Archive for October, 2009

Prepping for Nanowrimo . . .

October 30, 2009

For all of you who are brave enough to climb aboard the National Novel Writing Month, all November I’ll be posting writing tips. To warm up, here is my take on enhancing your story by clarifying the placement of your novel’s most crucial moments. 



In every great novel there are many great moments but there is always the most important moment; I call this the crosshairs of the story, like the crosshairs in a rifle sight or a camera lens, the center of the focus of your book. For me it helps the writing move along faster (and it helps the power of the writing) if I pinpoint the crosshairs of the whole novel AND the mini-crosshairs in each chapter (the most important moment in every chapter, the reason that chapter exists.)

Your whole story is leading up to the big Crosshairs Moment — that’s why this story is being told in the first place. Everything (subplots, themes, character development) is tied to this moment.


Les Miserable = When the protagonist declares, “I am Jean Valjean.”

Hamlet = When the protagonist has a chance to kill his uncle and yet he hesitates.

The Dead Zone = When the protagonist poses the question, “What if you could go back in time and kill Hitler?”

 A Certain Slant of Light = When the lovers realize they must give back the bodies they have borrowed.

        And in each chapter, you are writing towards a mini-crosshairs. Every paragraph in that chapter should be contributing to that most important moment. The tension, the action, the dialogue, are stepping-stones leading to your mini-crosshairs, the reason we need that chapter in the book.

        Pre-Nanowrimo exercise #1 = write down (describe) the crosshairs of your story as if someone has made a movie of your book and this is the clip they show at the Oscars when it’s nominated for Best Picture. (Tip: Don’t just say “John finds Mary.” Describe the setting, the mood, the action, the emotion. Write down what’s so great about that moment.)

        Pre-Nanowrimo exercise #2 = write down (describe) a series of chapter mini-crosshairs as if this is the preview of the movie of your novel. What clips spliced together give the best sampling of your story?

        Pre-Nanowrimo exercise #3 = go through your outline and mark the crosshairs, or most important, moment in each chapter. If you can’t find one, see if that chapter is really necessary; maybe it should be shortened and combined with another chapter. Clarifying the mini-crosshairs in your chapters helps you see where the outline may be lacking, where the plot might be flat. 

Halloween card

 Have a wonderful Pumpkin Day, everyone. And get your laptops juiced up — only 49 hours until November!


Seriously, it wasn’t just the candy.

October 25, 2009

I love Halloween and have all my life. Sure, the idea of a pillow case heavy with fun sized snickers was greatly appealing, but as I explain in my 10/24/09 guest blog on, it was more about the atmosphere. Here’s an excerpt:

old time Halloween illustration

“I liked the light – the laughter and sweets and playfulness of it all. But honestly, I found I preferred the darkness between streetlights. I liked not knowing precisely who was behind each mask. I liked the corny taped sound effects of moaning spirits and even the neighbors who opened their doors with wolfman masks on and made me hide my face. I loved how even the kids in the lightest, easiest to see costumes–white sheets and pale fairy dresses–would fade like ghosts as they moved down the block. I loved the glow of jagged toothed jack-o-lanterns in the blackness and the smell of burning pumpkins and wax, of rotting dead leaves in the gutters and cinnamon cider. I loved the dizzying tracks of flashlights dancing like sprites, leading us through the night.”

Visit the Debutante Ball website for the complete post. And do something fun this year. Go to a party or throw one. Find a haunted mansion. (The one in Janzten Beach was a hoot last time I went.) Come to one of my book store events (or find someone else’s, if you live too far from Portland OR.) Have a spooky clips gathering. Carve a pumpkin. Dress up and play.

Dragons, Ghosts, and Grails

October 20, 2009

Come to a Halloween event!

dragon in amber

I’m teaming up with YA authors Susan Fletcher (The Dragon Chronicles) and Pamela Smith Hill (The Last Grail Keeper) for spooky readings, creepy true tails, and treats.

cartoon gravestone




Costumes welcome, but not required. There will be delightful door prizes.

grail sketch

Seriously, do come. We will be at Annie Bloom’s Books on Wednesday night October 28th at 7:00 pm and at A Children’s Place on Halloween morning, Saturday October 31st, at 11:00 am. Wee snatches from future works may even be shared! I’m just sayin’. See you there.


Annie Bloom’s Books — 7843 SW Capitol Highway, Portland OR   (503) 246-0053

A Children’s Place — 4807 NE Fremont Street, Portland OR (503) 284-8294

If you like Hogwarts . . .

October 15, 2009

magic castle 

When I did my reading at Wordstock, a young girl from the audience asked if I had any book recommendations for Harry Potter fans. Here are a few: 

If you like that British flavor, you might like: Five Children and It, The Phoenix and the Carpet, and The Story of the Amulet  by E. Nesbit; Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie; The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S.Lewis; Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll; The Once and Future King by T. H. White.

flying carpet



On the Scifi end of supernatural there’s: The Hitchhiker’s Guide series by Douglas Adams and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.





For more contemporary kid supernatural adventure try Story Time by Edward Bloor and The Shadow Thieves by Anne Ursu.





I also highly recommend The Alphabet of Dreams and The Dragon’s Milk series by Susan Fletcher. Feels like you’re really there when prophetic dreams come true and dragons take flight.

B&W dragon

For that mysterious and magical tone there’s Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit; The Light Princess by George MacDonald; and The Moorchild by Eloise McGraw.

 maybe a butterfly





Okay, now I’m hungry for a good read! (And a good write.)

Favorite finds at Wordstock . . .

October 11, 2009

I was only able to attend Wordstock for a few hours, but I picked up three gems.

B Nelson cover





When I did a reading from THE FETCH, I shared the stage with Blake Nelson and was delighted by his reading from DESTROY ALL CARS. Very funny. Very original. The inner workings of a teenaged boy unfold for the reader through samples of the boy’s writing: journal entries, essays, and school assignments. It’s brilliant. And a hoot.

tear thief

When I wanted to make myself a lanyard for my nametag, I begged a piece of ribbon from a friendly children’s publisher (Barefoot Books.) While in their booth, I found a beautiful and sweet picture book called THE TEAR THIEF. The story is strange (about a being who takes stolen tears to enhance the light of the moon) and the illustrations are charmingly eerie. A delightfully ethereal combination.

9 horses cover





Also, in the Powell’s booth at Wordstock I picked up a copy of NINE HORSES by Billy Collins. I’d heard a recording of this man reading his own poetry and fell in love. So far my favorite is “Litany” which I suppose you might call a spoof. “You are the bread and the knife . . . however, you are not the wind in the orchard . . . ” Go get one of this guy’s books. Wonderful stuff.

Wordstock 2009

October 8, 2009

Wordstock is a fabulous celebration of books, writers, and storytelling held in Portland, Oregon every year. They’ve had hundreds of writers perform and a total of over 50,000 patrons attending since 2005. I’ll be doing a reading, by the way, on Saturday October 10th at 2:00 pm, just so’s you know.


There are  ten author stages,  over a hundred exhibit booths, workshops for writers and for K-12 teachers, and (as they say) much much more. Not to brag about my city, but our Wordstock is the largest celebration of literature in the Pacific Northwest, one of the largest of its kind in the whole nation.

This year some of the authors appearing will be: Sherman Alexie, Chelsea Cain, Ethan Canin, James Ellroy, and Scott Westerfeld. And that’s just to name a few. Read the full list (and find out about the dates/hours/tickets/directions) at I hope I see you there. (And I’m not just saying that. You have to try it. It’s a total book-junky buzz.)

How I got my agent . . .

October 5, 2009

When I’d written (and rewritten) a good draft of A CERTAIN SLANT OF LIGHT and needed to start submitting it to publishers, I knew I needed an agent. I wanted to be smart about my search, so first I read Donald Maass’s book THE CAREER NOVELIST to figure out what kind of agent I wanted.

career novelist

Then I read Jeff Herman’s book on literary agents and editors because it not only told me what each agent was looking for, but all kinds of extras: their hobbies, pet peeves, backgrounds. I listed every possible agent for me on 3 x 5 cards and then stacked them in order of preference with my faves at the top of the stack.

J Herman bk

As I composed my query letter, I remembered some advice I’d heard from Noah Lukeman (author of THE FIRST FIVE PAGES.) I made sure that in the paragraph describing my book it was clear who the story was about, where it took place (time period and location,) and what the main problem in the story was. (Noah said that if you can’t tell the reader those three things in one paragraph, there’s probably something wrong with your story, not just your query letter.)

first five pages

When I’d polished up my letter, I sent it to the top ten cards on my stack all at the same time. Only one of them wanted to read the manuscript, but that didn’t matter, because that agent was Ann Rittenberg and she signed me and she’s a fabulous agent. I hope those of you out there looking for representation are as fortunate as I was.

Ann Rittenberg

Ann Rittenberg

Monthly Give-Away for October!

October 3, 2009

The winner of the September Give-Away (an audio book of A CERTAIN SLANT OF LIGHT) is Cara of Portland, Oregon! Congratulations, Cara. I’ll send that package off to you on Monday.


The October prize is a signed copy of YOUR FIRST NOVEL, the writing book I co-authored with my literary agent, Ann Rittenberg. So, all you budding writers out there, email your name and address to my website before November 1. (If you do not want to have your name and addressed added to my snail mail list, for receiving periodic promotional goodies like bookmarks and postcards, let me know. Otherwise I’ll add you to that list.)


Have a great weekend, everyone. The weather has shifted to autumn here. The trees are turning. The skies are mysterious and gray. Someone on our block is burning a leaf pile. I love the fall.

millais autumn leaves