Dried Cereal

Yesterday, as I was cleaning up yet another unsavory mess, the question came to mind, what is worse, worrying about teenagers getting drunk and having sex? Or stepping in poo and/or pee every day? 

Today is the first day of school for my oldest. He is in second grade, rode his gigantic bike all by himself (with Dad and little brother trailing–I’m a little protective), and decided he wanted to use his dad’s old messenger bag instead of a backpack. I love him. And I can’t believe he is this old. And not pooing on the carpet. Or etching his name in our van (and if you know his name, you will know why this was pretty bad). 

I go from moments of utter overwhelming-want to scream-chaos, to feelings of nostalgia and sadness that these boys are growing up faster than I have time to breathe. 

Sometimes I feel like I never get ahead. I never get anything done. I never write enough. I’m never becoming the person I could become because I’m too busy scraping dried banana off the floor. Or stopping fights. Or beating myself up for yelling. Or eating chocolate chips with peanut butter in my closet.

What if I could be a prolific, famous, influential writer holed up in a beach house on the Oregon coast, creating poetry and music that could change the world if I only had time? Or what if I could be traveling to Egypt or India or Africa and learning and saving and teaching and  becoming a wise and traveled soul full of memoir-material If I didn’t have this house and these responsibilities and this kitchen floor? Or what if I could be a full time professor, immersed in study and reading and writing and talking and going to lunch and flying away to Rome on sabbatical and changing young minds if only there was no laundry? 

One of my favorite books is the Bell Jar. I love it because I related to it as a young women and in some ways, I relate now. She has all these things in front of her: jobs, more school, boyfriends. How to choose? How to make decisions that will forever shape the rest of our lives? I think YA lit if full of these kinds of questions. Maybe all lit. is. Who are we? Who do we want to become? How do we know what we want to become? And what if it’s the wrong choice? Is there a wrong choice? And how do we find joy right where we are? And if we can’t find joy right where we are, what do we do about it? 

I am tired often. I have a lot of kids and I have one more coming. Sometimes I do find myself wondering. Wishing. Maybe even envying. But at the end of the day, I know down in my intestines, that this is a good place for me. That seeing him ride off on his bike, my heart breaking but also soaring just a little bit, is what I’m supposed to be doing right now. I will keep writing. I will keep thinking about these pretend people and their decisions and their heart-breaks and their triumphs and I will keep scraping rice Chex off the floor. 

Because that’s who I am right now. 


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Belly Flopping into Writing

by Lisa Sledge


The summer before my sophomore year of high school, I decided I wanted to develop a new talent. Hopelessly unathletic, I had a couple of friends on the swim team and decided it was as good a place as any to start. At least I wouldn’t have to throw a ball.

I was scared. I couldn’t swim from one end of the pool to the other. And I really didn’t like getting water up my nose.

One of my friends, Jennifer, saw how nervous I was and took me under her wing. We rode bikes to the city swimming pool every morning at 6:30, usually in the Seattle rain, and she worked with me to build endurance and gain confidence.

Can you imagine spending your summer as a teenager getting up that early for a friend? It’s not like I paid her. She was just that kind of person.


Twenty years later and here I am, pushing myself toward another crazy goal—publication. Once again there are good friends and kind people pushing me forward, giving me encouragement. It’s true that in spite of my best efforts, I could fail. But I feel blessed.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the people in our lives who support us. The ones who go along with our crazy ideas and bet on us when they know the risk of failure is high.

It could be a childhood friend , family member, or significant other. Maybe instead of a single individual, it’s a group friends. We all need someone.


Who sees through your main character’s flaws to their potential? What would happen to your MC if that person was taken away? What happens if they never experience that type of unconditional support and love? Would they look for a substitute? Is it possible to find one?

And who is your MC fiercely loyal to?

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Three Things Thursday!

Cheryl Van Eck
Powerful girls in YA is a topic that could fill books, and my WIP is making me question all my previous beliefs.
After starting this one, my previous projects feel like an elaborate form of make-believe. I designed characters I wanted to be and worlds I wanted to live in.
However, this project is different. I don’t want to be this character, but she’s a part of me. She’s the fragile part of me. The naive part. The scared, shy, uncertain part.
And when I let my main character just be, she came alive. I always made strong female characters, because that’s what the world needs, right? I don’t think so. I think the world just needs girls, period. All shapes, all sizes, all personalities. We don’t need to be loud, abrasive, and tomboyish in order to be strong. In fact, isn’t that the opposite of what we should be arguing? Girls don’t have to act like boys to be respected.
Best example: Melanie in Gone With the Wind. Sure, Scarlett was the epitome of strength. But Melanie  held all the power. When she spoke, everyone listened and obeyed. Her judgements were law, always. And why? Because of her never ending love, kindness, and pure respectability.
What do you think? What is your definition of a powerful woman?
Cari Lee
If my Italian was better, I would have understood “orange peel vodka” instead of orange peel “water” before the burn down my throat.  Whoops.  I still heard “orange peel water” as I questioned the waiter again.  My distracted husband yelled “vodka”  and looked up to see my guilty red face.

My weakness is to worry. I worry about everything.  It’s paralyzing. I am Wemberly, in “Wemberly Worried” by Kevin Henkes. My inner voice constantly says, “How can I read my story in my critique group?  It might be so bad everyone will laugh.” “How can I ever think what I write will be good enough for anyone to enjoy?”

What I have learned:
Make mistakes.  Make big, innocent mistakes.  My list of mistakes in the past month is long.  And this one is a doozy.  It’s embarrassing, yet my husband and I are still chuckling at the “orange peel shot” after five days.

Do you know what a relief it is to not be perfect?
Mistakes cause us to reevaluate.
Writing is no different. How would you write this differently the next time?
Open your eyes and ears.  Be humble. Try again. Enjoy the process.
Brenda Bensch
I LOVE this as a writing prompt (like last week’s note from me, this one also came from Greg Leitich Smith‘s WIFYR class this year):
Pick an endowed object and identify it. He explains “An endowed object is something like a hat that not only covers one’s head, but has emotional meaning to the protagonist, maybe his mother gave it to him before she died, etc.”
It would also be a good idea to describe, briefly, how you would incorporate this object in a significant way in your story: 200-300 words, maybe.

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More Writing Hints

Character One
Dave Munk

Sometimes secondary characters are flat and stale. This can create an odd balance in the story which will tip the reader towards the alright-I’m-kinda-bored side of the scale. There are many ways to develop characters, all of which can be used for main characters and secondary characters. For example, you can interview them or write their back story. But I suggest one exercise that can truly benefit the secondary cast in a story: write a scene or two from the perspective of the minor character. Learn how the he thinks and reacts. What does he pay attention to? What things in his environment does he recognize? What does he feel and how does he describe it? What are his motivations? How does he view the others around him? As you get to know your minor characters they will become interesting. Dialogue will improve and the sense of place will be enhanced. And most important, people will want to continue reading.

Character Two
Tamara Leatham Bailey
When I fall in love with a book, it is because I adore the main character.  That character becomes my BFF.  I don’t want our time together to end.  I can’t resist turning the page, but I never want to turn the last one. So, why is the thing that I love deeply in my favorite books the aspect of writing that, for me, remains one of Scooby-Doo’s unsolved mysteries.
One component that I’ve studied to strengthen character is giving the character an objective.  Each character must want something, and that character’s actions are determined by her goal.  For example Velma Dinkley, in the Scooby Doo series, wants to solve mysteries, so she asks questions and searches for clues.
Besides a story objective, the character must have a ruling passion.  That passion is the central, motivating force that drives the character.  The driving force may be to be loved, revenge, or to protect themselves and others. Velma is ruled by her passion to be a genius.

Whatever the ruling passion, it must be powerful and unchanging, enough to motivate the character throughout the story, or stories.
For Velma, it has motivated her for forty-six years.


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Mad Mystery

Dear Everyone,

Happy Tuesday. Today I hope I get in some real clothes that can fit over my belly. I also hope that I write something. And I hope to make something for dinner other than quesadillas.

The other day I checked out a mystery at the library that SEVERAL people had recommended. I read it. Fast. The premise was intriguing from the start–an old unsolved mystery that comes back up because a new murder has occurred in the same spot. The lure of TWO murder mysteries, one old and storied, one new and present, was a very big draw for me. I don’t usually read a lot of mysteries but I wanted something that would pull me in and keep me reading (I’ve been putting down a lot of books lately).

Well, I finished it and . . . the author only solved one of the mysteries. The new one. Not the old, most compelling one. In fact, throughout the entire novel, she had the MC remember more and more details about the old mystery, dangling these scenes and these memories seemingly moving toward some kind of answer and then . . . NOTHING.

I was so frustrated.

I really was.

And I am all for not tying things up in a bow but in a murder mystery isn’t there some kind of rule that you must umm, solve the mystery? Isn’t that part of the contract with the reader? This was a more literary adult mystery so maybe you can break that rule but I have to say, I was left unsatisfied. And bugged.

So you mystery writers, what do you think? Do you have to solve the mystery? When can you break the rules? How forgiving do you expect your reader to be? Do you have examples of other mysteries that do this and it didn’t make you mad? The writing was good, btw. And she did answer the one mystery but not the one that was far more intriguing and pretty much unsolvable (which is what made it so frustrating that she didn’t solve it! Like I can write a crazy murder premise with weird sounds and blood and scratch marks and all kinds of spooky stuff if I don’t have to actually say why all those things are happening).

Sometimes I think I’d like to write a mystery, a really good one but I recognize how very very difficult it is.

That’s all for today! Hope you get some good quesadillas for dinner


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And Becca Birkin Went to SCBWI . . .

by Becca Birkin!

I got back from SCBWILA a week ago. It was exhausting, and reminded me that the writing world is fast-paced. Agents and editors are very busy. Not only can they afford to be picky, they have to be.

 “The quality of what’s being published these days is very high, and your manuscript may be very good, but they are holding out for great.” SCBWI Market Report, Deborah Halverson.
So what can we do to move our manuscripts from good to great? The following is advice from the editor/agent panels.
Structure: Wendy Loggia, executive editor at Delacorte, likes manuscripts that show mindfulness in structure and clear vision of what the book will look like. The book Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher is an example. The main story and the backstory of the girl are separated with visual “play” and “pause” icons.
Uniqueness: Marylee Donnely of Candlewick Press said, “When I find something that’s fresh or exciting, it’s like meeting a new person that enchants or excites you. This is a storyteller I want to listen to.”
Your book is going to be up against hundreds of others in your category. Can you probe deeper for that extra element which could make your story stand out?
Polish and Pitch: While it’s a fast-paced world, “There is no speeding up how to get better as a writer,” said Luica Montcreve of Dial BFYR. So do your work. Write, revise, repeat.
As you edit, make sure you create a great pitch. This is your chance to frame the unique and special in your story, something with a word-of-mouth factor. Use specific details that make it stand out. “A story about a boy whose family doesn’t love him” could be lots of plots. “A boy with magical power must defeat the wizard who killed his parents” has instant recognition.
Now go back and make sure your story is as strong as your tagline. As you craft a great pitch and a unique story that lives up to that expectation, your manuscript is another step closer to great.

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Matryoshka Dolls and Character Development

by Lisa Sledge

Several years ago, my sister-in-law went to Russia. When she came back, she surprised us with one of those Russian nesting dolls. It has nine layers and looks beautiful sitting on top of the book case in our office, right where I can see it.

I had an especially frustrating writing day last Thursday. After pulling at my hair and doing a face plant on my keyboard, I saw the nesting doll. She looked so smug. As pretty as she is, all dolls kind of freak me out. It didn’t help that it was 1am. Stupid things scare me when I’m tired.

So I yanked her off her shelf and disassembled her. Take that, creepy doll.

I took her apart and put her back together at least three times. As I did, my thoughts drifted to my characters.

When I began writing, my MC had only one layer. The rest of him was hollow.

Real people don’t work that way. We’re complicated. Our outer layer, the one easiest to see,  is only the beginning. What’s inside adds beauty and depth to who we are. There are layers of both good and evil—in all of us.

Our job is to sculpt authentic individuals out of words.  As a new writer, I’m struggling with this aspect of my book.

So help me out.

What do you do that helps you discover, understand, and stay true to the layers within your characters?


Here’s a Little about Lisa:

1. I’m working to make my first crappy novel not so crappy anymore so it can get published. I hope.

2. I have five belly buttons. Okay, not really. But I kind of do.

3. I used to think I’d be a doctor. Then I discovered blood makes me pass out. Paper cut kind of bleeding is okay, but please don’t ask me to help if someone’s bones are sticking out or they are gushing blood. Unconscious people aren’t good for much during an emergency.

4. On a slightly related note, the people I fear most are surgeons and those crazy ladies at baby showers who feel they have to tell everyone their most devastating labor and delivery stories. I’ve had two babies and no baby showers.

5. I taught English and remedial reading for three and a half years. Right now, I’m staying home with the kids. I love where I’m at in life and what I’m doing, but once in a while I miss my days as a teacher. My students were hilarious, witty, and sometimes very sad. They were full of unwritten stories. I used to write for them. I still do.
(photo to come) (I hope) (we’ll see) (I’ll have a daughter help me)


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