Friday Five and a Half

1. My daughter had her first dance recital. She’s not bossy or anything.

(Remind me to pull her hair back next year, will ya?)
2. I had a fabulous time in Chicago, in spite of icky weather (32 degrees, people.)
Pizza! Garrett’s! Spa! Nordstrom Rack! Good Food! Better Friends! And, uh, Three New Pounds.
3. My kids have 3 days of school remaining. I’m so not old enough to have a fifth grader.
4. We have nice Amish people working on our house. I might have shut the blinds so they can’t see me use my laptop. Which reminds me, you should read my friend Kim‘s, Who-Totally-Didn’t-Come-To-Chicago-As-Planned, book. Just kidding, Kim! (She had a good excuse.)
5. My state, and surrounding area, was hit hard by severe weather this week. Prayers appreciated as we assist those in Joplin. No words.
5.5. I have feathers! That is the only thing I’ll ever have in common with Steven Tyler.
How have you guys been?

On Studying Writing

I’ve been reading, a lot.
Craft books, novels, a beta manuscript.
I’ve learned a few things in the last couple weeks of study.
1. Don’t make the antagonist evil for evil’s sake. Give your villain a reason or something redeeming, even if it’s nurturing Grandmother’s houseplants. This increases conflict. (Thanks to Blake Snyder, SAVE the CAT.) I’m a bit befuddled when I consider Voldemort. But, in general, this sounds like a good plan.
2. Leave white space for the reader. Readers need – want – to be able to fill in their own conclusions. We don’t need to spoon feed every single detail, like what kind of socks the protagonist is wearing, unless it’s pertinent to the story – like being coerced into the Iditarod* wearing trouser socks. In fact, in the book HOOKED, the author states physical description is the weakest way to connect with a character. Dialogue and actions are supreme. Excellent example of leaving space for the reader is how Jandy Nelson ends The Sky is Everywhere.
3. Every major character needs to experience change, not just the protagonist. Thank you, Jandy Nelson.
4. Characters need to be distinct, able to be distinguished from one another. Show us their individuality or personality. In the way they talk, dress etc. Give them something so when they appear on the page the reader has an aha moment. To recall they’ve met them before. The manuscript I beta-read did an excellent job with this… one character had trademark shiny pink lips or red ribbon.
5. Kill your darlings. I know, I know. Every writer or wannabe has heard or read this in Stephen King’s On Writing. It’s been a few years since I’ve read it, but it has hit home. It means more than weeding out extra thats and justs.
Background, I usually write humor. At times, I’d be so tickled pink at myself for the dozens of hilarious (to me) story lines I’d created, I’d use them all. Or a good 88%. (Blake Snyder addresses this too.) It’s overkill. I know from personal experience, what you end up with is a dizzying amount going on and an uphill battle for cohesiveness.
I’ve come to the place where I will sacrifice lines or threads for the sake of story. I want a stronger story more than I want to be clever.
And that has got to be a better place to be.
*A friend of mine knows a couple who did this for their *honeymoon*! That has all the makings of a great romantic comedy.


The winner of the last Choose Your Own Adventure Wednesday (CYOAW) SCUMBLE edition is Karen @ Novels During Naptime.
The winner of the soon to be released JUNIPER BERRY, complete with signed bookplate, is author Clara Gillow Clark. Please email me your mailing addresses so we can get your books to you.
Thank you for playing!
I’m taking a week or two off to travel, catch up on beta-reading, and FOCUS. There are so many great new releases, and I’m trying to refrain until my work is done.
See you soon!
🙂 Kristin

Author Interview & Giveaway

I’m so excited to welcome M.P. Kozlowsky to the blog today for an interview and book giveaway. (You might remember I blogged about his book trailer.)

M.P. Kozlowsky was a high school English teacher before becoming a writer. Juniper Berry is his first book. He lives in New York with his wife and daughter.Hello, M.P., thank you so much for joining us!
1. First things first, as a debut author, can you tell us a little bit about your path to publication? I’m guessing it wasn’t all rainbows and cupcakes.
MPK: Within the text of Juniper Berry there is actually a veiled commentary on the publishing industry and the often tumultuous path to it. In a way, Juniper’s journey mirrors mine. This is intentional. For many, you are one person before publishing a book and another person after. To maintain one’s true identity, that is key.
2. What drew you to tell the story of Juniper Berry and her eccentric, illustrious family?
MPK: Juniper Berry was a culmination of a variety of things all coming to a head at once. It could have only been written at this particular point and time in my life. I was lost, at a daunting crossroads, of which every direction seemed bleak, and was suddenly inspired to write something immensely personal but told in a universal way. By creating Juniper and her family, I was able to tackle several issues that I find deeply important and mix them into what is, hopefully, a very chilling and inspiring tale.
3. You have a knack for delightful character names. (I still chuckle at Kitty.) Do you mind sharing how you came up with one or two?
MPK: I wanted opposites, a world of opposites, as described in the opening line of the book. There had to be two sides to everything. Juniper berries are relatively bitter, and yet, even with her world falling apart all around her, Juniper Berry, the character, is not bitter at all. She is rather sweet and optimistic. In keeping with this theme, Kitty, of course, is a dog, and Neptune, whose name represents water, and thus life itself, happens to be a raven, a predator, one who takes life.
4. One of my favorite lines is found at the beginning, where you discuss Juniper’s penchant for spyglasses and lenses: “Discovery and exploration were her salvation; if she couldn’t go out into the world, she could bring the world to her: the stars, the insects, the unsuspecting distance.” I love Juniper’s passion for her backyard, which almost becomes a character in and of itself. She learns her way through thick trees, a clearing, to her friend Giles’s house, in good weather and bad. She even knows the behavior of a certain bird. What made you decide on a raven?
MPK: Of course you can go back to Poe, which is fitting in a story such as this one. In his poem of the same name, the raven is a dark messenger, a communicator from beyond, just as it is inJuniper Berry. There had to be a link between the two worlds. And, to take it even further, in mythology, particularly Norse mythology, ravens have been known to represent thought and memory, as with Odin’s pet ravens Huginn and Muninn. I felt this, too, was appropriate as Neptune perpetually preys on the thoughts and memories of others.
5. I have to gush for a moment on the brilliance of your cover – even the drawing on the dedication page – in light of having finished the book. What did it feel like to see Erwin Madrid’s renderings of your characters for the first time?
MPK: I thought he captured them beautifully, and this with minimal direction from me. Juniper looks exactly like my wife as a young girl, which is why the red hair was essential. I have to talk to Erwin about acquiring one or two of the illustrations; I would love to hang them on my wall. True works of art.
6. Balloons play an important role in Juniper’s story, as does knowing your deepest longing. If someone were to offer you a balloon right now, what color would use choose, and what would you wish for?
MPK: If I were being true to the text, and a bit of a sagging wet blanket, I would say that to take a balloon would be to give in to temptation and is completely unadvisable; therefore the answer would abruptly end there. However, for the sake of the question I will oblige. Because I do not have a favorite color, I would pick what seems to be my daughter’s favorite: blue. And, right now, I suppose I would wish for a bright and successful future in writing. (I could see Skeksyl writing away on that blue balloon right now, a wicked grin on his face.)
7. I have a nagging curiosity, you have a few references to acting, movies, theater, screen-writing… something I know little about. Do you have a background in stage or have you completed a script?
MPK: Actually, I attended NYU for screenwriting (films are a passion of mine, and I have a few great scripts tucked away for a later date), and there’s nothing I would love more than to write a play and have it performed. If only there was more time. Perhaps I need to change what I would wish for in the previous question.
8. In closing, what books/ authors had a significant impact on you as an early reader?
MPK: I tended to stick to the classics as a child. Authors like Roald Dahl, Ray Bradbury, Shel Silverstein, Charles Dickens, C.S. Lewis, and books like Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh, Watership Down, Charlotte’s Web, Treasure Island, The Hound of the Baskervilles, Alice in Wonderland, and Wizard of Oz, among hundreds of others.
Thank you for your time, M.P. I wish you all kinds of success. You may learn even more about Juniper at, where the publisher is hosting a writing contest for readers ages 9-14. The winner, chosen by Mr. Kozlowsky, will receive not only an i-Pad but a library of Walden Pond Press books! Be sure to check it out.**Don’t forget to comment below for a chance to own your very own JUNIPER BERRY.**Juniper Berry Blog Tour: Part II

Wednesday, May 11th – Interview at Bri Meets Books
Thursday, May 12th – Interview at Book Yurt
Friday, May 13th – Review and Giveaway at The Book Maven’s Haven
Saturday, May 14th – Review at MundieKids
Sunday, May 15th – Guest Post at Kid Lit Frenzy
Monday, May 16th – Review and Giveaway at Kid Lit Frenzy
Tuesday, May 17th – Interview and Giveaway at MundieKids
Tuesday, May 17th – Guest Post and Giveaway at The Cozy Reader

Plotting Workshop Notes (Or, The Girl Who Lived.)

(Cheryl being introduced.)
Yes, the homework that had me quaking in my rain boots was worth it. It didn’t kill me… I survived!
Here are a few teasers from the workshop I attended last Saturday by Cheryl Klein, editor at Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic) and continuity editor for the last 3 Harry Potter books. (Squee!)
Cheryl was brilliant and witty and gave us all so much to think about, my brain will be exploding for several days. She also had several copies of her book for purchase, which you may buy here.
*Plotting = Compulsions Vs./ Obstacles. (True whether a picture book, novel, screenplay.)
*Think about Drivers – Who or what is driving the action, the climax?
*If you don’t have change, you don’t have plot.
*A good story has both Action Plot (External) and Emotional Plot (Internal).
*Finally, I loved this quote so much, I shared it with my husband: “It doesn’t matter if your lead character is good or bad. He just has to be interesting, and he has to be good at what he does.” – David Chase, Sopranos creator/writer
If you ever have an opportunity to hear Cheryl talk on bookmapping or plot, jump at the chance. It’s money well-spent. I’ll admit, I was nervous going in, and it was intense. But Cheryl is incredibly encouraging and sprinkles her talk with delightful backstory about working with some beloved authors (Lisa Yee, Elizabeth C. Bunce, Francisco X. Stork, Sara Lewis Holmes). All the attendees walked away with handouts/ links galore for analyzing our own manuscripts and/or beta-reading others. Which I will utilize soon. (Looking at you, Laura.)
(Two of my CPs, Mandy and Kim, ready to go.)
Thanks to the fine folks at Kansas SCBWI for hosting.
I must now crash.

I’ve Fallen

I have fallen – and fallen hard – for a new middle grade. Every. Single. Line is perfect, witty, and chosen with care. It’s no surprise, as the author is my hero. (The illustrations are spot-on, too.)
I took it to the gym and read it in a one hour stint on the elliptical. I daresay it made my workout more enjoyable. No telling what the lady in the red Lycra to my right thought about my maturity. Especially when I did one of those hiccough/laugh combos. Tears hit the corners of my eyes faster than my fingers punched “Lower Resistance”. Not from the cardio burn, but from hysteria.
This book puts the unny in funny.
I’ll throw a line out there. We’ve all seen dogs wearing the cone of shame, right?
“He had a long, skinny build, beady eyes, and a giant white funnel around his neck. He looked like a cross between a dachshund and a lamp.” (Page 37.)
If you have 8-12 year-olds, or even the younger set, I beg you to run, not walk, to the nearest library or bookstore and sniff this book out. This is read-aloud writing at its best.
Oh, and there’s another one coming, THE LEGEND OF DIAMOND LIL.
That makes my puppy’s tail wag something fierce.

Sometimes, I’m amazed by us. (And by us, I don’t mean me.)

Really. That we send humans to space, have walked the surface of the moon, and can recover bits of rockets. Not in a prideful way, just awe-struck by some people’s intelligence when I struggle most days to string 400 cohesive words on paper or to remember what it was I was supposed to cook for dinner.

So, NASA released a high-definition video of the booster recovery process. I’d always wondered how they did this… or if they even bothered. I cannot fathom the hugeness of the splash, and this lucky crew watches it happen in open water.

I come from a family of scuba divers, so this fascinated me. I mean, who grows up thinking, I want to be those guys? But what an awesome job it is.

Thanks to kidlit agent Michael Bourret for posting the link on twitter. My nerd quota is met for the day.

Life Goes On

With so much heartache in the world making headlines, I thought I’d share a happy video. This wasn’t my scheduled post for today, but I hope you’ll be smiling and toe-tapping before it’s done.

I’m going quiet the rest of the week to pray for our friends who are hurting. In spite of all the necessary resources, monies, and aid, storming heaven with heartfelt prayer is the best gift I can give.
For a list of ways to help, see Amber’s blog.
For a Japan relief T-shirt, click here.
To bid on items in the Kidlit 4 Japan auction, click here.
See you next time.
“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18