Thursday, October 30, 2008


I recently took my children apple picking. As a native New Englander, apple picking was a customary fall event during my childhood and my southern-transplanted children were excited to give it a try. Trudging through the apple strewn orchard, we came upon a sign with a diagram that showed how each row of trees contained a different variety. This sent my kids scurrying down the rows, snatching apples to sample each one. Apparently they liked them all.

“Which ones should we pick?” they asked.

“Well,” I explained, “it depends what you want to do with them. Cortlands are good for baking, MacIntosh are great for applesauce and Macouns are just excellent eating.”

Choosing the right variety for our needs was an important decision. In fact, it could be the difference between a good pie and an awesome pie. Similar in the way choosing the right verb can be the difference between a good story and a great one.

Think about it. An action sequence interspersed with normal, run-of-the-mill verbs is a good read. But change those everyday words into creative ones and suddenly that action is popping off the page.

Here’s a quick example :(Good)Johnny ran home with the barking pack of dogs biting at his ankles. (Popping) Jonny sprinted home with the snarling pack of dogs tearing at his ankles.

By using a less common verb, you can bring more excitement to your pages. Anybody can run, but great characters sprint, dash, dart, and race from danger. How do I know? My thesaurus told me so. Not only do I take advantage of my computer’s built-in version, but when that doesn’t satisfy me I have two or three dog-eared varieties on the shelf for further reference.

Sometimes I wonder if I’ve become too dependent on it. Could I write a creative scene without my loyal lexicon? I know if I sat and thought long and hard enough, I’d eventually come up with my own synonyms and antonyms, but whose got time for that? A Thesaurus saves me time. Time I can use to concentrate on my story instead of on specific words. It’s an invaluable tool and if you don’t make good use of one, give it a try.

As writers, our goal is to create memorable characters full of unique charm and appeal who do thrilling and exhilarating things. (Note the use of my trusty thesaurus.) Therefore, we must go that extra mile for our readers and make our words explode from the page. After all, do we want them to like our work, or do we want them to love it?

-Niki Schoenfeldt

By the way, we ended up picking the Macouns. My kids didn’t care about pies and applesauce. They wanted an apple worth sinking their teeth into; instant gratification.

Monday, October 27, 2008


I recently read a book I was doing for review. With review copy, I pay closer attention and tend to analyze more. As I delved deeper and deeper into the pages, something started to nag at me, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. The writing was fairly tight, the story was decent and the characters were fully developed. And yet, something kept sticking in my craw.

Finally, while reading a passage that was particularly heavy on dialog, it hit me. In a recent workshop I attended on “VOICE” with Greenwillow Editor, Martha Mihalick, she used a word that stuck with me. That word was “authentic”. I realized that many areas of dialog in the book did not seem authentic. The words shared between the characters did not flow naturally. Although this author is obviously a talented writer and storyteller, this unrealistic interaction took away from the authenticity of her work.

For me, dialog is often harder to write than descriptive narrative or action scenes. I find myself stopping more often to reread what I’ve written and catch myself speaking the words out loud in a way I imagine the characters would say them. I want my dialog to sound natural, and yet, still manage to pull my story forward. This is no easy task. Here are some of the snags I think we writers find ourselves up against when writing dialog.

Use of –ly adverbs in tag lines.

Example: “His dog is dying,” John said grimly.

By using the word “grimly” the writer is giving emotion to the speaker that would be better off shown in the dialog. Remember the number one rule in writing; show, don’t tell! If the author has written the passage successfully, then the grimness of the situation would hold its own. The proper tag for most dialogs is simply “said”. The point of a tag is to let the reader identify who is speaking. By sprinkling in all sorts of creative adverbs, the reader must pause to focus on them, whereas the word "said" is often skipped past, making a smoother transition.

Using impossible tags.

Example: “Oh, no!” Sandra Cried. “He’s getting away.”

Since it is virtually impossible to “cry” a word, this tag line makes no sense. And yet, it is one that is commonly used. Stop and think about your tag. Words like frown, smile, growl, or sneer cannot be done during the act of speech. Keep it simple.

Beginning dialog with the tag line.

Example: Sara asked, “Where have you been?”
There is more excitement and impact shown by switching it around to read: “Where have you been?” Sara asked.

Excessive name-dropping.

Example: “Hi, Charlene,” Adam said. “How are you?”
“Hi, Adam,” Charlene answered. “I’m fine. How are you?
“I’m great, Charlene, thanks for asking.”
“Glad to hear it, Adam. See you later.”

In a real conversation, Adam and Charlene wouldn’t repeat each other’s names after making initial contact. Sometimes writers intersperse names into conversations as an attempt to clarify who is speaking. This is not necessary if the dialog is written properly.

As a final note, I want to point out where dialog can be a great problem solver. Remember that rule I mentioned earlier? Show, don’t tell. Dialog can be a wonderful tool in avoiding that issue. Instead of telling the reader your character is angry, use dialog to show it.

Example: (Telling) Norman was angry when Marcus dropped the anvil
on his toe.
(Showing) “Darn it, Marcus!” Norman yelled, “You dropped that anvil
on my toe!”

So as you write that New York Times Bestseller, keep these little glitches in mind and do your best to avoid them. Read your dialog out loud to yourself or someone else. The words are often different to the ear than they appear on paper. Listening is the key to authenticity. Keep it real.

-Niki Schoenfeldt

Saturday, October 25, 2008


YAY! HOORAY! And YIPEE! My book has finally been released and has shipped to all those dedicated friends and fans who pre-ordered it nearly a year-and-a-half ago. For those of you who waited but still want a copy, you can purchase it by clicking on the link here in my blog or by contacting me directly. I am expecting a shipment soon.

For anyone who has a copy and has enjoyed it, I ask that you please do me the great honor of posting a review on Amazon. An endorsement from fellow writers or fans of my work would be a great privilege. Your kind words and support mean more to me than you will ever know. There is nothing I can do or say that will accurately express the magnitude of my appreciation. Over the years I have received a multitude of encouragement from my family, my friends and my fellow writers. God has blessed me by surrounding me with wonderful people. At this point, the best I can muster is a meager, but heartfelt “THANK YOU,” to all.

Niki Schoenfeldt, Author


Now that the American League Playoffs are finished and my beloved Red Sox came in second place instead of first, the World Series will not garner much of my time. Therefore, as this blog was meant to be, I will dedicate my musings to the craft of writing. Not to say a few extra topics may not arise now and then, but mostly I will report of the things I have learned in the ten years I have devoted to honing my craft, and those in which I continue to learn. It is said we must learn something new every day and I believe it to be true. So come along on this author’s journey as I try to make sense of the common ailments we writer’s all share.

I have learned that the network of children’s writers extends far and wide, yet is small enough to fit within the confines of my desktop. I’ve met many talented people through SCBWI and the internet has paved the way. I am proud to say I consider many clever writers, poets and illustrators among my friends and peers. As you gaze upon my blog, please join in the conversation. Your opinions and comments matter. As a group dedicated to words, I hope we can use them to learn from each other. As unique individuals, we will all describe the same subject in differing ways. Hopefully, one of those ways will strike a chord with someone who needs our help.

Happy Writing!

Niki Schoenfeldt

Friday, October 17, 2008


Game five of the ALCS at Fenway last night started as another downer for the hometown crowd and stayed that way right up till the seventh inning. In true Red Sox style, the team finally pulled it together when Big Papi finally let loose with a three run homer beginning the rally which put them back in the running. As the clock struck midnight, it was the bottom of the ninth and both teams were even at seven runs. The first two Boston batters failed to get on base and Kevin Youkilis stepped to the plate. After numerous foul balls, Youk made it to second on an error. Jason Bay followed but the Rays pitcher purposefully walked him. Next up, J.D. Drew slammed it into the field where it plopped to the ground behind the center fielder. As soon as the ball made contact with the bat, Youkilis ran for all he was worth then rounded third base to cross the plate for the win that kept the dream alive.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, this Boston Ball Club plays better with their backs against the wall. It would be a miracle for any team to come back from a 3-1 deficit. But this group has proven that miracles can and do come true. Game six takes place tomorrow back at Tropicana Stadium and just like last night, it’s do or die for the Sox. So once again I’ll remind you, keep the faith.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


In 2004 the Red Sox were down 3-0 against their biggest rival, the Yankees, in the ALCS and came back to make history by breaking the dreaded “Curse of the Bambino”. In 2007 they were down 3-1 against the Indians and came back to see another World Series Championship. So, am I worried? You bet. But I’m holding tight to the old adage, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going,” and as history has proven, the Red Sox play harder when their backs are against the wall.

As the Rays clinched another victory against the Red Sox at Fenway Park last night with a huge 13-4 point lead, the faithful Beantown fans tried to keep the hope alive. No easy task considering the way the Rays offense hit them out of the park time and time again and the Red Sox batters couldn’t seem to get any distance on the ball. With an off day to regroup, the series swings back into action Thursday night in Boston. Down 3 games to 1, the Sox are on the cusp of losing it all. But this team is used to being the underdog and if a comeback is at all possible, the Red Sox are the ones to pull it off. Keep the faith.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Cream, No Sugar

Yes, you got that right; the Red Sox got creamed last night with a final score of 9-1. While the Rays hit one ball after another over the Green Monster, the hometown favorites could barely connect. It was a sad day in Mudville as Haverhill native, Rocco Baldelli, playing for the opposition, hit another homer, bringing in three more runs for the Rays. With his little brother enjoying the action from the visitor’s dugout, Baldelli mentioned the thrill of playing in the park he idolized as a child. Unfortunately, for the Boston Ball Club, he played Fenway from the wrong side of the field.

Even BoSox power hitters couldn’t seem to get the job done last night. Designated Hitter, David Ortiz, seems to have lost his touch as of late, and last night the rest of the team followed suit. But hey, I’m an optimist, and everyone has an off day now and then. Tonight’s game will take place under the lights at Fenway and with a little luck and a lot of hard work, the Sox will play like the World Champs they are. It ain’t over till it’s over, or until Big Papi swings; whichever brings in the winning run.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The National League

Okay, just a quickie today. I didn't watch the game last night, but I've read the Dodgers won on their home turf 7-2 against Philadelphia. Phillies are still up two games to one for the best four out of seven. Game four will again take place in L.A. at 8:22 on FOX.

However, Game four of the American League is this afternoon at 4:30 on TBS. With the Red Sox back at Fenway, I've got high hopes. Nobody knows how to play off that Green Monster like the home team!

Sunday, October 12, 2008


The second game of the ALCS started like every other game, however, by the fifth inning both teams began aiming for the fence. By the time it was over Boston had three homers under their belt and the Rays had two.

When the Rays tied the game 8-8 in the eighth, nine innings turned into a seemingly all night battle. Finally, in the eleventh, at approximately one thirty in the morning, the game ended with bleary-eyed fans on their feet. With bases loaded, Ray’s batter, B.J. Upton hit a high fly to right fielder, J.D. Drew. Drew caught the ball for out number two, but couldn’t get it home before third base runner, Fernando Perez reached the plate. The Rays came away victorious with a 9-8 win over the Red Sox.

Game three swings into place at Fenway, Monday afternoon at 4:30. It should be an interesting game in the shadow of the Green Monster with both teams at even strides. Let’s hope the Sox will benefit from the home team advantage.

Meanwhile, the NLCS continues with game three tonight in L.A. As it stands, the Dodgers are down two games to the Philadelphia Phillies. Will Joe Torre prove his value to this ball club despite adversity with the Yankees? And will Manny end up face-to-face with his old comrades in the 2008 World Series? Only time will tell. Stay posted.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


In game 1 of the ALCS last night between the Red Sox and the Rays, pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka once again proved his worth to the Boston Bull Pen. For nearly eight innings Dice-K stood firm under pressure and as a result the opposition failed to score. As the rest of us sat biting our nails this veteran pitcher never batted an eyelash. Even with the bases loaded due to three walks in the first inning, Matsuzaka stayed focused and played the game one pitch at a time. Needless to say, that inning and every one after, ended in his favor and the Sox won with a 2-0 victory.

Meanwhile, halfway up the coast, in game 2 of the NLCS, Joe Torre’s Dodgers fell two games down to the Phillies with an 8-5 loss. The National League will have the evening off as the teams travel to the west coast to play game 3 tomorrow night.

Game 2 for the American League takes place tonight at Tropicana Stadium with Josh Beckett on the mound. It is scheduled to begin at 8:07 pm on TBS.

Friday, October 10, 2008


One of the first rules in writing is, WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW. It makes sense, but sometimes I feel inhibited by that. I mean, think about what makes a good story. High drama, with a dash of trouble and a dose of fear. When a character is struggling and his/her life goes from bad to worse, you’ve got a thrilling page-turner and better yet, a best seller.

So, from a literary perspective, I guess you could say my life is boring. If I adhere strictly to the “write what you know” rule, I could fill pages upon pages with lackluster tidbits and mind-numbing compositions that nobody would care to read. In order to write a spine-tingling novel do I have to immerse myself in international intrigue, drugs, kidnappings, and other violent pursuits or is there another way?

Because I write for children I try to think back to difficult times from my own childhood. I stop and reflect, looking for the juiciest bits of scandal I can recall, and I hate to say it, but I usually come up empty. Unfortunately, I had a good childhood. No major beatings, no divorce, no illness, no deaths no life altering anything. (Thank the Good Lord) So how can I possibly write what I know when I obviously know nothing?

So I must make do with what I have. I draw from the resources I’ve been given. My life. My wonderful, run-of-the-mill, all-American childhood. A childhood I would never give up or trade. Yet, a childhood I can totally destroy on the pages of a book! Yes, you read it right, I said destroy. I can find the anguish and suspense to fill the pages of a story by throwing a wrench into my own happy memories.

Here’s an example: When I was five I had a cat named Alphabets O’Malley, who loved mac and cheese. I begged my parents to let me have that cat and when they finally relented, Alphie and I lived happily together, sharing spoonfuls of mac and cheese, for the next thirteen years. But, by throwing a wrench into this memory, I can come up with a more exciting plot twist.

Here’s what I mean: Within days of Alphie’s adoption, he got hit by a car and died in my arms. But that was not the end. His little kitty ghost roamed the neighborhood stealing boxes of mac and cheese. Eventually, the whole town became mac and cheeseless. Little children cried for their favorite pasta to no avail. I had to stop my poor misguided feline phantom from seizing the world’s mac and cheese supply!

Now I’ll admit, I might have gone a little overboard in the imagination department with this one, but I think you’ll agree, nobody but me could write that story. I was the little girl who shared her mac and cheese with a beloved pet. Therefore, only I know how it would have felt to lose him so soon. Only I can truly show how passionate Alphie was for cheese-smothered noodles because I was the one who knew him best. As ridiculous as my story may sound, I’m the only one who can really explain the terror of it. Because, had it really gone down that way, I know how deeply I would have been affected.

So there you have it. Write what you know. I know my life isn’t storybook material. But, as a fiction writer, a good wrench can turn any existence into an electrifying journey. Give it a shot.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Bogging Blahs

Wow, setting up a blog is hard work! After months of research and two days of putting it together, I finally got it up and running. By the time I invited all my friends to have a gander, it was shut down. Frozen by "the man".

Of course, the first thing that went through my mind was, "Did I post something offensive?" But then I realized, my posts must be pretty tame compared to some others out there. I may have different opinions or views than some of you, but hey, isn't that the whole point of a blog? To show people how the world looks from where I'm standing? I mean, if we all had the same point of view, what a boring world it would be. It is our differences that make life exciting!

Anyway, it seems I was shut down because I added too many links from my page and it set off some sort of spam filter. Apparently I have too many writer friends with blogs! You all have unwittingly sabotaged me. Now in return for such atrocities, I expect you all to add my blog's link to your page. You owe me.

Happy blogging!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Stocks and Stones and Publishing Woes

As the stock market took yet another big hit yesterday people all over the world are scrambling to figure out a way to secure their savings. What is the answer? I have no idea. The stock market has always been like a foreign language to me and today's numbers are no different. I can understand the fallout however. It is easy to see where the problem stems from. For the life of me, I can't understand how so many financial institutions lent money on bad debts.

When my husband and I went for our fist mortgage it was a difficult and grueling process. The bank wanted a list of every asset we had (which wasn't many at the time) and they picked us apart under a microscope. We very nearly got declined if not for a last-minute "gift" (which we paid back) from helpful family members to make up the difference in the down payment. What gets me, is the fact that we weren't trying to borrow against our means. We were buying a home within our income status. We could totally afford the mortgage payments, taxes, ect. . .

When we applied for our next mortgage, which was again well within our budget, the bank didn't want my name on the deed because I was a stay-at-home mother with no income. Yet, time and time again, these same financial institutions lent money to folks who bought high dollar homes on incomes that obviously couldn't make the grade. As I mentioned earlier, I'm no number-cruncher, but isn't this common sense? What happened to the fine-tooth-comb mentality my hubby and I had gone up against? And what were those consumers thinking? As my mother would say, they had champagne tastes but only a beer pocket book.

So now, thanks to those bad loans and the ease of buying on credit, we're all losing. I see my husband come home each night with a deep worry line above his brow and I see my rejection pile getting bigger when only a few short months ago it was filled with positive reinforcement. When I say everyone is suffering, I do mean those big corporate publishing houses too.

I recently got an email from a great editor at one of those big New York imprints regarding a picture book manuscript she'd been holding for a year. According to her, she loved it and wanted to take it on. It was the marketing department who squashed it, stating they felt it would get lost in today's difficult market.

This is sad news for those of us who are still trying to make our mark in the world of children's publishing. Unless we have already solidified a name for ourselves in the field, or are a known celebrity, the big firms are afraid to take a chance. Profit margins are the ultimate goal and with the economy in such turmoil, losses are not an option. So what does this mean for those of us still in the trenches? It means the competition is harder than ever. It means the stakes are higher than ever. Your work has to be amazing, and you have to find that right editor at that right moment who loves your work enough to stand up for it and push it through against the odds. When you submit, make sure it is the absolute best it can be. Show professionalism and pride in your product. Let's show those publishers that we can, and will, write better content than those untalented (I mean this in the "writing" sense.) celebs with pretty smiles and big names.

In the meantime, don't quit your day job. Keep writing. Every day. Because practice makes perfect. And besides, we're writers. We're not in it for the money. (Although that's a nice benefit.) We write because the passion to do so is too strong to ignore. If we couldn't write, we'd be lost. So please, in these tough times, stay focused and stay found. Good luck!

Red Sox Nation becomes the "Bay" State

Who needs Manny when we've got Jason Bay? For any of you Red Sox fans out there today is surely a day of celebration. Just 4 games into the AL East and we're on our way to the ALCS! The trade made when Manny left ranks proved to be a good one from the very start, but last night's amazing slide into home plate has cemented Bay's position in the heart of every loyal BoSox fan. I guess we can say it's just Jason, being Jason, and thank God for that!

Now if we can get David Ortiz back in the "swing" of things and get the injured Mike Lowell back in the game, we could give the Rays a run for their money. And who knows, if all goes according to plan, we just might end up face to face with Benedict Arnold (Manny) as the Dodgers begin their chase for the NLCS this Thursday.

As for me, Friday night has my attention. Don't call after 8:30 unless you want to discuss the game. Red Sox Nation on TBS. Be there!