Monday, April 25, 2016

One Stop for Writers: The Place to Go!

Congratulations to Clara Gillow Clark who won EMPTY PLACES by Kathy Wiechman.

Illustrators and artists have brushes, pencils, and digital tools. Similarly, writers have their own set of tools: journals, laptops, and a wide array of websites, blogs, and online resources 

In today's blog I'm featuring my new "go-to" website: One Stop for Writers. The last time I blogged about this fantastic tool created by Angela Ackerman, Becca Puglisi, and Lee Powell, I hadn't started using it. Today you're going to hear some of Angela's observations about the site, interspersed with examples from my WIP,  HALF-TRUTHS.

What is the inspiration behind One Stop For Writers? 

Becca and I love books, and as writing coaches, we love helping writers. But because our books are part list, anyone with a digital copy has to scroll through many pages to see a single entry. This isn’t ideal.  And, with many more descriptive thesauruses on our blog, nothing was in one place either. This left us frustrated and searching for a way to have everything in one spot. Lee Powell, the creator of Scrivener for Windows, came along at the perfect time, and his passion for helping writers matched our own. Together we created One Stop For Writers, a unique online library of description that also contains an arsenal of tools and information tailored to elevate storytelling. We are all about building stronger writers so more stories get into the hands of readers.

From Carol:

For those of you who are new to my blog, my YA novel is set in Charlotte, NC in 1950 and is written from 2 POV: 15-year-old Lillian (Lillie) Harris, a light-skinned descendent of a slave; and 14-year-old Anna Katherine (Kate) Dinsmore, who just moved in with her wealthy grandparents, along with her siblings and a goat named Eileen. In the course of the book the girls discover they have the same great-grandfather. The girls meet when Lillie gets a job helping Big Momma at the Dinsmores.

In the chapter I was working on today, Lillian is in the Dinsmore kitchen, helping her grandmother (Big Momma) prepare ambrosia for a fancy luncheon for Kate. Earlier I had randomly looked through One Stop's Symbolism and Motif Thesaurus and found this on "Enslavement."

The helpful tip on that page reads: "Symbolism is something that many readers recognize on either a conscious or subconscious level; including it adds a layer of richness to the story. Think about how you can add specific motifs or symbols to your setting that will reinforce the symbolism you are trying to convey. Additionally, symbols woven into the description of your scene can help reinforce your character's emotions and mood. In this way, you’ll be able to do more with less."

Since part of Lillie's struggles revolve around being help which she swore she never would be--I added this paragraph:
The kitchen is quiet except for flies buzzing outside the screen window. I hear Frankie yelling at Eileen. The goat is probably pulling on it’s rope and not wanting to be led around like a dog. Can’t say I blame her. She doesn’t belong in a small field like this. She needs to be somewhere she can romp and play.  
I had already included the texture, taste, and smell of the pineapple which Lillie was cutting and enjoying (although it made her want more), but I wanted to deepen the scene and introduce more conflict. I opened up One Stop, looked through the Setting Thesaurus list under kitchens, and found:

Rotten food! I started thinking how layering something distasteful into this scene might create more conflict. The tip on this page reads: "Settings should always be chosen with care. Consider the emotion you want your viewpoint character to feel and how setting choices, weather elements, and symbolism might build a specific mood in the scene, create tension and conflict, or even raise the stakes." 

I came up with this:
I’m about to ask Big Momma if she knows that she’s working for her half-sister when Missus Dinsmore looks in on us. "What on earth is that smell?” she asks. 
Big Momma sniffs the air. “I don’t smell nothin’ but this lovely ambrosia.” She gestures to the mixing bowl that is almost full of oranges and pineapple.  
Missus Dinsmore crinkles her nose in disgust and looks around the kitchen. “Not that. I smell something rotten.” She opens the back door, lifts the lid of the trash can, and then slams it back down. I’ve been so busy this morning I haven’t had time to haul the can out back.  
Missus Dinsmore storms back inside. “That is disgusting! Lillian, make sure you empty that can before Anna Katherine’s guests arrive!” Missus Dinsmore’s face is as red as the maraschino cherries Big Momma is spooning into the ambrosia.  

Back to Angela:

You’ve been up and running for just over 6 months. What’s the reaction so far? 

We’ve had nothing but good feedback. Hurray! I believe users are finding this site saves them time when it comes to character creation, world building, and sensory description because ideas are a click away. Story Maps is also popular, demystifying structure and character arc while allowing writers to “see” the turning points of their novel visually. And of course the expanded Emotion Thesaurus is a big favorite. It’s nice to not be stuck mid-scene trying to figure out how a character should behave and instead access lists filed with ideas for realistic body language, thoughts and visceral sensations. Writing time is precious, so anything we can do to make sure more of it is spent actually writing, the better! 

From Carol: 

When you check out this valuable resource you'll see why it's appropriately named, One Stop. And when you do, you'll be able to generate a list in your notes index that looks something like this:

These notes help me remember quirks and nonverbal behavior that are characteristic of each person. Inevitably these notes not only help me stay consistent but also prompt further associations. 

In an earlier scene Lillie boards a bus to work right after a confrontation with her best friend, Darla. She is debating about sitting in the white section. I thought about how she was feeling at that instant, looked up Self-loathing in One Stop and related words under Depression and Death. The word hollow jumped out at me and I wrote this:
Someone is coming up behind me. I hear Darla’s voice describing me as high yaller. I could sit here, but should I? 
“Girl, you need to get movin’,” a voice behind me says. I drop my hand and shuffle forward. 
I’m glad someone made the decision for me but I feel as hollow as an empty casket. What am I doing—letting someone else tell me where I belong?  
Back to Angela:

Your first upgrade included the ability to bookmark favorite content, a massive new Setting Thesaurus, and Story Maps, a visual story structure tool. What’s next? 

Deciding what’s next is always the hardest part for the three of us. We have so many ideas! A Scene Map tool and a Timeline tool is coming soon, rounding out the story structure element at One Stop. 

It won’t matter if you are a Plotter or a Pantser, we’ll have helpful story planning tools for every comfort zone! Also, an organizational system is in the works, allowing users to group bookmarks, worksheets, notes, and maps by project. This way people can have multiple stories on the go and keep everything organized. 

Honestly, it’s just a lot of fun dreaming up new ways to help writers and creating tools we believe will help them succeed. 
I hope this quick look at One Stop will whet your appetite to explore the site yourself. For those of you on Pinterest, Becca and Angela have shared some of their amazing worksheets there

Have you tried One Stop? What features do you like best?

Monday, April 18, 2016

Kathy Wiechman: Behind the Scenes of EMPTY PLACES

As promised in last week's blog, Kathy Wiechman agreed to answer a few questions about her inspiration for EMPTY PLACES

CAROL: I believe you used some family history to create this story. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

KATHY: EMPTY PLACES is not a family history, but events in family history served as inspiration for aspects of it. The fiction came first. It was only after I had created Adabel and her situation of being raised by her sister, Raynelle, that I happened to think about the fact that my husband's sister was also his mother figure. Thinking about his sister Mary helped me to flesh out Raynelle's character more.

I had also created a missing Mama, and throughout the story, it's a mystery why Mama is gone. My original idea for why she left wasn't working, so again I borrowed from my husband's family for inspiration. His mother (Helen) died when he was 13 days old. His parents had lived in Cincinnati until several years before, when at least three members of his mother's family died from tuberculosis. She feared she would die, too, so she convinced her husband to move their family of five children to the safer climate of New Mexico. Helen gave birth to two more children there, and died in a small town hospital, where medical care was much more primitive than it had been in Cincinnati. Perhaps in Cincinnati, she would have survived. Mama was not really inspired by Helen, because she died before I was born, and my husband has no memory of her. But I did borrow from her death and her fear of tuberculosis.

Both Mary and Helen are gone now, and I hope they would have liked the roles they played in helping me shape this story.

CAROL: My understanding is that within the publishing industry dialect is not looked upon too highly. Yet EMPTY PLACES is full of dialect which gives authenticity and life to your characters and setting. Can you share your thoughts about using the Appalachian dialect?
Coal miners carrying 3-tiered lunch pails to hold food and water. Carbide lamps
are mounted to soft headgear which offered no protection.

 Lynch, Ky Photo from the Benham and Lynch Collection,
Southeast Community and Technical College Appalachian Archive

Read more here:

KATHY: I wrote EMPTY PLACES in dialect, even though I know many editors don't like books in dialect. I used Polly's West Virginia dialect in LIKE A RIVER, and "got away with it," so I figured it was worth a shot. I can't imagine trying to tell Adabel's story without it, at least not in first person. I ran the dialect past many people after I wrote the first few chapters and was given a thumbs up from them all. I mention most of them in my Acknowledgements. The Kirkus Review mentions it as an "interesting choice" I made, but says it works "surprisingly well." The glowing review from School Library Journal doesn't address the issue, which is the way I like it. I feel if I make a big deal of it, it will call attention to it unfavorably. If and when someone attacks the book for it, I will decide whether to respond. 

CAROL: I thought the dialect helped me hear the voices of the characters in my head. Was it hard for you to translate what you heard into words? You have some “invented spelling”  Was that part difficult for you to do? 

KATHY: I received a lot of great advice with the dialect. Author Jan Cheripko said he uses slang for his characters and spells it phonetically. I did that in a number of places, deciding for myself how to spell the words. But I made the decision not to drop g's, as in workin' for working. I felt the number of apostrophes added by doing that could make reading it more difficult. When I read from it aloud, I drop those g's, and hope the rest of the dialect would make a reader drop them, too. It's impossible to get the whole twang clear, but I tried to come close. I didn't want to offend anyone by my use of dialect, so when I had written the first six chapters, I sent them to a Southern lady I know and asked for her opinion. She didn't feel it would offend anyone and made a few suggestions on other ways I could use it. I didn't take all her suggestions, because I felt some of them would confuse or slow down a reader.
Black Mountain Mine #30, Harlan County, Ky
CAROL: Why the coal mines in Kentucky? I remember you saying that you visited Kentucky a lot with your kids—was that part of what drew you to this story?

KATHY: What drew me to that part of Kentucky was meeting a couple who had grown up in Harlan County. They talked about company stores, company scrip, and kin who had died of Black Lung. Everything I write begins with a "spark" that makes me want to tell the story. In most of my writing, the spark was an event (the Sultana disaster, a coal mine explosion, a flood). With EMPTY PLACES, the spark was a place. I just had to set a story in Harlan County. from the Benham and Lynch Collection,
Southeast Community and Technical College Appalachian Archive
Read more here:

Read more here:
CAROL: Any comments on the state of historical fiction for young readers? I’m wondering the reactions you’ve received from reviews, teachers, or media specialists. 

KATHY: I know of several teachers who assign or read aloud LIKE A RIVER in their classrooms. And I will speak on using historical fiction in the classroom at a Children's Literature Conference in November. I think Common Core might have led to historical fiction being more readily accepted in recent years, and while Common Core seems to be on its way out, perhaps this is one good thing to come from it. The Grateful American Book Prize was developed for the purpose of getting young readers more interested in American history, and it might help more quality fiction to be written and published.

CAROL: What’s next?

KATHY: My current project is a novel about the 1937 Flood in the Ohio River Valley. It's based on my father's family's experiences during that flood.

As mentioned last week, I am giving away the ARC of EMPTY PLACES. Please leave me a comment with your contact information and I'll add it to the list I started last week. A winner will be drawn on April 21. 

For another chance to win one of Kathy's books and for a different inside view of Kathy's writing process, see Clara Gillow Clark's blog.

Monday, April 11, 2016

EMPTY PLACES: A Review and ARC Giveaway

Congratulations to Deb Allmand  who won SCAR on last week's blog.


I first introduced my husband's uncle, Robert Toupal, to middle grade historical fiction by giving him Joyce Hostetter's book, BLUE. Since then he's often my first reader when I receive an ARC. A man of definite opinions, I wondered what he would think of EMPTY PLACES (Calkins Creek, 2016) by award winning author, Kathy Cannon Wiechman
Robert Toupal
I've heard many of Bob's stories of growing up in East St. Louis in the 30's and 40's, as the son of a shoemaker. Familiar with hard times, the depression, and folks who worked hard, his comments about Kathy's second novel didn't surprise me. "People who haven't been there can hardly believe that's the way it was...Coal miners had a rough way to go."

Writers as Readers

Writers-in-training have certain writing principles drilled into their brains. 
  • Hook your reader from the start
  • Show don't tell
  • Choose specific details to show characters and settings
  • Employ verbs as your muscle words 
  • Use imagery and beautiful language to convey your story
Whenever I teach writing, I advocate learning how to write by reading good literature. Let's examine some excerpts from EMPTY PLACES to see what we can learn.

Opening Paragraphs, Specific Details, and Figurative Language 

If you'da rode into Harlan County, Kentucky, that June in a shiny new 1932 Packard, you'da seen hickories, oaks, and maples leafed out with the promise of shady places to rest and listen to birdsong.
If you'da got close enough to set in one of them shady spots, you'da heard the chug of engines pulling coal cars that squealed on aged tracks. You'da heard swear-words of miners and seen coal dust that clung to their faces, filled their pores, and caused their lungs to heave out deep, retching coughs. 
But even if you'da been close as a tick on a dog, you wouldn'ta heard the secrets each body kept, secrets not even told in whispers--secrets about my mama. 
Secrets and gossip spread through coal camps like Smoke Ridge the way a fever does, keeping folks talking. Until new gossip seeps into their lives. Old gossip, like stale bread, is all but forgotten when there's fresh bread to chew on.  (p. 7)
Are you hooked? I was! Did you get a taste for Harlan County, Kentucky during the 30's? You probably could practically hear the trains chugging through town, feel the cool shade, and sense the whispering gossip. Kathy gets an "A+" for sensory details that pull the reader into the time and place. How many powerhouse verbs do you count in these four paragraphs? As for figurative language, the comparison of gossip to how fever is spread and to stale bread are both masterful. As the story plays out, both fever and stale bread are components in this authentic Appalachian story.

The Story

Pretty quickly the reader meets spunky, 13-year-old Adabel Cutler who is trying her darndest to keep her family from falling apart. Adabel's father is a coal miner who drinks too much and fights with her big brother, Pick. Her older sister, Raynelle, wants to marry the grocer's son to help keep food on their table. Her little sister Blissie has a "sweetness that makes folks smile and forgit she's a Cutler." (p. 10). But Adabel's biggest problem is that her mother disappeared seven years ago and Adabel is tormented by the fact that she can't remember her. "Mama was an empty place in my mind." (p. 17)

Like a detective, Adabel's relentless pursuit of the truth propels her through the story and into conversations with her family and neighbors. This dialogue transpires after Pick tells her about how their father sent the children away after their mama disappeared:
"Don't ya remember? When Mama first left, Daddy shunted us young'uns off. Me to Shovel's. Raynelle and Blissie to Granny Cutler's. And you...I cain't recall who he give you to. Was it Jane Louise's mama?"
"I don't recall none of that. I only remember living in the old house with y'all. Till we moved her last year. It's always been us. You, me, Raynelle, Blissie, and Daddy."
"Ya's lucky not to remember ever'thing. Some things is best forgot."
"Ya's wrong, Pick." A mind full of empty places was worse'n the awfulest memories a body could have. (p. 67)

Each conversation leads to the next. Adabel asks Jane Louise's mother:
"But ya recollect Mama leaving?"
"I just recollect how broke-hearted your daddy was. He loved your mama deep."
It was hard to think of Daddy loving anyone deep. (p. 77)
With each new conversation, Adabel begins to put together a picture of her past that is different than what she had previously believed. 

Not having memories of her mother haunts Adabel. When she finds out the reason for her poor memory she thinks, "Knowing didn't fix the empty places in my head, but having a reason for 'em being there made me feel a heap better about it." (p. 188)

Adabel's new found knowledge gives her courage and strength. I'm not going to spoil the ending for you--I hope you decide to read EMPTY PLACES yourself--but let's just say Adabel's detective work brings healing to her family and leaves the reader feeling hopeful for her future. 

EMPTY PLACES will be a great classroom resource for middle school students studying the Depression, coal mining, and the Appalachian area.

In next week's blog, Kathy will answer some questions about the inspiration for this story. I'll pick a winner on April 21 and give away this ARC then. Leave me a comment on this post and I will enter your name. If you leave a comment next week or post this on social media (and let me know what you do!) I'll enter your name accordingly. PLEASE leave me your contact information if you are new to this blog. 

Monday, April 4, 2016

SCAR: A Review and an ARC Giveaway

Congratulations to Linda Phillips who won THE HIRED GIRL audio CD. For those of you who know that Linda and I are best writing buddies, I can assure you that this was not rigged and the winner was chosen through!


Sixteen-year-old Noah Daniels is a patriot with a problem. Lame since childhood, Noah wants nothing more than to take arms up against the British as his father did. But his childhood injury holds him back--both mentally and physically--until the day in which all of his abilities are tested and proved. 

SCAR: A Revolutionary Tale (Calkins Creek, 2016), J. Albert Mann's first young adult historical novel, is short but powerful. Spanning the course of just three days, Mann artfully alternates between Noah's present predicament--he is wounded and is caring for a young wounded Indian--and the events leading up to it. 

The reader is immediately drawn into the story in the first lines:
Their screams blind me. I run. Fast. So fast that I run right through my limp. There is nothing I can do for them now--not for Dr. Tusten, nor for Mr. Jones or Jon Haskell, not for any of them. Even as I dodge a blur of trees and rocks and branches, the scene under the ledge replays in my mind, Dr. Tusten shouting at me to run, that hatchet...
My lame foot catches a rock and I meet the ground. Hard. The musket ball in my stomach shoots searing pain straight up into my teeth. 
This can't be happening. 
I dig my forehead into the hemlock needles and suck in the familiar smell of soil--I wish I could go back three days in my life, just three days... (p.7).
Even though the reader doesn't know the protagonist's name, there are enough clues in these opening paragraphs to set up the story and provoke questions: "Why is this boy running? What happened three days ago?" And even more importantly, "What's going to happen next?"

Through the use of alternating chapters (present story and events that happened three days prior) the reader slowly understands the backstory: Noah's father's patriotic fervor before he died; his mother's reluctance to let Noah become a part of the Continental Army; Noah's self-assessment as a "crippled farm boy;" Noah's longing to have his own farm; his infatuation with the new girl in the settlement, Eliza Little; and his fear and hatred of the Iroquois Indians who recently joined forces with the British.

After he is wounded, Noah stumbles upon a young injured warrior:
The brightness of the stars has always seemed cold to me. I frown and look back at the boy who has become my patient. The white light of the moon catches on the shiny scar running down his cheek....Scar. I will think of him as Scar.
My father named everyone. (p. 21)
Faced with the choice of helping him or abandoning him, Noah uses his newly-acquired "medical" training to try and help him. 
Without thinking, I pick up his hand in mind and look up at the sky between the branches of the hemlock trees. Why is it that when we want answers we know we can't have, we turn our faces to the sky? Maybe it's all those stars. Maybe just comparing our concerns to their twinkling masses shrinks our problems.
Scar squeezes my hand.
I'm afraid to look at him. I know that he knows he's dying.
He squeezes my hand again.
I look down. His eyes are like the stars, full of twinkle. (p.45)
Earlier in the story, Noah faced another choice: Was he going to join the men going to battle, or would he use his lame foot as an excuse not to go? Despite knowing that his mother would want him to stay, he remembers her admonition: "Don't let others shoulder a responsibility that is yours." (p. 82)

Later when Dr. Tusten, who has observed his lame foot, questions his decision to join the militia, Noah responds: 
If I were to ask these men sweating in the hot sun right now, each of them would own a good reason to stay behind, just as you believe I do." I wave over at Mr. Jacobson. "That men has six children to feed. And the Reverend has a portion of his flock to put to rest after yesterday. And Jon Haskell's wife is sick with fever." There is no shortage of pain and suffering in the lives of poor farmers, and I could have gone on, but instead I turn back to him. "And you, sir, you're standing before me, even though I'm sure that you must have a wife and children to think about. I will follow this militia, Dr. Tusten, whether you agree with my decision or not." (p. 93)
The book ends on an ambiguous note. In an email exchange Jennifer Mann said, "Every reader brings their own ideas to that end." You'll have to read SCAR, which launches tomorrow, to find out for yourself. An Epilogue and "About the Characters" provide more information about the battle and the combatants on both sides. 

From the Author

Since I'm always interested in how authors get their ideas (particularly when it comes to historical fiction!) I asked Jennifer how she became interested in the Battle of Minisink Ford. She responded:

On a weekend hike behind a friend’s home in the Upper Delaware River Valley of New York, I came upon an old wooden marker stating some small fact about a battle I’d never heard of. The second marker I came upon kind of changed my life. It was a simple wooden plaque drilled into the side of a rock ledge. It read:
Hospital Rock. Here on July 22, 1779, Lt. Col. Benjamin Tusten, a physician, and seventeen wounded militiamen under his care were trapped and killed by Joseph Brant's raiders.

A simple walk in the woods had brought me to a place where eighteen men had died. I started running up and down the trails looking for more markers. The markers told the story of The Battle of Minisink Ford, an obscure Revolutionary War battle. I didn’t know it then (or maybe I did), but I was to walk that trail literally and figuratively for many years to come as I undertook the challenge of writing my first novel of historical fiction. Standing there in the woods that day, I felt a deep need to discover who those eighteen men were and why they had died on a summer day in the shadow of a lonely rock ledge. In the end, I did find out “who” they were, but not “why” they died. That question never gets answered.

To be entered in the drawing for this ARC, leave me a comment by Friday, April 8. If I don't have your contact information, PLEASE include that also. This book would be a great classroom resource for grades 4-7 or as an addition to a home or school library. 

This review originally appeared on LitChat.


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