Thursday, September 25, 2008

My Better Half

Illustration used with permission ©Josée Bisaillon

I got an email from my editor (boy, do I love "saying" that! My editor, my editor) telling me that they have picked an illustrator for my picture book! I confess to feeling a bit of panic. While I didn't have a specific idea of how I wanted the book to look, I did have some idea of what I thought it should look like. What if I didn't like the illustrations? What if I didn't think they would work well with my words? I know that as a picture book author, my words are only half of the book. The illustrations make the words and the words make the illustrations. My panic lasted only as long as it took me to visit the illustrator's website.

I loved what I saw on Josée Bisaillon's website. Her illustrations were not what I expected. They were better! It's obvious why professionals choose the illustrator and not the author. That's not to say that I'm not a professional, or that all authors are like me, but I am not an illustrator. I am, in fact, more limited in my knowledge of visual arts than I would like to admit. I am so happy that I didn't have a say in who would illustrate BENNO AND THE NIGHT OF BROKEN GLASS.

Seeing Josée's work, I got excited all over again. It was as if I'd learned all over again that my work was going to be published. When it takes three years from acquisition to publication it's hard to sustain excitement. Sometimes it seems as if it's a dream. It's weird to tell people, "Oh, yes, I'm being published. But you can't buy the book for three years." No one (outside the world of children's publishing) understands why it takes so long.

I'm sure I'll be excited all over again when the book actually comes out. Being able to see how Josée brings my words to life is going to be thrilling!

Illustration used with permission ©Josée Bisaillon.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Wake Up and Smell the Pledge

It's eight o'clock in the morning. My coffee cup is placed on my desk at the perfect 45-degree angle from my right hand. The faint smell of Pledge hovers in the air. My office is spanking clean, my computer is fully connected to the internet, and I'm ready to work.

Did I mention that I love my office? And how much I've missed it for the better part of a year? I had mainly been using my laptop, due to router and repeater malfunctions that couldn't penetrate the metal studs of my basement walls. I ended up working anywhere else in the house and only entered my office to drop off another stack "to be filed." When I ran out of floor space, I knew it was time to change.

So I bought a toaster oven.

Lifting the repeater from the kitchen counter to the top of the toaster oven gave me a clear internet connection. Go figure.

So here I am, clicking and clacking away on my comfortably noisy keyboard, not a paper out of place, not a cobweb or crumb in sight.

My mind is as clear as my desk. Let the creativity flow...


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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Kiddie Lit Quiz Time!

A quiz based on some of the fun facts I gathered from Minders of Make-Believe: Idealists, Entrepreneurs, and the Shaping of American Children's Literature, by Leonard S. Marcus.

Are you ready?

1. What was the first children's book of American origin? When was it published?

2. By 1830 that book had gone through 450 editions. How many copies had been sold?

3. In 1865, two books published in America qualified as the top best sellers. One was Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. The other was which children's book?

4. Which publisher created the first department devoted to children's books? When?

5. Which 1940 children's title was advertised with the slogan: "For Whom the Bell Tolls is magnificent - but it hasn't any bunny in it." ?

6. Which of the first twelve Little Golden Books was the most successful?

7. Who was the first editor to have an eponymous imprint?

8. Which children's book had such a large crossover college audience that it was advertised on "Late Night with David Letterman" ?

9. Which famous children's author wrote a classic "in a mere forty minutes on a rainy Sunday afternoon" to give his artist friend something fun to illustrate?

10. What was Curious George's name in the original H. A. and Margret Rey manuscript before editors changed it?

Ta-da! And now for the answers:

1. The New England Primer. 1690.

2. Estimated to have sold 6 to 8 million copies by 1830.

3. Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates. Mary Mapes Dodge.

4. Macmillan. 1919.

5. Pat the Bunny. Dorothy Kunhardt.

6. The Poky Little Puppy. Janette Sebring Lowrey.

7. Margaret McElderry in 1970.

8. The Stinky Cheese Man. Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith.

9. Munro Leaf wrote Ferdinand for Robert Lawson.

10. Fifi.

If you answered even three correctly, you win a signed copy of the first Harry Potter.

Yeah, right!

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Logophiles unite!

There is a disease which consists in loving words too much. Logophilia first manifests itself in childhood and is, alas, incurable.
—Peter Ackroyd, "Visions from an addiction to fiction," The Times (London), March 20, 2002

We’re all writers, which means we're all logophiles. This summer, I particularly enjoyed discovering the new portmanteau words like “staycation” and “glamping” (glammed-up camping) in print and elsewhere, then hearing them become part of my friends’ everyday travel-speak.

When I’m writing, however, being a logophile can also be problematic. The reason: I seem to love certain words and phrases so much I overuse them, without even realizing it. I’m not talking about million-dollar babies like “manky” (The Bartimaeus Trilogy) that send me straight to Webster’s. I’m talking about all those dime-store variety words that tend to self-replicate in my manuscript like lexical bunnies.

My stealth words include “practically,” “just then,” and “cocked” (as in, a head or an eyebrow). I’m already in self-imposed rehab for prior overuse of “suddenly.” Never again! I suppose I should add “particularly” and “seem to” to the list, since I also overused them in this post.

Fellow logophiles, am I the only one suffering from obsessive logophilic disorder (O.L.D.)? Are you too afflicted with the disease? If so, take the first step. Tell me which words tempt, no, torment you, manuscript after manuscript, no matter how hard you try to avoid them. If we share, perhaps we can overcome O.L.D. together.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

When to keep my mouth shut

Recently I started reading a book to my six year old daughter that I thought was atrocious. She agreed, so we stopped. We even had a good conversation about why it wasn't so good - the story didn't make sense, the characters felt hollow. But there have been many times when we've been in the middle of a book which she loves, but I find lacking. And I will admit a few times I've even said something, unable to bit my tongue. So, the question is, should I keep my mouth shut and read on? Or should I express my opinion, and risk influencing hers, thus censoring what she's exposed to on some small level? I love that already she is forming ideas about what makes a story work, but I concede this may come at a cost.

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Sunday, September 7, 2008

Milestones: Not Just for Toddlers

As "Mommy" to a just turned two year old, I have spent a lot of time recently celebrating milestones. First smile and first laugh. First words and first steps.

But toddlers aren't the only ones who reach milestones.

Recently I received a wonderful letter in the mail from Highlights. One of the three poems they accepted from me will be published in their upcoming December issue.

That's when I realized that writers reach milestones too!

Just like my son went from helpless infant to walking, talking (and ever so independent) toddler, I went from no writing credits to my beautiful first acceptance from Wee Ones. Other small and online publications followed.

Then Cobblestone accepted a query. Finally something I wrote would be in a national publication in the library. And now Highlights is actually going to publish one of my poems.

Looking back at each of these milestones, I realize how many similarities there are between my journey and my toddler's. With my toddler, each milestone is the cause for great celebration. So it is with my writing. (I'm sure that, no matter where you live, you could hear my screams when Cobblestone accepted that query and when Highlights accepted those three poems!)

But even though I remind myself that "writing (just like childhood) is a journey and not a race", the time in between milestones can be long and stressful. Would I ever get a poem accepted? Would I ever be published in a national magazine? Those questions have now been answered with a yes, but, at the time, I was anything but sure.

And then there's the biggest milestone still on the horizon: Will I ever get a book accepted by a publisher?

But somehow, just like I believed my little boy would take those first steps, I believe that first book contract will come. It's just a bit hard to keep the faith some time. Don't you think? How do you do it?

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Thursday, September 4, 2008

Character Narrative

During the past week we've been hearing about the "narratives" of political figures. This led me to think about the "narratives" of the characters about whom we write. Of course, the main character's narrative is easy. That's what our story is about. But I think we often neglect the narratives of other characters in the story. They appear, interact with the main character and disappear from the scene or chapter. Often we are told that there are too many of these secondary or minor characters. The reader has trouble remembering them. I think perhaps the problem is that we neglect the "narratives" of these secondary characters. As good writers, we must give them a "bio" as well, so that they are memorable, even if their presence serves only to move the story along.

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Monday, September 1, 2008

Whose Characters Are They Anyway?

I have a confession. I am a fan of Twilight. I know there are many fans well out of their teen years, but it still feels wildly inappropriate crushing on a fictional teenage vampire at my age. Although technically Edward is older than I am, and maybe with a little Botox on my part...but this post isn't about my personal hang-ups, it's about the latest book in the Twilight Saga - Breaking Dawn.

While I didn't attend any 'countdown to midnight' bookstore parties, I couldn't wait to read Breaking Dawn and finally find out how the story would evolve and ultimately end. Would Bella pick Jacob over Edward? Would Edward and Bella really get married? And the biggie - would Bella get her dearest wish to become a vampire and be with Edward forever? As a fan, I had formulated my own future for all involved, which is the very best part of fiction and why books are usually better than movies. So I was more than a bit disappointed when my most pressing questions were answered within the first few chapters of the book.

This post is also not a review of the book, and I wouldn't want to be a spoiler (although anyone who really wanted to read Breaking Dawn was probably finished by August 3rd) but suffice to say, for me, it went from being a human story with supernatural aspects, to a completely supernatural story that I wasn't prepared to read. In other words, it didn't go the way I imagined and I had to put the book down and digest it before I could read on. This is when my writer's mind took over and asked the question - whose characters are they anyway?

Of course, they are Stephenie Meyer's, and this is her vision, so why couldn't I just go along for the ride? I know I'm not the only person who wasn't dazzled by the plot but what right do any of us have to feel this way? As a writer, it's difficult enough to let characters take their natural course without forcing our own desires onto them, but imagine having to please a legion of fans? (I know, from my lips to God's ears)

The writer in me wanted to give it a fair chance in spite of my inner fan stomping around saying "But it wasn't supposed to happen this way." Once I got over my own ideas, Breaking Dawn didn't disappoint. While it may not have been as captivating for me as some of the other books, in the end, the characters kept calling me to hear their story.

And isn't that what it's all about?

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