Monday, May 28, 2012

Kids & Writing by Dr. Q

First, let me say a heartfelt Thank You to all the men and women in uniform who've given their lives to keep us safe and free. Have a wonderful Memorial Day holiday.

And since this blog is also about being a mom, I'm super excited to welcome great bloggy friend Dr. Susan Quinn (link) who has a brand new book out (see below) and is guest posting on how to get your kids writing.

A great potential summer activity!

So without further ado~

Ten Ways To Get Kids To Write

by Susan Kaye Quinn

Getting my kids to write was slightly less painful than delivering them into the world, but a lot more frustrating. Because it goes on for years and years and years ...

When I tell people that my 13 year old son Dark Omen wrote a novel and is now working on the sequel, they give me this knowing look, like, Well, of course! What did you expect? You're a writer!

If they only knew.

None of my boys (ages 8, 11, 13) enjoyed writing when they were younger (in the case of 8 year old Mighty Mite, we're still in that nooooooo stage of the writing experience). But I'm a patient mom (er, sometimes), and in the spirit of my Twelve Tips for Reluctant Readers post, I've pulled together Ten Ways to Get Kids to Write:

When the boys were little, we had a mini-easel that was chalk on one side and marker on the other. It spread chalk dust like crazy and we were always having to clean it, but having writing materials easily available (Way #1) meant we could stop and draw letters or cats (lots of cats) at any time.

Later, when they were in school, there was lots of writing time during the year, but during breaks and summer, I stapled together pages of writing paper with a construction paper "cover." This "book" was theirs to decorate, but they had to write a sentence (or paragraph or page, depending on the age) in it every morning, setting a regular time for writing (Way #2) - interestingly, Dark Omen still does most of his writing in the morning.

Sometimes I gave writing themes (Way #3), like Christmas lights or going to the pool, but mostly I let them write whatever they wanted (Way #4), even if it was only "I hate writing." (They thought this was the height of funny.)

When they were older and could write longer passages, I enlisted the help of writing workbooks (Way #5) - get the good ones, they're worth it - with worksheets on grammar as well as narrative writing. To mix it up a little, I also gave them assignments (Way #6): write a letter (from a list of our relatives), write a poem, write a song, write a recipe.

Here it helped to have a variety of writing supplies (Way #7), from index cards to fancy stationary. The most inspiring writing materials were consistently any notebook or writing material of an odd shape or texture or origin (Way #8), whether tiny spiral bound notebooks or giant sized, cardboard-latched binders.

My boys even spent one hilarious night writing secret notes on the backs of fortune cookie slips.

As long as they were writing, I was happy.

Note: most of the time I was not happy because they were not writing. I tried to give them a journal (Way #9) - not a diary - but that was met with scorn.

My final Way is not really a technique, but an attitude: cultivate patience and don't give up (Way #10).

Kids all develop at their own rates and it may take time (a lot of time, years worth of time) before they reach the milestones you want. But just like reading, writing is an essential skill that will wither if not actively encouraged.

Now, I have to pull Dark Omen away from his spiral notebook that he relentlessly fills with words and characters and stories. I have to tell him to eat breakfast before writing, to make sure it gets in him before he has to run to the bus and Junior High. And if I had told my younger-parent-self  that my oldest son would some day be a novelist, I would have had a good laugh.

And I probably needed it, too.

If that's not enough ideas to keep you from tearing out your hair, Imagination Soup has ten more writing activities for kids.

May the Odds be Always in Your Favor.*

*Getting kids to write isn't quite as brutal as the Hunger Games, but somehow the analogy seems apt.

What ways have worked for you?


Closed Hearts (Mindjack #2)
$2.99 at AmazonBarnes and Noble (ebook and print)

When you control minds,
only your heart can be used against you.

Susan Kaye Quinn is the author of the bestselling YA novel Open Minds, Book One of the Mindjack Trilogy, which is available on AmazonBarnes and Noble, and iTunes. The sequel Closed Hearts has just been released. Susan's business card says "Author and Rocket Scientist," but she mostly plays on TwitterFacebook, and Pinterest.

Mind GamesOpen MindsClosed HeartsIn His EyesLife, Liberty, and PursuitFull Speed Ahead

Monday, May 21, 2012

Weird, maybe. Lucky, definitely.

Writers are weird. I've even heard them called crazy, and maybe that's fair.

I'd argue we're working in one of the few fields where you can put more of yourself into your work than you ever thought possible, demonstrate more dedication than you ever believed you had, believe in yourself more than you've ever done in your life, and still not find success.

At least not right away.

I recently heard award-winning author Margaret McMullan (link) speak. She said something that struck me, and I think you might like it. Here it go (roughly):

"Conflict is something we avoid in life, but we collect as writers. You might be having the worst year of your life. Use it."

I noted that first because it's true. But also because life as a writer is so emotionally challenging. I guess that means we have lots of material from which to draw. (?) For example...

Maybe you're writing your first novel. You've got a full-time job, a family, responsibilities, but you get up every night for months until that book is done.

You do everything right. You find beta readers and critique partners, you revise and polish, you write a great query. And every agent passes.

Maybe you get a Revise & Resubmit request from a Dream Agent. With a nauseous stomach and trembling hands, you hunker down and make the requested revisions. You get feedback from your betas/critters, you get it all bright and shiny and polished and ready to go back. And Dream Agent passes.

Or maybe you land Dream Agent. S/he is so in love with your book, s/he's raving about iPad apps and movie deals. You have visions of your baby going to auction and publishers fighting over you, waving incredible advances and sales projections. You send it out and spend six sleepless weeks (or months) waiting to hear something. And every editor passes.

Maybe you get a major deal. You're given a huge advance, much of which depends on your ability to move a certain number of copies. Maybe a fellow writer reads your book. S/he has written something in the same genre (or not) and is bitter or jealous because you got a major deal and s/he was rejected.

This writer crafts a scathing, unfair review and posts it on Goodreads declaring your book garbage and gets all his/her friends to give it the thumbs up so it's the first thing potential buyers see when they look up your title.

Or maybe your book's picked up by a small publisher. It has a fantastic launch and is selling well on all the online outlets. You do all your promotional materials, bookmarks, etc., then you get an email saying small publisher is going out of business. In 24 hours, your baby will disappear from the stores. You're facing weeks to get it back online, losing buyers and possibly even momentum.

What do you do?

I guess McMullan would say "Use it." It's good advice, but in the moment, it's not always super encouraging to think, "This could be my bestselling novel one day."

Back when I was querying, I used to joke about hiding under my desk. That's one option.

Another is to shoot an email to Tami, Carolyn, Matt, Jessica, Susan, DL, Tracy, Sheri, Janet, Katie, Stina, Theresa, Lydia, Sarah, Jen, Anne, Jeannie, Anita, Lisa Anne, Elle, PK, Michael, RaShelle, Shannon, Me...

I had to stop naming names because of space requirements. The point is we've all been there. The examples above are all real, and yet somehow we've all made it through these times and made it to better places. Or heck, we've made it.

We're so lucky to have this group. I know I say that a lot, but I feel so lucky to have you. I've yet to meet another set of writers in real life that compares to this blogging community.

So yes, maybe I'm weird, but I know that if I'm losing it, all I have to do is reach out and help is just an email away. I hope you feel the same about me.

And while we're reaching, check out Elle Strauss's brand new book! I haven't read it yet, but it sounds supercute. Here's the cover and jacket blurb:

Adeline doesn't feel she belongs in her own time, but can bad boys from the past be trusted?

Adeline Savoy had hoped that the move west from Cambridge to Hollywood with her single dad would mean they’d finally bond like a real family, but all she got was a father too busy with his new female friends and his passion for acting to really see her.

Instead she finds herself getting attached to Faye, the divorcee hair dresser she befriends when she travels back in time to 1955. Faye has a hottie, James Dean-esque, bad-boy brother who has Adeline’s heart all aflutter, but bad boys from the past can be dangerous. Is it possible that Adeline really does belong in her own time and that maybe the right boy lives as close as next door?

LIKE CLOCKWORK is available now at Amazon (link) and Smashwords (link).

Have a great week, reader- and writer-friends~ <3

Monday, May 14, 2012

RAOK BLITZ! and FABRIC, a review

The "Random Acts of Kindness" BLITZ! is below, but first, a flash review of an amazing new poetry collection FABRIC by Jessica Bell.

Jessica Bell
You might know Jessica from her blog, The Alliterative Allomorph (link). She's a gifted novelist, musician, and poet, and her new collection is so gorgeous.

It reads like a series of snapshots of important scenes from different lives.

Sometimes they're right when the thing happens, other times they're reflections. And then some are little stories told from a glance, like side-view images.

And it's extremely accessible, so don't think, "Oh. Poetry." (Trust me on this.)

My favorites are the ones that look back on a situation the speaker misunderstood, like in the poem "Mustard," where the speaker's nemesis is not what she seems. Powerful.

Personally, I tend to miss critical moments when they happen, and upon reflection, I realize how I really feel about them. Jessica can capture that beautifully in 500 words or less. Is that brilliance or what?

I planned to go through and highlight my favorite lines to share, but I ended up almost highlighting the whole book. Lines like:

"I hope prison treats you better than I did."
Get this. Stat!

"The gravel shines like clusters of black diamonds. It was summer. I wasn't afraid."

"You hold my hand as if holding heartache--careful."

Uhh! See what I'm saying? In one, Jessica uses a butter knife to trace a path, and in another she writes the same lines in and out--like the reflection on a lake ("Once"). And I just adored every word of "Spandex," and ... OK, this was supposed to be a flash review.

Seriously, if you only have one collection of poetry, this should be it.

It's like a tray of the best chocolate in the world sitting on your counter and any random moment, you can pick it up and read a poem and experience this amazing sensation. And it's only $1.99, so run get it!

Now, bring on the Random Acts of Kindness BLITZ! 

Angela and Becca (The Bookshelf Muse, link) are celebrating the release of their fantastic tool for writers, The Emotion Thesaurus (link). It's a guide to character expression--who doesn't need that?

But instead of telling everyone to go out and buy their book (which you must, link), they asked us to stir some emotions by randomly recognizing a fellow writer who's made our lives better. I picked five.

If you have a minute (or five), please click over and follow these guys. They. Are. Awesome!

Alina Klein
First, Alina Klein (Tip-Tap-Typing on the Lunatic Fringe, link). When I left Indy, I was a a new mom. When I returned to Indy last summer, I was a new author. So I decided to do what new authors do and connect with others like me.

I hooked up with the linkserv for the Indiana SCBWI, and up popped Alina. But in addition to emailing me information, she invited me to coffee, invited me to join her at a conference speaking to high school kids about writing, invited me to be a helper at the IN-SCBWI conference this weekend... She basically fast-tracked my connection goals.

She's an amazing novelist with a new book coming out (link), she's Asst. Regional Adviser for our SCBWI, she heads an "Empowerment Project" (link) for rape survivors, and she's a good friend.

Thank you, Alina! I'm so glad we met.

Second, I have the most awesome critique partners in Tami Hart Johnson (The Watery Tart, link) and Carolyn Snow Abiad (Serendipity, link). (Yes. Be jealous.)

The Watery Tart
These guys have been with me from almost the beginning. They've read my drafts, offered advice, held my hand when I had no clue what an agent wanted in a R&R request...

They've encouraged and reassured me every time I've lost it, but they've also done the virtual slap-slap-slap thing when I've been freaking out.

Thank you, Carolyn and Tami! Where would I be without you?

My newest critter, Susan K. Quinn (Inkspells, link) has been a supercool friend for a few years now. I reviewed her debut novel Life, Liberty & Pursuit (link), and from that, we got to know each other better and better.

Dr. Quinn
Dr. Q is very smart. She's a rocket scientist! And on top of all that, she happily gives away free, valuable advice for writers considering the leap to self-publishing. So if that's you, visit her site (link)!

Thank you, Susan! You are a great friend to me and to all writers.

Last but not least, I can't forget my writing partner Janet Johnson (Musings of a Children's Writer, link), the unofficial Clean Up Fairy.

If it weren't for her 30K in 30 Days challenge, I probably wouldn't have finished my book last month. She made me laugh every day, she cracked the whip, and she sent me a hacky sack. How great is that?

So big ((jugs)) to Janet. Thank you, CUF!

And all of YOU reading are wonderful friends who I value. If I hadn't reluctantly started blogging in 2010, I would've probably given up on this whole thing. So Thank You!

My five got little Amazon gift-card-happies, but Becca and Angela have a special RAOK gift waiting for you--so click on over to The Bookshelf Muse (link) and pick it up.

And please TELL ME about your special people in the comments section. Better still, tell THEM!

Have a great week, reader- and writer-friends~ <3

Monday, May 7, 2012

Back, Books, and Breakouts

I'm Back! And I have to confess. last month was a total blur. Finished my WIP, revised it, prepped another MS for subs...

Let me start off saying a Big Congratulations! to everyone who completed the A-Z Challenge. I couldn't do it this year, but I think more than a thousand of you did. Great work!

The second of my three Bs up there is a new Book! is coming out June 5, and it is awesome.

Some of you might know Tami Hart Johnson, The Watery Tart, and my critter extraordinaire (link). She's writing a new mystery series. Here's my review of Book 1:

AZALEA ASSAULT (June 5) (link)
by Alyse Carlson (that's TH's pen name)

The first in a new series of gardening-themed mysteries led by amateur sleuth Camellia "Cam" Harris, it's layered and unexpected and very fun. (I kept thinking I knew who the killer was, and I was wrong every time!)

Cam is a lovable, grown-up Nancy Drew-style main character. She's the new PR person for the Roanoke Garden Society, and she's suddenly faced with a murder to manage in her old home town.

She learns new things about her old friends, and as the story progresses, everyone takes a turn being favorite suspect.

It's a quick read, and Carlson kept me guessing all the way to the end. If you're a friend or blog-follower,  you'll enjoy catching dashes of the author's trademark, sassy humor throughout.

Even if you're not a regular cozy-mystery reader, do give this one a whirl. It's twisty, turny, and tons of fun! Can't wait to see what mystery Cam tackles next (in "The Begonia Bribe").

Here's the link to it on Amazon (link). Get it!

Finally, for the Breakout (not acne). Last year about this time, I did a post about my memories of the Kentucky Derby. That post is here (link) if you're interested.

On Saturday, I was all prepared to root for Take Charge Indy or Union Rags, when a 15 to 1 shot, a Mexican jockey riding in his very first Derby on Cinco de Mayo, came out from behind and won the race.

Here's the link to coverage. (link)

I think they said the owner--a man who used to work two jobs, one of which was laying telephone wire at night--bought the winner I'll Have Another (cookie) for $11K.

His son wants to get a hot tub with their winnings.

How much fun is that?

Yes, friends, I confess. I'm a romantic old derby fan, and that was what it's all about.

Dreams. Inspiration.

Have a great week, reader- and writer-friends. It's good to be back! And if you would, leave me an update in the comments section. I'd love to hear your news~ <3