Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘SCBWI’ Category

I am so excited to welcome our May 12 x 12 featured author, Debbie Diesen! Two of her books, The Pout-Pout Fish and its companion, The Pout-Pout Fish in the Big Big Dark, are two of my kids’ all-time favorite picture books. My son asks me to read one or the other of them (if not both) at least once a week. Furthermore, Debbie is one of my rhyming heroes. She can wield that meter like nobody’s business. So you can imagine how excited I was when she offered to do a post on the nitty-gritty of rhyming! I’m here to tell you that this will be one of the best blog tutorials EVER on the art of writing in rhyme. And last, but not least, she hails from Michigan – my home state. What more could you want in an author? A critique from her, you say? Well, one lucky 12 x 12 participant is going to win just that! See the end of this post for instructions on entering. Now, please welcome Debbie!

The Beat Goes On — Or, How To Be A Meter Reader: Identifying Rhythm Troublespots In Your Rhyming Picture Book Story

I love to write in rhyme.  Who doesn’t?  Writing in rhyme combines the joy of story, the fun of words, and the delight of music, all in one.

But writing in rhyme can be exceedingly frustrating.  Frustration usually crops up early in the writing process, because it’s challenging to carry through a story idea in a rhyming format without resorting to sentence structure gymnastics and/or Lame Rhymes.  But often the bigger load of frustration arrives just when you think you’re done:  when you discover that, despite your countless hours of work, the word song you hear in your head hasn’t translated to the page.

Maybe your critique group tells you, “something’s wrong in the second stanza” or “that refrain doesn’t sound right to me.”  What?  I thought it was perfect!  Or maybe an editor tells you, “this doesn’t quite scan.”  Yet try as you might, you can’t pinpoint what it is they’re not getting.  To your ear, it flows effortlessly!  Why does it sound so different when someone else reads it?

If you’re in this situation (and we’ve all been there; in fact, that’s pretty much where I live…), what you will need to do is detach for a while from your storyline, and focus instead on the mechanics of your story’s rhythm.  To do this, you’ll need a baton (and, optionally, a drum corps shako), a pen, a highlighter, and a colored pencil.

Let’s get down to work, shall we?

1.  Find your inner band leader 

To get started identifying problems with your rhyming story’s meter, grab your baton, step back from your story for a moment, and think about the rhythm that defines it.  Go ahead and use the baton.  If you don’t know what to do with it, just flail it around a little.  Snap your fingers.  Tap your toes.  Sing.  Hum.  Whatever works for you.

Your story may have more than one defining rhythm (for instance, one rhythm for the verses, and one for the refrain), but generally speaking, you’ll have one main identifiable rhythm structure.  As you wield your baton, ask yourself:  How many accented beats do I have in a phrase?  How many nonstressed syllables do I have between accented beats?  Do my phrases start on an accented beat, or on an unaccented syllable?

Maybe your rhythm (numbers showing the accented beats) is…

1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and

Or perhaps it’s…

1 and-a 2 and-a 3 and-a 4 and-a

Or it could be…

1 ee-and-a 2 ee-and-a 3 ee-and-a 4 ee-and-a

Or maybe…

and-a-1 and-a-2 and-a-3 and-a-4

Or, instead of 1s, 2s, 3s, and 4s, you might have just 1s and 2s.  Or maybe 1s and 2s and 3s.  Or maybe you have regular variation between –ands and –ee-and-as.  When you look at all the variations, the possibilities are nearly endless.  But you don’t have to contemplate every possible rhythm!  You simply need to identify your story’s rhythm, so that you can commit to it.

Another aspect of your commitment is knowing how your beat loops from line to line.  Is it steady throughout each line of the stanza?  Or do you have a rest beat at the end of your rhyming lines, and/or at the end of the stanza?

For instance, your stanza might sound like:

1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and

1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and

1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and

1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and

But it could well sound like:

1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and

1 and 2 and 3. [rest]

1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and

1 and 2 and 3. [rest]

You may be able to analyze your defining rhythm in a snap, or you may need to invest some time, especially if it’s more complicated than just 1 and 2 and 3 and 4.  But once you’re ready (and/or if you grow tired of wearing your old band uniform) it’s time to…

  1. 2.  Put down your baton and grab a pen.

Once you’re confident of understanding your story’s intended rhythm structure, read your story aloud.  As you go, mark on the page how your ears hear the cadence of the lines you’ve written.

When I do this with my own manuscripts, I use a box around accented beats and an underline under unaccented syllables.  After marking up a line, it might look like this.

[ ]  __    __  [ ]  __    __  [ ]  __    __  [ ]  __    __

(Note:  I haven’t figured out how to make a box symbol in WordPress, so squint a little at each bracket pair to magically transform it into a box.)

When you’re finished marking up your whole story, go back to the beginning.  Ignore the words, and just focus on the boxes and lines.  Read those out loud (using your own choice of sound effects for the two kinds of markings.  I recommend a big booming bass drum sound for the accented beats, while sitting next to an open window; because if you haven’t scared the neighbors yet with your quirky writer habits, isn’t it about time?).

As you “read” your rhythm out loud, how does it sound without the words?  Think about the rhythm that you identified as being the defining rhythm of your story (in Step 1).  Are you actually carrying out the rhythm you had in mind?  Are there slight inconsistencies?  Big inconsistencies?  Are there places you fall into a different rhythm entirely?  As you identify spots where your story’s beat doesn’t carry through exactly as you meant it to, you may have found places in need of revision.

However, a word of caution:  Some rhythms allow for – to my mind, even demand — a bit of wiggle room in terms of unaccented syllables.  Small variations that don’t interfere with the overall rhythm but do tweak it a bit to highlight and elongate certain spots in the text can sometimes actually benefit your story.  To explain what I mean, let’s look at the first stanza of my story The Pout-Pout Fish.  It reads as follows:

Deep in the water

Where the fish hang out

Lives a glum, gloomy swimmer

With an ever-present pout.

The meter of this stanza is not flawless.   Though my defining beat structure centers around a [ ]  __    __   __  rhythm, in fact, there are  also  [ ]  __    __   beats and even a  [ ]  __   beat.  To keep to the [ ]  __    __   __    perfectly, I’d need something along the lines of:

Deep down in the water where the ocean fish hang out, there lives a glum and gloomy swimmer with an everpresent pout.

Does that revision scan better?  Arguably, Yes.  A computer voice could read it and not miss a beat.  But for a human, is it as fun to say?  For me, the answer is No.  In its unrelenting adherence to regular meter, it sounds annoyingly sing-songy.  Plus it takes away the fun of popping out and holding certain words, like “deep” and “fish.”

So, as in all things, you as the writer must be the best judge of what works for your story.

But while you’re contemplating that, it’s time to:

3.  Put down your pen and find a highlighter.

Go back to the beginning of your manuscript.  Use the same copy that you marked up with the boxes and lines, but ignore them for now.  Instead, focus on the words that are more than one syllable.  With your highlighter, highlight each multisyllabic word’s accented syllable.  (In a few cases, you may have a word with two accented syllables.)  Do not highlight any of the single syllable words.

Put your highlighter down.  (It’s OK to still be wearing your shako.)  Now go page by page, and look at each highlighted segment.

Do the highlighted spots all have boxes around them from the previous step?  That is, do the natural stresses in the multisyllabic words you’ve used in your story correspond in fact to the way your ear desires the beat of the story to fall?

If you have places in your story where you have highlighting without a box, these are areas you need to scrutinize.  They might be trouble.  You may be asking the impossible of your reader:  to ignore a word’s stressed syllable, perhaps in order to put the beat on the word’s unstressed syllable.  Definitely not recommended.

But again, this problem-identification method comes with a cautionary note:  Though these spots may well be problem spots for your story, don’t assume in all cases that you’ve got a clunker!  For instance, in my stanza above, the phrase “glum, gloomy swimmer”, which my ear hears as  [ ]  __    __   [ ]  __,   would show highlighting not only in the “swim-” box but also on the underlined, unaccented “gloo-.”  Potential problem for my rhythm, right?  I don’t want an accented beat on “gloo-.”  But in the actual context of the stanza, most readers do not give any particular stress to “gloo-” when reading aloud.  To my knowledge, it hasn’t tripped anybody up.

So you don’t necessarily need to change all, or even any, of the highlighted-but-not-boxed spots you find.  That said, you should scrutinize them very carefully.  Depending on what your basic rhythm structure is, these places have the potential to derail your cadence entirely.

Finished with that?  Now go back through again.  This time, look at all the boxed spots that don’t have highlighting.  Boxed spots without highlighting are places where you’re expecting your reader to put the beat – but the words themselves don’t demand it.  In many cases, your reader will have no trouble putting the beat in the right spot, especially if the words are in the latter half of a line or in a later part of the story, after your rhythm has been very clearly established.  But if you’ve got a long string of single syllable words at the beginning of your story or at the beginning of a line, your reader may flounder to find your drum beat.  Worse yet, left to his or her own devices, your reader might put stress in a place that you didn’t expect, which will throw off the rhythm of the entire line, perhaps even the whole stanza.   So go through all of these areas carefully.  They are potential danger zones that may need more cueing (through use of multisyllabic words that provide ready-made stress spots) for your reader.

At this point, you’re nearly done – but you still have one more sweep to do.

4.  Last but absolutely not least…

In a rhyming story, your rhymes must pass rhythm muster!  Go back through your story one last time, this time with your colored pencil, and circle all your end rhymes.  Scrutinize each rhyming set, keeping in mind that to rhyme rhythmically, it’s not enough that the words end with the same final syllable sound.  Instead, the last stressed syllable and everything that comes after the last stressed syllable must rhyme.

For instance, though the word “bunny”  has an -ee sound at the end, it’s not enough to have a rhyme for just the –ee sound.  Bunny does not rhyme with chickadee, even though they both end with an –ee sound.  Your rhyme must include the UN- sound (which has the stress) and the –ee.  Think funny, sunny, money, etc.

A good rhyming dictionary, such as The New Comprehensive American Rhyming Dictionary by Sue Young, can guide you through finding fun and rhythmically appropriate rhymes to use in your story.

Final Thoughts

 I hope these tips may be of some help to you in pinpointing potential rhythm troublespots in your rhyming story.  But remember that they aren’t offered prescriptively.  These are not rules you must adhere to.  Instead they are simply tools to add your toolbelt and use as needed.

Further, I’m quite sure that if you look you’ll be able to find much better explanations of scansion techniques, written by folks with much more knowledge of the ins and outs of poetic meter than I have.  These you should seek out and add to your toolbelt as well.

Because the more you know, the more confidently you can hold your baton.

And the better you keep the beat, the more gloriously your story will sing!

Debbie Diesen lives in Michigan with her husband and two children. She is the author of three rhyming picture books — The Pout-Pout FishThe Pout-Pout Fish in the Big-Big Dark), and The Barefooted, Bad-Tempered, Baby Brigade. You can find Debbie at her website, her blog, Facebook and Twitter.

Participants – to enter to win a critique from Debbie, you must be an official challenger and leave a comment on this post (INCLUDING YOUR FIRST AND LAST NAME) any time during the month of May for one point.  On May 31st, l’ll put a check-in post on the blog.  If you completed a picture book draft in May, you can let us know in the comments of that post for another point.  I will draw a winner using Random.org and announce on June 2nd.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Today’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author, Julie Rowan-Zoch is practically a neighbor – a fellow Coloradan! I was glad to read this post because I realized (the horror!) that I wasn’t following her blog. I’ve certainly rectified that and encourage you all to follow it too. She’s only been blogging since March and is practically a poster-child for launching a blog well. Please welcome Julie!

My Classroom: the 12x12in’12 Challenge

“Are you really serious about writing that picture book?”

“Yes!”

A friend was learning to be a creativity coach and needed a guinea pig. She helped me to create an overview of what it would take and a plan of execution – and kicked my butt! But uncontrollable tragic events shook things up in 2011, and slowed me down. My friend helped me give myself permission to let go of the creative process and put things away for a while. I continued developing skills, mostly through reading, which pulled me up and kept me going.

When she saw I was in need of more to focus on she packed up art supplies, drove me to a local garden and said, “Paint.” I have since been enamored with watercolors and continue to learn on my own.

My ‘coach’ talked me into joining SCBWI and I found an illustration contest to participate in. Viewing other entries through Diandra Mae’s Unofficial Gallery of the Tomie dePaola Award (http://scbwicontest.blogspot.com/), led me to fellow participant websites where I kept seeing sidebar badges over and over, and the cute illustration on the 12x12in’12 badge intrigued me most. As soon as I read through the guidelines I signed up. I thought it was crazy, but hey, just a rough draft? I can DO that!

Participating really got the juices flowing! And daily contact on the facebook page has had an enormous effect on my self-discipline. I am now reminded of how much more I can learn in a classroom than alone from a book. The 12x12in’12 Challenge has become the classroom I needed. The solidarity, the sharing of ups and downs, tips and warnings, and above all joy – all these things have become a lifeline.

Back in (pre-computer dark ages) art school (FIT in New York and Hochschule fuer bildende Kuenste in Braunschweig, Germany) one of the strongest
influences on the betterment of my own work was learning to critique my classmate’s artwork and learning to accept and work with the criticism I received. This is no different and equally necessary in my writing.

Despite great effort within my local SCBWI Schmooze group I couldn’t get a PB critique group going (though I am now on the verge!), so I literally had no one to bounce my thoughts off of. Through 12×12 I also have 4 ‘VIPs’ – Hi Kirsten, Jen, Jodi and Rena! – to do that with! I also love the stories shared from all over: Andi’s tornado warnings, Joanna’s aperitifs, Miranda’s African trek, Erik (the kid himself is amazing!), walking with Diane in Aotearoa…and all the new baby pics!

In March I completed my first PB dummy and entered it for the SCBWI Don Freeman WIP Grant, and thanks to Susanna Hill and Punxsutawney Phyllis’
World Tour, I started a blog, which I am unexpectedly getting a big kick out of!

So why stop there? I recently decided to raise the ante of my illustration efforts by posting weekly on http://www.illustrationfriday.com, much like Rena Traxel’s A-Z: 26 Poems in April, using a given word for inspiration.

I still feel as energized now as I did starting 12x12in’12 four months ago! When I go to the local Schmooze meetings I feel informed and up-to-date, and able to contribute – which is huge considering I only started attending a few months before starting the challenge!

The images I have included are digital (AI): the profile pic really does look like me, and the squirrel is part of a series I am trying to launch in Café Press – stay tuned!

At this point, and forever more, I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to Julie Hedlund and all my fellow Challenge-mates!

Julie Rowan-Zoch is a graphic designer morphed by motherhood into super-volunteer, spun into a pre-pubbie cocoon, soon to spread wings as a writer and Illustrator of children’s books. Designer is only one of many jobs she has held: caterer, bartender, art teacher, pre-school teacher, cheese wrapper, gardener, house cleaner, and co-creator a local-biz coupon book! Raised on Long Island, NY, matured in Germany, unfolding in Colorado. Find her on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Artist-Julie-Rowan-Zoch and her blog: http://julierowanzoch.wordpress.com.

Read Full Post »

Today I once again Get All Grateful on Your A** on Katie DavisBrain Burps About Books podcast. It’s a special segment because it’s all about The Bologna Children’s Book Fair. I talk about specific people I met who inspired gratitude, but also about the overwhelming sense of honor I felt walking the halls and realizing that I am part of this amazing community and industry. The segment is about 10 minutes in, before the main interview, which is AWESOME! Author/Illustrator Maryann Cocca-Leffler talks about taking one of her books to the stage, and about how she sold more than a million copies of two of her books. Fascinating!

I haven’t written much about my experience in Bologna on the blog yet. I’m still writing my articles for SCBWI and CBI, and I don’t want to scoop my own self by publishing on the blog first. However, I would like to share some inspirational quotes with you from some interviews I caught in the Author’s Cafe.

Meeting Katherine Paterson

Katherine Paterson, Newbery Medal-winning author, Former U.S. National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, and Recipient of the 2006 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (+ many others):

  • “I love to write because I can live so many lives.”
  • “The world is full of people with talent, but perseverance is rare. To be a writer, you need talent and perseverance.”
  • She writes for children because, “I have the same questions that children have, and I haven’t been able to answer them.”
  • “I don’t publish anything I don’t love.”
  • It is very humbling to have someone say that your book inspired them to become a writer.”

Sonya Hartnett, Australian author and recipient of the 2008 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award

  • “When you write for children, you have to call upon every single ability you have as a writer to write a difficult scene (like war). Never do I have to reach as deep into my abilities to write for adults as I do for children.”
  • “A writer lives many times, and yet doesn’t live at all. I put my entire experience into my writing. I’ve given my life to fiction.” She said in reference to sometimes feeling existential angst with regard to questions such as, ‘Who am I?’, ‘What am I?’

Ryoji Arai, Japanese Illustrator and recipient of the 2005 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award

  • “The ending of my stories are also a beginning. I think about that beginning when I write my stories.”
  • “An artist has to find space between the words.”
  • “People ask me, ‘How do you invent stories?’ I answer, ‘Well, how do you play?”
  • “A child equals hope.”

Lin Oliver, U.S. Author and Executive Director of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)

  • She became a children’s author because she went into the L.A. Unemployment Office and saw a sign that said, “Children’s Book Writer Wanted.” She went on to say that she “hasn’t seen those words before or since.”
  • “If you write for children, you are going back to your own childhood.”
  • On writing for boys: “They like to laugh or be scared.”
  • If you want to get published, “Read everything in the field. Write and practice your craft until you are good enough to be published.”
  • On why we need to support libraries. “Librarians are people who teach you how to find information.” This is a critical skill for 21st century kids.
  • “It is important that we all come to regard children’s literature as a global enterprise.” That is why SCBWI is now playing an active role in advocating diversity in children’s literature.

Which of these quotes inspires you the most?

Read Full Post »

It’s no foolin’! April has arrived and with it, blooming flowers, singing birds, and the shining sun. Plus – Poetry Month!  AND for 12 x 12 in 2012 participants, it’s not just one but FOUR opportunities to win prizes to improve your writing craft.

That’s right.  April features four multi-published authors, all of whom are participating in the 12 x 12 challenge.  I asked each of them to answer four questions about writing and publishing picture books.  4 questions, 4 authors, 4th month.  (I’m sorry I can’t help myself!).

First allow me to introduce these generous and accomplished authors in alphabetical order by first name — Jennifer Ward, Linda Ravin Lodding, Sandy Asher and Susannah Leonard Hill.  Then keep reading for their valuable insights into the craft of picture book writing.

Jennifer

Jennifer Ward is the author of numerous acclaimed books for children, including, Way Out in the Desert, Somewhere in the Ocean, and There Was an Odd Princess Who Swallowed a PeaShe’s also written parenting books including, I Love Dirt! 52 Activities to Help You and Your Kids Discover the Wonders of NatureLet’s Go Outside: Outdoor Activities and Projects to Get You and Your Kids Closer to Nature, andIt’s a Jungle Out There: 52 Nature Adventures for City KidsForthcoming titles by Jennifer include What Will Hatch? (Bloomsbury/Walker Books), Mama Built a Little Nest, (Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books),  The Sunhat, (Rio Chico), and, There Was an Old Pirate Who Swallowed a Fish, (Marshall Cavendish). You can find Jennifer on her website and Facebook  Jennifer is offering one 12 x 12 participant a manuscript critique.

Linda

Linda Ravin Lodding is the author of The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister (Flashlight Press, 2011) and the upcoming Hold That Thought, Milton! (illustrated by Ross Collins) and Oskar’s Perfect Present (illustrated by Alison Jay) both from Gullane Children’s Books, London. Linda is originally from New York, but has spent the past 15 years in Sweden, Austria and now The Netherlands. Today she lives in a one-windmill with her wonderful husband and daughter (who is, at times, as busy as Ernestine) and their sometimes-dog Nino (who speaks Dutch, Swedish, Spanish and a smattering of English). She loves dreaming up stories, biking along the canals, taking photos, doing pottery, traipsing through quaint towns, playing the flute…and sometimes just playing. You can find Linda, on her websiteFacebook and Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn and located (in person!) at 52°9’7″N , 4°23’05″W.  Linda is offering one 12 x 12 participant a manuscript critique.

Sandy

Sandy Asher’s first book for young readers, SUMMER BEGINS, was published in 1980. Since then, she’s written 25 more. Her latest picture books are all about Froggie and Rabbit, Too Many Frogs!What a Party!, and Here Comes Gosling!. Sandy has also edited five anthologies, including, DUDE! Stories and Stuff for Boys, coedited with her friend David Harrison. Her latest anthology is WRITING IT RIGHT: How Successful Children’s Authors Perfect and Sell Their Stories. Sandy and her husband are the proud parents of two grown children, and have three small grandchildren.  They live in Lancaster, PA, with their cat Friday. You can find Sandy at the website she co-founded with David Harrison – America Writes for Kids, their blog and on FacebookSandy is offering one 12 x 12 participant a copy of her book, WRITING IT RIGHT! 

Susanna

Susanna Leonard Hill began writing as soon as she could hold a pencil, but her first published book was The House That Mack Built, released by Little Simon in 2002. Since then, she has published eight more books, including: Punxsutawney Phyllis (Holiday House, 2005), No Sword Fighting In The House (Holiday House, 2007), Not Yet, Rose (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2009), Airplane Flight! (Little Simon, 2009)Can’t Sleep Without Sheep, (Walker Books, 2010) and April Fool, Phyllis! (Holiday House, 2011). In her spare time, Susanna is also a chauffeur, housekeeper, laundress, reader, rider-when-she-gets-the-chance, gardener-wanna-be, and former teacher. You can find Susanna on her website, blog (where she hosts the popular Perfect Picture Book Friday, and Would You Read It? series), Facebook and YouTubeSusanna is offering one 12 x 12 participant a manuscript critique.

1. What, in your opinion, is the most important element of an outstanding picture book?  Please name one picture book that executes this well.

Jennifer: The most important element found in an outstanding picture book is the ability to transcend the reader’s thoughts and emotions. The story isn’t simply read by the reader, but processed on a variety of levels.  This happens during the book’s creation, when many-many thoughtful, technical and artful elements are woven into the book’s design, seamlessly:  language, characters, concept, text placement, illustration, tone, composition…
The result is a book that not only resonates with each individual reader on some personal level, but also stands the test of time, becoming a classic.
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, written and illustrated by William Steig, is an example of a book that executes this perfectly.

Linda: Only one element? There are so many important ones. Great character! Rich text! Read aloud rhythm! Strong narrative!  Sense of playfulness! (See how I worked in more than one?) But if I had to choose, I think I’d linger on the word “picture” in “picture book”.  Ultimately, an outstanding picture book is a “pas de deux” between words and pictures; each without the other isn’t complete.  So for me, (one of) the most important elements of a picture book is the way the text and illustrations dance together — each relying on the other to create something magical.

There are so many books that do this brilliantly but one that pops into my head is Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann.

Sandy: As Sue Alexander told me long ago, an outstanding picture book works on three levels:  Very young children understand and enjoy the events.  Older children understand and enjoy the connections between the events.  Adults understand and enjoy the universality of the connections between the events.  Example:  Very young children laugh at Max’s antics at home and with the Wild Things in Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak.  Older children realize that Max’s misbehavior has gotten him sent to his room, where he’s angry and imagines the land of Wild Things until he’s ready to calm down and everything’s okay again.  Adults appreciate the depiction of a world in which a child can misbehave and get angry and wild but still be surrounded by his knowing parent’s love as symbolized in the waiting dinner.  Those levels are a lot to accomplish in only a few words, but that’s what makes a picture book truly outstanding.

Susannah: Someone (sorry, I forget who) said that picture books are big emotion for little people.  To me, the most important element of an outstanding picture book is the emotion, the connectedness, the “I know exactly what that feels like” rush of understanding you get when a character experiences something that you’ve experienced.  A picture book that does emotion well – whatever the emotion is – speaks to kids.  It brings comfort, or reassurance, or relief, or a laugh, or a feeling of common humanity to small people who have yet to learn that everyone sometimes misses their mom, or feels sad, or gets angry, or thinks a joke is funny, or is afraid of something.  Owl Moon by Jane Yolen shows the quiet happiness of a father and his daughter sharing something special together.  The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn and Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney help children feel the depth of parental love even when kids and parents have to be apart.  Z Is For Moose by Kelly Bingham is laugh-out-loud funny because every child understands impatience and not wanting to be left out.  Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak lets kids know that even when they’re bad, they’re loved.  To me, it is this depth of emotion that resonates with children and makes them ask for a book over and over and over.

2. What is your number one piece of advice for improving in the craft of picture book writing?

Jennifer:  Read, read, read.  Don’t ever stop reading in the genre you’re writing. I also believe it is important to give each manuscript time for subconscious processing – you know, that time you think about your work while doing the mundane, day-to-day stuff?  During this time, don’t ignore the “aha” elements that may surface:  a new twist, a different ending, another level or layer that adds to the reader’s enjoyment of the book. Often these thoughts surface as nothing more than a fleeting whisper in your mind and could easily be ignored.  But latch on to them and give them attention.   There might be a shy bud of thought that blossoms into a moment of genius.

Linda: It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again… Read!  On Linda Sue Park’s website she quotes an editor who once said, “Read a thousand books of the genre you’re interested in. THEN write yours.”

Sandy: Read, read, read.  We learn language by hearing it spoken.  We learn the elements of storytelling by listening to storytellers.  Read, read, read picture books until their rhythms become a natural part of your own storytelling voice.

Susannah: I guess my number one tip for improving in the craft of picture book writing is two-fold.  First, read a lot of picture books to get a feel for the length, the rhythm, and the language, to get a feel for what is in the story and what is in the pictures, and to learn what works and what doesn’t.  Second, write.  Every day.  Practice your craft.  The more you write, the more you will find your own rhythm and language – the kind of stories you can make work well, the voice that is yours and yours alone.

3. What is the one thing you know now that you wish you had known starting out?

Jennifer:   I’m going to spin your question around, because today finds me grateful for what I didn’t know back when I started out.  I suppose it is true on some levels:  ignorance is bliss!  In the beginning, I had no knowledge regarding the “business” aspect of being a writer.  I didn’t know about reviews or sales numbers or marketing.  I was green!

Back then, I wrote because I loved children’s books, words as a medium, and writing.  I sent off my first manuscript to one publisher, it was accepted, it was successful, and continues to sell very well today. Back then, the process of writing was pure bliss and joy. My focus was solely on craft.

Fourteen years and many books later, I am a full-time writer who makes a living as a writer.  Today I find it’s quite easy to get consumed with the business aspect of making books:  the marketing (a whole world in and of itself), traveling, speaking and promoting.  I will spin all of those plates on my fingers, and since there’s no finger left to spin the writing plate, I’ll try to spin that one on my toe.

So to answer your question, I am glad to know what my experience was like in the beginning, because it serves as a reminder that craft needs a place in my day-to-day realm of existence: to ensure success in this business, and to provide me with some balance.  The fact of the matter is – writing/creating – brings me the greatest joy.

Linda: To refer back to Q1, I wish I had known how to write with the illustrator in mind. Ten years later, and, by George,  I think I got it! It took me awhile to learn to let go of my manuscript and trust that a savvy editor, wonderful illustrator and a child’s imagination would “tell the rest of the story.”

Oh, and I also wish I knew that I’d have to be patient (but I’m still working on this).

Sandy: I wish I’d known how to study the market.  A story is art when you create it and art when readers receive it, but everything in between is business, and you can’t get your story to readers if you don’t understand how that business works.  Basic rule:  If a publication, publishing house, or contest offers specific guidelines, believe them!  Sure, people break the rules and get away with it.  But not often!

Susannah: The one thing I know now that I wish I had known starting out… hmmm… that is a tough question!  I’m not sure I have an answer.  I’m glad I didn’t know how long it would take to get published, or that I would have to do my own marketing, or that even once I was published I would have no guarantee of future publication.  I think those things would have made the process more intimidating than it already was.  I have certainly learned a lot along the way, but I can’t really think of something I wish I’d known.  I’m sure when the other authors post their answers I’ll think, “Oh, yes!  Of course!  I wish I’d known that too!” 🙂

4. Why, as a multi-published author, did you decide to participate in the 12 x 12 in 2012 challenge?

Jennifer:  My reason relates to Q3.  The 12 x 12 served as a vehicle to allow Craft to jump back into my work days and elbow Business out of the way a bit.   As a bonus, being part of the 12×12 challenge has allowed me to meet many wonderful people who share a passion for children’s books and creating. So thank you, Julie, for providing such a rich place for picture book lovers to converge.  I have drafted four complete manuscripts so far, and I am “loving” the momentum!

Linda: For the past  two years I participated in Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo and, while I ended up with a list of ideas, they stayed seeds buried under a pile of dirt (or laundry as the case usually is). The 12 x 12 challenge seemed like the perfect opportunity to tend to those seeds – give them a bit of water, a ray of sunlight, coo to them and see if they actually could grow.

But the number one reason for jumping on the 12×12 bandwagon with all you wonderful participants, was because I wanted to get back to writing.

In the run-up to the debut of my picture book The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister, I threw myself head first into marketing and promoting the book — built my website, organized bi-continental book launches, signed at bookstores, posted on blogs, solicited reviews, prepared school visits – everything that writers do….except I wasn’t writing. In addition, I’d been working on edits for  two new picture books due out in 2013 (more like sitting on them and waiting for then to hatch but still…).

While this doesn’t diminish the thrill of all the things that happen post-book, it got me wondering if I had any books left in me.  I wanted to find that spark again, make writing a priority and feel the buzz of a new book project. Nearly four months into 12 x 12, I have four new picture book drafts!  Thank you, Julie!

Sandy: Quite frankly, after 40+ years in the business, I’d reached a place where I wasn’t sure I had anything more to say — and that was bothering me.  I’d completed WRITING IT RIGHT, an anthology of other authors’ work, I’ve been working on several plays that are centered on bringing other people’s stories to the stage, and I’m helping my husband with his blog America — The Owner’s Manual (http://americatheownersmanual.wordpress.com).  Obviously, I’m deeply committed to helping other people share their stories, but I never intended for that to be all my work for the rest of my life!  I read about the Picture Book Marathon in the SCBWI Bulletin and signed on, but weeks passed and I didn’t hear back from the organizers, so I figured it wasn’t going to happen.  Then I heard about 12 X 12 via a Facebook posting and decided that’d work just fine, so I signed on.  About the time I finished my January draft for 12 X 12, I heard that the PB Marathon was indeed on for February!  What the heck, I thought, I’ll do them both.  And sure enough, the more I’ve written picture book drafts — one in January, 26 in February, one in March so far — the more ideas I’ve discovered for writing picture books. Rather than an exhausting double dare, it’s all been wonderfully invigorating!  Have I thanked you recently, Julie?  THANK YOU!

Susanna: I have been lucky to be published, but I know I still have a lot to learn about writing.  For me there is always room for improvement.  I joined 12×12 partly to learn what I could learn, and partly for the motivation – to help me make sure that at the very least I would have 12 new MSS by the end of 2012.  But I also joined largely for the camaraderie.  I like being part of a community of picture book writers.  I love the guest posts on this blog.  I’ve enjoyed getting to meet so many wonderful people.  We all have things to teach each other, and it’s nice to have a place where everyone understands the ups and downs, the joys and frustrations, of being a writer.  I’m so glad you had this idea, Julie, and I’m really enjoying participating!

It is truly my honor to host these four inspiring authors on my blog this month.  PLEASE help me thank them by visiting their websites and social media networks and, especially, BY BUYING THEIR BOOKS! 

12 x 12 Participants – to enter to win one of the four prizes, you must be an official challenger and leave a comment on this post (INCLUDING YOUR FIRST AND LAST NAME) any time during the month of April for one point.  On April 30th, l’ll put a check-in post on the blog.  If you completed a picture book draft in April, you can let us know in the comments of that post for another point.  I will draw winners using Random.org and announce them on May 2nd.

Read Full Post »

One of the lovely porticoes

Another crazy fantastic week in Italy – this time Bologna. Learned so much about the children’s book biz, including much ado about apps (more to come soon).  Bologna won me over with its lovely porticoes and outstanding food.  It’s a completely different world in Bologna from Florence, even though it’s only a 35 minute train ride.  If you ever go, make sure you pack your black.  It seems the only two colors people wear there are black and dark wash jeans.  I felt like an Easter egg in my wardrobe.  As a friend said, “Bologna – where black is the new black.”

Quotes on Gratitude

“Joy is not in things, it is in us.” — Joan Borysenko

“There is as much greatness of mind in acknowledging a good turn, as in doing it.” — Seneca

“Love is the true means by which the world is enjoyed: our love to others, and others’ love to us.” — Thomas Traherne

Gratitude list for the week ending March 24

  1. First, I am grateful for my in-laws, my stepmother and my mom for helping my husband hold down the fort while I took this epic trip to Italy.  Thank you!!
  2. Learning enough about apps and ebooks at the ToC Bologna conference to make my head spin.  Cheers to Kat Meyer and the entire O’Reilly team making it all happen.
  3. Meeting Katherine Paterson, author of one of my all-time favorite books – Bridge to Terabithia
  4. SCBWI Bologna dance party!
  5. The folks who put together the SCBWI booth program for the Bologna Book Fair – Kathleen Ahrens, Angela Cerrita, Kirsten Carlson, Bridget Strevens-Marzo, Tioka Tokedira, Chris Cheng, and anyone else I am forgetting.  These guys worked tirelessly to provide great programming, regional showcases, and opportunities for writers and illustrators attending the fair.  Grazie mille!

    The hard-working SCBWI team at the booth celebration

  6. Making wonderful new friends – including all of the above, plus Sarah Towle, Emily Smith Pearce, Danika Dinsmore, Susan Eaddy, Lucy CoatsBarbara McClintock, and Andi Ipaktchi.
  7. Hall after hall after hall of nothing but children’s books – enough said!
  8. Tagliatelle ragu and red wine with Danika and Susan – lovely dinner
  9. The city of Bologna itself, with its seductive porticoes, antiquarian bookshops, black-clad residents spilling into the streets from Enoteche at night, savory food shops and best of all, Gelateria Gianni!
  10. Receiving the best welcome home in history from my kids. The sign was fantastic, but the hugs and kisses even more precious.  How I missed them!

What are you grateful for this week?

The best part of the trip was coming home and knowing I was missed.

Read Full Post »

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. The short film version of this app (which is also a storybook app) won an Oscar this year. I think that's proof of how big and important this market is going to be.

As some of you may know, I am committed to taking the story I entered in last year’s MeeGenius Children’s Author Challenge and developing it into an app.  I’ve been doing quite a bit of research, yet I feel I’ve only just begun my descent into the rabbit hole.  In reality this post should be titled, How to start THINKING about Creating a Storybook App.  There is a huge morass of information out there, much of it inconsistent.  It seems nobody has written Storybook Apps for Dummies yet.  I thought I’d take a crack at the very basics.

First, authors who are also illustrators have a distinct advantage in app development.  One reason it’s been so challenging to find information is because there are precious few resources geared toward “authors only” who have ideas for apps, beyond telling them to partner with an illustrator.  The best information I’ve found so far has been at e is for book, a blog written by a group of traditionally published, professional children’s book authors and illustrators who are working on various digital book projects, and Digital Kid’s Author, author Karen Robertson’s website.

Karen wrote and illustrated the app “Treasure Kai and the Lost Gold of Shark Island,” a treasure hunt adventure book.  Recently, Karen spoke on Publishing Insiders Blog Talk Radio series on Secrets to Creating Children’s Book Apps (the show is still available; you can listen for free).  On the show, Karen discussed 5 steps to app creation.  All of these steps assume the text is written, edited and ready to be developed into an app.

  1. Decide what kind of app you want to create: Think about how much interaction you want in the story. Think about what animation might enhance (vs. detract from) the story.  Do you want a “read to me” option, which requires narration?  Do you want touch-based animation?  Special sounds?
  2. Create a brief for your app: This is a document that details the text, illustration, sounds/narration and animation that goes on each page. Unlike a manuscript for a traditional picture book submission, here the author and/or illustrator does suggest page turns because they are critical to developing the interactive components of the app.
  3. Create art for your app: Again, this is where illustrators have an advantage because they can both write and illustrate the app.  If you are an author looking to partner with an illustrator, look for one that can work digitally.  Ideally, the art is created using digital layers to produce the best animation effects.
  4. Decide what narration, sounds and animation you want: Do you want music in your app?  Do you need to hire a narrator?  Do you have sound sprites planned (touch-based animation that triggers a sound, for example an animal noise or a drum beating)?
  5. Build the app: This is where the app developer comes in.  The developer creates the code that turns the static story and illustrations into an interactive app.  You can hire an independent developer or work with a company that specializes in app development.  An advantage of an independent developer is that they can usually create custom code for features specific to your app.  You might also be able to retain ownership of that code.  A disadvantage is being reliant on that person to maintain and update your app for its lifetime.  Development companies typically have expertise in app development, and will code your app based upon their platforms.  This might provide less flexibility for custom animation, but companies continue to become more sophisticated in their offerings.  Companies will almost always provide the maintenance and updates for your app on an ongoing basis.  Some companies even offer do-it-yourself drag and drop interfaces.

Our VERY favorite storybook app!

After listening to the radio show and skimming through Karen’s e-book, I am still left with the question of what authors are supposed to submit to app development companies in terms of proposals.  Is it just a manuscript?  A full brief?  Should it include a marketing plan?  I have Googled storybook app “template,” “proposal,” “submission,” “brief,” “specification,” six hundred ways to Sunday and still haven’t come up with a good answer.

In two weeks, I’ll be in Bologna, Italy attending the O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing Conference, focused exclusively on the children’s market.  I’m writing articles for SCBWI and The Children’s Book Insider.  Many industry thought-leaders will be in attendance, so I am hoping to dig much deeper into these issues on behalf of authors and illustrators.  Stay tuned!  I probably won’t be able to blog in real-time while I am there, but I will be tweeting and posting snippets and updates on my Facebook Author page if you are interested.

I know some of you reading already have experience creating storybook apps.  Any advice to share?  Does anyone have questions they’d like me to get to the bottom of in Bologna?  Leave feedback in the comments!

Read Full Post »

Today is the kick-off for the weekly Tuesday 12 x 12 series, which, each week will feature a pre-published 12 x 12 participating author and/or illustrator.  I hope this series will enable you to get to know these hard-working, talented people a bit better, and that you will discover some fabulous blogs to follow along the way.

I am thrilled to welcome Stacy Jensen today for the inaugural post in this series.  Stacy was one of my first regular blog followers, and she also hosted me on her blog for my very first guest post.  She is generous with her time and talent, and you can find the myriad ways to find and contact her at the end of this post.  Without further adieu, here is Stacy.

Which way to go with your writing? Photo credit: Stacy Jensen

Write Without Rules

Do you ever get confused about what to write? I do.

I read about writing rules on blogs and in books. I hear, “Oh, you can’t do that” in critique groups.  Or, “That’s a tough topic in this market.”

As I’ve been studying the craft of writing picture books, I decided to say “No more” to this chatter when I write. I turn off the rule checklist, stare at a blank piece of paper and go for it.

Last year, I wrote my first intentional picture book manuscript for a Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators’ retreat. As I faced a deadline, I researched the basics of how to write a picture book, but realized I needed to scrap them and just write.

Here’s what I did:

I wrote in rhyme. I’m not very good at it. I should be in rhyming jail, but I did it anyway.

I drew a map of my main character’s neighborhood. I’m not an artist, but the black squiggles helped me visualize where my main character misbehaved in the story.

I studied my ABCs by creating a list of words for my story. It pushed me to not only consider the setting, but also the things, people and places my characters encounter in their world. Plus, I had to find logical items for Q, X, and Z.

I gave myself permission to be a newbie. I signed up for the retreat to learn. I submitted my manuscript to the published author in charge and my small group with no regret.

My drafts are layers in a larger project. Each draft is helping me reach my goal of submitting polished stories to an agent or publisher. I spend non-writing time studying trends, writing tips and word counts. These rules are applied to my story during the revision process.

Just like my son doesn’t like to hear “No” all the time, neither do the stories in my head. They just want to escape and explore the page for a bit before reality reels them in.

So, I’m writing my 12 x 12 in 2012 drafts like there are no rules.

How are rules part of your writing routine?  Can you live without them or do you need them?

Stacy S. Jensen worked as a newspaper reporter and editor for two decades. Today, she mothers a toddler at home, one boy in her picture book manuscripts, and a memoir manuscript. She does this with no rules in mind during the draft stage. You can find Stacy on her blog – http://stacysjensen.blogspot.com, Twitter – http://twitter.com/StacySJensen, and Facebook –  http://www.facebook.com/StacySJensen

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: