Sunday, December 16, 2007

Merry Christmas to all...and to all a good write!

Wherever you are and whatever you do, may you spend your December in your favorite setting with all of your favorite characters.

Happy Holidays, from Janelle

Friday, December 7, 2007

Countdown to the CYBILS

The time for the public to nominate books for the CYBILS awards has now passed, and the nominating panelists are feverishly reading hundreds of books and narrowing them down for the judges in each category to consider. You can check out the nominated books in each category (from picture books, to MG fantasy to graphic novels and more) at

Will the winners be someone in your crit group; someone you've met at a conference? Or will it be one of the tried and true masters of the trade who just happen to have a new book out this year? Looking at the nominated fantasy books this year (there are 94 of them,) the nominating committee is having to measure books written by Ursula Le Guin, Meg Cabot and Lloyd Alexander against new books by lesser known authors who may have just thrust their first fantasy writing into the market. Have no doubt though, at this point it's anybody's award to win!

As noted earlier on this blog, I'll be judging for fantasy this year. And I'm looking forward, with excitement (and trepidation,) to the task of reading so many great novels and working with the others on the fantasy judging panel to pick the WINNER for 2007. Check back here beginning in January for thoughts on the various books as I read them and the judging panel begins to discuss them.

I've chosen the cover of "Powers" by Ursula LeGuin (one of the nominated fantasy books) as the picture for this blog post because of the great job the illustrator did on the cover. Alas, we will not be judging the books in this competition by their illustrations. But to all of you illustrators out there, I still salute you. Afterall, the cover of a book is the very first thing that makes us pick it up off of a bookstore or library shelf. Following that we generally look at the title, and after that if the synopsis on the back is good and the first page seems intriguing, we might just take the book home and give the actual plot and characters inside it a chance to impress us. But it's the Illustrators who get us started. So, kudos to the ILLUSTRATORS who make readers give each book it's first chance!

As to the fantasy nominees: check out the books on the blog at the CYBILS website, and join the judges as we read them. If you don't agree with us in the end, perhaps you'll be inspired to look into becoming a judge next year yourself! :) But we surely will do the best we can to make a good selection! Ack! No pressure!

In other news, there are several new items lining the left hand side of this blog, and I hope you'll check them out. There is 1.) a writer's poll which will have a new topic every month from now on. 2.) a recommended YA/MG book of the month, and 3.) a "Favorite Line" from a YA/MG book that I'm currently reading to provoke each of us to write even greater sentences of our own.

I hope these will be of interest, make you smile, and make your writing life better just like they are making mine.

Friday, November 30, 2007

5 Things I've Learned from NANOWRIMO

National Novel Writing Month, the annual event in which thousands of writers around the world all attempt to write 50,000 words of a novel in the month of November, has ended once again. And on my third try I finally made it all the way to 50K this year. That's 174 frantically typed pages. Ah, what a feeling!

And over the past 3 years that I have been participating in nanowrimo I have discovered various truths that I think are relevant to all novelists who have deadlines to meet. And so here they are, listed in reverse order of importance:

5 things I've learned from Nanowrimo

5. A novel is LONG, and the middle is super tough, whether you're writing it in 30 days or 3 years. But it can be done. YOU can write a novel.

4. No Plot is a problem -- Despite the great title of brilliantly witty Chris Baty's book, "No plot, No problem." It really is essential to know:
WHO your character is
WHAT is going to happen to him or her (generally,) and
WHY that stuff that's about to happen is a PROBLEM he or she will have to resolve.
Until you've figured that out it's best not to get too far with the writing.

3. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. If I'd stopped doing nano in my first or second year I'd never have reached 50K in 30 days, and missed out on the joy of it. Similarly perseverance is important in any kind of novel writing. Many published authors will tell you they still have one or more of their first novel manuscripts sitting in a desk drawer somewhere, and that no one will buy those even though their other novels are now flying off the shelves. So, keep on keeping on. As Richard Bach once said: "A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit."

2. Peer support is essential in any great writing endeavor - this is why critique groups are so essential. (Thanks to Amy, Bish, George, Joan, Jules, Wendy, Doug, and all of the Goalies for being my crit-supporters during nano and all year round!) Afterall, we writers need cheerleaders -- people to say "This is great, I can't wait to read what happens next," or "Hey only 5,ooo more words to go :); piece of cake!" And we also need them to say things like "Wait, that plot line there makes no sense, might I suggest you get the older sister arrested here?" This is especially helpful when we're drowning in that horrible noveling wasteland called "the middle. " It happens to all of us. So, if you aren't a part of a critique group, you can find both online and local Children's Writer's Crit groups by seaching google or better yet, by becoming a member at

And the number one thing that Nanowrimo teaches me again and again each year is that:

1. Writers Write Regardless. Real writers - writers who meet deadlines, who publish, who succeed at getting books out of their hearts and onto the paper, write every day whether they feel like it or not. They do NOT wait for inspiration to strike them -- if they did, they would never get out of the middle! Yes indeed, inspiration is wonderful, but there are those days when just saying "I'm going to write 500 words today" is enough; perhaps they won't be great words, or inspired words. But that is not the point. We can (and should) revise it all later. But to get to the end, to reach the finale, we must write enough to get over the next hill then stop at a place we find interesting, close the manuscript, and smile. We've made progress today. Hip, Hip, Hooray! And we will do so again tomorrow...


*Additional info. on nanowrimo: National Novel Writing Month has continued now for 9 years. Participation is free and novelists of all ages are welcome. Items purchased in the nanowrimo online gift shop, like the mug pictured above (thanks nanowrimo,) provide funds to build libraries in third world countries, and also to keep the annual writing event going strong around the world. The "young writers" program, a part of nanowrimo, also encourages kids as young as elementary school to imagine and plot and then write their own stories. For further information about the event or to purchase from the online store and support this excellent adventure, visit .

Monday, November 26, 2007

A Book Toast to Kathleen M. Reilly

Big Congrats to my friend, the prolific magazine writer -- and now book author -- Kathleen Reilly, on her new book "Planet Earth: 25 Environmental Projects you can build yourself." What a fun way to look at a very important topic! The book will be coming out in June '08 from Nomad Press. Go Kathleen Go! Kids and parents will both love it. And so, we toast you!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

On Actually Making Money...

So, the other day I realized it was November. And I started thinking about tax season, which will be coming up in less than 6 months. (It's morbid, I know, especially since we've just entered the Christmas shopping season. But still, it's important to plan ahead.) So, here I was, stuffing a receipt into my "take this off from your taxes" writer's expenses slot, and I had a rather horrible epiphany. I have not made much money on my writing this year.

And yet it isn't that I haven't been writing. I have actually been working very hard...

You see, I've been putting in 10 - 20 hours a week on my literary career -- which isn't too bad since I have a full-time "day job" that I have to go to first. I've been writing, revising, getting critiqued, writing and revising again, (novels, mind you). In addition to that I've been researching publishers, querying agents, attending conferences, networking with other writers, and staying active in two critique groups. I've been preparing my first two YA novel manuscripts for their journeys into the publishing world. And I've been feeling pretty excited about that -- until right now! : )

You see, during tax season the IRS will reportedly let any new business (like the business of being a freelance writer) experience a couple of years of spending more than you make. They'll let you take off some of those writing expenses with the understanding that you, like any other new business, should soon be making some money. You should soon be coming out more often in the black than in the red. (Now, I'm not a tax person, so I'd recommend consulting yours if you have questions about what writing expenses you can take as deductions, what forms to use, and other rules and details). But for me, I realized that my novel-writing is much slower than whipping out an article here and there. And that the novels that have been growning longer and longer on my computer, are not yet at the point of making me any money.

Brilliant, I know.

So, I decided I needed to re-diversify my writing. You see, I did make some money on writing shorter things last year. It's just that this year I put most of my eggs in one basket. And unfortunately that was the novel basket, where the payment comes more slowly because first you have to write the darn thing, then hope to find a publisher, do any revisions they ask for, and then wait awhile more!

And so I've learned this lesson: Unless a writer is planning to keep two day jobs forever, putting all your eggs in the novel basket when first starting off, is a bad idea. And yet, I suspect that I am not the only novelist in this boat.

So, I am posting my change-strategy here for others to consider. And I'll be diversifying my writing again, starting now.

This means that I'll be pausing every so often in my noveling to send some work out to a few places where writers can write shorter things and get paid for them. (Imagine that!)

And, in case there are others out there who need to diversify their writing as well, here is a helpful list of opportunities for us all:

  • Magazines -- accept fiction and nonfiction pieces for children, teens, and adults, and their
    writer's guidelines are usually available on their websites.

  • Writing Contests -- often have cash prizes (in addition to the fame you'd get for winning). And some of these will take your novel excerpt or a short story.

  • Compilation Books -- like Chicken Soup for the Soul, Poetry books, Devotional books or Short Story Anthologies accept short writings from various authors and group them together into a larger work. Not only do these pay you, but they get you published in a book.

  • Curriculum and Standardized Tests -- educators can find opportunities online to write curriculum on almost any general school subject. And there is often a need for writers to pen the questions for the newest version of the SAT's.
So this Thanksgiving, let's be thankful for diversity. Because diversity in our writing will keep us in the black when tax season rolls around next year.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Drowning in Revision? Grab the hand of another writer.

MARCO.... POLO..... Marco.... Polo....

The waters of the pool are chilly when I stand still and indecisive like this. And my throat hurts from the chlorine. I shout again,
"Marco," then I listen. And the voices whisper back from my right, and straight ahead, and behind.


I splash toward the closest voice. I'll corral them this time. But when I get there, I find only the swish of moving water and the cold, hard side of the pool. My quary has eluded me, again.

For me, revision is sometimes like this. I know where I'm trying to go, but I just can't seem to get there.

You see, revision is all about making everything in the second, third, or fourth drafts of our novels better than it was in the first. We want to make the story stronger, the action faster, the characterization deeper, the plot more logical and the writing more flawless. We can see the problems in our stories but, for me at least, there are times when I am at a loss about how to fix them.

This is where the help of other writers comes in. You see, the techniques of many exceptional writers are all on display on the shelves of your local library or Barnes and Nobles. The novels that others have written contain techniques that can help you and I catch the elusive brilliant paragraphs in our own revision pools.

There are many stories out there with strong secondary characters, action-filled plots, and great dialogue, for example. And if we read these, it can't help but make our own writing stronger.

So grab the hand (er, the book) of another writer. They are like literary life-jackets for those of us who are drowning in revision. They teach us; inspire us; they move us forward in our own stories...

So here are some of my favorite literary life-jackets. Because we all need need a little outside inspiration sometimes!

For Main and Secondary-Characters
  1. The Truth About Forever (YA) - Sarah Dessin
  2. The Lord of the Rings, the Two Towers - JRR Tolkien
  3. Shakespeare's Secret (MG) - Elise Broach
  4. Harry Potter (all 7 books) - JK Rowling (Because Dumbledore, Hermione, Ron, Snape & Malfoy are all secondary characters, and they are well-rounded and alive.)

For Plot, Timing and Action

  1. Alex Rider, Storm-breaker (YA) - Anthony Horowitz
  2. The Black Stallion Returns (MG) - Walter Farley
  3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (MG/YA) - JK Rowling
  4. The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp (YA) - Rick Yancey

For Portraying Emotion effectively

  1. The Truth About Forever (YA) - Sarah Dessin
  2. The Black Stallion Returns (MG) - Walter Farley
  3. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (MG/YA) - JK Rowling
  4. High Wizardry (YA) - Diane Duane
  5. Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  6. The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King - JRR Tolkien

For Great Dialogue, and Characters with difinitive voices

  1. Tom Sawyer (YA) - Mark Twain
  2. The Wizard's Dilema (MG) - Diane Duane
  3. And all of the Harry Potters (MG/YA) - JK Rowling

(JK Rowling makes this list because, as you may have noticed, Professor McGonagal, Professor Trelawney, Aunt Petunia and Mrs. Weasley are all middle aged, female, tertiary characters who all manage to sound completely different. That's phenomenal.)

So these are some of my life-jackets. They have recently been an inspiration to me, and I would love to hear which books, in which categories (above) are an inspiration to you as well.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Book Toast to Three (Ian, Karen, and Me)

Sorry, hee hee. I couldn't pass up the rhyming opportunity! But the good news among the Raleigh writers just keeps pouring in! So, here are three more reasons to celebrate:
First, a toast to the amazing Karen Lee, whose book ABC Safari has just been awarded the Bronze Medal in the category of ABC/counting books by the Independent Publishers Moonbeam Children's Book Awards! Look for the bronze medallion on her covers in bookstores everywhere! And a second big congrats to Karen for having the two newest books she's illustrated, One Odd Day and My Even Day both flying into stores from Silvan Dell. Congrats, Karen! You're on a roll!
And a second Toast, to Ian Sands , for receiving an Illustrators "Award of Excellence" at the SCBWI Carolina's Fall conference for his artwork entitled "Fox Steals a Kite!" Go Ian! Go Ian!
And here's a third toast - erg, to me actually.
I am thrilled to report that the novels I've been working on (Orion's Apprentice, and The Prince of Chains and Letters) have both been awarded Honorable Mentions in the Writer's Digest Annual contest for children's fiction. The award letters tell me that there were 16,000 entries (so firstly I started wondering if that was a typo, since it seems that the sweet judges had to read all of our submissions. God bless them!) But since apparently it wasn't, I'm feeling extremely honored to have had both of my books noticed among such a large crowd of great writers!
(Seriously, I'm still pretty much lying on the floor hypervenalating with joy!)
So THANKS Writer's Digest, for the vote of confidence! It's amazing what a little encouragement like this can do for the soul, the editors, and the muse.
And now I'm off to do NANO in November. And for those whose lives are not already crazy enough, I would highly recommend that you join me. Nanowrimo stands for National Novel Writing Month. It's a fun experience in which thousands of published and not-yet-published novelists each attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November.
And yes, there are "real" writers doing nano. It's a great kick-start to pull you out of writing funks! The cameraderie and weekly deadlines will get you writing that first draft quicker than you ever thought possible. Plus there are fun t-shirts, and comic emails from Nano-leader Chris Baty, that shouldn't be missed! So I'll be nanoing for the third time this year. And, for those who might wonder -- the first two books I started during Nano are the two that were just awarded the Honorable Mentions'. So yes, this is a serious enterprise, as long as you're seriously willing to revise.
So do join me. Come, Nano... And let's get a little book-crazy together.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Bookstore Toast: Powell's Books of Portland

Alrighty now, this is a new feature onWritermorphosis.
Bookstore Toasts.

We already have "book toasts" where writers and illustrators get toasted here when their books are published or they win an award. But now, every 3-4 months, I will also toast a bookstore that has gone above and beyond the norm to make the whole book buying experience a wonderful and glorious thing.

You see, it's the book sellers who do a lot of the marketing that gets our books into the hands of our readers. And some just do it better than others.

So today we will toast Powell's Books of Portland, a bookshop you should definitely stop by if you ever have the chance. Now Powell's has several locations in the Portland, Oregon area but the one that really caught my attention was at the Portland airport, Terminal D.

It was late at night -- around 10pm Oregon time, and quite the middle of the night on my watch still set to Eastern Standard Time -- when I disembarked my plane in Portland prepared for a daunting 2 hour wait. It was the time of night when stores tend to be closed at airports, so I was thrilled to see a bookstore that was still open.
Powell's had ambiance, not just books. Its bright yellow lighting glowed against colorfully mixed up books in the children's/YA section -- not a little section, mind you, but a separate room that was equal in size to the adult section. How refreshing! I could see the pirate hats, horse posters and other kid friendly stuff through the large glass doors before I was anywhere near the shop.
And when I lugged my giant suitcase down one row and then the next, knocking books off a shelf or two, James at the counter - in his cool, Oregonian stocking cap -- did not rush forward to quarentine me!
(Thank you, James!)

The children's room was great! There were chests on the floor containing princess gowns and pirate garb, dinosaurs, trains, horses, you name it, strewn in orderly choas around and under the bookshelves. On the shelves themselves only one of each book was present -- the kind of set-up that makes you think you might be the last person in the world with the opportunity to buy this book, and therefore you want it even more. (Excellent marketing. And quite fun to peruse.)
But Powell's went above and beyond all of this with my favorite little touch. Beneath many books they had handwritten notes with teasers telling the synopsis of the story, or whether this was an ALA notable or a Newbery winner, or whether someone associated with the store really liked the book and why. Some recommendation notes were signed with the recommenders' names. Very personal and creative!
And it worked. I bought one. (Ok, I bought two -- I couldn't pass up Shakespeare's Secret, one of my favorite middle grade books that everyone should read.) But the book I bought that I had never heard of was "The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp" which the handwritten note in red and black marker (above) described as "a white-knuckle page-turner with a deep and meaningful heart."
And so they convinced me. I bought the book. And they are right. If you know a middle grade or teen boy who likes helicopters and high speed car chases combined with knights with swords from king arthur's court, then this book of hood-cloaked noble warriors striving to save Excaliber from destroying the world in the 21st century might just be the book for them! There's lots of action and a loveable, bumbling, teen main character.
So here's A TOAST to Powell's books at the Airport: For great ambiance, great books, great late night hours, an awesome kids' section, and great reading recommendations! I hope to visit you again (with a slightly smaller suitcase).

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The 2007CYBILS awards are coming!

The Cybils, the internet's first Children's literary awards, are coming soon for 2007. And I am so honored to have been chosen as a judge. So, there will be a lot of news about the Cybils, the nominated books, finalists and such, on this blog beginning in December. For now, nominations are being accepted -- and YOU can nominate books in 7 categories (from picture books to graphic novels). Check it out and get involved at

Monday, October 1, 2007

SCBWI Carolinas Fall Writers' Conference 2007

So what happens when a couple of hundred Children's Writers get together for the weekend?


No, seriously, we had a blast at the 15th Annual SCBWI Carolina's Writer's Conference in Durham, NC. The Crystal Ball was a costume-filled success!

In the spirit of the event several members of my critique group dressed up like our own characters. I was thrilled wtih the opportunity to bring my secondary character "Jade" to life.

But there really was more than just revelry going on! There were 4 children/YA editors and quite a few well-credentialed authors on hand to do critiques, lead workshops, and hob-knob with the rest of us about the current trends in children's publishing.

Caldecott Winner, Carole Boston-Weatherford gave the keynote address

Editors from Atheneum, Dutton, Front Street and HarperCollins critiqued first pages aloud, and gave pointers. Big thanks to Caitlyn, Julie, Joy and Molly!

It was a mad dash for coffee in the morning, and then off to our first breakout session. "Illustration tips, writing dialogue, picture book concepts, and getting out of the slush pile," were some of the many topics on the menu throughout the day.

Editor Caitlyn Dlouhy and Author Francis O'Roarke Dowell (who wrote Dovey Coe) spoke about the author/editor relationship and the importance of working together.

There were red-eye critique sessions, a bookstore to peruse, and much discussion of writing techniques and the market, during breaks between sessions.
And once again, my active little critque group padded our free-time discussions with chick-fil-a chicken!

My favorite workshop involved Editor Julie Strauss-Gabel sharing characterization techniques through the eyes of a therapist.

"Figure out what's really going on for your character, and then help them get through it..."

SCBWI Co-Founder Lin Oliver was also an excellent guest at the event, sporting the red turban our chapter gave her (in honor of being the queen of SCBWI,) and giving out awards and sharing tips.

Her advice to "develop a personal cannon" of children's books that you know well, love, and can reference for plot, grammar, characterization and other writing kick-starts, was taken to heart by many. So, it was not unusual to pass small groups of writers sharing their lists of favorite books (their cannon), with each other in the halls.

For my cannon, I'll definitely start with...

1. The Black Stallion Returns

2. Crime and Punishment

3. The Twin Towers

4. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

5. Alex Rider: Stormbreaker

6. And, I admit it -- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire...)

Anyway, now that the conference is over, it's back to the books, people! Let's strengthen those characters, twist those plots, discuss it all in our local critique groups, and head those manuscripts toward the post office.

And as Lin Oliver suggested "Love your characters. Love your work. And love your vocation."

Monday, September 24, 2007

Travel Writing

Most successful writers, it has been said, have a system. We schedule writing into our week -- an hour a day; 1000 words a day plus research on Tuesdays; three mag. submissions per week -- or whatever our personal system is. My personal writing time generally coincides with the hours when I'm not at my "day job" - so that means I do a lot of my writing late at night on my "work-days." But it also means I really do most of my literary work on Mondays and Tuesdays when I have "off."

And yet there are times when life just plain interferes with my writing schedule. There are sick days, weddings, children's birthday parties, second honey-moons, family reunions, kids' soccer games and other truly important life priorities.

So, how do we work our writing time around such important events? I think one good way is "travel writing." No. I'm not talking about the type of writing where you take a trip to Tahiti and then sell your musings about great bed and breakfasts there to some travel and tourism magazine. (Although that does sound like fun!) But, nope. I'm talking about taking the writing life with you when you travel.

For example, this past week I had to drop all of my plans t0 hop on a plane and fly 4 states over for an unexpected funeral. Now, of course it was extremely important for me to be at the funeral. I was sad about the person who died, and also glad to be with many people I love in the days before and after the funeral proceedings. And yet there was also another emotion on the fringes as I hurriedly packed for the trip. You see, I was frustrated to have my return flight home taking up my entire Monday -- my writing day -- and one that was particularly important this week because I had planned to spend it preparing for the SCBWI Carolina's writing conference coming up next weekend.

So, in order to live both important lives at the same time, I chose to take my writing life on the road.

I packed the things I'd need for the funeral weekend in my checked suitcase, but stashed my laptop with charger and my newest copy of Writer's Digest magazine in my carry-on. I scheduled a flight that would get me there and home again in plenty of time to be present for all of the important events related to the life tragedy -- yet I also carefully chose a flight with a 2 hour lay-over in Atlanta. Lay-overs are what I call built-in writing time! So, I read my Writer's Digest on the plane on the way there, and finished it up several days later, on the way back. And I came away with a list of new publishers to query, new things to add to this blog, and new ways to market my work. (You really should check out the October edition - it's full of great stuff again this month!).

I also jotted some new story ideas in the magazine margins in between airplane peanuts and turbulence, and I wrote out a 1-sentence synops for my current novel -- in preparations for that up-coming conference. Then, during that lay-over in Atlanta, I gulped down a piece of pizza, stationed myself in the corner with my laptop, and type, type, typed on my novel until it was time again to board. Later, as we prepared to land from the last leg of my journey, I thought about what I would write in this blog entry, and I realized once again that I am a BIG, BIG fan of "travel writing."

Finding time to write can require both flexibility and creativity. And sometimes (dare I say it?)things happen in life that are more pressing than writing. Yet, thanks to the beautiful thing I call "travel writing," I'm still prepared and excited for this weekend's conference!

So, what about you? What techniques are you using to take your writing life with you to those soccer games, anniversary weekends, and other "more pressing than writing" events?

(There will soon be an option for adding comments below each post in this blog in addition to the "friendly notes of hello" section in the lower left that is currently active. For now, feel free to post in the lower left.)

Monday, September 10, 2007

Writers' Conference Tool Kit (What to Bring)

Friends I met at My first Writer's Conference. Washington DC. 2006.

So, first we had the Top 10 Things NOT to do at a Children's Writers' Conference. Now, by popular demand, and based on the last two (AKA - also the first two) writer's conferences I have attended, here is the promised list of Things to bring to a Children's writers' conference.
If I had known these things at my first conference I'd definitely have been a lot less nervous! So, with no funny business this time, here they are in order of importance:

TOP 10 Things to Bring to a Children's Writers' conference

1.) You. Awake, and energetic.
So, for you introverts out there -- Yes, I'm one too -- I'm here to tell you, you will need your people-meeting face on for the conference. Networking is what it is all about - no wall-flowering. You will spend much of the day meeting other cool authors, editors and agents, and I have learned that in the publishing world connections or "who you know" can make all the difference.

2.) Comfortable Professionalish Outfit.
Yes, this means whatever clothing makes you feel like a professional author; like a person that other people will want to do business with -- aka to publish you or to want to be in your critique group, etc. NOTE: If you're not comfortable, you won't look professional. Plus you'll be doing a lot of walking. I wouldn't recommend pajamas or formal evening wear. Many people will dress business casual - for some that's more casual than others - some people wear jeans. Be yourself, and remember to layer - conference centers tend to be cold.

3.) Shoulder Tote Bag (or for the men, the manly equivilant:))
There will be a lot of things to collect at the conference - publishers book lists -- and those are heavy -- business cards & books you buy that were written by the presenters, etc. Trust me, two hands will NOT be enough, especially when you're holding coffee too.

4.) Notebook and pen (You'll want to take notes)

5.) A watch.

You'll be changing classes, er, sessions, just like you did in High School. And you don't want to miss anything good, (like Ian Sands' presentation at the upcoming SCBWI Carolinas Conference) by being too long in line at the bathrooms!

6.) A 1-2 Sentence Summary (in your head only) of what your current book is about.
This is because people may ask you, and you want to be able to rattle it off quickly, like a pitch -- not to editors trapped on the elevator, mind you, just to whoever asks. Make it short and theme related. Here's an example Tolkien could have used: "My book, the Lord of the Rings, tells the story of how a young hobbit, with help from an unusual group of friends, chooses to sacrifice his future to save the world from an evil sorceror." Now, Tolkien's pitch could have included "...who controls others through a magic ring," but generally shorter is better.

7.) Business Cards
These should contain whatever contact info. you want strangers, editors, agents, and fellow
writers to have about you -- email, phone, name, what writing organizations you are a member of, etc. You can get business cards cheap online -- search "business cards," or make your own on the computer. Cards are not a conference requirement, but they do make it easier to market yourself to new folks you meet. Make the card reflect who you are.

8.) Cash + Checkbook or credit card.
Coffee, books, cool writerly stuff -- these all are optional purchases, but very fun, & significantly less fun with no money.

9.) Knowledge of the Presenters
This really should have been earlier on the list! It's a good idea to check the websites of the presenters -- or their publishing houses if it's an editor -- before the conference, so that you know what they're known for, & what genre's they are interested in. This will save you from embarrassing conversations like the one I saw several writers having at my first conference. The writers were griping about an agent-presenter and an editor-presenter who were apparently late. Alas, it was that very agent and editor they were talking to at that moment, but they didn't know it, because they'd never gone to their websites to see their photos! Embarrassing.

10.) Confidence
Really this should be # 1. If you don't believe you're a writer, a sellable writer, with a truly great book -- well then, my dear, no-one else will believe it either. So, be confident. You're great! Act like you know it.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

I've been tagged!

So, Karen Lee (the excellent author/illustrator) tagged me with a meme. This means that I'm supposed to write 8 things people might not know about me, and then tag other friends to do the same. Alas, Karen and I have a number of the same friends so I will have to try not to tag any of them again!

The meme rules: each player lists 8 facts/habits about themselves. The rules of the game are posted at the beginning before those facts/habits are listed. At the end of the post, the player then tags 8 people and posts their names (see below), then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know that they have been tagged and asking them to read your blog.

So, here's my meme list -- 8 things about me:

1.) This is the Siletz Public Library, my childhood haunt. By 4th grade I'd read most of the books in the kids' section and was sifting through the dusty stacks in the adult room for something fun to read. Alas, last year they tore it down to build a new and "better" library. Luckily I got there early enough to capture this memory.

2.) My "Fav" books during that life-stage were the Black Stallion books, the Narnia books, and the hardback Nancy Drews.

3.) I can only tell North, South, East and West when the sun is rising or setting. Therefore, I have been lost in more places than most people have been :) -- and I have photos to prove it!

4.) I almost always drink chocolate milk for breakfast.

5.) As a kid I wanted to be a tight-rope walker. I practiced for months on a thin rope my dad patiently strung several feet off the ground between the wash-line poles. I could run across that thing `like pippi longstocking on a rooftop' -- Arms out...side-step, side-step, side-step... taadaa!

6.) At age 15, a friend and I were chased through a swamp by a black bear at night. Some of our clothes are still in the swamp today.

7.) I spent 6 weeks in Russia separated from my passport in the early 1990s. (Passport, Officer?, what passport?)

8.) I have flown an airplane, studied braille, babysat pet cockroaches and dyed my hair pink. (Ok - so one of these things isn't true. You decide.)

And though some of my bloggerly friends (listed to the left) have already been tagged, I will add three more:

Joan of the journey

George Kulz


Kari(a)n the Librarian

And one friend I'd like to tag, but can't, because she has a GREAT writer's website but no blog...

Jean "Speck" Lauzier (@ Storycrafters)

Check her out.

Meanwhile, here is a final thought for today: Living interesting lives gives writers more fodder for writing interesting books. Therefore, like the old childrens' book title says: Choose your own adventure. (And make it worth re-telling).

Monday, August 27, 2007

Top 10 Things NOT to do at a Children's Writer's Conference

10. Bring a pet Dalmation. Nope. Don't event think about it.

9. Arrive intoxiated on anything other than caffeine.

8. Arrive either without caffeine or without the financial means to acquire caffeine when necessary.

7. Say, "I prefer to use my pen name on my name-tag, since my real name's on the sex offender registry..."

6. Critique a fellow attendee's manuscript to within an inch of death, and then cry and storm out when they do the same to yours.

5. Forget your pen and ask the editor sitting next to you whether they have one that you can borrow.

4. Hand every agent you meet a pastel, perfumed resume with your lingerie-clad glamour shot attached.

3. Wait until the keynote speaker is about to share the punchline of a joke and then loudly ask those sitting around you: " What the heck is an SASE, and why don't these crazy people realize that the synonym for the word WRITER is spelled SCRIBE not SCBWI?!!!"

2. Insinuate to ANYONE that your novel is better than or even similar to J.K. Rowling's or J.M. Barrie's.

And the #1 thing NOT to do at a children's writer's conference:

1. Bring your entire novel manuscript and attempt to read it aloud to every editor that you can corner in the elevator! ("But wait, Editor Smith, don't leave! It get's even better in chapter 17! And look, I've added my own illustrations...!")

Monday, August 13, 2007

Raleigh SCBWI Schmooze a HUGE Success!

Before the flood of writers arrived, members of the planning committee assembled our classy plastic wine glasses amongst the shelves at Quail Ridge Books. Cheese and wine, fudge and chicken anyone?
Big thanks to our speaker Stephanie Greene for all of her tips on writing chap books and PB's! Great info! Thanks for taking the time, Stephanie.

Ashley, a teen writer (in more ways than one,) educates three published writers/illustrators on what teens look for in good writing. Kudos to Ashley for being the youngest writer at the schmooze!

Checking out Mike Tyson's award-winning illustrations.

Kathy and Jenny conduct a drive-by crit session:
"Now I really like what you've done with your characterization over here..."

Now we look forward to the SCBWI Carolinas 15th Annual Conference in Durham, on September 28-30, 2007. See you there! Don't forget to bring your children's writing-related costume for Saturday night! And stop by here in early September for a list of essential items to bring to any writing conference. Hint: ""a large, stuffed dalmation" did NOT make the list. :)

It's Away!

Into the mail it goes! I've sent the first few chaps and synops of my novel out to an agent. Now begins the waiting to see whether she wants to look at more of the manuscript, or whether she says that this one's not for her... In the meantime, another one of my crit friends has read over the manuscript and given me some ideas on sections in the middle part of the book that would benefit from some tweaking. So, since I've got some time while waiting to hear back from this agent -- 3 weeks to 6 months, I've been told -- I'll be tweaking and hopefully making the novel better while I wait. What are you working on? Post a note and let me know.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Hey, writers, what d'ya know?

What do I know?

Off-hand, I know that a vertical vs. horizontal take-off promotes the best trajectory for a space-jet to enter low-Earth orbit; that there are tomato plants about to blast off on the shuttle Endeavor; and that the Karman line separating Earth from space is at an altitude of 327,ooo feet.

Am I an astronaut? A scientist? An over the top Star Trek fan?

Nay, my friends, I'm a children's writer...

I know that the prison fortress in St. Petersburg, Russia is where Alexei Petrovich was imprisoned and probably died; that the Moscow subway-system contains some of the coolest stained-glass windows in the world; and that the traditional colors of a matryoshka doll are red, black and yellow. Am I a historian? An art critique? An ex-KGB spy?

Nay, my friends. Again I say, I'm a children's writer.

Whether we're writing fiction or nonfiction, the story for all writers is the same. We say `write what you know' and research what you don't. And because of this we get the fun experience of becoming slight-experts about a lot of very unusual things. Just like the librarians, who love trivia games with a passion, we writers pore over books, court documents, thesis, disertations and web pages on every topic under (and beyond) the Sun. Whether it's bionic-hands, man-eating plants, or wild cats who love to swim -- were into it.

So, perhaps we writer-researchers ought to challenge the librarians to a dual on the trivial pursuit board - at our local libraries, 7pm. (Granted, our friends, the librarians are very knowledgeable, but I think we could give them a challenge for the trivia grand prize).

And for those in other professions who might suggest that being a children's writer is easy, requires only creativity, and leads more to child-like goofiness than to mensa-like brain-growth, perhaps we should say this ... traverse your posteriors in our direction, compatriots, the battle of wits has begun. : )

Monday, July 23, 2007

Going Postal -- The End is Near.

Ah, and yet this situation is not so forboding as one might think! I'm talking about the end of my novel, now in it's third and most important revision. As you know, I challenged myself to finish my current work in progress (and you to finish yours) before Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows arrived in our mailboxes to distract us! Alas, I did not quite reach my goal - as I still have 3 chapters to go. But 3 chapters out of thirty is a drop in the bucket, and so I am thrilled with my progress and motivated to finish soon. While JK Rowling is bidding a sad farewell to Harry, Hermione and Ron, I on the other hand am thrilled to report that the end is also coming for me. The end of one phase, that is, and the beginning of another.

So Harry must wait in the box he came in until my book is in the mail.
One book coming in, one book going out. It's only fair. (No, no, don't tell me who dies in Deathly Hallows, I want to read it for myself! Stupify!) But unlike Rowling's, my "end" is a happy window on a new beginning. The mailing phase!

The mailing phase is so exciting -- especially with the somewhat-recent glorious invention of media mail! Not long ago I had a life-altering media-mail experience. I took one of my stories to the post office stuffed in it's customary yellow manilla envelope, and addressed to the appropriate literary professional. I stood in line, feeling awkward as I always do -- scrunched between people on all sides carrying packages - birthday presents, business documents, illegal terroristic devices (Yikes, I hope not!)... And of course all of us in the line watched as each one reached the cordoned-off front spot and was called forward by the overworked, and frankly rather gruff postal ladies, the guardian's of packages sent by peasants and princes alike. The college student's package went via the cheapest way to Chile; The business man's went overnight-priority to New York. And the postal ladies enforced the rules for each mailing with absolute, unflinching precision.

Then it was my turn, and certain that the whole world was watching I stumbled forward, placed my package on the desk and half-whispered, half-sqeeked, "I need to send this to California, please. It's...just paper..." She looked at me. "Is it media?" I glanced at the package with uncertainty. Dare I claim to be media? "Well, yes, I guess it is media - you could call it that," I faltered, looking down, unsure. She squinted at me. "Well, what is it?" My knees buckled, and I leaned in closer to her -- not because I felt safer there, but because I hoped desperately that the people behind me in line would not hear me say it, and would therefore not know that I was a"wanna-be" masquerading as something I am not. "It, um, it's a...well, it's just a manuscript," I whispered, in a voice only a mouse could hear.

And suddenly everything changed...soft music began to play... she looked at me, and in her eyes I saw that look of shocked admiration one would give to Shakespeare, or Nora Roberts, or J.K. Rowling if you happened upon them in the mall; that confused but intrigued questioning stare that says "Are you an artist? Should I know you? Should I get your autograph now and hold onto if for later?" But then she remembered we were still in the post office, and with a smile she placed the package in the shipping box with two-handed care. "Why, of course, a manuscript - that's media mail," she said firmly. I nodded at her, feeling 2oo-times braver then before, and suddenly hoping that my glasses were not askew and my hair looked all right. "Great, thank you," I said with a you-ought-to-know-me smile. "I really, truly LOVE media mail."

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Not just waiting for Harry Potter...

The Harry Potter Dunk 21 Writer's Challenge is heating up (see bottom left of this page to join). So I've no time to blog more until after July 21st. I'm thrilled with all of you who have jumped into this challenge with me! We'll inspire each other to meet our goals by the 21st -- no problem! Check out various people's challenges below in the comment bar, and by all means leave one of your own.

The HP Dunk-O-Meter at the bottom of this page will monitor my progress as the deadline to finish draft # 3 of my current novel nears. Then off into the big world it goes -- via my new favorite service, media mail.

Stop by here on the 23rd for an introspective soliloquy on postage.

Until then, I must return to revising! I've still got 10 chapters to go!

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Jump the Chasm.

It happens to all of us.
There comes a time when our current writing project becomes overwhelmingly tedious and boring, our plot seems stale, unimaginative, and we suddenly feel that we've hit a roadblock that we just can't get past. Of course, we know we should revamp the plot, cut some stuff, add some stuff, but we dread going back to it. It's too much work! And suddenly the laundry, the beautiful park outside, the dog we normally hate walking, that old crocheting hobby we used to have 12 years ago...these things call to us, and we leave the computer -- sometimes for days or weeks. What? No silly -- of course we check our email and our blogs! It's just the work in progress that we make sure not to open!
For those not well-versed in psychological verbage this is called avoidance. And I at times have quite a knack for it! It's so easy to cruise along typing brilliant prose when the plot flows nicely, the characters all follow their Myers-Briggs types, and I can visualize the future cover of my book reflecting in the windows of every Barnes and Nobles I walk past. (Oh, how beautiful it is...) But when the going gets tough -- yikes -- it's easy to want to throw the whole thing into the circular file and focus back on "regular life."
That's when I remember Tolkien's characters, Frodo and Sam.
Yes, these short, soft-spoken hobbits can be a great example for us.

In book 3 of the Lord of the Rings these two unlikely heroes arrive at a deep, dark chasm that seems impassible. They have a choice to make. Behind them is home, the easy path, the sorrow-filled relief of giving-up. And on the opposite side of the chasm is the dark unknown, a success they can't yet see, and the final, life-saving end to their quest. Of course, the world will likely come to a horrible, bloody end if they turn back, but oh see they've really begun to wonder why they ever started this trip in the first place.
So, like many of us, Sam and Frodo sit down on a rock, putting off the inevitable, questioning their abilities, and acting really quite pathetic.

But eventually they remember that quitting will be no easier than going on. So, despite Sam's fear of heights, and with a rain storm coming up behind them, they take the plunge. And so must we. Nothing will change until we step over the ledge.

So if you, like me, have hit a chasm recently, remember this -- the fate of our novels - perhaps even a whole civilization of future readers -- is in our hands. Let's not turn back! Jump the chasm. Yes, yes, by all means, watch out for the giant murderous spider on the other side! But nevertheless, jump the chasm. These writing roadbump are no match for us!

Here, I'll give you a push.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Mood music (a shout-out to the song writers).

When writing fiction, people find their "muse" in many different places. For me, some days, it's all about the music.

Songs in every musical style touch the hearts of people. We remember the song we called "our song" when we first fell in love; the songs we danced to with our friends; the songs that tell the stories that make us laugh and make us cry. As writers, I think we should send kudo's to the song-writers. While we novellers toil away writing lengthy stories about people in 60,000 words or more, the songwriters bring us to tears with just a few sentences and make us want to dance with a few beats of the drum. Whether they tell us about "the day the music died," about two bored kids named "Jack and Diane," or about a generation of youth who are "waiting for the world to change," songs transport us from one place (usually our cars) into a different emotional zone.

And songs can be a great help in novel-writing. For my current novel I've made a soundtrack -- 15 songs that pull me into the mood of my main character, and the emotional pull of the plot. So whether I'm trying to write about the heartbreak of a lost love or the excitement of partying way-too- late on a Summer Friday night, the feelings I need to write about are all alive on the CD full of songs from my own teenage years. So, when I'm heading home from my "day job," all I have to do is pop that little CD into the slot and let the music move me back to my story. Then when I get out of the car I'm already right there -- at the school dance, or the graveyard, or whatever emotional place my main character needs to be. So join me, music lovers. Make a soundtrack for your novel. Have some fun with you muse!

Click here to hear 2 of the songs on the "soundtrack" for my current novel. Granted - both of these songs may predate my teen years, but the lyrics are perfect for the mood of my story.
Dust in the Wind (I prefer the version by Kansas)
Invincible (by Pat Benatar - please disregard the anime cartoon which has nothing to do with my novel LOL.)

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

A book toast to Ian and Karen

Big Congratulations to my crit-friends Ian Sands and Karen Lee for their recent successful book signings in the Raleigh area! (I'm so thrilled to know you both!) Additional congrats go to Karen on her recently published new book ABC Safari - It's not her first book, and I'm sure it won't be her last.
Check out their great websites:
Karen Lee:

Saturday, May 26, 2007


So, in my first entry on my first blog I talked about first lines. And these three firsts got me thinking about all the other firsts that are such an important part of building a writing career -- first submission, first rejection, first acceptance, first paycheck, first writer's conference, first crit group (not in that order, hopefully,) and many other firsts. These, I believe, are the stepping stones on the writermorphosis - the journey toward becoming a serious writer.

Each of my firsts has given me a little more confidence; a little more vision; a little more understanding of the writer's life and how it works. So, I want to take a moment here to celebrate some of the firsts I've experienced so far:

  • First author who gave me great advice -- Gillian Richardson (thanks!)

  • First submission and first acceptance in the field of children's writing -- Appleseeds Magazine

  • First "doesn't fit our needs" rejection letter -- Odyssey Magazine (but I'll submit again)

  • First writing critique group -- AWOL (thanks for the tips!)

  • First writer's conference -- The Writer's Digest/Book Expo America Conference. (It was a great learning experience! Though a more local SCBWI conference is likely to give you better hands-on workshops).

  • First person I interviewed for nonfiction -- NASA Mars Mission Scientist Virginia Gulick (thanks for taking the time, Ginny!)

  • First cool place I visited for research -- The US Space and Rocket Center (Check it out at

  • First time I actually said, out loud, "Hi. I'm a children's writer and I'm supposed to meet with (so and so) here for an interview today" -- 2005, at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center -- and then I handed her my business card, another first... It was a momentous day!

  • First friends who I trusted to read and critique my first novel manuscript (note: letting friends read your work is scarier than letting strangers read it) -- Karin Shank and Joan Stradling (thanks guys, for your insight!)

  • First agent who invited me to send my novel synops for consideration and then said it didn't fit her agency's needs -- Nadia Cornier (no hard feelings though - I still think she's hilarious! : ) Until recently Nadia had a great blog which shared helpful and funny tips about agents and publishing. She's now compiling the advice from that blog into a book which will raise money for charity. So, when it comes out I'll post the info. here. I suspect it will be worth reading.)

Anyway, I've celebrated a lot of firsts so far, and I'm looking forward to many more to come! I encourage all new writers to keep track of your firsts. They're great mile-markers on the road to success!

Above is a photo of the first two pages of my first magazine article for kids, published in Appleseeds Magazine, 2005. Big thanks to Appleseeds' Editor Susan Buckley for taking a chance on a new writer, and special thanks to Associate Editor Annabel Wildrick who was so helpful in answering questions throughout the process! That one first has led to various other publications.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

First Lines...Wow, I'm in trouble already!

So here I am at 12:19am, the time of night when I do my best writing. And what am I doing? I'm blogging! People warned me that this might happen -- the whole blogging instead of writing thing. Ack! So, I must sign off in 5 minutes. But in the meantime, nice post title, huh?

I mean, look at it: "Wow, I'm in trouble already!" What a great first line! It starts with dialogue; catches the attention; lets you know there's action going on; insinuates that the plot is about to kick into high gear, and quite frankly makes you wonder if this story, er blog, is really all that safe. : ) See what I mean about 12:19 am? It's the perfect time for writing!

Well, anyway, that's my writing thought for today. It's always essential to have a tempting first line. If your first line is boring, you're done.

And now my five minutes are up, so I must run. But I'll have upcoming writing events posted on here soon. Until then, happy writing, revising and publishing! Thanks for joining me here on writermorphosis.