Showing posts from March, 2019

Preparing for Camp NaNoWriMo!

For the last few days, I've been getting ready for Camp NaNoWriMo, which begins on April 1. Are you writing something this April? If so, I highly recommend that you try Camp NaNo as a way of motivating yourself, connecting with other motivated writers, and enjoying this way of moving your current project along. 
As I've already said, I'll be writing book five in The Adventures of Ordinary Sam. This is the second time in two straight "NaNo" months that I'll be finishing a series! As I said back in November, it's bittersweet. 
In fact, I dreamed the other day that two of my main characters from my first series, Tales of Telmaja, had the magical Sand Stone from Ordinary Sam's world, and needed to do something extremely important with it. Unfortunately, one of my swashbuckling cats woke me at the crucial moment and I'll never know just how this crossover would have gone. But it occurred to me that the dream was logical given that I'm ending both …

No time like the present

"When did you start writing seriously? What made you start?"

Those are questions, I've noticed, that writers seem to get quite frequently. It's not surprising; writing as a craft, a hobby, a career, or an obsession is something that seems to non-writers to develop spontaneously. I think, in all honesty, that this is because to some degree or other everyone writes. Not everyone can draw or paint or sculpt; not everyone can excel at sports or music; not everyone will become a doctor or a lawyer. But most of us spend at least some time writing--yet many people find it an onerous chore, and wonder a little about people who assign themselves the equivalent of a three hundred page paper for fun on a regular basis.

Most writers will answer these questions truthfully, but in a lot of cases we're giving the questioner the condensed version. Casual conversations, quick interactions, and social media engagements don't allow for an in-depth answer. And yet these questio…

Are schools destroying your child's love of reading?

Because I write middle grade fiction, I have engaged in conversations from time to time with parents who have concerns about their children's reading habits--or lack thereof. While this is an ongoing concern for parents these days as so many other things are competing for children's attention, the saddest thing I hear from parents is that the way some schools approach reading is actually killing their child's love of books.

I have heard this from multiple parents in many states and many different types of schools. But the details of what's going on seem to be very similar.

First, some parents tell me that their children are only allowed to choose books at their reading level, as determined by Lexile (tm) scores. Many criticisms of the Lexile (tm) framework exist and should be considered carefully by discerning parents and educators. The bottom line is that the scores may not reflect the overall suitability of the book, or the child's actual reading ability; in add…

Kindle Unlimited readers, welcome!

Do you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited? If you do, you may be able to read all of my books for free! You can go to my Amazon Author page to find and download my books.

Not all self-published authors enroll their books in Kindle Unlimited, and I understand that. It doesn't work for everyone, especially if you're publishing ebooks only and want to distribute them in places other than Amazon. Since I publish print books as well as ebooks, this is less of a concern for me. I am happy for people to be able to read my books at the lowest cost possible.

One thing I've learned is that digital books aren't for everyone, and unfortunately children's books are an especially difficult thing to sell as digital media. I can't blame parents for being concerned about kid's screen use; it's a concern I share. But I think that ebooks are going to be an important part of the future of publishing. I was a voracious reader as a child, and if ebooks had been possible when I w…

On motivation

Anyone who works on something creative and who does not have external deadlines will face, sooner or later, the problem of motivation. For me, as I've said before, NaNoWriMo and their events help me when it comes to writing a book. But editing is another story, and plotting/planning/prewriting is also something that's hard to do under a deadline. As for marketing and selling--it can be hard enough for an indie writer to figure out what to do, let alone when and how often to do those things that will bring attention to a book.

Even people who aren't writers, though, can sympathize with the struggle to create and set realistic goals and deadlines around seemingly endless and sometimes vague tasks. Moms at home, small business owners, students and many other people may find it hard to get things done in a timely manner. In many ways, the illusion of control we all try to create for ourselves can evaporate when we realize how difficult it is to adhere to a self-imposed deadli…

Just for fun, a sneak peek

I didn't have a topic planned for today, so just for fun I thought I'd post a bit from the first chapter of my newest book, Wizard's Mischief: Flame. The book is still in the editing stages so what I post here may or may not make the final cut!

Note: Copyright is reserved on all my blog contents except those I don't own such as quotes or excerpts from other people's writing. I especially note that I am the copyright holder of the content posted below and reserve all rights to it.

“Rogan!” a voice behind me shouted.

I quickened my pace--not toward the shouting voice, but away from it. The dirt path beneath my racing feet was dusty; we hadn’t had rain in days, and thanks to Great Aunt Grinnie I knew I’d stay dry today, too. The shouting voice behind me was growing more distant; Cousin Calogera, Great Aunt Grinnie’s one unmarried daughter, wasn’t young enough or fast enough to catch up with me, even if she had been about thirty pounds lighter, which, of course, she wa…

Camp NaNoWriMo is coming! And so is the last Ordinary Sam book.

If you've ever participated in the National Novel Writing Month events, you'll know that there are three main writing months: the NaNoWriMo event in November in which participants sign up to write at least 50,000 words of a novel, and the two Camp NaNo events in April and July, in which participants have a bit more leeway to decide what kind of project they plan to write and to set their own word goals.

For me, having three dedicated months of the year to join other writers in racing toward an arbitrary but fun deadline is the key to being able to complete first drafts. While I didn't always finish the whole draft in each month, I did meet my goals; at this point, though, I've learned that finishing the whole first draft of a novel-in-progress makes a huge difference in my ability to finish a writing project in a reasonable amount of time.

I always worked on my Tales of Telmaja books in November, so the first time I started an April writing project I wanted to work on…

Harry Potter and the untrustworthy author

Over the weekend, J.K. Rowling had the dubious honor of being the subject of a new Twitter meme. I won't link to any examples here, but the general idea was to poke fun at Rowling for once again "revealing" (or inventing) new details about the Harry Potter world nearly 12 years after the final book in the series was released.

Unfortunately, Rowling's habit of doing this sort of thing has been going on for quite some time. The immeasurable popularity of the series and her own incredible success has kept her in the spotlight, even if the spotlight has been intermittent at times. It's perfectly natural for eager readers of the Harry Potter series to ask Rowling questions about the books, but it's less natural for Rowling to use those questions as springboards to insert details that are not in the books.

Last week I wrote about both untrustworthy narrators and the reality that all first-person narrators should be trusted only to tell the story from their narrow …

Trusting the multiple first person narrators

Lots of children's books these days are written in the first person point-of-view. In fact, there's been a surge of books written in multiple first person, where the first person narrator is a different person in each chapter or each section of the book. When that is done well, as it is in Wilkie Collins' famous novel The Moonstone, it is incredibly enriching to the book. Unfortunately, many MG fiction writers have jumped on the "multiple first person narrator" bandwagon without being talented enough to make each voice sound different enough to be distinguishable. One might argue that five or six children in the fifth or sixth grade will speak similarly anyway, using the same slang terms and idioms as the other children in their school, and that's not entirely untrue. But the multiple first person narrator device loses most of its value when all the narrators sound alike, and you have to keep flipping back to the beginning of the chapter to try to figure out…


I've written about this before, but the push to include adult topics and content in books for middle schoolers is something I consider an unfortunate trend. Children develop both physically and emotionally at different rates, and what a mature reader might be able to handle may be far too much for a more innocent child.

Yet the book industry seems determined to push adult topics onto younger and younger kids. One popular middle-grade novel published this year is about two girls getting to know each other because their single gay dads fall in love and start dating. One of the girls casually mentions her surrogate mom, a topic many eight-year-olds are unaware of and would find confusing. Because this book is middle-grade fiction, though, it will be available in many libraries and classrooms for children that age to read.

At the same time, there's been a trend toward making MG fiction easy and unchallenging to read, in terms of vocabulary and sentence structure. It's odd--bo…

Can Christian children read books about magic? Part Two

Yesterday I wrote about the use of magic as a symbol in children's book writing. My point was that some books which use magic in way that is both reminiscent of fairy tales and in which the magic merely stands for something else, such as power or courage, are not necessarily a problem for Christian children to read. It would be a shame, for instance, if parents forbade their children to read books of fairy tales simply because magic is used in them; the magic in fairy tales is not intended to reflect anything demonic, and the stories teach valuable lessons about faith, courage, and perseverance.

But today there are some writers, even writers of children's books, who take a different approach to magic. Whether they set their books in the real world or not, they use actual occult elements in their stories, and make the use of these elements either morally good or morally ambiguous. The characters may summon demons or practice forms of paganism that are recognizable and that rea…

Can Christian children read books about magic? Part One

If you've peeked at this blog, you already know that I write books for children. One series I write, The Adventures of Ordinary Sam, centers around a boy named Sam Oldfield. As the first book, The Sand Stone, opens, Sam has already visited a magic land, bonded with a magic object, and taken up the fight to restore the rightful princess to her throne. As the series unfolds Sam will learn that his visit to Ebdyrza was not an accident, and that he has powers of his own.
Some Christian parents are uncomfortable with stories that contain magic elements. I am a practicing Catholic myself, and I understand these concerns. I'd like to spend some time this week talking a little bit about how to tell when magic is being used as a metaphor, and when writers veer into areas that might be problematic for a Christian child.
What does it mean to say that magic can be used as a metaphor? Elements of a story can be intended to be straightforward and literal, or they can be used as devices mea…

Writing talk: daily goals

The phone rings. The writer, typing so fast her hands are a blur, ignores it until it stops. When it starts ringing again she snatches it impatiently. "What?"

She listens, murmuring assent. Then she says impatiently, "I told you I'd have it in by midnight tonight! How do you expect me to meet my deadline if you keep bothering me?"

She hangs up the phone, tosses it on her desk, and gets back to work, murmuring something about publishers and deadlines under her breath.

How many times have we seen scenes like that in movies or TV shows? The popular conception of a writer is of someone who is incapable of getting anything done on time without a publisher, an agent, and perhaps a sarcastic friend keeping her on track all the time.

And for some well-known, traditionally published writers this may be a true image. But every traditionally published writer started out as someone who was unpublished and unknown, and for indie writers there are never any deadlines that a…

Writing talk: character names

If you talk to a group of twelve writers, you will likely hear twelve different thoughts about the process of naming characters, ranging from "I hate it!" to "It's my favorite part of writing!" to "I have a file I've been saving for years of all my favorite names..."

Unless you're that last person, though, chances are that you are going to end up like a lot of us in the middle of this problem: sometimes naming a character is easy and happens before the story begins, while other times you struggle and struggle to come up with a suitable name that captures, at least for you, the essence of who the character is or who he or she will become.

If you have the name right from the beginning, that's great--unless you just happen to read that a bestselling novel or a hit TV show in your genre has just made headlines, and a main character who isn't entirely unlike yours has the exact same name. You might not have to change the name anyway (thoug…

Where writers get our ideas

"But where do you get your ideas?"

Every writer, from the bestselling author of fiction for adults to the self-published children's book writer, gets that question from time to time. There are stories of how some famous authors of the past answered that question, often by joking that they purchased their ideas in bulk from popular stores.

The truth is that ideas for fiction are everywhere (presumably, non-fiction writers would say something similar, but I can only speak as a fiction writer). The best explanation I've heard says that every one of us passes by ideas for a good story every day, but the writer is the person who will notice most of them, and file at least a couple away for future use.

In one sense, writers of fiction retain that childlike imagination that drives young children to see fiction wherever they look (and, at times, to have trouble remembering what is fictional and what isn't). Spend an afternoon with a child between the ages of two to five…