Saturday, December 20, 2014

Getting Over Myself, One Milestone at a Time

I cracked open a new Morning Pages notebook today.

I'd been saving this one for when I reach a particular milestone in my writing work, but I woke up realizing that my mindset contributes to elevating that milestone to a level of preciousness I might decide I can't touch. Something I deny myself because I don't deserve it, or because reaching it means I have to let it go.

But guess what. This is just a notebook I like. I will use it now.

And the milestone? It's just one in the long line of career markers I've already passed. It is just one in the long line of future milestones I'll come to and love and move on from as I travel my long writer's-life road. I will stop holding the bloody thing so close to the bone now.

Monday, September 01, 2014

My Latest Titles

I'm pleased to share my new titles for Fall 2014 — two books in the Rourke nonfiction series United States Regions: Southern Region and Southwestern Region. These are, as you might guess, state studies books intended for classroom use in Grades 3–5. The content focus is to identify and investigate regions based on their common geography, industry, agriculture, and culture. I enjoyed getting to learn more about my two regions and working to make the information and broader concept used to frame it accessible for young readers.

Pretty covers, don't you think?

Monday, July 07, 2014

The "My Writing Process" Blog Tour Stops Here Today

Dori Hillestad Butler
Have you seen this writing-blog meme making the rounds lately? Well, last week, the talented Dori Hillestad Butler tagged me in her tour post, and I accepted the challenge. Dori and I met this spring when she moved to the Seattle area from Iowa City (my old stomping grounds), and we've discovered that our writing careers and Midwestern roots are just two of quite a few things we have in common. Thanks for putting me on the blog tour hot seat, Dori!

Be sure to visit Dori's author site to learn more about her numerous children's books, including the Edgar Award–winning The Buddy Files: The Case of the Lost Boy and her super-fun looking Haunted Library mystery series launching this summer.



And so the time has come for me to answer the tour's four questions designed to give readers a peek at how a writer's work . . . works.

(1) What am I working on?

I just recently finished checking layout proofs for two nonfiction books of mine due out later this summer. They're part of a new Rourke series called United States Regions, and I wrote the titles covering the South and Southwest. I can't wait to see the final copies!

My current works in progress include
  • a YA historical novel, aka My Pet. This project is where I focus all my off-the-clock writing energies right now.
  • one humorous picture book in revision, three additional picture books at various stages of development, and the dream of writing a YA nonfiction picture book to accompany the novel-in-progress mentioned above. But first things first — like finishing My Pet.
  • two middle-grade mysteries I once sold but that were shelved before publication during the economic downturn of 2008. I own the rights to those and will revise, submit, and hope to sell again.

(2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I tend toward writing quieter, character-driven fiction and heavily researched but highly accessible nonfiction (whether it's prompted by a publisher's specific topic request or it grows out of some tidbit that sparks my own need to know/write it). Because I work with a number of genres, markets, and target age levels/audiences, it's difficult for me to make any blanket statements describing my writing. But I do believe my voice comes through in each book. That's the goal, anyway. In my view, voice is the thing that differentiates any writer's output, whether it's a person's body of work or a stand-alone piece of writing.

(3) Why do I write what I do?

At the why-I-write-for-kids level: I feel at home writing for young readers because as a young person I always felt at home while reading and writing. I read so much and wrote so much (in those days I wrote in diary format) that growing up to work with words for a living seemed the only logical result of all that reading and writing. Reading and writing for the win!

At the why-I-write-things-like-my-personal-WIPs level: Because I have no other choice but to write those things. The stories I create come from my needs to
  • express thoughts and ideas
  • shine a light on small details and big concepts
  • weave compelling tales
  • present new information (or known information in a new way)
  • examine universal feelings and experiences
  • experiment with different types of writing
  • share my heart

(4) How does my writing process work?

It's the same for every project! Oh, and it's different for every project!

That constancy mixed with variety is one of my favorite things about writing.

But let me go into at least a little bit of detail:

I've yet to write anything that didn't involve some type of research, so after my idea takes hold, the research is where I start. This is true whether I'm working on fiction or nonfiction, and the amount of research I need to do varies. I might research a setting detail, potential character name, or biographical fact and get straight to writing — or I might spend months gathering and vetting piles of research before keying in Word One.

Sometimes I do the research and set it aside for the rest of the writing process. For my humorous picture book in development, for example, I did a quick check on the developmental appropriateness of my protagonist's dilemma relative to her age. I didn't need that information to write a draft, but that took no time to investigate, so why not.

Then there's the other end of the spectrum: Sometimes the research continues all the way to the bitter end. For the Neptune title in my Space Neighbors series, I monitored NASA's live feed of breaking Neptune research until probably an hour before turning in my final draft. A true nail-biter!

Once I've done some cursory research, I outline or outline/plot, depending on the type and expected length of the work. Then I start writing. If I have a deadline, I write to that. Deadline is here? Then the writing is done. If I'm writing on my own and plan to pursue publication, I set writing goals — and reset them if/when needed.

Now, if I'm writing on my own and have no particular plans for the work beyond trying it, I write until I stop getting anywhere. I may set it aside and pick it up again later. Or I may forget the writing ever existed. I know this can happen because I've had occasion to stumble across work I have no recollection of creating. What can I say. Life happens and things slip through the cracks. Besides, fellow writers, I'll bet you've done the same thing, too. OK, let me revise to plead: Please, fellow writers, PLEASE tell me you've done the same thing, too!

Thanks a bunch for reading my writing-process tour entry. For next Monday, I'm passing the blogging baton to my friend Wendy Wahman, the award-winning author-illustrator of some of my favorite picture books, including Don't Lick the Dog: Making Friends with Dogs, A Cat Like That, and Snowboy 1, 2, 3 (this one was illustrated by Wendy and written by Joe Wahman).


Don't Lick the Dog was selected as a 2010 Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year, starred for Outstanding Merit, and accepted to the Society of Illustrators Original Art show. Her book trailer for A Cat Like That was selected from over 7,000 entries for the Walker Art Center’s Catvidfest 2013. Wendy’s editorial illustrations have appeared in major publications including Harper’s Magazine, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and the Harvard Business Journal. She teaches art classes through the nonprofit organization Powerful Schools, and she enjoys sharing creativity exercises with both children and adults. 

Look for Wendy's post July 14!