Monday, August 11, 2014

Writing Process Blog Hop

I was tagged to the Writing Process Blog Hop by Telaina Muir who shared her writing process last Monday. Thank you for tagging me, Telaina! 

1. What am I working on right now?
Mainly I'm focused on maintaining my sanity until summer comes to an end and the kids go back to school. Oh, you mean what am I writing?

My three best picture book manuscripts are in the freezer right now after significant revisions in July.
I'm working on a nonfiction biography picture book, but I keep finding new research that is throwing off my story. Ugh, the risks of research!

I have two PBs I want to try as Easy Readers. I have a feeling they may spark in that format, it's just a matter of trying something new.

I'm indulging my dark YA side with a story about a particularly wicked water witch. I was planning to submit this to Spellbound for their Elementals theme, but I just read they are closing. Bummers. 

My back log of critiques-received-not-yet-edited pieces needs to be addressed...but I have a few new ideas which are drawing my attention away. No sense fighting the muse, so I'm starting two new projects this month.

I'm going to a Gotham Writers Workshop Children's Books Intensive in two weeks using a Christmas gift certificate. Christmas in August!

2. How does my work differ from others in the genre?
I'm trying to create a few boy-friendly characters in a pink-saturated market. (Even though my mom keeps saying, "you should write something like Pinkalicious!" Yes, thank you, Mom.)

3. Why do I write what I do?
(a) I'm a concise writer from years of business writing, so the picture book format is comfortable.
(b) My little gremlins tend to inspire age-appropriate stories.
(c) I must be a tad lazy, because once I figured out I could have an amazing intellectual experience and my heart warmed in 500 words, it does seem unnecessary to write more than that.
(d) I suspect my brain is not quite wired correctly giving me a bizarre sense of humor which is best displayed in picture books.

4. How does my writing process work?
I wouldn't mind being stuck
in a creme egg instead of
(image by chidsey via freeimages)
I make a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, both literally and figuratively. Most of my ideas come together like that: My kids do something ridiculous which provides a relatable situation. Someone says a funny thing which gives me a refrain or character. I have a deep adult thought which provides the emotional current. Then I mash them together with a poop joke. Delicious!

My process is 10% writing, 90% revising. It has occurred to me it would be much more efficient to write better first drafts, but ideas just don't come out that way. I spend a lot of time being stuck, which happens when you are dealing with so much jelly and poo
. When I'm stuck I:
(a) Storyboard on the back of a door
(b) Draw plot arcs with a rainbow of colors
(c) Write the action on index cards and move them around
(d) Highlight manuscripts in various ways- dialog of a character, passive verbs, each action to check for build, etc.
(e) Field trip to nature or other appropriate setting.
(f) Stick it in the freezer.
(g) Ship it off to my critique group to help.
(h) Read or reread a writing book until the problem becomes clear.
(h) Play with my kids so my muse can think without all the pressure.

At some point (around revision 14) the story starts to get polished.

I’m tagging Shar Mohr. We are both members of the Yellow Brick Road Critique Group. Check out Shar's Writing Process  on August 18th.  Then hop over to another YBR member Joy Moore's site on August 25th. Thank you both for hopping and for being such helpful critique partners. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Song Warp

I flew around time yesterday. The wild journey began with a radio station playing all the hits of my life - those key songs that spark a memory. Songs which are inextricably intertwined with a memory cause instant transportation to that moment any time the rhythm starts.

Many of my Song Warps are clearly YA memories, and I don't kiss and tell. But there are a few more appropriate ones:

Copacabana, by Barry Manilow. Year: 1978. Setting: My Grandpa's living room: imagine dark paneling, those little vintage glass bottles in assorted colors, large floral print couches, and a wooden parrot. My grandpa had hands the size of basketballs from years of working on the railroad, fighting in Normandy, and a long career in construction. But he always held my tiny hands gently when we danced to the Copacabana. *sidenote* It's funny to think we were actually listening to a Top 40 hit and not an oldie as I always thought of it- like me dancing with my girls to Roar

The Warrior, by Scandal. Year: 1984. Setting: Barbie doll house in the basement. For this particular song, Barbie always dressed in her jean jacket, because it made her look tough. I don't recall exactly what Ken had done, but he had messed up real bad and Barbie needed to show him how she felt by belting out the Warrior and stomping around in ridiculously high heels.
(via wikipedia)

All I Need, by Jack Wagner. Year: 1984. Setting: Sitting cross-legged by the record player in my living room.  This was my very first 45 record that was all mine and not shared with my stinky big sister. (if you are "age challenged," here's a helpful link to define record.) It was of critical importance, because when I found out we were moving to a new town, I put this on repeat for HOURS. I probably was leaving behind some sort of third grade boyfriend, but mainly it was a good sorrowful song for crying to.

Grease Mega Mix. Year: 1997. Setting: College formal dance. My date (though we went as 'friends') and I did an electrifying dance. I guess he was the one that I wanted, because I went ahead and married him.  And we are still friendsJ

These songs strike such a specific emotional chord, I can harness the power in my writing by just plugging in a relevant song when I'm writing.

I know you each have awesome song warp songs, so hit me with a good song and memory in the comments. Consider it your writing inspiration for a day. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

NJSCBWI Conference - My Experience

After I posted the conference recommended books, Romelle commented she couldn't wait to hear about the rest of my experience. *winces* You see, my plan was to put the book list out there and then not have to actually share anything else about the conference. Without any big news (y'know, like an agent or a contract) I wasn't sure my conference experience was anything other than pretty standard:

- I learned a ton from excellent presentations,
- I met agents and editors which is a million times better than their online bios,
- I saw old writing friends and made new friends,
- I ate a lot of cheesecake.

Yep, pretty standard really.  But I guess I can be brave and share my other experiences.

I had a manuscript critique with an editor. She gave me an excellent critique which was well worth the money.  Then she asked about me (isn't that so nice when people do that?) which of course I wasn't prepared for. (Funny, I'm pretty close with myself, but it's always so hard to talk about me.)  She also asked if I had an agent. Perhaps she was making polite conversation, but I heard "You should get an agent!" So that was nice. But the best part: an actual quote in her critique: "I think poop is funnier than poo." She gets me. She really gets me!

(by Billy Frank Alexander
I pitched to an agent for the first time, which was not nearly as scary as I expected. (It was Jill Corcoran, who is really kind of awesome. She should just put that in her bio.). After the pitch, she asked if I had the manuscript with me (I did!) She read the whole thing right there (it's a pb, so it only took 1 minute of the 4 allotted minutes.) And she offered a helpful suggestion to amp it up. So that was a pretty solid way to spend a few minutes.

Unfortunately, I spent the next minute picking up all the papers I dumped out of a folder while attempting to smoothly extract my manuscript. She didn't seem to mind. Oh and when I got home that night I realized I had worn edgy gold earrings and a dainty silver necklace all day. (NEVER dress before drinking coffee.) And no one told me. (For future reference, if you see something, say something!) I like to think my hair was in front of my ears, or perhaps I just looked like one of those artsy creative types.

Anyhow, those foibles don't really matter - it's the writing first, right?

Hey how about you tell me embarrassing things which have happened to you at conferences to make me feel better? You're such a palJ

Thursday, July 3, 2014

NJ SCBWI Conference Recommended Books, YA & MG (Part 2)

I have finally returned to my normal self after having my brain imploded with amazing information at the NJSCBWI Conference last weekend. I shared Picture Books on Monday. Here were the YA and MG recommendations I noted from agents and editors at the conference.  (Fewer because I mostly hit PB-focused sessions)


The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri

I already ordered this one. I have to admit
I hadn't heard of it before. It is an art-focused
book, but was recommended for
for picture book writers, too!
When Mr. Dog Bites, by Brian Conaghan

We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart

If We Kiss, by Rachel Vail

Secrets of the Book, by Erin Fry

Okay for Now, by Gary Schmidt

The Water Castle, by Megan Blakemore

Zora and Me, by Victoria Bond and T. R. Simon

Three Times Lucky, by Sheila Turnage


Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom, by Ursula Nordstrom, Leonard Marcus (editor), and Maurice Sendak (illustrator) 

Comedy Writing Secrets, by Mel Heltizer

How to Write Funny, by John Kachuba

Please let me know if you wrote down any other recommendations at the conference which I should add!  Enjoy your summer reading.

Monday, June 30, 2014

NJ SCBWI Conference - Recommended Picture Books

I had the best weekend at the NJSCBWI Conference. My brain is so full, I can barely make sentences... but it only takes basic zombie skills to type up a list of the books I heard recommended by editors and agents.  I'm sure many of you are looking for summer reads, so enjoy! (I'm actually looking for some brains to eat...isn't that a weird craving?)

Picture Books By Author/Illustrators

Green, by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

No Fits, Nilson! by Zachariah Ohora

The  Twins Blanket, by Hyewon Yum

The Curious Garden, by Peter Brown

Penguin and Pinecone, by Salina Yoon

Zombelina, by Kristyn Crow

Island: A Story of the Galápagosby Jason Chin

LittleTug, by Stephen Savage

All Kinds of Kisses, by Nancy Tafuri 

Crankenstein, by Samantha Berger

Awesome Dawson, by Chris Gall

Pirate, Viking and Scientist, by Jared Chapman

Me, Jane, by Patrick McDonnell
I came home with this beauty from
Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

The Best-Ever Bookworm Book, by Alice Kuipers

Martin & Mahalia: His Words, Her Songby Andrea Davis Pinkney

Picture Books By an Author and an Illustrator

Be Good to Eddie Lee, by Virgina Fleming and illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Bear has a Story to Tell, by Philip Stead and illustrated by Erin Stead

Extra Yarn, by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen (one of my FAVORITES)

My Snake Blake, by Randy Siegel and illustrated by Serge Bloch

if you want to see a whale, by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Erin Stead.

Besos for Baby, by Jen Arena and illustrated by Blanca Gomez

The Dark, by Lemony Snicket and illustrated by Jon Klassen

Once Upon a Memory, by  and illustrated by Renata Liwska

Duck, Duck, Moose by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and illustrated by Noah Jones

Chicks Run Wild, by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and illustrated by Ward Jenkins

Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave, by Laban Hill and illustrated by Bryan Collier

Heroes of the Surf, by Elisa Carbone and illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

President Taft isStuck in the Bath, by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Chris Van  Dusen 

Whoa! That was ever so slightly more work than I had imagined, and my fingers are aching. Gotta go get some brains in this zombie to refresh!

I'll post MG, YA, and writing book recommendations in the next post. 

If you were at the conference, did you write down any other recommended books? 

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Writer's Path

I'm in a frantic period right now - combination of school almost out, summer fun beginning with camping this weekend, and my NJ conference next weekend. For me this is a peak time, where I push myself on revisions, start thinking about summer submissions, and daydreaming about sharing book-love with an agent.  

But with the excitement of a conference comes the post-conference-collapse-on-the-couch. And with the excitement of submissions often comes the dreaded-rejection-letter. So I needed to take a moment this morning to remind myself of the journey I'm on and embrace its peaks and valleys.

With the help of Sharpie, I present:

I had no idea when I wrote that first word what an exciting adventure writing would be! Yes the lows are totally turds-in-the-pool, but the highs make it worth the swim. (Not my best metaphor, but successfully explains the high rates of cholera among writers.)

Ahh, take a deep breath, focus on the long term, and write on!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Waking my Creative Self on an Imaginary Tractor Ride

My kids hosted an inspiration session yesterday for me which was much needed to break up the routine of prepping for the NJSCBWI conference in two weeks (squee!!) Sometimes my anal-nerdy-financial-analytic self takes over, and I make binders, research agents, prepare my journal, etc. These steps are important, but if I forget to feed my creative self before a conference, well then it's all for naught.
I was sitting in the living room, minding my business, when I realized I was on a tractor ride.

"You should buckle up," my 4yo said. "Can you do it by yourself?"

"Um, yep. Click. Click. Hmph. I can't get this last buckle."  I had slept 9 hours the night before for the first time in months, so I put a little more into my role play than usual. 

"I'll help you. Click. See? It was easy."  4yos have a way of letting you know you've been condescending in the past.

"Thank you. Where are we heading?"

"To see the hippos, of course." She opened her Ranger Rick magazine to show me.  "They like water."
Tractors and African animals weren't connected in my mind, but why not. 

"How about a big hug?"
(by sveres via
"I think I'd like to hug a hippo.  Unless he was yawning."

"If I had to kiss a shark, I'd kiss him on the cheek not on the lips," she said still using Ranger Rick as tour support.

After visiting three animals, I had to unbuckle and grab some paper.

"Remember when we saw these ca-coons in Mexico?"  (she meant raccoons  to refer to the coatis, but ain't she cute?)

"I have zebras on my farm."

"Slow down, sweetie.  Mommy can't write down all these ideas that fast."

"Here comes a bump," she said and threw a pillow at me, which caused a chain reaction of spilling coffee and the ideas-in-marker bleeding across the page.

But it didn't matter. She had woken my creative brain.

And I learned a valuable lesson about drinking coffee on tractor rides through animal sanctuaries.

How do you keep your creative mind awake through all the not-so-creative tasks which publishing involves? 
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