When You Love the Story but Not the Writer

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Photo credit Quotesgram.

 

Have you ever fallen in love with a book, a movie, a song? Have you ever felt like it spoke to your soul, or resonated with you so much, you wanted to read more or listen to more by the same artist or author? And then you go and do some research on the author or artist and discover, with massive crushing disappointment, that they are not the person you expected them to be. In fact, you disagree with the writer, very, very, very much.

This has happened to me, and it’s happened more than once. And when it happens I then wonder, “Can I still enjoy the things this person has created, the stories this writer has written, even if I don’t respect their opinions, their perspective, their views on life?”

This happened to me with a singer/songwriter whose music I like, Loretta Lynn, and an author whose books I loved, Orson Scott Card.

I’m not crazy passionate about Loretta Lynn, but her story is unique and inspiring. Her voice is so unique and beautiful. Truthfully, besides Coal Miner’s Daughter and Sloe Gin Fizz, I don’t know many of her songs. But I would expect to enjoy her music. Until I found out she endorsed Donald Trump. Now I don’t think I can listen to her music and enjoy it anymore.

I devoured Orson Scott Card’s books in my teens and early twenties. I loved Ender’s Game and especially The Worthing Saga. I knew he was a Mormon, but I knew lots of Mormons and got along great with them. I did my undergraduate historical research on Mormons traveling to the American West. And I was so proud that one of my first fiction awards came from Leading Edge magazine, a literary journal where his writing appeared. But when I found out he was an open bigot, I couldn’t bring myself to pick up his books anymore.

I’m all for people having their own opinions. I’m all for writers and singers and artists to explore and present opinions that aren’t their own. Not every character in my stories is a version of me. Sometimes they are versions of the worst parts of me, or they are versions of a person I’d never want to be.

But what do you do when you find out a writer or artist who creates works you enjoy holds opinions or beliefs that you could never, ever agree with or understand? Can you still enjoy the products of their creativity? Can you separate the artist from his or her work?

Is it possible for me, like Ender, to learn to understand my enemy, even love them, through their works?

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

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

Details, Details, Details – Details Matter in Novels

“Sometimes I read your stories and I like them, Mom,” said my middle son. “But sometimes, when I read some of your stories, I forget I’m reading. That’s when I know they are really good.”

He’s right. And that’s all thanks to details.

Everyone know the phrase ‘devil is in the details’ but I don’t really like it. It makes details sound like a trick or a scam. Details are super important. And I know that. But sometimes it is so hard to make sure my novel has really good details. Maybe that’s the devil’s fault again, but I think it’s really just mine. It takes a lot of work to check every single detail. But if you love what you do, isn’t it worth it? I think it is, no matter what you’re doing whether it’s writing a novel or building a robot or cooking a meal. The results are worth it.

Details Matter

Here, take a look at these photos from my recent house renovation. These are examples of how our excellent foreman has a keen eye for detail. He takes his time, he does it right, and the results are worth it.

Photo 1 is a close up of the top of some cabinets. The ceiling is sloped just slightly enough that the moulding wouldn’t fit. So the ceiling needed another thin layer of plaster. It took a little more work, but now the moulding will look smooth and clean.

In your story, you want every sentence to read smooth and clean. Where do things slope too far away? Could you add some details to even things out?

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Here’s a photo showing the precise markings of some blocking that will support our floating shelves. The shelves will look like they are just floating magically against the wall, like magic. But it’s really careful math and science.

What parts of your story do you want to feel magical but haven’t given them enough support? Are there details you can add so that the entire plot has a good foundation?

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Here’s an example of some wall outlets. It’s a bad photo, so just trust me. These wall sockets aren’t aligned. Our foreman didn’t put these in and I know he’d never install wall sockets without lining them up.They were put in decades ago, and they look bad. They disrupt the lines of the wall.

What parts of your story just don’t line up? What details can you add to get things into line?

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Here’s a rather amazing example. After laying new floor and installing a new door, our foreman noticed the crew had to chip a tiny hole out of the floor to get the door frame to fit. Our foreman knew right away this hole would bother us every day, since it’s right at the top of the stairs that we use to enter the house. He left a note to himself to fix it.

What tiny plot holes have you left gaping open that you need to close? Is there one detail you can fill in to make the story feel complete to readers?

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Details can be added as you hammer out the first draft, but are also a big part of revising.

Details are connected to our senses, so as you’re revising, think about how things look, but also how they sound, smell, feel and taste. One of my favorite details in my manuscript is the sound of cicadas. That sound is part of the Maryland summer soundtrack. I also want to add in the smell of hot tar on a parking lot, and the taste of honeysuckle.

These are all small examples, but details are small. As you read through your favorite books, take note of the details that mattered and how small they are. Then go back through and add them to your story.

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

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

Advice for Writers from an Agent

In May, I attended the SCBWI Western PA Agent Workshop. I learned a lot and got some excellent advice for writers on pitches, storytelling, and revision and I wanted to share it with you!

Pitching Advice for Writers

While they need to be short, they still need to include the main character, the obstacle and some sense of resolution.

This was my pitch and it was well-received.

Short and sweet!

Short and sweet!

Storytelling Advice for Writers

  • Mirror, Mirror. Please don’t use the tired device of describing your character’s physical appearance by having your your character look into a mirror.
  • Too Much Telling takes away from action.
  • Why Should I Care? This is the feeling that readers get when they confront too much backstory. Weave it in, don’t dump it.
  • Bubble Boy or Girl. Or Alien. Make sure your characters don’t exist in a bubble. Describe the setting and use all five senses!

Revision Advice for Writers

More advice for writers covered how to revise your manuscript. Envision your manuscript as a road that your readers will travel on a wondrous journey. The first draft is like that rocky, dirty, bumpy path carved out by construction equipment. Each stage of renovation makes it smoother, easier, more pleasant to travel.

As you read your manuscript, look for places where you’ve left out setting details, where you’ve used passive voice and -ly words, and if your main character is changing. If not, go back and call in that construction crew.

Advice for Writers of Picture Books

Did you know 60% of the story should be told through illustration? That means for non-illustrating writers like myself, I should only write 40% of the tale in the text. This is an interesting way for me to examine my texts, even though I never considered myself particularly mathematical. I like the idea of making sure the larger part of the tale comes through in the art, even if that does make writing harder.

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

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

Should Kids Read Books Before Watching the Movie?

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What Would Snape Do?

Recently, I let my kids watch ALL of the Harry Potter movies before reading ALL of the books. I know some parents don’t allow this.

Do you?

Looking for comments on both sides of the debate!

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

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

Newbery Award Book Shelf at My Library!

This is a post of mini-updates about writing.

  1. I’m in a really cool work group of fellow writers and illustrators that is working to support each other and promote each other for school visits. Exciting!

2. I was super excited to discover that my local library has an entire shelf full of the Newbery Award winners! The only challenge is that these specific books can’t be checked out.

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Newbery 2

Newbery 3

I’m also working on getting a poster that I saw in the library. Super exciting because I feel like I just discovered a tool to help me reach my goal!

3. I also discovered another thing about myself as a writer. I’m in a writing community right now that’s very focused on pitching freelance articles to online outlets and I have found myself increasing my pitching frequency! But I realize that I’m doing that because I’m responding to the vibe of that group. No one is peer pressuring me, I’m peer pressuring myself. But I think it’s good to be working on a variety of writing types and to recognize this aspect of my personality.

4. I set my writing goals (finally) for this year. One of them is to write a really good personal essay and get it published. I have several topics in mind. Stay tuned!

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

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

Is the Problem Bad Reading or Bad Writing?

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Is this innocent reader to blame?

Let’s say you’re reading a book and the author makes a reference to something and you just don’t get it. It could be a phrase, a symbol, a name. Whatever it is, it doesn’t make sense to you. Some readers might feel confused and give the book a bad review. Some readers might just skip over parts they don’t get, finish the book or story, and go on with their lives. Some intrepid readers might do a little research online to try and understand what they read. I think the worst scenario is the reader who doesn’t even know they didn’t get some understand some reference, finishes the story and says, “huh? didn’t make sense” and then leaves a bad review.

Is the problem bad writing or bad reading? Is it the writer’s fault? When is it the reader’s fault?

Binge Watching

I’ve been watching a lot of The Good Wife lately. Yes, I’ve been binge watching. But this is a darn good show. First, I love the focus on female characters. Second, the story line is strong and compelling. Third, it also explores a lot of psychology and motivation of people. Many episodes also explore the concept of blame and responsibility.

(See, binge watching can be good for writers!)

I think it would be really cool to have a courtroom style drama to explore whether bad writing or bad reading is to blame when certain parts of a story are not understood.

“You Honor, the book didn’t make any sense. No writer can expect a reader to understand the phrase Plumtree’s potted meat.”

“Objection, your honor! Any well-read reader knows that a home without is incomplete!”

[the above is excerpted from my not-yet-written one-act stage play in which James Joyce is charged with obstruction of instruction.]

Yes, I’ve been reading Ulysses and learning a massive amount from his densely symbolic writing. Let me just say it’s been quite an education. But seriously, Ulysses is an excellent example.

I don’t have the grounding in the daily life of early twentieth century Dublin to get all of his references, just as much as I didn’t get all of the references in T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland or those short stories by David Foster Wallace.

Is it really Joyce’s fault if I don’t quite get all of the things he has to say in his really excellent, moving, comical, intellectual, insightful story?

Is it bad writing or bad reading? I think in Joyce’s case, it’s not bad writing.

The condom and the burka

(Here we come to another interesting question. Do symbols really have meaning once they leave the hands of the writer? Once a writer puts a symbol in the story, they are leaving the symbol open to the interpretation of the reader. As a reader, I can imbue those symbols with something that matters to me and that something could be quite different from what the writer intended. I did this recently at my critique group where I applied a much deeper meaning to a condom and a burka than my fellow writer had intended. This is a longer discussion.)

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Fraught with symbolism

Bad Writing or Bad Reading?

But back to the main question. Let’s say it’s important to the story, When is a failure to understand a reference a problem with the reader’s background, or with the writer’s writing?

At a recent critique group, we faced a problem I often hear when reading someone’s work and we have the chance to question the author.

I used the name “Selene” as the name a Moon base, used the phrase “star sailor” to describe a Greek astronaut, and had a character make a claim to another character that “we are all made out of stars.”

More than one person didn’t get my references and suggested I take them out of the story. But my story is about a child celebrating Christmas in his home on the Moon. Is it my fault as a writer that they didn’t get my carefully chosen words and phrases? And if it is writer error, how can I address that?

This story about Christmas on the Moon is intended for kids and it’s meant to be a short story. I have word limits, and I think adding in things like “the moon base was named Selene because that’s the name of the Roman moon goddess and NASA has a history of naming their space projects after mythological deities” is a bit awkward for story flow.

How else do readers figure out symbols and meanings when they aren’t in English Literature classes writing papers? Maybe they won’t get it. But if they don’t get it, then they might not enjoy my story as much. But is that my problem? It could be, if it gets bad reviews or if people feel I’m a terrible writer because of it.

Maybe it’s question of finding the right audience. But wow does that feel like a gamble.

(P.S. – I just asked my husband about this and he said, “it’s your fault.” Then he said, “know your audience!”)

(P.P.S. – Then he just made a huge claim that not every symbol needs to be gotten! Then I countered that it feels so disheartening to think people would read my story and miss out on some of my favorite little symbols. And he said, “Some will, some won’t. Those that do get it will enjoy a happy accident, a little serendipity.” So I said, “it’s not serendipity when I put it there on purpose.” And he said, “touche.”)

Now what do you say?

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

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

Setting up email newsletter

Happy New Year! I love trying new things and here I go again. I’m trying a new way to stay in touch with people: an email newsletter. Check out the upper right area of my website and you’ll see this little green form:

Now I Have a Newsletter!

Now I Have a Newsletter!

I’m not going to send out emails every day or even every week. I have one email scheduled a month, highlighting different fun activities, books and events I’m offering to kids and families. I’ve sent out a few so far in the end of 2015 and had a nice response, including book sales and inquiries from local schools about my workshops. That’s success!

I’m looking forward to learning more about what families want to hear about from a local author, about healthy eating and encouraging their kids to read.

I use social media effectively to stay in touch with readers but an email newsletter is an easy way to reach readers when social media channels change their rules. We now that not everyone reads every social media channel and it’s better to come to your readers where they are and not wait for them to come find you. It’s also a good way to catch readers when they are not skimming through their feed for entertainment.

If you’re an author or small business looking to use email newsletters to reach your audience, feel free to get in touch with me. I’m available to work with you to set up your email newsletter, write content and schedule emails.

So sign up to get my newsletter and stay in touch!

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

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

New healthy food activity book for kids!

Fresh Fun Food Ideas for Kids

Wouldn’t it be great if there was an activity book that helped kids eat healthy foods? Parenting can get so stressful. We want the best for our kids, but we can’t control everything we do. We can’t force feed them healthy food! Remember the old saying, you get more flies with honey than vinegar? When I do talks at parenting workshops and at schools, I always encourage people to add some fun to the dinner time!

That’s why I created Fresh Fun Food Ideas for Kids! This new electronic activity book is designed to change dinnertime from a food fight into a fun event. There are lots of ways to make healthy eating fun. This new book that I’ve created makes it easy for parents to encourage their kids to try new foods in a friendly, not scary, way. In this activity book, I share some silly jokes, interesting facts, easy activities and even some of our favorite fresh food recipes.

Fresh Fun Food Ideas for Kids is available as a pdf and includes six unique activities. Once you buy the activity book for only 5.99, you can print out as many sheets and copies as you need. Use the sheets and re-use the sheets.

My kids have tried the jokes and challenges in this activity book and find them to be fun, too, but I’d love to hear what your kids think. Which are their favorites? Did they try a new food or devour their first Monster Salad?

How do you make eating fresh food fun and healthy? Share your ideas and they might end up in the second edition of Fresh Fun Food Ideas for Kids!

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

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

Winning NaNoWriMo 2015

I did it! I won NaNoWriMo 2015! I wrote the first draft of my novel, The First Step, in a touch over 50,000 words. Here’s the day-by-day progression of my word count.

NaNoWriMo 2015

My boys really enjoyed seeing the word counts grow and as you can see, they also enjoyed writing the updates themselves. At the beginning of the month, my husband asked me what I wanted to get out of this month’s work. I thought carefully about my answer. In some sense, I wanted just the sense of completion, like when a runner finishes a huge race for the first time. In another sense, I wanted to write a good story, or at the least the bones of one, like when a runner aims for a personal record.

I think I hit the mark on both counts. I also learned a lot about myself as writer during the process and kept track of some of my thoughts on my Facebook page. I’m recording them here, too, so I can remember them for next year but also so other writers can share their reactions and their own thoughts.

 

I’m starting today. It’s not going to be easy as I have family visiting, a volunteer event from 2-4pm and a bandage on…

Posted by Sweet Tooth Communications, LLC on Sunday, November 1, 2015

This is a weird #NaNoWriMo for me. My planned story got ditched (by me) somewhat spontaneously after a deep discussion…

Posted by Sweet Tooth Communications, LLC on Monday, November 2, 2015

So this is not new, but it’s good to be reminded that I really get a lot of great ideas and story planning done during…

Posted by Sweet Tooth Communications, LLC on Thursday, November 5, 2015

From “The Mindful Writer” by Dinty W. Moore especially during #NaNoWriMo

Posted by Sweet Tooth Communications, LLC on Friday, November 6, 2015

I find it really hard to resist doing a little editing and revising during #NaNoWriMo but I don’t want to cheat myself…

Posted by Sweet Tooth Communications, LLC on Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Do you share your #NaNoWriMo synopsis, idea, or plot with non-writing friends? When I’m at the beginning of a project…

Posted by Sweet Tooth Communications, LLC on Wednesday, November 11, 2015

I passed 46,000 words today. My story is a little lopsided towards the front, but I know I won’t have trouble finishing…

Posted by Sweet Tooth Communications, LLC on Wednesday, November 25, 2015

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

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

Highlights Foundation Workshop

In October, I was made the decision to take the big leap and attend my first Highlights Foundation workshop. The workshop I chose was called “Creating Page-Turning Non-fiction for Middle Grade Readers and Up.” I’ve had a fair number of non-fiction pieces published in really great children’s magazines and I would love to also create non-fiction books for children.

Lucky for me, this workshop was taught by the incredible Deborah Hopkinson, who also has a ton of experience writing page-turning historical fiction, one of my ‘dream genres.’ I love the way a really skilled writer can weave a great story around accurate historical facts.

We also had the chance to hear from and talk with Steve Sheinkin, a two-time National Book Award finalist.

The setting for the workshops is the Barn, a retreat in the woods outside of the small town of Honesdale, PA. It was almost a six hour drive from Pittsburgh, so I chose to fly to Philadelphia, then take a connecting flight to Scranton, then a driver from Highlights drove me the last hour or so to the Barn.

On site there is a lodge and cabins, and I stayed in cabin 10, a short walk from the main building where we had our classes and our meals. The food, by the way, was very healthy and fresh.

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In our classes we discussed so much, from standards to research methods to what librarians want and teachers need, to what readers want – but Deborah reminded us that our job is to tell the story. She gave each of us two thoughtful critiques and plenty more listening time outside of class. We learned a tremendous amount from her about constructing a solid non-fiction book proposal. Deborah comes from a grant-writing background and she really knows how to show the value of a project. She’s also a fine writer. I read her book Titanic: Voices From the Disaster in one day.

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It was a productive three days. During my time there I read (and loved) several books, including Sheinkin’s Two Miserable Presidents: Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn’t Tell You About the Civil War. At the end of this workshop, I felt like I was in a great place to put together at least one solid non-fiction book proposal. Deborah also coached me through the elements of my planned historical fiction story and a new novel about running. On the flight home, I revised my butterfly story and came away with a very strong new version. The runs on the woods, the walks around the grounds, and time spent with thoughtful writers was really invigorating.

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We were also able to take a tour of the Highlights offices and Boyds Mill Press in Honesdale. I enjoyed seeing the “where the magic happens” and connect with some editors.

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I have been considering doing one of these since 2012, but they do require a fairly significant financial investment and for some workshops, I’d have to be gone for a full week.

But I knew these workshops also offered significant resources and information. Back in 2012 I thought I might bring my first novel to a “whole novel” workshop, but I’m really glad I did not. I’ve learned a lot in the past three years and I know if I had attended that session it would have been heart-wrenching. Instead, by waiting for the right moment, I think my first Highlights Workshop was a real success.

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

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