Thursday, August 4, 2016

Friday Feedback: False starts, Rejection and Moving Forward - a post chock full of useful links (so you should click on them) and a recycled, hidden, parting gift. . .

Summer is a fleeting bastard.

Hey, all you shiny campers,

I don't have any idea how we're here already.

Here at

The end.

The end.

Two little words so awesome at

the bottom of a manuscript,

yet, so not awesome at the completion of

a summer of Teachers Write.

*weeps a little*

But what is there to do but march forward?

It's been a busy summer for me. Busier and harder than I anticipated. I wasn't here as much as I wanted to be.

I didn't write as much as I wanted to write.

There are no redos.

Nothing to do but march forward.

I hope your writing went well.

I hope you had at least one moment when you surprised yourself.

One moment where you pushed yourself beyond where you thought you could.

One moment when you truly felt brave.

And now what?

How to keep going from here?

If you came here to TW simply to be a better writing teacher -- by the way, a truly commendable aim that makes me admire you deeply and wish there were more teachers JUST like you --  hopefully you have a brain (and computer) chock-full of ways to inspire your students. An idea of how to make writing more accessible, more compelling, and more clear. And a new-found empathy for student writers gained from walking the walk yourself.

But what if you came here hoping to write a book? To be a writer? And you only made it part of the way through?

What if you wrote less than you hoped?

What if you're stuck in the muck and mire of a muddy middle?


Um, did you hear me???

What if you're almost done and visions of querying agents or submitting to publishers are dancing like sugarplum fairies in your head?

This writing world can be a lonely, hard one. In the end, the only one who can write your book is you.

And what if I write that query, and find the perfect agent, and he rejects me, and then she rejects me, and then ten more reject me after that??!?!?!!?

You just keep marching onward.

Rejections are battle scars. Rejection is the sand . . . that ultimately produces a pearl.

And, yes, writing can be a hard, doubt-filled, and solitary endeavor, but it can also be an inspiring one full of community and understanding. And first and foremost, I hope you have found that here.

Because that's what we are. We at Teachers Write are a community. Summer is over, but we're still here to help you, to answer your questions and cheer you on.

If you need us:

Tweet to us on twitter:

email me:

and, don't forget:

The TW Facebook page

is open all year.

And we love to hear from you. We do. We love to hear the stories of success: the manuscripts worked on, or dare we say, finished, the agents reading partials and fulls. The lessons brought back to the classroom.

You know where to find us, and you know, my shiny campers, where to find me.

So, I wish you all a gloriously happy end of summer and a joyful, productive return back to school.

And now, since it's Friday Feedback, here's a small excerpt from the manuscript I just sold (!!!!).

What works for you? What doesn't? You know THE RULES.

(The following excerpt is from the perspective of my 17-year old main character, a boy name Klee, pronounced Clay.)

Sarah is singing. Singing, and crawling toward me on her knees.
Her voice is breathy and sweet.
Sweet dreams till sun beams find you. . .”
It’s a hallucination, I think, but it seems real anyway, so I wedge my hand under my thigh so I don’t reach out to her.
“Tell me your dreams, babe,” she says.
I shake my head and a crow lands on the back of Dr. Alvarez’s chair, turns a beady eye at me and makes its way up the wall.
The crow is a trickster. I focus on Sarah instead.
“Sweet dreams that leave our worries behind you.
But in your dreams, whatever they be. . .
She moves slowly, on all fours, her dark hair falling over her big blue eyes.
dream a little dream of me. . .”
I squirm as she gets closer, squeeze my eyes shut tight so I don’t lose it. Sometimes, all I have to do is look at her. 
When she reaches where I sit, she slides her lips up my leg, her wide eyes watching me, her tongue tracing the front of my jeans.
I make some noise, and she stops. 
She sits back.
“What the fuck? Are you crying, Klee?”

I shake my head, but she disappears anyway.


Much love. Keep going!


p.s. If you love what we do here at Teachers Write, please support us by buying and sharing our titles. If you haven't yet preordered THE MEMORY OF THINGS, I'd love you forever if you do. And don't forget my other books, THE PULL OF GRAVITY and THE SUMMER OF LETTING GO.

But also, don't forget the books of my guest authors: Nora Raleigh Baskin's NINE, TEN; Liza Wiemer's HELLO?, Amy Dominy's DIE FOR YOU, and Selene Castrovilla's SIGNS OF LIFE, etc. And if those books aren't right for your classroom, please check out their other titles, everything from truly awesome historical picture books to middle grade to more YA.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Friday Feedback with Selene Castrovilla: Emotions in Motion


Selene and I doing a Freaky Friday
this past spring. 

You guys!!!!

This post doesn't need me blathering on with a long intro keeping you from the awesomeness that is about to abound... Suffice it to say we were lucky to have Selene Castrovilla HERE last summer doing a post on voice, and now she's back with more awesomeness that we need to let you get to.

Quickly, if you don't know Selene, she is the award-winning author of young adult fiction and children's nonfiction -- seven books and counting

SIGNS OF LIFEBook Two of the Rough Romance Trilogy, has just been released. I've read the first in the trilogy, MELT, and I cannot wait to get to Signs of Life!

In fact, MELT was the recipient of six honors including the SCBWI Spark Award, the IndieReader Fiction Book of the Year, and the Bronze IPPY Medal for young adult fiction. Here's a link to the guide On Reading and Teaching MELT. 

So, without further ado, I give you Selene and Emotions in Motion. And please check out and order Signs of Life, Melt and the rest of her BOOKS!!

Through the years, and particularly when I was starting out as a writer (long before publication, when I was getting used to the idea that I didn’t need anyone’s permission to write), I attended many writing workshops and conferences. I have a stack of notebooks filled with sage advice from writers and editors.

One person’s words stick on my brain like a wad of chewing gum under a desk. . . "Did you go far enough?"

One person’s words stick on my brain like a wad of chewing gum under a desk. Patti Lee Gauch — a renowned Philomel editor — delivered a lecture titled “Did You Go Far Enough?”

She said sure, you could write something adequate. Something that fills in the blanks, does the job, meets the requirements of “writing.”

But: Did you go far enough?

You know. We all know. It’s the difference between “meh” and goosebumps.

It’s the difference between “That book was alright” and “I stayed up all night reading even though I had to work the next day.”

I’ve contemplated that question:

Did I go far enough? 

swirling and churning it with each book I’ve produced.

And for me, going far enough is always a question of emotion.

I’m never done until I’ve milked every drop of emotion from a scene. It’s true in my picture books as well as in my novels, and the more I write, them more I see opportunities. It’s not what’s happened, but your character’s reaction to what’s happened that creates emotion. IMHO.

Emotions add:

  • Tension
  • Clarity
  • Depth


Why do we decide to turn that page and start reading a new chapter? Because we’re worried about our character. We must know what happens next to them.

It is possible to add tension to any setting 
by amping up the emotion.

Your character wakes up to a bright sunny morning. All is good in the hood, right? Mais, non. Instead of just pushing back the covers and plunging from the bed:

He bites his lip.
He clutches at the covers. (Maybe he crawls under them.)
He shudders.
He refuses breakfast.
He vomits all over the covers.

You just conveyed that your character is nervous. (Okay, the vomiting may indicate a virus or a hangover — you may need to clarify with other cues/tells.)

He wakes up to that same sunny morning and he:

rubs his hands together and laughs in a disturbing way
he has cold eyes,

You just conveyed that he has contempt. Better hope there are strict gun laws in his state.

He wakes up yet a third time to that sunny morning and:

his eyebrows gather in
he squeezes his eyes shut
his posture is bent with slumped arms, the shoulders pulled low.

Maybe he even mutters an apology into the air, or up to God.

You just showed up that your character has regret. Are the gun laws strict in that state?

The emotions do not explain anything here. They make us wonder: what the heck is bugging this guy on such a sunny day? He should be jumping out of bed singing, “Oklahoma! Where the wind comes sweeping down the plain!” (Maybe his problem is that he lives in Oklahoma and hates getting his hair messed up in the wind.)

Once our character gets out of bed you can compound the emotion, or you can turn it around. You can create an unexpected twist; you can make the day go even worse. But all this great stuff happens only if he doesn’t simply “wake up to a sunny day and gets out of bed.” Because that’s the default setting, folks. Change it.

Emotion can also illuminate our story, clarifying how we’re supposed to feel . . . within the context of our story. 


Emotion can also illuminate our story, clarifying how we’re supposed to feel about a certain situation within the context of our story. Often, something which happens can be good or bad, funny or sad — depending on how the character feels. If you want to play around you can use multiple characters and have them feel different ways about a situation. For example, I write about the Revolutionary War. So if something good happens for the British, it’s going to upset the Americans. I never just say “so and so won this battle.” Who cares, anyway? We care about the emotional reaction to the win or loss.

This is also good to define moral character: how your character reacts to something tragic or even just a little upsetting shows insight into him. Maybe he’s happy, because he hates the person it happened to. Maybe he has good reason. Maybe they’d bullied him in the past. Or maybe your character is the bully. 

Really, emotions can change the course of our story entirely -- without altering the plot.


The difference between the kiddie pool and the deep end is depth. 
Both get you wet, one immerses you.

The difference between the kiddie pool and the deep end is depth. Both get you wet, one immerses you.

Immerse your readers. Shove ‘em right into that deep end — over-priced clothes, over-priced shoes, hideously over-priced purses and all. They'll never forget you.

This brings us back to: Did you go far enough?

Examples of how emotions made the difference in children’s/YA books:

1.     The Catcher in the Rye:  Pencey Prep would be just a rich kids’ boarding school if Holden hadn’t been so damn depressed. Frankly, the whole book is one big emotional breakdown.

2.  Charlotte’s Web: What if Fern cared more about what was for breakfast (extra bacon?) then where Pa was going with that axe?

3. Harry Potter — What if Harry’s mother hadn’t loved Harry enough to sacrifice herself for him? (It’s kind of interesting that Harry himself is a fairly passive-emotioned character, compared to the others surrounding him. Look at the passion of Snape!)

4.Lord of the Flies — What if the boys decided to band together to survive, treating each other with respect and concern?

5. The Chocolate Wars — What if Jerry felt inclined to sell the chocolate like everyone else?

These are just some from the top of my head. Why don’t you apply your favorites to the emotions test as well?

As you can see, emotions not only show us the internal working of a character, but they also determine the tone, outcome and depth (as previously mentioned.) It is emotion which lends gravitas.

Of course, the master of emotion was Shakespeare. Think about how essential emotion is in his plays! They would be utterly meaningless without them. There’s a man who went far enough.

So how do you go about showing emotions in your stories? Many of us first try to use dialogue for the heavy lifting, but this can leave us with hackneyed, tired lines. Yes, use strong, biting dialogue that delivers a punch. But don’t flail wildly, or your story will be down for the count.

Here’s where you can cultivate:

1.     Your word choices count. A word carries a feel, a connotation. An emotion. So never have a character “walk.” Have him plod, trudge, skip or shuffle. I HIGHLY recommend the Flip Dictionary by Barbara Ann Kipfer, Ph. D. It’s a thesaurus on steroids.

2.     How you describe your setting provides emotion. Run-down or pristine?  Cheerful abundant or bare? It’s not just how it is, but how your characters perceive it.

3.     How your convey the weather also provides emotion. Again, a sunny day may be greeted with dismay. Or a happy character might whistle as he walks through the rain.

4.     Body language. Oh, yes. This is rich indeed. I own a book called The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, and it is priceless. Not since I laid eyes on my Flip Dictionary many years ago have I loved a writing resource so much. If you want to get into character traits and how they are revealed emotionally, Angela and Becca have also created The Positive Trait Thesaurus and The Negative Trait Thesaurus. I own these, but haven’t referred to them much yet (though perusing them now, they do seem inspiring.)

5.     You can even use pacing to convey emotions. In my latest novel, I chopped up the narratives and discovered a much tenser emotional trajectory — without changing a word. Your novel is like a potato: slice it, dice it, make Julienne fries.

I hope you find this useful!

Remember: A mediocre story is one filled with missed emotional opportunities.

One more thing about writing. You must give it some priority if you want to experience growth. I always say: “Tonight, we can cook a fancy dinner, or we can write a novel!” What do we have left when we’re done eating?

My kids grew up thinking that when it’s dinnertime, the Chinese man brings it.

(I am convinced my son loves broccoli with garlic sauce because I ate it with one hand as he nursed nestled in my other.)

Let’s get to work!

I suppose we might try for passages which convey emotion today — if you have them. But please, share whatever you’d like feedback on. I can’t wait to read your work!

For mine, this is a section in Unpunished, Book Three in the Rough Romance Trilogy. I have many points of view in this one.

Dorothy’s Mom

I didn’t even know what was happening. My daughter was alive, eyes open! I screamed, I couldn’t stop screaming, at the sheer horror of what I’d done. And the baby was pounding, pounding inside me, as though she were screaming, too.

One of the nurses who rushed in grabbed me, yanked me out of the room. I didn’t resist, but I didn’t help either. I was like a lead weight, not on purpose, but because I couldn’t function. It was like my mind wasn’t even in my body, I was just observing.

I was still screaming, and she shook me hard. “Dr. Fields!” she scolded. And that stopped my scream. She had no right to scold me.

“You said it wasn’t possible,” I roared. You said she was dead. Already dead, though breathing. Oh my God, that doesn’t even make sense! I believed you, I believed you all!”

She didn’t say anything. Her arms dropped. She was a mess, how could she call herself a nurse, what did she know? It was just this big mess, everything was this colossal mess, I’d colluded in the attempted murder of my daughter and God help me I couldn’t go in there and face her what the hell kind of a mother was I? And then water gushed out into the floor, I was standing in a puddle and I stared down wondering where the hell that came from and then I realized — it came from me.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Friday Feedback: Do You Have What it Takes to be a Writer? Quiz with Amy Fellner Dominy

Hey, shiny campers! Guess what today is? 

It's my birthday!!! 

And in honor of my birthday, thought we'd lighten things up around here just a bit. Because, really, all this feedback is all well and good if you're meant to be a writer. 

But what if you're not? 

Why waste your time with it, then? 

And, anyway, how do you even know?

So, courtesy of my good pal, often critique partner, and amazing writer, Amy Fellner Dominy, we thought we'd give you a little quiz. See if you're really cut out to be sharing your words.

Because, if you're not, well. . . 

Amy has been here on Friday Feedback with me since the beginning of TW, I think, so many of you know her already, and love her like I do. 

But in case you don't, she is the author of several award winning books including A MATTER OF HEART (an ALA Top 10 Sports Book for 2015) and DIE FOR YOU, a dark romance, coming November 8, 2016 from Delacorte Press. 


It sounds amazing, doesn't it? I have read a bunch of it, and cannot wait to read the rest! If you're interested, please pre-order. Nothing helps a book (and author!) more than preorders! 

Okay, so now, let's get to it. Do you have what it takes? Take a deep breath and find out? (Amy will share her excerpt, too, down below):

Do You Have What it Takes to be a Writer?

10 Questions to Consider

by Amy Fellner Dominy

         So, you’re three weeks into Teacher’s Write. You’ve learned so much in such a short time. You’ve begun to experiment with ideas, develop characters, discover voice and setting. Maybe you’ve even felt the tingly rush of inspiration, the goose bumps of an “ah ha” moment. This writing thing is, well, it’s hard work, sure…but it’s also fun.
         But are you really cut out to be a writer? Should you retire to a smoking jacket, an old comfy chair and a keyboard? The answer to that just might lie in the answer to these 10 questions. So take the quiz and find out: Do you have what it takes to be a writer?

1. Can you write absolute crap? 
If so, congratulations! You’re on your way. Most first drafts are truly terrible. The trick is—can you open your heart, pour out what you think is awful and still continue? That’s what a writer must do. It’s only through revision that the work begins to shine. So if you’re a perfectionist or you’re too embarrassed to reveal that very bad beginning, you won’t make it far.

2.  Do you crack yourself up and creep yourself out?
As a writer, you have to write first for yourself. If you’re worried about what everyone else thinks, or what the market is looking for, or what the next big trend is, you’re in trouble. But if you can sit down each day and write what’s in your heart, this could be your dream job.

3. Do you have extremely strong abdominal muscles?
Have you ever seen those guys on TV who tighten up their stomachs and then dare someone to punch them as hard as they can?  Well, that’s what it can feel like to share your excerpt online. (Maybe you’ve already felt this for yourself?) It’s exactly how it feels to send your book out. You’re basically giving a stranger the opportunity to punch holes in your story. Which is like punching a hole in yourself. A writer knows how to tighten those core muscles and absorb the blow. Yeah, it hurts.  Yeah, it leaves you bruised. But then a writer stands back up and readies those abs again.

4. Are you willing to stand naked on a stage and yell, “Look at me!”
In other words, let’s discuss book marketing and promotion.
There’s a joke by Stephen Wright: “It’s a small world. But I’d hate to paint it.” I always think of that when it comes time to promote a book because the world begins to feel like an extremely big place. And it seems to be full  of books. If you want people to know about yours, you can’t be shy. You have to open your arms to the world and cry, “Me Me Me!” (Clothing optional.)

5. Check out this dancing baby on YouTube!
This was actually a test. Did you click over (did you think about clicking over?)  Because what you’ve just experienced is a DISTRACTION. There are a million of them every day and a writer has to fight them off, stay focused and resist temptation. If you want to be a writer, you must turn off social media, tell your children not to bother you unless there’s fire or blood, and you must forego the joy of browsing a well-stocked pantry. Can you do it?  Then you just might have what it takes.

6. Is writing so hard it makes you want to cry?
Yes? Excellent! You’re doing it right. Creating a full-length novel with a unique voice, characters who leap off the page, and a plot that compels the reader to keep turning pages is a monumental task. So if you’re pretty sure you can knock out a novel this weekend, you may have unrealistic expectations. (But if you manage to do it, please let me know HOW!)

7.  Do you love chocolate?
Okay, so this really doesn’t have anything to do with anything. I only mention it here because I’ve noticed a lot of writers seem to have addictions to chocolate—could this be the key to success?  (Could the fact that I prefer an apple fritter to a truffle be holding back my career?)

8. Do you have a muse you can rely on?
If you answered yes, I’m jealous. I’ve spent years hoping mine would show up and I’ve come to the opinion that muses are like Unicorns and a Post Office with no lines. Inspiration is magical but you don’t need it.  Perspiration (which is unpleasant and sticky) is completely necessary.

9. Do you hear a voice in your head, and it’s not kind?
I keep a sign by my desk that reads: “My Inner Voice Hates Me.” Every day, there is my voice, whispering in my head: “You have no talent. Your idea is crap. You should give up and see what’s in the pantry.” My inner voice is mean, and she seems to be part of a worldwide organization of inner voices which plague authors. (Or maybe they plague everyone?) To succeed as a writer, you have to invest in mental duct tape—and use it!

10. Did you write today?
This is the only question that really matters. Did you write today?
Will you write today?
Bad or good, inspired or tired—writer’s write.
Which means that this summer, you’re all writers. J

I hope I’ve given you all something to smile about.

Now back to work.

And to the hard part: Sharing. Since it's Gae's birthday, think we'll keep it fun and light where possible. Share whatever you want, but if you have a humorous section of your manuscript to highlight, all the more power to you! If you don't, post whatever. Really, it's okay. And don't forget to follow the RULES (what works? what doesn't, if anything, and are you compelled to keep reading. And despite my longer excerpt, limit to 3 - 5 paragraphs, please). 

I guess l go first. 

This is from a middle grade novel I've been working on in between other projects, called BAD KAT about a girl named Katie who wants to change her image so she can win the part of the villain in the school play. This is a conversation between Katie and her younger sister, Alison: 

“I need to figure out how to get sent to detention.”
Alison unglues her eyes from the TV to look at me. “What? You?”
“Yes, me.” 
She bursts out laughing, which I find highly offensive. Why does no one believe I can be bad? “Just give me some ideas,” I say.
She glances at Mom, then back at me. I can almost see the wheels of her mind turning.  They’re tiny wheels to fit inside her pea brain. “If I help you, you have to take out the trash for a month.”
“A month!” 
“You want to be bad or not?” 
My eyes narrow and for a moment I bask in a vision of me throttling my little sister. “Fine,” I agree. “A month. Now tell me how you got detention.” 
She glances around me to make sure Mom isn’t listening and then whispers, “I got caught cheating on Michael Alston’s vocab test.” 
“Michael Alston?” I picture the skater boy from down the block.  “He can spell?”
“No.  But he sits next to me.” 
“And that’s your only criteria for cheating?” 
“I was fake cheating.”
I shouldn’t ask.  I know I shouldn’t but… “Okay, I’ll ask.  Why were you fake cheating?” 
“To get sent to detention because Bentley Howard is there.” 
“And Bentley Howard is?”
“Hot.”  Alison manages to turn it into a two-syllable word. 
“I should have known it had to do with a boy.” 
“He’s not a boy.  He’s on the cusp on guyness.  And for all you know, Bentley might be The One.” 
“You’re twelve, Alison.”
“Nearly thirteen.  And I’m not going to end up like you, alone at fifteen.  I mean, you had your shot.” 

Now it's your turn. Share anything you want, funny and light if you've got it. And happy birthday, Gae!

Thanks for having me!

Amy (and Gae)