“It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness. That is life.”
One of my favorite and least favorite quotes (it’s from Captain Picard in a Star Trek episode)
Favorite because it’s true, and least favorite because I usually think of it when I follow the right road but still end up at a dead end.
I think we’ve all been there. Adhered to the cooking instructions and the cake isn’t fluffy enough. Taken the prescribed medicine and laid low and still sick.
In baseball, when I hit a slump, I change my approach at home plate. Hands higher, knees bent lower. Throw in a leg kick? Sure, try that. Eventually, something clicks and swing gets smooth again.
So this school year (I’m a teacher so my writing tends to cycle through each school year), I’m trying a different approach. And it’s already paying dividends.
I’ve made two major changes to my writing that have sent a current through a revision that stemmed from input I got from editors and agents in 2017.
One comes indirectly from Tuesday colleague Jonathan Rosen, who told me (and stated in several interviews) that the biggest thing he did right before he got published was to sit down and write the funniest book he possibly could. In all his rejections, agents and editors always loved his humor, so he decided to focus on that.
That got me thinking, that I’ve had a similar experience with agents in regards to my baseball scenes and my action scenes.
So I’ve pledged to make sure that each scene is full of action and thrills, whether or not it’s on the baseball diamond.
The other adjustment I made comes from a speech I heard from award-winning author Richard Peck at a conference (miss him). He said that above all else, your aim as a writer is for your words and message to permeate a high school library and find that one student who desperately needs your book to survive.
So I’ve mixed the baseball/action thrills with this teen in need at the forefront as I piece together the heart of the story.
I’ve recently revised the strongest beginning of Strike Zone, and submitted it to a contest.
Whether I win or not, the cool thing about this writing gig is that it forces you to think. About what people find interesting and what young people truly need to feel accepted and understood.
So I guess in that respect, writing’s shaped me into a better person, just like I’ve molded my characters. So maybe I haven’t lost after all.
Stacie: My favorite quote is by Edgar Allen Poe. “All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.” It seems to me all at once fantastical, imaginary, and surreal. Life frequently feels like this to me, both when it’s wonderful and when it’s less so. My hat is off to EAP for summing up the un-sum-up-able. Bravo, Poe.
Cathy: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Faran:“Our wisdom comes from our experience, and our experience comes from our foolishness.” –Sacha Guitry. I truly believe that the best way to learn is by making mistakes. Even the most successful people fell on their faces on their way to the top. I think we don’t allow young people to experiment and learn from trial and error, which is how you grow. This quote embodies this sentiment.
Jonathan: I’m sticking with writing quotes, and this I take to heart. Dialogue. Have plenty of it and get the info out that way. “All the information you need can be given in dialogue.”– Elmore Leonard
Melody: My favorite quote is “It’s so easy to laugh, it’s so easy to hate. It takes guts to be gentle and kind.” Because it’s so true! From a song by The Smiths called “I Know It’s Over.”
Joanne: Peace begins with a smile. –Mother Teresa (1910-1997, Nun and Missionary)
The Tuesday Writers met yesterday for our critique. We each take a turn reading eight to ten pages then the group does a verbal critique afterward. We missed Stacie this week as she was out for a work conference.
Cathy read first. She’s working on a historical novel, homing in on what her character is lacking as well as working on theme. She did a good job setting her character up to show what’s going on in her life. There were some outstanding moments where my stomach tightened as I felt the emotions of Cathy’s character. Faran had a great suggestion to look at the story’s inciting incident and work backward from there to the beginning of the novel to see what the main character needs.
Faran was up next. He rewrote the beginning of his current work in progress about a baseball player and his attitudes. Melody suggested that the character’s language was a bit strong for chapter one and that those words might be more effective with rising tension later on. Faran’s third scene had really good description of some of the plays of a baseball game. I could see the action playing out before me and feel the tension of his character.
Melody who often reads first, stalled until the third slot. She decided not to read her chapter as she’d been mulling over some changes as we talked and figured she wanted to implement them for better impact before reading the chapter to us.
I was up next. I’m doing revision on my work in progress about a college freshman. I revised a chapter leading up to the first plot point. Melody suggested I cut out some of the explanations in the dialogue. Cathy offered that I have my secondary character be vaguer about an idea she has and that my main character draw the idea out. Jonathan suggested my main character use more fraternity lingo.
Jonathan tempered the humor in his novel for a chapter to have his protagonist spend time with a girl he likes. The chapter was more reflective and less raucous, but kept the story moving forward.
Well, it’s my turn for Tuesday Tips, which means I get to share some tips for writing. All of the tips I share are based on my own experience, because even though I may have learned about a certain technique in a writing workshop, it’s not until I apply the knowledge that I actually learn how to do it.
Lately, my scenes have been hard coming. I know what I want to happen, but presenting it in a page-turning, satisfying way is often more difficult. So I’ve been applying what I learned in several Joyce Sweeney workshops—the idea that a scene has rising conflict and a climax.
What helps me is to remember that every scene is essentially a mini short story, so when I’m struggling with a scene, I break it down into parts. First, it needs to introduce the characters and the setting. Then something needs to happen to trigger the conflict. Next it needs rising action, where the conflict heats up, and it needs a climax, where the conflict comes to a head. It also needs a resolution, which often leads the reader to want to find out what happens next. I’ve discovered that plotting out what happens in each of these parts makes writing the scene much easier.
But sometimes even my best-plotted scenes go haywire. Why is that? Usually it’s because I try to sneak in other stuff, like character thoughts and feelings from past events, or plot-point resolutions from other scenes.
So here’s my advice to you—and to myself. Stick to the plan, Stanley! Plot out the elements of the scene and don’t try to sneak in other stuff. Sometimes other stuff comes in organically, and that’s fine, but when I try to sneak in all these other details—in other words, when I try to do too much in a scene—that’s when the scene starts to fall apart.
As soon as I post this, I’m going to start working on a new scene, so it’s helpful for me to remember all this. Hopefully I’ll have a good, productive writing day as a result.
I got the books. All of them, but if you can’t get all ten, then the one I recommend is Between the World and Me. I listened to it, and if you want to have an understanding of what it means to be black in America, then this is a start.
This book comes back to me now that I’ve just finished reading two excellent YA novels which have given me a deeper understanding of what it means to be a minority in America.
Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give puts the reader in the place of a young woman, Starr, who is in the car when her childhood friend is shot dead by a policeman. Riots ensue. The media portrays Khalil, her friend, as a drug-dealer. Starr’s family keeps her from the media as long as they can, and her attendance at a private school outside her neighborhood helps shield her. But Starr’s private school world and neighborhood must collide in order for Starr to stand up and be heard.
Randi Pink’s novel, Into White, is another novel giving readers the perspective of what it means to grow up with skin anything but the color of white. There are some hilarious moments in the book, like how bad a driver Jesus is, but the novel not only explores what it means to be black but also what it means to be comfortable in your own skin.
I can’t say I understand what it means to be another race, but I have an earnest desire to have a compassionate understanding of it. Books like these help.
I flew to Winnipeg, Canada last week to visit my parents for Canadian Thanksgiving. There are no direct flights to Winnipeg from South Florida, so getting there is always an all-day affair. I’m a book-in-hand kind of person. I always make sure that I have a new novel or two so that I have at least twenty hours of reading.
Looking around at fellow passengers, I noticed that many of them were on their cell phones in the airport, but pulled out books once they got on the plane. As many of the books came from the airport vendor, I wondered what is the most popular read during air travel?
While killing time in the airport, I did a brief survey of
airport vendors for the dates of my travel. I found that David Baldacci, last year’s Sleuthfest key note speaker’s new novel, The Last Mile, was most popular at the Winnipeg airport. Dan Brown’s Origin was a favorite at Ft. Lauderdale Airport, and Liane Moriarty’s Truly, Madly, Deeply was the bestseller in Toronto.
Some of the passengers I talked to want a short read they could finish in one flight, but most wanted something that would last throughout their entire time away from home. I noticed an equal number of e-readers also, but a book in the hand always gets more attention from me. What will your new read be the next time you travel?
Faran: I love the smell of books and the excitement I get when I find a new book that’s totally unexpected and it’s just what I’m looking for. It’s even better when I find other books by that same author and they resonate with me too.
Stacie: How do I love thee, libraries? I couldn’t possibly count the ways! I love the feeling of crossing the threshold of those automatic doors. I love the info desk and the movies all lined up in a row. I love the stacks of books. I love the feeling of finding a new book. Or a new author. Libraries, you are my jam!!! *blows kisses* And librarians? You are my rock stars!
Cathy: It’s like shopping with an unlimited budget! I can spend hours in a library just browsing all of the shelves. It’s dangerous, too, because I’m quite bad at returning the books!
Melody: I love the smell of all those books, plus, you know, all those books. I love going home with a stack of them and just spreading them out to decide which one I’ll read first.
Joanne: What I love about libraries is the endless possibilities held within their walls. When my mum would take me to the library as a kid, I would pick out the books I wanted and while she checked them out, I would wander around thinking about the treasure trove of information held within all those books.
Jonathan: The thing I love most is the most cliche. I love the books. I love walking in and being inundated with books. Seeing books everywhere. There’s a feel to a library. I love that I can find classic books, which are no longer in print in bookstores. I can browse and see titles which are thirty or forty years old, or maybe more. A library is a magical place, and I love being there.
Hello dear Tuesday readers! How are you? I’ve got to tell you, I am done. Stick-me-with-a-fork kind of done!
I just wrapped up my third book, The Secrets We Bury, sent the proofs in last night, so that book is finished. Whew!
I also turned my fourth book into my agent a few weeks ago and she’s gotten back to me with edits. But honestly, it’s been a hard writing few months lately and I might need a teensy tiny little break before diving back in on this manuscript that I’ve worked on for over 8 years. Book 4 may is definitely pushing me to my limits. For sure.
So before I get my hands dirty with that beast of a book, I feel like taking a reading break. Want to see what’s on my TBR pile now?
I’ve been meaning to get to this next book for a really long time now.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.
I’ve been dying to read this for some time now so moving it to the top of the pile. Along with this next little beauty… by Kendare Blake
I’m not usually into this kind of book but I confess the premise has me sort of breathless.
In every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born: three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.
But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins. The last queen standing gets the crown.
And finally, there’s….Ghost by Jason Reynolds
Running. That’s all Ghost (real name Castle Cranshaw) has ever known. But Ghost has been running for the wrong reasons—it all started with running away from his father, who, when Ghost was a very little boy, chased him and his mother through their apartment, then down the street, with a loaded gun, aiming to kill. Since then, Ghost has been the one causing problems—and running away from them—until he meets Coach, an ex-Olympic Medalist who sees something in Ghost: crazy natural talent. If Ghost can stay on track, literally and figuratively, he could be the best sprinter in the city. Can Ghost harness his raw talent for speed, or will his past finally catch up to him?
I seriously love Jason Reynolds’ books and can’t wait to dig into this one.
What are you guys up to reading-wise?
Comment below about my choices or tell me what’s in your TBR.
And there are lots of important writing tips, but this past weekend I put one very important tip into play in my own writing life that I must pass on to you.
Take the class…go to the workshop…get out of your writing head and into your learning one.
I’ve been working on a rewrite for some time. It’s almost done, but there is something missing. I’ve been floundering, so I printed it all out, looked at it chapter by chapter, and figured out the pieces of the plot that needed to move. Still, it wasn’t right.
The Tuesdays suggested that I haven’t shown the main character’s lack. The thing that will be changed by the climax of the story.
So I went to the SCBWI bootcamp run by Marjetta Geerling and Dorian Cirrone.
It was exactly what I needed. Marjetta’s first lesson was on theme. She asked crucial questions to assist us in moving our stories forward.
My theme is not clear, and without a clear theme, I don’t have any hope of getting the story published.
But here’s what’s really important and the reason I’m recommending this tip.
I’m excited about the story and excited about what’s going to happen when I figure it all out!
And that’s the reason, I think this tip is so important.
Today, I’m pleased to be joined by a fellow Mixed-Up Filer, Hillary Homzie, whose book, Pumpkin Spice Secrets, is scheduled to come out October 17 from Sky Pony Press
JR: Hi, Hillary and thanks for joining us today.
JR: Before we begin, can you tell us a little bit about Pumpkin Spice Secrets and the impetus behind writing it?
HH: Jonathan, well, it was one of those kismet things. I love pumpkin, and I guess I’m not alone since pumpkin spice is definitely a fall craze. Starbucks apparently makes about $100 million on their pumpkin spice latte, during this season. And I get why.
So let me get to the publishing part. An editor left Simon & Schuster, who knew my contemporary middle grade novels (I’ve published three books with the S&S MIX line—THINGS ARE GONNA GET UGLY, THE HOT LIST and THE QUEEN OF LIKES) and had moved to Sky Pony, wanted to start a line of books for girls that was light, sweet and fun, centering on friendships and crushes. She spoke to the folks at Sky Pony about me, and the team asked if I’d kick off the series/branded imprint, SWIRL, with a title called PUMPKIN SPICE SECRETS. Well, I jumped on the opportunity! I love pumpkin. I love writing about middle school, so absolutely! My Sky Pony editor asked me to write about a girl who spills some pumpkin spice on a boy in a café, and then it turns out that she and her bff end up liking this same guy. Voila! I had a premise and the rest was up to me. I truly appreciated having a concept to run with, especially since I had a very tight deadline on this book.
JR: One of the things that interested me, was that I read that as a child, you lived in England for a year, and had a little trouble, at first adapting. I had similar experiences, going to school in other countries. What was that like, overall, and how has that affected you and your writing?
HH: Moving to Sussex, England when I was six, at first, was super hard. My school demoted me to the first form (basically, kinder) because I didn’t know how to read. Back in those days (you, know, the Dark Ages), kids started to learn how to read in first grade in the U.S. but in England they started much earlier. I was teased mercilessly for having an accent and pushed around enough that the school nurse knew me far too well.
However, I figured out how to adapt very quickly. I taught myself how to read in two weeks. And I developed an English accent. To this day, I have a very good ear for dialects and it served me well when I used to perform sketch comedy in New York in my twenties. Also, having a good ear helps me in writing with diction choices, at least that’s what I like to think! It also means I can amuse children at birthday parties by putting on various accents. Oh, yeah, and my grade demotion probably shamed me into reading voraciously, so I’m a fast reader, which is also helpful.
JR: Okay, next time, I’m going to have to hear about the sketch comedy as well!
JR: Can you tell us a little bit about your writing journey getting to this point?
HH: It started out when I was a radio journalist interviewing an author, a grandmother who had self-published a children’s book, and I found myself incredibly jealous. So I said—“self, don’t worry that you’re turning green, jealousy just means that you want that thing that someone else has or is.” So then I decided to become a children’s writer. And I thought, rather naively, –Shazam!–I’d instantly become published.
I sent some pages of a chapter book to an editor at Random House, who was a colleague of my mother’s childhood friend, and the editor took a year to read my writing, and then she sent me back a rejection letter and she added this piece of advice—you need to take some writing classes and join a critique group.
I was crestfallen, since I sincerely thought she’d be sincerely wowed by my clunky prose and charmed by my clichéd characters. Ha! After dusting myself off, I took writing classes and joined SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Authors & Illustrators). Eventually, I got a master’s degree at Hollins University (https://www.hollins.edu/academics/graduate-degrees/childrens-literature-graduate-program/), where Margaret Wise Brown went to school. And slowly, my writing improved and I landed an agent.
My first book contract, a chapter book series, ALIEN CLONES FROM OUTER SPACE, I actually got because of SCBWI. I noticed that an editor had newly moved to Simon & Schuster and figured he was looking for new writers. Happily, I was right! Today, I’m represented by the lovely, and so very smart Victoria Wells Arm of Wells Arms Literary ( https://www.wellsarms.com). I feel very grateful because I feel very well supported by her and some astute critique partners.
JR: What’s your writing process like?
HH: I’m one of those hybrid writers—part pantser and part outliner. Usually some concept or character just comes to me. And then I’ll just start writing to see where it takes me. I don’t think about it too much, I just let it flow out. And then after I’ve probably written 30 pages or so, I’ll sit down and say, so, Hillary, who is this?What does she want (so far I’ve actually never written about a male main character, but it’s on my to-do list to try someday since I’m the mom of three boys). And then I might write some more, until maybe I have 60 or even 100 pages, and then I’ll spend a long time thinking about structure and actually plan out the rest of novel. That means I’ll totally get rid of a lot of writing but I know what I need and where I’m going. At that point, I know the ending and the lowest moment but I don’t necessarily know what the connective tissue will look like. I just write and discover.
I definitely find myself turning to screenplay theory to help me with the whole structure thing. Otherwise, I’ll end up writing for years on a project. I have a stack of projects that I have not completed because I probably was in pantser mode for too long. So what is successful for me, in a nutshell, is at first writing without a plan, then going back and creating a plan, then writing with a plan, and then going way off course, and then figuring out a new plan! It’s definitely a leap of faith and at times crazy-making!
JR: What was your favorite childhood book and who’s your favorite author?
HH: I have so many. But today I’m going with Arm of the Starfish by Madeleine L’Engle. And L’Engle as my fave author.
JR: What’s your favorite movie?
HH: Esh. Hard. But I adore Howl’s Moving Castle.
JR: Something people would be surprised to learn about you?
HH: When I was a radio reporter, my boss made me wrestle at a Jello-O tournament to help market the station. I was up against a high school gym teacher. I lost and had the taste of lime Jell-O in my mouth and hair for days.
JR: Do you do a lot of research when you write?
HH: I always end up doing research for all of my books. For pumpkin spice secrets, I was forced to taste test pumpkin spice and pumpkin lattes—just kidding! I actually, spent quite a bit of time researching debating since Maddie, the protagonist, is introverted and terrified of public speaking and has to participate in a school debate. So I researched quite a bit about debating and middle school debate topics. It was actually a lot of fun.
As I learned about debating, my character, also learned. By the end of the book, Maddie ends up really enjoying debating. I can’t say the same since the person I usually debate with is my husband, who’s a lawyer and enjoys arguing, while I hate conflict! My first drafts never have enough conflict in them because I’m such a chicken when it comes to confrontation. My characters are much gutsier than me. Maddie actually has been my first shy character, and is closer to the young me, in that regard.
JR: Here at the Tuesdays, a big part of our success and the purpose of this site, has been being involved in a critique group. Are you involved in one and if so, how has it helped you?
HH: My critique groups—oh, let me count then ways in which I love you all. I belong to two groups. One is local and we meet every two weeks, and not only are these women some of my closest friends, but our meeting provides a bi-weekly deadline that I found incredibly helpful. I also belong to a virtual critique group. In other words, we don’t meet in person. We meet four times (well, now five, since we have a new member). And each time, we read an entire manuscript and give global notes via Skype of Google Hangouts. I love these women (mostly fellow authors repped by Wells Arms Literary) because they so kindly tell me when something isn’t working, but also let me know what is working (I need to know both!). I appreciate their fresh eyes. Additionally, I have a long-time critique partner and we swap chapters and chat on the phone, whenever we need support. Depending on what’s going on in our lives, this could be quite a bit of time, or we can hibernate as we hunker down and work.
JR:What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve received and is there any advice you can give to writers looking to break in?
HH: I have a stack of novels where I finished anywhere from the first 10 pages to the first 100 pages. Don’t do that. It’s so easy to abandon ship for the shiny new penny because it’s always exciting to start a new project. Just finish your current work-in-progress. Get to the end. Finish the thing. And give yourself a deadline. I’m so much more productive with a deadline and when I have no choice but to finish. Did I hammer the finish thing enough? Not to be mistaken with someone who is Finnish (my dear friend Lisa is currently visiting Finland right now so it’s on my mind). You might be afraid that I’m not finished with this thing about finishing. Oh, I’m so corny. Now you know my deep dark secret.
JR: What are you working on next?
HH: I have a chapter book series that will be coming out in the fall of 2018 that I’m super excited about. It’s very character-driven and I enjoy just seeing what happens because I haven’t a clue since my main character is rather impetuous.
I’ve also been working on a science fantasy middle grade series that I’ve promised myself that I will finish this year. Well, not the series. Just the first book! It’s a project that I’ve probably been guilty of over-thinking. I better read my own piece of advice in the above paragraph.
JR: Is there anything that else you want to share with our readers or perhaps tell them how they can follow you on social media?
HH: Oh, yes! Please check this book trailer for PUMKIN SPICE SECRETS below.
My youngest son, Micah, who’s 12, made it and I think it’s really cute and cheesy in the best kind of way. Of course, I’m very biased.
Oh yeah, one more thing. I’d love for you to follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/HillaryHomzie as well as Facebook. My author page is: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorHillaryHomzie/ My website is: www.hillaryhomzie.com. I feel like I’ve just stepped into a literary salon in South Florida! It’s awesome, which reminds me I need to get to Florida, actually in person as many of my first cousins live down there. So I’m waving to hello to them right now. And, finally, thank you so much for having me over as a guest on The Tuesdays, Jonathan!
JR: Look forward to meeting you, when you visit!
JR: Before we go, I always like to ask, who’s your favorite member of The Tuesdays? And before you answer, I just want you to know that Faran says the taste of pumpkin spice anything, makes him nauseous.
HH: Oh, it has to be Faran. Because he’s a teacher and a freelance journalist, and writes for South Florida Parenting—articles like Surfing Helps Autistic Children to Shine. Now what a feel-good story. We need more of that in the world. Plus, he’s got a super cool name.
JR: Sigh . . . well, I guess some things just don’t seem to matter to people. Anyway, thanks again to Hillary Homzie for joining us, and the best of luck on Pumpkin Spice Secrets!
Jonathan Rosen is a transplanted New Yorker, who now lives with his family in sunny South Florida. He spends his “free” time being a volunteer coach and chauffeur for his three kids. Some of Jonathan’s fondest childhood memories are of discovering a really good book to dive into. His favorite of all time is Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. He currently writes middle-grade, because his sense of humor is stuck in that age. Jonathan is proud to be of Mexican-American descent, although neither country is really willing to accept responsibility. His MG debut, Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies, is out now from SkyPony Press. He can be found at www.HouseofRosen.com.