THE PLOT WHISPERER Blog Tour: Lacey Picks the Winners. Kind of.

This post is dedicated to Trixie, Debbi Michiko Florence’s dog. I’ve met Trixie, and she’s a sweetie. She’s also amazing–I’m always impressed at how clever she is when she helps Debbi pick a winner in one of their giveaways. You can see Debbi and Trixie together, at Jama Kim Rattigan’s celebration of National Dog Day. You can also watch Trixie here, as she picks ME to win a copy of Gabrielle Zevin’s All These Things I’ve Done.

I was curious. Would my cat, Lacey, be at all interested in helping out the way Trixie does? I was pretty sure she wouldn’t actually carry the winner’s names over to me, but I thought maybe she would bat around the paper with the winner’s name. Or at least sniff at it. She does a lot of sniffing.

I decided to try an experiment, following Debbi & Trixie’s steps as closely as possible, with the entries for Martha Alderson’s new writing book, The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master. I have to admit, I was a little tremulous–Lacey would have to clearly pick out two pieces of paper, without knocking them all under the bookshelf or something, where I’d never get to them and never know who had won.

Really, I needn’t have worried.

First, I put all the names on a piece of paper, folded those, and set them in a circle. I was working on the idea that maybe we’d go with the first two names Lacey batted out of the circle.

My son went to check if the cat was ready. You can see she was raring to go.

To get the full sarcasm of that last statement, go back and look at Trixie on Debbi’s blog, waiting so eagerly for Debbi to let her pick, then do the comparison. Yeah.

Basically, it was Kitty-Drawing fail. Lacey was so uninterested that she jump right out of the circle, over the pieces of the paper. You got it. Without picking one. So quickly that we were unable to get a photo.

Plan B.

First I needed to get the pieces of paper into a smaller space. A reachable-by-paw-while-being-held space.

I had reached the obvious conclusion that Lacey, unlike Trixie, needed a little help. (Note: No kitties were harmed in the making of this blog, only a small amount of kitty pride.) So, together, neither of us knowing which name was written on which piece of paper, we chose two winners.

Lacey and I (and my son, the photographer) say congratulations to:

Jennifer Fosberry and Suzanne Morrone, send me an email at beckylevine at ymail dot com, with your snail-mail addresses, and I’ll get your copies of The Plot Whisperer out to you. Don’t worry, I’m not going to ask Lacey to drive them to the post office!

Everybody else, you’ve got lots more chances to win. Martha has posted the schedule for the rest of her blog tour here, and there are more giveaways to come! And, Debbi, if Trixie has any tips for Lacey on doing this drawing-thing right, feel free to share.


Martha Alderson: The Plot Whisperer Blog Tour, Day 3

I count myself lucky in many ways. A big one of those ways is all the amazing people that my writing has brought into my life. And one of those people is Martha Alderson.

You probably know her better as The Plot Whisperer.

Martha and I met over ten years ago, in the first critique group I joined when I moved up to the Bay Area. If you’d asked either of us back then if we thought we’d write books about writing, I think we would have laughed pretty hard. I don’t know, though–one of the things I love the most about Martha is that she always dreams…and dreams big. So the fact that she has just published her second book on writing–or to be more specific–on plot, should be no surprise. And if you’ve followed her tweets at @plotwhisperer, you’re not surprised either. In fact, you probably can’t wait to read the book!

Well, you’ve come to the right place. (Okay, you’ve come to one of the right places. Tomorrow, the blog tour stops at Not an Editor, where Mary Baader Kaley is also having a giveaway. And check out Martha’s blog for a complete list of her blog tour stops and other chances to win a copy.) I’ve got TWO copies of The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master to give away. I usually run my contests for a while, but I’m keeping this one short so you’ll have time to enter all the other contests, too.  I’ll draw the winners Thursday night and announce them Friday morning. Make sure to stop back!

Let me tell you a little bit about Martha. Yes, she dreams, but she does more than that. She continuously shares that dream with others. Martha understand plot, but–as she’ll tell you–it’s an understanding she worked to reach, so she absolutely gets how those of who are not so good at plotting feel.  Because of this, her advice is always sympathetic and supportive, but it’s also strong. One of the best things about having had Martha as a critique partner is that she never gets lost in the words, in the stuff that fills in and layers around the plot points. Every time Martha has read a piece I’ve written, or done a plot planner for one of my stories, she has zeroed right in on the big pieces of the plot. Sometimes, it’s the lack of those pieces, but one of the best things Martha ever said to me was, “This has too many plots. It’s too crowded.”

Guess what? She was right.

Martha believes in plot. She recognizes that there are many writers who worry that, by plotting, they’ll make their story stiff or formulaic. She recognizes and respects that fear, but she also reassures us–rightly, I think–that the plot is the container, the structure, that holds all the magic we could ever want to write. And she coaches us through all the steps of creating that plot.

I bought Martha’s first book, Blockbuster Plots: Pure and Simple, when it came out. And last night, I drove over the hill to attend Martha’s launch party at Capitola Book Cafe and buy her new book. I talked earlier about this week how I’m struggling with plot on this WIP. I’m thinking it’s pretty nice of Martha to publish The Plot Whisperer just when I need it.

That’s just how she is!

I’m not doing NaNoWriMo, but I know a lot of you are. You’ve still got time to do a little pre-plotting and, even as you write as speedily as possible, you can be thinking about story. If you haven’t checked out Martha’s YouTube series on plot, do so now. And leave a comment for this post to enter my giveaway copy of The Plot Whisperer. (If your comment ID doesn’t include an email, please leave that in the comment as well, so I can let you know if you’re the winner!)

Good luck!

What We Can Learn from Roald Dahl & a BFG (Big Friendly Giveaway)!

I love books. I love authors. I am constantly impressed by what other people put on the page, how tightly they weave a story, how instantaneously they pull me into their characters. If you read my blog at all or follow my Facebook updates, you know this.

Honestly, though, there are only a few authors at whose altars I truly worship. Worship as in stand in awe at the magic they have wrought, at the perfection of their books, at how lost I get when I am in their world.

Roald Dahl is one of these authors.

For his birthday, I thought I’d toss up a few things I think we can learn from Mr. Dahl, whether we’re writers, readers, parents, or even a politician who’s capable of walking around with an open mind. Really. I think there are a few.

Distraction: If you want to read a delicious post about Roald Dahl and FOOD, plus get a RECIPE, check out Jama Rattigan’s birthday post here.

Here we go…

  • Chocolate is good. Just ask Charlie.
  • Love is also good. Even for us old folks. Read Esio Trot.
  • There are bad people in the world. Sometimes they’re witches (read The Witches), sometimes they’re aunts or parents (read James and the Giant Peach and Matilda.) If you try to pretend they don’t exist, that everybody is a kind friend, you aren’t fooling the kids–whether you’re writing for them or parenting them. Or censoring “for” them.  Are you really fooling yourself?
  • It’s okay to take on these bad people and do battle. Even if you are the child whom other people will tell to stay in your place, be quiet, don’t argue. You have power and strength. Sometimes that strength comes as magic (read Matilda again), and sometimes it comes as intelligence, creativity, and determination (read The BFG). Find your strengths, welcome them, and use them.
  • There are also good people out there, who will listen to you, give you friendship, and support you in your battle. Find them, trust them, and stick with them.
  • Push yourself. Take risks. Cross the line. Again, this applies to our life-life, but really, really, it applies to our writing life. (Read any of Dahl’s books.) Look at what Roald Dahl wrote. Look at the extreme situations he put his characters in, and look at the extremes they used to save themselves. Did he touch adult nerves? Oh, yes, he did. And does. Do the kids care? They do not. They just fall in love.
  • Do that with your writing—Fall. In. Love. I don’t know for a fact how Dahl felt about his own stories. I’m sure he struggled, as we all do, with early drafts, with revision that wasn’t taking him where he wanted to go. But I’m also sure, in my gut, that he could not have written the magic he gave us, without loving what he was doing. Without loving his heroes, without loving their worlds. Yeah, I’m sure.

I know I just had a contest, but, really, I need another one with this post. Leave a comment with the title of your favorite Roald-Dahl book and tell me why. I’ll leave the contest up over the weekend, and I’ll announce a winner on Monday–a winner for a copy of my favorite book by Dahl: The BFG.

Wednesday Winner: My Choice for the Best Revision Metaphor

Well, my contest got some pretty great entries and even some back-and-forth between entrants, which is always cool. I think everybody came close, getting to that feeling of having to take things apart and–somehow–put them back together. Which is really what revision is all about! Thank you to everybody who entered.

BUT..There can be only one.

So, I’m picking Cathy C. Hall for her bathroom makeover. Okay, yes, she cracked me up, but that isn’t the “winning” reason. I thought Cathy did a fantastic job of getting in the push/pull of working within the structural/functional stuff you need to keep, at the same time as you tear things apart around that stuff and make big changes. Plus, she gave me this line, which really says it all: “along the way, you find that every time you make a change, it affects the whole makeover.” Yes.

So, Cathy, congrats! And thank you! Send me an email at beckylevine at ymail dot com to claim your prize!

Contest: What’s Your Revision Metaphor?

WARNING: MIXED METAPHORS (or possibly even analogies) AHEAD:

You know that stage in revision, when things are FINALLY coming together? When you start to see the light at the end of the tunnel (and it’s NOT a train)? I have struggled for years to come up with a good way to describe. Something concise, cohesive, and coherent that really hits the nail on the head. See? There’s already that whole nail/hammer imagery going on, and we haven’t got to the contest yet!

I’m heading off to yet another workshop where I will be talking about this moment WITHOUT a metaphor. Without one that really says it all. Oh, sure, I’ll talk about weeding out the stuff that doesn’t belong, I’ll describe sanding off the rough spots. I’ll tell them how the puzzle pieces start to fit, even fall into place on their very own. I’ll mention Michelangelo’s (or was it daVinci? Someone else altogether?) idea that the statue is already in the chunk of rock, and that if you (only he?!) chip away long enough, the complete thing will emerge. If I’m crazy enough, I might even mention the idea that it’s kind of like carving something out of soap and watching all the spare flakes fall to the ground (and hoping that the darned thing doesn’t snap into pieces).

Okay, no, I won’t talk about all these things. The workshop is only an hour, for pete’s sake. Plus, I don’t want the people who come to listen thinking I’m completely crazy.

Wouldn’t it be nice, though, to come back to the answer. A description of one or two (okay, MAYBE three) sentences that just…says it? You all know what I’m talking about–if you haven’t hit it yet, yourselves, you’ve heard other people talk about it and you’ve dreamed about it happening to you. Yes, you have. I’m not saying it’s the moment of “done.” But it’s that time when all the work you’ve done starts to feel worthwhile. When you see a glimmer of resemblance between the words on the page and the vision in your mind. When you at least start to believe that you may possibly create something that holds together, stands on its own, doesn’t–as my husband is fond of saying–roll on square wheels.

So, while I’m gone: A contest.

Normally, I am a totally random contest-winner chooser. I put all the names in the hat, and I draw one out. Not this time. This time, I will be…A JUDGE.

Here’s what I want. Post your entry in the comment section of this post. I’ll give you UP TO 3 sentences to come up with a metaphor (or an analogy or a simile or a comparison or a whatever) that gets these elements across:

  • That feeling that you’ve gotten rid of most, if not all, of those big extras you THOUGHT you’d need but that you now see have no place in the story.
  • That feeling that, when you make a change in one chapter, you (almost) instantly think of one or two more places in the book that you need to change, and you’ve got a pretty clear idea of what change is going to work.
  • That feeling that, as you revise, you’re connecting your characters at a deeper level, that everybody’s story is starting to link up with everybody else’s. In a good way.
  • And, finally, that feeling that you may still have a long way to go, but that–right now–you’re very busy turning this story into something.


Wait, what? Oh, a prize? Yes, there is a prize.

If you win, and you don’t already have it, I’ll send you a signed copy of my book, The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide. But I don’t want to cut out ideas from anybody who already has the book. SO…if you win and you do already have the book and don’t want a copy for a friend, I’ll send you, INSTEAD, a copy of Colin Cotterill’s The Coroner’s Lunch. Just because this series is my newest happy reading discovery, and I like to share. Basically, your choice!

I’m going to run the contest for a week, and I’ll announce the winner on Wednesday, May 18th. I’m going to make no claims about knowing the BEST entry; I’m just going to pick the one that feels the most right with the way I feel when I get to this point in revising. I’m still working on an early draft of my WIP, so all these entries are going to be nice reminders of what I have to look forward to–good motivation for writing along, so I get to revise.

Enter away. And have fun!

Christina Katz’ Every-Day-in-May Book Giveaway

For those of you who don’t know Christina Katz yet, she’s the author of Get Known Before the Book Deal, Writer Mama, Author Mama, and the upcoming The Writer’s Workout. Christina also has a great website & blog with tons of wonderful resources.

This month, she’s having a humongous giveaway.

What with being away for a few days, I missed the start, but–like the picture says–she’s giving away a book every day for the rest of the month, including The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide somewhere along the way. Today’s contest is for a copy of Melissa Hart’s memoir, Gringa.

The rules (simple ones, believe me!) for the month-long contest are posted here. Click over and check everything out!

The Gift of Writing for Kids—Bruce Coville Book Giveaway

So, this past weekend, I headed up to Sacramento for the SCBWI Spring Spirit conference. Which ROCKED. I may do another post this week telling more about it, along with perhaps a few car photos from my research trip, but what I wanted to talk about this morning was Bruce Coville‘s talk. Or part of it.

The part where he talked about why we write for kids. (Hint: It’s not the money.)

Slight detour first. I am very clear, personally, on why I write for kids and teens. Yes, I hope that they’ll read and love my books; yes, I think about them as the audience while I’m writing; yes, I try and figure out the best way to make my story connect with their world. But the full truth is that I do this writing…for me. I write because I need to, because I love the way it feels when words come off my fingers onto the keyboard. I write specifically for kids and teens because those are my favorite books to read, because the “club” I most want to belong to is the one whose members are the authors whose books I devoured as a kid. I admit it–I write for very selfish reasons.

I hear so many people talk about the book that most impacted them, the book where they first recognized themselves or the one that changed the way they saw the world. Honestly, I don’t have one of those. Every book that has hit me strongly as a child, as a teen, as an adult has hit me as an author. As in, WOW–look at the characters this writer created. Look at the way they built that world. Look at how they made me cry. Look at the flow of the prose. The books that are listed in my head as the most important are the ones that just made me–even more than before–want to be a writer. While I may have loved their content, the content is not what hit my life–it was and has always been about the writing.

But Bruce said something in his keynote that made me start thinking. And the basic thread is one we’ve all heard before, but it struck a chord for me Saturday. He basically created a picture, onstage in front of us, of The Kid who has just discovered reading. The one who has found THE BOOK (whether it be about content or prose) that, for him or her, has just opened up an entirely new world–the world of stories on a page. I don’t remember what that book was for me. The story goes that my big sister came home from first grade. played School with me, and taught me to read. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know that my favorite thing in the world was to curl up with a book. I don’t remember the magic of discovering that feeling.

I do, though, know what that magic looks like on the face of another child. I know what it looked like on my son’s face; I know what it looked like on the faces of his young schoolmates, and I know what it looks like on the face of the boy or girl sitting on the floor of the bookstore or library, oblivious to everything that is going on around them.

I’m writing a picture book. I’m not sure whether or not a picture book can, by itself, create this magic–because they are so often part of cuddling with Mom and Dad, a grandparent, a teacher, an older sibling, a babysitter. I’m not sure whether or not this magic can be created with anyone else there, or if it is a simple, pure communion between a child and the book (and, yes, I think an e-reader qualifies!). What I think may be true is that there is an age-range, or reading-range, where the magic happens, and that it does fall somewhere between picture books and MG novels. Between the time the child starts to love stories and the time when they have already become book addicts and are now adding books and hours to their habit. I’m not sure if/when I will write a story that falls into that range, but I think–after this conference–that it must be a goal to think about.

I don’t know if Bruce Coville was the one who created that magic for my son. It may have been Bill Watterson, because the first time my son asked if he could read in bed before turning out the light, it was so he could lie there and “read” Calvin and Hobbes by himself. It may have been Roald Dahl. It may have been any one of the authors he loved when he was young. What I do know, and remember, is the click I heard in his reading world when he found Bruce Coville’s books. These were some of the first books I got him that were by an author I hadn’t read, didn’t know about. They were if not the first, some of the first, science-fiction stories he read. They were some of the first books that I picked up to read to myself, because my son loved them so much. My son’s favorites, and mine, were the Sixth-Grade Alien series, with Tim and Pleskitt as best friends. And then, of course, Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, because…hey, it had a dragon. And a disappearing magic shop. And lots more.

They didn’t have any of the Pleskitt books at the conference bookstore. They did have another favoriteThe Monster’s Ring, which I think has the (very brief) scariest moment I remember reading in any of Bruce Coville’s book. I bought a copy, and I asked Mr. Coville to sign it (with, I hope, a minimum of gushing). And I’m giving that book away here.

I’d like to give it away to someone with a child, or who knows a child, that hasn’t read Coville’s books yet. I’d like to send this book off somewhere to a boy or girl who might not yet have fallen in love with books, or not yet found their stories. I’m not going to ask any of you to pass a test for the giveaway, or prove that you know the perfect recipient. If you just love these books yourself and absolutely need a copy, then go for it. If your son or daughter had this book and something happened to it, or they just can’t speak at the thought of having a copy with Bruce Coville’s signature on it, I totally get that, and they should get a chance to have that! But if you think around your world, and you know a kid who needs to find their book, who wants to love reading but hasn’t quite got there yet, then–please–enter. I want this giveaway to send a little bit of that magic into the world.

So…all you have to do to enter the contest is leave a comment below. But if you’ve got a story to share about your book, the one that grabbed you as a child and made you a reader, or the one that did that for one of your own kids, a student, whoever–I’d love to hear that, too.

I’ll run this contest for a week, and I’ll draw one random winner next Monday, April 11th. Feel free to spread the word!