Thursday, December 30, 2010

Another New Year

A Fresh Start

The resolution. A promise to yourself that you will give up or do something better than you did last year. Everyone does it--every year. But, how many of us break most of our resolutions by the end of January?

I found that once I break that resolution, I give it up--until next year, when I start the process all over again. Therefore, I don’t make resolutions.

 The Trick

Instead of resolutions, I trick myself by making goals instead. You see, if I make a goal, I give myself until the end of the year to complete, or come close to completing it. It has worked for me for the past ten years or so. I write them down in my planner under “goals,” and every few months I check on my progress. That gives me extra chances to give myself a kick in the butt.

For instance, if I make a goal to get or keep my weight under a certain number, and I find myself slipping, I can get myself back on track. But, if I make a “resolution” to stop eating chocolate, by February I am throwing in the towel—for good. I know I will never give up chocolate anyway, so that’s just ridiculous. I need that chocolate to get over my rejection letters!

Keeping it Real

Don’t make a goal that you know you can’t possibly reach, Keep it real. Then break it down into smaller goals.

Like the weight thing. Virtually everyone makes a goal to lose weight, yet we are the same weight or fatter at the end of the year. To keep it real, you can make the goal to get your weight under a certain mark, but beneath that goal, you need smaller goals to help you stay on track. For instance:

#1. I will walk 20 minutes every day.

#2. I will eat chocolate only after I have completed a week of goal #1.
By completing the smaller goals, you will find the larger goal takes care of itself.

Know Your Values

Your goals should be in sync with your values. For instance, if you value family, one of your goals could be to set aside more time to spend with them. You can make it a point to schedule vacations with family, or take the grandchildren to a movie once a month. If you have creative values, don’t put them aside to take care of everyone else’s needs.

Include a goal that sets aside time for things that make you smile. Then your other goals will become easier.


Every year, I make about five main goals, and usually complete at least four of them by the end of the year. And that’s a whole lot better than when I used to make resolutions.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Legend of the Bottle Tree

Have you ever been driving through Louisiana, or some other southern state,  and noticed a tree with colored bottles either hanging from it or stuck onto their branches? More than likely they were blue bottles. No, they are not a poor man’s stained glass display.

It is said that this traditional practice was brought here by the Africans during the slave trade. In the Congo, Natives have hung hand-blown glass on huts and trees to ward off evil spirits since the ninth century, and perhaps earlier.

The Legend is told that the spirits are attracted to the sparkling color of the bottles, blue ones seemingly more enticing. The moaning sound made by the wind as it passes over the bottle openings are said to be proof that a spirit is trapped within.

Whether you believe the legend or not, the trees are a sight to behold, displayed in various shapes, sizes, and forms, as beautiful yard and garden decorations.

An excerpt from Eudora Welty’s short story Livvie, describes one such tree:

“…Then coming around up the path from the deep cut of the Natchez Trace below was a line of bare crape-myrtle trees with every branch of them ending in a colored bottle of green or blue.

There was no word that fell from Solomon’s lips to say what they were for, but Livvie knew that there could be a spell put in the trees, and she was familiar from the time she was born with the way bottle trees kept evil spirits from coming into the house – by luring them inside the colored bottles, where they cannot get out again.”

A bottle tree is featured in the movie, Ray, a Ray Charles biopic. And again in the Princess and the Frog, a cartoon movie set in New Orleans, where bottle trees hang in the bayou.

In my children’s Novel, The Legend of Ghost Dog Island, a bottle tree adorns the front entrance of a voodoo woman’s shack. Excerpt below:

“What y’all want?” The yellow glow from a kerosene lamp cast the shadowy outline of scraggly hair and humped shoulders.
I took my braid and twisted it between my fingers. “I’m looking for my dog, ma’am.”

“What kinda dog?” The face pushed closer to the small window and into view.

Red paint decorated the porch and railing—or was it blood? Some sort of animal skin hung from nails.

She was a witch all right. My hands felt sweaty. “A beagle, ma’am.” My voice cracked. “Do you have a beagle?” I remembered the three quarters, two dimes, and six pennies Patti and I got from her piggy bank in case we needed it to buy Snooper back. “I have money.”

The door creaked open. “Come on in.” A wrinkled eye peered through the crack.

Spikes took a step forward.

I followed close behind him. I didn’t want to go in that creepy shack, but I sure didn’t want to go back through the swamp alone. A slight breeze blew up, triggering a tinkling sound behind me. I turned to see colored bottles hanging from a nearby tree. The moonlight bounced off the deep-blue glass like fireflies dancing in the warm night air.

“Look at that.” I pointed to the display.

“Yeah, it’s a bottle tree. Some folks ’round here make those to trap evil spirits, to keep them away,” Spikes whispered.

“She wants to keep evil away?”
Book now available at Musa Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.


If you choose to read further, see Felder Rushing, of, who has done extensive research on the topic of bottle trees . More information, along with more photos of bottle trees,can also be found at 

Sunday, December 5, 2010

NANO-Bah Humbugggg

Well, National Novel Writing Month has come and gone, and I managed to get my usual word count. Around 20,000 words. I just envy those people that can whip out 50,000 words in a month. I had very good intentions this year. I was going to plug away at the keyboard and GIT R DONE. And even with all those encouraging words from the NANO team, things still seem to come up in the month of November. Like house guests, Thanksgiving, getting the house set up for Christmas, and gift buying. Not to mention, Solitaire, Free Cell, and I can’t ignore my Facebook friends.

Sigh! Which makes congratulations to those that did stick it out even more special.

 As I say each year, I really think NANO would work better in the looooong month of March, when holidays are done, Christmas stuff is put away, house guests are gone, and nothing is happening but getting through the winter.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Spanish Cajuns

Did you know...that the town of New Iberia, Louisiana, in the heart of Cajun country, was founded by Spanish settlers from Malaga, Spain?  Spanish descendants in Louisiana are also known as Cajuns, even though they may not have descended from Acadian settlers.  Most of their names have been changed to French sounding names through the years. Some of my direct ancestors made the long and arduous trip from Malaga to New Iberia in 1778-79.

The following excerpt was taken from: “Historia de Alhaurín de la Torre en la Edad Moderna, 1489-1812”, by José Manuel de Molina Bautista. Alhaurín de la Torre, Published in November 2005. ISBN 84-609-7905-9) and can be found at:

"At the present time, surnames attributed to the Malagueños, such as Segura, Romero, Viator (a modification of the Spanish name Villatoro) and Gary (a modification of the Spanish name Garrido) can still be found in Louisiana. Still more important is the persistence of the descendants of Malagueños who honor their Spanish heritage, in a territory where the French Acadian descendants are a majority and who mainly promote France and the French culture as a sign of identity of the regional ancestry.

In this part of Louisiana the descendants of the French and the Spanish are called “cajuns", a word that is commonly used to signify anyone from the region of South Louisiana, regardless of whether they are of French Acadian heritage or not. Although, in New Iberia, the families with Spanish surnames still proudly refer to their ancestors as “Malagueños”. As Stanley LeBlanc, who has Malagueños ancestors in his genealogy, told us: "I’ve been trying to educate my readers about the fact that the Spanish in Louisiana are all Cajuns, but they never were Acadians”.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Does your word count and target audience match your manuscript?

Target audience and Word count:
Here’s a typical run down of manuscript lengths for different formats, taken from Darcy Pattison's Fiction Notes:

Picture book, including ABC titles. The hottest items are under 500 words. Some picture books can go up to 2000 words, but those are iffy. The audience for picture books can be anything from birth to about 10 years old. Usually the break down is something like 1-3 years old, 2-4, 4-8 or 6-10, though it varies from publisher to publisher.

The best advice for a picture book manuscript is “cut it in half.” Yes, it’s hard in 500 words to have a beginning, middle, end, a satisfying narrative arc, and a character that kids want to spend time with. Welcome to the difficult world of picture books.
ABC books, especially Sleeping Bear Press ABC titles, sometimes will go longer. But essentially the ABC format is just a way to organize information. These are not true ABC books for preschoolers.

Beginning reader and early chapter books. These are aimed at the beginning reader, so ages 4-8. For the truly beginning reader, the text may just be a couple words on each page. This is the only place where a publisher will try to control vocabulary, choosing words with regular spelling or from the sight vocabulary lists. By second grade, though, kids are reading short chapter books, and there’s more leeway in vocabulary and complexity of texts. These run maybe 6000-12,000 words, again depending on a publisher’s inclination and publishing program. Usually these are contemporary stories, grounded in a child’s real world.

Short chapter books. Some people add this category for 3-4th graders. These are short novels (novelettes?) of about 12,000-20,000 words. The topic of these books changes slightly to allow for historical fiction, science fiction or fantasy, or mysteries.

Middle grade novels. For grades 5-8, or about 10-14 years old, the middle grade audience has a wide variety of interests that are reflected in their fiction. Novels for this group run 30-80,000 words, but tend to fall more in the 40-60,000 range. Only the rare Harry Potter will go to 100,000 or more.

YA/Teen novels. For ages 12 and up, the YA or Teen novel has an almost free rein in length, complexity and subject matter. Still even here, the average novel might run 60,000 or so. You can go longer or shorter, if there’s a good reason for it. Some have said that YA novels are just like adult novels, just 100 pages shorter and without the sex scene. Today, you can add both the 100 pages and the sex scene. What distinguishes this literature is the tone of the story, particular the tone of rebellion of some sort. It’s a time of life when kids must break with their parents and figure out life for themselves; that’s what is reflected in the literature they embrace.

When I start to critique a manuscript and the cover letter states that the manuscript breaks the length/audience conventions, I start to worry. Of course, break any rule you want–as long as you do it well. But this is a major red flag in the concept and execution of a story. Have you matched up the audience and format?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Article by Diane Moore about New Iberia, Louisiana Landmark: Shadows on the Teche

Patricia Wiles and SCBWI-MidSouth Build a Library

I’d like to give a shout out to Patricia Wiles, Assistant Regional Advisor Chair, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)

She organized a “book giveaway basket” at a recent SCBWI conference in Nashville. Her quest was to build a small library for a special school, Alternative Day Treatment, in her county. This school is for students who are unable to function in a traditional classroom setting. In other words, it's an alternative to expulsion.

Patricia toured the school this spring as part of a leadership training class she was involved in. In her words:

It was a gut-wrenching experience. The counselor led us down a hall to a door with a sign, printed on computer paper, taped to it: "Our Library." Inside the room, there were a few old encyclopedia volumes from the 60s and 70s. A few old old old textbooks. A small portable cart with adult nonfiction and romance titles from the 60s and 70s. There were NO BOOKS for teen readers.

On October 6, Patricia delivered 400 books donated by the SCBWI conference attendees and friends to Alternate Day Treatment. Patricia stated in her follow-up email:

…I can't even begin to describe the joy I saw in the faces of the faculty. Itmeant so much to them. Their jobs are challenging, made more so because they are on the bottom of the list when it comes to funding for anything.

The kids SWARMED the boxes! They picked up books and asked me about them. Some asked me if there were books by specific authors, which authors signed their books, or if there were books in particular genres. One saw books by a certain author in the stack and spoke of how he'd read several in the series, and did we have any more of his books?”

The story gets better:

…The principal made the comment that they were going to have to figure out how to get more bookshelves. They didn't have enough to hold all the books. Well, the city was preparing for a surplus auction (set for tomorrow) and so I called the mayor's assistant ... the mayor said the school could have any of the bookshelves in the auction that they wanted. Sweet!...

And that is how one dedicated person built a library…with a little help from her friends. Thanks Patricia!

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Cajun Accordion

Did  you know?...the diatonic accordion, also known as the "Cajun" accordion, was adopted as Louisiana's official musical instrument in 1990.  It is the basic instrument for traditional Cajun music.

My dad played one of those, while singing Jole Blanc, a Louisiana Cajun French classic.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

French Language in Louisiana

A clip from the "author's notes" in my middle grade novel, Nikki Landry and the Legend of Ghost Dog Island, a historical novel about a young girl growing up in the Louisiana bayous in 1956:

In 1921, the State of Louisiana’s new constitution included outlawing the speaking of French in the public schools. By the 1960’s the language had almost died out. In 1961, the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL) was founded, putting French-language curricula in the public schools. Today, many Cajuns still speak the language of their ancestors. In the rural southwestern Louisiana parishes, nearly one third still speak French on a daily basis.1

1Bruce, Clint & Gipson, Jennifer. Cajun French, Dictionary and Phrasebook, Hippocrene Books, Inc. NY, 2002.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Writing Tidbit by Darcy Pattison

I subscribe to Darcy Pattison's Fiction Notes emails.  This one I had to repost.

Develop Your Character Inside and Outside
by Darcy Pattison

I’m working on a revision of an older story and am finding that my character is flat, lacking emotion.

Here’s what should happen: action, reaction, thought and/or emotion.

Here’s what is happening: action, reaction.

Of course, there’s lots of variation and times when either might be appropriate. But overwhelming, I’m finding that I try to imply the emotion by the reaction, but it’s not always working.

There’s this tension in writing between Telling and Show-don’t-Tell.


The tendency is to tell: he was upset.

This type storytelling was popular before the invention of the modern novel, when storytellers created as much by their own voice and body language as anything.

The storytelling mode allows you to tell something and leave it at that. Listeners expected little else.


But with the novel, we are able to delve deeply into a characters thoughts, emotions, psyche. That’s why novels will never be replaced by film, because you can’t go deeply inside a character in any other way. Telling may still be used in bits and pieces, to summarize unimportant parts of the story.

But now, we expect thought and emotions to be forefront. Even more than that, though, we expect novels to be full of action and for that action to demonstrate the emotion/thought, so there isn’t so much telling going on.

Novels, then, go deeper into story by delving into the thought and emotions of a character; but also, by demonstrating those thoughts and emotions with concrete actions. It’s the concrete actions that create the Show-don’t-tell parts of storytelling.

Full Zoom: Inside and Outside

One way to think about it is that a scene is where the “narrative camera of words” zooms in. You get the full sensory details of the story situation and full details of character emotions/thoughts. In other words, the inside and outside of the story are in full zoom.

For sensory details, you must fully imagine being the character in this situation and what they would see, hear, smell, touch and taste. For emotions, we should know intimately what s/he is going through.

For me, it’s not Show-don’t-Tell; instead, I like Show-then-tell-some.

Darcy Pattison is a writer, teacher, and speaker. She is an Arkansas resident and writes children's books. For lots more information and writing advice, along with her speaking and teaching schedule, go to

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

On Critique Groups

Critique groups are for one purpose: To nudge and prod you into writing the best story you are capable of writing. They are your friends. If you manage to get into a good one, with really good prodders, it might hurt a little at first. But, when you’ve rewritten that line, phrase, or paragraph that you thought was perfect and now find it to be more perfect, the pain turns into glee.

Once you’ve become too close to your story to see its flaws, your critique friends will see things that you have begun to skip over, especially after reading that same line for the hundredth, maybe thousandth time. It is nice to have a group of five or six individuals that can look at your work from different angles. One person might be tuned in to all the typos and grammar problems, another might see plot issues, and yet another might be sensitive to repeat words or too many compound sentences.

I love my circle of critiquing buddies, and always look forward to my piece returned to me with marks all over it. I know they have read it carefully and are offering their sincere suggestions.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Louisiana's State Bird in Danger Again

The brown pelican is protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty act of 1918.

In the early 1970’s, pesticides like DDT had put the brown pelican on the endangered species list. Research showed that the pesticide DDT caused the pelican eggshells to be too thin and incapable of supporting the embryo to maturity.

The US government imposed a ban on the use of DDT in 1972. Since then, the population of Brown Pelican has increased. Current estimates place the population at 650,000 individuals.

Since the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in April 2010, millions of barrels of crude oil dumping into the Gulf of Mexico has become a new threat to Louisiana’s state bird.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Ode to the Book Cover by Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

Okay, I know, I am lazy about writing blog posts, but I've been doing a lot of revisions.  Honestly.  I found this post by Rachelle Gardner that I thought was very blog worthy, so I am reposting it.  See her very interesting and informative blog at

Monday, July 19, 2010

Ode to the Book Cover
Last week I had a little epiphany that made me just the teensiest bit less enthusiastic about e-books as the primary delivery method for books in the future.
I'd been reading The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow by Joyce Magnin on my Kindle. Then Joyce did a guest post for me and in the course of putting up her post, I perused her website and blog, and looked up her books on Amazon.

When I saw her book covers, I realized that although I'd already been reading the book, I'd never actually seen the cover. Don't know why, I just hadn't.

And as I looked at her book cover, I realized that if I'd seen it before I ever started reading the book, I'd have had a better feel for the book right from the beginning. I would have understood something about the tone and the feel of the book. I’d have known what kind of book I was reading. I'd have context.

That book cover—that picture—may not have been worth about a thousand words, but close.

And it hit me once again in a whole new way that when we go to strictly digital books, we're losing something. I won't talk about all the things we're losing and gaining (because I know it’s a trade off and I do love ebooks), but this one thing is enough to give me pause. Book covers are a whole art form unto themselves. There are people who are incredibly talented at this exact art form—creating a visual design that sets a tone and prepares a reader for the words within the cover. How sad to think that we may be moving to an era where far less effort will be expended on actual "cover design."

It's not just that we "judge a book by it's cover"—it's more than that. The cover design tells us at a glance information that it would take several minutes (or more) to get in words. It can do this on a subconscious level, too, helping us to instantly recognize books that are "for us" and reject the ones that aren't.

I can only hope that with the iPad and other technologies that have the capacity to show a beautiful image with clarity and definition, that book covers won't become a thing of the past but will simply be viewed in a new way. And I hope publishers continue to put a priority on quality cover design, because no matter whether it’s viewed on paper or digitally, I believe the cover of a book is an integral and important part of the whole reading experience.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Critiques of our work: Balancing Praise and Constructive Criticism

As a writer, if you are part of a critique group, you know the scenario. You get some comments that praise your opening line, your use of descriptive phrases, and your voice for a character. Then you get the comment that indicates you need to re-write your entire first chapter. The results are that you stop writing for a short while, going though the emotions of 1) Am I a writer at all? 2) I'll stick to the positive critique or 3) I'll start from scratch and re-write the whole thing. You have to strike a balance if you are serious about writing.

Jody Hedlund, author of The Preacher's Bride, coming out this fall, covers this topic well as a guest blogger on Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent's, site during her "mixed message" series. It couldn't have been posted at a more appropriate time for me. I had just read through four such feedbacks from my critique group and recognized the emotional roller coaster.

I go though these emotions every time I get feedback for a submission. But it only lasts a day. In the meantime, my brain is processing both sides of the feedback and weighing it with my vision for the story, along with, of course, how many of them said the same thing. We learn from this feedback, both positive and negative. And that is why critique groups are so important to writers who want to grow in their craft.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Yagnohoula Women's Burial Grounds

My fellow writer and friend, Connie Hebert, has a new book coming out. Yagnahoula: Story of an Ancient Women's Burial Ground.  “Yagnahoula” is the story of a 3,000 year old ancient women’s burial grounds at Dauphin Island, AL.

From her website:
According to oral tradition, a tall, light-skinned tribe, called “Nahoula” or ‘people,’ came “from the sea.” They flourished along the coasts of what is now known as Mississippi and Alabama.

The bodies of the holy women among them, literally shone, because they carried a luminescence within their beings, much like the Transfiguration of Christ during biblical times.

Connie is from Lafayette, Louisiana.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

TMW Awards

Last night at the banquet of the Tennessee Mountain Writers' Annual Conference, I was presented with two awards.  The first place in the category of Writing for Young People for my novel, The Zone of Fear, and second place in the same category for my Nikki Landry and the Legend of Ghost Dog Island (an excerpt is in a previous post). Needless to say, I am still in shock.  Nikki would be jumping for joy!!! Now to get them published!

The conference was a wonderful three day event. I met some very talented writers, both published and pre-published, and made some new friends.  The speakers were awesome.  I got some valuable advice from Candie Moonshower in her presentation on plotting.  Sam Venable was a hilarious speaker at the banquet.  Overall, I was very impressed with TMW!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Excerpt from my Middle Grade Children's Novel: The Legend of Ghost Dog Island

Spikes led the way through the thick swamp.

“Slow down Buzzard.” A string of moss reached down and brushed my cheek, as I hurried to keep up with him.

“We need to get there before those clouds cover the moon, and we won’t be able to find our way.” He patted his back pocket where he had stuffed his flashlight. “I don’t wanna use old Red unless I have to. Batteries aren’t cheap, ya know.” He turned around and glared at me. “And for the last time, don’t call me that.”

The loud croaking of the frogs and buzzing cicadas rang in my ears. A male alligator grunted in the distance.

A chill went through my body, while the mud pulled at my boots. “We are going to die here.” I looked behind me to see how far we had come from the water’s edge.

He plowed ahead. “I have to get the spell, and she is the only one that can give it to me.”

The moon created shadows from the willows and cypress trees that lined a path into the swamp where it was rumored the voodoo witch lived.

No grown-up in the area admitted to actually believing the legend--even though they liked telling it. But the kids living along Bayou Platte seemed to know differently, and Spikes had a reason to want to find out the truth. And, as scared as I was, I wanted to see for myself what was on Ghost Dog Island.

Friday, February 12, 2010

My favorite Louisiana writer

James Lee Burke describes Southwest Louisiana like no other.  His Dave Robicheaux novels are riveting.  If you are from Louisiana and like crime mysteries, you will be totally hooked.  If you survived Hurricane Audrey and listened to Jole' Blanc as a child, you will relive those memories more vividly than you can imagine.   Read more about JLB and his books at:

Monday, February 8, 2010