Monthly Archives: March 2013

Sue Harrison’s “Writing the Third Dimension” – part 3: The Boyfriend List

Welcome! Over the next many months we invite you to return here, specifically on the fourth Thursday of each month for the newest installment of Sue Harrisons teaching: Writing The Third Dimension. You can read all the segments by clicking on the page title WRITING THE THIRD DIMENSION, found under Writers’ Helps & Workshops on the drop-down menu. Please feel free to ask questions and leave comments for Sue. Now for the topic for month three:


“Writing the Third Dimension” – part 3: The Boyfriend List

When I was twelve, I wrote a Boyfriend List. My list included all the dream qualities I considered ideal in a boyfriend. Most of it was very superficial: blue eyes, good athlete, smart, cute, and nice. Cute and nice? Ah well, I was only twelve.

Writing that list didn’t help me much during the angst years of junior high; however, it was the first indication that I would take after my maternal grandfather and become a list writer. I live on lists. Grocery lists, lists of goals, book idea lists, books I’ve read, housework to-do… I could go on, but I’ll spare you. If you are a list-maker, you’re going to like what I have to say next. If not, please give my suggestions at least a bit of consideration. I think they will be helpful for you as you write your novel.

You’ve been fostering a friendship with your main character. You’ve been carrying this brand new person in your head, having conversations with him, asking questions, getting to know her. That’s the creative Right Brain part. Now comes the Left Brain stuff. You need to write everything down. If you’re a “fly by the seat of your pants” kind of writer, you might resist doing that, but sometimes creativity has to bow to analysis. Your novel will have a much better chance to make it all the way to publication if you know your character so well that you convey his motivations and reactions so that they make sense to the reader throughout the novel. (And you also want the blue-eyed girl in the first chapter to still have blue eyes in the last chapter.) 

Most of you have done a character sketch, maybe when you were in junior high or high school. A character sketch? Yes, all this has been leading up to that old standard, the character sketch. (No histrionics, please!)

My usual character sketch includes these items: name, age, race, birth date, nationality, birthplace, hair color, eye color, skin color, facial characteristics, body type, unusual physical characteristics (tattoos, birthmarks, freckles and so on), weight, height, body language/mannerisms, voice, speech quirks (clichés, catch phrases), time period in which she/he lives, favorite food, favorite animal and television show and movie and book and music, favorite person, his/her parents, siblings, relatives, pets, jobs held, and schooling.

The list could be almost endless, and I’m sure that you’ll think of characteristics that I haven’t included. Your character sketch will vary, novel to novel. A character who lives in the 1800s will not have a favorite television show, of course, but he may have a favorite saddle. In my Alaska trilogies all characters have brown eyes and dark hair, so that was easy, but I needed to use other physical characteristics to help me – and my readers – differentiate one character from another. That was a little more complex.

You’ll need a sketch for each main character and probably for your primary villain. You may find yourself changing things in your character sketch as you progress through this novel, so an area for “additional notes” is a good idea. Don’t be afraid to throw in MORE than you probably need to know. Even though these facts may never come to light within the novel, the more you understand about your character, the better job you’ll do writing about him. Also, you never know when an unexpected twist may change the course of your novel. Characters do have a tendency to wrestle the keyboard away from the writer. That’s when I benefit from re-reading my character notes.

My character sketches get pretty messy by the end of my novel and often degenerate into layers of sticky-notes, but at least I have a reference to what I’ve done, changed, thought, and decided during the weeks and months of writing. 

What works best for me is to keep two ring binders for each novel I’m writing. One binder is for the chapters of my current draft. (You’ll need a four- or five-inch binder for this.) I use dividers between each chapter for easy reference. The other binder is for my research notes and also includes my character sketch notes and good stuff like the people to include in my author’s acknowledgements, reviewers who may want to read an ARC (advanced reader’s copy) of the novel, and maps. 

It comes down to this. You don’t need to keep all the little stuff in your head. Make lists, fill notebooks, write character sketches. That will leave room in your brain for the muse to stretch out and get comfortable!

(And as for me, it turns out that a writing a Boyfriend List was good preparation for creating novels. Who knew?)

My question for you: Are you a left-brained, analytic person or more of a seat-of-the-pants kind of writer? 

Any questions for me?

Happy Writing and Many Blessings!


*Writing the Third Dimension, copyright, 2010 Sue Harrison*

Sue HarrisonBestselling author, Sue Harrison, has written two Alaska trilogies: The Ivory Carver Trilogy and The Storyteller Trilogy, and a middle readers’ book SISU. Prior to the publication of her novels, Harrison was employed at Lake Superior State University as a writer and acting director of the Public Relations Department and as an adjunct instructor in creative writing and advanced creative writing. For more information, click here. To inquire about booking Sue for workshops or speaking engagements this year, click here.

Thanks for joining us! Please feel free to leave your questions and comments. We invite you come back April 25, 2013, for part 4.


I’m a proud Canadian blogger

My computer is in the shop again!  😦  I am grabbing a few minutes at home to write this quick post before going back to Dad’s … and no computer.  
I want to tell you about the lovely red maple leaf you see on my blog, the one that says “Proud Canadian blogger.”   I got this pretty badge from Joanna Clark Dawyd who has a wonderful blog … to a PRETTY LIFE.
You can also find it through her main blog  here where she has some interesting stuff.  🙂
Thanks, Joanna!
If you are a Canadian blogger, contact Joanna through her website and find out about using the maple leaf on your blog, too.
Do you do anything special on your blog to make it stand out, or to promote who you are?

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings!  🙂

The Definition of a Bestseller (used by permission)

A while ago I was reading a post by Steve Vernon on his blog – which you can find here – and followed a link he had placed there in answer to someone’s comment. That person was asking about books making it to bestsellers fame. He directed her to an article, which I read with interest; then I thought you also might like to read it. My choice was to post the complete article so I wrote for permission to copy it here once for your enjoyment and information.  🙂

At the end you will find links to the author and to this article where she posted it. Please check them out. And remember, always ask for permission to copy what other people have written on their sites.

Have you ever asked the question “what makes a book a bestseller?” Here is the article that will help answer that question:


The Definition of a Bestseller  – written by Samantha Francis

#1 – How many copies do I have to sell before I can call my book a bestseller?

Contrary to what some people believe, a book doesn’t become a bestseller by reaching a certain sales threshold. Bestseller status isn’t based on cumulative or lifetime sales, and there is no set amount a book has to sell to make it a bestseller. It’s more of a competition or race: whoever sells the most copies in a particular time period (usually a week), wins.

Depending on the week, it takes a different amount of sales to make it to the top. There are busy weeks and not-so-busy weeks — what can get you to the top in July, for example, may not be enough to rank you in the top 100 around Christmas, when sales are typically much higher.

We can’t reveal sales numbers, but to give you a very rough idea: when a book is in the “Top 10,” it’s usually sold several thousand copies across Canada in one week. Sales numbers of category bestsellers (lists restricted to a specific genre, like cooking or mystery) can be lower, though.

#2 – So as long as I know I’ve sold more books than other titles I can call my book a bestseller?

Well, no. Technically, a book can only be labelled a bestseller when it appears on a published bestseller list. If you’re not on an official bestseller list, then you haven’t been identified as a bestseller. Most major publications (newspapers and sometimes magazines or websites) that have bestseller lists ensure that their bestseller lists are based on comprehensive national (or regional) sales tracking and cite their sources (usually BNC’s SalesData). These sources are invested in publishing factually accurate information, which is why they’re respected by the industry and consumers.

Here are some ways appearing on lists can be used on covers. If a book appears on the Toronto Star list once, it can technically be called a bestseller or a “Toronto Star bestseller”. If it appears at the number-one spot on such a list, it could be called a “#1 bestseller”. If it appears in a nationally distributed paper like The Globe and Mail or The National Post, it could also be called a “national bestseller.”

#3 – Do all my book’s sales count toward the bestseller list ranking?

Almost. The catch here is that the sales have to be reported. SalesData is the service that provides bestseller information to most reputable lists. If the sales aren’t reported by booksellers, then there’s no way to know if the sales actually happened.

#4 – If a book is a bestseller, does that mean it sold more than any other book?

Not necessarily. Because most bestseller rankings are based on weekly sales, it’s possible for a book to sell really well one week, appear on a published bestseller list, and technically count as a bestseller even if it never sells another copy.

Another interesting thing to note is that there are books that sell consistently well, but never quite well enough to make it onto a weekly list. In that case, sometimes a book’s annual sales will earn it a spot on year-end bestseller lists, ahead of titles that ranked above it at some point during the year.

Also certain types of books are commonly excluded from appearing on bestseller lists, so they miss out on all the glory even if they’re big sellers. The most common example is dictionaries. Dictionaries sell very well around back-to-school, but reference titles are frequently excluded from bestseller lists. A given publication’s editorial guidelines ultimately determine what is included or cut from their bestseller lists.

#5 – If a book has “bestseller” on the cover, does it mean it was on the Globe and Mail bestseller list?

A bestseller claim on a book’s cover can mean it was on one of many different bestseller lists. If the cover refers to a “bestselling author,” it’s usually a previous book by that author that achieved bestseller status.

Keep in mind that the Canadian market imports books from just about every English-language market around the world. If the cover wasn’t designed in Canada, the bestseller status may refer to another territory.

#6 – Is being a bestseller the only way my book will be considered a success?

Hell, no! In a lot of ways, making it onto a bestseller list takes some luck. And one week’s sales performance doesn’t mean the book is considered more successful than others. First of all, other books may sell better over time. And sales aren’t always an indicator of profitability.

But there’s also so much more that defines what truly makes a book successful — most importantly, did the book’s intended audience read it and love it? Sales aren’t the be-all and end-all. Reviews, award nominations, educational objectives, and reader satisfaction are all part of what makes a book a success.
I hope this clears up a lot of your questions about bestseller lists and bestseller claims on books. The points mentioned above are just guidelines in the end; there may be examples of different interpretations, and there are no “bestseller police” enforcing strict rules.

This blog post was written by Samantha Francis (@pronunciate) and originally published on the BookNet Canada blog. Click here to view the original post. BookNet Canada is a non-profit organization that develops technology, standards and education to serve the Canadian book industry.


Has this information answered any of your questions?

Thanks for reading, and Creative Musings!  🙂


We have a winner of Donna Earnhardt’s book Being Frank!

Hello, Everyone! My apologies for taking longer to draw a name tonight than planned. We went to visit a family member who got out of hospital today.

Now to the exciting news …

WE HAVE A WINNER! My husband drew a name out of the basket for me, and we have a winner of Donna Earnhardt’s beautiful picture book “Being Frank!

Drum Roll please …


and the winner is …

Michele! Congratulations, Michele! Look for my email request for your mailing information. The publisher, Flashlight Press, will be sending you your own copy of Being Frank.  🙂

Thank you to everyone for visiting and entering the draw. Keep tuned for more book reviews, interviews and book giveaways.

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings!  🙂

Interview with Donna Earnhardt, and book giveaway!

Being FrankToday I am happy to introduce Donna Earnhardt to my cozy interviewee chair. 🙂 Please read my March 12 review of her first picture book – Being Frank. Donna lives in North Carolina, USA, is happily married and has three daughters. She loves to sing, play guitar, write stories and songs.

Donna, I’m pleased to welcome you to my interview corner as a new picture book author. 🙂  Please sit back, relax and tell us a little about yourself.

Hi! I’m glad to be here! I am usually homeschooling my girls or trying to oust the Dust Bunny uprising from my house. The bunnies have become allies with the Dirty Clothes Regime , and thus, a true battle is constantly in the works. But today… I get to be in your corner of the world as a new author! A welcome respite! 🙂 

And I’m glad you could make it. 🙂 When did you first know you wanted to be a writer? Who or what inspired you?

I have always loved to write. My mom still has a poem I wrote for her when I was 5 or 6. I had dreams here and there about being published, but they were just dreams. I didn’t do anything about them because I didn’t really see them as viable. But after my first daughter was born, I decided to pursue publication. My family stood behind me 100% with encouragement and prayers… and even gave me a new briefcase full of writing supplies. They then told me to get busy! I love them!  

That is so wonderful! As a writer, do you do much reading? Who were/are your favourite authors or books?

I love to read and read all the time as a kid, all the way through college. But now, unfortunately, I do not make as much time for reading as I would like to. I have a lot going on in my life and sometimes reading falls into the “things I need to do but can’t do right now” abyss.

When I do read, however, I try to read some of my fave authors (C.S. Lewis’ works included) as well as newer authors. I have, in the past two years, really delved into picture books and will check out as many as 40 from the library at once. I enjoy reading them, but I also study them. I also like to read “how-to” books on the craft of writing. I’m learning a lot!  

There is so much to learn. Have you ever felt like giving up? 

Giving up? Yes. Many times. Especially in the times of waiting or when I’ve received an inbox full of rejections. And when those times come, I usually end up complaining to God about it all. And I can honestly say that He always sends encouragement right when I need it! Someone will write, call or send me a note to tell me how much they are enjoying something I’ve written, or are looking forward to seeing me at an upcoming writer’s conference. I then feel that surge of hope and get back to work!

Encouragement is so important, isn’t it? Do you have a motto or Bible verse or quote that you try to live by and that helps to keep you going?

Oooooh… that’s a good one! I do have a favorite verse that applies to the writing side of my life.

Psalm 45:1

My heart is stirred by a noble theme 
as I recite my verses for the king; 
my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer.

I want my tongue, my pen, my verse… all to be stirred and filled by the power of the Holy Spirit. I want my writing to bring honor to God’s kingdom. I want my writing to be an instrument of peace, joy and love – regardless of what I am writing. It might be a mystery, a romance or a children’s book – but I want it all to be good stuff. Not just words on a page. Ya know?  

Yes, I do know what you mean. 🙂 What do you remember about your very first time to be published, how did that happen?

Honestly, I can’t remember if I sold a poem to WeeOnes Magazine first – or to Blue Mountain Arts (greeting card). I need to go back and read my journals and other interviews! EEP! Either way, I know this… I was thrilled. I was actually going to get a paycheck! Wait… I think it was Wee Ones! Yes, the poem, SPLASH! It was a free verse poem and WeeOnes didn’t pay very much (it was a small online mag), but it made me happy to be able to say I got a check for my work!

That would be encouragement to keep writing. What have you had published thus far? Of those, what do you most enjoy writing?

What I’ve had published so far: magazine articles, puzzles and poetry (adult and kid mags), a picture book (yay!), greeting card/novelty market stuffs.

I honestly don’t know that I have a favorite. I like them all. Diving in to all the different genres keeps me on my toes and doesn’t allow me to get bored with any of them!

You have a very busy mind! What process do you go through when writing and perfecting a book or article?

Ooooh… I don’t know that I have a certain process. I am not a very organized person. I tend to rewrite something as I’m writing it from scratch. Therefore, when I finally get to the end… I’ve already revised many times over! I do, however, almost always utilize one of the best resources in a writer’s back pocket… my critique partners!  

What method do you use to keep track of your writing ideas?

If at all possible, I write them down as soon as they pop in my head. And if it is important enough to write down the idea, then I usually go ahead and try to get some of the story on paper. That’s pretty much it. I have been known to send myself a text or email with ideas that pop up during the day.  

I’ve called myself and left a message; whatever works! 🙂 What inspired you to write Being Frank?

Several opportunities presented themselves right before Being Frank was born. I was participating in NaNoWriMo, but as a NaNoWriMo Rebel. And I was in the shower when the first lines of Being Frank popped in my head. I did a lot of praying in the shower that day! 🙂 

How long did it take you to write Being Frank? What inspired you to write it? And how did you come up with that clever play on words for the title?

Let’s see… it only took a couple of days to get the first draft (with my revisions) finished. Then a few more days to revise based on feedback from my crit group. Then another year and half of revisions with my editor. Mostly little stuff, but some were major overhauls of characters’ names, settings and conflict.

As for the title: I was praying and that title popped in my head. My dad’s first name was Frank. He was on my mind when I was praying. He was killed in a car accident about 10 years ago. So it is nice to have this book bear his name!

I am definitely thankful for answered prayer about the book! And I am really glad the publisher liked the title, too. I was (and still am) attached to it!

I’m sorry about your dad, Donna. I’m sure he would be so very proud of his author daughter. 🙂 Now I have to ask, are you anything like Frank or any of the other characters?

Yes. And yes. 🙂 Actually, my hubby and kids… and most everyone I know… can find a little piece of themselves in Frank. It’s hard for me not to say everything I’m thinking. And that can get me in trouble! I am a lot like Carol, too. A bit on the sassy side! And my breath is probably much like Ms. Zaroma’s many days. I’m thankful for mints!

How did you go about finding a publisher? an editor? and do you have an agent?

A friend suggested I sub to Flashlight Press. The whole process was not as horrible as it could have been because Shari Greenspan is a FANTASTIC editor. Flashlight Press is a small press… but they believe in the books they choose to publish. And they support them with gusto!

No agent – yet. I’d love to have one, though! 🙂  

Maybe for your next one. 🙂 We’ve already established your family has been very supportive of you. What kind of reaction did you get from them when you found out Being Frank had been accepted for publishing?

Lots of whooping and hollering… and I think we had Chinese for lunch! 😉  

Yum! As a key person in Write2Ignite, what can you tell us about that and how it has helped you in your own writing goals? 

Oh wow. Write2ignite has helped me re-evaluate how I see myself and the calling of God on my life as an author. I am only one of many on the staff of Write2Ignite. We work hard hours during the year and look forward to this conference every time it rolls around!

Maybe someday things will come together for me to participate in one. How do you find time to write when you are busy with life?

I catch an hour or two here and there… when I can! There is no rhyme or reason to it right now. But I want to move to more official “office hours” this year. I believe they will help me see how much time I am actually wasting that I could be writing!  

What other interests do you have for a change from writing?

Fishing, hiking and going on adventures with my family. I also love to watch Doctor Who with my kiddos. Oooooh – and playing the pc Nancy Drew games and wii with my girls. Yeah, I’m an overgrown kid in many ways!

How do you consistently write? Do you have writing goals– daily? Weekly? Monthly? Long range?

Honestly, I wish I did have consistent writing goals. I try – but don’t reach my goal very often. There are days that I write 2,000 or more words… then days with 0 words. It’s hit and miss much of the time. I wish I could say it wasn’t that way, but I’d be lying if I did. I think we all have to write when we can – and do the best with the time we have. I hope to be more consistent and productive and am putting forth a better effort in that area. But I don’t beat myself up about not being an everyday writer. I am thankful for grace!  

Do you have another project in the works? Any hints you can share with our readers about that?

I have 4 other picture books, two chapter books and some poetry for kids. I’m also working on a sweet, clean romance novel. I am really excited about that project! I also have a murder mystery that I’ve been working on for about 11 years now! I have my picture books in some agents’ email boxes. I hope one of them will love my work and take me on!  
Wow! You are a prolific writer! I wish you much success. Finally, do you have any advice for hopefuls?

 Don’t stop learning.

  1. Don’t take every critique as a personal attack on your writing skills.
  2. Don’t take every critique as the absolute, only direction for your manuscript.
  3. Don’t forget to stop writing long enough to go out and enjoy LIFE.
  4. Don’t whine too long after receiving a rejection.
  5. Don’t be jealous of other writers’ successes. Your day will come.
  6. Don’t belittle other writers. Build them up.
  7. Don’t write a 4,000 word picture – like I did. And please don’t call the editors you want to send it to and ask if they want to see it. Seriously. They don’t seem to like that.
  8. Don’t hide away your stories with your underwear and socks. It needs to be read. Not hidden away like some “prisoner of drawer”.
  9. And to quote the band, Journey… “Don’t stop believing!”

Wow! What great advice. (prisoner of drawer?  funny! 🙂 ) Thank you, Donna for a fun interview and a peak into your creative life.

Now for the giveaway!  Do YOU want to try to win a copy of Donna Earnhardt’s gorgeous picture book, Being Frank? All you have to do for your chance to win is leave a comment about something she said in this interview. At 6 PM EST on Tuesday, March 19, one name will be pulled from the basket and I will contact the winner for his/her mailing address. Donna’s publisher, Flashlight Press,is waiting to send the winner a book!  Be sure to check back. 🙂

Computer woes! I’ll be offline briefly

Computer woes!   Don’t you hate when that happens?

It seems my computer has somehow gained some nasty malware or something. 😦  I discovered it first thing this morning. As a result, today I am taking my computer to Staples for a cleaning. This means I will be offline for a couple of days, at least using this machine. I don’t know yet if my other one (at home) is infected. Probably I won’t be able to check that one out until tomorrow.

I’m sorry I cannot check emails and my blog anymore today. Just a precaution. But my interview with Donna Earnhardt has been scheduled and will go live as planned. 

Guess I’ll have reading time now. 🙂

See you all soon!  Blessings.

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings!  🙂


Book review: Being Frank – by Donna W. Earnhardt

Being FrankBook: Being Frank
Author: Donna W. Earnhardt
Illustrator: Andrea Castellani
Genre: picture book, for ages 5 – 7
Publisher: Flashlight Press
Date: September 26, 2012
Price: $16.95
My rating: a “must have” beautifully illustrated storybook with a moral presented in an entertaining way

I met the author, Donna Earnhardt, online in a writers chatroom maybe three years ago when she was still hoping to write the children’s book that would be accepted by a publisher. Well, it has happened! Being Frank is her first picture book to be placed into the hands of eager children, and it is a beautiful one.

The story begins with these words: Frank was always frank. “Honesty is the best policy,” he said.

While that motto is a very good one, it got Frank into big trouble. Although he knew how to be honest, he didn’t know anything about tact. Eventually, everyone was upset with him, he was being ignored by his friends, and he didn’t understand what to do about it. Enter … his grandfather. Yay! for grandparents!  😉  What he learned from his grandfather Ernest changed how Frank handled his honesty so that he could still be honest but without hurting people’s feelings.

Although Being Frank is a story with a moral, it does not come across in a preachy teachy way that could put children off. It is entertaining and funny while getting the point across.

Donna has everything in this book that should appeal to a child. Words used are fun and a little challenging, there are amusing situations, she uses great names that describe the characters – another example being Mr. Wiggins, the school principal who wears a toupée – and she has brought out true feelings expressed by her characters. It is believable and entertaining for children (and grown-ups, too.)

A fabulous picture book story falls short when there are not great illustrations to back it up. Well, there is nothing amiss in this book! The characters in Donna Earnhardt’s Being Frank are brought to life through the bright and colourful illustrations of Andrea Castellani. (His name is pronounced An-dray-a.) When my grandson and I read this book together he was busily taking it all in, there is so much to see and enjoy that goes with the words.

Being Frank by Donna Earnhardt is a wonderful book to add to your bookshelf.

You can find Being Frank listed on my BUY THE BOOK! page.

Please come back on Thursday, March 14, for my interview with author Donna Earnhardt. There is a picture book to win! 🙂

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings!  🙂