Reflections from the Wild

The SCBWI Wild Wild Midwest Conference occurred last weekend.


First – a big plug for SCBWI: If you are a children’s writer, meaning you have a story you are playing with, even if it’s only in your mind or a scrappy notepad next to your bed stand, do yourself a favor and discover SCBWI.  You will find a tribe of people who, though they are competing for a slot in someone’s inbox and dream of their cover facing out at the local bookstore, are incredibly supportive, warm,  and know how to laugh at themselves. No hierarchy.  Our name tags did not denote the number of publications, awards won, or the pre-published. So do yourself a favor and reach out to your local SCWBI group in your area.

To the point of the matter: As I marinate on my 30+ pages of notes I realize I need to process this soon before it just becomes a great memory.

Of course I cannot go into details about the massive variety of breakouts and four keynote addresses, but I certainly can share how what I learned influences my writing now.

As I think about the big picture of what I brought home the following topics comes to mind.

A great reading list and why I want to read them.

Knowing my character and her voice.

Writing matters, correction – story matters.

Loving an ugly baby.

So these are upcoming topics I want to think more about, hence they are upcoming posts.  And I list them here to hold myself accountable to my craft and my blog.

If you have recently attended this conference or another one, please share a nugget you brought home with you.

Happy writing 🙂


NaNoWriMo – no, no not Nanu Nanu

It’s lurking.  I can see it lingering over there.  Ready to pounce.  I’m tempted.  But I’m also scared!  Maybe I’m just crazy!!! It’s not a greeting from Mork from Ork, although it is kinda insane, it’s NaNoWriMo! (For Millenials and younger catch the nanu nanu reference here.)


NaNoWriMo starts in two and a half weeks and I might just be out of my mind enough to do it this year.

What is NaNoWriMo?

National Novel Writing Month! The challenge is to write a novel from beginning to finish in one month’s time.  While you could do this challenge any month (I would chose October over February!), the official NaNoWriMo is November.  Yes, I hear you saying, “There’s so much going on in November with Thanksgiving and Christmas at its heels.”  I know!  That’s why it calls for a healthy portion of insanity to do this.

So Why do this?

Writing a novel is intimidating.  Period!  When I wrote my first novel I got stuck after completing the first act with rewrite after rewrite.  The best thing that happened to me was signing up for a conference in which I had to submit the LAST twenty pages.  There’s nothing like a deadline!  I know that awful feeling of having a story to write, but petrified to start. There is also the “I don’t have the time to write” excuse.  Clear your schedule for one month.  It’s just one month.  After 30 days of writing you will have a completed novel. Publishable? Highly unlikely.  But draft one is done. And done it time to take the next month off to let the story marinate while you hang the mistletoe and deck the halls.

I may be crazy enough to give this a whirl, so how do I do this?

The goal that NaNoWriMo sets forth is to write a fifty thousand novel.  Depending on your story this may not be enough, so you may have to adjust your daily word goal.  Take your word goal and divide by 29 because let’s face it, who’s going to write while in a turkey coma?

35,000 (a middle grade novel) = 1,206 words per day (wpd)

50,000 (NaNoWriMo goal) = 1,724 wpd

75,000 (YA novel) = 2,586 wpd

160,000 (the next Harry Potter – average length) = 5,517 wpd (yikes!)

Besides word count, what else should you keep in mind?

  • Spend these next two weeks planning.  Research settings, history, foods.  Get to know your characters.  Especially your MC and antagonist.  Consider story lines. Are you the outlining type? Do that now.
  • Also over these next two weeks, surround yourself with things of the genre you want to write.  Does that mean wearing 18th century garb?  Hey, if it helps you get into the mind of your story about Ben Franklin (yes, I mean you!) then I say go for it.  It’s October after all.  Halloween is not that far away, you can get away with it!
  • Once November starts, write fast and furiously.  Somedays those 1,724 words will fly out of your fingers.  Other days you will bang your head against the keyboard and hope something miraculous occurs.
  • Acknowledge that it may be crap.  In fact, it probably will.  You won’t really know your story, what your characters are made of, until you start writing it and putting them in impossible situations.
  • DO NOT REWRITE!  In fact, avoid rereading!  Just read the paragraph or sentence you left off with.
  • Tune into this blog.  I’m going to be in the trenches with you.

Who’s in?

Are you a NaNoWriMo veteran?  Leave a tip in the comment box.

For more tips, check out these pages:

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!

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

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.

Not Just Coincidence

I never cease to be surprised when things line up in such an amazing way that you know it could not have worked out so well if it was purposely planned.  As a person striving for deepening faith I credit most coincidences as God-incidences.  And that is true as I sought out readers who could peruse my manuscript for historical and technical accChicago's Forgotten Tragedyuracy.

As part of my research, I came across a little gem, Chicago’s Forgotten Tragedy, by Bill Cosgrove.  Though it is primarily an account of the 1910 fire at the Chicago Stockyards that claimed twenty-one firemen, it also includes a wealth of information detailing the history of the Chicago Fire Department.  This was information that all the research I had done had not uncovered.  Being a retired Chicago firefighter, Mr. Cosgrove has extensive knowledge and access to historical content.  Then the thought occurred to me that I should ask him to read my MS and be an expert reader for both the technical side of firefighting and the historical content of the Great Chicago Fire.

You know, as a writer you’re supposed to have a one line summary of your story.  Mine is: It a histocial fiction novel where Backdraft meets Pursuit of Happiness.   As I was researching Mr. Cosgrove to contact him, I learned that he has three other books as well: The Noble Breed, Accident or Arson, and  Robert De Niro and the Fireman.  I also learned that he served as technical director to Robert DeNiro on the movie Backdraft which inspired one of his books (you can probably guess which one).  Did I say Backdraft? Yep, Backdraft!  As in my book is Backdraft meets Pursuit of Happiness!  Holy Toledo I was now very intimidated to ask.  But I sent an email into the mysterious internet world not confident of the outcome.  A few days later I received a voicemail saying that he would love to read through my book.  What??

After he read it he talked me through my book, one major scene at a time.  He was very fond of my book, impressed with my research, and offered minor things to change.  (Thank God I do not have to do a major revision as a result!)  As it turns out, Mr. Cosgrove is also a south side Irish, from a firefighting family.  He, too, lost his father in the line of business.  He was enamored with Mam, my MC’s mother, and how much she reminded him of his own mother.   He said that I really knew the Irish.  I then told him that I’m actually a McDonald myself, though very Americanized, maybe it’s something deep in the blood.  He also honored me by asking his sixth grade grandson (my target reading audience, by the way), to read it.  This young man was not intimidated by the 276 pages to get through.  He enjoyed it as well.

When so many coincidences line up like that, you must know, they are not coincidences.  I will fly high on this praise for a bit and let it give me the confidence to stomp into my next phase: looking for an agent!

Thank you, Mr. Cosgrove.  I hope to send you a polished and published copy of my first edition sometime soon!


A little encouragement

I recently found out that my submission to a writing competition earned an honorable mention for my Chicago Fire story.  The skeptic in me remembered elementary school science fairs where most people walked away with an honorable mention.  As it turns out, that wasn’t the case.  There were two honorable mentions and one overall victor for the chapter book category.  So my little skeptic said, out of 5 submissions.  All-in-all there were 32 submission.  Of those were of course picture books as well.

I’m going to quiet the skeptic in me and accept the encouragement.  It came at just the right time when I’m starting to run out of steam to get me through this revision.

Thank you, Litchfield Education Foundation for the pat on the back.

happy dance!

happy dance!