So, I wasn’t sold on writing one of these, but I decided that I really want folks to know about my approach to this whole writing game. I’m all in, and I love getting feedback on my work.

There’s always more to learn – in writing and in life. I approach things with the open mind of a child but the dedication of a seasoned writing vet. I’ve been writing seriously since 2009, have written 4 complete middle grade manuscripts, one complete YA manuscript and myriad picture books. My middle grade manuscript, LAIMA MONTROVE WANTS TO BE A WITCH, was a finalist for the Eldin Memorial Fellowship this past spring, and I’ve been a member of the SCBWI off and on (as funds allow – you know, living the starving-artist dream right now!).

My projects are typically dark, whimsical fantasy and atmospheric horror for middle grade. I love playing with words and I love being creeped out – always have. I spent a lot of time in my imagination as a kid, and I’ve found some things just don’t change.

As a mentee I’ll be committed to improving my manuscript and will be open and willing to put in the effort to make it shine. I’m looking forward to the challenge!

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Today’s the first time I’ve heard of the 777 challenge, which instructs you to go to the 7th page of your WIP, to the 7th line, and take the next 7 lines to share. A fellow writer, Suzanne Warr, tagged me and I have chosen to accept! So, here it goes. This is an excerpt from my witchy MG manuscript. Hope you enjoy!

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“That look never gets us anywhere good.” Finn shook his head. “Last time I saw it you dragged me through the fence into the orchard, ‘It’ll be fun, Finn, I promise.’ And we ended up getting caught. I thought Mr. Silverman was going to call the cops on us for sure.”

“You wanted to go!” Laima said as the screen door to her house creaked open. She couldn’t admit that she probably wouldn’t have gone alone. Being alone was almost as bad as being cooped up in the house under her mother’s watchful eye. Being alone meant having time to think. And having time to think meant remembering Petra.

**

And now I’m going to have to tag some other folks, I suppose! Happy Friday!

For me, ideas form seemingly out of nowhere. But when I spend some time trying to pin it down, I realize there’s usually a trigger from my daily life.

My first manuscript began with a street name: Clinket Street. It was part of an address on a payment I was reviewing for fraudulent activity. It twisted and morphed into a trinket shop (my brain works in rhyme: Clinket, trinket, you get the idea) and then an entire adventure to recover lost trinkets.

A more recent manuscript started with the feeling I had walking down my open basement stairs as a kid. They had no backs, and I was always terrified that something was about to grab my ankles. That idea twisted and morphed into a story about a boy who actually does find something down in his basement, and that something snatches his sister and drags her down into the depths where he discovers an entire system for processing the souls of the dead.

I think the most important things to do when you’re trying to come up with ideas are:

1. To give yourself the mental space (think: wide open mind) to recognize the ideas. To dream them up and then let them become what they need to be.

2. Be brave. Push the envelope. Come up with the most out-there scenarios and then use your words to give them shape.

3. Write them down! It doesn’t matter if they turn into anything right then. I have a journal where I jot down ideas. Then if I’m at a point in my manuscript where I need an idea, I use the journal to jog my creative mind.

I recently drafted a blog post about revising to be featured on my agent’s Blog. I thought I’d share it here too!

My revision process is a very organic one, so it took me a little while to whittle it down. I decided the best way to illustrate it would be to break it down into steps. I think one of the most important (and most difficult) things to do when revising is to take your time. I’ve had to learn this myself, as I tend to throw myself into things quickly. But I really value taking time to process feedback and make wise and calculated decisions about how to move forward. If you do, it will save time in the long run and you’ll produce better work.

1. Take at least 24 hours to process the feedback so you can get all your emo junk out of the way. Make rational choices on how to approach the suggestions, rather than emotional ones. (I often break this rule. Waiting is just so hard. And I rather like getting feedback, even if it’s not all sunshine and roses. The stuff that is tough to hear will help make your story stronger.)

2. Ask for clarification on any feedback that is unclear. Do your best to see the story from your reader’s perspective. This helps so much when trying to determine what they see and what changes will work.

3. Develop ideas for how to approach feedback. My feedback is often related to fleshing things out and developing ideas more, as I tend to be a fast drafter, so I spend lots of time gazing off into the big blue Colorado sky and daydreaming (i.e. brainstorming) during this step.

4. Depending on the relationship you have with your CP/agent, use them to brainstorm too. If you get stuck on how to approach something, ask for ideas. Weed out what doesn’t work and focus on what speaks to you and your story. You don’t have to take every piece of advice you’re given but in the same sense, don’t disregard feedback simply because it’s difficult to put into action.

5. Once you’ve decided how to tackle the changes, decide on your approach to actually making them within your manuscript. I try to work through the most involved changes first, as they’ll most likely effect a larger part of the story. No sense in changing more than is necessary, or doing things twice.

6. Take your time with each phase of revising. Smooth out additions, weaving in relevant changes from beginning to end. Make sure the changes you’ve made are cohesive and comprehensive.

7. Once you feel like the manuscript has been fully revised, set it aside. Re-read after a few days with fresh eyes. Then, send it to trusted critique partners. I have different CPs for first round revisions and later round revisions. I don’t like to ask my CPs to read the project over and over. We’re all busy!

One other thing I wanted to mention. It’s so beneficial to have a handful of trusted CPs, not just one or two (and definitely not just a family member or friend!), and preferably CPs with different talents. Some are better at line edits and catching things like issues with filter words or narrative inconsistencies. Others are better at big picture edits, plotting, and overall development of the story/characters. It really helps to have both.

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius power and magic in it.” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I found this quote wonderfully relevant today. I discovered a handful of poetry contests and decided to try my luck at them. Taking action towards a goal is empowering. It feels like a great way to start the new year.

My seven year old wrote this poem and I had to share. I started writing poetry when I was her age, too. Reading this made me super-happy, especially her reaction at the end. 😉

 

I saw pumpkins stacked in a pile
listening to spooky songs.
I stepped in gooey mud puddles
as I walked along.
I stomped through the spooky woods,
I got scared and ran away
and that was the end of me!
The orange leaves were blowing in the wind.
I tripped over a log,
I looked up,
The vicious mummy was standing right there.
The one I heard earlier, you know.
Oh I karate chopped him
and skipped all the way home
Aaaaaaah, that felt good.

                                           ~ Tanner H.

 

So I like to try and spice up the blog a bit with tidbits from my kids. They’re an endless source of entertainment (and frustration, but today is about entertainment).

Mason 1st day

My son started kindergarten yesterday and neither he nor I could be more ready for that to happen. He’s generally a good kid. Tries hard. Follows directions. Resourceful…to a fault. That’s where this story begins.

Yesterday, I packed his lunch: PB & J, yogurt, granola bar and some grapes. Fairly well rounded, healthy. You get the idea. So, when he got home yesterday, I asked all the normal parent-y questions about his first day. When I got to “how was your lunch?” he responds, “Good, I had salad.” I pause. Blink. Brain clickety-clacks. “Salad? How’d you have salad, bud?” I ask him. I’m sure the expression on my face was priceless. He responds as he reaches into his pockets and pulls out some change, “I buyed it.” My jaw drops, eyes go wide. And I start laughing hysterically. Here I am worrying that he’s going to get lost in the school, forget to bring things home, etc., and he’s got the foresight to bring his OWN money, just in case. Needless to say, I told him he didn’t need to use his own money for that. Mommy would send some to school. And I praised him for buying a salad, not cookies or other junk. Then I called my husband and we laughed hysterically about it!

“This is not a cliché to children, it is a situation they will enjoy. I must keep reminding you that this is a book for children and I don’t give a bugger what grown-ups think about it. This has always been my attitude.” ~ Roald Dahl, on editorial feedback for The Witches

‘”Show, don’t tell” should not be applied to all incidents in a story. According to James Scott Bell, “Sometimes a writer tells as a shortcut, to move quickly to the meaty part of the story or scene. Showing is essentially about making scenes vivid. If you try to do it constantly, the parts that are supposed to stand out won’t, and your readers will get exhausted.”[5] Showing requires more words; telling may cover a greater span of time more concisely.[6] A novel that contains only showing would be incredibly long; therefore, a narrative can contain some legitimate telling.’ (Taken directly from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Show,_don%27t_tell).

I think sometimes as writers, we get hung up on the show, don’t tell philosophy. While you absolutely need to show certain aspects of your story to deepen the reader’s experience, sometimes telling serves a purpose too. I think the above summarizes this perfectly. Knowing when to use each is a major part of perfecting your own craft.

I’m writing to you from amidst a house full of chaos, of one sort or another. It’s mid-July, and while the publishing world comes to a near standstill, my kids, unfortunately do not. They’re busy making forts, terrorizing each other, the cat, and myself, and creating messes of a magnitude I haven’t even dared to imagine. Yes, folks, this is FUN.

We’re planning a trip to visit my parents in their brand-new retirement home on Cape Cod, which sounds lovely, but in reality, is going to be an epic journey (alone, with all three kids, on an evening flight from Denver). Once we’re there it’ll be a blast. Beaches, whale watching, mini-golf, after-dinner trips for ice cream. I’m sure it will prove very nostalgic for me, too, since that’s where we used to vacation when I was a kid, growing up in Connecticut.

I’ve also made a big decision with my agent, Christa Heschke, to go out on submission with my second book, a MG Horror, first. It’ll be ahead of my MG Fantasy, which is the book Christa signed me on. Christa approached me after reading it, and asked how I felt about going out with this one first. I was elated, because as much as I love the first book, I knew the second was much closer to being ready too. So, after a round of revisions on book #2, all of which were relatively minor and straightforward, I’m awaiting her feedback and hoping that my MG Horror will be ready to go out on submission really soon!