Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mad About Children's Publishing - And More on Conferences

Echoing Julie's excellent post of earlier this week, well presented conferences provide us writers with up-to-date information and much needed optimism. Also ditto in Florida as in New York for the good future for children's books, with hard copies co-existing with digital.

Last month I crossed Alligator Alley (Rte 75) from southwest Florida to Miami to attend the 2012 Florida SCBWI Conference. The theme was "Mad About Children's Publishing" with this theme carrying through the Saturday evening dinner with editors and writers costumed in Alice in Wonderland character garb. There was a lot of fun as well as many great and interactive presentations and workshops from such inspiring guests as Lin Oliver of National SCBWI and award winning author Donna Jo Napoli.

Of all the terrific sessions, the one I focused on driving back on Sunday across the Everglades was the fascinating workshop on The Art of Friendship in Children's Picture Books by Tamar Brazis of Abrams Books. We discussed the nature of friendship, especially among very young friends. Tamar asked us to consider what makes a friendship close and how to show this, including showing affection for a friend, sharing fun, interests and problems, understanding a friend's concerns and worries, all without telling and particularly by using dialogue.

I started composing on the drive home! Such inspiration! The most important item to consider, besides the plot and story arc, is the development of character and affection between these characters in that most limited space of the picture book. I love my new characters that were born at the conference and when crossing back over Alligator Alley, and after much revision I hope some editors and children will love them too!

What inspirations or new guiding principles have you gleaned from a writing conference or published articles recently?

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Mostly Good News

Writing conferences stimulate my creativity, so I try get to at least one every year. But in recent years, market reviews were so discouraging -- fewer publishers acquiring fewer books for fewer bookstores -- I left wondering about my choice of profession.

The SCBWI Winter Conference in January was different. The air bubbled with fresh optimism and renewed enthusiasm (amid familiar cautions, of course).


  • The children’s market is ‘very robust’ (Ken Wright, Agent, Writers House). Kids are still reading real books (Chris Richman, Agent, Upstart Crow Literary).
  • Imprints for YA have increased in the last three years (Regina Brooks, Founder and President, Serendipity Litereary Agency, LLC)
  • MG is the new YA (Regina Brooks) with rising popularity and market potential. YA and MG will continue to grow.
  • Picture Books are ‘alive and well’ (Nancy Paulsen, Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin). Digital books, so far, seem to be an incremental purchase rather than a cannibalistic one. Parents like a book which is already on their bookshelf, and buy a digital copy for travel purposes.
  • Non-fiction is underestimated (Ken Wright). National Geographic and Discover are doing more, and make NF commercial enough for Barnes & Noble. A number of NF titles have appeared in the National Book Award lists.

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Read any good books lately?

My WIP is fantasy so I must, simply MUST, read everything new and noteworthy in the children’s fantasy genre. (Or at least that’s my excuse!) Here’s my latest favorite.


In the time-honored tradition of children’s books, our heroine Maya’s mother is very ill. To fulfill the mother’s fantasy, the family moves to Paris for a year. There, all roads seem to lead to a mysterious Society of “beautiful people” who sniff a heady substance called anbar, live in houses with brass salamander doorhandles, and, as it turns out, are all connected to a shimmering Cabinet of Earths. In the midst of Maya’s ordinary problems of adjusting to a French middle school without speaking French, her little brother James goes missing. When the Cabinet chooses her as its next keeper, she must decide whether to sacrifice her brother’s essential personality or her mother’s shot at immortality.

I love fantasies and I read so many of them that it's exciting to find an original vision like this one. For one thing the magic is French and it's set in Paris--a refreshing change from the English magic trope. For another, the "earths" themselves represent such a interesting reworking of the classic theme of magically preserving a life. And the book is beautifully, whimsically, even deliciously written. I read this in a waiting room while my husband was having surgery and it was like having a friend there to entertain me and keep me company.

Have you read any kid’s books recently that you would recommend to the rest of us? If so, why?

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Inspiration . . . Frustration, Chapter III

(Chapters I and II appeared on August 11th and September 28th of last year.)

LAST YEAR - PB truck story finally gets written and goes to a conference, PB truck story appeals to an editor and she takes it with her, PB truck story is revised twice (based on editorial suggestions) and resubmitted in November. Email from editor saying "looking forward to reading it over the long weekend." (Thanksgiving)

THIS YEAR - Email from editor on January 20th, "looking over it now . . . more thorough response soon."

Okay, so what explains nearly a month of silence?

I figure there are three possibilities:

1. My story is circulating among the editors.

2. It's sitting at the bottom of a pile, buried by more urgent business.

3. I didn't hit the mark with revisions and the editor is putting off writing a rejection letter.

QUANDARY - Do I email her now, or do I wait, wait, wait some more?

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

My Daily Quota

I can always write chapter one. The problem is, I can't stop writing it. I re-wrote chapter one of my current work in progress for almost six months, despite gentle nudges from more accomplished writer-friends, saying that, really, I needed to move onward.

The breakthrough for me was the daily quota. I created it out of desperation, after watching so many of my precious days of unemployment benefits slip through fingers. Every day I sit in front of the computer for two hours or two hundred words, whichever comes first. And anything past that is gravy. As far as possible I do it at my best time of the day, which for me is the morning.

I’ve had many moments of boredom, self-doubt, and restlessness in those two hours. But I have also had lots of plot breakthroughs, character insights and lines of dialog bubble up when I thought I had nothing to say. You can apply this method to non-fiction. You can set an alarm. You can even change the size of the quota. The main thing is to define that bite-sized task and stick with it.

Do you have a daily quota? If so, how do you define it?

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Friday, February 10, 2012

Finding My Flow

Sometimes writing is hard. Very hard.

I stare at a blank page and try to eke out some half decent words.

Then there are those times when ideas just seem to flow.

A few weeks ago, I had one of those wonderful flowing times.

I wish I could identify exactly what went right. How did I get to a place where I was so productive and having so much fun?

Feedback from my awesome agent definitely helped. (Thanks, Teresa!) She found a manuscript I had nearly forgotten and suggested a major revision that made it so much fun to revise. And then she suggested a new topic, one I had never considered writing about, and got my creative juices flowing.

Once I got into that creative mode, it was so fun to write and revise, write and revise.

Ah, how I love that flow! Writing is just so much fun when it goes like that.

Of course, life continues to be a bit crazy, and that wonderful flow did not last forever. So I'm curious, how do you find your flow? (And how much of your writing is just plain old hard work? :o) )

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Saturday, February 4, 2012

Great Expectations

The other day I asked a nine year old girl what she was reading. She answered, "The Magic Thief." I asked her what she liked about it. "It has everything you would expect from a book."

A reader has expectations, either great or small; she wants the pages to draw her in and pull her along until the final page, where her expectations are fulfilled, and she reaches, hopefully, for the next book.

Those who teach creative writing say the worst sin a writer can commit is to bore his reader. Write, then, not for yourself, but for the reader.

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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

So You Want to Write a Novel

This is definitely one of the funniest YouTube videos on writing. I watched it as I took a break from my revision. And now I'm going back to work. Enjoy!

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