Monday, September 27, 2010

SCBWI Carolinas Event a Huge Success!

This past weekend I attended the SCBWI Carolinas Annual Fall Conference, 2010.

It was great to catch up with many old friends and meet some great up-and-coming new children's and YA book authors. Here are a few photos from Friday through Sunday's, action-packed, info-filled event:

Janet and Jo demonstrated the essential items to bring to a conference.

Dial Editor Liz Waniewski signed my old galley copy of Incarceron, a book she brought to the U.S., and a book I highly recommend for those who like steam-punkish YA novels. Thanks Liz! It's brilliantly plotted and written by Catherine Fisher, a multi-published author out of Great Britain.

Liz also taught a great writing intensive on pitching your book to an editor. It was helpful to all and got rave reviews. A job well done!

My friend Alan Gratz (top photo, in suit), author of great books like "Samurai Shortstop," "Something Rotten," "The Brooklyn Nine," and the soon to be released "Fantasy Baseball," gave a great presentation on plotting. I'm sitting at my desk right now Alan, trying to figure out where the "tent pole" is in "Act 2" of my current manuscript. Thanks for all the great tips and examples!

There were great presentations by Nonfiction writer Heather L Montgomery, Agent Chris Richman of Upstart Crow Literary, and many more.

Little Brown Editor Alvina Ling spoke to the Large group about the differences between literary and commercial fiction.

Five members of my critique group, the Goalies, chatted over wine and diet coke at the Gala on Saturday night.

Many Carolina Children's Authors from our region signed their books and chatted at the book tables Sunday morning.

Then, in an effort to make the conference last just one hour longer, a random group of writer friends met up for lunch at Chilis, Sunday afternoon, after the conference ended and it was time to go home. The chips and salsa were great. The company and conversation even better! We even had a few minutes between ordering and eating to check out Maggie's Kindle -- a very educational moment after the waiter took our photo and brought the chips.

Huge thanks to Teresa, Jo, and the entire Conference Committee for planning an amazing event again this year! I thought the presenters were even better than usual. And now... it's back to our manuscripts. Keep in touch, ya'll!

Monday, July 12, 2010

A 12-Year Old's Wisdom for Writers

The other week I took a road trip from Raleigh to D.C. with a bunch of teens and middle schoolers. I'll share more about the trip over the next few weeks here on Writermorphosis. It was a long-planned-for trip, and one of the reasons why this blog has been idle for a month or more. I apologize! But I'm back now, and I've learned some wisdom for writers from my teen and pre-teen friends.

The first thing I learned was from my 12 year old friend David who sat behind my driver's seat reading the 5th book in the Percy Jackson series, while his 11 year old friend Sam sat beside him immersed in Eldest, the second book in the Eragon Trilogy. They passed the time reading as the tree-lined miles of I-95 rolled by outside our car. Impressed by how interested in the stories they were, I asked David if he'd seen the recent Percy Jackson and the Olympians movie, and whether he thought it was better or worse than the book. He marked his page with his finger and glanced up thoughtfully, meeting my eyes in the rear-view mirror. "Um...the movie wasn't bad," he said. "I don't think either one was better or worse than the other. The book is really good. But the movie was good too. They were just really different from each other, but they were both good."

And there you have it, folks. David has noticed something I've noticed too. There are many brilliantly-written books, and many brilliantly written movie scripts that tell the same story in a slightly different way. One is not necessarily more well-plotted or put together than the other. They're just different; different ways of telling the same story.

Movies about books we love can teach us writers many things. But most importantly they teach us about revision.

You see, your book -- the one you love and have slaved over -- and you're world and characters that you have created...they may not have to be just exactly the way that they are right now for your story to be a success.


Yes, it's true. We get attached to our creations. So, when an editor, agent, or writing colleague says "hey, you know, I'm just not sure that such and such particular aspect of your story is working as well as it could be..." we get frustrated. We want to stand our ground and say "you don't understand. If she doesn't wear the gingham shorts to camp, then when the boys later steal her shorts and fly them from the flagpole, it won't make any sense that I've titled the book `Gingham! It's integral to the plot!"

But really, ladies and gents, sometimes changing your character's ethnicity, or hair color, or hobbies, or choices can strengthen your story. Sometimes `gingham' maybe shouldn't even be the name of your book. Change isn't always bad. And our first instinct isn't always right. The beauty of fiction -- whether in screenwriting or novel writing, is that we authors control it, we build it -- and we can change it. Because changing our stories is painful, but it's also powerful. One story can be tweaked to go in various directions, like a chameleon that remains always the same animal, but that fits beautifully into different places depending on the color it chooses to be at that time. So don't be afraid to re-write that chapter or character or scene several different ways to see which one you like the best. Don't be afraid to change your chameleon.

As 12 year old David might say, none of your plot twists, character sketches, or theme ideas are necessarily better or worse than the others. It could be that "they're all good. They're just different."
Let's not be afraid to look at all of our options. Even it that means turning our stories a bit sideways.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Writer's Tree (A place for us in the writing profession)

The other day a critique buddy of mine shared her excitement about her plans to attend her first SCBWI Summer Conference in LA this year. She's got a completed novel manuscript that's caught positive attention from editors at regional conferences. She has an active blog that's frequented by writers from across the nation. And she's known and loved by many people in her local SCBWI region. But after saying how glad she is to be going to the big conference filled with "actual, really famous authors," she added, "my plan is to just listen and learn and try to look like I fit in."

Why is it that it is so hard for us writers to ever feel that we've done enough and achieved enough, to "belong" in this profession?

Is it the fact that you can go into any coffee shop, in any town, in almost any country, and find at least 3 or 4 people who purport to be `writers,' there?

Is it because there's not necessarily a degree that's required for this profession? (Although we know that more and more writers are getting MFA's -- still many are not).

Is it because most everyone in the world has toyed with the idea of writing their own autobiography, or perhaps a few stories for their grandchildren, and therefore people don't belive you're "a real writer" until you've published at leaste a couple of books and been able to quit your day job and move away from civilization into a log cabin in the woods to write. (An unlikely scenario for most of us).

Probably it's partly the fault of all of these things. But perhaps it's also caused by our own lack of believing.

At any SCBWI event we attend we find experienced authors who have published multiple books, but who still stand there welcoming the newer ones of us with open arms. It is not that we "can't" belong, but rather that we think we're not qualified YET....

But, I think, that writing is like any other profession. We start out on the bottom rung of the ladder, or the bottom branch of the tree, and we work our way up, one educational achievement, or "failure," or "success" at a time."

So, it's not so much that "we're in," or "we're out," but rather that we're all on different branches of the tree -- we're all at different spots in the journey. And just because we haven't reached the big nest of best selling authors at the top of the tree, it doesnt' mean we're not in the tree. We're climbing upwards, towards the nest, bit by bit.

So look at those wonderful multi-published authors waving down at you from the top of that tree. And then look below you at the branches you've already passed in your climb.

Check out the branches. Some you've climbed past already. Some are the ones you're reaching for now. But if you're serious about your writing, wherever you are in the tree, you belong here. Happy climbing! Don't let the sap and the tree ants get in your way.


Can you say I have...

  • become an active member of a critique group
  • been writing, revising, and submitting my work to agents and/or editors
  • gotten at least 5 rejections, and I'm still climbing, dude...
  • attended one or more children's writing conferences
  • placed high in a writing or illustrating contest.
  • gotten published in magazines with short fiction, non-fiction, or illustrations
  • gotten positive feedback from editors/agents/or more experienced authors at conferences
  • gotten a positive rejection from an editor or agent
  • had an editor or agent request my full manuscript -- whether they decided to buy it or not.
  • started a writing blog or website and maintained it
  • established a regular schedule for my writing time
  • "got" an agent or an editor
  • sold a book!!!
  • did a public reading or book signing
  • spoke at a conference or taught classes for newer writers
  • published more books!!!
  • tried writing in a new genre and found success there.
  • Add your own other branches here.... There are many.

Did you find you've climbed more branches in your journey than you thought you had?

Wherever you and I are on this journey, we do belong here. We doubt ourselves and we have questions. That's normal, they say. But don't lose track of the branch above you.

Let's you and I enjoy the view as we keep climing rung to rung up the Writer's Tree.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

2010 Raleigh Schmooze a Huge Success

The 5th Annual Raleigh SCBWI Schmooze (hosted, as usual, by my critique group, the Goalies,) was a huge success again this year!

Speaker John Claude Bemis shared his creative process and helped us think seriously about our own.

John's Clockwork Dark Steam Punk middle grade series began with the book "The Nine Pound Hammer," and the second book of three "The Wolf Tree" will be released in summer 2010, followed by the 3rd book, "The White City," coming out in 2011. Another book of his, not from the Clockwork Dark Series, called "The Prince who fell from the sky," will be released in 2012. Go John!

We mingled and munched and made plans for the future.

Writers shared tips with each other after John's presentation.

Networking and signing up for critique groups.

We spent time brainstorming titles and ideas, chatting over cheese and wine, and checking out the books of several published SCBWI members who were present. It was a great time of networking and learning -- and John even got us out of our seats to get our creative juices flowing with a little bit of theatre. Check it out!

Who says writers can't act? They didn't even practice ahead of time!

It was a great Schmooze! Thanks to all who came to join us. Kudos to those who came all the way from Fayetteville, Durham, Goldsboro -- and the Raleighites. And huge thanks to John Claude Bemis for sharing his creative process with us, and leading us in great activities to stimulate our own creative brains!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Come Schmooze With Us!

Come join us for the Annual Raleigh SCBWI Schmooze hosted by the Goalies (my wonderful critique group). It's a wine and cheese, networking, learning, all around fun event.
Our guest speaker this year is Middle Grade Author John Claude Bemis, a prior elementary school teacher who now writes middle grade novels for a living, and who also plays a mean guitar! His debut novel, The Nine Pound Hammer, is the first in the Clockwork Dark series, published by Random House. His next book in the series, The Prince Who Fell from the Sky, will come out in 2012.
Come fellowship with other children's/YA writers, learn some new tricks of the trade, brainstorm about your current or future book through the activities John Claude will be presenting... and if you're new to children's/teen writing, come on in and get to know us.
April 18th, 3-6pm.
* For anyone coming from a distance, or for those coming directly after the Carolina Spring Retreat in Chapel Hill, there are two restaurants in the Quail Ridge parking lot for lunch and fellowship before the event.
See you there!

Friday, April 2, 2010

A Great NEW Resource for Writers

There is so much great info. for YA writers out there on various blogs.

  • Some agents and editors share what types of submissions they're looking for.
  • Some folks interview other professionals about their individual writing techniques, and tips.
  • Some people give away fun stuff or hold writing contests!

But honestly -- how many of us have the time to sort through them all for the good stuff? We've got to really focus on putting most of our time into our own writing.

Luckily, my friend, YA writer Beverley BevenFlorez, has come to our rescue! In her weekly Friday post called "The Writer's Well," Beverly compiles a short summary of some of the most helpful blog posts out there in YA/Kid Lit Blog Land for that week. All the rest of us have to do is skim down, find the ones that look the most interesting to us, and click on the links, and EUREKA! -- the info. is at our finger tips. And it only took half a second!

Check it out a Beverley's blog today!

Thanks Beverley. Great idea!

Monday, March 15, 2010

No Longer Afraid of the Red Pen

We all remember them. Those moments in fourth grade when our teachers would hand back our papers and exams marked up with red pen.
It was horrible.
To our minds -- and to our peers -- the red markings meant: "This isn't good enough. You screwed up," or perhaps even, "Can't you get this right, yet? What are you, stupid?"

But now, I'm all grown up. And five years into this task of joining the writing profession, I always hand my manuscripts to my critique buddies accompanied by a RED PEN. It's true!
You see, when we start in this profession, and join our first critique group, all our fears from fourth grade still stick with us, I think. We hand our manuscripts to our new crit buddies with trembling hands, and a bit of nervous nausea. We stash a first-aid kid of band-aid's and emotional salve (chocolate) in our book bags -- just in case these critters say something negative about our work and it makes us want to jump off a bridge in dispair. We look for gentle comments like: "You know, I think this chapter is really wonderful, and probably ready for publication right now...except that perhaps just one or two of your sentences, if even that, out of the whole book, are a bit convoluted and long. That's all. Easy to fix. And really - I could be wrong about that. I love it!"
Awesome! We can handle that critique. It sounds like it means our work is basically perfect.
Of course, we know they're lying...ehem. They're being nice to us so we don't run off crying.
But now, two and a half novel manuscripts into this business of writing fiction, my heart is stronger; my determination is more profound.
I don't want to publish "reasonably good" books. I want to publish "REALLY good" ones.

So, now I hand out the red pens with all of my manuscripts.

Why? Well, for one thing, it's easier to find the comments of my crit buddies among the black and white type, if they're written in red ink. But more than that. It's because I really want those comments to be honest -- perhaps even more honest than my fourth grade teacher was.
If the plot is shabby, or the sentences are too long, or my grammar is off, or my dialogue is `too adult,' I want to know it. And truthfully, we don't always notice these things in our own writing the way that we notice them in other people's. So mark it up, my friends. I can take it!
Sure, I still keep my little package of band-aids and chocolate -- just in case the "truth" means I'll have to go do some frustratingly in depth revision, right when I thought the manuscript was ready for submission to editors and the like. But these days I leave my first aid kit farther away, in the car, rather than keeping it in my bag. That's because now I really want to make the hard corrections if I need to -- even though it's heart-wrenching. (gulp). Better to change our manuscripts before they go to editors, than to skip that step, and send them something "good but not great," which they won't have the time or motivation to read.

So hooray for the red pens -- and for the critique buddies who aren't afraid to use them!
(Of course, handing out cookies when you hand us back our manuscripts with those red markings is never a bad idea either. Remember that great old red-coolaid and all those cookies we enjoyed in elementary school? There was a reason for that.)
As all fourth grade teachers know...
A combination of Red Truth and Chocolate just may be the best way to create GREAT writing.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

100 Dresses and a Few Greek Gods

Those of us writing for children and teens hold a secret underlying hope. Even if we're writing
fantasies about elves and fauns, sci-fi's about robots and aliens, or humorous middle grade boy books about disgusting things people rarely discuss, we secretly hope that our stories will reach children, teens, (and even the adults who often read YA,) at the deepest places of their minds and hearts. We want our books to strike emotional chords that will cause our stories to live within our readers forever. Mwa Ha ha!

That's why I'm always so thrilled to see the many children's and teen books that are moving forward into the wider world of pop culture these days. In the past two years alone we've seen hugely successful movies based on the Twilight books, the Narnia books, Harry Potter #6, and many others. What excites me about this continuing trend is that these stories did not come straight from screenwriters, or other people on the cutting edge of the fast-paced new technology loved by teens. Nope -- these tales were first published in paperback books -- novels and middle grades typed by authors at coffee shops while their own kids were off at school. The books have been so well loved by so many kids, teens and adults that they've found their place in popular culture through film, and music, t-shirts, and toys..

This trend seems to affirm the idea that books aren't on their way out. They're on their way up. And so of course we all want our books to be wonderful enough for Barnes and Noble and Amazon, but equally so for Paramount, Dreamworks, Disney, and Mattel...
And just as we support our fellow writers by attending their book signings and speaking engagements in book-stores around the area, it seems to me we should applaud this pop-culture trend, and celebrate our fellow writers' success in film, song, and theatre as well.

Four current opportunities to attend showings of Kid's and YA lit in Pop Culture in NC include (click the blue links):

The Hundred Dresses: A play, at the Raleigh Little Theatre (March 12-28, 2010)
1st written in 1944 by Eleanor Estes, this book for 9-12 year olds was one of my top 10 favorites in elementary school. It's the story of an impoverished little girl from Poland who lives in the U.S. and gets picked on at school b/c of her poverty -- also because she tells all her classmates that she has "100 dresses" in her closet at home, though she wears the same one to school every day. "The Hundred Dresses" is a story of bullying, poverty, and creativity in which two girls
who have picked on poor Wanda Petronski learn the hard way that their words really hurt a creative little girl who really did have 100 dresses in her closet -- colorful dresses, on paper, that she'd drawn. Sweet Wanda leaves them for the girls when she moves.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, The Movie -- In Theaters now.
This YA novel by Rick Riordan features Percy Jackson, the confused son of a single mother,
who doesn't know the father who abandoned his family when Percy was a baby is actually the Greek God Perseus. But when an argument between the Ancient Greek gods puts the world at risk, Percy finds out quickly who he is, where is power lies, and how much trouble he's about to get into on his mission to prevent a war between his powerful, immortal "aunts and uncles."

Alice in Wonderland: The Updated Movie - In Theaters soon.
Alice and the Red Queen face off in a war that has all of Wonderland up in arms.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid, In Theaters soon.
In this, the first of Jeff Kinney's comic novel series, a Middle school student, Greg Heffley, takes readers through an academic year's worth of drama.

Have fun checking out these great children's stories that are making it big in theaters and on stage this Spring!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Seeking Submissions: 2 Anthologies and a Contest

In this edition of Writermorphosis we have a Guest Blogger: George Anthony Kulz.

George is a friend of mine and an expert on where to find -- and how to submit to -writing contests and literary compilations. He’ll be stopping by Writermorphosis every few months to post upcoming contests and opportunities, and today is his first guest post. Welcome George!

George suavely knows about writing contests before the rest of us, somehow. And he wins them too. He’s won the Gotham Writers' Workshop 100 Word Writing Contest, the readers' choice contests in knowonder!, (twice,) and the 2010 NYC Midnight Tweet Me a Story contest. His published short stories have appeared in Wee Ones Children’s Magazine, Spider, Happiness, The Nautilus Engine, Characters, Spaceports and Spidersilk, Stories for Children, Stories That Lift, The Drabbler, and knowonder!. George lives in Rhode Island with his wife and four kids. He currently spends his non-writing time working as a software engineer in a hospital.

Without further adoo, here's George's post:

“Most of you have probably set some writing goals for this year, and I hope that some of the contests and market ideas that I mention here will help you achieve those goals. Here are three markets that might be of interest. The first two are related to the same publisher.

1. Rebel Books, LLP is putting together an anthology of faerie stories for young adults, to be published in mid 2010. They are seeking modern, original stories about or including faeries, with an edgy teen focus. The closing date for submissions is 2/28/10. You can find info here: They are a paying market, and it costs nothing to send them stories.

2. Rebel Books, LLP is also putting together an anthology of magical themed stories for kids ages 7+. Stories should have a magical, fantastical theme to capture and hold the reader's attention but should still be original and modern. The closing date for submissions is 5/31/10. Again, the website is:

3. Finally, the Cassell Network of Writers is putting on a writing contest with a children's writing category, called the 2010 Writers-Editors Network 27th Annual International Writing Competition. There is an entry fee, but if you are a member you can get 50% off the entry fee. The contest deadline is 3/15/10. Find information by clicking the link above.

That's all for this time. Stay tuned for more markets & contests - George.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Join other Writers in Supporting "Room to Read"

Every year it seems bloggers across the globe use their first “post” after New Years to encourage their readers to make personal goals for the coming year. Many writing websites are encouraging us to make goals for what we hope to accomplish professionally in 2010. I like this strategy, somewhat. Afterall, as writers we sometimes do need to make goals for ourselves at the beginning of the year to keep ourselves on track so we will keep writing during the slump days, or when rejections roll in. It’s helpful to have a goal like “I’m going to finish my current novel by July,“ or “I’m going to write 6 pages a day until next Christmas.“ This keeps us accountable and keeps us moving forward. But what about the big world that’s out there, outside of our houses and outside of our books. Can the writing that we’re doing make an impact there as well?
I think so. The other week I received in the mail the sponsorship magazine for Heifer International. Heifer uses donations from folks in the industrial world (us) to help families in third world countries develop farms of chickens, cows, ducks, rabbits, bees, or other animals that can provide them with ways to make a living, grow crops, and feed their families. In the center of the magazine I found an article called “A Novel Approach.” It told how two adult fiction writers (Pat Rothfuss, and Laurie R. King) used the publications of their recent books to raise more than $150,000 in donations for Heifer’s international relief work.
And that got me thinking. Why can’t those of us writers who are out here slugging away typing word after word each day use helping others as the motivation for keeping our writing moving along in 2010? I think we can.

So here is my idea. There’s a non-profit organization based in the U.S. called “Room to Read.” Room to Read believes that putting books in the hands of children in developing countries can change the world by increasing educational levels and thus improving communities‘ abilities make a more sustainable living. Room to Read uses donations from people like you and me to build and stock children’s libraries and classrooms in third world countries, to promote elementary school programs for girls in countries where females often have to stay home from school to run their households, and to publish children’s books in languages that don’t have many available.

This year I want to support Room to Read, and I’m hoping some of you will join me. I’d love to see us children’s writers build a library in a part of the world that needs one.
So this is my plan. From February until April I plan to donate 1 cent to Room to Read for every 2 words I write on my current novel. This won’t amount to a lot of money, because frankly, it’s a tough economy right now and I’m not J.K. Rowling. : ) But it only takes $2,500 for Room to Read to build a children’s library in Africa or South East Asia. Every penny adds up.

So...if FIFTY of you and your writing friends join me, even if each of us only writes 10,000 words from February-April 2010 (which it‘s likely we could write much more), at 1 cent per 2 words written, we could build a whole library through Room to Read.
Yes, 50 of us, at 10,000 words, at 1 cent for every 2 words, could build a library!
Of course, we will have to actually raise money and pay it in to Room to Read, (1 cent for every 2 words written) or it won’t help children in another country get books at all. But we can do it.
If you think this sounds like an expensive endeavor, it's not. Ask people who want to support and encourage you as a writer to sponsor you. That will make this a community event and we‘ll raise even more cash for Room to Read! Get your mom, dad, your husband or wife, your great aunt Sue, your son’s youth group if they like your writing, (and for those who have books published, invite the fans who are awaiting your next book,) to each sponsor you for a penny for every 2, 5, 10, or 15 words you write. Your editor might even think it's a great marketing campaign! Either way, it will help you get a lot of writing done, and it will help kids who don't have enough books to read get a library.
So here’s the math:
10,000 words@ 1 cent per every 2 words = $50.00
10,000 words @ 1 cent per every 5 words = $20.00
Get 5 friends to sponsor you and that turn into $250.00 or $100.00 And you’re off to a great start!
Get 10 friends to sponsor you, and you’re off and running!

20,000 words@ 1 cent per every 2 words = 100.00
20,000 words @1 cent per every 5 words = $40.00
With 5 friends to sponsor you that turns into $500.00 or $200.00. Not too shabby, even in a bad economy!
Can’t think of five friends to sponsor you? That's not a barrier. Sponsor yourself. You’ll be getting lots of writing done, while changing the world one children’s book at a time.
And hey, if you write 500 word picture books, : ), get your friends to sponsor you for 5 or 10 cents a word. We can all play at this game, to help build kids a library. : )

DO YOU WANT TO JOIN ME? It’s easy: I’ve given us a name through Room to Read (“Children’s Writers United”) and we have a webpage on the Room to Read site already set up (click on our name, above).

You can download the widget THERMOMETER that will track the money as it comes in. You can place a "thermometer" on your website or blog (like the one on mine,) so that your blog readers can see our progress and join up as well. (If you have trouble downloading the thermometer, let me know). And remember, the thermometer will probably remain low until the end of April, when hopefully all your sponsors will pay you, and then it should shoot up. I’ve started us off with $25.00. Let’s see where we can take it from here!
Please let me know if you’re taking this challenge. And please make a note about it on your blog to spread the word.
Let's make all our words, whether beautiful or "really first-drafty," be worth at least a half-penny!