Tuesday, August 11, 2015

More From The WOW Retreat in Helen, GA!

I worked on two historical picture books at the WOW Retreat, and for me, that was the perfect amount of material. It gave me the opportunity to revise at night, and then to get feedback on my revisions at the next day's roundtable.

I had taken a manuscript about a female artist. I've lugged around this idea longer than I care to admit. My first breakthrough came when Candace Fleming spoke about her book, PAPA's MECHANICAL FISH.

Candace wanted to write a non-fiction book, but there wasn't enough historical material to do so. I have exactly that same problem with my artist. Listening to Candace, gave me the courage to abandon telling my story as non-fiction.

At roundtables, the consensus was my manuscript lacked tension. I was at a loss as to how to fix it, and while the critiquers were unanimous this was the problem, they didn't offer much insight as to how to fix it either. Still I left roundtable with a nugget to ponder.

The next day, author Linda Skeers lectured on adding conflict to our manuscripts. I jotted down the words: Tension, Suspense, Drama, Problems, Obstacles, Controversy, Debate, Argument. I needed more of these in my story, but I had gotten so close to it, that I couldn't fathom exactly what needed to be done.

It was a happy twist of fate when I learned Linda had a few critique spots open. I grabbed one. That gave me a fresh set of eyes to read my manuscript, and even better, a writer who had just lectured on adding the very thing my manuscript needed.

Linda said my story had the right elements, but I should get to the problem sooner. We hacked a couple of spreads and rearranged others. I left with a page full of notes and feverishly revised that night. I asked Linda to read my revisions the next morning, and she thought I'd nailed it. BUT…

That afternoon's roundtable was with agent, Jill Corcoran. Jill is not a huge historical fiction fan. She said, "I don't know this person, and I'm not sure why I should care about her." That was great feedback. I had won over Linda, who is an historical fiction fan, but I had work to do to make this manuscript appeal to readers who aren't necessarily fans of the genre.

I settled on the idea, "There was no stopping Henrietta." This is a story about perseverance in the face of sweltering heat, poverty, material shortages, even pirates. By focusing on, "There was no stopping Henrietta," it gives the manuscript universal appeal since everyone has obstacles to overcome.

Due to lectures, roundtables, and critiques, both of the manuscripts I took to WOW are completely different than they were before the retreat. It doesn't pay to revise in a vacuum. That's the beauty of WOW!

If you're a writer interested in taking your picture books to the next level, I definitely recommend WOW. Information for next year's retreat is available here:

Saturday, August 1, 2015


The view outside my window at the WOW Retreat in Helen, Georgia!

I recently attended the 2015 WOW Retreat, and it changed my writing life. My original goal was to write historical novels and historical picture books, and while I have one published novel, (THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL), and one novel forthcoming, (RUBY LEE and ME), picture books had eluded me. I finally figured out why when Candace Fleming spoke.

I'm paraphrasing here, but Candace said every picture book has a vital idea. My picture book biography is about an oral storyteller. I jotted down my vital idea. Stories saved Ray, and then he saved the stories.

Next Candace said, "Every scene must contribute to the vital idea." Oh WOW! I pulled out a red pen. My manuscript is about stories, and I had included three spreads that showed Ray singing ballads. I love ballads, and I love those spreads, but they didn't contribute to my vital idea. As Candace lectured, I hacked 300 words with a red pen. It tightened the story right up and it became evident what the story is ultimately about.

The following day, Kristen Fulton weaved her magic. She emphasized the importance of the opening spread which she called, Once Upon A Time, and the last spread, which she termed, They Lived Happily Ever After. I spent a lot of time reading and rereading my opening and closing. One right after the other, skipping everything in between. This manuscript needed to come full circle.

You know that saying writers have, "Don't revise in a vacuum?" It turns out five heads are actually better than one. As my revisions took shape, I had the opportunity at roundtables to get feedback from industry professionals.

The icing on the cake was meeting writer Jackie Wellington. Jackie read through my manuscript and helped me play with ways to add more lyrical language.

I fell in love with my manuscript all over again--that's the magic of WOW! And I'll go you one better: I had a similar experience with a second manuscript, but that will be the focus of a later blog post.

If you write picture books, especially if you write non-fiction or historical ones, I can't recommend this conference highly enough. The 2016 WOW Conference will be held July 17-23rd. More details are available here: