Wednesday Writing Hints – How To Keep Readers Reading, Part Four

The main element when we write a book is that we want our readers to keep reading. So,  I think I’m going to start what I like to call (Drumroll please) the Wednesday Writing Series About Hooking Your Reader.

I’ll be giving two hints a blog post. Let’s keep going!

TWO QUICK HINTS TO KEEP YOUR READER HOOKED ON YOUR BOOK

CONFLICT

Here’s the thing. People want to read books where stuff happens. Where there is a push and pull between two wants or needs. Readers are evil in a good way and writers are, too.

Conflict keeps us involved in the story. We want to see who wins and who loses. Conflict keeps the story moving forward. Conflict is the best.

How does conflict happen?

Your hero makes a mistake. Your hero lies. Your hero is in love with a lying liar who lies. Your hero has to save the world from baddies. Your hero wants something that isn’t good for her.

But it’s really all about consequences. Choices make things happen. Those things that happen? Those are the consequences. Conflict often ramps up those consequences.

ADD A MEANIE HEAD

In more elegant speech, add an antagonist, that jerk who is pushing your hero’s buttons, who wants the hero to fail, who are real (not Kim Possible antagonists here, people) but who oppose the hero.

They are the opposition. The Yankees to the Red Sox. The Voldemort to the Harry Potter. They don’t have to be a villain, but they have to be the force that makes conflict happen.

And that force? It not just forces your hero into action and thought and decision? It also forces your reader to keep reading.

 

Army Mom CopyWriting News

Next and Last Time Stoppers Book

It’s almost out! You can pre-order my middle grade fantasy novel Time Stoppers Escape From the Badlands here or anywhere. The official release date is August 7! 

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People call it a cross between Harry Potter and Percy Jackson but it’s set in Maine. It’s full of adventure, quirkiness and heart.

Moe Berg

The Spy Who Played Baseballis a picture book biography about Moe Berg. And… there’s a movie out now about Moe Berg, a major league baseball player who became a spy. How cool is that?

You should totally buy Carrie’s book about Moe. It’s awesome and quirky and fun.

OUR PODCAST DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE.

Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness as we talk about random thoughts, writing advice and life tips. We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of. Please share it and subscribe if you can. Please rate and like us if you are feeling kind, because it matters somehow.

dogs are smarter than people carrie after dark being relentless to get published

Writing Coach

Carrie offers solo writing coach services. For more about Carrie’s individual coaching, click here.

Appearances

Carrie will be at The Books-A-Million in South Portland, Maine on August 8. She’ll be at the Maine Literacy Volunteers Festival on September 8.

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Dogs Are Smarter Than People – Carrie After Dark Is Embarrassing and Relentless. Be Relentless

Spoiler alert and Warning: This podcast episode ended up being so off-the-wall and kind of explicit because there is a ton of swear words because we recorded the “Random Thoughts” at night after a party. Also, Shaun calls Carrie “stupid.”

He is not yet forgiven.

Back to Our Regular Podcast: This podcast is supposed to be about living the best life and the best writing life that you can and that… my friends… that can be a process. Cough.

But…

Carrie just ended a six-month stint teaching a class called Write! Submit! Support!, which was run by the Writing Barn in Austin. It’s an online class that follows a distance program MFA, but with the added bonus of adding community and support to each other via support partners, online classes and Facebook groups.

Carrie taught this program, but she also learned a lot, and the thing she learned is that she had it easy.

She got a book contract about twelve months after she decided to become a writer. But that’s weird and it’s abnormal, and a couple years later her books series magically became an international and NYT bestseller. This is also weird and abnormal.

She took it for granted.

And during this program, she was once again reminded that there are other writers out there who are brilliant and talented and still haven’t  been published.

It isn’t because those writers aren’t amazing. They are talented and clever and their stories rock. It’s random things that didn’t happen for them the way they happened for her.

And she learned in the past six months that for most people the key to success? It’s being relentless.

That’s right – relentless.

There is no giving up.

Something blocks the path? Fix it. Charge into writing and submitting and the writing life with focused action and determination and do not give up. Ever.

That’s what makes a difference.

Be relentless. Fix mistakes. Never stop moving forward toward the goal of being a writer. Quitting doesn’t let success happen.

Focus on the problems in the book and then in the career. Book is boring? Fix it. Characters are flat? Fix them. Need an agent? Begin looking for one. Current agent doesn’t work well for you? Find another one. Be relentless.

You deserve to succeed. Be relentless for yourself.

That is hard to do sometimes if you have a certain personality type (Hint: Carrie’s), but it’s so essential.

Relentlessness is basically persistence on steroids. Do it. You deserve it. Don’t give up. Make the world hear you. You deserve to be heard.

 

Writer Tip of the Cast:

Writers act like we can’t fix our own problems. We can. Just like we take control of the book we are writer, we can take control of our life and our career.

Dog Tip for Life:

Relentless cuteness gets you treats

Shout-Out

The music in this podcast is “Check Them In” by Ema Grace and her site is here. We’re able to use this amazing music, thanks to Ema’s kindness and the Creative Commons.

Writing News

The Spy Who Played Baseball is a picture book biography about Moe Berg. And… there’s a movie out now about Moe Berg, a major league baseball player who became a spy. How cool is that?

You should totally buy Carrie’s book about Moe. It’s awesome and quirky and fun.

OUR PODCAST DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE.

Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness as we talk about random thoughts, writing advice and life tips. We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of. Please share it and subscribe if you can. Please rate and like us if you are feeling kind, because it matters somehow.

dogs are smarter than people carrie after dark being relentless to get published

Writing Coach

Carrie offers solo writing coach services, but she’s also teaching a Write! Submit! Support! six-month class online via the Writing Barn in Austin. For details about that class, check out this link. For more about Carrie’s individual coaching, click here.

Ebook on Sale for July

And finally, for the month of July, my book FLYING is on sale in ebook version on multiple platforms, which means not just Amazon. It’s a cheap way to have an awesome read in a book that’s basically Men in Black meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer but with chocolate-covered pretzels.

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Appearance

Carrie will be at The Books-A-Million in South Portland, Maine on August 8.

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Dogs Are Smarter Than People – Carrie After Dark Is Embarrassing and Relentless. Be Relentless

 
 
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Writers, Go With Your Gut and Bring Out the Big Emotion

A lot of the times that Carrie works with writers, she notices that they are pulling back from the emotion that is happening in the story. Instead of allowing the reader to feel the terror of being kidnapped or the anxiety of moving to a new place or the desperate sorrow of losing a loved one, the writer skims over these emotional times with a simple moment of telling like, “John was sad that his dog died.” Or worse. “The dog died. John went to school.”

These are lost opportunities. They are also places where the story goes flat or in writer speak, “fails to resonate.”

A lot of writers, especially children’s book writers, are kind people and by default they don’t want to hurt their characters or dwell in any negative emotions. They are trying to protect their characters and the readers.

But those good intentions don’t actually help anyone.

The real world has pain. Our stories have pain, too.

We have to learn to deal with hardships. Our characters do, too.

And the emotion of stories, the ups and downs, are the ride that our readers are signing up for. They want to feel with us, be transported into others’ lives.

For example, Harry Potter had hardship after hardship and so did his friends. J.K. Rowling didn’t shy away from the hard emotions and hard times. She’d add in beats, moments of dwelling in those big moments of joy and sorrow. What Harry felt, the reader felt.

The premise of your story needs to do this, too. It has to have an emotional hook that makes you wonder and care right away. Again, think of Harry Potter – the story of the boy who lived, a lonely orphan who must overcome the evil wizard who killed his parents. Just thinking about the premise fills you with thoughts and wonder and worry and so many questions. The emotional stakes are so high.

Dog Tip For Life

Embrace your emotions. Think about what makes you snarl, yelp, wag your tail. Go after the ball. Go after the moments that make you feel good.

Writing Tip of the Pod

Um… again… embrace your emotions. Don’t be afraid to express real emotion. It feels safer to hide your emotion, but passion makes better life and better stories. Be passionate about what you’re writing and about how your living.

Dogs are Smarter Than People

Writing News

The Spy Who Played Baseball is a picture book biography about Moe Berg. And… there’s a movie out now about Moe Berg, a major league baseball player who became a spy. How cool is that?

You should totally buy Carrie’s book about Moe. It’s awesome and quirky and fun.

OUR PODCAST DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE.

Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness as we talk about random thoughts, writing advice and life tips. We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of. Please share it and subscribe if you can. Please rate and like us if you are feeling kind, because it matters somehow.

Writing Coach

Carrie offers solo writing coach services, but she’s also teaching a Write! Submit! Support! six-month class online via the Writing Barn in Austin. For details about that class, check out this link. For more about Carrie’s individual coaching, click here.

Shout-Out

The music in this podcast is “Check Them In” by Ema Grace and her site is here. We’re able to use this amazing music, thanks to Ema’s kindness and the Creative Commons.

Writers, Go With Your Gut and Bring Out the Big Emotion

 
 
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Writers, Be Simple

We’ve all heard the statistics:

  1. Writers take ten years to get their first novel published, on average
  2. The average children’s book writer makes 5k a year, if she’s lucky.
  3. If you are a writer for a living, you will starve.

Some writers will sell you their books about how you can be a thriving artist versus a starving artist as if there is this dichotomy between the two, an either or situation.

Life isn’t that simple.

Here are the Three First Steps To Being A Writer, MADE AS SIMPLE AS POSSIBLE

You write the story you want to write.

You hone it and craft it until it’s the best story you can make it.

You send it to agents and editors or self publish it.

That’s it.

That’s how you become published.

You might make a ton of money. You might not. One book might make $500. One book might make $100,000.

It’s not the easiest thing to control, but what you can control is whether or not you’re lonely.

That you can battle.

You can create an in-person writing group or an online group, but if you are lonely in your writing life, YOU CAN ABSOLUTELY make friends, form a pack.

Writers. Loneliness. Tips to make a writing group

Writing Tip of the Pod

How do you form a writing group?
Here’s four easy steps:

 

  1. Decide the goal of your writing group – Support? Accountability? Critique
  2. Figure out when, where, and how often you want to meet.
  3. Invite a few people. Three to five is a good starting number.
  4. Find a way to communicate in between meetings that works for everyone. Facebook? Email? You get to decide.

Dog Tip for life

It’s okay to want a pack to roam with, to howl with.

Writers, Be Simple

 
 
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Dogs Are Smarter Than People Podcast – First Drafts Suck, But It’s Okay

Hard writer truth time:

First drafts suck.

Almost everything stinks the first time you do it. That’s because it’s THE FIRST time you do it. But, we tend to expect to have our writing be perfect somehow.

Why?

Guitarists don’t expect to be Mark Knopffler the moment they pick up a guitar. Singers don’t expect to be Norah Jones the first time they sing. Sculptors don’t expect to be Michelangelo.

Here’s the Thing:

Being good takes practice.

And even if you’ve written 100 novels already? There is a high likelihood that your first draft of your next novel? It’s going to suck.

But it’s not the end of the world. The end of the world is when you give up.

So, how do you make your sucky first draft better?

Think about it.

 

How to Get Past Your crappy first draft. Three secret ways to write better
You can do it

WRITER TIP OF THE POD

You want to make that first draft a better second draft? Think of these three things to start off right.

  1. Think about what your character wants more than anything in the world. Make sure you have that in your story.
  2. Think about what your character would never do – not ever. Revise your story so that this becomes a high moment of tension, of possibility.
  3. Add tension to every page. EVERY PAGE!

DOG TIP FOR LIFE!

Sometimes, it’s hard to catch the ball in your mouth, especially the first time. Try again anyways. Once you do it right, you get the ball… in your mouth! Score!

Dog Tip for Life
Dog Tip for Life

 

Dogs Are Smarter Than People Podcast – First Drafts Suck, But It’s Okay

 
 
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First Drafts Suck But So Do A Ton of Other Things

Hard writer truth time:

First drafts suck.

Almost everything stinks the first time you do it. That’s because it’s THE FIRST time you do it. But, we tend to expect to have our writing be perfect somehow.

Why?

Guitarists don’t expect to be Mark Knopffler the moment they pick up a guitar. Singers don’t expect to be Norah Jones the first time they sing. Sculptors don’t expect to be Michelangelo.

Here’s the Thing:

Being good takes practice.

And even if you’ve written 100 novels already? There is a high likelihood that your first draft of your next novel? It’s going to suck.

But it’s not the end of the world. The end of the world is when you give up.

So, how do you make your sucky first draft better?

Think about it.

 

How to Get Past Your crappy first draft. Three secret ways to write better
You can do it

WRITER TIP OF THE POD

You want to make that first draft a better second draft? Think of these three things to start off right.

  1. Think about what your character wants more than anything in the world. Make sure you have that in your story.
  2. Think about what your character would never do – not ever. Revise your story so that this becomes a high moment of tension, of possibility.
  3. Add tension to every page. EVERY PAGE!

DOG TIP FOR LIFE!

Sometimes, it’s hard to catch the ball in your mouth, especially the first time. Try again anyways. Once you do it right, you get the ball… in your mouth! Score!

Dog Tip for Life
Dog Tip for Life

First Drafts Suck But So Do A Ton of Other Things

 
 
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My Writing Goal is to be on a Doctor Who Episode. That makes total sense, right?

Writer Sara Zarr once gave a brilliant speech about how it is the process of writing that should give you the love feeling, not if you make it on a bestseller list or get a Printz Award – Because honestly, they only give one of those out a year, so the odds of getting one is pretty rare.

I was okay with that, sort of, because I LOVE THE PROCESS OF WRITING.

But, let’s face it: Even though I’m not a perfectionist, I am a goal-oriented writer and human. So, I’m going to share my top five writing goals and life goals and if you could please, please share yours in the comments? That would make me ridiculously happy.

 This is Gabby, Carrie’s dog, asking you to please do this. Carrie gives more treats when she is happy. 

Warning: My goals are weird. They aren’t the nice MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE or BE A GOOD PERSON goals cause those are sort of givens, right? Right. (I love when I answer myself).

Five WRITING GOALS (also known as “I will feel successful if this happens” goals):

1. To meet Chris Evans and not have him pepper spray me but be like, “Hey, Carrie. You would look good in a tiara. Your dogs are so cute. Let’s make your book Girl, Hero into a movie.”
2. To write a really good poem that I can actually memorize myself. This is a big deal because I can never remember my own poems but I can ramble off Anne Sexton poems like a wild woman.
3. To actually have a rock group make a song about my book that isn’t a parody. Weird Al and SNL skits do not count. It has to be cool and not satire…. Like THE ALARM did with Stephen King’s THE STAND. Do you not love their 1980s hair? Peter Gabriel also wrote a song based on an Anne Sexton poem.

The hair is awesome sauce. You know it is! 

4. To go on book tour in Europe because …. um… .EUROPE! There are croissants there. Real croissants. Not supermarket kind. Plus, I am sort of in love with all my European fans/readers.
5. To be one of those cool writer people who makes enough money to buy a second home someplace warm where you do not have to shovel snow. Or, um, just have someone update the Wikipedia entry on me so it’s accurate. It’s not currently accurate, but I feel weird going in there and fixing it myself.

FIVE CONCRETE LIFE GOALS (also known as “This isn’t a bucket list because I’m not dying soon” goals):

1. To not fall in the slushy grocery store parking lot or get hit by a car for two years in a row. Cars tend to hit me, luckily this is always at super low speeds and in parking lots.
2. To not go bankrupt because that would be poopy. But honestly? Not end of the world.
3. To sing karaoke because even though I used to get PAID to sing, I still cannot do karaoke.
4. To be able to say things like, “Yes, my books are bestsellers” and not feel like a noodle, but strong and confident.
5.  To be in a Dr. Who episode because I am a geek like that. And she is cute. Or just having a teleport would be okay.

DO GOOD WEDNESDAY

So, I’ve been spending this past week amplifying the fact that the Abbe Museum’s Indian Market  is happening in my town (Bar Harbor) this week from May 18-20. It’s our first one. There will be 70 artists and performers. There will be a film festival. There will be comedians at the Criterion Theatre.

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Why have I been so incessant about this?

There are a couple of reasons.

  1. I’m super pumped about the market happening because it’s going to be amazing. It’s 70 artists and performers and it will be downtown and that’s a lovely economic driver for our town, but more importantly it’s good for the artists.
  2. Art matters.
  3. The art of people who have been oppressed matters and systemic oppression of art is still happening.  Native American Art won’t even be in the American wing of the Met in NYC until later this year. Yeah. It’s been in  The Met’s Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas.
  4. Amplifying artists is good. Art is good. Shouting out goodness is pretty freaking good.

So, I’m not going to talk about my own writing news in this post. Instead I’m going to share a couple pictures of some of the amazing artists coming to Bar Harbor this week.

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And if you want to do good this Wednesday, you can give a shout-out to people who deserve one and whose voices might not be amplified right now. Amplify them. Spread the love. Spread the knowledge.

Perfectionists aren’t Perfect

Perfectionists aren’t perfect people. They are almost always miserable people.

Seriously.

Think about it.

There’s no such thing as perfect and if you are constantly trying to achieve perfection? What happens? Misery happens. This is true for your life and for your writing. The sad news is that a lot of writers are perfectionists, which means they are miserable.

There’s this great article on the Verywell Mind that has the 10 signs that you might be a perfectionist. But here are some of the signs:

Signs of Perfectionism

All-Or-Nothing Thinking – You can only accept perfection, your goal, nothing else will do.

Critical Eye – Tiny mistakes are the kingdom of your land and you fixate on them.

“Push” vs “Pull” – According to the article, perfectionist are “pushed toward their goals by a fear of not reaching them.” But high achieving people? They are happy making steps towards the goals and not constantly worrying/stressing about not getting there yet.

Unrealistic Standards – Your goal to be God is ridiculous. That’s basically all this is. Your goal is to be the ultimate at something, something that is not possible. And you know it, but you still make that your goal.

Focusing on Only Results – You don’t care about the process of getting there.

Depressed by Unmet Goals – What is this thing called happiness? Perfectionists have a hard time knowing this thing.

Fear of Failure – It is overwhelming and it starts to taint everything perfectionists do.

Procrastination – Elizabeth Scott puts this in her article and phrases it so well, “This is because, fearing failure as they do, perfectionists will sometimes worry so much about doing something imperfectly that they become immobilized and fail to do anything at all! This leads to more feelings of failure, and a vicious cycle is thus perpetuated.”

Defensiveness – Constructive criticism is the enemy and not a tool for betterment. Constructive criticism hurts.

Low Self Esteem – Being super critical of yourself? It doesn’t help your self. Your esteem actually lessens.

Three Tips to Fight Perfectionism
So so so sad

Those are so sad, aren’t they? That’s not how you want to feel, is it? So, how do you overcome your own perfectionist mindset?

Three Steps to Overcoming Perfectionism

Recognize that you do it.

Talk realistically to yourself.

Practice looking at things from other’s points of view

Writing Tip of the Podcast
Writing Tip of the Podcast

Writing Tip of the Pod: Recognize your perfectionism and realize that it’s holding you back. Allow yourself to be happy.

Dog Tip for Life: There is no such thing as perfection, there is no one way to be. Some bacon may be crunchy. Some bacon may be soggy. All bacon is perfect. So are you.

CARRIE’S APPEARANCES

Carrie will be at Book Expo America in NYC on June 1 at 11:30 – 12 at the Lerner booth signing copies of the Spy Who Played Baseball. A week before that, she’ll also be in NYC presenting to the Jewish Book Council.

CARRIE’S BOOKS

For a complete round-up of Carrie’s 16-or-so books, check out her website. And if you like us, or our podcast, or just want to support a writer, please buy one of those books, or leave a review on a site like Amazon. Those reviews help. It’s all some weird marketing algorhthym from hell, basically.

 

OUR PODCAST

Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness as we talk about random thoughts, writing advice and life tips.

We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of. Please share it and subscribe if you can.

Perfectionists aren’t Perfect

 
 
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That Time I was in Glamour Magazine. No. Seriously. I was.

So, because I am a writer, something that I never imagined would happen, happened.

No, I did not suddenly learn how to fly.

This is Super Girl. She can fly, and rock a cape.

No, Grover did not propose.

Grover: Some day I will, Cawwie. 

Wow. I hope so, Grover, I’ve been waiting on that since first grade.

It wasn’t learning to fly or a Grover proposal.

Instead, I was in a real photo shoot with a real make-up artist and real stylist and real photo shoot coordinator and real photographer with assistant.

For Glamour Magazine.

Yes, seriously. Glamour Magazine.

And I wore make-up. And it was cold, but I still managed to not fall down or turn into an ice cube.

If you know me, you know that I am not a person who wears make-up.

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Look. Proof. The photo of myself that I tend to post is make-up free AND my hair is wet. That is how un-glam I am.

So… why? Why was I doing this? Why was I totally stepping outside of my comfort zone?

It was for the Dear Bully anthology that Megan Kelley Hall and I were doing with Harper Collins, so I couldn’t cop out or claim social anxiety disorder because it was for a good cause.

I am a sucker for good.

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Anyway, I was totally out of my previously-mentioned comfort zone and the whole time that I was panicking and thinking, “Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. I have to wear make-up. Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. People are going to see my picture. Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. I have to wear clothes that do not belong to me.”

Really, it’s true. You wear clothes that are not yours at these things. So, I was kind of thinking I’d get to wear something glammy because it is GLAMOUR MAGAZINE, and it was basically my one shot to be actually glamorous.

Yeah.

That didn’t happen.

Since they did the shoot in Maine, they wanted it to reflect Maine culture and I guess holding dead lobsters in our hands and swigging Allen’s Coffee Brandy while wearing moose hats was out of the question.

So the next best thing they could think of was…

Yeah,  it was basically …. um….

LL Bean.

Someday, I swear, I’ll be glammy. Really. I will. It’s on my bucket list.

Grover: I am on a cow. That was on the bucket list of me, Grover, and I managed to do it fabulously and glamorously, don’t I? 

Yes, I know Grover. You did.

But the point here is that if you are brave and you say ‘yes’ to things that are TOTALLY OUTSIDE YOUR COMFORT ZONE? Well, good things could happen. You can wear make-up and random clothes from L.L. Bean. Or you can be on the radio at WERU like I was this week. I got to talk to the amazing Brook Mining, who is a rock star librarian and radio host. The hour-long show is archived here if you feel like listening to it.

AND IF YOU EVER have to do a photo shoot with Glamour, do NOT be scared because the people are so awesome and nice and kind and patient. It’s amazing. I fell in love with all of them. They were just that cool.

To find out more about DEAR BULLY check it out here.

 

And since it’s Mother’s Day in the U.S. this weekend and I am without a mother, here’s a quick shout-out to my mom who tried so hard in a world that was always pushing her down. She was amazing. I miss her.

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Writing News

Yep, it’s the part of the blog where I talk about my books and projects because I am a writer for a living, which means I need people to review and buy my books or at least spread the word about them.

So, please buy one of my books. 🙂 The links about them are all up there in the header on top of the page.  There are young adult series, middle grade fantasy series, stand-alones for young adults and even picture book biographies.

 

CARRIE’S APPEARANCES

I’ll be at Book Expo America in NYC on June 1 at 11:30 – 12 at the Lerner booth signing copies of the Spy Who Played Baseball. A week before that,

I’ll also be in NYC presenting to the Jewish Book Council . Come hang out with me!

PODCAST

The podcast DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE is still chugging along!

Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness as we talk about random thoughts, writing advice and life tips.

We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of. Please share it and subscribe if you can.

Dogs are smarter than people - the podcast, writing tips, life tips, quirky humans, awesome dogs

My Nana’s Funeral Was Awful – Seriously Awful

Because my family is a bit – um – all over the place, I ended up having multiple grandmothers when I was growing up. I had a Nana, a Grammy, and a Avó or Vovó. And every single one of these women was eccentric and radically different from each other.

One had the worst funeral ever. Unless you count the funeral where my aunt passed out and everyone thought she died.

I’m not counting that one.

Or the one where I had a complete #metoo moment. That was my dad’s funeral actually.

I’m not counting that one either.

Anyway, about my grandmothers.

One grandmother was the chairwoman of the Republican women’s party in our state. She believed in manners, in propriety and responsibility, and all that stiff-upper lip stuff.  She drank alcohol once every five years or so, on Christmas. She wrote one poem.

One grandmother was an artist and poet who never let the world see her art, who cried over the beauty of a ripe tomato. She believed in prohibition, probably because her husband forced her to believe in prohibition. She also believed in Julia Child.

One grandmother was a collector of all things ceramic, lover of all things Bingo, and could not care about ‘propriety’ at all. She drank.  She never wrote a poem. She lived one. Some of the lines were flawed, but it was real and raw and authentic.

These ladies didn’t interact much. They are all dead now, but the one I’m thinking about is my nana and what writing lessons I can get from the life she lived and the funeral she had.

My nana basically had the worst funeral in all of history. Or… well… she’s in the top three for my family funeral disasters.

Why?

Oh, let me count the ways. Learn from this, writers, okay? 

The setting was bad

They put all of us closer relatives in a family grieving room before the funeral started, but the room was the kindergarten room for church school and so the whole thing was filled with a giant table and church muppets. People sort of had to stand with their backs flat up against the walls like a police line-up. When new people came into the room, everyone would have to do this sideways shuffle scooch along the walls to make room.

The church muppets were all flopped on top of each other and it looked really naughty. My nana would not have approved. I made Jesus muppet hold hands with Minister muppet because they looked lonely.

It wasn’t a place or setting where emotional resonance could happen. It’s hard to comfort other people or even be super introspective when your back is to the wall and you are staring at puppets who look like they might be trying to make muppet babies.

Know Your Main Character

My nana was 100 when she died. She was a really smart woman. You’d go to her house and she’d have a newspaper clipping for you and she’d be like, “Have you seen this censorship issue that the American Library Association is lobbying against?”

Or she’d be like, “Did you know that Medicare is (Insert large word)?”

She went to this same church that her funeral was at for about 8,000 years.

But the minister’s sermon was all, “Think of the things Rena saw change in her 100 years,” which is nice, but it was like a history lesson.

A history lesson! Ugh. And I kind of wanted it to be personal, not a eulogy you can use for anyone over 98. But that’s what it was.

In a book, you have to know your main character inside and out or else their story doesn’t mean anything. That’s what happened here, too.

Instead of hearing about my nana and her life and her interactions with everyone and with the church, it was a sermon about… history? Full of random dates and events but with no actual human content. Her life as told in his sermon didn’t exist.

Our lives and our characters’ lives have purpose. We aren’t just meant to be a backdrop for a history lesson.

Random Characters Thrown In For Effect 

Part of my family looks like they belong in the Jersey Shore. Seriously, my nephew Brooks saw someone and screamed, “OMG! It’s Snooki!”

Funerals are often places where families see branches that they forgot about or have deliberately avoided for years. That’s okay in a funeral, but in a book? Characters need to have a purpose.

Lack of Emotion

Nobody sobbed. There should be sobbing at a funeral, but I guess since it was History Lesson Funeral, people just took notes, worrying about the test later or something.

People loved my nana. They missed my nana. My family is a high-drama, emotional family that sobs at anything. But here? It didn’t happen.

In life and in books, you have to be able to have the space for sorrow, you have to have an emotional aspect to a story, to understand their worries, their drives, to know that their departure would leave a gaping hole.

That doesn’t happen with bad writing or bad preaching.

The only time emotional resonance happens during a history test is when you realize you’re going to fail it, honestly.

Don’t make your life or your book a history text.

Sometimes Following The Rules Isn’t Healthy

I had to sit in the front row so the minister kept looking at me, which meant that I had to pay attention to the history lesson and nod appropriately, which would have made my nana proud I’m sure.

But following the rules and doing the proper expected thing isn’t always healthy for you. Crying can be good even if it isn’t at the ‘socially acceptable’ time.

And I guess that’s why I’m sad. I wanted my nana’s funeral to make her proud of the life she lived and of all of us people she left behind. I wanted to feel some sort of closure, but I didn’t. I just sort of felt like someone had forgotten to pick her up and give her a ride over.

My nana loved for people to give her rides. She also loved to food poison people with dairy products, talk politics, play cards, get angry at you for beating her at cards, talk on the telephone, and hang out with her friends. She was smart and lively and stubborn and an absolutely horrible cook.

When I asked her why she was so involved in politics she said, “Because I remember what it was like to not even be able to vote.”

She was ten when women got the right to vote.

“It meant something. Women are just as good as men,” she said. “If not better. Stronger. They didn’t let us use our minds.”

She was the valedictorian of her little class in Weare, New Hampshire. She wrote a poem in her yearbook. She was proud of it, but (unlike one of my other grandmothers) it was pretty much the only poem she ever wrote. She didn’t have time for that, she’d said.

When I asked her why she was so smart, why she spent so much time learning and understanding things, she’d said, “Women can’t afford not to be intelligent. Not in this world.”

And another time she said, “It’s our responsibility to learn everything we can learn, to make good decisions, informed decisions.”

A farm girl, she’d married a jazz drummer who played in big bands and toured the country. One time he didn’t come back. He remarried. She never did. I don’t think she ever even dated anyone, but she did think Ronald Reagan was a ‘looker.’

She raised her kids as a single mom back in the 1940s and 1950s. Her oldest son went on to desegregate the fraternity system at UNH and though they were desperately poor, he ended up a valedictorian at his high school, at UNH, and then went on to Harvard Law.

She was so proud of him. Why?

“Because he is a gentleman and because he can think,” she said once when we were sitting on her couch and I was trying to avoid eating any of her food because – food poisoning. And then she said it again, “He can think. So can you. Use your brain, Carrie. Use it. Don’t be afraid of it.”

My nana was pretty cool, and worth way more than a history lesson. She was an epic, a woman of resilience and persistence in a time that was hard.

“All times are hard,” she’d say.

And this, also, is true.

But all times also have beauty and good and resonance. Don’t be afraid to embrace that, too.


 This is my nana. She is 100 here. She would hate this picture. 😉

Do Good Wednesday

I have had seizures.

It started when I was in college and I had Mono. The Epstein Barr virus that causes Mono attacked my brain as well. Eventually, the virus left, the seizures lessened, but it made my brain less resistant to future seizures.

There are all kinds of seizures and all types of triggers for people and all sorts of degrees of severity. Epilepsy is the fourth most common neurological condition and in the United States, 3.4 million people have epilepsy.

That’s a lot of people and yet there is a ton of stigma about it. So, my Do Good Wednesday call is just this. Go check out this website. Learn a little about epilepsy. Don’t be afraid when someone has a seizure. If you are a parent or a loved one, don’t make it all about you if a loved one has a seizure.

That’s all.

xo

Carrie

Lessons I learned at my grandmother's awful funeral
Dance

Writing News

Yep, it’s the part of the blog where I talk about my books and projects because I am a writer for a living, which means I need people to review and buy my books or at least spread the word about them.

So, please buy one of my books. 🙂 The links about them are all up there in the header on top of the page.  There are young adult series, middle grade fantasy series, stand-alones for young adults and even picture book biographies.

CARRIE’S APPEARANCES

I’m being interviewed live on WERU radio on Thursday, May 10 at 10 a.m. You can call in and ask questions and be on the air with me! The livestream for the station is here. 

I’ll be at Book Expo America in NYC on June 1 at 11:30 – 12 at the Lerner booth signing copies of the Spy Who Played Baseball. A week before that,

I’ll also be in NYC presenting to the Jewish Book Council . Come hang out with me!

PODCAST

The podcast DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE is still chugging along!

Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness as we talk about random thoughts, writing advice and life tips.

We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of. Please share it and subscribe if you can.

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