Write Now . . .

WRITE NOW…with Linden McNeilly


As readers, we know the bliss of getting lost in the world of story, the thrill of discovering new realms and visiting wondrous and distant places. As writers, we experience the joy of creating these worlds, designing their landscapes, constructing their features. This week, Linden McNeilly, author of the fascinating and innovative Map Art Lab: 52 Exciting Art Explorations in Mapmaking, Imagination, and Travel, discusses how creating maps can help us to build these worlds and ground us more firmly in our stories. I’m so pleased to welcome on WRITE NOW the wonderful and talented…Linden McNeilly.

Story Maps

Some of the most memorable maps from childhood are endpaper maps found on the inside covers of beloved books. Who doesn’t remember tracing Milo’s way from the tollbooth to Expectations, and shivering at the thought of the demons in the Mountains of Ignorance? And how about the Lord of the Rings map, showing Mordor protected on three sides by impossibly sharp mountains?

In my book Map Art Lab: 52 Exciting Art Explorations in Mapmaking, Imagination, and Travel (Quarto press, 2014) I show how these maps—and others associated with books—help tell the story.
As a writer, you can make your own story maps as a tool to layer your story with details like physical movement, weather, smells and sounds. LindenCoverart

Many writers make sketches of the locations in which their characters live. It helps to organize thinking as you describe your characters’ movements and their perspective. It can also keep you from changing details mid-story. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has written half a story in which the school is down the lane, only to find that by the end I’ve located the school on a hill, with the play yard overlooking the town square!

For my current work in progress, I often imagined how the character would get from place to place. I made lots of sketched maps. But they often seem flat and lacking, and it was hard to imagine relief in the landscape, especially in this story, which is located in a valley and includes nearby mountains. So I started by looking online for aerial photos that resonated with me. My search terms were “aerial valley village.” It turned out this photo of a village was a great starting point. It has a cluster of houses, with a couple further away, and a creek running under the main road. It also reminded me to have wild areas at the fringes of the town: great places for a graveyard, dwellings for the outcasts, or places for characters to rendezvous or run away. Linden1


But I needed to include those mountains, so I searched a little more and found this photo:


It looked less like a map than the first one, so I just used it to help imagine the mountains and the closed-in feeling of the valley.

To make the map, I traced the first photo, creating a bit more space around the houses and adding a few other buildings. Tracing is a great technique! You free yourself from criticism and just follow the lines. And you can be as creative as you like: adding natural features or places included in your story. Mine is a self-contained community, so they need food, school, medicine, trade, social areas, etc. I colored some of those in and made a key to remind myself. I added sensory details, just to get my mind working that way, to the key. I thought of sounds that would come from each place, and the smells that would correspond. As I write, I add to that key as I think of more elements I want to include. This is the first pass, done quickly. Linden3

I find that if I invest a little bit of time—a couple of hours—doing this by hand with some detail and color, my brain stores this picture and helps keep me clear about the setting all through the writing. I could have simply tacked up the photos and called it a day, but the hand/mind connection—and my ownership of the meaning behind the images—would have been lost.

This map will go over my desk, and I’ll take it down from time to time to add elements: weather, changes in the town (several structures burn down during the story) and perhaps alter a few things that don’t work right. But it helps keep me focused on the world I am creating, keeping it real.

Linden McNeilly has a Masters from VCFA. She was a public school teacher for more than 25 years and now writes full time. Her upcoming publications include a middle grade non-fiction book on kinetic energy (due in Spring, 2016, Rourke Educational Media), non-fictions titles on insects you can eat and use for medicine, and an historical novel set in 1968 about the anti-war movement (all due in Fall, 2016, Rourke Educational Media). Her book, Map Art Lab: 52 Exciting Art Explorations in Mapmaking, Imagination, and Travel (Quarto press, 2014) was written with her sister, Jill Berry. Linden lives in the Central Coast of California with her husband and daughter, with three adult sons nearby. Her website is www.lindenmcneilly.com. She also makes handmade leather and marbled paper journals and tiny, real leather book necklaces. Her Etsy shop is at: https://www.etsy.com/shop/MarbledBooks?ref=search_shop_redirect

GIVEAWAY! Linden is offering a copy of her book, Map Art Lab: 52 Exciting Art Explorations in Mapmaking, Imagination, and Travel. Comment on the post for a chance to win!



WRITE NOW…with Hazel Mitchell and Liza Gardner Walsh


Hazel Mitchell and Toby

Hazel Mitchell and Toby

Liza Gardner Walsh

Liza Gardner Walsh











What a treat today to host an author/illustrator team this week on WRITE NOW. Where Do Fairies Go When It Snows?, the delightful picture book by Liza Gardner Walsh, offers a charming and imaginative tale, illustrated with Hazel Mitchell’s gorgeous and whimsical drawings. How do an author and illustrator find one another? Here’s one story and it’s inspiring! It’s my pleasure to welcome to WRITE NOW, the very talented and lovely Hazel Mitchell and Liza Gardner Walsh.



Fairies? But, of course!

by Hazel Mitchell

Who wouldn’t want to spend time creating drawings of fairies? When I was offered the chance to illustrate Where Do Fairies Go When It Snows? by Liza Gardner Walsh, I jumped at the chance! Actually it was serendipity. Here is the story:FairyHouse5

Liza and I shared a table at a book festival in Camden, Maine a year or so a go. I happened to have a postcard on my table with an illustration of a fairy flying over a fairy city accompanied by her bunny friend. It was just a sample I had played around with and decided to use as a giveaway. Liza (who has written several other non-fiction books for children on creating fairy houses and gardens), picked up the postcard. She told me she was writing a picture book about fairies and that she loved the style of my drawing. She kept my postcard.

I thought no more about it – then, fast forward and I received an email from the editor of Liza’s books at Down East Books, Maine, asking if I’d be interested in illustrating the fairy book! And the rest, (as they say), is history.

FairyHouse1So much of our industry comes down to who you meet, who happens to see your work or who you might sit next to at a book festival! The cover of Where Do Fairies Go When It Snows is pretty much exactly the same as the postcard image that Liza saw originally. The same fairy features throughout the book, with her bunny.

It’s so very nice when something that was just in your imagination gels with someone else’s imagination and a book is born. This is one of the things that makes working in children’s books such fun!

Winter fairy kit!

Does it get any more delicious than this?

GIVEAWAY! Hazel and Liza are giving away a signed copy of Where Do Fairies Go When It Snows? as well as this adorable Winter Fairy Kit. Comment on the post for a chance to win!

WRITE NOW…with Ann Jacobus

Marc Olivier Le Blanc photography

Marc Olivier Le Blanc photography


Ah, Paris! The City of Light, love, art and beauty. But Paris has its dark side, too, which serves as an integral part of the setting for Ann Jacobus’ powerful and gripping debut young adult novel, Romancing the Dark in the City of Light. This week, Ann discusses how we can use setting to shape and strengthen our stories, to reveal character and increase tension. All of this is expertly done in Ann’s novel where the setting serves not only as the backdrop to this thrilling and emotional story, but almost as a character itself. It’s my pleasure to host on WRITE NOW the talented and lovely and certainly full of light…Ann Jacobus.


Setting as a Workhorse (named Paris)

Setting sometimes gets short shrift. For realistic fiction, this is especially true. Just pick an actual place or two, and the better you know them, the more effectively you can use them. Right?

Right. But odds are high that you can make your setting work harder.Romancing_cover_final.indd

Our macro setting(s) provide—in addition to the geographical location—the historical period, and the time of year and day, and the culture within which your story takes place.

Micro setting is where each scene takes place. A good macro can provide lots of good micros, which in turn add energy, texture and tension.

If you’re writing SF/fantasy, you will be building all this from scratch, and kudos to you.

My YA thriller Romancing the Dark in the City of Light is set in Paris, a city I love. My family and I lived there for many years and I wasn’t exactly the first one to realize it would be a cool setting for a novel.

I also knew my story was going to be contemporary, or “modern day,” so that took care of macro-time. My main character would be an American who is part of the expatriate culture—foreigners abroad. But how could I work against the cliché of an American in the same old, awesome, romantic Paris (yawn)?

Paris has a huge population of ex-pats. After we arrived, I noticed that a number of “trailing spouses,” meaning the husband or wife who doesn’t have the ex-pat job, were surprisingly not so happy to be there, or at least at first. Moving anywhere, adjusting to a new culture, and trying to operate there—especially if you lack language skills, not to mention friends and family in the area—can be emotionally as well as physically trying. This is true anywhere.

But when you’re in Paris, no one back home has much sympathy for you.

A couple of these poor sods found dealing with French bureaucracies and services, and the different cultural values so overwhelming they went back to the US or other home countries. Paris for them was a hostile punishment zone, not a prize.

Sacre Coeur

Sacre Coeur

This got me thinking.

I had an idea about a depressed, ultimately suicidal girl. How would this incomparably beautiful and culturally rich city look through the eyes of such a protagonist? Not so nice, right?

My MC is drawn to the underbelly of the city, and dark and creepy places (https://www.playbuzz.com/griffinteen10/the-dark-side-of-the-city-of-light-top-10-creepy-places-in-paris) are a reflection of her inner state. So now, timing is decided, too. Naturally the story should take place at the coldest, darkest part of the year. Cue overcast skies.

Gargoyle at the Notre Dame Cathedral overlooking the city of Paris, France

Gargoyle at the Notre Dame Cathedral overlooking the city of Paris, France

Summer notices the hookers, the homeless, lonely children, Romany beggars, and old chewing gum on the floor of the train. She visits a graveyard, the catacombs, the sewers, and in these places, she focuses on things that remind her of death.

Poet and writer Nam Le says, “The subjectivity through which we see things is THE most important part of the thing that’s being seen.”

Setting is an often-under-used tool of great power. It can be a subtle—or not so subtle—mirror, reflecting metaphors or objective correlatives that reveal so many things about our character(s). Of which we’re then relieved of the need to tell our readers. A rich setting provides fodder to work against expectations, to avoid clichés, and to provide energy-generating contrast.

How can you mine your setting to reveal more information about your characters and tension for your scenes?

  1. Macro: think like a low-budget movie producer. Or a high-budget scout. What locations (that you know or research) will give you the most interesting exterior shots? And the potential for interesting interiors? Your story takes place in a town in Tennessee. Instead of in Toone where you grew up, can you set it in Memphis on the banks of the Mississippi and use Graceland for something? You’ve been there, but go visit and take fresh notes.
  2. Micro: In fiction for younger readers we’re often obliged to use characters’ abodes and schools. Question this assumption. Where else in your macro setting could you place this scene? It may have to be at school. If so, stretch yourself out of the classroom or the cafeteria! And all family scenes do not have to be in the kitchen. What about the local farmer’s market, the little brother’s ballet studio, an e-cigarette shop? Better yet, get your character into an uncomfortable place like traffic court, or the gynecologist’s office with their sister, where they would otherwise not go.
  3. Details that reveal the POV character: Try brainstorming a long list of objects that are somehow like your character, (a vase with cracks, a car with horsepower, a stuffed turkey) and then find a way to have your character focus on one or two during a scene. I trust you to do this where it’s appropriate.

Good Luck!

GIVEAWAY! Ann is offering a copy of her novel, Romancing the Dark in the City of Light to readers from the U.S. and Canada. Comment on the post for a chance to win!

A Texas native who spent her childhood in Arkansas, Ann Jacobus is the author of YA thriller, Romancing the Dark in the City of Light (St. Martin’s Griffin, October 2015). She earned an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and lived overseas with her family for almost two decades. San Francisco is now home.

WRITE NOW…with Dianne White


In Dianne White’s beautiful debut, BLUE on BLUE, an encroaching storm breaks through the calm of a family’s day on their farm. Dianne’s stunning language captures the storm and its beauty in gentle rhythmic tones. Her gorgeous words delight and reassure young readers, as they wait for the storm to pass. This week on WRITE NOW, Dianne talks about how patience, perseverance and passion led to the publication of BLUE ON BLUE. Once again she offers reassurance–the storm always passes, and the waiting can be beautiful, too. Like BLUE ON BLUE, Dianne’s sage words beg to be read again and again and again. It’s my great pleasure to host on WRITE NOW the lyrical and eloquent Dianne White.

From Passion to Publication

As a new teacher, I discovered a world of children’s books I hadn’t known existed. The mid-80’s were a hey-day for trade picture books. School and library budgets were healthier, and teachers used real books (not basal readers, or excerpts of books in anthologies) to introduce subject matter, support instruction, and encourage a love of reading.

Surrounded by a growing collection of picture books in my home and classroom, it didn’t take long for me to wonder if I could write a book of my own. As it turns out, writing was just the beginning. Making those manuscripts strong enough to sell took a bit longer. 12 years, to be exact. And nearly 6 years beyond that until BLUE on BLUE, illustrated by Caldecott artist, Beth Krommes, was published.

By most people’s standards, that’s a long wait. But it wasn’t wasted time. During those 12 years I immersed myself in books for kids and filled in the gaps in my writing and reading education. I studied picture books, joined SCBWI, took classes and workshops, even returned to school and got an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

If you’ve been working towards publication for a while, or are just starting your writing career, here are 3 of my best tips.

Tip #1 – Start with passion

Like all the arts, writing is a business of persistence in the face of rejection. Yes, you’ll need an idea… or two… or three. Talent is also nice. But, to my mind, passion and perseverance are far more important. You won’t be a writer worthy of your young audience unless you’re passionate about children’s books. This passion must extend beyond the stories you want to tell.

BlueOnBlueWhiteKrommessmallCase in point. I often run into picture book writers starting out who haven’t read more than a handful of books in their chosen genre. This always surprises me. How will they understand how picture books work? Do they realize that the best picture books have a universal quality that means something, even to those who aren’t related to or don’t know the author?

Respect the genre and your young readers. Know the picture books that have gone before. Start with a passion that’s bigger than your own work.

Tip #2: Hone your craft

I’ve heard that for every 10 picture books you write, you’re lucky to sell one. Another way of saying it? KEEP writing. And that doesn’t mean keep revising the same 3 manuscripts over and over.

If you’re serious about publishing, you (and I!) already have a nice collection of favorite manuscripts. Many are pretty good. Excellent, even. But that does not mean they will ever sell.

Some manuscripts are meant to teach us how to write. They may be beloved, but let’s push ourselves to do more, set aside the fear that we’ll never write anything that compares, or the thought that our manuscript is too good to waste. Make way for the new. Write more.

Tip #3: Share your Work

I know people who don’t need a critique group but I am not one of them. Sure, over the years I’ve gotten more skillful at reading my work. There’s a lot of revision I can do on my own. Putting work aside to “rest” for a while helps. But there are plenty of times when I need outside feedback.

Find your tribe. Nobody outside this business will completely understand the ins and outs, ups and downs, joys and disappointments of pursuing a career in the arts. Share the journey with your writing friends. You’ll be all the richer for it.

GIVEAWAY! Dianne is offering a signed copy of her debut, BLUE on BLUE. Comment on the post for a chance to win!

DIANNE WHITE has lived and traveled around the world and now calls Arizona home. She holds an elementary bilingual teaching credential and a Master’s in Language and Literacy. In 2007, she received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

After teaching for 25 years, Dianne now writes full-time. Her first picture book, BLUE on BLUE, illustrated by 2009 Caldecott winner, Beth Krommes, was published by Beach Lane Books (S&S) in 2014. Visit Dianne at www.diannewrites.com or on Twitter @diannewrites.

WRITE NOW…with Jen White



There is nothing “almost brave” about Jen White’s debut novel. Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave is big and bright and full of courage and heart. And there is nothing “almost brave” about Jen White–particularly when she talks about finding her way back from her “maybe place.” Her wise words resonate and offer light to us all as we struggle through our own murky worlds of maybe. It’s my pleasure to welcome on WRITE NOW, the lovely, and most certainly brave, Jen White.

Writing Through the Maybe Place

Last week, in the middle of the night, I was awakened by my three-year-old daughter; her small face inches from mine, her slight breath on my face. I felt her before I saw her.

“What’s wrong,” I asked.

“My mouth hurts,” she said.

I turned on the light to inspect the inside of her mouth. It looked normal. My husband woke. He gave her acetaminophen, thinking maybe she had a sore throat, and then put her back to bed. Just as I was about to drift off, I heard the pad of small steps across our bedroom floor and the familiar clink of the ring attached to her pacifier as she walked.

I sat up and called her name.

No response.

My husband said, “She’s asleep.”

“No,” I said. “She’s up.”

I called her name again. But the house remained silent. I got up and felt my way across the bedroom to check the bathroom, my closet, the hallway, the laundry room, her room…no three-year-old. And just as the worry started to rise in my chest, I saw her in the dark, crouched against the wall, wrapped in her blanket.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I’m hungry.”

It was one o’clock in the morning. And generally, with five children in the house, I say no to middle of the night mealtimes, and normally I would have put her back to bed, but….

Maybe it was the way she whispered, “Say yes, Mommy.” Or the way her eyes seemed almost too bright, too fully awake, that I let her lead me by the hand, the two of us like mirrored ghosts–one large and one small, down the dark stairway toward the kitchen.

A house is a different place in the early morning. It felt almost shrouded in a mist of fairy dust, like an unexpected secret. We stared at one another over a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (her request any time of day when food is being offered).

She sat on the stool at the island, and ate her sandwich in silence–her eyes round and clear. The great window in our kitchen, which usually framed our backyard–grass, patio, trampoline, fireplace–was now gone, replaced with nothing but a deep, inky black.

“Where’d the park go?” she asked suddenly, a worried crinkle between her eyes.

“It’s outside,” I said.

She seemed to take that in, but stared into the dark night like she didn’t believe me.

“Where’s the beach? And Disneyland?”

“They’re outside,” I said, now understanding her concern. “They’re still there, even though you can’t see them. It’s just dark. The sun will be up tomorrow.”

She nodded. “Maybe,” she said.

I put her back into bed and then lay in my bed thinking about such a world where anything was possible. A three-year-old land where one day the beach existed and then in the next, maybe it didn’t. That world must seem like a gigantic vacuum, a precarious place without boundaries, but also with endless possibility. A maybe place.

JenWhiteBookCoverI believe this place is also where writers live. We can’t always see where our art will take us, but it’s the endless possibility–the maybes–that keep us writing. Dan Santat said in his 2015 Caldecott Acceptance speech for his book Beekle, “’Maybe’ is a dangerous place to be, because it fills your mind with hope, and sometimes that can be an awful thing.” What are the hopes that keep you writing? I have thought a lot about hope as my first book, Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave, was published only mere months ago. With its release came the maybes.

Maybes like:

1) Maybe my book will bomb.

2) Maybe it will be great.

3) Maybe the publishing company will forget to publish it.

4) Maybe it will get a second run.

5) Maybe no one will read it.

6) Maybe someone will read it.

7) Maybe this will be the only book I ever write.

8) Maybe I’ll write ten more.

See. The maybes are dangerous. Each one of those thoughts were equally terrifying because with art there is no norm.  There is no equation that will give you what you think you want. There is no formula that tells you, “Hey, you’ve made it. You’re an expert now.”

As a writer, in the beginning, I only wanted to ease the anxiety in my chest. And that would only happen if, first: I was brave enough to let someone read my work. Then I wanted the reader to like it. Then I wanted a publisher to like it. Then I wanted a good house to publish my book. Then I wanted to publish another. After traversing through these steps, I noticed my anxiety about my writing never waned. Sometimes it grew quieter, but it never went away, because deep down I thought maybe I didn’t deserve success…but then other days, I thought maybe I did. As a writer, there is always glorious hope trapped between terrifying maybes.

Austin Kleon calls this the “imposter syndrome,” a very real thing, he says, that runs rampant in educated people (Steal Like an Artist). This is where we think at any moment someone will discover that we don’t really know what we’re doing; that we’re faking it. A side note: As a general rule, no artist really knows what they are doing. Art is almost always winging it, a doing of what feels right. As we create, we have hope that our current inspiration will be just that: inspired. Steal Like an Artist

Steve Jobs said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards.”  How true. You have to wade through the creative process and reach the end to finally realize the full potential of what you’ve done. Even then, there are no statistics. There is no crystal ball. You can do all the research in the world, but when it comes to creativity, you have to go with your gut. You must jump in and create without a map or guide. And then, once your creation is finished, the mere production of it has to be your reward. I can now say from a place of experience, regardless of what you produce, someone will love it and someone will hate it. And that outside opinion can’t affect your ability to continue to create art.

Jandy Nelson says in her book I’ll Give You the Sun, “We wish with our hands, that’s what we do as artists.” Perhaps it’s that desire, that wish for something better, which keeps us creating even within the throngs of doubts and maybes. It’s that expectation of what art can provide that keeps us pushing forward. We stare out through the window at the dark night and trust that what we wish for is still out there. We take a step forward, not knowing what it will bring. It’s this step by step procession that makes creating art so very gratifying. I’ve decided, the maybe place can be a beautiful place to live, as long as hope is its friendly neighbor.

Jen White has a degree in English teaching and also earned her MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts in writing for children and young adults. Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave is her debut novel and was born from the real experience of Jen being accidentally forgotten at a gas station with her younger sister and cousin.  Jen lives with her five children and husband in Southern California.
GIVEAWAY! We’re so excited that Jen is offering a signed copy of her wonderful new book, Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave, a Survival Journal, plus super cool book swag! Just comment on the post for a chance to win!



WRITE NOW…with Kelly Bennett

Kelly Bennett 2015

Kelly Bennett is simply unforgettable. Known for her humor and her heart, Kelly’s books are bursting with both. Her picture book, Not Norman, A Goldfish Story–a favorite of my son’s–recently celebrated 10 years in print and was chosen for Jumpstart’s Read for the Record­© campaign. I’m tickled several shades of pink to host on WRITE NOW, my dear friend and Vermont College sister, the fabulous and fun Kelly Bennett.

Keep Your Head in the Game

Write now! That’s often easier to tell myself than to do. As of late, everything—even my own books—are getting in the way of my writing. My current excuse for not spending much time writing is Jumpstart’s 2015 Read for the Record© campaign. Just imagine it: On October 22nd, 2015, my fishy picture book, Not Norman, A Goldfish Story, illustrated by Noah Z. Jones, being read by millions of adults and children on the same day! If enough people participate, it could be the largest shared reading experience in the whole world!

Truth is, I had absolutely not-one-thing to do with Not Norman, A Goldfish Story being chosen. That was all between the Jumpstart folks and Candlewick Press’s remarkable marketing team. First I heard of it, I was in Montpelier, Vermont slurping down a maple creamy (maple ice cream cone heaven) when my phone rang. Mary Lee Donavan from Candlewick Press was on the line. Mary Lee had never called me before. When I heard her voice, I was sure she was calling with bad news. (When a publisher/editor call comes, I always think it’s going to be bad news. Will that ever stop?) What I learned, and you might be interested to know, is that Read for the Record© is truly a joint effort between Jumpstart and the publishers. Among other things, Candlewick Press printed a special edition of Not Norman for Jumpstart to sell to raise funds to support its literacy efforts, as well as thousands of extra copies to donate to schools and libraries. I love my little fish Norman, so yes, I was worried. I could see millions of people registering to read the previous Jumpstart selections: Corduroy, Otis, The Snowy Day, Llama Llama Red Pajama, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Bunny Cakes, Lady Bug Girl and the Bug Squad, The Story of Ferdinand. They are HUGE Bestsellers by big name authors! Will millions of people register to read Not Norman on Oct. 22, 2015?


They will if I have anything to do with it!

From then to now and through Oct. 22, 2015, I am committed to spreading the word about Jumpstart, which means spending more time on marketing, traveling and school visits that I have writing. And while I’m at, I encourage everyone—you too!—to register to Read For The Record©. Here’s the link: www.readfortherecord.org.

But, what about my writing? In this whirl of marketing and promotion, sandwiched between swirls of family and friend time and holidays and grand parenting, how do keep my enthusiasm for works in progress? For that matter, how do I even remember who these characters are? Let alone recall what the heck they were doing or feeling or wanting when I last left them? How do I get my head back in the writing game?

With memory joggers.

I began creating memory joggers when my then writing partner, Ronnie Davidson, and I were working on Strangers in Black, a middle grade memoire of a boy living in Cambodia when the Khmer Rouge were in power. As Cambodia was both an unfamiliar and real place, we couldn’t “make up details as we went along.” So, I made a collage using photocopies of pictures we’d gathered while researching the story. We hung the collage over our work area so we could see it and refer to it while writing. It worked so well I’ve been creating WIP collages and other memory joggers ever since.

Memory collage for a current book

Memory collage for a current book

Here are my favorite memory joggers.


I create a playlist for each project. The playlist consists of a song or songs that bring to mind the feel or tone I want for that project and/or a song that encapsulates key character’s personalities or desires. For example, Not Norman’s playlist consisted of three songs: “All By Myself,” the main character’s anthem ; Norman’s Song is “People Let Me Tell You About My Best Friend”, aka The Theme from Courtship of Eddie’s Father; And Not Norman’s soundtrack, “Under the Sea” from Littlest Mermaid, of course. Yes, because it’s a fish song, and more because it’s punchy and livelyand I wanted Not Norman to be a snappy, faced-paced story.

Visual Gallery (This is a 2-parter):

First part is about getting my mind in the game by reminding myself who I want to enjoy my story. Sometimes my internal critic and external ones (reviewers, agent, editor, adults…) get between me and my best writing. I’ll find myself writing to please them, instead of writing to entertain children. To block them out and keep my intended audience in mind, I write each piece, whether it be a blog post, article or picture book manuscript, with a specific reader in mind. I have poster-sized photos of my children and grandchildren hanging on the wall in my office. They are my picture book audience!

Second part, I create collages for my stories from photocopied images collected while researching a project and/or magazines. These includes landscapes, places, clothing, and pictures of specific characters. I post the collage on the wall so I can see it while I’m writing.

Flap Copy:

I write a one-line explanation of my story (Call it what you will: Log Line, Elevator Pitch, Catalogue Copy) and post it at the top of the manuscript where I can read it each time I open the file. Here’s Not Norman’s: “A boy wants a pet more than anything in the world, but when he finally gets one, it’s not the kind of pet he wanted at all.”

 Modeling (Or as I like to think of it, use envy for good):

For each project, I find a book that has the feel, the flow, the pacing, the style of writing I want-wish-strive for in my story. Once I find “The Book” I keep it at hand and read a passage or two each time I sit down to write. For Not Norman the book was When Ira Sleeps Over by Bernard Waber.

What’s best about these memory joggers is that by using music, visuals and tactiles to create them, the right-side of the brain and subconscious are working too—maybe even when we think our heads are in other games!

Kelly Bennett is the author of many books for children—mostly picture books. Her stories, such as Vampire Baby; Your Daddy Was Just Like You and Your Mommy Was Just Like You; Dance, Y’all, Dance; Dad and Pop; One Day I Went Rambling, and Jumpstart’s 2015 Read for the Record© book, Not Norman, A Goldfish Story, celebrate imagination, families, friends, pets… all that goes into being a kid! Kelly divides her time between Trinidad & Tobago, Westhampton Beach, New York and Grandmaville (which is anywhere those Grand boys are!). She’s busy creating lovely spaces and new stories!

GIVEAWAY! How fortunate we are that Kelly is offering signed copies of her book, Not Norman, A Goldfish Story, to 3 lucky winners! Just comment on the post and register to Read for the Record at Jumpstart for a chance to win! Click here to register.



WRITE NOW…with JaNay Brown-Wood

JB Headshot

When JaNay Brown-Wood and I met as co-recipients of the NAESP Book Award, I was immediately drawn to her warmth and enthusiasm. Her beautiful debut picture book, Imani’s Moon, with gorgeous illustrations by Hazel Mitchell, encourages young children to believe in themselves, through its delightful and determined heroine, Imani. It’s my absolute pleasure to host on WRITE NOW the enchanting and very talented, JaNay Brown-Wood.

My Process as a Metaphor

Do you know what writing is like for me?

I’m standing on the edge of a cliff. I can see the rock beneath my tennis shoes, solid and sturdy; small loose pebbles fall away as I shift my feet, making soft crackles as they fall down the cliff side. I don’t look behind me because that doesn’t matter so much—what’s done is done and the past has already happened.

But I do look down. Past the cliff’s edge. And what I see as I peer over is…nothing. Nothing. It’s like a blinding white abyss of nothing. But that’s okay. Because I’m prepared. I’ve got what I need and more. On my back I’ve got an oxygen tank strapped on beneath a survival backpack that’s got a parachute attached. I’ve got sunblock on and goggles. First-aid kit. Water bottle.

My heart slams around in my chest and beads of sweat accumulate on my brow. My mouth is dry with anticipation. I’m ready.

I step to the very tip of the cliff and stare down into the schism. And I jump, diving down into it. And as I fall downward, the details begin forming.

Specifics materialize on all sides of me. Like yesterday, when I jumped, fluffy cumulus clouds appeared among bright blue sky and patches of green and brown fields grew in size below as I neared them. And on my back, I had glider wings and my parachute–all the other things that I didn’t need had disappeared.

And the day before that, when I jumped, I hit temperate water, diving down through the ocean’s depths. Past jellyfish and blue whales and coral reefs. My tank was in place, oxygen filled my lungs, and I took in the beauty.

This is what it’s like for me when I write. My process. I have an idea of where I’m going, sometimes more clearly than other times. And I feel confident in my abilities to make something happen on that blank page. Then I let my imagination go, let it take me wherever it needs to, allowing my fingers to trap it on the page.

And often it feels like a risk. Often, thoughts creep into my mind like “what if this scene doesn’t work” or “what if my character isn’t believable?” or “what will the critics say?” But, I try to quiet that with the wind or water rushing past me as I fall into my story. I’ll figure all that out when I’m editing. But for now, just write. Just write. Just keep writing.

Imani's Moon Cover

“….story of determination tinged with magical realism.” –School Library Journal

That’s the most important part of all of this: Just. Keep. Writing. Even if you feel as if the risk of spilling your thoughts for others to read seems scary and daunting. Just keep writing. Even if you’re not sure if you’ll even use this scene in your final draft. Just keep writing. Even if there are sharks in the water or a tear in your parachute. Don’t worry, just keep writing.

Someone once said “you can’t edit a blank page.” That stuck with me. If you want to make this happen: Just keep writing.

Your process will come. And the more you do it, the more likely it will be that your dreams will become real too. Book publications. Agents. Huge deals. Adoring readers. The works!

But none of that can happen if you don’t write.

So what are you waiting for? Go on.



JaNay Brown-Wood is a children’s author and educator. Through the years, JaNay has been a performer, preschool teacher, camp counselor, poet, silly-song singer, youth specialist, designer of curriculum, Harry Potter lover, reader, jellybean eater, and someone who truly cares about our future generations. Currently, she works as an Early Childhood Education professor at American River College.

Her first picture book Imani’s Moon is the winner of the NAESP Children’s Book of the Year Award, is a Northern CA ACL 2014 Distinguished Book, as well as a Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) Multicultural Book pick for 2015. It has also been turned into an audiobook through Live Oak Media. JaNay has also had poems featured in Highlights for Kids and Highlights High Five. Keep an eye out for her second picture book “Grandma’s Tiny House” (Charlesbridge Publishing) inspired by her family’s holiday gatherings.

GIVEAWAY! We’re so excited that JaNay is offering an autographed copy of her wonderful book, Imani’s Moon. Comment on the post for a chance to win!

To learn more about JaNay:

Visit her website at www.janaybrownwood.com

Like her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/janaybrownwood

Follow her on twitter: @janaybrownwood

Or shoot her an email to say “HI!” janay@janaybrownwood.com







WRITE NOW…with Erin E. Moulton


Erin E. Moulton knows sisterhood–its presence shines in her novels. It’s woven throughout her newest release, Keepers of the Labyrinth, with mystery, mythology and a touch of magic. Erin knows magic, too–not just the enchanted kind, but the kind that connects us to one another. It’s her deep understanding of what binds us together, and what makes us human, that renders her characters and their stories so irresistable. I’m proud to host on WRITE NOW, and even more honored to be a part of her circle of writing sisters, the inspiring and most fabulous, Erin E. Moulton.

Keepers of the Labyrinth and the Spectrum of Femininity

Keepers of the Labyrinth is a mystery adventure set in present day Crete that has an ancient backstory of a secret sisterhood that dates back to the Minoans. At its very root, it is a story of sisters in an ancient secret society, a story of sisters with secrets shared and kept. A story of sisters protecting something universally sought after. Only they know how to keep it safe. It has been their duty since the beginning.Keepers

It’s my third, or if you’re really digging, my fourth book, that showcases strong sister and girlfriend relationships. It’s my fourth book and happens to have a primarily female cast of characters. Why? Femininity–and my relationship to it– has never been an easy thing for me to understand. Or perhaps I just have always struggled with what it means to be a girl. When you grow up with three sisters, there is no brother to compare yourself to, so you are just a girl, among girls. Be as you are. We fought, fist over teeth. We hugged and cuddled on the couch like a pack of pups. We literally bathed in the mud and climbed trees and skinned our knees. We jumped off rocks, dug up artifacts, hunted for frogs and salamanders in our front yard. We made up stories and read books and wrote books. We slayed dragons and laid in lagoons. We were girls, but often called tomboys because we were rough and tumble and played in the dirt and forest. Tomboy was like a badge of honor. You’re a girl, but you’re like a boy. It was seen as a step up.

To this day, I struggle with understanding femininity and my place in it. Am I not being feminine enough? Am I being too feminine? What does it mean to be feminine?Moultonpostfeminine

Well, by definition: having qualities traditionally ascribed to women, as sensitivity or gentleness. That’s nice, isn’t it? Sensitivity and gentleness. But it’s a bit narrow of a definition if I ever saw one. Having worked at the public library, I can tell you right now that some women start the day like they ate nails and turpentine. Gentle sensitive must be for the gentrified? Where are these gentle ladies you speak of, Webster? It just, simply, doesn’t cover the large spectrum of personality that femininity entails, today. Just as masculine doesn’t sum up what men are: having qualities traditionally ascribed to men, such as strength and boldness. I’ve known strong and bold women, and sensitive and gentle men. (I love that about people–our compulsion to create categories and try to define ourselves and then, by nature, defy our definitions.)

So, what is femininity? I happen to know a lot of women. I come from sisters, you see. Sisters by both blood and bond. To me, when femininity is defined by life and not by definition, it looks something like this:

My first sisters were my blood sisters. Amber, oldest, wisest and the one with a smart shadow that threatened to crush me if I attempted to follow her path. My younger sister, Casey, the strong, bull-headed athlete, is small but fierce, and she tackled people more easily than homework. Moie, the youngest and tallest was always loving, lanky and beaming…most of the time. Put on a happy face and everything will be ok, right?

My other sisters came swiftly on the heels of my blood sisters. Kim, pretty like a princess and able to sing like a nightingale, but funny as hell. Then there was Sam, quiet, realistic, unsure of me and my ability to fight dragons on the playground. But somehow, she was patient and accepting of other’s oddities even though they didn’t make sense to her. Later, Tristan–a mother since she was born, perhaps–sharp, inventive, but could call you out with the language of a sailor and was able to freeze people with a single stare.

Later still, sisters in the theater, hanging from scaff and A-Frames with biceps hooked like c-clamps, and just as sturdy. Theater sisters were always leading-Stage Manager, Master Electrician, Props Master. Master of the scaffolds and galleys in the wee hours of the morning. Theater sisters are nocturnal, you see.

And then even more sisters when I disappeared to writing school. Sisters with pens and paper and heart. Some sisters armed with dancing. Some sisters armed with advice. Some sisters armed with Lysol. Sisters with words and sisters with tears. All different. Grey and gold and serious and silly. Demanding and smart and visionary.

And finally, today, library sisters. Even among women in the same trade, the personalities abound. Serious and conservative, liberal and artistic, hurrying and scurrying. Laid back and plodding. Sisters who break down walls, set up tables. Sisters who love Nascar. Sisters who love crafting. Sisters who love kickboxing, sisters who love quilting. Sisters who love nonfiction. Sisters who love comic books. Sisters who create websites and haul donations. Sisters who deal with a wide variety of needs and neediness, sweet tempers and sour ones. Firm sisters, bold sisters, wild sisters, quiet sisters.



You see, what I understand about femininity is that it is as varied as a box of Crayola crayons. There is simply no black and white. No category that could possibly fit the capacity of the gender. Femininity is unfurled, uncaught, and unrestricted (so is masculinity). The beauty of writing a cast that is so abundantly female is just like living and being around so many women. I have soldiers and artists, engineers and bookish ladies. Ladies that some people mention they keep picturing as boys, but the truth is, they’re girls. They’re not tomboys. They’re not girlie girls. They’re just, straight up, girls. This is reality, as I see it. Should the definition change to fit reality, or should reality bend to the definition? I think we’re more complex than that.

In the mostly female world of Keepers, I wanted to stretch and see if I could hit more of the glorious personalities along the spectrum that encompasses femininity. And so that, perhaps, I might identify with it a bit more—and perhaps others will, too? I hope I was able to harness what I love about women and put it in the book. And that is simply that they can be sensitive and gentle. But they can also be strong and bold. They can be everything in between.

Min Zeis Aplos. Zeis Tolmira.

What attributes do you love about the women in your life? Share with #KeeperSis

Erin E. Moulton graduated with an MFA in Writing for Children from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is the author of Flutter: The Story of Four Sisters and One Incredible Journey, Tracing Stars and Chasing the Milky Way, as well as the new YA, Keepers of the Labyrinth. She lives in Southern New Hampshire with her husband, unruly dogs and son. You can visit her online at www.erinemoulton.com or on twitter @erinemoulton.

GIVEAWAY! We’re so excited that Erin is offering a copy of her thrilling new book, Keepers of the Labyrinth, plus super cool book swag! Just comment on the post for a chance to win!

Super cool book swag

Super cool book swag

WRITE NOW…with Nancy Bo Flood

nancy and books

To meet Nancy Bo Flood is to be put immediately at ease by her calm and gentle manner, as well as her kindness. All of this is evident in her writing–along with the richness of her storytelling and her evocative and lyrical language. In Nancy’s newest book, Water Runs Through This Book, she writes of water–both ubiquitous and oft taken for granted–and creates a sympathetic character out of that most life-sustaining of nature’s gifts. It is my absolute pleasure to host on WRITE NOW, the lovely and talented, Nancy Bo Flood.


The Pueblo people of the desert say,

“Water speaks to water.”

We are water. In this information book, my main character is water. The challenge given to me by iUtah* was to write a middle-grade book that students would want to read – and keep reading – a page-turner. The challenge I gave to myself was to create a character as complex and interesting – even surprising – as any character in a novel with problems to solve and with a heart. I wanted my reader to not only learn about water, but also to care about water, to feel a sense of wonder and also a sense of concern.Nancybookcover

I began with developing identity. A character in a book becomes real, becomes someone the reader cares about, when the reader identifies with the character.

So I began: “You are water. Even your bones. Your brain is mostly water – eight out of every ten molecules in your head are water. Water runs through our bodies, brings food and oxygen to our cells, and allows us to breathe, sweat, stand up, and move. Then water cleans up, taking away what pollutes and poisons.

Call of the sea, come get me...

Call of the sea, come get me…

Next I wanted to develop surprise, amazement, and even wonder. Did you know that when we cry, our tears contain hormones and minerals that are part of healing? Flamingoes cry. Their tears contain salt. Flamingos are one of the few land creatures that can drink salt water and live.

Did you know that the water we drink is as old as the dinosaurs? Or that astronomers search the universe for signs of water because where there is water, there can be life? But we are polluting and destroying this precious resource.

Can clean, drinkable water become extinct?

Identification, engagement, information, caring … and then, my last goal was to suggest simple ways every one of us can conserve and protect water. If we understand the importance of water and feel the beauty of water, how can we not care about water?

Water is beauty

Water is beauty

“The Navajo people share this story: Earth fell in love with Sky, and Sky with Earth. There was such joy! Their happiness filled the clouds with laughing, splashing rain.

And in the end, perhaps beauty is water’s deepest mystery.

And so, thank you, for listening, reading, and thinking about water….”

                 “Water talking with water.”


* grant support from Utah State University, the National Science Foundation, and iUtah, a water education and research consortium, with publication by Fulcrum Publishers

Water Runs Through This Book by Nancy Bo Flood with photographs by Jan Sonnenmair, is a multi-genre (narration, poetry, plus photographs) exploration of one of life’s essential ingredients, water.


Nancy Bo Flood’s previous books include the award-winning WARRIORS IN THE CROSSFIRE and  COWBOY UP! RIDE THE NAVAJO RODEO. Nancy is a graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts and has worked as a teacher, counselor, researcher, and writer, in settings as diverse as Malawi, Hawaii, Japan, Saipan, and most recently, the Navajo Nation in northern Arizona where water is precious.

GIVEAWAY! How fortunate we are that Nancy is offering copies of her book, Water Runs Through This Book, to 5 lucky winners! Just comment on the post for a chance to win!

WRITE NOW…with Sarah Tomp

It was a privilege to be entrusted with early drafts of Sarah Tomp’s wonderful debut novel, My Best Everything. I fell in love with Sarah’s lyrical language and lush world-building. I adored her flawed but courageous Lulu and wished more than anything she’d find her heart’s desire. It was a true pleasure to watch My Best Everything grow into the beautiful and compelling story it is today. I’m honored to host on WRITE NOW, my dear friend, the fabulous and eloquent, Sarah Tomp.

Sarah Tomp Author


I was saved by the cat. Or, more specifically, Blake Snyder’s three book series on screenwriting, which begins with SAVE THE CAT!

When I was writing an early draft of the story that became the YA novel, My Best Everything, I had pages and pages of Lulu falling in love with Mason. I had oodles of scenes… but no story.

I didn’t have a plot.

As someone who reads for character and voice, I didn’t fully understand story plotting. I thought trying to make the scenes fit into a particular structure would lead to formulaic writing. I wanted to be surprising and unpredictable.

Then, finally, thankfully, brilliant Blake helped me to see that structure is like a cake pan. The originality, the creativity, the particular essence of my story would be created in the details—the ingredients. I could make my own cake and decorate it any way I wanted. But if I didn’t have a pan, I’d only have a mess. I was able to use his 15 story beats to help shape my story. All of a sudden, the scenes added up to something more. One thing led to another. In other words, I had a plot!

But, because I still read for character and voice, and write novels instead of screenplays, what I love most about the SAVE THE CAT! is the attention given to creating complex characters. I think the following key questions go a long way in ensuring characters are complicated and interesting.


“A wholly original and most satisfying debut.” -School Library Journal

Blake Snyder’s Five Questions:


Readers want to identify with the hero, and learn something from him/her. He/She doesn’t need to be perfect, or even entirely likeable, but there needs to be some kind of compelling reason to follow the hero.

My hero is Lulu Mendez, a self-professed good girl who has spent her high school years working hard and saying no to boys and drinking. She’s a little bit feisty and a whole lot stubborn. She is confident and sure she knows right from wrong.


Blake suggests each hero have six things that need fixing. The more things that are wrong in a character’s life, the more room he/she has to grow. If you’re having trouble thinking of problems, think of a character’s life at home, work, and play. “Work” can be any kind of obligation—for young readers this might be school, or even a role within a family or team. Often, these challenges intersect and overlap, and are ideally a result from the character’s deepest desire—and need, which may or may not be the same thing.

Lulu has plenty of problems. Her mother is agoraphobic and her father travels extensively; so she doesn’t know how to drive, leaving her to beg rides and/or walk. She’s working in a junkyard which is not the future she has in mind. She adores her best friend, Roni, but they are at odds over their different ideas for the future. Her Catholic belief is based on following rules more than any kind of spiritual idea. She doesn’t believe in romantic love and she’s a control freak who is losing control.


In other words, a character needs to change. Blake calls a story “The Transformation Machine.” We read to watch a character grow and change. But we need to feel as though we can root for him/her. A character’s challenges need to be difficult, not impossible to overcome.

Over the course of this story, Lulu goes from good girl who always says no, to moonshiner/bootlegger. She breaks the law and plenty of rules—including her own. She questions just about everything she thought she ever believed in.


Think of your character’s goals in terms of tangible: the measurable concrete wants and spiritual: his/her abstract emotional need. They are often not the same thing.

Lulu wants to get out of her small Virginia hometown in order to go to college. When her father loses her tuition money, she wants to earn enough money—ASAP—to pay her own way. But she needs to learn about love, and to realize there is more than one right way to live. Our choices are not always our own—sometimes fate decides things for us.


This is the theme of your story. Which, for me, sometimes has to be explained by someone else. And for many writers, it’s not something that’s entirely clear until you’ve finished writing the story. I also think it’s something that readers find on their own.

When I started writing My Best Everything, I wanted to explore the idea of fate/destiny vs free will and how we each interpret moments in life. Along the way it became about second chances and re-creating one’s self-identity. I think it’s also about working hard for what you want, and facing life’s disappointments. And love. It’s about all kinds of love.

Sarah Tomp lives in San Diego with her family. She has a MFA in writing for children and young adults from VCFA. She teaches writing for UCSD Extension. You can visit her at www.sarahtomp.com and follow her on Twitter @swtomp.