Apply butt to chair and read

One of the great things about going to a conference is coming home with a big fat list of books to read.  If they could help me find more time to read that would be just downright magical.

open books

From the four keynote addresses, the eight break out sessions, and the one intensive, I give you books to first enjoy and then study.  You are probably well read and already familiar with many of these, but I encourage you to take another look to grow your craft.

From the intensive on voice with Heather Alexander, literary agent from Pippin Properties comes most of the books.  Though we discussed what each did well in voice, they all are great studies in the craft of writing:

  • Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt (in my Goodreads review I said Gary Schmidt wrote Wednesday Wars just so he could meet the MC for Okay for Now.  This book also made my list of top 25 books I’m glad were written. Don’t miss this one!)
  • Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
  • A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead
  • Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (Heather called this one of the most vulnerable YA characters we’ve had in a long time.)
  • I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson(Language is important! Imagine what a different story this would be if the homonym was used instead, I’ll Give You the Son!)
  • Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy
  • Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo
  • The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen
  • Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater

Character-driven novels:

  • Roller Girl – Victoria Jamieson
  • Pax – Sara Pennypacker

A book that has changed the world:

Picture Books that demonstrate tight lean writing

  • All Alone by Kevin Henkes
  • The New Girl by Jacqui Robbins
  • Star Bright by Allison McGhee
  • Zombie in Love by Kelly DiPucchio

The author has a clear sense of the backstory

  • Wonder by RJ Palacio
  • Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron

Best first sentence, according to Sarah Aronson:

  • What Jamie Saw by Carolyn Coman

Great Ending:

  • The Rag Bone Shop by Robert Cormier

Books on the Craft of Writing

  • Wired for Story by Lisa Cron
  • Free Play by Stephen Nachmanovitch
  • Writing Stories by Carolyn Coman

Happy reading and creating!

Go ahead update your to-read list on Goodreads.

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 🙂


Top Ten Pearls from the Prairie

My brain is full and my head is spinning. I had been hitting it against a wall feeling like I had taken my MS as far as I could, knowing that it could still be better but not having an inkling how to do it. NOT ANY MORE!


About a week ago I attended the annual Prairie Writer’s and Illustrator’s Day hosted by the Illinois network of SCBWI. This was my third time participating and well worth the repeat attendance.  I’ve taken this week to process, marinate, and sort through the keynote address, three break out sessions, two expert panels, and a dozen conversations.

Of course they have rules about blogging, so I won’t go into tremendous details, but I will share some pearls that I am adding to my treasure box.  With that in mind, here are my

Top Ten Pearls from the Prairie

10.  It pays to push yourself out of your happy little shell and meet new people.  As a result I met some wonderful fellow writers, some of whom offered to read for me.

9.  Editors and agents are approachable!  Pull up those big girl pants and talk to them!  When else will you have an opportunity like this?  SO I did.  I talked to three editors and one agent and got answers to specific questions that I had about writing in general and my story in particular.  This will also give me personal sentiments to include in that darn query I will have to write to submit to them.

8. An online course you should know about: Rachel Orr, an agent at Prospect Agency, is teaching a course on middle grade novel writing that starts in January on

7. Keynote speaker, Author and Illustrator, Eliza Wheeler – (she also makes a soundtrack for her WIP, love it when I hear someone share something that I do too!) – Focus on what you like about your story, not what you don’t. It’s so easy to be critical isn’t it? But that kind of energy can drain the life and enjoyment out of a project.

I have found that when I watch my two and a half minute book trailer before working on my revision I get pumped up.  The trailer encapsulates the essence that I want my book to have.  After watching it I am in the right mindset and mood to attack my WIP.  Same is true for reading passages or chapters that work.  My confidence lifts.  I can write and I can even write well.

6. Jordan Brown, Senior Editor Walden Pond Press & Balzer + Bray, said the ultimate rule of writing is . . . drum roll . . .

You can do whatever you want as long as it works!

Do you feel liberated now?

5. Noa Wheeler, editor Henry Holt Books for Young Readers gave me the assurance that editors are on your side.  They love books and the people who write them.  Why be intimidated?  A common theme I heard throughout the day was about relationship and collaboration between writers and editors.

4.  During the mix-n-mingle session I asked Rachel Orr about platform building and the usefulness of having a book trailer for a pre-published book.  The gist of her answer, focus on writing well.  Gotcha!

3. Attended a break out session on voice by Brett Duquette, editor at Sterling Children’s Books.  Up until this point, voice has been a very abstract thing for me.  It’s becoming more clear now.  I am attacking my MS with highlighters.  Does each character sound consistent throughout?  How about my narrator?  Who is my narrator?  Does my characters’ mood influence how they see their world?  This session was filled to the brim with applicable bits of knowledge, delivered with incredible humor.  Best break out of the day award!

2.  Got a critique on my first pages from Caroline Abbey, senior editor at Penguin Random House!  It was NOT a last minute thing where she wrote a few thoughts on the airplane ride here.  It WAS on letter head!  But more importantly her fresh eyes on my stale words gave me new perspective on these opening pages.  As helpful as it was to know the areas that I can improve, it was equally beneficial to know which parts are working.  There’s nothing like seeing “Nice!” next to a sentence!  Whoop! Whoop! I don’t have to only read others’ work to see good writing.  I have it in my work too.  Now I have to work at making all words, sentences, paragraphs, scenes, and chapters equally strong.

1.  I followed up with Caroline Abbey about some questions I had from her critique.  (I wrote them down before I talked to her because I knew I’d forget! And I did, I was so glad I wrote them down!)  I asked her about strategies for thinking of a title,  how to pinpoint a tell,  and questions to ask myself to figure out how to tighten my work.

She related to how I dreaded the thought of coming up a new title.  I’ve been reading scripture and 19th century poetry about fire, playing in the thesaurus, and checking my ideas on Goodreads.  Brainstorming with writing friends and my husband.  This really is torture! I’ve been trying to zoom in on sentences that are vague or generic.  Is it a tell?  Do I need to show it or scrap it?

This week I’ve reduced by first 5 chapters by 10% and modified a whole bunch of sentences and scenes that weren’t pulling their weight.  Not a bad start.  So much more to do!