Monday, November 19, 2012


The end of the year is just around the corner. At first, it’s easy to think about all the stars I’m still shooting for, but when I take a moment and think of all the great things that happened in 2012, I realize there were many accomplishments to celebrate.

The year kicked off with the release of my rhyming picture book, Cindy Moo, illustrated by wonderful Jeff Mack. Not only did he do a great job of capturing Cindy Moo’s udderly moo-velous lunar journey, his imagery became a delightful feature of my redesigned website at, the next notable accomplishment of the year. After putting together my own website for the past five years, I realized it was time to turn this important task over to an expert. After much searching, I found Donna Farrell at, who gave my website a much needed make-over. I’m tickled with the result.

Next, was the creation of three book trailers, two as a collaboration between my son and me, and one by yours truly. I’m so pleased that we tackled this fun project and learned so much along the way. Now that I’m a YouTube aficionado, I’m always tickled when someone goes to my links, likes them, and adds a positive comment. (Wouldyou? Wouldyou? :-) 

This year was also a year of SCBWI presentations, and book signing events at Barnes & Noble in Citrus Heights, and Face in a Book, in El Dorado Hills. I was thrilled to share my writing journey with so many others who also share my passion for writing for children and read Cindy Moo to eager listeners. (  

The most exciting news of 2012, however, was the sale of my rhyming picture book Mousequerade Ball to Bloomsbury. Talks are in the works for an illustrator, so I’ll post more news as details fall into place.

On a personal note, I’m terribly pleased that I’ve stuck to my WeightWatcher plan and kept off the 34 pounds I dropped in 2011. Such a difference! And I’m loving all the fruits and vegetables I’d neglected for so long.

So that’s 2012. All in all, a great year. Here’s to the wonders and surprises of 2013, including my new rhyming picture book release Cowpoke Clyde & Dirty Dawg with Clarion. More news on that next year!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

My Book Trailer Education

Over the past two months, I’ve made three book trailers. As I worked on each one, I learned new skills and sorted out what I’d do differently the next time around. Technology was at my fingertips and as an author I knew I wanted to use book trailers to promote my trade book titles around the world through YouTube and my website. I knew nothing at the outset except the many times I’d drooled over my fellow writers’ book trailers such as Linda Lodding’s The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister, Danna Smith’s Pirate Nap, and Bethanie Murguia’s Zoe Gets Ready. If you’re interested in making book trailers, then come along. Hopefully, my experience will pave the way for your book trailer journey.

Storyboard Text

I began by figuring out what I wanted to say by making a document in Word and inserting text boxes on the right side to create a preliminary storyboard. I had to remember that I didn’t want my book trailer to replace the book. It had to grab the viewer’s attention, create questions, and encourage the viewer to purchase the book to discover the whole story. Each text box contained what I planned to use with a single image.I kept my text short and to the point and realized extra details would only be found in the book.

Storyboard Images

Once I had the text, I figured out what images to use to support it. Just like the text, I didn’t want to give the imagery of the book away. I tried to stick with key images in my books’ openings and portions of images that appeared later.

Selecting and preparing the images in PhotoShop took a lot of time. Images had to be scanned, cropped, and edited. This was particularly true with my trailers for Cindy Moo and In the Trees, Honey Bees! In these cases, my twenty-one-year-old son who’d taken animation classes for his major, had to isolate parts of images so they could be manipulated separately from the background. For example, in the opening of In the Trees, Honey Bees! the cover appears. Seconds later, the yellow title flies away, then the bylines, then the bee. Each movement was a separate image that had to be removed from the book cover image and applied in layers. Many images had to be edited to remove dark vertical gutter lines. Text had to be removed so I could use my book trailer text.

I’ve included the honey bee trailer here:

Once we finished  the images, I inserted them next to my text boxes and my storyboard began to take shape. The storyboard became the road map for my project. The clearer the road map, the easier the project became. This was especially true when working with someone else, in this case, my son. The first time around, I wasn’t nearly as clear about what I wanted and we spent days changing things on the computer screen instead of figuring it all out on paper first. Not a good idea. The second time around, we knew better.


Once I had the images next to my text boxes, the next step was to figure out what I wanted to happen.So many choices! I tried to make choices that supported the type of book it was. For example, for my bee book, the text flew off like a bee. For Cindy Moo I stuck with jumping imagery.

Here is my book trailer for Cindy Moo:

I had more options when my son was working on my book trailers. He had more complex software (Flash), a better scanner, and illustration devices that I didn’t have. He could make separate images move around the screen, which was a terrific option. The drawback was that when we’d officially finish a book trailer, I’d want to go back and change something to make it even better. This happened over and over and it became the neverending book trailer. I was as picky about my book trailers as I was about each word of my books and it was frustrating to rely on someone else’s interest and availability. The only answer was to find a way I could make them myself so I could change whatever I liked with impunity!  

Windows Movie Maker

I decided to use Window Movie Maker on my last book trailer for my picture book biography Come See the Earth Turn: The Story of Leon Foucault. It didn’t have all the bells and whistles of Flash, but it was on my computer and there wouldn’t be as huge of a learning curve as there would have been trying to figure out Flash which took my son a whole semester to master.

As I had with my other book trailers, I created a storyboard before I began. When my storyboard was in place I was ready to drop my images into WMM and create my movie.

When I clicked on an image, it had certain options. First, how long did I want each image to appear? Next, how did I want to transition from one image to the next? Although there were many options, I liked cross-fading and selected that for all of my images. There were also many animation options—how I wanted images to come and go. As I held my cursor over each option, it demonstrated the effect. I selected a variety of animation effects throughout the movie trailer to create drama and interest.

It was a good time to double check that each image was exactly the way I wanted it to be. Was each image cropped to its best advantage? Was the focus of interest of each image used to its fullest potential? For example, in my Come See the Earth Turn trailer, there’s an image of Leon’s silhouette in a window of a darkened city street. The first time around, I’d concentrated on the cityscape instead of his image. Later on, I realized his image was the key to the scene, so I went back and enlarged and recropped the image to return to focus to the mysterious man in the window.


Once the images were in place, it was time to think about captions, an option on the home page of WWM. I needed to decide what font I wanted to use along with its color and size. For this book trailer, I selected a font that went with the historic nature of the book and enlarged it.

Placement was important too. Where would the text appear so the viewer could see it clearly against the image? There were also many options about how the text would come and go.

How long the text appeared was an important factor too. When I worked on the captions, I tried to have them appear in a reasonable amount of time to read, but discovered much later that I needed to allow double the time. As I learned from writing friend and techno app genius Chris Pederson, people who haven’t spent hours scouring over my book trailer are actually looking at the pictures at first. By the time they’d looked at the pictures, my captions had vanished. I ended up going back and doubling the times I’d allowed for scenes and captions which meant going back and redoing the sound track as well. Best to catch that mistake before the sound track is made and it's posted at YouTube. (I won't make that mistake again!) Other things to check are:

·    Typos and punctuation (Of course—but you’d be surprised what gets through!)
·    Line widows (Is there a word dangling on a line all by itself?)
·    Are the captions in a pleasing alignment with the images? For example, I’d placed my captions on an image and thought it was great. Later, I went back and saw how the caption had crossed out of the frame of the image onto the black margin of the scene. Did I want that? I decided I didn’t and changed it.


Sound was a fun and interesting challenge. I didn’t have a big budget for my movie, so I spent time looking around for royalty-free music and sound effects. I discovered that Kevin MacLeod has a wonderful site and used his music for all of my book trailers. is a great place to find all kinds of sound effects.

What was surprising and discouraging was discovering that WMM only allows one sound track for a movie—yikes! As simple as my project was, I needed more than that. After tons of research online, the answer was Audacity, a free, downloadable sound editing software. It was confusing at first, but then I found a demonstration at YouTube and all the pieces fell into place. When he explained it, it was so simple! Open a sound file. Select and export a section as a new file. Then import it back, and edit as necessary such as fading out the end. As I imported new sound files, I was building a sound track with multiple layers.
I started by knowing the length of my movie. Then I imported my musical soundtrack and cut it to match the length of my movie along with a fade out at the end.

Once my music sound track was selected, I decided what sound effects I wanted with the images. I wrote down the time in the movie they started and stopped and cut my sound tracks accordingly. When it was all done, I exported the multiple tracks as a single file and uploaded it my movie in WWM.

And that was my book trailer education.

Here is my latest picture book trailer:


Monday, June 11, 2012

A Buzzing New Book Trailer

Bees and book trailers—two of my favorite subjects! Today I’m thrilled to showcase the melding of both in my new picture book trailer, “In the Trees, Honey Bees! – A Picture Book Trailer” featuring my rhyming, nonfiction picture book published by Dawn Publications in 2009.

I wrote In the Trees, Honey Bees because of my late beekeeper father-in-law, Eugene Mortensen. Whenever I visited his home in Tracy, California, he was always doing something with his honey bees—he had over 300 hives! If he wasn’t scraping the wax off stacks of wooden frames, he’d be moving hives from one field to another, “extracting” honey in his garage, or going out on calls to catch menacing swarms. One day, my husband and I jumped in his bee truck with him and watched as he captured a buzzing clump of bees that had swarmed on the front gate of the Altamont Raceway.

Honey bees were so fascinating, I decided to do a little research even though I figured I knew all of the bee basics—bees gathered pollen and nectar, performed a mysterious dance, and made honey, right? To my surprise, I discovered honey bees were more fascinating than I ever imagined. For example, who knew that bees did different chores as they matured in the hive? I didn’t. Who knew that bees gathered water and tree sap in addition to the familiar nectar and pollen? I didn’t. Who knew that honey bees used tree sap to seal cracks in their hive? I didn’t. And I was sure most people didn’t know either even though there were lots of books about honeybees on the shelves.

So I wrote something for children in rhyme that would capture the fascinating facets of these familiar insects in a new way. I coupled each rhyme with more complex text when I realized the rhyming text couldn’t say everything I wanted to say. I felt as if I was opening a window to a world most people didn’t even know was there. (The picture above is one I took at my friend's bee hives. It also appears in the back of the book.)

Today, my book trailer opens another window into this book, and the fascinating life of wild honey bees.

If you have a moment, take a look, “like it,” and add a comment.

Let's spread the buzz! :-)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

People, Places, and a Virtual Book Tour with Nancy I. Sanders


I’ve always loved biographies. When I was young, I spent countless hours at the library scouring the aisles for just the right books. Biographies were a favorite because I loved being drawn into another person’s world. I remember struggling through a dark, silent world with Helen Keller, traveling the globe with Life photographer Margaret Bourke-White, and learning about mysterious cultures with anthropologist Margaret Mead.

Years later when I began writing for children, I wanted to write the same sort of biographies that thrilled me as a child. Biographies filled with illuminating tidbits of information that revealed what made someone else’s life different or similar to my own. Over the years, I’ve written about many fascinating people, from determined basketball ball legend Steve Nash to imaginative Pokémon creator, Satoshi Tajiri. I’ve written about scientist Doris Taylor, who grew a beating heart, and important people in American history such as Harriet Tubman, Thomas Edison, and Marie Curie. As I researched each one, I discovered wonderful details about their lives and their indomitable spirit that made me want to shake someone’s shoulder and say, “Did you know this?

What are a few? Thomas Edison was such a notable inventor that on the night of his funeral, Americans turned off their lights at ten p.m. for one minute to honor the great inventor.  Amelia Earhart’s independent spirit was reflected in an entry made in her yearbook that said, “Amelia Earhart—to the girl in brown who walks alone.” Marie Curie unknowingly exposed herself to so much radiation during her research, her notebooks are still radioactive today. Of all my biographies, I’m most pleased with Come See the Earth Turn: The Story of Léon Foucault published by Tricycle/Random House in 2010, about the unassuming French scientist who proved the earth turned when others with more degrees and honors had failed for centuries.


Because I love biographies, I’m especially delighted to welcome author Nancy I. Sanders to my blog today, one stop on her two-week virtual book tour for her super new release, Frederick Douglass for Kids: His Life and Times with 21 Activities.

Few Americans have had as much impact on this nation as Frederick Douglass. Born on a plantation, he later escaped slavery and helped others to freedom via the Underground Railroad. In time he became a bestselling author, an outspoken newspaper editor, a brilliant orator, a tireless abolitionist, and a brave civil rights leader. He was famous on both sides of the Atlantic in the years leading up to the Civil War, and when war broke out, Abraham Lincoln invited him to the White House for counsel and advice.

Frederick Douglass for Kids follows the footsteps of this American hero, from his birth into slavery to his becoming a friend and confidant of presidents and the leading African American of his day. And to better appreciate Frederick Douglass and his times, readers will form a debating club, cook a meal similar to the one Douglass shared with John Brown, make a civil war haversack, participate in a microlending program, and more. This valuable resource also includes a time line of significant events, a list of historic sites to visit or explore online, and web resources for further study.

Nancy I. Sanders is the bestselling and award-winning author of over 80 books including the well-loved homeschooling curriculum to teach kids how to write, WriteShop Primary (Grades K-2) and WriteShop Junior (Grades 3-5). She teaches other writers how to launch their career to the next level based on material found in her groundbreaking book for writers, Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career. Nancy and her husband, Jeff, live in southern California.

Interview with Nancy i. sanders

What was a highlight of writing this book?

The highlight was definitely being able to take a 2-week photo-research tour to follow in the footsteps of Frederick Douglass from his birth to his death. Before I started writing the book, my husband and adult son and I toured through the Eastern Shores of Maryland, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, New Bedford, and Boston, snapping tons of photographs of historic sites and gaining a deeper understanding of Frederick Douglass, his life and his times. Not only was I able to get some great photographs to put in my book that have never before been published in a book about this great man, but it was a deeply moving experience of a lifetime. We did things such as stand on the street corner where the building was located when Frederick Douglass was hidden on the Underground Railroad as he escaped from slavery…to driving along the parade route he marched along in Philadelphia when he was reunited as a famous man with the descendants of his former owners. It was an amazing experience!

Was there something you learned about Frederick Douglass that impacted your life?

Yes. I learned that Frederick Douglass truly loved his fellow man. He had a generous heart and gave up comfort and safety for himself and his family to devote his life to the cause of helping others. He saw himself as equal with everyone, whether black or white, whether man or woman, and he dedicated his life to helping bring equal rights to our nation and to the world.

What else did you learn about Frederick Douglass while writing this book?

As other biographies of Douglass have shared, this great man had many influential white friends such as William Lloyd Garrison, and many leading women friends such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton. I include these in my book, too.

What I discovered through reading Douglass’s autobiographies, however, (and which many biographers don’t mention) is that Frederick Douglass was also friends with nearly every African American leader of his day. He published their speeches and articles in his newspapers. He attended their churches and conventions. He traveled and spoke with these important leaders, and entertained many in his home. He worked together with them to help fugitive slaves escape to freedom along the Underground Railroad.

In Frederick Douglass for Kids, I include short biographies and photographs of many of these black leaders who were friends and associates of Douglass. On my book’s website, I also include a list of names of many famous black abolitionists with links to learn more about these great and influential men and women who lived during the years leading up to the Civil War. This list is especially helpful for anyone studying America’s history as well as students writing reports for school. It can be accessed at:

What are you doing to celebrate the release of your book, Frederick Douglass for Kids?

I’m hosting a two-week virtual Book Launch Party on my blog! Each day I’ve been showcasing photos I took when I traveled back to the East Coast and sharing a bit of the behind-the-scenes journey of writing this book and learning more about Frederick Douglass.

There are prizes to win, fun facts to learn, and lots of inside peeks and helpful tips about how a book is born. Stop by my site today to join in the party and a chance to win a set of full-color autographed bookmarks of the book at:

For more information visit Nancy at:, Purchase the book at:

Thanks for stopping by, Nancy!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Book Tours and Trailers

My latest detour in my writing world has been developing a book trailer.  When I think of the potential a book trailer has to draw an audience to the book on YouTube, I wondered why I hadn’t attempted it before.

I discovered that creating a book trailer required skills I didn’t have (yet!), but I was lucky enough to have a son who did. I studied the structure of several book trailers, wrote a script of what I wanted to say for my new release Cindy Moo, and jumped in.

It was a wonderful challenge, and looking back we realized there were things we’d do differently. The biggest mistake I made was not taking the time to figure out exactly what I wanted to do on paper first.  As it was, I wrote a short script, and then we figured out the imagery as we went along. But making changes in the layers of images, motion, timing, and text using Flash software was far more time consuming and frustrating than if I’d known where I was going from the beginning. If I'd planned it in a storyboard format on paper first, I could've made many changes on paper, rather than manipulating software later. It was also important to decide how much story I wanted to tell. I didn't want to replace the book. I only wanted to include enough story to make viewers want to know more.  

Because a book trailer is really a mini movie, timing was an important issue. How long should text stay on the screen? Too quick, and viewers can’t read it. Too slow, and the trailer would drag. And whatever it was, it needed to feel consistent throughout. Timing involved transitions as well. How quickly should one image change into another? How long should an image remain on the screen? These were issues I hadn’t considered when I completed the script.

Finding the music and sound effects for the trailer was an unexpected pleasure. I had a lot of fun selecting the music with just the right bounce and spunk to tell Cindy Moo’s story.  In many ways, making this picture book trailer was a lot like writing a picture book. I was creating a unique world and filling it with wonderful elements that would bring the story to life.

Surprisingly, (or maybe not!) it took several days to complete our one-minute book trailer. Hopefully, it’s the first of many. Here is the result:

If you like it and have a moment, please "like it" on YouTube and leave a comment! :-)

And something new is on the horizon at Random Acts of Writing too. On June 7, children’s author Nancy I. Sanders will be stopping by as part of her two-week virtual book tour about her new release, Frederick Douglass for Kids: His Life and Times with 21 Activities. I’ll feature an interview with Nancy and information about her new biography about Frederick Douglass. This great man was a bestselling author, an outspoken newspaper editor, a brilliant orator, a tireless abolitionist, and a brave civil rights leader. After Civil War broke out, Abraham Lincoln invited him to the White House for counsel and advice. For a sneak peak, visit her website at, and

Monday, May 14, 2012

An Udderly Moovelous Encounter

One of the best things about writing is that I never know what wonderful places it will take me.  When I wrote In the Trees, Honey Bees! I spent hours at my friend’s beehives photographing their busy bees zooming in and out of the hives, gathering nectar and pollen, and taking tiny sips of water from a puddle. I was delighted when the editor used my picture of a bee with pollen packed on its leg in the back of the book. When I wrote Come See the Earth Turn: The Story of Léon Foucault, I harkened back to the days when I was a child on a school field trip watching a great brass pendulum swing back and forth until it knocked down one peg, then another.  (Who knew that the child quietly standing there watching would one day write a book about it?)

In just a few hours, Cindy Moo is bounding into bookstores! A grand day in a two-year publication journey!

In honor of Cindy Moo, I met a real life Cindy Moo named Butterfly Tilly. She lives on a quiet farm just a few miles away from my house.

When I saw her for the first time, I couldn’t believe it—Butterfly Tilly looked just like Cindy Moo! Cindy and Tilly not only have the same brown and white coloring, they have a brown patch on their eye too. If Cindy and Tilly lived on the same farm, they'd be great friends--and you know what they’d be doing late one night? They’d be trying to jump over that big ol’ silver moon!

(Actually, she was more interested in eating the book than hearing a story!)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Cindy Moo--the Backstory

Whenever I encounter an irresistible picture book, one of the first things I want to know is how the author came up with the idea. Capturing that illusive first idea is always a crucial step of any writing project.

Since spunky Cindy Moo is leaping into stores on May 15 (only two weeks away!) it’s a great time to share how Cindy Moo got started. One of the things I like to do is browse at my local thrift store, so one day I happened to see a figurine of a cow sitting on a moon. As soon as I saw the innocent looking cow perched on the crescent moon it, I knew it would be fun to write a story about how the cow got there. As I stood there in the store, a little debate went on in my head. Should I go ahead and buy the cow, or should I just walk away?  I told myself I didn’t have to buy it since I already had the idea. But wait, I argued, when you sell the manuscript to a wonderful publisher and give a talk about it, you’ll be able to hold up the very cow that gave you the idea. (Never mind that up until then, I’d given very few presentations.)

In the end, the “buy the cow” argument won and I bought the figurine and went home to write. It seemed obvious to me, that this cow would be connected to the “Hey Diddle Diddle” rhyme, and a cow that heard the rhyme would want to try and jump over the moon too. Rhyme was the logical choice since it was associated with a nursery rhyme, and rhyme would be a great way to infuse the story with a rollicking rhythm of gallant, galloping cow.

Two years later, much to my delight, I held up my little statuette when I spoke at SCBWI’s Beyond the Bay Series last November and told them about my upcoming rhyming picture book Cindy Moo.

It was great to complete the journey I’d only imagined one day in my local thrift store.   

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Name That Blog

So what was my first random act? Coming up with the name of my blog! That’s one of the great things about writing—a gauntlet of some sort is thrown down and it’s up to you to figure it all out. When you finally reach the other side, no matter how near or far, you look back and enjoy the unique journey and the satisfying result.

Strangely, the first thing that popped into my head was “Lori, Lori, Hallelujah!” This glorious phrase was what my childhood orthodontist used to exclaim each time I popped in for my monthly orthodontia appointment—and I went for two years! (No wonder I still remember it!)  

But would it make a good blog title? Nah . . . Something else had to be better.  So over the next two days I wracked my brain over all the possibilities (there were a lot!) and thought about what I really wanted to do with my blog.   

While I pondered, I consulted the rhyming dictionary—such a useful tool! I’d never liked the words that rhymed with my name . . . gory, dory, hoary . . . but thought I’d give it a chance. And surprise—I found “story.” Hmmm . . . Lori’s stories. Sounded kind of good! I settled on it momentarily, but as time passed, I kept waffling back and forth—was it right, or wasn’t it? When issues keep coming back to me, I know it’s a sign to keep thinking. So I hit the Internet again and wandered about. When I stumbled upon the random act phrase, I knew I’d found my title and how it would fit the purpose of my blog beautifully--sharing the twists and turns of my writing journey! Woot!

Here’s to many more random acts of writing!