What I Learned at the SCBWI LA Conference – Part 2 Editors Discuss What Books Need and What They Don’t

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There was a very lively Editors’ Panel this year, and the discussion was all about what you should have in your manuscript and what you shouldn’t. The dynamic panel included:

Alessandra Balzer, VP and Co-Publisher at Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books

Mary Lee Donovan, Editorial Director at Candlewick Press

Allyn Johnston, VP and Publisher of Beach Lane Books, a San Diego-based imprint of Simon & Schuster

Wendy Loggia, Executive Editor at Delacorte Press/Random House Children’s Books

Lucia Monfried, Senior Editor at Dial Books for Young Readers

Dinah Stevenson, VP and Publisher of Clarion Books, a small imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Julie Strauss Gabel, VP and Publisher of Dutton Children’s Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers

 

Editors Panel w/Lin Oliver moderating. Pic from Official SCBWI Conference Blog
Editors Panel w/Lin Oliver moderating. Pic from Official SCBWI Conference Blog

 

 

The first question addressed to the panel asked for one good thing they looked for in a manuscript.

Overwhelmingly, the answer was voice.

Mary Lee Donovan expanded on this: Voice is what you bring to your manuscript automatically. Don’t try to imitate, or echo another writer or style. Make sure you are writing authentically as yourself so your voice comes through. “If you are writing authentically, you are writing in your voice.”

Allyn Johnston added that she wanted the unexpected; something that gives her goosebumps. And no elaborate cover letters, for her. She would rather you spend more time developing your manuscript.

Lucia Monfried said, “Originality. It’s a rare quality that grabs you.”

Dinah Stevenson said she’d like to see a beginning, “Not only an invitation into the story, but something that contains the seeds of the ending, so it sets up a satisfying journey.”

Julie Strauss Gabel echoed the importance of voice, and then mentioned for her personally, she’s very attentive to fit. As in fit for her imprint and for her as an editor. And she said this isn’t just a surface fit, it’s about that unique one-on-one relationship. Never write to general masses or trends. From your voice to your manuscript, you have to be able to stand by it. “I’m looking for something I can champion.”

Others echoed this and the importance of diligent research before submitting. Suggesting writers look over editors’ lists, read interviews, and find other useful information that is available on the internet.

Alessandra Balzar, Mary Lee Donovan, and Allyn Johnston. (pic from Official SCBWI conference Blog)
Alessandra Balzer, Mary Lee Donovan, and Allyn Johnston. (pic from Official SCBWI conference Blog)

 

Second question asked editors to discuss things they did not want to see in manuscript submissions.

Allyn Johnston said, “Don’t be weird.”  Don’t send your manuscript inside a green plastic fish (which she held up for all to see) or with a satin eye patch.

Boring manuscripts was another common theme.

Alessandra Bray added that she sees some writers, in an effort not to be boring, overload the start their manuscript with so much action or sex drama that it is overwhelming. She suggested we as writers should, “introduce us to your characters” and leave out the “dark and stormy night bits”.

Wendy Loggia gave this insight on how to know if you have a boring manuscript: If only you get excited about your work, it’s probably boring. When you practice pitches, if others show interest, that’s good. If not, that’s bad.

Julie Strauss Gabel added that If she doesn’t get engaged or see the voice or if it’s pedestrian, she’s out. She then said that the very best stories come from very personal places. Always think about why this story has to be told.

Allyn Johnston, Wendy Loggia, and Lucia Monfried (pic from Official SCBWI conference blog.)
Allyn Johnston, Wendy Loggia, and Lucia Monfried (pic from Official SCBWI conference blog.)
Dinah Stevenson and Julie Strauss Gabel (pic from Official SCBWI conference blog.)
Dinah Stevenson and Julie Strauss Gabel (pic from Official SCBWI conference blog.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Third question asked each editor to discuss what they looked for in a fresh, snappy manuscript.

Many reflected on ideas of craftsmanship and dealing with a writer who understood story structure. An emphasis on educating ourselves as writers was expressed over and over. Too many manuscripts come in that read like first drafts. Writers are not taking enough time to edit.

Lucia Monfried stated, ” There’s no speeding up how to get better as writers. Take your time; learn your craft.”

Dinah Stevenson said that a manuscript screams out first draft when a writer has thrown in everything and the kitchen sink. “Craft means making choices. It’s part of the process.”

Wendy Loggia added that she looks at the overall structure of the manuscript. Paragraph structure, sentence breaks, chapter endings, etc. “I love to step in and make suggestions, but it’s great when I can tell that a writer has an idea of how they want the manuscript to look.”

Allyn Johnston said, “When I’m in the hands of a professional, I can relax.” She then shared a quote from Mem Fox to share what she’s looking for: “When the emotional temperature of the reader has changed through the experience.”

Julie Strauss Gabel expressed ‘sharability’ as something she looks for. “Word of mouth is the key to this business. We’re here because we care about who is going to read this book.”

Alessandra Balzar said she wanted to see a hook – that thing that makes a manuscript fresh, unique. “What hook really means is the ability for the book to stand out.” What’s going to make someone say, ‘Oh, you have to read this book.’ – and that book is yours?”

Allyn Johnston and Mary Lee Donovan both commented on wanting books that fulfilled this golden moment when they become a reader. When they let go of the editor part of themselves and just enjoy the story. That is the golden moment and that’s when they know they’ve found something special.

Overall, a fabulous panel with lots of great insights and pearls of wisdom from these experts in the field of publishing.

 

 

 

 

What I Learned at the SCBWI LA Conference – Part 1 Meg Rosoff, the Queen of Weird and Champion of the Imagination

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This week has been incredibly busy with the relaunch of my group blog, The Great Noveling Adventure, and hosting all those AM writing sprints, but what fun! I’m going to continue doing them as it gets me up and writing every day. I didn’t want September to start without beginning my LA conference recap posts, so here’s the first one. I had hoped to bring back some extra signed copies of some books, but due to another sold-out conference, this one with record-breaking attendance, the bookstore was pretty picked over by the time I got around to it. Still, I think I may just have something up my sleeve to give away later in the month.

MEG ROSOFF SPEAKS ON IMAGINATION

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Meg Rosoff, author of Printz Award book HOW I LIVE NOW and THERE IS NO DOG, opened the conference with her keynote entitled “Warning: Peter Rabbit May be Hazardous to Your Health” where she discussed how some psychologists and other “experts” were telling parents not to allow their children to read fairy tales. Why? Because fairy tales were dangerous.

Yes, dangerous.

They teach children an unrealistic view of the world. She quoted from an unnerving number of sources, which stated things like this jewel of wisdom:

“Even fairy tales, the ones we all love, with wizards or princesses turning into frogs or whatever it was. There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it’s statistically too improbable.”(This was from a Telegraph article.)

Who can argue with such logic?

In Rosoff’s opinion, they were all missing the point. Imagination is not a dangerous thing for a child to develop, in fact, it is essential. To prove her point, she began her talk with a retelling of GOLIDLOCKS AND THE THREE BEARS and she gave it a realistic bent, as these experts would have us do.

(Me paraphrasing extensively.) She entered a house, actually it was a cave. And instead of finding three bowls of porridge what she actually found were three rotting rabbit carcasses. “This is disgusting,” she said.

She went to lie down after this, but instead of beds, there were piles of leaves mixed with bear excrement. When the bears came home, they growled at her – “if they could speak a language, it would probably be French-Canadian” – and then they disemboweled her and ate her.

The End.

Not exactly warm and fuzzy. And quite nauseating, to boot. But hey, it’s more realistic, and according to the “experts”. exactly what children, today, need in their stories. Can you imagine a childhood devoid of imagination? A world where children grow up learning only to think in rational ways? THAT is a truly terrifying tale.

When her own child went off to college and shared fears of not being as good or as smart as the other kids in the physics department, how_i_live_now_3-125x200this is what Meg said to her:

“You may not ever be a genius, but you read books. You know about plot, character, stories. You know about letting your unconscious mind follow things to new conclusions. Reading books strengthens imagination and lateral thinking. A good scientist needs imagination. Reading books may even make you a GREAT scientist.”

Imagination is essential to great thinkers, to creative minds. It’s not something one should outgrow or overcome.

“Imagination and the ability to tell a story will make anyone better at anything, with the possible exception of politicians and accountants.”

Reading about the fantastical, the improbable, allows kids to imagine the what ifs. It’s our job as writers is to try to understand the world and take risks to write the strongest, fiercest, most subversive tales. This means not being afraid to engage with the darker parts of ourselves. That’s where some of the really important stuff can happen. Break the rules, be subversive. Write a book no one else may want to read.

In one review after her second book, it said, “Meg Rosoff is the queen of weird.” She took it as a compliment.

“Imagination is very dangerous. It can change the world. And that’s why we write.”

Learn more about Meg Rosoff here.

Follow Meg on Twitter here.

My Favorite Quotes and Some Pics from this Year’s SCBWI LA Summer Conference

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Things have been moving at a break-neck pace ever since I returned from the SCBWI LA Summer conference earlier this month. My less-than part-time job has picked up substantially and the group blog I participate in is coming back from vacation next week with a bang – all new format, a few changes to the line-up, and one hell of a fabulous contest with a gazillion prizes, including books and critiques! (Details on that coming very soon.) Not to mention squeezing in all the important revising that must continue. And I haven’t even talked about our Fall Retreat that’s (ack!) in just a few weeks.

Despite all of the chaotic activity, I really wanted to get started with my yearly conference-inspired blog posts. To tease you all a bit with what I have in mind, I thought I’d start with some of my favorite quotes from this year’s event.

 

“Imagination and the ability to tell a story will make anyone better at anything, with the possible exception of politicians and accountants.”

– Meg Rosoff

“Craft means making choices. It’s part of the process.”

-Dinah Stevenson

“Teletubbies, better than a valium.”

-Judy Schachner

“There’s no such thing as writer’s block; you’re just editing too early.”

-Stephen Chbosky

“When stealing from real life, there’s a process of subtraction.”

-Maggie Stiefvater

“Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down. Children are demanding. They are the most attentive, curious, eager, observant, sensitive, quick, and generally congenial readers on earth…Children are game for anything. I throw them hard words and they backhand them across the net.”

– Megan McDonald reciting from famous E.B. White quote

“You never again love a book the way you do as a child.”

-Linda Sue Park

 “I’ve always struggled with my own smallness.”

-Sharon Flake

“Being an artist is the way you live your life.”

-Tomie de Paolo

“I was brave in my writing in a way that I wasn’t in my life.”

-Judy Blume

Yes! Judy freakin’ Blume! Her talk was the perfect way to end the conference, I have to say. I actually teared up just watching her cross the stage to the podium. LOVE HER!!! She’s so freakin’ adorable and moving and everything you imagine that you just want to hug her to pieces and then stuff the pieces into your mouth. Too weird? Sorry. But it’s Judy freakin’ Blume!

Snapping out of my fangirl fog, let’s get back to the quotes for just a second. See if you can guess how these fantastic little tidbits will play out as blog posts in the weeks ahead as I dole out the jewels of wisdom I received on my journey out west. Until then, I leave you with some vacation pics. Enjoy!

 

Me and my lovely critique partner Barbara Lowell at the PALS event where she just about sold out of her first book! Love her!
Me and my lovely critique partner Barbara Lowell (remember when I did an interview with her on the blog?) at the PALS event where she just about sold out of her first book! Love her! (Probably didn’t hurt that Bonnie Bader used her book as an example during one of her talks. Impressive, no?)

 

Insanely gorgeous art installation/wall of plant life at the mall across the street.
Insanely gorgeous art installation/wall of plant life at the mall across the street.

 

 

The Jerry Bennett allowing me to admire him for a moment as we both show our excitement for Stephen Chbosky's keynote.
The Jerry Bennett allowing me to admire him for a moment as we both show our excitement for Stephen Chbosky’s keynote. I have a sad update for all of  you Jerry fans – he has had a facial hair accident of unknown origin and is currently beardless. It’s shocking to all of us, but we’ll should try to help him through this sad, trying time.

 

And then I got to admire Stephen Chbosky for a moment where he told me story about how nervous he was accepting an award right after Bill Clinton spoke - "Yeah I wasn't as good."
And then I got to admire Stephen Chbosky for a moment where he told me story about how nervous he was speaking at an awards show right after Bill Clinton spoke – “Yeah, I wasn’t as good,” he said.

 

 

Me and some more of our Oklahoma group, Brenda Maier and Catren Perks-Lamb at the Golden Kite Luncheon.
Me and some more of our delightful Oklahoma group, Brenda Maier and Catren Perks-Lamb at the Golden Kite Luncheon.

 

A beautiful night in LA.
A beautiful night in LA. Can’t wait for next year!

A Hit Versus an Evergreen: A Look at a Fascinating Editorial Discussion

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Every year at the SCBWI Summer Conference, there is an editors panel on Saturday morning where a group of editors are introduced and then questioned about a variety of subjects. This year, SCBWI did something new with the panel by giving the discussion a specific focus.

The discussion was entitled: What Makes an Evergreen, What Makes a Hit

What makes a book a timeless classic versus a momentary blockbuster? I found this discussion much more interesting, especially when the discussion turned toward the acquisitions process. Not what I had pictured at all.

Here were the editors involved:

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Donna Bray, Co-Publisher of Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins

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Claudia Gabel, Executive Editor at Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books

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Allyn Johnston, Vice President and Publisher of Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

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Melissa Manlove, Editor at Chronicle Books

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Andrea Davis Pinkney, Author and Vice President, Executive Editor at Scholastic

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Namrata Tripathi, Executive Editor at Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

Nice line up, right?

The fabulous Lin Oliver acted as moderator and asked the questions.

What qualities of a work make an evergreen versus a hit?Wonder

Donna Bray:  Evergreens are speaking to universal truths; hits are speaking to a moment in time.

Wonder (by R.J. Palacio) has both – perfectly timed and also has quality.

Melissa Mangrove: Books that continue to speak on the human experience. If I’m understanding the question, it’s a book with long backlist potential versus the big splash.

Hg--jacket-210Andrea David Pinkney: It’s the longevity. I’ll feel myself falling in love and I’ll ask myself if I’ll still feel this way years from now.

The Hunger Games (by Suzanne Collins) during a time of war banged us over the head in a good way. It landed at the right time to be a hit.

Allyn Johnston: Not wanting to buy just one project from the author. Books that continue to have lives is very gratifying.

Claudia Gabel: An evergreen can sometimes be about a close examination of a time period that changed the face of our world.book1

The Book Thief (by Markus Zusak) for example. Having Death as a character made it stand out. The plot around the importance of books is an evergreen point.

Namrata Tripathi:The only thing to add is qualitative. This whole discussion about time is interesting; you don’t really know until after publication. It’s so nebulous. It’s always surprising.

If acquiring a book, do you discuss whether it will earn out versus receive awards?

Andrea Davis Pinkney: More marketing driven? No.

I depend on the expertise of my colleagues. I do go in prepared for objections and speak to them. I fight for the books I want.

Donna Bray:  I don’t think it’s changed; I want the whole team behind me. Sometimes you bring a book in and people have reservations. This doesn’t mean you can’t bring the book in. It’s up to you to start it off on the right foot.

Namrata Tripathi: One of the things we all do; go in the day before acquisitions and line up our allies. (All laughed.)

Allyn Johnston: The great Sid Fleischman used to say, “Point to the problem; if there’s a weakness, make it a strength.”

Namrata Tripathi: It doesn’t even matter what the objection is. There’s so much chemistry involved. We have to carry how much we love the book to others. No matter how much I love my husband, I can’t convince Lin of this. You can’t define it; it’s touched you viscerally and now you have to convey this to others.

What manuscript spoke to you as an example of a good marriage between evergreen and hit?ATW_Caldecott

Allyn Johnston: A book by a new writer, Liz Garton Scanlon called All the World. It’s going to sound cliche, but it felt universal and timeless, with a strong emotional core.  She sent it to Marla Frazee and told her to drop what she was working on to do this first. It won a Caldecott Honor.

Also, a bedtime book about evolution called Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story (by Lisa Westberg Peters).

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Namrata Tripathi: It has a lot to do with voice. Voice and character are related. When you’ve rendered a character so vividly that they stay with me. Though I’ve stepped away from a book, my mind hasn’t. When I’m obsessing about characters, I should probably get the book. She felt this way about Lulu and the Brontosaurus by Judith Viorst. It was funny, sassy and fresh. The character felt now and timeless.

Andrea Davis Pinkney: The thing I look for is the voice. There’s a reason the show The Voice is so popular.

Melissa Manlove: Marriage of voice and topic. When an author talked to me about the subnivian zone, I said I didn’t know what that was. It was quiet and I kind of loved it. (The book was Kate Messner’s Over & Under the Snow.)

Donna Bray: It’s like a physical pain. If I lost this book, I would be sad forever. clementine_cover

For her it was Clementine by Sara Pennypacker. It was the character and the voice. The author was firing on all cylinders. It went deeper than most chapter books. This must be what people reading Ramona must have felt the first time.

Claudia Gabel: Really deep, deep love.

When reading the second pass, you can’t wait to read it again. A manuscript that somehow surprises you.

What a great discussion. I think we could continue this over drinks during our next writer’s weekend, what do you think?

I’ll leave you with this nugget of wisdom from the amazing Allyn Johnston that she just dropped in the middle of the conversation like it was nothing. I swear, she makes me want to learn how to write picture books just so I could work with her.

It’s the rhythm that’s missing in the picture books that don’t work – not the rhyme, the rhythm.

Exercising Patience – A Few Words from Matt de la Pena

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I have a confession to make.

I came away from the SCBWI LA Summer conference with a brand new author crush.

 

Matt de la Peña.

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And not just because he is ruggedly handsome. Or because he took the time to notice where I was from when I was in line to get my book signed and then asked me where exactly Broken Arrow was. He even talked to me about an upcoming author event he had scheduled in my area. Very nice.

And it wasn’t because he said it was great to meet me. See?

MAtt Autograph

Or because he took the time to stand up to take a picture with me. Not many authors do that. So thoughtful.

Me and Matt de la Pena. The flash went off and I froze like a deer waiting to be shot.
Me and Matt de la Peña. The flash went off and I froze like a deer waiting to be shot.

Or because he gave me a copy of his short story, Passing Each Other in Halls,  por nada. So awesome of him, wasn’t it?

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Okay, okay. Ma-ybe he did that for all of his quasi-mental, yet adoring fans. Still, not all authors take this kind of time with their readers/stalkers/fans, believe me. Better than any fabulous swag I may have gained from the conference was the knowledge he imparted during his keynote speech and break out sessions. For that, I will be eternally grateful and a forever devoted stalker reader.

During his break out session on exercising patience, one of the first things he said was:

The first page is important but don’t mistake this for EVERYTHING has to happen on the first page.

You don’t have to cram all the major drama – the break up, the car crash, the gun shot – in that first page to make your story great and to keep readers interested. Allow your characters to tell the story; let it unfold naturally. Sometimes you have to get out of your own way and let your readers come to their own conclusions.

Which brings me to de la Peña’s next nugget of wisdom:

Not every reader has to get every thing.

He shared the opening pages from Denis Johnson‘s Tree of Smoke with us as an example of writing that allows the story to unfold without tree of smokeprejudice or narrator comment. The opening line is “Last night at 3:00am President Kennedy had been killed.” Within this passage, as the young soldier stalks through the jungle, there is a 2nd assassination with the death of a monkey, but the narrator doesn’t draw attention to it. If the reader gets the parallel, great. It adds another layer, a deeper connection to the story, but the reader doesn’t need to understand this connection to follow the plot.

De la Peña does the same with his own writing as well. In Ball Don’t Lie, a story about a foster kid who’s only constant in life is basketball, you don’t have to understand the game of basketball to appreciate it. In Mexican WhiteBoy, there are tons of Spanish passages that he doesn’t translate. You don’t have to know what’s being said to appreciate the story, but it enhances the experience. De la Peña says that when a kid who isn’t a big reader can translate a passage for a teacher who’s reading aloud to the class, he takes ownership of the story, which is what you want.

When reading a book, you are doing half the work; you take ownership of it. You picture the action in your mind.

 I love that.

When de la Peña returned to the discussion of how we as writers can show patience in our work, he talked about his experience in his MFA program. At one point, he was trying to show off, be a real stylist by throwing everything he’d learned into his current writing project. His advisor told him the story was suffering because of it. She told him to slow the f*ck down.

Just slow down.

She was so right.

This advice has followed him throughout his career.

Sometimes the slow build is the best build.

 When something big is about to happen in your story, slow that moment down. Car crashes, gun shots, even break ups can take seconds. You can slow it down in a book with many different strategies. Do you go with hypersensitivity? Backstory? Try different ways and see what works.

Sit there with the audience in the palm of your hand and make them suffer.

 Ooh hoo hoo! Gives you chills doesn’t it? I’ve heard of hurting your characters, of torturing them until it hurts, but your reader? I’d never thought of their suffering while I write, have you?

But he does make an excellent point. Some of my favorite books have those delicious scenes that have kept me on that edge, prolonging the moment. It’s almost an agony, suffering the pain of the moment along with the character, but I find myself rereading these passages again and again, soaking up every bit, until I’m satisfied enough to move on.

If you are lucky enough to live in the Tulsa area, come see this dynamic author for yourself. Matt will be speaking on September 24th at the Martin Regional Library.

Learn more about Matt de la Peña here.

Follow Matt on Twitter here.

Follow Matt on Facebook here.

Teaching Kids Bad Manners Through Literature

When trying to write the kind of story you want to tell, and the kind of story kids want to hear, all sorts of pesky things can get in the way; rules of society, parents’ ideas of a “proper” story, censorship nazis, the list goes on and on.

JonScieszkaDuring the SCBWI Summer conference, John Scieszka (pronounced chess-kah), talked about this problem in his keynote address entitled The Importance of Being Subversive in Writing for Kids: Not Every Book Should Put You to Sleep. He said there are a lot of people between you and your audience; You have to get creative to sneak your ideas past them.

He told about how in his book, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, he told the tale from the wolf’s point of view. Nothing could be more subversive. He got to mess with everything – that’s what was so fun. little_pigsMy kids loved this book when they were little. Maybe that’s where they got the idea for the stories they told me whenever they got into trouble. It wasn’t me, Mom. Aliens used mind control and took over my body to make me spread peanut butter all over the television. I wouldn’t do something like that!

Just in case you haven’t read this book, here’s a quick summary:

“You may think you know the story of the Three Little Pigs. But you don’t know the whole story until you’ve heard A. Wolf’s side of the story. Mr. Wolf huffs, and he puffs, and he has a very bad sneezing cold. He also needs a cup of sugar to make a birthday cake for his dear, sweet granny’s birthday. Read and learn. Then decide for yourself–Big Bad Wolf . . . or media frame-up?” (Plot summary from author’s website.)

It may seem like just a funny story, (which it is) but I also think it plants the seeds of critical thinking and realizing there are two sides to every situation. Also, just because someone tells us we should believe them, doesn’t mean they are telling the truth. Scieszka manages to pull all of this off without beating kids over the head with a sickly sweet moral story. Fascinating.

stinky_cheeseDuring his talk, he also told about how The Stinky Cheese Man (a collection of subversive stories) received a monumental amount of rejections. One of the harsher rejections asked him to “please don’t send us anything ever again”. Ouch. Another suggested that “this isn’t really a great story to put kids to sleep.” He said he didn’t want to put kids to sleep.

The first National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature (who won a Caldecott medal for that monumentally rejected book) told us this:

“You’re born being subversive. It gets beat out of you.”

Our duty is to stir kids up.

He says that you can get kids excited about reading by giving them the kinds of stories they want to read. One way he did this, besides writing a few subversive books himself, was to establish GUYS READ, a web-based literacy program for boys meant to address the declining interest in reading by boys. His GUYS READ website has a list of many books approved by boys themselves.

So the next time you find yourself censoring a crazy idea or trashing a storyline because no parent will buy it, think of Jon Scieszka and be subversive. Our kids need you to stir them up and get them excited about reading.

First Impressions from the LA Conference

scbwi2013I love being a part of the SCBWI tribe.

And not just because I get to run away every summer and play with my fellow writers in a celebration of children’s books. I don’t think I could make it through this grueling struggle towards publication without such a crazy-supportive community.

As Lin Oliver stated in her opening address of the SCBWI Summer conference, “Let’s admit that we’re all kind of weirdos”. That’s probably why I feel so at home when I’m there; the place is chock full of kindred spirits.

I always enjoy the parade of the faculty that follows her opening speech. This is when each speaker marches across the stage, introduces themselves and sums up life, the universe, and everything in one word. (Strangely, I have never heard someone use the word forty-two.) As usual, not all writers follow the rules.

Here are some of my favorites from this year:

David Weisner  “Plastics”

Richard Peck  “Surveillance”

Jay Asher  “Subtlety”

Then Jay spoke for his writing partner who couldn’t attend the faculty parade: (in high-pitched voice)”Hi, I’m Carolyn Mackler and my word is Asparagus”.

Matt de la Peña “Honesty” and “Tequila” (I think the tequila helps with the honesty.)

Kristin Clark Venuti “Brain fart”

Ari Lewin “Bacon”

Laurie Halse Anderson made up a word, “Frenergy” which she described as frenzy and energy.

After wracking her brain all night trying to think of a word, Alyn Johnston was inspired by the talking elevator in the hotel : “L-lobby!” (Did I mention that the elevator has a very laid back Californian accent?)

LiveImage.ashxAfter several other inspiring words, the conference got rolling with a great keynote from Laurie Halse Anderson that just made me love her forever. (Okay, I was already a fan of her work, but now it’s permanently carved into my heart: me + LHA = reader love forever and ever.)

I’ve felt an emotional disconnect with my writing lately. It’s all tied up in agent-submission fatigue and self-doubt. Anderson shot straight to the heart of that when she discussed her early writing struggles. At one point she said:

“Your fear is that you are a fraud with no talent.”

I wondered how she could see into my soul from eight rows back. I almost cried. She told us that there was a reason that we could hear dialogue and see in pictures. We have the gift of magic, of ‘Once upon a Time’.

“Books are proof humans can do magic.”

Amen! and Hell, yeah! I almost screamed out. She said that we are NOT like the other grownups; that we defend, protect, and celebrate childhood. We write books with integrity and honesty. In short, she said all of the things that recharged my writer’s heart and reminded me why I loved writing. She reminded me to forget about trends and to write what I love. It was the best way for me to start the conference – letting go of the negative crap and embracing the creative. Throughout the conference, this was the focus for me. I didn’t care this time about how to best market myself or which agents to pursue or what editors were wanting; I looked for things that inspired me.

I spent some quality time with my writing friends and sampled the local cuisine.

Me and most of the Oklahoma gang
Me and most of the Oklahoma gang
Eating at Toscanova with the whole gang.
Eating at Toscanova with the whole gang.
Bavette Alle Capesante (OMG! so good!)
Bavette Alle Capesante (OMG! so good!)

I checked out the art of a billion illustrators – not an original idea.

I think I see Jerry's bald head somewhere in the back.
I think I see Jerry’s bald head somewhere in the back.

I may have even donned a costume and danced a bit.

The Great Catsby and the girls.
The Great Catsby and the girls.
The Movie Mogul and Who is that fabulously feathered masked woman?
Jerry, The Movie Mogul and Who is that fabulously feathered masked woman?

I met some authors and took some awkward photos – they were all so generous with their time and kind words.

Laurie Halse Anderson at least knows how to keep her eyes open...
Laurie Halse Anderson at least knows how to keep her eyes open…
Joking around with Mac Barnett
Joking around with Mac Barnett
Me and Matt de la Pena. The flash went off and I froze like a deer waiting to be shot.
Me and Matt de la Peña. The flash went off and I froze like a deer waiting to be shot.

I may have gone overboard with the books.

too many books

(My bag weighed in at 49.5 lbs at the airport – score!)

I’ll be sharing posts in the weeks ahead about some great talks that helped me find the inspiration that made me excited about writing again. I hope you enjoy them.

As for my writing goals this month, I’ve toned them down a bit. Last month was a little crazy (which may have contributed to my negative state of mind).

Here are my #writemotivation goals for August:

1. Enjoy the SCBWI Summer Conference. DONE!!!
2. Revise, revise, revise. I have tons of critique notes from crit camp to review – not to mention my critique from the conference. I will be very busy with this.
3. Write, write, write. DITTO.
4. Read, read, read. I’ve indulged in this goal for the past few weeks and have read over six books already. More on that to come!
5. Keep that exercise routine going. Blech. Yes, I’m working on it. Stop nagging me. I’m just back from vacation, er, a business trip, whatever.

I hope you’ve all had an enjoyable summer and are rejuvenated from your various adventures. I know I am. Here’s to a productive and inspired fall!

My First Publishing Credit – And Other News

  • Exciting news here on the blog. One of my recent posts was accepted by a regional paper! Yes, my first publishing credit, woohoo! It’s all thanks to my folks passing along my story, How a Few Days in the Country Almost Killed Me to a local editor at the Ozark County Times. She liked it so much, she asked me to edit it down by a third so it could fit into their e-news format. I did what she asked and it appeared in this past Wednesday’s edition, along with a link back to my blog. Not bad, eh?

Here’s the article as it appears online:

Country Boy to London, City Girl to Country

  • A brief update on our upcoming spectacular SCBWI OK Fall event, AGENT DAY:  There are just a handful of spaces left! So if you’re thinking about attending this outstanding event, sign up now or you’ll wish you had. I’m so excited that some of my online friends have already signed up and I’ll get to meet them in person. To learn more details and about the participating agents and guest speakers, see my previous post here.
  • On that exciting note, I take a short leave of absence to the land of mild weather and eternal sunshine to attend the SCBWI LA Summer Conference. After a brief hiatus, in which I absorb all the literary goodness, I will be ready to return and share my newly acquired knowledge. In the mean time, I thought I’d share with you the series of posts inspired by last year’s conference. This may give you a hint as to what kind of delights I will be sharing with you in the month ahead.

sunny-palm-banner2

What Makes a Story Timeless? Emotional Truth  A post that explores how to connect through emotions.

Are You a Premature Querier?  A post that explores when to know if you’re really ready to send out that manuscript.

Markets and Trends; Don’t let them run your writing life, but don’t run away from them either. A post that explains why it’s important to be aware of trends while at the same time writing what you love.

A Brief Discussion About V-O-I-C-E Editors and Agents sound off on what this elusive quality is and how/if it can be attained.

Read, Read, READ!!! Various conference speakers discuss why it’s so important to read if you want to be a good writer.

Pay Attention! How being aware of our surroundings can benefit us as writers.

Things Beginning Writers Don’t Know Well, that one is pretty self-explanatory.

Enjoy!

Things You Should Never Catch with Your Head…and a belated #writemotivation check in

Consider this a cautionary tale.

Be wary of testing the law of gravity; it exists for your own protection. For what goes up does indeed come down. And sometimes it does so with a vengeance.

Back when I was in first grade, my brother decided to test Newton’s big theory. For some reason, I decided to witness this event. So when he threw this up into the air…

Photo credit: Roger H Goun via Flickr
Photo credit: Roger H Goun via Flickr

…I caught it with my forehead.

Good old laws of physics passed the test. Still have a small scar above my right eye to prove it.

My younger brother was playing in the the outfield on a hot summer day when a pop fly came right overhead. Glove ready, he reached out to catch it, but the sun blinded him and the ball slipped over the top of his glove…

Photo Credit: Jason Empey via Flickr
Photo Credit: Jason Empey via Flickr

…BAM!!! He caught the ball with his mouth.

Gravity was a cruel mistress on that day. His lips were swollen like two bruised plums bursting off his face for weeks. He now plays soccer.

On a related sports note, back in Little League, my husband forgot that when you’re playing catcher, you should probably kneel behind the plate so you don’t catch one of these…

Photo Credit: Photographer Unknown, Untitled (Four Baseball Bats) 1992, Sold at Christie's Auction in 2007
Photo Credit: Photographer Unknown, Untitled (Four Baseball Bats) 1992, Sold at Christie’s Auction in 2007

…with your noggin.

And maybe you should wear a catcher’s mask. The bat hit him so hard, he didn’t register the pain. He stood there, trying to figure out how his white jersey had turned red and what was dripping into his eye. Uh, yeah that would be the blood from the big gash in your skull. He has a pretty cool scar, too.

You’d think now that we’re older,  we’d all have a better understanding about the dangers of testing gravity, of catching objects hurtling through the air and exhibit a little more caution in our daily lives. Sadly, this rarely turns out to be the case. This past weekend, while swimming with the family at the neighborhood pool, my husband forgot the lessons of the past and did something incredibly stupid. He caught this…

Sophie Smile

…with his face.

My daughter jumped in, all carefree and impulsive – like you do – intent on making a big splash. Instead, she misjudged her aim. Her knee landed somewhere around my husband’s eyebrow, giving him a black eye and her shin bone smacked across his mouth hard enough to knock out one of his front teeth.

Just in time for him to start his new job the following Monday. (With a brief detour to some serious dental surgery. ) Yippee.

So how was your week?

Learn anything cool about science?

Catch anything dangerous with your head?

writemotivation_header1Let’s review some #writemotivation goals to liven things up a bit more.

1. Submit Institutionalized (YA contemporary) to five more literary agents. I’ve submitted to two more agents this month. Still no rejections, so this makes seven submissions out. Will have to send out three more before the end of the month to make this goal. Should be doable.

2. While participating in Camp NanoWriMo, write at least 50K towards first draft of Pretty Vacant (YA contemporary). Uhh…I kind of forgot all about Camp Nano in the midst of the Christmas in July Pitch contest hoopla, the hubs changing jobs which totally threw our harmonious family schedule into chaos (read stressed everyone completely out), him then getting injured and going through major dental surgery the same week he started the new job (although my husband on nitrous oxide was entertaining at times, this injury still added more chaos and stress to the week). This goal is a total fail for the month. I’ll keep working on the story, but there’s no way I’ll make my word limit goal.

3. Read at least five more books – review one on the blog. I need to write a review up this week, but the reading is going well. I may be the cnv paperback USlast person on the planet to start reading Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. A Michael L Printz Honor book, among other awards – actually I should tell you what awards it hasn’t won, it’s a much shorter list. I’m bouncing between this gripping tale and last week’s book of note, Sara Zaar’s How to Save a Life.

4. Finish critique of friend’s manuscript. (Hopefully by her birthday midway through the month!) I have started this, but still extreme sad face. Will not make this goal, either.

5. Exercise 4 times each week. I did make this goal. Yay! Didn’t overdo it. This week the work outs were a little more relaxed, but still accomplished.

6. Participate in all Crit Camp activities, which include critiquing 10K samples from manuscripts from the other participants and preparing crit letters. This. Was. So. HARD! Writing up critique letters with an overview of plot, character, voice, structure, etc., was such a different way of thinking about critique. I really struggled with my final crit letters. Natalie was so helpful in pointing out when I was holding back and not saying what I meant and making me reach deeper. It was such a great learning experience, and in the end, I was able to give more specific examples when giving critiques and discuss the overall picture in ways I’ve never been able to before. I also really enjoyed getting so much helpful, insightful feedback on my own work. If this is something you could use help with, you may want to check out Natalie C Parker’s Crit Camp yourself.

That’s a wrap on the past week. I’ve got some great posts coming up to finish out the month so stay tuned. Next month week I’m headed out to the fabulous SCBWI LA Summer Conference! I’m sure to bring back valuable knowledge to share.

July #writemotivation Week 1

photograph by Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. httpwww.flickr.comphotossahlgoodeIt’s only day two of July and already this month is kicking my butt. Not only am I participating in Camp Nano to complete a first draft of my latest YA project, but I won a spot in Natalie Parker’s Crit Camp this month (along with some fabulous books and other swag) and that will keep me plenty busy with my other #writemotivation goals I have set for this month. I asked for it, though. I wanted to really challenge myself this go round. God, I hope I survive. You may want to check on me from time to time to make sure I haven’t crawled under my desk to eat a pint of the tasty, tasty New York Super Fudge

better stock up, it's gonna be a long month.
Just a little taste?

Chunk…Mmm! Doesn’t that sound good right about now? No! We will find some semblance of willpower. WE WILL!

Here are my lofty goals for this month that may or may not render me insane:

1. Submit Institutionalized (YA contemporary) to five more literary agents.
2. While participating in Camp NanoWriMo, write at least 50K towards first draft of Pretty Vacant (YA contemporary). (Yay, camp!)
3. Read at least five more books – review one on the blog.
4. Finish critique of friend’s manuscript. (Hopefully by her birthday midway through the month!)
5. Exercise 4 times each week.

Need to add #6, participate in all Crit Camp activities, which include critiquing 10K samples from manuscripts from the other participants and preparing crit letters.

This month should be a hoot. I also get to house-sit for my folks this week while they attend my brother’s wedding out on the West Coast. So sad I can’t go, myself. My hubs couldn’t get out of work. Now I get to babysit chickens and dogs alone with the kids on the 4th. Should be a gas. Ah, well. Next month I get to travel to LA once again to attend the most fabulous of SCBWI conferences with some of my close friends. That will be a real vacation uh, fantastic working experience. (Maybe a little bit of both, to be honest.)

Here’s to a kickass month with serious goals; may we all survive them!

Just for your information, here’s some opportunities you don’t want to miss:

Late last week, there was a flurry of activity on Twitter when agent Jessica Sinsheimer created a hashtag for all agents (and even some editors) to let writers know what was on their manuscript wishlist #MSWL and YA writer KK Hendin created a Tumblr page to capture the hundreds of responses all in one place here. It was a fascinating conversation that kept many of us enraptured for hours. Some agents even reopened to submissions if writers used the hashtag #MSWL in their query line. If you are ready for query submissions, you must check this out.

On another note of upcoming opportunity, Ruth Lauren Stevens and Michelle Krys will host the second Christmas in July Pitch contest where chosen entries will be allowed to show off their queries and the first 500 words of their COMPLETED manuscripts to 16 participating agents who then may make comments or even requests. It’s a fantastic opportunity so stay tuned for the details.

Good luck, everyone!