Happy Thanksgiving 2016

Every single day, I try to be aware of all that I have to be grateful for. But sometimes, like everyone else, I forget. Sometimes, it takes a story to remind me. This week, A LONG WALK TO WATER by Linda Sue Park reminded me of just how very fortunate I am.

Linda Sue Park is the Newberry Award winning author of A SINGLE SHARD, a writer who knows how to bring a story to life. In THE LONG WALK TO WATER, she tells the true story of Salva Dut, a Syrian refugee who now makes his home in my hometown of Rochester, NY. If you haven’t already read this moving story, I highly recommend that you do. It’s a story of hope and courage and perseverance—a story that will make you want to reach out and help those in need…and very grateful for the life full of freedom, food, clothing, and water that you have.

In that spirit, I hope we all can realize just how fortunate we are.

I’m so grateful to have the love of my family; grateful that we’re healthy and able to pursue our dreams; grateful that we have things many consider to be a luxury, like food, shelter, clothing, and clean drinking water; grateful for friends who have stood by me no matter what; grateful for this amazing writing community, and grateful for each day I get to write.

To those of you celebrating, I wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving! I’m so thankful to have each of you in my life too. 🙂 To those of you struggling, I hope you can read Salva’s story and know that if you have hope, you have all you need.

Be well. Have a wonderful week, and as always thanks for stopping by! I’ll be checking in with you again soon!

Jackie ❤

 

Cringe-worthy Writing Mistakes

A few weeks ago, I spent an unplanned evening with my husband and kids (even the one away at college!) watching a movie. A chill-out night was just what we all needed. We snuggled under blankets, lit some candles, ate some snacks, and watched a movie we had seen more times than we can count—one of our favorites, National Treasure.

After a busy few months of sports and work and school and stuff, it was a fantastic night full of laughs and reconnecting. One of the scenes in the movie is shot in the United State Library of Congress, and of course my sixteen year-old son had to take the opportunity to remind me of one of my most cringe-worthy writing mistakes ever.

“Hey Mom, didn’t you send your first book to the Library Of Congress?”

“Yeah,” my daughter chimed in. “Didn’t you get it copy-written or something?”

I felt a wave of my writer’s past wash over me.

“Um, yes. Yes, I did.”

And then we all burst out laughing. No one harder than me.

We’ve all made rookie writing mistakes in the hope of one day getting published. I’ve had my fair share of them, that’s for sure. But this one was my first and most memorable. If I had only known back then that there was no need to get a copyright on my manuscript, I could have saved the $42 filing fee and all the time it took to file the paperwork. But more importantly, I would have realized that I have all legal claim to my manuscript simply because I wrote it. No one is going to try to steal an unknown, unpublished author’s poorly plotted, and poorly written middle grade manuscript. They really aren’t. Besides, that’s the publisher’s job and when the time is right, they will be the one to file the copyright paperwork for me. And I won’t even have to pay the $42! Most of all though, if I do ever have a book filed away in the Library of Congress, it will be a bit better written and a lot better plotted than that first manuscript ever was! But someday will I go to the Library of Congress to find my first little book? Um, yeah. Of course, I will!

And then there was that time, 5 months after I wrote my first middle grade book, when I attended the Rochester Children’s Book Festival. I was in awe of all the authors there and wanted to immerse myself in all their authorly glory as they signed books and interacted with kids- hundreds of kids.

Of course I had to walk up to a very well known children’s author and tell her I was a writer. Of course I had to tell her I was hoping to get an agent. And of course she looked at me with a blank stare and said nothing. I’m not kidding. She said nothing! No response at all. So I started babbling about how great her books were (I hadn’t read any of them!) and asked how long she had been writing. Our conversation turned somewhat normal after that but still I walked away wondering why in the world she didn’t take me under her wing and guide me along the publishing path. When what I really needed at that point was for someone to put me out of my misery. And tell me I had a lot to learn.

Boy did I have a lot to learn!

We’ve all made these mistakes, but we get over them and move on. We do all the things we need to do to help us reach that elusive goal. We read books in our genre. We read books on writing craft. We devour writing websites and interviews of authors who’ve made the same mistakes we have and lived to tell about them. We connect with amazing CP’s and put our work out there. And we write, write, write.

But leave it to those closest to us (hey, family!) to remind us of our mistakes, and that they still love us anyway in spite of them. So no matter what blunders you’ve made, they can’t be that bad. And we’d REALLY love to hear about them. Come on, fess up! I can’t be the only one who gave her first manuscript to every kid in the neighborhood—positive that their feedback alone will prove her stuff is better than JK Rowlings, right?

Really? No one? No one?

In spite of our cringe- worthy writing moments, it’s fun to think back on our writing journeys. It helps us to see how far we’ve come.

Thanks for reading today… and not judging me too harshly. 🙂

Have a great week everyone!

Jackie ❤

Meet JD Burns!

Our Writers Around the World series is underway, where we’re catching up with writers from all over the place. Today, I’m happy to introduce you to a great guy and talented writer, JD Burnes.

Hi JD, thank you so much for helping me kick off this series. So…first things first. Can you share us what name you prefer to go by?

Hi there, Jackie.  Thanks so much for having me. But where’s the snacks? I’m a serious chocolate junkie, you know. Serious chocolate junkie. Anyway, getting back the question, I’m Joe, and I go by JD Burns in my writing and on twitter.

I had no idea chocolate was such a thing for you! (Psst. Readers, remember that for when JD’s first book gets published one day and you’re looking for ways to show how much you love it!) Anyway…Where are you originally from and where do you live now?

I grew up in a little town in Northwestern Pennsylvania and I still live in the same area.

So, how long have you been writing?

I’ve been serious about writing for the last 4 years or so. I can tell you when I first started I was woefully unprepared for the amount of work and dedication involved. Yeah, I was so ill-informed it’s not even funny. And like most writers…I’m still learning! So ask me in another 4 years and maybe by then I’ll have it figured out…or not.

What age group and genre(s) do you write in? The same one all the time or have you written in more than one?

For the most part I write Middle Grade fiction in the Fantasy and Magical Realism genres. Although I have written a few Science Fiction short stories that I am determined will never see the light of day. They’re more writing exercises for myself than anything else.

We know how important it is to read widely in the age group/genre you write for. What’s a book you read and loved??

Seriously? I have to pick just one.  How about a series? Can I get away with picking a series? I’m going to jump into the wayback machine (because I’m a really old guy) and pick the Tripod series by John Christopher. The series was written in the 60’s and it was way ahead of its time. A small group of 13 and 14 year olds take on giant three legged menaces that have overrun the world and enslaved nearly the entire adult population. What kid wouldn’t want to read that!!  When I first read the books the whole story really spoke to me. Basically, the free world’s only hope is a bunch of Middle Graders who refuse to be oppressed by their alien masters. That’s a mind-blowing concept for a boy growing up in small town America. I even remember the graphic novel adaptation of the stories that ran in the Boy’s Life magazine during the early 80’s. (Yes, I was a Boy Scout in the early 80’s…or as my son likes to say – the Stone Age).

The fact Christopher also gave a nod to the awesome H.G. Wells classic The War of the World’s didn’t hurt either. Even the writing of the series is something we don’t see these days. I’m not saying it was better writing than we have now, because you can certainly point out some weaknesses in the stories. But Christopher gave the books a voice of their own and told it in a way that makes it so engaging for young readers. Give it a read and see for yourself.

Wow, that does sound really good! With so many great books, it’s hard to resist them all–obviously. What’s a book out of your genre/age group you read and loved?

What!! Again you’re limiting me to one book. This is so tough – like trying to pick your favorite type of chocolate. Wait, maybe I can do that. Can we change the question? Can I pick my favorite kind of chocolate? Because the answer is simple:  “The kind you can eat.”

Ok, so I’m going to go way off the reservation here and pick Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Now I know some people struggle with the purple prose that is spread throughout the book. However, I fell in love with Bronte’s writing style and the story is simply magnificent. Honestly, there are passages in that book that are flat out poetry and it staggers me that someone could write so eloquently. The tragic struggle of Jane’s early life and her moral fortitude in overcoming an impossible situation as an adult make for a truly engaging read. It’s not just a love story. It’s about a person finding the strength within herself to stay true to her values and her religious beliefs, while rejecting the constraints that society tried to bind her with. This book deeply affected me and it still manages to awe me every time I read it.

I’m sure many people would agree with you on that one. 🙂

Writing is the greatest profession there is—obviously. If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to be? Don’t hold back. No limits on this one!

Oh good. Finally an easy question. This one doesn’t have a flashy answer though. No aspirations to be an astronaut or race car driver. Instead I’d chose to be a teacher. I love kids and that’s why I write for that age group. However, I probably wouldn’t pick English or Literature teacher, which is a little surprising considering how much I like to write.  I’d be a math teacher. There’s a subtle beauty to math in the way that it’s all around us and we just don’t realize it. If I had a chance to teach kids anything, it would be that.

Yes, it’s possible to like both, but which do you like better—drafting or revising? 

Another easy question. Definitely revising. Don’t get me wrong, I love the process of creating something from thin air and imagination. That’s fun. However, there is a real satisfaction in taking a story that has a good foundation and really crafting it into a book you can be proud of. During the revision process, I can see so clearly where I’ve made mistakes in voice, clarity and cadence. It’s those moments where you just shake your head and wonder: What was I thinking when I wrote that!

By the way, I consider reading for others part of the revising process as well. I’ve read and critiqued some great manuscripts for others. Honestly, this is one of the best ways to learn about critiquing your own work. I have never read someone else’s manuscript, without stopping at least once and saying: Oh wow. I love the way the author did that story element. I’m going to go back and fix my manuscript because the way I did it just looks lame by comparison. That’s a very powerful learning process.

Do you plan first or write as you go along?

I think we sometimes underestimate the discerning nature of middle grade readers. They’re much more sophisticated than we think. As a result, it takes a bit of planning to get the story to work out the way I want it to.  So I’m definitely a planner. I layout most of my scenes in a document with notes about what the purpose of that scene is. Each scene must lead to the next, or contribute to the twist at the end.  However, once I start writing there are avenues that might open up, that I hadn’t considered before. If that happens, then my carefully laid plan is suddenly laid waste…but in the end, it has to come back to the conclusion that I originally planned for the story. So a little bit of both I guess…hope that makes sense!

It sure does. In fact, I agree with you on all counts there. So, what’s your favorite day of the week?

Any day that ends in “y”.

Where do you usually write? At a desk? Outside? In the car? Be honest. Where does the magic usually happen?

I have to laugh at this. When I first read the question, all I could think of was Green Eggs and Ham by the venerable Dr. Seuss.  Will you eat them in a box? Will you eat them with a fox? Will you eat them in the rain? Will you eat them on a train?  LOL. So where will I write? Well, I’ll choose the box, the fox and the train.  The rain is out, because the ink would get wet and bleed into the page. So yeah…I’ll write just about any place that is dry and free of large predatory animals.

Are you a morning person or late night owl? What time do usually write?

Human beings really shouldn’t be allowed around me in the morning. Apparently I’m unpleasant. I don’t think it’s a “me” issue though. I’m pretty sure it’s really because everyone else is intentionally trying to be more annoying right after I wake up…at least that’s my working theory for now J.  So I’m a night owl and that’s definitely when I write.

What made you write your story in the first place?

That’s a great question. I’m not sure I’ve ever thought about that before. I think like a lot of writers, I enjoy the creative process. I don’t know that I can point to anything that specifically inspired me to write a particular story though. I enjoy writing about Middle Grade themes, which tend to be a bit more innocent than YA or adult. With MG it’s usually about forming friendships and finding your way toward maturity. I guess those would be my reasons for wanting to write the stories I do.

What’s your favorite food(s)?

I’m a big fan of authentic Chinese food. (oh yeah…and did I mention I have a serious chocolate addiction? Serious chocolate addiction.)

What’s your favorite drink to drink while writing?

Let’s just say the price of Dr. Pepper stock has a direct correlation to the times I’m writing.

Do you have any hobbies, besides writing? 

Hobbies? Does being a neurotic self-criticizer with episodes of severe inferiority count as a hobby? Oh wait, you said to pick something besides being a writer.  Uhmm…yes, I like to sleep late on the weekends. (Don’t tell me sleeping isn’t a hobby – I already mentioned the whole not-a-morning-person thing. So sleeping in is definitely a hobby as far as I’m concerned.)

Do you have a job? I mean, until your book gets published and you become independently wealthy.

I think you’re talking about those very inconvenient and frustrating stretches of time that come in-between writing. If so, then “yes” I have a job. Terrible as it is.

Tell us about your family…

I’ve been married to a wonderful woman for over twenty years and we have a fantastic 13 year old son. Funny story: When we were married, my wife said she would take care of making all the little decisions in our life, if I would be willing to handle the big ones. Well…two decades later and I’m still waiting for that first big decision to come along.

 I’m sure your family is amazing. We all know how challenging living with a writer can be! So, who’s usually your first reader(s)? 

I’ve had some great CP’s help me with my writing (***looking at you Yeager***). I don’t know that I can say I have a first reader though. Sometimes it’s my son, sometimes it’s beta readers, sometimes it’s my wife.

What has been your biggest writing accomplishment so far?

Along the way, I’ve had some things go well and I’ve had some things go not-so-well. It’s part of writing, I suppose. The most exciting thing I’ve had happen is signing with my uber-fantastic literary agent, Rebecca Angus. She’s awesome, that’s the only way to say it. But as far as biggest accomplishment, I think it’s the same for every writer. It’s when you finally type “The End.”  Even if the book doesn’t get published, it takes a tremendous amount of energy and courage to write a novel. I think I read somewhere that like 75% of people say they would like to write a book someday. Compare that to how many actually do write a book and I think that says something about the folks that have the tenacity to put pen to paper.  *** Salute to all us writers out there ***

Getting published isn’t easy. Why do you keep trying?

Hah! Getting published is easy. It’s writing that award winning best-seller that’s the sticky part.

What’s your biggest struggle when it comes to writing?

I’d say my biggest struggle is doubting myself, but I’m just not sure how I feel about that. 🙂

What’s your next step? Revising? Writing a new book? A sequel?

Uhhm….yes, yes…and yes. I’ve just finished the sequel to my latest series and now I want to go back and look at potential improvements to the first book. And of course like any writer I’m dying to start on a new story I’ve been kicking around in my head.

Do you have any advice for writers still in the query or sub trenches?

Queries are tough. Any writer who has ever tried to tackle one knows that.  However, I think it’s like any other skill. If you’re willing to learn, do a little research and work at it, you can become better. Personally, I put some time in the trenches on the Absolute Write discussion forum known fondly as Query Letter Hell. Now I’ll tell you right up front, it’s not for everyone. Some of the feedback can be a little raw and contradictory. But if you can sort the good from the bad…and take the heat…then QLH can really hone your query skills.  Another super great resource is the Query Shark. Love the snarkiness in the query critiques.

What will you do when you reach your writing goal? Who will you tell first?

If I get published, who will I tell first? Most likely the Emergency Room nurse at the hospital where they take me after I pass out.

If you could travel to any place in the world, and experience any culture (for inspiration of course!), where would that be?

Narnia….either that or whatever bizarre country it is where Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory is supposed to be.

I can’t thank you enough for taking the time out of your day to “chat.” I mean, you could have been writing or eating all the chocolate. It’s is the day after Halloween after all. You must be having the best day ever!! Good luck to you in all your writing endeavors. I’m sure this won’t be the last we hear from you. 🙂 Thanks for showing us what your writing life really looks like!

Thank you, Jackie. This was a lot of fun!

All the best,

JD Burns

If you’d like to connect with JD, you can reach him on Twitter or through his blog. I’m sure he’d love to meet up with you!

Twitter: @jdburnswrites

Blog: www.ink2burn.wordpress.com

As an added bonus…Here’s a picture of JD as a baby: How crazy cute is he??jd-burns