Barbara Lowell – Author Interview & Book Giveaway

The very first person I met through SCBWI was Barbara Lowell. She epitomizes the spirit of our SCBWI Oklahoma group – open and generous and willing to help anyone who asks. I am so grateful that she was the first to make a permanent impression on me. We met at one of the fall conferences, my first ever to attend. How lucky was I that she also soon became one of my very first critique partners, as well? I’m happy to say that she is still my critique partner to this day. We’ve both learned so much from when we started out as newbie writers, making typical mistakes and writing awful stories. Our whole group has grown and we have all come a long way from those stumbling beginnings. Barbara has fantastic suggestions that help me take my stories in much better directions, and even though she swears she could never write something so long herself, I’m not so sure she couldn’t if that’s where her passion led her. Fortunately for us, she loves writing dynamic and intriguing picture book biographies. I adore Barbara’s writing and have felt it a privilege to be a part of so many of her great stories. I’m so happy that the first of these has finally found its way to publication.

GEORGE FERRIS WHAT A WHEEL
Grosset & Dunlap. June 26, 2014.

 

George Ferris Book

 

George Ferris, ever confident, didn’t know that the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair would make him famous, but when engineers were challenged to build something unique and original, he knew he was the person to create it. George had to convince the fair officials, find the money and design and build an amusement wheel that could hold 2,160 people at the same time, something no one had ever done before.

 The Interview

 

Barbara was kind enough to stop by my blog to answer a few questions about her writing process and how she came to be the writer she is today. And she’s also donated not one, but two of her books for a fantastic giveaway! (I told you she was generous.) More details on that later. First, the questions!

Barbara Author PhotoValerie Lawson: What was the inspiration for this story? What made you want to tell it?

Barbara Lowell: My husband was reading Devil in the White City by Erik Larson about the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. What amazed him most was that George Ferris had built an amusement wheel with train-sized cars that could hold 2,160 people at the same time.

As soon as he finished the book, I read it. Those two details and George’s confidence that despite overwhelming odds, he could and would build his wheel inspired me to write his story as a nonfiction picture book.

I also loved how Mrs. Ferris absolutely believed in George. She rode in one of the six cars mounted on the wheel for a second trial trip. The glass for the windows hadn’t been installed. When the car she was riding in reached the top of the wheel, 264 feet, she stood on her chair and cheered.

 

VL: I loved those details about the story. What devotion his wife had to test such a contraption. Mrs. Ferris must have been quite a character herself.

I was surprised by the sheer size of this first Ferris Wheel – so big that each car could hold a 40-piece marching band. Would you ever ride in a Ferris Wheel that big?

BL: I might try the new High Roller in Las Vegas. It is twice the height of George Ferris’s wheel, but holds 1,120 passengers verses George Ferris’s 2,160. 

 

VL: A book of this type requires an extensive amount of research. What is your writing process? How do you start a project like this?

BL: I love history, especially American history and researching is fun. There are many interesting stories to find that are not well-known. I try to research the person or story I am writing about as thoroughly as I can. Since I learned about George Ferris’s wheel in Devil in the White City, I first looked at Erik Larson’s sources. His sources that I couldn’t find in the Tulsa library system, I either found at the University of Tulsa or bought online.

One that I consulted over and over is Norman Anderson’s impeccably researched book Ferris Wheels. I researched the sources used for every book I read and dug deeper and deeper. I was able to find at the NOAA website that the lowest recorded temperature in Chicago in January 1893 was -16. I look for as many primary sources as I can – books written by and interviews conducted with the subject of my book, original documents and artifacts. I found an interview with George Ferris from 1893 – that was a great find. When I was unable to locate the answer to a question I had about George Ferris, I contacted the Chicago Historical Society.

 

VL: That is very diligent researching. It must have been amazing to read George Ferris’s own words and then incorporate that into your story.

Who were your childhood heroes and role models? What drew you to them?

BL: From the time I was in third grade, I loved reading biographies, especially about people I could learn from. My favorite autobiography was Helen Keller’s The Story of My Life. I read many books about Eleanor Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt. All three subjects faced enormous challenges with great courage. I still read lots of biographies and nonfiction history.

 

VL: I have such a strong memory of learning about Helen Keller, too. I thought she was amazing. 

When did you know you wanted to be a writer? When did you start pursuing that seriously?

BL: I knew when I was a child that I wanted to be a writer, but I never tried seriously to become one until my daughter started high school. I thought, now I have the time to work on this and it maybe now or never.

I tried on my own, but I was going nowhere until the wonderful Oklahoma writer, Anna Myers started the SCBWI Oklahoma Schmoozes (writers and illustrators meetings.) I attended the meetings and conferences, took online classes and joined a critique group. I began to learn how to write for children and continue every day to learn and improve. This is a tough business and the support of my fellow writers has given me the strength to pursue my writing goals.

 

VL: You are so right! The need for support cannot be emphasized enough. I may have given up long ago if not for my SCBWI family.

Tell me about the most memorable adventures you had with your friends outside of school.

BL: I loved the summer. I lived in a neighborhood with lots of children. We spent our summers dreaming up adventures and then acted them out. A friend’s father helped build sets for a local theater group and one day he brought home a full-size Conestoga wagon. We had a great time traveling out west in our imaginations. One summer we set up our own outdoor laundry and went around the neighborhood asking for things to wash. We played all kinds of outdoor games. There was so much to do that every day seemed to last forever. I loved being a kid and that’s why I like writing for them.

 

VL: Wow! A real Conestoga wagon? You kids must have had a field day with that. I think I would have wanted to camp out in it. Maybe sleep under the stars like a cowboy. I loved being a kid, too. I think you may have something there. 

What are you currently working on?

BL: I finished researching a picture book biography, and I am working on the first draft. I have also recently worked on the first picture book I ever wrote and have rewritten it, not just revised it, for about the sixth time. I think I have finally made it work – but I have thought that before. I also have a new idea for a picture book biography and will start my research by reading the subject’s autobiography. I hope I can find a great story arc there.

 

VL: I can’t wait to take a peek at it. :)

What are some of your favorite books for kids?

BL: I think I can agree with almost every fan of YA – The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I also love his book An Abundance of Katherines. I recently read Kathi Appelt’s latest middle grade novel The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp and her book The Underneath is one of my favorites. Karen Cushman, Laurie Halse Anderson and Anna Myers write some of my favorite historical fiction novels.

My favorite book period is To Kill a Mockingbird. I have a huge collection of picture book biographies and historical fiction picture books. My two favorites are Deborah Hopkinson’s Apples to Oregon and Patrick McDonnell’s Me…Jane (Jane Goodall.) I think his is the best picture book biography written. I also like all of Barbara Kerley’s biographies and one of my new favorites is On a Beam of Light (Albert Einstein) by Jennifer Berne.

 

VL: There were some favorites of mine there and some new ones I need to read. Great suggestions.

What has been the best part of being a writer?

BL: Becoming friends with children’s writers. I absolutely love spending time with them and being part of this close community.

Thank you for inviting me to your blog!

Thank you so much for being here, Barbara. And I hope to have you back very soon!

Learn more about Barbara Lowell here.

BUY THE BOOK:

indiebound

 bn-24h-80amazon

 

The Giveaway

 

And now for the fabulous giveaway!

Barbara has generously donated two hardback editions of her new book GEORGE FERRIS WHAT A WHEEL. So there will be TWO WINNERS! This contest is open to everyone. The contest will run through July 18th and you can enter once a day. Good Luck! The winners can now been seen when you click on the giveaway site. Congratulations!

 

ENTER HERE!!!  ➤➤➤ Barbara Lowell Rafflecopter giveaway

Darlings are Damn Hard to Kill

Image courtesy of Henry Söderlund via Flickr
Image courtesy of Henry Söderlund via Flickr

As a writer, I know how important it is to let go of those pretty words that no longer serve my story. They may have helped me get through the muddy middle of my first draft or even find a way to begin, but when it’s time to revise, the death blows need to fall. Sometimes excising these beautiful ones can be harder than you think.

I’ve heard the phrase “Kill your darlings” more than once when at conferences and workshops. One editor even said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “If you must keep them, print them out and tuck them safely under your pillow, but get them out of your manuscript.” (I really wish I could remember who said that, because I think that’s just brilliant.)

Point made. They don’t belong in your story.

Usually I don’t have a problem with the slash and burn. The delete button and I are well acquainted. However, during my latest revision I came across a major blind spot that caused quite an upheaval in my first chapter. While I thought I had done my usual slashing without mercy, leaving a wake of dead darlings bathed in red ink, once I presented the freshly cleaned chapter to my critique group, I received a surprise. The comments?

“This doesn’t work.”

“This flashback scene is confusing.”

Why was there a flashback scene in the first chapter, you may ask?

Ugh.

I know, I know. Total amateur move. Bad writer.

So what happened?

I changed my opening line. And then…I couldn’t let go of the old one. In fact, I worked so hard to keep it, this little darling of mine, that there was no rule I wouldn’t break. I went so far out of my way to write badly, knowing I was writing badly and still unable to stop, just to force the line in and to make it fit. The gymnastic maneuverings it took to twist the story broke the laws of physics and the rules of writing. Even as I was writing the horrible flashback scene, which was the only way I could work it into the story, I knew it was crap, but I still couldn’t quit.

Why?

Maybe because I thought it was humorous, a running gag I could use through the whole story. Maybe I thought I couldn’t write something better. I don’t know, exactly. Deep down I did know that this bit of writing I was trying so desperately to save didn’t move the story along and it didn’t really add to the main character – something that should have brought on an immediate death sentence.

In the end, I needed my CPs to help me euthanize this one. They took one look at the mess and said unanimously:

“This doesn’t work.”

Have I mentioned only a few dozen times how much I love my critique group? They are always so good for me. I can hide nothing from them. Once they pointed it out, I just had to laugh at the ridiculousness. Of course it didn’t work. I could see it, then.

But it was hard to say good bye. Maybe because I didn’t always think it was so bad. That darling helped me out of a bind, once upon a time, when I was struggling for a beginning hook. It may not have been the best opening, but it did help me stop worrying about the perfect beginning and move on to write the story while I had that placeholder. I knew the time would come when I’d have to change it. But when the time came, I thought I still needed it.

Now I know I can let it go. I can write something better. I am finally ready to kill this darling.

April #writemotivation check in

writemotivation_header1

Many of the people I follow are participating in the A to Z challenge this month, so I expect they are plenty busy with this insanity right about now. (I say this with the utmost respect of one who could never in a million years be organized enough to post daily for an entire month, let alone have a theme involved tying all said fictional posts together – I am not that person.) I think they are all rock stars or mentally imbalanced, like people who purposely run marathons. Seriously, how do you do it?

Goals for this month:

1. Work on suggested revisions for Museum Crashers. I am deep into this goal at the moment and really enjoying it. The suggestions made during my conference critique have me on the right track. YAY!! I also meet with my critique group this week and they will add to the helpfulness, as they always do.

I may have neglected to mention this before, but two other members of my critique group, Barbara Lowell (who has her first book coming out this June!) and Sharon Martin (writer of the most kick-ass novel in verse I’ve read since Ellen Hopkins), both were chosen as top picks by the speakers. Man, do I have a fantastic critique group or what!

2. Work on suggested revisions for Institutionalized. This will be next after I’m done with Museum Crashers.

3. Read 6 books. I’ve just finished one book of poetry that I’m going to write a review on later this week and I’m in the middle of another, a sequel I’ve been really looking forward to reading – THE DREAM THIEVES by Maggie Stiefvater. I’m going a little slow on this one right now. It’s not clipping along with the same fantastic pace as the first one. Part of it may be that it’s been so long since I read the first book that I have trouble remembering everything that happened in the last book and I get a little lost.

4. If complete both 1 and 2, work on first draft of Pretty Vacant. Not ready for this, yet.

5. Yes, you still have to exercise. 4 times a week. Goal accomplished and my body hates it. Every day I wake up wondering why there is pain already. “Oh yeah. The exercise.” We’re not even up to pre-deathly ill month of February levels of exercise yet and my body is already whining. Too bad, chica, cause we’re not stopping. Slap on the icy hot and walk (limp) on.

 

Besides this, I’ve also been busy preparing for a talk I’m doing next month for our local SCBWI schmooze entitled “Intro to Twitter”. As part of this prep, I’ve been creating some lists on my Twitter account to share. Wow, was that time-consuming! I’m glad I’ve finally finished! One is called “Writers of fabulous blogs” and includes all the people I follow who also write really good blogs. Feel free hop on over and subscribe to it.

And how are you all doing with your goals?

I hope to get around to reading at least a sampling of the thousands of A to Z challenge posts out there; they are daunting in their numbers. I am interested in reading through all of Rebekah’s world-building series for sure. Talk about detail. Get on with your bad self!  Are there any A to Z challenges you’ve found fascinating?

July #writemotivation Week 2

photograph by Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. httpwww.flickr.comphotossahlgoodeWhat a week! I thought last week was a whirlwind, this one almost got away from me.  I have returned to civilization and (almost) miss those psychotic chickens. I don’t miss the bugs. I finally stopped itching, yesterday, even with the toothpaste. I must admit that I have dipped into the sacred pint of New York Super Fudge Chunk. After the week in the country, though. I don’t even feel guilty about it.

Here’s a look at this month’s #writemotivation goals:

1. Submit Institutionalized (YA contemporary) to five more literary agents. I’ve done more eliminating of possibilities this past week than submitting, but that is part of the process. Some on my short list, when I looked closer didn’t really fit as well as I had hoped. This was pretty time-consuming. The good news is, my list is shorter. I also haven’t received any rejections, so I still have five submissions out.2013-Participant-Campfire-Circle-Badge

2. While participating in Camp NanoWriMo, write at least 50K towards first draft of Pretty Vacant (YA contemporary). (Yay, camp!) I spent more time on my other camp this past week than this one since it ends first, but I still made a little progress. Yay, for camps with NO BUGS!

howtosave-150x2273. Read at least five more books – review one on the blog. I’m currently reading Sara Zarr’s How to Save a Life and digging it. Slowly chipping away at that gargantuan TBR pile. I may even snag Lauren Oliver’s Delirium series away from my daughter soon.

4. Finish critique of friend’s manuscript. (Hopefully by her birthday midway through the month!) Extreme sad face. Not. Even. Started. Utter Failure.

5. Exercise 4 times each week. More than four times, baby! Got the cramps and muscle strains to prove it!

6. Participate in all Crit Camp activities, which include critiquing 10K samples from manuscripts from the other participants and preparing crit letters. I’ve had so much fun doing the work for Natalie C Parker’s Crit Camp! I’ve received my initial crit letters back and Natalie’s feedback on my critiquing was so great. I’m ready to write up my final crit letters with much more depth and clarity. I hope my own critique partners notice the difference in my critiquing when we meet up next week. I can’t wait to try out my new skills.

On last minute announcement…Xmas in July post headerdrum roll please!!!

I entered my Middle Grade manuscript, Night of the Museum Crashers, into the Christmas in July Pitch Contest and out of 206 entries, mine was one of 30 chosen!

Yeah, baby! I’m so excited!

So what happens next? On July 18th and 19th, all the winning entries (Yes, that includes mine!) will be posted on the two hosting blogs. The lovely Michelle Krys and her equally lovely companion across the pond, Ruth Lauren Stevens have assembled these fantastic group of agents to view and make comments on the entries or possibly even make requests for submissions:

Adriann Ranta of Wolf Literary Services

Tracey and Josh Adams of Adams Literary

Becky Vinter of Fine Print Literary Management

Diana Fox of Fox Literary

Molly Jaffa of Folio Literary Management

Lucy Carson of Friedrich Literary Agency

Lara Perkins of Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Inc. 

Logan Garrison of The Gernert Company

Sarah LaPolla of Bradford Literary Agency

Tamar Rydzinski of Laura Dail Literary Agency

Monika Verma of Levine Greenberg Literary Agency, Inc.

Brianne Johnson of Writers House

Carly Watters of P.S. Literary Agency

Stefanie Lieberman of Janklow & Nesbit

Jessica Sinsheimer of Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency

Katie Shea of Donald Maass Literary Agency 

Amazing, right? Check out Ruth or Michelle’s site for more details. And make sure to stop by to check out all of the amazingly talented entries on the 18th (including mine!OMG! So excited!) You can also follow the action on Twitter at #XmasinJuly and I’m on #TeamRuth. (Never been on a team before…very cool!)

Love Letter to My Critique Group and #writemotivation check in

My critique partners are really the wizards behind the curtain when it comes to my writing. I may be getting compliments on how great my  latest YA novel is , but it would still be a floundering suggestion of a good idea without the combined effort of these wonderful ladies. They have helped me shape this manuscript by having me question some of my word choices, my character motivations, even my whole story arc until I was sure that I had it watertight. And then I started over and let them go at it again. They all push me to do better because they know I can my story to where I want it. They are all just as invested in its success as I am. And I feel the same about their stories.

I know not everyone’s search for a critique group has been a positive experience and I stumbled into this amazing mix of talented women quite by chance, still, I would encourage every writer out there to join a critique group. It may take you a few times to find the right chemistry, but once you do, once you all click together, it’s just magic. I can’t tell you how many times these women, I now count as some of my closest friends, have had to talk me down off the wall when I was at my worst – thinking that I’d never figure out how to fix a plot problem, that my writing was no good,  that I should just give up, etc.

And So…to Barbara, Helen, Marilyn, Sharon, and Stephanie I say I love you and thank you all so much for everything!

On to my #writemotivation goals:

1. Finish revision suggestions for interested agent and send off my FULL manuscript as soon as humanly possible. I tackled the hardest part of this revision – FINALLY! I’ve been struggling with writing a new opening for over a month, now. It was my fabulous critique partners who helped me push through this deadlock. I discussed my frustration with them at our monthly gathering this past week and they were very encouraging as always and something one of them said jarred the right wire loose and helped me get things stirred up in the right way. I kicked out the new opening scene the next morning. SO much weight lifted off my mind.
2 .Finish up novel revisions on my Middle Grade manuscript for November workshop and mail off copies to my group. DONE.
3. Read through manuscripts received from my group for the novel revision workshop. I put some of my fancy schmancy office supplies to work this week and started line-editing the first manuscript. Really enjoying it. I always learn so much when I edit others. 
4. Continue first draft of new YA WIP. No action on this project this week.
5. Exercise at least four times a week. I did play soccer with my kids a few times and my daughter had me doing this ridiculous dance with her one day, so you could say I was more active this week, but still not as much as I need to be. Keep cracking the whip, I’ll get there!

Hope you are doing well with your goals.

Are You a Premature Querier?

First of all, I must say that I have been absent from my blogging duties after being knocked down by one nasty summer head cold/sinus infection thing. Why do I always seemed to get the WORST colds in the summer? I wouldn’t know exactly what is was because I don’t like to bother my doctor for things like colds, flus, arms falling off, etc. – only real medical emergencies. I was actually in danger of being dragged into my lovely physician’s office for some serious care as this sickness held on way past it’s welcome – over a week of miserable leaky/stuffy head pain and sleepless nights. (This very whiny writer is ever so glad she married a nurse who loves to take care of her when he isn’t taking care of critically ill patients at the hospital. I’m like a vacation after taking care of actual sick people all day.) Maybe he was being sarcastic…

Anyway, now that I can feed and bathe myself (was that going too far?), a long overdue series of posts has been promised about knowledge tidbits gleaned from THE AMAZING SCBWI conference.

So here we go with post NUMBER ONE. Oh! It’s so exciting!

Speaking of which, THE NUMBER ONE complaint I heard from almost every editor and agent who spoke at the SCBWI LA conference was that writers are sending out their manuscripts too early.

Author and Editor Deborah Halverson echoed this when she reported her findings on the survey of the market:

“Of the unsolicited manuscripts, editors are wading through too many not ready to be submitted.”

I must admit that I myself, am a recovering premature querier.

That’s right! When I first started out on this writer’s journey, the minute I wrote the words, “The End” on my very first novel,  I couldn’t wait to get that newly minted manuscript hot off the printer, into an envelope, and out to the mailbox to be discovered – remember when we mailed queries? If not, don’t tell me. The only thing I discovered was how fast I could receive form rejection letters. Even by snail mail, you can get them pretty damn fast.

When Newberry Award Winner Clare Vanderpool gave her keynote address, she said it took her 16 years to get her first book published. SIXTEEN YEARS!  I’m a little over halfway there, but I still wanted to cry. Then she talked about how during those years, while she was writing her book, Moon Over Manifest, whenever and wherever she could – even at stoplights -  she was also studying her craft, practicing it. She learned that you have to put in the miles. She said one of the major factors for her success was joining a critique group. Sometimes we think what we write is good and it’s not and vice versa. That it’s important to know that what we’re putting out is what we intend.

You should know this before you start submitting your manuscript. You should know if your story flows well and makes sense to unbiased, knowledgeable peers before you blow your one chance with that dream editor or agent. Submit your best, your most polished work. How will you know if this is your best work unless you slow down and put in the time? Unless you get a second or third opinion? Whenever you finish a draft, put it away. Sit with it a few days before you start revising. Re-read it. Revise it. Revise it again. Have trusted readers read it. Revise it again. My good friend Anna Myers says she’d let someone see her first draft as soon as let them see her dirty underwear. You sure as hell don’t want an editor or agent to see your dirty drawers, do you? You know I’m not one for ironing, but I’d probably even iron my underwear before I’d send it to an agent.

Josh Adams of Adams Literary gave this advice to new writers during the Agent Panel: “Do everything you can to be ready, to be polished. There’s such a rush to be published. Do your research. It’s important to find your voice and the voice of an agent who will be an advocate for you.”

There is no hurry. Everyone is waiting for your best.

The only reason I can see for someone to be in a rush is if they are trying to catch a marketing trend and this is another major fallacy that writers should avoid. I will address this in the next post. Until then, keep practicing your craft!

How Bad Am I Sucking at Keeping Up with My Goals? (a #writemotivation weekly check-in)

I reached a state of immobility during this past week. I found myself frozen, unable to even begin anything, let alone make any positive progress . I sometimes have these moments of self-doubt that are overwhelming and cause a complete halt in activity. i withdrawal from everything, tuning out the phone, internet, etc., and envelope myself in a world of ice cream and self-loathing. I tend to think it’s linked to some sense of fear – fear of succeeding, perhaps.  Just when things seem to be going really well -  receiving awards, wining contests, hearing great feedback on my manuscript – then this little voice creeps in and asks, “Are you sure you’re up for this? Can you handle what comes next?”

That’s when my brain screams out, “No! My story is crap and I am a monumental fraud. Soon everyone will see it!” right before I curl up in a fetal position with my blanky and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk. It takes a great deal of effort to push past this wall of negativity, put away the frozen chocolate delights, reconnect with my confident self, and start working again.

I am recovering faster than I used to – I was mentally comatose for  just a few days this time – but still I hate that it happens at all. Gotta focus on baby steps of progress, one day at a time; that’s the only way I make it back from the edge of the depressive abyss. One thing that’s helped me move forward is getting excited about my critique group meeting this week. Maybe a dose of  “me time” with my fellow writers is the solution to my paralytic funk. And taking a shower might help, too.

So just for the hell of it, let’s review my #writemotivation goals:

1. Revise the query for my completed YA manuscript until it’s tight enough to bounce a quarter off the sucker.  A little more progress made – revised a couple more chapters. Would like to make a lot more progress this next week.

2. Research prospective agents to whom I want to submit my completed YA manuscript. Okay, I actually made some progress on this, too. I’ve added a few more potential targets to my attack list.

3. Once items one and two have been successfully achieved, submit to at least three agents at a time. Nope. No progress here. I didn’t send out anymore submissions. I did, however, check my mailbox several times a day like a crack addict waiting for my fix of rejections. So far, nada. At least I haven’t had any immediate rejections – holding on to the positive here.

4. Get cracking on the next YA manuscript I have planned so I don’t check my inbox every thirty minutes awaiting responses to my submissions. While I have done some mental writing and introspective reflecting on this project, little actual word count has surfaced.

Some minute progress made! Who knew? My suckage level isn’t as high as I thought; I feel better already. Here’s counting on a much more productive week coming up. How is everyone else doing?