Monday, February 28, 2011

I Pick things up and Put them Down

Have you seen that commercial? Where the guy, a big beefy guy, walks around the gym (I can't remember the name of the gym), and all he can say is "I pick things up and put them down" in an Ahnold accent?

I don't know why I chose that title - I first wrote "Tearing down and building up again" as the title, but that commercial jumped into my head, so I went with it. Anyway, that's what I'm talking about - revising. Revising is different than editing, different than polishing. More like Rewriting the Whole Dang Book.

About a month ago, I had a conversation with a really great editor at a big NYC house. He had read my WIP, and was giving me suggestions. Other people had told me things like "the voice didn't grab me", or "it just didn't work for me". I had gotten a really detailed agent rejection the week before - which, as rejections go, was like finding gold. And this editor, we talked for half an hour and I had a page full of notes, most of which required me to completely rip the book apart and rebuild it. "It's too old-fashioned." Which has a lot to do, I discovered, with balancing historical accuracy and modern sentiment. That's a whole other blog post.

Which sounds scary. And it was scary. It took me about a week to figure out how I was going to make it work. Parts of the story could stay, there are a few bits that haven't been completely rewritten - most people LOVE the first chapter, so that's stayed, with just a few tiny modifications. These revisions required a complete shift in the focus of the book. Once I found that, though, things seemed to fall into place. I have more action and a darker tone. My female MC is much spunkier. I've taken out what one person called 'the melodramatic slobbering" (and it was too - what WAS I thinking???).

The point is that sometimes you just HAVE to tear it all down and build it up again. The old version of the story was good, in that it was well-written and had a lot going for it. Even the agent who wrote the long rejection said there was a lot to like, and I've tried to keep all those bits. But in th end, it was quieter than I had originally intended, and I just needed a little direction to help me find where I went wrong.

I could have decided to not take any of their suggestions, stuck to my guns and decided that I liked it just the way it was. And I DID like it. There are writers out there who feel that anyone who makes suggestions must be trying to change their voice, or whatever. It's called Golden Word Syndrome, and I've fortunately never suffered from it. Many of those writers that do, well, they keep on stacking up rejections. Not that every editor is right, not that every suggestion is perfect, but it pays to listen and think about the advice, and then decide if it wouldn't be better to change it.

And this is the beauty of computers. I kept the old version, saved a new file, and was brave and tore it all apart and I'm building it up again. You know what?

I like it better now. It's not perfect yet, it'll need a little editing, and some polish, and the advice of some beta readers, before I send it back to that editor, but he'll see a whole new story.

Hope he likes it as much as I do.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Refinishing the Furniture

Recently a friend of mine bought an old beat up make-up table and bench. It was dark wood, stained, chipped, neglected. It was a "piece of junk". Still, she took it home, stripped it, sanded it and refinished it. She gave it new life. I saw the picture of it the other day and it is beautiful. Nothing like the old piece of junk that she took home.

Writing is sort of like this. There are only so many plots in the world. They have all been done. Numerous times. They are "old junk". It's up to the writer to take that old junk and turn it into something beautiful.

There is a lot of work involved - just as in refinishing the furniture. It can't be rushed. Each little nook and crannie has to be attended to. The words have to be stripped, the idea sanded down, the plot refinished. It has to become something else, something different, something unique. After all, no one tells the story the way you tell the story, right?

Ever have one of those parties where you whisper something into the ear of the person sitting next to you, and they whisper it to the next person and so on? It usually comes out quite different than what it started out as. Writing is like this, too.

We hear a whisper of a plot. We tumble it about in our heads, whispering it to ourselves. It changes, becomes something new. Something different. And a new story is born.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Does Your Pop Culture Date Your Story?

I guess the short answer, is that of course, yes, it does.

A teen who listens to New Kids on the Block would be retro, not hip.

But a story that can reference Lady Gaga and the newest hottest TV shows, is going to sound hip and trendy and who doesn't want that in dealing with teens.

The problem of course is that generally several years will pass between the time a novel is first written and the time it is available for sale. That teen star that everyone loved when you started writing might be on their third trip to rehab by the time the book comes out.

What's an author to do?

Some people (and perhaps they know they will have shorter leave time, or are tapped into the newest trends that will be around awhile) are able to pull off the hip and trendy. I can't do that. I wasn't particularly sensitive to trends when I was a teen, and that really hasn't improved over time. And my kids are seriously retro, (seriously: Calvin and Hobbs, Peanuts, Archie, 40s Jazz, Beatles, Broadway music, M*A*S*H and Gilligan's Island) so I can't get clues from what they are watching or listening to.

If I use a real band or book or person as a reference when I write I try to make it be someone who is so "out" as to be "in" again. People or things that have already stood the test of time and aren't likely to fade into complete oblivion anytime soon.

But for the most part, I make up my own pop culture for my books. The songs or stars they are talking about are of my own invention. Sure, they won't be immediately recognizable to anyone, but they also won't have done a stint in rehab.

I think it is impossible to be truly timeless. Something is always going to date the manuscript. Technology is a big one. I got my first cell phone only eleven years ago, but kids these days can't imagine not having them. TiVo and other services mean that you don't have to watch a particular show at a particular time anymore. Netflix means people aren't running out to rent movies at a store someplace. And who knows what other changes will be in store in the next couple of years.

Even political or geographical things don't stay the same. I risk dating myself with this example, but when I was a teenager I wrote a story where the main characters visited the Berlin Wall. The Berlin Wall had been a constant since before I was born. I couldn't imagine it ever not existing. But if I ever wanted to keep that scene in a story, it would have to be historical now, since the Berlin Wall is long gone.

So, when it comes right down to it I guess it's impossible not to date your story in some way. What are some ways you try to work around that?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Defeat Suck Dragons

This past month I've been struggling with my WIP.  Back in November, I decided to start a new project.  I was so excited and ended up completing 40K!  To some that might not be much but for someone that takes usually a year or so to finish a first draft, this was a big accomplishment.

Well, for the past couple weeks or so I've found myself in suck city.  The story I was so excited about, now felt flat.

Then I remember this one vlog my son watched during Nanowrimo on vanquishing your suck dragons. Robyn Schneider is a fellow YA author and gives some great advice to young writers but I feel it also can work for the rest of us.  I thought I'd share:
 So go out there and defeat those suck dragons from your story.  I know I will!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Conventions, Authors, and You!

We all hold certain images of what authors are and what it's like to be one (rightly or wrongly - I know I had some major doozies!), and one of the big things a lot of people assume is that there's no way to ever get to meet their favorite authors.

I'd like to set the story straight on that one. :P

Authors are out there! They're accessible! And so are other fans. People with the same interests and looking for others to share the excitement of the things they enjoy. And where can they all get together? Conventions! And there are a lot of them, going on just about everywhere. With panels, free goodies, signings, artists, and books books and books!

Today, I'll be spending the weekend over at ConDFW in Dallas, TX a Science Fiction and Fantasy convention. This will be their tenth year and they're still going strong. And it is but the first of more than a handful of other writing/book related conventions happening in Texas (and a more out there) for those who love science fiction and fantasy.

Whatever genre is your favorite, there's most likely a convention out there celebrating it. And even better than getting to see and listen to and even meet your favorite authors is the fact that while you're there, you're likely to learn about a whole lot of new ones to try out. (Inherent danger of these conventions is leaving with a bigger 'To Be Read' pile than you had when you came in.) :P

When I started attending conventions as a fan and later as a dealer and guest, I stumbled over all sorts of new authors for me to read. If not for conventions I probably would have never read the awesome writings of people like Rachel Caine, Martha Wells, Carole Nelson Douglas , A Lee Martinez, and many more.

At the conventions you can learn about the writing business, editing, have discussions on all sorts of topics, see artists actually creating, getting tips. There are normally also dances, parties, costume contests. Some of the conventions show movies and/or anime, have gaming, Live action role playing, game shows. It's just a great place to meet other like minded people. Make connections, friendships, have whole new worlds opened before your very eyes.

But best and most -- they're a total blast!

So if you're game, do a search to find your favorite author's website and see if they have an appearances page (I do!) to find out what conventions they'll be going to this year. One could very well be close to YOU!

Hope to see you there!

Gloria Oliver
Unveiling the Fantastic

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Letters, I Write Letters

I am an inveterate letter-writer. I write letters of praise to tell someone when I have been pleasantly surprised or just delighted with a service, a meal, a really good news article, you name it. I write letters of complaint when I feel I have suffered at the hands of someone who should know better (read: retail workers or customer service reps.)

But the best letters have gone to creative people -- be they writers, musicians, or actors-- and have gotten me a reply. I have a binder of plastic sleeves protecting each one of these missives and I cherish all of them. I started writing fan letters as a grade school kid and was encouraged when I got replies -publicity staff replies, to be sure, but at the age of eight years, I had no idea. Carol Burnett wrote me back. So did Madeleine L'Engle. A member of the rock band The Association wrote his reply to me as an original poem. I still know it by heart. I have a letter from the lead guitarist of the defunct British punk band The Vapors. It's handwritten and ends with his agreement to go to dinner with me if I ever pass him on the street and recognize him. Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick replied via phone call. Too bad I couldn't record that conversation!

As an adult, I also branched out into approaching my hero authors. Alan Dean Foster did me the kindness of telling me to include a SASE because writers would be more inclined to reply if I did. British writer K.M. Peyton invited me to tea, if I ever got across the Atlantic and was able to look her up. (I get the feeling she'd freak if I ever turned up on her doorstep, though.)

David Morrell wrote me one of the best letters of all. I had inquired about a sequel to his amazing book The League of Night and Fog. Mr. Morrell sat down at his typewriter to explain to me, on one single-spaced sheet of paper, that he would never write the sequel. "But," he added, "here is what happens to the characters." And he proceeded to tell me in detail where the story would have gone if he had written it. Sometimes I think about framing that one!

I embarked on writing YA fiction because Stephen King told me to do it. I have the note to prove it! Richard Peck himself advised me that I could stop attending writing workshops involving critiques because they were becoming more discouraging to me than encouraging. I have that on paper, too!

Lately, I've even tried to contact writers through e-mail, and had some terrific replies from the likes of Douglas Preston and James Rollins. Still waiting on Neil Gaimann, though! E-mail is fun, and quick but it can't quite take the place of getting that surprise (but-oh-s0-hoped-for) self-addressed/stamped envelope that brings a response from a writer I admire. Or to put it in the vernacular, a writer that turns me into a tongue-tied fan girl.

So is anyone else out there writing letters and collecting replies? If you are, we ought to swap stories. If you aren't, hey, if you've ever been inclined to write a writer, you should give it a try. It's amazing what some of them will tell you!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Classic YA and Childrens Books of All Time?

What are the books you prized most highly growing up? Who were/are your beloved authors? How about your children's favorites? You have a chance to share them with others, by participating in a poll.

Hi, everyone! I’m on a “Best Ever Young Adult Book” crusade.

I don’t know if anyone here frequents Pred and Edit or Critters, but “Preditors and Editors” and the writers workshop group, “Critters”, have combined resources for a “Best Ever” poll. The poll has subcategories for virtually every kind of book, story and poem ever written. That includes both Young Adult and Children’s books, stories, poems, poets and authors. The poll has been open for submissions since sometime in January. Any one can nominate a title or an author in any category. According to the site, the poll never closes—they hope to create a resource for potential readers for the future, actually a kind of shopping list for parents and children.

It’s not going well.

The problem is that very few people know about this poll or alternatively people are glancing at the interim results but no one is taking the time to vote for their favorites. I can think of any number of YA books and authors alone that deserve nomination at least. Here’s a few of my favorite authors from either my teen or childhood years: Walter Farley, Madeline L'Engle, Alan Garner, Susan Cooper, Jane Louise Curry, Diana Wynne Jones, C. S. Lewis, George MacDonald, J. R. R. Tolkien, Lewis Carroll, Lloyd Alexander, and of course Grimm, Lang, and Anderson when it comes to fairy tales. (Some of these have been entered in the poll already) With all due respect, I’m not a fan of Rowling, but I was surprised to not find her name.

In spite of Rowling’s absence and probably the absence of every member of YAAYNHO, right now the list is slanted toward books written in the last decade or so. There’s lots of votes for Stephenie Meyer for instance. May I suggest that you visit the site, and contribute your favorites? Perhaps, you could also tell friends, parents and fellow authors about the poll as well. How can there be only 13 favorite YA books and only 11 favorite Children’s books on these lists? Seven YA authors? Six Children’s authors? The poll has been open for weeks.

The website is: Links to various categories are listed in the table at the bottom of the page.

Below is a rather crowded list of the Young Adult and Children’s Entries to date. Sorry for the mess! I’m trying to keep the blog entry from running to pages and pages.

p.s. There's lots of other categories too.

Sherry Thompson, author of Seabird ( ) and Earthbow ( )

Young Adult:


His Dark Materials Philip Pullman

The Book Thief Markus Zusak

Leviathan Scott Westerfeld

Lioness Rampant Tamora Pierce

Howl's Moving Castle Diana Wynne Jones

The Old Kingdom Series Garth Nix

Beauty Robin McKinley

The Neverending Story Michael Ende

Twilight Stephenie Meyer

A Series of Unfortunate Events Lemony Snicket

The Chronicles of Prydain Lloyd Alexander

The Last Unicorn Peter S. Beagle

The Westmark Trilogy Lloyd Alexander

Short Story--- (no entries)

Poem--- (no entries)

Poet--- (no entries)


Diana Wynne Jones

Garth Nix

Melina Marchetta

Jane Yolen

Madeline L'Engle

L. M. Montgomery

Andrew Clements



Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH Robert C. O'Brien

Marianne Dreams Catherine Storr

arabatt clive barker

Spellhorn Berlie Doherty

The Silver Brumby Elyne Mitchell

A Friend is Someone Who Likes You Joan Walsh Anglund

The Chronicles of Narnia C.S. Lewis

Anne of Green Gables L.M. Montgomery

My Side of the Mountain Jean Craighead George

Shadow Castle Marian Cockrell

Short Story---

Unicorns on Octavion O'Neil De Noux

Poem--- (no entries)


Walter de la Mare

Lewis Carroll

Shel Silverstein


Dr. Suess

Neil Gaiman

Roald Dahl

J.M. Barrie

Brian Jacques

Andrew Clements

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Blog Talk Radio

If you're not listening to Blog Talk Radio, you're missing something. I just did a show with Tony Angelo and it was fun. The show is called Robin Falls Kids -- The Dreams of Our Children with Tony Angelo. It's all about writers and writing. Tony does a great job with the show. For those of you interested in promoting your books and talking about writing it's a great outlet. Tony is looking for guests and cross promotion. If you would like to be on the show you can find Tony on Facebook.

Check it out!

Peggy Tibbetts

Coming in 2011 –

My books

My blogs:
Advice from a Caterpillar
From the Styx

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Staying connected and other thoughts

Two weeks ago, the fan on my computer stopped cooling the machine and so it was sent out for repairs. I was no longer connected except for the small notebook my son loaned me with orders that I was not allowed to download anything onto it. I tried to read my email but the print was very small and the thing took forever to load. So I toughed it out. I know some people find interesting things to do when they can't access their computers. I did, sort of. I write by hand so I was able to continue with my current project but of course the typing got behind. I also found some time to do a bit of housework but I didn't do the floors. It's winter and doing the hardwood floors doesn't really work. Tracked snow leaves footprints. I did learn one can live without being connected. Then the computer returned and I was faced with some 300 emails. I wonder how many weren't delivered since the mailbox was crammed.

Another thing that's been puzzling me lately is how writers talk about The Book of Their Heart. I sat and tried to figure if I'd ever written mine. The conclusion was that there are some forty or more books of my heart out there. When I'm working on a story it becomes the book of my heart and remains until another displaces it. What about you do you hold one book above the others or like a mother do you love all your books, maybe not equally but differently the way we consider our children?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Letters to Juniper book trailer

As you may or may not know, last fall I signed a multi-book contract with Binary Press Publications, a brand new ebook publisher. My middle grade novel, Letters to Juniper will be their first children’s book offering.

Writers are really good at waiting. Besides writing, waiting is what we do. Although I have to admit, waiting for a book to be released can sometimes feel like torture. Overcoming that feeling is an exercise in creative patience. In that spirit, I have patiently created my own Top Ten List.

Top Ten List of Things To Do While Waiting For Your Book To Be Released

10: Avoid all cobwebs and cluttered closets
9: Blog
8: Go skiing
7: Make a promo & marketing plan
6: Get hopelessly addicted to Angry Birds
5: Write book reviews
4: Learn Arabic
3: Work on the next book
2: Go skiing

And the #1 thing to do while waiting for your book to be released --

Make a book trailer

Or in my case, have one talented daughter, Ema Tibbetts and her equally talented friend Brian Thornton make a book trailer for me.

And now [drum roll please]

Presenting the book trailer for Letters to Juniper!


A ringing endorsement –

“When I read this book years back, I remember saying to Peggy Tibbetts, ‘Why is this not published?' It’s an incredible story that brought me to tears, made me angry and sad, and evoked a myriad of other emotions, even though it is geared to middle grade readers. It is my pleasure now, through my association with Binary Press Publications, to see this book shared with the world. As the editor, I had little to do except point a finger in a few places, for Tibbetts is a skilled and masterful writer. This is a book you will want to share with your children, your parents, and your friends. ” Natalie R. Collins

Author of Wives and Sisters, Behind Closed Doors, The Fourth World, Sister Wife, Twisted Sister, and the Jenny T. Partridge Dance Mystery Series (as Natalie Roberts)

Peggy Tibbetts

Coming in 2011 –

My books

My blogs:
Advice from a Caterpillar
From the Styx

Friday, February 4, 2011

Libraries and Research

There are those who think that the Web is the only source of information. Want to find general information on a topic? Find a website. Ah, but how good is that information? Is it a reliable source? How about finding a newspaper article? Check online for the newspaper’s site. Okay, how about finding a magazine or a journal article? Several of those have websites and some of the articles are free to read online – if you don’t might putting up with ads.

Information is definitely available on the Open Web. However, there is also a great deal of information on the Invisible Web--what search engines can’t get to because the access is owned by proprietary databases.

There are several good free databases of information on the web, yes. Many of them are through the government, such as tax information and forms, education documents through ERIC, and medical information through PubMed and Medline Plus.

But another relatively cheap information resource is as close as your local library. As well as books (both paper and electronic), libraries provide access to databases of newspapers, magazines and journals - often both within the building and from home. Each state has a different mix of magazine, journal, and newspaper databases shared by their public, university and school libraries. In Minnesota, the shared collection is Electronic Library for Minnesota (ELM) and in Wisconsin, it's BadgerLink.

Want to read newspaper or magazine articles from the 1980s? 1960? How about the American Revolution or the Civil War? Local libraries often are great sources of regional information. Minnesota has Minnesota Reflections which provides images and documents of cultural history. My university library decided to fund the digitalization of our local town’s newspaper and make it available for free. The thought was that only people in Minnesota would be interested in what life was like in Winona from the 1800s – back when it was just a lumber town on the Mississippi River – during the Civil War and through the Vietnam War. Instead we've found people around the world have been reading the articles. It can be found at the Winona Newspaper Project.

Authors who wanted to find out how many libraries had their books used to have to go to their library to use WorldCat. Now there is a free version .

When you start to research your next novel, don’t forget your local library.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

12 Vintage Ads You Wouldn't Dare Buy Today

My teenaged son came across this article on; and while I recognize that is pretty cracked, the ads are authentic and the points the team made about them were pretty funny, and ironic. So, here are some of the ads. How many of these items would YOU buy today?

So, how many babies can be stored in cellophane? Just ask Du Pont. Of course, they don’t guarantee the babies will be alive later, but that’s beside the point-they’ll be fresh at least.

This ad appeared in Harpers in 1904. Things have changed a bit since then. Don’t think I’d let my 5-year-old take her gun to bed for a nap…

 I wonder if this was invented by a dermatologist.

Check out the dazed look on the child lying on the floor while her sister tries desperately to get inside the bottle for its magic elixir. What the self-proclaimed cure-all didn’t state was that it contained opium. Now the dazed look makes sense.


In 1952 Santa didn’t bring shiny bicycles or baby dolls, he brought cancer sticks – and hundreds of them in giant boxes nicely decorated to conceal their cancerous intent.

Apparently cigarettes and chewing tobacco weren’t the only tobacco products aimed at kids, here’s one for cigars. This is an actual label from inside a cigar box. Just how young did they want them to start?


Okay, so let me get this straight. Not only did advertisers want their kids to smoke, chew tobacco and sleep with guns after taking opium-filled cough remedies, but they were encouraged to share a beer with Grandpa. Glad I wasn’t a child then.


I guess all those beers and stogies grew some pretty early whiskers. Baby sure looks happy about using that razor.

Here it is 1950 and every child Scientist can have their own personal Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab with real radioactive materials included. But never fear-the low-level radiation was “completely safe and harmless”. I wonder how many kids who played with these are alive today and cancer free?


Here’s the most amazing one. Cocaine was used throughout the 1800’s and early 1900’s to cure toothaches. I guess it worked. You just forgot about the pain.

Funny how the attitudes about television changed from the 1950’s when it was a miracle box to the 1990’s when it poisoned children’s minds and was to be avoided.


Then there’s this ad. Feed your toddler pure corn syrup for energy and better boxing skills (huge gloves); then listen to NPR on the radio today and hear about all the harm it’s doing. 

Wish everyone would make up their minds.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Every writer knows the importance of a character’s name in a story. Think Pansy O’Hara, instead of Scarlett O’Hara. We picture a quite different character when looking at these two names. These names are both fictitious. What I want to discuss today is using “real” names for our characters. Is this good or bad?

In my young adult historical novel, my major characters are fictional, so no problem there. I did use names such as Ulysses S. Grant, John Pemberton, and Jefferson Davis. Except for Pemberton, who has a very brief part, they’re only mentioned, not actual characters in the story. The setting is real and the siege of Vicksburg, Ms, actually occurred. The facts can be checked, so those I’m comfortable with.

The story that worries me, where I changed the names again and again, is my middle grade historical Scattered to the Winds. Since the story is loosely based on my mother’s life, I started out using her name. As it is her story, it seemed like the thing to do when I was writing it. Her brothers and sisters also have their real names, as do the parents and foster parents. Then I decided I might need to use fictional names, so I played with different names that were popular during the early 1900s. I wrote another draft of the story with the new names. It was not my mother’s story, though. So I went back to the original version, and it will be published using their “real” names.

After I sold the manuscript, panic set in. All of the characters are deceased now, most many years ago. It’s not that I say anything bad about them, but I still wonder how they would feel reading this part true, part make believe story with their names. And, since I wrote the story I have met some of the descendants of my mother’s foster parents. They call me “cousin” and are the nicest people. They’ve even given me a genealogy of the family. What will they think, however, when they read my story about their grandmother and grandfather? Much of the story comes from my imagination, because I know so little of the facts of their lives. The “cousins” know about my book. They’re waiting for it to be published, and I am scared.

What will they think? (Yeah, a bit late for me to consider this.) I hope they will like it. What if they hate it? Yes, I know, writers are notoriously insecure. Anyhow, what about you? Do you ever use “real” names in your stories? If so, are you nervous about it? Or has it turned out great?