Monthly Archives: March 2013

Extra Giveaway! Featuring picture book author Ginger Churchill

A few months ago we shared two interviews with picture book author Ginger Churchill, and one of the books from our giveaway was never claimed! So here is a repeat of our great interviews with Ginger, along with another chance to win a copy of one of her picture books.

Leave a comment below to enter the drawing for this giveaway. If you share this giveaway on social media, provide a link to each outlet where you spread the word, and we will enter you in the drawing an additional time for each place you share the news (maximum of 3 additional entries).

You have two and one half weeks to enter. We will announce a winner in a special Wednesday post on April 10th. So leave your comment below and start spreading the word.

And don’t forget to listen to Ginger’s great interviews!

In this interview, Ginger discusses the art of writing picture books.

Download here (right click and select “save link as” to download)

And in this interview, Ginger talks about how to engage in effective self-critiquing.

Download here (right click and select “save link as” to download)

Formatting for Smashwords

People made it sound like formatting a book is so complex I wanted to walk through the process with something small and simple before I got too deep into formatting Without A Voice, which I intend to put out at the beginning of April.

The Storyteller ( is three home-grown fairy tales and less than 5000 words, so I figured it would be a good test.

The formatting itself was relatively simple. I assume that it would go faster as I get used to the main points. The Smashwords style guide walked through the process step by step and was very clear. I already knew from working with Calibre that the smart-quotes were a problem. It also doesn’t like the formatted m-dash. I replaced these with the two dash format.

I uploaded four versions before I got it where I wanted it. There’s still one spacing error that I can’t figure out how to fix but the Table of Contents (terminal error on the first try) the indents (second try) and the line spacing (3rd try) are as they should be.

When I got into it, I found that usually when I had an error I could check the formatting between the paragraph previous and the paragraph with the error, and fix the error paragraph to match the other. These are probably leftovers from Word, which keeps a lot of hidden formatting.

When I finished I learned that not all formats are equal. Mobi and e-pub looked fine, but RTF kept eating words and the table of contents didn’t work. The problems were severe enough that I turned off that format. PDF looks OK, but Online Reading originally looked like a total waste of space. Everything was jumbled and smashed together in that format. Then I realized that there are options for reading in that format to the left.

I have no way to check LRF or PDB, so I’m considering turning those off as well. I guess we’ll see.

Now that I’m comfortable with the process, I’m going to start formatting Without a Voice.


Getting Active About Passive Voice

By Jocelyn Nash Carlin

This past week I spent some time reviewing an older story to see if it was worth revisiting. In the process, I discovered a disturbing amount of passive voice. As a result, I think it’s time for a quick review of this basic principle of fiction writing: Active verb construction is (nearly) always better than passive verb construction.

*Disclaimer 1: Not all uses of “to be” are passive construction. You don’t have to eliminate all uses of “to be.”

*Disclaimer 2: Not all “-ing” words are passive construction. You don’t have to eliminate all uses of “-ing.”

*Disclaimer 3: Though you should try to use active construction whenever possible when writing fiction and narrative non-fiction, there are occasions when passive construction will work better for the flow of your narrative than active construction. Just be sure to use your passive voice thoughtfully and sparingly.

With those out of the way, how do you recognize and change passive construction?

Here’s the most basic rule:

If the subject of your sentence (the person, place, thing or idea) is performing an action, your construction is active. If the subject of your sentence is being acted upon (or receiving) the action, your construction is passive.

For example: “Zombies killed Josh,” is active. “Josh was killed by zombies,” is passive.

Rebecca Johnson, a professor at USMC, came up with a fun rule to help identify passive construction. She said, “if you can add the phrase ‘by zombies’ after the verb, you have passive voice.”

Let’s play:

“The wall was toppled [by zombies].”

“Toby ate [by zombies] lunch.”

“The bill was signed [by zombies].”

“The story was told [by zombies].”

“Josh threw [by zombies] the ball.”

I’m sure you can tell where the “by zombies” addition works and where it doesn’t. The sentences where it works are in passive voice. All those examples were in the Past Simple Tense. Spotting the passive seems more complicated in other tenses, but the zombie rule still applies.

Let’s look at the Present Continuous Tense:

“Donna is singing [by zombies] a song.”

“A song is being sung [by zombies].”

See? The zombie rule still works.

Some writers argue that you should avoid using “-ing” constructions anyway (see what I did there?), for stylistic reasons. However, I say: your style is your style – not someone else’s. For a good review of when “-ing” is passive vs. when it functions as an adjective or present participle, see this blog post. And for a great breakdown of what active vs. passive construction looks like in all the verb tenses, see this post.

I hope this quick review will help exercise your grammar muscles as you get ready for more writing and editing.

*No words were harmed [by zombies] while writing this blog post.

ETA: the original link I provided for explaining present participles also includes a passive voice mis-identification, so to eliminate confusion I’ve edited to provide a link to a different article. Anyone interested can see the original link here.

Planting your novel

The sun is shining, the snow is melting (mostly) and I have two hoop houses in my back yard.

Under the hoop houses, the ground has already thawed. Seeds are planted and green is showing! The hoop houses allow me to extend the growing season for certain types of plants.

So in that sense, the experiment worked. In another sense, the ground everywhere else is still frozen so there’s the “what now” feeling of having something half finished. In the hoop house I kept the plants alive even in single-digit weather. But they didn’t thrive. The circumstances simply were not right.

Sometimes in writing we have something that we think has some serious potential, but it’s buried under the snow. The ground is frozen and until it thaws we’re stuck. Sometimes we can help and nurture that little seed, (put it in a hoop-house, in essence) but everything else we need to do on it has to wait–we can’t make spring come any sooner.

As we learn and practice the writing craft, the ground begins to thaw–just a little–and we’re tempted to stick the seeds in the ground and wait for flowers to spring up. But seeds planted too soon or in the wrong circumstances seldom sprout, and even less seldom do they become something we want to display.

So while you’re waiting let your ground thaw. Work on pulling the weeds that will keep your work from sparkling when it finally see’s the sunlight. Clean away the debris of the winter. Learn what is keeping your masterpiece from sprouting. If your hoop house allows you to plant the seed, you still need to wait for it to come up, and you won’t have a fully fledged garden until the rest of your ground is thawed.

Spring forces you to be patient, to wait and work and learn so that when you do plant that seed it will not only sprout, but thrive.