Thursday, August 30, 2012

Update on My Writing Tree

Almost a year ago, I shared this post about my writing tree. It was a tiny, broken, but still-growing tree I walked past each day while walking my dog. It taught, inspired, and spoke to me each time I passed. So I wanted to update you on the growth and progress of my writing tree because I still pass it each day while walking my dog. On the left is what it looked like a year ago. On the right is my writing tree today. Hopefully my writing has grown and changed as much as my writing tree has.

My Writing Tree in 2012
 My Writing Tree in 2011

Monday, August 27, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: With a Name Like Love

If you've read my MMGM posts for awhile, you know I have a fondness for quiet stories, those that whisper and tug at your innermost self as you read them. With a Name Like Love by Tess Hilmo is one of these, and while we might have different definitions of a quiet story, what it NEVER is, is dull or slow. 

The premise: All her life Olivene Love's daddy has been a traveling preacher, so when the family pulls into Binder, Arkansas, she expects the usual three-day stay, and then it's on to another town. But when Ollie meets Jimmy Koppel and discovers his mom's in jail for murdering his dad (and Jimmy insists she's innocent), Ollie's need for a friend and her daddy's heart for helping others prove to be a solid force for change in this little town.

What keeps readers reading: A situation you want to mend and make right. Readers become Ollie, they stand in the shoes of her daddy, and they cheer and love Jimmy as someone (a family of someones, really) finally stands against what's wrong in Binder.

What I loved: The story's tone and freshness. It's something lively, beautiful, and full of hope. I look at Ollie and say, "Everybody needs a heart like hers." And I admire Jimmy and say, "Every person needs a friend like him."

For more middle grade recommendations, check the links put together by Shannon Messenger. 
Happy middle grade reading! 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Learning about Ourselves

When I began my editing business a few months ago, I approached it like a two-pronged pitchfork. One prong being a content consult and the other prong a proofread only. Two approaches, two different fees. Made total sense. A content consult is much more in depth and takes much more time; therefore, it costs more. A proofread is not as in depth and doesn't take as much time; therefore, it costs less.

This all made total sense, that is, until I received my first proofread only edit . . . and discovered I am not a proofreading editor. Because when I finished the "proofread only" edit, my client's manuscript had just as many notes and rewrite suggestions as when I tackle a content consult, and it took me just as much time . . . because I had given a content consult, not a proofread only. I simply cannot "proofread only." So I had to adjust my business. Might this mean I receive fewer clients? Sure. Not everyone wants a content consult or is willing to pay for one.

But when revising my own manuscripts (and they look like this while doing so . . .)

 . . . it's no surprise when I edit someone else's manuscript online, it looks much the same.

So I updated my editing services to reflect what I learned about myself. And it's interesting, isn't it? Learning new things about ourselves, I mean, when we think we have ourselves all figured out. Have you learned anything surprising about yourself lately?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Apothecary

Shannon Messenger, the founder of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, wrote an MMGM on The Apothecary by Maile Meloy last fall, and ever since, it was on my to-read list. Earlier this summer, I finally read it, and Wow! It's something special. Definitely an upper middle grade read because of its twisty, historically-based (but also magically-related) plot, I'd also classify it as one of those in-between books--somewhere between middle grade and YA. But it's simply awesome. 

The premise: It's 1952 and the Cold War is in full swing, as is the Communist Hunt (the Red Scare) in the United States. Fourteen-year-old Janie Scott moves to London with her parents to escape what the U.S. government is doing to those with suspected Communist sympathies. In London, Janie meets the Apothecary, and he harbors dangerous secrets. He also has a son named Benjamin. And then the Apothecary goes missing . . .

What keeps readers reading: An inventive blend of history mixed with magic. When Janie and Benjamin discover the strength of the secrets Benjamin's father holds--and a sense of why people want him dead--they will stop at nothing to get the Apothecary back. Suddenly, the Apothecary's job, which never interested Benjamin, is very important to him . . . and to everyone else.

What I loved: This is a historical unlike any other I've read--and I've read MANY. The Apothecary has this super cool magic element and it mixes that with historical undertones. It takes science, nature, medicine, and magic and flips it all into something that's designed to help the world. The novel left me with that "if only this were true" and "why does this have to be fiction" feeling.

For more middle grade recommendations, visit the links right here: Shannon Messenger's blog.
Happy middle grade reading!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Story's Ending

Imagine this feather, which lodged in a pine tree in my backyard one day this summer, drifting and floating and settling into place after falling from a bluejay. It's a peaceful, quiet thing to see, that drifting feather.

Now read this with that settling feather in mind:

Not long ago I read these words in a blog post from PK Hrezo: "The ending to your story should be like dropping a feather--let it drift and settle. It's not a bowling ball that falls with a thud." In the blog post, PK was summarizing some notes she took during a writing conference, and I don't know about you, but those two sentences . . . hit me like a bowling ball.

Not in a bad way, but in a perfect way. It says what I've always thought about a book's ending and could never put to words. Strange for a writer, but true in this case. My favorite endings to books aren't those that surprise the pants off me or those that leave me hanging, but neither do I want a perfect ending. I want an ending that drifts and settles.

And so this image--this drifting, falling, settling feather--depicts a story's end. Where the ending lands is up for grabs, as it should be, but how the ending falls should be in tune with the story.

What great stuff have you heard about writing a story's ending? When you read, what makes you love an ending?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Summer of the Gypsy Moths

The cover of Summer of the Gypsy Moths by Sara Pennypacker caught my eye while browsing a local bookstore, and upon reading the jacket flap, I was hooked. Well, honestly, I was hooked by the cover, but to keep a reader reading, there has to be more than a beautiful cover, right? And this book certainly has more than an eye-catching cover. So much more. 

The premise: Stella is living with her Great Aunt Louise while her mother "pulls things together." And Stella likes it with Louise . . . Louise is stable. Except that Louise took in a foster girl--Angel (who's no angel). The three of them, Stella, Louise, and Angel, will care for the garden, the cottage where Louise lives, and four vacation cottages for the summer--together. But when tragedy strikes, Stella and Angel must make it through--together.

What keeps readers reading: Two girls, so unalike, who learn to trust and care for one another. And not just as friends, they become like family as they endure what they do. Stella and Angel take on the jobs and responsibilities of adults to keep themselves going and to keep adults from realizing that tragedy has struck. Sorry for sounding vague. I'm trying not to spill any beans and spoil what really needs to be discovered by the reader.

What I loved: The ending. And again, I don't want to spoil anything, so I won't, but Sara Pennypacker writes the entire novel in such a way that the ending is perfect. Not perfect in the happily-ever-after sense, but in a perfect-for-this-story sense. And . . . I've heard rumors that Summer of the Gypsy Moths could be Newbery worthy. Time will tell . . .

For more middle grade recommendations, catch the links right here: Shannon Messenger's blog.
Happy middle grade reading!  

Monday, August 6, 2012

What's Happening

The first thing that's happening is I need to announce the winner of the signed hardcover of Circle of Secrets! 
And that lucky person is:

Kimberly Gabriel! 

Kimberley's book goes to Kimberly! How awesome is that!!

Kimberly, email your mailing address to barbarawatson94(at)gmail(dot)com, I'll pass it on to Kimberley, and Kimberley will mail her book to you, Kimberly. (Sorry. Too much fun not to do that.)

The second thing that's happening is actually something that's not happening; I have no Marvelous Middle Grade Monday for you today. With two editing projects currently on my plate (loving my new business venture, by the way!) and my niece staying with us for the week (she's 19 and for some reason doesn't want to just sit around. Huh.), I figured a tiny blogging break was in order. This means I won't post with The Kindness Project either (insert very sad face), but you can find links for that right here on Wednesday.

So this week, most likely late, late at night, I'll be doing a lot of this (--->) as I edit my way through my clients' novels. Good thing my dog Teddy always keeps me company.

Until next Monday,

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Inside Scoop: Interview with Kimberley Griffiths Little

My daughter once told me that she hopes to open an ice cream shop named "What's the Scoop?" Isn't that awesome? It has absolutely nothing to do with my post today, other than word association, but here is the scoop from author Kimberley Griffiths Little! My questions are in blue, her responses in black.

Welcome, Kimberley! Let's get to business! Do you have a typical writing day?

I wish I had a typical writing day!

Every day is different because STUFF always happens. (I strongly suspect I am not alone in this!) 

But here is the Typical Writing Day I’m always *trying* to have – and in which I succeed about 50% of the time:

I’m usually up no later than about 6:30. Been trying for 6:00 a.m. – which is hard when I stay up late reading!

After gulping down my vitamins with ice water, a banana and yogurt, I exercise, shower, and try to be out the door no later than 7:30 - 8:00 a.m.

Emails and business and blogging and social media take about 3 hours a day in some form or another and I tend to get sucked in first thing. I’m obsessive about my email and it drives me crazy to have unanswered emails in my Inbox!

I also include some form of spiritual reading/prayer, meditation time – hopefully before lunchtime!

Research and/or reading


Writing or Revision or Plotting


Writing, etc. Fix Dinner, Errands, appts, meetings, SCBWI schmoozes, bills, take care of kiddos, phone calls from my long-distance family, prepping lessons or school visits or talks or presentations...

My husband tells me that I constantly put too much on my To Do List – and I always wish I could accomplish more each day. Why are we never satisfied? :-)

Whew! I agree with your husband. I need a nap now. *lays down* Can you share a bit about your creative process?

I’m a big 3x5 card plotter. When I’m starting a new idea and brainstorming I throw everything I come up with, ideas, notes, etc into a notebook or Word document; bits of research, potential scenes, character traits, sometimes dialogue, plot points, opening lines, potential climax, etc.

After I’ve spent a few weeks thinking about the story, and usually a brainstorming lunch session with my crit partner, Carolee Dean, as well, (I’m very lucky she is a brilliant brainstormer) I sit down and do 3x5 card plotting. I’ve done this for about 6-7 book projects now. It’s such a fun and easy way to plan your book out and then see your whole *book* spread across the table or floor to organize and develop further.

I’m a guest author at WriteOnCon, the biggest online writing conference August 14-15 – AND I’m doing a video about 3x5 card plotting so don’t miss it! Go here for all the details and to sign up! It’s free, it’s easy, and it’s truly fabulous. Authors, Agents, and Editors. Live Chats. Blog Posts. Videos. Tons of info for aspiring and published writers.

Great! I'm 'attending' WriteOnCon and want to hear more about your 3x5 card plotting. Which part of the writing process do you enjoy the most?

I love the research because it is so darn fascinating. My YA debut is the launch of a trilogy Fall 2013 with Harpercollins, a novel about the roots of belly dance in the ancient world and the goddess temples with a sweeping, epic romance. The research is completely engrossing. So many juicy details on every page! I’m also a belly dancer myself and the history and culture fascinate me. I also love Egypt, Paris, Edinburgh, and castles. I stayed in a haunted tower room at Borthwick Castle once. Didn’t sleep a wink!

On the Writing Front: I’m a much bigger lover of drafting rather than revising. I love when the story pours out and I can’t type fast enough. Revision can be daunting trying to clean up a big, huge mess and figure it all out.

Hhaaa! I recently blogged about how I didn't love revision but have grown to, but there is nothing quite like the times when writing pours from your fingers. Why have you chosen to write for kids?

Mostly because I never stopped reading children’s and young adult books. Books were my best friends growing up because I was painfully shy (so shy I could hardly talk!). The world of a kid is still so magical and wondrous. I think the world of children’s lit contains some of the best and most groundbreaking writing going on today. The best part is that finally adults are devouring MG and YA books, too. At last they see the light!

Yes, hooray for adults reading MG and YA! My blog readers should know how much I love MG, and I do throw in a YA novel here and there too. :-) What bits of wisdom or advice would you be willing to share with other writers?

Most writers don’t talk very openly about how hard and daunting it can be to write an entire novel, polish it, get an agent, and then a publisher. We’re embarrassed to admit it can take years. Decades! It did for me. I also submitted my work much too early. Take the time to learn your craft. Find a critique group. Write a LOT. And I mean write a LOT. And read a lot. Study the best books. Enjoy the journey, too, and friends in the writing community are priceless. My journey has been long and arduous and full of pitfalls and orphaned books and leaving one agent to acquire my dream agent. A dozen “practice” novels. So many rejection letters I’ve lost count. But I kept going and never gave up, even if it meant having a good cry and taking a break once in awhile! I kept writing new work and I kept polishing old work until something *stuck*.

Such great words for writers. Thank you! I've read rumors that you have a writing cottage. Can you confirm or deny the rumor for us? If it is indeed true, how does it enhance your writing life?

The rumors are true! It’s about 7 months old now and I’ve been slowly getting furniture and curtains and putting up pictures. After I had a roof, walls and a door, I worked at a card table for 3 months while my desk got lost in warehouses around the country. I love the peace and quiet, the ability to focus. I’ve never had an office, just a desk in my bedroom or the kitchen. To have my own space at last makes my life as a writer all feel more real—as long as I don’t fall asleep on the couch!

When I sold the YA trilogy to Harpercollins the offer was so tremendous I knew that *now* was the time to make my writing cottage dream come true. My husband supported me fully and my brother who is a contractor built it for me—his wife and kids came down with him and we had a blast building it together in only a week (although the wild snowstorm the day he arrived from out of state nearly stopped us. We poured concrete in 15 degrees and the truck froze). It was kind of like an old-fashioned barn raising. Now I even have a daybed for reading - and windows on every single side for views and light.

That sounds (and looks!!) about perfect. I'm sure some of my blog readers now have cottage envy. What has surprised you the most about your writing journey?

#1. How hard it is, and what a slow learner I was! Back in the day I didn’t know any other writers so I just read books about writing. I didn’t know SCBWI existed or writing groups and conferences. They make a huge difference in helping you with your craft, in getting to know the business, as well as providing supportive friends – friends who *get* it on your journey. And friends who will cry with you during the rejection years - and then take you to lunch.

#2. I have also been astounded by how truly wonderful and generous and nurturing a good editor can be. I’m blessed with two now (one at Scholastic and the other at Harpercollins). Each editor has a different style, but they are both terrific for me and feed me and support me in different ways.

  #3. The other thing that has surprised me is that the work, the writing, the discipline and dedication has not stopped. In fact, it’s ramped up. No longer can I dabble for months with The Muse and an idea. If I want a book out every year (a MG in the Spring and a YA in the Fall which happens for the first time in 2013) I need to be constantly brainstorming, plotting, drafting, revising, researching, revising again, promoting, and getting ready for book launches with all its attendant 10,000 details.

I’m still learning to enjoy the journey, to not go crazy (at least not more than once a day!), and to keep loving the writing most of all because that’s where it all begins.

Ahhhhh. Great closing words--enjoy the journey. Thank you so much, Kimberley! Don't forget there is a giveaway of Kimberley's Circle of Secrets still open. Scroll to the post below. And . . . I'll leave you with the beauty that is the cover of Kimberley's next middle grade book.