Tag: children’s books

True Story

Once upon a time, in America, there was a person who wanted something very badly. This person held solid conservative values. She believed in hard work. She believed in family. She believed in the church and service to her community.

But this thing this person wanted, it turns out, wasn’t so easy to get. Everyone in her community agreed she should have it; it was the perfect fit for her sensibility.

She discovered, when she tried to get this thing, that she had to have a criminal history background check. After that, a child abuse background check. Then, once she cleared those, she needed to be finger printed and those fingerprints registered with the FBI.

So what was this thing that required such a thorough investigation of her background, her character and the assurance of future identification just in case?

Was it purchasing a gun?

Oh, this is America, people. Of course not.

This person wanted to work in the Children’s Section of her local library.

finger printing

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Getting Rid of those Pesky Spots

As I sit here writing this, I see that it is snowing. Again. I mean, come on. I feel like I’m living in Narnia. Which brings me to my topic this week: book reviews.

I work as a children’s book reviewer. I’ve heard various comments from authors when I tell them what I do. “Be nice,” says one. “Do you even read the book?” says another. “Must take you about fifteen minutes, right?” says the third.

None of these statements is true. I am not nice, since “nice” doesn’t help a person decide if they should spend their hard-earned money to buy the book; rather, I am honest. I read the book. Instead of fifteen minutes, it’s an average of nine hours, plus reading time.

I’ll use a picture book as an example, since how hard can it be to review a picture book, right?

I first read the book (which is usually in the form of an F&G, “folded and gathered”—it’s the picture book without a binding) to establish an overall, ingenuous idea of the story. Then I read it again…and again…and again… I study the typeface; is it effective, does it change, if so, why, where is it placed on the page and does that work? I look at the illustrations; their medium, their placement on the page—does that encourage the page turn, do they respect the gutter, does it balance with the type, does white space come into play? Next I look at the two together. Is the overall design of each page—illustration and text—well thought out with successful execution? Now I look at the content of the illustrations. Do they mirror the text or do they add another layer? Perhaps they even tell their own story, and does this work? Finally, trim size. What size and shape is the overall book? A story of a journey, for example, is usually most successful as a landscape format. My finished review can only be a little more than two hundred words and must follow a specific format. I must get in the plot summary, its successful or unsuccessful execution and why, and a recommendation or not.

My advice to writers who have received a review from a professional reviewer that they are unhappy with—read it very closely. Within the limitations of a word count, the reviewer is trying to tell you something. Those spots that prickle your skin with indignation—take them as critique.

By someone who cares.

 

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Stephen King is My Boss

Regular followers of my blog may be wondering why:

A) I am posting on a Monday and

B) what this blog post is about, anyway.

I’ve been tagged by the wonderful Sharon Roat sharonwrote.blogspot.com for the My Writing Process Blog Tour, and when tagged, the tagee answers four questions in a blog post about their writing process. Here goes.

 

Stephen King is not technically my boss, and, actually, I haven’t even read any of his fiction because when I saw the movie “Carrie” it scared me so badly that I swore off reading anything by him. Until I picked up his memoir of the craft: On Writing. I’m a sucker for plain speaking because it respects and assumes intelligence in the recipient. On Writing is plain speaking—honest, confident and funny. It was a book I could believe in, and a work ethic I could respect (minus the early drug abuse) so I modeled my working day after his.

What am I working on? 

I’m working on three things:

—a young adult novel told in three voices that includes a terrifying sailing adventure, some betrayal, some seriously bad decision-making—but is ultimately about the transcending individuation brought about by courage.

—A middle grade mystery featuring a twelve-year-old boy, his younger sisters, a missing father and a bunch of quantum physics.

—And a picture book that I am also illustrating about a suburban girl who finds a home in the natural world after being relocated to the woods by her wacky new-age parents.

How does my work differ from others in its genres?

The YA is mostly in verse and as my writing group likes to point out, it is a verse novel with tension (!!). I pitch it as Out of the Dust meets The Perfect Storm.

The middle grade has the quantum physics aspect that can almost be interpreted as magical realism, but not quite. I ran it by my older brother (who, in the ‘80’s, was completing his PhD in artificial intelligence at Stanford when he was wooed away by a dot com company. He doesn’t have to work anymore) and the science, weird as it is, he says is legit.

In the picture book, Iris, the protagonist, is the straight-man to her parents wackiness; she’s got agency up the wazoo and it also has the theme—near and dear to my heart—of getting kids out into nature.

Why do I write what I do?

I’m no spring chicken and I’ve had a lot of life experiences.

The YA is, as they say, “inspired by true events.” I knew it would make a good story the moment all the (real) pieces fell into place. The MG was an experiment. Mr. Stephen King told me (through his book) that he writes 2000 words a day; he just forges ahead, day after day. So that’s what I did. I had one image—three kids in a canoe find a blue artifact in a swamp—and from the there, I just wrote.

And the PB: “inspired by true events.”

I guess I write what I do because I like to think and I’ve got a lot of raw material.

How does my writing process work?

At 9AM I sit down in front of my computer and work until 11AM, when I have ‘elevenses.’ After elevenses, I go to work until 1PM, by which time I have hopefully written 2000 words, or I must continue to work. That’s it. Six days a week. Sometimes I draw if it’s a picture book I’m working on. Sometimes I’m on a deadline for a book review and work on that instead. But I find writing consistently is a better schedule for my muse.

“I believe that every story is attended by its own sprite, whose voice we embody when we tell the tale, and that we tell it more successfully if we approach the sprite with a certain degree of respect and courtesy. These sprites are both old and young, male and female, sentimental and cynical, skeptical and credulous, and so on, and what’s more, they’re completely amoral. . .the story-sprites are willing to serve whoever has the ring, whoever is telling the tale.”

I’m afraid I don’t remember who wrote that, but don’t you just love it.

For next week, I’ve tagged Heather Knight Richard, gal extraordinaire.

Heather grew up near the banks of the Connecticut River in Western Massachusetts, quite literally in the family’s pizza shop. Her historical novel in verse, FLY TO THE HILLS, is the story of a mill girl who works downstream from a faulty reservoir dam, and it recently earned Heather the SCBWI Student Writer Scholarship. In May Heather graduated with an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons College. She lives and works in the same town where she once sold pizza, now as the parent of five young children (including two sets of twins!). www.hknightrichard.com

 

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SCBWI

I am off to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference this morning and didn’t get a chance to write anything (oh, the irony!) so I’ll just offer you two pretty pictures of spring. See you next week!IMG_1668

I love the Vermeer-esque lighting on these tulips.

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Is there anything happier than a golden bird in a red-budded tree?

 

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