Posted by: Kathy Temean | April 1, 2015

The Story Question


Yesterday I posted the information about the Tuscany Prize for Catholic Fiction and discovered they have a good article on the story question and how to use it to write a better novel.

Here it is if you missed reading it:

The story question is the main reason why a reader will buy your book. Let us repeat – the story question is the main reason a reader will buy your book. There are other factors that influence a purchase but a reader will decide whether they want to buy your book because of the story question proposed. Is your story question interesting? Is it worth the reader’s time to find out the answer to the story question? Have you piqued their interest?

However, what and how you write to get to the answer is why the reader will love your novel.

The story question is what the novel is about – on the surface. It’s the question the reader will be asking him/herself as she reads. The story question is sometimes described as the main plot question or the story scenario.

Character growth is not a Story Question.  If the protagonist grows in character, that is good writing but not the Story Question.

In a murder mystery, who killed the victim? is the story question. A story question can be quiet or violent, but it must be proposed in the beginning chapter.

For example, in The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, the story question is:

Will the old man (Santiago) catch and bring in the marlin? Yet the story is about so much more than catching and bringing in a fish. However, the reader keeps reading to find out if Santiago will accomplish his goal and bring in the fish.

Every story must have a story question. Novels that don’t have one—or that neglect or bury this question—will fall flat and not sell. The reader will ask: Why am I reading this book? Interesting characters? So. Great setting? So. Plot that goes nowhere? So. You may have read books like this and then asked yourself, What was that book even about?

No story question—no sales!

Your goal as the author is to give the readers an experience that makes it easy for them to tell others about your book. If you had to tell someone who’d never heard of Tolkien what Lord of the Rings was about, you might say the story questions is: Will a young hobbit survive the perilous journey to destroy a powerful ring that gives its wearer the ability to control the world?

Another way of looking at your story question is that it’s the distillation of your novel into one sentence. It won’t contain details or subplots, but it’s the overarching purpose of the story.

Two Types of Story Questions: Main and POVs

Every novel must have an overarching or Main Story Question. In addition, every Point of View narrator must have a Story Question. The two types of Story Questions are: Main Story Questions and POV Story Questions.

Let us use Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier as an example, which was on The New York Times best-seller list for sixty-one weeks, won numerous literary awards, including the National Book Award, and went on to sell over three million copies.


Sorely wounded and fatally disillusioned in the fighting at Petersburg, a Confederate soldier named Inman decides to walk back to his home in the Blue Ridge mountains to Ada, the woman he loves. His trek across the disintegrating South brings him into intimate and sometimes lethal converse with slaves and marauders, bounty hunters and witches, both helpful and malign. At the same time, the intrepid Ada is trying to revive her father’s derelict farm and learning to survive in a world where the old certainties have been swept away.

The Main Story Question is: Will Inman and Ada get together by the end of the war?

POV Story Question – Inman: Will Inman make it home?

POV Story Question – Ada: Will Ada survive the war by her lonesome?

Please be aware that Story Questions are physical plot questions – not interior movements or character growth. Amateur writers believe the story question is superficial, but good writers know that the story question is why the reader buys the book and turns the pages. Showing character growth throughout the novel is great writing. Having interesting story questions is great storytelling. Great novels tell great stories.

Each POV character will have his/her own story question to answer by the end of the novel. This is the character’s goal or purpose. Using Tolkien again, Will Frodo find the strength to fight the seduction of the ring in order to destroy it? His best friend Sam’s story question is: Will Sam be able to protect his friend from being lured by the power of the ring? The antagonist or villain of the story has their own goal: Will Sauron take possession of the ring before the young hobbit destroys it?

The novel’s story question must be introduced in the first chapter. A result of people’s dependence on technology is that today’s readers are impatient and distracted. The first chapter is their test-run of the story. They need to know the set-up right away to hold their attention and to make them invest in the eight hours or so they’ll be spending with your book. That’s one reason why books like The Firm and The Pilot’s Wife were so appealing. Each of those stories had a defined story question established in chapter 1.

[The Firm] Mitch is wooed by the opulence of a selective law firm but soon discovers their shady underpinnings. But will the prestige and wealth keep him from betraying them? Will he survive when he learns the truth?

[The Pilot’s Wife] How will Kathryn cope with the news of her husband’s secret life?

Answer to Story Questions

Warning: Do not answer the Story Questions before the end of the book.

If you answer any of the story questions before the end of the book, then why should the reader continue reading? Think about it. If Inman in Cold Mountain makes it home halfway through the novel, why would you continue reading? All story questions should be come together at the end of the story.

Before you begin writing or editing your manuscript, ask yourself the following questions:

What is the Main Story Question of your novel?

Is the question a physical plot question?

Is the question proposed in the 1st chapter of the novel?

Is the question answered at the end of the novel?

What is each POV character’s Story Question(s)?

Is the question a physical plot question?

Is the question proposed when the character is introduced?

Is the question answered at the end of the novel?

Knowing the answers to these questions will help you write with the confidence, tell a great story, and discover great success as a writer.

Talk tomorrow,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 31, 2015

Tuscany Press Contest


The Tuscany Prize for Catholic Fiction is a literary prize to promote writers and great undiscovered stories of Catholic fiction. What is Catholic fiction? Stories that capture the imagination of the reader and are infused with the presence of God and faith — subtly, symbolically or deliberately. Think of Flannery O’Connor, Graham Greene, J.R.R. Tolkien and G.K. Chesterton and many others whose writings reflected the thoughts of the great writer Gerard Manley Hopkins: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”

This is the “stuff” of literature that wins the Tuscany Prize. Do you have a manuscript? A Novel? A Young Adult Novel? A short story? Would you like it published? Does your story have themes of faith and struggle, of grace and nature, atonement, courage, redemption and hope? Whether it is fiction, historical fiction, mystery, fantasy or humor, Tuscany Press is open to all genres.

We seek original great stories of unpublished/self-published works of fiction.  Are you the next great writer of Catholic fiction? We invite you to send in your manuscript. 

Deadline: June 30, 2015

Entry Fee: $10.00


Gold – $5,000 – plus publishing contract.
Silver – $2,000 – plus publishing contract.
Bronze – $1,000 – plus publishing contract.

Young Adult Novel

$3,000 – plus publishing contract.

Shorts Stories (10 awards)

1st Place – $1,000; 2nd Place – $350; 3rd Place – $300; 4th Place – 250; 5th Place – $200; Honorable Mention (5 awards) – $100 –

10 winning short stories published together in a book with an editor’s introduction and discussion questions.

Please read our detailed guidelines before you submit your manuscript.

Technical Criteria:

  1. Unpublished/self-published young adult novel
  2. Protagonist must be between the ages of 12-17 years old.
  3. 50,000 words or greater
  4. File Format: MS Word doc or docx
  5. 1 inch margins (top, bottom, left, right), 1 1/2 line spaced, 12 pt font
  6. Title in headings; page numbers in footer
  7. No author identification on manuscript- we blind read submissions


Good Luck!

Talk tomorrow,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 30, 2015

Kudos! YAY!

karen fortunati2I’m so excited to congratulate one of our Avalon Writer’s Retreat attendees, Karen Fortunati on her great news. This past week editor Kate Sullivan at Delacorte, acquired via exclusive submission, Karen’s book, The Weight of Zero. So happy that Karen is getting a chance to work with Kate – Kate’s great!

This is Karen’s debut YA book.  Her agent Sara Megibow at KT Literary sold world English rights. Publication is planned for fall 2016.

The story follows Cath, a teenager with bipolar disorder who is contemplating suicide, and her march towards – and struggle to recognize – better mental health, supported by a network of family, doctors, and friends. 

Then after hearing from Karen, I receive an email from Anita Nolan pointing out the New York Time Top Ten Best Selling Picture Books and there at number ten is my friend Ame Dyckman for her book WOLFIE.

YAY! Ame.

Here is the Link:

Love when great things happen to nice people. Congratulations – Karen and Ame!

If you have a success story you would like announced, please let me know.

Talk tomorrow,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 29, 2015

No Fee Poetry Competition – Deadline April 4th


These lovely spring flowers were painted by Marija Prelog je slikarka, ilustratorka in oblikovalka, Slovenia.  

Do you ever write poems? If so, you may want to read about this contest.

Last year, love was all you needed to enter the Common Good Books annual poetry competition. This year, love is not required—but you do need to revive the lost art of letter-writing.

The theme of this year’s competition is “Dear You,” and the bookstore is looking for poems in the form of letters–and they don’t have to be nice ones, either. (Just poetic.) (And to real, living people.)

Proprietor Garrison Keillor has upped the prize money to $5,000, which will be divided into three $1,000 grand prizes and four $500 prizes for “poems of merit.” This surely makes the bookstore’s competition one of the most lucrative in the country for a single poem. Last year’s competition, with prizes of $4,000, drew more than 1,000 entries.

Here are the rules for this year’s competition:

1) The contest it open to anyone living within the United States.

2) Entries must be a single poem, in the form of a letter to a real, living person.

3) Entries must be original work, previously unpublished, and the author must have full rights to the material.

4) Only one entry per person.

5) Entries must be mailed to Common Good Books, 38 S. Snelling Av., St. Paul, MN 55105 and postmarked no later than April 4, 2015.

Winners will be announced at noon on Sunday, April 19, at a celebration at Macalester College’s Weyerhaeuser Chapel.

Good Luck!

Talk tomorrow,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 28, 2015

Illustrator Saturday – Alessandra Sartoris

a.sartoris265Alessandra Sartoris was born and raised in Turin (Italy), a beautiful city surrounded by the snowy Alps.

As a child, she loved spending her time drawing horses, although she says, “It would have been better to make some friends instead!”

She graduated from IED (European Institute of Design) in 2008, with a major in illustration graphics. Soon after that, Alessandra started working as a graphic designer and illustrator for logo design, children’s books illustrations, characters design and more…

She developed her skills further by attending a course in photography and did a Masters Degree in motion graphic & design.

She loves searching for funny and weird details in people, objects and animals and transform them into grotesque and ironic characters… She says, “I think this is the best way to see the life around us, because too much seriousness fossilize the mind and the sense of humor.”

Here is Alessandra showing her process:process1
The first step is the sketch, done with pencil on paper.

Than I scan it and I open it in Adobe Illustrator where I trace it in order to get a clean vector sign. I proceed copy and pasting the vector track on my Photoshop file. Doing this I can select each part or the draw separately from the rest.


The workflow is quite similar to a traditional painting: first the base color and then, step by step, the shades and the details, the background in the end. Coloring with digital painting it is not necessary to make a color study before because I can change idea without loose the work done, I do it only when I work with traditional techniques, but it doesn’t happen very often. Usually I use traditional brushes and I use layers that are the most useful tool of Photoshop.


Finished Illustration.

Interview Questions: 

How long have you been illustrating?

Approximately 7 years if I consider also the school time.


What was the first thing you painted where someone paid you for your work?

I created an illustration for a magazine that deals with environment and territory at regional level. It represented a man with a balance on the shoulders, on the one hand the earth on the other the money that appears to have more weight. I treated the subject with irony, which is a main part of my style, and from there I obtained a contract for two more years of collaborations.


Have you always lived in Italy?

Yes, I have always had the dream to have an experience abroad but I didn’t find a good occasion. Anyway I traveled a lot during these years, I spent one month in USA as soon as I finished the school and than, each year I spent a short time abroad.


How did you decide to attend the European Institute of Design in 2008 and major in Illustration and graphics?

After art school, I decided to continue to deepen the passion for art and design and direct it to a specific profession. The European Institute of Design introduced me to the role of illustration in the professional world of visual communication.


What classes do you feel helped the most in developing your style?

Not a class in particular but the entire course of study directed me to develop my style that is not only the result of my learning path but also of my way of being, my character and the influence of famous illustrators.


What type of work did you do after you got out of school?

Just finished my studies I immediately tried working on commission that allow me to continue to perfect myself and increase my technical skills. I began working with publishers, agencies and companies not only as an illustrator but also as a graphic and web designer, I wanted to try to get more experiences possible in the world of visual communication and design.


Have you seen your work change since you left school?

Certainly yes, a lot, I deepened my attention to detail and the ability in the graphic synthesize, I increased the execution speed and the knowledge of the softwares.


Did the Institute help you get work?

At the beginning I’ve been involved by a studio of architecture with the task of draw textures for carpet and prospective colored in watercolor, this contact came from the Institute but remained the only one. Other school friends received other contacts for collaborations with different agencies.


What does getting a Master in Graphics and Motion Design get you ready to do when you graduate? Do you do animation?

I collaborate with a company who sponsored my studies at the master. It gaves me the opportunity to deep my knowladge in the use of softwares and of the workflow about what concern the motion graphics. Now I can create animated infographic, visual effects for videomapping and more. It is a vast and very complex field, with constantly technical updates, but the creative possibilities and the application fields are multiply. It opens new horizons and stimulates the desire to continue to deepen and improve in order to produce more and more professional projects.


How many picture books have you illustrated? What were the titles?

I illustrated three children’s book, two of them were about the same series called The Ranger’s tales the third one called Leopoldo, a tender hearted friend is the one I prefer. I also collaborated through my agent with the Oxford University Press to illustrate a double page for a children’s book.


What did you do to get those picture book contracts?

As soon as I finished the school I began to collaborate with a little publisher who commissioned me the two books about the Ranger’s tales, the third one has been published by another publisher who found my contacts on the web.


Has most of your work been with European publishers?

Yes they are.


How did you connect with MIA for representation? How long have you been with them?

This is a curious story… My father has a friend who is a very famous artist here in Italy: Ezio Gribaudo, now he is very old but remains an interesting man with a deep culture and a lot of stories to tell about his past, (he has known personalities as Picasso and Pollock). The first day I met him in his house/atelier in Turin I also met his daughter Paola who has published both original works by authors and art catalogues by some of the foremost and most popular artists, architects and writers of our time. As soon as she heard I worked as illustrator, she left me the contacts of her friend Shefalika who has an agency based in Milan and in Switzerland. I personally met her an the Children’s book fair of Bologna. Are three years that we collaborate…


Do you do any other types of non-children related art to make money?

Yes of course, illustrations for magazines or for products.


Would you be open to working with a self-published author?

Maybe yes, why not, it depends of the project.


Do you have any desire to write and illustrate your own picture book?

I did it; my father is a writer, we invented a character and a story. I illustrated it. The dream was to create a popular character for childrens with a series of stories write with the purpose of begin to sensitize children to respect nature and the environment, with a series of funny stories. The first one was Pino the Chicken, Panzerotto and the recycled paper. I believed in this project but it’s hard to find a good publisher real interest in develop it.


Do you take research pictures before you start a project?

Yes, always. It’s very important in order to get inspiration and all the informations necessary to create a good quality image.


Do you use Photoshop with any of your work?

Yes, it’s one of the most important tool together with Adobe Illustrator.


Do you have and use a graphic tablet?

Yes, a Wacom! I have it since 2008, I bought it during a travel in Canada. I’m very attached to it!


Do you have a favorite medium you use?

I use a mix of mediums to get my artworks, I begin from a handmade sketch, then step to digital software for color, they are all part of a workflow but the one I prefer is the sketch step!


Have you done any illustrations for educational publishers?

Only the double page illustarted for OUP ( Oxford University Press ).


Has any of your work appeared in magazines?

Not on magazines, but on a popular blog which counts many followers


Have you ever tried your hand at a wordless picture book?

No I haven’t yet, but it could be an interesting challenge!


Do you have a studio in your house?

Unfortunately, it’s a little apartment so I’ve only the space for my personal desk and some staff on the shelves.


Is there anything in your studio, other than paint and brushes that you couldn’t live without?

Nothing in particular, only the necessary tools .

Schermata 2014-12-31 alle 10.19.24

Do you follow any type of routine to attain your career goals?

No one in particular, only respect the deadlines, always keep in touch with the customer, be available and kind.


What kinds of things do you do to promote yourself?

Invest time on the web, sign in into websites and social networks and open a profiles on them to promote my portfolio.


Any exciting projects on the horizon?

Nothing about children’s book unfortunatly :( maybe a serie of animations to promote the business and the products of one of my customers, but it’s a work in progress yet, we have to agree about how to work on and develop them.


Do you think the Internet has opened any doors for you?

Yes, a lot of doors, most of the job commissions I received arrive from the web.


What are your career goals?

The work done for the company NVIDIA is maybe the most important. In collaboration with the company who I work with, we designed in less than one week an amazing show of video mapping to promote a new NVIDIA’s product, I took care about the choice and the editing of the soundtrack, the storyboard and some of the visual effects. I have had other commissions very stimulating at design level, but this remains the best one because of the importance of the brand and for the satisfactory payment I received.


What are you working on now?

Now I’m working on a storyboard for a commercial of biscuits and I’m collaborating with a fashion designer to develop his own personal project that could involved in something very interesting with the prolongation of the collaboration.


Are there any painting tips (materials, paper, etc.) you can share that work well for you? Technique tips?

Working mostly with digital tools I have not particular tips to share except for what concern watercolour paper: Arches and Schoeller are the best!


Any words of wisdom you can share with the illustrators who are trying to develop their career?

Do not throw yourselves in low spirit if the successes arrive late, the satisfactions come when you persist because is an uphill climb that requires sacrifice.


Thank you Alessandra for sharing your talent, process, and journey with us. Please make sure you keep in touch and share your future successes with us.


If you have a minute, please leave a comment for Alessandra. I am sure she’d love it and I enjoy reading them, too. Thanks!

Talk tomorrow,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 27, 2015

Free Fall Friday – Steve Meltzer – Results


This illustration created by Jago Silver made me think about all the times we go to bed and mull over ideas for our books. I hope this post will help you with new ideas, but still let you get some sleep. Jago was featured on Illustrator Saturday this month.

I want to thank Steve Meltzer for taking the time to read this months four chosen first pages and sharing his thoughts with us.


Carol Murray, Clara’s Closet, Picture Book

Clara’s closet held a clock, a clarinet, a clicking lock,

two clowns named Claude and Merry Rose and piles of long-forgotten clothes,

a clipper ship, a clip-clop horse, a dusty bunch of books, of course,

a brassy bell, a climbing cat, and bits of this and bites of that.

The mother said, Please, find a way to clean that closet, Clara Mae.

The winds of change must start to blow, and all that STUFF has got to go!

But Clara was not hearing well, as far as anyone could tell.

She spent the morning on her cell and could not seem to break the spell

of punching that and pinching this. It seemed the cell phone gave her bliss.

She blew the STUFF a good-bye kiss.

The closet creatures were upset, entangled in a sticky net.

And all that stuff has got to go? That mother has become our foe.

They moaned and made an awful fuss because, That closet stuff is us!

That night the “stuff” became a team and hatched a closet-clearing scheme:

The lock un-clicked, the clock tick-talked, the clip-clop horse awoke and walked

and ruffled up the crusty crust and used his tail to dust the dust.

The climbing cat, so sleek and lean, stretched out her tongue to lick things clean.

With paws and claws, she snatched the dirt. For shine, she used an undershirt.

They shelved the books and hung the clothes with help from Claude and Merry Rose,

and clutter clattered through the night, and soon the closet looked just right.

Then Clara said, Oh goodness me. I think that that’s a floor I see!


Clara’s Closet- Brava, Carol! Great alliteration, perfect meter without sacrificing story makes this a very nice first page. Make sure that the story does not simply end with the closet being clean. That would be too simple and not give the child the need to go back to this story again and again. There should be some added conflict to establish a bit more plot. But off to a great start!


Diane Landy, MY POP BE NO PIRATE (Picture Book) 

Days be long and lonesome when yer Pop looks like a pirate.

Shopkeepers batten down hatches the moment ye step ashore. Folks spy ye funny and hold tight to their wallets. And it be tough to find mateys. ‘Tis no feeling worse than marooned.

“Astrid Pearl McGillicutty, yer jib be hanging so low ye may trip,” says Ma.

“Furl that lip,” says Pop. “Only a fool would befriend a sack sad as ye.”

Aye, it pains me to say… they be right. I needs to change my ways. But how?

I climbs aboard the Sea Grotto to snatch a scroll and map out a plan. Then I finds a bright spot to think. Hmmm. I scratches my noggin. How does one find a friend?

The sun dips low before I finally makes a pledge: keep a sharp lookout for the sunny side o’ things. Like when strangers hold yer spot at the top o’ the line. Or when a blasted sign reads “No Pets Allowed”, but Jasper and Jade are welcome to hang about. And when ye makes a blunder, no one dare say a mean word.

Arrr!  But they never, EVER say kind words either. As if we be hornswagglin’ scurvy dogs out to pillage their village. ‘Tis a lie! Pop gave up plundering on the day o’ my birth.

Oh, how I wish upon the stars Pop looked like a jester.

But when we wakes in the morn… rrrrrr-rats! He looks like a pirate still.

Then ol’ Captain Sunshine warms my face, reminding me to honor my pledge. So I slaps on a smile and looks through a spyglass o’er breakfast… as we stroll to the park… and while swinging to the clouds.  Feeling chipper, I bust out a song about the ol’ rocky voyage of Aunt Peg Leg McGee.

Leeward, ho!  Up yonder be a lad ‘tis adventuresome like me.  CRACK!

            Blimey! He be in trouble. WHALE-size trouble. Trouble that shivers yer bones.


My Pop be No Pirate- Cute idea, but I wonder if kids will understand all the words. It would make a great read-aloud for Talk Like a Pirate Day (September 19th). I guess I would read on to see where this was going but I kind of feel that this is more like a story in a kid’s magazine.


Lorraine Nelson GOOD GOLLY, MISS MOLLY – Picture Book

Miss Molly was the world’s worst dancer. Whenever she started to dance, which was every day and everywhere she went, people stopped to stare. Not because she was a joy to watch, but because she was the strangest sight they had ever seen.

With her flaming red hair piled high on her head, her bottle-cap glasses, and her bright floral dresses that reached down to her ankles, Miss Molly was a sight to behold.

She twirled, she jeted, she leaped along the sidewalk, narrowly missing mothers with their strollers, and little old ladies with their walkers.

“Hey, watch it!” “Watch where you’re going!” people yelled. But Miss Molly neither saw nor heard them. Her head was filled with music, and her body was filled with the need to dance.

The only fans Miss Molly had were the local dogs. Everywhere she pranced, the neighborhood dogs followed her, barking and howling up a storm.

“Miss Molly is the town’s Pied Piper,” people would say whenever she and the dogs came into view. “It’s better than the circus coming to town.”

Miss Molly didn’t mind being followed. She loved animals and the noise the dogs made was music to her unmusical ears. It inspired her to pirouette faster and leap higher, as she went about her daily business.

The problem was that Miss Molly didn’t have a daily business. Oh, she tried. One week, she was a waitress. But when she came bouncing out of the kitchen with the customers’ orders, she dropped food and sloshed soup everywhere. This made both the customers and the chef angry, so she was promptly fired.


Good Golly Miss Molly- I would be careful with the title as it is probably trademarked. I know you can’t copyright titles but there may be extra protection so I would tread lightly. So I would want to know more about Miss Molly. Why did she want to dance? What happened in her younger years that made her this way? Take us back to when she was younger. But it looks cute. I love picture books that feature adults acting child-like.


Donna Weidner       RETURN OF SNOWY OWL     Middle Grade

The only thing missing from Silver Wood Forest was a gingerbread house. Well, maybe a flesh eating witch too—but that’s still being debated. Most kids shipped out to camp every summer. My younger-by-five-minutes brother and I? As stipulated in our mother’s will, we’d spend two months in Germany visiting our grandmother in Einplatz, a village so tiny that a flea’s sneeze could blow it away. If you were to look it up on a map, you’d find it somewhere between Nirgendwo and Hier.

“Vanessa—Anne—Reinherz—” Boris grumped. “Slow down!”

For the third day in a row since our arrival, our shrill screams stabbed at the wood’s stifling silence. It always took Boris and me at least a week to tone our excitement of being free to explore our surroundings down to a level where we wouldn’t be out-shrieking the local crows. We felt safe in the woods even though Herr Bösenkämpfer forbid us to set foot in it—“too dangerous and deceptive,” the local forest ranger would repeat each year. “It’s no place for children.” You could tell he’d never gone to school in a big city, otherwise he’d have known we were up for it. Anyway, the most dangerous animal we ever met in the Silver Wood had been a deer or two and they pranced off like we were the predators—yeah, the big, bad, Reinherz twins.

“Ness, wait up!” Boris huffed down the trail. “You cheated—”

My brother had a bad habit of calling a dare he had no chance of winning. That day it was a foot race over the river, through the woods, and back to Lola’s house. Lola? That’s what I liked to call our Granny, even though she was German. It’s Filipino for Grandmother. Very exotic, don’t you think?

“You said you were ready!” I called over my shoulder.


Return of Snowy Owl- I was not drawn into the story. The voice feels adult and I don’t get a sense of place . We are introduced  to this girl, find out her mother is dead she is a twin and in Germany looking to go hiking in a presumed dangerous woods on the first page. What’s the rush? Slowly let us meet Vanessa  and see who she is. You really need to know your characters. Write up a one or two pager about Vanessa. What does she like to do. Favorite Ice Cream? Favorite music? You may need to never call on these things for your novel but it will give you a better idea of who she is.

Steve, thanks again for sharing your time and expertise with all of us. It is much appreciated.

Talk tomorrow,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 26, 2015

New Agent Looking to Build List

sara nagelSarah Nagel joined Writers House in 2011 to work with Senior Vice President, Merrilee Heifetz and is now actively building her own client list. She is interested in psychological thrillers (those that mess with your head rather than high speed cross-country chases), horror, mystery, suspense and literary fiction. Sarah is especially interested in strong character-driven fiction and stories that explore the dynamics of a dysfunctional family unit / relationships.

She also represents realistic Young Adult and Middle Grade with a hint of magical realism. On the nonfiction side, Sarah is interested in medical ethics, true crime, humor books and memoir with a distinctive narrative voice with a universal resonance. Sarah is not looking for straight sci-fi, high fantasy, romance or picture books.

Prior to joining Writers House, Sarah was a media lawyer in London and graduated with two separate degrees in English Language and Literature, and Law. You can follow Sarah on Twitter: @SarahNagel14.

To Submit to Sara send a query to with ‘QUERY FOR SARAH NAGEL: [TITLE OF MANUSCRIPT]‘ in the subject line. Include the first ten pages of your manuscript pasted into the body of the email – No Attachments, Please! Sara responds within 8 weeks. Do not query multiple Writers House agents simultaneously.

Writers House represents fiction and non-fiction, for both adult and juvenile books. Our agents work with literary and commercial fiction, women’s fiction, science fiction/fantasy, narrative non-fiction, history, memoirs, biographies, books on psychology, science, parenting, cookbooks, how-to, self-help, business, finance, young adult and juvenile fiction/non-fiction and picture books.

Talk tomorrow,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 25, 2015

Research for Nonfiction – Five Tips

erikaphoto-45Erika Wassall, the Jersey Farm Scribe here on…

Research for Nonfiction

As I scroll through pages and pages on bees and honey for a nonfiction book I’m working on, I can’t help but be impressed by the authors of yore.

I mean, how lazy am I??? I get frustrated sometimes keeping notes of which websites I was looking at and I’ve even found myself rolling my eyes at the idea of having to go the library again to look at an old reference book.

Then I stop and say… umm, let’s get a little perspective here!!

It wasn’t long ago that trips to the library meant hours spent pouring over card catalogs and historical research involved eyeballing countless microfiche sheets.

Now, I can sit comfortably in my pajamas and search through information with only my eyeballs and my pointer finger comfortably resting on the mouse.

But, you have to know where to look. The Internet is… well it’s hard to find an adjective that quantifies its size. Unfortunately it can be confusing to know what sites you can trust. And I have to remind myself that there are OTHER sources out there.

Here are a few tips I use when doing research for any book: 

1) A .com can never be a source

That doesn’t mean its not providing valid and wonderful information! I FIND lots of facts on .com sites. In fact, I would say that quite often the more interesting stuff I find, I first find on .com sites. I click. I read. I get intrigued and I read some more.  But then I dive deeper. You have to be your own fact checker and find the information that’s backing up the claim. Anything that ends in .gov and. info are more likely to be quality sources (or to site their own sources).

2) Use the government! Get your money’s worth

We all pay taxes, right? A lot of our tax money goes towards research, and there is truly an unbelievable amount of literature put out by government agencies, on topics you wouldn’t believe. To find it, I suggest direct contract. In my case, bees fall under agriculture, so I’ve reached out to some local government agriculture facilities and received excellent direction.

3) Don’t forget your local strengths

Good ‘ole newspapers. Major kudos to folks who use to flip through stacks of black and whites to find the events they were looking for. And while I’m grateful to not have to do that anymore, thanks to most being available online, they are still a top source for research.

And don’t forget your local universities and museums. These are quite frequently overlooked sources of information. If you’re looking for up-to-date, cutting edge info, there is no better place. And really, if possible, they are best investigated in person. Set up an appointment to speak to someone and you’ll often find invaluable HUMANs who are excited to impart their knowledge to someone else.

4) Take a ridiculous amount of notes

And I mean ridiculous. Information is truly at our fingertips in today’s world, but it can be dangerous. We can acquire so much information so fast that we forget what came from where. And there is nothing more frustrating than knowing you have everything in front of you, but not being able to use it because you can’t remember which is which, or needing to site a source, and having to spend an hour trying to re-find the right page number.

5) Know what you’re looking for

It’s easy to get lost in the world of knowledge. And at first, there is nothing wrong with sprouting out in a few random directions. But I know for me, it’s important that I zero in on what information I want to be putting forth pretty quickly, or else I end up wasting a lot of time. I usually give myself a set deadline, allowing myself a few days of completely engulfment in anything that I’m drawn to. But then it’s time to focus. Know what your goals are and outline exactly what questions you’re trying to answer and what information you want to put forth. You can always change the outline as you progress, but having set goals can keep you from getting lost in the sea of easily accessible information.

Research can be an intimidating step in any book. As I talked about in my post Researching Fiction, it’s important in the development of reality for any setting, topic and even character believability. Having a plan can save time, and produce a fuller, more satisfying and sustaining set of information.

And our manuscripts are worth it!


Erika Wassall is a writer, a farmer and a liver of life. She is a member of SCBWI and a proud Mad Scientist, bringing science experiments right into children’s classrooms, and hearts. She has a small farm in New Jersey with sheep, chickens, pigs and vegetables. Check out her new website at where as a first generation farmer, she often takes the long way, learning the tricks of the trade on The Farm. On her website is also The Shop page with tips and a free Q/A from her husband’s mechanic shop, and The Writer page where she shares stories, experiences and characters from the heart. Follow her on Twitter at @NJFarmScribe. She’d love to hear from you!

Thank you Erika for another great post. We all enjoy your posts.

Talk tomorrow,



Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 24, 2015

21 Things to Look For While Revising

KarinCat in sun

This colorful illustration was sent in by Karen Perrins. Karen illustrates childrens books, commissioned greetings cards, book jackets, packaging design and editorial work. She works in watercolor, pastels, oil pastels and printmaking techniques.

1. Does your manuscript start with a hook strong enough to draw your reader into the story?

2.  Is the POV consistent in each scene?

3.  Are your characters consistent?

4.  Is your dialogue consistent, too? Ask a friend to read parts of the book with dialogue aloud. Does the speech patterns sound natural or stilted? Is each voice distinctive?

5.  Examine the way the characters respond. Have you developed the character traits and background to support their reaction to the various situations they encounter?

6.  Look at your pacing? Do you need every scene? Are there any scenes that slow the pace down to the point where a reader might put down the book?

7.  Are there any scenes that might work better in another place in the book.

8.  Are there any spots where you are telling when you could be showing?

9.  Do you think the middle of the novel drag?

10. Are there passages that are vague or need clarifying?

11. In your last revision, did you delete information that the reader knew in the first draft, but now needs to know?

12. Does each chapter transition smoothly into the next chapter? Do these transitions move the story closer to solving the problem and moving the plot forward moving the story to the climax?

13. Do your chapter endings cause the reader to want to continue reading instead of closing the book for the night?

14. Have you woven in sufficient subplot threads and provided resolutions to each one by the end of the book?

15. Did those subplots remain secondary to the main story throughout the book?

16. Does your protagonist achieve her goal or accept a substitution? Is your ending satisfying, intriguing, or acceptable to keep your readers wanting to read your next book?

17. Do you think you maintained the tone of your story throughout the book?

18. Have you looked to see if there any words you could replace to punch up a  sentence or a scene?

19. Did you over write or try to be too flowery with your descriptions. Are there any paragraphs that are too long? Do you have too much exposition?

20. Did you provide enough atmosphere in each of your scenes to enable the reader to feel like they were right there?

21.  Do you feel your story evoked all the right emotions? Did you provide highs and lows? Did you create a character that people will want to spend there time with?

Hope you can use this list as a checklist to improve your manuscript. If you have others that you think should be on this list, please let me know. The list doesn’t have to be only twenty-one in total.

Talk tomorrow,


Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 23, 2015

Pace & Opportunity

Napping 8 x 10
Now that Spring is here. I thought this fun illustration by Carrie O’Neill would inspire everyone to go outside, enjoy the nice weather, and talk to the neighbors. Carrie is an artist and illustrator living in Olympia, Washington.  Her favorite media are watercolor and ink.  To see more of her work, visit:

DavidheadshotI haven’t mention David L. Harrison in a while. For all you writers who write poems and or lyrical proses, you should check out his blog. It is a good place to take up the challenge of writing a poem based on the Word of the Month. You can read what other writers have written and meet nice, like minded people. I thought what he posted yesterday on his blog would be of interest to everyone here.

Is pace a thought stopper? Who knew?

a rate of movement, especially in stepping, walking, etc.:
“to walk at a brisk pace of five miles an hour.”
a rate of activity, progress, growth, performance, etc.; tempo.
any of various standard linear measures, representing the space naturally measured by the movement of the feet in walking: roughly 30 to 40 inches (75 cm to 1 meter).
Compare geometrical pace, military pace, Roman pace.
a single step:
“She took three paces in the direction of the door.”
the distance covered in a step:
“Stand six paces inside the gates.”
a manner of stepping; gait.
a gait of a horse or other animal in which the feet on the same side are lifted and put down together.
verb (used with object), paced, pacing.
to set the pace for, as in racing.
to traverse or go over with steps:
“He paced the floor nervously.”
to measure by paces.
to train to a certain pace; exercise in pacing:
“to pace a horse.”
(of a horse) to run (a distance) at a pace:
“Hanover II paced a mile.”
verb (used without object), paced, pacing.
to take slow, regular steps.
to walk up and down nervously, as to expend nervous energy.
(of a horse) to go at a pace.
put through one’s paces, to cause someone to demonstrate his or her ability or to show her or his skill:
“The French teacher put her pupils through their paces for the visitors.”
set the pace, to act as an example for others to equal or rival; be the most progressive or successful:
“an agency that sets the pace in advertising.”

David is the author of over 80 children’s books. Stop by his website: to read more about him. To join the fun and write you own poem using the Word of the Month, visit his blog.

Talk tomorrow,


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