The Quotable Nerdy Chick: Loretta Lynch

If you’ve been keeping up with American news, you know there have been some troubling and scary things happening in the USA. As a nation, we are dealing with serious questions about safety, about privacy, about violence, about justice, about rights and responsibilities. This is not a political blog, and I will not use it as such. But I wanted to spend today’s post quoting a woman who I’d admired before and is now impressing me with her wisdom and good sense.

Loretta Lynch is Loretta_Lynch,_official_portraitthe current Attorney General, only the second woman overall and the first African-American woman in our history to serve as such. She’s a Harvard graduate and a former US Attorney, and as I see her on the news, I’m of the opinion that she’s fairly smart (and that might be an understatement). Here are some quotes that spoke to me.

Loretta Lynch Quotes:

  • Others will always seek to define you based on what they think you represent or who they think you are. But you have to be the one to control what you do and what you say and how you present yourself.
  • The power to arrest – to deprive a citizen of liberty – must be used fairly, responsibly, and without bias.
  • When suspicion and hostility is allowed to fester it can erupt into unrest.
  • Let us not act out of fear and misunderstanding, but out of the values of inclusion and diversity and regard for all that make our country great.
  • It’s the choices that you make and the things that you’re willing to accept and not accept that define who you are.

You can find a more complete biography of Loretta Lynch here

Where’s the Heart?

badge final for blogIn honor of Kidlit Summer School 2016 and it’s theme of Heart & Humor, I wanted to share some old thoughts I had about heart and writing picture books…

Where’s the Heart?

There are many different things that are necessary to craft a good picture book – theme, action, tension, to name a few. Arguably, the most important component in a successful picture book is heart. A manuscript without heart is like a slice of cheese pizza – fairly common to come across, but utterly uninspiring when you do. Sure, it serves some basic purpose, but it’s never anyone’s first choice. And when your picture book manuscript is not the first choice, editors have a huge pile of other potential pizzas to choose from.

What is heart? It is a bit hard to define, in that heart combines several other ingredients. A good theme contributes to the heart of a picture book, as does a strong main character. Humor or emotional depth also play a part. But overall, if I had to give you the 30-second elevator pitch of what heart means, I’d say that heart gives the reader a reason to care about the character and the story.

snor beauty coverAt the very beginning of the picture book, when the main character begins his or her journey toward the eventual goal, you have to make sure that there is something more than a whim that is driving the journey. Furthermore, there has to be a reason that the character is beginning that particular journey at that particular time – there has to be something real and big at stake. Your character can’t just be sleepy, he must require sleep on that particular night because tomorrow is his big day (perhaps his wedding day). He can’t just be hungry, he must be super-hungry because he has just woken up from hibernation and hasn’t eaten in months. He can’t just be lonely, he must be devastated by the knowledge that everyone around him is finding romance while he is left all alone.

moose1Throughout the story, the heart shines through in various ways – the main character’s resolve and pluckiness when faced with adversity, the way each attempt to solve the problem makes the reader root for the character even more (oh, he was so close that time! Maybe he’ll get it this time.). And when the main character finally reaches his goal, it is the heart of the story that touches the heart of the reader.

Earlier I said that the 30-second elevator pitch of the meaning of heart is the reader a reason should care about the character and the story. But creating heart is hardly a 30-second process. Even each of the general points I’ve made above are actually very nuanced and can be handled in many different ways, depending on the writer. One of the reasons I’m looking forward to Kidlit Summer School 2016 is that our bloggers are going to be teaching concrete ways for writers to add heart (and humor!) to their work. This is something I struggle with whenever I start a new manuscript, and I know that I’m going to be a better writer for going to Summer School this year! We hope to see you in class, too!

Do you want to learn a whole lot more about adding Heart to your work?

Register for Kidlit Summer School! Click here to register.

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A Black Belt’s Guide to Writing: The Eyes Must See All Sides

Yvonne Ventresca Author Photo (1)Here at Nerdy Chicks Rule we celebrate strong women so it is our privilege to welcome author Yvonne Ventresca to the blog. Yvonne, who holds a third degree black belt in Isshinryu karate, shares how a martial arts principle can apply to writing. Hope you all enjoy A Black Belt’s Guide to Writing by Yvonne Ventresca.

 As both a young adult novelist and a third degree black belt, I love to look for the overlap between the martial arts and creativity. Part of the philosophy of Isshinryu karate is represented in the eight codes called the Kenpo Gokui. “The eyes must see all sides” is one of those codes which can be applied in multiple ways to writing.

See the Scene from a Secondary Character’s POV: 

 In a self-defense situation, it’s obvious why we’d want to be acutely aware of our surroundings. But there’s a philosophical application to “the eyes must see all sides” as well. During a conflict, it’s helpful to consider the other person’s viewpoint. In writing, if we narrate a scene from a single character’s POV, we should still take into account the other characters’ perspectives. After all, each person is the main character in his/her own world.

In a tense scene between our main character and her boyfriend, for example, the boyfriend brings his own background and emotions to an argument. What is the boyfriend’s goal in the story? What’s at stake for him? This can change his response and reaction.

See from a Fresh Perspective

 When we think about seeing all sides, that can also refer to the potential readers’ Gaiman quoteperspective. We don’t want to stunt our creativity worrying about this in early drafts. But during revision, a fresh set of eyes are key. Working with a critique group or critique partner is an opportunity to see our story from another viewpoint. It’s also helpful to take time between revisions. Neil Gaiman said, “The best advice I can give on this is, once it’s done, to put it away until you can read it with new eyes . . . When you’re ready, pick it up and read it, as if you’ve never read it before.”

 See the Big Picture of a Story

 When it comes time to revise, it’s beneficial to look at a story overall. For a picture boPandemic_cover_with_seal SMALLERok, this might mean making a dummy. Author Tara Lazar has a helpful post with information about how to create one.

For novels, we can create a reverse outline. Basically this involves writing an outline based on what we’ve actually written (as opposed to what we planned to write.) It can be a simple table, instead of a traditional outline format, noting the characters, events, and timing of each chapter. Or it can focus on specific areas we want to concentrate on during the revision. (I provide an example in my summer school post from last year.)

Another idea to try is Darcy Pattison’s shrunken manuscript technique. She provides more information on her website, but basically the concept is to print the novel on as few pages as possible (she suggests thirty) so that it can be spread across the floor. This provides an overall perspective we don’t get from a thick pile of paper.

See the Finer Details

 BlackFlowersWhiteLies_coverIn the martial arts, when you’re blocking a punch, specifics like posture, stance, the angle of your arm, and its distance from your body are all important. Little changes can have a large effect. This is similar to writing and word choice. The thesaurus provides several options for “walk,” but there’s a big difference between a stroll, a march, and a hike. Another way to “see” a manuscript (once the big picture changes are made) is to focus on each word. Precise language (and grammar) can elevate a story. One way to achieve this detailed view is to read the manuscript aloud. I always find this to be painful but enlightening.

See the Gap as Inspiration

There is often a gap between our own skill level and
the skill of those we admire. It’s always a humbling experience for me to watch someone masterful perform a kata (a predetermined sequence of moves) that I’ve been practicing. The same goes for reading an excellent story. Ira Glass has a great quote about not being frustrated by the gap – there is a one-minute video of his full quote here. Overall, we can use the disparity between the book that we respect and the one that we’re writing as an incentive to improve.

Yvonne Ventresca is the author of Black Flowers, White Lies, a YA psychological thriller coming in October. Her debut YA novel, Pandemic, won a 2015 Crystal Kite Award from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and will be available in paperback later this month. Yvonne has been both writing and studying the martial arts for over a decade. She was recently promoted to third degree black belt in Isshinryu karate.

To connect with Yvonne:

Newsletter | Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads

Buy links:

Indiebound | Amazon | B&N

Bonus: An inspirational quote selected by Yvonne! And if you’re a writer and haven’t signed up for Kidlit Summer School yet, check out the details HERE.

Mind the Gap


Dear Diary

Cassie-Parker_final-cover-677x1024I recently revisited my old diaries when fellow author Terra Elan McVoy approached me about participating in a diary share campaign she is organizing to launch her new book, This Is  All Your Fault, Cassie Parker, which is out TODAY. To promote the campaign, Terra gathered diary pages from several authors, including me. If you follow the hashtags #diarydare and #yourfaultCassie on Twitter and Instagram, you can check out some of our old diary entries!

You can also join in the fun for a chance to win a prize by sharing pages from your own diary! A link to details appears at the end of this post.

Most of you know that my own books, The Boy Project and The Boy Problem were influenced by my old school diaries. Reading through my diaries reconnected me with the feelings I had as a tween and teen. To me, this is the most important thing about diaries. They are perhaps the only place where we can be completely free with our feelings.  And this connection to feelings is what makes books written in diary formats so appealing to young readers.

I wrote an article about this very thing a while ago for The 4:00 Book Hook, a wonderful newsletter for book lovers that is no longer in print, so I thought I’d share that article here today in celebration of It’s All Your Fault Cassie Parker and diary keepers everywhere!


diary-of-a-worm-cover-imageA diary is a safe place where we can share our most secret feelings. True? Of course! It is what makes diary format books so appealing to young readers. These books employ first person narrators who share feelings with their diaries, and thus their readers, that they don’t share with anyone else. This creates a sense of kinship between reader and narrator that is almost immediate. Adults searching for a way to talk about feelings with the children they care about might find a diary format book a doorway into conversation. Talking about feelings presented through the eyes of a narrator can launch discussion about a child’s own feelings.
One of my favorite books for very young readers is Diary of a Worm, a picture book by Doreen Cronin. Cronin’s simple text consists mostly of one sentence entries, but Worm communicates his feelings about friends and family very effectively. He touches on familiar subjects like nightmares, being laughed at by peers, and getting in trouble with parents: all things that evoke strong feelings for kindergarten aged children and younger. What a great book to use to start a discussion about the feelings these children experience almost daily!

amelias-notebookElementary school readers might enjoy Amelia’s Notebook by Marissa Moss. Amelia expresses some very strong feelings about having to move to a new state– she hates it – on the very first page. Through colorful drawings as well as her words, Amelia addresses the pain of leaving a home and a best friend behind and the struggles of finding a new friend. Children will be able to relate to and talk about Amelia’s feelings of being out of place and on the outside of things even if they haven’t experienced moving.

diary of a wimpy KidA common theme in diary format books geared for the middle grade audience is social awkwardness. This is true of the wildly popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney. Through narrator Greg Heffley, Kinney captures some of middle school’s most awkward moments. Spring boarding a discussion with this comical book would be a non-threatening way to discuss fitting in and decision making with middle school aged children.

Cathy's BookThe hardest feelings to discuss with our children are those they experience when they enter young adulthood. YA books written in the diary format often deal with angst regarding social pressures, sexual curiosity, and drug usage. In Cathy’s Book by Sean Stewart, Jordan Weisman, and Cathy Briggs, Cathy wakes up to find a needle track in her arm. She can’t remember much about the previous night, and is forced to wonder if she’s been drugged and taken advantage of by her ex-boyfriend. Because her parents are virtually absent, Cathy must struggle with her feelings alone.

The children in our lives don’t have to struggle with feelings alone. There are many wonderful diary format books on the market today. Share one with your favorite reader and discuss.

And writers out there… as a writing exercise, try letting your characters write in their diaries, whether you use it in your book or not, it is a great way to get in touch with your characters’ feelings.

Don’t forget to check out and participate in Terra’s #diarydare campaign. Click HERE for details!

March into Writing

So the year started off for me with some type of flu that took me down for almost four


Rebecca shows how we felt at the end of the retreat: Ready to take on anything. (But she was the only one of us brave enough to climb up to the edge.)

weeks. There went January! Needless to say, I spent February trying to make up for lost time. So when March rolled in, I was ready for work, inspiration, and motivation. And I got it with three awesome writing related events scheduled back to back for the first three weekends of the month. There were many awesome takeaways from each one, but I’ve picked just a few to share that can be applied both writing and life.


With nerdy chicks Rebecca Petruck, Jocelyn Rish and Kathleen Fox.

First Weekend in March: Writing Retreat in the NC Mountains with these brilliant ladies. We laughed, we talked, we wrote, and most importantly, we brainstormed a ton of ideas. I learned that one of mine wasn’t really worth pursuing. This is actually very valuable to a writer, and anyone else with more ideas than time to execute them all. Thankfully, I also learned which of my other ideas I should throw my time into. Takeaway: There’s nothing like the collective brain!

Second Weekend in March: SCBWI Southern Breeze Spring Mingle March marks the wonderful Spring Mingle Conference held yearly in Decatur, Georgia. It’s a great event with a great faculty and plenty of hospitality. One of the speakers was agent Tracey Adams, whose talk about the publishing business was insightful. She reminded us that writing requires both patience and the ability to shake off rejections. Takeaway: ONWARD!

MG mafia

Attempting to infiltrate the MG Mafia at the post-conference reception.

This year, in addition to the usual fantastic camaraderie, I was surprised with the honor of being asked to fill in for one of Sunday’s keynote speakers. When writing the speech, I spent some time thinking about the thing that has helped me most as an author, and how to express that to an audience of fellow writers. I challenged them to do what I do when I start a new project, so I gave them this takeaway: Keep Nudging Your Brain into New Territory.

GA book festival

Sharing our books with librarians!

Third Weekend in March: For the first time I headed to the Georgia Book Awards

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With college friend Lisa at The Grill.

Conference in Athens Georgia. Since I received my undergraduate degree from UGA, it was wonderful to be back in Athens for the first time in many years. The city is as gorgeous as ever, and still full of vibrant, interesting places. It gave me the rare chance to hang out with new friends I’ve made in the past year, AND to get together with a college roommate I haven’t seen in over a decade. Take Away: Life is good when you can laugh with new friends at dinner and old friends at lunch! 

Now, full of ideas and inspiration, I’m looking forward to a very productive April. Here’s hoping you all are too!




Emus and Intellectual Curiosity

There are many different things we write about on this blog. Parenting, writing, books, relationships – there are many topics we turn our nerdy eyes on. Today’s post, however, is about something we don’t always mention: the unexpected value of intellectual curiosity.

I’m the proud mother of three very, very nerdy chicks. The piece you’re about to read was co-written by one of my little nerds and me. It’s topic I would never have thought to research, and yet I’m eternally grateful that she did. This post is entirely accurate – all the historical events described are real and documented. It may not change your life – but I’ll bet my bottom dollar it will brighten your day.

So without further ado, I give you…

The Great Emu War

In Which Some Emus Beat the Whole Australian Army

(Alternatively Titled:

The Great Emu War

Where A Bunch of Large, Flightless Birds Outsmarted the Entire Australian Population)

By William Warby (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By William Warby (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Can you imagine a real life situation in which an actual army waged a war against a bunch of flightless birds and lost? It happened. It was glorious. It was the Great Emu War.

The Great Emu War of 1932 began in Western Australia. Farmers who were struggling to harvest their wheat were suddenly beset upon by as many as 20,000 emus. These merciless creatures ate or spoiled the crops and the farmers’ very way of life was threatened. The government needed to do something.

Instead of engaging the emus diplomatically and pleading for a cessation in dining, Australia’s then Minister of Defense, Sir George Pearce, deployed the Royal Australian Artillery to deal with the emus. With this act, the Great Emu War had officially started.

The first of many unsuccessful attempts by the Australians to dispatch the emus came on November 2, 1932. Approximately 50 of these winged yet flightless villains were sighted. Armed with machine guns, the Australians began to shoot. However, only about a dozen birds were killed because the Australians began their military strike while the emus were completely out of range. The rest of the emus were able to escape to attack another day. Thus, the first battle was, at best, a draw.

On November 4, Major G.P.W. Meredith established an ambush near a dam. When around 1,000 emus got into range, the gunners opened fire. Only twelve birds were killed, as the gun jammed. The emus got their revenge for November 2 that day. They all but delivered themselves on a silver platter to the army, and they still evaded capture or death.

Over the next four days, the armed Australians continued to engage the emus. One such attempt occurred when Major Meredith mounted guns on a truck to chase the emus. The truck, however, couldn’t move fast enough. Yet again, the emus outsmarted the army.

All the disastrous attempts by the armed Australians to counter the emu offensive between November 2 and November 8 resulted in 2,500 rounds of ammunition being fired and yet only about 50 birds eliminated.  The one saving grace was that no Australians died in any of these military actions.

On November 8, the guns were withdrawn. The emus appeared to have won due to their guerilla tactics: splitting into small units so that the machine gun usage would be uneconomic.

The Australians, however, were pure at heart and strong in spirit, and resolved to meet the foe again on the battlefield. Since the emus continued to “attack” crops, the Premier of Western Australia, James Mitchell, supported renewed military assistance to deal with them. By November 12, Sir Pearce approved even more military efforts. The soldiers were necessary to combat the incredibly serious agricultural threat of the large emu population.

On November 13, the military attacked once more. The tide seemed to have turned in the humans’ favor – 40 emus were killed that day. Yet the very next day, the soldiers were less successful, if you can imagine that. By December 2, the Army was eliminating 100 emus per week – and yet fewer than one thousand of the emus had been killed for the 9,860 rounds that had been expended. It took approximately 10 bullets to bring down each emu, which was pretty pathetic for a professional army. The soldiers were recalled on December 10 – the day the Great Emu War had come to an end.

The farmers called for more war on the poor, flightless emus. There was a pervading fear that the emus might mutate or evolve to have opposable thumbs – and then the dastardly birds would be unstoppable. (SBQ: Ok, this last sentence is totally untrue, but given everything else, it doesn’t sound too far-fetched, does it?)

To show the great respect the emus had earned, the Australian government honored the species on a stamp.

To show the great respect the emus had earned, the Australian government honored the species on a stamp.

The government, however, had had enough of being embarrassed by the mighty emus.

The emu victory was clear. They had managed to outwit the Australian army over the course of only 45 days. Using their extraordinarily inferior intellect, they evaded the Australians’ attempt to stop their pillaging of crops. The lesson to be learned from the shortest war against a flightless non-mammal in world history is to NEVER underestimate the emu. They always win.


The Quotable Nerdy Chick: LOVE (Plus contest winners)

share the love*Share the love contest winners announced at the end of this post. 

 Febuary is the month to think about affairs of the heart. Not coincidentally, it is the month of both Valentine’s Day, and American Heart Month, a time to think about heart health. For more information about how to check out your heart health, visit The American Heart Association’s website. For thoughts on love from some famous nerdy chicks, keep reading!

Love is friendship that has caught fire. It is quiet understanding, mutual confidence, sharing and forgiving. It is loyalty through good and bad times. It settles for less than perfection and makes allowances for human weaknesses. — Ann Landers

Love is a force more formidable than any other. It is invisible – it cannot be seen or measured, yet it is powerful enough to transform you in a moment, and offer you more joy than any material possession could. — Barbara de Angelis

If you can learn to love yourself and all the flaws, you can love other people so much better. And that makes you so happy. — Kristin Chenoweth

What we have once enjoyed we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us. — Helen Keller

Love isn’t something you find. Love is something that finds you. — Loretta Young

The best thing to hold onto in life is each other. –Audrey Hepburn

I love these words! Especially Audrey Hepburn’s. Do you have a favorite quote about love? We’d love to hear it! Here’s hoping February is turning out to be a lovely month for all of you.

Share the Love Contest Winners: Thanks to all of you who shared the love! To those who entered the contest by leaving a comment, AND those who just helped share the love by tweeting and posting to Facebook: I appreciate you! Two winners were selected using the random number generator at Those winners are: Lauri Meyers and  Amy Robinette. Please email me at kamikinard (at) gmail (dot) com so I can arrange to ship your prize and set up a Skype session.🙂