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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Said is NOT Dead

Part 2, a continuation...

You know how once you start noticing something, it seems to be everywhere you look?

That's what happened today with SAID as a dialogue tag. I'd been reading a perfectly good middle grade historical novel. The debut author has received praise and glowing reviews. I actually love the story, so far. But today, I had to put it aside until I get this whole SAID thing out of my head.

Here are a few of her dialogue tags, from a random opening of two consecutive pages:
Instead of said, the (fairly young, I think) author has written


And actually that's just under two pages, because it's the beginning of a chapter.
The funny thing is, I really didn't notice when I picked the book up last week. Today? Couldn't help it.

So maybe that was just those pages. I'll check two more:
went on
asked (ok, that's no big deal)
And three saids on those pages.

There are also a lot of LY adverbs. I'm not talking about using these words in description or interior monologue or anything other than pure dialogue tags. Hmm.

Are there editors out there who are suggesting these revisions? Because this book was from a major publisher. So maybe this is the new trend, and not just with school kids. Maybe this young writer went to school in a Said Is Dead school district? They're all over the place. A quick google will turn up a whole boatload of lists, lesson plans, books-- you name it.

Maybe I'm missing something.

Monday, April 25, 2011

He Said, She Said

My fingers tremble as I write this. I'm almost afraid to open this debate. Do I dare?

But, fellow writers, do you know there's a move underfoot to teach young writers the importance of using dialogue tags other than SAID????

Okay, I know there are exceptions to every writing rule. But, especially for young readers, the dialogue tag "said" is mostly best. Not exclusively, perhaps. But mostly.

Characters hissing and pouting and grumpily saying their lines-- this so goes against my grain.

I have Darcy Pattison's book Novel Metamorphosis open in front of me this morning:

"The actual words of the character should already reflect tone, emotion attitude."

In other words, SAID is just fine. Perhaps if used exclusively, it would get boring. Mix it up maybe? But do not overdo the adverbs attached to your SAIDs either.

Pattison goes on: "Also, avoid adverbs and present participles."
ex: She said quaintly.
He said, gently scratching his nose.

(OK, I do that last one a lot, she types, reading along with the book. I'm working on it, but it doesn't bother me so much.)

Pattison goes on to say that these work occasionally but don't let them become a habit.
But I agree it's often better to "omit the action or use a separate sentence with the action more direct or more interesting."

And Anita Nolan, another very wise blogger/ editor, re: revising:

Look at the dialogue tags. Stick to "he/she said" for most tags. Use beats (actions) when possible to eliminate a tag. For example. instead of:
      "Shut the window!" she yelled.
      "Shut the window!" Her shrill voice ricocheted around the room.       

       "Shut the window!" She crossed the room and slammed it closed herself.
     •    Eliminate adverbs when possible. Search and destroy "-ly" words.

So, teachers, please. Do not over-emphasize the dialogue tags.
No to HISSED, especially. It's hard to hiss a simple declarative sentence with no ssss sounds in it.

I'm not even bothering to put up a link to this movement: "Said is Dead." But it's out there. Google it and you will get lesson plans, tips, serious attempts to rid the world of SAID. A writer friend tells me she's received letters from students, re-writing her award-winning novels using different verbs for said. 

I envision the next generation of books for kids, written by these very same youngsters studying this movement. They are filled with dialogue that is hissed, spit, sighed, giggled, cried sadly, laughed loudly...

Friday, April 22, 2011

Started Early Took My Dog

  If you want a really terrific, complete review of Scottish writer Kate Atkinson's latest Jackson Brodie mystery, check out this review from last week's New York Times Book Review.

I couldn't say it any better myself so I won't even try.

Besides, the book is overdue at my library and has a zillion others waiting, so I'll make this brief. Check out one of my prior posts here if you don't know these books. Gentle reminder: Read the books in order for maximum enjoyment.

Book 1- Case Histories
Book 2- One Good Turn
Book 3- When Will There Be Good News?

Here are a few places I stickie-noted because they made me laugh and made me sigh. She's such a terrific writer.

(Jackson's observation)
In the half century of his life, a tick on the Doomsday Clock, he had borne witness to the most unbelievable technological advances. He had started off listening to an old Bush valve radio in the corner of the living room and now he had a phone in his hand on which he could pretend to throw a scrunched-up piece of paer into a waste bin. The world had waited a long time for that.

(Tracy describing a scene.)
It took Tracy a second or two to realize that she was trying to flirt with Arkwright. She was deluded. It was like trying to flirt with a wardrobe.

(Jackson and his dog on the run.)
He didn't want to incur the wrath of his hostess for the night by waking her from her beauty sleep. She needed all she could get.

And if you're curious, like I was, the title comes from an Emily Dickinson poem, which you can read in its entirety by clicking here.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What's Nature Got to Do With It?

It's my turn this month over at my group blog: A Good Blog is Hard to Find.

Which, in this case, really isn't. Such talented Southern writers! Many of your favorites. Check them out.

Click right here for my take on using nature in your writing.

And here's a preview of my inspiration!

Monday, April 18, 2011

April is Poetry Month


 And I almost missed it. (Though I did post this great link, filled with ideas for teachers, from the School Library Journal Blog onto my Facebook status. Does that count?)

Luckily for me Greg Pincus didn't forget that April is Poetry Month. He's been posting a Poem A Day over on his blog. I caught up with a few today.

Click here for one of my favorites.
Who could resist that title?
Here's a taste:

The Playroom Floor Writes a Novel
Heidi Mordhorst

Chapter One: A Fine Day for an Outing

a cozy Kleenex box
a stuffed caterpillar
a plastic slice of cucumber
three pennies
and a Spiderman motorcycle

 Go ahead. Click that link up there and keep reading! And Happy Poetry Month everybody.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Wednesday Wars

Not a new book. But such a great book!
I'm rereading Gary Schmidt's Newbery Honor book from 2007 in anticipation of reviewing his brand new, which he's calling a companion to this one. More on that soon.

If you've a middle-grade kid in your life, rush right out and get your hands on this book. I'm laughing a lot. But there's also the writing- oh the writing!

Let's just start with the main character's name: Holling Hoodhood. Now I'm a sucker for names- the wackier the better. (I recently named, unnamed, and renamed a character Sister Cockersole, but that's another long story...) So right off the bat, I'm crazy about Holling. Then he gets stuck with a teacher, all by himself, in her classroom every Wednesday while the rest of his class is carted off to Hebrew School or the local Catholic Wednesday afternoon Catechism classes. Not Holling; he's a Presbyterian. So what does he do? Or rather, what does the teacher decide he's to do? Shakespeare.

Here's his take on that:
(convinced he's missed a sporting event he really had his heart set on because he's bargained to play a role with the local theater company)
I almost cried. Almost. But I didn't, because if you're in seventh grade and you cry while wearing a blue floral cape and yellow tights with white feathers on the butt, you just have to curl up and die somewhere in a dark alley.

And what he has to say about Much Ado About Nothing? Hilarious!

This is not one of those reviews that gives the story away. Oh, no. The story's much too good for that. Let me just add that it's hard for me not to like a book about Diagramming Sentences. Or a kid whose take on diagramming sentences includes the phrase "No native speaker of the English language could diagram this sentence." Yes. Mrs. Baker is a teacher with complex participle phrases on her mind. For that alone I'd love her.

Great book. Read or reread it. For those of us participating in the Historical Fiction challenge? The Wednesday Wars is set during the Vietnam War era, significantly so. I think surely it qualifies.

Friday, April 15, 2011

SIBA Awards

I always love seeing the OKRA picks (no resemblance to my lunch the other day. Well, maybe.) Great Southern books.

Now SIBA (Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance) has announced the finalists for their 2011 Award. I am so reading these books, as soon as I whittle my Must Read list down a bit. But I've already read a couple, and all of the YA Nominees.  (There were only three, but still.)

Has anyone read Pete the Cat- a picture book my friend Patty loves?  It's on the children's list.

Click here for the complete list.

Here's the Fiction (Includes two of my favs!):

Bloodroot by Amy Greene (Vintage Books)
Burning Bright by Ron Rash (Ecco Press)
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin (William Morrow)
On Folly Beach by Karen White (New American Library)
Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman (Penguin)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Getting Closer

How appropriate that today's word is Denouement.

That's just where I hope to be very soon. Not yet, but soon. 
As soon as I finish tinkering with the middle, polishing up the climax, then on to the denouement...

And originating from KNOTS? Hmmm.  Also appropriate. Knotty!
(I also like that "thought of the day.")    The Magic of Words
Apr 12, 2011
This week's theme
Words originating in knots
with Anu Garg


[the final syllable is nasal]
noun: The final resolution of the plot of a story or a complex sequence of events.

From French dénouement (outcome or conclusion; literally, untying), from dénouer (to unknot or undo), from de- (from) + nouer (to tie), from Latin nodus (knot). Ultimately from the Indo-European root ned- (to bind), which is also the source of node, noose, annex, connect, ouch, and nettle. Earliest documented use: 1752.

"But in Japan's narrative, the denouement is elusive. This disaster story keeps building, growing worse."
Japan's Crucible; Chicago Tribune (Illinois); Mar 15, 2011.

How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in life you will have been all of these. -George Washington Carver, scientist (1864-1943)

Monday, April 11, 2011


I find history in the most unexpected places.

Like lunch.

Today we stopped in at one of St. Petersburg's oldest dining establishments: Munch's. I looked at the photo above our booth.

This is the elementary school down the street from the diner.  Lakewood Elementary School, 1964. That little girl in the front row so could be the heroine of my novel. Hello, Glory!

Or maybe this is better. Again, in the front row. Long hair. With her friend Frankie sitting behind her. Except where are his glasses? How about the boy with the Safety Patrol sash? Remember those?

While pondering the pictures, I ordered lunch. Fried green tomatoes --the specialty of the house. Yum. And they were out of french fries so Adele the waitress offered me FRIED OKRA. I thought I'd died and floated to heaven.

 What a perfect culmination of eating and learning.

Certainly okra must be brain food, right?

Just what I need, to revise and polish.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Show Don't Tell!

(Which has nothing to do with Show and Tell)

My editor put a lot of this in her revision notes. I'm really working hard on the Showing thing. Or as my friend Leslie reminded me when I called in a panic from outside my cave in the library-- and I think she said this is straight out of one of my favorite craft books, Self Editing for Fiction Writers-- RUE!

Resist the Urge to Explain.

I'm not even sure how I landed on this blog early this morning. I think I followed a link from the very helpful Writers Knowledge Base. But it's something I'll keep in the back of my brain as I re-write to SHOW and stop this pesky TELLING.

Click here if it's your problem also. Tips and Tricks for editing your novel.
A quick list of words to avoid, red flags that you are about to go into telling mode.
(hint: When, As, Could see, Realized)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Scholastic, NYC. Post #2.

One last post about my fabulous trip to New York, and then I really do need to stop floating, get back to earth, and dig deeper into my final polishing of GLORY BE. (But really, I was at the library at 8:30 this morning, working working working.)

Four of us were invited to be part of the Debut Author luncheon at Scholastic. Our instructions were clear. Talk about ourselves, how we came to write these novels, and do a short reading. 10 minutes max for the entire presentation.

Advice from friends and family included

1. Use your Southern-est voice
2. Be funny
3. Speak slowly and breathe deeply
4. Equate yourself with Eudora Welty.

Yeah, right.

Well, the drawl comes naturally.  ✔ Check.
Funny? Hmmm. And Eudora Welty is my hero, but I'm not about to climb on that high mountain.

Instead, I started out with one of my favorite (non-Southern) writer quotes:

"Let your fiction grow from the land beneath your feet."
(Willa Cather)

Then I talked about my first inspiration- A talk given by Ruby Bridges, ten years ago, while I was still the librarian at the Kent Place School in Summit, NJ.  And my final joy when my agent called to tell me her dream editor Andrea Pinkney wanted to buy the book.

I went on to tell a few true things in the story:
Our streets flooded, often. I was once caught skipping church, playing in the rain, and singing 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall with Nan and Frank and Beverly.
Robert Kennedy really came to town.
We had an amazing librarian.
My sister and I played Junk Poker, a game of 21/ Blackjack we made up.
My beloved Alice and I read Nancy Drew together.
I've seen Elvis's house in Tupelo, before it was a national shrine.

And some of what was pure fiction, based on historical research (most of the actual plot):
During "Freedom Summer," my hometown never closed the town pools, parks, schools, etc.
My daddy, unlike Glory's, didn't care if my sister and I played poker and bet our Cracker Jack prizes, Doublemint gum, pecans from the back yard, and other valuables.

The highlight of my talk, no doubt, was when I unveiled the Buster Brown shoebox, a la Junk Poker, tied with the beautiful purple ribbon. And revealed my prized possessions inside. ☺

As I said yesterday, it was a drizzly day in New York. This is what I saw from my window. I love the thought, even if it is a beer ad.

 The heavens opened up and the rains poured down, just as I started toward the Scholastic headquarters.

I was so happy to discover I'd brought my fabulous cardinal and straw-colored Spinnaker Purse Snatcher, made by my friend Leslie.

My Junk Poker box and my chapter to read aloud traveled, safe and dry, for their big moment. (And not that I doubted it a minute, Leslie, but the bag is completely waterproof! As promised.)

 After the luncheon, the sun came out. Though no flowers could be seen, the day was beautiful.

Before leaving for the airport, I had a teaparty in the big squishy chairs of the Soho Grand's lobby, with my agent, Linda Pratt. She gave me these precious little notebooks. I adore the quotes.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011


What an amazing 30 hours I just had! I'll blog more about content when I've had a chance to process all that excitement. But here's a taste of my time at the Scholastic Spring Sales Luncheon and overnight in Soho.

I arrived early Monday. See that tiny guy holding a sign. That would be my driver, Frank. The sign says SCATTERGOOD. My usual mode of pickup at Newark is Al or Kay or Jay slowing down at the curb outside, so this was quite something.

Sorry about the quality of the photo. I didn't want to appear too geeky so I tried to look like I was just checking my mail on the phone. I think he knew. Turns out the last time J.K. Rowling was in town, Frank picked her up. Big head alert!

My driver immediately asked where I was from and didn't buy either NJ or FL. Turns out he spent a year at Keesler AFB in Biloxi and loves Mississippi. I was already milking my revived southern accent for all it was worth. After all, my novel is set in the totally fictional Hanging Moss, Mississippi, and the next day I needed to be ready for my reading!

The Soho Grand is an amazing hotel! Although the weather drizzled a lot and poured down one day, it didn't stop me from walking all over the place.

I loved this sign. If you look closely, maybe you can see my reflection in the window, taking another picture. I've never felt like a tourist in the city, but this trip I sure did!

Here's my first look at the Scholastic building on Broadway in Soho. It was an easy walk from our hotel.

On Monday night, I had dinner with my amazing brilliant editor, Andrea Pinkney. I ordered what I always do when at an Italian restaurant back in NY/NJ - pasta. We talked for over two hours about my book.

On the walk back to the hotel, we ran into Linda Sue Park. She was there for a different Scholastic event. I adored A Single Shard, her Newbery book. I wanted to tell her that but I was pretty much speechless.

Fortunately, by the next day, I'd regained my ability to speak!

It poured rain later in the morning on Tuesday, but by the time the occasion ended, the sun was peeking out. Alas, I took no photos of the actual event. That would have been way too star-struck! The sales people from all over the country, the publicity folks, 4 editors and their debut authors were there. We had a fabulous luncheon, in a glass atrium at the top of the Scholastic building. I met so many enthusiastic people!

More to come on that.

After a pot of tea and a long overdue visit with my remarkable and fun agent, Linda Pratt, I saw that my driver was waiting. I could so get used to this mode of travel. He whisked me through the Holland Tunnel in record time. I got an early flight home. The sky was beautiful. I was on the left side of the airplane with a phenomenal view of the sunset.

As the plane landed in Tampa, a tiny sliver of a moon was visible from my window. Jay arrived at curbside to pick me up soon after I texted him.

When I asked why he wasn't waiting at baggage claim, holding a sign, he told me to be careful I wasn't getting a big head...

Now, reality sets in. Tweaking and polishing, a lot of hard work still ahead. But for those fabulous 30 hours, I felt like a celebrity. Floating on those beautiful clouds.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Names! (again)

Just in the nick of time, my book has a title!


(That's the title, not just me shouting hallelujah.) Glory is my narrator's name. The book just cried out to be titled GLORY BE. I'm so happy!

As much as I dread Titles, I love names. I love place names, character names, street names. I don't even mind Chapter Names.

Here's a name that surfaced in my newspaper and I totally love it. Goliath. I can just picture a boy in a book named Goliath. Our local Goliath is called Go by his friends. Love that also.

A recent church bulletin I tucked away for safe-keeping celebrated the lives of those who'd died in 2010 and those who were born that year. The name comparison says a lot.

Edna Mae, Shirley, Murray, Norma Betty, Doris, Hazel, Glen, Homer.

Kinsley Grace
Sarah Lucy

Can you tell which are the babies' names?

Come to think of it, maybe the old names are new again. There's also a Lola Marie on that list of babies born in 2010.

Names, names, names. Inspirational. Naming a character so makes me want to write about him.

Picking titles? Not so much. It's good to have help in that department.
Glory Be! I do love it.

Related post: Picking Titles