Saturday, April 30, 2011

El Dia de Los Ninos/El Dia de Los Libros

What a fun-filled day I had today. To help celebrate El Dia de Los Ninos/El Dia de Los Libros, I was invited to share the spotlight with young folkloric dancers from the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center Dance Academy at Barnes & Noble, La Cantera. After their delightful performance, I did a reading/book signing and answered questions from the audience.

Folkloric Dancers

Author with prop during reading

Then I departed to go way across town for the opening of the spanking new library, Mission Branch Library, which was built right across from the historic Mission Movie DriveIn of the 1960s. The gigantic screen is still there.

Mission Movie DriveIn

I did another book reading/signing there. Many other local authors were also in attendance. There was entertainment, activities for the children, and family fun. I was so impressed with the new library as were so many of the new patrons who were signing up for library cards left and right. Needless to say, I was happy to be part of both events to help promote literacy, children, and books.

"Writing is having a second life." -- Lila Perl

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Query Letters

In my critique group, we not only critique each other’s manuscripts, but we also critique the query letters that we’re sending out with our manuscripts. Query letters are super important, I believe. Based on your query, an editor or agent might ask for more chapters of your story or for the entire manuscript. It gets you in – or not. How do you get everything you want to say about your story on just one page? I found a great link on query letters that I think will be helpful. If you’re wondering how to write one, visit YA writer Natalie Whipple’s blog, Between Fact and Fiction. Her article, “Don’t Knock the Query,” is an excellent one.

School Visit

"The nonfiction query letter serves two purposes: It should convince the editor that your idea is a good one for her readership, and it should sell you as the best writer to cover the topic." -- Writing Tip from Writer's Digest Weekly Planner

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Old Notes

I hate filing so I let papers accumulate until I absolutely have to tackle the problem. That is one chore that I hate to do – Yuk! Anyway, I was filing and shredding papers when I came across some shorthand notes (Gregg) that I took a long time ago. They were scribbled on a manila folder so I must not have had a notebook or was totally unprepared when I attended some workshop or conference. I regret that I did not date the envelope because I don’t even remember where it was that I took such notes. However, it had something to do with novels.

A sample: A novel is about the reader, not the author. Start a novel with movement, i.e., like a movie. Maybe two voices bouncing off each other. Know where your story begins. It should start with some kind of impact. There has to be change. Ask yourself: “How is my character different at the end of my story?” Our stories have to be better than real life, more interesting. Give your characters more authority in their speech. Don’t let them go on too long. Eliminate the parts of the story that the readers skip – the boring stuff.

On writing historical fiction: go to the library and drench yourself in that period. Study ads in newspapers of the period you’re writing about. Do your research. Watch movies, videos, and go through archives. (I did do this for the historical fiction that I finally finished).

Cibolo Creek

No matter when these notes were taken, they still apply. Since then, I have learned to be prepared when I attend workshops and conferences. Whether you use old-fashioned pen and paper or new technology like IPads, be prepared.

“Identifying research needs is a project-specific task. The best time to do this is during the outlining stage. As you add each scene, make note of any research required to complete that section.” – Writing Tip from Writer’s Digest Weekly Planner

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Writing Dialogue

One of the sessions I attended a week ago at the Writers’ League of Texas YA conference was on “The Mechanics of Dialogue.” It was conducted by Tim Wynne-Jones, author of more than thirty books, so you can bet he knows what’s he’s talking about. We all know what dialogue means. According to Webster’s dictionary, the definition is “a conversation between two or more people.” Sounds easy, right? But when you’re writing, the dialogue in your story has to sound believable and authentic. “It also has to either reveal character or push the plot forward,” according to Wynne-Jones. Otherwise, there is no reason for it to be in there. “Never use dialogue to give information dump to a reader,” he said. “Use it only for revelation and plot movement.”

He spoke of dialogue taking place in “real time.” He pointed out that a scene takes place in real time while a summary takes place in storyteller time, i.e., suspended time. Example: “It was five years ago that …” When writing scenes, he urged us to think of our reader as a fly on the wall. I will keep this in mind next time I write a scene.

Santa Fe
Have a good writing day with those scenes in your story!

“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

Monday, April 18, 2011

Young Adult (YA) Conference

This past weekend, I attended the Writers’ League of Texas YA “A to Z” conference in Austin. It was the first one of its kind that the League had put on. The WLT staff did a fantastic job. The faculty that attended (editors, agents, authors) was easily accessible. The workshops were well organized and the topics varied from blogs, tips on finding agents, author interviews, agent and editor panels, marketing, graphic novels, craft of writing, etc.

Austin, Texas

I’ll share some of my notes: Marketing – Librarians are critical to your book because they are the ones who read and pitch them to the kids. Librarians transmit the culture of literature. As an author, make connections with librarians and with schools, i.e., school visits. Your book could become supplemental reading. Getting your book selected for the State Reading List is big; let your publisher know that you want your book considered for this.

One workshop that I found very interesting was the Do-It-Yourself Publicity: Tips for Authors. Their website reads: “PR by the Book is a boutique publicity firm specializing in literary media relations campaigns, publishing consultation, small business publicity, and publicity tours for authors and experts.” Marika Platt, the moderator, offered tips for authors such as hooks and angles and media wish list to publicize a book.

I keep hearing this over and over again -- there are not enough books out there for boys. There is a big demand for books that appeal to boys, i.e., fantasy, authenticity, and action. Address those issues that are important to boys. Books give them reassurance.  

More notes to come. Will keep you posted.

"Each time a child opens a book, he pushes open the gate that separates him from Elsewhere. It gives him choices. It gives him freedom. These are magnificent, wonderfully unsafe things." -- Lois Lowry

Thursday, April 14, 2011

That time of the year

It’s tax time again. Only a few days left to get in that form. I just did my taxes a couple of days ago. I procrastinated until the last minute and was getting a little anxious about it. But because I kept careful records during the year of writer expenses and honorariums, filling out those forms didn't take much time. So it's done. Whew! Until next year.

 To make it easier on myself for when that time of year rolls around again, I start a new spreadsheet at the beginning of the year, keeping tabs on a month-by-month basis of all the information I will need at tax time. I also keep receipts in a special folder marked Writer Expenses for that year. Being organized is one of the ways to avoid last-minute anxiety when you’re doing your taxes. Keep everything in one place. Just keep adding to that folder during the year and you’ll have no problem at tax time. Know what is tax deductible and what is not. Don’t forget those conferences and workshops that you attended and paid for. Keep a record of the school visits and mileage. Don't forget your website and domain renewal fees plus writer organization fees. Set up your own type of record-keeping system. What works for one writer might not work for another. Good luck.

The River Walk

"A relaxed mind is an open mind, and an open mind is prepared to accept new and creative ideas. Remind yourself to enjoy the craft.” -- Writing tip from Writer’s Digest Weekly Planner

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Young Writers' Conference

Yesterday I was invited to conduct a writing workshop at a Young Writers’ Conference for middle-grade students in the Edgewood ISD. We focused on the five senses that enable us, as writers, to express ourselves: sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. We brainstormed on ideas, where they come from, and how to use them in stories. Coming up with their own ideas, they then wrote in descriptive detail, using the senses we had talked about to allow their readers to experience and feel what they had written. Some students were shy about sharing their work, but others opened up freely. Later, we discussed the revision and editing process of the rough drafts they had composed. It was fun watching these young people expressing themselves on paper.

"When I put a line down, the only thing I know is how it should feel and I know when it doesn't feel right." -- Jerry Pinkney