Sunday 31 March 2019

The Last Day of the Challenge is Here! #ChaBooCha

The Chapter Book Challenge is reaching its end for this month. Some of you still have several hours left in the day though, so, if you haven't reached your word count goal yet, don't give up!

If you have reached your target word count, WELL DONE!

If you already know you won't reach your target word count, be proud of what you HAVE achieved this month, whether it is a lot of writing, very little writing, or just fleshing out the idea in your head more. A little progress is STILL progress.

I have some prize winners to announce today!

Prize winners are announced below:

Hand-made metal charm bookmark:  Judy Rubin

Official ChaBooCha Keychain:  Liz Tipping and Donna L. Martin

Signed copy of "The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection: Return to Coney Island"  by Melissa Stoller (limited US and Canadian residents only):  Rene Diane Aube 

Novel Under Construction Journal:  Nancy Rimar

Copy if "Writing Magic: Creating Stories that Fly" by Gail Carson LevineCandice Conner

A fully printed booklets/calendars for writers (limited US and Canadian residents only)Melissa Stoller and Kelly Vavala 

Golden ticket to Blue Whale Press submissions which gives the winner a pass to submit outside of the submission window, priority consideration (top of pile), and guaranteed response: saputnam

Signed copy of either "My Little Piggy: An Owner's Manual," or one of the "Kung Pow Chicken" books by Cyndi Marko (limited US and Canadian residents only)Sue Frye

Homemade fantasy-themed bracelet:  Manju Howard 

Badger plush toy: SD Sutter 

Copy of her book Night Running: How James Escaped With the Help of His Faithful Dog by Elisa Carbone, illustrated by E.B. Lewis: Yangmama

And finally, the winner of the overall challenge prize, the Kindle Fire:  Satori CMaylo

Winners have ONE WEEK to contact me with their details, either through my e-mail, through Facebook Messenger or through Twitter DM.


I am currently putting together the fourth Teapot Tales anthology. It is long over-due to so keep your eye out for its publication in the next few weeks! I'll probably post about it on my Twitter and Facebook pages when it is available for purchase.

Friday 29 March 2019

Beginner's Mind by Elisa Carbone #ChaBooCha

Beginner’s Mind

I signed up for ChaBooCha in March 2019 because early chapter books were a completely new genre for me and I felt clueless about how to do it. I had brought up the idea of writing chapter books to my editor several years ago and she steered me away, saying it couldn’t be a stand-alone book, had to be a series, etc.  I thought, she doesn’t think I can do it, and I need to keep writing historical fiction if I want to keep paying my bills.

But this time when I brought it up, she immediately said I should give it a try. She put together a package for me and mailed it: two middle grade novels and two early chapter books (to help me figure out the difference, I presume). She told me to read as many recently published early chapter books as I could. I thought, she’s as tired of starvation, political intrigue and massacres as I am.

When I first started writing in the late 1980’s, there were books to read and conferences to attend and writer’s groups to become part of. In 2019 there was the internet! There were websites, podcasts, discussion boards, and of course, ChaBooCha with its informational and inspirational posts and the feeling of being part of a group.

Each day I read the posts from the other folks who were doing the same thing as I was: trying to find writing time in the midst of a busy life, trying to keep the self-doubt at bay, trying to make a story come alive on paper—or actually, make it come alive on a screen, as this was the first time I was writing a book on the computer rather than by hand in a spiral ring notebook.

As I read the posts by the other participants I became aware of the fact that many of these writers were at the beginning of their careers. This brought back a flood of memories. These writers were in the wanting, learning, striving, yearning part of the writing life. They were at that dangerous stage where frustration and despair can creep in and make a writer give up (oh, the times I quit in order to just pout for a while!). They were also at the hopeful stage, where the sky is the limit and dreams are mostly out ahead. The phrase “beginner’s mind” kept coming to me. What was I to learn from these memories and feelings that were flooding back?

Wikipedia defines Shoshin as “a word from Zen Buddhism meaning ‘beginner’s mind.’ It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner would.” Openness, eagerness, lack of preconceptions—isn’t that the beauty of the way it all felt at the beginning? Isn’t this the heart of the way children are, and the reason we are drawn to their energy, the reason we want to be with them by writing for them?

It took me eight years of working really hard before I got my first New York publishing contract. I used to watch for the mail, and when a package came from a publisher, I’d take it and close myself in the bathroom so the rest of the family wouldn’t see me cry if it was another rejection letter, which it normally was.

One year on my birthday I threw the I Ching about my writing. It came up hexagram 29, The Abysmal (“Darn straight this is abysmal!” I said.) Actually, The Abysmal referred to water following its path through an abyss, it has no choice but to flow where the abyss guides it. That felt very true. I had to write, I had to take each rejection as it came, I had to keep learning and trying. But what I had thrown in the I Ching had a change in it – the change was from The Abysmal to something like a tower up on a hill that was looked up to, and influence born of contemplation (I think it was hexagram 20, Viewing, looking up). I certainly couldn’t image anything like that at the time.

And so it has all come to pass, the way the I Ching said it would, with success following the time in the abyss. Now I’m somewhere on that hill. But for this latest project of trying to write an early chapter book, I took my walking stick in my hand and walked down the hill. I looked into the water flowing in the abyss and dangled my feet in it. Ahhh, into the abyss again. The story will flow where it will, I will be eager and open and hold no preconceptions. We will see what happens.

I’m liking the idea of staying in touch with beginner’s mind, in all areas of life, hopefully forever. It’s the way my grandkids view everything at ages 6 and 7. It’s the way I was about writing thirty years ago.

What would I say to these writers who are at the beginning now? Stay excited. Decide each day that you don’t know anything and that you’ll find out as the day goes on. Keep reading books that are successful and as you do, try not to be jealous of the authors. Keep learning, keep honing your craft. Please don’t give up on traditional publishing, it still works even though it can seem absolutely impossible to break into for a long time. If you are in the abyss, go with the flow. When the change happens and it’s time for you to climb up out of the water, dripping wet, and walk up the hill, you’ll know it. And it’ll be a blast.


Elisa Carbone is the author of Poison in the Colony: James Town 1622 (Viking, 2019), Blood on the River: James Town 1607 (Viking, 2006, Winner of the Virginia Jefferson Cup Award), Stealing Freedom (Knopf, 1998) and a dozen other books including picture books, middle grade and YA novels. She is now trying to write a couple of humorous early chapter books that involve two third grade protagonists, some math, some science, and a lot of pets. You can find out more about her work at



Eliza has generously offered today's give-away which is a copy of her book Night Running: How James Escaped With the Help of His Faithful Dog by Elisa Carbone, illustrated by E.B. Lewis. If you are already a signed-up member of the challenge, all you need to do to be entered for the drawing for this prize is comment on this blog post. The winner will be selected by a random number generator on March 31st at noon.

Thursday 28 March 2019

Three Things Cartoons Taught Me About Writing Chapter Books by Marcie Colleen #ChaBooCha

Image by GraphicMama-team from Pixabay

Three Things Cartoons Taught Me About Writing Chapter Books

I’ve often called myself an “accidental chapter book author” because when I started this writer’s journey, I was set on only writing picture books. But when Macmillan approached me about writing an eight-book chapter book series in 2015, I couldn’t resist.
Super Happy Party Bears
As I signed my contract for The Super Happy Party Bears with my right hand, I Googled “how to write a chapter book series” with my left hand. I quickly learned that there was not a lot of information or classes on how exactly to write a chapter book, let alone a series. I kinda panicked.

Feeling like I was going to have to “go it alone,” I searched for guidance everywhere. Where did I find it? In cartoons!

I have always been a fan of kids cartoons. In fact, I am probably the only grown adult without children who used to DVR PBS’s Curious George and watch it as I sipped wine after a long day of work. But it was watching cartoons that essentially taught me how to write a chapter book series.

Therefore, here are the Three Things Cartoons Taught Me About Writing Chapter Books, in the hopes that they will help you, too.

1 - Each book is like an episode. There is an over-arching premise for the series and individual premises for each book.

For an example, let’s look at the cartoon Adventure Time.

The series premise follows the adventures of a boy named Finn the Human and his best friend and adoptive brother Jake the Dog, who has magical powers to change shape and size at will. Finn and Jake live in the post-apocalyptic Land of Ooo, which was ravaged by a cataclysmic nuclear war a thousand years before the series' events. 

The premise of one episode called “Tree Trunks” from Season One is that Finn and Jake are invited to the elephant Tree Trunks' house for apple pie. The group begins talking about what they wish they could do if they could achieve anything, and Tree Trunks notes that she wants to pick the rare Crystal Gem Apple, which is in the Evil Forest. Finn and Jake decide to make her wish come true.

See how the two premises are different? The series premise focuses on setting, relationships, and core motivation. While the episode premise is plot-detailed with an end game in mind. So, keep in mind, while creating your chapter book series to develop the series premise first, then create each book’s premise, like an episode in a series.

2 - Focus on dialogue and action. Chapter books are often a reader’s first step into independent reading. Therefore, they are like reading ambassadors. They welcome kids into their world to make them laugh, expand their horizons, and take them on exciting adventures. The more engaging a story is, the more willing a reader will be to join the journey, building lifelong readers page by page.

Visualizing the story as a cartoon playing out in my mind helps to keep the writing action and dialogue focused, and not rely too much on voice-over-like narration. It is action and dialogue that keep the reader engaged.

For a crash course in writing action and dialogue, queue up a cartoon and transcribe it!

3 - Chapter breaks are commercial breaks. We want to create books that are difficult to put down. But knowing when to end a chapter and how can be challenging.

Chapter endings should be satisfying. In fact, usually I outline my books to have one plot point per chapter. In that way, each chapter moves the story forward, while also providing an enjoyable amount in case chapters are read one at a time over the course of several days.

Chapter endings should also have an element of tension. We want our readers to be tempted to keep reading, even if under a blanket with a flashlight.

To figure out when to end a chapter, I once again turned to cartoons. Each commercial break is a satisfying pausing point, while also urging viewers to grab that snack fast and get back to the couch to find out what happens next. This is the same effect I want my chapter breaks to have.

Of course, most cartoons do not have commercial breaks these days, but they do still include moments of fading in and out where a commercial would go. Notice how many times these fades indicate a change in location and/or plot point.
When I first set out to write The Super Happy Party Bears I had no clue that the hours I had clocked on Saturday mornings in front of the television throughout my childhood would provide the key.

So, your mission—should you choose to accept it—go grab a snack and a notebook and watch some cartoons. For a chapter book writer, this can be considered work and research. How awesome is that?


In previous chapters Marcie Colleen has been a teacher, an actress, and a nanny, but now she spends her days writing children’s books! She is the author of THE SUPER HAPPY PARTY BEARS chapter book series with Macmillan/Imprint, as well her debut picture book, LOVE, TRIANGLE, illustrated by Bob Shea (Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins), and PENGUINAUT!, illustrated by Emma Yarlett, published by Scholastic. Marcie teaches online classes on Crafting the Chapter Book for The Writing Barn. Learn more about her upcoming offerings at Visit her at



Aurora World 31723 Badger Plush, Small/6 x 14

Today's prize, in honor of our mascot Nabu, is a badger plush toy. If you are a signed-up member of the challenge, all you need to do to enter the drawing for the prize is to comment on this blog post. The winner will be selected by a random number generator on March 31st at noon.

Wednesday 27 March 2019

Writing a Chapter Book Series that an Agent Will Love by Jordan Hamessley #ChaBooCha

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay
When I first got my start in publishing, I desperately wanted to be an editor of adult science fiction, fantasy, and horror novels. I had spent much of my time in college reading classic science fiction and immersing myself in Stephen King and Shirley Jackson. But when it came time to graduate and find a job, I opened myself up to lots of possibilities applying for assistant jobs at literary agencies, interviewing for adult non-fiction publishers, adult genre publishers, and plenty of children’s publishers. I just wanted to get my foot in the door to start my path to editing the next Ursula K. LeGuin.

After a few months of applying for jobs, I was offered the position of Publisher’s Assistant at an imprint of Penguin Young Readers called Grosset & Dunlap. Grosset was known for publishing licensed film/tv tie-in programs and original chapter book and middle grade paperback original series. It had been quite some time since I had read chapter books and middle grade, so I spent lots of time reading those books and remember that my favorite books when I was growing up were all chapter books and middle grade, most of them series!

As a kid, I loved the way that I could pick up the first book in a series and know that there were ten more books with those characters waiting for me. I was particularly fond of a series called Silver Blades about a group of competitive figure skaters. I was a young figure skater myself and loved reading about girls doing the same thing I was doing (but much better! Ha!). Even when I moved on to The Babysitter’s Club series, I read the younger series about Karen, Kristy’s younger step-sister, because it allowed me to continue to live in the world of the series, even if I had “aged out” of reading early chapter books.

Once I realized how much chapter book series shaped me as a reader, I decided that I wanted to help make series that new generations of kids would read and ignite their love of reading. I asked to start working with the editors who acquired chapter series to really learn the ins and outs of making a chapter book.

The first series I worked on was Frankly, Frannie. The series followed a young girl named Frannie who desperately wanted a job, so each book showed her attempts at having a job as a child, complete with hilarious hijinks and mishaps. I loved the concept and it was ripe for multiple story ideas as we put Frannie in a new job in each book, from being her school principal for a day to a wedding planner.

Working on that series taught me how the key to a great chapter book series (and young middle grade series) is the episodic nature of the stories. The young reader has a certain expectation of how the story will play out in each book, but the plot is what makes each book different. With Frannie, we always knew she needed to “get” a job in every book. The fun was in choosing what job.

One of my other chapter book acquisitions was The Haunted Library series. That series was a classic chapter book mystery series. The series followed Claire, a human girl, and Kaz, a ghost boy, as they searched for Kaz’s family by solving “ghost” mysteries in their town. It had an on-going story arc over the course of the series, but each book followed that episodic formula of solving a mystery.

Whenever I read a query for a chapter book, I always ask myself “How many books can this concept hold?” At Penguin, I typically bought four books at a time for a chapter book series, with the expectation that we would continue publishing into the series for many books to come. If there wasn’t a clear formula that could be followed in each subsequent book AND find a new way to approach that formula in each book, the series wouldn’t have legs.

I always ask authors who pitch me a chapter book series to tell me what other ideas they have for the characters and plots. I need a minimum of four great book concepts for me to believe it can sell.

The reality of chapter book series is that there is minimal shelf space in the chapter book section and a lot of it is full of series books with ten or more books in a series. How do you make your book stand out? Many publishers will publish the first two books in a series at the same time to gain shelf space and then keep the author to a very fast publishing schedule with a new book out every three to six months. The author must have to have a stable of ideas to pull from to keep up with that kind of schedule.

As you go through your chapter book challenge, be thinking about the formula you are setting up for your characters and plot in that first book and think about how you can recreate it, but keep it fresh in subsequent books. You have to unlock the formula and that will allow you to continue to explore the characters and world of your book. Whether it’s a funny magical twist that happens in every book like Katie Kazoo Switcheroo, mystery that gets solved, or a high concept idea like Frankly, Frannie to keep your readers reading. And while you’re at it, check out that chapter book section in your bookstore and read widely. See how other authors find their formula and discover how yours is different!


Jordan Hamessley is a literary agent at New Leaf Literary representing PB, MG, YA, and adult genre fiction. With nearly a decade of experience working on the editorial side of publishing at Penguin Young Readers (Grosset & Dunlap), Egmont USA, and Adaptive Studios, Jordan Hamessley made the switch to agenting. She is actively building a list of diverse children’s fiction from picture books through YA and select adult science fiction and horror authors. Jordan has a deep affection for contemporary middle grade and YA with heart and humor. She is always looking to find stories that bring the queer experience to the children’s space across all age ranges. In terms of genre, she is interested science fiction and horror. She is also looking for quirky, non-fiction picture books with a STEM focus.


We have an official ChaBooCha keychain. These keychains are normally only given to ChaBooCha Regional Ambassadors (which reminds me: any RAs who are in their second year of being an RA, please let me know so I can send you your keychain), but, occasionally, I get to offer one as a prize during the challenge. If you are a signed-up member of the challenge, all you have to do to be entered into the random prize draw for this keychain is to comment on this blog post. The winner will be selected by a random number generator on March 31st.

Tuesday 26 March 2019

Anatomy Of a Middle Grade Manuscript by Laurie Smollett Kutscera #ChaBooCha

Image by Mystic Art Design from Pixabay


Lightning Strikes!

As a writer, you’ve probably experienced that moment when you’re involved in some unrelated task and you're suddenly overwhelmed by an idea with nothing to write on! I was sitting in a movie theatre watching the opening credits of a film - where these playing cards filled the screen. I was hypnotized by the faces of the King and Queen of Hearts. I felt them calling me. The next morning, I opened my laptop and began writing a story about a boy who discovers an animated deck of cards in his father’s old desk.

Best Laid Plans

I hadn’t planned on writing a middle grade book. I started out writing what I thought was a picture book. I even worked on a number of illustrations. But once the first draft was done, a dear friend, who was a librarian at a middle school, read it and suggested I consider revising for a middle grade audience. I knew very little about the genre and was grateful for her guidance. She suggested I read what has become one of my all-time favorite books: THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY OF EDWARD TULANE, by Kate DiCamillo.

Read, Read, Read!

I immediately began reading as many books in the genre as I could get my hands on— more Kate DiCamillo, Neil Gaiman, Richard Peck, Jennifer L. Holm. I was moved by their heartfelt novels—each one so beautifully crafted. The more I read, the more I began to understand the age group. Their thirst for humor, adventure and authenticity, freed me to become more expressive in my own writing. And, so it began—I would craft a middle grade novel from my picture book draft.


When I began writing MISADVENTURES OF A MAGICIAN'S SON, I knew right away certain aspects of my main character Alex would be similar to mine. He questions everything and can get lost in his own thoughts. We both lost a parent at a young age and both of us were bullied. I felt comfortable tapping into my own journey as an awkward 12-year-old to build his world. But Alex, who reluctantly follows in his father’s footsteps, is also a talented magician. On the subject of magic tricks, I knew very little, and needed to do some serious research.

While the internet offered helpful information, I felt strongly that I needed a one-on-one experience. Enter Joel, a young magician I spent quite a bit of time with. Pen in hand, I asked countless questions while he enthusiastically shuffled his cards, did flourishes and made them fly from one hand to the other. He described each maneuver while I scribbled notes and took plenty of photographs. I also shot video that I watched over and over which helped me translate the card tricks onto the written page.

As the novel progressed, I visited Joel on several occasions loaded with more and more questions. “Could Alex do this? What about a trick like this?” After a while, I realized what I was doing was basically asking permission. Joel helped me realize, when it came to magic, anything was possible!  This was a huge turning point for me. I had permission to take the story where it wanted to go.

Pulling It All Together

I had just completed a writing workshop at Media Bistro in NYC when I discovered they also offered a YA/MG writing-critique workshop. I immediately signed up! Led by a remarkable agent/author Kate McKean, the group of eight was filled with talented writers, screenwriters, playwrights and me! This was the real deal and quite honestly, I was a bit intimidated. But they were all so supportive and the feedback was spot-on. I learned how to build tension, flesh out characters and move the story forward. It still remains one of the best experiences I’ve ever unknowingly put myself into!

Edit, Edit, Edit.

By the time the critique workshop had come to an end, I had received written feedback from each member of the group on my entire manuscript–chapter by chapter–which I organized in separate folders. With the understanding that I needed to get the word count up around 35,000-40,000, I began another draft.

I found this stage to be the most cathartic. Deleting blocks of text for a concise sentence. Elaborating on an emotional moment. Heightening suspense by using short quick sentences. I was molding and reshaping the story like clay on armature.

Step Away.

This is some of the best advice I can share. After a few months of focusing on another project, I came back and was able to review what I had written with a fresh perspective.

Edit some more!

After another round of edits, a few minor changes were made and I was ready for submission.

MISADVENTURES OF A MAGICIAN’S SON became a personal adventure from picture book to middle grade novel that will soon be released by Blue Whale Press this coming Fall! 

Author/illustrator, Laurie Smollett Kutscera grew up in NYC’s Greenwich Village. She studied fine art and children’s book illustration at Queens College with Caldecott medalist Marvin Bileck. She is a published children’s book illustrator, an award-winning graphic designer and toy designer.
Her passion for writing began 14 years ago while cruising the eastern seaboard from Nantucket to the Virgin Islands. She is an active member of the SCBWI, 12x12 Picture Book Challenge and Children’s Book Academy.

Laurie lives on the north shore of Long Island with her husband Nick and rescue doggie, Cody. She and her husband own and operate an 85ft classic yacht for charter in NYC and Long Island Sound.




Some of you already know that one of my (Becky's) hobbies is making jewellery and charm bookmarks. I like adding pretty charms to things, along with other jewellery-making ideas. today's prize is one of my charm-added bracelets. the bracelet itself looked small to me, so I had my 16 year old daughter (who is full-grown at 5'10" tall) try it on to make sure it would fit the average person. I've added a couple of fantasy charms to it and it is today's prize (pictured above). (Don't ask me what metal it is, as I am not sure. I tend to buy mostly silver-plated and stainless steel jewellery pieces and charms. I occasionally get actual sterling silver pieces in, but I don't keep track of which is what.) But it's a pretty bracelet that comes in a pretty jewellery bag, and you can keep it for yourself or give it as a gift to someone else.) If you are already a signed-up member of the challenge, all you have to do to be entered into the drawing for today's prize is comment on this blog post. (The photo doesn't really do the bracelet justice. It's more sparkly than it looks in the photo. I'm great at photographing people and places, but not so great at photographing items.)

Monday 25 March 2019

Funny Writing for the Unfunny by Cyndi Marko #ChaBooCha

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

Funny for the Unfunny!

When Becky first asked me if I’d like to write a guest post (my friend Dani Duck apparently volunteered me as tribute), my first reaction was “Sure! That sounds like fun. I’d love to write a post.” My second reaction was “Oh crap. I have to write a post.” I had no idea what I was qualified to write about having only gotten this far by my considerable Canadian charm and sheer dumb luck. So I polled my writerly friends and they suggested I make a post about writing the funny.

Now, people have been laughing at me my whole life, but is funny something you can teach? Not everyone is lucky enough to be born a wise-cracking smartass completely out of touch with their feelings, but still...since I have made some headway recently learning to write stories with more emotional depth, I’m confident even the most boringest among us can learn to add some fun and humor to their stories!

Humor is a great way to engage young readers, so with that in mind and using my own stories as an example (as no one else deserves that kind of treatment), here are my top ten tips, in little to no order whatsoever:
  1. Have your character behave a *little* badly. Not bad enough to actually hurt anyone, but just bad enough that their behavior is slightly ridiculous and comical and at odds with their main personality trait. When my superhero character Kung Pow Chicken/Gordon Blue acts less than heroic by being petulant or cowardly, I find it hilariously fun to write. Exploiting your MC’s character flaws for comedy gold also shows the reader their relatable human (or chicken, in KPC’s case) side and endears them to the audience when they overcome this trying period of acting like a butt munch. 
  2. A little snark goes a long way. While brave, Kung Pow Chicken is often a bit oblivious to what’s really happening and gets caught up in his own heroism. So his little brother/sidekick Benny/Egg Drop is there to knock him down a peg with his snarky (but not mean) one-liners and off-side sarcastic comments. He keeps our hero from getting a little too big for his leotard.
  3. Give your character a quirk! Uncle Quack, the genius mad-scientist in the Kung Pow Chicken books, wears fuzzy pink slippers with his lab coat around town. A man (chicken) of his genius has no time for shoes! A funny quirk or affectation will be funny with minimal effort on your part. And we writers are nothing if not lazy, amirite?
  4. If they see it, they will laugh. Visual humor is a useful tool. I’m my own illustrator and I love to add funny extras in the art. If you write for young readers illustrations can provide an opportunity to add an extra layer of humor to your story, even if you aren’t an illustrator yourself. If you are lucky enough to be allowed input into the choice of your illustrator, suggest someone whose art makes you laugh.
  5. Don’t be afraid of the absurd! Go for broke and do anything for a laugh! In my first KPC book, I had the villain, an elderly grandmother, sell poisoned cookies to unsuspecting chickens that made them lose all their feathers in a mighty POOF! The only thing funnier than underpants to a kid is full frontal chicken nudity.
  6. But avoid relying on gross bathroom humor. Now I’m no prude, I enjoy a good fart joke as much as the next gal, but you’ll find many librarians, teachers, parents, reviewers, and editors do not. (At least not ones published for children.) And as our young readers have not yet joined the labor force, most of those little freeloaders haven’t got their own money with which to buy your epic ode to diarrhea.
  7. If you can’t be funny, be punny! It is true that there are some pun-hating philistines out there, but there are even more punophiles. (Is that a word? The red squiggle says not, but heck, this is my post.)
  8. Make it spoofy. Spoofing on a well-known story or character gives the reader something familiar to grab onto, while creating something fresh and funny. I’ve spoofed Batman, Spiderman, Superman, and a few others. In fact, it’s possible I’ve not ever had an original idea of my own…
  9. If you can’t laugh at yourself, who will? I often have fits of giggles when I write. I find me pretty funny. Yes, I’m easily amused, it’s true. But it’s also true that if you don’t find your work funny, nobody else will either. So have fun writing!
  10. So okay I promised ten tips, and there are only nine. Sue me. (Please don’t, I’m so poor.)
Thanks so much to Becky for the invite, and thanks to Dani for suggesting me. *side eyes Dani* I really hope this post inspires adding humor to your next WIP, and not the burning of my books. But hey, if you’ve already bought and paid for them, toast a marshmallow for me.

I’ll leave you with a smattering of my favorite funny reads. Some recent, some not so recent, all hilarious.

Skulduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy. (It has a magic-wielding skeleton detective!!! Need I say more?)

Bruno & Boots series, by Gordon Korman. Also Son of Interflux and Don’t Care High by same.
My Life as A Background Slytherin by Emily McGovern. (webcomic, find her on FB, Instagram, etc. You’re welcome.)

Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

Get Fuzzy by Darby Conley

Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton

The Bandy Papers series by Donald Jack

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Chester the Cat books and Scaredy Squirrel books by Mélanie Watt


Cyndi Marko is the award-winning author-illustrator of the KUNG POW CHICKEN heavily-illustrated early chapter book series, published by Scholastic Branches. Book one, LET'S GET CRACKING, won the Silver Birch®Express 2015 Award and BC’s 2015-2016 Chocolate Lily Award. It was also nominated for the 2017 Louisiana Young Readers’ Choice Award and the Washington State WLMA  OTTER Award 2017, and was a Kirkus Best Books of 2014 selection. KUNG POW CHICKEN has been translated into Portuguese (Brazil), Korean, and Czech. KPC #1 is also available in Spanish as a Scholastic Book Club edition.
Her latest book, THIS LITTLE PIGGY: AN OWNER'S MANUAL, from S&S Aladdin Pix, was chosen as one of the Chicago Public Library’s 2017 Best of the Best. Her next book also with Aladdin Pix, BOO! HISS!, about a ghost and a snake who are roommates in a haunted (by them) house will be available 2019.



Cyndi has generously offered today's prize. This one is limited to the US and Canada. She is offering a signed copy of either My Little Piggy: An Owner's Manual, or one of the Kung Pow Chicken books (except for the first one which she doesn't have in stock right now). All you have to do, if you are already a signed-up member of the challenge and you live in either the USA or Canada, is comment on this blog post to be entered into the drawing for this prize. The winner will be selected by a random number generator on March 31st at noon.

Saturday 23 March 2019

A Mishmash of Writing Tips by Alayne Kay Christian #ChaBooCha

A Mishmash of Writing Tips

Thank you, Becky, for inviting me back to Chapter Book Challenge this year.

I had so many writing tips that I wanted to share when I considered writing this guest post that I had a hard time deciding exactly what to share. So, I began by brainstorming the common issues I often see when considering the chapter book and middle grade manuscripts we receive at Blue Whale Press. My intention was to come up with a comprehensive list of, let’s say, ten mistakes that writers make. But, I quickly discovered that I wanted to share more than one little blog post could handle. As such, I went with the flow and wrote whatever popped into my head. The result? A mishmash of writing tips.

The following is the result of my brainstorming session.

Agents and editors are readers.

My number one tip for anyone who is planning to submit their manuscript is to remember that agents and editors are readers. So, think of them as readers before anything else. If you don’t capture them as a reader, what will make them think that your story will capture any reader? If they don’t think your story will hook readers, what will make them say “yes” to your manuscript?

A weak beginning can kill a story before it ever begins.

A slow beginning, or starting the story in the in the wrong place, can cause your reader to lose interest before the story even truly begins. Be careful that you don’t submit your writer’s warm-up as the beginning chapter(s) of your book. What I mean by “writer’s warm-up” is that it often takes a writer time to get to know their story and characters. It takes time to develop voice and mood. And it is common for the first pages or chapters of a book to be the result of that “getting to know you” writing. Once the writer gets into the swing of things, the true story begins. That is why stories often start in the wrong place. Submitting your writer’s warm-up and getting-to-know-you sessions as the beginning of your story will usually result in boredom for the reader and a pass from an editor or agent. Editors and agents have to read hundreds of manuscripts (sometimes thousands by the end of the year). They don’t have a lot of time to make decisions about the manuscripts they read. The only way to cause them to stop and really consider your story is to hook them from the very start. If you don’t grab them (or hook them) on your story right from the opening lines, your chances of success with that submission decrease. If they aren’t hooked by the end of the first chapter, your chances go way down. By the end of a third chapter that has not captured the agent or editor, a rejection will probably follow. This could vary from person to person, but I think it is a good way to explain what will likely happen if your beginning isn’t strong.

Scenes, chapters, or books where nothing is really happening are boring.

Yes, it truly is possible to write a scene, a chapter, or even an entire book where nothing significant is happening. In a book that is filled with pages where nothing is happening, the reader might gain a lot of information, but at some point, that information will not be enough to pull the reader forward, and the book (manuscript) will be abandoned.

As mentioned above, many writers include their warm-up in the first chapter(s). What are some indications of a warm-up or nothing happening?

Telling, or sometimes even showing, in detail the protagonist going through ordinary life via long stretches of narrative and dialogue.

We sometimes need a glimpse of the protagonist’s ordinary life before s/he steps over the inciting-incident threshold that moves her/him into the world of the story. But if the details are really the writer’s attempts to “get to know” their characters or the writer’s warm-up in disguise, that is a problem. Make sure that everything happening in your sentences, paragraphs, scenes, and story have a reason to be there. A GOOD reason to be there. How do they inform the reader in a way that will make the reader want to know more? How do they inform the reader in a way that is connected to the big story problem, the chapter problem, the scene that came before, and the scene that will come after? Closely related to details of an ordinary day is step-by-step description of the character’s every move. Make sure that all action is important action. If readers can figure out for themselves that a character opened the door, turned on the shower, or poured a cup of coffee, trust their ability to figure it out. Don’t bore them with such details.

Too much backstory and info dumping usually does not pull your reader forward, hence the word backstory. Try to eliminate backstory, or at least minimize it in the first chapter. Be careful not to interrupt action with a long history of something that happened way back when. Make sure that all information provided in backstory is absolutely necessary for the reader to know. Then make sure that information is absolutely necessary for your reader to know it at the time you are presenting it. Is it something that can be told later? Is it something that can be slipped into a sentence or two through brief dialogue? Is it something that can be gracefully weaved into the story here and there in short sentences?

Following is a link to a good article exploring the question, “How much is too much backstory?”

Backstory is also a form of info dumping, but there are other forms as well.  

For anyone who might not know what an info dump is, it is drawn-out telling (versus showing). It is a large chunk of information that the writer dumps all at once. And that dump goes right to the reader. There is a strong danger of losing your reader’s interest because of backstory and info dumps. Info dumps are usually told through narration and sometimes dialogue.

We want our readers to be informed, but we need to be aware and pick and choose how we inform them. We want to make sure the story is balanced and always moving forward. We want to avoid awkward and out-of-place telling. The goal is to weave information skillfully into your story so smoothly that it goes unnoticed.

Why do we want to avoid info dumps and unnecessary or lengthy backstory?

Because it interrupts the reader. You have likely done some really nice work of putting your reader into the story through action, and all of a sudden BAM! HALT! Let me take you down this rabbit hole for a while. At this point, you have stopped providing information from the story’s characters. Instead, you, the author is interrupting/communicating with the reader by telling instead of showing.

Following are some links that will tell you all about info dumping.

How to Avoid Info Dumping by Ellen Brock

Tracy Culleton talks about info dumping at

How to Avoid Info Dumping

Although I suggest providing backstory in brief dialogue, it is important not to use dialogue to dump info. Here are some tips how to avoid info dumping in dialogue.

All about weaving information into your story.

Your beginning may be writer’s warm-up in disguise if the dialogue is nothing more than banal chitchat. Every word of dialogue must have a purpose. It is tempting to offer idle chitchat because that is often part of our normal communication in real life, but in books, it is important to think of the reader. Always remember, why will the reader care?

The ever-familiar show-don’t-tell is another clue that first pages have been born out of writer’s warm-up. Of course, we need description so the reader understands setting, time, place, and so on. But too much of a good thing becomes a problem. I can almost promise you that if the story has long stretches of description, there is nothing really happening in the story. And when there is nothing happening in a story, it will not pull the reader forward.

A character that makes long speeches, or thinks to herself or speaks her thoughts aloud to herself (because there is no one else around) will get old and lose your reader’s interest as well.

Not enough action. Too much description—especially too much flowery description—and talking heads are boring. They will not pull readers forward. Minimize adverbs and adjectives. Show your characters in action. Don’t tell what is happening or how they feel.

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White says, 
“Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs. The adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place. This is not to disparage adjective and adverbs; they are indispensable parts of speech. Occasionally they surprise us with their power, as in Up the airy mountain,Down the rushy glen,We daren’t go a-huntingFor fear of little men . . . The nouns mountain and glen are accurate enough, but had the mountains not become airy, the glen rushy, William Allingham might never have got off the ground with his poem. In general however, it is nouns and verbs, not their assistants, that give good writing its toughness and color.”

If you don’t own The Elements of Style, it is one tiny reference book that every writer should read. 
Following is a link that offers some strong verbs to spice up your writing. 
Below is a link to an article on action verbs versus linking verbs. In my opinion, linking verbs generally lead to passive sentences, which indicate telling. Action verbs generally lead to action, which indicates showing. So another way to look at the discussion in the article is showing verbs versus telling verbs.
Here is a link to an article that says the same thing as the above-mentioned article but from a little different perspective—one that I like. Ten Verbs that MAKE You Tell.

All of the above tips are mistakes to be aware of throughout your story. However, if any of them happen in the beginning of your story, it could send your great idea and hard work into the agent’s or editor’s “no” pile.

I can’t stop without offering one final tip. . . .

Weak or nonexistent emotional core will not earn a “yes” from an agent or editor.

You must give the reader a reason to care about the protagonist and the story problem or goal. The protagonist’s motivation must be clear and the consequences for failing to reach the story goal or solve the problem must be clear. If the reader can’t answer the question, “Why should I care?” they won’t be able to answer the question, “Why should I invest my time reading this story (manuscript)?” It is important to give the reader something or someone to root for. What will make the reader relate to this character? What will make the reader cheer the protagonist on and worry about the protagonist? These are the things that create tension and pull the story forward, and in pulling the story forward, you pull the reader forward through the book. We want our readers to feel emotions, become curious, want to know more, turn pages - turn pages - turn pages. And that’s what we want agents and editors to do, too.

Following is an excellent article about finding the emotional core in your story.

Janice Hardy discusses character emotional core here

Hannah Heath offers seven tips for writing emotion into your story.

As hard as it is for me to stop here, this post is already running way too long. I do hope that it has provided you some food for thought and maybe even given you a few ways to improve your writing. Just as a little bonus, I will paste some links to other posts I have written about chapter book writing.


Sienna the Cowgirl Fairy
Alayne Kay Christian is the content and developmental editor for Blue Whale Press and an award-winning children’s book author. She is the creator and teacher of a picture book writing course, Art of Arc. She shares more or her knowledge and tips for writers through her Writing for Children Webinars. She has been a professional picture book and chapter book critique writer since 2014, and she worked as a 12 X 12 critique ninja for three years. Alayne is an SCBWI member and a graduate of the Institute for Children’s Literature. In addition, she has spent the last eleven years studying under some of the top names in children’s literature.




Alayne has offered an incredible prize for today's post. She'offering a golden ticket to Blue Whale Press submissions to one person, which gives the winner a pass to submit outside of the submission window, priority consideration (top of pile), and guaranteed response. All you have to do to be entered for this prize is be a signed-up member of the challenge and comment on this post. Winner will be chosen at noon on March 31st, 2019.