Monday, August 31, 2015

Dr. Seuss for Writers

Dr. Seuss for Writers
By Kris Kahrs

I need to write!
I need to write!
I jump out of my bed at night.
I need a pen.
I need a light.
I cannot write this way at night.
I find a pen.
Does it have ink?
I find a light above the sink.
Oh no, Oh no, the ink is pink.
I cannot use this pen I think.
I need a drink.

I have to write!
I have to write!
I hold a light to help my sight.
Between my toes, under the sheet.
I hold a light.
No easy feat (feet)!

Does my hero have a car?
Does my hero travel far?
Oh!  What a lot of verbs there are!
Which way’s the bar?

I cannot write.
I cannot write.
I am too tired, this time of night.
The words do not come out quite right.
Can I put it here or there?
Can I put it anywhere?
I don’t care.
Good night.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Finding an Agent. Picture books.

by Susan J Berger

Finding an agent for your picture books is more challenging because agents make less money on picture books. And because most agents specify a preference for author/illustrators. That's not me.

I've been racking up some rejections for my mid grade novel and neglecting my picture books. I've only had three rejections for picture books this year. Why? Not querying enough.

 I am nowhere near the rejection totals Hilde gave in her post Rejection Junction, What's Your Function. I need to query more.
 Next month my picture book group will be meeting to do a query session. Pen and Ink did a query session in June. (Yes indeedy. Another link.)
What to say in a Picture book Query
I Googled that. Lots of resources. Best advice? Keep it short and sweet. You are going to be including the PB MS so you don't need to say much. Try to keep your pitch paragraph in your author voice.
Here are my favorite links for PB query advice.

Who to query?
 Here are some resources:
Chuck Sambuchino writes for Writers Digest and features new literary agents. This month he featured Sherry Bestor of Willow Words. I went to Willow Words' website. They only accept queries the first seven days of the month. Here are the Willow Words Guidelines.

Query Tracker. Join for free. For 25.00 per year you get a lot more service, but start with the free one to see how you like it. You can filter by children's books, but you have to check to see what kind of children's books they accept.
I took these from Query Tracker
Three Seas Literary Cori Deyoe is the only agent who accepts picture books. Submission Guidelines

Betsy Amster Literary Mary Cummings. Submission Guidelines

Barry Goldblatt spoke at 2015 SCBWI National Conference. Submission Guidelines. I sent Barry a picture book query this week and marked it exclusive. (It was, I promise you.) I had a very courteous rejection within forty eight hours. He said at conference, he would know what it was he wanted when he saw it. The Undertoads wasn't it.  Next!

Casey McCormick's BlogSpot Literary Rambles is one of my go-to resources. Casey has interviews with lots of agents. Here's her list of Picture Book Agents.
Her interviews include links to the agents' websites so you can get an idea of their client list and submission guidelines.

Lastly here are some of the top selling picture book agents from the list Greg Pincus mentioned on the SCBWI list serv. I removed the ones who are not accepting queries. Query on
Holly McGhee (Pippin Properties), 16 deals. Website
Alexandra Penfold (Upstart Crow Literary), 12 deals. Website
Emily van Beek (Folio Literary Management), 11 deals. Website
Rebecca Sherman (Writers House), 11 deals. Website
Rubin Pfeffer (Rubin Pfeffer Content), 10 deals. Website
 Lori Kilkelly (Rodeen Literary Management), 9 deals. Website
Kathleen Rushall (Marsal Lyon Literary Agency), 9 deals. Website
 Stefanie Von Borstel (Full Circle Literary), 8 deals. Website
Anna Olswanger (Olswanger Literary), 8 deals. Website
Steven Malk (Writers House), 7 deals. Website
Paul Rodeen (Rodeen Literary Management), 7 deals. Website
Caryn Wiseman (Andrea Brown Literary Agency), 7 deals. Website

Monday, August 17, 2015

Dispatch #40: The Case of
the Drowning Lounge Chair

by Lupe Fernandez

Sunday, I witnessed two teenage girls dunking a white pool lounge chair into our community swimming pool. I told my wife. She went to the window and admonished the girls for their actions. The girls swore at my wife and fled the scene. My wife and I tracked him down - they lived in the neighborhood - and told their parents about the dunking. The girls were upset at being caught and attempted to rationalize their actions. After telling the parents what we witnessed, we left them to deal with their kids.

So I started thinking...

Three alternate futures for these two girls.

Rainy April 2016. .
Blbom: I saw crazy lady who chased me last summer.
Brnt: LMAO.
Blbom: I know, huh. The creepy guy who kept saying "I saw you" wasn't there.
Brnt: LOL. 
Blbom: Right? Just wanted to see if the chair floated.
Brnt: :(
Blbom:What if some kid was drowning and I needed a flotation device in a hurry? Somebody could die. We did them a favor.
Brnt: :)
Blbom:We should get an award or something.
Brnt: ~~^~
Blbom: Totally going the Chaz's pool party.
Brnt: __/
Blbom: Yeah, let's dump all his chairs in the pool.

“My mom acted like a drowned a baby or something.” I smear back charcoal under my eyes.

Brandy’s is too quiet. With the lynch mob at her door, Brandy’s Dad told her “You’re done.” She’s pissed.

We sweat in our black yoga pants and sweatshirts, but we’ll be more camouflaged at night. Mom hid the pool key in the Lavender jar, as if I wouldn’t find it. My brother wanted to come with us back to the pool; no way. He’s all “you can’t call my sister an asshole.” We need stealth.

I unlocked the pool gate. “I bet you a billion dollar’s there’s nothing wrong with that stupid chair.”

Brandy shoves a fistful of Chocolate Espresso Yummy drops into her mouth. “Which one is it?” We stay away from the lit pool and circle around the gazebo. I touch the second chair from the left; my fingers slide along the damp back strap. “See. Fine.” I touch the second strap from the top. It feels weird. Stiff and rough instead of the slick and bendy. “We should drag it home and show my mom it’s fine. That’s why their pool chairs.” The second strap breaks loose from the chair frame and hits the concrete. “Shit.”

Brandy picks it up. The cream color smears off in her fingers. The strip looks metallic and sparkled in the pool light.

“What is this?” I say.

Brandy traces a name engraved on the metal strip: Bell Laboratories. “Doesn’t your Dad work there?”

Bright white lights from like a thousand cars slam our eyes. A man’s voice echoes around the pool area.

“Stay where you are! This is the FBI.”

Lee Nu peers out the flaky curtains at the Spanish tile roof house cross the walkway. He savors Brandy’s message, running his dry tongue along his lips, feeling a tingle running up his legs. “I show you what you want,” she had written. Lee Nu imagined her boobs under her blouse and shivered.

“Hurt them.”

She left the method up to him. Something about throwing stuff in the swimming pool and not getting a car. He hears music from the house across the walkway. They’re getting ready to barbecue. He loosened the propane valve on the fat tank under the barbecue. “The creepy guy” -Brandy called him – does the barbecue. He’s going to get a face full of flame, crisping his hair and Lee Nu will lay his face between a girl’s tits.

He fingers the curtain to see the house. Shouting. Plates clashing. The front door opens.

Here we go. He rubs his pants. One of the daughters steps out of the house. She carries an aluminum tray.

“Why don’t we wait ‘till he gets home?” she says.

The long-haired daughter sets down the tray on the barbecue stand.

Lee Nu raises his fist to bang on the window, to warn her. Instead he taps the glass. No, don’t. Don’t.

The daughter lifts the lip, waves the black fire-starter wane over the burner. She shouts back to the house. “There’s too much oil in …” Flick. Whoosh!

A ball of blue and orange flame balloons out and blasts the daughter’s head. She screams. The tray of red meat splatters on the concrete patio.

The scream. The scream. He can’t get it out of his head. A fire truck and an ambulance showed up. After they all left, he opened the door and vomited from the stink of burnt hair.

It wasn’t supposed to be her. It wasn’t. Stupid creepy guy. He always barbecues.

In the message, Lee Nu hears Brandy's panic. “Oh God! What’ve you done?”

Sometimes a mistake is a joke ten years later. Sometimes it lasts a life time.

Monday, August 10, 2015

It's A Girl Thing!

It's A Girl Thing!
by Hilde García

The SCBWI  Los Angeles Conference was, as always, astounding. I leave with enough inspiration to last me all year.  Key note after key note of incredible speakers, all thoroughly accessible and kindred spirits.  Exceptional break out sessions where you can really take note of skills that will hone your craft and get you one step closer to publication.

This year, one key note hit a chord louder than the others.  Shannon Hale, author of the Ever After High series, The Goose Girl, and the Princess Academy books, shook my world.  Her talk was titled, Opening Up the Clubhouse: Boys, Girls, and Genderless Books.

At the beginning of her talk, she asks, "Are you giving books about girls to boys?"  And that resonated with me.  

"Novels," she continued, "yield empathy.  The most important common denominator is the human heart."

Women's equality fought a long and hard battle to get "permission" to enter the clubhouse.  But have you noticed? We left the boys out of ours. And we have done it without realizing it.

We encourage girls to read. We hope that boys will.  We see a title and assume one gender will like it because it is a "boy" book or it's a "girl book."  She joked about how if she had known the problems the title Princess Academy would cause her, she might have chosen something else.  

Truth be told, when a 4th-6th grade boy sees the title Princess Academy, they run.  They bolt. There is no way they will be caught dead reading a "girl book."

Why let the title stop you?  If a girl reads a book about a boy who is a wizard, no one bats an eye.  If a girl picks up Percy Jackson and reads it cover to cover, over and over again, good for her!  And why not? The characters are electric and exciting- both boy and girl characters- in the series.  You fall in love with the story and it's hero or heroines, whether you are a boy or a girl.

And there are a million titles that fit that category- Old Yeller, the Hank Zipzer series, Looking for Alaska, etc., all have a boy at the center of the story and are wildly read by girls.

But what about Catherine Called Birdy? Or Pandora's Box? The Goddess Girls, The Beef Princess of Practical County, The Practical County Drama Queen? The Princess Academy?  Will a boy pick those up?  The main character is a girl. And the titles are full of words like princess, queen, and goddess.  

Most boys will not.                                                                                                    
I hold out hope that we can change that. And as a teacher, I am going to make it my mission this year, more than I have done in the past.

Shannon shared with us that are a recent school visit, they actually only brought her the females students and told the boys that it wasn't for them.  And one little boy, stayed after everyone left, to get his books signed, because as it turned out, he was a huge fan, but he didn't want anyone to know.

That is simply sad.

The main point is that if we want boys to grow up to be men who have empathy, the boys need to read stories about girls, just like girls read stories about boys.  All children need novels of all kinds to nurture empathy towards all humans.

As we drove home from the conference, I told my son about a story he should read and not to worry about the title. 
My daughter scooped it up first, and read it in two hours flat. Then Sam picked it up and you could hear him cracking up on the couch.  

"Hey Victoria," he would call out to his sister, "what'd you think of this part or that part?"  And the two of them would simply laugh until tears surfaced!

Sam couldn't care less about the title. He thought the story was excellent.  And he has also read all of the Pandora and Goddess Girl books and is an avid fan of Anne of Green Gables.  We, as a family, just finished watching the Avonlea Series that Disney created back in the 90's.  Season seven was bittersweet and heart wrenching. My husband and daughter and I were in tears, and so was Sam. And I thought, there is a boy, who will grow up to be a man who empathizes, like his dad.  
"Mom, it's so sad," he says to me with such tears in his eyes. He realized while watching that life sometimes hits you with tough blows illustrated so poignantly in the series.  He understood empathy and he loves all the characters, whether they are girls or boys.

I told Shannon, right after she spoke, that her speech resonated with me deeply. 

We had a brief exchange of mom moments and I told her about my background and how I had been left out of the clubhouse too.

She said to me, "We need your voice." And then grabbed my hand and gave it a squeeze.

Cubans love to ensure gender specific roles.  I fought hard to break those chains. But now, my fight is harder. I have to help my son understand "girls," He has to understand their hearts. 

Now, in 2015, we have to make it about the story and not about the gender. When the story speaks to the human heart, it knows nothing except that which makes the heart sing doesn't come in any type of body or gender.  It's bigger than that.

Someone asked Shannon, "Where is the Judy Blume for boys?"  Her answer, "Judy Blume is the Judy Blume for boys."

What titles would you add to this post that would make most boys run, but if they read the story, they'd be hooked?

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Dread Synopsis


 By Susan J Berger

I break out in a cold sweat when I hear the word synopsis. It reminds me of those horrible book reports I had to write in school. Images of How I spent My Summer Vacation and other hideous teacher subjects float behind my eyelids.

But a synopsis is part of the writers tool box. I wanted a better idea of what I should be writing. I approached the great reference desk in the sky - Google and I found help. Wonderful help. The links will give you the full posts from which I've quoted.

This is from Panic Free Synopsis by Jan Fields


Synopsis must be one of the most under-explained issues in children's writing. From a tall stack of writing books, I found nearly nothing on writing the synopsis. Finally, I spotted a definition in Book Markets for Children's Writers 2006: "A clear, brief description of the fiction or nonfiction project proposed, conveying the essence of the entire idea. A synopsis may be one or several paragraphs on the entire books, or it may be written in chapter-by-chapter format. Synopses should also convey a sense of your writing style without getting wordy."

Jan goes on to give some excellent ideas of what to include. For a children's book she suggests less is more. Limit synopsis to three pages or under.


Anatomy of a Children's Book Synopsis by Cynthea Liu

Points to remember:
The synopsis should give the reader a clear idea of what happens in the story (no cliffhangers)
It should also be INTERESTING TO READ.
It focuses on the main characters and the driving plot. It touches on minor characters and subplots AS THEY RELATE TO THE DRIVING PLOT.

Parts of a synopsis
Beginning – paragraph one
Middle – paragraphs two-three-four
End – paragraph five.

Cynthea gives good examples of beginning, middle and end.

Lou Treleaven in How to Write a Synopsis suggests that a good length is one page (I love this.)

When to write it

Should you write your synopsis before or after your manuscript? It depends on your method of planning. If you prefer to plot your novel first before writing, there is much to be said for coming up with a synopsis first which you can use as a working plan. It may need revision at the end to account for unexpected events but the basics will be there. Most writers, however, tackle the synopsis at the end, which is probably why it becomes so dreaded a task. Your precious manuscript is complete and ready to go out into the world, and now you have to squeeze all the magic out of it and bash out the main points in a page of dry, academic prose when all you want to do is get the thing out there and move on to the dizzy excitement of planning a new book. Tough! It’s got to be done.

Christy Burne gives Four secrets and a "before and after "example of her own.

1) Write your synopsis like you write your novel.
If you write in a sassy voice, use that same sassy voice in your synopsis. If your book is funny, use humour in your synopsis. And if you’ve crammed 10 tonnes of back story into the first sentence, cut it out and start again (just like writing a novel ;-))

2) Write your synopsis, then close the file for a week or three.
Just like your novel draft, a synopsis needs time to breathe. After three weeks of working on something else, you’ll see new mistakes and new room for improvement.

I like her examples and her voice. Worth clicking on..

Things to remember
Synopsis Format
In the upper left hand corner you should have the following info:
Synopsis of "Title here" Genre:.................Word count: By__________ Single space your synopsis. 
(Synopses longer than one page should be double-spaced.) Its paragraphs are usually indented, with no spaces between paragraphs. You do not use a cover page or any fancy headings or fonts.
Synopsis Checklist:
Does the opening paragraph have a hook to keep the reader reading?
Are your main characters' conflicts clearly defined? 
Are your characters sympathetic? Surely this only applies to the hero(s)?
Can the reader relate to them and worry about them?
Have you avoided all grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes?

Have you hit on the major scenes, the major plot points of your book? Did you resolve all important conflicts? Did you use present tense?

Synopsis Examples:

Here's a link to the synopsis of The Way Way Back from Writer's Digest.
Examples of synopses from Miss Snark's Crapometer blog posts

I hope this helps.  I'm off to re-write my synopsis. Again. Happy writing.