Amulet Books

This past weekend, I went to the Missouri SCBWI Advanced Writers Retreat.  We got to attend sessions on voice and publishing trends led by Amulet Books editor Maggie Lehrman.    Maggie is super-enthusiastic about what she does and critiques manuscripts with quiet intensity.  Her comments were on the mark and now I feel like I have more insight into what I need to accomplish in my first chapter.

Here are a few things that Maggie had to say about Abrams and Amulet Books:

  • Amulet was founded in 2004.
  • They do nontraditional books. 
  • The line really gook off with the publication of The Diary of a Wimpy Kid in 2007.  This one really fits the nontraditional bill in that the first three books were already available online as comic strips when the first book was actually printed.  This online availability meant that  more traditionally minded publishers weren’t interested in publishing the book.
  • Maggie herself focuses middle grade and young adult and graphic novels and some picture books.
  • Maggie estimates that she reads a book 11 times throughout the acquisition and editing process.

When I got home from the retreat, I was reading e-mail and saw this in PW Children’s Bookshelf for April 25, 2013.

Maggie Lehrman at Amulet has bought North American rights to Winterkill, a debut YA novel by Kate Boorman. The story follows Emmeline, a marginalized girl living in an isolated settlement ruled by constant fear, who is drawn outside of the walls by powerful dreams and an insatiable curiosity.”

I’ll report more about the retreat for the next several days.


How to Research

frog factStay tuned for information from the retreat last weekend.  I wrote this post ahead of time to give myself a day or two to process what I learned.  Now, on to the post…

I find myself doing more and more photo and video research for various projects.  I’m not looking for photos to point out to an editor as much as I want to see what various prayer flags look like.  I want to know how a ptarmigan looks when it is walking across the tundra.

Often, I find things with a quick Google Search or a search on Pinterest.

Remember the old rule?  If you find three sources, you know a fact is credible.  Thanks to the internet and Pinterest, that rule it out the door.  You can find something several dozen times and it is absolute rubbish.

I know because I tested this with my two favorite examples.  I typed in baboon.  Up came dozens and dozens of photos of baboons.  I also found at least two dozen photos of mandrill, some labeled as baboons and some as mandrill baboons.  Nope.  Try again.  A mandrill and a baboon are related but not the same thing.  Sorry.

Then I ran test #2.  I typed in Mayan Calendar.  Up popped, if I looked hard enough, two or three calendars created by the Maya and dozens upon dozens by the Aztec.  Not the same at all although both groups lived in Mexico.  I almost felt sorry for the guy with the huge Aztec calendar tattooed across his back — although maybe that’s exactly what he asked for.

Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, you need to use a variety of sensory details in your writing.  To read more about how to do this, check out my post Saturday at the Muffin.  But be very careful doing image searches.  A lot of people are circulating gorgeous photos that are sadly mislabeled.


See You on Monday!

Elfindale MansionI’m off to the Elfindale Manor in Springfield, Missouri for the Missouri SCBWI Advanced Writers Retreat.  I’ll heading down the highway with some of my writing buddies.  The retreat is lead by Abrams Senior Editor Maggie Lehrman.  She’s critiqued our work and will be giving several workshops on topics ranging from voice to trend setting.  Have a happy writing weekend!  I’ll fill you in when I get home.


Writing Science

Library of CongressOne of the trickiest parts of writing science is finding your facts.  Where do you go to find the latest and greatest information on a topic?

One good place to start is the Library of Congress.  They have a wide variety of Reference Guides available to download.  One of the most recent is The Science of Taste, compiled in January of this year.  It includes references on the physiology of taste, flavor ingredients, the neurobiology and genetic variations.

Additional science reference guides include information  on various scientists, gardening, obesity and much more.  You can find the entire list at the Science Reference Guide page.

You can also find material in the form of video by checking out the listing of events sponsored by the Library of Congress.  If anything these topics are even more varied than the reference guides.  With just a quick glance, I spotted Mapping Water Use from Space with Martha Anderson, PhD.; Man Food Fire: The Evolution of Barbecue with Steven Raichlen, a winner of the several James Beard Awards; and My Winter in Greenland and Summer in Antarctica with Lora Koenig, PhD. about her study of the ice sheets.

Why not take advantage of the many wonderful resources the Library of Congress has to offer.  You may find yourself adding primary sources to your bibliography.


How to Write Fact Based Fiction

fact based fictionRecently, I got a manuscript back from an editor.  Not only had she read it but she made comments as well.  Evidence of actual reading!  Oh, joyous happy dance. Then, I read one of her comments.  “Finishing this job is easy.  There’s no way he would put it off.”

Seriously?  I live with this character, or at least I live with the person behind the character.  This person would definitely put this task off.  Easy?  So what.  That doesn’t matter.  The question is does he want to do it, because he puts off everything he doesn’t want to do.  Easy.  Important.  Urgent.  If he doesn’t want to do something, he will get it done at the very last possible moment even if his putting it off is causing me to break out in hives.  I’ve actually told him his ability to procrastinate is the lamest super power ever.  That’s reality.

But what I’m writing is fiction.  This means that if this action doesn’t work in the story, it doesn’t work.  It doesn’t matter if that’s how something really happened or not.

A story may be based on things that actually happened, but fiction is not fact.  Very often, it has to make more sense than real life makes.  The logical connections need to be there for one and all to see and understand.  Just because something happened in real life doesn’t mean that it will work in fiction.

Does this mean that I’m changing my character’s action?  Yes and no.  He has to procrastinate for there to even be a story, but I can change some other things that will make his procrastinating seem more logical by making this final step more difficult.   After all, this is fiction and doesn’t have to take place the same way it would in real life.  Use reality to fuel your fiction, but don’t let it limit your story.



Call for Submissions

Call for SubmissionsBelladonna Publishing has a call out for submissions.  They are compiling a comics anthology about the female serial killer.  “We envision musty lace, arsenic, bloody axes – and a dash of frustrated house wives.”

The rules:

  • Said murderess must be deceased for 50 years.
  • Research is a must.
  • Possible killers include but are not limited to Belle GunnesMadame LaLaurieKate BenderBonnie Parker,Vera Renczi and the Black Widows of Liverpool.
  • Bring the story to life with a strong, original story.  

Stories can range from 20 to 40 pages and be written in English, Norwegian or Swedish.

The anthology will be in both print book and e-book and will be published in 2014.  Payment is royalty based.

Visit the Belladonna site for more information.



Most Challenged Books

alexieThe American Library Association recently published their lists of most challenged books for 2012.  The list is compiled from “464 reports on attempts to remove or restrict materials from school curricula and library bookshelves.”  This year’s winners are:

  • Captain Underpants series, by Dav Pilkey
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.  This is one of my all-time favorites and should be required reading in my not-so-humble opinion.  The banning issue usually comes down to the fact that Alexie unflinchingly portrays real teen age boys.  Want to ban the book?  Then you probably can’t handle teen-boy-unfiltered either.
  • Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher.  This too is an amazing book and I can see why it would make people squirm but sometimes squirmy is a good thing especially when we are forced to examine the implications of letting certain things take place.
  • Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James.  
  • And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson.  Another thought provoking favorite of mine.
  • The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.  This one is an adult book so I can see it being inappropriate for younger readers but I would have no problem with my son reading it in a highschool lit class.  
  • Looking for Alaska by John Green
  • Scary Stories series by Alvin Schwartz
  • The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison

I’m not saying that all book challenges are unfounded.  If someone was requiring my 12 year-old to read The Kite Runner, I’d have something to say about it, but that’s a curriculum issue because it is an adult book and not a get-this-book-out-of-the-library issue.

For those of you who may not have figured it out, I’m against book banning.  Yes, some of these books are about bad things, but sometimes a kid needs to read about another kid who survived something bad.  That way, they’ll see that they too can survive.  Not all of these books are those kinds of books.  Some are simply irreverent and silly.  I may not like the individual books, but kids need to laugh and they often laugh at things I find disgusting.  That’s life.

How many of these books have you read?  If the answer is zero, I’d definitely encourage you to pick up a few of them.  See what is setting people off.  If you are writing for kids, you need to know.  Me?  I’ve requested Looking for Alaska.  It’s a book I’ve heard great things about but simply haven’t gotten to yet.  I think it’s about time that I did.


National Book Festival

On Saturday, Sept. 21 and Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013, a portion of the National Mall is taken over by the pavilions for the National Book Festival.  The first batch of speakers have just been announced.  Oh, I wish that I could go.  Here are just a few of the authors and poets who will be among the 100 to speak at this free event: 

Margaret Atwood:  I have adored Atwood ever since I read the Handmaid’s Tale.

Khaled Hosseini:  He has me with The Kite Runner and I thought it couldn’t get any better until I read A Thousand Splendid Suns.  Literary love.

Barbara Kingsolver:  How do you pick a favorite piece of Kingsolver?  For me, it tends to be whatever I’ve read most recently.

Katherine Paterson:  You thought I was going to completely ignore the children’s writers?  Shame on you!  That said, she will never be forgiven for The Bridge to Terabithia. Never.

Matt de la Peña: Who impressed my friend Kim Piddington so much that she has lured him to Missouri for our own SCBWI conference.  

Kirby Lawson:  Whom I love for Hattie Big Sky but would love to pinch for making me cry with The Two Bobbies.

Grace Lin: Never ceases to amaze and if you haven’t read Where the Mountain Meets the Moon you truly need to pick it up.  

And the list goes 100.  Can you even imagine 100 writers and poets of this magnitude in one place?  It would be like Christmas and my birthday all rolled into one.  To keep an eye on the arrangements for this amazing event, visit the National Book Festival web site.



A Blind Eye

Some book trailers immediately grab my attention.  “You have to read this!”

Others leave me thinking meh.   What makes for a mediocre trailer?  Often they are composed entirely of stills.  Or I can’t figure out what the book is about because the entire video is quotes by various big name authors saying how much they loved it.  Okay, but what is it about?  How do I know that we even like the same kind of book?

This was not a meh trailer.  This trailer seized me and made me want to go see the movie. Yep.  It was so well done that I had to double check — book or movie, movie or book.  Book.  By Julie Daines.  I checked.  Some serious money obviously went into this one.  Watch it and join me in trailer envy.

But once you get over trailer envy, what can you learn?  Obviously, this had a substantial budget and professional videography.   But I’ve seen less expensive trailers that were equally dramatic.  They hooked me as well.  I also love humor.  Make me laugh, and I’m hooked.  Quriky and innovative are also good.  Does any of these sound like something you could pull off?  Just remember, it also has to suite your book.


Thinking Outside the Box

Truth is truly stranger than fiction.  Not sure what I mean?  Watch this video.

No matter where you stand politically, can you see pitching this story to an editor and having her say, “Excellent!  Run with it!”  I can’t, because I keep hearing that little editorial voice saying, “The voters would be angry they were lied to.  This would completely backfire.”   But it didn’t. The supporters of this library succeeded because they thought outside the box.

How would thinking outside the box effect your current work-in-progress?

One thing that I know for certain.  Whenever I hear an editor say “Think outside the box,” I’m going to smile.