Monthly Archives: March 2013

Sweet Bits

With a book about to come out, and another almost maybe possibly at last finished (knocks wooden desk), it’s a sweet time in writing land. When I’m in the thick of drafting and figuring out plot, it’s hard to raise my head and have coherent thoughts about the process. But I’m sitting back a little today. Looking around. Having a few thoughts, coherent or otherwise:

I recenlty read a review where the work was highly praised except for the fact that one of the main characters was too reflective and self-aware. The critic said this didn’t leave the reader enough to do. I am taking that to heart.

My husband, a teacher, recently went to an evening of plays written, directed and acted by students. In the program, one of the playwrites said how amazing it was to see her work interpreted by others.  She was having, I think, her first experience of sending her words out into the world and seeing them come to belong to others. This echoed something I’d read by the brilliant madman Jack Gantos, who wrote about how, when readers tell him his words have delighted them, he thinks to himself, No, you have delighted yourself.  A writer is the catalyst for making something deep within a reader show up.

I also read a blog post by a writer who, while sitting at signings,  frequently finds herself  stymied by the question, “Is this a book  a twelve-year old boy would like?”  As if there’s  such a thing as a generic twelve year old boy, any more than there is a forty-five year old man. Her post, which you can read here,, made me laugh as well as shake my own head. I’ve had enough teachers tell me they’ve successfully read the MO WREN books aloud to know they’re not “girl books”, but who knows how many boys I’ve seen pick them up and set them back down because of the girls on the covers.  

And that brings me around to one last thing, the delightful post Julie Danielson, who writes the blog “Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast” as well as reviews for Kirkus, did on PHOEBE AND DIGGER. It’s surprised me a  bit how much attention reviewers have paid to the “bullying” aspect of the book–I didn’t even think of the mean girl as a bully, just as a fact of playground life–and how little they ‘ve paid to two of the things I love best about it: that Phoebe is a child of color and a  girl whose alter-ego is a powerful machine.  This post gets both those things. Here it is, and I have nothing more profound to say on that than Thank you.


With over 1800 titles and more than 250 million copies in print, it’s safe to say the “For Dummies” books have made their mark. There’s something for each of us, from the dangerous sounding “Beekeeping “,  “Welding”, or “Anger Management” for  dummies, to the more reassuring “Boost Your Confidence in One Day” and the bucolic “Building Chicken Coops” . Entire relationships are covered: “Flirting” to “Dating” to “Budget Weddings” to “Divorce” to “Grieving” for dummies.  At a time when so many people are hiring assistants and coaches for everything from buying clothes to getting their kids into college, these do-it-yourself guides are a drink of  well water.

I recently received a copy of  the 2nd edition of “Writing Children’s Books for Dummies”, written by Lisa Rojany Buccieri and Peter Economy (a name to love). I am here to recommend it for anyone starting out in the field.  Every nut and bolt is in place, including the usual sections on formats and genres, creating compelling characters, writing real-world dialogue, finding your voice, pacing, and revising. It’s user friendly, with icons of lit fuses or raised fingers to warn or remind. While I’ve seen plenty of writing exercises over the years, most of these are new and many lo0k like fun–for example, creating a “Smellography” , an autobiographical record of as many smell memories as you can.

Various writers, editors and publicists weigh in with advice. From Michael Green, publisher at Philomel: “Nothing earns a rejection slip faster than an overwritten first paragraph.” And “Dramatic pacing and characterization are vital. An author needs to be careful, however, of not forcing the issue. Quiet, subtle moments in Chapter 2 might very well be setting up an earthquake in Chapter 5; the contrast betwen the two will help the tension pop when it finally arrives.”

The sections on getting published and book promotion are up to date, at least as of this second. Much of the advice here is classic: for example, under getting an agent: “Just following the agency’s guidelines automatically makes you stand out from the competition.” I had my agent tell me just that,  nearly word for word. The chapter on self-publishing, such a different ball game from even a few years ago, lays out the many options in helpful, eye-opening detail.

 In the end, no one can tell you how to do this.  The heart and intent have to be your own. But reading books like this can make you feel good about how much you already know, and aware, yet again, of all you have to learn, a humbling, not bad thing.  

All Over the Map

In one day this week, I Skyped with children in Rockford, Illinois, Georgetown, Maine, and, ummm, somewhere in Texas.  As anyone who reads this blog knows, technology and I have broken up and gotten back together again any number of times. But I’ve  never wavered in my devotion to Skype, which only seems to get better and better.  When I first tried it, there’d nearly always be a glitch, a slow-down that turned me into scary, robotic Tricia.  But this week, all went  Jetson-easy.

Lipstick, check. Pretty bright scarf, check. (It’s shocking, I know, but some authors, no names, are known to do these visits in PAJAMA BOTTOMS.) Ready for your close-up? That bloopy sound effect, a click of the mouse and—there they are! A room full of wide-eyed kids, waving at you.  The teacher’s head looms up, she adjusts the sound, some more waving, which is so much fun, and then it’s down to business, talking about how you became a writer and how you do it.  During one of the sessions, Habibi meandered by, and I was able to persuade him to wave to the camera (shrieks of glee). Now that  is something that’s never going to happen during my “real” visits.

As always, the kids asked wonderful questions, including doesn’t my hand get tired (no, but my brain does), where did I get the name Mo (I wish I could remember) and which of my books is my favorite? (I can’t pick one, because the others would get too jealous). One especially fun feature of these visits was getting to show the Mean Girl from PHOEBE AND DIGGER.  I put the page up close to the camera and made her wiggle menacingly–most effective!

As spring comes on, I’ll be doing more visits, some in person and some via the screen, each with its own pleasures. I even seem to have promised I’d do a “twitterchat” which sounds like a Shakespearean epithet.  Oh brave new world!


Writing advice of the week, paraphrased from something Maya Angelou has said: Write. Just write and write no matter how hard. Sooner or later, the Muse will say, “Oh fine!” and show up.


Still time to enter my PHOEBE giveaway over on Goodreads!

Where It Happens (or not)

Jennifer Bertman is a writer and editor whose blog has a fun feature called Creative Spaces. I was lucky to be interviewed by her. To get a glimpse of where I work, including a cat’s eye view—

Can you spy: the chewed up emory board, the rubber brain, and a wonderful picture book titled “Island”?

Thank you, Jennifer!

P.S. A PHOEBE AND DIGGER giveaway (five signed copies of the book) is in full swing over on Goodreads!