Friday, January 29, 2016

Would a Character By Any Other Name Smell So Sweet?

"Words have meaning and names have power" -Cervantes.

Recently, I realized a lot of my story ideas start with character names.

For example:

Trixie Thimble the Pixie Nimble: Any guesses as to what her character and story is like? That's right! She's brave, quick-witted, and energetic! As for her story, it's a light-hearted, fun adventure.

Avery Mann: the name of the main character in my first-ever-totally-completed MG novel. The inspiration for this one came from my exposure to everyman plays and my desire to create a character everyone could identify with. However, can you spot the problem with this name?
The downside to Avery's name is it's nebulous and can belong to either a boy or girl, which means it became important to establish Avery's gender as early and clearly as possible since it's a first-person narrative. So keep in mind that using ambiguous names (like Pat!) in your stories will require extra work on your part.

Domino Sparks: He's a genius tinkerer, who loves making things (including a new robot friend). Something about the name brings him to life in my mind... like a little Einstein inventor. Domino Sparks might also make a very good jazz singer name, too. Hmmm... 

Lastly, my latest creation:

Finnegan Fife: this one is from a new YA fantasy I'm working on. The name came from brainstorming a title: The Forgettable Life of Finnegan Fife. I wanted to write a story about someone who is forgotten by his friends. Ironically (or not), the alliteration and rhyme help make this a memorable title. The name also inspired me to use a leprechaun curse as the reason for Finnegan's troubles.

These names came to me in a variety of ways, but they all have something that makes them stand out. Some are alliterative, others rhyme, a one has a deeper literary meaning. Most importantly, all of them are evocative (at least to me) in some way. They conjure up a picture for me as a writer and hopefully you as a reader that we can latch onto. They hint at the inner personalities for these main characters or at the tone of the stories they are involved in.

Not every story needs such names. In fact, some stories should have plain name heroes. Probably the best example I can think of is Harry Potter.

His name is "perfectly normal, thank you very much," which is exactly what it needs to be to drive home his starting disconnection with the Wizarding World. It allows readers to connect with him as an "ordinary" boy. We all know a Harry... maybe even a Potter.

If he had a strange name like Albus Dumbledore, Hermes Hendrickson, or Angus Beef, I think there would've been a different feel to Harry's whole character and our response to him. So, here's to J.K. Rowling... the woman-who-knew-how-to-name-her-characters.

So, what are some of your character's names and why are they evocative to you or good for your stories?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The New Hotness (Or Blogging and Writing with Voice)

Last time on this blog, I mentioned my awesome critique group. Right afterward, I asked them if they sneezed (see Sneeze Cut for more details) and told them about how I had started blogging.

They immediately checked out the blog and told me what they liked and disliked about it.

Ah, you can't take the critique out of critique partners, can you? Snork

Anyway, the thing they didn't like about my blog was its lack of me-ness. The Profile and Blog descriptions were all factual and 100% boring...

In Jail

They caught me... being lazy. It's easy to write facts and statements without any voice. We can sometimes fall into a toneless voice in the midst of our creative writing, too.

I admit, I wrote my initial profile and blog description in boring business-ese. So, I judged myself guilty of phoning in those two aspects of my blog and so I want to say


To make it up to you, I've rewritten both the blog description and my profile with 100% more voice-y action.

Here's the before and after of each:

Old Blog Description:

My name is Joseph Miller and I'm an award-winning writer for the game industry, who switched over to writing for kids. This blog will be my means of letting the world know what I'm currently thinking, writing, and doing in my life and my writing. I plan to focus this blog on a discussion of my current projects, children's literature, my life as a librarian, and anything else that suits my fancy.




New Blog Description:

Blog of children's book author Joseph Miller containing his off-the-wall, outside-the-box, tongue-in-cheek, (and heavily-hyphenated) thoughts on writing, children's literature, and life.


What can I say? I like hyphens!

Now for the Profile:

Old Profile:

My name is Joseph Miller and I'm a part-time librarian, fulltime dreamer, and love to write children's books. While in college, I played and wrote for the Dungeons and Dragons game system, but for the past decade, I've been focused on learning how to write for kids and young adults.

In 2015, Nicole Resciniti of the Seymour Agency became my agent and we've been working together with Danielle Bailey to make my dreams become a reality. So I hope you'll join me on this adventure around the world of children's literature.


Yeah, I'm pretty certain this is entertaining to 0.1% of the population. 

Bad author Frypan

New Profile:

Name: Joseph Miller

Profession: Cool-as-a-cucumber librarian with a side order of zesty writer.

Goal: To become a zesty writer with a side order of librarian.

Motivation: I love writing and want to make a living at it… or at least pay for the occasional chicken-and-bacon pizza with it.

Conflict: I like to goof off, play games, watch TV, and surf the net, which generally equals no writing done.

My Not-so-Sordid Past: I was an award-winning writer for the Dungeons and Dragons game system… you might still find some of these books in a bargain bin somewhere.

Closing thoughts: Success in life and writing is about stick-to-it-tiveness. Or in words borrowed from Galaxy Quest: "Never give up! Never Surrender!"


Much better... IMHO. Which goes to show you how important it is to remember voice in everything you do... whether it's blogging or writing.

Anyway, which versions do you prefer? The old drabness or the new hotness?*

*Note: This is what lawyers might call a leading question. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

I'm a Feedback Junkie (or Dreams are Easier to Reach with a Little Help from Your Friends)

I admit it.

I'm a feedback junkie. hungry

I love receiving critiques from other writers, literary professionals, and good readers as much as a large bar of dark chocolate.

I feed off other people's comments on my WIPs. Their thoughts, ideas, and criticisms inspire me in many ways often leading to a much better story.

One of the best decisions I ever made when I first started out on the journey to become a children's book writer was to create an online critique group with some like-minded individuals.

I'd read up on critique groups and heard many good stories about them... but also warnings. These warnings mainly focused on how critique groups fail. This is usually because there is 1) a lack of leadership, 2) bad, entitled, superior, or overly sensitive attitudes, 3) poor critiquing (such as back-patting without any meaningful comments on other members' work), 4) weak or non-existent support or sympathy for members going through tough times (in life or in writing).

With these things in mind, I wrote up a vision statement for the kind of critique group I wanted to be a part of. The following is an excerpt from that document, which I hope you'll find helpful if you ever plan to join or create a critique group:

Core Values
Creativity in our ideas
Quality in our writing
Honesty in our critiques of each others’ works
Encouragement of our fellow members
Humility in our reception of critiques
Integrity in our dealings with each other

Core Purpose
We are an online group of children's book writers dedicated to reading and discussing the unfinished works of our members in an encouraging and honest manner so that we can help each other write quality children's books which will spark the curiosity of our readers and fuel their imaginations.

Big Hairy Audacious Goals
We want to become one of the premiere online children’s book critique groups by helping our members to become not only published authors, but also to have successful writing careers.

Vivid Description of the Future
We will create children’s books that are beloved by young and old alike. Our members will enjoy successful publishing careers in the genre of children’s books from picture books to young adult fiction. “The Dreamlings” will be known throughout the children’s book writing and publishing community and be synonymous with creativity and quality in children’s book literature.

So, you might look at this and say, "Pie in the Sky!"

But that's the point of a vision statement and having Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals (BHags rule!). Businesses use these to make successful corporate identities... why can't writers do the same? Now, I wrote this six and a half years ago and you know what? We might not all be published, but most of us have agents, some of us have books out there, and one of us is super awesome and successful.

We haven't quite become "one of the premiere online children's book critique groups", but we're doing well and I think it's because everyone who came into the group shared in this vision.

So, if you're thinking of joining a critique group, but aren't sure, I say
Go Girl! (or guy!)

Just make sure you have a good sense of the attitude and vision of the group members. Don't be afraid of trying a few out... the first one might not be the right fit, but somewhere out there is the right group of fellow writers for you.

To end this post, I'd like to say:
You Rock
to all my Dreamlings out there. You know who you are and I've been very blessed to be part of your writerly lives... and hope to continue to be part of them for many years to come.

Best Wishes to All,

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

GMC, It's Not Just a Car Company Anymore

Previously on this blog, I admitted to being a panster. Hand-in-hand with this is not really knowing much about my characters before I write about them. Pretty much all I've got when I begin a story are the hooks that compel me to write it.

For example, the first (and only) novel I ever wrote was about a boy named Avery Mann who was born on Friday the Thirteenth with terrible luck. That's all I knew about him. Ten years of experimentation later, I learned a lot about who he was. Some highlights include:

  • He loves magic tricks and comics. A fact that affects and informs how I write his first person narrative.
  • He feels inferior to his six older brothers and wants to find a way to stand out... and not as the brother with the most hospital visits.
  • He prefers flight to fight, but when backed into a corner he has the ability to defend himself with his wits.
  • He's book smart, imaginative, and adaptive.
  • He's naive and a lacks self-confidence and people skills.
Now, not everyone has a decade to spend on 50+ versions of a story, but this is the way I learned about Avery Mann and writing children's literature. There were probably better ways to learn the craft, but this was my way of doing it. I'm glad I stuck with it and didn't give up because now I know I can finish a long story from beginning to end if I put my mind to it.

So, you might be asking why I mentioned GMC in my title post. What does a car company have to do with writing?

Well, you see before I met my agent, Nicole, I also thought GMC was only a car company. However, during one of our wonderful phone calls, she asked me to take a look at my characters' GMCs.

I was like... what confused

But I didn't say anything about my ignorance because I'm a librarian and when I don't know about something I search for it... on Google. 

Lo and behold! A quick search for "character GMC" revealed that GMC is not only a car company, but also shorthand for Goals, Motivations, and Conflicts.

After reading some of the websites and blog posts I found on GMC, I realized this was an area of my writing where I was still weak. As a panster, I like to get to know my characters naturally and I often do so through tense, witty, or humorous dialogue. This might make for entertaining scenes, but some of those scenes lacked depth or didn't connect well with the overall plot .

I realized that because I didn't spell out my character's GMCs, I lacked the ability to make the best revisions to my stories. Engaging dialogue is all well and good, but it needs to serve the plot more and to do that I needed to define my characters' GMCs.

Will this change me from panster to plotter? No, but I will be making use of this tool in the future as I write and make revisions to my stories.

It's helped me make the picture book I'm currently writing a ton better than what it was when I first showed it to my agent.

So, thankyou2 Nicole. You broadened my literary vocabulary and made me a better writer and all in three letters.

PS: For more information on GMCs, check out these helpful links:

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Very Un-Plan for This Blog (i.e. I'm a Panster)

So after taking a few days to think about what to blog about next, I thought it would be a good idea to let you in on one important thing:

I'm a pantser when it comes to writing and most things in life.

I don't make outlines, plans, etc. I like to see how a story (or life) evolves organically over time on a spontaneous basis. This leads to many "happy" accidents when writing (and living) and "EUREKA!" moments.

When pansting works, it's like:
chocolate2 and Fireworks

When it doesn't, I can feel like I'm and bewildered and 2 Brick Wall

I've tried to outline and plan before, but I deviate from these things almost immediately as if my very being rebels against restricting my creativity or options.

Or maybe I'm just easily distracted... oh, look! Bunny2

So, I've decided to have a very un-plan for this blog.

I'll make posts whenever I feel like it, but will try my best to create at least two posts a week.

I'll write about whatever comes to mind and try to make it entertaining and/or informative. Some posts will be about the writing craft, others about topics in children's literature, and some will be completely random thoughts that leak out of my head.

So there you have it. My panster blog plan for the future domination of the internet.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Social Media... It's My Job!

Recently, I had a conversation with Nicole (my super awesome agent) and the topic of social media came up.

I've never been one to tweet, except during children's literature contests I've gotten involved in. I mainly use Facebook to keep track of birthdays. Blogger... prior to last year... I didn't do much with it... as evidenced by the seven year gap between first and second post.

I know a little about Flickr, if only because sometimes I have to show it off during library presentations... mainly to make sure people understand copyright and Creative Commons licenses.

Reddit, I've read it (Groan) on occasion.

Don't even ask me about Pintrest, Tumblr, Digg, etc.

So, you can imagine my inner voice crying out against the idea of getting involved in social media. Not that I hate being social or media, but somehow mixing the two makes me worry I might get sucked into some black hole never to return. bewildered

But then, my agent said, "It's your job!"

And you know what? In this day and age, it's true. Writers don't have the luxury of holding up deep in a forest in a one person cabin hammering out prose, sending it into editors, and never appearing in public.

In fact, I don't think I'd like that idea one bit... I enjoy people too much... and so I'm going to do my job.

But... and there almost always is one... I'm going to make my journey into social media fun, humorous (hopefully), and lighthearted.

I can't promised to please all the people all of the time or even some of the people some of the time, but I can do my best to entertain a few people... just a little bit.

I hope you'll be one of the few.

PS: See Nicole! I'm doing my job! Made Me

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Casts Resurrect Blog! (i.e. I've Got an Announcement!)

Hello Again!

What's it been? Seven years since my first and last post here? Well, I must admit I just wanted to stake a claim to this blog's url in case I ever needed it.

And it seems I finally need it... at least that's what my new agent says... oh, right... I should make an official announcement about that so here it goes:

First off, I hope you all are having a  Happy New Year

As for myself, I wanted to share some good news with you. 

After almost a decade of working on various children's literature projects including PBs, chapter books, MG, and YA stories. I finally got an agent! Her name is Nicole Resciniti from the Seymour Agency.  :cloud9

How did I snag such an awesome agent? Well, I just happened to enter Michelle Hauck and Sharon Chriscoe's PBParty contest last year and had my PB (TOO TIRED TO TELL A STORY) chosen for the agent round. Seven agents and editors requested the full story and of those I had three offer to work with and/or represent me. I must say it was a crazy week after the first offer with lots of emails and phone calls from various agents

After so many rejections, I sort of felt weird knowing I'd have to turn down not just one agent, but two. However, it did give me a better understanding of what agents go through when they are torn between saying, "Yes!" or "No." to prospective clients. Anyway, after talking with the agents, I eventually decided to accept Nicole's offer of representation and I am very happy to be part of the Seymour Agency family of authors.  

Of course, now the hard part starts... revisions and more revisions! But I'm excited to see what this good news brings in the coming months and years.
For those who are still seeking representation, never give up! I can't tell you how many times I had my stories rejected, but it was a lot over the past decade. However, persistence pays off and you never know when or where you might find a champion for your stories. Someone who sees the potential and is determined to push you to make your stories better and achieve your dreams. I definitely have that with Nicole and her assistant Danielle Bailey.
So good luck on finding your own  :pompons

Best Wishes,Joseph

PS: You can see my ugly mug and a short bio on the Seymour Agency's Pre-Published page here:\


End of announcement.

So there you have it... a reason to resurrect this blog and start blogging about my life and adventures in children's literature. I hope you'll join me for regular updates... I promise I won't take years to get back to this blog now that I have some actual children's book related news and thought I'd like to share.