Cover of book called The Clackity, by Lora Senf. Shows girl in front of creepy tree.

What I’m reading: The Clackity and Save the Cat!

I spent all of November and more than half of December toiling away at my Work in Progress. I say toiling because it’s the first draft of a complete rewrite, and oy are first drafts rough. So, when I thought I’d finished the first draft, I took a break to enjoy the holidays and some just-for-fun reading. I’d heard good things about The Clackity  by Lora Senf and decided to give it a go.

Cover of book called The Clackity, by Lora Senf. Shows girl in front of creepy tree.

 

It is now one of my favorite middle grade books and at the top of my list in the spooky/horror category. In it, a young girl lives with her aunt in a town overrun with hauntings, some mild, some humorous, most harmless. However, Evie is told to follow one rule: stay out of the old slaughterhouse at the edge of town. When her aunt senses trouble there and disappears within its walls, Evie decides to go after her. The new world she discovers — and its dangers within — challenge any hope she has to rescue the only remaining member of her beloved family.

Inventive and spooky. I highly recommend The Clackity for lovers of fright.

 

 

Image shows the book cover of Save the Cat Writes a Novel and depicts a cat hanging from a rope.

In January, I started reading (actually, re-reading) Save the Cat! Writes a novel: The Last Book on Novel Writing You’ll Ever Need by Jessica Brody. I bought this in 2018 when it came out, thanks to great reviews by people whom I respect. When I first tried reading it, though, I wasn’t in the right place with my writing and so I had a hard time getting out of it what others had. I knew I had to wait until the information would hit me more directly. I’m glad I did. With the first draft completed (so I thought) and heading into revision, I was in the mood for reading about story structure. This time, the info hit right. I see I have more to add to my first draft, but the book’s story beats will help guide those additions and future revisions. I’m so glad I revisited it.

Save the Cat! is a solid and fun guide to story structure, fundamentals, and spark. Recommended for readers who want to know how stories tick.

 

I’ve also been listening to more and more audiobooks the past few years. I haven’t really posted much about them, but let me say, it’s a joy to relax and have a story read to you.

I wish you happy reading in 2023.

 

(The above are Amazon Affiliate links, meaning I make a few pennies off the sale of each book, at no cost to you.)

 

 

Logo for NaNoWriMo, showing an aqua blue with a shield showing writing utensils, topped with Viking horns, beside the words "National Novel Writing Month"

NaNoWriMo mojo!

Logo for NaNoWriMo, showing an aqua blue with a shield showing writing utensils, topped with Viking horns, beside the words "National Novel Writing Month"

Well, wowee zowee and SHAZAM! I am AMAZED. Wanna know why? Because NaNoWriMo works, baby! It really, really works! I did it this year for the first time ever, and I am thrilled with the results.

In case you don’t know already, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month, and it’s basically an impetus to get writers crackin’. The idea is to hunker down in November with a goal of putting 50-thousand words toward a new novel. The non-profit org that runs it has all sorts of tools and methods to help writers achieve that goal. But many writers come up with their own rules/methods to meet their liking.

For example, I didn’t start a new novel. I used the movement to work on an existing project that has been laaaaaanguishing. Oy, this project is a whole other story for another day. *hides face in shame* To be clear, I didn’t finish the novel nor reach the 50k word-count goal. An event mid-month killed my progress for, like, a week. But that’s not what matters. What matters is that I GOT BACK INTO THE WRITING HABIT.

***RING THE BELLS! CUE THE CHORUS! GATHER THE PEOPLES! IT’S A PARTY IN HERE!****

The habit of writing creates the urge to write. Now, nine days into December, I’m still writing, and I’m nearly done with the novel. Importantly, it’s a far better story thanks in part to thinking about and actively working on it so intensely for so long. I’m really happy with it so far. What more could I ask for from an artificial deadline?

I’ll tell you what else. Community.

My good friend and fellow author Valerie Biel mentioned to me ahead of November that she was doing NaNoWriMo with another friend, author Mary Behan, and I told her I was going to do it as well. We joined forces. In this pact, we had accountability, camaraderie, and a sounding board. Keep reading because you’ll want to know what we did that worked out so great.

Photo shows author Valerie Biel and her book titled Circle of Nine Beltany. Valerie is white, blonde, and has her hair pulled back into a low ponytail.

Valerie Biel

Photo shows author Mary Behan and her book titled A Measured Thread. Mary is white, has short white hair, and wears round, brown glasses.

Mary Behan

Valerie, who is an organizational goddess and also provides author services (check out her website), set up our communications: a shared calendar where we could enter our daily word count (accountability); weekly Zooms to discuss progress and whatever else (camaraderie); and a Facebook chat group to share spur-of-the-moment thoughts and gripes (a sounding board). This kept us in constant communication but never demandingly so. Perfection. Copy this method.

And one of the odd things we talked about? We all noticed during this month-long immersion into creativity that our nighttime dreams became more frequent and vivid, and we could better remember them in the morning. Isn’t that fascinating?

I’m so grateful to these ladies for providing encouragement then and still. And, hey, I’m thankful we decided to turn a totally-not-real deadline into a real one for ourselves. It really worked to get us out of our malaise. I hope you’ll try it someday if you too need the kick to get crackin’.

Sara Schonfeld of Katherine Tegen Books and Deb Buschman, leader of SCBWI-Wisconsin

SCBWI’s faaaaaabulous Fall Luncheon

A weekend away can seem like an extravagance, but sometimes it’s worth every penny.

I’ve been in a bit of a creative rut. I allowed myself time this summer to read, but as September rolled around, I felt a bit stymied with my writing. Months ago, I suspected I’d appreciate an in-person writing event come October, and wow, was I right. This weekend was g.l.o.r.i.o.u.s in so many ways.

Sunday was the SCBWI-Wisconsin Fall Luncheon, an event just a few hours long, in which writers meet up, enjoy a lunch, and hear a single speaker. Sara Schonfeld, editor at HarperCollins imprint Katherine Tegen Books proved to be an excellent speaker. More on this later.

Backing up, I decided to make a whole weekend of it. I booked a three-day stay at the hotel. The drive north was wonderful, all by itself. I think this is one of the most colorful Wisconsin autumns I’ve ever seen. Does that correlate with today’s early, first snowfall of the season? I have no idea, but the drive to Door County was stunning. Feast your eyes.

Wisconsin's fall foliage, Oct 2022

Wisconsin's fall foliage, Oct 2022

Wisconsin’s glorious fall colors (captured at a rest stop, don’t worry). 🙂

When I got to the hotel, my room was ready early, thank goodness, and I quickly settled in to write. Wow! I wrote like a person possessed. A change of scenery can induce that? You betcha. Mission accomplished by Day One.

Add, that my room was beautiful. Add, that I got a few hours socializing with great friends before the event even started. Add, that I learned to play pickle ball and, omg, it was so much fun! And add, our group’s first in-person event in three years. It was heavenly, this weekend. Truly.

Sailboat on Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin

A sailboat on Sturgeon Bay beside where we played pickle ball. We were having so much fun, we forgot to take a group picture!

Sara gave a well-presented, insightful talk on revising like an editor. No one could walk away without at least one (but likely many) new tactics to try when they get to that stage. I thoroughly enjoyed both her talk and getting to know her. She’s a delight.

photo shows a group listening to Sara Schonfeld, editor at HarperCollins imprint Katherine Tegen Books

Sara Schonfeld of Katherine Tegen Books and Deb Buschman, leader of SCBWI-Wisconsin

Sara Schonfeld of Katherine Tegen Books and Deb Buschman, leader of SCBWI-Wisconsin (photo courtesy of author Sandy Brehl)

Here are a few more photos of the luncheon. Special thanks to Deb Buschman and all SCBWI volunteers for putting on an outstanding event.

photo shows authors Silvia Acevedo, Amanda Zieba, and Christy Wopat

photo shows authors Pat Zietlow Miller and Kate Penndorf

photo shows attendees at the SCBWI-Wisconsin Fall Luncheon

The previous three photos are courtesy of author Sandy Brehl

photo shows Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, during the autumn of 2022

photo shows Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, fall of 2022

Just outside the ballroom, the view of Sturgeon Bay

If you’re thinking that your creative endeavors could use a change a scenery, you may be right. I recommend giving it a try. I’m so grateful I did. 🙂

 

 

Image shows cover of the book "Wisconsin Writers Anthology 2022."

WWA Anthology is out!

Image shows cover of the book "Wisconsin Writers Anthology 2022."I just added another title to the Books page of this website, and I’m thrilled that it contains my first published horror short story. Creepy short stories are definitely my bag. I love reading them. I love writing them. And I’m thrilled that my short story won an Honorable Mention in the Wisconsin Writers Association’s Jade Ring Contest and publication in its anthology.

This paperback is just $6.99 as of the date of this writing. That’s a bargain for 113 pages of original writing by Wisconsin creators, so order your copy here and support WWA and local authors!

 

*This post contains affiliate links, meaning I get a few cents if you order through that link, at no charge to you.

Image shows covers of the books LESS IS LOST and OTHER HORRORS

What I’m reading – Other Terrors and Less is Lost

It’s fall, and, while I typically try to hunker down and get writing again when the colder winds start to blow, I’m still heavily reading, so here’s what I’m enjoying (with $affiliate links).

Image shows covers of the books LESS IS LOST and OTHER HORRORS

OTHER TERRORS; AN INCLUSIVE ANTHOLOGY. This is a collection of creepy tales from critically acclaimed, diverse authors with a broad spectrum of diverse and contemporary characters. These wonderfully inclusive and modern tales are not only riveting but also manage give a reader creepy crawly chills. Whooeee, some of these stories really strike a nerve, and others will leave you seeing circumstances in a whole new light. I especially loved the story Waste Not by Alma Katsu because, ooh, what a line it crosses; also, Idiot Girls by Jennifer McMahon and The Turning by Hailey Piper. Shivers and shakes. Highly recommended.

LESS IS LOST by Pulitzer Prize winning author Andrew Sean Greer. Its prequel, LESS, had me in stitches when I first read it in 2018, and I gave it five stars on Goodreads. I just reread it, and it still hilariously holds up. It’s the story of a struggling novelist who receives an invitation to his former lover’s wedding, and, rather than go, decides to accept every harebrained literary invitation he’s received, from places around the world, to escape. I’m only a few pages in to the sequel, and I can’t wait to see where Less takes us next.

My cute cat Glyph, an adorable orange tabby, lying across the book Aaron Slater Illustrator

What I’m Reading – Blackout; In the Wild Light; Less; and Aaron Slater, Illustrator

My cute cat Glyph, an adorable orange tabby, lying across the book Aaron Slater Illustrator

My sweet, affectionate cat Glyph enjoying “Aaron Slater, Illustrator”

I (and one of my cats) have been reading a lot lately. Like, a lot. I typically have a harder time writing in summer than other times of the year because, well, I want to be out enjoying summer, so this year I decided to mostly take a break from writing and instead catch up on reading, which I find easy to accomplish in the snatches of free time throughout the day.

So what have I been reading? Mostly young adult and picture books but also a classic as its sequel is coming out soon. Here are some of my noteworthy reads (with $affiliate links).

Cover of the book Blackout by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon. Black background, the word Blackout in yellow, and author names in purple.Blackout by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon, all critically acclaimed authors. This is a collection of contemporary, interlinking short stories set during a power outage in New York City. Warm and affirming, these Black love stories show characters in many stages of love and self-acceptance. It was a sweet read, and I loved loved loved walking through New York City with all of them. It reminded me of so many of my own walks and explorations when I lived and worked there in 2021 and 2022. Highly recommended.

 

 

 

 

Cover of the book In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner. Black mountains and an orange and yellow sunrise in the background, the title words in black, and author names in white.In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner. Admittedly, I’m still in the first chapter, but just the first paragraph tells me I’m going to like this. I’ve always like Jeff’s writing and had the pleasure of hosting him at a writing conference for SCBWI-Wisconsin, which I co-led for a few years. I got so engrossed reading another book of his, that I missed my train stop and ended up way uptown instead of down. It was no problem, but seriously, if it could make me not hear three announcements and stops, that’s good writing.

 

 

 

 

 

Cover of the book Less by Andrew Sean Greer. Shows an animated white man in a blue suit falling through the blue air, with typed pages falling as well. The title is in grey, and the author name is blue, matching the falling man’s suit.Pulitzer Prize winning Less by Andrew Sean Greer had me in stitches when I first read it in 2018, and I gave it five stars on Goodreads. It’s the story of a struggling novelist who receives an invitation to his former lover’s wedding, and, rather than go, decides to accept every harebrained literary invitation he’s received, from places around the world, to escape. I’m rereading this because, YAY!!!, its sequel is coming out in just ten days. Can’t wait to dive back into this world.

 

 

 

 

 

Cover of the book Aaron Slater, Illustrator by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by David Roberts. The cover shows a very young black boy, maybe six years olds with a pencil behind his ear and holding a vine, as if it were a balloon tether. The vine grows to show an eagle, a dragon, and nature motif from the boy’s imagination.And finally, Aaron Slater, Illustrator by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by David Roberts, in which a young boy, struggling to keep up academically with his peers, finds his voice through illustration and shares his talents with all those he loves. Such an important book with a protagonist you care for and certainly are rooting for. It’s just an exquisite book. It also has impeccable rhyme. If you’re a writer looking for mentor texts of rhyming picture books, here’s a great one to add to your list.

 

 

 

 

Also, today I enjoyed my first pumpkin spice latte of the season during breakfast, as I was writing this. Yummy. My rite of passage each fall. I loved it. 🙂

Have you read any good books lately? Tell me in the comments!

Image shows a toasted bagel with butter and a Starbucks coffee drink enclosing a pumpkin spiced latte.

Breakfast!

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