Friday, August 17, 2018


Dear Friends,

Thank you each and every one who stopped by the blog this week to leave a comment for Author/Librarian Jen Nails. Your support of authors and good books is always a great boost for writers. We really do appreciate everything you do for us!

MG is one of my sweet spots and as many of you probably know FOOD is a passion of mine as well. I love recipes and talking about food and researching ways to create healthy meals which are also tasty, so that bit about 20 recipes included in the book was very tempting, but I did not add my name for a chance to win. I also know that Jen has a wonderful gift for voice, so if you weren’t the lucky winner, you’ll want to order this book for your favorite young reader, for yourself, your school library or classroom.

Thanks, Jen Nails, for the gift of your time and your delicious book, One Hundred Spaghetti Strings. 

We have a great line-up for fall with more chances to win some terrific books by favorite authors!

The LUCKY WINNER of the Comment Contest is: SIOUX ROSLAWSKI

          ****CONGRATULATIONS, SIOUX****

(Sioux, Please email me with your mailing address and include to whom you’d like the book personalized. Jen will send it off to you asap) claragillowclark(at)gmail(DOT)com. 

If you haven’t already, please stop by Jen’s website or follow her on social media:


Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Author-Librarian Jen Nails Talks about Process + #Giveaway

Dear Friends,

Please join me in welcoming Author-Librarian Jen Nails for the Back-to-School giveaway. Jen talks about inspiration and process as well as sharing a little about what she’s working on now. She’s generously donating a copy of her middle grade novel One Hundred Spaghetti Strings (published by HarperCollins spring 2017) for the comment contest. All you have to do for a chance to win an autographed copy is leave a comment for Jen. Let me know in your comment if you share on Twitter, FB, Google+ or follow this blog, and you’ll get more chances to win. Winner will be announced on Friday, August 17th, so hurry!

Author/Librarian JEN NAILS
Born and raised in Las Vegas, NV, Jen Nails has lived in Boulder, CO and New York, NY. She's taught English, theater, and creative writing, and is now a K-12 Librarian/Media Specialist (the best job she's ever had). Jen is the author of two novels for middle grade readers.

Writing from the Inside Out. . . by Jen Nails

I remember hearing Jacqueline Woodson speak at the New York SCBWI conference a few years ago and someone asked her if she experienced writer’s block and if so, what did she do? She said that she didn’t believe in writer’s block. She said if she ever sat down to write something in particular and wasn’t feeling it, she started writing something else, until she found the thing that she needed to be writing. If she came back to the first thing, great, if not, great. This has helped me over the years to recognize that it’s okay to put something on hold if you really, really, really have to write about something else in that moment. 
My novel-in-progress about three 7th graders who try and prevent the implosion of a Las Vegas casino has been through at least nine or ten drafts and I’m totally full steam ahead about it, but over the summer, there was something kind of tugging at me. 
I got divorced three years ago, and since then I’ve become addicted to national parks. Somehow, bringing my sons to the parks has become both an addiction and an antidote. I’ve been keeping little diaries that kind of chronicle each of our visits and I am using them to create a guidebook for heartbreak, an “off the beat and path” travel guide to healing and becoming whole again. 
The thing is, there are so many threads and themes that I had begun to follow in the novel that are actually more relevant to this nonfiction book. In fact, one of the poems from the novel is now a part of the travel guide. In keeping with Clara’s theme of Writing from the Inside Out, I wanted to share that I think it's so important to honor that thing that is eating at you, that is begging to be put on paper to get it out of your system, even if it isn’t the thing that you are “supposed to be writing right now.”  

Here’s Jen’s latest book for middle grade readers! Review below.

Book Summary from amazon:
   This brave and heartwarming middle grade novel will leave your belly rumbling and your heart full. Because when life hands you lemons, it’s time to get cooking! Perfect for fans of Sarah Weeks, Leslie Connor, and Lynda Mullaly Hunt. 
    Since Steffy was little, she and her older sister, Nina, have lived with their beloved Auntie Gina. But when the girls’ dad comes home to live with them, everything changes. So Steffy does what she does best: She cooks her way through the hardest year of her life.
    Sometimes it feels like everything but the kitchen sink is being thrown at her—too many ingredients that don't quite work. And all Steffy wants is for her family to be whole again. Can her recipes help bring them back together?
One Hundred Spaghetti Strings also includes over twenty recipes—which Steffy cooks throughout the book—so aspiring young chefs can try them out when they’re done reading!" AMAZON LINK OF JUSTICE

To learn more about Jen and her books or to follow her on social media, check out the links below:
Publisher's Weekly review, February 2017 

Thank you, dear readers, for joining us at this busy end-of-summer time. Don’t forget to visit Jen's website or follow her on FB and Twitter.

And thank you, Jen, for sharing insights into your creative process. I loved your line, “Honor the thing that is eating at you.”

I’ll be back in a few days to announce the winner. ~Clara

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Announcing the Lucky Winner of FOOD FIGHT FIESTA

Dear Friends,

Thank you each and everyone who stopped by the Book Birthday Celebration for FOOD FIGHT FIESTA by Tracey Kyle. And THANK YOU, TRACEY for being our guest and for your generous donation of a personalized copy of your new picture book! The winner picked by did such a great job of spreading the word by commenting on the post, sharing on twitter, FaceBook, and Pinterest. AND the lucky winner of FOOD FIGHT FIESTA is Carol Baldwin! CONGRATULATIONS, CAROL!!!! (Please send me your mailing address and to whom you’d like the book personalized and Tracey will have it on its way to you asap.) 

We’ll have several more picture books and some novels to giveaway between now and the end of the year. If all goes as planned, I’ll be back next week! If not. . . Well, you know, I’ll be in touch! ~Clara

Food Fight Fiesta: A Tale about La Tomatina.

Kyle, Tracey (author).

Illustrated by Ana Gomez. 
July 2018. 32p. Skyhorse/Sky Pony, $16.99  (9781510732155). K-Grade 2. 
REVIEW. First published June 22, 2018 (Booklist Online).
One of the world’s more unique and messy festivals happens every August in Buñol, in the Spanish province of Valencia, when tens of thousands of people honor the town’s patron saints by throwing tomatoes at one another. Introducing this exciting-sounding event is an American eighth-grade Spanish teacher writing in a singsong style: “The crowd is soon covered in bright, crimson juice. / ¡Caramba! Tomatoes are still on the loose!” Rather than cloying, these rhymes are a good fit for a hectic food fight, which is accompanied by accordingly frenetic illustrations by a Madrid-based artist. There are a few questionable choices—a confusing map highlighting Portugal, not depicting the required goggles on all of the kids, and allowing the final couplet to depend on a boy “cuddling a tomato” in his sleep, which doesn’t seem like the wisest thing to do. All that aside—and barring any attempts at a cafeteria reenactment—this is a good time, and an author’s note, glossary, and bibliography anchor this fun and widely unknown romp in fact.— Andrew Medlar

Tracey Kyle published her first bilingual picture book, GAZPACHO FOR NACHO (Two Lions) in 2014. She is also the author of A PAINTBRUSH FOR PACO (little bee) and the forthcoming ALPACA PATI (Running Press, 2019) and PEPE’S SPECIAL DAY. OLE! (little bee, 2019). She spends most of her day as “Señora Kyle,” teaching Spanish to an energetic group of 8th graders, and when she’s not writing she likes to cook, read and practice yoga. Be sure to stop by Tracey’s website to learn more about her wonderful books:

Tuesday, July 31, 2018


Dear Friends,

Summer has been especially busy this year, but a Picture Book Birthday for a friend who lights up a room with her smile could not be passed up! And now, presenting the one, the only, Tracey Kyle and her new picture book, FOOD FIGHT FIESTA! I just know you’ll love the vivid colors of the unusual La Tomatina Festival. (learn more about it in Tracey’s post.) You may even decide to have one of your own. La Tomatina is perfect for tomato season, si? AND Tracey is generously donating an autographed copy of FOOD FIGHT FIESTA! to one lucky winner who leaves a comment about the post. More details about that at the end.

Here’s a little bit about Tracey:

Tracey Kyle published her first bilingual picture book, GAZPACHO FOR NACHO (Two Lions) in 2014. She is also the author of A PAINTBRUSH FOR PACO (little bee) and the forthcoming ALPACA PATI (Running Press, 2019) and PEPE’S SPECIAL DAY. OLE! (little bee, 2019). She spends most of her day as “Señora Kyle,” teaching Spanish to an energetic group of 8th graders, and when she’s not writing she likes to cook, read and practice yoga. 

Be sure to stop by Tracey’s website to learn more about her wonderful books:

Writing from the Inside Out by Tracey Kyle

If you’ve ever wanted to have a food fight, then book a flight to Valencia, Spain right now.  On August 29th, in the tiny town of Buñol, about 20,000 people will show up to throw tomatoes for a few hours. 


The last Wednesday in August each year is the celebration of LA TOMATINA, the world’s largest food fight. Tons of tomatoes are grown just for this festival, which has grown in size so much that you now need to buy a ticket to participate. It’s quite the fiesta: after the food fight (la guerra de comida…doesn’t that sound so much better in Spanish?) there’s a paella cooking contest, music, parades and fireworks. 

I’ve lived in Spain twice, but I’ve never been to LA TOMATINA. I did, however, learn about it when I was teaching AP Spanish.  Other than the article in the textbook or some online sites, there was nothing about this unusual festival.   
At the time, my first book was about to be published, but I didn’t have an agent and I was so busy teaching that the idea of a Tomatina picture book  marinated for a while. I kept hearing that editors wanted “character-driven stories” and I knew this story, if I ever wrote it, would be a concept picture book. 

I began to study concept picture books, sitting in Barnes and Noble reading on the floor of the kid section. This helped me with structure. On Monday mornings I would return to my crazy, stressful, busy job as a teacher and forget about the book. I love teaching, but the intensity of the day does not afford me the time to get lost in creative thought. 

It was at a weekend writer’s retreat nearly a year and a half later that the TOMATINA story finally blossomed. Our mentor, Candice Ransom, showed us how cutting out pictures and words from magazines could spark ideas. For hours, I pasted scenes in a notebook. When the session was over, I realized I had a lot of tomatoes! I wrote the first lines I thought of in that notebook: “Whoosh! Tomatoes are filling the air / SPLAT! Tomatoes are stuck to my hair.” Once I had the voice and the narrator’s point of view, I wrote the first draft in a few hours. I let it sit for a month, came back to it for revisions, and then worked on a different story. I wasn’t sure it would get published, but that goes through my head with everything I write. 

I also needed an agent, and I’d spent two years submitting work to people without any luck. Then, at an SCBWI conference, I bumped into the Jennifer Unter of The Unter Agency. I say “bumped into” because Jen and I had attended the same high school and ironically we were in Spanish class together, but that’s another blog post! I knew she was going to be there and I only wanted to say hi and find out how she was doing after all these years.  But in the course of our conversation, she told me to send her some stories. About eight months later, she’d sold three books of mine. FOOD FIGHT FIESTA was one of them. 

This book was a happy journey for me. It was one of the first manuscripts Jennifer sold, and we have a very comfortable relationship. I tell everyone it was fate to run into her thirty years after graduating! Also, I had the opportunity to work with a wonderful editor at Sky Pony named Allison Weiss. She was not the editor who originally bought the story, but she championed it from the minute she took over and was so enthusiastic. (I secretly think Allison would love a good food fight!) Lastly, I knew the minute I saw Ana Gomez’s illustrations that her style was perfect: whimsical, engaging, energetic and authentic.
This experience also showed me that sometimes an idea needs time to grow. I’m not a patient person, and as a teacher I’m used to doing everything immediately! because there’s so little time to think. As an author, however, I’ve had to slow down. I still keep an idea notebook and cut out pictures. When a rhyme or a phrase pops into my head, I make a note of it. And eventually…SPLAT! Like a crushed tomato landing at your feet, the idea bursts open and becomes a story.  

Now, go buy your ticket to Valencia. LA TOMATINA is only a few weeks away!

KIRKUS REVIEW: An American child travels to Buñol, Spain, to take part in the town’s annual raucous celebration of the tomato. La Tomatina is a large organized food fight in which residents wear goggles and spend the day throwing crushed ripe tomatoes until the streets are covered in one ruby red, pulpy mess. In an easy flowing rhyme, the narrator describes their enthusiastic participation. “ ‘Tomate, tomate,’ we hear the crowd sing. // We’re ready to squash the tomatoes and fling! / The truck moves in closer. ¡Ole?! Here we go! / Grab a tomato. Get ready…now THROW!” Cartoon illustrations depict the rowdy, frenzied event as everyone and everything is splattered and splashed in the fruit’s squishy juices. And when the loud “BOOM!” of the cannon signals the end of the fun, everyone cleans up, happy to have enjoyed another festival of the tomato. Adults and children alike may notice that despite the glee with which the text describes the mess, characters’ clothes are remarkably unstained by the end. The narrator presents white, as does much of the crowd, though it is definitely a multiethnic affair. An author’s note explains the increasingly popular event, where tourists and locals alike enjoy parades, music, fireworks, and paella, the saffron-based dish of rice and seafood. A high-spirited celebration of a unique experience. (Picture book. 5-8)

The winner of FOOD FIGHT FIESTA will be announced in one week. As always, thank you so much, dear readers, for stopping by to leave a comment for Tracey. We truly appreciate your support of authors and good books! Spread the word for more chances to win. Winner chosen by Leave a comment and don’t forget to visit Tracey here:  


Thursday, May 24, 2018


Dear Friends,

Thank you so much for stopping by last week’s post to congratulate Jackie Azua Kramer on her new book, IF YOU WANT TO FALL ASLEEP!

The lucky winner is: Tara Luebbe! Congratulations, TARA! Please email me: claragillowclark (at) gmail (dot) com. Be sure to include your mailing address and let me know if you’d like Jackie to send you a signed bookplate.

Coming up in July are two Picture Book Birthdays for the fabulous Tracey Metzger Kyle. Tracey is donating autographed books for the comment contest!

In case you missed it, here’s the cover art and a couple of great reviews of Jackie’s book:

"Especially notable." -- Booklist, Spring Preview
"Lulling language, key bedtime trigger words, and gentle repetition are sure to help tiny eyes close. Children will enjoy witnessing Little Mouse's mischief and that of his many toys….A common nighttime predicament with a few not-so-common solutions.” ― Kirkus Reviews

Learn more about Jackie and her books:
Follow her on: Twitter @jackiekramer422 

See you in July! ~Clara

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Book Birthday Blog Tour + Giveaway with Jackie Azua Kramer

Dear Friends,

Please welcome back, Jackie Azua Kramer, who has a wonderful new picture book just released this May. Enchanting illustrations coupled with Jackie’s lyrical text will make this book a treasured bedtime read aloud with your little ones. 

AND, there’s a comment contest giveaway. This time the book will be sent direct from the publisher, Clavis Books. Jackie will send a personalized bookplate to the winner on request. Simply leave a comment below and your name will be entered for a chance to win.

Writing from the Inside Out. . .   with  Jackie Azua Kramer

In sharing parenthood with friends, inevitably we end up laughing and/or crying about the nights spent trying to get our kids to bed. 
Just when you want to snuggle in with a good book and a cup of tea your little darling has a hundred and one excuses for why they can’t sleep. 
1: I’m not sleepy
2: I’m thirsty or hungry or both.
3: I’m scared.
4: There’s a bug in my room.
5: There’s a bug in my water.

You get the picture...

If this is true for you and your pesky night owl, in If You Want to Fall Asleep you might discover you’re not alone.
The sweet bedtime battle between Little Mouse’s endless reasons for why he can’t sleep and his mother’s loving and imaginative suggestions was inspired from personal experience. I spent more nights then I care to remember, opening dresser drawers, toy chests and closets, shooing monsters from my daughter’s room. 

I treasure the bedtimes I once had snuggled together reading books with my children. I hope you and your little one will smile seeing yourselves in Mama Mouse and Little Mouse. A night filled with daring pirates, mountains of pancakes, floating among the stars…and wait for yawning. And stretching. And sleepy thoughts. And drowsy eyes. Fingers crossed. 

Meet the author:

Jackie Azúa Kramer was born in Manhattan, NY. She has worked as an actor, singer, and school counselor. Jackie’s work with children presented her with an opportunity to address their concerns, secrets and hopes through storytelling. Her award-winning picture book, The Green Umbrella (North South Books) won the Parents’ Choice Silver Medal and chosen 2017 Bank Street College Best Children’s Books of the Year. It’s been translated into German, Slovenian, Chinese and Russian.
Out soon--The Boy and the Eight Hundred Pound Gorilla (Candlewick Press, 2020); That’s for Babies and Miles Won’t Smile (Clavis Books, TBD). Jackie lives with her family and writes under a canopy of trees in Long Island, NY.
Learn more about Jackie and her books:

"Especially notable." -- Booklist, Spring Preview
"Lulling language, key bedtime trigger words, and gentle repetition are sure to help tiny eyes close. Children will enjoy witnessing Little Mouse's mischief and that of his many toys….A common nighttime predicament with a few not-so-common solutions.” ― Kirkus Reviews

You may recall Jackie’s debut picture book, The Green Umbrella, featured here a year ago!

Illustrated in spreads that alternate the rainy-day narrative in vignettes with full-bleed spreads that allow the flight-of-fancy retellings to render a deeper mood, the animals' stories are delightfully descriptive...The lesson about sharing and generosity is elegantly wrapped around lovely language. (Kirkus Reviews)

THANK YOU, Dear Friends, for joining the BOOK BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION with Jackie Azua Kramer and for leaving a comment below. The winner of If You Want to Fall Asleep will be announced on May 23rd.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018


Dear Friends,

It feels like ages since I last posted, but finally, TODAY is the day to announce the lucky winners of the two book giveaway to celebrate NOVEL BEGINNINGS, K.L. Going’s and my upcoming workshop at Highlights Foundation. It’s nearly the Eleventh hour, but there’s still time to register for the workshop. Click anywhere on the large blue type directly below to learn more:

JUNE 21-24, 2018

Faculty: K.L. Going, Clara Gillow Clark  (If you don’t already know what we look like, you’ll find photos of us over at the Highlights Foundation webpage.)

The winner of KING OF THE SCREWUPS by K.L. Going: Theresa Milstein - Congratulations!!! (Theresa, please email me, claragillowclark(at)gmail(dot)com, with your mailing address and to whom you’d like you book personalized.)

Liam is a multifaceted and resilient character who ultimately learns how to be comfortable in his own skin with the help of his new, makeshift family. Going’s knack for defying stereotypes and creating memorable characters will not disappoint fans of Fat Kid Rules the World (Putnam, 2003) and Saint Iggy (Harcourt, 2006).--School Library Journal, starred review

The winner of Hill Hawk Hattie + discussion guide and dolls is:  Judie Offerdahl - Congratulations!!! (Judie, please email me, claragillowclark(at)gmail(dot)com, with your mailing address and to whom you’d like you book personalized.)
Hill Hawk Hattie (Candlewick Press)

"The simple first-person narrative captures Hattie's rustic innocence, the thrilling rafting adventure, and the heartfelt struggle of a tough girl who feels useful to her father only in the role of a boy." — BOOKLIST (starred review)

Dear readers, We so appreciated each and every one of your comments for our giveaway! Thank you so much for your support. May is a busy month for us, but well do our best to have your books in the mail within a week.  ~Clara and Kelly

P.S. In store for you on MAY 17th, is a brand new picture book! See you soon. ~Clara

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Exciting Workshop News from K.L.Going & Clara + 2 Book Giveaway

Dear friends,

This is a THREE PART POST, so be sure to read through to the end!

First, K.L. Going and I are delighted to share the exciting news that Elayne Becker, from Tor Teen Books will be our special guest editor for Novel Beginnings 2018. Welcome aboard, Elayne! She looks delightful, doesn’t she?

Read about her here: Elayne Becker - The Official Manuscript Wish List Website

Elayne Becker. Forge BooksTor Teen, ... I want books that teach me something without being pedantic. . .
2nd: Kelly and I wanted to share more about our upcoming workshop in June. Click on the link "NOVEL BEGINNINGS" for a closer look at sample daily schedules. 

JUNE 21-24, 2018

Faculty: K.L. Going, Clara Gillow Clark  (If you don’t already know what we look like, you’ll find photos of us over at the Highlights Foundation webpage.)


  • For anyone who is ready to start their novel, has a novel in progress or wants feedback on their finished novel.
  • You will be able to submit up to 50 pages of your manuscript, and faculty will give you both line comments and an editorial letter.
  • You will have a personal one-on-one critique with a faculty member.
  • There will be a session with a guest editor 
  • Faculty and guest presentations on plot, character, conflict, the publishing process and how to avoid common mistakes. 
There’s still time to sign up for our workshop, but the clock is ticking! Hurry over to the Highlights Foundation website and reserve your spot. Payment options are available as well as scholarships. 
3rd: THE GIVEAWAY!!! Both Kelly and I are giving away an autographed copy of one of our titles. Most of you know the drill, but it’s a little different this time. No, you don’t have to be registered for our workshop for a chance to win. Simply leave a comment below about anything related to this post or simply stop by to say, “Hello!”  However, you’ll get more chances to win if you tweet the post, share it on FaceBook, Linked In, or Google+.  Please let us know in your comment if you’ve done any or all of the above to get those extra chances to win. 

Kelly is giving away a copy of her fantastic YA novel, King of the Screwups

Liam is a multifaceted and resilient character who ultimately learns how to be comfortable in his own skin with the help of his new, makeshift family. Going’s knack for defying stereotypes and creating memorable characters will not disappoint fans of Fat Kid Rules the World (Putnam, 2003) and Saint Iggy (Harcourt, 2006).--School Library Journal, starred review

And I’m giving away a copy of my MG novel, Hill Hawk Hattie, along with a book discussion guide and dolls: 
"The simple first-person narrative captures Hattie's rustic innocence, the thrilling rafting adventure, and the heartfelt struggle of a tough girl who feels useful to her father only in the role of a boy." — BOOKLIST (starred review)

Thank you, dear readers, for stopping by to join the celebration of writing and authors, editors and books! Thanks so much for showing your support by leaving a comment. The winners will be announced on May 8th.  ~Clara and Kelly

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Two Writers Talk About their Process of Beginning a Novel

Dear Writers,

K.L. Going and I are co-faculty for the upcoming workshop Novel Beginnings: Building Strong Foundations for Your Novel and Your Career at HIGHLIGHTS FOUNDATION. In this post, Kelly and I take turns sharing our experiences and our process for beginning a novel. Where and how does it all begin? 

Our next post will share more about our workshop and offer a book giveaway for one of K.L.’s books and one of mine. It’s not necessary to leave a comment here, but we do appreciate hearing from readers. Thanks for dropping by. ~C

K.L. Going
K.L. Going

Research. How much research do you do before writing?
Kelly: I do a lot of research, even when writing fiction. In fact, I sometimes think I do too much. It’s very easy to put off starting the actual writing process by reading just one more book in the name of research.
The truth is, I find research to be a lot of fun. I read about various topics that relate to my story idea and sometimes I’ll read books that relate to how I might structure the narrative. For example, if I’m debating about using flashbacks, I might read a few examples of books that use them well. Or if I’m considering a narrative style that jumps around in time, I might see if I can find other examples of this style. That said, I never read anything that’s too close in plot, setting, or character because I don’t want to unconsciously affect my decision making on that level.

Clara Gillow Clark
Clara Gillow Clark

Clara: Before I begin to write I do months of research and then continue to research throughout the writing of a book. Here’s a little writing tip: If you can’t see it; you can’t write it. That’s why research is not just important, it’s necessary for any time period you’re writing in if you want to capture a past or present time and bring it to life.
Research gives the writer building blocks to saturate their narrative with vivid and specific details. I want the reader to taste, touch, taste, smell, hear, and see the fictional world. When we write about the past, research also helps us shed our 21st-century sensibilities to embrace the mannerisms, belief systems, a different way of seeing the world, and the emotional pulse of a past time that may be alien to us.

How much of the story is developed through imagination–daydreaming about the characters, setting, and plot? 

Kelly: All of it! Daydreaming is how I come up with my ideas for every stage of story development. I think about all the different paths that the plot could take and imagine the twists and turns as far as my mind allows. I imagine the same story using one element and then change that element to its polar opposite and imagine the story again. What changes? What do I like better? Were there any surprises?
As an example, I might think I want to write about a family that consists of a mother, father, and my main character. But there are so many permutations of family and every different combination changes who my main character would be and how they would act. I might change certain elements in my mind, imagining how the plot would unfold if the parents are divorced, happily married, together but constantly fighting, etc. Each path leads to a main character with different traits: angry, naïve, confused, betrayed, seeking escape…These character traits in turn define the plot.
It’s easy to make choices that become set in our mind right from the start, but sometimes, changing one single character or action can end up defining your entire book.
Fat Kid Rules the WorldIf you look back at my original hand-written pages of Fat Kid Rules the World, you’ll see a character who didn’t make it into the story: Troy’s mom. At some point, I reimagined the story without her and found that there was a deep well of emotion and conflict with a single dad struggling to raise two boys on his own.

Clara: Research is the vehicle by which a writer builds their fictional world and that’s also where imagination comes in. As I research, I start building sets in my mind, sort of like movie sets–rooms with furniture, neighborhoods, kinds of transportation and types of stores, as well as the larger setting of the natural world, fashion, food, manners, superstitions, important historical events, and so much more. This process is delightful child’s play where I pick up bits of research and try them on, model them so to speak, to see if they work. Some things get discarded, other things are kept and often embellished to enhance the setting or a character’s personality. But the daydream can’t blossom into story until I have a reason to write the book. Then I need a major character I care about who is conflicted and to that I add in other primary relationship characters to generate conflict and friction, offer support or create confusion for the main character and to ultimately touch an emotional chord in the reader.
Pieces of WhyHow much of the story’s content springs from your emotional connection to the story? 
Kelly: All of it! Again, this is at the very heart of story development. There’s something mysterious about the way the passion you feel in your mind and heart gets transferred onto the page. It doesn’t seem like a reader should be able to tell how I feel as I write, but over and over again, I’ve seen the results. When I am deeply emotional about a scene, it works, but when I’m writing something that I feel less connected to, most of the time it ends up getting cut in the end.
Clara: Everything. It’s commonly believed that you can’t write something that’s other than yourself. But haven’t we all been a target or experienced life being acted out on us? And if we closely observe and put ourselves in another’s shoes to discover their wounds and fears, and if we can then see with clarity and compassion and forgiveness, why can’t we then write from another’s point-of-view whose actions are things we would never do or say not even in our thoughts? But, I would say, that YES, everything springs from our life experience, but not necessarily our own thoughts and actions.

How do you know if a story idea is strong enough to support an entire novel?
Kelly: To me, this goes back to that all important step: imagination. When I take time to imagine, I can see whether a trail quickly runs out, or whether I’m bursting with possibilities. I’ve had numerous ideas that seem funny or interesting at first, but when I start to play them out in story form, there’s not enough to turn that idea into an entire book.

How do we pull it all together?
Clara: I’ve pretty much stated that above, but to recap, getting ready to write is having your three prongs of story working together in your mind–i.e. research, imagination, and emotion. When the characters start saying things and doing things and feeling emotions then I know it’s time to write.

How do you know when it’s time to write? 
Kelly: For me, there’s a feeling of urgency that begins to build. Also, because I spend so much time imagining different possibilities, there’s also a point where I feel like my imagination is tapped out. I think of this part of the process like playing chess. When you’re playing, you try to consider each move and its consequences. Some players are capable of thinking many moves ahead. Others can think one or two moves ahead. Either way, there’s a point where you’ve done all of the thinking you can, and it’s time to choose the best path and make your move.

How many drafts do you do before you submit your work? 
Kelly: This varies from project to project, but I guarantee it’s more than most people expect! It’s also less quantifiable because I often read through partial drafts and edit as I’m creating.
In an ideal world, I’d start each new chapter by rereading the previous one, so I’d clean up the text as I write. Then after a complete draft is finished, I’d put it away for at least two weeks so I could come back to it with fresh eyes. I’d revise a minimum of three times before passing the novel on to a team of carefully selected readers who would give me feedback. Then I’d take their feedback, incorporate it, and revise again as many times as needed.
Of course, this is a perfect scenario and we all know that writing is messy! Our best laid plans seldom work out the way we want them to! My best advice? Revise as many times as you need to, and don’t feel self-conscious about how many drafts you take to get it right. What matters is the end result, not how long it takes you to get there.

Hill Hawk HattieClara: Each project is different. For Hill Hawk Hattie the beginning came fully formed into my head when I was out walking–walking is when I do a lot of daydreaming and when characters talk to me–and the opening of that book never changed much from that moment Hattie entered into my conscious and started telling me her story. But I had spent years gathering research about the heyday of the rafting era on the Delaware River so the stage was set. But it’s also not unusual for me to do countless drafts of a scene or chapter and then toss them out or to tinker endlessly with words and phrases, always asking myself, “How can I say this better?” After I’ve completed a draft, I count on a feedback from trusted friends, and more often than not that will require several more drafts before the manuscript is even close to submission.

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