8th Draft-Nitty Gritty

My edits are fewer. Sketchy Dinosaurs is getting closer to publication. My adult readers are just about done. There’s nothing better than a great endorsement from a children’s librarian!

I’m making any recommended updates on clarity, who is speaking, completed storyline. Are my references to wrestling accurate? Has my main character changed or grown? Are the plots points complete?

I still need to write my acknowledgments, possibly an author’s note.

Next step is getting it to my proofreader. Step by step, I need to make sure I have covered everything.

December 8 is my book release so I have 6 weeks to get it to the printer. Time is ticking away, but I’m on target. Keep updated by following my blog!

Sketchy Dinosaurs-Seventh Draft

Sketchy Dinosaurs-Seventh Draft



Seventh Draft. The first draft was started in November of 2018. Anything worth while takes time, patience, dedication, and heart. It’s not always easy when we hit snags, dead ends, and roadblocks. The hardest part is to keep going. If you believe in what you are writing, the dream you are pursuing, the goal you are attaining, then the work has to be done.

I have said this to myself multiple times in writing all of my drafts. Writing and publishing a book a year, even for middle grade, takes a determined schedule and lots of support from my beta readers, editors, and family. I am happy to say that book three–The Puzzle Quests:¬†Sketchy Dinosaurs–is almost done!

I am editing the seventh draft by looking at the smaller details. Chapter lengths, descriptions of characters, themes, punctuation, typos, consistency. This version is with my trusty librarians at the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library to check reading level. Once this version is done, it will go to a professional proofreader. It’s very difficult to proofread and edit my own book. I know what words are coming next and no matter how much I slow down, my eyes hop over words.

The sketch of the book cover is done, so now the rough draft is in the works. I’ve connected with Troy Book Makers who will layout the book and print it, and my new website is in the works.

Stephen, who recently graduated from Johnson & Wales with a Business Administration degree, is designing my website! His mind just gets the process!

Even with how far I am in the book, the published version won’t be until December, so put it on your list for holiday shopping! Save the date for my book launch party at The Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library on December 8 from 1:30-3:00pm! Other events to follow as well!

Never give up on your dream!

6th Draft

6th Draft


The dreaded red pen has come out and the manuscript for The Puzzle Quests: Sketchy Dinosaurs has been printed. Not published, but printed and placed in a binder. There comes a point when I have to physically hold my work in progress and mark it up.

A few steps happen on the 6th edit. I’m looking at specifics, plot sequence, and clarity. For Sketchy Dinosaurs, this includes more interaction between Mark and Luke, including their comic that I have mentioned in the first two books. When writing a series, it’s important to make sure I bring the sub-plots to an end.

I’m looking at the themes I implemented. This may take a couple drafts. For this version, I’m focused on Mark’s love of food and his need to put ketchup on absolutely everything! Humor is a consistent theme in this book. How many times does Mark pass off his T-Rex as a lizard. Do I describe his dinosaur/lizard in enough detail so that the reader can picture it? I even tally the number of times I mention a theme just to make sure it’s developed enough.

Parts of the plot are still missing, like how will Mark rescue two more missing dinosaurs? I feel it needs more suspense on Mark’s part, which will help him grow. How is my main character growing and does he grow enough so that the reader will notice the change?

Mackenzie and Rebecca have been two of my beta readers since Shimmer’s Eggs!

At this point, I also bring in the beta readers. These are students ranging from 4-7 grade who have either read the previous books or are new to the series. They read the manuscript, make their own suggestions directly on the pages, and answer some of the questions I had above. They make my book the best it can be, and their feedback is essential.

In addition, involving children in the process creates strong readers and writers. Maybe they will be inspired to write their own stories. We get together and have a discussion and the ideas that come out of these sessions are impressive. Learning to respect one another’s views and suggestions is a powerful life lesson. This is one of my favorite parts of editing.

So for anyone who is writing their own book, know that the process can be long and arduous, but these steps are vital to a fabulous story. Have someone outside of your circle of friends and family read it so you get an unbiased opinion. I don’t have to worry about that with my beta readers–they are honest to the core!

Ease into Transitions

I’ve been looking forward to Spring as has everyone else. I just want to jump into the nice weather and forget about the cold.

In yoga class our instructor, Jeannine, talked about transitions, not only into the next season, but also into the next yoga pose. Each transition is just as important as the pose.

We moved slowly from downward facing dog rolling our bodies into plank, being present and conscious of each move. I noticed my foundation and sense of place.

I paid closer attention to each moment and moved slower easing into the transition.

When she asked us to ponder about how easing through the transition could translate into life, two aha moments occurred.

I am editing the third draft of my middle grade novel–The Puzzle Quests: Sketchy Dinosaurs. My editor, Karen Knowles, did a developmental edit and I’m updating the manuscript with those changes. I have definite lack of transitions in my book. The reader doesn’t want to be jolted from one scene to another. They need that transition to a sense of place, intention or action. They have to be grounded in the story to keep them reading.

This resonated with me after class. I want my reader to be excited about my book and not have to work too hard to transition to the next chapter or scene. Being aware of this will allow me to incorporate slower and more meaningful transitions.

Then I thought about my life. When I make changes, I tend to get so fed up or frustrated that I make a spontaneous decision which disrupts more than it improves. I am in the midst of a transition right now with increasing my writing and teaching while phasing out of my involvement in foundation fundraising.

In order for the transition to be smooth, I need the time to adjust and be OK with this change and also ease others into their new roles, so they have a strong foundation to stand on.

Just like in yoga if we rush into a balancing pose, we have a greater risk of falling out. While it’s OK to fall, the benefits of moving slower with a solid foundation makes easing into transitions worthwhile and beneficial to everyone involved.

Life forces us to change. Sometimes it’s a shove; sometimes it’s barely noticed. Easing in and making a conscious choice to change and grow allows us to enjoy every moment.

Louise Penny in the House!

Louise Penny in the House!


I had the pleasure to hear Louise Penny speak last night at Shenendehowa High School West in conjunction with the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library. The event was sponsored by the Friends of that library, and it was a packed audience. I enjoyed the evening with my mom, who is an avid fan, my sister, and other friends.

Louise Penny is the best-selling and award-winning author of the Inspector Gamache series based in her home town in Quebec. She was funny, authentic, sincere, and the type of person you’d love to visit and drink tea with at the local cafe.

She talked about her beginning days of being a published author and how for the first four years of her book tours, no one showed up. When one person did, she was horrified, because as she said, “You’re only humiliated if one person shows up!” She kept on with grace and humility and now fills schools and theaters from 800-2,000 people.

Penny speaking at Shenendehowa High School West in Clifton Park, NY

Penny understood the power of words. As a child she was filled with fear of everything, especially spiders. Halfway through reading Charlotte’s Web, she realized she loved Charlotte and that she was a spider. Her fear of spiders dissipated, and she knew she wanted to be a writer. She understood the power of words and how they can heal.

However, she then developed another fear–writing and the fear of failure. How horrible to be afraid to do what she knew she was put on this earth to do. She suffered five years of writer’s block.

She explained that as a journalist, she saw the best and worst of people. It informed much of what she wrote about in her books. She saw the rage that people were capable of. She remembered the horrible, but also witnessed what people are capable of–the good and the evil.

Everything changed when she and her husband moved to the town that inspired Three Pines in her series. She met amazingly creative people and they took her in. She realized that she got to define herself. She decided if she was a writer. Penny learned that writing is a process. You try and fail until you get better. The fact that you are still getting out of bed is magnificent. Her worry about other’s approval or disapproval and how it affected her decisions, prevented her from writing. According to Penny, “Failing wouldn’t kill her, but not doing it would.”

She didn’t want to regret not doing what she always wanted when she came to the end of her life. So she changed gears. She wrote a book that she would read. For her and no one else. If no one wanted to read it, then that would be OK.

The locations of Three Pines in her series is inspired by where she lives–the bakery, cafe, general store as well as the characters who are based on her friends.

Penny’s books were rejected many times until she found her agent at a party that she didn’t want to go to. When you write the book that the world needs to read, the universe lines up to get it out to readers. Now her books have been printed in 23 languages, and she’s an award-winning author.

Louise was wonderful with my mom. She took time to greet everyone in line.

Her books are about choices, duality, having such despair, but also that hint of hope. I had written a post about A Fatal Grace and how a character couldn’t support the loss any longer and how she changed her life. Penny has this ability to see deep into what makes people act the way they do. Her words make a difference.

She observes human nature and has the gift to put it into words.

A wonderful bit of advice she gave was from her therapist. Your critic can’t write that first draft. It has to be the courageous, confident, and grateful you that writes this draft. Have the freedom to write what matters to you. Don’t worry about pacing and structure yet. Write the broad strokes of the plot. The first draft is “soft, smelly, and vague.”

Then the critic can edit the third or fourth draft. Her latest book was 145,000 and she reduced it down to about 100,000 and an average novel is 90,000 words. Take away what doesn’t fit. She is taking notes for the next book when she is about halfway through the current.

She knows how the book will start, who died, who killed them and why, but then the rest is a vague idea. Penny doesn’t know where the characters are going, but she has an idea of how they will change. They have structure, but not so much that there isn’t room for inspiration.

I’m picture with Louise, mom is on her right, and my sister, Michele, is on her left!

Louise Penny is a natural writer and speaker. She stood at the podium and spoke with such confidence. She met you like an old friend. I think we might take a road trip for some croissants!

For more writing tips, her newsletter, and a list of her books, visit her website at www.louisepenny.com

Her books are at your local library, and you can get them locally at The Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library!

Hope Through Loss

I have always been drawn to books for their deeper meaning and their ability to speak to a reader however they need at that moment.

Currently I’m reading Louise Penny’s book, Fatal Grace, which is the second book in her Chief Inspector Gamache series.

I love the depth of her characters and how she manages to bring out the ugliest and most terrorizing in people so that we can feel and know when we see the good in them as well.

One character lost her son and husband in a car accident. It destroyed her until as she said, “I couldn’t support the loss any longer.” She understood that she would always have the grief, but through her dark journey she had found hope.

Tears come to my eyes, because those words called to me. That is where I am. There have been times when I have placed my grief on the ground because the weight is so unbearable. I carry it because I have limitless love for my son. When that grief threatened to separate that love I had to put it down.

But then I had this void that was almost as bad as the grief. When I finally realized I couldn’t support this loss and the pain it drowns me in, I put it aside with the help of others.

But instead of that blank void, there was hope. I was able to see what joy and love I have in my life. My son, Stephen, is an incredible spirit. My husband, who has held me up even when I’m sure I was too heavy and my tribe of family, friends, and community.

No one could ever replace Nick. And I would never want them to. I know I will always grieve his loss, but I don’t have to carry it. I want to carry his love, not the loss.

Penny says she writes so we see that there is goodness. That’s so very true. In the darkest moment there is good.

I write because there also is hope. And I wish that those who are hurting, grieving, and carrying their loss know that when they are ready to place it down, they will find hope, light, and joy.

Where Did That Come From!?

Where Did That Come From!?

Having a character or a plot twist thrust itself into your story is possibly the best part of being a writer. I love when I’m right in the middle of the scene about dragons and a baby T-Rex who has escaped from home and then bam! a WWII fighter plane shoots across the sky.¬†hellcat

Sometimes it takes me a minute to wonder what is going on? Then I ask the question–why? Why is there a fighter plane in the midst of Dragonia? The dinosaurs may be thinking that their world is once again coming to an end, but perhaps it’s that insufferable evil Lord Tam who has managed to bring a fighter plane through a portal. And if he did, how did he learn how to fly one? Which side was he on in the war? Just how old is Tam?

In his character description, he’s early to mid 30’s, so what’s the deal? That’s when imagination overdrive kicks in. Perhaps Tam and his equally evil twin, Tim, are able to time hop across time and dimensions. So not only can he travel back to current time, but he has lived in multiple previous times. Hence his ability to handle a pirate ship, fly a plane, and zip across the sky on a dragon!

It has a bit of the movie Timeline feel to it, when the archeologists manage to go back in time and send messages to the future. They learn the skills of their medieval world, but have modern technology that keeps them alive.

It’s not to say that the final draft will have this scene or the plane in it, but that’s the point. The first through almost final drafts are meant to play and see the possibilities of what could happen. If we don’t submerge ourselves in the what if’s, then the story may miss an exciting swerve.


In addition to dinosaurs and fighter planes, I have a feeling the Quetzalcoatlus may show up. If you read book one of The Puzzle Quests: Shimmer’s Eggs, you might remember how this prehistoric bird is Luke’s favorite. Sometimes the reasons are logical.


Other times it’s because the character is just too cute! In Book Two of The Puzzle Quests: Saving Atlantis, Quinn and Mckenzie’s dog, Cinnamon, comes into the story. I just happened to pick that name, but then I googled cinnamon colored Great Danes and this cutie showed up!

Now Cinnamon is full grown, so this is what he’ll look like:


Glorious isn’t he? Right now, baby T-Rex has just met Cinnamon. So far they are getting along, but we shall see what each chapter brings.

Exploring, imagining, testing, and taking chances. That’s what writing is all about. Sometimes you have to dive bomb toward the possibilities!


Sketchy Dinosaurs

Sketchy Dinosaurs

Book Three of The Puzzle Quests: Sketchy Dinosaurs started in November with NanoWrimo. The goal was to write every single day to finish a 50,000 word novel in one month. I reached day 14 with 14,000 words and hadn’t picked up the story until yesterday.


That’s not to say that I completely forgot about Mark, Boulder, and the wonderful dragons and characters that live in Dragonia. I created my storyboard filled with themes, action/danger points, setting, and of course old and new characters.

Love doing research!

From the photos and the title, you have probably figured out that book three will include dinosaurs. There were references in Book two–Saving Atlantis with Mark falling into dino poop and taking an interesting rock home with him. References like meteors and large footprints that could only have been made from a T-Rex.

There are a broad spectrum of ideas, and I might have to deal with questions like: Was the Smilodon around during the same time as the T-Rex? How did dinosaurs and dragons actually connect when one is extinct and the other supposedly never existed? How did the dinosaurs get around in Dragonia where there is so much water? How did they even get there? And the biggest question of all–why would my readers care?

I came up with the idea of dinosaurs basically because Mark loved dinosaurs as a child and his nickname was T-Rex. So now I’m developing this entire story to include dinosaurs, so I need to be able to answer these questions, make the answers believable, and continue to create characters and connections that we care about.

Man, I love writing and all the possibilities! I’m excited to get the first draft completed. Until then, read Shimmer’s Eggs and Saving Atlantis to get to know all the fun characters and storylines.

I’ll be at Northshire Bookstore on February 16 for a children’s writing workshop and book signing, beginning at 1pm. My books are available there, in other local bookstores, and on my website www.janinedetilliocammarata.com

Keep reading and writing!

Riding the Writing Express

Riding the Writing Express

This fall has been a whirlwind of writing, teaching, and spreading words of hope around the area. It began with the publishing of my second middle grade book, The Puzzle Quests: Saving Atlantis, which led to many opportunities to share my book .


Along the way, I had the pleasure to work with 3-5th graders in my Writing Stories to Save Atlantis program at The Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library. Each week I read excerpts from the book, and the children’s imagination continued the story as they created characters to help Rose on her quests.

Concentrated excitement as they write their stories!
Artwork and Writing go hand in hand and improves creativity.
Very proud writers and future authors!

I love how everyone can put writing into practice. It just takes imagination, willpower, and an idea. My next elementary writing session at the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library starts in January. Check out all my upcoming workshops at www.janinedetilliocammarata.com

Along my writing/book tour I had the pleasure to teach my Writer’s Journal program at multiple schools including Karigon Elementary, Berlin Middle School, Blue Creek Elementary, and Waterford next week. Bringing creativity into school gives the students an opportunity to think out of the box.

Blue Creek Elementary is ready!
Working on setting to build the story.

In a two-day program, we are able to develop characters, establish their fears, wishes, and place them in a setting. Doing this first makes it easy to create a plot and well thought out story. If you’d like me to come into your school to share The Writer’s Journal, please review my information at the BOCES Arts in Ed site.

My monthly journaling workshops at The Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library have grown to 20+ participants each month. By sharing different journal techniques, there is something for everyone.

Journaling for Adults–December 2018
Sarah’s Holiday Delight!

Finally my Book Release Beach Party was held on December 2 at The Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library. All five of my book release events have been at this library. Their support and sense of community are outstanding. Children arrived with their beach towels, sunglasses, and flip flips. They settled on the floor with their paper and pencils to collaborate on a scene from Saving Atlantis.

Collaboration at its best!

Very often we don’t try something new, because we are afraid to fail. I love giving children and adults the tools and space to create their own stories. It’s empowering and teaches us that anything is possible.

Some of my beta readers who evaluated my manuscript before it was published.
Ali was determined to make it to my book event. What a smile!

Through writing, teaching, and sharing my books, I know that anything is possible. No matter where you are, there is hope. You just have to keep your eyes open and expect it.

This writing express I have found myself on has been exhilarating, empowering, and all encompassing. It provides a space to share my passion and fulfill my mission of helping others.

Thank you to everyone who has come along on this ride. There will be many more stops along the way!

If you haven’t made it to my book events and still would like a copy, please visit my website at www.janinedetilliocammarata.com

A portion of all book sales is donated to Nick’s Fight to be Healed Foundation, which supports our local children with cancer.

My Boy

10 years ago we said goodbye to Nick, our firstborn son, our miracle, and one of the pure lights in our lives. It seems like a lifetime ago, it feels like yesterday.

There are moments of clarity from that day and thankfully blankness. The mind isn’t meant to hold so much trauma. I want to remember the essence of Nick, the beauty of him inside and out, the pure joy he had in making others laugh, and the compassion and love he showed others.

I have learned that no matter where I go, here I am. The pain of losing my child has ebbed and flowed over the years. It’s been a tsunami threatening to wrench my hands from the last tree limb and destroy me. I have often wanted to let go. But I have managed to hold on, so that the floating waves calm me into thinking the worst is over.

Losing a child is never over. I don’t care what the circumstances. Mine happened to be from cancer, which catapulted me into a mission to help others through Nick’s Fight and my writing. I have ridden the storm for 10 years, and I wish I could tell the parents who just lost their child that the pain will end, that the hole in your heart will seal, and you can live the life you expected.

The pain doesn’t end. That hole sometimes collapses into a crater. It can slowly fill in, but never completely.

As I sit here thinking about my boys-one too far away for me to ever hold and the other a quick drive away, I understand that life isn’t what I expected. Life just is. It ebbs and flows in its own path.

It’s up to me how I’m going to ride it. Sometimes I fall real hard, and it’s tough to get up. That is where family, friends, and knowing my purpose get me back on my feet. That’s the constant. They are always there no matter what happens, no matter how I show up-flat on my face or standing tall.

They showed me that no matter where I am, there is hope. Riding this storm of grief, I know this down to my core.

As I tumble through the undercurrent of my grief today, I have some special people reaching in to pull me out. I am grateful.

I love my boys more than life. They are my life. I would do anything for them. Right now the best I can do is live my own life true to me, so they will do the same for themselves.

No matter where I am, there is hope. Thinking of my boy today. Love them both with all my heart.