Friday, December 21, 2007

Looking Behind & Looking Ahead

As another the year comes to the end, I once more think about the things that have happened in the past and what might come in the future. I've got so much to be thankful for, but I'll keep it writing-related :-) (you're welcome!).

Last year couldn't have begun any better, with Sylvan Dell's acquisition of Blackberry Banquet. January also brought the release of my award-winning picture book series, Mother Goose Rhymes. I also found out that my easy reader, Tae Kwon Do! was named on the Bank Street College Best Children's Books of 2007. For the first time ever, I was receiving "outside" validation for my writing (something that I believe all writers need, no matter where we are in the process). That same month, I also attended a fabulous Ventura/Santa Barbara SCBWI Retreat on cyber-promotion, which led to my blog.

I was also able to do some school visits, which I loved. I attended many educational and enlightening SCBWI events and did some other fun speaking engagements. I was surprised in July when I found out that Sterling Publishing was using jokes from Greatest Goofiest Jokes as part of a compilation joke book, Laughin' Jammin' Slammin' Jokefest. And I finally *finished* my first novel, Out of the Storm (of course, we all know that a novel isn't really finished until it's acquired and your editor says its finished). Yes, it's been a very good year.

Looking ahead, I now get to shop my novel around, along with a handful of other picture book and easy reader manuscripts that I've toiled over for quite some time. I look forward to doing more school visits, book signings and discovering those seeds of stories that are still hidden deep in my mind. I'm eagerly anticipating the release of Blackberry Banquet in July and looking forward to working with Sylvan Dell in promoting it. And I'm looking forward to continuing with my blog, hopefully reaching my goal of helping other authors, sharing some of my experiences and contributing to the writing community that has helped me so much.

I'm going to take a little "winter vacation" from blogging, from Dec. 21 - Jan. 7. Please check back in with me in January.

I wish you the happiest of holidays and a very prosperous new year!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Sylvan Dell Follow-Up from Donna German

Donna German offers a great explanation of what's currently happening at Sylvan Dell Publishing and what they look for when acquiring manuscripts. Click here (and scroll down) to visit her post on the Verla Kay Discussion Board.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Pint-sized interviews that leave you smiling.

Donna German is the editor of Sylvan Dell Publishing, a small press that specializes in animals, nature, science and the environment. She’s the author of two children’s books (Carolina’s Story and Octavia) plus 16 cookbooks, four of which were New York Times best-sellers including The Bread Machine Cookbook Series, which have sold more than 3 million copies. She’s worn many hats in her life, including homeschooling her three children while her family took a sabbatical and lived on a sailboat in the Bahamas, and then traveled cross-country visiting our National Parks. It was the NPS’s Junior Ranger Program that ultimately led to the “For Creative Minds” educational section in the back of each Sylvan Dell book. Though she admits that she doesn’t have time to write anymore, she feels that her author background gives her an interesting insight into the editorial process. “I hate writing rejections because I vividly remember receiving all 27 rejections prior to my first cookbook being accepted.”

I'm so pleased that Donna agreed to answer my questions and give us some insight into the small press side of our business.

What advantages does a small press have to offer for an author (as opposed to large publishing house)?
This is such an interesting question and I’m going to refer to something from my “former life” as a cookbook author. I was at an annual conference for cookbook authors and a table mate at one of the meals was talking about his Christmas Cookbook that had been released the year before by a LARGE printing house. Unfortunately, the books themselves were misplaced somewhere in the warehouse and orders were being “back-ordered.” The books finally showed up in February and orders filled (?) but, of course, they were all returned because it was after Christmas. Since many large publishing houses have a “six month” survival rule, his books were remaindered because they didn’t sell. His agent explained that because this book had flopped, no other publishing house would touch him…

My observation is that small houses keep books active longer than larger houses. We continue to market all books, not just the new releases. We must rely on EVERY book being a success because we can’t afford to publish books that won’t sell.

How does a small press compete in such a highly competitive business; how much do they rely on their authors’ involvement in book promotion?
I would say that small publishing houses must rely on every angle for marketing. We truly need our authors and illustrators to participate in marketing their books – through signings, library readings, and school visits. We can honestly see a difference in the bottom line of the titles that have that support versus those that don’t. I don’t know about other companies but at Sylvan Dell, every single title is selected to fit our precise niche and marketing plan. Unfortunately, we have had to turn down some really cute stories because we didn’t think we could market them.

We use technology to our advantage. Not just on the editorial end (accepting e-submissions), but in marketing too. We have just introduced a “referral rewards” program for people who are excited about our books and share the information with others. Once someone is signed onto our website, they get a special link to forward to friends. If the friends order books through our website, the original person gets credit towards their purchase or a cash reward. Independent bookstores and bloggers can sign up for an affiliate program so that they get credit – similar to Amazon.

What's your favorite children's joke?
Why do elephants paint their toenails red?

To hide in strawberry patches!

Note: Sylvan Dell is not affiliated in any way with either Sylvan Learning Centers or any “Dell” company. The name itself is Latin, meaning “wooded valley.” Donna German had the business name picked out years ago — long before the business itself was determined. Her father grew up in Delaware in an old farmhouse that is actually older than the United States! When her grandfather died, Donna moved from Massachusetts into the house so they could keep it in the family. While cleaning out an old shed, Donna found a wooden, hand-carved sign that simply said “Sylvan Dell.” When she questioned her father about it, he remembered the sign nailed to a tree at the end of the driveway when he was a young boy. Donna’s grandfather apparently referred to the property as “Sylvan Dell.” Donna determined that if she ever owned her own business that she wanted to name it after the family property (which is, in fact, a wooded valley). Yes, the home is still in Donna’s family — her sister lives in it. Continuing with the wooded valley theme, the logo uses leaves falling into an open book (valley theme) to signify “fall into reading.”

Click here for the Sylvan Dell's submission guidelines.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Holiday Stress? Take 9:26 and Relax!

Are the holidays starting to get to you? All that online shopping (if you’re an introvert) or commando shopping at the mall (if you’re an extrovert); the decorating, baking, planning, and all that ho-ho-ho-ing, while of course, still trying to keep up with your family and your job, whether it be clinging to your creative writing soul or heading out into the “real” world every day. It’s just about enough to make a person go crazy, isn’t it?

Well, here’s my hot little tip for all of you kid-lit folks who need to take a 9-minute and 26-second break from the world. First, go pour yourself a glass of wine (red or white, it doesn’t matter to me) or whatever beverage gives you an “Ahhh...” moment. While you’re in the kitchen, raid your hidden stash of chocolate (you know, the good stuff that you hide from your kids). Go ahead--grab a couple of pieces and your glass of wine, then take them to your computer. Lock your office door or hang the “Do Not Disturb: Writer at Work” sign. Make sure you turn on the computer speakers (not too loud, just enough for clarity and a soothing sensation). Now, click here.

Put your feet up, take a sip of wine and nibble on your chocolate. Let it melt in your mouth as the music pours over your weary soul and your eyes come to rest on a sampling of beautiful images that are all about what we strive to do.

Enjoy and Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Donna German, my fabulous editor at Sylvan Dell, recently sent me the finished cover of BLACKBERRY BANQUET. I love the way it turned out! Lisa Downey, the illustrator, did such a great job. The bear is adorable; the cover is colorful and inviting. I can’t wait to see it on bookshelves in bookstores or better yet, in the hands of small children!

Another piece of unexpected news that I received this week from Sylvan Dell is that they’re in the process of selecting a plush toy to accompany the book. What would it be? A bear, of course! As soon as I get a picture of what it looks like, I’ll post it too.

Finally, I found out that they plan to release my book in early July, which makes perfect sense as July is Blackberry Month. Mmm...I think the berries will be a little sweeter this summer!

This is an exciting time during the birth of a book. You see, once the acquisition is made and the ink has dried on the contracts, the author often goes into a sort of hibernation period, where he isn't involved much. At this time, the illustrator is extremely busy doing the art and the editorial staff are making final text reviews and marketing decisions. Then, after a few long months, the author begins to hear about his/her book again. The cover is out, marketing decisions have been made, publication dates are skillfully determined. To me, as the author, it's like my book has come out of hibernation! It's very exciting to see.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Pet Book Signing: One Step Closer

Yesterday was my fundraiser book signing for D & S Loving Animal Rescue. I'd like to thank the folks who came out to support D & S, and those of you who couldn't make it but called in to order books. It was great meeting fellow animal-lovers (like Dawn Watchus, the manager of the center featured in the photo with me).

The signing went very well, as we raised approximately $150 in profits for the center, but as you can see from the photo (unfinished floors and no doors, not to mention the unfinished ceiling), funds are still needed to complete the facility (doors alone cost $100 each!).

If you'd still like to help homeless animals by purchasing a copy of PET JOKES THAT WILL MAKE YOU HOWL! or would like to make a tax-deductible donation, please contact Pet Integrity Pet Supplies:

(760) 375-3217
925 East Ridgecrest Blvd.
Ridgecrest, CA 93555


Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Pet Jokes Fundraiser: Time Is Running Out!

Hey All You Fellow Writerly Folks,

I just wanted to remind you that this Saturday, December 8 is when I’ll be signing copies of PET JOKES THAT WILL MAKE YOU HOWL! as a fundraiser for D & S Loving Animal Rescue, a non-profit, no-kill rescue center. I’m sure you’re more stressed out than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs over whether it’s too late to order books. Well, guess what? It isn’t!

You can still call Pet Integrity Pet Supplies at (760) 375-0140 to order your copies ($4.95 each plus $2.00 for shipping). Order now while supplies last. Pet Jokes would make a great holiday gift for anyone who loves animals plus you’ll be helping hundreds of homeless cats and dogs.

Can't wait 'til you get your paws on a copy of PET JOKES THAT WILL MAKE YOU HOWL!, then check out this videoclip.

Sunday, December 2, 2007


Pint-sized interviews that leave you smiling.

Anastasia Suen learned to read with Dick and Jane in 1962. Five years later, she wrote her first book. She was eleven years old. She’s have been writing ever since. She wrote hundreds of manuscripts and collected rejection letters for years. And then it happened. On her fortieth birthday, the phone rang. After writing for twenty-nine years, she sold her first book! Today she’s sold 105 manuscripts board books, picture books, easy readers, and chapter books (including a book for adults about how to write children's books). She’s also written articles for textbooks and magazines.

I first got to know Anastasia by taking her Easy Reader Workshop online. I learned so much that I later took her Poetry Workshop as well. She manages three blogs , teaches, consults and writes full-time. I was so pleased when she agreed to do a Mini-View for me.

What advice would you give to someone who is just learning the craft of writing?
Read, read, read! You have to read if you're going to write! I always do - and I find answers to MY manuscript problems as I read. Reading while I'm writing gives me the answers I need - AND - it helps me keep up with the competition. Win-win!
(That's why I make all of my students read FIVE books a lesson - yes, even chapter books! It's the only way I know how write - first you read and then you write and then you read and then you write...)

What do you feel is the best way for a busy writer to keep abreast of what's happening in the world of children's literature?
I *LOVE* blogs! I read writer's blogs (including this one!) and children's lit blogs so I know what the new books are and I read agent, editor, and industry blogs so I know what's happening in the business. (I have a list of blogs at Blog Central).

What's your favorite children's joke?
Why did the chicken cross the road?

To get to the other side!
(If you want to get something done, just do it!)

Thanks so much, Anastasia!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

THIRTEEN REASONS WHY: A Book You Cannot Put Down

With all of the recent buzz about THIRTEEN REASONS WHY and the fact that its debut author, Jay Asher, is from my SCBWI region, I had to give this book a read. I admit that I don't usually go for YA novels about such serious issues, but from what I'd heard, there were way more than thirteen reasons to pick up this book. And I'm so glad I did.

Clay Jenson’s classmate, Hannah Baker, had committed suicide just days before he received a mysterious package in the mail. He never expected that Hannah’s voice would be what he heard next. On seven cassette tapes, Hannah chronicles the thirteen reasons—the thirteen people—who contributed to her decision to take her own life. Clay, who had a slight crush on Hannah and worked with her at the theatre, listens to the tapes into the late hours of the night, traveling to the designated locations she directs him to, desperately trying to figure out why he was on her list. He ultimately discovers a horrible mistake he made, that he is sure never to repeat.

Jay Asher uses a unique approach to telling this powerful, compelling and heart-wrenching story of teen suicide. The book is full of emotion based on Hannah Baker’s voice from the past and Clay Jenson’s struggle to hear her story. Typical happenings in the lives of high school students are what propel an otherwise average girl into the ultimate state of hopelessness and desperation. When Hannah is caught up in tawdry rumors and cruel behavior from her classmates, her life slips out of her control and she too becomes guilty of the very sins that were committed against her. Clay is an average “nice guy” who can’t understand why he is included on her list, but as he hears Hannah’s story, he is torn apart inside.

This book deals with serious issues such as suicide, drinking, and rape. However, because Asher so intricately lays the groundwork for the underlying message of the importance in how we treat each other, and he leaves the reader with hope, I feel not only teens, but also parents and high school staff should read it as well.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher/ ISBN-10: 1595141715/ ISBN-13: 978-1595141712/2007/Razorbill (The Penguin Group)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Stretching More Than Your Imagination

As writers, we’re constantly stretching our imaginations, but for as many hours--no wait, days--no wait, weeks--no wait, months-- no wait, years--no wait, decades that we spend at our computers, we really should be stretching our muscles as well. All that typing can lead to tight shoulders, neck and back strain, and headaches (and that’s before we’ve submitted our work and are stressing over what will come of it!). Here’s what I do to help with this problem:

I keep a list of stretches in my computer desk drawer that are good for the neck, shoulders, arms and hands. These particular stretches come from Bob Anderson’s book, Stretching.

I keep a timer nearby, for when I know I’m going to be at the computer for hours. I set the timer for every 45 minutes or so, then I stop and do my stretches (right there at my desk. I don’t even need to get up and it takes less than five mins—no sweat suits necessary).

I know what you’re thinking—it disrupts the creative flow, and yes, it can. However, I find that when I’m more relaxed and take care of myself, the creativity is going to come out anyway. And if I’m right in the middle of something “big”, I can reset the timer for another five mins.

I highly recommend buying Stretching, but if you can’t get a hold of a copy right away, check out this website.

Happy stretching!

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Wishing you all a bountiful season filled with joy and laughter. And on that note...

Which is correct?

"A turkey's teeth is white"


"A turkey's teeth are white"?

Neither; Turkeys don't have teeth! :-}

Tuesday, November 13, 2007



Why can’t dogs dance?
Because they have two left feet!

What do you get when you cross a feline and a metal detector?
A cat scan!

On Saturday, December 8, from 12:00-3:00, I’ll be signing my joke and riddle book, PET JOKES THAT WILL MAKE YOU HOWL! (co-authored with Ruth Musgrave) at a fundraiser benefit for D & S LOVING ANIMAL RESCUE (an honest-to-goodness no-kill animal shelter). One hundred percent of all proceeds are going to this wonderful non-profit organization.

Can’t make it? No need to get howlin’ mad! If you still want to purchase a book just call the number below to place your order. I’ll happily sign your copy/copies and the store will ship it to you. Your cost would be $4.95 + shipping (paperback edition) or $14.95 + shipping (hardback). PET JOKES THAT WILL MAKE YOU HOWL! would make a doggone great holiday gift for that pet-loving child or adult in your life and you’d be helping care for homeless cats and dogs.

My goal is to sell 100 books. The city of Ridgecrest has donated property for D & S to build a new full-service adoption facility, but funds are still needed for construction. This organization is the same one that brought my “furry children” into my life and I’d love to give something back to them and help them with their cause.

Here’s the kitty scoop:
Saturday, December 8, 12:00-3:00
Pet Integrity Pet Supplies
128 North China Lake Blvd.
Ridgecrest, CA 93555
INFO & BOOK ORDERING : (760) 375-0140

Saturday, November 10, 2007


Pint-sized interviews that leave you smiling.

Kendra Levin is an assistant editor at Viking Children’s Books (an imprint of Penguin Putnam USA), where she has been for two years. Prior to that, she interned at Scholastic Trade Paperbacks and worked for their Book Club Department. Kendra is an award-winning playwright whose work has been produced off-Broadway. I had the pleasure of meeting her at the 2007 SCBWI Ventura/Santa Barbara Writer’s Day in Thousand Oaks, CA.

What is the most common mistake you've seen in manuscripts from the slush pile?
A really common mistake many slush pile writers make is trying to capitalize on trends in the hope that editors will be attracted to whatever is “hot”. But I always tell people that even if I signed up your book tomorrow, penguins or pirates or any other trend will be long gone by the time the book comes out. The best books are timeless, and nine times out of ten, whatever is lurking around in your own imagination is more interesting and original than a Harry Potter or Eragon imitation.

What is the number one piece of advice you would give to someone who is just getting into the field or writing for children?
My number one piece of advice to beginning writers is do your homework. That could apply to anything from finding out whether there might be a market for the kind of book you want to write to making sure there isn’t already something just like it to figuring out which publisher or editor would be a good fit for your manuscript. You can save yourself a lot of headaches and heartaches by doing the research that will serve you and your manuscript.

What's your favorite children's joke?
This joke used to crack me up so much when I was a kid that I told it to anyone who would listen:

A cop stops a lady driving down the freeway with six penguins in the car. The cop says, “Lady, what are you doing? Take these penguins to the zoo!”

The next day, the cop stops the same lady on the freeway. She’s still got six penguins in her car, but now they’re all wearing sunglasses. The cop says, “Lady, I thought I told you to take those penguins to the zoo!”

And the lady replies, “I did, and we had so much fun, today I’m taking them to the beach!”

(hee-hee-hee! Thanks, Kendra)

Sunday, November 4, 2007


Pint-sized interviews that leave you smiling.

Roxyanne Young is a freelance writer, novelist, photographer, graphics designer, and co-founder of 2-Tier Software, Inc. She’s the Editorial Director of, which unites her two loves: building Web sites and writing for kids. She's a co-author of TALES OF THE CRYPTIDS: MYSTERIOUS CREATURES THAT MAY OR MAY NOT EXIST. Roxyanne oversees the SmartWriters’ annual W.I.N. Competition (Write It Now!). With her knowledge of children's writing, contests and website expertise, I knew she would have some great advice.

What’s the number one piece of advice you’d give to someone entering a children’s writing contest?
Besides making sure your writing is stellar, make sure your entry fits the category. One of the most common comments I've made to people who entered the W.I.N. this year and who also requested a critique on their entry is that it is better suited for a different age group or market. There are many picture book entries, for instance, that are really magazine stories in that they are either too complicated/text heavy, or don't have enough scenes to support an illustrated story for 32 pages. Some of them would be much better expanded and aimed at slightly older kids as an early chapter book or young mid-grade novel. Still others really belong to the YA category, even though they were entered as Midgrade novels.

Pay attention to the intended market and how your work will really fit there. Is your main character one that your targeted young reader will relate to? If not, aim your book at older readers.

What is your number one piece of advice for a writer in regards to his/her website?
I have two: keep your content updated frequently and exchange links with other writers. Actually, here's a third: add your Website address to every piece of communication you put out there, whether digital or print. I know a writer who slips her business card into her bill payment envelopes because you never know when that woman opening the mail at the power company is also on the PTA committee that is looking for a children's writer to visit her kid's school.

What's your favorite children's joke?
Q: How do you catch the Easter Bunny?

A: Hide in the bushes and make noises like a carrot.

(Hee-hee. Too cute!)

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Check Out These Blogs

I wish there was a clever verb to describe reading through blogs. Slogging the blogs? Jogging the blogs? Leap-frogging through the blogs? Anyway...

I really enjoy Anastasia Suen’s blog, Create-Relate. I recently found a post on it referring to literary agent Nathan Branford’s blog, where he interviewed his colleague Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown Ltd. The topic of her interview is what she expects an author to do once she’s made an offer for representation.

If you’re in the market for an agent, I’d recommend you pop on over and give it a read. And give Anastasia’s site a visit too. All great stuff!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


To join in the Halloween spirit, here are some jokes from my first joke book, Greatest Goofiest Jokes.

What do ducks put in their windows at Halloween?

How do ghosts travel?
In fright trains.

What is a slime creature’s favorite movie?
The Wizard of Ooze.

Have a fun and safe Halloween!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Writing in Rhyme: Part II

You’ve decided that it’s appropriate to write your story in rhyme (see my post on 10/04/07) and have toiled over your work for months/years and finally completed a beautifully rhymed piece. Now what?

Here are five things I do after I think I’m finished with my story (BTW, this also works for non-rhyming text, but I find it especially helpful for rhyming work):

1. Read your work aloud. Picture books are meant to be read aloud so you need to hear how your words sound.

2. Tape-record yourself reading your story aloud. When you play back the recording, listen for any inconsistencies in the flow/rhythm. Listen to the sounds of the words. Do they roll of your tongue with ease? Are they pleasant to the ear? Will children and adults want to hear them over and over again?

3. Read your work aloud while walking. This is one of my all-time favorite tips (which I heard from Ann Whitford Paul): I will walk through my house with manuscript in hand, reading aloud, and if there’s any glitch in the rhythm, my feet stumble a bit. I actually feel the inconsistencies in my body. It’s a very telling technique. If I get hung up on a certain line or stanza, sometimes I’ll take a pad and pencil and go for a walk, repeating the words till I get something that fits the rhythm of my gait.

4. Let a “non-reader” read your work aloud. By “non-reader”, I mean someone who does not normally read children’s literature, especially aloud. I find this extremely helpful. My husband assists me with this, and every time he reads my rhyming work aloud, I can immediately hear any flaws. While he reads, I make a note of any spots where he hesitates, or stumbles a bit, or the flow/rhythm sounds off to me.

5. Workshop your story amongst other children’s writers. Critique groups, “critiquenics” and retreat or conference opportunities are a great way to get feedback on your much-labored work. Let your professional colleagues be the final judges of whether your story is ready for an editor's eyes and ears.

We often hear editors say that they don’t want rhyming work. I honestly believe that most editors like rhyming work, IF it’s written well. The problem is that too many writers submit work that hasn’t been scrutinized enough. Make sure your story is its absolute best and you’ll have a much better chance for publication.

Best of luck!

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Pint-sized interviews that also leave you smiling.

I’m so proud to begin this new addition to my blog with an interview with author Bruce Coville. I had the pleasure of meeting Bruce at the SCBWI-Oregon Silver Falls Retreat and he generously agreed to answer my questions. He’s written over 90 children’s books, including middle-grade and YA novels, and picture books, amongst others. His most current project is Full Cast Audio, a company he founded to create unabridged, full cast recordings of great books for young readers. Maybe we should re-define the term, “Jack of all Trades” to “Bruce of all trades.”

What is the number one piece of advice you would give to someone who is just getting into the field or writing for children?
Join the SCBWI! Really, the networking, the information, the connections, the conferences all make for a priceless resource. I should make a disclaimer: I'm on the Board of Advisors. On the other hand, it's not a paid position. I serve there because they save me so much time, since whenever someone comes to me for advice I ask if they've joined, and if they haven't I say, "Join the SCBWI, read all their material, and if you still have questions come on back and we'll talk." But no one needs to come back, because it's all there.

What advice would you give to a newly published author?
You mean other than "Don't quit your day job?" Basically, it would be to be patient and don't take anything too seriously. Some people rocket to the top, but most careers are built slowly (and painfully) one book at a time. Also, learn to negotiate. Most people are shy about this, but there are books and recorded programs that will help you learn this essential skill. You're trying to create art, but this is also your business, and don't forget that!

What's your favorite children's joke?
Well, I already told you my favorite one, but it's so dependent on visual and sound effects that it doesn't work to write it down. After that it's probably:

Q. What's the difference between roast beef and pea soup?

A. Well, anyone can roast beef.

(Now, that's way too funny!)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Back from the Silver Falls Retreat, Oregon

I’m back from the Silver Falls Retreat in Oregon, hosted by the SCBWI-Oregon chapter. I don’t believe there could be a more perfect setting for a writer’s retreat (other than Yosemite, perhaps); a rainforest-esque backdrop, splashes of autumn colors in the deciduous trees, patches of clouds dancing amongst the treetops, babbling brooks, delicate waterfalls and a group of highly creative children’s authors and editors.

Boy, was it hard to drive to PDX to catch my flight home!

Here are a couple of quotes from some of the speakers that you might enjoy:

“Anyone can write. Only a real writer can revise.”--Margaret Bechard

“I saw the angel in the marble and I just chiseled till I set him free.”—Deborah Brodie quoting Michelangelo.

“I recommend three things to all children’s writers: 1) take acting lessons (to better understand how to get into your characters), 2) voice lessons (for when you begin public speaking), and 3) join a storytelling group or class.”—Bruce Coville.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho, It's Off to Oregon I Go!

I'm stoked! Tomorrow I leave for the SCBWI-Oregon Silver Falls Retreat. I've never attended this event, but a good friend of mine has raved about it for years. A beautiful nature setting, residing in cabins, surrounded by like-minded folks who love writing for children. What could be better? I'll "cyber-seeya" when I get back next week!

Sunday, October 7, 2007


Just a quick note about a couple of cool blog sites: has a list of agent and editor blogs. Click here to see them.

And one of my favorite blogs, Editorial Anonymous, has an interesting post ("Busted Again") on royalties and advances.

Happy reading!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Writing in Rhyme: Part I

I love writing in rhyme. It’s a fun, challenging way to convey a story. And kids love it! There’s nothing like reading a well-written rhyming book to a young child. You can literally see the rhythm in their bodies!

I thought I’d write a bit about how to revise your rhyming work, but then it struck me that long before you get to the point of self-editing, you have to consider whether to rhyme or not.

A few years back, I took an online course from Anastasia Suen, on Poetry. One of the things she suggested that was that before you start writing your story in verse (rhyme), write it in prose. In other words, write the story first. Think about rhyme later.

Once you’ve written your story and determined if it’s a story worth telling, that’s when you have to take a hard look at whether you should rewrite it in verse. There is more to consider than just whether you like writing in rhyme. Consider the following:

* Is your story one that would benefit from a rhythmical pattern, such as a bedtime story like Goodnight Moon?
* Is there a natural pattern that emerges from the story’s events, such a cumulative story like The Napping House?
* Is there a natural cadence to your story that could be moved along with rhyme, such as Chicka-Chicka Boom-Boom?
* Can rhyming add another layer to your story in a natural, organic way (not feeling out of place or forced), like Sailor Moo, Cow at Sea?
* If you story has any type of pattern in it (seasons, alphabet, counting, music) then it could likely benefit from rhyme.

Then comes the hard part. Despite what the masses think, writing in rhyme is NOT easy. I’ll say it again because I cannot say it enough. WRITING IN RHYME IS NOT EASY. It's far more than making your end lines rhyme. It takes hard work, tedious concentration and an ear for sound, plus lots of feedback. However, it can be done (just look at all the new rhyming stories on the children’s bookshelves).

In a few days, I’ll post more on how to self-edit your rhyming work.

Monday, October 1, 2007

More About Author Photos...

Here are a few more bits of wisdom I’ve come to notice in regards to author photos (you may recall my recent post on the subject)...

Snapshots: On rare occasions, snapshots have their place, but they really do belong more in the family album and not representing you as a professional writer. The problem with snapshots is that we love them because they capture a moment in time that’s special to us, but the rest of the viewers (editors, other professionals, potential book buyers) don’t get that. While a snapshot may make you feel all warm and fuzzy about that moment when you stood on the windswept cliff, all they see is your hair blowing every which way and you bundled up in so many layers that you look like a polar bear.

Amateur photos: These are better than snapshots, and when done well, can be just as effective as a professional photo. Try to use good lighting (outdoor/natural light works well), a natural look and pleasant background. Here are some things to be careful of: the busy writer hard at work at her desk, where the writer literally is lost amongst the clutter (I KNOW she’s in there somewhere!). Or, the writer/illustrator standing in the garden, but doesn’t realize that the background foliage makes it look like she has antlers or Martian antennae sticking out of her head. Remind your photographer to check the background as well as you, the subject. I recently had my husband take a picture of my in front of a blackberry bush, to promote my upcoming book, BLACKBERRY BANQUET (Sylvan Dell 2008). I made sure that the background was not dominating me. I wanted to be the standout, not the berry bush.

In addition to being aware of backgrounds that consume you, know that clothes and jewelry can do the same thing. The key—keep it simple! Simple clothing ad accessories won’t swallowed you alive. Whether you’re going for a casual look, a dressy look, or some sort of attire that ties into you book, make sure that it doesn’t overpower you.

One last comment: Don't get me wrong about fun pictures that you can use to engage your audience and give them a sense of who you are (that's where snapshots come in). Your readers, especially kids, LOVE to see a bit of your personal side.

Ahh, yes! A very fond memory for me, but would I REALLY want to use this as an author photo?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Just Too Funny

Last week, Greg Pincus pointed out to our local writing community, a YouTube videoclip that he spotted on Anastasia Suen's blog, Create-Relate. I just about rolled off my chair laughing. I had saved it and just watched it again (this will definitely be my "laugh fix" list).

For those of you who haven't seen the Mitchell and Webb clip, take a look here. If you've ever had to deal with editorial revision letters or requests, you might find this quite amusing.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

SHEEP: A Doggone Good Children's Book

Get ready, dog-lovers (especially if you’re partial to Border collies). Meet Jack. He’s a proud Border collie who was born on a farm from a long line of sheepherders. Jack’s sole purpose in life, in his mind, is to become a master sheepherder, but he had a few obstacles to overcome first.

Jack immediately paws his way into readers’ hearts with his frankness, charm and childlike curiosity. He sets his story up by letting us know that he’s had a hard life, having too many days with an empty stomach and too many nights in the rain; and on occasion, gone without a friend; but his trouble begins when a lightning strike burns down his farm. The sheep are sold off and the dogs taken to a pet store. Jack is adopted by a family, forced to suffer the humiliation of being dressed as a baby and pushed around in a stroller. When Jack can’t tolerate life with his new family any longer, he runs away in search of sheep.

In his days on the run, he meets up with a goat herder who befriends him. Herding goats isn’t the same as herding sheep, but it would do for the time. The goat herder takes care of Jack, until he passes away, when once again Jack becomes a stray in search of his life’s purpose—herding sheep.

Jack’s quest leads him to temporarily live with two con men, and then become an act in a two-bit circus, where he is mistreated by the circus owner. After being physically abused to near death, Jack manages to escape, where he meets a young orphan who lives in a nearby town. It was here that Jack ultimately finds his place in life.

Valerie Hobbs writes a well-paced, emotional story that gives readers a look at the world from a dog’s point of view. While writing in the voice of an animal isn’t new to children’s literature, Ms. Hobbs adds a distinction in choosing a breed that‘s known for its work value, bringing home the point that dogs have needs that drive their behavior.

This middle-grade children’s novel was a book nominee for the 2006 Dog Writer’s Association of America. Valerie Hobbs is the award-winning author of many children’s novels, including her latest work, DEFIANCE.
Sheep by Valerie Hobbs/ ISBN-0-374-36777-9/2006/Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Shrinking Violets Promotion

Those introverted ladies at Shrinking Violets Promotions sure know how to recognize a good title when they see one. I just found out that little old me won their most recent contest. Yippee! Oh, the joys of feeling validated! The contest was to use a book or song title and rewrite it from an introvert's perspective. What was my entry? Ahh, you must click here to find out!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Yo-Ho-Ho: It’s Talk Like a Pirate Day!

Shiver me timbers, today not only be me dad’s birthday, but tis also “Talk Like a Pirate Day!” Grab yer eye patch, put some swagger in yer step and swig down a bottle of ...hmm, this is a children’s writing site...uh, apple juice.
To celebrate, here are some of my favorite pirate-related books and movies:

How I Became a Pirate by Melinda Long.
Peter Pan by by J. M. Barrie.
Pirateology by William Captain Lubber and Dugald A. Steer.
Pirate Mom by Deborah Underwood.

Treasure Island
Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (the only one of the trilogy that's worth a pirate's weight in gold, but ah, it be a grand one at that!)

And for all ye scalliwags who need a refresher course in Pirate-speak, here be some glossaries that only be a rope’s throw away: Pirate Glossary and the Brethren of the Coast.

Now git to yer talkin' or walk the plank!

Monday, September 17, 2007


Last weekend my husband and I went to the Pantages Theatre to see WICKED. What a treat! I hadn't read the novel, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire, so all I knew was that it was the backstory to The Wizard of Oz. And what a great story it was, not to mention the acting, singing, coreography and sets. I was reminded of the flood of fractured fairy tales in the children's book market not too long ago. This was like one of those stories tenfold. If you get a chance to see it, don't pass it up. It's worth every penny.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

What’s This You Say?: A Glossary of Children’s Publishing Terms

The first SCBWI conference I attended made me realize that I had a thing or two to learn (okay, maybe more). In particular, I had to learn the lingo.

Imprint? Isn’t that what happens when you adopt a flock of ducklings and assume the role of their mother? SDT? Is that a social disease writers get when they don’t get to write often enough? And don’t even get me going on F & G’s!

I quickly learned that like any profession, field, sport, or community of people, there are certain words and terms that only those “in the know” understand. Here are a few terms that might help folks who are new to the kid-lit biz:

· Advance: Money paid to an author before the book is published. The amount of the advance must be earned back in royalties from book sales.
· Agent: Someone who acts on your behalf, selling your manuscript and negotiating your contract with the publisher.
· Antagonist: The villain of the story.
· Anthropomorphism: Giving human characteristics to animals.
· Acquisitions Editor: The editor who acquires or signs up manuscripts.
· Cover Letter: A letter sent with your manuscript to briefly explain your story and introduce yourself.
· Dummy: A manuscript that is laid out in book form, with one or two pieces of finished art.
· E-book: A book that is read only in an electronic format, instead of printed format.
· E-zine: A magazine that is read only in an electronic format, instead of printed format.
· F & G's: Folded and gathered loose sheets. The unbound pages of a finished book.
· Fiction: Writing from the imagination ("made-up" writing).
· Format: The physical appearance of a book.
· Genre: The type of writing (i.e. board book, picture book, young adult...)
· House: As in "publishing house."
· Imprint: A small, subdivision of a publishing house that usually publishes a distinct type of book(s).
· ISBN: International Standard Book Number. This gives each book a unique identification number.
· MS(S): Manuscript(s).
· Masthead: The place in a magazine where the staff is listed (usually near the front).
· Multiple/Simultaneous submission: When an author sends the same manuscript to more than one publisher at the same time. Some publishers DO NOT like this practice, therefore always check publisher's guidelines.
· Non-fiction: Factual or informational writing.
· Personification: Creating characters out of non-living objects.
· Protagonist: The hero of the story.
· Query: A letter sent to a publisher to inquire if they would be interested in reviewing your work.
· Regional publisher: A publisher who specializes in books about certain areas of the country.
· Rejection letter: A letter from the publisher declining to accept your work.
· Royalty: Money paid to an author, based on a certain percentage of the price of the book times the number of books sold.
· SASE: Self-addressed stamped envelope.
· Self-publishing: When an author publishes his own book, assuming all production and marketing costs.
· Show-Don't Tell (SDT): A common term used by editors meaning that you need to show what is happening in the story (rather than tell the reader what is happening).
· Slush pile: All of the manuscripts that a publisher receives that he did not request. It takes editors months to review the slush pile submissions.
· Unsolicited manuscript/submission: A manuscript that the publisher did not request from the author.
· Work-for-hire: When an author is paid a flat fee for their work, usually giving all rights to the publisher.
*Note: The book featured in the photo, "TheComplete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books" by Harold Underdown has an even more extensive list of terms.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

TWTF: Tigger Was The First

Early Sunday morning thought. My cat woke me at 5:00 to remind me to get up and work on my novel—and give him his morning treats—which I did, like any obedient cat slave--I mean, owner. Now, light has filtered in to my office and my left-brain is too awake to novel-write anymore, which led me to think on other things.

Yesterday I attended a “critiquenic” in Bakersfield, CA, with a group of fellow SCBWI members. We got to talking about teen-lingo and activities, such as text messaging. Someone brought up the fact that there is a book series by Lauren Myracle, called The Internet Girls. The book titles are “TTYL,” “TTFN,” and “L8R G8R” (I'll let you figure them out ;-).

On my drive home, I was thinking about this, and it occurred to me that the text-messaging thing isn’t all that new. Well yes, the means to do it is, but abbreviating words to convey messages was started long ago. By Tigger, of all people (yes, I look at Tigger as a person).

Our beloved Tigger, who was created by A.A. Milne, as one of Winnie the Pooh’s friends, and later took on an even grander life with the help of the early Disney geniuses, was ahead of his time. It was Tigger who bounced away, hollering back to his friends of The Hundred Acre Woods, “TTFN!”

What a cat! Let’s here it for Tigger, a feline well ahead of his time.


Tuesday, September 4, 2007

PEAK: A Pinnacle of Reading

I love a good adventure novel, and when I’d heard about PEAK, by Roland Smith, I had to read it. The story is about 14-year old Peak Marcello, the son of two divorced mountain climbers. When Peak is caught scaling (and tagging) a NYC skyscraper, he finds himself facing the NYC courts.

In an effort to avoid having her son serve time in juvenile detention, Peak’s mother agrees to let his absent father of seven years (and world famous mountaineer) take Peak to Thailand, where he owns a climbing company. Ah, but the plot thickens when we discover that his father has an ulterior motive. This is the catalyst that launches Peak into every serious mountain climber’s dream—to summit Mt. Everest.

I was most impressed in the story's details. Smith obviously researched this book at great depths, and I wouldn’t doubt that he's climbed a mountain or two himself (he does reside in Oregon, after all). His descriptions of high altitude climbing were thorough and informative, without feeling forced.

Like any good climb, the plot takes some interesting and unexpected twists and turns, particularly the ending (which I won’t give away here—you’ll have to read the book yourself to find out that little gem). The story has all the things that make for a great adventure: an awesome setting, human drama, tension, friendship, sacrifices, unexpected twists, heroes, a villain and a satisfying ending. I will say though, that while I loved this ending for a teen novel, I would find it unbelievable had this been this written for the adult market. Good thing that didn't happen!

PEAK by Roland Smith
ISBN 978-0-15-202417-8

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

One Writer’s Advice: Save Those Good Photos

I love so many things about being an author, but one thing that I loathe is the photo thing. A simple reality that you cannot escape is that once you have a book out, someone (most likely your publisher) is going to want a photo of you for publicity purposes.

I hate this.

You might say, “Why Terry, you’re always such an upbeat person, why the sudden negativity?” Or as my husband would say, “Honey, would you like a little cheese to go with that whine?”

Well, I’m in the process of organizing a PowerPoint presentation for the annual SCBWI Ventura/Santa Barbara Writer’s Day (click here for details), and I have to include two photos of myself. Ugh...two??? Whose big idea was this anyway? Oh, right...that would be Alexis, my regional advisor (thanks, Alexis!). But I really only have myself to blame, as I’m the coordinator so I should have come up with some clever excuse to exclude myself.

I’ve been sorting through pictures and it’s no easy task— I want something that shows what I do in my spare time (maybe catch the attention of that editor who has been looking for someone who knows a lot about backpacking or trimming cats’ claws), or do I choose one of me doing a school visit (to appeal to that person in the audience who is in charge of booking authors at his/her school), or do I pick one that shows me surrounded by my cats as I’m scribbling away on a notepad (to connect with the other writers in the audience). Now before you say, “Holy cow, Batman, that’s the longest run-on sentence I’ve ever seen!” or “You husband is right—you DO need a little cheese to go with that whine!” you must understand my frustration.

I collect photos from many other authors and illustrators for this project, and some (ahem, Mary Hershey, Val Hobbs, Lee Wardlaw, to name a few) take awesome photos! (Wait—it just occurred to me that they all live in Santa Barbara. Maybe they all use the same photographer--yes, surely that's it.). Compared to some of these other writers, I feel like I should put a bag over my head with a couple of holes for eyes. Hmm...I do have some artistic friends who could come up with a really pretty bag...

I used to think it was because I didn’t have enough selection (I was always the person shooting the pictures), but I’m finally remembering during the course of the year to take pictures of me at interesting moments. Uh...that didn’t seem to help either. Let’s face it, but there’s nothing like a picture taken by a professional photographer. And I didn’t see any this summer on Mt. St. Helen’s or on that cool whale watch I did off of Cape Cod.

So once again, I’ll harangue my poor husband into taking about 30 pictures of me so that I can find one that doesn’t make me totally cringe (until I can find a reasonable photographer that I like where I live). It’s like the old I Love Lucy episode where she and Ethel have to get pictures for their passports for Europe. They have to settle on the best one out of 100, and even at that, poor Lucy’s face is as twisted as a pretzel.

What’s my point? Save those good photos (unlike the one above)—save the posed shots, action shots, professional ones and fun snapshots. You never know when you’ll need a huge selection to find “the magic one” for the right publicity opportunity. That is, unless your Mary, Val or Lee!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Healthy Writer: It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, No—it’s a TheraCane!

I hate knots. Not as in a figure-eight loop, a fisherman’s or a square knot. I’m talking about the ones that get in my upper back and shoulders after hours of writing at the computer. But thanks to a helpful little tool I’ve discovered, I can combat those “naughty” little knots.

Meet the “TheraCane.” It looks kind of like a torture device used by Santa Claus, but it’s anything but that. You position the TheraCane to massage out knots, or “trigger points” that accumulate in your muscles from extended use (basically caused from an accumulation of lactic acid—at least that’s what my doctor tells me).

There are many ways to hold the cane to allow you to get to various parts of your back and neck, but the one shown here is the one I use the most. Another favorite way I use it is to hold the small nubby part against the notch at the base of my skull and gently massage. This helps with headache pain caused from neck strain.

To learn more about the TheraCane, click here, or Google it to find a selection of prices.

Note: This is a sharing of information from one writer to another (well, maybe quite a few others) about something that I’ve found to help me. I’m not a medical professional. Consult with your own doctor first.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

SCBWI Conference: A Night with the Queen

Pictured (left to right): Terry Pierce, Cecilia Noyes, Greg Trine, Tina Nichols Coury, Rebecca Langston-George, Yuki Yoshino, Alexis O'Neill
I had to post this picture, just for the fun of it. Every year, at the SCBWI Conference in Los Angeles, on Saturday night there is an poolside gala. Part of the festivities includes a costume contest. This year's theme was, "By the light of the silvery moon."

I was so happy when my writer friend, Tina Nichols Coury, won this year, dressed as the Silvery Moon Queen, along with her royal court, Greg Trine and Yuki Yoshino (also terrific writers and friends). If you go to Tina's blog, Tales from the Rushmore Kid, you can scroll down to see some of the details on how she created her amazing costume. Way to go, Tina!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Dessert Challenge @ GottaBook

My blog friend, Greg Pincus, has taken my comment that if he doesn’t have a favorite dessert it’s because he hasn’t tasted them all, to a challenge. He's going to make it his life's mission to find the perfect dessert and is welcoming others to joing him (a noble quest, don't you think?)I told Greg that of course, I'm willing, even though I already have a couple of favorites (yes, I’m just that good of a friend).

The best dessert I ever had was at the 1999 SCBWI Golden Kite Awards luncheon at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles. It was a work of art—a paper-thin crispy waffle-style cup, lined with dark OMG chocolate (that’s the good kind—the stuff that makes you say, “Oh My Gosh!”). Inside was thick French vanilla bean custard, drizzled with more dark chocolate. Over that, was a scattering of raspberries and blueberries, drizzled with more chocolate, and topped with whipped cream and more berries. Even the plates were artfully decorated with raspberry sauce drizzled into beautiful patterns. I think the hotel pastry chefs deserved a Golden Kite Award for their artistic achievement!

I long for that dessert...but alas, I fear I shall never have it again (my thighs are thanking me).

So here’s a challenge—how would you describe your favorite dessert? We’re all wordsmiths here—give it your best shot. Make my mouth water with your scrumptious word choices. I dare you!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

SCBWI Conference Quotes and Bits of Wisdom

Here are a few quotes and summations I gleaned from the 2007 SCBWI Summer Conference.

Arthur Levine—When talking about receiving professional criticism, he reminded us that editors understand what authors feel when waiting for a reply because they go through a kind of “response anxiety” (my term, not his) when they send out revision letters. He's always a bit eager to hear what an author thinks of his suggestions and how he/she will feel about them.

Walter Dean Meyers—“I give details on the internal landscape of a character.”

Lisa Wheeler—“Rhyme is the vehicle for telling a story... It shouldn’t become a bump in the road.”

Rubin Pfeffer—“A great book is one that sets a child off to read another book.”

John Green—“Great books do not happen by accident.”

Linda Sue Park—Revision is re-seeing the manuscript (macrochanges). Rewriting is re-writing (microchanges) by word choice, details, sentences, etc.
Roxyanne Young--The first step in revving up your PR machine is to define your audience. Who is your audience?

I also made more notes to add to my "conference tips" for next year, but that will come later--much later.
That's it for now, folks.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Oh, What a Conference It Was!

I'm pooped. Yup, that's about all this little "wordsmith" can come up with to describe how I'm feeling right now. The conference was a blast, as usual, filled with sharing of great information, meetings of like-minded folks, and general merriment. Which is why my mind is pure mush right now. Yes, my mind is like that which filled that very famous bowl in Goodnight, Moon.

I'll post a bit more on the conference later, but for now I wanted to post some other info. As the Kern County assistant coordinator on the Ventura/Santa Barbara SCBWI regional board (man, that's a mouthful), I wanted to share some upcoming SCBWI events in Kern County, CA.

Sept. 8, 2007: 10:00 AM. Critiquenic in Bakersfield, CA. Russo's Books at The Marketplace (9000 Ming Ave.). Free to members, $5 to non-members.

Jan. 12, 2008: 10:00 AM. Critiquenic in Bakersfield, CA. Russo's Books at The Marketplace (9000 Ming Ave.). Free to members, $5 to non-members.

March 29, 2008: What Mother Goose Can Teach Us About Poetry. Workshop in Bakersfield, CA, featuring children's author Ann Whitford Paul. 9:30 AM-4:30 PM. $50 members, $60 non-members.

For details on the events above, or additional info regarding other writing/illustrating events in the V/SB region, click here.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho, It's Off to the Conference I Go!

Friday morning, I'll head down to the SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles. I can't wait! It's such a blast to hang out with other folks who speak the same language as I do and really "get" what children's writing is all about (not to mention, all the super-fabulous cool things I learn).

I've got my conference flier all marked up with my faves, my new jammies packed, and have tried to pet the fur off my kitties so they won't hold my absence against me.

Hope to see you there!

Monday, July 30, 2007

Boston Rocks!

I just got back from a two-week trip to the East Coast, which included my first visit ever to New England. In my vow to keep my blog related to writing for children (and not bore people with things like what I had for lunch today), I’ll bring up two writing-related incidences—both occurring in Boston (a city which totally rocks, by the way).

First, (and shhh, don’t tell my husband this), I was on a secret mission to find the memorial statue of MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS, one of my favorite classic children’s books. I love the story and the artwork, how the monotone illustrations capture the essence of all that is “duck.” We had barely gotten off “the T” and strolled over to the Boston Common when we found it. I was delighted in watching others approach the ducks and talk about the story. Children climbed onto the Mrs. Mallard’s back and hugged her as their parents snapped off photos. Kids and adults alike talked about the plight of Mr. and Mrs. Mallard of finding the perfect home for their ducklings. It was so wonderful to have that common bond with complete strangers of a favorite children’s book—a young woman half my age, young children, parents, and grandparents. Isn't that what children's literature is all about?

The second kid-lit related incident occurred in a graveyard, of all places. We were leaving The Granary Burying Ground (where we had seen Paul Revere’s grave), when a tour guide’s voice caught my ear. “So there you have the gravesite of Mother Goose.” Huh? I spun around so hard I almost gave myself whiplash. Mother Goose’s gravesite?

While doing research for the brief history of Mother Goose, which I had to write for my MOTHER GOOSE RHYMES series, I had read about Elizabeth Foster Goose, a Bostonian woman who supposedly wrote rhymes for children. However, my research also pointed out in France in the 1600’s, there were references to "Mere L'Oye", the wife of King Robert II, who also was believed to have created stories for children. Not much later, there were British references to Mother Goose.

Interesting how some people interpret history (such as the tour guide who so solidly deemed the woman in this grave as the definitive Mother Goose). Someone once told me that history is 10% facts and 90% interpretation of those facts. Good observation. Even where dear, old Mother Goose is concerned.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Tips for Sailing Through the SCBWI Summer Conference

It’s almost that time again—the SCBWI Summer Conference is rapidly approaching. Yippee! An illustrator colleague of mine recently asked me about it, seeing how this will be her first time to attend. Since I’ve been a few times, I thought I’d offer up some tips--in no particular order of importance--just things as they randomly came to mind.

1. Take a sweater or jacket. While the hotel is lovely with the most comfortable hotel beds in the world (they don’t call them “Heavenly” for nothing), the meeting rooms and ballroom can be freezing! Of course, they can be stiflingly warm too. Take a cue from the Boy Scouts. Be prepared.

2. Predetermine your sessions. I like to determine my breakout sessions in advance, highlighting which ones pique my interest, but I also keep my ear out for other people who might have heard the same speakers in other sessions. That way, if I get a sense that the speaker doesn’t offer what I’m looking for I can change plans. I usually have a first and second choice highlighted on my conference flier. I’ve also found that it helps to read the books of the speakers you know you’ll be hearing.

3. Wear comfortable shoes. Even though we’re in the same hotel all day, there are three levels for conferencing, plus the treks to our rooms and dining opportunities. No one wants his or her piggies to be crying at the end of the day.

4. Food: IMHO, there are slim options for eating at the hotel: one nice restaurant—overpriced in my opinion, a poolside cafĂ©, and the lounge/bar. For lunch, usually there’s a sandwich cart in the hotel lobby (sandwich, chips, soda/water), except on Sunday, due to the Golden Kite Luncheon. Oh, and speaking of the Golden Kite Luncheon (or as it’s affectionately called, “the parade of chicken breasts”), the dessert is always to die for! I’ve never been disappointedJ.

For dinners, my pals and I hoof it down the street to the mall (less than ten-minutes) where there is a variety of eateries at the food court. Saturday night we nosh at the poolside gala (a fun munch and mingle kind of thing—live music and a costume contest).
The only eating issue I’ve had is on Sunday night, but what I’ve found is that room service, while a bit spendy, offers large enough portions to share with my roommate. Plus, I usually take some snacks down with me (fruit, granola bars), so there’s enough to tide me over.

I honestly don’t know much about the breakfasts, other than the muffins, etc. that I’ve seen sold at the lounge/bar. I usually bring some homemade muffins so I don’t have to waste my morning time standing in a line. Coffeemakers are provided in the rooms, plus there’s free coffee in the lobby until around 11:00 or so.

5. Bring a book bag and money--especially you book addicts. Of course, there will be books sold and after hearing all of the fabulous authors, you’ll want to buy their books. Here’s a hot tip: the “cash” line is always shorter than the “credit card” line, so if you’re comfortable with it, bring some spare cash with you (hotel rooms do have safes for locking up your valuables).
Additionally, there are usually freebies (catalogs, posters, writing guidelines from various publishers, promotional materials from authors/illustrators). Now, I have to say that “freebies” doesn’t mean taking an author’s book from the display table. Eh-hem...yes, one year I took a copy of my new joke book to proudly display and by the end of the first day, someone had stolen it. Yep, stolen it! Can you believe that? I like to imagine a child somewhere is enjoying that book, and doesn’t know that how it came to land in his hands.

6. Take care of yourself. This is a personal one, because we’re all different, but I’ve learned to allow some “down time” for myself because four days of listening, learning, schmoozing and just plain hanging out with my writer and illustrator pals is fantastically exhausting. I bring a swimsuit for the Jacuzzi. Some folks participate in the yoga class. If you read my post on getting a good night’s sleep while traveling, you know that I bring a headset with quiet music. In essence, take care of yourself! It’s so very easy to overdo it.

7. Step out of your shell (if you have one). I know this is tough for a lot of people. The second conference I attended I didn’t know a single person. It was quite intimidating. I roomed with complete strangers who also didn’t know another soul in attendance. But I immediately discovered that children’s writers are some of the friendliest people on the planet. Some of those people I met way back then have come to be my closest writing friends.
One way to break the ice with people is to notice where they’re from (it’s on the nametags they give us) and strike up a conversation about that. If you’re waiting for a session to begin, chat with the person next to you. Ask them what kind of writing they do, if they’re published. Heck, you could even ask if they’ve read any good books lately! Remember, we all have a common bond of writing/illustrating for children, so there are a many interesting things to talk about.

8. Parking: If you carpool with a friend, drop the friend and all the luggage off at the hotel front then park the car. It’s a bit of a haul to lug all your bags from the hotel to the parking structure in the back.

9. Etiquette: Please don’t shove your manuscript under a restroom stall at an editor. It makes us all look bad. Manners, manners, manners! And I’m serious.

10. Expectations. Don’t expect to come home with a book contract in hand. That just doesn’t happen. What you will come home with is 1) newfound knowledge and skills, 2) new friends/colleagues, 3) editorial hope. By this, I mean that you will have heard editor’s speak and have the hope that because you better understand their needs, your work might find a place with them. However, this takes time—time for you to go home and re-evaluate your work (now that you have this newfound knowledge), time to further polish it (newfound skills), time to compose a well-thought out cover letter, and time for the editor to read it. That’s your hope ;-)

BTW, I know that other conference vets will be addressing this same topic, so please check them all out to insure that you’ll have a great time. Gregory P. mentioned that he‘d be posting something, and Shrinking Violets Promotions has already posted Conference Survival Tips on their site (June 24, ’07).

Enjoy and happy conferencing!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


This morning I was doing some marketing research and surfed to the Picture Window Books website. To my delight, right there on their home page was my recent book series, MOTHER GOOSE RHYMES.

Why the honor of being featured on their homepage when they published over 200 books on their spring list? Well, it seems that the series was not only a finalist in the Association of Educational Publishers Golden Lamp Award, but it also named a 2007 Winner of the Distinguised Achievement Award (by their definition, "The Distinguished Achievement Awards honor the top products within the categories of Curriculum, Periodicals, and Professional Development. The finalists are evaluated on traits such as efficacy, usability, and educational value.").

What an unexpected surprise--time for a little Snoopy dancing!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

TRAVEL TIPS Part 2: Staying Safe When You Venture Out to Play

Part 2: The Nitty Gritty of Staying Safe


12. Your best weapon is YOU! Listen to your “inner-voice” (not your inner-editor who is always nagging you about word choice and plot structure), but that “inner-voice” that senses danger. This voice is important. Listen to it, whether it’s whispering, “Uh-oh” or screaming, “Run!”

One year I attended the SCBWI Summer conference in Los Angeles. It was Monday afternoon and I was exhausted. My head was effervescing with information and ideas as I made my way to my car. I stepped onto the parking lot elevator, hit the button, all while jostling a suitcase, my water pillow and two over-stuffed book bags. The door was inching shut when a hand shot through to stop it. A young man dressed in scruffy clothes slid inside.

My inner voice said, Uh-oh! Not a good situation. I thought about my first preventive step: projection. I looked him directly in the eye, puffed up with an “attitude” and said, “How’s it going?” in my strongest "tough girl" voice. I then shifted my keys (remember—I always take them out in the lobby) to a position where they became a weapon. The man smiled, nodded and took a quick glance at my keys. Of course, chances are he had no ill intentions, but at that moment, all I wanted was to project an attitude of “Don’t mess with me!” I didn’t care if I came off as slightly paranoid or even if I offended him a bit. When it comes to my safety, social graces go out the door (in this case, the elevator door).

13. Keys. Holding your keys with the sharp end turned out will transform them into a weapon (just make sure you don't slip your fingers through the key ring). A gouge to the face or eye could buy you the opportunity to get away.

14. Shoes. Shoes are a great weapon, especially if used by surprise. If someone grabbed you from behind, scrape the outside edge of your soul down the attacker’s shin or use your heel to stomp on his foot--HARD.

15. Your knees. It almost seems redundant to say this, but we all know the power of the knee. One strong thrust to the groan could save your life.


16. What if you still find yourself in the grasp of an assailant who's pulling you into an isolated area? Resist and yell “Fire!” (not “Help!” Sadly, people are not as likely to respond). This grabs people’s attention and that’s the last thing a predator wants. The more you resist, the higher your chances of survival.

17. Do whatever it takes to prevent an attacker from taking you to a secondary location. Secondary locations are where the worst case scenarios occur. Even if you're thrown in a car trunk, kick out a tailight panel and try to signal for help.

Writing and illustrating is a solitary profession, but we do get to come out and play occasionally. And just like on the schoolyard playground, not everyone plays nice all the time. So whether you’re attending a conference, doing a book tour or school visits, always remember to play it safe when traveling alone.

Bon voyage!

TRAVEL TIPS: Staying Safe When You Venture Out to Play

To keep things managable, this is the first to a two-part article that I wrote on keeping yourself self. As a former black belt who assisted with women's self-defense seminars, I thought this might be of interest to anyone who attends conferences, retreats, weekend workshops, etc.

Part 1: Staying Safe

Writing is a solitary profession, but there are those occasional times when I clap with excitement, kick off my bunny slippers, don a nice dress and attend a conference.

I love conferences—I schmooze, swap ideas, listen and learn. Attending conferences is like chicken soup for my career, but venturing out does one thing that I’m not accustomed to— traveling alone.

While others are heading off to their daily jobs in the “real world”, I (like many other writers) am heating up the coffee and settling into my writing chair. It’s easy for me to forget basic safety rules that others take for granted, so here are some tips I think we should all keep in mind whenever we venture out to play:


1. How do you project yourself? Men who prey on women are predators and will scope out their victims in search of someone who appears to be an easy target. Do you walk tall, make direct eye contact with people and keep aware of your surroundings? Or do you appear timid, look at the ground and have your mind elsewhere?


2. Carpool, if possible.

3. If renting a car, request either a car near the rental building or ask a security guard to escort you to your vehicle.

4. Park in a well-lit location where people are present.

5. Have your cell phone readily available.

6. Have your keys ready before you approach your car. I always take my keys out while I’m in the hotel lobby to 1) avoid fumbling around in my purse for them while at my vehicle, and 2) having them ready for use as a possible weapon (more on that later).


7. Never accept an isolated room.

8. Always use the security door locks and brace the door, if necessary. One year I roomed with a writer who shared with me that the night before, when she stayed in the room alone, she braced the door with a desk. Smart lady!

9. Just like Mom taught you, only answer the door if you know who’s there.

10. Bring a flashlight and keep it on your nightstand.

11. If you stay out late to schmooze or do a critique session, stick with your writer companions, but if you do happen to end up alone in the hotel lounge or restaurant, wait for others to leave so you can walk out with them.

(Part 2 will be posted later this week)

Sunday, July 8, 2007

The Pacific Northwest: Back from Vacation!

Ahh, Oregon. My home away from home. I just returned from an extensive stay in the Evergreen State. It’s beautiful, it’s down-to-earth and it’s the birthplace of Blackberry Banquet . Blackberry bushes are everywhere in the Pacific Northwest. They’re actually a highly invasive plant, seen as an annoyance by many, but in a few weeks, the delicate white flowers will have all disappeared and made way for the plump, juicy, melt-in-your-mouth sweet sensation that only comes from a blackberry fresh off the bush. Ahh, Oregon!

I took my camera for photographing pictures for future inspiration. I took many walks and bike rides to do “that ruminating thing” that writers must do for their creative spirit (that was how Blackberry Banquet came about, after all). Going to Oregon is like dipping my writing spirit into the well of creativity. Perhaps because I spent part of my childhood in the Pacific Northwest, perhaps because it’s so very different from my desert home. Or perhaps there’s a magic in The Pacific Northwest that lends itself to folks like us. Ah, Oregon!