Want to read a brand-new children’s book? Spoiler: It’s mine. :)

My first children’s book is coming out today in paperback!!! And ebook!! and Kindle!! YAY!

*dances from living room to kitchen and back*

WARNING: There are root vegetables involved. And princesses. And a dessert sluice with cream puffs. But the nameless princess of Cochem has it, um, under control.

paperback of Trouble With Parsnips a middle grade story about speaking up

Because I’m shy and retiring, you can read about it over at The Winged Pen.

Or you can find out more here, including the links for ebook, Kindle and reading it at your library.

Thanks so much for your interest!

Regards,

Laurel

p.s. Hope you enjoy it!

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What You Say Depends on Where You Come From

footbridge covered with white and purple flowers connects market square to stone church with onion steeple, and to the "red house"
View of the Protestant City Church of Monschau (Evangelische Stadtkirche Monschau) and bridge covered with flower boxes. Monschau’s “Red House.” Monschau, Germany. © Laurel Decher, 2018.

The charming village of Monschau is in Germany, but Americans and Belgians were filling it up the other day. It’s very close to the Belgian border and so charming that it draws Americans from much further away.

It’s a mix of cultures. I overheard this classic exchange in a café:

“Salt or sugar?” An American tourist picks up the glass dispenser from the café table and shakes it.

Her companion says, “Sugar. No one eats that much salt.”

My German husband and I have been married 29 years, so I’ve forgotten things I didn’t know when I first came to Europe. This exchange resonated with me. I’ve heard it many times before. We don’t realize how much our cultures influence us until we leave home.

When we were first married, we met someone who was researching communication and conflict among international couples.

“How do you know if it’s cultural or if it’s personal?” I asked.

“Couples from the same pairs of countries say the same things,” she* said, somewhat dryly. “When you hear the same thing again, you know it’s cultural, not personal.”

Obvious to anyone outside the marriage. Impossible to see inside an international marriage. Two mini-stories:

We hadn’t been married a month when I asked my new husband if he’d like to take out the trash. “No,” he said, taking what I’d said at face value.

Another time, we watched TV with relatives in a tiny living room. I didn’t realize I was blocking anyone’s view, so when someone asked if I could see all right, I said, “Yes, thank you” and sent the whole room into laughter.

Learning to ask for what you need is challenging in any culture and is less tied to language than we think.

My mom once pointed out how children change their tactics when they reach school age. Babies and toddlers can point at what they want without being impolite or use brand-new words to demand something.

But once we have language skills, no one gives us credit for plain words any more. Older children have to gaze longingly and hope someone notices and offers it to them.

We know children need help to learn language, but it’s easy to think that some kids are born knowing how to communicate and others are “shy” and will never learn.

My upcoming book**, Trouble With Parsnips, is a fairy tale for readers 9 to 12 about a girl who is puzzled that no one seems to hear the important things she has to say. She’s moved on to become an inventor instead.

**The book is taking up all my thoughts and leaking out into every conversation! If you’re remotely interested, you can find out more here. If you’re not, sorry for the accidental commercial!

*I really wish I knew this researcher’s name, because I’d love to read her work. If anyone else knows, let me know in the comments or send me an e-mail.

Stone tower with doorway through the middle.
Whoever built this Tower didn’t feel like chatting with strangers. 🙂 Monschau, Germany. © Laurel Decher, 2018.

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

 

Tour a German publisher: Kiepenheuer and Witsch in Cologne

office with Cologne Cathedral visible through the window.
The Cologne Cathedral is so huge, it feels like you could reach your arm out the window and touch it. © Laurel Decher, 2018.

Last week, our local library visited the German publisher Kiepenheuer & Witsch in Cologne. Their offices look right out on the Cologne Cathedral. Their location next to the main Cologne rail station make it easy for their internationally renowned authors to drop by for coffee.

They have a fascinating history. I never thought about German publishers being shut down after World War II. Kiepenheuer & Witsch was one of the first to receive permission to resume publishing (because the Nazis had shut them down earlier.)

We had a tour “in publishing order” from the front desk:

bright red front desk with name of publisher in white and a row of books in a built in shelf
Welcome to Kiepenheuer & Witsch! © Laurel Decher, 2018.

to the mail room:

beautifully made old fashioned scale with dial to show weight
An heirloom scale to weigh packages of books. You can’t have more than 30 kilos of books on this scale at a time. Kiepenheuer & Witsch publishing house. © Laurel Decher, 2018.

This place values books. I enjoyed the author portraits and sideways bookcases in the hallways:

hallway with square portraits lined up in a grid 4 high by more than 10 across
Once you have your second book published with Kiepenheuer & Witsch, you can have your portrait on their walls. © Laurel Decher, 2018.

Book covers are designed here. We were allowed to take pictures of these final versions, but the concepts for the next catalog are top secret. They publish 100 new books a year with about a dozen editors. People work hard here!

paper printouts of final bookcover designs, put up with fat round magnets
Kiepenheuer & Witsch don’t all look the same. Each book’s design is based on what the author put in it. © Laurel Decher, 2018.

Finished books in the marketing department are ready to entice bookstore owners:

white bookcase with square cubbies to hold stacks and display standing up copies of new books, some shrink-wrapped
Posters and finished books, like a giant box of brand-new chocolates. The Kiepenheuer & Witsch sales department is ready to go out to bookstores. © Laurel Decher, 2018.
White t-shirt with Kiwi logo pinned to wall.
KiWi is a hip abbreviation for Kiepenheuer & Witsch and the name of a paperback imprint begun in 1982. Team shirts for bygone days when each publishing house had a soccer team to play in a tournament. Happy the house with athlete authors! © Laurel Decher, 2018.

World Championship-Level Book Formatting

This book, titled simply S, by Doug Dorst and J.J. Adams, is the designer’s ultimate formatting dream. *cough* There are guides about how to read this book with notes and accessories but there was no guide for putting it together.

This book might seem like the ultimate argument for a print book, but there are ebook versions. (My head hurts thinking about it!)

If the German translation is 10 to 35% longer than the English original, that must have made the hand-lettered notes challenging:

Printed book with marginal notes in two ink colors and formatted handwritten lists, postcards and other papers tucked in strategically.
Your mission should you accept it: Make the German translation, probably longer, fit into exactly the same space on every page. Include two colors of hand-written notes in the margins and all kinds of crazily formatted postcards, shopping lists, and dials. © Laurel Decher, 2018.

The book I want to read next: Der Dativ ist dem Genitiv sein Tod.

The subtitle sums it up: First Aid for German Problems. This book calls to me. For years, my relatives and friends have been using German in ways I never learned in class. This book promises to make everything clear–in a light-hearted way.

My city library lists an edition with over 700 pages. Yikes! That’s a lotta German grammar. But I’d really love to understand why my German relatives say things the way they do.

The title means: the dative case is the death of the genitive case. A grammar murder mystery? I know–it sounds deadly–oops!

[If you’re wondering: English sort of has these “cases” but we’re not as serious about them. Dativ is somewhat like what we call indirect objects: I gave it to him. Genitiv is somewhat like using apostrophes. The author’s book.]

author and book cover photo with a bright green list of German grammar tips in entertaining language
This book is the one I want to read first after the tour. I saw it on the author photo wall–book covers are up in the hallways too. © Laurel Decher, 2018.

Kiepenheuer & Witsch’s decisions shaped the kind of publisher they have become. The tour made me think about the role of a publisher in society.

  • What books do you publish?
  • What is a “book?”
  • What will make readers want your books?
  • How will you show authors you value them?
  • What public conversations will you start or take part in?
  • Who’s going to try and shut you down?

Hope you enjoyed the tour as much as I did!

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

Too much cuteness: foals in springtime

Two foals with white blazes on their foreheads, making friends in a green meadow
Who can get writing done when there are foals to visit in the neighborhood? ©Laurel Decher, 2018.

I haven’t been posting because I’m working madly (*cough* in between visits to these beauties) on a revision of my bonkers fairy tale for middle grade readers.

It’s been called “delightfully silly” and I’m trying to finish it soon so readers can see if they like it too.

I hope they like reading this as much as I’m enjoying writing it!!

Foal nibbles on the cheek of another foal
I rest my case. ©Laurel Decher, 2018.

 

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Need some ideas about how to handle The Waiting Game?

tiny white flowers light up the forest floor like a white carpet
Just when you think it will never come, spring arrives. Image: ©Laurel Decher, 2018.

Today, I’m over at The Winged Pen for a post about what to do while you’re waiting. . .

. . .for query responses,

. . .for editors,

. . .or for anything else in the writing life that requires another person to react.

How do you handle The Waiting Game? What did I forget?

Feel free to weigh in–I’d love to know how you handle the inevitable patience practice of the writing life.

Check out the post here:

The Waiting Game and 15 Ways to Play It

It’s part of the Winged Pen’s Master Your Craft series.

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

 

8 Ways Books are Better Than Scrolls: eBooks of the Ancient World

book cover of Libraries in the Ancient WorldWhile trying to figure out how ancient books were repaired, I came across the delightful Libraries in the Ancient World by Lionel Casson. It’s a small, friendly sort of book, clearly written and even the black and white illustrations are fascinating.

If you asked for a book in an ancient library, a page would bring you a bucketful of rolled-up parchment or papyrus with tags on them. You’d sit down and rummage through to find the chapter you wanted to read.

Chapter 8: From Roll to Codex is all about how a change in reading technology affects readers. What did the change mean for book lovers of long ago?

  1. Good for travel–no fragile edges to crumble, no tags to fall off and get lost.
  2. Space-saving–Carry more information in a smaller space because the writers can use both sides of the paper. Twice the capacity. 🙂
  3. Read with one hand–a scroll takes two hands: one to unroll and one to re-roll.
  4. Bookmarks–mark any page or even any line.
  5. Find information quickly–just flip to the page, no more endless scrolling.
  6. “Public libraries had to adjust” to the new format. Instead of cubbies holding three layers of scrolls max, books could be stacked up on top of each other.
  7. “Standard” took a while–Casson gives the example of a book that had quires–the smaller bundles of pages sewn together to make a book–in all different sizes: 5-sheet, 4-sheet, 1-sheet, 5-sheet, 5-sheet, 8-sheet.
  8. Authors had to advertise or explain the new format. Some things never change. 🙂

This little slender book, at Tryphon’s store,

costs just four coppers, and not a penny more.

Is four too much? It puts you in the red?

Then pay him two; he’ll still come out ahead.

–Casson, Lionel. Libraries in the Ancient World, Yale University Press, 2001, pg. 104.

Sound familiar?

Casson studied Egyptian literature by era to see how many were scrolls and how many were codices (books as we know them). Christians were early adopters of the new books. Bibles were made only as codices from the 2nd or 3rd centuries on.

bar chart showing % books versus scrolls by century in Egyptian 'finds'.
By studying Egyptian ‘finds’, Lionel Casson figured out how long it took Egyptian readers to adopt the ‘codex’–the book form–over a roll of parchment or papyrus: about 400 years.

Just for fun, compare to these e-book adoption percentages for U.S. readers (17%, 23%, 28%) and the increase in tablet use for reading:

 

There’s a great photo of a 7th century wooden writing tablet with ten leaves (pg. 127). It looks like a stack of pioneer school child slates fastened together. Here’s an example from Pinterest to give you the idea.

Heavy-duty.

If that’s what a notebook was like, no wonder everyone wanted parchment books instead.

Hope you enjoyed this field trip to the ancient world!

Happy reading and writing!

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Four Ways Writing a Novel is Different than Reading One

outdoor steel staircase with blooming heather filling in the risers
One of my favorite collaborative efforts. Steel and heather. Alfter, Germany. ©Laurel Decher, 2018.

Reading is a collaborative and creative activity. The reader is in partnership with the writer, and they create an experience together. Writers are told to read, read, read. . .to improve their writing. Good advice. 🙂

But I’ve recently noticed four ways writing feels very different from reading.

  1. The set-up. Ideally, the early chapters go by in a kind of blur, so that later, readers never realize writers used up a quarter of the book to get them into the story. As readers we’re busy working, getting acclimated to the story world, figuring out who’s who, and what’s what. When we read, we don’t notice how long it takes.

This is why it’s easy to write the story set-up too short. Or way too long. If we aren’t allowed to write this story’s exciting part, we’ll write the exciting part of the one that happened before. This is called backstory or information-dumping. (Attractive, no?)

Re-reading is a much better way to find out what set-up is and how long it takes. If a writer can entice the reader in–all over again–with the ordinary part, that’s craft. The best writers leave a little space and time for the readers’ imagination to get cooking, without letting them notice.

2. Pacing. By definition, the writer is the first one to boldly go down the story path. Joyce Carol Oates describes writing fiction as slashing your way through the jungles with a machete. E. L. Doctorow compared it to driving by your headlights. Keeping writerly despair at bay must add something to the reader’s experience, but I don’t know what it is. Tension, voice, scope, meaning, pacing? (A finished book? 🙂

3. Foreshadowing. (A.K.A. why it’s annoying to watch movies with writers.) It’s really hard–impossible–to foreshadow as you write. Once you know the cannon is going off at the end, it’s easy to add a box of confetti in a dimly lit corner of your brilliant opening scene. 20:20 hindsight. You just “put it in”.

4. Writing things inside-out and backwards. Judging by dreams and first drafts, I think the imagination doesn’t care much about what comes first. For me, as a writer, ‘story stuff’ gets sent up any old which way.

In a recent draft of my middle grade fairy-tale/fantasy, several chapters were clearly *cough* in the wrong order. Switching them around made my main characters stronger. Suddenly, their actions set the plot dominoes in motion. Yay!

Some writing friends compare story-telling to pulling yarn out of a skein. Their imaginations must be better trained. Personally, I have to slice the story up and tie it together, again and again. Judging from the overwhelming reaction to this blog post, a lot of other writers have the same problem.

But aside from all of these technical difficulties–oops, challenges–writing can sometimes feel the same as reading. Writing ‘in the zone’ or ‘in flow’ or in the grip of a story feels like being taken on a journey.

I think that’s what makes writing so addictive. Imagination is both a muscle to exercise and a dream to follow.

What’s your take? Does this all seem hopelessly obvious? Have you ever wondered about particular differences between reading and writing?

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.