Wednesday, October 15, 2014

ALWAYS OCTOBER with Bruce Coville

left to right (Jen McVeity, Chris Eboch, Bruce Coville, Millie Little, Carolee Dean  (me), and Kimberley Griffiths Little)
October first I had dinner with Bruce Coville, Jen McVeity, and a host of SCBWI friends. It was the perfect start to October, one of my all time favorite months. We then followed Bruce to Bookworks on Rio Grande where he was promoting his new book, Always October, the world where monsters come from.  Bruce said he always wanted to write the perfect book to read on Halloween and now he believes he's done it.

"October is the month when magic stalks the world. The light comes in sideways," said Bruce. "October is the best of all possible months, when it seems anything can happen."

It's certainly a magical month in Albuquerque, New Mexico with our International Balloon Fiesta and the aroma of roasting green chiles in the air.

Bruce also talked about the newly released Amber Brown Horses Around and his friendship with the late Paula Danziger, creator of the Amber Brown series. He described how years ago they kept each other on track with their writing goals by calling and asking  if the other had finished their three pages for the day. Three pages was the goal. He was quick to say they didn't have to be good pages, they just had to exist.

Bruce was approached by the publisher, Putnam, to write the new Amber Brown book and decided the only way he could pull it off was if he worked on the project with Elizabeth Levy, another long time friend of Paula's.

Rather than reading from either of these books, Bruce performed a one-man reenactment from the first chapter of one of his earlier novels, The Monster's Ring. The audience at Bookworks was captivated by his storytelling skills. He said this is the way he opens all of his school visits.

Wow! What a treat for kids.

Bruce told us about a quote by author Paul O'Neill that he likes to keep on his wall for inspiration. "Always grab the reader by the throat in the first paragraph, sink your thumbs into his windpipe with the second paragraph, then shove him against the wall and hold him there until the tag line."

Bruce ended the evening with a list of weird writing tips.

1.  Marry rich - For most of us, including Bruce, it was already too late for that tip, but he received the advice from Natalie Babbitt, author of Tuck Everlasting, so he thought it was worth sharing.
2.  Take acting lessons - The actor's tools are the writer's tools.  An actor's job is to enter a character and that is also the writer's job. Acting lessons are part of the reason Bruce is such a great storyteller.
3.  Take singing lessons- This trains you to use your voice properly so you don't strain it.
4.  Don't take yourself too seriously.  Take the art seriously, but not yourself.
5.  Scare yourself - You should always be working on the edge. If you get too comfortable doing what you're doing, you can become artistically dead.  No jump, no wings!

Bruce was accompanied to Albuquerque by Australian author, Jen McVeity, whose Seven Steps to Writing Success is transforming education in the Land Down Under.  They were meeting our former SCBWI regional advisor, Chris Eboch, for a hiking adventure in Southern New Mexico.

It was truly a magical October night!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


As part of the Summer Author Blitz going on over at Book Boost PR I will be doing a Q&A over at BOOKS WITH A TOUCH OF ADVICE on Wednesday, July 23.

JESSICA COKER is the winner of the free book giveaway.  Jessica, please send your  mailing address to my Email so I can send you a book.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

What Kind of Writer Are You- Plotter or Plodder?

I've been told there are two types of writers, those who plot out every detail of their story before they begin, and those who plod along, letting their characters take them where they will. I believe I'm a hybrid of these two extremes.

What kind of writer are you?

A story is a journey. Therefore, to figure out what kind of writer you are, it might be helpful to consider how you travel when you are on a real life road trip. Ask yourself a few simple questions.

1. Are you the sort of person who makes plans weeks in advance, or do you tend to hop in your car on a whim and start driving, content with wherever the road takes you?

2. Do you make reservations with or without a cancellation option? If you book a hotel and pay for it ahead of time with no way to back out without losing all your money, you may be a Plotter. If you don't book the room until you are sitting in the parking lot looking at the Holiday Inn Express sign, you may be a Plodder. If you make reservations with a cancellation option, you are probably a hybrid.

3. How do you pack? Do you check the weather channel for the five day forecast of your destination city and then plan your clothing accordingly or do you toss a few essentials into a duffle bag and hope to buy whatever else you need when you arrive wherever you happen to land?

4.  Do you type out your entire itinerary and send it to family and friends ahead of time so they will always know where to find you or do you expect them to stay informed of your activities through your Facebook and Instagram posts?

There is no right or wrong way to plan a road trip and there is no right or wrong way to plan a story. It is helpful, though, to know what kind of writer you are and NOT try to squeeze yourself into the mold of what someone else says is the best way to navigate the writer's journey. 

If you do that, you may leave people confused when they see your Instagram pictures from the Disneyland Light Parade when the itinerary you sent them clearly states you were planning to spend the night at the KOA Campground in Bakersfield. Know thyself. Everything else leads to confusion.

Saturday, June 14, 2014


I am posting the short version for the first lesson of my free writing workshop on my blog site. If you are interested in receiving the rest of the series, please sign up HERE. If you have previously signed up for the workshop and you do not receive Lesson One via email today, please contact me. 

The series will last for four weeks, there is no homework other than what you decide to complete, and the structure is designed so you may move at your own pace. 

It is summer after all!

So... if you are climbing the Swiss Alps you may do the lessons on your phone or tablet or save them until you come down from the mountain.


Part One - Learn the twelve steps of the Secret Language of Stories and apply the plot analysis to books and movies.

Part Two - Create a 2-3 page plot outline for your own original novel, screenplay, short story or picture book using the structure of The Secret Language of Stories. 

Part Three - Use your plot outline to get started writing your own original story.

Part Four - Make a road map for completing your journey.   



1) Learn about the structure of The Secret Language of Stories.
2) Study my plot analyses for one or more of the following:

     A. Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves (A        non-fiction picture book by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson.)
     B. City of Bones (A young adult novel by Cassandra Clare).
     C.  I Am Legend (a 2007 film starring Will Smith based loosely on a      1954 Novel by Richard Matheson of the same Title.)
     D. Romeo and Juliet (a play by William Shakespeare).

3) Create a notebook with dividers for each of the 12 steps, or you may create a computer file. One page per section is enough to suffice for now.
4) Begin filling in each section with examples from books, movies, and plays. This list will continue throughout the four weeks and hopefully beyond. Don't feel like you need to completely analyze one entire book or movie. That might be a stretch if you're just getting started.

That's it! Simple, right?

If you would like to continue receiving Parts 2-4 of this series and you have not already done so, remember to sign up HERE

If you have comments or questions, I would love to receive them at my email.

Sunday, June 1, 2014


It's officially summer vacation and my FREE ONLINE WRITING CLASS is just around the corner. It will begin on Saturday, June 14, 2014 and last for four weeks. Lessons will be delivered via a series of  newsletters and you may unsubscribe at anytime. If you are interested, sign up HERE. You should receive a confirmation email from Mail Chimp. If you don't, please send me an email to follow up.

The workshop will be based on The Secret Language of Stories - The story plotting analysis I use to structure my novels as well as to teach creative writing to kids and adults. For a preview check out my SLOS blog page.

There are several reasons I'm offering the workshop in this format:
1) People keep asking me when I'm going to offer another writing workshop. I work during the school year and only have summers available, but folks are out of town so it makes it difficult to pin down dates.
2) I wanted to create something as flexible as possible. If you don't have time to do a lesson, just save it for the following week. There are no time constraints since it is all online.
3) I'm offering the workshop for free so I can get feedback and fine tune the information. Your input is your entrance fee. Any questions or comments you send to me may be published in upcoming newsletters and books.

It's free, it's easy, it's summer, so kick back and have some fun!! Sign up HERE!

Sunday, May 18, 2014


Check out my plot analysis of HAMLET over at Spellbinders. To read about my plot analysis system, check out my tab for The Secret Language of Stories on this blog. Watch for details about my free writing workshop coming June 14, 2014.

Friday, May 2, 2014


This is it -- the Ball of Infamy.

On May Day, Thursday, 5/1/14, the Albuquerque Isotopes played the Salt Lake Bees during the School Day Matinee, a special event for New Mexico students. Buses came from all over the state bringing eager young fans to watch baseball and pig out on funnel cakes, popcorn, and hot dogs.

I was on a field trip with some of my high school students, minding my own business, talking to the school social worker (okay, maybe I should have been watching the game a little more closely) when a ball came slicing through the air and hit me.

Contrary to rumor, it was not in the head.

The two women in front of me parted like the Red Sea and I felt an alarming pain in my left shin. It wasn't until I saw the ball bouncing off of my leg, and back toward the two women, that I realized what had happened.

A man who worked for the ball park came leaping toward me asking if I was okay.

Obviously I wasn't.

I told him I didn't know. I thought so. Maybe. Hopefully. I was conscious after all. Soon there were EMTs and a policeman bringing ice and a wheelchair and asking me if I knew where I was and what day was it. They said I could go by ambulance to the ER if I wanted.

I didn't. I pictured a four hour stint as I cued up behind gunshot wounds and drug overdoses. As it turned out, Lyle, a teacher I had never met before, offered to drive me to the Urgent Care. Thanks Lyle. Nice to meet you.

It all started when we went for a walk with several students in search of funnel cakes. We had left our cozy seats behind third base and ended up on the grassy area at the FAR side of the field where we decided to sit and watch the game from a different vantage point.

We never got the funnel cakes. Maybe they did. I didn't. I left before it was over.

I found out later that the whole thing was captured on video. Check out this Video of Joc Pederson's Homerun. It is aptly titled Pederson socs one.

I was the one.

Watch closely as the ball goes flying over the fence and out into the grass. Paula, the social worker, is sitting next to me in the orange baseball cap. I'm in the black t-shirt. The Isotopes guy in the light blue shirt and tan pants suddenly runs down toward me and people come rushing from all directions.

The EMT suggested maybe I should have been watching the game. I was at a dangerous sporting event after all. As he was saying this he had his back to the field, not exactly setting a good example. See photo above.

When I got to the Urgent Care, the doctor was more understanding. He said a baseball game was a social event, not just a sporting event and you couldn't watch it every second (especially not when they have to stop after every inning for things like building a human hamburger). That was kind of cool, actually.

The doctor may have been more sympathetic because his wife was once knocked out cold after being hit by a hockey puck in the head.

But all's well that ends well. The Isotopes beat Salt Lake 3-2. I received a day off of work to elevate my leg, was awarded a clear plastic case for the ball, and got a good story out of it.

Only a writer could suffer agonizing pain and still have the presence of mind to ask the nice policeman who wheeled her out the the curb a host of questions, "Was that the first home run of the season, what inning was it, who hit that ball?"

"I have to get the facts straight for my story," I explained to him.

Wednesday I walked out to my car, discovered I had a flat, and had to ask a co-worker to drive me to ACE Hardware so I could buy an air compressor to pump in enough air to make it to the mechanic's. Turns out I picked up a screw.

Thursday I got hit by a baseball and ended up in the Urgent Care.

Today is Friday. I'm locking the doors, shutting the blinds, and staying home!! Doctor's orders.