Friday, March 30, 2007

Busy, Busy, Busy and My Wonderful Critique Groups!

Whoa, I have been busy this week! I have three manuscripts due on April 15th and my magic wand has been cracking.

First the easy reads for Picture Window Books, I've got the manuscripts together but have loads of back matter to write. I've got the glossaries, the guided questions, the websites recommendations, and the activities to complete. Ooooh, so fun.

Here's my glossary tip. Read children's dictionaries. Buy them and read them. A certain form of "dictionary" osmosis takes place and you will be writing glossary entries like, well, dictionary entries. I've got about half of my back matter completed. After that I will take it all into my picture book/easy read group for a look. I can see their thrilled faces now. Yes, I bring my glossaries in for critique. Hey, somebody might read one of those entries!

Next up is my picture book, Rembrandt and the Boy Who Drew Dogs (official title now) for Barron's. Oh, this is so exciting to be pulling together. It's amazing how many details have to be tied up. I can't wait until it is illustrated.

I thought I would chat about my wonderful critique groups. I have two because I am insanely prolific. No one group would put up with the stacks of stuff I need eyes to plow through.

My novel group (supposed to be, because I sometimes bring in short stuff): Louise Spiegler is the author of a YA fantasy novel from Clarion called Amethyst Road. Her book was a 2006 Kansas State Reading Circle Recommendation, on the 2006 NYPL Books for the Teen Age List, was a 2006 SFWA Andre Norton Award Finalist and is now 2007 Amelia Bloomer List of Feminist Books for Youth. Not bad for a first book! Catherine Benson is a former RA of SCBWI and writes middle grade fantasy and historical fiction and mixes of both genres. Conrad Wesselhoeft writes YA historical fiction and is agented. No sells yet, but that is soon to change. Shelly Seely writes contemporary middle grade novels. You might know her as Hairaplenty out there on the boards. Megan Bilder writes historical and contemporary novels in verse. Susan Greenway is another fantasy/contemporary middle grade writer. Marion Holland works on contemporary YA novels and picture books. I know, I know, that's a lot of people. The good news is we rarely all show up at the same time.

I've part of this dynamic group for nine years. We bring pages, often 20 at time. We groan over rocky rough drafts, agonize over the twentieth rewrite of the same chapter and rejoice when there is magic in the story-telling. I can not stress to writers enough that you need to join a critique group. Bringing powerful literary forces together in the same place leads to revelatory writing. Believe me. Don't dream about being an Inkling, get out there into the ebb and flow and make it happen.

My second group is supposed to be my picture book/easy read group (I sometimes bring in novel chapters). This is the group where I let my science side show. The members are so talented. Vijaya Bodach writes books and magazine articles and is on her way to winning every contest available to children's writers -- HM for Work in Progress Grant, SCBWI; Children's Writer YA contest winner and a third place finish in the Pockets Contest. Lois Brandt is another brilliant writer who is reeling in contest awards. She won the 2005 Pockets Contest. Now comes the ever so brilliant Kevan Atteberry. Kevan created Clippy in Word and has illustrated several children's books, notably the Lunch Box and the Aliens and sequels from Henry Holt. We also have the talented Karen Dunn, the brilliant Allyson Valentine Shrier, the savvy Jen Heger and the dedicated Eileen Anderson. All have published or have up and coming picture books and easy reads. Notably we meet where spirits may be purchased. This group bursts with firecracker energy. We are a read aloud crowd -- mainly because the genres we work in needs to be read out loud to critique accurately.

What did I read this week? Dear Professor Einstein: Albert Einstein's Letters to and from Children (Hardcover). This book made me laugh and cry and I couldn't put it down. I want to join the Six Little Scientists!

On the home front, fortuitous writing money has led to the purchase of Flash. Exciting cartoons are in my future. The Easter eggs are this week; be looking for a new hipper version of the Justice League.

So now a few thoughts on being busy.

I had all the material for a long time, but I was just too busy. Sometimes we'd sit around at home and sing some of these songs at family things, and everyone always said I should record them. June Carter Cash

Here, on the river's verge, I could be busy for months without changing my place, simply leaning a little more to right or left. Paul Cezanne

A man has always to be busy with his thoughts if anything is to be accomplished. Antonie van Leeuwenhoek

Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it. Henry David Thoreau

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Mimzy, Universal Laws and the Current Reading List

I saw The Last Mimzy tonight. I went with three teenagers. I liked this movie. Shhh I had a crush on Timothy Hutton when I was in high school and, yay!, one of the lone gun men is getting work. Anyway, this movie was my kind of sci-fi fantasy. I love stories about the connections between us all. The universe is speaking! Seattle folks gave this movie a big round of applause at the end. Perhaps there was some bias, seeing the movie was about our neighborhood and sort of made it seem like life in Seattle is something of a fairytale.

Now I must break in with one of the Universal Laws -- I am told by real live teenagers and they are pretty sure that this is a written law -- if you give a teenager a twenty dollar bill to buy a coke at the grocery store across the street from the theater, you will receive, 1 quarter in change, I repeat 25 cents. The rest of the money will morph into 3 pounds of gummy worms, a bag of Reese's, three cokes, a chocolate brownie and bag of Jolly Ranchers. I knew gravity, entropy, hey, red shift; I was not up on the relationship between $20 and teenagers. It is a Universal Law. You are now free to proceed about the universe.

I'm in a reading phase and wondrous books are by the bed currently. My stack includes The Language of God by Francis Collins, The Secret Spiritual World of Children by Tobin Hart, Ph. D., The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, The Born-Einstein Letters, Correspondence between Albert Einstein and Max and Hedwig Born from 1916 to 1955 with commentaries by Max Born. Exactly how Mr. Einstein had all that time to write letters and discover fundamental theories of the universe, I'm not sure.

Well, I will end here:

“Nothing that I can do will change the structure of the universe. But maybe, by raising my voice I can help the greatest of all causes - goodwill among men and peace on earth."

Albert Einstein

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Gig, Ultimate Rejection and Weekend Writing Recap

It's been a good week. I got a gig! I will be speaking at the summer PNWA Writer's Conference. My topic? My favorite, the children's market. I have three pronged goal for this session. 1. To help writers learn how to effectively research markets through print and electronic media and networking. 2. Share my take on the emerging and expanding markets within the children’s market. 3. Help writers improve their ability to target markets for their work.

I also recieved the ultimate rejection letter this week. Half page, crumpled up photocopy of a photocopy, "Dear author" letter with a little snaky thing drawn in the corner. It's a good thing I overcame this kind stuff in junior high!

On the writing front, my recap of this week's efforts -- the drafts for the PW books are coming along, and Iworked on my author's note for the picture book. I'm also coming up to the end of another rewrite. As usual I sort of feel like I have been turned inside out. Still, my manuscript is thanking me for my efforts.

It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer. ~Albert Einstein

He conquers who endures. ~Persius

Sunday, March 11, 2007


I'm in the midst of production phase right now. My Picture Windows Books -- 3 easy reads --are all in various draft stages. My PW editors are happy with what I have so far, so I'm jumping forward. On Monday, I will chat with my Barron's editor about my picture book project.

I was accepted into the local SCBWI retreat. Susan Burke, an Associate Editor at Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, is reading my manuscript pages. The competition was stiff, and I'm surprised to have made it in.

I read this fabulous essay by Eudora Welty this weekend about the purpose of setting in writing. I came away with this deeper sense of purpose about connecting character to place. The best stories understand how the human soul is shaped by place. Eudora came from Mississippi. Seven generations of my family came from Louisville, Mississippi. I get that connection to place. My heart will ever be with Mema and Granddaddy Smoot and the feel of fresh okra from the garden, the smell of sheets drying on the line, the sour bite of Hudson apples, the warmth of the woodshop, the view of hundreds of azelaes on the hill, the clank of the furnance through the hall floor grate, the hum of air conditioner in the living room, and the taste of sweet iced tea in big globed glasses.

Obadinah Heavner and I met at her studio. What a lovely day. We had many cups of tea and talked seriously as creators. I'm a want-a-be illustrator and Obadinah put down the law of what that is really going to look like. It felt like opening the door into an entire new world. I am so glad that I can still perceive doors into new worlds. I hope I opened a door or two for Obadinah as a writer.

“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.” Helen Keller

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Egg Hatches -- I Sold a Picture Book!

Well, I've been hinting about this rollicking egg for almost a year now. That egg has rolled up and down Internet hills and has finally hatched! I've signed my contract. My historical fiction picture book, title pending, is a story about Rembrandt van Rijn and his son Titus and is based on the real life event of Titus becoming his father's apprentice. My publisher is Barron's. My mood is bemused, thrilled, and oh, so, thankful.