Saturday, September 26, 2009

SCBWI Carolinas Fall Conference DAY TWO

Ok guys. Don't get used to me posting something every day. : ) After the conference ends tomorrow I'll bop back down to the normal `1 post every two weeks' that I usually try to maintain here on writermorphosis. But since the fall conference only comes once a year here are:

Janelle's Favorite Things about this year's fall conference DAY TWO:

1.) Networking, Networking, Networking! (Which for me meant CHATTING, eating and CHATTING, talking about manuscripts and CHATTING, and standing CHATTING squashed in those long zig-zaggy lines in the women's bathroom.

2.) Seeing author/illustrator Ian Sands' Critters show up at the conference, even though Ian wasn't able to be with us this year. Go Critters! (In the photo above, Linda is snagging one to take home.)

3.) Hearing the school representative from Efland Creek Elementary School in Orange County North Carolina say "My God! I can't believe you've done this!" when informed that this year's conference participants had donated 3 laundry baskets full of books for her school. She'd apparently been expecting to drive all the way from Chapel Hill to pick up a small picnic basket of books. : )

4.) Almost passing out with shock when several more folks who I didn't know were reading this blog came up to me between sessions and told me that they're `following' writermorphosis! I was flabergasted. Hey amigos, if you're reading this blog - say "Hi" in the "comments" section from time to time. That way I can check out your blogs too! (And plus, that will keep me from constantly thinking I'm just talking to myself.) : )

And my favorite thing...

5.) Hearing Carrie Ryan, author of The Forest of Hands and Teeth say:
"All my characters were happy together in a tree. So I thought, what's the worst thing that could happen? And then I set fire to the tree."

Love that! Go Carrie!

Friday, September 25, 2009

SCBWI Carolinas Fall Conference DAY ONE

Just a quick post here to celebrate that the Carolinas Fall Conference began this afternoon and is now in full swing. I'll post helpful tidbits that the speakers shared throughout the conference -- later. For tonight, just a short list:

Janelle's favorite things about this year's Fall Conference on day one...

1.) Picked up 4 friendly speakers at the airport. Welcome to NC, ya'll.

2.) Smiled when I noticed how often the speakers from New York checked their blackberries and phones whenever they had a second of down time. Way to multi-task, guys!

3.) Caught up with writer friends from last year.

4.) Caught up with writer friends from last week too. : ) (8 members of my critique group, The Goalies, are at the conference again this year. Hooray).

5.) Listened to Carol Boston Weatherford and Jan Broadfoot talk about marketing.

6.) Chatted with a number of new attenders at the conference, and heard about their works-in- progress, their hopes and dreams, and their questions about children's publishing.

7.) Actually had a stranger say she'd been informed by another writer that I have a blog (this one) and that it was worth reading. Wow! Thanks Melissa for making my day! I think there are days when all bloggers wonder if the stuff they write is helpful or interesting to anyone at all.

8.) Sat at the conference center restaurant and watched two of my crit group buddies laugh so hard that they nearly snorted wine out of their noses when they both read the term "benchy-thing" as a descriptor in my most recent novel-draft. Apparently "benchy-thing" is not an appropriate word to use in a novel. (Awe...gorsh, guys. I use that term all the time in my regular speech! As in, "Could you please bring that benchy-thing over here? I want to set this parakeet cage down on it before this cute litte bird bites my finger tips off." Ah well...) :)

9.) Stood in the dark parking lot with new and old friends at the end of the night, with misty rain swirling around the street lights, as we discussed ways to shorten our verbal pitches and talked about the kissing scene in my book that the wine snorting friends were still critiquing for me. What a great way to end the night!

10.) Heading to bed happy that I'll be doing stuff like this again all day tomorrow! This is the life.

Monday, September 14, 2009

First Pages: Examples from Recent Greats

As those of us in the Carolinas Region prepare for our annual SCBWI fall conference, one topic is on everybody’s mind. “First Pages.” Every year, at conferences all across the U.S. and around the world, editors, agents, and authors critique the first pages of attenders’ current manuscripts. The idea is – editors, agents, readers for that matter, might not turn to the second page of your manuscript or book if page ONE doesn’t hold their attention.

So here are bits of several “first pages” of recently published middle grade and YA novels off of my bookshelf. They are good first pages. Strong ones. They either tell us so much about the character that we can’t help wanting to learn more about that character. Or they throw us right into a plot so intriguing that we want to keep right on reading!

So, as we’re deciding whether our own first pages are up to snuff, let’s consider these great examples: (I hope their authors and publishers won’t mind me sharing a few sentences of each one here).

Here are some greats:

Frindle: By Andrew Clements (Aladdin. 1996) (Chapter Book).

If you asked the kids and the teachers at Lincoln Elementary School to make three lists – all the really bad kids, all the really smart kids, and all the really good kids – Nick Allen would not be on any of them. Nick deserved a list all his own, and everybody knew it…

Skulduggery Pleasant: By Derek Landy (Harper Collins, 2007) Middle Grade

“Gordon Edgley’s sudden death came as a shock to everyone – not least himself. One moment he was in his study, seven words into the twenty-fifth sentence of the final chapter of his book` And the darkness rained upon them,’ and the next he was dead. `A tragic loss’ his mind echoed numbly as he slipped away…

The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp: By Rick Yancey (Bloomsbury 2005) YA.

I never thought I would save the world – or die saving it. I never believed in angels or miracles either, and I sure didn’t think of myself as a hero. Nobody would have, including you, if you had known me before I took the world’s most powerful weapon and let it fall into the hands of a lunatic. Maybe after you hear my story you won’t think I’m much of a hero anyway, since most of my heroics (if you want to call them that), resulted from my being a screw up. A lot of people died because of me – including me – but I guess I’m getting ahead of myself and I’d better start from the beginning.”

(Note the great “voice” in this one as well.)

Incarceron: By Catherine Fisher (Hodder Children’s Books in Great Britain, 2007) YA.

“Who can chart the vastness of Incarceron?
Its halls and viaducts, its chasms?
Only the man who has known freedom
Can define his prison. – Songs of Sapphique

Finn had been flung on his face and chained to the stone slabs of the transitway. His arms, spread wide, were weighted with links so heavy he could barely drag his wrists off the ground. His ankles were tangled in a slithering mass of metal, bolted through a ring in the pavement. He couldn’t raise his chest to get enough air. He lay exhausted, the stone icy against his cheek…”


Something Rotten, A Horatio Wilkes Mystery: By Alan Gratz (Dial Books, 2007) YA.

“Denmark, Tennessee, Stank. Bad. Like dead fish fricasseed in sewer water. I said as much to my friend Hamilton Prince as we rode in his 4X4.
“You get used to it” he told me. “Just think of it as the smell of money.”
And here I had always thought money would smell better.
The Elsinore Paper Plant was the source of the stink, and the money behind the Prince family fortune. Elsinore makes the paper that you use in your printer, the paper you read the sports scores on, and the paper you wipe yourself with. They make just about every kind of paper there is except the kind money is printed on, but enough of that comes rolling back in that they don’t have to bother…

First pages like these great ones – with their well-thought out characters, their settings detailed via all the five senses, and their action-filled (and sometimes even danger filled) plots make me look at my own first pages again. Do mine stand up to this type of competition? And do yours? Hmmm… they had better.

Because as agents and editors will tell us at every conference we attend: If they don’t stand out from the beginning, our books are not going to get noticed.

Do your first pages measure up?
As for me, today I sat down with mine and did a little re-working.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Spiders are Sailing!

This isn't a tip I learned at the Oregon Coast Children's Writer's Worshop, but rather a story from my recent life that I feel I must share.

The other evening I arrived home from work at around midnight -- it was a late one -- and I flipped the light on in the kitchen to douse my innerds with a glass of water before bed.

It was then, glass in hand, that I observed a phenomenon I have only ever heard about in literature. And quite frankly, it is a situation I did not know was based in natural science.

I have a plant sitting atop one of my cupboards. Graceful leafy vines hang about 3 feet down from it, decorating the front of my white cabinets. When I turned on the light, I initially thought that my eyes were tricking me. Tiny little puffs of what I could only imagine were grey brown dust bunnies seemed to be swinging from several of the leaves on the plant. Swinging, I'm telling you. Tossing themselves a few centimeters out from the cupboard and dropping from one leaf to the next one below it. At first I only saw three, or four, perhaps five. When I looked closer there must have been at least twenty. They were all at different heights on the plant, as if they'd been sleeping under one leaf or another and had suddenly decided to wake up and drop to the ground, leaf by leaf. And by now you've probably guessed what they were. Teeny, tiny, almost impossibly miniscule, baby spiders taking flight. They were sailing out to get their first view of life. Setting off to make their way in the world. It was a miraculous moment.

My first thought was -- Charlotte's Web! That little tidbit in that book was based on real science!

And though I never have listed this book, where the beloved mamma spider (yes, Charlotte,) dies and her young ones survive, as one of my favorite childhood books, I suddenly was crushed by an impossible ethical dilema. Do I squish these multitudes of baby spiders -- because that's what I do with spiders when they venture into my house, I'm afraid. Or, (my heart smote me...) was it just possible that some sweet, hardworking mamma Charlotte type of spider had laid these little babies on my plant? Was there a pig and other farm animals standing outside my window cheering the spiders on as they set out into the world? Did these spiders aspire to live fruitful, happy, possibly even college-educated lives as their wonderful web-weaving mother had probably done?

For several seconds I watched the flying babies -- caught up in the miracle of birth, the glorious spectacle of someone stepping off into new territory, taking the big leap into the giant, enormous world...

And I pondered how amazing it was that a story -- a kids' book -- that my mother had read to me when I was probably eight years old, and the plot of which I thought I'd long since forgotten, was suddenly wrenching my heart out with all these painful and yet hopeful emotions. Go spiders!

If anyone says literature isn't powerful... they've never read Charlotte's Web!

But this was my house, afterall, and I do have a dreadful fear of a spider crawling up on my pillow to sleep with me. So, in opposition to every ethical bone in my body, I grabbed a piece of paper-towel and began squishing the baby spiders as they dropped from leaf to leaf. It was a sad day for Charlotte, and I must also admit, a bit for me, and certainly for the baby spiders.

But here's a note to all of us children's writers. Let us remember that when we write about love and loss, and bravery, and hope, and sacrifice (which is what most great books are about in one way or another it seems to me...) When we write about these things, what we write has the power to change the world. Or at least a little piece of it. Even for spiders...