Wednesday, July 28, 2010

What to Do When You Feel Like Throwing In the Towel?

In which I state the obvious, and more of the obvious.

So, we all get to that point now and then when we get one too many pieces of bad news and think, "This industry is just too darn hard for me. I can't take it anymore!" The question is... what do you do when you get to that point?

Well, you can...

1. Eat yourself into oblivion.
2. Drink yourself into oblivion.
3. Mope around the house for days.

But I don't recommend any of these options. (Trust me, it may seem like a good idea at the time, but the five pound bag of chocolates will not make you feel any better about your writing career!)

So what other choices are available to you?

4. Vent to your writing friends.

I really don't recommend this option either. Though I ADORE my writing friends and they are extremely supportive, the more you talk about writing, the more you are thinking about writing, and therefore, the more you are languishing in your own misery.

So, what's left?

5. Read some good books (I recommend that you read books that are not in your exact genre to ward off feelings of "What? How did this crap get published when my clearly far superior manuscript did not?") Read to ESCAPE. Get lost in someone else's problems. A sure way to get your own woes out of your head.
6. Watch great films (see #5)
7. Exercise
8. Hang out with non-writer friends.

In other words, take a vacation from all things writing. Oh, and for those of you who like to shop., try getting a kick ass pair of new shoes.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Reasons to Go to Conferences- Part 3

REASON #3- You Get the Inside Scoop on What Editors Want

For this one, I bring you Meg Wiviott, author of the beautifully written picture book, BENNO AND THE NIGHT OF BROKEN GLASS. The following is Meg's story in her own words...

Guest Post- Meg Wiviott

Successful writers don’t just wake up one morning and decide they are going to write a picture book. At least I didn’t. I got the idea for BENNO AND THE NIGHT OF BROKEN GLASS roughly eleven years ago at an NJ-SCBWI conference when a well-known editor from a well-known publishing house said the one project he’d like to see come across his desk was a picture book on Kristallnacht. The gasp in the room was audible. A picture book on the beginning of the Holocaust – how does one do that? It took me about seven years to figure out how.

That is not to say that I thought constantly about this project for seven years. It stayed in the back of my mind and occasionally I would pull it out, play with it, mull it over and then push it back into the recesses of my mind. I finally decided that the way to do it would be by staying neutral, by just presenting the facts. My first attempt was a poem (Yikes!), outlining the events of the infamous night of November 9, 1938. My idea was to tell a simple narrative story and use sidebars to give the historical facts so that younger children could enjoy the story and have the facts available to them when they were ready. I took Version #1 to my critique group, who in their always kind and supportive way, said it was boring. Without there being a character readers could latch on to and sympathize with, the story had no heart. They were right. They suggested I tell the story from the point of view of a child. But I couldn’t do that.

Kristallnacht is not a happy story. It does not have a happy ending. I did not want to tell the story from the point of view of a Jewish child because the end is so ambiguous. Nor did I want to tell the story from the point of view of a German child because I did not want to get inside the heads of the German parents. Instead I came up with the idea of Benno the cat (although he was originally named Kater, which means tom cat in German). A cat is a child-like character who allows the reader to see the unfolding of events without expressing emotion. Benno simply observes. His lack of understanding and confusion allows the child reader to be confused herself and to ask, Why did this happen? Which, ultimately, is the message of the story. In this version of the story, I still used sidebars to present the historical facts. My critique group was much happier with this version. So was I.

I sent the manuscript to the well know publishing house, but I did not send it to the well-known editor who’d originally asked for the story. Instead, I sent it to a young editor with whom I’d had dealings with in the past. After about nine months of silence I sent a letter to follow up. I got an email from a different editor telling me that the editor to whom I’d sent the manuscript was no longer with the firm, but he was taking over all her work so if I wanted to send it to him he would “put in on the fast track.” Which I did but he didn’t. After another ten months of silence, I asked the second editor to return the manuscript. There were other houses I wanted to submit it to and at the time I was still doing exclusive submissions. I then sent the manuscript to another editor who responded that although she liked the idea, it was too graphic. She was right. So I took it back to my critique group and toned it down and then decided to attend the November 2006 Jewish Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference. At this conference, I signed up for a 15-minute critique session with Judye Groner, Editor and founder of Kar-Ben Publishing. Having attended several similar editor/agent critique sessions, my experience was that the person giving the critique usually had a lot to say. But Judye had little to say, so I came out of it feeling quite sorry for myself. The next day I got an email from Judye encouraging me to make the few changes we had discussed and resubmit to her. I submitted the revision and Kar-Ben, six months later, bought the story.

My road from concept to contract was particularly long. Mostly because of the time it took me to figure out how to tell such a difficult story. But, I needed that time to sort through the ways of telling such a difficult and sensitive story.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

I Am Obsessed with Butts

I am still totally shell-shocked by the visit from The Bear. I don't think I could have been more surprised if a giraffe knocked on my door wearing a suit and tie. I mean, bears don't just casually saunter by when you live in central Jersey! It's surreal.

Anyway, I tried reading Jordan my latest PB manuscript to see if it had kid appeal, but she wasn't too helpful. No matter what I read her lately, her feedback is, "Change animal X to a puppy, and make him a she." Ha! She is obsessed with dogs. Guess I need a new six-year-old beta reader.

She did think the underwear line was hilarious though. This got me thinking... why do all my PBs mention undergarments and tushes? Rump, butt, caboose, tush, behind, rear, panties.... they appear in nearly every manuscript I write! Hmm... perhaps I need therapy?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Squirrels and Chipmunks and... Bears? Oh My!

We live in the suburbs. My son knew the word "deer" before he knew "dog." We have a lovely little rabbit who eats all our strawberry plants. We've even seen a fox or two. But NEVER did I ever think I would look out my window and see this:

Holy friggin' cow! My heart hasn't raced like that since I let a hot Israeli guy talk me into going up in a two-seater plane with him.

I may never recover.

Friday, July 16, 2010

2010 Check In

Okay, so some of you may recall that back in March, I said I was going to write ten picture books in 2010. (And some of you even said you would join me in this goal!)

Well, since we have recently passed the halfway mark, I thought it would be a good time to check in. For those of you who are giving it a try, how are you doing?

Technically, we should have five manuscripts done by now. I've got four. I'm not too worried. Still plenty of time to catch up. (and truthfully, if I get to eight by Dec 31st I'll be very pleased)

For those of you who don't write PBs, how is it going with your 2010 goals?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Are You a Writer or An Author?

Sudipta Barthan-Quallen started off her PB workshop by saying, "There are writers and there are authors. Writers write for the pure joy of writing. They write what they love. Authors write to get published. They know the market and they write to it. There is nothing wrong with being either one, but you should know which one you are." (Okay, she may have said it a little better than that, but you get the gist.)

I knew the answer.

I started out as a writer who thought she was an author. I wrote cute, sweet little stories with great language. I happened to get lucky... I got a contract for Hop! Plop! in 2003.

In 2008, I became an author. I know the exact moment when it happened.

I subbed a PB manuscript to Stephen Barbara.

He wrote back saying, "I can see the Dr. Seuss influence here and the fine and playful grasp of language you have. I’m concerned though that this may not be quite a big enough concept in this difficult picture book market. Are you working on anything else?"

And I suddenly got it.

I had received five years of rejections saying, this is charming and we love your rhythm and rhyme, but we have to pass. But in that one line from Stephen Barbara, I got the gestalt. Something clicked. I finally understood that if I wanted to get another book published, I needed to WRITE SOMETHING BIGGER.

Something high concept. Something with mass appeal. Something with a strong hook.

Shortly after, I wrote THE THREE NINJA PIGS. I knew immediately that this one would sell. And it did.

Which category do you fall into? Are you sure?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Happiness is....

Watching my kids board the camp bus together in the morning (and knowing they won't be back until after 4:00!)

Being asked by Tammi Sauer if I would like a review copy of Mostly Monsterly? (Like one? I'd love one!! I feel so honored :)

Hearing my six-year-old say, "Mommy, I thought of a great blog topic!"

Collaborating on a clever project

Listening to my kids play "Wiener the Superhero" in the bath tub. (They crack me up)

Drinking a Starbucks Coffee Frappuccino.

Being told by Joshy, "If Astro Boy is too hard, we can play Mario. I'll teach you Astro Boy when you're older."

Reading a fantastic manuscript written by a friend! (Pssst, Melissa has a winner! You heard it here first)

What's your happiness today?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

We've Turned a Corner!

When my kids were like two and three, I would tell my husband, "I think we're turning a corner," and his response would be "Yeah, just like we're turning a corner in Iraq!"

He was right. I was trying to convince myself that things were getting better, but they weren't.

But now.... we really have turned a corner!

Our kids are five and six and we had the best weekend with them. Not to jinx myself, but they played so nicely together and I got to finish The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest while they swam and made up games involving a crazy mixture of horses and Jedis.

Have I mentioned that they are SO cute?

Now if only I had their imaginations, I could go write a great book!