Thursday, December 29, 2016

Caption This

Our writing break is nearly over!

To get all our brains functioning again after the Great Holiday Sugar Rush, caption these photo and share with us.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Winter Wonderland

Since we're taking a short break during the Holidays, we'd like to share a few photos of wonderful winter. We'll be back in writing mode on January 2.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Happy Holidays from the Grog!

The GROG members would like to thank each of you for joining us on this journey. We look forward to celebrating more writing with you in 2017!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Some Tips for Organizing Your Writing and Research

By Leslie Colin Tribble

Many of us are writing nonfiction, whether for picture books, middle grades or even lengthier YA books. Nonfiction involves research and lots of it, even for a 1000 word picture book. I've been trying to organize all the research for all my stories and realize I'm probably not doing a very good job. An old manila folder with scraps of paper hanging out might make me "feel" like I'm doing all this fabulous research, but when I go to find that little tidbit that'll make the story sing it takes me forever and I get frustrated. There must be a better way.

Since I'm not the most clever or creative individual, I reached out to others who are.

I asked, "How do you organize your research? Do you primarily use computer files? Hard copy files? Manila envelopes in a filing cabinet or boxes under the bed? What do you do with hard copy pages of critiques? Do you use Evernote or Scrivener or just MS Word? How do you keep track of your bibliography - Easy Bib, or your own technique? Do use you a hard drive backup for your computer/writing? How often do you backup?" 

Writers are nothing if not generous and helpful and the replies were just as instructive as I hoped. And I realized what a total slacker I am when it comes to research. Good thing I'm writing this post, because I need the help! But maybe you will also find a nugget of wisdom to help organize your writing life.

In response to my query, most writers responded that they use a mixture of paper plus computer files. I do prefer pen and paper except for actual composition, so that made me feel better.

When it comes to research, several writers said they use index cards. I loved this - let's hear it for the lowly 3x5 index card in our modern age! Make sure to put the resource title, page number and URL if appropriate on the cards. Some writers then store these cards in a box while others often type the info into a computer file. Others lay them on the floor and rearrange the information according to the flow of the story. My dogs and cats love when I work on the floor, so this probably won't work for me!

Index cards were also mentioned being used when writing manuscript drafts. Each card is a page of a picture book that can be easily arranged and moved about on the floor. I thought this was a good way to improvise a picture book dummy.

One writer said she takes the information from her index cards and then types, cuts and pastes them into a Word document so all the information from one source is in the same file. Then these separate resources are again cut and pasted into another document according to subject or topic.

For my research, I lean more toward spiral notebooks. At first all research, notes for webinars, classes, and conferences went into one notebook but that became unmanageable. Now I've got a spiral for each manuscript. If I copy pages from websites or books I staple the pages into the spiral so everything stays together. And yes, I'm first in line at back to school sales when the spirals cost a mere quarter!

Scrivener was mentioned as one way of recording research, as was Evernote. Both these resources are used by many writers, but I am not familiar with either. Maybe that's a topic for another post.

Research can also involve other resources that don't fit onto an index card or in a computer file. Pamphlets from places you've visited, photos, and memorabilia all need to be kept somewhere and it seems that many writers use cardboard or plastic filing boxes. Magazine holders were often mentioned as well - one holder per work in progress. Clear plastic sleeves are handy for organizing information within the magazine holder.

Right now I keep my info in manila folders organized in hanging files in my file cabinet. But I don't see them - out of sight, out of mind. Maybe magazine holders lined up like writing soldiers on a shelf on my bookcase would prompt me to continue working on my manuscripts. One writer mentioned she keeps colorful file folders which are then kept in a wicker tote. There isn't any reason why organization has to be dull and utilitarian!

Easy Bib got several mentions as a way to keep a bibliography, others simply use a Word document. Footnotes are easily created in Scrivener.

I found that many writers make hard copies of critiques which then go into the manuscript folder or within a plastic sleeve to be filed inside the magazine holder. One writer merges all her critiques into one document which is printed out on a legal size piece of paper to be filed with the story. Few writers it seemed keep critique comments on their computers.

For keeping track of submissions and responses, one writer keeps dated copies of the submission, dated revisions and dated correspondence. Rejection letters are printed out (accompanied by heavy sighs) and filed with the story. Another writer notes submission information on the inside of the manila folder. She creates a grid with where she's sent the manuscript, the date and any responses. This information is also cross-referenced with an index card file. Whew! Now that's organization!

I fail abysmally with backing up my computer files - especially seeing how religiously others complete this task. Several responders said they back up weekly, another said every two weeks, while others do it whenever their computer tells them to. Many folks use an external hard drive, others back up to dedicated flash drives (one for magazine articles, one for books, etc.). Other options mentioned included Scrivener which frequently and automatically backs up, Drop Box (also self-maintaining) and Carbonite "for constant effortless backup." I really have to get better at this especially since I have thousands of photos which I use in much of my writing. I'd also be horrified if I lost any of my writing so backing up on a regular basis must become habit.

The art of organization is as individual as the writer. It's a trial and error process to see what will eventually work for you. Let us know what tips and tricks help you stay organized.

Please note: The GROG is taking a break from December 19 to January 2 in order to celebrate with family and friends. We wish each of our wonderful readers the gifts of magic, beauty, love and laughter.  See you in 2017!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Let's Wait: In Praise of Patience by Kathy Halsey

If you know me, you know I'm an "all in" "let's do it it now" kind of gal. Yet, lately, I've had to practice patience. I'm waiting out my shingles virus. I'm waiting for kitchen/bathroom construction to be done. I'm waiting for calm so I can clear my head of distractions and write. I'm not good at waiting, yet 'tis the season. We wait for the holidays, for  sunlight, for solstice, for a change of seasons, for another year. 

As writers, sooner or later we will need the gift of patience and the fortitude to wait. We wait for submissions, we wait for an agent, we wait for a manuscript to ripen so we have fresh eyes. Today, I offer you some quotes and inspiration on this crucial skill. 

One of my favorite books while in college was SIDDARTHA by Herman Hesse. There was a time when I knew much of it by heart. I remembered that Siddartha could conquer obstacles by perfecting these skills: thinking, fasting, and waiting. 

“When someone is seeking,” said Siddartha, “It happens quite easily that he only sees the thing that he is seeking; that he is unable to find anything, unable to absorb anything, because he is only thinking of the thing he is seeking, because he has a goal, because he is obsessed with his goal. Seeking means: to have a goal; but finding means: to be free, to be receptive, to have no goal."
― Hermann HesseSiddhartha

To me, Hesse here is describing the writer's ultimate goal, publication. But if that is all we see, we may miss the fruits of the journey: friendships formed with other writers, connections that are established in the interim, finding our voice, and knowing our craft.

The brilliant Paul Coelho, a Brazilian lyricist and author of THE ALCHEMIST, another newer treasured book, said this: "Life was always a matter of waiting for the right moment to act."
Sometimes we jump too soon. Wait for four to six polished stories  before seeking your dream agent. Sit still with your story and see what rises to the top to find your theme. Research some more to find the riveting story in your nonfiction. 

Finally, here are a two posts about patience, waiting, and the writer's life:

Patience Is a Writer's Most Important Virtue - Jeff Goins

So I've Been Thinking - Janet Reid

What books, blogs, or quotes help you find patience as a writer? I am waiting for them in the comment section. 

Monday, December 12, 2016

A Vicarious Look at #NCTE16

A Vicarious Look at #NCTE16

by J.G. Annino

Are you busy enough?

                                                  Copyright 2016 JanGodown Annino

When you come in for a landing from your Holiday
prep for a spot of tea and honey,
perhaps you will look at your
2017 To Do Writing Work List.

You've done that. Congrats!

on that starred list. This link for one just above
leads to a fetching MG mystery opportunity.
Or, you've done that. YAY! (You could go back.)

Perhaps a NCTE convention is boldy underlined on that list.
HuH? What is NCTE?

If you are a teacher & you are find your way to this blog &
this post,you likely know of or even belong to,
the National Council of Teachers of English.
If you are a very very successful children's author, you know NCTE
because you've been invited to this collection of kids' book nerds.
Recently the National Council of Teacher's of English, founded in
December 1911, staged its annual love-in event for literature.

Some of my friends attended from hither & yon. I have only been able
to peek at some columns/blogs/articles about the energy & ideas
shared at this conference.
Here are some highlights from one article.

"Err on the side of love,

Amplify the light.

Hold the space for children to enter in.

Words are bridges.

Develop our empathy muscle as the reflex response.

When we provide poems in our classroom, we get to the heart of our children."

The wise guidelines (above) are from participants in a 
Writing for a Better World Panel.

Ideas also poured out from the Risking Writing panel, in which writers demonstrated
writing in front of their audience, on the spot.

Picture Book author Laura Purdie Salas  shares from that.

A great way to armchair visit with the NCTE is to see a list of top
2016 books featured at the award luncheon. I was so pleased to
find that poet Marilyn Nelson received top honors. As it turns
out, I had just carried home from our library, one of the honor
books in the top 2016 nonfiction list announced at  #NCTE16.
It is COMICS CONFIDENTIAL, by Leonard Marcus. I think I'll
be providing an article on it here; the interviews with the talented
author-illustrators are illuminating whether you have ever read
a graphic novel or one of the new comics for younger readers,
or not.

And School Library Journal, which so recently featured
our Group Blog's astounding maker king, Todd Burleson,
was there to interview book creators, for later articles,
including Florida's own Donna Gephart! Yay, D.G.

Finally, a spot-on view into the conference for me is
from editor/anthologist Sylvia Vardell. 
Her NCTE wrap up coincides with my dwelling with
novels-in-verse. I have tidied up & sailed on
as I can at this point in wiggles & giggles
of two picture book manuscripts & I am again living
with the tough times of my novel character, Pru, in her MG
abolition story. (Thank you to G.B./novel-in-verse pal
Marcie Atkins for this S.V. post alert.)

My sense from the #NCTE16 pieces that I've read is that each
& every author who attends is wildly enthusiastic about writing for
young readers, as are the educators. I feel that energy just from
reading their reports.

Appreciations to NCTE for collecting thousands of educators who
link young readers to great new books & also to the keepers among
the past classics such as Shakespeare & many many others.
p.s. in the bumble bee photo at the top, if you look to the far right, you can see
a bee coming in for a landing, which I know is how some of us feel right about
now, a bit beelated & beehind.
(hopefully spell wrecker lets me keep the extra e in each word.

As this is my last post in 2016 at Group Blog,  I am sending smiles to you
all in appreciation of your 2016 articles. The tips & energy & love for
our young readers that I find here are so nourishing. Thank  you!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

An Amazing Author ~By Suzy Leopold

Today I want to share a book recommendation for all writers. This book is categorized fiction-technique-juvenile literature. Written with children in mind, I found this book to be an excellent read for adult writers. 

Are you ready for a little fun? Here are five clues about the author of today's book recommendation. Here we go!

The author of this book:

  • Was a Reading teacher for 20 years.
  • At the age of 40 she began a writing career. She is now 81 years young.
  • She is an author of many highly acclaimed books for children. She has written more than 90 children's books that include two Newbery Honor award books.
  • "Don't fool with me, or you're going to appear in a book," she told her husband Jim. And sure enough he is.
  • Together with her children, Ali, Jim and Bill, the family opened a bookstore called Dinosaur's Paw in 1990.
Do you need some more clues? Let's see . . . 
  • This amazing author has written across genres that include picture books, novels, nonfiction and several series. 
  • She claims, "I have no special talent. I never took a writing course before I began to write.
  • And here's the final clue . . . Her initials are PRG.
Did you guess Patricia Reilly Giff?

Well, you are correct! Hip, hip, hooray for you!

And here is the recently published chapter book on the craft of writing:

By Patricia Reilly Giff
A Holiday House Book
Ages 8-12 [Don't let this stop you!]
73 pages
34 chapters

Patricia Reilly Giff and her rambunctious golden retriever, Rosie share the process of writing fiction that includes tips and step by step specific examples from many of her previously written books.

Mrs. Giff talks about a little of this and a little of that to make the page of a book right. The just right story blends action, dialogue and description.

Chapter 21
And she goes on to say:
"First you take a person.
Put him in a place.
Give him a problem.
Make him move [That's the action.]
Make him talk. [That's the dialogue.]
Make him worry about the problem.
Let the problem get worse and worse.
And in the end . . . 
You know what to do!
Go for it!"

Time for you to check out the book. Happy reading and writing.

For more about Patricia Reilly Giff check out this link on Book Browse or this biography on Scholastic.
About the Author

Monday, December 5, 2016

Rosi Hollinbeck Reviews Books

by Sue Heavenrich

Rosi Hollinbeck loves words. A retired high school English teacher, she's continuing to follow her passion by reviewing books. Her reviews are published in the San Francisco Book Review and the Manhattan Book Review as well as her blog, The Write Stuff.

"These aren't paying jobs," she says; she does it for the books. The reviewing gig started when a friend suggested she contact the San Francisco Book Review. They were looking for contributors. That was five years ago, and she's still going strong. Rosi reviews some picture books, mostly middle-grade novels, and some YA. She chooses the books she reviews, and is committed to giving an honest assessment of how the books speak to her.

"I see my role as someone who tells the truth about the books," Rosi says. She's not out to sell a book, but to let potential readers know what the story's all about and her impressions. "And there's the discipline of it - the reviews have to be succinct and get to the heart of the book immediately." Rosi's reviews are limited to 200 words - except for reviews she posts on her blog.

When she's reviewing a book, she reads it like... a reader would. She might stick page-markers where a particular passage exhibits excellent writing - something she wants to cite in her review. She'll read through picture books two or three times; novels are so long that she reads them once - and then sits down immediately to jot down her notes.

Rosi considers a lot of things when she reviews a book:
  • is it something a kid would like to read?
  • will it enrich their lives?
  • will they be exposed to good writing?
"I want the book to contain terrific storytelling," says Rosi. "I want it to have reliable characters, with flaws. I like to see some kind of redemption or growth at the end - otherwise what's the point?"

Before choosing a book, Rosi does her homework. When she gets a a list of titles to choose from, she begins by looking for authors she's familiar with. She also looks at the titles - and if one captures her interest she'll read a synopsis about it. She looks at page count; a 500-page fantasy is too long for her - plus she's more interested in historical fiction and contemporary novels.

"I also read a lot of blogs - about 30 a week - and sometimes I see a book that interests me, so I'll ask for a review copy," says Rosi.

Reviewers are subjective - and Rosi hopes people reading book reviews keep that in mind. Even when she ends up with a book that just doesn't resonate with her she tries to find something good to say about it. 

When she's not reviewing books, Rosi is writing them. She's had stories published in Highlights and High Five magazines, and a rhyming story in the anthology, Fifty Funny Poems for Children published in the U.K. Now she's beginning to submit her picture book manuscripts - and a novel. "Plus I'm working on my second novel," she adds.

Rosi's advice for people who want to review books: start by contacting publications where books are reviewed. It might be the San Francisco Book Review, or perhaps a local paper has a book review section. "You can review for Goodreads and Amazon," she adds, "or even start a blog." As for earning money doing it? Mostly you get "paid" in the books you get. You can find out more about Rosi here.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The 12 Days of Christmas in Kentucky with Evelyn Christensen--by Tina Cho

I'm so happy to have my good friend, Evelyn Christensen and her debut picture book, The Twelve Days of Christmas in Kentucky, on the blog! Welcome back, Ev! (To see a previous interview with Ev, check here.)

Evelyn Christensen

Could you tell the Grog readers how you landed the contract to write this book?

This is definitely one of those ‘don’t give up hope’ stories. I used to belong to a wonderful, online picture book critique group with Tina. Our group moderator at the time was Nancy Sanders. Nancy, a very successful children’s author herself, is incredibly generous in trying to help other authors be successful. About seven years ago, she shared with our group that Sterling was doing a Christmas state PB series. She thought it would be fun if all of us queried Sterling about authoring one of the books, so I queried about Kentucky. I got no response. For more than five years. Crickets. I had long since written that venture off as one of the many things we writers do in this authoring business that don’t bear fruit. Then, just before Christmas in 2014, I got an email—“I know this will be a bolt out of the blue, but do you remember writing a letter to me....” It was the editor saying they were ready to do Kentucky and asking if I wanted to ‘audition’ to be the author by writing a sample page for the book. Of course, I wanted to! I wrote my sample, and several months later was delighted to hear I had been chosen from among all those auditioning.

Did you have to do much research?

Yes. I did online research, book research, telephone and email research, and actually visiting locations. I wanted to be able to do more visits and go to all the places I wrote about, but the tight timeline the publisher gave me simply did not allow that.

Christmas in Kentucky

How did you decide what special Kentucky places and people to include?

That was hard, because our state has so many wonderful places and people. The publisher had some constraints for the series that guided some of my decisions. For example, all the places the children in the book visited had to be places that could actually be visited during the Christmas season. That cut out a lot of our fun state parks, which are closed in the winter or have very limited activities. The children’s itinerary also had to be ‘doable’ in the time frame described, because, as my editor said, some people use these books as travel guides. So I had to calculate mileage between sites and travel time. I also needed to pick activities that were in as broad a range of places in our state as possible, so the whole state would feel represented.

I was really glad for the bulletin board at the end of the book, where I could include lots of the special places and people in Kentucky that I didn’t have space for in the twelve days.

How long did it take to write the book?

As I said, the publisher had a pretty tight schedule for the book. I had one month to decide on the itinerary and all the gifts Marybeth was giving to her visiting cousin Martin. This had to be approved by the editor. Then I had one month to write the letters, decide on the bulletin board items, write the back matter, and write detailed illustration notes with online links to the places being visited. 

Handmade stockings

Did you have to do many revisions?

Not many revisions to the text. Mostly just line edit sorts of things. One funny example of that—I had referred to a basketball ‘goal.’ The editor changed it to ‘hoop.’ That just didn’t sound right to me, so I asked on the SCBWI Blueboard. Turns out most people do call it a ‘hoop.’ But we don’t in Kentucky. I told my editor, if we want universality we’ll go with ‘hoop,’ but if we want to be true to Kentucky, we’ll leave it ‘goal.’ She loved the variation and ended up including both in the text.

I did do several revisions on the itinerary and gift list. I didn’t want the kids to spend so much time traveling to western Kentucky, and had planned for a friend to visit from there and share with them about quilts and the museum. But my editor felt it was important for them to go there, so that necessitated rearranging a lot of the plans.

What has been a special moment for you in the writing of this book?

A very surprising moment had to do with the Newport Aquarium. I had decided from the beginning that I didn’t want to focus on things that were just commercially fun or special. I wanted everything to have a tie in with Kentucky. At first, that ruled out the aquarium, but then I thought, “Oh, I can have the kids see the Kentucky state fish there.” Since my editors had said everything had to be factual, I emailed the aquarium to make sure they had the state fish. They didn’t. BUT—they said they would stock it just so my book could include it! I thought that was really cool.

Christmas in Kentucky: The real meaning

What's your plan for marketing? Does the publisher help?

This has been a totally different experience for me from writing educational puzzle books, which required no marketing. Since the book came out in October and is a seasonal book, the marketing has been jam-packed into just a few weeks. I’ve had 5 book signings, with 3 more scheduled; 3 blog interviews; a Goodreads giveaway; articles/book reviews in print and online state newspapers/magazines, and, of course, I’ve been using Facebook and Twitter.

Publisher help? My Sterling publicist set up the Goodreads give-away and the four out-of-town book signings. The Marketing Team did a great job of creating an Activity Kit to go with the book that included five puzzles I sent them. ( They also designed very attractive cards with ordering information on the back that I can give out to managers of gift shops and bookstores when I visit them.

Christmas in Kentucky

What’s it like to have your first picture book published?

It’s been a wonderful experience! People have been amazingly enthusiastic about the book and so encouraging and supportive. I think a large part of it is that it’s not about me. It’s that the book is about their beloved state. And they want to share what’s special about Kentucky with the children in their lives. I handed a signed copy to one friend who’d gotten it for her out-of-state grandchildren, and when she read the inscription, she whispered, “Perfect!” and hugged it to her with tears in her eyes. I’d written, “Hoping this helps you to cherish your Kentucky roots.”

What are you working on now?

Mainly, marketing this book. I did just sign a contract with an ESL publisher for a chapter book. They’ve asked for other books from me, so I’m cogitating on that. I’m also trying to digitally format more of my out-of-print puzzle books so I can make them available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. (

"On the 5th day of Christmas, my cousin gave to me....5 golden bars..."

For fun:

Favorite color: yellow
Food: Turtles (chocolate, caramel, pecans)
Children’s author: Dr. Seuss
Children’s book: The Cat in the Hat

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
New Zealand, because lots of my family have visited there and it sounds beautiful!

A former teacher with a doctorate in education, Ev loves to make learning fun for kids. She has designed several math games and authored more than 40 educational puzzle books. She’s also editor of the ezine Writing for Children’s Magazines. Ev lives with her husband Ralph (who’s always been super supportive of her writing career) in Lexington, KY and delights in playing with her five pre-school grandchildren.