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Yesterday was a monumental and long awaited day for me: The Official Launch of my debut novel WHEELS OF CHANGE. I held the festivities at the local BARNES & NOBLE on the campus of Rowan University, in Glassboro NJ. It was a thrill to see so many people from all phases of my life turn out to show their support and help me celebrate. Here are some photos of the day:
The “Arrival Survival” Team from B&N set everything up for a successful day.
Friends make everything better…
Having my daughter and husband at the event made it extra special.
Teachers LOVE books…thank goodness! I LOVE teachers!
Many smiles brightened the day, many hugs were given and taken, many books were happily signed, many words of congratulations were heard. It was a wonderful way to send my book out into the world. Thanks to everyone who made the event possible. You are ALL wonderful and I will be eternally grateful for your generosity, enthusiasm and love.
It Was truly a “most Excellent Adventure” and a Five Star Day!
I read a great article today about youth pastors and how important it is for congregations to support them and their efforts to bless and teach our children. As the parent of a teen and two preteens – I am in 100% agreement! I’ve added a few things below from my own perspective. 1. You…
I am one of the teachers for our 6-8th grade Sunday School class. I love those kiddos and all the questions they ask. They make me think. Today, we discussed the fact that Abram was told by God to leave his country, and to leave his father’s family. God said He would lead Abram to…
http://edition.cnn.com/2014/07/16/business/lake-jibo-robot/ And there is a story there. I’m certain! Here’s another link to “JIBO” if you’re interested in seeing more, or being creeped out of your own skin. Either way, here you go: http://www.myjibo.com/Filed under: writing for children Tagged: family robots, indiegogo, JIBO, MIT, robots
Inspired by Kenn Nesbitt’s, “My Brother’s not a Werewolf”. Hope you enjoy. Tale of the WeirdoWolfBy Donna Earnhardt He transformed in the daytimeavoiding moonlit nightsHe cringed at his own shadow,fear brought him no delight He was a vegetarian.He loved to draw and paint.And when he howled,No one was cowed*,Except for him… He’d faint. …
Today I am thrilled to bring you my guest and fellow author (who happens to share the same fabulous Agent Liza Fleissig of the Liza Royce Agency) Josh Bellin. Josh’s debut YA SURVIVAL COLONY 9 will be released this month with Margaret K. McElderry Books. And, you can check out the post I did for Josh today on his website: http://www.joshuadavidbellin.com
Synopsis: Querry Genn is in trouble.
He can’t remember anything before the last six months. And Querry needs to remember. Otherwise he’s dead weight to the other members of Survival Colony 9, one of the groups formed after a brutal war ravaged the earth. And now the Skaldi have come to scavenge what is left of humanity. No one knows what the Skaldi are, or why they’re here, just that they can impersonate humans, taking their form before shedding the corpse like a skin.
Desperate to prove himself after the accident that stole his memory, Querry is both protected and tormented by the colony’s authoritarian commander, his father. The only person he can talk to is the beautiful Korah, but even with her, he can’t shake the feeling that something is desperately wrong. And that his missing memories are at the very center of it.
2014 YA Nominee – The Nevils, Noted Cli Fi Novels of the Year
Margaret Peterson Haddix, New York Times bestselling author of the Missing Series:
“Set in a gritty post-apocalyptic world, SURVIVAL COLONY 9 is both an adventure and an exploration of what it means to be human. This debut novel made me feel almost as desperate to find out the secret behind Querry Genn’s existence as he felt. And what a surprise when everything was revealed!”
“Querry’s memory loss allows for exposition to smoothly unfold. With each description, the Skaldi menace becomes more vivid and horrifying….The ending doesn’t explain everything, but it is action-packed and completes Querry’s emotional arc. Readers won’t want to face the terrifying Skaldi, but they’ll enjoy reading about them.”
Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of Rot & Ruin and V-Wars:
“Joshua David Bellin brings serious game in a post-apocalyptic thriller that collides breathless action with devious world building and genuine heart. A terrific novel!”
“…thanks to its deliberate pacing and Querry’s garrulous first-person narrative, debut author Bellin’s novel is strongest in what it does not reveal. Tantalizing mysteries abound among the human and inhuman inhabitants of the bleak landscape, and the postapocalyptic plot is satisfyingly full of twists.”
School Library Journal:
“Survival Colony 9 will appeal to sci-fi fans who will anxiously await the planned sequel.”
“Debut author Bellin weaves a bleak postapocalyptic tale of survival against overwhelming odds…”
Feathered Quill Book Reviews:
“…this debut novel by Joshua Bellin is most certainly an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride. The action never stops, and Querry is definitely a character you will root for!”
Heather Anastasiu, author of the Glitch series:
“Gripping and action packed. Just when I thought I knew what was coming, another twist would shock me. Superb!”
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon & Schuster)
ISBN: 9781481403542 Release date: September 23, 2014
Biography: Joshua David Bellin has been writing novels since he was eight years old (though the first few were admittedly very short). He taught college for twenty years, wrote a bunch of books for college students, then decided to return to writing fiction. Survival Colony 9 is his first novel, but the sequel’s already in the works! Josh is represented by the fabulous Liza Fleissig of Liza Royce Agency. http://www.lizaroyce.com
Josh loves to read (mostly YA fantasy and science fiction), watch movies (again, mostly fantasy and sci-fi), and spend time in Nature (mostly catching frogs and toads). He is the self-proclaimed world’s worst singer, but plays a pretty mean air guitar.
Oh, yeah, and he likes monsters. Really scary monsters.
The Guardian recently published an article stating that Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book Pioneer Girl will be released soon. In the book, Wilder wrote about her childhood growing up in the 1800s on the frontier. Pioneer Girl was rejected by publishers, so Wilder rewrote it and sold the resulting stories as the now-famous Little House on the Prairie books. Publishers had deemed parts of Pioneer Girl unfit for children, such as the story of a drunken man who accidentally killed himself when trying to light a cigar and having the liquor on his breath catch fire and the story of a shopkeeper who dragged his wife around by the hair and set their bedroom on fire.
I’m sure Wilder really witnessed these horrific events and felt compelled to include them in Pioneer Girl when trying to accurately relate her life on the frontier. The reality is that children around the world face tough stuff like this. Those who make it to adulthood completely untouched by violence or other ugly behaviors must be few and far between. We can’t completely protect children, but should writers for children include such tough stuff in their stories?
I’m torn on this. For children who are living in tough situations, maybe it helps to read about other children in similar situations. They might be able to identify with characters more and feel more inclined to read about children who are struggling about bigger issues than finding a lost bike or securing a date for prom.
On the other hand, maybe a child in a tough situation would give anything to get away from that, even if it’s just the temporary escape of a light read.
I’ve written about both the tough stuff and the light and found the light stuff (especially humor) easier to sell. I think publishers are more receptive of the tough stuff (often even welcome it) in young adult books but are less receptive of it in books for younger children. A big part of the decision has to be about how the writer handles the topic and why. What is the point in exposing a child to ugliness or violence? I think a writer who chooses to tackle tough stuff in children’s books should offer hope to the reader or some possibility of resolution in the end.
Joy Acey (of Poetry for Kids fame) has issued a challenge to write your own riddle-poem. You can see the challenge here: http://poetryforkidsjoy.blogspot.com/2014/09/riddle-poem.html#comment-form I wrote several food-riddle poems a few years ago, but I’m going to post a fresh one below. It’sNotDessert You can wrap me in bacon, or roll me in sugar… But…
Joy Acey (of Poetry for Kids fame) has issued a challenge to write your own riddle-poem. You can see the challenge here: http://poetryforkidsjoy.blogspot.com/2014/09/riddle-poem.html#comment-form I wrote several food-riddle poems a few years ago, but I’m going to post a fresh one below. It’sNotDessert You can wrap me in bacon, or roll me in sugar… But…
We hear this all of the time. Yet, many writers struggle with this very idea.
Writers like to research. We travel to faraway places, we talk with people who live there. We look through old files and photographs. We mine our memories for tidbits and call upon our imagination to fill in the rest.
We stay cerebral.
But this is where we fail ourselves. This is where we fail our readers.
We all want to write books that make people feel, but in order to do that—we must feel first. We must cry. We must get angry. We must laugh. We must fall in love. We must face fear.
But to achieve true emotion with our words, we need to get out of our heads and tune into our guts.
To do this, I like to call upon the actor’s craft.
Here are 3 tips to get out of your writer’s head and write from the gut.
Keep an Emotion Diary.
An actor knows that whatever happens to them in life is fodder for their craft. Even at a moment of extreme heartbreak, an actor knows, “I can use this.” Observe yourself on a daily basis. How are you feeling? Don’t detail the situations that are happening to you, but write down what an emotion feels like physically. Tune into your hands, your chest, your legs, and your jaw. These are places we hold emotion.
An actor practices playing with emotion. They take the time to experiment in order to better know how to portray it when the time comes. Much like a yogi will hold a pose to build strength, actors practice holding emotion in their bodies to gain emotional fluency. Refer back to your Emotion Diary to remember how a certain emotion manifests in your body. Soak in it. Go about some daily tasks while in this emotional state. (Although keep these tasks solo. You are working on craft here, not ruining relationships and getting a reputation. Hint: scrubbing the tub while angry is amazing!) Observe how the emotion affects your movement and your actions. Of course, when play time is done, find ways to unwind…we don’t want you to end up a basket case.
Embrace the First Person.
An actor walks in the shoes of others to learn to live in their moments. They speak directly from the mouth, the heart, the gut of the very person they are performing. Spend some time pretending to be your character. You can go through the same emotional practice you did in the previous step, but this time with your character’s situation in mind.
Take your character to the most heightened moment in this emotion. How do they react? Write a letter or a diary entry as your character while holding this emotion. Or create audio or video as your character. Abandon flowery metaphor and other authorly devices for the time being and speak raw, from your character’s gut. You might be surprised what you learn.
It is so easy to fall into summarizing a scene instead of delving in and living each moment. Maybe as writers we prefer to play God and observe the tough situations from afar. It’s more pleasant to be omnipresent than personally absorbed.
But when we learn to write from the gut, our hands may tremble with each keystroke, a lump might form in our throat, tears might well. It’s not always comfortable. Yet it is essential that we learn to breathe life into each moment, so that the very DNA of our story can breathe on the page and fill the lungs of every reader it touches. This is the essence of “show, don’t tell.” In fact, it takes the idea one step further.
“Be, don’t show.”
Before Marcie Colleen was a picture book writer, she was a former actress, director and theatre educator. In her 15 year career, Marcie worked within the classroom, as well as on Regional, Off-Broadway and Broadway stages. Formerly the Director of Education for TADA! Youth Theater, she also worked for Syracuse Stage, Camp Broadway, the Metropolitan School for the Arts, and Tony Randall’s National Actors Theater. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education and Theater from Oswego State University and a Masters degree in Educational Theater from NYU. She has taught theater workshops in the UK and throughout the US, including Alaska.
Marcie’s From the Gut: An Acting for Writers Workshop (being held on September 14th at NJ-SCBWI) helps writers get out of their heads. Her up-on-your-feet techniques feature acting and writing exercises to tap into raw emotion. Through guided practice, writers learn to breathe life into the voice of every character. Time is spent exploring, playing and simply “being” emotion while learning how to transfer the discoveries onto the page in a way that creates immediacy and authenticity for the reader. Participants are given tools to deepen their writing through voice and movement even when alone in their writing caves.
I am so pleased to be doing a post with Kerry O’Malley Cerra, the author of the middle grade book, JUST A DROP OF WATER. What better way to honor Labor Day than to have Kerry talk about the book and freedom. Here’s Kerry:
1. Tell us about your personal connection to 911.
Pretty quickly after the attacks, it was discovered that Mohamed Atta—the lead hijacker of the plane that flew into the north tower in New York City—lived in our town. Fear was already heightened throughout America, but this information almost paralyzed me. I had three small kids and I couldn’t help but wonder if we’d seen Atta at the grocery store, a restaurant, the park, the bank. At the same time these scenarios were running though my head, I discovered that a close college friend—who is Muslim—was having a difficult time and that his parents, who lived in the town where the terrorists took flight lessons, were being questioned. I wish I could say I believed their innocence in that moment, but it would be a lie. I’ve never really forgiven myself for that.
2. What motivated you to write JUST A DROP OF WATER?
As I mentioned above, I didn’t like myself for doubting my friend and his family. Once my head cleared and the fear subsided a little, I knew—with all that is in me—that they were innocent. I started to wonder why I doubted them in the first place. And, I wondered if my kids, at their young ages, would have ever doubted their friends. At what age do we go from trusting and innocent, to fearful and jaded? I wanted to explore that, and Just a Drop of Water is the result.
3. What’s the message you want readers to take away from the story?
I sincerely hope that the theme of peace comes though. While the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 were tragic, I hope we can learn from them. Acceptance is the key to peace, and that begins with children. I don’t mean acceptance of terrorism, but acceptance of religious, cultural, racial, and all other differences to eventually create a world where we can live side by side, peacefully. When I see and hear stories about children in the Middle East being brainwashed and trained to hate at such young ages, it breaks my heart. Why can’t we be doing the same thing but with the opposite message? I hope that Just a Drop of Water is a step in that direction.
4. Our theme this month is FREEDOM. How does that idea resonate with your book and all that took place during the events of 911 and the writing of your story?
I’ve always loved the word freedom. It’s a strong word that evokes much emotion for me. Though freedom equates to rights, those rights come with much responsibility. That’s a hard concept for kids to grasp. In the story, Bobby is free to be whom he wants and he chooses to be a bully. Jake has the freedom to defend Sam. But, both of these roles come with responsibility and both, ultimately, have consequences. This is the part that Jake struggles with the most. If Bobby hits Sam, Bobby deserves to be hit in return, but all this does is get Jake in more trouble. He can’t see the fine line between standing up for what he believes in, yet finding a way to do that peacefully—finding a way to do it that won’t get him in trouble. How does this relate to war? If terrorists attack our country, is it okay to attack them back? When does defense cross the line? Is it better to find another way to solve the problem? These are all questions the book raises, and questions to be considered when freedom is discussed. I hope teachers, parents, and/or librarians will talk about this with kids as they read the book.
Just a Drop of Water: Kirkus calls the book:
“A perceptive exploration of an event its audience already sees as history.”
“…the supplemental material middle-grade history teachers are looking for…”
Ever since he was little, Jake Green has longed to be a soldier and a hero like his grandpa, who died serving his country. Right now, though, he just wants to outsmart—and outrun—the rival cross country team, Palmetto Ridge. But then the tragedy of September 11 happens. It’s quickly discovered that one of the hijackers lived nearby, making Jake’s Florida town an FBI hot spot. Two days later, the tragedy becomes even more personal when Jake’s best friend, Sam Madina, is pummeled for being an Arab Muslim by their bully classmate, Bobby.
According to Jake’s personal code of conduct, anyone who beats up your best friend is due for a butt kicking, so Jake goes after Bobby. But soon after, Sam’s father is detained by the FBI and Jake’s mom doubts the innocence of Sam’s family, forcing Jake to choose between his best friend and his parents. When Jake finds out that Sam’s been keeping secrets, too, he doesn’t know who his allies are anymore. But the final blow comes when his grandpa’s real past is revealed to Jake. Suddenly, everything he ever knew to be true feels like one big lie. In the end, he must decide: either walk away from Sam and the revenge that Bobby has planned, or become the hero he’s always aspired to be.
A gripping and intensely touching debut middle grade novel by Kerry O’Malley Cerra, Just a Drop of Water brings the events of September 11, which shook the world, into the lens of a young boy who is desperately trying to understand the ramifications of this life-altering event. You can now pre-order my book from these locations: Amazon / IndieBound / Barnes & Nobel / Book A Million / Powell’s Books
Tomorrow I begin the blog tour to help promote the release of my first book, a MG historical titled WHEELS OF CHANGE. I’m excited to be sharing the journey with all of you and hope you will visit some of the stops on the tour to learn about how the book came to be. Here’s the schedule, and please send me your comments about your favorite post; I’d love to hear from you. There will also be two opportunities to win a free autographed copy of WHEELS OF CHANGE at two stops on the tour.
I first “met” Joanne Rocklin when she graciously read my manuscript for WHEELS OF CHANGE and provided a lovely blurb. As soon as I read one of her stories, I was hooked. I couldn’t get enough of her heart-warming and delightful books. Her titles, THE FIVE LIVES OF OUR CAT ZOOK, and ONE DAY AND ONE AMAZING MORNING ON ORANGE STREET, capture the joys and sorrows of childhood with wonderful, unique characters and prose that wedges itself into your heart and takes hold. Her new book – FLEABRAIN LOVES FRANNY – (FLF) debuts this month, so I thought it would be great to feature her on this blog. First, here’s a description of FLF:
A story about a special girl, an inspiring book, and a brilliant (though unintentionally funny) flea.
From the publisher: This gem of a novel takes place in Pittsburgh in 1952. Franny Katzenback, while recovering from polio, reads and falls in love with the brand-new book Charlotte’s Web. Bored and lonely and yearning for a Charlotte of her own, Franny starts up a correspondence with an eloquent flea named Fleabrain who lives on her dog’s tail. While Franny struggles with physical therapy and feeling left out of her formerly active neighborhood life, Fleabrain is there to take her on adventures based on his extensive reading. It’s a touching, funny story set in the recent past, told with Rocklin’s signature wit and thoughtfulness. Release Date: August, 2014 Amulet Books/Abrams ISBN 978-1-4197-1068-1
FIVE THINGS LEARNED WHILE WRITING MY MIDDLE GRADE NOVEL FLEABRAIN LOVES FRANNY
My novel takes place in the 1950’s in Pittsburgh, during the worst polio epidemics of that era. Franny, my main character contracts the disease and can no longer walk. During her hospital stay she is introduced to the recently published Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, and falls in love with the book, and, especially, the spider, Charlotte. She longs for a Charlotte of her own. Her wish is granted in the form of the brilliant Fleabrain, her dog’s flea.
Much of what I learned while writing FLEABRAIN LOVES FRANNY were writing concepts I had to learn yet again, concepts that are integral to my own personal writing process. I usually begin with a phrase which arrives out of the blue. The phrase feels promising but doesn’t reveal much about the book I’m going to write. The phrase for this book was “you can stop seeking messages in spider webs.” This was Fleabrain’s first message to Franny, although I didn’t know it yet. I had to remember to just go with the phrase and wildly thrash about while I figure out what it means. I had to learn yet again, that for me, the rough draft is messy and chaotic but eventually leads to the story.
Fleabrain provided Franny a necessary escape while she healed, as well as exciting adventures, affection, companionship and joy. He also taught her when it was time to face the real world. Fleabrain taught me, yet again, that humor will always be present in my books, no matter the seriousness of the subject matter, and that’s a good thing.
Research is an ongoing process. I began reading about this particular era and began to get ideas about my character and her dilemma. I realized I had to set it in Pittsburgh because that’s where Dr. Jonas Salk did his important research on the polio vaccine, and I wanted to include a scientist in the story. But I was already deep into my story when I realized I would have to visit Pittsburgh and interview Pittsburghers who remembered that time. My research kept giving me ideas for scenes and themes for subsequent drafts.
A surprising thing I learned while researching and writing this book was that many, many people knew very little about the polio epidemics. Some had never heard of an iron lung, or any of the treatment methods and medical advances associated with polio. Many were surprised to learn about the isolation and prejudice experienced by those stricken, and that most of the young people were required to attend special schools for “crippled” children. In addition, I myself learned that polio survivors were at the very forefront of the disability movement, agitating for many of the things we take for granted today (curb cuts, handicapped-accessible public places, etc.).
And so, I learned yet again that the theme of my story will only become clear to me during the writing of the book itself, not before, and sometimes at the very end of the process. One of the important things that Franny learned is that it is not she who needs to be repaired by learning to walk again, but society itself, in accepting her.New picture book:
Joanne’s picture book: I SAY SHEHECHYANU will be out in January, 2015
Today’s post comes from my writer friend Yvonne Ventresca whose debut YA novel PANDEMIC, hit bookstores in May.
BOOKLIST has this to say about Pandemic:
“Ventresca gives Lilianna a compulsive need to prep for disaster (a coping skill after her assault) and a father who works for a journal called Infectious Diseases. This ups the believability factor and helps the reader focus on the action and characters. As is to be expected in an apocalyptic novel, there is no shortage of tension or death and a few gruesomely dead bodies, but teen disaster fans will likely appreciate that the high schoolers are portrayed as good, helpful people, but certainly not perfect. This fast read will appeal to fans of Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life As We Knew It (2006), even though the type of apocalypse is different.”
After reading this engaging and suspenseful novel, I can certainly agree that it is, indeed, hard to put down. Ventresca did a wonderful job of making me feel like I was part of the “going’s -on” and even checked my own pantry to see what kind of provisions I had on hand. Here’s Yvonne:
Five Historical Facts I Learned While Researching a Contemporary Pandemic By Yvonne Ventresca
My debut young adult novel, Pandemic, is a contemporary story about a teenager struggling to survive a deadly flu pandemic. Although it is set in present-day New Jersey (what would it be like if a pandemic hit suburbia tomorrow?), I spent a lot of time researching the Spanish Flu of 1918 while writing the book. Parts of my fictional disease are based on the historical influenza, and I was interested in finding out as much about it as possible.
Here are five things I learned while researching Pandemic:
1. The influenza pandemic of 1918 is commonly called the Spanish Flu, but it didn’t originate in Spain. In March of that year, known cases occurred among soldiers in Kansas. But in June, Spain informed the world of a new disease in Madrid, and the Spanish Flu was belatedly named as it spread worldwide.
2. The Spanish flu had a different mortality pattern than previous flu outbreaks, with the highest death rates occurring in adults between the ages of twenty and fifty. The reasons for that pattern are still not entirely understood, but according to the US website Flu.gov, the 1918 virus “evolved directly from a bird flu into a human flu.”
3. In a time before technology, colored ribbons were placed on doorways to indicate a death in the household. The color of the ribbon indicated the age range of the dead. White, for example, was used for children.
4. In 1918, sanitation measures included wearing face masks, blow-torching water fountains, hosing down streets, and locking public phone booths. Despite these measures, the Spanish flu killed more Americans than all of World War I.
5. Katherine Anne Porter’s short novel, Pale Horse, Pale Rider is set during the 1918 Influenza. It’s a work of fiction (published in 1939), but was no doubt influenced by Porter’s memories of the pandemic and her own illness. The tragic story provides a sense of the war, the disease, and the desperation of that time.
For resources about preparing for an emergency, visit yvonneventresca.com/resources.html.
For more information about the Spanish flu, refer to:
Before becoming a children’s writer, Yvonne Ventresca wrote computer programs and taught others how to use technology. Now she happily spends her days writing stories instead of code and sharing technology tips with other writers. Yvonne’s the author of the young adult novel Pandemic, which was published in May from Sky Pony Press. She blogs for teen writers every Tuesday and for writers of all ages each Friday athttp://www.yvonneventresca.com/blog.html.
But I don’t want you to waste your time, like I did, writing for magazines, trying to build publishing credits, if magazine writing isn’t your ultimate goal. Magazine writing is a completely different skill, and while credits are nice, they are not going to make or break you. Magazine credits prove you’re a professional and that you’ve been through the editing process, but they won’t convince anyone to buy your manuscript if it’s a sub-par story. You need to hone your picture book skills, and that only comes with writing dozens of picture books.
Agent Ammi-Joan Paquette takes clients based on their submission, first and foremost. “For me, the number one focus is on the writing: the voice, the story, the way the language sparkles and draws me in. If you’ve got that, I’ll follow you just about anywhere. All the writing credits, awards, and fancy degrees in the world—on their own—won’t make me take on an author. It’s about the writing, pure and simple.”
I received some misguided (but well-intended) advice when I began writing for children. I was told to place fiction in magazines in order to build my writing resume. So I gave it a shot. Then I found out how difficult it was to place stories. Not any less difficult than getting a book published! (I don’t know why I thought it would be.)
Your story must fit the theme of the magazine issue, which means you’re better off reviewing editorial calendars first, then writing to fill that need. Instead, I wrote what I wanted to write and then found it was only appropriate for a single issue, to be published in three years’ time! Magazines are often booked far in advance. Back in 2008, if I were to place that story, it would have been printed in 2011. Yikes!
Now that’s probably an extreme example, but it’s an important lesson I learned. I was veering off my intended path to publication.
A magazine story has to be more descriptive than the language in a picture book because there are far fewer illustrations to accompany the text. You’re often writing for a single spread with no page turns, and page turns are crucial to picture book pacing, humor and reader anticipation. So I was writing for a wildly different format and not for the goal I desired: to get a picture book published.
Some will argue that writing for credits is necessary prior to getting a book deal, but I say that is incorrect. As long as you have a professional-looking, easily found web presence and membership in a professional writing organization like SCBWI, that’s all you need in your bio to prove that you’re “serious”. The thing you need most of all? You know—a winning manuscript! I had zero children’s publishing credits prior to getting my agent and a book deal. I’m definitely not alone in this.
Children’s magazines are wonderful, but if they’re not your goal, don’t use your precious writing time in this manner. Want a picture book deal? Write picture books! (I say books, plural, because if an agent is interested in your manuscript, that agent will ask for more of your work.)
And I hope that’s not DUH advice!
Do you agree or disagree? Share your opinion in the comments!
I am not a scaredy cat. I love to hike and wade in mountain streams. I love to go to places I’ve never been and see things I’ve never seen. I like to watch documentaries on foods from other countries and want to visit those countries one day. I like to make new recipes! I’ll…
REVOLUTION HAS COME which side do you choose? our world moans and groans under the weight of “progress” while our trees die from acid rain and our rivers, once teeming with wildlife, are suffocated by our excess The future of our world, our children, are abused, silenced and tossed aside like pieces of trash with…
Sean and I are two different people. We knew that going in. And you know what? It’s okay. Matter of fact, it’s more than okay. He likes NASCAR (last name, duh). But me? I don’t watch it. I believe Sasquatches exist. Sean thinks I’m a little loony for thinking that. He likes tea. I think…
It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I’m terrible at blogging. Obviously. I’ve been focusing on my health again. I’ve started walking at least a mile a day (day 7 today!) and have been upping my intake of daily water (cut out all soft drinks, day 6!). I’m also in waiting mode for a lot of…
Writing contest — deadline in two days! First Annual Summer Writing Contest Write2Ignite! is pleased to announce the First Annual Summer Writing Contest The winner will receive: a tote bag of goodies especially selected for writers announcement of the winner’s name and story title on the Write2Ignite! website an interview with the winner posted on…
This weekend I had the pleasure of attending the annual NJSCBWI Conference held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Princeton, NJ. It’s a great weekend of reconnecting with friends in the writing world. It’s also a chance to network with agents and editors looking for the best in children’s writing. In addition to the Keynote address on Saturday by Illustrator Floyd Cooper. He demonstrated one of his techniques of illustrating with an eraser. Amazing!
We enjoyed workshops on every aspect of the art of writing for children. Saturday and Sunday were filled with these “mini” lessons on how to: craft the perfect Picture Book, develop characters, write for magazines, write non-fiction, write a query, find out what editors and agents are looking for and much more. There was a book fair with a chance to buy autographed copies of books and meet authors from all over the world.
We also enjoyed a hilarious hour of stand up comedy by Robin Fox.
The conference is always inspiring and re-energizes me with new ideas. And, I got to show off my book with my Agent Liza Fleissig…even though it won’t go on sale until September.
First a synopsis of Dirt Bikes, Drones, and Other Ways to Fly: Seventeen-year-old Arlo Santiago lives in a dusty corner of New Mexico where his two passions are riding dirt bikes and playing a video game called “Drone Pilot.” He’s so good at the game that the military hires him to fly real drones over Pakistan. However, Arlo is reeling emotionally from a violent death in his family. Will he take the military’s money and commit violence against a terrorist leader half a world away, or find another solution to his troubles? He’s got a lot of them, including a father who drinks, a sister with Huntington’s Disease, and a girlfriend who won’t let him run from his past.
How did the idea for Dirt Bikes, Drones, and Other Ways to Fly originate?
It grew out of my interest in—and concern about—drone warfare, which offers today’s militaries “capability without vulnerability.” As Arlo’s dad says, “Capability without vulnerability! Where are the heroics in that?” I was interested in several themes. One was the idea that violence against the individual is, in fact, violence against society as a whole. Another focused on the importance of friendship and family in dealing with grief. A third was the tendency of technology to outpace human wisdom.
Tells us a bit more about the story.
Arlo’s mom was a victim of violence. His father, a laid-off newspaper editor, is a pacifist. The family desperately needs money to help Arlo’s younger sister, and Arlo is poised to become a major breadwinner. He joins the drone-missile program as an adventure, without considering the moral ramifications. But he grows increasingly troubled at the thought of the violence he might commit.
So the story raises moral questions for Arlo?
Yes, it hinges on the moral dilemma between what seems right at a universal human level—one that values all life—versus what would provide immediate help to Arlo and his struggling family. It’s the tension between what he wants to do and what he feels he should do.
Like Arlo’s dad, you worked in northeast New Mexico as a newspaper editor. Is the book autobiographical?
Only in small ways. For example, Arlo owns a scruffy standard poodle named El Guapo. I own a scruffy standard poodle named Django.
What path led you to writing novels for young adults?
Years ago, I met the acclaimed young-adult author Scott O’Dell (Island of the Blue Dolphins, Sing Down the Moon, and many more). I shared my literary dreams with him, and he urged me to start writing a novel immediately, not to concoct excuses or bog down in planning. That day is one of the most important of my life. It set me on the path to writing YA fiction.
Why do you write for young adults?
I thought it would be easier than writing for grownups. (Man, was I was wrong.) Also, I had three teenagers in my life. My son, in particular, liked to bring home a pack of “big-personality” buddies whose collective voice mixed confidence, arrogance, enthusiasm, laziness, courage, cowardice, cadence, and more. I’d be doing dishes or driving them somewhere and these boys would be handing me golden nuggets, so to speak. They became role models for “The Thicks” in my first book, Adios, Nirvana.
How would you describe your writing process?
Kurt Vonnegut divided all writers into two groups, “bashers” and “swoopers.” I’m a basher, a slow writer who tries to perfect each paragraph before moving to the next. (Swoopers are fast, yet a bit sloppy.) In the morning, I pour some coffee, and get to work. I bash and bash. Only when I’ve bashed all the bumps down to practically dust do I move to the next chapter. I wish I bashed less and swooped more. The best I can hope for is “swashing.”
What have you learned about yourself through the process of writing both Adios, Nirvana and Dirt Bikes, Drones and Other Ways To Fly?
I’ve learned that metaphor can be good medicine. Sometimes, it’s difficult for me to deal directly with emotional pain. In writing fiction, I’m able to project my shadow onto the wall of a different cave and, in doing so, work through my issues. As the story unfolds, the characters and I journey toward greater self-understanding. It’s a roundabout process, but it works.
Dirt Bikes, Drones, and Other Ways to Fly is a novel that clearly provides hope for the future. How important do you think it is to have that note of hope in a novel for young adults?
Hope is extremely important. I choose themes that are important to me. Foremost among these are hope, healing, family, and friendship. These are themes I’d like my own children to embrace. Life can be hard and seem hopeless, so as a writer I choose to send out that “ripple of hope” on the chance it may be heard or felt, and so make a difference.
And finally, what advice would you give to teens struggling to break away from peer group-imposed identities and create a sense of self?
All of us are great people in the making. One doesn’t have to be rich, famous, brilliant, beautiful, or an outward success to be great. One of my favorite examples from fiction is the fisherman Santiago in Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. (Trivial fact: I named my main character Arlo Santiago after Hemingway’s old man.) In the Hemingway book, Santiago starts out poor and ends up poorer. However, in the course of the story, he tests himself to the limit. We see his strength, courage, humility, nobility, and hopeful spirit. Each time we take a step closer to who we really are we get stronger. So my thought would be, if you can’t take big steps toward your goal now, take small ones. As with all goals (including writing YA fiction), time is your friend. So to teens who are struggling, I say be patient, practice, persevere, believe in yourself. Never give up.
Conrad Wesselhoeft worked as a tugboat hand in Singapore and Peace Corps Volunteer in Polynesia before embarking on a career in journalism. He has served on the editorial staffs of five newspapers, including The New York Times. He is the author of the young adult novels Adios, Nirvana (Houghton Mifflin, 2010) and Dirt Bikes, Drones, and Other Ways to Fly (Houghton Mifflin, 2014).
Would you like to spend the next two weeks writing…
…a picture book for young children?
…or an easy reader?
…or an early chapter book?
If so, I’ll help you do it!
In only 14 days!
Yep. You read that right.
You’ll write a complete children’s book in just 14 days!
Here’s the program we’ll be using as the “textbook” for this workshop, although we won’t be following the exact writing schedule outlined in this program. I’ll be providing some additional materials, too.
Already Have This Program?
Maybe you purchased this program – How to Write a Children’s Book in 14 Days…or Less – months ago and read it, yet you just never got around to USING what you learned to actually write a children’s book.
If that’s the case, then my 14-day workshop will help you change all that and FINALLY write a marketable children’s book in just 14 days.
The first few days of the workshop will involve a lot of planning and outlining – what I call “front loading” – so you’ll have everything in place to make it easier and faster to actually write most of your story on Days 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11.
But here’s the thing.
You must commit to working on your book – and following the workshop schedule – for the entire 14 days. No slacking – or you won’t get your book written!
For each day of the workshop, you won’t need to be anywhere specific at any specific time of the day. You’ll just need to be available to download the lesson via email, listen to a short audio, and do the assignment for the day.
But you’ll also have the opportunity to attend a live call every day with me during the 14 days to discuss any challenges, questions, or concerns you might have about the day’s assignment.
Plus, there will be daily check-points you must complete to make sure you’re staying on schedule.
Oh…and probably the most important part – I’ll provide a critique of your manuscript once we get to the “proofing and editing” stage of the workshop.
So you’ll know if you have a “marketable” manuscript or you still need to do some additional rewriting before your story is ready to submit to a publisher.
At just $199.99 for the 14-day workshop – plus $37.00 for the the program we’ll be using as our textbook – all this will cost you less than a professional manuscript critique from a published children’s book author!
Wow! Since it’s so affordable, why now sign up now?
Then clear your calendar for the next 14 days – so you can write your children’s book!
Note: If you want to write a longer, more complicated children’s book – a middle grade novel or a YA novel– my Quick Start System to Writing Novels will help you do that in just 16 weeks! Find out more at www.writeanovelstarttofinish.com.
As an author who’s slowly been transitioning from novels to picture books (my first picture book will be out in March 2015), I’ve realized that picture book techniques have started influencing my novel-writing process. Here are a few examples.
1. Brevity and Word Choice
This is probably the most obvious connection. When you’re used to working with 500 words, you tend to get a little pickier about the words you use in longer projects. Even when I have 50k words to work with, for example, I still find myself making sure to cut out unnecessary phrases (particularly unneeded dialogue tags) and using strong verbs and interesting nouns to make each sentence count.
2. Tying the End to the Beginning
This is my favorite picture book technique. In picture books, the ending almost always echoes the beginning of the tale. I love using this approach in novels, reflecting something from the opening chapter in the closing chapter in a different context. This technique shows us that the character has grown and changed, and it also makes the story feel cohesive and satisfying.
3. Repeating for Emphasis
Repetition can be great in picture books, but in novels it can feel like telegraphing. A strong repeated image, however, especially one whose meaning deepens over the course of the story, can work well if it’s revisited throughout the novel. It can help show how the meaning of that image or experience has changed for the character over time.
4. Using the Senses
In picture books, we have to be mindful of not focusing too much on the visual details so that we don’t step on the illustrator’s toes. That means we have to use other senses to give the story depth. I try to use a similar multi-sensory approach in my novels, so I’m not simply describing how things look to the characters, but I’m also thinking about the smells, sounds, and textures around them. I’ve also found myself using a lot of onomatopoeic words—kapow!
For those of you who write in longer and shorter formats, how do you find the two influencing each other? What’s your favorite picture book technique to use in novel-writing? Please comment below and join the conversation!
Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna Staniszewski grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. Currently, she lives outside Boston with her husband and their crazy dog. When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time reading, daydreaming, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch. She is the author of the My Very UnFairy Tale Life series and the Dirt Diary series. Her newest novel, The Prank List, released on July 1st from Sourcebooks. You can visit Anna at www.annastan.com.
My friend and fellow blogger Kathy Temean ( http://www.kathytemean.wordpress.com) posted this information about a west coast workshop event for teens seriously interested in learning the craft of writing for children:
TeenSpeak Novel Workshop Convenes October 17-19, 2014 in coastal Santa Cruz, CA.
TeenSpeak offers a rare opportunity for international teens to interact with top level East Coast editors and agents, and adults who write for the teen/tween market. Open to 10 teens in an intimate setting, the event dovetails with 20 supportive adults in a concurrent, partly overlapping workshop.
FACULTY: Core teen instructor is Helen Pyne, MFA (Vermont College of Fine Arts), a former Doubleday children’s/YA book editor. Along with adult enrollees, teens enjoy novel crafting sessions with Knopf Associate Publishing Director Melanie Cecka (also an award-winning children’s book author) and agent Scott Treimel (former children’s book editor), president of Scott Treimel New York.
CONTENT: TeenSpeak workshop focuses on craft through dramatic improv and other vehicles. Teens receive in-person, mini critiques with editor and agent—and full critiques from their own instructor, and volunteer adult enrollees.
In reciprocity, teens offer adults target-reader feedback. After teens edit selected adults’ partial and full novels, they hear our editor and agent critique the same manuscripts. Lively discussion follows, for the benefit of all: “I loved the teens’ insights at this workshop,” says Erin Clarke, executive editor at Knopf Children’s Books. Well before the event, teens are offered tools to sharpen their critiquing skills, and may be paid for a job well done.
FEE: $549 covers up to three nights’ beachfront condo lodging with chaperone, kid-friendly meals, all critiques, and focus sessions.
TeenSpeak Scholarship Fund: This year’s donations will honor renowned children’s author, Elaine Marie Alphin. Teens (and adults) will apply exercises in her book, Creating Characters Kids Will Love. To contribute any amount to support a young person passionate about writing, contact us via the website, where you’ll find mixed testimonials from scholarship beneficiaries and other enthusiastic teens. (Alternately, ask about possible jobs for teens or parents, or split payments.) Teens appreciate your generous donation!
ENROLLING: Recommended enrollment date for maximum options: July 20. Details and contact: http://www.ChildrensWritersWorkshop.com(click FOR TEENS). TeenSpeak is an outgrowth of the Pacific Coast Children’s Writers Workshop, established 2003. Don’t delay; we fill fast!