#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. 

tgnahead


 

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.

 

 

 

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

 

SCBWI OK Banner

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. The theme “Fan the Spark” encouraged all to turn those beginning creative sparks into fully developed stories.

I attended the Novel Track.

(I heard rave reviews from everyone I spoke with who attended both the Picture Book Track taught by Janee Trasler, and the Illustrator Track taught by Tim Jessell.)

The first speaker had a background in theatre arts and showed us how writers could learn from actors when developing their characters. She also stopped by this blog prior to the retreat to introduce herself. Click on this link to get a more detailed view into her background..

Ginny SainGinny Sain – with more than 20 years experience as a working director, choreographer, playwright, theatrical designer, performer , and theatre arts teacher, she has worked as an artist in residence teaching theatre arts workshops in Arkansas and Oklahoma schools as well as teaching and directing all classes, workshops, and productions for over 18 years with the very successful Stages Theatre for Youth program.

“Generality is the enemy of all art.” – Stanislavski

When creating your characters, you want to move from the general to the specific.

How?

By paying attention to the inner lives and motivations of your characters in every scene. And this should be done FOR EVERY CHARACTER.

When an actor prepares for a new role, they get to know their character intimately – what motivates them, how they move about in space, what they like and don’t like – they slip into their character’s skin to portray them in a believable manner. The actor inhabits every inch of that character’s psyche. And they do this before they even step foot onto the stage.

This can feel like a daunting task. Impossible even.

So how do they do it?

They break down the play into moments – or beats – and figure out what’s driving their character’s behavior from moment to moment. Beats are manageable chunks even smaller than scenes. Some obvious beats include when a character enters or exits a scene or when there’s a shift in conversation, or when new information has been revealed. Once the beats are identified, the actors then decide what the character’s objective, obstacle, and action is for each beat.

Objective – What your character wants. Each character has one main “superobjective” that spans the entire work and many smaller objectives that lead toward the “superobjective”. The path a character takes as they move through these smaller objectives is called the “through line”. Each character should have an objective for every beat they are on stage. The objective should be active and directed toward the other characters.  Objectives seek to change things.

Example: “I want to get away from him and leave this room.”

Obstacle – What is keeping your character from getting what they want. Obstacles can be internal or external. Or both. This struggle is what makes the story interesting.

Example: “I can’t leave because he locked the door.”

Action – What your character does to overcome his or her obstacle. There are usually three possible outcomes: the character will give up, overcome the obstacle, or plow through and ignore it. How they react to obstacles shows what characters are made of – reactions reveal a lot about character.

Example: “I jump out the window.”

Focusing on what each character wants as you write each moment – which may be completely opposite/opposing things – can make for much more interesting writing.

Learn more about Ginny by visiting her website: HeARTsong Creative Center.

 

The next speaker was no stranger to our OK SCBWI group or to the previous speaker (being her mother). She gave a talk about how to write emotion into your story without crossing the line into sentimentality.

AnnaMyersphotoCAnna Myers – This award-winning Oklahoma author has published 20 books to much critical acclaim. She has won the Oklahoma Book Award four times for SPY!ASSASSINGRAVEYARD GIRL, and RED DIRT JESSIE. She was also awarded their lifetime achievement, the Arrell Gibson Award, in 2012. She writes historical and contemporary fiction for young readers. She also had her first picture book, TUMBLEWEED BABY, published in 2014. Most importantly, she was our Oklahoma SCBWI Regional Advisor and fearless leader for 14 years.

Anna’s talk focused on helping us see the difference between emotion and schmaltz, the Yiddish word for sentimentality or literally, chicken fat.

“Novels aren’t real life. They need to be sharper.”

Emotion needs to be stronger.

Yet, this doesn’t mean readers want to see characters spill their guts out when grieving. Crying is too easy.

SCHMALTZ! Cut it!

It’s the struggle that’s most interesting. Readers want to see how characters deal with problems – this is where the emotional connection lies.

So, what can you do to show this?

Think of an action to show the emotion.

Anna gave the example of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. This was a devastating time for the entire country. And yet, the most moving image wasn’t of a widow grieving, it was of his young son saluting his casket.

Photo credit: Stan Stearns/UPI
Photo credit: Stan Stearns/UPI

 

This would not have been as touching if he’d been crying. This is utterly heart-breaking. We feel the loss so much stronger. (While researching, I also learned that this picture was taken on John Jr.’s birthday. Seriously. Where’s the kleenex?)

Of course, tears do have their place, but don’t rely on them, or any other bodily expression, as a crutch for showing your character’s emotion. Focus more on that action that expresses their sorrow.

Learn more about Anna by visiting her website: www.annamyers.info

 

The next speaker lead us through a visualization exercise to help us overcome blocks in our creative process.

Pati Hailey PicPati Hailey – Over her career, Pati has written state legislation, online training for large corporations, lesson plans for teachers, and literature for children and adults. She is a frequent speaker at conferences and schools. Pati’s articles have appeared in newspapers and magazines, including Cricket and Hopscotch. Her contribution to this series, TE ATA: Oklahoma Cultural Treasure, is her first published children’s book.

I always find these visualization exercises helpful and I always learn something surprising about my manuscript or my character. Pati walks us through a simple relaxation before taking us through the visualization exercise. During the visualization, we are to focus on a part of our manuscript that is giving us trouble and look at it from a different perspective, paying attention to surroundings in more detail, and thinking about our characters in different ways, even asking them specific questions.

These visualizations allow your brain to relax enough to use your subconscious and solve story problems. You can try these on your own, too. While writing, think about getting up every 30 minutes or so to give your subconscious time to work on any story problems you might have.

Follow Pati on Twitter @PatiHailey

Follow Pati on Facebook here.

 

After lunch, we had a First Pages Critique Panel

 

 

The wise Panel Members: Anna Myers, Tammi Sauer, and Sonia Gensler share their insights.
The wise Panel Members Anna Myers, Tammi Sauer, and Sonia Gensler share their insights. (Photo credit: Regina Garvie)

 

a Speaker Autograph Party

Autograph Party 1
Some of our fantastic speakers signing their books. (Photo credit: Regina Garvie)

 

and then dinner…

We took over the Rock Café in Stroud. (Photo credit: THE Jerry Bennet)
Many of our group took over the Rock Café in Stroud. (Photo credit: THE Jerry Bennet.)

 

…before the final event of the day.

The Inspirational Keynote from LINDA URBAN! YAY!!!

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.

Linda encouraged us to be open to inspiration and new ideas throughout the weekend.

She told us the story about when she first felt that spark, that joy from writing. She put her heart on the page and loved that feeling. Then one day the good feeling stopped. A boy called her writing weird, and said she was weird. She felt horrible and stopped writing for a long time.

When she came back to writing, it was a slow, painful process. Once she let herself find that spark again, that feeling of joy, she needed to define the “spine” of her work. “Why do I do it?”

For her, she wants to write about small things that matter to kids in a big way.

“All I need to be successful is to be true to my spine.”

What is YOUR spine?

Inspiration in spades!

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

 

Stay tuned for The Recap PART II to read all about what Linda Urban had to teach us during the revision intensive on Day Two!

 

Jennifer Mathieu and Julie Murphy – Joint Author Interview

Today I may have to cut down on the caffeine intake because I’m already buzzing enough with excitement over my two guests. Jennifer Mathieu and Julie Murphy both had extraordinary debut novels that made quite a splash in the world of contemporary YA fiction. (I seriously raced through them in record time. Loved loved LOVED!!!) And now, they are putting all of their fabulous talent together to host a workshop this February for Madcap Retreats. (Yes, THAT Madcap Retreats. The brainchild of Natalie C. Parker.)

One lucky reader will win $100 off this workshop! Stay tuned to enter!

 

Jennifer Mathieu PicAbout Jennifer

Jennifer Mathieu is an English teacher, writer, wife, and mom who writes books for and about young adults. Her favorite things include chocolate, pepperoni pizza, and the super hilarious 1980s sitcom The Golden Girls. She can basically quote every episode. Jennifer lives in Texas with her husband, son, one rescue dog, one fat cat, and another cat that is even fatter than the fat cat.

When it comes to what she reads, she loves realistic young adult fiction (obviously), creative nonfiction, super scandalous tell-all memoirs, and anything that hooks her attention on the first page. She is the author of THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE (2014) and DEVOTED (2015). Her debut novel, THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE, won the 2015 Children’s Choice Book Awards’ Teen Choice Debut Author Award.

 

About JulieJulie+Murphy+Author+Photo+copy

Julie Murphy is a potty-mouthed Southern belle who was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, but found her home in Fort Worth, Texas. She’s never seen Star Wars, but has yet to meet a made for TV movie she didn’t love. When she’s not writing, Julie can be found cruising Costco for free samples, watching Sister Act 2, stalking drag queens on instagram, obsessing over the logistics of Mars One, and forever searching for the perfect slice of cheese pizza. She lives with her bearded husband, two vicious cats, and one pomeranian that can pass as a bear cub.

Her debut novel, SIDE EFFECT MAY VARY (2014) was a NYT Bestseller. Her second young adult novel, DUMPLIN’ (Sept 2015), received glowing reviews including two stars from Publishers Weekly and Booklist, and in less than a month after its release, hit #1 on the NYT best seller list for YA Hardcovers. The film rights for DUMPLIN’ have been optioned by Disney.

 

The Interview

Valerie Lawson: You both have written stunning debut novels, which received much critical acclaim. Tell us about life as a debut author. What was the most surprising experience? What lessons did you learn?

alice_finalJennifer Mathieu: To be honest, I’m still surprised that I wrote a book and it got published.  It took me seven years to publish my first novel. My first two manuscripts got very close but never sold. So I spent my debut year sort of in a haze that THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE was not only getting published but was getting a very warm reception. 

I’ve learned to approach this writing career with enormous gratitude. It’s my childhood dream come true. It’s so easy to get sucked into the worry cycle or the gossip of the industry. But the bottom line is that once my debut novel hit the shelves, I became a published author. Nothing can ever happen that can take that away from me.

Side Effect CoverJulie Murphy: First, thank you! I am that horrible type of person who believes they can handle anything no matter how many times and how many people have warned them that the road ahead is difficult. There were so many incredible highs, but there were also so many lows that I never believed I’d actually experience or thought I was more emotionally equipped to deal with. I’ve learned that no matter how sane you are, planning a wedding or large family function can turn you into a special kind of crazy. That’s how the debut year is. You’ll be yourself, yes, but it may not be a version of yourself you’ve ever met.

The good news is: you are not alone. You will make fast friends with fellow debuts, because no one else can relate to you like they can. I would have to say the friendships were the most surprising experience and I’d go through it all over again to for these women if I had to. I poured so much of myself into SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY that I felt like I had nothing left to give and that this was my one and only chance, because I would never be able to recreate this magic. But that’s not true. My second book just came out and I love it just as much. I’m working on my third and am contracted for a fourth. There will always be more books. Sometimes publishing them won’t be so easy, but you will write another book.

 

VL: Gratitiude, yes. And realizing you’re not alone sounds especially important. I love how supportive this writing community can be.

How was the process of writing different for you when you wrote your second novel?

devoted_cvr_revealJennifer: I will say writing my second novel, DEVOTED, was very difficult for me. I really had that classic experience you hear about where your debut is warmly received and you feel total paralysis with the second book. I ended up completely throwing out the first draft of DEVOTED and rewriting it from scratch. I was incredibly late on every deadline which is so not me. I cried multiple times. 

Fortunately, my amazing editor at Roaring Brook, Kate Jacobs, talked me through it and in the end, I’m so enormously proud of my second book. I stretched myself as a writer and I’ve had multiple readers tell me that they can see my growth as a writer in DEVOTED. That makes me feel so good.

CoverReveals_F15_DumplinJulie: I was totally blind when I wrote my debut. I didn’t know what I was doing wrong or what I was doing right. Because of my huge ego, I assumed that if it didn’t feel off, it must all be perfect. DUMPLIN’ was an eyes wide open experience.

I knew my flaws. I knew the mistakes I’d made in my first book. For me, that knowledge was almost crippling. I knew what a published book looked and felt like and nothing about those early drafts matched those expectations. I had to learn to forgive myself of those mistakes and explore the narrative.

 

VL: Throwing out an entire draft? How terrifying! 

Learning to forgive your mistakes and explore the narrative – love that. 

You are co-hosting an intriguing Madcap Retreat this February entitled “More Than a Beach Read”, how did you come to be a part of this project?

Actual location for upcoming Madcap Retreat event - workshop with authors Jennifer Mathieu and Julie Murphy.
Actual location for Madcap Retreat “More Than a Beach Read” with authors Jennifer Mathieu and Julie Murphy.

Jennifer: Well the lovely Julie Murphy approached me and told me about Natalie’s plan to create Madcap Retreats. I immediately wanted to be involved. I think there’s so much to be gained from working intimately on your art with other artists in a concentrated period of time. I’m a huge fan of Julie’s work and Natalie’s work, and I knew I just wanted to be a part of anything they were involved with.

Julie: Natalie Parker is my partner in crime in many ways and when she floated the idea by me, I said I’d think about it. When she said it would be on the beach, I couldn’t say no. I knew I wanted to do something voice and critique intensive, and I knew that would be a lot to carry on my own. When we began to discuss bringing another author on, Jennifer was my first and most obvious choice. I have so many writer friends that I love and respect, but our styles and approaches really click. We both love contemporary and have the same type of values when it comes to storytelling. Let the record show: if I dropped dead tomorrow, I would have faith in Jennifer to finish my work in progress.

 

VL: That is a stunning compliment, Julie! (Please don’t drop dead.) That does speak well to how you must compliment each other.

What can you tell us about the workshop? What special programming do you have in mind?

Jennifer: Julie and I have been working on the agenda and we are looking forward to having roundtable workshop-style critique sessions as well as one on one time with each writer. We’re also planning on bringing in guest authors to tackle different topics. Julie and I really aim to focus on voice and building your writer voice. Some say that voice can’t be taught. While I do believe most writers have an innate ability to craft some sort of voice, I believe there are techniques and strategies you can use to strengthen your ability to make your work really come alive.

Julie: We actually just finished the whole agenda! Jennifer did a great job answering this one, so I’ll just add that the attendees will spend their morning with us really focusing on voice and in the afternoons while Jennifer and I (yes, we’re both reading each attendee’s submission), and supporting faculty members will help paint a broader picture by discussing critique, revision, and plot. In the evenings we’ll also be doing casual but themed panels to discuss our dealings in publishing and the business aspect of all of this.

 

VL: That’s a wealth of knowledge crammed into five days. And so much focus on voice! Wonderful. I know several authors who’d jump at this opportunity. 

You both come from different occupational backgrounds – one an English teacher and one working with teens in public libraries – where you have worked intimately with young people. What has this experience added to your writing?

Jennifer: For me, the teaching feeds the writing. I mean, I basically get paid to do my research. I’m surrounded by the rhythm of adolescence on a daily basis, and it’s so energizing and inspiring. I hear snippets of teenage conversation all around me at all times. On a daily basis I’m reminded of the heartbreak and excitement associated with being a teenager. Of course, my plots are fictional, but my students certainly help me create what I hope are realistic characters.

Julie: Like Jennifer, working with teens hugely impacted my writing. I think it’s easy for young adult writers to romanticize the lives of teens, but seeing them every day, you are reminded of their limitations. The same limitations you most likely experienced as a teen, too. On the other hand, I was constantly reminded of how each generation is defying the boundaries set by those before them. I really miss working with my teens!

VL: Being surrounded by your inspiration. Excellent!

Your workshop focuses on enhancing character and voice in manuscripts. What can you tell us about your writing process that helps you bring these two elements to the forefront in your own work?

Jennifer: For me, the characters become real in my mind. I think about them all the time. I miss them when I’m done with the book and still think about them after the book comes out. For me, I believe crafting a character you almost believe actually exists out there is key to writing a memorable novel. 

For the first time ever I struggled with that when writing DEVOTED. I was writing a story about a young woman in a very insular and conservative religious sect. I’d done all this research on the sect and was just information dumping throughout the entire book, but the truth is, I didn’t know my main character Rachel at all. My editor was like, “Who is she really?” and I realized I didn’t know. 

That was such a terrifying experience because in my first novel (and in subsequent novels) my characters came into my mind fully-formed. I spent a full weekend fixating on Rachel, doing all these exercises like imagining what she kept in the drawer of her nightstand. Finally, she started to come alive for me and the book became much easier to write. I really do believe it all begins with character.

Julie: Voice and character are huge for me, and yet they never come first in my writing process. I never start with a detailed plot, but I always have the pitch and premise and from there is how my voice and character evolve. I usually like to hammer out setting as well since it’s such a huge contributing factor. I like dissecting the situation and deciding what type of person might exist inside the premise and setting.

But when it comes to actual writing, I can’t start anything in earnest until I have a fully formed character. That character and your voice are sort of like a lantern in a dark tunnel, especially in contemporary. You will get lost–and sometimes it’s even helpful to get a little lost–but as long as you’ve got that lantern, you will eventually find your way.

VL: Oh, that’s good!

So if you don’t know your character inside and out, maybe spend some time getting to know them better. Your story will thank you.

Tell us a little about your teen years growing up. What was the most embarrassing thing you experienced? What was the most memorable adventure you had with your friends?

Jennifer: Freud would have a field day with me. I hated high school so much and looking back I can see I was actually fairly depressed throughout my high school years. And here I am teaching high school and writing books for and about high school students. It must be some form of catharsis. There is no one singular embarrassing incident. I was embarrassed constantly, and most of it was over silly stuff I’m sure no one noticed. I ran with a very good girl crowd. I would say my most memorable adventure would be staying up all night at a sleepover and eating too much raw cookie dough. Honestly, that’s as crazy as it got for me.  

Maybe the most embarrassing thing for me happened after some girlfriends and I went to see that movie The Bodyguard starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner. They were all so moved by the film they were sobbing hysterically as they walked out of the movie theater and everyone was staring at us and I wanted to die. And all I could remember thinking was, “That was one of the stupidest movies I have ever seen.” I loved old black and white movies from the 50s and 60s like The Bad Seed and The Last Picture Show. I thought there was something wrong with me. I just hadn’t found my tribe yet, but eventually in college, I did.

Julie: Those were some wild years. I was a horrible student. You know those videos of cats knocking things off tables? That was me and rules. I carried myself with this false but impenetrable confidence, so even if embarrassing things happened, I played them off as jokes no matter how mortified I really was, so I can’t think of anything in particular.

But I really did have great friends who on very rare occasions I was even vulnerable with. We always went on great mini roadtrips or had ridiculous parties or even went to some amazing concerts, but what I remember most is just hanging out at home with my closest friends, rolling around on the floor laughing and creating inside jokes. We were all theater kids though, so we were constantly performing and cracking jokes.

VL: Ha! Fantastic stories.(I’m really partial to The Bodyguard one. I can so relate to feeling like that!)

What has been your favorite book to read/book you’ve been most excited about over the past year?

Jennifer: Well I adored Julie Murphy’s DUMPLIN’ of course!  I remember her reading a few pages from it at a retreat she and I went on over a year ago now, and I was so excited for the book and I loved it even more than I thought I would. 

There’s another book I want to mention that I had the opportunity to blurb. I read an advance copy this year, but it won’t be out until March 2016. It’s called SAVE ME, KURT COBAIN and it’s by Jenny Manzer. She and I share the same wonderful agent, Kerry Sparks. I loved this book so very much.  It’s fresh and nostalgic all the same time. Gorgeous, lyrical writing and a plot that kept me guessing until the very end. I think she’s going to be a voice to watch.

Julie: Sadly, this has been such a dry reading year for me. I’ve bought so many books, but time hasn’t allowed for me to start most of them. (Here’s looking at you, DEVOTED!) However, I am listening to the audio of SIMON VS THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA and the voice is incredible! Simon is someone I would have been friends with in high school and that makes for an authentic reading experience if you ask me.

VL: More fab books to add to the TBR collection. Nice.

What can you tell us about what you are currently working on? 

Jennifer: I have my third book coming out with Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan on September 20, 2016 and I am having the most infuriating time coming up with a title. But I can tell you it’s told in dual POV and it’s about two teenagers, Ethan and Caroline, and how their lives are linked by a tragic crime. It’s about healing from trauma and finding a soul-saving friendship in the most unexpected place.

(Update: Julie has a title! Her 3rd book has been christened AFTERWARD, and it comes out 9/2016.)

Julie: Sort of. Kind of. Maybe. Ha! I’m working on my third novel, which is currently titled RAMONA DROWNING. It’s about a too tall lesbian who lives in a trailer park with her well-meaning dad and pregnant sister. All is sort of okay until Ramona realizes she’s falling for a friend, who happens to be a boy. It’s a story about sisters and friendship and sexuality and the labels we assign to ourselves. I’m still drafting, so I’m sure it will end up being about more things. My publisher is referring to it is a YA Chasing Amy, which seems like a fair assessment.

VL: Ohh! Both sound exciting! Can’t wait to read more from you ladies!

Thank you both for sharing with us, today. It has been an honor and a great pleasure having you here on the blog.

 

The Giveaway

To entice you further to try out Madcap Retreats, we are giving away $100 off the cost of Jennifer & Julie’s upcoming workshop, “More Than A Beach Read“!

Woohoo!

ENTER HERE!!!  ➤➤➤  Madcap Retreat Rafflecopter giveaway

(If you really, really want to enter, but are Rafflecopter-shy, you can post a comment below – along with your email address – and I’ll manually add you to the giveaway.)

Congratulations to the winner, Elisa J! 

 

Learn more about Jennifer Mathieu here.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter here.

Follow Jennifer on Tumblr here.

Follow Jennifer on Instagram here.

Follow Jennifer on Facebook here.

Learn more about Julie Murphy here.

     Follow Julie on Twitter here.

     Follow Julie on Tumblr here.

     Follow Julie on Instagram here.

    Follow Julie on Facebook here.

Learn more about Madcap Retreats here.

Interview with Ginny Sain – Actor, Writer, Celebrator of Boundless Imagination

SCBWI OK Banner

We’ve been getting to know some of the faculty for our upcoming 2015 OK SCBWI “Fan the Spark” Fall Retreat through a series of Twitter Chats and now, right here on this blog.

Today, Ginny Sain stops by for an interview. As a faculty member of the Novel Track for the Fall Retreat, Ginny will share drama techniques to help writers with character development. Below, she’ll enlighten us on how acting and writing are more alike than one might think.

About Ginny

Ginny graduated summa cum laude from the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville, Arkansas, in 1995 with a degree in theatre.  She has worked as an artist in residence teaching theatre arts workshops in Arkansas and Oklahoma schools as well as teaching and directing all classes, workshops, and productions for over 18 years with the very successful Stages Theatre for Youth program, an intensive actor training program for serious and dedicated young theatre artists in grades K-12, which she founded at the University of the Ozarks, where she also worked with college theatre students.

With more than 20 years of experience as a working director, choreographer, playwright, theatrical designer, performer, and theatre arts teacher, Ginny is thrilled to be back in Oklahoma as one of the founders of HeARTsong Creative Center, a creative and performing arts organization dedicated to providing professional quality arts programs and events that will encourage people of all ages to explore the depths of their souls, stretch the limits of their possibilities, celebrate the boundlessness of their own imaginations, and recognize the value of hard work paired with creativity.

 

The Interview

Ginny SainValerie Lawson: You grew up in a very literary household, and yet you chose the theatre. What about that medium called to you?

Ginny Sain: Oscar Wilde said, “I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.”

I’ve always believe that. I’ve always been drawn to the immediacy and intimacy of communication that you get in the theatre – both with your fellow artistic collaborators, and especially with the audience.

VL: I love that – thinking of your audience as part of the art.

In the realm of theatre arts, you have been a teacher, director, choreographer, actor, playwright, etc., what aspect of the field do you enjoy the most?

GS: I love to act, but what I am most passionate about is teaching and directing young people who are serious about developing as theatre artists. I spent 20 years working with one amazing group of kids, taking many of them literally from kindergarten through high school graduation, and watching them grow and develop as artists, and as people from year to year.

The kind of theatre we were able to do together because of that, and the kind of community they built with each other – that was such a huge thing to be a part of, for them and for me. So many of them are out there doing amazing things now. No matter what else I do with my life I will always consider those students to be the most special thing I have ever been a part of, my greatest contribution to the world.

VL: That kind of continuity is rare, I would imagine. So fantastic!

How would you say that acting and writing are related? What can a writer learn from the theatre arts?

GS: For writers and actors, it’s all about developing real, honest, believable characters and bringing them to life for an audience. Both art forms are about creating something so real that, just for a little bit, people forget that those characters don’t exist.

In the theatre, we do a lot of character analysis work that I think would be very beneficial to writers. We learn to think about the whole life of the character, not just the aspects that figure directly into the story. We build a whole world and we spend time living there. For an actor, the key is asking questions and then, instead of deciding on an answer ourselves, letting the character answer those questions for us. And I think actors tend to ask those questions in a slightly different way than writers do. It’s a really interesting process that actors have.

VL: Yes! Let the character answer the questions. Wonderful.

For the Oklahoma SCBWI Fall Retreat this October, you are co-hosting the Novel Track with your mother, author Anna Myers, how will you be contributing to the workshop?

GS: I’ll be talking specifically about the character developement process we use in the theatre, and how writers can adapt that for their own work. I’m really excited about that. Hopefully, it will cause people to view their characters from a slightly different perspective.

VL: I’m so curious about this different perspective; I can’t wait to discover this new way of looking at my characters.

Tell us a little about your teen years growing up. What was the most embarrassing thing you experienced? What was the most memorable adventure you had with your friends?

GS: Well, you know my mother is going to read this, so……my friends and I spent most of our time just sitting around reading poetry and behaving ourselves.  Lol.  Honestly, my friends were theatre kids and show choir kids. And I grew up in a very small town. Our idea of adventure was, I’m sure by most standards, pretty tame. We were in rehearsal for one thing or another a lot of the time, and those were the best times I remember.

VL: Ha! Well, it was worth a shot. Actually, my daughter might read this, so…yes! That’s all good theatre kids should do – rehearse and read poetry.

What has been your favorite book to read/book you’ve been most excited about over the past year?

GS: I’ve been reading a lot of young adult books this last year.  I really enjoyed John Green’s “Looking for Alaska.” Like I said earlier, I’ve spent almost half my life working with teenagers, and I love them. And the voices in that particular book rang as so authentic to me.

VL: I have heard that you yourself are working on writing a novel, tell us about your experience. What have you learned about writing? About yourself as an artist?

GS: I am working on a book – a young adult novel set in the world of the theatre. Since that’s the world I know best, that seemed like a good place to start. I guess the main thing I’ve learned is that I really enjoy writing. I’ve been told my whole life that I had some ability as a writer, but I never really thought it was something that I enjoyed particularly. Theatre is such a collaborative art form. Writing always seemed to me to be such a solitary process, and that just never really appealed to me. But, I’m beginning to understand that isn’t really true.

VL: Ha! Yes, it may take one writer to draft a novel, but it takes a village to raise it.

You and your sister started your own creative arts center a few years ago, what can you tell us about that project

GS: I’ve always been a director and teacher, and my sister is a licensed teacher. She’s taught in schools in Oklahoma, Texas, and in Malta. So, when I was looking for a change, it just seemed kind of natural that we should combine those things into one joint creative venture. We offer theatre and other creative classes for students of all ages. Most of our work is done in after-school programs at local schools. It’s something we both enjoy and it gives us a lot of flexibility in the projects we work on, which is something that was important to both of us, since we are also raising children and pursuing other interests. It’s been a hard process getting it off the ground, but we’re finally making some good progress.

VL: You have an excellent program. I know my daughter enjoyed taking acting lessons from you. She learned more about her personal strengths and weaknesses as an actor – and how to improve – from you than her own drama teacher. I wish you well in that venture!

Thank you so much for sharing your time with us, Ginny. I look forward to your presentation at the retreat next month!

There are still a few spots available for our Fall Retreat. If you would like to hear Ginny speak, along with our other faculty members, sign up, today! This is an event you won’t want to miss!

SCBWIFTS

Visit the scbwiok.org website for more details and to register online.

TweetAnd don’t miss the next Twitter Chat on September 22nd, from 7-8pm CST, when we chat with picture book author Janee Trasler. Use the hashtag #okscbwichat. Hope to see you there!

The Highly Anticipated OK SCBWI Spring Conference Recap – PART 1

SCBWI OK Banner

This year our Oklahoma SCBWI Spring Conference was outstanding. The theme “Ignite the Spark” set the stage for all of the discussions, as each speaker delivered a truly motivating talk. I’m surprised we didn’t set the place on fire with the collective creativity bouncing around in that ballroom.

Ignite the Spark Conference-Ad

The first speaker of the day was a familiar face to readers of this blog as she had just given a wonderful interview right before the conference.

our_team_biagiLaura Biagi, Literary Agent with the Jean V. Nagger Literary Agency gave a talk entitled, “The Spark an Agent Brings to the Table”. She discussed how an agent works and what an agent can add to the manuscript process. She also shared some of her  red flags that would send a manuscript straight to the reject pile.

One observation she made about when she finds herself searching for quality manuscripts, deep in the slush pile, is that the discovery process can feel “a bit like archaeology”.

And not in the glamorous, Indiana Jones way.

Unlike the adventurous whip-yielding Jones who finds priceless treasure in every place he falls, most great archaeological finds have already been discovered, and it takes a great amount of pain-staking digging before you carefully unearth something truly unique.

She may sift through over 400 queries in a month before finding a manuscript that piques her interest. But the story has to do more than that; she has to absolutely love it. She needs a story she can’t help telling everyone about.

RED FLAGS – Query/Manuscript Level

  • If the characters or plot sound stereotypical
  • If adjectives or adverbs get in the way of a clear message
  • If the story is all about plot – maybe your characters aren’t significant enough
  • If there isn’t a strong plot – your story has to go somewhere
  • Moral message

Once a manuscript has risen above the rest and shown promise that it can be polished into a treasure, then she may make THE PHONE CALL! This is a very important step in the process. An agent can gauge personality compatibilities, discuss the revision process and discover how open the author is to making changes and to taking advice. Creating a book is a very collaborative process. You have to be open to suggestions, and be willing to make changes.

Once both agent and author decide the phone call went well and they want to work together, the next step is taking that rare find and cleaning it up with some editing. Laura makes line edits and brainstorms with her authors. She may even bring other agents from her agency in to help – more eyes on the project to get more ideas.

One of the most important things to remember about making a book, “It’s so much more a collaborative process” and it’s important to respect the expertise of everyone involved, from the art director to the editor, to the copy editor, to the marketing department, etc.

 

Our second speaker of the day kept the momentum going with her discussion about picture books.

kristine-brognoKristine Brogno, Design Director for Chronicle Books, delighted us with her talk, “Words+Pictures or Pictures+Words: The Difference That Creates Spark!”

Kristine began by stating that in a picture book, there’s not a lot of real estate to tell a story.

Every word must count.

“Picture books are the perfect marriage between text and art; one couldn’t exist without the other.” They are more than the sum of their parts.

Words+Pictures versus Pictures+Words – what’s the difference? Here are the different types of picture books to help us get a better idea:

TYPES OF PICTURE BOOKS:

1) BORING – the illustrations say exactly what the text says. This is the biggest mistake you can make when creating a picture book.  (Although many examples of this types existed, she kindly chose not to share any titles.)

2) TIGHTLY WOVEN NARRATIVE TEXT – Longer, character-driven picture books that can hold an entire world on a single page.

Examples:

A RIVER OF WORDS: THE STORY OF WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS by Jen Bryant, Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

A River of Words

THE BIG WISH by Carolyn Conahan

The Big Wish

SAN FRANCISCO BABY! by Ward Jenkins

San Fransisco Baby

3) WORDS THAT SET THE STAGE – These books say just enough to set the action in motion. The text on the page has a very thoughtful and intentional place to be.

 

In Maurice Sendak’s WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, for example, the illustrations begin to take up more and more of the space until the words disappear altogether.

WTWTA

But then Sendak reverses this at the end when he has only text on the final page:

“and it was still hot.”

Why was there no image?

Because Sendak was bringing us back to a warm, safe place. No image was needed. If there had been an image of Max, it would have been all about him. Again, the choice was very deliberate.

More examples:

A SICK DAY FOR AMOS MCGEE by Philip C Stead, illustrated by Erin E Stead

Sick Day

THE GREAT PAPER CAPER by Oliver Jeffers

Great Paper Caper

THE BERENSTAIN BEARS OLD HAT NEW HAT by Stan and Jan Berenstain

 Old Hat New HAt

4) WORDS AS A COUNTERPOINT – Here, what you see doesn’t match what you read. There are many ways to use this form. For example, you can let the text play the straight man while the picture is the comic relief.

Children love this; they like to be in on the joke.

THIS IS NOT MY HAT by Jon Klassen is a great example of a very unreliable narrator. The illustrations are very simple, yet incredibly expressive.

 

This Is Not My Hat 2

notmyhat1

More examples:

ROSIE’S WALK by Pat Hutchins

Rosies Walk

NO! by Marta Altes

No 2

Kristine closed with these words of wisdom. No matter which style you choose, remember to “leave just enough space between the words and pictures for magic to happen”.

 

Our third speaker educated us on the different categories in the marketplace and cautioned us about common errors that may send our manuscript to the rejection pile.

erica-finkel-photo1Erica Finkel, Associate Editor with Amulet/Abrams Books gave a talk entitled “Put a Spark in Your Submission by Knowing the Market”.

She began by comparing manuscript submissions to dating. “You’ll have lots of experiences, and not many will work out.” Each side also comes in with a set of expectations.

Some common errors may sour that experience from the onset – and they have nothing to do with writing skills. Here are a few of them:

COMMON ERRORS:

  • House Mis-match – Don’t send your NF biography to a house that doesn’t sell non-fiction or biographies. It’s a waste of your time and theirs.
  • Format – If your chapter book is written at the wrong reading level, your target audience won’t be able to understand it.
  • Comp Titles – This is only helpful if the titles used are current (published within the past five years). It also needs to be helpful and realistic. If you claim your story is the next HUNGER GAMES meets TWILIGHT meets HARRY POTTER, that is not only confusing, it’s not very helpful.

Know your marketplace, from board books to YA! Do this by reading! You have to know what’s out there.

BOARD BOOKS: yummyuckyBarnyard-Bath-copy

Age Range: 0 to 5 years-old

Length: 10 to 32 pages

Novelty, concept, repurposed bestsellers (Goodnight Moon, Babar, etc), and some few original narratives. All have short sentences.

Examples: Sandra Boynton, Leslie Patricelli

PICTURE BOOKS:

Fancy NancyPigeon BathA Ball for DaisySky Color

 

 

 

 

Age Range: 2-8 years-old

Length: Anywhere from 24 to 48 pages with 32 pages being the standard.

Language Level: Adult reading to child

Examples: Chris Raschka, Peter H. Reynolds, Big series like Don’t Let the Pigeon… series, and Fancy Nancy.

I CAN READS (Early Readers):

Age Range: 5-8 years-old

Length: 32-64 pages, limited trim 6×6, often paperback with more illustrations.

Language Level: Meant to instruct, clear and simple.

CHAPTER BOOKS: 

Captain Underpants 2013Judy Moody BookMy Weird School Junie B Jones

 

 

 

 

Age Range: 6-9 years-old

Length: 80-176 pages.

More text than illustrations. Series dominate. Most put out two books per year and take up a lot of shelf space in bookstores. It is very hard to do a one-off title or publish an unknown author in this category.

*Language: Simple for new independent readers. *This is tough for authors to nail.

Examples: Series like Captain Underpants, Judy Moody, My Weird School, Junie B. Jones

MIDDLE GRADE: 

Diary Wimpy KidOrigami YodaPercy JacksonLiar and SpyOkay for Now

 

 

 

 

Age Range: 8-13 years-old

Length: 200-400 pages.

Usually released in hardcover first, then as a paperback a year later. Some have illustrations, but most do not. Protagonist is often the same age as the reader. They are attracted to characters going through same issues they are.

Language: Fully independent; level is simple and age-appropriate.

Examples:

Stand Alones – LIAR & SPY, WONDER, OKAY FOR NOW

Series –  Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Origami Yoda, Percy Jackson

YOUNG ADULT: 

DivergentMaze RunnerScorpio-paperback-websiteEleanorPark_cover2-300x450TFiOS

 

 

Age Range: 13+, 14+

Length: 300-500 pages.

Hardcover release, then paperback one year later. Most are unillustrated, except for graphic novels. Protagonist is often the same age as the reader.

Language: Comparable to adult

Examples:

Stand Alones – ELEANOR & PARK, THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, THE SCORPIO RACES

Series – Divergent, The Maze Runner, The Hunger Games

NEW ADULT:Glines bookUgly LoveWalking Disaster

 

 

 

Age Range: 18-25 years-old

This is a new category. The protagonist is out of high school and dealing with “new adult” issues – college, first jobs, emerging sexuality. Many authors began as self-published.

Examples: Colleen Hoover, Abbi Glines, Jamie McGuire

Whatever you choose to create, be innovative and show publishers something they haven’t seen before, but in an educated way. You’ll be able to do that if you know the marketplace.

Stay tuned for PART 2, coming soon!

Laura Biagi – Agent Interview

our_team_biagiI’m so excited that Laura Biagi, literary agent with the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency, will be speaking this weekend at our 2015 SCBWI OK Spring Conference. This year’s theme is “Ignite the Spark”. In Laura’s talk, entitled “The Spark an Agent Brings to the Table”, she will be discussing “insights from the front line about what literary agents do and what they offer clients”. She’ll also discuss what red flags may make an agent pass on a manuscript, among other issues.

Laura graciously consented to giving an interview here on the blog to entice us with a little preview.

The Interview

Valerie Lawson: What advice would you give to querying writers?

Laura Biagi: One of the more obvious pieces of advice is to do your research on agents so you’re not querying agents who wouldn’t be likely to represent the type of book you’ve written.  But there are many other pieces of advice that writers too often take for granted: Be persistent–not only in submitting to many agents or reworking your query letter to make it the strongest possible, but also in writing new material.

Your writing will keep growing and become stronger the more you write, and sometimes it’s the next book right around the corner that will be your breakthrough.  Prior to querying, make sure your manuscript is as polished as you can possibly make it.  Show your work to your writer friends or anyone else you trust and get their feedback, then incorporate it organically.  Don’t skimp on the time you devote to revisions.  Revisions are usually THE most important part of a successful writer’s process!  Be sure to read very widely in your genre, not only so you know whether your book is unique enough to stand out in the crowded marketplace, but also–and more importantly–so you can learn better how to write with authority and grace and build tension.

VL: Do your research, don’t skimp on revising, and read a wide variety of books. Great advice!

What makes you stop reading a query?

LB: This varies widely depending on the book.  I make sure to consider each query on its own terms.  However, some examples of things that might convince me to pass include stereotypical characters or plots, too many adjectives and adverbs that get in the way of conveying a clear image, too few details about the characters and their relationships with one another (this makes me worry the characters aren’t developed enough in the manuscript), too few details about the plot (this makes me worry the pacing isn’t strong enough and the stakes and conflict aren’t developed enough).

I’ll be discussing more red flags in my talk at the conference–so for more info, please come!

VL: Yes! You definitely don’t want to miss out on this conference!

What’s one major aspect of a manuscript that hooks you? What doesn’t?

LB: What hooks me right away is an immediate voice that cleverly and organically reveals details (even better if they’re unexpected details!) about the characters, setting, situation, etc.

What doesn’t hook me is a tepid opening that feels too familiar or unintriguing or takes too long to reveal its purpose.

VL: What type of manuscript would you love to find in your inbox?

LB: I’d love to find more magical realism YA novels with literary bents.  I’m very interested in books set in the South or Kentucky, as that’s where I’m originally from.  I’d also love to find a literary YA with Romani characters.  I’m searching for more middle grade, too, but the voice, characters, and plot must be stand out; quiet middle grade novels can be very challenging.  I’m also always glad to find more humorous picture books in the vein of Jon Klassen or with heartwarming, big-voiced characters, and early chapter books.

VL: Oh, those are are intriguing ideas – a Romani character in Kentucky. Hmm. Thoughts are churning here…

Tell us what happens after an author signs with you; what’s the next step?

LB: It’s always so exciting after an author signs with me!

If I think the manuscript needs some revision before I submit it out to editors, I’ll send detailed feedback and discuss it all with the author and we’ll work on revising the manuscript until it’s ready.   Then I’ll create a list of the best editors to go to for submissions and get them excited about the book.  There are many more steps afterwards, including negotiating the deal and contract, selling subrights, working with editors on getting my authors the best publicity and marketing possible for their books, and more.

To learn more behind-the-scenes details about what an agent does for her clients, please come to my talk at the conference!

VL: I for one, cannot wait to learn more.

Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us, Laura.

Learn more about Laura from her agency bio here.

Follow Laura on Twitter here.

SCBWI OK Banner

 

 

 

ONLY A FEW SPOTS LEFT BEFORE CONFERENCE IS SOLD OUT!

For more details on the conference or to register online, click here. I hope to see you there!

TweetAnd for those who’d like more enticements, another one of our speakers for the conference this up-coming weekend, Editor Erica Finkel of Abrams Books for Young Readers will be our special guest this evening on our 2nd official OK SCBWI Twitter chat! Join us from 7-8pm CST and use the hashtag #okscbwichat. Follow Erica on Twitter here.

***If you missed the chat, CLICK HERE to view the recap on Storify. Enjoy!

When Authors Come to Town – How to Get the Most out of the Experience

Unsplash by Erik Heddema

Photo Credit via Unsplash by Erik Heddema

Meeting a favorite author can be amazing. You get to hear about the story behind their novels, their road to publication, their writing process, how they keep themselves motivated, and all kinds of insider information about the world of publishing from someone who’s made it.  And you don’t have to wait for a conference to hear an author speak. You can catch them at book signings, during book tours, or other events.

I’m often puzzled when I hear people say that they only want to come to conferences if editors & agents will be there. Not published writers. You can learn so much from someone who’s already gone ahead of you, so it only makes sense that aspiring writers should want to hear from published writers. Then again, these may be the same writers who think they don’t have time to read books.

It’s like expecting to walk away from your first conference with a book deal; it’s not very realistic. You may come away with fantastic ideas on how to improve your manuscript, and you may make some wonderful industry connections – which are both valuable, even crucial to success. And who knows? You may even come away with a green light to submit your improved manuscript to a closed house or agency. All great reasons to go to a conference.

But so is the opportunity to hear from seasoned writers.

Some of the most motivational, inspiring talks I’ve ever heard have been from writers. I’ve learned more about craft and why I want to be a writer and how I can never stop being a writer and why I should pursue the stories of my heart from hearing other writers speak than from any how-to book I’ve ever read. I love going to author events whenever I can. I always come away rejuvenated and ready to work.

So now that you know how wonderful author events can be, how can you get the most out of these opportunities? And where can you find them?

HOW:

Familiarize yourself with the author’s work ahead of time. That doesn’t mean you have to read everything they’ve ever written, but at least read something so you have a feel for their voice. It’s like coming to class prepared. You get more out of the lecture if you’ve done the reading. You can also ask better questions during Q&A (or have something intelligent to talk about while getting your book signed).

Invite a friend or two. You’d be surprised how many of these events aren’t necessarily well-publicized. Especially library events. I went to one author event with only about twenty people in attendance. This author had just been interviewed on NPR the week before. Unbelievable. His talk was outstanding. I wish I’d thought to bring a friend. Now I know to spread the news and take a friend with me.

(You might even think about taking your child.It can be an invaluable experience – and talk about creating a love of reading! I’ve had the pleasure of taking my daughter to meet some of her favorite authors, and I know that’s made a huge impact on her. She could barely speak when she met her first author – Ally Carter, I think. But by the time she met Kate di Camillo, she was an old pro. She got to hear Kate talk about how she created the main character in THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX and when they brought out the microphone for the kids to ask questions, my daughter stepped right up and asked her how she came up with the idea of chiaroscuro. Kate smiled at her, complimented her creative attire, and answered her question in great detail. That kind of experience is unforgettable.)

Take notes! As I said, you can always learn something. If your memory is anything like mine, you will be glad you wrote it all down, instead of relying on your faulty brain.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Many times, the author leaves space in their talk for a Q&A session. This is why you do your research beforehand, so you can ask an intelligent question. So be brave and throw that hand up! I’ve seen many Q&A times go unused when I knew people really wanted to ask questions. When they were able to ask questions later in a smaller setting, they couldn’t stop asking questions. So, just in case you don’t get that second opportunity, engage with the author during the Q&A and ask away. That’s part of the reason they are there.

WHERE:

Check with your local libraries and universities. Many bring in authors throughout the year to speak. Some of these events may even be free to the public or have a nominal fee.

Check out local online magazine event calendars. For the Tulsa area, there’s The Tulsa VoiceOklahoma MagazineTulsaPeople and Tulsa Lifestyle.

Follow local event planning organizations. Tulsa has a great organization called Booksmart Tulsa that “offers top notch literary events” at a wide variety of venues. They’ve held events for Audrey Niffenegger, Chuck Palahniuk, and Ransom Riggs. And soon they’ll be holding the book release for our very own Jennifer Latham.

Follow your favorite authors on social media or subscribe to their newsletters. That way you’ll know when they’ll be appearing near you.

 

As many of you in the OKC area may know we just had author Jay Asher come through. I had to miss him, unfortunately, but many of my fellow SCBWI friends were able to be there and had a great time including Regina Garvie, who wrote a fantastic post about meeting him, here.

One author visit I WON’T be missing is Neil Gaiman’s. He’ll be in Tulsa on March 10th at the Tulsa PAC. For more information about this event or to purchase tickets, click here.

So how about you?

Have you met any of your favorite authors? What was your experience like? How do you prepare for an author event? And how do you find out about author events in your area?

 

Writing Scenes with Umph! – a TGNA Post

tgnahead

 

It’s List of Five Friday over at The Great Noveling Adventure and I’m discussing how to write believable settings into your work by giving some outstanding examples.

Here’s a preview:

As writers we know it’s important to set the stage for our story, to draw a picture in the reader’s mind of the world we’ve created so effortlessly that they can feel themselves a part of it.

Last weekend, while attending an all day critique event and leading some critique sessions, I found that getting a sense of place across was not an easy task for many beginning writers. The tendency was to include scene description by stopping in a doorway and giving an almost 360° turn around the room, describing all of the objects inside. Not very interesting. I explained how this stops the action cold and slows the pacing to a crawl. I offered some suggestions – a way to incorporate the all-important setting details without overwhelming or boring the reader – such as letting the description flow naturally while your character interacts with the environment. Break it up with action and dialogue. Give the details purpose.

To give some examples of what I’m talking about, and to again highlight why reading is so important for writers, my List of Five Friday is all about the writers who really know how to set a scene…

To read the full post, click here.

 

TweetSince we’re back from the holidays, I’m back to hosting AM #sprints every weekday morning on Twitter @Novel_Adventure. Join me if you need some motivation to get started or if you’d like some companionship as you work on your own great novel.

Art & Fear – An Exploration, Part II

It’s been one month since I last posted and that’s been due to me being sick for almost the entire month of December. Yes, I was inoculated against the flu. No, it didn’t prevent me from contracting it and then compounding said disease with a nasty sinus infection for good measure. I really should just buy stock in Sudafed and Kleenex.

Now that I’m able to be upright for most of the day without hacking my brains out or moaning incoherently, it’s time to get back to work and to the fascinating study of Art & Fear.

Let’s just consider the break my mid-season finale. I did leave you all on a bit of a cliff-hanger with Part I. So without further ado, here’s the conclusion.

To brush up on what we covered in Part I (or previously on Barbies on Fire), look no further than here.

Taming the Beast – Conquering the Fear

Now that we know that most artists struggle at one time or another with fear during their creative process, what do we do about it?

art_fearTo begin the discussion, I want to bring to light some of the ideas from the book I mentioned in Part I, ART & FEAR: OBSERVATIONS ON THE PERILS (AND REWARDS) OF ARTMAKING by David Bayles & Ted Orland. The insights I found there were fantastic and really encouraging.

  • The function of the majority of your artwork is simply to teach you how to make the small fraction of your artwork that soars…You learn how to make your work by making your work, and a great many of the pieces you make along the way will never stand out as finished art. The best you can do is make art you care about – and lots of it! The rest is largely a matter of perseverance.

To me, this gave me permission to fail without being a failure and consider it part of my process. Those half-finished manuscripts that never managed to become anything more were just me learning how to write better.

  • Artists quit when they convince themselves that their next effort is already doomed to fail…Virtually all artists encounter such moments. Fear that your next work will fail is a normal, recurring and generally healthy part of the art making process…In the normal artistic cycle this just tells you that you’ve come full circle, back to that point where you need to begin cultivating the next new idea.

One of the novels I abandoned happened in a situation like this. The work wasn’t going anywhere and another story demanded my attention in its stead. So interesting to think of this as a normal part of the artistic process and not like I abandoned one of my children by the side of the road – which is how I used to feel.

  • (For many art students, graduation does them in.) Not many people continue making art when – abruptly – their work is no longer seen, no longer exhibited, no longer commented upon, no longer encouraged…the real killer is the lack of any continuing support system afterwards.

Being plugged into a supportive artistic community and receiving constructive feedback from my awesome critique group is key me to staying active with my art. I think this is important for most writers.

  •  Making art precipitates self-doubt, stirring deep waters that lay between what you know you should be, and what you fear you might be. For many people, that alone is enough to prevent their ever getting started at all – and for those who do, trouble isn’t long in coming.

This is just self-explanatory and (ding!) rings a bell with me. Remember that fear of failure was one of my reasons for procrastination.

  • What separates artists from ex-artists is that those who challenge their fears, continue; those who don’t, quit. Each step in the art making process puts that issue to the test.

Who hasn’t questioned whether they were good enough or creative enough to make it as a writer? Who hasn’t had the horrifying thought, “I’ll never get published”? And yet, somehow we find the strength to keep going.

  • Imagination is in control when you begin making an object. The artwork’s potential is never higher than in that magic moment when the first brushstroke is applied, the first chord struck. But as the piece grows, technique and craft take over, and imagination becomes a less useful tool. A piece grows by becoming specific.

I used to feel so frustrated that I couldn’t get my fingers to type out the thoughts in my head. This idea that we can’t ever capture that elusiveness of inspiration exactly was liberating. I also loved this idea that creativity is tempered by technique.

  • Uncertainty is the essential, inevitable and all-pervasive companion to your desire to make art. And tolerance for uncertainty is the prerequisite to succeeding.

Giving myself permission to embrace the uncertainty of writing may be the best idea to come out of this book, yet.

  • Fears about art making fall into two families: fears about yourself, and fears about your reception by others…fears about yourself prevent you from doing your best work, while fears about your reception by others prevent you from doing your own work.

I totally agree with this point. I’ve known many writers who’ve told me that they can’t write a certain book until their parents die. You have to write as if no one is reading. Self-censorship will be the death of your creativity.

  • There is probably no clearer waste of psychic energy than worrying about how much talent you have – and probably no worry more common. This is true even among artists of considerable accomplishment.

I came to the realization after the LA SCBWI conference that no one is immune from self-doubt when so many speakers voiced this very thing. It came as quite a relief, actually. If we all feel this way, then it’s got to be a normal part of the creative process, right?

So what do you think? Did you connect or identify with any of these ideas? Does this help you feel better or worse about your relationship with art & fear?