Monthly Archives: November 2015

Genre Lessons: True Crime

Bloody knife.

Photo by Flickr user Maarten van Damme

I belong to a librarian book club that reads a different genre every month to improve our reader’s advisory skills. The idea is to get us better-acquainted with the types of books we may not normally read. In addition to improving my recommendations, I’m also studying these books from a writer’s perspective. Just because I don’t write a certain genre doesn’t mean I can’t learn from those who do. If you want to see other posts in this series, check out the “genre lessons” tag.

This month we’re reading true crime. These books are hugely popular at my library, and I don’t read them often on my own, so I’m looking forward to our discussion next week. While fiction and nonfiction writing are very different, I did find a few takeaways from reading true crime as a writer.

  1. All good books tell a story. Whether you’re writing a true story or one you made up, you need to follow a narrative arc. Even if the ending turns out to be, “No one knows whodunnit,” you have to find a way to make that satisfying for the reader. Tie up all the other loose ends. Choose one theory or culprit that seems most likely. (Dawn Kurtagich does this beautifully in her YA horror novel, The Dead House — readers are left with plenty of questions, but have all the information they need to come up with their own answers to those questions.)
  2. A lot of readers who connect with true crime books do so because they’re fascinated by what makes these criminals tick. Was he destined to be a psychopath from birth? Did something happen to make her snap? How could the criminal’s friends and family not see this coming? Many true crime books include in-depth studies of the criminal’s history, behaviors, and mindset. While not all your characters will be criminals, they’ll all have histories, certain behaviors or reactions that differentiate them from other characters, and unique ways of looking at the world. You don’t have to put all that information in your book, but you should know it. Ask yourself, “what would this character never do?” Then ask, “What would push him/her to do it?”
  3. If you’re looking for a model to make your villain more authentic, look no further than the world’s real villains. As I mentioned above, many true crime books provide in-depth studies of the criminals as well as the crimes themselves. Want to write an authentic murderer or rapist into your novel? Ask your librarian to recommend a true crime book with that topic.

So, those are my takeaways from reading true crime. Is there anything you’d add? Any true crime books you’d recommend?


Moving past rejection

Rejected. ​Everyone faces rejection at some point. Writers face it quite often — in the query trenches, on submission, when their books don’t make that list or win that award. Some get tired of all the heartache and give up without reaching their goal of traditional publication, which is a shame, because then the world misses out on some great books, and those writers miss out on the joy of writing them. Because, yes, this business is full of frustration and disappointment and rejection. But it’s also full of joy.

Agent #94 just sent you a form rejection. Your query has been in 94 inboxes, but so far, no one has offered to champion your book. Take an evening or a day to mourn if you have to — you’ve done a lot of work, and faced a lot of disappointment. But once you’ve mourned, or maybe even while you’re mourning (depending on what works for you), step back and remember that initial excitement when you first started writing. Remember the fun you had bringing your story and your characters to life. Remember how much fun every new project is.

Once you’ve mourned and reminisced, sit back down at your desk (or writing chair, etc.). Send another query. Start another project, or go back to one you’ve been meaning to revise. Fall in love with writing again.

Whatever you do, keep going. The only way to guarantee you won’t achieve your goals is to stop reaching for them. In writing and in life, don’t let rejection or the fear of rejection convince you not to try. Remember that the journey toward reaching your goal can be just as rewarding as actually getting there.

And you never know; Agent #95 could be the perfect fit for you and your book.

Can I get a library robot?

Sphero SPRK. I’ve been looking into possible STEM and STEAM programs recently, and I’d really like to lead some introductory coding programs for teens and tweens. There are plenty of free places to start, such as Scratch,, Code Academy, and Khan Academy. If you’re unfamiliar with these platforms, and are thinking about hosting a coding program, I recommend checking them out on your own. I had a lot of fun making Angry Birds blow up pigs in a hour of code and making cats dance with Scratch. All you’d need to use any of these for a program is a computer for every student.

However, I’d really like to bring robotics into a coding program, which brings me to Sphero. If you’re unfamiliar with Sphero, check out this video. There are several free apps for Sphero — the one I have my eye on is the Tickle app, which lets you write code for Sphero using blocks similar to Scratch. One of the things I like most about Sphero is that it can be used in programs for any age — younger kids can drive the robot without needing to write any code, kids can team up with peers or parents and learn to code together, teens can program the robot to navigate obstacle courses (and race to see who figures it out the fastest). I have so many things I’d love to try with Sphero, like a Maze Runner movie tie-in program, a challenge to create the most difficult obstacle course (and the code to navigate it), or a family game night with robot races. Seeing their code come to life in 3D, and not just on a screen, will be more engaging and encouraging for young coders.

And who doesn’t want a library robot?

I don’t have any first-hand experience with Sphero, but I hope to change that soon. Have any of you used Sphero before? What did you think of it? What other tech would you recommend for coding/robotics programs?

NaNoWriMo at the library

NaNoWriMo. I love November, because it lets me combine my careers as a librarian and a writer to host NaNoWriMo programs at the library. I started out small last year with just displays and resource lists, and have expanded this year to include a couple write-ins and a teen writing workshop. For those librarians looking to host NaNoWriMo events, or for Municipal Liaisons who may want to partner with their local library, here are a few things you can do to make the library a gathering place for Wrimos.

1. Sign up to be a Come Write In location. It’s free, and for just the cost of shipping, the Office of Letters and Light (the foundation that’s in charge of NaNoWriMo) will send you a poster, window cling, and bookmarks promoting NaNoWriMo. As an official Come Write In location, your library will be listed on the NaNoWriMo regional forum for your area, and you’ll be given the option of connecting with your local Municipal Liaison (ML) to collaborate on NaNoWriMo events. Depending on staffing situations and your own ML’s availability, your ML may even be willing to host events, so the only thing the library will have to do is provide the space. Either way, if you don’t have the staffing to organize official write-ins, a passive book display or social media post could inspire and encourage your community’s Wrimos. If you’re an ML, and your library isn’t already a CWI location, consider reaching out to the library and asking if they’d be willing to partner. Emphasize that it’s free and a good way to reach potential library users.

2. Create and share writing resource lists. In addition to a book display, last year I made a handout listing useful websites for writers. This year I’ve updated that list to include podcasts and people/organizations to follow on Twitter, too. I have the advantage of insider knowledge — many of these sites are ones I visit regularly for help with my own writing — but if you don’t know where to start, the Come Write In forums have seasoned librarians who graciously share what they’re doing. Shout-out to ThePQ4 for her awesome check-out card progress tracker idea, which I’ve adapted for my library.

3. If you have the resources, and you’re comfortable doing so, host a write-in or two. You can look into having word wars or word sprints, or just provide a space for writers to gather. Provide snacks and/or coffee, and your local Wrimos will love you even more. For MLs whose library is not an official CWI location, see if the library has meeting rooms for public use. Most public libraries do. If yours does, see if you can book a room for write-ins as an alternative to gathering at a coffee shop or cafe that may force Wrimos on a tight budget to buy something.

There’s plenty more you can do as a librarian hosting NaNoWriMo events. Next year I’d like to invite NaNoWriMo veterans to form a panel at a “What is NaNoWriMo?” informational night in October and perhaps host an end-of-NaNoWriMo party (popularly referred to as the TGIO (“Thank god it’s over) party, but I don’t like that name, because it makes it sound like writing a novel was a chore, not a thrill-ride). I may also look into pre-NaNoWriMo planning workshops, depending on how much interest we have in my community, and how much time I can devote to NaNoWriMo at the library. I’ll definitely try to partner with my local ML for these events.

Is your library a Come Write In location? Have you done anything for your local Wrimos? Please share in the comments!