Friday, June 19, 2015


Everyone has emotions! Even Vulcans, though they try to suppress them.

And yet, I remember when growing up that my favorite stories were ones where the main character remained calm no matter how desperate the situation was. My favorite television characters were Mr. Spock in Star Trek and Illya Kuryakin in Man From U.N.C.L.E., both very good at hiding their emotions.

That might have been the writing style of the time. I might have been drawn to those books either because as a middle child I had learned that only the youngest child was taken seriously for over-reacting, or because I had been told that the only way to survive a bully (not referring to my youngest sister there) was not to react to them.

When the style changed so that "teen angst" became a thing, some authors seemed to go a bit overboard. Characters came across all sounding the same, like a spoiled youngest child, even if he or she was the eldest.

MG and YA changed again, and so did what was popular. First person POV could allow a reader to feel the character's emotions while the character could tell themselves to try to hide what they felt, to be cool.

Which style appeals to you?

I'm looking forward to seeing "Inside Out" Friday. I'm writing this blog on Thursday, so my reactions will be added late on Friday after the matinee. (For those looking for a review, Gloria Oliver will probably have a link on the Facebook page for YA Authors You've Never Heard Of to her review at some point).

Just from looking at the first trailer, I liked the idea that the emotions were broken down to five - Anger, Disgust, Fear, Joy, and Sadness - with all others being some variation of degree of those five. What's cute is that each of the emotions for each person has something identifying the person - the mother's hair style and glasses, the father's mustache. Interesting that the mother's emotions are depicted as all female, the father's are all male, yet Riley's are male and female. Maybe that will change as Riley grows older. Sadness seems to be in the lead for the mother, while Anger seems to be in charge for the father's emotions. But perhaps I'm over-analyzing too much from just the first trailer.

Some of the trailers raised other questions. For one, I do wonder how Disgust knows what broccoli is before the infant Riley (or even the other emotions) learns even the name of the vegetable. And, since baby Riley had a positive experience (after Disgust and Anger had their say), why is Anger so upset years later that broccoli is on pizza? I'm not hunting down other trailers or the website, though, until after I see the movie, as I want to see the movie without being spoiled.


I'm still processing my reactions. Gloria Oliver's review is here, for those looking for a review. I didn't get any answers to the questions I had coming in to the movie, and the writer in me has a few more "Why?" questions coming out. But I did like it - the artwork is great and the world inside the characters' heads has been well-built.

What do others think?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


Whether you love music or not, it may influence your writing.

When I write a story, I don’t always mention a particular song. Often though, I’ve heard or played a song on the piano that floats around in my head, and it seems to speak to me as I’m writing. SEALED WITH A KISS, from long, long ago, is one such song. Yes, I know, it’s outdated, but humor me. I enjoy the “old” songs because I understand them better than the “modern” music.

This song was a hit for several different singers, though not so much for the authors, at first. Later, it became quite popular. And as I wrote my YA contemporary novel, LIFE ON HOLD, in 2012, this song spoke to me. I thought of it often while telling Myra’s story.

Photo from Wikipedia

"Sealed with a Kiss" is a song written by Peter Udell and Gary Geld. It was first recorded by The Four Voices in 1960 and released as a single, but their recording was not a hit.

"Sealed with a Kiss" Single by The Four Voices B-side "You're All There Is" Released May 1960 Genre Pop Length 2:03 Writer(s) Peter Udell, Gary Geld

In 1962, Brian Hyland, who often performed Udell and Geld's material, covered the song. Hyland's single began its run on June 6, 1962 and became a hit, reaching No. 3 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and the UK Singles Chart.[2] When re-released in 1975, Hyland's recording charted in the UK at No. 7.

One of my very first books, SECRETS I HAVE KEPT, the print edition published in 2006, the ebook much earlier, has music in it. Jennifer plays classical music on the piano. Casey writes country ballads for his guitar. This was so much fun to write. And opposites do attract. Sometimes.


Then there’s Elvis Presley. Young people today may not know him, but he insisted I include him in the story I’m now shopping around. How on earth could I mention a singer from so long ago and relate him to today’s readers? Good question. We’ll see if I accomplished the task, meaning if a publisher offers me a contract. Some of Presley’s first songs were MY HAPPINESS, THAT'S WHEN YOUR HEARTACHES BEGIN, I'LL NEVER STAND IN YOUR WAY.

Photo from Wikipedia

This has something to do with my latest story.

How about you? Does music influence your writing? Do you use popular songs or write your own or just mention titles?

Happy Reading

Friday, May 22, 2015

Go to Your Room!

For those authors who write middle grade or YA, how much thought do you put into the character's bedroom? If the story doesn't need to focus on that part of the house, probably very little. But even then, do you, as an exercise, visualize what that room might be like?

A child's or teen's bedroom, as the only room in the house that they can be thought to 'own', usually has indicators of his or her personality. Is it messy? Very organized, with everything in its place? Totally chaotic with only a few clear spots that a parent dare step in?.

Are there bookshelves with actual books? Or are the shelves only places to put toys or trophies? What types of posters or pictures are on the walls? Are they the parents' choices (usual for children's rooms) or the teen's?

Being sent to one's room used to be a punishment, but not if the child's room also contains a tv and dvd player or computer or game system.

My youngest sister and I shared a dormer room. She was the super-neat child, with everything in its place. My bookcase was always spilling over with books, while her bookcase had some books, but more stuffed animals and dolls. The top of my dresser was where the statues of horses and my rock collection were displayed. Hers had her brush and comb, barrettes and rubber bands for her hair. The shared closet floor was tidy on her side, cluttered on mine. The room was so small we had to do our homework downstairs at the kitchen table. Our play area was down in the basement. Until our two older sisters moved out of the house and I was able to move downstairs into what had been my oldest sister's room, I felt that I wasn't able to put any personal touches into my 'space'. And yet I see that we each did.

If the story is set in a boarding school, there's probably very few options for expressions of personal taste. Dorm rooms in college used to be the same, usually containing two beds, two desks and, if you were lucky, two closets and/or chests of drawers (sometimes the chest of drawers was inside the closet). Then students were able to bring mini-fridges, microwaves and tvs. Now, with laptops and smart phones, the tv is no longer taking up space in a college dorm room, but other items are.

There would probably be even less space on a spaceship. Perhaps the bed might fold into the wall when not in use. Ditto a desk or clothespress.

How much do you plan ahead? Or do you just list each item in the room as you need to? As readers, how much do you recall of a character's room? Does it add to your understanding of the character?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015


I'm cross posting this from my other blog because I'm so far behind in everything. We've been having wonderful rains that we desperately needed. (More about that in a minute) Unfortunately, with the rains have come storms, lightning, etc. Evidently lightning struck the tower of my Internet provider and I was without the Internet for 5 days. Yes, I went into withdrawal symptoms. I used the WIFI at the library, but couldn't do everything. I am changing providers Tuesday. Yay. Anyhow, I hope you enjoy the story of my signing and the results of our rainfall.

Saturday, I had fun. A book signing at Hastings, Books, Music and Videos. A few people stopped by and some even bought a book. I bribed the wee ones with finger puppets and small basketballs, baseballs, and soccer balls. My hand puppet, Frankie, is a hit with the kids. My biggest seller was ... are you ready for this? DARK CHOCOLATE CANDY KISSES. Yep. Chocolate is a winner every time. One girl walked by my table, eyed the chocolates and went over to the shelves where candy sold. She came back in a few minutes, a dollar bill in her hand, and asked me if the store had any candy for less than a dollar. I told her I didn't know, but my candy was free. She went running back to her mother, (yes, I only gave candy when the parents approved) then back to me and asked how many she could have. I told her five, and she went away happy. In a couple of minutes, her younger sister came over and I gave her the freebies too. I didn't make any money, but the smiles on their faces was priceless

Even better, one of my former third-grade students was at the store and we had a nice visit. He had his father take pictures of us together so he could show them to his friends. And he bought a book for his daughter and one for himself. When a former student recognizes me, it's so much fun. It happens quite often because I taught a lot of children.

Next,  our area has been in a five year drought, and our use of water has been limited. Like we're fined if we use more than our quota a month. I know many other areas are having the same problem. Our son that lives in Southern California says they need rain desperately. I say, keep praying. We had the wettest April this year that I can ever remember. May is well on it's way to being the same.The lake levels are rising. Our water usage is still restricted, but that may change later.


Our pond has been dry for five years. Take a look at it now.

These milkweed were on dry land. A few days after I took this the flowers are no more. I guess they drowned. Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on the milkweed and the caterpillars use the plant for food.
The dragonflies are back.
My son has stocked the pond with fish.
Happy Reading!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Plot or Character - which comes first?

It's like the age old question. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Or, as I said to my kids the other day, "Which came first, the chicken or the horse?" (Yeah, I don't know where that came from either, it was just one of those days). Anyway, when you are starting a story do you start with the plot or the characters?

It almost doesn't matter. In the end you need both.

A great plot without characters to carry it will go nowhere.

Great characters without a plot to propel them forward will not make an interesting story.

I've started stories both ways.

In one work in progress of mine the plot completely came first. I knew I wanted a story about a person who could see evil, as in evil actually manifests itself as something she could see. (And frankly, that's a premise, not a plot). But I didn't know who that character would be. Eventually she became clear in my mind and I was able to write the story.

In another story of mine the character came first. I knew I wanted to write a story about a Princess named Fritzi whose days as a princess might be numbered. I knew she was red headed and feisty and then I had to develop the story to go along with her.

In ALWAYS ALI, which will be coming out this summer,since it is the fourth in the Ali series, I knew who the character was, but I had to find a story to go with her for this book. In this case it has to do with a new girl in school who claims to be her sister.

Whether the plot or the character come first, the two elements need to work together to make a compelling story.

What about you? When you write a story which do you find you come up with first, the character or the plot?

Friday, April 24, 2015

Middle Grade and Young Adult

At this blog we tend to use terms like "middle grade" and "YA", with the assumption being that the readers will understand them. I've been on a number of panels lately at science fiction conventions where questions from the audience demonstrated that people don't always understand the difference between the two labels. Even what YA is has been a major source of disagreements in discussions about whether there should be a YA Hugo Award. So this post will be an attempt to break those groups down and perhaps other posters to the blog will add their points of view as well.

Short history lesson. Back when I was growing up, there was no label for YA or middle grade. You started with children's books, and then at some point you, your parent, or perhaps a librarian knew you were ready for the adult collection. "Ready" didn't always mean "emotionally mature" - it might be because that's where all the good fantasy/science fiction was shelved or it might be because you had already devoured all the books in the children's collection and your parent/librarian was tired of hand-picking books from the adult collection. (Interlibrary loan was only for adults back then.) Publishers did have some authors who wrote 'juvenile' (I do remember the Heinlein Juveniles were a thing at one point) and those would be shelved in the children's collection. Sometimes.

YA emerged as a label in the mid-70s (some will say 1950s or 1960s, but not where I was) and at that point it was thought to cover ages 10 through 18. Middle grade as an age range for books started about the time midde schools/junior highs became the fashion in the US - around the late 80s in some areas, early 1990s in others. Why and how have some classics have been relabeled as YA even though the term never existed when the book was written? It's all about the protagonist.

In panel discussions, several points have been repeated over and over. Age of the protagonist is one factor in the split between MG and YA. Middle grade has the protagonist aged between eight to twelve years old. In YA, the protagonist is older, usually thirteen and up. New Adult is a new term for the college-aged protagonist, which up to now was covered (sometimes) under YA. Classics - those books published before these terms came into use - often are relabeled YA if the protagonist fits in that age range, even if the main character is actually an adult reflecting on their childhood/young adulthood (Jane Eyre and To Kill A Mockingbird). Tamora Pierce's Circle series starts with her young mages around 10 years old. That was considered YA when the series first appeared, so her books might be considered MG by some and YA by others.

Middle grade readers have gatekeepers - parents and librarians who evaluate the books before purchase. So panelists often agree that swearing and sex is a dividing line between middle grade and young adult, no matter the age of the protagonist. Violence isn't always an issue with some gatekeepers.

Other dividing points (and there are always exceptions): middle grade covers external situations and adventures while YA is more introspective. Middle grade is more optimistic, while YA can be more edgy with uncertain endings. Middle grade focuses more on friends and family, while YA focuses on society. Before Harry Potter, middle grade books had a low word count, but that's not always true now.

Some other websites and blogs that discuss the definitions and distinctions:

How does the proposal for a Hugo for Best YA stand? There was supposedly a committee set up at the last Worldcon to look into it. There is still a Facebook group for the YA Hugo Proposal, but it's been quiet since 2014, and with the latest uproar about the 2015 Hugo nominations I'm not sure if there will even be any discussion about the topic at the business meeting at this year's Worldcon. We shall see.

What do you think are the differences between middle grade and young adult?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


This month I've been busy with the A to Z Challenge and haven't a clue what to write about today. Posting every day but Sunday isn't easy. So I'm sharing interesting email with you today. Enjoy.

Visibility Generating
Authority Building

Writing and Marketing Information

Self-Talking Yourself Into Becoming a Better Writer, a Better

By Karen Cioffi

I’ve long believed the benefits of positive thinking and positive projection.

Now, in line with these philosophies, there is positive self-talk.

In an article at, “Why Saying is Believing,” it explains the

importance of not only talking to yourself, but how you talk to yourself.

Researchers delved into the influence that referring to the ‘self’ has on

how the individual thinks, feels, and even behaves.

Interestingly, the studies are finding that talking to yourself as ‘I’ or ‘me’ can

create stress.

Why does this matter?

According to “psychologist Ethan Kross of the University of Michigan led the

work, studying the pronouns people use when they talk to themselves silently,
inside their minds.” Kross went on to explain that the subtle linguistic shift
from ‘I’ to your name can have “powerful self-regulatory effects.” (1)

As an example, suppose I say every morning: “I’m going to take actions to

get 50 new subscribers to my mailing list this month.” According to the studies,
this is creating subconscious stress on fulfilling my goal.

If instead I said, “Karen, you’re going to take actions to get 50 new subscribers

to your mailing list this month,” I’m reducing the stress by kind of making
myself someone else who’s being talked to. Kind of like being coached or
advised. And, the ‘talking’ tends to be done in a milder, less demanding way
when done this way.

So, how will this help you with your writing and marketing?

Well, why not give it a try. Even if its only benefit is to reduce some stress in

your life, it’s powerful. On the other hand, if it reduces stress and helps
motivate you to take action to work toward building a successful business,
then it’s super-powerful.

I'll be giving it a try.
To check out the references, please visit the post webpage.


Is Your Business / Marketing Stuck in Neutral?

Get Traffic to Your Website with Inbound Marketing

This 4-week, interactive, in-depth e-class through WOW

on Writing covers the four fundamental elements of inbound marketing: Website Optimization, Blogging Smart, Email
Marketing, and Social Media Marketing.

What does this mean for you? Simple: More traffic, increased authority, better rankings, and more conversions (people who

click on your call-to-actions)!

It’s must-know stuff (and easier to do than you think) for ALL marketers, including

business owners, writers, authors . . .
Check it out today! Just CLICK HERE.


You may reprint this article from "The Writing World” in its entirety in your own blog

or print/electronic newsletter. But, please include the following paragraph:

Article reprinted from The Writing World newsletter. Want more must-know writing

and marketing information along with updates on free webinars right in your inbox?
access to The Writing World ( today.

Karen Cioffi, Freelance Writer
For Individuals (Academic Papers, Essays, Editing, and More)
The Article Writing Doctor
Your Content Marketing Prescription
(Content Writing Services for Small and Home Businesses)

karencioffi [at] ymail [dot] com

I'm an affiliate for some of the products I recommend. I only tell you about

products I've checked out.


Send me an email with your question and I'll do my best to give you an