NOTE: I don't post to this blog super-duper often anymore, because I'm busy writing, well, books. (Read more about that here.) For more up-to-date, day-to-day ramblings, visit my Facebook page.

Friday, April 27, 2012

A Peek at My TBR Shelf

This is actually just a portion of my TBR (To Be Read) Shelf. And these are only the books I've purchased. I've got a whole list of potentials on my Goodreads page. Some of these are kind of shocking (no, I still haven't read Graceling). And I confess to having books scattered around my house that aren't even on my radar to read, and yet I haven't touched them. (I may never get to William Faulkner's The Reivers, but it stands there and mocks me daily.)

How's your TBR stack or shelf? Are you making dents in it, or does it just keep growing, like mine?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Research Files: The Festival of Midsummer

Each volume of my fantasy series for middle graders revolves around a particular element and season of the traditional Celtic pagan year. The Key and the Flame, the first book, takes place in the season of summer. The element is fire. And the festival--or in pagan terms, the sabbat--is a lesser one called Midsummer.

What is Midsummer?

First of all, it isn't the middle of summer--at least, not the way we think of it today. Midsummer was celebrated at the summer solstice, which varies from year to year but falls around June 21. (The exact date depends on the earth's revolution around the sun, which takes slightly longer than 365 days.) On Midsummer, the northern hemisphere has its longest day, when the sun is at 0 degrees Cancer.

The ancient Celts called this Midsummer because in their calendar, summer began at Beltane, or around May 1. Summer ran until Lammas, or about August 1. Thus for them, June 21 was the middle of summer. Christianity, which adopted several pagan festivals, called this St. John's Day, in honor of the birth of John the Baptist.

As the height of the Season of Fire, Midsummer was a festival celebrated by honoring the sun, building bonfires, dancing, and feasting. Yellow and gold are the colors of Midsummer, a time to rejoice in the warmth of the earth and the abundance of seasonal plants and flowers. It is still a traditional folk festival celebrated in many parts of the world.

Any sabbat is a time of strong magic, and thus a good time to forge a wand--luckily for Holly. King Reynard opts to hold his tournament at Midsummer, which may be a coincidence or may be, as the Wandwright suggests, a sign that despite his hatred of magic, he has not forgotten all the rituals of magicfolk.

photo copyright Can Stock Photo Inc. / RobertMrocze

Thursday, April 19, 2012

This Is My Brain on Charles M. Schulz

Has anyone ever told you that when you're supposed to be writing, you're supposed to be writing?

Ordinarily, I'd echo that. I'd be all up in your face like a drill sergeant: "Butt in Chair, maggots! String those words together!" But when I'm the one slacking off, I try to be kinder than that. You should be too.

So what should you do when you're supposed to be writing and you're not? I advise you to indulge in a little right-brain nonsense. I decided to sketch myself.

After a moment of studying this work of art, I realized that I had inadvertently channeled my all-time favorite cartoonist and drawn myself as Charlie Brown. Maybe I need to rethink my self-image.

Who would you draw yourself as?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

WAW Award Voting Is Closed!

If you are a student, teacher, librarian, or parent in the state of Kansas, you're probably aware that the William Allen White Children's Book Award is the annual chance for kids to tell us what they like to read. A handful of books are chosen as nominees by the main selection committee, and then kids vote for their favorites to win the top prize in two categories: Grades 3-5 and Grades 6-8. Note that nominees were published two years ago, so these are all books from 2009-2010. This award is a great way for writers to find out what kids like--not just what their teachers and parents like. Here are the nominees for this year:

Nominees for Grades 3-5


Nominees for Grades 6-8

Winners for this year will be announced April 25, so stay tuned! How many have you read?

Monday, April 16, 2012

What Your Copy Editor Does for You

your copy editor knows her trains
As I delve deeper into the copyedited pages of The Key & the Flame manuscript, the process feels very familiar. Not only do I dissect manuscripts on a regular basis as a freelance copy editor, but many years ago I worked as a project editor for HarperCollins. In the parlance of that particular department, a project editor was the person who handled manuscripts in the production phase--hiring copy editors and proofreaders, going over the authors' corrections, and moving the book along toward its pub date. (Many publishers call this person a production editor.) So I know the copyediting process from various points of view. But it occurred to me that maybe some of you are wondering what the heck the copy editor does, anyway?

Because (you may reason), after all, my editor has already gone through the manuscript with a fine-tooth comb, right? She/he has already taken it apart and turned it inside out. She/He sent me a ten-page letter telling me what revisions were needed. I spent weeks whipping this baby into shape. What else is there to do?

Plenty. See, your editor is a big-picture kind of reader. She thinks in terms of plot, characters, conflict, theme. Does your timeline make sense? Is the hero acting consistently? Is the writing overdone or underdone? Different editors have different strengths and focus on various points according to the author and the work itself. But generally, they're looking at the forest.

So someone has to look at the trees--each tree. Okay, each leaf, really.

Enter the copy editor.

The copy editor will, of course, check your grammar. If she's a good copy editor, she'll catch on to your little quirks and leave them alone because it's part of your "style." If she's really good, she'll catch on but then also see where you violate your own rules and call you on it. Outside of those constrictions, she'll help your text conform to the publishing-house style book (for instance, The Chicago Manual of Style, plus the publisher's own quirky decisions as to spelling and punctuation). She's also responsible for:

  • keeping track of the plot's chronology and timeline
  • making sure that when Rodrigo sips red wine on page 14, he hasn't suddenly switched to brandy on page 15
  • checking trademark names (it's Coca-Cola, not Coco Cola)
  • seeing if Starbucks actually serves a drink called a Whippacino (they don't)
  • verifying that Stella isn't using an iPhone in 2005 (the first was released in 2007)
  • finding out if the no. 5 train stops at 51st Street (no, it's an express)
  • knowing when peanut butter was invented
  • consistency, consistency, consistency (in spelling, character names, plotting, etc.)
When I copyedited books, I sometimes wondered how writers could miss basic stuff like the fact that if Jason goes skydiving on Thursday and "two days later, on Monday" he meets Candace at a Greek restaurant, something doesn't add up. Now, as a writer, I know that if you've messed with your timeline over and over in multiple drafts, pieces of it may not have quite fallen into place. That's the kind of thing that a copy editor, who's never read your book before, will notice.

So yes--your book needs yet another pair of eyes. And yes, you will be grateful for it.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Bless Your Copy Editor

I have just received the copyedited manuscript of The Key and the Flame, and I have to say, I was nervous opening the package. I've been a professional copy editor for more than twenty years and I've edited hundreds of books. I've circled, underlined, questioned, commented, and crossed out. I've composed queries on Post-Its only to tear them off and reword them more kindly. I hope I've come across as being helpful, not snarky or self-righteous. Because, you know, writing is hard. And I was taking my red pencil to somebody's baby.

But karma can be, well ... you know.

So it was with a great sigh of relief that I thumbed through the manuscript pages and saw that my my copy editor had been kind. Questions were tactfully posed, editing was reserved, even the penmanship (pencilmanship?) was neat. Thank you, Anonymous Copy Editor, for reminding me that it's Lewis and Clark, not Louis and Clark (ugh! How could I miss that?). And thank you for constructing the exhaustive style sheet of all my weird character names, for checking to see if the Waffle Emporium was a real place (it isn't), and for reading the text closely enough to notice that some characters don't remember past events quite accurately (which is intentional). Reading the forest as well as the individual trees is the copy editor's task, and mine did hers (or his) quite well. I do bless you, whoever you are, as I hope I've been blessed myself.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Easy-Peasy Grammar

From Brian Clark of Copyblogger, who said it's okay to embed this (really)! Think before you write.

15 Grammar Goofs That Make You Look Silly
Like this infographic? Get more copywriting tips from Copyblogger.

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Luckies Giveaway


As any writer knows, coming up with just the right title can seem like an impossible task. We of The Lucky 13s were just talking about this on one of our frequent online whine fests chats.

No, really, it's hard to hit on an evocative title that sings about your book. But Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, lately authors of Wrecked, have done just that. Wrecked is now and forevermore These Broken Stars. What a gorgeous handle! And to celebrate, they're hosting a giveaway over on Amie's blog and over on Meagan's blog, so get on over and enter. Just remember, I'm probably going to win.


Historical Mystery
Fawcett, 1995
432 pages  $15.00

First of all, to clarify: There are people who devour mystery novels by the bellyful. Some have read dozens, even hundreds, of mysteries. And judging from the space the genre takes up at my local bookstore, that fan base isn’t shrinking.

I have to admit, I can’t live on a steady diet of mysteries. In summer, whether or not I find myself on a beach, I like to read a few. Then my interest fades and I return to literary fiction, fantasy, and even, increasingly, good nonfiction. So I choose my mysteries carefully.

Anne Perry is an author I can always trust. I’ve read a few featuring her amnesiac PI William Monk, who picks his way through the grimy underworld of Victorian London, barely containing his disgust. In Cain His Brother Monk still faces his own unfamiliar identity while he tracks a missing businessman. The missing man’s wife suspects his vicious criminal twin has offed him.

The story is compelling, and includes a few surprises—Monk is always coming up against his old, forgotten self, which he discovers wasn’t always the nicest guy—but it’s the characters that make the story. We would all love to think of Victorian England as bright and merry, full of genteel ladies, parlors and tea, balls and carriages. But while the rich party on, the poor sink ever further into squalor, battling one horror after another. Monk’s prickly friend, Crimean nurse Hester Latterly, nurses a community through an epidemic of typhoid in this book. It seeps even into the upper crust of society, which is revealed to be just as human as its underbelly.

Perry’s unparalleled descriptions, concrete detail, and mastery of human nature make this a pleasure to read. Was I stunned at the conclusion? Not exactly. But I didn’t mind. I was happy enough just to be borne along into another world and time, while still able to sit in my comfortable home and be grateful for clean-running toilets.


If you're experiencing déjà vu, do not adjust your TV. A version of this post appeared in an another blog in 2008.