Monthly Archives: February 2013

Myriad editors, myriad tips

First editors are literary parents. They teach you right from wrong. They nurture you, praise your best work, and offer gentle – and sometimes not so gentle – suggestions. Good or bad, they’re the foundation for your writing. If they’re gifted, they help transform you into the writer you want to be.

Phil was my first professional editor. (I’ll write about another tomorrow.) He ran a weekly newspaper in my hometown, where I landed a college internship.  Journalists are stereotyped: crass, cynical, burned out, angry, but with edgy and dark humor I’ve never heard anywhere except a newsroom. Phil was a gentle exception, maybe because I was the young and naive intern.

Facebook's Overheard in a Newsroom. I can't get enough of it.  The quips are so spot-on, I felt myself slipping back to a daily paper, where I spent seven years swearing and quipping  like a seasoned vet.

Facebook’s Overheard in a Newsroom. I can’t get enough of it. The quips are so spot-on, I feel myself slipping back to the daily paper where I spent seven years swearing and quipping like a seasoned vet.

During that summer, he assigned great feature stories that let me shine. But I also had to cover township government. Township officers held meetings in old country schools that hadn’t been torn down, buildings with mice and outhouses. Board officers talked about riprap and ditch mowers and rural garbage rates.

Try injecting drama into that, John Grisham.

Phil was on vacation when I started. I filed a township story the night before his return. In an attempt to sound smart, I used the word “myriad.” After highlighting the meeting’s hot topic (riprap) I typed something like, “The board discussed myriad topics” and listed them bullet style.

The note on my desk the next morning: Shelley, welcome! Please, while you’re here, do not, under any circumstances, use the word myriad. Have you ever seen myriad in a newspaper, magazine, or novel? My money’s on NO. Have you ever heard anyone say myriad in a conversation? And in that rare instance, did that person use it correctly? Of course not!  That person said ‘myriad of.’ There’s no ‘myriad of.’ There’s just myriad. Nobody knows that. Even writers don’t know that. Myriad — A STUPID WORD.

(Let’s set aside arguments claiming myriad was used originally as a noun, then exclusively as an adjective, and therefore can be used both ways. Thanks to Phil, this blog belongs to the Myriad Adjective Club.)

So … it’s been twenty-plus years, and I’ve paid attention. Phil was wrong: people do use the word myriad. And Phil was right: they rarely use it correctly. I have a myriad of plans for my future! Phil would slap you with a rolled-up newspaper.

Then I discovered an exception. When I was ready to rejoin the dating game, I read an intriguing profile. Among this man’s sentences: “I enjoy Minnesota’s myriad parks.”

Myriad parks! Minnesota’s myriad parks!

I asked him out. We had myriad dates. And now we’re getting married.

Thanks a myriad, Phil.


Are You My (sobbing) Mother?

My beautiful stepdaughter is having a baby. My stepdaughter is my first child, and she’s my daughter’s rock star sister/second mom/BFF. Here come the full circles. Get out a tissue.

Not long ago, we emailed about books and the stories my daughter used to love. Books we read over and over and over when my daughter clapped and shouted again! again! This phrase became one of those family sayings. Want a second cookie? again! again! Plan to see that movie a second time? again! again!

I promised to go through those books and send some favorites to the new baby.

Could be titled, One Fish Two Fish Oh How I Wish It Wasn’t So Long

I found them in a moving box and spent a few hours minutes looking at them, feeling their worn covers, remembering those snuggles on the sofa, thinking about the smell of dried milk on her face and her sweaty toddler hair. Soon I was weeping sniffling.

Here are my daughter’s old favorites.

  • Where is the Green Sheep? Mem Fox. My daughter was always delighted and, unbelievably, surprised when we found the green sheep on the last page, fast asleep. A great counting and color book, too. (Mem’s Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild was another favorite.)
  • Hippos Go Berserk! Sandra Boynton. A counting and giggling book.
  • Anything Seuss. Are You My Mother? (The book I imposed on my daughter whether she liked it or not, fortunately she did.),  One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, a dreadfully long, page-skipper silly book. Hop on Pop taught my daughter to read.
  • When I Was Little. Jamie Lee Curtis. Yup, a celebrity book. Celebrity books make writers grimace curious because we wonder what’s wrong with pretending to be interesting characters for millions of dollars? Why do you have to pretend to be a writer, too? Curtis, however, is clever. Kids don’t care that she made “Christmas with the Kranks.”
  • Goodnight Moon. The world’s most annoying cherished classic.
  • The Best Pet of AllDavid LaRochelle. We still crack up about a dragon eating spaghetti in the bathtub.
  • Curious George. One book? Charming. The whole collection? Tedious. Even more charming.
  • Going on a Bear Hunt. The book’s wisdom: You can’t go over it. You can’t go under it. You’ve got to go through it. My daughter’s favorite lines. My divorce mantra.

So many others. I’d love to write more. again! again! But not today. It’s an impressive list. Thanks to all those incredible writers. You made our favorite memories.

The brochure: it’s a bear

If you want to write for kids, and you if want to do school and library visits, you need a brochure. I started mine last weekend. How hard could it be? Name, author pic, books, contact info. I’d finish it and watch the Oscars and still get laundry done. But …

Marketing is a bear, but I am the Bear Whisperer!

Marketing is a bear, but I am the Bear Whisperer!





In my old PR job, when money was tight, I’d design brochures myself instead of using a freelancer. They weren’t art, but they served the purpose.

Marketing yourself is different. It’s not my style – look at me me me me me me! – and it’s not Midwestern. Writers complain about this all the time. Why can’t I just write? I don’t have time to market my book. Isn’t that what the publisher should be doing?

Fact is, marketing has become a key duty for writers. Editors don’t have time. Publishers are careful with slim marketing budgets. If you write full time, like me, it’s manageable, although it still reeks of me me me me me me. I have writer friends who teach, who manage divisions, who juggle very busy lives. Marketing chips away at their precious writing time. The gripe is real, but it doesn’t change reality.

Clever marketing + a great book + luck = sales

A great book – clever marketing – luck = a gamble

Today I will finish the brochure. It won’t be art (or clever marketing), but it’ll serve the purpose. I hope. I’ll post a PDF in upcoming days.

Check it out … Bob Krech and others

I’ve found a great blog written by a group of YA and middle grade authors: Smack Dab in the Middle.  This particular post struck me. At first glance, it’s one of those sad-and-mean publisher stories, but it’s really about revising, revising, and more revising. There are people who revise by trimming sentences, fixing awkward paragraphs, and adding some depth to character. Nothing to sweat about it. Then there are writers who need to revise in a way that’s so much work, it feels impossible.

That’s what Bob wrote about in his post. I appreciate authors who are willing to share their lessons learned, which feel like horror stories when they’re happening to you. Find Bob’s here:

Bob is the author of  Love Puppies and Corner Kicks and Rebound.

Will Project It forgive me?

Project It continued …

Writing is a fairly lonely business unless you invite people in to watch you do it, which is often distracting and then [you] have to ask them to leave.

–Marc Lawrence

Perhaps that’s why writers have relationships with our books. We’re lonely.

The pout. Books-in-progress pout. Yes, I’m aware this is not a book. Just the pout.

In the last episode about It, our romantic love had disappeared. I had a fling with another project, but that’s over now.

It is throwing guilt right and left and center. It won’t come back to me. I stare into my laptop and talk to It. C’mon. That other project meant nothing to me.

It pouts. Finally, It says, maybe there’s a chance. But first, you must do these things:

  • Read me out loud.
  • Send me on a trip to your writing group. I will flirt with them so you know how I feel.
  • Spend an afternoon making notes. Jot down what you liked about when we met.
  • Tell your agent this isn’t my fault – YOU are the one who made excuses.
  • Then focus on me and me alone.

Okay, okay.

See? The book is in charge of the writer.

Co-dependency and Project It

I have a friend who’s struggling with yet another re-write of her YA. She’s sick of it. Ready to move on. She’s already consumed by the characters and world she’s created for the next project.

Writers have love-hate relationships with their books. At least I do. With every relationship between the project and I, this is our dance.

Project beginning. Flirtation. I take notes, outline potential plot points, make lists of characters. It begins to emerge. My heart soars. I think about It all the time and wonder if It thinks about me. Does It like the way my fingers dance across the keyboard?  Does It think I’m funny? Will It say yes when I ask, please hang around in my head for awhile, just so we can get to know each other? Yes, It says, I dig you, too.

The first page. Romance. I like It, and It likes me. We have fun together. I don’t want It to leave when the day’s over. It’s fresh, full of promise, funny and charming. The words flow when I’m with It.

Bedtime. It says, back soonTomorrow? I ask. It winks. Maybe in the middle of the night. Leave your notebook on your bed stand because you never know what your dreams will tell you. Miss you, It says. Miss you, too.

First Draft. Reality. It turns cranky and full of complaints. It says, you don’t see my full potential. You’re sloppy and inconsistent. You made me TWO adverbs on the last page. Two!  Don’t you care about me any more? I’ve felt this coming. It hasn’t been Itself. Of course I care, It. You just want so much. I have other things in my life. Maybe I could introduce you to some writer friends. It says, Nooooo! Can’t you wait until I’m ready? Why are you pushing me? I need time alone.


No, I say, don’t leave. Please, I need you. It says, FineBut I need you to work harder at us. You’re always busy with other things: your almost-husband, your daughter, your housework, bill paying and cooking. You love your almost-husband more than me.

My heart’s not a box, I say, I have enough love to give to everyone.

We’ve come so far together, It and I. We have to make It work. I will change. I swear I will change.

Tomorrow’s post: Am I capable of real change? Will It leave me? Will I leave It? Will my almost-husband punch It and throw It out of the house?

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s episode.




International “fame” goes down in flames

I was feeling a bit cocky. Maybe more than a bit.

The Capstone publicist – a sharp and wonderful person – had a favor for me. Would I be willing to do a live interview about Little Rock Girl? A radio station in Ireland wanted to interview me for a 15-minute segment. Ireland? I asked. She told me she’d checked it out; it was a legit news station, like Ireland’s public radio or WCCO.

I’d been interviewed many times in my PR job, but this was about my book and my writing career! I was working as a phlebotomist – more on that later – and not feeling very writerly. Just bloody. Before work, my almost-husband was sending me off  with a kiss and have a great bio-hazard-free day! Don’t get stuck with a needle! Don’t spray yourself with plasma!

My answer to the publicist was an immediate yes.

I did all the things I’d coached people to do. I wrote talking points. I anticipated questions and practiced answering them out load. I thought about the absolute worst questions they could ask and prepared for those as well.

Then I turned, as my daughter would say, a bit bragity brag. Me! My book! Live segment! Ireland News Radio! International!

The morning of the interview, my manager covered for me on the plasma floor. I sat in her office, wearing blue scrubs, and called the number they’d provided. Radio stations have guests call in early. The producer talks to you for a minute and makes sure you’re not a crazy person. Then you go on hold and listen to the segment before yours.

And that’s what brought me back to Earth. There was an expert on the show, and people were calling in to share their stories about … Cockroaches! I would be

Cockroaches: so disgusting I couldn't use a real photo.

Cockroaches: so disgusting I couldn’t use a real photo.

following a 20-minute segment on cockroaches. Cockroaches! Disgusting bugs that can’t be killed unless sprayed by Napalm. Then me. Not me, then cockroaches. Nope. Cockroaches, then me.

The interviewer said, after our conversation about cockroaches, we’ll visit with Shelley Marie Tougas, author of Little Rock Girl. And the listeners were probably thinking I was a writerly writer. Sitting next to a fireplace in my wool sweater, ready to hurry back to my desk to finish a chapter before having dinner and drinks with my editor. Not exactly. I was getting ready to dress in protective gear so I could stick 17-gauge needles into the arms of plasma donors.

The interview went well. I was prepared for all the questions. My only struggle: this tendency I have to pick up other people’s language quirks and accents. If the interview had been any longer, I might have said something like, top of the mornin’ to ya!

Blimey! What a lesson!  I can let my head float into the clouds as long as I keep my feet on the ground.

Have a great weekend. And top of the mornin’ to ya all!