Rest in Peace L.K. Madigan

L.K. Madigan headshot

L.K. Madigan

In January, I wrote about the wonderful community that children’s book writing has and how they were supporting young adult author L.K. Madigan, who had been diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. Madigan passed away this week, and the support for her family continues. Fellow author April Henry has written that, if you want to do something in memory of this writer, you can donate to her son’s college fund.

I didn’t know Madigan, but I’ve read wonderful advice she gave via former agent Colleen Lindsay: “The main thing is to WRITE. Some days it might be 2,000 words. Some days, you might tinker with two sentences until you get them just right. Both days belong in the writing life. Some days, you may watch a Doctor Who marathon or become immersed a book that is so good you can’t stop reading. Some days, you may be in love or in mourning. Those days belong in the writing life too. Live them without guilt.”

Madigan’s husband wrote a lovely post on her blog after she passed away.

Whether you know Madigan’s work or not, please spread the word about her and her books. She will always be remembered through those.

Write On!

Authors helping authors

The Mermaid's Mirror book coverWhen I joined the children’s book writing community, one of the things I was immediately impressed with was how supportive everyone was. Not all writing communities — or all creative communities — are like that, and it’s wonderful that children’s book writers are. On Verla Kay’s board yesterday, I saw another example, author Cindy Pon writing about and supporting fellow author L.K. Madigan.

Madigan, author of Flash Burnout and The Mermaid’s Mirror, was recently diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer, and Pon put out a call for support. Pon and the other 2009 Debutantes are giving away copies of Madigan’s books to create awareness, but she also hopes you’ll add them to your Goodreads lists, tell your friends about them (if you’ve read them) and do whatever else you can to spread the word.

I haven’t read Madigan’s books, but they sound great and have gone on my plan-to-buy list.

So, if you haven’t read Madigan’s books, check them out and spread the word about this wonderful author.

Write On!

Patience, perseverance and a whole lotta reading

Pile of booksSaturday was the monthly meeting of the great Austin chapter of the SCBWI at the awesome independent bookstore BookPeople, and all who attended got a healthy dose of inspiration.

The speaker was author Jessica Lee Anderson, who taught about dealing with the ups and downs of publishing through songs — and yep, she even sang.

Jessica reinforced the idea I wrote about in my last post, that the writing is the best part of the journey, so stop worrying about publication. But how to do that? Well, with a little Patience (from Guns ‘n Roses), R.E.S.P.E.C.T. (from Aretha Franklin) for ourselves as writers and people, and the knowledge that I Will Survive (Gloria Gaynor). (Jessica’s talk had a wonderful soundtrack!)

Jessica also reminded us that reading is one of the best ways to become a better writer, and she said she had set a goal for 2011 to read a book a week. A book a week! And she’s running ahead of that goal right now!

I was amazed. I can’t read that fast. (She did admit to me later that she listens to a lot of audio books in her car and has to drive a lot, so that’s one way you can fit them in.)

Although I won’t be matching Jessica’s pace any time soon, she did inspire me to push harder to get more books read. Spurred on, this weekend I picked up my book whenever I had a few spare minutes, instead of browsing the Web. I was determined to finish the novel I was reading and start another. I finished on Sunday afternoon and immediately went to my unread pile and picked up a new book. I’m already racing through that one — as often as I can at least. We’ll see if I can finish it in a week.

So, stop worrying, be patient, keep writing and make reading a priority.

Do you have a reading goal?

Write On!

Need a good book to read?

We writers always have a stack of books waiting to be read, but when reading the best books helps us becoming better writers, what are the best books for us to read? The bestsellers and award winners in our genres are a great place to start.

The Association for Library Service to Children has just announced this year’s Caldecott Medal winner, for picture books, and Newbery Medal winner, for novels, plus honor books.

And there’s the Printz Award winners, for excellence in young adult literature.

On the bestseller side, Scholastic Book Clubs has launched a monthly children’s book bestsellers list, which will be available the second Tuesday of every month starting this month. The list will have the most popular five books, according to unit sales data, in these categories:

  • picture books
  • transitional readers
  • early chapter books
  • chapter books
  • middle grade
  • young adult
  • and nonfiction.

The list is available at the Scholastic Book Clubs Book Talk blog, but you can also request to get it emailed to you every month by sending an email to

Go grab a list and get reading.

Write On!

More on query letters

Manuscript update: Still perfecting my query letter and synopsis. I’m attending the Austin SCBWI conference on Saturday — so excited — and hope to have a fantastic, shiny, brilliant query letter and synopsis ready to start sending out to the conference speakers soon after.

Yesterday, I wrote about why it’s important to write the perfect query letter and synopsis, and then I read a really great article on the subject and wanted to share.

One thought before I do: Your query letter and synopsis are supporting players to your manuscript. Ultimately, it’s your manuscript that will get an agent to sign you as a client, so working hard and as long as it takes to make your manuscript perfect is essential. But once that’s done, don’t short-change this next part. Even though the query letter and synopsis are supporting players, they are the first ones on stage, and if they don’t shine with brilliance, your audience won’t stay for the full show. So, take the time, do the work, no matter how frustrating it can be. If necessary, shelve your query letter and synopsis for a few weeks, just as you would your manuscript, to make sure it’s the best it can be before you send it out.

When I was submitting my first novel to agents, I worked hard on my query letter and synopsis, and my first query letter got a good many requests for the full manuscript — the goal — but it also got many no thank yous. Later in the process, I revised the query letter, and my ratio of requests to no thank yous rose enormously on the side of requests. (Ultimately, my first manuscript got back very positive comments about my writing, the story, characters, etc., but the agents I submitted to said they felt it wasn’t right for them right now. As I had finished my second novel and started revising it, I decided to stop submitting my first book and start again with my second, which is what I’m doing now.)

Ok, now for the sharing part. Writer’s Digest just posted a really great article about query letters by literary agent Ann Rittenberg, Basics of a Solid 3-Paragraph Query Letter. Ann gives an example of a query letter that worked for her and dissects the parts of a query letter and how they should be used.

But what I like best about Ann’s article is the statistics she gives at the beginning. They might be daunting, scary even, but they’re the reality, and the way to look at them is as a challenge. Let’s face it, with these statistics, the odds are against anyone getting a request from a query letter, but people do get requests (see above) and books from debut authors are published every year. There’s nothing to say that it can’t be your book or mine, as long as we put in the work that’s necessary.

Read Ann’s article but don’t feel discouraged. Feel energized, charged up that you are now closer to getting that request, closer to being a debut author, because you have something other writers must not: You have the keys that Ann is giving you about how to write a query that will get a Yes.

Coming next, more on writing a brilliant synopsis.

P.S. You’ve got til the end of this week to enter the contest to win a PDF copy of Laura Cross‘ book Complete Guide to Hiring a Literary Agent: Everything You Need to Know to Become Successfully Published. Go to my post about ghostwriting and leave a question about this great writing option for Laura. I’ll send all the questions to Laura on Feb. 1 and she’ll fill us in on the details of this lucrative field in an interview on Day By Day Writer on Feb. 12. The person who submits Laura’s favorite question will get a PDF copy of her book. And make sure you come back on Feb. 12 to read Laura’s answers to your questions.

Write On!

Read to write

Revision update: I can always tell the parts of my first draft where I was struggling. This morning, I found one of those parts at the beginning of this next chapter I’m working on, and I found a much better way to get into the story.

One of the many — far too many — blogs in my blog reader is Frenetic Reader, and she had a cool post today called I Would Read ___’s Books Just For ___. As she explains, she would read Beth Kephart‘s books just for the writing, Scott Westerfeld‘s books for the plots, Maureen Johnson‘s books for the charters, etc.

I love this. But it also gave me an idea about research for us writers.

If there’s an area we want to work on — plot, characters, word choices — we can read books that excel in those areas. We can learn something new, something good in every book we read. But, like Frenetic Reader points out, writers tend to be strongest in one or two areas, and the rest follows.

If you want to know what books to read for these different areas, read the reviews. Look at what’s on the bestseller lists and honors lists that are in the genre you’re writing and read what reviewers say. If you’re looking for books strong on plot, read the books reviewers say have a strong plot, or Google search review, your genre and plot and see what kind of results you get.

Most of the books in my must-read list I’ve found through reading about them in blogs, but I was only looking for popular books in the genre I write. From now on, I’m going to scour reviews and let them be my guide based on what I’m looking to build on.

Building a book with Blurb

Revision update: Two chapters done yesterday. None today. Work too hectic.

A lot of print-on-demand options have popped up over the last few years, making self-publishing more of an option for writers. I recently tried one,, not for self-publishing, but for my mother’s 60th birthday gift.

Mum wrote a bunch of poems a few years ago, so for her birthday, I gathered the ones I like the best, matched them with various photos my husband and I have taken over the years as well as old family shots, put them into a cool page design and uploaded them to the Blurb website.

Blurb offers to print books in a variety of shapes of sizes and provides templates for InDesign, but it will also take PDF files made in other design programs, as long as they match up with Blurb’s page size specifications. I had a little problem with this — and I was using Blurb’s InDesign templates — but it turned out, after a conversation with customer service, that I also needed Blurb’s PDF-making template. That wasn’t entirely clear in the instructions, and I found a few bugs in the site’s customer service — there’s no phone number, just email by forms, and if they’re not working, you’re stuck — but I finally got everything uploaded and my mum’s book on the way.

The final product arrived in the mail about a week later, and I must admit, I was impressed. I ordered an image-wrap hardcover book, and the picture on the cover was a bit muddy, but that’s my fault. It looked muddy on my print out but I went ahead with it anyway. The inside pages, though, looked wonderful. Even my old family pictures, which I had scanned into the computer, kept their quality. And the newer pictures, taken with our good camera, printed wonderfully.

Like other print-on-demand services, Blurb will list your book for sale to the public and you share the sale price, but you can order just one or a few copies for your personal use and keep the book off the site for public sales, which is what I did for my mother’s gift.

My mother opened her book last week and, once she got over the fact that her name was on the cover, she lifted it up proudly and said, “I’m published!”

Dreams can come true. 🙂

Write On!

Thankful for writing

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you’re celebrating.

Although eating lots of turkey and stuffing, etc., is a good enough reason by itself to have Thanksgiving, I particularly like the spirit of being thankful.

This year, more than ever, I’m grateful for writing. I’m grateful for the worlds I get to visit, the characters I come to know, the fun I have inventing and creating, the joy of a great turn of phrase. I’m grateful for the enjoyment writing gives me.

I’m also grateful for other writers, those who I’ve met on blogs, both who leave comments on mine and who write blogs of their own. Writers I’ve met through the Society of Childrens Book Writers & Illustrators. And the writers who have gone before me, carved out paths to publication and given me fantastic books that I can not only delight in reading, but also learn from. Some of my favorites right now: the books of Terry Pratchett, Suzanne Collins, Rick Riordan, Michael Buckley

And, of course, I’m grateful for my husband, family and friends who continually encourage me.

What are you thankful for?

Write On!

Book lists

Revision update: I think the first three chapters are in pretty good shape. Moving on…

It’s coming up to the holidays again, and no matter what holiday you celebrate — Christmas for me — presents are often involved.

Last year, I made a point of trying to find a book for everyone on my list before anything else. This year, I was pleased to see that I can do the same for lots of people.

For us writers, of course, books are a given as presents. But if you’re anything like me, you’ve always got a stack by your bedside or on your shelf waiting to be read, and another list floating around in your head of books you want to read. Most of the books are in the genre I write in, but a few are there because I’ve heard they’re really great books.

Today, I thought we could compare lists.

Here’s what’s currently on my to read shelf:

  • Savvy, by Ingrid Law (I read about this online and it sounds great)
  • The Sisters Grimm: The Unusual Suspects, number two in the series by Michael Buckley (I picked up the first book in this series a while ago because of the awesome name: Fairy Tale Detectives)
  • The Summoning, by Kelley Armstrong (I picked up this one as research for a future book idea)
  • Looking for Alaska, by John Green (I bought this at a conference last month, but I had been planning to read it since hearing a lot about it at the SCBWI summer conference in 2007)
  • and Diggers and Truckers, numbers one and two in the Bromeliad Trilogy by Terry Pratchett (I’m a big fan of Terry Pratchett’s, having read most of his adult books before I started reading only middle-grade and young adult; this series is YA)

What’s on my reading wish list?

  • Catching Fire, number two in the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins (I just finished the first book and, as usual, she ended the story with many questions unanswered, so I’m looking forward to this next one)
  • The Emerald Tablet and The Navel of the World, numbers one and two in the Forgotten Worlds series by P.J. Hoover (I’m getting a critique by her at a conference in January, so I definitely want to read her work before then)
  • The Last Olympian, the last book in the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series by Rick Riordan (I loved the other books)
  • Wings, by Aprilynne Pike (I read about this one online and it sounds awesome; a debut author and a bestseller in its first week)
  • the other books in the Sisters Grimm series
  • Wings, book three in the Bromeliad Trilogy by Terry Prachett (ditto above)
  • The Magician’s Elephant, by Kate DiCamillo (it always helps to read the award winners)
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart (I heard about this on The Today Show a while ago and it sounded like a lot of fun)

What’s waiting on your shelf? And what would you like to be there?

Write On!

The writing rules

I’ve been going through a reading spurt lately, after I finished the third (and hefty) Eragon book, Brisingr, and I’ve noticed that you can’t judge the validity of the “rules” of writing based on what’s selling in stores.

There are plenty of “rules” that we hear when we’re just starting. I put the word in quotes because really, they’re not rules, but they’re things that as newbies, we might not be able to get away with as much as an established author. They’re things you’ll hear from fellow writers as well as in critiques, both from agents and editors.

What are the “rules”? Here’s a few that I’ve heard and seen broken in books I recently read:

Stick to one point of view: The first draft of my novel switched POV between my protagonist and his father for the first half of the book, then, after the two story lines had come together, focused on the protagonist. In a critique workshop with an agent, I was told children’s books rarely switch POV and I should rework it to just be from my protagonist’s POV. I did, and it worked out fine. But, if you read bestsellers out now, you’ll see that many don’t do this. Christopher Paolini’s Eragon books are a good example.

Avoid ly words: I’ve heard this one a lot, and as guidelines go, it makes sense. The descriptive ly words can slow down prose. Many times, they’re not needed. This is an extreme example, but you don’t need to write “STOP!” the man said loudly. The STOP! tells us he’s saying it loudly. But, I can’t help enjoying ly words at times. I use them probably more than those who tell the “rules” would like, but I like them. To me, used well, they can be delicious and make a sentence that would have been toast and jam, toast and jam with whipped cream and sprinkles. And guess who uses them a lot: J.K. Rowling. She’s pretty successful. 🙂

Never use the word Suddenly: I’ve heard this one a lot too, and actually, I’ve got to say I agree. Never is a bit strong. There’s probably a time and place when suddenly would spark up a paragraph, but not with sentences like: Suddenly, she grabbed him. Using the word suddenly to describe that something, well, suddenly happens, is fine but it’s easy. It’s the quick go to word, but it’s not the most creative way to move the action. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve used this word, and in sentences like my example, plenty of times. But when I see them in my revisions, I try to rewrite them. And most of the time, the context of the story, the action, is moving fine and doesn’t need a suddenly thrown in. Recently, I read the first book in the Sisters Grimm Fairy Tale Detectives series by Michael Buckley and was surprised to see that in the climactic scenes near the end of the book, Suddenly was running around lose and fancy free. Now, I really loved this book. The characters were strong, the story fun and many many times Buckley had me laughing out loud. But, to be honest, all the suddenlys stuck out to me, and I don’t know if it’s because I’ve heard the “rule” so much or what, but it actually slowed the pace of the action. They weren’t needed, because the action was doing fine without them.

For newbie writers trying to get a foot in the business, sure, we have to make sure our manuscripts are Mr. Clean clean. They’re going to be scrutinized more than one from an author whose last book sold 100,000 copies. Do we stick to the “rules” or break them? I say, go with your heart. Ultimately, tell a great story in a great way. If it’s a little unconventional, breaking the “rules” so to speak, it might take a little longer to find the right agent and editor, but you will; if you believe in your story, you will. But it’s good to know the “rules” so you can decide whether you want to break them. Some of them are said for a reason.

What “rules” have you heard and seen ignored in the bestsellers?

Write On!