Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Guest Instructor #2: Tameka Brown and a Giveaway!

Congratulations to Barbara Younger who was last week's winner of Emily Pearce's book, Isabel and the Miracle Baby. By the way, for those of you who are in the middle of that interesting/challenging/unavoidable time of your life called menopause, Barbara runs a fun and informative blog on the subject!

In this second blog featuring my guest instructors, Tameka Brown shares some advice with my Writing for Children class at Central Piedmont Community College.
Tameka is a FTM (full time mother) who started writing picture books because she enjoyed reading them with her three daughters. She studied the craft, joined SCBWI, and published her first book Around Our Way on Neighbor's Day in 2010.  That was followed by My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood in 2013 which received the prestigious Charlotte Zolotow Honor award. Read more about how Tameka developed this book which shows a day's worth of emotions, in my previous blog about her.  She currently has another picture book out on submission and is mulling around other projects. 

  • For picture book writers, sometimes getting an agent is tougher than getting a publisher. She and her agent, Jennifer Rofe at Andrea Brown Literary, sent out Around Our Way on Neighbor's Day for a year before it was purchased by Abrams.
  • Bed time stories allow children to use their imagination as they come up with the pictures which accompany the stories.
  • Young children practice pre-reading and fine motor skills as they pinch, grasp, and turn pages. 
  • Publishers want books that children will pick up on their own-not just because their parents have picked it. 
  • A good illustrator will dovetail his work with the author's. They'll add another layer of meaning to the book. For example, Shane Evans added gray swirls that showed Jamie's emotions when his mood turns black. (see sample illustrations by clicking on "Look Inside" here.)
  • Many picture books are character driven (like the Fancy Nancy series) but so far, Tameka's books have been more literary, focusing on language and using free verse to tell her stories. 
  • A moral should be written into a story so that the child draws it out herself. Stories should have a takeaway which shows the character's solving a problem herself and/or her growth. 
  • Even if your book is first in a series, market it as an individual title. It needs to be able to stand alone. 
  • As writers we need to make personal connections to our story. More than including details of real events from our lives, we want to insert the emotions we've experienced that may be universal to our readers.
  • When you're asked if you are willing to revise, the answer should always be "Yes!" Around Our Way on Neighbor's Day started out as an ABC book--but didn't end up that way! 

To win an autographed copy of My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood, please leave me a comment by April 25. Open to U.S. addresses only. Share this on your social media of choice or become a new follower and I'll enter your name twice!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Guest Instructor: Emily Smith Pearce and a Giveaway!

For the last three weeks in my "Writing for Children" class at Central Piedmont Community College, my students were treated to visits from authors I know through SCBWI Carolinas and WNBA: Emily Smith Pearce, Tameka Brown, and Christy Allen. In the next three blog posts I'll share some of the highlights of their talks plus give you a chance to win some fabulous books.

Emily Smith Pearce is the author of two children's books, mother of two busy elementary school children, crafter, and blogger. In January, 1999 she was in the second class to graduate from the Vermont College of Fine Arts with her Master's Degree in Writing for Children and Young Adults. She is currently working on a young adult novel and a nonfiction middle grade book on fashion history. She credits hanging out at the library where her mother, a children's librarian worked, as one of the things that influenced her the most in becoming a writer. 

Here are some nuggets from Emily's presentation:
  • Get a boring day job so that you have brain space left over to write after work.
  • Persevere. Persevere. Persevere. "It took several years and plenty of setbacks to get my first book published."
  • In response to, "How were writing your novel and your early reader different experiences?" Emily said, "Isabel and the Miracle Baby was written over a period of time with my mentor, Carolyn Coman at VCFA, and was inspired by someone I knew. Slowpoke, which is autobiographical, started out as a writing exercise. I took a picture book and studied its structure, and then I plugged it into a story. I also had one editor for Isabel and three different editors for Slowpoke because of the fast changing nature of the publishing industry.  Eden Edwards suggested it would work better as an early reader than a picture book."
    Boyds Mills Press, 2010

  • You should use social media for networking in addition to promoting your own work. Maureen Johnson and Sarah Dessen are good examples. "You should share more about others' work than your own or people will quickly grow bored."
  • The most rewarding thing are school visits when kids read your book. "One boy told me he had paid for the book out of his own money." 
  • Discouragement happens. One first grader asked, "Do you ever worry if you'll never write another book?"
  • She still reads. A lot. While cooking supper or drying her hair. Her daughter once said to her, "Mommy, please don't read while you're driving!" Emily never said if she put the book down…
Here's your opportunity to win an autographed copy of Isabel and the Miracle Baby
Front Street Books, 2007
“The tantrum-prone protagonist of this multi-layered debut novel seems a smidge spoiled at first glance, but underneath eight-year-old Isabel’s fits-and-starts temper lies a very ordinary need for attention. [T]he novel . . . becomes more noteworthy for Pearce’s graceful weaving of a larger and more difficult subject into the narrative: Isabel’s mother has had cancer . . . Pearce stays true to Isabel’s young perspective even as she conveys the character’s complicated discoveries about growing up.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

  • Leave me a comment by the evening of  April 19. 
  • If I don't have your email address, make sure you leave that too.
  • Open only to residents of the continental United States.
  • Become a follower of this blog or share this on social media and I'll enter your name twice!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Introducing Sheri Levy and Seven Days to Goodbye

Thanks to the many folks who left comments on last week's blog and entered the giveaway. Sandra Warren, a fellow SCBWI-Carolinas writer, won the copy of Chris Woodworth's book, Ivy in the Shadows. Look for more giveaways in the upcoming weeks. Today I welcome Sheri Levy, another SCBWI-Carolinas member. Sheri talks about her forthcoming debut young adult novel, Seven Days to Goodbye, which will be released in late summer.

Carol Can you tell us about your book? I know you love all things canine, so I suspect there is a dog in the story!
Sheri with Slater and Mulligan

Sheri You are right. My dog journey began in 1977 with adopting a neighbor’s German Shepherd and then moved on to other breeds. Each new dog brought real life situations for my writing. Sydney, the dog character in my first novel, was our first Australian Shepherd and my soul mate.

Carol In what ways have your experiences with dogs influenced your writing?

Sheri Every morning I walked Sydney and Jake, an adopted black Lab. I focused on their facial expressions, body language, and goofy traits and knew them inside and out. They traveled with us to Edisto Beach and around the US for a month. My first draft actually included both dogs, but after a fabulous critique from Kirby Larson, she showed me how Jake took away from the emotional plot.

Carol  I'm a big Kirby Larson fan! I'm sure her critique was very helpful. Please share more about Seven Days to Goodbye.

Sheri The book is aimed towards fourth to eighth grade readers and takes place over a week-long vacation on Edisto Beach. My characters Trina and Sarah meet Chase and Peyton, and their seven-year-old autistic brother, Logan. Trina, a Puppy Raiser, has seven days before she must return her first service dog to the kennel to be matched with his forever companion. Themes in the book include watching friends change before your eyes, dreams, meeting guys, overcoming fears, and wanting to become independent. The beach environment creates adventures with Loggerhead turtles, birds, and boating.

Carol That’s a lot in one book! I can see why it got snapped up! Please share some of your writing journey.

Sheri After retiring as a special education teacher, writing was at the top of my “To Do” list, along with traveling. Learning to write a novel required a lot of time and more education. I attended SCBWI conferences, took classes, joined critique groups, and read many books. After numerous years of working and reworking on my first novel, I put it in a drawer, and began another. 

Having an article published with Clubhouse Magazine in 2010, "Scent with Love," and winning The Special Interest Award with the Dog Writers Association encouraged me to keep writing. The story is on my website. I started a second novel and after many revisions, began getting positive feedback from critiques, queries, and contests. I made it into the top 25 contestants in one Pitch Contest, and was a runner up for another Pitch & First 250 Word Contest, winning a five page agent critique. With each success, I gained confidence and began querying agents and publishers.

Carol How did you find your publisher?

Sheri I read online that Barking Rain Press was taking submissions for for two more days. After researching it, I spent hours readying my query and putting together a marketing plan. I hit "send" minutes before midnight of the closing day. It wasn’t long before BRP requested the whole manuscript, and then I waited. In September of 2013, a long, over-due response came in an email. My eyes hit the name of Barking Rain Press and my stomach lurched to my throat. I scanned the email again, not believing what I had read. The publisher, Sheri Gormely had said she loved my wonderful story and wanted to offer me a contract! I caught my breath, read the email to my husband, Murphy, who broke out into a giant grin. Then I re-read the email.

Carol Then what happened?

Sberi After rewriting the novel for the eighth time with the changes Sheri G. wanted, I began work with my editor, Cindy Koepp in November. I knew the novel needed a new name. Many friends sent great ideas on Facebook, but Murphy came up with the final name, Seven Days to Goodbye.
Sheri and Murphy on one of their traveling adventures.
Destination: Antigua Island

Carol What a great name for your book! Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

Sheri I always share my first experience of not knowing anything about writing and being convinced I had the perfect picture book! I even had it critiqued at my first conference. Blonnie Wyche was so kind. She encouraged me to read writing books, take classes and most of all, keep writing. If I had given up with the many rejections I received as a beginner, I wouldn’t be writing this post and starting a new life adventure.

Carol Blonnie was also a great encouragement to me. What was in your marketing plan? Did your publisher give you feedback on what she liked about it?

Sheri My feedback was the contract offer. The plan may have helped sell the book, but primarily I think she wanted to see if I had plans to promote the book. A big part of publishing, is promoting and creating interest in the book.

Sheri lives with her husband Murphy and her two Australian Shepherds, Slater and Mulligan in South Carolina. She has done agility and training with her dogs and mentors students in reading and writing.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A Day in the Life of Adams Literary PLUS a Giveaway!

Writers often wonder what agents really do all day long.

Here is your opportunity to find out.

Several months ago I picked up several books from Adams Literary that they were donating for giveaways to Talking Story. I was intrigued with the painted chalkboard wall where Josh, Tracey, Quinlan Lee; their assistant, Sam; and their intern, Ann; keep track of editors, publishers and imprints. I immediately wanted to blog about the board and asked Tracey that along with a picture of the board, if she'd share a "typical" day in the life of Adams Literary. I hope you'll enjoy this peek into their agency and a chance to win a copy of one of their clients' books.

Josh and Tracey, co-founders of Adams Literary
 7 AM: Check email while getting kids to schools. Korea has a publisher interested in a middle-grade series, would we please mail a bunch of books overseas? Forward this to Assistant Extraordinaire Samantha, while crossing fingers we have enough copies in our supply closet. Our UK co-agent wonders if signed contracts have been received yet. A client suggests a time we can have a catch-up chat later today. And in the Adams Literary submissions box, there are 200 new subs to consider. 

The Editor Chalkboard Wall in the Adams Literary loft
9 AM: Upstairs to Adams Literary (downstairs is the house).  Josh, Quinlan and Tracey start replying to emails, checking Facebook/Twitter, posting updates. This afternoon, we have a project going to an Acquisition Meeting, so we're hopeful for good news. Work keeps our minds off waiting. We remind editors of a deadline to hear from them on a submission. We plan a new manuscript submission: write the pitch, decide on the sub list with help from our Editor Chalkboard Wall. Run it all by the group for opinions/ideas. Hit send along with good vibes. A few passes come in: disagree with them, forward to clients, and move on to find the right match. Chat via email or phone with several clients about plans. 
Agent Quinlan Lee and colleague Kamikaze

12:30: aLit heads downstairs for lunch, checks progress on our neighborhood-in-process while dog walking and avoiding bulldozers and cement trucks. 

1 PM: Daily run by Josh to our business address (a UPS Store) for mail. There are unsolicited submissions (including one for Tracey from an inmate with a 57-page picture book.) There's a box of really cool German editions of a YA! The advance we've been expecting for a new project has finally arrived, so there's a stop at the bank before heading back to work. 
Sam taking a break at the Star Wars pinball machine
3 PM: One of us always has travel plans and conference details to work out. SCBWI, BEA, ALA... Assistant Sam and Intern Ann are busily reading manuscripts and emailing reports to Tracey, Quinlan and Josh. Suddenly, a contract pops into an in-box, and either Sam or Ann will read over carefully to compare it to the deal memo and the last contract with that publisher before Josh or Tracey dive in. We go over changes needed, and work with the publisher until we have a version we're happy to send the client to sign. 
Intern Ann working on a contract. With support from Kamikaze and Samurai.
3:40 PM: Middle-schooler is home and starts homework. Elementary-school kid is having fun at her after-school program until we can grab her. 

4 PM: Call we recognize as Publisher comes in...and we know that their Acquisition Meeting has probably just ended... "There was tons of enthusiasm all around, so I'm thrilled to say that I'm emailing you an offer shortly." Hooray! Tell client to stand by. The offer comes in and we begin negotiations. This will be continued tomorrow, and hopefully we'll announce a new deal soon.

5:15 PM: Gather uniforms, etc, pick up little kid - we have black belt class tonight. HIYA!

7 PM and on: This is when we hear from the other side of the world: Dear Client in Australia, co-agents in Asia... We'll answer a few things, but it's family time, manuscript-reading time, and time to binge-watch Haven on Netflix. Before bed, an email comes in from China - an offer on a picture book published years ago. Surprise! We love our work. There is never a dull moment, and there is never a typical day. 

11:30: Good night!

Thanks, Tracey, for providing this insight into an agent's life!

Courtesy of Adams Literary, I'm giving away a copy of Chris Woodworth's lovely middle grade book, Ivy in the Shadows. Here are the giveaway rules:

1. Please leave me a comment. If I don't have your email address, make sure you leave that also.
2. Subscribe to my blog for an additional chance--but make sure you tell me that you have done that!
3. Post on your social media of choice for another chance and let me know what you do  (or tag me on Facebook. Sorry, I haven't joined the twitter world.)
4. Do this by Saturday morning, April 5. Winner's name will be drawn by noon.  

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Introducing CRAZY by Linda Phillips- Part II

Last week Linda Phillips shared the backstory behind her debut novel, Crazy. As Linda's close friend, one thing I have witnessed is how much she has learned and how she has not taken any part of this journey for granted. In this second post, she shares more of her insights.

After the initial excitement of signing with Eerdmans died down, patience part two was required with the dog of all dogs: revisions.  But I have to confess that I learned a ton about my own writing through that process.  

Here are just a few of my takeaways: 
  • One of the things I do best is repeat myself, especially if it has an emotional valence.
  • I rarely place the relevant pronoun immediately after its antecedent.
  • A large cast of minor characters is like trying to find a missing cat in dense fog.
  • There is such a thing as tragedy overload.
  • A little slang goes a long ways.
  • If you are writing about a specific year in time, be sure you research the etymology of words relevant to that year (how shocked I was to find that 1963 was not a “groovy” year).
  • If it serves no useful purpose, trash it.
  • Give your protagonist a spectacularly unique personality and then, like a good parent, make sure she remains true to character throughout.

Last but not least, I think I am beginning to learn not to take myself or my writing too seriously.  (hold me to this when the reviews start rolling in!)  This part I can do only with God’s help.  The writing life is such a roller coaster ride and I am admittedly already a roller-coaster personality type.  There has been and will continue to be many nail-biting, hair-splitting moments, and many with positive outcomes.  But I have had occasion already to remind myself that “this is just a book” and there is life beyond these words and pages that I have poured so much of myself into.  

So my learning curve right now includes seeking a balanced life that includes quality family time, good health, and continued writing success.  Repeat after me:  This is not life and death, it is just a book. 
Here's a video of Linda reading "Nervous Breakdown" one of the poems from the book. You get one guess as to the name of her videographer and the beautiful setting in which it was "filmed"!

If you think Linda is sitting around twiddling her thumbs until her book comes out in October, then you're wrong. She's offering writing workshops and working on her next book about a teen struggling to understand the impact of Batten's Disease on her sibling. 

Remember, one of the ways we all can support new authors is by pre-ordering their books. Linda and Eerdmans will appreciate your interest in her book even before its October release date!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Introducing CRAZY by Linda Phillips- Part I

Congratulations to Lisa Kline, a frequent guest on this blog, who won the autographed copy of Veronica Rossi's book Under the Never Sky. She has donated so many books as giveaways--I'm happy she won one too!
If you've been following this blog for several years than you may have already met Linda Phillips, one of my closest writing buddies, friend, and prayer partner. Like a midwife, I've watched as Linda has labored over her debut young adult novel, Crazy, and I can't wait to hold a copy of it in my hands. Over the next two blogs Linda shares what she has learned in the process of writing and bringing her baby--oops, her book--into this world.

I hope you will welcome Linda, and Crazy into your lives.
Linda and I at a Charlotte Mecklenburg
Performers Showcase event 

First, the synopsis:
Fifteen-year-old Laura Walberg can't imagine life without sketching or painting.  When her artist mother has a nervous breakdown the same week Laura's teacher pressures her to enter a prestigious contest, Laura must face her fear that art will send her over the edge, too.

Driven by shame and rage, Laura hides her disintegrating home life from everyone, including her best friend. Neither her older sister nor her father recognizes her fear of going insane.  Desperately alone, she considers suicide, faith healing, an unlikely relationship with a super-jock, and a new artistic endeavor.  When Laura’s mother becomes violent, Laura vows to find the demon that is driving her crazy.  An amazing discovery changes Laura forever and opens her heart to the mother she never knew. 

Next, the BIG question: 

What have you learned in the process of writing, editing, and getting Crazy ready for publication?

Well, I know the ultimate reward for writing a book is seeing it on the shelf, but I’m here to tell you how much I value all that I have learned along the way.  In fact, I’ve learned so much it makes me wonder what I thought I actually knew before I started! 

Speaking of getting started, my adventure began with a collection of adult poems that I wrote as a cathartic release from the emotions connected with my mother’s bipolar disorder.  I soon had a collection of twenty poems, some of which were published in adult literary journals.  I began toying with the idea of trying to get them published as a poetry collection when you suggested they would be happier in a novel. I really started working on shaping them into a book in 2007.

You and I trundled off to Chautauqua, NY for the 2009 Highlights Foundation Writer’s Workshop, where I took my very raw novel and my growing desire to see my name in print.  Thanks to my mentor for the week, Patti Gauch, I learned that my YA book was, of course, written in an adult voice.  For some reason, that minor little detail had escaped me completely!  I owe a debt of gratitude to Patti for setting me on the right path, and giving me an invaluable, detailed critique that took me a year to work through. 

The next big lesson that I learned was about time management.  I was still teaching school and finding writing time was often a frustrating challenge.  Being a morning person was helpful, and often I would write in the pre-dawn hours before school.  I dropped out of an active role in SCBWI and began saying “no” to as many commitments as possible.  When I finally felt like the manuscript was ready for submission, I treated finding an agent like a second job one whole summer vacation. 

It paid off with the offer from Julia Kenny for agent representation at Dunow, Carlson, and Lerner (she was actually with MarksonThoma at the time). 
Linda was excited to meet Julia in person in NYC!
Oh boy, here’s where the first lesson in patience really kicked in and stop me if I go on too long, because it is never-ending!  Written in verse, set in the sixties, with nary a mention of werewolves or dystopian worlds (when those things were really hot)--well, needless to say, my book was not an immediate sell!  We came really close several times, but not close enough after about thirty submissions.  I was ready to throw in the towel, but Julia wasn’t.  She suggested that I try some small, independent houses on my own, since they neither require nor desire agent representation.  In the meantime, she stayed in the background providing full support and advice. 

That meant another “summer job” of querying, but admittedly with dwindling hope.  I guess the next big lesson learned was “if you’ve got someone backing you who loves your work, for heavens sake, don’t give up.”  So I didn’t.   Within three months I had two offers from my querying efforts while I was attending a wonderful Free Expressions workshop called Your Best Book with Lorin Oberweger (speaking of learning experiences, check her out!).   And before that amazing week was out, Julia received an offer from Eerdmans, one of the original thirty submissions, which we jubilantly accepted.  I know I learned tons that week, but it might boil down to how to stay sane while juggling three offers at a workshop with your WIP. 
Join us next week when Linda shares what she has learned about herself, revision, cover design, and one of her poems from Crazy.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Three Books. Two Points-of-View. One Giveaway. (Make that Four.)

Writing a book from two points of view (POV) is not easy. Although I'm following Mary Kate Castellani's advice to write Half-Truths from both Kate and Lillie's POVthere have been times I've wondered if I can successfully pull it off. It's challenging to:

  • Write a story with two separate character arcs.
  • Write a story that has its own "big picture" arc interweaving the two girls' journeys.
  • Create characters with two distinct voices.
Following my own advice as a writing instructor to "Learn from the Masters," I have read several books written from multiple POV to see how other writers successfully accomplish this task. Here are three examples:

Lisa Kline's first book in her middle grade Sisters in All Seasons series is Summer of the Wolves. Soon after their parents marry, step-sisters Diana and Stephanie are thrown together on a family vacation. Their rocky relationship is full of tension, distrust, and misunderstanding.  The two points of view allow readers to climb inside each character's skin thus increasing their empathy for the characters' experiences. When the girls misguidedly attempt to save some caged wolves, they have to face the repercussions of their actions together. Taking responsibility becomes a vehicle by which they each grow and they become more than step-sisters.  

Lisa shared one of her challenges in writing this series: "There is also a special issue with the passage of time that you face in writing for two voices. You always must keep time moving forward, even when you change from one voice to another. This is a trick that one of my teachers taught me a few years ago. If you have a scene that’s told from the point of view of one person, and you want your readers to see that same scene told from the point of view of the other, you first need to move forward, and then tell that scene as though it’s a flashback. You can’t move backwards in time when you make your move between the two voices. Keep your clock always ticking forward."

I met Beth Revis three years ago and purchased Across the Universe. It took me too long to crack the cleverly done reversible cover, but when I did, I was hooked. This young adult science fiction novel tells Amy's story: frozen for the purpose of populating a new planet in three hundred years, she wakes up early on Godspeed, a spaceship controlled by a tyrannical leader bent on creating his own maniacal world. Amy meets Elder, the young man who is being groomed to be the next leader. From different worlds and different times, they are linked by their common goal of finding out the truth about Godspeed.

I was fortunate to win a copy of Under the Never Sky, Veronica Rossi's first book in her young adult dystopian trilogy.  The reader is immediately hooked into Aria's sterile world in which her scientist mother has gone missing. Desperate to find her, Aria leaves the safety of her Pod and goes into Reverie where she is convinced she will die. She meets Perry, an Outsider and a savage who is both frightening and attractive to her, but who can help her return home.  The alternating viewpoints highlight not only the differences in Aria's and Perry's intrinsic natures and world views, but also their contrasting male and female points of view. 

So, what did I learn from studying these books? Writing in two points of view can demonstrate how two individuals--from different backgrounds and/or worlds--unite to overcome a mutual enemy and reach a common goal. A great lesson from three great authors. 

I am giving away my gently used, autographed copy of Under the Never Sky. If you want to win it, please leave me a comment by March 17.  Every time you share this on social media of your choice, I'll add your name again to the "hat". Follow my blog or tell me you are already a follower and I'll give you another chance to win. If I don't have your email address, make sure you leave that too!

If you want to discover more about books from two points of view and for another opportunity to win Under the Never Sky, as well as a copy of Season of Change by Lisa Kline, Once Upon a Cool Motorcycle Dude by Kevin O' Malley and Cowboy Up! by Nancy Bo Flood--then check out Joyce Hostetter's and my next issue of Talking Story