Saturday, September 30, 2006

Class Reunion...

Apropos to nothing, tonight is my 20th high school reunion. And I have a feeling it's gonna be weird. I've only been in contact with a handful of my former classmates since 1986--Rose, who's my massage therapist; Terry, who writes horror novels and I sporadically run into at the mall; Nancy, who had me in her wedding in an unfortunate periwinkle ensemble and who I've since pretty much de-friended (it's hard to get over a periwinkle bridemaid's dress); and a select few who were my college friends.

I've spent the last few weeks watching all these episodes of What Not to Wear where they've picked out groups of women going to 20th reunions and given them wardrobe makeovers, but I'm still having trouble deciding on an outfit. I want to look good, but not like I'm trying too hard. To be perfectly honest I want to look thin and young and hip and better than everyone else. I want to have the coolest husband, the cutest kid, and the best job. Sigh. Sigh again. It almost feels like tonight is the first day of school. And I have two zits.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Children's Poet Laureate...

It was recently announced that Jack Prelutsky was named the first-ever U.S. Children's Poet Laureate. I must admit that I've never been quite sure exactly what a poet laureate does--write and promote poetry. Is there more to the job description? (I'll google it.) I also must admit that until recently, the only poetry I ever really dug was poetry written for kids. Good kids poems can be fun or silly or witty or quiet, and a joy to read out loud. Give me J. Patrick Lewis over anything they ever made me read in college any day. I find it very exciting that kids have their own specially appointed poetry guru. I hope Mr. Prelutsky can help more kids learn to appreciate poetry, not just in childhood, but for a lifetime.

Novels in verse for young readers really got me back into appreciating and loving poetry. I've even purchased a few poetry collections for grown ups (now in my nightstand stack)--a little Rumi, a little Mary Oliver, a little e e cummings. It's great before-bed reading.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Wonderfulness of YA...

I just finished reading the first of five First Books books (not telling which one--don't want to give it away before the 2008 CWIM comes out), and, oh, I couldn't-put-it-down loved it. I didn't think about TV or the Internet. I let the phone ring. I was almost late for yoga class. And then I went back and re-read the last few chapters.

There's nothing I love more than a good book written for teenagers. Whether it's romance or edgy, sweet or sad, contemporary or futuristic--I'm so there. What is it about these books? Why can I relate so much to highschoolers when I'm 20 years removed? Maybe part of it is that the emotions of adolescence are so strong and so deep and never really leave you. And there were aspects of high school existence I missed out on that I can take part in through books. I went to an all-girl high school, so I love the experience of a co-ed world. I also didn't go to prom or homecoming. I never had a boyfriend to speak of. I wasn't particularly good or bad or pretty or smart or angsty. Nothing particularly traumatic or interesting happened. I was your average, pass-quietly-through high school teenager with a series of unfortunate haircuts (it was the '80s).
When I read a good YA novel, I can have a satisfying girl-meets-boy-girl-gets-boy experience. I can help my friend who's an addict. I can make it on my own when my parents emotionally or physically abandon me. I can be popular or strong or athletic or triumphant or a big mess. Then I close the book and I'm a 38-year-old with a husband, a toddler, a job and a mortgage.

Here are a few YA titles--that are also debut novels--that I couldn't put down. (There's also something about an author's first book, but that's another post):

I'd love to hear about your favorite YA titles, debut or not. I'm always looking for books to add to my (never-ending) reading list.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Harold's Publishing News...

Harold Underdown reports he's recently updated his "Who's Moving Where?" feature on The Purple Crayon. To check it out, click here.

Bonus #4: Mo Willems...

I must admit I was a little bummed that our Lexington bookstore gig was on the 23rd because Mo Willems was going to be at the wonderful independent children's bookstore the Blue Marble in northern KY that same day and I would miss going to see him.

However, we arrived at Joseph-Beth plenty early and lo and behold--there was Mo! He was 3 o'clock; we were 4 o'clock. I got a copy of the Caldecott Honor-winning Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus autographed for Murray (he loves it) and got a chance to chat with Mo, who is quite witty, doesn't autograph board books to keep them free of toxic ink, was a featured Hot Men of Children's Literature on the Fuse #8 Production blog, and will teach anyone with pen and paper how to draw his Pigeon.

Last Stop on the Tour: Joseph-Beth Lexington...

It was a rainy day for driving, but our trip to the Lexington Joseph-Beth turned out to be more than pleasant. This store is huge and gorgeous! If you live in the vicinity and have not been there--go go go! We had about 20 writers attending and we covered standard topics like query letters, agents, contests and copyright. Above are pix of some writers waiting for us to begin; the giant events banners hanging from the domed ceiling; and Lauren, Novel & Short Story Writer's Market editor, with Greg, our publicity dude/moderator/driver, who is hiding behind his pages of questions. Thanks to everyone who came out to see us to talk about writing and publishing especially the nice lady we chatted with in the restroom afterward about how to pronounce Louisville--you asked a lot of great questions. I'm looking forward to returning to this store next year, and maybe working in a little more shopping time.

Bonus #1: The cafe had the vegetarian chili that I love. Bonus #2: They gave us bags of tiny Burt's Bees products as thank-you gifts. Bonus #3: I made it home in time for my 8:30 dinner reservation at the sushi place for my husband's birthday dinner with Jerry and Steve Adler (who keeps telling me I should talk about him in my blog). Bonus #4: See the post above!

Thursday, September 21, 2006


  • Tour: Tomorrow is the last date of the Market Books Tour for 2006. I'll be appearing at the Joseph-Beth Lexington, KY store along with Novel & Short Story Writer's Market Editor Lauren Mosko. Our event begins at 4 p.m. Please come see us!
  • News: Scholastic reported on their first quarter sales, and--surprise, surprise--their numbers are down considerably from this time last years when Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was released. Their reported Q1 sales were $275 million, dropping $112 million in the children's division. Not so bad considering the drop in HP sales was $180 million.
  • First Books: I've finally gotten an chance to contact all of the debut authors who I did not choose for the 2008 CWIM First Books feature. Sorry it took so long--the tour, you know. If you did not hear from me, I apologize--a few emails may have slipped through the cracks. Another big congratulations to all of you on your debut books. It was truly a tough decision to weed out only five authors from such a great group of possibilities. I'm in the midst of reading the books by the authors who will be included in the feature, and I'm having great fun doing it!
  • Personal: I just bought a bag that's the exact same color as the 2007 edition of CWIM. "The only thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to accessorize."
  • Observation: I'm fairly certain the Teletubbies lifted some choreography from Footloose. Especially Dipsy--that Tubbie has some moves.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Bruce Hale: A Photo Essay...

He writes. He illustrates. He sings. He acts. He's witty. Plus he's a snappy dresser, has a collection of jaunty hats, and looked adorable in a loincloth when he was 9-ish. For more on this multi-talented and delightful author and his Chet Gecko series visit his website.

Note: The bass player in the band is our own Chuck Sambuchino (second one on the right), another multi-talented dude, and editor of Guide to Literary Agents.

Me and My Shadoe...

During the Midwest Literary Festival, I also moderated a writing for children panel featuring Bruce Hale, along with agent Regina Brooks, author Debbie Taylor and Shadoe Stevens. It was pretty easy to come up with questions for Bruce, Regina and Debbie. We talked about humor in kids books, critique groups, magazine writing, agents, and had a nice breakdown of children's publishing categories from Regina.

Then there was Shadoe. According to his promo postcard he "has recieved regonition as 'The Dr. Seuss of the twenty-first century.'" His work is highly regarded by Dick Clark, Whoopie Goldberg and Gene Simmons, who says: "Your book rocks in more ways than one!" I'm not making this stuff up. His book rhymes and was self-published. It has a message. (Oh, was I cringing when the other panelists said one should not write kids books with morals, that are didactic, that try to teach kids a lesson.) His last line includes the words "happily ever after." What was I supposed to ask this guy?

I met Shadoe in the green room and he confessed he'd never done a panel on writing before. I must say, however, that Shadoe was a good sport (after he was five minutes late and I had to send someone to fetch him. Thank goodness Bruce entertained the crowd.) I asked him about verbal storytelling and being aware of how the words you're writing will sound out loud. When he took the mic, he said, "I'm not worthy." When he recited passages from his book The Big Galoot, they sounded so much better than when I read them aloud to my co-workers in the car. And he did some fine work in "Dave's World."

Monday, September 18, 2006

MLF, Characters, and a Ruckus...

I'd never attended an event such as this festival and I wasn't sure what to expect, but the Midwest Literary Festival in Aurora, IL was a great event.

Friday I moderated a wonderful panel on creating characters featuring children's author Bruce Hale, romance author Tara Taylor Quinn, mystery author Hallie Ephron, and thriller author and screenwriter Jay Bonansinga. The bottom line--create dimensional, believable characters readers can become invested in.

Later in the weekend at a short story panel, author Dennis Lehane and J.A. Konrath engaged in a passionate debate about character-driven stories vs. plot-driven stories. Dennis says, as far as he's concerned, all stories should be character-driven--readers must care about the characters in a story or they won't be interested in your plot. Joe says plot is key--no one wants to read about bunch of people sitting around talking about their lives. Works were cited! Voices were raised! The moderator had to brake it up! Much much excitement!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Small Crowd at Barbara's Bookstore...

After a zillion hours in our rented mid-size SUV and some tasty vegetarian dolmades at the Parthenon (where they frequently set things on fire, such as cheese), my co-workers and I arrived at Barbara's Bookstore for our latest Market Books Tour event. The store is in a college-y area and had a college-y staff and our event was held in a meeting room rather than in an area of the store.

There were four of us on the panel and 10 people in the audience counting Pete the bookstore guy who is also a writer, and Lauren's dad--certainly not our biggest crowd ever. But I was happy we didn't out number the audience, which has happened before. We once had a panel of four and one--one--lone writer came to see us. But the tour must go on! We had a good discussion about things like agents, poetry, graphic novels and Jerry Springer.

The store had a small but nice children's book section (I picked up a couple new board books for Murray) and the staff (well, Pete) was really appreciative. I'm not sure if we actually sold any books though. If you're ever on the road to promote your book, remember there will be good events and so-so events and occasionally really disappointing events. No matter how many people show up, each appearance offers an opportunity to get to know some booksellers (or maybe just Pete) and that's always a good thing for an author.

Highlights of the drive: Chuck's top-notch navigation skills and the big ceramic chicken I bought at a Flying-J in middle-of-nowhere Indiana.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

On the Road Again...

Tomorrow I'm headed to the Chicago area (home of SCBWI-Illinois Regional Advisor extraordinaire Esther Hershenhorn) for two events.

First, the Market Books World Tour continues with an appearance at Barbara's Bookstore at IUC on Thursday September 14 (that's tomorrow) at 7:30 p.m. featuring a panel of editors including me; Lauren Mosko, editor of Novel & Short Story Writer's Market; and Chuck Sambuchino, newly anointed editor of Guide to Literary Agents. (Their website info on the event is not quite correct.)

Lauren, Chuck and I will then be joined by our Editorial Director Jane Friedman to participate in the Midwest Literary Festival in Aurora starting on Friday. We'll be moderating panels, critiquing manuscripts, and working a pitch session. Jane will be offering two workshops to festival attendees on Sunday, one on how to get a novel published and the other on how the publishing industry works. Their website says of the event: "As a celebration of the written word, this free festival offers a wide variety of activities for the whole family, including over 50 authors, book signings, panel discussions, a how-to tent, children's area, food vendors and much more." If you're as curious as I am about what exactly goes on in a "how-to tent," head to Aurora for the weekend. (Did you notice--it's free?)

P.S. I'm highly disappointed we won't be able to make it to a Cubs vs. Reds game at Wrigley (the world's coolest stadium) over the weekend. If any of you are going, have a cold beer for me and yell really loud.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Show Don't Tell: A Reminder...

I've been critiquing a lot of manuscripts lately, including a batch that's currently on my desk. By far the most common issue I see when I read manuscripts is writers breaking one of the Golden Rules: Show, don't tell. It can seem tough to get all the details of your story across without loads of description--but it can be done. (Pay attention to how this is accomplished in the books you read.) Don't tell readers how the characters feel--show them through action and dialogue.

Readers don't need an explanation of what's about to happen right before they read what's happening. They don't need excruciating details about the setting. And they especially don't need the whole story summarized before it begins. Let details be organic to the story. Reveal them on an as-needed basis as the plot progresses. Give readers action, and dialogue that both moves that action along and reveals the characters. Give them a reason to keep turning the pages.

And all you aspiring writers out there: Read, read, read, and read some more.

Monday, September 11, 2006

N-OH SCBWI Conference Wrap Up...

I drove very far then I talked for like eight solid hours. Here are the highlights of my SCBWI conference experience in Cleveland:

  • Opening Session: Nicole and Jeremy Tugeau kicked off the conference by discussing children's books they love and why. This was a fun way to start the day--I especially liked seeing my childhood pal, lovable furry old Grover, in The Monster at the End of This Book.
  • Prizes: They gave away tons of doorprizes including CWIM and other Writer's Digest Books titles. The grand prize was a package for next year's conference.
  • My Talk #1: 22 Tips to Help You Get Published. Conference-goers actually pulled in extra chairs for my session, which surprised me since there were three others going on at the same time. This was a fun session, and I hope those who attended came away with a useful tip or two.
  • Critiques: I met with seven writers to discuss their manuscripts. They wrote everything from rhyming picture books to YA fantasy. I really enjoyed discussing their work with them--so much great potential.
  • My talk #2: Everything I've Learned about Children's Publishing (But Mostly Don't Talk About in CWIM). I ended this session by talking about how tough it is to be a writer, whether you're trying to get published for the first time or you've got a few books under your belt. I hope the group took to heart the three P's: persistence, perseverance, and passion.
  • First-Page Critiques: Besides the opening, this was the only conference session I was able to attend due to being heavily scheduled. A panel consisting of Cecile Goyette (Knopf), Randi Rivers (Charlesbridge), and Nicole and Jeremy Tugeau (Tugeau 2) read aloud first pages of manuscripts pulled from the slush bucket (a charmingly decorated alternative to the slush pile) and each panelist commented on the strengths and weaknesses of the writing. If you're ever at a conference offering a first-page critique session, be sure to attend. It's enlightening to see off-the-cuff reactions to story openings from publishing professionals. The most common comment: "This is confusing."
  • Driving Home: The Good: The Goasis-- gas station/restaurants/Starbuck's/purveyor of fudge/cleanest on-the-road restrooms I've ever seen. The Bad--Mr. Shaved-Head-Red-Convertible-Mustang-Guy just south of Columbus at approximately 7:23 p.m. I wish you very bad driving karma.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Editor Randi Rivers from Charlesbridge...

The Northern Ohio SCBWI conference kicked off this evening with dinner (decent vegetarian choice) and a wonderful talk by editor Randi Rivers. Randi talked about how she sees the role of an editor and the editor/writer relationship. She talked about the importance of having trust in your editor, but stressed a book belongs to a writer--editors don't "fix" manuscripts, they give direction to writers for making them stronger. She says the best place to find an editor is at a conference--introduce yourself, listen to an editor converse with other conference-goers, get a feel for an editor's personality. Recommended reading: Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom.

The very personable Randi stayed on hand throughout the entire mingling time after her dinner address and chatted with many of the writers in attendance.

Off to bed--tomorrow will be a busy day!

Randomly (the Cleveland Edition)...

  • Rockstar parking times three. I've gotten such great parking spots since I've been here.
  • The hotel has decent cable, HBO even. But boy, is there nothing to do here. The exercise room consists of two treadmills and three sets of dumbbells. The pool smells very chlorine-y and looks nice, but I didn't bring my swimsuit. I wish they let you hang out at the airport when you're not flying. I bet there's bad shopping there, but at least there would be people to look at.
  • It's impossible to not find the airport from any direction. The highway signs have these little airplanes on them. Thank you little airplanes and Mapquest, without which I would be lost pretty much everywhere except my own neighborhood.
  • I'm pretty sure last night I was the only women in the hotel who didn't work here. Dinner: me at the lobby bar with a bunch of men watching football. I had a nice conversation with a young guy who lives in Hollywood, works for the post office, is writing a book on weight loss (writers everywhere!), and used to do stand up comedy, and a guy my age who lives in Wisconsin, sells medical imaging equipment, had on a very nice tie, and ate a formidable burger. We had beers. They were nice. Note to anyone who might dine at the Cleveland Airport Sheraton Hotel: Do not--do not--order the shrimp cocktail. I had to spit it out and send it back. It was wrong. It was food poisoning waiting to happen.
  • On TV pre-breakfast: "Saved by the Bell: The College Years." I don't know why they only made 18 episodes. Oh that goofy Screech! Oh that Kelly Kapowski and her fabulous early '90s outfits! Oh that Zack Morris, he still never learns! Favorite line: "I'm living in a Tom & Jerry cartoon."
The SCBWI conference officially begins in eight hours (at which time, there will be plenty of other women milling about, and no football).

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Tour: Cleveland Joseph-Beth...

After several pleasant hours of driving (thank you XM radio), and getting acquainted with the oh-so-exciting Cleveland Airport Sheraton Hotel, I found my way to the Joseph-Beth bookstore for my latest stop on the Market Books World Tour.

The events coordinator at the store told me the event last night only brought in four people, so I was worried. But I'm happy to report I had at least four times that many. It was a smallish group of aspiring writers, but a good one. We had a great discussion--I talked for pretty much an solid hour-and-a-half. One of the writers had been to my blog. One was in town for the weekend from California. One had bought CWIM and had just sent out her first submissions. We talked about agents, contests, nonfiction, magazines, the acquisitions process and lot of other things. Thank you to all the writers who came out to see me (and extra thanks to those who bought CWIM). I'm bummed I forgot my camera--I wish I could post your picture.

(In addition to leaving my camera behind, I also forgot my business cards and my handouts. I always forget something. Once I went to a four-day event and forgot pants. That's four days, zero pants. Nothing but the sweats I wore in the car. I bought a ridiculously overpriced ugly pair from the hotel shop and wore them every day. Then I threw them away.)

Tomorrow evening the SCBWI event kicks off. I'm gonna catch the rest of the U.S. Open match (Federer vs. Blake--go Blake!) and hit the sack. My mouth needs to rest up for Saturday when it will be flapping all day long.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Hittin' the Road...

Notes. Check. Business cards. Check. Books to give away. Check. Mapquest directions times 4. Check. I'm packing for a couple of events this weekend in the Cleveland area.

First, I'll be appearing (then disappearing) at the Joseph-Beth Cleveland location at 7 p.m. on Thursday (tomorrow). If you're in the area, please stop in. (I'd hate to throw a party and have no one show up.)

Then Friday night and Saturday I'll be participating in the Northern Ohio SCBWI Conference. I'm doing 2 breakout sessions: 22 Tips to Help You Get Published and (Almost) Everything I've Learned About Children's Publishing. The event also includes art reps Jeremy and Nicole Tugeau from Tugeau 2, editors Randy Rivers from Charlesbridge and Cecile Goyette from Knopf/Crown, and a host of authors.

I'm bringing along my laptop and my camera. I'll let you know if anything interesting happens.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

That Damn Sam-I-Am...

I've always marveled at the genius that is Dr. Seuss. When I was in Kindergarten the first book I learned to read was Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You?. I was so proud--I knocked on the neighbors' doors, and asked if I could read it aloud to them. (I had nice neighbors.)

My parents and older siblings read me Seuss titles over and over, like my favorite tongue tinglers Fox in Socks and One fish two fish red fish blue fish (if you click on this link, be sure to read the first review of One fish two fish entitled "Prescient political pondering of our polarized prolatariat." Quite amusing.)

I remember getting a copy of Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!, the posthumous publication partly penned by Prelutsky featuring a back section of Seuss' sketches, doodles and scribbled verses and was in awe at this glimpse into the mind of the artist in process.

Then I had a child. And he's a child who loves books. And, like most children, he likes to hear them over and over and over. And one day he found a copy of Green Eggs and Ham in the bookcase. Hooray! I thought. No more board books! Reading time will be one big Seuss-o-rama! I put on my best Jesse Jackson voice and dived right in.

And now the Green-Eggs-and-Ham-a-thon never seems to end. I get up early, put in a full day's work, pick up the kid, we buy some groceries, mess up the house, play in the yard, make dinner... I'm sleepy. And Murray says read Sam-I-Am book! Read Sam-I-Am book again! By the third time through the last bits of energy have been sucked out of me. It's 72 pages long. It rhymes. It plays in my head. Again! he says. How about the truck book? I plead? Sam-I-Am book again!

If I ever meet that Sam-I-Am...I will kill him on a train. I will kill him in the rain. I will kill him here or there. I will kill him anywhere. (But I'll probably buy the Green Eggs and Ham Cookbook when it comes out in October.)