Writers’ Family Reunion

photo of welcome table at Writers' Family ReunionI had the opportunity yesterday to participate as a faculty member at Writespace’s   Writers’ Family Reunion. Writers of all stripes from all over Houston (and beyond) gathered at Silver Street Studios to meet, greet, and learn about the writing process — from how to get started, through how to keep going and included the multiple paths now available for publication.

Favorite things?

Meeting a writer new to Writespace, who was warm and wonderful. So glad to know you Hilda Davis!

Writerly foods!

Speed Dating for Writers: I am sorry I did not climb up on something to get an arial view of this activity. Michael put down a masking tape map of Houston on the floor of the warehouse, handed out a survey for everyone to fill out that would help them network. He first grouped writers by their home location to say “Howdy, what do you write? Wanna meet up sometime? Here’s my contact info.” Then he moved them to about five different groupings, including genre, experience level, and several other fun options, leaving them enough time to say again, “Howdy, what do you write? Wanna meet up sometime? Here’s my contact info.” Brilliantly done — and fun to boot.

Then on to browse the sponsor tables and play writerly games.

The neverending story was hilarious. Pull a slip out of a hat and write a sentence  inspired by your slip that builds on the previous line in the story. Try working “fern” into an intergallactic story that includes a squished alien caterpillar.

Poetry building included meg-size magnet words on a sliding metal door. Pretty soon we were scavenging each others’ haiku for enough words to complete our own verse.

First page critiques were a lot of fun. The energy of a new writer is something that fuels my fire for writing. Pam and Richard at our table both had so much going on that I really wanted to read more!  (There was one other woman whose name I didn’t catch who wrote a wonderfully evocative scene!)  K.J. Russell and I combined forces to provide critiques for these three aspiring writers.

Then on to breakout sessions. Over the next two hours, panels of local published writers discussed:

  • My Journey as a Writer: What I Wish I Knew When I Started
  • Writing Your First Novel
  • How to Create (Or Join!) a Great Critique Group
  • Publishing 101: An Overview of Options for New Writers
  • Reading Like a Writer
  • The Benefits of Promiscuous Art-Making: How Exploring New Creative Mediums Can Vitalize Your Writing

Now I can’t wait for Writefest the first weekend in May when I get to gather more fuel for my writing engine.

 

Five Long Years

Image of clock face
Time

It took me a long five years to write BURNED, the Pony Club-based middle grade equestrian mystery now available from ShopPonyClub.org and Amazon.com (Be sure to use the SMILE program and designate Pony Club as the recipient!) Even during the first draft of the book, I knew that capturing Sophie’s voice was going to take a lot of effort.

I have been a twelve-year-old girl, but that was a long time ago. Fortunately, there are a lot of Pony Club members I could use as example of how that age thinks and speaks. Many people think that writing a children’s book is easier than writing for adults. I’ve done both. I can say definitively that writing a child’s point of view is much harder to capture once you’ve gotten to full adulthood. It was discouraging, to write that first draft and find that I had to toss the entire thing. Despite my best effort at the time, Sophie sounded too old for the audience, and not at all like someone I would have liked as a friend. Then there was the story itself.

The original problem I set for Sophie was one that I thought all horse kids would relate to: the possibility of losing her horse, Cricket. She was supposed to figure out how to raise the money for her partial lease, something I know in my heart a Pony Club kid could do. (For one thing, Pony Club families support one another, and I suspect her Club or Center would help her through that financial spot in her life.) But when I pitched that story to editors, many of them said they didn’t believe a 12 year old could raise that kind of cash. Little did they know the support of the horse community, or the resourcefulness of a horse-crazy young woman.

After a Big House editor told me that the problem needed to be world-changing, I faced a choice: toss yet another draft of the book and quit, or try a third time.

Sketch of two children flanking a horse bursting out of a burning barn/
Fire!

I went home and burned down the barn. Not literally of course. I’m rather attached to my barn. But one of the barns in the book caught fire. As much as it hurts me to admit it, that pesky editor was right. It made my pulse race to write that scene. Hard work to write the book from the beginning again, but worth it. BURNED is a much more exciting read with that kind of danger added.

Once I made that change in the plot, instead of raising money being the sole problem, Sophie must also grapple with the question of adults behaving badly. When her mother is accused of wrongdoing, the very real threat to Sophie’s relationship with Cricket becomes secondary to her anxiety about her mom. Fortunately, Sophie has great friends, and the full support of her Uncle Charlie, and her father, even though he lives all the way across the country from Sophie’s home in Maryland.

Sophie is smart, and strong, both outside and in, just like the Pony Club members I work with as a Chief Horse Management Judge. Horsemanship teaches all kinds of mad skills, and I gave Sophie many of the ones I see most: ability to put together facts and come out with a logical answer, resourcefulness, and I also added the loyalty to friends that serves so many of our barn families so very well.

As part of the story, I had to test Sophie. I did that by leaving enough clues about several possible bad guys so that she had to work for the solution to her mom’s problem. When I got to the end of the book, it was a relief to find that she was up for the job.

Young riders reading BURNED.At my recent signing at Championships in Kentucky, several young riders came up to tell me how much they enjoyed the book. They liked Sophie’s resilience and her ability to pick herself up and get back on the horse no matter what happened to her. Just like writing this book three times before I got it right, Pony Club kids try, try, and try again until they succeed.

Julie Herman
MysteryGarden.com

This Blog post originally ran on the Pony Club Pizza, where Pony Club piles on the knowledge.

Bit of This…

Riders grooming their horses
Cooling a horse after a ride.

At Pony Club Rallies, I sometimes work with young riders who come to their safety check not knowing what bit is in their horse’s mouth, or why their trainer has told them to use it. (Just like when flying in an airplane, Pony Club requires a courtesy safety check before any rider gets on the horse. Some of the kids tell me riding feels like flying, so I love that that we too offer a safety check!) 

 

 

Why is it important for the child to know what bit they have in their horse’s mouth? For one thing, it gets them thinking about how the equipment they use affects the horse’s comfort and compliance.

If they have a simple loose ring snaffle in the horse’s mouth, it’s pretty forgiving of young hands that may tug against the bit even when they don’t mean to. That is considerate of the horse’s comfort and will help keep a gentle horse listening to their rider.

 

However, if they are going cross country and the horse has a tendency to run through the rider’s hands, then something with better braking power, such as a kimberwick, may be in order.

 

 

 

 

Below is a puzzle I put together for young horse-lovers to help them learn the names of different bits. Enjoy!

 

BitWordScramble

Cover Release

With just a month to go before my middle grade novel featuring a trio of horse-crazy kids who have to come together to solve a mystery is released, I figured it’s time to release the cover art. I kinda love it and hope kids do too.

Oconee Spirit Press

ISBN: 978-0-9974575-3-7

138 pages            Trade Paper  $9.95           Ebook 3.99

Pub Date: June 2017

  

Sophie would be the happiest girl in the world if she could spend every day with her friends Yasmine and Tanner, riding her beloved horse, Cricket. But she stands to lose all of that and more when her mom is accused of theft and arson. As the evidence piles up, and friends turn away, Sophie scrambles to clear her mother’s name–and soon finds herself in the middle of a hot mess.

 

Julie Herman is the author of the Three Dirty Women mysteries and as a Chief Horse Management Judge for the United States Pony Clubs.

 

“For mystery lovers, horse-mad readers or those who enjoy a good story about friends and family, this is the book for you.”

Sara K Joiner

children’s/teen librarian

author of AFTER THE ASHES

 

“BURNED, Julie Herman’s new middle-grade mystery, is a horse-lover’s dream, with a suspense-filled story that moves faster than a racehorse. Twelve-year-old Sophie is a strong female character who’s determined to uncover an injustice, even though she may lose her favorite horse, Cricket—and possibly her life. Couldn’t put it down!”

Penny Warner

Author of award-winning THE CODE BUSTERS CLUB series.

 

Michelle Ney — Arts & Culture Texas Feature Article

Photograph of a set used in the play Tribes
Tribes, by Nina Raine with scenic design by Michelle Ney at ZACH Theatre, 2016. Photo by Kirk Tuck.

I had the pleasure of talking with talended set and costume designer Michelle Ney about her designs. If you are from the Austin area and have the chance to see one of the shows she’s designed — run get tickets!

Read full article here.

Quick, Quick!

messy desk of Julie wray herman
My desk is only messy because I FINISHED a book!

Thanks to Mary Saums for inviting me to post on the Femmes Fatales blog today. News! I have a middle grade mystery BURNED. Sophie Allen is a horse-crazy girl. When a local fire threatens her family, her barn-friends team up to help her solve the mystery.

Click Here for the direct link to the post.

Can’t wait for 2017.

 

Happy Reading,

Julie

A Picture (Book) is Worth A Thousand Words

You gotta wonder if editors didn’t have that in mind with their suggestion that one thousand words or fewer would be the ideal word count for a modern picture book. New goal for word counts between 700 to 1,000 words, according to Liz Scanlon, author of, among other books, A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes. Liz (If I may be so informal after just six hours of lapping up your wisdom about the world of picture book creation.) spoke during a special day-long session this last Saturday at the Houston Chapter of SCBWI.

I am not a Picture Book writer, but I have never attended a session where writing was a topic and not come away with Pearls. This was no different. Thank you, thank you, thank you to all who organized and participated in the day. I so enjoyed sharing your writing energy!

The following are my notes from the session, which culminated in my paying not one whit of attention during the end of the lecture because I was diverted by a truly pitiful (but oh-so welcome) inspiration for a Picture Book.

Picture books. The purpose

Meant to be read aloud…always adult and child or children…

Provides multilayered and multilevel experience. Textual, visual, adult/child

Offers exposure to new vocab, the concept of story and literacy in general

Provides a platform for connection, intimacy, and love

Picture books. The form

Usually 32 pages long

Less than 1000 words, most less than 700

Perfect marriage of text and art

Often contains tradition narrative arc

Ends on a note of hope.

First the words.

Writing

Revising

Look up Picture Book Dummy for a notion of what to expect your words to wind up looking like on the page — plan for this. You have X=~25 pages and Y=12-14 scenes. (Which are picture opportunities) Make the most of them.

If you look at the grid on the Dummy, you notice that the first and fourth lines are short, about 4 – 5 pages, vs 8 pages on the middle two lines. Story blocking goes thus: First line: intro characters and problem Second line and third lines are the middle of the book, develop characters, action and story. (try and fail, try and fail, try and fail.) The fourth line is Crisis and Resolution. Voila!

I hate a closed heart. I know that when I have an unsuccessful day at my desk it is because I simply have not loved people and books and pictures enough…Ursula Nordstrom, editor

(Please, please rise from the dead and be my editor! -j-)

Interview with Maurice Sendak on fresh air last week. Listen!!!

Picture books are just a new way of looking at things…a childlike way of looking at things.

Coloring in the lines quiet…crayon escaping the lines energy…pb concept?

A sock is a pocket for your toes… Concept book

If want a successful PB explore a new perspective about…friendship, pockets, gardens, dogs, clouds…

Ask yourself: What is my fresh angle on the subject?

Two frogs down at the pond. Does one want to be a fish? A bird? Tell from pov of the fish under the lily pad…

Traditional narrative arc, aka plot pyramid aka Aristotle’s incline

  • Inciting incident, rising action, falling action, resolution

The Hero’s journey

  • Departure, initiation, return

Seven basic plots

  • The quest, voyage and return, rebirth, tragedy, comedy, overcoming the monster, rags to riches

Rules of threes

  • Try and fail, tray and fail, tray and succeed

12 – 14 illustratable moments

Page turns are the chapter breaks of picture books..dont miss the opportunity to tempt, satisfy, and keep ’em reading.

  • Q.a format
  • Complete verse forms
  • Mid.sentence splits…maruice sendek, where the wild things are
  • Build and thrill…one dark night, Lisa Wheeler…use of meanwhile…

The process

  • Write, revise, repeat
  • Write, revise, repeat
  • Write, revise, repeat

Special topics.

  • Tension and conflict
  • Characterization
  • Animal characters
  • Setting
  • Language, rhyme and rhythm
  • Revision

Non-fiction picture books are out there, wonderful, and creative. Gendre = creative non-fiction, written in the form of story…everything from here applies…tension and wonder. exceptions for length, can be, but not always, a bit longer…maybe 1200 words max.

Tension and Conflict:

  • illustration of the pyramid inciting incident, climax, resolution
    • The Carrot Seed, Ruth Kraus
    • Tension pulls you through the book, discovery process
  • Even in a picture book, we need:
    • Multiple uh-ohs
    • dream, frustration, resolution
    • who wants what from whom what’s standing in the way? what is the character willing to risk to get what he/she wants. how will the character, under his or her own power, solve the problem?

Characterization:

  • Memorable
  • Authentic
  • Sympathetic
  • Complex
  • Detailed

How do you achieve all that?

  • Character Backstories
  • Meaningful Names
  • Deep Desires
  • Flaws
  • Character tags and catch phrases

animal characters:

  • why is my character a worm or a bird?

Use the essential animalness of your animals — or play against type

  • Puns and animal-appropriate language
  • it’s your universe, but your universe has rules
  • look for the perfect balance between humor and tenderness

Setting:

no Headless Horsemen – Anchor your story in time and space!

Inside all of us is a wild thing.”

–where the wild things are

“It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short easy words like ‘how about lunch?'” — Winnie the Pooh

“I meant what I said and I said what I meant.” — Horton Hears and Who

Rhyming Dictionary: rhymezone.com

“This is not cheating. You know all the words in there, you just forgot it for a little bit” – Liz

The Synonym Finder — great thesaurus. edit Rodale

Language:

Watch out for too many adverbs and adjectives

Activate Verbs

Avoid crazy dialogue tags

Show don’t tell

Wordplay?

Rhyme, Rhythm and Reading Aloud

The story is the queen, the rhyme is her pawn

the story is the driver, the rhyme is his carriage

the story is the house, the rhyme is the wood

the story is the soup, the rhyme is the pot

(You are the boss of the story, not the rhyme)

  • Do not sacrifice the story for the rhyme!!
    • is there a reason to write it in rhyme?
    • could you use internal rhyme, repetition and rhythm instead?
    • Use natural syntax
    • don’t forget syllabics and meter
    • Read it aloud
    • Ask someone else to read it aloud.

Revision:

“The most important quality in writers is the ability to be dissatisfied with what we have written. Dissatisfaction creates the essential discomfort that will eventually lead us back to the manuscript to attempt yet again to craft our work to perfection. The least effective writers are the most immediately satisfied writers.” Mem Fox, Author

Revising is…

  • making decisions to improve your writing
  • looking at your work from a different point of view
  • identifying places where your writing could be clearer, more interesting, more informative or more convincing
  • Revising IS NOT copy editing

Potluck of Pointers:

  • Read, read, read ,read ,read
  • Read Aloud, read aloud, read aloud
  • Emphasize truth over fact
  • Use rhyme with caution and reason
  • Use verbs instead of adverbs, nouns instead of adjectives
  • don’t preach — or dumb down
  • submit manuscripts without artwork — unless you’re an author-illustrator

All Strays Apply Here

Cats in a crate
Peaches and Minnie on their way to Austin

I miss the redhead from Chapter Three. She was a dynamo in riding tights, whose dialogue sparkled and forceful nature promised much in the way of future interesting conflict.

Pity she didn’t fit the story line.

She charged onto the page in Chapter Three, well into the action of the book. Bright, sparkling dialogue, an outspoken personality, and enough sass to intrigue. You’d think she was a gift I’d want to keep. Sadly though, once I got further along in the book, I realized that she was a one-scene character, and that having her spend that much time on the page during that one scene left a ghost behind. If I as the writer was still wondering about her, then the reader probably would too. Painfully, the truth is that she didn’t move the plot of this book along. So I whittled her part down to one line and moved the rest of the scene to a secret location.

Well, it was a secret, but now I’m telling you. I have a special file on my computer called Not_Now_Stuff.doc, a wonderful file filled with characters and scenes that didn’t fit the work-in-progress, but with which I was sufficiently intrigued not to simply delete them out of hand.

I think of it as a no-kill shelter for stray ideas. This way nothing is ever lost. If they keep bugging me, I already have something to start with when I pull them out of the file to play.

Who knows? Ms. Redhead might get a story of her own some day. She’ll still be all sparkly, conflicted and sassy, because I’ve got her tucked away safely.

Happy Writing!