Tuesday, October 30, 2007

My Name! On Book Covers!

Well, until I'm published, this will have to do.

I picked this meme up a while ago from the Trinity Prep School blog.

Here’s how it works: Go to the "Advanced Book Search" feature on Amazon, type your name into the "Title" field and select "Children's Books" for the subject field. Click "Search" and see what comes up.

I did this for both my first and last names. Here are the two I liked best of the ones that popped up on the first page:

I adore that Acorn book ... in fact, I bought it a few years ago for my niece. The next generation of Acorns!

Want to see your name on a book cover?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Report from the Registrar, er, Attendee

What a day! My alarm rang at 5:45 a.m. Saturday. As registrar, I needed to get to the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI Fall Conference early!


Sorry, I started that story at the wrong place, according to Australian author Jen McVeity, whose talk on "Five Minute Fast Starts" showed how jump-starting your book with an action scene (and not with your main character getting out of bed) can pull the reader into the story right away.

So, let me try again...

"Ha! Waah! Yikes!"

Keynote Speaker Bruce Coville advised attendees at the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI Fall Conference to make sure their stories contain one of each of these three key ingredients. The "ha" is a belly laugh. The "waah" is a tear. And the "yikes" is a moment of shock.

Better? Better. I hope Jen would be proud.

Now, since I have no idea how to continue my "story" analogy for this report, I am going to switch instead to a bulleted list of conference highlights. BTW, once again, I left my camera at home. Sigh. Please imagine lots of beautiful, smiling faces as you read this.

  • Editor Bonnie Bader's handouts. She provided the first drafts of some of Grosset & Dunlap's best-known books, along with the resulting editorial letters, revisions and final versions. Can't wait to go through them with a fine-tooth comb and learn everything I can from the mistakes of some writers who are much more talented than I! One thing I took away from that session: The words, "This is a great start" in an editorial letter actually mean, "We've got some work to do!"
  • The aforementioned Jen McVeity's writing exercises. Jen put us to work. Our assignments: (1) Write intriguing first sentences, and (2) Incorporate body language and description into our dialogue tags. My takeaway: In stressful situations, 87 percent of communication is via body language and tone of voice.
  • Author Bruce Coville's presentation. Yes, the entire presentation. The man is an actor and clearly loves to talk about writing for kids. These two facts combine to create a pretty wonderful speech. My favorite part (aside from "Ha! Waah! Yikes!"): Coville posited that Harry Potter had so many fans because of J.K. Rowling's "CTPP Index," the number of Cool Things Per Page. Especially in fantasy, the more you can load up on cool stuff, the more fun your story will be.
  • The honest look at the realities of publishing explored during the first-time authors and editors panel. A few notable insights: (1) Sometimes a story can be well written and compelling but will not be acquired because the editor and/or the house simply do not think it is sufficiently marketable. Depressing, but true. (2) Houses don't pay that much attention to bad reviews, because (with the possible exception of the School Library Journal), they don't tend to have much effect on sales. And (3) Editors are just as nervous about writing and sending revision letters as authors are about receiving them. Who knew?
  • Agent Alyssa Eisner Henken's refreshing honesty regarding how much she enjoys TV. I love people who proudly admit to watching a lot of TV! Anyway, to make this relevant to writing ... Alyssa compared the query letter to the fashionable but conservative business suits often recommended by Stacy and Clinton on "What Not to Wear." Don't try to get fancy or cute. Just write a straight query and let your writing and your story idea speak for themselves.
  • My manuscript critique. The wonderful Laura Arnold of HarperCollins Children's was most encouraging and had some exciting (albeit frightening) suggestions for taking my mystery to the next level.
  • The book sale and signing. At last I got to meet the lovely and talented Sara Lewis Holmes, who signed my copy of Letters from Rapunzel. Sara worked with Laura Arnold on the book, and the two of them created something truly special.
  • Working at the registration desk. I put this last, but it was a real highlight for me as it gave me an opportunity to meet so many wonderful writers and illustrators. A terrific group dedicated to bringing messages of compassion, concern, joy and hope to kids.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Report from the Registrar, Part II

Just three days until the SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Conference, and ... we've sold out, folks! We can only take 225 registrants (fire marshal's rules and all), and we have reached that number, plus a waiting list of a dozen or so.

Things are going to get a bit hectic around here the next few days, what with the printing and the proofing of 225 name badges, so the blogging will taper a bit (hah! as if I'm the Queen of Regular Blogging!). Of course, my post-Conference entry will be to die for (or if not to die for, certainly to suffer mightily for, or maybe at least to ache a bit for).

BTW, for the first Report from the Registrar, you can go here.

Looking forward to a terrific event, and hope to see you bright and early Saturday morning!

Monday, October 22, 2007

It's a Start, Part IV

Welcome once again to "It's a Start," in which we take the first sentence (or so) of five kids books plucked randomly off the Acorn bookshelves. To see installment I - III of this feature, go here. Note: Maximum # of stars = 5.

My name is Reed Walton. I'm seventeen years old, I live in New Jersey, and I've never had a girlfriend. The Girlfriend Project, by Robin Friedman.

The sentences are short and sweet (as teen boys' sentences often tend to be) ... and they get right to the point of the book. Between the title and this quick self-introduction, we can surmise that we're going to watch poor Reed try to hook up with Girlfriend No. 1. Gotta keep reading to find out how this turns out. Stars: ****

Once upon a time there was a pair of pants. They were an essential kind of pants - jeans, naturally, blue but not that stiff, new blue that you see so often on the first day of school. They were a soft, changeable blue with a little extra fading at the knees and the seat and white wavelets at the cuffs. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, by Ann Brasheres.

A few notable things about the start of the prologue to this series: (1) "Once upon a time..." tells us right off the bat we need to suspend our disbelief a bit for this book; (2) we know the pants are going to play a large role in it ... so much so, in fact, that Ann goes out of her way here to make sure we like them and feel "comfortable" with them; and (3) the voice comes across as clear as a bell in these few sentences. Stars: ***

If you think it's hard keeping track of all the Steps in my life, try being me. The Steps are the bazillion stepbrothers, stepsisters, and half siblings my parents keep laying on me. The Steps, by Rachel Cohn.

I like the voice here, and we learn right away where the title comes from and what it means. Also, we can guess that at least a few of those Steps are going to be a cause of conflict for our narrator. I did find that first sentence slightly confusing, though. Does she mean it's even harder for her to keep track of all the Steps than it is for us? Or that it's even harder to be her than to keep track of her Steps? (It may very well just be me, so if anyone has a better take on that sentence, please let me know.) Stars: **

Willa lingered around the water spigot as long as she could, wishing she had somewhere else to go but back home. The Miner's Daughter, by Gretchen Moran Laskas.

The name "Willa" and the fact that she is standing at a water spigot (and not one located in her kitchen or bathroom) gives us the immediate sense that this is a period piece. And, it introduces conflict and a question: Why doesn't she want to go back home? Stars: ****

It's a funny thing about names. Some are long, some are short, some mean something, others don't; but everyone and everything has one, or two or three. Little Dumpling Fish had four names. The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel), by Ellen Raskin.

Typical Raskin. We know names are going to play an important role in this mystery. We are introduced to a character named, um, Little Dumpling Fish. And we are told that she (he?) has four names. (And in case you're wondering whether "Little Dumpling Fish" counts as one or two or three of those names, the answer is two. "Little Dumpling" and "Fish" are two of her four names.) Weird, wild, wonderful. Stars: ****

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Matthew Cordell: Fuzzy Ears and All!

What a pleasure to "cap off" the first full week of blog posts for the Robert's Snow snowflake benefit auction with this feature of Matthew Cordell's darling contribution, "Snow Caps."

First, the snowflake:

Check out the front:

And the back:

Next, the bio:

Matthew Cordell
is an illustrator of children's literature, newspapers, magazines, and many things in between. Though he spent most of his life in small town South Carolina, in 1999 he migrated midwest to set up shop in Chicago. It was there that he met his soon-to-be bride, his passion for children's books and deep-dish pizza.

Matthew's children's books include: Toby and the Snowflakes, Righty and Lefty, and The Moon is La Luna. Currently he is working hard on forthcoming picture books with Candlewick and Feiwel and Friends. Matthew now lives in the burbs of Chicago with his exceptional wife, picture book author and YA novelist Julie Halpern, and their squeezably soft Siamese cat, Tobin.

And, the self-portrait:

Julie Halpern and Matthew Cordell (as illustrated by Matthew):

Now, onto the Q&A:

What inspired you to pursue a career in illustration? And why for kids?

Well, I've always been an artist. As I got older and was forced to start thinking about a career, I knew it had to be one in art. For a good chunk of time in my early adult life, I wandered a little trying to decide where, artistically, to put my focus. I'd developed a real passion for graphic design as well as fine art, so I figured I would be in it for life down one (or both) of those roads. But when I began achieving success in art and in design, I started to realize that neither was what I actually wanted.

My wife, Julie Halpern, is a writer and had written a picture book story called Toby and the Snowflakes. And she had me in mind as the illustrator for her story - something we could collaborate on and then try to get published. At first, I put it off (for about a year!).

But as I got more and more bummed about design and art, the idea of Toby started to sound very appealing. Of course, it was exciting to work on something with Julie, but there was also a lot of potential there that I hadn't taken the time to see before. This would be a much-needed new audience for me - children with hopeful and fresh perspectives (not as jaded, anyway, as some of us adults!). And if it worked, I could delve into a new industry, too, in children's publishing. So after all that procrastination, I finally went over to the drawing board and came up with a handful of drawings to accompany Julie's manuscript and a proposal to send out to 20 or so children's book publishers.

After a series of both form and personally encouraging rejection letters, it looked as though Toby might not happen. But finally, Julie received a very encouraging e-mail from an editor expressing an interest in Julie's and my combined efforts. In the fall of 2004, Toby and the Snowflakes was published by Houghton Mifflin and this set forth a very thrilling and rewarding career for me in illustrating books for children. I couldn't be happier with the reception I've gotten from this very warm and encouraging industry (editors and art directors, librarians and teachers, and kids alike).

Why did you decide to participate in the Robert's Snow fund-raiser?

I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I hadn't heard about Robert's Snow until this year. Julie, also a librarian and Internet sleuth, had of course heard of the project and saw an online call for illustrators for this year's group. Once I learned more, I really wanted to take part. Many of us have been affected personally by the grief and tragedy of cancer. The Robert's Snow project is such an excellent way to raise money for the cause and a fun and easy way for the children's lit industry and industry lovers to get involved. I'm honored to be given the opportunity to participate.

Why did you decide to illustrate your snowflake the way you did?

I can't survive winter without a good winter hat (my ears are screaming if I leave them at the mercy of a winter wind). And there are a lot of great hat styles to choose from, so I figured I'd try and show as many as possible. That's how the series of kids in their "snow caps" came about.

What's your favorite thing about snow?

My favorite thing about snow is how it completely changes the existing landscape. Winter, to me, can be pretty gloomy at times with the lack of sunlight and the extreme cold. To wake up and see a fresh blanket of snowfall totally changing the way the trees, the ground, the houses and the cars look - it always gives me a boost.

They say there are no two snowflakes alike. Name something that makes you different from anyone else on Earth.

I'd have to say it's my unusually fuzzy ears. I mean, I've seen guys with hair on their ears before, but nothing like what I'm capable of. My ear hair will grow crazy long (if I let it) but it's a soft, light-colored variety of hair so it's not particularly obvious or grotesque (I like to think). Julie likes the soft, downy feel, but I keep it trimmed to maintain appearances. Hey, maybe it's a defense mechanism against these bitter Chicagoland winters.

And finally, the pitch:

Matthew Cordell's "Snow Caps" will be put up for bid in an online auction November 26-30. To check out the other snowflakes and illustrators featured on kid lit blogs this week, see the sidebar at the right of your screen. For a complete schedule of the snowflake auctions and to learn how you can purchase a unique piece of art while also supporting a good cause, head on over to the Robert's Snow site now!

Update: I just received an email from someone (actually, Matthew himself!) and the pictures are not uploading for him. I'm not sure how to fix this as they seem to be uploading for others; however, since the pictures of the snowflakes are kinda the point of this post, I beg you, if you cannot see them, to visit this page and check out the fourth entry in the list (click on the snowflakes to see the larger view). And visit Matthew's Web site to see the self-portrait and much more of his artwork. I will try to figure out the problem and get it fixed; in the meantime, if anyone else is having problems, please leave me a comment so I can see how widespread this is. Sorry for any inconvenience!

Update to the Update: I think (thanks to my husband, Joe) we've fixed the problem. Though the layout isn't quite as pretty as before, at least the graphics should be showing up for everyone. If you still can't see them, go here, where DH has recreated the entire post on his own blog for me.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Versatility of Acorns

Just a quick post today to urge you to visit Plastic Pumpkins and check out how versatile little acorns can be. Note especially the exquisite acorn pin. I have a feeling I know what Mom Acorn is getting for Christmas this year!

Also, don't forget to check out the gorgeous snowflakes being featured for the Robert's Snow benefit auction. This week's schedule of illustrators and their respective blog features can be found on my sidebar.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Snowed In!

Today marks the kick-off of the Kid Lit Blogger World's Mega Promo Campaign on behalf of Robert's Snow: for Cancer's Cure.

Each day, several bloggers will feature snowflakes custom-designed by a group of 150+ fabulous children's book illustrators, to be auctioned off later this year. The schedule for this week's Robert's Snow features can be found on the sidebar to the right. (The astute observer might note that Sunday's slate includes a feature right here on this very blog ... and what a feature it will be! Matthew Cordell is an amazing artist and a funny guy.)

Please go check out each of today's fabulous snowflakes, and take a minute to visit the Robert's Snow site to find out how you can purchase a unique piece of art and contribute to a great cause!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Report from Rutgers One-on-One

The Rutgers One-on-One Conference yesterday brought together about 90 writers and 90 published authors, agents and editors for a full day of educational sessions and mentoring. I was paired up with Meredith Mundy Wasinger, a senior editor at Sterling Publishing and a truly lovely person.

(Side rant here: I forgot my camera! I did get a shot of Meredith with my phone but as yet have not figured out how to get it from my phone onto my computer.)

According to the conference organizers, the competition to get into the event was tough ... about 250 writers applied for mentee spots ... and they regretted having to turn away so many, including some whose writing samples were very high quality, but they simply did not have enough mentors to take more.

Here were some of the highlights for me:

  1. My one-on-one session with Meredith was so encouraging and helpful ... she gave me a real "aha" moment when she suggested describing my story's setting - and my main character's reactions to that setting - as a way to evoke her internal thoughts and personality more. (My story is told in first-person POV.) It can be tough to describe setting and also to examine a character's personality when writing in first person, but exploring her reactions to the setting can effectively do both. I'm looking forward to playing around with that.
  2. I met Laura Arnold from HarperCollins, who will be critiquing a manuscript for me in a couple of weeks for the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI Fall Conference. Laura is sweet and smart, and I am even more excited now to get her feedback on my submission.
  3. Tom Yezerski's talk reminded me that, though I have a long way to go with my writing, I need to occasionally take the time to appreciate how far I've come. Though I didn't write down the exact quote, he said something along the lines of "No matter how you define success, whether it be winning the Newbery or writing one really good paragraph ...." Yes, sometimes writing one strong paragraph is a reward in itself!
  4. Both Betsy Bird and Nadia Cornier gave some valuable advice re: blogging. Betsy said you want to reveal enough about your personality, thoughts, etc., on your blog to give visitors the sense that they know you (and therefore want to continue to come visit you), but you also want to maintain some sense of mystery about yourself and your work. Interesting! Nadia and a number of the other editors and agents I spoke with told me they definitely Google people whose work they are considering representing or buying and visit their blogs. So watch what you blog about! Nadia told the story of one prospective client who blogged for days about how she hadn't completed her manuscript yet and needed to hurry up and finish it because she had led Nadia to believe it was ready. Nadia has a great sense of humor, so she was more amused than upset at this ... but still!
  5. Betsy Bird handed out a list of "Blogs to Watch" and on the very short list (six to be exact) of Author/Illustrator Blogs was one of my personal favs: Sam Riddleburger's!
  6. Ann M. Martin gave the keynote. There was some dispute as to whether she has written 400 titles (as was reported in her introduction) or 250 titles (as she had in her own notes). And she's only in her early 50s! Astounding!
  7. Last, but certainly not least, was getting to know my two carpool buddies, Sydney and Laurie, and meeting so many wonderful children's writers from all over the country, especially those of you whom I've met online through the message boards and through your blogs.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Alex and the Ironic Gentleman:
From Warm to Hot to Downright Scalding

They say if your main character is having a good time, your reader isn’t. In other words, no one wants to read about happy people. You have to throw your character into hot water and keep her there.

For someone whose real-life conflict-avoidance meter seems stuck on “High,” this is not always easy. I like my main character. I don’t want her to get in trouble.

Folks like me can learn a lot from Adrienne Kress and her amazing adventure story, Alex and the Ironic Gentleman.

Alex (short for Alexandra) gets into one sticky situation after another in her quest to find a hidden treasure. And those sticky situations tend to turn into major misfortunes, which somehow morph into catastrophic calamities. And this happens over and over and over throughout the book.

Two examples:

(1) After being captured and abused by the sadistic Daughters of the Founding Fathers’ Preservation Society, Alex makes an escape attempt. The reader is so relieved. Enough of those old biddies and their cruelty! Alex has found an opportunity to make her getaway and has seized it!

Sometimes our bodies do things without our instructing them to. So it was that, in this case, Alex found her body running toward the door to the room, flinging it open, and racing down the hall to the grand stairwell.

Wonderful! Except...

Only when her body reached the front entrance did it decide to relinquish control over Alex and wait patiently for her to tell it what to do next. This was an unfortunate turn of events because, in this brief transition of power, Alex found herself rooted to the spot, giving Poppy and Rose ample time to catch up to her.

Poppy sneered at her as she grabbed Alex by the shoulder. Then Rose pinned Alex’s arms roughly behind her, and the two of them dragged Alex back to the staff room.

Turns out the torturous captivity has just begun for our poor heroine. The water is about to go from hot to scalding for her.

(2) Many calamities later in the story, we find Alex trying to reason with an angry and violent Extremely Ginormous Octopus on behalf of a movie director named Steve. (If you’re wondering what the heck octopi and movies have to do with finding hidden treasure, well, you’ll have to read the book.) Anyway, after much flailing of tentacles and breaking of windows, followed by some brilliant negotiations on Alex’s part, we are rewarded with a scene of calm and victory … a welcome respite for the conflict avoiders among us:

Steve nodded and smiled. It was only when he did that that Alex realized she had never seen him do it before. He suddenly seemed like a normal person. And she smiled back. And then the Exremely Ginormous Octopus smiled too.

But by now, we should know better ...

And then the door of the pub exploded off its hinges in the most violent and destructive way possible.

… so we’re off to the next sticky situation, which of course will deteriorate into a major misfortune, only to collapse into a catastrophic calamity.

Yes, when it comes to getting a character into hot water – and keeping her there – few can rise to the challenge as skillfully as Adrienne Kress. Nicely done!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Fun in the Sun ... or Not

Sorry the blog is so quiet this week. I'm hard at work here in paradise ... at Fantasy Springs Resort in Palm Springs. Long, tiring and very hot days, but I must say the free evenings with their desert breezes are to die for! I'll be here a few more days, so please forgive the light postings!

Am reading the funny-yet-suspenseful Alex and the Ironic Gentleman in my spare time, so you can expect a review next week.

In the meantime, a few funny Google hits this week:

  • my friend is like a rainbow
  • lie nuts
  • cow poop soccer game
  • husband pleasing wife with rubbing techniques

Er, the poor guy (gal?) searching for that last topic definitely came to the wrong blog. Or else that R rating should be changed to NC-17.