Friday, December 21, 2012

Gift Giving for Writers--for Everyone

     Of all the gifts we give or get, the greatest one is love.
     Hoping your holiday season is filled with giving and receiving...

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Musings on the SCBWI Fall Fest 2012 – Part 2- Book Promotion and First pages

This post is a continuation of my musings on the SCBWI Eastern PA's Fall conference held in Lancaster last month.

I choose a session on Book Promotion for my third workshop. Since all of my work so far has been published in magazines, journals or anthologies, this might seem like an odd choice. But I am the eternal optimist. Publication is right around the corner. And the presenter, Mara Rockliff had an intriguing title for her workshop—“Book Promotion for the Rest of Us.” I wanted to know who “the rest of us” were! Mara explained that she supports her family by her work as a mid-list writer. She told participants they could be successful without being the next big thing (although that would, of course, be nice). She talked about using our time as writers effectively and the fact that many promotional opportunities have no proven track record so the best things to do are the things that a publisher asks us to do, or that we want to do because we enjoy it. I almost fell out of my seat laughing when she played Mike Jung's ukulele/song video at his release party for GEEKS, GIRLS AND SECRET IDENTITIES. If you haven’t seen it, this is the one link you MUST visit today. I laughed so hard I cried. Literally. And this is a correct usage of the word literally. I almost fell off my chair—in public. 

After lunch we were treated to an editor/agent panel that read first pages of attendees manuscripts. Mine was not one of the ones chosen at random but I still enjoyed the panel, getting a flavor of the panelists’ personalities and preferences. Writers can often find some list of what agents and editors say they are looking for online. Seeing them react to the actual words in front of them is even more revealing. In general, their reactions reminded me that beautiful writing is no replacement for telling a good story. If the first page of your novel doesn’t give the reader something to care about, whether it's an exciting plot question or a fascinating character, it’s time to rewrite! Get the hook up front. In the case of picture books, the first page of a manuscript should have introduced the (memorable) character and problem at a minimum. They are still looking for short, under 500 word picture books.

I also chose to have a professional critique of one of my picture book manuscripts from author Sandy Asher. Her generous advice and encouragement to SUBMIT will be a personal writing journey prompt for 2013. After all, even if a writer has written the best manuscript ever, it’s unlikely the agents and editors will sense the magnificence as a disturbance in the writing force and seek it out. So—find your voice and be fearless. 

A big thank you to two amazing people--our SCBWI chapter RA's, Marilyn Hershey and Francesca Amendolia.  Sure enough, they organized another great event for our region. These women rock!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Musings on the SCBWI Fall Fest 2012 – Part 1-Setting & Point of View

This fall, my friend Debbie and I carpooled to the SCBWI Eastern PA's Fall Fest in Lancaster, PA. When my kids were younger, I always made time to arrange play dates for them, but my own play dates became fewer and farther between. Carpooling isn’t just a good way to save money on gas and tolls, it’s a great way to spend time with writing pals.
The event itself boasted an amazing faculty. A mix of authors, agents, and editors. But as with most things in life, we couldn’t “have it all.” We had to select workshops from a list. Because I write picture books and novels, I decided to take a smorgasbord approach, choosing workshops with different presenters and different focuses, and this turned out to be a good choice for me. For those of you who couldn’t attend, I’ll give a thumbnail sketch of the sessions I attended.

The cover of my conference folder
My first workshop was “A Look at Setting through the Eyes of Your Character” presented by novelist, Edie Hemingway. Edie reminded us that setting isn’t just the places and things that characters interact with in a physical way, although that’s part of it. Setting is also the details that set mood and reveal character. In some cases, the details may be literal, and in other cases metaphorical. She used the isolation of Katherine Paterson’s Newbery winner “Jacob Have I Loved” as one example of a metaphoric symbolic setting. Her handout has a huge flowchart that I will use as a writing checklist. Finally, we took time for a writing exercise—thinking about one of our own manuscripts and making a list of places where setting is (or could/should be!) important. I thought of four places where I wanted to insert more character observations in one of my middle grade novels. Thanks, Edie! The only negative during this session was that the room was freezing. In between making notes, I sat on my hands.

The second workshop I attended was picture book author Ann Bonwill's “Picture Book Point of View.” This workshop was in a warm room . Although the title of the workshop referenced picture books, and Ann used picture book examples to illustrate what she meant, the exercises she used would apply equally to all genres. Ann reminded us that one important part of point of view isn’t just thinking about first, second, third POV-- it’s deciding which character should be the main character to begin with. Who should tell the story? Perhaps a minor character needs a starring narrative role? She also talked about the form in which we write (prose, poetry, dialogue) and some of the advantages and disadvantages of different forms. We finished the session with exercises, rewriting familiar stories from a different point of view. During the exercise, I got excited by some of my ideas. The creative juices really started flowing! This exercise was a big help too when I got stuck at times during the PiBoIdMo challenge last month. I’ve realized that sometimes the character that comes into my mind first isn’t the best one to tell his/her/its story.

That was about half the Fall Fest day. Watch for Part 2 coming soon...

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Winning - Picture Book Writer Style

December is the finale for the 12 x 12 in 2012 challenge. 

When I sat down in January with my notebook of 2011 PiBoIdMo Ideas (Thanks, Tara!), the challenge seemed like a gimme. A picture book should be no more than 1,000 words (preferably under 500) so that works out to 6,000 to 12,000 words—in a year. The NaMoWriMo folks would bust a gut thinking anyone could be stymied by word counts like this.

But it wasn’t so easy. Wholly apart from the demands of home and hearth, part of the problem for me was that I don’t just write picture books. I write middle grade novels and nonfiction. Carving out time to really focus on twelve new picture books was—a challenge.

The great thing was, amazing writers posted their own stories of success and words of encouragement on Julie’s website. These mental nudges were a gentle reminder of what I wanted to do. The dust bunnies and weedy garden could wait. Other writers revved my creative engine and brought me back to my own picture book stories. 

I love picture books and I’m glad I completed the challenge even though all twelve aren’t shiny works of art yet. I love thinking about the way words and art play off each other in good picture books. I love the sudoku-like challenge of completing a story arc in 28-30 pages.  And maybe I shouldn’t admit it, but I love the way new picture books smell.

One unexpected bonus of the 12 x 12 challenge is I finally started this blog! On the same day that Julie posted a December 12th date for the end of year success party, a critique friend talked about choosing the perfect website moniker. What was I waiting for? I put my jets in gear. Photos are yet to come, but the process has begun. I’m way out at the beginning of the learning curve, so I’d be grateful if you’d leave your comments and suggestions about the blog/website experience. 

Thanks for visiting!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Testing the waters

Welcome to Noodling with Words.

Why am I noodling with words?  Some days, I ask myself that very question. And I think the answer is that it’s just part of who I am. Why do I sing in the shower? Why do I hate cilantro? Okay, researchers discovered that that last question turns out to have an answer based somewhere deep in my genetic code. And maybe the word noodling does too. I’m going to go with that.
In my next post, I’ll post my farewell to the 2012 picture book 12 x 12 challenge and then I plan to share my overview of the SCBWI Fall Fest writer’s conference I attended last month.
Meanwhile, back to noodling…