Organizing a Book Series

Organizing a Book Series

When I first started writing books, I thought I would write a single title and then start a totally separate book. When Warriors Within reached 500 pages, I knew I had to break it into a series. I ended where most of the book’s plots were tied up and kept some open for book two. I published it and began the second book, realizing that I limited myself by not seeing the whole series.

I knew my latest book, The Puzzle Quests: Shimmer’s Eggs would be a series, but I wrote the first one somewhat knowing what would happen in the next three. Now that I am writing book two, I have discovered the importance of mapping out the series’ plots, themes, and developing a storyboard. By looking at the series as a whole, I end up writing all three books at the same time.

Shimmer’s Eggs focused on the main character Luke, who has been challenged to fulfill a quest in exchange for a wish. I introduce all four characters, but it focuses on Luke’s personality and how he grows. Book Two, Saving Atlantis is based on Rose’s point of view. I had a hard time adjusting to writing the story from Rose’s frame of mind. I had been so used to knowing what Luke would do in every situation. I needed to understand where Rose was coming from, what she wanted to accomplish, what her struggles would be, and how she would or wouldn’t change from them.

Rose’s character board

This led me to thinking about what Mark and Peter’s themes would be and what they were looking to do in their books. I knew there would be a quest, so this forced me to ask the question: What are their quests? How will the quests move the books and series along? What is the overall theme of the series and in each book?

This is what I came up with for my current series:

Shimmer’s Eggs: Luke overcoming a health crisis and having a wish not come true the way he would have wanted.

Physical theme: Castles, knights, and dragons

Saving Atlantis: Rose learning patience and that people don’t deal with life struggles in the same way.

Physical theme: water, sea animals, palace of seashells

Book Three (Untitled): Mark building his confidence to try new adventures and not be afraid of failure.

Physical theme: Jungle, meteors, dinosaurs

Book Four (Untitled): Peter learning to let go and be the person he is meant to be.

Physical theme: ships, treasure, pirates

These themes give me an idea of where I’m heading. I update ideas for each of the books as I’m writing the current one. Even though each of the characters is dealing with their own problems and growth, I need to understand the overall theme and goal of these books. What is the end result and theme? Why did they go through all of this? Why were they particularly chosen to bond with these dragons? This is something I’m still working on, but it has to do with giving back and sharing their stories of hope. Through their connections to the dragons, they have been given a tool and inspiration to journey through one of life’s toughest lessons.

The beauty of doing this is that it’s fluid. It can change as my characters grow. Nothing is set in stone until that book is published! So make sure you don’t cut off your nose to spite your face as the saying goes. Or get rid of a storyline that you end up needing in the last book. Look at the big picture first, then break it down into the smaller ones.


Any Day is for Love

Any Day is for Love

I met Luke December 22, 1988 on a blind date at the TGI Friday’s in Stuyvesant Plaza. I was 22, he was 26. As far as I was concerned, it was love at first sight.


He recently mentioned how he wondered what exactly kept us together for 30 years. We are quite different in personality, viewpoints, and personal beliefs.


I believe that showing our love to one another every day has helped us endure. We have never doubted what we have. Our life experiences have strengthened that love, and we appreciate it.

Never said it was easy, but I couldn’t imagine sharing my love with anyone else. Valentine’s Day is another day that reminds us to not take those you love for granted. It doesn’t have to be romantic love. It is anyone who lifts you up, makes you smile, and makes your world a brighter place. Today, that’s the perfect reminder to spend time with my man!


Learn Writing from Reading

Learn Writing from Reading

The best way to improve your writing, besides writing, is by reading what you want to write. Even better is listening to books. When I listen to an audiobook, I can hear an author’s repetition, flow, style, and voice. This is especially helpful when writing a series. What storyline do you complete in the first book and continue into the other? How does the author focus on the protagonist and include secondary characters? What is the teaser at the end of the book that will guarantee a reader won’t be satisfied until they read the next book?


My buddy Conge, who is a fabulous writer and one of my beta readers, suggested I read Gregor the Overlander in our last writing workshop. I had read The Hunger Games, which was the series Suzanne Collins became well-known for, but Gregor was written for ages 8-12 just my book, The Puzzle Quests: Shimmer’s Eggs.

Whenever I begin a new story or continue a series, I start with the characters. I immediately loved Gregor and his connection to his baby sister, Boots. Even at age 11, he was a protector and head of the family. Collins quickly throws them into a quest, similar to Luke and Peter with finding Shimmer’s eggs. I won’t spoil the book, but it’s a fun travel through time or a black hole would be more descriptive.

There are many storylines in this first book, but for Gregor to follow through on his quest, he has to be pushed beyond what he is willing to live with. He has to get back what he has been wanting for more than two years–his father. Collins describes how hard life is without Gregor’s father. Gregor is laden with responsibility, and his mother is struggling to keep food on the table. It’s a sad situation, and Gregor has the chance to change that.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a quest to find Shimmer’s eggs in order for Luke to be healthy again or Gregor having to fulfill a prophecy to get his father back. When what a character wants more than anything is jeopardized or who they love is thrown into danger, a plot is formed. It’s something we can all relate to. Who wouldn’t go above and beyond to save a family member if they had the chance? The characters become relatable and that is why we stay with the book.

I also loved Boots. Hearing her call, “Hey you!” was adorable. She stated the obvious and kept Gregor grounded. “Fly you high,” was how everyone wished each other luck, and they were lines that stayed with me. They made the book real, even though it was set in a fantasy genre.

As far as setting up book two, Gregor may think he’s finished, but we know he isn’t when this little thing called the Prophecy of Bane is mentioned before he returns home. He figures he’s never seeing any of them again, but we already know different.

I just started book two. New characters have been introduced, which is extremely helpful for me as many new characters have come into play in Saving Atlantis. Some revisiting of the previous storyline is necessary, but finding that balance will be key to keeping the story flowing.

I’m lucky to have great readers who can recommend books for me to enjoy and learn from. Give Gregor the Overlander a try, especially if you liked The Puzzle Quests: Shimmer’s Eggs! If anyone has other middle grade books to suggest, let me know!


Memories in Writing

Memories in Writing

It only makes sense that when you are writing a creatively fictional memoir, to look back at photos for ideas. I recently did this while writing Book Two of The Puzzle Quests: Saving Atlantis. It’s told from Rose’s point of view–the darling in the pink hat, pictured below.

February 19, 2009

Hopefully I am forgiven for sharing this photo, but it’s special in so many ways and launched a couple chapters in my book. This was taken on my dad’s birthday. He had been gone for 12 years already, and only four months after my son, Nick, had passed. Family came over often. It reminded me of how supported we were and still are in our journey without a son, brother, best friend, cousin. There is this gap without Nick that can’t be filled, but the gatherings we had soothed it. Losing my dad at only 57 didn’t help either.

In addition to games, there was some serious manicotti training. At least for some!

In Saving Atlantis, I actually change these scenes to Easter. It reminded me of this special holiday that has been at my house since we moved to Clifton Park 27 years ago. Everyone always came to the Cammarata house for food and a savvy Easter egg and scavenger hunt. The children had different colored eggs to find. In addition to candy in the eggs, there would be clues to the location of the basket of treasures. Or there would be a word puzzle they would have to be solved to find the treasure. It makes sense that I am writing books about quests and finding lost items.

Each year was something different, and the kids thoroughly enjoyed it. My heart broke a little when they were done with the hunting, but when the youngest three were 15, I figured I kept it around long enough!

A scavenger hunt is the perfect way for Rose, Peter, and Mark to escape through their puzzle to help Luke and Natalia in Atlantis. In Book Two, cousins Quinn and Mackenzie get involved. Quinn distracts the older cousins, while Mackenzie protects the portal.

The plot is unwinding, twisting, and sometimes falling back on itself, but these photos give me inspiration and precious memories.

Envisioning my Art: Nuts, Bolts + Beyond

Envisioning my Art: Nuts, Bolts + Beyond


I received this postcard in the mail last fall about about a 7-month intensive for artists. It would focus on how to define myself as an artist and promote my art as a business. My latest book The Puzzle Quests: Shimmer’s Eggs was at the printer and expected any day. I had made a commitment to my journaling workshops and the goal to publish a book on journaling within the next two years. This was a sign I was on the right track.

I filled the detailed application and sent it in just in time. I didn’t have any expectations, but I knew I had started a ball rolling that was only going to get bigger.

It was with great joy and gratitude that I was accepted into this program that is sponsored by The Arts Center of the Capital Region. Every Tuesday for seven months, I would meet with 11 other artists from all different disciplines and various instructors who want us to be the best artists we can be.

my vision nbb

I am now halfway through the program and I thought, “I need to share this amazing experience and people with the world.”

This course has opened my eyes to the many layers of art. As the only traditional writer, Danielle is a blooming writer and illustrator, I wasn’t sure where I fit in. There’s this whole visual world that has opened up to me. I used photos from families and Elizabeth Fox Photography in my book What Makes Them Amazing, but thinking of how they can be used in my journaling book or displayed in an art gallery in order to share my message is thrilling.

There are so many options open to me. Learning to draw. Taking photography classes. These are different tools I can utilize to  share my message.

Of course when I get ideas, I’m like a cyclone wanting to take everything with me at once. This intensive has helped me embrace and hone my vision into achievable dreams. My purpose is to spread hope, create a sense of community, and share tools for healing for anyone who has suffered.

Fellow amazing artists in Nuts, Bolts + Beyond

One workshop focused on building a vision board. What did we want to grow in the next year, the next five years? It was a daunting task, but we had to start somewhere. I loved the unique paths everyone is taking from painting, photography, sculpting, woodworking, weaving, illustration, and writing. I have learned how much I need to learn!


It’s a work in progress, but I have my vision and it keeps growing as I continue in this class. I know I can use different forms of expression to share my message. The use of photography, illustration, and writing are my trifecta for creation, and I can’t wait to share it and the incredible talent of my classmates with everyone.

Creative Stories are All Around Us!

Creative Stories are All Around Us!

I am currently teaching a middle grade writing workshop at The Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library. It’s a great group with very enthusiastic writers.

The focus is finding different topics in the world around us and observing for inspiration. A writer must also keep eyes and ears open for unique characters, settings, and plots.

I begin each session with a journal entry about their day. Learning to record details is essential. Then follows a photo prompt. Last week, I had two photos, each of a dog. Even with the same photo everyone will come up with a different description, idea, and possible plot.

If you’d like to write from either of these photos, stop reading and write what you see, what the characters are feeling, how and if they connect, and what you think might happen. Then read further and see what the teens came up with.

Zoey Cammarata

Zoey probably wouldn’t have liked me sharing this photo of her. She is often misunderstood, when she really is very happy to see people!

Dakota Cammarata flipping Marvin in the air!

Dakota gets the free spirit award as he always wants to play!

Some of the descriptions were clear like Dakota wanting to run around all dayand Zoey growling at Dakota, because he stole Zoey’s toy.

Another scenario was that Zoey lives in an alley and has had a rough life. She is scared, but shows her teeth to hide her fear and look tough. Dakota is a happy dog who lives a good life. They might interact when Dakota gets lost or vice versa. How will their different experiences affect how they treat one another? Do they go on an adventure?

Photo prompts are a fantastic way to get unstuck or use actual events or descriptions in a story. Just make sure that they are changed enough, so that it is truly a work of fiction.

Of course if this is a memoir, then that’s a totally different story!

Skipping Around Saving Atlantis

Skipping Around Saving Atlantis

With The Puzzle Quests: Shimmer’s Eggs out to the public and going through its second printing, I have been diligently working on book two–The Puzzle Quests: Saving Atlantis (working title, but so far feels right).

My plan is to write all four books in the series to keep the flow going, and I have been challenged by an avid fan (my husband!) to have a working draft by the end of the month! Yes! This month, January, which only has 15 days left. I am almost at the halfway point. I don’t worry about what I’m writing so much as going by the feel of it. It is a very rough draft, which is where I should be for the first one.

A couple days ago, I was stumped. I reviewed my notes, but felt stagnant in the current chapter. At lunch, that avid fan suggested bringing in Dakota, one of our rescue dogs. To be honest, I was thinking about including Zoey, but she is more my dog and Dakota is more Peter’s. However Zoey’s personality and the signature white patch on her gray chest does remind me of a certain koalephant in Shimmer’s Eggs.

Dakota at 12 weeks when we first adopted him.

It was like an earthquake broke a dam and everything poured out. What if Peter found Dakota and brought him home? How would Dakota help Peter in his healing process? How did Dakota just happen to be in the dumpster that Rose and Peter just happened to be riding by at that particular moment? With many questions, come many answers, and great writing most likely ensues!

With all that activity, Dakota made his debut into The Puzzle Quests series. Wait until Zoey hears about this. She does have her own blog, but this will launch Dakota into permanent stardom!

Writing what moves me at that moment is the key to writing continuity. Where I placed this chapter right now may not be where it will stay, but the essence and power of that chapter is strong, and I know it will be a part of this book.

If you are stuck in your story and another thread pops into your mind, go with it. Writing is not linear. It’s like water, so let it pour out.

All I will say about Dakota’s story is he was rescued from a dumpster in Tennessee. He was starving and scared. How this plays into Saving Atlantis and Peter’s growth as a character will remain to be seen.

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