Monday, November 23, 2015

Meet New Visions Award Winner
Andrea J Loney


Andrea J Loney is a lot of things. Teacher, Activist, Screen writer, Picture book writer, Ex circus girl? Circus?!!!!!
Yup, I ran away from academia to join the circus. 

How did you end up in a circus?

After I earned my Masters Degree in Dramatic Writing from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, I realized that I’d spent my entire life as a student with no time off to explore the world I was writing about. When the chance to join a traveling show came along, I leapt at the opportunity. I originally joined The Big Apple Circus to work as a roustabout crew girl, but I barely lasted three hours in that job — once I broke my pinky nail on a floor board, I was out of there!

So I ran back to the office trailer where I worked for a year as the assistant to the General Manager, the House Manager, and the Concessions Manager. I also served as a Tour Guide, an Usher, and an unofficial liaison between the crew people and the executives in the show’s New York Office. I got to know people (and animals) of all ages, from all around the world, and from all walks of life.  And I got to watch the entire lifecycle of a show from rehearsals, to previews, to opening night, to multiple performances almost every day. It was a great hands-on education in entertainment. 

That's awesome!

The most exciting three things about Andrea right now are:
She won the 2014 Lee & Low New Voices Award for her biographical picture book, Take a Picture of Me, James Van Der Zee
And the amazing illustrator Keith Mallett ( )will be illustrating the book, which is due to come out in late 2016.
      She got an agent!
The ever-awesome Jill Corcoran of Jill Corcoran Literary Agency. 
     Her next picture book just sold.
Hooray! Jill sold another picture book of mine in September of 2015. Details are on the way!

I am so happy for you. I met Andrea when we were fellow volunteers at Reading To Kids. And then we were in a couple of critique sessions together. I love her work.
When did you first see yourself as a writer?

My grandmother was an English teacher and a literacy specialist so she taught me how to read when I was three years old. As soon as I could read stories, I wanted to write them too. I won my first award for writing at the age of eight — it was a story about a swan in the park. From then I was hooked! I wrote poems, short stories, comic strips, plays and more.

You have a Master degree in writing, what made you decide on picture books?

I distinctly remember reading a book in the second grade and thinking, “Someday I will make a book like this and some little girl just like me will find it and fall in love with words forever and ever.” I’ve always dreamed of telling stories so compelling, they could stay in a child’s heart for the rest of their lives, just as the work of Ezra Jack Keats, Maurice Sendak, and A.A. Milne still live in my heart to this day.

Also, as a young black girl growing up in the suburbs, I did not find many books that reflected the reality of my life. Now as a supporter of the We Need Diverse Books campaign, I am committed to do what I can to expand the range of heroes and heroines in children’s books to reflect the range of diversity our society. Lifelong impressions and biases — positive and negative — can form quite early in a child’s life so the earlier a child sees broader representations of race, gender, class, ableism, and more, the better it is for our society as a whole, in my opinion.

 Finally, I love the unique challenge of crafting a character’s story in as few words as possible, while invoking an entire universe without the use of actual images or the overt description of those images. When it works it’s magical! Even though I have written professionally for film, television, and theater, picture books have always been the most beloved form of storytelling for me.
I love firsts, so tell me about the moment when a publisher told you they wanted to publish your book.
When I first got the call from Lee & Low, I was on my way into an appointment so the unfamiliar New York number went straight to voicemail. Back in my car I listened to the voicemail, which said that the publisher wanted to discuss my New Voices submission, my first thought was, “Oh man, they hated it. They hated it so much they had to tell me on the phone.” Crazy right? So I wrote the number down in my notebook and just waited it out because they were three hours ahead of Los Angeles and their office was already closed.  

That night I didn’t sleep a wink. Was it possible that I won the Honor Award? I couldn’t have won the big award. Anyway I sprung out of bed at 5:30 am, ready to call them at 6 am which would be 9 am New York time. And just as I started to call them, my kitten jumped at the phone and erased the number. It was just gone.

After a moment of panic, I realized that I had written the number in my notebook, which was in my car. So I ran outside to my car in my nightgown and tried not to hyperventilate as I dialed the number. I was completely shocked when when the editor, Jessica Echeverria, told me that I had won the New Visions Award. She told me how much everyone loved the manuscript and the story about my subject. I could hear in her voice how my passion for James Van Derzee and his work had somehow traveled to a publishing house across the country and how she was excited to share that passion with others too.

My impulse was to blurt out something ridiculous, so I just kept saying “Thank you, thank you, thank you so much!” Then when the call was over I screamed and cheered and bounced around in my car. In my nightgown. And it was December 22nd — what an amazing Christmas gift!
Yes! Love this story!

Other than your own, who are your favorite (heroes/heroines/writers) in your genre?
Wow, there are so many writers whose work I adore. At the moment though it would be Jacqueline Woodson, Kevin Henkes, Kate DiCamillo, Jonah Winter, Mac Barnett, Andrea Davis Pinkney, and Joyce Sidman. And so many more!

 What is the most exciting moment, so far, in your writing career?
Honestly, it was the moment I met Jacqueline Woodson at the Los Angeles Festival of Books. I told her that I won the Lee and Low Award as she signed my well-loved copy of her masterpiece BROWN GIRL DREAMING, and then she said, “Yes, I know of James Van DerZee. Which illustrators are you considering?” I don’t even know how I replied because all I was thinking was, “Holy moly, I am actually talking shop with National Book Award Winner Jacqueline Woodson! Just like a professional author! How is this happening?”  

What is your favorite pastime, other than writing?
If I am awake and not writing or driving, I’m probably reading. Other than that, I like to play video games with my family, make jewelry, knit, hula hoop, and nap. Wow, do I love naps!

How do you motivate yourself when inspiration takes a vacation?
Deadlines! I belong to a few different critique groups and I submit manuscripts regularly to my agent and editor. I usually have about five writing projects going at any given time, so if I get stuck on one story I just hop into another one. If I am on a deadline or tackling a particularly stubborn problem, I journal about the story instead of trying to write the text. Sometimes I write a series of questions about the plot or characters before I go to bed, then see if the answers bubble up the next morning.
Other inspiration jumpstarts include drawing or coloring, talking to a friend, listening to new music, going for a walk, making lists, reading something fascinating , and, of course, napping. Most importantly, I try to see inspiration more as a bonus than a requirement.

Any advice for new writers just starting out?
The best advice I ever got was to read stories that work and then figure out how and why they work. After that, my suggestion would be to write regularly — it doesn’t need to be daily but it does need to be often enough to build writing chops and to give inspiration a space to show up. Oh, and always keep a pencil and paper handy to capture ideas.  

The best choice I ever made for my children’s writing career was joining SCBWI, reading their articles, attending their events, meeting other writers, and sharing my work with a critique group (and finding a critique group that suited my needs).  

The next best choice was joining Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo in November to find great tips on how to come up with ideas, and then come up with at least 30 new picture book ideas of my own and then…

…Signing up for Julie Hedlund’s 12x12 Picture Book challenge to join a community of other picture book writers as I refined those ideas and submitted them to agents. Also Kristen Fulton’s Nonfiction WOW website and Facebook group introduced me to the wide world of Nonfiction writing.

 Oh and the best advice that I stubbornly refused to follow for years? While waiting to hear back on one manuscript, write another one. And another one after that. And another one after that. Keep writing NEW pieces while revising the old ones and once they are ready, keep sending them out. By the time my first picture book sold, I had already recieved over 25 manuscript rejections. But I was determined to keep going until someone said “yes”. And eventually they did!

Tell us about James Van De Zee. How did you find your subject.
James Van DerZee was a studio photographer in Harlem, NY, who took photographs for nine decades. He was prolific and creative, but most of all he took elegant and glamorous photos of the black residents of his neighborhood — whether they were rich, poor, or middle class. He just loved people and that compassion came through in every shot. From childhood I was always fascinated by this charming old-time black photographer who was “Photoshopping” pictures long before computers were invented. The more I learned about his astounding life story, the more I wanted to share it with others.

 What’s your current WIP?  
At the moment, I am working on three picture book revisions, four new picture books,  a middle grade historical fantasy, and a cozy winter scarf.

And finally, where can we find you?

andreajloney on Twitter 

andreajloney on Pinterest

Or in the children’s section of a local library, squished in a tiny chair behind a stack of picture books.

Thank you for being here, Andrea. I can't wait till your first book comes out. I want to read about James Vanderzee.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Dispatch #44: I Am Not Now
Nor Have I Ever Been

Chloe Grace Moretz
by Lupe Fernandez

Chloe Grace Moretz swaggers by me on the sidewalk. Her leather jacket and torn jeans make her look tough. I'm offended she doesn't say hi. I mean, what the F??? man, we're friends.

She catches the same bus I'm riding and sits across the aisle. I look at her and she still pretends she doesn't know me. Well, if she's going to be rude, I guess there's nothing I can do.

While the bus is in motion, Chloe Grace, as she likes to be called - notices me, leans out of her seat and hugs me across the aisle. I feel better.

I drift out of sleep. Wait. Chloe Grace Moretz is my friend? I've never met her. She's an actress in movies. I'm wide awake. Between dream and this world, I was confused. Which reality did I live in?

The night before, I finished reading I Am The Cheese by Robert Cormier - most famous for The Chocolate War - and found the story chilling. A young boy, Adam Farmer, takes a harrowing bike ride across Massachusetts to visit his hospitalized father. The chapters alternate with interviews by an anonymous man of the same boy desperately attempting to remember his past. Adam Farmer - not his real name - survived an assassination attempt while in a witness protection program. He was traumatized by the murder of his parents.The cross-state bike ride is a trip around hospital grounds and all the characters Adam Farmer met are residents of a psychiatric ward.

Real. Not real. The plasticity of memory. I suspect the book's theme created the confusion in my dream.

Like Adam, I was convinced my memories were accurate. Chloe Grace Moretz was my friend. Except, she wasn't.

While I am awake, I write about people who don't exist, but I treat as if they walk, talk, eat, love. I want the reader to believe they exist, even if the story plainly labeled fiction. We collaborate, collude, conspire to take a trip across a landscape of smells, sounds and sights, populated by fragments of parents, friends and strangers.

I'm not the only one. Thousands of others knowingly create alternate experiences on a regular basis. In cyber tech, it's called virtual reality.

In my sleep, it's called a dream.
Mariska Hargitay

I wonder, are dreams the original virtual reality technology? Organic. Portable. Not owned by a major trading partner. Not yet, anyway.

Now, you know who I'd really like to meet on the bus?

Monday, November 9, 2015

Learn How to Love Me. The Dreaded Synopsis from Guest Poster Maggie Mundy


by Maggie Mundy

 Note from Susan. Hilde has a broken hand and Maggie graciously allowed us to use her post. I used her post to fix my mid grade synopsis. I hope you find it as helpful as I did.
Hi Everyone
I thought I would share with you my process of dealing with the dreaded synopsis. You will love it. I kid you not. You will find it much easier to do in future if you use this format. You will even learn to love them.
What is it?
A synopsis is a narrative statement, written in present tense, as if you were telling someone about your book.
That sounds easy.
Your book is only 90,000 words.
They want a few hundred words up to around 750.
Eek, you walk away from the computer in a cold sweat.
Relax and take a deep breath and I’ll try and make it easy.
Basic Rules
It should be
Written in present tense
It should be written in the same voice and style as the manuscript.
Third person.
Introduces only main characters, main conflict and main emotional arc
No cliff-hangers.
It should show how the layers of the story lead you to its climax.
It is Not
An info dump. Not a she did this, he did that.
Not a shopping list of people and events.
Should be the same format and font as manuscript.
Double space unless requested to do otherwise.
Tittle and name in left hand corner.
Indent after main paragraph and number pages.
Take for example the movie French Kiss
Where do we start?
Opening paragraph
Genre: Contemporary romance
Setting :Canada and France
Length: word count novel or novella and whether part of a series.
Main characters: Kate and Luke.
Theme: Fish out of water. Personal growth.
Who is your heroine and what does she want?
Kate is an American living in Canada who wants to get married to Charlie when he gets back from his conference in Paris.
Who is your hero and what does he want?
Luc is a Frenchman who has stolen a necklace which he intends to sell so he can buy back his vineyard in France.
What brings them together?
They are on the same flight to Paris. Kate is scared of flying and Luc helps her. He uses her to smuggle his necklace into France with it wrapped around an old vine.
Their first problem. Cause of conflict.
Luc and Kate get separated. She sees Charlie kissing his new love and faints.Her luggage is stolen along with the necklace.
Initial solution to problem
Luc knows the thief and gets her bag back but she has no money or passport. She thinks he used her to get the vine into the country.
What happens to spoil initial success?
The thief tells the police about the necklace. Luc needs to get out of Paris in a hurry. Kate decides to go to the South of France and get Charlie back.
Where does the new problem lead?
Luc says he will help her get Charlie back. He really hopes to get the necklace hidden in her bag. They stop at Luc’s home and she meets his family. They both start to question what they want from life.
What risks do they take to deal with the problem?
They go to the South of France and Kate confronts Charlie. He wants her back but she is not sure it is what she wants anymore. Luc helps her get Charlie back. He is falling in love with her, but if Charlie will make her happy he will help her even if he loses her.
Dark Moment
The policeman from Paris tells Kate that Luc will go to jail if he does not give the necklace back. She does a deal and uses her life savings to pretend she has sold the necklace to Cartier. She gives Luc the money to buy his vineyard and says she is going back to Canada. Luc thinks she still wants Charlie. The policeman tells him what Kate did and that he should go after her.
Happy Ever After
Luc goes after Kate and tells her how he feels. They live happily ever after on his vineyard.
So what I have done is write short statements here about each heading. Your next step would be to enlarge these up to your required word count. What is useful about this technique is that it helps you work out what you can leave out. Hope this helps and that you will love writing your next synopsis.
Thank you  Maggie!
Maggie Mundy lives in Adelaide, Australia  with her husband, two cats, two dogs and a snake. She has a motorbike she would like to ride more, and loves walking  the beach and listening to the waves. She's always loved reading all forms of speculative fiction from high fantasy and paranormal to horror and decided the stories in my head needed to be written down. It was either that or start on medication. Maggie is a member of Romance Writers of Australia, and the local chapter SARA (South Australian Romance Authors).  She has four books out with Rogue Phoenix Press. Two erotic novellas called Blood Scent and Blood Oath and two paranormal romances called World Change and World Apart. She also has a supernatural thriller out with Soul Mate Publishing called Hidden Mortality and a paranormal romance called Unknown Protector, the first book in  the Midworlder Trilogy  . Book Two in the series Scarred Protector is out on November 18th 2015.

Monday, November 2, 2015

That Revision. Again.

By Susan J Berger
I'm not doing NaNoWriMo this year. My priority this November is Revision.
I am in awe of Karol Silverstein whose first draft of Cursed was impeccable. Kate's Hero is in fifth draft. I used NaNo last year to do a revision during which I lost the first forty pages of a previous revision and re-wrote extensively to make up for that loss..
I sent it out to a beta reader feeling o-so-proud and found I had a lot more revising to do.
Plus I have another ms in second draft.

My Revision Steps

Step one:
Spell check and punctuation check. I am a terrible typist.

Step two: Kill the unnecessary words:
The Craft of Writing  Fiction says there are five words you can always cut:
I checked these words first.
just,  70 (just has always been one of my personal favorites to over-use.)
really – 19
Quite -7
Perhaps 13
That  392 (Noooo!)

Rebecca Laffar Smith at the Craft of Writing Fiction has a caveat re the word that: This word needs careful consideration. It’s not always one that can be cut without thought like the four above. In that sentence, and this one, the word “that” is used to define the subject of the sentence. But sometimes, even when used in this way, it is not necessary.

“DIE, REPEAT WORDS! DIE!”  Ask any author I have edited and they’ll most likely roll their eyes and tell you how I chased after them with a knife, threatening to stab every ‘that’ I saw unless they did it first. Okay, guilty. ::grins:: I’m pretty much murder on repeat words and phrases. Nothing flattens an author’s creative voice worse than those repeats. They need to be the first to go. Make a list, run a global search on each, and get rid of them. Biggest and most frequent offender: the dreaded ‘that.’ About 90% of the time the word isn’t necessary. Chop it out.

Other repeats to look for: so, was, little, bit, then, take, came, went, looked, stepped, moved, saw, watched, felt/feeling, rather, somewhat, large, but, small, up, down, over, under, just, though, however, because, very, really, truly.

Especially with directional words up, down, over, under, you can clear out most. Think of it in terms of how the body moves. When you sit or sink onto an object, you can only sit/sink ‘down’ unless for some reason you want to specifically sit ‘up,’ (obviously you can’t ‘sink up’) in which case you are better served using ‘straightened in her chair’ instead of ‘sat up’ in her chair. In a bed it can go either way, your choice, sit or sit up. But if your character sits on a chair, they only need to sit. Same with stand. You can only stand ‘up.’ So your character only needs to ‘stand.’

Are you confused yet? Now you know how editors sometimes feel. But hey, look: easily 50% of repeat words already gone because you cleared out ‘that’ and its cohorts, plus ‘unneeded directional words!’ Excessive coolness.

I followed Char’s list: What I found:
was – 557  (AAAARGH!!!!)
up - 215
looked  171
but 163 (oi!),
down -125
then 75
so 107
take  106
felt/feeling – 96
over – 89
small - 48
very -43
little - 48 (cut it to 14)
bit - 47 (cut to 17)
came – 41
This is my book and I want it to be the best book I am capable of writing and that includes nit picking the use of every over-used word listed above on a case by case basis.
I am not as worried about the rest of her list. 
went - 29,  stepped - 17, moved - 17, saw - 17, watched 14, rather -14, large - 14, under 22, though – 9 because – 31 truly - 1  however – 1 somewhat -0 (Yes!)
Step three.
Read your book out loud. Yup. Sit at your computer or print out a copy. It's amazing what I discover when I perform this step. (You will have to print another copy after you read your story out loud and the odd blooper or shaky writing shows up. Which I why I prefer to do the read-aloud at the computer.)

Step four
Print out a fresh hard copy. Put it in a binder. Make a title page. Write a great blurb (or put the name of an author you love and pretend you are reading their book.)

Read like a reader. Take minimal notes. Fight the urge to edit

5 Symbols you can use:

  1. Smiley face: Like it a lot
  2. Check mark: Story Dragging
  3. ( ): Clunk writing. Metaphors they don't work. Sentences that don't make sense.
  4. O : Material missing.... Transition point? Explanation?
  5. ? : What was I thinking? I am Confused!

Now I make notes for myself.
What, if anything did I find missing?
Did I stay in POV? (I am currently on a POV edit on my fifth draft.)
At what point could a busy editor put my book aside and not come back to it?
What do I need to change to make it compelling?

Now you are ready for the next draft. Rewrite according to the new story. (Please let this be the definitive draft.)
Write On!


Monday, October 26, 2015

Dispatch #43: What's So Scary?

Photo by L. Fernandez
by Lupe Fernandez

Scratch, scratch.
There's an insect lodged in my ear.

Just kidding. That's an urban legend of a bug crawling in a my ear, laying eggs and the larvae eat my brain.

What's scary?

Three unrepresented writers walk into a bar and only one will walk out with an agent. Aahhhh!!!!!!

I could summon up a bucolic memory of Halloween night, wading through a front yard choked with spindly branches to the front door of an old man - as a kid, all adults were old - and ringing his doorbell. He swung open the door and shoved his hand deep into my candy bag, rattled it around and slammed his door. I didn't bother to check if he left any candy. I ran.

The Wolf-Man lived in crawlspace above my family garage. He would only jump out when I went to switch off the light. Wolf-Man as in the Universal 1930's Lon Chaney Jr. version who, after his transformation, kept his shirt and pants on. A werewolf with no pants, that would be scary.

Fortunately, the crawlspace above the garage has long been seal off. My nephew lives in garage converted to a loft. Although, he does spend a lot of time with the door closed. Hmmm...

Scratch, scratch, scratch.

Plenty of horrors in local and international news. Don't need vampires or zombies.

At the time of this writing, my city is experiencing a swarm of small earthquakes. The U.S. Geological Survey states swarm activity is comment and can stop at anytime. A jolt here and there. No problem. For the past ten days, unsettling.

Ringing telephones make me cringe. Someone is calling. What do they want? Why doesn't the ringing stop? I don't want to answer it; I'll have to talk.

The end of the world scares me.

I dreamed my mother laid down towels on the living room floor and told us kids to lay on our backs. That we wouldn't fall over when the meteors struck the Earth.

Aaahh...the ear irritation has stopped. Told you. Nothing in my ear.

Gurgle, gurgle. 

My stomach hurts. I lift up my shirt. A fin shape bulges under my skin. Something swims around my navel.

And its angry.