Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Candlewick Podcast Interview with Kate DiCamillo

Candlewick Press Presents

Candlewick Press has a podcast where the speak with Candlewick authors about their craft, their visions, and their processes.

Their interview with Kate DiCamillo has two bits of wisdom that I'd like to share:


"So, the way I work is I do the First draft, which looks like something somebody who is certifably insane wrote it.  It has very little coherence and it's just kind of like a rough map of where I'm going to go.  So I get that out and I don't pay any attention to how it sounds or anything. 

Then I go back, after letting it sit for a bit and do a Second draft, which does has some shape.  Now I'm still getting the story right and the words aren't exactly right. 

Third draft, I know the story a little bit better and now I can concentrate on the words more.

Fourth draft is where I'm actually happiest because it's just like I'm fine-tuning it but nobody else has seen it yet, but it's really starting to become itself.

So then forth or fifth draft is where I'll start to let people who I trust look at it.  It's not done.  'Is this a thing?' is a question I always ask myself. 'Does it seem real and necessary?' And that's the only question I want them to answer and if not, if it's not those things, then it's not working.

And then I'll do the Sixth draft and that is usually when it goes to to my agent, and then from my agent to my editor."


@ 15:15

"There's that thing that Anne Patchett talks about where you have this beautiful vision in your head, this beautiful book that you're going to write, and the minute that you put the first word down on the page you compromise that vision.  You can never capture that beautiful thing that's in your head. And so it's like letting go of the dream of perfection and just doing the best you can do."

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Better People

Front window of Magic City Books in Tulsa, OK
(Quote by Magic City Books co-founder Cindy Hulsey)

"Our brains like reading.  It lets us experience life.  ...I think it makes us better people."

-- Cindy Hulsey

I saw this photo/quote last week in Shelf Awareness Pro, a publishing industry newsletter and immediately agreed with it. 

Much of my life is spent passively reacting to the world around me.  There are, however, those things that shake me loose from that numbness and bring me back into this miracle world.

There are things that make me want to be a better person.  Books.  Music.  Writting.  Photography.  People.  Cats.  Day Lilies. 

These are things that actively make their mark on me as I actively spend time with them, seeing my world anew.  How can I not want to be a better person?


Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Sometimes the Words Stop Coming At All

Peanuts ® Charles Schultz

For the past month or so the words have just stopped coming altogether.

I'm trying to find my way through music, but music is still something of a foreign language.  And despite new, cheap fountain pens, words have disappeared.  Well, my words, new words, have disappeared.

All that's left to do is to try a little patience.  And then some more patience. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2018



This is a story about my puppy dog Bjorn.

 There are lots of stories about Bjorn, but before I tell the story I came here to tell you about, let me give you an aside (surprise!) that gives you a bit about his background: Bjorn was a true rescue dog. As a puppy he was bought by a man who wanted a viscous guard dog. Instead, he got the most friendly-spirited German Shepard puppy in the county.

 Frustrated, he gave "Rex" away to his son, a firefighter who lived down the road from us. "Rex" lived somewhere beside the firefighter's trailer and spent his days escaping from whatever enclosure he was in -- until he got hit by a car. At that point, said firefighter tied "Rex" to a small tree in the open space of his land in the heat of the summer. After getting complaints from the neighbors about "Rex's" whining and crying all day long, he moved "Rex" to a bigger tree in the shade.

 A month or so later a UPS driver delivered something to Bonn at the old farmhouse where we used to live. The driver arrived in tears, telling Bonn how she had seen a dog starving and pleading with her when she delivered a package. Bonn drove down and confirmed the awful conditions this skinny, malnourished German Shepard was barely living under. When I got home, she told me about him. I didn't need to think about it. "Let's go," I said.

 The situation was worse than I had imagined. He'd been starved and left without water for weeks. Maybe months. We poured a half gallon of water we'd brought with us into a bowl. He finished off all of it without coming up for water. "What are we going to do?" Bonn asked. "Well, I guess we have ourselves a dog," I replied.

 One end of a rope tied was around a tree, the other end was around his neck. He'd paced nervously around in circles so much that the rope had twisted and twisted until I couldn't get my finger underneath the rope around his neck. I cut the rope just past his neck with a knife and then proceeded to write a note to the firefighter that I taped to his door.

 The firefighter called later that night to explain that the dog was "in his teenage years" and might eat everything we put in front of him (surprise); the next day the vet said the dog was about a week away from dying from dehydration and starvation.

Bjorn on stairs
Bjorn, slightly older than in the photo above.

So much for the background. Here's the story I came to tell you about today. Bjorn -- I quickly named him after Bjorn Borg, a tennis player I'd grown up knowing because our Bjorn's first toys were tennis balls, which he absolutely loved running full-tilt after in our big yard -- lived most of his early years on the land around an old farmhouse. After a while we all moved to a house in the Raleighwood suburbs where Bjorn had a big backyard to run around in.

 Suddenly, there were new, suburban sounds for him to figure out. The best of these were fire engines. His first few times hearing fire engines, Bjorn was confused. He couldn't quite figure them out. There was... something there that he was trying to remember, trying to recognize, trying to connect with. 

Finally, one day, the far-off wailing sound of the fire engines reached deep within his subconscious genetic code and spoke to the distant wolf inside of him. And Bjorn began to howl. Bjorn howled in unison with the sirens, in sympathy, in heartfelt sorrow and fellowship with those sirens. His eyes would glaze over and he was transported by his becoming one with that primeval howl, that call to something lost, something missing. That just-out-of-reach longing.

 At first we were perplexed by this howling. I loved my Bjorn-e-o and worked to understand the depths behind it. Soon, I started joining in with the showing with him. At first he was somewhat taken aback by this big pink monkey doing his best to howl alongside of him. That soon dissipated, though. He understood that I was trying (as best I could) to howl along with him for all of those missing pieces, those empty spaces in my soul, adding my voice to the chorus of all of the others who felt the same way.

  ADDENDUM 1: The kids next door had two young dogs who started joining in with Bjorn whenever a fire engine siren started wailing in the distance. They never knew why they were doing it, they were just joining in with that cool dog next door in his howling. After Bjorn died and went to that great Crab Shack in the Sky, both of the next door neighbor dogs still howled every time a siren went by down the main road two blocks away.

  ADDENDUM 2: I still howl with the sirens sometimes. And when I do, I can hear my Bjorn howling with me. Arooooooooooooooooo...

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Stories I Tell; Stories I Don't Tell

"And I wasn't looking for heaven or hell
Just someone to listen to stories I tell"

--Toad the Wet Sprocket "Stories I Tell"

As an author in search of a story I look for characters and a situation that grabs me.  I need  something different, something that makes me curious, makes me want to know more about them. 

In short, I want a story I'd like to read.

One of the best-known writer tropes is to Write What You Know.  My problem with that is that I don't find my own stories all that compelling.  At best, they might make for amusing anecdotes; at worst they show what an insensitive and flawed human I am.  Neither of these create that spark in me that makes me want to know more.  I already know about me.  Even if I were to attribute my actions to a fictionalized version of myself, I don't know of a resolution that wouldn't ring false with me*.

Most of us can look around us and see strangers and make up stories about them -- brief vignettes of what they're doing, who they're going to meet and why, what secrets they're keeping, what they really want in life.  These are fun distractions, but I've never had one spark into an idea for a story I wanted/needed to tell.

Then there are stories/parts of stories I know about friends, family, acquaintances.  These are often exactly the type of deeply moving stories that reflect the kind of vulnerability and a struggle for the kind of positive resolution we, as readers, want our storied friends made of typeface and our imaginations to find.  For me, even if I tried to change and disguise the people and the events, this comes away as something of a betrayal of the confidence under which I learned about the story.

Some stories are not mine to tell.

One of the best things about being a writer, from my perspective, is finding the right story, the right characters, the right setting, and having them all come together in my head.  That's often a long, frustrating process.  Like now, for instance.

Then, of course, there's finding someone to read and appreciate those stories.

(But that's another post for another day.)

"Now what is a blessing and what is a dream
Caught between portraits and none's what it seems
And why is it people expect there's a change
When I feel I'm a part of something I can't see
I feel the same"

--Toad the Wet Sprocket  "Stories I Tell"

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Hope of Someday


There is a universality to this statement by Tim Federle.  Regardless of era, age, point in the Time/Space continuum, readers have the experience to know that their story will continue and can get better.

We just have to keep working towards and believing in that Someday.

(Tip o' the Hat to Debbie Ohi for posting this on her blog today)

Monday, May 8, 2017

Why I Became the Dungeon Master

The Dungeon Master's View
A month or so ago my weekly board gaming group were talking about Dungeons & Dragons.  We'd all played D&D way back when and we each had great memories of campaigns and stories to tell of seemingly impossible dice rolls and the resulting actions our characters were able to accomplish.

When I suggested that we should all play there was a combination of collective agreement and collective statements of, "but I don't want to DM."

See, the DM, or Dungeon Master, is the person who has to do all the work to create the basics for the Adventure the characters are going to be playing through.  It's a lot of background work to come up with the places, the people, the quests, the fiddly bookkeeping bits having to do with Armor Class and Weapon Damage and Hit Points and... well, even if you've never played D&D you hopefully get the idea.

And, really, that's only part of a DM's job.  The other big part is having to continually improvise to deal with a lot of unknowns.  Say you've designed this great character who can give the players all sorts of helpful information... and then they decide to attack him instead, killing off your plans.  Or you spend weeks building an entire town only to have the characters decide to go straight to the port and take over a ship and become pirates at sea. You get the idea.

A few days later I changed my mind.  What's more, I knew if we found a DM I would kick myself every time we played because I wasn't the DM. 

Why?  Because the DM is Brings the Story.  The DM is not The Storyteller, but the DM needs to describe what the players are seeing, hearing, smelling.  They need to create just enough of a story to get the other people engaged.  And that is what a good writer does to start off a story in their own minds.

In D&D the storytelling is collaborative.  As DM I set up and describe the environment and, yes, I give some strong hints as to what/where the characters should go, but I cannot predict what they will actually do.

To be honest, that's part of the biggest kick for me.  Once I realized my job was to make stuff up, it became much easier to make stuff up all the time.

If you've never played D&D, I highly recommend you give it a try.  It can be an immersive storytelling experience like no other.

-- Tom

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Book Review: This is What a Librarian Looks Like

This is What a Librarian Looks Like
by Kyle Cassidy

Kyle Cassidy's This is What Librarians Look Like began as an article on Slate.com where he featured male and female librarians of a variety of ethnic backgrounds, along with quotes from each that gave their reasons for choosing the profession and/or their views on the Library's place in world and local communities.

Cassidy's photo essay showed that there is no 'stereotypical' librarian. Librarians, like libraries themselves, are as diverse as the people they work with on a daily basis. That's part of what makes libraries so useful, so essential to the communities they serve.

The book This is What Librarians Look Like expands on that theme. Over 200 librarians are featured, both through photographs and accompanying quotes. As well, Cassidy has collected short essays, written for this book, from writers and entertainers on the importance of libraries in their lives. He has also written short chapters highlighting the history of libraries in America and some of the more unique libraries and the people who run them. Cassidy, a photographer and photojournalist, wisely does what he does best in allowing his essays and photographs set the background while leaving the majority of the 'story' of this book to the librarians who live the job each day.

One of the greatest gifts This is What Librarians Look Like does is to remind us all how vital libraries are to ourselves, our neighbors, and the most vulnerable in our community. It does so through the stories and the smiling, thoughtful expressions of the people who run libraries. Their stories encourage, and inspire through the simple honesty of their words. Librarians do not take on their jobs for the money, the do so because they believe in the importance of the work and for the difference it makes to the people whose lives they touch.

Libraries are more than just books in dust jackets sitting on shelves. They are the living, evolving heartbeat of our community, giving and responding to our needs asking only that their doors be kept open so we can make use of them. Open the covers of Cassidy's book and remind yourself what libraries have been, learn what they can be, and why you should be a part of that future.

Full Disclosure: I have followed Cassidy online, first through LiveJournal and then via Facebook, for over 10 years, although we have never met in person. I am also a former Elementary School Librarian with an MLS from NC Central University.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

"We're all stories, in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?"

Your Doctor Who Quote of the Day

Author Maggie Stiefvater is not only a great person but she's also an amazing speaker.

Today she posted a rough transcript of the talk she gave to the National Council of Teachers of English earlier this year.  It's about writing, perspective, and creating heroes -- especially creating yourself as the hero of your own life.

Reading it made my day.  I hope it makes your day, too.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Brickifying Book Covers

Lego Brickify'ed Book Cover from Travis Jonker's Blog
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Today, over at his great Children's Book Blog 100ScopeNotes, writer and children's librarian Travis Jonker posted seven children's book covers that had been run through Brickify, a convert-to-Lego® online app. 

It was such a brilliant idea that I am totally stealing borrowing it and doing the same here.

Guess the Covers!

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Two for Friend of the Blog Josh Funk!

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 And One for Friend of the Blog Anna Staniszweski!

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