First published through beehiiv.com by email, January 25, 2024.
Hi, friends – I’m glad you’re here for the first issue of my new newsletter. I hope you’ll find something helpful, something thought-provoking, and something fun in this newsletter. If you like it, please feel free to send it to a friend or two! Thanks!
As I get more accustomed to this newsletter platform, I’ll be able to add in more “excitement” in terms of bells and whistles. In the meantime, it’s the plain-Beth version.
If I could do a table of contents that could immediately zap you to whatever you wanted to read, I would. Instead, I’ll just let you know what’s below, so if there’s something you particularly want to read, you can scroll on down. (But I hope you’ll give the rest a glance, too.)
Writing – None of us is alone on this writing journey
Editing – Character interviews that build stakes
Reading – A virtual stack of picture books, a middle grade novel and a middle grade graphic novel
Resources – A couple of blogs and websites that I particularly find helpful
Clock is ticking – One more month to sign up for Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 Challenge
Just for fun – A cool rabbit hole of a website
Note: Any time you see cat paw prints, 🐾 , they indicate a hyperlink. I can’t do everything the same way everyone else does, now, can I?
Here we go…
Although each of us sits at our computer on our own, and putting the words on the page is up to us, we are not alone. I have some wonderful people surrounding me (even at a distance) as I write. You likely do, too. If you don’t have some of these people, I can vouch for them being a great presence in your writing life.
- I have an amazing accountability partner, Kathy Halsey. She’s the one who came up with the idea that we try this accountability thing out, in one of Julie Hedlund’s 12 Days of Christmas for Writers end-of-year reflection groups. I checked back in my vast email archive, and we started emailing pretty much weekly in January 2018. Over the course of the years, we’ve not only kept each other accountable, and buoyed each other up during the inevitable writing doldrums, but we’ve become great friends. I highly recommend having an accountability partner. We’ll be talking more about this on February 16, when I interview Kathy for my blog. Be prepared to check out the post – you’ll be glad you did. She’ll also be talking about her new venture, Ask Infowoman.
- I’ve wanted a critique partner for quite a while. I started following the writing coach, Julie Artz, last spring, and when she said she was going to do a “Critique Partner Meet-Cute Match-Up” I signed up. I was matched with an incredible critique partner. We mesh well, and she is very insightful. Three cheers for critique partners. Here’s Julie Artz’ link if you want to see when her next Meet-Cute Match-Up will be. (Click the paws!) 🐾 There are great resources on her website, too.
- I don’t know where I’d be without the online writing community. I gain so much strength and support from those people (YOU people!). I started out with Emma Walton Hamilton’s Children’s Book Hub and Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge – Emma and I still administer the Children’s Book Hub Facebook Group, and although I’m no longer a part of 12 x 12, I keep in touch through the wonderful 12 x 12 monthly Book Chats, which are open to the public. And they’re free – my favorite price! Here’s the link for more info: 🐾 I’m now very involved in the KidLit411 community, as well as connecting with writers on my personal Facebook page. I so appreciate all of you.
- I appreciate the resources available through SCBWI. My region spans all of Western Canada, so I’ve never been able to attend a regional meeting of any sort. Instead, I appreciate being able to take webinars from all over the SCBWI globe.
- For the last 7 months, I’ve been a part of Inked Voices, participating in a pop-up critique group and attending some webinars. If you’re not familiar with this community, you can check it out here: 🐾
- I was a part of Bethany Hegedus’ Courage to Create group a year or so ago, and found it very beneficial. I took a break from it to focus on craft and craft webinars, but I plan to go back as soon as I get all my ducks in a row. It’s a joy to me to know that people can now sign up at any time of the year! This is a great group for digging deep into the Why of your writing and for getting and giving encouragement. You can learn more here: 🐾
We are definitely not alone. Not at all. And I am so grateful!
When my developmental editing clients seem to be struggling to get beneath the surface with their characters, especially their main character, I often suggest they do a character interview. I’m sure you’ve encountered character interviews. They’re great. The questions are good for getting to know the details that make up your character’s life. What’s your favorite color? What’s your favorite kind of ice cream?
The questions I’m thinking about as I write this are intended to supplement those details questions. They’re designed to get at the heart of what makes your character a unique person. They’re questions that go deeper, that perhaps make your character squirm a little.
What worries you most? When I was in fifth grade, our teacher asked us that question. I didn’t want to tell the truth and say “dying,” so I copied one of my friends who had a safe answer. One of the boys said, “Why worry? Laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and all you do is get wet.” The whole class laughed, but I still remember that and wonder what really did worry him, because I’m sure something did. Don’t let your character fudge their answer, or hide behind humor.
What scares you the most, besides spiders and snakes? That’s a little different than worries, although they’re related.
These sorts of questions can have stakes built around them. What would happen if one of these scary, worrisome things looked like it might happen? What if it did happen? How might your character respond?
You can find a list of other such questions at my website in handy PDF form. Pawprint alert! 🐾
I’ve read a variety of books this month. I usually stick to picture books and middle grade fiction, with the occasional cozy or not-so-cozy mystery thrown in, (plus books of my past that I want to re-read), but sometimes something else will take my fancy.
Another note about what I read: in this season of my life, I find it works best for me to read e-books from the library. Not all the picture books and middle grade novels that I want to read are available in e-book, or at least, not through my access point. I do my best.
I decided not to give hyperlinks for the book list each month. That would quickly become way too many links. Look in your library, or at indiebooks.com, and you’ll likely find them. (However, there is one link on the first book.)
BIG, written and illustrated by Vashti Harrison. I felt for this kidlet. At first, it’s good to be “such a big girl” – until it isn’t. Until the words become “You’re too big.” Words have so much power to build up and to tear down. NOTE: BIG was the winner of the Caldecott Medal and other awards at the recent ALA Youth Media Awards! You can read the full list of award recipients here: 🐾
SENSITIVE, written by Sara Levine, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini. Oh wow. I identified with this girl so strongly. “You’re too sensitive.” “You think too much.” I have heard the same things so many times in my life. The way she learns to deal with the words makes me wish I’d had this book when I was growing up. (And in adulthood, as well.)
TOO MUCH! An Overwhelming Day, written by Jolene Gutierrez, illustrated by Angel Chang. This sensitive, caring look at sensory overload is an excellent book to read with kids who deal with sensory processing challenges as well as those who have a sibling, or friend, or classmate with such challenges. And don’t we all feel like things are just too much at times?
WHAT IF I’M NOT A CAT? written by fellow Canadian Kari-Lynn Winters, illustrated by Kelly Collier. This is a delightful tale of a donkey who, surrounded by cats, believes himself to be a cat – until someone questions that assumption, and he plunges into an identity crisis.
BEAR IS NEVER ALONE, written by Marc Veerkamp, illustrated by Jeska Verstegen, translated by Laura Watkinson. Talented, piano-playing Bear is an introvert. He needs to recharge his inner self in solitude. His audience – the animals and birds around him in the forest – don’t appreciate that, and clamber for More! More! More!
Such different books, but all so complementary to each other.
And another, not so SEL-focused:
THIS BOOK IS BANNED, written by Raj Haldar, illustrated by Julia Patton. This is an excellent, humorous look at banning books. Many animals, objects, and foods are banned in this book, all to make a point, gently and with much laughter throughout.
Middle grade fiction:
THE STAR THAT ALWAYS STAYS by Anna Rose Johnson. Although written recently, this book reads like some of the treasured classics of the turn of the century between the 19th and the 20th centuries, books like POLLYANNA, and WHAT KATY DID, and Louisa May Alcott’s AN OLD-FASHIONED GIRL (a book I particularly loved as a child). That was what the author was trying to achieve, and she did. The book is set in that time period, and many of those books show up in the story. The difference between those books and this one is that none of those books was about a girl who is cautioned by her mother to hide their Ojibwe/Acadian heritage when Ma is getting married for the second time. That twist makes it so different while yet so similar.
Middle grade graphic novel:
SWIM TEAM by Johnnie Christmas. Bree, an African-American girl, and her dad move to Florida. Bree has always excelled in math, but the math elective she wants is full. In fact, everything is full except Swim 101. Bree’s scared of the water, doesn’t know how to swim – but there are ways to deal with that. The story splashes across the page in richly colored artwork, and a gripping plotline. Along the way, we learn why many African Americans didn’t have the chance to learn to swim, because access to pools was so restricted. I learned a lot – and I enjoyed the book from start to finish.
Non-fiction picture book for older kids:
SAVE THE SPOTTED OWL: Zelia’s Story, written by Nicola Jones, illustrated by Alexandra Finkeldey. The northern spotted owl is one of Canada’s most endangered species, and there is a breeding center in Langley, British Columbia, that is trying to help them come back and re-enter life in the wild. This book tells the story of Zelia, a spotted owl rescued when she was a baby, as well as telling of the work of the center. For someone who is very interested in owls (that would be me), this book was great!
Do you subscribe to Kate McKean’s Substack? I only get the free version, so I’m sure I’m missing out on a lot, but even in the free version there are many gems. Gems such as this one, that landed in my inbox on January 16, called “The Answer to Editing”: 🐾
I have learned so much from author, editor, educator Mary Kole over the years. She has a website called Good Story Company, but it isn’t just a website. There are webinars and other resources, a blog, and a subscription membership for lots more learning opportunities, called Good Learning Company. Here’s the link: 🐾
CLOCK IS TICKING
Registration for Julie Hedlund’s amazing 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge is only open until the end of February. Then that’s it until next year. Don’t miss your chance to be part of this vital, supportive, educational, inspiring group. Here’s the link to the website: 🐾
JUST FOR FUN
I saw a “Sketchplanation” on Facebook, and discovered that there’s a whole website of these clever Sketches/explanations (hence the name). It’s a fun rabbit hole to go down… Just getting the link for you, I started down that rabbit hole again! Follow the paw prints: 🐾
That’s it for this month, but there’ll be more next month. I hope to see you back again then!
NOTE: If you, or someone you know, would like to work with me in my freelance editor role, you can find more information at the My Editing Service tab, right here at my website. But because I can’t resist, one more set of paw prints for the road: 🐾
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