Category: Art & Craft (Page 1 of 17)

Setting the Table

One of my jobs as a kid in a family of five was to set the table. And it was a job I actually liked. A placemat for each of us. Fork to the left. Knife and spoon to the right. Napkin under the fork. And when it was done there was a symmetry and orderliness across the table that appealed to me.

I still set the table for each meal.  Cloth placemats. Cutlery in the right places. Napkins. It’s more than what appealed to me as a kid. I understand Mom was civilizing us, preparing us, more knowing how to dine, not just eat.

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My ‘ah-ha’ moment came this week. It’s really not that momentous but, well, yeah, it is. I had decided to stop work on a middle grade mystery that is a favorite. I love the character, I love the plot, I love the pacing. The problem is that I cannot pitch this story….I can not get it down to just a few sentences and describe the plot. So after all these online programs I decided it was time to put that character and her story to the side and concentrate on a story I was able to pitch. I could identify needs and wants. I got the physical and emotional. I had the pacing of the story. I was SOOOOO GOOD!


One online program that dealt with first lines/paragraphs/chapters. One earlier editorial critique that mentioned my character–actually the one I have dispatched to the lower drawers for a time out–needed a twist, a something that made her unique, different and, well, there is no denying it, a hook that gave this character a personality. Another one talked about using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to push the character’s action as well as emotions.

I have an upcoming online program on revision with the invaluable Emma Dryden and one with Donald Maass on secrets and mysteries. And that is exactly where I am…revising a story I also love. But to love it more the main character’s needs and wants should be woven into a better mystery.

That’s my goal. And I’ve got this. The good news is that I KNOW this story. I have worked it and reworked it to a very competent mystery with rising action and the failure of success being compounded until the main character has no choice but to act and to act alone. The Ah-Ha is how she gets there. I am excited. This will be the toughest revision I have ever worked on. I am working deep in the mechanics of the story and revising the nuts and bolts. But I feel like we’ve got this, Pouvey and me. Together we may just get her story out there.

Got a comment? That’s fine. Be nice. No flaming.


This pandemic life has changed us. We are mostly housebound since Tom’s hospitalization in 2017 for a spinal cord injury. Oh, we can travel, get out, but that is limited. But now, no gym, no lunches, no shopping, no Mass, the lack of socialization is impactful. So, the huge benefit of pandemic life, for me, is the eruption of writing programs moving to virtual. The lack of assembly means scores of authors and illustrators, editors and agents, who are no longer able to do school visits not just because they are at home, but because the students are too!

I am not a copious notetaker. In many programs I find a lot of redundancy, after all, what is really new about writing or storytelling? So, attending these programs is more about what I call ‘the click factor’, someone describing or teaching or focusing on an issue or subject so that at that point in time it ‘clicks’ in your head. You might call this the ‘ah-ha moment’.

To date I have attended a poetry class in Switzerland with Bridget Magee where I learned not only about poetry but how to work on writing my own. Check out Golden Shovel poems. Not a poet here, but a great way to work on your word placement and usage.

When I own something I like to use it all, so a program by Gwen Hernandez on Scrivener was excellent, providing insights into the ways that this writing program can up your ability to focus on the writing and assist in the way to pace, plot and revise. Her book, Scrivener for Dummies is worth the price.

SCBWI Carolinas offered a program on how to ‘Raise the Stakes’ in your writing with Becca Puglisi the co-author of the Emotional Thesaurus,  Writers Helping Writers blog and  One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling.  There were two nuggets in this program. One was identifying the stakes using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. and using what I think of as a syllogism as we used in logic class all those years ago: wants +then+emotion to create the story goal.

An excellent program with the delightful Joy Bean, senior editor Boyds Mill & Kane , was a discussion of how publishing is handling the pandemic, offering insights into all the remote work for editors, publishers, book sellers and marketers in a time of social distancing.

A free program with Feeding Mind Press a part of the American Farm Bureau, on pictures books with speaker extraordinaire, Emma Dryden , provided two nuggets: one on children’s milestones to keep in mind when pitching your stories toward a particular age group and, two, the way to use screen writing in the formatting of your picture book layout.

Upcoming I have three workshops with Free Expressions Workshops, an SCBWI Nevada program on graphic novels and SinC workshops on forensics and plot twists. And, of course there are the offerings of SCBWI International Digital Programs for members, and the newly opened SCBWI Vault.

As impactful as this time is, there is room to be grateful.

Got a comment? That’s fine. Be nice. No flaming.


It’s not enough to want to write. It’s not enough to write in your head–although that is usually very good writing.  Why do I write?  I’m not a good speller. I am a lousy proofreader.  My English methodology is sketchy at best.  And Latin did not help.

 Attending the NYC mid winter conference last weekend was that push to sit down and write.  New York in February is not my ideal trip.  It’s cold. Sometimes blizzardly cold, no clean air….

I’m late in doing this. The conference was 10 days ago. And yet. I had things to get done before I could, shoot, I hate that word–process, but yes. Turn it over in my mind, figure out how and what to say.

This I know. I must write. I am not a huge fan of the inspirational keynote that lets us in on the successful writer’s/illustrator’s life.  I have no connection with how they get there and where they started. I want the keynote of the person who looks at writing and brings their passion to the fore

This is my year of renewal. No. More repurposing.  I’m at that place between getting a request for a full and hearing nothing afterward. I have this character, a cozy mystery.  I was told that mysteries are a ‘dime a dozen.’ Definitely not what I wanted to hear.

Keynotes. Intensives.  Seeing friends. Discussing writing. Let me tell you what I get out of the international conferences.


This year a lot hit home. While it was interesting to hear the story of Jarrett Krosoczka, and to hear Christopher Paul Curtis cruise through his childhood but it was the passion and fire, the language and oratory of Elizabeth Acevedo that took my breath away.  

I have no connection to her story, her history, the society in which she grew up. But I was stunned by the acuity of her phrasing, the depth of her commitment to her writing life, and the confidence by which she communicated.  Would that we could bottle all of that and give it to those kids who don’t get that whatever—love, support, or just plain belief in oneself tattooed on her spine.  What a gift! 

This year, more than in those past, I got a lot out of the intensives. I learned about the four faces of a character. I re-learned classic POV, tropes. Revisited Aristotle. About tent pole moments, the diagram of narrative nonfiction. To discover what is at stake in a nonfiction story, using prologues and epilogues. and Zotero and sprinting and the Pomodoro method of writing.

and I signed up for a mentorship program. “About time”, said Tom. And I agree.

every book should be….

I have been a reader of mysteries since, well, I don’t remember not reading them. And I love how each author makes their journey from problem to solution differently.  Some are better than others. When I was growing up Nancy Drew remained pretty much the same and it was the plots that were unique. Now, the main character has to have wants and needs and should change in someway, probably for the better, although….

Truth be told, I am really a fan of mysteries that involve murder. And find it amazing how many different ways writers are able to kill off people, and it seems we do it regularly and with a lot of enthusiasm.

Thanks to the North Carolina Digital Library I can read a lot of mysteries. Right now I am reading the James Runcie Grantchester series, Sydney Chambers and his non-clerical adventures in detecting. Although I think I will never ever understand cricket, I find his very English voice of the 1950s to be fascinating, almost as interesting as the murders.

A lot of children’s books which are mysteries do not include dead bodies and I get that. They are perhaps finding a precious family heirloom, or noticing something strange with a neighbor and getting involved in maybe rescuing a family pet or helping someone in a bad situation. Personally, I like the idea that a person or persons with really bad intentions is out there and it is scary. I like that idea that a person or persons is willing to kill again, perhaps, making it dangerous for the main character.


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