Sunday, October 3, 2010

To Blog or Not to Blog. That is the Question...

SF and I have been discussing a hiatus lately. We have loved every minute of our two years writing this blog, but, more and more, we feel pressured to promote ourselves and not only does this feel artificially cocky sometimes, but we aren't sold on how effective blogging is for our intended audiences. There have been many posts about this lately, including this one by the Shrinking Violets, all of which have caused us to want to re-think our positioning.

And let me say that there is a difference between what I would call destination blogs (like Nathan Bransford's where we found this link), and ours. Nathan's is a go-to source for all things writerly. He is "an authority" on the industry, and he spends a lot of time developing his blog for this purpose. By design, we haven't chosen to have a blog with a purpose--we're just trying to have a little fun out there. Yes, we are both writers, and yes, we like to write ABOUT writing, but we know that our blog is no different in content from hundreds, if not thousands, of others. And we don't want it to fall into the same category as hundreds of blogs that exist soley to promote the writers who own them.

Another issue we are having is that we are building two separate careers, targeting two very different audiences. SF is growing her picture book and MG career, while I am focusing on expanding my YA books, as well as adult non-fiction. Therefore, we have totally different marketing tracks. This is really fun when we chat on the phone and hang out, but when it comes time to blog, leaves us stumped as to how to reach both markets effectively.

We also are working on some marketing and publicity ideas that are much larger and more interesting than what we are currently doing, and would like to continue to find new avenues to reach our target market - avenues that are more personal and creative. (*I'd like to insert that IF I sell my book, and IF SF's idea for marketing it works, I will just explode with joy. She has come up with an incredibly innovative and different idea for launching my book and I am about to bust to do it.)

As for now, we have decided to go on a blogging vacation until 2011. We will still be around reading and commenting on all our bestie's blogs, but our main focus is going to be writing and coming up with creative alternatives to reach our readers. We will see you in 2011 with new websites and good news!


Katie and SF

Monday, September 27, 2010

What's your "Blue Dog"

I don't know how many of you are familiar with the Louisiana artist George Rodrigue.
Here, this will help:

His iconic image of "Blue Dog" is one of those images that stays with you. It's haunting. It's compelling. It's intriguing. There is ONE blue dog, and he appears in every one of George Rodrigue's paintings.

I saw George speak a few years ago, and he talked about working as a painter for years before he painted this image. He had had some success as an artist, but it wasn't until that auspicious day, the day that "Blue Dog" emerged from somewhere deep within his consciousness, that he hit that next level. He became a very successful artist--one whose works sell for huge amounts of money and whose works hang in museums, galleries and collections around the world. The "Blue Dog" image has been compared to the Mona Lisa for having that unique quality that resonates with people. That je ne sais quas. Even George Rodrigue said that he doesn't quite understand why that one image hits an emotional chord with people. But it does.

Katie and I attended the MidSouth SCBWI Conference in Nashville over the weekend. It was a great conference, and we both left feeling energized and inspired. But, on the way home, we started talking about what it takes to make it in the publishing world. We were surrounded by so much incredible talent--both the illustration and writing talent. We heard some incredible first pages read and the illustrations exhibited were AMAZING. I was truly humbled.

But, talent aside, the reality is that many of the people in that room will never be published--that's just statistics! It can be disheartening when you really think about it--you're good enough, but you might not make it.

So what is it that brings a few people to the top? Hard work--yes. Tenacity--yes. Talent--yes. Fearlessly submitting--yes. Revising and rewriting--yes . . . .

But, I think that there has to be something else. A little bit of God, luck, or good karma.

That "Blue Dog" quality.

You have to have that little something extra, some little flair, that gives you that tiny edge. There must be something iconic in your work that sets you apart--whether it's a great character, hook, writing style, or voice. And, you have to be able to recognize those "Blue Dog" moments when you have them and exploit them for all they're worth. Okay--maybe exploit isn't the right word. But, you do have to latch on to those moments of brilliance (I believe EVERYONE has them at some point) and have the good sense to run with them.

So, everyone . . . what's your "Blue Dog"?


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Gellin' in Nashville

I am currently reclined just like this in SF's and my hotel room in Nash Vegas, Tennessee where we are marinating in the fabulous advice found at the SCBWI-Midsouth writers conference - one of our favorites.

SF just went downstairs to the first pages discussion while I prepare to "take a break" and work on the ol' revision. But, ten minutes later and I am still sitting here, so I've decided to blog instead.

(* note: I'm so brain dead that I have had to edit this durn post like 80 times due to all the typos. Hopefully no one here in Nashville will decide to google us and read it.)

Anyhoo, most of you know that SF is our Resident Notetaker Extraordinaire, and you will definitely want to tune in next week for her killer notes, but, in the meantime, here's a glimpse of the kind of notes I take:

  1. Ask Kelly Sonnack where she got those killer gray boots.
  2. Ruta Rimas is a rockstar editor. She LOVES words and analyzes them as if they are separate brushstrokes within a canvas. Very cool and so technical that I love it!
  3. Gigi's is giving away coupons for cupcakes.
  4. Ellen Hopkins thinks about her characters for a month or so before she ever starts writing. Has awesome handout.
  5. Take extra teeth wax on long trips.
  6. Tell organizers to make more coffee.
  7. Rethink the relationship between your MC and her nemesis. I think they are more similar than you previously thought.
  8. Read Crank.
  9. Figure out what motivates every action your MC makes. Make sure it's motivated by her own desires and not yours as the author.

As you can see, I rely totally and completely on SF for the full conference breakdown. I prefer to absorb the genius and gel with it for a while. But this works well for me. By the time I go home, I will be a revision machine (and know where Kelly got those boots).

Later Gators.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Braces Saga Continues...

I just had my bottom brackets removed...

No, "removed" sounds so nice - like removing toe nail polish or makeup. I just had my bottom brackets pried off with pliers and the remaining glue underneath them filed down with an industrial sanding machine. To say that it was scary would be an understatement. I wish I had asked the nurse to take a picture of my face, I think it must have looked like this:

You see, my overbite was so deep that my top two teeth were the only teeth that touched the bottom. My entire upper jaw was being stopped by the lower brackets. This kept my jaw permanently ajar and made eating solid food impossible.

Doc agreed to remove the bottom brackets until the tops moved out enough that I could chew again. We estimate a few months.


On the way home, I had a horrifying discovery. I could feel that my mouth was now touching on one side in the back, but something still felt off. Pulling down my car mirror, I opened my lips with my finger and could see that I had just created THE SAME PROBLEM but on my back molar! Now, still only one tooth makes contact with the bottom and instead of being my front one, it's the back right molar. But like the front problem, it isn't touching the bottom molar like I want it too. Now, it's touching the bottom metal bracket that is attached to the molar.

Remember: Tooth + Metal = OW!

Sigh.... I don't know why I thought getting braces would be easy. My teeth are complicated to say the least. As complicated as the story I am currently reworking. Oddly, the new problem didn't make me want to ditch the braces entirely, it made me so mad that I am determined to figure out a way to eat better, brush better, and mentally will my friggin' jaw to function again in record time. It did nothing but increase my drive to succeed.

This is what I realized I do with my writing. The fact that it's so hard to sell a book does nothing but make me more determined. Why is this? Am I a glutton for punishment? A lover of pain? Maybe I should have been a Navy Seal. I would have probably kicked butt in boot camp.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


SF and I are thrilled today to interview Hilary Wagner, the author of the new classic, NIGHTSHADE CITY!

Let me start by saying that I was not sure what to expect with a book about rats, but boy was I hooked! Hilary is an incredible writer which makes reading about all of her rats fascinating and addictive. I predict this book has a shelf life like none other. It is destined to be a classic.

Hilary has been on a whirlwind blog tour and today we have the privilege of talking to her about all things creepy crawly :)

1. Why rats? Did the story evolve like this or did you consider horses, frogs and bunnies first?

Oh, I always knew it would be rats. I'm a kid at heart and being born just a few days before Halloween, I've always adored the holiday and the books and movies that came with it! In the stories I read and in animated movies, they tend to use rats as creepy background. Nothing more than bony, sinister-looking rats rummaging around a dark alley in the beginning of a movie or in a part of a novel where things really get scary! I decided it was time to make rats the main characters, to explore their world. If you do some investigation, you'll discover they're far more then creepy critters. In fact, they are smarter than most animals as a whole.

2. I love the world you created for them as well as all of their different looks and personalities. Did you have to do any research for this?

Yes indeedy! I love doing research! Who knew I was such a nerdy girl? Okay, I was always nerdy, but I had no idea I was this nerdy! I read several non-fiction books on rats, taking meticulous notes and scoured websites, even got in touch with some known rat experts who were gracious enough to help me. Even still, my rats are very different than the ones that roam the real world. They have "humanish" qualities and not just because I needed them to talk in the book. There is a secret reason for their uniqueness, one that even they have yet to discover.

3. You are so good with these intriguing animals. Do you have plans for any other types of creepy crawlies in future books? Is this going to be a Hilary trademark? :)))

I can't believe you asked me this!! KINGS OF TRILLIUM, Book II in the Nightshade Chronicles, which comes out next year, has some new and intriguing creatures and let's just say my inclination for creepy critters comes back into play and then some. Don't worry though, no talking spiders or anything like that--don't care for spiders, especially talking ones! ;) Also, I'm working on a new animal series, one I'm under lock and key from my publisher not to talk about. I feel all super spy! I'm very excited about it. I'm doing research now and learning about creatures I never even knew existed!

I suppose what I like so much about animal series is having a chance to explore their world--to discover what their lives are like--to try and feel what it would be like to have a long spindly rat's tail or the ability to travel deep under the ground or possibly up into the trees--the sky! To me, animals give us endless possibilities for wonderful storytelling.

Thanks so much for having me on your blog! Your questions were so much fun to answer! Every time I talk about my rats I get all inspired--has me thinking about Book III now! ;)

NIGHTSHADE CITY is available on-line, at Barnes and Noble stores nationwide and Indie Booksellers as well.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Final Thoughts and Painful News


I promised I would tell you the cool advice Robin gave me about plotting, so here it is.

She tries to end each chapter on either an emotional high (+), an emotional low (-), or a cliffhanger (*).

She makes sure she alternates these feelings to always keep her reader on their toes and actually marks them at the end of each chapter with the symbols above.

If she sees too many (-)s, she inserts a (*) or a (+).

COOl, huh? Try it!


I got BRACES yesterday! And, believe it or not, I asked for them for my 40th birthday (coming very soon). I just had no idea how painful they would be! I am in too much agony to really do a bunch of blogging, so I thought I'd leave you with some before and after pictures. These were taken before the insides of my cheeks were ravaged by spiky metal thumbtacks. Not to worry, I've gobbed enough wax inside my mouth to form candles, and I've purchased the mac daddy food processor and all kinds of special toothbrushes too. I plan on being the poster child for perfect brace care. Why? Cuz that's just how you roll when you're 39 and choose to get these things.

Does anyone remember their braces?


Oh. Remind me next time to powder my chin before photos. That sucker is beaming. Ick.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

New promo cards

Soooo . . . I've posted about how the conference season is upon us (and I'm counting a "season" as going TWO conferences). I'm getting ready--got my notepad, my new black stretchy boots, my first pages printed up, my illustration for the contest, my promo materials . . . .ACK!!!! I've been using the same promo cards for about three years, now.

Here 'tis:

That's Izzy who's the main character in my forthcoming picture book. I love her--this image on my business card is what started the ball rolling with Viking. But, I need some more postcards to put out with Izzy. Surely she's lonely (and surely people are tired of seeing her). So I decided to give her some friends:

Yay! Now, let's just hope Fed Ex comes through for me and my cards actually arrive BEFORE the Mid South conference.

:-) sf

Monday, September 13, 2010

Fall Fashion 101

Okay guys, some of you know SF and I are die-hard fashion lovers. SF is known to troll fashion blogs on a daily basis while simultaneously sending me links to "members only" shopping sites. We never miss an episode of Project Runway, want to move our offices into the nearest Anthropologie store, and have spent far too much time looking at winter boots on Flat or heeled? Flat or heeled? Any thoughts?

Anyhoo, when I saw this video, I had to take a break from posting about writing.

Here is my dear friend Sarah and her business partner Beth, kickin' it with their friend, Gwyneth Paltrow.

Too fun!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Conference Season

First, I'd like to extend a gigantic thank you to Carol Valdez Miller for her In Gratitude post. Unfortunately, I think I'm posting this too late for you to enter her fabulous ARC giveaway, but be sure to stop by and tell her "hello". This generosity of this writing community is amazing!

Thanks Carol!!!

I'm going to give you all a break from the mini outlining seminar that we've got going on to talk about something else:

Conference Season!!!

Okay, so I'm calling it a "season" which for me means two conferences this fall (both regional SCBWI), but it feels like a season. There's a lot of preparation that goes into conference attendance. If you've signed up for a manuscript or portfolio consultation, then you've got to get your work whipped into shape, so that maybe, just maybe, the editor of your dreams will fall in love with your work (no pressure, right?). Often, the conferences have contests that you can enter--the MidSouth conference has both a manuscript and an illustrator contest judged by a wonderful editor and art director. More prep work . . .

Plus, you need to be able to speak articulately about your books and have questions ready for editors or agents (not stalker-type questions--stuff you genuinely want to know).

It's a lot of work just to get ready to attend conferences.

PLUS, you want to pick out clothes that reflect who you are . . . okay, that's not work, but it's kinda fun. You want to give off the right vibe and present yourself the way you want to be perceived, right?

The upcoming MidSouth SCBWI Conference in Nashville will be my first conference to attend as an agented writer with a book deal. Whoa--I can't believe I just typed those words. I think on some level, I'll be more relaxed. But, on another level, the bar has shifted a little higher. I'm feeling the pressure to really get my portfolio looking as good as it can. I'd love to connect with an art director or picture book editor so that they'll remember my work for future projects.

And, I want my publisher Viking to be proud of me, too. I feel like I'm representing them as well as myself, and I want to get people excited about my book.

No pressure. Yikes!!

Here's a picture from the LA SCBWI 2009 Conference. I love all my conference friends!! Miss you guys . . .

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Walking Through Peanut Butter

I have no idea if walking through peanut butter is hard, but I think it must be. And hard is where I am these days. I swear this revision is like trudging through sludge. Super slow moving sludge.


The book is better, if not the best it's ever been, but it is taking FREAKING FOREVER and I am getting impatient.

That is all.

Back to my revision cave.

And I will give you those cool outlining tips next time - when I'm in a better mood :)

(SF here: I'm doing the same thing over here with illustrations. Total sludgefest. Literally--this painting I'm working on looks like it's been smeared with peanut butter . . . blech!!)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Outlining 201

Welcome back aspiring outliners! So we covered ACT I in last weeks post and now we are moving on :)

IF you are new to my series I fondly refer to as "Outlining for Dummies," go back and read my first post about making a timeline and splitting it into 3 acts.

After I broke ACT I into 15 chapters (according to Elana's rough breakdown), I needed to break ACT II into 20 chapters. This seemed daunting but I had followed her instructions and ended ACT I with a bang so that made the beginning of ACT II a *reaction* to the big bang. And, I also knew that the end of ACT II is where the CLIMAX of the entire book lies, so I basically had to go from big bang to climax, which is a steep hill of action and emotion.

This post will help tremendously in learning about what you need to include in this section. And it's so informative that it is has a part two, * found here*.

The above posts are written by Alexandra Sokoloff, a screenwriter who brilliantly describes things in the second Act like The Midpoint:


In the second half of the second act the actions your hero/ine takes toward his or her goal will become larger and increasingly obsessive. Small actions have not cut it, so it’s time for desperate measures.

So, for now, try to write a few skeletal sentences about all 20 chapters in your second act. You can do it! Baby steps, people. Baby steps.

After you finish that, I want you to do the same thing for Act III. Here is Alexandra's breakdown of writing this act. It too has a second part, and should be comprised of approx 15 chapters.

Whew! Now, after you have done all that, you may think you are done, but Robin Mellom and Sherrie Peterson have given me some extra cool tips I will share with you later this week.

Happy Outlining!


P.S. I have had several people ask me how on earth I wrote a novel withOUT an outline and all I can tell you is it felt like solving the number puzzle pictured above. I slipped and slid chapters and scenes around until they all fit just so. It was a marvelous time in my creative life, but as someone once said, "All good things must come to an end."


Friday, September 3, 2010

Outlining illustrations

Katie and I have been doing a lot of talking with each other about outlining these days. And, as we've been talking about outlining our novels, especially when Katie told me about looking at a dress form as a type of outline (go back and look at this post) . . . it hit me.

I'm having to learn how to outline my illustrations.

Here's a sketch I've been working on for an SCBWI conference contest (we're supposed to illustrate a classic fairytale). This is my "outline". I've been doing most of my sketching on my computer. This enables me to change things easily, to erase, and move things around. This is all happening before any paint hits the paper. (Yikes, and now that I've posted this, I see some major changes that I need to make!!)

It is a huge change for me to work this way. When I work as a fine artist with my big drippy paint brush, there are no rules or parameters. Not really. I can paint a landscape any way I want to--if I want the sky to be pink, then I paint it pink. If I want there to be a gnarly old cedar tree in the foreground, I put one there. It doesn't matter what's really out there in the world. I'm creating a new world on the canvas--one I completely control. And, since I usually paint using acrylics, I can put layer upon layer of paint, covering and redoing as I go along until I have a balanced composition. A finished piece.

With illustrations, there ARE parameters. You are constrained by the story that you (or someone else) is telling. If the text describes a little girl in a black dress, then I pretty much have to paint a little girl in a black dress. If she's unhappy, then I'd better show her with a sad face. If she's opening a window later in the story, I'd better be sure that I paint a window in the room.

While there is still some freedom with illustrating, I can't just make up the painting as I go along. There are certain things that have to be shown, and if I don't plan for them, I end up with a hot mess. And, then I have to start over. Completely.

This has been a hard process for me to learn. I like to paint quickly, freely--I don't like feeling boxed in. But, I've found that the rewards are huge--the planning really pays off. I don't throw away as many illustrations anymore. I put much more thought in what I'm doing--each brushstroke has become intentional. I actually think each time I'm about to touch the paper with my brush, What is this bit of color going to do to the overall composition? What is this going to do to the action on the page?

I do still allow for freedom and happy accidents to happen on my paper. But, I'm learning to allow these accidents to happen within the framework of a story.

Outlining . . .


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Outlining 101

Okay folks. Roll up your sleeves because I have some info to give you. But before I do, I want to say that I have been overwhelmed by the kindness of other bloggers - bloggers who have taken the time to send me LONG emails with detailed notes, many times, even including their own outlines as examples. It has been such a blessing and so I hope some of you will be blessed by my passing it on too.

Here we go.

Now, the first thing I was advised to do was write a few sentences about what was happening in each chapter. As easy as this sounds, I knew that was almost too advanced for me - especially because I couldn't see how that would benefit anything. I needed something more skeletal.

Sweet Elana Johnson sent me gobs of great information (which I will share in pieces) but first she sent this very basic link. This is a great airplane shot of a story, but once again, I had no idea if my major plot points were in order. I had written a very tight and very complicated story, but it didn't seem to fit this standard diagram.

Therefore, the first thing I did was something no one told me to do. It was just something that felt right. I drew a line from left to right and labeled the major scenes I knew happened in the book along the line. It looked like this timeline that I found of Benjamin Franklin's life.

But, unlike Ben's, I noticed that I instinctively wrote a few things below the line that were, in fact, part of my sub plot. It was so weird to see that my brain naturally felt compelled to write several scenes that didn't pertain to my MC below the main timeline.

Then, Elana told me the most helpful thing by far. She said that ACT I in a 300 page novel usually includes chapters 1-15 (approx), ACT II includes 16-35, ACT III includes 36-50ish. These were rough guidelines, but she suggested that ACT I generally end around page 100 and end with a bang. In this chapter, things should spin out of control a bit. She even suggested I read this VERY LONG description of what Act 1 should include.

I should warn you that the above website is awesome for story structure but terrible for short attention spans. But just buckle down and read it. Perhaps, do what I did and only focus on ACT I for a few days.

After that, I scanned my Ben Franklinish timeline and, lo and behold, I could clearly see 3 separate sections. They weren't as perfectly planned as I wanted them to be, but I let that go and just narrowed in on ACT I.

Next, I was ready to do what my sweet friend Shelli advised as far as breaking this section into chapters with a short sentence describing each one. For this task, I used the outlining template in my word processor. I literally wrote chapters 1-15 and then started describing them. I'm sure you don't have to have 15 chapters, but I used that as a guide, knowing I would be cool with 13 or 16, should that be the case. The goal was to make sure I ended ACT I with a major twist.

BUT, how to make sure the tension rose all the way through?

That was actually easy. However, Robin Mellom sent me a really cool tool that helped with that also. I will tell you more about her suggestion in my next post :)

SO, for you non-outliners, take these five small steps towards your outline before we meet again.
1. Read the post about what ACT I should include.
2. Draw a simple timeline of the book, trying to split it into 3 distinct sections.
3. Break the first segment (ACT I) into 14-15 chapters.
4. Make sure the last chapter in this section is a kicker.
5. Breathe. I'll see you in a few days.

* And cling to this verse from 1 Corinthians that has really comforted me as I have struggled to learn this new skill, "God is not the author of confusion, but the God of ORDER." We serve a God who is not only a God of detail, but a God of order, and I am holding on to that promise as I forge ahead.

More next time :)

Monday, August 30, 2010

I Have Hit a Wall.

I have hit a wall.

A wall I have avoided for a long time now.
A wall most professional authors need to learn how to climb.
A wall I have learned to hate.

A wall called... OUTLINING.

As most of you know, I am in the process of revising my book, but "revising" isn't a strong enough word. I am in the process of a full-on rewrite. This is something I chose to do but at the time didn't realize how painful it would be.

Last week, after successfully completing 40,ooo words, I realized one of my sub-plots wasn't working. In addition, the time frame was off and another sub-plot felt extraneous. To say that I felt like crying would be an understatement. I felt like ripping my hair out and stabbing myself with pencils. How could I have gotten 40,ooo words in and screwed up like this?

The answer?

No outline.

In my defense, I write like some wonderfully talented people paint. I apply layer upon layer of words until I get it right. If something doesn't feel right, I add (or cut) more words, smashing and crashing it around until a beautiful portrait emerges. This method has served me well, until now. Right now I need a master plan. An outline. And what really drove it home for me was watching my new favorite show "On the Road with Austin and Santino." Just like Project Runway, I noticed the guys draping their dress forms to decide what the finished dress would look like BEFORE they began actually constructing it. They were draping and pinning and moving fabric around without ever stitching a thing. Not to mention the sketches they were pausing to create. These were master craftsmen who were, in essence, OUTLINING their creations.


Yes, the dress form sealed it for me in terms of deciding I had to do this, but actually writing one still scared me to death. Outlining meant knowing everything that was going to happen before I wrote it. Right? Well, sometimes I just don't. Sometimes I discover my story AS I write it, so this outlining business has always made me feel boxed in, un-artistic, and uncomfortable.


SO, I did what I have learned to do for any dilemma. I prayed about it.

And the answer was the same: YOU NEED TO LEARN THE SKILL OF OUTLINING!

But, as God so often does, he sent several angels to lead the way.

To be continued...


To be continued with all of the outlining tips I have received and more about how I intend to achieve this. SF will also be posting about her experiences with outlining, including how it pertains to illustrations. And PLEASE, if you have any advice, we'd love to hear it! In fact, we beg you for it :)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Go Read This Chapter!

They aren't lying. It really is fantastic. And can you believe PW sent this insanely wonderful publicity?! Go Beth, Go! P.S. I LOVE the cover!

Across the Universe Book CoverYour universe is about to change.
Click here to read the first chapter of Across the Universe.
The journey begins 1.11.11
Website URL
Email us your thoughts.
Razorbill, a division of Penguin Books

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Relatives Came . . .

Me. This week.

I didn't get any writing done. But, I heard LOTS of great stories . . .

:-) sf

Monday, August 23, 2010

Let it Slide

This last week, I was forced to lay low as I had dental surgery that left me in excruciating pain all day. So, the first few days, I couldn't even think about my book, but, at about day four, I started to slowly get back to revising. However, that was also the day I had out of town company arrive.

This chaos made writing the "sub-plot" of my day, rather than the main one. But I have to say, it was refreshing!

Sure, I still wrote, but I had too many other things going on to really obsess about it. I just did what I could and let the rest slide. But here's what was weird. Rather than getting upset that I couldn't write as much, I found that I was using my writing time WAY better. I was slowly and steadily climbing that mountain and it was productive to say the least.

I dunno. I woke up this morning hoping to hold onto this very relaxed mode of writing. It works. It isn't stressful and its productive. You just do what you can and let the rest slide. Try it, you'll like it :)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Keep it Simple, Stupid

I recently read a great middle grade novel, NATURE GIRL by Jane Kelly. It's a classic fish-out-of-water tail about a New York City girl named Megan who gets lost in the woods and decides to hike the Appalachian trail. The voice is authentic and snarky--I fell in love with the main character. It is a great book.
While I was reading this, I kept thinking about a novel that I wrote several years ago--a similar story of displacement which was written in first person. The story is about Katherine who makes a connection with a wonderfully wacky art teacher whom she unexpectedly finds in a small Southern town. The art teacher has Katherine turn everything upside down that she has ever learned about art and technique--frustrating her and making her grow at the same time.

This novel has been sitting untouched for a LONG time, and I was eager to reread it and see if I could do anything with it.

Well, it's terrible. The language is overly descriptive and flowery, not at all the way a thirteen year old would speak. The book is episodic and full of flat characters. But worst of all? There is no action plot. None.

My book is all about the emotional plot, and that doesn't fly in children's books (I think adult writers can get away with it--think Eat, Pray, Love . . . no action plot at all, purely about Elizabeth Gilbert's emotional angst and growth). So, when I kept asking myself "What is the main character's goal? What does she really want? What stands in her way?" I couldn't come up with anything concrete--just a bunch of touchy, feely words like "she just wants to be happier."

We're all familiar with these plot diagrams. But, here's the deal--you need a diagram like this for BOTH the emotional plot and the action plot, and it's best for the emotional plot to resolve just before the action plot resolves.

In NATURE GIRL, there is an intense emotional plot in the book. The Megan's best friend's mother has cancer, and her friend has been pushing her away. Megan's also miserable about being out in the country and about having to deal with her older sister and her boyfriend. So, when she gets lost in the woods, she decides to go on a quest to reach a certain mountain where her best friend is staying for the summer. Throughout the book, the reader is pulling for Megan to reach the mountain despite all of her obstacles--both physical and emotional.

Simple, right? She wants to reach something that is real and tangible. She wants to climb a mountain. The other emotional stuff resolves as she makes her journey.

I've been listening to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in the car as I sit in carpool lines. JK Rowling does the same thing--she has a very simple action plot that threads it's way throughout the entire novel. Harry is preparing for and competing in a wizarding tournament, and the reader really wants him to win (or at the very least, survive). There is plenty of emotional plot going on as well--Harry's longing for a parent, Harry being ousted by his best friend, Harry being misunderstood . . . but without the wizarding tournament to pull the reader through the book, it would be pretty boring. A school tournament--simple.

Sooooo . . . with my novel, I have come up with something to pull the reader through--an art contest that the main character desperately wants to win so that she can go to a summer art camp in New York. The book has got to be COMPLETELY rewritten, but I think it could work this way. When I think about it now, it just seems so simple . . .


Wednesday, August 18, 2010


I like to think I'm evolved... But the fact that I am hopelessly addicted to THE BACHELOR PAD might prove otherwise. Thankfully, my darling husband is addicted too, making me feel slightly less shallow.

What I love about this show is that it takes Survivor type tactics to a whole new level. The producers have wickedly pitted the boys against the girls, but they all share the same room. AND, they have to kick off members of the OPPOSITE sex.

It's hard to explain here how this all plays out, but let me just assure you, it's delicious.

Last night, one sideways move by a key player, and the entire game was thrown off. It was a sight to behold as Gia (my total fave) chose the wrong guy to give her rose to, which had drastic repercussions in the end.

Do any of you watch it? What's your take? My husband and I were sad to see Craig M leave because he is so drama. But we can't WAIT for next week!

Yours Truly,


Monday, August 16, 2010

Revisions . . .

Before I begin this post, how about a huge THANKS to everyone who made WriteOnCon possible. Was that a great conference or what? I hope all of you organizers are getting to hibernate for a few days (or at least, getting to have that much needed chocolate or ice cold mojito).

Soooo . . . . I received my much anticipated revision letter from my editor at Viking a few weeks ago. I was thankful to see minor revisions and lots of kind words. Most of the text changes were necessary to make things more clear to the reader, the reader is probably in kindergarten and really doesn't want to be confused, after all. It is amazing how much better my book reads after some minor tweaks and changes here and there.

Big sigh of relief (although, I will say that I would have turned the book upside-down and on its head if that's what my editor thought would make it better--just sayin'). These revisions were just changes of the text, so I'm not looking at my illustrations yet. Yet . . .

But, one of the suggested revisions involved a change that necessitated a change of the illustration. My editor had me flip two pages and when I did that, the facial expression on my character didn't make sense. I couldn't help doing a minor edit to the illustration, just so the story flowed properly.

This reminded me just how interconnected the illustrations and text really are in a picture book. And, I strongly believe if you write picture books, even if you aren't an illustrator, you need to do some kind of visuals as you write and revise--stick people thumbnails are fine. It can make all the difference in the pacing of the story, and it can make you see how big an effect a change in a fifteen word phrase in an 800 word picture book will have on the overall story.

What say ye picture book writers out there? I've never written a picture book text without also doing some sketching and thinking about the illustrations. I'm interested to know if non-illustrators who write picture books think about them visually or is it more of a verbal thing with the cadence of the words, etc.


Thursday, August 12, 2010


We have been waiting so long to post about this incredible debut and we can finally talk about it! YAY :)

Kody Keplinger has captured something truly insightful in her debut release THE DUFF.

So many people have written such glowing reviews of this book that we had a hard time coming up with something unique. But, one thing that we loved about this book was its complete and total universalism. Not only could we relate to feeling like Bianca as a teen, but we still feel like her sometimes at 40!

We loved how Kody captured that feeling of being "on the outside" whether you feel like you are not in the right clique in your job, or your community, or you aren't achieving what you thought you would in your career. We all know what it feels like to feel like you are on the "outside" of a circle of people. But what was so beautiful about this book was that it let you know that you are not alone. And more oft than not, you are NOT outside the circle. You're inside. You just feel like you're outside because you're human.

And we all feel that way from time to time.

Hi, this is SF, chiming in . . .

YES!!! Great post, Katie.

I, too, thought The Duff was amazing, and it really hit on that feeling of inadequacy that stays with all of us throughout our lives. How we perceive ourselves so often is a result of labels or self-perpetuated insecurity.

Kody hit one out of the park with this one!


Check out these other great Bookanista posts!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

How Cool is Writeoncon??

I am having so much fun with writeoncon. Are you?? If not, you need to head on over there STAT!

One of my favorite posts so far was this one by Rosemary Clement-Moore. I'm not sure why it struck me so much. I think I've never thought of my manuscript in terms of a sequence of REactions. I really think it will help me in my revision to stand back and think through how my MC REacts to her situations, and where those REactions take her.

I can't WAIT for tomorrow!

Thank you so much to Elana, Jamie, Lisa, Laura, Casey, Shannon, and Jen :) You guys take the cake!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Getting Tipsy

Not that kind of tipsy! This is when I give you a tip about writing.

So, I was stuck in my revision last week because I was drowning in stuff like this: MC goes to first period, then maybe we see her at lunch, next she visits with a friend, then at home, and before long, I was bored.

Problem: I was setting up her personality and other important facts in the story, but, I was being TOO linear.

Solution: Ask yourself how your MC would tell this story to her 50 year old friends on a bench in the future someday. Actually, that might not work, but I loved this photo. But asking myself this question did help me remind myself that I am not telling the story, she is. It's first person. So what would she tell me next if I didn't know her story. What would she think was important. What would she leave out, etc...


She'd skip all the mundane junk I was stuck in, maybe summarize some things, and then get right to the next important event.

Tah dah!

Tip. No. 1: Imagine your MC is the storyteller, not you.

Duh. How could I have forgotten?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Into the Box

I just dropped my three girls off at school this morning. Excuse me while I take a deep breath. Ahhhhhhhhhh.

The summer has been fun--I've gotten a lot of reading done (I'm working through my mountain, I mean stack, of books next to my bed). But, I haven't gotten a lot of writing done. For that, I need blocks of uninterrupted time, and I just haven't had that. I'm actually shaking, I'm so excited about digging back in. Plus, my first revision letter from Viking arrived this week--brilliant revision suggestions AND nothing too major. Yay!

One of the best books that I picked up this summer was Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit.

Twyla is a world famous dancer and choreographer, and her book is about the work and structure that is necessary if you are going to be a creative person. It sounds a little counter-intuitive, yes? To be creative, you must have structure? But, she's right. I think unless you establish some sort of routine to protect your creative time and space, it's easy to let life's distractions get in the way. I highly recommend her book, it's just what I need and I'm going to spend the next week or so figuring out how to organize my time (for example, do the things
that I can do when my children are at home, when they are at home--no more laundry folding during the school day!).

And, today, I'm going to take Twyla's advice from her chapter titled "Before You Can Think Out of the Box, You Have to Start with a Box". Whenever Twyla begins a project, she unfolds a cardboard storage box, takes a marker and labels the box with the name of the project. She uses the box as a receptacle for anything having to do with the project--magazine articles, music, notepads . . . anything at all. When she is finished with the project (whether or not it results in something finished and performed), she stores the box away on a shelf.

I LOVE this idea. Although, Twyla recommends starting a project with a box, I'm going to work backwards, for now--I have several projects that are either duds or they are on the back burner, and I have disorganized stacks sitting around everywhere. Yesterday, I went to Office Depot and bought a package of cardboard boxes, and I'm going to archive my projects and store them away. That didactic, rhyming picture book with the "too fine art" illustrations (my first attempt), will go in a box with the rejection letters, illustrations, and marked up drafts in varying stages.

This is much better than tossing everything into the recycling bin! I love knowing that my work will live in an attic box somewhere, just in case I ever want to refer back to it.

Of course, I'll have to use a different process to archive my novels, but it will be easy to do on the computer. I'm going to create a file titled ARCHIVES, and divide it up by project. I can paste email rejections and revisions suggestions. Drafts from critique buddies. It'll work the same way, I just won't have a tangible box.

From now on, I'm going to keep boxes around so that if a good idea begins to form, I have a place to put it and everything else that goes along with it. And, then, when I'm ready, I can step out of the box and write my heart out!!

Have a great day, everyone!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Dramatic Turn of Events

Last week I posted an entry entitled, What Kind of Writer do You Want to be? That question led me to wonder what my voice was. And was it possible that I had written a book in one voice, but my own was entirely another?

As many of you know, I wrote a book called KISS & MAKE UP - a book I am immensely proud of. But, through the submission process, I began to feel like there was more to the story. That maybe I hadn't gone deep enough. And maybe I hadn't even been true to myself as a story teller. Maybe I had altered my own God-given voice. Maybe?

These revelations were troubling, to say the least. I think they started to surface as I was working on EPIC NOVEL NUMBER TWO, which just sounded different than KISS. More insightful. Juicier.

And I wanted that for KISS.

In addition, I was blessed to read a few books during this period of time that touched me deeply and I knew I had shied away from that kind of tension in KISS.

And lastly, I listened to a book on tape. As I heard the voice of the first person narrator, I realized my MC did a whole lot more telling, than showing. D'oh! A total novice mistake.

SO, after much drama, boatloads of prayer, and many, many Tums, I decided to decline an offer in order to rewrite the book.

The book is great, but I want to make it fantastic. And I'm scared to rush out something I'm not 100% confident about, just to be published.

To say I am terrified would be an understatement. On the one hand, I know I am doing the right thing, but, the deeper I get into the rewrite, the more it veers from the original plot and the more scary it becomes.

Anyway, that's what I've been up to. But without blogging about it, I feel like I have nothing to say. So I decided to just be honest. So often we hear of writers selling their books and we wonder how? We think it was easy. Fast, even. Yet behind the scenes, more often than not, I hear that it was a long, tearful journey. Tearful in that it took much hard work - more than they ever thought they were capable of. But joyous at the same time. We're getting to chase our dreams, and really, how many people ever even get to try?

The day I declined the offer was one of the best of my career. I never thought I'd face such a low and at the same time feel more at peace than I had ever felt before. However, that Feeling lasted about a week and a half before its brother, Fear-of-Failure showed up for coffee. And it has become a daily struggle to shut him up.

Today I am on chapter eight, feeling really good about what I've written so far. Dare I say, it's the best thing I've EVER written. But, I honestly have no idea how this will all turn out, or how long it will take. I'm just trusting God to show me the way, leaning on this wonderful verse

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. Acknowledge Him in all your ways, and He will make your plot straight."
Proverbs 3:5-6

Oh wait. That should read: "And He will make your PATH straight."

Wish me luck!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Go On, Bake a Cake!

In honor of SF's big announcement, I suggest you bake a cake. Why? Well, not only is her sale totally cake-worthy, but I have discovered two insanely fun, TWO INGREDIENT cakes!

Cake number one: Mix any boxed cake mix with 10 ounces of any diet soda. You have to take a few sips of the standard 12 ounce can first, BUT, I am told this makes one helluva a cake. Cool, huh? My neighbor told me about it yesterday after mixing a chocolate cake mix with a diet strawberry soda. That was the only soda she had but it was still a Win-ner! She recommends a yellow cake with a diet sprite.

Cake number two: Mix any boxed cake with one 15 ounce can of pumpkin. I've heard this one is awesome too! And best made with a chocolate cake. SF actually told me about it.

Both recipes are intended for cupcakes, and I think you cook both at like 375 for maybe 20 minutes? You might have to experiment. But still. Awesome, huh?

Go on, bake a cake!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

I'm . . . legit!!

Hi all!

My Publisher's Weekly Announcement ran this week. I feel (as Holly Hunter said in O Brother Where Art Thou?) BONA FIDE!!

Picture book
Sarah Frances Hardy's debut PUZZLED BY PINK, about two sisters who couldn't be more different and how they work together to save the day, pitched as Wednesday Adams meets Fancy Nancy, to Regina Hayes at Viking Children's, by Joanna Volpe at Nancy Coffey Literary and Media Representation.

And, be sure to check out my agency's new website and blog!


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Art is Art, No Matter What Your Medium

We are still on our family vacation in beautiful Steamboat Springs, Colorado. We're absolutely loving being out here. The weather is gorgeous (polar fleece at night), and we are having such a great time doing things that we all like to do--hiking, biking, inner-tubing, wading in creeks, eating great food . . .

And, yesterday! We went to the Perry Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp for their open house (Dustin Hoffman, Jessica Beil, and many other famous performers were students). It was like being on the set of Fame except that the dance studios were glass or open air pavilions that looked out over the mountains and sat on the banks of streams. A doe was walking right outside of the window during one of the rehearsals.

What struck me as I was watching the dancers and actors perform and take direction from their teachers was how all art is the same. We are all striving for the same level of expression, no matter what the medium.

The first rehearsal that we watched was a group of younger girls performing a gorgeous modern dance. During part of the dance, some of the girls were suspended from canvas strips that were attached to the ceiling and they were performing beautiful acrobatic moves. After the first attempt, the teacher called the girls over and started talking to them about a certain movement and the curve of their arm. She used the term "phrasing" and showed how a different arm position gave the pose a different feel. She wanted the dancers to show a closing in rather than a reaching up and a subtle twist of the arm gave the pose a completely different mood. Phrasing.

Next, we watched a group of pre-professional dancers. A flamboyant instructor kept us all entertained as he walked the dancers through a group of steps--steps that looked incredibly complicated to me! I was amazed at how quickly the dancers learned the steps as he took them through the moves. When they had finished learning the sequence, the instructor spoke to us and said, "Now, they have learned the moves. We have blocked them in. Later in the week the choreographer will color the movements--add the little nuances . . . make it art." Coloring.

Finally, we watched the cast of the school's upcoming production of Pippin as they rehearsed the opening scene. It was fascinating to watch the instructors giving direction to the cast members and to watch the cast take that direction. I noticed how the lingering of a syllable in a word made such a difference in the feeling of a scene. At one point, the director told the lead actress to hold back or let it swell. She said, "You're too good to put it all out there the minute you get out on stage. Give the audience little hints at the beginning, but wait and let it swell." She also talked to the other actors about setting their intention the minute they entered the stage. Swelling. Setting an intention.

Phrasing. Coloring. Swelling. Setting an intention. Sounds like great writing advice.

I was reminded yesterday that all art is essentially the same. We are all striving for the same level of honest expression and artistry. But, I was especially reminded of how much WORK it takes to achieve that level of artistry. And, I was reminded of the value of a great teacher, critique partner, writer's conference . . . anything that helps us along the way.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Katie Anderson, Master Baker

This morning I decided to clean my house. And by "clean" I mean, DEEP CLEAN.

As I was taking every last item out of my pantry, I found, way high up on a top shelf, a plethora of cookie making hardware. I'm not sure if hardware is the right word, but I found loads of fancy copper cookie cutters in tremendous shapes, as well as expensive icing dye in colors like poppy-red glitter, iridescent gold, and glistening evergreen.

It made me laugh because there was a time when I aspired to be a master cookie chef, rivaled only by Martha Stewart herself.

I went as far as to order my supplies from high-end New York suppliers and remote specialty shops. I have strange bottles of something called Lemon Emulsion (?) and weird gloves and icing tips.

What the heck?

It must have been right after I finished my short-lived career selling make-up and stationary, and right before I tried to get a black belt in Karate.

Lawsy.... thank God I found my true calling in this wonderful world of writing.

Anyone want some cookie stuff?

Because I sucked at it.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Greetings from Steamboat Springs

Hi everyone!!

This is gonna be a cop-out post (where I totally quote other people's writing tips!) because I'm on our annual family vacation in Steamboat Springs, Colorado--where there is zero humidity and cool mountain air. Bliss.

We drove out this year so that we could bring our bikes and other equipment. Plus, we're going to be out here for two weeks. So, we're talking TWENTY-TWO hours in the car with no DVDs and three little girls! Believe it or not, the trip was fine. We listened to one of the Harry Potter books, and I spent some time reading through some really great writing sites that I had downloaded for the trip. Here are a couple of things that I found:

Neil Gaiman: 8 Good Writing Practices

(I found these on the Paper Wait but check out Neil Gaiman's journal if you want to enter his fabulously eccentric world for a bit)

Neil Gaiman has become so popular he is often considered the “rock star” of the literary world. He trades mostly in science fiction and fantasy in a variety of forms—novels, children’s books, graphic novels, comic books, and film. Among his trend-setting works: Coraline, The Graveyard Book and The Sandman series. He takes readers, of all ages, to the very edge of imagination.

8 Good Writing Practices
1. Write.
2. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
3. Finish what you're writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
4. Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.
5. Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
6. Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
7. Laugh at your own jokes.
8. The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I'm not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

10 Writing Tips That Can Help Almost Anyone

from Janet Fitch's blog (you should go and visit--she's amazing!)

1. Write the sentence, not just the story
Long ago I got a rejection from the editor of the Santa Monica Review, Jim Krusoe. It said: “Good enough story, but what’s unique about your sentences?” That was the best advice I ever got. Learn to look at your sentences, play with them, make sure there’s music, lots of edges and corners to the sounds. Read your work aloud. Read poetry aloud and try to heighten in every way your sensitivity to the sound and rhythm and shape of sentences. The music of words. I like Dylan Thomas best for this–the Ballad of the Long-Legged Bait. I also like Sexton, Eliot, and Brodsky for the poets and Durrell and Les Plesko for prose. A terrific exercise is to take a paragraph of someone’s writing who has a really strong style, and using their structure, substitute your own words for theirs, and see how they achieved their effects.

2. Pick a better verb
Most people use twenty verbs to describe everything from a run in their stocking to the explosion of an atomic bomb. You know the ones: Was, did, had, made, went, looked… One-size-fits-all looks like crap on anyone. Sew yourself a custom made suit. Pick a better verb. Challenge all those verbs to really lift some weight for you.

3. Kill the Cliché.
When you’re writing, anything you’ve ever heard or read before is a cliché.They can be combinations of words: Cold sweat. Fire-engine red, or phrases: on the same page, level playing field, or metaphors: big as a house. So quiet you could hear a pin drop. Sometimes things themselves are cliches: fuzzy dice, pink flamingo lawn ornaments, long blonde hair.Just keep asking yourself, “Honestly, have I ever seen this before?” Even if Shakespeare wrote it, or Virginia Woolf, it’s a cliché. You’re a writer and you have to invent it from scratch, all by yourself. That’s why writing is a lot of work, and demands unflinching honesty.

4. Variety is the key.
Most people write the same sentence over and over again. The same number of words–say, 8-10, or 10-12. The same sentence structure. Try to become stretchy–if you generally write 8 words, throw a 20 word sentence in there, and a few three-word shorties. If you’re generally a 20 word writer, make sure you throw in some threes, fivers and sevens, just to keep the reader from going crosseyed.

5. Explore sentences using dependent clauses
A dependent clause (a sentence fragment set off by commas, dontcha know) helps you explore your story by moving you deeper into the sentence. It allows you to stop and think harder about what you’ve already written. Often the story you’re looking for is
inside the sentence. The dependent clause helps you uncover it.

6. Use the landscape
Always tell us where we are. And don’t just tell us
where something is, make it pay off. Use description of landscape to help you establish the emotional tone of the scene. Keep notes of how other authors establish mood and foreshadow events by describing the world around the character. Look at the openings of Fitzgerald stories, and Graham Greene, they’re great at this.

7. Smarten up your protagonist
Your protagonist is your reader’s portal into the story. The more observant he or she can be, the more vivid will be the world you’re creating. They don’t have to be super-educated, they just have to be mentally active. Keep them looking, thinking, wondering, remembering.

8. Learn to write dialogue

This involves more than I can discuss here, but do it. Read the writers of great prose dialogue–people like Robert Stone and Joan Didion. Compression, saying as little as possible, making everything carry much more than is actually said. Conflict. Dialogue as part of an ongoing world, not just voices in a dark room. Never say the obvious. Skip the meet and greet.

9. Write in scenes
What is a scene? a) A scene starts and ends in one place at one time (the Aristotelian unities of time and place–this stuff goes waaaayyyy back). b) A scene starts in one place emotionally and ends in another place emotionally. Starts angry, ends embarrassed. Starts lovestruck, ends disgusted. c) Something happens in a scene, whereby the character cannot go back to the way things were before. Make sure to finish a scene before you go on to the next.
Make something happen.

10. Torture your protagonist
The writer is both a sadist and a masochist. We create people we love, and then we torture them. The more we love them, and the more cleverly we torture them along the lines of their greatest vulnerability and fear, the better the story. Sometimes we try to protect them from getting booboos that are too big. Don’t. This is your protagonist, not your kid.

So . . . I'm not getting much writing done while I'm out here, but I'm doing a lot of reading about writing (as well as working my way through my to-be- read stack). I'm gonna be rarin' to go when we get home and my kiddos go back to school (school starts August 6th in Mississippi--can you believe it????).



Our Motto

Our Motto