Registration Now Open for My NYU Editing Class

I'm pleased to announce that registration is now open for "Book Manuscript Editing Workshop: Editing Children's and YA Novels," the NYU School of Continuing and Professional Studies course I'll be teaching next spring. (This is an in-person course, not online.) You can find the listing here.

The course description seems to have gotten a bit smushed in the system, so here it is in full:

Calibrating a characterization. Structuring a plot. Developing a theme. Polishing the prose. And bringing all of these elements into perfect balance to help a book become what it should be. In this six-week course, we’ll learn how to practice these editorial skills, with special attention to the particular requirements of the child and young-adult audiences, and discuss how to create the right public image for a book through its flap copy, cover image, and editorial presentations.
I'm finalizing the syllabus now and just having a heck of a great time thinking about all the things I want the students to read and do. I am going to have everyone read Second Sight, which, on the one hand, I feel vaguely abashed about -- isn't that the classic egotistical-professor move, making everyone read your book? On the other -- well, most of the grand principles of my editorial philosophy and knowledge are right there, so if we can cover those theories in the reading, we can get down to the practicalities in class. And the practicalities and particularities of an individual manuscript are where the fun is, always.

Silent Auction Opportunity: Win an Hour of Editorial Time with Me

As longtime readers of the blog may know, I attend a lovely, lovely church here in Brooklyn, where every Sunday, "we, the people of Park Slope United Methodist Church -- black and white, straight and gay, old and young, rich and poor -- unite in a loving community with God and the Creation. Summoned by our faith in Jesus Christ, we commit ourselves to the humanization of urban life, and to physical and spiritual growth" (our creed). People in the church do all kinds of great stuff -- we have a soup kitchen, and small groups, and work in the Reconciling movement -- and I find it a wonderfully steady source of comfort, community, service, challenge, and inspiration.

Now one of our biggest fundraisers of the year is coming up: our Hollyberry Craft Fair and silent auction. If you are in New York, you should totally come out and see the craft fair, which attracts great vendors from across the tristate area: Saturday, November 16, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at Camp Friendship, just below 6th Avenue and 8th Street in Park Slope, Brooklyn.   

But even if you are NOT in Brooklyn, you have the opportunity to support the church through our silent auction. I am again donating an hour of editorial services here, in whatever form is useful to the winning writer. The listing runs:
Professional book editor will help you with developmental editing, line-editing, copyediting, proofreading, copywriting, query letter or publishing advice -- whatever you and your project require!* Minimum bid $40. 
And we are opening this up to the wider public through e-mail bidding. If you'd like to participate in the auction, please send an e-mail to hollyberry[dot]psumc[at]gmail[dot]com with your bid and contact information. Someone will get back to you with information on the current bid level. The auction starts now and will run through the end of the Hollyberry Fair itself on November 16. Thank you for your interest, and your support of the church.
* (To anticipate a question I get often with things like this:  I consider this more my opportunity to help the church and help one individual writer than it is an opportunity for a writer to submit to me. In practice, if I like the project I'm seeing, I might ask to see more of it; but it's better for bidders to think of it as an opportunity to get editorial feedback, a la a critique, than as a manuscript submission, as that's not what this is meant to be.)

Announcing: My Online Plot Master Class!

I'm pleased to announce that Writers Digest University and I will again be offering an online, eight-week version of my Plot Master Class, starting later this spring!

Goodness, what a clogged sentence. To detangle it, with elements in order of importance:
  • Plot Master Class:  An extremely in-depth course on the elements of plotting, including purpose, stakes, structure, subplots, and pacing. The goal is to help you understand the point of your novel, how your plot can and should serve that point, and what revisions you need to do to make that plot as tight and powerful as possible. (My book Second Sight goes into some of this, but the class covers it in much greater depth and detail, and also reflects various revisions in my own thinking on plot since I wrote the book.)
  • Online:  You'll read lectures and complete associated exercises interrogating your manuscript and its plot, with the opportunity to ask as many questions of me as you'd like in the online discussions.
  • Eight-week: I've taught this class as a one-day workshop at various locations around the country; this course distributes those lessons over eight weeks, allowing participants more time to absorb the material and complete the exercises.
  • Starting later this spring:  March 14, to be precise, with homework to be completed before the course begins.
  • Writers Digest University and I:  I developed the materials, and Writers Digest University offers the online setting.
  • Again:  The current session of the course started in November and is coming to an end now; I've really enjoyed it, and the participants say it's been useful to them!
The most common question I get about this course is "Do I have to have a completed draft of a manuscript?" My instinct is that it will be most useful to people who have completed a first draft of a manuscript and are ready to dig back into it, see what they have, and start polishing it up. (After all, the first exercise is to make an in-depth outline of your current book, and later exercises involve analyzing said outline.) But I've heard from a few past students that they took the course without a completed draft, and it helped them figure out where they wanted to take their books.

If you're interested, please check out the full course description and register here. Any other questions on the course, I'm happy to answer in the comments. Thank you!

Theory: The Klein Pyramid of Literary Quality

I am finishing out this month of blogging (hooray!) with a theory I've been working on for some time. Last February, thanks to John Green's The Fault in Our Stars -- which I loved intensely and immensely -- I was thinking about Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and how it might apply to literary judgments. That is, to use the books within the book of The Fault in Our Stars (which form an important part of the narrative), what makes The Price of Dawn (an action-adventure novel based on a video game) better or worse than An Imperial Affliction (a literary novel about life, love, death, and the existence of God)? Is one better or worse? How do we decide that? And for me, in my real-world daily life:  What makes one manuscript better than another on a solely literary basis? To answer these questions, I hereby present, as a hypothesis up for discussion, the Klein Pyramid of Literary Quality:

(My original sketch of the pyramid above; much more readable version created by the kind Ed DeCaria.) To take these from the bottom (lowest level) up:

1. COMPLETION. The literary work is complete. (Lots of writers never even get here -- a completed manuscript -- so truly, this counts for something.)

2. COMPETENCE. The literary work is readable and understandable by a reader who is not the author.

3. CHARISMA. The literary work is able to make you feel the emotion the writer intends you-the-reader to feel, so well as that intention can be discerned. (While the subject of intention is clearly nebulous and much debated, I feel as if it is safe to say Pride and Prejudice is intended to make a reader laugh, for example, while Pet Sematary is intended to scare us, and any romance novel is intended to make readers fall in love along with the characters.)

3. QUALITY. The literary work displays some measure of imagination, originality, and/or accomplishment in at least once of these areas: Prose, Character, Plot. Ideally, all three aspects of the Quality triangle will work together to contribute to the book's Charisma or Questioning or both.

3. QUESTIONING. The literary work intentionally asks and answers questions about our human existence. (See above for caveats on intention.)

4. CONSONANCE. The literary work successfully integrates all of the above into a meaningful and beautiful whole. Consonance books are masterpieces.

How to Use This Pyramid:  To measure the literary quality of the work, you fill in all the triangles/trapezoids the particular work has achieved according to you, the reader. The darker the pyramid, the better the book is. A book must have all of the triangles/trapezoids of the previous level filled in to advance to the next level. Thus, for me, The Fault in Our Stars would be one solid dark triangle, because I think it does everything well, up to and including Consonance. But Twilight would be a dark trapezoid at the bottom (Levels 1 and 2) with just the Charisma triangle filled in above it, as it totally caught me up in the feelings of falling in love, even as I was not overly impressed by any of its Quality attributes, and I don't think Ms. Meyer especially intended to Question anything. An intensely didactic picture book might fill in Levels 1 and 2 but then have only the Questioning triangle complete, as it's asking how we should live and then answering that question, but with no emotional appeal (Charisma) at all.

Each judgment would be peculiar to its reader and the date s/he read the work, as opinions vary widely and can change over time; but that is where half the fun of literary discussion comes in, as one reader might say "Oh, this book was totally Charismatic for me!" and another would sniff, "Hmph. It barely achieved Competence!" The more widely it is agreed a book fills up the pyramid, the closer to classic status it moves in the public eye. And this pyramid has nothing to do with sales or other financial success; it is for aesthetic judgments only.

There are two more concepts that I've puzzled over whether and how to include in the pyramid:  the ideas of Pleasure and Ethics. Gone with the Wind, for instance, would have earned Consonance from me when I read it in seventh grade, and it Pleased me intensely at the time, but it's also a book rife with racial stereotypes; should it then not be allowed to achieve Consonance in my judgment, because its Ethics are bad? Or Waiting for Godot is likewise Consonant for me, but I hated reading it (I've never seen it staged):  Can it then not be Consonant because I didn't take Pleasure in it? (I guess there was some Pleasure in recognizing the mastery of the construction, how completely the Quality of its plot, characters, and prose contributed to the Questioning and Charisma it wanted to achieve; but none of that really made up for my desire for someone to move, dammit.) (Also, clearly, I would have to come up with synonyms for "Pleasure" and "Ethics" that start with K sounds.)

What do you think? Are there categories I've left out that should be included in any future revision to the Pyramid? Would YOU include Pleasure and/or Ethics, and how, and what would you call them? What books have you read this year that you would call Consonant and why?

I would be delighted to hear thoughts here! And thanks to anyone who's stuck around and read my posts through all of this month; I've really enjoyed the writing of them, and appreciate your attention.

A Walk Up Greene Street, with a Little SoHo History and Class Warfare Thrown In

Second in a series on the fascinations of wandering New York.

We had another lovely day here in New York on Sunday, so I decided to go back to Occupy Wall Street and donate some apples -- redistribution of income at work! I arrived right at lunchtime, and was impressed by the pasta and salad the protesters were serving to anyone who wanted a bite. It was just as nice a meal as those offered by the soup kitchen that my church runs (Sundays at 2 p.m. in the church basement, should you need a bite), and all prepared without a real kitchen, as far as I could tell. I also saw the library, full of books on all subjects for all ages:

I missed seeing Screwy Decimal, but she has a picture of the children's library sign specifically. 

A block north stands the Freedom Tower, also known as One World Trade Center. It will be the tallest building in the United States when it's completed, at 1,776 feet. I don't feel particularly enthusiastic about this, nor do most New Yorkers that I know (who are not Larry Silverstein). But Mr. Silverstein must needs be satisfied, and so up it goes:


From there I walked north to SoHo. "SoHo" is an abbreviation for "South of Houston Street" (the street is pronounced "How-ston," not "Hew-ston," for anyone who wishes to sound like a local), and roughly covers the area between Houston Street to the north, the Bowery to the east, Canal Street to the south, and the Avenue of the Americas to the west. It has been through many, many iterations as a neighborhood, beginning in the Victorian era, when most of its famous cast-iron buildings were constructed:


As manufacturing moved out throughout the twentieth century, artists moved in, spreading south from Greenwich Village and taking over the light-filled lofts for studio space and cooperatives (that link is worth reading if you're interested in nutty artists or New York history):


Where artists go, galleries open; where galleries open, rich people come; and where rich people come, luxury shops follow. And as a result, forty years after Fluxhouse closed, Soho is one of the best neighborhoods in New York to shop for European clothes and modern furniture design -- if you're in the 1%, as the good stuff doesn't come cheap. I loved these coffee-cup sculptures, each one bigger than my head, at Adriani & Rossi (a mere $250 each):


Across the street was a doubled reminder of the neighborhood's origins:  a sign over the receiving door of the long-gone Baker Brush Company, presumably from when brushes were manufactured in SoHo; and a piece of fascinating street art over it -- a totem-like collage face: 


At the corner at 89 Grand Street stood Ingo Maurer, a lovely lighting design store. Wouldn't it be fun to have this exploding-dishes chandelier over your table at a dinner party? It would make your guests feel like anything could happen.


More street art on the next block:


And in an alcove in front of an empty storefront:  a carefully arranged pile of plastic and some sheets, meaning that this is probably someone's bed.

That someone sleeps on the sidewalk on the same street as a $250 coffee cup sculpture, or this Gaga-worthy fur coat at Isabel Marant, is the same kind of injustice that has led the Occupy Wall Street protests to exist.


At the same time, I confess I love the goofiness of this coat (and the chandelier, and the coffee cups) -- not as something I'd wear or need to own myself, but as a beautiful thing that gives delight. So I don't really want all these things to go away. . . . Only for that sleeper on the sidewalk, and everyone, to have proper housing, and a job, and regular meals, and medical care, before a woman actually spends over a thousand dollars on a coat that makes her resemble a yak.

How to solve this problem equitably, I do not know.

So. More haunting graffiti, on the base of a lamppost:


And just like Crosby Street, Greene Street is paved mostly in brick:

Right across the street from Isabel Marant is one of my favorite places to window shop:  SICIS Next Art, an Italian furniture maker that is frankly, joyously crazy -- the interior-design equivalent of Agatha Ruiz de la Prada.


My favorite thing I've ever seen there was a mosaic bathtub shaped like a high heel, where the bather sat in the toe and water poured down the arch.

At 107 Greene is another favorite place to browse -- the Taschen bookstore. Taschen makes gloriously nutso, beautiful, and huge art books. (Also art-porn collections, should that be your thing.) I go there to marvel at the specs of their books -- the size of the bindings, the quality of the paper, how no expense is spared in foil or glossiness or embossing. The shop functions almost like a book museum, as you can see:

Magda Sayeg likes to wrap things in knitting. You can see her work right now outside the Apple Store (currently undergoing renovation) at the corner of Prince & Greene. 

There's also a knitted bicycle at the base of Greene Street, outside the ACNE clothing store. (Yes, that's the brand's real name; it stands for Ambition to Create Novel Expression, and it's a Swedish line. Presumably they didn't know what it meant in English.)

If you look up from the tricycle, you can see another wonderful piece of art, the marvelous trompe-l'oeil ironwork at 112 Prince Street:

And here's the view back down Greene St. from Houston -- which you all know how to pronounce now, yes? Yes.

I really enjoyed doing this -- the walk, the pictures, the sheer pleasure of looking for and at beautiful and interesting things, all on a sunny, crisp autumn afternoon. Thank you for sharing my stroll!

Announcing: A Plot + Structure Webinar!

Hey! If you've ever wanted to hear me talk about plot, but you haven't been able to make it to a conference; or if you've heard me talk about plot before, but you'd like the opportunity to get guaranteed personal feedback on your query + the first 250 words of your novel; or if you'd like to ask me a question live, or you just like hanging out on the Internet . . .

I'm excited to announce that I'll be doing a webinar called "How to Plot and Structure Your Novel" through the good people at Writers' Digest, coming up on Thursday, June 23, at 1 p.m. The webinar will cover the elements of plot, principles of structure, some practical techniques for examining your novel's story and structure, and especially tension and stakes -- why we readers care about the plot events and how writers keep us caring the whole book long. (I've been thinking about this a lot since Second Sight came out, so I have some new things to say here.)

The way webinars work:  You'll hear me talk over your telephone or computer, while you'll see a PowerPoint presentation live over the Internet. You can submit questions in the course of the presentation, and I'll try to answer them as I go. Finally, as a bonus, all participants will be invited to submit a 250-word query plus the first 250 words of their manuscript, and I've promised to critique  every one. (I'll offer a special discount for participants on Second Sight as well.) And if you can't attend the live session, you'll be able to access a recording of the event for up to a year afterward.

Interested? Please click this link to get more information and/or register: Take me to Cheryl's webinar!

And thank you very much!

Talk to Me: What Makes You Buy a Book?

I've been thinking a lot about book marketing lately, and what actually "moves the needle" in terms of selling a children's/YA book to a customer. So I thought I'd survey my readership and ask:  When you're standing in the bookstore or sitting at your computer on a bookselling site, what makes you actually purchase a book? (Beyond the title, cover design, and flap/descriptive copy, of course, as I take it for granted those need to be great; and friend recommendations, as those can be personalized to you.) I don't expect anyone to answer all of these questions, but just to list some things I'm curious about:
  • Are you usually buying books for children in your life, or for yourself?
  • Do you pick up a book because you've seen a great review? In that case, what sources (which blogs or publications) matter most to you as a reader? Do you pay attention to user reviews or stars on  
  • Do you watch book trailers? Why?
  • Do you ever click through banner ads for books? On what sites do you notice them?
  • Do blurbs matter to you?
  • Do awards matter to you? What about lists? (E.g. Horn Book Fanfare, Texas Bluebonnet List)  
  • Given the small world of the kidlitosphere:  Of the last ten books you've bought, how many of the authors did you actually "know"? (Meaning you've had some substantive contact with them either online or in real life.)
  • If you pay attention to buzz, at what point does that translate to your seeking out a book? When it's everywhere? When the right person says it?  
  • Which of these factors -- again beyond the title, cover, flap copy, and friend recs -- has the MOST influence on you as a reader?
  • Opening it up:  Given our limited budgets, what should publishers be doing that we currently aren't doing in order to market books? Are there places we should be advertising to reach kids or teens? Media we should be in*? Cross-promotions we should be seeking out?
Obviously the answers are going to be different for every reader, and even every book bought by every reader, but I'd love to see what y'all have to say. Here are some of my answers:  I'm usually buying books for myself. I watch book trailers mostly out of curiosity about how their makers translate the book into visual form, given the usually limited budgets for such things. Reviews, buzz, and blurbs from or comparisons to the right author will all get me to pick up a book in the store, but the first pages have to sell me on it to get me to buy it. I notice banner ads in the PW newsletters and in the Unshelved weekly digest, and I also really like the Unshelved visual book talks and reviews. I love getting the Goodreads digest every day with my friends' substantive reviews, and those can inspire me to put a book on my to-read list, which is why I take good care with my own reviews (and also why I only add people I know in real life to my Goodreads friends list -- I don't need anything more to read!). The biggest reason I buy books is author loyalty:  I love a previous book by the author, and/or what I know of the author, and I want to have, and more than that, own his or her new one.


Thanks for sharing!
* Writing this, I suddenly had a vision of a video game in which somebody sits down and reads . . . but then the camera dives through the book, and you participate in the marvelous adventure in that book, until that comes to an end, and that tired protagonist sits down and opens a book . . . and then the camera dives through the book, and there's a completely different protagonist and you have to win through THAT adventure, which again would conclude in a book. . . . It would be the If on a winter's night a traveler** of video games! And awesome.

** Though I guess the TRUE Ioawnat video game would end each level with the protagonist sitting down to play a video game, thus keeping the loop going. And also there would be meta-commentary on what you-the-player would be doing between levels. This also sounds awesome.***

*** Now someone will tell me this video game was actually created in 2002. Go ahead, spoil my dream.  

Three E-mail Boxes

One of them public and important, two of them personal and somewhat trivial:

1. See the e-mail box here on the Springfield, Mo. News-Leader letters to the editor page? If you're a fan of Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak, stand up to the Neanderthal who described the book as "soft pornography" and let them know why it and Slaughterhouse-Five should stay in the Republic school district. Maybe cc: your e-mail to the superintendent,, or the principal,, to be sure your message gets heard.

2. See the e-mail box over in the right sidebar? You can enter your e-mail address there to have these blogs delivered to you via e-mail, through a Google Group called chavelaque.

3. See the one smack-dab in the center of the front page of You can enter your address there for updates regarding my book, Second Sight (in first page proofs! and soon to have a cover!); future appearances; and my website in general (e.g. when a new talk is posted), through a Google Group called cherylkleindotcom. The e-mail from this address will be fairly infrequent -- I'd estimate no more than six or seven messages a year -- and neither list will be shared with anyone else. Thanks for your interest.

All Thumb(nail)s

Earlier today, I wanted to paginate a picture-book manuscript I'm thinking about, to see how the text would play out over 32 pages; so I went on the Internet to see if there was an easy template for thumbnail illustrations that I could download and print out. Alas and alack, the Internet did not provide! So I whipped up a thumbnails template of my own in Microsoft Word, as seen above, and I bestow it upon the Internet for free downloading here. You're welcome, 'nettie dear.

While we're on the subject of cool Internet things, do you know about It's my very favorite file conversion service, which transformed the Word doc of my thumbnails to the JPEG image above in thirty seconds flat. Feel free to leave any other genuinely useful sites in the comments.

And hey, while I have your attention:
  • Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich (Eighth Grade Superzero) and Francisco X. Stork (Marcelo in the Real World, The Last Summer of the Death Warriors) will both be appearing at the Brooklyn Book Festival Youth Stoop this Sunday. They're both as wonderful in person as their books are on the page -- do check them out.
  • The next night, September 13, is Kidlit Drink Night! 6:30 p.m. at the Ginger Man.
  • In January, I'm going to lead the editorial strand at the ever-wonderful Kindling Words East. The fabulous E. Lockhart will lead the author strand; the brilliant Mordecai Gerstein the illustrator strand. (Note that the dates this year conflict with SCBWI Midwinter in New York.) Registration opens and closes this Sunday, Sept. 12, so mark your calendars to enter the lottery in a timely fashion.
Happy fall!

Flap Copy Contest Winners!

The winners of my flap copy contest are Sarah Atkinson, for the Best Sticky One-Liners (meaning phrases or sentences that would stick in a reader's head and make hir think, "Ah, nice"); Angie Brown for Best General Body Copy; and Barbara Liles for Best Setup and Final Twist. Please send me your postal addresses via my website e-mail so I can send you the book when it's ready. And thanks very much to all who entered!

SQUIDS 101: Punctuation: Emdashes

Before I go on to the Squid 101 here, a word of thanks to the kind people who submitted entries in the flap-copy contest; it was very interesting and useful to see what you writers judged attractive for other writers (apparently having someone say what NOT to do is as useful as what TO do, as half of you mentioned the "what not to do" thing).

And I have FINISHED THE BOOK TEXT, pending an approvals question. I've discovered that the great danger of self-publishing, at least for me, is that there's been nobody and no deadline to take the manuscript out of my endlessly questioning, pushing, correcting hands. So it feels good to finally declare, "Enough, I'm done" and move on. I'm really pleased with a lot of the new material, and I hope you will be too.

Anyway: emdashes.

The emdash has all the functions of the comma, semicolon, AND colon: It can be used to create pauses, introduce a list, or join two independent or dependent clauses. It is regarded as less formal than all of those marks, however, and they are all preferable in more formal writing. In narrative writing, I think of it as simultaneously more dramatic and more invisible than those marks; it is long enough to create a real pause, but because there generally aren’t any spaces around it, it also creates a continuous flow of text. It can thus be used for scenes where you want a flow of clauses unbroken by real stops, especially in stream-of-consciousness writing or action scenes:
The squid reached out—the oxygen tank dangling from the tip of its tentacle—I stretched the whole length of my body towards it—but then the shark jerked on my foot and pulled me away.
Compare that to:
The squid reached out, the oxygen tank dangling from the tip of its tentacle; I stretched the whole length of my body towards it, but then the shark jerked on my foot and pulled me away.
This second example is probably more correct, but because it allows the reader to slow down, it’s rather less dramatic. On the other hand, the first example is probably too dramatic, so it would be wise to strive for a nice balance between the two:
The squid reached out, the oxygen tank dangling from the tip of its tentacle. I stretched the whole length of my body towards it—but then the shark jerked on my foot and pulled me away.
What's nice about this one is that the emdash creates a brief little pause at the moment of highest suspense, like being at the top of a hill on a roller coaster: Will our narrator get the oxygen tank in time? And then the dash's length drags that moment out until the shark answers the question for us. A semicolon would have been incorrect there, and a comma or colon wouldn't have had the same sense of suspension, I don't think. I love dashes for just this drama and flexibility, though if you share my addiction to them, we need to remember that like all highly dramatic marks, they should be used sparingly.

The emdash is also used to set off interruptions, either within a sentence or at the end of it. (Parentheses could be used in this next example just as easily, but because they create a little commentary world unto themselves, closed off from the rest of the sentence, they seem like a bigger pause than emdashes to me.)
The dead squid—the only trustworthy kind, as far as Joan was concerned—lay limply on the dock.

I assure you, Officer, I have never eaten—HEY! Did you get a look at that squid?
My authors know that if Character X is speaking and Character Y interrupts him, I will almost always request that they end Character X’s speech with an emdash to signify X’s getting cut off abruptly.
Looking deeply into Selina’s larger left eye, Phil took her front tentacle in his and murmured, “My most beautiful Miss Bonnellii, will you do me the honor of becoming—”
“I WON!” screeched Ethel from across the restaurant.
Note: In typesetting, there are actually three kinds of dash marks:
  • hyphens, like so: - , which join two words into one closed compound
  • endashes, which were created in hand-typesetting using two hyphens (the length of an “n”), and which are used to join open compounds (like “the North Dakota–Minnesota border”; “North Dakota” is an open compound because it’s one word with a space in it) or to replace the word “to” (as in “1996–2000,” or “our California–Florida trip”)
  • and emdashes, which equal three hyphens (the length of an “m”), and are discussed above.
Writers are generally not expected to know about endashes. If you use hyphens and emdashes correctly, that’s good enough for most editors, and we’ll trust the endashes will be taken care of in copyediting.

A Flap Copy Contest!

So I am in the very, very last stages of my book -- rewriting my Voice talk, because I wasn't satisfied with it; and then I need to decide which terms will be capped or uncapped (Action Plot vs. action plot, that sort of thing), because I currently have more capped nouns than a Dungeons & Dragons manual, and make that consistent across the board. But that is it for the interior!

And then, for the exterior, I need to write the flap copy. And while of course I write flap copy for other people's books all the time, writing it for my own is proving unexpectedly daunting. Generally in writing it for other people's books, I try to identify my ideal reader -- the person who is most likely to pick up the book, and who would get the most enjoyment out of it; then set forth an overall vision of the book that would appeal to that ideal reader, working in as many cool things about the characters and plot as possible. And while I think that you all are pretty much my ideal readers here, I also feel I'm either too close to the material or too damn Midwestern modest to objectively see and sell all the possibly cool things about this book.

Then I thought: Hey! Maybe my ideal readers would like a chance to play the editor here. I know writers often get a kick out of their chance to edit me in commenting on the flap copy I wrote for their books (or the trial flaps I've posted here); this seems like the next logical step, and also good practice for any aspiring editors out there. :-)

So: CONTEST! If you want to participate, all of the information you'd need to know about the book is below. Write back-jacket sales copy of 200 words or less, and e-mail your draft to me at chavela_que at yahoo dot com by noon next Thursday, July 22, with the subject line "Flap Copy Contest." (I will be away from all computers from Saturday till the deadline, more or less, so this gives you plenty of time.) An editorial friend and I will read through the entries and choose up to three winners, who will each receive a free copy of the book.

I will then probably go ahead and assemble my own flap copy, pulling from all of the various great ideas that come in; and indeed, I reserve the right to borrow, steal, or tweak anything in any of your entries. I suppose in legal parlance, this would be, "All entries become property of Cheryl Klein for purposes of writing her own copy," meaning you can't sue me if I use your words or ideas. But I will also acknowledge said useful writers within the book and here. And I wouldn't claim this copy exclusively; goodness knows if you want to do something else with your draft or publish or reuse it for yourself, have at it.

Some questions to ask yourself if you want to try this:
  • What are some cool things about this book -- its hooks?
  • Are there any key details or lines from the book that might grab a reader's attention?
  • Why would I buy this book?
  • Who else would want to buy this book?
  • Are there any successful similar books I'd want to liken this book to or remind the reader of? (And often its followup, What was the approach of their flap copy? -- at least for reference, or to see what elements were emphasized.)
  • What are three key unifying ideas about this book, or three different visions of the book? (This "Three Takes on Operation Yes" post shows three of my visions for that book, and how each one played out in the flap.)
  • Which one of those ideas/visions would be most attractive to the readers I just identified?
(All of these questions also very useful in writing query letters, of course . . .)

I hope this sounds like fun to y'all -- I'm very curious to see what you come up with! Thank you so much for participating.


The title: Second Sight: An Editor's Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults

The original description.

The Table of Contents (much of this material is online, except the Quartet talks, which comprise 50-plus pages of never-before-published-anywhere thoughts. "Manifests" are worksheets/checklists.):
  • An Explanation of This Book
  • Manifesto: What Makes A Good Book?
  • Defining Good Writing (Possibly Sententious)
  • Finding a Publisher and Falling in Love: A Convivial Comparison
  • The Annotated Query Letter from Hell
  • An Annotated Query Letter That Does It Right
  • The Rules of Engagement
  • The Essentials of Plot
  • Manifest: The Plot Checklist
  • Morals, Muddles, and Making It Through; or, Plots and Popularity
  • Manifest: A Character Chart
  • A Definition of YA Literature
  • The Art of Detection: One Editor’s Techniques for Analyzing and Revising Your Novel
  • Four Techniques to Get at the Emotional Heart of Your Story
  • Words, Wisdom, Art, and Heart: Making a Picture-Book Cookie
  • Some Things I Like to See in an Illustrator’s Portfolio
  • A Few Things Writers Can Learn from Harry Potter
  • Gaaah!!—A Musing on Characters and Plot
  • Quartet: Introduction
  • Point
  • Character
  • Manifest: Another Character Chart
  • Plot
  • Voice
  • The Highly Idiosyncratic Cheryl Klein Guide to Punctuation
  • On the Editor-Author Relationship
  • Twenty-Five Revision Techniques
  • Index to Talks by Writers’ Conference
  • Index by Subject
  • Further Reading: Craft
  • Further Reading: Literature
  • Acknowledgements and Thanks
My biography, which will also appear on the back of the book (may be cut down for space): Cheryl B. Klein has worked as an editor of children’s and young adult books for over a decade. Among the books she has edited or co-edited are A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce, winner of the inaugural William C. Morris Award for a YA Debut Novel; Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork, winner of the Schneider Family Book Award for Teens; Millicent Min, Girl Genius, by Lisa Yee, winner of the SCBWI’s Sid Fleischman Award for Humor; and The Snow Day by Komako Sakai, a New York Times Best Illustrated Book. She also served as the continuity editor for the American editions of the last three Harry Potter books. Please visit her website at

SQUIDS 101: Punctuation: Commas

The following material is taken from my book, which is in its last editing stages, glory hallelujah. I'll probably post the rest of my goofy guide to punctuation over time.

Another ENEMY to sentence rhythm: the wrong punctuation. I am obsessed with punctuation because I am a very aural editor, and punctuation is (or should be) the writer's primary means of registering the tones and pauses in a dramatic scene. Pauses have drama, and too many pauses can make too much drama, but too few might make a reader miss some crucial information as the flow of words can overwhelm the facts within. Altogether, I agree with this wonderful quotation from Isaac Babel: “No steel can pierce the heart of man as icily as a full stop placed at the right moment.”

This, then, is the highly idiosyncratic Cheryl Klein Guide to Punctuation -- by no means a definitive guide to punctuation -- with the various marks analyzed in ascending order of their pause length and therefore drama. (The examples all involve squids for the lone reason that “squid” is a funny word.) If you would like a more serious guide to punctuation with clear and official rules of use, I suggest checking out


The lowly hardworking comma. It creates the briefest pause, used to establish a quick hitch in the flow of speech for either organizational or dramatic purposes. While every house or copyeditor has its own rules on how to use commas, I generally try to abide by the taste of the author and the point of the writing in question. For instance, technically, both of these sentences are correct:
I, personally, prefer the elegance of the glass squid to the asymmetry of the cock-eyed squid.

I personally prefer the elegance of the glass squid to the asymmetry of the cock-eyed squid.
The point of a sentence like this is not just to convey information about squid preferences, but to show the personality of the speaker. A very sententious, arrogant, or dramatic speaker might want those pauses around “personally” to emphasize that these are his personal tastes, and as such, you know, they’re not that important—at the same time implying that, because they’re his tastes, you might want to pay attention. A less sententious speaker might not want those pauses so the sentence flows faster and reads more smoothly (indeed, a speaker not wanting to draw attention to himself might delete the adverb altogether). Thus, depending on how much the writer and editor wanted to emphasize the speaker’s self-importance, those commas might be left in or taken away.

Because commas create pauses, a good rule of thumb is: The faster the action should move in a sentence or a scene, the fewer commas-of-choice you should have. Consider these two sentences:
The squid, furious, lashed out with six tentacles, grasping Martha about the neck.

The furious squid lashed out with six tentacles and grasped Martha about the neck.
Removing the commas-of-choice around the appositive "furious" and moving it back to become a preceding adjective makes the opening of the sentence move much more quickly, as the reader doesn't have to pause for the appositive. The additional value of "grasping" with comma vs. "and grasped" without is debatable, as I think long sentences without some pause actually get harder to read; but that may be because I'm just so much an aural reader that I want breathing spaces even in printed prose.

Of course, you can also use pauses to drag things out. In The Hunger Games example [that I quote in the book before this excerpt], the parallelism and many commas of “I will stare her down, I will not cry out, I will die, in my own small way, undefeated” hold the reader in suspense for the moment the knife will touch Katniss and cause her death, putting us on that same knife-edge.

Commas are also used to separate and organize items in a list:
The squid, ravenous, ate five sardines, six mussels, seven anemones, and a Boston cream pie.
That comma before the “and” here is known as the serial comma. Again, style varies from house to house and author to author, but I like having a comma before the “and” for maximum clarity. The writer and grammarian Martha Brockenbrough once tweeted this possibly apocryphal example of a book dedication: ‘To my parents, God and Ayn Rand.’” One hopes very much that a serial comma would have proved useful.

Metaphysical Monday: Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Tino Seghal experibit at the Guggenheim that I referenced in last week's post put me in the mood for lighthearted but serious-minded philosophical discussion; and the audience-participation exercise at the beginning of this month was so fascinating and fun, I thought it could be fun to try something like that again. So I'm going to post below one of my favorite manifestos -- Oscar Wilde's preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray -- choose a line, and comment upon it in the comments; and I hope you too will pick out a line, mull it over a bit, and say whether you agree or disagree with it and why. Again, there are no right or wrong answers, just interesting human responses.

And for the record, when I say this is one of my favorite manifestos, that's because to me it is the perfect match of form and content, completely embodying itself: It is clever, and beautiful (it sounds good, especially when read aloud), and delightful, and conscience-free, because its only interest is in its own cleverness, beauty, and delight. But I am not sure it is right or true, because I don't think Wilde was necessarily interested in right or truth; or, at least, they were lower on his priority list than the clever and the beautiful. . . . And lord, I have already begun my comment! So here's the manifesto. The italics on the last line are Wilde's.


Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray
by Oscar Wilde


The artist is the creator of beautiful things. To reveal art and conceal the artist is art's aim. The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things.

The highest as the lowest form of criticism is a mode of autobiography. Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault.

Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only beauty.

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.

The nineteenth century dislike of realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass.

The nineteenth century dislike of romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass. The moral life of man forms part of the subject-matter of the artist, but the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium.

No artist desires to prove anything. Even things that are true can be proved. No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style. No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything.

Thought and language are to the artist instruments of an art. Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art. From the point of view of form, the type of all the arts is the art of the musician. From the point of view of feeling, the actor's craft is the type. All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.

Those who read the symbol do so at their peril. It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors. Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital. When critics disagree, the artist is in accord with himself. We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.

All art is quite useless.

Decisions, Decisions

Contrary to appearances, I have been plugging away at my book -- indeed, that's partly why the blog has been quiet lately, that my writing brain is going into revising those talks (lightly). I'm now at a point where I need to decide which of the two versions of my 2006 plot talk will go into the text . . . if either, as there's also a 2008 plot talk that will definitely be in the book. And unavoidably for me, it makes many of the same points, albeit from a different angle and with rather different emphases.

So I thought I would ask you, dear readers, as you know best what's most useful and fun for you: Would you rather have Aristotle, Austen, Plot, and Pleasure: What a Dead Greek Philosopher and A Classic English Novelist Can Teach Us About Writing for Children? Or its slimmer, sleeker, less personal but rather more user-friendly cousin, The Essentials of Plot? (They're really far too much alike to justify including both.) Or do you think one plot talk is enough for a writing book? Let me know:

This poll will close next Thursday, December 12, at midnight; any further thoughts are welcome in the comments. The book should now hopefully be available -- knock wood and my work and designer's schedules -- by the end of February 2010. Thank you for your patience, and your feedback!

ETA: Please note this poll is not in reference to the TITLE of my book, as some commenters seem to believe; that's pretty well fixed in my head as SECOND SIGHT, with a charming cover with eyeglasses and everything. This poll is in reference to which of two very similar talks should appear WITHIN the book. Apologies for the lack of clarity.

They Are the Champions, My Friends

Our Celebrity Guest Judges have compiled their results and rendered their verdicts, and as a result, we have our winners in the Thomas Bowdler Fiction Contest! A drumroll, and the envelope please . . .

Winner in the Children's Category: Patrick!
His entry: "Adolf Hitler was sad today."

Runner-up: Monica!
Her entry: "Mask, the mommy raccoon, herded the nervous children at the side of the road, trying to aver their eyes from Big Ringtail, their dad, as he lay on the dashed yellow line -- 'He's just sleeping,' she said, blinking back her tears."

Winner in the YA category: lynnekelly!
Her entry: "He walked into the room looking like he was carved out of granite, if a granite carving had a musculoskeletal system that would facilitate movement."

(No YA runner-up)

Winner in the Fantasy category: jadedmetaphor!
His or her entry: "Once, a female tried to join the brethren, only to be turned down on account that 'The multi-gendered collective of the traveling skull' didn't sound badass enough to scare away minor enemy posers who were put off by gory names, thus leaving the brethren with enough time to outrun legitimately scary foes."

Runner-up: susiej!
Her entry: "With twenty-seven arrows thrust into his tall heroic body and scarlet blood shooting from him like a bright and noble fountain, Jargormandor charged across the battlefield and slayed the evil sorcerer, Crabgallion, before falling gracefully to the ground and declaring with his dying breaths that his young, valiant nephew, Brandormandor, would be the one to lead his people now safely to their homeland, and all wept the salty tears of great sadness mingled with the beautiful, silvery tears of joy; and so our story begins."

If the winners will kindly send their postal addresses to me at chavela_que (at) yahoo dot com, I will keep them on file until such time as my book exists, at which point they will receive copies. And in the meantime, CONGRATULATIONS and HUZZAH to all the winners and runners-up, and to all participants in this noble contest!

Celebrity Guest Judges! and Sundry Other Good News

I'm delighted to announce that the Celebrity Guest Judges for the Thomas Bowdler Fiction Contest below are none other than Dan Santat and Lisa Yee!

Lisa is the author of a series of three related middle-grade novels affectionally known as the "Milly trilly," as well as the young-adult novel Absolutely Maybe.

Dan is the author/illustrator of the past AALB picture book The Guild of Geniuses and future graphic novel The Domesticated Four. And the two of them collaborated on . . .

Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally), a very funny and heartfelt new chapter book coming out this September! My thanks to Lisa and Dan, who will render their verdicts in the three contest categories early next week.

Other news:
  • ALA this past weekend was terrific, from seeing Elizabeth C. Bunce get the Morris Award to talking for the very first time with the translator and author of Heartsinger (we edited the book entirely over e-mail) to attending the Newbery-Caldecott dinner to spending time with my grandfather to giving the Batchelder acceptance speech with Arthur to just hanging out and talking with many awesome and passionate kidlit people. I've rarely had a happier or more exhausting five days, so thanks to you all!
  • It turns out that the very nice Jacqui Robbins is also having a bad-first-lines-of-children's-literature contest inspired by the Bulwer-Lytton, and hers started before mine. It ends today, so hop over there to leave a last-minute entry.
  • My book is going to happen! Hooray! Yes, thanks to all you kind people, Leaf and Tree* is already a fully funded project over at Kickstarter, with $2000 raised (to print 500 copies) in less than two weeks. The project page will remain open through September 1 should anyone else be inspired to donate; every additional dollar goes to printing additional copies, which in turn affects my unit cost, which in turn will affect the eventual retail cost, so donations are good for me and for you if you think you might buy the book. Thanks again!
  • * Though I'm now thinking of calling it Second Sight (plus a subtitle), since so much of it deals with revision and getting a fresh look at your work. No one would confuse it with this, right? Right.
  • I just discovered (via @editorgurl) a terrific post by Justine Larbelestier on How to Write a Novel. I particularly like her spreadsheet method of bookmapping.

Some Summertime Silliness: The Thomas Bowdler Fiction Contest

I love reading the entries in the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, where entrants try to write the worst possible first line of an imaginary novel, and the 2009 winners were announced today. But I noticed that this year, no prize was given in the Children's Literature category, which seems a great loss, given past winners like these:

Jack planted the magic beans and in one night a giant beanstalk grew all the way from the earth up to the clouds--which sounds like a lie, but it can be done with genetic engineering, and although a few people are against eating gene-engineered foods like those beans it's a high-paying career to think about for when you grow up. (Frances Trimble, 2004)

Danny, the little Grizzly cub, frolicked in the tall grass on this sunny Spring morning, his mother keeping a watchful eye as she chewed on a piece of a hiker they had encountered the day before. (Dave McKenzie, 2007)
Hence I challenge all my blog readers -- writers, agents, editors, librarians, and critics alike -- to submit the worst possible opening sentence for an imaginary children's or YA novel in the comments here. We'll call this the Thomas Bowdler Fiction Contest, after that noble guardian of children's gentle sensibilities, and in keeping with Mr. Bowdler's delicate nerves, please try to make all entries rated PG-13 at most. Some other guidelines (after the BLFC's):
  • Each entry must consist of a single sentence. However, that sentence can be as long as you have space in the comment box (though beware of diminishing returns).
  • You can submit up to three times.
  • Please label each entry (C) for children's, (YA) for young adult, or (F) for Fantasy so it can be judged according to the proper standards.
  • All entries must be original to their creators and will remain the copyright of their creators.
  • Entries will be accepted until midnight Friday, July 17.
  • The Celebrity Guest Judges have yet to be determined/invited, since I just conceived of this contest in the last hour; but their decisions will be final.
  • In case this needs saying: The goal is hilarity through badness, not just plain badness. Identifying and puncturing cliches of both subject and language is strongly encouraged.
The winners in each category will each receive a copy of my book-to-be, pending its existence, and two runners-up in each category will each receive everyone's profound admiration (as will the winners, I'm sure). And, for their own enjoyment, all entrants are encouraged to spend some time looking through past Bulwer-Lytton winners (2004, 2007) and to submit to the real contest in future. Huzzah!

Announcing: My Book Project!

People have asked about it; I've long thought about it; and at last, I'm delighted to announce: I might be publishing a book of my collected talks! Hooray! But whether I'm actually going to go forward with it depends on YOU, dear readers and friends.

Here is the text of the dialogue that I imagine might now ensue:

You: Cool! What would the book include?

Me: All the talks that were on my old website, including "Finding a Publisher and Falling in Love"; "The Rules of Engagement"; "The Essentials of Plot"; "The Art of Detection"; "Words, Wisdom, Art, and Heart: Making a Picture-Book Cookie"; "Morals, Muddles, and Making It Through"; and "A Few Things Writers Can Learn from Harry Potter," plus all the supplementary worksheets and other materials that went with those talks. It will also include various speeches that have not been published on my website, including the talk on developing characters I gave at the Missouri SCBWI conference in the fall of 2007 and the New Jersey SCBWI conference in the summer of 2008, and the three long talks on plot, character, and voice from the Missouri SCBWI retreat this past spring, which I'll be revising and reprising for the Western Washington retreat in November. (The book will feature the revised versions.) I'll also include the Annotated Query Letter from Hell and an Annotated Query Letter that Does It Right to talk a little more about submissions; some recommended reading lists for writers; and a number of Greatest Hits blog posts on submitting, editing, and publishing.

What will it be called?

This isn't yet final, but I really like Leaf and Tree: Some Talk About Writing.

Okay. But what do you mean, "It depends on us"?

I plan to self-publish the book, and in order to get capital for a 500-copy printing, I'm asking my blog readers, friends, and family to help me raise $2000 through The Kickstarter process also allows me to gauge interest: To raise $2000, all I really need is 200 people to give $10 each, which is more or less like buying the book, thanks to the rewards system below. And if there aren't 200 people willing to buy the book, then I shouldn't go forward with publishing it anyway.

What is "the Kickstarter process"? is an awesome website for people interested in finding grassroots funding for their creative work. If you'd like to see this book be published, you can bop over to my project page, click "Back This Project," and enter whatever amount you like -- $1, $5, $18, $347 -- to be charged to your credit card. That money will be processed through the Payments system and held there until the total goal amount of $2000 has been pledged. Once that happens, all credit cards will be charged, and then the money will come to me. If the project receives less than $2000, then under the Kickstarter rules, all monies will be returned to their pledgers and I get nothing. The project can also collect MORE than $2000, though, and all additional proceeds would then go to printing additional copies of the book. You can read more about how Kickstarter works here and check out some really cool projects already underway here.

What's in it for me to pledge?

If you pledge $5, you'll receive $5 off the cost of the book, excluding shipping (final cost not yet determined, but it'll probably be somewhere between $10 and $18). If you pledge $10, you'll receive $10 off the cost. If you pledge $25, you'll receive $10 off, plus you'll be added to a list to receive e-mailed versions of any future talks. If you pledge $50, you'll receive all of the $25 rewards, plus your name will be included on a "Thank You" page in the back of the book. If you pledge $100 or more, you'll receive all of the $50 rewards plus a selection of my favorite thank-you sweets, including home-baked Banana Oatmeal Chocolate Chip cookies (the ones from "Words, Wisdom"), yummy brownies, McVitie's, and Swedish Fish. And if you are incredibly nice and rich and pledge more than $250, some Thank-You Gift of Awesomeness will be devised especially for you.

(For the record, this project is entirely personal, organized on my own time, and separate from my day job, so I will not offer any rewards related to editing, reading manuscripts, critiquing submissions packages, et al. Continuing the disclaimers: My employer has not sponsored, endorsed, or approved this book or its contents, nor is said company in any way responsible for or affiliated with it; it is all me.)

You could also pledge because you enjoy this blog, or you read something useful to your writing on my website, or you took something away from one of my appearances or critiques, or you admire the books I edit, or you came to a Kidlit Drink Night, or you know and like me. Or simply out of the kindness of your heart. All reasons, and pledges, are sincerely appreciated.

How do I know you'll use the money to publish the book and not, say, go to Jamaica?

You know where I live -- on the Internet, anyway, and some of you in person. You'll keep me honest. Also, I sunburn easily.

Why are you self-publishing this? Why aren't you doing it through a regular publisher?

Self-publishing is right for some projects and not for others. I don't recommend it for any writers who might benefit from the editorial process, which I fiercely believe in; nor for anyone seeking wide distribution and good sales through bookstores, which only traditional publishing can provide -- and I fiercely believe in that model too. And I imagine that covers nearly all writers!

For this particular project, though, self-publishing makes sense. I don't need an editor for this, as I'm my own harshest critic. I'm competent enough at book design to put a decent-looking volume together. And this may be an excess of Midwestern modesty, but I don't imagine the audience is all that huge for this -- mostly people who know me through my blog, website, Facebook, and appearances. And if it IS mostly people who know me, then I can handle the sales and distribution myself. I'm planning for a first printing of 500-ish copies, with more available on print-on-demand, and I'll be very happy if it gets bought by 1000 people total. Those are more self-publishing numbers than professional numbers.

Finally, my talks are always written as talks, not as proper essays, and because each has been given to a unique audience, I often take material from one and reuse it in another. This means I would have to rewrite all of the talks more or less completely to integrate them into a proper writing book and satisfy my own standards for professionally published writing, and as I turn into a Raging Perfectionist Beast and my writing stalls out like a '77 Datsun whenever I consciously try to write for publication, this will provide the same basic information with much less time and mental anguish on my part. You writers who can get past this block have my admiration.

Will you ever put the talks not currently on your website but included in the book up on the website?

Yes, probably, but not until sometime in 2010.

When would the book be available?

I'm asking to receive all pledges through Kickstarter by September 1, 2009. Assuming the project moves forward then, I hope to have the actual book available by the end of the year -- ideally in time for the Western Washington conference in November.

Can I buy the book even if I don't pledge?

Sure! I haven't yet reached the "how this book will be sold over the Internet" stage of planning here, though my mom has kindly offered to help with distribution. Dibs on the first 500 copies will go to people who pledge more than $5; a certain quantity will be reserved for my appearances at writers' conferences this fall and next spring; and the rest will be available for purchase through me (and my mom). I also hope to have the text available through a print-on-demand service.

I have more questions.

Leave them in the comments, please, and I'll update this page as necessary.

How can I pledge?

Check out my project page here. And thank you!

Blue Website! New Talk!

Exclamation-point worthy news: At long last, my redesigned website is up and running!

(That sentence is your signal to click on over to to see the new layout. I'll give you a second.)

Okay. Hooray! The beautiful, bright new design is by my friend John Noe of the Leaky Cauldron, and incorporates my favorite Tudor Rose emblem (sign of my membership in the sacred siblinghood of English majors) as well as an easy-to-use navigation bar. If you took that opening-page invitation to poke around, you'll know that most of the navbar links don't work yet, the book covers for the slideshow need to be resized, and neither the majority of the talks nor my submission guidelines are up at present. But I'll be adding these things over the next few weeks, so please check back occasionally to see what's new. And my blog, for the record, will continue to reside here at, so please don't change your bookmarks to that other address.

To celebrate the redesigned site, I put up a new talk as well: the "Springing Surprises" speech I wrote but did not deliver in full at the Vermont College Novel Writers' Retreat. That talk made me think a lot about effects in writing . . . the way a writer can use surprises, or spacing, or the pacing even in a particular paragraph, to focus or distract the reader's emotional attention and thereby achieve the writer's emotional aims, the same way a movie director can blow up a truck to make the audience go "Oooh!" I don't know that I have anything more to say about this now than what I say here, but I'm interested in tracking cool techniques/effects for use in a future talk, maybe. . . . Let me know if you see any worthy of note.