Author: Angela

My October: Back Pain, Binge Reading, and NaNoWriMo

Three weeks ago, I threw out my back. It’s not the first time and won’t be the last.

I’ve been trying to convince myself that this is like a forced vacation. A chance to catch up on reading and Netflix.

I have, indeed, done a ton of reading. According to Goodreads, I’ve clocked an average of one middle grade or young adult book every two days. That’s great for my 2017 reading challenge, but the novelty has worn off.

2017 Goodreads Books reading challenge status

So now that I can sit upright again (at least for awhile), I’ve been back to writing.

And with November on the horizon, that means NaNoWriMo.

This will be first year participating in NaNo – the challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in November. In my case, I’ll be writing a middle-grade novel, so I’m aiming for closer to 30,000 words.

Last year, I was hesitant. I had never written any fiction longer than a short story. I wasn’t sure I could maintain a story for that long. So I signed up for a NaNo account but never did much.

Then this summer, an idea hit critical mass. It had been simmering on my brain’s back burner for months before suddenly hitting a roiling boil. After some intensive brainstorming, the entire rough draft came together in about four weeks.

Rough draft is the key phrase. I knew from the get-go that I would need many rounds of revisions. I was not wrong. In my first pass of revisions, I had to backfill character motivations, add subplots, and make sure my characters were three dimensional. It’s a work in progress, but I can already see it taking shape.

I was not wrong.

In my first pass of revisions, I had to backfill character motivations, add subplots, and make sure my characters were three dimensional. It’s a work in progress, but I have hope that I’ll come out the other side with something people want to read. More importantly, I have confidence now.

So this year I’m embracing NaNo wholeheartedly. This idea has been simmering for a few months now. I’ve been itching to work on it. Now that other projects are wrapping up, I’m ready to stoke up the fire and get things going.

Plot twist: it will be my first historical fiction piece. It’s the perfect marriage of my love of story and my love of nonfiction.

I’m using the month of October to prepare (Preptober). For most NaNoers that means fleshing out characters, figuring out plot points, and the like. I’m doing all that plus having to research the real events and places where my novel is set.

Right now I’m neck-deep in research. I’m not quite drowning, but I do feel a bit seasick.

I just hope that by November, I’m back on my feet, literally.

 

 

 

Happy Birthday, Goodnight Jesus!

 

Happy Birthday, Goodnight Jesus
Thanks to Emma at Charming the birds from the Trees for letting me use her lovely photo.

I can’t believe it. It’s been a whole year since my first book, Goodnight Jesus, was published.

I’ve been feeling a bit mushy about this all month. Publishing a book is a big deal. Years of work and effort go into it. And then to see people hold it in their hands, to hear them tell you how much their children love it…. It’s a feeling that’s hard to describe.

Can I let you in on a secret, though? I have no idea what this book’s birthday is.

Usually, that date is tattooed on your heart right after your wedding anniversary and your children’s births. But after years of waiting for a signed contract to become a book, I missed it.

The week that Goodnight Jesus was published was a blur for me. I was sitting at my stepmother’s bedside in hospice as she lost a battle with cancer. That week I lost a stepmother and gained a book.

Like I said, mushy.

It’s now been a year. All my plans for book launch happened eventually. Announcement and blog posts rolled out over the next weeks and months. The Goodnight Jesus activity pages I wrote took a bit longer.

I guess Goodnight Jesus is written on my heart after all. But it’s written with a name rather than a date.

Here’s to you, Bettie.

Help! How Do I Find Books for My Child?

HELP! How do I find Books for my Child-

Having a child that loves books is a wonderful thing. But often in the next breath, parents lament “how do I find books for my child?”

Kids in middle to late elementary seem to inhale books. Parents often find that keeping their child supplied with books is an impossible task. How can a parent tell if a book is going to be appropriate? Is it the right reading level? Will there be content that is too mature?

Mature content is especially a problem if your child reads above their grade-level. A child may be capable of reading a book but not have the emotional maturity to handle it. Imagine a sensitive 8-year-old reading the death scenes in the Hunger Games.

So what’s a parent to do?

Most of us can’t quit our day jobs to read children’s novels full-time. (Even if we would like to.)

I’ve gathered together some resources to help you wade through it all.

Help! How do I find books for my child?

First, you can check out lists of book recommendations. I read widely, and every year I made a list of my favorite books from the year. Check out the lists from 2016 and 2015.

2016 Big List of Books to Give to Kids

Big list of books to give to kids

Second, I also have a Pinterest board full of book recommendations. Need ideas for a 2nd grader? Or books set in Asia? Or adventure books for girls? Books for reluctant readers? Scroll through, and you’ll probably find something.

500+ Great Kid's Books to Read

Ok, but how can I tell if the reading level is right?

If your child’s reading-level is different from their grade level, then recommendations for their grade may not be a good fit.

The Accelerated Reader website lets you search for books. It tells you the reading level and word count for each book. Not every book is listed, but most often I can find what I need. Let’s look at a recent favorite of mine: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

Screen Shot of THE HATE U GIVE from Accelerated Reader page

The ATOS level is the grade level. In this case, this Young Adult book is readable to a student who is in the 9th month of 3rd grade.

Other things to note are the Interest Level and Word Count. The language of this book might be understandable by a 3rd grader, but it is interesting to a much older child – 9th to 12th grade. Plus, I don’t know any 3rd graders that wouldn’t balk at the sheer volume of a 95,000-word book.

Compare this to a book like Wonder by R.J. Palacio:

Screen Shot WONDER on Accelerated Reader website

 

Here the book is a bit more balanced: The reading level is later in 4th grade, and the interest level is 4th-8th grade. The length is also better for a 4th grader at 73,000 words.

But how do I know what my child’s reading level is?

You have a few options. You could grab a stack of books that your child read recently, and look them up on the Accelerated Reader website. Get an average of the ATOS level, and you’re good to go.

The Scholastic website also lets you look up books to find their reading level. It uses a different measurement of reading level: Lexile scores. Lexile scores are widely used but don’t translate easily to a grade level.

You could give them a test such as the reading level test on the free website Moby Max. You will need to make an account, but the website is free to use.

Great. Now how do I tell which books are appropriate for my child?

The Common Sense Media web page rates media designed for children. It will flag any mature content. That means you don’t have to read a whole novel to find out there’s a sex scene in chapter 37. Let’s take a look at our two books:

Screen Shot of THE HATE U GIVE on Common Sense Media

At the top, there’s a rating of quality (5 stars) and approximate age appropriateness. The age rating takes into account both reading ability and mature content. As we saw before, The Hate U Give has a low readability level, but the high-interest level bumped it up here. Further down, it breaks down mature content by type. You can click on each to get more information. The “What Parents Need to Know” section, gives you an overview.

Reading over this, I could tell that this is a powerful book that would be perfect for a high schooler or mature middle schooler.

Now let’s look at our other book example.

Screen Shot of WONDER on Common Sense Media

Wonder is a better bet for an elementary school child. The rating of age 11 reflects that there is some minor mature content (bullying and kissing).

 

Though I read a lot of children’s books, I still have to use these tricks to help my kids. Hopefully, now you feel confident helping your child find books. Do you have any tips or tricks to add?

A New Book, a New Pen, and Weathering the Storms of Rejection

Signature on New Publishing CotnractLast week I signed the contract for my second children’s book with Ancient Faith Publishing. I bought a fountain pen to mark the occasion.

When I signed my first contract 3.5 years ago, they warned me that the next slot in the production cycle was a few years away. I had an inkling of how slow publishing could be. I started my writing career working with textbook publishers. I saw first hand how many people and how many hours go into each book. In the end, it took 2.5 years for that contract to become Goodnight Jesus.

Writing can be an intense business. Even big-name authors still get rejections.


 

You have to hold onto the successes like a buoy when your inbox is nothing but a lightning storm of rejection. I got a rejection the very day I signed this new contract. Zap.

Eventually, contracts become books, and you have a solid reminder of the victory. But two and a half years is a long time to hold onto the excitement of a signature.

A pen is a physical reminder. A small joy that I can use every day to remind me that one day I’ll get to sign a book with that pen.

Here’s to all the pens to come.

Publishing Agreement

Solar Eclipse 2017 Part 2: See The Eclipse

 

SOLAR ECLIPSE 2017: PART2 - SEE THE SOLAR ECLIPSE

The 2017 Solar Eclipse is fast approaching on August 21st!

In the first post of the series, I covered resources for learning about solar eclipses. There are book and video resources as well.

Today’s post will cover the ins and outs of viewing this eclipse. We’ll also take a small detour through eye anatomy and sunlight experiments along the way.

Next time I’ll share some hands on activities to try.

 

WHERE TO SEE THE ECLIPSE

The 2017 full eclipse will be viewable in the Continental US. As I explained in the last post, a solar eclipse happens when the moon moved between the sun and the Earth. The moon blocks out the light from the sun so it casts a shadow on the Earth. Since the moon is moving, the shadow moves, too.

Map of the solar Eclipse path
Map of the Solar Eclipse Path

That means that people all across the country will have a chance at seeing a full eclipse. 

Being the science geek that I am, my family is making the trek to Carbondale, IL – the official location that NASA is using to study the eclipse.

It’s also only 3 hours from my home in central Illinois. When you live in the cornbelt it’s not often that things are conveniently located to you.

Path of the full eclipse not coming to your town? No problem. Most of the continental US will be able to see a partial eclipse. Check out this interactive map to see what the eclipse will look like in your hometown.

Partial eclipse
Partial Eclipse

If you are traveling to see the Eclipse make sure to check availability of lodgings in advance. Many prime locations are booked up solid. I had to call 5 campgrounds to find a campsite. And I was calling last January. Even I didn’t know people were that passionate about eclipses.

DON’T BE THE TOY SOLDIER!

If you’re going to watch the eclipse, make sure you do it safely. Looking directly at the sun is a bad idea. Here’s why:

Remember that scene in Toy Story where the little boy next door uses a magnifying lens to focus the sun’s light and melt a toy soldier? I’m not sure about the melting point of toy soldiers but you can use a magnifying glass to start a fire:

Starting a fire with a magnifying glass.

It works because the lens changes the path of the sunlight. All the light then comes together at a single point which makes things super bright and super hot. Put something flammable right at that point and it will catch fire. Like this:

Lens bends light

Now let’s take a peek at a normal human eye and see what we find:

Yep. Your eye has a lens in it. Just like the lens in a magnifying glass, it changes the path of light so that it focuses on a single point. If your lens doesn’t focus the light just right, you’ll need even more lenses (glasses or contacts) to help with focus.

But the human eye is not really designed for the super brightness of direct sunlight. So let’s look at what happens when you look directly at the sun:

Eye da

OUCH. No, your eye won’t actually catch fire but you can cause permanent blindness.

Be safe. Do not be the toy soldier.

BE SAFE

So hopefully I have convinced you not to look directly at the solar eclipse. Luckily, there’s a simple solutions.

Regular sunglasses won’t do. You’ll need eclipse glasses like these to protect you. Luckily they’re fairly cheap and easy to get. Get a pair for the whole family!

All the eclipse viewing wonder without the ouch.

 

Next time I’ll post about other fun activities you can do for the eclipse.

 

Solar Eclipse 2017 Part 1: Learn About Solar Eclipses

If you’re not living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about the upcoming solar eclipse. Which I like to call eclipsapocalypse. (If you do live under a rock, I don’t judge.)

I’ve gathered together some resources so the children (and inner children) in your life can have enjoy the eclipsapocalyse in style. In this first post, we’ll look at resources for learning about solar eclipses. Scroll down for videos and book recommendations.

Later posts will cover viewing the eclipse and hands-on eclipse activities.

LEARN ABOUT SOLAR ECLIPSES

Solar Eclipse diagram

A solar eclipse happens when the moon moves between the Sun and the Earth. The moon blocks the sun’s light and casts a shadow on the Earth. If you’re standing on the part of the Earth where the shadow falls, you’ll see the moon move in front of the Sun and block out the light.

It’s a big deal because full solar eclipses are rare. It’s been nearly a 100 years in In a full eclipse the moon lines up exactly with the sun to completely cover it. Around the area of the full eclipse there’s a much bigger area that will see a partial eclipse. The sun and moon don’t line up exactly, but part of the sun’s light will still be blocked.

Partial eclipse
Partial Eclipse

BOOKS:

You knew there would be books, right?

Eclipses

Eclipses: The Night Sky and other Amazing Sights in Space by Nick Hunter

This book all about eclipses is perfect for younger children.

Looking Up! The Science of Stargazing

Looking Up! The Science of Stargazing by Joe Rao and Mark Borgions

This fun book has a short chapter on eclipses. Perfect for newer readers or as a read aloud to a younger child.

Space Encyclopedia

Space Encyclopedia: A Tour of Our Solar System and Beyond by David A. Aguilar 

My favorite space encyclopedia has sections on eclipses, too.

 

VIDEOS:

This NASA video explains how it works and what it will look like. (Appropriate for young kids to the young at heart.):

If you want to dive deeper into the science of eclipses, this video from Crash Course is great (Appropriate for Adolescents+ (or really nerdy little kids)):

 

Tune in next time to learn how you can see the 2017 Solar Eclipse.

 

 

 

I’m now on Goodreads

Lookit! I’ve got a Goodreads Author page now.

Goodreads Author Badge

I’ve actually been on Goodreads for awhile. I use it to track the hundreds of books a year that I read. I also use it to keep track of the books I read with my kids. (Not that I don’t love Thomas the train but only a parent’s love would compel me to read every title in our library. Repeatedly.)

But now I’m also a Goodreads author. That means if you want to checkout what others are saying about my book, you can click over to my Goodreads Author profile and see.

 

An Open Apology Letter to My Blog

Dear Blog,

I’m sorry we haven’t written recently. What with actual writing and all, I just haven’t had time to blog regularly. I hope you understand.

Don’t be alarmed but you should know that I’m seeing another website. I’ve volunteered to help the good people at KidlitNation get their website off the ground. It’s been a big job and I’m sorry I haven’t had as much time to spend with you. I promise I haven’t forgotten you Blog and it’s for a good cause. Things should settle down soon and I’ll be back around more regularly.

Sincerely,

Your Blogger

Best Books for Writers

I’ve been working hard on improving my writing lately. And my first stop when I want to learn about anything is usually a book. Today I gathered up my favorite writing craft books from all the various nooks and crannies and I’m going to share them with you.

 

Books for Fiction Writers:

Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence by Lisa Cron – Half of my writers group has been raving about this book since they saw the author at a conference last year. I’m just now getting around to reading it but…. wow. This is a great guide to writing fiction for any genre and any age range. Bonus: my writerly friends assure me that it’s quite understandable even if you’re not a brain nerd like me.

 

Writing Picture Books: A Hands-on Guide from Story Creation to Publication by Ann Whitford Paul – If you write picture books, you need this book. I read this late last year and I could feel myself leveling up as I read it. This book covers the basics of writing for kids, so it’s a great pick for a newer writer. But I think it really shines for people who are less knew but still have a lot of room for growth. (Which is all of us, right?) The tools and methods she discusses for revision have become staples of my process. Seriously, this is the best.

 

Writing Irresistible Kidlit: The Ultimate Guide to Crafting Fiction for Young Adult and Middle Grades Readers by Mary Kole – I found this book after reading many of the helpful articles on her webpage. It covers writing middle grade and young adult books. If you don’t know what that means or what the difference is, this is a great place to start.

 

 

Books for Nonfiction Writers:

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by Willian Zinsser – This book is in about it’s billionth revision and jillionth reprinting. This book is geared towards writing for adults, but the advice is just as relevant if you’re writing to kids. At the end of the day, good writing is good writing and this will help you get there.

 

Anatomy of Nonfiction: Writing True Stories for Children by Margery Facklam and Peggy Thomas – This primer covers everything you need to know to get started writing nonfiction for kids. It was a great book for me when I was getting started and it’s still a great book now that I have a few manuscripts under my belt.

 

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction by Lee Gutkind – This book is focused on a specific form of nonfiction writing – creative or narrative nonfiction. It’s nonfiction told in narrative form so the reader can step inside the story. Like On Writing Well, it’s geared for those writing for adults, but the techniques still apply when writing for younger audiences.

 

How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larson – When writing nonfiction you often send publishers a proposal rather than a completed manuscript. This book is everything you need to know to write a proposal. If you have no idea what I’m even talking about, this would be a good place to start. It’s thorough but written to be an easy read and includes lots of helpful samples from real proposals.

 

The Weekend Book Proposal: How to Write a Winning Proposal in 48 hours and Sell Your Book by Ryan G. Van Cleave – If you want a lighter version to get you started on your book proposal, this might be the book for you. The title is a bit misleading. That means 48 working hours. Maybe some people work around the clock on the weekend but I for one like sleep and food. Misleading title aside, it’s a really helpful book and would be fine for someone just starting out with writing proposals.

 

Books for authors ready to submit:

Once you’ve gotten your manuscript or proposal squeaky clean and ready to send out, you’ll need to figure out how to get it into the hands of the agent or editor of your dreams. These books are designed exactly for that. They’re updated every year to keep up with changes in the market.

Children’s Writers and Illustrator’s Market or, if you’re writing for adults: Writers Market

 

The Book – If you write for children, you should be a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). One membership perk is this free book. It’s available on the website as a PDF or you can pay for a print version. Your first year of membership they’ll send you the print version for free.

The 5(+1) Stages of Critique Grief for Writers

I’ve just come back from an Illinois SCBWI Spring conference. The whole conference was themed around writing pitches. I got to sit down at a table with other writers and an agent while they gave me feedback on my work. Not only that, I got back an agent critique that was full of hard truths. Getting professional feedback on your work is both vitally important and…. well…. terrifying.

Which has me reflecting on the nature of the critique beast. Getting feedback on your work is a lot like the 5 stages of grief. (BUG IN A VACUUM by Melanie Watt does a wonderful job of illustrating this process.)

5 STAGES OF CRITIQUE GRIEF FOR WRITERS

  1. DENIAL: “No, you’re wrong. There’s nothing wrong with my narrative arc.”
  2. ANGER: “How dare you! What do you know anyway?”
  3. BARGAINING: “But I can leave in just this one part, right?”
  4. DEPRESSION: “I’ll never get published. This manuscript is hopeless.”
  5. ACCEPTANCE: “Ok, you have a point. I guess I’ll have to revise.”

For writers I would add one more step to the process:

6. EXCITEMENT: “Wow, this is so much better!”

This is what people mean when they say you need to have “tough skin” in this business. We pour our hearts and souls into our writing then serve it up on a platter for others to tear apart. It’s hard. Just remember that your work will be better when you accept help.

Some people get to the depression stage and just give up.  Finding flaws in your writing is not a terminal diagnosis. One-dimensional characters can be rewritten. Plot holes can be bridged. Stilted dialogue can be changed.

The only thing that’s terminal, is giving up. If you keep going and get to the other end of this process, your work will be much stronger.

This process works better the more times you do it. Every time you throw yourself into this process, you get a little better. So not only is your first manuscript stronger at the end, your tenth manuscript will start out stronger because of what you learned in the previous nine manuscripts. And by the time you get it to the end of the process, it will be a masterpiece that you couldn’t have dreamt of back there at manuscript number one.

If your thinking that subjecting yourself to this emotional turmoil more than once sounds like a writerly version of hell, let me tell you a little secret:

When you’ve been at it awhile, this process changes a bit.

5 STAGES OF CRITIQUE GRIEF FOR THE EXPERIENCED WRITER

  1. DENIAL: “No, you’re wrong. There’s nothing wrong with my narrative arc.”
  2. ANGER: “How dare you criticize my work! What do you know anyway!”
  3. BARGAINING: “Well, what if I just keep this one part? This character is ok, right?”
  4. DEPRESSION: “I will never get published. This manuscript is hopeless.”
  5. ACCEPTANCE: “Ok, you have a point. I guess I’ll have to revise.”
  6. EXCITEMENT: “Hey, this is going to be so much better. Yay!”

With time and experience, you learn to skip right over all the angst and get to the productive end of the cycle.

Ok, this is a simplification. Of course seasoned professional writers can get emotional when they’re getting feedback. They’re people, not robots, after all. But with experience these emotions aren’t so raw. And they can move to the good stuff at the end more quickly. After all, they’ve been to the other side and seen the fruits of this process.

So, take a breath. Thank the person for their time. Then go have some chocolate. In a day or a week or a month when the sting is a little less, you can sort out what’s valuable and use it to improve your work. The important part is to keep going so you can get to the shiny new manuscript at the end of the tunnel.

After this conference, I have a lot of feedback to sort through but I’m looking forward to the manuscripts that will come out of the other side.

But first, chocolate.