Tag Archives: writing

Hieroglyphics to Hashtags

19 Mar

The art of storytelling is as old as time. Many years ago I toured the caves of Altermira in Spain with my family. The cave drawings depict prehistoric tales of bison hunts, animal sightings, and survival signed with a handprint. I was filled with awe and pride that my ancestors may have authored these stories.

Fast forward several years and I have gone from hieroglyphics to hashtags in less than seven days.

Last week I was awed once more by the hieroglyphic stories of the ancient Egyptians. I visited the Cincinnati Museum Center with a friend to experience this as close to first hand as I may ever get.

With the ‘magic’ of modern technology, I tried my hand at writing with hieroglyphics on a computer screen.
I also stood inside a tomb with detailed instructions for the after-life. Sure wish I could read it!



Today I used another form of technology to discover what literary agents are looking for in the form of manuscripts. Using #mswl I discovered an agent who is looking for funny picture books. In particular, one with chickens. Well guess what I sent him? A submission with a chicken protagonist who gets herself into some funny situations as she tries desperately to change her circumstances! Maybe my cave ancestors will look down fondly on me and be proud of what I have created for the world.

While I wait for a response from said agent, maybe I’ll browse Pinterest for some fun chicken crafts to keep me busy.


A Writing Community that Works for YOU

19 Jan

Do you need to belong to a writing community? Yes, you do! There are various groups you can join, some free/some paid. Each has its own focus, everything from support and information to education and advocacy.

This week I had the opportunity to learn about an organization that I want to share with you. The Authors Guild is an advocacy group which works FOR you. “The Authors Guild exists to support working writers and their ability to earn a living from authorship. We work to protect free speech, honor copyright, and ensure fair compensation practices in the changing publishing landscape.” This very important mission includes offering legal advice, resources, discounts, and providing seminars and workshops to members.

Free Swag included a new journal!

Yesterday, the AG offered a free workshop in Cincinnati (Thanks to our library for hosting.) and I attended with one of my critique partners. AG partnered with Penguin Random House to present a full day of seminars, lunch, and fellowship. Topics included Path to Publication, An Editor’s Perspective, Your Legal Rights: Making contracts Work for You, Everything You Need to Know About Agents and Query Letters, and more. I went home with so much information, I’ll be processing for weeks!

Whether you write kid lit, short stories, poems, novels, magazine exposés, newspaper articles, how-to manuals, scientific research, editorials, blog posts, screenplays, movie scripts, tour guides, cookbooks, or anything more than your grocery list, I highly recommend that you join the Authors Guild too.

Spring Training

26 Mar

lucy-psychiatristWas your winter writing as depressing as mine? ACK!

The story accepted by an honest-to-goodness editor in a real publishing house was turned down in the acquisitions meeting.

But I pulled myself together in time for the new year. And what a fun-filled, jam-packed year it’s been so far!

I spent January gathering ideas with Tara Lazar in Storystorm (aka PiBoIdMo). February brought a blizzard of information at the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York. And March has been a whirlwind of reading mentor texts with Carrie Charley Brown in ReFoReMo.

Now, with a fresh arsenal of writing ideas, information, and mentor texts I’m ready to take on a new season.

CharacterSpring Training is upon us and I’m going to be ready for the big game!

 It’s time to get off the bench and stretch those writing muscles. fce54108a076897bcd7844d5c2ad99ab

Write.

Write.

Write.

I’m working on honing my craft, developing those mad writing skills…

until I hit one out of the ballpark!  bfb5b5cf1817b81725091347991476b8

And when I finally get that call…

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all that training and practice and diligence will have paid off! your-a-good-man-charlie-brown-baseball-game-youtube-o3Vo6x-clipart

 

Special thanks to Charles M. Schulz, creator of the Peanuts characters, for his wisdom, creativity, inspiration, and many years of humor.

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16 Feb

photo-26It’s a common enough question. One I’ve asked children countless times… at the end of the day while we waited for dismissal and around the dinner table when the conversation was lagging. I was just asked this question myself at our local SCBWI meeting after my trip to New York for the national winter conference. I answered with a few of the ‘big ideas’ I’d garnered, but here I’d like to share more general observations.

Let me begin by saying this was my first national conference and I was quite awestruck. I had attended several regional conferences before this one, but I quickly learned that a national conference is much more overwhelming than the regional conferences. I did my best to soak in all the combined knowledge and talent surrounding me. I took copious notes, which I highly recommend. You know, you think you’re going to remember every syllable just to walk out the door and be in fan shock over seeing a ‘celebrity’ and completely forget everything you just heard. Not saying that happened to me. (Not saying it didn’t happen, just not saying it did.)

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I recommend you attend as many functions as possible. It’s not only beneficial but also economically sound. After all, we paid a lot of money to attend, why not squeeze every ounce of  the experience out of the opportunities afforded. This particular conference offered more than 30 workshops and 55 faculty members. (Read all the materials carefully before registering. Diligence is key in making your selections.) In addition to the workshops, there are keynote addresses, panel discussions, and various formal and informal gatherings. Take in as many of these as you can.

Have a plan. Know what you want to get out of this experience. Are there specific questions you’d like to have answered? What contacts do you especially want to make? Is there something new you’d like to try? Knowing what you want will help you focus your energy in the right direction. img_1446

Relax (if you can) and enjoy the ambiance. There are superstars all around you!  Make connections. You never know who is sitting next to you until you ask. I had lunch right next to Tomie dePaola and across from Jane Yolen. I listened to, and cried with, the multi-award winning illustrator, Bryan Collier   and got my picture taken with him. I ran into many Facebook friends and made new friends. No, you won’t get to see and talk to everyone (there were over 1000 participants this weekend), but you will get to meet some very interesting people.

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Take advantage of the opportunities to submit your work to agents and/or editors. This is one of the perks of attending a conference. Many of the editors in particular are closed to submissions except for these special circumstances. If you have something ready, do that immediately. The window of opportunity is small, don’t miss out. Be sure to research the recipient’s tastes and wish list before sending it out. Follow their guidelines to the letter. You don’t want to waste your time or theirs.

Enjoy yourself. No matter where you go, take in a local experience. In NYC I didn’t have time to do the  typical ‘tourist’ things, but I did ride the train and eat the cheesecake!

Western Pennsylvania SCBWI Conference, 2016

27 Nov

 

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This cute little reading robot was host to a couple hundred SCBWI members from Pennsylvania, and three from Ohio. Two of my critique partners and I drove almost five hours to be a part of this conference in Pittsburg on the second weekend of November. It was a beautiful weekend, crisp, sunny, and full of hope.

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The faculty for the weekend included Heather Alexander (former agent from Pippin Properties and now freelance editor), Mary Colgan (senior editor at Boyds Mills Press), Brett Duquette (senior editor at Sterling Publishing), Karen Grenick (founding agent at Red Fox Literary), Jasmin Rubero (editor at Dial, Random House), Jennifer Soloway (agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency), Jennifer Ung (editor at Simon Pulse), and Rebecca Weston (former editor at Delecort Press and now freelance editor).

As always, SCBWI conferences are chock full of information and opportunities to meet new people. With eight faculty members and only four workshop sessions, I had to choose my sessions strategically. This weekend I chose to learn more about queries, leaving room for the illustrations, reasons for rejections, and acquisitions. But the best thing I did, was submit a story for a critique. Not only, did I receive a thorough and thoughtful critique, I also received an encouraging invitation to submit.

And surprise, surprise… I was chosen as one of the six most promising authors in attendance! Each agent and editor who critiqued work chose one person to receive this honor. It is indeed both humbling and exhilarating !

As a critique group we are quite pleased with our efforts. At the end of the day, we each had something to celebrate!

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Persistence with Miranda Paul

13 Aug

 

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I met children’s author Miranda Paul at the Northern Ohio SCBWI conference last year when she sprang unannounced into my hotel room with her famously infectious laugh and we became fast friends.  We already knew each other through Facebook and we had promised to meet up and get to know each other better at the conference. You can learn more about Miranda too at her website, MirandaPaul.com.

Miranda is the author of several picture books available on Kindle, but she didn’t become well-known until her first traditionally published picture book, One Plastic Bag (2015) made international news. Since then, Miranda has published four other picture books and has another two scheduled for publication next year.

Coming Soon:

Blobfish Throws a Party – illus. Maggie Caton
Are We Pears Yet? – illus. Carin Berger

And now on the cusp of the publication of her newest picture book, 10 Little Ninjas, I have the pleasure of interviewing Miranda about writing and persistence. Miranda answered all my questions thoughtfully and completely. I’m excited to share her insights with you too!

ME: As a former educator, I’m always interested in author’s previous professional lives. What can you tell us about yourself before you became a world famous author? How did this help your writing career? What non-writing experience was the most influential in your writing success?

MIRANDA: To answer your first question, I’ll tell you what I tell kids in many school visits—and in the back matter of my book Whose Hands Are These?—that I’ve had many different jobs, and that’s OK. I’ve been a teacher, a store cashier, a volunteer zookeeper, and more. I think every experience helps my writing career, because there’s no replacement for tapping into a personal memory. Exposure to something new or learning a skill outside the writing subset expands your bubble.
To answer the last question, it’s hard to say what non-writing experience has been the most influential. Participating in drama and theatre taught me how to take criticism and direction. I learned the importance of working collaboratively with others toward a final, polished production. I often hear from writers how much they fear “not having control” of their book (or illustrations) when traditionally publishing. I’ve never met Nate Wragg, illustrator for 10 Little Ninjas, and it’s Karen Greenberg’s first acquisition for Knopf Books for Young Readers. Yet through trusting them (and so many others at Penguin Random House), the book has become an Amazon Best Book of the Month for August and was reviewed in School Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly. Learning to trust and honor the expertise of other creatives was something I didn’t have to overcome. I have professionals such as April Deming and Michael Tolaydo to thank, because they taught me these lessons and more.

ME: Have you found a difference in being accepted inside or outside of your own community? (Do people see you differently based on how long or in what capacity they knew you before you became a writer?)

MIRANDA: I’m not really sure how to answer this. People are always longing for acceptance in some capacity, especially young people. But gaining acceptance from peers or the community isn’t why I write. I’ve always loved writing, and have always done it. In fact, being a kid who liked to write poems or stories until 2 a.m. often made me feel quite different, the opposite of someone who’s accepted, you know?

ME: What specific obstacles did you face while working on becoming a published author?

MIRANDA: Oh, there are many. And I know other authors who have overcome much greater odds. There’s balancing family life (not unlike dad and the sensei in 10 Little Ninjas!), and there’s rejections of course. My newest book, 10 Little Ninjas, was rejected multiple times—even by my own agent at first—and once turned down after being rewritten three times for the same house. But there’s one obstacle bigger than rejections—the obstacle of yourself. We doubt our abilities, we keep our work to ourselves in fear that it’s not good enough. Once I learned to take myself seriously, I found momentum. Momentum is huge.

ME: How do you manage your professional time, especially in terms of speaking engagements?

MIRANDA: I have really large calendars, and a couple of people who help me keep things straight. Recently, I’ve had to turn down a few requests, which breaks my heart, because if there’s a teacher or group of kids or festival that invites me, the person inside is saying “YES! YES! YES!” But the calendar is saying, “Think again, Sister.” So, I let the calendar rule my life to keep some sense of order.

ME: Have you ever had an idea that just didn’t gel? What do you do with these gems?

MIRANDA: All the time. One of my first picture book manuscripts, for example, which I tried pitching at a conference once, was an inanimate-talking-object story with a holiday and religious twist. With a moral! Sometimes, stories need to be tucked away, or saved for family. Other times, an idea isn’t quite ready to be developed. I keep an idea notebook where I write them all down. I will never, ever run out of things to write about. The best ideas find me, and keep nagging until I can’t not write them. Like my new one about inanimate talking objects written in all dialogue, coming out in 2017 called Are We Pears Yet? (Ha! Never say never when it comes to breaking the writing rules!). It’s illustrated by Carin Berger and published by Neal Porter Books.

ME: What would you say is the major hurdle to traditional publication?

MIRANDA: For me, it was first realizing this career was even a possibility, and then deciding to go for it. I’d written my whole life, but never knew much about getting a book published or really made it a goal. Another hurdle was then getting my work out there, on submission, because I never considered it “ready.” I’m a natural editor; I tinker with manuscripts for years and still might not consider it done. The work could always be better, I think. I can’t say what the major hurdle is for other people. I often hear from people who have an idea but haven’t actually started writing, let alone revising. Finishing something is a lot of work, especially when the perception is that writing for kids is easy or fun or a hobby. I’m grateful for my B.A. in English every single day, but even more grateful for not allowing myself to get too distracted by building a platform, marketing, etc. before I’d even built a large body of work.

ME: What other writing experiences have you undertaken?

MIRANDA: I’ve written a YA novel, a screenplay, hundreds of poems, and have freelanced for newspapers, magazines, and even app/game companies. I’ve taught writing, and continue to teach workshops when I can. There’s very little I haven’t done, and I think that helps me improve and grow as a writer.

ME: What plans do you have for your future self?

MIRANDA: Keep on keeping on, mostly. I am collaborating with my husband, Baptiste Paul, on a few manuscripts that we’re very excited about.

ME: What advice would you give aspiring authors?

MIRANDA: In the words of Roxette, “Listen to your heart.”

I love the quote! Thanks for interview Miranda. Let’s wrap this up with one last bonus question.

ME: What one worthwhile question have you NEVER been asked? (And what’s the answer to that question?)

MIRANDA: I don’t often get asked about my favorite desserts. They are (in order): tiramisu, chocolate-covered strawberries, and Special K bars.

And for those of you who want to follow Miranda on social media, you can find her on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.  

 

 

 

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?

 

April Fool’s Day

1 Apr

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I made a comment on a friend’s Facebook post pretty much implying that she and her writing partners stop making hard work look so easy, it’s not! And anyone who thinks it is, is a fool.

It’s true. These lovely ladies lead our monthly SCBWI meetings with the grace and intelligence that only experience can achieve. It may look like what they do is easy. But like one of my supervisors used to say many years ago, “I’m working like a duck… smooth on the surface; paddling like crazy to stay afloat!”

These authors are mentors to the many others who are working to succeed. They are dedicated to research, writing, editing, and sharing. Their many books inform and entertain. So I’m taking the opportunity this April Fool’s Day, to salute them. Thank you (left to right) Mary Kay Carson, Kerri Logan Hollihan, and Brandon Marie Miller at  Hands on Books. 12901048_1754140581483945_8981486111798615873_o

Thank you also to our president Andrea Pelleschi, and to the many other SCBWI members who lift us up every month with their encouragement and support.

 

To my mentors and role models… Happy April Fool’s Day!

A few words to the wise…

 

 

 

 

 

Coffee Shop Withdrawal

28 Mar

Just as I’d gotten addicted accustom to spending time in cute little coffee houses drinking creamy flavored caffeine concoctions, I developed terrible heartburn. You guessed it, I gave up coffee. The problem was, I found that I not only missed the rush of energy coffee provided, I also missed the ambiance. I missed the old comfy chairs, the mismatched mugs, the quiet music, the freedom to sit around for hours typing away. So today I decided I was taking my coffee house life back… minus the coffee. Ah, sweet reunion. Now I’m looking forward to finding new little out of the way establishments again, lovely independently owned cafes with unique names tucked away in local communities. And I promise to keep my coffee consumption down to one latte (hey that’s half milk) a week, they do make other drinks, right?

Here’s a picture of one of my favorite little cafes. Just so happens to be in the neighborhood too, so I frequent the Alreddy Cafe quite often. wpid-photo-201411022246192

 

So tell me, what’s your favorite coffee emporium?

 

 

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.

 

Dreams

5 Feb

How many of you dream about work? Everyone, right? When I was teaching I practically couldn’t sleep the night before the first day of school, a big observation, or parent conferences. And when I finally did fall off to sleep it wasn’t the peaceful, refreshing, life-affirming sleep of the innocent. No, it was terrible nightmares of showing up naked, or being the only one in the room and wondering where everyone else was, or seeing everyone else was completely Pinterest prepared with color-coded folders and eye-catching charts while I was knee deep in plain cardboard boxes.

Well this is my third year of retirement and I can honestly say those dreams are finally starting to fade, although I still have the occasional dream of a coworker showing up in some odd non-work related situation or the one where I wake up looking for something. But what hasn’t changed is the fact that I do dream about work.

Lately, I’ve been dreaming about writing related things, sort of. I’ve actually dreamed that I was typing my dream onto a computer screen. I’ve met authors in line at the coffee shop, pruning roses, and cleaning the oven. I’ve gotten lost driving to a critique meeting in the middle of the sea. I’ve even returned my library books and shopped for journals while flying. Oh, yeah, and last night I woke up looking for my chalk… I guess some things never change.

So what is it about weird dreams? Are they like Scrooge said, a “bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato”? Or as Freud said, “most profound when they seem the most crazy”?

We may never know, but for now, I’m glad that my dreams are more reflective (so to speak) of my new work and what I want to do when I wake up.

Dream

 

Books Alive!

31 Dec

unnamedYay! I did it!

I promised myself this year that I would read as many new picture books as I could. I got my recommendations from friends and from my library, thank you Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County! Every week I would look at my library’s website and find the new releases and put them on hold for me to read. Today is the last day of 2015 and I have reviewed 360 picture books on my BOOKS ALIVE page! I actually read many more, but these are the one that made the cut for my page.

I quickly realized there were going to be more books than I could possibly read in one year, so I set a few parameters for myself.

First of all, I read almost exclusively fiction because this is what I write. Although I couldn’t pass up a few non-fictions recommended by friends, these are very few of the total number of books read.

Secondly, I only reviewed the ones I could honestly give 3, 4, or 5 stars to. If I didn’t want to reread a story or buy it for my grandchildren, I didn’t review it.

Thirdly, I steered away from commercial characters. Even though I love Winnie-the-Pooh, Curious George, and the Disney franchise, I had to limit my reading and this was one way to do it. I love a good series as much as the next person, but I was really looking for what I could learn from the stand alone picture book to inform my own writing.

Lastly, I stuck to traditionally published books because this is the route I would like to take myself and part of my quest included learning about what sells. So basically, if I couldn’t get my hands on it in my library system I didn’t read it. Although, I have put in purchase requests online for books that were getting a lot of media attention and which were not in my public library.

In total I reviewed… 360 picture books in Books Alive! This does not include the books I read and did not review. It also does not include the books I read that were not published in 2015. Sometimes I would find an author I liked and went back and read more of their work.

Top 10 Things I Learned About Writing Kid Lit from BOOKS ALIVE!

1. There are no hard and fast rules! Yes, publishers are buying and selling rhyming text… good rhyming text. Yes, publishers are buying and selling ‘quiet’ books.

  1. Diversity matters! Even though the We Need Diverse Books movement started last year, I found that there was more diversity in children’s books than I first realized. These books were written and acquired several years before they were published and therefore were in the works before the movement started. I think this issue has been n the forefront of publishers’ minds for longer than we realized. These titles include gender diversity, racial diversity, cultural diversity and diversity in the authors and illustrators who produce these books. And, yes we still have a long way to go… so let’s get busy!

  2. Animal characters still make up the core of picture books. I think children relate well to animal characters and as adults, authors are more apt to tell a ‘difficult’ story one step away from a child protagonist. Also, in going back to the diversity issue, any child can identify with an animal since there is no obvious human trait of gender, race, or culture that makes them different from the reader. Readers can then see themselves as friendly, helpful, brave, adventurous, frightened, etc instead of different from the kid in the book based on physical appearances.

  3. Opinions are like noses, everyone has one. And not everyone can see past their own. Just because someone else did not like a particular book, does not mean that you will dislike it as well. Some of my favorite books are the ones that were overlooked by the media. Conversely, not all the hype about a book coincides with your own opinion. As a matter of fact, I try to generally be positive in my reviews of a book and stay away from those I don’t care for. There are some books out there that you may hate, but remember someone liked it enough to publish it. And you may read a book I have reviewed and think I was crazy to give it 5 stars… again that’s just my opinion. In the same way, agents, editors, and publishers have opinions. There are things they like and things they don’t care for. Just because your work gets a pass from one of these people, does not mean that your work is no good… it’s just not their cup of tea. Try someone else. Research who you submit to so that you can increase the likelihood that they will want your story.

  4. Not all wordless picture books are written by the same author/illustrator. It must be difficult to get your idea across to an agent, editor, publisher, or illustrator if you want to tell a story through pictures exclusively or almost exclusively and you are not the artist. But I have seen it successfully accomplished time and time again. So take your vision and go with it!

  5. There were no books (that I found) beginning with the letter X. That may or may not mean something to a writer out there, but I just thought it was interesting. I might consciously try to write something with an X as the first letter… Xavier’s Puppy? X-Ray Vision? X Marks the Spot? Hey, I kinda like that one… dibs on X Marks the Spot!

  6. Speaking of titles. I can’t tell you how many books I read with the same or almost the exact same title as another picture book. After reading, I would go to Goodreads to record my books read (Which by the way, if you don’t add the date finished, Goodreads will not count it as a book read this year! Guess when I found this out? Last week, when people started posting how many books they read this year and went to look up mine and I had two, TWO. Aiye!). Anyway… while searching for the book by title I would often find more than one with a similar title. Usually this occurred within a few years of each other. But sometimes within the same year, but with different publishing houses. So just because there is already a book out there like yours don’t give up, it might be exactly what someone else is looking for.

  7. Along the same lines, there are hundreds of books with similar themes… friendship, loneliness, fears, lost items, first day of school, bullies, etc. But those that are getting published are new, different, exciting! So what if there are a lot of monster books? Make sure yours is unique… a monster story that only you can tell! Sometimes I’d pick up ‘another bear book’ with dread, and then WOWZERS the author would knock my socks off with the clever jokes, the deep meaning, or the lovely illustrations. And I’d have to remember, THIS is what the publishers want!

  8. Whenever I reviewed a story, I did my best to connect in some way with the author and/or illustrator. I liked their page on Facebook, I sent a friend request, connected on Twitter, looked up their blog. This personal connection gives you another layer of rapport. I found that kid lit people are extremely friendly! They enjoy hearing from fans, they appreciate good reviews of their work on Goodreads, Amazon, and blogs. Many become instant friends, others merely acquaintances. Each connection is another chance to learn from someone who has already made it in the business. Take advantage of personal relationships, these people are your allies in the writing field!

  9. And speaking of making connections… meet as many pros as you can. I love nothing more than to find a great new book and have it signed by the author. Some of the books I reviewed here are a direct result of meeting the author and or illustrator at a workshop or signing event. SCBWI events, Books by the Banks in Cincinnati, and writing workshops are great places to meet the pros. Nothing beats personal connections. I have found them to be wonderful people. They are open, honest, kind, generous, and insightful! This includes the booksellers, librarians, and teachers in your area. Luckily for me, I do know a lot of teachers. For awhile I knew more teachers than an other profession. Now that I’m retired, we still get together for lunch or coffee. It’s important as a writer to remember your audience, parents, teachers, and kids are top on the list! When you check out as many books as I have in the last two years, the librarians get to know you. When you attend book signings, booksellers begin to recognize you. These people can steer you in the right direction when you’re looking for something specific and will be important contacts to have when you are published and ready to go out in public for the first time.

Bonus… give them something, make their life easier, make them remember you. The most important things I did for my readers had nothing to do with my writing journey. The notes I took for myself, were not recorded on my blog, those I keep in my journals. What I did for the readers was simply to give the a quick overview of the story, yes spoilers and all, so they could first see if this was one that met their needs. And then I gave them a few ideas they could use with their children to extend their reading. So whether a parent, grandparent, teacher, or daycare worker, needed a book and an activity to go with it, I tried to give them something they could use. Pinterest became my best friend this year! It takes time to find arts and crafts or easy recipes that are age appropriate without duplicating them too often. But I hope these little things make someone else’s life easier. Many times parents and teachers are too frazzled at the end of the day to think of one more thing. I hope they will come back to my blog once in a while and type in a key word to search for a just-right book and activity for the next day.

Now, off to rest for one whole day before 2016 begins with all its new resolutions! See you on the other side!

 

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