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1. Surprise! It's a Series!

Actually, I'm not going to try and tell you how to write a series.

I don't approach books that way. I'm wary about rules about how to write anything, basically. I get nervous when writers approach a project by saying, "I'm going to write a series." Or "I'm going to write a chapter book."

I've critiqued many manuscripts which began with the genre first. I would suggest it's not the best way to start a book. That the best way to start is to have an idea and then write. The age of your protagonist, the situation, the conflict ... these are the things that will determine the language you use, the length of your sentences, and the way your characters talk, which ultimately will lead up to the genre your book falls into.

As in, don't try to write a chapter book with a 10-year-old protagonist.

Having said that, of course, I'm immediately aware that there will be exceptions to that idea. With reading levels being what they are, and publishers attempting to fill previously unknown niches to accommodate those levels, new genres seem to be popping up every week.

I have never actually set out to write a series. But I started thinking about the subject when I knew my week here was coming up because the first of what's going to be my 4th series is coming out from Putnam next week.

I wrote the first book as a one-off ... Something. I had no idea it was going to fit into a relatively new "Transitional Reader" genre. The early chapter book genre.

What happened was that I saw a sign in front of a school and I got an idea. The book turned out to be as long as it did because of the simplicity of that idea. It ended up being roughly 2,900 words divided into ten chapters. It had short sentences. It was called KISS AND GO LANE. The little girl was called Megan. She just happened to wear - and depend upon - her pink tutu for courage because it makes her feel like a pink princess.

My editor, Susan Kochan, liked it. She found a terrific illustrator in Stephanie Roth Sisson who made Megan come to life. The character and concept suddenly looked as if they had the potential for longevity. Megan became Posey. I got my first multiple-book contract - ever  - and I've been doing this for quite awhile. It has been a delightful journey.

[A bit of background: my other series came one-book-at-a-time, including the six Owen Foote chapter books and the three Sophie Hartley middle grade novels that I did with Clarion. Ditto the 4 Moose and Hildy books I did with Marshall Cavendish. In retrospect, for a person like me, this was a comfortable way to go about ending up with a series. As someone who left her homework, for her entire educational career, until the very last minute, a multiple-book contract feels like homework. Yes, it's great. Yes, it's wonderful. The next book is due on ... gulp.

So. Series can, and do, happen. But which comes first? And what makes it have life as a series -  is it the concept? the character? or the plot?

Each writer goes about ending up with a series in his or her own way. This week, I'm going to talk to Barrie Summy about how she ended up writing her middle grade mystery series for Delacorte, I SO DON'T DO MYSTERIES, I SO DON'T DO SPOOKY, and her most recent - I SO DON'T DO MAKE UP.

I'm also going to talk to Greg Trine about his hilarious MELVIN BEEDERMAN, SUPER HERO series.

All of our experiences have been different.

Sometimes, it's a savvy agent who recognizes what you have. Other times, it's your editor. I'm not sure that any one of the three of us went into our projects planning on being handed a series contract, but I imagi

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2. If books were like movies...


If books were like movies, then this new book I've been working on would be a historical costume drama. It's non-fiction in theory, but I've tried to make it read like a fictional story. It's set in the past... 100 years ago, so it appears that everyone is in costume.

It's more of a Jules Verne type story, with astonishing adventure to do with dirigibles, flying bicycles and that sort of thing. I actually sent away to the patent office trying to get some kind of copyright on the story, since I think it'd make a terrific movie.

I have discovered that it requires a goodly deal of attention to detail to recreate scenes from a past age. In fact it takes a LOT of drawing! It requires drawing until one's hand is ready to fall off, essentially.

Just categorically, I'm sure in the last few months I have drawn the following: (partial listing):

4 horses, complete with harness detailing
3 carriages (those spoked wheels are challenging!)
3 antique motor cars
15 vintage skyscrapers including the Flatiron building
150 costumed extras for background scenes
17 feathered hats
12 pigeons
15 bicycles (bicycles are notoriously difficult to draw)
16 bowler hats and the gentlemen wearing them
12 straw hats and the gentlemen wearing them
14 ladies in fancy full length skirts
16 dirigibles
16 victorian houses
16 assorted odd children in vintage garb
1 Titanic like steam ship
7 odd bizarre flying machines
4 picket fences... (those take a while)
2 ironwork fences (those do too!)
5 assorted lawns and park settings
4 barn interiors with multitudes of tools and furniture
22 drawings of the main character
17 drawings of the character's mother
12 drawings of the pet dog
1 complete vintage fire fighting crew, with antique firefighting pump truck
5 barrels
37 tiny people in a crowd, with aerial perspective

Oh... and I have drawn the complete 1904 World's Fair including Ferris Wheel.


I mention all of this mostly to point out the difficulty of achieving such a task for someone who basically has a hard time drawing. I make up for it with erasing and stubbornness though.

I think my next book effort will be an emotionally based story with two cute little animal characters... no crowd scenes or perspective required!

p.s. No, this is not the finished art... just the pencils. And that's the drawing just for one scene!


John Nez

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3. Snowflake...


Hi Everybody,
I thought I would post my snowflake here, because for some unknown reason my flake is still not up on the Robert Snow site. I decided to create a 3 dimensional version of Maude who is one of the characters in a new book dummy that I recently finished called "In a Jam." At the moment, it is being reviewed at Sterling Publishers
The actual wooden snowflake is her skirt, and her body was molded out of Sculpey. Once the sculpey was hard enough, I painted and then varnished her a couple of times. The position that I molded her into is from one of the pages in the dummy, where she is falling from the sky. Fortunately she also sits well on a display.
It was a lot of fun working this way. In fact, my agent thought that I should consider doing more clay work. Who knows? Enjoy, Ilene




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