Wednesday, September 30, 2009

An Ode to the Slush Pile

To all my Chicago relatives, "the slush pile" is not a dirty March remnant of a long snowy winter, but instead is the ever-growing stack of unsolicited book manuscripts an editor or an agent accumulates from a host of hopeful authors.

My first book which comes out next February, TOO PURPLEY!, was pulled from just such a pile.

Jim Hines pays hilarious tribute to this pile of piles in his Seuss-style rhyme.

Writers and non-writers, you won't want to miss it.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Thoughts from Picture Book Peek Week #3

Picture Book Peek Week #3 brought me three highly original and beautifully written stories. And as always, I'm learning by critiquing.

Four important questions for all PB writers popped up from this Peek Week.

1. What is your story really about?
Hopefully you can answer this in one brief sentence. Then examine your text for any tangents or storylines that don't contribute to your answer. Often we start out writing one story and it turns into another. And sometimes terrific new tales are born that way. But don't try to force multiple stories to work together in one simple picture book. Start a new story if it's calling you.

2. Is your story a poem or a picture book?
Examine your story arc by envisioning pictures and page turns. Then explore your story further by gauging the strength of its emotional content, character motivation and story problem. If your text is "story problem-free," consider adding an ending with impact.

3. Is your tone consistent throughout your story?
Light and humorous. Sweet and sentimental. Serious.

4. Is your book is too teachy, too preachy or just a touch didactic?
Answer this question "Why did you write this story?" Your answer will tell you a lot about your motivation and content. If your answer is anything other than, "To write a story that kids will love," you may want to take a closer look at your premise.

You can bet I'll be asking these questions of my own works in progress.

Stay tuned for Picture Book Peek Week #4 coming later this fall!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Pay It Forward Friday - Elizabeth Dulemba

Darcy Pattison's Random Acts of Publicity Week left me inspired with the power of the simple promotional push. So I'm adding to my blog
"Pay It Forward Fridays."

When I can, I'll be highlighting books, events and other news in the life of one of my fellow writers.

This week it's:
Elizabeth Dulemba's Blog Tour
Elizabeth is celebrating the first book she's authored and illustrated:
Even though Elizabeth's tour has been going on for a few days, you can jump in anytime. And it's continuing until 10/02/09.

Check out her release party activities.

And her terrific trailer:

Then click here for her blog tour schedule.

Congratulations, Elizabeth!!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Picture Book Peek Week #3 - And the Winners Are...

What a terrific batch of titles. And it looks like everyone was able to post without a problem this time - I hope. So without further ado ...

the winners of Picture Book Peek Week #3 are

IT'S A SECRET
FAR ABOVE
SANDY ANDY

Please e-mail your manuscripts as Word attachments to reidy(dot)jean(at)gmail(dot)com.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Top 10 Picture Book Takeaways from the RMC-SCBWI Conference

My Top 10 Picture Book Takeaways from the RMC-SCBWI Conference

10. Beware of dialog-heavy picture book manuscripts.

9. The only beef editors and agents have against rhyming picture books is that they're so often poorly written.

8. Manuscripts need to be more perfect than ever before they're ready for submission.

7. While marketing yourself is certainly important, a writer's MOST important job is to make his/her book amazing.

6. Perfect picture books are like a dance between text and illustrations.

5. Adding just one word - the perfect word - to a picture book text, can carry layers of emotion like wistfulness, uncertainty or imperfection.

4. Picture book pacing is a combination of text on the page, text-free pages, punctuation, page turns, timing and breathing.

3. Even humorous picture books carry an emotional truth and strike an emotional and harmonic chord at the end.

2. Picture book endings should disarm us. They must have a touch of mystery, a touch of magic, and space for the reader to fill in the ending or ponder it.

1. If you ever have a chance to see Allyn Johnston and Marla Frazee present together, don't miss it. You'll leave with inspiration (and laughter!) for a lifetime.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Folksingers - Some of the Grandest Storytellers of All

Back in the day, before music videos, before CDs, even before 8-Track Tapes (if you owned one, fess up now - I never did) there was Puff the Magic Dragon and Peter, Paul and Mary. All drug culture references aside (I was too young to know of such things) the song became one of my first stories. Having memorized every word of every verse, I pondered the name "Jackie Paper," wondered about the land called "Honah Lee" (had to be some Hawaiian island) and couldn't quite figure out what was so special about "string and sealing wax."

But the remaining details of this mystical song were clear in my mind. As clear as a favorite fairy tale.



With several guitar-picking siblings in the house, I grew up with folk music. And those songs make for some of the richest story-telling in my childhood. What better way to pass down a story if not in song?

I developed great passion for not only the stories - would Charlie ever get off the MTA? (The Kingston Trio)



- but also the questions - Where Have All the Flowers Gone? (Seeger)



- and the promises.



I'm so grateful to these folk masters, the stories they sang and legacy they left us.
RIP Mary Travers.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Picture Book Peek Week #3 Coming September 21st!!

Back by popular demand: Picture Book Peek Week
Free critiques of select PB manuscripts - including those wretched rhymers (Yup, 3 of my upcoming PBs are written in verse!)

Peek Week #3 begins September 21st. I've changed up the format a bit. Here's how it will work:

Sign up for a critique by entering your PB WORKING TITLE in the comment section of this blog post anytime (midnight to midnight Mountain Time) on September 21st. Titles submitted before or after September 21st will not be considered.

I'll throw all titles into a hat and pick 3 for critique.

Keep in mind:

* Manuscripts must be 1000 words or less.

* I accept only fiction.

* Level of detail in the critique will vary based on my impression of the caliber of the writing.

* Please understand that I'm not an editor and will not be providing line-editing of your work. My critique will be comprised of suggestions for improving your manuscript. So please send me your most polished piece.

* The 3 critique winners may e-mail me their manuscripts as Word attachments. Manuscripts will be kept completely private. When I receive the manuscripts, I'll let the authors know when they can expect my critique.

* As with any art form, likes and dislikes are entirely subjective. Please understand that my critiques are only one reader's/writer's opinion. It's always wise to seek feedback from a few different readers. If my ideas resonate with you, they're yours to use. If you disagree, I encourage you to compare my comments with those of other readers. But in the end, it's your book. Stay true to your vision.

I look forward to reading your work.
Jean
P.S. For little "fashionistas" everywhere- TOO PURPLEY! - Preorder it now!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Random Acts of Publicity Week - Judith Snyder

Darcy Pattison's Random Acts of Publicity Week began last Tuesday and I've decided to focus my not-so-random acts on one of my crit buddies, Judith Snyder. Judith is a teacher, school librarian and storyteller - she knows children's literature. And even though she's so very talented, Judith is soft-spoken and VERY humble. Tooting her own horn doesn't come naturally. So I'm doing it for her.

Not only has she written WHAT DO YOU SEE? a darling, interactive picture book coming out this fall, but she's also published three user-friendly manuals for school librarians - the JUMP START YOUR LIBRARY series.

So Tuesday I discussed Judith's books with my mom - a seasoned book buyer who has made books the gift of choice for her 6 kids, 20 grandkids and 20 great-grandkids. Wednesday I reviewed Judith's books on Amazon. And today I'm linking like crazy to Judith and her books. Visit her website or read even more about Judith on JacketFlap.

Thanks for the great idea, Darcy, I'm anxiously awaiting my marching orders for Friday.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Parenting the Nearly-Grown: Guest Post by Masha Hamilton

Guest Post: Parenting the Nearly-Grown
by Masha Hamilton (Photo by Briana Orr)

“Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book.” Roman philosopher and orator Marcus Tullius Cicero, 106-43 B.C.

Not long after the second of my three children was born, I sat at the kitchen table late one evening talking to my dad about parental responsibility. It’s a big topic and we were covering lots of philosophical ground, but what I remember most is my pronouncement that my primary job could be boiled down quite simply and starkly: I had to keep safe these beings released into my charge. I needed to keep them alive.

These were the musings of a new parent, of course. The circumstances, too, should be considered; the first child had been born in Jerusalem during the intefadeh, and the second was born as I was reporting from Moscow during the collapse of Communism. In both situations, I repeatedly came face-to-face with life’s fragility.

But even in calmer times, even after the birth of my third child, I never lost the feeling that my main duty was to pass them on into adulthood as unscathed as possible, as healthy in every way as they could be.

It sounds pretty simple, on the face of it. We perform many jobs as parents: nurturers, playmates, cheerleaders, short-order cooks, nurses, disciplinarians, detectives, spiritual leaders. Keeping them safe should not be the hardest, not with the help of baby monitors, plastic devices to cover electrical outlets, pads for sharp corners, child-proof medicine bottles, the list goes on.
And in fact, we passed through well, with just the usual rounds of stitches, one violent dog attack, a rabies scare and a few months when my youngest fell so often and got so many bumps on his forehead that my husband and I joked someone was surely going to call child services on us.

Now, though, my youngest is 14, and as they’ve grown, I recognize my job has been transformed. It is to give them trust and space so they can develop confidence in their ability to make their own lives. And yet the two oldest, at ages 19 and 20, are in a period of time that seems almost like a parentheses in their lives. They are certainly not children, but nor are they quite adults. Meanwhile, I say and think all the usual things parents have been saying and thinking since—well, perhaps ever since Cicero, whose words I keep taped to my office wall: it’s rougher out there than it was in my time. More chaotic. More violent. More dangerous.

And everyone is writing a book.

It was, in fact, into my latest novel, 31 Hours, that I channeled my fears. Among other things, the novel offered a chance to explore what it means to be the parent of someone on the cusp of adulthood but not yet there. The mother in 31 Hours, Carol, is strong and independent, free of empty nest syndrome, but her maternal intuition is strong and she’s concerned about her 21-year-old son’s growing emotional distance, the way he seems tense and depressed. Her fears are amorphous and hard to convey; nevertheless, as she lies awake in the dark, she decides to trust the hunch that something is wrong, and to spend the next day trying to track her son Jonas down and “mother him until he shrugs her off.”

There are many themes in the novel, but one question it asks—one pertinent to all parents and one I’m still trying to answer for myself—is this: after years of being vigilant and protecting our kids, what should we do—and what are we allowed to do—to keep them safe once they are nearly, but not quite, grown?

Masha's latest book 31 HOURS comes out tomorrow:

31 HOURS Book Trailer from Unbridled Books on Vimeo.


Enter to win a free copy of 31 HOURS at: http://mashahamilton.com/31_hours/contest.php

Check out Masha's other books and more of her work at http://mashahamilton.com/

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Random Acts of Publicity Week

The amazing writer/teacher/mentor/blogger Darcy Pattison has declared September 7-11 Random Acts of Publicity Week. And I'm excited about these fun four days of spreading the word about my fellow authors and their work. Darcy will offer daily suggestions for both online and offline promotion activities. Here's the schedule:

Tuesday: Word of Mouth
Wednesday: Reviews
Thursday: Links
Friday: Social Media

If you're interested, check it out at
http://www.darcypattison.com/authors/random-week/