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1. #DVpit is Back on October 5th and 6th!

After the success of the first #DVpit event in April, #DVpit is back for another round of Twitter pitching fun on October 5th and 6th! If you’re unfamiliar with this event, #DVpit is a Twitter pitch contest created to showcase pitches by marginalized voices and help connect them to agents and editors.

While the number of diverse books is increasing, the number of new diverse authors entering the field remains low. Significant barriers remain for authors of color, Native authors, disabled authors, and other marginalized voices. With that in mind, we are excited to share information on this special Twitter event! The information below is cross-posted with permission from literary agent Beth Phelan’s #DVpit website.

#DVpit

A Twitter Pitching Event, Hosted + Moderated by Beth Phelan

October 5, 2016: 8AM – 8PM ET for Children’s and Teen Fiction/Nonfiction
October 6, 2016: 8AM – 8PM ET for Adult Fiction/Nonfiction

#DVpit logo

 

What is #DVpit?


#DVpit is a Twitter event created to showcase pitches about and especially by marginalized voices. This includes (but is not limited to): Native peoples and people of color; people living and/or born/raised in underrepresented cultures and countries; disabled persons; people with illness; people on marginalized ends of the socioeconomic, cultural and/or religious spectrum; people identifying as LGBTQIA+; and more.

The first #DVpit took place on April 19, 2016 and was a national trending hashtag. There have been over 15 authors signed by agents as a direct result of this event so far, with editors from small to mid-size to Big Five publishers requesting to receive the manuscripts at submission stage.

#DVpit was covered by Bustle, Salon, YA Interrobang, and multiple blog sites like Lee & Low Blog and Daily Dahlia.

The event was created and is moderated by Beth Phelan, a literary agent at the Bent Agency.


 

When is the next #DVpit?


#DVpit will occur over two days. Please make sure you are pitching your work on the appropriate day; many of the agents and editors will only tune in on a specific day, to see the pitches in the categories they represent/acquire.

October 5th will be for Children’s & Teen Fiction/Nonfiction (picture books, chapter books, graphic novel, middle grade, young adult).

October 6th will be for Adult Fiction/Nonfiction (all genres, commercial and literary).

The event will run on each day from 8AM ET until 8PM ET using the hashtag #DVpit on both days.


 

What kind of work can you submit?


The participating agents and editors will be looking for a variety of work, including all categories of fiction for adults, teens, and children, as well as nonfiction—as long as they qualify per the description here.

Please only pitch your completed, unpublished manuscripts.


 

How do you submit?


The event will be broken up over two days, one for Children’s & Teen Fiction/Nonfiction (October 5) and the other for Adult Fiction/Nonfiction (October 6). Please make sure that you pitch on the appropriate day.

Your pitch must fit the 140-character max, and must also include the hashtag #DVpit.

Please try to include category and/or genre hashtags as well.

We will trust that your pitch is for a diverse book / you are a diverse author, but if you want a quick way to make the diversity in your work more apparent in your short pitch (and you can fit a few more characters), I also encourage you to include an abbreviation as an easier way to get that information across. Examples: OWN (to suggest #ownvoices), POC, LGBT, DIS (disability), IMM (immigration), etc. These codes are up to you—I’m in no place to judge or police how, or even if, you label your experience. Please remember they are optional. You will *not* be at a disadvantage if you don’t include them! If you do want to add, please make the abbreviation as clear and straightforward as possible for our agents/editors.

Please pitch no more than once per hour. You may use the same pitch, or shake things up by using different pitches for the same project. You may pitch more than one project at a time, as long as they are completed and unpublished.

Please do not tweet-pitch the agents/editors directly!

The event will run from 8:00AM ET until 8:00PM ET, so please only tweet your pitches during that block of time, on the appropriate day.


What happens next?


Agents/editors will “like” your pitch if they’d like to see material from you, so please don’t “like” other authors’ pitches. Please also do not retweet. To show support, you can always reply or quote-tweet with compliments.

Each agent/editor will have their own preferences for receiving submissions, so if you get a “like” from someone, please refer to their Twitter feed to see what they ask for, and how you can contact them.

All of these agents/editors are invested in finding more marginalized voices, so if you’re comfortable with it (and ONLY if you are comfortable with it), I encourage you to self-identify in your query, or just simply let us know that the story and/or character(s) reflect your own experience (or even in your pitch if you have the space and the inclination).

If you see that multiple agents/editors from the same company have “liked” your pitch, please contact them directly for their policy on multiple submissions, or reach out to me and I will be happy to find out for you.

Keep in mind that many agents/editors will get sidetracked with their usual work or unexpected crises and may have to revisit the feed after the event is over. So don’t be surprised if you receive “likes” after the period closes!


Our own Stacy Whitman, publisher of our Tu Books imprint, will be participating again this round. So get those pitches ready for October 5th!

If you need help with your pitch, check out these helpful resources here.

For more information, please visit the #DVpit website.

 

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2. Magic Spells for Improving Your Craft

Here is a little something I wrote for Puddle Jump Collective about magic and art-making:



My twins just read the Harry Potter series -
seven books and one play.
My whole rabble of wildebeests is now running through the house with pointy sticks, saying, "Wingardium Leviosa!" and "Expelliarmus!"
Aside from the bad parenting of letting children run with pointy objects, 
I myself would not mind a wand for a few things in life. 

1. The dishes.  (A den full of four hungry wildebeests and their keepers can be very full of dishes)
2. The laundry. (Again with the den analogy.)
3. The writing and the art.
Wouldn't it be fun to flick a pointy stick 
and magic oneself into a brilliant writer and/or illustrator?
 
So, really, where is that magic spell?  
Wouldn't it make everything easier?
So, I once had the opportunity to hear picture book illustrator Renata Liwska and her husband Mike Kerr speak at a SCBWI conference in Seattle.
Wide eyed and wonderstruck,
I wanted to know the tricks and magic spells
that would turn me into a picture book illustrator exactly like Renata Liwska.

Ever do that?

Well, maybe not. But I did. 
So, we all of us watched thirstily as Renata and Mike unpacked for the talk.
They pulled out a motherlode of black sketchbooks and laid them in a mountain in front of us.
Each sketchbook was filled with perfect illustrations. 
Perfect! Pristine in skill and finish! 
How was there not even one scratched out, loopy mess up in the entire collection? How?

Renata is soft-spoken, humble, and has such a kind smile.
Her husband Mike pointed to the pile of books and told us Renata's magic spell:
"This!"

Sketch every, every day.

That's it? 
W-w-w-work? 
Just work?

Where's the magic in that? 
 
Two years later, it's beginning to sink in.It isn't an instant change, but each drop in the bucket is a spell of sorts.
 
Each drop is a growing of your eyes and ears and hands,
every sketch is an observation, a study of the world,
each page is a honing of your vision -
and therein you find the transformation! 

So, my friends, let me share some magic spells for improving your craft in a nutshell:  


1. Show up. Every day.


(Writers also call this "butt-in-chair.")

2. Sketch. Sketch. Sketch.


(Or insert your passion here. Bake cakes. Practice soccer. Juggle fruit.)

3. Write. Write. Write.


(Especially important for aspiring authors.)

4. Read. Read. Read.


(Observe and learn from the world relating to your craft. If you want to be a picture book illustrator, by golly, read picture books like a sieve!)

5. Repeat.

6. Every, every day.

Once more:


  


And the thing is?
The more I do it, the more I love this daily rite.

It's like magic.


{Excerpt first published Tuesday, August 30 on Puddle Jump Collective.}


Books!

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George
Withering-By-Sea by Judith Rossell
Half Magic by Edward Eager
The Magic Half and Magic in the Mix by Annie Barrows
A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig
Strega Nona's Magic Lessons by Tomie de Paola

Books on Writing and Art:




Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly by Gail Carson Levine
Rip the Page: Adventures in Creative Writing by Karen Benke
Spilling Ink by Anne Mazer & Ellen Potter, illustrated by Matt Phelan
Ed Emberley's Drawing Book of Animals
20 Ways to Draw a Cat by Julia Kuo
Let's Draw a Story by Sachiko Umoto























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3. The Writing and Revision Cycle

The life cycle of a novel-in-progress is an interesting thing. Obviously, everybody's process is different, which is intriguing in itself--I find myself endlessly fascinated by the different ways of working that I observe in my writing group. Some... Read the rest of this post

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4. The Heart of Writing: The Revision Process

New Voices Award sealIt’s August and with the New Voices Award deadline approaching in just seven weeks, participating writers may be starting to feel the heat. No sweat! The New Voices Award blog post series has got you covered from the summer sun of stress.

At this stage, you’ve probably got your cover letter and story written down. You’ve also read July’s post on the importance of voice in a story and made your narrative even more engaging to readers. Congrats! That’s two essential checks on the New Voices To-do list –but don’t seal the envelope just yet! Now that your story is down it’s time to begin the revision process.

Revision is an important part of the writing experience. It’s about revisiting what you’ve written, identifying what needs to be strengthened, and rewriting to improve your story. Every writer’s revision process is different so to provide some guidance we interviewed two New Voices Award Winners, Linda Boyden (The Blue Roses) and Jennifer Torres (Finding the Music/ En pos de la musica), about how their revision processes helped them prepare their stories for the New Voices Award.

What inspired you to write your story? Did you write it specifically for the New Voices Award, or was it something you were working on already?

 Linda Boyden: In 1978 my maternal grandfather, Edward Dargis, passed away. I was about to have my last baby and couldn’t attend his funeral 3,000 miles away. Until I went to college, we had lived in the same neighborhood and were very close. He worked at a factory but was happiest in his garden. A few nights after he passed, he came to me in a dream. He stood in a beautiful flower garden, and like Rosalie’s Papa his face was “smooth, not wrinkled.” In the dream he told me to stop grieving because he was happy. From that point on I knew I needed to write this story as a gentle way to broach a tough topic.

from The Blue Roses
from The Blue Roses

Many years later when my husband’s company moved us to Maui, I left teaching and decided to follow my dream of becoming a writer. I enrolled in a community college writing course. The instructor assigned us the task of writing 1,000 words a week so the first draft of The Blue Roses was actually homework! When he returned it he commented, “I wanted to like Rosalie more, but I couldn’t.” That hurt so I put the manuscript away. Months later I rethought and revisited. By the time I learned of Lee & Low’s New Voices Award, the manuscript had been through a few revisions. After winning, it went through a few more with my careful editors, Laura Atkins and Louise May.

Jennifer Torres: Finding the Music was inspired by my own childhood—growing up in a noisy family, being close to my grandparents and their stories, hearing mariachi music playing in the background of weddings, birthday parties and other special celebrations. It was also inspired by stories I covered as a newspaper reporter: one, an obituary for a farm worker who gave free mariachi lessons to neighborhood kids on his time off, and another about the sense of community that grew around the mariachi program at Cesar Chavez High School in Stockton, California. I started working on the book long before I learned about the New Voices Award. After researching publishers, I knew I wanted to submit my manuscript to Lee & Low. I went to the website to learn more about the company and to review submission guidelines—that’s when I discovered the award.

What does your revision process look like? At what point in your writing process do you begin making changes?

LB: I write at a certain time every day. When working on a picture book, I rough it out on paper and revisit the next morning. I revise the previous work then create new. Next day, repeat. When it’s almost “good” I print it, read it aloud, and revise more. I love the process: revision is the heart of writing.

JT: I always catch myself wanting to revise as I go, making changes today on what I wrote yesterday. But I try to resist! It’s too easy for me to get hung up on small details that way. I think I do much better work when I’m revising a finished draft. I can step back with a sense of the story’s full scope. The problems stand out more clearly, and, often, so do the solutions.

How often do you share your works-in-progress with other people? Are you part of a critique group or is there someone specific you rely on for feedback?

from Finding the Music
from Finding the Music

LB: I’ve been part of many critique groups over the years. Now, I share with trusted individuals only and generally online. I read most rough drafts aloud to my husband who hears the mistakes. I also share all my picture book manuscripts with one young granddaughter who also has remarkable insights.

JT: I’m not part of a critique group-I think it could be good though! I do have a few friends who I ask to read drafts after I’ve finished a couple of rounds of revision on my own. They’re talented writers—whose styles and voices are nothing like mine—and they give thoughtful and honest feedback. It’s super helpful to me to see my work from someone else’s perspective, especially when the story has been all alone in my head until then.

What is something surprising you learned while preparing your story for publication?

LB: The most surprising part was discovering that authors and illustrators seldom meet, or even have contact. My Lee & Low editors had no problem with illustrator, Amy Cordova, and me communicating. Not only did this collaboration strengthen our book, Amy and I have remained friends.

JT: During the publication process, my editor let me know that Finding the Music would be bilingual (It was initially English-only). This meant some extra editing and paring down, but I was really excited about the decision! What was surprising to me, though, was how adding the Spanish text added so much dimension to the book as a whole. I can’t imagine it any other way now, and it’s a good reminder of how the collaborative nature of the process can do so much to enrich storytelling.

How has winning New Voices Award changed the way you write or revise stories?

LB: Winning the first New Voices Award gave me something I lacked as a writer: self-confidence. Though I understood picture books, I had no training in becoming a writer other than the one community college course mentioned above. Winning also gave me the opportunity to learn from the wonderful editorial staff at Lee & Low Books.

 JT: Coming from a newspaper background, I already had big appreciation for editing and revising as part of the writing process. But at a newspaper, it happens so fast. Winning the New Voices Award and preparing Finding the Music for publication helped me realize how valuable it can be to step back from a project, and approach it again weeks (or even months) later with fresh eyes and perspective.

The Blue Roses by Linda Boyden is available now!

The Blue Roses cover image

Finding the Music/ En pos de la musica by Jennifer Torres is available now!

Finding the Music cover image

For more details about submitting to the New Voices Award please visit the New Voices Award page.

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5. Three Up-and-Coming Writers of Color to Watch Out For

New Visions Award sealThe New Visions Award, given annually by our Tu Books imprint, honors a middle grade or young adult novel for young readers by an author of color who has not previously published a novel for that age group. It was established to encourage new talent and to offer authors of color a chance to break into a tough and predominantly white market.

In addition to our New Visions Award Winner and Honor, this year there were three New Visions Award finalists: Alex Brown (Hate Crime), Hilda Burgos (The Castle of Kings), and Elizabeth Stephens (The Rougarou). Below, they share their writing experience, what inspires them, and what they hope readers will take away from their stories. We are thrilled to introduce readers to these talented writers and can’t wait to see how their careers take shape!

Could you tell us about your story?

Elizabeth Stephens headshotElizabeth Stephens: The Rougarou has been a work in progress for several years now. I drafted the first version of this manuscript my freshman year of college, though it has taken on a life of its own since! In particular, my study abroad experience in Paris, France in 2012 helped shape the details of this novel as did later work experience in Geneva, Switzerland. Whenever I reread my own book, it provides me with a sense of nostalgia – a straight shot of Paris. The infusion of Cajun folklore into the story, I adopted only very recently. I am a native French speaker because I grew up in West Africa and knew that I wanted my main character’s roots to be francophone. At the same time, I have been deeply interested in Louisiana culture since I was thirteen years old and first read Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire.

Hilda Burgos headshotHilda Burgos: The eleven year-old protagonist of my story, Ana Maria Reyes (Anamay), has a few things in common with me: she has three sisters, her parents are from the Dominican Republic, and she is growing up in the New York City neighborhood of Washington Heights. I first created Anamay about twenty years ago when I drafted a picture book manuscript about a six year-old girl who was nervous about the impending birth of a new sibling. Then I learned about a chapter book contest, and decided that Anamay’s story could be expanded to include the culture shock I experienced when I was ten years old and first visited the Dominican Republic.

Alex Brown Headshot Alex Brown: My mother immigrated to the US from the Philippines in the 1980s. She left an entire country behind in order to come here and be a nurse. The US has a long history of recruiting nurses from the Philippines, and from what I can tell, it started after the Spanish-American War, with the Pensionado Act of 1903 (wherein certain Filipino citizens came to the US to study). I took a little bit of what she experienced when she first arrived here, and built upon some of the obstacles she faced (including how incredibly badass she is for raising two kids as a single parent in a new country). I also drew from my own experiences growing up – the discord that happens between my main character and her parents when she chooses not to believe the legitimate folktales they tell her – reflects a lot of my feelings as a kid.

Is there anything in particular you hope readers take away from this story?

ES: I certainly hope that readers enjoy the elements of the story that I had most fun crafting: the romance between Chandelle and Reno, the setting in modern day Paris, and the fantastical elements reminiscent of Southern lore never forgotten.

HB: When I was a child there weren’t many books about kids like me: kids who lived in apartment buildings in a city, who spoke one language at home and another one in school, who had frizzy hair and dark complexions. I always looked for something familiar in the books I read. I hope that readers learn something new and expand their worlds when they read about Anamay, and that this knowledge helps them as they meet new people in their lives. I also hope that readers who share some of Anamay’s experiences find comfort in the familiarity of some of the scenes. Most importantly, I hope that readers enjoy the story and are inspired to read more and more books.

AB: I hope that people will start to think about the impact they can have on others. We live in this society where certain things – stereotypes, prejudices, hatred – are way more insidious than they have any right to be. But, with all of the bad, there’s still the possibility that anyone, anywhere, can stand up for what’s right. I’d also feel quite accomplished if people took a moment to pause and think about all of the obstacles and daily struggles that await anyone who immigrates to America. There’s something to be said about the unquantifiable amount of bravery, hope, and grit that it takes to leave one’s whole world behind, all to start a new life in an unfamiliar (and, at times, unfriendly) place.

Is there anything about your writing experience that you’d like to share?

ES: I wrote my first book at the age of eleven. It was a science fiction saga about a young girl picked up by a ragtag group of bandits and transported to other worlds. Since then, I’ve had the privilege of publishing several short works of horror in a number of online magazines and last year, I published my first fiction novel.

HB: I fell in love with language and literature when I first learned how to read.   A well-written book is a work of art. In college I majored in French and Spanish literatures, and I also took English literature and creative writing classes. I wrote stories for pleasure during college and law school, and I took my first class on writing for children after law school. I draw ideas from my life experiences and observations, from stories that I have heard, and from historical accounts and current events.

AB: When I first started to seriously consider writing, I was a co-winner of the Windy City Chapter of the Romance Writers of America’s Four Seasons YA award. A few months after that, I was one of the inaugural winners of SCBWI’s Emerging Voices award. The manuscript that received these cool distinctions was my second, and since then I’ve gone on to write several more, and have quite a few other ideas for new books!


Last year, books by authors of color comprised less than eleven percent of the total number of books published for young readers, according to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The annual New Visions Award is a step toward the day when all young readers can see themselves in books.

The New Visions Award is open for submissions through October 31, 2016! Please see the full submissions guidelines here.

If you’d like more news regarding the New Visions Award, author interviews, and more, sign up for our newsletter here.

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6. Shaping Voice and Tackling Heavy Themes in Children’s Stories

New Voices Award sealSummer is settling in and this month marks the halfway point of the submissions window for our New Voices Award, an annual writing contest for unpublished authors of color. If you’re an aspiring writer working to submit a children’s book manuscript, you’ve probably got the basic elements of your story (characters, setting, and plot) figured out already. You may even have most of the story written down. If so, kudos! But a story is more than words on a page. It’s the voice behind the words that drives the narrative and keeps the reader engaged.

Unsure of how to tackle this essential yet elusive story element? Fear not!

Last month we interviewed New Voices Award winner Sylvia Liu about her path to publication. In this next blog post, New Voices Award Winner Patricia Smith and New Voices Award Honor Hayan Charara share their experiences with shaping voice while tackling the difficult themes in their award-winning titles Janna and the Kings and The Three Lucys.

  1. What kind of writing did you do before entering the New Voices Award and how did that experience influence your story writing?

Patricia Smith: I’d been a professional journalist, but my primary mode of writing at the time was poetry. I think I became a poet after taking on some of my father’s storytelling skills. When he came up from Arkansas to Chicago during the Great Migration, he brought with him something I like to call “the tradition of the back porch.” Every day ended with a story from him that opened up new worlds, stretched the boundaries of my imagination and taught me that language was so much more than what I was learning, or not learning, in school.

But I don’t think my father’s stories inspired Janna as much as my father himself did. I was that little girl sitting in the barbershop, fascinated at all the magic found there, but it was my father–not my grandfather–who let me tag along with him every Saturday. I was an adult when my father died–and Janna was a way to explore that sense of loss, of the world not being the same. Also, although I’m a diehard sentimental, I never really knew my grandfather. So I wanted to explore that warmth that I imagined between a grandfather and grandchild.

Hayan Charara: I published my first poem when I was nineteen, so it’s been almost twenty-five years since I began writing poetry. Some of my poems tell stories, and all of them use a good deal of imagery to get across both meaning and feeling. Without storytelling and imagery, The Three Lucys simply couldn’t exist.

  1. What inspired you to write your story as a book for children?

    janna and the kings
    from Janna and the Kings

PS: I’m the dictionary definition of a daddy’s girl, so a few things were in play. I needed to express the singular and enduring type of love I felt for him. Although he was gone by the time the book was published, I was writing it for him–he died before he could see that I’d become a writer, which is something I promised him when I was very young. And I really wanted to capture that special time in a special place, the barbershop–a place that has been so pivotal, and so nurturing, in so many black communities.

HC: I first wrote about the events that take place in The Three Lucys a few years earlier in a poem originally titled, “Lucy”. I changed the poem’s title to “Animals,” and it appears in my new poetry book, Something Sinister. Generally speaking, I write poems, in part, to figure something out, either about myself, the people I know, or the world I live in. While I don’t always find an answer, I find that I have a better sense of these things than I did beforehand.

Despite the poem, I still had questions about the war, and most of them had to do with my little brother who lived through its events. Like Luli, he was six years old when the war broke out. I hadn’t yet thought very deeply about how he and other children might have experienced war and its aftermath.

I might not have tackled these questions with a children’s book if not for Naomi Shihab Nye, the poet and children’s book author. For years, Naomi had been urging me to write a children’s book, and for almost all of that time I didn’t feel ready to do so. Then, at a café in San Antonio, she handed me an announcement for the New Voices Award and said, simply, “You need to write a story for children.” This time, I felt ready.

  1. Did the voice for your story come naturally, or did you experiment with different points of view while writing?

 PS: Because I envisioned myself as Janna, and because my father’s voice is so clear in my head, the writing came easily. Actually, I had held on to the New Voices call for some time, moving the notice around and around on my desk. I work best when there’s an anvil swinging over my head, so I didn’t begin writing until I had no choice–a day or so before the deadline. I didn’t panic, because I knew the story so well.

HC: Before The Three Lucys, I had no practice writing children’s stories, and it had been years since I last read one. I went into writing the story very clumsily, not really knowing what I was doing or how it would turn out. Depending on who is asked, that’s either the most natural or unnatural way to write a story.

Though I wrote the story in one sitting, it took several revisions before I started to think of it as finished. All along, the voice remained relatively unchanged; the same goes for the points of view. What did change through each revision were the details and descriptions, the sort that would bring to life the experiences of the people in the story, as well as their deeper emotions.

For example, none of the early drafts brought out in a powerful and memorable way the moment that Luli realizes he will never again see one of the three Lucys. At best, the scene was nothing more than a description. I hadn’t gotten at how Luli felt.

I took months to arrive at an image that expressed the kind of sadness that comes with the loss of a loved one. Luli tells us, “My heart feels as heavy as an apple falling from a tree.” Sometimes, we get lucky and an image like that comes quick. Sometimes, it takes a long time, but I still feel lucky when it happens.

  1. Both Janna and the Kings and The Three Lucys discuss heavy themes. What challenges did you face when creating the right tone/ voice for your main character as they experience tragedy and cope with its effects? How did you overcome these challenges?
the three lucys
from The Three Lucys

PS: It didn’t feel like a challenge. I feel like I’m forever processing the loss of my father, and a lot of what I hoped the world will be without him is much like what the world turns out to be for Janna. I wanted to acknowledge his loss, but to have my life be full of him. I was writing from the perspective of a child, but the feelings were very much my own–an adult woman still suffering the loss of her best friend.

HC: The hardest part of writing this story was separating myself from it. I had all sorts of feelings, thoughts, and responses to the war itself, to war in general, and to the loss of a loved one. My mother died when I was a young man, for example, and that experience altered me forever.

I knew that I would be coming at this story with a lot of ideas and emotions already in place. On the one hand, this is a good thing because it meant that I was prepared to write the story. On the other hand, it was clear to me that I had to come at this story from a perspective very different from my own. After all, the story is about a child’s experience, not an adult’s, a fact I had to remind myself about often and be reminded about just as often by those who read drafts of the story.

  1. Finally, what advice would you give to new writers interested in tackling heavy themes in their stories for children?

PS: We constantly underestimate children. The world they live in is sporting sharper edges; and each day they adjust, their perspectives deepen, and they grow thicker skin. Children suspect these heavy stories even if we’re not ready to tell them. I think the key is remembering to revel in the myriad possibilities of language, to never downplay the role of imagination, and to always, always look for an unexpected entry point into the story. I don’t mean to sugarcoat–just write the story in a way you’ve never heard it. Your readers will be so enthralled by the way the story unfolds that its content becomes something more than just “that difficult topic.”

HC: When I wrote The Three Lucys, my wife and I didn’t have any children, only cats and dogs. You don’t have to explain anything to a cat or dog—you can, of course, and I think it’s a good thing if we talk to our animals. With cats and dogs, no matter what you say, they always listen. There’s practically no pressure at all to get it right. It’s really hard to screw up.

We’re parents now, to a four-year-old and a five-year-old. And I’ve realized that I am talking to them all the time about heavy themes, mainly because they bring them up. Every so often, one of them will ask me something like, “Will you die before me?” or “Can I live with you forever?” Or, even harder to answer, “What is the universe?”

When my boys ask me these kinds of questions, I feel like every one of them is an opportunity for me to say exactly the wrong thing. Obviously, these are also opportunities for growth and knowledge (for them as much as for me). When I talk to them about anything, not just heavy stuff, I try to do so honestly and in a way that doesn’t terrify or confuse them. I’ve also realized that, no matter how much I try to protect them, difficult and at times ugly realities will still make their way into their lives. This happens to all children, all the time. When it comes to helping children understand and get through difficulties, parents and teachers are usually the first-responders. And writers are often right there with them. We can be, at least. As a parent, I know that I often rely on writers—on children’s books—to help me out, not only with the heavy stuff, but the simple stuff, too. So I hope that more writers will tackle the big issues. It’ll make all our lives a little better.

Janna and the Kings by Patricia Smith is available now!

janna and the kings

The Three Lucys by Hayan Charara will be available September 2016!

the three lucys

For more details about the New Voices Award please visit the New Voices Award page.

 

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7. A. Fortis and TS Davis in Revisionland

To be honest, one or both of us is always ALWAYS in Revisionland in some form or another. And when we're lost in Revisionland I tend to go back and re-run old installments of Toon Thursday to cheer myself up. So, I have one of those for you, but lo... Read the rest of this post

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8. Tackling Titillating Taglines…

Tackle your Readers attention with a great Tagline!
You need to hit readers hard, blindside them with an awesome tagline in order to grab their attention. I cannot overestimate the importance of this. Your tagline, blurb and excerpt are the most important sales tools you have for your book. Choose them wisely.

Every author wants people to read their book, right? Well, they aren't going to find your book unless you put it out there and MAKE them want to read it. Throwing away your tagline and blurb is just like taking your book and throwing it off a bridge in the hopes that someone will fish it out of the ocean, find it, and think it's great. So let's go over developing a tagline that will make readers care enough to pick up your book and purchase it.

A tagline is—or should be—one of the simplest things to create. A tagline is—plain and simply—a one sentence summation of the theme of your book. Something quick and catchy. If you're moving on through publishing by attending conferences and conventions, a tagline is similar to what is called an elevator pitch. What you want to do is to catch a reader's—or an agent's or an editor's—attention with a one-sentence description.

Remember, a PITCH and a TAGLINE are two different things. A PITCH is to get someone to buy your book with the intent to publish it. A TAGLINE is to get someone anonymous, in a bookstore or online, to buy your book to READ it. So your tagline should be about your BOOK.

Here’s the tagline for the first book in my middle grade/young adult time travel series, The Last Timekeepers and the Arch of Atlantis:

“Children are the keys to our future. And now, children are the only hope for our past.”

Is it the best tagline ever? Nope, probably not. But it tells the reader exactly what the theme of the book is. Look at the points it covers—what it tells you about the book. What does that tagline cover?

Children. Keys. Future. Hope. Past.

That's the purpose of a tagline and how to make it work for you. Therefore—homework lesson number one. Sit down and READ your book. You may think you know what it's about, but if you're a writer like me—you don't. READ IT. As you read, jot down notes to yourself. One. Word. Notes. Hit the high points of your book. What themes, what high points do you think sell your book? No—even simpler: what tags or key words are IN your book? Because those are what will sell your book. Readers don't always know what they're looking for in something to read. Your tagline will give them clues.

A few examples of great taglines:

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman – It takes a graveyard to raise a child.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner – Remember. Survive. Run.

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson – Two lives are bridged – and nothing will be the same.

Do you see what all of these taglines have in common? They titillated enough readers to become bestsellers.
 
So that's your first job after your book is written. To sit down and read your book, and to pull a tagline from it. And this is where the elevator pitch and the tagline come together. In an elevator pitch, you've got maybe thirty seconds to gain the interest of an editor or an agent—just as long as it takes the elevator to get to their floor. With a reader, you have your book cover and one sentence—just one sentence—to convince them to click through and read more. You cannot afford to throw that chance away. So a tagline that's trite or vague or boring cannot be an option.

BTW – Here’s a sneak peek at the tagline for the next book in my time travel series, The Last Timekeepers and the Dark Secretset to be released on October 17th 2016:

“Only a true hero can shine the light in humanity’s darkest time.”

Hope I've done my job and piqued your interest! What are some of your favorite taglines? Cheers and thank you for your time and attention today!

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9. Interview: Kimberly Reid, author of PERFECT LIARS

kimberly reidSometimes to save the day, a good girl’s gotta be bad.

White Collar meets Oceans 11 in our new YA novel, Perfect Liars. We interviewed author Kimberly Reid on how to craft the perfect heist novel, her writing tips, and breaking stereotypes.

Why was it important to you to depict an interracial relationship in your story?

In the real world, interracial relationships exist. I’ve been in one with my Korean husband since college. Teen readers may not think this is a big deal, but when we met in the late 1980s, long before K-pop, K-dramas, and Korean fusion food trucks made the culture more accessible to Americans, it was kind of a big deal. Back then, as Koreans immigrated and settled into traditionally black neighborhoods of large cities, relations between our communities were tense. I wasn’t quite as young as the characters in Perfect Liars, but I remember what it was like to be young and in a relationship for which I had no model, one that was seen as “exotic” at best and flat-out wrong at worst. The world has shifted a lot in thirty years, and kids have more models now but it’s still important to me that my books reflect the real world. And unfortunately, we’re often reminded how little shift there has been. Just last week, people lost their minds over an interracial Old Navy ad.

What research did you do to create a convincing heist novel?

That aspect of the book probably took the least research since the heist isn’t a huge player in the story, though I had to do a lot of Googling on the high-end antiques business. I didn’t want the target of the thieves to be the usual things—money, jewelry, art—though that’s in there, too. So I decided to go with fine antiques. The legal aspects took up most of my research time. Luckily, I come from a law enforcement family so it was fairly easy to ask any question that popped into my head. When I was writing the book, my much younger sister had recently passed the bar exam and she’d also been an English major in undergrad, so she was the perfect person to help. The law was really fresh for her, and she didn’t get bored with all my writerly talk of plot and motivation.

Who are your favorite heist writers? What are some of your favorite heist movies or shows? pull quote 1

I don’t really have a favorite heist writer, but I have watched many heist movies, like The Italian Job and Ocean’s Eleven (the original and the newer versions), Rififi, The Score, and Inside Man. But it was actually a TV show called Leverage that gave me part of the inspiration for Perfect Liars. The main premise came from an alternative school in my town that is run by a juvie court judge and was once housed in our city’s justice center, along with courtrooms and the sheriff’s office. But I needed to turn that into a story and decided to have former juvie kids use their criminal skills for good. In Leverage, a band of criminals, led by a former investigator, use their various talents to help people in need.

How is writing fiction different than writing a memoir (No Place Safe)?

The biggest difference is telling the truth versus making stuff up. With fiction, you can make the story go the way you want. Writing memoir is all about the truth and sometimes the truth hurts. No Place Safe is the story of growing up during the two-year-long Atlanta Missing and Murdered Children investigation, on which my mother was a lead investigator. I was thirteen when the murders began, and I wrote the story from my thirteen-year-old’s perspective, but with the insight of an adult looking back on that time. It was my first published book, and writing it helped me figure out what I wanted to do from that point on. I like writing from a teen point of view (but I find it more difficult than writing for adults!). Though I write crime fiction, I prefer using humor in my stories rather than a darker voice. Most importantly, I’d much rather invent stories than tell the truth.

What advice would you give to writers that want to write heist novels?

In a heist novel, the entire book is about the planning and execution of a heist, and then how the characters deal with the fallout. There is some of that in Perfect Liars, but it isn’t really a heist novel. Publishers Weekly calls it “a socially conscious crime thriller” and I like that description. The heist more or less sets up the story; it isn’t the story. If I had to give it a subgenre, it’s probably more con artist than heist. But I’d give the same advice I’d give a writer of any genre: do your research. I do lots of research and still miss something every time. And your readers will call you on it every time. I can be a little Type A and used to think, “Oh, no! How did I miss that?” Now, I realize I can’t change the book once it is out in the world, so I view it as, “I have some really smart and observant readers. They’ll keep me on my toes as I research the next book.”

A few months ago, LEE & LOW released the Diversity Baseline Survey, which revealed that a significant percentage of publishing staff is comprised of white women. Were you shocked by these numbers? What is a way publishing might be able to improve these numbers?

pull quote 2I’ve been black all my life, and a traditionally published writer for nearly a decade, so no, I wasn’t surprised. More surprising—and heartening—was the response to the survey from the participants. I was glad to see Big Five publishers participate. As sad as the numbers are, I think being truthful about them and willing to contribute honest data is a good start. As far as improving the numbers, I think decision-makers need to make an aggressive effort to recruit diverse employees. I don’t mean run job ads on sites focused on minorities or maybe participate in diversity job fairs for new college grads. I mean start early, show marginalized high school students the possibility of publishing as a career through education and internships. The science disciplines are doing this through STEM program education and recruitment as early as middle school. Another suggestion is to let go of the idea that everyone must work in Manhattan, which puts a publishing career out of economic reach for most. The film industry has figured that out. While Hollywood may always be the headquarters, lots of movies are being made in studios in lower cost cities like Atlanta and Vancouver, and using local production talent. Maybe have self-contained imprints, from acquisitions to sales reps, as field offices. I think this would also help publishing become less New York-centric and keep publishers in closer touch with what’s going on in the rest of the country in terms of demographics, cultural trends, and social movements. And to loop back to my first suggestion, publishing needs more decision-makers from marginalized backgrounds. It’s hard to acknowledge there’s a problem when you’ve never experienced the problem, and you can’t fix what you don’t perceive as broken, or at least, fully understand how broken the thing is.

Many of the juvenile delinquents that Drea works with challenge her assumptions about what they are truly like. Why is it important to challenge Drea’s (and the reader’s) assumptions about these characters?

I won’t lie—I can be judgey. A big part of being a writer is watching the world and trying to understand people, and hopefully, attempting to empathize with some of what we see. It’s hard to do that if you aren’t willing to see there’s more than one perspective. So I brought a lot of that to Drea’s character. I also wanted to show that we are not monolithic. Of the relatively few books that are published with brown or black leads, the odds favor us being depicted as broke, oppressed, undereducated, and in need of salvation. Drea is the opposite of these things despite being a racial minority. And also despite that, she views the world from a place of privilege. Part of her evolution is seeing that she has obtained her privilege in a questionable way, and also that, when it comes down to it, some people will always see her the way they want, no matter her money, class, or education. She learns this by seeing how others like her are treated and eventually realizes she has the means to help correct some of that.

The push for more diverse books has increased in the past two years. What do you hope to see from forthcoming books?

I’d like to see more fun books with racially marginalized characters. While these things are huge aspects of our past and, unfortunately, what still lies ahead, we aren’t always trying to throw off the yoke of oppression, dealing with the legacy of slavery or the marginalization that comes with being immigrants. Books from white writers with white leads don’t carry this burden. They can be fun for entertainment’s sake, and that’s just fine. Historically, publishing hasn’t given the same freedom to writers of color. We have had to come with the deep and profound, or not come at all. Kids of color should have a variety to choose from, should be able to walk into a library or store and pick the thing they’re dying to read, not the thing an adult (publishers, teachers, librarians, parents) has deemed they should read because of what they look like or where they came from. That choice can include a history of their people, but let them also have a fun mystery, an interracial romance, a fantasy in which a kid who looks like them is the slayer of dragons. Every young reader deserves that.

What’s one of your favorite sentences, either from your own writing or from someone else’s?

Can I give a few? I love this description of a season’s change from Toni Morrison’s Sula:

“Then summer came. A summer limp with the weight of blossomed things. Heavy sunflowers weeping over fences; iris curling and browning at the edges far away from their purple hearts; ears of corn letting their auburn hair wind down to their stalks. And the boys. The beautiful, beautiful boys who dotted the landscape like jewels, split the air with their shouts in the field, and thickened the river with their shining wet backs. Even their footsteps left a smell of smoke behind.”

I bow to Ms. Morrison.

If you were putting together your own team to pull off a heist, who would be on it and why?

I’d need a computer genius. I once worked in the tech world—which is increasingly becoming the world—and computer geeks make it go round. I’d want a great con artists or two because I wouldn’t want to use brute force. If I’m going to be a criminal, I’d rather manipulate people into giving me what I want rather than physically hurting them into doing it. They’re both bad, but for some reason, the con seems less bad than the violence. Certainly I’d want someone who could break into anything, probably two thieves—one high tech, one old school because you never know if you’re going to run into an antique safe or something. Those would be the minimal requirements. Nice-to-have additions would be a chemist, physicist, and an engineer. They are like the MacGyvers of the world. Between them, when all else fails, they could probably figure a way out of any jam.

Perfect Liars releases next week!

perfect liars cover

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10. #DVpit: A Twitter Pitching Event for Marginalized Authors

While the number of diverse books is increasing, the number of new diverse authors entering the field remains low. Significant barriers remain for authors of color, Native authors, disabled authors, and other marginalized voices. With that in mind, we are excited to share information on this special Twitter event, #DVpit, created to showcase pitches by marginalized voices and help connect them to agents and editors. The information below is cross-posted with permission from literary agent Beth Phelan’s website.   

#DVpit

A Twitter Pitching Event, Hosted + Moderated by Beth Phelan

April 19, 2016
8:00AM EST – 8:00PM EST

#DVpit

What is #DVpit?


#DVpit is a Twitter event created to showcase pitches about and especially by marginalized voices. This includes (but is not limited to): Native peoples and people of color; people living and/or born/raised in underrepresented cultures and countries; disabled persons; people with illness; people on marginalized ends of the socioeconomic, cultural and/or religious spectrum; people identifying as LGBTQIA+; and more.


What kind of work can you submit?


The participating agents and editors are looking for a variety of work, including all categories of fiction for adults, teens, and children, as well as nonfiction—as long as they qualify per the paragraph above.

Please only pitch your completed, unpublished manuscripts.


How do you submit?


Your pitch must fit the 140-character max, and must also include the hashtag #DVpit.

Please try to include category and/or genre hashtags in your pitch.

We will trust that your pitch is for a diverse book, but if you want a quick way to make the diversity in your work more apparent in your short pitch (and you can fit a few more characters), I also encourage you to include an abbreviation as an easier way to get that information across. Examples: OWN (to suggest #ownvoices), POC, LGBT, DIS (disability), IMM (immigration), etc.

These codes are up to you—I’m in no place to judge or police how, or even if, you box your experience. If you’ve already perfected your pitch and/or simply don’t see the value in including these codes, please remember they are optional. You will *not* be at a disadvantage if you don’t include them! If you do want to add, please make the abbreviation as clear and straightforward as possible for our agents/editors.

Please pitch no more than once per hour, per manuscript. You may use the same pitch, or shake things up by using different pitches for the same project. You may pitch more than one project at a time, as long as they are completed and unpublished.

Please do not tweet the agents/editors directly!

The event will run from 8:00AM EST until 8:00PM EST, so please only tweet your pitches during that block of time.


What happens next?


Agents/editors will your “like” your pitch tweet if they’d like to see material from you, so please don’t “like” other authors’ pitches. Please also do not retweet. To show support, you can always reply with compliments.

Each agent/editor will have their own preferences for receiving submissions, so if you get a “like” from someone, please refer to their Twitter feed to see what they ask for, and how you can contact them.

All of these agents/editors are invested in finding more marginalized voices, so if you’re comfortable with it (and ONLY if you are comfortable with it), you are encouraged you to self-identify in your query, or just simply let us know that the story and/or character(s) reflect your own experience (or even in your pitch if you have the space and the inclination).

If you see that multiple agents/editors from the same group have “liked” your pitch, please contact them directly for their policy, or reach out to Beth Phelan who can help you find out.

Keep in mind that many agents/editors will get sidetracked with their usual work or unexpected crises and may have to revisit the feed after the event is over. So don’t be surprised if you receive “likes” after the period closes!


Who is participating?


Over 50 agents and editors will be participating, and since this is a public event, more are likely to join in on the day! Our own Stacy Whitman, publisher of our Tu Books imprint, will be participating. See the full list here.

Please be sure to research any agent or publisher that “likes” your pitch. There is no obligation to submit your work to anyone you don’t want to.


For more details and a list of resources to help with your pitch, visit Beth Phelan’s post. Best of luck and happy pitching!

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11. Toon Thursday: The Writing Guru Returns!

I am seriously chuffed that I have managed two new cartoons in the past month. I hope this marks the beginning of a new Toon Thursday resurgence, and a bit of momentum to get my cartoon Tumblr going. This one's pretty silly. Here you go. This work... Read the rest of this post

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12. Toon Thursday: LOOK IT'S A NEW CARTOON!

Hey kids! Are you writing a mystery or thriller but just can't seem to decide WHO, in fact, DUN IT? Well, fret no more, because Toon Thursday has a brand-new addition to the Writer's Toolkit JUST FOR YOU. Just spin the wheel, and you can blame it... Read the rest of this post

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13. The Secret Ingredient for Writing Better Characters

Laurenne Sala began her career as an advertising copywriter, writing national campaigns for clients like KIA Motors, Jack-in-the-Box, and Beats by Dre.

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14. Monday Inspiration: The Wise Natalie Goldberg

Photo taken by me, this past fall, at West Head, Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, near Sydney, Australia. Quotation is from the always inspirational book Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, a must-have for your bookshelf of writing... Read the rest of this post

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15. Getting author inspiration from Pinterest

My kids thought it was weird when they found out I was on Pinterest. But I've found it to be an invaluable tool as an author. I have boards with lesson plans that have book tie-ins. Boards about my books. Boards with book trailers. Boards with kid activities that deal with dragons, monsters and cows. And then some miscellaneous boards on other things I like.

But the board I'm lately getting the most use out of contains a variety of images that give me insight, inspiration, and ideas for the current middle grade fantasy I'm working on. If I'm trying to figure out how to describe aspects of a rainforest, I look on my board or search for other rainforest pins. If I need insight into clothes, armor and even hats worn in ancient China, I look on my board or look for more pins to add. If I need help with wildlife or plants, I turn to my board. If I need to refresh certain ideas or get new ones, my board helps me. If it's not on my board, I find other pins that might help. And when I need new inspiration, it's always waiting there for me on my board.

I also think it might be fun for others to look at my board, to just wonder and imagine what in the world this book I'm working on is going to be about. If you're curious, check it out.

https://www.pinterest.com/kenbakerbooks/inspiration-for-current-wip/

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16. Writers and Boundaries…

My Writing Womb
Actor/writer John Cleese once said to an audience that in order to be creative, two things must occur: you need to create boundaries, and make time. That’s it. Even if you write or paint or woodwork for one hour, you MUST shut yourself in a space, and let no one in for one hour. Writers would sure benefit from wearing a turtle’s shell so we could withdraw from the world any time we wanted! LOL!

Early mornings are a popular working time for many writers and artists, for a few obvious reasons. If you get up early enough, you can generally count on being free from visitors, phone calls, and other interruptions. And if you go straight to work on your creative project—if you literally put it first in your day—you can guarantee that your working time won’t be derailed by other commitments or temptations.

So how do you acquire that coveted time to write? This has been an ongoing obstacle for many writers, including yours truly. Especially when life gets messy. And trust me, it does! I guess the best advice that I can give is that you need to make sacrifices. Instead of watching three TV shows with your better half, cut back one or two (pick your favorite to watch), then scurry to your writing lair and put your fingers to the keyboard. Lock yourself in your room. Tell your family members that once the door is closed for the set amount of time you’ve chosen, you’re not available. Period. Even if someone screams bloody murder. If you need to, buy earphones, download a music app, and plug in. This will help to keep those distractions out and the words flowing.

Another option is GET OUT of the house and go to your local coffee shop or library. Many authors have chosen this avenue with great success. Libraries have more confining hours, but most coffee shops are open 24 hours. The idea is to create both time and space for yourself to write. Plus, you’ve got fresh coffee or tea on demand, so that’s a bonus!

A more expensive idea if you can swing it is to rent a motel or hotel room for a personal writing retreat. You might be able to get a good deal during off-season periods, or even use those air miles you’ve been saving to cash in on a room. What about using a friend’s home or apartment a few times a week? The possibilities are available, but we have to utilize them.

This upcoming year, I need to make some sacrifices and define my space (physical and emotional) in order to finish writing the next installment of my time travel series (so close!), and start brainstorming the next book. I’m lucky enough to have my own writing office, and there’s no little ones around to knock on the door. Unless my 100 pound yellow Labrador decides to nudge open the door to be fed or walked! I’ve used a timer in the past, but like anything, if it’s not made a habit, it’s not going to work. Self-discipline is the name of the game in this business, that’s for sure! So keep a stiff upper lip, define your writing space and time, and get that book written!

How do you define your boundaries as a writer? Where are some great places you like to write? Do you allow yourself a certain amount of time to write? Would love to read your comments! Cheers and thank you for reading my blog!

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17. To Another Year of Reading and Writing

From Writers on Writing, Volume II This work is copyrighted material. All opinions are those of the writer, unless otherwise indicated. All book reviews are UNSOLICITED, and no money has exchanged hands, unless otherwise indicated. Please contact... Read the rest of this post

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18. Over a century of great judicial writing [infographic]

Over the last century, many judges have paved the way for great judicial writing. In Point Taken: How to Write Like the World’s Best Judges, author Ross Guberman examines the cases and opinions of 34 acclaimed judges, focusing on their use of figurative language, vivid examples, grammar, and other writing techniques.

The post Over a century of great judicial writing [infographic] appeared first on OUPblog.

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19. The Imagined Life of Imaginary Things: Michelle Cuevas on Writing About Imaginary Friends

Confessions of an Imaginary Friend, is the imagined life of imaginary things.

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20. New Voices Award Winners on Revising Your Story

New Voices Award sealThis year marks our sixteenth annual New Voices Award, Lee & Low’s writing contest for unpublished writers of color.

In this blog series, past New Voices winners gather to give advice for new writers. This month, we’re talking about one of the most important steps in writing a story: revision.

Question: What does your revision process look like??

pamela tuckPamela Tuck, author of As Fast As Words Could Fly, New Voices Winner 2007

The first tip I would like to give new writers about revision is to understand that there is a difference between revising, editing, and proofreading. Editing and proofreading cover word economy, word choices, and grammatical errors. But true revision runs deeper. Revision is Rethinking, Reseeing, and Reworking your ideas, your voice, and your plot into an engaging masterpiece.

After I’ve written my first draft, I already know that it’s going to be BAD. Too wordy, somewhat disconnected, and possibly even confusing. The idea of it all is to capture those fast and furious and jumbled thoughts on paper in some sort of order, and then mold and shape them into a sensible, readable, and hopefully publishable manuscript.

One of my first steps in revision is making sure I have a steady flow to my storyline. I’m looking for a beginning to hook my reader, a middle to engage them, and a satisfactory ending. I try to make sure I’ve provided explanation to possible questions my readers may have by using subtle descriptions, active verbs, and concise word choices that will paint the best pictures and explain my thoughts. Once my story has taken shape, I call in my “critical crew” (family and friends) to read my first draft. Reading out loud helps me hear my mistakes and/or thoughts and also highlights areas that may not be as clear to the reader as I thought. I can also tell from my critical crew’s feedback, whether or not my writing is making the impact I desire it to make. After pouring my heart out and letting it get “trampled” on by loving, supportive family and friends, it’s time to let the story (and my heart) rest for a while (a few days, a week, a month, or however long it takes). This “waiting period” is a good time to do further research on your topic (if applicable) just in case you run across a fresh idea or different aspect that can be added to enhance the story during the second revision stage.

During the next stage of revision, I’m able to read my manuscript with “fresh eyes.” I try to make sure that what I’ve written says what I want it to say in a way the reader will understand. Then I try to perfect my voice and dialogue to make sure they are as realistic and powerful as they can be. This is when I pull in those editorial and proofreading skills, to challenge myself with better word choices and sentence structures that will give the effect I’m looking for. I incorporate any new research ideas that may clarify or give a little more detail to vague thoughts or ideas. Then it’s time to call in the critical crew again. After another round of reading aloud and analyzing, I repeat the process over and over again, until I feel satisfied with my manuscript as a writer, and the critical crew leaves my heart feeling elated.

paula yooPaula Yoo, author of Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds, New Voices Winner 2003

Are you sure you want to see my self-revision process? I’m going to warn you now. It’s really messy. I mean, SUPER MESSY.

There are two stages of revision for me. For REVISION STAGE 1.0, I spend the majority of time just brainstorming. NO actual writing is involved, other than jotting down casual notes. I ask myself tough questions about character motivation, emotional journeys, and voice. I brainstorm a storyline or plot based on what I discover about my character’s journey. This includes using index cards and outlines. For old school longhand, I use both yellow legal pads with a clipboard and my trusty Moleskine notebook. When I’m on my MacBook laptop or iPad, I use my favorite writing software apps – Scrivener, Scapple, Index Card, and Omm Writer.

New Voices Award Winners on RevisionsSo during the brainstorming time, I’m actually constantly revising as I free-associate and slowly build, tear down, and rebuild the structure for my story. This Revision Stage 1.0 of brainstorming is a writing process I was taught as a professional TV drama writer/producer. In TV, writers are not allowed to write the first draft of a script until they have brainstormed the story beats non-stop and have crafted a detailed, solid outline in which every single story point and character emotional arc has been mapped out completely.

Once I’m done with this brainstorming/revision session, I write. There’s no revision here. I just write straight from the heart. It’s raw and messy and inspired.

THEN I enter REVISION STAGE 2.0. This is where I print out what I wrote, find my favorite coffeehouse or library, and curl up on a comfy sofa chair or take over a library study carrel or coffeehouse corner table, and whip out the red pen. Yes, I use red ink. I wear glasses (bifocals too!), so red is just easier for me to read.

I simultaneously line edit (based on my former life as a newspaper and magazine journalist) and also jot down revision notes for the Bigger Picture. Some Bigger Picture revision questions include: Does the character’s inner personality and struggle organically inspire every single plot point and twist in the storyline? Do the story beats align in a logical and structured manner? Is there any “on the nose” dialogue I can tweak to be more natural sounding and even subtextual? Have I grounded the setting in each scene? And so on.

I also handwrite new lines or ideas or snippets of dialogue that float into my brain as I revise.

Once I’m done with this red pen marking mess, I then input everything into the computer in a new file (either a new folder in Scrivener or a new document in Word). Then I make a copy of that revised file and add a new date to it and start fleshing that version out more on the computer.

Then I move onto writing new material (either new scenes or chapters). When I’m stuck or need a break or want to pause and re-examine the new stuff I’ve just written, I print everything out and grab the red pen. Rinse and repeat. :)

In other words, I’m constantly revising. I’m never not revising. I told you, my self-revision process was messy! But it’s worth it in the end when a beautiful book rises out of that big crazy messy pile of red pen marks. :)

glenda armandGlenda Armand, author of Love Twelve Miles Long, New Voices Winner 2006

Once I have completed the first draft of a picture book, I put it away and start working on another manuscript.

I go back to the first manuscript and read it with fresh eyes. As I read it, I make changes. I read it again and again, over the course of days, each time making changes, big and small.

Once I can read the whole thing, without making a single change, I know that it is almost there! I put it away again.

When I come back to it and can read it again without revising, I give it to my sister, Jenny, the retired librarian, to read.

I tell her that I think it is perfect and that she is not going to find a single thing that needs to be changed. Jenny gives me a smug look and says, “Okay.”

Later, we get together and she offers her ideas and critiques. I get annoyed. Why? Because her suggestions are always spot on. I revise based on her opinions, and it always makes the manuscript better (I admit reluctantly).  I keep revising until we both think it is perfect. At that point, I am ready to send it to my agent. She usually offers ideas from her unique perspective that I take into account and revise the manuscript again.

I actually enjoy revising. I appreciate the input of my agent, editor—and my sister (but don’t tell her. It will go to her head).

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21. Moving House

Hi

Its been a while since I blogged and I’m actually excited to be tapping away at the keys on my keyboard and seeing words come alive on my screen.

Its been a busy period in my life and chief amongst the activities that have kept me busy all summer was a house move that seemed to drag on and on and on. Well, I’m happy to say my family and I have finally moved and I’m no longer a London boy. We moved to Kent fondly known as ‘The Garden of England.’ I now live in a beautiful and quiet village and my children are settling down in their new schools while I’m getting used to the longer journey into the centre of London where I work. We have good neighbors who’ve welcomed us with their smiles and cards.

We’re still unpacking but I can’t wait to set up my writing zone in our house. I started a mystery story in Spring which I’m looking to continue working on plus I want to write a Christmas story in time for the holiday season.diary of a wimpy kid My children really got into the ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ books over the summer holidays and it was nice to see them devour the box-set my wife and I got for them. It made me want to write something in that genre just for them. Watch this space on that front.

Cheryl Carpinello who was a special guest on Author Interview Thursday many moons ago, did a special piece on her blog about writing tips from authors and there’s a snippet from yours truly included in that piece. A worthy read to inspire and encourage you so click the link below to read all about it.

Cheryl Carpinello’s Writing Tips

Have a lovely day.

 

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22. Sign Up for November Writing Tips!


WGDW #58b

November is novel writing month! I’ve decided to expand the secret gift I was going to send a writer friend of mine, and send out daily writing inspiration and tips to anyone else who would like them! Here are the details. Sign up and let’s write!

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23. Come join us for November writing tips!

 

WGDW #58b

The response has been great! We’ve assembled a nice group of folks who are looking forward to their free daily writing tips all through the month of November.

There’s still time to sign up. Just go here for all the details and to get the free download of TOP 10 MISTAKES WRITERS MAKE. And be sure to tell your other writing pals. The more the merrier!

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24. Notes from the Critique Group - The Gap

by Maureen Lynas

This was a very interesting discussion at the SCBWI BI York critique group involving:
THE GAP
The space that's left for the reader when we SHOW rather than TELL

Leaving THE GAP gives the reader a role to play in the story as they infer and interpret the text. There's a balance to be had between showing and telling depending on the genre, age group, and experience of the reader.

If a book is set in a familiar world to the readership then THE GAP can be quite large. The reader fills it with their knowledge, life experiences, cultural history, emotional history etc. The author can then play with the reader's inferences and expectations. If the book is an unfamiliar world then - the author has to try harder to familiarise the reader with the world and may need to leave a smaller GAP. Without resorting to information dumps.

What are these worlds?
This is what I've come up with so far. Please do add more in the comments.
The book samples below are taken from a western readers POV but I'd love to see a similar post with book choices from another cultural POV e.g. which children's books reflect the normal world for a reader in India and how big would THE GAP be for the western reader. 

The normal world young readers live in:
Often school based. The readers are familiar with school, teachers, family, friendships, bullies, emotions.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney.
Most books by Jacqueline Wilson.
Mariella Mystery by Kate Pankhurst.
Chocolate Box Girls by Cathy Cassidy.
The World of Norm by Jonathan Meres.

The world young readers live in plus…
Often still school based but includes some sort of magical or fantasy element. The readers are familiar with school, family, friendships, bullies, emotions, this type of magic, good v evil, destiny, prophecies etc
Harry Potter by J K Rowling - school plus magic.
Matilda by Roald Dahl - school plus magic.
Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja by Marcus Emerson - school plus ninja.
Spies in Disguise by Kate Scott - school plus spies.

Readers are bringing an awful lot to THE GAP in the above worlds.  They're really dealing with a familiar unfamiliar world. But what about the next lot.
There are lots of examples of the above that I'm very familiar with. I'm not so familiar with the types below. So please do add extra titles in the comments.

A contemporary culturally unfamiliar world.
Shine by Candy Gourlay.

An historically unfamiliar world.
Which may also be based in a culturally unfamiliar world.
Buffalo Soldiers by Tanya Landman.

An alternative historical world of unfamiliarity 
Twisting history but history is unfamiliar to children anyway. So would they know? 
Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner.

A non-existent unfamiliar world of oddness.
A society and premise different to the familiar - physically, culturally, geographically, and socially. 
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness.

An alternative future of weird technology
Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve.

How can you begin to establish it's a different world? I would begin with the question - How do other authors do it?
Analyse People! Analyse!
I've taken a look at Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines to get you started.


In the first chapter Philip Reeve paints a picture. He establishes a world for the story, and creates a smaller world for the protagonist, Tom.

These are the notes I've made on my first pass through.

The book opens with: An Action Scene
The city of London is chasing a small mining town.

Establishing the bigger world:
Philip Reeves places us in an unfamiliar 'bigger world' as the action unfolds. Sometimes through dialogue, sometimes through announcements, observations, setting, interactions etc.

Names
Tom Natsworthy, Chudleigh Pomeroy, Herbert Melliphant, Clytie Potts

Geographical
St Paul's cathedral glinting gold, two thousand feet above the ruined earth, land-bridge, ziggurat-town.

Society
The Anti Traction League, guildsmen, apprentices, historians.

Religion
To the people of London it seemed like a sign from the gods.

Philosophy
Municipal Darwinism.

Food
…lawns grubbed up to make way for cabbage-plots and algae plants

Unique language and technical terms which help to establish this is not here and now.
Gut-duty, traction city, argon lamps, goggle screen, exhaust-stacks, sky-clipper.

Time and cultural references that set the book in an alternative future
"It's playing merry hell with my 35thCentury ceramics."
…once been the island of Britain.
…past the big plastic statues of Pluto and Mickey, animal headed gods of lost America.

Establishing the protagonist's smaller world:

Position in society
"He's just a third, a skivvy."

Friends
Clytie Potts - "Dancing and fireworks! Do you want to come?"

Enemies and conflict
Of a similar age: Herbert Melliphant - "We don't want Natsworthy's sort there."
In a position of power: Chudleigh Pomeroy - "Natsworty! What in Quirke's name do you think you're playing at?"

Personal History
"Natsworthy's mum and dad lived down on Four, see, and when the Big Tilt happened they both got squashed flat as a couple of raspberry pancakes: splat!"

Goal
To be a hero.

Brilliantly done! Philip Reeves is a master. All that in one chapter with no info dumps. It seems to me that the protagonist's smaller world can have a bigger GAP because it's dealing with emotions and situations common to all. But the bigger world needs a smaller GAP if it's unfamiliar.

Right, now go and analyse a book  in your genre. Get the highlighter pens out. Use a colour for each heading. Add your own headings. Then apply this to your own writing. Work out what the reader NEEDS TO KNOW and get rid of anything the reader DOESN'T NEED TO KNOW. Weave the info in and out of the action. And above all
THINK ABOUT THE GAP!

It'll be fun!
by
Maureen Lynas

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25. How to write a letter of recommendation

It’s that time of the year again. Seniors are thinking ahead about their impending futures (a job, grad school, the Peace Corps). Former students are advancing in their careers. Colleagues and co-workers are engaging in year-end reflection and considering new positions.

The post How to write a letter of recommendation appeared first on OUPblog.

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