Tuesday, November 17, 2009

SCBWI Conference Part II

How often does an unpublished writer get to listen to agents and editors talk about how to improve your writing? Unpublished, maybe never. Unless you attend a conference. And, the advice is invaluable in my opinion. While much of it seems obvious, similar to Ms. Giff's advice I wrote about yesterday, as we all know, it isn't. So much of what I heard on Saturday I have read somewhere before but that doesn't mean I don't need to hear it again. And again to make my writing better.

Agent Linda Pratt of Sheldon Fogelman Agency was the first speaker Saturday morning. And, what was nice was I could tell she was a little nervous. I can't help it but at this stage in my writing career, it felt good to see an agent get nervous in front of a group of writers! Her advice was well delivered and I appreciated it heartily.

She spoke on tension; how to make sure you have it and how to know if you don't. The most important start to creating tension is to ensure your readers become emotionally invested in your MC quickly. Then she broke down tension into picture books and novels.

Picture Books: The pitfalls for lacking tension are:

-starting from a place where you want to teach a child a lesson
-writing in a straight line
-no plot
-not having something at stake for the MC

Linda admitted that not all picture books will have tension but most should. Her "Toolbox" for ensuring there is tension:

-Less is More. Allow the text to set up the picture. The text should not tell the entire story else there is no need for pictures. The setup between text and pictures provides the tension.
-Master the art of the Page Turn. Similar to knowing how to end a chapter in a novel, the words in a picture book should end at a tantalizing point at a page turn.

Novels: The pitfalls for lacking tension are:

-wanting to protect your characters. Instead you need to be willing to hurt them and not to be afraid to have the reader dislike them or their actions.
-Don't confuse action for tension. Her example was you could have a scene where some guy hangs from a helicopter over a tank of sharks, his hands slipping. Then you can have a boy who has taken his dad's prized baseball. This baseball was one that his grandfather gave to his father before he passed away. The boy takes it to the park where it was stolen by bullies, muddied and torn, then returned just as the boy's Dad pulls up to the baseball diamond. There is more tension in the 2nd story b/c you become more emotionally involved with the boy, not that there is more action.

Her "Toolbox" includes:
-Step outside your novel to chart the character arcs. Do primary character and secondary character arcs. Eventhough we need secondary characters to develop our primary characters, the secondary ones still need to have a full arc to fullfill the reader.
-If the character's arc is not complete, play the "what if" game. Ask what if you put that character into a different situation, how could that enhance the story.
-embrace your character's flaws (and make sure they have some). Sometimes their flaws help write the story for you.
-Make sure your characters have enough emotion. Think about a time when you might have went through a similar situation as your characters to help you connect to them.
-If you're still having problems, reread works that successfully accomplish what you are trying to.

More tomorrow.

Monday, November 16, 2009

SCBWI Conference Was Invigorating!

Saturday's SCBWI Mid-Atlantic conference in Arlington was a blast! As I posted on Friday, it was my first writer's conference and I can't wait for my 2nd. Last week, I felt stale and blocked. Partly because I was trying to get over the flu but mainly because I needed to be reinvigorated.

What a day! Volunteering was indeed a terrific way to meet people and have fun. I am so glad I did. I have to say children's writers have got to be the nicest, most supportive gang I have ever been around. I met so many great women and learned so much I can't wait to tell you guys all about it.

Unfortunately, I came home Saturday to a sick 7 year old and then the next morning, my son got it. Same thing I had last week and I suspect it's H1N1 but I haven't had them tested. So I'm just now getting to the computer.

I took lots of notes but want to tell you about the keynote speaker today. Patricia Reilly Giff came with her husband, Jim. The two of them sat next to each other the entire time and I couldn't help thinking how wonderfully together they seemed and how random it was to be inspired not only by a speaker's words but by their actions.

She opened with the story of how she began writing. One day she told her husband she wished she didn't have to go to work, to teach. And, when she came home, he had altered two adjacent closets into a writing area for her. From that point on, she began writing and after feeling hopeless most of the time and after throwing away the words she wrote each day, she began to research other writers.

She checked out 10 children's books from the library and read the first page of each. Ths is something that of course we all know to do. Every book on writing goes on and on about the power of reading the type of books you want to write. For Ms. Giff, this would not have been so apparent years ago.

Her words of advice were simple. To write a story, you must start with a person, place and problem. In her sweet yankee voice, she descibed choosing a character, dropping her/him in a place and finding that character a problem. You make that person move for action, talk for dialogue and you have his/her problem continue to get worse as the story goes on until it is solved at the end.

When Ms. Giff first started writing, she did as many of us do. She got out of bed 30 minutes before her kids got up and wrote. Her house was a mess and her cooking was terrible. But, she insisted that it's the work you put into it that provides you with success. Isn't it inspiring to hear a successful writer say we can all become authors as long as we work hard?!

To questions posed her by the audience she insisted that thinking about our own childhood is sufficient for drawing most characters. She lies on the living room floor and tries to remember events and feelings from when she was growing up. Her emotions become her character's emotion.

She pointed out several scenes in Pictures of Hollis Woods and explained how something very similar had happened in her own life, in her childhood. One last trick she does is to think about her two softies, her husband and her agent, reading her WIP and if she can picture them tearing up, then she knows she's done it.

Tomorrow I hope to blog about some of the other presenters. Today, I need to get back to the sickies!

Friday, November 13, 2009

SCBWI MId-Atlantic Fall Conference

Heading to the SCBWI Mid-Atlantic conference tomorrow in Arlington, Va.!! So very excited as it's my first writer's conference. I feel like a kid the night before a trip to Busch Gardens. A little nerdy, I know!

I'll be volunteering with the food committee partly because I almost always volunteer at whatever I do and partly because I figured it was an easy way to meet people since I only recently joined SCBWI.

I have to be in Arlington, which is about an hour drive from the country where I live, by 7:00 a.m. which means I'll be up at 5:00 a.m. On a Saturday. After a week of having the flu. Not looking forward to that but I figure it'll be a wash and go day! So, hopefully I'll fit through the door with my frizzy curls. And my cherry cough drops.

Thanks to my friend at The Virginia Scribe, I am prepared with business cards, which I frantically ordered from my local Staples having no idea they were something a writer needed. Last time I was in possession of those little goodies, I was a commercial real estate agent working in Dupont Circle and the conferences were boring updates on the exploding real estate market (too bad that's not still the case). Thanks to Jessyca at the Warrenton Staples for the 4 hour turnaround!

Can't wait to blog about the going's on and especially looking forward to hearing Patricia Reilly Giff speak. I've been reading her books lately and oh so love them.

Talk to ya soon!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Best Children's Books of 2009

Just in time to make those Christmas purchases for the children in your life, Publishers Weekly has posted their list of the top 100 books for children published in 2009.

Hitting the top spot for a picture book is Chris Barton's "The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer's Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors". The brothers developed the first flourescent paint which was initially used by the military. Illustrated by Tony Persiani, PW describes this book as a tale about following your dreams.

To continue reading, go to My Examiner Page.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Kate DiCamillo's "The Magician's Elephant"

First, I apologize for the lack of a picture but my computer is winning today and insists it doesn't feel up to adding one! I'm about to kick it out! I'm diffusing now....

Who out there has eaten way too much of their kids' Halloween candy? I'm having diabetic moments and still feel the need to "help" my kids out by savoring their treats. Plus, we have a lot left over from our own supply since the rainy night made for a small crowd. I hope my daughter doesn't miss that Butterfinger(ssss)!

But, I did finish a great read recently. Kate DiCamillo's The Magician's Elephant. How does she do it? Her writing is so, and I don't use this word lightly, profound! Her characters have similar feelings we all have and yet they are not typical. She doesn't draw them by giving us a lot of detail and yet, we know them. This is such a deep talent that it sometimes brings my own writing to a halt. How can I do that? Well, we'll save the self ridicule for another blog.

Here's the review I wrote for a new writing gig I took on The Examiner. which, by the way, I don't think I'll be doing since they can't get the technical gliche I have to go away.

The True Magic in The Elephant’s Magician

Kate DiCamillo, author of the novels The Tale of Despereaux, Because of Winn-Dixie, Tiger Rising, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane as well as the easy reader stories of Mercy Watson, has once again provided her readers with a story full of enchanted verses, beautifully drawn characters and mystic longing.

From the first chapter, the reader is captured and taken on a journey through the main character’s search for his sister. Peter is an orphan who believes his sister to be alive when his fortune is told. The fortuneteller instructs him to follow the elephant to her. And, so the story begins.

DiCamillo melds action, description and character like a master weaver. As in her many other tales, we want to ingest the entire story in one helping. This is not a book to be read in bits and pieces but devoured. So strong is the need to see Peter through his journey that many a reader will not put the book down until the final words conclude Peter’s adventure.

As we have seen with Despereaux and Because of Winn Dixie, a motion picture version of this soon to be classic DiCamillo story will most likely be coming in the near future. Better to find the story in the flesh of the pages first. You can always munch on popcorn and Twizzlers while you read.

Happy sugar rush to you all!