WORDS…With a Dash of SABOR


Whether you write nonfiction or fiction, a writer needs to position the subject matter within the context of the time. That context may be contemporary or historical, but even so-called contemporary fiction needs some research. When my talented friend, the YA novelist Jean Ferris, wrote All That Glitters, she scoured travel pieces about the Florida keys, wrote to Key West’s tourism bureau for information, and looked into Key West’s connection to sunken treasure hunting to give her story a real sense of place, to put her characters in modern-day Key West even though she had not been there. I had been often to the island and was surprised to learn that her first visit wasn’t until after her book was published. What made the book pop out, besides an excellent story, was Jean’s attention to detail—detail discovered through research.

Fiction writers should ask themselves what songs were popular during the time-setting of the story. What chain restaurants abounded? Who were the popular movie stars? Which were the popular movies? You may not use all the information you collect in your story, but it will help you to place your characters in the context of a distinct time and place.

With narrative nonfiction, research is vital. What was the general atmosphere like in a place during the time under study? Who were the key players? What were their attitudes? What else was going on in the world during the time you’re writing about?

When I research an historical nonfiction book, I like to read newspapers of the day. This often necessitates travel, but not always. With down-loadable articles, websites like newslibrary.com, newspapers.com, newspaperarchive.com, and the New York Times archives can help you research from home. ProQuest Archiver (pqarchiver.com) is another site I visit often. I maintain subscriptions to many of them. In Strike! The Farm Workers’ Fight for Their Rights, I had forgotten that the racial riots in Watts (Los Angeles) took place in 1965, just prior to the farm workers’ strike. Newspapers reminded me of this, and it became an important element of the story I was weaving about the unionization of farm laborers.

I also keep in touch with a circle of archivists who are more than happy to discuss collections, their own as well as those of their fellow-archivists. They’re a small circle. If you know one, you will know them all. Archives and history museums and societies are valuable sources of information. For my fall 2015 book, The Rain Wizard: The Amazing, Mysterious, True Life of Charles Mallory Hatfield, I wanted to know what the weather was like in Fort Scott, Kansas, in July 1875. I contacted the Kansas Historical Society with that question, and the reference librarian there provided me not only with detail about weather conditions at that time, but also mentioned that many of the articles from the Fort Scott Daily Monitor had been digitized and were available online.

I often tell the children I visit in schools that research is a lot like solving a mystery: You know there’s information out there, you just have to figure out where it is and how you’re going to get to it.

How to Make the Most of Free Skype Visits #GuestAuthorTuesday @NatashaWing

Excellent advice for teachers and authors interested in Skyping.

Provato Events

NatashaWingGuest Post by Author
Natasha Wing

I’ve seen first hand how much author visits excite students about reading and writing. personally, I love the live interaction with the kids! If your budget allows, make the commitment and host an author. If it doesn’t, Skype visits are another option.

I’ve been doing Skype sessions for three years now. I’ve “beamed in” to schools in the United States, Mexico, Canada and even India. It’s a great way to connect with my audience in a casual way and for the kids to ask a real author their burning questions.

100thdayAt this time, my Skype sessions are free, and because of that, I’ve had a lot of requests! Mostly for the 100th day of school celebrations and Read Across America. I love Skyping since I can do it from the comfort of my office where I have quick access to show-and-tell examples. Plus the…

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Deborah Wiles

I met Deborah Wiles at the conference of the California School Library Association in February. Recently, she announced a year-long project on her blog that I thought was interesting: Becoming the anthropologist of your life. You can read about it here: http://deborahwiles1.blogspot.com/2015/03/the-year-of-exploration.html

Tasty Quesadilla

SABOR. Something simple for a quick week-night meal–or whenever.



1 TBS olive oil

1 cup onion, diced

1/2 tsp dried oregano

1/4 tsp kosher salt

1/8 tsp black pepper

1 poblano or Anaheim pepper, diced

1 can (15-oz) seasoned black beans, rinsed and drained

1 can (15-oz) diced mango, drained (or substitute cubed pineapple)

1 avocado, peeled and cubed

4 flour tortillas

cooking spray

1/2 cup (or to taste) shredded Mexican-blend cheese

What to do:

While preheating the broiler, combine onion, oregano, salt, pepper, and poblano (or Anaheim) pepper in a nonstick skillet with the olive oil. Heat over a medium flame until the onions are transparent, about 5 minutes or so. Add beans, and cook for another minute or two, until heated through. Removed from flame. Stir in mango (or pineapple) and avocado.

Place four flour tortillas on a baking sheet lined with foil coated with cooking spray. Arrange about 3/4 of a cup of bean mixture on half of each tortilla, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Sprinkle cheese over bean mixture, and fold tortilla in half. Lightly spray tortillas with cooking spray and place under broiler for about 3 minutes, or until the cheese melts. Cut each tortilla in thirds and serve with a green or fruit salad. Makes 4 quesadillas. (Recipe modified from Cooking Light.)  .

RSVP, Please.

Recently, I hosted a breakfast at my house to kick off the Tucson Festival of Books. The breakfast is an annual event, assuming I’m not engaged in a school visit or conference somewhere else. Far be it from me to turn into a Ms., or in this case, Mr. Manners, but it occurred to me that people are shockingly unaware of just what RSVP means. It is an initialism derived from the French phrase Répondez s’il vous plaît, literally “Reply if you please” or “Reply please”. This does not mean to reply if you take a notion to do so, but rather to let the host know one way or the other so plans may be made. When I groused on Facebook that several people–people in their 30s to 50s and who should know better–had not bothered to respond, several commented that it was “generational” or that “today’s youth think they only have to respond if they plan to attend” or that “a lot of people only respond if they don’t plan to attend.” One, I realize that many today are sadly lacking in social manners. Two, if it means one thing to some and another to others, the host has no idea just how RSVP is being interpreted. When I called one young illustrator on his lack of acknowledgement (Okay, I was being snarky. I admit it.), he commented, “Oh, I guess RSVP means one is supposed to reply even if one does not plan to attend.” Duh!

Why RSVP? A reply simply makes it easier for a host to plan. How much food should be purchased? Beverages? How many settings should be placed? Should he invite others to make up for the No-Replies? Or should he prepare for the No-Replies to show up dragging four guests with them? A response one way or the other doesn’t require a lot of energy or time. To accept an invitation, just reply with the following: “I’m honored to attend. Thank you for thinking of me.” To decline: “Regretfully, I’m unable to attend, but thank you for inviting me.” No elaborate excuses are required. The host probably doesn’t have time for them anyway. If you wanted to attend, as one guest who was expecting out-of-town visitors did, then perhaps something like this: “I would love to participate, but I will have two out-of-town visitors and will have to decline this year. Perhaps you will include me in the future.” This lets the host know you have interest, but also other obligations. If he has room for your out-of-town visitors, he can amend the invitation to include them. If not, he will know to include you in future festivities.

RSVP. Please respond. It is common courtesy (and a huge help to those planning an event).

Research from the Children’s Book Academy

Marsha Diane Arnold, a dear and long-time friend, asked Connie Goldsmith and me to participate in the Children’s Book Academy’s post on research. You can find it here:



When you write dialogue, are you making these common mistakes?

Early on in my career, I worked with beginning novelists and picture book writers. A couple of common errors occurred in many of the manuscripts. These new writers (and some experienced ones, as well) would create dialogue and then follow it with a tag line that would be impossible for the speaker’s words to do. For example:

“Oh, I wish he’d ask me to dance,” she jitterbugged.

“Here he comes,” Cam smiled.

Words don’t jitterbug. Words don’t smile.

These lines might have been written as follows to eliminate these errors.

“Oh, I wish he’d ask me to dance,” she said. Admiring the young man out on the dance floor, Juliet never stopped jitterbugging to the music.

“Here he comes,” Cam said to Juliet.

He smiled as he approached the girls, and then he hesitated. Nodding at Juliet, he turned toward Cam and asked her to dance.

The other problem that cropped up frequently was the tendency to have tag lines that screamed out at the reader, “NOTICE ME.” For example:

“Carlos, come here,” he announced.

“Why?” Carlos requested.

“Because I asked you to!” he exclaimed.

“But I’m busy,” Carlos declared.

Said and asked are fine words. They’re simple words that don’t draw attention to themselves. The only time a writer needs to use a synonym for said or asked is if the author intentionally wants to draw attention to the way in which something was said. For example:

“Carlos, come here!” he demanded.

“Why?” asked Carlos, his voice curious.

“Because,” he said.

“But I’m busy,” Carlos complained.

“You’ll want to see this,” he said.

In one example there’s so much attention on announcing, requesting, and exclaiming, that the characters’ words get lost, and it should be their words which drive your story forward. In the other, the actual dialogue stands out.

Don’t worry about showing your readers that you know how to use a thesaurus. As I mentioned above, said and asked are fine words that disappear. They’re less intrusive into the intimate act of storytelling and reading. This leaves the reader more capable of suspending disbelief and stepping into your characters’ shoes.

A Few Words from Lee Bennett Hopkins

LIFE ON THE DECKLE EDGE interviews my good friend, Lee Bennett Hopkins, about his newest book. Read. Enjoy.


Congratulations, Lee. I look forward to reading this one.


The Rain Wizard: The Amazing, Mysterious, True Life of Charles Mallory Hatfield by Larry Dane Brimner, offering a look at the man who in the early 1900s believed he had discovered a secret solution to drought.

The Daily Habit

Saturday morning chores were routine for me. First thing, the lawn needed to be mowed and garden beds weeded and dead-headed. Then the house needed to be cleaned. When I started my writing career, while teaching high school, Saturdays became my day for writing. Sundays were reserved for the yard work and house cleaning. And when I quit teaching to write fulltime, this routine was replaced with another: exercise, then writing, with yard work and house cleaning reserved for later in the day. It served me well through more than 150 books. Recently, however, I’ve lost my routine. Writing more research-intense books and a change in publishing that shifts the mind-deadening details of indexing, flap and catalog copy, and source notes to writers has reduced my output to one title per year–if I’m lucky. Thank you, Lesa Cline-Ransome for reminding me of the value of routines and sticking to them.


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I owe much of my writing career to Saturday mornings that began with frosted flakes cereal and cartoons. My father was a stickler for Saturday morning chores. Chores done promptly after breakfast and thoroughly each and every week. Friends would ring the doorbell or, in my teenage years, call to ask if I was ready to go shopping in downtown Boston. “Not done with my chores yet,” meant they had to wait just a little bit longer.

When the rest of my family grumbled about chores and cleaning, I said very little, preferring the look and feel of swept floors and the smell of Old English furniture polish. This weekly routine continued long after my brother and sister had each left for college and I was the last child left.  I believe it was the simple act of Saturday morning chores that lent itself to an appreciation of routine.


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