You may have caught my panic the other night on Twitter, but I just have to share the episode in more detail today.

You see, I get this really strange phone call from a boy my daughter has been seeing at school.

"Mrs. Stickle, is your daughter at home?"

"No," I reply.

"Great," he says.

Which surprises me by the way. Should I be offended for her? Should I hang up?

Anyway, he continues with, "Would you mind filling the bathtub with water? I'm on the way to ask your daughter to the prom and I need to put something in the tub."

Now, picutre this. I'm standing there holding the phone and a look crosses my face, a mixture of fear and increduality, and I really don't know how to reply, or even if I should. But curiosity gets the better of me, so, I agree. Little do I know what I'm letting myself in for.

Fifteen minutes later, in walks this boy and his friend, carrying a huge bag of fish, and they promptly dump every last one of the tiny, squiggly things in the bathtub. What I didn't realize, until it was almost too late (and everyone had deserted me), was that the drain had a slow leak. So, for whatever reason, maybe stupidity, I check on the wiggly, fin pumping, orange and silver-white creatures. To my dismay, I discover, they are only swimming in about an inch of water, and I'm here to tell you the tub was two-thirds full when I left. I had only been gone for ten minutes!

Scrambling to the kitchen, I grab a plastic pitcher and start re-filling the tub, gallon by gallon, hoping not to shock the silly things unconscious, not to mention the chlorine I'm exposing them to. Though I work as fast as I can, I'm not making any headway, and the poor creatures look up at me with desperate eyes.

"I'm saving you," I say, "honest." But I'm not sure they believe me. Unable to take the frantic, frightened looks from the fish anymore, I finally resort in turning the faucet on, full bore, into the picture so that there is a steady stream of water emptying into the tub. And...for the next two and a half hours, I babysit thirty gold fish, creating an endless stream for them to paddle against. Not the thrill of a lifetime, I can tell you!

I can't leave the bathroom for more than five minutes, which I won't comment on any further, not to mention how many gallons of water I waste trying to keep the squirmy things alive.

Keep in mind,I stayed home for a reason. I was all by myself. I had time to work on my manuscript, in the peace and quiet. Ha!

Needless to say, I almost tackle daughter when she finally gets home. "Hurry," I yell. "Quick. Emergency! The bathroom!"

Who knows what she thought. My hair's kinky curlie, my makeup's dripping down my face, and I'm soaking wet.

We dash down the hall, throw the door wide, and, I cry, "They're all yours," as I dash to my computer. Maybe I can salvage the night by finishing a chapter. And then I add, in full voice, "Oh, be sure and use those stupid fish in your reply. Give 'em back," I say, "Give 'em back! I'm done babysitting!" Notice the exclamation marks?

The next thing I know, one of my daughter's friends comes bounding in with a bucket in one hand and a sieve (that I'm sure her mother uses in the kitchen and didn't know she had) in the other. And for the next hour, I hear things like, "Ooo, ick," and "It got away. Hurry, it's going to die!" punctuated by lots and lots of squeals, laughter, and banging on the sides of the tub.

I giggle, snicker, then out and out snort with laughter. If I'd have known it was possible to entertain two teenage girls with tiny, squirmy fish for more than twenty minutes at home I would have dumped the slimy things in the bathtub myself, many times over. It was pure joy hearing all the laughter.

All in all, the fishies survived, the girls got even, and yes! I finished my chapter!
I must admit that when I attend a movie, play, musical, opera, or any other venue of entertainment, I go with high expectations. And if those expectations are not met I come away feeling cheated, disappointed, and upset that I've wasted my time. You know how it is. We've all been there. Whether it's a plot gone wrong, characters that are not loveable enough, or hateable, or we refuse to accept the ending, we go away dissatisfied. So it is with books.

If we, as writers, don't take the time to sweat the little stuff, pay attention to details, make sure voice, characterization, plot, grammar, etc. all flow together in timely fashion, we disappoint our readers. It's a tough balancing act. What we see in our heads, sometimes, is difficult to put on paper.

So, here in my blog today, I want to thank all the agents, editors, critique groups, and whomever else who help us, as writers and creators, stay focused, stay energized, and who keep our work balanced with wonderful insights, so that our writing can be the best it can be. If not for you, we would not be able to succeed at our craft. My hats off to you for your tireless efforts on our behalf.

I, for one, don't think we, as a society, use "please" and "thank you" enough, and I can't go another day without saying the latter. So, here's to all who have given of their time to help others succeed, written blogs with amazing tips, critiqued papers, encouraged the writing process, and so forth. You know who you are. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

A couple of months ago, I received some very helpful tips on blogging from Bree Despain,, and Brodi Ashton,, both successful bloggers, writers, and twitterers. The advice was timely and captured my attention, for I was looking for something to help improve my skills.

Though, both, Bree and Brodi, thought some of their advice obvious, it was most enlightening for those of us, who, are new to the whole concept of blogging and twittering.

I took copious notes, read through the handouts they both provided, and tried to implement what I have learned. And walla, a tiny bit of success. My followers have increased as well as the hits to my blog. So I thought I would share a few of Bree's and Brodi's great advice.

Bree said:

1. Join the conversation. Give tips, answer questions. If someone is talking about something you're interested in, jump into the conversation and add to it. Leave comments on other's blog posts. Invite people to comment on your blog. Ask your readers questions to encourage them to comment.
2. Keep it positive. Don't put negative energy out into the world.
3. Be yourself as much as possible, but still be professional. Readers follow your blog/tweets because they want to feel like they know you. And if they feel like they know you, then they'll want to support you. People will love to read personal stories about your life as a writer (especially funny stories).
4. Think of Twitter like a micro blog post.
5. For Published authors: Don't just blog a list of announcements and upcoming events each week. People want content---whether it's a funny story about something that happened to you at a book signing, writing tips, or a contest. You have to give something to your readers if you want them to come back.

Brodi said:

The Twelve Steps to becoming a Blogaholic. a.k.a. The things I do that work for me.

1. Keep a strict Schedule
a. Post schedule on sidebar
b. Always post on those days
c. If you aren't going to post, get a guest post.
2. Add pictures and links
a. So it's not just a large chunk of text.
b. If you mention someone else, or talk about someone else, link to them.
3. Acknowledge comments
4. Comment on other people's blogs.
5. Carry a notebook around for ideas.
6. Don't be afraid to look stupid
a. Some of my most popular blogs have been when I've said something or done something ridiculous, etc.
b. One blog everyone mentions is when my friends and I went to a conference and then walked to dinner. I could've blogged about every little thing that I learned at the conference, but instead I blogged about a spot of red liquid we found on the ground, and how we tried to determine if it was blood, and how we dipped a piece of paper in it to check for viscosity and how we then threw that paper at a lawyer's office for no reason. Believe it or not, this blog made people want to go to the SCBWI conference.
7. Despite looking stupid often, I try not to do anything that is unprofessional
8. Your Author Blog is not a Family Blog
9. Always blog like it might be someone's very first time reading it.
10. Can't think of anything to blog?
a. Just like writer's block, sit down and type.
b. Start typing about what you did last week, and what you have planned for this week. Things will come to you.
c. Consult your notebook
d. Look at your iphone picture folder or your recent photo card. You'll find things to blog about. There's a reason you pulled out your camera to take a picture. Use it. As a related note, take lots of pictures.
e. Have you found anything interesting on the Internet or other people's blogs? Copy it, and make sure to attribute it and link to the original source.
11. Host giveaways or contest.
12. Ask people to follow.

To them, I say, "Thank you." To you, my readers, I say, "Hope you find this advice as useful as I did."

Keep on blogging. I love reading your posts!
The SCBWI monthly meeting was last night. And what a terrific meeting it was. Sydney Salter Husseman helped to de-mystify the elements of a synopsis. Using examples from her work and personal experience, she took us through the step-by-step process. She showed us what had been successful for her and what hadn't. There were also many in the class who were helpful, shedding light on their own successes as well. The whole evening was very enlightening. I'm so glad I was able to attend.

Besides the query letter, there is nothing more daunting than the synopsis, because one has to write so many different kinds. Some agents and editors want only a paragraph, maybe two; some want a full page. Then there are those who want five or six pages, and still others, who want to see thirty to sixty pages depending on how large your manuscript. But Sydney made it very clear that in order to be a successful writer, one has to master the synopsis. Hundreds and hundreds of books have been sold on the synopsis alone. And because of this, she also told us how valuable it is to write a synopsis before even attempting to write a book--- a type of outline, if you will--- to help the story stay on course without interfering with creativity.

If the agent, editor, and or publisher does not like what he, or she, sees in the synopsis your manuscript may never be read. But before you despair her are a few tips that I gleaned from the instruction last night.

1. The synopsis is a sales pitch.
2. It should make your book come alive.
3. It must have a strong hook---make the first sentence grab the reader.
4. Make it clear who the main character is and why she is so important.
5. What is the main conflict? Make it clear.
6. What is the main character's motivation and goals to over come the main conflict?
7. There must be internal, as well as external conflict. Show the main character's growth so that he or she isn't a flat character.
8. Show voice, give the reader a sense of your voice as a writer.
9. Show the protagonist's voice and also the villain's. Why should the reader care about your main character? Why should he dislike the villain?
10. Make sure to put in key scenes from the book.
11. Be sure to tell how the book ends.
12. Leave the reader with an emotional feeling that draws him in at the end. One he cannot forget, one that haunts him, so that he is dying to read more. The last paragraph is what stays with a reader, good or bad.
13. Pay attention to language. Make every word count. Don't use adverbs or adjectives. Use the right kind of details, but not too many. Don't get off on tangents that are not key to the story.
14. Don't be gimmicky.
15. Don't give the reader any reason to dislike your book.
15. The following are the basic mechanics:
a. Write in third person, present.
b. Use a 12 count, Times New Roman font, something that is easy to read. The agents, editors, and publishers won't take the time to read your synopsis if the font is too hard to decipher.
c. Double space. Don't cheat, it will only tick-off the agent or editor and he or she might just toss it away on principle alone.
d. Set your margins as you would your manuscript, 1 1/4 inch margins on both sides. Again don't cheat, the agent, or editor has read hundreds of synopses. He/she will know where you have set your margins.
e. In the top left corner, state your real name, mailing address, telephone number, and e-mail address. (All single-space)
f. At the top right, type your novel's genre, the book's word count, and the word, Synopsis. (All single-space)
g. Then double-space twice and type your novel's title, centered, all in capital letters.
17. Above all: FOLLOW the submission guidelines stated on the literary agent and editor websites!

I hope you find this information as helpful as I have. I wish you good luck!