Archive for the ‘SCBWI’ Category

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

Last weekend there was a convergence of the sublime in Oklahoma City as the SCBWI Oklahoma chapter held its annual Spring conference. Great company, great speakers, great weather. Ah! I had so much fun and my brain was crammed with so many good ideas, it took me all week to process everything. And as two of my manuscripts were chosen for top speaker picks at the very beginning of the day, I did have to struggle at times to stay focused on being present, to listen and take notes, instead of sprinting down the revision tunnel express.

First speaker of the day was the lovely Tricia Lawrence, an associate agent with the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

Tricia LawrenceI do apologize for missing out on most of Tricia’s talk as my face-to-face critiques were scheduled during this time. I did get to speak with Tricia during the weekend and I gleaned information about her talk from those who were able to hear her talk. First of all, I loved Tricia right from the start as we both share Pacific Northwest roots. I spent some of my formative years in her neck of the woods and I still hold a special place in my heart for that part of the country. (A friend of mine swears this is why I don’t sound like I’m from around here, even though I’ve lived in Oklahoma almost without interruption since I was about four.) Tricia talked at length about how her career path was guided by the need to stay on the West Coast. She spent years working as a freelance editor among other things before breaking into the agenting side of the business. Lucky for us, her stars aligned at the right moment when she came to the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

During her talk, Tricia discussed how important it was to really get to know your characters before you start writing, to sit down and have therapy sessions with them. Put them on the couch and get them to spill their guts. She said they may not want to open up at first, they may much rather run outside and ride bikes or go play video games, so you have to keep digging. Ask them about their biggest fears, their most hidden secrets, what they want more than anything. Keep asking until they crack; until you know your characters inside and out. Hey, therapy isn’t easy, folks.

It was a very stimulating talk that got several writers thinking of ideas all weekend. At least, I’ve never heard so many people eager to go into therapy. As a big proponent of self-exploration, I love this idea. I plan on putting my main character through some serious couch time starting this week.

Tricia, like all of the speakers, mentioned some books that showed great examples of the ideas she wished to convey. All of the speakers mentioned how important reading was to the craft of being a writer. I know I say it all the time, but it never hurts to remind you guys that the professionals say it as well. You gotta READ!!!

Tricia’s book recommendations: THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green, GRAVE MERCY by Robin LaFevers

Follow Tricia on Twitter.

Next to present was the spunky and adorable Colleen AF Venable, Art and Design Editor at MacMillan’s First Second Books and author in her own right with her fabulous GUINEA PIG, PET SHOP Colleen AF VenablePRIVATE EYE graphic novel series. When she made the conscious decision to have her main character – a female guinea pig named Sasspants – NOT be drawn with over exaggerated eyelashes or a big bow to show her gender, “Because guinea pigs don’t have giant eye lashes or wear bows in nature”, I wanted to bow down at her feet or jump up and scream, “YES!” (I’m a huge believer in realistic role models for girls, obviously.)

Colleen took us all to school on graphic novels and taught us about what they were and were not. Simply put, graphic novels are defined thusly:

Visual story-telling using sequential images.

Well, gee, that could be anything, you might say. I mean, I’ve seen some picture books that might even qualify by that definition. And you would be correct. Still, they are NOT all about tightly-clad radiated people with superpowers. (Not that there is anything wrong with those kinds of graphic novels.) Here are some examples of graphics novels that may surprise you:

 

Monster EndPigeon

flotsam

The Arrival

 

 

 

 

 


Friends with Boys

RapunzelLaikaTo DanceLone Wolf

 

 

 

 

 

 

bk_floraLewis and clarkSmileGiants BewareHereville

 

 

 

 

 

It was such an enlightening talk and I must say, it made converts out of many of the participants. What struck me most was how many non-artists have written graphic novels: Shannon Hale, Neil Gaiman, Kate DiCamillo, Jane Yolen, Cecil Castellucci, Holly Black, and don’t forget Stan Lee, (totally not an artist!). Rainbow Rowell, author of ELEANOR & PARK, has a graphic novel series in the works with First Second Books right now. How exciting is that?

Colleen discussed how you can add an extra layers of depth to your story with the visuals in graphic novels. Even by just manipulating the layout of the panels and how you use the spacing between the panels – the gutters – you can create completely different pacing styles to the story, similar to how traditional writers use sentence and paragraph structure. Fascinating. She suggested that if you were interested getting started in graphics novels, as a writer, you should read lots of plays and comics to help you get the flow of graphic novels. Script writing especially can aid in learning to think more visually about how you tell your story.

Colleen gave us a comprehensive reading list hand out (another perk of coming to such a fabulous conference), broken down by age groups, so I won’t list all of her recommendations here. Some of them are pictured above. I will list others she mentioned by name.

Colleen’s book recommendations: AMERICAN BORN CHINESE by Gene Luen Yang, BENNY AND PENNY by Geoffrey Hayes, SMILE by Raina Telgemeier, SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD by Bryan Lee O’Malley, THE PLAIN JANES by Cecil Castellucci, OWLY by Andy Runton, BABY MOUSE by Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm, ROBOT DREAMS by Sara Varon, ZITA THE SPACEGIRL by Ben Hatke

Learn more about Colleen here.

Follow Colleen on Twitter.

Andrew HarwellAndrew Harwell, Editor with HarperCollins came back to Oklahoma for a second time after doing such an amazing job for us at our Novel Revision Retreat back in 2012, and was christened an honorary Oklahoman. (That’s just how it goes, if you come back, we claim you as one of our own. Our list of these lucky conference alumni is steadily growing – Laurent Linn, Krista Moreno, Alexandra Penfold, all honorary Oklahomans.)

Andrew wanted to talk about something new this go around, so he delved into how the family dynamics in Middle Grade and Young Adult writing help to create richer characters. Strong central families are common in all the stories he is drawn to. He said that when he gives an elevator pitch for a book, he realized that he always begins by discussing the relationships first. No matter what kind of story you’re writing, whether it’s a fantasy, mystery, paranormal or whatever, you have to get the reader to care about the characters first, right? In order to do that that we have to get to know the character, and what better way to do that than by using the family. After all, Andrew asked us to think about this:

You are most yourself around your family.

Who else sees us at our most vulnerable? When we are exhausted, pushed to the limits, cramped in a minivan for hours on a road trip to Aunt Bonnies’s with nothing to do but listen to each other breathe and your brothers won’t stop farting or touching your side of the seat? Oh yeah. You really get to know a person in those circumstances.

There are all kinds of families. You have to ask yourself what your character’s family history is before you begin your story. This is your character’s beginning, after all. No matter how much of this history you decide to show, YOU as the writer need to know it. Knowing whether or not your MC is friends with everyone in his family (or not) or whether your MC is supported or misunderstood at home will determine how s/he interacts with the world at large. It will also add more emotional depth to your story.

Andrew showed examples from many different books to highlight the different ways that family dynamics can create amazing stories. Whether you use these dynamics to create empathy, as in THE HUNGER GAMES (whose heart didn’t break when Katniss volunteered to go into the death match in her sister’s place?) or to create conflict as in FANGIRL (what does it mean when your twin sister doesn’t want to be your roommate?) or to create a villain in the family as in THE GOLDEN COMPASS (Does Lyra’s mother love her or is she evil through and through?) bringing family dynamics into play can be the best thing for your character and your story.

Andrew’s book recommendations: PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ by A.S. King, THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins, PANIC by Lauren Oliver, IF I STAY by Gayle Foreman, CASE FILE 13 by J. Scott Savage, WONDER by R.J. Palacio, SEA OF SHADOWS by Kelley Armstrong, ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE by Benjamin Alire Saenz, FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell, THE JUPITER PIRATES HUNT FOR THE HYDRA by Jason Fry, REALITY BOY by A.S. King, THE GOLDEN COMPASS by Philip Pullman, ASYLUM by Madeleine Roux, ALMOST SUPER by Marion Jensen, UNDER THE NEVER SKY by Veronica Rossi, THE HARRY POTTER SERIES by J.K. Rowling, MOCKINGBIRD by Kathryne Erskine, THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green, I CAPTURE THE CASTLE by Dodie Smith, TENDER MORSELS by Margo Lanagan, ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell, PENNY DREADFUL by Laurel Snyder, ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia

Follow Andrew on Twitter.

Can you believe how much sage wisdom was imparted in this morning session alone?

It knocked my socks off.

After an entertaining lunch where I hosted a table with Tricia Lawrence, who was ever so gracious with her precious time and insights. I met some new writers, one was attending her very first SCBWI conference and was so enthusiastic about everything, it was delightful to see. There were so many writers there with teaching backgrounds at my table; I may have been the only one without a teaching degree. After lunch, and a brief (and humorous) commercial for our Fall Retreat, we returned for our remaining three speakers.

Stay tuned for PART TWO to hear what they had to bestow on our eager minds…

writemotivation_header1

To say that I had a positive experience at our SCBWI OK spring conference would be quite the understatement. One of the first things that happened before our speakers took the stage was the winners of the face-to-face critiques were announced. Each speaker chooses two manuscripts from their selections and those lucky souls get to sit down and discuss their writing for ten whole, uninterrupted minutes. I had not one, but two separate manuscripts chosen.

That was a first.

I was beyond thrilled, beyond honored. (Thankfully I was not beyond speech.)

The two speakers who chose my MG and YA manuscripts were both so fantastic. They gave me insightful suggestions that fit right along my vision for each story – neither thought I had to scrap the entire thing a rewrite either as, say, a paranormal/historical dystopian/time-travel piece. I can’t wait to get back to revising. Is it any wonder I had such a hard time concentrating on the rest of the conference? Once I made my way back into the main room, I did my best to stay focused. The speakers were all so brilliant, so diverse and amazing. It was just an all-around wonderful day. A recap of the rest of the conference will be coming later this week.

For now, let’s take the final look at this month’s #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. I fell short by 10K, but this story did get off to a good start. I’m happy with the progress made.
  2. Submit first YA manuscript to at least 15 agents. Only sent out to about one-third. Lame, lame, lame.
  3. Read at least 6 books this month. Done! By the skin of my teeth. (That is a weird saying.) Good thing I brought some more books home from the conference; I was almost out – ha ha ha! I can’t even say that with a straight face.
  4. Get back into exercise routine slowly – at least three times week. No comment. (I did dance on stage during the conference while killing time before a bit, but I’m not sure that really counts. And sorry for those who saw that. For some reason, having my back turned made me think I was invisible.)

I hope you all had a productive March.

I am one of the few NOT participating in the A to Z challenge during April. (A themed blog post every day all month long? Those guys are crazy.) I will however, be setting more #writemotivation goals since I have some serious (and exciting) work to do.

If you want to join in all the fun, pop on over and sign up for #WriteMotivation April! 

writemotivation_header1

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.

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I met Hannah Harrison a few years ago at one of our local SCBWI OK conferences. I was immediately struck by her open, friendly demeanor and her amazing artistic talent. Also by the fact that she had a head of hair even curlier than mine. Hannah won the Illustrator’s Best Portfolio award that year and the next. Still, she remained grounded and humble and just as sweet as ever. As some of you may remember, Hannah gave the keynote speech at this fall’s Agent Day Conference where she told us all about her journey to publication, culminating in a two-book deal with Dial Books. 

Hannah’s first book coming out is EXTRAORDINARY JANE, releasing this February. We’re all so very proud and excited for her.

Extraordinary Jane cover

For anyone with a beloved pet, this delightful and heartwarming story set at the circus shows that quiet qualities like friendship, kindness, and loyalty are important and worthy.

Jane is an ordinary dog in an extraordinary circus. She isn’t strong, graceful, or brave like her family. When she tries to be those things, Jane just doesn’t feel like herself, but she also doesn’t feel special. Is she really meant for this kind of life? Her Ringmaster thinks so, but not for the reasons Jane believes. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Hannah was gracious enough to stop by for an interview, going into even more detail about her work and her life.

Valerie Lawson: I loved reading in your bio how your kindergarten teacher recognized your obvious artistic talent and put you in “Special Art” with the fifth graders. How huge an impact did that teacher make on you and in helping to develop your craft?

Hannah Harrison: So huge! Marlene Witham just made me feel so, well…special! She made me feel like everything I created was really something to behold—whether it be paint, or clay, or dry macaroni. It was so kind of her to have such confidence in me—to single me out the way that she did. Here I was, just a frizzy-haired pip-squeak in hand-me-down clothes, and she noticed me, and believed in me, and made me feel like my talent was unique. So, yes, her impact on my life was huge.

VL: She was bound to single you out when you drew yourself in profile when asked to draw a self-portrait. What Kindergartner does that? Incredible!

Smoking Bunnies

Bunny Smoking Pipe (Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall) by Hannah Harrison 1.25″ x 1.25″ acrylic on museum board. This won Best in Show 2013, awarded by the Cider Painters of America

Your miniature paintings just fascinate me – some as small as one inch by one inch! How did you get into this “small” world of miniature painting? 

HH: Well, I realized that it would probably be a good idea for an aspiring children’s book illustrator to know how to paint children. So I started doing little paintings from old photographs of me as a kid. Since they were just studies, I painted them small (I figured it’d be faster). I thought they turned out kind of snazzy, so I hung a few of them up in the artist co-op that I was a part of as an example for commissions. One of the other artists in the co-op, Irene Goddu, was a miniaturist, and when she saw my tiny portraits, she invited me to join The Cider Painters of America. Before this, I didn’t realize that miniature painting was something people did! There’s a niche for that? Turns out, there’s a pretty big niche with miniature painting societies all over the world. There’s even a World Federation of Miniaturists! Who knew?! So now I’m a Signature Member of The Cider Painters of America and The Hilliard Society, and I feel pretty fancy.

VL: They are really incredible – so much detail for such small works.

HH: Aw, thanks! What is it Bob Ross used to say? Three hairs and some air? It’s kind of like that.

VL: The number of paintings you have of animals far outweigh those of humans and yet the animal pictures tend to have human characteristics, wear clothing, etc. Are you more comfortable with animals or are they just more fun to draw?

HH: I love painting animals and people. But for illustration, I think I am more comfortable with animals—it’s easier for me to paint them from my imagination. People are hard to get just right (painting flesh tones is tricky business, and it’s hard to keep continuity of character), but with animals, as long as they’re good and fuzzy, and have soulful eyes, they’ll at least be endearing (I hope). A badly painted person? Not so cute. Sometimes creepy. Plus I love animals for picture books because 1) they can get into whatever kinds of shenanigans you want them to without too much regard for personal safety or rules or parents, 2) any kid, regardless of race, can relate to and identify with animals. I will also confess that as a kid, I often enjoyed dressing my pet cats up in doll clothes (I was an only child, leave me alone). The cats were not amused. I, however, thought it was stinkin’ hilarious. I still think animals in clothes are funny.

Kitty Victoria by Hannah Harrison, image from artist's website.

Kitty Victoria by Hannah Harrison

VL: Ah, those are excellent points. It’s really important for kids to be able to identify and connect with the characters. (I also can’t imagine someone wrestling a tempermental cat into a costume. That would take special talent, or little concern for danger.)

HH: Ha! It helps to use the element of surprise!

VL: Your paintings are so detailed and yet you are also such a prolific painter, your website has pages and pages of exquisite paintings posted in the gallery, how long does it take you to complete each piece?

HH: Thanks, Valerie! It’s hard to say how long it takes to complete a piece—they all vary so much. But I will say that the plethora of paintings on my website are a result of 10+ years of portfolio building in an attempt to break into the business combined with artwork created for various exhibitions. Show deadlines have a way of bringing the prolific-ness out of you! And being a “starving artist” doesn’t hurt, either.

VL: Ah ha ha! Yes, I agree. Hunger can be quite a motivator.

As a young kid, what was the worst trouble you ever got into? And what was your punishment?

HH: On the whole, I think I was a pretty good kid. My mouth, on the other hand, liked to get me into trouble. And when it did, into the corner I’d go! We spent a lot of quality time together, me, my mouth, and The Corner.

But I do remember this one thing….

Royal Pig Hannah Harrison

Royal Pig by Hannah Harrison

It was winter in New Hampshire, and me and the little boy that lived across the street (let’s call him Ishmael), were in my back yard playing and shoveling snow. We were probably about seven or eight. Anyway, I had this kid-size shovel—probably about three feet long—and the blade was made out of blue metal. Anyway, I got it in my head that Ishmael would be impressed if I got a big shovel full of snow and hurled it over my shoulder—you know, show off my big Popeye muscles. So I got a big shovel full of snow, hurled it over my shoulder, and… THUNK, nailed poor Ish (who was standing right behind me) square in the eyebrow with the metal blade. Oops. Well, if Ishmael was impressed by my super-human strength, he didn’t take the time to say so. He was too busy crying and running back to his house across the street. I knew I was in for it. I had been showing off, and I might have even killed Ishmael. Forget the The Corner—that was kid stuff. Surely the dreaded spoon was more befitting. But I didn’t get the corner or the spoon. No. My punishment was much, much worse. My mother marched me through the snow over to Ishmael’s house and made me…APOLOGIZE! Apologize? The horror! By this point, I was crying pretty good myself. But I did manage to stutter out a snot-filled apology. And, despite his scar and my wounded pride, Ishmael and I were able to stay friends.

VL: Is it wrong that I find that story hilarious? I can relate to poor Ishmael, though. My brother once thought it would be a great idea to throw a shovel up in the air. I caught it with my forehead.

HH: Oh nooo! I’m glad you lived to tell the tale.

VL: What did you want to be when you were in grade school? What influenced this choice?

HH: Oh, man. I have always wanted to be a children’s book writer and illustrator! I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love to draw. As a kid, I would spend hours on the living room floor sketching out the stories from my Little Thinker Tapes (do you remember those?). And then, when I was in second and third grade, I won the Young Author Book Awards, and got to represent my elementary school at a statewide conference. I was able to hear real-life authors speak about making books, and I was hooked. I knew that was what I wanted to do when I grew up. I couldn’t think of anything better!

VL: When did you know you wanted to be a writer/or to pursue the career you chose? When did you start pursuing that seriously?

Black Cat in Ridiculous Green Hat by Hannah Harrison, image from author's website.

Black Cat in Ridiculous Green Hat by Hannah Harrison

HH: Like I said, I’ve always known I wanted to do this, and so I’ve been taking baby steps towards the dream for pretty much my whole life. I always took art classes in school. And whenever there wasn’t an art class that fit my schedule, my teachers let me make art classes that fit my schedule. I took private art lessons, too. I majored in art, and minored in creative writing at Colby College. I created an independent study in children’s book writing, and did an internship with Kevin Hawkes. As a Senior Scholar, I explored the connection between writing and painting. After graduation, I worked for a sign company and in an art gallery, I painted theatre sets, and worked in an elementary school—all jobs that, to me, related back to the ultimate dream of doing books. But I guess you could say that I really got serious in 2002, when I joined SCBWI. That’s when I realized just how much work I still had cut out for me if I ever wanted to get published. Who knew there was so much to learn about the craft and the industry!? Who knew it was going to be so competitive?! Who knew it was going to be so…hard? I pursued children’s books seriously(ish) for 10 years before I got my first offer on a book.

VL: It’s amazing that people think writing books for children is easy, isn’t it?

Were you ever afraid of the dark, of anything under your bed or in your closet?

HH: Yes, yes, and YES! That’s why I always remained under the covers up to my nose, and never, ever, let an appendage drift too close to the edge of the bed. Ever. And if I had absolutely no choice but use the bathroom in the middle of the night, I leapt like a gazelle from said bed in order to completely clear the grabbing zone. And then I scampered. I scampered like my little life depended on it. Because it did.

VL: Ha ha! I would do the same thing. One of the drawbacks to having a very active imagination is that you can visualize monsters right into being.

Did you ever have a clubhouse or secret place of your own? What did you do there?

HH: Yes! My dad built me the most amazing treehouse in our back yard. It had stairs, a wrap-around porch, a skylight, a dutch door, windows with shutters, gingerbread trim, and carpeting…it sounds a lot nicer than the house I live in now, actually. Did I mention my dad’s the best? My friends and I had a lot of macaroni and cheese lunches up there. And I do remember my cousin and I camping out up there one night…until our imaginations got the best of us (see above), and my dad pretended to be a bear. It was also my favorite place to practice my flute. I’m guessing it was my parent’s favorite place for me to practice my flute, too (not so sure about the neighbors).

Top Hat Terrier

Top Hat Terrier by Hannah Harrison

What was the scariest thing that you ever experienced as a kid?

HH: I was once attacked by a bear in my tree house.

VL: Yikes! I hope the bear was your dad.

What was the worst job you ever had while going to school?

HH: The summer I spent in a factory packaging up heat-sinks was pretty awesome.

VL: Did your friends ever come by while you were working and embarrass you?

HH: Nope. Strangely enough, no one wanted to spend their summer afternoons hanging out in the dark, windowless, unconditioned, heat-sink factory. But fortunately, the three older ladies I worked with took care of the embarrassment factor by giving me the nickname “Sasquatch”. Apparently, the work boots at the end of my skinny little legs were quite becoming.

VL: Oh, what an unfortunate nickname!

HH: Tell me about it.

VL: What are you currently working on?

HH: I’m currently working on raising our four year old daughter. I am also working on the illustrations for my second book with Dial, Bernice gets Carried Away.

VL: How exciting! I can’t wait to see it.

What would be your dream assignment/what would you most like to write about?

HH: Hmmm. I’m not really sure! Maybe something with a koala bear in it? Oooh! Or a duck-billed platypus? They’re kind of adorable. See, it’s dilemmas like these that remind me just how much I LOVE MY JOB!

VL: We’re so very glad that you do! I sense there will be plenty more books from you coming our way. Thank you for being here, Hannah. I look forward to seeing your work in print very soon!

HH: It’s been my pleasure! Thanks so much for having me, Valerie!

Learn more about Hannah Harrison and see more of her artwork on her website here.

EXTRAORDINARY JANE is now available for preorders. Click on any of the retailer logos below to order your copy, today.

Extraordianry Jane art

Pub date – Feb 6, 2014 by Dial

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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

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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

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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

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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.

photograph by Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. httpwww.flickr.comphotossahlgoodeAugust was a month of reflection and relaxation. Now it’s back to serious work. Let’s get right to this month’s #writemotivation goals:

1. Participate, post, push, and praise much better this month, especially where #writemotivation is concerned.
2. Revise, revise, revise!
3. Read, read, read.
4. Keep on freaking exercising.

These may seem a little vague right now, but I may flush them out a bit more as time moves on. I almost missed the deadline and I wanted to keep myself accountable somewhere. (I do agree with you, KT, August was a lie, just like the cake.)

I must keep this post brief as I am preparing my part of the talk for tonight’s SCBWI schmooze about the LA conference. I’ll be sharing it with you all tomorrow. No spoilers here!

Here’s to a fantastically productive (and much cooler) fall.

LiveImage.ashxOur newly appointed Assistant Regional Advisor, Helen Newton gave an excellent talk at our Tulsa schmooze this month entitled The Common Core: How to Use it to Your Benefit. The Common Core is a set of teaching objectives that will be adopted by 46 of the 50 states starting with the 2014-2015 school year and will focus heavily on tying literature and writing skills into all subjects – math, science, social studies, etc.

As Helen put it, “Life is not divided up into hours”. You don’t just use math or English in one class. Now teaching will reflect how everything is connected.

This is great news for writers on all levels, from picture books to YA, from fiction to non-fiction. More books will be needed.

This doesn’t mean you have to necessarily research the entire Common Core curriculum and write books to fit what they want to teach, but you should look at the books you’ve written and see how they fit within some of the objectives. Then make sure you do the prep work for the teachers and give them the tools to make it easy to pick your book when they need to teach about your book’s subject.

Write a up short book talk and post it on your website, create a reader’s theatre that can be used in the classroom, have something on your website to encourage literary circles, have activities for teachers to use in the classroom, and you should have a section to get kids interested – something interactive.

Another great concept is that kids will be taught to read critically, not just to think about whether or not they like a book, but to really get down to the reasons why they like a book. I find that refreshing.

Helen is an English teacher who has used a similar approach for years in her own classrooms. She does book talks once a week to get the kids excited about a title and want to read it themselves. The kids in her classes also do this themselves once every eight weeks. This, along with the books she uses in her daily lessons, adds up to fifteen to twenty books every week that the kids can be exposed to. She says it never fails that after she discusses a book, at least one student comes up to her and asks if they can check it out to read.

If a book you’ve written has, say, a setting of a science fair or has characters that deal with prejudice like Linda Sue Park’s book Project Mulberry, then teachers can use it when working on both of these different curriculum objectives. CC Icon

Another example is The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine which has an excellent explanation of prime numbers. Tulsa Burning by Anna Myers has great example of dialect in writing, Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl shows wonderful figurative language, and S.A. Bodine’s Compound show how plot twist complications affect story outcomes. All of these books can be weaved into lesson plans effortlessly.

The one thing that will help teachers use your books in meeting these new Common Core lesson plans is easy access to information about your books.

Helen gave these author websites as examples of great teacher-friendly sites:

Darleen Bailey Beard

Margaret Peterson Haddix

Brod Bagert

Anna Myers

Jerry Spinelli

Make sure you stop by Helen’s blog for more updates on this  subject. If you know of any great author sites with excellent teacher resources, make sure to let me know, I’d love to check them out.