Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Knowing When to Quit


Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.” – Michael Jordan

Never give up. If you want to be something, be conceited about it, give yourself a chance. Never say you are not good, that will never get you anywhere. Set goals, That’s what life is made of.” – Mike McLaren

You’re never a loser until you quit trying.” – Mike Ditka

Before success comes in any man’s life, he’s sure to meet with much temporary defeat and, perhaps some failures. When defeat overtakes a man, the easiest and the most logical thing to do is to quit. That’s exactly what the majority of men do.” – Napoleon Hill

People of mediocre ability sometimes achieve outstanding success because they don’t know when to quit. Most men succeed because they are determined to.” – George Allen

A man is not finished when he is defeated. He is finished when he quits.” – Richard M. Nixon

A quitter never wins and a winner never quits.” – Napoleon Hill

[Quotes courtesy of MightyFighter.com, Top 30 Greatest Quitting Quotes, see the rest here]

We all face times of doubt, loss of confidence, hardship. Whether you're an aspiring author, a student, an athlete, an employee, et al, quitting is never the answer. History only remembers those that preserved and succeeded; it doesn't remember the quitters.

So think again when giving up crosses your mind--you could be so close to your goal.


Clip Art courtesy of Microsoft

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Designing Devices

Since there have been writers, there have been literary devices. I'm talking about visual devices;. like when poets create a poem in the shape of a tree because that's the theme. You probably did this in sixth grade (maybe it's still hidden in a drawer somewhere.)

The savvy writer knows not to use it more than once, possibly twice in a book; or just use one device throughout the book.

One of the best I've seen is in the book New Moon, the second in the Twilight books by Stephanie Meyer. Edward has abandoned Bella and she's so devastated she 'checks' out. She's only going through the motions of living. Here is how she showed the emptiness in three chapters:


(new chapter:)


(new chapter:)


There's nothing there. Life has gone on, but it hasn't left any impression on her. I think this is brilliant.

Another example of one that is commonly used now showed up in Lauren Myracle's young adult series starting with ttyl. She uses text message language, which now is falling out of favor because of spell check which fills in the word for you, although there are plenty of people who still text "R U there?" and other assorted phrases. Inserting texting into manuscripts- along with emojis- has become as commonplace as flashbacks, unless you're writing pre-cell phone era. Many of us use not only texts, but letters, journals, news reports, etc. interspersed through our manuscripts.

One of the devices I despise, abhor, can't stand: stream of consciousness. William Faulkner does this in The Sound and the Fury. His character Quentin, who's going off to Harvard in the fall, speaks in streams of consciousness. I can't find my copy of the book so I'm going to illustrate with my own words:

I run fast I keep going how could she do that there's the fence I need to jump around it Benjy won't stop bellowing Father doesn't give a damn...

Obviously, Faulkner's words were different, but you get the gist. I don't like this device because without punctuation you have to slow your reading down to separate the different thoughts. Whole paragraphs can be quite tiring. And, as I indicated to my English professor at the time, I didn't think Faulkner used this device correctly. (Yes, I know, he's a celebrated writer and I'm not; move on.) I believe this device would have been more suited to Benjy, Quentin's 33 year old brother who is mentally disabled, with his limited communication skills and no education, rather than a Harvard man. (And I got an A on that paper.) Either way, I would never use this.

One device that I love when it's done right is foreshadowing. Too heavy a hand, and you automatically know what's going to happen or who did what. It takes skill, and any book or movie that's done right leaves you surprised. I like the use of red in The Sixth Sense. Some of you may have guessed the twist, but I didn't and in the end I was "Of course!"

Then there's the last twist before the end. One of my fave's is the alien on board the escape ship with Sigourney Weaver in the movie Alien. She battles this beastie, saves the cat, and the damn thing still won't die. (I also love the fact that she was right- she told the captain not to let the guy with the creature on his face in, it violated safety/contamination protocols. And discovered that the ship's computer and the android were government 'spies' with a priority to seek out new life forms for military purposes. And that she was kickass enough to be the sole survivor.) That last twist, down to the final tense, fearful moments, made me hyperventilate.

There are so many devices to kick your novel up a level. Use them sparingly and wisely to place your story out of the crowd.

Keep writing,


Monday, May 9, 2016

Let's talk about it over coffee...

You want to write/illustrate for children. Maybe picture book, maybe middle grade, maybe young adult (who technically aren't children, but we authors have no say in this classification so don't yell at the messenger).

You've drafted/typed some things down or maybe even completed a manuscript. But you're unsure what to do next, possibly even afraid to send it out, and to whom?

Chill. This is not that big a deal in the grand scheme of writing and publishing. Let's talk about it over coffee and see what we can help you with.

On May 21, Saturday, get your kisters out of bed and come to the Somerville Barnes and Noble (319 US Rt 202/206, off the circle near TGIF's). From 9-11 I'll be hosting an informal get together of SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) members and wannabes. We can talk about the journey, offer suggestions, give you a clue about the conference that hopefully you signed up for (but it's too late now), and nudge you to completing a dream. What better way to spend two hours on a Saturday? And surrounded by books! (You can imagine your book there...)

So no excuses. Be there. Bring questions. Think positive.


Monday, May 2, 2016

Meet The Team!

T! E! A! M! Goooooo Team!

Now that all the contracts are signed, here's the team I'm hoping will make my middle grade adventure series a winner:

My Agent:

Natalie M. Lakosil is an agent at the Bradford Literary Agency. An honors graduate of the University of San Diego, California, Natalie holds a B.A. in Literature/Writing. After nearly four years at the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency and a brief dabble in writing author profiles and book reviews for the San Diego Union Tribune, Natalie joined the Bradford Agency in February of 2011.

Natalie is drawn to talented, hard-working new authors with a fresh, unique voice and hook. Her specialties are children’s literature (from picture book through teen and New Adult), romance (contemporary and historical), cozy mystery/crime, upmarket (literary and commercial blend) women’s/general fiction and select children’s nonfiction. Her interests within her specialties include historical, multi-cultural, magical realism, sci-fi/fantasy, gritty, thrilling and darker contemporary novels, middle grade with heart, and short, quirky, lovely or character-driven picture books. She is always drawn to an open and positive attitude in an author, professionalism, good grammar, and fantastical, beautifully written, engaging and sexy plots.

Natalie is a member of RWA and SCBWI.

Read more about her agency on their website or Facebook, and follow Natalie on Twitter @Natalie_Lakosil!

My Illustrator:

Cathleen Thole-Daniels has been a published illustrator since 1990. Her clients include Simon & Schuster,Barnes & Noble, PlayStation, Sega Genesis, Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Legend Entertainment, Fleer Trading Card Co, Topps Trading Card Co. Her professional awards include Best Logo Design NJ-SCBWI 2009, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Visual Artist Fellowship Award 2008, Fantasy/Sci-Fi Illustrators & Writers Of The Future Contest, Honorable Mention 1992. Cathleen was also a N.J. State certified Commercial Art educator from 2002-2014. Her educator awards include N.J. Governor's Award in Arts Education 2006, Outstanding Educator in the Arts Award, VSA Arts of New Jersey 2006. VSA is an affiliate of the JFK Center for Performing Arts. Cathleen now spends her time illustrating for kids, playing with her cats and bugging her husband, daughter and neighborhood squirrels to pose for photo reference! You can find her work at  http://cathleendaniels.com/

My Publicist:

After years of working in children's publicity at Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, and other major publishers, in 2003, Rebecca Grose started her own freelance literary publicity firm - SoCal P.R. (www.socalpr.net). Using her experience and relationships with media, booksellers, and other key contacts, she works closely with her clients to strategize, design, and implement successful publicity campaigns. She has worked with several of my friends, including Yvonne Ventresca, for her Pandemic release.

So that's the team. We're all excited for this project and I think working together it will be a dream realized for me. This is the first children's book that I wrote (if you don't count all the verbose picture manuscripts I tried). And as I've mentioned, it has a special place in my heart.

Next week, this post will move over to my journey page and my blog posts will go back to writerly and world musings. When something big or exciting (hopefully not upsetting) occurs, I'll post it to the main blog then move it over.

Next, I hope to show a rough draft from Cathleen as our projected debut is September for the first book, December for the second. If all goes well, March for the third and June for the fourth.

Keep checking in,


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

On Loving Unloveable Characters...

I had an editor remark that "He's not a likeable character."

Yeah, and?

That's the point.

Fact of life: not everyone is likeable- not in your family (don't we know that all too well!), not amongst your peers, (yep, know that too), especially not at the workplace, on your block, in your church or book group, and maybe even among friends. The world is full of unlikeable people.

So why do editors insist that all main characters be likeable? Why all the nicey-nice, underdog, cheerleader, vanilla characters?

I don't do angst and I don't have nicey-nice characters because I don't believe in them. They exist, but I like to write in a darker flavor.

Norman Bates is creepy. His dark eyes and snide smile hint at the darkness lurking within. His mother, a clinging, over-protective and sexually voracious woman with a traumatic past, is an unfit parent. Norman's brother is the product of incestuous rape and yet he's the 'normal' one who only steals and kills to buy new lungs for a girl who's his brother's girlfriend.

All unlikeable, even reprehensible, characters. And yet, they are part of one of the most iconic movies and now TV series, Psycho and The Bates Motel. Sure, they have moments of humanity, compassion, and maybe even a smattering of redemption. But we still don't like them, wouldn't want to meet them even in a brightly lit room, and shiver from just a whisper of their name.

Why are we so fascinated with these characters?

Because they are dark, and foreboding, and evil; things we can only imagine while we lock our doors and run to our cars. They are exciting compared to the constant whining, drama-seeking characters who gorge on their own angst. It's why Ted Bundy, Hitler, Bernie Madoff, and other 'bad' people garner such global attention.

We need these characters in a landscape of sameness, especially in YA and NA. The narrow confines of high school should not define a character. Not dealing well with others in high school was only a small part of Norman's story, unlike the majority of books that center around that institution.

Did I change my character to fit the editor's view? Not really. It might have sold the book, but then I would have sold out my character. Did anyone really like Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre? He was arrogant, selfish, condescending, and manipulative. He embarrassed Jane. He made a fool of her, was willing to commit bigamy to get what he wanted. But because in the end he suffered tragedy and she still loved him (why??) he becomes a 'nice' guy? I don't think so. Yet this book is a classic. The same with Estelle from Great Expectations, Victor from Frankenstein, Gollum from Lord of the Rings, the Joker in the Batman comics/movies, the husband in The Good Wife, and one of my all time favorites, Hannibal Lector from The Silence of the Lambs.

I think we need to step back from overdosing on the Political Correctness that's being fed to us. The world is always going to be full of obnoxious people. I say give them their story and see the world from their point of view.

Now it's time for my character to do some dirty deeds... And they don't care if you like them.


Monday, March 28, 2016

I Chose the Road Not Taken...

When I say road not taken, I'm not talking about a meditative journey, or an adventurous vacation, I'm talking about stepping out of my comfort zone into something new.

Self publishing.

I have three novels, one short story, numerous magazine and newspaper articles via the traditional route; published by official publishing houses or agencies. That's cool and exciting-and slow. My middle grade adventure series has not found a home with the traditional publishers even though my agent was very excited about it.

This work has a special place in my heart. It wasn't the first novel that I wrote (those almost always end up in the trash can). I worked on this series of (so far) three books for years. A lot of years, don't ask specifically.)

I can't let it go.

So through and with my agent, Natalie Lakosil of the Bradford Literary Agency, we're taking this baby through self-publishing. I'm going through her for several reasons. First of all, she's my agent. We signed an agreement to work together. Doing something this big without her advice and guidance seems reckless and stupid. Second, she knows the business: knows which publishers are to be avoided, what a contract with an illustrator should have, what the price of services for typesetting and binding, etc. should be, and how to push me through the process without a major screw up on my end. Third, yes she gets a standard commission, but I get answers to questions without the hours of research, she'll post the books on her blog giving me exposure, and maybe if it does well, a traditional editor will reconsider pubbing it. It's money well spent.

I know a lot of people have self-pubbed. Some of it hasn't been pretty. Too many of these books have poor editing; Natalie and I have already polished my baby so it shines. I'm in the process of hiring a fantastic illustrator, and between the 3 of us, I know my cover will be stunning. When I see some of the covers out there (even in traditionally published books) I want to cringe. None of us want to be associated with a third rate book. As soon as I have a contract, I will introduce you to my illustrator. You may be surprised.

Finally, this is a labor of love on my part. I am spending time and money to do this right. As the process moves along, I'll journal it here. You can decide if this road, which is bound to be rocky and difficult, but provide many views I miss on the more traditional road, will have been worth it.

And while I work on this project, I still have other novels that Natalie will send down the traditional road. Hopefully, some good news will be forthcoming.

Wish me luck on my new adventure.

Postcards to come...


Illustration courtesy of Microsoft.