Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Now that I've finished all the "required" reading of my booklist from www.curledup.com, I have decided to do a little of my own “for fun” reading before my next round of review books is delivered. I have heard the buzz and found myself mesmerized by the simple cover designs of the much talked about TWILIGHT series by author Stephanie Meyer. I began the first book Sunday night and have been struggling to keep my nose out of it ever since. Needless to say, my house is a mess and my children are in dire need of some attention. I'm not sure what it is about this book that has piqued my interest so intensely, but I must admit, I'm hooked.

I am surprised it has grabbed me as thoroughly as it has as I’m not a big vampire fan. Not to say I hate vampire stories. I don’t. But I do believe they’ve been done to death. And yet, Stepanie Meyer’s young adult series seems to have some invisible force over me that I can’t put my finger on. What makes hers different from everyone else’s and why the big phenomenon? I’m not sure. Maybe I’ll have a better grasp of it when I finish the first installment. At this point, all I can say for sure is the book has great “voice”. Written in first person from the main character’s point of view, Ms. Meyer has nearly convinced me vampires are alive and well and living in cloudy locales! Although I’m not one to shrink in the dark or wear a garlic necklace, this book brings with it an amazing feel of authenticity. This is what I think makes it so outstanding. It leaves me, the reader, thinking about the characters long after I’ve put the book down. (Which ultimately causes me to pick it up again.)

Often, when a book is as highly regarded as this, my expectations become considerably elevated and I usually end up disappointed. However, here I am halfway through book one and I've yet to experience any sense of letdown. Both Meyer’s main characters (Bella & Edward) are amazingly appealing individuals. Each has their own attractive personality and the chemistry flowing between them is incredibly fascinating and nail-bitingly enticing at the same time. So much so that I am chomping at the bit to begin book two, NEW MOON, and I’ve yet to finish book one. I will stop at the grocery store, the drug store, any store I can find on short notice and buy book two as soon as I leave my house so I will have it readily available when I finally turn the last page of TWILIGHT.

I’d love to know what opinions the rest of you who’ve read it have gathered. Are you as spellbound as I? If so, why? What do you think makes TWILIGHT different from other vampire stories? What is its pull and why has it gripped the consciousness of nearly every teenage girl I know? What is it that Stephanie Meyers has stumbled into and where can the rest of us get some?

-Niki Schoenfeldt

Sunday, December 28, 2008


As a book reviewer, I often have to remind myself to regard each book as a consumer and not as a writer. This can often be a difficult challenge; especially when a veteran author goes against all the rules as taught to us by the experts, including the editors and agents who buy and represent our work.

I recently reviewed a picture book by a well-known and successful author and although Consumer Niki liked the book well enough, Writer Niki was flabbergasted. This newly released book totally went against the grain of everything we’ve been taught as writers desperately submitting our own work for publication. First off, at the recent SCBWI-Carolinas Conference I attended, the editor and agent who spoke, could not stress enough the fact that picture books should contain 500 words or less. This work was well over that. Personally, I have no issue here. I think many of today’s picture books tend to be so sparse and picture driven, that I sometimes wonder if we’re cheating our children out of the actual “reading” experience. Somewhere down the line it seems book manufacturers have labeled all our children with low attention spans and have changed the market to reflect that. Although that may be the case for some, I do believe many children can still enjoy and sit through a well-written story picture book.

Another thing I noticed was the many places the author violated the number one rule. Show, don’t tell! Over and over in the text I was told what a character said or did instead of actually seeing the character say or do it. Here’s a similar example of what I mean:

The instructor asked those of us who wanted to try out to play a song as best we could.

It seems to me the text would have read better something like this:

“Whoever wants to try out can play their best song for me,” the instructor said.

In light of my recent article, ABUNDANTLY ADVERB (See below.), there were numerous no-no’s tossed into the tag lines, and at one point, even a “suddenly segue”! What’s up with that?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am certainly not trying to bash another author’s work. Remember, I liked the book . I guess a little bit of the Green-Eyed Monster, has shown its head here. I, like so many of you, can paper my office walls with the rejection slips I've received.

So what is a writer to do? I’m not sure. If I had critiqued this author’s manuscript before it went out I would have said it was great, but not ready for submission. Shows how little I know. The best advice I can give here is to keep honing your craft. Unless you are a well-known author, follow the rules as best you can. Your work has to be superior in order for a publisher to take a chance on you in today’s tough market. As for me, I intend to keep my nose to the grindstone and improve my writing word by word. Taste is subjective and someday I’ll find an editor or agent who is as passionate about my work as I. And if, every once in a while, I come across a book that disregards what I’ve been taught, I will grumble a little bit. Yet, even with my gripes, my heart is deeply imbedded in children’s literature. Let it be known that I may not like every book that comes across my desk, but I will certainly be among the first to cheer for each and every author who finds their work in print. Publication is a hurdle many of us dream about but only few accomplish. Bravo!

-Niki Schoenfeldt

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Editors often say the mark of a novice fiction writer can be characterized by the use of too many -ly verbs. And yet, even some of the most seasoned professionals find themselves relapsing into the adverb abyss. Why? Well, there are many reasons, but the most basic is probably because –ly verbs are easy. They are quick fixes tossed in to tell the reader how something feels or why something is happening without showing the degree or extent. Here’s an example:

Tim walked quietly into the room.

From this sentence the reader is aware that Tim entered the room without making sound. It gets the point across, but it skirts Tim’s real actions by not showing what measures he takes in order to be quiet. If the writer stopped to think of what actions constitute a quiet entrance, the same sentence might read like this:

Tim tiptoed into the room.

In this improved version, the reader has a better knowledge of the scene and what is taking place. It is no longer a boring read and includes realism and drama.

Another place adverbs habitually appear is within tag lines. (See article: DIALOG DESPAIR below.) In an attempt at creativity writers may actually weaken their character’s dialog while committing high treason in the writing world. Use of these adverbs go against the number one rule; show, don’t tell. Here’s an example:

“That was close,” Susan said breathlessly.

The writer tells us Susan is breathless, but the text would be stronger if the writer showed Susan’s breathlessness through her words and actions.

“Whew! That was close,” Susan said, stopping to catch her breath.

Sometimes adverbs are used alongside already strong action verbs. As if that weren’t bad enough, they are often partnered with those that hold the same meaning. Here are a few examples:

He clenched his fists tightly.

The amplifier blared loudly.

In both these cases the writer clutters the sentences by repeating the same facts. In the first one, the verb “clenched” means to tightly hold together. By adding the adverb “tightly” to it, the writer has defined the verb for the reader. In the second example the same is true. The verb “blared” means to make a loud, harsh noise. Adding the adverb “loudly” is redundant and talks down to the reader.

By deleting these adverbs the sentences are easier to read and make a stronger impact. You will find this to be the case in most areas where adverbs make unnecessary appearances. A quick way to tell if an adverb is important is to read the sentence, skipping over the questioning word. If the adverb isn’t missed and the sentence works just as well without it, it should be deleted.

-Ly verbs are also frequently used to segue action or new scenes. The most familiar is probably the word “suddenly” . If you are one who punctuates with too many exclamation points to help build excitement, you may also be guilty of the suddenly segue. Here’s an example:

Suddenly, a loud boom split the night!

The word suddenly means to happen quickly or unexpectedly. By writing short, action packed sequences you can easily convey “suddenly”. Here’s how:

Boom! An explosion split the night. The ground shook and the sky lit up.

In fiction, adverbs often take away rather than add to your work. Therefore, a conscientious writer will look to correct these slip-ups. So, before sending your manuscript off to that dream agent or editor, click the “find” button on your word processor and type in –ly. How many hits do you get? Look them over. Make sure they are legitimate and not in the league of those noted above. A few simple corrections can positively boost your sales and constructively confirm your professionalism.

-Niki Schoenfeldt

Saturday, December 6, 2008


I’m happy to report my visions were not actually visions, but simply the bizarre ruminations of my overactive imagination. This comes as a great relief to me for two reasons. (1) It means both my events went well. (2)I won’t be seeing dead people around every corner.

So let me begin by telling you that I actually had an audience at my library reading. If there were mice and dust mites in attendance, they did not make themselves known nor did they shred any copies of my book for bedding. Instead, I was surprised by old friends who came to say hello and offer congratulations. People I’d lost touch with over the years brought their children and old school chums who live out-of-town sent their parents to buy books for their kids. An old classmate stopped by with her family and said she remembered some of the stories I’d written in grade school. How cool is that! It really was a wonderful turnout and I had a lot of fun. I must say, I grew up in a small town of really great people.

And, if you can believe it, my visit to St. Mary’s Catholic School (my Alma Mater) was even better. There were no bully-monsters anywhere in the vicinity. In fact, each and every one of those children was awesome! I met with all the grades, from Kindergarten through 8th, and they all gave me their undivided attention. Some of them even stumped me with questions regarding the business end of the business. I think that kid’s going to give Donald Trump a run for his money! Seriously, they were an exceptionally bright bunch of students. They impressed me way more than I could ever have them.

Now, with that behind me, I’m ready to forge on to discover more new and exciting venues. I think I’m lined up for an upcoming reading in Huntersville next week. I’ll let you know when the details are finalized. Whew!