Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Holiday Wishes from The Mayhem by Michael Gettel-Gilmartin

It's been a great year for Project Mayhem--since our beginnings in 2010 we've written more than 900 posts! Our love affair with middle grade writing grows ever stronger, and we are so very grateful for all our readers. Please accept our best wishes for the New Year ahead.

Here's a rundown on what some of the Mayhemmers have been up to this year. As you can see, we're a busy bunch.

Caroline: I had two books come out this year (though only one MG): Blue Birds in March and Over in the Wetlands in July.

(Hopeful writers, I'd like you to know I continue to get pretty consistent rejections, too. It's just how this works. :)

Paul: My debut novel Surviving Bear Island came out in March from Move Books:

After a sea kayaking trip with his father takes a dangerous turn, Tom Parker is stranded on the remote, outer coast of unpopulated Bear Island in the waters of Prince William Sound, Alaska with only a survival kit in his pocket. Desperate to find his father, Tom doesn’t know how long he can survive and must put his survival skills to the test as he fights to reach safety.

“The tension is well-crafted and realistic. Bear Island is a challenging environment to survive but a terrific thrill on the page.”–Kirkus

It is a Junior Library Guild Selection in the High Interest Middle Category for books that will appeal to even the most reluctant middle-school readers.

In December, Surviving Bear Island, went to press for a second printing. Surviving Bear Island has also been listed by the Alaska Dispatch on their Favorite Alaska Books of the Year List. It has been nominated for a Cybils Award.

Dianne: I published my fourth book, The Inquisitor's Mark; and The Eighth Day became a finalist for the Sunshine State Young Readers Award in Florida.

Eden:  Book Three of the Young Inventors Guild trilogy. The Strange Round Bird...  (the ellipsis included since I have not decided on the second part of the title!) is due out in 2016.

Donna:The release date for the 2nd book in my Joshua and the Lightning Road series, Joshua and the Arrow Realm will be May 31, 2016 by Month9Books.  Also, Joshua and the Lightning Road was nominated for a 2015 Children's & Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Award (CYBILS) in Elementary/Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction.

Chris: I released You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers, and the MG/YA adventure novel Bandits Peak
You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers is available for the Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback.
Remember the magic of bedtime stories? When you write for children, you have the most appreciative audience in the world. But to reach that audience, you need to write fresh, dynamic stories, whether you’re writing rhymed picture books, middle grade mysteries, edgy teen novels, nonfiction, or something else.
Whether you’re just starting out or have some experience, this book will make you a better writer – and encourage you to have fun!

Bandits Peak: Danger in the Wilderness 
While hiking in the mountains, Jesse meets a strange trio. He befriends Maria, but he’s suspicious of the men with her. Still, charmed by Maria, Jesse promises not to tell anyone that he met them. But his new friends have deadly secrets, and Jesse uncovers them. It will take all his wilderness skills, and all his courage, to survive.
Readers who enjoyed Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet will love Bandits Peak. This heart-pounding adventure tale is full of danger and excitement.

Learn more at or Chris's Amazon page,

I also had three fiction and three nonfiction work for hire books come out in 2015, written as M. M. Eboch. For fiction, the three world adventures for Rourke are Monster Island (Greece), Walking the Dragon's Back (China), and An Artful Adventure (France). The nonfiction titles are Native American Code Talkers, A History of Film, and A History of Television. World War I Battlefield Medicine will come out January 2016.


Monday, December 21, 2015

Five Questions With Clay McLeod Chapman, Author Of The Tribe Trilogy by Robert Lettrick

Clay McLeod Chapman, author of The Tribe series
This week I had the good fortune to conduct a short Q&A with middle grade author Clay McLeod Chapman, scribe of The Tribe series for Disney-Hyperion which Booklist called “a comic Lord of the Flies for the modern era…” 

First, a bit about the series from Amazon:  "All Schools are the same and Spencer Pendleton expects no less from Greenfield Middle. But Spencer hasn't met them yet-the Tribe, a group of runaway students who hide out in the school. They live off cafeteria food, and wield weapons made out of everyday supplies. No one seems to know they exist, except for Spencer. And when the group invites him to join their ranks, all he has to do is pass the initiations...and leave his life behind. Can Spencer go through with it? Better yet, what will happen if he says no?"

Sounds great, right? On to the interview.

 1). I recently read Homeroom Headhunters, book one in The Tribe series from Disney-Hyperion, and highly recommend it to the Project Mayhem crowd.  What struck me is how expertly you were able to combine several genres into one fun read. The book has mystery, horror, a smidge of romance and a ton of fantastic humor. But throughout the series you also touch on some serious topics, namely bullying and alienation. Why did you decide to tackle those particular issues and what message do you hope you were able to convey to your readers, specifically those who may feel like your main character Spencer Pendleton, an outsider.  

First off -- let me just say thank you for the kind words on Homeroom Headhunters. Having never written for the middle grade crowd before, I really wanted to write a book for that mythological creature -- the Reluctant Reader -- that wouldn't sound like some old dude talking down to a bunch of younger dudes and dudettes. I wanted it to feel a little dangerous, where the reader would ask themselves -- "Should I be reading this? Am I allowed to read this?" But if my readers caught whiff of a Message or Moral, I fear I'd lose them -- so I decided to get a little messy, where the "bad guys" are really human beings and the "good guys" make bad choices, blurring the line a wee bit between them. And doing it with a sense of humor. I think comedy is the perfect sucker-punch for talking about deeper themes. If you can get your reader laughing, you can slip in something a little more serious, a little more challenging, on its coat-tails... "A little bit of sugar makes the medicine go dooooown."

2). The subtitle for the second book in The Tribe series is Camp Cannibal. When people read my books, particularly the one featuring rabid squirrels, they’re always a little amazed that Disney would publish such edgy stuff (no talking candlesticks here). Because we both write under the Disney banner, I wondered if your readers reacted in a similar way to your second title choice and to some of the darker aspects of the series. How do you manage to walk that line without crossing into YA territory?

I remain flabbergasted to this day that Disney even let me in the building, let alone publish three novels under the expansive banner of Mickey's ears. I figured it was illegal. I'm still waiting for a cease and desist letter. Kudos to my editor for wanting to rock the boat. It's still up for debate whether we rocked a little too hard and capsized, but heck. 
Listen... The book isn't going to be for everybody. But for those who find the book and feel like it speaks directly to them, you've just enlisted a Reader for Life. And that makes all the difference. I didn't set out to write something that everyone would like. I wanted to write something that somebody would love. And that meant drawing a line in the sand. If the reader is willing to cross that line, we're going to go on one heck of an adventure. And for those who don't want to cross that line, that's totally okay with me. I can recommend a bunch of books with talking animals...

3).The Tribe III: Academic Assassins, the final entry in the series, is available for purchase now. What are some specific ways you evolved as a writer over the course of the trilogy?

It's still up for debate how much I've evolved. Regressed might be more apt. But, that said, I never ever wrote from the perspective of one character -- in this case, my anti-hero Spencer Pendleton -- for this much literary real estate. I clocked in 1000 pages with this guy. I've raked this dude over the coals. He's come out the other side of three books, beaten and bruised, and hopefully a little bit more mature. Just in time to go to high school. Fingers crossed. 

4). You're a middle grade author, but you also produce The Pumpkin Pie Show for theater, and you write for movies and comics. I read that you're currently working on Self Storage, a rom/com/zom six-part graphic novel for Michael Bay’s company 451 Media (issues #1 and #2 are in comic book stores now) and you’ve written some stories for Marvel. My question: How do the writing processes for comics and theater differ from writing for middle grade books? Which one flows most naturally for you? Okay, that’s technically two questions.

To stay alive and still tell the stories I want to tell, I've come to learn the best move I can make is say YES to every opportunity that comes my way... It's led to some pretty wild opportunities, such as writing musicals, comic books, movies, and middle grade novels... Not to mention everything in between. Some projects have crashed and burned, glorious failures -- but more often than not, they've opened doors to new grooves. I love comic writing. But writing for the screen helped teach me how to write for comics and theater helped hone my first person narration-style for novels and so on. I like to blur the lines between mediums as much as humanly possible. I'd argue Homeroom Headhunters is best read aloud. 

5). As if you’re not busy enough with your own projects, you also teach writing at the Actors Studio MFA Program for Pace University. What’s the best piece of advice you offer your students that could also pertain to writing middle grade books? Any sage bit of wisdom Project Mayhem’s followers may not have heard before? No pressure or anything. 

Totally no pressure! No pressure at all... My sage advice for writers? I said it above, but I'll say it again: Just say YES to every opportunity that comes your way. For middlegrade writers, I think the best thing I can throw your way is don't talk down to your reader. Talk up. Or eye to eye. These readers are more savvy than I think they sometimes get credit for. I want to honor the reader, respect the reader. Which is to say no novel, no book should try to reach every reader out there. I'd be happy to reach just one. And who knows? Maybe more will come. I'd rather be ten people's #1 book than a hundred people's #10... 
And for the folks at Project Mayhem: Do your homework. Love your mama. And keep your firecrackers at home. 

You can learn more about Clay and his projects here:

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Finding My Fiction Dream Again by Donna Galanti

All I want for Christmas is my true fiction dream.

Sometimes as writers we get lost. Sometimes we get caught by a spontaneous bug and follow inspiration to find our way. 

Stuck on the book I was writing recently, I resurrected an old manuscript that prompted me to drop my life and drive north. It’s a book rich with my own childhood, from a time when my parents owned and operated a campground in New Hampshire.

My writing spark had dimmed and I instinctively knew that this trip was necessary to fuel my passion again. I had lost the fiction dream, and living each day without my magic world was painful – like living behind endless clouds in a cold cage of reality. I wanted the dream back.

Grateful for an understanding family, I set off for an eight-hour drive to New Hampshire to the setting of a childhood home.

 In three days I:
*Cavaliered through six states
*Took a historical boat ride lake tour
*Toured a campground
*Hiked to the top of a mountain
*Navigated a gorge
*Shivered at the foot of snowy Mount Washington
*Drove the entire White Mountains National Forest highway
*Braked for moose
*Kayaked a lake

I pulled into the campground and was zapped back in time to the 1970s – and being nine-years-old. 


There I was as a child again, living each day in the moment. I swam in the pool, fished with my dad on Squam Lake, romped through the woods, collected dead butterflies and shotgun shells, played pinball machines, and spun 45 records on the jukebox in the recreation hall.

Returning was an emotional gut punch. I could be a child again in that place of innocence, a place where my mother was still alive. It also resurrected painful moments from childhood as well as joyous, and prompted this short piece from a harsh memory.

Holderness, NH, 1978, Winter
A flash of pain wacked my chest. Ice balls hurt!
“Go somewhere else, fat and ugly,” Tommy said, snickering with his older brother, Brian.
“No, it’s my bus stop too,” I said as another ice ball slammed into my arm. And another. They double teamed me.
Hurry up bus! But no yellow flashed around the corner, only the endless white spread everywhere.
They’d tied me up yesterday.
It’d been for fun (I thought). It must be cool to have brothers to play with, so I let them.
The rope scratched and then bit as Tommy pulled tighter.
“Double knot it,” Brian said. Tommy nodded with a laugh and jerked it harder against my wrists to the chair.
“Ow!” I yelled, kicking the edge of my chair. It wobbled but didn’t break.
“Just sit still.” Brian gave me a dirty look so I did.
Musty bits of dust fluttered up from around old chains and tires and shovels, making me sneeze out a big cloud of frosty air.
“Okay,” Tommy said. He and Brian smiled at each other. “We’ll be right back.”
I nodded.
And waited.
My fingers grew numb. The cold seeped through my red mittens. The light slanted across the one smeared window in the shed. A snowplow swooshed by at the bottom of the hill.
“Hey,” I called, not wanting to sound scared. But I was.
I wiggled my wrists. The rope sawed against them.
The light grew dim.
I wiggled more.
When were they coming back?
It was a game. That’s all.
But there was no stopping the tears that burst forth. No way would I let them catch me crying.
I yanked my wrists as hard as I could. Cramped my fingers to untie the knot.
The last light slipped away.
Shadows reached for me.
I ripped the rope away and ran home.
Aha! Wait until they come back. They meant to come back, right?
I told my mother what happened as she turned my bleeding, raw wrists around. No big deal. But the fire in her eyes told me otherwise as she ran next door.
Now here I was today, facing my enemy.
“Fat and ugly!”
Their laughter shot loud through the crisp air. I scooped up ice and snow, packed it down, and winged it right in Tommy’s face.
“Hey!” He yelled with surprise.
Red streaks cut across his cheek. 
Thwonk! Thwonk! They pelted me. I turned and ran.
“Come back!”
But I didn’t.
I ran to my special place as fast my chubby legs let me in my snow pants.
Swish swish.
I was the only sound in the forest. I spread out in the snow under a pine tree and let the silence fill me up. How long could I stay here? All day? If I did would I disappear?
From down the hill the school bus braked and shuddered then pulled away.
Snow fell soft like butterflies, melting on my nose.
I made a snow angel and looked up at the sky from my wings.
My body soon betrayed me.
Shivering, I tromped home.
I hoped the fire in my mother’s eyes would be the good kind.

What did I take away from this trip?
*The vivid feelings of childhood – the good and the bad – to enrich my writing.
*A chance to revisit my creative foundations that gifted me with the yearning to write again.
*The inspiration of a majestic setting to fill my soul.
*The connection from childhood to adulthood – and how the paths we travel drive who we are.
*As a parent now, an appreciation for my parents and their challenges of running a business and raising a child.
*That I write to understand and feel so not alone.
*Through writing I mend my past and forge my future.
*Remembered what I am in my heart: a storyteller.
So you could say I got my Christmas gift. The return of my true fiction dream. This time a new one tied up with a childhood bow, reflecting splintered sunshine through broken panes.
Merry Christmas to me.
Have you ever taken a trip into the past to follow creative inspiration? What did you find?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Rituals, Creative Work, and You

Mason Currey
Knopf, 2013 

As one year winds down and another begins, I like to reflect on how I've used my writing time and what changes I might need to make in the year ahead. Because the creative life is often a solitary one, I love looking in on others' lives for inspiration. Here's a peek into Mason Currey's Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, a book I found impossible to put down.

Ludwig van Beethoven* poured water over his hands while humming scales. Jonathan Edwards pinned bits of paper to his clothing to remember ideas while horseback riding. Anthony Trollope paid a groom five extra pounds a year to bring him coffee each morning at 5:30.

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work is a collection of dozens of vignettes about "writers, composers, painters, choreographers, playwrights, sculptors, filmmakers, poets, philosophers and scientists on how they create.” I’ve always been curious about the processes and acts of self-discipline artists bring to their work. As an author who has sometimes struggled to find a rhythm to my writing, this book’s glimpse into everyday lives was both inspiring and familiar. While there were differences in each artist’s daily rituals, some habits were repeated in most creative processes**:


Structure allowed Trollope to "tutor his mind" and write for three hours before going to work at the Post Office. Gustave Flaubert believed being "regular and orderly in your life [allows you to be] violent and original in your work." In other words, when the structure is established, you are freed to focus on what counts.

Solitude and simplicity are two disciplines that often function hand in hand. Time alone, free of distraction, is necessary to create. A stripping away of extraneous things gives a creative the space to work. Some artists deliberately would forgo social commitments or would choose a hermit-like existence. Others would make room for community but keep those hours separate from the work. "What you need to do is clear all distraction," Anne Rice says. "That's the bottom line."

I was surprised how many artists engaged in daily exercise -- calisthenics, swimming, and the like -- long before this was considered the ideal. Walking was by far the exercise of choice, serving as both a break from the work and sometimes a new way to view it. Those walks I take with the dog when I'm feeling stuck? I'm in good company.

This book has inspired me to think about how I might best keep my days simple and distraction free. In the midst of my daily solitude it has made me feel a part of something bigger than myself. I’m carrying the creative torch like those before me and those who will come after -- important work indeed!

*Guess what? Today is Beethoven's 245 birthday.

*I'm focusing on the positive here. Many artists relied on various vices to (supposedly) bring out their best work. A few, like George Sand, felt "the work of the imagination is exciting enough...Whether you are secluded in your study or performing on the planks of a stage, you must be in total possession of yourself.”

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Santa Approved 2015 Ultimate Writer’s Gift Guide by Jim Hill (really)

Dear Santa,

I need a blog topic. Help.


Jim Hill

Dear Jim Hill (if that’s your real name),

Are you kidding me? Eleven days until Christmas. Four days until Episode VII opens. How do you expect me to come up with your blog topic? I’m up to my jingle bells in elfs cosplaying jawas and ewoks. 

C’mon, man.


Dear Santa,

Well, to be honest, I have a topic, the 2015 Ultimate Writer’s Gift Guide, but need some gift ideas. And let’s face it, when it comes to gifts, you’re the man.


p.s. Jim Hill really is my name. Aren’t you omniscient?


Sucking up will put you solidly on the naughty list.

And, no, I’m not omniscient. I know when you’ve been naughty, and when you’ve been nice. I see you when you’re sleeping, and I know when you’re awake. Nowhere in there does it say anything about remembering names. Why do you think I keep a list? I call my wife Mrs. Claus, for crying out loud. She thinks it’s cute. It's desperation. Sheila? Minerva? Mulva?


Dear Santa,

That wasn’t sucking up. It was a statement of fact. Would you rather I turned to some sketchy internet list or go big with the ultimate authority?


p.s. Am I sleeping enough?


Just because the Paris Agreement won’t let me hand out coal anymore doesn’t mean I don’t have a whole sack full of gluten free cookies with your name on them. Not even the reindeer will eat them. Not since that whole “vomit-Comet” incident. #SorryToledo


p.s. No. Clearly not.
p.p.s. You can do this. Santa believes in you, too.

Dear Jolly Old Elf,

I think I’ve got it. I asked my friend, Mary Cronin, for help. While bantering about literary-themed presents she said, 

“It sounds like such common advice, but ‘write to the end’ has helped me tremendously in terms of focus and productivity. In the past five years, I've been focusing solely on middle-grade fiction, and when I'm writing, I don't stop mid-draft to return to the beginning. It's tempting to do that-- to tinker, polish the beginning, and make it shine. But if I did that, I would never get to say, ‘I'm finished with my draft!’ I keep notes about what I will go back and address in the next draft, but I keep trudging on like Brave Irene in William Steig's iconic picture book. Following this simple advice has boosted my productivity and helped me to deepen my writing.”

Good advice, right? And that led to my gift-giving-aha-moment!

Whereas chocolate, coffee, and t-shirts are all great all a writer really needs is a stack of yellow writing pads and a big box of pens. BOOM. Merry Christmas, you wonderful old Building and Loan! 


Dear Jim,

You’re back on the nice list. Now let me finish this Jedi Workout. Mrs. Claus (Dolores, BTW), told me if I want to wear Jedi robes on opening day I’d better have a six-pack like Yoda.

I blame Fashion Santa. And my love of cookies. 

Happy Holidays! 


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Thank you! by Marissa Burt

Five-and-a-half years ago I was a newly agented, yet unpublished debut author. I had met the lovely Hilary while angsting online at the Absolute Write forums about the ups and downs of the submissions roller-coaster. When she asked if I'd be interested in joining a group blog of middle-grade authors, I was thrilled at the opportunity to connect to other writers and venture together into the (for me) totally unknown world of social networking...and I had no idea how much of a gift it would be to be part of Team Mayhem.

Now I find that it's time for me to say a fond farewell to being a regular poster here at Mayhem, and I've put it off for months because of the lovely and wonderful friends I've made. Not only is Team Mayhem made up of some of the most talented middle-grade authors out there, but it's a group of extraordinary people who are warm, personable, encouraging, and unfailingly positive. It's lovely to discover community in what can often be a solitary occupation, and I am so very grateful for your many expressions of personal support over the years - from celebrating book releases and holidays to sending thoughtful prayers and encouragement during times of ill health for my family.Thank you.

I've also so appreciated the wonderful and enthusiastic readers who've found their way to this corner of the internet. Thank you all for being such a bright spot where all of us who love middle-grade books and writing can connect!

With gratitude and best wishes for a warm and merry holiday,


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Chris Eboch on Editing Your Novel after #NaNoWriMo

author Chris Eboch at workshop
Did you do National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)? If so, congratulations! Whether or not you actually made it to 50,000 words, hopefully you have a start on a new novel. Even if you did complete a draft, you have work ahead. I’m sure you know you shouldn’t submit or self publish an early draft. The next step is editing, which some people love and some people dread. Planning your editing can make it less of a chore. Here’s an excerpt on editing from You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers.

The Big Picture

Wading through hundreds of novel pages trying to identify every problem at once is intimidating and hardly effective. The best self-editors break the editorial process into steps. They also develop practices that allow them to step back from the manuscript and see it as a whole.

furry critique partnerEditor Jodie Renner recommends putting your story away for a few weeks after your first complete draft. During that time, share it with a critique group or beta readers. (Beta readers give feedback on an unpublished draft. They are not necessarily writers, so they give a reader’s opinion.) Ask your advisors to look only at the big picture: “where they felt excited, confused, curious, delighted, scared, worried, bored, etc.,” Renner says. During your writing break, you can also read books, articles, or blog posts to brush up on your craft techniques.

Then collect the feedback and make notes, asking for clarification as needed. Consider moving everyone’s comments onto a single manuscript for simplicity. This also allows you to see where several people have made similar comments, and to choose which suggestions you will follow. At this point, you are only making notes, not trying to implement changes.

Advanced PlottingIn my book Advanced Plotting, I suggest making a chapter by chapter outline of your manuscript so you can see what you have without the distraction of details. For each scene or chapter, note the primary action, important subplots, and the mood or emotions. By getting this overview of your novel down to a few pages, you can go through it quickly looking for trouble spots. You can compare your outline to The Hero’s Journey or scriptwriting three-act structure to see if those guidelines inspire any changes. (You Can Write for Children and Advanced Plotting both have more information on three act structure.)

As you review your scenes, pay attention to anything that slows the story. Where do you introduce the main conflict? Can you eliminate your opening chapter(s) and start later? Do you have long passages of back story or explanation that aren’t necessary? Does each scene have conflict? Are there scenes out of order or repetitive scenes that could be cut? Make notes on where you need to add new scenes, delete or condense boring scenes, or move scenes.
editing note cards 
Colored highlighter pens (or the highlight function on a computer) can help you track everything from point of view changes to clues in a mystery to thematic elements. Highlight subplots and important secondary characters to make sure they are used throughout the manuscript in an appropriate way. Cut or combine minor characters who aren’t necessary.

Using Your Notes
Once you have an overview of the changes you want, revise the manuscript for these big picture items: issues such as plot, structure, characterization, point of view, and pacing. Renner recommends you then reread the entire manuscript, still focusing on the big picture. Depending on the extent of your changes, you may want to repeat this process several times.

editing example
During this stage of editing, consider market requirements if you plan to submit the work to publishers. Is your word count within an appropriate range for the genre? Are you targeting a publisher that has specific requirements? If you’re writing a romance, will the characters’ arcs and happy ending satisfy those fans? If you have an epic fantasy, is the world building strong and fresh? If your thriller runs too long, can it be broken into multiple books, or can you eliminate minor characters and subplots?

Once you’ve done all you can, you may want to hire an editor. You could also send the manuscript to new beta readers or critique partners. People who have not read the manuscript before might be better at identifying how things are working now. (See my posts on Critiques at my “Write like a Pro!” blog for topics such as making the most of a critique group, using family and friends, and hiring a professional editor.)

Editing Tips:
  • Don’t try to edit everything at once. Make several passes, looking for different problems. Start big, then focus in on details.
  • Try writing a one- or two-sentence synopsis. Define your goal. Do you want to produce an action-packed thriller? A laugh-out-loud book that will appeal to preteen boys? A richly detailed historical novel about a character’s internal journey? Identifying your goal can help you make decisions about what to cut and what to keep.
  • Next make a scene list, describing what each scene does.
  • Do you need to make major changes to the plot, characters, setting, or theme (fiction) or the focus of the topic (nonfiction)?
  • Does each scene fulfill the synopsis goal? How does it advance plot, reveal character, or both?
  • Does each scene build and lead to the next? Are any redundant? If you cut the scene, would you lose anything? Can any secondary characters be combined or eliminated?
  • Does anything need to be added or moved? Do you have a length limit or target?
  • Can you increase the complications, so that at each step, more is at stake, there’s greater risk or a better reward? If each scene has the same level of risk and consequence, the pacing is flat and the middle sags.
  • Check for accuracy. Are your facts correct? Are your characters and setting consistent?
  • Does each scene follow a logical order?
  • Is your point of view consistent?
  • Do you have dynamic language: Strong, active verbs? A variety of sentence lengths (but mostly short and to the point)? No clichés? Do you use multiple senses (sight, sound, taste, smell, touch)?
  • Finally, edit for spelling and punctuation.

(For detailed editing questions, see my Plot Outline Exercise. It’s in my book Advanced Plotting or available for download on my website.)

What are your favorite resources for editing advice? Here are some I like or that other writers have recommended.

You Can Write for Children coverEditing Resources:
Advanced Plotting, by Chris Eboch
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King
Style That Sizzles & Pacing for Power – An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction, by Jodie Renner
Manuscript Makeover, by Elizabeth Lyon
Novel Metamorphosis, by Darcy Pattison
Revision & Self-Editing, by James Scott Bell
Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us, by Jessica Page Morrell

Need a holiday present for a writer in your life – or for yourself? Improve your craft next year with Advanced Plotting or You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers. Learn more at or Chris’s Amazon page.

Author Chris Eboch with The Eyes of Pharaoh novel
Chris Eboch writes fiction and nonfiction for all ages, with 30+ traditionally published books for children. Her novels for ages nine and up include The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy; The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; Bandits Peak, a survival story, and the Haunted series, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. Learn more at or her Amazon page.

Chris also writes novels of suspense and romance for adults under the name Kris Bock; read excerpts at

Monday, December 7, 2015

When Dawn and Dusk Merge by Paul Greci

The sun at its high point in the sky taken from my deck.

It’s that time of year up north where dawn merges with dusk.
By Solstice the length of our day will be about 3 hours and 40 minutes (10:58 to 2:40).

Luckily, I’ve come to love all the low-angle lighting that accompanies winter.
Sometimes the forest is pink.
My writing time is typically 5 to 6:30, then I need to get ready for work.

That darkness, at its best, is like a creative blanket wrapped around me.

At its worse it’s a yawn factory.
Taken from my driveway.

Obviously, you don’t need a long winter to be a writer. I guess what I’m saying is that by embracing what you have, you free up your energy to put into what is in front of you whether that is writing, or child care, or teaching, or anything really.

On the surface, it sounds simple, but I think it’s an ongoing challenge in mindfulness to be present enough to fully engage with what’s right in front of you. At least, it is for me.

Taken from my deck.
As a special education teacher I often have to go from meetings with parents, teachers, or administrators, or writing student goals right into teaching. Being able to turn off the previous task, even though it is often unfinished with a deadline attached to it, and focus on the students in front of me is key.

I try to approach my writing-time the same way, by closing the shutters on what is coming next in my busy day.

 For whatever reason, winter brings this reflective side of me to the surface. The black windows I see when I look beyond my computer screen keep me focused, and the dawn-dusk lighting for the rest of the day, helps to keep me in a reflective space.

On the power line just up the hill from our house.
What do you do to access your creativity and stay in it? And/or, what do you do to make it more likely you’ll be more present with what is in front of you?

 In book news, Surviving Bear Island is now available in an EBook and the Hard Cover is having a Second Printing.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Resistance by Joanna Roddy

"Sea captain in storm," illustration by N.C. Wyeth from The Rakish Brigantine
We all know that feeling.

The early morning alarm has gone off...
...or we've just got the kids out the door for school...
...or we've finally made it to our favorite coffee shop and sat down with our favorite cup of warm...
...or we've rented an actual cabin and have finally arrived and settled in...

...and now we're supposed to sit down and write. 

Because we carved out the time and the space and we planned to do it and here we are. We fought tooth and nail for this time. 

But what rises to the surface is the simple mantra that destroys everything we've worked so hard for:

I don't want to

Which materializes in the form of checking Facebook, or email, or twitter, just one last time before really getting down to it... 
...or getting a snack...
...or turning off the alarm and promising ourselves we'll put in some time later in the day...
...or wondering what ever made us think renting a cabin would be a good idea and reaching for the nearest book about writing...
...or starting a sewing/cooking/building/organizing/art/charity/garden project that's been lying dormant for months...

...or any number of seemingly worthy distractions that all sound reasonable, but come from the same source: 


Resistance is almost always there. It's the part of you that wants entertainment, or distraction, or rest instead of doing the hard work required to sit there and put words on the page. Resistance keeps kids from doing their chores, adults from keeping their New Year's resolutions, and dieters from keeping off the weight. And Resistance keeps writers from writing, and creatives from creating.

I've been thinking about Resistance lately because Steven Pressfield in his books DO THE WORK and THE WAR OF ART talks a lot about it. His books read like missives from the front lines, like letters back East from Clint Eastwood on the frontier of the wild west. It's gritty, and real, and wise in the way that old sea captains are wise about the sea, or a hunter is wise about the wolf. Pressfield can describe Resistance with the intimacy of an opponent and the accuracy of a scholar.

Ok, so it's there. But what do you DO about it?

Pressfield puts a lot of stock in outwitting, outmaneuvering, and outlasting Resistance and he has some very salient things to say about how to deal with it. He gets it.

But I've been thinking about how I deal with resistance and I've decided that the most powerful tool I have is the truth. Not my wits or my stubbornness or my blind faith. 

Because once you realize that Resistance exists, and it borrows your voice, and your doubts, and your insecurities, and your vices, and it puts them on like a costume to pretend to be you and manipulate you away from doing the work, the thing that can stop it mid-stride is just this:

That isn't me

Because, actually, I do want to do this. I do want to write the book. I just do. And all that other stuff that's telling me how hard it is: that's not me. 

The dance with Resistance is different every day, but when I remember that it's outside of me, and stand on the truth of who I am and what I want, I stop confusing Resistance's voice with my own. And I'm free. 

And I don't have to be a warrior most of the time. I can just be me. 

Write on, writers. You actually do want to do the work. Really, you do.