Saturday, November 27, 2010

Where are the Parents?!?

My husband caught a film the other night on Netflix that he wanted us to watch.  It was called The Red Balloon.  Many of you may have heard of it.  It won numerous awards in 1956, the year it came out.

I'm not entirely sure what to make of the film.  I'm still processing it.  It was short (around 30 minutes) and had few words (French, subtitled in English).  It seemed, in fact, to be a childrens' book translated to film.  But my immediate reaction when watching it was, "Where are the parents, for goodness sake?!?" 

The film followed the adventures of a little boy (six, tops) and his balloon, which we quickly learned had magical qualities.  The balloon was able to follow the boy at will, all over town.  The amazing thing, however, was that the boy navigated the streets and alleys of Paris by himself.  A parent (or grandparent) and a school official appeared only to scold the boy for not behaving properly.  Otherwise, the boy was left to fend for himself.  Ironically, the balloon was more interested in the boy than the adults in the film.  It followed him, played with him, escaped trouble with him...(until the end, which I won't give away). 

As a parent of a pre-adolescent, the relationship between the boy and the adults in his life hit a nerve.  They say children are sometimes invisible to us adults.  I am positive it works the other way around.  Adults are definitely invisible to children as well.  And sometimes for good reason.  We appear only to scold.  We don't take the time to play, to follow wordlessly, to cuddle, to praise.

So does it matter where the parents were in this film?  No.  Does it matter if there are no adults in our books?  Mostly, no.  Sometimes adults get in the way. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Name that Emotion

I blogged a few weeks ago about my critique with Bree Ogden of a PB that I had been working on F-O-R-E-V-E-R.  To recap, the story's main character had never found the right voice.  The plot and idea were solid, but the little girl fell flat with every revision.  In fact, I absolutely dreaded my critique.  I had sent the story in weeks before, and by the time of the conference, I had decided to nix the whole project and chalk it up to experience.

But Bree mentioned one little thing in the critique that made it all sink in.  "She is angry about not being able to do what she wants to do.  We need to see more of that."  And once I clamped on to the idea of anger and indignation, I had a line for her, and from that line came the rest of her character.  I was shocked.  It seemed so simple...identifying one key emotion helped me build the rest of the story.  I felt enlightened and humbled (aka, loser!) all at once.

I read the revised story (major revision #7 or #8 now, I think) to my critique group yesterday, and they loved it.  I felt like I had rescued this little girl from the garbage bin, literally.  There are still a rough spots, sure, but I think it's on its way to being submission-worthy.

So that's my lesson for the week...identify the key emotion in your character, and use that as a jumping point.  I tend to gravitate toward the "quiet" characters, but maybe if I'm not so scared to embrace the more volatile emotions that children feel so intensely, I'll build more rounded and developed characters.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Decisions, decisions...

I made a decision today that I'm not entirely positive about, but that comes with being an adult, right?  I've told myself for quite a while that I would take the remainder of this year to devote solely to my writing.  Well, weakness (and a shortage of cash) took over my mind and body.  I saw the perfect job advertised in the paper.  Ten hours PRN social work at a local hospital.

Maybe they won't call me back...that will take care of that.  Easy-peasy.  But maybe they will.  I'm not sure which I want more.  It would be so nice to have a little extra cash, and I tell myself that having a parttime job will alleviate much of the guilt I feel in financing my wild writing experiment.  My husband's been more than patient.

I'll think I'll just go with the flow and see what happens.  At the least, it will keep my skills sharp for when my bubble lands, and I confront the fact that the writing gig probably won't pan out.  At the most, it will insert some much needed money into my account to help pay for all the conferences.  And it's just ten hours.  I hope.

What's your day job?  How do you pay the bills when you're writing on the side?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Advice from my son on character

It never ceases to amaze me when my son gives me advice on writing.  He is an avid reader at nine years old, so I take his advice very seriously. 

Last night at dinner, he mentioned a book that he read last year.  He considers it one of his all-time favorites: The Gorillas of Gill Park.  Sadly, I have not read this book yet, so I can't tell you anything about it myself, but Elijah loved the characters in the book.  I asked him what made them so good, and he said "just who they were."  I prodded further (usually necessary with a nine-year-old boy).  He said the characters were kind, polite.  Funny, I ask?  Not necessarily, he said.  He just liked that they were kids who did the right thing. 

So I jump in and give him an idea for a MG character I'm working on.  A boy with a personal flaw he wants to hide.  Elijah says, "Mom, your characters shouldn't have a problem within themselves.  The problem needs to come from the environment."  I'm not kidding...he said this.  And then I thought, yeah...what tween doesn't already have a whole slew of things they feel embarrassed about.  It must be refreshing for that age to pick up a book and read about characters that face and beat down problems on the outside, despite all their personal flaws, which rightfully take second fiddle to the real issues. 

I hope he can be my agent when I grow up.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

My daughter is beating me at PiBoIdMo!

My daughter has decided to participate in PiBoIdMo, too.  She has a pink notebook, just like Mommy's, and it's called "Maggie's Big Book of Great Ideas."  (Hey--you can't have that one...that's already idea #10 in my list!).  The sad thing is, Maggie's on idea #18.  She's beating me!  Here are the best so far (in my opinion, not hers...):

Idea #5: Trapped in the forest.  Where am I?

Idea # 6: My pet dragon.

Idea #14: I think there's too many letters in the alphabet.  Is there?  Tell me!

Idea #1: The girl who turned into a puppet.

Article on the Importance of Picture Books

Ruckus Media provided a connection to the following article on the importance of picture books.  Very comprehensive and provides links to picture book lists for the PB connoisseur.  Enjoy!

Monday, November 8, 2010

MO Conference Follow-Up

(Since my blog from last night was so long, I thought I would add a few details in a follow-up.) 

One of the high spots of the day was sitting down at lunch to chat with Lin Oliver for a few moments.  First, I had a question about published and listed (PAL) status in SCBWI (i.e., whether having a contract signed was the same as being published).  She said yes, it counts in terms of being considered a published author.  Good thing, too, because I learned from Lynnea Annette that it could take four years before my story for Highlights is published (yowza!).

Then Lin was gracious enough to give me advice on what story to take to New York.  I didn't ask her to-- she just offered when she learned I was going to NY.  I asked her opinion on whether to take a Hans-Christian-Anderson type of story or a mss about the son of a magician and his birthday.  She said the latter felt more marketable.  (Although, in retrospect--and it was a great learning experience for me--I don't think that I was marketing my former story in the right way.  Namrata also said it didn't sound marketable.  It has a definite modern feel, but I'm not describing it well.  I've gotta change my angle on it.)

Finally, we discussed the future of the picture book, the NY times article, and the general direction (or misdirection) of public education in our country as it relates to No Child Left Behind.  All I can say is, she is one smart lady.

My critique was with Bree Ogden.  I took a story about a girl and her robot.  I was really depressed going into the critique, because I felt this story was unsalvageable.  I had worked on it for so long, and it seemed to get lost along the way.  I even had sent her an older version of the story!  But good news...robots are the next hot thing (who knew?).  She pointed out what I knew was there...Alberta needed more character development.  But she said something that got me thinking about the story in a way I had not done previously.  One little word changed my perspective, and I rewrote the story in a morning when I got back.  Thanks, Bree!  Sometimes it just takes the right nudge at the right time.  And boy, I needed it!

I think I'm officially drained of conference highlights until NY.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

MO SCBWI Conference (Pssst...It includes Steve Mooser and Lin Oliver!)

Yesterday, I attended the MO-SCBWI conference, and I am so glad I did.  It was such a treat to hear from Steve Mooser and Lin Oliver, that I nearly came to tears...several times...really.  But more on that later.

The day started with Steve and Lin's list of Ten Most Important Things to remember as a children's writer (but really the list included was hard to edit).  It was basically a list of quotes from great children's authors.  You know, the quotes that you will go home and paste all over your office, to keep you going when you've lost your way.  Lin's favorite: "Come up with a character you love, think about what she wants most in the world and decide what's keeping her from it" -- Paula Danziger.

Namrata Tripathi of Atheneum Books (an imprint of Simon & Schuster) spoke next.  For PB writers, she's looking for young, bold picture books and has a special interest in a book with a "classic, but fresh" feel.  She pointed us to one of her latest, Lulu and the Brontosaurus, by Judith Viorst (of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day), as an example of that type of book.

Bree Ogden of Martin Literary Management in Seattle also spoke.  She gave some great advice on how to be savvy in the current marketplace.  Put yourself out there in a blog (phew!), even posting some stories, and remember that an experienced agent or publisher makes a decision on a submission from the first couple lines of a cover letter.  So do your research and know what a particular agent or editor is looking for.

A common suggestion from Bree and Namrata was to take the relationship with an editor and/or agent seriously.  Treat it like a commitment.  Feel confident that you are compatible by asking them the right questions.  Of course, for first-time authors, this will be a hard challenge.  If you're like me, you're salivating, just waiting for that offer, and it will be tempting to grab the first thing that comes your way.  But hopefully stronger minds will prevail, and we'll all take the time to ask questions before we take the plunge.

I attended the two Masters sessions this year.  Jody Feldman gave a brilliant workshop on creating worlds within books.  I found the writing exercises particularly helpful.  Steve and Lin gave a workshop on diaglogue.  What a hoot.  They had us all writing on the spot and spilling our bare souls before each other. 

Which brings me to...the tears.  Steve and Lin closed the event with a look at children's writing, past, present, and future.  They talked about the founding of SCBWI, liking it to "a tribe" of like-minded people all working for the same goal.  In fact, when they held their first conference, they sent 10 letters to the best children's authors of the time (Judy Blume, Dr. Seuss, E.B. White, etc.), asking them if they could come speak to their small band.  All but one or two (with good reasons) said they would come, taking the time to respond in handwritten letters (insert tears here).  Steve and Lin also bouyed the nerves of all writers present when they talked about the future.  Yes, technology is changing the publishing industry, but it is not destroying our need for fiction.  In fact, technology will play a role in proliferating story, and authors may even see greater return for content in the brave new world.

Well, sorry for my longest post ever (I didn't even tell you about my lunchtime chat with Lin or my critique with Bree), but I hope you found it worth the read.  Good luck to all of you in the tribe!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


A lot of people have been writing about inspiration lately, considering the monumental tasks before us this month (NaNoWriMo and PiBoIdMo).

I get my inspiration first and foremost from my kids.  I think if you write for children, and you don't have any of your own, you at least need to borrrow some for awhile.  Hang out at the library (as long as you don't have long hair and tattoos), volunteer at your local school (see exception previously), or observe children at the playground or park (okay, if you do have long hair and tattoos, you're going to have to borrow some young relatives).

I also get inspiration from my own childhood.  In fact, my one published story to date (well, its under contract, but I consider it published for my ego's sake!), was based on some childhood memories of raising geese.  Take the time to do a journal of your childhood.  I basically took each year of school and wrote everything I could remember about those years in a diary.  When I'm at a loss for ideas, I shuffle through the pages and find some funny tidbit just waiting to be fleshed out.

Like most writers, I think the most important element of inspiration is openness.  Just be open at all times to what's going on around you and the potential it holds for a story.  I've gottten some ideas from unlikely places: National Geographic articles, posters of animals in the school hallway, conversations overheard at a restaurant, you name it!

Finally, don't forget your own imagination.  Dream up your own characters.  Think of something you've never seen in a children's book.  Ask the "what if" questions.  (Like, what if I got off my blog page and actually started working on my story!!!)

Okay, I get the hint.  Get at it!

Monday, November 1, 2010

PiBoIdMo Kickoff

Today is the first officia day of PiBoId Mo 2010.  Check out for details and to get involved.  You have until November 7 to sign in, so hurry, hurry.  Great prizes and fun are all part of the deal, so long as you come up with 30 ideas in 30 days.  And to those doing both PiBoIdMo and NaNoWriMo, my hats are off to you!

Off to think!