Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Starting from Scratch

Since I am on the subject of Tiffany, let me tell you one of the things I most admire about her as a writer. Tiffany is able to throw out a draft and start completely fresh. She can change the characters, setting, and format so that you can barely recognize it as the same story.

I can't do that. I get locked in. I can switch from prose to rhyme. Or change a character from a bear to a moose.

But I am not able to totally begin anew.

I can't clear my mind. The old version gets stuck in my head like a bad song. It just replays itself over and over, preventing me from finding a new melody.

Are you able to throw out a draft and really start from scratch?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I Did It Again!

I used to feel sorry for people who don't scuba dive. There is a spectacular world down there. A world of brilliant colors and unimaginable beauty. And there are people missing it!

I kind of feel that way now about non-bloggers. Okay, not quite. But those who don't blog are definitely missing out. They are missing out on a wonderful world of supportive writers. A fabulous community that shares information and is an incredible source of inspiration.

So, I am always happy when I convince a friend to start blogging.

Please welcome Tiffany to the blogosphere! She is an amazingly talented rhymer. I expect her to have her first picture book contract soon!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Out of Sorts

I'm feeling itchy,
kind of twitchy,
new WIP is a mess.

Becoming b*tchy.
Things are glitchy.
Hope its PMS

Not sure what is going on. I usually have NO ideas. But when I do miraculously get one, I know exactly how to execute it. Now I have TWO ideas. And I am completely stymied.

I can't figure out what the style or structure should be. First person? Third person? Rhyme? Prose? For the first time ever, I feel like there are too many possibilities. It's overwhelming!

This is my STRENGTH. What do you do when your strong suit fails you?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Otto Grows Down: Rough Road to Publication

By Guest Blogger- Michael Sussman

By the time my son Ollie turned six, I had read him piles and piles of picture books. Although a few were excellent, I was amazed at how many were mediocre or worse: mundane, unimaginative, and condescending to children. I decided I could do better.

Otto Grows Down was my second or third attempt at a picture book. After some rewriting based on feedback from my writer’s group, I submitted to at least 20 or 25 editors. Not a bite, despite the fact that I’d already published two nonfiction titles for adults.

I decided to spend some money and hire a freelance editor to critique the manuscript, and this turned out to be extremely helpful. I realized that I’d basically written a one-joke story about a boy who becomes trapped in backwards time. What was lacking was emotional depth.

Like Archimedes, my eureka moment arrived in the bath tub. What if time turns around because Otto makes a birthday wish that his baby sister was never born! I was so excited by the resulting rewrite that I had visions of a vicious bidding war among dozens of editors! It didn’t happen.

Once again, roughly 20 editors rejected the story. One editor at a major house loved it, but the manuscript didn’t make it through the acquisitions meeting—some of her colleagues deemed the story too complex and potentially scary for young children.

Finally, returning from a writer’s retreat, I discovered a phone message from Frances Gilbert at Sterling Publishing. She was prepared to offer me a contract, which I eagerly signed. She turned out to be a wonderful editor, and Sterling did a magnificent job producing the book, with fabulous illustrations by Scott Magoon. Today, Otto Grows Down is face-out in every Barnes & Noble in the country!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Otto Grows Down

Everyone is talking about time management lately. Jody Hedlund talks about How to Make More Time in a Day. Susan Mills laments about The Time Factor. Even Agent Rachel Gardner makes suggestions on how to squeeze your social networking into 15 Minutes a Day.

I, however, have discovered the real secret to having great posts without spending lots of time. Guest Bloggers!

Tomorrow, Michael Sussman will tell the fascinating story of how he got his first picture book published. Otto Grows Down is the story of a six year old who wishes that his baby sister had never been born. Otto blows out the candles on his birthday cake, and suddenly, times starts moving backward!

Tara Lazar claims that this quirky, clever tale Raises the Bar for Picture Book Writers. I totally agree. (In fact, I'm bummed that I didn't think up this premise myself!)

I would have thought that such an imaginative manuscript would have gotten grabbed up instantly. But no. Stay tuned to hear about Otto's rough road to publication.

Monday, August 17, 2009

First Signed Copy

I really have nothing say at the moment, but in a major attempt at laundry avoidance, I am determined to come up with something!

Uh, let's see...

Did I ever tell you who my first signed copy of Hop! Plop! went to?

The dedication went to my husband. I had no kids at the time, so it was a no-brainer.

But the first signed copy went to my second grade teacher, Claire Cohen. She always said, "You are going to be a famous writer or poet someday." I remember her saying it and I felt she deserved to hear from me 33 years later when my first book was published!

Who gets your first signed copy?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

PIGS on Submission

I was going to blog about nothing. but Megan Rebekah already did that.

So, now I will have to blog about something. And that something is called How Much I Love My New Agent. (Yes, I am still reading too much Junie B.)

I love my new agent. She is awesome. She actually reads my emails and responds. She even calls (Okay, I know I am going to get ticketed by the blog police big time because this could imply that I once had an agent who didn't call, but it is NOT my fault if you leap to all sorts of crazy conclusions on your own.)

I spoke with Awesome Agent on Thursday and she said PIGS is ready to go! So she is sending it out to a couple of houses that she thinks might have interest and she is also sending updated drafts to the editors who already have it.

Now I just have to wait for responses. I'd better ask Jesus to give me patience. That waiting business is hard work!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Like Mother, Like Daughter

My daughter was incredibly verbal when she was little. So verbal, in fact, that I never would have believed it if I hadn't witnessed it myself.

When she was around a year and a half, I said to her, "Jordan instead of just crying in your crib, can you kind of yell out and tell me what's wrong so I know if I need to come in. Like Mommy, I dropped my pac!"

Later that night, I was in a deep sleep and I heard, "Mommy, I need more milk."

I got up and made her a bottle. Just as I was falling back to sleep, I heard, "Mommy, my milk leaked." Yup, she really said leaked.

I got up and sure enough, I hadn't screwed the lid on properly. I had to change her pajamas and her sheets and get her a new bottle.

I was so tired. (Keep in mind I also had a three month old!)

I finally get back into bed and drift off and I hear, "Mommy, I got in a bad mood!"

Ha! Why couldn't she have taken after her father?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Power of Positive Thinking

Warning: This Post Might be Slightly Blasphemous.

It's WIP Wednesday. What work? What progress? As some of you can tell, I have been in a bit of a funk this week. I blame it on hormones.

I thought maybe if I blogged about something sad, it would be cathartic. That backfired. It made me feel worse. (Why did I have to drag everyone down with me?) Don't worry. I won't be trying that again.

Anyway, I am going to try a new tactic today. I am going to write about a book that I found uplifting: The Power of Positive Thinking by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale.

A few years ago, I was going through a tough time, and I came across some mention of this book. (It was pre-blogging, so God only knows where.) The book sounded fantastic! The chapter headings were something like this:

  • How to Have More Energy
  • How to Be More Patient
  • How to Stop Worrying
  • How to be Happy All The Time

I couldn't wait to get my hands on it! I ordered it from Amazon immediately and opened it the second it arrived.

And this is basically what every chapter said:

If you want more energy, just wake up every morning and say, "Jesus, please give me energy today."

If you want to be more patient, just get up every day and ask Jesus to give you patience.

If you want to... okay, well, you get the point.

I found this hilarious.

First off, I am Jewish. Second, it is billed as a "self-help" book. It should have been called The Power of Prayer, not The Power of Positive Thinking.

But as I read on, the book was filled with touching anecdotes of people who overcame hardships by believing in themselves. It was strangely inspiring. I was much more positive for several months. My husband even noticed, and I would joke with him, "I'm much happier since I found Jesus."

Now I just need to remember tomorrow to ask Jesus for a new PB idea.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Can You Judge a Guy by His Books?

I remember the first time I went out with David. I thought he was good-looking, smart, and very genuine, but there was no spark. After three or four dates, things fizzled and he didn't call again. About a month later, I was invited to a holiday party and was asked to bring friends. I figured, "Why not ask him?" He is a very eligible bachelor. Surely someone else will want to meet him. I moved in three months later.

If I had paid more attention to what was on his book shelves, I might not have needed a second look. How many single guys have Six by Seuss? Add to that The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh, and it should have been instantly obvious! Don't you think?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Kids Sure Do Have It Great!

Okay, now I feel horribly guilty for getting everyone depressed.

So, here are a couple of Calvin and Hobbes:

Ah, to be a kid again!

Making Sense of the World

Warning: This post has some sad content, so if you are highly sensitive, you might want to skip it.

Linda at Swell Books wrote a post a couple of weeks ago called Why I Write for Kids. I wrote a kind of dumb answer in her comments section and now I'd like to give it another go.

As a mom of two preschoolers, I watch my two kids struggle to make sense of the world around them. In particular, Josh with his constant categorizing. Pablo is a boy. Uniqua is a girl, right? Or his more recent, I think Manny and Diego are kids (Ice Age). But I know Alex is a kid because he has a Mommy and Daddy. (Madagascar) I don't even bother to remind him that I am a grown up and I have a mommy and daddy (because I want him to stop his rambling and go to sleep!)

Okay, this is where the sad part comes in. My husband was out with the kids the other day and they saw a baby deer who had gotten his foot caught in a sewer grate. The poor thing was terrified. They called the police. The policemen arrived on the scene and after conferring for a second, one of them came over to my husband and said, "Sir, get the kids out of here."

David heard the shot as he drove off.

My kids live in a world where the police officers saved that baby deer. That's what policemen do. They SAVE lives. You call them, and they come to the rescue.

I think I write for kids, because I still want to be living in that world.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Seeds of Doubt

Oh, maybe I shouldn't have posted that snippet. It's not that you all weren't supportive. Quite the opposite! People said such nice things about the newer version of that PIGS stanza that now I am second-guessing my decision to replace it.

I even went to so far as to email Casey and ask her if my newest version was better, and she said, I actually prefer the one with "succulent swine."

When did I start writing by committee? (My husband always warns me against doing exactly that!)

Why can't I decide for myself? Why do I feel like polling each and every one of my followers? Maybe because I am so used to writing with Becky? Whenever I am on the fence, she always has a strong opinion, so that settles it.

Maybe I have just revised this story for so long that I have lost perspective? Has that ever happened to you?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Teaser Tuesday (sort of)

Okay, so I wasn't planning on posting a snippet of THREE NINJA PIGS, but a comment on my last post got me thinking...

Suzanne from Tales of Extraordinary Ordinariness, wrote "I just read something that said a good revision changed or removed every, single word of the first draft."

Whoa! My OCD tendencies immediately kicked in.

Every single word! Is that possible? Have I ever done that? Have I come close? Have any of you?

I looked back at my first draft of Pigs and compared it to my most recent. (Since it is a fractured fairy take, the structure of the story really didn't change at all.)

Not going to bore you with my detailed analysis, but here is a sample to give you an idea of how much has been altered.

BEFORE (1st draft)

The wolf looked at Pig 3’s stance
And noticed the black belt on her.
“Though I’d like a good meal,
I’ve gotta be real.
Against you I’d be a goner.

AFTER (Draft submitted to my agent*)

The wolf saw that he was outrivaled
He shuddered and shivered with fear.
“Though I do love to dine
on succulent swine,
I’d best get the heck outta here!”

As you can see, the premise stayed in tact, but nearly all the actual words have changed.

* This stanza has since changed again.

Tip of the Day- Less is More

Even Seuss says so: "The writer who breeds more words than he needs is making a chore for the reader who reads."

I think this is especially true of picture books. Take a look at your manuscript. Is every word necessary? Are there places where you can cut? Can you replace three words with one better word?

For more picture book tips, read Margot Finke's article, So You Want to Write a Picture Book?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Publishing Pains- Maggie's Monkeys

By Guest Blogger- Linda Sanders-Wells

I'm happy to share the story of how Maggie's Monkeys made it into print. The history of this book is that it took about nine years from when I wrote the first version of the story until I had the book in my hands. It was rejected 18 times in the six years between first submission and acceptance by Candlewick. I'd been writing picture books for about three years and already had dozens of rejections in my file, so I wasn't surprised when editors said no. (I generally keep sending manuscripts out until they've amassed at least 12 or 15 rejections. In total, I have received something like 250 rejections on 15 or 20 different stories, ranging from picture books to YA novels.)

This story, originally called Monkey Madness, wasn't just one of the manuscripts in the pile, though. From the beginning, it got more positive reactions than other things I'd written. First from my writing group and then from editors. One editor at a major house who was on my A list said she'd taken it to the editorial director, who thought it was too old for the picture book crowd. Another high-ranking editor felt the ending was too flat and asked for revisions -- and then took two years to reject the revised story.

Here's part of the story that I do think has value for other writers. The revised ending had a lot of fun elements, but it didn't feel quite right to me. It was a little too hyped up and pulled the story away from the family too much. I struggled with the decision about which ending to use when I sent it out after that, and opted to go back to the original. Since the editor who asked for the revision still wasn't persuaded, I decided to go with what felt right to me. I'm glad I did.

I was getting close to giving up on it when I read an interview with Candlewick editor Joan Powers by Robin Friedman as part of the research I routinely did into editors and their tastes. I was shocked to realize I knew Joan. We worked together briefly in New York many years ago (at Mademoiselle magazine, which if you knew either of us would probably come as a surprise).

When I started submitting, I had spent time at my daughter's bookshelf, pulling out the books I liked and listing who published them. The house that had the most of my favorite titles was Candlewick. But Candlewick only accepts submissions through agents, and I don't have an agent.

I decided to take a chance. I wrote Joan, not even sure she'd remember me, and asked if she'd read a manuscript. She agreed and later sent me editorial notes that were wonderfully helpful. I used her suggestions to revise, among other things making clearer why Jack didn't want to play along with Maggie (she's practically a baby!). I briefly considered going back to the second ending, but my writing group and my own conscience argued against it.

Finally, the call came. And it was like I'd always imagined. I talked through the details with Joan (and the offer was generous -- Candlewick is a very author-centric publisher, and I couldn't be happier to have published with them), then spent three days walking on air, calling everyone I knew and pinching myself to see if it was really true.