Friday, November 30, 2007

My Magnum Opus

I was inspired to create my own personal magnum opus after visiting the Getty Museum where we saw original paintings by the masters including Vincent Van Gogh. Van Gogh’s story, especially, inspired me. Here was one of the greatest artists of all time—yet he felt little self-worth. In fact, because his paintings didn’t sell well and didn’t receive positive reviews, he ended up battling with depression and committing suicide. Yet his art is highly prized today.

As a writer, it’s easy to feel little self-worth. Manuscripts are repeatedly rejected. Income is sparse. People seem uninterested in something you poured your heart and soul into. Very much the same as what Van Gogh experienced.

So I decided to pick a writing project to work on that I could pour out my entire creative energies into through writing—that was BIG, that would CHANGE MY WORLD, and that would leave MY footprint in history. It took awhile to decide on the project, but once I found it, I knew this was IT. I knew I could spend years working on this and feel that it was worthwhile in a big, huge way.

I think every writer should have a magnum opus they are working on in between all the deadlines, contracts, manuscript submissions, and rejections. It helps keep me going. It gives me focus when other aspects of my writing career seem out of control. It propels me forward toward a worthwhile goal even on days editors or critique group members inform me that rewrites are NECESSARY. Smile.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Author Interview: Shirley Shibley

Meet Author Shirley Shibley!
I wanted to write from the first time I could make words with my pencil. I still remember the first story I wrote. I put writing on the back burner while I raised my family, but when the kids were all in upper grades in school I started dabbling a little with words again. I hadn't the faintest idea what I was doing, I just wrote. Over the years I began to study hard at crafting the writing, though I didn't make any sales until I was an empty nester, and then just a dribbling at a time. It wasn't until I attended writer's conferences and joined a critique group that I began to see myself as a writer. I received the encouragement I needed along with tips for success. I still receive many more rejections than acceptances, but I feel my writing has matured and all the discarded and rejected things gave me great experience.

Featured Article: "Holiday" in Focus on the Family's Clubhouse magazine
Q: Describe part of the research process it took to write this article.
A: When I received the go-ahead from Clubhouse to write an article on Old Testament holidays I had everything to learn. Some holidays I was familiar with, but discovered many more. I found the required ones in the Bible, explained more thoroughly in Bible dictionaries, and also found a magazine article in an adult publication. Clubhouse suggested a rewrite with a different format and I complied. Again they decided on a different format and I did another rewrite. Eventually they accepted the article, out now in the December, '07 issue.

Q: What inspires you most as a writer?
A: Every time one of my critique group's members gets an acceptance I am inspired to continue to work hard and harder at my own writing. I'm always so happy for them, as I know they are for me when I have success.

Q: What were some of the greatest benefits to you as a writer when you took a recent Alaskan writer's cruise?
A: My Alaskan conference cruise was a tremendous milestone in my writing (dare I say it?) career. For a whole week I traveled with a group of men and women who love the writing, editing and publishing life. Some were just beginners, and I hope I was able to encourage them to keep at it. Others were "wannabees" but perhaps some or even just one learned about dedication at the craft. The novelist who spoke had us laughing at the writing life and ourselves, while giving us tips and pointers that were invaluable. Both the nonfiction article editor and book editor invited me to send proposals to their companies. Excellent free handouts were given and writing books were available to purchase, and my only regret was lack of space for carrying home more on the plane.

Q: Share one tip you would like to give someone who is just starting out as a writer for children.
A: I would like to tell all new writers to study, study, study your craft. Read, read, read books of the age you like to write for. Then, write, write, write. Don't give up. Rejection slips are part of the game. I have enough to wallpaper my whole study with!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Deadline Tips

As someone who works from her home, I have to really work hard to schedule my time. Especially around the holidays, I have to be careful to schedule my writing hours to get things done but to also take important time off for family and friends. I’ve learned to ask for deadlines in book contracts by mid-December and not mid-January. If a book deadline is in mid-January, I’ve found I can’t set the project aside mentally, and I tend to stress out over the holidays.

So this year, when I signed a contract in September for a new book for Libraries Unlimited, I asked for a deadline of December 15. And right now on my desk is a new book contract to sign for next year with Chicago Review Press. Once again, I asked for a December 15th deadline. It will give me time to finish up each book and still have plenty of energy and enthusiasm to enjoy the Christmas holidays.

I don’t ever want to neglect my family during the holidays or put my writing commitments ahead of spending time with them. Once I read in interview of A.A.Milne’s son. (A.A.Milne wrote the Winnie the Pooh books.) His son seemed resentful of how writing took his dad away from him. Another time I read about how Norman Rockwell was so into his painting that even on major holidays he would disappear into his studio to work. I don’t want to do this. My family will always be more important than any writing project, and I want to let them know this. That’s why I try to schedule deadlines early enough to let me truly enjoy the holidays with them.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


I love my critique group! What an enthusiastic, dedicated group of eight professional writers. We work hard each month when we gather together to focus and critique. This month, for the second year in a row, however, will be different. Usually, we meet in Montclair, but for our meeting in December, we’re all driving up to Gloria’s in Hesperia for our annual Christmas party! Gloria goes all out to decorate for the holidays and she’s a wonderful host. There will be lots of good food and desserts, a fun gift exchange, and a VERY short time of critiques. (We e-mailed our manuscripts to each other so we can read over them ahead of time and just spend a few moments discussing each one at the party.)

I’ve been having fun collecting treasures for our gift exchange—something wrapped, something used, and something for writers. Most of the time, it’s a used writers’ book, but this year I found a few unique “freebies” for writers from a local conference I recently attended—some for the gift exchange and some to give each person in the group.

Today I’m enjoying wrapping the gifts and filling out their Christmas cards. Next, I’ll start planning on which delectable dessert to take! It’s a highlight of our writing year.

Monday, November 26, 2007

My Magnum Opus

Every writer should have a magnum opus. I do, and it’s changed my entire self-worth as a writer.

About two years ago, I decided to write a huge, huge project that would eventually become the pinnacle of my writing career. It’s way over my head as far as my ability or qualifications to write it. It’s bigger than anything else I ever plan to write. But it’s something I work on, word by word, week by week, and gradually it has become a part of me and is shaping who I am as a writer.

It started out innocently enough…I challenged myself to write an outline about a book that I wished every kid would have. You know—a classic—a book that would pass down from generation to generation of kids and become known as a landmark of books.

That innocent little outline grew and grew and grew until after several months of full time writing on it, it was over 150 pages long. I determined the projected length of my book—over 500 pages—and what I wanted to say in which part of my outline. Oh, I didn’t know the exact words I wanted to write for each section, but I knew most of the topics I wanted to write about.

Since those intense months of writing my outline, I have been working on my magnum opus. Word by word. Paragraph by paragraph. I estimate that it will take me at least ten full years to complete it.

But I’m not in any hurry. As a matter of fact, I keep my goal simple. If I write one hour per week on this manuscript, after an entire year, I’ll have spent at least 52 hours writing and working on it. That’s a bit, actually! And some weeks I spend more time on it than others, so I’m well ahead of my goal. (There were a bunch of weeks when I didn’t write at all on my magnum opus—my mother-in-law fell and fractured her pelvis and we had to drop everything! But then I wrote an extra hour each week when things settled down and quickly got back on schedule.)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Virtual Book Tour

To celebrate two new books I had come out this year, I’m hosting a Virtual Book Tour during the month of February, 2008. I’ve never done this before, so it’s an interesting journey! I’ve been checking into different sites that host author interviews for children’s books. So far my strategy is to find different blogs or websites that will agree to post my interview. Then I plan to add a link to these sites during Black History Month in February—one new link each day of the Virtual Book Tour. I know there are places that set these things up, but the fees are quite high and I want to give this a try on my own.

My publicist for Sleeping Bear Press, Audrey, sent me a lead this morning that I’m going to look into…

Check back in periodically for updates on the progress of the tour for my two newest books:
D is for Drinking Gourd: An African American Alphabet
A Kid’s Guide to African American History

Friday, November 23, 2007

Get Published Tips

The best success I’ve had in getting published is to follow these steps:
1. Find an editor who says what she is looking for.
2. Study that publisher’s website and find a hole in their product line.
3. E-mail that editor and ask her if she’d like to see a proposal for my book idea that fits into the hole in her product line.

And the best place I know for children’s writers to find editors who say what they’re looking for is by subscribing to Children’s Writer: Newsletter of Writing and Publishing Trends. For info on how to order it, go to

Each issue is jam packed with quotes from editors saying, “I’m looking for this,” and “I need that.” I’ve landed four big book contracts by e-mailing editors I read about in this newsletter since over two years ago when I started reading it.

Last June, I made it my goal to read through each issue of this newsletter and find at least one editor to e-mail with a book manuscript idea. This month, I had to STOP doing this. Why? I now have three more book contracts lined up which will keep me BUSY until next December and two of those publishers require me to send in my next two book proposals when I’m done with their deadlines!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Author Interview: Catherine Osornio

Meet Author Catherine Osornio!
Writing was never a career Catherine Osornio was looking for. Her interests while growing up were in math, science, cartooning, and eventually in film. It wasn’t until five years ago, while helping a friend develop her writing skills, that Catherine felt the Lord confirming a call to write.

Catherine has written both fiction and non-fiction stories for children's magazines and a private school's reading program. She has also written numerous inspirational articles for newsletters and an online newspaper. Currently she is in negotiations for her first picture book on American History. She is also working on two projects dear to her heart: an adventure series for boys, and a mystery series for girls. Catherine lives in Southern California with her husband and four children.

Featured Book: Alphabet book about American History (Title forthcoming)
Q: Congratulations on landing your very first book contract! How long did it take to go from your first idea to the actual book contract?
A: I took my writer group's challenge to write a book in a month, and encouraged by my author friend, I chose to write an alphabet book. Going onto, I used their advanced search tool to find publishers who were currently producing this type of genre. I made sure to choose companies who had at least five alphabet books in their catalogs. Once I created this list, I went to the publishers' websites to see if they were currently accepting unsolicited manuscripts. My list was now narrowed to five. Based on the type of alphabet books the company produced, I narrowed the choice down to one.

During this process I had been praying for some good topics to write about. I did not make this decision until I had found my prospective publisher. I noticed they had many books on holidays, but not one for the 4th of July. Looking through their submission guidelines, I noticed that they did not want picture books longer than 1,100 words. I bought five of their books and carefully read each one looking for patterns: how many words per letter; how was the topic covered; how did they handle difficult letters like Q and Z? I made notes of everything and used these patterns to write a rough outline. I researched using online materials and books from both my own library and the public library. I reworked and fine-tuned my manuscript until I had a rough draft to take to my critique group. Once I got their thumbs up and worked the changes, I sent out the manuscript to the publisher. This process, including pinpointing the publisher, took one month.

Six weeks later, the Editor-in-Chief e-mailed me. She liked the idea, but wanted an historical emphasis only (I had written about celebrating the 4th as well as the historical aspect). I got to work digging up more research materials. Three months later I took my rough draft to my critique group, and then sent out the final draft to the publisher. I heard back from the Editor-in-Chief about five weeks later, letting me know they were interested in the book and were working on the contract.

The total time from starting with my idea to hearing from the Editor that they wanted the book was seven months.

Q: Where do you get your ideas?
A: I pray a lot for inspiration and I find ideas popping in my head. It also helps to have four curious children, with ages ranging from 7 to 13, who are constantly asking me about things that spark story ideas.

Q: As a child, what were your favorite books to read?
A: I devoured mysteries! I also loved biographies, particularly about George
Washington. I find it funny that my first book is about American History, particularly during the time frame of my favorite hero.

Q: Share one tip you would like to give to a children’s author trying to land a first book contract.
A: Target, target, target! It really pays to know the publisher and their product lines. If you give them what they favor, they will be more likely to look at your ideas. I doubt I would have been so successful if I hadn't studied the publisher as well as I did.

Research Tips

I'm trying to break into a nonfiction magazine for kids I've never written for before. Yesterday, the free samples of the magazine arrived in the mail. (Even though most places say it costs for samples, I've learned that if you simply e-mail the editor of the magazine, explain that you're interested in sending a sample submission, and request a sample magazine, they are happy to send you a couple free copies.) Also, in the mail arrived two key research books I purchased used at for a total of $10 because the assigned topic is actually one I plan on writing for on other projects. And five more books arrived in my library yesterday that I ordered in for research. So I'm ready to go!

I plan on first reading through the sample magazines to find articles that fit the format mine will be written in. Then I'll start reading through my own research books that I purchased to jot down important facts of interest to kids. Then I'll read through the borrowed books to flesh out my resources.

The editor told me she wants three sources for each fact I state. So I have a system that seems to work. I give each book I'm using a little code letter such as AA or AB or AC. When I write down a fact I find, I write down the code for the book plus the page number. When I find that same fact in the next book, I also jot down the code for that book plus the page number. After reading through several books and jotting down the page numbers of the facts I find, I then go back and look over my notes. Any fact that has 3 sources next to it can go right into my article! If other facts look interesting, but I only have two sources, I need to look for more sources to support those facts.

Here's a sample of my notes:
Binare are ancient walled cities in Nigeria AA23, AC182, BA3
Kano is the oldest ancient walled city AA23, AB10, AC180
Kano still has portions of the wall tourists can see today AB12, AD480
Picture of wall in Kano AD12

I keep a list of codes/book titles on the computer so I can easily use the search/find tool in a future project to keep track of which books are which codes. (On my own books I actually write the code on a sticky note in the front of the book or even on the title page if the book is used and already beat up.) It's a bit time-consuming, but when an editor contacts me for a fact check, as has happened, I quickly pull out my notes, find the titles and page numbers of my resources, and send them to her.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Book Signing Tips

I just had two fun days at CSLA of signing my new book that just came out in September, D IS FOR DRINKING GOURD: AN AFRICAN AMERICAN ALPHABET. It was so exciting to see the response of librarians and teachers when they saw it. Even high school librarians bought copies to add to their collection after I explained how I visited libraries at local universities to dig up little-known information about the history of African Americans to include within the pages of my book. One librarian said that she plans to use this book in her “Buddy System” program where older students read to younger students. The book has an easy-to-read poem for each alphabet letter, but lots of important information in sidebars to provide the older readers with topics to talk about with their buddies.

Here are a few pointers I’ve learned over the years from attending my own book signings as well as observing other authors at book signings. If you have any tips you’d like to add to this list, please let me know!

*Bring along several retractable Sharpie® pens. I’ve tried different pens, but at one of my signings, the store had these pens available for authors to use and now they’re my favorite. The caps don’t get lost and they make a dark, legible signature. Bring several because sometimes they have a tendency to “walk off” and disappear as all pens do!

*Bring a sticky notepad and retractable ball point pens for people to write down the exact spelling of the person they want you to autograph the book for. This helps eliminate spelling mistakes.

*Dress for practicality and comfort. Wear comfy shoes because you might be standing on your feet a long time or want to walk the floor to see other conference exhibits. Bring a sweater if the signing is indoors as often businesses or conference centers run the air at a very cool temperature. If you’re anticipating lots of handouts from other exhibits, bring along a wheeled tote to save you from carrying a heavy load throughout the day.

*Bring a snack since many places don’t offer a wide selection of food if any at all.

*Consider having small change in your wallet or purse such as four 5’s and ten 1’s. When Audrey, my publicist, recommended this, at first I wasn’t sure that it was very important in today’s age of credit and debit cards. But I followed her directions and had some in my purse. I’m glad I did. The very first person at my recent signing purchased my book. When she was ready to pay for it, she reached in her purse and pulled out a twenty dollar bill. The sales rep at the booth said, “I’m sorry! I don’t have any change.” But I did! I ended up giving the sales rep all my small bills in exchange for her 20s and we had a very successful day minus that hassle. Thanks, Audrey!

*Bring a friend to help. If you’re expecting a busy time, a friend can sit with you at the book signing to help manage payment of the book, pass out sticky notes for writing down correct spellings of people’s names to autograph, or run unexpected errands that pop up. When scheduling book signings at ticketed events, I always ask for two complimentary tickets—one for me and one for my husband. Especially if you are signing books with children and have handouts or small activities, your friend (or hubby!) can help manage the crowd at one end of the table while you’re signing at the other end. Plus, it gives you someone to talk with if the day is a slow one.

*Always wear a smile and leave your ego back in your room. Many events are hosted by volunteers or have too small a staff to handle all the many details. Often, author’s name tags are misspelled, or they run out of author badges and give you an exhibitor’s badge instead, or have to give you a sticker to wear with your name on it. Don’t despair! Just smile in spite of any mishaps or inconveniences. Appreciate the people who are trying to help, enjoy the day, and spread lots of goodwill and cheer with a friendly smile.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Illustrator Interview

Meet Illustrator Frank Lowe!
Featured book: The King’s Silverware
Bio: Frank A. Lowe (Illustrator/Graphic Designer)
Resides in La Habra, California, but was raised in Whittier just one city over. Being the second youngest in a family of six children and also being born between two sisters, Frank found himself too young to hang out with his older brothers and too bored for the tea party scene with his two sisters. Drawing and doing art became the perfect outlet for Frank to pass the time in his childhood days. Frank has now worked professionally for over 20 years in the art field. He has worked in animation in such studios as Marvel Films (Spider-man), Hyperion Animation (Life with Louie, Itsy Bitsy Spider, and Happily Ever After [for HBO]), along with many others, doing everything from story-board to character development. He currently works as a graphic designer, designing corporate identification packages for small businesses. Frank is illustrating picture books for children in the age group of 4-7. The King’s Silverware is the first picture book out of a two-book deal he has with Olive Leaf Publications.

Web site: Samples of his work are posted at

Q: As an artist, what technique do you prefer to work with?
A: What I like to do is spend some time praying and considering each project I do. After a short while I begin to brainstorm on a large 18 x 24-inch sheet of paper using just a graphite pencil to get my ideas for each one of my characters or background layouts. As soon as I have an approximate design completed, I scan the line art into my computer to make it into a layer in whatever software I might be using, to begin rendering and colorizing each piece.

Q: What inspires your creativity the most?
A: I don’t like to fill my head with other people’s work. Because when I do, I start to imitate them too closely. I listen to other people’s advice for structure, layout, rendering, and foreshortening, and that’s it. As far as style goes, I would have to say I’m most influenced and inspired by the scenery of day to day life. I think that the Lord has created the best backdrops that have ever been done. And as far as inspiration for character development, the Lord came up with millions of them to populate this rock we live on called Earth, so I just take a walk and I come back with all I need.

Q: Describe a highlight of this book project for you personally.
A: I think that a highlight for me while I was working on The King’s Silverware was when I saw each character all drawn out and completely colorized for the very first time. The best way to describe it for me is, a little kid seeing a new toy for the first time and thinking of all the possibilities and things that can be done with it.

Q: Share one tip you feel children’s book illustrators in today’s market need to know regarding staying up-to-date on computer technology.
A: To answer this question, you would need to consider the fact that I’m an artist who was basically railroaded into the computer age. I would have to say that you should do all you can to make sure you as the artist don’t lose your creativity in the technology. There are people spending all their time coming up with new and improved ways of making boxes look three dimensional and so real that you think you can touch them. But after all…it’s still just boxes.

Query Tips

Yesterday, a bunch of great writers met at our local Borders for an SCBWI Schmooze. What a fun time we had discussing “Queries that Work.” We had lots of great examples of queries people brought that actually landed a book or article contract.

One thing we discussed is how sometimes, the rules just have to be broken. I’ve landed over 70 book contracts with a certain “formula” I use to write my queries. When I have followed the “rules” found in most writing books or discussed at most writing conferences, I’ve never gotten a successful sale. Here’s how I write my queries—and they work! Just for an example, just recently I’ve landed four book contracts in the past three months!

Let’s say I want to write an alphabet book about my funny cat Humphrey. BEFORE I WRITE THE BOOK, I look around on the Internet at different publishers’ web sites. I keep searching until I find a publisher who writes alphabet books about pets. They have an alphabet book about dogs called, “S is for Spot: An Alphabet Book about Dogs.” But I see that they don’t have a book about cats yet! I look for their submission guidelines and see that the editor’s name is Paula Wells. I order some of their library books in at the library to check out their format and style. Then I’m ready to write a query! Here’s what I say in my e-mail query:

Dear Paula,
I studied your website and saw that you publish alphabet books about pets.

I see you have a dog alphabet book, “S is for Spot: An Alphabet Book about Dogs.” I noticed that you don’t have an alphabet book yet about cats.

I was wondering if you’d be interested in seeing a proposal for an alphabet book about cats called “H is for Humphrey: An Alphabet Book about Cats.”

If not, I would also be interested in writing an alphabet book about these other pets:
Horses, goats, pot-bellied pigs.

I am a children’s author and have written several articles for the children’s magazine, “I Like Pets.”

I’m looking forward to hearing from you.


Nancy I. Sanders
(Contact info here.)

That’s it! This is my standard format to contact an editor. Short query via e-mail targeting their product line. Personal e-mail. If the editor doesn’t take e-mail, I usually don’t bother contacting her. I just look for a different publisher to target. I don’t want my query to land up in a pile of envelopes and not hear back for months. The results? I usually hear back from within the week or I don’t hear back at all. Out of about 25 queries I sent these past 3 months, I’ve landed several book contracts and magazine assignments. My goal is to get the contract before I write the manuscript. Why? Because usually, the editor wants to give input on which direction the manuscript should take. It save me lots of revision time. And wanna hear a secret? I’ve written over a hundred manuscripts that I’ve tried to submit somewhere—with 100% rejections. I haven’t sold a one of them. But I’ve landed over 70 book contracts when I query the editor before I write the book. Even as a beginning writer!

Middle Grade Musings

Thanks, Catherine, for your great suggestion. Your idea makes it to the top of the Check-off List! Here's the new and revised list to use after you write your first draft of a chapter of a middle grade novel. It's great for the editing process. If you have anything you'd like to add to the list, please let me know!

Chapter Check-off List
for Middle Grade Novels
*Does your opening paragraph have a strong enough hook to draw the reader into the story? This needs to continue in each subsequent chapter, particularly following a great cliff hanger.
*Does the chapter end with a cliffhanger?
*Is the setting clear but not obtrusive?
*Are characterizations developed to make each person unique?
*Are main characters carrying more weight in each scene than the minor characters?
*Do the subplots work together to increase tension?
*Are the five senses included? Sight, sound, smell, hear, touch?
*Is the level of interest on target for this age range?
*Did anything slow down the forward progression of the plot such as: dialog, unnecessary scene, too much background information, too many details in the setting, bunny trail?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Middle Grade Musings

As I was rejoicing that I finished the first draft of chapter one for my new middle grade novel, I was thinking it would be helpful to have a Chapter Check-off List of items I can make sure each chapter contains as I go back and edit it. Here are some key ingredients I plan to add to my list. If you know of more, please send them my way! Wouldn't it be fun to make a great list for these middle grade novels we are writing to help polish and hone during the editorial process?

Chapter Check-Off List
for Middle Grade Novels
*Does the chapter end with a cliffhanger?
*Is the setting clear but not obtrusive?
*Are characterizations developed to make each person unique?
*Are main characters carrying more weight in each scene than the minor characters?
*Do the subplots work together to increase tension?
*Are the five senses included? Sight, sound, smell, hear, touch?
*Is the level of interest on target for this age range?
*Did anything slow down the forward progression of the plot such as: dialog, unnecessary scene, too much background information, too many details in the setting, bunny trail?

Already, I'm getting ideas to go back and add more sensory details. Let my reader feel the cold air (it's winter), smell the savory soup in the bowl that was handed to my main character from over the camp fire, hear the axes cutting down trees to build log huts...

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Middle Grade Musings

Last night after a full week of writing, I just felt like relaxing and having fun. Of course, since writing is my favorite hobby, I reached for one of my writing projects--a historical fiction middle grade novel I'm just starting to write. I grabbed my book of baby names along with several nonfiction books from the American Revolution era and had fun looking through them to come up with names for my new characters. Hip, hip hooray! I chose the name of my main character--a 12-year-old girl. Then I started filling out a character interview from a form distributed at my writer's group. Some of the things I discovered about my character surprised me as I had to fill in the blanks about who her parents were and what her favorite color was, etc. I recently read of an author who creates a scrapbook for the characters in her novels, collecting photos of the actual setting and magazine pictures of what she thinks her characters look like, etc. This intrigues me and I want to start a scrap book for all the new characters I'm going to meet in my new book, too! After deciding on all the names I needed in order to start my book, I sat down with my laptop and finished typing my first chapter. Whew. A big milestone! Now I'm ready to move forward and let the story unfold.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Welcome to My World!

So many times people ask me, “What exactly do you do all day as a writer?” Both children and adults alike want to know. I thought that for my blog, it might be fun to track my days now and then and just share an insight into my world as a writer. Yesterday ended up being one of those “perfect” writing days—you know—no interruptions, lots of time to really focus on a writing project, and everything on my writer’s to-do list crossed off. Of course, with adult children and no TV in the house (we just have a set in the garage we pull out now and then to watch a DVD) my time is free to spend solid hours at the keyboard. I remember those toddler/carpool/roommom/hardly-have-time-to-write days! So hey-I thought I’d start by describing what a “good” writing day is like. For my next blog that I do about my writing schedule, I’ll share what a “not-so-good” day is like. Maybe today! Today started out by cleaning up a HUGE mess from Lucy, the dog, who must not have been feeling well in the middle of the night. I’ve got a phone call to make about a writing project, a fellow writer scheduled to come over to discuss help for a project she’s working on, and the fridge is absolutely empty so I’m going to have to fix a creative meal tonight! Not that this is a “bad” day—I especially love to spend time with my writer friends and make exciting phone calls about upcoming book projects—but it promises to be a busy day with little time for writing.

Here’s how my writer’s day went yesterday. Welcome to my world!
6:00 Made breakfast and packed lunches for my husband, Jeff, and son, Ben. And of course, I had to feed Humphrey, our big orange cat (at 1 ½ years I think he’s 21 pounds now) who was racing around the house asking for his can of sardines. I fed Lucy, too, our 12-year-old dachshund mix who woke up long enough to eat breakfast before going back to sleep on the couch.

7:00 Sat at the computer to answer e-mails and update blog. E-mailed about 6 people for potential interview for short articles in parenting newsletters for Focus on the Family.

8:00 Moved to a comfy chair where I edited the first draft I wrote yesterday of a new story about Dudley the dog, an assignment for Clubhouse Jr.

8:20 Exercised for 10 minutes on my exercise machine. Since I sit so much during the day to write, this is the perfect stretch for my legs and workout for my heart. Every time I use it, I remember my neighbor—I miss her! We were always trading furniture back and forth—I think she traded me this exercise machine for a quilt comforter set I gave her for her son’s bed. She couldn’t take the machine with her when they moved back to Canada, and my son never used the comforter set so it was like new after being stored for a couple of years in our attic.

8:30 Got dressed and threw in a load of laundry. Since Wednesdays are laundry day around here, that’s what I’ll be doing all day long in between my writing commitments. Of course, Humphrey helped me—he loves laundry day and jumping in the empty clothes’ baskets and hiding under the pillowcases. But today he discovered something soft and fuzzy in the pile, so he settled down on it for a cozy nap. That item will have to wait to be put in the washer with a later load!

9:00 Researched a new publisher’s website I’ve been checking out recently. Contacted the editor with an e-mail query and sent her three ideas for potential books that looked like they might fit into the publisher’s product line.

10:00 Organized e-mails from my critique group welcoming 2 new members. Wordsmiths is now officially closed at 8 members! How exciting! Plus, sent the group details concerning our upcoming Christmas party.

10:30 Sat down to do some serious research for the next chapter in the book I’m working on right now about African American history for kids. I put on some soft listening music and plopped down on the couch to read through some books I’d ordered for this topic that arrived a couple of days ago in the mail. Pen in hand and notebook by my side, I jotted down key facts and page numbers of the book I found them on. For this particular writing project, the 2 CDs I’ve been listening to the most during these long hours of research include today’s selection: Marian Anderson: Spirituals and Wynton Marsalis: From the Plantation to the Penitentiary.

3:00 After reading through portions of various books, taking a short break for lunch, scouring the Internet for missing pieces, and digging through old research files from other projects I’ve done on this same topic, I finally could barely keep my eyes open a second longer…and took a nap. Yes. Smile. I usually take a nap every afternoon. I come from an entire family of nap takers and have fond memories of growing up and watching my dad, a dairy farmer, come in from the fields for lunch and afterwards sprawl out on the floor for his daily afternoon nap. The tradition continues! (But like Humphrey, I choose a much comfier spot.)

4:15 Up from my nap to cook dinner and spend time with Jeff and Ben who were returning from work and school.

9:00 Plugged in my ipod, got out my Bible, grabbed my journal, and sat down in my chair for a couple of hours of sweet devotion and worship. Jeff was busy grading papers, reading his Bible, and catching a few ZZZZs in his chair. Ben was busy doing homework on his laptop. The house was filled with peace. We all sat together in our livingroom—even Lucy and Humphrey were asleep on the couch next to Ben.

11:00 Headed to bed. As I was gathering up my stacks of research books from the day, I felt a little disappointed that for all the time I had spent digging for facts, I had not found just the right sources I had been looking for. I opened up two hefty volumes as I added them to my pile—and low and behold! Within five minutes I found everything I needed to go ahead and start writing about my topic tomorrow. I was so excited I could hardly fall asleep!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Research Tips

Yesterday I had to travel to a nearby city, so I took a few moments extra and visited their local library used book store. Whenever I go somewhere like this, I like to add an extra stop to explore the local library's used book store. As always, I found some great finds--most for just 50 cents. I found books I can use for research sources on topics I'm writing about--and they offer a unique slant I might not have considered including. Plus, I found 2 books to give to my friend who is a writer on the current topic she's researching. Libraries often have great used book stores where they deposit books they're clearing from their shelves--often quite expensive volumes for a really low price. The other place I've also found fantastic finds is when I visit the local univeristy on my travels. Most have a used book store as well and often include great textbook finds on the subject you're researching.

Monday, November 5, 2007


I just got back from my critique group of professional Christian writers: Wordsmiths. What great feedback! Inspiring news from other members' successful contacts with editors! And lots of fun! The energy and friendship from this group really get me back on track with my writing each month as we share and discuss current writing and marketing trends while we critique each other's manuscripts. Right now, some of us are participating in the Alphabet Book Adventure. First we study the alphabet book market. Then we choose one publisher to target. Then we study that publisher's particular line of alphabet books. Then we prepare a query or manuscript to submit to that publisher. So far, it's working! One of our members has already been offered a contract. Another one has a publisher who requested more after receiving her query. Two of us are submitting alphabet-themed articles to magazines. Others have more alphabet ideas, too. Alphabet manuscripts are hot! And we're having a fun adventure together as a group exploring different themes and markets.

Saturday, November 3, 2007


A little over a year ago, I was in a local bookstore. Much to my pleasure and surprise I stumbled across a beautiful book called BEATRIX POTTER: A JOURNAL. The pages were filled with little snippets of artwork from her books and memorabilia from her various projects scattered across the pages. There were portions of letters from editors as well as excerpts from her diary. My writer's soul immediately connected with this idea. In a journey filled with so many rejections and negative self-doubt, what a marvelous way to help remember all the positive little moments of being a writer! Even though I had never been much of a "scrapbooker" before, I immediately jumped in with both feet. I found a little local shop that sells scrapbook supplies, bought a book, and made it my New Year's resolution to scrapbook every month of 2007 with fun little details about my life as a writer. It has been a very rewarding journey! On days when I get numerous rejections both through the mail and e-mail, or on days when I struggle with writer's block, or on days when I'm once again overwhelmed and wonder how I'll ever meet my current book deadline on time, I just pull out my scrapbook and get my fill of warm fuzzies. Pictures from my critique groups, kudos from editors, inspiring Scriptures, and precious positive moments as a writer greet me to encourage me to keep on going.

Have you ever kept a scrapbook about your writing adventures? I'd love to hear how you create your own personal journal!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Fun News!

Yesterday, my doorbell rang and I saw the Fed Ex guy scurrying away down my sidewalk. Not expecting anything, I went to the door, grabbed the package, and ripped it open. What a fun surprise to find inside a copy of my newest book, D IS FOR DRINKING GOURD: AN AFRICAN AMERICAN ALPHABET. But this wasn't just any ordinary copy! On its jacket, this book now sports the picture of the seal for winning the 2007 NAPPA Honors Book award. What a rewarding experience to win this award after so many years of research and heart put into this book. My hopes are that all who read it will be encouraged and inspired to reach for the stars!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Welcome to My World!

It's 7:18 am and I'm taking a huge jump into cyberspace. Hey, it's free, it's friends, and it's guaranteed to be fun! As a writer, I'm hoping to connect to other writers, like you. So if you spend your time typing away at the keyboard while imagining you're talking with kids, drop me a line! Let's get to know each other as writers and explore each other's creative world.

And by the way, here's my favorite Scripture of the day. I hope it encourages you as much as it encourages me.
In the multitude of my anxieties within me, [God's] comforts delight my soul. -Psalm 94;19, NKJV

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