Monday, March 29, 2010

Writing for Cake and Children's Hearts

There's a certain critique group I've been trying to break into for some time. These are women after my own heart - children's writers, animal lovers, and CAKE lovers. They even named their group Will Write for Cake, and they reward good news from their members with special cakes for the occasion. But seriously, who wouldn't write for cake?

If someone put a slice of rich chocolate cake in my kitchen, and told me I'd have to write 1000 intelligent words on my manuscript before I could have one bite, I'd be right (or write) on it.

Unfortunately this talented group of women, two of whom, Lynne Kelly Hoenig and Monica Vavra, are my agent sisters, all live in Texas, and I live in the Pacific Northwest. A bit too far to make the critique group meetings.

You should seriously check out their new blog, though. Besides showing how to rock a snuggie, their post called Holding Human Hearts, describes more eloquently than I ever could why I do what I do. If you write for children, or have ever tried, or attempted to write for kids, you should read this post. You will never feel like it's a silly or pointless endeavor again.

Anyway, it's probably a good thing I'm not a member of this group. If I was, I'd probably have to wear a grazing muzzle, just like my donkey Josie. Maybe they could just make me an honorary West Coast member?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Meet Judy Cox

I became friends with award-winning author Judy Cox when I took a class she was teaching about Writing for Children. I was a newbie kid lit writer at the time, and Judy already had quite a few books published. We both lived in the same small town in Oregon, and discovered common interests in hiking, music, animals, and birdwatching. But then we both moved away - wah! I moved a couple hundred miles in one direction, and she in another. But we have kept in touch, and I value her friendship and advice. I've also been in awe of her continued success in her field.

Judy is currently the author of ten picture books, seven chapter books, and two middle grade novels, as well as approximately thirty short stories published in children's magazines such as Highlights and Cricket. Her books DON'T BE SILLY, MRS. MILLIE and PICK A PUMPKIN, MRS. MILLIE have both been named to Time magazine's list of top ten children's books. For a complete list of Judy's books and awards, please visit her website:

Judy, how did you get your start as a children's writer?

I got my start by making up stories to entertain my younger brothers and sisters. I started submitting stories and poems to magazines when I was in my teens, but I didn't get widely published until I was an adult.

Where do you find your inspiration for your books?

Inspiration is everywhere. It's really a matter of training yourself to recognize ideas, and to write them down before you forget them! Then it takes discipline to organize the ideas into a cohesive plot. For me, that's the challenge. I have plenty of great ideas that go nowhere.

Judy, besides writing humorous chapter books, you are a very talented picture book writer. Can you share any hints on how to develop and write a successful picture book?
The main thing to keep in mind is that picture book texts are like poetry - but I don't mean that they have to rhyme. Like poetry, picture books tell a story in a very concise manner. They use imagery and playful language. And above all - they must be fun to read aloud!
Your newest picture book is called CINCO DE MOUSE-O! (Love that title, by the way) Is it a sequel to ONE IS A FEAST FOR A MOUSE, which won an Anne Izard Storyteller's Choice Award?
Not a sequel exactly, but it does feature the same characters. I've just signed a contract for another book about Mouse, tentatively titled HAUNTED MOUSE. It's a Halloween book.

You've written about mice before, haven't you, Judy? Can you explain your fascination with these little creatures?

My dad's nickname for me is "Mouse" because I was tiny as an infant, so I identify with mice.

Of all the books you've written, do you have a favorite and why?

There's a special place in my heart for the two books in the Tails of Frederick and Ishbu series - the adventures of two rat brothers who escape from their cage in Miss Dove's fifth grade classroom in order to save the world. It was such fun writing the kind of middle grade fantasy adventure that I used to love as a child, books like MISS BIANCA by Margery Sharp.

Judy, I know you have some other creative talents also. Care to enlighten us?

I play bass guitar and sing. I play in a couple of different bands. Over the years, I've played many different styles of music - ranging from rock 'n roll to Celtic, from country to jazz. I also take Belly Dancing classes!

You are a talented lady, Judy! Any upcoming projects you can share with us?

I have a new picture book called CARMEN LEARNS ENGLISH coming out in the fall from Holiday House. It's illustrated by Angela Dominguez. I also have a new early chapter book in the works, and a new picture book about Mouse.

Thank you so much for stopping by Judy!
Book Giveaway!!

If you'd like to win a copy of Judy's newest picture book, CINCO DE MOUSE-O! you're in luck. We are giving away a copy with a new drawing. To enter, here's all you have to do:
Leave a comment on this post, or private email me at: linda (at) lindabenson (dot) net
For extra chances to win -
become a follower of this blog (also applies to current followers) +2
Repost about this contest and link to it. Let me know! +1
The contest will run until April 2, 2010. Book shipped to U.S. addresses only.
Good Luck, everyone, and look for Judy's adorable books in libraries and bookstores everywhere!

Thursday, March 18, 2010


I've kept a journal ever since I started writing on a computer. I print out the pages, punch them with a three-hole punch, and save them in a hard binder. For me, it's been helpful to my writing career in several ways.

By rereading my journals, I've seen that there is a rhythm to my writing. I can work like crazy for days, weeks, months, and then nothing much at all for a period of time. And that's okay. I'm not one of those people who likes structure in my life (four pages a day, 1000 words a day, 2 hours of writing a day.) But in my own bumbling, haphazard method of writing, I still seem to get a lot accomplished.

I use my journal not only to record things that have been going on in my life, but to capture feelings and moments that are important. Re-reading my journals has allowed me to see that I tend to get depressed when it rains a lot, and the sun makes me happy. It lets me look up when the first swallows arrive each year, and the date in late Spring I first hear the thrilling song of the Swainson's thrush in the forest.

I can use bad words in my journal, ones that I wouldn't post in a public place (like this.) I can capture the raw emotion of finding a beloved cat dead in the middle of the road and having to bury him all by myself. Yeah, tough stuff.

I use my journal to get my fingers working again, when it doesn't seem like I can write at all. I write little pep talks to myself -words like: I have not been writing. I am not a writer. What's wrong with me? I'm a fraud, and I'm fooling everyone. blah blah blah. I cannot seem to write a single thing. I'm a mess, I . . . blah blah blah . . . Look, I've written one entire page. I did. I filled up all that space. With something. Anything. I can do it. I can. I know I can.

I use my journal to discuss with myself things about my WIP (work-in-progress.) What would happen if my character did this? What would make this character feel this way, and do this? Maybe this could happen, or this and this. On my latest middle-grade novel, I actually have another document available where I try to keep all the facts straight, names, etc. and the pertinent info for my WIP. But for actually brainstorming plot points, I find it is actually most helpful to tumble around ideas with in my journal. I like the immediacy, the discussion I can have with myself on paper. It allows me to check back in later, and see how I was able to hash things out. And believe or not, it is very helpful to see this process when it comes to future novels.

Because the very best thing about keeping track of things in journals, is that I can go back and see when I first got the seed of an idea for a novel. On February 21, 2009 I wrote in my journal:

So I'm tossing and turning ideas around in my head for something new to write. And I'm thinking that my next novel might be from two points of view. A boy. A girl. It would be a challenge to see if I can do it. But actually, it's because two characters are coming to me. The girl, with the invisible sign at the bottom of her driveway. And the boy, who is not very nice at first. Maybe his mom drinks too much. Or other stuff. . . . . And then there's the flood.

I wrote several chapters, and then got involved in major revisions on another novel, and then stuff (called life) happened, and I struggled along and finally dug in and finished this new novel this winter. There is a boy. And there is a girl. And I did manage to write it from two points of view, although there is no flood, and the storyline took a completely different direction from what I first envisioned. That's the beauty of creativity.

So on March 2, 2010 I noted in my journal that I just finished the final chapter of my newest novel. (And yeah, there are many edits and revisions still ahead, but that's a writer's life.) And it's really cool to be able to look back on the entire process from when that first kernel, or spark of an idea began, and how it transformed into an actual story.

Do you use a journal? What form do you keep it in, and how has it worked for you?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

And the winner is . . .

Thank you all so much for entering the drawing to win a copy of Sandra Alonzo's RIDING INVISIBLE. I read my own copy over the weekend, and I finished the entire book in one sitting. I could not put it down! It is fast-moving, heart-felt, and gripping. Wow, great book.

But you want to know who won the drawing, right.? The winner of RIDING INVISIBLE is . . . Joyce Moyer Hostetter . . . Joyce, I'll get the book out to you soon.

Thank you all so much for entering. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with award-winning author Judy Cox, and a chance to win her brand new picture book CINCO DE MOUSE-O!

Saturday, March 13, 2010


I joined Goodreads yesterday. I'd heard of this site before, where you can list all the books you've read/are reading/hope to read, etc. etc. and I had actually clicked over to it several times, but never joined. Now, I'm a member.

I'm not exactly sure what I'm going to do with it. There are so many different places on the Internet to "friend" people and join things that it all becomes overwhelming sometimes. Still, the idea of finding other people who have read the same book that I have is somewhat intriguing. I distinctly remember reading Life of Pi, by Yann Martel, when it came out several years ago. I wanted so badly to discuss that book with someone, and I could not find One Person who had read it yet. Argggh.

Now, I'll be able to find discussion groups, get ratings, and even offer my own two cents into what I think about a book. Not sure if I'll actually have time to write reviews or get that involved. I mean, it's hard enough to get all the books read that I have stacked next to me right now, besides writing my own.

But for now, as a brand new member of Goodreads, I am totally hooked trying to add to the 'my books" list; trying to remember all the books I've ever read (I mean how far back do you go - childhood? That's a LOT of books.) When I clicked on the children's list, I started adding, adding, adding, because I've worked as a children's librarian (which is where my love for children's literature became honed to a fine edge) and I was amazed how many books I have read in this genre. (And I barely touched the picture books.) Of course there are lots of horse books on my list. Lots of novels featuring ranch life (which I will cover in a further blog post.) And actually, quite a bit of recent fiction.

When you add books to your list on Goodreads, you can rate them. Five stars = It was Amazing. Four stars = I really liked it. Three stars = I liked it. I added a lot of books with Five Stars, because they were memorable, amazing, and they stood out in my mind. I sincerely doubt that I'll ever add any books with only one or two stars (I didn't like it, it was okay) because, let's face it, if I don't like a book, or if I think it's downright terrible, I won't even finish it at all. And this does happen.

Anyway, adding books to my list is addicting, distracting, and one more thing to keep me fooling around on the Internet and not working on revisions of my own manuscript. But it's fun. And now I'm working on this cool widget montage to go on my sidebar to show what I've read, so people will know that I love and appreciate books. Which is true. I do love books, and I love to read.

Are you on Goodreads? Do you use it much? Let me know of ways that it has worked for you.

Oh and Do. Not. Forget. (Have you noticed that this is a cool new Internet way of talking? You know, to emphasize something - you put a period after every word. As in O.M.G.) Anyway - Do. Not. Forget. You can still enter the drawing to win a copy of Riding Invisible, a brand new YA novel by Sandra Alonzo, until March 15th. I will draw the winner on March 16th. Good luck, everyone!

Thursday, March 4, 2010


~I have lots of things to smile about this week~

For starters, I got my taxes done!!! All week I've had boxes of receipts and yellow legal pads filled with columns of figures spread out all over the kitchen table. Playing with numbers is not my most favorite thing (not nearly as fun as playing with words) but I finally got everything semi-organized, and I'm taking the whole kit and kaboodle to the accountant tomorrow morning. Whew (wipes brow with back of hand.)

Second, Jake the Bachelor finally decided that Vienna! was the love of his life, so I don't have to block out two hours of my Monday nights any more for that ridiculous distraction. At least not until the next Dancing with the Stars begins, and then I get to watch Jake attempt the Paso Doble, along with Olympic figure skater Evan Lysacek. (Can't miss that match-up!)

Third, for the moment, at least, I can narrow my reality show addiction down to American Idol, which currently takes up three nights of the week. (And no, we don't have DVR.) My early prediction for dark horse winner (remember - you heard it here first): Lee Dewyze.

Fourth, in the middle of all this nonsense, I still managed to complete my newest middle-grade manuscript, tentatively called SIGNS. I finished the final chapters this week, writing frantically in odd moments between adding columns of numbers and feigning interest in bad television. Now I need to spend at least a couple of weeks editing, tweaking and polishing. But I'm so excited, because the storyline finally hangs together, the character arcs are complete, and I'm still really, really in love with the story.

So since I have so much to smile about, I am sharing one of my very favorite poems with you. Whenever I read it, it always makes me Smile.

Smiles are like Southwinds from a rose and gold sky~
They smooth and they cheer as they softly pass by;
Smiles are the jewels of kindness and mirth~
Smiles are the sweetest of all things on earth.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Win a copy of Emma's River

Okay, since we're talking about horses, books, and giveaways - here's another great contest I stumbled across, and I'm passing it along. Alison Hart, who we interviewed here has a brand new book out called Emma's River.

To win a copy, and to read the fascinating story of how this book came to be written, go the blog of Peachtree Publishers right here, to enter.

Good luck, everyone! And don't forget the book giveaway of Sandra Alonzo's RIDING INVISIBLE, below, is open until March 15th.