Feral Curse: Giant Steps Through the Ashes

Now available!

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Are you struggling with a novel?

Is there a manuscript in a drawer that’s still haunting you?

Consider my latest story-behind-the-story:

Feral Curse (Candlewick, 2014) is a novel that rose from the ashes in more ways than one.

In February 2000, I began writing a story inspired by my favorite Halloween decoration. A spooky carousel, complete with lights, motion and music. The story was sometimes called “The Arrivals” and sometimes called simply “Carousel.”

By December 2003, I had a draft of a novel that transported its teen heroes from the real world to an alternative Austin, controlled by a haunted carousel. Within the fantasy construct, anyone who touched one of the detached carousel figures was transported from one dimension to the next.

It was submitted once to an editor, received a lovely rejection, and I shelved it.

I didn’t shelve it because of the rejection but because the story was more an exercise in intellect than passion and because, having established myself as a realism author, I wanted to more drastically diversify my body of work. A bigger, bolder, scarier, even more fantastical story.

With rare exceptions, neither art nor commerce rewards baby steps. But sometimes you have to reposition yourself before moving forward again.

How did I do that?

Book 1 Tantalize series
Book 1 Feral trilogy

In January 2000, I jotted down notes on a YA novel tentatively titled “Brad, The Impaler.”

The story morphed into Tantalize, which sold in 2005 and was released by Candlewick/Walker in 2007. I continued in that vein with Eternal (2009), Blessed (2011), Diabolical (2012) as well as two graphic novels, illustrated by Ming Doyle, Tantalize: Kieren’s Story (2011) and Eternal: Zachary’s Story (2013). The series is suspenseful Gothic fantasy with mystery and romantic elements as well as some humor.

Then I spun off  the Feral trilogy, which began with Feral Nights (2013) and continues with Feral Curse (2014). The new books are set in the same world but pivot from Gothic to fantasy-adventure. Each can stand alone, but faithful readers are amply rewarded.

At the center of Feral Curse is a haunted carousel.

Sound familiar?

Here’s the bigger question: Should I have given up on “The Arrivals”?

As a writing teacher, I’ve seen students take the ten-plus years they genuinely needed to make a manuscript work, and I’ve seen students spin endlessly on stories because they’re clinging to the security of a draft and they fear that, if they give it up, the time spent will have been wasted.

Did I give up on “The Arrivals”?

Yes and no. I gave up words–30,305 of them (the fashion in YA was shorter back then). I gave up characters I’d built, three of whom were precious to me, and favorite scenes set in the Texas Governor’s Mansion, the Austin History Center and at a fictional 24-hour deli inspired by Katz’s, which, alas, is no longer on 6th Street.

I gave up a fully imagined and executed draft–a marketable draft.

But I grabbed onto the element that captivated me in the first place: the spooky carousel.

One way I’ve kept the Tantalize-Feral books fresh is to change settings. Readers have gone from a cosplay restaurant in South Austin to a modern-day castle in North Chicago to a (Texas-to-Michigan) road-trip to a Vermont boarding school to a South Pacific Island and, now in Feral Curse, to fictional Pine Ridge, Texas.

Why there? I began writing Feral Curse in the wake of the Bastrop County Complex Fire of September-October 2011. It was “the most destructive wildfire in Texas history.” It was horrible. Two people died, and 1,673 homes were destroyed.

I didn’t want to write about that real-life experience. For me, it’s far too soon. Instead, I wanted to write a fantastical story for YA readers, an escape and a salute to those who’d been touched by that kind of life-changing devastation. I also wanted to diversify out my cast to include a small-town hero.

Bastrop State Park; photo by Greg Leitich Smith

I’m a sense-of-place writer. To the extent possible, I try to fully experience my characters’ world.

Strolling the Bastrop River Walk, my mind’s eye could see it: the haunted carousel…along the banks of the Colorado River in the shadow of the historic downtown.

Bastrop became my loose inspiration for fictional Pine Ridge, and a new novel took shape.

Downtown Bastrop; photo by Billy Hathorn.

So, about your story? The shelved manuscript that’s haunting you?

Ask yourself: Where is the magic? What element first captivated me?

Pick it up again, let everything else fall away, and give yourself permission to re-imagine.

I’m rooting for you!

Colorado River at Bastrop; photo by Billy Hathorn.


Cynsational Notes

Find Cyn on facebook & twitter.

Feral Curse is now available in hardcover and e-book and Feral Nights is now available in paperback from Candlewick Press in North America. Both books are likewise now available on audio from Brilliance. Future releases are pending from Walker Books in the U.K. and Walker Australia and New Zealand.

To learn more, check out this interview about the Feral series at teenreads. Peek: “My characters are confronted with hate groups, a sometimes unfair judicial system, employment discrimination, pressure to keep their identities secret and so on. But it’s not a dystopian world, in the same way that, for all our problems, ours isn’t either.” Read more. See also an excerpt of Feral Curse.

See also this interview from WIFYR: “My current writing focus is Feral Pride (Book 3). It’s off to my editor and sure to generate a hearty revision letter. I so need her help. I’ve struggled with it more than my past few novels, I think because it’s the last in the Tantalize-Feral universe, which spans six previous prose novels, two graphic novels and three short stories. …with the last installment comes hefty expectations.” Read more.

Kirkus Reviews says of Feral Curse (Candlewick, 2014): “Campy humor is paired with themes of social justice in this fast-paced, clever second volume in the Feral series….A neat, smart middle novel that clearly sets the stage for an epic showdown between those who champion the rights of shifters and those blind to their humanity.”

The Horn Book praises the “light tone,” “witty banter,” and chimes in: “…as kooky a cast of supernatural characters as ever…but they’re all relatable in various ways and easy to root for. Debut character Kayla—level-headed, religious, but also quietly proud of her shifter nature—holds her own, nicely complementing Yoshi’s swagger, Wild Card shifter Clyde’s newfound confidence, and human Aimee’s resourcefulness.”

Over at readergirlz, Lori Ann Grover cheers, “Kayla is a strong female protagonist, perfect for readergirlz, while many will swoon for Yoshi. The pacing is fast, the mystery layered, and the adventure full.”

Check out my favorite quote from Feral Curse at YA Series Insiders.

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Guest Post: Alison L. Randall on Resolve to Conference

By Alison L. Randall
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

So you’ve made some New Year’s resolutions for your writing.

You want to add sparkle to your voice or make your characters more real.

You’ve vowed to network more with other writers and you’d love to learn what’s really going on in the publishing market.

As for an agent, you’re still trying to decide. It would be nice to find out more about the agent/client relationship.

If these, or others like them, are your goals, you may have already decided that a writing conference would be the best place to accomplish them. The problem is, there are so many conferences out there, which one—or two or three—do you choose?

Visit Alison Randall

Here are a few things to consider.

Does the conference have a track record? 

Is it hosted by a reputable organization or by authors whose published works are of high quality?

What will be the cost for you to attend? 

You’re a writer, so money is a concern, but time away from your writing is costly, too. Make sure you’ll be getting the best possible experience for the expense. Ask writers you trust which conferences they’ve attended and which ones they would recommend.


What are your priorities in a conference? 

If what you want most is to hear from well-known authors and editors, then a large, big-name conference would be the place to find them. You’ll hear keynote speeches and attend break-out sessions with some of publishing’s brightest stars. And since you’ll be one of thousands in attendance, the networking possibilities will literally surround you.

If your goal is to improve your writing, a hands-on, workshop type of conference would be the best fit. Those conferences are typically smaller and longer—usually a week. They might cost more in money than a weekend conference, but the cost in lost writing time will be less because you’ll actually be writing. You’ll also have the chance to make some great writer friends.

It is possible to find a workshop-type conference that also offers access to editors, agents, and nationally published authors. I found one several years ago in Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers (WIFYR, for short).

I workshopped my picture book manuscript with the amazing Candace Fleming and met the editor from Peachtree who picked it up and published it as The Wheat Doll.

(I’ve since joined the staff at WIFYR and we’re ecstatic to have Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith join us this year as faculty.)

Here’s hoping you reach your writing goals in 2014. Chances are a conference can help you do it. If, however, you’re not yet sure if a conference is worth the cost, check out this blog post by debut author Amy Finnegan. She credits conferences with getting her published.

I’d love to hear your conference experiences. Which do you recommend?

WIFYR classroom

WIFYR discussion circle
http://www.wifyr.com/

Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

28 Days Later: Interview with Jason Reynolds by Varian Johnson from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “I told him (Christopher Myers, son of Walter Dean Myers) that I was done. No more writing. What he said next changed my life. He asked me, ‘When my father is done, who’s going to carry that banner, that tradition?’ I suggested he do it. He suggested I do it. He told me to take one more swing….” Note: see more entries from the Brown Bookshelf’s 28 Days Later campaign below.

The Out-of-Control Author by Jael McHenry from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “…tips for a) claiming the control that you can, and b) totally being okay with being out-of-control when it’s called for.”

Writers Have Time to Get Better by Brian Yansky from Brian’s Blog: Diary of a Writer. Peek: “I feel lucky that I’m a writer. I get to keep trying to write better until I can’t write anymore. That’s a gift. Think of being a professional athlete and the short run they have at doing what they love.”

How Writers Can Avoid Silent Sabotage by Kristi Holl from Writer’s First Aid. Peek: “If you don’t want to crash and burn your writing schedule, what voice messages can replace the sabotage? How can you encourage yourself instead?”

Simple Truth by Therese Walsh from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “My simple truth for anyone who has felt let down by the industry is something I tell author friends from all walks all of the time. You are not alone.” See also Dealing with Setbacks by Juliet Marillier from Writer Unboxed.

On Gender Representation and Middle Grade Author Panels by Anne Ursu from Terrible Trivium. Peek: “I understand that these are public events and men are engaging and articulate and funny. But you know who can also be engaging and articulate and funny? Women.”

Submit Your Manuscript Strategically by Deborah Halverson from Dear Editor. Peek: “I suspect it’s an automated response and the agent didn’t read your query.”

Writing Anti-Heroes: Softening a Hard Character to Make Them Likable by Julie Musil from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: “Sure, sometimes he acted cruelly and said things he shouldn’t, but I had to dig deeper into why he acted this way. How did I tackle this task?”

Twitter Messaging: Dos & Don’ts by Angela Ackerman from QueryTracker Blog. Peek: “Direct messaging is for reaching out to people in a personal way, not to talk at them, especially to spam them about products or services.”

The Tipping Point for Diversity: Turning Talk Into Action by Elizabeth Bluemle from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “We also need to get more agents and editors and art directors and publishers of color into the halls of publishing, and that will only happen if kids in high schools and colleges are exposed to careers in the field.” See also Editor Cheryl Klein on the Complexities of Publishing Diverse Books.

All I Have to Give from Marion Dane Bauer. Peek: “…while I can’t go out and feed the unnumbered starving, while I can’t stop the wars, protect the women, gather up the orphaned, bury the forgotten dead, renew the health of the climate, while I can’t stop this spinning globe from hurtling toward destruction, I can do one small thing.”

Children’s-YA Book Awards & Lists

Children’s Book Committee 2014 Award Winners from the Bank Street Center for Children’s Literature:

Great Graphic Novels of 2014 from YALSA.

2013 Locus Recommended Reading List from Locus Magazine. Note: science fiction and fantasy.

Notable Books for a Global Society from the Children’s Literature & Reading Special Interest Group of the International Reading Association.

2014 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults from YALSA. Topics: Conflicted: Life During Wartime; GLBTQ: Books with Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer-questioning, Intersex, Asexual Individuals, and Their Allies; and Humor Me: Funny, Fantastic and Witty Reads. See the Top 10 List.

From the New Tejas Star Reading List

New Tejas Star Reading List Released from the Texas Library Association. Peek: “…encourages students (K-12) to explore multicultural books and discover the benefits of bilingualism.”

Awards Morning, Bookstore Style by Elizabeth Bluemle from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “…Josie and I are a veritable SWAT team of readiness on awards morning.”

28 Days Later

28 Days Later is “a Black History Month celebration of emerging and established children’s book creators of color” from the Brown Bookshelf.

See also:

Cynsational Screening Room

From children’s author Kim Norman:

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

“Feral Pride” (Book 3 in the Feral trilogy) is off to my editor!

Thank you to Greg Leitich Smith for reading the “Feral Pride” manuscript aloud to me last weekend. At this stage, my eye will “see” what I meant to type, so having a fresh reader and the natural pacing of a voice is absolutely essential.

Just for fun, here’s a sampling of last-minute tweaks/queries:

  • “Goth elf,” not “Golf elf” 
  • Can state troopers turn off their dash cams?
  • Are there really no snakes in Ireland?”
  • Vancouver’s way too far from Vermont, how about…?
  • What time do 24-hour McDonald’s stop serving breakfast?
  • Trichinosis
  • More physical description of the boys
  • Corporate Security: hard copy vs. electronic

Speaking of the Feral trilogy, Feral Curse comes out on Tuesday (and Feral Nights comes out in paperback) from Candlewick Press. 

As I look forward to the release of my thirteenth book and seventh prose novel, I’d like to thank Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children’s Literature for highlighting my debut novel, Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001) among her recommended YA reads featuring Native American characters and themes. Peek from Debbie: “There are over 500 federally recognized tribal nations! Within them,
some of us are living on the reservation, and some of us are in urban
areas and cities. We dance, and we drum, and some of us sing our
traditional songs, but some of us like rock and roll, too.”

Books stay in print because of their champions. If you treasure a book or voice, make noise–for years beyond the release date–to support it.

On the social network scene, I’m honored to have passed 14,000 followers on Twitter. Thanks to all of you who follow! Join in the fun @CynLeitichSmith!

Meanwhile, conversation at my author page at Facebook has been hopping on J.K. Rowling’s recent assertion that Hermione should’ve married Harry rather than Ron.What I found my interesting was this quote:

“For reasons that have very little to do with literature and far more to do with me clinging to the plot as I first imagined it, Hermione ended up with Ron.”

In the writing community, we talk a lot about getting out of the way of your characters and letting them take over. Like most writers, I’m sympathetic to JKR second-guessing herself. I also wonder what our expressing such misgivings might mean to young readers.

The “inspiration” link on my mind this week is Therese Walsh’s A Simple Truth over at Writer Unboxed. Highly recommended to writers. I also love what Marion says in All I Have to Give.

By the way, Marc Tyler Nobleman is back with more videos of authors reading negative online customer comments about their books.

Congratulations to Texas Council of Teachers of Language Arts University Teacher of the Year, Dr. Teri Lesesne of Sam Houston State University! See more information!

Cheers to Texas writer-librarian Sara Joiner on the sale of her middle grade novel manuscript, “Unnatural Selection,” to Holiday House!

Sad news: The youth literature community is remembering illustrator, Erik Blegvad, who died Jan. 14 at age 90 after illustrating more than 100 children’s stories, and children’s poet-anthologist Lillian Morrison, who died Jan. 27 at age 96.

Personal Links

(Greenwillow, May 2014)

Cynsational Events

The 2014 Austin SCBWI Writers & Illustrators Working Conference will be held Feb. 8 to Feb. 9 at the Marriott South Austin. Keynote speakers: YA author Matt de la Peña and author-illustrator Kelly Murphy.

Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers will be held June 16 to June 21 at the Waterford School in Sandy, Utah. Keynote speaker: James Dashner; faculty includes Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith. Learn about the WIFYR Fellowship Award.

Guest Post: Chris Barton on Staying Connected, Author Newsletters & Bartography Express

Chris, Jennifer Ziegler & Cyn at a RIF event.

By Chris Barton
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Just because literary-minded people can discuss an author’s books and get news about them at the speed of Twitter doesn’t mean that all of them want to.

Some surely find that even daily updates on Facebook or weekly blog posts showing up in their feed reader are too much of a good thing.

For these folks, an occasional email newsletter from a particular author may provide all the connection they need.

For nearly five years now, for hundreds of subscribers, I’ve tried to be that particular author through my monthly Bartography Express newsletter.

Here, quickly, are the mechanics of how I do it.

1) I use an email marketing service (of which there are several) to maintain my database of names and email addresses, to format and send my newsletters, and to provide some insight into how engaged my recipients are.

2) I collect names and emails electronically through a signup form on my home page (or you can sign-up through a direct link). I also collect them manually through signup sheets that I bring with me to conferences, festivals, bookstore events, etc. When I get home, I type those into my subscriber database.

3) I figure out what I most want to let my subscribers know. (What have I been up to lately? What’s coming up in the next several weeks? What can they do to help support libraries?) Then I write it up and send it out.

Obviously, I see a lot of benefit for me in taking the time to prepare Bartography Express. Even if a subscriber doesn’t open an individual email, they see my name in their inbox, and that can serve as a reminder that they’ve been meaning to buy a copy of Can I See Your I.D.? (Dial, 2011) as a birthday present or see about having me visit their school.

If they do open the email and read what I have to say, and I’ve managed to provide them with something useful or interesting or amusing or otherwise worth their time, then I’ve strengthened my connection with them. That can make them even more likely to help keep my career as an author afloat.

So, what exactly do I provide to subscribers of Bartography Express?

What’s in it for them?

Well, for starters, free books. Each month, I give away one terrific new title by a friend of mine (Kathi Appelt, Marc Tyler Nobleman, Divya Srinivasan, etc.), in conjunction with a two-question interview included in the newsletter.

Not everyone out there lives and breathes children’s literature, and for some of my subscribers, the interview in Bartography Express may be the main thing keeping them attuned to the wealth of great books being published for young readers month in, month out.

But the biggest benefit may be to subscribers who are the parents or grandparents or teachers or librarians of kids who have connected with one of my books. Bartography Express can provide these adults with opportunities to build on those connections.

Did Shark Vs. Train (Little, Brown, 2010) help turn a video-game lover into a reader?

Let him know that my next book is about games — and that, together, you could probably find other books about other things that he loves.

Did a nonfiction fan take a particular interest in The Day-Glo Brothers (Charlesbridge, 2009)?

Share with her the news that the Switzer brothers’ invention has been deemed a National Historic Chemical Landmark.

Being an author is about having a conversation with your readers. Some readers are content with the author’s part occurring solely between book covers. Others crave the sort of immediate dialogue that social media make possible.

But there’s lots of room in between, and for both author and reader, a monthly newsletter may be just the thing.

Cynsational Notes

Check out this sample of Bartography Express! This is a PNG so the links won’t work. However, you can subscribe at Chris’s author website (scroll to the bottom right corner) or this direct link.

Wondering how to collect subscribers, face to face? Check out this sample of Chris’s signup sheet for Bartography Express.

Video: Bridge to Terabithia a Lifeline for Soldier-Turned-Author Trent Reedy

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Children’s Novel a Lifeline for American Soldier from CBS This Morning:

“A used paperback of Bridge to Terabithia was sent to Corporal Trent Reedy in Afghanistan.

“CBS This Morning contributor Lee Woodruff reports on how the book changed the lives of Reedy, the author and a young Afghan girl.”

Cynsational Notes 

Trent’s new release is Divided We Fall (Levine/Scholastic, 2014). From the promotional copy:

Danny Wright never thought he’d be the man to bring down the United States of America. In fact, he enlisted in the Idaho National Guard because he wanted to serve his country the way his father did. 

When the Guard is called up on the governor’s orders to police a protest in Boise, it seems like a routine crowd-control mission … but then Danny’s gun misfires, spooking the other soldiers and the already fractious crowd, and by the time the smoke clears, twelve people are dead.

Q&A with Trent Reedy by Michael M. Jones from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The division that America faces is the result of groups of people who want the best for the country and for their children, but who disagree profoundly about what that America should look like. And so I was very careful to show the positives and the negatives of both sides.”

Interview with Trent Reedy: Author of Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction by Kim Thacker from Bookshop Talk. Peek: “I wonder if it is possible that most middle grade novels are feelings books. And I wonder if a lot of boys have been trained, not to be without feelings, but at least to crave a little more action. Sometimes when I’m reading, I just want to rock.”

Guest Post: Gail Giles on Writing with a Co-Author & Why Faust?

By Gail Giles
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

The question is asked: why did we (Deb Vanasse and I) decide to use Faust as the central theme of our book No Returns, the first book of our Battleband series (Running Fox, 2014)?

We actually didn’t.

I had an idea that came from dealing with a student of mine who was repeatedly drawing Satanic symbols on his papers. I asked why. He said he was calling up the Devil.

I asked what he would do if it worked and the Devil was busy or asleep and when he came he was pissed.

I started a book with boys in a band that inadvertently call up the Devil and he is truly irritated with them. It was supposed to be a comedy. I had a little more than a chapter done and I went to vacation at Deb’s place in Cabo.

I asked her to co-author the book with me. She suggested a series.

As we worked, it got a little more serious with the addition of Pod’s mother and her disappearance. Now, it was turning by degrees much more Faustian.

 We decided then to go for it. Make it a true Faustian bargain and try to make it our own. We pulled in some history about Faust and the original tale, since some readers might not know the Faust tale. We will be pulling in other old tales and legends throughout the series.

Which all leads to working with a co-author. How does that work? Is it easy? Do you fight? Who gets final approval?

Deb with Mackenzie at glacier

As I said before, I came up with the original idea and the first chapter. We revised the chapter and the next bit that I had and began writing the next part together. Kind of one would say something and we would write it down and the other would say something and on it went.

We got a couple of chapters roughed out that way and lots of notes and about how the book would run.

We changed the direction of the book from out and out comedy to something a little more serious with comedic overtones. We fleshed out characters and how we wanted them to develop over the book and gave some thought to how they would develop over the series.

Then the vacation was over. The rest of the book was written over the phone. Sometimes one of us would write a scene or a whole chapter and we would revise over the phone or we would just do the writing over the phone.

It wasn’t hard for us. No fighting at all. Agreement when we reached what we both thought was approval. Nobody took a diva role.

Now we do less phone work and write a chapter or so and put it in Dropbox and the other person revises and then it just goes back and forth until we think it’s right. Or right enough to go forward until we edit again.

The only hard thing is for Deb to keep me working.

Gail makes new friends.

Cynsational Notes

Gail Giles is the author of six young adult novels. Her debut novel, Shattering Glass (Roaring Brook), was an ALA Best of the Best Book, a Book Sense 76 selection, and a Booklist Top 10 Mystery for Youth selection. Her second, Dead Girls Don’t Write Letters (Roaring Brook), was an ALA Top 10 Quick Pick and a Book Sense 76 selection.

Deb Vanasse is the author of more than a dozen books for readers of all ages. Her debut novel, A Distant Enemy (Dutton), was a Junior Library Guild selection and is featured in Best Books for Young Readers, as was Out of the Wilderness (Clarion). See also The Self-Made Writer.

View from Deb’s office
Gail’s assistant, Oscar Wilde

Guest Post: Kallie George on What Being an Editor Taught Me as a Writer

By Kallie George
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

For over eight years, I have been an editor at Simply Read Books, alongside writing and authoring my own books.

There is no doubt in my mind that editing has helped me become a better writer, albeit with much more to learn still.

Deal with Big Stuff First

I think it is very hard to have written a book, especially a long book, only to discover there is something crucially, substantially wrong with the plot, something that means you have to rewrite the whole book.

This is why I like to outline, and share my outlines with my editors and writing friends. In that way, I hope to avoid having a big plot problem down the road.

Of course, outlines don’t always catch all major problems. The first thing I do when I edit a story I’ve written is check it for the big stuff (such as character arcs, plot arcs, and world-building). It is pointless to spend hours perfecting sentences when those sentences might end up being cut.

The Big Stuff Really is the Most Important Stuff

Kallie got married last year (her husband did, too)!

When I became an editor I became obsessed, as many editors are, with every comma being perfect, especially since, for some of our picture book titles, I do everything from substantive to copy-editing.

But one incident in particular showed me that really what matters is the heart of the story.

I made a copy-editing mistake on a book and I was sure that it would mean the book would get awful reviews and be denied awards because of my oversight. However, that didn’t happen at all. It turned out that no one noticed the mistake.

It was the heart of the book that was more important to people—the emotions, the characters, the idea, the illustrations. That is what you really need to focus on getting right.

This is not to say that every comma shouldn’t be perfect. I still believe that that they should too.

But heart comes first.

Every Word Really Does Count

I believe in making sure that every word is there for a reason, moving the story or the characters forward. Of course, I work mostly in picture books, early readers and early chapter books where word count is limited.

Early readers, like Spark, demand especially care for word choice, as they are meant to be the first reads of children. I spent a lot of time trimming and agonizing over words in Spark.

For example, originally Spark’s parents said, “Time to blow out the candles, Spark” until I realized that, for Spark, blowing out the candles on his birthday cake wouldn’t work as that would mean he would blow more fire on them. It changed to “Time to put out the candles, Spark.”

Time Away is Important

Stories are like soup. The longer they simmer, the better they often are. It seems when I have the ability to put a story on the shelf for a while, and then come back to it, I always discover that it is not as good as it could be, and then I try and find new ways of making it better.

(That is why it can be nice to have a few projects on the go, so you can work on one, while another simmers.)

It’s Never Over Till It’s Over

Some of Kallie’s editing projects!

I edit my writing many times.

Spark alone went through approximately thirty drafts. I was perfecting words when it was in the layout, ready to go to press.

I don’t view stories as ever “final” until they are back from the printer.

Fresh Perspectives are Crucial/Find an Editing Friend

One mind is rarely enough to make a story the best it can be. I am so very grateful to have met friends who are great editors as well, and work in the industry, and offer their feedback on my work.

Without a second, or third, or fourth, pair of eyes, my stories would never get to be as polished as I’d like them to be.

Ultimately, writing is editing and editing is writing. This is my process, working and reworking a story until it is the best it can be. I guess perhaps I really am an editor at heart!