Published

The Maggie Project is published the first of each month.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Maggie Project

The Maggie Project (but not the blog) has come to a close.  I’ve achieved my goal:  I’ve submitted my picture book manuscript to 30 publishers and 15 agents, and I’ve entered it into five contests.  Though I’ve received rejections, the book has earned 3 awards and has earned positive feedback. 

Here’s the lesson.  Fiction is subjective.  It’s a personal taste whether an agent or an editor is going to like it or not.  I believe however, that writing and submitting Maggie and the First Grade Blues has not been a waste of time.  It’s helped me to improve my writing (character, voice, and plot) and to get in touch with agents I feel that one day may offer me representation.   It's helped me plant a stepping stone along the path to publication. 

I will continue to blog:  offering writing advice, reviewing books, giving details of my writing life, and sponsoring guest blogs.  I hope you will continue to follow and contribute.  The blog may be re-named.  Stay posted!  My sincere thanks goes out to all of my supporters.  I urge you all to continue to write, to submit to publishers even in the face of rejection, and to forever follow your dreams. 




Monday, December 19, 2011

Writer's News



photo by Lucas
Maggie and the First Grade Blues has been sent to thirty editors and fifteen agents. Though I've received positive comments and feedback, I've yet to find an interested editor or agent.  Here are the latest results:

I received no word from Sterling or KRBY creations.  Dancing with Bears Publishing editor sent me an email saying that the call for picture books is temporarily closed due to an enormous amount of submissions. 

I had little success with agents.  I received no reply from Paul Rodeen or from Jessica Sinsheimer from Writeoncon.  However, Red Fox Literary agent Karen Grencik sent a very nice email saying:

"I've now had the chance to read this outstanding manuscript, which I enjoyed very much. I can see why it has won so many awards. It is fresh, heartfelt, and it covers an important topic. It is the picture book you were meant to write."  She goes on to say that "The picture book market is so incredibly difficult right now. I don't know who would be the right editor for this; I must pass.” 

Her feedback, as well as encouraging comments from others, is rare and precious.  Nonetheless, I must put Maggie on the back burner.  I have written another picture book that I feel more passionate about and will focus my efforts on this project.  Please stay tuned for more on this new project and on the future direction of this blog. 












Monday, December 12, 2011

The Sounds of Silence

You write an article, submit it to an editor, wait two to three months, and then...never receive a reply.  Has this ever happened to you?

As a writer, I make every attempt to pitch my articles professionally. Most of the time, I’ve been blessed with acceptances.  But occasionally, I get no response, not a word from an editor.  Oh, the silent rejection.  Granted, many editors have adopted the policy that no word means no thank you.  But I can’t help but wonder—Did an editor actually read my submission or is my submission lost in cyber-space?    

From the SCBWI Bulletin:
SCBWI President Stephen Mooser and Executive Director Lin Oliver feel that “Surely in this age of auto-response and other electronically sophisticated means, a quick and easy response click is readily available and would mean a great deal to writers who are trying to conduct their careers in a businesslike way.”

At least, I’m not alone.  Other (more important) people feel the way I do when it comes to responding to a submission.

After the waiting period, it is acceptable to send a follow-up letter to inquire about the submission.  Recently, I did just that.  In fact, an editor replied that my work was being considering for publication.  But a few more months passed.  No response.      

Writers must face the cold, hard facts: 
No word after the standard 2 - 3 months  = (usually in most cases) rejection.   

But don't let that discourage you.  Find other markets.  Keep submitting.  Persevere.




Monday, December 5, 2011

The Waiting Game

You submitted an article to a children’s magazine. You’ve waited a month and no reply.  But you’re dying of curiosity.  Did the editor receive your submission?  If so, does she like it?  What is taking her so long to make a publication decision?

It can take up to five months before an author receives word of an acceptance at Stories for Children While other publications state in their guidelines that reviewing submissions take eight to twelve weeks, notification can drag on for a longer period of time if the work is being seriously considered for publication.  And again, we’re talking months.

Waiting to hear back from an editor can be agonizing.  What can you do?  Re-read the contributor’s guidelines.  Sometimes, an editor will modify them throughout the year.  The publishing house may have changed their submission policy.  However, if you have waited the specified amount of time as indicated, I would encourage you to send a follow-up email.  Keep the message short and mention the title and the date of your submission.  Politely ask the editor if she’s made a decision on your manuscript.

Here are some things you can do during the waiting period:
Start a new article.
Catch up on reading writer's magazines and newsletters.
Write posts for your blog.
Read books on the craft of writing.
Work on a piece for a writing contest.

Writers must be patient.  Waiting is part of the writing life.  Stay positive and stay busy as you play the waiting game.     

Monday, November 28, 2011

Mary Tudor, "Bloody Mary"



Gretchen Mauer shares the backstory of her book:

Mary Tudor, “Bloody Mary” is one of six biographies written for 9 to 13-year-olds in the series, The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Dastardly Dames. Out of the six women in the series, I was most interested in writing about Mary Tudor, the first reigning queen of England, because to me she had the most brutal-sounding nickname. I wanted to learn more about why and how she earned it, and whether or not she deserved it. I also wanted to gain a deeper understanding of what her childhood was like, and what if any good she did for the people of England.

Mary Tudor, a devout Catholic, was the first woman to be in charge of all major decisions in England. She ruled from 1553-1558, during a brutal time in history when all European rulers had blood on their hands, including her father, King Henry VIII, and her sister, who ruled after her, Queen Elizabeth.
As soon as Mary became queen, she acted on her mission to bring all people in England back to the Catholic Church. She believed, like many other Catholics at the time, that Protestants would go directly to hell after they died and remain there forever. Moreover, she felt that if she did not bring all people in England back to the Catholic Church, society would fall apart. Friends would turn on friends, neighbors on neighbors. She encouraged Protestants to recant, but if they refused, she ordered their executions. Throughout her five-year reign, she burned 284 Protestants at the stake.
Mary Tudor, ‘"Bloody Mary" tells about how Mary Tudor came to power (her childhood was not short on jaw-dropping drama), how she used her power, and why. It’s definitely a book that makes you think. It puts the information out there, the good and the bad, and leaves the reader to decide whether or not Mary Tudor deserved her nickname, "Bloody Mary." Was she was a product of her time, a wicked woman at heart, or a little bit of both?
You can contact Gretchen at gretmau@yahoo.com.  More information about her book can be found on her publisher’s website at http://goosebottombooks.com/site/BookDetail_s2b3.php, or my Mary Tudor Facebook book page at http://www.facebook.com/MaryTudorBloodyMary.]



Monday, November 21, 2011

Meet Author Jewel Kats

Stories for Children Publishing is touring author Jewel Kats and her two children’s books, Cinderella’s Magical Wheelchair and What Do Use to Help Your Body?
Jewel Kats is an award-winning writer. She’s also one tough cookie. At the age of nine, Jewel endured a car accident. Her physical abilities altered forever. She spent weeks in the Hospital for Sick Children recovering, has survived eight leg surgeries, and currently walks with a cane. (Note: It’s fashionably handpainted!) Nothing stops Jewel. For six years, she penned a syndicated teen advice column for Scripps-Howard News Service and TorStar Syndication Services. Jewel has earned $20,000 in scholarships from Global Television Network and Harlequin Enterprises Ltd. She’s penned three children’s books, including: Reena’s Bollywood Dream, What Do You Use to Help Your Body? and her latest book Cinderella’s Magical Wheelchair.
Cinderella’s Magical Wheelchair
In a Kingdom far, far away lives Cinderella. As expected, she slaves away for her cranky sisters and step-mother. She would dearly love to attend the Royal costume ball and meet the Prince, but her family is totally dead set against it. In fact, they have gone so far as to trash her wheelchair! An unexpected magical endowment to her wheelchair begins a truly enchanted evening and a dance with the Prince. Can true love be far behind?

What Do You Use to Help Your Body?
Maggie and Momma love going for walks. During every outing, Maggie learns about something new. Today is no different! Momma has arranged for Maggie to meet lots of people in her neighborhood. They all have different jobs. They all come from different cultures. They all use different things to help thier bodies. Maggie doesn't just stop to chit-chat. Rather, she gets to the bottom of things. By asking the right question, she discovers how many people with disabilites use aids to help them out.


You can find out more about Jewel Kats’ World of Ink Author/Book Tour schedule athttp://storiesforchildrenpublishing.com/JewelKats.aspx. There will be giveaways, reviews, interviews, guest posts and more. Make sure to stop by and interact with Kats and the hosts at the different stops by leaving comments and/or questions.

In addition, come listen to Blog Talk Radio’s World of Ink Network show: Stories for Children at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/worldofinknetwork. The hosts VS Grenier, Kris Quinn Chirstopherson and Irene Roth will be chatting with Jewel Kats about her books, writing, the publishing industry and experiences with virtual tours. Kats will also be sharing writing tips and trials, and tribulations of the writer’s life. The show will be live November 7, 2011 at 2pm EST.



Monday, November 14, 2011

The Back Story of Cixi



Natasha Yim chose to write about Cixi, The Dragon Empress because she wanted to know more about this period in Chinese history.  Moreover, she had been more and more interested in getting back to her cultural roots and heritage—and her writing reflects just that. Yim was intrigued with this fascinating, complex woman.  Cixi was handcuffed as a ruler in many ways by the cultural traditions and biases of her time. There was such upheaval during her reign that her responses or lack thereof changed the political landscape of China forever.

Yim hopes that kids can read this book and know that women can have power, but with great power comes great responsibility.  Whether we’re men or women, the decisions we make can have lasting consequences.

Here's a description of the book:
Cixi, The Dragon Empress is about the last empress of China whose alleged greed and lust for power brought down the Ching Dynasty that had ruled China for 260 years, and ended a 5,000 year-old imperial system. Cixi ruled China for about 50 years, at a time when women had very little say at all. In fact, as a woman, she couldn't be seen as governing.  So she had to give orders from behind the emperor's throne, shielded by a yellow silk screen.  She then had to make it look like the emperor's male advisors were really the ones in charge by saying, "I leave it to you".

Cixi was bad tempered and flew into terrible rages, sometimes gouging servants with her six-inch long fingernails (a fashion statement for noble women.) She spent lavishly on clothes and jewelry while the people of China suffered floods, famine, and starvation. She was also accused of poisoning rivals. Her dastardly deeds earned her the nickname, The Dragon Empress.

The book, as in all the books in the series, questions whether the women really deserve their wicked nicknames. Were they unjustly vilified because they were women in power? The books also ask kids to consider the long-term consequences of name-calling. In Cixi's case, some of the dastardly rumors whispered about her were not true, or at least there was no evidence to support them, but they have stuck with her for over 100 years.


You can find out more about Natasha Yim and Gretchen Maurer’s World of Ink Author/Book Tour schedule at http://storiesforchildrenpublishing.com/YimandMaurer.aspx. There will be giveaways, reviews, interviews, guest posts and more. Make sure to stop by and interact with Yim and Maurer, along with the hosts at the different stops by leaving comments and/or questions.


In addition, come listen to Blog Talk Radio’s World of Ink Network show: Stories for Children at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/worldofinknetwork. The hosts VS Grenier, Kris Quinn Chirstopherson and Irene Roth will be chatting with Natasha Yim and Gretchen Maurer about their books, writing, the publishing industry and experiences with virtual tours. Yim and Maurer will also be sharing writing tips and trials, and tribulations of the writer’s life. The show will be live November 14, 2011 at 2pm EST.











Monday, November 7, 2011

Writing in Rhyme

Karen Cioffi's bedtime picture book, Day’s End Lullaby, is based entirely on a rhyming poem/song that she wrote when her first born was about a year old.  Her baby had trouble sleeping, so Karen made up lyrics which were soothing and flowing—and rhyming so that it would hold her baby's attention and help lull her to sleep. It’s begins:
“Now it’s time to close your eyes my dear.
Beside you lies your favorie bear.
The sun has set; it’s out of view.
The moon’s now shining bright for you.”

While she admits she's not a rhyming expert, the poem/lullaby does the trick. It really does sooth little ones and helps them settle down for sleep.

Karen's advice on writing rhyming books:
Rhyming, when done right, is a wonderful way to engage children. Children, as soon as they’re able, love to rhyme words. This can begin as early as two-years old: cat-hat, mouse-house, poopie-boobie  (you get the idea.) But, to write a rhyming story—a well written rhyming story—is difficult.  You need a good story, rhyme, rhythm/beat, meter, stresses, and more—all this in addition to the already unique rules and tricks in writing for children. And, some writers just don’t have that innate ability to do rhyme well. But, it can be learned.

According to Delia Marshall Turner, Ph.D., the elements of poetry are:

Voice (the speaker)
Stanza (the formatting of grouped lines)
Sound (rhyme/patterns)
Rhythm (the beat and meter – pattern of stressed/unstressed syllables)
Figures of Speech (types of figurative language)
Form (type of poem, its design)

Along with this there is perfect rhyme, and approximate rhyme:
Perfect rhyme: tie/lie; stay/day
Approximate rhyme: top/cope; comb/tomb

There are also many other bits and pieces related to writing poetry/ rhyme. But, the foundation that holds it all together is the story itself—you need a good story, especially when writing for children.

According to the article, “To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme” by Dori Chaconas, in the Writer Magazine, October 2001: “You may write in perfect rhyme, with perfect rhythm, but if your piece lacks the elements of a good story, your efforts will be all fluff without substance. I like to think of story as the key element, and if the story is solid, and conducive to rhyme, the rhyme will then enhance the story.”

Karen Cioffi is a published author, ghostwriter, and editor. 
You can find out more about Karen and her books at:
http://karencioffi.com (author site)
http://karencioffiwritingandmarketing.com (writing and marketing information and services)
http://daysendlullaby.blogspot.com (Day’s End Lullaby information and reviews)
http://walkingthroughwalls-kcioffi.blogspot.com (middle-grade fantasy adventure, Walking Through Walls)

Karen’s newsletter, A Writer’s World, offers useful writing and book marketing information and strategies. Subscribe today and get two e-books on writing and/or marketing.

You can find out more about Karen Cioffi’s World of Ink Author/Book Tour schedule at http://storiesforchildrenpublishing.com/KarenCioffi.aspx.
There will be giveaways, reviews, interviews, guest posts and more. Make sure to stop by and interact with Karen and the hosts at the different stops by leaving comments and/or questions.

 In addition, come listen to Blog Talk Radio’s World of Ink Network show: Stories for Children at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/worldofinknetwork. The hosts VS Grenier, Kris Quinn Chirstopherson and Irene Roth will be chatting with Karen Cioffi about her books, writing, the publishing industry and experiences with virtual tours. Karen will also be sharing writing tips and trials, and tribulations of the writer’s life. The show will be live November 21, 2011 at 2pm EST.


Monday, October 31, 2011

A Glimmer of Goodness

It doesn’t take much
to bring a writer down:
a rejection,
no response to a follow-up,
few markets to pitch a nicely-written piece.

At times, the world of writing seems grim.

And yet, through it all
a writer emails you
an image,
(no words)
just an image of candles
burning so brilliantly you can almost
feel the warmth of the glow—
a  heartfelt Diwali greeting,

or, another writer sends a comment:
she likes your latest post
(the one you spent hours
editing,
getting the words down
just right).

No doubt, there are days when the writing world is grim
yet sometimes, sometimes, a glimmer of goodness
shines down, spreads its warmth
when you least expect it,
when you need it the most.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Entering Contests

Maggie and the First Grade Blues has won three picture book awards.  That said, you’d think I’d have editors knocking down my door to publish my book.  Not so.  It takes more than winning writing contests to get a picture book published—it takes a lot of love.

This is what I recently discovered after attending Editor’s Day in Lexington, Kentucky and WriteOnCon online.  An editor has got to go gaga about a book if she wants to publish it.  She’s got to love it so much it pierces her heart.  It’s the kind of love that impels her to gush about it to everyone she knows.  If she is not passionate about it, she won’t recommend it to the acquisitions team, no matter how many awards it’s won.

At first, I felt discouraged.  Why bother to enter contests if a manuscript fails to interest editors?  But then I realized there are many advantages.  Here are a few benefits to entering contests:  

Offers writers a challenge
Encourages writers to create an outstanding piece
Puts a writer’s work before a judge
Requires a writer to follow the guidelines
Can build a writer’s resume

These five benefits may prepare you before submitting your work to editors.  So what are you waiting for? 

Look online or in writer’s magazines for a listing of contests.  Search for a contest that charges a small fee, something like twenty-five dollars or less. Find a contest with a deadline that is far enough in advance so that it allows you time to perfect your work.  Then, go to it.  Strive to write an  exceptional piece or edit another one you have in the works.  Have a trusted friend read your work to guarantee it is free of grammar mistakes.  Double check those contest guidelines. Submit your entry. 

Consider submitting to more than one contest.  Enter the same manuscript or create a different piece.  Regardless of the result, know that you’ve accomplished an important goal that will help you in the future.  One day your manuscript just may capture an award and quite possibly, capture the heart of an editor.








Monday, October 17, 2011

Writer's News

 

photo by Lucas 

 

It's been a little over a year since I first began submitting Maggie and the First Grade Blues. Here is the update on my picture book submissions:

I submitted to Bloomsbury Children’s Books, Peachtree, Chronicle, Star Bright Books, and Harcourt Children’s Books.  After the standard three month waiting period, I received no word and conclude that these publishers have passed on my book.  Kira Lynn with Editorial Department of Kane Miller responded that my picture book was not right for their list. However, Maggie Lehrman with Abrams Books liked the voice, but felt that the market was crowded with school stories. 

As for agents, I received no reply from Sanford J. Greenburger and Mark McVeigh.  On the other hand, Marietta B. Zacker with the Nancy Gallt Literary Agency sent a kind, personal note:  [This is] “ an endearing story with a fabulous message, but admittedly, I didn't quite connect with Maggie the way I know you need me to.” Emily van Beek with Folio also sent a kind, personal note.

Recently, I submitted to Paul Rodeen Management.  I also submitted to Jessica Sinsheimer with the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency, who encouraged me that she’d take a look at my picture book.  I’ve also submitted to Sterling Publishing Company and KRBY creations.  These last four bring me to my goal—30 publishers and 15 agents.  I will report on the outcome in a few months.  In the meantime, I am writing a new picture book, editing another picture book, and researching topics for nonfiction articles.  But I will keep my eyes open for other opportunities for submitting Maggie and the First Grades Blues


Monday, October 10, 2011

Tips for Writing Picture Books



Today, Maha shares suggestions for writing a picture book.  Her tips are intended for self-publishing.  Keep in mind that traditional publishers usually don't require illustration notes or page breaks.

Word count
First thing I learned is that picture books are 500-1000 words, 30 pages long. Remember that the 30 pages include the title, dedication, and the copyright pages, which leaves you with only 28 pages.

Illustrations and description
When you write a story, you would think you need to describe your scene in detail. Not so in picture books. The illustrations describe the scene. I deleted a lot of description before the illustrations, but when the illustrations arrived, I found out that I could delete even more. When I wrote my second and third stories (not published yet), I took that into account from the very beginning. What I did was to keep the description between brackets for the illustrator's benefit. This will give the illustrator an idea of how I want the scene to appear. I made another copy without the descriptions to keep count of the words.

Make a dummy
I made a dummy of my book, When Monsters Get Lonely, by adding the illustrations to the text, exactly where I wanted them to appear in a word document. I then clicked on view > full screen reading to render it in book form. I made sure the page turns left the reader wondering what’s coming next. This is the way I sent my book to the publisher to show them exactly where I wanted the text in relation to the illustrations.

Word choice
I struggled with word choice because I’m not used to writing for kids. I tried to make my words as simple as I could. This was not easy, because the idea I was trying to convey in When Monsters Get Lonely is not simple. In the end, I felt that my words were descriptive and sensory enough to engage a child. Parents will read a book if they like its theme.

Read it out loud
One of the tips I read when I was writing my book was to read it aloud, and I did do that not only to myself, but to my husband and my sister-in-law. It helps you get an idea of how it will sound to the kids.

Plot and theme
All good books must have a climax and resolution. I’m afraid that my editor gave me a really poor critique, which was an education to me. I rewrote my story and revised my plot to include the all important climax and resolution. It didn’t change what Grams wanted to teach Hannah, but it handed Hannah a way to find the solution herself. Hence, Grams didn’t sound like she was preaching and it made for a much more interesting story.
Character
The main character must have strong traits and resolve the problem. By resolving her own problems, Hannah’s character naturally developed and emerged as a strong and intelligent child despite her fear.

Maha Huneidi says she learned quite a lot when she wrote and self-published When Monsters Get Lonely. She thinks you can learn from the mistakes she made and corrected along the way.


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Monday, October 3, 2011

The Backstory of the Quincy the Horse Books



The real Quincy is now 20 years old and has many accomplishments under his belt. He is an Equine Assisted Psychotherapy horse and the protagonist of the Quincy the Horse Books; but to his family, he will always be known as “Little Quince.” Quincy is the little guy in our barn. His neighbors are Silver, an Irish sport horse who is the big guy, and Buck, a tall, rangy gray who is the head guy. I am afraid he does not get much chance for input. On the whole he usually has to go along with whatever his big brothers want.
Quincy has always been a beautiful sight with his shiny copper coat, a white blaze and soft brown eyes. He and I have always had a special bond. The events that inspired the Quincy the Horse Books happened many years ago when Quincy came to live with me. I brought him from New York, where I had lived for many years, to New Mexico. I am sure readers would enjoy knowing more about our real life adventures.
I bought Quincy because my old Quarter horse, Beaujolais, needed a partner at our new home in New Mexico. I planned to have a small horse barn on my property rather than stabling my horses in a boarding facility. Beau and Quincy hit it off from day one. Quincy looked up to Beau and wanted to be with him and Beau clearly enjoyed having Quincy as a friend.
Soon after our arrival to New Mexico, I took Quincy on our first trail ride. I quickly discovered that trails in the West were different than the manicured parks and wooded lanes of the Eastern U. S. There are wide vistas in every direction and many horses react to this by wanting to move out. When they are held back, it is not unheard of for them to buck. Sorry to say that on that first ride, I ended up on the ground. Unfortunately that was not the last time; it was more of a regular occurrence than I would like to remember.
Readers will not be surprised to hear that one of my first ideas for a story was a plot where Quincy wants more than anything to be a calm trail horse, but his Big Problem is that he has an irresistible impulse to buck. I could see humor in that story line. Maybe I wanted to laugh rather than cry!
The next real thing that happened was not so funny. Quincy got sick. He was diagnosed with what was then a little known and poorly understood disease called Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis or EPM. For two years he struggled with repeated outbreaks, experiencing pain and instability and requiring toxic medications. Those were sad and scary times.
Luckily, better medications were forthcoming and Quincy responded well to them. Quincy and I then spent many hours in the round pen during his rehabilitation. It was standing in the round pen day after day feeling grateful that he had made it through, when I first thought of writing a book about his life. As I said earlier, there were various ideas that came to mind. In addition to the bucking bronco scenario, I thought of a book called Quincy in the Round Pen that would have recounted his illness and recovery.
In the end, I settled on a more gentle tone about his every day adventures. I also decided to highlight his personality and loving bonds to me and his best friend, Beau. I hoped that children would relate to his day to day challenges and the way he tried to find answers to his problems. I especially hoped that they would enjoy being part of Quincy’s world and learning the joys of life with horses.






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Monday, September 26, 2011

Writing Opportunities

Sometimes when you least expect it, a writing opportunity may present itself.  Because I volunteer at Arboretum, the State Botanical Garden of Kentucky, several employees know that I’m a writer.  Recently, the education coordinator asked for my help.  In a few weeks, the Arboretum will be sponsoring the annual fall festival.  Volunteers will dress up as woodland creatures and plants and greet young children.  They will give short talks that describe who they are and what they contribute.

My job was to spruce up the old scripts of a deer, a spider, a sunflower, a skunk, and a tree.  The education coordinator envisioned livelier speeches. She wanted the scripts written in first person and kept to 300 words.  Then the rest was up to me. 

I decided that each script should have a hook, which would create interest and engage the audience.  Though I had a restricted word count, I still wanted to make sure that I had a beginning, a middle, and an ending.  (My nonfiction writing has taught me well).  I conducted a little more research, added it to the passages, and rearranged the order of paragraphs for clarity.  Lastly, as with any nonfiction writing, I tied the ending to the beginning.  Beforehand, these pieces ended abruptly.  With the new endings, the speeches had a more satisfying conclusion.

I suppose the biggest challenge was getting inside the heads of the animals and plants—come on, what would a tree think and say?  But actually, it was quite fun.  In fact, my tree had a bit of an attitude.

It's nice taking a break from writing nonfiction articles and picture books and trying something different.  Maybe you'll have an opportunity to attempt something new, too.  But you might ask: What’s in it for me when I share my writing talent with others?  Perhaps you’ll find it offers you practice and inspiration.  Maybe it will lead to another assignment.  It's a given it'll showcase your skills and quite possibly, help to get your name better known.  For me, writing these scripts fueled my imagination and made me feel good about helping a worthwhile organization.  How about you?  Are you willing to help others with your writing talent?  Are you willing to take advantage of the writing opportunities that may come your way?


Monday, September 19, 2011

The Rewards of Volunteering

Kentucky Children's Garden
Nature Center in the Children's Garden



 
I volunteer at the Arboretum, the State Botanical Garden of Kentucky.  My “job” is to read picture books in the Children's Garden.  My “work place” is inside the Nature Center—a breezy, three-sided cozy structure.  The entrance is flanked by Greek Doric columns.  The side yard contains barrels brimming with scarlet and purple flowers.  Nearby, two raised vegetable gardens are teeming with tomatoes and peppers, lavender and sage.     

map
Map of the Children's Garden at the Arboretum




My guests arrive: in strollers, hand in hand with moms, or carried by dads.  Ashley, the education coordinator, hands me Frog and Toad Are Friends.  Before I begin to read, I give a short discussion on the differences between frogs and toads.  Then I read two chapters from the book—the average age of the children is about two or three years old so we're talking short attention span.   






Halfway into the reading, several young toddlers are distracted.  They want to explore the waterwheel, chat with other children, and touch the glass cages containing caterpillars.  Nonetheless I read on, trying to emphasis my words, trying to add as much drama as I possibly can to entice the children to listen. 

But others huddle close, their eyes fixed on me and on the pages of the book.  Some want to help turn the pages, while others lean their heads on my shoulder.  In a small way, I’m connecting with them.  Story time becomes  meaningful.    
 
What do I get out of it?  On a professional level, I like to think that this experience is preparing me for the day when I’ll read my very own picture book to a small group of children.  But I don’t focus on the future.  For now, I spread burlap bags for seating.  I sit upon a bale of hay and read a classic picture book.  And afterward, I receive smiles and thank-yous.  I receive parental requests: “When will you be reading in the garden again?”  I receive hugs from the tiniest members of my audience.  It touches my heart to share books at the arboretum.  What more can a story-time reader ask for?

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Value of Critiques

This past June, I attended Editor’s Day in Lexington, Kentucky.  Registrants could submit an entire picture book for a critique by Abrams Books Editor Maggie Lehrman.  Since Maggie and the First Grade Blues had won several awards, I submitted In Search of Awe. 

On the positive side, Ms. Lehrman liked the language and the descriptions.  She mentioned that I had a real knack for details that infuse a landscape with character.  However, she thought that the story was too quiet and nostalgic and that the plot was too subtle and interior for young readers.  She wanted to know more about my main character so that readers will invest in the story.

Overall, she thought that the story could serve as a scene in a lyrical middle grade novel.  She challenged me to edit the piece for an older audience.  I have great respect for Ms. Lehrman's  opinion.   Looks like I have lots to think about in terms of developing plot and character should I follow through on her advice.       

Here’s my thought on critiques:  If you have the chance to go to a writer’s conference and submit a manuscript for a critique, do so.  Usually, only a limited number of manuscripts can be accepted, so be mindful of the critique deadline.  It usually costs less than fifty dollars, but it is well worth the fee. 

You will most likely receive positive comments on your work as well as criticism on the elements that require improvement.  In addition, you may be offered suggestions on character development, plot, language, voice, and marketability. Most of all, you’ll gain insight into what an editor looks for in a manuscript.  If you take the advice and follow the “inside tips,” you just may create a manuscript worthy of an editor’s attention.    












Monday, September 5, 2011

Writing Tips from Fiona Ingram




Writing can be one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences of your life. There are many reasons a person decides to write: to share their life’s experiences, to tell a good story, to express the feelings and situations of others—the list is endless. Some people even write just for fun. I wrote my book because I visited Egypt with my two nephews and wanted to write a short story to help them remember a special time. To my surprise, the short story turned into a book, and then a book series. So, you never know what’s going to happen once you begin!

Any good story is composed of two important elements: a really gripping plot and realistic, believable characters.

·      How to Choose a Great Story Topic:
Write about what you know best, or what excites you, or what you enjoy. Do you love reading about faraway exciting places? Then research a place you find interesting and set your story there. Do you enjoy mysteries? Think about something that’ll keep people guessing. Are you good at a skill or a sport? Set your story around a character with those abilities.

·      How to Construct your Storyline:
Structure is very important, otherwise your story will fall to pieces. So begin with a simple 3-point system: the Beginning (your hero appears—what is he doing? What does he want to achieve?); the Middle (something will happen to him and he has to …?); the Ending (your hero resolves the situation). From those three vital points, you will fill in your other plot points—how did… why did… what happens next.

·      Make Your Characters as Interesting as Possible:
Tip: take them from real life examples. You could write about someone like yourself, or else model the characters on friends at school, teachers, or other people you know. The dialogue between your characters is also important because that’s one place to develop the plot line. Don’t forget to break your dialogue with various activities so that readers don’t get bogged down in lots of talking but no action.

·      The Hard Part:
If you love what you’re writing about and you trust your imagination, then writing will be as fun and exciting as you can imagine. However, two important elements must never be forgotten: research and grammar.

Research will be necessary whether your story is set in the real world, or if it’s an imaginary, fantasy, or sci-fi land. Make notes before and during your writing process. Your heroes are likely to be around your audience's ages, so think about how they are going to get places and achieve things. If they are travelling, are they alone (not likely) and will they need assistance (possibly)? If they are in a foreign country, then make sure your facts are accurate. How did they get there, who are they with, and how are they going to accomplish their task/challenge? If it’s a fantasy setting, then make sure you don’t lose track of your characters and the various places and items found in your fantasy world. Make your own research notes relevant to your fantasy land.

Grammar is very important, otherwise your readers will never get through the first few pages. Make sure you use your spelling and grammar check on your computer (if you’re using one) and your dictionary and style guide (if you’re writing by hand).

A final piece of advice: writing should be fun and exciting. Just enjoy yourself and let your imagination take you to places you only ever dreamed of.
           



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