Love books? Visit York PA October 17th


Love books? Love animals? Save the Date for the fantastic first ever YORK BOOK EXPO on Saturday, October 17th. I’ll be there from 1-5 pm so please visit me at my table. Fun and free activities for the whole family! (there is a small fee to attend the keynote address)


Tell Me a Story – Free online class

From Demi Smith about free online picture book class for authors. (sign up

“Tell me a story…”

That beautiful child looks up into your eyes and snuggles close, ready for a journey only you can lead. Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could pull out your own picture book from the shelf… point to its glossy cover, read the title, and say, “This is the book I wrote for you.
For the last three years I’ve had the joy and privilege to work with hundreds of authors in my live Year of the Book classes. Now I’m thrilled to announce I’ve taken the best of the best of the best of what we’ve learned and turned it into a course you can access online, regardless where you live.

I’d love to help you get started right away with a free class that will help you write and publish your children’s picture book. We’ll go through all the steps you need to get from conception to labor and delivery of your bouncing baby book.

Can you imagine how thrilling it will be to share your professionally printed and bound story with your loved ones?

I’ve seen the joy—over and over through my students’ and clients’ eyes—and experienced it personally through the birth of my own two children’s picture books: Write Away! and Roger, Roger. It’s like disbelief combined with intense personal satisfaction. And it’s waiting for you just a short way up the path.

Or maybe your dream is bigger. Perhaps you’d like to see your work available for sale in stores and online. It’s all within your reach and I can show you how. I help people achieve this dream every day and I’d love for you to be next.

Online seating is limited to just 50 attendees, so reserve your space today. (sign up

Visit Demi at


Article shared by the author of Ken’s WarWhen teen rebellion & culture shock collide.


 ken's war cover

Ken’s War is vibrant with authority … Fowler’s elegantly written novel risks exploring the full range of teenage behavior and emotion.” Nancy Springer, award- winning author of YA books.




Writing Your Writing Goals Makes a Difference

Ruth, left, has met her goals and has written more. Visit!/buckleupforbrittany to find out more.

Ruth, left, has met her goals and has written more. Visit!/buckleupforbrittany to find out more.

(This blog is based on a writers’ workshop conducted by Beth Fowler)

Do you normally set goals or let things just happen (or just not happen)?

What kinds of things (if any) have you set goals for in the past?

What are some of your beliefs about setting goals?

Which beliefs need to be re-tooled? For example, I was taught, “If you start something you should finish it.” I no longer believe that.

A goal is worthless if ________________(fill in the blank until you run out of ideas).

According to one study, people who write their goals are 42 percent more likely to achieve their goals.

Ruth, shown in the photo, set goals and has taken steps to reach them. See for yourself at!/buckleupforbrittany

Cite some examples of how God (or the universe or whatever entity you think runs the big show) has supported your writing goals so far.

Now, write your writing goal and steps you’ll take to reach it.

Be specific when setting your writing goal. Include dates, amounts, numbers, names. Someone else would be able to measure if you achieved your goal because of the objective, concrete way you state it here.

 Example: Send out a query a week for 8 weeks to print magazines that pay freelance writers.

 Example: Submit my story about adopting a baby from China to YorkFest Literary Competition, Spring 2015


What steps will you take to reach your goal?

Example: 1. Write rough draft query “template.” 2. Read submission guidelines for magazines. 3. Read articles in targeted magazines. 4. Tailor query to magazine’s guidelines and audience.5. Send queries. 6. Log queries sent and responses received.










Article by Beth Fowler, author of the beloved, coming-of-age novel “Ken’s War.”


 ken's war coverWhen teen rebellion & culture shock collide. Shop here: Ken’s War

Ken’s War is vibrant with authority … Fowler’s elegantly written novel risks exploring the full range of teenage behavior and emotion.” Nancy Springer, award- winning author of YA books.




Fantasy Well-Crafted for Middle-Grade Readers

Co-authors Anne Rothman-Hicks and Kenneth Hicks launch into “Things Are Not What They Seem” without wasting time on background and descriptive junk readers of any age group dislike.The authors masterfully set the fantasy in present-day New York City, featuring regular, relatable kids.


This middle-grade fantasy adventure starts with, “When the pigeon first spoke to Jennifer that morning in the playground, she responded by pretending to examine something absolutely fascinating at the top of a nearby tree.” The pigeon speaks in precise British English, which adds humor to the situation, at least for my inner tween who found something grin-worthy on nearly every page.


Jennifer, who’s almost 13, is smart but not smart-alecky. She has a sense of humor, but never makes others the butt of her wit. She can be sarcastic, yet possesses a strong sense of right and wrong, compassion and a well-developed altruism. Like girls her age, she’s concerned about her appearance and what peers think of her. Being trustworthy is important to the tween. She’s a likeable and engaging protagonist. Her brother, James, provides some of the comic relief, often while bantering with the pigeon. Then there’s Sleepy, the sidekick with allergies. And of course, there are bad guys.


(Sometimes young characters use phrases – “come down on them like a ton of bricks,” – that I have trouble picturing anyone other than adults saying.) Chapter ends are written with page-turning finesse. The story keeps adults in their place, that is, the kids shine in the limelight. They face challenges, push the plot arc to the climax and back down to the satisfying and appropriate end.


Jennifer learns that the pigeon is actually a man named Arthur Whitehair, a 19th-century Englishman who’d been turned into a pigeon that will live forever by misreading an ancient spell meant to give him eternal life as a human. Likewise, an devious colleague of his, Malman, had been turned into a hawk by Whitehair’s mis-incantation. Jennifer, et al search for the manuscript of the spell so they can reverse it, turning Whitehair the pigeon back into a man.


Without becoming pedantic, the authors weave in Shakespearean quotes and Latin phrases, and there’s a nod to the Harry Potter stories, too. One senses a depth of history and tradition, without the burden of boredom.


Some scenes are reminiscent of classic Disney antics. Others remind us that the stakes are high. What young fantasy reader doesn’t love sentences like this one spoken by the aptly named Malman? “Mind me! I’ll rip out your throats and peck the eyeballs from your heads—dainty morsels that they are. Even your mothers won’t recognize you.”


With more than 63,000 words, “Things Are Not What They Seem” is longer than typical middle-grade books. Even though every scene has its purpose, I wonder if some could have been written more economically.


Things Are Not What They Seem unobtrusively incorporates important values, while never losing sight of the plot and always maintaining readers’ trust and interest. It’s a well-crafted fantasy for younger readers and their adult cohort.

Review by the author of Ken’s War.





A Christmas Classic That Almost Wasn’t

“All over the world, it’s become a tradition to read a special poem on Christmas Eve. You can probably recite a good bit of it by heart:

’Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse …

“But as famous as this poem is to us now … it almost wasn’t published at all. And when it was, the author wasn’t happy.”

Get the surprising behind-the-scenes story about one of the most well-known poems here: The Christmas Hit That Almost Wasn’t

Merry Christmas and have a writing filled 2014!


Ken, the protagonist of Ken’s War, has a crummy Christmas when he visits his mother, her new husband and their silly kids.

Ken’s War is slated for publication in the summer of ’14 by

Tired of Rejection Letters? One Change Can Land a Publisher

If your manuscript for a kids’ book has been rejected, maybe you’re pitching it to the wrong age group. Or maybe the story is appropriate for the age group you intend, but the length doesn’t fit publishers’ requirements for that audience.

My novel Ken’s War was rejected countless times. Then I changed the query and described the story as a Young Adult novel. Bingo!

Children’s Book Categories

Publishers’ definitions of categories vary. Categories overlap from one to the next. Manuscripts crossing many categories, (teen vocab with toddler plot) won’t sell. Regardless of age, kids read books appealing to their interests and developmental levels. Kids don’t care about book categories. You should care because editors do. Generally here’s how categories break down.

A. PICTURE BOOKS – Illustrations play significant role in telling the story.

1. Baby or board books – Infants and young toddlers, lullabies, nursery rhymes and wordless books. Length and format vary with content. Some made of materials other than paper.

2. Toddler books – Ages 1-3 (under 300 wc), simple stories familiar to a child’s life, or concept (colors, numbers, shapes). Short (12 p), format can be board books, pop-ups, lift-the flaps, books that make sounds, have different textures, etc.

3. Picture books or picture storybooks – Ages 4-8, 32-p books, sometimes 24 or 48 due to multiple of 8-p binding. Stories up to 1500 wc, with 1000 wc the average. Simple plots (no sub-plots or complicated twists) one main character embodying child’s emotions, concerns and viewpoint. Illustrations (on every page or every other page) play as great a role as the text in story telling. Range of topics and styles. Non-fiction picture books can go to age 10, 48 p in length, or up to about 2000 wc.

B. STORY BOOKS – Stories too long for picture books, illustrations included although stories can stand alone without them.

1. Easy readers or easy-to-read – Ages 6-8 starting to read on own.  Smaller trim size, short chapts. Length varies by publisher; 32-64 p, 200-1500 wc, occasionally to 2000 wc. Told mainly through action and dialogue, not description, in grammatically simple sentences (one idea per sentence). Average 2-5 sentences per p.

2. Transition books or early chapter books – Ages 6-9, bridge gap between easy readers and chapter books. Like easy readers in style, about 30 p, 2-3 page chapts, small trim size, b & w illustrations every few pages.

3. Chapter books – Ages 7-10, 45-60 p, 3-4 page chapts, 4000 – 12,000 wc. Meatier than transition books, still contain lots of action. Sentences can be a bit more complex, but paragraphs still short (2-4 sentences average). Chapts often end in the middle of scene to keep readers turning the pages.

4. High interest/low vocab, second chance, remedial, ESL, fast paced, short sentences, simple vocab, interest 2 years above vocab. 3-4000 wc.

C. NOVELS & NON-FICTION – “Real” books.

1. Middle Grade, Junior Novels & non-fiction – Pre-teens 8-12, 100-150 p, 18,000 – 30,000 wc, chapts of equal length, intriguing titles, complex stories (sub-plots involving secondary characters woven through the story), themes more sophisticated. Kids get hooked on characters, hence popularity of series of books with same cast.

2. Young adult or adolescent novels or senior fiction & non-fiction – Ages 12 and up, 130 – 200 p, 8 – 35,000 wc. Plots can be complex with several major characters, one character should be focus. Themes relevant to problems, worries and struggles of today’s teens. J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye set the mold for this genre.

Ken’s War,” slated for publication by Melange Books LLC in 2014, follows Ken as his life is turned upside-down when he and his dad are stationed in Japan. If Ken doesn’t figure out how to reinvent himself, his life will be a painfully long sucker punch in the gut.

Learn 10 hot (and true) tips for writing for children  here!

How to Create Dynamic Fictional Characters (Part 1)

“The test of a round character is whether it is capable of surprising in a convincing way. If it never surprises, it is flat.” E.M. Forster

For many readers, a novel not populated with engaging, believable characters isn’t worth finishing. The author of a novel in progress can feel that same lack of motivation. If the main characters seem flat even to their creator, finishing the manuscript will be a grind.

Readers want to become entranced by fictional characters. Readers want to be drawn in and wonder, “What will the character do next?” Readers crave characters that are consistent enough to be recognizable and plausible, yet possess a potential for change. Round characters compel readers to turn the page.

“The real question isn’t whether the characters are likeable,” says Professor Timothy Spurgin of Lawrence University. The professor makes an important point. Would you choose to pal around with Harry Angstrom, the protagonist in John Updike’s four “Rabbit” novels? Probably not. He’s not very likeable.

Get a copy of James Leo Herlihy’s novel “Midnight Cowboy.” The two main characters are rootless hustlers. Owing to their well-defined, round personalities, the story of Ratso and Joe is compelling, moving reading.

Professor Spurgin contends that readers are fascinated by characters that embody a sensitive, insightful understanding of human motivations. Round characters possess emotional depth or psychological complexity. Readers feel satisfied and rewarded for investing time in a novel peopled with round characters.

Developing round characters is rewarding and stimulating for their creators, too.

Flat or cardboard characters aren’t bad. They serve a purpose. You need both types in a story.

Jotting down character sketches before writing a story enhances an author’s ability to develop rounded characters. Sketches aid in creating characters with backgrounds different from the author’s own. One author can and must create many kinds of characters.

Character sketches include basic biographical data: Age, gender, birth date, place of birth, level of education and so on.

Your challenge is to flesh out the data bones. If your character was born in the United States of America in the 1950s, President Kennedy’s assassination will be a poignant memory. Knowing this, you can incorporate the weight of that memory into an argument about gun control. Another example: if the character has a G.E.D, how does he feel about not graduating from high school? How do those feelings pop up in thoughts, words and behavior when his teenager is graduating or when he meets a woman at a party?

Brainstorm a list of questions about your characters. Then answer those questions about your characters before you work on the story. Knowing the answers will help you give characters depth when you write. Caveat: Do not feel obligated to work the answers to every question into the story. Just knowing the answers gives you authority.

This is a sampling of questions I might use to help me develop a protagonist’s personality.

Does the character:

• Fudge numbers on income tax forms? Or cheat on school tests?

• Buy drinks for everybody or accept drinks bought for her?

• Hate or love surprises?

• Mingle and schmooze at parties or stay in one spot and let people come to her?

• Kiss and talk to animals or ignore them?

• Buy only what is on her shopping list or buy whatever strikes her fancy?

• Occupy a small space with legs crossed, arms close to sides, head bowed or use a lot of space with legs open, arms out, head moving, fingers splayed?

• Initiate touching, kissing, lovemaking or wait passively until another character makes overtures?

• Tell other people’s secrets or keep them in confidence?

• Feel proud of or ashamed of her hometown, her parents, her siblings?

“Follow” this blog to receive Part 2 of “How to Create Dynamic Fictional Characters” as soon as it is posted.

To meet characters a reviewer described as “so real you can actually sense their presence,” get Fowler’s eco-thriller The Universal Solvent at bookstores, or at