating your characters, you want to move from the general to the specific.

How?

By paying attention to the inner lives and motivations of your characters in every scene. And this should be done FOR EVERY CHARACTER.

When an actor prepares for a new role, they get to know their character intimately – what motivates them, how they move about in space, what they like and don’t like – they slip into their character’s skin to portray them in a believable manner. The actor inhabits every inch of that character’s psyche. And they do this before they even step foot onto the stage.

This can feel like a daunting task. Impossible even.

So how do they do it?

They break down the play into moments – or beats – and figure out what’s driving their character’s behavior from moment to moment. Beats are manageable chunks even smaller than scenes. Some obvious beats include when a character enters or exits a scene or when there’s a shift in conversation, or when new information has been revealed. Once the beats are identified, the actors then decide what the character’s objective, obstacle, and action is for each beat.

Objective – What your character wants. Each character has one main “superobjective” that spans the entire work and many smaller objectives that lead toward the “superobjective”. The path a character takes as they move through these smaller objectives is called the “through line”. Each character should have an objective for every beat they are on stage. The objective should be active and directed toward the other characters.  Objectives seek to change things.

Example: “I want to get away from him and leave this room.”

Obstacle – What is keeping your character from getting what they want. Obstacles can be internal or external. Or both. This struggle is what makes the story interesting.

Example: “I can’t leave because he locked the door.”

Action – What your character does to overcome his or her obstacle. There are usually three possible outcomes: the character will give up, overcome the obstacle, or plow through and ignore it. How they react to obstacles shows what characters are made of – reactions reveal a lot about character.

Example: “I jump out the window.”

Focusing on what each character wants as you write each moment – which may be completely opposite/opposing things – can make for much more interesting writing.

Learn more about Ginny by visiting her website: HeARTsong Creative Center.

 

The next speaker was no stranger to our OK SCBWI group or to the previous speaker (being her mother). She gave a talk about how to write emotion into your story without crossing the line into sentimentality.

AnnaMyersphotoCAnna Myers – This award-winning Oklahoma author has published 20 books to much critical acclaim. She has won the Oklahoma Book Award four times for SPY!ASSASSINGRAVEYARD GIRL, and RED DIRT JESSIE. She was also awarded their lifetime achievement, the Arrell Gibson Award, in 2012. She writes historical and contemporary fiction for young readers. She also had her first picture book, TUMBLEWEED BABY, published in 2014. Most importantly, she was our Oklahoma SCBWI Regional Advisor and fearless leader for 14 years.

Anna’s talk focused on helping us see the difference between emotion and schmaltz, the Yiddish word for sentimentality or literally, chicken fat.

“Novels aren’t real life. They need to be sharper.”

Emotion needs to be stronger.

Yet, this doesn’t mean readers want to see characters spill their guts out when grieving. Crying is too easy.

SCHMALTZ! Cut it!

It’s the struggle that’s most interesting. Readers want to see how characters deal with problems – this is where the emotional connection lies.

So, what can you do to show this?

Think of an action to show the emotion.

Anna gave the example of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. This was a devastating time for the entire country. And yet, the most moving image wasn’t of a widow grieving, it was of his young son saluting his casket.

Photo credit: Stan Stearns/UPI
Photo credit: Stan Stearns/UPI

 

This would not have been as touching if he’d been crying. This is utterly heart-breaking. We feel the loss so much stronger. (While researching, I also learned that this picture was taken on John Jr.’s birthday. Seriously. Where’s the kleenex?)

Of course, tears do have their place, but don’t rely on them, or any other bodily expression, as a crutch for showing your character’s emotion. Focus more on that action that expresses their sorrow.

Learn more about Anna by visiting her website: www.annamyers.info

 

The next speaker lead us through a visualization exercise to help us overcome blocks in our creative process.

Pati Hailey PicPati Hailey – Over her career, Pati has written state legislation, online training for large corporations, lesson plans for teachers, and literature for children and adults. She is a frequent speaker at conferences and schools. Pati’s articles have appeared in newspapers and magazines, including Cricket and Hopscotch. Her contribution to this series, TE ATA: Oklahoma Cultural Treasure, is her first published children’s book.

I always find these visualization exercises helpful and I always learn something surprising about my manuscript or my character. Pati walks us through a simple relaxation before taking us through the visualization exercise. During the visualization, we are to focus on a part of our manuscript that is giving us trouble and look at it from a different perspective, paying attention to surroundings in more detail, and thinking about our characters in different ways, even asking them specific questions.

These visualizations allow your brain to relax enough to use your subconscious and solve story problems. You can try these on your own, too. While writing, think about getting up every 30 minutes or so to give your subconscious time to work on any story problems you might have.

Follow Pati on Twitter @PatiHailey

Follow Pati on Facebook here.

 

After lunch, we had a First Pages Critique Panel

 

 

The wise Panel Members: Anna Myers, Tammi Sauer, and Sonia Gensler share their insights.
The wise Panel Members Anna Myers, Tammi Sauer, and Sonia Gensler share their insights. (Photo credit: Regina Garvie)

 

a Speaker Autograph Party

Autograph Party 1
Some of our fantastic speakers signing their books. (Photo credit: Regina Garvie)

 

and then dinner…

We took over the Rock Café in Stroud. (Photo credit: THE Jerry Bennet)
Many of our group took over the Rock Café in Stroud. (Photo credit: THE Jerry Bennet.)

 

…before the final event of the day.

The Inspirational Keynote from LINDA URBAN! YAY!!!

LindaUrbanLinda Urban – Linda writes picture books and middle grade novels from subjects as varied as an angry mouse expressing emotion (MOUSE WAS MAD), a red-headed boy searching for independence (LITTLE RED HENRY), a girl who dreams of playing pianos only to end up with a wheezy organ (A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT), and a girl who tries to fix a horrible mistake with a birthday wish (THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING). Urban’s characters are written with so much heart, yours will burst while reading about them.

Linda encouraged us to be open to inspiration and new ideas throughout the weekend.

She told us the story about when she first felt that spark, that joy from writing. She put her heart on the page and loved that feeling. Then one day the good feeling stopped. A boy called her writing weird, and said she was weird. She felt horrible and stopped writing for a long time.

When she came back to writing, it was a slow, painful process. Once she let herself find that spark again, that feeling of joy, she needed to define the “spine” of her work. “Why do I do it?”

For her, she wants to write about small things that matter to kids in a big way.

“All I need to be successful is to be true to my spine.”

What is YOUR spine?

Inspiration in spades!

Learn more about Linda by visiting her website: lindaurbanbooks.com

 

Stay tuned for The Recap PART II to read all about what Linda Urban had to teach us during the revision intensive on Day Two!