It's here! It's here! Susanna Leonard Hill is hosting her annual holiday contest. And of course I'm entering.
Well, lovely readers, once again I've failed to rise above the other 145 entries in Susanna's Halloweensie Contest with my "Witch Vs. Superhero" entry.
No pity parties though...
It be Talk Like a Pirate Day and ye'll be walkin' the plank if ye don't talk like a pirate. Lucky for you, thare be a treasure trove o' books to celebrate.
The stage is in my blood. I was hooked from the first play I saw. The way I remember it, My Dad was the star (he played a chimney sweep) and I was wearing a brand new dress with white pantaloons underneath. I remember my dad also played a grey mouse in another play, and later directed several others.
Sometimes I lined up my stuffed animals and dolls like an audience on my daybed and tilted my bedside lamp like a spotlight. My toys must have attended thousands of my plays. (Most people don't know that... Well, I guess they do now!)
When I was in high school, I wrote The Dramatic Handbook for an assignment in English class. It had all of my best tips and tricks to put on a great show. Below is an excerpt from it, "The S.E.L.F. rule"
SELF Rule: Slow, Enunciate, Loud, and to the Front
The audience won’t get the jokes if lines are rattled off too fast. Some of the songs’ tempos may need to be slowed so that the lyrics can be heard.
Move your mouth, exaggerate your gestures, and be overly expressive. This will help the audience hear the words, see the action, and get the comedy.
Pretend there will be no microphones and project every line and lyric to the back of the house (the audience). The mics don’t pick up as much as people assume.
to the Front
It feels weird at first, but everything is done toward the audience. Even actions and dialogue normally directed toward another character are actually done toward the audience.
You Don't want the audience to see This all performance:
During my college days, I got to direct some of my plays. It was awesome watching other people enjoying the stage as much as I did. We won some awards, but what really sticks with me are the comments I got from the audience, "I could hear every line," "I could see the performers' faces," and my favorite - "I loved the humor, and I didn't miss any of the jokes!" Invariably after some such comment, I would then hear that this is not usually true at amateur performances. I think that my plays were successful in large part because the cast had been drilled on the S.E.L.F. Rule all through the rehearsals.
But enough about me, What have you've learned from the stage?
This is a recycled post from my old blog. I have added a few credits since, including an adaption of "Hot Fudge Pickles" by Marilyn D. Anderson being performed in Indiana, and a local teen group considering another of my plays. There will always be a special place in my heart for the stage, and I hope this post will help those who would like to get more involved in theater... a cause of which I highly approve.
Save the Date!!! September 10th is the next #PitMad twitter pitch party. All Details are on Brenda's blog,
Whether you actually pitch or not, it's a good idea to try to get your pitch down to 140 characters. That's the essence of your story.
A pitch needs to do a lot. It needs to hook, lure, and promise. It needs to make the person reading that pitch want to read more. There are many blogs and books on creating the perfect pitch, but the best test is having someone read it that hasn't read your story. Do they want to read more? Yes? You're ready to pitch.
Here I was on JEN’s Blog, just reading through posts, when a spaceship crashed right into it!
Now, JEN has written about plenty of aliens, but I’ve never seen one like that. Clearly, he had landed in the wrong blog.
(Guest Post by Krystal Owens)
Are you a writer with a passion for history? Looking for advice on how to bring history to life? Join Nancy Herman, author of “All We Left Behind: Virginia Reed and the Donner Party,” for her presentation “Historical Fiction: Fact versus Truth” at 1:00 pm on Saturday, September 12, at the Placerville Library, 345 Fair Lane.
Placerville resident Nancy Herman is a third-generation Californian who is fascinated with her state’s colorful history, including the westward migration of the 1800s. She grew up in the coastal town of Watsonville and earned a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from San Jose State University. After her 25-year career as a Silicon Valley marketing communications professional, Nancy began researching and writing her first historical novel “All We Left Behind: Virginia Reed and the Donner Party.” The novel has received top reviews from Kirkus Reviews and San Francisco Book Review and is a popular purchase in bookstores, museums, and visitor centers along the California and Oregon Trails, stretching from Missouri to California.
Ms. Herman is one of a series of guest speakers addressing the library’s writing group, The Writers’ Bloc, which meets the first Saturday of the month. For more information on this free public event, contact the Library at (530) 621-5540 or visit the Upcoming Events calendar on the library’s website www.eldoradolibrary.org.
A year ago, I wrote this post about Illustration notes with some tips on how to check if your notes are necessary. I was cocky then and thought I knew it all.
I WAS WRONG.
You see, I thought illustration notes were for the illustrator.
I thought if the editor's going to delete them before the illustrator sees them, then there's no point in putting them there in the first place.
The truth is that I didn't know what (or whom) illustration notes were for.
Truth: Illustration notes are NOT for the illustrator.
The purpose of illustration notes should never be to tell the illustrator how to tell their part of the story. It is likely that the illustrator will see few, if any, of the notes.
Truth: Illustration notes may be needed in a manuscript.
More than ever, the text and art of picture books interweave to tell a complete story. Many times a writer needs to explain the parts of the story that will be in the art. An illustration note may be the most effective way to do that.
Truth: Illustration notes are for the Editor/Agent reading the manuscript.
Writers who are trying to sell a story need to be clear and efficient. If a vital illustration note is missing, and the story isn't clear, it's likely to get a pass. On the other hand, if the story is buried in unnecessary notes, and isn't efficient, then it will also likely get a pass. A manuscript that clearly and efficiently tells a story that hooks begs to be a picture book, then it will likely get sold.
Remembering these truths has helped me put in the right balance of illustration notes in my manuscripts.
How do you know when you need to add an illustration note?
I just have to share this excerpt from “No Dogs Allowed” by Jane Cutler and Tracey Campbell Pearson. Jason and Edward are brothers who decide to create a book together. Jason plans to write it and Edward is going to illustrate.
You hear it all over the Picture Book Publishing World, "You need a hook." Check out Erin Dealey's "Writer's Rap" about it. (Scroll down on her page) So, what's a hook?
In a Query letter the hook is that first sentence designed to grab the agent's attention. It's that "something" that makes them want to read on.
In a Pitch it's what will get the listener/reader to say those magic words, "Tell me more." Maybe it's the angle, maybe it's the interesting MC, maybe it's the kid appeal, maybe it's just "something" that intrigued and excited.
In a Picture Book itself, it's the first few pages, or beginning that gets your reader to want to continue (and your buyer to put down the money – just so they can finish the story).
In an Acquisitions meeting (which I have never experienced personally) a hook seems to be those points about a book that will convince an editor to take on the project. For examples, what "kid appeal" does the book have? Are there any Common Core Connections? What gaps will this book fill? Where on the bookshelf will it be?
For a Writer, all of the above are important hooks. We need to have a polished manuscript, query, and pitch that hooks whichever reader lays eyes on it. We also need to be aware of the hooks that an agent or acquisitions editor will use to sell our manuscript.
Want to know what else I think about Hooks?
One piece of sound advice for those agent hunters (like me) is to never say any agent is your "dream agent." This can hurt the chances of finding the best agent for you, because other agents think, "What, am I chopped liver?"
The dream agent should be the agent you sign up with for years and years, who continually gives you satisfying deals, and communicates with you on a level you are most comfortable with. That means one author's dream is going to be another's nightmare.
Sometimes, however, I think we point to those agents who have an impressive list of best-selling books and label them "dream agent" much like we label George Clooney "sexy actor." Sure he's got good looks for his age, but would I even consider dating him? Yuck.
Now, my hubby is another story. He is the sexiest, most awesome man I know. (And you can't have him; he's mine!)
So, Writers... Dream-Agent Hunters, just be careful what you say.
You may know that I’m taking an online course called “Writing for Love and Money” at The Children's Book Academy.
Wow, talk about a wealth of info! Lists of publishers that took years to compile and update. Assignments and Homework, Blog lectures and videos that show step by step, and help get me ready to submit. I even got some of my cover letter critiqued by the instructors! The course is only half over and already there’s so much stuff, I’ll have to revisit after the course is over. Luckily, class members have six months access after the class is live.
As excited as I am about the course I’m taking now, I’m even MORE enthusiastic about the next one offered at The Children’s Book Academy.
“Writing Children’s Books”
Why am I looking forward to this course so much? Well, Take the wonderful Dr. Mira Reisberg who always over-delivers on her courses, and add acquiring editor Kelly Delaney, who WORKS at dream publisher Random House/Knopf! Talk about the inside scoop. Could it get any better for a Picture Book writer like me?
The course is chock full with guest instructors, critique opportunities, worksheets and handouts, and skip-the-slush Golden Ticket opportunities where every student gets to have their pitch in front of acquiring editors and agents eyes! Yep, I can’t wait for the first live training June 29th. If you are picture book writer - or want to be – here’s all the info you need to register for the course: "The Craft and Business of Writing Picture Books"
Hope to see you there!
One of the great inspirations for writers is music. But how we use it is impressively different.
Get in Character
One writer creates a playlist for each character. Whenever she wants to get into a character’s head, she puts on the correct playlist. She says it helps her differentiate between characters and really get a feel of the voice.
One writer creates a playlist that she listens to on loop while she’s writing. When she gets sick of the same songs over and over, it becomes an incentive to GET THE BOOK DONE.
Movie Overtures and Lyrics
One writer loves how songs can almost have a character of their own. She likes to channel that into her writing, so she picks several mood pieces for her playlist.
Sweet, Sweet Silence
I don’t write with any music on. The stuff in my brain is loud enough. In fact, I’ve caught myself trying to turn OFF the radio, when it was just me losing my mind – I mean thinking.
How does music inspire you?
I am soooo excited to be a part of the Goodtales Read-A-Thon. My To-Be-Read list looks super long for only 3 days, but you've got to remember I am a Picture book writer. During ReFoReMo, I read 5 picture books per day, but I didn't get through half my TBR list. So I've picked 15 picture books still on that list and here they are:
1. Bridget's beret By Tom Lichtenheld
2. A visitor for Bear by Bonny Becker and Kady MacDonald Denton
3. Harry, the dirty dog by Gene Zion
4. Your pal Mo Willems presents Leonardo the terrible monster by Mo Willems
5. Sparky by Flora McDonnell
6. Sparky! by Jenny Offill
7. Joe and Sparky, superstars! by Jamie Michalak
8. Joe and Sparky go to school by Jamie Michalak
9. Sparky and Eddie : wild, wild rodeo! by Tony Johnston
10. Joe and Sparky get new wheels by Jamie Michalak
11. A Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz and Catia Chien
12. One Plastic Bag by Miranda Paul
13. Hi Koo by Jon J. Muth
14. Gingerbread for Liberty by Mara Rockliff
15. Lifetime: the amazing numbers in animal lives by Lola M. Shaefer
Read along with me? Join the fun.
This Read-A-Thon is hosted by Good Tales Book Tours
Warning this is a scheduled post. I've taken a time machine back to the 1850's at my kid's school. Throughout the day I'll meet over 60 characters who were alive during the Gold Rush and hear their stories. I'll be selling toys and goods at a trade store from that time period in exchange for "Sutter Bucks" will be pretty useless when I get back to the 21st century. Tomorrow, though, I'll be back in the digital world and visit all the great stops on this hop.
Good Tales Book Tours is hosting another blog hop! This time the theme is "Free to be Me." I'm supposed to pick a book that represents me and the freedom to read whatever I want. I know just the book...
Put on by Good Tales Book Tours
Oh, Yeah, the Giveaway!
Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
First published in 1908, this book definitely qualifies as a classic. The sweet tale of a spunky redheaded girl has been loved over and over again. I've never seen it on a ban list (although I'm sure it's been on someone's) and in most respects I believe the story is above reproach. (I said most respects, I know every book is flawed.) So why on earth would I pick this book, the one that doesn't break any boundaries, doesn't cause any revolutions, just tells a heartwarming story about a little girl?
I'll tell you:
This is a story about a little girl who seemed trapped. She had an awful past, never really knew where she'd be next, and - were she any other character - would have contemplated suicide rather than live another day in such conditions. But Anne (with an e) wasn't trapped. Her imagination kept her free.
Now, my growing up years seem so rosy compared to Anne's that I couldn't even compare. But her character represents me. Like Anne, I've never been trapped by my surroundings. I've never felt tied down by bullies or everyday life, because I had a secret world all my own that I could go to whenever I needed to. No matter what, I could be free in my imagination.
So that's my pick.
Tomorrow I'll be back in my time machine and can visit all the other awesome blogs on this hop, but you don't have to wait.
The Book that Sets me Free
All during SCBWI Spring Spirit 2015, I held a secret.
I had a hole in my clothes.
If you think you saw it, you’re wrong. It was completely covered the entire day and no one but me knew where it was. In fact if I didn’t tell you, you’d think my clothes were flawless that day.
And that’s why I’m telling you. Because I did it on purpose.
I knew that once I walked into the Citrus Heights Community Center, I would meet and socialize with agents and editors that I’ve always dreamed of meeting. I knew that I would more likely stand there looking like a codfish, star-struck and tongue-tied. But with my secret flaw I could remember that these wonderful editors and agents were in fact human. That no matter how perfect they looked or how professional they acted, they too were just people - like me.
The hidden hole in my clothes gave me confidence.
The confidence to be human.
Did you go to an SCBWI event? What was it like? Tell us about your experience, or post your blog link in the comments below!
(This post is migrated from my old blog and edited with new insights)
Now, for those who don't know, MG is Middle Grade and YA is Young Adult.
Got that out of the way? Good. Now the problem.
MG and YA overlap. Yep. You can have a 13-year-old protagonist in both MG and YA. Take Harry Potter (yeah, yeah, I know not Harry Potter anything but that! Bear with me...)
Harry Potter starts the series out at 11 years old. Well, that's clearly an MG, right? Nope. Harry Potter, as a series, is YA. Some call it a cross-over from MG to YA, and there's a valid reason for that.
How about Dan Gutman's book, The Genius Files? The twins are turning 13 during their trip across the United States (and two books), so it must be YA, right? Nope. That one's MG.
So age doesn't determine YA or MG. Nope. OK, SO WHAT DOES?
Here's my Aha moment. And I want to link back to Laura Backes of the Children's Book Insider Club. The difference between MG and YA is simple: MG is about kids who are still kids at the end of the book. YA is about kids who deal with adult-sized conflicts on an adult-sized level and never go back to just being kids.
That's it. That's the secret. Artemes Fowl = YA. The Wizard of Oz = MG. I could do this all day.
OK, a word of caution: The publisher is always right. If you think your work is YA and your publisher is going to market it as MG, I really hope you don't let that be the deal breaker. All I'm trying to say is that I've finally figured out why my work is MG and why my friend's work is YA.
Now back to Harry Potter. The reason this series is now looked at as a cross over from MG to YA is because of how the first one ends. Harry is still a kid in the first one. He still goes back to school next term. He hasn't really dealt with adult-sized problems yet (although those problems become adult-sized later in the series). Harry spends the first book solving puzzles, gaining friends, and obtaining a safer home. These are all middle grade themes. But by the end of third book, there's no turning back. No longer is Harry able to just be a kid. No longer can he just go back to school next term.
However, when I first wrote this blog post in 2014, I hadn't heard the label "cross-over series." As far as I knew, a series was taken in its entirety as MG or YA. And looking at the plot arc of the Harry Potter series, it is more YA than MG.
UPDATE: A new Aha moment - the difference between YA and NA
Like I said, YA is for Teens all the way through high school, with a little overlap in Jr. High or Middle School (which overlaps in ages anyway). If a teen is handling adult problems on an adult level, then it's definitely YA (rather than MG).
NA is for college-aged readers (about 19-30). But if you get graphic with the sex, go super harsh with the language, and are really explicit with the violence, then NA is a good choice even if your protagonist starts younger.
That's my Aha moment and Update Aha moment. Thanks for reading.
If you liked this, you might enjoy my Aha Moment: Character-Driven Stories vrs. Plot-Driven Stories
12 Lessons I’ve learned
(in- ahem- no particular order):
Well, I've completed a middle grade book, and I am working on the query for it because I would love to see it traditionally published. (I'm also revising and polishing the manuscript itself - but that's another story). I just received a great critique on Brenda Drake's blog, but comments are not allowed there, so I'm going to do the next best thing: Blog about it here!
Read about the awesome graphic at the bottom of this post.
I just read an awesome book called The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester (2008). In it, Piper can fly and that causes problems. So she's sent to a top secret school where they promise to fix her. But Piper soon finds out that being fixed is worse than dealing with the problems she caused at home.
I highly recommend this book not only for its story but for the way the author skillfully changes the pov from one character to another.
I write about, with, for, and around kids all day. (Well, maybe I do the dishes too. Sometimes.)