Friday, August 28, 2009

During my morning walk this morning, I saw two young boys on their way to school. Both had backpacks and were walking briskly and talking and laughing at the same time. Suddenly one of them, the one with the skateboard in his hand, took off, rolling down the sidewalk on his skateboard, hollering in delight, his hair blowing in the wind. He waved to his friend as he continued down the sidewalk, free as the wind, letting go and absolutely enjoying it. That brought to mind something I heard at the SCBWI-LA conference three weeks ago.

Let go of the outcome,” is what famous author Karen Cushman (1996 Newbery medal winner, The Midwife’s Apprentice) said. “Cherish the process. First show up. Showing up means turning on your computer and typing up page one. Write. Keep showing up. Writers write. That’s what we do. Submit to agents, editors, contests. Give power to yourself.”

She told us to “pay attention.” By this she meant looking around, paying attention to sights, smells, experiences and reactions, and also being curious about other people’s books, attending conferences, joining writer’s groups.

Connect with emotions,” she said. “Communicate this to your readers. Know your characters well. It is on this emotional level that we connect to our readers. Cherish the process rather than the product.” Then she told us, “Let go of the outcome. We cannot make an editor take our book. Publication is just one of the reasons we write. We write books that bring hope and wisdom and comfort. Follow your dreams. Trust yourself. What matters is you and your words. Empower your thoughts. Words are sacred. They deserve respect. If you get the right words in the right order, you can nudge the world.”

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

This has nothing to do with writing, but it made my day. I saved $20.15 on my grocery bill today. I used coupons! I’ve used them for years, but lately I pay a bit more attention to ads in the newspaper and magazines, and I clip, clip, clip. I can use the money saved to buy a book or two at Halfprice Book Store. Or maybe three writer’s magazines at Barnes & Noble. What a treat!

Not too long ago, I was interviewed online and one of the questions asked was, “When do you do your best writing?” I find I am more creative in the morning, but then sometimes it can be very late at night when I get a spark of ideas and can really be productive. After reading a lot of articles about setting up rigid schedules, I wondered if I should stick to mornings only or focus on late nights. But reading an article by Jennifer Willis in the September 2009 issue of The Writer magazine, gave me permission to schedule what best works for me. It’s titled, “Are you a lark, or are you an owl?” She quotes Quinn McDonald, a certified creativity coach, as saying that “larks are morning writers, while owls are more productive at night.” Regardless, I like that Ms. Willis concludes with McDonald’s advice that “creativity cannot be forced, but it can be fostered by honoring your own rhythm.” So there. What about you? What works best for you?

The feeling for words, the driving need to tell a story, the love of characters who constantly inhabit your mind waiting to be born, these are the inherent things that make us writers.” - Eve Bunting

Saturday, August 22, 2009

More on the SCBWI-LA conference: A panel of authors and illustrators talked about what creates an extraordinary picture book. Here are some of their comments.

An extraordinary book is one of the very best of its kind. It achieves its goal with distinction and originality. It is a book that will last for a long time. When the book speaks to the reader, there is something in those books that makes them last. It has to have heart. Your emotion has to be in it. It has to have a strong appeal in one way or another to both children and adults. It will make readers want to read it over and over again. An extraordinary picture book has to have a very personal feel to it. A little bit of humor and love. Editors and agents put in a lot of work into a book. The artist/illustrator adds so much to the story. They enhance the story. Once a book is finished, an author should say to his/her illustrator, “Thank you for making OUR book so beautiful.”

Additional comments/advice regarding queries (from a workshop session):

Submit. Do not be afraid. Who are you writing for? Do the query in the VOICE of the story. Pitch the book in voice. Don’t start with questions, i.e., what if? Let your writing speak for itself. SASE. Follow guidelines. Mention that you are currently working on another novel so they’ll know you are writing. You describe a character by describing who loves them and who they love. A query letter is a pitch, not a synopsis. The editor/agent is more interested in voice than plot in query letter.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

More on the August 2009 SCBWI-LA conference: 2001 Newbery Gold Medal winner Richard Peck ( A Year Down Yonder ) was a keynote speaker who inspired us all. Following are some of his comments.

Every page, every day, we must ask: when will this story start? Who is going to tell our story? Not us. We are adults. We create characters who will speak for us. Why are we writing this story? What is the moral of the story? A story is always about a sudden new alertness that has to be acted upon. We have to know exactly how our character changes. Where are our characters standing/setting? A setting is always somewhere we have never been but want our readers to go. Every piece of the setting has to be there for a reason. Every detail must be working. It has to matter. Happy writing makes for satisfactory reading. The whole book has to be the rest of your book. The first page is the last page in disguise. We have to be photographically clear, i.e., period rooms in other eras. Scent works too.

Friday, August 14, 2009

A bit of fun news from my SCBWI-LA trip. As I waited in the LAX airport to return home from the conference, I spotted someone who looked exactly like the actress, Sharon Stone. I was positive it was Ms. Stone. Tall, blond, beautiful, she was the exact replica of the actress. Imagine my surprise when she boarded the same flight and then sat one seat away from me. But then I discovered she was not Sharon Stone as she talked to the passenger in the middle seat. Turns out she’s from New Mexico. Stunning lady. I did meet Henry Winkler, though, as he signed books at the conference. The picture above is the view of the hotel swimming pool from my balcony.

Another surprise happened while I waited for the shuttle from the hotel to the airport. Who gets in on the same shuttle? None other than famous author, Karen Cushman. I love her books. We greeted each other cordially and I told her how much I had enjoyed her speech. Then the shuttle driver checked over his list and turns out we’re on the wrong one. We had to get out, luggage and all, and wait for the next one. Exasperating.

Another interesting thing that happened while at the conference is that a film crew started filming a TV show next to the hotel swimming pool. I didn’t see anyone famous that I recognized, but it was neat just being in the middle of all the excitement.

For more on the SCBWI-LA conference, take a look at the Publishers Weekly article.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Just returned from the annual Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators conference in Los Angeles. This is my second time attending. It was even better than the last time. I am still on a high from great speeches and super writing workshops. I’m ready to dive into writing and revising the drafts I’ve been working on. I am so enthused I can hardly wait to unpack and start going over all the notes I took while there. The author I'm pictured with here is Ann Whitford Paul whose book, Writing Picture Books, I reviewed a few weeks ago. It was great meeting her at the conference.

Energy and excitement permeated the conference the entire time I was there. We heard inspiring speeches from such great writers as Sherman Alexie, Richard Peck, Ellen Hopkins, Betty Birney, and illustrators like David Wiesner, Kadir Nelson and Dan Yacccarino. The editors and agents who were in attendance were so accessible and supportive. The illustrator’s social where over a hundred portfolios were displayed was outstanding. I made new friends and reunited with former ones. One of my writer friends, Pam, who originally lived in Alaska was there. It was great seeing her after ten years.

Once I unravel my many notes and download all my pictures, I will start posting interesting writer’s tidbits that I picked up while there. There is so much, it will take several postings. Plus I need to read some of the books I bought and and had autographed. Don’t take my word for it. Attend one of these conferences and you will see for yourself how inspiring it can be. There’s nothing greater than being amongst other writers and illustrators who share the same passion about children’s writing as you. Go to the
SCBWI blog to find out more.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Have you ever wondered how the acquisition of a book actually works? Whenever I do a book signing or school visit, the audience is amazed that it sometimes takes from two years to four or five years before a book is published. It all depends on whether we’re talking about a picture book, which requires a lot of art work, or a chapter book or novel, which usually don’t require illustrations. It all starts with your manuscript and whether an editor is interested enough to make an offer. Has he or she fallen in love with your story and believes in it enough to make it into a book? This gets the ball rolling. The acquisition process has started. There’s nothing more thrilling for a writer than getting that first offer.

If you’re interested in how it all works from beginning to end, visit children’s book editor, Harold Underdown’s blog. You’ll find his article, “
The Acquistion Process,” full of interesting details. You will also find a lot of other tidbits for writers on his blog.

Wishing you a productive writing day.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

I spoke earlier about attending writer’s conferences. I believe they are an excellent way to meet editors, agents, other writers, and just plain network. Whether you’re attending a weekend conference or one that spans several days, be prepared. Make it count. You’re spending your money and your time so make attending one of these conferences worthwhile. Some tips on basic do’s and don’ts when attending such events can be found at the Fiction Writer’s Website. Research the one you plan to attend and enjoy yourself. You will reap great benefits and make lifelong friends as well.