Posts by Sue Santiago

Taking a Tip from Forrester


Didn’t you love it when your teacher said, “Tonight for homework I would like for you to watch on tv . . .” but then hoped the next words weren’t, “The State of the Union Address?”  Well, if you are looking for a little kick start to your writing, I encourage you to watch a movie that inspires you to write.  Some of my favorites are Finding Forrester, Stranger than Fiction, and You’ve Got Mail.

Though I haven’t watched it in a bit, I am finding myself taking advice from William Forrester, played by Sean Connery, to his young prodigy. . . .

A few years back I read Inside Out and Back Again. (my post about it)  That did it!  I was hooked on stories in verse.  I ached to write one myself, but was knee deep in the Chicago Fire at the time.  I knew it couldn’t be any ol’ story that I chose to write in verse.  It took a long time to come up with the right idea.  And now that I have it, I’M REALLY STUCK!

I’m so intimidated to follow in the steps of Thanhha Lai, Jaqueline Woodson, Karen Hess, Katherine Applegate, Alexander Kwame to name a few of the seriously polished and amazing writers who have fashioned beautiful treasure boxes of powerful language in as few as ten words on a page!  Seriously?  My word pictures lack color and clarity.  I am wordy, not succinct.  I go wide, not deep.  I am in WAY OVER MY HEAD!

books in verse

Which brings me back to Finding Forrester.  William Forrester, an acclaimed author turned hermit, offers this piece of advice to his charge, and to us.  (Paraphrased or altered by my memory). . . Starting is the worst part.  If you don’t know where to start, borrow someone else’s words and before you know it, they will turn into yours.  (No duh side bar: Keep in mind, however, the high school student did get into great trouble for plagiarism when he entered his essay into a competition.  I, nor William Forrester, are encouraging you to take someone else’s words and claim them for your own.)

With this in mind, I am studying some of my favorite novels in verse and recording bits that stand out to me.  Writing the rhythm, feeling the strength of the words, getting a sense of siphoning a scene down to its bare truth.  As I immerse myself into Jacqueline’s Brooklyn, Billie Jo’s dust covered world, Kek’s first taste of America, Ha’s trip on the ship, and Filthy McNasty’s court time, I am slowly feeling my story churning, bits of it jumping into mind and immediately onto my journal.  Line by line and moment by moment this new story will come.

What inspires you to write?

What helps you get started?

Hello Dear Blog,


Thank you, dear blog, for waiting for me through an injured child, an ailing parent, friends in need, with a tornado on top.  It’s okay, dear blog, there were good times too. A just-what-we-needed family vacation, a wedding of a young girl who grew up in a blink, summer days with stories and swimming, and a sweet four-legged baby too.  So, dear blog, let’s get writing again.  Autumn is poking its nose around the corner.  It’s a great time for writing.  You and me and a cup of joe.

You Know You May Be a Writer If . . .

You know you may be a writer if . . .

Love my journals!

Love my journals!

  • you have an uncontrollable obsession with journals and writing utensils.
  • a trip to the library is a highlight of your week.
  • you are reading at least three books at the moment.  One is to research a topic that intrigues you.  One is in the genre you can see yourself writing.  One is just for you.
  • when a loved one asks you to watch TV, you agree because it’s important to spend time with living, breathing loved ones, and not just the darlings that are sitting on your nightstand tugging at your heart.
  • on your nightstand you keep a journal, writing utensil, and flashlight.  Great ideas that must be written down come before the sun.
  • you get caught reading over someone’s shoulder.
  • you know how some people get hangry? That’s how you feel when you haven’t had a chance to write in a few days.
  • you edit your text messages
  • your loved ones know that you are not hangry and send you off to write (because they are tired of your brooding).
  • you keep an inspiration journal close by.
  • you frequent
  • you love to listen to others speak, waiting for interesting phrasing.  And then you hurry to that inspiration notebook to record it.
  • you keep a dictaphone in your car.
  • you secretly contemplate how to portray your middle school nemesis in a future story.  Haha! The written word lingers forever!
  • you never feel lonely if you have a book or journal with you.
  • you run late in the morning because you had to write down one idea, but that idea grows and you need to see where it takes you and you have to keep writing despite the ticking clock.  Then you rush through your shower because the idea percolated with the falling water and you hurry to that journal once more, dripping droplets on it (because ideas come best when its inconvenient.)
  • cutting your word count by 5% is as satisfying as getting a haircut.
  • you’ve been wondering if you are a author-in-waiting, but doubt yourself.

Doubt no more.  Get playing with words!

Dag Nab It!

It was bound to happen.  And it has.  Lauren Tarshis has come out with a new I SURVIVED story, and it’s the one I secretly hoped she would not want to write.  So, of course she did.

i survived book

Grrrr.  I’ve already ordered mine.  And I know it will be wonderful as all of her books are.  Sigh. Learn more about Lauren Tarshis here while I lament over my dramatic and action-filled Chicago Fire story (that is BACKDRAFT meets PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS) with the makings of a classic that is still sitting in my computer waiting to find the right publisher.

On the upside, she wrote her story because her readers asked for it.  Therefore, there are kids out there who are interested in the Great Chicago Fire (and I can’t blame them!).  AND  . . . My story is skewed to a slightly older audience, of fifth and sixth graders.  This means the third and fourth graders who loved I SURVIVED THE GREAT CHICAGO FIRE OF 1871 will have a great story to look forward to when they get a year or two older.

Well, that’s my upside and I’m sticking to it.  No lingering discouragement allowed on the path to becoming a published author!

Keep playing with words and keep your chin up when the inbox is not bringing you the news you’ve been waiting for!

The wine . . . the ambiance . . . the notepad

Though I’m sure I take after my mother in many ways, I’ll only admit to one.  I love to explore new territory and I’m not afraid to do it by myself.  This is something that I will attribute to my always-on-the-go mom.

In mid-October 2010 I accompanied my husband on a business trip to Quebec City.  While he busied his days with scheduled meetings, I stepped back in time within the walls of Old Quebec City (where they speak french and I think it is too lovely of a language to try to imitate publicly).

Streets of Old Quebec

Streets of Old Quebec

Around lunch time I picked a small restaurant that sat on a narrow cobblestoned street that was too narrow for motor vehicles, but perfect for the throngs of footing-it tourists.

The restaurant where it all started.

The restaurant where it all started.

Though there was a slight chill in the air I opted to sit outside where I could overlook the small park decorated in pumpkins and fall colors.  And so I could people watch.  I was on vacation so I treated myself to french onion soup and red wine.  Wine for lunch!

The view from my table.

The view from my table.

In the park, an older couple played folk french music.

Listening to French folk music.

Listening to French folk music.

Was it the wine?  The ambiance?  The foreign land where I was discovering a new side to myself?  Whatever it was, I pulled a notepad from my purse and began writing.

They were most likely the most awful words ever scribbled down, but they were my beginning.  Old Quebec City will forever be my most favorite place to write and I hope to make it back there again.

Writer Pitch


A brand new website launched a couple of days ago.  It is a virtual cafe where agents and writers get to mingle and writers are encouraged to pitch their stories.  The goal is to give writers more access to a wide variety of agents and agents a way to search for the kind of story they are itching to represent.  Will there be many happy matches?  Time will tell.  Until then, I’ll bring the coffee and meet you at

I never procrastinate. Not me. Never!

I’m going to get the taxes ready today!  I’m going to get the taxes ready today!
But first, I have to declutter my work space.
And I should start a load of laundry.
And it snowed outside, so I really should shovel.
Oooh!  There’s a Downton Abbey I haven’t seen yet.


Today’s a perfect day for chili.  I should start on that and let it slow cook.

AAAND I have an idea for a new story.  So I better write it down before I forget.
I’m going to get the taxes ready tomorrow.  Yes, tomorrow.  Absolutely tomorrow, no doubt about it!

Get Josephine


Celebrate Black History Month with an incredible offer from Chronicle.  The multiple award winning story of the dazzling life of Josephine Baker, Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell is available at a remarkably low price thru February 15th.

Patricia Hruby Powell is a fellow author in my local SCBWI network and her story of Josephine is like no other.

Questions to Critique By

I am handing out a story that I have revised once to my critique group.  Whenever I give them a full manuscript to read I like to attach a suggestion sheet of questions they can ponder while critiquing.  We are a pretty green group and I want to get constructive feedback, not just a pat on the back.  I limit the questions to two to three per category.

These questions are also helpful for when I am self-editing.  I would like to say these are all original questions, but I once heard someone say, ideas are original when you can’t remember where you first heard it.  Many of these questions have been taken from a checklist I found on line here, but I narrowed it down and added some of my own.  So from my bag of tricks, I give you Questions to Critique By.

(FYI – I start by giving my critique group an idea of what I feel is pertinent information about the story like intended audience and what I am trying to achieve in plot and character development.)


  • Are their voices consistent with their characters? Do you see places where their voice slip or where it can be amplified?
  • Are the characters rich and developed or flat and stereotypic?
  • Are there too many characters or too much time spent on secondary characters that detracts from the main plot of the story and the focus on the protagonist?


  • Does the writing style seem fresh, original?
  • Does the mood of the characters influence how they see their world?
  • Does the overall tone and style of the writing work well for the story?


  • How does the pacing of the story feel? Does the book drag in spots due to excessive narration or from uninteresting scenes?
  • In faster action scenes, does the pace speed up with shorter sentences and paragraphs?
  • Are the scenes moving at a good clip or do they need some trimming?


  • Is there an overarching conflict present in the story that is key to the premise and grows to a climax and resolution?
  • Do the protagonists face one conflict or obstacle after another (each worse than the previous) that force them to have to make tough decisions?


  • Does the overall plot come across clearly in the novel?
  • Are there scenes in the book that do not serve the plot and don’t seem to have a point?
  • Is the plot interesting and engaging?


  • Is tension created at the outset of the book?
  • Are the protagonists compelling enough to heighten tension by the reading caring about them?


  • These are creatures developed in my mind, do you have a clear understanding of what they are, what they do, what they look like?   (Keep in mind, I expect this will be an illustrated book, so I am leaving some room for the illustrator to help create my character’s appearance.)
  • What questions would you want answered in this book about these creatures that have not been addressed?

Show and Tell

  • Consider the sensory detail. What parts overload the senses? What parts could use more sensory detail?
  • Is the language vivid?
  • Were there scenes where your mental movie projector had problems seeing the scenes? If so, which ones


  • Did you have laugh out loud moments? If so, where?
  • Are there segments where the humor could be pushed? Or dialed back?
  • It was intended to be funny (at least some parts). Did it happen?

That’s it.

What questions would you add to the list?


Quick Tip

As I was finishing my rough draft for a gentle fantasy chapter book (whoop! whoop!WIN_20150130_145337 big goal met this week!) I discovered a great trick.

Scrivener Users:

Did you know you could press “ctrl /” and a text statistics box pops up for the selection that is open?  The best part is it tells you the frequency of your words, so you can easily identify words you over use.

You already knew that didn’t you?  You’re so clever!  I happened upon it when I meant to hit “Shift /” to make a question mark.  Sometimes clumsy fingers pay off.  It usually just results in awkward auto-corrects.  #notsofunnywhenithappenstoyou 😉

***If you don’t know what scrivener is, you can check it out here***