Research Resurgence

I’m learning more and more about the importance of research for writers. Since my main project right now is historical non-fiction for children, it’s essential to get the facts straight. Since my brain leans to the “artsy” side (and I’m 48, and apparently that’s when you can’t remember hardly any damned thing…), I find I MUST write down things I want to remember. This results in lists, notecards, notebooks, computer notes, post-its, etc. We do what we must.

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When I did my original research using family papers and other texts, I used old-school note cards, just like I did in high school and college. Thank goodness I bothered, because I got a question this week regarding one of the facts in my manuscript. It was about a reference to the main character’s interactions with her grandmother and how her grandmother made delicious doughnuts. I nearly applauded (to no-one) when I was able to go right to my handy mini file box and pull out just the reference I needed.

The main type of research that is a must for writers is reading. It sounds simple, but my writing improves when I spend time in book stores and libraries finding materials that are comparable to the genre in which I’m working. I spent some time last night in a bookstore reading children’s books–a good stack of them.

I read about early air travel, women’s rights, famous politicians, a kind bean (yes, a bean), and finally, Helen Keller.

This beautiful book by Doreen Rappaport and Matt Tavares (published by Disney-Hyperion) represented so much of what I’d like my writing to be. The illustrations were captivating and descriptive and truly conveyed emotions. The manuscript gave a detailed account of Helen’s amazing life, including her relationships with her parents, her teacher, Annie Sullivan, and others throughout her life. It was inspiring–a real gift to children and adults alike. Thank you, Doreen and Matt!

Reading Helen’s Big World encouraged me to really consider the importance of research. It is not only important to get the facts straight for legal and historical reasons, but also for the purpose of getting the incredible truth out there. Accurately portraying Helen Keller’s (and so many other historical people’s) life opens minds and hearts to possibility. In the case of Helen, it’s possible to overcome challenges. It’s possible to learn. It’s possible to impact others. It’s possible to know beauty, regardless of your circumstances.

Children (and adults!) need these messages, and I want to be that kind of messenger–that’s why I write children’s books.

Next week, I’m working research into my routine. We’re fortunate to have a fantastic local library, and I plan to camp out there to read another stack of excellent works. Here’s to research!

Seasons Readings

joyIt’s the holiday season, and people (including me and my family) are making all kinds of preparations for December celebrations. This year, some of my holiday cards will be hand painted–if you didn’t get one, don’t get your feelings hurt. I WAY underestimated the time it takes to paint them, so I won’t have enough. But hey, some is better than none.

There’s another season coming up that I didn’t know about until I was involved in the publishing industry (and by involved, I mean desperately hoping to be published someday). READING SEASON. When working on query goals (GOAL: Submit one more manuscript to an agent before the end of November), I learned that many agents close their email boxes to submissions in December and January. This allows them a some time to work through the gazillion submissions they receive.

There are many ideas about the “slush pile,” and how agents and editors peruse their mailboxes:

Some people believe in the subject line: READ THIS! YOUR LIFE WILL CHANGE!

Others feel that the greeting matters most: Dear most gracious and powerful literary agent who needs one more client.

Still others count on listing the qualifications of the author: I am a member of a reputable writer’s club, I won the school spelling bee in 5th grade, and also I live near Mark Twain’s house, so of course my stuff is good.

I believe a little bit in all of those things, but I mostly believe in my manuscript. It’s a story about believing in yourself and your own ideas, and I think kids everywhere (and adults!) need to hear more about that.

Truth is, no matter how good my book is, the agent (or editor or publisher) must READ it to decide if it’s good, so the query letter matters a lot. So on that note, I give you this holiday tune about getting published. Sing it to the tune of “White Christmas.” Ready? All together now:

I’m dreaming of a new agent,

who loves my book more than I’ll know–

Who each word will cherish–

All doubts will perish.

The love for characters will grow.

I’m dreaming of a fast book deal

With big book store signings galore

May my query show off

my skills–don’t blow off

’cause this is revision ninety-four.

May my agent find me–and soon!

And I hope you liked this Reading Season tune.

white christmas

Happy Holidays!

Other Duties as Assigned…

What does a writer do when she’s not writing? Turns out, there are about a million things to do as I’m pursuing a writing career. Here’s a quick list off the top of my head:

  • Query agents. This means that I send a (very) carefully crafted letter describing a finished manuscript of one of my books. Most recently, I sent a query for Justin’s Cupcakes, which was requested by an agent at a writer’s conference. Average waiting time? 4-1,000,000 weeks. Tick. Tick.
  • Pitch books on Twitter. Many agents who represent picture book and other authors will open up a pitch session on Twitter from time to time. Today, for example, a number of agents are considering book pitches under #KidPit. There are rules about what to pitch, and how to respond if an industry professional “likes” your tweet/pitch. Today, I pitched my manuscript Lani’s Wings. Average wait time? 1-4 days. Tick. Tick. Tick.
  • Make contacts about writing. This week, I contacted Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington, Connecticut, because I’m very interested in researching Theodate Pope Riddle, a fascinating female architect from Connecticut. I think her life would make a fantastic children’s historical fiction book, and so far, there isn’t one. Average wait time? Who knows? But I’ll keep checking my email until I’ve got a face-to-face meeting scheduled. Can’t wait to learn even more about Theo!
  • Figure out social media “presence” as a non-techy mom type. I mean, I’m not an old lady, but I’ve got a lot to learn about algorithms on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr and whatever other platform the young folks have already started without me. (insert sigh and eye roll here)
  • Take classes, attend workshops and conferences, jot down ideas before my 47-year-old brain forgets them, which, I must confess, is pretty quickly.
  • Keep a spreadsheet of inquiries, queries, contacts, submissions, and follow-ups. My goal for the next year is either a book deal or 50 rejections. Gotta make it happen.
  • Set goals. I’m the sort of person that really thrives when I’m using a list. I break my goals down into action steps and complete the steps one by one until the task is accomplished. Sure, I’m good at slacking, too, but this method gets more done than any other one I’ve tried thus far. Check. That. List.
  • On a side note, I’m a mom and a wife, and I have a part-time job that helps pay the bills. Those people and responsibilities matter–A LOT.
  • Hope. I spend time thinking, hoping, meditating about the impact I can make in the world–through my writing and otherwise. I’m determined to make a difference!bee


And I write! New story ideas are popping into my head all the time. Little snippets of prose and poetry are lurking in my mind and in my hard drive. I’m grateful for a way to get my words out into the world.

My job description in one word: BUSY.



“the table is set and our glasses are full

though pieces go missing, may we still feel whole

we’ll build new traditions in place of the old

‘cause life without revision will silence our souls”

–lyrics from song by Sleeping at Last, “Snow”



I’m in love with these beautifully wise lyrics. Anyone who knows me well knows that I’m all about souls. I think a lot about the deepest parts of people–their souls. When a young person recently asked me how I could know that God exists, it didn’t take me long to answer. “It’s the souls. I believe in science–it is amazing. But for me, science cannot explain the beauty and individuality of souls. Souls are God’s house.”

All of this is to explain that it pains me to think of a life (without revision) that would “silence our souls.” I actually believe that a lot of the pain in our world is caused when someone tries to silence their own soul–or someone else’s.

So we must revise. We must edit. We must not only endure, but also INVITE change.


Abridged. Adjusted. Re-framed. Corrected. Condensed.

Improved. Polished. Modified. Reworked.


It has happened. Things have changed. They have changed again and again and again. It is said that the only things that you can count on in life are death, taxes, and CHANGE.

Now you may be thinking: Wait. Just. One. Minute.

I like things the way they are.

I hear you. Me too. Alas, here is a message for you and for me:

Get over it.

A big amount of change is happening right now with editing my manuscript. Editing is a gigantic part of writing. I remembered reading this quote somewhere:

“There is no such thing as writing, only good rewriting.”

The funny thing is, when I went to look up the source of this wise advice, I found that it has been attributed to more than one person. So far, I’ve found Hemingway, Capote, Dahl, Graves, King, Brandeis, and White. It’s pretty clear that revising is the only way to write and, I must add, to live.

It is not easy. When I first have an idea for a book, poem, or essay, it spills out onto the page in a rush. It just has to get out. In my mind, it’s fantastic. I scribble thoughts down on paper (old school) or rush to the keyboard so that my 46-year-old brain won’t forget.

When I get the draft out and read it for myself, maybe I’ll change a few things–gently though–so as not to hurt my own feelings. Change is fine when it’s what we WANT, right? It’s like saying, “Sure. I’ll go on a diet. As long as I can have potatoes. And candy. And bread. Also, I don’t really care for salad. Or vegetables. But other than that…I’m in!”

The thing about breaking into the “business” of writing is this: other people are gonna read your stuff. I first got a taste of this in a writing class I took at the Mark Twain House a couple of years ago. I learned a ton of useful information in the class about genres of children’s books, industry standards, working with words, and most importantly for me–accepting feedback. We would bring several copies of our manuscripts to class and take turns receiving the input of our classmates.

I’m not gonna lie. It’s a little bit of a naked-on-stage or was-that-my-pants-I-heard-ripping? feeling when you read the words aloud to others for the first time. You just don’t know what’s going to happen next. It was all well and good when people made small suggestions. That I liked. And agreed with.

But then there was the really useful stuff that makes a writer itchy:

–I can’t tell what’s happening in this paragraph.

–You lost me on page 5.

–This is too wordy. It get’s boring.

–Something’s gotta change at the end.


*Cracks knuckles, hitches up britches, slowly draws pistol as whistling western shoot-out music plays in the background*

humbleBut most of the time, they were right. And when I allowed forced myself to be humble and pay attention, the changes turned out to be what made the story so much better. Richer. More readable.

So I’m working with an editor as I prepare to share my manuscript with agents and publishers. I expected her to suggest changes, and boy, does she. I’m ok with it. I welcome it. My ideas are good, but I’m learning the truth about revision. In my writing, and in my life, it is essential.

Therefore, bring it on, benevolent Backspace! Deliver me, Delete key!

Detour me, Destiny!

Let the editing begin.