Archive for the ‘Conferences’ Category

 

SCBWI OK Logo

Our SCBWI Oklahoma fall events keep getting more exciting every year. Just when you thought we couldn’t top last year’s Agents’ Day, along comes this year’s Fall Retreat. You pay one fee and attend as much or as little as you’d like, but trust me, this will be so packed full of literary goodness, you’ll want to be there for the whole thing.

OKLAHOMA 2014 FALL RETREAT
Three Days of Workshops and Speakers
September 26-28, 2014
Friday: 9:00 am – 8:30 pm
Saturday 9:00 am – 8:00 pm
Sunday 10:00 am – 1:00 pm

Best Western Motor Lodge, Stroud, Oklahoma
Exactly between Oklahoma City and Tulsa

LIMITED TO 90 Participants (AND ALREADY HALF-FULL!!!)


REGISTER NOW

The Speakers
Brett Duquette – Editor, Sterling Publishing

Brett Duquette

 

Tracy Daniels – Founder of Media Masters

 Tracy Daniels

 

Minju Chang – Agent, BookStop Literary Agency

 minju_chang

 

Christa Heschke – Agent, McIntosh and Otis, Inc.

Christa Heschke

 

The Workshop begins on Friday with the basics.

Want to brush up on core skills? Getting started on your writing  journey? Not sure where to begin? This will cover everything you need. You’ll get to choose from several sessions and pick the ones that are just right for you. Here are some of the topics for the Friday craft sessions:

        • Creating Graphic Novels
        • Picture Books that Sell
        • Romance/Friendship in MG and YA
        • Query Letters
        • Writing Nonfiction
        • Creating Easy Readers
        • Successful School Visits
        • Unusual Techniques for Developing Character
        • The Real Difference in First and Third Person POV
        • More than Pronoun Use
        • Plotting That Works
        • Digging Deeply Enough for Story Ideas
        • Using Acting Techniques in Writing
        • World Building Elements for All Genres
        • Showing Character
        • Proportion Issues
        • Lessons for Beginners

- PLUS: A Creative Coach will give tips for conquering
procrastination and self-sabotage.

Doesn’t that look great?

Saturday and Sunday the guest speakers will give in-depth talks on various subjects like voice, publicity and promotion, and much more.

There will be manuscript critiques and editor/agent pitches available as well.

For details – and to register for the workshop – head on over to the SCBWI OK website.

UPDATE: On July 24, 2014, NewsOK wrote an excellent article on our conference which really gives a complete picture of what to expect. Great information.

 

Questions and Contacts:

- Anna Myers: amyers_author@yahoo.com
– Helen Newton: helennewton@cox.nt

 

Let’s dive right into Part Two, shall we?

Melissa Manlove2Following lunch, the dynamic Melissa Manlove, Editor at Chronicle Books stepped up to the stage and treated us to a talk about reading first pages like a pro. In the first page, editors can see how effective your use of language is. To read like an editor, she emphasized the importance of close reading, which is very different than reading for pleasure. When you close read something, you break down to elements and look at the construction of a story; you see what really makes it work.

For example, in the first page of Kate Messner’s OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW, the word choices not only dictate the cadence of the story, they evoke the mood of winter. See here in the very first lines:

Over the snow I glide. Into the woods, frosted fresh and white.

Over the snow, a flash of fur – a red squirrel disappears down a crack.

The end of the first line becomes a bit of a tongue twister, which slows you down as you read. The images of frosted and fresh and white evoke the wintery mood. Melissa mentioned that Messner also purposely chose words that together would mimic the feel of skis moving along the snow. THAT is paying attention to what works on more than one level in your story. And that is all just in the first line!

When discussing a good use of rhyme, Melissa gave the example of Liz Garton Scanlon’s book ALL THE WORLD. There is a great deal of cadence and structure, which is repeated. The author is showing she knows what she’s doing with structure in these first stanzas and it shows.

Rock, stone, pebble, sand,

Body, shoulder, arm, hand,

A moat to dig, a shell to keep -

All the world is large and deep.

 

Hive, bee, wings, hum,

Husk, cob, corn, yum,

Tomato blossom, fruit so red -

All the world’s a garden bed.

This is a goodnight book and in these type of stories, you want structure with a calming flow. Melissa went on to say that one of the reasons that many editors beg off rhyming manuscripts at the behest of their therapists is because most manuscripts they see only bother with rhyming the very last words in a line. While syntax is importance, it’s tough to make it sound natural if you don’t make it work in context with the entire story and take the overall RHYTHM of the story into account as well.

Melissa also said that mastering these skills, like all other skills, takes practice. Hoping to get it write like a bolt out of the blue isn’t the greatest plan. Writers may have to come up with a thousand mediocre ideas before they find that one great story. Then she said something that struck a chord with everyone:

Your brain is a machine made for generating ideas. Inspiration can feel electric, but lightning doesn’t strike the person laying in a sunny field, it strikes the person habitually cranking at the generator.

(Thank you to Gayleen Rabakukk for helping with the accuracy of that quote.)

There were so many other things she shared that were fantastic, I could blather on all day her talk alone. I suggest doing some close reading and practice writing of your own.

Melissa’s book recommendations: OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW by Kate Messner, CARNIVORES  by Aaron Reynolds, ALL THE WORLD by Liz Garton Scanlon, SKIPPYJON JONES by Judy Schachner, IT’S A TIGER by David LaRochelle, GOODNIGHT GOODNIGHT CONSTRUCTION SITE by Sherri Duskey Rinker, ON A BEAM OF LIGHT by Jennifer Berne,  and SWAN by Laurel Snyder (Fall release 2014)

Follow Melissa on Twitter.

 

Next up was the vivacious Kristin Miller-Vincent, Associate Agent, D4EO Literary Agency who talked about how to keep it fresh, get it fresh, and deliver it fresh. (Sounds like a pizza delivery commercial Kristin Miller Vincentwhen I say like that. She was much more eloquent.)

Fresh is hard to define. “We don’t know what it is, but we know it when we see it.”

So how can you bring fresh ideas to your stories?

  • Engage with the world and find truths that would make great fiction – find inspiration in the unusual things you come across that fascinate you. She gave an example of a strange statistic about the number of people hospitalized each year while taking down their Christmas trees in the nude.
  • Figure out what ISN’T actually out there – in pitch for the book,  THE EIGHTH DAY, it was described as there is a secret eighth day of the week, sandwiched between Wednesday and Thursday, with roots tracing back to Aurthrian legend.
  • Put a new spin on an old tale – reimagine a fairy tale or tell an old story from a different point of view. CINDER is a cyborg Cinderella story set in outerspace.

Those are just a few ideas as far as the plot are concerned, but what about voice?

Fresh voices are created are when authors know their characters well enough that they can let go of their own egos and let their characters use them as a vessel to tell the story.

Don’t get in the way of your narrative voice.

(Another speaker suggestion for delving deep into your characters – I’m sensing a theme.)

Kristin ended with discussing the critical mindset. You should welcome criticism and also be critical of your own work. Continue to question and wonder about ideas and the world around you.

There’s no room for complacency in publishing! You can do it!

Kristin’s book recommendations: PETE THE CAT by Eric Litwin, THIS IS NOT MY HAT by Jon Klassen, THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS by Rae Carson, THE EIGHTH DAY by Diane K Salerni, CINDER by Marissa Meyer, SCARLET by A.C. Gaughen.

Follow Kristin on Twitter.

 

Liza KaplanOur final speaker of the day was Liza Kaplan, Editor with Philomel Books, Penguin Group and she talked to us about tension.

A novel thrives on tension and drama, but the thing that makes a novel un-put-downable is the TENSION.

There are different types of tension:

DRAMATIC – those filled with situational difficulties, the most general tensions, romantical “will they or won’t they?” tensions

ENVIRONMENTAL – throughout the story the reader wonders if the character will survive. ex: BETWEEN SHADES OF GREY

WORLD-BUILDING – use of a forcible task or inescapable danger, very literally life and death situations. ex: HUNGER GAMES

THEMATIC – universal issues like love, freedom, free will, life and death, fighting for love at the cost of life. ex: 13 REASONS WHY

You should vary your use of the types of tension within your story. Remember that two opposing forces prolong uncertainty and delay resolution to keep up the tension. The faster we get to a resolution of a problem, the more comfort we feel. Make your readers wait for the resolution.

But tension isn’t the only thing needed for a great story. The stakes have to matter; the main character has to risk something big. And the higher, more demanding the stakes, the more tension you create.

Your novel should be like an emotional roller coaster. Your job is to be an emotional manipulator to your readers.

What helps create a visceral reading experience is making the reader care. If your character has stakes where s/she is personally invested, so will your reader.

Liza’s book recommendations: THE FIFTH WAVE by Rick Yancey, ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell, BEAUTY QUEENS by Libba Bray, WONDER by R. J. Palacio, THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak, AMELIA ANN IS DEAD AND GONE by Kat Rosenfield, 13 REASONS WHY by Jay Asher, HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins, BETWEEN SHADES OF GREY by Ruta Sepetys

Follow Liza on Twitter.

After our brains were full to bursting with information, we wrapped things up with an informal dinner at a local barbecue place where everyone could unwind and mingle. Here are a few pictures from the end of the day. It was such a fantastic conference. I can’t wait for the next one.

SCBWI Group 2014

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Why did mention that I was feeling about 65% back to normal  – ALMOST FREAKING HEALTHY!!! – on my last #writemotivation check in? It must’ve sounded too much like a brag or something because the gods of health decided to slap me with one more wave of the sickness. Of the dreaded sinus infection variety.

Blech!

Oh yeah, but they couldn’t let me be completely done with that lingering cough that kept me from ever getting a good night’s sleep. You know, the one that started at the beginning of February? So the was fun. Brain exploding with sinus pain while still coughing until I wanted to take a power drill to my head and open up some breathing holes. I am so done with coughing, sneezing, aching, etc. I think I’ve eaten my own body weight in cough drops this year already. I loathe the taste of tea and honey after the oceans I’ve consumed. I’ve blown through so many boxes of tissues I should replant a small forest on the next Earth Day to decrease my carbon footprint.

Godfather Gif

This week, I’m throwing caution to the wind and stating that I’m over the worst of everything. I may have sacrificed a pomegranate in the light of a full moon while singing a medley of Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus tunes. I think that appeased the gods of health. Either that, or they were afraid I’d sing again. Either way, my voice has finally returned to normal and I haven’t had to take any cold medication for several days. No more Emma Stone voice, but I’m grateful that things can start returning to normal.

This month always brings so much more promise. March, don’t tell February, but I like you more. Our SCBWI OK spring conference is at the end of the month and it’s always fantastic. This year it’s in Oklahoma City so I get to run away from home for the weekend and spend it with my favorite writing friends. It’ll be a smorgasbord of literary goodness and I can’t wait to gorge myself.

In the midst of all this healing and fruit sacrificing, I have finally been able to get back to the work of writing and related things. Let’s take a look at this month’s goals to see the damage progress made thus far.

Here are my #writemotivation goals:

  1. Make progress on new YA project (Pretty Vacant) including plotting out new story arc and starting on first draft with word count goal of 30K. The smallest of starts, but progress has begun. I am so excited about this project, I can’t even tell you. The only hint I’ll give this early is that it will deal with gender politics and the riot grrrl movement.
  2. Submit first YA manuscript to at least 15 agents. Two is better than zero but far from my goal. Need to ramp this up next week with more submissions sent out.
  3. Read at least 6 books this month. (I’m a little behind on my yearly reading goal already!) Three books finished already and another one halfway done. Looks like IMG_20140315_221040there’s one goal I will actually make. What’s really surprising is I just finished reading my first YA book of the year, and it was phenomenal. WINTERGIRLS by Laurie Halse Anderson. It was a little more special because it was my copy I had autographed in LA this past summer. I love Laurie Halse Anderson and not just because she write so damn well.
  4. Get back into exercise routine slowly – at least three times week. This was the most painful goal to accomplish. After not exercising for over a month, I did manage  to go for a walk three times. My pace was horribly slow, and I felt like death after the first two times, but goal accomplished. yay. (hack, pant, moan.) I have no idea when I’ll even attempt to get back on the elliptical.

How are your goals coming along this month?

Do you have any exciting spring break/writing conference plans in your immediate future?

SCBWIOK logoEveryone who follows this blog knows that we have some really great conferences here in Oklahoma. Our Agent Day retreat this past fall was a fabulous success and it was sold out beyond capacity. The three agents were phenomenal and our two key note speakers were such a delight. I learned so much from this event and had a great time.

Our spring conference this coming March looks to be even more exciting. We’ve added some new additions to usual the lineup that should make this our biggest and best conference ever.

For the first time, we are having not one, but two agents on the speaker panel. One of those brave agents will be hosting private face-to-face pitching sessions for the first fifteen people who register. OOPS!!! SORRY, THESE PITCH SESSIONS ARE ALREADY SOLD OUT!!!

You can still sign up to receive a written manuscript critique or an art critique if you hurry – those spots are also going fast.

The conference will be held in Oklahoma City on March 29th. Even if you don’t get a critique, the knowledge you’ll get from hearing these folks will be more than worth it. Not to mention the opportunity to submit to some closed houses and to spend the day with a great bunch of people in a creative environment. Why not not make the trip?

Here’s a list of the fantastic speakers:

Liza Kaplan, Editor, Philomel Books, Penguin Group

Liza Kaplan

Follow Liza on Twitter.

Melissa Manlove, Editor, Chronicle Books
Melissa Manlove

Follow Melissa on Twitter.

Andrew Harwell, Editor, HarperCollins

Andrew Harwell

Follow Andrew on Twitter.

Calista Brill, Senior Graphic Novel Editor, First Second Books

Calista Brill

Follow First Second Books on Twitter.

Kristin Miller-Vincent, Agent, D4EO Literary Agency

Kristin Miller Vincent

Follow Kristin on Twitter.

Tricia Lawrence, Agent, Erin Murphy Literary

Tricia Lawrence 2

Follow Tricia on Twitter.

No matter how far along I think I’ve developed as a writer, I always come way from these conferences learning something new and feeling revitalized and ready to get back to work on my own projects. It’s worth the investment in yourself. Make the time and join us. You’ll be glad you did.

Visit ➤➤➤➤➤ the Oklahoma SCBWI page to learn more details about the event and to register for the conference.

For Part Two covering a summary of the fantastic SCBWI Oklahoma Fall conference held earlier this month all about agents, we move on to the Agent Panel and the Query Letter Panel with our agents in attendance:

Natalie Lakosil from the Bradford Literary Agency

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Emily Mitchell from the Wernick & Pratt Agency

EmilyMitchell

Danielle Smith from the Foreward Literary Agency

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For the Agent Panel, the agents were asked a series of questions by our moderator, Helen Newton, our new Assistant Regional Advisor. Here are a few of them and the agents’ overall responses. You may find some of their answers surprising.

Question 1: Do you visit an author’s web presence?

Natalie and Danielle both said that they did and that having a web presence was important. Emily labeled herself the Luddite of the group and said it was less important to her, but that an author should feel comfortable with it.

A word of caution was mentioned about what you post online, especially regarding negative experiences of submissions and attitudes towards agents. One of the panel members received a submission from a writer who had blasted her online. Needless to say that was a pass. It was also recommended that you NOT discuss details of your submission process online. Similar to Fight Club, the first rule of Sub Club is you don’t talk about it outside of your group of writer friends…and then only in private.

Question 2: Does an agent ever have something to do with promotion?

No. They don’t.

What?

That’s right. They don’t help you set up book signings or plan out your book promotion.

Are you kidding? We really need to learn how to do that stuff on our own?

Not completely. The in-house publicist should help you with that. As budgets for marketing and publicity have notoriously been on the decline, it would benefit you to learn some basics. However, you won’t be entirely alone. Your agent can work as a go-between with the publicist or help you navigate the crazy world of promotions, but that doesn’t actually fall under their job description. The level to which they provide this help may depend on their own comfort level with PR. Just as some agents are more editorial than others, some agents enjoy or have more experience with the PR side of things than others. That is definitely something to consider when selecting an agent for representation.

Am I the only one totally surprised by this?

Now I understand why you may want to hire a publicist as well. So interesting.

Question 3: What if you don’t like a work by a client, what do you recommend?

Emily stated that she didn’t have to love everything a client produced, but she did have to think each was sellable. If not, then maybe the author should fix it or shelve it. Either way, it would be time for a discussion. Her advisory role kicks in during those situations.

Danielle had a similar response and added that she would ask the writer what else they had to offer.

Natalie stated that it’s a mistake to think everything you write is publishable or you’re a failure.

That is something we should all keep in mind.

Let’s move on to the Query Letter Panel.

Here are some great suggestions made by the agents after our moderator, Helen, read aloud from the anonymous letters submitted for scrutiny:

  • Too much detail. This was the main complaint. So many query letters were filled with extraneous details of either the story or of the writer’s background.

Emily suggested that you pitch yourself smartly.

Danielle boiled this down to a formula that her fellow Foreword Literary agent, Pam van Hylckama Vlieg, came up with: “the hook, the book, and the cook”. Get the reader’s interest with the hook, tell them a little bit more in the next paragraph with the book, but leave them wanting to read more, and finish with a brief paragraph about you with relevant facts about your writing experience and publishing credits.

  • Lot of plot, not a lot of action. Writers spent too much time explaining plot instead of giving the overall view of the action of the story. The agents suggested studying the flap copy of many books to get the feel for how to write a better query.
  • Don’t include market research for FICTION. I think that’s self-explanatory.
  • Don’t include word count near the beginning. If your word count is on the large side, seeing this right away might stop an agent from reading on further. Your goal is always to get them to want to read more. If they are enticed by the hook and book description, they may overlook a word-heavy manuscript and still request more.
  • Include personal connection. If you’ve met the agent, make sure to mention this in the introduction. And don’t lie and say that you’ve met the agent when you haven’t; it’s very unprofessional.

So many great ideas came out of that panel!

It was fantastic. I hope everyone learned something new. I know I did.

Our local SCBWI chapter really outdid itself with this year’s fall conference, otherwise known as AGENTS’ DAY.  We heard from three dynamic agents who are actively acquiring and who, during the query letter panel, offered their collective knowledge and helpful suggestions that gave all in attendance unique insight into the publishing industry. That alone was more than worth the price of admission, and yet there was more. Two fine local literary stars shared their personal publishing journeys. Both were inspiring, reminding us all to keep pursuing our dreams.

Keynote speaker Hannah Harrison

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What I learned from Hannah’s talk:

Hannah started out the day with the story of her incredible journey to publication. She’s so amazingly talented you wouldn’t think the road would’ve been arduous at all, but she revealed many surprises in her talk entitled The Least Efficient Way to Get Published. One recurring theme that resonated with me was how often she got in her own way. Not following up on leads – when houses asked her to keep her work on file, she only updated every few years instead of every few months. Not having a strong web presence – she digressed from her talk to emphasize that all artists should have a website. Not submitting, not submitting, not submitting! (She only submitted her manuscript two times in five years.) She turned down an offer of representation because she didn’t think she needed an agent. Her reasoning? Illustrator Kevin Hawkes said her work spoke for itself. Hannah had apprenticed under Hawkes and had helped with some illustration work for the book Handel, Who Knew What He Liked. In the end, she realized she did need an agent. We’ll go more in-depth into Hannah’s story when she stops by for an interview in a few weeks.

Takeaways:

  • “If it doesn’t mean anything to you, it’s not going to mean something to anyone else.”
  • You have to be your work’s strongest advocate and submit it when it’s ready. And keep submitting. As good as it may be, it won’t get published on its own.
Special Guest Speaker Gwendolyn Hooks

G.Hooks Pic.comp

What I learned from Gwen’s talk:

Gwen was inspired to become a writer after she saw a play that a relative had written. Then Gwen set off to do what she does best; educate herself. She joined several writing groups and attended conferences to learn how to be a writer. One early critique comment said her story “didn’t have any spark.” Gwen set off on a new quest – to find spark. She studied and wrote and improved, still she had moments of self-doubt. A friend called her one night with a fantastic idea and told her she had to write the story. Gwen told her she’d think about it. After doing her own research, she agreed the story needed to be told, but she thought, “I can’t write it; I’m not good enough.” Her friend was relentless in her insistence that Gwen had to be the one to write it. Gwen gave it a try, but still didn’t think it was right. She kept writing and rewriting until the spark appeared. The result of all this effort is the inspirational story of Vivien Thomas, the Man Who Saved the Blue Babies which will be published by Lee and Low in 2015.

Takeaways:

  • “If something is near and dear to your heart, it doesn’t belong in the drawer. Keep working on it.”
  • When a critique points out weaknesses in your writing, use these moments as learning opportunities and educate yourself to make your writing better.

The three agents :

Natalie Lakosil from the Bradford Literary Agency

natalimlakosil

What I learned from Natalie’s talk:

Unlike most agents who arrive at their careers through alternate routes, Natalie knew she wanted to be an agent when she was thirteen years-old. She’s an editorial agent with a wide range of interests and a wide range of clients. She represents picture books to young adult to adult fiction, with an emphasis in children’s literature as her client list is 75% children’s publishing. She’s interested in historical, multicultural, sci-fi, fantasy, gritty, darker contemporary, horror, Victorian literature, magical realism, middle grade with heart, short quirky picture books (around 600 words), and adult romance.

What she’s looking for:

  • Voice. She described voice as being almost autobiographical. She said it has place, a taste of where you came from, what’s shaped you, the author in life. The best voices reveal a piece of the writer and are immediately connectable.
  • A desire to keep reading.

Takeaways:

  • Query hook: What is your book about? The hook should answer this question in a way that intrigues the reader in EXACTLY THREE SECONDS! That’s it.
  • Natalie’s Top Three Reasons to Say No: Poor pacing, unoriginal plot, and not connecting to voice.

To learn more about Natalie Lakosil, visit her agency website above.

Follow her blog Adventures in Agentland.

Follow Natalie on Twitter @Natalie_Lakosil.

Emily Mitchell from the Wernick & Pratt Agency

EmilyMitchell

What I learned from Emily’s talk:

Agents no longer need to live in New York City to be in the heart of the publishing world. Emily works from home, like all the agents at her agency. They Skype frequently and physically meet at the office several times a year. This way, she gets to live in Massachusetts, send her kids off to school, and then attend to her agenting work. This mostly entails sitting in front of one type of computer screen or another and reading; reading and thinking. She began her agenting career at the Sheldon Fogelman Agency where Mo Willems was one of the agency’s first clients. They tried for over two years to sell Don’t Let the Pigeon Ride the Bus. It was something new and didn’t have much of a story arc; no one knew what to do with it, yet they never gave up on it. That’s persistence.

Emily firmly believes in the rules of grammar and feels writers should, too. She wants to trust you know what you’re doing. “Don’t give me a reason as a reader not to trust you.” This is where grammar and usage come into play.

What she’s looking for:

  • Voice
  • Authority
  • Pragmatism
  • Flexibility

Somebody who loves the work, who gets the process, who loves creating.

She read from a few books she doesn’t represent, but wished she did including Prisoner 88 by Leah Pileggi, Counting by Sevens by Holly Goldberg Sloan, and Clementine by Sara Pennypacker.

Takeaways:

  • Not everyone can be a best-selling writer. Be okay with being a mid-list writer.
  • Nobody is too good for an editor.

To learn more about Emily Mitchell, visit her agency’s website above.

Follow her blog emilyreads.

Follow Emily on Twitter @emilyreads

Danielle Smith from the Foreward Literary Agency

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What I learned from Danielle’s talk:

Danielle is also part of an agency where everyone works from home. Foreword Literary is a new agency that just opened in March of 2013 servicing children’s through adult books. It’s a hybrid agency that marries traditional publishing with digital publishing possibilities. Danielle started her agent journey as a popular children’s book review blogger at There’s a Book. Her award-winning site is still held in high regard, and continues on even as she pursues her agenting career. Danielle represents picture books, early readers and chapter books, middle grade, and the rare young adult. She has a soft spot for middle grade. She has her two kids who help her review books on her blog read manuscripts with her when they come in.

What she’s looking for:

Takeaways:

  • Make sure you’re always reading. It can help you in your craft.
  • Have kids read your work as a litmus test.

To learn more about Danielle Smith, visit her agency’s website above.

Follow her blog There’s a Book.

Follow Danielle on Twitter @thefirstdaughter.

Thanks so much to all of our speakers for being so generous with their time and knowledge. It was a delightful
weekend.

In Part Two, I’ll be sharing some of the nuggets of wisdom the agents shared during the afternoon panels.

Stay tuned!

DISCLAIMER: If you are interested in submitting to any of these fine agents, please be sure to visit their respective agency websites and follow their submission guidelines. They mean business, and if you’re serious about writing, you should, too.

This past week has been quite exciting here. This is just a quick post to update you on a few of the highlights.

One of the most exciting things that made my week spectacular was when I received this tweet after I posted my review of See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles:

Jo Knowles Tweet

WOW!!!

I never thought in a million years an author I read would read my review of her book, love it, AND then pass it on for others to read! Such a fabulous thing to do. Could I love her even more? I think not.

If that wasn’t enough to make a girl’s week, I escaped to the Oklahoma countryside for the weekend and stayed at a beautiful bed & breakfast with my favorite writing people for the Agent Day conference. I had the pleasure of meeting KT Hanna for the first time, face to face – what a wonderful hugger! (I also got to see more pics of her new baby, the little cutie with those adorably squishy cheeks.) I also met Heather Cashman and Sarah Crespo who’d traveled with KT all the way from Wichita, Kansas, to attend out Agent Day event. It was so great to meet these online friends in person.

I will be happy to share the plethora of information I learned about agents and the world of agenting with you all very soon. The lovely Hannah Harrison, who gave the keynote speech, will also be stopping by for an interview in the near future to expand on her fantastic and inspiring presentation.

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Front view of the Statehood Inn in Chandler, OK

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There was a beautiful wrap-around front porch, complete with rocking chairs and one very curious cat with big green eyes.

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Inside the kitchen at the Statehood Inn. Love all of that light!

The only drawback to the rural location of the conference was poor WiFi service, but frankly, it was nice to be out of touch for a few days. Upon my return home, I discovered some exciting news waiting for me in my inbox.  As some of you may know, I gave an interview myself recently for Jenny Perinovic at The Great Noveling Adventure. Well, I had so much fun doing the interview that I applied for one of the openings they had on their blog. And guess what? They invited me to become part of their team! Of course I said yes. So exciting! I’ll be posting once or twice a month on whatever topic I’d like. Artistic freedom? Yes, please.

I’m still recovering from an amazing weekend and all of this great news, but I wanted to make sure I shared it with you. Big things are coming, I can just feel it. Stay tuned to enjoy the ride.

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Every year at the SCBWI Summer Conference, there is an editors panel on Saturday morning where a group of editors are introduced and then questioned about a variety of subjects. This year, SCBWI did something new with the panel by giving the discussion a specific focus.

The discussion was entitled: What Makes an Evergreen, What Makes a Hit

What makes a book a timeless classic versus a momentary blockbuster? I found this discussion much more interesting, especially when the discussion turned toward the acquisitions process. Not what I had pictured at all.

Here were the editors involved:

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Donna Bray, Co-Publisher of Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins

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Claudia Gabel, Executive Editor at Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books

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Allyn Johnston, Vice President and Publisher of Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

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Melissa Manlove, Editor at Chronicle Books

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Andrea Davis Pinkney, Author and Vice President, Executive Editor at Scholastic

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Namrata Tripathi, Executive Editor at Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

Nice line up, right?

The fabulous Lin Oliver acted as moderator and asked the questions.

What qualities of a work make an evergreen versus a hit?Wonder

Donna Bray:  Evergreens are speaking to universal truths; hits are speaking to a moment in time.

Wonder (by R.J. Palacio) has both – perfectly timed and also has quality.

Melissa Mangrove: Books that continue to speak on the human experience. If I’m understanding the question, it’s a book with long backlist potential versus the big splash.

Hg--jacket-210Andrea David Pinkney: It’s the longevity. I’ll feel myself falling in love and I’ll ask myself if I’ll still feel this way years from now.

The Hunger Games (by Suzanne Collins) during a time of war banged us over the head in a good way. It landed at the right time to be a hit.

Allyn Johnston: Not wanting to buy just one project from the author. Books that continue to have lives is very gratifying.

Claudia Gabel: An evergreen can sometimes be about a close examination of a time period that changed the face of our world.book1

The Book Thief (by Markus Zusak) for example. Having Death as a character made it stand out. The plot around the importance of books is an evergreen point.

Namrata Tripathi:The only thing to add is qualitative. This whole discussion about time is interesting; you don’t really know until after publication. It’s so nebulous. It’s always surprising.

If acquiring a book, do you discuss whether it will earn out versus receive awards?

Andrea Davis Pinkney: More marketing driven? No.

I depend on the expertise of my colleagues. I do go in prepared for objections and speak to them. I fight for the books I want.

Donna Bray:  I don’t think it’s changed; I want the whole team behind me. Sometimes you bring a book in and people have reservations. This doesn’t mean you can’t bring the book in. It’s up to you to start it off on the right foot.

Namrata Tripathi: One of the things we all do; go in the day before acquisitions and line up our allies. (All laughed.)

Allyn Johnston: The great Sid Fleischman used to say, “Point to the problem; if there’s a weakness, make it a strength.”

Namrata Tripathi: It doesn’t even matter what the objection is. There’s so much chemistry involved. We have to carry how much we love the book to others. No matter how much I love my husband, I can’t convince Lin of this. You can’t define it; it’s touched you viscerally and now you have to convey this to others.

What manuscript spoke to you as an example of a good marriage between evergreen and hit?ATW_Caldecott

Allyn Johnston: A book by a new writer, Liz Garton Scanlon called All the World. It’s going to sound cliche, but it felt universal and timeless, with a strong emotional core.  She sent it to Marla Frazee and told her to drop what she was working on to do this first. It won a Caldecott Honor.

Also, a bedtime book about evolution called Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story (by Lisa Westberg Peters).

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Namrata Tripathi: It has a lot to do with voice. Voice and character are related. When you’ve rendered a character so vividly that they stay with me. Though I’ve stepped away from a book, my mind hasn’t. When I’m obsessing about characters, I should probably get the book. She felt this way about Lulu and the Brontosaurus by Judith Viorst. It was funny, sassy and fresh. The character felt now and timeless.

Andrea Davis Pinkney: The thing I look for is the voice. There’s a reason the show The Voice is so popular.

Melissa Manlove: Marriage of voice and topic. When an author talked to me about the subnivian zone, I said I didn’t know what that was. It was quiet and I kind of loved it. (The book was Kate Messner’s Over & Under the Snow.)

Donna Bray: It’s like a physical pain. If I lost this book, I would be sad forever. clementine_cover

For her it was Clementine by Sara Pennypacker. It was the character and the voice. The author was firing on all cylinders. It went deeper than most chapter books. This must be what people reading Ramona must have felt the first time.

Claudia Gabel: Really deep, deep love.

When reading the second pass, you can’t wait to read it again. A manuscript that somehow surprises you.

What a great discussion. I think we could continue this over drinks during our next writer’s weekend, what do you think?

I’ll leave you with this nugget of wisdom from the amazing Allyn Johnston that she just dropped in the middle of the conversation like it was nothing. I swear, she makes me want to learn how to write picture books just so I could work with her.

It’s the rhythm that’s missing in the picture books that don’t work – not the rhyme, the rhythm.

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I have a confession to make.

I came away from the SCBWI LA Summer conference with a brand new author crush.

 

Matt de la Peña.

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And not just because he is ruggedly handsome. Or because he took the time to notice where I was from when I was in line to get my book signed and then asked me where exactly Broken Arrow was. He even talked to me about an upcoming author event he had scheduled in my area. Very nice.

And it wasn’t because he said it was great to meet me. See?

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Or because he took the time to stand up to take a picture with me. Not many authors do that. So thoughtful.

Me and Matt de la Pena. The flash went off and I froze like a deer waiting to be shot.

Me and Matt de la Peña. The flash went off and I froze like a deer waiting to be shot.

Or because he gave me a copy of his short story, Passing Each Other in Halls,  por nada. So awesome of him, wasn’t it?

Matt Books

Okay, okay. Ma-ybe he did that for all of his quasi-mental, yet adoring fans. Still, not all authors take this kind of time with their readers/stalkers/fans, believe me. Better than any fabulous swag I may have gained from the conference was the knowledge he imparted during his keynote speech and break out sessions. For that, I will be eternally grateful and a forever devoted stalker reader.

During his break out session on exercising patience, one of the first things he said was:

The first page is important but don’t mistake this for EVERYTHING has to happen on the first page.

You don’t have to cram all the major drama – the break up, the car crash, the gun shot – in that first page to make your story great and to keep readers interested. Allow your characters to tell the story; let it unfold naturally. Sometimes you have to get out of your own way and let your readers come to their own conclusions.

Which brings me to de la Peña’s next nugget of wisdom:

Not every reader has to get every thing.

He shared the opening pages from Denis Johnson‘s Tree of Smoke with us as an example of writing that allows the story to unfold without tree of smokeprejudice or narrator comment. The opening line is “Last night at 3:00am President Kennedy had been killed.” Within this passage, as the young soldier stalks through the jungle, there is a 2nd assassination with the death of a monkey, but the narrator doesn’t draw attention to it. If the reader gets the parallel, great. It adds another layer, a deeper connection to the story, but the reader doesn’t need to understand this connection to follow the plot.

De la Peña does the same with his own writing as well. In Ball Don’t Lie, a story about a foster kid who’s only constant in life is basketball, you don’t have to understand the game of basketball to appreciate it. In Mexican WhiteBoy, there are tons of Spanish passages that he doesn’t translate. You don’t have to know what’s being said to appreciate the story, but it enhances the experience. De la Peña says that when a kid who isn’t a big reader can translate a passage for a teacher who’s reading aloud to the class, he takes ownership of the story, which is what you want.

When reading a book, you are doing half the work; you take ownership of it. You picture the action in your mind.

 I love that.

When de la Peña returned to the discussion of how we as writers can show patience in our work, he talked about his experience in his MFA program. At one point, he was trying to show off, be a real stylist by throwing everything he’d learned into his current writing project. His advisor told him the story was suffering because of it. She told him to slow the f*ck down.

Just slow down.

She was so right.

This advice has followed him throughout his career.

Sometimes the slow build is the best build.

 When something big is about to happen in your story, slow that moment down. Car crashes, gun shots, even break ups can take seconds. You can slow it down in a book with many different strategies. Do you go with hypersensitivity? Backstory? Try different ways and see what works.

Sit there with the audience in the palm of your hand and make them suffer.

 Ooh hoo hoo! Gives you chills doesn’t it? I’ve heard of hurting your characters, of torturing them until it hurts, but your reader? I’d never thought of their suffering while I write, have you?

But he does make an excellent point. Some of my favorite books have those delicious scenes that have kept me on that edge, prolonging the moment. It’s almost an agony, suffering the pain of the moment along with the character, but I find myself rereading these passages again and again, soaking up every bit, until I’m satisfied enough to move on.

If you are lucky enough to live in the Tulsa area, come see this dynamic author for yourself. Matt will be speaking on September 24th at the Martin Regional Library.

Learn more about Matt de la Peña here.

Follow Matt on Twitter here.

Follow Matt on Facebook here.

When trying to write the kind of story you want to tell, and the kind of story kids want to hear, all sorts of pesky things can get in the way; rules of society, parents’ ideas of a “proper” story, censorship nazis, the list goes on and on.

JonScieszkaDuring the SCBWI Summer conference, John Scieszka (pronounced chess-kah), talked about this problem in his keynote address entitled The Importance of Being Subversive in Writing for Kids: Not Every Book Should Put You to Sleep. He said there are a lot of people between you and your audience; You have to get creative to sneak your ideas past them.

He told about how in his book, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, he told the tale from the wolf’s point of view. Nothing could be more subversive. He got to mess with everything – that’s what was so fun. little_pigsMy kids loved this book when they were little. Maybe that’s where they got the idea for the stories they told me whenever they got into trouble. It wasn’t me, Mom. Aliens used mind control and took over my body to make me spread peanut butter all over the television. I wouldn’t do something like that!

Just in case you haven’t read this book, here’s a quick summary:

“You may think you know the story of the Three Little Pigs. But you don’t know the whole story until you’ve heard A. Wolf’s side of the story. Mr. Wolf huffs, and he puffs, and he has a very bad sneezing cold. He also needs a cup of sugar to make a birthday cake for his dear, sweet granny’s birthday. Read and learn. Then decide for yourself–Big Bad Wolf . . . or media frame-up?” (Plot summary from author’s website.)

It may seem like just a funny story, (which it is) but I also think it plants the seeds of critical thinking and realizing there are two sides to every situation. Also, just because someone tells us we should believe them, doesn’t mean they are telling the truth. Scieszka manages to pull all of this off without beating kids over the head with a sickly sweet moral story. Fascinating.

stinky_cheeseDuring his talk, he also told about how The Stinky Cheese Man (a collection of subversive stories) received a monumental amount of rejections. One of the harsher rejections asked him to “please don’t send us anything ever again”. Ouch. Another suggested that “this isn’t really a great story to put kids to sleep.” He said he didn’t want to put kids to sleep.

The first National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature (who won a Caldecott medal for that monumentally rejected book) told us this:

“You’re born being subversive. It gets beat out of you.”

Our duty is to stir kids up.

He says that you can get kids excited about reading by giving them the kinds of stories they want to read. One way he did this, besides writing a few subversive books himself, was to establish GUYS READ, a web-based literacy program for boys meant to address the declining interest in reading by boys. His GUYS READ website has a list of many books approved by boys themselves.

So the next time you find yourself censoring a crazy idea or trashing a storyline because no parent will buy it, think of Jon Scieszka and be subversive. Our kids need you to stir them up and get them excited about reading.