Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Favorite Writing Advice from the Inkers.

From July 2010
Everyone probably has one or two bits of favorite writing advice. Here are some of ours.


 Writing on Both Sides of the Brain by Henriette Anne Klauser

“When you first began to write, you had someone standing over you (for your own good) correcting your form, grammar, and spelling…..Today when you sit down to write, chances are that your teacher is still with you, standing over your left shoulder, correcting, critiquing, circling uppercase letters with her red pencil, and in other subtle and not so subtle ways discouraging your from writing, generally stemming the flow of words.” (Right on!! Greg Dean, a stand up comedy teacher, came up with a solution for this: Never criticize your self in your performing space. Get yourself a cheap bath rug. When you feel yourself getting ready to criticize your output, leave your performing space. Stand on the rug and critique yourself. Then return to your performing space. This really helped me. It also gets you to stand up from your computer on a frequent basis.)  Libba Bray at 2010 Writers Day suggested naming your critic. I love that one.

And from NanoWriMo: Give yourself a gift: a deadline

Jane Yolen on Writing

There is no such thing as the time fairy dropping bits of time for aspiring writers to trip over or find. If you want to be a writer, you find or make or grab or take time from whatever else is going on. Otherwise you really don’t want to be a writer, you just want to have written.

First rule of writing- B I C- Butt in chair
Second rule or writing- follow rule one.


From the Medicated and Motivated School of Writing and Anne Taintor, Ms. Dish recommends the following:

1) “Why yes, I am that kind of girl – thank you.” - Write what you know.

2) “Old enough to know better, too old to give a rat’s ass.” - Learn the rules, then break them.

3) “…And then Fairy Godmother said, ‘Mojitos for everyone!’….”  -Get it all out. Overwrite first, you can always clean up later.

4) “A true friend would help hide the body.” - Get someone to edit your work in an objective manner.



"Always start with a fresh tablet."  Hammurabi, King of Babylon

"And the Lord said, 'smite the Adverbs, for they are a blight upon thy manuscript.'"
3:14 Book of Grammar

"A little sacrifice goes a long way."
Tezcatlipoca, Aztec Sun God

"Sharpen thy quill, scribble on thy parchment and heed not the call of naysayers."
St. Ernesto, Patron Saint of Unpublished Writers

 "Find the gold in your landscape."
Hernando Cortez, Spanish Conquistador

"Fear not to cut, cut and cut."
Jack The Ripper

"Every period is a revolution."
Pancho Villa, Mexican Revolutionary

"Ahhhh....write some 'em about rabbits."
Bugs Bunny

"Whadda I look like, Pablo Neruda?"
Joe the Cook, Good Grub Diner

What was the advice that stuck with you?

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Full Cicada Moon a Wonderful Diverse Book

I was looking through earlier Pan and Ink Posts and found this book.

Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton. Written in verse the book tells the story of a half black, half Japanese girl who moved with her family to Vermont to be the new girl halfway through seventh grade. It's 1969 and she dreams of being an astronaut.
I read the first two pages:

I wish we had flown to Vermont
instead of riding
on a bus, train, train, bus
all the way from Berkley.
Ten hours would have soared, compared to six days.
But two plane tickets--
one for me and one for Mama--
would have cost a lot of money,
and Papa already spent so much
when he flew home at Thanksgiving.

Mama is sewing buttons on my new slacks
and helping me fill out the forms
for my new school in Hillsborough, our new town.
This might be a new year
but seventh grade is halfway done,
and I'll be the new girl.

I'm stuck at the ethnicity part.
Check only one, it says.
The choices are:
Puerto Rican

I am
half Mama,
half Papa,
and all me.
Isn't that all anyone needs to know?
But the form says All items must be completed,
so I ask,  "Other?"
Mama pushes her brows together,
making what papa calls her Toshirô-Mifune face.
"Check all that apply," she says.
"But it says just one."
"Do you listen to your mother or a piece of paper?"
I borrowed it.
I do not usually read verse novels. This one captivated me. I raced through it, loving every sentence.
The what was not said was as important as what was said. Highly recommend.
What is one of your favorite mid grade diversity books? I will so a separate post on picture books.

 Full Cicada Moon is available in Libraries, Hoopla and at your Indie Bookstore.
The author, Marilyn Hilton is the mother of a multicultural family.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Covid Blues and Links to great first lines

by Susan J Berger
Wow! Are we having crazy fun or what?  My hair is gray and red because I have two weeks of filming left on Joel Coen's Macbeth and I can't cut or dye my hair till it's over. Production shut down March 13 along with every other film. Production to be continued when Shelter in Place ends.

I don't know about you, but I am finding it hard to concentrate. I only want to reread books. Books in which I know what will happen. Books I know will leave me happy.

I watch little TV, Zero news, and try to visit Facebook only once a day. I find it to be a sinkhole.
I did find this wonderful video there: Some Good News with John Krasinski and a couple of wonderful surprise guests.
I cried for happy at the end.

My picture book critique group held its first Zoom meeting last Friday and it was so soul-satisfying to see everyone.

I forget who mentioned the SCBWI Digital workshops. When The Zoom meeting was over I headed to SCBWI and signed up for the next one.You can do that here:
. While listening to this workshop I realized that I had used all of Sara's and Lin Oliver's examples for great first lines in blog posts on Pen and Ink. Here's a link to the list of First Line Posts
If you fell like some great first lines, please start there.
First lines can be really inspiring.

If you can't write now, that's okay. You are storing up.
Please take care of yourself.
Stay panic-free. Avoid News and Facebook rumors. 
If you have a critique group, please consider a Zoom meeting.
Sending you all air hugs.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Meet Andrea J Loney Picturebook Author and So Much More

Reprinted from November 2015 with exciting new details.
By Susan J Berger

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 thing about Andrea right now is

Her latest book, Double Bass Blues  , illustrated by Rudy Gutierrez, is a 2020 Caldecott Honor Book. 
 I am so happy for her because I know she fought for the kind of illustrations she wanted.

Previously, Andrea won the 2014 Lee & Low New Voices Award for her biographical picture book, Take a Picture of Me, James Van Der Zee  illustrated by Keith Mallett.

And her first book, Bunnybear , illustrated by Carmen Saldana, was selected for the 2018 ALA Rainbow list.
I am so happy for her. 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, about Take a Picture of Me James Vanderzee
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.

Congratulations, Andrea. I am so proud to know you!

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Accountability How to Submit


I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to force myself into submission mode.
I keep an excel spreadsheet to track my submissions. I pulled it out in November and realized it looked sparse. It’s so easy to put off submitting.
Even if you have achieved a good query letter, and wrestled your synopsis into shape there is still all the trauma of researching the right agent to submit to.
Three months ago I designated Thursday on my Google calendar as Submissions Thursday.
That simple act gave me accountability.
And improved my submission pattern 100%
Now on the Thursdays I do this (I'm averaging two Thursdays a month which is infinitely better than one submission every three to six months.)
 But I digress.
I'd much rather digress than submit.
 On Thursday I pull out my  spreadsheet and open Twitter on my computer. I search for #MSWL
I find an agent who says they are looking for what I am querying.
I go to their website and read their submission guidelines.
Some have forms. Some have email query requirements.
I follow the guidelines for the ones I think have possibilities and I click Submit.
I do at least two. Sometimes three. And I feel good. 
My friends, it is so easy to convince yourself that no one will ever want to read whatever it it you've written.
Fight it.