Friday, March 30, 2007

Friday Funnies: KidLit Folks Jokes

Here are a couple of funny jokes (okay--funny to me, and please bear with me if you’ve already heard them).

How many editors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
Two. One to unscrew the old bulb and another other one to write it a rejection letter.

A hundred children’s book illustrators walk into a bar.
The bartender says, “Sorry, we don’t serve children’s book illustrators.”
The illustrators said, “Are you trying to give us the brush-off?”

A hundred young adult writers walk into a bar.
The bartender says, “Sorry, we don’t serve young adult writers here.”
The writers said, “Word!”

No cyber tomato throwing, please! Would you like to share a joke of your own? Please do so with a comment. After all, we're heading into National Humor Month this weekend!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Staying Connected

Yesterday I attended a Ventura/Santa Barbara SCBWI Workshop in Bakersfield, "Finding and Capturing an Agent", with guest speaker Erin Murphy. As usual, Ms. Murphy was very personable and shared her terrific insights on being an agent. I love speakers who make you feel like you're sitting at the kitchen table (or Starbucks), chatting over a cup of coffee--and Ms. Murphy does just that.

The other great thing about the day was the "connection factor" that comes with attending writing events. I love meeting new members, putting faces with my cyber-friends (via our listserve) and of course, seeing my old friends. This is just as valuable to me as any other part of the day. I wanted to jump up and cheer when Ms. Murphy complimented my friends' writing and I loved seeing the faces of people when they heard her say positive things about their work. There's nothing like being validated, especially in this business. It's simply uplifting!

Friday, March 23, 2007

FRIDAY FUNNIES: Bits O’ Sage Advice

It’s time to reach out and share, folks. Let’s see how many bits of sage advice we can brainstorm. Even if you’re new to this business, I’m sure you’ve already learned a thing or two, and goodness knows the plethora of knowledge our more experienced writers possess.

I’ll start the list with a few bits o’ wisdom, beginning with my number one rule. Please add more to the list by posting a comment. And don’t be greedy, folks. You know that the more you give, the more you receive.

1. Never rely on spell-chick (its bin known two make sum misteaks).
2. Never follow an editor into a restroom stall.
3. Never write your initials + editor’s initials on the outside of your envelope, such as, TP + LF = ♥
4. Never expect to seal a deal with your witty repartee. Speaking face to face with an editor or agent has been known to cause writers to spontaneously grow a second tongue and subsequently choke on it.
5. Never begin your query letter with:
Dear Editor,
If you love Dr. Seuss, you’re going to love this even more!

Okay, folks. Come on, now. What bits o' advice would you like to share?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Five Things That Give Me Goosebumps

1. Creepy movies--not gorey, chop up the stupid teenagers, don't-go-in-there-alone movies, but the creepy kind that pull you in then BAM! Make you jump out of your seat (i.e., "What Lies Beneath" with Harrison Ford).

2. Hearing Yanni live in concert. His music makes causes me to "chair dance," "aisle dance," cry, laugh and definitely gives me goosebumps.

3. Sleeping at 10 below zero in the mountains. 'Nuf said.

4. Reading authors like Richard Peck and Graham Salisbury.

5. Getting an email message from my Random House editor (a phenomenal editor, BTW) telling me that my easy reader, Tae Kwon Do! has been named one of The Best Children’s Books of the Year for 2007 by the Children’s Book Committee at the Bank Street College of Education. Hearing that news (only my second "list" ever) not only gave me goosebumps, it made me do a little chair dance as well :-).

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Wednesday Wordplay Switches to Friday Funnies

Okay, I've discovered that my Wednesday Wordplays were turning more to humor posts that actual wordplays (not that wordplays aren't funny--sometimes they're just plain fun). Therefore, I'm switching things up a bit. From now one, I'm going to feature a humorous post on Fridays. Why Fridays? Well, I like the alliteration factor of "Friday Funnies" plus it's the end of the week when everyone could use a good laugh as we gear up for the weekend.

So, here is my farewell send-off to Wordplay Wednesdays:

Change one word of a book title to create a humorous new title (See? There I go again with the humor). Here are a few possibilities by some of my favorite authors (okay, I admit it, they're also my friends):

The Recess Queen (by Alexis O'Neill) becomes The Recess Sardine.
101 Ways to Bug Your Teacher (by Lee Wardlaw) becomes 101 Ways to Bug Your Preacher.
Sleepy Me (by Marni McGee) becomes Creepy Me.

If you want to post a comment with your own titles (and yes, please toot your own horn), I'd love to hear from you. Otherwise, I'll see you on Friday!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Rejections Part II: Don't Let 'Em Drive You Crazy

Rejection letters are a popular topic to discuss amongst writers. So many aspects to cover—how to cope with them, what they mean, what to do with them, which room to wallpaper with them... They can drive you crazy!

When I first started writing--no, submitting--a wise writer at an SCBWI conference (whose name escapes me) said, “There are different kinds of rejections.” She further explained that moving up the ‘rejection ladder’ is a good thing. My husband says I’m nuts for being happy over a rejection letter. Well, first off, I’m never happy to get a rejection letter. Period. But certain letters do initiate a feeling of encouragement in me. And that’s what I look for. Is there something in that letter that I can gain (something for the next submission or something as simple as feeling encouraged about my work). What is the positive aspect of that letter? How can it help me?

Here’s what I’ve learned about rejection letters (what I prefer to call “letters of decline”) in climbing the rejection ladder:

1) Bottom rung: A form letter. Usually comes on a piece of paper so small that you wonder why they even bothered (although I applaud their efforts in saving paper and helping the environment). Not much to learn from here, except that if you accumulate a few of these for the same body of work, you need to go back, seriously review your work, and revise.

2) 2nd rung: Form letter with your name inserted. The positive aspect: They got your name right and you know it was indeed your ms they passed on. Same as above: if you get a lot of these on the same material, seriously review and revise. Seriously.

3) 3rd rung: Form letter with a handwritten word or two scribbled somewhere on the page, such as “Nice work” or “Not quite.” Positive aspect: A busy editor took the time to give you some encouragement. You’re doing something right!

4) 4th rung: Typed letter that includes a specific reference to your ms, such as, “Thank you for considering us for THE ABCS OF DESERT ANIMALS.” The letter might even have comments such as, “While your descriptions of the desert are quite lovely...” Positive aspect: This editor took the time to give you comments. Your work has something that piqued his/her interest. Advice: Put the letter away for a week or so, then go back and read it again. Try to understand what he/she meant (this can be tough with phrases like, “Too slight” or “A sense of disconnect.”

5) 5th rung: A personal letter that includes specific suggestions for improving your work. Positive aspect: This editor liked your work but for some reason had to decline it. As in #4 above, put away, go back later, and re-read (when you’re less emotional about it).

6) 6th rung: A personal letter with revision suggestions and a request to see your work after the revisions. Positive aspect: You have his/her attention. THIS IS GOLD! Take your time to do the revisions. Don’t rush. Editors expect you to take your time in making revisions.

7) 7th rung: An acceptance letter. An acceptance usually comes in the form of a phone call, but occasionally it comes via a letter. Congratulations! Only 1% of the thousands of annual submissions receive a personal response from an editor, and of those responses, only 1% are acceptances, so this is a fantastic accomplishment.

So there you have it. My take on the rejection ladder. And you might wonder which room I wallpaper with my many, many, many rejections (see photo). I don’t. I put them in a folder (by year) labeled, “Learning Experiences.”

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Greatest Goofiest Jokes Meets Mt. Rushmore

Where do famous presidents sleep soundly?
Mount Rush-snore.

Okay, that one was for Tina Nichols Coury, author of the upcoming picture book, HANGING OFF JEFFERSON'S NOSE. Tina is one of those kidlit folks that I'm jealous of (but in a nice way). She does amazing illustrations AND she can write. A double-talent! She took a trip to Mt. Rushmore a few years ago and became fascinated with it. Her passion and enthusiam resulted in her upcoming book. Her blog has tons of info on Mt. Rushmore, art and all kinds of cool things. Speaking of which...

Tina was kind enough to interview me for her blog. For anyone interested--and I know there are millions...perhaps billions of you :-} -- mosey on over to her site for a look.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Wordplay Wednesday: New Celebrity Imprint

Have you heard about the new vanity imprint, “Pipedream Divas: Celebrities Who Think They Can Write.” The three CEOs are Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan. Word has it that the company will release its first list as soon as all three CEOs are simultaneously out of rehab (no release date can be determined at this point). The company has released the titles of its first three books:

The Runaway Panties by Britney Spears
Goldilocks and the Three DUIs by Paris Hilton
The Power of Getting High and Lucky by Lindsay Lohan

Company officials (that would be Ms. Hilton’s Chihuahua and Ms. Spear’s barber) are asking for possible ideas for future books.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

And for All of You Introverts...

Authors Mary Hershey and Robin LaFevers have a great new blog, Shrinking Violets Promotions, for those of us who consider ourselves as introverts. Definitely check it out.

What I find so intriguing about their site is that when I read about it, I immediately--with no hesitation--thought, YEA! Something for us shy folks. If you know me, you might laugh at that comment, but the fact is, I used to be deathly shy as a child. I've worked hard my entire adult life at overcoming it but it's still a part of me, so I'm looking forward to visiting their site often.

The number one fear of most Americans is public speaking and the number two fear is death. I think they've picked a winning idea. Way to go, ladies!

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Wordplay Wednesday: Celebrity Books

A couple of years ago, I created a fun list of potential celebrity-written books. I did this mainly to vent my frustrations over these often poorly-written, self-absorbed, drivel-ridden wastes of paper that litter bookshelves (save the “indies”). As it turned out, Alexis O’Neill (my SCBWI regional advisor) wanted to print the list in the Spring '04 issue of KiteTales.

Here are some samples:

A Tinkle in Time: Toilet Training by Dr. Phil.
Charlotte’s World Wide Web by Bill Gates.
Green Hair and a Ham by Dennis Rodman.
The Runaway Money: Explaining the National Deficit by George W. Bush
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, It Better Be Low-Carb by Dr. Robert C. Atkins

You get the idea. Now it’s your turn! Tell me what your favorite potential celebrity-written book would be.

Happy Writing!

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The Rocky Road of Writing for Children (Rejections, Part 1)

Last weekend my husband and I took a drive up the Alabama Hills, near Lone Pine, CA. If you’ve never been to this area, it’s known for three things:

1) It’s the gateway to Mt. Whitney (the highest point in the lower 48 states, at 14,496.811 feet).
2) The nearby Alabama Hills (where almost every ambush scene from every spaghetti western ever made was filmed).
3) The Lone Pine earthquake of 1872 (where the eastern Sierra was uplifted ten feet in one shot, which all but decimated the town of Lone Pine).

I went there with my husband to learn how to use my new camera. There’s nothing like the Sierras for great photo-ops. After scouring the Alabama Hills we drove up to Whitney Portal (where the road ends and real hikers are tested). As we wound our way up the road, we had to weave our way through a sea of fallen rocks. Time and weather naturally wears away at the landscape. And that got me to thinking...

I love rocks. I always have. Their textures, colors, weights, shapes and unique properties have always fascinated me. I even squeal in excitement when I discover an interesting specimen. Okay, maybe that’s just a weird thing to know about me, but this will relate to writing. I promise.

Winding up that road to Whitney Portal, I realized that the rocks scattered amongst the road were a little like rejection letters. Initially, both are seen as big old obstacles, but if you take a close look at them, they have something to offer—a beautiful treasure worth discovering. Are there shining crystals or a revision suggestion or two? A texture to run your fingers over or a tone that expresses hope and encouragement? Was there a shower of rocks or one humongous boulder that landed with a crash? Some rejection letters are like the latter, casting the writer into a mountain of self-doubt. But once you pry the dang thing off and take a hard look at it, you realize that there was a good reason for you to be right there, at that exact moment in time, for that boulder to fall on you. Blessings come in all kinds of disguises.

I’ve had showers of rejections trickle down on me, but I’ve only had an occasional rejection boulder land on me—and it hurts! But thanks to my circle of writing friends (AKA, Search and Rescue), I survived it and once again continued my journey down the road of writing for children.

Safe journeys to weary travelers & Watch for Falling Rocks!

Friday, March 2, 2007

Alice Pope's Blog

I'm fairly new to blogging, but I'm finding that one of my favorite blogs is that of Alice Pope (Alice is the editor of the "Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market"--the bible for children's writers and illustrators).

Just this week Ms. Pope posted a couple of outstanding links on her blog. She posted a tantalizing teaser for her new book "The Guide to Literary Agents" and yesterday she gave a link to an NPR interview with Susan Patron (author of Newbery Winner, "The Higher Power of Lucky."

You really should check them out!

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Easy Readers: The Bridge to Successful Reading

Okay folks, I’m warning you—I’m getting on my soapbox about easy readers (which I will refer to as EZs, because...well, I don’t feel like typing it out).

EZ readers are that little genre of book where you learned to read. Remember, “See Spot run.” (I know I just dated myself). These books carry children over the bridge from dependent reading (having picture books read to them) to independent reading (reading chapter books on their own). I believe this is the MOST important genre in literature because it is here that children learn to either embrace or avoid reading. It’s also the most overlooked and endangered genre in children’s literature, in this author’s opinion.

How? Sadly, the industry itself often overlooks this genre. The next time you come across a children’s writing contest, look at the categories. They’re typically: Young Adult, Middle Grade, Picture Book, and either Poetry or Non-Fiction. I say “typically” because I’m fortunate that my regional SCBWI chapter includes an “Easy Reader/Chapter Book” category in their annual writing contest for our regional Writer’s Day. Many children’s writing contests do not.

What about awards for published books? Again, the categories are usually the same. With the exception of the ALA's Theodore Geisel Award, and the Gryphon Award, EZs are generally not recognized in the awards arena—even though this is what most K-2 children are reading. Have we forgotten to honor books for this age group? Are these books any less important?

Getting to the matter of endangerment, let’s look at what’s happening to the genre itself. In today’s trade market, more and more of these books are about licensed characters (I could wallpaper my office with rejection letters that say, “We are moving our easy reader line toward licensed characters.”). Now, don’t get me wrong—I like Mickey Mouse just as much as the next girl. However, when an editor turns down a carefully crafted manuscript (one that considers a child’s reading needs according to his age, grade and ability) to leave room for yet another version of Spiderman or Sponge Bob Square Pants, I have to question what's happening.

Many licensed character books don't seem to be written with a child’s reading needs in mind. This is just wrong. In fact, often children’s writers do not write these books at all. Rather, they’re written “in-house,” meaning editorial staff determines the storyline and the staff then assigns the project to a regular (in-house) writer or an editor. I have no problem with this process--IF the books are well written. Too many times, I’ve picked up licensed character books and found words that are too difficult for a child to read, difficult words that don’t match the illustrations, or too much text for a young child to tackle.

The bottom line for publishing houses may mean big sales (we do live in a pop-culture society), but for the child, the result can be frustration. And when a child is frustrated, he often gives up. Is this really what we want? Of course not. We want children to love reading. As children's literature professionals, it is our duty and our responsibility to create books that will help children cross the EZ reader bridge with success.

(Please scroll down to see my recommended reading list for Easy Readers--on the right side)