Saturday, November 17, 2018

12 Gifts for the Writer to help them (and you) Survive NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo is well underway - the month where writers commit to writing every day in order to bring a novel length book into existence. I'm actually cheating this year with a modified month of writing. The first half was dedicated to a new picture book text which I researched and wrote during the first half of the month (note the break to self allowed for writing this post), while the second half of the month will be dedicated to finishing a novel that is already half-written. See the justification? I am looking forward to finishing it with the same sense of urgency experienced by everyone else by leaving myself with only half of a month to do it, because the first half of the month was dedicated to another project.

Yet, here I am, about to dive in, and already I've thought ahead as to the list of things I will need to survive. Since I am a person whom others depend on for food, I hope you will see that this list stems from a altruistic desire to see others in my family survive as well. Their survival ultimately depends on my survival.

Because I am not all that much of an extra-ordinary kind of human being, I am willing to bet that some of the items on this list will resonate with others, so here goes. If you are a writer yourself, pass this list on to the others you live with. If you interact with a writer who holds special significance in your life, take note!

1. Turkey. Yes. Get the turkey.

If you live in the US of A, guess what? In six days I am willing to bet that your household is counting on a roasted turkey, and with your Writer-in-Residence spending his or her free-time sitting at the computer, pounding on the keys, that Turkey is not going to get itself bought and dressed and roasted by itself.

Plus, time is of the essence, because that turkey is going to need to be thawed before cooking, and it takes a couple days of fridge-time to do it. So, off to the market you go! Turkey.

2. Bubbly, as in drinks that Sparkle and Fizz. Lots of them. A variety.

Why? Because we are at Day 17 in NaNoWriMo, which means that your Writer is probably at the midpoint in their novel. The Muddy Middle. And quite frankly, it may suck.

It's one of those dreaded places where writers can get lost, feel adrift, be left wondering if the end will ever be in sight. So, bubbly is most needed now. And because you love your Writer-Friend-Mother-Father-Brother-Whoever-They-Are in your life, you should help them. Better yet, think of it as helping yourself. Their state-of-mind = your state-of-mind.

I plan on starting my NaNoWriMo task off with something bubbly, since I last left my book when it was approaching the Muddy Middle. And already, because bubbly drinks leave me feeling a slight bit more happy, I am looking forward to it, instead of dreading it. My mindset is altered to the positive, simply because the fizz and the sparkles lend themselves to celebration. So, help your writer celebrate! They are half-way to their destination!

3. Eye protection. You may wonder if I am missing the mark with this one. After all, the writing life hardly seems like any sort of dangerous undertaking. But apparently, staring at a digital screen with its unceasing load of high-energy blue light that streams directly into the Writer's eyeballs--which are basically connected to your Writer's brain--can disrupt sleep patterns. And... because mesmerized eyeballs do not blink as much, Writers connected to computers may be prone to dry eye and eye fatigue.

Plus, if a lack of sleep and irritated, uncomfortable eyeballs isn't enough to get you searching the internet for more information before practicing your purchasing power, too much exposure to blue light can damage the cells on the all-important retina. Vision problems associated with the cornea and lens can be corrected, but not those vision problems associated with the retina. Damage to the retina is nearly impossible to fix.

So, a strong dose of preventative medicine here could be an unnoticed blessing, which you'll know you can be thankful for with each day that passes where you don't need to invest in a Braille keyboard.

4. Popsicle Sticks. What? Well, perhaps I mean finger splints.

I have joints in my fingers that get a little achy with prolonged periods of typing. Plus, I have a broken pinky, that never healed itself after a break about 5 years ago. For a while, I had an unwieldy popsicle-stick-splint on my finger so that I could hit the keys for the letters P and O, along with the punctuation marks on the right side of the keyboard. To this day--5 years later--sometimes hitting those letters still leaves me wincing, and wondering if I can write words that don't need the letters of O and P.

Which is silly. So then I look for a splint. Which I never seem to have on hand.

Because I doubt I am the only person on the planet with this annoying ailment, I suggest popsicle sticks at the ready. Or finger splints, rather, as better educated peeps might attest. And they actually exist.

It's an item that easily can be added to the grocery list under Turkey and Bubbly.

5. Sweets. Again, a variety. So that your Writer-in-Residence is reminded of the variety of life, whose details can be brought into their unfolding story.

Starburst, Skittles, Mints, Chocolate, although personally, I have lost my taste for Chocolate. I don't know why, but I realized as I stopped at the store for headache medicine the other day that I have a new fondness for pastries. Which Definitely is Not a good fondness to develop.

Yet, I decided then and there that with a headache on in full-force, I deserved comfort food in the form of mile-high, ready-made, frosted cinnamon buns. Usually, I am a food snob and walk past such delectables, thinking that really good cinnamon buns must come from a really good bakery. Unfortunately, I discovered that the buns from my local store are pretty darn tasty.

So, with hesitation, I add Sweets, a.k.a, Cinnamon Buns to the list.

6. Hydration. If you refer back to the Bubbly at Item 2, and note that you opted for the alcoholic kind, you'll want to take additional measures to stay hydrated.

I had both legs and both feet cramp up on me at the same time after swimming one day last week because I forgot to drink water during the day--which may explain the headache....  Anyway, I nearly passed out from the agony and had a hard time walking for a bit. It would be a bummer to find your significant Writer-in-Residence passed out from dehydration with their face pressed to the keyboard, effectively filling page after page with strings of non-sensical letters of JKjkkkkkkkkkklklkkklgkgkgkkgkgkgkkkhk.

Therefore, keep your writer's brain sustained with lots of liquid hydration. Born of the planet. H2O. Filtered.

7. Bananas, along with Calcium and Magnesium supplements. See number 6. Feed the muscle in the brain. Keep it happy, keep it relaxed.

8, 9, and 10. Music, Photos, Namaste. Enough said.
Feed the Writer soul.
Stay connected to the wider world.
I'm at a time limit here, so it's back to work for me.

NaNoWriMo, and carry on!

Thursday, October 18, 2018

4 Reasons Why Fall is a Great Time for Writers and 5 Quotes for Inspiration

Fall is a great time for writers. Here are three reasons why this season recharges my soul.

1. Step outside and the senses are sharpened.  Sight, Touch, Taste, Smell, Sounds - those key tools in a writer's toolbox are quickly awakened. 

With the rush of cool air across the skin or into the lungs, with the bright colors changing across the landscape from morning to night, with both new and familiar smells of foods offered up at regional harvest festivals, there is an invigorating sense of a larger world around us and our connections to it.

2. Along with this seasonal realigning of the senses also comes a sense of urgency in both tackling new projects or wrapping up old ones as the holidays bob on the horizon.  Writers and illustrators have 2 different community challenges available to participate in during the fall season: Inktober and NaNoWriMo

I've loved watching the sketches done by my illustrator friends show up in my social media feeds during Inktober. Getting a glimpse of their talent from day to day is another kind of inspiration for the creative spirit.

3. The swift transitions in weather and temperature can offer unexpected surprises - both good and bad. Experiencing them reminds me of getting beyond the climax of a good book and on the way to a satisfying ending.

Brisk mornings that unwind into pleasant, warm afternoons remind us to take hold of opportunity when it presents itself because soon the warmer temperatures will lead to cooler ones at night. Although cooler nighttime temperatures can offer their own rewards - a warm fire in the hearth, a cozy blanket on the sofa, a cup of hot tea or cider steaming beneath our lips.

4. As the year's end approaches, the Fall season offers a final opportunity to readjust and establish goals. I write both picture books and middle grade novels, and this November I plan on jumping into NaNoWriMo to spur myself on to finishing a novel that I've already started. I've got a bit of a head start, so call me a cheater, but I prefer to think of it as having my course already scouted and mapped. The big trick will be sitting down daily to reach the final destination. But I am already beginning to get tingled with the anticipation of working through it.

Here are some great quotes from writers that I like to believe were inspired by interactions with nature.

"The bluebird carries the sky on its back." - Henry David Thoreau

"I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars." - Walt Whitman

"Never lose an opportunity to see anything beautiful, for beauty is God's handwriting. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul - and sings the tunes without the words - and never stops at all." - Emily Dickinson

"If you look the right way, you can see the whole world is a garden." - Frances Hodgson Burnett

Happy writing!

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Lists: A Tool in Writing and Life

Years ago I attended a presentation by children's author Claudia Mills on the art of keeping lists. From what I recall, Claudia is an ardent list maker and list keeper. She has journals of lists of all sorts. The fascinating thing is that she never throws a list away -- even when she has reached the end of a to-do list with each item neatly crossed off because she regards her lists like a journal, or a time capsule of things she has done or was planning to do.

Lists are not only a useful tool for navigating daily living. They are a useful tool for writers. There are so many ways that lists can be used. In an online conference yesterday, I learned that even author David Shannon makes lists to improve the books he is working on.

Although I am sure we all know what a list can be, here is a list of possible lists that you might find useful.

1. Character names and their traits
2. Things to fix in a manuscript as you read through a draft - this will keep you from slowing down when you want a general scope of how a story arc is shaping up.
3. Tasks to get done for the professional side of your work
4. Tasks for the personal side of your life
5. Brainstorm lists, like for titles of your next book that is ready to submit
6. Books you would like to read
7. Resolution lists that include healthy habits
8. Shopping lists that include chocolate (mine always include chocolate)
9. Favorite authors
10. Favorite artists
11. Motivational songs
12. Types of settings or places you come across that seem interesting
13. Favorite quotes
etc etc etc

Of course, as writer Lauren Laverne points out, lists may help keep our priorities in perspective and give us a sense of control, many of the best and most interesting things in life happen by accident and without any planning....

Happy unplanned things like:

sharing a smile with a stranger or a good laugh with a friend,
helping yourself to another slice of the perfect apple pie for dessert,
or taking a long awaited call out of the blue in the middle of the day in the middle of sentence you were just speaking....

Certainly none of these things were on anyone's list for their day. The unplanned pleasant surprises make life worth living.

So make your lists and remember to refer back to them, but keep your soul planted firmly in the present and the people you love keeping close.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Meet children's author Henry Herz and his 3 new books

For any author, the arrival of new book is much like the birth of child. We share the news with our friends and family, plan book birthday parties for our readers, and wait with anticipation for the date when busy-ness can begin.  I imagine author Henry Herz's schedule will be over-the-top crazy busy with the release of 3 different picture books from three different publishers at about the same time. 

In a sense, Henry Herz is having triplets! 

The names of his new books for children are: 
GOOD EGG AND BAD APPLE (Schiffer 2018) 
ALICE'S MAGIC GARDEN (Familius 2018) 

Henry was kind enough to take time out of his schedule to answer some questions about his books and his writing process. So sit back, enjoy, and check out his newest children's books as well as his his previously published titles.

1. How long have you been writing? Was becoming a published writer always a part of your career plans?

I began writing fiction about ten years ago, solely with the intent of getting my young sons interested in reading fantasy. I had no idea then that I'd be bitten by the writing bug or that it would lead to traditional picture book publication. So, it was never a part of my career plan. But now I'm glad I discovered writing. I've met some amazingly talented people. KidLit is a tightly knit and supportive community.

2. What were your favorite books or characters as a child?

Dr. Seuss and WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE (of course). Like most boys, I enjoyed cartoons like Jonny Quest and Spiderman. I also had picture book versions of Kipling's Just So stories and MOBY DICK! I was a ravenous reader, and started THE LORD OF THE RINGS in sixth grade. That sent me down the path of fantasy and science fiction, and I'm a big fan of those genres to this day.

3. What are your favorite children's books or characters now? Are any the same as those from your childhood?

I'm still a huge fan of WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. My other favorite picture books, and there are many, are newer releases and include: THIS IS NOT MY HAT, JOURNEY, A SICK DAY FOR AMOS MCGEE, TEA REX, ZOMBIE IN LOVE, WHEN YOU GIVE A MOUSE A COOKIE, and THE FANTASTIC FLYING BOOKS OF MR. MORRIS LESSMORE. Technically, young adult books are considered children's books, and there are a TON of great YA fantasy authors, like Maggie Stiefvater, Victoria Schwab, and Laini Taylor.

4. You have some interesting and unique main characters in your books -- ranging from an Imp, to a Cuttlefish, to an Apple, etc., -- so in the writing process, which comes first for you? The character or the idea for the story?
It varies – it's a creative process, after all. In one case, I wanted to do a fractured fairy tale, and thought it would be fun to substitute a cuttlefish for Little Red Riding Hood. In another case, I saw an illustrated refrigerator magnet featuring a bunch of angry anthropomorphic vegetables. The caption read “Steamed vegetables”. Boom – I had my characters, and built up a food idiom-heavy story around them. With HOW THE SQUID GOT TWO LONG ARMS, I started with the character of a larcenous squid, inspired by Klassen's fish in THIS IS NOT MY HAT.

5. Bullying is a theme that appears in two of your upcoming books, particularly in GOOD EGG AND BAD APPLE. Is that coincidence, or is that an important topic for you?

I do feel that bullying is an important topic to address in children's books. If kids are encouraged to be kind, they grow up to be kind adults. That said, my themes usually pick me in the sense that ideas pop into my head, and either stick or don't. For example, SQUID's theme is “do unto others” (or perhaps, “karma is a b*#ch”). I have an as yet unsold manuscript with the theme of the Law of the Hammer (just because you have a hammer doesn't make every problem a nail). Another unsold manuscript has the theme “you can learn from everyone, although sometimes you learn what NOT to do”.

6. Readers will recognize many of characters in Alice's Magic Garden as those from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Would you like to talk about your inspiration for ALICE'S MAGIC GARDEN and the connections you hope readers will make?
It might surprise you to learn that I didn't base my story on Alice at first. The original inspiration for ALICE'S MAGIC GARDEN was actually the Caldecott-winning A SICK DAY FOR AMOS McGEE by Philip and Erin Stead. My idea was to have a lonely little girl care for the plants and creatures in her backyard. Her love transforms (or reveals) some of the mundane critters as fae – a dragonfly would transform into a tiny dragon, etc. Then the fae care for Rosie when she gets sick.

The credit goes to my Familius editor, David Miles, who initially suggested a Victorian setting to lend a dreamier feel to the story. I renamed the protagonist to Alice, and changed the fae to match characters from Alice in Wonderland. David then encouraged me to create further parallels, and down the rabbit hole I went.

Carroll's final paragraph is exactly the feeling I want readers of my book to experience:

“Lastly, she pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, be herself a grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood: and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long-ago: and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days.”

7. Squid's facial expressions in HOW THE SQUID GOT TWO LONG ARMS are comically priceless. The book seems to offer a perfect pairing between text and illustration. Did you have any input on what your character would look like, or did your words inspire the artwork created by Luke Graber on their own?

I provided general illustration notes, including what kind of clothing the characters wore, but Luke deserves all the credit for the hilarious facial expressions and character designs. I wanted this to be a sparse book – originally five of the thirteen spreads were wordless, which would really put the emphasis on the illustrations. But my editor overruled me on that approach.

8. Do you have a favorite time and place to write?

I don't have a favorite time to write, other than a time without distraction. I almost always write at my home office, because I have a comfortable setup with my desk and computer. Occasionally, I'll write by hand if I'm out and about.

9. Are there any special routines you have to keep the creative process flowing?

On the one hand, I don't feel I can order myself to “be creative.” That said, there are some lessons I've picked up along the way. First, you never know when a good idea will show up in your head. So, always write them down. I keep a list of as-yet unwritten ideas. Second, it is perfectly fine to set aside a manuscript if you get stuck. Sometimes letting a few days or weeks elapse freshens your perspective. The corollary to that is to have multiple stories on which you work, so you can shift focus as needed. Last, read in the market for which you're writing and be observant of the world around you. Both will spark your creativity.

10. Do you have any advice for new writers?
In addition to the advice in the prior response, I'd say “slow down”. Hone your craft before rushing to submit to agents or editors (or self-publish). Develop a thick skin, because the industry involves an enormous amount of rejection. And be persistent, because you'll never get published if you quit before an editor falls in love with your manuscript. I have a full article on this subject at

11. Do you have many opportunities throughout the year to visit schools or bookstores to connect with your readers?

Yes, I have a busy fall/winter schedule because of the three new picture books. Here are some events at which I'll be speaking and signing:

San Diego Festival of Books (San Diego) – Aug 25
Cal Aero Preserve Academy (Chino) – Sept 14
Barnes & Noble (Glendora) – Sept 14
SCBWI Writers & Illustrator's Day (Fullerton) – Oct 6
Mysterious Galaxy Books (San Diego) – Oct 7
Barnes & Noble (Point Loma) – Oct 13
Scripps Birch Aquarium (La Jolla) – Oct 20
Warwick's Bookstore (La Jolla) – Oct 28
Intro to Writing Picture Books (Liberty Station) – Nov 18

If you would like to learn more about Henry Herz and his books, visit him at his website, or like his page on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter! Those links and information are below! 

Website: (includes full details on Henry's books and events)
Facebook: @Henry.Herz
Twitter: @HenryLHerz

Monday, August 6, 2018

Winnie the Pooh - Never Grow Old - A Movie, a Book, and a Garden

As a children's book writer, one thing I learned recently is that if your character is recognizable in a side-profile, then you have developed a good character. 

I think Winnie-the-Pooh stands up to this test, based on the imprint from our book on the shelf. Perhaps that is why Pooh is one of my favorite characters, why he's so memorable, and why Disney's Winnie-the-Pooh movie was such a joy to watch with my children when they were young. As they grew, we moved on to reading The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne which had been gifted to us. 

Watching a movie first, then reading the book second is backward for most book lovers, I know. But my children were young when the movie came out, so they had to grow into something called PATIENCE in order for me to read the tales of Winnie-the-Pooh out of the chapter book one by one.

Pooh's stories always come with a quiet surprise. His stories have never grown old, especially when mixed with quotes that make you laugh. Like this one:

"People say nothing is impossible. But I do nothing every day."

And quotes that make you appreciate your loved ones:

"Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart."

And quotes that make you think:

"Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there someday."

This particular river philosophy becomes more and more true, the older I get.

So it should come as no surprise that I am truly looking forward to the new movie, Christopher Robin. One review compared it to Hook, which I totally loved seeing with my boys when they were young, so I am sure Christopher Robin and his friend Pooh won't disappoint. 

Perhaps the best preface to the new movie was visiting a local flower garden designed for and inspired by the 100 Acre Wood. We are so lucky to have two local citizens who put time and thought and inspiration to bring a beautiful garden to our community each summer. This one, as always was very much worth the visit. 

I leave you with photos to inspire.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Embrace your writing group. How-to advice for critiquing.

In June I attended the week-long writing conference affectionately known as wiffer, a.k.a., WIFYR (Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers). Throughout the week friendships developed, connections were made, and after it was over, attendees from the picture book writing class that I attended talked about forming a critique group in order to continue getting feedback. (Yes, I also doodled).

During this discussion a link to a blog article about the dangers of writing groups was shared among my fellow writers ( In the post 3 perceived dangers were addressed by Jane Friedman: 
1) not getting the truth  
2) getting advice from struggling writers 
3) failure.

Over the past several years, I have had the opportunity to work with different critique groups and different writers, including Jim Fergus, author of Ten Thousand White Women, The Journals of May Dodd, who lured me into this whole writing game in the first place for a nonfiction project we never finished, and children's author Rick Walton whom we lost almost two years ago. While I always welcome good advice such as what was offered Friedman's article, I disagreed with some points that were shared. Because I felt the article would negatively affect our group as it was forming, I shared my perspective with them. Some of my colleagues suggested I share my perspective on my blog, so here we go. Feel free to share your own opinions after reading both posts. Or don't, and simply reflect on how you can be a better participant in your own group.

1) Telling the truth. According to the Dangers of Writing Groups blog post, this is rarely done because writers don't want to hurt the feelings of fellow colleagues. Thus, if a writer isn't receiving criticism and not hearing the truth, then writers groups simply continue to foster a bad manuscript as they critique it. Here, again, I disagree, not because it doesn't happen, but because receiving honest feedback is up to you as a writer. It's up to you to ask questions as feedback is offered in order for to learn the truth about the status of your manuscript. And Mrs. Friedman offers helpful questions to guide that process.

However, it's important to keep in mind that not everything offered in a writer's group is truth. Even if it sounds strong and direct and hurts to hear. Truth is personal and emotionally-based and everyone has their own experiences. In determining a manuscript's flaws, the writer needs to learn how to ask questions like, What is working? What is unlikeable? How is the character perceived? 

Questions provide guidance in  figuring out what is good and what is not so good. Again, it's your job as a writer to flesh that out as you get feedback from your readers. And if something hurts as you hear it, it is your job to push past those feelings, step back, and see where the kernel of truth in the criticism may lay.

Also, as far as truth goes, I don't ever expect to get it from family members because they all say my writing is wonderful, even when it's not, simply because they are wired to read it with those kind of eyes. (They seem to like my baking, so the admiration of the writing must be inexplicably linked.) So if your critique group is comprised of your mother and children, then find another group... although this kind of group probably works for Carol Lynch Williams, who has some daughters that are writers. But not all of us are blessed enough to birth our own writer's group. :)

2) Getting advice from struggling writers is not recommended, and on this I disagree. New writers may be unpublished, but provided they have a basic background in understanding the publishing industry and have attended workshops/conferences, then they can be an asset to a group because they are readers--particularly if they are readers of your genre and are now taking time to study it. Furthermore, readers who aren't writers ultimately respond to your work. Thus, it is up to you as a writer to learn the craft of writing and all the techniques that go into delivering your particular style. It is not up to the members of your writing group. And as Ms. Friedman's article states, it is up to you as a writer to address specific questions about your manuscript during the critiquing process that help address problems. Then, after hearing suggestions, it is up to you to decide how to make any modifications yourself. 

If you take a suggestion and it doesn't work, then it is also up to you to recognize that mistake after you step back and look at your manuscript with fresh eyes. It is also up to you to maintain your own voice as you incorporate suggestions from others. I don't really believe a writer can blame their critique group for poor revisions, if they find themselves with a manuscript they don't recognize or want to lay claim to. Writers are the captains of their own ship. (And since I'm sailor, I can say this is true - cliche and all).

As a writer who has been in different writing groups over the years, I believe the feedback I got from those that wanted to give it was useful and helped me achieve the successes I had. Whether I incorporated every suggestion wasn't important, because suggestions -- good and bad -- allowed me to see my work through another reader's eyes. 

Thus, while I wouldn't recommend welcoming every person into your group that walks off the street, I wouldn't steer clear of a writer simply because they are unpublished, particularly if they read your genre.

3. Failure to recognize failure with the big-picture of a story because critique groups only see one slice at a time. While this may be true, it doesn't mean the plot holes can't be fixed. Again, honing down the plot is a job that needs to be worked out by the writer in whatever way they see fit to do it. But this doesn't mean that a well-crafted scene can't be celebrated within a critique group meeting. Reading great writing is what keeps us all striving to create more.

All in all, if you find a critique group that works for you, you need to love and nurture it like a pet. Writing is a hard, frustrating, and lonesome process that is met mostly with failure until things start working, so be sure to let your fellow writers know what you love about them, their stories, and their characters all the time. 

Give good feedback right alongside with difficult feedback, otherwise, you'll just push them away.  After all, we are not working for PIXAR and getting a paycheck to help massage the hard days when we are told everything we have created sucks, unlike the employees in Creativity, Inc. I suspect there is a big difference in the emotional journey between a Pixar artist and writers who work on their own, so be sure to take care of yourself and your fellows, no matter where you are at.

Be patient. 

Be kind. 

Be persistent.

Be professional.

Eat Chocolate. And fill the page.