Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Creative Workspaces of The Not-So-Rich and Obscure

by Kris Kahrs

Inspired by Kyle Cassidy’s study, “Where I Write: Fantasy & Science Fiction Authors in their Creative Spaces” on BoingBoing, I, the 4th wheel here at Pen and Ink have decided to share the creative workspaces that inspire the Pen and Ink crew.

When writing, these spaces become the temples of our practice; the laptop, the wall where we offer our missive, hitting the ‘send’ key, waiting for the munificence of an indifferent being to show up in our inbox.

Sue Berger’s Den of Inspiration

At the computer in my bedroom. My son’s dog, Diego thinks it is his duty to watch me work.
Under my computer screen are little toys of Glenda the Good Witch, and a silver Pig. There is also a little gingerbread house.

On the wall in back of the computer are pictures of my family. On the bookshelf next to my computer are many Wizard of Oz Books, The Maida Books, The Anne of Green Gables books, the E. Nesbit books, and many other favorites. There are also Muppet Baby toys, Shrek toys and Cinderella toys and some miniature cupcakes. This is my granddaughter Grace’s favorite pretend place.

I have 4 large bookshelves in my room: One has Teddy bears on top. One has Dragons, frogs and a musical carousel on top. One has the grown up Muppets on top. The fourth one has pigs on top. Next to my door is a Giant purple dragon named Charlie.

Lupe Fernandez’s Pad of Prose

Death perches on flat screen. I'm not sleeping, but concentrating on the next scene. The folder on the right is full of revisions. The bags on the floor are camera cases with photos I need to upload onto Facebook for instant appreciation. The plastic container on the desk contains water to prevent LDS (Literary Dehydration Syndrome). I'm wearing a Los Angeles Conservancy hat to prevent my brains from exploding due to a volatile mixture of plot, doubt, character, syntax, doubt, continuity, metaphors, the brilliant idea for a story I just thought of and doubt.  

Hilde Garcia’s Corner of Composition
Hilde sent in a before shot……
I get inspired on my desk when I look at my Academy Award that says BEST... when I look at the screen saver on my desk of my husband and I on our honeymoon after I had ridden a bike around the bay in Monterey- after not having ridden on in 24 years.

…..and an after.
I get inspired when I look at my photos of Maui- where I long to go...  

I get inspired when I look out to my street and see a white picket fence... a beautiful 50 year old tree that shadows my home and the squirrels that run up and down it. I get inspired when the mail man passes by, my neighbors walk their dogs and my kids escape to run next door to see Uncle Allan.
I write my stories at this desk, I dream my dreams. I often fall asleep at this desk- see other photo previously posted.
I love it late at night or early in the morning when no one is awake... even the dog is snoring.
Kris Kahrs’ Table of Turbulence

This is not so much a “creative workspace” as it is a “flat surface that isn’t the floor”. This is my dining room table and when it’s not a holiday dinner, this is where it all happens folks. I did go in for the optional 20-1b. cat accessory for additional street cred.

(Have you been to a SCBWI Writer’s Day? Whew! Tough crowd.)

Anyway, the most inspirational things about my space are the sunset outside of the doors you see in the picture, the Hollywood sign and the Observatory because they are so iconic, and an Emerson quote kept posted on the magazine holder in front of me, “Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air…”

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The ABC’S of Writing

by Lupe Fernandez
A is for Animal magnetism I have from being a writer.

B is for Bad Ass MoFo dance when I come up with a new story idea.

C is for Counting Words.

D is for Depression.

E is for Electronic Media.

F is for F$%@*!!! Manuscript.

G is for Gerunds.

H is for Hyperbole.

I is for Indirect Objects.

J is for Jeepers if I’d known writing a YA Novel was this hard, I’d have taken up lion taming.

K is for Keeping The Faith.

L is for Listening to Critiques.

M is for Mixed Metaphors.

N is for No.

O is for Objective Correlative.

P is for Possessive Pronouns.

Q is for Query Letter.

R is for Rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite. Repeat. Rinse. Rewrite.

S is for Symbolism.

T is for Thesaurus.

U is for Usually I never talk about my writing process or discuss future story ideas with anyone out of an irrational fear of never finishing a project.

V is for Vowels A E I O U.

W is for Waiting for a Response.

X is for Xenon gas used in a photo flash unit taking my picture to appear on a book jacket.

Y is for Your manuscript does not meet our needs.

Z is for Zowie! Famous editor/agent/author spoke to me!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

To Torture or Not to Torture: Has your Main Character Suffered Enough?

by Hilde Garcia

I was talking to my dear friend recently, the only survivor to my coming out party, when we decided to go down memory lane or maybe we should call it Nightmare Street.

"Do you remember THE PARTY your mom forced you to have?” She asks me. Do I? How could I forget? In fact, I wanted to forget it so badly that when the same scene came up for my main character, I happily skipped over it.

Funny. You are supposed to write what you know and what was is difficult. Yet, I ran the moment I had the chance.

I still have nightmares about the dress, the kids at my party that did not want to be there, forced to go because my mother had made the calls to their mothers. I boycotted the entire process.

Then when no one asked me to dance, my mother got up and made an announcement.

“Who wants to dance with my daughter?” I was mortified. How delicious if I did this to my main character. Why not? If I suffered, she should too.

The boy who was brave enough to accept the dance request or just plain scared of my mother, proceeded to step on my toes and ruin my panty hose, my eyes were closed during the one photo of us dancing, and then promptly sat down with a look of relief. Oh, what a dance!

My hair was too short, my tan was to dark and I had just had my wisdom teeth pulled, so my face was still a bit rounder than I would have cared for. Ah, 15, such a good age. NOT.

I wanted to crawl under a rock. The party ended with three people in the pool, my brother sticking his hand in my cake, and my cousin running off to make out with the guy I did like, who happened to show up with a friend. If ever there was a party to live in infamy that was it.

Did I mention it was the recreation hall of our dumpy apartment building, which had yellow and orange floral wallpaper, worn carpeting, cheesy lighting and no air conditioning? My birthday is in August in Miami. No wonder everyone ended up in the pool.

Except for me. I was told to sit and be pretty. I did just that. I sat, but pretty was far from the photo.

Years later my mom always kidded me about it. “One day, you will laugh about this.”

After 30 years, there is still no laughter. I am still traumatized. I know for her, it was a great night. It was the party she wanted and never had. Maybe I should be over it? Nope, not going to happen.

So MC, watch out. I have a lot of torturing to enhance you with, but hopefully, you will find your voice sooner than I did and speak up and say NO to really bad parties thrown by your parents.

Push the envelope. Have you tortured your MC enough today? Really?

If you squirm as you write the scene, you are on the right track.

If not, get to it. Your MC will not torture him/herself.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Bad Things Happen to Good People

by Susan Berger

Human beings have a built in safety net which prevents us from physically hurting ourselves. (Slap yourself really hard. Go ahead. Try it. Note that your hand will pull back at the last second to lessen the force of the blow.) I suspect that this safety net may be interfering with my ability to make bad things happen to my characters. After all the characters I create are part of me. I know I have to get past this.

Bad things happen to good people. It is my job as an author to make that true. Bad things happening are what make a story interesting. Where would Cinderella be without her wicked stepmother? Would the story of the Three Little Pigs be memorable without the wolf?

That thought led me to Jon Scieszka’s The True Story of the Three Little Pigs as told by A. Wolf. It’s a whole other (wonderfully funny) story when you hear it from the wolf’s point of view.

What if I tried telling my story from my other character’s point of view? (I want to do this with at least two of my other characters). What would I learn about my hero? What faults have I not exploited? What virtues?
I invite you to try this as a writing exercise.
A. Pick a scene in your story and tell it from another character’s point of view.
B. Describe the hero from the villain’s point of view
Here are some sample questions to ask the villain or secondary character:
1 Describe (your hero) physically.
2. What is their best quality?
3. What is their worst quality or what really annoys you about (your hero)?
4. Describe (your hero)’s friends.
5. What is something you know about (your hero) that you don’t think (your hero) knows about themselves?
6. What do you think (your hero) is most afraid of?
Happy writing!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Revision Process

by Lupe Fernandez

This is a page from my YA manuscript "Medicine Boy" that I revised. Looks easy, doesn't it?

Sunday, April 11, 2010


by Lupe Fernandez

Clairbourn School looks like a country club. Manicured lawns freshly mowed by Mexican landscapers. Neat, trim peaked roof houses. Children’s toys in their places and no graffiti. I notice the white pillars and porticos.

I sit in the “Den of the Cougars” otherwise known as the gym. Yellow and blue flags hang from the walls celebrating league champions for Single Tennis, Boys Soccer, Girls Volleyball and other sports. I’m here for the competitive sport of writing, publishing and selling.
Overhear someone say, “This place looks like a southern plantation.”
The room fills with a babble of voices. Hundreds of words mingle; merge to form greetings, life experiences, writing projects. A laugh. The quest for the proper chair to sit in. Who’s here? Who’s not? Didn’t we meet at….? Aren’t you a friend of …?

News flash: No more coffee!

The day begins with “bathroom announcements.” Toilet paper shortage in nearby bathrooms, more toilet paper in the bathrooms further away.

Rachel Abrams, assistant editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books topic is “This Book Needs to Be Read! Honing Your Craft and Writing Your Best.” She reads from three favorite books as examples of how to start a story.
Abundance of Catherine by John Green.
Gorgeous by Rachel Vail
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. Another favorite book is Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech.
Ms. Abrams answers a question about voice in historical fiction: Adolescent issues are the same regardless of the time period. Another question inquires about bodily functions? “Okay as long as they’re plot driven,” she answers. She outlines pitfalls in writing dialogue:
There’s information dumps.
Chatty or on the nose gabbing.
Adverbial speech tags – Adverbs in dialog tags are editors’ pet peeve.
Ms. Abrams focuses on characters, plot is secondary. Middle Grade/Tween – ages 8 to 12. Teen 12 and up. Represents Middle Grade and YA, preferring paranormal and teen romances.

When she cites other favorite authors, the name sound like a litany of saints, accompanied by ooohs and aaahs, murmurs of acknowledgement. “That’s a good book.” “I read that one.” Or furious scribbling on notepads or typing on laptops.

Discussing styles, Ms. Abrams cites Vladimir Nabokov, "In reading, one should notice and fondle the details.” She recommends finding an agent. Responding to a question about personal editorial “pet peeves,” she says, “I won’t have a job if you guys didn’t need editors.”

Break 10 a.m.

Now begins the Information Age ritual of checking cell phones, blackberries, blueberries, crackberries and strawberries for messages, emails, gmails, tweets, sweets, sheets, cleats and a better seat.
After speaking, Ms. Abrams waits at the head of a receiving line. Writers are eager for her blessing, her business card, a comment, an encouragement, a smile for that great story.

10:34 a.m. Call to Order and Take Your Seats.

Lisa Wheeler, picture book author, topic is Rhyme with Reason. She candidly admits to receiving 2,500 rejections in four years. Friends call her “the Meter Maid.”
“Just because kids like rhyme,” she says, “is not a good reason to write in rhyme.”
Ms. Wheeler encourages picture books writers to “defend their rhyme.” As a child, she ran into the living room when TV commercials played so she could listen to the jingle. After the commercial ended, Wheeler left the room. The word seven is a bad rhyming word. Bad rhyme doesn’t sell. “Rhyme is poetry – not just rhyming end lines.”

Break. 11:30 a.m. Announcements. Raffle. My raffle ticket number is 429045. Come on lucky 45!Curses! I don’t win.  Lunch 12 p.m. Sun appears. Morning overcast broken. San Gabriel Mountains visible to the north.
Overhear someone say, “I’m a light airy person.”
After a nap on the gym bleachers, I open my eyes amid the crowd, noisy gym.

Jill Corcoran, an agent with the Herman Agency, speaks on “Queries & Synopsis: How to Get Agents & Editors Salivating to Read Your Manuscript.”

Among the sentences not to include in a query letter:
“I am a new writer.”
“This is the first book in my 9 book series.”
“Hope you and everyone around you are doing well.”
Ms. Corcoran wants to know why the author wants her as an agent. “You gotta know what sells you.”
She emphasizes vigilance on your internet presence. Don’t post anything that could harm your career. I guess I’d better take down my Lion Tamer Website.
Kathleen O’Dell, Middle Grade author, speaks on “Crafting Books for Restless Middle Grade Readers.” “Don’t be afraid to quit,” Ms. O’Dell says, “You’ll come back if it calls you.” The editing process “is not for babies. The author must earn the trust of middle grade readers. “Bordom is death for kids.”
Overhear someone say, “You know her, she’s on Facebook.”
In regards to a lengthy manuscript, she once used the “Harry Potter Defense.” An editor said her manuscript was too long. Kids wouldn’t read it. Ms. O’Dell responded, “What about Harry Potter?” Needless to say, the “Harry Potter Defense” is spoken no more. Talking about the writing process, she says, “It’s a temptation for writers to be lazy.” There’s bitterness at being rejected and fear at revision when receiving an envelope from an editor.

The last speaker is Young Adult author Libba Bray. Ms. Bray tells a story about receiving knowing glances and flirtations from firemen when she told them that she wrote “young adult fiction.” Ms. Bray realizes the fireman thought she wrote Adult as in X-rated. “Writing porn is more socially acceptable than writing for teens.”

Ms. Bray lists her advice on writing.
  1. No one ever died from a day of bad writing, except writing a safety manual.
  2. Name you inner critique.
  3. If it doesn’t scare you to at least write your story, you haven’t raised the stakes.
  4. Read. Read across genres.
  5. Don’t write Cherrios – not exciting, just filler, unsatisfying, soggy, forgettable.
  6. Remember. Write for your inner teen. Remember the emotional language of 10, 14, 16.
  7. Find your own voice and honor it. “You know who does the best Raymond Carver? Raymond Carver.”
  8. Change up your game - as long as it serves your story. Don’t get complacent.
  9. As a Public Service Announcement, Ms. Bray urges us, “Just say no to the hot pterodactyl boyfriend.” Avoid current trends.
  10. Earn your moments. Truth should make us uncomfortable. Don’t flinch. Don’t give characters qualities they don’t have.
 Her talk was inspirational.

A green cart sits in the back of the gym, stacked with musty dark brown Christian Science Hymnal books. Perhaps we should start this day with a song. “O’ Publisher Near to Thee,” or “Holy Trinity”? (The Trinity is Agent/Editor/Publisher – until a media paradigm shift.)
I recline on the hard worn bleachers, ready to cheer. “Go Writers Go! Query Back! Query Back! Way, way back! Goooo Unpublished Writers! Yeah!”

A pep rally, indeed.

“Stories survive,” Ms. Bray says.

Time to go home and write.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Magazine Submissions

by Susan Berger

Anybody have an article, a story, a poem, a Puzzle or Rebus suitable for a children’s magazine? Here is a list of places where they might be accepted. Be sure and grab a copy of the magazine to check their style, before submitting.

Highlights Magazine
  • Pays $150 per article or story.
  • 500 words younger reader
  • 800 words older reader
Cricket Magazine Age 9-14
  • Stories: 200 to 2,000 words (2 to 8 pages)
  • Articles: 200 to 1,500 words (2 to 6 pages)
  • Poems: not longer than 50 lines (1 page, 2 pages maximum)
  • An exact word count should be noted on each manuscript submitted. For poetry, indicate number of lines instead. Word count includes every word, but does not include the title of the manuscript or the author's name.
  • Stories and articles: up to 25¢ per word
  • Poems: up to $3.00 per line
  • Payment upon publication
 Spider Magazine Age 6- 9
  • Stories: 300 to 1,000 words
  • Poems: not longer than 20 lines
  • Articles: 300 to 800 words
  • Puzzles/Activities/Games: 1 to 4 pages
  • An exact word count should be noted on each manuscript submitted. Word count includes every word, but does not include the title of the manuscript or the author's name.
Rates for Spider Magazine:
  • Stories and articles: up to 25¢ per word (1,000 words maximum)
  • Poems: up to $3.00 per line
  • Payment upon publication
Ladybug Ages 2-6
  • Fiction: read-aloud stories, picture stories, original retellings of folk and fairy tales, multicultural stories. Length: up to 800 words.
  • Rebuses: focus on concrete nouns. Length: up to 200 words.
  • Nonfiction: concepts, vocabulary, simple explanations of things in a young child's world. Length: up to 400 words. (Be prepared to send backup materials and photo references—where applicable—upon request.)
  • Poetry: rhythmic, rhyming; serious, humorous, active, from a child's perspective. Length: up to 20 lines.
  • Other: imaginative activities, games, crafts, songs, and finger games. See back issues for types, formats, and length.
  • An exact word count should be noted on each manuscript submitted. Word count includes every word, but does not include the title of the manuscript or the author's name.
Rates for Ladybug:
  • Stories and articles: 25¢ per word; $25 minimum
  • Poems: $3.00 per line; $25 minimum
  • Payment upon publication
Skipping Stones (multi cultural no pay)

  • APPLESEEDS - general history and cultures (for ages 6-9)
  • CALLIOPE - world history (for ages 9-14)
  • COBBLESTONE - American history (for ages 9-14)
  • DIG - archeology (for ages 9-14)
  • FACES - world cultures and geography (for ages 9-14)
  • ODYSSEY - science (for ages 9-14)
  • Appleseed ages 8 and up
  • Assume 150 words per page; payment approximately $50 per page
US Kids Magazines
Their magazines are:
  • Turtle age 3-5
  • Humpty Dumpty age 5-7
  • Jack and Jill age 8-12
  • Turtle: up to 35¢ a word fiction — up to 350 words nonfiction — up to 200 words
  • Humpty Dumpty: up to 35¢ a word fiction/nonfiction, up to 450 words
  • Jack and Jill: up to 25¢ a word fiction/nonfiction, up to 700 words
  • Poetry: $25 to $50
  • Photos: $15.00 minimum
  • Puzzles and games: $25 minimum
(they sent me this by email. You cannot find guidelines these on their website)
Submission Guidelines

 Thank you for your interest in contributing to NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC KIDS, a monthly general-interest nonfiction magazine for 6 to 14-year-olds. NG KIDS' tagline is:

Dare to Explore. It's our mission to find fresh ways to entertain children while educating and exciting them about their world.

Submission Guidelines

 What types of stories does NG KIDS publish?
NG KIDS stories cover a broad range of topics, including science, geography, history, and cultures from around the world. For our departments, we are looking for animal anecdotes and stories about endangered animals.
What kinds of proposals is NG Kids looking for?
Although our staff generates most of our story ideas, we'd be delighted to hear from you about stories that have kid appeal. 
Here are things to consider before pitching to NG Kids:
Entertainment story ideas must offer some behind-the-scenes perspective that is unusual and informational.

Geography, archaeology, paleontology, and history story suggestions must answer the question, "What is fun about that?"
Science and technology story ideas must answer the question, "How does this directly affect a kid's life?"

Natural history story ideas must be tightly focused and exciting. For example: Don't pitch a general story about cheetahs. Do pitch a story on how a cheetah's physical attributes make it the ultimate hunting machine.

For "Amazing Animals," we're looking for animals that have stories to tell about unusual abilities, animal heroes, friendships, or silly situations.
How should one propose an idea?
A carefully considered proposal should be based on a well-researched premise or hook. Do your homework and check the online NG KIDS index to be sure that your idea has not already been covered within the last three years. A good query is short and to the point (about 250 words). It should include a headline that suggests what the story is, a deck that amplifies the headline, a strong lead, and a paragraph that clearly sets out the premise and approach of the piece. The query should represent the style in which the piece will be written. We look for a writing style that's informed but speaks the reader's language and has a sense of humor. Tell us which area of the magazine your story fits into. Please include clips and a resume. 
Once you have the perfect idea, here's who to pitch to on the NG KIDS staff at:
1145 17th St. NW, Washington DC 20036
Science, technology, environment, natural history, and wildlife: Science Editor, Catherine Hughes.

Human interest, "Amazing Animals," and entertainment: Special Projects Editor Rachel Buchholz.

Cultural stories, “Wildlife Watch,” "Fun Stuff," geography, archaeology, paleontology, history: Senior Editor Robin Terry.
If you're not sure about which editor to pitch, send your query to Jill Yaworski and she'll forward it to the appropriate editor.
Any photographic queries should go to photo director Jay Sumner,
Please note that we cannot accept phone queries and we cannot acknowledge or return submissions. All submissions become property of the National Geographic Society, and rights therefore are transferred to the Society. 
Happy Writing