Please join us to discuss everything literary (especially kid literary): good books, the writing life, the people and businesses who create books, controversies in book world, what's good to snack on while reading and writing, and anything else bookish. We welcome your thoughts.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Why We Still Need Banned Books Week

By Carol Baicker-McKee

Most Challenged Book of 2010
 First a few notes:
1. All the opinions expressed in this post are my own and not necessarily those of anyone else who writes for this blog.

2. In fact, these opinions are definitely not those of Cynthia Light Brown, whose post immediately preceding this one (Why Banned Books Week Needs Some Rethinking) takes the opposing view. I strongly suggest you read it along with mine, if you haven't already.

3. I know Cynthia well and like and respect her. She is one of the smartest, most thoughtful women I know - and she's an outstanding writer and excellent parent to boot. I am grateful that we can disagree about issues important to us and still remain friends. I am also grateful that she makes me think and reexamine my positions - and sometimes change my mind.

 Cynthia wrote that Banned Books Week, sponsored by the American Library Association, makes her mentally roll her eyes for several reasons. She raises some interesting concerns worth contemplating.

Cynthia first argues that the language surrounding the event is misused, that true censorship does not exist in the United States today - even if a particular book is removed from a school's curriculum or library, it is still available for purchase. In a sense, she's right. With exceptions for materials like child pornography, books today are not openly prohibited by most western governments or booksellers.

Second Most Challenged Book of 2010
 But as a midlist writer who struggles to get her books known, I can tell you that being excluded from schools or libraries does create a more subtle form of censorship. With the near-demise of brick and mortar bookstores, the shrinking of review outlets and the mountains of media available for consumption, schools and libraries play critical roles in bringing books to the attention of readers; what readers don't know exists, they of course won't read. (Though ironically, being challenged can increase a book's profile and eventual popularity). And even if potential readers know about a particular book and are interested, many will choose something else instead if they must buy it; after all, there are many other good books available free through the library. Some readers, particularly in these tough economic times, may not be able to afford it. And other readers will avoid excellent books - like the classic below - that they would read and love if compelled to at school - because they perceive them as likely to be too difficult or boring to attempt on their own.

Third Most Challenged Book of 2010
 Even more importantly, schools and libraries are such important markets to many publishers that if schools won't buy certain types of books, publishers won't publish them. Furthermore, many writers in turn will self-censor what they write so as to invest their efforts in something publishable. In this way, the preferences of a minority can in fact shape the kinds of books available to everyone.

Cynthia also notes, correctly, that the number of recorded challenges last year was miniscule, particularly in comparison to the number of schools and readers. I can only reiterate what ALA says, which is that we know the recorded challenges are only the tip of the iceberg - and speculate that were it not for events like Banned Books Week and the determination of librarians, teachers and booksellers to defend challenged books there might be many, many more challenges, including many more successful ones, and recognize that realistically a fair bit of "censorship" probably has happened at every stage of the process from writing and editorial to purchase and use-decisions. (I do understand Cynthia's point that many parents also choose not to challenge books that make them uncomfortable, but in the absence of numbers, my own sense is that unreported challenges greatly outnumber uncomfortable parents.)

Fourth Most Challenged Book of 2011
 Here is the part of Cynthia's post that gives me the most pause:

But my biggest problem with Banned Books Week is that it actually creates a climate that suppresses the voicing of opinions. The not-quite-said message is that anyone who challenges a book is a lunatic, and books should NEVER be challenged....Most challenges are related directly or indirectly to the suitability of books for kids. Here is the crux of the question for me: Who gets to decide what kids read?

I do support the right of parents to be active participants in their children's educations and I like the idea of local control of public schools. As a writer and illustrator I count on books to be powerful - to change people's attitudes and lives. As a result, the idea of questioning a book that a child will read, especially be compelled to read and discuss in the classroom, is not completely crazy to me.

I particularly feel sympathy toward parents of young children, who of course should monitor their youngster's media consumption. I also sympathize with parents who might have a special concern about their child or a cohort of kids. For example, in the immediate aftermath of a school shooting, it wouldn't be nuts for parents to prefer not to have an entire grade forced to read and discuss Jodi Picoult's Nineteen Minutes about a school massacre. One of my favorite authors even censored himself: Terry Pratchett delayed the release of his YA novel Nation about a young man who is the sole survivor of a tsunami when it was due to be released just after the Indonesian tsunami; the timing seemed disrespectful to him.

Fifth Most Challenged Book of 2010
 The problem, though, is that most of the challenges do not fall  into these reasonable situations. First, while parents should have input about the books used in schools or bought for libraries - and most of the time they can - it seems reasonable to me that the ultimate decisions should be made not by a narrow group of vocal parents but by the representatives who are charged with balancing the needs of the whole community. In most communities, the "choosers" - teachers, administrators, librarians, school boards - are folks who know kids, literature and their communities well and who have the best interests of all the kids at heart. Will that mean that some parents are unhappy at times? Undoubtedly - but living as part of a community requires all of us to make compromises and at times to fail to have things the way we prefer. I'm sure it's a rare parent who never objects to any material or teaching approach. And most of the time the best way to deal with it will  not be to insist it be changed, but to talk with your kid about the materials and situation.
The Top Five Challenged Books of 2010 I've shown (see the whole Top Ten list here) are critically acclaimed books with well-recognized literary merit.  Do they deal with difficult subjects? Of course - good literature does. But they do so in ways intended to make people think, to grow in ways that help them become better individuals and better citizens. (And nearly all the most-challenged books are aimed at adolescents, who by and large have the experience and maturity to grapple with challenging ideas.)

My biggest concern is that the parents and organizations who lodge most of the challenges tend to be perhaps not lunatic, but often woefully uninformed. Friends who are on school boards or work in libraries tell me most of the parents who file complaints have never actually read the books in question; either they have "heard" that the books contain objectionable material or they have read a passage taken out of context either of the book's overall message or the classroom discussion. And context matters.

In the end, it's ironic that Cynthia feels like Banned Books Week silences parents who want to have a say in what their kids read; but for Banned Books Week, I doubt I'd have learned her thoughts about censorship and kids. And I'm quite sure I wouldn't have spent nearly so many hours thinking about or discussing it.

What are your thoughts about Banned Books Week and kids?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Why Banned Books Week Needs Some Re-thinking

By Cynthia Light Brown

First, some notes:

1. As always, but particularly in this case, the following represents my opinions, and not those of the rest of the Rt. 19 bloggers.

2. I love librarians and teachers. For both me and my kids, librarians have been extremely helpful in choosing books, finding resources for research, and just plain-old discussing books. My kids have had some truly amazing teachers over the years. Librarians and teachers work very hard and have pressures from all sides, including parents who may or may not be reasonable.

3. I’ve never challenged a book, and don’t intend to ever do so. My kids are ages 11, 15, and 17, and it’s really never occurred to me to object to a book they want to read, much less one they’re reading in school. If I had concerns about what they were reading, my approach would be to engage them in conversation (though for movies I have occasionally not allowed them to watch something they wanted to). Books are an important place for all of us, kids included, to explore other perspectives and experiences.

But whenever I see something about Banned Books Week, I mentally roll my eyes. There are a few reasons why:

I think people mis-use the term censorship and banning. Anyone can purchase any book in this country. So if a book is challenged for use in an 8th grade classroom and subsequently taken off the reading list, that book can still be read by people. It’s still available, it’s just not required reading in 8th grade.

I also roll my eyes because I just don’t see this as a big deal. There were 348 challenges last year. That’s for about 130,000 schools and about 50 million students. I know people say that that masks all the times that a teacher simply changed the book so that someone wouldn’t challenge, or never put it on the list in the first place, but it also masks the times that a parent continues to have an issue and just drops it.

But my biggest problem with Banned Books Week is that it actually creates a climate that suppresses the voicing of opinions. The not-quite-said message is that anyone who challenges a book is a lunatic, and books should NEVER be challenged. Even for writing this post I’m a little bit suspect, which is why I felt compelled to state my own personal approach to letting my kids read books.

Most challenges are related directly or indirectly to the suitability of books for kids. Here is the crux of the question for me: Who gets to decide what kids read? (I’m addressing the question of books in reading lists and school libraries—I think the question for public libraries is a different one.) Right now, librarians select books to be in the school library, and teachers select the books that are on required and optional reading lists.

In the great majority of cases, the librarians and teachers do a good job. But what if there’s an exception? On a popular writers bulletin board, someone noted that her child’s 4th grade public school teacher assigned a book about a girl who comes to know and love Jesus. I don’t know what the book is, and whether it has other merits, but it certainly could be a prime suspect for a challenge. Likewise, if a teacher assigned a book to 4th graders about a girl who came to lose her faith, that could also be a poor choice. And even if a book has literary benefits, why can’t parents have input into these decisions? Particularly for books on required lists, having your child read something different is problematic, especially in middle and high school when discussion is part of the class.

So I propose that instead of creating a culture of silence, we should encourage discussion and parents’ opinions. In its current formulation, I think Banned Books Week does more of the former than the latter. How can that change?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Spice Up Your Writing

I’ve come to the conclusion that I lead a somewhat boring life. I’ve been living in the same city for 40 years, the same house for 37 years, and I’ve had the same husband for 46 years! My days are filled with everyday routines. There’s the food shopping, house cleaning, carpooling, cooking and writing. Do I sometimes wish things could be different and that I could spice up my life? Sure, it would be exciting to sail around the world, live in an exotic country or act in a Broadway show. However, these things are not likely to happen. But what I can do is to spice up my writing by using adjectives .An adjective's job is to modify a noun or pronoun. Just be sure you don't overuse them!
Here are a few examples of some “spicy” adjectives:

Appearance adjectives: adorable, sparkling, unsightly, clean, drab
Condition adjectives: alive, shy, rich, odd, careful, musty, clever
Feelings adjectives: grumpy, panicky, helpless, itch, victorious, angry, calm
Shape adjectives: deep, curved, flat, skinny, chubby, low, narrow
Size adjectives: colossal, petite, teeny, mammoth, large, tiny
Sound adjectives: cooing, purring, thundering, noisy, faint, raspy, hissing

Adjectives may not spice up your life but they’ll definitely spice up your writing!

Friday, September 23, 2011

SCBWI Tri-Conference

by Marcy Collier

It's that time of year again...Fall conference time! I just finished editing the Golden Penn (Western Pennsylvania's SCBWI newsletter and have some great news to share). This year the regions of Western PA, Eastern PA and Delaware-Maryland-West Virginia are joining forces to provide a jam-packed conference in Gettysburg, PA on November 11-13, 2011, at the Gettysburg Wyndham Hotel (http://www.wyndham.com/hotels/MDTGE/main.wnt).

The keynote speakers are E.B. Lewis, Patricia MacLachlan and Jim Murphy. We have a star line-up of five editors, four agents, an art director and Executive Director Lin Oliver.

To register and find out more information, go to http://www.scbwieasternpa11.camp7.org/gettysburgconference.

I hope to see you in Gettysburg!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Manuscript Mash-Up: A Way to Spice Things Up

Justin Bieber
Guest Post by Kate Dopirak          
  I love Justin Bieber. There. I said it. So when I heard he was going to be on Fox’s hit show, Glee, I tuned in. To my disappointment, Justin did not make a guest appearance. Instead, Sam formed a band called ‘The Justin Bieber Experience’ and dedicated ‘Somebody to Love’ to Quinn. But watching Glee actually gave me an idea that helped lead to my first book sale.

Glee Cast

            Glee is a musical comedy-drama that focuses on the high school glee club. In each episode, they usually sing a bunch of songs. Fun and catchy, but what does it have to do with my writing? Not much except a good excuse for an M&M break until. . .the Gwyneth Paltrow episode. Then – bam!
            I snuggled on the couch with my M&Ms, expecting nothing but a little escape when it happened - The ‘Umbrella’/’Singin’ In the Rain’ mash-up. Gwyneth and the gang sang and danced like nobody’s business, complete with sexy-splashy water. How great to combine Rihanna’s current hit with the old-time, Gene Kelly ‘Singin’ In the Rain’. The themes matched and the lyrics complemented each other like crazy. It created something totally fresh, original and memorable. Wait. I dropped my M&Ms and ran to the computer. If they can create such wowza with a song mash-up, why can’t I give it a try with a manuscript mash-up?
            I opened one of my picture book documents. I reread it, even though I had it memorized. All of the sudden, I saw openings, spaces just begging for a little something-something, where I thought I could mash in sections from a different manuscript I had written. I opened that document quicker than quick. A little copy and paste action and viola! The two manuscripts that had collected nothing but good rejections were now one. I read the new piece. It had a better energy. So much, in fact, that it actually made me clap.
An editor I have a writer’s crush on, whom I met at a New York SCBWI Winter Conference, had rejected the manuscript pre-mash-up: “Darn. This one is cute but I’m afraid there’s not enough to it.” I made a wish on a railroad track and sent the new version to her.
            In a dream-sequenced-type week, my agent of all agents, whom I met at the WPA SCBWI Conference, called: “We’d like to offer you representation. . .” Five days later she called again, “Great news. . .” My writer’s crush editor was thrilled with my mash-up revision. Even though I’d imagined how confident and cool I’d be during these phone calls for years, I lost it. Totally lost it. I screamed. I snorted. I think I even yeehawed.
So now I’m becoming a bit of a mash-up junkie. I scroll through old manuscripts and search for ways to inject parts of them into other pieces with the hope of creating something better – something more worthy of a contract. What fun to realize nothing I’ve written is waste. Maybe it just needs a new home. So I copy a poem I had originally written with a magazine in mind and paste it into my middle-grade character’s dialogue. Sure it needs tweaking but a spark flies. Yes! Something new and better flickers. Fun!
So - yay for Glee. Yay for mash-ups! And, let’s be honest – yay for Justin Bieber (Never Say Never in 3D is all I have to say).
See – it’s fun to be a Belieber! Oh, yeah – and it’s really fun to mash-up manuscripts.
Kate Dopirak lives in Pittsburgh, PA with her husband and two sons. Visit her website here. Her first book (insert a scream, a snort and a yeehaw here) – YOU’RE MY BOO – is forthcoming from Beach Lane Books.

Monday, September 19, 2011

SC Poe's Indie Ebook Sampler, #1

Monday Maelstrom edition
Poe samples two light MG fantasies and some darker matter for teens.


Year of the WereCurse--WereWhat?
By Debi Faulkner

Self-published August, 2011
Poe thinks this is MG contemporary fantasy/humor

First Sentence: The creature watched the line of torches wind through town from the bay below, while more villagers closed in from further up the mountain.

"The creature" gets squished to goo by the end of the paragraph, and we're off on a fast, fun-scary ride. Worry-wart Jack Henry Hoboken sounds like a 12-year-old Woody Allen--pessimistic, sarcastic, and lobster-phobic. When his family inherits a mysterious castle perched on a sea-side cliff, we pretty much know what will happen. But we very much want to find out how.

Debi Faulkner has a wild imagination and an energetic, colorful style. She gets extra points for crediting her e
ditor and her cover designer by name in the front matter.

Rated S
for snapped up.

Poe will definitely sample other Debi Faulkner titles in future posts.

The Tro
uble With Demons

By Terry
Published March, 2011
Poe thin
ks this is YA dark/demonic urban paranormal fantasy
First sentence: "Why do we have to do it here in this stinking, filthy place?" a woman whispered.

More murders than usual plague the city. Three teens, all half demon, recognize the evil behind the killings. Poe finds much to admire here, including a complex fantasy world, cinematic writing, a dark mystery, high stakes, and A+ line-editing. Yet the book still feels a bit slapdash. There's a lot of info-dump in the early scenes, and the info comes in haphazard bits. Many readers will enjoy piecing the puzzle together, but Poe felt more frustrated than fascinated. (The blurb clarifies a lot--but Poe thinks that flap copy shouldn't be required reading.)

Spear als
o publishes traditionally; Heart of the Wolf was listed among the Best Books of 2008 by Publisher's Weekly. On her web page, Spear explains that she can't put the stories out fast enough to satisfy her readers. For those readers, and perhaps for you, a dark, intricate plot matters more than anything. So
Rated I. If story matters most, and the stories you seek are dark urban paranormals, then make sure you know this author.

Poe also sampled Spear's The Dark Fae, and will review that sample in a future post.

Mail-Order Monster
By Linda Joy Singleton
Originally published 2005(?)
Poe thinks this is MG fantasy/humor [historical]

First sentence: "Rattlesnake grass!" Skye Jones exclaimed.

Sixth-grader Skye Jones lives with two aunts who brew goat-milk soap (and possibly other, more interesting potions). There's a slight false start, as Skye claims to suffer the very worst day of her life because she got an F on a test. But we quickly forget the F as Skye's real problem jumps into focus: she has no friends. Her sympathetic aunts suggest she seek a pen-pal via the miracle of mail-order; sure enough, a catalog bristling with funny innuendos advertises "Special-Tee Fiends," and Skye writes away for one. The sample ends with two terrific forwards: while we wait for the perfect Fiend to arrive, the only really nice girl in school suddenly invites Skye to eat lunch with her.

A popcorn book--light as air, tasty, and easy to gobble up. Alas! like popcorn, contemporary MGs can go stale quickly; today's young readers might find the idea of a pen-pal quaint, and they'll wonder why nobody in this story orders anything online. So, within 10 years of being pu
blished, this book already feels like historical fiction. Considered as such, Poe gives it an I.

If you enjoy cute monster-in-the-house books, then you can order this one online
(or, fittingly, via snail mail as a POD paperback).

Singleton, whose traditionally-published books include the witty Dead Girl Walking series, began to publish ebooks as early as 1971 through Hard Shell Word
Factory--on floppy disks! She recently re-issued several of those titles. Poe will sample others in future posts.

Poe's Rating System:

  • S for snapped up (Poe has already purchased the full)
  • Q for queued (the book is on Poe's to-be-read-someday list)
  • U for underwhelming (Poe will always explain the reason)
  • I for If/then (not Poe's cuppa, but perhaps it's yours)
  • R for rejected (Poe will always explain the reason)
  • E for editorially challenged (Poe will not mince words)

Caveat Emptor Internexi: Poe's reviews are intended to provide a springboard for further browsing. Genre and age classifications are Poe's guesses based on short samples, and may or may not accord with the classifications suggested by authors, publishers, or anybody else. The buyer is always responsible for deciding whether the book as a whole is appropriate for the intended reader's age, interests, and reading level.

Poe's opinions do not necessarily reflect those of other members of this blog.

If you'd like SC Poe to sample your ebook on this blog, please follow submission guidelines.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Best Three-Bean Chile

by Cynthia Light Brown

My husband says this chile is GREAT. I like it too. Perfect for football watching and autumn days. I cook like I write; with some guidelines, but mostly by feel, so you might notice the amounts aren’t always specified. I like my chile with finely ground meat, and having it re-ground by the butcher helps with that. If you like, you can leave out the meat and add another can or two of beans. This isn’t super-hot chile, just nicely medium. If you like it hotter, use a lot more cayenne and chile powder.


2 lbs. ground beef, 85% lean (if possible, get it re-ground by your butcher)

vegetable oil

one onion

chili powder

cayenne pepper

1 28 oz can crushed or pureed tomatoes

1 can chile beans with sauce

1 can white beans

1 can black beans

one can beef or chicken broth


sugar – about 2 Tablespoons

red wine to taste


1. In a large fry pan, brown half the meat over low heat. Using the edge of a spatula, break the meat up into very small pieces while it’s browning. When it’s browned, place it on a plate and brown the second half.

2. While the meat is browning, generously cover the bottom of a large pot with vegetable oil. Chop the onion and sauté in the oil over medium heat until the onion is translucent. Add in a few shakes of cayenne pepper, and as much chile powder as you like. I think I use about 2 Tablespoons.

3. Add the can of chile beans and meat to the pot – use a slotted spoon to scoop up the meat so the extra fat stays on the plate. Stir. Add about ¾ of the can of pureed tomatoes – more or less, depending on what looks good to you.

4. Drain and rinse the cans of white and black beans and add to the pot. Slowly add the beef or chicken broth until the consistency of the chile is how you like it. If it’s still too thick, add water.

5. Add the sugar, and the salt and wine to taste. I think I use about 1 T. of salt and about ¼ cup of wine.

6. Turn it down to low. Sit down. Root for the Steelers. At half-time, enjoy some chile.

Friday, September 16, 2011


I must admit to having somewhat of an obsession with bullying.  Much of this is due to my working in a middle school where we have been trained in bullying-prevention, and as a result I am now aware of much more than I ever wanted to know about bullying.  To know that Dr. Dan Olweus, the founder of the institute that has researched, studied  and promoted this program began his crusade against bullying after the suicides of three Scandinavian school children is merely the tip of the iceberg.  The prevalence of bullying is staggering.  Surveys at all levels of children from elementary through high school show that one in four students report having been bullied.  Children as young as eleven years of age have committed suicide as a result.  Approximately half of all bullying in school goes unreported.  Though a staggering amount of bullying is aimed at children perceived as gay, students are bullied as well for being too short, tall, thin, stout, smart, dumb, rich, poor...you get the picture.  
Then, along comes a book just released this month called Dear Bully; 70 Authors Tell Their Stories edited by Hall and Jones.  It stunned me.  Authors like R. L. Stine, Jon Scieszka, Nancy Werlin, Lisa Yee, Ellen Hopkins and Aprilynne Pike have all written their own accounts of having been bullied.  They have written as well about their experiences in some ways as transforming them into writers.  Amazing! The book also includes letters to bullies, poems, and comic strips.  And some of the material comes from the bullies themselves, not just the bullied.   Dare I say that this made me hopeful?  How naive of me to think that all writers and writing comes from a happy place. Writing as therapy?  What a concept. I think I've been writing rhymed verse for too long.  How thankful I am that these writers are getting the best revenge with this little book!  
One of the most painful things about reading the passages was the oft-repeated mantra from parents and teachers that 'you'll get over it' or not to make it 'such a big thing.'  Bullying will not be swept under the rug any longer.  Many of the passages were authors imploring kids to tell someone.  That they will get through it, that they will not forget it, that it is a big deal, and that..."maybe one day you can turn it into a great novel.  That'll show 'em."  Indeed.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Spicing up the Scenery

by Marcy Collier

Today is the first day of school. What's with the beach picture, you ask? Wait, I'll get to that part. School in my community starts on September 12th  because of construction on our high school.

Last Thursday it hit me that school would start in exactly four days and summer would officially end. I had been talking about a mini vacation to the beach in September but never planned it. A few weeks ago, hurricanes ripped through the east coast and another one hit last week. Not a great time to plan a trip. I checked all of the beaches. Rain everywhere this past weekend, but only a 30 percent chance in Ocean City, Maryland. Our family took our chances and left for the beach at 6:00 a.m. Friday morning. It poured the entire trip down to Maryland. I received the call from my dad six hours into the drive that he couldn’t get in to my house to retrieve my dog. I changed the garage door transmitter and never reset the garage door code. I had used the “hidden” key and forgot to put it back in place. I wasn’t turning around. I told him to break the glass on the door to get in.

This last minute trip and tribulations reminded me of all the twists and turns stories can take on in both real life and in your made up worlds. Many authors (myself included) complain about the sagging middle. Long, drawn out portions of the manuscript that seem boring to both the author and the reader. Spice up your story. Make bad events worse and throw your protagonist into unexpected situations just like real life.

As writers, we need to experience life as we work on our craft. There’s a water sliding scene in my novel. It just so happened that there was also a water slide at our hotel's kiddie pool. I watched as both the adults and kids got stuck going down the slide and had to scoot their way to the bottom. I told my kids to watch and learn. I flew down so fast, patrons actually stopped to watch. A stranger asked how in the world I picked up such speed. It didn’t hit me that from working at a water park as a teen, I automatically arched the small of my back and crossed my legs and arms tightly to gain a huge momentum. I forgot the feeling of sliding because I hadn’t done it in a while. These are useful details to add to my manuscript.

I people-watched strangers on the boardwalk - woman in stilletos getting her heels stuck in the slats, surfer guy strutting in his wetsuit and the old folks rocking in chairs on a motel porch. All of them painted a vivid scene made up of interesting characters where stories could emerge.    

When you need to spice up your own story or make a boring scene exciting, try getting out of your house, your community and out of your regular writing routine. If you’re writing about wild animals, visit the zoo. If you need to play out a scene in the woods, hike through the woods with your notebook to jot down thoughts, sights and smells. Spice up your stories and your life. Get out there. Live. Write. Have fun.

We lucked out and didn't have any rain at the beach, hit the King of Prussia Mall on the way home for school shopping and are now back in school and the normal routine. For now. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

The 10 Minute Guide to Writing a Successful Novel

Homemade salsa anyone? Are six Habanero's hot spicy enough for you? If so, then read on for a recipe guaranteed to put a little spice in your life.
When Route 19 writers decided this month's topic would be "spice it up," I immediately began to think of a way to tie in my family's spicy salsa recipe with writing. Read on to see what I mean.

One of these days, we may find that someone has come up with a new writing gimmick. If history is any predictor of future events, it may sound something like this...    
The 10 Minute Guide to Writing a Successful Novel
Sounds great. Doesn't it? Perhaps I'll try to market that idea. I'd be willing to bet someone out there would be naïve enough to buy it.
Why do I say that? Pick up any newspaper. Watch the television for any length of time. It seems there's always somebody telling us there's a better way of doing things, a shorter way, a quicker way.
A few shots of Botox and you'll look ten years younger.
A quick lift and tuck to take away the wrinkles.
Staple that stomach and you'll lose a lifetime worth of weight.
Ten minutes a day on this exercise machine and you'll be in the best shape of your life.
Take this pill and you'll live to be 100.
Take this vitamin and you'll never be sick.
And how about all those convenient prepackaged foods that will be ready to eat in an instant?
The list is endless.
But a serious writer will tell you…The 10 Minute Guide to Writing a Successful Novel won't be published anytime soon because there are no shortcuts when it comes to writing successfully. A true advertisement for rewarding and productive writing might read something like this...
10 Drafts to the Perfect Novel.
First draft, to better learn your story.
Second draft, to better learn your characters.
Third draft, to better work through your plot structure.
Fourth draft, to tie in all of your subplots.
Fifth draft, to line edit your work for grammar and spelling mistakes.
Sixth draft, to repeat as necessary steps one through five before sending your work to the editor or agent of your choice.
(After crossing your fingers and finally having your novel accepted for publication...)
Seventh draft, to make any requested revisions.
Eighth draft, another redo because he or she was not completely satisfied with the changes you had already made.
Ninth draft, another check before your story is sent to the print editor.
Tenth draft, ... (Maybe, if you're lucky, there won't be a tenth draft.)
Okay, you've made it this far. And as promised, the traditional, spicy recipe for homemade salsa will follow. It takes a little work to prepare, but once you've tried it, if you're anything like me, you will never again want to eat any mass-produced version. You know the ones I'm talking about, the one you can get after a ten minute drive to the store, the ones that promise great homemade taste with just a twist of the lid.
Learn from history. It won't happen. Processed food will never taste as good as home made. Quick fix gimmicks don't work. Maybe,  just maybe, people will someday learn there are no shortcuts to success.
Enjoy the salsa...
16 pounds of tomatoes or 24 cups
10 to 12 large onions or 18 cups
6 finely diced Habanero peppers, seeds included
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons honey or sugar
2 cups apple cider vinegar
4 cups bell peppers, chopped
Combine all ingredients in a large kettle. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer for 30 minutes. With slotted spoon, put salsa into sterilized jars. Seal and the process in hot water bath 35 minutes for pints and 45 minutes for quarts. (Of course, you can reduce or increase the recipe as desired and reduce or increase the amount of spicy hot peppers to suit your taste. If canning isn't your thing, simply make a smaller batch and remember to eat it quickly so it doesn't spoil... Which I'm sure will not be a problem.)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Descent into a New Maelstrom, 2: SCPoe to Sample Indie EBooks

In Part 1, Poe announced a new series aimed at connecting indie ebooks with potential readers by sampling their samples. Poe also detailed the types and genres of ebooks to be sampled, and the rating system that will be applied.

And now, as promised, here are the RULES for bringing indie ebooks to Poe's attention:

RULE 1. Expect Poe to be honest and to pull no punches. Expect the sample to be rated for style, editing, story, and the sample's ability to hook the reader. Price will not be a criterion, nor will it be disclosed.

RULE 2. Observe the limitations of type, genre, and targeted readership explained in Part 1.

RULE 3. Categorize your ebook's genre and target its readership accurately and specifically (e.g. "upper MG contemporary myth-fantasy" or "YA sweet historical romance.").

RULE 4. Do not submit picture books or early chapter books. No moving pictures, music, games, or anything called an "app." No fan-fiction or mashes, unless the source story is in the Public Domain. Absolutely no adult material.

RULE 5. Do not submit a title until it is actually available on the Net.

RULE 6. To submit, send a skeletal PM to this blog (see how to "Contact Us" in the sidebar).
  • The subject line must read Submission to SCPoe's Indie Ebook Sampler

  • The message should include all/only the following: book title; genre/target readership, author; publisher (including "self" if that is the case); publication date; e.g. Please review a sample of SEA KINGDOM, YA historical suspense romance, by Annabel Lee, self-published by Blackfeather Press, 2011.

  • No salutation or closing is necessary.

  • Include no links or extraneous text. No blurbs, reviews, synopses, elevator pitches, or similar.

  • Do not cut and paste the ebook sample into the message. Poe needs to find the sample the way other readers would, in the Net.

  • Submit only one ebook title per message.
Submissions that vary from the acceptable format will not be considered.

RULE 7. Understand that time does not permit Poe to individually acknowledge receipt of PMs; notify authors of the date on which a sample's rating will appear; or engage in any other individual communication.

RULE 8. Understand that Poe's sampler will express Poe's opinion alone, and will not necessarily reflect the views of other Route 19 Writers.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Supply and Demand of College Admissions and Publishing

by Cynthia Light Brown

Five people. One small hotel room. 4 colleges and 1,000 miles in 3.5 days. Joy, thy name is the college admission tour.

The three offspring (aka parasites) bickered over who had to sleep on the floor, drew straws, fussed some more, pulled covers and kicked and yanked and scrabbled and squabbled in furiously loud whispers and kept me awake until 1:00. The husband snored through it all. The 17 yo boy (aka Slob) left his smelly socks draped on chairs, beds, even the sink. The 11 yo girl got stomach aches, headaches, fainting spells—all about halfway through a college tour, which then miraculously disappeared when the tour was finished. The 15 yo girl (aka Snark) reminded me over and over of how they would soon all be off to college and out of my life never to return. By the end of the trip I replied, “Could we make “soon” be tonight?”

Colleges say they really want your child. If they really meant that, they would have information sessions on the weekend. They would hand you a cup of coffee to keep you awake during the information session where they tell you their college is unique because [insert any of 10 reasons that sound exactly like the last college]. They would hand you a bottle of water for the sweltering tour. They would have percent acceptance rates in the double digits.

But they don’t.

So the masses of unwashed hordes troupe from college to college trying to sort it all out with the dawning realization for the child that getting in will boil down to grades and luck and for the parent that if by some chance the offspring gets in you will have to pay about twice as much as you think you should be paying (this formula works whether or not you get financial aid) so maybe you’ll be just as happy if the offspring doesn’t get in after all.

Sound familiar? If publishers really wanted your manuscript, they would actually allow you to submit an unsolicited manuscript. And when you do, they would reply either way in less time than it takes a glacier to form (which in case you didn’t know, is a couple of decades in more temperate regions like Alaska and hundreds or thousands of years in Antarctica). They would thank you for the privilege of reading your amazing novel and pay you enough to live on.

But they don’t.

So the masses of writers submit and submit and submit with the dawning realization that getting published boils down to a lot of hard work and luck and even if you do get published you may end up on the midlist and never get published again.

None of which is anyone’s fault. Not the admissions officers, not the editors, not the high school seniors, not the writers. Too many people trying to get into too few slots.

We left New York City on a Saturday morning, drove to New Haven for our 4th and last college, slogged through a campus tour (being on a weekend, it didn’t include an information session and according to the website wasn’t even a tour aimed at prospective students though there were LOTS of people and I guarantee you they were all prospective students) and drove home to Pittsburgh all in one day/night.

We had not originally planned to pack all that in one day, but the squabbling finally ended as we agreed on one thing: no way, no how were we spending another night in a hotel.


I have only one real answer to all of the above. Gratitude that there are all kinds of great colleges with different admissions and costs, that there are so many great students, that I have a car to go traipsing about to different colleges, that I have a computer to write on, that there are so many wonderful books to read, that new options are opening up for publishing including electronic publishing, that so many editors find the time to take the care that they do on stories, that I have 3 beautiful children and a wonderful husband, an incredible writing group and bloggers, a great agent and editor, and that, mindful of the many people around the world who cannot say the same, my husband and I have a snug house with a room all to ourselves.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

My end of the season tomato soup gets built along with a story idea

by Kitty Griffin Lagorio

I often use time that is quiet work for thinking about stories. As I got to work on my "family famous" tomato soup I also worked away at a story idea. Writing and cooking have lots in common, you need a good base, you need just the right seasonings, and things need to bubble.
Come on, bubble along with me.

It’s canning time and those tomatoes that don’t make it into the sauce or into the diced/stewed/whole jars get put into a great big stock pot as I get ready to make my tomato soup.

It’s like building a story.

I read a contest opener (for a screenplay) where the pitch was this—

A man wakes up to find his wife dead in the back yard.

As he begins to investigate he finds that he never knew

the woman he married.

I didn’t buy the software needed to enter the screenplay contest, but my brain went to work on this idea.

Soup: Oh, can’t put rotten tomatoes in. Those go into the compost pile. It’s okay, they’ll help build the soil for next year.

Story: Think carefully. No rotten ideas. If she’s dead in the back yard, how do we make sure the cops don’t arrest the husband? And don’t make her a spy or something that’s been done before.

Soup: Okay, I have a nice mix of red and yellow tomatoes in here.

Story: Ah, the guy was in a terrible accident. It was his wife who saved him and gave him a reason to live. The accident was so bad that he doesn’t have the use of his right arm. That means the death has to be a physical attack.

Soup: Put the lid on the kettle and let it simmer.

Story: How did the wife save him? Think about this. This is the back story. It will have to be woven in carefully.

Soup: As the pot boils, go out to the garden and get the over-ripe vegetables, ones that won’t be used for dinner or put up. What’s left? Beans, beets, corn…let’s go see.

Story: Should she be a doctor? A nurse? It’s way too common. What if she’s into alternative medicine? What if she’s a naturopath? Wait… what if…

Soup: A big bunch of vegetables can go in. First, I add the salt to the tomatoes and some Italian seasoning.

Story: What if he doesn’t know that his wife is a witch? Oh my, this is different. Like that new seasoning salt I found in the Strip District. New and spicy and different!

Soup: Did you get the fresh parsley? Go back out and get that.

Story: Not only is she a witch, she needs to be a good witch. And she gave something up to marry her husband.

Soup: Be careful as you take the lid off. There’s lots of steam. The vegetables get put in. I have potatoes, carrots, beets, beans, celery, and zucchini.

Story: Her death has to be so violent that there is no way the husband could have physically done it. Okay, when he gets up he can’t find his wife. He’s done something, broken something, so he bought her a present and he wants to give it to her. She’d been asleep when he came home…he goes out into their back yard. Because she loves plants and herbs and flowers there are beautiful gardens. Oh, and she has a workshop out there. He opens the door and the smell of lavender flows out because she’s just harvested some. But she’s not there.

Soup: Give things a good stir. Get all the good stuff from the bottom mixed in.

Story: She’s a witch. Man, I love this idea. What he broke was her crystal ball, accidentally because he’s clumsy. Go back to the accident. He was on a bicycle when a hit and run driver almost killed him. Crystal, his wife’s name is Crystal…she was there and did CPR on him and stayed with him. They fell madly and totally in love. They adore each other.

Soup: Scrub the jars in hot soapy water that you’ve added a spoonful of bleach into and put them into the steamer. Stir the soup again.

Story: Love. They fell in love. He’s got to be a nerd. Computer guy. Systems architect. That sounds boring. Jack O’Neill. I like that name. He’ll be 37. In the accident he almost lost the use of his right arm. It’s still damaged. He’s right-handed. Have to make sure the cops can’t pin it on him.

Where is he? Oh, the backyard. Looking for Crystal.

He sees her sitting under the arbor, but something is very wrong.

Soup: The jars, lids, tops, all have to steam for twenty minutes. Time to take the soup off and put it through Grandma’s food mill. I love the feeling of the wooden pointy thing that goes into the cone and smashes everything. Pour, press, grind. Pour press, grind.

Story: What’s wrong is that her body faces forward and her head faces back. Jack stares in horror. The beautiful crystal necklace he bought breaks. The beads scatter catching light as they roll away. 13 crows rise up in the air, their caws overwhelm all sound. He falls to the ground, crows screaming.

Soup: Get the funnel ready and the little do-hickey with the magnet for getting lids. Take the top off the steamer very carefully. Fill and cap the jars. Get them ready to go back into the steamer.

Story: The cops have to let him off. Doctor tells them he didn’t have the physical strength to do this. In the meantime, a reading of the will states that there are things that are to be given to a woman Jack doesn’t know. 3 books, 3 statues, 3 bracelets, and the crystal ball. Jack is stunned. Who is this person?

Soup: 40 minutes of steaming.

Story: The woman, Silva, shows up to claim the items in the will. Things are okay until Silva sees the cracked crystal ball. She totally freaks out. Jack says he didn't mean to break it. She screams at Jack. “You killed her, do you know that?” Jack is stunned. Then she tells him Crystal gave up her daughter to be with him. “What are you talking about?“ Jack says. “There’s no daughter. We couldn’t have children.” Silva runs out. Jack stares at the crystal ball and, shock! sees the image of Crystal's face in it. He hears a horrible shriek. He goes outside. Silva’s body is on the ground, face down. But her head is twisted face-up. Her eyes pop open and she whispers, “Tell Bella. Tell Crystal’s daughter they’ll want her dead, too.” Those crows have to be there again, cawing, screaming...

Soup: The timer is done. Let the jars cool. Do you hear those lids going pop! Pop! As they seal up?

Story: Jack is going to have to find this girl As he does, he’ll find out his wife was a witch. When he finally tracks Bella down she’s a …

Soup: Okay, let’s finish up here.