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1. I love contests!

In the past few months, I've had some amazing contest experiences. My middle grade novel, MOM WARS, won an honorable mention in the 2014 Rate Your Story contest. And I entered #Pitmad for the first time and had several requests for my other completed middle grade novel, THE COMIC ADVENTURES OF RUBY BELLA BROWN.

I'm grateful for the chance to enter another contest today--The Writer's Voice. It's a multi-blog, multi-agent contest hosted by Brenda Drake, Mónica Bustamante Wagner, Kimberly P. Chase, and Elizabeth Briggs.


Here’s my entry!

MOM WARS – 34,000 word humorous middle grade novel

Twelve year-old Jennifer Lauren Michaels longs to be part of a real family—living in a house with both parents, a sibling, and a pet. Instead, she and Mom have a tiny apartment they can barely afford. They constantly battle over money for much-needed clothes and Jennifer’s quest to contact Dad. The only way to survive without screaming back and getting grounded for life is throwing invisible food at Mom.

An unexpected babysitting job with two wacky kids and a ballerina guinea pig opens up a whole new world for her…especially when she discovers that the most hottielicious guy in the universe lives next door. But devastation strikes when Jennifer learns that her first-ever kiss (with the hottie) happened for the wrong reason. The sorta cute and totally sweet guy she started to depend on suddenly seems to have a dark side. And her search to find Dad unravels a mystery check and shocking secrets. Jennifer must decide if she’s going to escape back into her imaginary food-throwing fantasies, or finally find a way to dig beneath the surface to see things the way they really are.  


MOM WARS - First 250 words


I dump my school stuff out of last year’s semi-holey backpack and open my drawers. Empty. Empty. Empty. Except for a pair of stretched-out sweats and a bra so tight it makes me look like I have four boobs.

Better find something to pack. Fast!

“Come here,” Mom calls. “I have a surprise for you.”

I dance into the den. I knew my twenty page list of reasons why I should go to South Carolina with Kelly would change Mom’s mind.

“I don’t want you to be bored all summer, soooooooo—”

“I’m going with Kelly. Thank you, thank you, thank you!” I give Mom a gigantic hug. She just stands there.

Uh oh.

My stomach flip-flops.

“You know we can’t afford it.” “It won’t cost anything. They’re driving and—”

“I already said no.”

“But—”

Wham! She slams a dog-eared magazine on the chipped computer table. “I’m not pawning you off on another family for the summer. This discussion is over.”

My entire body shakes. I can’t believe she’s doing this to me. “I bet Dad would let me go.” Omigod, did I say that out loud?

Veins pulse on Mom’s forehead. “DON’T. MENTION. HIM. AGAIN!”

Breathe. Bite my lip. Breathe. Bite my lip.

“You’re NOT going. One more word about it, you’ll be grounded for a month.”

She’s always punishing me. Trying to erase Dad.

Don’t scream. Don’t scream. Don’t scream. There’s only one way to stay out of trouble when she makes me this mad.

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2. The 2014 SCBWI FL Regional Conference - Part 3

As promised, here is my third post about the incredible 2014 SCBWI FL Regional Conference in Miami. This one covers the editor panel and workshops led by editors Laura Whitaker and Aubrey Poole. Click here to check out my first post about the fantastic Novel Intensive led by agent Jen Rofé, editor Stacy Abrams, and author Chris Crutcher. And part two covers almost all of the general session, including an amazing agent panel filled with helpful info.


The Wonderful Editor Panel

Editor Panel
Stacy Abrams, Kat Brzozowski, Aubrey Poole, Laura Whitaker, Andrea Pinkney
Moderated by author Dorian Cirrone

This is what they said they’re looking for:

Stacy Abrams—contemporary (no paranormal or dystopian). Can have an issue in it but the book can’t be about the issue.

Kat Brzozowski—dystopian is hard. Would love a good YA mystery. Comes across as loving dark but does love girl meets boy and they kiss, light romantic contemporary stuff for girls.

*She also said that with social media, if you do one thing well but don't like another, don't force it.

Aubrey Poole—loves sci fi, YA, not looking at genre really—it’s the stories that stand out within a genre. More experimenting with format.

Laura Whitaker—she’s tired of dystopian and paranormal YA. She wants to be immersed in a story so much that she's physically removed from her own issues. She wants to read about real people. Contemporary, original voice.

*She also said that with MG and YA, networking is important. Do a lot of digital marketing initiatives. You can get a huge impact from doing a blog tour. "Help me help you."

Andrea Pinkney—more diversity, African American boys, adventure, mystery, fun. Contemporary stories. *You need to normalize and not make it about the problem, even with something like bi-polar. She’s interested in a novel with a character who has piercing or a lot of tattoos.

Sunday workshops
Aubrey Poole – Do You Know Your Character?
A Writing Intensive on Character Development.

Aubrey Poole

She gave us a personality quiz to help look at characters in a different way. She chose a character—Sherlock Holmes (she's obsessed with the new Sherlock show). We had to answer from our POV—how we see him.

When writing your character, remember that you act different with parents/sister/friend, etc.

You can use the Hero's Journey—Google it, and you'll find one that works for you.

Harry Potter perfectly follows the Hero's Journey.

You should use whatever point of view tells your story. If you give a description of a room, it should reflect your character.

She shared a character questionnaire found in Gotham Writers’ Workshop’s Writing Fiction. It’s filled with fantastic questions, broken up into two sections. The first are questions that address the basics about a character and include things like: Does she have a secret and where does your character go when she’s angry. The second section digs deeper by asking more unconventional questions like: What is one strong memory that has stuck with your character from childhood and why is it so powerful and lasting?

I wish I could share them all with you, but it really wouldn’t be fair for me to give more than this glimpse. If you want more—take Aubrey Poole’s character workshop or Writing Fiction!


Laura Whitaker: Dating 101: What makes YOU desirable to an editor?

Laura Whitaker

She’ll look at a query for 30 seconds to a minute. First thing should be the hook, then a two sentence synopsis (three if you have to), then info about yourself. 

Tell her something interesting about your writing journey. What drew you to telling this story? Let her know any cool things you can share about yourself—show what makes you vibrant and unique.  

Come up with an original title that represents your work. If the title is the same when you’re published and there’s a story behind how you arrived at the title, marketing will want it later for a blog/Tumblr piece.

If there’s a tie in with a recent news story/national concern—make sure she knows. Comp titles/TV shows/films are always good to include. For non-fiction, tie it into common core curriculum. Writing groups/conferences show that the writer is interested in the revision process. They want to know this!

She wants magical realism MG—a present day situation that has magical elements that come into it rather than the focus of the whole story. She wants a Chanukah picture book. She likes sparkly things.

You can include info about it being a trilogy in a pitch letter to an agent but not an editor.

Your website is your calling card--especially for picture books.

Do you tweet out interesting, dynamic tweets? It’s the best way to build connections with other authors, agents, and editors. Twitter is more important for MG and YA. Interact! Do you write about the process or what you're working on? Marketing and publicity want to see your social media platform. The more social media, the better—but it’s not a substitute for the craft.

We received a coupon from the conference to submit to her. If we don't have an agent, Laura can't acquire a manuscript (but if she loves it--she'll actively try to help us find an agent). Combine this with her incredible enthusiasm and knowledge, this amazing workshop that explained how to wow an editor and included a really helpful handout, plus the fact that she requested several manuscripts and you’ll see why Laura Whitaker is a fantastic asset to any conference or retreat faculty!  

All the FL SCBWI events have been incredible, but this one had some extra-special magic. Peggy Robbins Janousky had her first page read in the Picture Book Intensive and it received such enthusiastic responses from the agent and editors that she ended up signing with Deborah Warren on the second day of the conference! I can’t wait to share Peggy’s full FL SCBWI Success Story in an upcoming newsletter. We have another writer who signed with Deborah Warren soon after the conference. And so many of our members received full manuscript requests from agents and editors that weekend. There’s a lot of hope out there now, and I’m crossing my fingers and toes that there will be even more great news to shout out soon.

I’m counting the days until the Orlando Workshop at the Swan/Dolphin hotel on Disney property on June 6th and 7th. I’ll share the faculty list as soon as it’s confirmed, but I was excited to hear that agent Alexandra Penfold will be back again. She gave an amazing Picture Book Intensive a few years ago with author Lisa Wheeler. Here’s a link to the first post about that Picture Book Intensive and here’s the second one.

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3. The 2014 SCBWI FL Regional Conference - Part 2

This is my second post about the incredible 2014 SCBWI FL Regional Conference in Miami. There’s so much info to share with all of you, I had to break it into three posts! This one covers almost all of the general session, including an amazing agent panel. I’ll post again on Monday, February 24th with the editor panel plus workshops led by editors Laura Whitaker and Aubrey Poole. Click here to check out my last post about the Novel Intensive led by agent Jen Rofé, editor Stacy Abrams, and author Chris Crutcher.  

Agent panel--Jen Rofé, Deborah Warren, Ammi-Joan Paquette
Moderated by author Dorian Cirrone

Agent Panel

When sending a query, make it clear you're personalizing it to that agent.

Lot of success with author/illustrators, multicultural and historical (especially MG), and contemporary YA.

When asked how many editors she sends a manuscript to at a time and when she considers giving up she said she won't stop until she's exhausted every opportunity.

The fastest she sold a manuscript—3 hours! The longest it took was four years.

Often times, queries go to the bottom of the list because agents are busy with clients.

Wish list: commercial character based picture books. A country song book for YA. Books based on childhood, like a girl who is getting into stuff she isn't supposed to do, but nobody would expect that.



Don't send one query to tons of agents at once, and don't send over holidays. Loves when it's obvious that you've done your homework.

She also loves getting referrals from existing clients.


Specializes in picture books. She’s known for building brands and loves finding new talent!

She loves working with author/illustrators—it's her sweet spot. She’s having trouble with chapter books (they're usually franchises). Realistic fiction is really coming back and she's excited about that.

The client/agent relationship is like a marriage. She’ll never give up on a client—once you're on the team, you're there!

She loves to see good social networking in a client.

Wish list: Author/illustrators, multicultural, books based on childhood, a book about singing, or kids overcoming their obstacles.



She usually takes three to four weeks to respond to queries. For longer requested manuscripts it was two months, but she’s backlogged right now.

She looks for a strong opening in the sample pages and is especially drawn to precise pitches in a query that are snappy and compelling.

Picture books have been huge this past year—they just exploded. The last couple of years, it's been skyrocketing. Science fiction is slower.

When working on promotion, authenticity and what feels natural to you is important. An awkward presence is actually worse than no presence. In the pre-published stage, the focus should be on craft.

Wish list: books that do something really different, a different narrative structure, different POV. Sometimes, if it's challenging to find the right home for it, it's even more rewarding in the end. She loves unusual projects, books based on childhood—travel, unusual vacations, anything to do with food or baking or French food. She loves caves.


Chris Crutcher – Turning Real Life Into Fiction
Chris CrutcherGet out there and tell the best story you can tell (worry about audience/marketing later).

Looks for the juxtaposition of comedy and tragedy.



Crystal Kite award winner Augusta Scattergood and her editor, Andrea Pinkney, for Glory Be.

Augusta Scattergood and Andrea PinkneyShe shared the quote: It's never too late to be what you might have been.

What she first sent Andrea is considered the 'pre first draft'—they worked very hard together on it. In fact, when a kid asked Augusta how she learned how to write, she said her editor taught her.


Sara Pennypacker--Figure out what matters
Sara PennypackerAll authors have something at our core that we're trying to correct by what we're doing—something we're trying to make better. And connection is one of the most important things about books.

Write from the point of view of a character who feels deeply about things.

She loves Clementine—she'd just sit in a dark closet all day and listen to her.


Here’s what I learned during the First Page Critiques:
Kat Brzozowski

Loves when the first line of a book poses a question that the rest of the book will answer.

Try to keep character description off the first page unless shown vs told. If you tell on the first page, it gives the impression that there’s more telling throughout the manuscript.

Start in scene more than action.

Alex Flinn

Less description sometimes helps readers imagine how characters look.

Jen Rofé

Don’t start with an introduction (it isn’t interesting).



Peter Brown: My Curious Career
Peter BrownHe found the quote: "Good artists borrow, great artists steal."

He thought—pursue things that really inspire you and make it your own.

He started thinking about why he loved paintings and saw patterns in the things he loved.

Tiger ends up taking off his clothes right in the center of Mr. Tiger Goes Wild—he joked about having a nude centerfold in a picture book. :)


Lois Duncan: When a Dinosaur Goes to Hollywood

Lois DuncanNever give up. Learn from your mistakes and keep going!

If you can't sell something, put it in a drawer for a year or two and get it back in the market. If you really think it's a good book—keep it!

She wrote Hotel for Dogs and it didn't do that great...then she sold the movie rights about 35 years later. It went into successful movie, so Scholastic republished it.

Never burn your bridges.

The stories are really important. So go forth and write those stories!

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4. Novel Intensive with Jen Rofé, Stacy Abrams, and Chris Crutcher

I love attending conferences, workshops, and taking writing classes, and have a feeling that won’t change, no matter how many books I have published. I always take at least a gem or two back with me…and sometimes a whole treasure chest full of sparkling gems I can use to improve my writing and revision skills. Plus, I come home filled with inspiration. And I love spending time with others who love children’s books as much as I do! I’ve made some amazing lifelong friends and critique buddies through these events!

The 2014 SCBWI FL Regional Conference in Miami was fantastic! I have so much info to share with all of you, I’ll break it into two or three posts. I started the conference by taking the Novel Intensive with:

Jen Rofé (Agent, Andrea Brown Literary Agency)
Stacy Abrams (Editorial Director, Entangled Teen/Ember lines/Bliss)
Chris Crutcher (Author)

The Novel Intensive faculty

Jen Rofé spoke about agenting:

·         Write the thing that scares you. It usually comes from some raw, painful place and that's where the good stuff comes out.
·         If you write picture books, she would want at least four she could try to sell right away.
·         She’s very editorial.
·         Where you start the story really matters.
·         Don't EVER write to the market!!!!
·         She sees clients with writer ticks...but also idea ticks (for ex. Daddy issues). The goal is with each idea you have, go beyond that. Be stronger and different. You can write within same genre, but make sure you don't have ticks that repeat, like Dad issues, always losing and finding something, etc.
·         Let readers use their imagination instead of using too much stage direction.
·         Jen's job is to know the marketplace, so when writers tell her about the marketplace in a query, it's like they don't think she knows her job. But my book can fit in with __ and __ shows knowledge about the market and where your spot in market will be. Don't use the most popular books for comparisons!
·         She loves animal books.
·         A personal note from an agent is a good sign! They don't have time to send that to everyone. It might be the project/first page/query letter that isn't quite right at the moment.
·         When asked what the current market is like, she said: It’s always a great time for children's literature—but it’s very, very, very competitive.

In October, she learned that editors want:
·         Commercial and character based picture books
·         Fun MG J
·         Adventurous books, especially for boys
·         No dystopian or paranormal romance YA--more contemporary
·         Common core--everyone wants nonfiction, especially narrative NF (that feels like a story)

In the afternoon, Jen Rofé used Richard Peck's sheet—your first chapter is your last chapter in disguise, and we read the beginning of several books, and discussed why it did or didn’t get our attention. What did we learn about the character and the story right up front?
*I think this would be a great exercise to do with other writing friends or your critique group! You could gather several recently published books in the genre/s you write and see how much you learn from the first paragraph or two.  

Chris Crutcher

·         Don't think about your audience while you're writing your story. You'll start cheating yourself out of telling the true part of that story, the intimacy, the secrets. Tell your story in most raw, honest way possible. Don't worry about how it'll land—get the story down first!
·         It's dangerous emotionally to write a good book—it reveals your secrets.
·         Chris starts with an event that blows him away. It must be something he really cares about. He wonders ‘what if’ and sees where the story goes. He's usually at chapter eight or nine when he knows the arc/ending. He flails early on and doesn't know what he'll throw in character's way.
·         He didn't know what he was doing at first, but remembered being a kid and he had lots of kids in his life through teaching. He listens to current kid language at school visits, etc.
·         Find the piece that touches all of us. Don't just go into your experience, but step back and make it more universal.
·         Written language goes a long way—limit curses and using typical kid language like 'dude' and 'like'.
·         For critiques--you want people who think story. You don’t want critiquers who only think it's good.
·         Movement helps him work through issues in the book (he thinks about the issues when he’s running or swimming).
Stacy Abrams

·         When reading the beginning of a manuscript, she wants to know the problem and what your hook is (a hook shows readers why they should care). 
·         Readers need to see conflict right away—it’s the most important part of novel.
·         The first chapter is so important—her house spends an enormous amount of time on it. You can use the first chapter as a marketing tool and let people read it for free.
·         Relatability of characters is very important—she especially works on this with YA authors.
·         Language is important. How does your character describe the world?
·         High concept books can be explained in one sentence, like an elevator pitch.
·         You can’t just write a book, authors also have to go into schools, etc. It’s important for authors to interact with their audience!

This was just the first day of the conference! I should have another conference post up by the end of the week. I’m already looking forward to the FL SCBWI Workshop in Orlando this summer. It’s on June 6 – 7 at the Swan/Dolphin hotel on Disney property. It’s the perfect excuse for a Disney vacation!

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5. The Writer's Voice Entry

I absolutely love contests! I've participated in a few of them recently, and received a couple of agent requests, which is always exciting. Plus, I've found that contests with short samples often help me discover how to streamline my manuscripts in ways I've never considered before. It's amazing how many tweaks can be made when you're hoping to reach a certain part of your manuscript in only 250 words. Even though my critique groups have given me a green light and I believe my MG is ready to submit, I would love the chance to receive feedback from a Writer's Voice coach. I'm always looking for ways to make my manuscripts shine even brighter!

The Writer's Voice is a multi-blog, multi-agent contest hosted by Cupid of Cupid's Literary Connection, Brenda Drake of Brenda Drake Writes, Monica B.W. of Love YA, and Krista Van Dolzer of Mother. Write. (Repeat). They're basing it on NBC's singing reality show The Voice, with the four of them serving as coaches and selecting projects for their teams based on our queries and first pages. So here's my entry:

Dear Writer’s Voice coaches,

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules to put together this amazing contest. I would love for you to consider my completed 35,000 word middle grade novel, Mom Wars

Throwing globs of invisible food is the only thing that gets twelve year-old Jennifer Lauren Michaels through her grueling Mom Wars. Jennifer and her Mom fight over everything…especially Dad. She isn’t even allowed to say his name, and Mom has kept her away from him since he divorced them six years ago. But Dad must want her back in his life, because he sent Jennifer a $10,000 check—that Mom hid from her! Now that Jennifer found it, Mom still refuses to give her the money. And won’t explain why. It doesn’t make sense! Almost none of Jennifer’s clothes fit, the fridge is almost empty, and they’re in danger of losing their apartment.

When Mom won’t let Jennifer’s best friend take her on a family vacation and forces her to babysit all summer, Jennifer is imaginary pie-throwing mad…until she discovers the most hottielicious guy in the universe lives next door to her new job. Babysitting turns out to be fun—even with attacking bees, psycho ducks, and a ballerina guinea pig that almost becomes dog-chow. But devastation strikes when Jennifer learns that her first-ever kiss (with a hottie) happened for the wrong reason. And the sorta cute and totally sweet guy she started to depend on during this wacky summer suddenly seems to have a dark side. Once Jennifer stops escaping into her hope-bubble fantasies, she realizes that things aren’t always the way they first appear—families and even kisses can have secrets behind them. But there might not be enough time to make things right with people she judged too quickly.

I'm an active SCBWI PAL member, the FL SCBWI Listserv Editor, an Administrator on Verla Kay’s Blueboard, and a member of From the Mixed-Up Files…of Middle-Grade Authors. I’ve been published in Highlights magazine, and two of my manuscripts placed in the 80th Annual Writer’s Digest Competition.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I have included the first 250 words of Mom Wars below, and hope you’ll choose me for your team!

Best,

Mindy Alyse Weiss


Mom Wars (First 250 words)
  “Mom is about to spring her surprise on me, and I think I know what it is.”

    “Omigod!” Kelly squeals so loud, I almost drop the phone. “Do you really think she’ll let you go?”

    “Yes.” Hope bubbles float around me, filled with images of Kelly and me on vacation. I dump my school stuff out of last year’s semi-holey backpack and open my drawers. Empty. Empty. Empty. Except for a pair of stretched-out sweats and a bra so tight it makes me look like I have four boobs.

    “I can’t pack. All my clothes are dirty!”

    “Sorry, Jen. My mom is in a clothes-washing-frenzy, or I’d let you use our washing machine. But don’t worry, you can wear my stuff.”

    I glance down at my boobs and hips that seemed to magically appear overnight. I won’t be borrowing clothes from Kelly anytime soon.

    “Thanks, Kell. But I probably should hand wash mine…right after Mom tells me the good news.”

    “Cool. I’ll let my parents know you’re coming to South Carolina with us.”

    “We’ll have the best summer ever.” I hang up the phone and practically dance into the den. “Can you tell me the surprise now?” 
     

    Mom nods. “I didn’t want you to be stuck home all summer, soooooooo—”

    “I’m going with Kelly and her parents!” The words gush out of my mouth. “I knew you’d change your mind. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

    I give Mom a gigantic hug. She just stands there.

    Uh oh.

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6. Where To Find Inspiration for Future Manuscripts

It’s amazing how many story ideas you can miss if you’re too busy to jot them down before they fly away. Mine often hit when I’m driving, about to sleep, or in the shower. Luckily, I’ve been able to get most of them into notebooks or on my laptop. Whew!

book_wings_sm_nwm
I recently realized that I didn’t have a NaNoWriMo idea for this November. I know there’s plenty of time, but I love being able to jot down notes, flesh out characters, run it through Joyce Sweeney’s Plot Clock, and be as prepared as possible when November 1st comes (especially since I participate in PiBoIdMo that month, too). I had thought of writing a sequel to my latest NaNo novel, but realized it isn’t a good idea yet. I’ve been busy revising older MGs after having some major ‘aha’ moments through classes and conferences, and have only revised part of that manuscript so far. I was planning to tackle it next…but a brilliant new idea for the beginning of my first MG hit me recently, and I’m dying to play around with it after I finish polishing up my MG, Mom Wars.

While I was reading The One and Only Ivan (which is a totally amazing book that you should all read—I was so emotionally invested in those characters and their heartbreaking story) it sparked an idea for a middle grade novel, in a style I never thought about trying before. It’s a little scary, but I think I can still showcase my heart and humor and can’t wait to play around with the idea to see if it might work for November. It’s wonderful how reading can broaden your writing. I never had considered writing fantasy, and came up with an amazing idea a while back while reading Libba Bray’s Rebel Angels in a room filled with flickering candlelight during a hurricane. Whenever I try a new genre, the learning curve is huge! It can take much longer to figure out how to make my voice and humor work…but I love experimenting and pushing myself to grow as a writer.

Sometimes, inspiration can be found in unexpected places. I went to an amazing novel retreat, and came home with tons of ways to strengthen my novels. What I didn’t expect was to have a major ‘aha’ moment while eating a meal with two awesome editors and some writers—for a picture book! Even though the focus was only on novels, the conversation sparked an idea for a picture book that is shaping up to be one of my favorites. And I think it could be really marketable, too!

Novels take so long to write and revise, that I sometimes neglect my poor picture books. I’m great about making time to revise them, but can go long periods of time without writing new ones if I’m not careful. Challenges like PiBoIdMo and the 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge help a lot. For years, I’ve been participating in Paula Yoo’s NaPiBoWriWee. The goal is to write one new picture book draft a day for seven days (from May 1st through May 7th). Paula has all kind of inspirational blog posts from herself and other writers and illustrators. And you can win prizes, too! Although  having seven brand new manuscripts to mold into shape is an awesome prize by itself.

I’ve been going through my lists and fleshing out the ideas, and hope to Plot Clock as many as possible before the 1st (yikes, time is running out). So…who is going to join me?

If you want to join but don’t have a clue what to write about yet, you can start by thinking about your own childhood wants/needs/fears, or seeing what your own children (or other children in your life) experience. You can come up with a unique character and figure out what kind of conflict he or she can have. Brainstorm creative ways you can retell stories. Just keep your eyes, ears, and heart open at all times, and the ideas will come. J

Here’s a link to a post I put up on From the Mixed-Up Files…of Middle Grade Authors a while ago, called How To Find Great Ideas.

I’ll also paste part of a blog post I wrote that highlighted some things that helped me the year I came up with 87 PiBoIdMo ideas in one month:
Here are a few tricks that helped me come up with so many ideas:

* I looked for inspiration online, like Jean Reidy suggested.

* When the ideas seemed to slow down a bit, I created characters I'd love to write about, which sparked several of my story ideas.

* I used Tammi Sauer's suggestion to come up with settings and brainstormed what could go wrong in each one.

* I also used the suggestion from Aaron Zenz to come up with story ideas after looking at pictures drawn by kids.  

* I wrote down all the possibilities that hit me.  But I didn't want to have those tiny nuggets sprinkled around my more fleshed out ideas, so I created a section at the bottom of my file for random thoughts.  Some of them are just titles, a funny phrase...anything I think I might be able to use in a future manuscript.  The amazing thing is that I fleshed out many of my random thoughts throughout the month and had to move them into my main file.  I happy danced every time that happened.  The ideas started off so small, I probably would've forgotten about them if I hadn't jotted them down.  For all I know, some of them could end up in bookstores in the next few years! 

How do you come up with ideas for new books?   

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7. The winner of a critique from Gayle Krause is...

Thank you for visiting my blog to help Gayle Krause celebrate the release of her young adult novel, RATGIRL: Song of the Viper. And thanks again for all the sweet comments.  I'm glad you enjoyed Gayle's writing tips, and hope they'll help you with future projects.

And now, the winner of a five page YA or MG critique or a full picture book critique from Gayle is...


Janet Smart
Congratulations, Janet!  Gayle will send you an e-mail soon.  Enjoy your critique prize!

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8. Critique giveaway and writing tips from author Gayle Krause

I am thrilled to welcome author Gayle Krause to my blog!  Gayle stopped by to share some helpful writing tips and offer a critique giveaway for a YA, MG, or picture book to celebrate the launch of her young adult novel RATGIRL: Song of the Viper.  I’ve been studying pitches lately, and absolutely love hers:  When streetwise orphan, Jax Stone, discovers her singing voice has a hypnotic effect on rats and children, she uses her gift to outwit the tyrannical mayor of Metro City and his corrupt corporation.  Gayle is also the author of ROCK STAR SANTA—a rhyming picture book about a 'rockin' Christmas Eve.

Gayle Krause                       Gayle - RatGir

It takes a special creativity to write a story that will capture and hold a teenager’s attention. It must compete with smartphones, video games, and social media.

If you are interested in writing for the YA market, here are some writing tips, with examples from my story, RATGIRL: Song of the Viper, that will help you create a good young adult novel. You can adapt these to MG novels, as well.

1.Immerse your reader in a world they can recognize, but make it unique enough to be different from their lives.

Okay, you’ve got fantasy and realistic stories, and a combination of both. Teens live in either the city, with large populations, or the country, with less people, and more animals.

If your story takes place on Mars, the same rules apply – a largely populated space city or a lonely space station floating in the universe, somewhere.

In RATGIRL, I chose the setting of a large city in the future, but what makes it unique is:

Only the homeless and poor live there because global warming has affected the earth, and the rich have fled to the New Continent (Antarctica, which after the snow and ice melted revealed a fertile, temperate land).

The population can only venture to the surface at night because of the intense sun.

There are more rats than people left in the abandoned city.

2.Teen readers understand love triangles. Everyday at school, someone is having a “love” crisis. Use this in your story to grab their heartstrings.

Love triangles don’t always involve adults.

The triangle of love in RATGIRL involves Jax Stone, the main character, Colt Conrad, the young man who captures her heart, before she’s even aware he has, and her 5-year-old brother Andy, whom she protects with her life against the evils of the dying city.

Jax struggles with her love and need for both of men in her life.

3.Always have a struggle between “good and evil.” More than one villain is encouraged.

In any good story the villain has minions, but in RATGIRL the villains are not related, and the environment is the biggest villain of all.

Sylvannis Culpepper, the tyrannical mayor of Metro City is greedy and selfish in his efforts to rid the city of the homeless. His plan for the children is diabolical, and Jax refuses to let Andy fall prey to the mayor’s plan, even sacrificing herself to save him.

Otto Hoffmann, the pawnbroker who deals in trades for both money and food, has his own designs on escaping the city. He tries to swindle Jax out of more than a few scavenged trinkets and insinuates himself in her plan to save her brother.

And the biggest villain is Mother Nature. Global warming has overtaken the earth. Humans can only surface from their underground hideaways at night to trade for food and sell their services. The daytime sun is deadly.

4.Describe your character though their emotions and actions, don’t tell us about their emotions and actions.

This is a hard one to give examples for, but what I tell my critique partners, and it works for me, is to NEVER use I see, I hear, I smell, I feel, I taste.

Yes, it’s the 5 senses, and yes, you’re supposed to use them, but you must SHOW them, not TELL about them, and you do this through a character’s actions, emotions, and dialogue.

Excerpt form RATGIRL: Song of the Viper:

I race to claw my way through the debris that was once the door. Images of what could have happened flash before me. I gasp for air. “Oh, God. Andy!”
Dashing up the steps to the roof, my heart beats triple time. Air pumps through my lungs like a turbine. The door, at the top of the stairs, is wide open. I reach the roof, and fall to my knees. The sound of my wails, as I pull my hair, sound foreign to me, like I’m listening to someone’s lament, but it’s mine. “Nooooooooooo.”

5.Don’t be afraid to use a vocabulary word that teens may not know. If the sentence it is used in is written well, the reader will garner it’s meaning from the scene.

Teen readers love to figure out challenges as they read, not just be told everything they need to know. I write what I like to read, and I’ve been an avid reader my whole life.

I tend to set up a situation that has a mystery or question to it, so that the reader can connect the clues to solve the problem as the story goes along. Advanced vocabulary, or foreign words are favorites of mine. Sprinkled throughout the manuscript, they work to enhance the reader’s knowledge.

As a former teacher I can’t get away from my teaching mantra. “leave a student knowing more than when you met him/her.” Hopefully, I do that with my stories. J

Thanks for spending time with Jax Stone, and me. Please enter using the Rafflecopter link below for a chance to win a first chapter critique of your YA or MG novel (up to 5 pages), or a full picture book critique. Random.org will select the winner on Sunday, February 24.

You'll receive one entry each if you:
*Leave a comment on this blog post
*Tweet about the giveaway
*Follow Gayle Krause on Twitter
*'Like' the RATGIRL: Song of the Viper Facebook page
*Spread the word on Facebook
*Spread the word on your blog or other social media

Thanks again for stopping by my blog, Gayle, and congrats on your new YA!  Good luck to everyone who enters the giveaway.  Gayle is a professional critiquer.  She has tons of experience with YA, MG, and picture books (and for those who write in verse--she's a master at rhyme!)  I can't wait to see who wins the critique on Sunday. :)

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9. The Joyce Sweeney critique winners are...

I've had such a fun week celebrating the launch of Joyce Sweeney's online class.  Thank you all so much for your enthusiastic comments and link shares.  I really appreciate it!  And a huge thank you to Joyce for giving away so many generous prizes.  I can't wait to see who wins them!

Writing coach, Joyce Sweeney
And now, using Rafflecopter and Random.org, here are the winners, drawn in the same order I posted the prizes.  Good luck, everyone!  

Ten page novel critique or a picture book critique:  

Jayne Moraski 

These five winners will each receive a first page critique:

Jennifer Young

Tori Kelley

Kim Baccellia

Niki Moss 

Kristen McGill Fulton


And the incredible grand prize...

A 50 page novel critique or three picture book critiques and one query critique goes to:


Summer Ross

Congratulations to all the winners!  I wish we could hand out prizes to everyone.  Even though Joyce can't give a free critique to all of you, she has plenty of amazing writing tips on her website, and will continue to share them in her free monthly newsletter.

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10. HUGE Critique Giveaway and Interview with Joyce Sweeney

A grand prize has been added to this giveaway, thanks to all your enthusiastic shares of my last post, when I announced Joyce Sweeney’s new online class, shared my notes on her amazing Plot Clock workshop, and announced this giveaway.  Just wait until you see the generous prize that Joyce added.  It’s huge.  HUGE!  Plus, one lucky person will win the original 10 page novel or one picture book critique prize.  And…there just might be a few other little surprises waiting for you at the bottom of this post. ;)

But first, I’d love to share my inspiring interview of Joyce Sweeney, so you can have a glimpse into the heart and mind of the woman who helped thirty-six writers become published.  One of the things I noticed soon after meeting Joyce was how much she cares about all of her students.  She’s the first one to cheer for your great news, give you a shoulder to cry on, send a sprinkle of fairy dust your way when you’re about to send out a new sub or a requested revision, and help you through pretty much anything this business throws your way.  She’s like our proud Mama, and I know I’ve said this a million times, but I feel incredibly lucky to have Joyce in my life!

Here’s a picture of Joyce’s bookshelf, where she proudly displays the books her students have had published.

Books from Joyce's students

Welcome to my blog, Joyce!  Can you share how you became a writing coach, and what you love most about it?  What do you think is the most challenging part of being a writing coach?

I started out years ago teaching five-week classes through the Broward County Library, just as a way to make extra money.  I soon found out I had a passion for teaching and mentoring and the expansion began!  I started my own ongoing workshop on Thursdays in 1994 and my goal was to have one of my writers get published.  That happened in 1996. By 1998, we had seven people with books accepted and the Magic Bean ceremony was born.  Then I expanded to two classes a week, then three.  All this is fed by SCBWI, where I meet new writers all the time and I’ve always done manuscript critiques for people all over the country, but that has hugely expanded in the past few years as well.  I just can’t stop myself.  When I see a writer who needs a helping hand, I have to jump in!  What I love most is when my students have their books accepted, seeing that dream realized and knowing what it means to them and how hard they’ve worked for it.  The most challenging is when I know I’m right about something and the writer just doesn’t believe me…but of course, the coach can’t insist, she can only coach. 

How did you come up with the idea to create video classes?

People have been asking me to do online classes for a long time because I have so many clients outside of Florida and they want to take a class with me, too!  Cathy Castelli made it easy by suggesting a way we could do it and I was very excited.  Making the videos made me a little nervous…I’m used to talking to a room full of people, not a lens.  But I got used to it after a while. 

I heard that your video course can help people at all stages in their writing careers.  Can you give a few examples of the way it can help newer writers, those who have honed their craft for years and are currently seeking agents and editors, and published and agented authors?

For a beginner, this lets you get a good grounding of the fundamentals so you can start out right and avoid a lot of mistakes.  And for the more experienced, and even published writers…let’s face it, we never stop learning.  I’ve made a real study of craft over the past decade and I have a lot of shortcuts and ideas I don’t see anywhere else.  I noticed that Cathy, even though she works with me in a weekly group, learned a lot from the classes.  So this is definitely good for you at any level.

Do you need to have a completed novel to take your course?

No, the lessons are about the elements of craft, so you can learn them before you write, while you’re writing or after you have a draft completed.  Wherever you’re jumping in, your writing will definitely become stronger and you’ll have more confidence that you know how to get the best out of yourself.

How many hours per week do you think the average writer will spend on your class?

That’s hard to say.  To simply view a lesson takes about thirty minutes.  Probably some people will want to view them several times, to let the ideas absorb or take notes, or copy the handouts.  Then if you are applying the principles to your WIP, that’s as many hours as you want to do.  Plus there’s the website where you can share homework or talk to the other participants.  So it’s really up to those taking the class how much time they’d like to spend.

What makes this different from other classes out there?

I hear all the time that I’m teaching some things that are not out there.  My method of skills assessment, which comes in Lesson One, I know is unique, because I developed it and it gives writers a great sense of how and where to improve…and also why even though they are very advanced, there might be one aspect of craft they need to work on more.  There are lots of plot templates out there but the one I developed over the past few years along with Jamie Morris works really well.  As a novelist, I developed a lot of my own tricks and ideas about character, description etc.  I think I’m in a unique position for marketing because I’ve mentored so many writers to success.  So just because of my personal experience, there’s a lot of good information in these classes. 

Can you explain a little more about how the forum will work?

Students can use the forum any way they want to…there are homework assignments, which they can share on the forum if they want…or they can ask me a question, or they can just chat with each other about the classes.  I’ll be checking in often to see what’s going on and help people get the most from each lesson.

Will this course benefit nonfiction or picture book writers?

I think this course works very well for memoir writers because I address memoir in the lessons and I feel fiction writing techniques help them shape their material, which can sometimes be unwieldy.  I reference picture books at times, and most of the elements of craft apply to picture books as well as novels…great characters, realistic dialog, etc.  Some things will not apply to them…for example most PB’s don’t need to worry about subplots….but there would be a lot of value to all writers in this course, I think. 

Will participants receive critiques during this class?

There are very short homework assignments.  Not always writing, sometimes it’s a way of looking back at your WIP with something, like the Plot Clock, in mind.  But if anyone posts something short on the forum, I’ll comment on it for sure.  But not formal critiques per se.

You've helped so many writers become published.  What advice would you give writers who keep coming close to getting an agent or editor, but haven't received that magical ‘yes’ yet?

Please, please believe me when I tell you it takes longer than you think.  If you’re coming close, as in getting requests, you’re moving down the chess board.  There are certain steps to publication and without exception, if you take each step you need to take, you get there.  But the steps do include revising more than you’d expect, learning more about your craft even when you think you’ve learned ‘everything’ and not letting rejections stop you.  I see the same kind of determination in all my writers who make it.  They just keep going no matter what the obstacles are…and one magical day…all the doors fly open.  It happens every time.  Except to the ones who give up….

Thanks again for visiting my blog, Joyce!  And congratulations on the launch of your online class. 

Fiction Writing Essentials is a ten-session class for writers of all levels. In this class, you’ll learn about everything from pre-book decisions to marketing. Each session will include a video lecture, handouts, and assignments. Students will also have access to a forum where they can interact with each other, share assignments, and ask questions.

Joyce has critiqued over a thousand manuscripts during the past 20 years, and will share one writing tip a day on her Sweeney Writing Coach website until class starts.  She’ll also continue to share the types of mistakes she often sees in manuscripts and how to avoid them in her free monthly newsletter.    

And now, here are the amazing prizes you can win as we celebrate the launch of Joyce’s virtual class:

Ten page novel critique or a picture book critique

Five winners will receive a first page critique

And the mystery grand prize is…

A 50 page novel critique!

or

Three picture book critiques and one query critique!

If you’ve already entered, you can receive additional entries for sharing this interview. J

Enter using the Rafflecopter link below.  You’ll receive one entry for:

*Leaving a comment on this post or on Joyce Sweeney's website

*Signing up for Joyce Sweeney's free monthly newsletter

*Plus one entry for each shout out on a blog, Facebook, Twitter, or other social media. (Please list where you’ve shared it in the comments of this post).
--Several of these are listed under the Invent Your Own Option buttons--click on them for more info!

CLICK HERE TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY!

The lucky winners will be announced on Sunday.  Good luck! 

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11. Joyce Sweeney Critique Giveaway and Plotting Workshop Notes

Joyce at a book signing

I’m thrilled to share information from another one of Joyce Sweeney’s amazing workshops. Dialogue and humor are some of my writing strengths, but I’ve always had to work extra-hard to plot my novels well.  I love brainstorming a story idea and jotting down character traits ahead of time, but have never been a fan of outlining.  I was thrilled to see how well Joyce’s Plot Clock works for me—on existing manuscripts I want to rewrite and before writing new manuscripts.  It’s a tool I plan to use throughout my career!

Speaking of helpful tools…don’t forget to read all the way down to the bottom of this post, to see how you can win a critique from Joyce Sweeney!

Before I describe Joyce’s plot clock, fill in this important sentence about your novel:

My book is about _____ who grapples with _______ and discovers _________.

*Make sure it’s the external main plot, not an internal one!

**If there are flashbacks, the main plot is what is happening in real time.

The Plot Clock has four acts (picture a circle divided into four equal parts).  The length of the acts in your manuscript should be even, or at least close to even, if possible.

ACT 1

Show the ordinary world, and that something is wrong (something needs to happen).  Readers need to feel a lack, a need, just before the inciting event…which is the new thing that comes into the character’s life and changes everything.  The main character resists the change.

If very commercial, the inciting incident has to come up soon!

End of Act 1 is the binding point.  You can push characters into it, have them trapped, or some external event can make them want to do it.

*Note: Start putting the external events you know on the Plot Clock first.  Don't rush--you don't want to cram your own events in.  You might find that they're missing on the clock and you have to brainstorm a new scene

~That’s what happened to me!  I had trouble finding the binding point on the MG I brought with me…and it led to a huge discovery about my character that I was able to weave through the entire novel.  I had a misunderstanding between my MC and her best friend, where the friend got mad that she didn’t tell her important things.  It used to be that my MC was embarrassed, and just didn’t have the chance (or didn’t go out of her way) to tell her…but after looking at the Plot Clock, I now see how important it is for her to not tell her friend on purpose, for fear of losing her after having her last best friend ditched her a year ago.

ACT 2

Characters usually try to use their old techniques to solve this new problem.  But not doing the right thing causes losses or failures that escalate in a sad way.

At the low point between Act 2 and Act 3—characters think they can’t make it through this.  They change!  Try something different.

ACT 3: 

You can’t go straight from the low point to the climax—this act shows progress.  Things start getting better!  To counteract that, you escalate the stakes. As the protagonist gets stronger, the antagonist gets stronger, too. The second half of the book should signal where the climax will be. We pretty much have a clue what will need to be fought—what's right, wrong, etc. But you still need to keep the reader in suspense!

End of Act 3 is the turning point.  Joyce says most people don’t know anything about the turning point.  It raises the stakes and affects the climax in really important ways.  I wish I could go into more detail, but I’m trying not to give away all of Joyce’s secrets.

I feel so lucky to live close enough to attend Joyce’s weekly workshop, plus her other local events.  I’m really excited that she now has a virtual class that starts on Monday, February 11th.  I’m signed up and ready to take my writing to the next level, and I hope to see a lot of my online friends in the class forum!

In order to celebrate the launch of her virtual class, Joyce has offered a ten page novel critique or a picture book critique as a prize!  And guess what…if this awesome giveaway receives more than 50 entries, she’ll add a grand prize, which will be revealed on Wednesday, when I post an interview of her—AND IT WILL BE A MUCH LARGER CRITIQUE THAN THE ONE ALREADY LISTED!

Enter using the Rafflecopter link below.  You’ll receive one entry for:

*Leaving a comment on this post or on Joyce Sweeney's website

*Signing up for Joyce Sweeney's free monthly newsletter

*Plus one entry for each shout out on a blog, Facebook, Twitter, or other social media. (Please list where you’ve shared it in the comments of this post).


                                        CLICK HERE TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY!

Don’t forget to come back on Wednesday to read an interview with Joyce where you’ll find out more about her virtual class, plus see what advice she’d give writers who keep coming close to getting an agent or editor, but haven't received that magical ‘yes’ yet.  You’ll also find out what incredibly generous grand prize could be added to the giveaway.  The winner/s will be announced on Sunday, February 10th.  Good luck!

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12. Happy 1st Birthday, Ruby!

My sweet little puppy is one today.  Happy birthday, Ruby!

I honestly didn’t think Hubby would let us get another dog, and was thrilled when Ruby came into our lives.  It’s hard to believe that she was abandoned out in the Everglades, fighting for her life.  I’m incredibly thankful that a local rescue group saved her!  Ruby was so scared when we first met her.  I’ll never forget how she shook when I held her for the first time. It wasn’t an instant connection.  I thought she was adorable, but she didn’t really want to interact with us.  Then, another dog was brought into the room, and Ruby’s eyes lit up.  She practically hopped around the room, kissing the dog right on the mouth.  We just sat back, watching them play, and I could tell that with some love and attention, she’d be incredible with people, too.  When I was about to leave, I picked her up and she wasn’t shaking anymore.  She gave me a tiny kiss on my nose, then lay her head against my cheek.  That’s it.  I was totally sold!

C Ruby loves her new boneRuby opening a door


I feel so lucky to have Ruby in my life.  She’s totally in love with her big sister, Lolly.  My three year-old bullmassador acts like a puppy again, and I love seeing them snuggle and play tug of war.  I’m still in awe of how smart Ruby is!  She figured out how to open every door in my house, and practically taught herself to walk next to us off leash, even if a dog is barking at her!  I love the way Ruby makes these adorable grunting sounds, especially when she’s happy. And she lets me know when she needs something—she jumps up to get my attention, then leads me to whatever it is she wants (I always know if she’s hungry, thirsty, wants to go out, or is bored and wants to play). 

I think every writer should have a special pet or two.  It’s so nice having them keep me company!  They often curl up by my chair, and constantly inspire me.  In fact, I believe every novel that I’ve written has at least one animal in it.  Lolly helped me come up with an amazing dog for my MG, Mom Wars.  And the sweet Siberian Husky I was lucky to have for 13 ½ years inspired one of my favorite characters…a husky-sheepdog-mystery mutt who is the biggest scaredy dog on the planet, and sheds enough fur to form a guinea pig. Our birthday pup has the same name as the main character in that book…and I can’t wait to see how my grunting, door-opening dog will work her way into a future manuscript or two.

I’d love to know who keeps you company when you write, and how animals inspire your stories.  
  

I’m off to celebrate Ruby’s birthday with a special treat my daughter made…vanilla cupcakes with peanut butter frosting for Ruby and Lolly and butter cream frosting for us.  Yum!

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13. Finding Balance

It's not always easy to balance writing and family.  For a while, life was fairly quiet while my girls were in school, and I had tons of writing time.  I've always loved a challenge, and amazed myself with achievements.  I remember plunging into my first NaNoWriMo last minute in 2006.  It felt incredible to surround myself with others who were all working toward the same goal--50,000 words of a novel.  I started about a week late, and was excited to still make my goal by the end of November.  Each year, I pushed myself harder.  And harder.  One year, I had to go away mid-month, and was determined to make my NaNo goal by then, so I could enjoy the time with my family without being tempted to escape to my hotel room to make more progress. I completed NaNo in 11 days!!!!  And last year, I believe I came up with about 90 new picture book ideas through PiBoIdMo (even though the goal is 30). 

I've been on a bit of a roller coaster this past year.  My older daughter has been doing a wonderful job trying to overcome an eating disorder.  She wasn't ready to go to our local high school though, so she's home with me and our pups, and doing virtual school.  We decided that Lolly and Ruby will be her school mascots -the Massive Mastiff and Regal Beagle.
Lolly and Ruby holding paws
It's great spending all this extra time with my daughter.  But between doctor appointments, bark-fests when my daughter takes a break to play with the pups, and daily interruptions I never used to have, I've been working a lot slower than usual. Taking several weeks or longer to do a round of revisions that I could normally knock out in less than a week was frustrating at first...but I've found that one perk is that I can see my manuscripts in a different light when I have the chance to really dig into them.

I definitely used to spend too much time writing (and doing writing related things). I'm heavily involved in so many things--From the Mixed-Up Files...of Middle-Grade Authors, I'm the FL SCBWI Listserv editor, an administrator on Verla Kay's Blueboards, I'm in five critique groups...plus all the time I spend on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc. But now I feel like I haven't had enough quality writing time, which makes it scary to participate in challenges (if I say I'm going to do something, I feel beyond awful if I'm not successful).  I've thought about it, and I'm still determined to do NaNoWriMo and PiBoIdMo in November.  And I really, really hope I complete both!  But this year, I can't put my entire life on hold to do them.  I need to find some balance.  Yes, I'll probably stock up on extra underwear because the laundry mountain tends to get out of control in November.  And I'm sure I'll sneak into my office quite a bit and probably will say no to some events in order to have extra writing time...but I'm not going to shackle myself to my computer.  Helping my daughter through her rough battle with an eating disorder made me appreciate my family and friends even more than before. I'm not sure how I'll find the right balance...but I'm determined to do it!

I have a huge to-do list I'd love to tackle before November 1st.  I just took a plotting workshop with my amazing mentor, Joyce Sweeney, and had a huge 'aha' moment for my MG, so I'd love to finish running the revision through the entire manuscript and have a chance to read through the full in one sitting by then.  And there's another MG I'd love to go through.  Plus, I love the plot clock that Joyce uses, and for the first time, plan to loosely plot out my NaNo novel (I usually have at least a rough idea about the beginning, end, a few events, and character sketches ahead of time...but now I want to make sure I have all 4 acts, the potential inciting incident and binding point, etc. in mind...even though I know it's possible my characters will take me in another direction once I get to know them better.)  I also want to get as many picture books written for the 12 x 12 challenge by then (and hopefully get the rest into rough draft form by the end of the year).  I only wrote 5 out of the 12 drafts this year, and have so many great ideas  from last years' PiBoIdMo begging to be written.  And I have crits to get back to some amazing writers by the end of this month, too.  I have a feeling I won't make all of these goals by Halloween...but I'll do what I can and make sure I tackle the most important ones first.  

The thought of signing up for a challenge and not being able to complete it terrifies me.  But for years, I've told people that they're winners in these challenges, even if they don't make their goal...because they've produced much more than they probably would have without the challenge.  And I totally meant it...for them.  So why is it hard for me to believe that's true for me as well?  I always try my best in everything I do, but if life gets in the way of me completing my challenges this year, I don't want to feel awful about it.  I'll do my best and try to find a good balance between writing, my family, and writing related activities...and see what happens.

How do you balance writing, family, and everything else in your life?   

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14. A Chance to Win a 20 Page Critique From Agent Alyssa Eisner Henkin!

I've had such a fun and busy few days with my family that I just realized that the winners of up to a 20 page critique of an MG from agent Alyssa Eisner Henkin and a copy of Wonder by R. J. Palacio will be drawn in a few hours, and I hadn't shouted it out here.  There's also a link toward the bottom that gives you another way to enter a giveaway for a 20 page critique from Alyssa Eisner Henkin...and this one is good for PB, MG, and YA!  Hop on over to the Mixed-Up Files site and check it out.

I had so much fun interviewing Alyssa, and learned a lot from her responses.  She discussed the changing market, great ways for authors to promote themselves and their books, and went into detail about a middle-grade novel by client Adam Glendon Sidwell named Evertaster that kept coming close with publishers.  Even though editors raved about it, the book was ultimately turned away because it was too quirky.  Adam had his book independently published by the new ebook publishing platform launched by Trident Media Group, and Evertaster hit #52 overall in books on amazon.com and #1 in children's mystery books on its first day of publication!  I loved reading about all the ways Adam helped promote his book...including cross-promotion with a pie company and an amazing trailer that's so professional, it looks like it could be a movie preview!  
  
I can't wait to see who will win the generous critiques from Alyssa Eisner Henkin.  What an amazing opportunity!  And now there are two books I can't wait to read.  Who can resist Evertaster after seeing that incredible trailer?  And I've had Wonder on my to-read list ever since people raved about it on the Favorite Middle-Grade Novel post I wrote on the Mixed-Up Files in March.  Now it's on my must-read list.  Check out the blurb on Indiebound:
   

I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse.
 
August Pullman was born with a facial deformity that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. WONDER, now a New York Times bestseller, begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance. 
In a world where bullying among young people is an epidemic, this is a refreshing new narrative full of heart and hope. R.J. Palacio has called her debut novel “a meditation on kindness” —indeed, every reader will come away with a greater appreciation for the simple courage of friendship. Auggie is a hero to root for, a diamond in the rough who proves that you can’t blend in when you were born to stand out.
 


I love that Wonder inspired the Choose Kind anti-bullying campaign.  Kids can be so cruel to each other, especially in middle school.  It's ni

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15. I love interviews!

When I first joined From the Mixed-Up Files...of Middle-Grade Authors, I knew I loved chatting about everything middle grade, but I didn't realize how much I'd enjoy posting interviews.  I've met so many wonderful authors and have had fun coming up with questions I think our readers will love, and give them a chance to get to know the authors and their incredible book/s better. 

I was surprised to read something on Facebook the other day that said someone sent interview questions to an author, and clearly hadn't read any of her books. There's so much you can learn from an interview, I can't imagine why an interviewer would miss the chance to try to share some kind of unique information.  There are a few things that I do frequently ask, like favorite books (because I think that anyone who loves the author's books will probably discover some new books to read, or rediscover ones that haven't been read in a while), and I like asking if the author has a writing and/or illustrating exercise to share (I've added a few gems to my revision techniques through the responses to this one). It's also fun to hold giveaways and allow readers the chance to win a signed book or other cool prize.  

What do love about interviews, and what do you wish some people would do differently when coming up with interview questions?

My latest interview is up on the Mixed-Up Files site.  It's with Robin Mellom, author of THE CLASSROOM: The Epic Documentary of a Not-Yet Epic Kid, the first book in her series for middle grade readers and DITCHED: A Love Story, a teen romantic comedy.  Robin 
shares the differences between writing MG and YA, her favorite and least favorite middle school memories, and how a chat with the editor of her debut novel helped turn the first manuscript she wrote into an amazing middle grade series.
One lucky winner will receive a signed copy of THE CLASSROOM!  Check out this amazing trailer:
 
Hop on over to the Mixed-Up Files site and leave a comment to enter.  You have until 10:00 pm EST tonight. 

I never posted the link from my Mixed-Up Files interview with Jonathan Auxier, author of 
Peter Nimble & His Fantastic Eyes, the tale of a small, blind, orphan who also happens to be the greatest thief who ever lived.  He shares a fantastic writing exercise, what surprised him the most while writing his debut novel, and how he ended up creating an illustration for each chapter. Check out Jonathan's interview here.    

Late next week, I have another interview coming up on the Mixed-Up Files site...and this one is with an agent who will offer one giveaway of an MG that has made several bestseller lists, as well as a critique of up to 20 pages of a middle grade novel (and there will be a link for a second way to enter a critique giveaway that will be open for manuscripts ranging from picture book through young adult novels)! I'll post a link here when my interview is up. 

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

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16. A winner! Plus one more Random Act of Kindness.

It was so much fun participating in RAOK (Random Acts of Kindness) during the launch of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. I bought the e-book as soon as it was released, and LOVE it.  What a fantastic way to celebrate the birth of an amazing book.  I love how much this helped bring our wonderful writing community even closer, and think it would be great to participate in an annual RAOK. Surprises are always fun, and it's nice to know how much you mean to people (and let them know how special they are to you). 

Thanks for all the sweet comments on my RAOK post...and for entering to win a critique of a picture book or the first ten pages of a chapter book, MG, or YA.  I wish I could give critiques to all of you...but then I'd probably end up a zombie and my manuscripts would complain that I'm neglecting them.  

I wrote all the names on pink pieces of paper and placed them in a bag.  Then, my daughter offered to choose the winner.  Actually, she asked if she could put her name in first, then if she chose herself, I could do her homework assignment instead of giving her a critique (and no...I didn't add her name, but tomorrow morning I'm bringing in bagels and special cookies to thank her for helping me).

Here's Sammi holding up the name of the winner.
It's a little hard to read in the photo, but...

Congratulations, Sue--you won the critique!    

But wait...there's more to the story.  Sammi wanted her friend to pick out a name, too.  And since she pulled it out of the bag and this celebration encourages random acts of kindness, I decided that I'd critique a picture book or five pages of a chapter book, MG, or YA for another winner.  So...                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

                  Congratulations, Jennifer Rumberger--you won a critique, too! 

This was fun, a

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17. Random Act Of Kindness BLITZ--win a critique!

A smile. An encouraging word. A thoughtful gesture. Each day people interact with us, help, and make our day a bit brighter and full. This is especially true in the Writing Community

Take a second to think about writers you know, like the critique partner who works with you to improve your manuscript. The writing friend who listens, supports and keeps you strong when times are tough. The author who generously offers council, advice and inspiration when asked.

      So many people take the time to make us feel special, don't they? They comment on our blogs, re-tweet our posts, chat with us on forums and wish us Happy Birthday on Facebook.        

   

                                       Kindness ROCKS!          

To commemorate the release of their book The Emotion Thesaurus, Becca and Angela at The Bookshelf Muse are hosting a TITANIC Random Act Of Kindness BLITZ. And because I think KINDNESS is contagious, I'm participating too!

Wow, where do I start?  There are so many writers I want to thank.  I'm incredibly lucky to have my wonderful mentor, Joyce Sweeney. She's helped me grow so much as a writer (everything from plotting and characterization, to writing a dazzling first chapter and strong scenes that always move the action forward).  She's been there for me every step of the way--celebrating great news, and giving me hugs and pep talks after some heart-breaking rejections.  I'm sending her a bookstore certificate as a surprise thank you for everything she has done for me!

Another huge thank you goes out to Marjetta Geerling who recently gave me an awesome critique that I hope will take my MG from being great to can't-turn-it-down awesome.  Marjetta helped point out that I tend to make things too easy for my main character.  Even thoug

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18. PB challenge, Mixed-Up Files openings, and a new puppy!

I can't believe how busy things have been, but I've been making incredible progress on my MG and PB.  I love finding ways to dig deeper into my manuscripts, and I also love the extra push that challenges give me.

I've been a member of From The Mixed-Up Files...of Middle-Grade Authors since our group started, and am thrilled with the impact our blog has had.  It's wonderful helping to introduce new and beloved older novels to middle-grade lovers.  My must-read stack is always overflowing with incredible books!  If you write MG and love middle-grade books as much as I do, I hope you'll apply for one of the available spots.  Here's the link.  Hurry, because the deadline is tomorrow!

I'm thrilled that the 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge has inspired me to try to write one new manuscript a month in 2012.  For the past several years, I've always participated in Paula Yoo's NaPiBoWriWee (National Picture Book Writing Week) which inspires participants to write 7 new picture book drafts in 7 days, from May 1st - 7th.  I love that challenge, and am going to do my best to tackle that along with the 12 x 12...while revising a middle grade novel.  Not easy...but definitely worth the extra effort.  I love having brand new manuscripts to mold into shape.  So...who is going to take the NaPiBoWriWee challenge with me?  There's a wonderful and supportive Facebook group for it.  Let me know if you want me to add you, and we'll cheer each other on.   

I've had less writing time than usual though, because we recently adopted a puppy.  Ruby is a beagle and pointer mix who was one of over 100 dogs rescued from the Everglades.  We weren't looking for another dog, but couldn't resist this adorable face!  I'll fill you in on how we ended up finding her another time.  I need to finish up more of my MG revision and get ready for NaPiBoWriWee!

Here's a photo of Ruby (who was 11 pounds when we adopted her) and our 2 1/2 year old, 90 pound Bullmassador, Lolly. It's amazing how much these two love each other already.  We're so glad they both found their way into our family and hearts.

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19. I'm thankful for so many things!

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!  Sammi and I had fun baking brownies (our best batch yet) and delicious mini cheesecakes.  

We had a fantastic time yesterday!  Our cousins found this adorable kitty cowering in their backyard just a few hours before.  She's adorable!  We took turns snuggling her all day.  Unless someone claims her soon, it looks like she found a forever home with my cousins.  I'm sure she's thankful she wandered into the backyard of such a loving family. 

   
















A day like this makes me think about how lucky I am.  Yes, there are things I want that I don't have...like being able to spend time with my parents, brother, and other relatives who have passed away.  And I'd love to have my middle grade novels and picture books published (after all my hard work, I'm definitely going to have a huge celebration when that dream comes true).  

But even though my life isn't exactly the way I'd like it to be, I'm thankful for so many things.  I'll share a few here:

I'm grateful for...

* My family, friends, and adorable dog.

* All the things that are easy to take for granted, like living in a nice house, having enough food, being able to go on vacations where we can have some uninterrupted family time and make lots of memories.

* I'm glad my girls are as beautiful on the inside as they are on the outside.  They're sweet and thoughtful...and I'm really trying to enjoy every moment with them because they're growing up way too fast!

* Critique groups and challenges that help push me to be the best possible writer.  I already revised one novel this month and am about to dig into another.  I'm loving the PiBoIdMo challenge, and have come up with over 65 picture book ideas this month! Thirty-five of them are more fleshed out than the others, and I think quite a few of them have potential.  I wonder if there's a way to come up with an idea week or so for novels, too!  It's much easier to find gems when you have a mountain of ideas to sort through.

* Being a writer--I can't even begin to explain how much writing has helped me.  It's such an important part of who I am, and has always been (I still remember writing poems and stories from the time I was fairly young, and how they helped me get through tough times).  I can't imagine my life without seeing myself as a writer.  And I'm incredibly grateful that my love of writing led me to meet incredible friends who mean so much to me!  (((Hugs)))  

What are you thankful for?

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20. Guest Post by Shel Delisle--First Time NaNoWriMo Participant

I'm thrilled to have Shel Delisle visit my blog on her Dolphin Girl tour.  I was revising a novel in early November and felt awful having to miss NaNoWriMo for the first time since I took the plunge in 2006.  Being able to watch a friend experience NaNo for the first time helped me survive withdrawal symptoms!  Here's what it was like for Shel:
     


When Mindy and I talked about a possible post on my blog tour for Dolphin Girl, I immediately had two ideas.  The first would be on the importance of critique partners.  Mindy has been one of my partners for a long time.  We’ve beta read for each other and she’s been an important contributor on a couple of my novels.  The second option was a NaNo post.  Every year, Mindy enthusiastically tackles this project. She’s tried to persuade me many, many, many times.  So this year when I decided to dip a toe into the pool that is NaNoWriMo, I knew Mindy was part of the reason.
 
Now.  You might wonder, “Why did she say dip a toe?”
 
Because, like Jane, the main character in Dolphin Girl, I bend and twist the rules. Here.  This will give you an idea of the extent of my rebellion:  I pulled out a partially written  manuscript that I had a burning desire to finish.  I didn’t upload word counts. I didn’t tweet progress.  Or talk to other participants. Yeah, I know, I basically didn’t really do NaNo.  It may go down in history as the most lame effort ever.
 
Here’s more proof.  This is what a typical day looked like:
 
4:00 am (I’m an early riser) Make coffee, check e-mail, see if Santa’s Elves sold any copies of my book while I was sleeping (they do sometimes) look at a few sentences about what I was supposed to write today, re-read some of the other stuff I wrote.   Write a paragraph or two.  Tweak, tweak, tweak.
 
5:00  Have my third cup of coffee, toss in some half and half.  Get some serious dialogue going between the main character and her love interest.  Oh yeah, that’s it baby.  Then, I get stuck because I can’t figure out what one of them is going to say to the other one.  Pull up Twitter and figure out if I need to tweet about my blog tour.
 
6:00  Wake up everyone else in the house.  Have another cup of coffee.  Get the jitters. Check a few more things.  Whatcha’ Reading Now?, my blog, Verlas, Facebook.  Get a really strong paragraph down with the setting and some descriptive details. Nice.
 
7:00  Get most of family out of the house.  Laundry, dishes, vacuum, clean bathroom, shower.  Check e-mail again.
 
10:00 – Exercise.
 
11:00 – Look at the bowl of Halloween candy.  Salivate. Resist.  Okay, take a mini-Twix bar.  But it’s only a mini. Write a little action. Figure out what the character was supposed to say at 5:30.  Do something for WRN?  Write blog posts for Dolphin Girl, contact reviewers/bloggers.  Visit Goodreads and other sites.
 
Noon – Eat lunch. Think about what I have not accomplished today and worry that I might be ADHD. Decide to go on the Internet and research ADHD while eating lunch.  I’m not – hurray!—but the resea

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21. I came up with 87 manuscript ideas...what's next?

November was an incredibly productive month for me.  I revised a middle grade novel--now it's fully polished and ready to go.  Yay!  I also revised more than eleven picture book manuscripts.  Six are fully polished and ready to go. Double yay!  Plus, I have three that should be ready to sub fairly soon and a few others that are in pretty good shape--the rest are in various stages of revision.  On top of all that, I won the PiBoIdMo challenge (Picture Book Idea Month) and came up with 87 ideas.  Wow--I still can't believe that number!  I honestly didn't think I'd get more than thirty or forty at the beginning of the month.  It's amazing how many ideas you notice once you get used to looking for them!
I absolutely LOVE writing challenges.  It's amazing to see how much I really can do when I keep a goal in mind.  Plus, it's fun to work toward a goal with writing friends.  That's why I was thrilled when Tara Lazar had asked me to write the kick off post for the event, and I can't wait to see how many gems will come out of these ideas!  Thanks for the inspiration Tara, guest bloggers, and participants--I'm grateful for everything you've done to make PiBoIdMo such an incredible, fun, and productive event.  You all rock!

Here are a few tricks that helped me come up with so many ideas:
* I looked for inspiration online, like Jean Reidy suggested.
* When the ideas seemed to slow down a bit, I created characters I'd love to write about, which sparked several of my story ideas.
* I used Tammi Sauer's suggestion to come up with settings and brainstormed what could go wrong in each one.
* I also used the suggestion from Aaron Zenz to come up with story ideas after looking at pictures drawn by kids.   
* I wrote down all the possibilities that hit me.  But I didn't want to have those tiny nuggets sprinkled around my more fleshed out ideas, so I created a section at the bottom of my file for random thoughts.  Some of them are just titles, a funny phrase...anything I think I might be able to use in a future manuscript.  The amazing thing is that I fleshed out many of my random thoughts throughout the month and had to move them into my main file.  I happy danced every time that happened.  The ideas started off so small, I probably would've forgotten about them if I hadn't jotted them down.  For all I know, some of them could end up in bookstores in the next few years! 

Here's the breakdown of my ideas:
41 fleshed out ideas (two of them already have series possibilities jotted down)
44 random thoughts
Two nuggets that could end up in a future picture book or middle grade novel  

What will I do with all these ideas?  I'm going to flesh them out more this month, do some character sketches and interviews, and see which ones scream for my attention the loudest.  Then, I'll be ready to tackle two upcoming writing challenges.  In January, the Add a Comment
22. Happy New Year!

Wow, I can't believe it's almost 2012--this year really flew by.  I accomplished a lot, and hope next year will be even better for all of us!

I've been thinking about my goals, and decided not to include things like selling a book.  Of course, I'd LOVE to sell one or more manuscripts, but my very wise mentor, Joyce Sweeney, told me it's better to make goals that I have the power to achieve.  I used to have goals like getting published by age 40, and it wasn't easy to see that goal pass me by after all my hard work. I had a lot of close calls this year, and hope next year will be filled with tons of magical moments.

Here are the goals that will hopefully make 2012 a wonderful, successful year:

1.  Revise/rewrite several middle grade novels and write one new MG--get at least one or two novels ready to submit.

2.  Plot out a chapter book series and hopefully write a draft of the first book.

3.  Participate in the 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge that starts TOMORROW!  I've been fleshing out my PiBoIdMo ideas, and can't wait to write one new draft each month using them.

4.  Write 7 new picture book drafts in May for the NaPiBoWriWee Challenge.  (One will count for both the 12 x 12 and this challenge, which means I'll be writing 18 new PB drafts this year--wow!!!!!)  

5.  Revise at least 15 picture book manuscripts, submit the ones that are ready, and finish polishing up the ones that are almost ready to dazzle.

6. Read tons of books--at least 100 fairly recent picture books, plus more than 30 novels and chapter books. 

7.  Attend at least two conferences.  This should be easy, since I'm already going to the FL SCBWI Conference in January. I can't wait!!!!

And here are a few non-writing goals:

* Spend more time with family and friends.
* Exercise at least 4 times a week (sometimes I'm great with this, and other times, I'm so busy that a week or more slips by without me exercising (luckily, Becca often asks me to walk Lolly with her, so I do move around a bit...but I'd love to be able to keep a regular exercise schedule again.)
* Organize my office (okay, so I guess this is writing-related, but my office is also full of all kinds of mail and school papers that other people throw in there and it's getting hard to see my desk)!
* Try to get more sleep (this is always sooooo hard for me to do, and as you can tell, I'm not sure if I'll be able to achieve this goal, but I'll at least attempt to squeeze in some extra sleep whenever possible). 

Happy New Year!!!  How was 2011 for you, and what are your goals for 2012?


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23. Picture Book Workshop with Editor Tamar Brazis

The Art of Friendship in Children’s Picture Books

I really enjoyed this workshop at the FL SCBWI Conference in Miami led by Tamar Brazis, the Editorial Director of Abrams Books for Young Readers and Amulet Books.  She has focused on picture books and middle-grade fiction for the past seven years, and has worked on the New York Times bestselling Jellybeans series by Laura Numeroff, Me, Frida illustrated by David Diaz, City I Love by beloved children’s poet Lee Bennett Hopkins, and Peter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes, a debut novel by Jonathan Auxier.   

She loves comforting picture books, and ones that she has a strong emotional reaction to.  Her favorite book is Frog and Toad. She also shared other friendship stories that she loves, and I can see why they resonated with her (and me).  One of my favorites is Waddles, by David McPhail.  It's such a sweet book filled with 'aw' moments and it brought tears to my eyes by the end.  I also had a huge emotional reaction to Making a Friend by Alison McGhee, and enjoyed City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems, and The Gift of Nothing by Patrick McDonnell (which gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling by the second to last line...and the very last line was a wonderful surprise).

A couple of the stories she shared with us were framed by seasons, which worked really well.  She told us that friendship stories can be between two children, a child and a stuffed animal, or two objects like a sock and a mitten (I never heard of Smitten before, but I can’t wait to read it). 

Tamar spoke about creating dynamics of relationships in a very human way.  She gave us a great exercise to help create memorable characters.  Really think about a friendship you had when you were younger, and write down all the details.  I LOVE this exercise!  Not only does did it tap into great details I can use in my manuscripts, but I can see how it could spark great new picture book ideas.  Besides using it to flesh out existing manuscripts and the new ones I’m writing for the 12 x 12 Challenge, I’ll definitely use it during the next PiBoIdMo.    

She also did a great second exercise, and explained a third right before the time was up.  I can’t give out all of Tamar’s secrets though—so definitely take her picture book workshop if you have a chance!  It was full of information and inspiration, and many of us left with ideas or scenes we'd like to use in future picture book manuscripts.

It was great taking the picture book workshop with Nancy Viau.  I met her for a few minutes at Rutgers in 2005, and have been online friends with her for years.  I loved having a chance to see her again and have her sign my copy of Samantha Hansen Has Rocks in Her Head, which Tamar Brazis edited…and Nancy also has a picture book coming out with her in the spring of 2013 entitled I Can Do It! 


*If you're looking for more awesome picture book info, check out

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24. Voice Workshop with Agent Jill Corcoran

How to Improve Your Writing Voice and Characters’ Voices

Agent Jill Corcoran at the 2012 FL SCBWI Conference in Miami

Jill Corcoran talked about the difference between the author voice, which is in everything you write, and the manuscript voice, which changes according to things like tone, the target audience, and point of view.

She had us write a short scene with two characters from one point of view, then write it from the other.  It’s amazing how you can feel the difference.  Even better…this exercise can help with writer’s block! 

Character Voice

·       Make your characters distinct so you don’t always need to put in tags.   There’s a great way to test this—take the tags out of dialogue and see if you (or others) can tell who is talking.

·       Give each character something unique.  Weaving these little details in helps give dimension.

·       Readers fill in the gaps—you need to leave some white space.

Here are some other great suggestions from Jill:

·                       When you sit down and write, you don’t always have to write your book.  Just write anything.  It helps you find your voice, gives you space, and stops you from feeling pressured.  A bad day can affect your writing.  She said to strive for more than BIC…you want Butt In Quality Chair.

·       Read outside your genre.  This helps you see styles of writing that might be great for you.

·       Make dialogue count…especially when it’s up front.

·       Try to write three pages every morning before doing anything else.

·       Play around to find the right voic

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25. Christian Trimmer – Editor at Disney Hyperion

I really enjoyed hearing Christian Trimmer speak at a recent SCBWI event at The Loft at Congress.  Huge thanks to Christian, Linda Bernfeld, Laurie Taddonio, and Flora Doone for putting together such a wonderful event.  And free, too!  FL SCBWI rocks, and I’m so lucky to be a part of it.
Christian Trimmer

Christian has been in the business for seven years, and absolutely raves about his authors, such as Mo Willems, Stacey Kade, and Robin Mellom. Right now, he said that Disney Hyperion isn’t actively looking for paranormal or much science fiction.  He loves books with rich details that find the truth in relationships, like Ditched by Robin Mellom and Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford.

What do editors want?  Christian said a great voice, authenticity, and honest emotions.  Research helps make the world more believable. Pay attention to the details!  This helps make sure that readers can see the scenes, too and adds a layer of credibility. 

In almost all his editorial letters, he mentions character motivation.  If you can’t see what drives a character, then neither will readers.  When you create a character, you want readers to see themselves in that person.  You need to have an emotional arc (which helps readers genuinely care about a character) and a narrative arc.

     Here are some tips Christian shared with us:     

* Build a network—it’s great for support (he could tell our local SCBWI is an extremely supportive group).  Seek help with info if you need it.

* Make yourself stand out.  Marketing and publicity love when a writer has an active blog and large online following.

* Seek out agents who rep books from authors you admire.

* If you receive several offers, make sure you chat with an editor on the phone before accepting to make sure he or she is the right one for you. 

* You need to be prepared to sell books.  You have to talk about your books, and try to get your face out in the community to teachers, librarians, and book sellers.

* Envision your entire career—not just selling one book.  

* Set real deadlines and be disciplined enough to make them.  Write daily!

* Everyone’s pa

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