Author Archives: CLW

Three Things Friday


We’re just gonna have to change TTT until I’m not teaching so early Thursday mornings.

I’m reading a book and loving it. It’s called The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith. Smith won a 2015 Printz Honor for  Grasshopper Jungle.
Have you read either book? What do you think?



Have you submitted work to a contest, or a publisher, or an agent lately? How about to a critique group? Or just to a friend to get a “first impression” of your work?
It’s tough, no matter whether your “critic” knows what he or she is doing or not. If he/she does know what to do, what to recommend, did you really want to know what someone thought of it? Or did you just want a pat on the back.
I think most people truly involved with writing may know what they’re saying. They may not always know how hurtful it can be. On the other hand, if you gave the materials up willingly, hopefully, you need to take their ideas into consideration.
Here are two people with writing ability and knowledge who have interesting takes on the process:
“Listen carefully to first criticisms of your work. Not just what it is about your work the critics don’t like — then cultivate it. That’s the part of your work that’s individual and worth keeping.” ~ Jean Cocteau
“I would recommend the cultivation of extreme indifference to both praise and blame because praise will lead you to vanity, and blame will lead you to self-pity, and both are bad for writers.” John Berryman
This year I was  excited to be able to work as a judge for book awards again. As you might imagine, one of the most difficult aspects is ranking the books you read yesterday to the ones you read six months ago.
Therefore, I present Cheryl’s Rubric of Amazingness! I have ten sections, and for each section I award up to ten points. It’s not a perfect system (for instance, this year I had a three-way tie at 94) but it works for me.
Quality of storyline
-Is there a strong arc? Is there an opening, a point of no return, etc, etc.?
-Is the climax effective? Is it in the correct place?
-Is the first page strong? Does the story start in the correct place?
-is the ending strong? Is the story problem resolved? Is it cut off early to force room for a sequel?
Character arc
-does the character change and grow?
-is the character’s motivation known?
-is the character likeable?
-is the character relatable?
Character voice
-is it unique?
-is it recognizable?
-is it realistic?
Secondary characters
-are they fleshed out?
-do they have their own arcs?
-are they cliche?
-is it realistic?
-is it appropriate to the characters?
-is there some that should have been eliminated? (Hellos, goodbyes, etc.)
Storytelling (suspense)
-is the story original?
-do I want to keep reading?
-do I feel the way the author intended for me to feel?
-does it flow smoothly?
-does the arc rise organically or is it forced?
-is there enough/too much time spent in each part of the storyline?
Genre Specific Questions:
(This example is for fantasy, romance or coming-of-age novels would have different questions)
-Originality of world and magic
-Is there a cost to magic?
-Is the description woven in, or is it info dumped?
Quality of writing

-are there incorrect dialogue tags?
-are there adverbs where there should be stronger verbs?
-do the metaphors work? Are they awkward or forced? Are they appropriate for the character?
-are the descriptions strong? Are they overly loquacious? Is there a strong sense of place?
-is the setting strong? Is there a “feel” for the area? Is the town/country unique and defined?
Grammar and editing
-purple prose
-poor grammar/spelling
-run-on sentences
-variation of sentence length, musicality of prose
-sentences that all start the same way
-overuse of phrases
-recycled images
NOTE FROM CAROL–So you could use this as you write your own books.

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Kyra Leigh, Queen Bee

Guys, I suck at the blog.
I just suck.
Work life is crazy. Writing life is crazy. Moving life is crazy. And of course the love life….
None existent. So at least there’s that.

It’s almost Valentine’s Day again.
Singles awareness.
Just another day to remind me how alone I truly am. {ha ha ha!}

I met a boy I can’t seem to quit. We used to see each other a lot. I sort of liked him for awhile.
And then it didn’t work out.
Then I ran into him again and something weird happened and now my guts feel all confused and irritated {like IBS, only much, much worse} and I can’t figure out why.
Only I CAN. He’s PLAYING me.  Playing games with my brain and making me think about him and miss him and blah blah blah garbage garbage. But I FALL for it. I fall for every text and call and nice comment. I eat that shit up. WHY? I hate it.
I’m not good at games, or thinking about men.
So now I think I need to write a romance.

But when writing a romance, does one talk about the games? The confusion? The heartache?

The dating world is so different now. Everyone’s using apps and have all these artificial relationships.
Is that what needs to happen in a romance novel?
Is that what romance IS?

I just don’t get it. Dating, or writing, romance.
All I know is this…. My character WILL find an amazing person.
One who makes her crazy and a little confused. But he’ll mostly just love her.

And then Mom and I will hunt down that person’s doppelganger, and make them love us.


Okay. Over and out.


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My Monday List

  1. Go to the doctor for blood work. See if the nurse can collapse another vein.
  2. Find mates to the gabillion socks that are lonely and waiting on my sofa. Hmmm. That sounds a little like me. Lonely and waiting on my sofa.
  3. Watch this again.   Hey, BTW, just want you to notice what my favorite singer/songwriter says about phones.
  4. Make copies of pages for the Stephen Fraser Workshop  There are still spots left if you want to just sit in and listen and observe.
  5. Pick a book to work on with Ann Dee from our three fantastic ideas. At least think about what we should do over the next week or two. Take a few notes. Dream up a character. Maybe?
  6. Gather tax stuff. I’m even going to make an appointment to see my tax guy THIS MONTH. THIS WEEK. TODAY, I will call and make an appointment with my great tax guy.
  7. Gather ex-husband stuff for lawyer (you don’t want to know). Or maybe, if you are anything like me, you DO want to know.
  8. Do twitter-ish stuff. One of my New Year’s goals is to learn how to use Twitter. I’m gonna do it! Have made one twit this morning. Will make another soon. Are two twits a day enough to make a twitter?
  9. Go to dinner with my youngest daughter.
  10. Buy fruits and vegetables and maybe make bread.
  11. Write toward my goal of 6,000 new words this week.
  12. Check in with my dear heart Debbie Nance. You can purchase her book here:  My book arrives on Friday.

What are you gonna do?

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A Gift to You

Every semester at the beginning of my creative writing classes, or every June for Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers, I meet people who don’t have time to write.

I get it.

There are lots of things I don’t have time for–cleaning out the fridge, going grocery shopping, arguing with people I don’t like.

But the stuff I really care about–my religion, my kids, my friends and my writing? I make time for that.

For some reason we writers feel like our writing just isn’t as important as someone else’s full time job. Perhaps this is, in part, the  way our society views what we do.

“Oh, you’re a writer? That means you’re home all day? Can you help me with ABC.” And they AREN’T asking about the alphabet.

(Stay at home Moms–you’ve probably been asked to do tons for others because you are at home and that means, you know, that you have more time because you aren’t as busy.)

“Will you read my novel?”

“Will you edit my novel?”

“Will you watch my kids as I go tan?”

Over the years I’ve met lots of people who want to publish.

Some never will  because they are waiting for Time to fall in their laps instead of taking Time.

Some always allow what they consider more important to get in way of their writing.

Some are afraid.

If you have learned anything from this blog where we all complain, it’s that writing is HARD.

But, it’s also worth it.

At the end of each semester I say to my students, “You have permission to give yourself the gift of writing. An hour each day. Thirty minutes. Whatever you chose. Writing to you is as important as the car mechanic going to the shop to work or the doctor to the her office. Allow yourself to think your writing time is sacred. Is your own. Is a gift to you, from you.”

So what will YOU do to make time to reach your writing goals?


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Three Thing Thursday



I just finished THIS MONSTROUS THING by Mackenzi Lee. What an absolutely incredible novel. 

It is, above all things, profound. As a reader, I was drawn in to the protagonist’s decision making process, trying to will him into making the choices I would make. Then I was forced to face judgment on my own decisions. It gave me a horrifying glimpse inside my own mind.
After all, am I good or am I clever?
The novel isn’t filled with flowery phrases or expansive vocabulary. It’s clear, concise, and to the point. The characters are not good or evil, simply human.
As I closed the book, all I could think was, “I wish I could write like that. I wish I could make people feel things like that. I wish I could create characters that come to life.”
I don’t know if I ever will be able to. But I feel a renewed determination to try.
Mark your calendar!
Steve Fraser (Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency) is coming to town!
Hear his speech at BYU on February 24, 2016. It will be at 6:30 pm.
Room # to come.
Also, only a few morning spots left at Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers. (
We have lots of classes to choose from in the afternoons and we’re excited about our faculty this year, like the AMAZING Trent Reedy.
Some of you may have heard him when he came to WIFYR a few years back. He was our keynote.
He and I were in the same graduating class at Vermont College and I love him. He’s smart, passionate, and he and I had a session or two of slow saunters around campus, talking books.
I’ll call this one “Sisyphus and His Rock”:
I just read a heart-breaking story about a college fellow who decided, finally, to share his novel with a trusted friend and able writing mentor. The student gave him a beautiful, thick, leather binder with tabs for each of many chapters. He sat on the student’s bed and read the first chapter, getting more and more excited, because — though long (34 pages) — it was good: opened well; had great visuals; pacing and language were both accessible. And the reader LOVED the characters.  Excited, he turned, finally, to chapter 2.
Twenty pages of blank paper.  Ditto for the other 18 tabbed sections.
The mentor said he thought this fellow “had been working on his story for rather a long time.” “Eleven years this February,” he answered.
And the entire time was spent writing, revising, rewriting the first chapter until it was “perfect.”  The mentor compared the work to Sisyphus’ trying to push a rock up the mountain only to have it tumble down again,  where he would start over.
I’m neither that good, nor that bad, I suppose: but I’m embarrassed to say I have 13 novels in various stages of “not-done.” Some are quite long. Some, not much more than a chapter or the barest essentials of an MC or two, and a couple of incidents to be fleshed out. I’m not like that college kid: I stop when something else catches my eye (or interest). . . “squirrel!” . . . And I may not get back to “it” (which ever “it” it may be) for months and months. Or even years.
How many “ROCKS” do YOU have? Are our rocks doomed to bury us, bring us down? Fortunately, my most complicated of stories (YEARS old by now, and heavily researched) has finally caught my interest again, and I’m trying to capitalize on the excitement which has re-entered my heart in its behalf.
I’ll go to my “next biggest” rock, as soon as I get through pushing this one to the peak. And I’m wearin’ my runnin’ shoes.

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Writing What Makes You Cringe

I remember hearing (from a  friend) an interview with  Stephen King. (I’m completely giving this story to you third hand. That means it may be completely wrong.)

Anyway, in the interview, King said  once he heard someone step on a roach and he (King) just cringed. Then he thought, “I want to make readers feel that way.”

Is that true? Maybe. But the idea of writing something that will make a reader cringe (in this case because it’s scary) is smart. We want our readers to feel emotions when they read our novels.

But how?

A few days ago a friend asked me to write something for a collection she’s editing. I won’t say what or anything in case my piece doesn’t get in. But I will say this–I was worried. It’s dark and sad. And my writing about this will sort of bare my soul. It took me three days to write less than 300 words. Then, I cried when I talked to my girls about it. Felt embarrassment about the topic. About the words I’d put to paper.

It occurred to me that when I write I do poke around at emotions. Lots of times I’m heart-heavy when I write a sad book. And the easiest novels I ever write are the ones that fill me with joy because those books are–wait for it–happy.

But have I ever felt the way this essay has made me feel? So raw? So exposed?

I think so. It’s part of my process. A hard part sometimes. But a necessary part.

If you want your readers to feel whatever it is you want to convey, then you better know that feeling inside and out.

The words have to ring true. The emotion needs to be palpable. The reader needs to feel like the character. Needs to BE the character.

So if you scare yourself, you are probably scaring your reader.

Remember that the next time you crunch a roach.



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Three Thing Thursday


We have 2 or 3 spots left in the 2-day workshop with Steve Fraser, agent with the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency.

Go here for information:

Two Days with Stephen Fraser



 I took on a project. A writing project. It’s just a short story to be put in an anthology with some other authors, but it’s more than I’ve been doing for a long time. 

I’m nervous. Do I still have it? Did I ever?
I don’t know. But I’m going to try.
And the beautiful thing? Almost as soon as I agreed, ideas poured into my head. Like they’ve been waiting for me. Like they’ve been holding back, respecting my space, understanding that I’m sleep deprived and stressed and being pushed beyond my limits. But as soon as I called out, they were there.
I’m not ready. But I’m going for it anyway.
This quote puzzled me: “A writer shouldn’t be engaged with other writers, or with people who make books, or even with people who read them. The farther away you get from the literary traffic, the closer you are to sources. I mean, a writer doesn’t really live, he observes” ~ Nelson Algren
WHAT ? ? ?
Now, this is a man who wrote, “Never Come Morning” WITH some help/input from Kurt Vonnegut — a “friend” with whom he taught at a university. Moreover, his books, all out of print at Algren’s death, were defended and resurrected by the likes of some of his writer “friends”: Russell Banks, James R. Giles; Studs Turkel, who evidently took on the task of republishing his out-of-print or banned books.
So my advice is hang out with writers. Find a critique group, or “Found” a critique group. Go to Life, the Universe and Everything (LTUE), or LDStorymakers, or Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers (WIFYR). Do a summer National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) at Camp NaNo, and make online friends with your writing buddies. Then do it again in November. And there are others as well.  (And GO LIVE TOO ! ! ! )
Writers helping writers. That’s what a REAL writing community is: and your writer friends will give advice, explain some of the “rules,” offer helpful critiques, encourage you when you’re ready to give up, hug you when you need it most, and generally KEEP YOU WRITING ! ! !

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