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1. Biographies

There are many things you should consider before writing a biography.


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2. Giuseppe Castellano: Building an Effective Portfolio

Giuseppe Castellano, senior art director at Penguin Random House, gave a great talk on children's book illustration in general, not just as it relates to single portfolio pieces.

He feels a lot of artists' work is often too 'children's booky' looking. A lot of the samples he sees have very standard color choices and character choices—the skies are blue, the grass is green, the girl is white, the details aren't necessarily different enough to be interesting, or they seem there to over explain the scene to kids, not allowing them to use their imaginations to fill in the story gaps.

Giuseppe picked out a few Tomie dePaola Award gallery pieces from this year's contest to highlight what images WERE NOT too 'children's booky' looking and had clearly been developed beyond the standard tropes he is hoping we learn to avoid.

The first piece he liked was by Tatiana Escallon. Giuseppe loved that it looks handmade, and not cleaned up/shiny digital. The play and pull of the shapes with each other and within the composition are dynamic, the colors are fun, there are a lot of "gaps" for the reader to fill in with their imagination.

Tatiana Escallon

The next piece he liked was by Claire Lordon. Also has a handmade look, this time it's a screenprint. He liked the play of the colors against each other.

Claire Lordon

Rivkah LaFille's piece appealed to Giuseppe because of its great line work and limited palette. He felt like this piece looked like a sophisticated piece of art you'd see up on a wall and told us, "Children's books should be like mini art galleries... Give kids more credit that they can appreciate fine, complex art."

Rivkah LaFille

Giuseppe gave the room a very cool handout and had them do some simple but awesome, in-class exercises. I'll leave you with a little bit of his thoughts about color:

Color is absolutely a character in your story, says Giuseppe, it's the foundation you build a piece of art on. That doesn't mean it has to be loud, wild crayon color everywhere, he says, "Color choices are like music, you can have loud and soft areas."

Some examples of great color Giuseppe shared are M. Sasek and Ezra Jack Keats's work:

And holy crap, you guys, follow Giuseppe on Twitter and check out the classes he offers via The Illustration Department! I know I will.

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3. Art Browse: A Chance to View the Portfolios

The #NY16SCBWI Art Browse was a blast! This year's portfolios were as polished as never before. New friends were made and old friends were reunited. And art directors were definitely impressed. 

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4. Jacquelyn Mitchard: How to Wow an Editor: You Have Three Pages to Win Me Over

Jacquelyn Mitchard is the number one New York Times best-selling author of ten novels for adults, seven novels for teens, and five children's books. She is also editor-in-chief of Merit Press, a realistic young adult imprint.

Make your cover letters personal and smart. Don't make it to artsy and elevated, but show me who you are from the first word.

You have a chapter, maybe ten pages to win her over. When you start that conversation with her in those first pages of the book, she wants to be unable to stop reading.

"I need to recognize the emotionally validity of the story right away."

"Why do something this difficult if your not going to publish?...The dance isn't completed until the reader takes your hand."

Jacquelyn says, as writers, we need to do what it takes.

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5. Is it true you have to write what you know?

Question from a reader
I am an aspiring author (I checked out your FAQ page so don't worry about me asking you to read something of mine). I loved Girl, Stolen! I wanted to ask how you wrote about Cheyenne being blind? I was wondering if you knew someone who was blind, if you did extensive research, or if you just trusted your gut and thought about how you would feel? I was reading something from another author who said you should only write about things you've experienced, but as a pretty sheltered 16 year old there isn't a lot I've experienced. I was wondering if you followed the same rule.

My answer
You don’t have to write only what you know. I’ve heard “write what you want to know” and I think that’s more true.

Years ago, before I was published, I started writing a book from the POV of two middle-aged male Southerners who are identical twins, one of whom is paralyzed. (Not sure I had even been to the South - and I was younger, female, and not paralyzed. Oh, and not a twin.) That wasn’t the best idea. I think I thought it was more “writerly” to write a character I totally had to make up.

I am not blind and at the time I started writing Girl, Stolen, I did not know anyone who was. But I had just seen a news story that was basically the first few minutes of Girl, Stolen (the real girl was let go after 10 minutes) and I knew it would make a great book.

I think if you are going to write about someone who is not like you (especially someone who is in the minority), you should try really hard to get it right. So while I could walk around my house with eyes closed and think about what it would be like to be blind, I knew that wasn’t enough. So:
- I read books by people who had gone blind. (And I was lucky, because there are a LOT! Understandably, it’s a dramatic thing)
- I interviewed blind people and asked them to read the book when it was done.
- I got a white cane and learned basic caning technique.
- I went to the guide dog school for the blind and spent a day there.

And I also trusted my gut and thought about how I would feel.

I think it’s good to experience something yourself if you can. I have fired a gun, I have been handcuffed, and I have learned how to pick my way out of handcuffs with a bobby pin. When a copyeditor questioned whether the killer could really put a body under the kitchen sink, I pulled out everything and climbed in and took a selfie.

So you can combine trusting your gut, thinking about it logically, doing research, interviewing people, and having real life experiences. If you are writing fantasy, it is likely you are never going to experience what it is like to be a were-dragon or cast spells or whatever. So that’s going to be more thinking about it and trusting your gut.

I was a pretty sheltered 16 year old myself. Nothing wrong with that. You don’t have to become a serial killer to write about them (or do you…?). (Nope, pretty sure you don’t.)

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Winter recess is upon us.  We have some fun programs lined up for kids this week.  On Monday we will be showing the movie CinderellaNature Nick's Animal Adventures will be here on Wednesday with animals from all corners of the world!  Thursday marks the triumphant return of Lifesize Candyland.  We had so much fun with this program a few years ago (check out the photos below), so we are bringing it back.  Are you into robotics?  Then Maker Buddies is the program for you on Friday.  Finally, on Saturday we have two special guests visiting us.  WNBC reporter Ida Siegal will be here to talk about her new children's book series - Emma is on the Air and Chef Paula will conduct a hands-on workshop to make some yummy treats inspired by the books!

 We hope to see you next week!!!

Posted by Amy

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7. Bonnie Bader: Nonfiction

For many years Bonnie Bader worked as an Associate Publisher of Frederick Warne & Co., as well as the editor-in-chief of Penguin Young Readers/Early Readers. Today she is a member of the SCBWI Board of Advisors, and the PAW (Published and Listed) point person. 

When she first started in publishing, Bader said that she hated nonfiction. What changed her mind? The narrative voice.

In her session today, Bader spoke about what publishers are doing and what sellers are saying. She also offered tips for authors seeking to write nonfiction. It was a lively interactive session, with high audience participation. 

Here are a few bullet points:

• What sells? Nonfiction pegged to a holiday: First Thanksgiving

• Smaller publishers do well with nonfiction. They tend to have more people designated to target the school library market. 

• Bookstores have seen an uptick in nonfiction sales: biography, weird-but-true stories (Ripley's Believe It or Not!)
Who Was? nonfiction books are hot sellers,
selling more than 20 million copies to date.

• Write about tension in a character's life. 

• Develop your voice.

• Always offer sources for dialog. 

• Write grabby first lines.

• Decide who your audience is. Who are you writing for?

• Pick your subject, explore your own interests. What excites you? What are you passionate about?

• Research, research, research!

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8. Baboushka Kitty

I finally finished this gal. She was going to be my Christmas card last year, but I started her too late, then had some 'real work' deadlines and had to put her aside. 

She is a Russian Baboushka. The traditional baboushka outfit is just a crazy mix of patterns and color, with seemingly no regard for what might go well together. Therein lies its charm. So I pushed that as far as I could and had a lot of fun. The black floral border is a Khokhloma pattern, which is also a Russian thing. 

I could do this same 'look' digitally, and might if I decide to keep going with this kind of art because boy howdy this was fussy to do with pencils, and was s-l-o-w. I also had to burnish (press really hard) to get the colors saturated enough, and that does bad things to one's hand after a while. I wanted to have an original piece though, rather than just a digital file, so I kept going with it.

Here are a couple of details, so you can see that yes, it is in fact colored pencil ~

I will make cards and prints and put them in the arCATecture etsy shop soon, and maybe make some stuff on Zazzle too.

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9. An In-Depth Interview with Rainbow Rowell

Rainbow Rowell (rhymes with towel) is the beloved bestselling author of books for adults and teens.

SCBWI executive director Lin Oliver, herself a bestselling author, conducted a warm fireside chat with Rainbow about her books and her life. And yeah, there really was a fireplace projected on the screen, because the SCBWI does things right.

Here are some of the highlights:

Rainbow started her career as a journalist and columnist for the Omaha World-Herald. There were some useful things. For example, she didn't get writers block. "At a newspaper, writer's block means tomorrow you're fired." There were also some downsides—working as a journalist was hard on her writerly voice.

During that time, someone asked her what sort of writing she was doing for herself, and after a while, she realized the only writing she'd done for herself was love letters—that may or may not have been read. ("Mine were too long. They needed editing.")

She started writing THE ATTACHMENTS to do something for herself. She wrote that in third person past tense.

CARRY ON, though, was written in first person."I think when you're writing first person, you're really writing monologues," she said.

Her characters have little pieces of her in them. "Human beings are more complicated than fictional characters, and there's enough of you to split into seeds (which become the characters of your books)."

As she writes, she doesn't think about how they're being marketed. ELEANOR & PARK was released as an adult title in the UK, where it "bombed," as hard as it is to believe that. St. Martins Press published it as YA in the states—and Rainbow says they were the only publisher who wanted it. It might have been different had they taken it to YA publishers instead of adult. St. Martins does both.

Her agent describes her work as "funny/sad," which means it's sad but still makes you laugh a lot. "It's so much harder to be funny than it is to be sad," she said. "You can read the newspaper if it's sad. I personally like things better if they're both."

"Sometimes the pressure of writing makes you want to sound official, so you aspire toward something that's not you because it sounds more professional," she said. When she was a journalist, she used to imagine telling the stories she was writing to her husband or her mom.

When writing fiction, she gave herself permission just to write—not to go back in and edit and change things. If it made her laugh, it was good enough.

Lin observed that many of Rainbow's characters seem to be outsiders. But to Rainbow, more people feel like the outside than feel on the inside, especially young people.  It wouldn't have occurred to her to write people who don't feel this way. "It's who we are."

Rainbow likes to talk about her characters with her agent. The characters appear to her pretty well formed and compelling. But talking to good listeners who don't try to build on her characters, and instead just let her develop them, is helpful. She adds details as she's talking about it. She also builds playlists that help her fill her characters out a bit.

Sometimes her characters don't do what she expected them to do in scenes. She gets to know them better as she writes.

CARRY ON has Star Wars, Superman, Harry Potter and Twilight references. It's a book she wrote for people who had some of the same pop culture references as she does. This meant she didn't have to explain a lot of references, but that she could also play against people's expectations.

Rainbow has a lovely and resonant philosophy about her characters and their stories (and about human beings in the real world too): We're all good people trying hard. And there is value in trying hard. 

She shared so much advice and insight for us and really showed us where her magical books come from: her generous heart. Her voice on the page is her voice in real life. If you haven't read her books, you're in for an extraordinary experience. Move them to the top of your pile.

Rainbow's website
Rainbow on Twitter
Rainbow on Facebook

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10. VIDEO: DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg Fights A Lion

This lion learned his lesson the hard way: don't mess with Jeffrey Katzenberg.

The post VIDEO: DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg Fights A Lion appeared first on Cartoon Brew.

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11. Jean Feiwel: Children's Publishing Now and in the Near Future panel

Jean Feiwel is a senior vice president and publisher at Macmillan Children's Publishing Group, where her eponymous imprint has published wonderful books such as Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles Series.

She also oversees Squarefish, Swoon Reads, and Henry Holt. (Macmillan has nine imprints in all, including one called Imprint—ha!)

Her career in publishing is incredibly distinguished: at Scholastic she invented the Baby-Sitter's Club series, and published Goosebumps, Animorphs, Harry Potter and other blockbuster series.

And it's not just novels; the picture book On the Night You Were Born by Nancy Tillman was the first title she published at her imprint, and more than 3.5 million copies are in print.

She was one of five editors featured on a panel about publishing and its future.

At Macmillan, the company compiled imprints that had all been independent. "The decision was made to create what I call the Star Wars Alliance," Jean said. This unified their sales and marketing and retained the individuality of the imprints. As a result, their net business has grown 70 percent.

The growth of the industry has changed things, she said. After Harry Potter, it wasn't enough to have a bestselling book. You had to have a phenomenally bestselling book.

"If your bar is that high, you can miss a lot of things happening under that bar," she said. At Macmillan, they're supposed to grow by a certain percentage overall, and they're supposed to make great books.

"Slow and steady wins the race. It's pressure, but it's not the kind of pressure that's a carrot on a stick getting higher and further away."

Jean described different kinds of excitement. One is when you place a big bet on something—as she did with Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles. It's the No. 1 bestselling series on the NYT list this week.

There are other kinds of risks—like a book called MY BIG FAT ZOMBIE GOLDFISH. "It's whizzing along nicely."

She loves being able to build things from the ground up. Risk-taking and developing new ideas is the hallmark of what Macmillan loves to do, she said.

She urged writers to do what they do best, and do it well. Stick to it and believe in it. It's not about trying to write to a trend.

Starting a crowdsourced imprint, Swoon Books, let her see a broader variety of manuscripts than agents were sending (they were too swamped for a slush pile). Seeing a range of submissions and mining self-published work is interesting and useful for publishers.

MacKids: the homepage of Macmillan Children's Publishing
Feiwel and Friends website
Feiwel and Friends on Facebook
Follow Feiwel and Friends on Twitter

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12. Michael Jackson

If you watch Michael Jackson
When he was a boy,
You will smile and delight
In his unabashed joy.

He commanded the stage,
All his brothers mere props,
For as young as he was,
He pulled out all the stops.

Check the Spike Lee biopic
And you’ll be impressed
At the talent and energy
Jackson possessed.

We all heard of his problems –
Each habit and flaw –
But when up on the stage,
He was worthy of awe.

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13. Laurent Linn: Illustrating for Middle Grade, Graphic Novels, and YA

Laurent Linn is an Art Director at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, designing up to 40 books at a time. In addition, he's the author and illustrator of an upcoming teen novel called DRAW THE LINE (Simon & Schuster, May 2016).  His breakout session was a standing room only event of published and pre-published illustrators, authors and graphic novelists.

Linn offered a few key points: 

What’s the next big thing in children’s books: Illustration! It’s a great time for illustration and to be an illustrator. 

Kids are more visually astute today, because there is so much imagery out there competing for their attention. So feel free to break boundaries. Your art director will reel you in, if necessary.

For middle grade novels, the text drives the story. However, an illustrator can use art to enhance key moments in a story. Don’t simply illustrate a scene, go deeper. Think of yourself as a designer, consider the placement of text with the illustration. Use illustration to punctuate a story. 

For young adult novels, remember that the art is often meant to represent art that is "drawn" by the characters in a story. Channel the character's personality. Ask yourself how he/she draw this ? For example, Sherman Alexie's THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN.

Graphic novels are now being recognized as legitimate pieces of literature, as with Cece Bell's El Deafo winning a Newbery.

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14. Kate Messner & Linda Urban: Music, Mountains, and Mocha Lattes: Sustaining a Creative Life

Kate Messner and Linda Urban are both award-winning writers of many books for kids, from picture books to middle grade novels.

Together they will present a mini-keynote.

Kate tells us there are times when it's more important to get your butt out of the chair. Counter to what we are often told. Sounds good!

Science supports taking a walk when we are stuck.

At a point when Kate was stuck, she started hiking, and found climbing a mountain is exactly like writing a first draft: the beginning was full of roots, it was muddy in the middle, toward the top it started to rain, and when she was ready for the million dollar view, it was cloudy.

But that hike gave her an idea for the book. It's not always the big things. Sometimes we just need a small thing to keep going.

Kate climbed that same trail again and this time the summit was different. Sometimes when we go away and come back, even with writing, things can look a lot different.

Other lessons Kate learned from hiking that can be applied to writing:

  • Even when the trail is unmarked, you can find ways of moving forward and you can benefit from those who were there before you.
  • Sometimes a trail can start out one way and then you realize it wasn't the way you thought it was going to be.  
  • Thing that look impossible to climb can be managed. You only have to find one next place to go.

For Linda, getting out of the chair is not going for a walk, it's getting up and moving to another chair.

At a time Linda was stuck, she came across a red ukulele in a window. She bought it and started to play. Learning and playing released dopamine and quieted the existential hecklers that had her stuck on her latest novel.

The release of dopamine and small success allowed her get back to the novel and make progress. Her story was free to run a little wild. As she kept playing and learning the ukulele, Linda was seeing and hearing things in different way.

The experience was also a reminder that learning new things can be really hard and that is what kids go through too.

At this point in the talk, Linda has been coaxed by Kate, and the crowd, to sing her sad-ogre-cowboy song.

So worth it! Huge applause for Linda. And proof, that as writing buddies, Kate pushes Linda out of her comfort zone, and we learn that Linda helps Kate to slow down. Kate and Linda share that they are writing buddies, and it is evident as they interact onstage. While they live 2 hours apart, they meet over lattes or lunch every month. They leave us with a  final thought: We need people in this writing world. Connect with your writing community. Find your writing buddies.

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15. Megan Tingley: The Big Picture: Children's Publishing: Now and in the Near Future

Megan Tingley is the executive VP and publisher of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. She oversee the entire Young Reader's publishing program as well as acquires and edits a small list of titles for her own list.

Little, Brown has one division and they all work collaboratively to publish board books to young adult.

Mission statement : Publish great books well. They are committed to growth, innovation, and transparency.

The children's book division has gone from being the stepchild to the favorite child in their larger companies, and they are leaders in the diversity of their lists.

The huge successes in the children's book industry are very noticeable and people are then asking where is the next one. But this has also shown that children's books can behave like big adult titles. This gives children's publishing an opportunity to make more decisions.

This is an incredible time to be in publishing. The business has changed so much. The opportunity to get representation is better than before, there's far more exposure with social media, as well as a lot more media stories about the industry. Seeing a picture book win the Newbery and graphic novels winning awards shows an openness to different formats that are a great opportunity.

The notion that print books are going to go away, nobody is worrying about that.

Book creators often wonder, what is the measure of success?

Megan says the thing editors love most to do is discover new talent. Success can be becoming a New York Times bestseller or winning a Newbery or Caldecott, but don't see those as the only markers. Megan discovered a young artist Naoko Stoop walking in Brooklyn when Noako's paintings in a widow caught her eye. She then saw her work on Etsy and met with her about creating a book for kids. That book became Red Knit Cap Girl, both a personal and professional success.

Because of technology the industry has a chance to move more quickly and jump on trends.

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16. Sarah Davies: Writing Salable Middle Grade

Sarah Davies is the founder of The Greenhouse Literary Agency, which represents authors of YA, MG, and picture books.

Sarah loves literary fiction with a strong commercial hook. Middle grade fiction is really the first that immerses young readers in new worlds and introduces them to empathy. These books often are among the most important people read.

We are in a fabulous, golden time for middle grade. Librarians and educators play a bigger role in linking readers with books, and it's sometimes a slow process.

How can you raise the level of your writing and make your manuscript stand out?

She has identified eight common denominators of great, salable middle grade. Here are a few things she looks for:

1. Know your market. What is middle grade? Her submissions inbox tells her a lot of people don't know what they're trying to do or who they're writing for.

At the younger end, it's chapter books that are typically 15,000-25,000 words long and illustrated with line art. Her client Tricia Springstubb writes these. They can be character led or concept driven. Clementine by Sara Pennypacker is an example. The Magic Treehouse is concept driven.

Novels for older middle grade readers run 30,000-60,000 words. (If it's longer, ask yourself why.) These core middle grade novels are about characters from 10 to 13, with a sweet spot of 11 to 13. THE TRUTH ABOUT TWINKIE PIE by Kat Yeh is an absolutely delightful middle grade that received a lot of buzz.

There's also a "tween" category that tends to be pinker and fluffier and deals with crushes, clothes, and friendships. Aladdin does this sort of book well.

2. Know your reader. How is MG different from YA? The YA protagonist is older, with a protagonist who is 15 to 17. But it's not just simply about age. The interior world of the pre-teen child is different from the older teen. If all good fiction has some rite of passage in it, the older teen's right of passage is "who will I be as an adult." For a middle grader, it's about firsts, the beginnings of finding an identity separate from your parents. Asking who am I, what am I?

3. Voice. Her client Mark Maciejewski had a funny voice. His submission needed work, but that voice struck her. Sometimes she can hear the adult behind the voice--and adult who is trying to remember how they think children sound. "Can you access the real thing? If you can, you're two-thirds of the way there. If you can an agent will spot you."

Let your voice shine through in the opening, rather than dumping plot info up front.

Read a lot and listen to children speak and understand their phrasing and logic. "You've got to develop your voice muscle."

The Greenhouse Literary Agency
Follow Sarah on Twitter
Like The Greenhouse Literary Agency on Facebook

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17. Valentine's Day 2016: Some Productions of Much Ado(And Other Stuff)

Last year I did a fairly general post about Valentine's Day, which you can find here. Do check it out, it's a good post. Feel free to comment, as I get all comments by email to approve. I spoke about some of my favourite fictional lovers, including Shakespeare's mature lovers, Beatrice and Benedick. We don't find enough of those, IMO. Jane Austen did it with Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth, about a girl whose fancy relatives talked her out of marrying the guy she loved several years ago. Now he has come back, when they're both a bit older and her once wealthy family is broke and he has gone up in the world. It's not my favourite of Jane Austen's novels, but still...

Public domain image

There was an article in the (British, not Sydney)Telegraph about the "top ten" Beatrices and Benedicks, all stage productions none of us will ever see now, though there was a photo of Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson in the film version of his stage production, and a delightful film it was, too.

 Personally, if we're nominating stage productions I'd go for two I have seen performed by the Melbourne Theatre Company - Frederick Parslow and Jennifer Hagan, in a Regency costumed production, with music by Helen Gifford, and in more recent years, Hugo Weaving and Pamela Rabe in 1950s costume, and the Bell Shakespeare Company, set in a circus! John Bell himself and his Missus, Anna Volska, played as the lovers. I admit I haven't yet seen the Joss Whedon film version, though my niece Dezzy tells me it's excellent. And then there was a recording I had of Franco Zefirelli's stage production with a much younger, very, very much pre-Professor McGonagall Maggie Smith and her then-husband Robert Stephens, with a very young Derek Jacobi as Don John. That's one I would have loved to see! And I see Derek Jacobi eventually had his turn as Benedick.

I am amazed at who has played those two roles. One version really went for the "mature" thing and had the roles played by the not-so-young James Earl Jones and Vanessa Redgrave. He could certainly do the voice, as we know after his velvet-voiced Darth Vader, and she has plenty of experience, but Hero would be more like her granddaughter than her cousin, and you'd think he would be long retired from the army. Still, nice to know that once in a while an older woman, even if she has to be a Big Name, can play a Shakespeare role apart from Queen Margaret in Richard III or a Witch in The Scottish Play (Even Gertrude isn't all that old, early middle aged at most). And as a character in one of Kerry Greenwood's novels says, if you aren't playing the king you never get to sit down in Shakespeare, which is no fun for older actors with painful legs.

I was surprised and delighted to read of a production with the Doctor and Donna! Okay, with David Tennant and Catherine Tate. I know he's done a fair bit of Shakespeare - I'm still holding out for a DVD of his Hamlet - though it was her first time and the article says that she did it very well. They had such chemistry as the Doctor and Donna, I can imagine how well they did together in this play. 

I recall one of the Telegraph's top Beatrices was Judi Dench, whom I have seen in Shakespeare when I was in my teens and she was touring in The Winter's Tale; I'm sure she was a wonderful Beatrice. 

I am hoping to get hold of the BBC version(you can still buy them in boxed sets)with Robert Lindsay and Cherie Lunghi. Cherie Lunghi was a firm Beatrice who wouldn't take any nonsense from anyone. 

It feels strange to think that this mature Shakespeare heroine was originally played by a teenage boy. Was Shakespeare imagining women when he wrote his plays or was he thinking, "Now, let's see, young Nat can play this one brilliantly"? 

Something to think about. Happy Valentine's Day and don't eat too much chocolate!  

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18. If I choose to write a literary novel should I follow the same steps ? What about theme as opposed to Story goal? I am confused.

Question: I chose to write a literary novel as opposed to genre. How about theme as opposed to story goal? Should I use both theme and story goal? You

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19. Katie Leung on ‘One Child’ and Racism in Media

Katie Leung (Cho Chang) will be back on screen this week in the BBC mini-series One Child. Leung plays Mei Ashley, who was adopted from China by British parents.  As a young woman, Mei learns that her birth mother and biological brother need her help.  She travels to Guangzhou where her brother is on death row after being framed for murder.  (All of this happens during the period of China’s one child policy, which was only revoked last year.)

In anticipation of One Child, Katie Leung sat for an interview with Herald ScotlandShe begins by reflecting on her days filming Harry Potter.  Katie tells Herald Scotland:

“I was so innocent and naive… I think that allowed me to enjoy the moment of being a teenager, part of this massive franchise and not really having a worry in the world. If I was given the chance to go back and relive it, I would probably try to absorb everything around me a bit more.”

Katie also tells Herald Scotland about her relationship with Harry Potter fans over the years.  Some have embraced her and become friends online and regular attendees at her plays.

“It has been incredible because the fans I got to know and love from the beginning have been with me throughout my career,” she says. “They come to see my plays and contact me through social media. When they go to one of my shows that isn’t Potter I get really excited. They have been so supportive and I’m grateful for that.”

Unfortunately, others have not been so kind.  The Herald Scotland reports that one particularly unnerving group in the Harry Potter days started an “I Hate Katie” website to complain about Cho Chang’s romantic involvement with Harry Potter and make racist comments.

“Looking back I can’t remember much about that part of it because I was so in denial of what was happening,” [Katie Leung] concedes. “I put it to the back of my mind. I don’t know if that is the best way to deal with it, but that is naturally what I did in order to move on and be a good actor… I was being judged purely on my looks because she [Cho Chang] is supposed to be a very beautiful girl. This all happened before the films even came out. I thought: ‘Well, I can’t do anything about the way I look, so I’m going to need to do the best acting to make up for it.’”

Katie stills deals with racism at times, even in passive situations.  She tells Herald Scotland:

“There are people who are subconsciously racist and not aware of it…  If I’m in a taxi and asked: ‘Where you off to?’ and I say: ‘I’m going to the airport’, I’ve had the driver say: ‘Oh, your English is really good … It happened not that long ago. You get strangers coming up and saying the one Chinese or Japanese word they know, such as ‘ni hao’ or ‘konnichiwa’.

“It happens on the street or a night out in a bar. It’s sexist and racist, actually. That is something which needs to be addressed, but then again that can be solved through more diversity on our screens.”

With that, Katie Leung points out the problem of racism in film and media.  While in drama school, Katie wondered if she would ever be cast in a Shakespeare play because of her Chinese heritage.  It took a friend to help her realize that “I had been putting myself in a box when I was capable of so much more,”  according to Herald Scotland.  Later, Katie played Portia in The Merchant of Venice at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

Leung is delighted that Noma Dumezweni has been cast as Hermione in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, as she noted at A Celebration of Harry Potter in January.  “I was ecstatic when I heard she was going to be playing Hermione,” Katie Leung tells Herald Scotland.  She sees it as a step in the right direction.

“If we are not representing what is in real life on our screens then people are going to remain ignorant, be prejudiced and maintain these stereotypes,” she says. “It could always be better and we are definitely not quite there yet.”

To read more about Katie Leung and BBC’s One Child, see the Herald Scotland article, here.


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20. Alvina Ling: Plotting Your Novel

Alvina Ling is vp and editor-in-chief at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

"There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are." ~ W. Somerset Maugham

Aristotle: Character is plot revealed by action.

Alvina believes conflict is the most important element of plot.

The cat sat on a mat is not a story. The cat sat on another cat's mat is a story.

7 basic plots

  • overcoming the monster
  • rags to riches
  • the quest 
  • voyage and return
  • comedy
  • tragedy
  • rebirth
3 plots
  • boy meets girl (human meets human)
  • the little tailor (power to slay giants)
  • man learns a lesson
2 plots
  • a person goes on a journey
  • a stranger comes to town
Know what the rules are, then break them. 

Elements of plot Alvina looks for:
  • believability 
  • pacing
  • high stakes and emotional impact

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21. Caterva review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Juan Filloy's 1937 novel, Caterva, recently published in English by Dalkey Archive Press.

       Filloy -- who died aged over 100 -- is a fascinating figure, and among the titbits from translator Brendan Riley's Introduction: since his death three books have been posthumously published -- but there are still twenty-one unpublished ones ! (As far as English, the situation is even worse, with this just the second work available in translation (while Faction has been long-announced but oft-delayed ...).)

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22. Rainbow Rowell and Martha Brockenbrough: Creating Teen Characters

I'm so excited about this session! Rainbow Rowell is the New York Times bestselling author of the Young Adult novels Eleanor & Park and Fangirl and Carry On. She's even received a Printz Honor for Eleanor & Park!*

Martha Brockenbrough is our very own team blogger, author of the YA novels The Game of Love and Death and Devine Intervention.**

They're talking about Creating Teen Characters, and you'd think it would feel like this:

But it really felt like this:

Rainbow and Martha had great, in-depth discussion and we were right there. They spoke about the shift that happens for writing a teen's perspective, and the shift that happens for a teen reader (versus an adult.) Rainbow said,

"I don't think about audience... I can get stalled."

They both worked as journalists, and Rainbow spoke of the good training that was (like how it was great for dialog and made her not so precious about her writing) and the challenges that same background created (her voice got "slammed out.") Rainbow joked about her contemporary realistic novels,

"What I'm doing is journalism, but lying."

Martha played the song "Hast Thou Considered The Tetrapod" by The Mountain Goats so we could all hear a bit of it. Rainbow then told us about how the song (and the whole album) inspired her novel Eleanor & Park, and "how it unlocked me." They spoke about different tools they use to get into the writing. Martha used period photos for The Game of Love and Death. Rainbow uses music as a "shortcut to get back to the emotion of that scene," describing a particular scene from Eleanor & Park and how it had a specific song.

They spoke about diversity of characters, aspirational characters versus real characters, and Rainbow's breakthrough in writing fantasy. It was a great story, about research and tropes (and playing with tropes) and how Rainbow ultimately realized that for fantasy, "I've read enough to find my own voice in it."

There was so much more, and Rainbow also answered questions from the rapt audience.

Two final bits of wisdom:

Speaking about today's teens versus the teens of the 1980s, Martha Brockenbrough said,

"We've been this age, we know what we need to know." 

Telling us of a particular character she found challenging to write, (Agatha in Carry On), Rainbow said,

"As an author, you need to find your way in."

And then she explained how she found her way into Agatha... So fascinating!

Useful. Inspiring. Very special.

What a breakout session!

*Check out all of Rainbow's titles here.

**Check out all of Martha's titles here.

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23. Forthcoming in ... South Africa

       At Books LIVE Jennifer runs down The local fiction to look forward to in 2016 (Jan - June) in South Africa.
       Always interesting to see what gets published in other countries -- especially a place like South Africa, where even though the majority is written in English, very little finds its way to the US/UK markets.

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24. Library Loot: The First Half of February

New Loot:
  • Illusion by Frank Peretti
  • Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee
  • My Diary from the Edge of the World by Jodi Lynn Anderson
  • An Instance of the Fingerpost by Ian Pears
  • An Unmarked Grave by Charles Todd
  • Dance! Dance! Underpants by Bob Shea
  • Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig by Deborah Hopkinson
  • My Name is Mahtob by Mahtob Mahmoody 
  • The Detective's Assistant by Kate Hannigan
Leftover Loot:
  • N or M? by Agatha Christie
  • Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
  • The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
  • The Story of My Life by Helen Keller
  • Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones
  • Blood Royal by Eric Jager
  • A Sudden, Fearful Death by Anne Perry
  • Freedom's Teacher: The Life of Septima Clark by Katherine Mellen Charron
  • The Natural World of Winnie the Pooh by Kathryn Aalto
  • The Sign of the Cat by Lynne Jonell
  • Truman by David McCullough
  • Nurse Matilda the Collected Tales by Christianna Brand
  • The Doldrums by Nicholas Gannon
            Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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25. Elizabeth Bicknell: Writing Picture Book Text

Elizabeth Bicknell is Executive Vice President, Executive Editorial Director & Associate Publisher at Candlewick Press. She edits picture books, fiction, poetry and nonfiction. Two recent picture book projects include Mac Barnett and John Klassen's Sam and Dave Dig a Hole

and Carole Boston Weatherford and Ekua Holmes' Voice of Freedom

Liz spoke about the different kinds of picture books, using examples of 12 books she's published to, well, illustrate her points. Story picture books, concept books, biography, poetry collections...

It's fascinating that she's able to break those twelve down into six that had an author/illustrator create them, and six books that had different authors and illustrators. (Additionally, eight of the eighteen people were not agented at the time she acquired their work.)

She tells us that she's "a sucker for dog stories," and jokes that now that she's said that, "everyone feverishly changes their main characters to dogs."

Some quotes:

"I am very fond of poetry."

"I like books that are a little bit wicked."

"There are no rules you can never break."

Liz tells us more about what she's looking for, breaks down the reasons she really doesn't like rhyme, and talks about those critical first (and last) lines.

There's lots more good stuff, some handouts, and so much wisdom. Here's one last bit of wisdom:

"If the ending isn't working, really the whole thing isn't working."

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