Monday, November 29, 2010


Happy Monday-After-Thanksgiving!  The day on which we avoid scales and pray we never see a slice of turkey again in our lives.  Also the day on which the panic over Christmas preparations sets in.

Between writing and holiday plans, I am worried about keeping up with my cyber-presence (ahem, note that tardiness of this Monday's post).  And, I've got a lot to do to get the website live by my March 1 deadline. In conversation with fellow writers and website folks, I've come to realize that a good website requires a great deal of thought and planning.  And, as I consider some of the issues which have been pointed out to me, I realize both shortcomings of this blog and things I want to do so that what I share here makes sense and connects to my main author website.  A LOT to ponder. So, to avoid feeling completely overwhelmed, I have decided to give myself a number of clear, quantifiable (e.g., I'll know when I'm finished) tasks to get this blog in maximum good shape between now and Christmas.

This week: BLOG LABELS.  I am going to go back through at least six months of blog posts and add labels so the blog is searchable.  Anyone want to join me?  Or are you all blog-efficient smarties who label as you go?  (If so, I am very jealous of you right now!)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Shopping? Hah!

Nope.  Writing.  And researching. 

I've got a couple layers of what I call texturing that I'd like to add to my new ms and I want to make sure they have the ring of authenticity.  So, after a couple of hours of writing, I hit the books.  Yeah, I know I write fiction but research is still critical to make sure the world I am writing about feels as real as it can be--that every reference, metaphor, allusion made by my characters is done in the vocabulary of their environment, informed by their interests.

In the last couple of years, I feel that my understanding of and process for revision has really evolved.  And research has been a part of this development.  The more I feel that I know what my characters know (not just about feelings or backstory, but about actual things--sports, hobbies, foods, television shows, whatever), the better I feel I can represent them on the page.

It's a time consuming step, but sometimes research can really shake a creative knot loose, too.

How do you fit research into your creative writing and/or revision process?

Friday, November 26, 2010


First, if you're in need of a few post-Thanksgiving, get-back-in-gear thoughts on writing, I'm guest blogging over at the delightful SEIZE THE DAY

Next, must admit that stuffed like a turkey am I!  With sweet potatoes and brussel sprouts and asparagus and homemade Italian bread and cookies and pie and...

(originally, this was shaped like a star but a point or two got eaten before I found my camera)
What is it?  Well, around the house, we call it "THE Jell-O Salad" because, honestly, we don't use Jell-O for anything else or any other time of year.  Family lore says my maternal grandmother added this dish to the Thanksgiving feast sometime in the 1960s.  And, here's the thing: It looks, well, kind of disgusting but it tastes DELICIOUS.  What's in it?  Admit it.  You're a little bit curious.  Here's the recipe:

Boil 2-1/3 cups water
Pour over 1 large package of LIME JELL-O and stir a good 2 minutes to dissolve
Chill Jell-O approx. 30 minutes until cool and beginning to set, remove from fridge
Beat in 3/4 cup cream cheese until cream cheese is mostly dissolved (small chunks okay--you heard it!)
Stir in 1 cup crushed pineapple  (no need to drain juice)
Fold in whip cream (1 cup heavy cream beaten to stiff peaks) AND 2/3 cup chopped walnuts
Pour into well-greased mold of your choice
Refridgerate overnight
Unmold and serve

Before you scoff, give it a try and tell me, if you ate it in a high-end restaurant (with your eyes closed so you didn't see the GREEN color), wouldn't you think it was lovely?

Where's the Writer-on-the-Side connection?  There isn't one really, except to say that on Tuesday, amazing agent emailed to say she liked the draft of my new ms and told me to keep writing.  So, I'm one stuffed-but-happy writer this week and far mellower than normal.  Relaxed enough, in fact, to take a whole THREE DAYS OFF from writing (this is VERY RARE) to, among other things, whip up THE Jell-O Salad.  So, I'll be well-fortified to get back to my writing desk tomorrow.

Do you have a somewhat disgusting but strangely fabulous holiday food tradition?  Do share!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


If you love reading the newest YA & MG novels, consider signing up for the Story Siren's third annual (and super-cool) DEBUT AUTHOR CHALLENGE.  Here's the the list of debut authors (I'm on it!) and here's how you can participate.  Check it out!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Guest Blogger Becca Puglisi on WRITERS WHO ALSO ____

Welcome to Becca Puglisi, co-host of the blogstastic The Bookshelf Muse, SCBWI member, historical fiction and fantasy writer, wife and mother.  I got in touch with Becca after hearing she'd returned to blogging after a break for that mothering thing and, as a writer-mom myself, I asked her to share some thoughts (and tips) about juggling all those hats!

Are you one of those enviable people who makes a comfortable living solely from your income as a writer? If so, this post is not for you. And you should probably be writing it instead of me.

I think most of us are better defined as Writers Who Also _____. I am a writer who is also a wife, mother of two toddlers, and active in ministry at church. As important as writing is to me, no one is starved, neglected, or endangered by mountains of dirty laundry when I don't get around to doing it. As such, writing tends to fall to the bottom of my priority list.

As I connect with more and more writers, I find that the majority of us are in the same boat. Here are a few tips I've found to stay focused on writing while not abandoning the rest of my responsibilities:

1. Prioritize

What are the priorities in your life? What things demand and deserve your attention? Make a list—yes, an actual list—and order it by importance. Everything can't carry the same weight, or you'll end up fulfilling that age-old cliché: if you try to please everyone, you'll end up pleasing no one. Or however it goes. A physical list lets you see which items absolutely must get done and which ones are more forgiving. Once you've determined where your time should be spent, schedule it out.

2. Be Flexible

I'm a scheduler. My calendar includes not only birthdays and appointments, but also which days of each week I will spend writing, dates that blog entries have to go up, and which evenings my husband and I will pray together. Seriously. Prayer Time with Spouse = Scheduled. That being said, I've found that rigidity is the biggest enemy of creativity. Make your schedule, but be flexible. If you were planning on writing during naptime but found ants parading through the closet and now you have to spend an hour calling pest control companies (hello, last Tuesday), don't sweat it. Write that evening instead, or write on one of the days you had left open for unforeseen catastrophes. Or simply write one day less that week than you had planned. Missing a day here or there does not the end of the world make.

3. Be Realistic

Know that your goals are going to take longer now to reach than they did before you had kids, or got married, or took on more responsibilities at __. You're not going to accomplish your writing goals as quickly as a full-time writer, or even many part-time writers (insert name of that writer friend you know who's in a different stage of life and can devote many hours a day to writing). But you will reach your goals if you keep moving forward. Remember the tortoise and the hare: slow and steady wins the race. I saw this on Elmo just last week, so it's clearly still relevant. Stick with it and you'll get there in your own time.

4. Don't Forget the Magic Word

Channel Nancy Reagan and Just Say No. In other words, don't over commit. Granted, situations do arise that we have to take charge of (see ants, above) or that we really should involve ourselves in (a need that you are uniquely gifted to meet and can devote time to). But if your week is already full, if you're emotionally tapped, if you know that your current responsibilities will suffer if you take on whatever new opportunity has come your way, then respectfully decline. And refuse to feel guilty about it.

Thanks Becca!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Fiction Friday: WHEN YOU REACH ME

You know a book is good when you can't put it down despite the million other things you should be doing.  Rebecca Stead's WHEN YOU REACH ME is un-put-down-able.  I tend to focus a great deal on YA these days but I loved 12-year-old Miranda's voice--so clear, so perfectly pre-teen.  Madeleine L'Engle's Newbery winning A WRINKLE IN TIME is woven artfully through Stead's (also Newbery winning) story that is at once a mystery, a musing on time travel, an impeccable rendering of  late1970s New York, and a reflection on the meaning of friendship.  Okay, I'll stop gushing.  Perhaps one of the reasons I was so impressed with this book is that Stead has crafted her second novel with such a steady (no pun intended) hand. As we know, I'm having a bit of stress with the whole next-book thing here so this, to me, is an epic accomplishment.  But, seriously, if you haven't yet, pick this one up.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Wordy Wednesday: GUTLESS WONDER

(okay, not a super-
relevant image but
pretty hilarious)
 So, my wonderful agent and I have been emailing about my new manuscript.  I've been working hard on revisions and had been planning to send her the 2.5-ish draft this past Monday.  Then, I clutched.  I've never actually send a work-in-progress to anyone besides my critique group buddies and a few trusted friends and beta readers.  I'm beginning to discover that I'm a bit of a perfectionist and the thought of my agent seeing something I don't feel is as close to perfect as I can get it is giving me a severe stomach ache (not to mention the insomnia).

I've decided my new superhero name should be "Gutless Wonder."  My previous superhero name around the house was "Vomit Girl" because I can clean up vomit or any other foul child- or pet-related substance without getting queasy.  Turns out my stomach is weaker when my writing is involved.  Ironic, huh?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Back-to-Business Monday: DEADLINES & TIMELINES

Can it possibly be just ten days until Thanksgiving?  Where did November go (not to mention October, September, and summer)?  For those of you in the midst of NaNoWriMo this year, I'm sure the time feels like it's flying even faster.  For me, I am certain it will be minutes until I blink and we're in 2011--the big year--the year my first novel will hit the shelves.  Every time I think of all there is to do before next fall, I get a little queasy.  Okay, a LOT queasy.

For decades I struggled as a writer-on-the-side, in an endless search for the time to write manuscripts and (ultimately) the courage to submit my work for publication.  Still, the timeframes were always mine to set, the deadlines internally imposed.  Now I find myself in a new place with the pressure of writing, editing, promoting, blogging, Tweeting (argh--just kind of trying this now but if you're curious, I'm @swkehoe) on deadlines coming more from the "outside world" of publishing.

Here's some good advice I've gotten from writer friends: MAKE YOURSELF A TIMELINE to help you set priorities and stay focused.  Here's mine:

NOVEMBER 24: Cook a turkey

DECEMBER 24: Get kids' presents under tree

JAUARY 1: Revisions on new ms (so close...just not THERE yet)
FEBRUARY 1: Run my long-in-the-works blog contest in which I'll write a free reading guide for the author/illustrator winner's book of choice (this one is for published/soon-to-be published writers)

MARCH 1: Have website live

I've mixed a bit of real life with the writer life stuff.  I'm also forcing myself to NOT write a word on this great new book idea I've had until AFTER the website is live.  And, I've decided that I want to run the blog contest even though there might be a bit of a time crunch.

"Sometimes it helps to just write things down," said the writer :)

What does your timeline look like?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Fiction Friday: UN-FRYING THE EGG

Why is it that I feel I'm heads-down-writing all the time?  Oh, yeah, because I am.  Weird thing is that I'm both loving it and feeling overwhelmed and afraid I'm on the verge of burn-out all the time.  In essence--I'm afraid I'm getting fried.
In the interest of keeping up this pace (which is often, between waves of despair and anxiety,quite joyful), I've decided to make a list of ways to sooth the heat, keep burnout at un-fry the creative egg.

1. A cup of hot apple cider and dark chocolate with bits of toffee in it.
2. Running on the treadmill while watching Regis (who can help admire a guy who's so old yet so much like the Energizer bunny?).
3. Showering with a ridiculously expensive body wash that has a fancy name but really just smells to me like tangerines.
4. GLEE (even the weaker episodes).
5. Reading favorite blogs and leaving comments to make sure their writers know how much I LOVE them!
6. Reading poems by Henry Taylor or Emily Dickinson.
7. Making a giant pot of soup that will last for days.
8. Surprising my kids at the bus stop with Starbucks hot chocolates and letting the conversation roll as we drive home super-slowly.
9. Singing show tunes--and sometimes through entire musicals (warning, neighbors, I am LOUD).
10. Dancing around the house in stocking feet.

How do you UNFRY?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


This past weekend was spent gearing up for another revision pass at my new manuscript.  No, not by eating too much chocolate and complaining about the evanescence of time.  I attended an SCBWI Western Washington writing retreat coordinated by the amazing Jolie Stekly

This year, Jill Santopolo, executive editor at Penguin’s Philomel Books imprint, and Nancy Mercado, executive editor at Roaring Brook Press, (both pictured below) led workshops focusing on everything from plot development to finding inspiration to using acting exercises to develop a thorough understanding of your characters.  Oh, they were also fun and occasionally pretty darn hilarious!

Other great elements of this year's retreat were the intensive, small-group peer critiques; the fun of chatting with friends old and new at KidLit Drink Night; and, of course, the yummy meals.

Along with a couple of extra pounds, I took away two important notions from the weekend:

1-It is essential to have a deep and thorough understanding of your character and, as you review your manuscript, to make sure that every plot move is honestly motivated by what that character would do (and not by where you want the story to go).

2. Even the best character development wears thin if the story--the character's WANT--isn't introduced in a timely manner.  Here is where classic plotting structure and pacing must be examined even if you consider yourself a character-driven novelist.

Now, in all honesty, these are not things I didn't already know at some level.  But it was extremely helpful to hear intelligent, thoughtful editors revisit these critical notions.  I eagerly tried all the exercises and techniques they suggested to hone these elements of my novel and was so grateful for their fresh perpectives.

A truly wonderful weekend.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Back to Business Monday: WHO USES YOUR BLOG?

A year or so ago, when I got back to blogging in earnest, I added a stat counting function. At first it was fun just to see how many hits my blog got each week (okay, I admit, at the beginning I was totally compulsive and checked the thing daily!). Anyhow, before the thrill wore off, I explored the various functions of my stat counting program and discovered I could track visitors by geography, point of entry, and even by keyword search.

Given the modest scope of my blog, I didn't look at this data with much more than curiosity. Still, when I saw many searches on "themes in HUNGER GAMES" and "titles about lies" (I did a post on the YA novels LIAR and WHAT I SAW AND HOW I LIED awhile back), I briefly wondered how many school papers might be informed by my musings. 

Anyhow, this morning on the Kidlitosphere discussion string, there was some interesting information about a cooking blogger whose article was lifted and reprinted on a cooking website. Here's the originating CNN article, if you're interested.

I began to wonder if I should be more troubled by certain searches that drive to my blog and whether this is a consideration for other bloggers.  Have you ever encountered (or worried about) the journey the web content you produce is taking? Does it affect what you write for your posts?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Fiction Friday: RETREAT, WRITER!

As you read this post, I'm likely en route to (or already at) an SCBWI weekend writing retreat. I am very excited to spend the weekend with fellow writers (and psyched to be rooming with one of my critique group pals). Honestly, having sold my first novel, I feel that it's more important than ever to keep honing my craft, to keep learning, to keep pushing to get better and better.

Hope you have a weekend full of writing inspiration.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Wordy Wednesday: COUNTING, COUNTING...

...pages and words. And, in my case, poems. It seems to take me about 220 poems to create a verse novel, give or take. As I write, I number my verses so that they're easier to discuss in the revision process (e.g., I'm thinking about deleting #94 as I think I cover much of this material in #'s 28 and 36). For me, the verse novel is very structural--a balance of narrative and thematic explorations, a mixture of long and short poems, a diversity of poetic forms--and the pacing of the poetry has got to embody both the story's meaning and its overall "meter". However, once I've gotten the whole thing pretty well structured, I take all the numbers out because they give me a headache :)

How do you keep track of your manuscript progress? Do you have an in-process format that differs from your finished product? Do you think I use too many smiley faces in my posts? :) (just teasing)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Back-to-Business Monday: BIOGRAPHY

Does writing about yourself
make you feel like this?
Ha ha ha -- you thought this was going to be an enlightening post about nonfiction, didn't you? Nope!

Last week, my editor asked me to send along an author bio for the book jacket. So, what did I do (after panicking)? I ran around my house reading every jacket bio I could lay my hands on. Then I panicked some more, wrote something mediocre, sent it to my husband, disagreed with his feedback ("honey, shouldn't you be more 'braggy'?"), rewrote said bio and sent it to my agent .

Along the way, I have discovered a personal preference for bios that are crisp, concise, and not too academic. I like knowing where an author is from and if they've got a family (nosy me!). Also cool is information on whether they have any sort of personal connection to the subject matter of their book. Funny is good. Witty is better. Then again, if you've been on the NYT best-seller list, you can kind of just write: I've written lots of other popular stuff--hope you like this one :)

Have you ever read a particularly great bit of biographical flap copy?  Share, share, share.  Please!