Author Blog

Naming My Baby

You named me what?

This is a lengthy blog post but represents the long process of choosing the best title for my middle grade novel. I have to say, it’s been about as nerve-wracking as naming my human babies. But that’s a whole different saga I’ll explain in a different post with pseudonyms, so the kids won’t hate me.

My novel acquired the nickname “Hotdog” years ago when I was taking it to Carolyn’s Yoder’s Highlights Foundation workshops. I still call it Hotdog and am perfectly happy to continue. But NOW, it seems, I need a proper name, and soon, because it needs an International Standard Book Number, and I can’t get that without the title. Think of it as Hotdog’s microchip, rabies and name tags all rolled into one. (Without the collar. Or the jingle-jangle when he’s on the move).

What’s in a Name?

From what I understand (which isn’t much) the ISBN is a book’s identifier, so it doesn’t get lost in a worldwide system. But it must be associated with a particular title. Its own title. A name that expresses its personality but doesn’t reveal all its secrets. A billboard that readers will notice and gravitate to. And is easy to search for online.

At first when Hotdog was more of an idea than a book, the working title was TAKING HOTDOG HOME. I wasn’t worried about the title then. I had my hands full just trying to find and tell the story! But, as I made changes and changed the changes, the direction of the story finally became clear. The original working title no longer fit. So, I brainstormed about five seconds and the new working title became HOTDOG’S LAST HURRAH. Little did I know it would be five YEARS and about the same number of revisions before he was even close enough to the finish line to need a new title. THE title that will be the best fit.

At first, I thought I might go back to TAKING HOTDOG HOME. But I liked HOTDOG’S LAST HURRAH, too. I couldn’t decide. My former student, Holly McPeak, had her students vote on it for me and they chose HOTDOG’S LAST HURRAH. Which was great!

Second Thoughts

But again…I…wasn’t…sure… Was “Last” the best word to use? What about “hurrah”? I read more about titles and the reasons for their existence.

Wait! What? It also needs a subtitle? Nooooooooooooo!

So, I began brainstorming again, bouncing options off friends and family, basically driving them crazy.  Here’s a few of my feeble and truly rotten attempts:

Hotdog’s Best Blog

Home Again, Hotdog

A Long Dog’s Blog

The Odyssey of a Dachshund Blogger

The Odd-yssey of a Doxie Blogger


A friend-

What’s an odyssey, let alone an ODD-yssey?

Doxie is short for dachshund? Really?


Does it have to have a subtitle? Please say “no.”

Editorial Comment

Then I got the notes back from my editor who felt like the title didn’t quite fit the first-person revision. “It’s Xander’s story, after all, not Hotdog’s. Though he’s important, too, so should still be in the title. What about something like HOTDOG, FRANKENSTINA, AND ME? But with a reference to rocks, since that plays a part?” I liked HOTDOG, FRANKENSTINA…and but played with rocky possibilities:

and the Rocks in My Head

and All My Rock Relatives

and Rockhound Me

and Wimpy Talc Me

Rocky VII (just kidding)

I liked the Wimpy Talc one, but my editor had valid concerns about them all. Then she said, “What about something that refers to rock layers? This book has lots of layers.”


Something clicked! I looked up “talc” to see if it was sedimentary, a type of rock that forms in layers. But NO! It was metamorphic, a type of rock that results from change! This book is all about how my main character changes, with Hotdog’s help, of course.

New options:

Hotdog, Frankenstina, and Metamorphic Me

Hotdog, the RV, and Metamorphic Me

Hotdog and Metamorphic Me


Too long.

Too hard to search for.

Do you need Frankenstina if it will be pictured on the cover?

A Little Help From My Friends?

So, what do you think? A new Miss Kansas was crowned this week. Do you think we could crown one of these as the new Hotdog title? One of them is calling me. But I want to see what you all say. Weigh in with your comments on Facebook or my website. Pretty please? Thanks.

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Cover Design: Norman Rockwell or Not

I signed a contract with an illustrator to design the cover and a map for the inside of my HOTDOG book. My imaginary dachshund will finally have a face! Besides in my head.

I had no idea how to begin the process of finding a cover design artist. But I do know how to research and ask questions. So, I started reading about choosing an illustrator and consulting friends who’d already had some experience with independently publishing their work. Every source emphasized the importance of having the best cover to represent the book and appeal to the readers. Talk about pressure! What WAS the best cover for my book? I had some ideas, of course. But were they right or wrong?

Well, duh, I thought. I’m a reader and I’d always liked covers that look real, not cartoonish. If Norman Rockwell had written novels, I’d have read them all. So, I searched for realism and saw lots of great work. Some even reminded me of Rockwell’s. But I realized that while I loved his works, they told stories of my generation and before. HOTDOG is set in the present, with middle grade, tech savvy, characters. Had my future readers even HEARD of Norman Rockwell or seen his creations? Maybe, but only because many of his iconic works have become a part of our history.

Then I talked to an illustrator friend, Sharon Lane Holm. Sharon helped me realize it didn’t matter what I preferred. HOTDOG’s cover had to be relatable to my graphics-oriented readers, reflect the humor in my story. That I needed to broaden my view, wear my kid-tinted glasses. As I begin studying current MG covers and artists who designed them, I discovered that there were varying levels of what I’d thought of as “cartoonish,” and some even looked more real! I redefined what I felt was most important in choosing an illustrator and made one of those lists my family is always teasing me about.

I want someone who…

  1. has experience in middle grade cover design
  2. won’t mind answering a gazillion questions
  3. can draw a discernible dachshund and his faithful boy
  4. has a sense of humor which shows in their work
  5. has great reviews
  6. is professional yet approachable
  7. is likely familiar with the Plains states (Kansas)
  8. shares my goal of creating excellence for kids

I made a few more lists of illustrators with my “wants” list in mind and whose art appealed to my revised “realistic” view. Mariya Prytula was on each one. Then when I saw she was a member of SCBWI, a group I’ve belonged to and respected for ages, and read her profile there, I decided. If you click on Mariya’s name, I think you’ll see why. I especially love that she wants her artwork to give folks a hug. Just the person I need to help me make my huggable, lovable HOTDOG come to life!

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When a Student Becomes a Teacher

I had the honor and privilege this week to talk about being an author with the class of MY FORMER STUDENT Holly McPeak! I had Holly in fourth grade at Oberlin Elementary (I’m not telling how…) many years ago and now she’s a 3rd grade teacher for Missouri Virtual Academy. It was the first author visit I’ve been able to do in a while and it felt wonderful to be with students again. Even though it was online, I enjoyed being with the classes and their teachers Holly, Emily Patterson, and Lenora Scrimsher SO MUCH!

I talked about what I wrote as a child and how books can be friends during sad times. I loved the students’ wonderful questions and hearing their ideas for their own projects. I even asked them to vote on which title they liked best for my soon-to-be book. They chose HOTDOG’S LAST HURRAH!

Something I thought about while preparing my presentation is that not everyone is a writer, but we ALL are storytellers. Stories are EVERYWHERE. We just need to find and share them!

Thank you, Holly, Emily, and Lenora for your excellent work. And thank you for sharing your storyteller students with me.

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Letting Out the Dog

I’ve been fostering an old dog in my heart for a long time. I kept hoping someone would love him as much as I do, see his virtues, finally give him a home. But finding a place for this old boy has been darned near impossible. Oh, he’s been close a few times. I mean who can resist those dark eyes? That constantly wagging tail? But no one has quite understood his larger-than-life personality. Or wanted to risk his grizzled whiskers. It doesn’t matter anymore, however, because I’ve decided I’m done waiting. I’m going to take the risk and finally let him out myself. Before the end of 2022, HOTDOG will be real, at least as real as the pages of a book will allow.

I’m not quite sure when I first started writing HOTDOG. Maybe around 2006? I do remember Carolyn Yoder (Calkins Creek) was the first person to lay eyes on it at one of her Highlights Foundation alumni workshops. All because I didn’t do my homework.

I was supposed to send her chapters of a different book beforehand but hadn’t gotten a chance with the job from (#@%!) I had at the time. So, that evening I arrived in Pennsylvania, I gave her those chapters and the one of HOTDOG I’d been playing with.

Bright and early the next morning Carolyn handed me the HOTDOG pages. “Work on these. You’ve got a gift for humor.” It was the first time I’d ever heard my coping mechanism called a gift. But I ran with it and completed six crappy chapters that week. The best thing was that it felt wonderful. The worst was that I had to go back to the (#@%!) job.

I kept slogging away on HOTDOG as I could, taking him to more of Carolyn’s workshops before finally starting to submit to agents in 2011. Life continued as I wrote, rewrote, and kept submitting.

 And now, suddenly, it’s 2022.

The wait has been frustrating, embarrassing, depressing. But it hasn’t been for nothing. For one, I realized that writing this book has been my therapy. It’s helped me work through the grief I was never allowed to experience as a child. I’ve healed because of this book and healing often takes a long time.

I also learned that HOTDOG, like all dachshunds, does not understand the word “NO.” So, though I was often discouraged, I couldn’t let him go. He kept sending me dachshund reminders, scratching at the door.

So, now, I’m excited as I turn this indie publishing knob. Floyd has always been my biggest supporter, forever assuring me that someone would be willing to give HOTDOG a chance. I never guessed that the someone would be me.

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Notice the creative single-word title of this entry? I’ve been thinking a lot about how so many books have mono titles these days. This has made me wonder, would my book find a home faster with a one-word name? I mean we know lots of books by one word even if they have a longer moniker. Lassie did it (Lassie, Come Home) and Toby/Bailey/Ellie/Buddy in A Dog’s Purpose…eventually.

So, why not Hotdog? I guess I could keep Hotdog since I and everyone else in workshops with me have referred to it as that since its inception. Still, Hotdog doesn’t really TELL what the book is about. But do any of the mono titles, really? Or are they only meant to hint at what’s inside? To tease at the plot, the character, the theme? WebCharlotte—Friendship




Ironically, coming up with one word is asking a lot of me considering I was the over-achieving sophomore in Leavenworth High who penciled three pages, single-spaced when our English teacher challenged us to compose the longest prepositional phrase. And as a junior I rewrote Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales based on Woodstock (the New York music festival, not Snoopy’s bird). Oh, and I can’t forget the endless notes I passed between classes with my best friend, Jaymee, in middle school, before texts were even a twinkle in any techie’s eye.  

Where does this title trend come from then? Is it a backlash to the word salad we face these days? Our cry for help in the verbiage avalanche? Our way of coping with mass media madness?

Whatever. I’m willing to give it a go. But how do authors come up with one-word wonders? Do they start like a grocery list?




That can’t be right. A grocery list is what you’re out of, not what already stocks the shelves. A title list would have to be what the book is full of, wouldn’t it? Or… uh… maybe not. Naming that might tricky with some books depending on the topic, the genre…the quality. Don’t get me wrong. I applaud anyone who’s had the guts to write a book, to see it through to publication. Even to a first draft! But I do want to keep this blog middle-grade geared, so I won’t go there. (Although, it would be an interesting discussion elsewhere.)

It can’t be as generic as milk, eggs, or tp either. Is it whole, 2%, almond? Brown, free-range, extra-large? Ultra, quilted, mega-roll? Name choice must be focused to plot, character, theme, of course, but even more so because characters come as casts and themes are intertwined. So, is it possible to isolate so much with a single word? It must be because… well… there’s Holes, Pax, HAMILTON!  It must be descriptive yet succinct. But it won’t be easy. I’m willing to try, though, even if it takes 366 tries. So, here goes.

Hotdog title‒Take 1…. ROADTRIP

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I’m terrible at it. Case in point, the time I was at least twelve months pregnant with our third baby. I was jealous of the hens as I gathered their eggs. Resented the cows with their calves in the pasture. I even growled at the barn cats nursing their kittens. It was MY turn already! But Mother Nature, that old hag, had different ideas.

Then, as I was waddling back to the house, my ornery father-in-law drove up in his pickup and leaned out the window. Twinkle in his eye, he nodded toward the beach ball my maternity tent failed to hide and offered to hook up the cattle trailer, give me a lift to the hospital. I glared, then stared, then belly laughed. It was either that or cry. And, as they say, laughter is the best medicine, because a few days later we welcomed Baby Number Three.

Now, Three is in his thirties and I’m…not. But I am waiting again. This time for my book to find a home. It gestated forever but finally, FINALLY, it was time to query. Now I’m pacing and feeling envious again‒of acquisitions and launches and happy book birthdays. But I’m determined to stay busy, to refill the think tank, to start something new. Yes, waiting is as hard as ever. But it’s not the worst. That would be failing because I didn’t try.

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