Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Setting Setting and Story


Unique settings often create an enchanting place that engages young readers to visit a story again and again. Unique setting is essential to some of the childhood classics. Ping must linger on the banks of a Chinese river and Ferdinand must ponder the flowers in Spain. The children in Maine with a sense of wonder must live on the rock bound coast to experience such a northern hurricane.

Many classics can take place in any setting - say books about some of children's favorite pets...the cats. MILLIONS OF CATS exist just there on the black and white pages while THE CAT IN THE HAT could wreck havoc in any home. Kevin Henkes' kitten could marvel at the moon anywhere with a cloudless sky. And, of course, children all over the world can say good night to the moon.

But, setting does create uniqueness that is special and promotes memories. Ducks, those webbed footed favorites of children can and do enliven many stories, but the most famous ducks must live by the swan boats in Boston.

What enchanted place do you feel invites children in?

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Trying Something New

Trying something new is not easy. It's weird. It's fun. It's a little intimidating.

I'm trying something new, trying to write a magazine piece. The magazine dictates the topic, the age level, and the word count. Heck! It should be easy then, right?

Well, it's not. I am having fun with the research (something I usually have so much fun with it'd be easy to just keep on researching and forget the writing part). But I am getting ready to write an outline. (I hate outlines. I've hated them since I was in Junior High and had to write one for a History paper.) But the magazine wants me to submit an outline, not a completed article. So, not only is it new that I'm writing a magazine piece, but I'm also writing an outline. How much new do I have to suffer through??

In truth, I've been doing a lot new lately. Not only am I challenging my writing-self, I've been challenging my computer-self. I've been learning a lot about blogging and commenting, and trying to become an active member of some of our favorite sites, versus being a "lurker". And, on a personal level, I'm learning how to be a retired stay-at-home-mother. New things/changes in our lives can be difficult and scary, but they can be rewarding and enriching.

So, I'm wondering...
When was the last time you tried something new?
How much did it scare you?
Were you good at it?
How long did it take before the newness wore off?

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Kick in the Pants Like No Other

I did it. I signed up for Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) this November. I have a user name and a password. I actually agreed to write 50,000 words -- a first draft of a book -- in one month. I need a kick in the pants to get me out of my writing rut. And I have a plan.

First, I must admit that I am a terrible typist. I have to look at the keyboard and I still make a ton of mistakes. I virtually always type teh instead of the. And I cannot stop myself from correcting mistakes as I go. Coupled with a background on business writing on deadline -- it's got to sound good very quickly -- I find myself unable to move forward until each sentence is right. This leads to some ferociously slow fiction.

So how can I break free of my long-nurtured writing habits and spill out 50,000 words in one month? I'll sketch out a few main characters and a loosely-woven plot, and then break out the marble notebooks. When I write in longhand, I can let the words flow without instant editing. Maybe it's some deep-rooted inverse connection to nuns and Palmer Method, but in longhand I can free-write. In front of a keyboard, too much thinking clogs up the creativity.

I will not, however, totally deny my anal side for one month. I plan to free-write first thing in the morning, and then type it all out in the evening, when I will allow myself time to edit my longhanded muse.

So can I do it? I hope so. Anybody want to join me? Here's the link for more info:


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Monday, October 20, 2008

The Lonely Writer... Not!

Writing is often thought of as a lonely profession. I know when I first started it certainly seemed that way. I eagerly read through my copy of CWIM (Children's Writers and Illustrators Market) and a few available books on how to write for children in an attempt to understand this crazy world of writing for children (and trying to get published doing it). But mostly, when I wrote a story or sent a manuscript out to a publisher, I just felt alone.

Thank goodness things have changed!

In recent years, I think the options for writers to connect to one another have expanded, and it's definitely up to us as writers to take advantage of the amazing opportunities that are out there.

From joining SCBWI to joining critique groups (both in-person and online), and from attending conferences (don't miss the Highlights Foundation Writer's Workshop at Chautauqua!) to chatting about writing on the computer (don't miss Verla Kay's Blue Board and the childrens-writers yahoo group!), I have grown to be a part of many communities of writers.

Each of these communities is wonderfully supportive and has helped my knowledge and confidence as a writer to grow.

If anything, my problem is now the opposite of the lonely writer. I have to be careful not to spend so much time hopping from opportunity to opportunity without spending enough time doing my main job... writing!

I'm curious. How do you connect with other writers? And how do you balance between connecting and writing?

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Click "Hibernate" or "Send" . . . and Then

My writing brain has a perverse and irritating habit.

Let me set one scene: I'm writing a poem about a kid attempting a skateboard jump over and over before it's finally accomplished. Here's the third stanza:

Push off the millionth time
And balance on the deck,
I snap the tail and jump-
Another skateboard wreck?

The rhythm and meaning of the next line is driving me nuts. It's the important first line of the last stanza when the jump works:

Wow! It's not a ________,

Fill in the blank: disaster? (too many syllables), mistake? (wrong meaning, right number of syllables), accident? (too many syllables), etc., etc.,

Enough! It's lunchtime. Click "start," click "hibernate," and then . . .

Seconds later on the way down the stairs, a lightning zap of inspiration! WIPEOUT. It's a good kid-friendly word with the right number of syllables and it adds some alliteration. Worth a try?

But why couldn't I think of it before? Why did my brain hold out? It happens to me all the time. Answers strike the instant my computer is put to sleep. Maybe I should send it into hibernation every ten minutes!

Clicking "send" also triggers my brain. Send a manuscript out for critique and you can bet I'll instantly think of at least three improvements.

Is it only me?

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

It Gives Me Goosebumps

I've read plenty of good "how to" books on writing for children. But nothing compares to what I'm learning from my eight-year-old son, Gabe. He has two favorite authors, R.L. Stine and Dav Pilkey. Hand him a classic boy book like Treasure Island and he'll read a chapter or two but that's usually it. But the Goosebumps and Diary of a Wimpy Kid series are another matter. He can't put them down. He's turning pages at the breakfast table. He skips TV or computer games to finish them. (If you knew my kid, you'd know this is huge.)

Gabe's book choices used to bother me. Goosebumps is masterfully done, of course, but it's just a bunch of ghost stories. File under "fiction light." And all the poop, booger, and other potty talk in the Wimpy Kid books used to make me cringe

Not any more. As long as my kid's reading, I don't care if it's a joke on a gum wrapper. He is falling in love with fiction--one lovely, scatalogical word at a time. He'll discover the classics soon enough. Until then, creeps from the deep and lunch ladies from Mars will suffice.

I just watched a video interview with R.L. Stine. If you want to view it, here's the link.


If not, here's a great quote from R.L.:

"Kids like my books because they’re like a roller-coaster ride. You know what you’re in for when you get on. There are lots of thrills. Lots of crazy twists and turns. And it lets you off safe at the end. The point of my career is getting kids to read. The whole point of my books is you can turn to reading and just be entertained."

R.L. Stine has sold over 300 million copies of Goosebumps. I can see why. And so can Gabe.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

The Nobel Prize Goes To Who??

When I read today that the Nobel Prize for Literature had gone to a writer I'd never heard of (Jean-Marie Gustave Le Cl├ęzio), I wasn't quite sure what to make of it. Is he that obscure, or am I that out of it? It turns out he is obscure (and I'm a bit out of it to boot), to readers of the English language, because, as well regarded as he is in Europe, few of his works have been translated into English. It's a shame. When I did a little research into who he is, and what he writes about, I came across this quote.

“My message will be very clear; it is that I think we have to continue to read novels. Because I think that the novel is a very good means to question the current world without having an answer that is too schematic, too automatic. The novelist, he’s not a philosopher, not a technician of spoken language. He’s someone who writes, above all, and through the novel asks questions.”

In this time of incredible uncertainty and fear, it rejuvenated me and inspired me to both read and write. Good writing matters, even, and especially, when the sky is falling.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Mission: Submission

I know I have to submit my manuscripts. I really do. But lately I seem to suffer from a malady I'll call "submission indecision".

Let me explain.

After I've completed a manuscript that I envision could eventually become a book, I revise it as much as I possibly can and then I send it out into the world. Or at least that's what I should do.

I think of the perfect publisher. And I'm all ready to send it there. I really am.

Until... I discover their 11 month average response time to unsolicited submissions. And I start to have my doubts.

Maybe I should try to get an agent so I can bypass the slush, I think to myself. So I start researching agents.

But then I think about the variety of genres I write in, and I start to have my doubts again. Which single manuscript would be best to showcase me to an agent?

Now, you might think it would be easier once I finally send a manuscript on its way. And, other than the waiting, it is.

But then it comes back. And I've got to decide what to do with it all over again.

If it comes back with a rejection that indicates it completely missed its mark, I worriedly put it aside, trying to figure out how to fix it.

And, if it comes back with a glowing rejection indicating it came "oh so close" to making it. Believe it or not, sometimes that's even worse. Then I worry about using up all my best publishing options with a bunch of "close calls". (It's especially tough when the manuscript is aimed at a niche market with few possible option for unsolicited submissions... like poetry or easy readers.)

So the poor lonely manuscript sits on my hard drive. Waiting.

Does anyone else suffer from this malady? How do the rest of you get your manuscripts out in the world where they belong?

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Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Written Word

I just returned from a mini conference on religion, where the point was made that the world's great religions have succeeded because of the written word. In studying ancient cultures, one is struck by the exclusivity of early religions. Many were only for males, others only for people from a certain social class; little if anything from them survives in writing. This fact led me to consider how very precious is the written word, whatever the level of content, whether it is the work of a monk in a 8th C scriptorum, the diary of an Italian immigrant from Sicily, or the latest post on a right-wing political blog. As writers we are privileged to take the letters of the alphabet and put them together to create scenes, conversations, tragedy, comedy; to create a few sentences that someone, some day might remember.

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Friday, October 3, 2008

Raffle for a Worthy Cause

Just wanted to make sure that everyone gets the word about Editorial A**'s (aka Moonrat) new raffle. It's to help her friend who has stage IV lymphoma and no insurance.

Prizes of particular interest to children's writer's include a full picture book critique and a middle grade or YA first chapter critique from Tracy Marchini of the Curtis Brown agency.

Check it out at http://editorialass.blogspot.com

Thanks to Ello and LRM on Verla Kay's Blue Board for passing along this important announcement!

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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Cultivating a Practice

I recently began a yoga practice...again. There's something so primal about bare feet on the mat, breathing through the poses and being in the moment that really appeals to me. It also doesn't matter if you're any good or not, no judgement. Or should I say the only person judging yourself is you. As I sweat and struggle and my muscles scream the next day it brings to mind another practice I find equally as sweaty and painful - writing.

Maybe not the sweat part, unless it's the sweating it out after sending my work out into the universe. Struggling to find my balance and a regular practice, yes, definitely. I wish I could say I write every day, but for the most part, I don't. Unless I'm working on something, which at the moment I'm not. I'm in that painful in between projects phase. And it's here where I can easily be swayed by other demands or internet sites as opposed to what I should be doing...creating!

Sitting down and struggling with ideas is definitely as challenging as plank push ups for me. But I know, through raw determination and yes, practice, my ideas can come to life on the page. So here's my promise and a challenge. I will write every day of October for at least 20 minutes. I will put my butt down in my seat, forgo checking e-mail, ignore my hankering for a second cup of coffee and just write.

And I challenge you all to do the same. No judgement and no excuses. Morning, noon, night - whenever. Just do it. Turn the ringer off and find yourself on the page.

Then breathe.

Who knows what we'll come up with?

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