Sunday, May 24, 2009

Afterward: SCBWI Oregon Spring Conference

I truly enjoyed the SCBWI Oregon Spring Conference. Everyone that made this event possible did a great job. Thank you to Judi Gardiner and Robin Koontz who greeted us and pointed the attendees in the right directions. Also, ladies, your hard work showed by how wonderful the conference flowed.

The speakers taught me much.

Author Cheryl Coupe and I talked a bit in between classes, and she shines in kindness and warmth. In her Master Class, she taught us about secondary characters. I was pleased to find that her talked coincided with my critique session. Stepping out of Cheryl’s class for a few minutes for my session appointment, the person who critiqued my manuscript pages gave me valuable suggestions. Several that Cheryl repeated with excellent examples when I returned to her class. I’d say that was perfect timing!

Miriam Hees, Publisher of Blooming Tree Press, spoke on “Story Structure—Taking An Idea Into a Workable Story.” As a fun aside,  Ms. Hees made us laugh, which loosened us up and made it easier to learn.

Elana Roth, Agent at Caren Johnson Literary Agency, talked about the author/agent business relationship. Very insightful, with humor sprinkled about.

Abigail Samoun, Editor of Tricycle Press, spoke on the picture book process. She gave an informative slide show from draft to submission-ready story.

Marianne Monson, freelance editor and author, taught a class on nonfiction books. You could easily tell she enjoys history and teaching how to write story (I’m with Marianne’s camp on how fascinating history can be). She kept me mezmerized the entire class period.

Last but not least, Noa Wheeler, Editor of Henry Holt, spoke on “Writing Around Character.” Her enthusiasm showed for the characters of books she used as examples.

During the conference, I took loads of notes and stashed away good memories of the conversations I had with folks. I asked questions from several of the speakers and got to know them and the business side of writing better. This was by far one of the best conferences I’ve participated in. I plan to go next year.

Until next time . . .


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Writing Like Gardening Comes in Stages

Spring is in full force here in Oregon. I worked the ground for weeks now, and as I pulled the first weeds around the peas, I realized writing is like gardening. Add your own stages to mine, but this is my comparison.

As a teen, two dreams of mine were to own a large vegetable garden and to write a novel. Now, I have land to work the garden. Fifteen years ago, I developed an idea for the story.

As I planned the garden, I read how to care for the ground, what will grow here, and what seeds I may wish to buy. Before I wrote a word of my middle grade novel, I read on craft, took writing classes, attended the Society of Book Writer’s & Illustrators workshops. Then, I decided on the main character, and who were the secondary characters. 

I chose their names.

When the rains took a break, I tilled the land. I pulled weeds and lugged out rocks. For my story, I went back in my memories. I remembered the joys of being a child here in Oregon. I recalled the difficult changes as a pre-teen when the weeds and stones collected in my heart. An ongoing process, it’s a struggle to rid garbage from my soul and come to terms with the rest.

Fodder for writing.

I fertilized my garden, tossing about the dark compost. Smelly, but rich in nutrients for my plants. Bending over, I poked seeds into earth. Story-wise, I chose which joys and hardships I’d relate to from childhood to create a tale. I titled my story and sat down to write the first draft. I dove into that task with raw creative juices, using the craft rules. 

I wrote thirty pages within two weeks.

Around my vegetables, the weeds came up. The rains came down. Weeds grew thick between the tender shoots. I pulled up the offenders, and I thinned out the crowded veggie plants. After I completed the first draft, I edited. I cut out this and added that. I changed my characters around. I deleted a character here and deleted one there. I wrote out wordy prose, and started all over again. All the while, I ponder on how to raise the stakes to make my readers cry.

How can I make my readers laugh?

Now, I water the plants and watch them grow. My novel is in the process of its umpteen millionth editing trim.

At harvest time, I will pick vegetables to sell, give away, and eat. My book’s harvest is yet to come. Busy writing queries to chosen agents, my story makes the rounds. When declines come in, I work to perfect my query. I fine tune the novel; taking suggestions the dear agents took time to give. One day, if do the best job possible, I’ll see this story in book bound and on shelves for young readers to enjoy.

Only then will I see my goal to entertain and encourage a child along her way.

Until next time, dear readers, plant thyself into thy chair and write . . .

Monday, May 4, 2009

Literary Consultant Jeffrey Moores

Last week, I participated in two nights of live chat hosted by with guest speaker Literary Consultant Jeffrey Moores. To introduce Jeff, his consulting advice is more market specific than other freelance editors. Advises on editorial and agenting. Line and developmental editing is flavored by knowledge of the current market.

Jeff led lively and informative discussions, first on the business industry and then on craft. We threw out our questions and here's a few of his comments.

Jeff says to approach our query in a nonfiction way even for fiction; letter more about where we fit in the market, who our audience is. He suggests we personalize our approaches briefly. Personalize: Quick and simple explanation why approaching a specific agent. Example: “I’m contacting you because of your work with Alice Sebold’s THE LOVELY BONES, whose readers I feel would enjoy my novel.” 

From here, be professional and convey a sense of confidence in our own writing. Doing our “homework” should include a broader explanation of our book within the market. More important to make wide comparisons to novel (thematically, etc.) rather than waste page on drawn-out plot synopsis.

Here’s another tip from Jeff. The best way to “establish” your voice is to first, foremost, FIND your voice. Exercise one’s skill until it’s easily controllable. To a certain extent, voice can be taught. It’s what makes the difference between published and unpublished writers.

Jeff also believes that in this economic climate, it is best to concentrate on our craft rather than an immediate goal for publication. Isn’t this what many of us are reading about and hearing these days?

Jeff recommends an exercise: Write a one-sentence description of book. Then do it again. Then, again. Write 5-10 different one-sentence descriptions of your book. Play with the syntax and don’t be afraid to dig.

One last tip: If you’ve received a slightly personalized decline, chances are it has at least been across an agent’s desk.

To learn more about Jeffrey Moores and his new literary consultant business, visit his site here.

Writerly friends; keep writing and keep reading. Until next time . . .