Thursday, September 27, 2012

Brooklyn Book Festival: Middle Grade Panel

Those of you considering Middle Grade writing (like I sometimes do) will enjoy these highlights from the panel "A Blues for Middle Grade" at the Brooklyn Book Festival.  The authors offered a great introduction to the middle grade audience.  Here are some of my favorite tidbits:

R.J. Palacio (Wonder) had this to say about middle graders:  they are "toddling back and forth between being little kids and believing everything they are told and being a teenager and being skeptical." 

Wendy Mass (The Candymakers) shared middle graders "spend so much time thinking about what others think of you - you forget to figure out who you are."

Adam Gidwitz (A Tale Dark & Grimm) remembers "how difficult it was to be who you wanted to be."  He could identify what it meant to be cool, but he couldn't control his actions enough to develop into that person.

Sheela Chari (Vanished) said during middle grade "You really start to come up with your own solutions."

R.J. noted that starting "In middle school you get known for stuff."  She discussed how her MC needed to get a new duffel bag before the class trip so he wasn't the kid who liked Star Wars.

Sheela remembered in middle school there were "ways to measure your social value - like the friendship pins on Keds."

Paul, Adam, Wendy, R.J., Sheela

The moderator Paul Acampora (Rachel Spinelli Punched Me in the Face) asked:  Children have such limited experiences - why talk about them?

Adam: Kids want to talk about issues that are serious.  They aren't jaded yet like their parents.  You can address the deepest issues straight up with them. 

Sheela: When things happen, adults look at it through the lens of experience.  Kids are living in the now.  Books can help them figure out what's going on right now. 

R.J.:  Kids share these universal experiences of feeling like an outsider or having kids laughing at you behind your backs.

The questions from the middle graders in the audience were amazing - each child was poised, spoke clearly in the microphone and addressed their question to a particular author.   

A young lady in the audience asked the tough question: why do books always come out hard cover before paperback?  Adam covered the fact that lots of people are involved in the process and those costs have to be recouped.  Wendy added the hard covers are necessary for libraries. 

From this experience I learned to never underestimate the middle grader.  Why do you think it's important to write about middle grade?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Brooklyn Book Festival (Part 1)

I did it! I went to my first writing event - The Brooklyn Book Festival.  Here's how it went:

           A cool breeze made her consider one more safety pee as she walked down the sidewalk.
          No, she thought, five times was enough.  Her foot stomped firmly on the concrete to shake
          out the creeping anxiety.  This country girl from Ohio took each step with commitment,
          feeling independence surging through her muscles.

         You can do this, she thought.  No pitches, no critiques; this is easy.  Just put out your hand and 
          say, "Hi, I'm a writer."  Then do it again and again until you believe it.

         Sunshine warmed her shoulders pulling them a little higher as she entered the city square. 
         Little blue tents all in a row greeted her to come learn more about writing.  She had arrived.

Lauri Meyers Children's Book Writer
You can't take a flip picture
without getting a double chin. 
Yep, I was that nervous!  Which was the exact reason I needed to take advantage of this free (my favorite price) opportunity to be among writers.  I will still be nervous at my first SCBWI event, but maybe I can confidently say my name before I start stumbling over my pitch.  

The event was lovely, and the idyllic 60 something degree weather didn't hurt.  Booths hosted literary magazines, authors, and writing organizations.  I picked up more reading material than I can handle in a year - 10 books for a total of $22. 

I scored a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup dip before hitting a panel with four middle grade writers.   Later this week, I'll share some great insights from the authors.   There were 7 stages hosting poetry readings, author panels, lectures, and illustrator draw-offs.  The Target Children's area had little people chairs and pillows where authors read their picture books to the under 8 crowd.

Lauri Meyers Children's Book Writer
Inspiration from above
If you hit the Brooklyn Book Festival next September, make sure you download the app.  I would have been lost without it.  Oh, and let me know, so we can go together.   I know where every bathroom is now. 

What was your first writing event?   Please tell me you were a little chicken too J

Thursday, September 20, 2012

I Command You Follow The Rule of Three (Unless You Don't Want to)

I am a rule follower.  So when people say "Remember the rule of three," I cut incidents out of my story.  Then they say "Remember aim for 14 spreads."  Then I squint my eyes, wrinkle my nose, and say "Aw sassafras*." 

*I have been caught saying other things in front of the kids recently, so I am working on using 'sassafras.'

Oh the Rule of Three.  Three bears.  Three porridges.  Three attempts.  Three. Three. Three.
And I get it.  In a short story.  House of sticks, house of straw, house of bricks, wolf in the pot.

But how do I stretch 3 incidents into 14 spreads for a picture book?  Even if each incident is a reasonable 2 spreads, 8 spreads remain to be filled with the opening and the resolution.  Throw in the "open in the action" and the "two spreads to resolve" rules and clearly picture books are mathematically impossible. 

So I studied some picture books.   The majority are concept books which don't follow the rule.  Then there are traditional story books where I couldn't tease out a three. 

First the rules breakers:
In The Monster at the End of This Book (Stone, 1971) Grover makes four attempts to keep kids from turning (telling you not to, tying the pages, nailing the pages, and a brick wall).  

In The Nicest Naughtiest Fairy (Ward, 2008) the well-behaved naughty fairy makes 5 attempts to help friends and fails royally all 5 times.  Spread 1: Opening, Spreads 2-9: Five Attempts & Fails, Spreads 10-12: Resolution.   My brain wants to write books this way, and here is proof it can be done.

I found ONE perfect three in Ella Sarah Gets Dressed (Chodos-Irvine, 2003).  Spread 1: Opening, S2-7: 3 Suggestions/3 "no's," S8-14 Resolution.   The illustrations allow the resolution to be spread out over such a long stretch.  It was a Caldecott Honor book after all. 

The Boy who Cried Ninja (Latimer, 2011) offers a double three.   ½ spread introduces MC & Problem.  S1-3: Show the first 3 problem causers.  S4: MC makes a decision. S5-7: Show 3 new problem causers.  S8-9: MC takes action.  S10-14 Resolution.  This is a pleasing use of the rule of three.   

The Knuffle Bunny (Willems, 2004) uses a triple three.  S1: Intro, S2-3: three places on way to laundromat, S4-6: the problem, S7-9: Trixie's three attempts to tell Dad the problem, S10-11: The lowest low is reached, S12-13: three places on the way back to the Laundromat, S14-15½: Resolution

So what does it all mean?
Three is a good rule.  You can use threes in several ways.  You don't have to follow the rule. 

Sound off - what do you think about the rule of three?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner

If you write for children, you probably have the childlike tendency to play games.  Playing Candy Land with my Mom was the best part of any sick day.  She even let me cheat most of the time.  I still love to play games (minus the cheating, of course.)

Many sites offer online events and contests which are great opportunities to get feedback on your writing, develop your skills, and practice writing.

Here are a few of my favorite sites for contests, writing prompts and events.

Tara Lazar hosts PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) in November, 
with registration starting October 24.   The idea is to come up with 
30 PB ideas in 30 days! 
Artwork by Sandy Tanaka

Paula Yoo hosts NaPiBoWriWee, a contest to write 7 picture books in 7 days (first week in May).  Each day also includes a great guest post for inspiration.  Exhausting but amazing!

Cynthea Liu hosts Red Light Green Light contests throughout the year.  You submit a small portion of your manuscript and she gives you a green light to send more or a red light to try a different manuscript.   

Write on Con is an online conference in August with a forum for critique from
other writers and roaming Ninja Agents.  There are also virtual presentations,
panels, and happy hours. (I can drink a LOT of virtual drinks and still make sentences.)

Kathy Temean hosts the First Page Picture Prompt each month. If selected, your 23 line submission will get a critique from an agent, editor, or consultant.  

Christie Wright Wild hosts the Lucky Clover Picture Book Contest
each quarter to win a free critique.

Artwork by Loni Edwards

Susanna Hill hosts Short and Sweet writing exercises throughout the year. Fun contests and great to get your juices flowing.

In addition to helping you with your craft, participating in these events is a great way to meet other writers.  I hope to meet you at one of these in the future.

Do you have other favorite online events?  Please share in the comments!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Happy Echoes from Lovely Characters

Some people leave an echo after they walk away.  Sometimes the echo is yucky.  A certain cashier at the grocery store is always mean to me either because I loaded the belt wrong one day or because she is just always having a bad day.  I try to avoid her line so I don't have all those little bits of negativity nibbling at my skin.

Sometimes the echo is like fairy dust, glittering on your skin for hours.   One day at Target a woman said "Excuse me, maam."   I turned suddenly assuming I was in trouble for letting my 2-year-old run around knocking things off the shelf.   I put my hands out for the cuffs.  (I have a fear of authority.)

Instead I found a little old spunky thing of a lady.  She asked where the clothes were and told me she was 95 all in one breath.   She followed with, "Do I look it?"  "Not a day over 61," I told her honestly. 

Angel Hands?
by gratsy via
The senior bus had dropped her off.   She marked the ketchup end cap as her guidepost for where to come back to find the bus.  All her friends had gone to the mall, but she "owed Macy's too much already." 

I pointed her to the ladies clothing.  She commented how adorable my child was (which is true) and instructed me to have a few more.  Before heading to the clothes, she touched my arm.

I kept checking my arm to see if she left an angel mark.  A happy feeling followed me through the day. 

Isn't it amazing how a brief encounter with a stranger, good or bad, can leave us feeling?  Like they left a residual piece of them on us.  I feel the same way with characters in a book.   Was I tougher when I was reading The Hunger Games?  Am I more introspective right now reading The Lost Girl?  Yes and yes. 

Do characters leave a piece of themselves on you?

P.S.  thank you to Sara Sargent and WriteonCon for the copy of The Lost Girl.  I am eating it up. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Say Hello to My Little Friend! A Back Up Flash Drive

Lauri Meyers Writer Back Up Writing
This is my new buddy.  His name is Lucky.  The package says : "Lucky brings good fortune.  It's as simple as that, don't over think it."   How could I resist?

He is of course a flash drive to back up my writing.  I pop him in, spend 75 seconds updating him, and throw him in my purse like Tom Thumb. 

I am usually tight with my $10 writing budget, but I splurged the $14.99 because he was so freaking adorable.  He is also soft enough to rub when my brain is busy working out an idea.

You can get a 2-4GB flash drive for cheap.  The $3.99 one was about the size of a dime, but I was worried certain I would lose it.  Lucky can hold 8GB! which is clearly unnecessary since 6 months of writing = 150 mbs.

We do use a separate external hard drive to back up all our files at home, but the process isn't perfect.  We only do the backup monthly and generally forget to put it in the fire proof safe. So it only secures us in the event of a hard drive meltdown or theft. 

This guy is just for writing and is my sole responsible to keep updated.  I would be devastated to lose a month of work.  Those nine new ideas.  That breakthrough on editing a story.  Submission history! ("Excuse me Madam Editor,  I may or may not have sent this to you...")

The other option is to use online storage with a scheduled backup routine.  But I'm not ready yet to trust cyberspace.  Lucky seems so much more reliable.  It's probably the spiky hair.  

The main problem so far is Lucky looking like a toy which has drawn the interest of my kids.  I do not look forward to digging through piles of Little People or *gasp* the sandbox to find him.  I may have to suggest he is poisonous.

So, what is your back up strategy?  If your answer is "none," please run to Staples or CVS and plop down your $5 for a flash drive.  Your work is too precious to lose.  

Thursday, September 6, 2012

I Met Real Human Writers!

Blogobot says resistance is futile
image by sacura via
I mean, I believe you are all human too, but I have only met you virtually. The possibility lurks you are a cyborg/robot thing sent from the future where I never publish the really amazing book I have inside me.  You are hell bent on helping me get it published so the resulting alternate universe is freaking awesome!

Have I mentioned reading the Hunger Games this week has consumed me and confused my sense of reality?  It also threw my posting schedule out of whack.  I'm bummed she wasn't the heroine I imagined.   No, she was a real person instead.  I imagine that's why the story is so good.  But I digress...

Yes, I met with a writing group at my local library!  There were 7 of us.   A variety of genres sat around the table- poetry, steampunk, mommyism, memoir, children's.  We introduced ourselves, and the moderator shared information about upcoming events.  I had no idea so many writing events took place within a drive from me.  I am so happy to be in with the in crowd.

We also read pieces and offered critique (which has been a hot topic lately- here and here.)  I have done critiques before, but they have been online.  Before hitting send I had time to think twice and review the feedback in total.  These readers were fleshy.  And right across from me.  And it was happening right now.  I hope I did okay - offering solid insights and not looking like a jerk.  I suppose if my library card gets revoked, I will know I missed the mark. 

The $20 for babysitting officially killed my $10 writer budget, but I plan to attend again.  Maybe I can even get to know the librarians through this group.  I find providing a professional introduction challenging when I am in charge of the two children running through the racks yelling and spilling goldfish (that they must have found somewhere because clearly I wouldn’t bring food to the library.) 

So what I want to know is: do you adjust your critique when you are in person?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Summer Send-Off Prompt- Another Princess to Save

Susanna Leonard Hill is hosting a picture prompt at her site.  I am a sucker for dragons, so I had to give it a shot.  

The Rules:  The contest is for a children's story of 250 words or less based on the picture above and in which somebody somewhere in your story says, in dialogue, "Did/do you see that?" and somebody somewhere in your story says, "Goodbye!" (you are allowed to substitute "Farewell!", "Au revoir!", "Sayonara!", "Ciao!", or "So long!")

Another Princess to Save

illustration copyright Heather Newman 2012
Moats were pretty common in the land, but this river of fire was overkill.  The dragon's red hot scales and sharp horns were frightening enough.  His snake eyes followed me as I searched for a place to jump to the castle.  

I could see the captured maiden over the tips of the flames.  She was pretty, but not the fairest of them all.  Princess Gwen's gold hair dangled to her knees, and I only had to save her from a single ogre.  I battled trolls with foul-smelling warts to rescue Princess Amelia, and you could see the ocean waves in her eyes.  

This maiden focused on her knitting.  When she finally noticed me, she sprang to the window and said "oh help me brave knight."  After a moment she returned to her work.  I supposed I should save her from the dragon, but she seemed calm enough. 

The dragon moved, and I noticed a boy peeking out behind him.  The dragon's lips curled up in a wicked smirk.  My horse reared up to run, and she was never wrong.  Sayonara, fair maiden.

"Did you see that?" the maiden yelled to her brother.  "That knight just turned and ran the other way!"
"You could try brushing your hair every once in a while," her brother yelled back rubbing the dragon's empty belly.

Please stop over to Susanna's site to read the great entries!
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