Tulsa Library Day of YA Coming!

 

This coming week, the Tulsa Library is hosting a wonderful event called Tulsa Day of YA. This FREE event “celebrates young adult literature and those who love it by bringing together authors, fans, and aspiring writers through workshops, panel sessions, and academic discussion.”

Doesn’t that sound fantastic? I can hardly wait!

The event begins with a special opening keynote on Friday night, February 21, with Justina Ireland, author of DREAD NATION, in conversation with Tulsa Artist Fellow Juliana Goodman.

I just finished reading DREAD NATION and it is so good! I can hardly wait for the sequel coming out soon!

On Saturday, February 22nd, the day begins with a Women in YA panel featuring Cindy Pon, Justina Ireland, Sonia Gensler, M. Molly Backes, and Juliana Goodman with Ally Carter moderating.

How awesome to have two fabulous Oklahoma SCBWI writers on this panel! Am I right?

The rest of the day continues with great break out sessions and a FREE lunch. The day concludes with a book signing! What more could a lover of YA want?

All events will be held at Central Library, 400 Civic Center, Tulsa, OK 74103.

To attend this free conference, you must register in advance. Lunch will be provided on site. If specific accommodations/assistance are required or would improve your experience at Tulsa Day of YA events, please reach out to Teen Services Coordinator Leah Weyand at leah.weyand@tulsalibrary.org or 918-549-7490.

For details on the speakers, the schedule, or answers to your most pressing FAQs, visit the event website here.

January #okscbwichat – Special Guest Sonia Gensler

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I co-hosted this month’s #okscbwichat on Tuesday evening with our Special Guest, author Sonia Gensler.

 

Sonia Gensler

sonia-gensler-225Sonia is the award-winning author of Ghostlight, a contemporary middle grade novel, as well as The Dark Between and The Revenant, both young adult historical novels. She is obsessed with Gothic horror and loves to write ghostly mysteries.

Sonia grew up in a small Tennessee town and ran with a dangerous pack of band and drama geeks. As an adult she experimented with a variety of impractical professions—museum interpreter, historic home director, bookseller, and perpetual graduate student—before finally deciding to share her passion for stories through teaching. She taught literature and writing to young adults for ten years and still thinks fondly of her days in the classroom. Sonia currently lives in Oklahoma with her husband and cat.

Learn more about Sonia Gensler here.

Follow Sonia on Twitter here.

Follow Sonia on Facebook here.

Follow Sonia on Tumblr here.

 

Sonia opened our 2016 Twitter Chat season to an enthusiastic group. She shared her loathing of first drafts and her love of all things Gothic, including some of those Gothic influences that shaped her own writing. Sonia also discussed how setting shapes her writing, and how it actually comes before character or conflict.

Sonia discussed some of the differences in publishing and marketing she’s experienced between her YA and MG novels, and gave her younger writer self some sage advice. She also talked about her latest work in progress.

If you missed the chat, you can view the Storify version of the entire conversation here.

**Join us next month when our guest will be Picture Book author Gwendolyn Hooks. See you February 23rd!

#okscbwichat

 

**Stay tuned next month when our guest will be picture book author Gwendolyn Hooks. See you February 23rd!

To see a full list of our upcoming Twitter chats on #okscbwichat for 2016 CLICK HERE.

Upcoming SCBWI Oklahoma Twitter Chats for 2016

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As the newly appointed Social Media Coordinator for the Oklahoma SCBWI region, I am very excited to announce the first half of this year’s Twitter Chat lineup. Most chats are held on the fourth Tuesday of each month, however, we do have a few special dates running up to our Spring Conference in April, when some of our speakers will be joining us. How amazing, right?

TweetNo matter the date, each Twitter chat session will last one hour, from 7-8pm CST, and we’ll be using the hashtag #okscbwichat.

 

Here is our Twitter Chat Line-Up:

JANUARY- Sonia Gensler

sonia-gensler-225Sonia Gensler is the award-winning author of Ghostlight, a contemporary middle grade novel, as well as The Dark Between and The Revenant, both young adult historical novels. She is obsessed with Gothic horror and loves to write ghostly mysteries.

Sonia grew up in a small Tennessee town and ran with a dangerous pack of band and drama geeks. As an adult she experimented with a variety of impractical professions—museum interpreter, historic home director, bookseller, and perpetual graduate student—before finally deciding to share her passion for stories through teaching. She taught literature and writing to young adults for ten years and still thinks fondly of her days in the classroom. Sonia currently lives in Oklahoma with her husband and cat.

Sonia will be our guest on January 26th, from 7-8pm CST. Her Twitter username is @soniagensler. To participate in the chat, please use the hashtag #okscbwichat.

 

 

February – Gwendolyn Hooks

G._Hooks_PhotoGwendolyn Hooks is the author of twenty published books, including her popular Pet Club series. Two of her Scholastic early readers, The Mystery of the Missing Dog and Three’s A Crowd, sold over 100,000 copies each. She’s also written nonfiction picture books, including Arctic Appetizers: Studying Food Webs in the Arctic.

Her latest book, Leona Mitchell: Opera Star, was released this past fall as part of the I AM OKLAHOMA series. In 2016, Lee & Low will publish her picture book biography, Tiny Stitches – The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas. 

Gwendolyn blogs on The Brown Bookshelf to push awareness of the myriad of African American voices writing and illustrating for young readers. The American Library Association selected The Brown Bookshelf as a Great Website for Kids.

Gwendolyn will be our guest on February 23rd, from 7-8pm CST. Her Twitter username is @GwenTheGweat. To participate in the chat, please use the hashtag #okscbwichat.

 

 

March – Victoria Selvaggio

Victoria SelvaggioVictoria Selvaggio is an Associate Agent with The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. She has a strong background in business ownership, and she worked for over seven years as a volunteer and Regional Advisor for SCBWI: Northern Ohio. Drawn to the publishing scene first as an author writing all genres, with her most recent publication in the 2015 Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market, Vicki’s passion for honing the craft carried over into reading manuscripts for the agency in 2013.

Currently, she is excited to read compelling manuscripts that will resonate with her long after she’s done.

Victoria will be one of our fantastic speakers presenting at our OK SCBWI Spring Conference in April. To learn more about our conference and to register for this event, CLICK HERE.

Her current wishlist:

“I am currently looking for all genres (lyrical picture books, middle grade and young adult fiction, new adult, mysteries, suspense, thrillers, paranormal, fantasy, narrative nonfiction, adult fiction), but find I’m particularly drawn to middle grade and young adult. I especially love thrillers and all elements of weird, creepy stuff. If it’s out of the box, and it will make me think and think, long after I’m done reading, send it to me. On the flip side, I yearn for books that make me laugh, cry and wonder about the world.” (From agent’s website.)

Victoria will be our guest on March 29th, from 7-8pm CST. Her Twitter username is @vselvaggio1To participate in the chat, please use the hashtag #okscbwichat.

 

 

April – Karl Jones

KarlJonesKarl Jones is an Associate Editor with Grosset & Dunlap/ Penguin Young Readers. Karl works on a variety of licensed and original middle grade and activity books, as well as some early YA projects. He acquired and edits the Just Jake series from New York Times best-selling kid author, Jake Marcionette and edits a middle grade/YA transition series by established stage and screenwriter, Justin Sayre-the first book in this series, Husky published in September 2015.

He also develops, acquires and writes unique original activity books like Day of the Dead Activity Book and Build A Boyfriend, as well as hiring work-for-hire authors for several licensed book programs for entertainment and gaming properties including Star Trek, Powerpuff Girls, Uncle Grandpa, Regular Show and Shovel Knight.

He is particularly interested in realistic middle grade and YA fiction and format-bending storytelling projects. In his free time, he enjoys comedy and storytelling events, outdoor adventures, and live music. He is a native Oklahoman.

Karl will be one of our fantastic speakers presenting at our OK SCBWI Spring Conference in April. To learn more about our conference and to register for this event, CLICK HERE.

Karl will be our guest on April 5th, from 7-8pm CST. His Twitter username is @karljones. To participate in the chat, please use the hashtag #okscbwichat.

 

 

May – Timothy Lange

Tim LangeTimothy Lange has been a graphic designer, illustrator and fine art painter for over 30 years. He graduated from the Colorado Institute of Art in 1982 and studied at the Art Students League of Denver (off and on) from 1989 to 2003.

He is an active member of the Oklahoma Chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). He was was transplanted to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma in 2003. Aside from the bugs and humidity, he says its not a bad place to call home.

Tim will be our guest on May 24th, from 7-8pm CST. His Twitter username is @TJ_Lange. To participate in the chat, please use the hashtag #okscbwichat.

 

 

June – SPECIAL FACEBOOK EVENT!!! Saturday, June 11th, Q&A Event with YA Author Courtney Summers & her Literary Agent Amy Tipton – This is a special event for our SCBWI Oklahoma Members ONLY.

Courtney Summers Twitter PhotoCourtney Summers was born in Belleville, Ontario, in 1986 and currently resides in a small town not far from there. She likes writing books about girls who only have themselves because sometimes that realization is the scariest and most important thing–the slow untangling of the difference between ‘lonely’ and ‘alone.’ Her favourite kind of stories are the ones that make you wish so badly they’d ended differently but deep down you know they really couldn’t have gone any other way.

To date, she has authored five novels. Her first novel, Cracked Up to Be, was published when she was 22 and went on to win the 2009 CYBILS award in YA fiction. Since then, she’s published four more books. They are 2011 YALSA Top Ten Quick Pick and White Pine Honor book, Some Girls Are, 2012 YALSA Quick Pick, Fall for Anything, 2013 YALSA Top Ten Quick Pick and White Pine Honour book, This is Not a Test, and most recently, Please Remain Calm (an e-novella sequel to This is Not a Test) and All the RageAll the Rage was an Official Tumblr Reblog Book Club pick and named a Best Book of 2015 by Bustle, Book Riot, Chicago Public Library and the B&N Teen Blog.

When Courtney is not writing, she enjoys playing video games, watching horror movies, Supernatural and planning for the impending zombie apocalypse. Her favorite color is green.

AmyTipton2-150x150Amy Tipton joined the Signature Literary Agency in 2009. She graduated from Naropa University with a B.A. in Writing and Literature and received her MFA from New College of California in WRiting. She comes to the agency after working as a literary assistant and office manager at several literary agencies including JCA Literary Agency, Diana Finch Literary Agency, Gina Maccoby Literary Agency, and Liza Dawson Associates. Amy has also worked as a book scout for Aram Fox, Inc. dealing with foreign rights. She became an agent with Peter Rubic and continued to agent with FinePrint Literary Management. In addition to her agenting experience, Amy also worked as a freelance editor to Lauren Weisberger, author of The Devil Wears Prada. Her work is published in the anthology, Controlled Burn, and pieces of her first and second novel can be found in a variety of literary journals.

Courtney & Amy will be our guests on FACEBOOK on June 11th. On that day, Members who have been invited to join in this private chat can post questions for Courtney & Amy to answer. Our guests will be popping in and out of Facebook during the day to answer questions. This is NOT a live chat. 

In order to participate in this Q&A an OKSCBWI member must:

  1. Have a Facebook account
  2. Visit the event page and select JOIN to be invited into the private group
  3. Once someone has approved you, post your questions for Courtney & Amy BEFORE the event begins on June 11th.

 

 

July – Brenda Drake

Brenda-Drake-Author-Photo2Brenda Drake, the youngest of three children, grew up an Air Force brat and the continual new kid at school until her family settled in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Brenda’s fondest memories growing up are of her eccentric, Irish grandmother’s animated tales, which gave her a strong love for storytelling. So it was only fitting that she would choose to write young adult and middle grade novels with a bend toward the fantastical. When Brenda’s not writing or doing the social media thing, she’s haunting libraries, bookstores, and coffee shops or reading someplace quiet and not at all exotic (much to her disappointment).

Brenda is the host of the ever-popular Pitch Wars, Pitch Madness, and the Twitter pitch of all pitches, #pitmad. Brenda will be discussing what it’s like to host these mind-boggling contests, and how in the world she still makes time to write! Her debut novel, THIEF OF LIES: A Library Jumpers Novel, experienced a very successful release this month.

Brenda will be our guest on July 26th, from 7-8pm CST. Her Twitter username is @brendadrake. To participate in the chat, please use the hashtag #okscbwichat.

What an outstanding lineup!

The chats really are a lot of fun. Don’t worry if you can’t make it to every event; I’ll post a link to the Storify version of each chat after every event has concluded.

We have a few more surprises we’re working on. Once we can announce them, I’ll update this page.

I hope you’ll join us!

 

 

August – Topic Chat: Support Through Social Media

Sharing social MediaWe will be having another special MEMBERS ONLY event this month on August 20th, a Social Media Hangout, to discuss and share ideas on how our members can better support each other and their books through social media, from pre-ordering books to using Goodreads effectively, and much more. Details on locations and times will be posted on our SCBWI OK website.

To supplement that, our Twitter chat for the month will be on a specific topic: “Sharing Ideas of Support Through Social Media”. During the chat, we’ll exchange our favorite ways of supporting each other through social media.

This topic chat will take place on August 23rd, from 7-8pm CST. To participate in the chat, please use the hashtag #okscbwichat.

 

 

September: We have two chats this month!

 

Brett Wright

Brett-WrightBrett Wright is an Editor at Bloomsbury Children’s Books, where he’s worked for the past five years on everything from picture books through YA. He will also be one of our off-site critiquers for our SCBWI OK Fall Workshop in October.

He has worked with authors like E.D. Baker, Jennifer Brown, Nikki Grimes, Carrie Jones, Paul Tobin, Sarah Crossan, and many more. He has also written three books in Random House Children’s OMG Shakespeare series, including Yolo Juliet. He lives in New York, NY. You can follow Brent on Instagram or Twitter.

Brett will be our guest on September 6th, from 7-8pm CST. His Twitter username is @BrettWright. To participate in the chat, please use the hashtag #okscbwichat.

 

Benjamin Myers

Ben MyersBenjamin Myers is a professor of literature at Oklahoma Baptist University and is the current Oklahoma Poet Laureate. He is the author of two books of poetry LAPSE AMERICANA and ELEGY FOR TRAINS, which won the Oklahoma Book Award for Poetry.

His poems may be read in numerous literary journals, including The New York Quarterly, Nimrod, Tar River Poetry, Borderlands, Salamander, and the Chiron Review, as well as online in Devil’s Lake, DMQ Review, The Pedestal Magazine, Elimae, Poetrybay, and elsewhere. He lives in Chandler, Oklahoma.

Benjamin will be our guest on September 27th, from 7-8pm CST. His Twitter username is @OK PoetLaureate. To participate in the chat, please use the hashtag #okscbwichat.

 

 

October: We have two chats this month as well!

 

Adriana Domínguez

Adriana-DominguezAdriana Domínguez is a literary agent with Full Circle Literary with 20 years of experience in publishing. She will also be one of our off-site critiquers for our SCBWI OK Fall Workshop in November.

Her author client list includes award winners and best sellers such as Michaela and Elaine DePrince, Reyna Grande, Katheryn Russell-Brown and Angela Cervantes. Adriana is interested in picture books that are funny or endearing, with an element of the unexpected; voice-driven contemporary and historical middle grade and young adult novels, and narrative nonfiction, including biographies, and memoirs written by authors with strong platforms. Twists, strong concepts, and diverse points of view are all on her general wish list; works that are at once timely and timeless will always get her attention. Adriana also represents artists with distinctive styles, and not-so-secretly yearns to bring more diverse illustrators into the market.

**To view her full bio and complete manuscript wishlist, visit her agency website.

Adriana will be our guest on October 4th, from 7-8pm CST. Her Twitter username is @VocesBlog. To participate in the chat, please use the hashtag #okscbwichat.

 

 

Joe Hight (BOB at Best of Books)

Joe HightJoe Hight is not only the president of Best of Books, an independent bookstore in Edmond, Oklahoma, he’s behind the online persona, BOB, and the delightful tweets of the store’s Twitter account @bestofbooksok.

Best of Books is a family-owned bookstore celebrating its 30th anniversary as an Edmond institution. Joe and his family took over ownership a few years ago after they moved back from Colorado Springs, Colorado, where Joe was the editor of The Gazette. While working there, his paper won the Pulitzer Prize. Prior to the move to Colorado, Joe worked for The Oklahoman. He was inducted into the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame in 2013.

 

Joe will be our guest on October 25th, from 7-8pm CST. His Twitter username is @JoeHight. To participate in the chat, please use the hashtag #okscbwichat.

 

**There will be no monthly #okscbwichat scheduled for November or December as they fall close to the holidays – see you next year!

 

 

 

2015 TBR Challenge – THE DARK BETWEEN Review

2015tbrbuttonMy first review for the Official 2015 TBR Pile Challenge is THE DARK BETWEEN by Sonia Gensler.

The goal of this challenge is “to finally read 12 books from your ‘to be read’ pile within twelve months”. To qualify for the challenge, books must be read and reviewed before the year is over, and all selections must have publishing dates from the year 2013 or older. (Here are the books I’ll be reading this year.)

This one was written by a dear writer friend from my home state, and I’ve been dying to read it. That’s probably why I moved it to the top of my TBR Challenge stack. I’m so glad I did.

On with the review!

Dark BetweenTHE DARK BETWEEN written by Sonia Gensler

Published by: Knopf

Release Date: August, 2013

Genres: YA, Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Paranormal

Plot Summary:

At the turn of the twentieth century, Spiritualism and séances are all the rage—even in the scholarly town of Cambridge, England. While mediums dupe the grief-stricken, a group of local fringe scientists seeks to bridge the gap to the spirit world by investigating the dark corners of the human mind.

Each running from a shadowed past, Kate, Asher, and Elsie take refuge within the walls of Summerfield College. But their peace is soon shattered by the discovery of a dead body nearby. Is this the work of a flesh-and-blood villain, or is something otherworldly at play? This unlikely trio must illuminate what the scientists have not, and open a window to secrets taken to the grave—or risk joining the spirit world themselves.

 

I became totally immersed in Sonia’s fictionalized Cambridge and her world of the paranormal. I adored her trio of main characters – Kate Poole the street-wise orphan surviving by her wits and not much else, Asher Beale the pragmatic American who crossed an ocean to escape his father’s influence, and Elsie Atherton, the cloistered invalid with the mysterious secret – all so well-rounded and distinct. The chemistry (and friction) between them was wonderful. I loved them!

What I loved just as much was the mystery part of the story. I am a sucker for a great whodunit and this one kept me on my toes, trying to figure out who or what was causing the brutal deaths. No spoilers, here. You’ll have to read the book to find out, but here’s a little taste.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Mr. Beale, isn’t it? Jones tells me you’ve come from America. Would you set your bag down and stand by the door, please? And you, Miss Poole – you must stand next to him.”

Kate’s face broke into a wide grin, and Asher felt his own mouth curving in response to her obvious delight. He doubted she’d ever had her photograph taken before. His heart softened toward her…just a bit.

Miss Atherton proceeded to open her portable camera and pull it wider, elongating it like a bellows and snapping it into place. She then held the camera at her waist, pointing the lens at them.

“Hold still,” she said, her chin down as she looked through a square hole at the top of the camera. “Look straight ahead. And do try to smile. I can’t abide a photograph full of grim faces.”

Despite Miss Atherton’s suggestion, Kate stood rigid next to him, nerves turning her smile to a grimace. Asher faced the camera, trying to smile more casually, but before he’d arranged his features the shutter clicked. With a sigh of satisfaction, Miss Atherton folded the lens back into the box once more.

“Now let’s take a peek inside the building.” She rattled the doorknob for a moment before turning away with a pout. “It’s locked. I wonder what they keep in there – all the treasures of the college?”

“Probably just a storage shed,” Asher said. “Maybe they’ve locked the tools away lest the young ladies stumble upon them and hurt themselves.”

Kate glared. “You must think young ladies have mashed peas for brains.”

He opened his mouth, but a cutting retort would not come. The girl wouldn’t have acknowledged it anyway, for she had shifted her gaze and was staring intently at Miss Atherton.

Asher turned to find the young lady in distress, her eyes closing tightly as she leaned against the door to steady herself. The camera tumbled from her hand and landed in the grass.

“No,” Miss Atherton moaned. “Not now, not now!”

 

Isn’t that great?

This small scene shows so much of their differing characters (and hints at other-wordly stuff to come).Trust me, this is just the warm-up. It’s such a fantastically spooky book. And a magnificent read. I guarantee it will not disappoint!

 

Learn more about Sonia Gensler here.

Follow Sonia on Twitter here.

Follow Sonia on Facebook here.

Follow Sonia on Tumblr here.

Insights from our SCBWI OK Fall Retreat

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Wrapping up the month-long celebration of our local SCBWI Oklahoma group, I’m going to share some of my insights from our Fall Retreat. It was a relaxed, 3-day event packed full of inspiring, helpful information.

The first day was all about craft. Which is something all writers are never too advanced to brush up on, if you ask me. There were so many great workshops, it was a harrowing decision just narrowing down the choices, let alone finalizing a selection.

 

AnnaMyersphotoCI sat in on a workshop by Anna Myers about point of view entitled “The Real Difference Between First and Third Person” where I learned that this difference is more than a matter of pronouns. To begin with, she told us that first person is the easiest and the hardest POV to write. It’s all about voice. Character drives the story in first person, in every word, in every sentence. “If you don’t have a strong voice, you shouldn’t write in first person.” Voice is still important in third person, but the story’s success is not as dependent on it. The great thing about third person is that not every word has to come from the viewpoint character. Anna walked us through a great exercise with a movie camera, demonstrating how the different aspects of third person – from third person intimate to third person distant – could move you in close or take you out wide of a scene, depending on how close you wanted the view to be – on how much you wanted the reader to experience.

 

sonia-gensler-225In another craft workshop, this one led by Sonia Gensler entitled “Kidlit Romance and Friendship: Keeping it Real”, we learned how important it was to develop the main characters separately. You have to make the readers fall in love with the characters individually before asking readers to fall in love with them as a couple. “They must have an identity separate from the relationship.” Character is key. To attain this, Sonia suggests you start with an in-depth understanding of your characters before you start writing. It is especially helpful to know the answer to the fundamental question of what your character wants versus what your character needs. She gave the example from THE HUNGER GAMES using the main character Katniss. What she wants more than anything is to keep her sister safe. That is her motivation for volunteering as tribute in her sister’s place. But what she needs to survive in the games is to learn to let people in, to trust.

 

Pati Hailey taught us in her workshop entitled “Building Memorable Worlds” that every story has a need for world-building elements, even those populated by ordinary humans. What makes a world memorable is when the elements of the world are put into perspective and introduced throughout the story. Elements need to be specific, authentic, and distinct. A great way to add some of these elements is through the use of similes and metaphors that are not cliché, but specific to your world. Use them as an opportunity to tell something about the character or the world. When describing a room, be specific. Don’t give a laundry list of items; give things meaning and connect them to a character. Also be more original with body movements – wide eyes and shoulder shrugs are over done. Pay attention to what people really do.

After a complete brain workout with  the amazing crafts, our day wasn’t even finished, we got a little introduction to our wonderful featured speakers. I tell you, our SCBWI OK group knows how to spoil us.

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Our first featured guest speaker was Minju Chang, literary agent with Book Stop Literary.

Minju comes from a small agency based in San Francisco that doesn’t do much advertising. They do work very collaboratively and they love SCBWI. She represents MG and YA of all genres and some PB as well. Minju was just brilliant and so enthusiastic about the business of books.

Minju said, “Rejection is inevitable.” She said she and her colleagues understand the frustration. They deal with rejections all the time as well.

She then decoded some editorial rejections for us:

“Not right for my list”     This is an umbrella form rejection

“I love the idea, but I didn’t make a connection”     View this as a bell curve. This means your manuscript is hitting the middle.

“I love this, but I couldn’t get my team on board”     May have already tried to sell similar book and it wasn’t successful.

“I like the concept/character, but there’s not enough story”    Quiet. This is a dangerous word. This means it’s difficult to sell.

Minju then said when she has a client receive this last type of rejection, she may suggest setting that manuscript aside to try again later. Maybe after they’ve made a bigger name for themselves and a quiet book won’t be so scary to publishers.

 

Tracy DanielsTracey Daniels from Media Masters Publicity was our next featured speaker.

She was there to teach us everything we didn’t know about publicity. That, my friends, was a lot. After talking with us for awhile about everything that goes into promoting a book and showing us all of the different social media options out there, she said the important thing was not to get overwhelmed.  (Oh, I was overwhelmed. I didn’t recognize half of the social media logos. And there were at least thirty of them!)

You have to be realistic with your books and with your goals. Know yourself. Be honest about what you want to do to promote your book. Do what is right for you and your book. Not every book needs a big tour splash. The publicity budget your publisher allots for your book may not be as big as you’d like. You may have to invest some of your advance or your own money to do some publicity yourself. Whatever you decide to do on your own, make sure to communicate clearly with your publisher’s publicity department. You may be surprised how much they can help you.

The most important publicity tip she gave us was to create an on-going contact database. This should be a detailed excel spreadsheet with every industry contact you’ve ever made – past and present. This will be an invaluable tool as you move to the publicity/promotion part of your career. Be meticulous! Keep city, state, and zip codes in separate columns. This allows you to search your database by location.

She had so many fantastic ideas for making connections and generating ideas, it was astounding. I wish I could share them all with you.

Our second day was all about the featured speakers. We were finally introduced to our third speaker, Brett Duquette, editor with Sterling Publishing. His appearance was delayed due to the fire at the O’Hare airport, or rather the fire set at the traffic control center near Chicago that grounded hundreds of flights. Yes, that fire. Brett had a less than stellar travel experience and yet he was still in great spirits when he arrived. He was just delightful. (Even though he announced being a proud Cornhuskers fan while deep in Sooner country, I think we’ll still claim him as an honorary member of the SCBWI OK tribe.)

Brett spoke to us on the elusive subject of voice.

Best surprise of the retreat was when Brett Duquette met Tammi Sauer while praising her book.
Best surprise of the retreat was when Brett Duquette met Tammi Sauer while praising her book.

Voice, Brett said, is the cornerstone of the creation of the narrative. “Everything comes from the voice. It’s where we begin to build something out of nothing.”

Brett went on to explain that in his mind, all parts of the story are the voice, really. Narrative isn’t just the beige carpet, it has a voice, too. The language used is in harmony with the character, narrative, setting, etc. Each piece has a voice which adds up to the capital “V” Voice.

Most people forget about the narrative and when they are told they need to work on voice, they only focus on dialogue. Voice is so much more than that.

Consistency is key to voice and good writing. Without it, the story feels unreal or boring.

It’s much more apparent in illustration when voice doesn’t work. You see it immediately. To avoid this, you shouldn’t over explain the action in your text. Make sure to leave room for the illustrators. Brett brought out CHICKEN DANCE by Tammi Sauer. “This is perfect picture book writing because it allows the illustrator room to do their job.” Brett discussed a series of pages spreads where the chickens were trying to pick a talent for the talent contest.

Bowling was out. So was juggling. And tightrope walking.

With concise language choices, Tammi set up the joke and let the illustrator deliver it.

Much to his surprise, Tammi was in the audience, just a few feet away. Brett then said it was a good thing he only had nice things to say about her book. It was a fantastic moment to witness. Then it was back to business.

He said the way you learn to do what Tammi did, to leave those spaces for the illustrator to be creative and tell part of the story, is you have faith that the editors will be able to envision a great book and the illustrator can do their job and create great illustrations.

Brett had so many great writing exercises for us to work through to help us really understand what he was telling us. It was an awesome session on voice with a capital “A”.

Anna and her Quilt of Many Book Covers
Anna and her Quilt of Many Book Covers

 

The final day was for wrapping up, a speaker panel, and for saying goodbye. Some goodbyes were more tearful than others.

Our dynamic leader of 14 years, Anna Myers, passed the torch on to Helen Newton with many tears spilled, but not before she received some love back in return. We all pitched in a gave her a quilt made with all 20 of her book covers on it, including her latest release, her first picture book. Anna will still be a part of our SCBWI OK family as an Regional Advisor Emeritus.

Although I don’t see how this retreat could ever be topped, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the next one was even better.

If you somehow missed this awe-inspiring event, make sure to mark your calendars now for the spring conference on March 28, 2015. You will not want to miss it.

Thank you to all of our guest speakers who traveled so far to be with us and to all of our fantastic local talent that made the craft day such a wonderful success. I learned tons of new information that will stick with me and I know I’m not alone there. This great event wouldn’t have been possible without all of you.

 

My Writing Process Blog Hop

This is a delightful blog hop that’s making the rounds right now, and I was tagged a few times by some lovely people.

Jenny Perinovic, part of my TGNA family, first tagged me in this blog hop and I accepted her challenge,

then my fellow SCBWI Oklahoma friend, Sonia Gensler tagged me and finally,

Jadyn Knight one of my #writemotivation peeps added me to her chosen few.

Thank you all for including me in this fun challenge.

Pic From Unsplash by Sonja Langford
Pic From Unsplash by Sonja Langford

So here we go:

1. What am I working on? I am revising two completed manuscripts at the moment. One is INSTITUTIONALIZED, a YA contemporary novel about a teen who gets admitted to Whispering Sands under false pretenses and must navigate the unfamiliar world of deviants and sociopaths by pretending to be crazy so she can get out in time to save her sister from the real psycho in the family. The other is NIGHT OF THE MUSEUM CRASHERS, a Middle Grade Mystery about a boy who stumbles upon a crime in process – thieves swapping out paintings with fakes. But when the police arrive, there’s no trace of foul play; no one believes him. He decides to solve the crime himself and prove he was right.    

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre? With the contemporary YA story, the twist is that the main character isn’t mentally ill, or at least she doesn’t think she has any reason to be locked up. In my Middle Grade story, my character is afraid of everything in the beginning – not exactly the dashing adventurous type that relishes the idea of solving mysteries. He’s thought of as mentally unbalanced – fragile, even, by the adults. That’s kind of an anti-hero for mystery stories. I do seem to be fascinated with the inner workings of my characters’ lives and I do like them damaged; they all seem to need therapy. Read into that what you will.

3. Why do I write what I do? Books meant everything to me as a kid. While some let my imagination soar, some helped me navigate the awkward world of puberty without always having to ask my single dad embarrassing questions. (I know I’m not the only one who owes a heap of gratitude to the amazing Judy Blume.) Writing stories that shed light on difficult issues and let someone else not feel so weird about themselves, like they could be the hero of their own story or even help someone else understand what a different way of life may be like – I don’t know, I just like exploring ideas that spark conversation. 

4. How does my writing process work? I’ve discovered this fabulous new word recently – “planster”. I’m not quite and pantser or a planner, but a planster. And a binge planster at that. I don’t write every day, but even on the days I’m not writing, I do spend a good chunk of time mulling over my stories or thinking about my characters. I spend a lot of time in my own head. Once I do sit down to write, everything else falls away. Distractions like food, people, time all get filtered out. Before I know it, I’ve been writing for hours on end, the sun has disappeared, and my family has written me off as lost for the day. I find myself surrounded by discarded drinks and food items scattered about as offerings to the enthralled author-who-could-not-be-disturbed. This is one of the many ways they love me and my crazy writerly self.

As far as the actual writing of the story process, for me, the situation and the character always come first. An idea pops into my head while having a discussion with a friend or while reading an article or listening to an interview on the radio. I may jot it down so I don’t forget it, or I may just mull it over in my head for a few days. If it sticks in my brain and I can’t stop thinking about it, I begin to play around with it, with the character, and see if this could be something worth pursuing. I start writing some pages. And more pages. Once I get into the story and realize it has teeth, I may sketch out a bell curve outline of major plot points or scenes I want to include. That’s probably as much outlining as I’ll do, with the exception of the mystery story. I did have to outline more to keep track of clues and red herrings, there. For that story, I did a chapter by chapter outline after I knew the story would work and where the story was going.

I try not to revise while writing the first draft, but I do start a page or two back from where I started the day before and I may tinker a bit with things before moving forward. I’m trying to allow myself to write those messy first drafts and wait for revising until I get to the end of the first draft. I do love revising. I know my work only gets better the more I do it. Sometimes it’s hard to know when to stop revising. Probably when the next exciting idea calls to me.

I haven’t tagged anybody for this blog hop as most of the people I would tag have already been tagged, so if you’d like to share your writing process feel free to join in the fun. I have enjoyed reading about everyone’s process. One thing I have gleaned from all of the different stories is that there is no right or wrong way to write, only that you do it.

So here’s to all of you, trudging through your revisions and first drafts, battling your demons of self-doubt. Remember that perseverance is key.

Keep writing!

 

Sonia Gensler – Author Interview

sonia-gensler-225I first met Sonia Gensler at a SCBWI LA Summer Conference dinner for all the people attending from our state. It was a banner year for Oklahoma with more than ten people crowded around the table. I had the good fortune of sitting near Sonia and her husband. I remember having a delightful time getting to know the two of them. At one point, there may or may not have been a discussion about the extreme hotness of Edward Norton in The Illusionist and a few other notable sexy nerd-types. Thus, a writer friendship nicely cemented, we saw each other over the years at local conferences. Soon Sonia was a guest speaker at our own SCBWI Oklahoma Fall conference with the exciting announcement of her first two-book deal. We were all so excited for her.

Sonia is a lovely writer who embraces things on the eerie end of the literary spectrum. Gothic architecture, haunted pasts, dead bodies, and restless spirits. You’ll find it all in her first dark mystery, The Revenant, set in a Cherokee Female Seminary in Indian Territory. The rich setting and fully developed, fabulously flawed characters were easy to fall in love with. As for the spooky elements, I did indeed get goosebumps. It reminded me of reading Agatha Christie novels as a young girl, under the covers, way past lights out because I had to know how the mystery ended.

Sonia’s latest book, The Dark Between, set in Cambridge, England, shows just as much promise for a delightfully spine-tingling read. And I just love the cover.

dark-between-200

Kate is a schemer,
Asher is a skeptic,
Elsie is a dreamer . . . who can speak with the dead.

At the turn of the twentieth century, Spiritualism and séances are all the rage—even in the scholarly town of Cambridge, England. While mediums dupe the grief-stricken, a group of local fringe scientists seeks to bridge the gap to the spirit world by investigating the dark corners of the human mind.

Each running from a shadowed past, Kate, Asher, and Elsie take refuge within the walls of Summerfield College. But their peace is soon shattered by the discovery of a dead body nearby. Is this the work of a flesh-and-blood villain, or is something otherworldly at play? This unlikely trio must illuminate what the scientists have not, and open a window to secrets taken to the grave—or risk joining the spirit world themselves.

The Dark Between, a supernatural romance about the powers that lie in the shadows of the mind, is perfect for fans of Sarah Rees Brennan, Alyxandra Harvey, and Libba Bray. (Plot summary from Sonia’s website.)

Following the success of her first book and on the eve of her second book’s release, I asked Sonia if she’d spare some time away from her hectic schedule (and from summering overseas in England – so jealous!) for an interview. Gracious as always, she agreed.

Valerie Lawson: Tell us about your latest book, The Dark Between, what inspired this story?

Sonia Gensler: The Dark Between is a paranormal murder mystery set in 1901 Cambridge, England. I was first inspired to write the story when I was researching The Revenant and happened across Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life after Death, an engaging look at a group of 19th century scholars and scientists who investigated paranormal phenomena. I found these men and women fascinating, but couldn’t help wondering what their teenaged children might have thought of it all. So I wrote a story about that!

VL: That does sound right up your alley. And I can only assume your delightful summer surroundings inspired the setting. England always seems a bit spookier to me. Great choice.

You just filmed the book trailer for The Dark Between right there in Cambridge, how was that experience?

SG: Stressful! Time-consuming. The actual trailer for the book is a 1 minute intro with text and images — that’s pretty much finished and I’m quite happy with it. What we filmed was a “behind the scenes” look at the town and university, and we were fortunate to have a Cambridge student helping us with historical context and the local perspective. At this point, it’s a matter of cutting all the material down. So difficult.

VL: Excellent! I can’t wait to see the finished trailer.

We have to talk about your affinity for watching television, how are you handling the withdrawal while across the pond?

SG: Strangely enough, we don’t have time to watch much TV, though we do see plays and concerts while we’re here. We’ve watched a few BBC shows on my computer. (The White Queen is entertaining — it comes to the US on STARZ soon.)

VL: Ahh! Plays, concerts! Don’t forget the circus. That does sound better than television.

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

SG: I’m pretty sure I wanted to work with animals. I was fascinated by Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey, who worked with chimpanzees and gorillas respectively. In grade school I probably would have said I wanted to go into primatology or zoology. My, how things change!

VL:  That is surprising. I wouldn’t have guessed chimps. Maybe a cat wrangler.

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

SG: My high school students truly were the ones who inspired me to pursue a career in writing. Some of them were so committed and fearless that they challenged me to up my game. I finished my first novel (the one that will forever hide in a drawer) while I was teaching. Soon after that my husband encouraged me to take a year or two off to see if I could actually get something published. From the time I finished that first story to the publication of my first novel was probably about 5 years.

VL: That is so great! I love that your students inspired you. I can only imagine how inspiring you must be to them now.

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

SG: I was ALWAYS afraid of the dark, and I was quite certain that scary things lurked under the bed or in the closet. I lost a lot of sleep over this and at times got so scared that I curled up under the covers at the foot of the bed in hopes that any monsters would think the bed was unmade and empty. The next morning my mom would lift the covers and find me drenched in sweat and gasping for air. She thought I was weird, but I preferred to smother under the covers rather than be eaten by a monster.

VL: I can definitely see where a seed may have been planted for stories to grow.

What are you currently working on?

SG: Right now I’m working on a middle grade contemporary story in which a group of kids are filming a ghost movie. It’s been a pleasure to take a break from historicals and to write for younger readers.

VL: A new writing challenge. Nice. Way to keep upping the game for yourself.

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

SG: Splendours and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz was the perfect book for me — I loved the Victorian Gothic setting, the magic and mystery of the plot, and most of all, the unique and sympathetic characters. It was such a joy to read!

VL: Thank you so much, Sonia, for sharing your time with us here, today. Enjoy the rest of your English summer and good luck with your book release! I, for one, can’t wait.

The Dark Between, arrives on August 27th. Preorder your copy, today!

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Learn more about Sonia Gensler here.

Follow Sonia on Twitter here.

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