Writer, Editor, and Creative Strategist

children's book author, writer, social media coachWelcome!

I’m Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan. I’m best known as a children’s author and freelance writer. Clients work with me when they need:

  • Business writing and blogging
  • Editing and e-book production
  • Creative consultation and promotion
  • Social media coaching

As a runner and triathlete, I have a great work ethic. In my experience, a tough physical challenge is a great way to spark incredible ideas.

As a mom, I know the value of humor and patience. My own children keep me on my creative toes and offer endless inspiration. Need help with grumpy kids? Picky kids? Grab a book below!

Contact me at 412.837.9499 or onesweetwriter[at]gmail.com if you need:

My writing appears frequently in magazines like Family Fun and AppleSeeds as well as Writer’s Weekly, Children’s Writer, and Kidsburgh. I have won awards for my fiction and poetry with my most recent flash fiction story appearing in Leading Edge Literary Magazine.

I have my MA in American History and have been a science educator, stage performer and worked with non-profits for over 10 years. When I’m not training for an upcoming road race or triathlon, I’m exploring the world with my husband and three children. I’ve been to 31 out of 50 states and 3 continents and counting!

I tackle each writing assignment with enthusiasm and would love to apply my skills to your project.

I encourage you to review my extensive writing samplesview my testimonials, visit my Amazon.com Author Page, and visit my LinkedIn profile.

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Banned Books – Is it ever worth it?

How do you feel about banned books? I’m pretty opposed to banning books. I don’t think every book should be read, but I don’t think anything good can come of trying to ban books. In fact, I have a lovely coffee mug from Book Riot via Quarterly featuring the titles of banned books.

I’ve heard Ellen Hopkins speak at the 2014 SCBWI Winter Conference and her books have been banned. I read her first one, Crank, and it stirred a lot of uncomfortable feelings in me as a parent. And I’m glad I read it.

My mom sent me an email recently about a book that was taken off the reading list for high schoolers in Delaware. The book is The Miseducation of Cameron Post Emily M. Danforth. The school board voted 6-1 to take the book off the summer reading list for incoming freshmen because of the F-word in the book. The school board also claims it removed the book from the summer reading list but did not ‘ban’ the book or remove it from school libraries. Other groups claim the book was removed because the main character, a young woman, is gay. Opponents to the ban (let’s just call it that) say other books with similar language weren’t taken off the list – just this one about the lesbian.

In response to the removal of this book, free copies are being given away to any high school student in Delaware with proof of identification! A free book – a free award-winning, critically-praised book! Oh to be young and in high school again!

There’s also an essay contest sponsored by local libraries on the theme of “what school board members should know about this book.” I can imagine some heartfelt personal essays.

I’ve read books that were at some point banned. I’ve read great books that were banned, and stupid books that should have been banned because they made me dumber.

I, too, am a little freaked out at the thought of my 13-year old reading the F-word. But I know he’s already heard the word. And he’s going to hear it many, many more times in his life. I want to protect my kid, too. But I don’t think I’m protecting him if I hide books – or real life – from him. I think I’m best protecting him by helping him process the difficult things he’s going to encounter in life.

But in my opinion, banning a book just makes it more exciting to read the book. That kind of reverse psychology works all the time with my kids. And it works with adults, too! Make something illegal (Prohibition,anyone?) and everyone wants it!!

 

Have you ever opposed a book banning?

What’s your favorite banned book? 

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Picture Book Workshop and Manuscript Submission

In June, I attended a picture book workshop hosted by my local SCBWI chapter and led by editors Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson. In addition to the picture book workshop, Harold and Eileen provided manuscript critiques and tips on revision.

I submitted my story Mission: Compostable! for critique. Harold gave generally positive critique and suggested I add some factual back matter to the story when I submit it to the several science publishers he recommended.

The workshop was really helpful for picture books but also in telling stories in novel format. And after this workshop, I finally took the plunge and submitted my novel manuscript (Dare Club) to the agents I had met at Pennwriters Conference in May. Wish me luck!

At the workshop, Harold brought up one of my favorite online fun-and-games tools – Wordle – and showed us how it could play a part in manuscript revision. Wordle creates a visual word map from the text you paste into the comment field. For a picture book, you could probably paste in the complete manuscript. I grabbed a few pages from my novel and pasted in the text. Here’s one result:

manuscript revision tool

The larger words are used more often. It would be really bad if your picture book manuscript had the word “said” as the largest word in the Wordle. I hope it’s a good sign that my main characters names’ are super-huge words. It’s funny (maybe in a worrisome way?) that the word “dare” is so small in the bottom-middle-left, in a faint grey color.

Harold and Eileen also suggested some great books for writers, including Writing Picture Books: A Hands-on Guide from Story Creation to Publication by Ann Whitford Paul and Picture Writing by Anastasia Suen, and Writing Picture Books for Children. I have yet to read them, but I do read lots of picture books night after night to my boys.

What fun revision techniques do you use on your manuscript?

What are your favorite books for writers about writing?

 

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Creative science writing

creative science writing

Inspiration from nature

Creative science writing, not exactly science fiction but fiction based in fact, is one of my favorite kinds of writing. Recently I finished a fun story about a worm who saves a compost pile. Lots of creative science writing in that tale.

And earlier this year my middle son asked me to write a story about a certain type of bee he invented. I was delighted with his character but struggled to come up with a story. So this week I grabbed a large stack of non-fiction children’s books about bees from the library. I have learned so much amazing detail about the lives of bees. There is fodder there for at least three different kinds of stories and maybe two decent poems. I have big dreams for this creative science tale, like middle grade novel or maybe even graphic novel length. If only I could draw!

Following along science-and-nature inspired creative writing,  I have rediscovered the most amazing book that I bought for my boys but selfishly I am now claiming for my own. The Tree That Time Built: A Celebration of Nature, Science, and Imagination (A Poetry Speaks Experience). Seriously. Even if you claim you don’t like poetry, you must get this book.

What’s a book, story or poem that you love that is an example of creative science writing?

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Tomboys or Sissies: Which do you want?

boys sculpture tomboys

My boys view Miro’s sculpture “The Caress of a Bird” described as a “totem of female sexuality.”

“I’m pretty sure my daughter will be a tomboy,” my friend, father of a nine-month old girl, proudly announced. I automatically smiled, because I think my friends would describe me as more tomboy than girly-girl. My sons are often surprised when I wear a dress. Because girly-girls wear dresses, right?

But then I started thinking about my three boys – and how the male equivalent of the word “tomboy” is not nearly as kind. If I said to another parent, “I’m pretty sure one of my boys will be a sissy!” I doubt they’d smile and congratulate me.

Books for Tomboys? Or Sporty Kids?

Recently I received an email from Kara Thom, the author of Hot (Sweaty) Mamas: Five Secrets to Life as a Fit Mom announcing her new book series Go! Go! Sports Girls! The series really interested and excited me, but it also made me wonder what comparable series would be written for boys.

To be fair, Thom does state the series is for children – not just girls. And my boys willingly read books about boys and girls, so they’d probably love the books about soccer, swimming and running, three sports they really love. Here’s what Go! Go! Sports Girls! is about, according to Thom:

The 32-page illustrated books explore social-emotional growth through sport in engaging stories that empower children to “Dream Big and Go For It!” The titles are:

Soccer Girl Cassie’s Story: Teamwork is the Goal
Swimmer Girl Suzi’s Story: Winning Strokes
Runner Girl Ella’s Story: Family Fun Run
Gymnastics Girl Maya’s Story: Becoming Brave
Dancer Girl M.C.’s Story: One Step at a Time
Cheerleader Girl Roxy’s Story: Leading the Way

This project has been a passion for me as I raise three young athletic daughters, but also because I’m part of a movement to give girls better choices. Girls need more than the stereotypical options packaged in pink, as well as options other than over-sexualized toys such as Bratz, Monster High, and their ilk.

Go! Go! Sports Girls are age-appropriate, proportioned to a real girl’s body, project a positive image, and deliver a healthy message. The Go! Go! Sports Girls better reflect our family’s lifestyle and values. Girls play sports and so should their dolls. My daughters McKenna, Kendall, and Jocelyn have grown up playing with Go! Go! Sports Girls, and still do. I might add that my son, Blake, who has no concept that his mom is the author, is a fan of the books as well.

To be clear, I completely agree with Thom’s goal of motivating and inspiring young girls in a different way than lots of popular media representations of girls. But what about my boys? How can I encourage them to follow their interests and passions if those interests aren’t typical “boy” activities? And how come we don’t have a cool word for boys who act like girls? It’s so unfair that girls can be cool tomboys but boys acting like girls is labeled an insult.

I’ve been trying to come up with examples of behaviors that are frequently seen as feminine that I’d want my boys to feel free to adopt in a world without gender stereotypes. Maybe being more empathetic? I wasn’t sure that what I thought was feminine was feminine, by social standards. I found this on Planned Parenthood:

WORDS COMMONLY USED TO DESCRIBE FEMININITY
dependent
emotional
passive
sensitive
quiet
graceful
innocent
weak
flirtatious
nurturing
self-critical
soft
sexually submissive
accepting

I wasn’t really thrilled when I read some of the items on the list. Because I’m certainly not graceful or quiet. But I would totally love it if my boys learned to be quiet sometimes! Maybe that would be one of the books in my series about boys exploring new behaviors: Little Tommy Learns Not to Scream Every Word! I could get behind a book for boys focusing on that. But I’m not really thrilled about a lot of those qualities on the list. And I think that’s why lots of parents are proud of having ‘tomboys.’ But they wouldn’t love it if their boys were described as weak or passive.

To be fair, Planned Parenthood didn’t make that list to say how women should behave. They follow the lists with this:

“Clearly, society’s categories for what is masculine and feminine are unrealistic. They may not capture how we truly feel, how we behave, or how we define ourselves. All men have some so-called feminine traits, and all women have some so-called masculine traits. And we may show different traits at different times. Our cultures teach women and men to be the opposite of each other in many ways. The truth is that we are more alike than different.”

What could we write?

But I’m really serious in my question here! I’m all for tomboys and girly-girls doing what they love most. And I love that these books for girls are about social-emotional growth through sports (traditionally and still a heavily male arena) because sports and physical strength are a key part of my happiness.

What series of books could we write about boys embracing traditionally female activities for social emotional growth?

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Writers Rejection Slips

writers rejection slips

Hurts so good?

Do you keep track of your writers rejection slips? Way, way back when I first started submitting my short stories to literary magazines, I kept a big file full of all my writers rejection slips. Since I followed the advice of all the big writers’ advice magazines, I was sending out stories to ten different journals at time, so my collection of rejection slips grew pretty rapidly.

I had better luck with my non-fiction writing back then and landed a stringer position at a small neighborhood newsletter. I took a small break to learn how to manage being the mom of three kids, and then went back to writing full steam ahead. I quit my day job, started my own business and got down to work.

My collection of writers rejection slips is still growing, but now it’s online. For instance, you can see the list of writers rejection slips on my Submittable account to the left.

One of my writing mentors once said she doesn’t even keep track of rejections, she just moves on the next submission. I believe that’s good advice for people who get hung up and slowed down by rejections, but I need to keep track of where I’ve submitted and what stories I’ve submitted.

So in addition to Submittable I keep a small notebook on my desk and jot down queries, pitches and submissions by month. Then I go back and indicate when each submission was accepted or rejected.

Sure, l’m still receiving writers rejection slips. But my acceptances are also growing.

And I’m actually ok with keeping track of these rejections for at least one reason: they are real proof that I am living my promise to myself to be a professional writer. Many people write as a hobby, or journal to keep track of their lives. But I am a professional writer. I make my living on words. And every rejection is a little badge of the bravery and effort it took to think of an idea that might work, put in the time to research it and write it, send it off to the editor, and face their possible scorn and derision – or their surprise and delight!

I really believe it’s true that you are not going to get acceptances before getting a serious number of rejections. And I also have noticed that I’m learning a lot more from my rejections. In more instances, editors are taking the time to note specifically why they didn’t chose some of my works. That helps a lot.

In the spirit of looking for the silver lining around writers rejection slips, I recently submitted a short essay about one of my most painful rejections to Cairn Press. The editors there are putting together an anthology on rejections, and I loved that they acknowledged that they would have to reject some of the rejection stories. Like pouring salt in the wound.

Do you keep track of your rejections?

Have you learned anything from a rejection?

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Regional dialect and writing

dialect writing

Porgy

Does your story require writing in a regional dialect? I recently finished reading two books, Porgy and The Owl Service, that I believe were dependent on regional dialect to truly convey the stories and characters.

Last year, I picked up Porgy after I heard an interview on Fresh Air with one of the performers in the current stage revival of Porgy and Bess. I had never seen the musical and didn’t know the story, but the discussion about the various characters in the story intrigued me. The book thrilled me. The characters were fully developed, their needs and wants were clear and the obstacles they had to face were believable. Also, the dialect helped transport me to another world and often helped indicate the balance of power in the story, especially in situations where the blacks in Catfish Row spoke with the white police detectives.

 

 

 

dialect and writing

The Owl Service

This past month I finished The Owl Service. It was on the list of 100 books all 11-year olds should read as compiled by Philip Pullman. This book was a challenge for me! While I adore weaving ancient legend into modern life, I admit the ending was a bit over my head. I didn’t quite get it, probably because I don’t know the Welsh legends as well as I should. But I did love trying to come to grips with the Welsh dialogue. It was just as stimulating and challenging as the dialogue in Porgy. And the confusing tenses and vague word usage of the native Welsh also confused the wealthier English characters in the story. Language and dialect again revealed tension and inequalities in power.

Both novels needed that unique way of speaking to be conveyed to really transport the reader into that special world of the particular story.

I’m working on a vignette or ultra-flash fiction story about a teenager in love with a zombie. I’ve received some excellent feedback and critiques, including the fact that I need to incorporate more teenager dialect. Since there are at least two decades between me and my teenage experience, I am thinking I either need to hang out at the mall more (do teens still do that?) or watch more teen tv. The problem is I don’t really have time for either, to be honest.

If you want, or need, to incorporate dialect into your story, how do you find it? And how do you capture it?

 

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Writing Your Truth

Back in February, I attended the SCWBI Winter Conference. When people in my critique group, or other writers that I know online ask me how I felt about the conference, I answer that I felt both elated and deflated. I learned a lot, but I was also reminded that I had a lot more to learn.

One session that stood out for me in particular was the late Saturday juxtaposition of Elizabeth Wein’s talk on authorial responsibility followed by Ellen Hopkins and her fight against censorship.

In brief, Elizabeth Wein talked about her books and their reliance on information covered by the Official Secrets Act. She talked about carefully considering what you write and how it might impact readers. She told an anecdote about how a family listening on to her book tape was crying so bad, they were pulled over and the officer thought he had discovered a domestic violence situation. Wein wondered if she had any blame for how readers experienced her stories.

Ellen Hopkins tackled the same question but offered a different answer. “Write your truth,” she stated. She almost demanded it of the audience. She argued that if her stories, and her first book is based on her own daughter’s addiction to meth, saved just one reader then writing your truth was worth it.

These women spoke differently, acted differently. I also wondered if they asked different things of their audience (a roomful of mostly hopeful, some experienced) writers.

I’m against censorship when it’s imposed on all readers, all books, an entire society as a whole, by one small group of people with opinions.

But on the other hand, I personally make selections about what topics and stories I choose to consume. I make choices about what stories I’ll read. No violent horror for me, thanks. Or ghost stories. Not even a big fan of crime mysteries.

Listening to these two dedicated, talented storytellers state their positions made me wonder about what claim, if any, authors have over their readers reactions.

As writers we are asked to imagine the reader we are writing for. Experienced writers, publishers, agents often tell us to have a clear image of our reader in our heads: what they look like, how they spend their day, what they love, what they hate. But what happens to that reader after they read our works?

In March, I attended a meeting at Creative Mornings Pittsburgh and listened to Siobhan Viviane talk about her writing for young girls. In her opinion, her readers explore possibilities, actions and consequences, vicariously through what her books. I asked her if she ever thought about her authorial responsibility, if she should write something, just because she could write it. Since I haven’t yet read any of her books, I didn’t know if the actions of her characters would inspire girls in negative or positive ways. I wondered how/if her writing impacted young women and their beliefs or choices.

And on an even younger note, my husband kind of hates the Junie B. Jones books because Junie B. models bad language and often poor behavior choices. Is she to blame, or is Barbara Park to blame, if our son copies those actions of a character he thinks is pretty cool?

If our story helps a reader, do we get to take credit?

If our story hurts a reader, do we have to assume the blame?

Can you have it one way but not the other? If you accept one way, are you also accepting the other?

I’m truly asking. I don’t know the answer, or if there is an answer.

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Word Count

One of my favorite parts of NaNoWriMo is the word count widget. I love feeding my daily total into the widget and seeing the graph jump up, seeing the daily words increase, seeing the decrease in words per day to finish on time.

I lost my first NaNoWriMo back in 2011, but won in both 2012 and 2013. I think that seeing the word count on a daily basis and setting a reasonable goal to accomplish each day makes me a more productive writer. It helps me finish drafts.

So when I wanted to tackle the big idea I had for a rewrite of Beauty and the Beast as a young adult novel, I asked my wonderful husband to help me create my own word count widget in Numbers. It helped me get to 50,000 in the first draft of that project.

word count

Starting off right

I’m at the beginning of a new project now, a middle grade fiction story that I’m preparing for a writing retreat with an editor at the end of April. Of course I pulled out my homemade word count tool and started entering my daily achievements.

As you can see, it was slow starting but I’ve made up some of the difference and I am currently on pace. There will be days when I’m busy and won’t hit my daily goal of 1667 words a day, but as long as I can keep track of my progress and really see for myself how the word count is building, I’ll keep plugging away and won’t get discouraged.

I think running may have something to do with why the word count tool helps me complete a project. I’ve gotten used to daily workouts contributing to the success of a larger goal. I know that it’s important to put the work in every day and that keeping track of what you’ve done – and not done- helps with accountability and feelings of success.

Do you work towards a daily word count? Does that make you a more effective writer or does it feel like you’re imposing an artificial goal on your current project?

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Characters are Fictional

The skeleton of a story.

The skeleton of a story.

I just finished reading The Fault in Our Stars. I’m sure you’ve read it, I think everyone has. I really enjoyed the book, I almost loved it. I wanted to love it. But here’s what stopped me. At the very, very beginning of the book John Green asks us to remember the characters are fictional and the story is made up.

I wish he hadn’t done that.

I know why he did it, or I think I know why he did it, after I finished the entire story. It makes sense when you think about what he put his characters through in his story. But for readers like me, being reminded that the characters are fictional isn’t what I want. I want to believe in them, for the short time that I am living in their world. I want to be driven to go to the library with my friend and hunt through stacks of National Geographic magazines looking for photo credits for Robert Kincaid.

But being reminded of the characters are fictional definitely had me reading parts of this book as a writer, not just as a reader. It was very clear what the main character in the story wanted, and how she was in a knot. I was curious how the author would build the story, which is different than being curious about what the character would do. I never used to read like this. I would let my mind travel the path the author laid before me. Now I think about character arc and narrative structure and the internal struggle and the external struggle and the new normal. I feel like I’m dissecting dead things in a lab when that happens.

Was I reading passively before? Am I reading actively now? Is one more valuable or useful than the other?

An interesting point in The Fault in Our Stars stimulated some discussion with my husband and I’m still pondering the concept. One of the characters questions the idea that you need pain to feel joy because knowing how broccoli tastes has no impact on the wonderful taste of chocolate.

In the same author’s note at the beginning of the book, Green also asserts that remembering characters are fictional doesn’t mean they don’t matter. That even made-up stories have value, and that’s a foundational concept for our species.

I already believed that made-up stories mattered. I think some part of me, the part that most adults call childish or naive, always thinks that even the most outlandish stories are probably true sometime and somewhere. I just don’t want authors sticking their fingers in my face and saying, “remember, this is made up. Now try to love these people like they are real while you remember that.”

Just let me suspend my disbelief, for a little while! Let me drift along with your characters!

But I also want to write stories and write them well enough, that my special readers can’t help but love my characters as much as I do. So maybe I do need to start reading like a writer. Somehow I can’t help but feel a little sad at the thought of that. Is there any way to have it both ways?

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Writing Clips

writing clips

“Jane D.O.E.” is included in Issue 65

I’m happy to announce a few new writing clips in my portfolio. Writer’s Weekly, a fantastic source of information and publications for freelance writers recently published my story about learning InDesign to boost my income and increase my client work.

Next, Children’s Writer, a newsletter produced by the Institute of Children’s Literature, published my article Procrastination into Productivity by way of Pinterest. Sometimes I think procrastination is just based on your perspective, but this article offers real tips for fiction writers looking for inspiration.

While it’s not published yet, I’m thrilled to hear that Family Fun magazine is buying an essay I submitted back in January! It’s scheduled to come out in the June/July 2014 issue and offers kids and parents a great boredom buster idea. Stay tuned.

I also completed an assignment for AppleSeeds for an their September 2014 issue on skyscrapers. I am not an engineer and have no construction experience, but I do have a lot of experience explaining complex ideas to nine year olds, so this article was right up my alley.

These new writing clips really enhance my samples and focus in on topics that are important to me. I try to update my writing clips list on my website monthly, but I’ve been so busy writing lately that I’ve fallen behind!

And I don’t think I ever formally announced that my flash fiction story “Jane D.O.E.” received an Honorable Mention from Leading Edge Literary Magazine. This award was extra-special because one of my favorite sci-fi/fantasy authors, Orson Scott Card, was also published in Leading Edge. I think that makes me cool by association. I started “Jane D.O.E.” in the years before I had three children. It waited in my stacks of old stories until the time was right for me to revise, revise, revise and then re-submit this futuristic re-telling of the classic novel Jane Eyre.

Do you have old stories laying around, waiting for your fresh eyes and enhanced skills? What would you like to do with them?

Do you have any new writing clips you’d like to announce?

 

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.