Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Pikes Peak Wrap Up

PPWC started for me the moment I arrived at noon on Friday. I had signed up for "Read and Critique 1-2-3." Writers submitted the first page of a novel and three industry professionals gave their opinions on what worked, what didn't work and whether they would keep reading.

Nathan Bransford from Curtis Brown, Kate Harrison from Dial Books and author Bill Brooks were the panelists in my session. I wish I had recorded their comments so I could bask in their warm glow on days that I lack confidence. After my heart stopped racing and I began to breathe again, I managed to scribble down a bit of what they said:

  • Nathan said it was subtle and well-written.

  • Kate said it had a good voice, without being too sassy.
    It gave a good sense of growing older and not wanting to do everything with parents without being over the top.

  • Bill said he liked it and would read more.

    The page they read was from my current WIP, Wish You Weren't. You can read the first chapter on my website.

    Next I went to "Writing for Magazines" which was taught by Wendy Burt-Thomas. She had so much great information to share and she was fun to listen to. Since I do a lot of freelance writing, I took pages of notes in this workshop. I could have listened to her all day.

    My last workshop on Friday was "Speed Pitching." This was an awesome class. They had seven authors at tables on opposite sides of a large room. Those of us who wanted to pitch got in line and when it was our turn, sat in front of the author of our choice and made our pitches. If we wanted to, we could get in line and pitch another person, over and over until we felt comfortable.

    What I learned from "Speed Pitching" is that while you have to know your pitch and be able to say it naturally, the actual pitch lasts like a minute. The rest of the time is for asking questions and getting to know the person you're pitching. And practice makes perfect. The more times I said it, the shorter and more concise it got.

    So for me, Friday alone was worth the price of admission.

    Saturday I made my pitch (and got a request for a full! YAY!) and sat in on sessions with publishers and agents. I'll leave you with these comments that were echoed throughout the weekend:

  • I really want to fall in love with the voice. It's all about voice.

  • Think about what is popular, what you enjoy reading, and find a
    different way to tell it.

  • Find the emotion in the story so that readers have an emotional response.

  • Breathe. Never stop writing.
  • Awards and Challenges

    So much to write about today!

    First of all, I want to congratulate Val Hobbs, who found out yesterday that her book Sheep was chosen as this year's California Young Reader Medal winner in the Intermediate category. Yay! Sheep is a great book, Val's a great writer and teacher and I'm so excited for her! (Read more about her in this post from last month.)

    I talk a lot about writing novels, but I know quite a few PB writers are out there as well. If you haven't heard of the upcoming NaPiBoWriWee (trust me, I had nothing to do with the name), you should really check out this site. It's a challenge for PB authors to write 7 books in 7 days starting on May 1. Corey, Rena, are you in?

    Finally, for any writer who has experienced rejection, here's a post from an editor that you just have to read. How I Read Submissions might ease a little of the sting of rejection that comes with no explanation.

    A lot of you have been asking for more details about PPWC, so later today or tomorrow morning I'll be posting about that.

    Monday, April 27, 2009

    Not Late Enough

    My husband would tell you that I'm late for everything. That is, of course, a lie. I just try to squeeze as much as I possibly can into every minute. And sometimes that puts me a little on the back side of on time.

    So you can understand how proud I was to arrive at Denver International Airport more than two hours before my plane was scheduled to leave. I went through security, found a plug that worked and started catching up on all the blogs I hadn't visited while I was at the conference. Did I mention DIA has free wireless internet? LOVE that!

    The flight was scheduled to leave at 9:05. At 8:35 it occurred to me that my part of the concourse was really quiet. No passengers were waiting. No ticketing agent was at the desk. I pulled out my boarding pass and realized that I was supposed to be at B79, not B29.

    If any of you are familiar with DIA, you know how long the B concourse is. Am I exaggerating when I say it's at least a mile from one end to the other?

    I flew down that concourse in record time, arrived at the gate and found a line. I did NOT want to stand in line to talk to a desk agent. What if they'd already loaded the plane? Out of breath with my heart in my throat, I looked up at the digital display of outgoing flights. Santa Barbara was not listed. Now I was really worried.

    At 8:55 I finally get to the front of the line. The Santa Barbara flight has been moved. Down an elevator and another quarter mile to gate B85.

    I won't repeat the expletives that came out of my mouth at that point. Of course, when I arrived at B85, there was another line. And when I looked at the display, again, Santa Barbara was not on the list.

    This time I took cuts. I'm sorry. I didn't arrive at the airport two hours early only to miss my flight!

    Of course, as it turns out, I was still early. The flight had been delayed until 10:15. And then it was delayed again. Let's just say that by the time I crawled into bed, it was 1:30 a.m. here, 2:30 a.m. in Colorado.

    If this is what happens when you're early, I'm going back to being late.

    Sunday, April 26, 2009

    Pikes Peak Rocks!

    It's been a while since I've been to a conference, but I have to say I'm really liking this one!

    The speakers are fabulous. The food is great (of course, I'm only eating the vegetarian selections). Other writers are so supportive. And my pitch went well. Really well. I'll be sending out a full manuscript when I get home :^)

    One of the things that surprised me the most was the laid back atmosphere at the luncheons and dinners. When you enter the dining room, round tables are set up with the name of each presenter. You could walk up to any table and sit where you chose. So if you wanted to meet an agent from Curtis Brown like Nathan Bransford or an editor like Rose Hilliard from St. Martin's Press, you could sit right next to them at a meal.

    I was lucky enough to sit by Kate Harrison from Dial Books the first night and we had a great conversation. I really appreciated being able to talk to her in such a relaxed setting. (You'll be hearing more from her in an upcoming blog.) It was also fun to meet fellow blogger Yat-Yee, and go to a MG/YA writer party with her (she's got the photos to prove it!).

    Colorado has a great writing community. The people who run this conference are so organized. Pam, Karen, Dawn - you guys are awesome! I've been very impressed. And so glad I came!

    Wednesday, April 22, 2009

    Voice and Influence

    Yesterday a friend and I were talking about our writing. She made the comment that when she was working on her novel, she wouldn't let herself read because she didn't want to start sounding like someone else.

    I was kind of surprised to hear that. I mean, I can't go for more than a few days without reading a book. And I tend to feel so personally about my characters that I can't imagine them taking on someone else's voice.

    But I do remember reading Eragon and being really annoyed that he had the main character communicate with the dragon in his head. I had written a book with a girl main character who spoke to her dragon telepathically. And I wrote it long before Paolini's books hit the shelves. (Mine will remain on the shelf, too. It was one of THOSE kinds of books!)

    Nathan Bransford pointed out yesterday that there are very few original ideas out there. Which basically means that as writers, we have to find unique ways to tell similar stories. As agents and editors would say, you need to have a compelling voice.

    So here's my question. How much are we influenced by the stories we've already heard? And how much are we influenced by how they are told? If there's really nothing new under the sun, what can we do to make our stories stand out?

    Okay, so that was actually three questions. Anybody have the answers?

    Monday, April 20, 2009

    Website Issues Resolved?

    Thanks to all of you who visited my website yesterday and alerted me to the problem with the navigation buttons. I think I solved the problem, so would you do me a huge favor and go back to see if you can get past the opening page now?

    This was only a problem for people using Internet Explorer, but now everyone should be able to navigate the site no matter what program they use.

    Crossing my fingers, toes, and other body parts :^)

    Thank you!

    My Beautiful (I hope!) Obsession

    To say that I've been obsessed would be a gross understatement.

    I've pushed aside sleep, exercise, folding laundry (I really cried over that one) and reading (!!) because of my enthusiasm. And for what, you ask?

    A website. My website.

    Back in the days when the internet was young, websites were simple and images took forever to download, I taught myself HTML. I have a background in graphic design and learning this new technology was fun for me.

    But simple HTML was soon crowded out by CSS, XHTML, Flash, and other bells and whistles that made my head spin. I backed away and left web design to others more technologically inclined than me.

    Last week after we got home from Yosemite, I decided that I wanted to create a web site for myself, complete with sample chapters and a bio *shudder*. I knew what I wanted the site to do. I just had to figure out the code to make it work that way.

    And with the exception of a few ticks which I am NOT going to point out, I did. I think.

    Have a look and tell me what YOU think. Is it too much? Not enough? Easy to navigate or confusing? Boring? Ugly? Well done?

    Tell me! Because I want to get it right...whatever that means...

    Friday, April 17, 2009

    What I Want to Become

    A very wise author gave me some advice last year.

    "Surround yourself by what you want to become," she told me.

    I wasn't really sure how I was supposed to do that. Stalk other children's writers? Randomly call them up and introduce myself?

    She recommended that I join SCBWI, so I did. I also started to blog and took a writing class. I finished editing my novel, started querying and found an editor in New York who requested the full manuscript. I attended critiquenics and writer's day events. I entered a contest and won third place.

    And now I realize that I've done it. I've surrounded myself by an amazing group of people I didn't know a year ago. I've met some wonderful authors, both in person and through the internet. And I've pushed myself closer to my goal, so close that I can smell the ink on the presses!

    I may not have a published book yet, but I honestly believe it's only a matter of time.

    Thank you, Mary. I'll keep you posted :^)

    Thursday, April 16, 2009

    To my Blogging Friends

    Winning isn't everything, but it sure is nice.

    This must be my month for awards, because Lady Glamis was kind enough to award my blog for "transmitting cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values every day." Wow. I'm touched and amazed.

    The rules for this award are to:
    Accept and post the award on your blog
    Link to the person from whom you received it
    Pass the award to 15 other blogs that are worthy of this acknowledgment
    Let them know they’ve been chosen for this award

    So, this is hard because I am impressed by so many people, but here are the blogs I find myself returning to on a regular basis:

    The Taming of The Muse
    - Mary was the first writer to encourage me and her advice has been so valuable.

    Becky Levine - She was my first online friend and she helped me realize that responding to comments offers a wonderful two-way communication with readers.

    The Innocent Flower - Right back at you, Glam - your posts are always great.

    The Things We Carried - Meredith can take mundane details and turn them into something beautiful. Simply amazing writing.

    Hip Writer Mama - Vivian always inspires me.

    Mother Reader - She taught me not to be afraid of commenting.

    Lindsay Leavitt - Her breezy style taught me not to take myself too seriously.

    Short Stuff - Sarah followed my blog before I knew what a follower was! Thanks for that vote of confidence and for your thought provoking posts.

    Roots in Myth - PJ is smart, funny, and she always has great book recommendations.

    Beth Kephart Books - Always lovely to read. Beth's writing has a calming effect on me.

    Tara Maya's Tales - Educational, thought provoking and just plain fun.

    Jen Robinson's Book Page - Her passion for encouraging children's literacy is infectious. Plus she has great reviews and links!

    Nicola Morgan - Her writing is hilarious, but she also gives great advice to aspiring authors.

    Market My Words - Shelli has lots of interviews and tips to help writers get noticed.

    Christy's Creative Space - Great links, great book reviews, and just a fun blog to read.

    I also enjoy Suzanne's Question of the Day, Kelly Polark's enthusiastic blog, and so many others listed on the left. Keep writing -- I love you all!!

    Sunday, April 12, 2009

    Author Spotlight on: Valerie Hobbs

    Not everyone can be an overnight sensation. Valerie Hobbs published her first book after years of teaching. The debut earned her a PEN/Norma Klein award for "emerging voice of literary merit among American writers of children's fiction" and the American Library Association Best Book award. She has written 12 books in 14 years and received critical acclaim and numerous awards for most of them.

    I met Val earlier this year when I was lucky enough to take one of her writing classes. Her informal style, her excellent critiques and her generous praise make her a popular teacher. Two of her books release in paperback this spring: Sheep comes out at the end of this month and Defiance releases in May. A new book, The Last Best Days of Summer, comes out next spring.

    Val was gracious enough to talk to me about her writing career and offer some great insight for writers at any stage.

    Your first book, How Far Would You Have Gotten If I Hadn’t Called You Back?, was based on a real high school experience. Is that the only book based in reality or are there pieces of you in each book?

    There are pieces of me scattered everywhere! Mostly in Sonny's War where I reversed the ages of my brother and me, and Tender where I skewered my first husband. But the crow in Carolina Crow Girl was really my best friend in a time of trouble, and Jack in Sheep was a Border collie we had for a little while. I think I may be solving problems I couldn't solve in real life. It's a heck of a lot easier in fiction.

    You’ve written from the perspective of a guy, a girl, a dog…how hard is it to get inside the head of such vastly different characters?

    Well, since it's always me, not so hard. I just read an awful review of Sheep on a dog lover's blog that said Jack was too much like a lost child. Well, DUH.

    Did you expect Sheep to be as popular as it has been? What inspired that book?

    I didn't expect anything until I saw that great cover. Then I thought it might have a chance. Book jackets are way more important than I ever thought--and you usually don't get a say about them, which is really disappointing sometimes. Jack (my husband) and I had a homeless (we thought) Border collie for three weeks but ended up having to give it back to its irresponsible owner, which was sad. I couldn't stop thinking about what might have happened to that dog.

    You didn't start writing in earnest until later in life. What made you decide to start writing?

    I wrote short stories for about 15 years. Never thought I could write more than 10 pages. But the story within the story that ended up becoming How Far Would You Have Gotten If I Hadn't Called You Back? sticks to me to this day like cat hair. I'm still writing it out, writing and writing it out.

    How did you get your foot in the door? Did you start with an agent?

    I sent 10 queries along with a short synopsis and 3 chapters to agents in California, figuring a novel with a CA setting would do best with one of them. Barbara Markowitz in LA loved the chapters, asked for the novel and eventually found Richard Jackson for me. He's a brilliant editor, now retired. I was really lucky.

    You taught long before you were published, and you still teach writing classes and workshops. What were some of the other jobs you had before you became a full-time writer?

    Waitress, laundry folder, high school teacher, waitress, waitress. . .

    I know you’re not one to write every single day, but you’ve managed to put out almost a book a year since 1995. What is your writing schedule like?

    Binge and purge. Then starvation for several months. Something like that. I cannot write unless I have something to say. A blank screen makes me want to clean toilets.

    What do you think is the most important thing for new writers to learn?

    I just found this quote by the late Muriel Spark about writing novels: "You are writing a letter to a friend. Write privately, not publicly; without fear or timidity, right to the end of the letter, as if it were never going to be published." I think this is absolutely brilliant. I have it taped to my computer. I may have it tattooed onto my forehead.

    Many of us who are pre-published think you’ve got it made once your book is on the shelves. What are some of the publishing challenges you face as an established writer?

    Love that word "challenge", Sherrie. The biggest challenge for me is not to write for the market. Every time I try, I blow it. If I don't write from the heart, something I feel and know and believe in, it's caca.

    Reviews are another "challenge". It's like you've sent your child to a beauty contest and she doesn't win. She doesn't even make the top ten. Or the top 100. All these ugly little vampires get to win. Don't get me started!

    What is your favorite book? Which one was the most difficult to write? Why?

    Defiance was the most difficult to write because I didn't know how to get Toby to want to keep living. I got really stuck in the "muddled middle". Pearl and Blossom were gifts from the gods. That happens sometimes. It's what makes this whole business so magical.

    What are you reading right now?

    Olive Kitteredge by Elizabeth Strout who wrote Amy and Isabelle, one of my all-time favorite "grown ups" book. I get to meet her next week at a luncheon and I want to be ready! Also The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. Talk about a challenge! If you can evoke sympathy for a ceramic rabbit, you are probably God.

    You can learn more about Val at her website:

    Friday, April 10, 2009

    I've got a Secret...

    Pikes Peak Writers posted the winners and finalists for this year's contest. I write MG novels and I noticed something funny about all three winners for this age group (8-12) -- we all have "Secret" in the title! Hmmm...

    Here's hoping that secrets appeal to MG readers, agents and editors...

    What Do You Mean There's No Internet Access??

    Yosemite was a wonderful getaway. We hiked to two different waterfalls, got snowed in on Wednesday (who knew you could get 8 inches of snow in April??!!) and had a fabulous time reading, writing, playing Yahtzee and roasting marshmallows.

    My son was shocked to discover that our cabin did not provide internet access. He couldn't believe that people (in America especially!) live without the internet. Ha! When I was his age we still had to get up and walk to the tv to change channels. Computers took up entire rooms and cell phones didn't exist. I'm still amazed by how much technology has changed in my short lifetime. In the 10 years since I became aware of the internet it has advanced in leaps and bounds. Remember dial up? And waiting forever for images to download?

    My favorite thing about the internet is being able to research any given topic almost instantly. If I'm looking for information about presidents or faeries, publishers or agents, I know can find answers on the internet. And while it might not always be accurate, at least it's a good staring place.

    I found this in my email when I got home. Fourteen days to go and I'm getting more comfortable with my pitch. It doesn't always come out exactly the same way when I say it, but the important elements are there and hopefully my enthusiasm shines through. My book on pitching recommends thinking in terms of sound bytes, or pretending that I'm being interviewed on a television show. I had fun pretending I was being asked questions and figuring out my responses. The practice also helped me solidify the most important points for my pitch. And the internet has helped me research the people I'm going to be pitching.

    Drew's do people live without the internet?

    Sunday, April 5, 2009

    Books (and laptop) for Yosemite

    Don't you love to get a package in the mail? It's especially fun when you don't even remember what you ordered. (This happens more often than I'd like to admit!)

    On Saturday I got a box and the return label gave no clues. I opened it up and found three writing books! I'd ordered them from Writer's Digest when they had a sale.

    It's Spring Break for my kids and we're headed up to Yosemite early Monday morning so I'm thrilled to have some great reading to take along. And should inspiration hit: have laptop, will travel. Yes, I know it's sick. I'm going to enjoy the great outdoors with my computer in tow.

    Tell me I'm not the only one...

    Saturday, April 4, 2009

    Growing up Grimm

    I love watching my children grow through each stage of their life, and each year I think, wow, this is the best age!

    Well, today, I'm thinking now is the best, simply because of things we're able to share together. I started reading book 1 of "The Sisters Grimm" to them and what a blast! I'd read the book before on my own, but it's such a treat to read to my kids. The book appeals to both of them on different levels, they both get what's happening and why, and the story is fun so they laugh a lot. There's enough action to keep my son interested, but it isn't too violent for my six-year-old.

    This morning we're off to play piano at the retirement home. This afternoon we might go to the beach or the lake. And tonight we'll be snuggling up to read more about Daphne and Sabrina Grimm and their adventures in Ferryport Landing.

    Happy weekend to you all!

    Wednesday, April 1, 2009

    Fear of the Pitch

    It's been a rough five days.

    Between the fever (103.9), chills, and relentless pain (even my eyelids hurt!), I didn't have any desire to be near the computer. Yeah, it was pretty miserable.

    But laying in bed gave me a lot of time to think about something that has terrified me ever since I heard the word: my pitch.

    I've combed a lot of websites looking for tips on pitching. Literary agent Kristin Nelson has a Blog Pitch Workshop that rocks. Another agent, Rachelle Gardner, has a great series called The Elevator Pitch on her website. And Christy Evers has an interview with Sarah Shumway, an editor at Dutton/Penguin on the importance of the pitch.

    So I've written three different versions of my pitch: one for an actual pitch session, one for a casual encounter, and a two-sentence summary. I've worked on them for so long you'd think I'd have them memorized. But I can guarantee you they're not. Because every time someone asks me what "Secret of Undine" is about, I break out into a sweat, stumble all over myself, and generally sound like a complete idiot.

    I'm not an idiot. I know my story inside and out. So why can't I sell it when I'm asked such a simple question? The Pikes Peak Conference is in 23 days and I'm supposed to have my pitch down pat by then...looks like me and the mirror are going to have some serious face time.

    Or maybe I can just hire someone to go and do it for me...?
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