Thursday, January 29, 2009

Keep Abreast of Conference News Without Leaving Your Fuzzy Slippers

Want to go to the SCBWI Mid-Winter Conference but you just can't make it? Well, have no fear. Thanks to the wonders of internet technology you can keep abreast of all the action without ever having to leave your fuzzy slippers.

The SCBWI is on Twitter and will posted regular updates on conference happenings. Just click here to see it!

Alice Pope, editor of the Children's Writers and Illustrator's Market Guide, will be blogging live on the The Official SCBWI 10th Annual New York Conference Blog.

Alice will be posting on Twitter too. Just click here!

How cool is this for folks who can't make the trek to NYC this year! Happy conference surfing!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Pint-sized interviews that leave you smiling.
RUTA RIMAS has been at HarperCollins since 2007, and with Balzer + Bray since the imprint’s inception. She has done the following: taught math to Brooklyn teenagers; valet-parked cars in Chicago; waited tables with marinara sauce on her forehead (for a whole shift! And no one told her….); worked at a Hallmark store, doing nothing but answering questions about collectible figures; travelled to Lithuania; and fallen out of a tree in Central Park. She lives in Brooklyn, with her ever-patient boyfriend, and a pride of cats.

How do you define your role as a children’s book editor at Balzer & Bray?
I am an acquiring editor, looking for picture books, middle-grade, and YA. While my bosses have edited fantastic chapter book series, I tend to shy away from that age range. Can’t really tell you why, other than those books are just not up my alley—which is a tad bizarre, as the 1980s Ruta enjoyed reading chapter books, very much so. Go figure.

My role is to be the champion of my authors/illustrators, through every step of the process. From our Balzer + Bray team meetings, to the oft scary Acquisitions meetings with sales, to Cover Strategy meetings, and our seasonal launch meetings, I advocate, advocate, advocate. And then, I advocate some more.

I also assist Donna Bray–editorially and administratively. What this means to you: If you have sent a manuscript to Donna, I’ve seen it!

We know that all editors are looking for well-written stories, but could you summarize your specific taste in books and which kinds of stories usually catch your attention (or possibly send you fleeing down the hallway ;-)?
My taste in books...Well, it has to be something that moves me—in a humorous way, in a touching way, in a thought-provoking way…

I’m not a known crier (with the exception of watching a high-profile couple dancing to AT LAST on January 20th) but if I read a book and it moves me to tears, it’s a winner!

Perhaps a list of “Books-that-have-moved-me” will help to define my specific taste:

Picture Books:
Seriously hilarious. I laugh each time I read this.

HARRY AND HORSIE by Katie Van Camp; picture by Lincoln Agnew
A Balzer + Bray launch book (Fall 2009). The art, oh the art! Just amazing. So new, so fresh, so great!

Middle Grade:
MANIAC MAGEE by Jerry Spinelli
Love the voice. Love the story. From a master of the middle grade novel.

Groundbreaking. So clever.

A Balzer + Bray launch book (Fall 2009). Incredibly new, fantastic idea: the main character can heal people, take the pain,and then shift the pain to another. Zowie!

This book just rules, in so many ways. It’s smart, it’s funny, and it’s thought-provoking. One of my absolute all-time favorites.

THE AFTER by Amy Huntley
Another Balzer + Bray debut (Fall 2009). This one made me cry. Like a baby. Plus, I loooooved that the author used a non-linear structure. That is fresh.

No words, really, can describe this masterpiece. It is flawless.

I’d like to point out that three out of the six books on the Balzer + Bray launch list are debut authors. That’s right: HALF! How exciting! And, I am so sorry, but you will have to wait until September to get your hands on the titles…unless you are fortunate enough to score an ARC!

I will send an almost 100% guaranteed NO to the following:
Rhyming picture books
Overly cute picture books
Picture books that condescend to children
Didactic books, all ages
Preachy books, all ages
Books with inconsistent narrative, all ages (a sign, to me, of amateurish writing)
Books with wizards, all ages
Books with vampires, werewolves, zombies, all ages (would be willing to bend this rule for picture books, but it has to be great!)

What is your favorite children’s joke?
Not kidding…I love this one:

Q: Why does Santa Claus have a garden?
A: So he can ho, ho, ho!

And, for those with sustainable reading skills, who can appreciate the following when told orally, and, well, can deal with the fact that this is not *quite* for children, this one is a close second favorite. Bear with me…

A piece of string walks into a bar. He sits down and says, “Bartender. Gimmee a beer.”
The bartender looks at him and says, “I’m not serving a piece of string! Get outta here!”
So the piece of string leaves.

He spots a guy on the street and says, “Psst. Hey buddy! I need you to tie me in a knot!” The guy looks around, and, though confused, ties the piece of string into a knot.

Another guy walks by and the piece of string whispers, “Psst. Hey buddy! I need you to fray my ends a bit.” The guy looks around, shrugs his shoulders, and frays the string’s ends.

So the piece of string walks back into the bar, sits down and says,” Bartender! Gimmee a beer!”
The bartender looks at him and says, “Hey. Aren’t you the SAME piece of string I just told to leave?”

The piece of string looks the bartender straight in the eyes and shakes his head. “No, man. I’m a frayed knot (afraid knot).”

Thank you so much, Ruta!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Check These Out!

Don't you love Google Alerts? I don't have time to peruse all the fabulous blogs out there in cyberland, but with Google Alerts, I can be notified if my name happens to pop up on one. Well, this morning I found my blog address on Cynthea Liu's blog, "It's a Spin Thing." Cynthea has posted a ginormous list of children's book editors interviews and blogs (inlcuding my Mini-View with Meredith Mundy Wasinger). Definitely----check-it-out!

And while you're in the mood to read cool things about the kids' book biz, check out Stephanie Ruble's interview with Sara Dobie, public relations dynamo at Sylvan Dell Publishing. As usual, Sara has great advice regarding publicity and how authors can work to promote their books (after reading her interview, I just realized that I don't have my website address listed on my blog--for shame! I know what I'm doing next).

Happy reading!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Picture Book Retreat

Oh, what a weekend it was! I attended the Ventura/Santa Barbara SCBWI Picture Book Revision retreat last weekend and wow, did I have a great time! I met four fabulous editors (stay tuned for Mini-Views in the next few weeks) from Peachtree Publishing, Candlewick, FS & G, and Balzer & Bray. My head is still spinning from input on my work, writing in general, creativity, socializing and making general merriment (our regional advisor likes to keep us busy and aren't writers and illustrators fun folks to hang out with?).

I even learned a new word, I'm a bit shy to admit. "Meta-fictional: fiction which refers to or takes as its subject fictional writing and its conventions" (Webster). In other words, when one of my characters is blown out of the book, THAT'S metafictional. I had no idea, but gosh, I love it when I learn something new!

Here's a photo of me with two of my favorite blog buddies, Tina Nichols Coury and Jill Corcoran. Please check out their blogs. I'm sure Tina will have a video of the retreat posted on hers soon and Jill always has terrific, informative posts on writing.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Ideas for School Visit Writing Activities

Check out this post on Jill Corcoran's blog. Jill talks about school visits and gives concrete lessons for writing activities to do with students. Jill is an award-winning poet, so naturally her focus is on poetry!

Monday, January 12, 2009

How to Make Bear-Shaped Cookies

My recent book, Blackberry Banquet, is a terrific spring and summer title, but that doesn't mean it has to hibernate for the winter.

I recently saw this video on how to make bear-shaped cookie pops! It's a fun, kid-friendly cooking project from the Betty Crocker's Kids Cook cookbook. IMHO, it's a great activity to do with kids in combination with reading Blackberry Banquet. Mmm...imagine your warm, cozy kitchen, the smell of cookies sweetening the air, as you and your child read Blackberry Banquet together. There just isn't a better winter indoor treat than a good book with a yummy snack.

And if you do this during berry season, you could even use fresh berries as part of the decorations--a berry bow tie, a littel berry juice drizzled on the mouth, a berry nose, whatever. Get cookie! I mean, get kooky!

Happy reading and eating!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Critiquing 101: Hamburgers and Acronyms

I was at a manuscript revision retreat once and before we got started, a new writer privately said to me, “I have no idea how to critique someone’s work. I’m completely new at this. I don’t know what to say!” Well, I’m heading down to another revision retreat in a few days, and this lovely person’s remarks came back to me. Which is why I want to talk about critiquing.

When I attend SCBWI “critiquenics” (what the Los Angeles chapter termed their events in the park where they brought food and did critiques—critiquenics—a cross between a critique and a picnic), we follow what we call the hamburger method (and no, not all critiquing involves food, although it does make some comments go down a little easier).

The hamburger method starts with the bottom bun—saying what we liked about the story, and naming specifics—everything from big picture items like plot, characterization, structure, dialogue, etc. to the little things like specific word choices, scene descriptions, etc.

Next comes the meat—suggestions for improvement. We talk about any specific questions or concerns we might have and offer up revision suggestions. Again, this could be big picture items like above, or specific ones (although if the big picture items are way off, there’s not much point to making small stuff suggestions because they’ll likely get changed in the big picture revisions anyway). This is the material that a writer needs to focus on to improve his work so it’s important, albeit sometimes painful, to hear.

And last comes the top bun (complete with sesame seeds!)—an overall view of the story’s best features. In other words, ending on a positive note by sharing what is working well. This is just as important as the meat of the critique, because a writer needs to know what NOT to change and as well as what to change. For example, the writer did a nice job of creating a likable character. The writer had fabulous scene descriptions that really “put us there.” The plot was intriguing and made us want to read on.

Another critique method I love to use is one I learned from Kathleen Duey when I heard her speak years ago. She said it's as simple as remembering “B-C-D.” This works great for anyone who has never done critiques. I even use this when I read my unpublished work to students and I want their opinion. Yes, it’s so simple even a kid can do it (not to undermine kids—they’re pretty sharp when it comes to ms critiques).

Okay, B-C-D. It’s an acronym. B stands for Bored. Are there any places in the story where you’re getting bored? If so, then the plot is dragging, the action has slowed or the dialogue is going on too long. Revisions are needed.

C is for Confused. Are there any places that are confusing to you? If so, this means that the writer needs to clarify what he’s written. Maybe he’s assumed a certain knowledge on the part of his audience that isn’t there. Maybe he’s covered things too quickly and not explained what’s happening well enough. Whatever the problem, he needs to re-read with a fresh eye and revise.

And last is D, or Don’t believe it. Are there any parts of the story that you don’t believe or just don’t buy? If your readers won’t believe it, then you’ve lost their trust. This means back to the keyboard. Now, it’s understood that with certain genres (fantasy, sci-fi, amongst others) there will be certain aspects that will be out of the realm of reality, but even with these, the story reality still has to be believable. For example, you can’t have a story about a unicorn that at the end of the story suddenly bites people and sucks their blood (okay, bad example, but you get the idea). Or have a reality-based story about a cat that halfway through the story begins to talk. The writer must lay the groundwork for these things to happen—otherwise, it’s not believable.

Regardless of how long you’ve been writing, you’re still a reader and have reactions to someone’s work. And as far as reading children’s stories, we were all children at one time. So, don’t be afraid to dive into a manuscript and offer up your opinion! You never know what that one little bit of advice or opinion will do for another writer's work.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Happy New Year

Happy new year, everyone! While I took a two-week break to spend time with my family for the holidays, some folks stayed busy (and I'm not talking about elves here--well, let's call them cyber-elves). So, here are a couple of things to announce:

First, the finalists for the CYBILS Awards have been posted. Congratulations to all of the authors and illustrators whose books made it to the final phase! Click here to see the complete list (winners will be announced mid-February).

Second, Jill Corcoran has been posting some links to terrific writing tips on her blog. To see Jill's blog, click here.

More good things to come later, but for now, I have GOT to climb out from under the pile of stuff that has accumulated on my desk for the past two weeks...