Book Reviews, Fiction, Nonfiction, Writing Tips

Picture book resources

This is a re-post from Jean Matthew Hall’s excellent website!

Picture Book Builders is a blog about picture books. It features reviews of picture books by authors of picture books. Whether you are a writer of picture book manuscripts, or a parent or teacher looking for great picture books to share with the children in your life you’ll find Picture Book Builders a useful addition […]

via Online Resources for Writers–Picture Book Builders — Jean Matthew Hall

Fiction, Writing Tips

Kids can write!

Kids, learn the basics of how to write a story!

I’ve been experimenting with the website, which my friend Lisa Logan (also a writer) introduced me to. You can create your own comic strips or graphic novel – the trial period is free, and after that rates start at $8/month, which is pretty reasonable.

It’s a lot of fun, and as Lisa says, is also a kind of therapy. I’ve made comic strips about the election, my 3-year-old’s habit of shouting “Poop!” really loudly, and all sorts of things.

Anyway, I created a tiny ebook (PDF) for kids that lays out VERY basically how to write a story. Here it is if you’d like to share it with a kid you know. The age range is about 7 to 9 (my 2nd-grader helped me come up with ideas). So, please download it and let me know what you think! I’m hoping to do a longer, more detailed version at some point…eventually…

Kids Can Write! (pdf ebook)

Fiction, Getting Published, Nonfiction, Writing Tips

4 ways NOT to start your book!

img_8699About two weeks ago, I attended Bookmarks Festival of Books & Authors. It was the first time I’d been, and I was only able to stay for a couple of hours. But it looked great from the little bit I saw! Besides showcasing local and national authors, the festival offered Slush Pile Live (Sponsored by the NC Writers’ Network) for aspiring writers to have their work critiqued. Well, the first 300 words of their work, anyway — anonymously by a panel of  agents and editors.


I submitted my 300 words and waited, heart thumping, in the audience for them to randomly pick my work and tear it apart. They never got to mine. But I did learn a lot listening to them tear apart other people’s writing! Here are some tips I gleaned from the painful lessons of others. (Okay, they weren’t that cruel, really!)

  1. Don’t start a memoir with a date. So many submissions started with something like, “September 29, 1962” and then went on to describe events chronologically that weren’t super-exciting. A memoir should read like a novel, with character development. The first section should give the framework for that character’s journey, not just a list of dates and events.
  2. Don’t start a story with so much excitement that the rest of the story can’t possibly live up to that first scene. At least two of the entries started with really gripping, tense scenes. One involved a mystery intruder and a scream from inside the house — the tension was too much, a panelist said. The scream made the story “almost comical” (ouch!). The other started with a gripping car accident which then dwindled when the character just stood around watching the night sky!
  3. Don’t start with a boring topic. One submission described a bug in the sink. Another started with the character getting hugely excited about registering a copyright. The panelists didn’t want to hear the rest. The author has to establish why the reader should care about the story, one panelist explained. The first few sentences are a “microcosm” of the work, the other added.
  4. Don’t use flat language that tells instead of shows. The unpopular entries didn’t include sensory details to anchor the reader in the scene. They contained clichés and flat declarative sentences that didn’t show the character’s personality. The panelists liked a children’s book entry, told from the point of view of a little girl who’d been struck by lightning while she sat on a fence. The writing was full of color and funny words, specific to that character.

All the panelists had really great suggestions and insights about how to start a piece of writing. The key idea I took away from Slush Pile Live was that you only have a few seconds time to capture a reader’s (especially an agent’s or editor’s!) attention. Every detail and sentence counts. Don’t go off on tangents, and don’t include boring stuff that doesn’t really matter.

In my next post, I’ll write about a few of the authors I met at Bookmarks — dedicated writers who didn’t mind standing in the blinding sun for hours to meet new readers!




Book Marketing, Getting Published, Writing Tips

Improve your odds and get published!

paperback-books-background (1)For the past few years, I’ve been attending a great writers’ conference in Raleigh, NC, hosted by the Triangle Association of Freelancers called Write Now! It’s a day-long event and includes an exceptional keynote speaker, great sessions, and lunch (not to mention a raffle) — all for only $69. These people really understand the concept of the “starving artist”!

Last year, the keynote speaker at Write Now! was author David Morrell (you can see my write-up here), author of countless thrillers and a fabulous speaker. This year, Brian Klems, the online editor of, gave us all great advice to help win over literary agents. He gave us a whole list of practical tips to help stack the deck in our favor. As well as working for Writer’s Digest, Klems also edits books for a living and has had his own book published (Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters), so he knows a thing or two…

Here are a few of my favorite tips that Klems shared in his keynote speech and also in his workshop about “writing like a pro”:

  • Make sure your manuscript is typo-free. This sounds obvious, right? But according to Brian, spelling your character’s name three different ways and getting “they’re, their, and there” mixed up are signs to an agent that you’re unprofessional, lazy, and not in it for the long haul. Yikes!
  • Get to know agents by doing your research first. Before he started pitching his book, Klems first made a list of traits he wanted in an agent. He or she would have to have children because the book was about being a parent, the ability to purchase TV rights, represent his book’s genre, and have a similar sense of humor as Klems. He thoroughly researched three agents (THREE!!), getting to know their interests and who their clients were. The third one he queried took on his book. The moral of the story? Quality not quantity!
  • Have more than one idea. Agents love lots of ideas, Klems said. If you get the opportunity to talk to an agent or editor, make the most of it. If he or she doesn’t like your first pitch, try another. Come prepared to pitch any ideas you have when you have the chance.
  • Hire an editor to help you with your query letter. You only get one chance to impress an agent, so give the query everything you’ve got, Klems said. (Especially if you only send out three!)


  • Be kind, useful, and network. Never badmouth an agent or author online; the publishing world isn’t that big, and who wants to work with a writer they perceive as being negative? Be useful by following agents and authors on social networks like Twitter and sharing their Tweets and other valuable information. Be an advocate for writers you admire — write positive reviews for them — and network with other writers. You may find your next beta readers, and maybe they’ll have a connection with magazines or agents.

I’ll post more great tips I learned at the conference in the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned! And feel free to share any advice you’ve learned about improving your odds of getting published.


Fiction, Writing Tips

Become a better creative writer with online classes!

Online creative writing classes at start today, but the first week is orientation, so you still have time to sign up! I know this because I’ve taken classes, and I used to tutor Creative Writing 1, Novel Writing 1, and (formerly) Intro. to Magazine Writing at the Edinburgh-based online school.

The Blue Suitcase
Director Marianne’s  historical novel


If you’re interested in creative writing — whether as a complete beginner or as an experienced writer who just needs a little boost — these are great classes! The tutors are so positive, and the notes and exercises help stretch your brain and get the creative thoughts zooming! Each course is 10 weeks, and you post writing assignments in public folders and comment on each others’ work. Students come from all corners of the globe — India, Scotland, England, Spain, Hong Kong, Dubai…

Anyway, I am still working away on The Rain Catcher and hope to post another snippet soon. Thanks to everyone who reads and supports my blog!

Fiction, Writing Tips

Character Intervention. (Short Story And A Huge Thank you)

I’m sharing my writer-friend Katie Hart’s short story here. It’s not only a great read, but she makes such a fascinating point about honoring your fictional characters! Until reading her story, I’d never really thought about the characters that way before — I am usually more consumed with the situation, the plot, the feelings going on in the story. But, of course, the characters are central to the story! So, Katie’s post is a “warning” to me to stop neglecting my characters!

Katrina Marie

For blog story

Character Intervention.

Fiction Short Story

Harvey: Writers Should Never Ignore A Character.

Harvey sat in the waiting room clutching the flyer that had been pushed through his door only an hour ago. He hardly ever took note of mail that found its way through his letter box, but this one felt different, it had no flashy offers or huge wording that stood out to capture the imagination. Instead the paper was a pastel green just like the walls around him and in the centre in small bold print read: Dear  Mr Harvey, we have summoned you to attend our writers convention at midnight tonight. Bring your published book and novel in writing don’t be late. Along the bottom was an address he had never heard of before, but he felt compelled to go and find out just what was going on? Maybe they were the fans of his latest novel When…

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Writing Tips

Write ruthlessly! Advice from David Morrell…

A few weeks ago, I attended the Write Now! conference in Raleigh, NC. David Morrell, prolific thriller author and the mind behind Rambo, was the keynote speaker. He also taught several workshops, which I was lucky enough to attend. Talk about words of wisdom — I must have scribbled several pages of notes, and I bought his book so I could read more!

Probably the most interesting (and possibly, valuable) lesson I learned from Mr. Morrell was his idea, “Every person has a dominant emotion.” According to Morrell, all writers have some “defect” that pushes them to be writers. Otherwise, why would we sit alone for hours a day, writing in virtual solitary confinement? For Morrell, his dominant emotion is fear — fear based on traumatic early childhood experiences with an abusive step-father. That’s what drew him to write thrillers, a genre where the main character must escape at all costs, where his/her life is at stake. Morrell says that we all have things inside ourselves “that are desperate to be communicated.” That’s why it is so important for writers to write for themselves, and not to please others.

“Are you willing to be open to yourself?” Morrell asked the crowd that Saturday. He encouraged us to have the courage to write what we’d always wanted to say. He gave the example of Edith Wharton “breaking ranks” and writing about the oppressive, superficiality of the wealthy society she grew up in. As Morrell talked, I tried to figure out what my dominant emotion was; what were the words I’d always wanted to say but had been afraid to write? If you want to be a writer, it’s worth finding out!