Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Novel-Writer in Sheep's Clothing

I did it.  I came up with 30 ideas in 30 days, and boy, some of them are stinkers!  A few, if held up to the light, have a glittery sheen (and they have nothing to do with vampires), but many will never see the light of day.

It was harder this year, without a doubt, because I am at a crossroads with my writing.  I seriously do not know what kind of writer I am.  Actually, I think I do know what kind of writer I am, and it scares me.

I have been writing short stories and picture books for these last few years, not because they are easy (see many previous posts about how hard writing a picture book really is), but because they are, in a word, short.

A couple months ago I attended the KS-SCBWI conference and had a critique session with Diane Muldrow of Golden Books.  I had sent her a picture book manuscript.  It was a very unusual picture book story.  I was, in fact, not entirely sure anyone would consider it a picture book.  It was more along the lines of Bink and Gollie, a picture book/chapter book hybrid.  But I wanted an industry person's perspective.  Being a publisher of books for the very young, Ms. Muldrow very professionally and very politely questioned it's characterization as a picture book.  She even went one step further: "You're obviously a good writer [whew!].  Have you ever tried writing in different genres?"

Oh no...she spotted me, I thought.  She thinks I'm a novelist masquerading as a picture book author.  I should have brought my dog PB instead! 

Novels are so darn long!  How in the world do you finish one?  Do I have what it takes to birth pages in the hundreds, not dozens?  I stew over it to this day--afraid to take the plunge in the pool that is writing a novel.  How do you know?  Is it a gut thing?  Should I just do it?  Huh?  Huh?  I'm open to guidance...

Friday, November 4, 2011

Back to My Roots

I am participating in a little venture called PiBoIdMo (for my non-writing friends, it stands for Picture Book Idea Month).  Basically for the month of November, I have to come up with 30 picture book ideas.

Last year (my first), the ideas practically oozed from my pores.  But this year is different, and I reluctantly confess I know why.  I am going through one of those dark periods.  It pertains mostly to my writing, but it seeps into my otherlife as well.  You know the questions:  Who am I?  What am I doing with my life?  Is all this work worth it?  What the heck do I write for anyway?  Do I really write picture books, or do I write something else?  (This last question haunts me the most lately.  I sense an existential crisis in the making!)

But today as I walked out of Barnes & Noble in a desperate attempt for inspiration (okay, maybe my real intention was to buy that issue of Entertainment Weekly that I missed because my subscription lapsed), my next idea literally hit me in the face, or rather, my nose.  In the cool misty air of autumn, I smelled the early morning aroma guessed it (probably not) -- barbeque. 

The olfactory blessing wafting out of the gas-station dive blasted me back to my childhood.  I grew up on pit-cooked barbeque from the little town of Lexington, NC (look it up non-NC's nearly famous), and I immediately felt a longing for my home and my roots.  Then some "what if" questions followed, followed by the fleshing-out of a character, an imagined friend, and then yowza!  An idea came quickly on the heels of an unexpected whiff of roasted pork.  (Please note that no pigs will come to harm in this picture book).

So if you are feeling lost in life (or ideas) this morning, remember your roots.  Return to your childhood, when the world was filled with familiar sights, sounds and smells.  You might just find your best you waiting for you there.


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Totally in Love with DOC MARTIN

This post is as far as it can be from children's literature, but I am so enamored with the BBC show, Doc Martin, that I had to blog about it.  I owe my writing friend, Davika, a HUGE thank-you for introducing me to the show.  I wouldn't have given it a second glance without her recommendation.  If you haven't seen it, and I'm betting you haven't, I'll tell you why you should...

If you like good -- no, great -- characters, you should watch this show.  I have hardly ever in my passive-viewer life been so engrossed with a character as I am with Martin Ellingham.  He is grumpy, brutally honest, a perfectionist to a fault, and completely rude in almost every social situation.  But what keeps me coming back again and again to watch his painful ineptitude in dealing with the residents of the provencial sea-side town to which he has been banished, is the hint of goodness bubbling just below his furrowed brow.  And I know of this goodness not because of a huge scene in which I am bombastically told why Doc Martin is inherently good, but because the writers and Martin Clunes (who plays the Doctor) have gently guided me to that conclusion by his actions and unforgettable facial expressions.

Good writers (which I hope to be when I grow up!) know that character is nearly everything in a story.  Plot can sizzle and setting can be bedazzle, but without a great character you want to grow old with, a story is not more than words on a page.  Martin Ellingham is a character that completely fascinates me.  He is good.  He is bad.  He is kind.  He is mean.  He is, well, normal.

So pardon me for leaving you.  I have another episode to watch. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

A Winner!

Thanks to everyone who commented on my "39 and Counting" blog entry.  I entered everyone's name into my Magic Hat (literally, that is the computer program I use!), and entered your name again if you are a follower, and so the winner is....


You'll be getting your copy of THE MIRACULOUS JOURNEY OF EDWARD TULANE.  You may want to stock up on tissues now...

Saturday, September 17, 2011

39 and Counting: My First Contest!

No, it's not my age, although it's pretty darn close to that number, too -- I turn the illustrious 39 this year

It is in fact the official number of rejection letters that I have racked up.  Over the years, I've gotten the:
  • run-of-the-mill signature-only letters, (a lot of these from the first year or so, when I fully deserved the standard rejection because my writing was yuck-o and I didn't know enough to know it);
  • the letters that rejected the enclosed submission but came with a really nice personalized note (even the occassional advice on how to improve the manuscript -- yeah!);
  • and the ONE letter from an editor who loved my manuscript but discovered that her publisher just bought another one like it (DOH!).
Maybe I should be sad about so many rejections, but I'm not.  In addition to all the rejection letters, I have two acceptance letters (for magazine contracts), and that's something worth being happy about. 

But mainly, I like to think the next rejection letter brings me closer to the big one -- the submission that breaks through the postal service and gets a phone call or email response (ah, heaven!).   One of my favorite authors, Kate DiCamillo, says she got nearly 400 rejection letters before getting a contract!

So if I hang in there and give just 10 times more effort than what I have done so far, then maybe, just maybe, I can break through!

Writer friends,  if you dare, tell me how many rejections you've collected so far.  Let's celebrate how close we are to the one that counts...

In honor of persistent authors everywhere, every comment to this blog entry will go into a random drawing for a copy of Kate DiCamillo's The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.  Followers of my blog get one extra entry.   The drawing will be held October 2, so spread the word!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Complete Picture Book Experience

For those of you writing picture book manuscripts, you know the answer to the following question before I even ask it.  Which is harder to write: picture books or novels (or novellas, or short stories, etc.)?

Yep.  Picture books.  The only thing harder perhaps is poetry.  Why?  Because picture books are poetry.  Not because they rhyme (because some of the best picture books don't as well as some of the best poetry), but because they are concise and beautiful.  Every word counts, and the words have to create pictures in your mind.  And if your picture book doesn't rhyme, your words have to have a built-in rhythm that pulls you through the story and makes you want to read it the twentieth time to your adoring preschooler.

Sooooooo, after many years of trying to write great picture books, I'm now considering the whole picture book experience.  When I first started writing, I was all about the story and the plot.  A great story will always produce a great picture book, right?  Well, not quite.  A great story needs a great main character, and a great main character needs a great voice, and a great voice needs a beautiful rendering that melts like butter on the tongue.  All that, plus, the picture book needs to flow from page to page. 

To mimic this experience, I now dummy book all my picture books before submitting.  I don't necessarily do it in the early stages, to which my patient critique partners will attest, but somewhere along the line it happens.  My story gets cut and pasted (yes, this is tedious) onto 28 pages (32 standard pages minus 4 for front and end matter), and it gets read aloud, just like a picture book.  If each page has a wonderful pause, and if a picture is brought to mind for every single page, then it passes my test and gets submitted.  If not, then back it goes to the drawing board.

Be warned....most editors don't like you to build in these page breaks in the manuscript.  Take out the breaks before submitting.  But definitely make sure you have an idea what your picture book feels like before you submit.  Know the whole experience of your book, not just the story on the page.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

My Glass if Half Empty...and That's a Good Thing

I'm sure many of you are familiar with that adage.  Some of us see the glass as half empty, others as half full.  If you're a half full type, you are supposed to be the more positive of the two thinkers, right?  I see it a bit differently these days.  Here's why...

Now this "glass" is a metaphor for many things.  It can be our life's work; it can be our material possessions; it can be our overall happiness with life.  Whatever you think the "glass" is doesn't really matter.  It's the attitude about the "glass" that matters.
If my glass is half anything, then I can assume that I don't have the other half, right?  It's missing.  Or maybe I never had it.  How do I get the other half?  If my glass is half full, it seems as though someone else has been doing the filling, and in turn, it is up to them to finish the job.  If my glass is half empty, it seems more likely that it is up to me to fill the rest.  (A purely pedantic exercise, I know, but hang with me.)

If this is the case, I prefer seeing the glass as half empty.  It gives me the responsibility of filling up the rest.  Furthermore, if I don't like what is in my cup already, I can change up the mixture.  50% of my glass may be rancid sewer water, but I can fill the rest with clear spring water. 

For now, I'll stop looking for the waiter, and I'll fill my half-empty cup from the tap in my kitchen instead.  It's not a mountain spring, but sometimes the best "water" is right under your nose.

Monday, August 22, 2011

She's Alive!

I have no good excuses for being absent from my blog for so long, other than the fact it was summer, and I decided to focus on my children instead of my writing.  (The last line should be translated as, I am a really lazy writer, and I don't need much of an excuse not to write.  Although my children are pretty good excuses, no offense to their loveliness.)

So what was I up to, you ask?  Or, rather, what was I doing that even remotely related to being a writer and being accountable to my writing self?  Well...

1.  I critiqued a lot.  I didn't write a lot, but I maintained my participation in a great short story critique group.  I got a lot of my older, filed away ideas critiqued by the group and therefore have an excellent jumping off point for my fall writing and submitting.

2.  I read a lot.  Not so much for children.  But for me.  A particular indulgence was continuing the books in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith.  I love Precious Ramotswe.  She's my hero and reading about her before I go to bed is like falling asleep in her "traditional"-sized arms.  You should really have a go at the first one if you haven't already.

3.  I vacationed.  This last one is not to be taken lightly.  Taking time to renew your mind and spirit is a major part of the writing experience.  At least, that's what I'm telling myself.

Did you do anything exciting over the summer?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

My Kids, in a Nutshell

Last night my husband, kids and I made the yearly trek to downtown Jefferson City to watch the fireworks.  We have the whole evening down pat.  We show up at about 8:00 o'clock to stake out our favorite spot in the Governor's Gardens.  It has a good view of the fireworks, and there are plenty of open spaces for the kids to run around blowing off steam before the show begins at 9:30.

A lot of other parents must feel the same way, because it is always teeming with kids.  This time a bunch of boys were organizing a game of freeze tag.  My 10-year old son usually hangs back and watches, but for the first time he wanted to play with the other kids.  Polite as he is, he knew he should ask before he joined, but he was very shy about the whole thing.

His solution?  Get his 6-year old sister to ask.  "Maggie, can you go ask that boy if we can play with him?"

"Elijah, I don't want to play.  You ask."

"I'm too nervous."

Maggie gives him a look, then in a rare display of sisterly love, she goes and asks the boy anyway.  "Can my brother play tag with you?  He wants to join."  I see the boy nod his head from a distance, and Maggie walks back toward us. 

"Elijah, he said you could play."  Relieved, Elijah takes off and joins the game.

Looking at her father and me, Maggie says, "They grow up so fast, don't they?"

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Catching Up on Some Classics...Modern and Otherwise

I've been shifting gears lately, both in my life and in my writing, and I think in my reading as well.  I've had an itch to get back to the basics. 

Summer is here.  Motherhood is bare bones during this time.  Back to just being MOM: fun, carefree, spontaneous.  Gone is MOTHER who is in a perpetual state of reminding (do your homework, brush your teeth, practice piano, don't wrestle the black dog with the white couch cushions, blah, blah).

In my writing, I've taken a hiatus from the rigid poetry of picture books (and I don't mean rhyme here people...if you've tried to write a picture book you know of what I speak), and I am trying my hand at more, well, novel-ly stuff.  It's kind of liberating in a scary, jump-out-of-the-plane kind of way, but for me, it feels like a necessary leap.  Right now, I need to write what I know.  More on that in a later post.

And for reading, I'm picking up the classics.  For some reason that is beyond my understanding I never read To Kill  a Mockingbird. Such was my embarrassment, I kept this fact hidden from my more literate friends, but this summer, I took the book by the horns and read it.  And wow...I get it!  What an amazing book.  I'm almost glad I didn't read this book until now.  I don't think the high school me would have appreciated in the same way.  Plus, I'm notorious for not re-reading books, so I'm not sure I would have picked it up as an adult (bad habit, I know).  I was so inspired I moved on to the modern day classic, The Help. 

What about you?  What classic have you picked up lately?

Monday, May 9, 2011

My Mother's Day Booty

Being a mom is very, very, very, very hard.  But it is also quite awesome.  Because you get little gifts like this...

A picture of a flower from my daughter,

And this, a "Mother" anagram from my son (note my favorites: "H" is for "heretitary" and "R" is for "radical"),

And this, "Coupons of Love" from my son. Especially funny is the fact that they expire on Mother's Day, the day that I received them. Clever boy!

I've said it once, and I'll say it again.  Humor is one of the best gifts we as mothers can give our children.  There are a bucket load of other great character traits that I hope my children cultivate and nurture, but their senses of humor will help them pick themselves up when the world knocks them down.  It also won't hurt when trying to weasel your way out of cleaning your room...

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Ode to a Playground Tree

Today was a beautiful day in mid-Missouri.  The kind you wish you had all year -- breezy and cool with just the right amount of sunshine.  The perfect day to visit a playground.  The perfect kind of day to think about trees, don't you think?

There's something special about playground trees.  There's an oak tree next to my daughter's school playground, and you can tell it is well-loved by the children who visit it day after day.  The earth below its branches is worn smooth by the hundreds of feet that run circles around it, and the roots no longer hide beneath the dirt in an unseen jamble.  They've been slowly exposed over many years and now lay bare, like the gnarled and wrinkly fingers of a doting grandmother resting her hands on an earthen skirt.  Twigs of all sizes and lengths are scattered about, remnants of a thousand abandoned stick forts.

I don't profess to be a "treehugger" as such, but I could imagine wrapping my arms around this leafy lady and protecting her so that future kids can play under her shelter and shade.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Inspiration Hot Zones

How many of us find our inspiration in the shower?  Or in the car on a long drive listening to (insert your favorite band current is Mumford and Sons)?  Or admit it...on the throne!  I recently discovered another inspiration hot zone.  My bed.  Right before a nap or bedtime.  Right before I slip away...into...dreamland.

But it can be tricky.  Wait too long and you're asleep at the risk of losing everything you imagined.  (Ask my husband.  I hold the world record in shortest time between head on pillow and the snorty, spittly sounds of night's first slumber.)  The goal is to wake yourself up enough to write it down before it drifts away.  Be careful!  It may be your greatest idea yet. 

Or maybe just indigestion.  You really shouldn't eat pizza right before bedtime.  Shame!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Democracy is HARD!

I've been gone for a while but with good reason.  You see, every now and then my life is swallowed up in trash talk.  And I don't mean the kind where I speak ill of others.  I mean real trash...garbage...detritus. In a (British, because their words are always cooler than ours) word, rubbish!

It's a long story, but when I first moved to my current place of residence (5 years ago), we had no curbside recycling.  I worked hard to rectify that situation: a personal proposal to our city's Environmental Quality Commission, eventually a seat on said commission, coordination of a pilot project to test a new curbside recycling service, several public surveys, public opinion sessions, a major council vote to pass a trash contract with curbside recycling (2 years ago), the initiation of said service (1.4 years ago) and just last week, one final pain-in-the-butt public vote to keep the new service.  (Because a small group of angry residents felt that they were being forced to use a service they didn't ask for...nevermind that their elected council representatives took the public's opinion as a whole into consideration when agreeing to the new contract in the first place!)

I'm happy to say their proposition was defeated (74% to 26%!), and my small burg will be able to keep the great curbside recycling service that was put in place over a year ago.  But all this taught me how truly, truly hard democracy is.  You have to fight and scrape to get the things you want.  And then it goes to committee, and then it's voted on, and then sometimes voted on again. 

I guess it needs to be this way.  It's what has made the United States the great place it is.  But it's hard, and most of all, it takes participants.  I pushed on, because I wanted my kids to see that you can get things accomplished if you try.  I hope they learned that lesson. 

I also told them that the day they turn 18 is the day I expect them to register to vote.  Hopefully they'll remember the crazy fight Mommy got into over trash (of all things) when they were young and remember the difference a vote makes.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

First Line Contest

Jump here and enter the First Line Contest sponsored by the 2011 Writing and Illustrating for Young Reader's Conference in Utah.  You'll be glad you did!

Friday, March 25, 2011


My daughter and I have a frequent discussion over which superpower is best.  My daughter's recurring, never-changing desire is to fly.  My husband echoes this wish.  "You can't beat flying," he says.  My son vascillates between the ability to time travel and the gift of super-stinky flatulation (he's 10 years old, if you couldn't guess).

Me, I want to to be invisible.  Hands down.  Now, I could go into all sorts of reasons why I would like to be invisible.  Some are more noble than others, but mainly, it would allow me to be the penultimate observer of humankind.  Haven't you always wanted to eavesdrop on a conversation unnoticed?  See what people do when they think know one else is watching?  (And hey...this is a blog by a children's writer...don't go creepy on me). 

As a sometimes-therapist in my social work profession, I try to become invisible.  I remove as much of myself from the conversation as possible and let people reveal themselves little by little.  If I'm a blank, non-judgmental mirror, the results can be dramatic.  But what would I witness if I were completely transparent...a fly on the wall, so to speak.  Would I want to see?

Alas, I'll never know.  I'll have to settle for my too-solid life. 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Writing Takes a Backseat (to Reading and Submitting)

I know I need to write every day.  I totally agree with everyone who has preached this.  I agree 100%.  But I have failed miserably every time I've tried.  So I've decided to love myself a little more and criticize myself a little less.  I've turned for a while to reading and submitting.  And to atone for my lack of writing, I hereby blog about both... 

My latest read: The Search for WondLa.  Now, I bought this book for my 9 year-old son.  The cover looked lush; the sci-fi-nish of it seemed like a shoe-in for his affection; the author, Tony DiTerlizzi, was well-known.  However, after a few pages, he put it down and declared he wouldn't read anymore.  What's a parent (even more, a parent who writes children's stories) to do, except to read it for herself. 

I think the idea for the book was fascinating: a girl who has lived underground in a sanctuary her whole life is suddenly thrust above ground in a race to discover her roots and her place in a world previously unknown to her.  While it took me more than a few pages to get into the story, eventually I did, and followed Eva Nine happily to the end of her first book with some satisfaction.  The book will definitely click with most young readers...especially girls, probably, who would see strength and courage in the main character.  (Maybe the girl as main character was why my son put it down?  I'm not so sure.)  I've seen some reviews which stated that the descriptions and adjectives were a little heavy-handed.  This didn't bother me so much, although I do think it could have been trimmed.  What I did notice, however, was that I didn't connect with the characters as much as I wanted to.  In a gripping scene at the end that would normally have me bawling, I read right through it without a tear.  Maybe it was my head cold...yeah, it could have been that.  But I would still recommend it as a read for 8-12 year olds, especially girls.  And the illustrations are beautiful.   

As for the submitting, I don't know about some of you writers, but it feels good to get some submissions out.  While I try to target most of my submissions very carefully and craft all of my cover letters with precision to show that I am familiar with an agent's or editor's preferences (and pet ownership), I admit to rarely (please emphasize that word in your mind) sending out a submission that is, well...not ideal.  And I know why. It's because I've worked so long on a story that I can't think about it anymore.  And the only way I can get it out of my brain is to send it on an extended vacation to an editor or agent.  Then it's out of my hair for a while, and I can get on with my life.  Please forgive me o' ye editors and agents who have gotten these woeful step-children in the mail.  I only meant that no harm befall them in my agonized state.  Not that I've done any of these recently (cough, cough).  I have actually sent some very good submissions lately, and I'm happy to report the number of personalized rejections is increasing in number. 

So, do you take a mental break every now and then?  Do you need time to fill the tank?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Kristen the Dragonfly

I am thrilled to show off my caricature of a bug, done by children's illustrator Neil Numberman.  Thank you so much!  I don't think I've ever looked better!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


In case you didn't know, the deadline for the Barbara Karlin grant through SCBWI for unpublished picture books is due March 15!  Hop over to for rules and forms.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Gnomes and Gno-Gnos

I saw the new Gnomeo and Juliet movie with my kids this past weekend.  I must admit, I was not looking forward to it.  I have been permanently traumatized by G-Force and quake in anticipation of having to endure a relatively unknown kid movie.

My strange phobias aside, the movie was not all that bad (maybe more due to my low expections than the quality of the movie itself).  One thing I couldn't help but notice, however -- and this is where it relates to kid lit, I promise -- was the lack of children, or rather, child gnomes, in the film.  The characters closest to children in the movie were five rabbit statuaries that were yes-bunnies to the female matriarch.  The rest of the characters were adult...ish.  And the plot of the movie was right in line with the inspiration indicated in the title: two star-crossed lovers from opposite sides of the tracks, I mean, fence.  There was more than your average amount of kissing in this movie, and my son tolerated it only due to the fact that they were concrete gnomes and not actual zit-pocked teenagers.

We have been told over and over again in children's literature that the story must be told from a child's perspective.  But somebody didn't pass along this information to the movie industry.  TangledMegamind.  All adults (correct me if I've forgotten someone...entirely possible!).  Name almost any Disney princess movie, and you get the same thing.  Children are relegated to the roles of fish, or teacups, or monkeys.  Sure, some characters are child-like in their behaviors and choices, but I think the purely kid-centered film is rarer.  Despicable Me comes to mind, as well as Up.  (Note both of these movies have very strong adult main characters, although they matured during the course of the film by the children's actions).

I'm not making a judgment either way, I'm just wondering what to make of it.  I did write one story with a child-like adult as the mc, but I was told by several sources to change it to a child to make it more marketable.  And I did, but I don't like it. 

What's a child-like adult woman author to do???  Give me your thoughts, please.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Meeting My Goals

For the first time, well ever, I met my writing goals this week.  Okay, it helped immensely that the census is down at the home health agency where I work for actual pay, and I only worked 4 real hours this week, but I did it! 

I sent off two agent submissions; I reworked a picture book manuscript; I wrote at least 250 words a day (tiny, I know, but I have to start somewhere!), and I started some research on a middle grade project.  (Applause).

I've tried setting goals in the past, but the words just hung out on my board like curly parsley on a plate of turkey.  It looks good, but there's no way anybody's gonna eat the stuff.

Well, this week, I ate it!  And it didn't make me sick!  In fact, it made me feel pretty darn good.  (Do you think this would work for the gym, too?)

Monday, February 7, 2011

What's in a Name?

I really enjoy writing ethnic pieces, and part of the fun for me is name-finding.  I love hunting for names that have a meaning in the larger context of the story.  Sometimes choosing names for American-based characters in this way is too thinly veiled.  (Think Violet for a girl who loves flowers, or Christopher for a boy who loves to explore.)  Usually, however, names from other cultures are so new to American readers that their direct translation or underlying meaning is not widely known.  So it can be a fun exercise.  Sometimes this method for finding a name actually inspires a whole character for me. 

My latest name-find: Prasad meaning "pure."  This boy has haunted my thoughts for years, wanting to have his own story.  Even better though is the name for a sure-to-be nemesis for Prasad: Adripati, which means "Lord of the Mountain."  Doesn't that character just beg to be written about?

How do you get names for your stories? 

Friday, February 4, 2011

SCBWI NYC: Believe in the Work

What blog would be complete without a wrap-up of the SCBWI New York conference?  This was my first national conference, and it was wonderful to say the least.  (It was also my first trip to NYC, so I felt like I was walking around with my mouth hanging open much of the weekend.)

The best part of the conference for me was hearing the awe-inspiring authors speak: Jane Yolen, R.L. Stine, Lois Lowry, Linda Sue Park, and more.  They all spoke to writing as a craft and following your heart.  The real reward, they said, can be found in the art and work of writing itself.  Some of them taught us how to find inspiration.  Others taught us how to handle the inevitable difficulties and disappointments that are part of the writing life.

The challenge for me at this moment is to focus on what I really want to accomplish.  As a result of this conference, my heart is telling me it's not so much about being published anymore.  (Does that surprise anyone else?) What I really, really want more than anything is to become a great writer.  And I don't know if I can.  But as Linda Sue Park reminded us, it doesn't matter if we believe in ourselves or not.  What matters is that we believe in the work.  Amen!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Critique Partners: Take Two

So now that you know how I found my critique partners (See Critique Partners: Take One), let me tell you what is so great about having a critique partner.

Let's be honest.  Most of us think that our manuscript is the most awesome manuscript ever seen by human eyes.  At least for the first 10 seconds after you finish it.  And you would send it off right away to an editor or agent if it weren't for that nagging voice that says, "Wait...wouldn't you like to show that to a friend first?  Just in case you have one minor mistake that needs changing?"

So you show it to a friend, and behold...she has many suggestions to improve your piece.  Then you show it to another friend, and he has suggestions, too.  Some similar, some completely different.

One of the best things about having a critique partner (or two, or three, or a whole group) is that he\she sees the work with a whole new set of eyes.  Often I've read a piece so many times that I intuitively know what a character is thinking or doing, but I haven't expressed that well at all in my story.  A critique friend can see those places for you.  And a different friend can see different things, and so on and so on.

This doesn't mean you change your story with every comment.  You have to take what is said and think about it.  Sometimes for weeks.  Let the comments sink in, then change what feels right to you.  You'll almost never regret it.

Another great thing about the critique experience, whether from an individual or group, is the support you receive.  Even though my face-to-face group has no picture book authors in it, the support and yes...I'll say get from them is far more to me than an editorial band-aid.  They pick me up when I fall and make sure I keep writing even when I feel hopeless.

So go find that perfect critique friend or group of friends.  It might take you a little trial and effort, but it will be worth it.  Quick, before I start singing "Wind Beneath My Wings."

Did you ever know that you're my hero...(too late).

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Critique Partners: Take One

Many of you probably know the benefits by now of a critique partner or group, but if you're not convinced yet, let me throw out my two cents on the matter.  This post will come in two parts. 

First, finding a critique's not as easy as it sounds!

I found my first group of critique partners by accident.  A little digging online pointed me to a local SCBWI contact for a critique group 30 miles away.   I took a deep breath and attended the group, fully expecting them to kick me out!  But they were more than patient with a newbie, and I continue to meet with Write/Hear every other week at a local library.  (Here is my shining opportunity to brag about our blog,, which we just posted in the last few weeks.  It's under construction, but we have some great poetry posted!).  It's a group of children's writers with wide interests: middle grade, YA, non-fiction, etc.  Alas, I am the only picture book author in the group, so last year I began trawling the sea of writers looking for good PB partners. 

Again, I looked to my local SCBWI.  This is by far one of the best resources for finding a critique group or partner.  They keep perpetual lists of people seeking to partner with fellow writers, so always check there first.  (The name of the regional advisor can be found on the state link through  He/she will be able to direct you to the person who keeps track of critique groups in your area.) 

By luck, I heard of an online group of writers that had just formed and were looking to add some writers.  I tried this for a while, but it didn't feel quite right. 

So I then turned turned to the national SCBWI discussion boards.  SCBWI keeps updated postings for people looking for partners, and while some find a fellow writer there, I did not luck out.

Then by chance, I ran across a posting on Mary Kole's blog,, where she gave followers a chance to ask for critique partners.  (She repeats this opportunity every so often, so if you're in the market for a partner, keep an eye on her blog, as well as for always great advice!).  I left a post, and several months later, I have two critique partners (and could have had one more, but I felt that I had all I could handle at the moment!).

The one-on-one experience has been great, as I will share in Take Two, but my main advice is this.  Be persistent!  Keep looking and keep trying new formats: face-to-face, online, one-on-one email, etc.  By experimenting, you'll find the perfect formula that works for you.

To be continued...

Monday, January 10, 2011

My Deep Dark Secret

Okay, it's not really that exciting, but my secret is this:  I am one-half of a wanna-be writer/illustrator pair.  At least 77% of this dream came out of the wish that my husband and I could make it in this children's writing biz together.

So I took a leap and started attending conferences.  But there I heard that if you are a writer only, never send in illustrations with your book.  Publishers will pick one for you.  They want to pick one for you.  We worried.  Would we look like one of those I-wrote-a-book-and-my-best-friend's-neighbor-once-removed-drew-the-pictures-for-me kind of pair?

So we made a deal.  I would write first, see if I could get any nibbles, and if I did, just by chance, when the pigs started flying, get a book (or two...or three? have to dream here!) published, my husband would then pop back into the picture and try to illustrate something for me.

We're still waiting for that nibble, but in the meantime, Daniel's flexing his illustrating gifts once again in the hopes we can team up one day.  Here is a picture of the main character from one of my PB manuscripts, The King of Notalot.  What do you think?  Could we carry it off?  I know, I know, don't quit our day jobs...I hear ya!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Snowman Bonbons, Travel, Christmas, Oh My!

I have been gone forever!  My apologies to any who faithfully check my blog.  This is just a "taste" of what I have been doing.  My daughter saw this in a magazine, and we just had to try them of course.  They were good, yes!

We've also traveled to see family in NC. 

But now my feet are planted firmly in front of the computer.  Write you, write!

I've received some additional advice on the same piece I mentioned several weeks ago.  This time from an agent.  Again, yeah!  So that is my goal for this month.  To get that piece ready for NYC. 

I also finished the second book in the Hunger Games series, Catching Fire.  I had heard others say they didn't like it as much, but I have to say it kept me as hooked as the first.  In fact, I kind of snarfed it in two days on our way back from NC.  (Thanks to the husband who willingly drove most of the way!)  I simply love the way Katniss comes across...she's kick-ass tough while at the same time being innocent and naive.  I do, however, want to shake her and say, "Go with Peeta, girl...he'll never do you wrong!"