A Taste of Outsider Plots (with thoughts from Cheryl Klein)

I know. I know. Two weeks in a row with a book review (of sorts). My excuse: I’m on vacation, so tend to read non-fiction I can pick up and put down at any time, either to think about what I’ve read or because vacation interrupts my reading. With fiction, I’m more of a cover-to-cover in a breath or two sort of reader, hence the NF.


First off, I love Scholastic editor Cheryl Klein, and would love to work with her and her stunning insights…That said even though she has very politely rejected everything I’ve sent her. My association: I was once her Personal Assistant for a SCBWI-Michigan conference years ago, and eat up her words of editorial wisdom.

Naturally, I would recommend reading her entire book, but for this post, I’d like to share an example of two “Outsider Plot Structures” she mentions. One is the “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” outsider — someone different who is scorned by the community, but saves them, anyway. The other is the “Ugly Duckling” outsider — someone scorned by the community, who ends up leaving to find his own like-minded kind.

Isn’t that just brilliantly simple? And that’s just from half a page of her 305-page book! Did I mention that I love Cheryl Klein? So if you’re stuck on plot and need a writing or rewriting challenge, when you’re on vacation (or now), pick up Cheryl’s book to keep you on your writing toes.

The Artist’s Way Revisited

For you writers who have not gone through an Artist’s Way course…why haven’t you? Perhaps you’ve heard of the benefits of Morning Pages or the Artist’s Date? Those come from this course.

THE ARTIST’S WAY by Julia Cameron is a must-read-must-do book for all writers, artists, composers, and other creators (but especially for writers). It is a twelve-week course, with each week’s chapter starting with the word “Recovering.”

I’d heard mummers of it in the writing community when it first came out. A friend took it as a college course. I went through it in an on-line group (with strangers). Now, several years later, I’m going through it again on my own. I appreciate going through THE ARTIST’S WAY as a course or on-line group because then you can whine and complain about how you can’t do some of the things or how hard they are, as well as sharing the joys of recovering your creativity. I like going through the book alone now because I can jump around the chapters or select only some of the activities, plus I have no time factor of when assignments must be done.

In each chapter there are tasks or activities to do. For instance, in week seven you are supposed to make a Jealousy Map. Who in their right mind wants to think about negatives things like jealousy? Well, by doing this exercise (one of several in this chapter), you begin to rethink things. You are to list the who (you are jealous of), why, and one action to move out of jealousy. For one of the examples Cameron gives:  Who (my sister Libby); Why (she has a real art studio); Action Antidote (fix the spare room). An example from me: Who (Stephen King); Why (he writes half the day then takes l-o-n-g walks in the afternoons); My action antidote (write 30 minutes each day and take a 30 minute walk each day, with hopes of increasing those times). With baby steps you can move forward, plus get rid of the negative (jealous) feelings in order to move on to your own creativity.

So if you feel in the middle of winter blues and need a creative perk to get you out of your glum-chum mood, or are simply curious about a way to increase your creativity, I recommend THE ARTIST’S WAY by Julia Cameron.

Commercial over, but I encourage you to renew your creativity. Learn. Think. Grow. Write.

A Writer’s Death. A Writer’s Vow.

A writer friend died this past Sunday. It’s rare these days that writers actually meet face-to-face (except at conferences), as writing, out of necessity, tends to be such a solitary activity in our busy lives. But writers bond, no matter our differences. Deb and I were in the monthly Black Hill Writers Group 10-20 years ago. I moved to Michigan. Later, she moved to be with family in Indiana. We’d both left “the group,” but now we were only five hours near to each other! We often wrote of getting together. We never did.

Deb and I didn’t write in the same genre, nor even for the same age group. We also had major differences of life opinion, but we still called each other “friend.” She, too, lived long enough to be a Grandma. She will be missed, both by her family and friends, and by the writing and reading community who knew her.

Besides just the life and death thing — making the most of our time on this earth before we haven’t any more — I can’t express how old I feel at the moment. As my parents aged, they’d hear of friends dying, friends they’d always intended to get together with one more time. Too late. Now, for the first time in my life, I relate. I see The Lion King song “The Circle of Life” relates not just to births, but also to deaths.

I write this post still numbed and raw from the news of Deb’s death, yet think for the millionth time wonder again why I am here and how can I best make use of my mortal life. As a Christian, I feel certain of my life after death. My death is not a worry for me. I’ll be sad for the sadness I’ll leave behind, but for me it’s merely a step from shadow through a doorway to clarity. My concern is more about what I do and say and think here in this time, in this body, on this earth. Unless we humans destroy each other, or a meteor puts a big bang into our planet, etc., I want to make my moments count. I’ll never be a great politician, nor famous for my work with poor or diseased or spiritually deprived, but I am a writer.  I can’t stop school shootings, nor planes crashing, but I can write. And writing goes beyond the grave.

This writer’s vow is not just to pound out word-counts, but each month to improve my craft so my words can relate smoothly to my readers. This writer’s vow is to maintain contact with and encourage other writers, both on-line and face-to-face. This writer’s vow is to be more observant of people and events around me and to deeply think about them so I can not only help, but someday perhaps write about them.

Live. Observe. Write.

What to do About Those Brain-Suckers

I’ve recently returned home from ten days of helping with twin newborn grandbabies and their three-year-old sister. What an honor to be there just the day they were born and able to help with the initial care of this beautiful, growing family. Also, getting to play with a pre-school-mind-sponge was tons of tiring fun.

I was so prepared for this out-of-state adventure. I’d taken several books and finger-puppets for kiddo, and my new laptop, two books to read, and three notebooks for different projects for me, as well as all my state tax information, for I fully intended to do some writing and reading and related business in my spare time.

Spare time? Oh, hahahahaha!

When I wasn’t playing, changing diapers, cuddling criers, sweeping, mopping, washing dishes and clothes, reading picture books, giving baths, braiding hair, acting out nursery rhymes with finger-puppets, fixing meals, cleaning the kitty litter, finding appropriate 3-year-old programs to watch, etc., I was so tired I simply could not think; that is, think creatively enough to put words down onto paper (or computer).

This brain-sucking reminds me of a man from church who had a heart attack. (Yes, this is relative to baby care.) When he was recovering at home, his wife asked him if he needed anything from the store. He answered, “Pampers.” They are in their 70’s. No babies needing Pampers in their house. So she pursued: “Why do we need Pampers?” “For the cat.” It took her a while to figure out he was searching for the words “kitty litter,” but the heart attack so affected his mind that finding the right word choice was difficult.

Today at the grocery store the clerk asked me if I wanted paper or plastic bags. I stared at her open-mouthed as if answering that question was like trying to calculate the distance between Mars and Jupiter in meters.

Medical conditions, emotional problems, or even the best of stress (like lapping up Grandma time) and being doggone tired does funny things to your mind and thought process and writing time.

Can you write during these times? Or better yet, should you write during these times?

Stepping back from those past ten days and slowly recovering (but willing to return in a heartbeat), I’ve realized three things:

1) Family always, always comes first;

2) No matter how idealistic it is to strive for the “write every day” banner, there are just going to be some life times when it’s not feasible to do so; and

3) Take a deep breath and give yourself a temporary guilt-free writing pass.

And now for a bit of grandparent awww:

A Grandparents & 1st day twins

Writing is What Happens While You’re Living Your Life

Perhaps you’ve heard the expression: “Life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans.”

I’ve got another one for writers which I just came up with: “Writing is what happens while you’re living your life.”

Through the years I’ve read dozens of articles, books, posts, etc. about how to write every day regardless of the situations thrown at you. I’m more of the feast or famine type of writer. Given the time, I can easily write 2,667 words in a day, but I refuse to feel guilty if a day or few go past and I haven’t written anything on my WIP.

In life, there are the Big Seven for causing stress in your life, all of which I’ve gone through personally or with a family member or close friend. They are birth (or other things related to children), sickness, death, divorce (or relational breakup), job change, changing of housing location, and…can’t remember. Probably something about losing your mental facilities. Actually, all of the Big Seven have to do with loss of some sort. Oh. The seventh has to do with money.

As a living writer, during any given week of life you may go through one or some of these Big Seven, along with the thousands of other smaller life distractions. That’s the challenge for any writer. The trick to being a writer is to write.

Just like athletes or people wanting to lose weight, partners can help you stick to your goals. Without my critique groups and other writing groups, I wouldn’t have the discipline to pound out chapters. There’s just too much life stuff going on all the time causing disturbances in my writing time to be able to write without a commitment to others.

My sister-in-law died this week. Sad. I live in the moment with the relatives, but I still write.

Next week I’ll be a grandmother of twins. I’ll desert my dear hubby and go the five hours around the pond to be a baby-nurse and toddler-helper (and maybe cook and housekeeper) for an unspecified amount of time (probably until just short of homicide; dead fish, guests, and all). I’m thankful I’m healthy enough and unemployed enough to be able to help out — not to mention lapping up tons of Grandma Time. Will I have the energy in all my spare time to do writing? Somehow I think this might be one of those writing famine times. Then again, with writing, I can usually control my characters, or else say, “I can’t belive you just did that,” then wait a day or few for a proper, civilized response. Whether I actually write or not, I’ll be storing up plenty of life experience things to incorporate into my future writing.

But my very best advice, and challenge, to writers is: Don’t quit. Keep on writing.

Happy 2015! New Year’s Goals

I stopped making resolutions years ago. Now I make goals. That way I don’t break them, I just may not reach them. It seems gentler.

This year I plan on revising two MG stories I wrote about 20 years ago and either subbing traditionally or self-publishing. For my Raw Writing (first drafts), I’d like to write more on the collaborative fantasy I’m writing with my son as well as the sequel to WAR UNICORN and work on another MG historical fiction. I also need to learn more about marketing and promotion. I’ve learned a lot these past two years, a whole lot, but it’s just a smidgen of what I should know.

Are these big goals to reach for 2015? You betcha. Will I make them? Find out in December. I write them here to make myself accountable. Thank you for holding me accountable.

Your turn. What are your 2015 Writing Goals?

Burnt Nuts for Breakfast — Revisions or Rewrite?

After making Chex Mix (R) every year since cereal was invented, today I burnt my first batch. Last night I’d left the ingredients out so I could make it first thing in the morning while I did an extended morning workout between the scheduled stir times. Only, before the hour time of baking was up, I noticed that distinct burnt smell filling my kitchen. The only thing I can think of was that because it was early morning, and I didn’t want to turn on the bright overhead lights but used a small side light, this may have meant I pressed in the wrong oven temperature. I also may not have stirred as often as in past times because, well, I was multitasking, after all.

So here was my burnt batch of Christmas treats–with a full extra can of cashews added to the mix!

On went the overhead light to see how much, if any, I could salvage. I put a plate on one side for the burnt pieces and a bowl on the other for the non-burnt pieces. I picked out the obvious ones, and dusted the burnt crumbs off of some bits. I taste-tested many of the sad-looking, dried-out nuts to see if others with those same hues and shrivels should go to the good pile or bad. I’d made a double batch, and it was taking me forever to pick out each individual piece. Plus, my stomach wasn’t feeling too hot from eating all those burnt nuts for breakfast.

All this got me thinking about writing (of course). Or in this case, revisions v.s. rewriting. With any novel I finish and set aside for a time, I always find things which need some serious work. There are pieces which can be fixed with revisions. With other novels I feel need for a total rewrite. And still others were obviously merely for keyboard typing practice.

You, the author of your finished work, are in charge of your words. Should you go over your novel and hand-pick word-by-word, line-by-line to make it good? Or should you toss the entire batch, I mean, manuscript, and start from scratch with a rewrite? Whichever way you choose, choose, but please don’t serve burnt nuts. (I also don’t recommend eating them.) After all, what is your end goal? Isn’t it to provide good taste for your readers (or relatives’ tummies)? Never, ever be satisfied with burnt.

Happy reading, writing,…and eating.

Throwing Away Your Loved Ones

Last fall I got poison ivy…again. I was put on steroids…again. Today I looked over my 2014 writing goals and started thinking about my 2015 ones. (Can these two thoughts possibly have anything in common, or have anything at all to do with throwing away your loved ones? Yes, indeed.)

Steroids gives me a perk. This past fall I started digging through some boxes buried in an unused room. One box had notes and papers from writers conferences I’d attended, some nearly twenty years old. I loved attending each and every one. The faces of dear old writer friends popped into my head. The laughter from those times rang faintly in my ear. There was the excellent food and simply a break from the day-to-day life reality. I loved those times and those people–many of whom I am still in contact with. I was glad for the remembering, but I didn’t need a box of outdated files. That large box of past conferences narrowed down to one small file on writing craft gleaned from all those conferences. The rest of those loved ones, which I’d clung to for decades, I threw away.

I do the same with my writing, but never while on steroids! I appreciate the umph the medicine gives me to do things I know I should but don’t necessarily want to do. But when I revise or even rewrite, deciding if an entire chapter or even a character must be thrown away is not a decision I trust while on meds.

Even though I accomplished most of my 2014 writing goals, they were rather chatty. Thing is, even when writing a simple thing like a list of goals, I find myself stockpiling and hording words. Who am I to think that my words are that important that anyone wants to read so many of them, even me? So for 2015, I decided to throw away extra words. Even though it’s not 2015 yet, I’ll stop here.


Checklist for Bookstore Book Signing

Especially if you haven’t been to the store before, it’s always helpful to be prepared to help sell your books. That’s why you’re there. I have a checklist of things to bring. I also use this for library signings. Please adapt this list to your own signings needs.

Before the Signing

* Do your own bit of advertising of the event on Twitter, FaceBook, other social media, newsletter, friends, etc. Grab the store’s link and tweet that.

The Basics

* Professional-looking outfit

* Extra copies of my books (even if the store says they have some, that may mean 3)

* Two pens

* Business cards or other swag to physically hand out to “lookers”

* Table cloth

* A candy dish…filled with candy, of course

* Water bottle

* Smile

(Hint: If you bring your iPhone, which I do, try not to look at it unless absolutely necessary. You’re there for potential customers/fans. They didn’t come to see the top of your head.)


* Dress in costume for the holiday or festival theme

* A prop or two for the table (if there’s room) which would have something to do with your story

If you are selling the books yourself (e.g., an Authorpalooza at a library), you may also need to take

* Money for change and a “Square” for taking credit cards

After the Event

* Write a thank you letter or email to the people who invited you.

Tomorrow (Saturday, December 6) I’ll be doing a book signing along with several other authors. We’ll rather tag-team all day, from 11-4 at Kzoo Books on Parkview Ave in Kalamazoo, MI. I’ll be there from 11-12:30, during the “Children’s Authors” time, but there are other genres and age groups coming all day. If you’re in the area…you know what to do!

NaNoWriMo? More Like NaNoBooHoo

I was going full steam that first week in November — way back four weeks ago. I not only reached my daily word counts, but exceeded them. Then big-time disaster struck. I needed to sub something to one of my critique groups. I know. I know. I should have just passed and given them the week off of critiquing so I could continue on with my on-fire-hot-word-count-writing. What I subbed to my crit group was chapter 11 of a 26-chapter book which was “finished.” Revising it to send to them, turned my mind totally on that piece of writing, so I revised it to the end. Of course, I felt it was dynamically written, so I started looking into editors and agents. That done, like having postpartum blues, I crashed. I started writing “NaNoHaHa” in emails. About the same time I’d accepted a school storytelling assignment. I explained I only had 1800’s outfits and 1800’s stories. My contact said it wasn’t a problem. They were just kindergarteners. But in my former teaching brain, I thought, “Kindergarteners who know the 200 year difference between a Pilgrim’s outfit and a Civil War outfit. So I started making a Pilgrim outfit and researching the era. Yes, this was indeed a bit distracting. Then there was leaving the state for the weekend, and this last week, company in from out of state for the week.

So I decided not to cheat on the NaNoWriMo word count, except for adding four revised chapters from “that other novel.” I uploaded what I had, but I still didn’t win. This year. It felt more like NaNoBooHoo than anything to do with a month of writing.

I just need to say, that for anyone else who didn’t make the 50,000 word count this month, no worries. It’s only a challenge, so don’t beat yourself up. There’s always next year. Be sure not to give up on your novel, either. Keep working on this year’s NaNo project until it’s completed, so by November of 2015, you’ll be excited and fresh and rearing to go on your next novel.