Permission to be Awesome + Thankful Thursday

In light of the news yesterday that Apple CEO Steve Jobs stepped down, my husband found a speech Mr. Jobs gave in 2005 at Stanford’s graduation.

We only live once. Make it count.
Why no one needs permission to be awesome. Writers, people, take note.
Thankful Thursday (Or, things I take for granted.)
1. The sun is shining.
2. I woke up this morning.
3. My 3 year old daughter, who fell six feet this summer to concrete below, is home snuggling in her pajamas with her plush dog and giggling.
4. I’m eating a perfectly ripened banana with peanut butter. Amen.
5. I have no coffee pot this week, but the Word is open and a manuscript awaits.

The Story Spine

I recently read a post at Imagination Soup by the talented Deborah Underwood, author of A Balloon for Isabel and the NYT best-selling The Quiet Book.

In the post, Ms. Underwood discusses how daunting she assumed it would be to teach plot to elementary-aged children. Then, someone introduced her to the story spine.

I liked this method so much, I asked permission to share it with you. Sometimes, hearing something in a new way makes all the difference. (At least for me, it can.)
The Story Spine is exactly what it sounds like: a structure that supports a story. It consists of a series of sentence beginnings that you complete:Once upon a time… Introduce your character.Every day… This is the character’s ordinary world. Before everything changes.But one day… The inciting incident, or change, that sets the story in motion. Because of that…Because of that…Because of that… Each event causes the next to happen, “so the plot elements aren’t disconnected incidents.”Until finally… Cues the climax of the story and resolution.And ever since then… Shows how the character has changed as a result of the conflict or event.

Although the Story Spine seems simple, it’s really an ingenious way to help kids learn how to construct a satisfying story.

My wish is it will help us construct a satisfying story, too. Happy writing.

Doggy Whys? A picture book review.

Doggy Whys?Doggy Whys? by Lila Prap

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I adored this non-fiction picture book, written in an original, engaging format. Q&As (Why do dogs wag their tails?) feature on the left-hand side of a spread, while more detailed information can be found in paragraphs on the right. The author cleverly divides the book by common dog breeds. Did I mention the illustrations! are! adorable!? My heart about melted on spot by the rendering of a terrier I had years ago. A must-buy for any dog-lover, big or small.

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Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat, a review.

Jonathan and the Big Blue BoatJonathan and the Big Blue Boat by Philip Christian Stead

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having viewed the trailer (over and over), for which Mr. Stead also composed the music, I so wanted to fall in love with this story. I laughed out loud over the item bartered for, enjoyed the clever ways animals participate in this cumulative tale, but overall I didn’t connect as much as I’d hoped. That said, the art is some of the best I’ve seen. Brilliant, vibrant, detailed, and whimsical, it demonstrates the creator’s passion for all things nautical. All in all, I loved this story enough to gift it to a Jonathan who entered the world last week. May Mr. Stead produce more amazing art, and soon. I can’t think of any better gift than that.

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How Querying is Like Sending Your Kids Off to Camp

1. You worry, stress, obsess over details. (Does he/she need a beach towel and a bath towel, or only bath? Does this sentence need a comma? You take it out, put in back in, take it out . . . Not that I did this while packing.)

2. The cool kids. If your camper is going alone, you might find yourself tossing and turning at 2:00 a.m. Will he/she fit in, find the right friend or home? The same with your manuscript. You want it to succeed, to grow, or you wouldn’t be sending it out. Also, TUMS.

3. Generally there is a no contact policy. (You want to call the next day to check on your offspring/ manuscript, but you can’t. Or shouldn’t. So you consider patenting a invertebrate-sized surveillance camera . . .)

4. Mail call. Camp staffers and those at publishing houses have oodles upon oodles of mail to sort. Be patient. And while care packages containing homemade cookies and treats and confetti are usually acceptable at camp, not so much in publishing. A professional looking, clean manuscript is, free of loopy hearts, smiley faces, lipstick kisses.
5. Dirty Laundry. Campers come home at the end of the week toting a bagful of dirty laundry. (Unless they are like my son, who judging by the camp photos posted online each night . . . Let’s just say, fingers crossed he’s changing underwear.) Lucky are the ones whose manuscripts are returned safely with ink and suggestions and coffee stains – instead of grass ones. You have been given a roadmap, the gift of revision. Kiss your kid, go out for ice-cream, and get to work.

Story Endings (Or, Johnny Depp & Alan Rickman in the same post.)

I’m having a time brainstorming a couple of picture book endings. I usually start strong with a single idea that somehow chases a rascally rabbit down a deep dark hole. Which leads me to Johnny Depp when I’d started with an outdoor garden party. Some of you may be wondering what’s the problem.

Cohesiveness. And one thing logically leading to another, instead of a smattering of events.
I stayed up way too late last night thinking about endings I like and why. I like endings that . . .

1. Satisfy the reader, bring resolution. Tie up nagging loose ends and show that everything (whether events, items, people) have purpose. Thinking A Sick Day for Amos McGee.
2. Echo the beginning.
3. Reveal the character’s growth.
4. Add an element of surprise, an unexpected twist. Leave me gobsmacked. I loved O. Henry shorts as a kid.
5. Provide a promise of good things to come. (I keep thinking of the blue butterfly (Alan Rickman) in the Alice in Wonderland remake.)
6. Don’t feel too abrupt, or leave me feeling like I was dropped.
7. Make me laugh, or cry, or stare in awe. Or laugh louder. (These are usually the result of any of the above.)
8. Keep their promise, the unwritten secret code between the writer and the reader. The story stays true to itself. No genre hopping.
9. I am having so much fun, I don’t realize I’m learning something. I come away feeling smarter. (In The Kitchen Daughter, the protagonist doesn’t twist the biscuit cutter because that would seal the edges and prevent a rise.)
10. Leave me wanting more. More time with the characters, in their world. (Hello, LOST. As maddening as some episodes were.)
I’m curious. What is your favorite ending and why?


“Always leave room in your life for miracles.” – Thomas Wolfe

“For nothing will be impossible with God.” Luke 1:37