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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: the writing life, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 421
1. Historical Fiction Writing Links

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Our Story: American History Stories and Activities You Can Do Together (1801-1861) :: Smithsonian’s History Explorer (this ties in nicely with May B.!)

Research Matters :: Avi

Five How-Two Tips for Writing Historical Fiction :: Live, Write, Thrive

Crafting Historical Fiction :: Caroline Starr Rose

The post Historical Fiction Writing Links appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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2. Getting Used To The New Normal

In the past couple of years, I've fallen in love with Mondays because no matter how wrong things may go in any given week, Monday will come around again and psychologically, it means a new opportunity to try again. It's like having a reset button, but you get to keep the benefits of the last go-round. Mostly. I didn't sleep well at all on Thursday and Friday nights and spent a lot of Saturday

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3. Writing A Life

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Thinking, thinking after the LMM journals and the Laura Ingalls Wilder class* just what it means to capture a life on the page.

  • Is it ever really possible to get distance and perspective?
  • Are memoir and autobiography ever fully “true”?
  • How much can a writer truly reveal in public or even private writings?
  • Are these things fully known to the author herself?
  • How much do emotion and distance color things?
  • In the shaping of a life story, should a reader “listen in” on what is omitted?
  • Where is the moment autobiography shifts to autobiographical fiction?
  • What does it matter in the end?

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I keep circling back to the ideas infallibility and omniscience — two things no one has, but two things that would be needed to fully recored a “true” life. I don’t write memoir or autobiography so I am no expert, but I can’t help thinking what a challenge both formats would be. Memoir allows for more artistic license, (focusing on portions of a life rather than a whole life, for example, or in arranging events for thematic purposes), but both genres are expected to speak truth.

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Perhaps the windows autobiography and memoir afford us are enough to catch a glimpse of a true life. Perhaps journals, though they don’t tell the whole story, remove the public filter enough for a reader to know the author intimately. Maybe fictionalized accounts like the Little House books can give readers as strong a sense of a life as non-fiction.

Thinking, thinking, thinking.

 

* Laura Ingalls Wilder herself used fictionalized accounts of her childhood to get at greater truths. She said about her book, BY THE SHORES OF SILVER LAKE “All I have told is true, but it’s not the whole truth.”

The post Writing A Life appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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4. NaNoWriMo Prep

TypewriterAre you participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this year? It starts this Saturday (November 1st) and is a mad dash to write 50,000 words of a novel in one short month! I participated for the first time last year and loved it. It’s true, I was a big snob about NaNoWriMo before I tried it, but now I’m a complete convert.

If you’re taking the plunge and trying NaNoWriMo this year, I have a few quick suggestions that I learned from my experience last year. Hopefully these will help you stay on track and reach your 50,000 word goal.

1) Make an Outline

Make a list of scenes you want to write for your novel. This doesn’t need to be fully formed outline. All you need is a list of events or moments that you think might be a part of the book. The fun thing about NaNoWriMo is that you’re writing so fast that everything you try counts toward your 50,000 word! Even if you cut it later, you can try it now and it’s productive. You can pick a scene to write each day and see where it takes you. If it doesn’t go anywhere, try another scene on your list. You’d be surprised to see how many scenes will snowball into whole sequences, chapters, and eventually full novels! An outline gives you a place to start each day, and a new scene to jump to if the one your working on isn’t going anywhere.

2) Create Scene Cards

After you make your outline, create scene cards for each of your scenes. These cards outline the major action and emotional change of the scene. This will help you to make sure you have a plan and direction when you write. This way you won’t sit down and stare at a blank page. When I re-read my novel after NaNoWriMo, one of the big things I learned was that scenes I had a plan for were worth keeping. Scenes I didn’t use a scene card for often got cut. Read more about scene cards and see examples here: Scene Cards Blog Post.

3) Don’t Edit

I know it seems counter intuitive to not edit. Part of writing is choosing the right phrase and sentence to communicate your ideas. But when the end goal is word count, editing is your worst enemy. NaNoWriMo is about getting your ideas on the page and moving forward. It isn’t about writing a masterpiece in the first pass. That’s what revision is for. Who cares if you’ve added adverbs everywhere. Who cares if you spend half a page describing a character’s hair style. This draft is about creating the raw material that you can shape and mold later. It’s easier to revise a novel once you have that raw material to work with, rather than trying to come up with a brilliant and perfectly crafted page out of nothing. Yes, your NaNoWriMo novel isn’t going to be spun gold. That’s not the point. The point is to get material on the page that you can revise with.

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4) Write the Fun Scenes First

We often think we have to write in linear order. We also think we have to finish scenes. I give you permission leave scenes half-finished and to write out of order! Write the scenes you’re most excited to write first. Those scenes are going to have the most energy and excitement behind them. They’re going to create inertia that gets you excited to get up and write again tomorrow. If a scene isn’t going well, don’t finish it. Leave yourself a big note that says: finish this scene later and move on. Don’t worry about it right now. There are going to big plot holes, sure, but you can fix them in revision. Focus on what is fun and keeps you excited to keep writing this project. That’s the trick to writing faster than you should. Have fun and forget all the rules you’ve made for yourself in the past. Create, enjoy, and fall in love with your story.

5) Write in the Morning

Not everyone is a morning writer. I understand that. But personally, I’ve have found that writing in the morning during NaNoWriMo keeps me motivated. It allows me to get through my 1600 words a day early on. This also means any additional words I write that day are a bonus and help get me closer to 50,000 words faster! If you get behind in NaNoWriMo it can be discouraging. So don’t wait. Write first thing and make it a habit. One of the great side effects of this exercise is the way it motivates you to work on your project every day.

Looking for more tips to help with National Novel Writing Month? Try these:


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5. On Writing


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What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks “the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.” And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, “Okay. Okay. I’ll come.”
— Maya Angelou

The post On Writing appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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6. Classroom Connections: THE SECRET HUM OF A DAISY by Tracy Holczer

age range: middle grade (10 and up)
genre: contemporary fiction
study guide
Tracy Holczer’s website

“A lovely and captivating debut . . . Holczer writes with depth, heart, and a poetic lilt . . . nuanced characters engage from beginning to end.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Holczer expertly crafts the characters and dialogue to create a story readers will identify with, and thoroughly enjoy… More than simply a book about grief and the death of a parent, Grace’s story is about the search for identity. An essential purchase for middle-grade collections.” —School Library Journal, starred review

Please tell us about your book.

The Secret Hum of a Daisy is a story about love and loss and what it means to be a family. It takes place after the sudden death of twelve-year-old Grace’s mother. Grace is forced to live with a grandmother she’s never met in a small town she’s never heard of. A town Mama left years before—with Grace in her belly and a bus ticket in her pocket—and never looked back. It doesn’t take long before Grace desperately wants to leave, too.

Until she finds the first crane.

A mysterious treasure hunt, just like the ones her mother used to send her on, takes Grace on a journey to find home. And it might just be closer than she thinks.

What inspired you to write this story?

I read a blog post recently where it talked about artists being “fundamentally inconsolable.”

This knocked my socks off for about two days while I thought about the reasons I sit in my chair to write. While “fundamentally inconsolable” isn’t the way I would talk about my life—I’m rather happy, actually—I do find that in my artist’s heart, this is very true. I feel compelled to write about themes of love and loss and belonging. These are deep rooted and wind in and out of my earliest memories, so when I sat down to write about Grace, it seemed natural to draw upon these themes that have special meaning to me.

Could you share with readers your writing process?

While I’m writing, my brain resembles something of a Jackson Pollack painting. Actually, even when I’m not writing, my brain tends to look like that. Ha! So, mostly, the writing process consists of me trying to figure out the order of things. As an instinctual writer, outlines don’t particularly work for me, but with my second book, I’m finding Blake Snyder’s beat sheet to be very helpful.

My books always start with a character and a situation. Family comes next and how that character interacts with the world. Once I see whatever it is that particular character yearns for, in their most secret heart, then the story begins to unfold. So the first few months of a book has me chasing down dead end roads and backtracking, and chasing down more dead end roads. It’s a little crazy making, but it’s what I’ve got. I am completely lacking a left brain, it seems.

What are some special challenges associated with writing contemporary middle grade?

Plot is so very tough for me to wrap my mind around. Especially in a contemporary story where the character isn’t questing for anything on the outside, like winning a competition or landing the lead in the school play. I mean, how to you write about yearning for a ten and up audience and keep them engaged? So, what I do is read writers who have mastered this. Kate DiCamillo. Linda Urban. Sharon Creech. Then I pray that things rub off.

What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?

There is poetry from Robert Frost and from the main character, brief clips from different poems that felt very true to the themes of the story. I liked the idea of using clips since they can be easier to grasp and might encourage young writers to start small, as Grace does. The poetry also lends itself to the bigger idea that great sadness is always healed little by little, clip by clip.

The book touches on Sadako Sasaki and her thousand paper cranes, how we all have to find our own ways to heal. Magical thinking is part of that and children are so very good at it.

It would also tie in well with abstract art.

The post Classroom Connections: THE SECRET HUM OF A DAISY by Tracy Holczer appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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7. Writing Links

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Debut Year Reflections, Tips for New Authors :: YA Highway

Novel Revision Charts: 2 Tools for Smart Re-Thinking of Your Story :: Darcy Pattison

Life Doesn’t Permit…and Other Wise Words On Making Time to Write :: Kate Messner

The Crushing Weight of Expectations :: Writer Unboxed

Redefining Expectations in Order to Stay Sane :: Read Write Thrive

The Hectic Life of a Multi-Published Author :: Jody Hedlund

 

The post Writing Links appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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8. Troubles

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The trouble with writing says the historian who lives next door to me, is that no matter how many times you do it, you start out every time with the sick sense that you don’t know what you’re doing.

The trouble with writing says a novelist friend, is that it never gets any easier. If anything, it gets harder. And if it starts to get easier, you’re probably slacking off or repeating yourself.

The Millions :: The Trouble with Writing

The post Troubles appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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9. Hooray for Val’s CROOKED RIVER! A Giveaway

‘Tis the season for critique partner debuts!

Last month we celebrated Kate Bassett’s Words and Their Meanings. Now it’s time to cheer on Valerie Geary and her Crooked River. It’s been especially thrilling to watch these two talents find their agents, sell their books, and then release them into the world just a few weeks apart. Val and Kate have been instrumental in my own writing process. Here’s a little glimpse into CROOKED RIVER and the way the three of us work together.

Before I hand things over to Val, though, I want to share that Crooked River made November’s Indie Next list. It’s that good.

Tell us about your book.

Still grieving the sudden death of their mother, Sam and her younger sister Ollie McAlister move from the comforts of Eugene to rural Oregon to live in a meadow in a teepee under the stars with Bear, their beekeeper father. But soon after their arrival, a young woman is found dead floating in Crooked River, and the police arrest their eccentric father for the murder.

Fifteen-year-old Sam knows that Bear is not a killer, even though the evidence points to his guilt. Unwilling to accept that her father could have hurt anyone, Sam embarks on a desperate hunt to save him and keep her damaged family together. Ollie, too, knows that Bear is innocent. The Shimmering have told her so. One followed her home from her mom’s funeral and refuses to leave. Now, another is following Sam. Both spirits warn Ollie: the real killer is out there, closer and more dangerous than either girl can imagine.

Crooked River is my first novel, a coming of age story and a page-turning mystery that I hope will touch readers’ hearts and keep them up past their bedtime.

What is it like to work with two other writers you’ve never met in person?

I was in a local writer’s group for a short time, and while it was nice meeting in person to talk life and writing, it was also incredibly awkward to have to sit there and listen as my group members picked apart my chapters. There was very little time and no space to consider what they were saying, and for me it ended up being this horrible emotional roller coaster that did more harm than good. 

My socially anxious personality tends to fit better with a virtual writer’s group. Whenever I’m ready, I send Caroline and Kate part or all of my manuscript. They take their time reading it and then they send the manuscript back with their notes attached. There’s less pressure this way, and a lot of distance, a feeling of detachment. Revision is all about setting aside what you think a story should be and really seeing it for what it is so that you can figure out what’s working and what’s not and why. During this stage, it’s important to be as objective as we can with our own work, and the best way I’ve found to do this is by not having my critique partners in the room while I consider their feedback. There’s no one around watching, or judging, or expecting things from me. No one for me to try and justify, defend, or explain my choices. It’s just me alone with my manuscript and their notes, finding a way to a better story.

That said, there are definitely times when I just want to go grab a cup of coffee and talk shop with my friends. Or pop by their house with a plate of cookies when they’re having a hard day. We can’t do this because of the distance, and that’s something I miss.

How often do you read for each other? Do you respond differently as a manuscript progresses? If so, how?

As long as I’m not pushing up against a deadline, I’ll read as often as Kate and Caroline need me to. I’ve read their manuscripts at various stages of development. When I read early drafts, I tend to look more for big picture problems like pacing, story arc, and character development. As the drafts progress, if I’m asked to read again, I still keep big picture things in mind, but I also edit for details, oddly worded sentences, grammar errors, and typos. At every stage, too, I try and point out things I love, beautiful phrases, sections that make me hold my breath or shed a tear, characters that steal my heart. Drawing attention to where a story already shines is just as important as pointing out where it might need a little more elbow grease

Beyond critiquing manuscripts, how else do you support one another?

In this business, there are highs and lows, good days, bad days. When I need to vent, when I want to celebrate, when I feel like a sham, when I read an interesting article, when I need encouragement, when I have stupid questions, when I need someone to tell me I’m not going crazy, or a safe place to be myself, or someone to bounce ideas off of, I go to Caroline and Kate first. No one understands the strange life of a writer better than other writers. 

What is something you’ve learned from your critique partners?

Perserverence, courage, resilience. 

Also, that I overwrite more often than underwrite. Thanks to Caroline and Kate’s keen eyes and wicked red pens, I’m more aware now of the places in my manuscripts where the prose gets wordy or redundant. Of course, I don’t catch everything–I still need them to help me trim the fat.

And finally…

One thing I always remind Caroline and Kate (or anyone else who asks me to critique their writing) is this: At the end of the day, it’s your story. So take the feedback that rings true to you and throw out the rest.

I feel like this is good life advice, too.

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The post Hooray for Val’s CROOKED RIVER! A Giveaway appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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10. Purpose

I adore this.

Looking for purpose? Try this…

Sometimes a diagram can make the complex simple.

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11. Purpose

I adore this.

Looking for purpose? Try this…

Sometimes a diagram can make the complex simple.

10678846_733186486736877_5281924963199714176_n


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12. My Writing Tribe

Last week I spent a long weekend at a lake house in rural Illinois with ten of the closest friends I’ll ever have. They’re the Dystropians, fellow classmates and writers who graduated from VCFA with me. We live on all sides of the country, from California to New York to Florida, and once a year we get together to talk craft, laugh, and write.

Many of us don’t have writing communities back home, and this weekend is one of the few times we get to geek out, be ourselves, and embrace all things writing. This is my writing tribe. I can’t describe how important it is to have a writing tribe. It’s the one group of people who are going through the same highs and lows with me and understand what it is to sacrifice to write, and to love it with your whole heart.

This year I brought my camera, and I put together the following photo essay of our weekend. Enjoy!

Note: Scroll over the images with your mouse and you will see the full color contrast versions of the images.

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House-and-Tree

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Jessica-Walking

Mary-and-Acorns

Owls

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Writing-on-the-porch

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Meg-and-Tristan-writing

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Rachel-and-bird-house

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Mary-and-Jen-writing

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Blowing-Bubbles

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Jess-and-books

Girls-laughing

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Ingrid-and-Rachel

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Set-of-six-selfies

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It was a magical weekend!

Learn all about writing from this brilliant group of Dystropians. Check out these amazing blog posts they’ve shared:

Want to hear about last year’s lake house retreat?


4 Comments on My Writing Tribe, last added: 10/7/2014
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13. My Writing Tribe

Last week I spent a long weekend at a lake house in rural Illinois with ten of the closest friends I’ll ever have. They’re the Dystropians, fellow classmates and writers who graduated from VCFA with me. We live on all sides of the country, from California to New York to Florida, and once a year we get together to talk craft, laugh, and write.

Many of us don’t have writing communities back home, and this weekend is one of the few times we get to geek out, be ourselves, and embrace all things writing. This is my writing tribe. I can’t describe how important it is to have a writing tribe. It’s the one group of people who are going through the same highs and lows with me and understand what it is to sacrifice to write, and to love it with your whole heart.

This year I brought my camera, and I put together the following photo essay of our weekend. Enjoy!

Note: Scroll over the images with your mouse and you will see the full color contrast versions of the images.

IMG_9458

IMG_9762

House-and-Tree

IMG_9914

Jessica-Walking

Mary-and-Acorns

Owls

IMG_9827

Writing-on-the-porch

IMG_9838

Meg-and-Tristan-writing

IMG_9835

Rachel-and-bird-house

IMG_0083

Mary-and-Jen-writing

IMG_9948

IMG_9681

Blowing-Bubbles

IMG_9657

IMG_9709

IMG_9712

IMG_9701

IMG_9999

Jess-and-books

Girls-laughing

IMG_9527

IMG_9526

Ingrid-and-Rachel

IMG_9539

IMG_9544

IMG_9871

Set-of-six-selfies

IMG_0063

It was a magical weekend!

Learn all about writing from this brilliant group of Dystropians. Check out these amazing blog posts they’ve shared:

Want to hear about last year’s lake house retreat?


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14. The Complexity of Art: Creating and Connecting

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I’ve been thinking about how to define art ever since Emily P. Freeman began her 31 Days of Artful Living series a couple of years ago. Is art something that we do? Is it who we are? Who gets to decide if something is considered art?

But if I think back even further, I’ve been wrestling with my own definition of art for much longer.

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In 2001, a few months before my first child was born, I remember going to a high school art show. As I looked at the displays I knew it was time to decide what I was trying to do with words and why. Moving through the exhibit, from one piece to the next, I came up with a working definition for the artistic life — that it’s the process of creating and connecting.

Art as transaction, in other words.

I had a guest post over at Modern Mrs. Darcy a few days ago and in the comments section tried to explain this very sterile / non-lovely / perhaps controversial* picture of art.

Before I was published, I ached and ached for that final step of connection. All I could do was write my best and consistently submit to agents and editors. The connection portion was out of my hands. I found myself getting anxious, bitter, envious, all that lovely stuff. Even though I continued to feel the artistic process was incomplete without that final step, I had to make peace with how I was going to feel about my work and how it was (or wasn’t) received.

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Honestly, it’s still that way. There’s no promise what I write now will get anywhere. So I often have to lay that part of things aside and just write for myself. I am the one the work needs to connect with, ultimately. Oh yes, I want the “real” readers. Always, always. But the work is the satisfying thing, not the contract or recognition. It gets harder once people are looking in, anyway. I’ve had moments where I’ve been paralyzed worrying about how things would be received.

Publication — that final step — adds a complex layer to things. It means the art no longer belongs to just me. It’s the final step in letting go of a thing that was always temporarily mine.

Somehow, I’m able to hold these two opposites at once: Art isn’t complete until it’s been given away. Art is ultimately for ourselves.

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What do you think? How do you define art?

*Am I saying only those with a audience are the trust artists or that our efforts are only legit once shared with someone else? I’m not fully sure, actually. But for me that final step is part of the creative endeavor — even if that only means I’m pleasing myself.

The post The Complexity of Art: Creating and Connecting appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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15. This Creative Life

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The discipline of creation, be it to paint, composite, write, is an effort toward wholeness.
—Madeleine L’Engle

The post This Creative Life appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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16. Handspring’s Writing Conference 2014

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) has played a huge role in my writing life.  Joining SCBWI was a leap for me — for the first time I was able to see myself as a professional, even though I had no published works to show for it. The organization has led me to dozens of writing friends, critique groups, opportunities to better my craft, and now, as New Mexico’s assistant regional advisor, a chance to give back to the children’s writing community.

Ever dreamed of writing or illustrating books for children? If you live in New Mexico or in a neighboring state, I invite you to join us in Albuquerque for the upcoming Handsprings Conference on Oct. 24 and 25, 2014 at the Ramada Inn, Eubank and I-40.  Faculty will include the following publishing professionals:

  • Liza BakerExecutive Editorial Director, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
  • Patti Ann HarrisSenior Art Director, Little, Brown
  • Sara MegibowAgent, Nelson Literary Agency
  • Julie Ham BlivenAssociate Editor, Charlesbridge ​​

The conference will include an evening social event on Friday and a full conference scheudle on Saturday, including a First Impressions Panel, individual faculty presentations, plus the opportunity to attend two of our five targeted breakout sessions.

Breakout Sessions

Here is an overview of the breakout sessions offered during this year’s conference. When you register, you’ll be asked to select two different workshops, one for breakout session #1 and one for breakout session #2.

Sara Megibow: Spoken Words and Written Words: Talking about Our Manuscripts and How This Helps Nail Pitch — Talking about a book can be helpful both to pitching your novel and to the actual written creation of your book. Attendees will talk through their pitches and their stories in a safe environment (or just listen to others talk if that’s more comfortable).

Julie Ham Bliven: Writing Middle-Grade Novels: Voice Your Voice — Using recent Newbery Medal and Honor books as a guide, this presentation examines qualities of remarkable middle-grade novels and suggests ways for you to strengthen your novel’s unique voice.

Patti Ann Harris:  Good Habits of Successful Illustrators — Learn how simple ideas like keeping a sketchbook, taking the time to research your subject, and being open to the revision process can help you to grow as an illustrator and a picture book artist.

Patti Ann Harris and Liza Baker: Picture Book Boot Camp — A behind-the-scenes look at the world of the picture book and the steps leading up to publication. A focus on craft will include lively discussion and some in-class work on such topics as creating strong characters, the best practices of succeful illustrators, and tips on polishing your picture book.

Liza Baker: SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW:  Bringing Creative Twists to Perennial Themes in Picture Books — There is a reason why some picture book themes are perennially popular and timeless, and why books that explore those themes are beloved by so many children. Be it bedtime, dinosaurs, princesses, or monsters, some topics are universal and resonate with children in a deep and resounding way. But within those themes there is a great deal of room for authors to explore new areas of creativity and bring a fresh point of view. In this workshop, we’ll discuss some of those most resonant topics, discuss examples of great books that bring an original approach to classic themes, and also brainstorm ideas for creatively layering themes in a playful way that offers readers a satisfying twist on those most celebrated topics.

Please click through to SCBWI New Mexico if you’d like to sign up for the event. I’d love to see you there!

 

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17. Picture Book Poetry Collections

picture book poetry

Thinking, thinking, thinking about a seed of an idea that even my agent says would be a hard sell.

Go for it if you do it as a labor of love, knowing it’s a long shot,

that’s what Tracey says. That’s pretty much been my approach for the last sixteen years. What’s one more try this way? Satisfaction, that’s what.

 

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18. Straight from the Source: Carole Estby Dagg on Writing Historical Fiction

Carole Estby Dagg worked as children’s librarian, CPA, and assistant library director before beginning to write historical fiction. Her first book, THE YEAR WE WERE FAMOUS, was based on the true story of her suffragist great-grandmother’s 4,000-mile walk with her daughter across the country in 1896. The book won the Sue Alexander Award for most promising new manuscript and went on to earn a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, a WILLA award, and a place on the American Library Association’s 2012 Amelia Bloomer list of best feminist fiction.  She recently sold a book set in Alaska during the 1930’s to Nancy Paulsen and her imprint at Penguin, and is researching and writing a book set in the San Juan Islands during the mid-1800’s. Under the supervision of a bossy cat, she writes in Everett, WA in a converted woodshed on San Juan Island.

What Have I Done in the Name of Research?

Climbing part of the Chilkoot Trail, sewing Victorian undergarments, bidding on 115-year-old postcards on e-Bay–this is research for historical fiction? In my case, yes. For me, research isn’t just piling up reference books and printing off internet articles. Research is getting into the heads of my characters and into the times and places my characters go.

union pacific map Carole Dagg
For each book, I start with background reading to familiarize myself with the period, speech patterns, and interests of people of the time. For The Year We Were Famous, about Clara and Helga Estby’s walk across the country in 1896, I read about six million words of biographies of people my main characters met, diaries of people similar to my characters, popular books–including dime novels–of the time, women’s magazines of the 1890‘s and histories and geographies of places they passed through. As I began to write, I researched the details I need for each scene, such as the elevation of the pass through the Blue Mountains, the history of Underwood typewriters. frontier treatments for blisters, or the eating habits of cougars. I studied old railroad maps to work out a plausible day-by-day itinerary for the whole 232-day trek and scrolled through miles of microfilms of newspapers which chronicled their walk.

Mrs. William McKinley Carole Dagg

An unlikely source, eBay, yielded detailed descriptions of antique items and period postcards of people Clara and Helga met met and places they passed through. Sometimes a postcard inspired a whole chapter, such as the one I bought of twin Cayuse papooses in their cradleboards and the one of Mrs. William McKinley in her rocking chair.

Carole Dagg

Trying to imagine what it would have been like to walk across the country, I drove part of the route my characters took, taking notes and poking in at little history museums along the way. Further getting into character, I found patterns for clothing of the 1890’s and sewed a Gibson Girl shirtwaist and Victorian under-drawers, right down the three rows of pin-tucks on the ruffles. I walked a mile in reproduction Victorian shoes, and prowled antique stores to find items such as a curling iron and match safe that were similar to the ones they carried.

For another book, I hiked what is reportedly the hardest part of the Chilkoot Trail. Since I turn 70 this year and am barely five feet tall, I sometimes had one person above me to pull and one person behind me to push, but I did it. For the book I’m working on now, I climbed a slippery 45 degree slope to peel off madrona tree bark and pick the madrona berries before the birds got them all. According to one research source. Lummi Indians made tea from the bark and mixed the berries into various dishes. If my main characters used the tea and berries, I had to know how they tasted, didn’t I?

Chilkoot trail sign Carole Dagg

By the end of my first draft, I usually have a banker’s box full of file folders. Typically, headings include chronology, character backstories, natural world, period slang, popular culture, calendars for the years the book covers, maps, transportation, period recipes, and brief biographies of historical characters. Each book also prompts folders with headings of subjects needed just for that book, such as Civil War statistics, Appalachian speech patterns, Lummi Indian tree burials, sheep guardian dogs, reef net fishing, feeding baby ravens, how to grow a champion pumpkin, sled dogs, and how to make jellied moose nose. In case you are hungry for jellied moose nose, you’ll find the recipe in Northward Ho!, coming out in 2016.

Sometimes research starts as an intrusive clump of data into a scene, but as I revise, I find ways to unobtrusively feather in bits of research in a more natural way. At the end, ninety-eight per-cent of my research never makes it directly into the book, but it has helped pull me into each scene as I write. I hope the details my research uncovers make a difference for my readers!

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19. Why Word Count Doesn’t Always Tell the Whole Story

word count

I’ve written here before about word count goals and how tricky they can be for a verse novelist like me. While my friends are cranking out 2,000 words on a bad day, I’m often lucky if I can hit 300 on a good one. Usually I don’t keep record of these sorts of things.

Unless I am, like when I tried my own version of National Novel Writing Month last year. The draft was absolutely awful, but the experience was a good one. It helped me realize fast and furious can sometimes be as beneficial in my writing life as slow and steady.

I’m working on that messy NaNo manuscript now. It’s due to my editor at the end of the month. The book is prose, and while it’s my third novel written this way, it’s the first non-verse novel I’ve ever sold. That’s made me fret a bit. I’m not sure if I know how to do what I’m doing. But isn’t that a hallmark of the writing life?

When I started back with the story, I thought it might be wise to keep a record of my progress. I set up a chart, all ready to watch my word-count numbers grow. But they didn’t, not really. Even as I moved forward, sometimes those numbers stood still or even found a way to travel on a backward path. So it was interesting to read at Project Mayhem a few weeks ago that many writers aren’t fans of using word count as a way of marking progress, either.

What do you writers out there think of word count goals?

PS – Those aren’t tears on my chart — just water that dripped off my cup. Promise!

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20. On Writing

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The act of putting pen to paper encourages pause for thought, this in turn makes us think more deeply about life, which helps us regain our equilibrium.
- Norbet Platt

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21. Background Reading

20140809_114149

There’s plenty of plain ol’ research that goes into my writing, but sometimes I also study fiction with a specific aim in mind. Here are the novels I’ve read recently  to help me get a sense of things in my newest manuscript. (It shares nothing in common with these books — and everything.)

Okay for Now – Gary Schmidt
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian – Sherman Alexie
The Ballad of Lucy Whipple – Karen Cushman
Bo at Ballard Creek – Kirkpatrick Hill
The Westing Game – Ellen Raskin

I love how iron sharpens iron in the writing life.

 

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22. Should You Take the Job?

freelance2Today’s post isn’t about writing per-say, but it is about the business of writing.

If you want to make a living as a writer at some point you’re probably going to do a little freelance work. That work may be writing an article, accepting a work-for-hire gig, or even ghostwriting. And as these opportunities present themselves you’re going to have to decide if you want the job or not. Because trust me, you aren’t going to want (or have time for) every one.

So how do you decide which jobs to accept?

I’ve been a freelance illustrator and writer for over eight years. I’ve slugged through pitfalls, failures, and soul-sucking jobs, wondering if it’s all really worth it. But one simple tool has made all the difference. Before accepting any job, I now ask myself these three questions:

1) Is the job good money? Will the client pay me what I’ve asked them to pay me?

2) Will I be working with good people?

3) Will I be creatively challenged and inspired? 

If the answer to all three of these questions is YES, then it’s a great job. I should take it!

If the answer to two of these questions is YES, then it’s a good job. It’s definitely worth considering. But, I need to decide how important the question that came up as a NO is to my current situation.

If I came up with one (or fewer) YES responses, then this isn’t a job I should take. Move on to better things!

I know it may seem odd to pass up a work opportunity. But if you take too many jobs that only fulfill one of the criteria I’ve mentioned, you’re going to burn out really quickly. The last thing you want to do is give up on something that was once your passion. Be sure to ask yourself these three questions. It will help to ensure that you always love writing.


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23. Should You Take the Job?

freelance2Today’s post isn’t about writing per-say, but it is about the business of writing.

If you want to make a living as a writer at some point you’re probably going to do a little freelance work. That work may be writing an article, accepting a work-for-hire gig, or even ghostwriting. And as these opportunities present themselves you’re going to have to decide if you want the job or not. Because trust me, you aren’t going to want (or have time for) every one.

So how do you decide which jobs to accept?

I’ve been a freelance illustrator and writer for over eight years. I’ve slugged through pitfalls, failures, and soul-sucking jobs, wondering if it’s all really worth it. But one simple tool has made all the difference. Before accepting any job, I now ask myself these three questions:

1) Is the job good money? Will the client pay me what I’ve asked them to pay me?

2) Will I be working with good people?

3) Will I be creatively challenged and inspired? 

If the answer to all three of these questions is YES, then it’s a great job. I should take it!

If the answer to two of these questions is YES, then it’s a good job. It’s definitely worth considering. But, I need to decide how important the question that came up as a NO is to my current situation.

If I came up with one (or fewer) YES responses, then this isn’t a job I should take. Move on to better things!

I know it may seem odd to pass up a work opportunity. But if you take too many jobs that only fulfill one of the criteria I’ve mentioned, you’re going to burn out really quickly. The last thing you want to do is give up on something that was once your passion. Be sure to ask yourself these three questions. It will help to ensure that you always love writing.


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24. Ode to a Research Notebook

I’m in the thick of the manuscript connected to this notebook. Thought it might be fun to share again!

I wrote this a few days ago in an attempt to express a piece of my writing process — the behind-the-scenes work that goes into writing historical fiction. You guys. In four years of blogging I can honestly say this is the most fun I’ve ever had in writing a blog post. Writing this poem has reminded me I need to give myself more permission to play. There is something incredibly satisfying in starting and finishing a project in one day and in experimenting with a format I’ve never used before.

Here’s to your own creative processes and the opportunity to find joy there!

I
Oh, notebook mine,
the place I gather records, thoughts
before I know the way a story winds,
unsure whether or not
I’ll need what I’ve written down,
or if the scribbling of a word will be mere passing fact,
a jot to teach, inform me of the world I’m learning,
a collection of phrases to ground
me in the things I sorely lack,
to multiply my yearning.

II
You are a place of lists,
dates, maps, quotes, sometimes a sketch,
this novelist’s definition of bliss,
my source when I long to catch
a whiff of history, a summer berry’s hue,
a sense of place, the voice of one long dead,
the temperature when kerosene solidifies –
truths I can bend and shift, make new,
and like a ball of dough transform to bread
with heat and time. You stoke the fire in my mind’s eye.

III
You are a testament to months of labor,
a tribute to half-formed thoughts and starts,
a vestibule which leads to something greater,
the fresh firsts of a future art,
a net that gathers every object nearer,
sifts and filters, groups and sorts,
until like seeds that push to germination,
truth and story blend, grow clearer:
dear notebook, you help me bring forth
a story to its liberation.

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25. A Free Online Course on Laura Ingalls Wilder

I’m up against a deadline, so this will be brief.

If you’re a Laura fan like I am and you haven’t heard of this amazing opportunity, let me fill you in. Pamela Smith Hill of Missouri State University is teaching a free online course about Laura starting Monday, September 22. Click here to learn more. You might have heard Laura’s long-awaited autobiography has recently released. Pamela Smith Hill is its editor.

This is a class for Laura fans and for those curious about authorship (how much of a role did daughter Rose play in the creation of the Little House series?), the fuzzy lines between historical fiction and memoir, and the complex, sometimes uncomfortable portrayal of pioneers and natives.

I’ve ordered Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life (South Dakota Biography) and Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography. I’ve got all the others. So looking forward to digging in!

If you’re taking the course, please let me know. I’d love to talk about it.

From the course description page:

Required Materials:

Little House In The Big Woods, Laura Ingalls Wilder, HarperCollins, 0060581808
Farmer Boy, Laura Ingalls Wilder, HarperCollins, 0064400034
Little House On The Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder, HarperCollins, 0064400026
On The Banks Of Plum Creek, Laura Ingalls Wilder, HarperCollins, 0064400042
Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life, Pamela Smith Hill, South Dakota State Historical Society Press, 097779556X

Recommended Reading:

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Edition, Pamela Smith Hill, South Dakota State Historical Society Press
Young Pioneers, Rose Wilder Lane, HarperCollins, 0064406989

 

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