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!



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.

SCBWI Authors Share their Wisdom

SCBWI Authors Share their Wisdom

As NaNoWriMo (national novel writing month) comes to an end today, the habits we formed from daily writing shouldn’t end. Getting support and advice from our fellow writers is key to keeping us motivated, but in the end it’s up to you to do the work and write your story.

SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators) is a fabulous organization that I encourage any children’s writer or illustrator to join. The networking and knowledge  shared is vital to getting your work finished and published.

My local group which is run by the fabulous Nancy Castaldo and Lois Huey meets once a month at the Guilderland Public Library. This month we met at the William K. Sanford Library in Colonie and heard from four published authors: Nancy Castaldo, Rose Kent, Daniel J. Mahoney, and Eric Luper.


Rose Kent’s books

Each author spoke about the path they took to become a writer, which only proves that anyone can be a successful writer if you have the dedication to write what you are passionate about and practice, practice, practice. Nancy was the moderator, but her love of science and learning led to her writing. Rose was in the Navy, raised a family, became a freelance writer, was published in magazines, and then wrote her novels pictured above. Eric wasn’t much of a reader as a kid, but he enjoyed stories. It wasn’t until he was in a college writing class, that he became interested in writing. Even though he earns his living as a chiropractor, his first novel came out in 2002 and he has published many for Scholastic and Cartoon Network. Dan began his career as an illustrator and sent samples to publishers. He was published immediately by Clarion Publishers, who asked him to write the story to his illustrations. Dan also works as an x-ray technician. The path to publishing is different for every writer and it’s not easy, but it’s the love of what you are doing that has to keep you going.

When dealing with challenges, Dan recommended to keep writing and put your heart into it. Even though he was published by Clarion, when the company downsized, they didn’t want his type of books any longer. He kept writing and illustrating and seven years later was published again. Rose explained that giving birth to a story is messy and takes a long time. It’s an internal process and she also has felt the joy of publishing and the rejection. Eric’s first book was rejected 100 times.  He still gets rejections after 20 books and looks for other paths.

Harry Potter was rejected 12 times.

A Wrinkle in Time was rejected 28 times.

Jane Yolen who has published 365 books is still getting rejections!

Learn from the process. Eric’s second book was in a different genre and was better because of his previous rejections.

All four authors absolutely love going into the schools and connecting with the children they write for. As Rose says, “It’s about hope. We don’t have answers to all the problems, but it goes back to hope.”

Their advice to writers:

Nancy–read, read, read and analyze like a writer. Keep a journal! Plot doesn’t always come when you want. You can refer to your journal later.

Rose–read and find the quiet space. Focus on the writing without the distractions. Write the story and make a mess.

Eric–try to write the book  you wish you had in your hands at that age. Write what you are passionate about. The most interesting things happen when he doesn’t know what will happen. Let it show up.

Dan–write about what happened to you or what you are familiar with. Push yourself to to work on your story every day.

It was a pleasure meeting the authors and listening to their stories and advice. Do the work. Sit and write. Network and learn from others. Grow your writing family by attending meetings such as this one. To find out more about SCBWI, visit their website at www.scbwi.org

For journal prompts to get the writing jitters out of the way, follow my blog www.writetobehealed.wordpress.com



It All Starts with a Seed

It All Starts with a Seed


Creating. It all starts with a seed–whether it’s a garden, an idea, artwork, or a family. This idea came to me as I began my next book and flourished as I was harvesting all the vegetables in my garden.

I thought about what it takes to create anything in life. I always plant my garden during Memorial Day weekend. Over the years, I have figured out what works or doesn’t yield much. We have had to move our tomatoes to a different area so that they get more sun. It has been a learning process. I plant what I know we will enjoy eating. I plant, because I want to eat local and healthy. I also plant, because I love nurturing the tiny seeds and feel joy when they start to sprout. I am hopeful when, despite storms or cold nights, they fight through and eventually grow taller than me. If I give the plants what they need and allow them to flourish, then they prosper.

Wow, doesn’t that sound a lot like raising children?

It’s also how I approach my writing. Everything I create or want to bring forth in this world grows my purpose to provide hope and make the world a better place. These are some steps I take to create or write:

  1. Intention/Purpose: What is my intention for writing this book? Why do I want to write it? What do I want my readers to get from it? I write to soften the harshness of reality and provide hope no matter how dire the circumstances.
  2. Creating from a Positive mindset: Whatever I do, whether it’s cooking a meal, growing my garden, or writing a book, I come from a positive frame of mind. When I’m cooking my sauce, I don’t think about the guy who cut me off on the way home, or the argument I had with someone. I think about my wonderful family who will enjoy my meal. I sprinkle love and happiness into the meal. When I write, I want to spread hope and joy to those reading my books. If I write from a negative or bitter point of view, then I’m releasing that out into the world. Yes, maybe the topics aren’t easy, but my intention is hope and so that is where I create from.
  3. Don’t Overthink: I am excited that my first middle grade novel, The Puzzle Quests: Shimmer’s Eggs will be out in October of this year. Don’t worry! Details are coming! I have jumped right into the second book, because I want to keep the characters’ voices flowing. I worried about where to start the book, but continued from where the first book ended. I didn’t think about what I was writing. I wrote from my character’s feelings. The first five pages sounded grimmer than I wanted, but I knew I was just in the seed planting stage. I had to prepare the soil and see what grew from there. I don’t get bogged down by the need for perfection. I am in the midst of creating and know that I will rewrite those first lines and chapter about 20 times.
  4. Be Nurturing: Being kind to myself and my words when I write goes back to keeping that positive energy flowing. By nurturing my words, I let them grow on their own. I may guide them by writing out a description that may work. Upon editing, it may not sound write anymore, so I prune and snip and add back in until I see the fruit of my nurturing come forth. I come from a place of love and belief in my writing.
  5. Hard Work: Nothing worth creating is easy. It takes dedication, time, and consistency to grow, to build, to flourish. If I left my garden for a week without water or weeding or even picking the vegetables, my garden would suffer. I have to consistently work at it to give it the space and effort it deserves. The same goes with writing. If I write once a week or even once every few days, my writing will dry up and my characters will wilt.
  6. Team Effort: Whoever said that writing is an individual effort, never worked with a team or a group of characters. When I’m in my head, I’m never alone. When I’m in my garden, I am surrounded by life. I have a gang of people just pushing to get me to tell me their story. But the team effort doesn’t stop here. I am fortunate enough to be a part of a Super Cool Writer’s Group! By putting my work out there to fellow supportive writers, my creating has grown in leaps and bounds. I get feedback, but am also held accountable to produce. It’s like a farmer’s co-op. Everyone needs to bring their share of the vegetables. So we make sure we create regularly.

Creating is a part of being human. When we come from a place of love, altruism, and philanthropy, we make the world a better place. When we create from the heart, then we bring forth positive change and benefit from our harvest, no matter what it is.




Where Fear and Love Collide

Where Fear and Love Collide

Fear, love, fireworks? You may think you know where this post is going, but don’t be too sure. 

Today I taught 15 middle school students about creating characters for a short story. One way to develop a character is to write about yourself. They physically described themselves, wrote about their personalities, skills, favorite foods, etc. 

Then we got to the juicy part. What did they fear and what did they love more than anything. 

Some were:

Not fitting in/ baseball

Getting sick again/playing outside


Being trapped/acting

Then they created their fictional characters and wrote from where their characters’ fears and love collided. Their stories were quite creative. Like a cellist saving his instrument from a fire, or a baseball player not making the same team as all his friends. Or a video gamer who is afraid of the dark gets sucked into his game and a black hole. 

Describing what they love becomes easier since they have experience with it and creates an emotional connection. Next, the setting can depend on what the character likes to do. If someone is a surfer, then it makes sense to have them live by the beach. 

There can be more than one fear or one love. Just as there are subplots and multiple main characters. Doing the work and developing the character first creates the groundwork for a finished story. 

Then the fireworks of inspiration can begin!


When your Book is Done

When your Book is Done

Start Another!

The most important task a writer can do upon completion of a book or story is start another. When we finish a project it’s a good idea to take a break, especially if edits still need to be made. But when that book is complete and off to production, you have to jump right in and start the next.


Writing is like swimming, lifting weights, yoga or any other sport. If you don’t exercise those muscles you lose them quickly. Plus, if you’re like me, you have a myriad of other ideas you’ve been itching to begin.

The Puzzle Quests: Shimmer’s Eggs is getting closer to print. Carol Coogan, my fabulous graphic designer, is working on the cover and a couple illustrations that will be inside the book. There’s still so much to do to, but I have started the third book in my Fianna Cycle.

visit http://www.janinedetilliocammarata.com to get on my mailing list for publication news!

It has been a long time since my second book in the series, Eyes of the Goddess, came out. Life sidetracks us and I wrote my non-fiction book, What Makes Them Amazing, and then tried many times to write what I thought was the third book in my series about Maecha’s daughter Eibhlin. But with the help of my Super Cool Writer’s Group, I realized that Natalie Fischer’s story still isn’t down. She has to meet her biological mother, time travel to 3rd century Celtic Ireland, free her druid father, fall in love with the knife-wielding warrior, Caoilte, all while being threatened by those who resent her.

That’s a lot for a young adult, but she is up to the challenge and so am I.

I’m excited to start this venture along with the first session of my 6-week writing workshop about creating characters to propel plot. We met last night and there are some fabulous ideas!

So if you are ready to write your story, get to know your character. Writing a story without knowing your character is like getting married after a one-night stand. Yes, there may be something thrilling about that person, but you do not know who you are marrying! Last night was the first date with our characters, and I believe there will be a second!

Keep exploring and writing!


In the Book House

Monday my SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators)  met at The Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza for a writers’ field trip. It was a change of pace from where we usually meet, and it was probably one of the most effective gatherings for me.

As you may know, I’m finalizing my next book called The Puzzle Quests: Shimmer’s Eggs. Carol Coogan who designed my book, What Makes Them Amazing: The Inspiring Stories of Young Adults Fighting Cancer, is currently working on the cover. I have been calling it a middle grade novel, but wanted to make sure that I had it right. Some advice was that it was based on the age of the characters, or the word count, subject matter, or level of reading.

According to an article I found on writingrhymeandmeter.com: “Middle Grade Books are written for kids approximately 8-12.  The language has to be modified to complement their lexile ranges, but it is not acceptable to write in a way that is pedantic.  Themes should be relevant: adventure is essential, parents are generally absent, romance is light if present, happy endings are the norm, and the protagonist is always in the age range of the readers or slightly older.”

In my book, Luke and Mark are 11 and entering 7th grade, which Peter and Rose are 9 and going into 5th grade. Time travel through a puzzle is definitely adventurous, parents aren’t usually around to keep them from getting into trouble, just a smidgen of romantic interest, and although the ending isn’t what may be expected, it’s hopeful.

According to a blog post by Writers Digest, a middle grade novel word count is between 20,000-55,000 words. Mine is just over 50,000, so I think Middle Grade is the right category for this book.

Understanding where my book will fit on the shelves of bookstores is essential to marketing it and getting booksellers to purchase it. I believe I’m in the right spot and look forward to sharing it soon.

Next step? Finding a printer.