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1. Lin-Manuel Miranda Inks Deal for Hamilton: The Book

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2. Flogometer for Dan—are you compelled to turn the page?

Submissions Welcome. If you’d like a fresh look at your opening chapter or prologue, please email your submission to me re the directions at the bottom of this post.


The Flogometer challenge: can you craft a first page that compels me to turn to the next page? Caveat: Please keep in mind that this is entirely subjective.

Note: all the Flogometer posts are here.

What's a first page in publishingland? In a properly formatted novel manuscript (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point type, etc.) there should be about 16 or 17 lines on the first page (first pages of chapters/prologues start about 1/3 of the way down the page). Directions for submissions are below—they include a request to post the rest of the chapter, but that’s optional.

A word about the line-editing in these posts: it’s “one-pass” editing, and I don’t try to address everything, which is why I appreciate the comments from the FtQ tribe. In a paid edit, I go through each manuscript three times.

Mastering front 100WshadowBefore you rip into today’s submission, consider this checklist of first-page ingredients from my book, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling. While it's not a requirement that all of these elements must be on the first page, they can be, and I think you have the best chance of hooking a reader if they are.

Download a free PDF copy here.

Were I you, I'd examine my first page in the light of this list before submitting to the Flogometer. I use it on my own work.

A First-page Checklist

  • It begins engaging the reader with the character
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • The character desires something.
  • The character does something.
  • There’s enough of a setting to orient the reader as to where things are happening.
  • It happens in the NOW of the story.
  • Backstory? What backstory? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • Set-up? What set-up? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • What happens raises a story question.

Caveat: a strong first-person voice with the right content can raise powerful story questions and create page turns without doing all of the above. A recent submission worked wonderfully well and didn't deal with five of the things in the checklist.

Also, if you think about it, the same checklist should apply to the page where you introduce an antagonist.


Dan sends the first chapter of a novella, The Red Hand. The remainder is after the break.

Please vote and comment. It helps the writer.

John Wren heard his neighbor's door click shut, as her door did three times a week, right around six AM. He stirred sugar into his tea. He knew what he'd hear next, and heard it: Kate's bare feet bounding down the stairway, one tread at a time. Taking his cup, he stepped onto the balcony -- really an open air hallway -- of the threadbare seaside motel that had been his home for the past two months. He watched her cross the sandy parking lot at a trot, to the break in the falling-down split-rail fence, then diagonally toward the beach through the overgrown lot next door. He liked Kate. She was about the only thing in this crazy world that made any real sense to him.

He looked over at Windsong in her slip, and squinted at the top of her mast, gauging the wind. Less than five knots, he decided. West north west.

There are small dunes along this stretch of the Hamptons, some with meager beach grasses holding them together. As Kate turned along the beach, she started to open up her stride, but a figure stepped out from behind one of those grassy dunes. He appeared to be pointing a gun at her. She stopped dead, then went down, writhing. Dropping his tea, John raced down the stairs. He'd heard no shot; he had no idea what a Taser was. As he streaked across the parking area, he saw the sedan racing across the side lot, barreling over the uneven ground toward Kate and the stranger. It stopped a short way from her and a second fellow jumped out and helped the first drag her into the back seat. Her wrists seemed to be tied together.

Were you compelled to turn the page?

Most definitely a strong story question raised on this first page, and the writing is pretty clean, grammatically speaking. However, the narrative needs work on the storytelling side. As it is, the promise is for what could be an interesting story but not a well-written one—for example, after the action ends John is standing by the car, which has crashed, and turns to see Kate opening her motel door even though a second before she had been standing next to him . . . which has to be some distance from there. Dan, take your time and think through how to move the story seamlessly forward. Notes:

John Wren heard his neighbor's door click shut, as it her door did three times a week, right around six AM. He stirred sugar into his tea. He knew what he'd hear next, and heard it: Kate's bare feet bounding down the stairway, one tread at a time. Taking his cup, he stepped onto the balcony -- really an open air hallway -- of the threadbare seaside motel that had been his home for the past two months. He watched her cross the sandy parking lot at a trot, to the break in the falling-down split-rail fence, and then diagonally toward the beach through the overgrown lot next door. He liked Kate. She was about the only thing in this crazy world that made any real sense to him.

He looked over at Windsong Windsong in her slip, and squinted at the top of her mast, gauging the wind. Less than five knots, he decided. West north west. Boat names are italicized.

There are Kate crossed the small dunes along of this stretch of the Hamptons, some with meager beach grasses holding them together. As Kate she turned along the beach, she started to open up her stride, but a figure stepped out from behind a dune one of those grassy dunes. He appeared to be pointing a gun at her. She stopped dead, then went down, writhing. Dropping his tea, John raced down the stairs. He'd heard no shot; he had no idea what a Taser was. As he streaked across the parking area, he saw the a sedan raced racing across the side lot, barreling over the uneven ground toward Kate and the stranger. It stopped a short way from her and a second fellow jumped out and helped the first drag her into the back seat. Her wrists seemed to be tied together. The “There are” at the opening of this is the author intruding to inject information. Keep it within the character’s pont of view and turn it into action as experienced by the protagonist. The bit about her stride isn’t needed and borders on overwriting. If he has no idea what a Taser is or does, then he can’t be thinking about it—a break in point of view. And who these days doesn’t know what a Taser is and does? I would change this to him concluding that she’d been tasered. The “he saw” I changed is using a filter instead of showing the action the character experiences.

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

Email the following in an attachment (.doc, .docx, or .rtf preferred, no PDFs):

  1. your title
  2. your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
  3. Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
  4. Note: I’m adding a copyright notice for the writer at the end of the post. I’ll use just the first name unless I’m told I can use the full name.
  5. Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
  6. And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
  7. If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
  8. If you rewrite while you wait for your turn, it’s okay with me to update the submission.

Were I you, I'd examine my first page in the light of the first-page checklist before submitting to the Flogometer.

Flogging the Quill © 2015 Ray Rhamey, story © 2015 Dan

 

Continued:

John dashed through the gap in the fence and headed for the car at a flat-out run. The first man shoved Kate headfirst and followed her in. He was definitely now holding a gun to her head. At the same time, the driver jumped in his open door, saw John coming, and hit the gas. The door slammed closed.

John lunged at him through the open window, getting a hold of his neck in a headlock. Unable to keep his feet under him, his body dragged behind. Kate extracted a curved knife from the sewn-in sheath in her cut-off jeans.

The gunman turned the pistol to John. In a single move, Kate scooted her butt down and shot her left foot up, pinning the gun and the man's extended hand to the headliner. The gun went off. Kate kicked the hand with her other foot, then stabbed the man on his far side with the custom-made knife with its half-inch radius hook near the tip of the blade. Pulling the knife toward her, she sliced her captor open horizontally, just below the diaphragm. Then she plunged in, both hands inside of him, slashing upward into the lungs and heart, her eyes hard and in his face. The gunman had struggled with her while being disemboweled, but when the blade reached its mark, he had nothing left but a pitiful cough and a plunge into unconsciousness. Foamy bright red blood sputtered onto his chin and he passed into oblivion, eyes and mouth open.

The car bounced over a hole, the driver choking and blinded, and the car hit a smallish pine tree which stopped it dead, throwing John's body forward. His headlock on the driver was secure; the driver's neck snapped on impact. John's back screamed with pain. His arm felt broken. Dust filled the air.

Kate took the man's gun off the seat, jumped out of the car, and ran around to where John was getting up off the ground. She set the gun on the hood and cut her hands free of the plastic shackles with a single annoyed swipe of her bloody knife. "Are you all right?"

"I've been better," he said.

She looked at the driver. His head was at an impossible angle to his body. "We've got to get outta here." She stuck the gun in her pocket and sheathed her knife, turned and trotted back to the hotel.

"Wh....?" John said. Checking the back seat, he saw the shooter, chin on chest, his bowels trailing into his lap. John looked back towards Kate. She was fumbling with her door lock. By the time he got back to her, she had already thrown her laptop and the gun into a large carry-all, a beach bag. He didn't know that she was still steeling herself against the nerve-scrambling effects of the Taser shot; he only saw her clenching and unclenching her fists as she went about tossing her cell phone and a few other items into the bag. She retrieved a holstered gun out of her night stand,  and shoved that in the front pocket of her shorts. John stared at her bloody legs, arms, and lap. "Are you injured? Are you bleeding?"

"No," she said immediately, and looked down at herself. "Shit! I need clothes." She went to the dresser, took a few things out, then a pair of sneakers from the closet, adding them to the now overstuffed bag. "Come on." Checking across the way before she fully opened her door, she crossed to John's open door, with John following, into the same one-bedroom efficiency as her own. Reversed floorplan. Kate knew John's place well; she'd been there quite a few times, helping him with things that baffled him and sometimes terrified him, at least in the beginning. "Pick up that broken teacup, please. Then hand me your laptop." She opened his center desk drawer, removing a large format checkbook, putting it in a backpack that had been leaning against the wall. She dumped in his (dead) cell phone and chargers. Kate held the bag open so John could put the laptop in. "Your wallet," she said.

"Kate. What are we doing? We're safe. Those guys are dead!" She was shaking her head. But he went on. "We have to call the authori..."

"Those ARE the authorities, Galen!" she cut him off, pointing in the direction of the car. "Now please. Where is your wallet? You may need it." He retrieved it from a side drawer of the desk. She spun around and headed for the kitchen, saying, "I'll explain it all once we're out of here." She grabbed his ring of keys from a bowl on the counter. Then she crossed over to the front window and parted the curtains a little. She slipped one arm of the backpack onto his shoulder. "And you need shoes. Go grab a pair of shoes."

She looked out the window again, then opened the door, peeked her head out, scanning the hall both ways. "Did nobody hear the shot?" she asked, quietly, to herself. John was back. "Come on." she said quietly. "We're taking your car," she said as they approached the bottom of the stairs, and moved to the Jeep Cherokee. Unlocking the doors with the clicker, she said under her breath as she slung the big bag across onto the passenger side floor, "This thing better start."

John followed her down the steps, saying, "Kate. Kate. Wait." As she went to get in the driver's side, he took her by the arm. "Stop." She could hear the would-be abductors' car engine, still running, seventy-five feet behind her. It had begun to knock, because the radiator was damaged in the crash, and the engine was beginning to overheat.

She turned to him, and broke his grasp with a flick of her wrist. Her expression was deadly serious. She controlled her volume, but her intensity knew no bounds. She screamed, quietly, through clenched teeth, "Galen, GET in the FUCKING CAR!" She turned again to the open door. John went around to the other side and got in. The car fired right up. Kate made an unhurried exit from the parking lot, turned right, and right again when she hit Montauk Highway, heading east.

 ###

 The old man was truly old -- over a hundred years old -- but he didn't look a day over seventy, and a healthy, youthful seventy at that. He eased down comfortably to the park bench, and looked out over Long Island Sound, hands on his knees. It was one of those days when the sky and sea were an azure monochrome backdrop of the big picture, and yet the star of it; the water speckled with shimmering late-morning diamonds. To the initiated, the sky spoke by cloud symbols of the science of water, air, wind, and light, radiant and spectral. And of things to come.

To his left and somewhat behind him, under a great oak, sat a shiny red pickup -- one of those muscular-looking, too-tall ones -- parked in shade. Behind it by about fifty feet, not under the tree, Sean's 1960 Ford half-ton. Built like a truck. No plastic. Maybe a little -- the radio knobs. The distributor cap. Original green paint, in pretty good shape. There was a spot worn through the paint where he'd rested his arm all these years, when the window was down. He'd owned it fifty-five years, since it was a baby. The bed's patina spoke of fifty-plus years of minor bumps and bruises from gravel, fishing gear, tools, and dog paws, plus one sizable dent reminding the owner of a panic stop and an outboard motor.

Sean didn't do flashy; he was quiet in all his ways. Didn't like to draw attention to himself. So he wasn't going to buy one of those current models. There wasn't one of any make or model that he cared for. Trouble was that his old truck, which ran perfectly, and which he liked just fine, was such a classic by now that it did draw attention to him. Just yesterday, he had a young fellow offer to buy it at a gas station. Maybe he could find a gently used '91 or something.

An acorn dropped from the tree onto the roof of the shiny red truck with a surprisingly loud thump. Sean Donnelly turned a little on the bench to see it, and watched it roll off to the street, over on the passenger side. Before long, another acorn dropped into the bed, and another  followed immediately onto the hood, with a sharp thud.

A Lincoln pulled up behind Sean's bench, and a rear door opened. The old man didn't turn, as he normally did. He heard muffled words exchanged between the boy and his mom (who was Sean's daughter) and there was probably a kiss in there somewhere. The boy got out and closed the door, and the driver pulled away.

Theodore (they called him Ted) picked up right away on his grandfather's unusual stillness, and came around the bench, and sat beside him. "Whatcha doin', grandpa?"

"Shhh," the old man said. Without moving his eyes from the tree canopy, he said, "I'm concentrating. I'm willing that acorn to fall on that red truck."

Ted didn't know what to make of that, so he just sat quietly. "Which acorn?" he finally said.

"That one right there. You see that triangular spot where the sky shines through?"

"Yes."

"Right there. Near the top of that, at two o'clock. Now let me concentrate."

Ted waited.

Thump! An acorn fell and hit the hood. Ted's eyes grew wide as Sean turned to look at him, with a grin. Ted's mouth opened.

After a moment, Ted's eyes narrowed again. "Let me try," he said, and leaned forward, scrunching his hands between his knees.

The old man said, "Now, you have to pick just one. Are you looking at just one?"

"Yes," the boy said. "Let me concentrate." A moment later, an acorn fell into the bed of the pickup, and Ted looked up at his grandfather triumphantly. Beaming.

Sean tousled the boy's red hair. "You're pretty smart for eleven years old."

The boy simply stood and faced his grandfather, and put his hand on his shoulder.

"Ready to go fishing?" Sean asked. Ted nodded, but kept his hand on the old man's shoulder.

"When confronted with a superior enemy," the boy said, "consider projecting a power you do not have."

Sean listened until the boy finished, then laughed -- a quiet laugh, but it came from deep within him. He tousled Ted's hair again.

"You quote me back to myself!" he said, with delight. "I think I wrote that more than fifty years ago!" He looked beyond the boy to the Sound. "Much more. Hmm." He wondered when the last time was that he was confronted by a superior enemy. "Okay," he said softly. "The snappers are waiting!"

Sean stood up and started walking with the boy to his truck. "Actually," Sean muttered, "I think Liam wrote that one."

"It's in the Wisdom," the boy said, sauntering alongside.

"We wrote that for your uncles, Teddy-boy. And for you."

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3. TIME’s Best Books of 2015 So Far

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4. KCRW to Run Storytelling Contest

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5. Allyn Johnston: Editors Panel—What Hooks Me

Following Mem Fox's charming and entertaining keynote, #LA15SCBWI offered a dazzling editors panel, which included Allyn Johnston of Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. 

Johnston's passion for compelling picture books shines through clearly as she speaks. For her, a compelling picture book is one that she will want to read again and over again when finished—"a fresh voice with an irrestible readaloud quality."


If you want to capture her attention, send a manuscript with a fresh take on a universal theme—something that will give her goosebumps, cause an emotional reaction. And be sure to leave room for a lot of illustrations. "Most manuscipts that I receive don't do that," Johnston says.

Almost choked up, Johnston recalled receiving an amazing manuscript from Liz Garton ScanlonALL THE WORLD. The book stopped Johnston in her tracks, and she immediately called upon illustrator Marla Frazee


Manuscripts that turn her off, "books that are so-what, ho-hum." 




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6. How to know when to leave your agent


Not sure what's in the air these days (well, besides nitrogen, oxygen, argon, and the smell of hot dogs seriously where is that coming from), but I've heard from several authors who are wondering whether it is time for them to leave their agent.

Also, I realize that this sounds like a lofty problem for the agent-less, the equivalent of a mansion owner wondering if they should get a new pool to replace the one they have, but I would encourage you all to read this post as well, not only because you may have an agent someday, but also I'm hoping to lay out some of the things you should and shouldn't expect of an agent.

Leaving an agent is a really tough decision, and one you absolutely should not take lightly. You are forgoing an advocate, you could possibly be burning a bridge, and it's incredibly important to act as rationally and non-emotionally as possible. But sometimes it's the right decision.

So. How do you know if you should leave? I'm going to divide this up into good reasons and bad reasons. A HUGE caveat is that every situation is different and you ultimately have to choose the best path for you.

Bad reason: Your agent couldn't sell your book.

Even the best agents strike out sometimes. This doesn't make them a bad agent. Sometimes it just doesn't happen with the first book. If they made a good faith effort to submit it, they did the best they could and it just didn't happen, and they still believe in you, that alone is not a very good reason to leave.

Yes, some agents have more clout than others, but the book itself and serendipity are way more powerful than any agent. If you like your agent and they just couldn't sell your book, I wouldn't hold it against them.

Good reason: Your agent has behaved unprofessionally or unethically

It can be so tricky for authors on the outside to know what constitutes unprofessional and/or unethical in a business that can feel very opaque. Especially one that tolerates a level of eccentricity that would make Edward Scissorhands feel awkward.

But if you find that your agent is being shady or doing something headslappingly bad like blasting your manuscript to 50 editors all at once on the same email thread, have a heart to heart. If they don't have an explanation that satisfies you, you may have your answer.

Bad reason: Your agent doesn't write or call you back immediately

You're not your agent's only client. Days are busy. You have one book to worry about, an agent is juggling dozens.

Give it some time. Be patient. Remember that snails look at publishing and think, "Whoa dudes let's pick up the pace, huh?"

That said...

Good reason: Your agent has gone incommunicado.

You should be able to get in touch with your agent. Maybe not immediately, but within a reasonable time frame. This is actually a very good thing to establish from the outset -- how quickly should be reasonable for responses?

If you try and try and try to get in touch with your agent and you just can't get in touch with them, you may have a problem on your hands.

Bad reason: You want to leave without being transparent about your concerns and giving your agent a chance to respond.

Good relationships depend on trust and communication. If you have concerns, express them. Your agent should appreciate your honesty and have good answers for you.

Especially when so much happens outside of view, and especially because you may not have insight into the customs of the industry, what can seem totally strange at first blush can make much more sense when your agent explains it.

Don't let things linger. If you're concerned, speak up.

Good reason: Your gut is telling you it's time to go.

You've expressed your concerns.

You have given your agent a chance to respond.

You listened to their response in good faith.

You have let some time go by.

You have gotten feedback and perspective from other knowledgable people.

You have reflected.

You aren't taking this decision lightly in the slightest.

You still think it's time to go.

Okay. It's your career. You have to make your choices. If you have acted in good faith, listened, and you just think it's time, it may well be time.

Art: The Signal by William Powell Frith

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7. ‘Snow Queen’ Becomes The First Russian Animated Feature Released in China

Chinese distributor Flame Node is also expected to co-produce Wizart's "Snow Queen 3: Fire and Ice."

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8. Walden Award Winner Announced for 2015--Yay, A.S.!

I was thrilled (as many of you no doubt were as well) to see that A.S. King's latest Glory O'Brien's History of the Future was announced as this year's winner of the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award. There were some pretty amazing finalists, too:... Read the rest of this post

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9. 100 Bicycles

Here's another of my current projects and obsessions. I'm not entirely sure where it came from but it's quickly taken over. Bikes, bikes and more bikes.
 It probably really took hold when I visited the Eroica Britannia festival this year. It's a festival and celebration of cycling. The cyclists ride through the gorgeous Peak District on pre 1987 bikes. So lots of wonderful vintage, classic and iconic bikes to look at and draw.
 The thing, I find with bikes is they are not easy to draw. With all their angles and proportions and round wheels and whatnot, they are difficult little blighters. But I love the challenge of something difficult. Once you get to grips with it and start getting it right there's a great feeling of satisfaction.
So, I think that's where this all started. The bike thing. I always remember reading, when I first started drawing, that you've never really got the handle on drawing something until you've drawn it a hundred times. Now I'd probably agree with that.
 And so in September I'll be holding an exhibition, with a friend of mine artist Kate Yorke, called 100 Bicycles. Yes, the title pretty much explains it. We'll be exhibiting one hundred bicycle drawings. Sketches mainly.
I really can't stop. I really mustn't stop. And while I'm loving it why stop? I'm adding some of these sketches to my Etsy shop at very reasonable prices (cheap!) so if you're into bicycles grab yourself a bargain HERE. You'd better hurry though, they're going quick!
 PLUS, for this weekend only, anyone who purchases my Andrea Joseph Bumper Pack will get a FREE bicycle sketch. Check that out HERE.

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10. The Editors' Panel Begins!

#LA15SCBWI Editors' Panel underway


From Right to Left:

Moderator Wendy Loggia, executive editor at Delacorte Press/Random House Children's Books (primarily MG and YA)

Jordan Brown, executive editor with Walden Pond Press and Balzer + Bray at HarperCollins Children's Books

Allyn Johnston, vice president and publisher of Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

Rotem Moscovich, senior editor at Disney-Hyperion

Sara Sargent, executive editor at HarperCollins Children's Books

Julie Strauss-Gabel, vice president and publisher of Dutton Children's Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers

Alison Weiss, editor at Sky Pony Press

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11. Round and Round

I hate that little circle
That goes round and round and round.
Impatiently I stare at it
'Til what it seeks is found.

And what exactly does it seek?
A signal from the air?
Permission from the carrier
To show me what is there?

There must be some sadistic dude
Who's pulling all the strings
And laughing at my plight
With the frustration that it brings.

The internet, when working,
Has the world at its command
But its slowness to connect
I simply cannot understand.

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12. Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer Star in Behind The Trees Video

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13. Mem Fox Keynote: Inside the Writer's Head: The Writerly Thoughts that Lead to Success

Lovely Mem, the best
readalouder in the Universe!
Mem Fox is here! If you haven't read her wonderful picture books, you are missing out, and you ALSO must read her fantastic book, Reading Magic.

Lin calls her, "the best, single creator in the picture book world."

"In any good story, there's a beginning, a middle, and an end, and only one of two themes: either a quest; or a stranger comes to town. This morning, I am the stranger."

Mem acknowledges the illustrators in the room, she says we all know a successful picture book is a half and half affair. But she says the rest of the morning is all about Mem.

Mem reads Hattie and the Fox, and the audience plays the part of the cow. We are really good at it.


Instead of a mic drop, Mem has perfected the book drop

Mem tells us a little bit of her origin story, it's very similar to Wonder Woman's, but includes taking children's literature courses.

"I know far too much about children's books now to write with any comfort."

Mem knows she will have to read the whole book out loud, over and over again to check for any number of literary sins she has committed.

Mem knows whatever picturebook story warms the hearts of adults will probably be the same picturebook story that makes children want to throw up.


Mem talks about how a good picture book that has a subject that resonates for a child has to be something the author has felt or experienced first. Mem reads Wilfred Gordon MacDonald Partridge for us, something that came out of her first visit to her 90-year-old grandfather. She then reads The Magic Hat for us.

When Mem writes a book, she keeps four different children in mind:
"One is on my lap, a tiny kid. One is sitting by me on a couch. One is snuggled up in bed, the last is in a crowd of children, listening to a teacher read my story aloud."

"I am aware in my position as a children's book creator that I am a
brain developer and a developer of speech, an artist who paints with words, a musician who makes words sing. I can kindle an interest in reading, or kill it.

The responsibility is so overwhelming that I can walk away from a draft for months."

Word choice: Don't choose an interesting or difficult word just to be different, choose the right word, and don't dumb down your word choice to patronize to children, Mem mentions Tomi Ungerer's The Beast of Monsieur Racine. 

Mem is going to talk about rhythm! The audience can't wait. If you aren't here, do yourself a favor and grab Reading Magic and read that, and watch or listen to Mem reading:


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14. Alison Weiss: Editors' Panel

Alison Weiss of Sky Pony Press
Alison Weiss is an editor at Sky Pony Press (and was for six-and-a-half years before that was an editor at Egmont). She focuses on chapter books through YA. Her authors include Jessica Verday, the bestselling author of Of Monsters and Madness; Agatha Award winner Penny Warner; YALSA-award-winner Sarah Cross; Micol Ostow, and many more wonderful authors.

A fun fact about Alison: She comes from Sleepy Hollow (for real!).

Voice is essential to projects she takes on, but it's easier to sell a book if it has a killer plot.

What would be your dream submission?

She's looking for books that change her perspective on the world. It can be big or it can be small and subtle. This is the kind of book that has a long-lasting impact of readers.

What she admires: 

The best writing is effortless. It looks like it's so simple, and you can't see all of the hard work that's behind it all. She wants to be sucked into a world and feel lost in it.

What tips the balance on submissions: 

Editors get a lot of submissions. When she sees a problem and knows how she would fix it, that's more likely to be a project she'll take to acquisitions. If she loves it and sees problems that baffle her, it's less likely to go through.

The relationship between writers and editors is vital, and writers shouldn't fear talking to their editor to work through manuscript challenges.

The book she wishes she'd published:

Ruta Sepetys's Out of the Easy.

Follow her on twitter at @alioop7. 

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15. Happy 50th Birthday J.K. Rowling, Happy 35th Harry!

Today marks a mile stone of great celebration for our most beloved author. As Jo Rowling turns 50 today, we all feel like the entire world should be celebrating just wizards celebrated Harry’s victory over Voldemort (twice)! Celebrations that spill out into the streets, and make ignorant muggle folk ask “why?”.

J.K. Rowling told the Today Show last spring that she would indeed be celebrating her 50th birthday with family and friends. She did not cringe, as so many do, when asked about her age, but said it was a time of celebration, for the alternative to aging is “checking out,” and she had so much more like left to live. She updated her Twitter this morning, thanking everyone for the birthday messages; she is enjoying the sun (beach?) with her dog, family and friends…and some fans!

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We wish we were there to celebrate with her, too!

Today, many honor all of the great deeds Rowling has accomplished in her life thus far. We also celebrate all of the greatness yet to come. Entertainment Weekly posted a list of the 50 reasons they love Jo, and we quite agree. (Digital Spy supplemented 9 also very valid reasons to love our Harry Potter author.)

For item #20, EW included a 60 Minutes video of Jo from many, many years ago, posted by Leaky (with the old leakynews.com address stamped in the corner). Here are a few of our favorites out of their list of 50 amazing Jo moments:

1. She does not suffer bullies.

2) She’s funny. Her Twitter feed is rife with sly humor, whether she’slaughing at herself for typos, rolling along with followers’ jokes orgetting exasperated by Harry Potter rumors.

3) She’s filling in the Potter story on Pottermore.

4) She gives huge donations to charity (so much that it knocked her off Forbes’ billionaires list).

In 2012, Jo donated an estimated $160 million, and paid all of her hefty taxes (supporting the economy and government of her home country, rather than hiding money in off shore bank accounts). How can you not love her for that?

5) She touts great social causes on social media. As just one example, she recently tweeted support for imprisoned Saudi Arabian blogger Reif Badawi and Ireland’s legalization of gay marriage.

7) She’s kind to her fans, and always seems ready to answer their questions, no matter how random or specific.

8) She admits she made mistakes in the books!

13) She cares about children in need. In 2004, she founded the organization Lumos, to help children who have been unfairly institutionalized get better care.

15) She did her research when coming up with the names of spells (she looked at alchemy, the history of languages, etc.)

She did the same for wands, names of characters, and book titles!

17) She supports Hufflepuffs and has written on Pottermore that she thinks they’re the best.

20) She’s a great artist. Although all the editions of Harry Potter have used other illustrators, Rowling’s not bad at sketching her own characters. Recently, an annotated version of Sorcerer’s Stone with Rowling’s sketches was auctioned for charity.

24) She’s invited die-hard fans to her house.

26) She never talks down to her readers.

27) She proved anyone can take control of their life. At one time, Rowling has said, she was “literally as poor as you can get in Britain without being homeless.” Thanks to work ethic and imagination, she went on to become a celebrated author.

30) She’s completely mastered Twitter, and for someone who very rarely makes public appearances, she makes herself accessible to her followers.

34) She hasn’t read50 Shades of Grey

36) She once gave the best commencement speech we’ve ever heard.

38) She says that she’d want to be sorted into Gryffindor (and specifically answered Pottermore questions so she’d be sorted that way).

46) She owns a “Horcruxes Got Soul” t-shirt

49) She’s fighting to save the BBC.

50) She made Hogwarts tuition-free and subsidized by the Ministry of Magic so all witches and wizards could attend. Imagine if the Weasleys hadn’t been able to afford it!

Please read and enjoy the entire list on EW. Time magazine also decided to do something special for J.K. Rowling’s birthday. In honor of the 17 years it took her to complete one of the best (if not THE best) books series in the world, Time contacted 17 Harry Potter actors, and asked them to write brief birthday messages to Jo.

Many of them are absolutely hilarious, Matt Lewis and Natalia Tena’s messages are rather long and touching. Evanna’s was by far the longest, and she shared her experience of meeting Jo for the first time. These and many more can be read on the Time’s website. We have shared a few, short funny ones; take a look below:

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As it is well known, it is also Harry Potter’s birthday today. Harry turns 35. Working as head Auror (and the youngest to ever attain the position, at age 26) for Kingsley Shakelbolt’s Ministry of Magic, Harry continues to make defeating evil apart of his daily work. Harry is happily married, and a family man. He and Ginny will be sending their youngest, Albus Severus off to Hogwarts in a couple years.

Harry is forever the heart of the wizarding community and the wizarding world as we know it. His story will forever be a part of our lives–in our imaginations and in real life. We honor Harry today for his bravery, loyalty, and goodness. Just like his creator (Jo), his large heart shows goodness in small ways, as well as large.

Today, we not only honor the character who saved the wizarding world, but who also ensured Severus Snape’s portrait hung in the Headmaster’s office, made peace and acquaintanceship with Draco Malfoy, and occasionally has mini-family reunions with Dudley.

A Harry Potter fan on staff at the Telegraph wrote her own personal anecdote as to how Harry would be celebrating his birthday today. Not unlike his creator, he is happily surrounded by family and friends. Alice Vincent writes for the Telegraph:

It’s the summer holidays now, so James, Albus and Lily are all back home. Before he’s even able to put on his wire-framed, round glasses, Harry is woken up by them. Specifically, he’s woken up by a floating cake – a fun charm by Ginny, who has inherited her mother’s impressive domestic skills. Unfortunately, it brings back unpleasant memories for Harry, who at 15 risked expulsion from Hogwarts, after Dobby the House Elf dropped a cake on a family friend (an illegal use of underage magic for which he must take responsibility).

Thankfully, he is swiftly distracted by a flurry of owls, descendents of his beloved Hedwig, who died during his final year. They are delivering parcels from his friends, Hermione and Ron, now a married couple with two children, Hagrid, and his in-laws, Molly and Arthur Weasley.

Later, after Harry’s spent the day dealing with dark magical forces – and admin – they’ll all meet up at 12 Grimmauld Place for a bit of a party.

The Scamanders, [Rolf] and Luna (née Lovegood) and their twins Lorcan and Lysander, will be in attendance, along with Neville and Hannah Longbottom and some friends from the Ministry of Magic. As deputy head of Department of Magical Law Enforcement, it can be difficult for Hermione to get away from work. But she’s made an exception this evening, as Ron is bringing along the newest stock from the family joke shop, Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes, and the newest generation of Weasleys, Hugo and Rose, want to see their cousins.

Perhaps surprisingly, Harry keeps contact with his own cousin, Dudley. A birthday card arrived by Muggle post just this morning, with a rather perfunctory message.

When the celebrations are over, Harry will get back to what he usually does in his free time: flying around with his children.

In a less sentimental, in true standup-comedy fashion, Jimmy Fallon acknowledged Harry’s birthday with a “Drunk Ron Weasley” segment. The video can be seen on the Tonight Show’s Facebook page. Pottermore also tweeted a list of Harry’s best and worst birthday gifts over the years.

It is a day for cakes, Butterbeer, and Weasley Wizard Weazes. A collaboration of food artists have come together to bake a collection of sweets for the occasion. The group calls themselves “Birthday Mischief Managed.” Newswire reported:

The group, founded in July 2014, proudly honors some of the world’s most esteemed personalities and award winning artists in the food industry. Audiences may recognize work styles and faces of the participants from hit television series and competitions Cake Boss: Next Great Baker, Sugar Dome, Cake Wars, Ultimate Cake Off, Outrageous Chocolate, Halloween Wars, and more. Each member was asked to join based on their fanatic for the project and to “dress” for the occasion!

To celebrate J.K. Rowling’s birthday on July 31st, which coincidentally is Harry Potter’s birthday, the members of the group chose locations inspired by the books, movies, and Pottermore. Members were given artistic freedom to create original edible fan art celebrating or jinxing the birthdays of J.K. and Harry. An added challenge included incorporating 1-3, twists, “Easter Eggs” for J.K. and fans to find. Some of the sentiments include J.K.’s birthstone, birth month and favorite flowers (the Larkspur and Lily), and an orange support ribbon in memory of her mother.

Birthday creations by food artists and young fans can be see on their website. Maybe some of their Harry Potter themed desserts will inspire you to create your own!

We hope many of you will be throwing your own Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling birthday parties. All those celebrating with Melissa Anelli at GeekyCon have officially made July 31 “Geek Day” in Orange County, FL. Please share with us how you are celebrating today, and please join us in wishing J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter a very happy birthday!

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16. March?!

My last post was in... March?!

My apologies for the lack of blog posts! I don't know what could possibly be taking up all of my time these days.


No really, I have no idea.


ANYway, I am now on Twitter, and I do hope you'll follow me as I am doing a better job at staying active there.

In the meantime, some images to share! Here is the cover for my newest graphic novel, coming out in February 2016! Yippeee!



And here's a sketch from the interior. Hint: trouble is brewing in the cafeteria.


This graphic novel is for younger readers than the audience for ROLLER GIRL, and writing it has been a much different experience. If I had to describe the experience in one word, it would be "fun". If I were given 3 words, they would be "fun, fun, fun". That is why I decided to become an author- my command of the English language.

I hope your summer has been fun, fun, fun as well! 

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17. Happy Friday!

Just because it's Friday, here's a collection of yummy strawberries for you, drawn with colour pencils on a watercolour background wash.

 


...and an early morning sketch I did while soaking up some vitamin D in the early morning sun 
Have a great weekend!

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18. Julie Strauss-Gabel: Editors' Panel

Julie Strauss-Gabel is the vice president and publisher of Dutton Children's Books, a boutique imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group specializing in middle grade and young adult novels.

What makes a compelling hook?

It comes down to voice for Julie. It's the only thing that's going to push her forward from page to page. She's looking to be surprised, and for something that she never thought possible but then a writer pulls off beautifully.

Have you ever been hooked by a voice but there's not a lot of plot going on?

There's a difference between a plot that's not working and a plot that doesn't exist. If there's something about the plot that's not working, it's a problem Julie can work on with the writer. If there's voice but nothing else, she'll likely pass but still be interested in seeing more from the writer.

What is your dream submission (the qualities)?

Julie only works on middle grade and young adult books.

A sense of subversive humor will often keep Julie reading, especially if the story is personal and difficult. She also can't resist a book that she can't help but think and talk about.

Is there a book that hooked you on page one and it all ended well?

Julie says she admires when she sees someone taking a risk on the page, and even if it's not working, it often makes her want to work with them in order to make it work.

"Ambition and risk in a project are going to always invest me in being a better editor..."

When Julie is considering a manuscript she also looks at the books on her shelf, and asks herself it belongs on the shelf. Does live up to the titles? Does it add to them?

What's one of your most recent acquisitions that you are excited about?

Aaron Starmer's latest is his debut into young adult, and it's a book that Julie wanted nothing more than to get it. It's a book that's blackly funny with the true essence of being at that last point before everything changes in your life.

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19. 2015 annual conference in Los Angeles: opening remarks and stats on attendance

It's a tradition of Lin Oliver's to tell us a few statistics about conference attendance as we kick these events off.

This year is the biggest ever—1,173 attendees:

  • 437 of us are published
  • 736 are pre-published
  • We come from 19 countries including U.S., Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, Egypt, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, South Africa, Spain
  • We come from 48 states—this year both North and South Dakota are represented (finally!). West Virginia and New Hampshire didn't send anyone. 
Some of the more unusual occupations in the crowd are bookkeepers, carpool coordinators, waiters, a choreographer, trucker, opera singer, bonsai artist, and dealing in international small arms (doll arms, mostly).

The show is now officially on the road.

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20. Ex-Nick Exec Rich Magallanes Rebounds At Saban Brands

Magallanes will oversee properties like "Popples," "Luna Petunia," and "Emojiville" in his new role.

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21. SCBWI Staff chimes in with their words!

Tagging onto the end of the faculty word parade, Lin has the SCBWI office staff introduce themselves!



From right to left, Lin Oliver (SCBWI's Executive Director), Kim Turrisi (Director of Special Projects), at the podium, Sara Rutenberg (Chief Operating Officer and Conference Coordinator), Kayla Heinen (Asst. Conference Coordinator), Sarah Diamond (Administrative Assistant), Brandon Clarke (Logistics Coordinator), Joshua Smith (Webmaster and Database Manager) and Sally Crock (who says she's 'retired' but still does SO much for SCBWI!)

Brandon and Joshua share the final words, the send off for an awesome conference ahead:

ROCK YOU!

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22. Jordan Brown and Sara Sargent: Editors' Panel

What Hooks Jordan and Sara?



Jordan Brown is an executive editor with the imprints Walden Pond Press and Balzer + Bray at HarperCollins Children’s Books

Highlights from Jordan:

He asks himself, "What kind of books do kids need?" and "What kinds of things are desperately important to kids growing up today?"

Jordan is looking for books that "expand a kid's capacity for empathy." Characters who aren't all white, cis-gendered, characters who are different from readers.

Questions to ask ourselves as writers: "What does our character lack? What's their wound?"

He advises that "plot is intrinsically tied to character."

And he's looking for a narrator telling him a story, "a story that needs to get out."

Jordan also explains how the decision process works for him, and much more...




Sara Sargent is an executive editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books, where she acquires picture book, middle grade, and young adult fiction.

Highlights from Sara:

Sara edits books for the same reason she reads them: "escapism"

She's excited about re-imagined fairy tales, is really into fantasy and likes stories that are

romantic

fantastical, and

transportive.

She's looking, for even on the first page, a "feeling of being well taken care of." That the author has a mastery of language. An atmosphere that immediately envelopes her in the world.

Sara also speaks of the challenge of not editing something into the familiar, allowing projects to keep the unique thing about them that captured her in the first place.





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23. Faculty Word Parade

Gouda Morning!

Some of the words have been

grace

curiouser

preparation (the H is silent)

bookstore

breath

empower

and

supercalifragilisticexpialicaffeine.

Lin, the Beach Lane ladies Allyn and Lauren, Emma Dryden, Laurent Linn, and more!



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24. The World's Most Wonderful Rotem Moscovich: Editors Panel

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Rotem is a senior editor at Disney Hyperion and the bee's knees.

Her answer to the question, what makes a compelling book is: "Emotional connection, whether picture book or novel. And how is this book different? A new voice, or point of view? Does it impress me?

Dream project? Rotem says: Really want to find a middle grade novel that makes you cry... and is happy, like Anne of Green Gables. For picture books it has to be AWESOME.

Wendy asks if there was a book that hooked you from the beginning and went on to do well in the market/critically?

Hook's Revenge by Heidi Schulz is the book that comes to mind first for Rotem, and she's happy to announce the sequel will be out in September.


What's the difference to you in a project where you acquire it, but it needs a lot of work, vs. a project you don't accept?

"It's having the vision of how to help the author make a book sing. The book has to go to the right editor and the right house, it's an alchemy."

A book you wish you could have worked on? Rotem says, Dory Fantasmagory, it's hilarious.



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25. #LA15SCBWI New Attendees Orientation



New to the conference? You are not alone. There are more than 400 new attendees at the #LA15SCBWI—so no worries.! Longtime conference goer, writer Jolie Stekly kicked off the day with a New Attendees Orientation, schooling newbies on getting the most out of the weekend. And, boy, there was a lot of laughter—she had 'em cracking up! Secret: BIRD is the word, though you have to be here to be in on that secret. 

• Be yourself! There is room for everyone and know that you don't have to compete with anyone here. Relax. Get to know someone. Have fun!

•Don't get overwhelmed. There are many choices for sessions and keynotes. You don't have to do everything. And don't be afraid to take a break.

• Don't make the weekend about editors and agents only. There are many aspiring and published authors and illustrators at this conference. Take advante of who is sitting next to you. Introduce yourself.

• Set yourself up for success: Think of three goals that you know are achievable—and go for it!

Now, go have fun!


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