Sage Snippets from SCBWI

Short and sweet and spot-on advice. Thanks, Tara.

Saturday in Verse

Today my friend, Donna, starts a new weekend series post, Saturday in Verse. As the title implies, every Saturday (ish) she will post an original poem. So here is her first offering – As a writing exercise, she us…

Source: Saturday in Verse

Being Frank

By Donna W. Earnhardt. Illustrated by Andrea Castellani.

Published by Flashlight Press in 2012

Being Frank is another debut picture book. It’s the brain-child of my sweet friend, Donna W. Earnhardt. She, like Tameka, was also a Mudskipper. We did some serious critiquing and had a lot of fun in that critique group.

Are you seeing yet how important it is to participate in an honest critique group?

Being Frank is a delightfully funny story about a boy named “Frank” who learns the painful way that being totally “frank” isn’t always the best policy. The story reinforces the truth that the truth is always best, but sometimes the truth needs to be a little sugar-coated.

I love the way Donna named her characters silly but significant names in this book. The characters include friends like Dotty and Carol; adults like his teacher Ms. Zaroma and his principal Mr. Wiggins; Mom and Frank’s wise old toenail-clipping Grandpa. Can you guess why their names are significant? No? Read the book!

The elementary-aged kids in your life will love watching Frank learn a valuable lesson while they have a good laugh.

Oh! Did I mention that Being Frank has been translated into other languages and was a teacher favorite in England?

Little books often travel to faraway places.

Thanks for an adorable story that teaches a complicated social skill, Donna! I’m proud to be your writing buddy.


The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes

IMG_1560The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them)

By Jack M. Bickham

Published by Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, 1992.


I’ll bet you’re saying, “1992!! That book is too old to do me any good.” I disagree.

I first read The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes in 2005. I was brand new to writing for publication. I’d been at it about a year and wasn’t having much success. You see, I made a FEW of the mistakes Bickham talks about in this book.

As promised, Bickham BRIEFLY covers the top mistakes new writers make. For me it was a goldmine. Though I didn’t understand a lot of the material in the book at that time, it gave me a foundation – a reference point – for the skills I would need to develop. For me that was great.

I really like to know not only where I’m headed, but how I am going to get there.

The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes gave me a glimpse of my destination as a writer and the steps I would need to take in order to get there.

Now that I’ve been writing for publication twelve – yes, that’s 12 – years I know a little more than I did in 2005. I still have LOTS to learn. So, I find The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes helps me brush up, gives me a quick review of the skills I’m working on. This sort of kick-starts my memories of the stuff I’ve been learning from other books, conferences, workshops, courses, critiques, and reading books in my genre.

This little book will have a place ON MY SHELF for years to come.

I give it five highlighters.  MARKER_1 MARKER_1 MARKER_1 MARKER_1 MARKER_1

Around Our Way on Neighbors’ Day 

Tameka Book 02By Tameka Fryer Brown. Illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb.

Published by Abrams in 2010.

Tameka Fryer Brown was one of my fellow-Mudskippers. We were jubilant to celebrate her first published picture book with her, Around Our Way on Neighbors’ Day.

I love the happy rhythm of the poetry in this book, and that the illustrations complement it beautifully with bright colors, bold strokes and lots of movement.

Around Our Way on Neighbors’ Day celebrates family and friendship in a noisy, busy urban neighborhood. The neighbors share games, music, friendly debates in the barber shop and a variety of ethnic dishes on Neighbor’s Day. It’s a bouncy, upbeat book that kindergartners and first graders love.

Thanks, Tameka!IMG_1401

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print

By Renni Browne and Dave King, Illustrated by George Booth

Published by Quill: Harper Collins in 1993.

In 2004, I was in an amazing critique group called the Mudskippers (For a 5 minute video about nature’s mudskippers click here.) As a group we Mudskippers read together and IMG_1400discussed a little book that has proven to be an invaluable resource for me year after year. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself  into Print.

At only 200 pocket-sized pages it seems slight. But every line of every page is packed with useful information.

I give this book 5 out of 5 highlighters.              MARKER_1 MARKER_1 MARKER_1 MARKER_1 MARKER_1

Browne and King’s twelve chapters cover with clarity and precision key areas that every fiction writer needs to hone.

  •       Showing AND Telling
  •       Characterization and Exposition
  •       Point of View
  •       Dialogue (two chapters)
  •       Interior Monologue
  •       Easy Beats (for dialogue)
  •       Using white space for dialogue and pacing
  •       Unintentional repetition
  •       Proportion (finding the right balance of details in description and action)
  •       Sophistication (avoiding constructions that slow the story down such as –ing and      as clauses and phrases.)
  •       Voice (definition and tips on encouraging developing your distinctive fiction voice.)

Incredible techniques for writing and critiquing fill every chapter.

Reading and re-reading Self-Editing made me aware of subtle characteristics that make writing great instead of good, and how to both identify and use those characteristics to elevate my writing to a higher level – a publishable level.

Probably the most useful thing I absorbed from Browne and King’s Self-Editing is something I use every time I write, revise, re-write or critique.



Assume that your reader is intelligent and can figure some things out for her/himself.

  •       Resist the urge to add too much description or detail.
  •       Resist the urge to use adjectives and adverbs instead of strong nouns and verbs.
  •       Resist the urge to give your reader more than a smathering of backstory.
  •       Resist the urge to use a lot of interior monologue – thoughts.
  •       Resist the urge to give your reader information dumps.
  •       Resist the urge to write a paragraph when a sentence will do.
  •       Resist the urge to TELL me about your character or plot when you can SHOW me.

I have a long way to go as a writer. But Self-Editing has brought me a long way from my first attempts. I believe that putting into practice the fundamentals in Self-Editing for Fiction Writers has transformed much of my writing from ordinary to something special.

And that something special is what agents, editors and readers are looking for.




Picture Books Are for Grown-Ups, Too


IMG_1390As I write picture book manuscripts I keep in mind that I want to create opportunities for young children and the adults who love them to snuggle up in a comfy chair, at a picnic table, in a car during a long trip, or under a quilt at bedtime to read and experience the story together. I know that publishers design picture books to appeal to both young children and adults.

Some picture books appeal more to children, I think. Those seem to be the ones that they beg us to read aloud again and again until the covers fall off and pages go missing.

However, some of the picture books I cherish, in my opinion, appeal more to the adult than the child. When I find a book like that I simply MUST buy it and read it again and again to my grandchildren, and to myself. Those that I own all seem to be based on a deeply personal experience in the author’s life.

In my opinion they are also books that authors have earned the right to have published. How? I think through long careers of writing successful books, and by having consistent sales figures over those long careers. I also suspect they are the books that come from deep in the authors’ hearts.

I’ve collected a few of those books. We may come back to visit each one later. Meanwhile, I’ll list them below so that you might read them and learn from them. Study them. Dissect them. Figure out why they appeal to readers of all ages.

At this time ON MY SHELF I have the following cherished books.

The Christmas Tree Ship by Carol Crane. Illustrated by Chris Ellison. Published by Sleeping Bear Press in 2011.

Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. Illustrated by Sheila McGraw. Published by Firefly Books in 1986 and again for 59 printings. My copy was published in 1999.

Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo. Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline. Published by Candlewick Press in 2007.

The Old Woman Who Named Things written by Cynthia Rylant. Illustrated by Kathryn Brown. Published by Voyager Books (Harcourt) in 1996.

Loon Summer  written by Barbara Santucci. Illustrated by Andrea Shine. Published by Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers in 2001.

Papa’s Gift  written by Kathleen Long Bostrom. Illustrated by Guy Porfirio. Published by ZonderKids in 2007.

Firefly Mountain written by Patricia Thomas. Illustrated by Peter Sylvada. Published by Peachtree Publishers in 2007.

Crow Call written by Lois Lowry. Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline. Published by Scholastic Press in 2009.

I hope you’ll enjoy them, too. If you read any of them, PLEASE come back and comment here about the reasons you did or didn’t like the book.


Creating Characters Kids Will Love

Creating Characters Kids Will Love by Elaine Marie Alphin (

Published by Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio. 2000.

Cvr Creating Characters“Kids read because a magical closeness springs up between them and the characters in books and stories…They read because a writer has brought a character to life on the page for them.”     (Introduction to Creating Characters Kids Will Love)

This book makes a promise to inform me with specifics and techniques of creating characters I want my readers to identify with. And it DELIVERS!

I give it 5 out of 5 highlighters!   MARKER_1 MARKER_1 MARKER_1 MARKER_1 MARKER_1

Each section of each chapter of each unit contains numerous recommendations for me to “Read the Pros” who have succeeded in using the principle or technique Alphin explained in that section. Reading just a few of the recommended books kept my library card white hot for months.

Each section also contains several writing exercises (dubbed “Try it Yourself”) specific to that principle or technique. I actually DID some of them and they helped.

Alphin divides her book into four sections:

  • Characters: How to explore and use memories to create well-rounded characters
  • Plots: How to create plots worthy of those characters
  • How to create heroes and villains; useful secondary characters; animals, aliens and other special characters; and the place of grown-up characters in children’s literature
  • How to bring nonfiction to life for readers

I believe that ug what I learned in Creating Characters has elevated my skills at creating, developing and revealing memorable characters.

Two big things that I have applied to my writing are:

  • In exploring my own childhood memories I must capture the EMOTIONS attached to the incidents I recall. The specific places, events, etc. of my childhood memories will not work for a new generation of kids. But, tapping into the emotions I experienced WILL resonate with today’s kids. I need to show my readers the deeper truth of what my memory taught me. I need to be willing to change the details of the event that actually happened to me while holding on to the emotions I experienced.
  • What readers want to see in a picture book character is what Alphin calls potency –  “personal power resulting in growth.” Without that the main character will not appeal to the child reader or listener. Also, I must first show the reader the main character’s frustration and determination.  Then, I have to show the main character drawing on inner strength and resources that the young reader (listener) can identify with. A picture book character that kids love has to establish potency by dealing with the story situation in a way that grows out of his/her character.

Though I am nowhere near perfecting these two skills, Creating Characters explained and detailed them in a way that I could put them to work in my own manuscripts.


Encouraging Words

Writing Encouraging Words

Source: Encouraging Words

On My Shelf

IMG_1349In my home office I have a book case. Or two. Or three. Every shelf is crammed full of books. Paperbacks. Hardbacks. Picture books. YAs. Novels. And loads of nonfiction titles.

It’s probably a familiar sight for you readers and writers.

On the top shelf of the tallest book case are my books about writing and creativity. It’s bulging. Books stand upright, lay on their sides, lean into each other. And they are two-deep.

Every time I attend a writers conference I purchase at least one book about and/or for writers. It may take me a year to get around to reading it, but I keep buying them.

Writers are readers, we all know.

I want to share some of those books with you. My plan for “On My Shelf” is to post every Tuesday and Friday. On Tuesdays I’ll summarize one of my books for writers, and share with you how I use it, or how it impacted me as a writer.

On Fridays I’ll share with you my love of picture books and board books. I have stacks of them all over my house. Again, I’ll share what I love about each particular book and, hopefully, how it helps me to become a better writer of picture books. IF YOU HAVE A PICTURE BOOK YOU WOULD LIKE FOR ME TO FEATURE, PLEASE EMAIL ME AT

I hope the posts will enlighten and encourage you so that you’ll share them with your friends and associates.

See you soon!


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