Friday, May 28, 2010

Book of Thanks

What a wonderful surprise I received in the mail yesterday. A bound book of letters of appreciation from some of the students of Graebner Elementary here in San Antonio. It was my pleasure to do a school visit there last week. The students were such a good audience and asked excellent questions after the reading/presentation.

Part of my presentation included demonstrating the writing process from idea for story to final publication. I stressed the revision process of writing and showed them messy drafts of some of my writing and the final, clean copy that went out to publishers. When I asked, “who likes to draw?” all hands went up. That’s when I brought in how illustrator and writer collaborate on a book. Using Power Point, I showed them black and white illustrator sketches and then the final product.

It was a rewarding experience for me, and I hope for them, as well. They seemed really excited to have an author at their school. They told me they had never had one before. Needless to say, their enthusiasm made my day. But the letters in the bound book touched my heart. I hope to share some of their letters on this blog at some later date. In the meantime, I'll share with you the beautiful cover they made.   Muchas gracias, estudiantes y maestras/maestros de la escuela Graebner!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Joy of writing

“The secret to writing is joy.” That’s what blogger, Rebecca Serle, recently posted online on The Huffington Post. “The best kept secret of publishing,” she goes on to say, is ”that the true secret to writing is not brilliance or talent or even commitment - albeit they're important. The secret to writing is joy.” In her article, she comments extensively on the children’s world of publishing. She started out writing for adults but then something happened that convinced her she should write for children. For those of us who write children’s books, I believe we can relate. Read her inspiring article.

"Writing is a pleasure, and I feel that if I did not enjoy writing, no one would enjoy reading my books." -- Beverly Cleary

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Author Jane Yolen

Just read an archived article published in a recent The Writer magazine. The topic is about writing apprenticeship. In it, the author, Jane Yolen, writes about writing as a craft, one where you “can eventually master the tools of the trade.” She likens the craft of writing to that of a potter taking the time to really learn his craft. She writes about discipline in both crafts (writing and pottery) and working at the craft continuously, “not just in leisure moments.”

Here are some excerpts that I especially like from her article: “There is continuity in the work of a craftsperson. Just as the potter uses scrap clay, unfired clay that did not respond properly to the potter’s hands, so, too, the writer uses and resuses ideas, sequences, and characters.” She goes on to write, “I no longer fear the language. I respect it.”

I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Yolen at a writer’s workshop in Boerne, Texas, a few years back. She was a true inspiration to those of us who attended. I consider that meeting one of the highlights of my writing career.

“The greatest children’s books are about the journey to wisdom.” --- Jane Yolen

Friday, May 14, 2010

Author visits

Just got back from three days in the Rio Grande Valley. I was there to do school visits. It’s always a pleasant experience to meet the children and their teachers and librarians. Some of these schools had never had author visits before and they were thrilled to have one. At one school, the librarian had arranged for the top ten AR readers to have lunch with the author (that’s me). At lunchtime, they rushed in, full of questions and in awe. (Made me feel so humble).

I knew in advance about the luncheon, so I brought brightly-decorated journals for each one and autographed them, which delighted them. We ate pizza and talked about writing. They shot questions left and right. They were so eager to find out how writers come up with stories, how and when they write, how it feels to have a book out, if we get to meet famous authors, etc.

I had a brief writing exercise for them and they did not disappoint me. They came up with excellent ideas for stories and knew about conflict and resolution. They even did a little dance for me about “action verbs.” How can any author resist such enthusiasm? It made my day.

On the drive back to San Antonio, I saw acres and acres of sunflowers. Couldn’t resist taking a picture.

“Children are the hope of humanity. If they are going to change the world, they have to start off optimistically. I wouldn’t consider writing a depressing book for children.” – William Steig

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Writing a Query

Sometimes writing a query to an editor or agent is harder than writing the actual story. At least, that’s the way it seems to me sometimes. Getting everything you want to say about your pitch on one page is challenging. How do you grab an editor’s or agent’s attention? What do you say to make that editor or agent want to see the entire manuscript? Not easy.

A while back, I read How to Write Irresistible Query Letters by Lisa Collier Cool. Good book. It’s been updated since then. My copy is an older version, but I still found it very helpful. There’s a sample of a successful query and the agent’s reply on this link from a Writer’s Digest blogger (Chuck Sambuchino). Check it out. Great luck on your queries!

"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, May 5, 2010

Book Reviews

“Try to present a balanced argument about the value of the book for its audience.” That is what this online article on Book Reviews states. A while back, when I was working as a staff writer for a local paper, I occasionally did book reviews. Although I think I did an honest evaluation of the books I read for review, I wish I had read this article back then. In reviewing a book, you’re being asked for your opinion and criticism. How do you do that? There’s critical thinking involved. What is the premise of the book? Does the author deliver on that premise? What’s your analysis and take on the book? I’m not an expert on this subject, but I tried to be as thorough and honest as I could with the books I was given to review. I often thought about the authors who wrote them and how they react to these reviews. Book reviewing is another interesting, important part of the writing/publishing process. If you’ve ever thought about doing book reviews, you should read the article mentioned here.

“The writer must write what he has to say, not speak it.” – Ernest Hemingway

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Future Educators

Two events back to back for Dia de los NiƱos was exhausting but fun. What an experience! Not because of me, but because of the volunteers I saw making it all possible. Both at the Edgewood Fine Arts Academy and the next day at the San Jose Mission event, young students from the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) and some from the local high schools were all over the place, busy as bees, energetic, smiling, ready to help in any way. They put up tents, carried chairs, taped up banners, escorted authors to their rightful places, brought us water, sat with us and talked for a while, even listened to some of our readings with the children and got involved with their activities. Some even dressed up as the characters Miguel and Maya, a PBS TV animated series "aimed at promoting multiculturism and education."  

I chatted with some of them. Eager faces enthused about the future. These are some of our future librarians and teachers, soaking up the experience of being around local authors and some out-of-town ones. They seemed genuinely interested in our personal stories about becoming authors, especially our involvement with the schools during school visits. Because of these young people, things ran smoothly. They gave up their weekend to spend it with children knowing that someday they will be the leaders shaping their future. How gratifying.

“Nothing one ever experiences or feels is wasted.” – Lynne Reid Banks