Sunday, March 31, 2013

To edit a line.

Warning to non-writers: If you get bored with nuts-and-bolts stuff, this one’s not for you.

My method of writing is not the usual draft-it-all-first approach. I’ve tried that and it doesn’t work for me. If I don’t get it the way I want it, early on, there’s no sense in continuing. Because what comes first influences what follows. I take my idea and start expanding it. While mentally (and sometimes on paper) exploring its potential, I begin to perfect it.

I do this with every line. One line builds from another, until there’s unity within the whole.

Here’s an example of the progression of a sentence in a work in progress, my middle grade* novel, Hans Andersen’s Ghost. The scene: Skim, a boy of twelve, is left standing in the dark on a hilltop far from home. One of the motifs in the story is shoes (he keeps a key in his left shoe).

I'll start with the first version of the sentence. I would include the sentence before it, but this is the beginning of a new paragraph.

» There’s a rumble again; he feels it through the soles of his shoes. (I’m thinking: Hmm … “the soles of his shoes” —echoes of Paul Simon … a distraction, too sing-song for this moment.)

» There’s a rumble again; he feels it through his shoes. (Better, but it does not convey the immediacy of the feeling, because it’s telling us what he feels rather than sending us the feeling.)

» There’s a rumble again, rumbling right through his shoes. (Now we can feel what he feels. But I'll try an even closer description.)

» There’s a rumble again, rumbling up through his shoes. (There. It gives a sense of the vibration and its direction, from the ground up. I considered reinserting “the soles of”—it sounds good, but that added detail might compete with the rumble.)

Now for the next line, to see how it fits.

There’s a rumble again, rumbling up through his shoes. Louder it grows, and stronger, like a mammoth mole tunneling under his feet.

I like the alliteration of the uh sound (rumble, rumbling, up, tunneling, under ... there are actually nine uh sounds in these two lines)—it enhances the uh-oh—something’s-about-to-happen sense I want to convey. But I have a problem with the prosody the word tunneling creates. It has too many syllables that make the sentence drag at the end. So I consider some synonyms and come up with a few possibilities: burrow, grub, and bore. Bore is a little odd and calls attention to itself (besides lacking the uh sound), and burrow/ing is no better than tunneling. So, grub it is. Grubbing—two syllables. And I like the scariness of it.

There’s a rumble again, rumbling up through his shoes. Louder it grows, and stronger, like a mammoth mole grubbing under his feet.

But, being a finicky writer, I think it still drags. So, I do as they say: I’m killing that darling grub.

There’s a rumble again, rumbling up through his shoes. Louder it grows, and stronger, like a mammoth mole under his feet.

I think that says it. It might be even scarier.

—Troy Howell

*middle grade defines fiction specifically suited for readers ages 8-12

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Writing for Young Readers

"I have a great idea for a book." 

Great ideas are wonderfully exciting! The hard part is knowing what to do with it. How does one become a writer? There are many answers to that question, and one of them is to get involved in the writing opportunities in your community. There are writers who live right here in Richmond who have had great ideas for books and figured out how to get them published. 

On April 27th, the Mid-Atlantic Region of the Society of Children’s Book
Writers and Illustrators is hosting their Spring Mingle and New Member Welcome. This local event is perfect for anyone interested in learning to write for young readers. Best of all: It's free! 

Changing the World One Reader at a Time

Featured Speaker: Louise Hawes

Author of Black Pearls, Rosey in the Present Tense, Anteaters Don’t Dream, and other books for young readers. Co-author of the graphic novel, A Flight of AngelCo-founder of the MFA program in writing for children and young
adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Meet and greet
Break-out groups for writing exercises
Book sales and signing

Saturday, April 27, 2013
1:00 - 4:30 p.m.
Richmond Public Library
101 East Franklin Street


Please pre-register by April 25, and bring pen & paper for writing exercises. To pre-register, email your name and break-out group preference to

Break-out groups:

picture book (PB)
middle grade (MG)
young adult (YA) 
illustrators (IL)
nonfiction (NF)

Facilitators for break-out groups: Gigi Amateau, Ellen Braaf, Ginjer Clarke, Troy HowellErica Kirov, Lana Krumwiede, Meg Medina, Anne Marie Pace, Brian Rock, and A. B. Westrick.

Many of us from Richmond Children's Writers will be there, and we would love to meet you!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Blog Tour: Interview with Brian Rock

Today we have an interview with Brian Rock, author of The Deductive Detective, just out from Sylvan Dell!
1. How did you come up with the idea for a Deductive Detective?
My daughter's favorite stuffed animal (and constant sidekick) is a duck named Quacky. I wanted to write a story for them, but I wanted it to stand out from some of the other great duck books like Make Way For Ducklings and Little Quack. So I started doing free word associations with the word duck. Duck...Ducky...Deduct...Deductive. Then I thought a deductive duck might be a fun story. And from there, I just "followed the clues" to the Deductive Detective!" 

2. Please describe your writing process as you developed The Deductive Detective.
Since this is a whodunit story, I actually had to start with the end and work backwards. Once I had my idea for the detective, I had to create a crime for him to solve - someone stole a cake. Then I had to create the culprit, then I had to create other possible suspects and create the trail of clues that would eliminate each one as the perpetrator.

3. Were you allowed to contribute to the decision regarding the selection of an illustrator?
No. But that's the norm for authors who don't illustrate their own titles.

4. Are you happy with the illustrations for The Deductive Detective?
Yes, Sherry did a great job of bringing my story to life. I especially like the way she decorated each of the cakes in the story to correspond with its baker. Very clever!

5. Do you have any specific advice for writers of picture books? Comments?
Keep writing! Thinking about writing, talking about writing, even going to writer's conferences is not writing. The more you actually put words on paper, the better you will get. Secondly, join a critique group with other children's writers.

No matter how great I think one of my stories is, I always get good suggestions to make it better from my critique group; and I never send anything to editors until I've revised it with input from my group. And as an added bonus, I get to read some really great mss. from some very talented children's authors - for free!


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Pixar Rules! & Pixar's Rules

Everyone knows when it comes to storytelling, Pixar rules! (Don't even pretend you didn't cry at the end of Toy Story 3!) If you're starting out as a writer or even if you're an established writer, you could learn a lot about Pixar's character development, pacing, and plot twists. Or you could just copy down Pixar's 22 Rules of Storytelling straight from the horse's mouth. Aerogramme Writers Studio (among others) has posted this list of story creating and refining ideas from Emma Coats, Pixar’s Story Artist. My personal favorite is #4, which is a nice reminder how simple the basic structure of any story from picture book to novel can be: 4.Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___. But check out all 22 tips, you're bound to find something that inspires!

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Deductive Detective is on the case!

Last week, the world got its first peep at Brian Rock’s latest picture book: The Deductive Detective.

This delightful book is filled with everything kids like: animals, mystery, humor, and suspense. Parents and educators will love the fact that this book teaches reasoning skills-- like sneaking zucchini into brownies! 

Brian’s book launch party at the Children’s Museum was just as amazing as his new book. In addition to treating us to an author reading, Brian had a real-life detective talk to the crowd. Yummy cupcakes and rubber duckies galore made the atmosphere fun for both kids and adults.

Thanks, Brian, for a terrific party for a terrific book!

Be sure to check out Brian's other titles:

Friday, March 15, 2013

Word Play for St. Patrick's Day

March seems a fun month for bits of playful prose and word shenanigans generally.
There's palindromes, a word or phrase that is the same forward or backward. For example, the classic, "A man, a plan, a canal, Panama," and "Madam, I'm Adam." From Time magazine we learn that palindromes were celebrated recently in the first annual SymmyS awards for “outstanding palindrome achievement” organized by stand-up comedian Mark Saltveit, who runs the online  Palindromist magazine out of Portland, Ore. The prizes for this painstaking battle of the wits are bragging rights and pencils decorated with author Jon Agee’s palindrome “Todd erases a red dot.” Hundreds of submissions were narrowed down to 40 finalists, ten in each of four categories: long, short, poetry and word-unit (i.e., palindromes that reverse words rather than letters, like “All for one, and one for all!”).

See the winners at (caveat emptor, some are a bit naughty!)
And of course, in time for St. Patrick's Day, the limerick, a silly poem with five lines. They are often funny or nonsensical. From

There was an Old Man of Kilkenny,
Who never had more than a penny;
He spent all that money,
In onions and honey,
That wayward Old Man of Kilkenny.
Last but not least, the 6 word essay. Hemmingway celebrated this form, opining that any writer worth his/her salt could write an entire story in 6 words. He provided the classic example: "Baby shoes for sale, never worn."

How about you? If you are suffering from writers block or are having trouble coming up with a plot twist or interesting character for a story, try writing a palindrome, limerick or a 6 word essay. I bet something good will come from all that play time!

(Thanks to Dan for his help with this post!)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Haiku for Spring

Sunrise in cold white
Alarm red through grey-green trees
Nascent spring cut off

The snow against the green tip of my emerging
spring bulb seems to personify the warm/cold/
warm/cold character of this seasonal transition.

I hope my tulips survive to bloom!