Friday, February 27, 2009

Advice to Editors & Agents

Don't you love it when a voice rises from the everyday noise of life and speaks to your heart?

Alice Pope hosted a guest post by author Hope Vestergaard this week. Hope has some advice for editors and agents, which I found to be quite refreshing. I've often wondered why, in a business that requires a joint effort from editors, agents, authors and illustrators, all too frequently there seems to be an imbalance in the standard operating procedures, particularly in regards to marketing and submissions. Hope has done a nice job of explaining that all parties should be respectful, play nice and remember to use their manners. Click here to read her post.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Tricks of the Trade: Fooling Yourself

I’m working on a manuscript right now that is getting to the point where I’m losing my objectivity. You know the types—the ones you’ve revised so much that you can recite it word for word in your sleep. I know it needs more work, yet I’m starting to feel stagnant with taking it further. I hate it when this happens. It's like riding a bike up a hill and you're almost to the top, but quickly running out of steam.

What’s a writer to do when this happens? Here is where I dig deep and pull out my “bag o’ tricks” and trick myself into seeing things differently. I know it goes against common sense. If I know I’m trying to fool myself, how can I fool myself? Who knows? Who cares? All that matters is that this works--at least for me. Once I’ve dummied out my story and had it critiqued by my writer’s group until they’re sick of it, I resort to the following.

Pull out the highlighters. I go through my manuscript and highlight the adjectives and adverbs. Once I’m finished, I go back and figure out how I can eliminate them by using stronger nouns and verbs. This not only reduces word count, but it also strengthens the writing.

Pull out the tape recorder. There’s nothing quite listening to your tape-recorded story. The language “glitches” stand out like Mt. Everest. Problems with the flow and your page turns go under the microscope when you listen to them on tape. I’ll find myself saying, “How did I NOT catch that before?” I end up making corrections as I'm recording and when I listen to it play back.

Change locations. Reading my story in another location helps too. Outside works very well, if the weather cooperates. But even moving into another room, or standing while reading the story aloud helps (walking while reading a rhyming story is essential). Reading the story somewhere new somehow helps me to experience my work in a fresh way.

What do all of these things accomplish? They force you to see things in a different light, which gives you the opportunity to improve your work for the ka-zillionth time and move it one more step closer to being ready for publication. All tedious, but all worth it!

Happy writing!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Editorial Anonymous Publishing Definitions

Check out Editorial Anonymous's blog posts she's got going on. She giving some publishing definitions that are quite informative. We hear these terms a lot, but sometimes don't understand what they are exactly.

Thanks E.A.!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Book Review: Mercy Watson Thinks Like a Pig

Mercy Watson Thinks Like a Pig is the fifth easy reader that made it to the 2009 CYBILS Finals.

Elderly sisters Baby and Eugenia Lincoln live next door to the Watsons, owners of the title character, Mercy. The grumpy Eugenia Lincoln decides the sisters need to beautify their yard, planting pansies along the garden edge. Mercy smells something delightful coming from next door and finds the freshly planted treats. Later, when Eugenia decides to take stock of their hard work, she finds her flowers missing except for a few petals left on Mercy’s chin!

The chase is on as Eugenia takes off after Mercy. Baby alerts the Watsons of Mercy’s actions so Mrs. Watson decides to call Mercy in for some hot buttered toast. Eugenia is irate and calls Animal Control. Baby calls the Watsons again and warns them of the “Unmentionable Horror” that is on its way.

In the meantime, Mercy’s other neighbors, kids Stella and Frank, invite her to a tea party. Of course, Mercy can’t resist the offer of cake, cream and other scrumptious goodies, but is later disappointed when she finds that it’s all pretend. While this is happening, Animal Control Officer Francine Poulet makes her way to the Watson home. Her effort to capture Mercy ends when she accidentally falls from a tree onto the imaginary tea party.

Mercy’s clueless owners, the Watsons, hail Officer Poulet a hero for finding their dear Mercy, and treat the entire neighborhood to a hot buttered toast party.

Kate DiCamillo adds another title to her successful Mercy Watson series. Chris VanDusen’s charming and colorful artwork adds to the appeal of this fluent reader. This is a solid story for kids who are still reading easy readers, but are ready to take on multiple chapters and a more complicated plot.

Mercy Watson Thinks Like a Pig by Kate DiCamillo/Illustrated by Chris VanDusen/ISBN-10: 0763632651/2008/Candlewick.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Book Review: Maybelle Goes to Tea

Okay, I have to admit that when I realized this story was about a cockroach my toes curled. A cockroach? Are you kiddin’ me? Ugh. Memories of my college housing flooded my mind. But as a CYBILS judge, I had to read what was put before me. So I read on. And to my delight, I loved this story. It was totally hilarious.

Maybelle, the pink-bowed cockroach, lives at 19 Grand Street where everything is JUST SO. The Peabodys are absolutely positive there are no bugs at their house. This is because Maybelle always behaves herself and follows The Rules: When its light, stay out of sight; if you’re spied, better hide; and never meet with human feet. Life is fine and proper for Maybelle until Maurice, a rather large fly, comes into the house. In her attempts to get him out of the house, the bugs are discovered and chaos ensues. Ultimately, Maybelle learns that even if you do behave, life is full of surprises.

Katie Speck uses an unusual subject as a main character to give a unique perspective of what life could be like for those critters that hide from human eyes. The story is full of action and humor that will have kids turning the pages. With its pen drawings and thirteen chapters, this is a fun early chapter book (IMHO, a bit advanced to be classified as a traditional easy reader).

So, pour yourselves a spot of Earl Grey, pull out the scones and settle down for a fun read with your child and join Maybelle as she goes to tea.

Maybelle Goes to Tea by Katie Speck/ISBN-13: 978-0-8050-8093-3/2008/Henry Holt

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Book Review: Houndsley and Catina

This charming easy reader was another finalist for the 2009 CYBILS Awards.

Houndsley (a dog) and Catina (a cat) are two best friends who see the best in each other. Catina dreams of being a famous author. Houndsley is a wonderful cook. But what happens when each friend is faced with telling the other that things aren’t as good as they think? How does one be honest without hurting feelings?

Catina writes a seventy-four chapter memoir, which Houndsley feels is horrible. Catina convinces Houndsley to enter a cooking contest where his nerves get the best of him and not only does he undercook the rice, but also forgets to put the beans in this Three-Bean Chili. In the end, Houndsley figures out that cooking for the mere pleasure of cooking is enough, and Catina admits that she doesn’t like to write. Houndsley suggests that she could be famous for being something else. Food and fame aside, the friends relish in the quiet joy that comes from true friendship.

James Howe writes a tale of two friends with a charming quality that is sure to please. Marie-Louise Gay’s gentle watercolor illustrations add to the cozy, snuggle-down feeling of the story that took me back to the days of Frog and Toad. This 48-paged story would be a delight for an early reader who is ready to take on smaller text and more words per page than an emergent reader.

Houndsley and Catina by James Howe/Illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay/ ISBN-10: 0763624047/2006/Candlewick.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Book Review: I Will Surprise My Friend!

This story was another finalist in the 2009 CYBILS easy reader category.

I WILL SURPRISE MY FRIEND! is a delightful surprise. The humor is laugh-out-loud terrific as Mo Willems once again creates a fun scenario involving two young friends. It begins when Gerald and Piggie observe two squirrels playing “Surprise!” from behind a rock (jumping out at each for a fun scare). The lead characters want to have the same kind of fun, so they find a big rock to hide behind. The only problem is that they each are expecting the other to do the surprising. As they wait for the surprise, time passes and concerns grow. Where is Gerald? Where is Piggie? Their imaginations and hungry tummies take control until they each decide to leap from behind the rock and...well, you can just imagine their surprise!

This is another delightful story in the Elephant & Piggie series by author/illustrator Mo Willems. The simple illustrations assist in telling this high-action story and Willems again shows a knack for capturing perfect facial expressions. I should note however, that while the text appears to be extremely simple for an emergent reader, it does have quite a few difficult words for a beginning reader to work through (i.e., “idea, giant, scary, save”) so I would recommend that new readers have an adult nearby for guidance.

I Will Surprise My Friend! by Mo Willems/ISBN 978-142310962-4/2008/Hyperion Books for Children.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Book Review: I Love My New Toy!

This easy reader is easy to love and the winner of the 2009 CYBILS!

In a humorous storyline that all youngsters can relate to, Piggie gets a new toy and his best friend Gerald wants to plays with it. But as things can happen with young children, an accident occurs and the toy is thought to be broken. Piggie is upset and shows an array of emotions, ultimately ending with both friends in tears. It’s not until a squirrel appears and notices Piggie’s "cool" new toy that is meant to break apart and snap back together. Piggie and Gerald both realize their mistake. In a gesture of kindness, Piggie offers his toy to Gerald, but Gerald decides that friends are more fun than toys.

Author/illustrator Mo Willems has created another fun story in I LOVE MY NEW TOY! In traditional Willems’ style, the illustrations are simple, humorous and assist the child in following the story. The text includes many sight words, phonetic words and repetition to assist a beginning reader. My only caution for parents is that there are some difficult words for an emergent reader to determine (such as “idea” or “break”) but a nearby adult could certainly help with that.

Congratulations to Mo Willems for creating I LOVE MY NEW TOY! Winner of the 2009 CYBILS Easy Reader Category.

I Love My New Toy! by Mo Willems/ISBN 978-142310961-7/2008/Hyperion Books for Children.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

2009 CYBILS Posted!

The 2009 CYBILS Winners are now posted. Click here to see the complete list.

In the upcoming week, I'm going to post a review of each of the Easy Reader Finalists, so stay tuned.

Congratulations to all the winners!

Happy Valentine's Day!

Because I never try to take anything too seriously, here are some Valentine's Day riddles:

What do cats send on Valentine's Day?
Love litters.

What's it called when two fish are sweet on each other?
Guppy love.

How did the elephant and the ant start dating?
It began as a crush.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Synopsis Writing

Chuck Sambuchino, editor of the Guide to Literary Agents wrote an interesting bit of advice on synopsis writing this week on his blog (scroll down a bit to get to the synopsis part, but do read the other entries too--lots of great info).

I never knew there was a formula for determining the length of a synopsis, but I think it's a great way to start summarizing your story and get you headed towards creating a 1-2 page synopsis (which seems to be the current requested length). Eventually, by honing it all down, you might even compose that dreaded 1-2 sentence "elevator" pitch (frankly, the thought of that makes me cringe--actually pitching my work to an editor in an elevator! I know it's done, and maybe even expected, but to this introvert who follows the "manners-manners-manners" rule, it just doesn't sit right).

And speaking of synopsis writing, for anyone interested, the Ventura/Santa Barbara SCBWI region is having a workshop in Bakersfield, CA on March 7, 2009, titled "Taking the Pain Out of Writing Synopses and Queries." Click HERE for details.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

I Wish...

On my last post, I mentioned Wish Poems. Here's one that I want to share with you. It was written by a third-grader.

I Wish...

I wish I had a diamond, shiny and sparkly.
I wish I had an emerald, all beautiful and green.
I wish I had a sapphire, a pretty shade of blue.
I wish I wish for all these things
but all I really need is you.

Written by Ella, 3rd grade.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Greetings from Oregon!

Just thought I'd pop in to say that I'm in Oregon this week doing a three-day school visit at Bryom Elementary in Tualatin. I just finished Day Two of my visit and I have to say--WOW--these kids are amazing! Not only are the Byrom students polite, friendly and energetic, but their writing samples from the writing workshops I've been doing with them have shown their creative talents. From story writing, to poetry, to jokes, these kids have a knack for the written word. Today I heard some fabulous "Wish Poems" from a group of third graders. Try this with your students/children. Have them write a poem (no rhyming) where each line begins with, "I wish...". This simple sentence starter unlocks their imaginations to so many things for which they could wish.

And I've totally enjoyed reading my books to the students, but have especially had fun reading Blackberry Banquet, since it really was "born" in Oregon while I was berry picking one morning. These kids appreciate a good blackberry story!

Happy reading and writing!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

SCBWI Mid-Winter Conference Blog

I'm not kidding, if you haven't visited the SCBWI Mid-Winter Conference Blog, you must! Read the post below this one to find out more. I just finished reading the conference posts and Oh-My-Gosh, it's fabulous! And yes, I'm still in my fuzzy slippers :-)

Alice Pope is doing an amazing job of summarizing the speaker's words of wisdom. Her fingers must be burning from all that typing!

Really, you must read it. Now. Go ahead. Trust me.