Heroic Girls of Literature: Raina (Smile)




I’d heard so much about this book before getting ahold of a copy at a school Book Fair. I’d heard that people liked it. I ended up loving it too. It was my first “graphic novel.”

What a great story.

Raina is technically not a character, but is based on the author’s own real life experiences.

The author/illustrator does such a good job portraying the time period, and her feelings and thoughts about friendship and her own life in sixth grade. Dealing with a dental emergency whose treatment stretched on made for good drama.

What’s a graphic novel? I’ve heard strong opinions, including that they’re not worth deeming “books.” I think this idea might come from the content of some comics being more about the violence and the action drawings than the story?

According to Oxford Dictionaries a graphic novel is, “a novel in comic-strip format.” So:  it’s a longer comic book.

Well this one’s a keeper. Not only are the awesome pictures integral to the emotion and tension of the book but they’re just nice to look at. What a pleasure to read an illustrated story for older readers.

This story is about an ordinary girl with opinions, to whom dramatic things happen. It’s about someone with normal family conflict, and ultimately increased self awareness and development as an artist and person after some life experiences. Wonderful.

(c) 2010 Scholastic Graphix

Thanks to Raina Telgemeier




Heroic Girls of Literature: Grace (Amazing Grace)



“Grace was a girl who loved stories.” — is the first line of this book.


Grace acts out the most exciting parts of any stories she hears, sees, reads, or makes up herself.

This little girl and her buddies … and the ILLUSTRATIONS! in this book are fantabulous.

Theatrical Grace celebrates and seeks out adventure and journeys of the imagination — I love that in this character.

When she doubts herself and is criticized, it’s wonderful to see her bloom again after encouragement and move forward with determination.

It’s also a great story of fairness, “putting your mind to it,” and supportive family (who are women).

Lovely and goosebump-inducing. Be inspired by Grace to follow your dreams! (:

This little girl character is full of color and life, but has real struggles too.


(c) 1991 by Mary Hoffman, Caroline Binch


My Work Space



It’s interesting to see people’s work spaces.

In fact, it seems to be a trend for vloggers to share theirs (and some of those vids, people? waay too long for me! i don’t need to see the placement of every plant. but it’s exciting when it’s yours, I guess).

So I’ll keep this short and sweet  — (maybe that term is relative?) ;).

How and where I work varies.

Here’s a picture of my ‘home office’ assistant making sure that my current draft doesn’t get out of hand.


He likes to provide support where he can.


As I write this, we’ve been living in an apartment-slash-house-in-a-different-state for the past year and a half. We’re still in the apartment but have sold the house, have rental spaces full of storage, and a contract on a new, smallish house.

I don’t have a separate desk or office. Even when I did, I never typed or worked at a desk or even at the kitchen table. I guess that’s not my style.

What I do instead is a hybrid of comfy chairs at home and rooms at the local library that can be reserved for two-hour blocks per day.

Here’s “Tweety” our car, next to “Flower” her much fancier friend, parked at Library 21c. Most study rooms at this library come with white boards and large tables. I actually do sit at those tables and spread out my books and papers and laptop. It’s a wonderful, multi-use place.


I love coffee shops, but there I get too interested in people’s conversations to do much good composing or revising. At the beginning I did mix it up and go to some of these – just to have different surroundings – and to keep the flow of words coming. I’m grateful there are several good ones to choose from around here.

In the heat of a stretch of creating the first draft from scratch, I would spend the morning at one library, come home for lunch, and then head back out to another library for the afternoon. I got good at packing up my stuff and knowing what I needed, and I have a nifty little rolling suitcase/backpack that I love.

Basically, I’m a bag lady of a different, literary kind. :]



A misty view from the library at the USAFA.

Driving from one place to another also gave my brain time to fit things together or make new connections.

Back at the apartment I made an inspiration wall. Let me explain a few of its items.


Regarding the paper in the top left: “Women Don’t Do Things Like that!”

I’ve read like a bullet train since I was a teeny girl. When I was maybe nine or so I remember going through a stage where I was fascinated with biographies. I’d ride my bike to the library and I can still picture the section where the biographies were on the top shelf against the wall. Out of the maybe twenty of them there for kids, perhaps there were three about women. I seem to remember Marie Curie, Florence Nightingale … and that’s it. So I think this lack of representation of females’ contributions to history — is one reason I’m currently finding I need that reminder and motivation on my wall.

The princess sheet below says,

Sometimes, on dark days, I think…”nobody cares and nobody’s coming.” Then I remember who sends thoughts like that…and I straighten my crown.

~ attribution unknown

I like that because I feel like that sometimes, and it’s important to slay those lies.

The partial white sheet is a quote from The War of Art, by Stephen Pressfield. It says:

“The professional self-validates. She is tough-minded. In the face of indifference or adulation, she assesses her stuff coldly and objectively. Where it fell short, she’ll improve it. Where it triumphed, she’ll make it better still. She’ll work harder. She’ll be back tomorrow.”

*keep those huskies mushing*

I just needed to keep telling myself this. Especially at a certain point.

Below that is a quote from Jerome Jarre‘s excellent video (<– click on the link to watch it), saying:

Be Brave. Believe in yourself. Do what you think is right. Take risks. You have this one life.

I found it important to get out of the apartment every day, even though sometimes I wouldn’t technically have to.

The local library here in Monument, Colorado is also a good place to work.

They have a gorgeous, inspirational quilt display annually.


And they have, “Daisy Quackers” who lives at the front desk and wears holiday-themed attire year-round.


Little kids love to feed the geese at the pond at the back of this library. I love to watch them. Many times I like to work in an area which has a low level of activity. The buzz is inspirational. Sometimes though, more quiet, concentrated work needs a quieter space.

As I’ve mentioned already, driving — long distances (or even short) can be a very, very good time for writing, and thinking about different aspects of characters, letting the story develop and show itself, letting your mind drift creatively.

I did a lot of driving when we were living in the two states. Here’s a shot of an amazing cloud formation from one of those trips. I think we were still in Texas at that point. Lots of composing mentally and ideas developed on those miles of highway.


Lastly, I carry these two items in my purse. Somehow, this is part of my work space, too. I like the thought that they’re in there. (: Plus, if I’m seated behind a crying baby on a plane I might be able to use the hedgie finger puppet as entertainment over the seats.


Working. And Space to do that. What a gift.

How and where do you work?


Heroic Girls of Literature: Claudia Kincaid (From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler)



This is the first post in a series celebrating my favorite girl characters in books.

In these reviews I’ll try not to spoil the story for you, but at the same time I’ll attempt to give a few reasons why this character is stellar and I like her.

I’ll plan on alternating classic books with contemporary ones.



I love Claudia. She’s unhappy and does something about it in her own inimitable way.

This is the first sentence of From the Mixed Up Files….

Claudia knew that she could never pull off the old-fashioned kind of running away. That is, running away in the heat of anger with a knapsack on her back. She didn’t like discomfort; even picnics were untidy and inconvenient: all those insects and the sun melting the icing on the cupcakes.”

Isn’t that sweet! In the 80’s expression way. 🙂

Claudia is deliberate and likes comfort. She plans very carefully. She likes to think scientifically.

But then later in the book she has an urge that to me reveals her desire to learn things and be taught things, instead of always being the one to know and teach and run the show. Her sensitive side comes to the surface. How, why, and to what she’s sensitive is revealing.

Her relationship with her younger brother evolves throughout the book. He’s a mathematical, matter-of-fact sort but also a bit more laid back in some ways. They grow and change together, and in some ways because of each other.

There are many girls (and people) like this all over the world.

We can all relate to making plans and having life change them for us. We have times when we’ve found satisfaction or adventure in a place we didn’t think it existed.

This character and this book are timeless and enjoyable because of Claudia’s brave stubbornness along with at the same time vulnerability, and her ability to learn from others. The story gave her a chance to explore and with determination solve a mystery while finding out more about herself.

(c) 1967 by E.L. Konigsburg


My Teacher



hero teach

Mr. Krafft changed my life.

Like with all exceptional teachers, it was the small things.

I simply and powerfully knew that he SAW me.

What I didn’t know then, was that our relationship would have a wraparound effect later.

I didn’t know he was a missionary before becoming my 5th grade teacher at the Lab School in Greeley, Colorado. I hadn’t any awareness that for 16 years he’d lived across the world in India, trying to share the love of a personal God with children there. I found that out later.

When I was ten, I just knew he complimented me on my outfit one day when I tried to be a little fashion-y wearing a pink sweater with a red bandana. (Yes, I absolutely remember those details from 35+ years ago).

Every week in the upper corner of that classroom chalkboard, in his perfect cursive handwriting he wrote quotes for us. Being a word person I loved these and looked forward to them.

Towards the end of the school year he called me over to a table at the side of the classroom, to show me that he was filling out a recommendation for me to go to smart camp — 😉 not its official name.

I went to that camp that summer. During it because of something they did to encourage it I’m sure but that I don’t remember, I experienced my first official writing experience. I carried around with me a little, flip-top notepad and began writing a book on its pages. I never finished that book but I found that small notepad somewhere many years later, and discovered my writing was a complete rip-off of the Raggedy Ann stories.

It didn’t matter.

I was creating stories in a new way, coming out of ME.

It’s natural to emulate at first.

The important thing is that in that milieu, writing stories was seen as an acceptable activity.

Now as an adult in the past two years, I’ve read and re-read the Paris Review interviews “Women Writers at Work.” Not only did these give me great insights into work habits and thoughts about the profession, but they allowed the reality of writer-as-professional to sink into my consciousness.


I needed to become aware that FICTION writing is a ‘real’ thing that people (women) do. That it’s a legitimate way to spend time. That it’s not just a ‘real’ job, but hard work. That it takes grit, hours of commitment and lots of overcoming discouragement and self-education.

Encouragement is a beautiful thing.

I don’t know if we can get too much of it. We need to accept it wherever we can — whether it’s found in books, movies, people or nature.

The best teachers are huge distributors of encouragement.

Mr. Krafft came to our wedding 15 years later in my hometown. He was having some health issues at the time, and was sitting at a table in the reception hall instead of standing in the receiving line. His wife led me over to sit with him so that he could show me his wedding gift to us. As I sat down at the round table in my poofy dress, he pulled a white business-sized envelope from his jacket pocket. His hands were more gnarled than I remembered as he unfolded a sheaf of papers. Then I saw written on those pages in his perfect cursive, the quotes from the blackboard of that fifth grade classroom.

Not even wrapped up, or with a bow.

That’s heroism, right there.

Rock on, teachers.




Oops. Revising After Feedback.


Just for a laugh. (:  Found on Twitter @CarolynArends

Just for a laugh. (:
Found on Twitter @CarolynArends

Remember that house-building analogy? The one about writing a book is like building a house?

Well after some critiques of my WIP, I’ve discovered that in fact I did create a house/story.

My story-house has missing walls on a couple rooms. It has doors going nowhere. It has rooms completely without doors. Those things need to be fixed.


First, I settled down. I let the feedback penetrate the surface. I percolated.

Then I made notes, and created documents with titles like:


“Problems & Possible Solutions”

“Notes on WIP”

I wrote down everything that came to mind while I analyzed. I thought. I began reading a couple really good children’s novels. I watched a good TV show.

Then I wrote some sections that I thought were missing as they came to me, not knowing exactly where they would fit into the manuscript.

My critique partner gifted me with several great resources on plotting. These were exactly what I’d been looking for but had not found online. (She found them in magazines.)

I’d studied several books on plotting and gotten some good data but I needed something short and technical. Something that I could plug my ms into and it would help me figure out what to do.

power outlet with plugged in cord, closeup isolated on white. limited dof, focus on outlet.

After all this and an excellent brainstorming session with a literary friend (and a plotting session with a giant pad of paper) I’ve begun again…

And, it’s coming! It’s happening… The same thrill of creation, but this time what’s appearing is how things fit together, instead of a character out of thin air (although those are expanding too).

This is all so fascinating.

But I totally see, why so many people quit throughout this process.

It’s basically facing failure, over and over and over again.

What keeps me going is:

1) The little niggling thought that it can be figured out.

2) A pure, inescapable (unexplainable?) pull to keep on doing it.

3) Friends, friends, friends.

4) Listening to FIGHT SONG by Rachel Platt ~

I THOUGHT her lyrics were:

This is my fight song/Take back my life song/PROVE THEM ALL RIGHT SONG!

[She actually says, “Prove I’m alright song.”]

Uhm. I’m going with the, “Prove them all right song.” (:

This is SO different than “prove them all wrong” (which actually can be motivating too, but maybe in the short-term?)


Anyone who has ever noticed or complimented or appreciated my writing, or ability with words … I want to prove them right! I want to keep working.

Anyone who had ever encouraged me and others to write/create — THANK YOU!!!! Every one. Seriously. Thank you.

Writing a Book is Like Building a House


, ,

To: All architects and folks with actual experience in construction, please excuse any inaccuracies ~ although I think the gist of the very similar process is here!

For more than a year, I’ve been writing a book. Here is my attempt to try to describe some of the process. An experience which has been and continues to be (I have some trouble with verb-tense in this post and that is very representative!) a succession of exhilarating swoops down the mountain after almost vertical upward learning curves.

The stages:

  1. BLUEPRINTS – sketching things out, playing with ideas

I began with the idea for one character. Then I pictured one certain scene, and wrote it. Then I wrote whatever else next came to me, when I had my “butt in the chair,” sometimes even closing my eyes. It was equal parts exhilarating, and scary as hell. I assigned myself 300 words a day. And I kept on going almost every day with that (there were more words some days) until I felt I was done. (Prepare yourselves for what’s next.)

Next I mistakenly sent off a query to an editor I’d met at a conference. Only a couple of weeks later, I was drastically embarrassed and chagrined to discover on my own that the story wasn’t even close to ready. Agh. (I actually sent him an email saying as much. I didn’t mean to waste his time – it was a beginner mistake. –> Making a mistake means you’re doing something. So, I carried on…)

At this stage if you want to in the writing (and to just to “get ‘er done”) you can have a three-story house, with the bathroom set alone on the top floor. Sure, it doesn’t make sense and it’s not convenient, but it’s there. Later, in stage 4 you can make adjustments. Ha.


I read and read and read and read — craft books, aka: books on writing and how to write; went to an SCBWI workshop; read lots of other novels in my genre. I was still writing at the same time myself, and thrashing around with figuring out characters and the action.


I got connected with a few critique partners and we began exchanging pages. I went through a dark night of the soul, becoming very frustrated and wanting to rip the whole thing up. I was incensed & despairing that it seemed, “Nothing happened!!” in the collection of pages.


After some excellent feedback, I had a breakthrough when one online critique partner figuratively pointed at me and said, “Your timeline is a mess. Start HERE.” I thought about it briefly, the comments rang true, and I did just that. Figuring out where to start seemed to make the rest of the story’s structure fall into place. There was still a lot of work to do, but I was able to push from beginning to end.


Things began to come together. Once I knew my beginning and pushed myself to continue through to the end from there, cutting and pasting from already-written scenes, revising as I went from start to finish, it was easier to flow forward.


I can feel it coming together, which is much better than the aforementioned feeling of extreme aggravation. But I also have another feeling: there is a lot still to do, still looming, after I “finish” this stage. I suspect that after I get to the very, very end, I don’t know how many more passes through I’ll need to do — to add layers, sensory detail, double-check character arcs, etc.


Could this be the final stage? Adding beauty & window-dressing, in the established but empty house?

[Yes, I realize that if in fact, I get to the stage where I think it’s ready, and I’ve done all I can (with the help of others … beta readers, here I come! 🙂 ~ that just begins another process of revision. Maybe that could compare to the home inspector coming through? And the realtor?]

—>  Oh, to create a house that can possibly become a home.

…A book, that can become a refuge — a place where dreams can sprout, and even fly…

“Originality is a by-product of sincerity.” — poet, Marianne Moore, 1887-1972 in Paris Review interview


I think what’s happening now is the process of interior architecture. I knew someone once who designed displays for the INSIDE of the National Gallery of Art who was a trained architect. Something like that is what’s happening now with my piece I think. So, the work continues…


Summer’s Over

There’s been a lot of traveling (or travelling, depending on where you’re from) :0) ~

Some of you know that our family has been living in both Texas and Colorado for the past year. We still are. So, I thought it’d be fun to have a game called,

“Where’s Heila?!”

You know like Where’s Waldo? (or Where’s Wally? – again depending on where you’re from).

It’s hard to keep track of me, and I know everyone’s confused. This should help.

Check these out:


Clue: The route is between Abilene, Texas and Colorado Springs, Colorado—–

  1. IMG_0032

Lots of windmills and quiet cotton fields around here.

2. IMG_0040

A reflection of the heart of Texas?

3. IMG_0055

An enchanted land?

4. IMG_0067

Mice should run & hide from this growling oso.

5. IMG_0068

Screamin’ gorgeous clouds and volcanic formations.

—–Did you have fun?


1 out of 5: you haven’t traveled the lonely highways of Texas, New Mexico or Colorado lately.

2 – 4  out of 5: you’ve possibly made this trip, but not in awhile

5 out of 5: you’re a seasoned and observant road warrior


  1. near Roscoe, Texas  2. downtown Amarillo, TX  3. Clayton, NM (Land of Enchantment) 4. Raton, (means mice in Spanish) NM (oso = bear)  5. Also Raton, NM – really cool scenery around there

Happy Trails to you,


My Book Suitcase


Here it is:

bk suitcase

Bought it at Target – I love the flowered pattern.

Hard-sided, for obvious reasons.

You know. Books. They’re weighty, with sharp corners.

During a recent trip, I comfortably fit 20 in here (mostly hardbacks, children’s fiction).

with bks

[For titles, if you’re interested you can check my recently read list on goodreads.]

Here’s why I have a book suitcase:

I don’t prefer e-readers (that might already be obvious).

I do like regular books. You can touch them, caress the cover, flip back-and-forth through the pages at will.

In the middle of a paragraph, you can shut a book and enjoy looking again at a fully-realized design, including cover art (and/or the author blurb). You can experience the tactile pleasure of a page turn.

You can easily pick one book up again in the middle of a second one, and compare something between the two. You can read a few pages from one, put that down, then read a few pages from another.



Here’s my tip for how you too, can travel happily by air with books:

Gate-check it.

To avoid the $25 fee for each checked bag. (I still checked my clothing bag though, this was not a save-every-penny trip for me.) Gate-checking also (I think) protects the books better. They don’t go through as much of a rough luggage-boarding process in order to be stored underneath the plane. I believe clothes are tougher, they can handle the gigantic conveyor system better (again, this might be my uninformed opinion). Anyway this way, I keep the books close to me until the last second.

{That statement was tongue-in-cheek. Sort of.}

Lastly, an important point:

Have wheels.

Suitcases with wheels = one of the modern inventions of humankind. And books are heavy.

Read On!!!

Found on vikingpenguinbooks.tumblr.com

Found on vikingpenguinbooks.tumblr.com

Learning to Critique


From an excellent post about revision on author Laurie Halse Anderson’s blog: madwomanintheforest.com

It can be a startlingly negative thing, to be in a roomful of strangers picking apart what is wrong (even if positive elements are mentioned too) with a piece of writing.

I have no doubt that each person in both of my critique groups at the Big Sur in the Rockies writing workshop could make a success of this writing business.

A lot of work, patience, and doses of perspective would all be necessary. But each one, in their own completely unique way could bring some wonderful books into the world.

It’s so much easier for me to say that about others than myself.

But it’s true of me, too.

So, a little about what I learned, some exciting new industry terms (: and a bit about how to give good writing feedback —


The concept of set-up & pay-off.


Dialogue tags (she said, he said), and

“Chunk ability,” in terms of picture books: discreet scenes that are tightly focused incidents, that connected, build – thank you to Jennifer Mattson for telling us about that last one (and I can’t remember who she said she heard it from :).

I was already exposed to some of these terms but didn’t really know what they meant, or apply them to me or my writing, before this weekend.

I learned a lot. Linda Arms White kindly warned us all about driving carefully on the way home, because our heads would be so packed full of new information we might find it hard to concentrate on the road. This was a true statement and the laughter was welcome at the end of an intense weekend.


This is one of my favorite diagrams ever, by Austin Kleon.

So about what I learned re: critiquing successfully.

Giving feedback that is constructive is a great thing.

Remembering the fact that we’re all in this together – to help each other get better, and to bring more good books into the world, helps encourage generosity of sharing and helps people concentrate on another person’s writing, versus falling into the main flow of society which is battling for prominence.

Emphasizing positivity and specificity, which requires really looking and listening, can only help raise the level of group discussion.

My favorite moments during the critique sessions were when a roomful of writers began striking off each other, causing sparks of inspiration for someone about their book — true creative brainstorms. Those were fun moments.

I came across this excellent article, which talks about constructive critiquing — including offering solutions but not re-writing for the writer, genuine praise and being specific.

5 Keys to Giving Constructive Writing Critiques


Write On!!