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1. Don’t wait for your Muse. Be there every day & eventually she'll start showing up.

 

I love what Stephen King said about not waiting for one's Muse to show up.

“Don't wait for the muse. As I've said, he's a hardheaded guy who's not susceptible to a lot of creative fluttering. This isn't the Ouija board or the spirit-world we're talking about here, but just another job like laying pipe or driving long-haul trucks. Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you're going to be every day from nine 'til noon. or seven 'til three. If he does know, I assure you that sooner or later he'll start showing up.”

- Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

The comic above is also available as an Unhappy Muse greeting card in my online card shop.

0 Comments on Don’t wait for your Muse. Be there every day & eventually she'll start showing up. as of 9/2/2015 10:13:00 AM
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2. Diving Headfirst Into the Query Trenches

Guys. Queries are hard. This is an undisputed fact of the agent-acquiring process. These days a lot of agents ask for the first 5-30 pages of your manuscript when you query, because it’s so much easier to tell if a story is good by reading, well, the actual story. But the query is the hook—the bait that gets the agent past that first page and into your story.

I read queries on the daily. A lot of them. As a literary assistant, it’s one of my many responsibilities. I need to be able to tell, just from that one page, if your book is something the agent and I will want to read. I need to see just how I would pitch it to an editor. And I need to see that you know your stuff. Have you done your research? Or did you scribble off a quick note and hit SEND ALL?

The queries that stand out are either very good, or very bad. But there are a lot of queries that get stuck in the middle—that strange wasteland of almost-there, but just not quite. Chances are, a lot of you are in that boat. Most of us, even those who have agents, have written blah query letters. And I know PubCrawlers are smart. You have done your research, much of it on this very website. I don’t need to tell you not to send attachments, or not to write your bio in the third person. I don’t need to tell you not to call your manuscript a future bestseller, the most unique piece of fiction ever written, a story that will apply to all of the audiences that ever existed!

So I’m not going to talk about the basics. You guys KNOW the basics. I’m going to talk about those little things that maybe don’t seem problematic at first glance. But fixing these can go a long way toward helping the viability of your query overall

1. Don’t start your letter with all the details about how you came to write this book.

Writing is exciting. How you came to be a writer is exciting. The fact that it’s your first, or second, or millionth novel ever is exciting. But they are most exciting to you—in a query, these things clog up your first paragraph and waste valuable space. Before he or she has ever met you or read your work, an agent doesn’t care how you got started writing. As much as it matters to you (and it does matter!), it’s best to leave it out. It will not change how he or she feels about your story.

2. Be careful creating “atmosphere” before launching into your hook.

It can feel gimmicky. Unless your setting is basically a character itself, it’s best to stay away from this method. For example:

Castle Pelimere is deep and dark, inhabited by angry spirits and on the verge of certain doom. For a hundred years it has stood, and now, thanks to the Everlasting Nothing that has circled its walls for centuries, it is all about to come crashing down.

Jody Brody is a teenage pickpocket with no other skills and no other prospects. When Castle Pelimere needs a hero, Jody steps up to the plate.

I know, I know—this is a very obvious example. But it serves the point—character is story, and when I’m scanning through queries, I’m more interested in Jody Brody the pickpocket than the plight of Castle Pelimere.

3. Don’t relate two unrelated ideas in your hook.

You would be shocked how often I see this. Shocked, I tell you. An example:

Marty Schmarty is not your typical jock—he’s been taking ballet since before he could walk, and he’s better than half the girls in his class. But when he’s offered a football scholarship to his dream school, he learns what it really means to be part of a team.

Again, another extreme example. But writing a good hook is a huge part of the battle when it comes to queries. A good hook can make me perk up and pay attention. In this case, the writer has written something that “sounds hooky” and “adds character”. It makes me pay attention—then has no pay-off. Marty’s a pro at ballet, and this is set up as a key quality—then is not mentioned again.

4. Be confident…to a point.

There is nothing wrong with being proud of the story you wrote. It takes a huge amount of confidence to query a book (we’re all writers here, we can admit this). But it’s not up to you to decide whether your writing is of the same caliber as authors you have emulated or been inspired by, or if it’s beautifully lyrical or powerful and gritty—that is for your readers, and that includes any agents you are querying, to decide.

5. Be wary of the false choice.

Technically, a false choice refers to a situation where two choices are given as the only possible option—even though more choices may be viable. In this case, I’m using to describe it as a situation given in a query, wherein a character has what appear to be two choices—but only one of those choices is actually viable. Still with me?

Okay, so you’ve laid out your hook, given a short synopsis, and now it’s time to present the dramatic question. Your character must do x or y. But when you present a false choice, it becomes clear right away which path your character will and must choose. At first glance, it isn’t always clear you’ve presented a false choice. For example:

Jake must choose between saving the woman he loves from the mob and escaping to the Bahamas, or turning himself in and confessing to his crimes, even if it means her death.

Maybe turning himself in might be the right thing to do, but unless this is a morality play, the choice here is not actually black and white. When questions like this are presented at the end of a query, I can’t help but roll my eyes—I know what Jake is going to do. He’s going to choose the Bahamas. And if he doesn’t, then you need to do a fantastic job of setting up the why within your query. Again, the above is extreme example, but I encourage you to take a look at the stakes in your own query and find out whether what you’ve presented is a real dilemma, or a false choice. I want the questions you present to make me go, “MUST READ AND FIND OUT THE ANSWER!”

So the gist of these suggestions comes out to: Make me want to read your book. Seriously, give me no other option. You wrote a whole book. You know how to put words together on a page—this is just a different kind of writing. One that forces you to think about how to condense what you’ve written, and lay it out in a way that is tight and enticing. I promise you—it is doable. It’s hard, it’s often confusing, and sometimes it can take multiple drafts to get right. But it can be done!

I hope this is useful, and I wish everyone who is currently writing their query, Good Luck!

by our very own Erin Bowman!

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3. Index Card of Power

Hi, everyone! It’s Stacey here, with fellow pub-crawler, Stephanie Garber to talk about surviving the grueling journey that is known as publishing.

Getting published is an exercise in patience and perseverance. It is a punishing, bone-wearying journey comparable to climbing up a fog-covered mountain. Each step is an effort and though you know you will eventually reach the top, you don’t know when, or whether you will run out of juice before you get there. (And even when you do reach the top, you might find that the view up there isn’t enough, and that there are even more mountains to climb beyond.)

Stacey: Fifteen years ago, my older sister shared with me the power of the index card. At the time, she was single, thirty-ish, and had been looking for Mr. Right for a long time. At church, her pastor gave a sermon on how God wanted us to have the things we wanted. He suggested listing these wants on an index card, in specific terms, and then letting God take care of the rest.

So my sister wrote down ten things she was looking for in a Mr. Right, qualities as specific as “a healthcare professional,” “Chinese American,” “patient,” and “at least four inches taller than me.” Hey, if you’re going to wish, might as well include everything. After writing them down, she tucked away the card, and stopped worrying.

Within the year, she was engaged to a man with all ten of the attributes she had listed.

Because I am a skeptic and generally a suspicious person, I chalked it up to luck, and thought nothing more of it. I was just happy for her and her new husband (who, it should be noted, is an amazing brother-in-law.)

Fast forward. When Under a Painted Sky went on sub, I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy journey. My agent informed me that it would take a year to sell if it sold at all—editors weren’t clamoring to buy historical fiction. As rejections piled up, I happened to have lunch with a friend, who was finally in her third trimester of pregnancy, after a decade of unsuccessful fertility treatments.

When I asked her how she had come by this miracle, she revealed that she had gone to this new-agey seminar about the power of the index card. To my surprise, she told me she had been advised to write down, in very specific terms, her wish. She wrote that she wanted a baby girl, and stopped worrying.

Within two months, she was pregnant. With a girl.

I decided maybe there was something to the power of the index card that seemed to work for both believers and non-believers alike, and even if there wasn’t, what did I have to lose? It was better than fretting over something that was out of my control. I took out an index card.

The best part of the index card is that it gives you the power to let go of something not in your control to influence (and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t have to be on an index card). True, my sister couldn’t just sit at home and wait for Mr. Right to dig her out of the sofa, just as my friend couldn’t give up on doing that deed that leads to babies if she wanted to conceive.

Stephanie: Stacey told me this story last fall, when I was struggling with my writing.

I was on submission with a book I knew wouldn’t sell, and it was killing my creativity. I was putting all kinds of pressure on myself to produce something really good that would totally sell when I went on submission again, which is a terrible way to write.

So, after listening to Stacey’s story about the magic of the index card I decided to give it a shot. Instead of stressing over my hopes and dreams for this book I wrote them out on a piece of binder paper, and just that act alone taught me something interesting.

As I expressed all my hopes and wishes for this book, I didn’t say that I wanted to write a really good book—because really, what does that even mean? Instead I found myself writing things like, I hope to write a story that feels magical and mysterious. I want to keep readers guessing and sweep them into another world. I want this book to feel big and bright like Baz Luhrmann movie.

I’m not even sure I knew that I wanted to write all of those things until I put them on paper, but once I did, it was as if all my creativity flooded back. For some, I think using an index is an exercise in letting go. But for me this activity ended up showing me what I really wanted, and my true desire had nothing to do with pleasing editors and everything to do with writing a story for the sake of creating a certain type of experience for the reader.

Have you ever tried something like this? And if you haven’t, it might be worth giving it a shot.

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4. Cheap Villain Killin’

 

The death of a villain can inspire a wide range of emotions, from happiness and gratitude, to sorrow and remorse. I love me a good villain, and some of my favourite story moments are the amazing death scenes some villains are granted. That is, of course, assuming the death is indeed amazing and not an affront to their character arc. I am so in love with the closure of a good villain death that a bad one can ruin the entire story for me.

So without further ado, here are some pet peeves of mine: cheap villain death tropes I’d love to see gone forever, and how they can maybe be flipped around.

Accidental Death

Oftentimes a cheap villain death is the result of a deus ex machina: the hero doesn’t actually have the means to kill the villain because they’re too damn awesome, so the villain accidentally dies when they slip and fall off a cliff during the final fight. Unless the hero has actual control over how the villain dies, such as a clever plan to lure them to the edge, this is the cheapest of cheap deaths.

Accidental death can only work if the villain is immediately replaced by an even greater threat to the hero that has somehow been vaguely hinted at or foreshadowed beforehand so it doesn’t come out of nowhere. Perhaps they’re fighting on an active volcano that suddenly explodes and kills the villain. The foreshadowing is in the fact that it’s active, and the bigger threat is the indiscriminate firebombing and hot ash the hero now has to escape—bigger, because volcanoes don’t think, so the hero can’t guess what its next move might be. This will still feel a little cheap if it’s not well done, however, because as it’s your story, you can choose when the volcano blows, and choosing to kill an antagonist with a natural disaster over which the hero has no control is underwhelming. The other problem in this kind of scenario is that as soon as the hero is out of the volcano’s range, safety is within reach even if the volcano hasn’t been destroyed, compared to the hero still being in constant potential danger if the villain were still alive.

The only good kind of accidental death is when the new threat is worse than the old, it has an active agenda, and it’s not directly connected to the villain. In fact, in these situations, this big annoyance of mine can be totally turned around into something brilliant. If the new threat is something which even the old villain had no concept of, you’re not only effectively upping the ante by making the old villain look like a schoolyard bully, you’re also vastly expanding your universe. If you set up your story well, dropping hints here and there of all the possible people (or monsters) in such a way that a new threat is plausible, you can follow up the old villain with a new, terrifying and vast enemy that will make your hero feel incredibly small and will eventually make the victory that much sweeter. But in this case, the old villain isn’t the true villain of the story; they’re more of a stepping stone. And since stepping stones are not an ending but part of the journey, the old villain’s accidental death won’t feel cheap: it’ll lead to something bigger.

Convenient Stupidity

Death is also cheap when the villain’s intelligence is insulted. More than any, I hate this kind of death the most. If the villain is really smart, the hero’s going to have a hell of a time luring them to a cliff. Unless they have no choice, the odds that smart characters would willingly put themselves in dangerous positions are very low. There is nothing more frustrating than watching an otherwise remarkable and cerebral villain suddenly become a half-wit so that the hero can defeat them. Not to mention it makes the hero’s victory completely hollow. The most satisfying time to defeat an enemy is when their faculties are at full power, anyway. Why blunt their intellect if you’ve worked so hard to write them as smart, effectively making the reader anticipate an ending where they’re finally outsmarted?

The only time this convenient stupidity can be forgiven is in comedy. This kind of thing can make for a good punchline. However, it also relies on your story being a parody. Otherwise, it’s a glaring continuity error and an unfair way of treating both your villain and hero, because following the kill, the hero will develop a reputation of only being able to defeat enemies when they mysteriously become very weak.

Hubris

My final pet peeve is a classic villain trait: arrogance. It’s a frustrating reason for a villain’s death, mostly because it isn’t very original, but also because I have a personal bias toward villains that don’t think of themselves as unbeatable, since people act in more interesting ways if they think they’re being threatened. If we revisit the accidental death scenario, and consider again why it’s better for the new, bigger threat to have little to no connection to the old villain, another reason would be that if the new threat were the villain’s fault, their character becomes an archetype for hubris: “His ego made him blind,” “He thought he could control the strain.” This isn’t a terrible thing, but if manmade threats are the worst possible ones in your world, you could argue that you’re restricting yourself.

They also make for really annoying characters. The ones that yell “I’m invincible!” as they’re dying are pathetic, and I always thought they cast a shadow over the hero’s victory. Not to mention, defeating a villain whose fatal flaw is hubris tends to involve a formulaic take-down by people who ultimately come across as preachy and say things like “You can’t play God,” or “He flew too close to the sun.”

However, hubris can be a genuinely interesting character trait. And there are times when I really enjoy it. But I’ve noticed that every single one of those times, the hubris was something I discovered afterwards upon reflection; something that wasn’t told to me, but that I began to understand as I considered the story from start to finish. In other words, if you’re going to give your villain a god complex, no need to shout it from the hills. Subtlety is a pretty nice touch.

So there they are. Three massive and common villain death pet peeves of my very own. Obviously, they are tailored to my personal tastes. I’d love to hear yours.

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5. Return to Writing: Twelve Ways to Get Back on Track

The last few weeks have seen me getting back into writing full-time again, hence my long blog hiatus. And with writing comes, of course, editing and revising, and then revising again, and well, you know how it goes. An endless cycle of chop, change, doubt, re-organization, and finally having to say, "That's it! This book is FINISHED. No more edits until a copy editor tells me what to do." 

It wasn't easy to settle back into a writing routine. Most days I just wanted to go through my photos from Taiwan and play with watercolors. Fun ways to make the hours fly, but nothing that was going to get my WIP ready for a potential agent or publisher.

In order to instill some discipline into my writing life, I desperately needed to remind myself of all the things I've ever taught and encouraged my own writing students to do. (Sometimes you have to be your own teacher!) 


Grabbing a new dry erase board and pen, I made myself a flow chart listing the top 12 ways to get me and my manuscript back into the writing zone. Here's what I came up with:
  1. Focus. Boy, did I need this one. After Taiwan, my mind was a mess: I wanted to work on my novel, only to then want to write poetry, or work on a screenplay, or hey, what about that Young Adult thing in my filing cabinet, or no, a picture book might be even better. . . .  After several false starts, I knew this had to stop. I had to narrow my vision, forget about the other projects (they're all lined up in boxes ready to be tackled one at a time), and concentrate solely on the most important manuscript, the one I was working on before I went on my trip. That's it. Just one manuscript at a time.
  2. Mindfulness. Because I so desperately wanted that manuscript finished, I started to slash words, sentences, and paragraphs without thinking about how much work had gone into creating them. It seemed easier to toss phrases and pages that were bothering me rather than try to improve or rewrite them. After several hours of draconian "ruthless revising" I went back and retrieved all those toss-outs, learning that it was far better to savor each unwanted word, sentence, and paragraph until I knew how I could either fix or use them elsewhere in the story to their advantage.
  3. Brevity. That said, sometimes my choices were right. Less is better in a manuscript. Focusing with mindfulness, I looked for all the ways I could say what I wanted to say without having to say it twice or with too much description.
  4. Let go. It was imperative that I let go of everything that was blocking my way forward or eating my time: unrealistic expectations that I could be finished in a few days (leading to speed-editing); unnecessary shopping trips; housework that was simply routine and not because the house was dirty; and especially social media sites, including, unfortunately, my blog. It was hard, but I got so much done. And I'm back now!
  5. Ritual. For some people it's lighting a candle before they start work, or choosing a favorite pen. My writing ritual, at least for this current book, was to make myself a cup of jasmine green tea, go out of my office and upstairs to my breakfast nook, and read a Chinese poem (translated into English!) from The White Pony before I began freewriting or editing. It was a great system, and one I intend to continue with my next project.
  6. Music. I've always loved the idea of writing to music, and have enjoyed doing so when I've been in workshops or seminars, but it's often something I forget to do on my own. Recently I bought a small portable radio that I can use in both my office and the breakfast nook (or anywhere else for that matter). I've found it very helpful to put on what I used to call "elevator" or "waiting for the dentist" music to calm me down and set the tone of my writing session. 
  7. Magazine or artwork prompts. Using cut-out images from magazines, old books, and catalogs has always been my go-to story starter. Whether the pictures are of fashion models or reproductions of famous artworks, I couldn't live without my image library. For my current WIP I thought I had more than enough pictures to keep the story flowing, but I also realized many of the images had become somewhat stale--I had looked at them so often I had stopped seeing them. Starting a new collection solely for the last stage of the book seemed to revive all my interest in the story again, and gave me a fresh perspective on the older pictures when I paired them up with the new ones.
  8. Meditation. I've never been a "good meditator" (whatever that means), having hopeless monkey mind and a tendency to squirm when I have to sit still without a book or a pen in my hand. That said, I have always appreciated the need to be quiet for a bit before I start my day or any creative work. The secret I've learned is to not set a time: "I will meditate for twenty minutes straight or else!" but just to give myself permission to stop and not be so busy-busy from the minute I get up or the second I sit down to write. Take a breath, take a minute, relax. Let go.
  9. Choose a path/theme/genre/medium. My usual working style when starting anything new is to just let it happen. More times than not, genre or theme is something I choose for my work after my first draft. This time, though, and following through with #1: Focus, I decided to study and develop my genre/theme before I did anything else. It was a good decision--I found myself taking less side trips and getting right to the heart of my story a whole lot faster than in the past.
  10. "How can I help?" It's nice to help other people, wonderful, in fact, but how often do we stop to help ourselves? I once read a quote that has always stayed with me about how the writer would never work for a boss as mean as she was to herself. Me neither--nothing but constant criticism, impossible deadlines, food and drink deprivation, and definitely no bathroom breaks allowed! When I'm writing, I can be horrible to myself. To break this tyranny, I wrote a "Letter to Me" asking what kind of help I needed to change the pattern. Some of my reply includes writing in 25-minute increments, followed by 15 minutes of anything non-writing related; rewarding myself with something special at the end of each day (can be as simple and inexpensive as a new library book); and making sure I put my writing, rather than the laundry, first.
  11. Find a problem, brainstorm a solution. Halfway through my manuscript I realized I was being far too darn nice to my characters. I hated it when anything bad happened to them, so I'd hurriedly make it all better so they wouldn't suffer. Bad idea. Characters crave suffering--it's what makes them whole in the end! My solution was to make lists of terrible things that could go wrong for each of them, and then brainstorm several dozen ways to prolong the trouble. The lists also gave me ways to solve the problems without relying on coincidence or magic wands.
  12. Write a gratitude or daily achievement list (especially after a rejection or a bad writing day). Not every writing day is a good day. In fact, a lot of them can be downright horrible, or at least they can seem to be until you really examine how the day went. Writing a gratitude list at the end of every day is an amazing practice. I like to go for a list of twelve. Even if the best I can do is write, "I have enough ink in my printer to send my manuscript out again." Or, "I got rid of four typos in Chapter 3," it's a win. (It's also positive proof that you're making progress, a good thing to remember and remind yourself when you don't even have ink in the printer.)
Tip of the Day: My absolute all-time favorite writing tip ever: Take a nap. Yes! Seriously! Napping can be a real creativity-saver, and it doesn't have to take up a lot of time. Whether it's in the middle of a hot Saturday afternoon, or as soon as you come home from work, don't fight the need to snooze--use it. To turn naps into real productivity, always have pen and paper right by your side so that as soon as you wake up, you can start writing. The results can be miraculous--new insights, new characters, new energy. I love it.

So what works for you? Drop a line in the comments section and let me know some of your favorite tips, too. Thanks for visiting!


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6. Inspiration Board for HEART

IF_inspirationboard_heart

 Hello fellow artists!

As part of our ongoing efforts to make Illustration Friday more of a community focused on the art of idea generation, here’s our Inspiration Board for this week’s topic of HEART.

You can download, save, drag and drop, print, or do whatever you want with it if it helps you to brainstorm ideas for your illustration.

Let us know in the comments if this is something that you think is helpful or inspiring enough for us to keep doing!

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7. Writing Mantras for the New School Year

What can we say to ourselves to affirm the power of writing? What words will help us move forward when the going gets tough? Thinking about class writing mantras...

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8. Three Techniques Guaranteed to Kill Writer's Block and Get Your Mojo Back


by Martina Boone

When you're stuck and you can't figure out where your plot is going, it can be debilitating. It can make you doubt everything. Your idea, your skills, why you wanted to be a writer in the first place . . . In my experience--and that's all I can really speak to!--writer's block is usually nothing magical. It's my subconscious telling me I've taken a wrong turn somewhere, and all I really need to get myself going is an old-fashioned dose of creative brainstorming.

I start by reassessing what I already know in three different ways. Invariably, long before I've reached the end of this exercise, something has sparked my interest or alerted me to the problem.

You can work through these techniques one at a time, working up to a hundred statements in one category before moving on to the next, or you can jump from category to category at whatever point you like. There are no rules, except that you keep going and keep your butt in your chair until you're itching to right or until you've had an epiphany.

Ready? Let's get started.

Technique Number One: Declarative Sentences

Write one hundred declarative sentences about whatever story element you're trying to fix. Suppose you have a character, Daisy Dull as Dirt, who you don't know well enough. Make a list of what you do know, and then keep going as inspiration strikes.
  • Daisy is fifteen years old.
  • Daisy hates when the different foods on her plate touch each other.
  • Daisy talks too much and has no filter--she'll blurt out whatever comes to mind.
  • Daisy's inability to keep her thoughts to herself get her into trouble.
  • But her need to talk to people gets her back out of trouble.
  • Daisy learns that she has developed the ability to talk to anyone by drawing them out of their shells.
Revelation: Daisy's babbling isn't really babbling. She is actively listening and cataloging what she learns about the people she's talking to.

That's a revelation that you can use in many different ways, and it's a skill that helps not only your plot, but also your character development from the beginning of the book. She's had to be developing those skills all along. Where can you show that in your manuscript? Sometimes, just that small change can get you out of your block. If not, keep going. You'll find more revelations as you go.

Technique Number Two: Loves and Passions

Write one hundred (you won't get there, trust me) things that your characters love or have loved in their lives, or things/causes they're passionate about or have been passionate about in the past, and state why.
  • Daisy loves banana bread. She used to make it with her mother every Sunday morning, and just the smell of it reminds her of the warm kitchen and the soft Southern drawl of her mother's voice. (Wait. What happened to her mother? Why don't they do this anymore.)
See? It only needed that one statement to get to a revelation.

Technique Number Three: Hates and Conflicts

Write one hundred--although, again, you won't get there--things that one of your characters hates and another loves, or vise versa. Explain why they both feel the way they feel and how that puts them at odds with each other.
  • Daisy loathes runny eggs. They make her sick to her stomach because they remind her of the time her cat climbed up to a bird's nest and Daisy tried to save the eggs. Ralph, Daisy's love interest, loves runny eggs. They are a comfort food for him, because his father used to make him poached eggs on toast whenever he was sick. Ralph and Daisy have been in a plane crash and have to live off the land. Ralph gets up early after a rough night in the open and goes in search of food. He finds an old can, a stream, and a bird's nest with several eggs. He makes a fire and decides to poach the eggs and serve them on the stale crackers Daisy had stuffed in her purse. What happens when Daisy wakes up?
For the record. I knew nothing about Daisy, Ralph, or the plot of this story when I started writing this post. In just these short snippets working through the techniques, I've learned a LOT.

Whether you're trying to find a story, or trying to discover where your existing WIP took a turn it shouldn't have taken, these techniques are certain to get you writing again.

Enjoy,

Martina


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9. Creating Classroom Environments: Places for Writers to Grow

Every summer I dream of my classroom. When considering my third grade writers, what do they need to grow and how can I provide classroom spaces for that?

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10. A Vine Is More Than Its Grapes

Several years ago I visited the Robert Mondavi Wine Center at U.C. Davis and I was given a grape vine. I live in a region of California known for its agriculture, so when I got home I planted it in my backyard. That first year the plant grew like crazy—extra trellises had to be tacked to the fence, so that the crawling vines didn’t take over the entire backyard. It was incredible to watch this rapidly growing vine cover half my fence in lush green leaves, but sadly it didn’t produce any grapes that year.

My cousins, owners of a vineyard, advised it would take three years to produce fruit. But when the next summer came and the vine went crazy again—growing so tall it climbed into my neighbors evergreen trees—I thought maybe my vine was special. Surely it would grow grapes early. Maybe I’d even be able to make a bottle of wine.

Not a single grape grew.

The third year passed, and still no grapes.

I started to get discouraged. Instead of believing my vine was special, I thought my vine was a dud. Or maybe my cousins were wrong about how long it takes to grow grapes. I waited another year. And then, during that fourth year, something magical happened. Between the leaves, tiny little clusters started forming. At first they almost looked like weeds, spindly with tiny dots on the ends, but I knew those dots would turn into grapes. I counted the number of clusters. There were five.

It was not the bumper crop I’d hoped for, but I was still extremely excited for my little baby grapes. As the clusters grew larger, I started going into my backyard and counting the grapes on each cluster—yes, I am that nerdy.

Then one day, I went out back and, to my horror, every cluster had shriveled up completely. Not a single grape survived.

I was beginning to think there was something wrong with my little vine. But the following summer, one cluster stayed alive. After five years, my vine grew nineteen grapes!

I bragged. I beamed. My hope was renewed. My vine was not broken or useless, it was just a little slower than normal. I did fear my vine may never produce more than nineteen grapes, but by that point I’d had it for half of a decade, and I loved the plant. I decided not to care if it was fruitful. The vine added beauty to my backyard, and I chose to be proud of whatever it produced. I stopped counting grapes, and started to simply enjoy the way my vine curled around the fence, creating a beautiful green wall that thrived all summer long.

This is the sixth summer I’ve had the vine and—to my total shock—several weeks ago I noticed that the vine was bursting with clusters of grapes.

Grapes

 

You can’t see them all from this picture, but there are over a dozen clusters. As a reader this might not feel like a big moment to you, but, for me, seeing all those grapes impacted me in a surprising way. For the first time I realized how strong of a parallel there was to that grape vine and my own writing journey.

The vine was planted in my backyard shortly after I’d decided to take my writing seriously and pursue publication. And like my writing, for YEARS there was no fruit.

But here is the big difference. Even though I thought my grape vine was a dud at times, I never once thought about ripping it out of the ground and giving up on it completely. I knew that fruit bearing plants could take years to mature. And even if it never bore fruit, I was able to simply appreciate the beauty it provided—something I continually failed to do with my writing. This is something I’ve also noticed that a lot of other writers do as well.

I do believe it’s important to have goals when it comes to writing, but I don’t believe that traditional publication should be a person’s only measure of success, the way it was for me.

I imagine there are a lot of other writers out there who have done the same thing to themselves. Maybe some of you have decided that if the book you currently have on submission doesn’t sell by (FILL IN DATE HERE) you will give up on it, or give up on publishing. Same goes for those of you who might be querying. It took me five novels before I found my first agent, and when she failed to sell that novel and decided to leave the business, many of my family members took it as a sign that I should give up on my writing as well. But you know, those same family members never suggested I rip out that grape vine. In fact, I’m pretty sure everyone agreed it was a beautiful vine.

When I shared this story with my friend, Stacey Lee, she had a few thoughts that I wanted to share with all of you as well.

Stacey: I love Stephanie’s story, as it underscores the importance of writing for the sake of creating beauty, and not for the end point. If you find yourself wondering if the writer’s journey is ‘worth it,’ we suggest asking yourself this one question: can I imagine myself not writing? If you can’t, then consider yourself the owner of a very special vine, a vine bestowed upon precious few, a vine for which there will be ups and downs, backwards and forwards, some years with fruit, and some years with blight, but it is all a part of the privilege of owning a vine.

In the comments, we would love to hear how your vines are coming along. Are you in a drought? Are you bearing fruit? Have there been years that have been more productive than others?

Also, there is still time left to fill out our reader survey if you haven’t done so yet.

 

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11. Molly Idle Keynote: Yes And—Setting the Stage for Crazy Creative Development

Molly IdleMolly Idle is the Caldecott-honor winning author and illustrator of Flora and the Flamingo. 

She talked about the collaborative work that bookmaking is, and how she uses stage and improvisation techniques to boost her personality.

Keeping an open mind is the key to successful collaboration, she says.

In improv, there's a game called "Yes, and."

The first player kicks out an opening line. For example, "Did you remember to clean out the cat barf from Uncle Billy's car?"

Your job as a player is to accept that and add AND, she says. So you'd reply, "I did remember, and I think the smell is going to linger for quite some time."

"It sounds so simple, but it is so easy to do just the opposite and block," she says. "We are born to 'Yes.' We are born instinctively to be creative. To express our boundaries both real and imaginary."

She uses stage techniques a lot in her work. When she's figuring out how to lay out characters, she thinks about and experiments with many things ... putting characters center stage, even not having them react at all (which is the second-most powerful thing you can do on stage).

She encouraged us to push out of our comfort zones and keep many choices as possibilities. "It's the only way to come up with new ideas."

We have to ask ourselves, "How can I push my creative comfort zone out?"

The answer? You have to know your bit. This means know your lines. To really know a line is to know why you say it. You need to know the line before that. And the line before that. And why you're in the scene in the first place.

"You have to know the whole play to know your bit. If you know the whole play, you can jump in and help," she says. 'You know why you're supposed to be there."

Molly knows the editor's job. She knows the art director's job. She knows the designer's bit too—and the printer's. This means that in the end, the book will be a better book.

Molly Idle's website
Follow Molly on Twitter

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12. ALL HAIL THE WORLD'S BEST DAN AND CALDECOTT WINNER, DAN SANTAT! Keynote

Dan as Daenerys Targaryen, he is a fan of GoT
Lin says it is a wonderfully satisfying and emotional moment to introduce Dan Santat and I agree, he's the super best.

Dan came here in 2001, this Summer Conference is the first SCBWI conference he ever attended. He worried it was too expensive, but that worry was soon put to rest when his portfolio got noticed by editor Arthur Levine, and because of attending the conference,Dan got his first book contract.

In the many years of attending SCBWI events and conferences, Dan's noticed success stories of authors and illustrators, and some stories of people who are still finding there way. Dan says:

Your time will come, it's not a race to the top of the mountain, everyone finds their time. 

One way to ease your trek on the road to publication is to improve your taste: Do you know if you have good taste? Do you know if what you're writing is good? Dan reads us this Ira Glass quote:



Dan lists some of the stories and genres he likes, and thinks improving your work and taste is due to understanding why you like things, don't censor or bias yourself. Dan likes:

Batman and Akira comics. Movies and TV shows like Moneyball, Game of Thrones, Lost, and Breaking Bad. Podcasts like This American Life and Serial. From all of these he is learning story style and technique, observing different points of view. Immerse yourself in life and culture, take these references, says Dan, and come up with a unique spin on things.

You must do a critical review of your work. Dan reads us some 1 star and 5 star Goodreads reviews for Where the Wild Things Are (which has an overall rating of 4.2, by the way). Compare your opinions with others, there are crazy reviewers and there are good reviewers, the good reviews are useful pieces of critical information that can make your work better.

Study the fundamentals, but don't be rigid.

Learn by imitation, but don't become a clone. In art school, Dan copied Wyeth paintings in class because when you paint the strokes a master painter painted, your hands learn what your head doesn't quite understand yet. But be sure to make your art your own, Dan says, try to make work that is original to yourself once you begin to trust your inner instincts.

The exploration comes by doing: You have to make a lot of lousy paintings before you find one you want to put in your portfolio. Dan was working a full-time job when he decided he wanted to be published, so he started working from 10 pm to 3 am on his illustration work and after weeks and weeks of working like this and honing his craft, he'd made himself an illustration portfolio he could be proud of.

Form follows function. Dan shows us how good stories have things happening for a reason, you see it in everything from Back to the Future to his very own Beekle.


A few of Dan's final thoughts: Do what you love, and the work will find you. Don't think about the money, think about the craft, and working on your craft is the only way to improve. And don't give up!

Thanks, Danders!!!

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13. 3 things I've learned About Conferences & Me

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Howdy, Campers--and happy Poetry Friday!
(See below for a poem about being a writer by Richard Wilbur and for today's PF host.)

We're in the middle of TeachingAuthors' series on Summer Learning Opportunities.

So far we've heard from JoAnn--who, through her own fascinating Summer Science Experiments, is learning more about hatching monarchs in her backyard; Esther--who's learning about authors from her own fair city (Chicago), discovered four "eye-openingly insightful" blogs, learned about the "3-paragraph query," and how to "attend" the National SCBWI conference if you can't be there in person. Carla shares what she's learned about the unexpected benefits from attending an SCBWI conference, and Mary Ann inspires us with her summer Young Writer's Camp.

As for me, I'm looking forward to being on the faculty of the National SCBWI Conference from July 31 through August 2nd (with intensive workshops available for an additional fee on Monday, August 3rd). Once again I'll be critiquing manuscripts submitted by conference attendees who've paid extra for written and face-to-face critiques.

My very smart friend, author and poet Greg Pincus (who blogs at GottaBook) posted the link to this fabulous blog post on attending an SCBWI conference by art director Giuseppe Castellano...and our own Esther has written what is by now a classic essay on attending an SCBWI conference.

Esther and I come at conferences from two very different perspectives. Basically, She jumps into the fray carrying a bunch of balloons; I get overwhelmed by more than 10 people at a party.

So, here are three things I've learned about conferences (how they affect me and how I cope) in the 24 years I've attended SCBWI in Los Angeles:

1) Be kind to yourself.  This conference can be overwhelming. No--I take that back: this conference is overwhelming. This summer 1000 people are attending from around the world.

A few of the attendees at this year's SCBWI Conference
(from morguefile.com)

We crowd into a posh hotel over a long summer weekend. The excited, anxious, ecstatic, frightened, enthusiastic, vibrating energy of 1000 friendly/shy/talkative/mute children's book professionals and pre-professionals (thanks for that term, Carla!) can be paralyzing.  The air in any hotel over that many days with that many people gets used up. And so do I.

2) Take breaks. I usually stand in the back because there's simply TOO MUCH SITTING!  That's one way I've learned to give my body a break. I've also learned (to my astonishment) that it's okay not to attend every single session. I can actually go outside and gulp fresh air...sit on the grass with my eyes closed for a few minutes. It's amazing how so simple an action as breathing can change my body chemistry.  Ahhhhhh....

No--not me.
(from morguefile.com)

3) And I've learned that some years I just need to be VELCRO®.

from morguefile.com

Although there have been many years I couldn't wait to sign up for the conference, couldn't wait to bond with new peeps, couldn't wait to find out what everyone was doing and share what I was up to, there have been other years, too.

Years when I couldn't figure out how to write that book--the one that was going to put me on the map, years when no one had invited me to submit a poem since the Ice Age, years when I was raw, raw, raw from rejection, Those are the years when I did NOT want to attend that stupid conference.  Nope.  Not gonna do it. And you can't make me.

It's about the shame, of course. I'm judging my insides against everyone else's outsides. It's like that false fog which hovers over FaceBook where I see those sparkling photos and know that every one of my FB friends are completely fulfilled, are always at goal weight, and have (just yesterday) signed a three-book deal.  (It's true--they have, you know.)

That's when I've learned I need to VELCRO® myself to real-life friends at the conference.  Hang with them. Go into the hall with them. Choose whatever breakout session they choose--it doesn't matter. They're my peeps. My buds. The ones who believe in me...and I believe in them. They save me from the darkness every time.

So, if you're coming to the SCBWI conference, please come up and say hello!We can VELCRO® together for awhile.

And Campers--if you are going to any gathering this summer that makes you a teensy bit uneasy, a little bit insecure, maybe the following quote will help. It's helped me.

Just for today, be open to the possibility
that there is nothing wrong with you.

Finally, here is a poem to inspire you:

THE WRITER
by Richard Wilbur

In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story.

I pause in the stairwell, hearing
From her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys
Like a chain hauled over a gunwale.

Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage.
click here for the rest of this poem

The poetry gods and goddesses bring Poetry Friday to Keri Recommends today. Thanks for hosting, Keri!

posted live from the floor of SCBWI's National Conference in living color and with love by April Halprin Wayland


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14. Guest Post: Channeling Your Middle Grade Voice with Rachele Alpine!

rachelepic

Amie here first: Today we have a guest post from the truly hilarious Rachele Alpine — her new middle grade, Operation Pucker Up just hit shelves, and after you read this, you won’t want to miss it… The full title of her post is: Channeling Your Inner Middle Grade Voice By Using Your Old Diaries: AKA… Revisiting the Most Awkward Years of your Life!

Time and time again I hear authors say that when you sit down to work on a book not to worry about what other people are going to think, forget the trends, silence your inner editor and just write what you love.

Operation Pucker Up Postcard FrontWrite what you love. What a freeing way to think.

So that’s exactly what I did when I wrote my debut MG novel Operation Pucker Up. I wrote what I loved. Or more specifically, I wrote a book the middle school version of me would have loved.

But middle school was a long time ago, so in order to reminisce about those wonderful years of cringe-worthy moments, I went straight to the source.

My middle school diary. (Click on each of these images to see a larger version.)

Diary1

So sophisticated and chic. The teddy bears with the red hearts just scream maturity. And while I thought the lock was sure to protect all my secrets, it was no match for the pair of scissors my sister used and then so sneakily stapled and taped back together thinking I’d never suspect a thing. No, seriously. She didn’t think I’d notice. She put it right back in the hiding spot I used and acted all innocent when I found it. Newsflash…I noticed!

diary2

After my sister discovered the diary, I was very careful about when I’d let another set of eyes look at it. I wrote a note to myself inside the cover with instructions as to when I could share this diary:

Diary 3

It’s kind of sweet to think about how the younger version of myself wanted to share these words and experiences with my future kids. I just hope the middle school version of myself wouldn’t have minded that instead of sharing my diary with only my kids, I shared some of my experiences with potentially thousands of kids who will pick up Operation Pucker up and read it. Whoops!

Diary4

I found a lot of good material when revisiting these pages. My diary reminded me of all those mixed up feelings that I was going through when I hit middle school, and I drew from those when developing the main character, Grace, in my book. Grace is cast as Snow White in her school’s play, only to remember that Snow White is kissed by Prince Charming. She’s never kissed anyone before, and is terrified at the thought of having her first kiss on stage. Her friends launch Operation Pucker Up, a plan to get her her first kiss before she has to have it on stage. Sure enough, the plan gets out of hand and Grace feels like everything is moving too fast and her friends are trying to make her into someone she isn’t. My middle school self could definitely relate to Grace’s feelings, as I worried about the friendships around me and how everything was changing.

Diary 5

In the book, Grace goes to her first boy/girl party, and I pretty much struck oil with all the information I provided for myself in my diary when my own experience going to my first boy/girl party. I had created a list of questions/worries before I went to the party and afterwards, I filled it all out. Talk about the perfect glimpse into the head of a middle schooler!

Diary6Diary 7Diary 8Diary 9

Throughout the book, Grace is trying to figure out the confusing world of boys and first kisses. The road to love is often rocky and traumatic in middle school, as evidenced from my love of a “younger” man. Yes, it is true, I was in sixth grade in love with a boy in fifth grade. Gasp! Just call me a cougar! Looking back now I can laugh, but it does remind me of how major things could seem when you were young.

Diary 11Diary 12Diary 13

I love the fact that the awkward, confused, sensitive middle school version of myself provided inspiration and information for books I would write in the future. In fact, I’m pretty sure I have material for the next few decades with everything that I so honestly and openly chronicled while growing up. As I work on my next MG novel, I plan to continue to dig through all of my diaries and see what I can find. I’ll draw from those moments, remember them, use them, and then thank God that I don’t have to live through them again!

Canary-2Rachele Alpine is a lover of gummy candy, bad reality TV, and coffee…so much coffee. She’s the author of the MG novels Operation Pucker Up (Simon & Schuster) and You Throw Like a Girl (Simon & Schuster, 2017), and the YA novel Canary (Medallion). You can visit her website, check out her pictures on Instagram, like her on Facebook, or send her a tweet on Twitter @ralpine.

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15. Gratitude Post: David Diaz, mentoring, found object art inspiration

Many thanks to my friend David Diaz for his friendship and mentorship. I got to know David through the SCBWI, when I was chosen for the SCBWI-LA Illustration Mentorship program in 2010. David has been recently touching base with many of the Mentees, past and present, to find out how they're doing...he is doing this on his own time and volition, not because it's an official part of the program. He and I chatted yesterday, and I had the chance to thank him again for his early advice. I also told him how my venture into found object doodles started because of HIM, at one of his Lost Weekends.

You can find out more about David on Wikipedia, Facebook and an Illustrator Spotlight via Kidlit411.

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16. Gender Roles and the Heroine

Your world is your own; traditional gender roles need not apply. This means that even if your fantasy is inspired by 1300s France, you can still have women being professors at universities or leading armies. A classic image that comes to mind of a woman in history is the passive homemaker waiting for her husband to come back from war. There were certainly quite a few of those, but that image doesn’t account for what these women actually did while waiting. The result is a picture where a lady stands at the threshold of her manor looking wistfully out the horizon to catch a shadow of her husband. In reality, she was probably too damn busy making sure her crop yield would cover both her taxes and the food needs of her household. Since stories tend to focus on the epic, and since fantasy in particular isn’t usually about actual, historical daily life, the public perception of gender roles in history is still a little stuck in this romanticized notion of passive and desperate reliance on men. The people that read these stories then go on to write their own, continuing the vicious, misinformed cycle that can even go so far as to influence society’s perception of present-day reality. Literature is an extremely powerful brainwashing tool.

Here’s the thing. Only you can break this oversaturation and constant recycling of “women had no power back then.” A good way to do that is by doing some research in unbiased gender history and exposing the public to the shocking notion that humans didn’t have the luxury to lock fifty percent of the population into an ivory tower.

Another way to do it is to write an awesome book where you totally reinvent gender roles within your world. And you can start as small as with your main character’s background story.

Alter the Intention

If you have a girl whose character arc depends on her being extremely sheltered at the start, don’t let the reason she’s sheltered rely on the fact that she’s female. Not only is it kind of lazy, it’s dependent on exactly the sort of cultural norm you’re trying to steer away from. Instead, it could be that a kidnapping attempt in her early childhood led to her parents overreacting. If she’s not allowed to learn swordplay, it could be because her family believes she’d never have use for it since they’d always be protecting her. If she’s being forced to marry against her will, it’s because they want to make sure she’s always provided for. The idea is that the driving forces behind her important life events will have little to do with the basic fact that she’s female. If you change the intention and complicate the reasoning from “because she’s a girl” to something less gender-related, it becomes actual logic that can be used in plot and character development: The story starts with her running away from the arranged marriage, arranged because her family’s misguided but genuine concern for her well-being is blinding them to her misery. Just as she’s trying to adjust to the novelty of freedom, the attempted kidnappers resurface, suddenly throwing her into crippling self-doubt. She can’t physically fight back against them because she’s weak; but she’s weak not because she’s a girl, but because she was never taught how to fight. The story that ends up being told is not one about a girl struggling against the patriarchy but one about a girl overcoming insecurity ingrained from childhood by an overprotective family she feels she cannot return to.

Weaknesses Are Allowed

Women are traditionally viewed as the weaker and more submissive sex. Breaking out of this view in your story might lead you to the conclusion that your main girl character has to be physically and emotionally strong. A common thing I come across (and sometimes catch myself writing) is a female character who overcompensates for all those damsels in distress by being ridiculously tough in every way possible. This “strong female protagonist”, often patronisingly described as feisty, turns into a caricature of a person instead of a representation of reality. For example, the girl above who was protected all her life and never learned to fight still probably won’t be able to fight very well just a few months after she’s left home. Maybe she’ll never be able to fight well. Some people are just uncoordinated. This means that she’ll inevitably have to rely on those around her for physical protection. And that’s totally fine. Because again, the reason she’s physically weak is because she just is. That doesn’t mean she’s not crafty and can’t help out in different ways. It just means that when one of those kidnappers shows up, she won’t be the one fighting them; that role will go to the person protecting her. She doesn’t have to have all the qualities of the “strong female protagonist”. She first and foremost has to be a believable person.

Background Characters

By the way, that girl’s protector can easily be a lady. The kidnappers can also be ladies. All of the characters can be ladies. Why not? A lot of times the opposite is true, with men occupying all active roles and women left to the job of “plot device”, up there in importance with Tree #2 in the elementary school play. In an attempt to remedy this, some people, while still having women as mostly weak and submissive, will nevertheless have a couple of ladies in incredibly powerful leadership roles. This is excellent; it shows that women in that writer’s world are able to achieve a position that relies on their intelligence and strength. However, these stories often miss the women in less powerful roles. These women have to climb that ladder somehow. They didn’t get to the top overnight, which means they have to have had a lower status in the past. Regardless, women will often be absent from starting or midrange roles. You don’t usually see a woman as a foot soldier, unless she’s a main character. And even if you do, she’s always something more; undiscovered prodigy bomb technician that diffuses the bomb at the last minute; master sniper that helps them hit their target; top-class martial artist that leads them through a push. She’s never just a bumbling soldier who didn’t clean her gun properly, like so many of the other male peons are.

It all goes back to the initial lack of women in these stories, and the attempt to rectify this lack. During this attempt, the women become special, having skills that are sometimes better than those of most men. At first glance this doesn’t seem bad, because it seems to show women who are powerful and successful in roles traditionally held by men. But there’s a sneaky kind of damage to it: it implies that women can only be in these roles if their skill sets are abnormally high. The best thing you can do for gender equality in your world is to take a bunch of women, put them on the front lines with the men, kill them all, and then have everybody react with equal grief. None of this “Even the women were killed!” None of this “Women and children first!” (…Well, children first, yes.)

Which leads me to my last point.

Don’t Make It a Big Deal

If, in your world, traditional gender roles don’t apply, then you don’t have to justify why one of the best warriors in the land is a woman. Similarly, you have to remember to make some of the most mediocre warriors women as well. The worst thing you can do is have people constantly commenting on how strong she is for a woman, or how she’s the only woman in her class, or how even though she’s a fighter she still knows how to cook. Nobody cares.  The men also probably know how to cook. It’s an important part of being an independent person. Drawing attention to the woman’s gender will take power away from why she’s as successful as she is: because she’s strong, because she’s skilled, and because she learned how to fight. You never hear phrases like, “Yeah he’s a pretty good fighter for a man.” Though, you might hear, “Yeah he sews pretty well for a man.” And that is just as damaging for the other side.

Gender Still Exists

Gender is a thing, and it’s foolish to ignore it…which seems to contradict everything I’ve just said. Still, physically, men and women are different. This will always result in situations where one character might be better at completing a task than another simply because of their gender. The key is that one gender should never be excluded from the possibility of doing that task, excepting in obviously physically limiting situations (because I just know that somebody’s going to say that a man can’t birth a child). And even in a world of equality, there will always be some outlying group of misogynists or misandrists itching to push people down. They can be part of your story too. And if your story is good at putting on display the strengths and weaknesses of the characters, and if those strengths and weaknesses are well-developed and don’t rely on gender, then it can expose the individual and shared features that your characters possess, and most importantly, uncover how absolutely ridiculous those misogynists and misandrists are.

Because oh my god. If you could build a world like the one I’ve described, I would read that book. I would read that book so hard.

So please write it.

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17. The 2nd Annual Pretty Much World Famous Illustration Contest For Children's Illustrators!!!

WOO HOO!  The day has finally arrived!  It's time for . . .


The 2nd Annual Pretty Much World Famous
Illustration Contest for Children's Illustrators!

The ContestDraw/Paint/Create a children's picture book illustration (no text required - art only) the topic for which shall be
discovery

Above all things, these illustrations are meant to evoke story, so it is crucial that they present at least one character, a setting, and ideally hint at/suggest some kind of plot or conflict idea.

Illustrations should be 8x10, horizontal or vertical, any medium, posted in jpg at least 72 px.  Illustrators may enter more than one entry if they're feeling ambitious :)

Post:  Your entry should be posted on your blog between right now this very second and Friday June 26 at 9 PM EDT (contest deadline!)  Please add your post-specific link to the link list below which will remain up all week so that people will be able to come visit and enjoy your amazing artwork.  If you don't have a blog but would like to enter, you will be able to copy and paste your entry into the comments below.  (If anyone has trouble commenting, which unfortunately happens, you may email me and I'll post your entry for you!)

Judging:  entries will be judged by multi-talented, award-winning author/illustrators Iza Trapani, author and illustrator of over 20 gorgeous picture books, and Lisa Thiesing, author and illustrator of 40 beautiful and fun picture books and early readers!   Judging criteria to include:

 - does the illustration evoke a sense of story,
 - is the picture readable to a young audience,
 - how well does it show the character(s) and
 - is/are the character(s) appealing (character development),
 - originality,
 - skill.

They will narrow down the entrants to 6 finalists (or possibly a couple more or less depending on the number of entries :)) which will be posted here on Monday June 29 for you to vote on for a winner.  The vote will be closed at 5PM EST on Thursday July 2 and the winner will be announced on Friday July 3... along with something for the writers in our audience, so stay tuned! :)

The Prizes!:  There will definitely be a 1st prize.  Whether we give prizes for 1st only, 1st-3rd, or 1st-6th will depend on how many entries we get.  We need at least 12 entries to place through 3rd, and at least 20 to place through 6th.

We've got some great prizes lined up including a chance to take Mark Mitchell's fantastic Make Your Marks And Splashes Online Children's Book Illustration Class (a $249 value, but really priceless!)  This class is packed with video lessons on the topics of drawing, painting, and children's book illustration and video interviews with children's illustrators. It also includes three months of online group critique sessions (2 sessions per month, at this point) with Mark and guest instructors, so the winner could also get the equivalent of a portfolio critique if she/he participated in all six of the sessions.  You can read all about it here: http://howtobeachildrensbookillustrator.com/NewCoursehome2/

http://howtobeachildrensbookillustrator.com/NewCoursehome2/


Additional prizes will include:

 - a Wacon Intuos Pen and Touch Small Tablet (see details HERE)

 - a $50 gift certificate to Dick Blick Art Materials (which is online)

 - choices of the following books:
      - Writing With Pictures by Uri Shulevitz
      - 2015 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market by Chuck Sambuchino

  - a Canson sketch pad and a small set of Derwent or Faber Castell colored pencils

and of course the bragging rights to having won or placed in a Pretty Much World Famous Contest! :)

So ready, set, GO! artists!  We can't wait to see what you've created!  We're ready to be inspired! :)

Remember, add your post-specific blog link to the link list below or email your illustration to me for posting here!

And our first entry to be submitted (from an artist who doesn't have a blog) is this one from Tina Marantettte:

illustration copyright 2015 Tina Marantette


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18. 48 days, day 7: a bit of inspiration and validation

 {{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }} 

My foot waving hello at 6am
 It's 11am and I am about to plunge into my Rachel revision and finish it. So say I. SO SAY I.

No backing down, now... just do it, Debbie. You've got enough, you've got what you need, and you can finish this revision. Today.

If I am really brave, I will send it to my agent by the end of business today. That is my goal. THAT IS MY GOAL. He lives in California. That gives me a few extra hours. hahahahahaha.

I am a watering fool right now, trying to keep new grass alive, as we near the end of this almost-year of a water management project which evolved into an edible yard and garden project along the way, and Other Stuff.

I can see, I'm falling into a routine, 7 days into this 48. Up early and either write or do correspondence while it's dark... read some, too. Once the sun is up, go outside while it's still bearable and water. This takes two hours. I have to visit everything, plump pillows, tell stories, check on the patients. Something ate my hosta last night. Who does that? Deer? I don't want to talk about it. Big, fat, beautiful hosta leaves, gone.
"The dingo ate your hosta."
What I read this morning provided me with great inspiration to get to the desk and write, which is what happens after the watering, and where I'm about to go right now. Here's what I read:

First, a piece by photographer Sally Mann in the New York Times Magazine. You must read it. It's so strong, so good, so true. Every time I read good writing, it teaches me something. This piece also taught me a little more about being human. I loved it. I have long admired Mann's work, and it was a pleasure to "hear" her talk about it in-depth; the highs, the lows, the scary bits and the calling-us-to-account bits. I read this in the 5am dark this morning. I thought, "I want to write like this." Inspiration.

Then there is this piece that I read as I came in from watering, the writer James Salter interviewed by the Paris Review -- must have been in the '90s -- about writing fiction. Here is the nugget that is sending me back to the page energized:

I find the most difficult part of writing is to get it down initially because what you have written is usually so terrible that it’s disheartening, you don’t want to go on. That’s what I think is hard—the discouragement that comes from seeing what you have done. This is all you could manage?

How many times have I felt like this! Also, on heroes:

There is everyday heroism. I think of Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path,” about a black woman walking miles to town on the railroad track to get some medicine for her grandchild. I think real devotion is heroic.

That's a thought I can use as I write about Rachel Carson, but I will also use it for book 3 of the '60s trilogy. I would also attribute it to Sunny in REVOLUTION, and to most of my characters in my books. I write about everyday struggle and everyday acts of heroism. Uncle Otts in COUNTDOWN. Joe and John Henry in FREEDOM SUMMER. Comfort letting her dog go in order to save her cousin in EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS. House reading to Mr. Norwood Boyd in ALL-STARS. Even Ruby saving Melba Jane on stage in LOVE, RUBY LAVENDER.

So those words inspire me by validating my writing experience. Which makes me feel like a real writer. Validation and inspiration send me back to the page when I think, as I do almost every writing day: this is all you could manage?

I'm going to manage to finish my revision today. What are you up to, one week, 7 days in?



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19. #689 – Dress Me! by Sarah Frances Hardy

CBW-email-childrens_2015

 

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Dress Me!

Written by Sarah Frances Hardy
Illustrated by Sarah Frances Hardy
Sky Pony Press           5/05/2015
978-1-63220-823-3
20 pages               Age 3—7
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“This little girl can be a lawyer, doctor, superhero, or plumber. She can be graceful, creative, brave, caring, silly, and even scary. She can wear braids or glasses, a crown or a beret. There are infinite, limitless possibilities, and this little girl gets to choose who and what she wants to be. And there’s always the option for her to be ‘just me.’ From the author/illustrator of Paint Me! comes a delightful, imaginative story about a little girl with some incredible aspirations.” [book jacket]

Review
The nameless young girl, along with her loyal puppy, take readers through part of their day as they move from room-to-room, outfit-to-outfit, and activity-to-activity. They start their day deciding what to wear. Deciding to start with some exercise, the girl pulls down her pink tutu, matching top, a violet sash, and . . . wait, what about her feet? No worries, pup has fetched the girl’s pink ballet slippers, dutifully waiting for his friend to slip them on her feet. With a high twirl and a long leap the pair dance, never out of step. The young girl and her dog take on a gamut of outfits (tutu, smock, scrubs, dresses, and masks), and identities (artist, teacher, lawyer, diva, builder, or plumber), as they dance, paint, fly through the air, and take lunch orders.

Dress Me! interior 1pass JAM_page19_image17

Older children have books such as WIGU Publishing’s When I Grow Up I Want to be a . . . series to help them decide what they might like to become. Dress Me does the same for younger children, in terms they y understand. More than that, Dress Me is about being yourself while enjoying who you are, right now. The illustrations tell the majority of the story. I like that Dress Me leaves much of the narration to the reader—or he young listener. While the young girl teaches a couch full of attentive stuffed animals (and one real puppy), the text reads,

“Teacher me.”

I like that kids can decide why the girl is teaching, what she is teaching, and to whom she, dong a great job of blending in to the scene. Pup does the same in this scene. Dress Me will appeal to young girls more than boys, even though Hardy includes male-oriented careers and activities boys enjoy. The illustrations are delightful. Each spread is loaded with detail, adding continuity by carrying items from one spread to the next. For example, the puppy pulls a blue-striped tie from the laundry basket. In the next image he wears the tie while pretending to be in court, on the wrong side of the young girl’s law. She has pushed a pair of glasses atop her head while waitressing and worn correctly as a teacher.

Dress Me is the perfect book for preschoolers beginning to self-explore their world and their place in it. Parents will appreciate the creativity Dress Me can inspire in young girls, who will begin to think out of their prescribed female roles. More importantly, Dress Me encourages young girls to enthusiastically be themselves.

Dress Me! interior 1pass JAM_page19_image14

A final note: the illustrations are the best yet from Hardy who improves with each book. Dress Me! is Hardy’s third book. Her others are Paint Me! and Puzzled by Pink (reviewed HERE).

DRESS ME! Text and illustrations copyright © 2015 by Sarah Frances Hardy. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Sky Pony Press, New York, NY.

Purchase Dress Me! at AmazonBook DepositorySky Pony Press.

Learn more about Dress Me! HERE.
Meet the author/illustrator, Sarah Frances Hardy:
Website:  http://www.sfhardy.com/
Blog:  http://sfhardy.blogspot.com/
Facebook:  http://bit.ly/SarahFrancesHardyFacebook
Twitter:  https://twitter.com/sfhardy2
Find more picture books at the Sky Pony Press website:  http://www.skyponypress.com/

Sky Pony Press is an imprint of Sky Horse Publishing

Also by Sarah Frances Hardy

Paint Me!

Paint Me!

Puzzled by Pink

Puzzled by Pink

 

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Review word count = 455

Copyright © 2015 by Sue Morris/Kid Lit Reviews.

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dress me ftc


Filed under: 4stars, Library Donated Books, NonFiction, Picture Book Tagged: aspirations, be yourself, Dress Me!, enjoy being yourself, inspiration, little girls books, make-believe, puppies, Sarah Frances Hardy, self esteem, Sky Pony Press

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20. For My Writing Friends: Some Great Books To Help You Up Your Game!

I’m so excited by these books, I have to pass them along.

First of all, right now you can get for the incredibly low price of $20 this entire story bundle of writing books. I would have bought just one of the books on my own–the horse one by Judith Tarr, since I’m writing a lot of horse scenes these days for The Bradamante Saga and yes, I’d like to make sure I get them right–but then once I saw all the other awesome craft books in this bundle: SOLD. Because every writer can get better, and it’s such a pleasure to read a great craft book by authors who are experts in their field.
Story Bundle Writing Books

And speaking of authors who are experts in their field, the great young adult author Tom Leveen now has a new book out on writing dialogue. Before turning to novels, Tom spent many years in the theater as both an actor and director. I’ve taught writing workshops with him, and his tips for writing great dialogue are always FANTASTIC. Treat yourself to this book. You’ll learn a ton.


That’s it for now, gang. Happy Writing!

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21. Zooming In on Inspiration

When I finish a big project, I usually have to take a few days to get my bearings. I look around, dazed, trying to figure out what to do next. Morning Pages help. Walking to the lake helps. Spring is inspiring!

My camera helps me focus—literally—when I need to slow down and pay attention. For me, that can be the key to opening up to new ideas.

I just turned in the fourth (and final) book in a nonfiction series for an educational publisher. It drained me more than I expected. So I’m filling the well. Here are some things I’m paying attention to.


Last fall, I buried 40 potted milkweed plants  (3 varieties) under dry leaves next to the house. When the weather warmed up, I put them in the sun next to the garage. So far, 18 of them have sprouted. Three more plants (and one more variety) have popped up in the flower bed, which is shadier. Now I'm watching for monarchs. (Are you? Check the migration map to see if they're in your neighborhood yet.)


A pair of white-breasted nuthatches were cleaning out a hole in a branch above the garage the other day. Will they build a nest there? I hope so. I love their weird calls (described by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology as "a loud, nasal yank") and the way they hop down tree trunks head first.


One of my favorite wildflowers, a shooting star, is blooming in the park. What an encouraging surprise! Maybe I can go back to work now.

Bobbi started this series of Teaching Authors posts about inspiration with a collection of wonderful quotes. Be sure to check it out if you need a dose of inspiration—and who doesn't?

Congratulations to Karen C, who won our giveaway of the YA novel in verse Dating Down by Stephanie Lyons. (Read all about it in Esther's interview.)

Baby Says "Moo!" is now a board book! Watch for a Teaching Authors Book Giveaway in June.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme. Enjoy!

JoAnn Early Macken

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22. An Inspiring Weekly Digest You NEED to Know About!


This is your brain.













And this is Maria Popova who will gladly pick it each and every Sunday morning if you register to receive Brain Pickings, her weekly free website digest that I promise you offers unlimited inspiration to keep you keepin’ on – personally, professionally and any way you need to. 



Ms. Popoval, “a cartographer of meaning in a digital world,” continues to offer visitors to her website “an inventory of cross-disciplinary interestingness, spanning art, science, design, history, philosophy and more.” 
The Sunday digest offers the week’s most “unmissable” articles.


Here’s who and what came my way last Sunday, May 17:

Wendell Berry on How to Be a Poet and a Complete Human Being 

The Heart and the Bottle (by Oliver Jeffers): A Tender Illustrated Fable of What Happens When We Deny Our Difficult Emotions   

The Magic of Moss and What It Teaches Us About the Art of Attentiveness to Life at All Scales


I owe fellow writer and friend Ellen Reagan untold thanks for first connecting me to
what’s now my weekly dose of inspiration, insights and mind-whirling knowledge I never even knew I needed to have.

WOW’s!” and sighs and smiles and “I didn’t know that’s!” usually punctuate my first reading of the digest.
At the end of the day, I return to save/copy to my journal particularly relevant and/or meaningful quotes and lines  - about life, love, children, work, writing, disappointment, joy, wonder, marriage, you-name-it.
Throughout the week that follows I find myself forwarding at least one article or quote to someone I care about.

You can listen here to Maria Popova talk about how and why she created Brain Pickings.
You’ll be so happy she did.

And do subscribe to the weekly digest. 
You’ll be so happy you did.

Happy Brain Pickings!

Esther Hershenhorn

P.S.
You can also savor Maria Popova's delicious and nourishing fare via Facebook and Twitter.
(www.facebook.com/brainpickings.mariapopova/Brain Pickings @brainpickings


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23. Inspiration is a blast from the past

     I find inspiration in real life. Rummaging through flea markets and antique stores, examining the jumbled pieces of other peoples' lives sets my story radar pinging. How did these odds and ends come to rest, unwanted by their "families," in a junk store? A story begins simmering in the back of my brain.

    I am addicted to old family pictures. I gaze at the walls of other people's houses, memorizing family portraits. My mother practically raised me at estate sales and junk stores. I was not allowed to touch anything, but I could ask all the questions I wanted. What was this metal thing used for? Who wore shoes that buttoned up the sides? Did you have a doll like this when you were a little girl?

   The two people who encouraged my curiosity in the past would be surprised to learn I consider them the fairy godmothers of my writing.  Those two people were my Grandmother Rodman and my mom, both natural born storytellers.

The couple in the middle are my Rodman grandparents
      Although her father had been a country schoolmaster, my Grandmother Rodman's education ended at 11. However, she loved to read and never stopped learning through out her very long life (she lived to be 97). Her childhood was positively Dickensian; orphaned at 11, she lived with an "evil stepfather" and numerous half-siblings. Her older brothers had gone off to "seek their fortunes" and escape their abusive stepfather.  Murder, the county poor farm, setting off on her own at 15 to make her way in the world...all these elements were part of my grandmother's story.  As a young mother she survived the most deadly tornado in U.S. history. She told "The Storm Story" when few people talked about tragedies.  My grandmother made sense of her own life by telling the stories, over and over, always in an undramatic, matter of fact voice.

     She knew which details would make her story real for a little listener...the taste of homemade peanut brittle, the mustard color of a funnel cloud so enormous it blocked the sky, the stiff, slick material of her mother's "Sunday dress." Her stories were peopled with characters named Country and Myrtle and Ardell.  She evoked the sound of their voices, the way they stood and moved, the little quirks that made those long-dead people come alive. She was economical with her words, as she brought the events to the climax, never once saying "Oh I forgot to say that..."

   Not only could my grandmother put names to the family photos she kept in a big silk stationary box under her bed, she could spin stories about every one of them. She also told me about my father growing up in small-town, Depression-era,  Southern Illinois. My father did not tell me his own boyhood until very recently.  Learning what kind of little boy he had been, helped me understand my sometimes puzzling, taciturn dad.

Mom on the far right, her brother Jimmy and sister Agnes
   My mother would be shocked to learn that she inspired me. I was a sickly kid and missed a lot of school. Mom entertained me with stories of her childhood, first on a small family farm and then helping her mother run a Pittsburgh boarding house during the Depression. The middle child of eight, her stories seemed exciting and exotic, better than any library book. Mom prefaced her stories with, "Now times were different when I was a little. We probably shouldn't have done some of this stuff then, and you aren't to do it now. If you do, I will stop telling you stories." That was threat enough to keep me from trying some of the stunts of Mom and her family.  My uncles' trapeze in the farm's apple orchard. The Great Silverware War of Easter 1932. Their beloved maiden aunt who taught them to play poker. The first story I ever wrote at age seven was about Mom moving from to town after the bank took the farm.  My 11-year-old mother and her sister rode a streetcar back to their old home, to gather whatever they had could of what was left behind. (No, I'm not telling you what they took...I'm still working on this story.)

   Mom was a one-woman show. She imitated voices, created sound effects and even acted out the events when her vocabulary failed her.  Ironically, she considered herself shy and disliked speaking in public. Writing anything, such as a letter, was a laborious process that would go through several drafts before she would write on her good linen stationary with a fountain pen.  Since Mom wrote to at least some of her family every week, that was a lot of moaning and groaning and crumpled up notebook paper. (I learned the pain and value of revision early!)`

    Jimmy's Stars began when I found a WWII two-star service flag in a box lot of china I bought at an auction. I knew from photos that Mom's family had a four-star flag in the window of the boarding house (three for my uncles and one for Mom who was a WAVE). Looking at that flag, I heard my mother's voice recounting life on the Homefront, the terror of receiving a telegram, the peculiarity of wartime rationing. With those stories as a foundation,Jimmy's Stars was the fastest I've ever written anything...18 months. (That included lightening striking my computer and wiping out the unbacked-up first five chapters.)

  Yankee Girl is based on my own childhood stories I told my daughter. I am currently working on two books that are based on Grandmother Rodman tales.
                                                                                                             
    I'm sure that neither my grandmother or mother knew they would inspire my own books. Their stories taught me the beauty and drama of everyday life. This sense of wonder in what seems ordinary to us, I try to pass on to my own students. Over the years, they have told me about grandparents who wandered in the rubble of WWII Europe, orphaned and homeless. Of their parents as children, in refugee camps, fleeing Asia by boat. One girl's family escaped the Holocaust by immigrating to Cuba... and then fled Cuba after the Revolution. My hope is that these tales will live on in my students' writing.  I think the best gift you can give a child is a family story.

     I was blessed to be descended from two of the best storytellers ever. Thanks, Meemaw.  Thanks, Mom.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

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24. 3 Ways To Inspire a Poem--Oops!

.
Howdy Campers!

I'm wildly inspired by the postings of my fellows at Poetry Friday today--see the link below.

Bobbi begins our What-Inspires-You series with Inspirations and Geniuses; Jo Ann is up next with the help of her camera: Zooming in on Inspiration; Esther offers An Inspiring Weekly Digest You Need to Know About; Carla opens our eyes to Inspiration From the Library of Congress; and Mary Ann touches us with tales about family members in Inspiration is a Blast From the Past.

So what are the top three things that inspire my daily poems?

1) Um...deadlines. 

“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” ~ Douglas Adams

I was inspired to write this post today when I was putting an appointment in my calendar...and saw that I was supposed to have posted this morning.  Oops!

"My sole inspiration is a telephone call from a director." ~ Cole Porter, composer and songwriter

Deadlines and assignments mean that I cannot take all day cleaning my proverbial closet. I write and rewrite...and bam!--even if it's not the world's most perfect piece, I post it or send it off--done!

2) Life. Especially the sad parts. 

"I've had an unhappy life, thank God." ~ Russell Baker, author, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist

The difficult and/or unhappy times of my life are rich grounds for writing.  I can create this richness, though, even when my life is humming along, if I listen to what's happening in my chest cavity. If I walk into the world looking for my poem, all senses open.

The last time my mom and I took a nature walk.  She's the shorter one.

3) Someone who believes in me.  Two or three someones is even better. 

"Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, writer and philosopher

My husband came with me on a quick trip to meet with my agent and two of my editors this week.  I wanted him to meet these significant people in my work life. New York can be exhilarating...and it can scare the pants off me, too.  It always takes me a day to remember how to use the subways and navigate the city.  His presence on the subway and in those meetings meant the world to me.

My sailing-around-the-world friend, Bruce, is a daily supporter of my work, even when he says the poem doesn't work (which of course I know he's just not reading correctly--he's clearly tired from working on the boat all day).

Every writer in my critique groups past and present and everyone in the Kidlitosphere community: we cheer each other on; that cheering echoes and echoes and echoes inside all of us.
my team

And so? Here's today's (raw) poem written 1) for a deadline, 2) based on life, and with the support of--well, all of you.

LOOKING FOR INSPIRATION
by April Halprin Wayland

bald little god
sits on the pond’s rim, 
his feet all in

his head turning side to side
toward fluttering leaves
toward ebbing tide 

below impatient clouds
that mumble, 
This is going too slow

so they snap out 
a spiky lighting streak 
and Man—does little god go!

He jumps right up and does he run!
He’s going, going, getting things
DONE!

poem and drawings (c) April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

Get inspired by the bounty at Buffy's Blog today--thanks for hosting, Buffy!

posted by April Halprin Wayland, Monkey, and our always inspired dog, Eli

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25. It the book birthday for Blood Will Tell!

Today is the book birthday for Blood Will Tell, the second in my Point Last Seen series inspired by the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office Searcn and Rescue team. Nine months ago, over 100 people signed up for the lastest round of clases. They underwent hundreds of training, and during that time the unit provided over 30,000 hours of volunteer work. It’s a tough course - just 53 finished and 33 completed all 87 requirements for graduation.

Two things make MSCOSAR different. One is the group is teen led and made up primarily of teens. The second is that about 30 percent of what the group does is search for crime scene evidence.

This book features the same three friend as were in Blood Will Tell. Alexis, whose mother is mentally ill. Ruby, who understand things far more than she understand people. And Nick, who desperately wants to prove that he is as strong and brave as he longs to be.

Real-life roots
Blood Will Tell was inspired by two true stories. Back in 1987 in Colorado, a bicyclist checked out what he thought was a mannequin in a field and discovered it was really the body of 37-year-old woman. She had been stabbed in the back and died from blood loss.

But before the bicyclist realized it was really a body, a 15-year-old saw also saw it while walking to school. Thinking it was a mannequin left as a prank, he did not report it to the police. After his father told police that his son usually walked through that lot, the police pulled the teen, whose nickname was ”Toothpick,” out of class.

He was questioned for hous alone, but always said he was innocent. Still, they zeroed in on him because he had never reported the body to the police. There was no physical evidence. They did find hundreds of violent drawings, a couple of knives, and a newspaper clipping about the murder.

Eventually, he was tried for the murder and convicted. It was covered on a lot of “real-life” TV shows, with titles like Drawn to Murder and Murder Illustrated.  In the end, DNA evidence proved his evidence and he won millions from the state of Colorado.

Can DNA lie?
The other case was in San Fransisco. A millionaire was tied up and robbed. He ended up suffocating on the packing tape used to keep him from crying out. A forensics team found DNA on his fingernails that belonged to an unknown person. The sample was put into a DNA database and turned up a “hit” — a local man with a long criminal record.

Arrested and charged with murder, that men spent more than five months in jail with a possible death sentence hanging over his head.

Then his defense realized he had been hospitalized the night of the murder. But how did an innocent man’s DNA end up on a murder victim?

I won't give away the answer, but I will say that for 15 years, German police searched for a serial killer they called the “Phantom of Heilbronn” — an unknown female linked by traces of DNA to six murders across Germany and Austria. Police had found her DNA on items ranging from a cookie to a heroin syringe to a stolen car. She had been involved in over 40 crimes, rangning from murder to a car-dealership robbery and a school break-in,

In 2009, the police found their “suspect”: a worker at a factory that produced the cotton swabs police used in their investigations. She had been accidentally contaminating them with her own DNA.

Those two cases really make me wonder about our reliance on the infallibility of DNA evidence. After all DNA can’t tell your when it’s been left or under what circumstances. It may  not lie, but it may not tell the whole truth either.

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