Posted in Literary Agents, Publishing

I Have an Agent Announcement!

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but the moments that take our breath away.

Hey Everyone,

I have news that I can finally share…

I have an agent!!!

After 8 years of writing, revising, querying, waiting, hoping, dreaming, and wishing to find the perfect Literary Agent to represent me and my middle grade work, I am thrilled to finally say…

I am now represented by the amazing Rebecca Angus of Golden Wheat Literary!

Please excuse me while I faint a little on the keyboard of my laptop. And then pinch myself, because I’m still overwhelmed and shocked that I’m not dreaming any of this. I mean 8 years, three manuscripts and loads of rejections in a supremely competitive marketplace has been my world until one week ago!

If you’re interested to read on, I’ll share with you the story of how my writing career changed in one normal day. Just one. It wasn’t too long ago that I mentioned on this blog that I’ve never dreaded Mondays the way many people do. I see each Monday as a day full of endless possibilities for the week to come. ( A little sappy, I know!) At the time though, I had no idea how true that statement would soon become for me.

My writing journey began eight years ago with a middle grade manuscript and a dream to become a published author. I whipped out an entire novel in 6 months flat and sent it out to one literary agent after another, positive that each one would be the one. If I knew then that it would actually take me three manuscripts, many more revisions, countless rejections and all this time to get to this point, I’m not sure I would have pressed on. Wow, am I glad I’m a patient person.

So how exactly did this big moment finally happen for me?

In May of 2011, I was in the process of querying my second novel. I was also fresh off a trip to the University Maryland for the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals (a creative problem solving competition) with my team of 11 year-olds. It was an unforgettable experience and I decided right then, that I needed to write a new middle grade story. Not about Odyssey of the Mind specifically but about 5 kids who embark on an unforgettable journey. What that journey would be, I wasn’t yet sure, but I knew that it had to be special. It had to be amazing. It had to be over the top.

And so I spent the next year brainstorming what this story should look like. I began drafting in the spring of 2012, and by late spring of 2013 I had a completed draft and somewhat revised manuscript. I wasn’t ready to query yet though. The story needed polishing, and many more revisions.

I continued to revise over the summer and in the fall I found an amazing soon to be published critique partner on a blog I had been a long time reader of, Miss Snark’s First Victim. And though separated by hundreds of miles, she was able to help make the story stronger. She also walked me through her publishing process. I learned so much from her and made a special friend as well. Faithful readers to this site will know I’m talking about Beth Hautala, author of the amazing MG novel, Waiting For Unicorns. I am so grateful for her early feedback on this book.

While Beth was reading for me, I began work on my query letter, knowing that I’d be sending it out to literary agents  eventually. Soon after, I saw that a well respected agent was hosting a query letter event—a mock slush pile read. In it, she would tell participating writers whether or not she would reject it if it came across her desk (and why) or if she would request additional pages. I was anxious to hear what she thought because she had requested the full of my second novel ( and eventually passed) the year before. To my shock and surprise my letter was one of 5 out of 616 that received a request for the full manuscript! As in, she wanted to read the whole MS, giving me a shot at representation (again)!

Say what?? I nearly fell off my chair when I got that email.

So naturally I panicked because this story had been read by no one yet. (Except a few chapters by Beth, but I hadn’t gotten her feedback yet). My two critique groups for my earlier manuscripts had kind of disbanded and I hadn’t found anyone else to read  for me yet. My husband, like the Prince Charming with no writing experience that he is, offered to read it—to at least let me know about any glaring mistakes. So on a business flight across country, he emailed me and texted me page numbers where he needed clarification and where he saw typos. I was so thankful for his sharp eye and support on the fly!

Months later, the agent politely declined to represent me. But what she offered instead was priceless. She emailed me pages of feedback detailing the strengths of the MS and her suggestions for how to make it stronger.  She loved the concept, characters, and story but advised me to make some changes to make it strong enough for representation  before querying other agents. She saw potential but not for her own list. I couldn’t believe an agent would take the time to help a writer who she had no plans to represent.

It took me over a year (with work and family commitments) to make the changes based on Beth’s feedback and the agent’s feedback too. It was a frustrating time because the changes were not major but I had little time to work on it! But as I chipped away (lots of late nights and early mornings) I saw my manuscript  improving.

But still my manuscript was not ready. Call me picky but I knew it needed more work.

Enter fall of 2014. A new reader of this blog contacted me about becoming critique partners. She and I were in similar situations. We both wrote MG. We both had written several manuscripts. We both had received countless rejections, but we both also had a fiery determination to improve and make our stories stronger.  We clicked right away, and I knew at once that not only would her feedback be invaluable, her friendship would be too. And I was right! The feedback I got from Melyssa Mercado was spot on and amazingly insightful. My story is what it is because of her and I value her friendship and support immensely. I began the querying process soon after, even though Mel was still working on my chapters. I couldn’t help it. I knew it was too soon but I was impatient and had waited so long to get this story out there.

So I sent the first round of queries out – 6 in all and got one partial request.  That agent eventually passed so I stopped querying. I did however participate in my first Twitter pitch event, #Pitmad. It was a great experience. I made many new great writer friends, received two requests on my pitch, and soon submitted my query and pages to those agents. One requested additional pages, but ultimately she passed as well.

During this time, I also submitted to Pitch Wars, an event hosted by Brenda Drake, where published authors can choose to mentor you in order to make your manuscript perfect and attract the attention of agents. I was not chosen, but the feedback on my query letter and first chapter was extremely helpful. Each mentor had a fresh perspective and made me look at my story in a new way. It was just the kick in the pants my query letter and opening pages needed.

Throughout the winter, I worked hard to revise based on those comments and Mel’s feedback too, but decided to wait on submitting until she was finished with my book.

In May 2015, after Mel finished, I began round 2. I queried six more agents. This time, I received no requests. Discouraged, I began to think I was pitching this book all wrong—again.

In June, I decided to enter the next #PitMad Twitter event, in hopes of attracting the attention of agents (again). I received several favorites on my pitches this time, three from small presses, one from an agent who had already passed on my MS, and one from Jessica Schmeidler at Golden Wheat Literary, a brand new literary agency. Intrigued, I submitted to Jessica the first three chapters and synopsis, and waited for her response.

Soon after, in July, I changed my query letter and my opening pages and decided to go ahead with round three—another six agents. I received a few rejections from these and honestly just waited for the rest of the rejections to come in.

Weeks later, I learned that Pitch Wars, the mentor competition I had entered last year was coming up. I decided to enter, thinking even if I didn’t get picked for mentoring, I may get useful feedback on why my query letter and opening pages were not hooking the right agent for my book. (As I did the year before.) So I decided not to query another agent or enter another contest until I got their feedback. I figured it was a waste of time anyway. If my query and opening pages weren’t strong enough, why bother? So, I spent the next week polishing my submission materials for Pitch Wars.

But around 7am on July 15th, I woke up, glanced at my Twitter feed, and noticed another pitch party was happening that day, #Pit2Pub. I wasn’t at all prepared to participate in this one. I didn’t have a ton of pitches ready and I didn’t feel like being tethered to Twitter all day, getting my hopes up once again. Besides, I had decided enough was enough for a while. But something convinced me to throw a couple of pitches out anyway and see what happens.

So I tweeted two pitches. Just two. Definitely not enough to catch an agent’s eye as the fast moving twitter feed rolled by. I actually did get two favorites though, but from small e-book publishers. I was happy they were interested, but really I was still holding out hope that an agent would fall in love with my book and help me get it traditionally published.

The next day, On July 16th, I got a notification from Twitter. I had another favorite on my pitch! And it was from an agent, Rebecca Angus. I looked her up and (almost) to my dismay, I realized she was also an agent at Golden Wheat Literary. Translation: It was the same agency that I had already submitted my chapters to, not another agency interested in my book. But I was excited thinking that maybe my book would be a good fit for their agency since now two agents there had favorited my pitches! So…since Jessica had not yet responded about my book, I sent a her a message asking how I should proceed. I also thanked Rebecca for her interest but pointed out that Jessica had my chapters already. Later that day, Jessica forwarded my chapters to Rebecca, whom she thought might be a better fit for my book.

Okay then. I was excited, but not jumping for joy. Why? Well, lots of agents had read the opening chapters of my manuscript—16 so far. And they had all rejected it. And I had been through this whole process with my other two manuscripts also, so I was used to not getting my hopes up. But still the wait began—again!

On July 22nd, I received an email from Rebecca Angus. She told me she loved my first few chapters and would like to read the full manuscript if it was still available! So of course I did a mini happy dance and sent her the full within the next few minutes.

For days I tried to forget that my book baby was in Rebecca’s hands, tried to forget that she could be the agent that finally loved it as much as me, tried to ward off negative thoughts and stay positive. But it was hard! I researched Golden Wheat Literary. I stalked Rebecca. Lol She followed me on Twitter! (gasp!) I followed her right back. I followed her clients. And mostly I tried to not get my hopes up. But I realized a LONG time ago, that doesn’t work anyway. Think positive. Picture the outcome you desire, blah, blah, blah…

A few weeks passed and suddenly it was August 10th.

A Monday. The day of the week most full of possibilities. 🙂

Rebecca emailed me in the afternoon. She said she had read halfway through my manuscript and adored it so far. She wondered if it was still available and asked me a question.

I practically passed out. She adored it so far! She adored it so far! OMG she adored it so far!

I thanked her for her kind words, told her I hoped the rest could live up to her expectations, answered her question and then waited to hear from her again.  And then I held my breath.

But I didn’t have to hold it long.

Rebecca emailed me later that evening. She told me she had finished my manuscript and it was everything she hoped it would be and more! She said it again in all caps. She loved my story so much and wanted to set up a call to talk about representation. She wanted to call me!

I read her email and my eyes filled.  My breath caught and I almost broke down. Was this really happening to me? Had Rebecca just offered to represent me?

I raced down the stairs to find my husband (my prince Charming who saved the day with this manuscript two years earlier). He screamed and hugged me. I beamed and called for my kids. They screamed and hugged me too. I turned around in circles, and spewed some incoherent words, not sure what to do next.

I tried to respond to Rebecca’s email but all I could think to write was OMG! OMG! OMG!  So I decided to wait awhile before drafting that response!

Eventually I remembered how to think again and we set up The Call for three days later. That night we spoke on the phone for over two hours. She told me what she loved about my book, her very specific plan for submitting it, and more. So much more. We clicked immediately and I knew from the first few moments that Rebecca and Golden Wheat Literary would be the perfect fit for me and for my MG story.

She had been an Odyssey of the Mind kid. She understood the over the top world I had tried to create in my story. She loved the voice. She loved the characters. She loved the themes. She loved the futuristic elements. She loved the conflict. Listening to her gush about my little story, I felt like she loved it as much as I did. And I knew without a doubt that she was the right advocate for me and for my work.

At the end of The Call, she officially offered to represent me and a half hour later, I had a contract in my hand! Rebecca gave me time to think it over an urged me to let any agents who had chapters of my ms know that I had an offer on the table and give them a chance to respond.

As you can imagine, the next week was agonizingly slow. I nudged the other agents and had a request from one of the top ones on my list.  Ultimately though, my decision was easy. I really no longer wanted representation by any of the other agents. I had an offer from my dream agent. I didn’t want to wait! But I did wait the appropriate time. It was professional courtesy after all.

Rebecca and I corresponded all week. She answered my neurotic questions and sent me amazing messages about my book on Twitter. I was anxious and excited and just wanted to make it official.

Finally, I contacted Rebecca Angus, literary agent extraordinaire, thanked her again for the offer, told her I would be honored to work with her and Golden Wheat Lit, and signed the contract. Then I covered my face and let out a breath I had been holding for eight long years.

I have an agent! I have an agent! I have an agent! And I feel so very blessed!

So for all of you who think your time will never come, think again…

“All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.”  ~ Walt Disney

Thank you to all of you (my husband, my children, my family, my friends, my critique partners, my writing peeps, and those involved in PitchWars and #Pit2Pub) who believed that I could reach this milestone. It means everything to me…

But now the hard work begins.  My book isn’t on bookstore bookshelves just yet. But at least this is a start! 🙂

Posted in Uncategorized

I Have a Book Deal!

It’s true!

I’m thrilled and humbled to announce that my middle grade manuscript, THE CRIMSON FIVE: Spin the Golden Light Bulb, has been acquired by Dayna Anderson at Amberjack Publishing and is set to be released in 2018!

And even better, Amberjack has acquired the sequel also.

I’m in a state of shock… A Two-Book Deal!!

I’m so honored to be working with the amazing people at Amberjack and thankful to them for taking a chance on me, a debut author with a larger than life dream and an over-the-top middle grade story. All I’ve ever wanted was to see this story published, to inspire children—to show them that no dream is too big, no idea is too small, and all ideas are worth pursuing—they just need the courage to try!

THE CRIMSON FIVE: Spin the Golden Light Bulb is the story of five eleven year-olds on an adventure almost to good to be true… kind of like all this right now.

I read recently that it takes the average writer 10 years to traditionally publish their first book. 10 years! If I had known that statistic when I began writing my first middle grade manuscript, back in January 2007, it might have discouraged me. But if there’s one thing I know, it’s that patience is a virtue and perseverance is everything. For me, 10 years have flown by in a flash—I guess time does fly when you’re busy writing and dreaming, and writing and hoping, and writing and wishing for your dream to come true. 🙂

I began writing this manuscript (my third) in 2012 and for three years after that  I revised to make it as strong, sparkly, and polished as possible. I’m so thankful to my agent, Rebecca Angus of Golden Wheat Literary for seeing potential in this story and for her endless work on my behalf over the last year. My book baby wouldn’t have this amazing opportunity to be born if it wasn’t for her. So thank you, Rebecca. You inspire me every day.

I know this is not the acknowledgment page of the book, but I can’t share my exciting news with all of you without giving a shoutout to my family. My husband, Jim has been by my side through my whole writing journey, supporting and believing in me like no one else. My son, Adam has read every single word of every single revised version of this manuscript over the last four years. This story is as much a part of him as it is of me. And every writer needs a cheerleader too. A believer. A wisher. For me, that person is my daughter, Danielle. No one wishes on my behalf like she does!

To my mom and dad, and to my mother-in-law and father-in-law: You all said I could do this. Thank you for believing that and making me believe it too.

I want to give a shout out also to my critique partners who made this book what it is so far. Beth Hautala, Mel Mercado, Glenn McCarty, and JD Burns…you are gems. Thank you for giving so much of yourselves to me and to this story.

And…to the 5 real life eleven year-olds (who are now 16 & 17 years old!) —Kara, Adam, Meg, Jake, and Julia (my young Odyssey of the Mind 2011 team), the force behind the plot… my Crimson Five Rock Stars: Your over the top ideas, creativity, and teamwork inspired me in ways I cannot express. I had no choice but to write this book!

So guys, thanks for reading about my news and for cheering me on through the years. You know I’m doing the same for all of you. If you keep at it, and keep improving your craft, this publishing thing can happen. You just have to want it bad enough.

In a future post I’ll talk about how the offer and deal came together. Well, as much as I can anyway. I’ve always been interested in that sort of thing and I’m guessing some of you are too. For now I will tell you that the offer came on a day that I least expected it, a simple message from Rebecca that spun my ordinary day, and the weeks that followed, into a frenzy!

Before I write that post though, I’m going to float around in this dreamland I’ve fallen into and keep smiling, grinning, and squealing. I can’t help it. I mean, what else do you do when your dream is about to come true and your fairy tale ending is just over a year away?

Oh right, you keep writing and you keep revising. So I guess that’s what else I’ll do. 🙂

Jackie ❤

Soon to be Published Author!!

They say that good things take time

But really great things happen in the blink of an eye.

                                                                            -Hannah Montana

Posted in Uncategorized

Characters Have Feelings Too

Hey Guys,

So, over the summer I had the great fortune of celebrating my Aunt and Uncle’s 50th Wedding Anniversary aboard a yacht. Yes, a yacht. It was a dinner cruise in the Boston Harbor, not a week long jaunt in the Riviera, but hey, it was still a YACHT. And it was definitely as dreamy as it sounds.

The ship was beautiful, a perfect setting for an evening sail with an even more perfect backdrop in the harbor. The air felt warm against the setting sun as the water shimmered around us. Waiters with drinks and appetizers tempted us at every turn, and later after dinner, as we danced the night away, the city lights twinkled in the background.

In a word, the night was breathtaking. But even in all of its splendor, the things that stand out in my mind from that night are the amazing conversations I had with family I haven’t seen in ages. I could call them relatives—that’s what aunts and uncles and cousins and cousins’ children are after all, right? But these people that I haven’t seen in so many years are much more than that. I share a history with them from my childhood, and a history with their children. But, it had been almost ten years since I had seen many of them. 10 years! That’s an eternity. Especially when you genuinely like spending time with them. But distance and life separated all of us and that’s just the way it goes sometimes. So as much as I was looking forward a night aboard a yacht to celebrate my beloved aunt and uncle, I was even more looking forward to reconnecting with my cousins and their kids.

But you know how these family reunion type events go. It’s hard to have a meaningful conversation with so many people around, dragging you from one person to the next. I did however, manage to have a great conversation with one of my cousin’s kids named Cooper about his college experience so far. I definitely expected the conversation to be superficial. He was in middle school the last time I saw him after all. I mean, he barely even knows me! But as we got to talking, he was so genuine and I learned so much from him. He told me all about college life now (well, some of how college life is now!), like his classes and his lacrosse games. But that wasn’t what left the biggest impression on me. It was when he told me how he felt about these things that really brought them to life.

Sure, he could have told me what classes he was taking for his major or how many games his lacrosse team had won. Instead, he told me why he never wanted to go into sales… “because I’m not that person and I hate putting myself out there like that.” He told me why playing a Division 2 sport is better than D1… “It’s still very competitive but I get to play the whole game instead of sitting the bench, and my classes still come first. I know because my brother played D1 and they owned a piece of him. He couldn’t even pick the major he wanted because the classes conflicted with his practice schedule. I didn’t want that to happen to me.”

He gave me the scoop about going to a small college and whether or not he’d pick the same one again. He talked about how bummed he was to have missed a chance to visit his out of town girlfriend over the weekend. He was open about so much and it was great to catch a small glimpse into his life.

Chatting with Cooper got me thinking about writing and why it’s so important to tell the reader what your character is feeling. Sure the event is important. But what’s even more important is how your character reacts to the event and how that event, situation, or conversation makes them feel. Cooper’s descriptions and stories were so real and that’s why I was able to reconnect with him again so easily.

And that’s how your reader will be able to reconnect with your character too.

If he gets yelled at by his coach for not giving 110%, be sure his shoulders slouch and he grumbles under his breath. But also be sure to tell the reader why he’s so upset. Is it his pride? Is it because his twisted ankle is killing him and he thinks the coach is being unfair. Is it because he wishes he could tell the coach that he was up until 1:00am doing homework because he was taking care of his sick mother all night?

By doing so you’re letting the reader feel for your character.  That’s one sure way to make your reader feel connected to them as well…and that’s when he or she will want to turn the page and follow your story to the end. I know you’ve probably all heard this before. I know I have. But sometimes it takes an experience, like talking with someone aboard a yacht, to remember!

So have a great week, guys. I’m so looking forward to mine! Today was the first day of school for my son (my daughter is away at college!) and it feels great to be back into a routine and writing again. I hope to be making progress on my WIP soon. For those of you new to the blog, it’s a sequel to my middle grade magical realism story. I’m more than half way through the draft and this Fall I need to finish it!

What are you working on this week? Do tell. Do tell! Leave a comment. I’d love to know who’s out there writing with me!


Posted in Uncategorized

What Have I Gotten Myself Into?

Hey all,

Wow has this been a whirlwind week! I guess I’m still floating and spinning and grinning over finally signing with my agent. Click back to read last week’s post if you haven’t already!

But seriously, my head is swirling. Like I have no clue what day it is. Or if I already made breakfast for my son. I did right, or was that yesterday? Over the weekend I couldn’t remember what day I signed the contract. Was it last Tuesday or the week before? The kids go back to school soon, I know that. But is it next Wednedsday or the week after? Yikes! How many more days of summer vacation are there? (For the record, there’s 7. ) I’m usually an on-top-of-things kind of girl, but this week has knocked me off my game. Even if it is in the best way possible!

I remember when my daughter was born and I was about to be discharged from the hospital. The midwife told me I couldn’t drive for two weeks. I felt fine and asked her why exactly. She said she had no medical answer to give me, but merely a practical one. She told me that new moms are in la-la land after giving birth. They have so many thoughts and worries and random images (especially of the baby) swirling in their heads that they can be easily distracted while driving.

Hmm. I remember that time, and she was right. And I haven’t felt that way again—until now.

I guess my book baby has sent me to la-la land this week too!

Feeling this way has made me ask myself over and over,”What have I gotten myself into?” Not in a bad way, but in a OMG, am I ready for all this, kind of way.

Embarking on this next stage in my writing journey is like teetering on the edge of a cliff ready to dive into the azure waters below. It’s scary and exciting facing the unknown, even though no one is pushing me off this cliff. I’m opting to jump into this crazy adventure on purpose!

But still. Will I be able to handle the deadlines? Will I be able to polish this story to shine, sparkly enough that it will sell? Will I be able to write any words again? Will my next book live up my agent’s expectations like this one did and become something that people want to read?

And then I think of how long I have been walking towards this cliff (I mean waiting for this next step!) and all I can think is “Of course, I can!” Besides, I get to work with agent of fabulous, Rebecca Angus. So bring it on!!

And I also think of all the comments and good wishes I’ve gotten in person and through Facebook and on Twitter…all this amazing support. And I definitely know I can do it.

The thing is, all this attention (even for a few days) on social medial IS a little overwhelming. I didn’t think it would make me feel uneasy. I didn’t think sharing the details of my journey so publicly would be a big deal. Like I said, it’s amazing to feel the love, and to know I’m inspiring even one writer to keep at it.

But then a well meaning friend shares my agent announcement on Facebook which is so sweet BTW. But in doing so she mentions that I am about to become a published author.

Wait. Whoa. Hold on! That’s not what I said. I have an agent. I’m hoping she can sell my book baby to a publisher. But let’s not get ahead of outselves. That hasn’t happened yet. Gulp. Getting an agent is a huge deal to me. But by announcing that, I didn’t mean for people to think I’m published yet.

*cue the head spinning and feeling like a fraud because I’m not actually published yet*

I forget sometimes that not everyone is fully engrossed in the writing world like I am. Like my writing friends are. They don’t know exaclty what it means to have an agent. They are just happy to hear my news. So instead of allowing my head to spin off my shoulders, I breathe deep breaths and thank them for being happy for me. Even if they think my book is about to magically appear on bookstore bookshelves tomorrow!

Maybe that’s why jumping off this cliff is so exciting. I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen next. I don’t know how this next stage in my quest to get my book baby in the hands of young readers will play out. But that’s okay. It’s kind of like watching one word after another magically appear on the page when I’m drafting a new story. It’s a feeling like no other. One word. Then the next. And then somehow, I have a whole bunch of words dancing together. It will happen the way it’s going to happen- one day and one milestone at a time. And hopefully somewhere along the way, there WILL be dancing!

And besides, I won’t be jumping off the cliff alone. I have a very dear friend jumping into the azure blue waters with me…

I am so ecstatic to share that just yesterday, my fabulous CP signed with her dream agent too!!!

Congratulations, Melyssa Mercado. I am bonkers happy that this is happening for you and that we will be cliff jumping together!! (Hopefully the water will be warm. And we won’t crack our heads open on any rocks. Oh, and our bathing suits don’t fall off.

So guys, click to read Mel’s Agent Announcement. You’ll know just from reading her post why she is well on her way to getting her book baby out there. She’s funny, adorable, and has the Best. Voice. Ever!

Thanks for reading my rambles today. Now go out there and write something. You know you want to. And remember, I’ll be cheering for you every step of the way!! 🙂 And now I’m off. I have another story to write while I wait for my revision notes from Rebecca to come. Yay. I can’t wait! This jump off the cliff is going to be fun! 🙂

Posted in Writing Craft

Do You Have Rhythm?

Some people have rhythm. And some people don’t. And I’m sorry to say, I’m one of those people who don’t. I try to have rhythm. Really, I do. I hear a great song on the radio when I’m driving so I tap my hand on the steering wheel or bob my head back and forth. Sometimes I even dance along with my kids and nieces and nephews during our family dances parties.  I mean so what if the dance parties are for the kids? Who can resist dancing to old Hannah Montana songs or Cotton- Eyed Joe?

And so I dance and sing along to my favorite songs, even without rhythm. And that makes me very happy. 🙂

But there’s one place where I do have rhythm—in my writing. In fact, rhythm is important to any good piece of writing. It can help your words flow in an easy pattern.

Here are a few tips for writing with rhythm:

1.Vary your sentence length

In each paragraph, use both long sentences and short sentences. This makes the paragraph easier to read and gives it a smoother flow. In the following sample, notice both the long and short sentences.

My sixth grade class has gathered in the amphitheater, all five hundred of us squished together shoulder to shoulder. The sun is scorching the back of my neck. My ponytail even feels hot. The sound we’ve been waiting for thunders through the speakers. The Piedmont Challenge theme song. I bite my pinky nail. The signal should be coming next.

In this sample, not only do the sentence lengths make the passage easier to read, they help to convey what’s happening in the story. The first sentence is quite long. The main character seems calm, like she’s simply telling the reader where she is.  As the story unfolds though, the author uses shorter sentences. You can almost feel the main character getting more and more nervous as the song plays and she gets ready for the signal to come.

2. Read Your Sentences Aloud

How do your sentences sound? Sometimes the key to creating a nice flow of sentences is simply hearing how they sound. Do they sound choppy? Maybe you’re using to many short sentences all in a row. Do you lose interest in what you’ve written? Maybe your sentences are too long. Separate them into smaller ones. If you try to put to much information into one sentence, an important point may get lost. 

3.Match Rhythm to the Mood

If you’re trying to describe a setting—a  countryside filled with beautiful flowers and cascading waterfalls–longer, more elaborate sentences will work well. But, if you’re writing an intense scene in a mystery novel, short sentences with bursts of quick, simple words will work better.  

Here’s an example: 

The main character, Connor has just missed his curfew time of 10:00pm. He walks through the front door, to find his Father waiting in the kitchen. He panics, knowing he’s about to get into trouble. Notice the long sentences he uses as he tries to explain why he was late.

                 ”Dad, I know I missed curfew again but I have a really good reason. See when the movie was over, I was about to walk to the car, you know to drive straight home so I wouldn’t be late again, but then some of the guys challenged me to a game of air hockey and you know I’m the King of Air Hockey so I knew you’d understand if I was a few minutes late because you really like air hockey too!”

                His dad holds up a hand to silence Connor. “Enough. I don’t want to hear your excuse!”

Notice the short response Connor’s angry dad gives.  And see how effective matching the rhythm of your sentences to their mood can be!

Rhythm often happens automatically. But it can happen even more effectively when you pay close attention to it. So give it a try. Add some rhythm to your writing. You’ll be amazed at how much better it will flow. And then go on and sing or dance to your favorite song. Even if you don’t have any rhythm at all! 🙂


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I Have a Great Story Idea…

I bet you know the kind I mean. The kind that pops into your head when you’re eating dinner. Or when you’re sitting in Math.  Or when you’re running drills at soccer practice. You see something unusual that makes you think, “Hmm, I could write a story about that!”

That’s what happened to me this summer. While I was sitting at the beach, I watched a very little girl try to build a sand castle.  All by herself.  She scooped the sand.  She carried water in her bucket.  She packed the sand and shaped it into a tower. All while her brother and sister and cousins tried to help her. They tried  to bring her  more buckets of water. They tried to pack the sand. She would have none of it. Finally, in her tiny voice, she yelled above the sound of the crashing waves. “Can I please have some privacy? I’m always trying to do my work and there are always too many people around me! I don’t like it!”

The feisty little girl made me laugh. And think, “I’m going to write a story sometime about a girl who lives with her 2 parents, 1 brother,1  sister, 2 grandparents, 4 aunts, 4 uncles, 11 cousins and their pets – all in the same house! What do you think? Would that make a great story idea?

I bet you have a great story idea too.  If you like, tell us about it in the comment box below.  Very soon we’ll be having our first critique round in Critique Corner. It will be your chance to see a part of your story right here on this site! Kids will be able to read it and tell you what they think. You might even get some comments from Swirl and Spark too!  That will happen sometime in September. For now, why not tell us about a story idea you have?  Just a few sentences will do. Besides, that might just be the spark someone else needs to think of a story idea too. Remember though, if you do comment, please use only your first name and the first letter of your last name- or even a made up screen name. I want this site to be a safe place for all of us.  🙂

Before you go…don’t forget to click on the Scribble Tips tab and read Tips #1 and #2. They may help you write a great beginning to your next story.  If you’re looking for a book recommendation, click on the Book Nook tab too. I’ve added a few more for you to peek at.

So thanks for stopping by and remember…go write something! Write a song. Write a poem. Write about your trip to the ant hill. (Wouldn’t that make a great story?) And then tell us all about it! 

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Meet Caitlin LaRue

Hey guys! I have a fabulous writer to introduce you to today in our Writers Around the World  Q & A series. Meet Caitlin LaRue…


Caitlin, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. I’m having a blast in this series hearing from writers from all over, and hopefully our blog readers are too! So first of all where are you from and where do you live now?

I’m originally from New Jersey, but now I live in Maryland.

Ooh, an East Coast Girl, just like me! How long have you been writing?

I’ve been writing since sixth grade. I decided to do it seriously about three years ago when I decided to write my first novel.

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

I tend to write young adult contemporary novels, although my current WIP is ya magical realism. I’ve also written middle grade and new adult, but I feel like I fit best in ya.

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

I loved Kiera Cass’ Selection series. I’m currently reading Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me series which is phenomenal.

With so many great books, it’s hard to resist them all! What’s a book out of your genre/age group you’ve read and loved?

I read Warrior’s Don’t Cry by Melba Patillo Beals. It’s her autobiography about the Little Rock nine. Absolutely horrifying and such an important read. A fantastic book.

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!

I’m actually an English teacher as my first profession, but if I could be anything else I would own a huge horse farm. I love animals and I love to be outdoors doing manual labor.

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

I love to revise. Though it’s a lot harder, the book really grows and becomes beautiful during the many, many revisions it has to undergo.

Do you plan first or write as you go along?

I always do character sketches and a rough outline of where I want the book to go. Normally, I write down the major scenes for the book and then go. My outline is typically nothing like my actual book by the time I finish.

What’s your favorite day of the week? How come?

Saturday because I get to spend time with my girls and we go to the library to get new books.

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

Typically, I write at my desk at work before the day starts. When I get time to write at home, I write either at the kitchen island or upstairs at my desk in the office. I jot down ideas in the most random places though. My brain likes to get brilliant ideas in the car or the shower.

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

I normally write in the morning because by the time I’m done teaching and then being mommy at night, I’m exhausted. So it’s better if I try first thing in the morning. The words don’t always come, but I definitely have a better shot at it.

What made you write your story in the first place?

I had a group of boys in my first class of students who hated to read because they didn’t see themselves in books. They told me books were “for girls.” So I set out to write a novel for them. It turns out, it was not my best work, but it sparked my writing and passion for words again. I may revisit that manuscript and try to salvage it now that I’ve learned a lot more than I knew when I started.

What’s your favorite food?

MACARONI AND CHEESE! I could eat it every day for the rest of my life.

Oh my gosh, yes! Me too:) What’s your favorite drink to drink while writing?

Definitely coffee. The warmth in the morning always helps to wake me up.

Do you have any hobbies, besides writing?

I love to run when I have time. I also love to garden.

Do you have a job other than writing? Being a stay at home parent counts in case my question isn’t clear!

I’m a middle school English teacher, mommy, and wife. I have lots of jobs and I love them all.

Tell us about your family…

I have a husband and two little girls both under the age of five. I write the stories I want them to read. I also have two dogs that were my first babies.

Who’s usually your first reader(s)?

My critique partners always get first reads. They always catch my stupid mistakes before I send it to my agent. I try to clean up the draft as much as possible before sending it to her.

What has been your biggest writing accomplishment so far?

Getting an agent was huge for me. I’d almost given up and then the next month I got the call. It was the ray of light that I needed to know that I’m on the right path and I need to keep going.

Congratulations on signing with your agent. That IS a huge accomplishment! We all know that getting published isn’t easy. Why do you keep trying?

It’s what I’m meant to do. It’s one of those things where it just feels right. It’s a passion I have and it just fits. It’s definitely hard and a long road, but the people around me from my husband to my critique partners have been so supportive. Good people are crucial to being able to keep going.

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

My biggest struggle is always finding time. With two little ones and a full time job, it’s hard to fit everything into a day.

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

I’m in the process of writing a new novel. I’m about halfway through and my goal is to finish by the end of January.

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

Just keep going and take a break if you need to. If agents give you feedback, listen and consider before revising. I got some feedback that was amazing, but I also got some that didn’t fit the concept of my book at all. You want to find your perfect match, so be patient and just keep going.

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

The day I get a publishing deal, my husband and then my critique partners will be the first people I tell. I will be a crying, weepy disaster (and I’m not a crier). But that is my ultimate goal and I’ll keep trying until I get there.

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

I would love to travel to England, Ireland and Italy. My family is very Irish and I still have relatives who live in Belfast. I also took Latin in high school so I love Italian culture and history.

Caitlin, thank you so much for “chatting” with me. It’s been great getting to know you! Good luck with all of your writing adventures. I look forward to seeing your books in print one day soon!

To connect with Caitlin, go to Twitter…you can follow her at  @CaitlinLaRue.



Living a Writer’s Life

Writers live the best life ever, and the worse life ever. Sometimes both in the same day.  Read on for my take on what it’s really like to be a writer.


A writer’s routine includes writing. Many don’t write daily, but they write consistently. If long periods of time go between their writing sessions, it takes them that much longer to get back into their story. Maybe they’ve forgotten how their characters were feeling when they last worked on a scene, or how to access their voice. So they re-read that scene and sometimes another before they can add new words. And for writers, that’s wasted writing time. That’s why they try to write every day.

Writers don’t actually want to write all the time. But…writers make writing a priority anyway. Even though they want to binge watch Netflix when they get home from work, or work out, or read a book, they force their butt into the chair and write the words because they know that even the greatest words will never be read  if they don’t write them down… along with many others.

Writer’s spend too much time procrastinating. They peruse their Twitter Feed and stalk their friends on Facebook…even though they’ve set aside sacred time for writing. Then they wonder why they’ve only written 200 words in two hours. True story.

Writers think their stories stink. They also think their stories are brilliant. They think these things every day and sometime both on the same day.

Writers think about their stories even when they’re not writing. They think about the world they’ve created while showering, while cooking, while grocery shopping and even sometimes while they’re talking to their mom on their phone. Sorry, Mom! Not that talking to Mom isn’t important, but characters feel like children to their creators and the worrying, the planning, the dreaming about them simply doesn’t end when a writer turns their computer off.

On each and every birthday, writers make a writing wish. While they blow out their birthday candles, they quickly sum up their greatest writing desire. They wish to finish writing their manuscript. They wish to sign with a literary agent. They wish for a big fat book deal. They wish someone will buy their book, or lots of people will buy their book. They wish for a book launch party. They wish everyone will love their book.

Writers drink warm drinks. A lot of them. They drink coffee. They drink tea. They drink lattes. They drink Red Bull. Oh  wait, that last one isn’t warm. Well, I guess it could be, so whatever. And these drinks seem to fuel their creative energy.

Writers sometimes write in their pajamas. Actually many writers write in their pajamas and don’t shower or brush their hair. It’s kind of a thing, I guess. However, some writers actually shower every morning, get dressed in real clothes, do their hair, AND put on make-up. That’s actually a thing too. I hope I don’t have to tell you which one refers to me.

Writers hate telling people what their story is about. They can write a 70,000 word novel but writing an elevator pitch is worse that running out of coffee. Writers didn’t always feel this way. When they first started writing, they loved telling their family and friends what their next best seller was about. But after seeing too many blank faces staring back at them, and wasting too many words trying to make their story sound as amazing as it is in their head, they realize it’s better to be vague about the whole thing.

Writers panic every time their words are read. They hand those precious pages filled with their blood, sweat, and tears over to their beloved critique partner or agent or editor for the first time and they resort back to the cafeteria as a middle school kid. Will they like my words? Will they love my characters? Will they hate them? Will they think my writing sounds amateur? They think these things if they written three books or even if they’ve written thirty.

For a writer, writing partners are pure gold. A critique partner is like a best friend and workout partner and sister rolled into one. They understand your dreams, they understand your goals, and they know how hard you’ve worked through the years to make a sparkly story. They also give tough love when it’s needed. They are a writer’s cheerleader in the best sense of the word.

Writers wonder each day why their families expect dinner every single night. They feel bad when they order out. But they soon get over it because by not spending an hour cooking a meal that’s devoured in five minutes flat, they’ll have time to write 500 more words. And there won’t be any clean up.

With that said, writers love their crock pots. Or at least they want to. They want the ingredients they throw in there to magically turn into a gourmet feast. Because, ya know writers are good at dreaming.

Writers work at other jobs to pay the bills. Unless they are JK Rolling, independently wealthy, or have another source of income in their family, they find other ways to make money. They do freelance work, they work another job, or they sell their stuff on Craigslist. How’s that for reality?

Writers experience serious self doubt about their chosen profession. But they write anyway because they love to write. And they are gluttons for punishment. They spend too much time staring at a blank screen wondering if their idea is any good. But then another idea sparks and they splash it up on that blank page. Then the doubt is gone and replaced by a great sense of accomplishment.

Writers spend and awful lot of time by themselves. Most writers love this. It’s not a death sentence. It’s glorious time spent with their laptop, coffee, and the imaginary world they’ve created from nothing. It exhilarates them. It’s better than sunning themselves on a beach. Well, maybe not quite but you get the idea.

Writers write the stories that must be written. Writers constantly have stories that live in their heads, begging to be told. They write them in the car while waiting for their child to finish practice. They write late at night when the house is finally quiet. While other people are sleeping in or getting up at 5am to workout, writers are writing. Because that story swirling in their head insists on it.

Writers find inspiration in anything. Music. People. Places. Situations. Experiences. Pets. That’s why they do more than sit at their desk or in a coffee shop. They go outside. They run. They walk.They talk to people. They travel. And they love people watching. Oh, and people listening. But then they turn into hermits again. Because well, they’re writers.

Writers read their horoscope. They read tarot cards. They look for angel signs…or any signs that will tell them their manuscript is good enough and will become a real book someday.

Writers love Staples and Office Depot. They love pens. They love paper. They love notebooks and pencils. They love sticky notes, index cards, and pretty journals. They do.

Writers love to talk to other writers about their stories. And they especially love meeting their writing friends for coffee. No one knows the challenges and successes a writer feels, like another writer.

Writers love belonging to this secret club of writing people. They know how hard it is to write a complete story from beginning to middle to end, full of amazing characters, world class goals, unthinkable obstacles, and emotion that runs off the charts. They know what it takes to write a stellar picture book, hysterically heartfelt middle grade story, or gut wrenching YA novel. They get it and they’ve done it, and that’s kind of exclusive.

Writers celebrate writing successes. Like when they finish their first draft, when they finish revising, when they get their first full manuscript request, when they sign with an agent, when they get a book deal. There’s often chocolate. Usually wine. Always hugs and screams and sharing on Twitter.

Writers are genuinely excited for other writers when they achieve success  too. And not only because they think if it can happen to another writer it can happen to them too. It’s because another baby story is about to be born at the hand of a fellow writer who has worked just as hard as they have, and maybe harder. They love seeing other people’s dreams come true.

A writer’s life is a great one, because writers get to write. They get to share their stories with other people. They get to be creative. But it takes a patient person to enjoy all that goes along with it, that’s for sure.

So writers keep writing. They keep creating. They keep the words coming. They keep buying pencils, and drinking coffee. They know one day there’ll be chocolate and lots of readers for their story. They know their book will save the day for a young boy or girl one day… and that’s why so many writers knowingly choose to live this crazy writing life.

For more posts on living life as a writer, click the links below:

4 Signs You May not Fit the Writer’s Stereotype

An Open Letter to my Future Reader

I Have an Agent Announcement

What Happens After you Sign with a Literary Agent

Things You Imagine While Out on Sub

I Have a Book Deal

Posted in December Book Blast, Uncategorized

December Book Blast: Day 21

Hi everybody,

I have an unusual choice for my December Day 21 pick. It’s a book that hasn’t been released yet. But…it will be out in April, and you CAN pre-order it now at I wanted to include it because its a middle grade by a debut author- and it looks fantastic!


December Book Blast Day 21

From the publisher:

Football hero. Ninja freestyler. It’s seventh grade. Anything is possible.

All Dillon wants is to be a real dancer. And if he wins a summer scholarship at Dance-Splosion, he’s on his way. The problem? His dad wants him to play football. And Dillon’s freestyle crew, the Dizzee Freekz, says that dance studios are for sellouts. His friends want Dillon to kill it at the audition—so he can turn around and tell the studio just how wrong their rules and creativity-strangling ways are.

At first, Dillon’s willing to go along with his crew’s plan, even convincing one of the snobbiest girls at school to work with him on his technique. But as Dillon’s dancing improves, he wonders: what if studios aren’t the enemy? And what if he actually has a shot at winning the scholarship?

Dillon’s life is about to get crazy . . . on and off the dance floor in this kid-friendly humorous debut by Brooks Benjamin.

From me:

I have heard AMAZING things about this story so go ahead and pre-order it, or make a note to check it out in April. I definitely will!

Posted in December Book Blast, Uncategorized

December Book Blast: Day 14

Hey everyone,

I have another great book to gush about! My December Day 14 pick is…

SCHOOL OF CHARM by Lisa Ann Scott!

December Book Blast Day 13

From the Publisher:

At the School of Charm, everyone has a wish to whisper. With an enchanting small-town setting, lively storytelling, and a hint of magic, this debut novel is perfect for fans of Ingrid Law, Clare Vanderpool, and Rebecca Stead.

Eleven-year-old Chip has always been her daddy’s girl, so when he dies she pins her hopes on winning a beauty pageant to show her family of southern belles that she still belongs. But she’d rather be covered in mud than makeup! Can a rough-and-tumble girl ever become a beauty queen? A universal story about finding your place in the world, School of Charm explores themes of loss, family, and friendship.

From me:

I love this book. No, I simply adore this book! Chip will have you wrapped around her little finger from the very first page. She’s such a great character, and the plot is so original, you won’t be able to turn the pages fast enough.