Picture Book Reviews

In my other job, I’m a cataloger for the Arlington Public Library. Ever since I started writing picture books, I’ve also tried to catalog the lion’s share of the picture books we get. (Why does the lion get any of our picture books? Can lions even read?)

Recently-ish, I started reviewing a few. I used to do it on Twitter, but then I decided that a great way to rack up my yearly community connections hours without actually having to contact the community was to write a reviews column for the library’s web team.

I think what they’re actually doing is putting my reviews on our Goodreads account, so nobody gets to read the paragraphs of introduction that I slave for long, laborious minutes writing. What a pittyboozle.

But wait! I’m an author. I have a web page! I can put them right here! I can also stop using exclamation points to indicate faux excitement and surprise!

So anyway, here’s the first one I wrote. I think it was back in April.

Hi Arlington (and whoever else might pop in to read this),

Besides being a cataloger here, I’m also a picture book author. For a couple years now I’ve been combining my two jobs by writing short reviews of books I like on Twitter. I usually catalog the picture books anyway, and I like to give a shout out to other authors and illustrators whose work I like. But that was a sporadic effort. Recently, I decided to go about it in a more organized way. The APLS web development team was happy to offer me a place to post slightly longer reviews.

What you’re going to see here is very brief reviews of books I like. I’m not trying to do deep literary criticism, and I’m not going to drag anybody down. I just like to share cool stuff with other people.

When you’re going to see it is “occasionally.” I don’t always get to do picture books, and there won’t always be any that I want to promote.

What you might see here is any other stuff I think if fun to review. I catalog a lot of other children’s books, too, but those both take longer to read, so it’s harder to find time to review them.

So… let’s get started.


Disney Dumbo (ISBN 9781368027649)

Written by Calliope Glass ; illustrated by Dominic Carola and Ryan Feltman.


Cute, with solid art, but not particularly innovative or engaging. Then again, that's all it's meant to be. 


I wonder if we'll see an animated The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes once Disney runs out of animated movies to do live-action versions of.


Hats off to Mr. Pockles! (ISBN 9780399558153)

Written by Sally Lloyd-Jones ; illustrated by David Litchfield.


This book was fun. I envy Mr. Pockles some of his hats. This is the kind of book my neice would have wanted me to read every time I visited.


Wordy Birdy meets Mr. Cougarpants (ISBN 9781524719333)

Written by Tammi Sauer ; illustrated by David Mottram.


Wordy Birdy talks too much sometimes, which annoys her friends. Until the night of their camping trip, where Mr. Cougarpants makes an unewlcome appearance.


I love meta stories where the book interacts with the reader, because most picture books are a shared experience between an adult and a child anyway. I love whenever someone turns the "manners story" on its head because trite endings bore me.


I don't particularly love pickles, but I do like bean burritos. So all in all this book is a winner.


When sadness is at your door (ISBN 9780525707189)

By Eva Eland.


This book was sweet. It reminds me of Mr. Rogers, and therefore makes me sad. But it's a happy kind of sad. I appreciate it when authors present difficult topics to kids and don't pull the punches.


Turkey's eggcellent Easter (ISBN 9781542040372)

By Wendi Silvano ; illustrated by Lee Harper.


This book relentlessly avoids having any kind of message or moral. It's just a funny story about a turkey who REALLY wants to go on an easter egg hunt. And it's just about perfect.



Perfect (ISBN 9780545829311)

By Max Amato.


Perfect is really cute. It's a great transitional reader because you can totally follow the story without reading a word, and there aren't many words to read anyway. It tells a touching story of mutual dependency and finding common ground despite our differences in the form of a totally silly romp.


For people who know how erasers work, there's even some scary suspense.


Hush hush, forest (ISBN 9780816694259)

By Mary Casanova ; woodcuts by Nick Wroblewski.


Lovely woodcuts. The poetry isn't particularly my thing, but this is a sweet book.


How do you do? (ISBN 9781619638075)

By Larissa Theule ; illustrated by Gianna Marino.


This is a lovely book with great use of language, but I'm left wondering if Larissa Theule has ever been REALLY hot.


(That's a joke. She probably has. As hard as it is to believe, there are places hotter than Texas in the summer.)


Harold Phillip Snipperpot's best disaster ever (ISBN 9780062498823)

Words and pictures by Beatrice Alemagna ; English translation by Edward Gauvin.


A wonderfully ridiculous premise backed up by fun art, and a powerful lesson on how important it is to only use a birthday party planner who can provide references.


Dust bunny wants a friend (ISBN 9781524765699)

By Amy Hevron.


I swear I've seen this before. Maybe a cover reveal on Twitter. In any case, it gives me a sense of deja vu. It's also cute. Dust Bunny would find lots of friends at my house.


Dragon night (ISBN 9780525514244)

By J.R. Krause.


A sweet little story about facing one's fears, clever wordplay, and beautiful art.


Chicken talk (ISBN 9780062398642)

Words by Patricia MacLachlan ; pictures by Jarrett J. Krosoczka.


Chicken Talk is cute and sweet and weird and probably the most fun thing I've read today.


I just got around to reading Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks. Like, yesterday. Yes, I’m late to the party.

I also have thoughts.

I liked it at the beginning, when I was getting introduced to shape-shifters and three-legged warrior-priest Klingons and a woman with a flying bullet for a pet. I loved quite a bit of the setting building, with thoughtful touches like not everyone being of companionable size.

I kind of started to hate it in the middle, because the main character is a jerk surrounded by jerks who all do jerky things in pursuit of morally murky goals.

I realized in the last fifth or so that I was SUPPOSED to feel that way, and indeed feeling that way was the entire point. This was a story with no heroes, and the villains of the piece weren’t the main antagonists.

I feel like the plot was not as cohesive as it could have been. I like a nice, tight plot where all the guns are nicely Chekovian. Here, Horza kind of stumbles along toward his goal in an episodic way. Very little carries forward.

But then again, that’s also the point. The book doesn’t even tell us if the good guys won the war because it won’t let us define the Culture as the good guys. Culture citizens certainly think so, but we see too much of the soulless calculation that lets them live with that illusion. The Idiri-Culture war is really realistic in the way it has no real inciting incident, no evil overlord who’s forcing his nation into war, and no clean end.

If I’d read it in the 80s, I wouldn’t have got it because I was a stupid kid. If I’d read it in the 90s, I wouldn’t have finished it because I had untreated depression. If I’d read it in the 2000, I probably really would have liked it. Reading it now, while my civilization is falling to pieces, I just don’t know. It’s really good, but it doesn’t sit well with me in my current mental space.

Quick Book Reviews

My day job is cataloging for the Arlington Public Library. When I can, I grab the children's books from the queue. Since I read really fast, I can read a few of them, at least enough to get a sense of what they're about and how good the writing is.

Here's today's lot

Better You Than Me, by Jessica Brody

I was all ready to be smugly dismissive of yet another version of The Prince and the Pauper, but this one was really sweet and had some serious heart.

It Wasn't Me, by Dana Alison Levy

Basically THE BREAKFAST CLUB for today's kids. I freaking loved that movie when Today was over 30 ago and I was one of it's kids. Ms. Levy uses some neat storytelling devices and has serious chops.

Speachless, by Adam P. Schmitt

Made me cry outloud at work. Dang.

Ginny's Belated Belated Birthday

Saturday, July 21st, the Arlington Public Library hosted a launch party for Ginny Goblin Is Not Allowed to Open This Box, which actually released on Tuesday, July 17. One week later, I finally managed to blog about it.
The event was great. Thanks to everyone who came: my family, friends, the DFW Writers Workshop, random library patrons who brought their kids. (Especially the kids. Reading a picture book to a bunch of adults would just seem weird.)
Here's some pictures

What to Expect when You're Expecting to be Published

Way back in the ancient days of June 9-10, I taught a class at the DFW Writers' Conference. It's about all the stuff I learned about the publishing business from the time I found an agent up until more or less now. 

Here are my notes:



Introduction [Slide 1: Title Card]

·       Is anyone else terrified to be here?  No?  Just me, then.

·       Hi, I'm David, etc.

o   I’ve been a wannabe writer all my life

o   I decided to start taking it seriously in 2012.  Joined the DFW Writers workshop.

o   Three years later, I sold two books to Haughton Mifflin Harcourt.  I highly recommend joining, but should stress that results are not typical.


Why we're here

·       You're interested in learning what happens after you finally land an agent and a publishing contract.  Having some insider information will help you avoid mistakes and present yourself more professionally to the first literary professionals you interact with.  This is a people business, so being able to interact well with people will only help you.

·       You were too tired to move after the last class

·       I learned a lot of things really rapidly when Stephen Barr first asked to represent me, and I want to share them with you

·       I am (a) terrified of public speaking, and (b) a glutton for punishment.


What we’re going to talk about [Slide 2]

·       How We Got Here: the epic story of how one frustrated novelist accidentally embarked on a path to becoming a published children’s book author.

·       Landing an Agent: what happens when an agent likes your query, loves your manuscript, and thinks he might want to represent you

·       The Sale and What Comes After: It’s not quite as simple as signing on the dotted line and cashing a big check.

·       It’s Not All About You: writing is a solitary activity.  Publishing is a team sport.

·       The Waiting is the Hardest Part: your journey is just beginning.  Like many journeys, it begins by a long wait, as if in an airport or a doctor’s reception room.

How We Got Here

·       I started writing genre fiction for adults, and still do a little bit.  But I have a short attention span and a tendency to write myself into corners that it takes me a long time to think my way out of.

·       As a hobby or to take a break, I would write children’s stories and poems.  Everybody always says they started writing stories for their kids, and it’s so twee.  I wrote children’s stories to freak out my niece and nephew’s parents.  Which is to say they were weird. 

·       The DFW Writers’ Workshop inspired me to try to get them published.  Everyone also says how inspiring their writers’ group is, and that’s also so twee.  I got into writing children’s books because other members of the Workshop would guilt-trip me if I hadn’t read anything to critique in a while, and all I had to read was children’s stories because I was stuck on my novel.

"I Think You've Found Your Niche" [Slide 3]

·       My picture books got a better response than any of my adult writing ever had.

·       I wrote a few more just because it was fun, and a great break from my "serious" writing.  A picture book MS. is around 700 words long, and about as hard to write as a regular-length short story.  Harder than flash fiction, easier than a novella.  And fun, at least for me

·       I decided to submit to few agents at the 2014 Conference (2014 was a good year for children’s agents and editors.  We had like three or four).  I sent out a few queries.  My rejections got nicer and more wordy faster than my adult fiction rejections were.

o   A little bit about my query process

▪   I can stand to writer about five query letters at a time, and I can work up to it about once a month.  That’s a really terrible rate of querying.  You should all do better than me.

▪   In my defense, though, queries for picture books are different than for novels.  Every agency seems to want a different number of submissions.  Some say send one full manuscript.  Others want two or three.  So it’s hard to just write a generic query and customize it for each agent.

▪   But I’m just as bad about my short fiction.  I just really hate rejection, and querying is the first step toward getting rejected.

Landing an agent  [Slide 4]

·       And then, all of a sudden, one of the agents said yes.  Stephen Barr, from Writers House, wanted to represent my Ginny Goblin picture book series.  I’d had a couple other rejections recently, and I almost deleted the email without reading it.  -- Important lesson: read all your emails from agents.

o   Insert my query letter [Powerpoint Slide]

·       [Slide5] And now a brief diversion: how you can tell your writing is improving via rejection letter.

o   Form letter: I’m being polite

o   Short note: This shows promise

o   Note with feedback: You’re pretty good.  I hope I hear from you again.

·       “Can you send me some more pieces?”: I think we can work together.

·       Similarly: how you can gauge an agent’s interest in your manuscript

o   Query letter: I’m being polite

o   Ten pages: I see possibilities

o   3 chapters: I’m really interested

[QUESTIONS: What do you guys already know about working with an agent?]

[Slide 6]

·       There’s more to getting representation than just finding an agent who likes your manuscript.  A good agent wants to like YOU, and for you to like him.  Stephen set up a phone call and we talked for like an hour before we agreed to work together.

o   You want to like your agent and feel like you’d be able to work with them.  You’ll be doing a lot of work together.

o   You want to know what your agent’s plans are.  A good agent will communicate with you about where she (or he, as in my case) plans to send your manuscript and what kind of future she thinks it has.

o   A bad agent is worse than no agent.  I don’t have a bad agent, so I can’t tell you exactly what might go wrong.

▪   Bad publishing deals

▪   Spoiling your relationship with publishers by being unprofessional

▪   Failing to communicate

▪   Being disorganized

▪   Dogs and cats living together

[Pause for questions about query process]

How do you find agents to query? [Slide 7]

·       The way I found agents to query was mostly by Google

o   Search for “Agent” or “New Agent” and your genre, and you’ll get lots of hits—many from Writers’ Digest—of agents who are looking for your kind of stuff

o   Then Google-stalk them a little to learn about them.

o   Check Predators and Editors, a site run by the SFWA.  If you can’t find your agent listed, be a little careful.  If you find anything bad about him, look for a different agent.

▪   Pred-ed.com is currently out of commission. It’ll be back eventually. For now, the Absolute Write forums seem to be the best compilation of agent and editor info.

o   It’s totally cool to email other authors your potential agent reps and ask them how he is.  I wish I’d known that, but I got lucky without.  And once I did think to look into it, I found nothing but rave reviews.

How would you ask for references?

·       I’d just straight-up ask the agent if it’s okay to email some of his s other clients.

·       If you follow one of them on social media and he seems like the kind of dude who would answer, I’d just ask the author directly.

[ask who has an agent and what they know about the basic agent business]

Now You Have an Agent [Slide 8]

·       Representation Agreement: The deal is finalized when you sign the representation agreement.

o   A contract between you and the agent, spelling out that the agent will represent your work, you will pay a percentage of the commissions, and some other stuff.

o   The agreement is voluntary.  Either of you can end it at any time, with no penalty.  Sometimes an agent just can’t place your stuff.  Sometimes you just need another agent.

o   The representation agreement probably starts with a specific body of work, but your agent is likely to be willing to represent most of what you do.  There might be an exception if you write something in a genre the agent totally doesn’t represent—which is to your benefit because you’ll need someone with the right contacts.  But even then your agent is going to help you out.

·       Editing: before Stephen submitted my stuff, we went back and forth for weeks polishing all the Ginny Goblin stories.  In today’s publishing world, editors aren’t doing as much editing as they used to, so you need have really polished work.

·       Submission: Agents do pretty much the same thing we do when we're submitting ourselves, but they get to use the editors' personal email addresses and phone numbers.  And they get to make multiple submissions.  Stephen sent Ginny Goblin to 18 editors, each at a different publishing house.

o   Starting with top-tier houses.  If they’d all passed on it, he had a second list one tier down.  And so on, presumably.

·       In the meantime was still writing, and still submitting adult stories.

Things I learned about having an agent [Slide 9]

·       CC your agent on emails with your editor.  Stephen (and every other agent I’ve ever talked to about it) likes to be able to go through old emails to keep apprised on what’s going on with the book.

o   You’re not violating your editor’s privacy or anything.  My editors always CC Stephen, too.

·       You are not the only client.  Be reasonable.

·       Feel free to ask questions.  There are no stupid questions; just stupid authors who didn’t ask something they really needed to know and ended up doing something stupid because of it.  And agents are genuinely pretty nice people.  They almost have to be.  Their job is to talk to people.

·       The Publishing Food Chain: Authors never pay for food.  Agents pay for authors.  Editors pay for agents.  Kinda makes me wish I drank alcohol, because Stephen gets off really cheap. 


[Pause for Questions]

How do you communicate with your agent?  How often?

·       Secret codes and blind drops

·       Or maybe email and phone.  Most of the time, email.  When we need to discuss something, we arrange a time for a phone call.

·       On auction day, Stephen called me without setting up a call first to tell me one of the publishers had made a preemptive offer.  I assume if anything of that level of urgency came up, he’d do the same.

·       We emailed somewhere between daily and once a week from the time we started working on Ginny Goblin until all the major publishing stuff was settled and there was nothing to talk about.  We still email a little more than once a month just for a “hey, what’s going g on?” sort of thing

[Ask What do you guys know about selling a book?][Slide 10]

The Sale and What Comes After [Slide 11]

·       Selling a book.  Nothing is simple.  The editor doesn’t just immediately decide to buy your book.

o   Editors express interest, then take the book to an editorial committee, then a sales committee. 

o   This can be going on at multiple publishers simultaneously. 

o   And most of the time, just one (if even one) will make an offer on the book.  There's some haggling, but not a lot. This probably changes once you’re as famous as J.K. Rowling.

·       You’re probably not going to sell your entire 7-book epic immediately.

o   While Ginny Goblin is a 5-book series (so far) Stephen only sold 2.  Most publishers aren't going to buy a big series from an un-tested author right out of the gate. 

o   Selling one title was more likely than 2, and 2 was the most Stephen expected to sell.

·       Stephen set up phone calls between me and each of the most interested editors.  Of the 5 who were eventually involved in the final decision, I got to talk to 4 on the phone before the sale.

o   Not to entertain offers.  That's the Agent's job.  Just to get to know each other and talk about direction for the books a little.  A professional editor isn’t even going to try to talk money with you.

o   You DO want to talk about what the editor sees for your book.  You want to know what the publisher’s plans are.  Where do they see it on their list.  That kind of stuff.  A publisher who can’t answer those questions might not be worth your time.

·       My books went to a single-bid auction.  5 editors each made their best offers.  You're not obligated to take the highest.  Other factors might make you decide to accept a lower offer.

o   My second sale went a lot faster. Tracey Keavan is an executive editor, and she was able to put together a huge prempt really fast. We didn’t get to communicate much at all.

·       Rarer than that is a real auction where they keep bidding each other up.

·       After the sale, the contracts take several weeks.  There's some negotiation on contract points besides the price, like how many comp copies you'll get and what the exact royalties will be.  Based on reading the emails between Stephen and HMH and the notes on the early draft of the contract, a lot of this is pretty standardized.

o   The advance is specified in the offer, and won’t change.

o   Royalties can go up from the initial offer.  Those are called “escalators.” Stephen says he pretty much always asks for them and it’s pretty common to get them.

·       There's probably an Option in your contract on your next book.  Stephen negotiated mine to be just for the next Ginny Goblin book.  I could publish another book with a different publisher.

·       You might not get the advance immediately. 

o   There are several ways it can go.  A pretty typical one is half up front and half upon delivery of the final manuscript.  You might also get paid part upon publication.  That sucks.

·       Here’s another weird thing.  If you do entertain multiple offers, it’s traditional to write a thank you note to the editors you turned down.  Yes, that’s right.  You get to write rejection letters!

·       You might get to be in Publisher’s Weekly.  I was.  Almost a whole inch of type, and a tiny little picture.  I think my mom bought a copy.


[pause for questions]

How long did the sale take?

·       From initial submission to sale date was a little less than a month

·       It generally takes somewhere around a week for a book to get through committee.  So for longer manuscripts, I’d expect something like 6 weeks.

·       The series I sold to Disney*Hyperion took way longer, over 2 months from offer to advance – but part of that was because it was during the pre-holiday rush.

o   Smaller publishers might have leaner process. 

What’s covered in the contract? [Slide 12]

·       Too much to go into.  Essentially:

o   Rights: in what forms does the publisher have the right to publish the work.  English, Foreign Lang, Domestic, World, video, audio, etc. 

o   Royalties: How much you’re getting paid per copy. 

§  You don’t start earning royalties until you’ve paid back the advance. 

§  Royalties are distributed quarterly

o   Comp copies.  These are yours to do with as you will.  Lots of authors give them away as promotions.  I’m probably having one of mine bronzed.  (Is that still a thing?  Even if it is, I bet it doesn’t work on books…)

o   Your responsibilities: Basically, that you will provide an acceptable manuscript.  If you don’t do that, they don’t have to pay you.

§  One weird requirement is that you provide two typed, double-spaced copies of the manuscript. 

·       According to Stephen, this is in just about every standard literary contract.

·       Nobody actually enforces it.

·       Nobody cares enough to remove that clause from all the boilerplate contracts in the world.  People are weird.

It’s Not All About You [Slide 13]

Working with your editor   
Here’s a few things I’ve learned from working with my professional editor: Kate O’Sullivan at HMH Kids.

·       Your editor is a busy person.  Don’t pester them unnecessarily.  Do ask questions you need answered.  I learned this when Stephen gently suggested I not email her as often as I was the first week after I signed the contracts.

·       My experience has been great.  Kate tells me my writing is wonderful and then makes suggestions that improve it even more.  Once in a while, I dig my heels in on a small change, and she’s cool with that.  We’ve only revised about 1500 words together, so that’s hardly a representative sample.  Your editor wants your book to be awesome, and wants you to be happy with it.  She (or he, I guess) is probably pretty darn good at figuring out what makes a book awesome, so you should probably listen to her suggestions.

Authors and Illustrators
This part will mostly be interesting if you do picture books, but the rest of you don’t get to ignore it.  It’s also true about your cover design.

·       My general understanding is that the author and the illustrator don’t actively collaborate most of the time.   The publishers tend to be nervous about potential conflicts, so they’d kind of like it if the author and illustrator didn’t talk to each other.  But it’s not a hard and fast rule, and sending your illustrator an email is not going to tank your publishing deal.  (Probably)

·       My personal stance is that I won’t seek out the illustrator, but if we connect for some reason, that’s okay.  I will only not offer input about what I want to see in the art, but I will respond to questions.  The illustrator is a better artist than I am.

·       You’ll probably get some input on the artist.  I got to choose from a pool of a few Kate liked.  Also normal is for the publisher to pick and you will be able to veto one you really hate.  The publisher doesn’t want to alienate you, but they do have a business to run.

·       This can vary quite a bit. The books I sold to Disney*Hyperion came with the illustrator attached: Andrea Tsurumi, who wrote and illustrated Accident! She’s another client of Stephen’s, and he asked her to do concept art that was part of the submission. Andrea and I are social media buddies and we chat online sometimes. Tracey has skyped with us before.

[pause for questions about working with editor/illustrator]

How do you communicate with your editor?

·       Almost exclusively by email, so far.  We’ve talked on the phone once.

·       When we were editing, we’d email every couple days.  Before we started editing, it was less than once a week.  Then, recently, there was this whole drama with nailing down an illustrator.  We emailed a couple times a week to discuss different possibilities, find one we loved, then find out he or she was busy until 2039.

The Waiting is the Hardest Part [Slide 15]

·       CS Lewis famously wrote, in the dedication to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:

My Dear Lucy,

I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still.


[Slide 16]

·       After the contracts are signed, you wait.  Then you wait some more.  I got my first payment about two weeks after the contracts were signed.  The next payments took longer - more like a month - probably because more departments are involved.

·       The editor will send you any editorial changes.  In my case, they were pretty easy.  I doubt anybody's going to buy your manuscript and then ask for a total rewrite.  We went back and forth twice on each MS.  Kate O'Sullivan made some suggestions.  I took them for the most part.  Then she asked for a couple other small tweaks.  Then it goes to copy editing, and a couple weeks later I get a huge wire transfer.  I'm pretty sure my bank thinks I'm a drug dealer now.

·       The standard process is that publisher will pay the agent, who takes off his %15 and then the agency sends you the rest. 

o   %15 seems to be pretty standard across the industry.

·       Children's books take a long time to get published.  Ginny Goblin took more than two years from sale to publication (which is in a little over a month now)

You're Not Done Yet [Slide 18]

·       So now I'm waiting, but not idly.

·       I’m not sure how this applies to other sectors of the market, but it seems likely

o   Having sold my first picture book, I can’t really sell another one till 2018.  HMH bought my debut manuscript, and it’d be unprofessional to sell another one that might come out before that one.

o   So now it’s back to writing.  I’m working on Chapterbooks and Middle Grade, and still working on adult stuff on the side.

·       Now is a good time to do some business-related stuff, too.

·       If you haven’t already bought yourname.com, go buy it now.  Buy yourname.net, too.  And if you really want to splurge, buy yourname.org.  You don’t have to put up a website yet, but you want to control that domain.  (In fact, even if you’re not on the verge of publication, go buy yourname.com.  It’s just good sense.)


o   Find an accountant, preferably one who knows publishing.  You have a small business now, and you get deductions for all kinds of stuff.  As I am not a licensed financial advisor, I will not venture to suggest what those deductions might be.  I will just tell you there were more than I thought.

o   If you’re fortunate enough not to be buried in debt, maybe you should do some financial planning.  Think of your first advance as a one-time windfall.  You can’t be sure you’ll ever sell another book, so don’t go increasing the cost of your lifestyle, but DO buy stuff you could never otherwise afford.  (I didn’t get to do that.  Instead, I paid off a busted sewer line, a broken foundation, a maxed-out credit card, and a major down payment on a new car when my 15-year old Escort died.  But I did take a vacation to New York, so that was cool.)

·       A LinkedIn profile is probably a good idea.  Maybe not a necessity, but it’s free and doesn’t take very long.

·       Promotion is Coming

o   Talk to your agent and editor about promotion, particularly as the publishing date gets closer.  I’m lucky enough to have HMH’s publicity department.  Lower tier publishers probably don’t have a lot of resources in that direction. 

[Final Slide: Something about a continuing journey.  A path leading off to adventure?  The Fool tarot card?]

Q&A period

·       Please don’t ask me anything hard.  Please don’t ask me anything hard.  Please don’t ask me anything hard…




Advice from Other Writers

Jenny Martin

•      A bad agent is worse that no agent. 

•      Agents are different, and the right fit is important. 

•      With publishing, there are a million things outside of your control. Don't beat yourself up about those things. 

•      A bad deal is worse than no deal. Before signing, ask your publisher how they see your book(s) fitting on their list. If they don't have a plan, or even an answer...they might not be worth your time. 

•      Lastly, the solution to every problem is pretty much always...write another book! 


Tex Thompson

Wish I'd known:


1. You can move tens of copies on your own initiative. Maybe even hundreds of copies, if you're an especially good little Girl Scout. But you cannot move thousands of copies by yourself. For that you need a publisher's full financial heft behind you. (And if you don't have that, you have to sink serious time and money into promoting your work.)


2. You will almost-certainly not set the world on fire. And no matter how carefully you set your expectations, you will almost-certainly be sad about that.


3. Jealousy is real, and it's ugly.


4. Good work is the kind you feel good after you've done. (Writing, exercise, cleaning, etc.) Bad work is the kind you resent having had to do. (Being forced to apologize, for example, or your boss making you do a stupid/meaningless job.) Do not let self-promotion become bad work.


5. It is possible that nobody will ever enjoy or care about your work as much as you do. It is possible that it will make no impression whatsoever. It is vitally important to come to terms with that.


6. Adjacent to number 5: anything that writing is going to fix for you, will be fixed in the act of writing itself. Fame will not fix you. Success will not fix you. Every happiness that depends on other people is an illusion.


7....but the enthusiasm of other people still feels really, really good.



Neat stuff I've found out:


1. You do not have to chase success. Instead, let it be a byproduct of living a life you're proud of.  (Then even if you're not successful, you have something to be proud of.)


2. Books are not movies. They're not supposed to make a million dollars their first week out. They do not disappear overnight.


3. Branding yourself is a three-step process. 1) Do things you enjoy. 2) Notice which things people respond to. 3) Do more of those things. Recalibrate and repeat as necessary.


4. At the end of the day, people won't remember what you wrote. But they will remember how you made them feel.


5. The right one-star review is worth more than the wrong five-star review.


6. If you want people to care, give them a laugh, get them excited/fired-up about something, or help them solve a problem. Those are your choices.


7. Writing is special. It's not like sports, or college admissions, or cancer treatment. There is no "Game Over" screen. There is only "Do you wish to continue?"





A) sell books / make money
B) upsize platform

C) help someone

D) have fun


If a given project does not promise at least two of those four things, I'm not doing it. It's VERY easy to give away all your time, money, and energy and get nothing in return. Dual-purpose projects halve that risk.





The Ginny Query


Hi Mr. Barr


(Actually, from your profile page, you seem like the kind of guy who'd say "call me Steve," but I'd rather err on the side of caution.


My name is David Goodner, and this is the part in the query letter in which I’m supposed to wow you with my amazing credentials.  I can’t actually do that, since I have none, so I’m going to attempt to appear witty and self-effacing instead.


I live in Arlington, Texas, and work for the Arlington Public Library.  I’ve served on the board of the DFW Writer’s Workshop for two years.


I have a range of interests that my friends would describe as “eclectic” and other people would just call “weird.”  I also have several adorable nieces and nephews in my life, and I’ve fooled them all into believing I’m the cool uncle. 


I also feel a little bad about starting three paragraphs with the word “I,” so I’m going to shift to talking about my book.


Ginny Goblin Is Not Allowed to Open this Box before Dinnertime Is a picture book manuscript that clocks in at just under 400 words.  The plot is fairly self-explanatory.  There’s a box, and Ginny Goblin is not allowed to open it.  But oh, how she will try.  Her attempts will involve lock picks, grappling hooks, catapults, and baby goats.  She is not allowed to use any of those things to open the box.


It’s a story that interacts with the reader, inviting her to attempt to curtail Ginny’s increasingly strident efforts.  Whenever I write a children’s book, I try to make it completely accessible to children, but also fun for adults.   Ginny’s story is no exception.  Ginny herself is a wild character who refuses to be held back.  Her adventure escalates steadily, and there’s lots of iterative repetition that appeals to young children.  The story is also funny and engaging (or at least I like to think so).  My test audiences of children loved it, and my test audiences of adults also really enjoyed it and said they’d like to read it to their own kids.


Ginny has had four other adventures to date, learning that she can’t go outside to play in the rain, can’t have a monster for a pethas to eat her peas, and has to get ready for bed right now.  And, lest you think I’m a one-trick pony, I have several other picture book manuscripts as well.


So, without further ado, here’s Ginny Goblin Is Not Allowed to Open this Box before Dinnertime.  Thank you for taking time to read my submission.  I look forward to hearing from you.


David Goodner


And We're Back!

Hi everybody. I haven't had anything much to say for the past two years, but that's all changing now. Ginny Goblin is now less than six months away from her debut, and I'm in the middle of an exciting new project for Disney/Hyperion with the amazing Andrea Tsurumi.

I'm probably going to do some reorganizing and redecorating around here. I need to spruce the place up anyway, and I probably need to separate children's author David Goodner from game designer and general eccentric David Goodner to some degree.

Happy Birthday to Me!

So, it's my birthday.  45.  And my birthday present to myself is more reading.  I haven't read something just because I wanted to in way too long.  I'm now determined to get in at least twelve books before my next birthday.  That's a really pathetic goal.  When I was young and foolish, I could read a novel every two days.

We didn't have social media in those days.

I'm also undertaking a challenge.  Back in 2015, Sunili Govinnage kind of kicked off a movement to challenge people's reading habits: For a year, don't read anything by white cis- males.  I'm proud to say that I only felt patriarchy-induced butthurt about that for a few minutes.  I didn't immediately undertake to do it, though.

Now I am.  With a few exceptions.

  • I write chidlren's books, and I'm in the process of learning the field.  I will have to read some white guys in pursuit of my education.
  • Similarly, non-fiction read as research for my writing is exempted.  But NF isn't really in the spirit of the challenge anyway.
  • When the new Dresden Files novel comes out, I'm reading that.  I'm sorry, everybody.  I have my weaknesses.

I'm going to start my year by reading Tracked, by Jenny Martin.  I've had it since it was published, and haven't read it yet.  (I'm a bad writer-friend.)

I'm Not Saying It's Racist... But It's Racist.

Welcome back to my distinctly non-political blog where I post about weird things I built and review Asylum movies.  Today, for the second post in a row, I'm posting something political.


The internet is up in arms about some of the internet being up in arms about Zendaya being cast as Mary Jane Watson in the upcoming Spider-man movie.  (Just remember, folks, Kirstin Dunst wasn't a natural redhead either)


It's the same old song.  Some guys say "Hey, we hate that!  It's not like the original!"  Then a bunch of other people say "You guys are racists!"  And I feel bad because I totally feel those original guys, and yet I strive not to be a racist.  You guys are my brothers in nerdery.  I go through the same thing every time Hollywood makes a casting choice I disagree with. 


It's actually the same thing I go through when Hollywood makes ANY change I disagree with.


When Hollywood says "We're making a movie adaptation of [Property David Loves], there’s a deep, primal part of my brain that interprets that statement as "We're going to hook David up to a mind-imaging device and pull all the details of this project out of his imagination."


Hollywood never means that.  Never.


Jackson's Lord of the Rings was amazing, but it didn't so much take liberties with the novels as just ignore broad sections of them while doing something completely different.  Only two Star Trek movies ever really had the kind of flavor the series had.  Wizard of Oz got the freaking SHOES wrong*.  They screw up everything.  It ticks me off every time.


But not all changes are equal.  There are basically three reasons you'll see changes to the material.


1) Technical requirements.  Sometimes what the author wrote just won't translate well to the screen.  Most frequently, this means abridging the material.  A motion picture script is 90 pages.  A novel is 300.  Even allowing for the fact the novel spends longer on scene description, the math is harsh and unalterable.


2) The director has a preference.  I hate this.  If you don't want to adapt the material, direct something else.  I will stand till the walls burn with you on these changes, my brethren.


3) Lately, inclusiveness.


And here's where racism comes into it.  I'm not racist.  Most of you are not racist (I hope.  If I'm wrong, I need a better class of blog reader).  But from the outside, particularly from the view of color, this looks like a race issue.


And it kind of is.


Wait.  WAIT.  Don't click away yet.  I just got through telling you I don't believe you're racists.  Hold up there, Hoss.


The initial impulse to hate seeing, oh, say, a black James Bond or Mary Jane isn't racist.  That comes from your love of the material.  You want to see it on the screen the way you imagine it, and here someone is telling you "no, actually, we're doing it differently."


But holding on to that resentment is racist, because, without meaning to, you're hurting people.  A lot of racism in America isn't directed by hatred.  It's carried full out of habit.  And we can be better.  One of our forefathers wrote the words "All men are created equal."  It wasn't true when he wrote it, but he also wrote "To form a more perfect union."  That's our job.


So anyway, inclusive casting.


If you're a white guy, the setting for normal in your world is that almost all the heroes are white guys just like you (only, you know, with washboard abs and massive martial arts skills.  So the you you'd be if you'd been born a billionaire and your parents were killed in front of you when you were eight.  And you got a lightsabre.)  You identify with them.


Having identified with heroes all your life, you don't have much trouble identifying with the occasional black guy or woman hero.


You also think subconsciously that everyone's experience mirrors yours.


It doesn't.  To people who aren't white guys, racial and gender identity are a big deal.  They face all kinds of crap you don't-- in addition to all the same kind of crap you DO face.  And when they see the white guy hero, they don't always see an echo of themselves (if only they were test piloting on the same day an alien space-cop died and gave up his power ring).  They see the dudes who oppress them day in and day out.  (And it's kind of worse that those dudes don't even realize they're oppressing anyone.)


I used to think all this inclusiveness crap was stupid until I gamed with a woman who said she'd always felt like an outsider until she found a game with gender neutral language.  Until I knew a few mixed-race couples and got to hear from them about the different perspectives on all kinds of things, including pop culture.


It really matters.  It's HUGE for them.  And for us, it's not really that big a deal.  Yes, it's a little annoying that Mary Jane won't have glorious red hair, but so what?


In all the comics, Mary Jane will still be the loveable Irish-descended WASP we all know.  (Not the actual Wasp.  She's Dutch-descended.)  Does it really hurt us to let our friends look up at the big screen and see their own heritage represented as the hero?


Think for a minute about the rush you get when Superman saves the day, or Captain America stands up to corruption and fascism.  Just thinking about it gives you a little rush, doesn't it?  You feel a little warmth in your heart.  Sometimes you think "what would Batman do**" or "With great power comes great responsibility," when you face life's troubles.


Now imagine NEVER feeling that.  Imagine that you could never look at a cultural icon and say "that guy's like me."


Don't you think the occasional Black Mary Jane is worth letting some of your fellow humans, your fellow nerds, have heroes to identify with?


And even if you don't, don't you think it's worth it to keep quiet on the subject so as not to lend any extra weight to the voices of pathetic racists?  (Cause seriously, guys, I'm sure you're not the ones who hounded Leslie Jones off of Twitter.  That's a small, ugly subset none of us want to be lumped in with.)


* They're supposed to be silver.  Red looked better in Technicolor.  You have never read the original Wizard of Oz, so you should be ashamed.

** Don't do what Batman would do.  In real life, that would get you arrested, hurt, or killed.

Social Justice Monopoly

FACT: Monopoly is a terrible board game.


Oh sure, you enjoy playing it with your family on holidays or whatever, but it's still terrible.  By every objective standard of board game design, Monopoly is awful.  There's no strategy.  Randomness far outstrips player choice.  Players can and will be eliminated before the end of the game. 


(The game does have nice goober, though, so maybe not EVERY standard.)


But that's because...


FACT: Monopoly is not a board game.


Monopoly, as originally conceived by Magie Phillips in 1903, was an educational tool.  It's an elaborate illustration of the trouble with unfettered markets.  Inevitably, in Monopoly, one player will gradually suck all the money out of the economy (except that everybody gets bored and quits before that).


In a board game, that's a win condition.  In real life, it's terrible because all the people who lose all their money just have to wait around and starve to death.


So, inspired by Ms. Phillips, I've created some house rules for Monopoly.  These rules are meant to help explain how systemic racism works in America.  



1) Instead of normal pieces, use chess pieces.  You'll have two kings, two queens, two bishops, and two knights.  (You could use rooks, but they're boring.)


2) Get rid of hotels.  That's not part of the Social Justice rules.  Hotels just ruin monopoly.  They put houses back into circulation, meaning the game takes longer.


3) There is no money on free parking.  That's also just a bad idea in Monopoly.  It makes the game go on longer to no effect.  Also, that’s the actual rule.  I don’t know what moron came up with money on free parking, but it’s terrible.


4) Players with black pieces receive one bill less of each denomination at the beginning of the game. (http://inequality.org/racial-inequality/)


5) Players with black pieces only get $100 for passing Go. (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/07/01/racial-gender-wage-gaps-persist-in-u-s-despite-some-progress/)


6) Players with black pieces are not allowed to buy property until they have crossed GO once.  Players with black pieces can never buy utilities or railroads. (http://scholarship.law.berkeley.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1111&context=bjalp)


7) Players with black pieces go to jail upon rolling their second consecutive double.  The fine to get out of jail for black pieces is $100.  Black players must roll doubles twice, consecutively, to get out of jail without paying the fine or playing a Get out of Jail free card. (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/07/18/chart-of-the-week-the-black-white-gap-in-incarceration-rates/)


Now, since I'd never actually make anyone play Monopoly, don’t feel like you need to break out a set and try this.  Just answer one question: Which color piece is most likely to win?


That's systemic racism.  Without any of the white players ever trying, they're automatically going to crush the black players just because the odds are stacked that way.  It's not about hate, so much as about unexamined assumptions.  Imagine playing this game, but the banker passed out all the money and adjudicates all the rules but somehow keeps the changes hidden from the players.  If you have a white piece, you might wonder why the players with black pieces don't buy property, or how they end up in jail so often.  You might assume they're bad players, because clearly you're not a bad player and you're buying property right and left, and hardly ever end up in jail.  (And when you do, you can afford the fine to get out.)  You could go the whole game, and never realize the reason the black pieces ran out of money so fast wasn't because they were too stupid to buy properties-- they just couldn't afford it.


The links I provide just barely scratch the surface.  I encourage you to look into the history of Redlining in particular.  Owning a home has traditionally been the best way for families in America to build wealth, and black families were barred from that for far too long (and still are, to some extent).

David Sort of Reviews... Ghostbusters (2016)

Friday night, my wife and I saw the new Ghostbusters.  It didn't suck.  Here are some mostly random thoughts about the relative lack of suckitude.  There are some minor spoilers.  This is the only warning you'll get.  This is more of an essay for people who have seen the movie than an attempt to get people to see it.  (Go see it.  At least when it comes out at the dollar theater, or On Demand or something.)


In the Beginning

The internet said there was a Ghostbusters remake in the works.  I thought "No, please don't do that."  Intellectually, I have decided not to oppose remakes, but Ghostbusters just seemed like such a poor choice.  The original was lightning in a bottle, combining some of the best comedic actors ever at the height of their talents with a story unlike anything that had come before.  It wasn't really a comedy.  It was a fantasy story with comedic elements, and a nice side-serving of horror.  But once Ghostbusters existed, any other comedic dark fantasy was not as original as Ghostbusters had been.


Further, Ghostbusters wasn't going to benefit much from better special effects, and I didn't think there were really any comedic actors who could do what Murray, Aykroyd, Ramis, and Hudson had done.  SNL hasn't been good for more than 20 years, after all.


Then the internet said the cast would be all female.  I was moderately intrigued.  I still thought the movie would be superfluous, but an all-female GB team was interesting.  Nobody thought an all-male team was weird, so why should an all-female team be weird?  When your enemies are incorporeal, the fact guys tend to be physically stronger doesn't even matter much.  Normalizing inclusive roles for minorities and women is important, so even if I wasn't interested in the movie personally, I wanted that to happen.


Then the trailers came out, and mostly I thought the movie would still be bad, but there were just a few little touches here and there that made me think the female leads might be interesting.  They interacted with each other just a little differently than a bunch of guys would.  I can't even really put my finger on the exact difference, but it was just a little intriguing.


I decided I'd maybe catch the movie at a matinee or something.  And when Marie said she wanted to go on Friday, that was enough for me.  The movie might not have been worth full-price tickets, but making my wife happy and getting the chocolate chip cookies from SMG was.


And so, in the fullness of time, I saw the movie.  And it didn't suck.  It was even pretty good, if not great.


As I said previously, there was no way the new Ghostbusters could be as good as the original.  Even with a stellar cast and really awesome writing, it just wouldn't be as original.  We'd all go in kind of knowing what was going to happen.  Hearing a shaggy dog story you already know can be really fun, with a good storyteller, but it's never as good as the first time.


So it wasn't going to be the amazing bolt from the blue of the original.  But it could still be pretty good.


Here's why it was:

They didn't slavishly follow the original.  Melissa McCarthy didn't try to imitate Dan Aykroyd. Kristin Wiig didn't try to play Bill Murray.  KateKcKinnon didn't try to recreate Egon Spangler.  Leslie Jones' Patty had more than one significant line to deliver.  The actresses were also genuinely good.  I didn't even want to hit Melissa McCarthy in the face with a cricket bat, which I frequently do with her roles lately.  Abbie was a role that fit right into her wheelhouse, but was also sympathetic almost immediately.  She's kind of a jerk, but she has good reasons to be.


Chris Hemsworth was a trip.  Kate McKinnon was awesome (if a bit overplayed).  I want a Screw U medallion.


The writing was snappy.  The original was kind of deadpan.  The humor was in how calmly the Ghostbusters dealt with the otherwise ridiculous situation they'd created.  This one was more Whedon-esque.  The characters seem to sense that they live in a ridiculous world, and rail against its ridiculousness while still having to live within its constraints.


The SFX were solid.  They looked somewhat better than in the trailers, which is normal in the digital age.  The ghosts may have been a bit too bright, but they didn't ruin the experience for me.  I liked the look of the new gear.  I liked the way the gear developed over the course of the movie.


Here's why it wasn't great:

The script was sloppy.  Chekov’s Gun didn't make it onto the mantle until the middle of act 3.  The villain was kind of lame, and not developed well enough.


I didn't like the action figure accessory toys.  They didn't really add anything to the story, with the possible exception of Holtzmann's dual-gun proton pack.  That's exactly the kind of thing the gear-head tech geek would do.


The cameos from the original cast were inelegant, except for Ernie Hudson, who was perfect.  Annie Potts was also okay.  Bill Murray, in particular, stood out.  He was in there either not long enough or just a little too long.  Dan Aykroyd's just interrupted the scene.


Here's what was interesting and random:

The villain could have used a little better development, but he was interesting.  The feminist critique of a basement-dwelling troll was pretty obvious, but there's also the fact he was basically a domestic terrorist who was (a) white, and (b) not religiously radicalized.


These Ghostbusters had different goals than the originals.  In the 80s, making the greatest discovery in the history of science and religion was an excuse to cash in.  Now, it's about women making advances in science in the face of the patriarchy (And Andy Garcia played the Patriarchy wonderfully).


I may be alone in the world in thinking that Jillian Holtzmann is both on the autism spectrum and somewhat sexually attracted to Erin Gilbert.  There's nothing overt, but one little facial expression when they first met gave me that impression.  Holtzmann saw Erin and was just briefly wowed.  Then she went back to being a mad scientist, since that's all she knows how to be.  (Well, really more of a mad engineer, I suppose...)

DFWCON Retrospective

The DFW Writers' Conference was this past weekend.

It was awesome.  I'm still tired.

Last year, I was a speaker at the DFW Writers Conference, but only kind of.  I'd signed my book deal, but not gotten the advance (and I had to use most of it to pay off debts anyway).  Money was still tight, so I hadn't planned to go. 

The Conference Committee members didn't know that, and since I'd been every other year since I joined the DFW Writers' Workshop they figured I'd be there with bells on.  So they asked me if I'd be a facilitator at one of the Read & Critique classes.

When I told them I wasn't going, they offered to comp my registration if I'd do some Read & Critiques.

So I was kind of a speaker, but not really.

This year, I was officially invited as a speaker to moderate panels and be a panelist on the Children's and Middle Grade panel. 

It was really cool.  I started to feel like I might be a real writer who people would actually want to listen to.

Some highlights:
* Trying to convince Christopher Golden that he really needed to buy a Stetson hat to commemorate his trip to Cowtown.

* Whispering to Bree Ogden on the Child Lit panel and finding out she knew both my agent and my editor at HMH.

* Actually having useful input for the Child Lit panel.  I mean, seriously, I've only sold two books.  I really feel like a total neophyte in this business, but I've had so much help getting to where I am that it's awesome to be able to pay that help forward.

* Liz visiting from Houston.  (You Houstonites better darn well appreciate how awesome she is)

* My Read & Critique panel, which had all Children’s and YA readers.  (Evidentially, that was just a coincidence.  I think it was totally awesome, though)  Afterwards, having some of the readers catch me in the halls and say the critique was helpful.

* Leveraging my awesome (nearly non-existent) literary connections to hook up some friends with Tina P. Schwartz, who reps the kind of stuff they write.

* Deep Dish Pecan Pie.

* Mastering, or at least Journey-manning the skill of panel moderation.  My first panel went okay.  My second was actually pretty good (Even though I'd prepared for the wrong topic).

* Having a fan.  I have lots of fans (More than five, maybe!) already, but they're family or fellow workshop members.  This is the first time in my life that a complete stranger has come up to me and said "Hey, you're really cool."  I is flattered.

* Jenny Martin's Digging Deeper class.  Jenny is so passionate about good writing that it's fun to just listen to her talk.  The fact that she has interesting things to say is just a bonus.

* The uncomfortable pause between sex and death.

* Dinner on Saturday with Sally, Rosemary, Mark, and David at Taco Cafe where we geeked out about comic books for an hour, and the quesadillas were pretty good, too.

About the only bad thing was how utterly exhausted I was.  Being around a bunch of strangers sucks the life out of me, and there was a lot of walking for my out-of-shape, middle-aged body.  Every year, I think about getting a hotel room, and every year I talk myself out of it because a 30 minute drive isn't all that much.  But it really is.  It means you have to get up 30 minutes earlier to get to the workshop, and that you're driving home after a tiring day.

Now I'm mostly rested up and riding the wave of enthusiasm from the conference.  I didn't teach a class this year, feeling like I really didn't have much to teach.  But now I'm thinking that maybe I do have 50 minutes worth of stuff to say that someone else might want to hear.

That could just be the euphoria and sleep-deprivation talking, though.

Against the Gold Standard in Fantasy Literature

I’m gonna rant a little here now.  I don’t know why this particular thing bothered me enough this evening to rant about it, but I just feel the need.

I read a lot of fantasy novels.  I love them.  I cut my teeth on Lord of the Rings and Narnia.  I read David Eddings in high school and all the other not particularly greats in high school.  I bought every D&D novel I could get my hands on.  Loved Codex Aleria.  Tried really hard to love Song of Ice and Fire, but holy crap George, it’s okay if one nice thing happens every three hundred pages or so.

I am not bashing on fantasy here.  We clear?

There’s this thing.  When I pick up a new fantasy book, or when I hear one read in my critique group, I can tell really quickly whether the author learned most of his world-building from Dungeons & Dragons or not.  Someone gets paid to do something.  That thing is not “be a baron in my holdings” and the person is paid multiple gold pieces—sometimes hundreds of gold pieces.

A gold piece in the hazy middle-ages Europe of most Tolkien-derived fantasy worlds is worth (very roughly) fifty thousand dollars.

That’s a wildly inaccurate estimate, because the value of gold went up and down depending on how much gold was around, but for a big swath of time it’s how much a lord probably paid a knight for a year’s service.

If you hire a group of plucky adventurers to go raid your enemy’s base and you pay them 1000 GP, you could have hired a small army instead.

You can also tell who knows what gold is when you get to the scene where someone carries a bag of it.  Here’s a quick experiment.  Get a bag full of pennies.  Pick it up.  Now get another one, and another one about half full.  Pick up all three bags.  That’s roughly the weight of the first bag if it was gold coins.  Gold is REALLY heavy.

Silver weighs about half of what gold does.  (Atomic weight of 107.8 vs 196.9)  It was also a much more reasonable currency.  You bought things like manor houses and suits of full plate armor with gold coins.  You paid your craftsmen and soldiers in silver.  You paid your peasants in copper.

(Also, it’s really hard to do price comparisons between a pre-industrial and post-industrial society.  Things cost more when they’re harder to make.  So stuff like basic food stays pretty constant, while manufactured goods get less and less expensive over time.  I’m carrying a knife I bought for the price of a cheap dinner for two that would have been a major expense for someone in the 12th century.  In fact, it might not have been possible to make then.)

D&D also simplified the exchange rate a lot, making everything in multiples of 5 and 10.  In the real world, coins were measured by weight, and thus tended to have values divisible by 4.  (It’s easier to measure out half of something over and over again than to divide it into 10s.)

The British system, for a long time was 1 gold Pound = 20 silver Shillings = 240 copper Pence.

Also, coins were smaller than you think.  A friend gave me two Roman Denarii (the equivalent of pence.  When the widow gave her two mites, they were Denarii).  Each one is smaller than my pinky nail.

(Wikipedia tells me the Denarius was originally silver, but gradually debased, reducing its value.  See how easy it is to get this stuff right?  I just needed to look up the plural of Denarius and I learned that Denarii were silver, not copper.)

So anyway, all this might not matter much in the grand scheme of things.  If you create a fantasy world with wonky currency, only a handful of your readers are going to care.  But it’s also not hard to get it right.  You could put together a pretty functional price list and currency system after a day of poking around with Google.  And yours doesn’t have to be strictly accurate.  It just needs to be well thought out.

Gold is valuable because it’s pretty and rare.  Silver is less valuable because it’s not quite as pretty and not quite as rare.  Copper or bronze aren’t very valuable at all, and are mostly introduced because people need pocket change.  (Although they might not have pockets)

Coins weren’t inherently valuable until fairly recent in history (in Europe).  They were just conveniently sized pieces of precious metal.  You could pay for something that cost a pound with an actual pound of gold, but you’d need a jeweler’s saw and a scale.  And a merchant who had a scale would probably weigh your coins to make sure they weren’t debased if he could.

Getting this kind of detail right can also give you chances for drama in your story.  How cool would it be if your hero slew the dragon, but could only get a fraction of the beast’s horde out of its cave?  Now he’s got to figure out how to get the rest without anybody else finding the cave.

And what happens to the kingdom where he brings the gold?  Remember, gold is valuable because it’s rare.  If your hero hauls in the equivalent of the entire Roman treasury, he’s going to start an economic depression or an outright war.

Isn’t that way more fun than just another bar fight?

If I Only Had The Time (and money. Mostly money)

This writing gig seems more viable than it has ever been.  That's totally wild.  But there are so many other creative things I'd like to do.  They just all cost money and take a lot of time.  Here's a small sampling.


I'm not a huge Whovian, but I like me some Doctor, and I like fandom-related objects that are also practical.  For instance, I wear a Green Lantern ring.  I probably wouldn't wear a T-shirt with Green Lantern on it.  I might wear a green T-shirt with the GL log on it, though.  I'd totally hang a replica of Cap's shield on my wall, but I probably wouldn't hang up a Captain America poster.

Which brings us to the shed.  The Tardis is a real thing representing Doctor Who.  And I could make it practical.  I have a notebook full of sketches of a TARDIS garden shed.  It's not screen accurate, but anybody looking at it would say "Hey David, that's a TARDIS."

It'd cost somewhere around $500 in materials and require a bunch of tools I don't have.  And I don't know how to keep it from falling over.

ALL the Hirst Arts Molds

I love gaming terrain.  I don't do the right kind of gaming to use it.  Nevertheless, I kind of want to make a huge mass of modular dungeon terrain.  Then I'd want a huge mass of town terrain, and cave terrain, and SF terrain, and city street terrain, and...

Each mold costs around $30.  I have a list somewhere of the essential few that would let me make a bunch of what I'd actually use in gaming.  There are ten molds on it.  Then you need a vibrating table, materials, paints, and if you want to cast very quickly you need a dehydrator.


I used to podcast.  I don't know if Radio Free Hommlett is still available on iTunes, but if it is, or if you used to be a fan and were really wondering, yeah-- that's me. 

I want to do another podcast.  I have this great idea called "Geek Out with David Goodner."  I'd get people who are famous (or at least internet-famous) for something, and talk to them about something else.  Like I know a few game designers who are also huge SCA geeks or musicians or whatever.  I know lots of writers.

Podcasting isn't really all that expensive.  You can do a crappy podcast with your iPhone.  Youcould do a pretty good one for around $200.  What kills Podcasting for me is time.  For every minute of sound you hear on a well-done podcast, someone has spent three to five minutes working on it (at least).  Doing a weekely podcast of about a half-hour a week would kill one, maybe two nights a week. 

I only get four nights a week to myself for writing and stuff.  I just can't justify the time.  But if there's some crazy person who wants to do all the production stuff, I'd be happy to do all the fun, easy parts.

Justice League Versus

Just cataloged a nifty little children's book called Justice League Versus.  It's one of those cheap-to-produce, marketed at kids kind of things that I sort of wish didn't exist, but this one amuses me.  Basically, it puts a Justice League member up against a villain with some description of what the two characters can do and a simple scenario-- the reader is invited to decide what would happen.

What follows are spoilers. 

Green Lantern John Stewart vs. Joker in Arkham Asylum

I'm giving the initial round to the Joker.  John is not noted for his outside-the-box thinking.  The Joker's going to be an out-of-context problem for him.  John will be overconfident because the Joker is "just a psychopath" and will get whammied.

Of course, dramatic necessity dictates that John will eventually get his act together and defeat the Joker.  The good guys always win in the end.  That's what makes fiction better than real life.

Wonder Woman vs. Atrocitus on Themiscaria

Wonder Woman kicks his shouty red ass.  Atrocitus is no pushover, but Wonder Woman spars with both Batman and Superman, and she's on an island of warrior-women.  It's an epic throwdown, but the conclusion is obvious.

Nightwing vs. Catwoman in Gotham City

I'm sorry, Dick.  She's going to get away.  You're good, but she's escaped from Batman.

Green Lantern Hal Jordan vs. Captain Cold in Coast City

This one is cool.  (I'm sorry for the pun.)  Captian Cold is just a guy with a gun, but he's beat the Flash before.  He's a guy with a gun who can draw a bead on the fastest man alive.  And the cold gun is unusually useful against the Green Lantern's ring.  If it fired beams of ice, that'd be one thing.  GL could make shields.  But the cold gun just reduces molecular motion to zero.  The ice is a side-effect.

I'm betting that GL takes a beating, but is eventually able to turn the tide.  Hal Jordan doesn't go down easy.  (At least that's what Carol says.) 

(Yes, I'm a terrible person.)

Cyborg vs. Manbat in Hub City's football stadium

The set-up hampers Cyborg.  The text specifically calls out that he can't just blast the heck out of everything because the stadium is full of civilians.  That gives Manbat a fighting chance, but the stadium would also limit his mobility.  Just chasing Manbat off is probably a win for Cyborg.

I'm guessing Cyborg modifies his sonic cannon to screw with Manbat's echolocation so he crashes into a wall.  Victory: Cyborg.

Firestorm vs. Firefly in Hub City

Firefly goes down like a chump.  He's a dude with a jetpack and a flamethrower.  Firestorm (a) is immune to fire, (b) flies better, (c) can stop chemical reactions with his brain.  When you rely on making things combust for all your powers, don't fight a guy who can turn oxygen into something else.

Zatanna vs. Scarecrow in Bluthaven

Okay, so the text calls out that Scarecrow got the drop on Zatanna and hit her with fear toxin.  She believes her mouth has been sealed shut.  That's the only reason he has a chance.

I'm giving him the early rounds, but Zatanna has (iirc) managed to do magic without talking before in extreme circumstances.  And she actually CAN talk, she just doesn't think she can.  So she needs a few minutes to get her head together and remember that this is just a guy with fear gas.  Then she can meditate and stuff.  Then she says "Worceracs emoceb a daot," and the fight's over.  But it's a close one.

Red Arrow vs. Poison Ivy in a hospital

Roy's a chump.  Ivy gets away.  One interesting advantage Roy has, though, is that due to his years of drug addiction, he's probably somewhat resistant to Ivy's mind-control spores.  So she doesn't just get to roll over him without a struggle.

The Flash vs. Bane

Bane has planted bombs all around the city.  Flash has to find them before they blow up.

Really, there's no challenge.  Wally is so fast that in an emergency he can stop time, and has several other speedsters on (sorry here) speed dial.  Barry is one of the smartest guys around.  Bane learns to stay out of Keystone.

(I'm reminded of a fight between Quicksilver and some annoying mutant with predictive telepathy.  Sure, the guy knows every move Quicksilver is going to make, but that doesn't help when the moves themselves are so fast that you can't react to them.  And Quicksilver is REALLY SLOW compared to the Flash.)

Robin vs. Hush inside a prison

One of the two of these people was trained by Lady Shiva.  It's not Hush.  When Hush has time to set everything to his own advantage, he's a pretty serious threat.  When he's locked in a room with Robin is not one of those times.

Hawkgirl vs. Cheetah in a rooftop battle

This is a pretty good fight.  The scenario starts with Cheetah having grappled Hawkgirl, which eliminates a lot of Hawkgirl's advantages.  Cheetah regularly doesn't die while fighting Wonder Woman, so she can take a hit.  But Hawkgirl has an Nth metal mace if she can get it into play.

I'll ultimately give the fight to Hawkgirl.  She can levitate without using her wings, and can probably breathe in thinner air than Cheetah.  It's a close one, though.  Could really go either way.

Black Lightning vs. Killer Croc in a sewer

I'd normally say Black Lightning, but this specific scenario says his blasts can't penetrate Croc's armor.  I call BS, but I'll go with it for now.

That set-up really favors Croc.  He's got his favored environment, and Black Lightning will have trouble hurting him.  But BL's a pretty tough dude.  He might risk letting Croc grapple him so he can get a blast into Croc's mouth.

Batwoman vs. Ra's al Ghul in Gotham City

Kate could get away, but I don't think she could beat the Demon himself.  If her girlfriend is handy with her disintegrator pistol, that might change the odds.

Superman vs. Ares in the Fortress of Solitude

Tough fight for Supes.  Ares is every bit as strong, and has magic weapons.  But Superman has the home court advantage.  I'm betting Superman takes a severe beating, but Ares ends up on vacation in the Phantom Zone.

Black Canary vs. Harley Quinn in Arkham Asylum

I know Harley is a fan favorite, but Black Canary was one of the world's best martial artists before she did a training stint with Shiva.  Even without her Canary Cry, she probably wins easily.

Red Tornado vs. Deadshot in Happy Harbor

I'm pretty sure Red Tornado can take a bullet or two before he's seriously impaired.  I think Deadshot ends up back in prison for his next stint on Taskforce X.

Huntress vs. Two-face in Gotham

Two-face has fought Batman, but he doesn't generally win in a one-on-one fight.  And Batman fights with more restraint than Huntress.  I think Two-face might take a few crossbow bolts to his pretty side.

In the end, she'd manage to stop herself from killing him, and thus earn a really serious enemy for later.  And Batman would still complain that she didn't do it right.

Martian Manhunter vs. Bizarro on the Watchtower

This one is a seriously tough fight due to Bizarro's flame breath.  Manhunter's telepathy is either a total game-changer or is nerfed due to Bizarro's insanity.  It's a tough fight, but Bizarro is his own worst enemy.  He's just not smart enough, and Manhunter can phase through walls.  J'ohn doesn't win easily, but he wins in the end.

Vixen vs. Penguin in the Iceberg Lounge

Really, Oswald?  Really?

Vixen is an out-of-context problem for Gotham's criminals.  Penguin works best when he has lots of guys with guns, which he doesn't have in this scenario.  There was a reason he went semi-legit.

(That reason is that he's a fat man with a vindictive streak, not a supervillain.)

Batman vs. Lex Luthor in Metropolis

Lex has power armor.  He does pretty well for himself.  This is actually a solid fight.  But Batman is Batman.  Lex's main weapon is a kryptonite blaster, which doesn't phase Batman.  And Batman went into Lexcorp with a plan.  I'd say Lex gets away, but Batman walks away having dealt a severe blow.

In the next few days, Lexcorp stock probably tanks due to scandal, and Waynetech subsidiaries buy up the assets Lex has to liquidate to stop the bleeding.

So anyway, that was a fun little interlude.  If your household has a budding geek, you could do worse than buying a copy of this for yourself.

If you disagree with any of my choices, nener, nener, nener.  I can't hear you.

Wherein David Buys ALL the Comics

So here's a cool thing: I now have the job of ordering adult and YA graphic novels for my library.  ("Adult" as in "not aimed at children," not as in "porn.") 

(But I can get close since nobody pays too much attention to what I buy...)

On the down-side, I don't get a lot of money.  But still, I got to spend around $3,000 for my February buy.  Even when you cut that in half because I generally buy two copies of everything, that still beats my old comics habit by quite a bit.

(For the curious, somewhere in the neighborhood of $100-120 per month.  Plus another $20 per month on Mage Knight booster packs, back in the golden age.)

I've actually been out of the comics world for quite a while.  Some years ago, I realized I was buying comics and only barely reading them.  They were taking up tons of space and a lot of money, and I wasn't really enjoying them.  In rapid succession, Marvel and DC both kind of went off the rails, and there wasn't much indy stuff I was interested in just then.  I sold off most of my collection to someone who would appreciate it more than I did, and limited myself to the occasional graphic novel. 

Now I feel like I need to be informed about comics again.  I wonder if my accountant could convince the IRS that my comics habit was a business expense...

There's always CBR and Newsarama.  Is there a similar thing for Manga?  What about for non-Japanese Manga?  I want to use my vast (actually miniscule) power to make the library's collection as good as it can be.  Probably 85-90% of what I order needs to be whatever's most popular, but I have some wiggle room for amazing stuff people don't know they want yet.

Time to call up David Doub and some of my other comic nerd friends.

(And by "call," I mean "email.")

(And by "email," I probably mean "think about emailing but never get around to it.")

Fastest Idiot Alive

I'm getting my tax documents together, rather than watching The Flash.  But while I take a break, here's some thoughts provoked by last week's episode.

I love the Flash.  The show is a lot of fun.  I want to get that right out in front.  But geeze, Barry Allen is such a moron.  I kinda hoped season 2 would be where we got to see him fight smarter, not faster.  (Well, also faster since one theme of the season is that Flash has to reach his full potential as master of the Speed Force to defeat Zoom.)

It's not just the secret identity thing.  That's dumb enough.  Not telling the POLICE DETECTIVE who works with your ADOPTIVE FATHER on the METAHUMAN TASK FORCE, and whom YOU ARE SLEEPING WITH that you are the Flash is just dumb.  It was dumb not telling Iris, and it's even more dumb not telling Patty.

That's just bad writing, though.  I can see the dramatic necessity of not telling her, but she needed to be set up differently: as a tough-as-nails cop who hates all metahumans, Flash included, and is put on the metahuman task force-- but who really likes Barry and wants to be with him.  Then Barry actually can't tell her because she might destroy his life.  Instead, he just spent months treating her like an idiot.

But like I said, that's not the really stupid thing.

The stupid thing is when you decided to fight the guy who could make you stop running the moment he sees you by running straight toward him faster.

You're the freaking FLASH.  You can move faster than the speed of sound.  You could sneak up behind someone and hit them literally faster than humans can react, and the Turtle's power doesn't work unless he actively turns it on.

Some of this is on Jay, of course.  He's an experienced speedster who could tell Barry stuff like "you're not invulnerable.  Sneak up on people.  Hit them when they're not looking.  It hurts a lot less that way.  And maybe carry a weapon.  My hat really hurts when I Frisbee-toss it at someone at Mach 3."

Seriously, writer guys, there's like a zillion really cool genre shows on right now.  I literally don't have enough time to watch them all.  For the first time in my life, I'm having to choose which awesome superhero show to watch, and you guys need to step up, or else it might be Shadowhunters.

Shadowhunters.  Do you want to lose to Shadowhunters?

A Humiliating Confession

Here's a confession.  I suck at writing.

I'm really good at ideas and expression.  At my writers' group I have to pad my read times to leave a minute or two for people who are going to laugh outloud at my jokes.  I daresay I'm pretty good at characters (although terrible at villains.  I just can't see the point in being evil.  Strange, since so many other people are so good at it...)

But when it comes to taking all my ideas and characters and well-crafted phrases and turning them into a coherent manuscript with story beats and pacing and stuff... I suck.

My first successful sales were picture books because I can hold a 700 word manuscript in my head all at once.  But 100,000?  50,000?  Even 10,000 for a children's novel is too much.  I can muddle my way through, but the results are rarely completely satisfactory.

I'm also not very good at revising.  This presents a problem.

So I'm trying to address that problem.  I've tried several other times, and each attempt seems to produce a little improvement, but I'm still a long way from where I need to be.

I'm looking for a system to organize my thoughts and build a story.  I doubt I'll adopt Ms. Dodd's system entirely.  My suspicion is that there are zillions of these "how to write a novel" guides because there's no one way that works for everyone.  The best a would-be writing guru can do is to show you what worked for them.  (I'm jumping on the "them as a gender-neutral singular pronoun" bandwagon.  I fought against it for years, but then I remembered that gramatical conscriptivists are sticks in the mud and stinky goo-heads. [But I'm still trying not to use "hopefully" to mean "it is to be hoped." {Do I contradict myself?  Very well, thenI contradict myself.  I am vast.  I contain multitudes.}.].)

My latest effort is to read The Writer's Compass, by Nancy Ellen Dodd.  I've had this book for a while, and even skimmed it looking for ideas, but I never really read it.  I'm intrigued by the idea of a "story map."  I've tried lots of ways to visualize the structure of my novels, and haven't found one yet.

Here's to hoping.

The Sporadic Update

Hi, poor, neglected website.  I see it's been months since I've posted anything.  That's mostly because my life is really boring.  But here's an update:

The final-ish manuscript for Ginny Goblin Cannot Have a Monster for a Pet has been accepted by my editor at HMH.  I say final-ish because we can actually still make changes, but Kate's happy and I'm happy and they're going to pay me the final part of the advance.  So, yea!  And the chance we'll get to publish in 2017 is slightly higher (but still pretty low).

I'll be attending the 2016 DFW Writers' Conference as a speaker.  I get a cool red badge, and all I have to do in return is stand in front of a room and talk to strangers.  No, I'm not sure why, either.

But that does bring me to my next point.  The Conference Committee seems to think that just because I've sold two children's books I should be some kind of credible expert on children's writing.  And you know, they have a point.  I really should try to be one.

I fell into children's writing kind of by accident.  (With a lot of help, too.)  But I can't really blunder forward without learning anything forever.  So I'm going to start studying.  And I'll share the more interesting things I learn with all you lovely people.  It is to be hoped that by the time I have to teach a class on the children's publishing world that I will know enough to be worthwhile.

Of course, all my readers will already have read everything I learned...

@DFWCON or Bust

There are two days to go until the DFW Writers' Conference.  This is my first gig as a semi-professional writer-type person.  I'll be facilitating some read and critique sessions and monitoring an unknown number of panels.  (I hope just one or two, but the Conference Committee totally let me out of one of the sessions I was supposed to facilitate so I could go to Kevin J. Anderson's worldbuilding class, so I'll do pretty much whatever they ask.)

(The Conference Committee people are awesome.  They do a great job every year.  If you haven't thanked them yet, put that on your to-do list.  Put a little star by it.)

One of the critique sessions is for Synopses, and I also want to give a shout-out to Stephen Barr, my awesome agent, who took out time to give me some great advice I can share with my crit victims.

If you've been thinking about joining the DFW Writers' Workshop and wonder what we do, the Read and Critique sessions will be a great way to try us out.  (Just showing up at a meeting is ALSO a great way to try us out, but this way you get to participate.)  Our regular meetings are primarily devoted to reading and critique, with around 20-30 readers per night spread out in 4-5 rooms.  The sessions at the Conference are shorter than our regular meetings, but they'll be a nice sample.

I hope to see you (the generic "you") at the Conference.  It's a great place to make friends, and I always learn something new.  Usually several things.  One thing I learned is that it's fun to ask YA and SF editors and agents what they think of the Harry Potter franchise.  Some of the other things were more directly useful to my writing career, but nowhere near as entertaining.

Presenting Ginny Goblin

Holy cow!  I'm in Publisher's Weekly!


Here's the really imortant bit:

Kate O'Sullivan at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has acquired at auction Ginny Goblin Is Not Allowed to Open This Box and a follow-up picture book text by debut author David Goodner, to be illustrated by Scott Campbell. The first book tells the story of a box that Ginny is not allowed to open, but she will try. Publication of the first title is scheduled for spring 2018; Stephen Barr at Writers House represented Goodner and Steve Malk at Writers House represented Campbell in the deal for world rights.