Friday, September 28, 2007

2nd Annual Golden Coffee Cup

Now, I'd like to mention the 2nd Annual Golden Coffee Cup. Folks, it's coming up.

In honor of National Novel Writing Month, I have a little event on my blog for anyone one who needs an extra boost of motivation to get their current project rolling.If you don't know about Nanowrmo, National Novel Writing Month, this is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30. This is a kamakazie approach to writing, it's about quanity and not quality. The Golden Coffee Cup is a different kind of motivational thingy. This soon-to-be coveted award (an awesome picture of a coffee cup emailed to you that you may display it with pride) will be given to the successful November goal setters. This is my answer to that "interesting concept" (cough, cough) of requiring writers to churn out 50,000 incomprehensible words in one month. Hey and some folks tell stories with pictures and feel like they are left out in the cold. I’d like to churn less with much more comprehension in my month. I ask you to join me. The 2007 Golden Coffee Cup will be awarded for a month of goal setting and achievement.


1. Post your November creative goals here by Nov 1. That is the deadline, folks.

2. Come back weekly for general cheering and wild ruckus, celebrating your successes. We'll do some holy snappin'. For extra motivation, celebrity guests will be on hand to offer high fives for your achievements!

3. If you reach your goal by Nov 30, you will be eligible for a Golden Coffee Cup. There is no verification process, I believe you. Send in your email address to and your Golden Coffee Cup will be emailed to you. Display it proudly as wallpaper, post it on your blog, print it out and tack it on your bulletin board for year-long motivation.

4. New for this year: Four lucky winners will receive a real paper cup of genuine coffee (winners will need to send my their address to receive coffee) because everyone loves a free cup of coffee. All you have to do is submit your goal to The Golden Coffee Cup on the first week of November and then come in the last week and let me know that you have achieved your goal. I will read the goals and then the achievement and then award the "real" cups of coffee to the best entries.
I do the judging and it is wholly subjective.

GOAL GUIDELINES: The Golden Coffee Cup is about making a goal and keeping it. If you are a novel writer, you can write something new with a realistic word count goal, keeping your life in mind. Your goal might also be making your first novel submission (think Delacorte Contest) or a revision of a novel you've already written. You can do this! If you are a picture book writer or artist, hey, picture books are harder to write than they look. I don't really care about the word count because if your project is over 500 words that might be a problem. Picture book artists tell stories too. You might be an artist making a dummy and a dummy is certainly as hard to create as a novel. This is about quality not quantity. Win your very own Golden Coffee Cup. Let's bring some excellence into that creation!!!!!

Want to check out the 2007 winners of the Golden Coffee Cup? Click here.

Fun Lunch and Stuff!

Wow, I had a great lunch this week, really great. Seeing Gail Carson Levine is always tons of fun. Remember she has a new fairy book, take time to check it out -- Fairy Haven and the Quest for the Wand. Good stuff. I also lunched with the mythical Jeffrey Overstreet. Oh, do think about checking out his new book, Auralia's Colors. I also had the pleasure of lunching with Joni Sensel. Her book Reality Leak is out. Hint. Hint. Put it on your reading list. Humming of the Numbers is coming and after that we will see yet another book from this emerging powerhouse writer. Also, another nudge to universe, calling all art directors, check out the wonderful work of illustrator Obadinah Heavner. That should give you peeps out there some stuff to do.

The top secret fantasy project is buzzing along this week.

I booked my first full day school visit to feature my upcoming book -- Rembrandt and the Boy Who Drew Dogs, Barrons Educational Series, May 2008. Yay!

I saw the biggest moon this week. It hung low over the Cascades and was bigger than a silver dollar. I always feel blessed when I see something like that.

Lo! the moon ascending! Up from the East, the silvery round moon; Beautiful over the house-tops, ghastly, phantom moon; Immense and silent moon.

Walt Whitman

Friday, September 21, 2007

Deception Pass and News

I was out an about today and took a ride on my private yacht (ha, ha) on a cool trip through Deception Pass. I saw cormorants, a chipmunk, several seals and herons. Here I am checking it all out.

I'm watching seals and munching a sandwich.

Here is my personal crew. No one else was out on such a cold, wet day.

This is a very tall bridge over Deception Pass. We chugged right under it.

Well, time for an egg update. I have a rocking egg! I have had weeks with no egg movement. It's nice to have an egg rocking again. Click here to read about eggs.

Speaking gigs: I have a school visit in October. I'm speaking at the UW class. Yay! I'm teaching Create A Picture Book for six weeks at East Ridge Elementary's AfterSchool program. Ah, finally a sport that I'm good at.

I'm also working on the uber top secret "Untitled Fantasy Project". This is perhaps the most innovative project I've ever worked on.

I will be out and about for the next few weeks. I'm heading to Oregon SCBWI's retreat in early October. I'm excited. I'm having lunch with Gail Carson Levine next week. Check out her new book: Fairy Haven and the Quest for the Wand. We are going on an adventurous hike around Seattle's Locks.

One of my critique group members illustrated a book. Need a fab Halloween book? Try Frankie Stein, illustrated by the talented Kevan Atteberry and written by Lola M. Schaefer

Since I'm recharging this week. I encourage you to take care of yourself. Recharge.

If you neglect to recharge a battery, it dies. And if you run full speed ahead without stopping for water, you lose momentum to finish the race.

Oprah Winfrey

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Picture Books - Plots

I have an upcoming picture book REMBRANDT AND THE BOY WHO DREW DOGS by Barron's Educational Series (2008) and I thought I'd discuss some of the writing process over a few posts. Take a look at my earlier posts, IDEA and CHARACTERS, for more about picture book development.

A standard picture book is 32 pages long. Two pages are devoted to front matter – title page and LOC (Library of Congress blurb) and sometimes back matter – acknowledgements, sources, and author’s notes. That leaves about 27 to 29 pages to share your story. You also have about 500 words to share your story. This means that only very important things need to happen. There is just not a lot of room.

The plot is all about what happens next. The first thing that happens is the hook. It is the moment that draws the reader in. This action should be something that your reader will identify with. If you can slide in a double meaning for the grown-ups – all the better. If you add an educational/holiday/consumer slant with that action – yay! If you twist in a universal meaning and dash on humor-- why, the editor might read more. Remember that’s just the first action in the story arc, your first piece of the plot puzzle. Yes, you have your work cut out for you.

Here’s another bit of advice, each plot point must transition smoothly from one to the next. A great plot is like giving a ball a push down a hill. The ball bounces down in a natural way and depending on the slant of the hill with varying speeds. You’ve got to place your character in circumstances that will roll them forward to a natural conclusion. You might find that when you take a hard look at your story that the sequence of events doesn’t quite ring true. Is there a purpose to your sequence? You should be able to answer for every action in the story. You need to understand why things happen.

OK, you’ve written the whole story? It’s charming and you know it, but the interested editor has written you back the dreaded “quiet story” or “thin story” note. Hey, this picture book had a beginning, middle and end and every one of the kids in your child’s classroom laughed out loud when they heard it. Yes, Drusilla loses her doll. It is a great beginning. Next, she makes a flyer and posts it on the street pole. Yes, that is the middle. Then the doll is returned to her by a Babushka. That is an ending. So what’s the problem? No complications! Here’s some news: three is the magic number. You need a series of at least three big complications. Less will lead to dreaded "too thin" notes from editors.

Hey, I didn’t say a word about rhyming the text, and I'm talking about picture books. Those rhyming text picture books work the same. They need all the stuff above, and you have to shove every word into a highly structured format and all the words have to flow perfectly, naturally, sensibly. No prob. Right.

I hope you've found something here that will give you that little push you needed to create an awesome picture book! I will close with two quotes that help me when I'm crafting my plots.

"Clear your mind must be, if you are to discover the real villains behind this plot."

Frank Oz

“A story to me means a plot where there is some surprise. Because that is how life is-full of surprises.”

Isaac Bashevis Singer

Friday, September 07, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle ( November 29, 1918 - September 6, 2007)

This is actually the letter I wrote to Madeleine a few years ago. I'm sad today so I thought I would just post this. It doesn't come close enough to expressing my gratitude, but nothing ever will.

Dear Madeleine:

I’d like to introduce myself: my name is Molly Blaisdell and I am a life-long fan. I’m 39-years-old, and I’ve tried to write this letter so many times, I’ve lost count. It’s hard to put into words my gratitude for the gift of your stories.

It all began when I was thirteen-years old. I read A Wrinkle in Time and it changed my life. I was a struggling student in school, barely literate and angry about just about everything. Your story drove a fire for books inside me. I felt like Meg was my best friend and I felt like you were too. Meg gave me hope that things would work out. You opened my eyes to the brilliance of a loving God. I’ve continued reading your books and go back to them again and again. You’ve challenged me in so many ways and helped me find my path. You gave a failing child hope and, ultimately, gave me courage to write my own stories.

I always pray, “Lord, whatever Madeleine is having, I will have two helpings.” Your writing is such an inspiration to me. I spend my time willing to fail, because I’ll never accomplish anything unless I take the risk -- more of your sage advice threading its way through my life.

If my life were a quilt, more than a few of the patches would be devoted to you and your stories. Strands of your faith and belief run through every thread that is holding this quilt together. I will meet you in paradise, if not sooner.

To love, to love
Above all we know
We need to love.

I’m almost frustrated because sometimes words don’t even get into the neighborhood of our true thoughts. Here are the easy ones – thank you.

Molly Blaisdell

"No man is an Iland, intire of itselfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Manor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee."- -MEDITATION XVII, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, John Donne

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Picture Books - Characters

I have an upcoming picture book REMBRANDT AND THE BOY WHO DREW DOGS by Barron's Educational Series (2008) and I thought I'd discuss some of the writing process over a few posts. Check out: IDEAS for more of this discussion.

I will start with my best advice, creating authentic picture book characters takes time and patience.

Here's the first big thought. It is essential to choose characters that suit the very stylistic form of picture books. Characters in a picture book need to be kids or anthropomorphic animals. An adult character at the center of a picture book should be avoided. This is not a mild warning, folks. I'm serious. Only one in a billion stories work with the "whole grownup at the center of the pb story" angle. It's easier to make a brave toaster, scary talking vacuum cleaner or a wild and woolly washrag character than a believable adult character in a picture book.

Now that you have settled on a great character -- perhaps, Clucky Strut, a chic chicken, or six year old Max Uh Mum, math genius -- it's time to decide how many more characters will be in this book. It's best to focus on one character in a picture book. Two is OK, but be sure they are very different characters. Two voices that sound exactly alike are generally frowned upon. Three is a crowd but possible. Four, that's the outer limit, folks. Remember your entire pb text is at the most 5 pages and that is a very long picture book at that. Note, you can have more non-essential characters; these characters fade into the background and really serve as part of the setting -- think Where's Waldo. Waldo is the only "real" character.

Next, let's talk about an old idea -- character is plot. Characters need pathos --real problems. Your main character will need to change from the beginning of the book to the end. Humor is welcome here. Clueless, confused, and complicated is usually a good thing. Mean, manic and malevolent is not such a good thing. Characters need an internal struggle and external struggle. This is "real" fiction, folks. Dig deep. Create characters we will all cheer for, weep for, and laugh with. No one one wants cardboard.

Last, is my "show don't tell "warning. What does "show don't tell"mean anyway? You have very few word to make your characters come alive. Don't tell just tell us that your character is spunky, bright, funky, crazy, empathetic, clueless, cute, or cuddly. What is something a spunky person says? Reveal your character through dialogue. What does a bright empathetic character do? Use the plot to show this. Where does your funky character live? You can use setting to give us a sense of your character's personality. You can use the theme, too. What does your clueless, cute and cuddly character care about? Drive the story with verbs and nouns and be very sparing with adjectives and adverbs. I find asking lots of questions helps me move away from cookie-cutter characters to fresh, original characters.

I hope you can use some of this discussion to strengthen your work. Check back next week for more picture book musing. I'll end with a couple of quotes from some guys that "have been there, done that and wrote the book."

First, find out what your hero wants. Then just follow him.

Ray Bradbury

I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn the monsters loose.

Stephen King