Book Review for: Take Joy

Take Joy

Title: Take Joy: A Writer’s Guide To Loving The Craft
Author: Jane Yolen
Genre: Non-Fiction, Craft Book on Writing
Age Range: Adults and Teens
Rating: 5 stars (One of my new favorite writing books)
Versions Available: Paperback (New and Used)


Accomplished writer Jane Yolen applies the same magic she used to turn her classic picture book, Owl Moon, from a simple story about a child and her father going out to look for owls into a magical poetic journey. In Take Joy, Yolen creates a craft book that inspires the reader to see the charm and adventure of writing.

Yolen, a prolific writer of novels, picture books, and essays, sees writing as a joyful activity, rather than a struggle. While I do at times struggle with my writing, the more I read Yolen’s comforting, optimistic ideas, the more I got excited about my own work.

Yolen’s writing advice is not a Mary Sunshine take on writing. She is well aware that all is not rosy in the writing world, but she also delights in creating stories and worlds. The more I read about her approach to writing, the more I relished my own writing time.

Yolen combines her enchanting slant on writing with an organized, common sense structure. There is a chapter on each aspect of writing. I especially liked the chapters on gathering ideas, researching a topic, choosing a point of view, and dealing with rejection. She combines specific, concrete advice on each of these subjects with her own special blend of inspiration, and gave me lots of new ideas on how to approach my own projects.

There’s no eBook version of Take Joy— my favorite way to read books—so I had to order a paperback copy through Amazon.  This made me realize that I expect to receive a book instantly now that eBooks exist.  The added wait was well worth it though. Now I have a paper copy full of penciled underlines to pick up and read anytime I need writing inspiration.

Highlights Workshop

In March I was lucky enough to go to the Whole Novel Revision Workshop at the Highlights Foundation in Pennsylvania.  I got excellent feedback on my novel, listened to helpful writing lectures, read my classmates work and gave feedback, wrote in my cabin, chatted books and writing with others, and ate fabulous food.  What a fantastic seven days! Here are a few pictures:

The Whole Novel Revision Group

The whole group of students and teachers

The main building where we worked and ate

Me and a few classmates having appetizers before dinner in the main building

I loved the cute cabins we stayed in.  In my ideal fantasy life I'd have my own cabin (and so would each of my friends and family) and then we see each other several times a day in the main building for classes and meals!

Inside my cabin.  There are 2 beds but I had the cabin to myself.  It was wonderful having a cabin to myself and having my laptop and Internet.  Home is where my laptop and Internet are!

Rowena Eureka Goes To New York

Life – I went to the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Conference in New York City a couple weeks ago. Since the conference I've struggled with a flood of writing assignments, plus I got some wicked cold virus that came with its own fever, chills, and sweats.  I've finally finished my writing assignments and am starting to feel healthier too.  Yay! (PS- I'm taking an excellent online writing course right now.)

 The SCBWI Official Conference Blog has good summaries of the entire conference so I'm going to link to it (and a couple other sources) to list my favorite parts:

* Cheryl Klein, an executive editor at Scholastic, gave an excellent hour-long crash course on how to revise your novel.  Her blog and plot checklist will give you a good start on revising.  Now I want to read her book on revision because the hour went too fast for me.

* Katherine Erskine's speech on how to focus on writing was full of concrete ways to nurture creativity and make sure that turns into actual writing. 

* Jennifer Laughran was my favorite agent to speak at the conference.  Not only does she know the book world inside and out, she's funny too, and sharp, and she has her own blog.

*I got to meet and talk to my regional advisers –Edie Hemingway and Lois Szymanski– and was struck by not only how truly kind both of them are, but also how much writing and publishing experience they each have.  

*I went to the extra evening LGBTQ session as a spur of the moment decision and was glad I went.  It was a refreshingly fun and honest session, full of:  good writing information, friendly people, and a list of new books I now want to read.

* I was surprised how much I liked Cassandra Clare's speech about forbidden love and how to create satisfying love triangles.  It was partly because she used shows like: Buffy, The Vampire Diaries, and Felicity as examples, but I also liked her speech because she made a lot of good points. 

Clare explained that to have a real love triangle, as opposed to a love "V", all three parties have to have a relationship and connection with each other. She used the TV show, Felicity, as an example of a love "V" because the two guys Felicity likes– Ben and Noel– have no real relationship or connection to each other.  Her example of a true love triangle was from the TV show, The Vampire Diaries.  The fact that Damon and Stefan are brothers makes their love triangle with Elena all the more interesting because the audience cares about their relationship as much as they care about Elena and Stefan or Elena and Damon.

After Clare's speech, the SCBWI Co-President Lin Oliver pointed out that if you are writing Middle Grade fiction, you can use Clare's points on love triangles by exchanging the word love or romance for friendship.

How Cognitive Behavior Therapy Protects You From Vampires

It’s allergy season, the time of year when I go from being reasonably a disciplined person and instead become an excuse machine. This allergy season the article,  5 Steps to Developing a Healthy Relationship with Food,  keeps whispering to me.

The article  begins:

"Why is it so hard to stick to a healthy eating plan and a reasonable exercise regimen?"

"From the viewpoint of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), the reason isn’t hard to find: knowing what to do and knowing how to get yourself to do it are entirely separate skills. When it comes to changing behavior, especially long-term, habitual patterns, getting yourself to do something different, even when you know it’s good for you, depends largely on what you tell yourself: that is, on your thinking."

What kind of thinking leads to overeating?

"let’s say you’re at a dessert party and see five really delicious pastries. Will you end up eating too much? You probably will if you think, I don’t care. I don’t want to deprive myself. It isn’t fair that everyone else gets to eat whatever they want, and I have to settle for one small piece. By contrast, if you say to yourself, "I’m going to pick my favorite dessert. I’ll eat one small piece slowly and enjoy every bite. I know I’m going to feel so proud of myself," you stand a much better chance of not overeating."

The article explains in step-by step detail how first changing your own thinking patterns helps you to make lasting changes. It’s worth reading the whole piece.

Instead of overeating, my weakness is my complete unconditional love of serial dramas on TV.  While the article focuses on how to use CBT to help change eating habits, the technique is useful for changing any habits.   After reading this article I realized how often I’m able to convince myself that it’s okay to read or watch TV during my writing time in allergy season.  The conversation in my head goes something like this: 

Allergy season is so hard.  I feel horrible and can’t think.  I should give myself a break and watch an episode of The Vampire Diaries instead of writing my own story.  After all, the writers of that show are excellent at plotting, so watching an episode is sort of like studying plot, which is almost the same as writing, so watching an episode should totally count as writing. Right?  Watching 5 episodes is probably five times as good. Okay, I"m convinced. 

Is it bad that the fact that this type of thinking seems a lot like Damon compelling someone with his amusing vampire powers makes the excuses appeal to me even more? 

Conclusion:  CBT is a lot like Vervain and can totally protect you from vampires who are trying to get you to overeat or convince you not to write.

PS – I’ll be writing a review of seasons 1 & 2 of The Vampire Diaries as soon as season 2 is complete.  See, I’m writing a review.  I’m practically cured already. 

PPS – The last couple days have actually been really good allergy-wise, which made writing this post and avoiding episode 2.19 of The Vampire Diaries much easier.

November 14 -20, 2010: In Brief

TV Quote:
"I’m not asking you to dye your hair red and call me Mulder, I would simply ask that you consider the possibility that Marie had knowledge of, or had contact with something up there." 
Richard Castle (to Kate Beckett on the show Castle)

Middle Grade Fiction Books:
The Carnival of Lost Souls:  A Handcuff Kid Novel, by Laura Quimby (****) [2010] After years of searching, foster child Jack Carr and his social worker Mildred think they may have finally found him a home. An elderly professor specifically asked for a child who likes magic tricks. Handcuff-collecting, Houdini-loving Jack fits that description perfectly.  

Jack’s new home with the professor and his doting housekeeper, Concheta, is a dream come true until the Professor dares Jack not to peek into an old carnival chest in his office. Of course, Jack has to peek.  It’s too late that he realizes he’s been tricked into taking on the professor’s debt, a deal the professor made long ago when he was just a boy.

Now Jack’s soul belongs to the great Mussini.  As Jack is pulled into the land of the dead, the professor urges Jack to use his love of Houdini to help him get free.  Jack’s skill of escaping from handcuffs helps him in his new role, entertaining the dead in one of the acts of Mussini’s traveling carnival.  Could Jack’s skills also help him escape and return to the land of the living?  That’s the trick Jack needs to figure out.

The Carnival of Lost Souls is an entertaining tale.  Quimby creates an intriguing land of the dead where life seems much like the days when there were traveling carnivals with seedy edges, a group of lovable kids, and creepy surprises along the way.

Full Disclosure:  Laura is another member of one of my writer’s groups.  Her book is a delight and one of those action-filled tales that are hard for older elementary-schoolers to find. [Middle grade fantasy for ages 10 and up.]

Web Links:
Avid Writing Kids–  If you have a child who writes a mountain of stories or poems, you’re probably wondering how to help them grow as a writer.  Rosanne Parry at From the Mixed-Up Files offers three sound ways to encourage your budding author.  Her advice:

1. Help them save and safely store their work.
2. Help them find a time and place for writing.
3. Help them find a writing community.

Check out the details here.

Interesting Reads from October 2008

I stopped feeling guilty about my blog reading addiction and decided instead to put it to use posting a list of monthly links I like.


Here’s my list of October posts worth checking out:


1.      Genre-Bending– Laurie Halse Anderson (who wrote Speak and other YA and MG books) explains how she’s able to write and sell books in more than one genre.


2.      Cold Hard Facts About the Writing Life– Anderson links to this excellent post she wrote this summer that answers the question all writers want to know: Can I live off my writing?


3.      Late Bloomers– A reassuring article from the New Yorker on artists who were late bloomers. I read about it on the Verla Kay discussion boards.


4.      Has the Newbery Lost Its Way? – Anita Silver’s Newbery question started a flurry of online discussion. My favorite responses are Liz B’s, The Newbery Means What?, and Fairrosa’s, The Recent Newbery Debate.


5. Cybils– Liz B. also has a question-answer post on the two-year old Cybil Awards—a cyber children’s book award that packs in more fun than the Newbery.


6. Promotion Gold in Them Thar Links– Laura Purdie Salas and Fiona Bayrock post a helpful list of book promotion idea links on their new micro site, Bubble Stampede!



7. A Nice Gal’s Guide to Online News and Politics– I started this blog in September to make my addiction to reading progressive political blogs useful too.  This is my favorite post, so far: 5 Progressive Sites for Busy People.

The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life

Author: Twyla Tharp, with Mark Reiter

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2003

Pages: 243

Rating: *** ½


Famous dance choreographer Twyla Tharp says there is a “perennial debate, born in the Romantic era, between the beliefs that all creative acts are born of (a) some transcendent, inexplicable Dionysian act of inspiration, a kiss from God on your brow that allows you to give the world The Magic Flute, or (b) hard work.”


Tharp comes “down on the side of hard work” and thinks “creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is a result of good work habits.”


According to Tharp, the film Amadeus “dramatizes and romanticizes the divine origins of creative genius. Antonio Salieri, representing the talented hack, is cursed to live in the time of Mozart, the gifted and undisciplined genius who writes as though touched by the hand of God.” 


“Of course, this is hogwash,” Tharp says, “There are no ‘natural’ geniuses.” Mozart’s “first good fortune was to have a father who was a composer and a virtuoso on the violin, who could approach keyboard instruments with skill,” and then Tharp tells the reader that “nobody worked hard than Mozart. By the time he was twenty-eight years old, his hands were deformed because of all the hours he had spent practicing, performing, and gripping a quill pen to compose. That’s the missing element in the popular portrait of Mozart.”


Building on this reassuring theme, Tharp leads the reader through the trials of every artist, discussing such topics as:


Rituals of Preparation

Before You Can Think out of the Box, You Have to Start with a Box


Accidents Will Happen

Ruts and Grooves

An “A” in Failure

The Long Run


Reading about Twyla Tharp’s work habits, successes, and failures was reassuring and inspiring for me. If creating is difficult for even the most successful artists, then suddenly hard work seems meaningful and do-able.

Writing Lessons I Learned While Watching Supernatural

The fourth season premiere of Supernatural is on tonight. Whoo-hoo! While I was sick, I rewatched Supernatural seasons one, two, and three to cope when I was feeling my worst. I also learned a few things about writing:
Season 1 & 2 lessons
Writing doesn’t have to be serious to be good. Supernatural season 1 & 2 episodes are fun, well-written escapism. (Also, the leads can act and the episodes are skillfully shot). There’s a new monster/mystery each week and fun elements like the brothers impersonating: cops, FBI agents, Homeland Security, reporters, and even priests. They stay at rundown highway motels, use credit card fraud to pay the bills, eat gas-mart junk food, and drive across the country in their 1967 Chevy Impala entertaining themselves with fun banter.
Each week they solve some mysterious happening by questioning citizens and doing research. Then they fight the scary spirits and demons and save nice people in horrible trouble. In addition, there’s a season long arc, so the monster of the week plots are: 1) stories on their own, and 2) clues that add up to a long story arc as well. Fun elements and good plotting make this escapism worth watching.
Good writing has likable characters.  Older brother, Dean, is basically a badass with a heart-of-gold. He’s skilled at hunting demons, playing poker, picking locks, escaping the law, and making funny quips. While he loves his 1967 Chevy Impala and listening to his collection of mullet rock, his job is his life. He’s a lot more insecure and dysfunctional than his smartass comments let on and he needs his brother to keep him going. 
Younger brother, Sam, is the “sensitive smart one”. He gave up a “full ride” at Stanford law school to help his brother find their missing dad. He’s the one strangers open up to, the one who researches demon lore, and the one who keeps Dean going. The whole show works because you care about these two brothers and their relationship.
Good writing balances humor, angst, and tension. There’s a personal story line for each brother per season to provide the angst and drama. The monsters, demons, and spirits provide plenty of scary tense happenings. Balanced between the angst and tension, there’s a lot of humor and fun. It’s that balance that makes this show work.
Season 3 lessons
While rewatching the entire show, I noticed how uneven season 3 was – maybe it was the writers’ strike or maybe it was Dean’s tricky situation. Some of the episodes are great, but some, well, they’re disappointing. Here’s what season 3 taught me about writing:
Show, Don’t Tell: If want your audience to be afraid of the terrible times ahead, show it. The Groundhog Day episode did that nicely. Why is Dean’s situation so painful for Sam? We see why – over and over. It’s heartbreaking (and pretty funny, at times, too.) 
How do you bore your audience? Have demons preach sanctimonious sermons warning of horrible happenings- again, and again, and again. Oy!
Keep the crucial fun-to-angst balance: Like concentrated dish detergent, a little angsty monologing goes a long way – too much, and there are soapsuds oozing all over my perfectly fun horror-detective show. 
Make sure your characters maintain their internal consistency: I like Sam but Dean drives this show. So when Dean’s situation starts changing him, it’s tricky stuff. The thing I like about Dean is that even though he’s a smart-ass, deep down he cares about people and doing the right thing. He likes sex, but he’s always seemed fairly respectful of women. Sure he’s afraid of getting close; we saw in season one that getting close leads to nothing but rejection for Dean. Suddenly, in season three though, Dean’s a big jerk calling women bitches left and right. True, they’re demons and thieves, but it’s a bad look on Dean. There’s a big difference between badass and asshole.
Dean also suffers from the Joey TribbianiSam Malone syndrome – where the writers can’t decide exactly how smart or stupid he is. One minute he’s perfectly smart and then the next – just to get the easy joke – he’s dumber than the beef jerky he loves. With good writing, even in trying times, characters have an internal consistency.
I can’t wait to see how things turn out in season four. Here’s wishing the new season gets back to the stellar writing I’m use to!

Techniques of the Selling Writer

Title: Techniques of the Selling Writer

Author: Dwight V. Swain

Genre: Non-fiction, Writing Instruction

Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press; 1965

Length: 323 pages


This is the best book I’ve read on how to write fiction.  Yes, the title sounds sleazy but the information is sound.  Swain breaks down exactly how to write an absorbing story from detail to big picture as well as beginning to end. 


Swain starts out explaining why readers read – to feel worry, tension, and release in a safe way. He then goes on to describe how to write emotion, reaction, and dialog using motivate-reaction units.  Those units are the building blocks of scene and sequel, two concepts Swain writes about in great detail. He explains the difference between a scene (time of intense action and conflict in a book) and a sequel (time of reflection and decision), describes why these two concepts are the building blocks of your story, how to write them using motive-reaction units, and how to use them to build your plot.  Building on this knowledge, he goes on to describe how to write a story from beginning to middle to end, how to write characters readers care about, how to plan your story, how to sell your story, and some thoughts on being a writer. 


Since this book was published in 1965 I’d assumed that it would be dated, but I was surprised just how applicable it was to my writing.  Sure it’s a bit sexist and many of the examples are from old pulp fiction, but the basic information is dead-on useful.


This is one of those books I had to read several times.  I read it straight though the first time and outlined it the second time over a period of months.  After the outlining I noticed a change in the quality of my writing.  I still take out this book and refer to it whenever I’m feeling stuck in my story or want to improve some aspect of my writing.


One of my fellow writer’s group members always had exciting plot ideas but his writing fell flat in a way that I couldn’t pinpoint so I gave him this book.  He declared it the “best book on writing” he’d ever read.  A few months later he shared his new story.  Wow. There was a marked change in the quality of his writing. So if you’re looking to improve your writing, you might give this book a try.