December 22, 2013

Happy New Year

Dear friends,

Thank you for reading and supporting Children's Writer's World blog as well as
Kid's Imagination Train.  Please leave a comment if you have any writers' topics
you'd like to have discussed on future blogs.

Ollie, our rescue cat of six years, is in the mood for a holiday nap.  He usually joins me as I write, lounging in my lap or sitting in front of the computer screen. 

Ollie and I wish you all a wonderful new year.  Happy writing!

December 13, 2013

Finding Experts

Have you ever wanted to write a nonfiction piece, but decided against it because you'd have to get an expert review?  Don't let that stop you.  Finding an expert is easy.

Go online and do a Google search by typing:  research and the name of your topic.       For instance, if you wanted to find an expert on the topic of leeches, type:  "research and leeches."  Often times, you'll find a link that will take you directly to a researcher's website.  You can also check out college directories and take a look at professors' studies.  In both cases, you will usually have access to a phone number or an email so that you may contact them. 

Before you contact an expert however, be sure to read his/her research first.  Then, send an email in which you mention the topic of your article and where the piece will be submitted.  Then politely ask for the expert to review the article.  Add that you will give credit for his/her expertise.  Even if the expert may not be available to provide you with a review, many times they may recommend someone else who is equally qualified.  
Always aim to get an expert review when you write nonfiction.  Here's why:

* Experts assure accuracy.  They can spot mistakes or misrepresented facts. 
* Experts can answer questions you may have about their research. 
* Experts may explain advanced concepts in simple terms, so that you can help kids to      understand more easily. 
* Experts may even lend fabulous quotes or anecdotes that you can add to your piece.  

Editors will strongly consider an article reviewed by an expert over one that hasn't. 
They know that experts lend credibility to your work.  So, don't let the fear of finding an expert hold you back from writing nonfiction.  From my experience, you would be surprised how many experts are more than willing to lend a helping hand.   

December 7, 2013

43,000 words

Last winter, I registered for a MG/YA webinar taught by literary agent Mary Kole.  Having already taken a picture book webinar taught by Mary and being curious about writing for an older audience, I thought this online class would be perfect.  And it was.  After taking the class, I became interested in writing for this genre.

Though Mary offered a 500-word critique as a part of the webinar, I could not decide whether to submit.  After all, I had only written picture books.  But as time drew closer to the deadline, I realized it was an opportunity to have my work evaluated by a well-respected agent.  So, I wrote the first two chapters of a story which was based on actual events that took place in my life many years ago. 

Weeks later when I received the critique, Mary pointed out that she liked the voice and the images.  This inspired me and spurred me on, but still I did not know what I was getting into.  I’m a picture book writer, you know, books that are well under 1000 words. Middle grade novels were at the very least 15,000 words! 

And that was scary.  So, I started by planning the story in my head, daydreaming about my main character and her unusual quest.  As the plot became more apparent to me, I made notes on index cards to flesh out each chapter and then arranged the cards in the sequence in which to tell the story.  When the chief details and scenes were finished, I had close to 30 cards. I figured I could write 500-word chapters.  Then I did the math:  500 words x 30 cards = 15,000 words.  Now this goal was achievable.    

When I began to write the chapters, more characters popped up (more than I had realized were necessary to the story).  Those characters took control and showed me how they would handle a situation (often much different than I had imagined).  Hence, the plot became layered with subplots and twists.  Thus, more note cards!  In the end, my novel weighed in at a hefty 43,000 words—which still blows me away! 

So, even if you’re a picture book writer, never let word count scare you about writing a children's novel.  If you’re curious about MG or YA, take a class, a webinar, and read books to get a feel for writing for an older audience.  Armed with knowledge, you’ll have the basic tools to get you going.  Keep in mind that middle grade can run as little as 15,000 words, but tends to run 30,000 – 60,000 on the average.  So, use note cards to give you the confidence to help plan your story.  Before long, you will find that the unthinkable journey of writing 15,000 words or more will become an achievable reality.

December 2, 2013

A Perfect Writing Day

One morning, I sat in front of the computer with the goal of editing a nonfiction piece.  All it needed was minor revision.  But, my brain was not engaged.  I could feel the onset of a migraine.  Migraines are known to produce foggy thinking, and this was living proof. What should have been an easy project became an unfinished project.  This revision was going nowhere.  Luckily, I realized that instead of continuing and getting more frustrated, I needed to take migraine medicine and move away from the computer.  Far away.  It was time to take a walk.  Clear the muddiness that had settled in my brain.  

The day was chilly—jacket weather, but sunny and inviting.  Wet oak leaves matted the sidewalk in clumps. Boxwood shrubs released their earthy scent and whipped it into the breeze. Squirrels chased up trees.  A stray cat scurried into the street and stole away in a whisper.  Then, moments of pure quiet.  No thoughts of writing.  

Twenty minutes later, I stepped to our front walkway feeling relaxed and more refreshed. When I returned to the computer, I opened my email.  There waiting was an offer to teach a class on writing for children's magazines at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning.  What an honor. Sweet!

Now glowing because of the email, I thought about editing that nonfiction piece.  Naw, I opted to plunge to work on a fictional piece.  And good thing.  My muse was present and pushing me like never before, guiding me with word choice and sentence structure along the path of creativity.  I worked at a dizzying speed, trying to keep up with all of her suggestions.  Then, I returned to the nonfiction piece.  And that too, became easier to edit.  My muse did not let me down and she remained to steer me through the entire editing process.      

So what was it that led to such a successful writing day?  The exciting email was a nice touch (so was getting rid of a headache), but I think it was because of being outside. Moving away from the computer and getting in touch with nature cleared the cobwebs from my mind.  It helped set the stage for a perfect writing day. 

November 25, 2013

Attention Span and Word Count

You probably know that most children have short attention spans.  When I volunteer to read in the Children's Garden at The University of Kentucky Arboretum, this becomes amazingly apparent.  Kids fidget. They wiggle. They wander.  Though they usually stay tuned in to the first book, they start to lose interest by the second.  I try to engage them in the story by bringing the book physically closer to their faces and by becoming more animated in reading.  Regardless, some still become distracted.

We should think about attention span when we write for children.  That's why Kid's Imagination Train magazine has set a limit to 500 words for fiction and nonfiction. We want kids to stay interested.  We know that while young children love to hear stories, they must not be too long. 

But...some writers like to push the limit.  They submit pieces that go well beyond the word count.  Maybe they think an editor would not notice or would not mind a piece that runs a couple of hundred words longer. However, magazine editors do notice.  They care about the length of submissions.  Some editors can't publish longer pieces—they simply do not have the space.  While KIT has the room for longer stories or articles, a piece that goes over word count has to be exceptional.  Specifically, a longer piece has to be totally engaging and fast paced.

Most publications request that word count be listed on the first page of your manuscript. So why take the chance of submitting a piece that exceeds word count?  All an editor has to do is merely glance at the length of your story before reading it and cringe or worse, send a rejection. When she sees that you've stretched the word count, she may be thinking:  what other guidelines has this author failed to observe? 

In most cases, it is in your best interest to follow the suggested word count as specified in the guidelines. Since older children are capable of longer periods of attention, word count is usually longer.  But when you write for young children, stories and articles must be short.  And this can be challenging, but not impossible. You've got to be frugal with the words you use. You must treat them as a precious component. You must make each and every word count.  When you keep your word count to a minimum, the benefit is worth it. You will succeed in keeping a young audience engrossed and actively engaged.  

November 18, 2013

The Three Steps of Editing

I’ve touched on this subject before, but it bears repeating.  Before you submit work to an editor, it should be reviewed and then edited.  When I get fiction submissions for Kid's Imagination Train that lack conflict or have so much dialogue that the plot fails to move forward, I can guarantee that the writer did not edit her work. The same goes for poetry.  If a poem lacks perfect rhyme or the meter is off, I willing to bet the piece wasn't edited. 

There are three easy steps to editing:
The first step is to read your work aloud.  Come on.  No one is looking or listening.  Read what you’ve written.  How is the pace?  Does it drag in parts or does it move along like a flowing stream?  Have you chosen the perfect words or do you stumble on a few?  Is the rhythm of a poem consistent or is it choppy?   

The second step is to find someone you trust—a good friend, a spouse, an office mate, anyone who you feel would give you an honest opinion.  Listen to what they suggest.  You don’t have to follow all of their suggestions, but at least consider them.  Try them out in a revision to see if your story or article reads better. 

The third step is making the necessary changes to improve your work.  Getting an article, story, or poem right the first time is nearly impossible.  So consider putting the manuscript aside for a few days and reading it again with fresh eyes.  Then when you return to it, tweak it.  It may take multiple drafts to come up with a piece that is ready for submission.

Reading your work aloud, having someone else proof your work, and editing your work pays off.  You’ll end up with a better story or a fabulous poem.  Failure to do so will more than likely win you a rejection.  Editors have an uncanny sense of knowing if your work has been reviewed and revised.  Don’t even think you can submit without editing.  You can't fool them.  

So why take the chance of having an editor reject your work?  If you put the time to create and write for children, then take a little more time to make it the best it can be. 

November 11, 2013


Her envelopes came once a week, addressed to Jim and Randi Mrvos—our names beautifully crafted in cursive.  Hers was the kind of penmanship that would have earned an A+ in school. Though the envelopes contained bills for the services she had provided in the care of my mother-in-law, there was something special in seeing our names so beautifully written as if an artist had painted them with a brush. 

But now…there will be no more envelopes displaying that elegant flourish and flair.  Just like that, in a blink of an eye Becky is gone.  I didn’t know her well, only through business, but she ran a top-notch service that we still heavily rely upon.  Following a routine surgery, Becky passed away two days later after contracting a deadly infection. It’s so hard to believe.  Jim and I were speechless when we learned the news. 

Why do I share this?  First of all, I share because words are powerful and can touch others emotionally. Secondly, her untimely death is a reminder to never put off anything like telling people that you love them, reading a book you’ve always wanted to read or taking a class you’ve always wanted to take.  It means writing that story, that article, that novel you’ve always said you’d write—but haven’t.  It’s up to you how you plan to do the things in your life.  But remember, there are no certainties. Ever. 

Someone else will take over the business and Jim and I will still receive weekly envelopes stuffed with a bill.  But it will be different now.  The handwriting will change. Maybe the envelopes will even be typed.  Who knows?  What I do know is that the gorgeous handwriting is forever gone—a beautiful style that only Becky could create.