Saturday, January 30, 2010

Finding Your Voice: Tips from Peck, Duey, Santopolo SCBWI Miami

For Kathleen Duey it's all about finding the right voice for the book. She shared that her voice varies widely.

Richard Peck told conference participants to go to real life for voice, that voice comes from listening. He said he has "reached the age of invisibility." That he can eavesdrop in mall foodcourts without teenagers even noticing.

Jill Santopolo used Barbie as a metaphor for voice. A naked Barbie is your authorial voice. Now consider dressing her as Malibu Barbie. Malibu Barbie will sound differently than Teacher Barbie or Nurse Barbie.

Ms. Santopolo said Junie B. Jones is the "gold standard" for voice in chapter books.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Writing Tips From Kathleen Duey SCBWI Miami

1. Find the right voice for the book. Kathleen's voice varies widely.

2. When plotting don't ask what happens next. Aask what would my protagonist do next.

3. The first few pages of a novel are the hardest. Kathleen rewrites many of her first pages about 20 times.

4. You can turn any reader into a critiquer with these three letters: B, C, D. Ask your readers to mark any places in the manuscript where they become bored, confused, or don't believe it with the corresponding letter.

5. Sometimes bringing the unexpected character to the plot makes a manuscript stronger. (e.g. the beautiful cheerleader who tries to commit suicide.)

6. When you have a good writing day, figure out why so that you can duplicate it.

7. Gag your inner parent!

8. When plotting make sure the stakes are high enough.

9. To make a novel really interesting have your character choose between two good choices or two bad choices.

10. There is no substitute for butt in chair!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


On Friday, I'll be participating in a "novel intensive" workshop led by Jen Rofe and Kathleen Duey. We have a homework assignment to "write a short description of what our major roadblock is, any aspect of craft, process, artistic process, time management, any fears, whatever..."

This caused me to ponder my roadblocks. At first I was going to put creativity. I always think other writers are more creative than I am. But then I read an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert, (author of EAT, PRAY, LOVE), and she said that she's not terribly creative either. In her opinion hard work trumps creativity. Now there's a novel thought. Could I possibly need to work even harder?

Next I considered that writing poetic prose is one of my weaknesses. I read writers like Jacqueline Woodson and think "if I could only write like that." But I'm not supposed to sound like a cheap imitation of another writer. Could I possibly strive even harder to capture my authentic voice?

There's also the fact that I tend to write historical fiction in a market that seems to prefer contemporary stories. But there's still room for excellent historical fiction, look at WHEN THE WHISTLE BLOWS by Fran Cannon Slayton.

I'm left with no roadblocks, only a goal: to work even more diligently, and BELIEVE.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


All writers have them. Those authors we admire and strive to emulate. Lots of the usual suspects are on my list: Deborah Wiles, Karen Cushman, Deborah Hopkinson, Kate DiCamillo, Karen Hesse, Laurie Halse Anderson, and Richard Peck.

This past summer I had the opportunity to attend the national SCBWI Conference in Los Angeles. Richard Peck gave one of the keynote speeches, and I was enthralled. He has a wonderfully deep voice, the kind that is perfectly suited to a storyteller. As I listened to him weave his magic, I whispered to my friend, "I'd listen to this man read the phone book." Yes, he really is that good.

Last night an email popped up notifying me about my critique session for the Florida SCBWI Conference in Miami. Richard Peck is my assigned critiquer! I have a date with Richard Peck. Granted, it's only fifteen minutes, but it's destined to be one of those special memories that I dust off when rejection letters fill my mailbox.

Forget winning a date with Tad Hamilton. I'll take Richard Peck any day!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

DRAGON SLIPPERS by Jessica Day George

Never underestimate the power of a great opening line. DRAGON SLIPPERS starts like this, "It was my aunt who decided to give me to the dragon." I was immediately hooked. Who was this girl? Why did her aunt give her to a dragon?

DRAGON SLIPPERS has the feel of a fairy tale, but our heroine is no Sleeping Beauty. What I liked best about Creel is that she's frequently petrified, but finds the courage to confront danger anyway. She says, "I would rather die tonight trying to help my friends, than stand by tomorrow..."

I loved the talking dragons, each with a distinct personality, and the story has just enough romance to add a bit of spice.

The sequel is called DRAGON FLIGHT, and the first chapter is printed at the end.