Saturday, December 17, 2011
One of the nicest parts of Christmas is having leisure time to read to my heart's content. It seems the world slows down and I spend most of my time with family, food, and books. What could be better than that?
My reading list for the holidays includes:
1. GLORY BE by Augusta Scattergood - Augusta has written my favorite kind of book, historical fiction with a southern setting. GLORY BE takes place during Freedom Summer in 1964. Look for an upcoming interview with Augusta on my blog.
2. THE SCORPIO RACES - Maggie Stiefvater creates characters I care about and writes in a lovely lyrical way. THE SCORPIO RACES is getting lots of good buzz and I can't wait to see what all the hoopla is about!
3. BIRD IN A BOX by Andrea Davis Pinkney - Another historical fiction book that I'm looking forward to delving into. I enjoy reading authors with an African-American voice. Their writing is distinctive and usually has a poetic feel to it. When I read their work, I always hear the voice of Mrs. Pauline Porter, who taught me to read.
4. DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE by Laini Taylor - This novel was named one of Amazon's Top Ten Books of 2011. Universal Studios recently bought the rights to make it into a movie. My critique partner Cynthia Chapman Willis says it's a "must read." That is high praise indeed.
Happy Holiday to one and all! May you be surrounded by bright lights, good food, people who love you, and a stack of great books!
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
While browsing in my local Barnes & Noble, I was struck by all of the "cookie cutter" books on the shelves. I made it my mission to find a middle grade book with no fantastical elements. The one caveat was that it had to be a book I hadn't already read. I found exactly one book that fit my criteria: FLYAWAY by Lucy Christopher.
The back of the book says, "Quiet but compelling. Sensitive." -- Booklist, starred review. There is was again...the dreaded "Quiet" word. I paid for FLYAWAY and took it home with me. I settled down in my favorite reading chair to discover what makes this book "quiet."
Isla is an animal lover, especially swans. Very early on, we learn that her dad is having some health problems. When Isla goes birdwatching with him, Dad collapses, and it's up to Isla to get help for him.
The rest of the book is about Isla's emotional journey. Her first crush, her school project, her relationship with her prickly grandfather, but underlying all of the normal activities is a young girl struggling to grow up. Isla must face that life is fragile, and sometimes we lose the people we love most.
In my opinion, this book is deemed "quiet" because it doesn't have a "high action" plot. No buildings were blown up, bad guys didn't chase the protagonist, a wicked witch didn't die in a puff of smoke. Still I think many middle school girls will see a bit of themselves in Isla.
I enjoyed FLYAWAY, and if you are, or ever were, a girl on the cusp of growing up, you probably will too.
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Reasons to read SECOND SIGHT:
1. It will improve your work-in-progress. On page 17 Ms. Klein writes, "I am extremely wary of the word "feel" in a manuscript, as in 'Cheryl felt extremely wary.'" I had a lightbulb moment! If I have to tell the reader how my character feels then I haven't done an adequate job showing how the character feels. I'm scanning all of my manuscripts for the F word. There are many other specific tips just like this one in the book.
2. It will make you a better critiquer. Recently, I was reviewing a manuscript for a talented writer in my critique group. Her first page just wasn't working for me. I discovered the reason why on page 39. "If you're using a description beginning, be careful that the description is relevant and intriguing, and that it doesn't go on too long before it gets to some action." I quoted Cheryl Klein in my critique and it provided a dose of objectivity.
3. It will make you a better reviser. There's an entire chapter titled " Twenty-Five Revision Techniques." My personal favorite is #11, which is basically outlining the action of the book chapter by chapter/scene by scene.
4. It will help you write a better query letter. Ms. Klein uses a query letter she received from Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and goes into all of the reasons why this letter works.
5. It will make you laugh! Ms. Klein was brave enough to print her 5th grade picture and to include some other funny photos in her chapter on how to write a picture book.
I marked up SECOND SIGHT with an orange highlighter so that I can refer back to it with ease. Now my plan of action is to delete all the F words and cut the scene where my protagonist is looking in the mirror. Ms. Klein calls that trick a cliche!
Have you read SECOND SIGHT? If so, what tips did you take away from it?
Monday, October 10, 2011
I recently attended Mary Kole's webinar through Writer's Digest University. First off, I had never participated in a webinar, and it's a very easy process. It's also pretty affordable for writers who may not have the resources to attend a conference. The fee was $89 and included a critique of the first 500 words of a manuscript.
Ms. Kole provided some pretty straightforward definitions of a couple of terms that had been bothering me. She described a high concept book as "if Hollywood is likely to come knocking, then you've hit upon a high concept." That immediately brought Alex Flinn's BEASTLY to mind because Hollywood did indeed coming knocking.
Furthermore, Ms. Kole said quiet books are editor speak for not hooky enough. These books probably don't have breakout potential.
A few other tidbits include the following:
1. The first chapter of a book should introduce the character without an information dump. It should make the character sympathetic and put him/her in action. There should be an inciting incident and it should shape reader expectations of what is to come.
2. Denial is really frustrating to a reader. In essence, the writer is trying to hold off plot development. (Denial in a novel makes me crazy!)
3. The ending should be inevitable and unexpected. (I have to noodle this concept around some more.)
About a week after the webinar, Writer's Digest provided a link so that participants can listen to the presentation over again, as many times as we would like, for a year. One suggestion I have for improvement is to make an actual transcript available. It would save so much time over having to listen repeatedly. That said, I was favorably impressed with the webinar and will probably participate in others in the future.
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
My favorite kind of illustrated books are picture book biographies. The ones I adore most are of unsung heroes like Walter Anderson. "He may be the most famous American artist you've never heard of."
Picture book biographies have a rhythm when read out loud. They summarize a person's entire life in usually under 1500 words. One of the key challenges in writing them is finding a focus, determining what to put in, and what to leave out.
Usually these books have an author's note and other material in the back for teachers and librarians. Writing them can take up to a year due to the amount of research required and the arduous task of making every word sing.
There are lots of wonderful picture book biographies out there. My personal library includes: Audubon Painter of Birds in the Wild Frontier, I Could do That! Esther Morris Gets Women the Vote, Patience Wright America's First Sculptor and Revolutionary Spy, Mr. Lincoln's Whiskers, and many more. Have you read a good picture book biography lately?
Thursday, September 8, 2011
For me writing the first page is the hardest part of writing a novel. I'll compare it to meeting someone for the first time. The conversation is a little stilted. You're in that awkward getting to know you phase. A few chapters in and the awkwardness has faded. You're old friends now who can't wait to catch up and plan your next adventure.
But as writers we must conquer the first page. Sometimes an agent or editor doesn't read any further. In the October issue of Writer's Digest, literary agent, Kristin Nelson uses four first page examples and only one of the four passes muster. She writes, "Trust me when I say that after an agent has read hundreds of thousands of sample pages--as my colleagues and I have at Nelson Literary Agency--we know."
Ms. Nelson stopped reading for the following reasons:
1. Too much dialogue.
2. Overuse of description.
3. Lack of tension.
If you get a chance, pick up a copy of the magazine. You can absolutely see her points.
I was thrilled to discover another article in the October issue called, "Your First 50 Pages The 4 Goals Your Beginning Must Meet." I am in the process of applying these rules, not only to my first 50 pages, but to the very first page. The opening should:
1. Introduce the story-worthy problem.
2. Hook the reader.
3. Establish the story rules.
4. Forecast the ending.
This is a harder exercise than it looks, but I am much happier with my first page from applying the concepts from this article.
A couple of years ago, I was lucky enough to receive a critique from Richard Peck. He gave me this bit of advice regarding first pages: Always rewrite the first page after you've written the last one. That really ties in well with #4 Forecast the ending.
What are your thoughts regarding the infernal first page? I'd love even more pointers on how to make them sing!
Friday, August 19, 2011
I left my last conference in a mellow mood, but then I'm no longer expecting an editor to jump across the table and buy my book. So what exactly are realistic expectations from attending a conference?
1. You'll discover great books that you might not have heard of otherwise.
2. You'll have the chance to meet other writers that share your passion. Some of them will turn out to be lifelong friends.
3. You'll compile market information and begin to know which houses are appropriate for your work.
4. You'll attend workshops and pick up tips to improve your writing.
5. For an additional fee, you can usually have a chapter of your work critiqued.
That's it. That's what 99% of us can expect for our conference dollars. But as a disclaimer, I know four writers who actually met the editors who bought their books during critique sessions. So it can happen, but keep in mind that I've been attending conferences since 2005. My advice is to save yourself a lot of heartache and set realistic expectations. Any good thing that happens beyond that will be icing on the cake!
Sunday, July 10, 2011
Rubin Pfeffer added the prediction that by 2014 consumers would own 250,000,000 tablets.
Emma Dryden told us Laura Rennert, an agent at Andrea Brown Literary, has helped her client P.J. Hoover self-publish!
Even Kirkus has started reviewing apps.
I am left with the feeling we are tettering on the brink of a revolution almost as mind blowing as when the printing press replaced the handwritten book. Since we can't stop the coming changes, the best strategy is to adapt.
Luckily, Loreen Leedy is a wealth of knowledge for authors. The following notes are from her talk:
Why Should An Author Develop an App?
1. As a companion to a print book.
2. To reissue an out-of-print title.
3. To explore a niche market that a traditional publisher may not be interested in.
4. To create something impossible any other way.
What Are The Differences Between A Picture Book And A Picture Book App?
1. A printed book's format is static, but an app can be designed so that a reader chooses what happens next.
2. A picture book usually has 32 pages. The number of pages is optional with an app.
3. A picture book has double page spreads. An app has a single one-sized page.
4. An app has features that a picture book doesn't (e.g. narration/sound, games/activities).
5. An app is much easier to update than waiting on the next print run.
When Designing An App Think Movement
1. Flowers bloom.
2. Birds eat worms
3. Wheels go around and around.
4. Puzzles are assembled.
5. Bikes are taken apart...and put back together.
6. Autumn leaves change colors.
For savvy content creators, the possibilities are endless!
For much more information about picture book apps check out the following links:
E is for Book<
Plus there's a chat about apps on Twitter Sunday evenings at 9:00 #storyappchat.
What are your experiences with digital media? Have your feelings changed about self-publishing? Do you own an e-reader? Have you purchased a picture book app?
Thursday, July 7, 2011
Sunday, June 26, 2011
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Saturday, May 14, 2011
Sunday, May 8, 2011
Thursday, April 28, 2011
- Jeannine Norris - Jeannine is a picture book author, (TONIGHT YOU ARE MY BABY). Because Jeannine writes short, she's great at spotting awkward sentences, overused descriptions, and passages which need clarifying.
- Diana Sharp - Dr. Sharp is a reading researcher and creator of The Reading Machine, an iPhone/iPod touch/iPad app for beginning or dyslexic readers. My current protagonist has a reading disability and Dr. Sharp will lend her expertise to make sure I handle the disability in a realistic way.
- Cynthia Chapman Willis - Cindy is a novelist, (DOG GONE and BUCK FEVER). She's great at pointing out what's lacking in my manuscript: passages that need more description, characters that need fleshing out, and plot points that don't hang together.
Friday, April 15, 2011
Thursday, March 31, 2011
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Saturday, March 12, 2011
Sunday, February 20, 2011
SCBWI Miami, January 2011
Fantasy Writers: Cinda Williams Chima said her life and her books are all about transformation. Her website has helpful links and tips, many geared toward fantasy writers. One tip is sort of discouraging, but I agree with it anyway, "Don't be a writer unless you have to...there are easier, more reliable ways of making money." Cinda's latest book THE GRAY WOLF THRONE will be released on September 20, 2011. THE EXILED QUEEN is in stores now.
Illustrators: Caldecott winner, Paul Zelinsky, broadened my view of fantasy. He said fantasy today is "a world that is not bound only by our laws." He challenged us to ask the question: "What if our world is more than it seems?" To view some of Paul's wonderful illustrations check out his website.
YA Writers: YA author, Robin Wasserman offered the following tips:
- Use the software Scrivener to organize research notes. More about Scrivener here.
- Watch the television series "Friday Night Lights" to better understand teens.
- Google Scott Westerfeld's presentation "Slanguage: Teen Voices and Teen Vernaculars."
- Google Patricia Wrede's article about "Worldbuilding."
You can read more about Robin Wasserman at her website.
If anybody has actually tried Scrivener, I'd love to hear about your experience. How difficult is it to use? Pros and cons.
Sunday, February 13, 2011
Bruce Hale, author of SNORING BEAUTY and the Chet Gecko mystery series, delivered the kickoff speech at our Miami SCBWI Conference. To say he was phenomenal is an understatement.
- Start a good habit - cut time blogging, facebooking, tweeting etc.
- Write like your hair is on fire - driven by passion.
- Think it through, and take the big view - ask questions like a three-year-old. Keep asking why.
- Teamwork makes the dream work - critique groups, conferences.
- Face the iron tiger - FEAR. Fear never stops.
- Beat resistance with persistence - what would happen if I pushed a little harder?
Saturday, February 5, 2011
Erin Murphy talked about the art of revision. She advised us to see our manuscripts with fresh eyes. She shared the following tips to help:
- Apply Darcy Pattison's shrunken manuscript technique.
- Outline after you've written a first draft.
- Employ the nine steps for plotting fiction (found on Verla Kay)
- Use wordle.net to look for overused words.
Joyce Sweeney started by telling writers to "be in scene almost all the time." She advised using the first part of a scene to orient the reader (e.g. who, what, when, where). She asked us to consider what each particular scene means to the novel as a whole. To remember that each chapter needs its own arc.
Krista Marino lectured about voice. There are two kinds: authorial voice, which she defined as the fingerprint of an author, think Stephen King and Meg Cabot. The second kind is narrative voice, which she called "the character's voice."
Elements that contribute to voice include:
- Diction - Word choices.
- Perspective - Mental view.
- Characterization - Appearance, age, gender, education level, ambitions, motivations.
Krista said the #1 element missing from most manuscripts she receives is interior monologue. She read us a passage from REVOLUTION by Jennifer Donnelly without interior monologue, and then she read the same passage with the interior dialogue inserted. The manuscript was much richer and more interesting with the right amount of interiosity included.
Krista reminded us that when you're young everything feels like the end of the world. She said to write effectively for teens, we should erase adult perspective and in our minds go back to high school everyday. We need to actually listen to teens to get their dialogue just right.
The workshop provided lots of great tips, and I'm summarizing an entire days worth of notes. If anything is unclear, post a question and I'll try and answer it.
Friday, January 28, 2011
Friday, January 21, 2011
Mr. Pfeffer started by telling us it's a tough market for picture books. One reason is the number and quality of good chapter books. Kids are simply graduating to chapter books earlier, which is why editors are looking for brief picture books written for the very young.
Mr. Pfeffer shared a story about a picture book he recently sold called A PRESENT FOR MILO. After he made the rounds of New York houses, he simply could not sell this book. Because Mr. Pfeffer is a champion of e-publishing, he had an "app" made of A PRESENT FOR MILO. The electronic version led to a print book deal. He opened my eyes to the possibility of a print and e-version actually complementing each other.
The following list is the criteria Mr. Pfeffer uses to evalutate picture book submissons. He credits the list to his dear friend, Andrea Welch at Beach Lane Books. A manuscript doesn't need all of these, but it should have several of them.
1. Who is the manuscript for? Is there a clear audience?
2. Is the manuscript emotionally engaging?
3. Does it meet a special childhood emotional need?
4. Is there a highly creative concept, structure, or execution?
5. Does the manuscript use clever, evocative language?
6. Is there a compelling narrative arc?
7. Does the manuscript have strong pacing? Fun page turns?
8. Wordcount...Keep it down! Has the author left enough room for the illustrator to bring it to life?
9. Are the characters memorable and relatable?
10. Is it a story kids will want to hear again and again?
I was thrilled to meet Mr. Pfeffer, and proud that I'm represented by his partner at East/West Literary, Mary Grey James.
I'd love to hear if these tips help with your picture book submissions. Happy Writing!