One Writer’s Journey

April 18, 2014

Why Write: As explained by poet Naomi Shihab Nye

I’m not going to lie.  If I was going to be a fan-girl, I’d tag along after Naomi Shihab Nye.  Her poetry speaks to me and, as she explains here, that’s exactly what poetry is meant to do.

As she discussed how poetry works to help us see what all people’s have in common and as a means to distill and understand your day, it hit me.  Writing for children can, if you allow it, work in much the same way.  It’s up to you the writer.  If we choose to do so, we wield great power.


Off to go noodle that one over for a while.


April 17, 2014

Mentorship: Here’s the chance to learn from picture book author David Harrison

Do you feel like you’ve hit a brick wall with your picture books?  You’ve read all there is to read about writing picture books.  Your critique group likes your work. Yet, you still can’t sell.

David 2013One of the best ways to get past this point is to work with a mentor.  A mentor is an more advanced author who works closely with you to help you develop.  The good news for picture book writers is that the Missouri Region the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators has an annual mentorship.  The mentor for 2015 is picture book author David L. Harrison.

Frankly, I’m jealous.

He is the author of eighty-nine books including poetry, fiction, and nonfiction for young readers as well as educational books for teachers. He is the poet laureate of Drury University, and David Harrison Elementary School is named for him. You can find his work in 120 anthologies, 12 languages, sandblasted into a library sidewalk, painted on a bookmobile, and presented on television, radio, podcast, and video stream. His poetry collection, Pirates, was the Missouri book at the 2013 National Book Fair in Washington, D.C.

pirates book coverJealousy.  Not of David but because I want to work with David.  (Hear me whine.)

If you are an SCBWI member in the Missouri Region, you can win the chance to work with David.  Sorry, but if you’ve already published a picture book, you aren’t eligible.  But if you’re still trying to break into the market, this is a great learning opportunity.

Applications are accepted from May 1 through June 30, 2014.  Your application must include one full-length picture book manuscript and a brief cover letter that gives the judges a taste of your writing style, your writing habits, and reasons why you want the mentorship.

There are more rules to this but I’ll let you read them for yourself here.  If you live in Missouri but aren’t an SCBWI member, you have time to join.   You probably even have time to smooth out the wrinkles in a manuscript that is almost ready.  Take advantage of this opporunity.  You owe it to yourself.





April 16, 2014

Book Trailers: What You Need to Know

MoodLast week, I blogged about book trailers — are they something you still need to do or are they yesterday’s news?  If you want your work in school libraries, librarians love trailers.  They play them for their students.  Sharyn Murray created the amazing trailer for The Water Castle.  Here, she answers questions put to her by the author of the book, Megan Frazer Blakemore.

Okay, you’re going to have to follow this link to it because I can’t show you the video here.  It is the second video on the page.  The first video is the booktrailer for The Water Castle.

In the video, Murray explains that when you make a trailer, you already know the story (the book).  Your job in the video is to figure out how to depict this story in another format.

If you are a print story teller, one of the reasons that video feels tricky is that the layers in video are different than the layers in a print story.  We work with plot and subplot, theme and symbolism, mood and detail.  A videographer works with visuals (moving, stills, on-screen text) and sound.  Sound can take the form of special effects (a door slamming), music or voice.

Both the visuals and the sound need to work together to hook your reader.  One way to do this, and it is the method Murray used in the Water Castle trailer is to rely on mood or emotion.  She goes for spooky and a bit ominous.  Visually, she does this with the pen-and-ink images, the bold text (Believe)  and the smoke.  But she also uses sound to build this same effect, pullying together music, the main voice over (talking about the story) and then the spooky background voices.

Whatever mood or tone you go for you in your trailer, you need to use as many layers as possible to firmly hook your viewer and make them want to become your reader.



April 15, 2014

Writing Short: Flash Fiction from the perspective of a children’s writer

Flash fictionLast week, I read an article on writing flash fiction.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, flash fiction is simply really short fiction.  What do I mean by really short? There doesn’t seem to be any one definition for how short is short.  I’ve seen anything from 500 to 1000 words.  If you write for children, you may be looking at that 1000 word limit and thinking “that’s a lot!” But the term flash fiction most often applies to writing for adults.

Here are some of the tips that I read about writing flash ficiton:

  • Tell, don’t show.  With such a low word count, there simply isn’t room for showing.  Jenny doesn’t know many people in New Haven.
  • There is no backstory.  Again, word count eliminates the ability to let the reader know more than the bare bones.  Jenny is divorced and new to town.
  • Don’t worry about three act structure.  Again, word count.  Jenny struggles to meet people in her new town until she meets Zach. We don’t read about the failures, you just tell us that she doesn’t know many people.

I have to admit that these words of wisdom surprised me.  We children’s writers write short all the time.  We right within these word counts and we manage to work in a hint of backstory, show vs tell, and establish a three act struction.  Often we do this in 500 words.  1000 words is like a smorgasboard.  What’s the big deal?

I suspect, but I don’t know, that for a short story writer who may have had 3000 words to play around with, this is a challenge.  3000 words, over half the length of a Magic Tree House book, gives you a lot more space for character development, setting, building tension and all the rest.

I’ve been mulling this over because I’m shaking up my writing a bit, trying new things and looking for new markets.  One market I’m considering is flash fiction, because, as we know, I write short.  Overshooting my maximum word count isn’t a problem for me nearly as often as not quite reaching the minimum.  I suspect that, like with all types of writing, it is a matter of learning the conventions of this particular form and telling a compelling story.

The question is — will my compelling story be flash fiction or not.



April 14, 2014

Vote Today: Crystal Kite Voting Ends Today!

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:07 am
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Are you an SCBWI member?  If so, have you voted yet for the Crystal Kite Award?  Today is the last day to vote in Round One.  So if you still need to vote, get a move on it! Click here to go directly to the correct page on the SCBWI site.

This one nearly got past me.

Note:  The entire SCBWI membership is divided up into 15 regions for this award.  This means that when you land on the page to take your vote, you may be a little surprised by what Region you are assigned.  This doesn’t correspond directly to your SCBWI region.  Here are the Crystal Kite regions:

  • US Division: California, Hawaii
  • US Division: West (Washington, northern Idaho, Oregon, Alaska, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota)
  • US Division: Southwest (Nevada, Arizona, Utah, southern Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico)
  • US Division: Midwest (Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio)
  • US Division: New England (Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire. Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island)
  • US Division: New York
  • US Division: Texas, Oklahoma
  • US Division: Atlantic (Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Wash DC, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland)
  • US Division: Mid-South (Kansas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri)
  • US Division: Southeast (Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana)
  • International Division: UK, Ireland
  • International Division: Middle East, India, Asia
  • International Division: Canada
  • International Division: Australia, New Zealand
  • International Division: Other International

For the Crystal Kite, I’m in the Mid-South region although my regular SCBWI Region is Missour.  Don’t let this throw you but do hurry over and vote!


April 11, 2014

How Much Should I Earn: Or Whether or Not I Should Give Away My Writing

paymentI’m always surprised by the number of markets who expect writers to work for copies.  Yes, copies and bylines mean experience, but I can’t take copies and bylines to the grocery store and come way with enough to feed my family even a nibble.  That takes cash.  Still there are things that I do for free.  Here are some things that I consider when I’m asked to work for free.

  • Is this a charity or a not-for-profit?  If an organization that I believe in asked me to write an article, I would consider it.  Yes, even if they wanted to me to write for free.  There are just certain causes  and groups (Habitat for Humanity, Hiefer International and various social justice organizations) that I am willing to support.  I believe in what they do.  I would be proud to have my name associated with them.
  • Is there a byline?  If I don’t get money, I’m counting on that byline.  A byline in a public enough place means free advertising.  If it gets my name in front of enough people, then it is worth my while.
  • Does the illustrator also work for free?  I have actually had journals approach me and want to use my work but then explain that I would have to work for free. Why?  Because they can’t afford to pay the writers after they pay the photographers.  Whoa.  You can pay the photographer, but you can’t pay me?  That’s just not logical and I’ve consistently said no to these requests.
  • Does the market listing say they pay?  One time and one time only, my work appeared in a peer reviewed journal.  Later I saw a market listing for this same journal.  Surprise!  The market listing not only said that they paid but that they paid well.  To say that this hacked me off is a bit of an understatement.

It isn’t that I won’t work for free but there are only so many hours in the day.  For more on pay rates and making sure it is worth my while, see tomorrow’s post at the Muffin.



April 10, 2014

Book Trailers: Hot or Not?

Recently, I’ve heard a lot of buzz about book trailers including a Facebook discussion about whether or not they’re still relavent.  I was surprised by how many writers consider them old news.

If writer’s saw a direct correlation between a trailer and sales, I think they would be behind it.  But a trailer is a tricky thing to do.  Especially a top notch trailer.  To see what I mean by top notch, take a look at this trailer for Megan Frazer Blakemore’s The Water Castle.

Of course, I’m a huge mystery fan and this makes me want to know what happens in this book.  I’m hooked by the spookiness and the mystery and the suspence.  I want to believe that the character can actually find the fountain of youth.

This draw sent me to the library.  I have the library book on my desk.

At the recent Missouri SCBWI workshop that focused on the Common Core Curriculum Standards, the librarians all praised book trailers.  Our schools are media intense with screens in most classrooms and the library.  Librarians use these screens to play trailers all the time.  If they have a trailer of your book playing, it will be checked out.  Constantly.

Repeat after me, circulation is good. Admittedly, I’m intimidated by the thought of having to make a top notch trailer.  I hate being intimidated by something so I’ll share more next week on how to make a trailer.


April 9, 2014

Different types of poetry

April is National Poetry Month.  It’s the one time of the year that I make a point of writing and reading poetry.  It’s not that I avoid poetry, at least reading poetry, but I’m not a poet.  Not.  A. Poet.  But I do like writing poems (bad, amateurish poems) as warm ups.  More than writing poetry, I make a point to read poetry and to read about poetry.


A book of reverso styled poetry.

Here are some of the types of poems that I have discovered.

Fibonacci poem.  Named for the Fibonacci sequence, this poem was invented by Greg Pinkus.  Like the haiku, it involves counting syllables.  In this case, the count is 1/1/2/3/4/8.



counts in

this narrow,

growing wider,

poem based on mathematics.


Reverso.  This is one of my favorites although I’ve never succeeded in writing even a bad one.

I think of this as a pair of poems working together.

Marilyn Singer not only uses this form in her book Mirror Mirror, she actually created the reverso.  

In a reverso, you read the lines in one order in the first half of the poem.  The second half of the poem has the same lines in reverse order.  The only things that you can change are capitalization and punctuation.

Ideally, the meaning is often very different, often ironically so.  It tells the other half of the story.  To see what I mean, read this poem from Mirror Mirror.  

Have Another Chocolate



False apology poem.  This is another favorite, first written by William Carlos Williams.  You apologize for something without really meaning it.  Think insincerity.  Or sarcasm.  Williams’ poem is three stanzas of four lines each and all of the other false apology poems I’ve read follow this pattern.  Here is my second attempt – much, much better than my first attempt.  This is a frustrated parent poem.  Sorry folks, this is just where things stand today.

They Feel Responsible

You can’t find
your DS?
It’s missing?

It must
have run away
with your

They were so sad
when they heard
you got a D
on a test.

Not great but then I never claimed poetry as a talent!



April 8, 2014

The hybrid author: Combining Traditional Publishing and Self-Publishing

HybridNot long ago, I was reading agent Jenny Bent’s blog and came across a new term, the Hybrid Author.  I don’t remember if it was her term or if she borrowed it from someone else, but I like it.  It describes an author who didn’t choose traditional publishing vs self or independent publishing.  A hybrid author chooses both.

And, truthfully, it makes sense.  Why should we have to choose one path or another?  Some books have a large audience and are something that a traditional publisher can easily get behind.  It makes sense to bring these out traditionally so that you have the marketing edge and editing and design talents of a major house at your back.

Other books appeal to a smaller niche or require greater flexibility in terms of marketing.  That’s when self or independent publishing makes the most sense.

At this point, all of my work is traditionally published but I can see the appeal of independent publishing.  I also see the pitfalls (having to get behind the editing, design and marketing).  I’m not ready to take this step yet but I also know better than to say never.

What about you?  Are you a traditionally published author?  An independently published author?  Or a hybrid?


April 7, 2014

Spark Award

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:24 am
Tags: , ,

SparkLast week, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustratrators (SCBWI) announced the first every Spark Award winners.  The Spark Award is given to the authors and illustrators of independently published books.

The judges selected two winners, one novel and one picture book.

Karen Avivi from Quebec, Canada is the novel winner for her YA novel, Shredded.  

Neil Waldman of White Plains, New York won with his picture book, Al and Teddy.

The judges also names four honor books:

The award is open to current members of SCBWI who have independently-published a board book, picture book, chapter book, middle grade, or young adult novel.  The judges focused on quality of writing and concept, quality of illustrations (if applicable), professional presentation, and editing and design.

I’m interested to see how this one plays out.  The independently published authors I know take this award as vindication for their choice.  “Ha, ha!  Now SCBWI has to recognize that we are the equals of Randomhouse and Penguin.”

Sorry, I don’t think so.  As a long-time book reviewer, I’ve seen a lot of books both traditionally published and self-published.  I may not love every traditionally published book that I pick up but the quality is generally there.  Quality? At the very least, I can tell that there was a book designer involved.  And an editor.

Yeah, I know it sounds snotty but that’s the problem with most indepently published books.  An editor is a big deal and I don’t just mean the copy editor who makes sure your commas are in the right place.  The general editor helps in so many ways and makes your book more readable.

Then there’s the book design.  I did graphics in college and I know how to lay out a map and draw artifacts.  I can put together graphics that are clear and easy to read.  That does not qualify me to design a book.  There’s so much that goes into choosing the right font, designing the cover, and if there are illustrations knowing what makes them pull the reader deeper into the story.

I don’t know any single person who brings all of these skills to the table.  That means that if you want independently publish, you have to find and pay someone who is strong where you are weak.

Independent publishing isn’t a short cut.  It’s just a different path.  Hopefully the Spark Award will help both readers and writers take note of the independent authors who are getting it right.


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