16 Apr

Plotting Difficult Topics: Loss, action

This is part of a series of posts on Plotting Difficult Topics

In Inviting the Wolf In: Thinking About Difficult Stories by Loren Niemi and Elizabeth Ellis, the authors recognize that how you approach a difficult subject can make huge differences in voice, POV, plot and resolution. They suggest 32 different approaches and this series of posts works out those approaches for the following scenario.

The Scenario: A girl watches her mother place a box of candy on the highest book shelf; the candy is meant as a birthday gift for the girl’s grandmother. The girl decides to sneak up and steal/eat some of the candy.

Loss, Actions

  • Loss, Actions, Testimony

    Why on earth that child stole from her grandmother, I don’t know. It was hard times and I’d saved pennies for a month to buy that box of candy for the old saint. She always gave up things for us and just for once, I wanted to honor her. Mother-in-laws are sometimes a trial, I know, but not mine. A true saint.
    So when I caught Mel hanging on that bookshelf with chocolate on her hands and lips, I got me a switch and lit in. Then I made her set up a table and try to sell the rest of the candies to her siblings, hoping to get enough for another box. In the end, I had to pinch a dime from my own hidden stash to add to the girl’s cash to afford another box.
    That girl. Nothin’ good will come of her.

  • Loss, Actions, Confession

    Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. Gluttony. Let me name them ALL. Gluttony. Jealousy. Coveting what belongs to another. Disobedient. Unkind. Selfish.
    “Child, how did you manage all that sin?”
    “I stole the candy meant for my grandmother’s birthday.”
    “Yes, and what else?”
    “That’s it.”
    I saw and I wanted. Coveting.
    I ate more than one piece. Gluttony.
    I didn’t care that it was for Grandma. Unkind.
    Ma told all us kids to leave the box along. Disobedience.
    I didn’t share any of it, not a single piece. Selfish.
    I wish I HAD shared with Bella, so she’d be in trouble, too. So, more sin. In my heart, anyway. Chocolate is the source of lots of sin.

  • Loss, Action, Therapy

    It was three days ago, so I’d totally forgotten it. Old stuff. Not important. Water under the bridge, to use Mom’s expression.
    But Mom was trippin’. Yelling and stuff.
    “How could you?”
    Shrug.
    “It was for Mimi.”
    “What’s the big deal?”
    It was the first time I connected things – my actions and punishment. She made me take every single book off the library shelves and dust them. Then I had to sort them into categories: fiction and non-fiction (sports, war, hunting, child-rearing). Then re-shelve each book, placing it just so on the lemon-polish-scented shelves.
    It Tom Sawyer hated painting that fence of his –man– I hated cleaning her library.
    Only good thing to come of it? I stopped and read a couple of the child-rearing books and I’ve got some good arguments now in my arsenal. Next time she pulls one strategy on me, I can counter that so-and-so suggests she do this-or-that instead.
    Looking forward to the next conversation we have about my behavior.

  • Loss, Action, Transformation

    The library shelves were covered with boxes of chocolate.
    “Where did they come from?” the woman asked in wonder.
    “I bought them. I want Mimi to have the finest birthday ever. Not just one box of chocolates, but dozens and dozens.”
    “But, why?”
    “Sit down,” she said. “I’ll tell you what I did when I was just ten years old and what I’ll never do again.”

This is part of a series of posts on Plotting Difficult Topics

16 Apr

Plotting Difficult Topics: Loss, Grief

This is part of a series of posts on Plotting Difficult Topics

In Inviting the Wolf In: Thinking About Difficult Stories by Loren Niemi and Elizabeth Ellis, the authors recognize that how you approach a difficult subject can make huge differences in voice, POV, plot and resolution. They suggest 32 different approaches and this series of posts works out those approaches for the following scenario.

The Scenario: A girl watches her mother place a box of candy on the highest book shelf; the candy is meant as a birthday gift for the girl’s grandmother. The girl decides to sneak up and steal/eat some of the candy.

Loss, Grief

  • Loss, Grief, Testimony

    When she lost the battle of her will and ate the chocolate, she knew it would send her blood sugar crazy. And it did. She wound up in the hospital, learning how to give herself insulin shots.

  • Loss, Grief, Confession

    I climbed up there just to get candy. But when Tommy came into the room, I realized he could see my underpants. Worse, I realized I wanted him to. It was all my fault what happened next. And afterward, we ate the whole box of chocolates together. (Young adult story!)

  • Loss, Grief, Therapy

    It was the constant denial of self that ate at her. When was it HER turn to be special? No one had EVER given her a birthday party, yet, her old grandma had a big party year after year. So, when she accidently saw Mom hide the candy, she told herself that she deserved it. But it didn’t satisfy–not really. Because it was stolen–it wasn’t a gift meant for her. It was a start of the bitterness and every bag of chocolate–her main obsession, now–after that, made it worse.


  • Loss, Grief, Transformation

    She had sold exactly zero boxes of candy for the fun raiser, she was such a lousy salesman. No Girl Scout troop would want her on the cookie sales team. So when Mom finally bought two boxes–out of pity–she was excited.
    But then, nothing happened. Stuck at the pits of Salesmen’s Heaven.
    Then, her baby sister snuck in and ate one box and had to buy a replacement for her allowance, since it was a gift for grandma. And then, Grandma tried a piece of the candy and love it and called her friends and took orders and soon–
    She was an ace salesman, selling more than anyone else in fifth grade.
    She owed her career to a box of chocolates and a thief for a little sister.

This is part of a series of posts on Plotting Difficult Topics

15 Apr

Plotting Difficult Topics: Loss, guilt

This is part of a series of posts on Plotting Difficult Topics

In Inviting the Wolf In: Thinking About Difficult Stories by Loren Niemi and Elizabeth Ellis, the authors recognize that how you approach a difficult subject can make huge differences in voice, POV, plot and resolution. They suggest 32 different approaches and this series of posts works out those approaches for the following scenario.

The Scenario: A girl watches her mother place a box of candy on the highest book shelf; the candy is meant as a birthday gift for the girl’s grandmother. The girl decides to sneak up and steal/eat some of the candy.

  • Loss, Guilt/Shame, Testimony
    From the moment I saw the box, I knew what would happen. Secretly, I watched Dad hid the box and knew he would make it as hard for me as he could. That was OK. I enjoyed the challenge.
    He left it on the table in plain sight until I was abed, and he thought I was asleep. Then, yes, then, he hid it while I watched, hiding so he wouldn’t see me. When he checked my room a moment later, he found me tucked in still asleep. So easy to fool him.
    So, when the candy was gone the next day, he never suspected me. Or rather, he suspected me, but had no idea how I had found it and no way to prove that I had done it.
    I should have felt guilty; instead, I was thrilled.
  • Loss, Guilt/Shame, Confession

    As soon as I fell, I saw my arm. It went along straight from my shoulders until just before my wrist. Then, there was a step down, a waterfall, an unnatural interruption of the long line of bone. Broken.
    Shock. No pain–yet.
    I jumped up and ran out the back door around the house to the front yard and there–finally–I allowed myself to scream: “I fell!”
    Mom and Dad came running.
    “Oh, Tom, she fell off the porch!”
    “It’s broken,” Dad said grimly. “Get the car.”
    “I tried to climb. I fell.” I tried to confess. I had run around the house to keep from confessing, but now, I wanted to , but no one listened. “I tried to climb. . .”
    Later, Dad told the doctor, “She was climbing up the porch and fell.”
    They never found out I was climbing the bookshelves to steal candy. I’m so sorry I never told them the truth.

  • Loss, Guilt/Shame, Therapy

    The shame of getting caught was bad enough. But then the demands started. It was blackmail and by my own sister. But I could do nothing but pay up. Week after week, she took my allowance, leaving me nothing.
    In the end, I realized that telling the truth would have been far less punishment than this.

  • Loss, Guilt/Shame, Transformation

    I could face the punishment–which was bad. I could face the shame–which made me hide in my room for a month. What I couldn’t face was the fact that I was a glutton.
    When I finally drew a gargoyle with my face and named it Glutton, it was the beginning of a true repentance, a true change. Naming the sin, it freed me. I could finally face it and start to make changes. I shed 150 pounds that year.

This is part of a series of posts on Plotting Difficult Topics

14 Apr

M. P. Barker: Class of 2k8

This is part of a year-long series about those intrepid newcomers, The Class of 2k8. To help marketing efforts for debut novelists, these 28 novelists have banded together to create a group marketing effort.

M.P. Barker

difficult boy A Difficult Boy, Holiday House.

Revising A Difficult Boy

Some writers claim to lo-o-o-ve revision. Then again, some people claim to love liver, shoveling snow, and, for all I know, root canal. Personally, I hate, loathe, and despise revising.

For me, each sentence comes torturously slowly, after hours of procrastinatorial cogitation and multiple permutations before I settle on it. By the time my “first” draft is complete, I’ve already done a lot of revising-as-I-go and have exhausted whatever spark of creativity prompted it. To revisit it is like going to a well long drawn dry.

On top of that, I am not one of those people who can write short. Nor am I one of those writers who can work from an outline. I take my characters, point them in a vague direction (sometimes no direction at all) and see what they’ll do. This leads to a story arc that looks more like an EKG than a bell curve. The first draft of A Difficult Boy was more than 700 pages long. So how did I trim more than 400 pages of flabby writing and unsightly prose? Patient friends and lots of office supplies.

Slashing a Mss in Half

  • Stage #1 (700 pages down to 500) – Four writer friends gave the manuscript a thorough going-over. If a section made all four hold their noses, I could be pretty sure that it really and truly did stink. I also remembered to grovel shamelessly in gratitude, because I could never have afforded to pay them.
  • Stage #2 (500 pages to 350) – I got a bulletin board, push pins, highlighters, scissors, tape, and Post-it notes. I assigned each character a different color highlighter, and assigned a letter code to each of the plot points or themes. I created a table with columns for: chapter and scene, time and setting, action, purpose of the scene, and themes or issues. I tacked the chart up on the bulletin board. Then I applied the highlighters and letter codes to the chart. That made it easy to see what was redundant or needed re-arranging. Then I got busy with the scissors, tape, and Post-it notes (plus one additional patient friend)…and the wastebasket. The 350-page version got me my agent and my publisher.
  • Stage #3 (350 pages to 275) – After receiving the five-page editorial letter pointing out all the book’s flaws, I spent three months staring at the manuscript, whining, accomplishing nothing, and in dire need of anti-depressants. A friend offered to help me by red-lining surplus paragraphs and sentences. She didn’t stop there, however, and began giving advice about major structural changes, which I received very ungraciously. We stayed up until two in the morning, me being a total witch, and her trying very hard to be helpful. I went to bed not knowing whether I should kill my friend, my editor, or myself, but certain I should flush the book. After three hours’ sleep, I woke up knowing exactly what to do. I pounded out a new outline in about two hours, and got the revisions done only a week behind schedule—much to my editor’s relief, I’m sure. My friend forgave me, my book will be coming out in April, and I owe my friend a hand-made shawl.

M.P. Barker, April 2008.

2k8 Stories

Look for these other 2k8 Stories:

March: Jody Feldman
April: Zu Vincent
April: M.P. Barker
May: Sarah Prineas
June: Daphne Grab
July: N.A. Nelson
August: Laurel Snyder
September: Nancy Viau
October: Ellen Booraem
October: P.J. Hoover
October: Courtney Sheinmel

14 Apr

Plotting Difficult Topics: Loss, denial

This is part of a series of posts on Plotting Difficult Topics

In Inviting the Wolf In: Thinking About Difficult Stories by Loren Niemi and Elizabeth Ellis, the authors recognize that how you approach a difficult subject can make huge differences in voice, POV, plot and resolution. They suggest 32 different approaches and this series of posts works out those approaches for the following scenario.

The Scenario: A girl watches her mother place a box of candy on the highest book shelf; the candy is meant as a birthday gift for the girl’s grandmother. The girl decides to sneak up and steal/eat some of the candy.

Loss, Denial

  • Loss, Denial, Testimony

    After three days of going to bed without supper, yes, I ate those chocolates. I limited myself to only one a day, just enough to keep myself alive. Indeed, it kept me going all day, knowing that a special prize would be mine at midnight.

  • Loss, Denial, Confession

    I really liked chocolate-coconut candy. It was sweet, delicious, It wasn’t a mistake. Sure the candy was for Grandma’s birthday. The moment I slipped that first piece into my mouth, I said, “Nothing good can come of this.” And I was right. I had to steal–a bit from my sister’s bank, a bit from my brother’s red sock under his bed, and even a dime from mom’s cookie jar. It was easy enough to get the cash to buy another box and replace that one. For a month after, everyone was “miscounting”– coins from each respective stash. Each time I kept my mouth shut. And no one suspected. It was too easy, way too easy. Which made it even easier to steal next time.

  • Loss, Denial, Therapy

    It was nothing. I opened the box and saw right away that some were gone, so I only partially lifted the lid. Just enough to count. Seven gone, eaten.
    Looking up, I saw my grand-daughter watching. Her eyebrows were arched slightly, dark questions above innocent blue eyes. Would I betray her or not?
    “There you Ellie,” I said. “I’ll enjoy these when I get home.”
    I knew that would make Ellie, my daughter-in-law mad. She would think, “Why doesn’t the old biddy open the chocolates and share them?”
    Because you starve your daughter, I’d spit back at her.
    I held my arms out to Ginger. “Come and sit with me.”
    Her eyebrows, her face relaxed and she ran to sit warm beside me on the couch.

  • Loss, Denial, Transformation

    I double-dog dare you, he said.
    I had been scared, sure, but I couldn’t tell my brother that. When he dared me to climb up and see what the gift was, I couldn’t let him see that I was scared of heights.
    So, I climbed.
    And from that height–he looked so tiny, so small.
    So, when he asked me to drop him a piece of candy, I refused. Why should I give anything to the wimp? “Come up yourself.”
    Instead, I clung to the bookshelf and at the whole box. After, I took money from my brother’s piggy bank to buy a new box for Grandma. I knew he wouldn’t do anything. He was afraid I’d tell his friends the truth: HE was scared of heights.

This is part of a series of posts on Plotting Difficult Topics

11 Apr

Plotting Difficult Topics: Wickedness, action

This is part of a series of posts on Plotting Difficult Topics

In Inviting the Wolf In: Thinking About Difficult Stories by Loren Niemi and Elizabeth Ellis, the authors recognize that how you approach a difficult subject can make huge differences in voice, POV, plot and resolution. They suggest 32 different approaches and this series of posts works out those approaches for the following scenario.

The Scenario: A girl watches her mother place a box of candy on the highest book shelf; the candy is meant as a birthday gift for the girl’s grandmother. The girl decides to sneak up and steal/eat some of the candy.

Wickedness, Action

  • Wickedness, Action, Testimony

    The girl looked into the box of chocolates and then at the gold frame of her grandmother and remembered grandmother’s voice. “Only for the boys. Not the girl.”
    How many times had she heard something similar?
    It was a small way to show her contempt, to take revenge. But it was at least something to do about how unfair it all was.

  • Wickedness, Action, Confession

    “Wrap Grandma’s gift, why don’t you?”
    She sighed. Might was well own up to it now. “I can’t.”
    Mom’s eyebrow went up.
    “Half the chocolates are gone,” she said, trying to maintain some dignity.
    Now, Mom’s whole face contorted, half in anger, half in confusion. “Wha– ”
    “I ate them. But don’t worry. I’ll get enough to buy a new box.”
    “And just how do you plan to do that?”

  • Wickedness, Action, Therapy

    Tears were always the girl’s weapon of choice. If she cried enough, Dad would take her part against Mom. As long as Dad was home when things were discovered, it worked. So the girl always made sure that’s exactly when her sins were discovered.


  • Wickedness, Action, Transformation

    More than anything , she fought the tears. Tears were weakness, and she wasn’t weak.
    But when Grandma opened the box–her shocked expression, her small grunt of surprise, the light fading from her pale eyes–it did her in. She confessed and when the old woman put a gentle hand on her cheek, she wept. And this time, the tears weren’t weakness, but they were cleansing tears.

This is part of a series of posts on Plotting Difficult Topics

10 Apr

Jacobs, Meyers and more

Successful Reviser

Read the interview with author Deborah Lynn Jacobs about her newest novel, CHOICES. She brought this manuscript to the 2005 Novel Revision Retreat, then revised and revised.

The workbook for the retreat Novel Metamorphosis is now available.
And the online Novel Metamorphosis class is taking registrations for the May/June class.

Strange Rules for the Road

Stephanie Meyers has strange rules of the road. (Thanks to The Longstockings blog.) Doesn’t she like the fans of Twilight, Breaking Dawn“>New Moon, Breaking Dawn“>New Moon“>Eclipse and the newest Breaking Dawn?

Other Links

Janni Simner find that waiting to revise will pay off. That’s right off she kills off the Tertiary Character. Janni, you gotta stop talking to your characters before you know if they will stay or go!

Anastasia Suen has a new Children’s and YA Lit Blog Reviewer’s List. Fabulous resource.

10 Apr

Plotting Difficult Topics: Wickedness, grief

This is part of a series of posts on Plotting Difficult Topics

In Inviting the Wolf In: Thinking About Difficult Stories by Loren Niemi and Elizabeth Ellis, the authors recognize that how you approach a difficult subject can make huge differences in voice, POV, plot and resolution. They suggest 32 different approaches and this series of posts works out those approaches for the following scenario.

The Scenario: A girl watches her mother place a box of candy on the highest book shelf; the candy is meant as a birthday gift for the girl’s grandmother. The girl decides to sneak up and steal/eat some of the candy.

Wickedness, Grief

  • Wickedness, Grief, Testimony

    That day when she chose to steal a piece of candy, she didn’t realize it was the beginning of something much larger. It was a loss of innocence, an attitude that she deserved what was denied her. And she would always find a way to take what was her own. It was a small thrill that day, but it led to such grief.

  • Wickedness, Grief, Confession

    When she chose to steal that candy, it was thoughtless, almost a casual thing. But the wails of grief that resulted shocked both her and her Mom. How could she have been so stupid?
    A simple choice–to eat a piece of candy–led to mother’s lack of trust. And it spread from there to everything else.
    How can I trust anything you say? Mom cried.
    And the girl’s heart ached. If only she could put things back how they had been.

  • Wickedness, Grief, Therapy

    It all went back to that one thing: I stole my grandmother’s birthday candy, so Mom could never trust me.
    I know the source of the problem, but how do we move forward from here. She won’t forgive, she won’t forget.

  • Wickedness, Grief, Transformation
    Mom got her way. I was totally broken, humiliated. Never again would I do anything that would bring such shame upon me. I guess I should’ve been stronger, fought back against her harsh punishment, told her to shove it.
    Instead, I took it and it make a lasting impre3ssion. I’ll never let her see my budget gook again. I’ll stop keeping one, in fact. I’ll never walk through the library–never again. And I’ll never confess again.

This is part of a series of posts on Plotting Difficult Topics

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09 Apr

Plotting Difficult Topics: Wickedness, Guilt

This is part of a series of posts on Plotting Difficult Topics

In Inviting the Wolf In: Thinking About Difficult Stories by Loren Niemi and Elizabeth Ellis, the authors recognize that how you approach a difficult subject can make huge differences in voice, POV, plot and resolution. They suggest 32 different approaches and this series of posts works out those approaches for the following scenario.

The Scenario: A girl watches her mother place a box of candy on the highest book shelf; the candy is meant as a birthday gift for the girl’s grandmother. The girl decides to sneak up and steal/eat some of the candy.

Wickedness, Guilt/Shame

  • Wickedness, Guilt/shame, Testimony

    When her fingernail slit the plastic, a small thrill shot through her. The chocolate melting in her mouth–oh, chocolate, made specially to melt at body temperature, made specially to tempt the human body–pleased her. Coconut bits gave just enough crunch.
    But then came the hour of reckoning. Of a bowed head, of bright red cheeks. Mom made her try to sell the rest of the candies in the box to earn enough to buy a new box. It was a hour of begging: Please buy a piece. I only need ten more cents to buy a new box.
    It was an hour of a brother, a sister taking pity, pulling coins out of hiding, opening up their own budget books and recording: One piece of chocolate coconut candy, 5 cents.
    Humiliation was the flavor of the day.

  • Wickedness, Guilt/shame, Confession

    She looked at her budget notebook in dismay. The box of candy cost $1.50. But she only had $0.80. Where would she get another seventy cents?
    Mom said, “You’ll have to sell the other pieces. Today’s allowance day. See if any of your brothers or sisters will buy a piece.”
    She made a sign: Candy, 5 Cents.
    She sat the half-empty box on a table and propped up the sign. She didn’t remember how long she sat there.
    Begging.
    She had stolen her grandmother’s birthday gift and eaten half the candy. She deserved this.

  • Wickedness, Guilt/Shame, Therapy

    At that moment, she realized something about her mother. She was a hard woman, not given to forgiveness. But she realized something else, too. Sis was as unlike their mother as ever a child could be. Because Sis quietly pulled out her piggy bank, emptied it and in one quick act of mercy, she paid 75 cents for the rest of the candy. And then, she split the candy she’d bought into three piles: one for her, one for baby brother and one for me, her little sister. My Sis’s name in heaven must be Mercy.

  • Wickedness, Guilt/Shame, Transformation

    Stealing wasn’t hard. Hiding what she’d done wasn’t hard. Even getting found out (after brother tattled) wasn’t hard, either.
    The hard part was trying to make it right. The humiliation of sitting there, trying to sell the rest of the box. Begging stingy brothers to part with a nickel, when all they wanted was to tease and accuse and make the birthday celebration for Gran a torture.
    But she did sit there. She did get enough money. And when Gran came, Ma pushed her forward–she was chosen to give the box to Gran, got to see her smile and got to sit beside her small rose-smelling figure as she opened the box, took a deep breath of chocolate and smiled.

This is part of a series of posts on Plotting Difficult Topics

For more on plotting novels, click here.

08 Apr

Plotting Difficult Topics: Wickedness, denial

This is part of a series of posts on Plotting Difficult Topics.

In Inviting the Wolf In: Thinking About Difficult Stories by Loren Niemi and Elizabeth Ellis, the authors recognize that how you approach a difficult subject can make huge differences in voice, POV, plot and resolution. They suggest 32 different approaches and this series of posts works out those approaches for the following scenario.

The Scenario: A girl watches her mother place a box of candy on the highest book shelf; the candy is meant as a birthday gift for the girl’s grandmother. The girl decides to sneak up and steal/eat some of the candy.

Wickedness, Denial

  • Wickedness, Denial, Testimony

    It was the first time I remember deliberately lying. I loved the coconut candies and it just took a fingernail to slit along the box wrapping and it was open like a Pandora’s box. I popped one into my mouth. And later another. And later another. Until it was half empty. Well, I chose to see it as half full, so when the questions came, I shrugged and denied.

  • Wickedness, Denial, Confession

    The old eyes flashed, then grew dull. Her birthday present was half eaten.
    “Mice?” I whispered. Then I tucked my tiny feet under my skirts. Who would have known that she would take it so hard. Wouldn’t she have opened it and offered us some anyway?
    It was nothing. There was no responsibility that I had to consider.

  • Wickedness, Denial, Therapy

    In the end, it mattered little. It was just a box of chocolates and just another birthday for an old woman.
    My mother–she is scared of the old lady. Daddy makes too much of Grandma.
    And they all three make too much of the Truth, which they speak with a capital T. It matters little if they ever know that I ate the candy and licked the chocolate from my fingers, savoring each bite.

  • Wickedness, Denial, Transformation

    Through it all, I clung to the denial and they could never pin it on me. No witnesses.
    But in the end, I knew: I would never again touch chocolate coconut candy. It would always be too bitter for me.

This is part of a series of posts on Plotting Difficult Topics

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