“What is your favorite book?”
April 26, 2017
“What is your favorite book?”
April 25, 2017
Just how fictitious is too fictitious? That’s the question that I’ve been asking myself as I research a new picture book. It isn’t fantasy in the unicorns and elves sense. There is no magic. But there are animals doing things that animals simply do not do.
Without giving it all away, I have animal and human co-workers, specifically human and penguin co-workers. They are employed on a joint project in the Antarctic.
Obviously not realistic but how fanciful do I want to get? I want my penguins to act like penguins which is going to require reading up on penguin behavior and watching scads of videos. Oh, the horror.
But not every penguin behaves like every other penguin. So what kinds of penguins do I choose?
Obviously, I have to pick an Antarctic penguin which rules out Galapagos penguins. But it still meant that I had to chose between King, Emperor, Adelie, Gentoo, Chinstrap, Macaroni and Rockhopper.
There were several criteria that I could use to choose. I could pick a penguin with specific characteristics. Some penguins nurture both chicks vs simply the one that hatches first. Others are more social. Some are noisier than others. They vary in what they eat, where they live and how long they mate. Yeah, that last one never really featured in the decision process. This is, after all, a picture book and not that kind of picture book. Enemies are pretty consistent — adult penguins have to watch out for leopard seals and chicks are preyed on by skua.
I finally decided to select the penguin that researchers would be most likely to encounter. This meant comparing maps of penguin nesting locations with maps of human activity and habitation. There really wasn’t as much overlap as you might think.
Penguin type – check. Now I’m ready to start watching those penguin videos and working to weave penguin fact into my highly fictitious penguin story. Fact definitely blends with fiction in unique ways when you are writing a picture book.
April 24, 2017
Ideally, you start a story and you finish it. You aren’t interrupted. The words flow from beginning to end. You don’t need a break. Everything comes together flawlessly.
Nevermind that we all have lives, families, and friends. Forget about the fact that a paying deadline may force you to set aside your current manuscript so that you can keep the lights on.
I was making steady progress on my young adult novel when I got a message from my editor. Did I want to write a book on the Dakota Access Pipeline. Hmm. Let me think. That’s me in the Water is Life/NO Dakota Access Pipeline tee. So obviously I said yes. I may have actually been a bit more explicit than that.
But that meant putting aside my novel. And two picture books that I’m working on. Now that I’ve turned in the pipeline book, I’m trying to find my way back into the world of a my novel. To read about how I’m doing that, check out my post yesterday for the Muffin.
One picture book is easier because I wasn’t that far along. I had roughed it out but that particular draft was no where near final. I was beefing up each spread, doing more researching and adding necessary details. So that one is just a matter of seeing what the next spread is and doing the research. Yes, its a lot of work but I’m not trying to recapture a story world.
To get into the other picutre book, I’m reading up on scientists in Antarctica. Their world is the world of my story. The problems that they face and the setting that they are immersed in gave rise to my story problem and setting. I’m also watching videos of penguins. This part is super important because the co-star of my book will be a penguin and I have to pick a species. I don’t think that King will work. I’m reading up on Emperor and Chinstrap.
If you’ve written a good chunk of the story, go back to a part that came together especially well. Read it and see if it doesn’t pull you in. You may need to read it and then go for a walk to free up your mind.
I’m not saying that re-entering your story is going to be easy but it is something that you need to learn to do. What you learn may be that the way into each story is different, depending on the story and where you are in your life. But you can re-enter. You just need to find the right door.
April 21, 2017
Yesterday I mentioned how inspirational I found the Library of Congress Magazine. Apparently I’m not the only one who finds inspiration in this library’s amazing collection. Check out this post from Jann Alexander in which she discusses the inspiration she finds in the library’s print and photography collections.
If you’ve never spent any time poking around in the library’s online offerings, do yourself a favor. But not if you have a deadline fast approaching. Go write and then come give it a good look. You will find photos and engineering records of historic buildings, Abraham Lincoln’s papers, and even an Afghanistan web archive. This isn’t just about the archives themselves. Some collections also include a tab of articles or essays about the materials contained therein.
But this isn’t all that Alexander talks about in her post. She also discusses an archive of oral histories collected by Story Corps.org. Interviews range in topic from how someone found their calling to parenting, including a discussion between Chris and Gabe Lopez on being transgender and hoping his mother would still accept him. Gabe is now 9 years-old so this is a real eye opener about how young children dealing with being trans. The Story Corps recordings are technically podcasts with a new offering put up each week. Consider listening and see where other people’s stories take you in your own work.
Last but not least, Alexander recommends that writers find inspiration among the obituaries. I know that I’ve considered writing several bios after reading someone’s obit and discovering that they were a pioneering chemist, a code talker or more. In addition to straight up obits, Alexander also recommends Find A Grave. This is a national web site that includes obits and photographs. Sometimes the photo is only the grave marker but others include early photos, midlife photos and more. If you don’t have a name to look up, you can also look at popular searches, new listings and new photos, and famous graves.
Next time you find yourself waffling around without inspiration, check out one of these sites and, when inspiration strikes, be sure to say thank you to Jann Alexander for sharing her sources of inspiration.
April 20, 2017
I’ve just become aware of two amazing resources at the Library of Congress. Or at least I’ve become newly acquainted. The first is a series of primary source sets and the second a especially helpful publication for idea generation, or at least that’s how it works for me.
As many of you probably know, finding primary sources online can be tricky. It isn’t that nothing is available. There is actually quite a bit out there. But finding it when you need it can be another matter altogether. But authors aren’t the only ones looking for primary sources. Teachers realize how primarcy sources can entrance young readers. To help teachers access sources available at the Library, the staff has put together primary source sets ranging from topics as diverse as “found poetry” to “children’s lives at the turn of the twentieth century.”
The first is not a grouping of found poems but resouces that students might use increating their own. The set includes a teacher’s guide as well as a variety of documents such as copies of print documents and photographs. The latter set includes historic photos of children at play, a children’s parade and even a children’s book from the time.
The Library of Congress Magazine is published by-monthly with each issue focusing on a theme such as World War I, Presidential Elections, Photography or Food Collections. The magazine is approximately 32 pages long and a PDF of each issue is available.
Take a look at several issues of this magazine and see if you don’t come away with some new ideas. I paged through the issue on Food Collections and quickly jotted down three book ideas — a cookbook, a food history/cookbook and a biography.
The Library of Congress is both a national treasure and an amazing resource. Take the time to look through some of the educational guides and the magazines. You won’t regret it.
April 19, 2017
Now that I’ve turned in the Dakota Access Pipeline book, I’m getting ready to send another batch of queries to agents. Not that I want this to sound like I’ve queried 100s of them and been rejected all around. I think that so far I’ve sent out about 5 queries so I am still in the early stages.
The two agents that I’m seriously looking at right now are Laura Biagi and Roseanne Wells.
Biagi is with the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency. She caught my eye because she had a degree in cultural anthropology and is interested in books both history and science which is a good match for me. She is also currently reading picture book manuscripts, including submissions that are text only. Translation: You don’t have to be am author/illustrator. Check out the agency website for the submission guideline form.
Next up is Rosemary Wells with Jennifer de Chiara Literary Agency. She grabbed my attention because she represents both STEM titles in general and also nonfiction picture books. Again, a good match for me. You can find a listing for her on the Writer’s Digest agenting blog.
If you plan to submit to either of these agents, you should do your own research so that you can query them with knowledge about why they are a good match for your work.
Recently, I had someone who is concerned with my well-being and career ask me if I should keep posting market news, specifically about agents and publishers that I am interested in. The question came about because a few people have wanted information from me but refused to share market information themselves.
I made my sales because other writers helped me connect with editors and publishers. Some of them told me when their own editors were looking for things. Others tipped me off about markets that are compatible with my work. They were willing to risk it and so am I. Yes, publishing is a competitive business but if you have what an editor wants, you are going to make a sale. If I don’t make one sale, I’ll make another.
So, good luck if either of these agents intrigues you!
April 18, 2017
April is National Poetry Month. Whether you are a serious poet or just someone who dabbles like I occassionally do, this Writer’s Digest post includes thirty-seven key terms that will help you know what everyone else is talking about. Of course, if you are a serious poet, you probably know most of them.
Rhyme, rhythm, and stanza I already knew but another term I’ve frequently seen, but never seen defined, is chapbook. If you write for children, that sounds a lot like chapter book, a type of book for newly confident readers who can handle chapters but still need fairly direct, straightforward text.
In poetry, a chapbook is a small book of approximately 24 to 50 pages. Not what the “chap” stands for but when I looked deeper into it I found that they are also called brochures or pamphlets. Traditionally they were stitched but they can also be stapled and generally have a paper stock cover. They are often themed and have kind of a DIY feel so if you have the urge to try self-publishing something you might want to study up on chapbooks. You can read more about chapbooks here and here.
A lot of other poetry terms, including anapest and dactyl, have to do with stressed and unstressed syllables. Then there are the terms that have to do with sounds other than rhyme — assonance and consonance, for example.
If you only dabble, you may not feel the need to know all of these terms but if you write picture books it is important to know about word play and how to make your story a fun read-aloud experience. That means poetry. You may not need each and every one of these words to know if your piece “works” but an editor or other critiquer may use one of these terms to explain why your rhythym is off.
This list made it obvious that I have a whole lot to learn. I have to say that I knew only about 25% of the terms but now I have a good source for new things, including chapbooks, that I want to learn more about.
April 17, 2017
April 14, 2017
I have to admit it. When I numbered the items on my Dakota Access Pipeline bibliography, I expected it to top 200 by a comfortable margin. But I only had 156 items. It probably seemed like more than it was because I was a bit organizationally challenged on this book. Yes, there were things I did right (yay, me!). But there were also things that I did wrong and with so many PDFs, mistakes add up fast. Here are three tips to help you organize your research.
Whenever I save a downloaded PDF, my computer wants to save it in a “Downloads” file folder. Unfortunately, this file folder is under my user name which is under my drive name. I override this and save everything in my documents library under the name of the manuscript. No, I can’t open these PDFs with Word but I can find things a lot faster when it is all in the same folder.
Many of the PDFs that I used are online as PDFs. That means that I did a Google search, found this awesome article or publication, clicked and opened a PDF. I can include these in my bibliography as “online” and provide the URL. Or I can include them as “PDF of print publication,” which is what I tend to do. When you do this, save the PDF in your documents folder. It’s easier when you need to go back and verify specific phrasing on something. Believe me.
When you save a PDF, save it under the author’s last name and first three words of the title. Yes, wherever you are downloading this will likely have given the file a different name. Override it and save it as something that will be easy to locate when you look on your bibliography and see that you cited John Doe’s “Big Stinking Article.”
Not only will these steps make it easier for you to relocate things, when your editor asks for copies of all your PDFs they will be easy to find and to identify by name. I’m just saying.
April 13, 2017
I’m betting that 99.99% of you have probably already figured out that I’m kind of wild for intellectual freedom. Book banning drives me nuts.
That isn’t to say that I’m against a parent saying “No, that book is a bit much for you” if the content is too emotionally advanced for their child. After all, that’s part of a parent’s job. But challenging a book because it has gay characters or transgender characters or the teens in the book are portrayed in a realistic way? Umm . . . no.
The ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom put together this graphic about the 10 most challenged books of 2016. I have to admit that there two books on the list that I know nothing about — Big Hard Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Make Something Up by Chuck Palahniuk.
But there are other books on this list that I’ve read and highly recommend — depending on your child’s age, both physically and emotionally. Intellectual freedom is one of our most important building blocks and one that you should be concerned with if you are a writer.
My son’s biggest regret? That I haven’t managed to get banned yet and he’s about to graduate. Gotta love ’em.