Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Beverly Horowitz Part 2

Things an author might do to understand her novel:
*Where's the focus?
*Who is your market?
*Who will buy it?

Be your own best advocate by:
*Be able to clarify what your book is about
*Get on the other side of desk and figure how to pitch your novel. Do not describe it as then, then, and then..
*Always get another set of eyes to look at your work-especially helpful if they are your own eyes which requires distancing from your work.
*Put manuscript away, come back and say, "I'm going to read from a new perspective."
*Have I brought my character my own gender sensibility? (I can't remember quite what this means).
*If I don't love my character, who will? The character doesn't have to be loveable to love-Voldemort is a great character, and we can love his character because it's so wonderfully, fulfillingly evil.
*Are all your scenes age appropriate for the protagonist's age?
*It's ok to write about anything as long as its intent isn't to titillate or exploit. Don't throw in anything that isn't needed or meant to achieve exploitation.
*Analyze each scene--is it necessary? Ask why this tangent was taken?
*The writing cannot have an agenda. What makes our work different from what adults do?
*Young people are still in the process of growing and becoming. They are a blank page.
*Remember that teenagers have limited experience when they come to the party.
*What is my moral obligation to kids who are still a blank slate?
*The story must bring a sense of hope-even a story that Random House published about a boy and his transgender transformation, though it was sad, the story offered hope. In the Chocolate WArs, there was a ray of hope for the boy who dared to disturb the universe.
*Book must be the best and at the inspiring level.

Once your novel is in the publishing que:
*Write flap copy for the book-to further understand meaning. Would you buy the book from the flap copy? (once you do this it may help to write a query).
*The industry has become smaller.
*Try to understand what is beyond sending the book in.
*Do I love my character? Enough to revise as much as might be required?
*Ms. H. looks for honesty in writing because kids can smell a fake a mile away-no fakes.
*If someone gives an author the respect to read her book, the reader deserves the very best the author has to offer

When a manuscript comes in, what is the dealbreaker?
1. Author must be willing to revise
2. Editors must receive the manuscript in their name.-Understand that publishing has its own chaos.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Illustrator David Small

"The body expresses what the mind is not allowed to do."

David Small wrote/drew "STitches" the story of his abuse and consequent disease from not communicating or dealing with this abuse. The time spent with him was moving and at the end when he danced and sang to James Taylor's How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You, I was very moved by his passion, his suffering and his ability to overcome the angst by putting it all down on paper.

My take-away was that writing has to be honest, raw, and will always reflect what the author has experienced and may be what the author has to give, must give. Sometimes it's a matter of survival and healthy living.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The One and Only Judy Blume

I went to breakfast one morning and standing right in front of me was the prolific children's author Judy Blume. At first, I thought, Wow, there's Judy Blume. But guess what? Judy Blume was just....just ...another person--who dug in her heals, worked hard and had publishing success.
We had a chance to hear from her when author John Green canceled for gall bladder surgery. Now that would have been interesting...
She told us:
She keeps her old IBM SElectra in the closet and whispers "I love you" when she passes.
Because of the OLD way of writing she would write from beginning to end. She has succumbed to the constant editing due to the ease of the computer.
Her adult novel Summer Sister took 23 drafts and over 3 years to write.
Her basic ideas for books live in her head and percolate.
She doesn't understand the creative process and plot isn't how her ideas/books come to her.
When you write, you become the age of your character.
Your novel starts the day something happens.
Supposedly her dialogue is the best ever and it's the only thing she likes to write.
Question your characters and ask the questions that don't have answers.
She knows where her novel starts and when it ends but loves the mystery of not knowing what is happening in between.
She takes lots of notes and scribbles things down before she starts writing.
Every writer needs someone who's supportive.
Suggested taking everything I've learned at the conference and then letting it go.
When she wakes up, she's excited to go in her little room and work with her characters.
While writing, she cries and laughs out loud. --That is how moved she is by her own characters and to me, shows the depth of her creation and how real they become.
Natural determination counts as much as talent.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Phantom Tollbooth

How did I become 51 years old without reading Norton Juster's Phantom Tollbooth? I've ordered it and look forward to this timeless (1961) classic. I still appreciated the wisdom from this literary giant. He said, "Boredom is not an unmixed blessing." This is what helped him write his book. I think of all the years I spent trying to keep my children from being bored. A mistake? Possibly.

He also told us to spend a large part of our time out of context. Now, I don't remember his context for making this statement and I don't remember any details, so I'm going to re-interpret what this might have meant.

I think he means that we need to think and experience outside of our norm, push ourselves to go outside of our box, whether this is driving a different way, walking a different route, reaching out and speaking to strangers, skydiving (I still haven't taken my birthday present), or maybe it's as simple as eating African food when we always eat American. I'm unsure, but from a man who wrote a timeless book, it's a thought to ponder.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Second Intensive with Leasa Adams

This woman was darling. Knew her stuff. She's an editor, a good one and of course she knows her stuff. Though I gathered from her comments, that there is rigidity in the editorial establishment. INflexible to what will work, what will not, they look at the manuscripts they see as formulaic. But then they know what works and what doesn't.
The workshop was about plot. The format for the intensive was again: terrible. Three hours, again too many people-probably 25, and the expectation for each of us to give a premise for our story and then for Ms. Abrams and the class participants to jump in and tell us if our plot worked--all in five minutes. But, Ms. Abrams announced right at the beginning that she was not a school teacher and didn't know how to manage the masses. IN her previous class, not everyone had their ideas reviewed. Unless we managed our time well, not everyone would have a chance. What do YOU think happened?
And honestly, how can you tell a person if their plot is working or not in 5 minutes. WEll, some people took 20 minutes. Three people left the class. I wanted to join them but felt if I was the fourth, well that was just too rude.
Never mind that the first guy who went had a chip on his shoulder because he wanted to believe that his 20 year old protagonist was the perfect age for children's literature. He'd had three teenage readers, not relatives, read his manuscript and they thought the age was just right. He basically engaged Ms. Abrams in an antagonistic fashion. She handled him well, but my oh my, another greatly horrific start. When the argument was over, he basically admitted that he wanted and expected the fight.
The only way that this format was helpful was that when the leader and participants asked me questions about my plot, I wasn't confident and sure-which spoke to me that I didn't have my plot down solid. So in that way it was invaluable. I'm a firm believer that every situation can be turned into value.

Questions or Plot checklist-from the editor
1. What does your character want? Must be specific, concrete answer-watch for abstractions like happiness, or to fin in etc.
2. Will your readers know what the obstacles are for your main character within the early pages of the novel? Can you list them clearly?
3. do these stakes resonate with your readers--taking into account gender and age level of target audience?
4. If your story is fantasy/science fiction rather than reality-based, can you still pinpoint what makes the stakes feel relatable to kids in our world?
5.Does every single scene serve a clear plot/character development purpose that you can easily summarize?
6. I there any kind of time pressure for the character to solve her or his conflicts?
7. Does your character have choices as part of the building conflicts that affect the trajectory of the story?
8. Is all of the action character-driven? Do the characters' motivations always make sense and feel consistent?
9. Will readers understand why your character is making the choices he/she makes?
10 Will the payoffs satisfy?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Day After Intensives-For Mary

As a participant in the day after intensives, I must say that the energy was gone. Where did it go and who lost it? The participants? The teachers?

I was highly anticipating my time with Arthur Levine-a powerhouse in the world of publishing. And he certainly was a delight.
 Levine chose to go over the beginning chapter of each of our novels. Of course there was not enough time and each author listened to 3 minutes of feedback with 100 minutes of listening to feedback from someone else's novel after only hearing the first page read by each author.
I tried to listen and glean from the experience and the master in editing.
What ARthur did teach us was some fantastic insight on that first chapter. He compared it to a first date. Did the analogy work?  We must compare our first chapter to the impression we want to present on a first date. What do we want to happen on a first date? We want to engage the guy, get him interested and hope, (if he's a catch) that he will come back for more, or in book terms, turn the page and read the next chapter.
So what kind of impression are we making on our first date?
He also took examples from several celebrated books. It only took the first few paragraphs to see the strength of these novels, to recognize that they had all presented themselves very well, in very different ways.
The examples were: Harry Potter, book 1, Millicent Min Girl Genius, The Golden Compass, Marcelo in the Real World, The Bad Beginning: A series of Unfortunate Events, James and the Giant Peach, When She Was Good, Deep Down Popular, In the Shadow of the Ark, The Year of the Secret Assignments.

The Protected vs. the Unprotected Child

Donna Jo Napoli began her talk by telling an incident of a woman standing up in a crowd and berating her for writing a terrible thing in Song of the Magdalene. I have never read this book, which I understand to be about Mary Magdalene and a rape.
Ms. Napoli defended herself and then based her talk to us on the thoughts and emotions that sprang from that encounter.

Foremost, empathy is critical to our society and when it is missing, society disintegrates.

In our society we have the protected and the unprotected child. The unprotected child is the child who may live in poverty, who may suffer abuse, who may suffer from parents who are mentally ill, who are drug abusers, parents who don't look out for their children. They are children who suffer in war and through famine. Often these childrens' stories are the subjects of books. It is critical that these children find and read these books so they understand they are not alone and that they can learn from others' experiences. Traumatic books can help children get through and resolve their own trauma.

Then there are the protected children who must also gain empathy and no one would ever wish the above circumstances on the protected child. Thank goodness they are protected. But the protected child must learn empathy and this may only happen through vicarious circumstances found in a book. It is safe, yet emotion evoking and if written beautifully, will move the child to empathy without having to experience the horrible.
It is critical that children learn about suffering from books.
Remember the emotion you felt in A Tree Grows In Brooklyn? Remember everything that you learned? Remember how you loved Anne Frank and understood the injustices of Hitler's decrees without living in 1940's Holland? Remember Laurie Halse Andersen's Speak? And you knew what it was like to be disconnected and desolate? And to watch out for the wrong guys?

If a hard book is in one's heart, it is that author's obligation to tell that story--for the sake of the children.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

"All I Ever Wanted to be Was a Storyteller" Bruce Coville part 1

Class with Bruce Coville, of Into the Land of the Unicorns fame. I've never read any of his books but I can compliment his terrific class on plot and character.
Most often books are labeled as character or plot driven. According to Bruce, one with out the other is like a coin with one side-it can't exist.
According to Coville:
*The best stories from the beginning of time partake equally between the female/male; it was how Dickens and Shakespeare wrote-they created incredible male and female characters with lots of action.
*Plot imposes discipline on the disorder of life. When someone re-tells an event, when it is a great event they often say, "And it was almost like a story." As humans we crave, even live for a good story because it is a basic desire of the human race.

A good plot:
*brings closure
*has a perfect ending-both a surprise and the inevitable, but not a coincidence.
There are rules for using coincidence-use only at the beginning of the story, never at the end. The further coincidence in the story, the more unbelievable.
*REaders are becoming less and less tolerant of conicidence. And fiction is held to a higher standard of believability than real life.

A good story consists of:
The HA-a belly laugh-not a joke- but a laugh that grows out of story itself-when a bully gets come-uppance, situations where we think of the perfect thing the next day),
The WA-a tear, kill the dog, most endangered character in books-tear of joy or relief-because something fills your heart so much that it has to come out of your eyes. Third kind of tear-tear of personal connection-the right person who needs to hear that thing at that time) The right story at the right time at the right moment can be an arrow to the heart that allows something to be pierced and released

The YIKES- a gasp of surprise—formula-where the world of the story seems right-a great turn-love that surprise.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Thought This Quote Deserved A Space of Its Own

We need to raise a new generation of writers and artists not for our nation's economy but for the nation's soul.
Mark Seigal

Gary Paulsen-Recipient of Three Newberry Awards

Not what I expected from a man who won three Newberry awards. He is old, bitter but still writing, still a caring man-probably a very tender man who has overreacted from his hardships and the way he claims to have been treated by publishers, attorneys, wife etc. But this is not a tabloid for writer-tell-all. And I heard a gem from Gary, twice, that has resonated with me to the core.

"Turn off the television. Throw a rock into the screen. It's nothing but disgusting trash."

I'm not a TV watcher, but I have my lazy moment weaknesses and this was a much appreciated wake-up call.

In his school visits, this is his mantra to kids everywhere and sometimes they act on the TV destruction and he'll get a phone call from a parent. But he is right!

His second greatest recommendation was to read like him: two to three books a day. He also recommended to not let anything get in the way of writing, including family--which might explain some of his bitterness. Sure, something has to give away to writing time, but let it be television!

Thank-you Gary. Two to three books a day! It's possible and reaffirmed what is espoused by most writer's talks-they became writers, learned the story of craft, from reading stories.

Hatchet, Dogsong,--Gary is an amazing example of living to write his stories. He lives a Spartan life in the woods. He did the Idiatrod dogsled race in Alaska several times. His stories are brutally real and truthful, but he has lived these stories and that is why they are award winners. You should have heard what he called Jack London for only living the Alaskan life vicariously through the stories of hardship he heard from the guys who lived them.

Paulsen explained that he's been a millionaire but supposedly now is somewhat broke-everything about his appearance supported this. helped to explain the love one must have of writing to keep writing and a real writer must write without thought to money. Motives must be absolutely pure! I'm pretty convinced that Paulsen loves to write.

Gary is a keynote speaker today, which I am going to miss. I'm excited to hear feedback from the masses. i wonder if he'll tone it down for the main group.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Candy Shop

SCBWI attendance is like walking through a candy store and trying to eat it all. There is so much here! So much inspiration and a lot of craft information. I'm going to write about each speaker or workshop in separate posts instead of throwing all the gumballs at you. Day 2 and I'm exhausted from getting up at 3:30 this morning because of excitement and anxiety--but I can't rest. I'm off to dinner and a party where some of our funner writers will be dressed up in pajamas!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Conceive an idea. Then stick to it. Those who hang on are the only ones who amount to anything. You can do anything you please. It's the way it's done that makes the difference.
A good thing is no better for being done quickly.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens, American sculptor


I have the beach house all to myself. Lovely weather too, yet I can't wait to head up to LA. I'm most excited about the class with Arthur Levine. Just couldn't hold this in this morning. Off for a beach run!