Final Week of May #writemotivation

photograph by Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. httpwww.flickr.comphotossahlgoodeI had a slow week last week, but here in the home stretch I’m making up for it. I had to prepare a submission for the SCBWI LA conference at the last minute since their deadline moved up this year to the end of May and I just paid for the conference about a week ago. Nothing like an impending deadline to get all fired up and work like mad. My submission made it just in time. Woohoo!

The recovery effort in Oklahoma is still ongoing. For those of you who are interested, you can still participate in Kate Messner’s  KidLitCares for Oklahoma giveaway. It’s open until June 7th. Great cause, great giveaway, so check it out. There’s also a way you can help replenish the classroom libraries of the two schools that were destroyed in the tornado by visiting the Moore Books for Moore Kids Facebook page and making a donation.

On to my goal progress:

1. Complete latest draft of Museum Crashers (MG mystery) and prepare for submission. More progress made, but still short of the finish. I’ll have to really push hard to reach the end soon. I’m still happy with the progress I’ve made. I will definitely be sending this out next month.
2. Research more literary agents for submission of Institutionalized (YA contemporary) and send out to five of them. I have the short list. I will work on the personalized queries over the next few days and start sending them out.
3. Make some progress on first draft of Pretty Vacant (YA contemporary). Develop main character fully and decide which way story arc will go. More research and more reading done. I really have a good feel for the main character now. I’m excited about starting this project.
4. Exercise 3 times each week. Exercise has been going well. Still on the lighter side. My daughter and I are going to ramp it up next month by joining a gym and being each others work out buddies.

I hope you’re all doing well with your goals. Let’s meet up again in June for the next #writemotivation month! Sign up now!

Motivational quote for the day:

“A hunch is creativity trying to tell you something.”

– Frank Capra

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This Week in Oklahoma: Storms, Recovery, Cafés and Writers

This week has been emotionally taxing for most of us who live in Oklahoma. Luckily for me and my family, the devastating storms on Monday died down outside of Tulsa and left us with heavy rains and scary winds. That, we could live through.

Still, we felt the loss. We all stopped our lives for a moment of silence and embraced our loved ones a little harder. We touched base with friends to make sure they were okay, reached out to those who were not okay and offered our support. We have several members of our SCBWI family in the Oklahoma City area, some who live right there in Moore. Although all made it through the storm, some have damaged houses and know people who were lost.

It wasn’t until yesterday that I ventured out in public. We were running out of everything and I couldn’t remain frozen inside afraid of watching the news coverage. Too many dead children. Too many sad stories. And yet everywhere I went, the conversations were all about the storm and people ready and willing to help. There were donation stations everywhere and volunteer sign ups, neighbors checking up on neighbors. That’s just what we do. I guess it’s the same all over.

We all feel so useless when something tragic happens. What else can we do but give bottled water, diapers, food, clothing, a shoulder to lean on? Help with picking up the pieces, clearing away the debris of  lives scattered for miles. Next to this, money seems like such an innocuous thing to give to someone who’s lost everything, although I’m sure it helps. We all wish we could do more.

Life does return to normal faster for those of us not directly affected by tragedies, and I suppose it’s okay that it does. It doesn’t mean that we don’t care. It’s okay to laugh, to have fun, to live. Bad things will never stop happening.

My moment of normal happened while I was out running my errands. I popped into my local bakery to replenish our supply of sesame bagels and maybe snag a caffeinated beverage for myself. (I have a rewards card and my next one was free. We eat a LOT of bagels at my house.) I waited on the friendly barista to prepare my caffé mocha, and I noticed these lovely signs all around the restaurant with quotes from writers on them.

Dickinson TeaAlcott CoffeeWhitman Smoothie

They were delightful. (Although, I wasn’t quite sure how old Walt would react to being the spokesperson for a reduced calorie smoothie). I was immediately inspired; I wanted to sit down in a booth and start writing.  After all, writers and cafés seem to just go together. Where else can you write for hours on end, uninterrupted, surrounded by the the wonderful smell of coffee and the gentle hum of humanity? Those banners also reminded me that I should  get back to work very soon. I hadn’t written a word since the storm. No more. Time to create!

I hope all of you have had a safe week. The skies are overcast, today. More rain. More storms. Brace yourselves; hug those loved ones, even if they squirm a bit.

And if you have been looking for ways to help out the victims of the May 19th tornado, here are a few options you might want to consider:

Kate Messner is hosting a KidLitCares for Oklahoma giveaway . There is a huge list of books to be given away and the list is still growing. Check out her site for details. All you have to do to qualify is donate at least $10 to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief. Forward your donation receipt e-mail from the Red Cross to kidlitcares@gmail.com and Kate will enter you into the contest. She will enter you in the contest once for every $10 you give. Enter by June 7th to qualify.

Fellow writer, Rebecca Weston, is offering a similar deal in exchange for a donation to a list of acceptable charities helping out with tornado relief efforts. Instead of books, she’s giving away query/first page critiques. Becca will be joined by a panel of writers who will help her field the critiques. All you have to do is e-mail her a copy of your donation receipt before Saturday and then you’ll get your first 250 words critiqued by a fabulous writer with critiquing experience for free! Everyone who donates will get a critique. Deadline is May 25th!

Week 2 May #writemotivation

photograph by Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. httpwww.flickr.comphotossahlgoodeJust a quick post to update my #writemotivation goals and to lend encouragement to all who are struggling – I hear you! How are we supposed to stay glued to our chairs and write when the weather is so nice? Argh!

We must be committed to our craft or something. (My family is definitely leaning towards the “or something”.)

Goals for this month:

1. Complete latest draft of Museum Crashers (MG mystery) and prepare for submission. Made progress here. Almost halfway through! This story is really shaping up well.
2. Research more literary agents for submission of Institutionalized (YA contemporary) and send out to five of them. Started the research process over. Now compiling the new short list.
3. Make some progress on first draft of Pretty Vacant (YA contemporary). Develop main character fully and decide which way story arc will go. Doing some research reading this week and getting some excellent ideas. Really excited about this project.
4. Exercise 3 times each week. Ummm…two times. Blame it on the rain? (How dare I quote Milli Vanilli!) Next week’s progress on this goal looks better.

I’ll leave you with an inspirational quote to keep your motivation up:

“Writing is harder than anything else; at least starting to write is. It’s much easier to wash dishes. When I’m writing I set myself a daily quota of pages, but nine times out of ten I’m doing those pages at four o’clock in the afternoon because I’ve done everything else first…But once I get flowing with it, I wonder what took me so long.”

Kristin Hunter

excerpt from Walking with Alligators: A Book of Meditations for Writers by Susan Shaghnessy

Who hasn’t done that? Let’s all vow to let the dishes and laundry wait tomorrow and start our writing first!

Empathy and Character Development

My friend Anna Myers gave a great presentation at our last SCBWI OK schmooze here in Tulsa entitled “Secrets to Character Development”. Anna knows a little something about character. All of her 19 novels are character-driven. Before she starts a new book, her main characters come to her almost fully formed. When she sits down to write, she puts on some music with a strong connection to the story she wants to tell, becomes very quiet, almost meditative, and waits for her character to show up.

Then she forgets herself.

That’s the most important thing to remember about character development, according to Anna:

“You have to ditch yourself.”

I’ve seen Anna perform a few school visits, and when I say perform,  I mean Anna puts on the semblance of a wardrobe, takes just a beat to get into character, and then launches into a monologue. She becomes a character from one of her books in order to tell the kids about the story – a very effective, attention-getting technique.

Lose yourself and become your character.

http://katherinegscott.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/children_playing_nurse_7.jpg
Is anybody in there?

Anna added one caveat to that:

“You must first learn your craft. If you haven’t learned your craft, you’re wasting your time.”

She then pointed to me out of the group gathered and said that when she first met me, my writing was horrible (I nodded in agreement), but then I worked at it and worked at it and my writing improved. Now I’m on the cusp of success. (Feels like I’ve been here forever, but the publishing world sometimes moves slowly, requiring tenacity…and PATIENCE.)

Once you’ve done this, once you’ve learned your craft, you have to stop trying so hard.

Easier said than done?

Yes. But that also can be accomplished with practice. Lose the barriers between yourself and the child you used to be. After all, you can’t write from the perspective of a twelve year-old girl if you’re stuck in your forty-something mind.

This whole talk sparked a vivid memory for me.

I was working in Albany, New York, as a nanny for this lovely family. Both the husband and wife were eye surgeons. The wife, Anna, (I think I’m destined to be influenced by fabulous women named Anna) and I would often have interesting philosophical discussions. It is partly due to her that I learned to open up my empathy and see the world through others’ eyes. We were discussing child abuse for some reason, and let’s just say for the sake of argument that I’d been in close proximity to and witness of some ugly abuse in the past. During this discussion, I made a grand statement as I was apt to do back in my late teens, early twenties, and said something about how I couldn’t understand how anyone could hit a child. Ever.

I thought it was an easy position to support and I thought Anna would agree with me, one hundred percent. Instead she surprised me. In her way of disagreeing, she said, “You can’t? I can.”

Then she had me imagine that I was a single teenaged mother, stuck in a tiny, cramped apartment – day in and day out – with a howling baby that I had no skill in caring for. Imagine that I felt like my life was over. I’m sleep-deprived, hungry, have no coping skills, and no support system. And the baby won’t stop screaming. “Don’t you think at some point, you might just lose it and lash out?”

I was shocked. This was not the answer I’d expected. Then I thought about what she said. I could picture myself as this young girl and what it would be like to live her life. Maybe things were not so black and white.

I now find it easy to understand people’s motivations – what makes them tick – by using this same method of stepping into their shoes. I just need to work on stretching a little farther until I actually feel myself becoming them, becoming my characters, before I start to write. Almost there.

How about you? Do you channel your character effortlessly or do you struggle with characterization?

May #writemotivation begins! Let’s get some motivation up in here!

bake sale
One of three tables filled with tempting treats. All sold out by the end of the day.

April was incredibly busy for me. What with the massive amount of work I put into the pre-conference days – Pitch Clinic, Twitter activity on the conference hashtag, escorting speakers with plane delays to the hotel (helping Jerry find his speaker that he lost), competing with Jerry for best nerd shirt (I won, of course) –  juggling a fund-raising event for our autism team at the same time was pushing it. Why stop there? Let’s throw a fund-raiser for our fund-raiser! Bake sale time. Nothing like wading through frosting-covered counters and rows of chocolate delights you aren’t allowed to eat. TORTURE! What I do for you people! (I may have done some taste-testing on a rather wonky-looking chocolate/raspberry filled cupcake. It passed inspection.) I still found time for writing, critiquing, and revising, but I almost didn’t survive the month.

Okay, SLIGHT exaggeration.

I had an amazing time at the conference, met some new writers, and received an excellent critique on a new project I can’t wait to get into. We also raised more money than ever for our autism team AND had more out-of-towners walk with us than any other year – score! So all the craziness was worth it.

My body did rebel against the unusually high level of activity and stress, coupled with the constant weather shift provided by Mother Nature’s crap shoot where we vacillated between bright sunny skies and brooding thunderstorms, mixed with hail and maybe some ice and snow just to freak people out a bit. Well played, Mother Nature, well played. My sinuses experienced some sort of implosion/invasion/infection. Not pretty. I was down for about a week, making very ugly bodily noises and whiny demands of my family, who somehow still took care of me and still loved me. If the roles had been reversed, I may have been tempted to apply the pillow over the face therapy. Hold firmly until breathing and complaining cease.

But I digress…

photograph by Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. httpwww.flickr.comphotossahlgoodeApparently April was a very busy month for many others in our #writemotivation gang, several of whom participated in either Camp Nano or the A to Z challenge or both! (Those crazy kids.) It was a good thing I was mistaken in thinking that April would be another #writemotivation month. No one had the time! Our fearless leader and brand new mommy of the cutest, cheekiest baby, KT Hanna, used April as a test month for getting back on her writing schedule and juggling the youngling’s needs. (Oh, those cheeks! So schmooshy!)

Although she’s back in the writing saddle, it looks like we’re still going to do #writemotivation every other month for awhile. If you didn’t make the deadline for May, you can still set goals for yourself and join us on Twitter at the hashtag #writemotivation anytime to ask questions, ( about good names for characters, history of dinosaurs, etc.) or if you need help with motivation, ( maybe you want someone to join you in a writing challenge for the evening to keep you on track for your own personal writing goal or maybe you just need to know that someone else out there is banging their head against their keyboard in frustration, too), or for whatever you need, we’ll be there to help push you through. That’s what #writemotivation is all about. Try it out and then you can sign up in July and join us for the complete #writemotivation experience.

(Just FYI, Camp Nano will also be up and running again in July if you missed it or were too busy for the first camping experience.)

My goals for May? Why, so kind of you to ask. Here they are:

1. Complete latest draft of Museum Crashers (MG mystery) and prepare for submission.
2. Research more literary agents for submission of Institutionalized (YA contemporary) and send out to five of them.
3. Make some progress on first draft of Pretty Vacant (YA contemporary). Develop main character fully and decide which way story arc will go.
4. Exercise 3 times each week.

Tada!

Let’s hear from you. Got any goals?

Recap of our Fantastical SCBWI OK Spring Conference – Part Two

OnceUponAtime

First off, I want to apologize for leaving you all in suspense much longer than I had anticipated. Shortly after writing Part One, I came down with some form of spring plague that left me miserable and bed-ridden. I love ending a post on a cliff-hanger, but more than a week is torturous. Although my family, who had to endure my wretched state of being and constant whining, were probably tortured more than all of you.

Back to our regularly scheduled program!

So, after lunch, where my table dined with the lovely Claire Evans (and we learned a little bit about her book preferences; she loves books with convoluted family histories, books where the setting is really important and becomes almost like a character itself, and books about sports), I made it to the illustrators’ showcase room and had a few minutes to peruse through some of the portfolios. Always a fun thing to do. The range of art and talent was incredible.

I made it back in the nick of time to see Katie Bignell, Assistant Editor of Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Katie BignellBooks, take the stage. The title of her presentation was the Best Practices for Writing Your Best Picture Book. She gave us a detailed hand out so we could concentrate more on what she was saying than on taking copious notes. (I still took notes, but that’s just how I help my brain process information. Super Nerd.)

She talked about the best words, the best places, the best characters, and the best stories.

When talking specifically about the best words, she said:

What if Sendak had said…

‘Let the wild rumpus party start’?

How would that have changed the story? Use the best words.

Katie has an unusual background for an editor. She is an accomplished dancer and has studied all kinds of dance for many years. She actually put some of her skills to good use, keeping us awake after lunch by showing us how movement was important. She also said writers should give illustrators movement to illustrate in their stories. Her dancing talent shown most brightly when she discussed rhythm. As a dancer, this was her favorite part of picture books. She said something so lovely that I would never forget it:

“By the very nature of our beating hearts, we are hard-wired to crave rhythm.”

Ah! I could’ve just died that was so fantastic.

Isn’t that just gorgeous? And true?

Who hasn’t seen a child move with abandon to music – before they grow up and become aware/self-conscious of how others see them when they dance?

She said because of this innate sense of rhythm, we can also tell when something is out of rhythm. That is why you should read your book out loud over and over. Have several friends read it out loud as well. Make note of what what sounds good to your ear and what doesn’t.  Make note of when your readers trip over words. Revise it until it sings.

So hard to believe this was one of Katie’s first presentations. She was amazing.

To learn more about Katie Bignell and her imprint, go to Facebook and like her imprint page, Katherine Tegen Books. Katherine Tegen Books has also just started a Tumblr page here. You can also follow Katie on Twitter here.

Our final speaker was literary agent Karen Grencik from Red Fox Literary. Karen talked to us about rejection; something every writer Karen Grencikgets to know intimately. Karen was a very passionate speaker who truly identified with writers and their struggles. It was surprising and refreshing to see someone who felt our misery and took it to heart. You just wanted to hug her.

She told us that when she started out, “I was as scared as you.” In the beginning, there was no one to teach her how to be an agent. She said she made every mistake you hear about at conferences, including chasing speakers out to their cars and asking them to read pages.

Ouch!

Then she started learning. And people were kind to her and forgiving of her earlier missteps. And she kept learning. Now her little boutique agency (that she runs with former editor-turned-agent Abigail Samoun) is really taking off.

Karen gave us an extensive hand out on reasons for rejections (101 reasons to be exact, and they were divided by reading level – picture books, chapter books, middle grade, young adult – fantastic stuff!) and she went through several of the big ones in detail. I’ll share one reason with you here:

#1 reason for rejection: Too quiet to compete or to stand out in today’s competitive market.

What was Karen’s answer to this? Move on and let your heart determine what you write! You’re going to find so many reasons for rejection out there, so you’re either going to quit or keep going.

If writing is your passion, stick with it and learn your craft. Karen did. Who cares how many mistakes you make or how long it takes you to get there?  Don’t pay attention to anybody else’s timeline for success. Yours is the only one that matters and it takes as long as it takes.

To learn more about Karen Grencik, check out her agency website here or follow her on Facebook here.

Next was the Speaker’s Panel where we heard their responses to our pitches. All were read out anonymously, although I did recognize several from our Pitch Clinic that we held over on Twitter prior to the conference. One pitch from the Pitch Clinic received three thumbs up from the panel. That was very exciting! (Congrats! You know who you are, you tyrannical squirrel-lover, you!)

Final announcements came after that where the winners of Best in Show and the Nita Buckley Scholarship fund were awarded.

For the Best in Show, all of the illustrator portfolios were judged by our speakers and the winner…Lauren Juda! She won a free registration to our Agent Day Conference coming up this October, which is a really exciting event!

For Agent Day, we have three agents speaking (and critiquing first pages) along with a special keynote speaker. The agents are: Natalie Fischer Lakosil from the Bradford Agency, Danielle Smith from the Foreward Agency, and Ann Behar from the Scovil Galen Gosh Agency. Right now, registration is only open to SCBWI members, but registration opens up to everyone July 1st. Stayed tuned for more details!

The Nita Buckley Scholarship had so many exciting entries that the  judges decided to give out a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place award. Make sure to look for a write-up about Nita and this scholarship in the next SCBWI bulletin.

  • The 3rd place honor of a free registration to the Fall Agent Day Conference  went to Patricia Harvey(woohoo!).
  • The 2nd place honor of a free registration to the 2014 SCBWI OK Spring conference went to Regina Garvie. (These first two ladies were seated at my table. It was very exciting!)
  • And the 1st place prize of $1500 toward the cost of the SCBWI LA Summer conference went to Brenda Maier. (Brenda is such a lovely and talented young woman. This will be her first LA conference and I know she’s really excited!)

Congratulations to all of the winners!

What an excellent way to end the conference…although some of us didn’t quite end the evening just then. We headed out to a local eatery for dinner with the speakers to unwind and to take over the establishment that wasn’t quite prepared to be completely invaded. They couldn’t fit us all at one table or even inside the building. Here are a few pics of our fine folks kicking back after a day of literary camaraderie. Thanks so much to everyone who made this conference possible and to our dynamic leader, Anna Myers, to whom we all owe so much and without whom this conference wouldn’t be what it is today. We love you, Anna!

SCBWIOK