Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Writing an Outline

I encourage writers to get their foot into the door via the query letter. Some publishers require you submit an outline with it and I often get requests to see how I write them. So I'm going to post one I wrote for Lady Mary. A little history: I wrote this originally for Odyssey but was paid a kill-fee because they didn't have space to publish the short piece (~ 400 words). A few years later, I submitted this same query to Uncle John's Bathroom Readers for Kids--I'd met the editor at the Sharing our Hope Highlights Workshop. She was a hoot to work with. My short article turned into a lengthier piece with room to add interesting facts and figures. And it made the back cover of the book! Note that my bibliography is solid. I know some editors look at it first to see if the sources the writer plans to consult are good.  

Outlining works for me because the jumbled images that come to my mind can be organized where I can see them. They often suggests a story and now I can see if all the elements are in a logical order. 


1.      Introduction

·         Go to a party to catch a disease

·         Lady Mary promotes smallpox parties

·         People never get smallpox twice

2.      Two types of smallpox

·         Minor – kills a tenth, less severe

·         Major – kills a third

·         Eastern cultures – breathe in dried scabs or injected them

3.      Inoculation

·         Lady Mary in Turkey in the early 1700s

·         Details of inoculation

·         Inoculated person is now armed

·         Lady Mary has her children inoculated

·         She promotes the practice upon returning to England

·         Royal family gets inoculated – gives the seal of approval

4.      Complications

·         Other infections/death

·         Risks 1/7 die (caught naturally) or 1/200 (inoculated)

5.      Edward Jenner

·         Inoculated as a little boy – almost died

·         Vaccination – different because injected material is cowpox

·         Inoculation outlawed 


1.      Helena Curtis. 1983. Biology (Fourth Edition). Worth Publishers.

2.      Bernard D. Davis et. al. 1980. Microbiology (Third Edition). Harper & Row Publishers.

3.      Edward Jenner. 1938. Scientific papers: physiology, medicine, surgery and geology. Harvard Classics Vol. 38.  P. F. Collier & Son, edited by Charles W. Eliot.

4.      Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. 1971. The Selected Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. St. Martins Press.

5.      Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. 1988. Embassy to Constantinople: the travels of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.  New Amsterdam.

6.      Tom Ridgeway. 2001. Smallpox. The Rosen Publishing Group.

7.      Sarah R. Riedman. 1960. Shots without Guns. Rand McNally & Co. 

Monday, September 7, 2020

My First Picture Book

This is the first picture book that I ever wrote and sent out. The story itself stands up to scrutiny after nearly two decades but not my cover letter. I can use this as a teaching tool. Let's spot all the ways how one ought not to write a cover: 

Dear ____

The tender friendship between my cat and son from birth through two years is documented in candid photographs.  I am sending a manuscript (180 words) and a rough dummy for a 32-page picture book titled, Kali and Baby Max based upon it. [In another letter I offer to let the illustrator use my pictures as inspiration for art.]

Kali and Baby Max is targeted for the youngest readers (age 1-5).  It shows the joy of having a pet.  Although there are many books on the market with this theme, I have not found a picture book that is as realistic as mine.  And it is the reality of the antics that Kali and Max do together that is so fresh and appealing. [Any more adjectives?]

My professional background is in the sciences (B.Sc. Microbiology; Ph.D. Biochemistry) and I have published in scientific journals.  I write stories and poems for my children and take writing courses and believe that I will succeed in this new venture. [Brimming with confidence! What relevance does a PhD have for a book for with babies and toddlers, I have no idea.]

I am submitting Kali and Baby Max to other publishing houses but I will promptly notify you if I hear from the others.  I appreciate your time and consideration and look forward to your reply. 


I received lovely rejection letters with compliments for having a cute baby and cat. They all encouraged me to continue writing. I'm so grateful my silly submission was rejected because Midnight and Baby Max is way better! My homemade books (I wrote several) were a favorite with my kids along with books by Eve Bunting, Eric Carle and Leo Lionni. But as the children grew, they went on to read other books. And I went on to writing magazine stories and other books for the school and library market. They were fun to write and taught me so much. I didn't pull this baby out again until I started compiling some short stories for my EZ book, Max and Dagny. And the story holds up. So, after a few tweaks to the text, I published it myself. I learned so much, not just about story, but choosing trim size so as to make it affordable. Color printing is expensive. I don't know how people will find this book in the sea of books but I do hope parents find it and read it to their children, delighting in their delight. I love the flexibility of self-publishing especially for highly self-indulgent projects like these. Please note that my pictures are not even close to being professional. Perhaps I should take my own advice that I wrote to a few editors. Alas, I'm no artist so the photos remain as they are, untouched. 

I know many writers will not look back on their old work, but I'm discovering that many of my early works, though not polished, have tremendous heart and soul. I'm always chasing the next new idea but I think it's good to return to old stories when they bring themselves to the forefront and give them a spit-shine. I've actually sold many old stories, simply because it was the right timing. I saw a call for a certain type of story and voila! 

Let's talk about old stories. What do you do with yours?  

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

The Lamp: a new literary magazine

The inaugural print issue of The Lamp: a Catholic Journal of Literature, Science, the Fine Arts, etc.  has been a great delight. Max told me about them about a year ago and I read a few free articles. I love that he bought a subscription for all of us to enjoy. The articles are all well written, witty, and I had to look up a few things as well, like what in the heck is Feuilleton and without even knowing I figured it out--tidbits. It had a bedtime story for children called The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids. I wonder how many parents read such stories to their kids. Everything is so nice nowadays.

The magazine has an elegant look with just the two tones and spot art. My three favorite pieces: JD Vance's conversion story for the truth of it, Urban Hannon's article on How to be a Radical--by going to the root of things, and Matthew Walther's Kale-Flavored Smoke, a review of Jules Verne's Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Seas. I laughed so hard it made me want to pick it up again. It's great to see another Catholic literary magazine. Dappled Things is the other I know of.

And lookie, the second issue, Assumption 2020 arrived. Note the pretty blue. And Max just told us that his first academic paper has been published here:  I'm so proud of him. Maybe he'll write something for the Lamp. Deo gratias!