Wednesday, October 31, 2007


To join in the Halloween spirit, here are some jokes from my first joke book, Greatest Goofiest Jokes.

What do ducks put in their windows at Halloween?

How do ghosts travel?
In fright trains.

What is a slime creature’s favorite movie?
The Wizard of Ooze.

Have a fun and safe Halloween!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Writing in Rhyme: Part II

You’ve decided that it’s appropriate to write your story in rhyme (see my post on 10/04/07) and have toiled over your work for months/years and finally completed a beautifully rhymed piece. Now what?

Here are five things I do after I think I’m finished with my story (BTW, this also works for non-rhyming text, but I find it especially helpful for rhyming work):

1. Read your work aloud. Picture books are meant to be read aloud so you need to hear how your words sound.

2. Tape-record yourself reading your story aloud. When you play back the recording, listen for any inconsistencies in the flow/rhythm. Listen to the sounds of the words. Do they roll of your tongue with ease? Are they pleasant to the ear? Will children and adults want to hear them over and over again?

3. Read your work aloud while walking. This is one of my all-time favorite tips (which I heard from Ann Whitford Paul): I will walk through my house with manuscript in hand, reading aloud, and if there’s any glitch in the rhythm, my feet stumble a bit. I actually feel the inconsistencies in my body. It’s a very telling technique. If I get hung up on a certain line or stanza, sometimes I’ll take a pad and pencil and go for a walk, repeating the words till I get something that fits the rhythm of my gait.

4. Let a “non-reader” read your work aloud. By “non-reader”, I mean someone who does not normally read children’s literature, especially aloud. I find this extremely helpful. My husband assists me with this, and every time he reads my rhyming work aloud, I can immediately hear any flaws. While he reads, I make a note of any spots where he hesitates, or stumbles a bit, or the flow/rhythm sounds off to me.

5. Workshop your story amongst other children’s writers. Critique groups, “critiquenics” and retreat or conference opportunities are a great way to get feedback on your much-labored work. Let your professional colleagues be the final judges of whether your story is ready for an editor's eyes and ears.

We often hear editors say that they don’t want rhyming work. I honestly believe that most editors like rhyming work, IF it’s written well. The problem is that too many writers submit work that hasn’t been scrutinized enough. Make sure your story is its absolute best and you’ll have a much better chance for publication.

Best of luck!

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Pint-sized interviews that also leave you smiling.

I’m so proud to begin this new addition to my blog with an interview with author Bruce Coville. I had the pleasure of meeting Bruce at the SCBWI-Oregon Silver Falls Retreat and he generously agreed to answer my questions. He’s written over 90 children’s books, including middle-grade and YA novels, and picture books, amongst others. His most current project is Full Cast Audio, a company he founded to create unabridged, full cast recordings of great books for young readers. Maybe we should re-define the term, “Jack of all Trades” to “Bruce of all trades.”

What is the number one piece of advice you would give to someone who is just getting into the field or writing for children?
Join the SCBWI! Really, the networking, the information, the connections, the conferences all make for a priceless resource. I should make a disclaimer: I'm on the Board of Advisors. On the other hand, it's not a paid position. I serve there because they save me so much time, since whenever someone comes to me for advice I ask if they've joined, and if they haven't I say, "Join the SCBWI, read all their material, and if you still have questions come on back and we'll talk." But no one needs to come back, because it's all there.

What advice would you give to a newly published author?
You mean other than "Don't quit your day job?" Basically, it would be to be patient and don't take anything too seriously. Some people rocket to the top, but most careers are built slowly (and painfully) one book at a time. Also, learn to negotiate. Most people are shy about this, but there are books and recorded programs that will help you learn this essential skill. You're trying to create art, but this is also your business, and don't forget that!

What's your favorite children's joke?
Well, I already told you my favorite one, but it's so dependent on visual and sound effects that it doesn't work to write it down. After that it's probably:

Q. What's the difference between roast beef and pea soup?

A. Well, anyone can roast beef.

(Now, that's way too funny!)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Back from the Silver Falls Retreat, Oregon

I’m back from the Silver Falls Retreat in Oregon, hosted by the SCBWI-Oregon chapter. I don’t believe there could be a more perfect setting for a writer’s retreat (other than Yosemite, perhaps); a rainforest-esque backdrop, splashes of autumn colors in the deciduous trees, patches of clouds dancing amongst the treetops, babbling brooks, delicate waterfalls and a group of highly creative children’s authors and editors.

Boy, was it hard to drive to PDX to catch my flight home!

Here are a couple of quotes from some of the speakers that you might enjoy:

“Anyone can write. Only a real writer can revise.”--Margaret Bechard

“I saw the angel in the marble and I just chiseled till I set him free.”—Deborah Brodie quoting Michelangelo.

“I recommend three things to all children’s writers: 1) take acting lessons (to better understand how to get into your characters), 2) voice lessons (for when you begin public speaking), and 3) join a storytelling group or class.”—Bruce Coville.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho, It's Off to Oregon I Go!

I'm stoked! Tomorrow I leave for the SCBWI-Oregon Silver Falls Retreat. I've never attended this event, but a good friend of mine has raved about it for years. A beautiful nature setting, residing in cabins, surrounded by like-minded folks who love writing for children. What could be better? I'll "cyber-seeya" when I get back next week!

Sunday, October 7, 2007


Just a quick note about a couple of cool blog sites: has a list of agent and editor blogs. Click here to see them.

And one of my favorite blogs, Editorial Anonymous, has an interesting post ("Busted Again") on royalties and advances.

Happy reading!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Writing in Rhyme: Part I

I love writing in rhyme. It’s a fun, challenging way to convey a story. And kids love it! There’s nothing like reading a well-written rhyming book to a young child. You can literally see the rhythm in their bodies!

I thought I’d write a bit about how to revise your rhyming work, but then it struck me that long before you get to the point of self-editing, you have to consider whether to rhyme or not.

A few years back, I took an online course from Anastasia Suen, on Poetry. One of the things she suggested that was that before you start writing your story in verse (rhyme), write it in prose. In other words, write the story first. Think about rhyme later.

Once you’ve written your story and determined if it’s a story worth telling, that’s when you have to take a hard look at whether you should rewrite it in verse. There is more to consider than just whether you like writing in rhyme. Consider the following:

* Is your story one that would benefit from a rhythmical pattern, such as a bedtime story like Goodnight Moon?
* Is there a natural pattern that emerges from the story’s events, such a cumulative story like The Napping House?
* Is there a natural cadence to your story that could be moved along with rhyme, such as Chicka-Chicka Boom-Boom?
* Can rhyming add another layer to your story in a natural, organic way (not feeling out of place or forced), like Sailor Moo, Cow at Sea?
* If you story has any type of pattern in it (seasons, alphabet, counting, music) then it could likely benefit from rhyme.

Then comes the hard part. Despite what the masses think, writing in rhyme is NOT easy. I’ll say it again because I cannot say it enough. WRITING IN RHYME IS NOT EASY. It's far more than making your end lines rhyme. It takes hard work, tedious concentration and an ear for sound, plus lots of feedback. However, it can be done (just look at all the new rhyming stories on the children’s bookshelves).

In a few days, I’ll post more on how to self-edit your rhyming work.

Monday, October 1, 2007

More About Author Photos...

Here are a few more bits of wisdom I’ve come to notice in regards to author photos (you may recall my recent post on the subject)...

Snapshots: On rare occasions, snapshots have their place, but they really do belong more in the family album and not representing you as a professional writer. The problem with snapshots is that we love them because they capture a moment in time that’s special to us, but the rest of the viewers (editors, other professionals, potential book buyers) don’t get that. While a snapshot may make you feel all warm and fuzzy about that moment when you stood on the windswept cliff, all they see is your hair blowing every which way and you bundled up in so many layers that you look like a polar bear.

Amateur photos: These are better than snapshots, and when done well, can be just as effective as a professional photo. Try to use good lighting (outdoor/natural light works well), a natural look and pleasant background. Here are some things to be careful of: the busy writer hard at work at her desk, where the writer literally is lost amongst the clutter (I KNOW she’s in there somewhere!). Or, the writer/illustrator standing in the garden, but doesn’t realize that the background foliage makes it look like she has antlers or Martian antennae sticking out of her head. Remind your photographer to check the background as well as you, the subject. I recently had my husband take a picture of my in front of a blackberry bush, to promote my upcoming book, BLACKBERRY BANQUET (Sylvan Dell 2008). I made sure that the background was not dominating me. I wanted to be the standout, not the berry bush.

In addition to being aware of backgrounds that consume you, know that clothes and jewelry can do the same thing. The key—keep it simple! Simple clothing ad accessories won’t swallowed you alive. Whether you’re going for a casual look, a dressy look, or some sort of attire that ties into you book, make sure that it doesn’t overpower you.

One last comment: Don't get me wrong about fun pictures that you can use to engage your audience and give them a sense of who you are (that's where snapshots come in). Your readers, especially kids, LOVE to see a bit of your personal side.

Ahh, yes! A very fond memory for me, but would I REALLY want to use this as an author photo?