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I'm Moving, Will You Move With Me?

I've been maintaining two blogs for years and years now, but I've watched as most of my readers have left this LJ community and traffic to my Blogger version of this blog has steadily increased.

So, in an attempt to streamline my online life, I'm closing down shop here.  I'll still keep this blog active so I can participate in some LJ communities I've joined, but I won't be posting any content here.

If you're one of the six who still read this blog, I'd love to have you join me here instead:  http://www.elissacruz.blogspot.com/

It's the same content from me you've been accustomed to, just a different platform.  I hope to see you over there!
The holiday season is upon us, and I've been contemplating what to give my extended relatives, friends, and total strangers who scratch their heads each time I post a writing-related update on my social networks.  And since I believe in giving thoughtful and useful gifts, I have compiled this list of writing terms and definitions to send to all, so you can stop asking me what I'm talking about.  I also figured you writers out there might want to give this list to the non-writers in your life. It’s the perfect gift!  You're welcome.  Happy holidays, everyone!  

NOTE: Please let me know if I’ve missed any writing term you need a definition for.  I’ll be happy to add it to the list.

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Agent: Someone who represents a writer and helps sell the writer’s work to publishing houses.  Short for literary agent, though there are plenty of other kinds of agents out in the world, just not in the literary world.  Writers, however, never use the complete term unless they have to.  They assume you know they are talking about.  Hence the need for this glossary of writing terms, I suppose.

Acquisition(s): Short for acquisition meeting.  A meeting by those at publishing houses to decide whether or not they want to offer to purchase the right to print your book.  The process ends in either a contract or a politely worded rejection. Often used is the phrase “going to acquisition” or “going to acquisitions.”  The writer doesn’t actually go anywhere, just the manuscript does.  Truth be told, if writers are going anywhere it is going crazy waiting for word on a manuscript going to an acquisition meeting.

Arc: Used when talking about different parts of a manuscript.  Usually combined with the words “character” or “plot” or “lack of” to differentiate between the different aspects of the story.  The  character arc deals with how the character changes during the story.  The plot arc obviously deals with plot.  Often writers have to deal with the lack of a certain arc, too.  Those are always fun to try and fix.  (Not.)  Not to be confused with an ark, which, in its most familiar term, is a really big boat. Also not to be confused with ARC (note the capitalization).

ARC: Advance Reader Copy.  An early form of the book publishers send out to reviewers to drum up excitement for a title.  It usually is a paperback version of the real deal, but sometimes publishers will change the cover before they print the actual book.  Note that it's an advance copy, not an advanced version.  It's quite inferior, actually, to the printed book, but more coveted, oddly enough.  Mainly because so few are printed.

Beta: See Crit.

Blurb:  A short summary of what your book is about.  Must contain a hook, unless you aren't interested in anyone else reading your book.  In some circles, hook and blurb are used interchangeably.  I'm guessing that's because most of us writers aren't really clear on how they are different from each other.  We've clumped them into one huge definition of "words that are awesomesauce about the book."

Book: Something you read.  It may or may not have pictures, but it always has lots and lots and lots of words.  Usually the term refers to a work in its final, published stage.  Often used in conjunction with adjectives such as "good", "horrible", "boring", "awesome", "the best", and "gawdawful".  Sometimes also used at the end of the phrases "I hate this" or "I love this".  See also manuscript and WIP.

Books for Adults: These are books written with a grown-up audience in mind.  Most of you would simply call these "books."  Don't get them confused with "adult books", which have content so inappropriate for children and teens that they can only be and found at the "adult bookstore" in the seedy part of town.

Chapter Book: Books written for those who are learning to read and are ready for books with real chapters.  Usually written for 6-9-year-olds, and most are written at about a second-grade reading level.  Often the term refers to all books with chapters and includes middle-grade books as well, but we MG writers really wish you wouldn't do that anymore.

Complete: What we call a finished manuscript, until another person tells us it needs to be revised or rewritten again, that is.  You’d be surprised how often a complete manuscript reverts back to a WIP.  It’s shocking, really.

Cover Letter: A short letter that accompanies a full manuscript.  Usually contains the pitch and any other information needed to remind the editor or agent that they actually wanted to read your story.  Not to be confused with a query letter, which contains the exact same information but it sent out on its own.

Crit: Short for critique.  Other variations include critting (critiquing) and critters (critiquers, who are also called Betas, which is short for beta readers—though there may be some slight difference in who is a critter and who is a beta, but I doubt anyone really cares).  In this case, betas and critters aren’t animals, but people who delight in ripping your manuscript to shreds.  Hey, wait a minute....

Crossover: Books that appeal to teens and adults alike.  Apparently there is an imaginary bridge between the children’s and the adult section of any bookstore or library.  Most books can’t cross it, but these ones can.  I’m not sure when this happens, though.  Probably at night when all the booksellers and librarians go home, and the books are free to become alive and travel through the building at will.  I wonder which books become the guardians of the bridge, though.  The books with trolls on the cover?  (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

Draft: A version of a manuscript.  Also used as a verb, meaning to write a draft.  Writers like to count the versions, or drafts, of their manuscripts.  The most commonly used term is “first draft,” since every writer begins with one of those.  First drafts, however, aren’t usually considered quality drafts. In fact, most are big piles of poo that need several revisions before they are considered polished.

Drawer Novel: A manuscript so badly written it shouldn't be allowed to see the light of day.  Ever.  Often this is also the first manuscript a writer attempts.  It's not actually put in a drawer these days.  See shelved for the reason why.

Dust Jacket:  Also called a book jacket.  A piece of printed paper that covers a hardcover book.  Yes, just like a real jacket covers you.  Since books don't have arms, though, dust jackets are held in place with flaps, which are folded under the front and back covers of the book.  On these flaps you'll usually find the flap copy and an author bio.

Editor: Someone who works fo
r a publishing house and edits manuscripts acquired by the company.  Sometimes these editors lose their jobs or quit and become “freelance editors” instead.  Anyone can edit, but we don’t call them editors unless we have to pay them for their work.  Yeah, I don’t get it either.

Flap Copy: Also called jacket copy.  A short blurb found on the flap of the dust jacket of a book (or, in the case of paperbacks, printed on the back outside cover).  Its purpose is to give you a hint of what the story is about and get you excited to read the whole book. In other words, it contains a hook.

Full: Short for a full manuscript, often called "the full."  Writers usually use it when telling other writers that they've received a request to send the entire manuscript to an editor or agent.  This has nothing whatsoever to do with being full.  Nor does it have anything to do with how many adjectives and adverbs we have stuffed into our manuscript.

Hook:  A sentence (or more) that is so brilliant it hooks readers and makes them want to read on.  It's best to start any manuscript or query letter with one of these.  If you don't, the likelihood of anyone wanting to read on is...well, the odds aren't in your favor, let's just put it that way.  A hook can also come in the form of a catchy title, great flap copy, or blurbs about the book.  No actual metal hooks are used.  Also used as a verb, meaning to catch someone's attention.

Jacket Copy: See Flap Copy.

Kidlit: Short for children's literature.  Catchy, huh!

Kidlitosphere: The kidlit world. Not a real world, but a virtual one.  Though we are real people.  We just meet and talk about kidlit online.  Sometimes we meet in real life, too, but not all at once and in the same place.  It would take a really big conference center to make that happen.

Manuscript: A bunch of words writers throw together on paper in an attempt to tell a good story.  Though not always on real paper.  See shelved for why.  A manuscript is similar to a WIP and a book, but it should not be confused with either of these.  A WIP denotes a manuscript that is currently being written/revised, whereas a manuscript may be in that stage or may be shelved or complete.  Manuscripts turn into books once they are published, but sometimes unpublished manuscripts are called books, too, just to confuse the issue. Basically, we writers like using as many words as possible to describe the same thing.  See also book and WIP.

MC: Main character.  These are the fictional people we writers call our best friends.  Often our MCs are more real to us than real people.  They talk to us, keep us awake at night, make decisions that run contrary to our best laid plans, and generally cause all sorts of psychological problems because we won't admit they are taking over our minds.  Which is a good thing, because if we did, then we’d all be committed.  And then who would write all the stories, huh? 

MG: Middle-grade (notice the hyphen--yes, it's supposed to be there).  AKA books for young readers, books for 8-12-year-olds, sometimes called chapter books (though this can be confusing: see chapter books above).  These are the best books on the planet, in my humble opinion.  Most likely, your favorite book as a child falls into this category.  Note that middle-grade books are not written for kids in middle school, but are for upper elementary students instead.  Oh, the irony.

Offer: When an editor or agent offers a contract.  We like offers!  The more, the better.

On Submission: The term used to explain the process of getting an industry professional to read and offer a contract.  Can be used for either attracting agents or selling a book to editors at publishing houses.  There is some discussion about whether or not this should be separated into two distinct terms, using “on submission” only for those books in the hands of editors, and “querying” for those attempting to find an agent for their work.  Either way, most writers will tell you it’s synonymous with H-E-double hockey sticks. 

Pantser: Someone who believes in the old adage to "fly by the seat of your pants." AKA a writer who doesn't plan out stories in advance.  Often they sit down and let the story come to them as they write.  Some pantsers start with an idea, others begin with a character who wants to take them on a journey.  Others have an opening scene and a climax in mind when they begin.  They distrust all Plotters, and they are afraid of anything that sounds even remotely like the word "outline." 

Partial: Short for partial manuscript.  Often used when editors and agents request to read only the first few chapters of a manuscript.  Writers call these partial requests.  We like these requests, but we like requests for fulls more.  Obviously.

PB: Picture book.  Also, paperback.  Good luck keeping those two straight when both are used in a conversation.

Pitch: A paragraph (or two) that tells others about your story.  It contains both a hook and a very short synopsis.  Its purpose is to get people excited to read your book.  It is only part of a cover letter or query, but it's the most important part.  Also, it is the part that gives writers the most grief, since we have to distill an entire novel down into a few sentences.  Not an easy task, by any stretch of the imagination.  The term is also used as a verb, meaning to tell others about your story and get them excited to read it.  

Plotter: Someone who outlines or plots stories before attempting to write them.  Plotters have various means of plotting. Some use an actual outline. Others use note cards or sticky notes.  Some follow a basic story structure that has worked for them or others before.  And some write detailed notes about everything that might possibly come up in the story and a few things that never will, like underwear preferences and the last time that obscure side character took a bath in the public fountain outside city hall.  They think all Pantsers should be committed.  Or taught how to write a proper outline, at least.

Polished: A manuscript that is ready to be read by industry professionals.  A variation of this is polishing, which is the term used to explain the process of revising a manuscript until it is ready to be read by industry professionals. We writers like a good turn of phrase, and plenty of us like the idea of having a diamond in the rough, too. 

Pre-Pubbed: See Pubbed.

Pub: Short for publisher.  Not the place where you go to get a few drinks, though I suppose you could talk about both in the same sentence.

Pubbed: Short for published.  Used when talking about people who have published something, a manuscript that is published, or the dream of getting published. A slight variation of this is “unpubbed”, which mean those people and manuscripts currently not published.  (Some more optimistic writers prefer the term "pre-pubbed.")   Writers often separate other writers into the pubbed/unpubbed categories.  Oddly enough, they tend to group editors and agents into the same category as pubbed writers, even though the majority of them are actually unpubbed people.  Go figure.
Query: Short for query letter.  A short piece of correspondence used to catch editors’ or agents’ attention, so they’ll ask to see your manuscript.  It has nothing whatsoever to do with asking questions, though I suppose a writer is theoretically asking for a chance to get published.  The query may contain an actual question or two in the letter itself, though.  It is recommended, however, that you don’t begin your query with a question, especially one that starts with “What if.…”  I don’t really know why. I suspect it’s because too many people begin their query letter that way, and agents/editors hate seeing the same thing over and over and over and over and over again.

R: Short for rejection or rejection letter.  Rejections are almost always in writing, and for the most part come in the form of a “form rejection,” a simple but polite letter or email sent to writers to let them know a publisher or agent is not interested in their work.   Some writers are lucky enough to receive a “personalized rejection,” which, though it doesn’t sound like it, is a good thing.  Trust me on this.

Request: When an editor or agent asks you to send either part or all of your novel.  Sometimes this is in response to your query, other times it's because you've met them at a conference and successfully pitched your manuscript to them.

Revision: A edited draft of a manuscript.  Closely related is the word “revising” which is the act of changing a novel to make it better (hopefully).  If you pay close attention, you’ll notice that a writer is usually drafting or revising.  Sometimes both at the same time.  And sometimes we are doing so because of a revision request, which is just what is sounds like.

Semi-Pantser: A newer term used by those who do some plotting before they get started but who still like the thrill of letting the story unfold as they write.  Some plotters take offense to this terminology, instead preferring the term "semi-plotter." Tomatoes, tomatoes.

Shelved: The term used for a manuscript that has been put aside and is no longer being revised or sent on submission. It's not actually put on a shelf anymore, since 99% of all writers these days use computers.  Unfortunately, the term "left to rot on my computer" never really caught on.

Slush pile: The term used to describe the piles, virtual or otherwise, of unsolicited queries or manuscripts sent to editors and agents.  No one knows for sure where the phrase came from, but it doesn’t involve actual slush whatsoever. Real slush is that obnoxious pile of water, ice and dirt the snowplows leave on the side of the road after a winter storm, and no matter how hard we wish it would just go away it doesn’t, so we have to wade through it with a snow shovel until we clear it out and can get on with what we really want to do.

SQ: Status query. A short letter sent to agents/editors requesting information on the current status of a query or manuscript.  Though worded as a statement, it is, in effect, a question about whether or not the editor/agent in question (no pun intended) has been able to wade through his/her slush pile to read the query letter or requested manuscript sent to him/her months and months and months previously.

SQOD: Status query of death.  So coined because most of the time a SQ prompts the editor/agent to send a rejection letter.  And as much as we writers pretned otherwise, rejection kills us.

Synopsis: A one-to-three-paged document (sometimes longer) that explains the main story line of a manuscript.  Editors and agents often ask to see this along with the first few chapters of a manuscript.  This is so they don't have to read the entire book to figure out if you have a plausible story line, and it's also because they secretly delight in torturing writers.  Everyone knows the fastest way to stress out a writer is to ask for a synopsis.

Unpubbed: see Pubbed.

WC: Word count.  This is how many words we've written, or how many words ended up in our WIP/manuscript/book.  It's also a hotly debated topic in the kidlit world, since there doesn't seem to be a definitive answer about basic word count guidelines for children's books.  Some think it's a conspiracy to keep newer writers so busy researching word count guidelines that they don't get any real writing done and, therefore, those already established writers who’ve been given the secret formula can keep all the writing contracts for themselves.

WFH: Work for hire.  You thought it might be a variation of WTF*, didn’t you.  Well, it’s not.  Some publishers hire writers to write a preconceived story idea created by the publisher, usually for a non-fiction series or a licensed character book tie-in, or for in-house fiction projects in some cases.  Or something like that, anyway.  That whole side of the industry is still a little WTF for me.

WIP: Work In Progress, also Works in Progress. Refers to the pages and pages of words we writers throw together in the hopes that some of them will jell into a real manuscript.  They don't always, unfortunately.  Denotes something we are writing at present, so is technically not a manuscript or a book.  See the manuscript definition for more on this.  See also book.

YA: Young Adult.  These are books for 12-18-year-olds.  If you don't know about these books, you are most likely living under a rock.  They are EVERYWHERE.

*Since I write for children, for me this means “What the fudge?” when I use it.  Just wanted to make that clear.  The rest of you are welcome to insert the more colorful meaning of this acronym if you’d prefer.

An Accidental Adventure...

Today I'm plugging my post on my other blog. If you know of a child (preferrably 8-12, since that's the target age) interested in adventure stories, please check out the interview I conducted with C. Alexander London, all about his Accidental Adventure series (it's tres cool, I'll tell you that much here).

Speaking of accidental adventures,  I thought today would be a good day to share stories about how we writers got started in the writing business.  My first attempt at writing for children was definitely an accident, in case you were wondering how an accident and writing connected in the real world.

Oh, you want to hear that story?  Well, okay.  But it's dull.  Don't say I didn't warn you.

Here's my accidental adventure/how I go started in the business for writing children:

You see, I'd been writing stories for adults for years, but I couldn't ever finish one.  Usually I gave up somewhere in the first chapter or two, most often when I'd hit a brick wall with the plot and couldn't figure out a way forward (then, as now, I'm a pantser).  So I was pleased when I had made it to the middle of a manuscript.  The problem I ran into this time, however, was that main characters kept acting like children.  I was so irritated at them that I flung the story right out the metaphorical window and took a break until I could figure out how to fix it.

Not long after, my young son was being silly with rhymes, and he giggled when he came up with "enormous porpoise."  I knew there had to be a picture book in there somewhere, so I wrote a (badly-written) 5,000-word rhyming story about a porpoise, Dorcas, and her tiny friend, Jose.    The book was terrible, but I enjoyed myself so much that I realized the best way to fix my problem of writing characters that acted like children was to...wait for it...write books where the children were the main characters.  

Yes, I was a little slow on that uptake.

So, you see, a rhyme by a 4-year-old and a manuscript that will never see the light of day accidentally helped me find my true calling as an author of children's books.

Okay, now it's your turn.  What's your story?  Accidental or other-wise, I want to know!

*pulls up a chair and leans forward to listen*

Are You Listening?

You've probably noticed that I'm what you'd call a funny(ish) gal.  So it wasn't a big surprise when my first novel (a mystery) turned out to be a humor(ish) book in places.  My second novel was a riot--it housed talking geckos and robot pirates and flying space galleons and monkey overlords and a SECRET that could blow up the universe if it got into the wrong hands, which (of course) it did.  After that, I threw a funny(ish) sequel to my first novel into the mix, and then attempted a spoof on the Hardy Boys novels of yesteryear.

Yes, funny is my playground.

So it came as quite a surprise when my current WIP wouldn't leave me alone.  It's poignant(ish), literary(ish), and completely beautiful.  I can feel the main character's longings as if they were my own, and in some ways I guess they are.  It's a book about growing up in a dying culture, the culture my mother and grandmother and great-grandmother lived in and passed down to me.  It's also about learning to let go.  I'm writing this book because it shares the childhood I had but a childhood my kids will never know.  I'm writing this book for my grandmother.  I'm writing this book for me.

But, as much as I love this book, I realize its genre is a dying culture of its own.  You know, one of those quiet books.  Today, industry folks use the word as if it was a bad thing.  I have serious reservations about ever selling it, but I'm writing it anyway.

Sometimes, there are story ideas that sneak up on you and take up residence on your shoulder.  They whisper straight into your ear and don't bother to check and see if you're paying attention.  When those kinds of stories start to talk, it's best to listen.

Sometimes those story ideas aren't dressed like the rest of the stories you've written or plotted either.  They don't fit your brand or the trends.  So what do you do?

You write them anyway.

Don't worry about whether or not you can sell them.  Don't worry about whether or not they fit with the rest of the books you've written (or will write).  Don't even worry about whether or not they speak to anyone else.

They are speaking to you.  Are you listening?

Chances are, once they've finished speaking to you, and you've written them down, they will speak to others, too.  Those kinds of story ideas make the best kinds of books.  And even if they don't speak to others, you've been transformed by them.  That's all that matters, really, because it will make a difference on the next book you write, and the next and the next and the next.

So do the rest of the world a favor and listen.  Okay?

Just Do It...Or Take a Class First?

How many of you writers out there have taken one writing course after another in order to learn how to write (or write better)?  Or who went to college for a degree in writing?

I'm curious to know who out there has learned through formal courses and who, like me, is mostly self-taught.  I've taken one creative writing college course (which focused primarily on writing poems, thanks to an instructor who had a PhD in poetry and no real love of prose), but everything I've learned has been through trial and error.

I ask because, as a self-taught writer, I see what I think is a strange phenomenon in this industry:  writers who compartmentalize.

Now, by that I mean that I am often amazed when I hear of other writers asking for information on one very specific and often narrow category in the writing process.  These people gather grundles of information from other writers in order to study this very narrow category before they attempt it on their own. 

I know there is nothing wrong with this--it's probably a great way to learn--but I taught myself to write.  I didn't use textbooks.  I didn't study the writing process.

I just did it.

And then I did it again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

Sometimes I wonder if this more organic way of learning actually puts me at a disadvantage.  Because I'll admit that sometimes writers talk and I'm at a loss.  I have no idea what they are talking about.  They talk about things I've never consciously studied or thought about, but some time during my organic self-teaching I must have picked up and perfected without knowing it.  And I only know that because others who have read my writing tell me so.  It's like carrying on a conversation with someone with a very thick accent.  I should understand them but sometimes I have to ask them to slow down and explain themselves.

But other times I think I might be the lucky one.  I do think outside the box, mostly because I never learned what the box was to begin with.  I also trust myself more, because this whole writing thing really has been intuitive for me.

So, weigh in, folks.  I want to hear your thoughts on this.  Do you think your schooling (or lack of it) has helped or hurt your own writing process?  And give some examples, please!  

What I Learned By Watching A Tree

Yes.  You read that title right.  I have learned something by watching a tree.  And not just a something, but a something that was brilliant enough to make it into a blog post.  A something so fantasmic, so alarmingly insightful, so....

Okay, fine.  I'll stop waxing eloquent and tell you what I learned.

But first, I should explain a few things.  The first is that, yes, I am guilty of being a nature lover.  I do watch trees.  For fun.

The next explanation is this: yes, I'm weird.  

Now that we have those basic facts out of the way, let's get to what I learned by watching a tree.  This should delight all of you, unless you are devout tree haters, in which case I don't think we can be friends anymore.

So, today I was watching a tree as it shed the first of its autumn leaves.  It did so in front of a stream of middle-schoolers and their parents, but I doubt anyone (except me) noticed.  It quietly let go of some of its showy canopy and retreated inside.

And I realized how similar I was to this tree.  How all of us who are writing for publication are like this tree.

No, I'm not losing my leaves.  Bear with me here...

You see, being an author, especially one with an online presence to maintain (which, last time I checked, was just about every writerly person on the known planet), is pretty much like a tree in summer.  Our showy canopy glitters in the sunlight for the world to see.  We preen and rustle in the wind, and people see us and say, "Gee.  That tree...uh, author...is PRETTY."  And we like the attention, and we realize how much we love what it is we do.

But then something happens.  It could be that we have a book hitting the shelves, and we realize we are terrified of the reviews.  Or maybe we are in the middle of a first draft and we realize we have written the worst draft ever in the history of the written word.  Or it could be that we receive our one-hundred-and-forty-seventh rejection from an agent--and it was THE agent for us; the one we had placed the last of our hopes and dreams on.  Or it could simply be that we realize we are tired of the business of writing.  Whatever it is, we start to lose a little of the love we had of being a writer.  And, before we know it, we've retreated from the world.

Now, you are probably wondering why on earth I would share such a depressing story.  This isn't my usual  earth-shattering, amazingly inspiring posts, you are thinking to yourself. In fact, you are ready to take the tofu burger and fries that you are eating and squash them into your computer screen in the hopes of forever blotting out the drivel you just read.

But if you did, then you'd miss the other half of this post.

And that is, that I have learned more from watching a tree.

You see, I have learned that a tree is a magnificent creature...er, plant.  Because it has learned that, sometimes, the best thing you can do for yourself is to turn inward and focus on what matters most.  In this case, its roots.  And if it does so during those months where being a tree is a difficult thing to do, then soon enough it realizes that the spring sunshine is just around the corner.

So trees don't give up.  They don't wither and die in those cold winter months.  Instead they forget about that showy canopy and focus on the roots.  And if they do, soon enough they are rustling in the summer sunshine once again.

So, the moral of this story is:  there is a season for everything, and sometimes it's not only okay but imperative that we focus on our own roots..our writing (our stories).  If we can leave the worries of this business behind for just a little while, it makes all the difference when it is our time to blossom.

So go ahead.  Be a tree.  I, for one, won't call you crazy, even if I am a little weird.
So, yes, it's true.  The lovely folks at Kidlit Con have graciously extended another invitation for my blogging buddies at that other blog and me to speak to the attendees.  We won't tell them how crazy that idea is, because...SHHH...

...come closer...

...we don't want them to know that I'm just making things up as I go along.


Anyway, This year, it's all about group blogging, and I am thrilled to have some bona fide smart people speaking with me: the very talented Rosanne Parry and the amazing Katherine Schlick Noe.  I think we were invited to speak because of them, quite honestly.  

So, for those of you who might be coming, make sure to stop by and say hi.  I'll be the one up on stage, for an hour, at least.

Now, I must pack.  Where are those clear Ziploc bags for my things, anyway?  They are all the rage at aiport terminals, I hear.

So, many of you know about that other blog I work on. I try to keep the two blogs separate, since I know not all of you are middle-grade authors or have middle-grade kids.

Well, I'm breaking my "never the twain shall meet" rule today. You're just gonna have to deal with it, I guess.

That's because, on rare occasions, we do these really cool, super amazing, lots-of-love-and-work-involved projects to help get books (and their authors) connected with middle-grade readers. And it just so happens that today is one of those days.

Today our Mixed-up Middle-Grade Skype tour begins!

Each season a group of middle-grade authors donate a full-fledged Skype visit to a school, group, or club. And this time around we have the following authors:

cloud-bus-with-mouse2Sarah Aronson (BEYOND LUCKY)
Tami Lewis Brown (THE MAP OF ME)
Kathy Erskine* (MOCKINGBIRD)
Erin Moulton (FLUTTER)

*Yes, you'll notice this National Book Award winner has graciously donated a Skype visit. I want to be just like Kathy when I grow up.

So if you know of anyone who might be interested in winning a visit with one of these middle-grade authors, please send them to this blog post about our giveaway.

And please spread the word via Twitter, FB, G+, or your own blog.  You can even link to this cool YouTube video all about our project:

Thanks for sharing if you do.  I really appreciate it!

Tomatoes and Manuscripts

If you follow me on Twitter you might have realized that today was canning day around my house. This mostly came about because the three ginormous mounds of tomatoes on my kitchen counter were causing just a small space issue in the kitchen, but I'll admit it also had a lot to do with the fact that I have a small amount of freezer space but a large amount of canned food storage space.

Now, before you think I'm some domestic goddess, I should warn you that the last time I canned anything was when I was eight, and then I was just helping my mother. And my mother's lawyer suggests that I add a disclaimer here about how I didn't do any of the really dangerous work like pouring the boiling water or pulling heated cans out of the pot.


It occurred to me today that canning tomatoes for the first time (or the first time in almost two decades) is EXACTLY like writing a manuscript. Well, okay, not EXACTLY like it, but there are a few things you can take away from the job of canning tomatoes and use when you are working on a manuscript:

1. Things turn out better if you do your homework.

It's true: I had to look up information on how to can tomatoes. I went straight to a university agriculture extension and read all about the art (and science) of canning tomatoes.

It turns out that doing your homework is also a good idea when you are writing a novel. For example, I am currently researching teen adoption for a possible side story in a WIP, but the more I research the more I realize my original story idea would not have worked at all. I would not have know that had I not taken the time to do a little research.

So do your homework. It can be before you start a manuscript or while you're writing one, but it needs to happen sometime during the process.

2. Percolating is good for the project.

Because of the elevation where I live, I had to leave the jars of tomatoes in the boiling water bath for 50 minutes. Letting them percolate in the boiling water killed all the bad stuff and preserved the good stuff.

Letting your stories percolate is a good thing, too. Percolating before you write helps flesh out your ideas. Percolating after the manuscript is written helps you find and kill the awful parts but polish the better work. It's good for the mind, too. Well, at least it gives it something to think about when you have to wash all those dishes.

3. Sometimes things don't work out.

Most of my cans of tomatoes dutifully sealed, but I had one stubborn jar that just kept popping when I pushed on the lid. (For you non-canners out there, when a bottle is successfully canned, the lid is firm and doesn't move. If the seal doesn't take, though, the lid will move up and down and make a popping sound.) But it's not a total loss, thank goodness. I can empty the jar and try again with a fresh one (or rewash the old one and try again). It will just take a little more work.

Sometimes manuscript ideas don't work out, either. You think they are going to be amazing books once you finish them, but the ideas refuse to jell into solid stories. But don't fret. Sometimes they just need a fresh jar...er, some additional plot points or characters, a new setting or a combination of all three. Or maybe they just need a good wash, I mean, a do-over. Starting with a blank screen and trying again may just work.

4. It's hard work, but it's so worth it.

Need I say more?

(Photo: Tomatoes by ajstarks on Flickr)
*pops head out of hole*

Are you still here?


You've been waiting all this time to read another entry from me?

Well, we aren't going to discuss what that may mean about your sanity (because, honestly, I can't imagine why anyone would hang on my every word), but if you insist on reading new entries on my blog, I am pleased to announce that your wait is now over.

*pulls body out of hole, dusts clothes off*

In case you haven't noticed, I've been on a self-imposed hiatus.  And I'd like to share what I've learned during the past 6-7 months.  But first, that requires a little explanation.

I've been gone for quite awhile.  Mainly, it was because of the Cold of the Century, which was actually the Flu of the Century that turned into Complications from the Flu of the Century.  I've been pretty sick, folks.  Not that you knew that.  (Nor did I really want to tell you. I'm a firm believer in keeping the negativity tucked neatly out of site.  I'm also a firm believer in keeping the piles of paperwork at my house tucked neatly out of site, but oddly enough I'm not so good at that one.  Huh.)


I've been sick enough that I haven't been able to write.  Physically I didn't have the strength or stamina to keep up with the act of typing more than an email or two.  Mentally I couldn't wrap my brain around a new story, or an old one for that matter.  Emotionally I was a wreck while health care people tried to figure out what was wrong.  And while I was dealing with that, my husband and got the unexpected news that one of our children was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome.  


When it rains, it pours, and all that jazz, I suppose.

I realized that I wasn't in any position to pursue publication, so I decided to place the writing aside.  I quietly parted ways with my agent, removed myself from as many online conversations as I could, and prepared to walk away for good.

I tried.  I really did.  Honest.

But oddly enough, the more I didn't write (or talk about writing) the worse I felt physically.  It wasn't until I realized that writing, for me, IS what makes me feel better that I started to see an improvement in my physical health.  So I started writing again.  At first it was just emails to friends telling them  I was getting ready to write again.  Then it was journal entries to myself (with a good old-fashioned pen and paper--ahhh, heaven on earth).  I also tiptoed back into the online conversation.  I picked up the reins I’d dropped as fearless leader at From the Mixed-Up Files...of Middle-Grade Authors, and I started a twitter conversation with MG people which eventually blossomed into the weekly #MGlitchat.

And this week I started writing a new book.  One that I love so much that I cry when I think about the story.  (And I am so not a crier.)

But through all this, I found a balance between who I think I need to be (perfect mother, amazing wife, remarkable Asperger's Syndrome guru, inspiring champion of MG books everywhere, and all-around hero to anyone looking for one) and who I really am (terrible housewife, internet addict, mediocre writer, procrastinator and all-around normal human being).  And I really get what
matters to me now.  

And maybe you won't be so surprised to hear that what matters most isn't a book contract or accolades from the industry or even an agent clamoring for my work, or anything that I thought aspiring authors needed.  Instead, it's the love the my husband and children give me, the camaraderie I have with my writing peers and other industry people, and the amazing opportunity I have to make a difference in the life of a child (or a teen or adult, for that matter).

So why am I telling you this, you ask?  Well...

I just wanted you to know I'm back at work.  And that sometimes the sweetest experiences may come from the most difficult of trials.  And that, no matter what happens in your life, there is always a reason for it.  You may not see it at first, but eventually you'll figure it out.  And when you do...that will be a good day.

And that I can't seem to find where I placed that last pile of notes about my WIP.  You haven't seen them, have you?  In times like these a good filing system would really come in handy. 

Not that I'd use it or anything.