Just Keep Swimming…Thoughts on Drafting

I am closing in on the end of my 2013 novel with Walker/Bloomsbury. It doesn’t have a title right now. It used to have one…but it was the wrong title, and now it’s simply known as Science-Gone-Wrong-Everglades-Thriller, or SGWET, for short.  (That’s pronounced Sig-Wet for those who like acronyms…appropriate, given the whole swamp thing, no?)

Anyway…as some of you may know, revision is my absolute favorite part of the writing process.  But I don’t revise until I finish my draft.  This is mostly because facing down the problems of a new book while I’m still writing that book…bums me out and slows me down and, in darker moments, sends me plunging into fits of despair over why I can’t be better at this writing thing.  But revising? When I revise, I am smart, capable, and happy.  So drafting, for me, is an exercise in this:


I’m between ten and fifteen thousand words from writing THE END, though, and then the real fun of revision begins. For now…I’ll be swimming and singing.

In other news…some links to share:

Uber-Librarian Betsy Bird posted this lovely review of MARTY MCGUIRE on her Fuse #8 Blog for School Library Journal.

And Sarah of The Reading Zone had these nice things to say about REAL REVISION: AUTHORS’ STRATEGIES TO SHARE WITH STUDENT WRITERS.

Along those lines, I have a guest post on the Stenhouse Publishers blog this week, part of their Summer Blogstitute series for educators.  My essay, “How to Critique Writing,” uses quotes from the editorial letter my editor Mary Kate sent to help me revise THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. She is smart and kind and really provides kids and teachers and writers of all ages with a great model of how to help an author make his or her writing stronger.  Here’s a link to that post.

And finally, look what came in the mail today!  (It is sideways… Accept my apologies. I don’t know how to fix that, and I am sleepy.)

It’s a finished copy of my Fall 2011 picture book, OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal. And a French edition, too!!  This is the first book for which I’ve sold foreign rights, so it was exciting to read it in another language and see how some words and phrases changed a bit. The French title is A WHOLE WORLD UNDER THE SNOW, which I also like a lot. And Chris’s art, of course, is lovely in any language.

Signing with a Sea Monster (err…make that Lake Monster!)

I have to say that this weekend’s book signings were among the most unusual I’ve ever done…not because of the kids for whom I signed books…but because of who else (what else?) attended the events!

Saturday, I read SEA MONSTER’S FIRST DAY for Barnes & Noble story time in South Burlington, Vermont. And guess who came to hear the story!

Champ, the official mascot of the Vermont Lake Monsters baseball team showed up to greet the kids.

Champ particularly enjoyed the final end papers in SEA MONSTER’S FIRST DAY, where illustrator Andy Rash created a world map showing where all of the legendary lake monsters live.

Champ found himself (in Lake Champlain!) right away.

It was such a fun morning, and when it came time to sign books, the kids were doubly excited to have a book with not only my signature, but Champ’s as well!

Signing books with a sea monster… a first for this author!

On Sunday, I visited Champ on his home turf, Burlington’s Centennial Field, where the Lake Monsters were taking on Jamestown. Champ took a break from his on-field antics to enjoy a little reading.

And once again…we both signed copies of SEA MONSTER’S FIRST DAY for young readers. First me…

…and then Champ.

(I was really impressed with how neatly he could write…even with those big, furry paws.)

Many, many thanks to the Vermont Lake Monsters, Barnes and Noble, and all the young readers who came by for such a fantastic, fun weekend of sea monsters, baseball, and books!

REAL REVISION: An Interview with Jo Knowles, author of PEARL

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that my first book for teachers, REAL REVISION: AUTHORS’ STRATEGIES TO SHARE WITH STUDENT WRITERS, was released from Stenhouse this summer. I’m celebrating with a series of author interviews on the topic of real revision…the nitty gritty, make-the-book-better strategies that some of my favorite authors use when they’re revising a project. Since most of the author interviews in the book are with middle grade writers, I wanted to feature some authors of my favorite YA novels in this series.

Today…Jo Knowles, whose newest YA novel PEARL is…well…I gushed about it when I was lucky enough to read an ARC this spring. Here’s what I said:

Jo Knowles is one of the smartest, kindest people I’ve ever met, and I loved her first two books, so I wasn’t surprised when this one crept quietly up and swept me away, too. This book keeps its secrets close to its heart, so I’m going to tell you only what I can without giving them away.

Pearl Collatti has lived a pretty mundane life with her mom and grandfather, Gus. She hangs out with her best friend Henry and watches Days of Our Lives with his mom. But when Gus dies, family secrets fly like milkweed fluff in the wind, and everything is different – Pearl’s relationship with her mother, her friendship with Henry, and her image of the grandfather she thought she knew.

PEARL is so many things… it’s part family drama, part romance, and part mystery. It’s peopled with characters so rich, so beautifully imperfect, that it’s hard to believe they’re not real. It’s a book about the cost of keeping secrets, trouble that turns beautiful, and painful truths that make room for love. It is a book that believes in love, too…even after years have passed. This is one I’ll be thinking about for a long, long time – and a book that I think will be an amazing choice for teen book clubs and literature circles when it comes out this summer.

As of this week…PEARL is out! And Jo is here today to talk about revision…

Hi, Jo! So…how do you tackle the revision process? A little at a time as you
write? Or all at once after you’ve finished a draft?

All at once after I finish a draft. Many times while I’m writing a first draft I’m tempted to go back and revise, but I know if I keep doing that, I’ll never finish.

Do you have a favorite revision strategy that helps with any particular
part of the process?

Once I have a first draft, I like to use an outline to help me see the progression of the book. There’s a storyboard method I learned from Carolyn Coman that involves thinking of the strongest image and emotion of each chapter to help you see not only the way in which the action unfolds, but how emotion moves through the story as well.

How do you revise to make sure your pacing works for the story you’re
telling? Were there any parts of your original manuscript for this book
that ended up being cut?

In the early stages of revision, I look at my storyboard and think carefully about what purpose each chapter serves and how it both deepens the story and moves it forward. If I can’t name it in a very clear way, it often gets chopped. In later stages, when I’m fine-tuning, I look at each paragraph within a chapter and ask myself what I’m trying to achieve and how it helps inform or move that particular chapter forward. If it doesn’t serve a clear purpose, I cut it.

What strategies do you use when you’re revising to make characters feel
real & believable?

For me, this often comes in the first draft, when the characters tug at me strongest. In the revision process, I know them well enough to hone the personality traits I learned in the first, and I look carefully to make sure they’re consistent. But to be honest, characters nearly always come to me fully formed, and I don’t give a lot of thought to how I can make them more real, because in my head, they already are, and I just hope they feel the same to readers.

What was the biggest revision job for this particular book? (timeline
changes, new chapters, rearranging scenes, etc?)

The thing I struggled with most was how Bean and her mom could live with Gus but have such opposing feelings for him. How could Bean adore Gus while her mom clearly resented him so much? Wouldn’t one see at least a little of what the other saw? That was a real challenge, especially since at the opening of the book, he’s already dead, which meant that any scenes with Gus had to be flashbacks, which are so hard to do successfully.

Did this book keep its original title, or did it change along the way?
Where did the title come from?

For a long time, it didn’t have a title, so I just used the character’s name. I guess that stuck. 🙂

Anything else you’d like to say about revising this book?

I think when revising ANY book, you have to be willing to make hard changes. In writing, you have to know the difference between gut feelings and stubbornness. There are two things you need to be willing to do: Go to the hard places to find the real truth, and be able to let go of whatever doesn’t lead you there.

Thanks for sharing your revision stories, Jo!

And for everyone else…I really loved PEARL. You won’t want to miss it.

Signing, Reading…and Retreating!

These past two weeks of July have been my busiest of the summer. Here’s why…

Last week, I spent an afternoon with kids at the Chateaugay Town Recreation Park, thanks to the Chateaugay Library. The kids there have an amazing set-up for their recreation program… not just guest speakers, but tons of space to play, good friends, and a beautiful pool.

One of the interesting things about traveling around for author visits is getting to see communities I might not otherwise discover. Driving into Chateaugay, I was mesmerized by the wind turbines that tower over the houses and farms.

Sometimes they turn in unison, but sometimes not, and I kept wondering about that while I was driving. Wouldn’t two turbines facing the same way catch the same wind? At any rate, I know they were controversial when they were put in, but I think they’re really lovely in a way – very sleek and alien looking. They reminded me a little of Eva from the movie WALL-E. Only…you know, taller and with blades…

Last Saturday, I spent the afternoon at The Bookstore Plus in Lake Placid, signing books and visiting with readers right out on Main Street in front of the store. I was so excited when I found out we’d be outside; I love handing out bookmarks to kids and people-watching. It was so much fun, in fact, that I forgot to take a single photograph. Author-Fail. But it really was a lovely day.

And then on Sunday…I retreated…literally. Two summers ago, I pulled together a crew of children’s author friends to get together here…

…to spend a few days writing in the quiet old inn, walking and talking by the lake, and sharing conversation at meals. This year, I spent eight hours a day working on my 2013 Walker/Bloomsbury novel and made great progress, so I’m excited to keep going. Sometimes, a few days of this true, true focus time really gives a project a good kick, and that was just what I needed.

Of course, there are always a few surprises along with the writing and the chocolate.

Sarah Albee found this Dobsonfly on her morning walk and borrowed one of the inn’s lanterns to capture it so she could show everyone. Here she is…gazing at it adoringly.

Science writers are like that sometimes, and so are authors who write about girls who like to catch frogs. Marty McGuire would have LOVED Sarah’s enormous insect discovery.

This is going to be a busy weekend, too…and if you live near Burlington, I’d love to see you at one of my events. On Saturday, I’ll be reading SEA MONSTER’S FIRST DAY at Barnes & Noble in South Burlington at 10am, accompanied by Vermont Lake Monsters mascot, Champ! I’ve never read a story to a baseball team mascot before, so it’s a first for me! And on Sunday afternoon…another first! I’ll actually be signing copies of SEA MONSTER’S FIRST DAY right at the ballpark. (The online ad called the event, “Kate Messner and the Lake Monsters…” Doesn’t that sound like an oldies rock band?) I’ll be at Centennial Field in Burlington before and during the Lake Monsters game at 1pm on Sunday, signing books and maybe even tossing a baseball around, too!

The Harry I Used to Know…

“Tell me one last thing,” said Harry. “Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?”
“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

I took my kids to see the last Harry Potter  movie this afternoon.  I enjoyed the movie, and yes, I cried.   But I don’t entirely relate to the Harry Potter fans who are choked up because they feel like this weekend marks the end of an era.

It’s not that I’m not sentimental; I’ve been known to cry during Folgers coffee commercials. And it’s not because I love the series any less. In fact, quite the contrary.  I was at every midnight book release, and I quote Albus Dumbledore with great regularity.

But I said my goodbyes to Harry Potter four summers ago…on July 21, 2007, to be exact, the day I attended a midnight release party for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at our local bookstore.  For me, that was the final chapter, the bittersweet moment when I held the last book in my hands after waiting in a long, lone line, and knew that within a day or two of hungry page-turning, the story would be over.  That was the night I shed my Harry Potter tears, sad tears because I didn’t want to turn that last page, and thankful tears, that I was able to read and love this series with my kids, that J.K. Rowling brought Harry and his friends into our lives and onto our living room couch, cuddled up in shared story for so many nights.

For me, the magic was all in the books.  The amazing, imaginative, laugh-out-loud, sob-until-my-throat hurt, stay-up-all-night-reading books.   The movies?  I liked them a lot; I really did. It was fascinating to see how Hollywood producers tackled the issues of creating an on-screen world that already felt so real to so many.

In seeing the eight movies that grew out of J.K. Rowling’s series, I gained a new appreciation for the challenges faced in turning a beloved book into a film, but I also lost something – the characters that existed in my mind before Hollywood replaced them with actors and actresses.

Now, when I imagine Harry Potter, no matter how hard I try to take myself back to 1997, when I first read Sorcerer’s Stone, it’s Daniel Radcliffe’s face that comes to mind. I have a dim memory of a Hermione who looked a lot geekier and not quite as pretty as Emma Watson. And Dumbledore? My original image of the headmaster I love gave way to the distinguished face of Richard Harris, and later, Michael Gambon. All amazing actors. All talented professionals who no doubt love the story and who really did justice to their roles.

But they’re still not my Harry. My Hermione. My Dumbledore.

I liked the movies; I really did. But they felt like just movies to me – good ones, to be sure – but movies. The books?  They felt real.

Author Event in Lake Placid (& how to order signed books, even if you can’t be there in person!)

I’ll be at The Bookstore Plus in Lake Placid this Saturday (7/16), visiting with readers and signing books from 3-5pm.  If the weather’s good (fingers crossed!) the store plans to set up a table right on Main Street. If you’re in the area, please stop by to say hi – and if you tell me the name of a book you’ve read lately and loved, I’ll give you a bookmark. Deal?  Deal!  And then next week, I’ll share a list of all the books that were recommended here on the blog, so we can all add to our summer reading lists.

The Bookstore Plus tells me they’ll have all of my books on hand for Saturday’s event. If you can’t make it to the Adirondacks this weekend you can still order personalized, signed copies of any of these…

SEA MONSTER’S FIRST DAY is my new picture book about a sea monster’s first day in a new school…of fish! Illustrated by Andy Rash & just released from Chronicle Books last month, this is one that lots of parents & grandparents are buying for kids just about to start school.

MARTY MCGUIRE, the first in my new chapter book series from Scholastic, is about a third grader who would rather be a scientist than a floofy ballerina, so she’s horrified (and hijinks ensue!) when she’s forced to be the princess in the school play. This one’s best for kids who are starting to read short chapter books on their own, fans of Junie B. Jones, Judy Moody, & Clementine – or as a read-aloud for younger kids.

SUGAR AND ICE and THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. are my novels for readers in grades 4-8. SUGAR AND ICE is about a figure skater from a small-town maple farm who earns a scholarship to train with the elite in Lake Placid and finds herself plunged into a world of mean girls on ice, and discovers that her sweet dream come true has some sharp edges.  And THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. is about a 7th grader who leaves her school leaf project to the last minute and has one week to collect and identify 25 different kinds of leaves. This one won the 2010 E.B. White Read Aloud Award, so I hear from lots of families, book clubs, and teachers sharing it aloud.

And finally, REAL REVISION is my book for teachers and writers, just out from Stenhouse Publishers. It demystifies the revision process and includes not only a window into my classroom and writing life but also interviews with more than forty published children’s authors about the nitty gritty strategies they revise their work and how writers of all ages can make use of those same tips & tricks.  This one is for both writers and teachers, so it would make a great teacher gift. (I can say this because I’m a teacher, too – and I love getting books!)

If you’d like to order signed copies of any of these books, just give The Bookstore Plus a call at 518-523-2950 before Saturday afternoon.  They’ll take your order, I’ll sign it and personalize it while I’m there, and they’ll send your book off to you next week.

Whatever your plans, I hope you have a great, reading-filled weekend!

The Amazing Readers of Plattsburgh Public Library

A while back, children’s librarian Miss Karen asked me if I’d do an author visit for the Plattsburgh Public Library Summer Reading Program.  I was planning to read SEA MONSTER’S FIRST DAY and OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW with the younger kids & show a presentation on research & writing for the older ones. I was imagining a dozen or so kids…so when Miss Karen emailed before the event to tell me she was expecting closer to a hundred people, my plan needed to change just a bit.

I fired off an “urgent – help!!” email to my editor & publicist at Chronicle Books, and within the hour, a digital copy of SEA MONSTER’S FIRST DAY landed in my in-box so that I could project the illustrations for the larger crowd.  (Sending hugs to Melissa & Lea right now!!)  And it was a good thing – SEA MONSTER’S FIRST DAY is a good-sized picture book, but it still would have been tough to see from the back of the room!

The group spanned all ages, from Pre-K up to middle school, so I shared a little about all of my books – novels for the older readers, chapter books for the earlier elementary school kids, and picture books for the little ones (though I’m not little, and I will always love picture books!)

With OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW coming out soon (in October!) I finally had a chance to play with the animal puppets I bought, way back when I first sold this book in 2008. I showed the kids some pictures of the winter woods in the Adirondacks that inspired me to write this book, and we talked about which animals might want to hide under the snow (to avoid becoming another animal’s dinner!) and which would probably be hunting over the snow, looking for prey.

I…umm…really like playing with puppets. Can you tell?

After my presentation, some families needed to leave, but others still had lots of questions, so we settled ourselves on the floor in a smaller circle to talk about books and writing.

I enjoyed answering questions, and I especially loved hearing about what these young writers were working on themselves — stories about girls who changed into butterflies and back again, about dancers and dragons.  One young man told me about his book called GREEN HAM AND EGGS. “It’s inspired by Dr. Seuss,” he said, “but I changed it around.”

With these young readers & writers coming up, I think the future of publishing is in very good hands, indeed.  Thanks, Miss Karen and Friends of the Plattsburgh Library, and most of all, the readers who came out to celebrate books on a sunny summer day. I had a great afternoon with all of you!

What Will We Tell the Kids? Google+ thoughts for parents & educators


Google+ is here, and love it or hate it, the appearance of a new social network  provides a unique opportunity for parents, teachers, librarians, and other people who spend time with kids.

With Facebook, the kids were there first, and we grownups sort of trickled in, kind of like discovering a party in your own basement because you heard the music from upstairs. Some of us joined the party and sort of check in on it sometimes, but by the time we got there, the refreshments had already been served, the games were well underway, and the kids had figured out on their own how things were going to work.  It was a little late to step in and say, “Wait…here’s how you should think about this. And here are some good guidelines to consider as you play here.”

With Google+, I think we have a new opportunity. The kids are coming (some are already there), and when we go back to school in August or September, there will be even more young people on Google+.  Will we take this opportunity to talk with them about social media and how to use it responsibly?  Will we choose to teach them how all the features work, help them discover how it might best be used to connect with friends and learn about the world safely?  Or will we hang out and let them figure things out on their own?

I’m in the first camp…and have made the argument that teachers need access to social media in the classroom so they can teach kids how to use it responsibly, how to use it to make their lives better, and how to keep it from turning into a big ugly mess.

Here’s some of what I’ll be teaching my students (and their parents) about Google+ when school starts in the fall:

When you set up a Google profile, you get to choose who can see what. The safest way to do this is to protect all of your personal information so that things are only shared with people with whom you choose to share them. Here’s a good link with information on how to do this:


You can also control who sees the people in your circle and the people who add you to their circles. It’s a good idea to keep this private, because even if you don’t say in your profile where you go to school, if your friends are visible and they all attend Lincoln Middle School in Tallahassee, it’s pretty easy for someone to figure out that you go there, too.  This article on managing Google+ circles does a nice job explaining how to use them…and how to keep them private.


Think really carefully about anything you post as public.  If you’re a teen book blogger, for example, it’s perfectly fine to share publicly that you just read NEED by Carrie Jones and loved it more than TWILIGHT.  What you won’t want to share publicly is that your Lincoln Middle School Jaguars basketball team beat the neighboring town’s team by 15 points.  That would be sharing where you live with strangers all over the world, and that’s an Internet safety issue. Instead, you might choose to share that post with the circle you’ve created for family, including your grandparents and cousins, and school friends, including people who actually attend your school, who you know in real life and see in the halls every day.  Make sense?

You can read people’s public posts on Google+ without ever letting them see your posts. So it’s perfectly fine (and a really good idea) to set up circles for things you’re interested in.  Want to keep up with your favorite celebrities or sports stars? Make a “Reading” circle for those people, so you can click on it and read updates. You won’t share with this group – because you don’t actually know them – but you can read their updates without them ever reading yours.

When you share something that’s not Public, you’ll want to make sure it doesn’t get shared beyond the circles with whom you want to share it.  To do that, you’ll need to disable the share feature that allows people to share your post.  Right after you share the post, click on the little arrow to the upper right side of that post, and select “disable reshare” from the pull-down menu.  Like this…

Keep in mind, though, if you share something with me – a photo or an opinion or anything, really – if I really want to share it, I can save the photo to my own computer and re-post it, or I can copy and paste your text and share that as well. NOTHING that you share on Google+ or any social network is guaranteed to stay within the circles to whom you send it, so before you hit “Share” think about how you would feel if that post became public.  If it would put you in danger, hurt someone, or portray you in a light you don’t like, then reconsider.

So how might you want to use Google+?  Think about some of these possibilities, and talk them over with your families.

  • Virtual study groups – Set up a circle for friends in your social studies or science class so that you can hold online review sessions and ask questions about homework.
  • Hangout study sessions – Hangouts are video chats, a feature you’ll only want to use with close friends, but it could be fun to get four or five people together for a study session. You can quiz each other from your notes.
  • Book clubs – Want to get together with some of your friends to talk about a book you’re all reading? Create a book discussion circle.  When you’ve all finished, you may want to have a Hangout if you can’t meet in person (and sometimes, the author might even be available to join you! I’m guessing some who do Skype author visits now will happily “hang out” with book clubs on Google+ as well.)
  • Send update posts to your sports teams or clubs.  If you create a circle for “Baseball team” or “Skating club,” you’ll be able to check on news that relates to those events easily and also send updates to your teammates.

Like most online tools, Google+ has a ton of potential for great things, as long as it’s used responsibly, and with kindness toward other users.

Advice for kids…and a good reminder for grownups on Google+, too.

I’d love to hear from other parents, teachers, librarians, and kids, too.  What else should we be teaching  about Google+ and other social media?

Real Revision: An Interview with Lisa Schroeder

Today, the UPS guy brought my author copies for REAL REVISION: AUTHORS’ STRATEGIES TO SHARE WITH STUDENT WRITERS, so I’m celebrating with the first of what I hope will be many author interviews on the topic of real revision…the nitty gritty, make-the-book-better strategies that some of my favorite authors use when they’re revising a project.  Since most of the author interviews in the book are with middle grade writers, I wanted to feature some authors of my favorite YA novels in this series.

Up first, Lisa Schroder is here to talk about THE DAY BEFORE, her newly released novel-in-verse.  I was lucky enough to read an early galley of this one and blogged this about it:


THE DAY BEFORE by Lisa Schroeder is the story of a precious 24 hours, in which a girl whose life is about to change the next day crosses paths with a boy with a secret deadline of his own. I requested this book through Simon & Schuster’s e-galley program for two reasons. First, I’m a fan of Lisa’s beautiful, poetic writing myself and second, because I have a contingent of seventh grade girls in my classes who devour everything she writes. I read this book in a night (be warned…it’s tough to stop once you get going!) and loved it for its romance, its mystery,  its magic, and its moments…those moments that we sometimes don’t stop to appreciate until something makes us. The poems here sparkle like a collection of favorite seashells at the beach, and I can already tell I’m going to have to referee fights over this one when I pick up a copy for my classroom library.

On to some questions for Lisa now…

How do you tackle the revision process? A little at a time as you write? Or all at once after you’ve finished a draft?

I am one of those writers who revises as she goes. That is, I’ll read through previous pages, edit them as necessary, immerse myself in the story and then continue on writing new pages (hopefully!) So by the time I get to the end of my draft, it’s usually in pretty good shape. I set it aside for a while, and it’s amazing what happens then. My brain will come up with things that need to be changed – fleshing out a character more, working on something to make it more believable, etc. So I make a list and after some time has passed, I pull it out and tackle those items that need work.

After that, I find a reader or two, and I then revise based on their comments.

Do you have a favorite revision strategy that helps with any particular part of the process?

One thing I do is go through the manuscript a couple different times, after I feel good about plot and characters, and do a read-through focusing on one certain thing. For example, I’m not particularly good at adding in smells/sounds naturally. So I’ll do a read through and specifically look for areas where I can add more sensory details. To do a really thorough job with this, I’ll print out the manuscript and use different colored highlighters – pink for sights, green for smells, yellow for sounds. It gives me a visual of those items and shows me where I’ve done a good job and places where I should add more.

Another tip is I like to print out the manuscript so it reads like a book, and read it out loud. To do this, go to your manuscript in Word, go to Format, then Columns and click on Two. Then go to Format, Paragraph, and change your spacing to one. Finally, go to File, Page Setup and change the orientation to Landscape. Not only does the manuscript now look more like a book, which I find makes my eye read the thing in a different light, but it also saves on paper when printing it out.

How do you revise to make sure your pacing works for the story you’re telling?  Were there any parts of your original manuscript for this book that ended up being cut?

I am a lean writer, so I rarely have to cut things, unless I decide to  get rid of a sub-plot and add in a different one or something. 

Pacing is one of those things that I just feel as I write. Every scene I try to ask myself – is this scene advancing the plot and if not, it better have a really good reason for being there, like showing something important about the characters. 

I don’t usually have to revise for pacing much, which is good because I’m guessing revising to work on pacing issues can be a big job. I think part of that is just learning, as I do this more and more, that it’s not necessary to show every move your character makes. You can jump from morning to evening if nothing happens during the day worth talking about. I think newer writers might struggle with transitions, and that’s where all the extra stuff comes from that should just be cut.

What strategies do you use when you’re revising to make characters feel real & believable?
Characters are hard for me! I am always looking for new ways to make characters real and interesting and all the other things they should be. I try to give them something they love, something they hate, a place special to them, and think of how I can make their voice a bit unique. I look forward to reading your book and learning more about revising characters!!

What was the biggest revision job for this particular book?  (timeline changes, new chapters, rearranging scenes, etc?)

Well, this book didn’t have any big picture revisions, which was nice. THE DAY BEFORE is written in verse, so I worked really hard, on every  page, making sure each word in every poem did what I wanted to do. 

Sometimes I agonized for hours on one poem, trying to get it just right. My editor pointed out places to dig deeper, to think about word choice, and she suggested places where I could add some depth to my characters. It was a very detailed revision, more than a big picture revision, and I think those can be just as challenging in their own way.

Did this book keep its original title, or did it change along the way? Where did the title come from?

For me, titles are either easy and obvious or incredibly, painfully difficult. Fortunately, this one was easy. I loved the title The Day Before because it makes the reader ask, the day before… what? And it describes the book at its heart, because it’s about the day before the main character’s life changes forever. So nope, I discovered that title early on and it never

Anything else you’d like to share about revising this book?

Just that I hope the efforts to make every page sparkle and shine shows. Thanks for having me here to share, Kate.

Thanks, Lisa!

If you’d like to read THE DAY BEFORE (and it’s wonderful, so you really should) you can click here to find it at your favorite indie bookseller.

If you’d like to read more author revision stories, I hope you’ll check out REAL REVISION. There’s a limited-time preview up on the Stenhouse Publishers site now, and you can order the book from your favorite indie bookseller, direct from Stenhouse, or elsewhere online.

Five Books That Aren’t for Novel Writers (but really, they are)

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you probably know that my first teacher resource book, REAL REVISION, was just released from Stenhouse Publishers. When I was working on that project and telling my husband about it, the first thing he said was “Writers are going to want this, too.”  Would they? I know how much I learned about revision when I was researching and writing it, and then I also got thinking about some books that weren’t necessarily written for writers…but that I’d found incredibly helpful in my writing life.


ART AND FEAR isn’t a craft book; it’s a book about making art (or writing) even when insecurity and fear creep into our writing spaces. The book pulls back the curtain on the emotional process of art making, the worry that nothing we create will ever match our mental image of what we intended to create. (See my poem “The Book in My Mind” for my thoughts on this)  ART AND FEAR is a great book for getting unstuck and settling down to work.


Writer friend Linda Urban turned me on to this book in a talk she gave about finding the “spine” of your work. Tharp talks about that in THE CREATIVE HABIT — finding the emotional heart of the piece you’re creating, and though she writes from her experiences as a choreographer, her wisdom applies to the work of novelists as well. Like ART AND FEAR, I found this book inspiring, too. If Tharp can walk into a perfectly empty dance studio and come out with a piece that must be choreographed on a tight deadline — if she can spin magic out of an empty room — then perhaps I can do the same with an empty page.



SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder

Both of these books are written for screenwriters — people who hope to see their stories picked up by Hollywood producers and ultimately gracing the big screen — but they’re incredibly useful for novelists as well. Both Truby and Snyder get into the nitty gritty strategies. They tackle character development — creating likable characters that viewers (and readers) will want to stick with for the whole two hours (or 300 pages) and pacing — how to outline your story to make sure there’s conflict and tension in every scene. Really, really good stuff here.

And finally…


(Note: The link above is to Amazon because I can’t find it on IndieBound just yet – but if you have a local indie bookseller, I bet they’d be happy to order for you!)

I was originally asked to write this book for teachers — as a way to demystify the revision process that real authors use in their writing processes to make it easier for teachers of writing to share those kinds of strategies with their students.  During the research phase, I interviewed more than forty authors who write for middle grade readers. I asked them how they revise for big-picture issues within a manuscript, what strategies they use to make their characters leap off the page, how they check for continuity and solid world-building, and how they fine-tune the language in their writing to make their stories sing. I learned so, so much while I was writing this book and came to realize that it wasn’t just for teachers — it was also the book I wished I’d had when I started writing novels. I hope other writers will learn as much from reading it as I did writing it.  You can preview the full book for a limited time on the Stenhouse website by clicking here.

I’m sure there are lots  of other books — on inspiration or teaching or art, or heck, maybe even baseball — that have lessons for writers to learn, too.  What are some of your favorites?