Monday, August 29, 2016

Susan Says: Summer Camp at Highlights Part IV

Today I'm pleased to bring you a distillation of Susan Campbell Bartoletti's excellent key note, "The DIY Home Guide to Repair for Your Story." Her lecture was rich and I can only touch on some of her presentation--but look for a future book review that will use additional material from her talk. In preparing for this blog Susan acknowledged that her lecture was the result of what she has learned--from her own experience as well as from the wonderful people she has met in her own journey as an author. Susan cautions that these are not rules, but rather suggestions. "Writers often find their own way, once they have a map."

Rough Draft:  Your rough draft is your “get words on the page” stage. It’s not a first draft. 

You won’t know what your book is about until you have written your story from beginning to end. So write it through. Trust that your ending will inform your beginning. Once you’ve written it through, you will be ready for a true first draft.

TIP: Once you’ve written it through, read it from beginning to end without pens and pencils. Otherwise you’re tempted to tinker. Don’t. As Dennis Foley says, “You can’t tinker a novel into working.” 

After reading through this preliminary draft, consider the following questions: 
  1. What was the story you wanted to write?
  2. What was the story you actually wrote? 
If you wrote the story you intended to write, great. You’re ready to roll up your sleeves and begin the work on the first draft.  If you didn’t, decide which is the better story and what you have to do to fix it. 

First Draft:  This is the fix-the-storyline draft. 

Determine which scenes have to be added, deleted, rearranged, or revise.  (Carol’s note: I wrote several “first drafts" before I was happy with the storyline for Half-Truths.) 

Ask yourself: Did you begin your story at the best possible time? What do you have to kill off?  

Your first idea is often clich├ęd and has to be thrown out.  A first draft often needs bold changes. 

  • Play with the order of your narrative. 
  • Figure out what’s missing.
  • Write missing scenes. 
  • Add them into your manuscript. Susan does not do this on her computer. She uses a yellow legal pad and writes out the new scenes and inserts them into printed manuscript. Why? Because of the next tip.

TIP: Big changes require retyping.  Retyping will smooth out an uneven voice.

TIP: Every book should have a story problem. This problem can often be articulated as a Major Dramatic Question (MDQ) that can be answered yes or no.  For example In Sarah Plain and Tall, Anna wants a mother. This is a concrete goal, more than “she wants love” which is abstract. MDQ: Will she get a mother? In the climax, this question is raised: Will Anna get Sarah as a mother?
Susan with Kathy Erskine and Mitali Perkins
at Summer Camp

The MDQ is raised in the inciting incident and then trumpeted - raised again with more at stake - in the climax. It's the resolution that answers the MDQ. In the climax to Sarah, Plain and Tall, Sarah rides off in the wagon. We don't know if she's going to come back. We don't know if Anna will get the mother she so badly needs and wants. Our hearts are about to break, just as Anna's heart is about to break.  The resolution begins when Sarah returns. Our hearts are still thumping a bit because the falling action of the story doesn't mean that every battle is over, but then she stays and all is well and we have the final answer to the MDQ. 

TIP: To figure out what’s missing, outline your rough draft. This will help you find track your narrative action. It will help you find plotting holes and scenes that don’t turn. 


Sequence of events, which constitute your character’s attempt to solve a problem or attain a goal. 

Consider PACING

How quickly do events unfold?
  • This is about tension and how quickly the story moves through the plot. How the story unfolds.
  • The breath of the book, the breath of the story.
  • Reflected in the length of the sentences.

Consider STAKES:

  • What’s at stake if your main character fails to achieve his goal?
  • What’s your main character’s biggest fear if he or she doesn’t achieve this goal?
  • What are the consequences?

Goals and consequences create dramatic tension in your story.  (Don’t let your character get to her goal too easily. Then the story is over.)

In each key scene, the character should be at a crossroads. He or she must make a decision and risk something that is against his or her moral fiber. 

Summarize the story from the antagonist’s POV. The stronger the antagonist, the stronger the protagonist will become.


If you place too many in the beginning, then you’re not starting at the right moment. See if you can insert them within the text. 

Second and Third Drafts and Beyond:  

The polishing stage. You revise your story with an eye toward scenes, character and characterization, narration, dialogue.

TIP: Change line space. 1.5. or 2 inch margins. Print it out and it’ll look like a real book. That will help with the next revision. 

TIP: Revise for dialogue. Make sure dialogue does what it has to do.

TIP:  The best language grows out of the emotional and physical landscapes of your characters.

Susan uses a writing notebook for each book she writes. She jots down scenes and characters as well as what she’ll write the next day. At night she reviews what she’s going to write the next day. Then she lets the “sleep committee” (as John Steinbeck called it) take over. She stops in the middle of scenes so she can pick up there.

Susan Campbell Bartoletti is an award-winning author of picture books, novels, and nonfiction for children, including the Newbery Honor book Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow, the Sibert Medal winning Black Potatoes, and the acclaimed The Boy Who Dared. Her work has received dozens of awards and honors, including the NCTE Orbis Pictus Award for Nonfiction, the SCBWI Golden Kite Award for Nonfiction, and the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award. She also teaches in the low- residency Writing for Children MFA program at Spalding University. For more information, contact her at

For the previous posts about Highlights Summer Camp please go to:

Gems from Jan- Part III

Monday, August 22, 2016

#MGGetsReal: Behind the Scenes with Joyce Hostetter

Next week I'll return to my posts on Highlights Summer Camp, but today I wanted to share an intriguing marketing initiative.

You may have seen #MGGetsReal floating around the Internet this past month. And you may know that it involves five dynamite middle grade authors: Shannon Wiersbitzky, Shannon Hitchcock, Joyce Moyer Hostetter, Kathleen Burkinshaw, and Kerry O'Malley Cerra. 

But do you know how it came about? In this exclusive interview with Joyce, you're going to see how this marketing effort was formulated and how this team carried it out.

How did you all decide to form the #MGGetsReal group? Who was behind it? How did you choose the title? 

Let’s blame this on Shannon Wiersbitzky. I think she’d participated in joint marketing initiatives before. But anyway, I received an email inquiring if I’d be interested in joining a few authors in a concentrated promotional campaign for one month.  Of course, I said, YES even though it was going to jolt me out of my comfortable blogging lethargy.

We five authors brainstormed via emails. Shannon envisioned a hashtag that could be used via social media.  We tried out a few, keeping in mind what we wanted to communicate, how visually clear we could make it in a hashtag, and what would be punchy and memorable.  #MGGetsReal emerged. Of course we did other brainstorming too, to establish the criteria for this effort.

Are you particularly targeting middle grade teachers? If so, how? Have you had any response to this?

We hope to reach Middle Grade teachers and school librarians, although we adore readers of all ages and professions!  We chose the month of August because educators would be gearing up for a new school year. We wrote articles and blog posts and offered to guest blog for a variety of teacher and librarian groups that we have connections with. 

Shannon W. assembled images of our books covers that we all could use and I (with help from my daughter) developed a video that introduced our books. 

Kathy landed a blogging slot at Literacy and NCTE and Shannon H. introduced our video at Mr. Schu’s blog, Watch. Connect. Read

Shannon also cranked out terrific blog posts and articles that inspired the rest of us to get to work. 

Kerry compiled an astounding list of Middle Grade Books About Tough Topics.  

I used our Talking Story platform to create a newsletter to send to educators. 

We all blogged more than usual and reviewed each other books.  And we’re Facebooking and Tweeting a lot too!

I would love to tell you that our book sales spiked as a result and that teachers across America are choosing to use our books in their classroom. But of course, we have no idea just yet how the campaign will play itself out.  However, we believe the awareness of our titles is spreading and we’ve certainly fallen in love with each other’s books. Perhaps, best of all, we’ve built a small community of cooperation among ourselves as authors.  That’s worth a whole lot. We also know that this is likely the beginning of a movement that other authors will pick up and continue.  Our effort is simply the first wave. 

Please share the common threads between the books and tell us how COMFORT fits into the mix?

Tough topics—that’s the common thread.  Hard things happen in life and we want middle graders to discover characters who face difficulties with courage and creativity.

In WHAT FLOWERS REMEMBER by Shannon Wiersbitzky, Delia is especially resourceful when her surrogate grandfather develops Alzheimer’s, finding a way to help him remember his life experiences. She does this by drawing the whole town into retelling stories of his life. It’s such a beautiful novel with themes of legacy and flowers and memory and love.  How is that similar to COMFORT?  An adult family member has mental struggles and the protagonist helps him to connect with community. 

In THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM, Kathleen Hilliker Burkinshaw tells the story of Yuriko who lives in Hiroshima during World War II. And yes, it describes the bombing and its aftermath.  This is such a profound story and I think Ann Fay feels the profundity of that devastation in COMFORT when her family hears the announcement of the Hiroshima bombing on the radio. This is the moment when Daddy’s post war trauma really begins to manifest itself. Both are books about war and how it changes a character’s world.

JUST A DROP OF WATER by Kerry O’Malley Cerra is a story about the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Two boys, one Christian and one Muslim find their world and their friendship grinds to a halt in the aftermath of the attacks.  Jake the protagonist may be misguided in the ways he sticks up for his friend but his loyalty is always there. He is persistent too and those characteristics remind me of Ann Fay in COMFORT. 

In Shannon Hitchcock’s RUBY LEE AND ME, Sara Beth Mills lives in racially segregated North Carolina.  Ann Fay in COMFORT, does too. The difference is that Sara Beth has an African-American friendship that is actually threatened by school integration. Ann Fay has experienced a brief friendship with a black girl at an integrated hospital but is now separated from her. She is unable to reestablish that friendship. Both girls have family members they desperately want to be well.

Each of these books is about character and the human spirit and how it responds during really tough times. We trust that our protagonists will give readers the confidence that they can face  real life challenges.

To enter the giveaway of all five books (open to teachers and librarians), please visit our #MGGetsReal website and scroll to the bottom of the page.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Gems from Jan: Summer Camp at Highlights Part III

I first met Jan Cheripko, author of Rat; Sun, Moon, Stars, Rainand Imitate The Tiger, when we both presented at a South Carolina Reading Association conference several years ago. I admire his tight prose in which young men face peer pressure and/or tough choices. His workshop at camp was on secondary characters and transitions. Since I'd never studied either of those in particular, I thought I’d learn some tips for Half-Truths and some advice to pass on to all of you. Below is a synopsis of his two presentations. 

Photo by Gayle Krause

On Secondary Characters

Pay attention to your secondary character’s motivations and make sure you develop a distinct identity for them. If you are only using a secondary character to advance the plot, you might be short-changing the plot. Secondary character must be there for his/her own growth.  

Focus on an individual in a crowd and realize how that person may personify the crowd. For example, in the opening scene of Casablanca moviegoers see a pickpocket. The thief represents how people are stuck in Casablanca and bad things are about to happen. Each minor character should reinforce the theme of the story.  

Shakespeare gave some of his best lines to his secondary characters. Can you be so confidant in you writing that you give some of your best lines to someone who only shows up on the page briefly?  In King Lear the Gentleman says: “Her tears were like diamonds dropped from pearls.”

Your assignment: Create a list of all your characters and assign a value to them.  

1- Most important
2- Supporting
3- Less so
4- Brief encounter
5- Part of the crowd

Then ask:
  • Who are they?
  • What’s their purpose?
  • Where do they come from?
  • When did they exist?
  • What’s their history?
  • What do we know about them?
  • Why does she or he speak that way?
  • Should she be eliminated or developed?
  • Is this character consistent with purpose and theme of the book?
Play with a secondary’s character language. Allow him to be extravagant in ways the main character isn’t. Experiment! Be poetic, use humor, innuendo, puns, and slapstick. Take chances! Be philosophical, offer insights, use recurring symbols and leitmotif. Then, if necessary, be prepared to cut it all.

An example from Half-Truths

Maggie, Kate's younger sister comes into the library after exploring her grandmother's attic. She and her brother are excited to find their great-grandfather's civil war uniform. While she is chattering about what they found, Kate looks at their great-grandfather's portrait which hangs over the fireplace.
Maggie follows my gaze. "That's it! That's what we found. Wait 'til I tell Frankie. He's going to be flabberdoozled!" 
"Flabberdoozled?" Grandaddy repeats. He bites his bottom lip to keep from laughing.  
Maggie looks at him with impatience. "You know, Grandaddy! Flabbergasted plus bamboozled. Flabberdoozled!"

Transitional Scenes: Half the Fun is Getting There

First, Jan gave a short primer on plot:

Beginnings. Will it get us to turn the page?

“Call me Ishmael.” Moby Dick.  This is a command to the reader. 
“And the clock struck 13.” 1984.

Middle. Is there a clear inciting moment? It must happen in the first third of the story. Tension builds with the inclusion of backstory, new characters, danger, actions, dialogue, and interior monologue. Then relations become more complicated. Motives are introduced and action intensifies. Conflicts build to inciting moment until you get to a point of no return.

Rocky When the guy pulls Rocky’s name out of the hat and there is no choice: Rocky must fight.

Titanic Jack looks up and sees Rose in the balcony. Once they meet, it’s the point of no return.

End. Is the reader left thinking, feeling, wondering, sad, happy, perplexed, or satisfied? 

When crafting a scene ask:
  • Why is this scene in here?
  • How is it constructed?
  • Is it consistent with the story, plot and pacing?
  • Can it, or should it be eliminated?
  • Where is the story line going? Does this scene take my story forward?
  • Is the scene consistent with my purpose and theme?
Transitional scenes move readers from scene A to scene C by way of scene B. The transition can be physical, emotional, psychological, relational, necessary to flow of the story line, or some combination of all these.  Shakespeare used letters and messages for this purpose. In Casablanca a departing plane symbolizes hope to the people who watch it leave. You can see them thinking, “Perhaps tomorrow we’ll be on it.”

Scene A: The Barn

Scene B: Summer Campers Tracey Meltzer Kyle and Jilanne Hoffman
strolling from Scene A to Scene C.
Scene C: The Creek

When you look at a transitional scene you have four options:

  • Leave it the way it is.
  • Eliminate it entirely and cut to the chase.
  • Expand it, develop it, and integrate it even more.
  • Judiciously trim it; let the left out parts speak volumes.

Your assignment: Write a transitional scene. Slow down, pay attention to details, and make the scene worthwhile. 

An example from Half-Truths

Kate is walking home from just having been in Lillie's neighborhood without her family knowing. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story,  Kate has just moved to a wealthy area of Charlotte, NC after spending her growing-up years on a farm in Titusville, SC.) 

It's getting dark and I hurry along the street. I've got to get back before my grandparents come home from the club. Even Grandaddy wouldn't be too happy with me walking around a colored neighborhood by myself at night. 
I walk past a white brick mansion high on a hill. Small lights line the long driveway casting a warm glow on the spacious lawn. This isn't at all like Titusville, but I feel like I belong here more than I do in Lillian's neighborhood. It's strange. I never thought I'd feel like I belonged in Myers Park.
Jan is a gifted teacher and mentor. It was a pleasure to chat with him and hear from other campers how much he encouraged them.

Photo by Jolene Ballard Gutierrez

In case you missed my previous posts about Summer Camp at Highlights, here is Part I ("The Power of Social Media") and Part II (Conversations with Kathy).

Word Garden, Highlights Foundation
Words by Rose Colson

Monday, August 8, 2016

Conversations with Kathy: Summer Camp at Highlights Part II

"Great story, Carol! Honestly, I have very little to say except can I read more?? It sounds very polished, the writing is excellent, and I love the characters. It sounds from the synopsis that you have a very well thought out book and an interesting story. 
GREAT first line! Love it. You've gotten into the action right away, which is also great. We're swept away with the story from the very beginning."
Who wouldn't love to receive those comments on their first twenty pages? 

It took awhile for my heart to return to normal after I read Kathy Erskine's comments. And that was just the beginning of working with my amazing and award-winning summer camp mentor 
When Kathy isn't writing, speaking
or mentoring, she is known to sniff flowers.
Fox Hill Farm
Since my first pages had been critiqued a lot, Kathy graciously agreed to read an additional 25 pages--and then she read several more chapters during the week. (Note: if you are considering attending a Highlights Foundation workshop, do it! The faculty bend over backwards to provide you with a quality learning experience.) 

We met for 30 minutes five times during the week to discuss my work. She got picky--which is exactly what I need as I enter this "tightening/heightening" stage. (term courtesy Joyce Hostetter--the master tweaker!)

Kathy's Comments

Here are a few of her comments on Half-Truths:
  • Eliminate vague language. 

 Example: On the first day of school Lillie's principal references an incident from the previous year when the football team had gotten into trouble. Kathy recommended spelling this out and showing the difference between how the white and black students were treated afterwards. Here's the new version:

My brother Sam and some of the other football players almost started a fight while waiting to use Harding High’s football field. The Harding guys had called them names and made fun of their blue and white hand-me-down uniforms from Central High. We all hate that we don’t have our own colors.
      No one laid a hand on anyone but tempers got hot, and angry threats were thrown back and forth. The coaches stepped in just in time. I bet the white coach just slapped his boys on their backs and told them they'd take care of those colored boys another time. Our guys were suspended from playing the next two games. 
  • Deepen a character's reaction to an event.
Example: The principal challenges the students to be a credit to their race. Kathy suggested Lillie might feel bothered by his subtle insinuation that blacks have to prove themselves. So I added the last two sentences to this paragraph:
    I catch Mr. Grigsby’s drift because it’s been hammered into me since I was little. White people don’t expect Negroes to be smart or successful. It’s up to us to show them they’re wrong. If we do, we’ll be a credit to our race. Of course, it doesn’t matter if white folk think we’re not as good as them. The burden of proof is always on us. 

  • Build tension and strengthen character motivation.

    Example: Kate's goat, Eileen, has a suspicious skin disease. Lillie is in need of a science fair project and in my original manuscript, she sees Eileen and decides right away that finding a cure could be her project. In the new version, this realization develops over two chapters. Kate'
    s act of kindness towards Lillie serves as Lillie's motivation:
      Miss Anna Katherine put herself out for me. The least I cando is help figure out how to treat her goat. Then a thought crashes into my brain. Maybe I’ll useEileen for my science experiment!  It’s not exactly what I thought I’d do, but since it's about disease and infection,I bet Mr. Levi will approve it.
      (Note: This also strengthens the girls' connection to one another. Which is exactly what Rebecca Petruck advised me to do.)

      More Suggestions

  • Cut to the chase in each chapter. Have I said the same thing more than once in a scene? Am I explaining more than showing?
  • Cut out backstory which removes reader from the story. Move forward.
  • Put character or setting descriptions when the character first meets or enters the setting. 
Word Garden at the Barn
Highlights Foundation 

Kathy's Keynote

    Kathy also delivered a keynote on "Making Your Writing Feel Authentic." Here are some of her points:
  • Post a one-sentence description of your work on top of your computer to keep you focused
  • Keep a talisman or picture--something which reminds you of your work--close at hand. (Pictures on Pinterest work. Here is my Half-Truths board, one on fashion in the 50's, one just of images of people, and one related to African Americans.
  • You are not just writing about a person or a place. Experience that particular character in that particular place. Her novel, THE BADGER KNIGHT takes place in medieval England. Kathy visited castles, felt the trees, and imagined what her character might have seen, smelled or heard there. She even stepped in sheep poop and touched the standing stone
  • Walk, talk, act, dress, and eat the same food your character eats. These details are shorthand about your character
  • Use dialect with a light touch. Don't be distracting.
  • Your climax should be unexpected, but not unbelievable. Set up well so that it is not trite and predictable. Knowing your character and portraying him or authentically will enable you to set this stage.
  • And finally, a quote from Patti Gauch: “You know your ending is right when you’re crying at your keyboard.” 

One happy writer + one generous mentor=
a fantastic Summer Camp experience
Fox Hill Farm
Photo by Theresa Milstein

Stay tuned. In Part III of this series I'll share Jan Cheripko's insights into secondary characters and transitional scenes.

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Power of Social Media: Summer Camp at Highlights Part I

Congratulations to Rosi Hollinbeck, who won The Last Cherry Blossom. I think of Rosi as my west coast counterpart. She reviews and gives away books on her blog, as well as provides great links to other writing sites.
I was fortunate to attend Summer Camp at Highlights Foundation and in upcoming posts will share many of the writing tips I learned. But first, I have to tell you a story about the power of social media. 

One afternoon we took a tour of the Highlights and Boyds Mills Press offices. We all rushed to get our pictures taken under the Highlights banner. Here I am with my new friend, Kesha Grant, who I plan to exchange manuscripts with.

We met different editors, heard about the submission process, and were introduced to the new Hello magazine for 0-2 years. (A great shower present for new moms!)

Who doesn't remember Highlights from their dentist's or doctor's office as a kid? 

Now they publish Bilingue, which is in Spanish! 

After the tour of the editorial offices, we were ushered into Boyds Mills Press and saw the table around which editorial decisions are made. 

Assistant editor, Cherie Matthews, showed us several new releases including the award winning fun book, One Day, The End by Rebecca Kai Doltish and illustrated by Fred Koehler
I expect to see Jan Davis-Castro,
my fellow writer from the Carolinas,
at our next SCBWI Carolinas conference.

At the end of her presentation, one of my fellow conferees asked, "What happens after the book is published? How do you get reviews?" Cherie explained how the book is sent out to hundreds of reviewers including Publisher's Weekly, the School Library Journal, as well as to bloggers who review books. 

Then she said, "Carol Baldwin has a wonderful blog that I follow." 

Everyone looked at me. "I'm Carol Baldwin," I said.  

Cherie said, "No. You can't be the Carol Baldwin. She lives in Charlotte, NC."

"Really, I am Carol Baldwin." Then I explained when I moved from Charlotte to Greenville, SC I forgot to update my blog. 

I was thrilled that an editor from Boyds Mills Press followed me! Everyone laughed, I changed my personal information on my blog as soon as possible, and we all saw first hand the power of social media. 
Cherie Matthews and I.
I asked Cherie how she came across my blog and why she read it. She said, "We met through Joyce Hostetter. I was at the Barn during one of Carolyn Yoder's retreats and Joyce was telling about the Talking Story newsletter, which the two of you publish. This led me to sending Calkins Creek titles for you and Joyce to give away. I follow your blog and others to keep informed and find out what the community of bloggers are chatting about. I learn what bloggers are reading, who they admire and want to emulate, what causes you angst, and how you encourage and support one another. It's a good way to be with like-minded people who I may otherwise have never met."

Earlier in our week at camp, Mitali Perkins had given a keynote on the importance of using social media. "It's a great opportunity for you to showcase your writing! Make your voice pop!" she said. Writing 140 character tweets (nouns! verbs!) helped her write picture books.

In addition Mitali highly recommended that we:

  • Register a domain name ASAP. GoDaddy was one site that was mentioned.
  • Create a Facebook author page, even if you're unpublished. Populate it with posts from other pages such as publishers, libraries, and professional organizations related to the content of your book. "You'll be branding yourself by finding organizations with similar interests. Recommend free content for your followers." 
  • Organize your Facebook friends into lists. You can then target this list when you are creating an event.
  • "Gather your courage. Be passionate. This must come from your personal vocational mission, or else it won't work."
  • Create Twitter lists for "tuning in, research, and promotion."

I met with Mitali and she gave me
 terrific ideas for Half-Truths.

After the interchange with Cherie Matthews, Sid Reischer, one of my fellow campers who is new to social media, asked me why I blogged and what I hoped to accomplish. Although some people think blogging is dead, I told him it has helped me create an online presence. 

I've been blogging since May, 2007 when my editor at Maupin House, Emily Gorovsky Raj, suggested it might be a good idea. I had no idea what I was getting into, but I learned. 

As my fellow campers and I laughed about Cherie's comments, I realized that I blog because I enjoy it. It's not for everyone and it certainly takes time, but I like recommending books and giving them away. I like sharing what I'm learning as I write Half-Truths or from other websites and writing conferences. Plain and simple: blogging fits who I am. A good lesson for me to remember on my writing journey. 

I named my blog in an impulsive moment of "let's get this done and move forward." Since then I've envied my friends who have come up with much more creative names for their blogs. But guess what? Now I'm glad I kept it simple. 

It seems to have worked for Cherie!


  Although I moved to WordPress for my new website , I'm still having issues with sending out blog notifications. Here's this week&#...