Every day, more and more people take pen to paper (or put fingers to keys) in search of their inner muse. Many would-be authors do not want to take the time to study the craft on their own. (Good reason to join a critique group!) If you’re really short on time though, why reinvent the wheel of good writing when there are volumes of how-to-books already published? Despite these short-cuts, it still takes a long time to become a skilled writer. For those who want a very condensed basic course, I thought I’d share my favorite writing rules. Rather than foolishly trying to improve on the masters, I searched through the hundreds of quotations already out there. It was difficult to narrow the list down, but I especially agree with the following words from the wise. (I’ve also boldly added in one of my own suggestions at the end.)
“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” Jack London
“Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.” Barbara Kingsolver
“If you want to be a writer you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” Stephen King
“Beginning writers must appreciate the prerequisites if they hope to become writers. You pay your dues—which takes years.” Alex Haley
“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” E.L. Doctorow
“Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.” William Faulkner
“You must want to enough. Enough to take all the rejections, enough to pay the price of disappointment and discouragement while you are learning. Like any other artist you must learn your craft—then you can add all the genius you like.” Phyllis A. Whitney
“Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.” Henry David Thoreau
“My aim is to put down what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way I can tell it.” Ernest Hemingway
“I write as straight as I can, just as I walk as straight as I can, because that is the best way to get there.” H.G. Wells
“Good writers are those who keep the language efficient. That is to say, keep it accurate, keep it clear.” Ezra Pound
“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”
“Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader—not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.” E.L. Doctorow
“As for the adjective, when in doubt leave it out.” Mark Twain
“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Anton Chekhov
“Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character of advance the action.” Kurt Vonnegut
“Cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own joke.” F. Scott Fitzgerald
“If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.” John Steinbeck
“There is no satisfactory explanation of style, no infallible guide to good writing, no assurance that a person who thinks clearly will be able to write clearly, no key that unlocks the door, no inflexible rules by which the young writer may steer his course. He will often find himself steering by stars that are disturbingly in motion.” E. B. White
“When you get in a tight place & everything goes against you, till it seems you could not hold on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place & time that the tide will turn.” Harriet Beecher Stowe
“Shut down the internet, set a timer for 15 minutes, and write. Hopefully, when the timer goes off, you will be involved in your story enough to keep going.” Marcia Strykowski
As a nice tribute, several people recently posted pictures of their Shirley Temple dolls, so I decided to dig out a few of my vintage dolls, too. I did a quick search online, but couldn’t find any Annette dolls wearing this same outfit. There was a Sweetie-Pie and an old Minnie Mouse on Ebay (in poor condition). I also had to look up the terms to make sure I’m using them right. Apparently, over 100 years old equals antique. Over 40-50 years old means vintage. And retro would be more recent, like 1980s and 90s. Other old dolls I remember were Kewpie and the Campbell’s Soup Kids.
Three vintage dolls plus a troll to hide Annette’s bare feet.
To connect this post to the rest of the website, I’ll give you another sneak peek into Amy’s Choice, the companion book to Call Me Amy. In Amy’s Choice, there is a mention of trolls—along with rat fink rings, does anyone else remember those?
I don’t consider myself to be a collector, but I am definitely a saver. Not everything, just things that somehow end up becoming a collection. For example, I never planned to collect PEZ, but my kids liked the candy. Every time they tossed a container, I’d stash it away.
Below is proof that I was a girl scout! Me in my ‘brownie’ shirt. I didn’t have too many badges, and I remember I focused on the easy ones. Now I see there were a few more checked off in my handbook, but I never received them. ( Rip-off! I guess I should have thought about those missing badges sooner.) The ones shown (from top left) are My Home, Magic Carpet (described as: To discover what you can do with stories and books to give pleasure to others—yes!) Collector (looks like I lied about collecting…) Health Aid, and My Camera. I never did sew on the last badge—Troop Dramatics. The little yellow elf shoe emblem still hangs from a pin.
For more of my treasures, see Beloved Old Treasures , Trixie Belden , and Foreign Language Picture Books.
What do you collect or save?
We haven’t dipped into Miss Cogshell’s recipe box in a while and what could be better than a steaming bowl of beef stew on a cold day in New England? This hearty stew can be changed up by adding different vegetables, or by using chicken, or no meat at all! For more quick and tasty recipes, click on the Recipes & Crafts button.
CALL ME AMY takes place in 1973. I picked that year for Pup, because it was soon after the Federal Marine Mammal Protection Act had passed. I found it fascinating to research this time period (and to jog my memory, of course).
When I first started this site almost two years ago, I posted some 1973 fun facts. Being new to blogging, I enjoyed checking my site stats. For some reason my post titled 1973 consistently got more hits from all over the world than my other posts combined. This made me very curious. Were school children from Zimbabwe, Mongolia, Croatia and other exotic places really all doing homework assignments on 1973? Or was there just not much else out there about 1973 and anyone who happened to search for it landed on my blog? Partly because the post was popular and partly because I’m still curious, I’m posting an improved version of the entry to see what happens.
Top events from 1973 included the following: The United States ended its involvement in the Vietnam War. In New York City, the World Trade Center officially opened. The first handheld cellular phone call was made in midtown Manhattan. Secretariat, the famous thoroughbred racehorse, became the first U. S. Triple Crown Champion. Skylab, the first American space station, was launched and the Sears Tower in Chicago became the world’s tallest building.
And last but not least, President Richard Nixon was up to his ears in Watergate while Elvis Presley’s concert in Hawaii was the first worldwide telecast by an entertainer. Here is a picture of Nixon and Elvis shaking hands during the early 1970s.
Stamps cost 8 cents and gas was 39 cents a gallon. The Academy Award for Best Picture went to “The Godfather.” The Grammy Award for Record of the Year was “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” by Roberta Flack (this was her first of four Grammy wins!)
Letter Carriers were first allowed to wear shorts in 1973. Speaking of fashion, denim blue jeans of all types were very big that year—embroidered, studded, painted, or faded. Platform shoes and hairstyles both reached new heights. Other popular hairdos were the ‘shag’ and the ‘afro’. Far out!
There’s something about old books. And I don’t mean a musty odor. My books, believe it or not, don’t smell at all and they’ve been on my shelves for more years than I care to share. Already antiques at the time, I bought some of the oldest ones from a used bookstore when I was a kid. Above is a peek at my home library.
The Mary Jane series was written by Clara Ingram Judson (1879-1960). My copy was published in 1921 by Grosset & Dunlap in NY. There’s an inscription inside the book which reads: Betty Lou from Ginnie, Eddie, and David—Christmas 1937. Anybody know Betty Lou?
Jack & Jill by Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888)—no copyright (perhaps it’s on the missing dust jacket?)—was published by the now defunct Goldsmith Publishing Company in Chicago.
The Secret Stair by Pemberton Ginther, was published in 1932 by Cupples & Leon Company in NY which was founded in 1902 and then acquired by Platt & Munk in 1956. The author Mary Pemberton Ginther (1869-1959) was also a successful artist. My copy was once owned by someone named Rudie Lindgren. I wonder what became of Rudie.
The three green books were published by The Mershon Company, an active publishing house between 1897 and 1906. These books were all written by Laura Lee Hope, a pseudonym used by at least ten authors who wrote many series for children under the Stratemeyer Syndicate.
The Bobbsey Twins has a 1904 copyright and the following inscription: Miss Beth Austin, Elm Street, Salisbury.
One of my Bunny Brown books was owned by a Dorothy Walmsley, who lived on Fairmont Street in Malden, MA in 1935. Many years later I bought her book for fifty cents.
Below are two inside views of Trending Into Maine by Kenneth Roberts. This book was beautifully illustrated by N. C. Wyeth.
Although eBooks may be coming on strong, I don’t think they’ll ever hold the stories and memories ‘real’ books contain.
Can’t you just picture Miss Cogshell bustling around her kitchen as she whips up this special punch? Perhaps she is making it for a function to be held in the basement of the Port Well’s Baptist church, located just up the road from her seaside home. Whatever the occasion, you can bet it will taste delicious. Enjoy and have a magical New Year!
For those of you who have yet to meet Miss Cogshell, you’ll find her in CALL ME AMY, the first of two tween novels that take place in a tiny fishing village on the coast of Maine.
Have you ever thought it would be fun to have a tea party? I hosted one a while back with fellow authors, illustrators, librarians, and readers in attendance. We played literary games, sipped tea, nibbled on scones and crumpets, and had great conversations!
As the author of Winnie-the-Pooh stated: “A Proper Tea is much nicer than a Very Nearly Tea, which is one you forget about afterwards.” ~A.A. Milne
For centuries, people around the world have been fascinated by lighthouses. They can be found on dangerous coastlines, islands, and harbors. Before their existence, people would light fires along the shore to guide sailors. One of the very first (and tallest!) lighthouses was built in Egypt around 280 BC. The first in America was built in 1716 in Boston Harbor, but was destroyed during the Revolutionary War. The current lighthouse, located on Little Brewster Island, dates from 1783.
A lighthouse features in the sequel to Call Me Amy. Naturally, I had to do some research. :) Here are pictures of a few I’ve recently visited. I climbed all 185 steps of the one shown top middle–what a view from the top!
One Saturday I was strolling through Hobby Lobby when I happened upon two little packs of ‘beads.’ Each package had three book charms in it AND they were half-price. Of course I had to buy them. Next, I hunted for some sort of open-link chain to put the little classics on. I found a pretty one at A. C. Moore. After I finished attaching the charms to the necklace, I realized they matched my old book pin. Working at a library, I can get away with wearing all nine books at once. I guess you could say I’m all booked up!
I’m always running into people who say they want to write a book or that they have a great idea for a story. Easy to say, but maybe now is the time to really give it a try, to walk your talk. You can keep hoping to do this someday or you can just dig in and accomplish your goal while others are still talking about it. Writing doesn’t have to take a lot of time, even one page a day will give you a 365 page draft before the year is out. After you’ve got that draft, it’s time to revise and polish. A great way to do this is by joining a writing group. Be prepared for the possibility of harsh feedback. True, writing is subjective, but that’s why a group is good. When more than one person tells you a passage is unclear, it probably really does need reworking. Writing takes a tough skin, however those who stick with it, will someday have their book.
Whether it actually gets published is another story, but if you’re serious and in this field for the long run, you can achieve that, as well. Here are a few examples of children’s books that took a while to shine. Luckily for us, their authors didn’t give up.
16 publishers rejected THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK. Here’s one of their comments: “The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the ‘curiosity’ level.” Before going on to win a Newbery Medal, A WRINKLE IN TIME was rejected by 26 publishers. LORD OF THE FLIES—20 times. And of course, the first HARRY POTTER book was returned unwanted by 12 publishers. Here’s the winner for this group: Dr. Suess’s first book received 27 rejections.
Easier said than done, but hang in there and happy writing!
If any of you have your own tips for getting the job done, please click just above the typewriter and leave a comment.
First, I’m thrilled to introduce the new book trailer for Call Me Amy:
And then this fantastic review and recommendation from the October issue of Library Media Connection. Here’s part of it: “Every once in a while, a book comes along that you just can’t put down. This book draws you in so deeply, you just have to keep reading. Set in the 1970s, it is a heartwarming story of friendship and coming of age. The story is well-developed and has enough twists and turns to keep even a reluctant reader interested.” —Pamela K. Simmons, Librarian, Penn Yan, NY
Also, I was excited when a Singapore library system link was pointed out to me. Looks like at least 25 libraries now have a copy of Call Me Amy and a dozen of them are already checked out. So fun to picture my book being in the hands of readers over 9000 miles away from where I live. Happy reading!
This little ghost family has just put their pumpkins out on the stoop. What a fun, easy way to make healthy snacks during the Halloween season. We used clementines, green beans, bananas, and chocolate chips. For more recipes and crafts, click on the Recipes & Crafts button in right sidebar.
I’m back from a fun-filled vacation in Bermuda. Looks like a copy of Call Me Amy hid itself in my suitcase and then popped into a palm tree.
Mark Twain often stayed on this beautiful island of friendly people. Statues of him can still be found in several locations.
Now that summer has ended, I had to make a quick trip to the coast before winter sets in, just to breathe in that fresh ocean air. I wasn’t disappointed.
Yesterday, I spent the day at a good ol’ fashioned New England farm festival. Although previously scheduled for last Sunday, the event was postponed a week in hopes of better weather. And what a gorgeous day it turned out to be!
Pup liked to watch the whirligigs next door:
My sister gave me this adorable bag. Since Call Me Amy features an abandoned harbor seal and takes place in 1973, it is the perfect satchel to carry a copy of the book while I’m out and about. Between the cheerful polka dot lining and little zipper pull peace sign—I love it!
Do you have a favorite picture book? There are so many fantastic ones to pick from. Some of my all-time top choices are in the above photo. But then I wondered what I’d choose from more recent titles. The Bear in the Book by Kate Banks came to mind for its beautifully written story within a story. Hallensleben’s paintings are gorgeous, too. Speaking of bears, how cute are these books?
Click on comments to share your own favorite picture books.
This picture shows famous artist Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009) in front of his home in Port Clyde. He is the young man in the big white hat, sketching to the admiration of the local boys surrounding him. My father took this photograph many years ago and his dog Blackie is in it! I wish I could post some of Andy’s beautiful paintings, but they are not in public domain. Instead I will add a recent picture I took of that same area. As a sneak peek: you’ll see Andy’s name mentioned several times in the sequel to Call Me Amy.
It’s so much fun to work at a public library surrounded by books and those who love them. We’ve just taken down our staff art exhibit. The display included photographs, paintings, pastels, and needlework. Here is a fuzzy close-up of my contribution.
Besides all the fun events, another great thing about working at the library is I get to hear firsthand how readers like my book. In the beginning it was mostly friends and older patrons, and I figured some were just being kind. But now all the kids are checking it out. The other night while I was working at the front circulation desk, three young girls, all unbeknownst to each other, came in at different times to return my book (our library owns a dozen copies :)). The first girl, about 12 years old, asked if I could recommend other books like Call Me Amy. I told her “that’s so nice to hear!” She replied: “I really liked it. I like books that are a little sad, but then happy in the end.” The other two kids were enthusiastic, too, and both said they couldn’t wait for the sequel. Here is a picture of another young patron at the book club event we held earlier in the summer.
When I do book signings, I always have a bowl of salt water taffy on my table to tie in with the ocean theme of Call Me Amy. I thought I’d put an Old Salt (seafaring fellow) in this picture of the taffy. According to legend, in 1883 a candy shop was flooded during a major storm. As a result, David Bradley’s entire stock of taffy was saturated with salt water from the ocean. For a joke, he offered the “salt water” taffy to his next customers. The name stuck and people have been enjoying it ever since. Salt water taffy doesn’t actually contain seawater but it does have both water and salt as ingredients. After it has cooked and cooled, the sticky treat needs to be stretched. This adds air to the mixture and keeps it soft. Before the process was automated, many a household enjoyed taffy pulls.
I was recently interviewed for the popular Guide to Literary Agents blog run by Chuck Sambuchino of Writer’s Digest. Click on the link to read it:
Also, one of my website followers brought it to my attention that she never realized the large picture buttons going down the right side of this page are clickable. She happened to click one accidentally and was surprised to find a whole new page. Now you all know!
University of New England has a Marine Animal Rehabilitation Center where they nurture orphaned baby harbor seals back to health and then, when they’re strong enough, release them back to the ocean. I had the opportunity to witness this firsthand. Five pups who started out at about 15 pounds and now average 50 pounds were set free on a mild day in August. How wonderful to see the healthy pups swimming out to sea as nature intended.
Here are the first two starting out:
On their way:
They made it:
Happy travels little seals, be safe.
While relaxing with my family on a local boardwalk yesterday, I was presented with an early birthday present. It’s Amy’s sneaker! Those of you who have read Call Me Amy know that she was always hanging out on the pier in her lime green sneakers, so of course I had to take a picture of my gift in its natural surroundings—perched on a wharf. This adorable facsimile, with a slot in the top, is actually a bank to store coins in—very cute!
I enjoyed signing books and meeting lots of people at Barnes & Noble yesterday.
The 3rd Annual New England Author Fair hosted by Bayswater Book Co. in Center Harbor, NH was a big success. Lots of people attended and the rain held off!
There’s nothing like time spent Down East—the waves crashed, the seagulls soared, and the lupines were in bloom. Along the way I stopped in at many bookstores and libraries to introduce Amy and say Hi.
School is almost out, have you got your summer reading lined up?
I had an amazing, whirlwind time at BookExpo America—so many people and so many books!
I even got to pose with one of the celebrities!
Happy Release Day to CALL ME AMY! Here is how the top of the book display cabinet looks at the library where I work:
The Call Me Amy launch party was a great success. To see lots of pictures from the event, click the launch photos tab above. Nine more days until the official release!
I’m so excited for the CALL ME AMY Book Launch Party. Guess what the theme is!
I’m all ready to give out books next Tuesday! I chose My Ántonia by Willa Cather.
My Ántonia is an exciting, sentimental, sometimes upsetting novel about the pioneers of the American west. One of Cather’s earliest novels — written in 1918 — My Ántonia is the story of Antonia Shimerda, who arrives on the Nebraska frontier as part of a family of Bohemian emigrants. In quiet, probing depth, the story commemorates the spirit and courage of the immigrant pioneers whose persistence and strength helped to build America.
World Book Night is an annual celebration dedicated to spreading the love of reading, person to person. Each year on April 23, tens of thousands of people go out into their communities and give half a million free World Book Night paperbacks to light and non-readers. This year, World Book Night will be celebrated in the U.S., the UK, and Ireland.
Less than 2 months to go—an exciting time! ARCs (advanced reading copies) have circulated among journals and I was honored to learn prestigious Booklist would be reviewing CALL ME AMY. They receive more than 60,000 submissions a year and only evaluate a fraction of those. But to read their assessment was even better! Here’s a sneak peek of the review in its entirety as it will appear in the April 15th issue of Booklist. If you are unable to make the book launch party, click on the cover in the right sidebar to preorder CALL ME AMY.
The whoopie pie is the official state treat of Maine (their state dessert is blueberry pie). In the way that donut holes were leftover from donuts, whoopie pies were first made from the leftover batter of larger cakes. The Amish also have a claim to the whoopie pie’s earliest appearance. Wherever they originated, these delicious mini cakes with cream filling have been a classic since the 1920s. In 2011, the world’s largest whoopie pie was created in South Portland, Maine. It weighed 1,062 pounds. Proceeds from selling servings of the enormous filled-cake were used to send whoopie pies to soldiers overseas. And like those who received them many years ago, the soldiers may have said “whoopie!” when they opened their surprise packages.
If you were to cruise along the Maine coast, you’d see dots of bright colors floating everywhere on the surface of the ocean. Buoys are attached by rope to the traps that sit on the bottom. Each lobsterman paints his/her buoys with a unique color pattern. This way they can later find and identify their traps. An indicator buoy is displayed on all boats so everyone will know which buoys belong to which fisherman. Traditionally, lobster buoys were made of wood, but now most are plastic or Styrofoam. Whether from lumber or artificial materials, they are pretty, practical, and necessary for this vital livelihood.
I had a great time creating this paper doll for all of you young or young-at-heart followers. You can click on the link for a printable pdf copy. For my own set, I printed it twice, once on cardstock for the doll, and once on regular paper for the clothes. Be sure to snip a thin slit between Amy’s shoulders and hair so that the tabs will fit. You may also want to add an extra tab to the top of her bellbottoms. ♥ Have fun! amy paper doll
For Valentine’s Day, I set up a ‘Blind Date with a Book’ display at the library. Patrons can check out the wrapped books. When they get home and open their packages, they’ll meet their book dates. Maybe they’ll have a future together or maybe their date will turn out to be a dud. Either way, they’ll return it to the library, and unlike some blind dates, no hard feelings!
Eastern Egg Rock, an island off the coast of Maine, used to have plenty of puffins, but by 1973 they had all vanished. Between 1973 and 1986, Audubon naturalists, led by Dr. Stephen W. Kress, transported young puffins from Newfoundland (where there are plenty of puffins) and reintroduced them to Eastern Egg Rock. Vitamin fortified fish was placed in their burrows until the puffins were ready to be on their own. After several years at sea, the first transplanted pairs returned in 1977. To encourage the curious young puffins to come ashore, wooden puffin decoys were positioned here and there on the rocks. Today there are over 100 pairs nesting on Eastern Egg Rock. If you’d like to get involved, look into Project Puffin. A picture of my adopted puffin, Abigale, is shown on the About the Author page.
I am going to let Lucy Maud Montgomery do a guest post today. Many of you will recognize her as the author of the Anne of Green Gables series. Here is what she had to say about writing:
“I cannot remember the time when I was not writing or when I did not mean to be an author. To write has always been my central purpose around which every effort and hope and ambition of my life has grouped itself. During one of those winters of school teaching I boarded in a very cold farmhouse. In the evenings, after a day of strenuous school work, I would be too tired to write. So I religiously arose an hour earlier in the mornings for that purpose. For five months I got up at 6 o’clock and dressed by lamplight. The fires would not yet be on, of course, and the house would be very cold. But I would put on a heavy coat, sit on my feet to keep them from freezing and with fingers so cramped that I could scarcely hold the pen, I would write my ‘stunt’ for the day…. Then I would thaw out my hands, eat breakfast and go to school. When people say to me, as they occasionally do, ‘Oh, how I envy you your gift, how I wish I could write as you do,’ I am inclined to wonder, with some inward amusement, how much they would have envied me on those dark, cold, winter mornings of my apprenticeship.”
And this is what Lucy wrote after Anne of Green Gables was rejected from five publishers two years previous:
“The manuscript (of Anne) lay in the hatbox until I came across it one winter day while rummaging. I began turning over the leaves, reading a bit here or there. It didn’t seem so very bad. ‘I’ll try once more,’ I thought.”
Thank goodness she revisited that hatbox!
Back when I was a kid, I ‘wrote’ my first book. I would have been amazed to see what kids can do today with computer tools.