Friday, December 08, 2017

In Case You Were Wondering (or...did I win NaNoWriMo?)

November has been over for more than a week, and I feel like I'm still recovering. But I did it! I managed to write just over 50,000 words of a middle grade fantasy manuscript during NaNoWriMo. It's not a full draft yet, so I still have a while to go before I'm finished, but I'm well on my way. I hope to have the draft done by the end of the year.

How about you? Did you "WriMo" this year? Any projects you're hoping to finish by the year's end?

Friday, November 17, 2017

NaNoWriMo Halfway Point Check-in

It's the afternoon of November 17, 2017. The sky is grey, yet friendly; the house is quiet; and my NaNoWriMo journal sits on the dining room table, waiting. It's been sorely neglected today, despite my best intentions.

November is a little more than halfway over, my journal is a little more than halfway full, and I'm closing in on 25,000 words.

When I think about it, having written close to 25,000 words in just over two weeks sounds like an amazing thing. But I'm behind. I should have been at that point on Wednesday. I had hoped to reach 30,000 words by Sunday night, and I'm not sure if I will make it!

But I must strive for it. Because I want to be able to say at the end of the day on November 30, 2017 that I did it. That, for the second time in my life, I won NaNoWriMo!

Even though I'm a little behind, I'm not discouraged. If I keep plugging along, I'll get there. Maybe I'll catch up, then get ahead, and finish a day early!

As long as I don't get any surprise out-of-town guests for Thanksgiving next week, I think that is doable.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

NaNoWriMo 2017

Tomorrow is the first day of National Novel Writing Month, and for the first time in a few years, I'm going for it! This challenge of writing 50,000 words of a new novel is crazy, but fun. It's crazy fun!

This will be my fifth time participating in NaNoWriMo. Out of the four times I've participated in the past, only once have I been a "winner." And twice have my manuscripts actually ended up as full drafts. Both of those, by the way, have been revised and polished. Alas, neither has been accepted for publication. Yet.

This year's project is a middle grade fantasy that I am tentatively calling The Black Pool. To prepare for the writing of this novel, I have written a one-line pitch, a one-paragraph blurb, character sketches for the primary characters, and the beginnings of an outline. I've also created a board on my Pinterest profile for world-building inspiration. I'm not exactly a planner, but for this kind of challenge I need a bit of direction before I get started.

My oldest daughter is taking the NaNoWriMo plunge too, and as an extra incentive for us both, we have decided that our reward for "winning" will be to order some fun NaNoWriMo gear. And I'm GONNA WIN, because I really want that T-shirt. Or maybe the travel bag. I can decide later!

Are you doing this crazy challenge this year? Here are a few tips that helped me get through it in the past:

1. Plan. At least a little, so you have some sense of direction.
2. Do NOT edit, as far as it is humanly possible.
3. Write out of order if necessary.
4. Participate in Word Sprints on Twitter (@NaNoWordSprints)
5. Ignore the haters! Even the little invisible one that whispers in your ear.

Here we go! Who's with me?

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Top Ten Rhyming Picture Books

Rhyme is one of my favorite things, whether it be in the form of a poem or a picture book. I love reading it, and I love writing it. In fact, when an editor poses the question, "Why rhyme?" the first thought in my head is, "Why not?" I want to share my love for fabulous rhyme with you, so here is a list of my top ten favorite (currently) rhyming picture books.

1. THE FORGETFUL KNIGHT by Michelle Robinson, illustrated by Fred Blunt

This book is rhyming perfection, with a clever story and lots of laughs to go with it!

2. BEAR SNORES ON by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman

A pleasure to read over and over, and a book I recommend to anyone who wants to write in rhyme. The writing captures the mood of the book perfectly, and the story is fun and sweet.

3. THE THREE NINJA PIGS by Corey Rosen Schwartz, illustrated by Dan Santat

A funny and active retelling of the classic fairy tale. And don't forget the other two ninja books in this series, NINJA RED RIDING HOOD and HENSEL AND GRETEL: NINJA CHICKS.

4. TEENY TINY TOADY by Jill Esbaum, illustrated by Keika Yamaguchi

An adorable story about a heroic little toad told in rhyme that bounces and rolls and flows off the tongue.

5. WHAT ABOUT MOOSE? by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez, illustrated by Keika Yamaguchi

I had to include this book in this list, and not just because it's one of my own. One thing this book is consistently praised for is its flowing rhyme and its unique language. And it always elicits some giggles during read-alouds!

6. THE PRINCE AND THE PORKER by Peter Bently, illustrated by David Roberts

So funny and so much fun to read!


The sequel to SIMPSON'S SHEEP WON'T GO TO SLEEP. It's charming and funny, and the rhyme is basically flawless.

8. TWINDERELLA by Corey Rosen Schwartz, illustrated by Deborah Marcero

A "fractioned" fairy tale that is as fun to read as it is clever. Who knew a book with a math theme could be this much fun?

9. IT'S ONLY STANLEY by Jon Agee

An amusing and clever book that has flawless rhyme and a surprise ending. What more could you ask for?

10. NINJA, NINJA, NEVER STOP! by Todd Tuell, illustrated by Tad Carpenter

This book is just so active and fun. You'll love reading it aloud to the littlest ninjas!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Childhood Books that Made Me a Reader

There is something extra special about a childhood favorite, don't you think?

My family didn't own a lot of books when I was a kid. We didn't take weekly trips to the library. I can't remember a single excursion to a book store. When book orders came around, I almost always ordered a poster because that was all we could afford, and because I didn't want to be the only kid in class going home empty handed.

And yet, I remember books being a part of my life. I remember my mother reading to me, and talking about her favorite stories. I remember studying her copy of THE DRAGON RIDERS OF PERN with fascination. I remember the school library and book fairs.

I was a regular at the school library, of course. And over the years I somehow managed to collect a small assortment of my very own books. But one of the best book-related memories of my childhood was when I purchased a short novel at the book fair in 5th grade. What a proud moment that was!

I still have that book, a now beat-up paperback titled A CABIN FACED WEST by Jean Fritz.

Most of the books I have held onto well into adulthood have been in my memories rather than in my hands. Over the years I have sought a few of them out or stumbled upon them serendipitously at yard sales or used book stores. And a few, of course, are classics that I've happily purchased new to add to my family's collection.

In honor of childhood favorites, I'd like to share a few of mine with you!

 THE CABIN FACED WEST, as I mentioned before, is the first book I remember purchasing for myself. I don't remember all the details of the story, but I do remember how it ended!

BLITZ by Hetty Burlingame is one of many, many horse stories I read as a child. I may have been encouraged by my mother's love for THE BLACK STALLION.

Who didn't love WHERE'S WALDO as a kid, right? But even better than that, in my opinion, is ANIMALIA by Graeme Base. My family had a hardcover of this book, and I remember countless sessions with my siblings poring over the illustrations in search the little guy hiding on each page.

WHERE'S WALDO I purchased at a used book store, but ANIMALIA I purchased new, though in paperback, when my kids were little because I couldn't bear for them to not have it in their lives!

I can't tell you how much I loved these SERENDIPITY books when I was a kid. I enjoyed the stories, but I think what really captured my attention was the illustrations. The copies of KIYOMI and BANGALEE are mine from my childhood (poor Bangalee is missing his cover), but the others I have collected over the years, new and used.

Is there a child in the U.S. that didn't grow up reading Dr. Seuss? HORTON HEARS A WHO was (and still is) one of my favorites, along with THE 500 HATS OF BARTHOLOMEW CUBBINS and IF I RAN THE CIRCUS. I have quite a collection of Dr. Seuss books now, but IF I RAN THE CIRCUS seems to be missing.

One of the things I remember loving about Dr. Seuss as a kid, besides his impeccable rhymes, was the way he portrayed cities and towns in his illustrations. I always wanted to jump into the pages and explore!

I've mentioned SANTA'S CRASH BANG CHRISTMAS before in this post from 2015. This copy is not the one I had as a child, but one I came across at a yard sale. It was one of those delightfully serendipitous finds!

As much as I loved horse stories as a little girl (what little girl didn't back in the 80s?), no chapter book or novel captured my imagination quite like A WALK IN WOLF WOOD by Mary Stewart. In this story, two kids wander into another time and aid a werewolf in breaking his curse. I first read this book in elementary school, and often looked for it in used book stores as an adult. And then one day my sister found a copy and got it for me! It still has its beautiful jacket and everything!

Last, but not least are two picture books I remember reading over and over as a child. PANTALONI is a sweet story about a little boy and his puppy, and OLD LUCY LINDY is a collection of silly stories about an old woman. PANTALONI has stayed with me over the years, but I had to track down OLD LUCY LINDY through Amazon.

Are you familiar with any of these lesser known books? What are your favorite books from your childhood?

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

From Chaos to Calm: How I am Learning to Organize My Writing and My Life

My long-time writing partner Corey occasionally surprises me with a comment like, "You're so organized!" This is usually in reference to me having miraculously dug up a long-forgotten email from an editor or a very early draft of an old picture book manuscript.

But here's the thing: I'm not really organized. I'm just really good at finding things.

Just ask my kids. One of them once gave me a certificate officially naming me "Finder of Things." I can find a minuscule Lego piece in our mini van. I can find a random scrap of paper with my husband's vacation schedule on it. And I can (usually) find an email from 2006 that contains feedback on a manuscript that I haven't thought of in years.

But, organized? Ha. I can't even keep my desk organized for a week straight.

I have a stack of miscellaneous to-be-filed papers sitting on top of the printer (I move it whenever I need to make a copy of something). I have piles of random scrap paper filled with jottings that I'm afraid I'll forget. My desktop computer is decorated with sticky notes of varied colors with everything from passwords to notes about manuscripts.

For years, I've only been as organized as I've had to be. I've had a system--if you can call it that--that's worked. Sort of.

But life as a published author has made me realize that I need to be more efficient. And to be more efficient, I need to be more organized.

So, I've gradually been making changes. Last year I purchased a planner to help me organize social media posts. Using it has helped me be more consistent and less messy.

But I needed some way to organize my LIFE. It seemed that no matter how purposeful I tried to be with reminders and the calendar on my iPad (and the pile of notes on my desk), my life was still organized chaos.

Then I discovered the idea of bullet journaling.

I have always loved journaling. I've got junk journals, art journals, sketch books, poetry journals, and too many composition notebooks to remember. I love writing things down. I love sketching, doodling, and experimenting with paint and collage. So when I started seeing "bullet journal" ideas popping up on my favorite Pinterest and Instagram feeds, I was intrigued. I was impressed. And then, I was a little intimidated. But the journaler in me overrode my doubt, so I started clicking on posts titled "bullet journaling for the beginner," and those eventually led me to where it all started: Seeing the efficiency of the bullet journal in its simplest form opened a new world to me!

I started my own bullet journal in early August, and it has changed my life. It's helped me plan ahead and organize my days, remember important dates and events, keep track of writing projects, plan family meals, and so much more. It's my daily to-do list, my reading log, my idea notebook. I even have a spread for Christmas gift ideas. It's all organized and relatively neat. And amazingly, it works. Even for me, the queen of (as my sister once said) Organized Clutter.

Why does this work so well for me where other attempts have failed? I think it's because of two things. One, it's tactile. I can hold it, write in it, flip through its pages. And two, it gives me room to be as creative as I want. I can doodle in it, try fancy lettering, use sharpies or colored pencils. I don't feel restricted or overwhelmed; I feel creatively empowered! And that is an amazing thing.

Are you feeling overwhelmed by the "organized clutter" in your life? Maybe a bullet journal could work for you too!

Friday, September 01, 2017

Review: MIRACLE MAN by John Hendrix

written and illustrated by John Hendrix
Abrams Books for Young Readers

"Ages ago, in a dry and dusty land, the people were in need."

Thus begins MIRACLE MAN: THE STORY OF JESUS, a gentle and thoughtful book about the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, and the way the leadership of his time turned against him. The story is told through simple yet compelling text, with sections of the story (in most cases, the words of Christ) displayed as word art that seems to come alive on the page. More than simply a retelling of a familiar Bible story, it is an interpretation of the life and teachings of Christ as a whole. As John Hendrix says in the author's note, "Though based on the gospel narrative of his life and ministry, it should not be confused with the authority of the actual Biblical accounts." That said, it would be a challenge to find a book that presents the gospel in a more accessible, or more attractive, manner. The illustrations themselves are enough to draw one in. Done in pen and ink with fluid acrylic washes, the illustrations are detailed and vibrant. Hendrix has done an impressive job of using images to convey the mood of the text.

Frankly, MIRACLE MAN is the best retelling of the story of Jesus that I've ever read. As a Christian I can't recommend it enough, but it isn't only because of my faith that I find this book appealing. This book, quite simply, is a work of art.

For more information or to purchase this book go to:

Barnes & Noble
Indie Bound