Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Now What? Finishing First Drafts and Next Steps - Writing Wednesdays

This past Saturday, late afternoon, I sat in my bedroom in the armchair of an area that is kind-of like my office. Typically a weekend afternoon when I wanted to write would find me at Starbucks. There I can focus, let the rest of the world fall away. There are other coffee shops I love - Steeple Gallery in my town, Cafe Kopi in Champaign, but for some reason the Starbucks that I go to is absolutely perfect for me. It’s a little dark, usually has an open spot, and the most interesting people come and go. I love it there.

This weekend, however, was a different story. Late Friday night into Saturday, the snow began to fall. By midday on Saturday we had around eight inches. My heart sank, I knew there was no way I could reasonably drive almost thirty miles one way to get to Starbucks. I knew that in all likelihood I would be finishing the epilogue that day and part of me was sad that I wouldn’t be at Starbucks to write it. Knowing there was nothing else I could do, I grabbed some coffee and headed upstairs to my room.

I began with rereading what I had written last. My brain immediately fell back into the world I had created. I made some quick edits, then moved on to the epilogue. As the story unfolded in my mind, I tried to capture on the computer what I was feeling and seeing. While in Starbucks, I am surrounded by a constant hum, people having conversations, folks ordering coffee, light music in the background. At home I had a different hum, music played from my phone - songs that are tied to my story in my mind. Chris came in and out of our bedroom, grabbing laundry to do, asking me about dinner. They boys moved about the house, playing video games, talking to each other. Our dogs ran through the room more than once, wrestling, seeking attention, lazing on our bed. While distractions were far more plentiful at home than at Starbucks, when I typed my last words and realized I’d done it, I’d written a story, my heart overflowed. This was where I was meant to end this journey.

As for what’s next, that will unfold gradually. I’ve started an Instagram account under the name I plan on using when I publish. I’m not linking it to this blog or any of my other social media accounts - I teach middle school students and they are beautifully supportive kids, but this book is not for them. While they will likely find out the pen name at some point, at least I’ve put a layer between it and them. If you’d like to know my Instagram account, please message me here or on any of my social media accounts. As long as I don’t teach you, I’d gladly give it to you. :)

Beyond that, I’m going to create a website at some point. Then, write, revise, write, revise. I’m pretty certain I’ll be taking the self-publish/ indie publishing route. I just don’t even know where to start otherwise. Self-publishing means I will need to hire out editing and find someone to create my cover. And, as I said, I will be writing. While part of that will likely be revision work, a bulk of my writing will be new. I plan on starting the next book in this series, which right now I feel like will encompass five books. I’ve been listening to a lot of writing podcasts and the advice seems to be that if you are self-publishing, you should try to publish three books within weeks of each other when you are starting out. This allows you to build an audience.

So, there you have it. That’s where I am in the world of writing. Huge accomplishment reached, but so much more lies ahead. Thanks for taking this journey with me, it has been a blast so far.

And if you didn’t see last week’s Writing Wednesday post, it was an interview with one of my favorite romance writers, Kate Canterbary. Check it out HERE. I’ve shared a lot of her writing advice with my students already.

Coming up in the next few weeks will me more thoughts on writing from me, as well as more interviews: Jaleigh Johnson and Katherine Applegate are the next two with far more to come soon.

Have a great writing (and reading) week!

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Kate Canterbary - Writing Wednesdays

I can only start this blog series with Kate Canterbary, because she's the reason for it. In the past I've interviewed authors here and on the Voices From the Middle podcast for NCTE. I love hearing about the writing lives of others. However, when I began writing myself, I realized I needed to talk to others who also wrote what I was trying to write. I debated, who should I contact? And would they even reply? 

The idea came to me immediately, I wanted to contact Kate Canterbary. While Kate doesn't know me, I feel like I know her from her Instagram feed. Luckily for her, Boston, Massachusetts and Monticello, Illinois are a distance apart. Otherwise I'm certain I'd be dreaming up ways we could be best friends. I'm so grateful to Kate for answering my questions below. I hope you all will show her some love and can gain some insights into the world of writing through her. And with that, friends, let me introduce you to the amazing Kate Canterbary.

Talk to me about your writing life - what does it look like?

Kate: It looks different every time. I don’t have a singular method and I’ve found each book demands something different. Some books require extensive planning and outlining upfront -- I can’t move forward until I have a precise view of the path forward. Other books come to me in high-level ideas and I just work toward hitting a handful of moments and letting the characters tell me how the rest will work out.

I go between notebook and computer for writing. No real method to that madness--whatever feels right at the moment. Sometimes, the computer screen and the word/page count at the bottom can be really intimidating. Paper can be more forgiving, more approachable. I can write pages and pages, make notes to myself in the margin, cross things out and draw arrows to other things. But when I have a story percolating in my head (or I’m out of time and just need to get it done), typing is the way to go.

I edit almost exclusively on paper. I print out page proofs and mark them up. Some of my best work is the product of x-ing out a page and rewriting it on the back.

I don’t have a strict daily schedule. If there’s one thing I really hate, it’s feeling hemmed in. Even by myself. I write quickly and effectively early in the morning but I have a small child to wake, dress, and feed so my day usually begins after school drop-off. I usually go to a coffee shop or cafe to write for a few hours. Most of the time, I get a fair amount done in that time. If not, I pick up again after the dinner, bath, bedtime routine.

I don’t set word count goals for myself. Again, I hate being boxed in like that. I think progress is more important than hitting a target. Sure, there are times when I just need to In those situations, it’s more about finishing scenes/chapters/beats than word count.

I guess what I’m saying is I’m rebel without a cause ;-)  

Where do you get your inspiration?

Kate: Everywhere. There’s no limit to inspiration.

I was at coffee shop the other day and noticed a woman sitting two tables away. She had light blue hair and an old-fashioned sky hostess tote bag, and she was knitting while listening to something on her phone. I wasn’t sure what she was knitting. Maybe potholders or baby hats or doilies or something. But she stayed there, knitting and listening, for four hours on a Friday morning. And I had so many questions. I wanted to know whether she was knitting for business or pleasure. I wanted to know whether she was listening to a podcast or music or an audiobook. I wanted to know why an otherwise cool, funky chick was in a not-so-cool, not-so-funky town. Had she moved back home after spending some time in New York City or Boston? And if so, why? What -- or who -- brought her home? Was she trying to make a business of her handicrafts or was she filling her time (and hands) with something while she waited on...anything. Was she quietly famous for her knit hat-doily-potholder creations? What did she love and what did she hope for and what scared her?

That was from glancing around a coffee shop one morning. It’s everywhere.

What was your journey into writing?

Kate: I started writing a neighborhood newspaper when I was nine or ten. I reported on local goings-on and while that was plenty entertaining, I didn’t love the constraints of reality. I started writing fiction shortly after. When I was in seventh/eighth grade, I wrote two young adult novels. They were passed around the school bus and one teacher took a look at them too (and summarily crushed my tender writer spirit) but other than that, nothing came of those works.

I spent the majority of my high school and college years were spent working on newspapers, both at school and mainstream publications. I learned a tremendous amount in that time and met incredible people though I always had a fiction story rattling around my mind.

After college, I landed in the non-profit world. It’s a very hustle-bustle place and I did well. There was no time for stories in my head or even much reading. I did that for a little more than a decade before I found myself in books again. That time, it was reading. I picked up a Nora Roberts book at an airport and before my six hour flight was up, I’d read it cover to cover and was ready to read it again.

That book found me at a time when my life was in flux and it reminded me of all the things I love about reading and writing. It took a few more years but after my daughter was born, I had a tremendous amount of nursing and rocking time on my hands. It was the first moment since middle school that I’d had the time to think and let stories unfold again, and I let them. I let them grow and I allowed myself to listen to characters again.

Were you a writer in middle school? A reader?

Kate: Yes and yes. I read Maeve Binchy and Danielle Steel and Lurlene McDaniels and Michael Crichton and Mary Higgins Clark. I also read the entire Sweet Valley series despite the definite disapproval of a teacher who frequently required me to read “real” books.

What was your publishing journey like?

Kate: Nonlinear. Publishing is not a recipe. One cannot hop on a publishing blog, download the steps, and replicate. Sure, you can accomplish each discrete operation with success but that doesn’t mean it will culminate in success.

My first three books had lackluster releases. I think “lackluster” is a mild term. The books didn’t tank but they didn’t have any epic debuts either. And this is where the nonlinear piece comes in--just because they didn’t have strong releases doesn’t mean they haven’t done well. In fact, they’ve found deep and wide audiences.

Finding my audience took time and it took more work than I anticipated at the outset. I learned that no one will care as much about your book as you do and you should never trust anyone--editor, designer, vendor, publicist--with your success. If you want something done, you’re the one who has to make that happen.

I’m a diehard indie author. I’ve turned down traditional publishing deals for a number of reasons and while I don’t want to foreclose future possibilities (because I haven’t met Future Me yet), I am extremely comfortable and content in indie publishing.

What is the best writing advice you’ve received?

Kate: I’m not sure I received this advice so much as stumbled upon the realization that authenticity trumps originality.

We’re all trying to write something different. We all want to be special. But special comes from finding your voice and owning your voice and being authentic in using your voice.

And don’t read reviews. There’s a difference between feedback from an editor and/or critique partner and reviews. Reviews are for readers. The book is done and out of your hands.

What is some writing advice you’d like to give either to my students or to other aspiring writers?

Kate: Feedback is a scalpel, not a cleaver. Approach it that way. Some teachers/editors will give you the perfect pushes and notes that is simultaneously supportive, challenging, and meaningful while also honoring your voice and vision. Some teachers/editors might deliver feedback in a way that’s overwhelming or bruising to the creative’s tender spirit. It’s up to you how you handle that feedback. You could get sad or defensive--and I certainly have--but you can also walk away, yell into a pillow, and then push on the spots that need more work. That can be better. Don’t throw it away. Don’t start over. Don’t abandon your voice and your vision.

Best thing about being a writer?
Kate: The power. (lol) In all honesty, writers get to raise entire worlds from the ground up. They get to create people. And you get to live in the worlds you create. Spend all day thinking about the people and places and experiences. It’s a wonderful, weird power.

Hardest part of being a writer?

Kate: Writing is emotional labor. This might be more salient for the character driven stories I write than other genres but any meaningful story will require the author to carry a significant amount of emotional weight. It’s hard work to get yourself into the heads of characters experience an emotion well enough to write it and it’s hard work leaving those emotions when you close the document or notebook for the day.

What do you do when you’re stuck?

Kate: I write conversations. I think about characters talking about nothing important and let them go. Dialogue comes easily to me and when I’m stuck, I just listen to the characters for a bit. Even if I end up cutting it, those conversations usually get me back into the heads of those characters.

Do you have an “inner editor” voice that is unkind?

Kate: Definitely. That’s one of the reasons I like writing on paper. It feels less official. Like I’m allowed to get away with more. My inner editor is always pushing me to set the scene even when I want to just write the interactions and exchanges. She’s also reminding me that I used the same word two sentences ago and need to find a new one.

What are you reading now that you’re loving?

Kate: I’ve been reading a lot of historical romances recently. I’ve found I’m more confident about my words if I’m not concurrently reading something from the genre I’m writing. I’m a fan of Tessa Dare and Sarah MacLean.

Finally, do you want to share the inspiration for Before Girl?

Kate: This is a great example of highly obscure inspiration. I started writing Before Girl as a weekly serial for my reader group almost three years ago. It came on the heels of a stressful personal time and I was struggling to find my writing mojo so I let myself write for fun rather than a deadline.

The inspiration came in the form of observing several non-interactions at the gym. A woman was walking on a treadmill, listening to tunes, minding her own business. And a man jogging on another treadmill was clearly interested in her. When a treadmill beside her opened up, he hopped off his and moved closer. He kept sneaking glances at her. There were moments when it seemed like he was about to say something but stopped himself. And I watched this for a week.

Thank you, Kate! And, my blog readers, I want to end with this. In my Google Doc to Kate, I ended with my gratitude for her books. Romance books came into my life in July of 2017. I truly believe they have made me stronger and more "me" than I have been in years. I thanked Kate for what she puts out into the world and she wrote this. This, my friends, is what I needed to hear and I'm sharing it here incase you needed to hear it too.

Kate: I really believe romance is the genre of hope--even in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges--and we could all use a little hope these days.

If you'd like to check Kate out ahead of time, here are some links to where you can find her online. Enjoy! 





Books and Main 
(Register for free on the site to read extras from here, including scenes from the Magnolia Chronicles, which will be a book this year. YAY!)


Monday, January 7, 2019

Before Girl by Kate Canterbary - Book Review

Being honest upfront here, I'm a huge Kate Canterbary fan. I have two friends who read a lot of romance books with me. We live in three different states, so we have a voice message thread on Voxer where we discuss what we're reading and what we recommend to each other. I'm not sure how we found Kate Canterbary, but I'm so glad we did.

The first book I read from Kate was in her Walsh series, Underneath it All. This group of six siblings cracked me up. They lived in Boston, came from an abusive father, and a mother who died all too soon. Despite their hard upbringing, or perhaps because of it, they formed close-knit bonds. They each have their own issues to overcome, as each book shows, but their love, humor, and fondness for some foul language won me over from the start. 

I flew through the eight books in the Walsh series, then read Costal Elite, which has loose ties to the Walsh family. After that I journeyed into the destination of Talbott's Cove and read Fresh Catch and Hard Pressed. Looking around, I realized I was done, Kate hadn't written any more books. I lamented to my friends on Voxer and tried to appease myself by reading her Instagram feed daily. It was there that I saw a new book on the horizon, Before Girl. To say I was excited was an understatement.

Reading the blurbs for Before Girl, my excitement grew. Our male main character was my beloved Cal Hartshorn from the Walsh series. He was a heart surgeon, a former Army Ranger, that worked at the hospital with Nick and Alex. In the Walsh series there had been some ribbing of Cal and how he was in love from afar with a girl he'd seen running in the park. Stella, our female main character, is that girl. I loved Cal's bumbling ways, his kind heart, his loyalty... I was obsessed with Stella in this book. She is confident, not a size two, and funny as hell. She works at a sports publicity firm and has no issue ordering famous athletes around and getting them back on track. Add to that her amazing family, and I was hooked. 

Kate's books are a departure from my reading of middle grade and young adult books for my classroom. These, and other romance books, I read just for me. They make me laugh, they make me cry, and they remind me that strong women can rule the world. I am beyond grateful that my friends and I found Kate's books and I can't wait to read more.

Writing Wednesday this week will feature an interview with Kate, I'm grateful to her for agreeing to be on here. If you'd like to check Kate out ahead of time, here are some links to where you can find her online. Enjoy! 





Books and Main 
(Register for free on the site to read extras from here, including scenes from the Magnolia Chronicles, which will be a book this year. YAY!)


Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Writing Wednesdays - On Writing and Pseudonyms

If you've read this blog for any length of time, you know that one of the things I'm passionate about is writing. As a kid I used to want to be an author. I'd dream up stories, usually historical fiction, and create these visions in my mind of what my characters could be. Years of writing in middle school and high school destroyed that dream. Grammar and the mechanics of writing confounded me. My papers would be marked up, but I'd have no idea what I did wrong and no idea how to become better. I told myself that I was a reader, not a writer, and moved on.

In November of 2011 I began this blog. Other than writing papers for school, the last time I had written for enjoyment would be back before my middle school days, around 1986. It had been awhile. I was terrified of putting my writing out there, but I knew that to become a better writing teacher, I needed to do what I was asking my students to do. Gradually, it got easier. People actually read my blog, I was shocked to find out, and would send me words of support on a regular basis. I began to gain some confidence.

Writing here led me to wanting to write more. Brenda Power runs an amazing educational website called Choice Literacy. I'm proud to write for her. That led me to wanting to write a professional book for teachers. Trying to do so, however, led me back to that old feeling of failure as a writer. Other than writing short pieces that went in the books of other educators, trying to find my own voice for a professional book never happened. I gave up.

In April of 2018 my friend Cindy challenged me to try and write a romance book like the ones she and I read and discussed regularly. I began writing a story of two characters, Max and Emma, who were friends growing up in a small town much like mine. They've returned to their hometown and their relationship begins to change. I was shocked by how much I enjoyed it.

Now I'm 95,000 words in. I'm closing in on the ending, then I'll begin revising. One thing I've discovered is I love hearing about the writing process of others. Whether they're teachers like me who have found a passion for writing or they're published authors, I love asking people about their writing lives. This led me to an idea - once or twice a month in 2019, you will see an interview here with a friend, colleague, or author on their writing life. The first will run next Wednesday. One of my favorite romance authors, Kate Canterbary, was kind enough to answer all of my questions on her life as a writer. I'll review her latest book early next week so you can learn a bit about her before I run her post on the 9th.

For the other Wednesdays of the month I'll share what I'm thinking about as a writer or something my students and I are writing. One topic I'm thinking about a lot right now is the use of pseudonyms as a writer. A lot of romance authors use them, but they confuse me. I know some folks write under a pseudonym for anonymity. However, plenty of romance authors are out there, using a pseudonym, but also their actual photo with it. What is the purpose of the pseudonym? Is it just to get a name that sounds more like a romance writer? To have some separation between their daily life and their writing life? I can't figure it out. That being said, I will likely use one, I'd rather my middle school students didn't simply go to Amazon, type in my name, and download my book. On the other hand, I'm also proud of what I've written. Maybe I'll end up with a pseudonym, yet using my own picture as well.

Obviously, I'm conflicted.

What are your thoughts on pseudonyms? If you want to think more about it, here are two great podcasts I've listened to recently on the topic. If you have any resources to share with me, please do! 

SPA Girls Podcast Episode 120: Should You Use a Pen Name? 

So You Wanna Write a Romance: Pen Names: When & Why to Use One + 4 Tips On How To Pick The Perfect One For YOU

Next Writing Wednesday --> January 9th - Kate Caterbary

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Dublin Literacy Conference

A quick post to mention that I'm presenting at the Dublin Literacy Conference in Dublin, Ohio this February and registration is now open. Click HERE if you want to learn more.

At the link you'll find the brochure to see all of the amazing sessions that there will be that day. Pam Allyn and Jason Reynolds (!!) are Keynote Speakers. Bill Bass, Hena Khan, and I are featured authors. In the brochure you will see there are also many educators presenting throughout the day.

The conference is on February 23rd and you must register by February 16th. Registration is only $120, unless you're a preservice teacher, then it's $70. 

My friends and I have often said there is something in the water in Dublin, Ohio. All of the teachers I know from there are simply amazing. I am thrilled to get the chance to travel there and share what we're doing here in my town while learning from the amazing folks that attend. If you are in the area, I hope to see you there! 

Side note - check out this blog tomorrow (Tuesday, January 2nd). I'm starting a new blog series that I'm super excited about! 

Friday, December 28, 2018

One Little Word - 2019

It's that time of year again, time to make resolutions for the next one. Over the years I've found that I'm terrible at resolutions. I'm great for a few weeks, then it all goes south. As a result, many years ago I began selecting one little word that could be my focus for the year. I've had several, some more than others. Here are posts from the past few years:

2012 - Be

2013 - Be

2014 - Balance

2015 - Grace

2016 - Didn't pick one

2017 - Present

2018 - Present

This year I've thought hard about what word to pick. All of the words I've used before are still things I could work on, but today, driving to Starbucks to write, I was praying aloud in the car and a word came to me. 


Whatever journey we're on in life, I think it can often feel isolating, alone. No one else is on the same journey. To keep the faith, to keep moving forward, does require bravery. It is far easier to do nothing, to stay on the safe path or the path you are already on. 

Today when I reflected aloud, I thought through what the book is that I'm trying to write. While the genre is romance, the book I'm trying to write is one filled with hope, love, empowerment, friendship, community, and possibility. I reflected on all of the times of self doubt that I've had while writing, but how I've tried to dig deep and move through that. It's been tough.

Years ago I found this quote from a speech given by Teddy Roosevelt. I've turned to it, time and time again, when my inner editor (the evil Helga), has returned; or when folks ask me why I would try to write when I could just teach.

So, to keep me moving forward, to finish this book, to find my best self in 2019, to remind me to move forward even in the face of doubt, I'm picking brave as my one little word. When I want to give up, I'm going to be brave. I'm going to remind myself that when you're in the arena you experience victory and defeat, but that's what makes this life worth living, and it's going to be ok.

How about you? Are you making any resolutions for 2019? Or are you picking a word to focus on? If so, please share. Wishing you the best in this new year. 

Monday, December 24, 2018

Winter Break Plans - Looking Ahead

It's the most wonderful time of the year. Seriously, I look forward to Christmas Break for the entire first semester at school. It isn't that I have a countdown up, or that I don't completely love my students and my job, but that I feel so insanely busy during the school year that I only truly get caught up on anything during breaks - Winter Break, Spring Break, and Summer Vacation. My goals for this break are as follows:

Holy moly, do I have some books I want to get read. My reading life has taken a drastic turn in the past eighteen months. Reading romance books has been a fascinating journey for me. Romance books are really about happy endings and hope. Quite frankly, with the state of the world right now, I think that is why I turn to this genre again and again. That being said, I have about books from a variety of genres I'd like to read over break. I'll report back and let you know how that goes. Some titles on my "to read" list include:

Puddin' by Julie Murphy
Tradition by Brendan Kiely
Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson
Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu
Green by Sam Graham-Felsen
Plot MD by Adrienne Bell
A Velocity of Being by Popova & Bedrick

People, I am so close. Currently my work-in-progress stands around 94,000 words. With the ending I have in my head, I'd guess I have around three chapters left. The more I write, however, the more nervous I am about what I've written. The closer it is to an actual book, the more critical I am of what I've created. I have a multitude of thoughts in my brain - what pen name to use, whether I should be creating a social media presence for said pen name and creating connections there, and how on earth to use Scrivener to its full potential. (I'm seriously in love with this writing app that I've purchased yesterday and now in the process of diving down that wormhole.) My goal for break - get a significant chunk of the ending written and write some article for Choice Literacy. Writing is my main goal this break.

I love to organize. (See my love for Scrivener above. SO COOL!) One of my favorite parts of break is going through our house, pitching items that are trash, finding items to donate, and cleaning everything out. It feels like the entire place can take a deep breath when we're done. This is also why I tend to put our Christmas decorations away on 12/26. Order returns and I feel renewed. 

New Blog Series
This might be one of the things I am most excited for in 2019. On the Voices from the Middle Podcast for NCTE I often get to interview authors and be a bit nosey about their writing process. I'm fascinated by the writing lives of others. Writing myself, and talking to other writers, has driven home the point that there is no one process for everyone. However, how often do we tell our students that they need to write in a certain manor? Every time I learn something about myself as a writer, or about other writers I've met, I share it with my students. So, I decide to reach out to other authors and illustrators, asking them to share their writing lives with the readers of this blog. (And, in turn, I will share that info with my students.) I cannot wait to begin sharing their answers with you this January. 

How about you? What are your plans over the next few weeks? What are you looking forward to in 2019? Whatever they are, I'm sending you wishes for a wonderful end of 2018 and a terrific start to 2019.