Category Archives: novel

Serendipity teaser



I’m having a tough time writing the sequel to Serendipity & Me. Not sure if it’s because I’m doubtful of its publication chances, or what. But maybe by posting one of the first poems in the new manuscript I’ll get motivated. So here it is, (although I can’t get the correct indentations to work here):

I ask Dad,

Does Lola hate animals?


Of course not, he says.

Who really hates animals?

            But I saw a dog approach her once

            and she went the other way.


I guess they’ve never had the conversation.

The one I expect to have someday with anyone

who will be important in my life.

The one about What Is Your Favorite Animal

and How Many of Them Do You Plan on Caring for?


My answer right now would be cats

and a gazillion.

But maybe when I’m older

I’ll be more realistic about the number.



Dad takes my silence

for disapproval.

It’s just that I think she might be nervous

                        about animals.

            I don’t want to scare her off.


The thought of Lola

makes me nervous.

I wonder if he gave any thought

to that.






Chilling your darlings


I recently went to a weekend-long SCBWI conference (Wild Wild Midwest) that smacked my should’ve-had-a-V8 forehead. You can hear writing advice over and over sometimes before it really sinks in. This time it has sunk. It made me realize what was wrong with the beginning of my sisters novel (finally), and now that I’ve fixed that, I’m working on cleaning up the rest.


The main smacker was Lisa Cron of Wired for Story fame. You can get a glimpse of her charisma in this TED talk. She has a new book coming out in August, but I couldn’t wait for that. I got her old one so I could get straight to work.

One of the things I’ve relearned is that if there’s something in the story that isn’t necessary, it needs to be cut ruthlessly.

I found an entire scene that I’ve kept in up until now just because I liked the mood of it. But it is not moving the story ahead at all, so it must be cut. And since it’s hard to accept that it will never see the light of day, I’m putting it up here (even though you have no idea who these characters are or what’s happening in the story). That’s how hard it is to throw out writing.

And now for your viewing pleasure (or not), here’s the cut scene from Home Is Where:

Rain has left the air fresh.

I’m so tired from my sleepless night, that I drift off to the swaying of the car.

When I wake up, something smells different. We’re not in town anymore. The house we’re approaching is tall and thin and it sticks up out of the landscape like Luna Lovegood’s house, only not so crookedly.

There are two old ladies inside who belong to us somehow. Sisters to each other. Maybe cousins to Grandma. Or maybe aunts. I search my memory for the odd names and finally remember–Lulujean and Maydell.

We don’t stay long. We enter the house in a museum-going way. Mom is acting like she found a lost locket, drinking in the faces of the live portraits before her. Stroking the old ladies’ hands like they’re bunny-soft.

One sister pats my shoulder. The other lifts Zoë’s hair with wonder, like it’s strands of golden necklaces.

Zoë stands still for once in her life.

            Remember? the sister says to the one near me right before we leave. Remember when we had hair like this?




I’m starting to write a funny, slightly-romantic MG novel. It occurs to me that since my first two novels (unpublished) were also supposed to be funny and sort-of romantic, maybe this is a bad idea.

judy murano

On the island of Murano.

But it’s an idea that started a year and a half ago, was half-tried, discarded, and has come back around, fully formed. I take this to mean it’s an idea that wants to be written. And it’s an idea that’s been simmering, working itself out beneath my conscious mind.

It’s an idea whose time has come. I hope.

An idea that arose because of circumstance.

I just got back with my husband from a trip celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary. I took a similar trip with my little sister a year and a half ago, celebrating her new life. The first trip sparked the idea, the second trip fulfilled all the necessary research.

The first trip spawned a first page whose voice was–awful. Right before the second trip, I tried another voice. And suddenly, the book seemed like a do-able thing.

It’s nice to know my mind can work on it’s own without me bossing it around. And sometimes (always?), that’s the best way to write.

How much revision can one story take?


An infinite amount, if the writer is stubborn and persistent.

Case in point: I now have a novel manuscript that used to be a mid-size novel-in-verse that was once a short novel-in-verse that was once revised to a different gender that was once a picture book poetry manuscript that was once a poem. Got that? Two editors (maybe three) asked for revisions at various points, which lead me to hope for a contract. But it hasn’t happened so far.

Now the novel is out on submissions again, this time in prose, and almost three times the length of the last novel-in-verse rendition.

Why don’t I throw in the towel? Because my agent says he loves it. And more importantly, because my oldest son is the inspiration behind a boy who is passionate about soccer. It’s his turn for a dedication page in his honor.

Early trophy

Early trophy

In Italy with some of his soccer team, far right

In Italy with some of his soccer team, far right

Drooling over cups at Camp Nou, FC Barcelona

Drooling over cups at Camp Nou, FC Barcelona

Newspaper shot, high school game

Newspaper shot, high school game

Writing update

A writer's historical journey

A writer’s historical journey

In 2012, I wrote a post asking what I should work on next. I listed three possibilities of novels I’d already started. Two and a half years later, I’ve written 2 out of 3 of those novels. (By “written” I mean in a substantial enough form to send to publishers. I don’t mean they’re published. Or finished. Because once an editor has accepted one, there will be plenty of revision. Because I’m not Roald Dahl. Or whoever that writer is who manages to send in perfect manuscripts. I’m sure I heard there was one.)

I started with the historical novel. Managed to fix the middle and workshopped it with four of my writing friends. Rewrote it. Took it to a revision conference in California. Rewrote it. Meanwhile my agent sent it out in both forms. I got lots of interesting comments, including a publisher who wanted me to revise, but who has been silent since receiving the revision. An editor who’d shown interest at the California retreat decided the revision had too many coincidences. She didn’t say what those were. So THREE PRAYERS is back on the shelf, awaiting inspiration for another rewrite.

A shelf inside Liezel's house.

A shelf inside Liezel’s house.

I developed the soccer novel-in-verse into an entirely new book. It continued to get looks in this form, but several times was rejected because no one could believe that a boy who liked soccer would read poetry. I kept resisting the suggestion that I change it to prose. But with this last suggestion, the editor took the time to take out the line breaks and show what the first five pages would look like if the words stayed the same but the spacing was different.

Keyboard to screen, the beautiful game.

Keyboard to screen, the beautiful game.

Maybe if it had been the first time this suggestion was made, it wouldn’t have swayed me. But seeing the prose version on the page like that was helpful. And I was worn down. And finally convinced.

So I tried it. And I continued on, revising using her five single-space pages of suggestions for more development. And I’m happy to report that, barring a few tweaks after my final readers’ comments come in, I’ll soon be ready to hand this off to my agent.

Number one on that old list, THE OTHER JESSAMY, is languishing. I look at it and love it and have no idea where to go with it. Someday….

Meanwhile, I’m working on another novel-in-verse that began as a picture book. If this doesn’t sound familiar, I haven’t talked about this trend yet. (Note to self: post on this subject.)

This new MG novel-in-verse is tentatively titled, ZOE, HERSELF. It’s a story about sisters. Stay tuned….



The problem with getting a novel published…


The problem with getting a novel published, finally, is you can’t revise it anymore. There comes a time when the editor says, “Okay, that’s it. Off to the printer.” And everything you might want to change that you haven’t thought of yet will never get changed. That’s it, baby. You are finished.


Serendipity & Me, Viking, 2013

Serendipity & Me, Viking, 2013

The kitten that arrived months after my kitten novel was released really brings home this point. I wrote that novel based on many memories of ghosts of Cats-mas past, plus the ones that lived with me at the time. But it had been a few years since any of them were kittens.

Three of the four cats at the time...

Three of the four cats at the time…

This new kitten not only brought the essence of kitten-ness much closer, but she is such a wild child that the kitten in the book could have been so much more….I hesitate to fill in that blank. Because I love my fictional kitten Serendipity. But my new kitten (now almost a cat) Katniss, well. Let me give you an example.

If I can just squeeze in here...

If I can just squeeze in here…

...a little more...

…a little more…

Ta dah!

Ta dah!

What are YOU lookin' at?

What are YOU lookin’ at?

This isn’t even a very good example. It’s just the only one I was able to get semi-action pictures of. (Although you can see a video of Katniss rescuing her stuffed mammoth from the top of a dresser on my Facebook page here.)

Katniss is like no other cat I’ve ever known. She carries stuffed animals half her size around in her mouth, drags them upstairs and down. She has this strange motion when she’s drinking water from a cup–left paw to the right lower side of the cup, batting at who knows what. She’s quite adept at catching flies between her two paws. And apparently her dream is to fly, evidenced by the height to which she jumps whenever the mood takes her.

So now I have the perfect cat to base an intriguing cat character on.  But unfortunately, that novel ship has already sailed.

Or maybe another novel about a cat isn’t too much…?

You talkin' about me?

You talkin’ about me?





How to mix travel with fiction writing


I have an opportunity to travel to Italy and Greece next month. My soul is filled with joy! But it’s also leaking a bit of guilt because my husband can’t come with me. He has to stay home and work. Our last two big trips were to Italy and I feel like a bit of a traitor going off to our holiday stomping grounds without him.Do I look sufficiently sorrowful?

Some voice within said, “If you are also working, maybe you won’t feel so bad.” Of course! I could use my trip as research for a new novel that I would soon be writing. A novel plot I just thought of. Just now.  And all will be well.

Which seems like a really calculated, uninspired kind of thing to do to one’s fiction life.

However. I will be going back to Venice. Where there is literally inspiration around every corner….So….

PICT2074 PICT2089

PICT2148 PICT2102 PICT2108 PICT2130 PICT2112 PICT2134 PICT2145

Research and horses


Last month I got to go on a trail ride in the Smokies. Tennessee is entrancing–the trail wound up and down steep paths, over a stream, past a waterfall. Beautiful. And I loved being back on a horse like my sisters and I used to do every vacation.


But I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the horse. It seemed arduous having to climb so steeply with a rider on its back, going over the same trail time and time again. (This picture doesn’t show the steep parts of the trail.)

I don’t think horses are unhappy being ridden. But I think there’s probably a huge difference between being ridden by someone they know and love, going on adventures together–a huge difference between that and toiling over the same ground over and over with a stranger (usually inexperienced) plunked upon them.

I’d be interested to know what horse enthusiasts think about this.

It did make me remember the research I undertook when I was writing the horse parts of my novel (working title–Three Prayers). One of my main characters was an animal lover/healer. I needed Daniel to be able to lead his horse without a halter, so I started looking on YouTube to see how it might be done. I ran across some videos that showed how to join-up with your horse. Fascinating. They showed how to get your horse to willingly follow you, as if they’re your walking companion. Here’s one:  It gave me goosebumps the first time I saw it.

They wouldn’t have had this method in 1850, at least not named, but I like to think Daniel would have this same sort of relationship with his horse, Babe.

One of the fun parts of writing a novel is discovering what you don’t know about a subject and then learning some cool and interesting things you might never have looked into otherwise. Working on Three Prayers has taught me about goats, cheese-making, cuckoo clocks, the underground railroad in Indiana and Michigan, folk medicinal plants, pioneer life…I could go on and on. What a world!

Shrunken manuscript


My oldest son is getting married in a week and I have lots to do to get ready for guests. But I couldn’t help myself–I had to take some time out to reshrink my manuscript so I can make sure everything is where it ought to be.

Let's get 'er done

Let’s get ‘er done

If you want instructions for shrinking your manuscript to get an all-in-a-glance overview, go to Darcy Pattison’s blog here:

This novel-in-progress, Three Prayers, lays out at three rows of seven. It was 87 pages of manuscript before it was shrunk.

In the original shrinking, I could see where chapters needed to be added or divided. In this shrinking after revision (close to the time when I’ll be submitting it to my agent, Stephen Fraser), I noticed one chapter was abnormally long and I split it. This exercise of Darcy’s has been extremely helpful to me, a visual learner.

I can only cover 5 pages with my fabulous furry body

I can only cover 5 pages with my fabulous furry body

Writing with dragons


A couple of months ago, I was struggling with a scene in my historical novel. There were too many things to keep track of. I had five characters, three horses, two dogs, a wolf, two houses, a river and a bridge. It was a chase scene that was going flying in all directions because I couldn’t see in my mind’s eye what could happen or even what was most likely to happen. I couldn’t see what was impossible given the placement of the bridge and the movement of the events. I needed concrete help.

So I went into the labyrinth that is my son’s room. I grabbed up plastic figures that could stand in for my characters, animals and setting. I put the Lego men and the flying dragons to work.

Yes, this is part of my job.

Yes, this is part of my job.

I roughed up the terrain on my bed (held down at two corners by cats) and moved the plastic figures as I played out what I thought might happen in the scene.

Suddenly things fell into place. One character had to leave at a certain time, another character had to find their way around the river….Possibilities that hadn’t occurred to me were suddenly, obviously the answer to what-will-happen-next. I was saved by the concrete. And the plastic.

You can read the longer writing tip about engaging in the physical world by visiting the Literary Rambles blog that I did a guest post on: