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Classic Remake

3 Jul

 

Many folks remake classic stories, fairy tales, and songs. Last year I wrote a little story to go along with the classic Who Took the Cookies from the Cookie Jar song and hand play kids love. I took it to a new critique group last month to get a new perspective on it. Lo and behold, one of my critique partners had just read something similar to her preschooler that week! At first I was bummed, it’s been done. But then I got a copy of the book she read, Who Took the Cookies from the Cookie Jar? written by Bonnie Lass and Philemon Sturges and illustrated by Ashley Wolff.

614330The story is clever and the artwork adorable! Skunk finds the cookie jar empty and begins the search for who took the cookies. With only a trail of cookies crumbs to follow, Skunk begins the search. On each page Skunk finds a clue leading her to believe she knows the culprit with the refrain kids will join in saying, “Mmm…Oh! Now I know…”. But each guess is incorrect and the accused has a catchy little rhyme explaining why it isn’t them. Eventually the trail of cookie crumbs leads to the guilty party. Luckily there’s plenty of cookies left and everybody shares in the cookie feast!

I’m so glad I didn’t give up without reading the book. First of all, I love finding new and wonderful children’s literature to share with my family and friends. Secondly, I can see that this has genuine kid appeal. Thirdly, although both my story and this one are based on the same premise, I believe mine is different enough to be unique in the market. (fingers crossed) And, bonus… this version was published in the year 2000, so I figure it’s been long enough between stories to hit a new generation or two of young readers. (toes crossed) Now I just have to convince my agent and future editor!

 

 

 

 

 

One Month Check-Up

5 Jun

Wow! I can’t believe it’s been a month since I wrote my last blog post. Having an agent has not simplified my life like I thought it might. I no longer stalk the internet in search of agents looking for stories I might have written. But I do have lots of contact with my wonderful agent. She has sent my story to nine publishing houses and keeps me updated on the feedback as she receives it. Yes, I said feedback. One thing I’ve learned about subbing with an agent, is that the editors actually give feedback when they reject your work. So far I’ve gotten four declines from the nine submissions, that’s 44% rejections. In more positive terms that’s 56% chance of still having my first story published, so that’s something to bounce about!

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And, what have I been doing besides collecting rejection letters? Reading… a lot! Writing… some. Revising…a tad. Other things keeping me busy…meeting with critique partners, keeping up with my Facebook contacts, studying picture books, interviewing authors, reviewing books for friends, reading articles, chasing my muse and living life!

What I haven’t been doing… blogging (obviously), sitting around waiting, or wondering what to do next. My to do list is growing longer than a summer day. I have so many unfinished revisions to work on, so many undrafted ideas, and so many partial WIPs I think I’m going to need a few more rotations of the earth to catch up.

Until next time, happy writing, friends!

 

How I Got My Agent

5 May

 

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I am so thrilled to finally have this story to tell! It’s the one every writer yearns to tell. It’s the one that’s unique to every writer.

This one is mine.

After three years of writing and submitting to agents, I finally broke through the barrier. You know, the one between being someone who writes and being a writer with an agent.

I did a lot of the usual things aspiring authors do. I joined SCBWI. I continue to go to monthly meetings. I have attended several state and regional conferences and workshops.  I took online classes and webinars. I started three different critique groups specifically for picture book writers, two of which are still active. I joined several online writing groups. I became an administrator in one of those groups, the Debut Picture Book Study Group. I am active on several social media sites.  I purchased and devoured how-to books. And I got to know my local librarians and bookstore owners on a personal basis. I read, read, read picture books.

In short, I did everything I could to learn the craft.

And of course, I did my best to write good stories and submit to agents who were taking on new clients in my genre.

But I also did my best to make connections in the writing community. It was one of these fortunate connections which ultimately led to signing with my agent, Tina Schwartz of The Purcell Agency. I met Tina during a webinar on Writing Queries. We hit it off right away and I began working as her Literary Assistant. Tina was interested in my work. The first story I subbed to her was rejected, but the second pitch was a hit! She called me on Wednesday morning and made a verbal offer of representation. We spoke for a long time and she emailed a standard contract. Luckily for me, my son is an attorney so I emailed the contract to him for a quick look-see and an explanation of some terms of ‘legalese’.

The very next day I was on my way to Chicago for a writing conference. I was so crazy over the moon I could barely stay in my lane! My friend and critique partner (and passenger) was almost as excited as I was. And being the sweetheart that she is, she reread every single workshop and discussion offered as I drove  pondering which alternate sessions to attend in light of my new circumstances. We memorized the names of agents/agencies and editors/publishing houses we wanted to meet that weekend. I’m so happy we had decided to take the shoulder days on the conference. This extra evening gave me the opportunity to better prepare myself without feeling rushed the morning of the conference with new concerns in addition to a 5 hour drive. Then we focused on having fun and learning as much as we could. It was actually a nice reprieve from the constant preoccupation of possible representation. If my brain wasn’t overstimulated before the conference, it certainly was afterwards.

In the meantime, my son had redlined the contract with a few suggestions and I made a list of questions, questions, and more questions I wanted to ask Tina. (Remember those shoulder days? We stayed Sunday evening, had dinner with new friends and didn’t head home until Monday morning.) Monday, I relaxed, reviewed notes, discussed it with my son and husband and I called her on Tuesday morning with my inquires. We spoke for almost an hour, something I appreciate in an agent. She was very patient with me and answered all my questions and concerns. We negotiated the terms of the contract, and Tina re-mailed it on the spot. I printed it out. Signed. Returned a scanned copy. And celebrated!

Now, Wednesday again. One week after the initial phone call, Tina emailed me again. She has sent my manuscript to five publishing houses, houses I would not have been able to get into without an agent.

Unreal! I’m still pinching myself!

 

 

 

 

 

Would You Rather?

20 Apr

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I bet you know the game. Choose one of the questions below and answer in the comment box.

  1. Would you rather… have only your favorite book to read for the rest of your life or have only literary crap to read forever?
  2. Would you rather… win a Caldecott, Newbery, Pulitzer, (or another award of your choice) or be able to eat an unlimited amount of chocolate without gaining weight?
  3. Would you rather… be forced to write your next book on your phone or win the lottery?
  4. Would you rather… become a national best selling author or touch the life of only one child?
  5. Would you rather… be a beloved author or live in a world of peace?

 

Studying Art Notes

3 Mar

 

If you’re writing picture books, you’ve certainly heard these words more than once.

Leave Room for the Illustrator.

One of the most important aspects of  illustrations is how much information the reader gets from the artwork that is not narrated in the text of the story. Picture book readers trust that the illustrations tell the story as much as the text, and often times more than the text. Illustrations convey emotion, definition, story arc, plot twist, and surprise elements.

In studying picture books which do this well, it’s helpful to practice writing  your own art notes where you think it’s important to the story that the illustrations depict a specific element. I sometimes mark the page with a post-it note to show where I might have added a note if I were the author. Then look back over these notes and try to word them so that my meaning is clear without interfering with the illustrator’s work. Later I can rewrite these in a notebook or just stick the post-it note in my writing journal.

Shutta Crum must be an expert art note writer. Her books Mine! and Uh-Oh! are written using only one word each! If not, how were these nearly wordless picture books written since she is not also the illustrator? Although I have heard that some writers write in a side-by-side column, with the text on one side and the art note on the other, I cannot say with certainty that this is how Shutta submits her work. But it is a good exercise for us to practice.

Look at these spreads and think about what is necessary to put in an art note and what can be left to the illustrator’s imagination.

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Notice that it isn’t always important to leave a note. Do the children need to be siblings or friends? No. Is the specific collection of toys important? No. Is it important that one toy get left behind? Yes. Is it important that there is a dog in the scene? Yes. (That comes out later int he story.)

Note: There are more of these than you realize.

I wonder how many, and what kind of art notes Tammi Sauer included in her first manuscript for Your Alien. I’m thinking there weren’t as many notes as in the example above, simply because there is more text in the story. The illustrator is an adult who can visualize a scene without help.

Take a look at this scene. Was it necessary to say exactly what the alien should be eating (or even doing) on this page?FullSizeRender

I don’t think so. The alien could be eating popcorn, bananas, or pizza. He could even be zipping around the room or playing with the cat instead of eating. Either way, it doesn’t affect the outcome of the story. This is purely up to the illustrator to decide what ‘other ideas’ the alien has on this page.

Even books which are written and illustrated by the same person, must have a certain element of art notes even if they are not specifically written out since the work is submitted as a whole unit, not in pieces.

My guess is that Chris Haughton either jotted down ideas in words or sketches before he produced the final art for his story, Shh! We Have a Plan.shh2

Before he began illustrating, he knew that the littlest character was a different kind of hunter than the others. He was kind and friendly. He was always the first to spot a bird and instinctively attracted the birds to himself. He didn’t carry a net or a ladder, but used bread crumbs to charm the birds.

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As a writer of picture books, balance is the key. Tell your story in a way which allows your reader to be an active participant. Give enough information to feed their imagination while allowing them to make their own connections.

 

First Lines

27 Feb

I suspect the picture book market today can be likened to Grab-n-Go, a popular convenience store serving a fast paced generation.

Consumers are looking for fast service, fresh ingredients, and value pricing when choosing a foodservice solution and convenience stores are answering the call with innovative programs that meet the latest food trends.
-Marilyn Odesser-Torpey

Not in the sense of speedy delivery of sandwiches, but picture books must GRAB the reader on the first page, if not the cover, and GO on to provide high quality literature with a fresh twist at a value price.

What are your favorite children’s books? These are books you have Grabbed and Gone with over the years. These are your go-to books. These are the books we give as gifts and reread for our own pleasure.

We can recite the first lines of these books.

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Here is Edward Bear, coming down the stairs now, bump bump bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin.

– A.A. Milne (1926)

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Where’s Papa going with that ax?

-E.B. White (1952)

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The sun did not shine, it was too wet to play, so we sat in the house all that cold, cold wet day. I sat there with Sally. We sat here we two and we said ‘How we wish we had something to do.

– Dr. Seuss (1957)

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The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another his mother called him ‘WILD THING!’ and Max said ‘I’LL EAT YOU UP!’ so he was sent to bed without eating anything.

– Maurice Sendak (1963)

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One sunny Sunday, the caterpillar was hatched out of a tiny egg. He was very hungry.

– Eric Carle (1969)

These books stayed with us for a reason… they hooked us into the stories we saved in our hearts. And so whenever we hear these lines we are immediately transported back to the time we sat in someone’s lap, or pushed our way to the front of the group, or felt the joy of reading and rereading our favorite books independently, or probably all three.

Now of course, a good opening is worthless without an equally great follow up. These are tied together in our memories. A few words can elicit a flood of emotions and trigger an avalanche of subsequent memories. The power of those opening lines is what keeps us opening those books over and over, rereading those pages, and reliving those adventures like it’s the first time.

Did you notice something about all the quotes above? Look at the publication dates. That’s right, for the most part they are 50+ years old. THAT is the staying power of a great hook, a powerful first line, an exceptional story. THAT is what we are striving for as writers!

But does that mean there haven’t been any brilliant first lines since 1969? Absolutely not. That’s just where my memory takes me. Where does you memory take you?

Let’s look at some of today’s first lines. The most recent books of 2016 are all of two months old. How many first lines do you already know? Which ones do you think will become classics? Will today’s children quote these books in 50 years? Let’s certainly hope so!

 The books below are listed alphabetically by title so as not to show favorites.

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Dennis was an ordinary boy…who expressed himself in EXTRAORDINARY ways.

-Salina Yoon (2016)

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Lula Mae wanted a puppy, but Mama said, “Dog’s just another mouth to feed. These are hard times, Lula Mae. You’ve got to make do.

-Susan McElroy (2016)

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When the crickets sing and the end of summer is near, Grandma and Granpa say COME.

-Marc Harshman (2016)

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Peddles was just a pig.

-Elizabeth Rose Stanton (2016)

25777449 I’m running in place, listening to my feet pound the pavement.

-Pat Zietlow Miller (2016)

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I never imagined, before you came along… that our house could get this messy and LOUD!

-Sherri Duskey Rinker (2016)

 

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Snappsy the alligator wasn’t feeling like himself.

-Julie Falatko (2016)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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