Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Light - How Precious It Is

Last month I commented on the coming hurricane - SANDY - and how even if the power, and consequently the lights, went off, people could still read long after their charges on their computers, tablets, and phones went dead - with a book and flashlight or candle!

You've been reading most of the month here on our blog about the toll the storm took -the vast damage to homes, businesses and amusement parks! And how discombobulated you can get when trying to stay warm or cook over the fireplace. If you are not from the tri-state area affected by Sandy you might be thinking - we've heard this all month - can they get over it?

Well, the storm did take a toll. We all know people who lost their homes - their one and only home, as well as vacation homes. It was pretty devastating.

Our area was without power for 12 days. The local nursing home had a generator but it didn't keep the heat up to normal and the elderly patients were cold. Many of the children were out of school for a week and a half. This might sound great if you are ten, until you realize that you might not get a spring vacation this year.

But we writers keep on focusing on writing - can still scribble with a pen on paper and have time to reflect on the lives of writers and readers in the past - before Tom Edison turned on the lights!

How precious is the light - to read and write by! Until people had gas lights and then electric lights, they had to really work at finding time to read. In the summer there is ample natural light until the late evening but in the winter you would have had to sit close to a window in mid-day. Children, writers and clerks working on rows of figures had to use the day light carefully. This sure gives us a renewed perspective on light and how we are so used to having this gift 24 hours a day. And, it gives us a glimpse of how people sacrificed other needs and enjoyments just to read and write before the electric light.

I did sit by the fire and read books into the night - but I used up innumerable batteries in my large flashlight and many candles as I held the book with one hand and the candle stick in the other!

Thanks Tom Edison (who did his great discoveries in NJ!) for our light! And here is the rest of it.

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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Conference Tidbits

Thought I’d share a few nuggets of wisdom about ‘the business’ from the SCBWI NJ Fall Retreat a few weeks ago. In my next post, I’ll share some craft tips.

Editors, Agents and Consolidation
Selling a manuscript is increasingly "more difficult." There are fewer editors, and each editor is responsible for a growing number of books.
  • Each editor has less time available to spend on each manuscript. 
  • The Penguin/Random House merger will only add to this trend. 
  • New authors: try a new and not-yet-established agent or editor, especially at reputable agencies. New authors need more personal attention. These young and hungry professionals can devote more time to you than a more senior editor may have available.
Author Responsibility
Several editors and agents agreed that authors are expected to do even more these days once they are published. Editors are looking for extra content: 
  • short stories, 
  • character notes, 
  • side stories for minor characters. 

You must help, sometimes for free, to build the audience and bridge the time between major publications. Don’t throw away your character sketches or alternative plot notes!

Still, each and every editor professes to be looking for new talent -- but mostly through agents or conferences. As always, put forth only your best work.

Finally, kudos to Leeza Hernandez for keeping the conference on-track after Sandy.  Through our first day, the hotel was running on generator power.  NJ Transit was not in operation. Still we had a full panel of agents and editors, and a full schedule.   Thanks Leeza. 

Good luck and keep at it writers. 

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Look Who's Coming to Dinner!

Thanksgiving is here! Already!  We still have uneaten Halloween candy!!

Stores are hawking their Black Friday sales - some even starting BEFORE Thanksgiving. (Black Wednesday, anyone?) Christmas decorations are adorning shopping centers and private residences. And my sure fire way of telling the holiday season is upon us - Starbucks has their holiday hot cups! And Peppermint Mochas!!

So, I'm going to keep this light. I'm hosting an incredible (albeit virtual) Thanksgiving feast and you're all invited! Please bring your favorite dish and a guest - a character: hero, villain or otherwise - from your favorite children's book. Picture books to YA! Classics to contemporary! Everyone is welcome.

Hmmm...I invited Severus Snape, but seeing as a)he doesn't want to fraternize with Muggles and b)he doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving and c) well, there was that nasty business in book seven...he declined via owl.

So instead my guest will be the lovely Katniss Everdeen. She promised to provide the fowl.

Who will you bring, dear Paper Waiters?

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Saturday, November 17, 2012

Life, Loss, and Picture Books

Arthur Rackam

With life comes loss. Whether you lose a memento, job, home, pet, or loved one, the pain can feel the same.

With writing also comes loss...

Lately I’ve been mourning the loss of paragraphs, phrases, and words in my picture book manuscript.

Breaking up with a cleverly crafted phrase or an endearing scene can be excruciating. It’s so difficult to part with something you love.

After any period of mourning, it is imperative to move on. Often, life sends better things your way. 

I am starting to think as a picture book writer instead of a children’s book writer. I cut out anything that can be shown or explained with the illustrations. 

My manuscript has gone from 563 words down to 253 words. And you know what? It’s getting better. 

Here are some great quotes by picture book author Juliet Clare Bell on the subject:

“Editing picture book manuscripts is different from editing other manuscripts….A manuscript for a great novel will read as brilliantly as the novel itself. A manuscript for a great picture book will not. But that’s the point. It’s not MEANT to. It’s a picture book. It’s all about the book as a whole

“Remember, you’re not aiming for something that will flow beautifully without the aid of pictures (as it will look as a manuscript in your hands); you are looking for something that will flow beautifully as a picture book.” 

“…picture book editors know how to imagine the pictures. It's their job.” 

How do you deal with loss in your writing?

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Concentration? Kaput!

Hurricane Sandy stole my concentration. Ever since those six days without power and then the nervous-making gas shortage, I've been unable to settle back into writing. I'm not talking about being as creative as putting words on the page. I can't even concentrate on pondering the problems in my two current projects!
Here's how I feel:
All foam, no beer.
No grain in my silo.
A few cards short of a full deck.
Missing a button on my remote control.
My sewing machine's out of thread.
I'm one taco short of a combination platter.
The cheese has slid off my cracker.
My elevator doesn't go to the top.

Now compared to Sandy's physical destruction, I know my problem is small. Maybe writing this post will jump start a writing routine?

Thanks to The Paper Wait I had a deadline. Will a deadline do the trick?

Photo credit: Mel Evans/AP.

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Friday, November 9, 2012

Inspiring Communities

I just got back from my local SCBWI meeting. It was wonderful!

Two local authors presented inspiring workshops. (Thanks Lisa L. Owens and Ben Clanton!) Before that there were fun and funny announcements from our wonderful regional advisors, and good news announcements. Always such a pleasure to hear!

Usually, people don't think of writing as something social. But, when this social component is there, it is such fun. Now that I live across the country from my amazing Paper Wait critique group, these wider community connections are essential.

Of course, there are many ways to find community. Like many writers, I find such wonderful community online. Especially at Verla Kay's Blueboards!

And in November there are even more opportunities for online community. Good luck to all those who are doing NaNoWriMo!

My writing challenge of choice is Picture Book Idea Month. It is such fun to read the blog posts Tara Lazar has been posting each day from a wonderfully talented group of authors and illustrators. (If you read only one (and I definitely advise reading more than one), you must read Day 9's post by Kelly Light. Incredible.)

I am definitely inspired from all this wonderful community! Must get back to writing!

What writing communities have you found? Do they leave you feeling inspired too?

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Monday, November 5, 2012

The Character Who Will Not Leave

All of you, I'm sure, have read a book so exquisitely crafted that at the story's end the main character seems to be shadowing you. You feel like asking him to sit down and tell you more. This can't be all, you say. I just finished "Old Filth," a highly praised 2005 novel by British writer, Jane Gardam. It could easily be a young adult book, so I'll use it as the subject for my comments. Gardam's work encompases Edward Feather's long life, starting at the end, then switching to the beginning, with his birth in Malaya, then to his miserable seven-year old existence in Wales, then to teenage years, back and forth, each chapter revealing a piece of the puzzle Feathers was. Nevertheless, it is a perfect page turner; only in the last pages of the novel are the multitude of mysteries that make up Feather's life resolved. What I'm sure Gardam did prior to writing was to create a very thorough biography (not just a character sketch) of Edward Feathers, and probably biographies of all the story's characters. Her meticulous character development paid off. I'm afraid I have been careless, writing and hoping my characters catch my reader's attention with minimal effort on my part. I could improve. Vastly.

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Friday, November 2, 2012

KidLit Cares Sandy Relief Effort Auction

As one of the Paper Waiters who now lives outside of NJ, it has been heartbreaking to watch the footage of Sandy and the devastation left in her wake. The above picture, in particular, left me feeling empty, helpless and just, well, sad. That is the Star Jet roller coaster from Seaside Heights' famed Casino Pier.

There are no words.

I called it the jet star...rolled off the tongue better, I guess. And it used to TERRIFY me. The first climb was straight up to the sky and there was always that thought - what if it doesn't stop? What if we go hurtling into the ocean? That net is SO not going to catch me! Being terrified was part of it - especially when there was a cute guy involved. Nothing like the adrenaline rush of a roller coaster ride to force that first tenuous physical contact and make it okay.  There is magic in that sea-salt air!

The boardwalk was always bustling with families, freaks, hairbags, bennies, guidos and guidettes BEFORE Jersey Shore was even an idea in some TV executive's head. It was the perfect diversion. My mother recently told me, back in her day, they were warned about going to Seaside because the "sin oozed up from under the Boardwalk."

It didn't stop her from going.

Steak sandwiches, lemonade with half a lemon floating in it, games of chance for oversized stuffed animals or rude tee shirts and the possibility of stolen kisses after a sleepy day at the beach...a little slice of Jersey heaven.

I know the shore isn't the only place that was devastated, and I can't begin to fathom all of the lives this storm has touched and changed forever.  What is life affirming to me is how people come together.

Children's author Kate Messner started KidLit Cares - an auction to benefit the Sandy Relief Effort. A phone chat with agent Erin Murphy, a phone call and critique with Egmont USA publisher and editor Elizabeth Law and a Skype visit with author/illustrator Mo Willems are just a few of the experiences you can bid on through this amazing auction. Author Skype visits! Manuscript critiques from pros! All to help out a good cause.  Go. BID. The auction runs until November 9th. (latest item additions have later end dates!)   THANK YOU!!

*photo credit NBC News

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