March 2010

Thanks to everyone who commented last week here and on blogs all over the Internet to raise money for libraries and other reading-related organizations! Because of you guys, I’m donating $81 to the Ames (IA) Public Library. Here’s me, giving the library a nice big hug:

(excuse my attire, I was on my way to Zumba)

Over fifty bloggers participated this year and Jennifer Hubbard is calculating the total contributed here. Thanks again, everyone, and don’t forget to show your local library some love!


The Blogger’s Library-Loving Challenge is the brain-child of author Jennifer Hubbard who was looking for a way to generate support for libraries and foster blog connections. I’d say it was successful; last year, participating bloggers raised over $1600 for their local libraries.

Want to help make this year even better? Leave a comment on this post. It’s super easy, and I won’t send you any junk mail or pester you to help fund my next Big Idea, I promise. (Unless you want in…it’s going to be spectacular!) I will donate $1 to the Ames Public Library for every comment received between now and Friday, March 26, up to $100. And when you’re done here, click over to Jennifer’s master post to visit other participating blogs and raise even more money.

So come on people, I dare you to top 100 comments! My WordPress stats will go nuts 🙂 You type a message, I pay, everyone wins. That’s what I call a great challenge.

Visiting The Writing Cave today is Pat Zietlow Miller, who has a great feature on her blog Read, Write, Repeat (good advice by the way) called Kid Reviews.

The kid reviews are such a good idea. How do you find the kids for your book reviews?

I wanted to let kids do the book reviews for three reasons. First, because they’re the ultimate consumer for books. Second, because I wanted to spotlight kids who love reading. And third, because they’re a lot cuter and funnier than I am.

At first, I thought I might have trouble finding kids to review the books, but that hasn’t been the case. After I recruited family members and friends who couldn’t really say “no,” I had lots of volunteers from children of my coworkers, people I go to church with or my writing buddies. I also worked out an agreement with my youngest daughter’s second-grade class where they review a book when they’re the “Star of the Week.” I’ve had lots of fun working with the kids in her class and getting to know them better.

I wish they had a “Star of the Week” when I was in second grade! Do the kids pick the books or do you?

Usually I pick the books, although I try to offer the kids a choice so they’re not forced to read something they don’t like. My goal is to review recent releases, so I have a list of titles and actual books I keep on hand. And, I especially try to choose new releases from authors I know. For the second-grade class I work with, I donated a supply of books for the class to keep.

Sometimes, a child wants to review a specific book, and I usually let them as long as it’s not too old.

What’s the funniest response you’ve gotten from a reviewer?

One little girl told me her nickname was “Princess Reads-a-Lot.” Another boy had obviously studied the book he reviewed very carefully. He pointed out small details in the illustrations I had never noticed. And, I always enjoy the question, “What did this book teach you?” The kids are very literal. They say things like, “Don’t go near the edge of high places.” or “Don’t go outside in your underwear.”

It amazes me how attentive kids are to illustrations. Do you anticipate expanding the reviews to middle grade and YA books in the future?

Yes! I’ve had some middle-grade and YA book reviews and author interviews, but I’d love to do more. I’m trying to track down willing volunteers. Suggestions are welcome!

See that, readers? Suggestions welcome 🙂 What are you working on writing-wise right now?

I have a chapter book I’m continually polishing and an array of picture book manuscripts I’m creating, refining and submitting. I’ve gotten a nice collection of form rejections and a few editorial letters and requests to resubmit, but I haven’t gotten the final offer. Luckily, I find the whole process fun and know there’s always more to learn.

You recently featured a book review from your cat, Vince (which was fantastic, read it here). Are there any more special guest reviews upcoming?

Vince might be a tough act to follow. He really enjoyed his moment in the spotlight, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he made a return appearance down the road. When I took him to the vet after his post appeared, the vet asked, “Is this the blogging kitty?” Vince is still living off that moment.

By now, everyone knows how I feel about cheese. What’s your favorite kind of cheese and why? 🙂

Well, I do live in Wisconsin, so cheese is an integral part of my life. In fact, a town about an hour from where I live has a high school whose nickname is the Cheesemakers. I always thought that might make for interesting cheers at sports events. You know:

Cheddar, Muenster, Mozzarella, Swiss!
We’re the team that just can’t miss!
Go-oo-oo Cheese!


My favorites are provolone and Monterey Jack. And I have a manuscript about a cow named Colby Longhorn that is full of cheese-related humor.

Wow, so much awesomeness in that answer. First, I want to read the book about Colby Longhorn. Second, I want a picture with the Cheesemakers mascot. Third, maybe there will be an occasion to use that cheer at the next SCBWI conference…*wiggles eyebrows*

You used to be a sports journalist. Do you fill out NCAA basketball tournament brackets? Any predictions for this year’s tournaments?

I was a sportswriter for several years, but I covered high school and community sports, not Division I basketball. Even so, my family has a big online bracket competition every year and I’m in a contest with work friends, too. I never do well in the brackets, though. I vote with my heart too often. I sometimes pick schools because they have cool names like Gonzaga or the under-dog factor like Wofford or because I like where they’re located, like Vermont. But this year, I chose Syracuse to win the whole thing in one tournament and Kansas in the other.

Good picks; I went Kansas as well. Thanks so much, Pat! Be sure to check out Pat Zietlow Miller’s blog and enjoy her fantastic reader reviews.

I try to stick to writing-related posts, but this time of year, only the NCAA basketball tournaments can keep my attention for any amount of time. After one day of action, here are some thoughts thus far in the 2010 edition:

  • This was definitely the best week EVER to get a new DVR with picture-in-picture capability.
  • I love the fact that Old Dominion ousted Notre Dame. Yes, I picked it and get five points in the office pool instead of one because it was an upset, but I mostly love it because now I can go for at least eight months without hearing the announcers describe the Notre Dame offense as a “slow burn.” Over and over and over again.
  • I’m pretty sure “They only lost on the scoreboard” doesn’t provide any consolation to the losing team, regardless of their valiant effort.
  • All players should be required to wear goggles. Just for added entertainment value.
  • Teams that just got done playing a double-overtime game should be excused from those stupid press conferences.
  • Apparently CBS will postpone airing soap operas during the tournament, but Oprah keeps her time slot come hell or high water.
  • Big sporting events (are you listening, Olympics?) should start televising around 8:00AM so I can watch all day and not have to stay up late (hmm, didn’t mean to sound old and fun-hater-ish there).
  • March Madness is the (sing it with me) most wonderful tiiiiiiime of the year…

I will be attending my first ever NCAA tournament game this Sunday to watch the Iowa State women take on Lehigh. Go Cyclones!

Are there any other basketball fans out there? What are your thoughts on the tournament so far?

Happy Wednesday everyone, and Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! Are you wearing green? This week’s linkfest:

Wondering which social media sites are worth your time and effort? Check out the CMO’s Guide to The Social Landscape. Sure it’s geared towards businesses and brands, but isn’t that what writers are?

The Intern has a wonderful and (mostly) serious list of The Ten Best Things You Can Do For Your Manuscript.

Ever wonder which fairy tale princess you are? Yeah, I never really had either, but found this quiz via and thought it was a great book promotional idea. (I’m Cinderella, what about you?)

And in the spirit of the NCAA basketball tournaments (Go Cyclones!), check out this fantasy character bracket at Indexed, via Elana Roth.

Have a great rest of the week!

Dori Hillestad Butler is the author of over twenty picture and chapter books. Her new series, The Buddy Files, follows the adventures of a mystery-solving dog. Dori, thank you so much for visiting The Writing Cave.

I love the premise of your new series. Does your real life dog, Mouse, have hidden abilities?

Thank you…yes, my real life dog definitely has hidden abilities. In fact, I think he might be a superhero in disguise.

What’s it like to have three books coming out at one time? Was the process different than with your previous books?

It’s exciting! And yes, the process was different with these books than it’s been with previous books. We’ve had very short lead time on these books, so I’ve worked much closer with my editor. We worked on all three books at the same time. I was reading page proofs of book 1 at the same time I was revising book 2 and writing the first draft of book 3. I actually liked working this way because I was able to go back and plant things in earlier books.

How does your writing process usually work?

I turn in a detailed outline. There’s some back and forth on the outline with my editor. This is the stage where we might make big structural changes to the story. Then I write the first draft. If there’s time, I give it to my critique groups (I have two); if not, I turn it in with a note that says, “you realize this is a FIRST draft, right? That means I still get to make lots of changes.” Then I go through and mark things I want to look at again, but I don’t actually make the changes yet at this point. Not until I hear from my editor. Once I get comments from my editor, the real work begins. I LOVE revision…revision is much easier for me than facing the blank screen. In fact, I love revision so much I never want to stop revising. I drive my editor a little bit crazy because I always want to make “just five more changes.”

I can certainly relate to that taunting blank screen! What things do you do to promote your books?

I do signings and school visits. I blog (though not as regularly as I used to). I’m going to be working with my publisher to start an e-newsletter about Buddy. Basically I do whatever my publisher asks me to do. Promotion is not one of my strengths…but I know I can’t expect my publisher to do everything, so I’m trying to be better.

Looking back on 2009, what were your three favorite reads last year?

I started reading Kathryn Stockett’s The Help in 2009, so I think I can list that, even though I finished it in 2010. That was one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. The voices were incredible. It was hard to believe I was reading fiction. And I’m pretty sure I read Savvy by Ingrid Law in 2009. That was my favorite children’s book from last year. I’m not sure I can choose just one more, so I’ll choose three: Paper Towns by John Green, Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko and When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.

I loved Savvy 🙂 Do you own an electronic reader? Do you have an opinion on ebooks?

I do! I never thought I wanted one…I’m one of those people who likes the feel and smell of a physical book. But my husband and older son love their Kindles. And they bought me one for Mother’s Day last year. I liked it a lot better than I expected to. I like having access to so many books at once, I like being able to change the size of the type, I like being able to take notes on what I’m reading (I never wrote in my books), and it’s much easier to prop up my Kindle and read while I’m on the exercise bike or treadmill or while I’m eating my lunch than it is to prop up an actual book.

If I was buying an e-reader today, though, I don’t think I’d get the Kindle. I’d get the Nook. Our library has e-books that you can check out…but it doesn’t work with Kindle.

That’s a great Mother’s Day gift! Kudos to your family. What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Never give up!

What are you working on next?

The next Buddy Files book.

I’m a cheese freak, so I have to ask: what’s your favorite cheese and why?

You’re a woman after my own heart! I love cheese, too. When I’m in an Italian restaurant, I’d rather the waiter just let me grate my own cheese…they either stop before I say okay or the amount of time it takes for them to grate as much cheese as I’d actually like gets uncomfortable for both of us.

Once again, I don’t think I can name just one favorite. I like fresh cheese curds that squeak, fresh mozzarella balls, smoked cheddar, brie…anything except blue cheese.

Maybe there’s a portable cheese grater that can travel in purses for such occasions 🙂 Thanks so much, Dori. Learn more about Dori Hillestad Butler on her website and blog and be sure to check out The Buddy Files for lots of mystery-solving doggie fun!

Does music help writing?

This question generated some good discussion on the SCBWI-Iowa listserv, so I thought I’d bring it up here. Personally, I don’t do well with quiet; our house is too creaky and I freak out pretty easily, so I like to have something playing in the background. I will turn the music off if I’m reading out loud or really trying to focus, but usually some nice classical music is just the ticket for me. And sometimes really angry rock music if I’m trying to write an emotional scene (or if my husband’s in a bluegrass music phase).

Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what are your favorite songs? Post in the comments section and we’ll compile a “writing playlist.” Or do you prefer “the sounds of silence?”

P.S. – Just for kicks, enjoy Ricky Gervais singing Elmo to sleep.

That’s right, I figured out how to put a video in my post. *Psych voice* Whaaaaaaaat!

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