BIG SUR– Final Session

The conference ended with a open session of questions and answers from a panel of book experts. The five member group included:

  • Melissa Manlove (Chronicle Books)
  • Nick Healy (Capstone Young Readers/Switch Press) Note: He’s looking for a great YA memoir.
  • Andrea Brown (Andrea Brown Literary Agency)
  • Caryn Wiseman (Andrea Brown Literary Agency)
  • Jennifer Mattson (Andrea Brown Literary Agency)

I don’t exactly know who answered each of the questions, but the answers should provide insight into the current state of publishing.

  1. What advice to you have for never published writers? “Never say never – go for it.” “Value the manuscript that may not get published.” “If you get rejections don’t throw your work away.” “Patience and persistence are so important.”
  2. What’s the future of Non-Fiction? “Non-fiction is really hot again.”
  3. How does a children’s author increase their chance of getting published? “Stick with the basics of what children love and you have a better chance of getting published.”
  4. What are the current preferred word counts for the various levels of children books? “There are well publicized rules for word counts and they are broken every day. Just be in the ballpark.”
  5. Most sites list page counts rather than word counts. Is there a site that reports word counts? “Yes, go to Accelerated Reader .”
  6. What are your final thoughts as our group goes back into the lonely world of writing? “Keep networking, connecting. Take yourself serious as a writer.” “Everything you are working on moves you to your next manuscript.” “Learning to write is a rocky journey.”

I was encouraged by the reactions to my own writing. There’s still some work to do but those connections keep growing and look more promising. happy-face-clipart-y4T9gyjiE


WATCH THE SKY for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

I won a copy of this book from fellow writer and blogger, Rosi, over at her fantastic blogging home, THE WRITE STUFF. Check it out and some day you may win, too!

I found WATCH THE SKY to be a beautifully written though a difficult to read story. I would only use this as a read-aloud or in a reading group.watchthe sky The story is rich with discussion topics:

1.  What is wrong with the stepfather, Caleb? (We suspect PTSD from his soldier days or another form of mental illness.) I detested him immediately and hated what he was doing to this family.

2. Why does the Mom blindly follow this man not seeing how he is endangering the children?

3. Where did little adopted sister, Kit, come from? It’s only explained she showed up in a pumpkin patch one day.

4. Is it possible for one person to convince others his decisions are going to save their lives, even though what he says is far from plausible? How does a person become so controlling?

Not every one of these points are covered by the last page so they are ripe for debate. The most pressing question though is what happens to this family in the future? Too many unanswered pieces as I closed the book for the last time.


FULL PLOT (From Amazon):  The signs are everywhere, Jory’s stepfather, Caleb, says. Red leaves in the springtime. Pages torn from a library book. All the fish in an aquarium facing the same way. A cracked egg with twin yolks. Everywhere and anywhere. And because of them, Jory’s life is far from ordinary. He must follow a very specific set of rules: don’t trust anyone outside the family, have your work boots at the ready just in case, and always, always watch out for the signs. The end is coming, and they must be prepared.

School is Jory’s only escape from Caleb’s tight grasp. With the help of new friends, he begins to explore a world beyond his family’s farm. Then Caleb notifies the family that the time has come for final preparations: digging in their backyard canyon at night. Every night.

As the hole gets deeper, so does Jory’s doubt about whether Caleb’s prophecy is true. When the real reason for their digging becomes clear, Jory must choose between living his own life or following behind Caleb, shutting his eyes to the bright world he’s just begun to see.


  1. Jory is the hero of this story. Willing to question despite his conscience telling him it is wrong to do so. In the end he is more adult than any of the adults in the story.
  2. Jory’s friend, Alice. She was such a breath of fresh air and exactly what Jory needed when he was away from his bordering on abusive family situation. Alice is the kind of kid who initiates conversation and is curious abut the unknown. I’d read a book with her as the protagonist for sure.
  3. If you are tired of the same old storyline in MG, this book is for you. There’s nothing quite like it on the bookshelf.
  4. There is racial diversity from Jory’s new friend to his little sister with the olive skin. It’s not a central theme to the story but that’s the way it should be in a tale like this.
  5. The cover does draw you into the mystery ahead. Each image serves as a hint to the story inside. Well done.

FAVORITE LINES: Most kids had friends they hung out with after school. Most kids had mothers who left the house more than every couple of weeks. Most kids had siblings who spoke. And Jory never asked, but he was sure nobody had step-dads who constantly talked about signs.


Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.


BIG SUR– Query Tips

I’m coming to the finish line of this three day retreat. Well fed with both food and ideas to keep me going. Here are 10 thoughts if you have a Query in your writing future. They come from the panel of agents from the Andrea Brown Literary Agency:

  1. Really good manuscripts never get read when you present a bad query.
  2. Make us care about your story.
  3. Don’t include editorial comments.
  4. Put genre first so we know what we’re dealing with.
  5. No reason to submit exclusively unless an agent has specifically requested you to do so.
  6. Follow-ups are okay after 6-8 weeks.
  7. Do mention if there is series potential or if it is the first book of a trilogy.
  8. If it is a humorous story, it is fine to reflect humor in the query – just not from the character’s viewpoint.
  9. We need more queries telling us about stories with science and technology!

And finally #10… Don’t query unless your work is in absolutely top notch form. But also don’t wait forever.

Have a great Memorial Day holiday!



Nothing like rainy weather and a mountain cottage to keep your focus on writing. I’ve completed two sessions with an agent and an editor/illustrator and have learned new insights with their feedback. I recommend you have someone read your pages out loud. It’s both different and amazing hearing the words come through another reader. I have two more small group meetings remaining but wanted to post thoughts on first pages from the faculty in attendance at our large group session.

The featured guest panel of agents and editors spent 90 minutes reading our first pages out loud and discussing what they liked and didn’t like. It was anonymous so no one knew yours was being read. Here’s what works for them and increases the chances they will read on:

  1. Grab a young reader from the get-go.
  2. Slow starts are killers.
  3. Watch for overuse of movement directions.
  4. Get right into the characters.
  5. Make a super strong first sentence.
  6. Historical fiction needs a hook – the time period is not your hook.
  7. Give a sense of time, place, and setting, especially for sci-fi and fantasy.
  8. It is makes me laugh I’ll read on.
  9. Cliche’s are also killers.
  10. Make it exciting.

And this final one: You may have a great start already written. Try switching paragraphs around.

I’m heading back to the cottage and will post more tomorrow!


I’m coming up on my five year writing anniversary.  It marks the day I started crafting my first MG novel. I completed it in three months then rewrote for another year. By the end of year two I had come to the conclusion it was my practice story. Not bad, but far from great. I set that manuscript aside as a good learning experience and completed another much better effort.

My mistake on the first novel was not letting it sit long enough before revising. I vowed to detach myself from this newest effort for at least a month, but what’s a person to do when that file kept staring at me to read once more?

Easy. I wrote another story. Then I went back and revised the first followed by writing a third story. Went back and revised the first and second. Wrote a fourth, and well, you get the idea. I kept writing to put distance from my previous works so they’d appear more detached when I went back in to doctor them up.

I’m done with that cycle. Each of the manuscripts has been torn apart, put back together, recycled, spin dried, etc. I’m ready for the next step and this conference from SCBWI came at a perfect time.

BIG SUR in the ROCKIES is not your typical sit and listen type of conference. Those attending will critique each of my manuscripts. That includes agents from Andrea Brown Literary Agency, editors, authors, and 60-70 other budding writers of children’s literature. It’s an intensive two and a half days in small groups with those that share a love of MG, picture book, chapter book, or YA. Yes, there are two large group sessions where it is sit and listen, but I will be listening to one of my pitches and a first page of a manuscript read out loud for reactions from the invited panel.

There are also blocks of personal writing time following the critique sessions to tighten up any concerns. One potential problem: The setting might be tugging at me to hike instead of write.


I’ll post updates and writing advice that I learn the next three days, hoping it might help some of my blog readers in their own quest to improve their craft and/or publish.





THE ONLY GAME for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

Growing up I devoured sports books like candy. It’s what kept me reading. Nowadays I find myself into  a wide variety of books, but when summer or51Xx4hmhAfL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ fall approaches I get the urge to immerse myself in another thrilling sport’s story. Mike Lupica is one of my go to authors for this purpose and his newest, THE ONLY GAME, arrived just in time.

The story is about dealing with a tragedy, quitting something you love because of that tragedy, but then finding new friends who understand and help. Our protagonist, Jack, has much to worry with the choices he feels he must make. It’s not your typical book about baseball though there are numerous games played. I’ve known kids who have lost a close sibling, and its a tough road to travel for each of them. It does take time and though parts of this novel are predictable, I enjoyed this tale enough to feature it today.


FULL PLOT (From Amazon):  Jack Callahan is the star of his baseball team and sixth grade is supposed to be his year. Undefeated season. Records shattered. Little League World Series. The works. That is, until he up and quits.

Jack’s best friend Gus can’t understand how Jack could leave a game that means more to them than anything else. But Jack is done. It’s a year of change. Jack’s brother has passed away, and though his family and friends and the whole town of Walton thinks baseball is just the thing he needs to move on, Jack feels it’s anything but.

In comes Cassie Bennett, star softball player, and the only person who seems to think Jack shouldn’t play if he doesn’t want to. As Jack and Cassie’s friendship deepens, their circle expands to include Teddy, a guy who’s been picked on because of his weight.

Time spent with these new friends unlocks something within Jack, and with their help and the support of his family and his old friends, Jack discovers sometimes it’s more than just the love of the game that keeps us moving—and he might just be able to find his way back to The Only Game.


  1. Jack’s parents are supportive and understanding. They are both there for him in different ways and together they make a super family. You’d love to have them as neighbors.
  2. Cassie, Jack’s new friend, is a feisty and strong female character. It’s understood by everyone that she is a leader and you’d best listen to her advice. No early romance here but their friendship strengthens as the story unfolds.
  3. Too often baseball books are formula written with a team playing through a season to win a championship. The addition of Jack’s struggles to regain his past and his drive to help another new friend, Teddy, The Only Game takes a much different path.
  4. The coach reminded me of many of the fine coaches you see and hear each summer in the Little League World Series. There’s a trick to motivating 12-year-olds and these gifted coaches always seem to have the right words.
  5. This becomes the first book in Mike Lupica’s new series called A HOME TEAM. I am looking forward to whatever this brings forth whether it be the same characters we’ve met here or new ones.

FAVORITE LINES: He knew how much he was going to miss baseball. He was missing it already, just watching the Red Sox play the Orioles on television. Now he wondered how much he was going to have to miss his best friend, too. But maybe you could get better at missing things–and people–with enough practice.

No Quote from the author this week as most were too long. You may be interested in Mike’s author page where you can see the wide variety of MG related sport’s books he has written.


Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.



I’m excited to be a part of the blog tour for this new series by J. Scott Savage. The cover grabbed my attention and I’m anxiously looking forward to the scheduled release in Fall, 2015. Read on for all the details.Myteries of COVE_cover

STEAMPUNK! Plus Dragons!

Trenton Colman is a creative thirteen-year-old boy with a knack for all things mechanical. But his talents are viewed with suspicion in Cove, a steam-powered city built inside a mountain. In Cove, creativity is a crime and “invention” is a curse word. Kallista Babbage is a repair technician and daughter of the notorious Leo Babbage, whose father died in an explosion-an event the leaders of Cove point to as an example of the danger of creativity.

Working together, Trenton and Kallista learn that Leo Babbage was developing a secret project before he perished. Following clues he left behind, they begin to assemble a strange machine that is unlikely anything they’ve ever seen before. They soon discover that what they are building may threaten every truth their city is founded on-and quite possibly their very lives.

A Note from author, J. Scott Savage:

Like many of my books, the inspiration for my new series Fires of Invention came from the collision of two ideas. The first time the savage, j. scottstory occurred to me was while I was watching the musical Wicked with my wife. The moment I walked into the theater and saw the huge mechanical dragon above the stage, I thought, Wow! I have to write a story about that! A few weeks later, I was talking with my nephew, who is probably the most creative kid I know, but whose inventiveness often gets him into trouble, and I thought, What if a kid who had the talents of my nephew lived in a world where creativity was against the law? What if the kids were building . . . a steam-powered dragon? Bam! I had my story.

Powered by great feedback from my agent, Michael Bourret, my good friend and author James Dashner, my publisher, Chris Schoebinger, and the song “Warriors” by Imagine Dragons, I wrote the entire first draft of the first volume in the series, Mysteries of Cove in four weeks. This book is unlike anything I have ever written. There are elements of City of Ember, Dragon Riders, and Hugo in it all mashed up together in a world I fell in love with from the moment I started writing.

I think what’s most exciting to me about this book is that it’s about giving yourself the freedom to imagine. To take chances. Too often we limit ourselves by only trying things we’re confident we can succeed at when what we need to do is give ourselves permission to fail. Often it is when we attempt things with no idea of how we can possibly pull them off that we achieve our greatest successes.

Author Bio:

J. Scott Savage is the author of the Farworld middle grade fantasy series and the Case File 13 middle grade monster series. He has been writing and publishing books for over ten years. He has visited over 400 elementary schools, dozens of writers conferences, and taught many writing classes. He has four children and lives with his wife Jennifer and their Border Collie, Pepper, in a windy valley of the Rocky Mountains.

INSTAGRAM: jscottsavage