Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Sweeping Out, Welcoming In...

With the New Year just about here, I like to declutter and downsize. And not just broken Christmas ornaments, old toys, clothes that don't fit. I go deeper. This is what I'm doing now:

Reconnecting with an old high school friend.

Letting go of a dead friendship.

Welcoming new people in my life.

Stepping away from a toxic person.

Clearing my mind of failures, disappointments, and hurts.

Opening my consciousness to possibilities, opportunities, and challenges.

Throwing away a manuscript that won't work.

Freeing a new idea to develop.

Learning to accept new views and differences.

Refusing to harbor outdated or hurtful opinions.

It's not easy, and I won't accomplish them all. Kind of like cleaning out the refrigerator- looks good for a while, but it's something that has to be done over and over. Even if you hate it, it's got to be done-and when you finish, you feel a sense of accomplishment.

So in 2016, I'm ready to forge ahead with a clean(er) slate.

Be careful, stay healthy and safe, look forward.


Monday, December 21, 2015

Oh, That Novel's Not Finished...

Before we start the great NaNoRevMo in February, (NaNoWriMo org does their revision program in the summer- I don't want to wait that long so if February doesn't work for you, do theirs in the summer), please read the sign.

Rejection is important. Painful, yes, but important. Just because you finished your novel doesn't mean it's good. Actually, because you wrote with determined speed, it's probably crap. If you submit it to an editor or agent now, not only would you get rejected, you'd be the butt of office jokes because it's that bad.

Don't despair. Rejection is the natural order of the universe.


If anyone knows about rejection and failure, it's Thomas Edison. He racked up more failures and had his ideas rejected by more people than Stephen King or Dr. Suess- and even me. Sirenz had over 60 rejections. Today, four books have my name on them. I know the pain of rejection. Sure, I hate it, sometimes think it's unjustified, but see above again.

This is the lesson I learned, that every writer learns. Or artist, inventor, musician, student, businessman, etc. Even when you finish your NaNoWriMo revision, you have only begun the process. You will revise multiple times; until you're satisfied, the critique group/beta reader is satisfied, an agent is satisfied, the editor is satisfied.

It's going to hurt, I won't lie to you. There were times I threw stuff, cried, yelled, and vowed to snub everyone who rejected me once I became a famous author. 

But I kept writing and revising and imagining and learning. I didn't stop. You can't if you're serious about writing. I've met too many people who say that they were too busy right now to finish the revisions, or the editor/agent doesn't know what they're talking about, or it's good enough, I'll just self-publish. (The good self-published books are thoroughly edited or they don't sell so that's not an option to skip more revisions.) Currently, I'm revising four novels. None of them have stayed the same since I wrote that first draft. Characters were removed, changed gender, given bigger roles. Places were changed, dialogue shortened or lengthened, events were put in or they were deleted, word counts increased or drastically reduced. 

This is all waiting for you. Embrace it. Learn from it. Use it. Accept it. 

Keep writing, keep the faith. Next week- a list of books to help you edit your manuscript so save your holiday gift $$; you'll want some of these.

Have a Merry Christmas, a wonderful New Year, a Happy Holiday for the path you follow--


Monday, December 14, 2015

Seven Rules For Peace

I want peace in the world, but I also want it in my house. If everyone would just follow these seven rules, everything would be almost absolutely wonderful.

1. If it's not yours, don't touch it. That means don't steal it, don't use it without permission, Whether it's a sweater in the store, another author's novel, or your brother's car, hands off and get your own.

2. If it's broken or not working, either fix it or recycle it. It doesn't matter if it's a bicycle or a manuscript. If it doesn't work then it's not doing you any good. Replace that flat tire or rewrite that chapter. If it can't be fixed, then put it in the recycle bucket. The metal from a bike can be remade into steel cans, scenes from a novel can be reworked into a new book.

3. When you're done with it, put it where it belongs. If I allow you to use my stapler, return it to my office, to the spot on my desk where I keep it. Don't leave it in the laundry room. Same with tools, books, or quotes. The proper place for everything, and everything in its place.

4. If you broke it, you own it. Knock over a vase in a store and you own it. Break your word and you own the consequences. Be responsible and do the right thing- make good on whatever you broke.

5. Do what you're supposed to do. If your job is to take out the garbage, then do it. If you have to send revisions in by the end of the month, get it done. No excuses, no whining. Just. Do. It.

6. Pitch in. Everyone needs a hand sometimes- whether it's doing the dishes for your mom or a newbie writing that first book. If everyone gave a little back, there would be more happiness in the world-and my house.

7. It's not all about you. Everyone needs their time in the spotlight. Don't make it always about you or others will get tired of hearing you talk about you. Just give it a rest once in a while, sit in the background. The time off will give you a fresh perspective and an appreciation for relaxation.


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Long and Twisting Road...

You write a book.
It gets published.
You get famous and make lots of money.

Well, not exactly.

Actually, no.

Let's skip talking about the millions of adoring fans throwing money at you for your latest epic for another time.

To become an author is like having a child. You decide to bring a work of art to life. You prepare (gather ideas, write the book). You get lots of nasty and/or painful tests- getting blood drawn, swallowing sickly sweet concoctions to see if you'll have high blood sugar, and we won't even talk about the internal exams. These are akin to looking at your manuscript and noticing the flaws and the holes, then having others critique it and they point out more problems. Just when you think you're done- there's another test (plot problem). 

Thankfully (hopefully) you get past all that and get to the point where you send it out to an agent or editor and you wait. And wait. It's like the last two weeks of your pregnancy- you want it over, but you're afraid. Will everything be all right? Will I wish I hadn't wished that blissful ignorance away?

Then comes a response. This agent/editor tells you, great, but not for us. False alarm (akin to fake contractions called Braxton-Hicks). Maybe it happens a number of times. Pretty soon you don't care anymore (or at least you tell yourself this) and you want it over. You want to return to a normal life. (Unless you walk away from writing- put that child up for adoption- 'normal' as you know it is gone.)

Finally! An editor/agent calls or emails and they want to deliver your 'baby!' But first... there are a few changes. Pages of changes. Painful, feel like they'll rip you apart changes. This is the revision letter. All you can do is dig deep and breathe as you 'labor' to get through them. Then you get a break. You're exhausted. 

But you know it's not over. It may have just begun, with still a long road ahead of many more revision letters (contractions). 

After one last push (revision) it's done. The editor/agent accepts it and you can sleep, rest, do other things.

Wait- before your baby can go out into the world, there needs to be more suffering- vaccination shots- (we call them editorial changes). Ouch. It's hard to watch someone hurt your baby, but it's got to be done. And then suddenly the baby is free to go out into the world (book debut!).

It's dangerous out there...mean people (reviewers) who say bad things. People, like kids at school, who don't like your baby and won't put them in the bookstore for various stupid reasons. Your baby may be alone, unnoticed. Not popular.

For a long time you deal with this, pieces of your heart broken because your beloved has to suffer.

So what do you do?

You decide you want another.... And it begins again...

Happy writing! (Happy parenthood too.)


(I'm in the painful delivery stage- breathing through another set of revisions. For #NaNoWriMos, this is generally the hardest stage... We'll do it together on National Novel Revision Month in February, so rest up and get ready!)

Monday, November 30, 2015

Announcing... The End - and The Beginning.

It's over. No begging for one more day.

NaNoWriMo 2015 is history.

Didn't finish your manuscript?

Didn't make the 50,000 word count?

Vowing to never do NaNoWriMo again because you feel like a failure?

But... what about all your accomplishments?

Yes, you've achieved something.

You made a commitment to write.
You wrote words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters.
You created characters and scenes.
You looked at your work with a critical eye as you wrote and mentally made notes what needed to be revised, re-written, or removed.
You talked with others, exchanging information or tips or encouragement.
You were part of a large community which stretched beyond your writing space- across your town, state, nation, continent.
You're burning to finish your book.

That's quite a list of accomplishments. Stand up straight and proud, and let your voice be strong when you talk about all of these.

Now it's time to Begin. Whether you've finished your book or still have to wrap it up, you need one more thing:


You, me, Stephen King, James Patterson, JK Rowling- we all need to smooth and polish and sharpen our work. No one gets away from doing it.

So in February (yes, I know it's a short month) we're all going to do #NaNoRevMo (National Novel Writing Revision Month). I have manuscripts to revise, and by February all the holidays are behind us. You have all of January to finish your work. Since you've whittled down the 50,000 by whatever word count you have, you can finish it without the frantic pressure. But use the routine you had (or maybe should have had...) during #NaNoWriMo should help to keep you going until you type The End.

While you're finishing up or taking a break, I will post revision tips from authors, editors, agents. Some posts may be a repeat of what you've seen. Don't even look at them until your novel is finished. Then, we'll all starting revising on February 1st. It should take you less time to do this initial revision than it took to write your novel. Hopefully you won't have to scrap and rewrite large chunks, but if you do, that's okay! There are no prizes for finishing by February 28th so don't fret. The goal is to revise- not to make yourself so frustrated that you quit.

Let's do this.

And when we're done, we'll chat about our experiences and share our accomplishments.

Till then,


Monday, November 23, 2015

In Support of Thanksgiving...

It's the new thing- bash everything, everyone. Every holiday. Every person's opinion. Even the facts. Sometimes I feel that people are so miserable and scared (maybe selfish) that they won't be happy unless they make others unhappy. Take the whipping of Thanksgiving.

Okay, we know the Thanksgiving story we've been told is the Hollywood/Disney version: forget or hide the bad stuff, show only the shiny parts. We all know the Native Americans were treated atrociously, that they suffered at the hands of the European settlers (so remember that, Europeans, when you bash us- you had a hand in the atrocities). But it's not all death and horror like some would have you believe.

Here's the true history of Thanksgiving ( ) So put aside your preconceived, misguided or political notions for the truth. I'm going boil it down to generalities:

In his journal, Edward Winslow wrote in the fall of 1621 that: "...many Indians coming amongst us...their King Massasoit with 90 men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted." Besides the feasting, there were games of skill between the men. The Native Americans returned the favor, bringing five deer for the feast.

The custom of celebrating the harvest, which was popular across cultures and nations in Europe for centuries, was neglected for many years--the horrific intervening wars with the Indians taking its toll on that population.

In 1777, the Continental Congress declared a National Day of Thanksgiving to celebrate the colonial victories at Saratoga, and although it did not become a law, various states and towns celebrated a harvest festival. In 1789, President George Washington also called for a national day of Thanksgiving, but it was not a federal holiday.

In the mid 19th century, Sara Josepha Hale, a magazine editor (and author of Mary Had a Little Lamb) started a 30 year letter writing campaign to have a national day of Thanksgiving recognized when the United States balanced on the edge of civil war. In her magazine, she published recipes for pumpkin pie, turkey, and stuffing.

In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln decreed, after the Battle of Gettysburg, that the fourth Thursday in November would henceforth be a national and federal holiday to give thanks.

The parade and football traditions arrived in 1924.

It's not all massacres and death (although tragically, that happened in the years following the first feast and continued for so long).

Maybe instead of trashing the holiday completely, how about we focus on the friendship, generosity, goodwill, cooperation, and thankfulness that was present in 1621. Let's be grateful for bounty- and share it more generously than we have with those who want. Let's be grateful for our freedoms and strive to give others the same, and thank those who help us keep it. Let's be grateful for the time we're given and spend it more wisely, more compassionately, more in forgiving. Let's be grateful for family, friends and loved ones. Let's all sit down at the table of humanity and earn the title of  'human.'

Being thankful will make us all happy.

Wishing you a bountiful, happy, sharing, Thanksgiving.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

And Introducing....

While the amount of writers may seem large, it is a small community. You get to know people as you work your craft over the years. Marlo and I were in a critique group together, meeting at Barnes and Noble. And when one of us achieves a milestone- getting published, getting a book deal, getting an award--we like to help spread the good news. I'm completely delighted to share the news of her debut!

It’s release day for THE GHOST CHRONICLES! 

Michael Andrews had everything; a loving family, a great girlfriend, and a promising basketball career. That was before the accident that took his life. Now, he’s a ghost, wandering among the living, struggling to understand why he’s stuck. All he wants is to move on. Until he meets Sarah, a young girl who died just as tragically as he. But falling in love and binding oneself to another soul is forbidden, for it may keep one or both of the souls bound to earth for longer than they should be. Each time they touch they can feel the boundaries of their energies slipping perilously into one another. Demons pursue Michael-he's become a marked soul, one the Devil earnestly wants although Michael has no idea why... 

Marlo is doing a giveaway, so go to: and enter today!


Monday, November 9, 2015

Don't Wait For Me!

Yes, I missed a post last Monday. Parents moved and needed help unpacking, getting settled. Had two presentations to give (one for NaNoWriMo, one for NJ Soc of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators). Held hostage by electricians coming and going fixing stuff. (You just sit down to work and they need to ask you a question...)

Did you hold off on writing because you waited for my post to inspire and motivate you?

Don't Wait For Me!

Don't wait for anyone. Or anything. Grab your writing time when you can. Yes, I could have made better use of my time on several occasions. And I'm sure you could have also. There are no acceptable excuses for not working to fulfill YOUR dream of writing that novel.

All is not lost; we're not even to the halfway point in days. (You should be around 20,000 words). If you aren't, you have time to make it up. Use it wisely. Be a miser when it comes to your time; anything that demands your attention must be worthy: family, friends, job, emergencies and WRITING.

I leave you now to finish this blog post, write another, do some more of my NaNoRevMo, and other writing chores.

Stay strong! Stay focused! Stay positive! Stay determined! Stay in the running!

Stay good to yourself.


Monday, October 26, 2015

5 Tips to NaNo Success

From last week's post, I've convinced you to do the National Novel Writing Month challenge- 1,667 words a day for a whole month. (Or, you already knew you were going to do it, but wanted confirmation. You got it.)

Now before you go boasting about your intentions, shut up and take the following 5 steps to help guarantee that success.
  • Go into battle with a plan. One does not simply sit down to write the Great Novel. Know how your story starts, one or more incidents in the middle, and one incident toward the end. Beginnings, middles, and endings may change (that's called changing your mind or revisions) but for now you need solid starting points.
  • Get over it and get going. If you don't make your word count one day, don't quit. Write as much as you can. Some days it's a struggle, but that doesn't mean the challenge is over and that you've failed. You may have a day where all you do is write as fast as you can and you make up for the shortage. Even if you don't, keep going. There are no NaNo police. The purpose of NaNo is to create a writing routine, to build your confidence, to work through a bump in the writing road.
  • Go ahead, cheat. Before November 1st, write notes, character sketches, outlines. You can do this before you start or even during the challenge. Maybe you're having a tough time figuring out a scene. By writing a character sketch, you become more intimate with your character's flaws and talents. And it's writing, so if you do this during the challenge, that's writing and it counts. (Do you really think you're going to keep every word you've written once you start revising? *laughs like crazy.)
  • Hook up. Looking for someone special? Someone who shares your secret desire...? Sign up at the official NaNoWriMo site and connect with others. You'll get support, advice, friendship and opportunities to meet with others. This doesn't have to be a lonely endeavor (save that for the revision process). I'll make it easy for you, here's the link: NaNoWriMo
  • Learn a lesson! About your writing, your routine, your weaknesses, your strengths. You have to be honest with yourself- you hate teen angst, so why are you writing a Young Adult novel? Research is so not you, so don't start a crime drama. You have a flair for romantic comedy. Go with it! You have a full time job--but you can squeeze in a couple of hundred words while the kid is at soccer practice, the baby sleeps, or at 5 am (no one said writing was easy). Learn what works best for you.
Those are my five tips for before you start. If you're still unsure, there are 'write-ins' where you gather with others to do some fast and furious writing, encourage each other, maybe help suggest fixes for plots that stall. And if that isn't enough, I'll be giving a free workshop at the Somerset County Library on Vogt Lane in Bridgewater, NJ on Wednesday, Nov 4th from 6:30 to 8:30. Just click here: NJ SCBWI NaNo Event for info. (Although I'm presenting as a member of the NJ Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, you don't have to write for kids/teens. If you want to write for adults, this presentation works just as well.)

Good writing, and good luck!


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

5 Reasons To Do NaNoWriMo

It's called National Novel Writing Month and it happens in November. (I know, crazy month- right in the middle of Halloween and Thanksgiving, right before Christmas. I think January would have been better...)

Participants write approximately 1,666 words every day in November for a total of 50,000, producing a rough drafted novel by the 30th.

Yes, it's hell on some days. You struggle to move forward after that initial burst of creativity and energy--but it's doable. Here's why you should do it:

1. You have this great idea and it's in your head, affecting your sleep. You're always thinking about it, developing plot twists as you try to sleep, killing off characters as you eat, revising the ending as you tune out people talking around you. You need to exorcise this book idea.

2. You're under a deadline. Maybe it's one from your editor/agent for a follow-up book. Maybe you're going away for a vacation right after the holidays and know you won't get any work done for a while. Or maybe you have a work/school/family thing that is going to put a kink in your writing schedule. Get the novel written during NaNoWriMo and breathe easy.

3.  You want to realize that dream of having written a book. (You do know this will be a rough draft and you shouldn't book your tickets to LA for the screening of your book-made-into-a-movie just yet, right?) So many people say "I always wanted to write a book when I had the time/when I retired/when my children were in school..." etc. Now you have a month to do it. Stop yammering and dreaming and Just. Do. It.

4. You want to join the club. Several well known authors have books that came from NaNoWriMo. (Some of us less well-known authors have books from NaNoWriMo that we're still working on: revising, trying to sell, etc.) In common, we cover every genre. Along the way, these authors share tips and encouragement. Beth Revis (among many) sending you encouragement! Plus, when you're done, you get a cool certificate.

5. So many people will be doing it and social media may be a bit dull while we're all busy writing. Don't miss the fun, the camaraderie, the gathering of writing tips, and the sense of achievement to share with others on this journey.

Next, I'll share some tips I've learned and collected to help those who are contemplating this bold initiative. Stay tuned, and start thinking about that book!


Monday, October 12, 2015

A Sight to Behold...

Glistening dewdrops on a spider's web.

The filaments in a cat's eye.

Geometric striations of ice crystals on a frozen puddle.

The subtle shades of colors when sun shines on a head of hair.

Rainbows swirling in oil on water.

The second sense, sight- is more than seeing a red jacket.

 If I tell you a red woolen jacket, in your mind can you see the fuzzies of the wool? Nothing is absolute; even in total darkness, our eyes can be fooled into seeing the barest bit of light...or is it our memory or imagination working? Rarely is anything a solid color because light bends and refracts and reflects.

So look closely. See stitches and edges and veins and all the 'imperfections' that reveal a complex world.

See you soon...


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Breathe It In..

Pool water.


Fresh baked bread.

Pine trees.

Ocean breeze.

What links all these?


And with each one, it brings to mind something specific, a memory. Scientists say our sense of smell is the strongest of the five. A particular scent can produce a memory so vivid that we can temporarily lose our sense of time and be brought back to the moment associated with that scent.

Pool water reminds me of summer, swimming like a dolphin, playing with my kids.

Cilantro makes me think of guacamole dip, chips, and an iced cold Corona, sitting on my patio on a summer day.

Fresh baked bread brings me back to my childhood, when my mom would make it from scratch and set it on the kitchen hearth to rise.

Pine trees mean Christmas, and trudging through the cold with my boys and husband, trying to find that perfect tree before our toes froze.

Ocean breezes whip up memories of my teen years, when I lived near the Long Island Sound. My friends and I would hang out at the beach, swimming, having bonfires, throwing parties and 'parking' (making out).

Whether you're a writer, reader, student of life or all three, enjoy that olfactory organ and breathe it all in.


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Classic Problem...

I know kids don't like the classics- Romeo and Juliet, Silas Marner, A Long Day's Journey Into Night, The Crucible, etc.

Tough- they need to be taught. I'm dismayed that my son's summer reading packet required only one book and a modern one at that. I believe kids need to be exposed to many classics, so why not have 2 lists; one classic, one modern, and choose a title from both lists?

They won't like it.

Truthfully, I didn't when I was a high school freshman/sophmore/junior/senior. But I didn't like geometry either and I still had to take that. Over the years I've used literary knowledge much more than geometry...

Sometimes what we don't like is best for us. (How many kids liked asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts when they were young? Yeah, maybe 2.)

Classics and modern literature are forever linked. I've read many YA and adult books that refer to classics. If kids aren't exposed to Shakespeare and Charles Dickens and Charlotte Bronte, they'll have to ask someone, who is this person? why is he/she famous?  before they can understand the context in the modern novel.

I was watching Psycho with Anthony Perkins, the old black and white version (the best). My youngest sat down to watch with me and says, "That's not scary!" Because he's grown up in a time when excessive gore is readily laid out by the media for his eyes, he's not completely 'invested' in the story with his brain. Previous generations saw Pyscho and were afraid to take a shower without locking the door. We were pulled into the story because we had to imagine the knife slicing into that poor girl, the blood circling the drain confirmation of our worst fear. Our minds were much more visceral than showing tons of fake blood and bad makeup jobs.

There is value from classics- whether it's a book, a movie, a muscle car, a tuxedo, a song. Let's not throw out the old in favor of the trendy because today's trendy is tomorrow's classic.


Monday, September 7, 2015

Happy Labor Day!

Because the Federal government declared this a holiday from labor, I am being a good citizen and observing the law.

I wish you all a day of rest (since tomorrow is the start of no-more-vacation/summer). If you have to work, I wish you a day of nice people, easy tasks, and tomorrow off! Sitting poolside,


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Wonder of Little Things

I love the smell of the ocean; it brings back childhood memories of growing up close enough to smell a briny wind off the Long Island Sound. Studies have shown that smell evokes the strongest memories. I wish someone could bottle that scent for me.

This is a rock that was in a lava flow at one time; you can see the lava still stuck onto it. I was weeding my pool gardens and saw it. Maybe it's billions of years old- before the Christian era, before the start of civilization in the Middle East, maybe even before life...

This is lamb's ear. When you touch it, it feels as soft as (I guess) a lamb's ear. I wish you could run your fingertips over it, it would amaze and delight you.

Is there anything better than the crunchy, earthy taste of cucumbers grown in your garden? Maybe some companion tomatoes. Ah, the taste of summer...

There are few things that delight my ears more than my children's laughter. When I hear my son and his friend laughing and horsing around in the pool, I feel a joy that goes beyond a favorite song, even a Christmas carol.

Take time to get away from your desk, your job, your chores. your stress, and appreciate

the wonder of little things....


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Refresh, Remind, Revisit...

Yep, the blog post is late.


Life happens.

But that doesn't mean I'm going to completely blow it off. The post I planned will come out next week. In the meantime, something is better than nothing. This may seem like "Yeah, I know all this already" but just read through and double check your writing--or maybe this checklist applies to other areas of your life, like a memo for work, a presentation at a school board meeting...

Think about it.

15 Things Not to Learn the Hard Way…

1   No cutesy pictures, embellished envelopes, gifts, or gimmicks.
These are the signs of an amateur, someone who is desperate and hasn’t done his homework. If you’re a writer, it gives the impression that your work can’t stand on its merits. Unless they’re interested in the artwork, you probably won’t get a response. And packages coming from people the editors don’t know?  After 9/11 policies changed and rare is the editor or agent that will accept packages.

.        How did you get from Point A to Point B?
Don’t leave gaps in action or movement so that readers are confused. If there is a complicated action or fight sequence, act it out to be sure you’ve covered all the moves. Don’t leave your character sitting on the floor when a sentence previous she was lying on the bed. Be sure your character is using the correct hand, foot, etc. too! When using flashbacks or other ‘time-changing’ devices, make sure they didn’t have a transporter malfunction and ended up somewhere they couldn’t be.

     Have you got the time?
Do we know what time of day or year it is? Keep track of characters moving through years, days, and hours. If you have to, make a timeline. Use senses rather than clocks; bells ringing at noon, rush hour, dinner time, falling leaves, half moons, etc. to give readers a sense of time. If you have a big time gap, there has to be an explanation, like Meyer’s empty pages with just the month on them for Bella’s almost comatose state.

       I’ve heard that before!
Do a global word search in your ms to make sure you don’t have word ‘favorites;’ like just, simply, oh, really, yeah, well, etc. Use them sparingly, eliminating all but a few, and those should be well spaced. If you find you need a word, check your thesaurus for a substitution. And be careful of clich├ęs!

     He said, she said, I said, we said.
You don’t always need a dialogue tag. Identify speaker by actions; I picked my nose. “Look, it’s green!” identifies the speaker; I glared at my sister. “What are you staring at?” Also, substitute other words in place of said; yell, cried, whispered, and the like because they are more descriptive. Yell is different from said. Careful about adverbs though, they are currently out of favor, but sometimes one is necessary; cried softly or cried loudly? Caution- don’t go crazy that every tag has to be different. Sometimes said is just fine.

     Did not you see?
Know your (not you’re!) contractions! Know the difference between accept and except, affect and effect, know that irregardless is not word! Relearn how to make a possessive! It’s means it is, its means possessive, but it’s not always that simple! Poor grammar leaves a poor impression and getting published is hard enough. You should have both Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style and either the AP or Chicago Stylebook. Ignore the squiggly lines in your document at your peril (but realize that word processing programs aren't always right!).

     See things from my point of view.
Stick to one point of view if you have one main character. With more than one character, First Person narrative can be alternated, but generally (as in kids' books) not in the same chapter. First person means “I,” so the character speaking can’t know what another person is thinking unless they are told, can deduce it from actions, or can make an educated guess. Third person omniscient means “They,” and the narrator can be ‘all seeing’ and know what everyone’s thinking. Mixing the two usually doesn’t work, and just confuses the reader.

 To be, or not to have been
See how awkward this version of Hamlet sounds? Don’t mix tenses, especially in the same sentence. Picture books are generally all one tense. There are ways to mix, but make sure you know how to do it, and if it fits with your voice and style. And keep in mind parallel construction- a list or series of words that all must be consistent; I like running, shopping, skydiving and sleeping, not I like running, to shop, doing skydiving and sleeping.

    Get thee to a critique group.
Hey, it’s a free critique! And more than one! Many successful writers have writer friends or a critique group that look over their work and point out inconsistencies, errors, lapses in timing, pace, dialogue, etc. If they can make time, so can you. One night a week either out of the house or online. The NJ-SCBWI or other writing organization can help match you up, you can Google for online groups, or start your own. Remember that it’s best if you have members in a similar genre because between all of you, you know what to look for.

Sticks and Stones will break your bones.
Whether it’s people in your critique group or a paid critique from an editor or agent, there’s going to be criticisms that hurt. It’s NOT personal. It’s just one person’s opinion. You are free to ignore it. Don’t make the mistake, like a recent author, to lash out, because you’ll be known more for being unprofessional and petty than you will be for your work. Suck it up. Put it aside for a few days, maybe even a few weeks. Then look at it with fresh eyes. Choose the suggestions that you think are best for your vision of the book, but don’t be afraid to try the more radical ones. If you won’t even consider the advice, don’t waste everyone’s time and energy. Successful authors make revisions-why shouldn’t you?

 One more time; let’s review this.
You know you’re going to have to review, revise, and review again. And each time you do, there are mistakes you’ve somehow missed, or even added in. The best praise you can get as an author is from an editor or agent telling you “I love this ms, it’s so polished.” Always send a sterling copy. Even if you have to revise it a hundred times. Read your ms out loud, have friends read it aloud to see if the dialogue is smooth and understandable. If they stumble or seem unsure, you need to revise.

 It’s the same old, same old.
Break the patterns; whether it’s dialogue-tag-dialogue, or starting every sentence with a subject, or ending every chapter with a question, when you consistently repeat a pattern, your ms stagnates. It’s so predictable that your readers will lose interest. Review to see that you’ve varied sentence structure; start out with a verb rather than a noun. Or even an adjective or adverb. Stretch your writing skills and style.

The zzzzzzzzzzzzzz factor.
The passive voice can be the kiss of death by boredom for your novel. Helping verbs are rarely needed, so eliminate them when you can. Action is what people want, not a recitation of past events, so ‘have, had, had been’ can be cut. With just a little reworking, an action verb will add zest to the pace. And avoid the info dump; it’s passive. When you can, introduce bits and pieces of information and backstory in an active way through action verbs and dialogue.

 How old is that?
Don’t let your passions for music, people, fashions, and even words date your ms. Unless you’re writing in the time period when this favored thing was popular, editors, agents and readers can guess your age. And ‘comebacks’ rarely last long, so if you have a person in your novel who is a famous singer, make up a fictitious persona. Some things, called classics, are timeless, like well known hymns, musical pieces by the greats like Bach, Take Me Out to the Ballgame, etc. Historical people like Cleopatra and Ben Franklin everyone knows, but in five years, which may be how long it takes you to get published, will most people remember Lindsay Lohan? TV programs and movies are even harder to use in YA and MG, so avoid if possible. Slang and technology evolves even faster, so keep that in mind when writing.

 Just give it up.

Unless you’re a super hero, writing takes time. It’s not just about writing, either; it’s about reading what’s out there, revising, attending critique groups, critiquing others, going to conferences and classes, submitting your ms, and buying more paper from Staples. There is not enough time to do it all, so choose your priorities. Give up the daily coffee with the neighbor and visit only once a week, learn to live with a little more dust, give the family lessons in microwaving leftovers. If you truly want to be a successful writer, you need time to work and some things are just not worth your time.

Get the pic? 


Monday, August 17, 2015

Renovation or Revision?

Whether you say renovation or revision, it's the same thing- ripping something apart, rebuilding it, and finessing it.

In previous weeks, we had our family room completely gutted- down to the studs (gee, this happened with several novels I wrote...). The structure was good, but was poorly insulated, making the room always feel cold. (The novels were lacking in substance too...). We had new insulation put in, then sheetrock. (Kind of like adding new scenes or characters, building my down-to-the-bare-bones novels back up again.)

Then came the spackling. Filling in holes, sanding out rough spots, so that the story, er, walls and ceiling, were smooth.

Paint, or adding color, interest, and ambiance came next. Ceiling was painted white to reflect light, walls were done in a soft beige with a hint of blush. Welcoming and warm, cozy- the way I like my books. The stark white crown molding and window trims added a little drama. (My novels needed more drama, or less drama, depending on who was critiquing or buying).

Finally, the carpet was shampooed- getting rid of any lingering dust or dirt (akin to cleaning up any last mistakes or problems when I read the manuscript yet. again.)

Now, all that was left to do was showcase the room- decorate, new curtains, new pics (those aren't ready yet), and ditch any junk or clutter. (Equal to a synopsis and query letter to 'showcase' the novel for my agent or any editor she would present it to.)

After three weeks, the family room was again livable space (the pool bar roof, kitchen steps and banister replaced too). My novels, after their 'renovation' (revision if you prefer), were now presentable and I'm proud of all of it.

But damn, what a lot of work. Worth it, yes, but nothing good ever comes easy.

There are other projects- pool deck to finish painting, touch-ups on scuffed walls, revising mg historical novel, etc. Always have something to do, it seems.


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Sometimes, you go with the flow...

I had no idea what to write for this blog post. There are enough authors out there putting up links and advice for writers. I don't have any cute cat pics (I'm currently very annoyed with them.)  I don't own a dog. No one wants to hear me defend my fave team, the New England Patriots (can someone say NFL corruption and show me real proof?). I'm revising some  projects I've already told you about. So....

What is it about the males in my house and dishwashers?

They don't put all the forks together, or the spoons, or the knives. That means I have to spend time and sort them.

They put 2, 3 things on top of each other. That means most of them don't come clean and they have to be put back into the dishwasher or I have to wash them by hand.

They don't turn on the machine even when it's clearly full. That means I have to put them on and in the meantime, they pile up the dishes in the sink.

They don't empty it because they don't. That means that dishes pile up in the sink because heaven forbid someone wash a dish by hand.

They cram glasses next to heavier cups and plates so that sometimes they break. That means I have to pick the glass out of the bottom and buy new ones.

I'm seriously thinking of going to paper plates.

But I know I'll be taking out 3x more garbage.

What should I do? Let me know. In the meantime, I'm going out for ice cream.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

What's in a word....?

On, out, up, in- they're all pretty much the same.

Hubs: I let the cats out.


Hubs: I let the cats UP. (they stay in basement playroom at night because they run like crazy at 2 am and wake everyone up.)

See the difference? Even the littlest words have power...  Choose your words carefully....