Saturday, August 28, 2010

Getty Museum and Texas Book Festival

On tram to Getty Museum
While attending the SCBWI-LA conference at the start of this month, I took a side trip to the Getty Museum and I’m glad I did. Not only was the place awesome, but being surrounded by the art of world-famous painters was a thrill I will not soon forget. It was exciting to see Van Gogh’s “Irises” up close for one. Once we got on the grounds of the Getty, we took a tram up to the museum itself, which is on a hill overlooking Los Angeles. The view from up there was amazing. There was so much to see but not enough time. We spent several hours there but then had to head back to the hotel for the next day's conference. Going to the Getty was an inspiration in itself. If you ever get the chance to visit there, do it.

Getty Museum
Van Gogh's "Irises"
It’s always an honor for me when I’m invited to be part of the annual Texas Book Festival in Austin. This will be my second time there and I am so looking forward to it. Hundreds of books and hundreds of authors! What better way to spend a weekend. The event will be held on October 16-17.

"Why does anybody tell a story? It does indeed have something to do with faith, faith that the universe has meaning, that our little human lives are not irrelevant, that what we choose or say or do matters, matters cosmically." -- Madeleine L'Engle, Walking on Water

Monday, August 23, 2010

Battle of the Snow Cones

It’s here! Over the weekend, I got the first copy of my next bilingual picture story book, The Battle of the Snow Cones, illustrated by Alisha Gambino. We write the stories but it's the illustrators who bring them to life. Ms. Gambino did an awesome job with her vision of the book and the colors and textures she brought to each page. It is now "our book," a collaboration between writer and illustrator. Thanks, Alisha.
It’s always a thrill when you actually hold the hard copy in your hands. I know I’m going to have a great time doing school visits with this book because it’s a fun book, funny and whimsical. I had such fun writing this. As writers, we are told to think “outside the box.” Well, I really let my imagination go with this book.

‘Embrace your own eccentricity. Look for new ways to see.” These were some of the comments by some of the guest speakers at the SCBWI-LA conference. “Empower kids,” was another one. “Think of a book as a friend that kids will like to visit,” we were told. I hope my book is one that kids will visit again and again.

The topic of one of the workshops I attended was “The Ultimate Checklist for Submitting to Editors” conducted by Deborah Halverson, award-winning author and editor. I took so many notes on this one because she covered in great detail the ten steps or tests a novel must pass to prove it’s ready for submission. She will cover most of these in her upcoming book, Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies (yes, the yellow one). It’s due out in June 2011. I plan to get it. Although I cannot go into great detail, here are some of her suggestions in brief:

1. Use dynamic action words to reveal your character’s mood/personality.
2. Twist & drop test. Take your character from the final chapter of the book and drop him in the first scene of the book. He should behave differently (if he’s grown).
3. CIP test (catalogue, identification, publication). Test for one-line hook. Look at Library of Congress hooks in books.
4. Look for escalation/movement of the plot.
5. Dialogue test. Use highlighter. Plot flats that are in your dialogue.
6. Check the As’s. These are too passive. FIX: Make it more active.
7. Setting – sense of place. Use setting to act upon your character or have character act upon the setting. It reveals emotions.
8. The word “so” is too melodramatic. No real reason for it.
9. Show not tell. Scan for direct feelings.
10. Eagle eyes. Proofread. Print and read your manuscript like a book.

By the way, to read the book description of The Battle of the Snow Cones and to preorder, click on amazon. The book will be in bookstores by November.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Multicultural Middle Grade Books

One of the workshops I attended at the SCBWI-LA conference was hosted by three Latina writers, Jennifer Cervantes, Christina Diaz Gonzalez, and Guadalupe Garcia McCall. The topic was multiculturalism. According to this panel, multicultural is a buzz word now. Young Hispanics want to see their contemporary culture in books, the panel noted. The readership in this genre is growing in numbers. It was an excellent session with great information on writing for this genre. I bought and read Cervantes’ book, Tortilla Sun, and Gonzalez’ book, The Red Umbrella. Both were amazing reads, which I really enjoyed. McCall’s book, Under the Mesquite, comes out in the fall. All three are middle grade novels.

Gonzalez, McCall, Cervantes

Author Marion Dane Bauer, one of the keynote speakers, spoke about the struggles we have in life and how that can lead to a story. “In writing your story,” she said, “Discover your own personal truth.”

Bauer and Ruiz-Flores

Author and illustrator, Ashley Bryan, another keynote speaker, inspired us with his poetry. Some of his comments during his speech: “Open up the spirit of play. Find the spirit of play in voice. Try to bring the words alive. In reading your book, the reader should feel the storyteller.”

Ashley Bryan

Before returning home, I took a side trip to New Mexico. Now I'm in the middle of unpacking the heavy suitcase loaded with books I bought at the LA conference. Time to get back to my writing and trying to digest all that I learned at the conference. Happy writing!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Pet Peeves and Other Comments

Back to the SCBWI-LA conference and some pet peeves and comments that editors on a panel spoke about.

Submissions and guidelines - Some writers do not follow follow publishers' guidelines.
Packages sent in by some writers are not professional (especially the synopsis).
Some writers do not do their market research and have no idea what is out there. Is what the writer sending in tie in with something else already out there? Is it unique? Tell how.
Some query letters that come in have no personality. Editors want to see who the author is on that page. Put some of yourself into the letter.
Slush pile - Nowadays, most editors only respond if interested.
The relationship between the editor and the author is a big part of the process.
Voice is what a lot of editors look for. A good hook and a great plot as well.
Before sending in submissions, research, research, research the market.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

More SCBWI-LA notes

"Be a storyteller. In print. In visuals. Write what thrills you. Use surprise in your writing in familiar surroundings. Write books that take us away from what we expect. Embrace your own eccentricity. Look for new ways to see. Empower kids."  These were all comments from some publishers who spoke about the writing process.

Some things we've heard many times before at these conferences but are worth repeating: Be authentic to your voice. Draw from your own experience. If writing a series, can your idea carry through several books? A friendship story never goes out of style. What do editors look for? Voice and plot were at the top of the list. A great hook. "One that I can wrap my hand around," one editor said. Likeable characters was also mentioned.

Need inspiration for your story? Look for inspiration in many different places like movies, art museums, TV, news articles, big anniversaries, i.e., Titanic, and radio programs like NPR. What are people talking about? These are just some of the comments/notes I picked up at the SCBWI-LA conference. Next time: pet peeves.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

SCBWI-LA Illustrator Comments

One of the attendees, Illustrator Carolyn Dee Flores, posted on the SCBWI blog about the conference.
Carolyn Dee Flores said...

"I heard it through the grapevine that Diane Muldrow’s 'Creating the Picture Book: Master Class' filled up within 15 minutes after registration opened and I know why. It was the best, most relevant workshop I have ever attended.

We learned:

- Write the whole picture book, and not just text to be handed over to the illustrator.
- Clarity of vision and meticulous attention to every aspect of the picture book art form is essential.
- NEVER hand in a manuscript unless it is completely professional.
- Map out your manuscript visually. Include details like correct placement of text for maximum impact and whether or not to have a spread or single page illustration. And this is EVEN IF YOU ARE THE WRITER.
- The picture book format is specific. Know it.

I feel very lucky to have been in this class. It was an experience I will never forget. Only complaint – not enough time. Maybe next time the workshop could be extended to an hour and a half a day. Thank you to Diane Muldrow, as well as to all of my talented classmates."

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

SCBWI-LA Conference

I'm back!  Just returned from the SCBWI-LA conference and am amazed at how much I learn each time I attend. Over 1300 writers and illustrators attended the conference. The workshops were fantastic and the keynote speakers were so inspirational. I took so many notes and collected so many business cards that I'm having to take time to sort it all out. Once I do that, I will post some of the comments from the speakers, publishers, editors, and agents that I think are of interest to writers like us. Met some writers from as far away as the Netherlands, Australia, and Hong Kong. Renewed friendships with other writers I had met before but hadn't seen in a while.

The portfolios displayed by the illustrators in attendance were outstanding. So much talent gathered in one place.

Took a side trip to the Getty Museum while there. Awesome. Once I catch my breath, I will post some pictures as well. Happy writing.