Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Know Your Characters

Don't expect the puppets of your mind to become the people of your story. If they are not realities in your own mind, there is no mysterious alchemy in ink and paper that will turn wooden figures into flesh and blood.  --Leslie Gordon Barnard, Canadian short story writer, 1890-1961.

Over the years I've learned to cut pictures out of magazines to represent the characters in my story; created detailed character charts chronicling my characters' mannerisms, beliefs, histories; cobbled together the rules of my worlds and the power structures that dominate them. It helps. Now. At first I felt compelled to reveal everything in too-heavy dialogue or information dumps. I've gotten better. Now all that groundwork allows me to set the story and weave the other stuff in at the right time.

Then I start editing and find myself making all kinds of drastic changes to my manuscript. Turning a YA into a MG. Eliminating subplots. Getting rid of and combining characters. My story always seems to be changing. My challenge is nailing it down long enough to make across-the-board edits so everything sounds consistent.

What do you do to flesh out the "puppets of your mind" so they look, sound and act like real people? How do you go about revising your manuscript when you change your story so that all of your details relate to your new story and not your old one?

Kim Van Sickler

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Power of Writing

I won't go into any details here, but as a lot of my friends know, it’s been quite a past couple of years for me. With everything that’s been going on in my life, I have really found it difficult to sit at a computer and focus on anything other than troubles surrounding my life, which would be awesome if that’s what I was currently writing about. Sadly it isn’t!

In my earlier post, I mentioned that I’m a reluctant writer at best, so that, added to the fact that my mind has been barely capable of sticking to one subject at a time, has made it almost impossible for me to do anything even nearing creativity: time spent at Boyd’s Mill’s excluded. Many times, many, many times, I’ve sat at my computer and faced that most frightening of things to a writer… a blank page screaming at every neuron of my numbed brain to hit the lettered keys and create something exciting, brilliant, and full of a unique voice that some editor in a position of power will be compelled to respond to with, “Send me everything you’ve ever written, we’re penning you to a multi-book deal.”

Alas, my friends, those keys were never punched with wild abandon, no brilliant new novel was laid upon virgin pages, no unique voice channeled itself through my fingers, and nothing was sent to that eager editor in search of the next great, “Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel.”

Instead, mostly the resulting words formed by this muddled creative center of mine were very simple and somewhat cathartic and generally repeated on at least a weekly basis.

Wanna know what most of my pages ended up looking like? Well, like it or not since you’re reading this post I’m going to tell you, so pull up an even more comfy chair, maybe grab a cup of coffee or tea, polish your eyeglasses… Ready?

I have no idea what to write about.”

“Why can’t I write anything?”

“What is going on in my head that won’t allow me to write?”

I have no idea what to write about.”

“I hate looking at blank pages.”

“Why do I think I can be a writer?”

“I should drag my bum to work.”

Etc. …

Funny thing is, that after sitting down and writing those lines, what usually followed were sessions spent writing about nothing. A lot of the sessions were nothing but random thoughts. Sometimes a page of nothing became three or four pages of nothing, which took me down a road I had no idea even existed. I spent times wandering down all kinds of roads, mostly about my own life.

Sometimes the roads were paved and very easy to navigate, and sometimes they were the roads of nightmares: dirty, full of potholes and ruts, with dangerous washouts, but in the end, no matter if it was a short journey or an epic cross-country trip, they ended up being pretty interesting when I look back at them. I ended up writing a lot of round file stuff. I wrote quite a bit of stuff that looked like it was dictated in tongues. But I also wrote, what to me was some gemstone quality stuff; not a lot, but, in the end, just the act of sitting down and tapping keys about random thoughts or negative thoughts was enough to help assuage the fears that I am not a writer, and that, my friends, can be pretty powerful stuff!

P.S. I love how Rich Wallace seems to sneak lists in when he writes, so I’m stealing your idea bro!

My Five Favorite Movies List:
Under The Tuscan Sun
The Castle
The Blind Side
Big Easy

Jon Egan

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Traditionally during Thanksgiving week, I make a list of things I am thankful for, and that list always begins with my family and friends.

Last weekend, our family added a beautiful, loving daughter-in-law who makes our son happy, and I am exceptionally thankful for this addition to our family.

My list of friends includes the Swaggers who share this blog, dear friends who I cherish more every day. And now I am also thankful for those of you who follow it. May we become or continue to be friends.

This year Thanksgiving falls on the 5-week anniversary of the cancer death of a member of a small (now 8 of us) critique group in Cincinnati. Our group will remember Linda Sanders-Wells as a woman with an abundance of –ives.

Linda Sanders-Wells
Linda was creative. Her writing covered the gamut: from fantasy novel to realistic fiction novel to poetry to picture books. Her ideas and the words she chose to express them amazed us.

Linda was imaginative, and her work was the epitome of it. She encouraged us all to connect to our imaginative sides. Her picture book, Maggie’s Monkeys (a Junior Library Guild selection included in The Bank Street Best Children’s Books of the Year 2010), celebrates the magic of a child’s imagination.

Linda’s criticism within our group was always constructive and right on target. She showed us how to make our work better and encouraged us to do it.

Linda was sensitive. She often became discouraged and frustrated with the publishing world, not only when her work was rejected, but when the rest of us received rejections. Often when an editor made me feel defeated, Linda sent an encouraging email, always trying to boost my spirits and keep me going.

And Linda was supportive. She not only supported our writing efforts, but also supported us emotionally. When another member of our group fought her own battle with Cancer, Linda led the group in a walk to raise funds.

As Linda fought the brave fight, her friend Eunice (writer e. E. Charlton-Trujillo) planned to surprise her this Christmas by publishing another of her books. But her death came sooner than expected. Eunice plans to continue this project, with the help of Linda’s teen daughter, as a tribute to Linda. 

The Writing World is missing a true talent and a devoted friend. She’s gone, and a little piece of each of us is gone, too. But we will remember her forever.

Piñata Productions has hired Cincinnati artist Brian Hagen to create the illustrations for Linda's novel, Sometimes FriendsThe completion of the book, geared for ages 8-12, will be a collaboration between e. E. Charlton-Trujillo and Linda's daughter, Abigail. Abbie and Charlton-Trujillo have collaborated a number of times over the years on film projects. No one knows Linda's creativity and could honor her book like Abbie. Piñata Productions will release a book trailer by early December 2011.

With an illustrator hired, the book is currently in presale. The book's layout and style are similar to Eileen Spinelli's, Where I Live. Each book costs $15 dollars, which includes shipping. Orders of 12 books or more sell for $10 each, with a flat $10 for shipping.

Checks can be mailed to:
Piñata Productions
Attn: Eunice Charlton
1655 Westmoreland Ave
Cincinnati, Ohio 45223

Should you prefer to order via PayPal, payment can be sent to: thelostbrady@hotmail.com .  Please note: Payments via PayPal require a $1 service fee per purchase.

Visit the Piñata Productions page for Sometimes Friends at: http://pinataproduction.com/?page_id=1720

So, to my list, I include that I am thankful for having known Linda, though for far too short a time. As you give thanks today, remember your friends and family. Treasure them and hold them close to your hearts. Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

Kathy Cannon Wiechman

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Blowing in the Wind

They say to write what you know. But what if one of the things you know best -- something you’ve spent inordinate amounts of time ruminating about – seems to carry virtually no chance of winning a wide audience? Or any audience at all?

Since early childhood, I’ve harbored a vast knowledge about a single subject, yet I’d never written about it until very recently. Amazingly, a publisher actually requested material that was grounded in the very topic I feared would never find an outlet. How did they know? They didn’t. They merely put out a call, and I answered.

The subject is flatulence, and the audience is young kids, particularly boys. The publisher’s need for stories and quizzes and anecdotes seems endless. My contributions thus far have been a folktale-like story about animals farting in the forest (complete with an Aesop-like moral), and a list of words for farting in foreign languages. Other contributors are way ahead of me, but I’m still thinking. And the editor said my forest story made her laugh so hard she nearly aspirated a French fry.

I’m very proud of that.

The editor, whom I’ve known for many years, seems amused, but baffled to have fallen into her current position. I’ve learned a ton from working with her; believe me, the material they produce is top-notch and hilarious, and actually of educational value. It isn’t all about farting, but much of it is closely related. Boys like that stuff. As they get older and grow into adulthood, they don’t talk about it as much. But somebody has to produce high-interest material for kids to read. I’m just fortunate to have studied the subject.

Rich Wallace

Saturday, November 19, 2011

I Need Poetry

A few weekends ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Ted Kooser, the 13th Poet Laureate of the United States, and Terrance Hayes read their poetry at a Grand Valley State University function. And in a time when reality T.V. stars and even YA authors grace the covers of magazines, it was nice to find a moment and place where poetry was valued. Not just that but also seen as valuable. 

There were Terrance Hayes groupies in t-shirts and a line afterward to have books signed by Ted Kooser. I can say that I didn't love every poem, in fact there were ones I didn't like, and ones I didn't understand. The point is there were ones I liked, ones I loved, and some that moved me to tears. 

Terrance Hayes 
Ted Kooser believes that poetry makes us better people, and has started a column that is syndicated in major newspapers and online publications. It's called American Life in Poetry. You can even sign up for a weekly poem.

Ted Kooser
But so what? What's the big deal with poetry?

I believe that poetry makes a good writer great. It can challenge you.
You try telling a story with a plot arc in just a few lines in a way that makes people want to keep reading.

I am on my poetry soapbox and you are never getting me down. Because it has changed my life. Even as I write this, I can see myself on a poetry infomercial. But it really has. It has allowed me to process emotions that I thought were untouchable. And it has made me a much better writer.  

One of my favorite quotes is from Jim Harrison: "Poetry, just like painting, is something that you have to give your entire life to -- and that includes all of your life."

I am not asking you to give up everything for poetry but maybe give it a second look and see some value in it.

Find a poem you like, just one, and rewrite it. Use some of the words, none of the words, but really sit with it for a few minutes. Read it a couple times. Circle what you like about it. Write about why you like it. And then allow yourself to rewrite it.

Regina Gort

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Warm Fuzzies: Week Four. Show us a warm, fuzzy moment

A warm, fuzzy moment from one of my Christmas stories:
That's when it happened! The magic! Matt could feel it! There was no choir of angels, no burst of bright light. No ghost transported him to other Christmases. No strange figure presented a life where he'd never been born. There was only Christmas music from the mall speakers, interrupted to page a cleaning crew.

But the magic happened!

-Kathy Cannon Wiechman

I write because I love to do it. I love to express myself through the use of language, choosing words carefully to achieve specific effects. I wish I could do it also through music or painting, but words are the only tools I own, and seek to augment always. I write because when I do, I forget my solitude, and I enter into a "dream space" where I am happy.

My writing has expanded my horizons, has allowed me to meet and befriend many wonderful people, who like me, love writing. Whenever self-doubt appears, I can reach out to my "family" of fellow writers for support. According to the great teacher and author Mary Carroll Moore, A Community (of writers) and  Rhythm (regular writing practice) are two elements necessary to anyone who is seriously committed to writing and finishing a book.

-Graziella Buonanno

The moment when my characters and I become one, when I can't tell if I'm leading or following, when I'm living and breathing -- writing without a pen, paper or laptop in hand -- that's what makes writing worth it to me. I love it when the magic takes hold and I'm no longer in control. Writing is and always has been my escape, my nirvana, my serenity.

My favorite warm fuzzy moment or what makes me warm and fuzzy is knowing that I always have writing, no matter what. My WIP's and characters give me a warm fuzzy feeling of safety and security. I know that I can always express what I need to through writing and it can stay mine.

-Melissa Kline

When I'm puzzling over how to release a key bit of information in one of my scenes and then a character takes charge and shows me the way, that's a warm and fuzzy moment for me. In this scene I was working on yesterday, I needed to set the stage for a future showdown between my MC and her potential mentor:

“And that's your problem. Witches and wizards are supposed to be bitter,” Culbreath says. “Even mortals expect it. No one expects a nice, forgiving witch. Look at you! You're an aberration!”

I feel like Culbreath's baiting me, so I don't react to what he's saying. Interestingly enough, that fires him up even more. He pounds both fists on the table. "A witch with a reputation for compassion! What is this world coming to?"

-Kim Van Sickler

A warm, fuzzy moment from my MG novel:
I ran over Benny Dibin with my first electric wheelchair. He was practicing a break dancing routine in the gym when I lost control and knocked him over. All I remember is a blur of orange hair falling on top of my lap.

“Watch where you’re going, Wheels!” he screamed.

I pushed the buttons on my talk box to answer, “Jerk. It’s a new chair.”

Then I dumped him in the janitor’s closet.

That was almost six years ago, and we’re still best friends.

-Regina Gort

In 2003, my best friend collapsed in front of a room full of kids.  She was thirty-three years old and, just like me, a mother of three children. Over the next two years, those who loved her watched her deteriorate and eventually die from the aneurysm that caused her collapse. I wrote my first children’s book to give her kids a tool for grieving. My second book was also written to assist grieving children. After that, I began learning more about craft and using writing to attend to some of the issues that still lived inside my own inner child. For me, stories can heal, or at least provide a salve and give us a blueprint for the way we want to live. Richard Peck says that our main character should always be the kid we wished we could have been -- us, just a little braver. Those are the kind of characters that remind us, every loss is survivable.  

I just finished a YA where the main characters have lost a friend through a tragedy they all contributed to. This excerpt is a climax for one of the characters and was inspired by the Radiohead song “Videotape.”

After climbing in, I slam the car door. The night is breezy. It smells like lemons and something else, green and grass-like. I decide to take the scenic route home. The ravines are lined with mansions and enormous trees that were here long before anyone I know was ever born. They twist and turn as I make my way down. I lean from side to side, bending as I take the curves. I can just make out the shadowed leaves as my headlights roll over each new tree. It’s so pretty I take out my phone and poke in the videotape settings. Then I hold it out the window to catch the lights and the leaves and the swerves. I steer with one hand, the wind rushing past my cheeks like a hundred soft hands.
My eyes blur with tears. 
It’s so damn pretty.
-Juliet Bond
Swagger Writers

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Gremlins of Self-Doubt

A few years ago I came across a quote by Marianne Williamson. She's one of those life-coach people who appeared on Oprah heavily in the 1990’s and spoke in a soft voice. A very thin woman, she encouraged viewers to engage in “Spiritual Lessons for Surrendering Your Weight Forever.”
Uh huh, yeah. I did not think I had anything to learn from Marianne Williamson.  As is frequently true, I was wrong.
Here’s the full quote:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us, it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

You have to admit in this, if nothing else, the new-agey Marianne nailed it.  

In writing, I am constantly fighting what my friend Linda aptly named "the gremlins of self-doubt.” Linda hosts this holiday party for our critique group every year and one year, I was awarded two tiny bearded heads on a string. Attached to the heads was a slip of paper with the words, “It is not our task to eliminate the gremlins of self-doubt, but to educate them.” When I read the quote out loud, the room sighed in a collective, “Yes!”  That’s because we all have these gremlins. And they aren’t just about failure. Nope. We are also afraid to win.

Crazy, right?

Because here’s the thing: if we succeed, then we’ll have to succeed again…and again.  People will expect us to be more than a one-hit-wonder, better than say Vanilla Ice or the Baha Men.

The Baha men gave us "Who Let the Dogs Out?"  But SEE?  You didn’t know them. They disappeared because they succeeded (Yeah!) but then didn’t succeed again (Boo.)  And now they will forever be known as, well, nobody knows who they are.

Still, are we really going to let those gremlins get us down?  Will we allow their mean voices to whisper sad tales of the Baha Men and their ilk into our ears? Should the gremlins be allowed to keep us from submitting our work to the agents and publishers who can get our words to the wider public, or from writing at all?  No, I tell you!  Hang those bearded heads above your desk and write.  Dangle them from a nearby wall as you read a recommended book about craft.  Shove them in your backpack and head off to a workshop or writing class.

Let.  Those.  Dogs.  Out.

Because when you hear the low and irresistible bumpin’ base notes of "Ice, Ice Baby," you cannot deny the pull. You CANNOT!  You will (even if secretly) gyrate your hips or nod your head because that song ROCKS!

So okaaaay, Vanilla Ice did turn out to be less than we’d all hoped (oh, for another equally awesome-played-at-every-wedding-and-bar-mitzvah hit like THAT!)  And maybe Marianne will offer me only the one brilliant quote. Or the Baha Men will never cause us to fist pump to another song again. But come on people, even if it was only the one awesome thing, they gave the world something astonishing!

We can too.

‘Cause in the end, who are we to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are we not to be? Our playing small doesn't serve the world.

Juliet Bond

Saturday, November 12, 2011

YA Author Melissa Kline Talks About Small Presses and Self-Promotion

When I met Melissa Kline two years ago, she had a rough manuscript for her novel MY BEGINNING, and an unshakable belief in herself. The book came out this past summer, garnering Melissa awards and kudos.

Melissa (right) promoting the Rocky Mountain Women Writers, a group she founded, and her book, at a Wine Women & Wellness event in Denver last week.

KCW: MY BEGINNING was published by a very small publishing house, Lucky Press. What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of publishing with a small press?

MK: Advantages: Having a close relationship with my publisher/editor, having a say in book design, cover design, titling, etc., independence -  scheduling own signings, events, etc., becoming  an entrepreneur - making connections, marketing and promoting - a crucial skill in this market.

Disadvantages: Minimal exposure to media, corporate bookstores,  prestigious awards, international marketing.

Being with a small press has been a wonderful experience for me! I am so grateful for my publisher and the strong foundation we've built together as a team.

KCW: Did you pattern your character Ivory after someone in particular? And what similarities do the two of you share that you were able to draw on to create her?

MK: She is me! Ivory and I share many similarities. As a child I was painfully shy, introverted and a dreamer. I was teased because of the way that I looked, and not accepted amongst my peers. I always had one good friend growing up and a die-hard crush on one boy throughout most of my school years. I longed to escape as a teen, just as Ivory does. Her transformation and awakening is representative of my own changes and metamorphosis.

KCW: How have the awards that MY BEGINNING earned affected your work on the sequel?

MK: Receiving the Halloween Book Festival award boosted my confidence tremendously. I have been told that MY BEGINNING is motion picture-worthy and to keep the same writing curve. There is a little bit of added pressure, but I'm super excited about the sequel and know that it's going to be just as good, maybe even better, than the first!

KCW: You make miniatures and draw sketches of your characters and settings. For many writers, those things could be a distraction from actually writing. How do you make it work for you and still find time to write?

Melissa's miniatures

MK: Usually, I write the story first, then create. But sometimes if I'm stuck on a scene or need a boost of inspiration, I'll get creative. These methods help me connect with my characters and get to know who they are on a deeper level. It aids me in the writing process and is not a distraction at all. There is an ebb and flow to everything I do. Sometimes I need to be creative, and sometimes I need to just write. It's important for me to honor my creative intuition.

KCW: You're a real go-getter when it comes to self-promotion, even before your novel came out. What are some of the steps you took to sell your book? Which were the most successful?

MK: First of all, I think it is so important to define who you are and what you want. That was a very important step for me - owning my writing talent. After that it was all about sharing it with others, i.e., creating a professional platform including a blog, writers group, business cards, tag lines, etc. Networking is a huge part of success! Even the smallest connections can take you to big places. Create a professional portfolio for yourself and take yourself seriously. Say, I AM! not I WANT. Present yourself as a professional to others wherever you go. I think this is especially important. We have to believe in ourselves first and own who we are! Sounds corny, but it really works.

Melissa at a book signing with two other authors.

As far as book promotion, it's all about getting out there, making connections and being willing and patient. Keeping with the same mind set as I mentioned above. Networking, networking, networking. It's been really powerful for me to connect with other authors for events and promo work. I think that writers/authors need to stick together and support each other. There is power in numbers!

For more information on Melissa Kline, go to http://melissakline.blogspot.com/  or the Melissa page of Swagger. If you want to enter to win a free copy of MY BEGINNING, enter our Swagger Swag contest. See the 10/12 post for details.

Share your publishing and promotional experiences with us. Do small presses make you feel more a part of the creative process? How do you promote yourself?

Kathy Cannon Wiechman

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Interview with Picture Book Author Juliet Bond

Juliet Bond (center) with two of her favorite authors: Carolyn Mackler and Chris Crutcher

Juliet Bond is a professor of Humanities, a social worker, and a writer represented by the Jennie Dunham Agency. She was motivated to write her picture book, Sam's Sister, from experiences she had working as a private adoptions counselor. The book is the only picture book to address open adoption from a birth sibling's perspective. You can read more about her at http://julietcbond.weebly.com/

Sam's Sister
"Sam's Sister is a work of beauty. The author and the illustrator have done an impeccable job of representing the emotional aspects of open adoption from a child's perspective."
    -Julie Jarrel Baily, Author of The Adoption Reunion Survival Guide  

KVS: The genesis for Sam's Sister happened when you were working with pregnant women who were deciding whether to give their children up for adoption. Tell us about it.

JB: Although society has some widespread stereotypes about who birthmothers are (that they are all naive teenagers who are pregnant for the first time), the truth is that at least sixty percent of birthmothers are between the ages of 20-24 and are already parenting children. As a result, they are making informed decisions based on the financial and emotional realities of parenting.

KVS: Sam's Sister is written from the point of view of the biological sister of a boy given up for an open adoption. What was your goal in writing it?

JB: Sam's Sister was meant to educate about open adoptions and to give birthmothers who are choosing open adoption a model for discussion and intervention for the birth child. For example, in the story, the birth child uses a journal, sees a therapist, visits her mother in the hospital, and her feelings are validated by both the birthmother and the adoptive family. Additionally, the birthmother receives a powerful thank you letter from the adoptive family. These are all clinical tools we use in adoption to care for the emotional health of everyone involved.

KVS: You've also written three stories that appear in Chicken Soup of the Soul series books. What prompted you to write them?

JB: I was interested in the book topics [Tough Times, Tough People: 101 Stories About Overcoming the Economic Crisis and Other Challenges and Teens Talk Middle School: 101 Stories of Life, Love & Learning for Younger Teens] and thought I could contribute something joyful. I love how stories can uplift, provide connection and move readers. One of my favorite quotes is by a female physicist named Muriel Rukeyser who said, "The universe is not made up of atoms. It's made of stories."

Juliet Bond is offering a critique of a picture book manuscript as part of the Swagger Swag Giveaway. ONLY FIVE MORE DAYS TO ENTER. She's also giving away a copy of Sam's Sister and Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times, Tough People, as additional prizes. If you haven't entered to win yet, all you have to do is share the following link: http://swaggerwriters.blogspot.com/
somewhere on the Internet - on your blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc., advertising our site AND follow us. Then, leave a comment below with proof that you shared one of these links. For details on our other prizes for following and promoting us, go to the post for 10/12/11.

Kim Van Sickler

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Warm Fuzzies: Week Three -- Name Our WIPs

Warm Fuzzies Blog Fest 2011

Can you name our WIPs? Here are three of them.

The Academy of Witches and Wizards is about to assign thirteen-year-old Grizelda Q. Fiddlesticks her job for life. In her journey to become an official adult, Grizzy faces a superstitious and entrenched witching establishment determined to assign her a role she dreads. She debates turning her life on the witching world and becoming mortal, flees an evil mentor who wants to use her to destroy mankind, and evades her half-brother who's an accomplice to the sick plot. She's in danger of losing her best friend,  the victim of a bizarre kidnapping and attempted Final Transmutation, and infected with a deadly virus.

Since I know what my MC wants to happen, I either have the opposite happen or give the character what he/she wants but in an unfavorable way or have them find out it wasn't such a good thing after all.

Storm enjoys skateboarding, soldering and hooking up with his brother’s girlfriend. Losing his virginity to Holly is a good distraction from the feeling that he killed his own mother. But there’s a problem… he despises Holly. Kelly is the girl of his dreams. Storm is in a tangle and the guilt that his dad lays on him only intensifies his problems. An argument lands him in the school counselors’ office where he finds unexpected friendship. Will Storm overcome his fears and let go of the feelings that have been haunting him?

Juliana: Five points for blog and two points for two FB posts about Warm Fuzzies  last week. 17 points total.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Interview with Prolific MG & YA Author Rich Wallace

Swagger Writer Rich Wallace wrote Wrestling Sturbridge, a YALSA's 100 Best of the Best for the 20th Century. He's written more than 25 novels, targeted to MG and YA male audiences, usually featuring sports themes. His latest book, War & Watermelon, is a semi-autobiographical story about a 12-year-old boy's pilgrimage to Woodstock in 1969 with his older brother.

JE: How old were you when you finished your first manuscript, and I mean one that you could hold up and say, “Wow! I wrote a book.”

RW: Well, I wrote a lot of comic books in third grade. I finished an actual novel manuscript at about age 30.

JE: Do you have any manuscripts hidden in a drawer that for whatever reason will never see the editor's desk?

RW: Yes. Who doesn't?

JE: When you begin a new novel, do you already know the beginning, middle, and end? Do you have your time period down? Or do you just wing it?

RW: I begin with a character in a situation and then start winging it. After a chapter or so, I start to think about where it might be going.

JE: Is it fair to say most of your writing is memoir-based and if so, how focused are you on the facts and how much is poetic license?

RW: Yeah, there's a great deal of me in every protagonist, and I draw on events from real life. But I take whatever license I need. A friend from childhood read War and Watermelon last week and got in touch with me about it. He remembered a lot of the events from that summer of 1969 in our New Jersey town, and kept asking things like, "Did your brother really get jailed in Syracuse for protesting the Vietnam War?" (jailed in Buffalo, but basically true), and, "Who were those two girls at the swim club?" and then he named four possibilities. I told him the girls were drawn in part from the very four girls he mentioned, and many others.

JE: Will you admit to having a favorite book that you wrote?

RW: I still really love Wrestling Sturbridge, which was my first and perhaps my purest novel. Very clean storyline. No excess. High intensity throughout.

JE: Which one was hardest for you to write and why?

RW: Probably Playing Without the Ball. I was recently divorced and my oldest brother, (Bobby--he's Ryan in War and Watermelon) had just died of cancer. Rough time, so the darkness comes through in the setting and the main character. I was fine, but I was sorting things out.

JE: I know you kept a journal when you were growing up, (which I wish I had done!) Was that common knowledge at the time?

RW: I hid my diary from everyone! No way did my parents know about it. Too many very personal revelations in there. It was my way of sorting things out, gaining some perspective. I probably mentioned it to my boys at some point if they were having a hard time with something, and I think one of them took me up on it for a while.

JE: If a producer came up to you and said, “Rich, we’re gonna make a movie based on one of your books,” which book would it be and why?

RW: I get feelers almost every year about certain books, particularly Wrestling Sturbridge, Playing Without the Ball, and Dishes. I plan to write a screenplay for one of them soon.
If you haven't already, enter our contest for a chance to win a free copy of War & Watermelon by Rich Wallace.

For details, go to the post for 10/12/11.

Jon Egan

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Warm Fuzzies: Week Two Inspiration & WIP

Swagger posted a sidebar answer to Week One's Warm Fuzzies question by last Friday and then formalized it into a posting on Monday, so I guess that gives us five points for last week?

As lucky winners of Saba's book, Swagger held an intra-Swagger dice roll and the winner is Regina Gort!

Jon Egan is pouting that we don't have more male followers (seven, and two of them are Swaggers), but that seems to be pretty typical of writing and reading blogs. Especially blogs about writing for kids. Don't you think? And we are THRILLED about the more than fifty followers we have attracted in less than a month. Thank you! And keep on coming!

Now to Warm Fuzzies Question #2. Teaser pics of our WIPs and what inspires us.

Gina's oldest daughter, Gwen, keeps her motivated and keeps the poetry coming in waves. You might say she is Gina's first mate in the ocean of life. 

Juliet's WIP:

Jon's WIP:

Graziella says what inspires her writing is her love for Italy and for this great country, the USA. Here's her WIP:

Melissa's WIP and more details about what inspires her on her blog http://melissakline.blogspot.com/ :

Kathy is inspired by reading histories, diaries, newspapers, & vintage books. She has a small collection of text books more than a hundred years old, & just holding one of them can often put her into the mind of a child who may have studied from that very book. Old book + imagination = Inspiration. Here is her WIP photo:

And finally here's what Kim's working on:

So anyone want to take some guesses, especially on some of the harder ones?

The Swaggers

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Interview with "Best Fiction for YA YALSA List" Nominee Kristin Wolden Nitz

Today I am happy to welcome, Kristin Wolden Nitz to SWAGGER. Her most recent book, a YA mystery novel titled SUSPECT, has been nominated for numerous awards including the BEST FICTION for YOUNG ADULTS YALSA list for 2011.


The Kirkus review stated :

Nitz intertwines and then untangles relationships among the teens and guests, weaving a credible mystery for a wide adolescent audience. With clues and red herrings neatly scattered throughout, the book scores as a darned good little mystery. Intriguing, suspenseful fun.

In SUSPECT, Jen's mother disappeared fourteen years ago but has been sending Jen letters and gifts during that time. Now, that has suddenly stopped, and Jen is facing a boring summer helping her Grandma Kay prepare a murder mystery weekend at the Shoenhaus -- Grandma Kaye’s bed-and-breakfast. As suspicions fly, Jen begins unraveling her own family mystery of her mother’s disappearance.

 GG: You've written an upper middle grade sports novel, lower middle grade contemporary fantasy, and several nonfiction sports books. What made you want to write a YA mystery?

KN: One of my favorite writers for adults is Barbara Mertz, who has written over 50 novels under the pseudonyms of Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels. She’s probably best known for her Amelia Peabody series. Peter Theroux wrote the following about that character in a review: “If the reader is tempted to draw another obvious comparison between Amelia Peabody and Indiana Jones, it’s Amelia—in wit and daring—by a landslide.”

In many ways, I think that I studied writing at the Mertz Academy with an emphasis on lively dialogue and interesting locations. While no one would probably make the connection in my upper middle grade sports novel or my lower middle grade contemporary fantasy, I’m guessing any fans of Ms. Mertz who were familiar with her earlier stand-alones would see any number of echoes.

Interesting old house?  Check.

Gorgeous garden?  Check.

Eccentric older lady whom people have given up arguing with?  Check.

Two competing love interests? Check.

Snappy dialogue? Check.  Or at least I'd like to think so.

And I even managed to slip in a CROCODILE ON THE SANDBANK recommendation on page 54. That’s the first Amelia novel.

The kernel for SUSPECT came to me when I was reading an article about an old wine cellar being reopened after being closed since Prohibition.  I remember wondering what would have happened if they found a body.  The story moved well away from those origins. But after reading all of those Elizabeth Peters novels—not to mention works by Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Georgette Heyer, Charlotte MacLeod and Dorothy Sayers—I was ready.

GG: What did you find the most challenging about writing a mystery?

KN: Finding the right balance for the clues and the red herrings. I had already received some great advice on that from a writer named Constance Hiser: “Red herrings shout. Clues whisper.”  But it’s not always easy to apply.

GG: Jen is a strong female character that I found very well-balanced. Determined but not overbearing. Where does the inspiration come from for a great character like her?

KN: Writers are magpies. We collect little sparkly bits from all over the place. Naturally, my favorite authors provided wonderful examples of determined heroines. Since Jen’s family life was so different from mine, I knew that there wasn’t any real danger of her turning into me. That’s why I decided that she could be an extremely tall, girls’ basketball player who ran long distance. Because I have a long distance runner and a basketball player in the family, I was able to update things fairly easily.

GG: Do you have a writing routine? Is there a special place or time of day that works better for you?

KN: I’ve now gotten into the habit of writing first thing in the morning. When my kids were really young, I wrote during their naptimes. I will often write the first draft of a scene by hand. Then I type it into the computer and start the first round of revisions. I did try NaNoWriMo and wound up with an absolute mess before I gave up. I discovered that  I need to know exactly what happens to my characters before I move on.

GG: What advice would you give aspiring writers?

KN: Don’t just write what you know. Write what you care about. If you’re passionate about something, that will come through to the reader. Moreover, you’ll actually enjoy whatever research that you need to do in order to bring a project to life.

GG: Kristin Wolden Nitz created a whodunit that kept me guessing until the very last pages. I could hardly put the book down until I finished it, which didn’t take very long. This is a perfect book to snuggle up with on a cold fall day. Thank you, Kristin!

Attention to those who SWAGGER: Enter our contest for a chance to win a 10-page MG or YA manuscript critique from Kristin Wolden Nitz.

All you have to do is share the following link: http://swaggerwriters.blogspot.com/

somewhere on the Internet - on your blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc., advertising our site AND follow us.

Then, leave a comment below with proof that you shared one of these links. If you tweeted it, attach your twitter url; if you posted it on FB, comment with your FB url ; if you blogged it, include your blog link, etc. To be entered in our drawing to receive a prize, you have to include the web address to the shared link in a comment.

For details on our other prizes for following and promoting us, go to the post for 10/12/11.

Gina Gort