2017 SCBWI LA Summer Conference Highlights – Part 1

I was very honored this year to be a winner of the SCBWI Tribute Fund. (Even if it meant I had to stand up in front of over 1500 people!) A brief moment of awkward public embarrassment was well worth what I received in return. I honestly can’t thank the entire staff of SCBWI enough. From Stephen and Lin for providing this grant and selecting me, to everyone in the main office I interacted with regarding all the details – they were all just so lovely.

And of course, a huge thank you to Helen, my Regional Advisor, who nominated me. (Who also took this awkward picture of me waving awkwardly to a crowd of 1500 people. AWKWARD!)

Now I would like to share with you my favorite parts of the SCBWI LA summer conference that I was able to attend this past July as a winner of this wonderful grant.

DAY ONE

One of my favorite things about attending these conferences is how energizing they are, how they recharge my creative battery, and remind me that what I do is important. Especially in these uncertain times, it was such a reassuring thing to hear Lin welcome us into our own “Bubble of Love” (complete with actual bubbles).

Lin Oliver welcoming us to the beginning of another wonderful SCBWI Summer conference.

 

Bubble Love photo credit: The Official SCBWI Conference Blog

It was also nice that our region got a shout-out for having such a large group in attendance, along with a handful of other states, but you know ours was the LOUDEST!!! We got a few more shout-outs, just so everyone could hear us make some more noise – something we were not shy about doing! (This happened several times during the conference, which was fun.)

Most of our SCBWI OK group on Day One. Such a large group was hard to corral into one place at any given time.

VANESSA BRANTLEY NEWTON – SPREADING SUNSHINE

Vanessa Brantley Newton, illustrator of THE YOUNGEST MARCHER and MARY HAD A LITTLE GLAM (written by our own Tammi Sauer! OKLAHOMA SCBWI in the house!), opened the conference by making us get up out of our seats and dance.

In her keynote entitled, “Diversity Designed by Adversity”, Vanessa said we could let adversity ruin us, make us sad, or lean into it, wrap our arms around it, shake it off, and pack it under.

To illustrate her point, she told a story of a farmer who had a goat that fell down a well. Bemoaning the loss of the goat, he threw dirt down the well to bury it, but the goat just shook it off, and packed it under. Soon, it had a pile tall enough to climb out of the well.

“That’s been my life.”

She was born with dyslexia, synesthesia, and she also struggled with stuttering. Her dyslexia caused her to to go inward, to draw pictures. The synesthesia influenced the use of bright colors in her art. Her parents were both singers and helped her deal with her stuttering. “I sing in my head” the words she wants to say out loud. All these things didn’t stop her, they influenced her work.

Vanessa talked at length about the need for diverse books. She told the story of wanting to be a Breck shampoo girl when she was younger. She thought to have blonde hair, she just needed the shampoo.

She didn’t see herself reflected.

Then came Ezra Jack Keats and THE SNOWY DAY. She didn’t remember the words, but the pictures were powerful.

Little Vanessa and her teacher who read her the story.

She told us how Ezra Jack Keats said, “I drew Peter because he should have been there all along”.

Vanessa called on us as artists, as writers to embrace our own challenges.

“You’re built for adversity.”

Some of the best stuff is raised out of adversity. You gotta be willing to put in the hard work.

 

You need to dream so big that it scares the hell out of you.

 

She ended by singing to us, and I don’t know if there was a dry eye in the room when she was done.

Honestly I couldn’t see…

 

 

TRANSFORMING LIFE INTO ART

photo credit: The Official SCBWI Conference Blog

PANEL DISCUSSION WITH ALEX GINO, AISHA SAEED, RUTA SEPETYS, AND KIM TURRISI (MODERATED BY EMMA DRYDEN)

Emma Dryden led a thoughtful discussion with this fantastic panel of authors.

Question #1: What led you to express the experience in your own life in novel form?

Alex Gino – Middle Grade is a big part of my heart. The only time I experienced any instance of transgender as an adult was as a joke. “I knew GEORGE was the book I wanted and needed to write.” It took 10 years.

Aisha Saeed – She never saw herself in books with the exception of the role of the bad guy until she went to college. She knew she had to tell her story. She wrote her debut novel about forced marriage because she had many friends who were going through this experience. If they said no, their parents would disown them. She writes to make sense of the world. She wanted to understand why parents who loved their kids would do this.

Ruta Sepetys – “Much of my identity is wrapped up in being an immigrant’s kid.” Not a lot has been told about Stalin and what happened in Siberia. She wanted to bring this story to young readers because YA readers are deep feelers and deep thinkers. Books we read as kids have the potential to make a profound effect.

Kim Turrisi – When she was 15, her sister committed suicide. Her story is about the aftermath of suicide. She didn’t see herself in any books like this back then. She wrote about the experience to help.

Question #2 – Glimpse into choices you had to make to stray away from the truth to serve the story.

Ruta Sepetys – She was interviewing human beings condemned to death who then survived. “There’s a tension between history and memory.” She will interview 100 people and interweave the stories to create a single one – very different from nonfiction. This will hopefully be more representative.

Kim Turrisi – She used notes from 25 different people to cobble together the backgrounds of the secondary characters.

Alex Gino – Many people assume that my book is autobiographical. The way my character is transgender is not the same way that I am. My main character isn’t much like me, but the way people respond is.

Question #3 – Talk about the process of going deep into the story.

Kim Turrisi – I had the suicide letter. I put it on the wall to challenge me. My editor challenged me by saying some things that actually happened may not feel authentic. Give more. It was tough.

Ruta Sepetys – As writers, we should go there. Emotionally we need to get in the trenches. If I feel loss, I have loved. If I feel it, hopefully my readers will too. Amplify the hope in the hardship. Someone has to make it out.

Aisha Saeed – She did the emotional digging. What would it be like to go through this? Why would she run away? Her editor helped her bring out the nuances.

Alex Gino – You have to have a balance between optimism and realism. My responsibility was to provide a mirror for kids who are Trans. We get to have nice stories, too. Then my editor had to remind me that bad things have to happen, so we feel better when there’s redemption.

 

NOVA REN SUMA – QUEEN OF THE UNRELIABLE NARRATOR

Break Out Session, “The Power and Possibility of the Unreliable Narrator”

POV is one of the most exciting tools you have as a writer. Make good use of it.

What is an “unreliable” narrator?

  1. Withholds information from the reader
  2. Breaks your trust (We expect to trust the narrator)
  3. Drives the plot

Should be unreliable for a reason – an important mechanism for the plot.

Unreliable Narrator often has a surprising, unexpected secret.

WHY is your narrator not telling the whole truth?

WHY is the big mystery.

You as the author need to know the answer.

Favorite example: Mary Katherine Blackwood from WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE by Shirley Jackson

More Unreliable Narrator examples:

Mica from LIAR by Justine Larbalestier

Julie from CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein

Mary from Allegedly by Tiffany D Jackson

Whim from CHARM & STRANGE by Stephanie Kuehn

Caden from CHALLENGER DEEP by Neal Shusterman

Nova went on to explain how using craft choices can help you show your unreliable narrator to your readers and ways to create an unreliable character.

This was such a helpful session! Nova really is a fantastic teacher.

 

DINNER

After a full day of amazing keynotes and breakout sessions, our SCBWI OK gang met up for dinner with a former member who recently relocated to LA. She may have moved to California, but she’ll always be a part of us, too!

(Almost) our entire SCBWI OK gang after the first day of the conference.

 

Jerry and Britt (our wayward member) doing their best Oh My Disney! pose – Aren’t they just too adorable for words?

 

Hope you enjoyed the first part of my conference experience highlights. Stay tuned for Part II coming soon!

 

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SCBWI OK Spring Conference Recap Part I – Persistence, Professionalism, and Success in Action

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This year’s SCBWI Oklahoma Spring Conference set a high bar for future conferences. A month later and I’m still processing the wealth of information the speakers imparted. Here’s Part I of the brief recap!2017-scbwi-spring-conference-flyer

FRIDAY

This year’s conference began with something new, a warm up event on Friday evening. With three different options, I chose to attend the Friday Night Panel with Ally Carter, Matt Ringler, and Linda Camacho.

From left to right, our panel included NY Times bestselling author Ally Carter, Senior Editor at Scholastic Matt Ringler, and literary agent Linda Camacho of the Prospect Agency.

This fun and informative panel was asked everything from their views on professionalism to what keeps them reading a manuscript to what other agents and editors would say about them. Needless to say things got interesting!

Agent Linda Camacho addresses the crowd.

The three speakers held the attention of the packed room and started the conference off with great enthusiasm.

One of my favorite stories was from Ally Carter. When answering a question about professionalism, she commented that she was simply doing what her mother taught her when she wrote a thank you note to a very important book seller. She found out later that he actually kept it displayed. It was the only one he’d ever received from an author. A reminder that being thoughtful to everyone in this business can make a difference.

SATURDAY MORNING

Our first speaker of the day showed us the power and beauty of using fewer words to tell our stories.

katrinadamkoehler-2Katrina Damkoehler – Senior Designer with Random House Children’s Publishing

Katrina is currently a Senior Designer for the trade imprints of Random House Children’s Publishing, where she designs and art directs approximately 35 middle grade and picture book titles per year. She was previously Art Director at Amazon Children’s Publishing. Recent projects she art directed include the 2015 Geisel Award-winner “You Are Not Small” (Anna Kang/Christopher Weyant), “Grover Cleveland, Again” (Ken Burns/Gerald Kelley), and “This is My Book” (Mark Pett).

Katrina gave a talk entitled, “(Almost) Wordless Picture Books” where she gave examples of picture books that used few words to tell great stories. The (almost) wordless manuscripts may have as few as 50 words. With a limited word count, it’s helpful to have a road map. That’s why most wordless (or nearly wordless) manuscript submissions include illustration notes.

Here are some examples she shared:

THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS LITTLE by LeUyen Pham

 

 

 

CINDER-EYED CATS by Eric Rohmann

 

 

HELLO HIPPO, GOODBYE BIRD by Kristyn Crow

 

 

She also walked us through the illustration process – from submitted manuscript to finished book – for EAT, SLEEP, POOP by Alexandra Penfold.

Beginning manuscript for EAT, SLEEP, POOP.

Finished product! Cover and first few pages of completed book for EAT, SLEEP, POOP.

One thing she emphasized about nearly wordless picture books is that emotional expressions of the characters need to be extremely clear. After all, the illustrations are doing a lot of heavy-lifting with the story-telling.

 

To learn more about Katrina, follow her on Twitter here.

Prior to the conference, Katrina participated in a Twitter chat with us. You can view the Storify version of our conversation with Katrina here.

 

Next, a true power couple shared tips on how to write authentically for a YA audience.

0253_allycarterportraits_by_lizligon-150x150Ally Carter – Young Adult Author

Ally Carter writes books about spies, thieves, and teenagers. She is the New York Times bestselling author of the EMBASSY ROW, HEIST SOCIETY, and GALLAGHER GIRLS series, which together have sold more than two-million copies and have been published in more than twenty countries. She lives in Oklahoma, where her life is either very ordinary or the best deep-cover legend ever.

2016-kristin-nelson-160x24072dpiKristen Nelson – President and Founding Literary Agent at Nelson Literary Agency

Kristen established the Nelson Literary Agency in 2002 and over the last decade+ of her career has represented over thirty-five New York Times bestselling titles and many USA Today bestsellers. Clients include Ally Carter, Marie Lu, Scott Reintgen, Gail Carriger, Stacey Lee, Marcia Wells, and Simone Elkeles. When she is not busy selling books, Kristin attempts to play golf & tennis. She also enjoys playing Bridge (where she is the youngest person in her club), and can be found hiking in the mountains with her husband and their dog Chutney.

NY Times best-selling author (and Oklahoma native) Ally Carter joined her agent Kristen Nelson to give a presentation together entitled, “‘So You Want to Write YA…Start by Asking the Right Questions!”.

One of those right questions was instead of asking how to learn teen slang, you should ask if you have a voice that appeals to teens.

Slang comes and goes, and is often regionally specific. Besides dating your manuscript, it can end up alienating readers instead of connecting them with your story.

Another great question was instead of asking if you can just age your characters up or down to ‘make’ your book YA, you should ask yourself if you’re telling a true coming-of-age story that will resonate with teens.

It’s not enough to have characters the same age as your readers. Age doesn’t equal connection. You have to engage your teen readers with a story they can relate to.

And this one was my favorite:

Q:   Should I alter myself when writing for teens?

A:   Ally – “Yes, write smarter.”

Kristen – “I’ve never heard a teen say, ‘I felt obligated to keep reading’.”

Teens expect the writing to be great from page one and will put a book down the minute it stops delivering.

 

To learn more about this dynamic duo:

Follow Ally on Twitter here. Follow Ally on Instagram here.

Visit Kristen’s agency site to view what she’s currently seeking and to observe her submission guidelines.

Prior to the conference, Kristen participated in a Twitter chat with us. You can view the Storify version of our conversation with Kristen hereFollow Kristen on Twitter here.

 

The final speaker of the morning dazzled us with his presentation and his wit.

mattringlerMatt Ringler – Senior Editor with Scholastic

Matt is a senior editor at Scholastic specializing in chapter book, middle grade, and YA fiction. He is the editor of the Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine, the Game Changers series by Mike Lupica, the STAT series by Amar’e Stoudemire, and the Little Rhino series by Ryan Howard. His YA list includes the New York Times Bestseller Kill the Boy Band by Goldy Moldavsky and It’s Not Me, It’s You by Stephanie Kate Strohm.

Matt Ringler imparting his words of wisdom to our SCBWI OK crowd.
Matt took a group picture of us and posted it on Twitter since we would be doing the same to him. Well played. Did I mention he has a great sense of humor?

Matt spoke about “Writing Success at Many Levels”. He started out by giving us some background on himself (started as an intern for the David Levithan – can you say fangirling?) and some mind-blowing Scholastic stats (like Scholastic publishes 1 out of every 3 books, and first experience most kids have buying their own books is through Scholastic Book Fairs).

Matt moved on to talking about writing, and specifically about not fighting your own writing process, even if it changes from one book to the next. You change as your experiences grow – you’re not the same writer you were a few years ago. It’s okay for your process to change. Embrace it.

Matt shared an insight into his selection process. When deciding what projects to take on, Matt said, “To work on a book, it’s a year. It’s committing to a relationship. If it doesn’t feel right for me, I’ll pass on it.”

That’s another reason to not take it personally when your manuscript is rejected because an agent or editor didn’t love it enough. That doesn’t mean your work isn’t good, just that their commitment level wasn’t right for the relationship to work. You want your book to succeed and you want someone to champion your book. That’s going to require a strong commitment to your story.

Matt went on to discuss the different kinds of success:

PERSONAL

FINANCIAL

CRITICAL

LONGEVITY

READERSHIP

PROMOTIONAL

All aspects of success can build on each other. Writing is hard! Don’t forget to celebrate the little steps of success along the way.

 

To learn more about Matt, follow him on Twitter here.

Matt will be our guest for #okscbwichat on Twitter August 22nd from 7-8pm CST! We hope you’ll join us!

 

BREAK

Break time means networking (read “socializing”) and taking selfies with my writing friends!

 

with Catren Lamb
with Brenda Maier
with Regina Garvie

 

 

 

 

 

 

with Gwendolyn Hooks and my thumb
with Tammi Sauer
with THE Jerry Bennett

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the best parts of writing conferences is connecting with my fellow writers (and the odd illustrator or two, Jerry). I love my tribe!

Stay tuned for Part II of the conference recap!

 

#TBT Post – Tackling the Elevator Pitch

I wrote this #ThrowBackThursday post for The Great Noveling Adventure blog and it was originally published on May 18, 2014. 


 

Big City

READY TO PITCH IN THE BIG CITY? photo by Wojtek Witkowski via Unsplash

 

Back in March when I attended the SCBWI OK spring conference, some of you may remember that I won a couple of face-to-face critiques with speakers at the conference. During one of my sessions, I took the opportunity to ask Melissa Manlove, editor at Chronicle Books, what she thought of my 40-word pitch for my manuscript, which was included as part of the program. I’m fairly new at writing pitches and I knew that I could use some guidance. I’m very glad I asked. She was so generous with her time and her insights. What she said next really clarified the whole concept for me. I’ve been meaning to share that bit of wisdom for awhile, so here it is.

First of all she said my pitch was something to the equivalent of “Meh”.

Here is the pitch I submitted:

A childhood prank gone wrong leaves Will Harris crippled by fears and homebound. During an outing for his recovery, he witnesses a crime. No one believes him. He must find the courage to solve the mystery and prove his sanity.

I think by ‘meh’ she was being kind.

Next, she said, rethink the whole idea of trying to get the point of your story across in the length of an elevator ride. For a middle grade story, she said to try this:

Pitch your story like you’re telling it to a bored eleven-year old on an elevator.

Bored by Raul Lieberwirth via flickr cc

And then lightning struck my brain.

I got it. She expanded this thought to say you should tell your pitch to this eleven year-old with the idea of convincing him this is a book he’ll be so excited to read, he’ll want to grab it right out of your hand. Get to the good stuff; the action. Kids don’t care about the backstory or character motivation when you’re trying to convince them to read a book, they want the main events.

Hey, I know this story that you are going to love. It’s all about this kid who gets locked up in a museum at night and then he finds these thieves stealing some of the paintings. He sets off the alarms, but when the police arrive, there’s no sign of the crime and no one believes him. He decides to solve the crime himself and that’s just the beginning of even more trouble.

That pitch is a little less “Meh” if I do say so myself. Sure, it’s a little longer than it’s supposed to be, but now let’s put it into a more refined form and see if it still works when we distill it back down to a 40-word count. (Just FYI, pitch lengths can vary. I kept mine to this length because that was the guideline for this particular conference submission. It’s not a bad idea to have a few different pitches on hand of varying lengths – some even Twitter length as many pitch contests arise and you never know, that agent or editor you’re dying to pitch to may one day participate in one.)

Will Harris gets locked up in a museum the same night thieves break in. Will triggers the alarm and police arrive. They find no sign of crime. The trouble gets started once Will decides to solve the crime himself.

Much better than the first one. And who knows, we might get that bored eleven year-old to snatch that book out of our hands, yet.

See if keeping your audience in mind helps when you write your next pitch.


This is a timely topic as I just served on a pitch panel for this month’s meeting for our local Tulsa SCBWI group as our members prepare for our spring conference. I spoke about this same experience with Melissa Manlove before we got into the pitches. I still use this idea – that and knowing the stakes. If you can convey something about your character and what’s at stake for them, you’ve pretty much got your pitch nailed.

What do you think? Are pitches easy for you? Do you have a successful method that helps you write them?

Sara Sargent – Editor Interview

Sara Sargent headshot

I’m delighted that Sara Sargent, Executive Editor from HarperCollins Children’s Books, will be speaking at our 2016 SCBWI OK Spring Conference this April.

Sara will be discussing the topic of humor in writing. “Humor draws in and hooks readers, and it keeps them engaged!” In her talk, she will discuss different types of humor and how you can apply them to your own manuscripts.

About Sara

In her work as Executive Editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books, Sara focuses on fiction and nonfiction in the picture book, middle grade, and young adult categories.

Previously she was an Editor at Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Sara has worked with New York Times bestselling author Abbi Glines, National Book Award finalist Deb Caletti, Jennifer Echols, Julie Cross, Aaron Karo, and Martina Boone, among others. She also received her Master of Science in journalism from Northwestern University. You can sometimes find Sara eating takeout and reading on the couch. You can always find her online at www.sarasargent.wordpress.com and on Twitter and Instagram @Sara_Sargent. Sara lives in Brooklyn.

 

The Interview

Valerie Lawson: Sara, thank you so much for doing this interview. It’s a pleasure to speak with you, today.

What makes a story an evergreen? What gives it staying power?

Sara Sargent: I’ve always wanted to edit books for the same reason I want to read them: for escapism. I love getting lost in a story, getting wrapped up in characters and their struggles. So, to me, a story with emotional heft and amazing characters will be perennial. It’s important to allow the reader to see the human experience reflected back at them from the pages of your book, to let them get entangled in the emotions and the drama.

We’ve all had that experience where a  book “doesn’t hold up,” where we re-read a novel we loved as kids and are no longer sure what we loved about it. Sometimes we grow up or move on or mature, and a story doesn’t have the staying power it used to. But, to me, all that matters is whether we connected with it emotionally at one point in time. For a book to be successful, it needs to find its mark and connect. Regardless of whether that happens when we’re 5 or 50, and whether it remains true always.

VL: Emotional connection with amazing characters – yes, that describes all my favorite stories. I must say, the idea of connections changing as we age is very intriguing. Our life experiences change, why shouldn’t our experience of a story change?

What hooks you when you’re reading a manuscript? What doesn’t?

SS:  I like to tell writers that, no matter what genre they’re writing, they are all mystery writers. Because you have to think like a mystery writer to plot an interesting book. For me, that advice comes from a personal place of loving twists and turns and surprises. What hooks me—and keeps me reading—is not knowing what’s coming next, whether that’s in the actual plot or for character development or with a romance.

VL: Fascinating idea! I love a good mystery.

You’ve mentioned that lack of character development is one major reason you might reject a project. What are some others?

SS: Weak world-building, especially in fantasy, is a tough sell for me. I am happy to edit fantasy projects and work with authors to improve their world-building and to help them transfer the wonderful images in their heads to the page. But, if the logic of the world doesn’t hang together, and there are strange twists or turns that feel aimless—I am likely to pass.

Also, when it comes to realistic contemporary novels, I love evergreen tropes that resonate time and time again. But I do not like stories that feel too similar to others I’ve read or edited. With the realistic genre, I need fresh and new and different for me to want to buy it.

VL: With your focus on social media and digital platforms, what can you tell authors and illustrators about the importance of online time?

SS: Pick one platform—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Tumblr, blogging—and really commit to it. There is no point in spreading yourself thin and trying to be active on every social network known to humankind. Develop an authentic and genuine presence for one profile, and then  focus your energy there. Getting people to connect strongly with you in one space is amazing, even if it feels limited. That’s how you start building your brand.

VL: NOT spreading yourself thin? I’m so on board. It’s so easy to overdo it and leave no time for real writing.

We often hear the advice to research before you submit your work, what’s the most important thing writers and illustrators need to know before they submit to you?

SS: It’s important to know what an editor likes, and it’s important to know what she’s acquired. But what’s even better is to recognize what she likes and what she’s acquired, and get to the next level of thinking. Which is to say: send me something with the essence of what I love and have already edited, but with a new twist or take—that’s the best way to go.

Sending me a manuscript and saying “I’m sending this to you because you acquired a book just like it, so I know you will love it!” is not the way to go. Show me that you recognize why your book is a fit for me, because you know I love the genre but also because I’ve never acquired anything like it before.

VL: Excellent advice. Well said.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, today, Sara. They have been very enlightening. I look forward to hearing your talk at our conference!

 

Learn more about Sara and read her Acquisitions Wish List here.

Follow Sara on Twitter here. Follow Sara on Instagram here.

**Sara does not accept unsolicited manuscripts, however conference attendees will be permitted to submit to her for a limited time.

This is an excellent reason to come see her speak at our conference in Oklahoma City on April 16th!

 

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For more details on our 2016 SCBWI OK Spring Conference or to register online, CLICK HERE.

I hope to see you there!

 

 

#TBT Post – Variations on the Mona Lisa

I wrote this #ThrowBackThursday post for The Great Noveling Adventure blog and it was originally published on October 22, 2014. 

 

WHY STUDYING THE MASTERS IS NOT AN EXERCISE IN FUTILITY

I consider myself to be a fairly open-minded individual. I understand that mine is not the only opinion on any given subject and that each person brings a different perspective to a discussion, shaped by their own unique life experiences. I’ve never met anyone that didn’t have something to teach me or that didn’t have an interesting story to tell.

That being said, there are some hot button topics that will put my strong sense of open-mindedness to its ultimate test. One of those issues is whether or not a writer needs to read books (and read a LOT of books) in order to be a good writer. Want to see me bend over backwards to restrain myself from mentally body-checking someone? Let me hear any writer say, “I’m afraid I’ll take on another author’s style if I read too much” or “I get discouraged when I read books by writers more talented than I am” or “I don’t have time to read.”

Flames. Flames will shoot out of my eyes.

To demonstrate why these and other asinine arguments just don’t cut it, I thought I’d turn to another art form to demonstrate how studying your craft by studying the masters of your medium can not only lead to you mastering your craft, but it can also lead to you discovering your own artistic voice.

Let’s set up our easels, smear some daubs of paint on our palette, and enter the world of the visual arts medium for a moment. Our task for today? Study one of the most interpreted paintings of all time. The Mona Lisa.

 

The original by Da Vinci

Mona Lisa by Da Vinci (She's smaller because she IS small.)

Mona Lisa by Da Vinci (She’s smaller because she IS small.)

 

 

Different interpretations of the Mona Lisa

The Mona Lisa as seen by artist Bembol de la Cruz - This painting was part of The Mona Lisa Project sponsored by the Cultural Center of the Philipines

The Mona Lisa as seen by artist Bembol de la Cruz – This painting was part of The Mona Lisa Project sponsored by the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

 

 

Iya Consorio also contributed her version of Mona Lisa to The Mona Lisa Project.

Iya Consorio also contributed her version of Mona Lisa to The Mona Lisa Project.

 

Artist Vik Muniz created this version of the Mona Lisa using peanut butter and jelly from his "Portraits of Garbage" series.

Artist Vik Muniz created this version of the Mona Lisa, emulating Warhol’s style of the Mona Lisa while using peanut butter and jelly as his medium, for his “Portraits of Garbage” photographic series. He took one artist’s interpretation and then created his own interpretation of THAT interpretation. The mind boggles.

 

 

 

 Mona Lisa interpreted by Graffiti artist Banksy

 

 

Amazing, right?

And these are just the tiniest sample of what’s out there. These interpretations of the original Mona Lisa create new dialogue and add to the conversation of what art is. They are all original art.

When artists expose themselves to the influence of other artists, you can clearly see that it doesn’t make their work the same. None of these interpretations is an exact copy of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Instead, what comes through in each painting is the artist’s own artistic voice. Yes, VOICE! By studying the masters, you not only don’t create carbon copies or their work, you can discover your own true voice!

Think about it. Each person viewed the same original. Why didn’t they create the same painting or the same interpretation? In part, because their artistic talents vary and in part because they all bring completely different perspectives, those unique life histories, to their creative process.

We filter our work through our life experiences, through ourselves. What comes out is our voice. Our own unique voice. That’s why no matter how many versions are written of the Cinderella story, if you have one inside you to tell, it will be unique from all the others that have come before it, no matter if you read every single version.

And let’s say an artist set out to purposely duplicate Da Vinci’s style, what would the artist learn from that exercise? Would that be wasted effort? No. He or she would learn how a brilliant painting works – how the composition fits, the lighting, the shadows, the perspectives – how all the pieces come together. The artist would have learned something valuable about CRAFT.

The same is true of writers who read and study great books. All of these lessons can be applied to our own medium of writing. Our medium uses stories as its easel, the blank page as the palette, and words as the daubs of paint; what better place to study the masters of writing than in books?

What will your Mona Lisa look like?

Get to reading and find out!

#TBT Post – Take Your Imagination and Play with It

I wrote this #ThrowBackThursday post for The Great Noveling Adventure blog and it was originally published on October 7, 2014. 

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For this Travel Tuesday, I’ve decided to send you on a journey with your imagination. Story ideas come from many different places. Everyone has their own process and sometimes that process needs a little nudge.

It never hurts to practice. To stretch. To limber up the imagination and prep it to receive THE BIG IDEA. I mean, not every great idea falls fully formed out of the sky and smacks us on the head. Sometimes, the great ideas are cultivated. Grown. Here are a few sites that can help you find the seed to begin your next great idea.

Have some fun and play with your imagination. After all, that’s what it’s for.

Oneword

If you work better when given a scary, looming deadline, how about sixty seconds? Oneword is a prompt site that gives you just that. One minute to write a story.

You click GO and your prompt word appears. You then have one minute to write about it. You are encouraged to, “Don’t think. Just write.”

This is a great exercise for warming up or for getting unstuck. Maybe even sparking a new idea.

The site stops your cursor when time is up, so you can’t cheat. You can then share your work if you like and even read what others have created. Here’s one I did with the word “underdog”.

He always liked the show. You know, the cartoon, but he never thought he’d be categorized like that. Underdog. Not him. He wanted to be the hero. The one to get the girl. But it was always his best friend. The rugged athlete.

The time goes really fast! Although I probably wouldn’t use this actual passage in a manuscript, I could see this kindling the idea for a character or storyline. Who is this person? Why does he secretly feel like the underdog in his own story? I wanted to know more about him.

So tempting to keep clicking for new words.

WRITEWORLD

This Tumblr site has all the bases covered – it gives you three different rabbit holes to choose from

  • Image Blocks – “A picture is worth a thousand words. Find the words.” From fantastical landscapes to expressive faces  – shown in varying mediums, from original artwork to intriguing photographs – you’ll always find an image that arouses your imagination.
  • Sentence Blocks – “In one sentence is the spark of a story. Ignite.” Some start with a quote, some start with a question that begs to be answered, some give a hint of a situation that could lead to anywhere.
  • Music Blocks – “Music is love in search of a word. Find the words.” Think of it as the most eclectic playlist you’ve ever heard. Pick a track and listen. What mood does it evoke? What story springs to mind? Let it out on the page.

The infinite possibilities will help stir up those plot bunnies in no time.

I hope you enjoy these sites. Feel free to share your favorite idea-prompting sites with us. We love hearing from you!

Happy Writing, Adventurers!

Fan That Spark OK SCBWI Fall Retreat – The Recap Part II

 

SCBWI OK Banner

Day One of Our Fall Retreat for Oklahoma SCBWI last month had something for everyone, with specific tracks for novel, illustration, and picture book that allowed you to focus on your area of interest. Day Two found us in the capable hands of Linda Urban, children’s book author and mad genius when it comes to dissecting what makes a book work.

 

LindaUrbanLinda Urban – Linda writes picture books and middle grade novels from subjects as varied as an angry mouse expressing emotion (MOUSE WAS MAD), a red-headed boy searching for independence (LITTLE RED HENRY), a girl who dreams of playing pianos only to end up with a wheezy organ (A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT), and a girl who tries to fix a horrible mistake with a birthday wish (THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING). Urban’s characters are written with so much heart, yours will burst while reading about them.

The focus of her revision intensive for the day was on voice and point of view.   Of course, what is it that agents and editors always say they want in a story, and the one thing that everyone says is all but unteachable?

Voice!

Linda showed us how making the right choice with point of view can affect the voice of your story. Some POV choices bring readers in closer, while some give more distance and offer more flexibility.

Not all YA books have to be in 1st person, and not all Middle Grades have to be in 3rd person. Surprising, I know. Making a more thoughtful choice for your story is essential to giving it the greatest impact.

One specific example Linda gave to show how these two ideas work together is to consider if your character changes the way they express themselves in a moment of crisis. If so, how does POV shape this expression?

Interesting question, right?

Linda teaching us about voice and POV.
Linda at our Fall Retreat teaching us all the good stuff.

Linda also talked about using mentor texts – examples of good writing to be studied and imitated – to help you learn rhythm and sentence structure. You can tear apart these stories and study them; figure out how they work. (Another reason to be reading!)

Here are some great examples she used:

1st Person POV

clementine_book1CLEMENTINE by Sara Pennypacker

In this first book of the series, Clementine tries to help out her friend Margaret, but ends up in a lot of trouble for it. Things get worse each day of the week, until finally she’s worried that Margaret is right: Clementine’s parents might consider her “the hard one” in the family. They’re up to something mysterious…are they thinking they’d be better off if they only had her little vegetable-named brother…”the easy one”?

 

 

book thiefTHE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak

It’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. . . .

Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.

 

 

vera with printzPLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ by A.S King 

Eighteen-year-old Vera’s spent her whole life secretly in love with her best friend, Charlie Kahn. And over the years she’s kept a lot of his secrets. Even after he betrayed her. Even after he ruined everything.

So when Charlie dies in dark circumstances, Vera knows a lot more than anyone—the kids at school, his family, or even the police. But will she emerge and clear his name? Does she even want to?

 

2nd Person POV

blink and cautionBLINK & CAUTION by Tim Wynne-Jones

Boy, did you get off on the wrong floor, Blink. All you wanted was to steal some breakfast for your empty belly, but instead you stumbled on a fake kidnapping and a cell phone dropped by an “abducted” CEO, giving you a link to his perfect blonde daughter. Now you’re on the run, but it’s OK as long as you are smart enough to stay in the game and keep Captain Panic locked in his hold.

Enter a girl named Caution. As in “Caution: Toxic.” As in “Caution: Watch Your Step.” She’s also on the run from a skeezy drug-dealer boyfriend and from a night- mare in her past that won’t let her go. When she spies Blink at the bus station, Caution can see he’s an easy mark. But there’s something about this naive, skinny street punk, whom she only wanted to rob, that tugs at her heart, a heart she thought deserved not to feel.

 

book-whenyoureachme_f2WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead

3rd Person POV

Mouse MotorcycleTHE MOUSE AND THE MOTORCYCLE by Beverly Cleary

In this imaginative adventure from Newbery Medal-winning author Beverly Cleary, a young mouse named Ralph is thrown into a world of excitement when a boy and his shiny toy motorcycle check into the Mountain View Inn.

When the ever-curious Ralph spots Keith’s red toy motorcycle, he vows to ride it. So when Keith leaves the bike unattended in his room one day, Ralph makes his move. But with all this freedom (and speed!) come a lot of obstacles. Whether dodging a rowdy terrier or keeping his nosy cousins away from his new wheels, Ralph has a lot going on! With a pal like Keith always looking out for him, there’s nothing this little mouse can’t handle.

 

KeeperKEEPER by Kathi Appelt

Keeper was born in the ocean, and she believes she is part mermaid. So as a ten-year-old she goes out looking for her mother—an unpredictable and uncommonly gorgeous woman who swam away when Keeper was three—and heads right for the ocean, right for the sandbar where mermaids are known to gather. But her boat is too small for the surf—and much too small for the storm that is brewing on the horizon.

 

harry-potter-and-the-philosophers-stoneThe Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

 

Harry Potter thinks he is an ordinary boy. He lives with his Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia and cousin Dudley, who are mean to him and make him sleep in a cupboard under the stairs. (Dudley, however, has two bedrooms, one to sleep in and one for all his toys and games.) Then Harry starts receiving mysterious letters and his life is changed forever. He is whisked away by a beetle-eyed giant of a man and enrolled at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The reason: Harry Potter is a wizard! The first book in the “Harry Potter” series makes the perfect introduction to the world of Hogwarts.

 

Omniscient POV

ManiacMagee500MANIAC MAGEE by Jerry Spinelli

Jeffrey Lionel “Maniac” Magee might have lived a normal life if a freak accident hadn’t made him an orphan. After living with his unhappy and uptight aunt and uncle for eight years, he decides to run–and not just run away, but run. This is where the myth of Maniac Magee begins, as he changes the lives of a racially divided small town with his amazing and legendary feats.

 

bk_realboyTHE REAL BOY by Anne Ursu

On an island on the edge of an immense sea there is a city, a forest, and a boy. The city is called Asteri, a perfect city that was saved by the magic woven into its walls from a devastating plague that swept through the world over a hundred years before. The forest is called the Barrow, a vast wood of ancient trees that encircles the city and feeds the earth with magic. And the boy is called Oscar, a shop boy for the most powerful magician in the Barrow. Oscar spends his days in a small room in the dark cellar of his master’s shop grinding herbs and dreaming of the wizards who once lived on the island generations ago. Oscar’s world is small, but he likes it that way. The real world is vast, strange, and unpredictable. And Oscar does not quite fit in it.

 

Feeling overwhelmed by all the choices? Here’s one final thing to consider:

“Part of deciding point-of-view is knowing the experience level of your readers.” – Linda Urban

I’ve barely brushed the surface of everything we learned. It was enlightening and educational, to say the least. If you get an opportunity to take in a workshop taught by Linda Urban, I highly recommend it.

Learn more about Linda by visiting her website: lindaurbanbooks.com

Follow Linda on Twitter @lindaurbanbooks.