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Tips on Tuesday: Find a Character Voice

Easy as A, B, C . . . from BB

On March 25, 2014, I wrote a blog about a lesson in “kid‑speak.” After hearing praises for Barbara Park’s Junie B. Jones stories, I finally broke down and read one. Then seven, seven more, and another ten. So I’ve read all but 2 or 3. I mentioned how the author nailed the sounds and thought processes of a child. Hilariously!Junie B

Now, as an example, let me share a line or three:

“Just then the bell rang and Mrs. (that’s what this kindergarten kid calls her teacher) marched out the door. Then everybody else marched out too. Except guess what? I didn’t.”


“. . . First, I got the sponge from under the sink. Then I made it soaky wet with water. I pointed it at the target. “Ready…aim…fire!” I said. Then I throwed the sponge with all my might.”


“Peekaboo. I see you,’ I said. Then I laughed and laughed. ‘Cause I’m a laugh a minute, that’s why.”

In just a few words, Park demonstrates how a young child substitutes a title for a name, constantly asks questions like “guess what” and answers them herself, slips in grammar mistakes while she’s still figuring out how English is constructed, thinks of her place in her world, and picks up phrases she hears “grown-ups” commonly say ‑‑‑ not to mention the “logic” a child applies to actions an adult will take as being “naughty.”

Any of the old Eloise books by Kay Thompson, do much the same with a more “affluent” flavor.

Percy jackson 1bToday, I’ll also show how Rick Riordan manages much the same thing for a slightly older hero (and readers). If you ever devoured mythology like I did, and you haven’t read his Percy Jackson series, this will give you a lesson in “kid speak” as well as in the thought processes for an adolescent. And a lot of laughs. Start with The Lightning Thief and the table of contents:

1. I Accidentally Vaporize My Pre‑algebra Teacher

2. Three Old Ladies Knit the Socks of Death

7. My Dinner Goes Up in Smoke

11. We Visit the Garden Gnome Emporium

13. A God Buys Us Cheeseburgers

Clever, funny, somewhat mysterious chapter titles . . . and you’re almost guaranteed to remember what the whole chapter was about by just reading the titles, even days, weeks or months later. And that’s a Good Chapter Title!

Here, try the book, and study the level of kid‑speak, as well as the adolescent perspective:

“See, bad things happen to me on field trips. Like at my fifth‑grade school, when we went to the Saratoga battlefield, I had this accident with a Revolutionary War cannon. I wasn’t aiming for the school bus but of course I got expelled anyway. And before that, at my fourth‑grade school, when we took a behind‑the‑scenes tour of the Marine World shark pool, I sort of hit the wrong lever on the catwalk and our class took an unplanned swim. And the time before that . . . Well, you get the idea.”

The ideas, the thought processes, the choices of vocabulary all combine to help create memorable characters. And besides, what a great way to study “kid‑speak”: The laughs, the lessons in mythology, the imaginative stories ‑‑‑ they’re all just icing on the cake!

See you next for Thinkin’ on Thursday!



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TIPS ON TUESDAY: Are You Kidding ? ? ?

Easy as A, B, C . . . from BB

Last week I had a few words to say (well, that’s not true . . . I so seldom have “few” words!), but I wrote to you about dialogue. As a semi‑continuation, I have a confession to make:

Until last week I had never read even one of the Junie B. Jones books! I know: awful! Right?

So I got this bee in my bonnet that I needed to read some short books, maybe kids’ books, because some of the others I’ve been reading since the Christmas are so massive: I’d always planned to use some kids’ books to help even things out, but I got so tied up some really good, longer books, I lost track of the time. My original aim was (still is) to read 100 books this year.

So I trundled off to the library, went to the children’s section on looked for Barbara Park’s books. Oh, my! What an impressive, colorful, and enormous bunch of books! I grabbed a handful rather indiscriminately — seven, I think — I didn’t need long to choose which ones: after all, I knew nothing about them except that they were about a little girl and were supposed to be pretty funny. Better still, they looked short!Junie B

I put them in order by copyright date, and started with what was evidently the first of this collection: Junie B. Jones and the Smelly Bus. It was cute. It was funny. It was so much of what I felt as a kid!

Now we get to the “dialogue” connection: you want to see how to make your characters “real”? Look at the “dialogue” in Junie B. (And don’t forget the “B”!) It was a quick and fun read.

But better.

It was a lesson in kid‑speak.

Oh, today’s kids might have a few more “techie” words in their vocabularies (this was c. 1992), but otherwise, it could have been a kid from when I was a kid (and that was much longer ago than ‘92). It could have been my neighbor’s granddaughter who visits from time to time. She’s about the right age. She could have been one of my old favorites, Eloise, by Kay Thompson (In fact, the illustrations very much reminded me of Hilary Knight’s illustrations in the Eloise books.)

You need kid‑speak in your books? Read some Junie B. Jones. And for a slightly more “affluent” flavor, try Eloise if you’ve missed it too!

See you next for Thinkin’ on Thursday!

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Saturday’s Softcover: Feeling a Little Batty in November . . . make that Baty!

Chris Baty founder of NaNoWriMo in his Berkeley apartment.Easy as A, B, C . . . from BB

On Oct. 8, 2013, Chris Baty,‑‑‑founder of the National Novel Writing Month (better known as NaNoWriMo) and author of several Chronicle Books‑‑‑was interviewed by them at http://www.chroniclebooks.com/on “The Top Five Reasons for Not Doing NaNoWriMo This November.”

Baty is hilarious‑‑‑who else would have come up with an idea like “I know: let’s get thousands of people, on all 7 continents, in 45 different countries to write a 50,000 word novel between Nov. 1 and Nov. 30 . . . EVERY YEAR!”  His blogs are funny, his books are funny (and inspiring).  But no, the above was not his original idea.  He conceived of writing the 50K himself in 1999.  Then he talked about 20 friends into doing it with him.  Some of them gave up. Some of them “made” it.  Some of them LOVED it‑‑‑and wanted to give up their jobs, go back to school for a degree and become full time writers.  Some of them discovered “I really DON’T want to be a writer ! ! !”  ALL of them learned something.

The next year, some came back and tried again, others didn’t.  But year after year, word of mouth got around, then newspapers like USA Today picked up on it, and the effort grew.  He said in the last 15 years, he’s heard a lot of reasons for NOT doing such a crazy thing, and gave Chronicle Books the top 5 excuses‑‑‑and the short version of his VERY biased responses:

1.  “I’m too busy.”  Good!   Being busy means you have a limited amount of time and you’ll be less “self‑critical.”  Besides, you’ll need a break from your routine‑‑‑writing your own ideas down could just give you that.

2.  “I’m not a writer.”  You don’t need to be “a writer” to enjoy a life‑changing, joy‑filled month “bashing out a book.”  If you NEVER do it again it will still deepen your understanding and appreciation of books.

3.  “I’ve done NaNoWriMo before. Do I really need another unfinished manuscript on my hard drive?”  This may be the year you write “The One”!

4.  “No one can write a good book in 30 days.”  Sadly, that’s true.  But you might come up with a wildly imperfect first draft.  Novels take a few to “find their footing.”  Revise your bad draft into a great book‑‑‑you can’t revise “a blank page into anything but a blank page.”

5.  “I don’t have any ideas.”  Baty claims to go into November thinking “I’ll run out of material by the second paragraph”!  Remember when you were a kid with a crayon or a marker?  That’s all you needed to unleash all kinds of monsters and mayhem.  “That fearless inventiveness is still with us . . . just show up at that blank page . . . . your imagination will take it from there.”

Wait a minute!  This was supposed to be a Saturday’s Softcover: a book review!

Oh, yeah.  Well, if you need help Noveling this month, pick up a library copy, or send for Chris Baty’s fun and funny and helpful book, No Plot?  No Problem!:  A Low‑Stress, High‑Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days.  You’ll find secret weapons, ways to help your family help YOU, magical tools, stockpiles of delicious incentives, ways to cruise for characters, pan for plots . . . and way more.  If nothing else, it will keep you laughing while you type away.

And, by the way, most cities have Write‑Ins at local libraries and/or restaurants and coffee houses; a get‑started party (probably in the last days of October‑‑‑but they do a GREAT TGIO [Thank Goodness It’s Over] party at the end too).  An all ’round good way to meet other budding authors and make some new friends.  You can even have virtual friends by signing up with “writing buddies” on line: have contests with them to see who can write the most words in 10 minutes, or 30, or a day.276069395_fca916c100_o

If you need a starter couple of “writing buddies” on their site [NaNoWriMo.org] you’ll find me listed in both Salt Lake and Utah County’s regions and online with them as BenschWensch, of course.  My husband, Herb, will be there as BamaSaltyDog.  See you there!

AND see you day‑after‑tomorrow for Monday Moans!

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Tuesday’s Tutor: The Good Word(s) from LUW

Easy as A, B, C . . . from BB

On September 14, Sophie Littlefieldbad-day-romance-200, who wrote A Bad Day for Romance and Garden of Stones, among others, was the keynote speaker at Saturday’s opening session of the League of Utah Writers annual convention. She had some wise, some difficult, and some encouraging words to offer. In case you weren’t there, I’d like to share.

Sophie admitted that “Writing is HARD!” We all suffer from the solitary, self‑directed and uncertain life this plunges us into. We can be plagued by rejection, unkind reviews and self doubt. In fact, some days we just want to quit. Sophie said that “It’s OK to quit. But then you have to start again . . . because we’re not quitters…we are Un‑Quitters!” I loved that newly coined word.

The Key to Success, she claimed, is to be DOGGED. And then she illustrated that comment with a fun, funny and wonderful set of slides for each point she made: slides of her beloved dog. And she shared great, and leveling, idea from her agent, who says “If you write 2,000 words, read 2,000 words—within your genre.”

Now for the set of Everyday Rules for Un‑Quitters:

Build your community (think “platform,” if that term holds greater meaning for you. YOU need to pay attention to industry heavyweights: Whose blogs do you follow

Who do you read? After all, you can learn something from EVERYONE

Then keep up with the chores, like social media, finishing what you start, whether it’s the dishes or the fifth chapter; do your work daily; here’s one I came up with that I need to do: EDIT right after I’ve been critiqued. Update websites, social media sites you like and/or belong to.

This one was easy for me: take on ALMOST more than you can chew. It’s a little like if you need something done, ask a busy person.

Sophie urges Un‑Quitters to use the right tools: read the manual (for whatever tools you use), create a healthy, ergonomically helpful environment; don’t forget to get up and MOVE every hour or two; invest in quality supplies when you can; embrace technology from Scrivener and other special programs to the iPhone. When it comes to social media, do more with less.

And this may be the greatest part of all‑‑‑the way to STOP being a quitter: Un‑quitters shake things up. I loved her suggestions on various ways to accomplish that shake up: Digest the unfamiliar, from reading outside your genre to trying on new identities. Read what’s selling, then try writing something similar yourself. Pay attention to Good Reads: it will widen your circle. When the steam runs out, stretch yourself, rewrite using something innovative, weird, or Brilliant.

Now, let your “freak flag fly high”‑‑‑don’t let others judge you for being “weird” or “different”‑‑‑it’s all good. And, of course, don’t judge them either.

Un‑Quitters know how to change course. They don’t go around with blinders on. They pay attention to what’s selling NOW, who’s making $$$, who’s succeeding, who’s failing. They don’t covet what other people have, they go make their own success.

If you make a mistake, get over it: ‘fess up when you mess up, and move on.

Finally, remember who loves you best: your partner, your child, your parakeet. And when you’re feeling low, give yourself a day off!

Her final thought was ALWAYS remember what few things matter the most.

See you day‑after‑tomorrow for Thursday’s 13!

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Friday Friends: James Artimus Owen

180918_1886692411907_6117177_nEASY AS A, B, C . . . from BB

Not too long ago, we were lucky enough to hear James Artimus Owen speak at a writers’ conference.  He was brilliant.  Funny.  Touching.  Smart.   ….. I could go on, but you get the idea.  Now his ideas on How To Write A Brilliant Book were listed on The Author’s Think Tank by Lisa Mangum, a local editor who is also brilliant . . . funny . . . you know the drill  . . .

Here’s what Owen had to say this time:

1)      write most of a pretty good book

2)      get smart feedback from editor, rewrite half of what’s been written

3)      write more

4)      realize that it’s awful, and needs rewriting

5)      write more

6)      realize it’s actually pretty great, but needs to be finished

7)      almost finish it before your computer is stolen; be grateful your notes, outlines, and the best dialogue is all in longhand on yellow legal pads and post-it notes

8)      agonize over what you’re sure is a new horrible recreation of what was once an awesome book and finally . . .

9)      acknowledge that all of the above (except the computer theft part) is pretty much how it always goes before you end up with the brilliant book.

It’s not done yet – but the work so far is good enough now that I can actually sleep tonight. Can’t ask for much better than that.

Are you a serious, committed writer?  (Actually a few of us are serious.  Others are seriously funny.  And many of us should be committed!)  Are you interested in becoming an Author’s Think Tank member?  As it’s by invitation, write me here or at benschwensch@yahoo.com

Which of Owen’s ten steps are you on?  I’m on #1 with Crystal Cracked, Shattered Shards; mid-#2 with Glass Mountain Princess, trying to get to #3; and stuck on #6 with a too many others.  I need even more “serious” and I’m working diligently on “committed.”  🙂

See you day-after-tomorrow for “Sunday’s Snippets”

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Saturday’s Softcover: My Mother was an “Elizabeth” Too!

Easy as A, B, C . . . from BB

My mother was named Margaret Elizabeth, but I never knew her to go by Margaret, or any of its wonderful permutations: Maggie, Meg, etc. In fact, she didn’t go by any of the changes to Elizabeth either—it was always full throttle: Elizabeth. And she loved movies. She felt very connected to two famous Elizabeths: Queen Elizabeth, who named her son Charles—my brother, almost exactly the same age, is named Charles. And she loved Elizabeth Taylor. So, when I saw Lu Ann Brobst Staheli’s book entitled Just Like Elizabeth Taylor, I knew I “just” had to read it.

The book is tender, frightening, angst-filled in part, funny, and ultimately— mostly—very happy,81N-fns-EuL__SL1500_ though I was in tears at the end.

Liz, named Elizabeth for the movie star, becomes Beth when she runs away from home. How will this young girl, not yet a teen, make her way on her own?  Actually, a lot better than she can do at home where her mother is too weak to give up the boyfriend who beats her, and Liz cannot fend off the boyfriend’s loathsome son.

Plucky girl that she is, she steals some money from the “boyfriend,” and runs away—but only as far as a fairly nearby town. She finds an abandoned shack at a winter-deserted K.O.A. place, where she manages to have bathroom/water/ electric amenities, ekes out her meager “savings” with school lunch and occasional lunch leavings from other students.

As the school year draws closer to an end, “Beth” must find a way to make a friend, save a lunch lady, let her mother know she is still alive, find a more permanent home, and bring justice to her “real” family, while maintaining a decent GPA so she won’t be “found out.”

At every moment, I was aware that the author had taught junior high school for years: she knew the angst, the failures, the desperation of some, the heartlessness of others, and the pluck of the brave. Just before the ending I was in tears: not because it was sad, but because I was so angry at what happened to “Beth” next: pulling all the threads together, the horrific scene had me crying for the unfairness, the drive, the caring this young girl exhibited. It was a fitting triumph, finally.

I know Liz, the lost girl. I know Beth, the loner. I know Elizabeth, the winner. I’ve taught those high school, junior high school and middle school kids too. Read it, and you’ll know them as well!

 See you day after tomorrow for Monday Moans!

A1YSS+kQ4cL__SL1500_BTW, the prolific Staheli also has a book, A Note Worth Taking, about “best” friends, surviving lost friendships, making new friends—you know, all those things we suffered in junior high or middle school. I’m reading it next—you should too: it’s on sale at Amazon for $0.99 through the end of July.

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EASY AS A, B, C . . . from BB

Mikey Brooks author and illustratorMikey Brooks is a fun/funny/talented Utah artist and writer. Reading even his personal profile makes a person want to laugh and/or get to know this intriguing person, so here’s an introduction:

Since, by your own admission, you’re a “small child masquerading as [an] adult,” when did you first think you were “big” enough or “old” enough to write a book?

My first attempt came when I was about 14. I was dealing with some bad bullies at school and found that writing was an excellent way to deal with the problem. In my story, the character knew how to deal with the bullies in ways I didn’t. He was able to be himself regardless of what others thought or said. In the end I think it gave me strength to stand up for myself. I think that’s an important thing to learn in life: to be yourself. Even if that means you’re a 33-year-old guy who likes to play make believe and acts like a child.

I would assume you began your art work even before that . . . when did you get the “doodling” bug?

Oh, gosh—my parents said I was a doodler the minute I could hold a pen. I put my art up for everyone to admire on walls, floor, books, and television screen. In elementary school it was my dream to grow up and be an artist. I never thought I’d actually grow up to do it for a living.

What’s your favorite picture you’ve ever completed, and where can it be found?

My favorite painting is one of my wife. I am a romantic at heart and absolutely adore the film Ever After. In the film Leonardo Da Vinci paints a portrait of Danielle, the Cinderella in the story. There was something about the painting I loved. So I asked my wife to let me paint her portrait—it was something I had never done before and might not ever do again. The painting hangs over my table in my studio. My second favorite has got to be the cover for Bean’s Dragons. The story was inspired by my daughter and her imaginary dragons. I see her and the magic that lives inside her whenever I look at it.

The story of your wife’s portrait is so endearing! And I loved the first line of your teaser for The Dream Keeper too:case5.500x8.500.indd “Dreams: Dorothy called it Oz, Alice called it Wonderland, but Nightmares call it HOME.” Aside from that line, give us an example of one of your favorite original sentences.

In the story, the dream keeper, Gladamyr, was born a nightmare. He was actually born to one of the worst nightmares. The problem is, after years of torturing and scaring children, he wants to be something more. He admires humans because of their ability to choose right and wrong. So these are my favorite lines he says to another dreamling who asks why he wants to be human: “Humans are neither one hundred percent good nor bad, they are both. Within them is the ability to do good or evil. It is their will that makes them human—their ability to choose to be one or the other.”

A good thought for all of us to keep in mind. You’ve mentioned that you spend “most” of your time playing with your daughters and working as a freelance illustrator. What is your favorite thing to do with your girls, and what would each of them say is her favorite thing to do with you?

We love to play make believe. When it’s just me and them anything can happen. We pull the pillows off the couch and turn it into a battle ship and we’ll have a war with pirates. Then it will transform into a submarine and we’ll go on a hunt to find the mermaid palace. Before we know it, the couch is a spaceship and we soar up to the stars. We moonwalk on Mars and have lunch with aliens. Oh, the things you can do with a couch and the imagination of children! Never once do they question the things we pretend to see aren’t there—for them it’s magic and reality all in one.

My girls love to help daddy with his work and I try to incorporate them as much as I can. When I’m writing it’s not so easy, but when I’m drawing or painting, there is no reason they can’t be right there by me making art too. I believe ever parent should encourage their kids to work beside them. They get an understanding of what you do and it’s fun to see what brilliant things they come up with too.

Please tell us what other books you’ve had a hand in and where they can be found.

I have three picture books that I author/illustrated, Bean’s Dragons, ABC Adventures: Magical Creatures, and Trouble with Bernie. I also have three more which I illustrated for other authors. I am working on 3 more picture books currently with various clients and I have a few middle-grade books in the works. I just finished the sequel to The Dream Keeper and another fantastic book called The Stone of Valhalla. I’m excited to keep writing, illustrating, and sharing my passion with the world. You can find all my books by visiting my website at: http://www.insidemikeysworld.com/ or you can find them on my Amazon page at: http://www.amazon.com/Mikey-Brooks/e/B00B8ICZ4W.  Thank you for the interview. It has been a pleasure to be able to share these things with you!

The pleasure was all ours, Mikey, and good luck with your books, your art, and your adorable girls!

See you day-after-tomorrow for Saturday’s Softcover!

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