Monday, October 29, 2012

Free Expressions Takeaway Part I: Voice & Deep Point of View

 Last week, I joined fifteen other middle grade and young adult writers in an intense week of writing instruction orchestrated by  Lorin Oberweger, founder of Free Expressions seminars.  As we learned throughout the week, our books need to be closely seen and experienced through our character's point-of-view. Accordingly, in my next 5 or 6 blog posts I plan to experience the seminar through my point-of-view. I plan to share some of the writing craft points as well as feedback I received on Half-Truths

As Emma Dryden, an experienced editor and children's publishing professional,  said on our last day together when she gave us an overview of the digital landscape of publishing, "Buckle your seat belts, and get ready for the ride!"

When we introduced each other during our Saturday night get together, we were asked what superpower we wished we could have. After a moment's thought I replied, "I would like to be able to heal old hurts." My unexpected tears told me I had struck a chord. That bit of self-realization--that applies both to my life and my book--was a tremendous way for me to begin this seminar. 

My week began on Monday morning with much anticipated classes on Voice and Deep Point of View. Emma Dryden said, "Voice turns an "anyone" into a "someone." An author must employ word choice, sentence structure, vernacular, slang, idioms, to create the "poetry of speech." 

Emma Dryden

She told us that, "Voice helps identify characters in a setting. It lies beneath the actual words the characters use."  Underneath those words, our characters' bodies and eyes may say something else. "The emotions, motivations, fears, hopes, desires, internal trajectory of your characters should all be expressed through dialogue, actions, and thoughts." 

Going into the week I had wondered if my characters were exhibiting voice. Overwhelming feedback from my critique group and response to our daily writing prompts answered that question with a deep resounding "Yes!" So good to know. 

Later Monday morning, Lorin Oberweger, the mastermind and talented wordsmith behind Free Expressions, taught us about deep point of view. She introduced her class with the words, "Seduction—not instruction." In a nutshell, deep POV is about, "Creating a immersive rich environment on the page that seduces the reader. You want your reader to lose herself in your book." Writers want to avoid "Instruction" with a more distance POV that’s more authorial.  
Lorin Oberweger

As much as possible, writers need to see the world through their characters' eyes and experiences. The more we are inside our characters' skin, the greater our ability to write how their emotions dictate their responses. Lorin told us to use rich details to show who they are, what they love, and how their passions filter through their language and experiences. 

Later that afternoon, I had my one-to-one critique time with Lorin. She had many great things to say about my manuscript (Yeah!) but helped me to see some holes too (double yeah!). Both of my characters need clear external goals which they are striving for. And since they are fifteen-year-olds in the 1950's, my job is to show how they think about the world and their relationships in a more complicated manner that is also appropriate to their time period. Their passions and desires need to surface through their actions, thoughts, and dialogue. And not just their anger (which apparently I have down pretty well!)--but also their soft spots and sympathies. 

A tall order. 

But after a week with the staff of Free Expressions, I am excited to dig in and make this happen.

Now, back to work. 

Lorin Oberweger, Brenda Windberg, Emma Dryden, & me!
Lorin has generously allowed me to share some of her handouts with all of you.  Here is the first one,  Deep Point of View. Click "download file now" and it will open as a PDF file. 

Next week in Part II of this series, I'll share what I learned about creating deep scenes and how Gary Provost's sentence can shape your WIP. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Help Me Out and Win a Great Book!

To my chagrin, ads have suddenly appeared on my blog that I have not put there. If anyone happens to know how to get them off, please email me! I find this incredibly annoying and I have no idea how to remove them.

The first person to help me successfully remove these annoying ads-- will win an autographed copy of Joyce Hostetter's book, BLUE-- just for helping me out !! 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Multi-Racial Read #8: Caucasia

I am reading multi-racial books as part of my research for my work-in-progress, Half-Truths. If you are interested in reading the previous posts, you can search this blog under "multi-racial" (upper top left corner)

When a upper-middle class white woman marries a black academic activist in Boston in the 1970's, there are bound to be problems that the two of them had not anticipated. Their two daughters are extremely close, despite the fact that the oldest (Cole) is dark like her father and the youngest (Birdie Lee) can pass as white. Both are raised to think of themselves as black, but predictably, Cole is more accepted within the black community and Birdie, much to her consternation, is favored by her rich maternal grandmother. 

When their parents split up, Birdie goes with her mother who takes on a fabricated Jewish name and history. Birdie (now re-named  "Jesse Goldman") continues to struggle with her racial and personal identity. As a result of her radical political affiliations, Birdie's mother is on the run always expecting that the FBI is going to find her out. Using their false identities, the two settle down in a small town in New Hampshire. This struggle to understand if her mother truly is wanted by the police, adds to Birdie's alienation and her desire to return to her Boston roots to find her father and sister.

Eventually, Birdie leaves New Hampshire and runs away to Boston. Here is a snippet which eloquently shows the struggles she faced:

"The name Jesse had been a lie but as I walked home that day, I wasn't quite sure the girl Jesse had been such a lie....Maybe I had actually become Jesse, and it was this girl, this Birdie Lee who haunted these streets, searching for ghosts, who was the lie....I missed the soft country earth and the dingy little town I had come to think of as my own. The missing scared me. It made feel a little contaminated. I wondered if whiteness were contagious. If it were, then surely I had caught it. I imagined this 'condition' affected the way I walked, talked, dressed, danced, and at its most advanced stage, the way I looked at the world and at other people." (p. 280)

As she looks upon a younger bi-racial child who is also living without her father, Birdie fantasizes her own perfect (yet unobtainable) future: "Maybe it would be easier for her. Maybe her father and her mother would share her between them and she would become the perfect blend of two rich cultures, moving effortlessly between the two worlds." (p. 287)

Although Birdie Lee, is a teenager, in my mind, this is not a book for young adults. The strength of this book is how the author, Danzy Senna, honestly exposes (issues) of race, prejudice, and identity.  As a Christian, I think the weakness of this book is its abundance of obscenities and frank approval of outside of marriage sexual encounters. 

That being said, Caucasia is a powerful story to help adults further understand the experiences and confused emotions of a bi-racial child. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

My Next Big Thing

My friend and role model, Joyce Hostetter, tagged me last week in a work-in-progress meme called, "The Next Big Thing." You can read about Joyce's WIP here, and since I've had the privilege of reading parts of it, I can tell you that it will be great!

Now it's my turn to answer eight questions and then to tag several authors. Here we go:

What is the working title of your book? Half-Truths

Where did the idea for the book come from? That's a long story. I visited Wing Haven gardens with my youngest daughter about 15 years ago. At the time I thought it would make a great picture book but found that there were too many stories for that genre. Then I thought I would take some of the real stories about this bird sanctuary and write a book for young boys. My son-in-law said there was not enough blood and guts in a story about children rescuing a robin for boy readers today. Now Wing Haven is the quiet sanctuary where both main characters find refuge.

Joyce had shared Carolyn Yoder's advice to "write the story in your own backyard." I started thinking about how the same last name for both blacks and whites were on signs all around Charlotte, NC. Obviously there was a connection there. I visited the Rosenwald school in the Grier Heights community and noticed the pictures of many several light-skinned principals. That day I spoke with two gentlemen which further stimulated my thinking about the connections between white and African American families in Charlotte. 

One to two sentence synopsis of the book: In Charlotte in 1950, two teenage girls--one black and one white-- break racial restrictions, uncover family secrets, and discover they are second cousins.   

What else about the book might peak the readers' interest?
I think that many young adult readers today don't fully realize the problems that African Americans faced before integration. Lillie, the light-skinned African American girl, will flirt with the idea of passing as a way to get everything that whites have. The white girl, Kate, has her own set of problems as she doesn't fit in with the debutante lifestyle her grandmother wants her to have. I am hoping that these issues of "belonging" will resonate with today's readers. There is also an unlikely romance threaded throughout the book. 

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I have no plans to self-publish and will look for agency representation after it is as close to perfect as I can get it--with the help of many critique partners!

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the story?
That is a REALLY hard question to answer! I had many starts and stops along the way as I had a hard time figuring out where my story began. As a result, I spent a lot of time writing what I now understand to have been the back story. In 2008 Joyce challenged me to participate in NaNoWriMo. I had already been working on this novel, but that helped me spill more of the guts of this book. By the end of 2010 I had completed my first draft. At the SCBWI-Carolinas conference in 2011, my critiquer was Mary Cate Castellani. She suggested that I write my story from both girls' points of view. That was a major shift in my thinking and writing and it took about nine months of working on and off with Rebecca Petruck to come up with a really good outline. I am now over half-way through this draft; which is tighter and better than any of the previous drafts! 

What other books would you compare it to in this genre? This is a scary question because I don't want to feel presumptuous at all. Since it deals with issues of segregation I'd like for readers to think of To Kill a Mockingbird--but I hesitate to even admit that since that is such a Southern classic! Since it deals with a light-skinned young woman passing, I also think of Flygirl by Sherri Smith, although that takes place about five years earlier. When I have described the book to others, some adults have thought that it was The Help for teens, but the books are very different. 

What actors would you chose to play a movie rendition? I am not a movie person, so I couldn't begin to answer this question. But Price Davis, my 92-year-old African American expert keeps telling me to hurry up and finish the book because he wants to see the movie! Now, that's encouragement!

Price Davis, outside his childhood home.
OK, now it's your turn Gretchen Griffith, Becky Levine, Bonnie Doerr, Donna Earnhardt, Augusta Scattergood, and Niki Schoenfeldt. If you want to play along and share with the world what your next Big Thing is--we want to hear it!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

This n' That

Here are two events I'd like to share with you, one in Charlotte and one on-line.

The first is Bibliofeast, an evening of dinner, conversation, and hob-nobbing with authors.  The dinner is at Maggiano's (one of our favorite restaurants) and the authors are:

  • Charlotte mystery writer Mark deCastrique, whose latest novel is "The 13th Target."
  • Emily Colin of Wilmington, whose debut novel is the "The Memory Thief."
  • S.C. novelist Mary Glickman, author of "One More River" and "Home in the Morning."
  • Charlotte's Judy Goldman, a novelist and poet whose new memoir is "Losing My Sister."
  • Brooklyn novelist Shira Nayman, author of "A Mind of Winter."
  • Elena Passarello, whose essay collection, "Let Me Clear My Throat," explores memorable moments in the history of the human voice.
  • Wendy Welch, author of "The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap," a memoir of owning a book store in Big Stone Gap, Va.

You can buy tickets, $45 for WNBA members and $55 for nonmembers, at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road, or online at More information:, 704-439-4596 or 612-382-5868.


Second, for all of you who are writers and illustrators, Kathy Temean is hosting a "First Pages" contest on her blog. Illustrators are also encouraged to submit their work. Enter your writing or illustration and tell Kathy I sent you!

Read more here:

Monday, October 8, 2012


I'm taking a break from my giveaway series, but will be back soon with more great books for you to win. Meanwhile, for my friends who are writers who weren't able to come to the SCBWI Carolinas conference, here are a few conference highlights. For my blog followers who might wonder why writers spend time and money attending writing conferences, read on!  

My favorite part of the conference was a writing intensive with Helen Hemphill, director of the Whole Novel Workshop at Highlights. Here are a few pointers:

  • Use scenes for each new setting and every important event.
  • All scenes should bring the story forward. “Good scenes create dilemmas and tension, and leave questions unanswered.”
  • Don't use too much backstory. "Only tell the reader what he needs to know at that moment and to understand the bigger story. Nothing else.”
  • Follow the RUE rule: Resist the Urge to Explain. 

I jotted down several pet peeves from the agent's panel featuring Sarah LaPolla, Jennifer Rofe', and Liza Pulitzer Voges:

  • A writer not educating herself about the books the agent represents or wants.
  • "Dear Agent" queries.
  • Writers who try to educate agents about the market or the importance of books. 
And one tip for picture book writers: Agents like illustrator/author combinations.

During the "First Pages" session, one of the panelists, Molly O' Neill, editor at Katherine Tegen Books said:
  • Don't start with a character who is a loser.
  • Avoid too much choreography (the character went here, did that).
  • DO NOT include art notes in picture books. The words should make the reader see what is happening.
  • Trust your writing.
  • Put a balance of emotion and action on your first page.
  • Use relevant details.
  • Don't let lovely language get in the way of the story.

I spoke with Molly briefly about my book and the market for historical fiction. Her advice: "Write a book that will resonate with modern readers."
Anna Olswanger, an agent with critiqued 20 pages of my manuscript Half-Truths. From this I gained: 
  • Don't dump information into the dialogue.
  • Pump up Kate. Lillie is nice and feisty; Kate is flat. 
  • Perhaps move the time period up (from1950) to closer to the civil rights movement. 
  • She thought it was marketable because it takes "place at the early beginning of a pivotal time in history." HOORAY! That's what I've been shooting for!
And last, but certainly not least, I enjoyed re-connecting with Earl Davis, a long-time supporter and ex-Regional Advisor of SCBWI-Carolinas. It was a pleasure to see him again.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Don't Let the Bedbugs Bite! Giveaway #3

In today's blog, Niki Schoenfeldt shares the backstory about her new book, Don't Let the Bedbugs Bite! At the end are directions how you can win your own autographed copy of this adorable book for your children or grandchildren. It would make a great baby, birthday, or holiday present!

CAROL: How did you get the idea for your book? Was there a real event in your family which inspired the story?

NIKI: Like most parents, I tucked my little one in and spouted the old bedbug adage. She immediately asked, “What are bedbugs?” I hesitated. Did I really want to tell my 3-year-old about bugs who suck your blood at night while you’re sleeping? Instead, I told her they were bugs that lived long ago and there was no such thing as bedbugs anymore. I thought I was telling the truth!

I decided to write a book about bedbugs to make the adage less scary. To my dismay it came out like a poem! My writer's group thought my little poem would make a great picture book and suggested I beef up the conflict. I read this story during open mic at our chapter’s 2009 SCBWI Conference and sold it a month later to Shenanigan Books.

CAROL: How many rewrites/revisions did you go through?  How did editorial input shape the story?

NIKI: Bedbugs went through numerous revisions. As you know, since the sale of this manuscript, the bedbugs I had thought were eradicated have made a comeback. Add to that a new series on Animal Planet called INFESTED! and Bedbugs was almost history.

Thankfully my publisher at Shenanigans said she loved the story and didn’t want to drop it. She wondered if we could somehow make my “bedbug” a beneficial bug caught up in a case of mistaken identity. She thought it could be a stink bug, but I couldn’t imagine a child wanting a stink bug in their bed either, so I had to come up with something more cheerful. A bug everyone likes. A bug that is adorable. Not an easy task as most bugs are pretty creepy. But then I remembered a bug my grandmother used to say was the only bug she would allow in her garden and one she said represented good luck. (You’ll have to read the book to find out what bug I’m talking about.)

I went back and forth with new lines and ideas with my editor for a few months. It was actually quite fun and Bedbugs is a better book now. However, I wasn’t the only one caught up in revisions, because of these changes, the illustrator, John Wes Thomas also had to redo some scenes.

CAROL: How did you find your publisher?

NIKI: I’m always researching publishers. While reviewing books for, I received a beautiful picture book they had published.  The story was a bit longer than what most publishers were doing at the time and was very cute. But what really caught my eye was the book itself. It was well made and the colors and artwork popped. After looking at their list, I sent them another picture book, which they quickly rejected but commented that they’d like to see more of my work. Before they forgot my name, I emailed them the manuscript for Bedbugs and they loved it!

CAROL: You were smart, Niki, to keep persevering! Now, about the illustrations.  They really pull the reader into the story. What do you think of your illustrator?

NIKI: John Wes Thomas did a great job on the illustrations. In fact, when Shenanigan sent me the cover image I almost cried! It was a book I would definitely pick up randomly off a bookshelf for my own child. After that, I got a few sneak peeks of some illustrations here and there, but I didn’t get to see all of them until I actually held the book in my hands. The funniest thing is that the wallpaper in the little girl’s room is very similar to the paper in my own daughter’s room. Also, his vision of my little “bedbug” is awful cute!

CAROL: How long did the entire process take?

NIKI: There is nothing about this business that is fast. Especially when it comes to picture books. I received the offer on my book in Early October, 2009 and then signed the actual contract in early December. I think it was originally scheduled to be part of Shenanigan’s 2011 list. I’m not exactly clear on what happened, but I think it took them a few tries before they found an illustrator they thought was just right. Then, of course, there was that whole bedbug epidemic going on which halted production for a while, but hey, no worries.

CAROL: What's next? Another book with them? 

NIKI: Well I certainly won’t frown at working with the folks at Shenanigan again but alas, the last manuscript I sent was kindly rejected. Of course, that doesn’t mean they won’t receive more from me in the future. It just goes to show that even when you think you’ve made it, the rejection pile is never far away. But for now, my submissions are handled by my agent, Louise Fury of the L. Perkins Agency. She’s got a few of my picture books she’s focusing on and hopefully we’ll be celebrating the next sale together. Fingers crossed. (Toes & eyes too!)

CAROL: Anything else you would like to share with my readers?

NIKI:  It has been a long journey. I’m not new at this. And although I’ve had some successes, the struggle continues. It isn’t an easy career choice and if I were the main breadwinner, my family would starve. But writing is in my blood. It is part of me and I couldn’t stop even if I wanted to. My best advice is to keep going. Keep writing. Keep submitting. You will never see your work in print if you stop producing!

Before I go, I’d like to use my final comments for a shameless plug: Buy DON’T LET THE BEDBUGS BITE! Your kids will love it!!!
I bought a copy for one of my granddaughters, now here is your turn to win a copy yourself:

To enter this giveaway: 
1. Please share this on your social media site of your choice and/or become a follower of this blog.
2. Leave me a comment, with your email address, indicating which you did.
3. Winner's name will be drawn October 3 after 6 PM.



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