Tuesday, October 29, 2013


Hosted by Susanna Leonard Hill

The Contest:  write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children (title not included in the 100 words), using the words spookyblack cat, and cackle.  Your story can be scary, funny or anything in between, poetry or prose, but it will only count for the contest if it includes those 3 words (you can count black cat as one word) and is 100 words (you can go under, but not over!)  Get it?  Halloweensie - because it's not very long and it's for little people :)

Post your story on your blog between now and Thursday October 31st by 11:59 PM EDT.

Fly me to my Room
by Manju B. Howard

With a trick-or-treat brew of sweets
making her tummy twitch,
Gail curled up in a cozy chair
wearing the pointy hat of a witch.

“Time for bed,” her mother cackled.
But Gail hugged her black cat instead.

“To bed,” her mother crowed,
while sweeping up bits of candy.

Gail shook her head.
Spooky creatures want to find me.
They know I’m full of treats.

Orange clowns, pink bunnies and
wizards with wands will smell my feet
and think I’m something good to eat.

“Dear Mother Witch,
please take me on your broom
and fly me to my room.”

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Picture Book Writers

Presenting Tara Lazar author of The Monstore
and founder of Picture Book Idea Month

Friday, August 23, 2013

Middle Grade students are like . . .

  1. Intellectual Development

Middle Grade Students:
  1. Display a wide range of individual intellectual development as their minds experience transition from the concrete-manipulatory stage to the capacity for abstract thought. This transition ultimately makes possible:
    • Propositional thought
    • Consideration of ideas contrary to fact
    • Reasoning with hypotheses involving two or more variables
    • Appreciation for the elegance of mathematical logic expressed in symbols
    • Insight into the nuances of poetic metaphor and musical notation. Analysis of the power of a political ideology
    • Ability to project thought into the future, to anticipate, and to formulate goals
    • Insight into the sources of previously unquestioned attitudes, behaviors, and values
    • Interpretation of larger concepts and generalizations of traditional wisdom expressed through sayings, axioms, and aphorisms

  2. Are intensely curious;

  3. Prefer active over passive learning experiences; favor interaction with peers during learning activities;

  4. Exhibit a strong willingness to learn things they consider to be useful; enjoy using skills to solve real life problems;

  5. Are egocentric; argue to convince others; exhibit independent, critical thought;

  6. Consider academic goals as a secondary level of priority; personal­ social concerns dominate thoughts and activities;

  7. Experience the phenomenon of metacognition  the ability to know what one knows and does not know.

  8. Are intellectually at-risk; face decisions that have the potential to affect major academic values with lifelong consequences.
  1. Physical Development

Middle Grade Students:
  1. Experience accelerated physical development marked by increases' in weight, height, heart size, lung capacity, and muscular strength;

  2. Mature at varying rates of speed. Girls tend to be taller than boys for the first two years of early adolescence and are ordinarily more physically developed than boys;

  3. Experience bone growth faster than muscle development; uneven muscle/bone development results in lack of coordination and awkwardness; bones may lack protection of covering muscles and supporting tendons;

  4. Reflect a wide range of individual differences which begin to appear in prepubertal and pubertal stages of development. Boys tend to lag behind girls. There are marked individual differences in physical development for boys and girls. The greatest variability in physiological development and size occurs at about age thirteen;

  5. Experience biological development five years sooner than adolescents of the last century; the average age of menarche has dropped from seventeen to twelve years of age;

  6. Face responsibility for sexual behavior before full emotional and social maturity has occurred;

  7. Show changes in body contour including temporarily large noses, protruding ears, long arms; have posture problems;

  8. Are often disturbed by body changes:
    • Girls are anxious about physical changes that accompany sexual maturation;
    • Boys are anxious about receding chins, cowlicks, dimples, and changes in their voices;

  9. Experience fluctuations in basal metabolism which can cause extreme restlessness at times and equally extreme listlessness at other moments;

  10. Have ravenous appetites and peculiar tastes; may overtax digestive system with large quantities of improper foods;

  11. Lack physical health; have poor levels of endurance, strength, and flexibility; as a group are fatter and unhealthier;

  12. Are physically at-risk; major causes of death are homicide, suicide, accident, and leukemia.
  1. Psychological Development

Middle Grade Students:
  1. Are often erratic and inconsistent in their behavior; anxiety and fear are contrasted with periods of bravado; feelings shift between superiority and inferiority;

  2. Have chemical and hormonal imbalances which often trigger emotions that are frightening and poorly understood; may regress to more childish behavior patterns at this point;

  3. Are easily offended and are sensitive to criticism of personal shortcomings;

  4. Tend to exaggerate simple occurrences and believe that personal problems, experiences, and feelings are unique to themselves;

  5. Are moody, restless; often feel self-conscious and alienated; lack self­ esteem; are introspective;

  6. Are searching for adult identity and acceptance even in the midst of intense peer group relationships;

  7. Are vulnerable to naive opinions, one-sided arguments;

  8. Are searching to form a conscious sense of individual uniqueness­ "Who am I?";

  9. Have emerging sense of humor based on increased intellectual ability to see abstract relationships; appreciate the "double entendre";

  10. Are basically optimistic, hopeful;

  11. Are psychologically at-risk; at no other point in human development is an individual likely to encounter so much diversity in relation to oneself and others.
  1. Social Development

Middle Grade Students:
  1. Experience often traumatic conflicts due to conflicting loyalties to peer groups and family;

  2. Refer to peers as sources for standards and models of behavior; media heroes and heroines are also singularly important in shaping both behavior and fashion;

  3. May be rebellious towards parents but still strongly dependent on parental values; want to make own choices, but the authority of the family is a critical factor in ultimate decisions;

  4. Are impacted by high level of mobility in society; may become anxious and disoriented when peer group ties are broken because of family relocation to other communities;

  5. Are often confused and frightened by new school settings which are large and impersonal;

  6. Act out unusual or drastic behavior at times; may be aggressive, daring, boisterous, argumentative;

  7. Are fiercely loyal to peer group values; sometimes cruel or insensitive to those outside the peer group;

  8. Want to know and feel that significant adults, including parents and teachers, love and accept them; need frequent affirmation;

  9. Sense negative impact of adolescent behaviors on parents and teachers; realize thin edge between tolerance and rejection; feelings of adult rejection drive the adolescent into the relatively secure social environment of the peer group;

  10. Strive to define sex role characteristics; search to establish positive social relationships with members of the same and opposite sex;

  11. Experience low risk-trust relationships with adults who show lack of sensitivity to adolescent characteristics and needs;

  12. Challenge authority figures; test limits of acceptable behavior;

  13. Are socially at-risk; adult values are largely shaped conceptually during adolescence; negative interactions with peers, parents, and teachers may compromise ideals and commitments.
  1. Moral and Ethical Development

Middle Grade Students:
  1. Are essentially idealistic; have a strong sense of fairness in human relationships;

  2. Experience thoughts and feelings of awe and wonder related to their expanding intellectual and emotional awareness;

  3. Ask large, unanswerable questions about the meaning of life; do not expect absolute answers but are turned off by trivial adult responses;

  4. Are reflective, analytical, and introspective about their thoughts and feelings;

  5. Confront hard moral and ethical questions for which they are unprepared to cope;

  6. Are at-risk in the development of moral and ethical choices and behaviors; primary dependency on the influences of home and church for moral and ethical development seriously compromises adolescents for whom these resources are absent; adolescents want to explore the moral and ethical issues which are confronted in the curriculum, in the media, and In the daily interactions they experience in their families and peer groups.

"Characteristics of Middle Grade Students,” Caught in the Middle (1989). Sacramento: California Department of Education, pages 144-148.  

Monday, July 15, 2013

New Event: SCBWI MG & YA Meet Up

Connect with area MG &YA writers on Saturday, Sept 28th from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
We’re meeting at The Commons, 300 Washington Street in Columbus, IN.
Registration for this one-day event is FREE.
Space is limited to 10 members.
To register, email Manju Howard 
Please provide your name, cell phone number, MG or YA story title and genre.
MG or YA WIP is required.
Must bring a brief summary and 6 copies of the first 5 pages of your WIP.
10:00 - Introductions: Name, writing background & critique experience
10:15 - Writing Discussion on character development
10:45 - Critique Guidelines
11:00 - Separate into two groups to Critique First 5 Pages (2 WIPs)*
12:00 - Lunch & Explore Downtown Columbus
1:00 - Separate into same two groups to Critique First 5 Pages (2 WIPs)*
2:00 - Break
2:15 - Separate into same two groups to Critique First 5 Pages (2 WIPs)*
3:15 - Writing Discussion on critiques and story development
3:45 - Feedback sheet
4:00 - Free Writing Hour or leave early if you wish 
* We’ll read and write a brief critique for each 5-page manuscript in our group.
Author being critiqued will write on a prompt for 20 minutes.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Writing Haiku

 In middle school I wrote my first haiku, a Japanese poem with a tight structure. In a traditional haiku, 17 syllables are divided into three lines - line one: 5, line two: 7, line three: 5. That's it. So I was surprised to learn years later that I have not been writing true haiku poems.

Saturday morning
striking out at the ballpark
wishing for a hit

Sure I have three lines and 5 – 7 – 5 syllable structure. Beyond counting syllables, the content of this poem was not a factored in. 
Big mistake. 

Haiku poems are inspired by elements of nature and include a kigo, which means "season word" to show the time of year. The Japanese word kiru, which means "cutting," expresses the notion that haiku should always contain two juxtaposed ideas. Two images that seem unconnected in line one and two, then the third line connect with a surprise ending.

Birds glide under rays -
boys cheer on the lined grass field
as balls fly skyward

Show, Don’t Tell
Show the reader something true about a moment in time. Don't tell the reader how you feel as the writer about an observation. The images in the poem should invoke emotions in the reader through subtle imagery, not cliches.

• What did you notice about the subject? What colors, textures, and contrasts did you observe?
• How did the subject sound? What was the tenor and volume of the event that took place?
Did it have a smell, or a taste? How can you accurately describe the way it felt?

Here is an example by Basho Matsuo, the first great poet of haiku in the 1600s:

An old silent pond...

A frog jumps into the pond,

splash! Silence again.

Your turn. Write a haiku using this picture. Have fun!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Big Bang Theory of Writing Well

Last week I visited The Museum of Fine Art in Houston, Texas. They had a special exhibition titled Picasso Black and White. Throughout Picasso's career from 1904 to 1970, he created paintings and sculptures in black and white. I knew what to expect. And there were no major surprises.

In another section of the museum, I was surprised.

I walked into a rectangular room with Chinese pottery and ancient writings. I thought the black and tan mural that wallpapered the walls was to set the mood. Then a soft spoken Chinese security lady urged, "You missed the video. You must watch how all this was created."


"What motivates me to make art is that I’m worse at doing everything else. 
For me, making art is fun, and it allows me to have a dialogue with my inner self and with society in general." 
- Cai Guo-Qiang

Watching Chinese-born artist Cai Guo-Qiang create murals using gunpowder was amazing. I have a greater appreciation of his work after learning his process.

The same is true in writing. As I accumulate more knowledge and experience about the craft of writing, I have a greater appreciation for others works. And one day I will earn the right to wallpaper my home with book covers instead of rejections.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Prepare to Pitch

I am preparing for this weekends Wild, Wild Midwest SCBWI Conference in Fort Wayne, Indiana. As I practice my pitch and pack my bags, I wonder if there is something I'm missing.

10 Things to Bring to a Writers' Conference
by Rachelle Gardner 

1. Concise and fascinating answers to questions like, “So, what do you write?” and “Tell me about yourself.”
2. Organized thoughts about the book(s) you’re pitching, so you can easily give a 1 or 2 minute pitch when asked.
3. One-sheets for each book you’re pitching—plenty of copies in case agents or editors want to keep them.
4. Business cards.
5. A printout of the first chapter of your novel (or a book proposal for non-fiction). You just need a few of copies since you will show them in meetings but probably won’t leave them with agents or editors.
6. A camera if that floats your boat.
7. A tote bag or brief case (not too big) to carry around your stuff, or simply a folder to hold your papers and keep you organized.
8. A professional-looking, business-casual wardrobe with comfortable shoes. A nicer outfit for the banquet Saturday night.
9. Personal goals for the conference… and an open mind so that you don’t miss opportunities and connections that come your way unexpectedly.
10. A big smile, since it’s the best way to forge connections with others and keep yourself relaxed.

For more Writers' Conference Tips:

Writers’ Conference Etiquette 
by Scott Hoffman 

Get Thee to a Writers Conference
by James Scott Bell

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Art of Editing

Fourteen Steps for Revising Poetry
By Allen Ginsberg
  1. Conception
  2. Composition
  3. Review it through several people's eyes
  4. Review it with eye to idiomatic speech
  5. Review it with eye to the condensation of syntax (blue pencil and transpose)
  6. Check out all articles and prepositions: are they necessary and functional?
  7. Review it for abstraction and substitute particular facts for reference (for example: 'walking down the avenues' to 'walking down 2nd Avenue')
  8. Date the composition
  9. Take a phrase from it and make up a title that's unique or curious or interesting sounding but realistic
  10. Put quotations around speeches or referential slang "so to speak" phrases
  11. Review it for weak spots you really don't like, but just left there for inertial reasons.
  12. Check for active versus inactive verbs (for example: "after the subway ride" instead of "after we rode the subway")
  13. Chop it up in lines according to breath phrasing / ideas or units of thought within one breath, if any
  14. Retype

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Asked a Half-Blood for Help

Lessons in writing through reading fiction

I have completed writing, rewriting and editing my upper middle grade novel to the point it's worthy of a literary agent's consideration. While I wait, I'm plotting out book two. How does the writer make a series work for the reader?

Time to hit the books.
I decided to read a series my boys enjoyed, Percy Jackson and the Olympians. However my boys did not like Book 2 as much. I read Book 1 in a weekend, but Book 2 took me a bit longer.

For those who have not read Rick Riordan's Olympian series, here is a description of the first two books.
After getting expelled from yet another school for yet another clash with mythological monsters only he can see, twelve-year-old Percy Jackson is taken to Camp Half-Blood, where he finally learns the truth about his unique abilities: He is a demigod, half human, half immortal. Even more stunning: His father is the Greek god Poseidon, ruler of the sea, making Percy one of the most powerful demigods alive. There's little time to process this news. All too soon, a cryptic prophecy from the Oracle sends Percy on his first quest, a mission to the Underworld to prevent a war among the gods of Olympus.

In this second adventure, Percy is anticipating the end of seventh grade and a summer at Camp Half-Blood with kids who are the offspring of Greek gods and mortals. He dreams that his pal Grover, a satyr, is in danger. After monsters attack in his school gym class, Percy and Tyson, a homeless kid, are picked up by Annabeth, a half-blood friend, and rushed to the camp, which is under attack. The tree that guards the camp is dying, and Chiron, the activity director, has been dismissed. Another dream reveals that Grover, whose peril is increasing, is on the same island as the legendary Golden Fleece, which may be the cure for the troubled camp. Encouraged by Hermes, Percy and his pals set off to the Sea of Monsters, where they encounter legendary dangers.

Why wasn't Book 2 a favorite in our family? 
• Balance of likeable versus non-likeable characters
Chiron, a caring and intelligent leader, was replaced by a very unlikeable creature from the underworld. The replacement hated Percy and his friends. 
Percy's loving mom was sidelined as well. 

Commit to go
Percy was unsure about going on the quest. Hermes the Messenger God had to encourage Percy and his friends to set sail. Thus my young readers were hesitant about going on the journey too.

• More telling, less showing
It's tricky to bring new readers into the series without boring ones who read Book one. Percy tells us who his fellow characters are, what happened before and acts as narrator in his present adventure. The reader is not drawn into the action.

 I look forward to learning more from reading the rest of Rick Riordan's Olympian series. 

What writing lessons have you learned through reading?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Cut these Words

Weak Verbs
Scan your manuscript for weak verbs that rely on an adverb (-ly word). For instance: talk quietly or walk slowly. Cut both the weak verb and adverb. Replace them with a stronger verb. In this case: whisper or stroll.
Under Edit on your computer, use Find to search for these weak verbs in your manuscript.
do, had, have, get, got, goes, make, put, show, take, tell, was, went, could, should & would    

Filter Words
Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway discusses the use of filter words. “Filtering is when the writer forces the reader to look at rather than through the point of view character’s eyes” (Burroway 2010). Deleting these words shows the reader what’s going on instead of telling. They distance the reader from the story. It’s one extra step the reader has to take in order to experience action with the character. Only use filter words when it’s critical to the meaning of a sentence. Here’s a list of filter words to look out for in your manuscript:
Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft & Writing Poems W/Workshop Guide to Creative Writing Value Pack
  • can
  • to hear
  • to look
  • to realize
  • to notice
  • to feel
  • to touch
  • seem
  • to know
  • to start
  • to sound like
  • to seem
  • to think
  • to see
  • to decide
  • to watch
  • to wonder
  • begin
  • to try

Friday, February 8, 2013

While Writing your Novel

Perfection Blocks your View
Taj Mahal in Agra, India is one of the Great Wonders of the World

Last March, I visited India's jewel. The Taj Mahal was constructed using white marble and inlaid with semi-precious stones. Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan designed the grand mausoleum in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Completed around 1653, the Taj Mahal as well as the surrounding landscape are completely symmetrical. Ironically the one element that lacks symmetry is the Mughal Emperor himself. Shah Jahan tomb's lies next to his beloved wife who lays at the center of the mausoleum. 
What's my point? No body is perfect. But placing Shah Jahan's tomb next to his wife only adds to the beautiful love story of the Taj Mahal.

As a writer, I don't focus on being perfect. First drafts are meant to capture "what comes next" not perfect sentences. If I worry about writing right, instead of simply allowing the words to flow out and onto the page, then I'm frozen by writers block. 

Fear of imperfection does not create amazing characters and woven plot lines. So, I challenge myself and all of you to write without fear. And may the bodies lie where they wish. Happy Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Words that Bug me

Our language includes words that were created to confuse writers.

High school English teacher Sue Sommer authored The Bugaboo Review for her students. Filled with common pitfalls of the English language, the confusing words and grammar issues that people continually stumble over. 

 In my case, I trip on the words passed and past. According to page 141 of Sommer's book:
passed - the past tense of the verb to pass
past - an adjective that means "belonging to a former time" or "beyond a time or place." Past can act as a noun or preposition too.

Triple check whether your writing strikes the right chord.
Or editors will PASS.

For more uses of the words passed and past go to -