Saturday, November 29, 2008

Publishing Nightmare?

I have to pass this along, because I think it conveys two important messages:

1. The publishing industry is a complex machine, and we (writers and book lovers) need to understand how it works.
2. Buy books, if you want to keep books alive!

I'm buying books for everyone on my Christmas list this year, unless I'm donating to a charity in their name.

We only have recourse to the Big Box Booksellers here in our town, but that's okay. They'll order just about anything that's in print. I buy a lot of fiction, because I love the feel of a book in my hands, and because I re-read all the time. So while I love the library, I plan to buy books this holiday.

Here's the link to a great blog:

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Creative Breakthroughs

So I was working on my novel revision (the one for Puffin), and in a conversation with my agent, Alyssa, I had what my middle grade character Barty (from the other novel in progress) would call a "lightbulb moment". Yes, yes, I know all about show, don't tell, but I still hadn't managed to control my urge to talk, talk, talk. She pointed out that I tended to begin all my chapters with internal musings.

Hah! She was right. I felt stupid and elated at the same time. Now, this is something I can fix, and by doing it, I've begun discovering all the other places where my narrative tends to bog down and move too slowly.

Now, another issue altogether. I want to brag about my critique partner, Kathy Whitehead. Her new picture book from Penguin, Art From Her Heart, is getting lots of press and rave reviews. I'm so proud of her! You can find her book by checking her website from my list at right...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

National Book Awards

We all know by now that our beloved Kathi Appelt may not have won the NBA top award, but she has won our hearts! The Underneath is a masterpiece of fiction, completely transporting and compelling. I found it as rich as any fantasy - like the books that I loved as a child. Publisher's Weekly interviewer John Sellers asked about one tiny image (only one of many rich images) in the novel:

"Appelt was asked about the significance of the crescent moon on the forehead of the kitten, Puck. “I used it to endow Puck with the magic of the moon,” she said, in keeping with the magical realism in The Underneath. “I think of the moon as a kind of watcher, watching over him and his sister.” "

Kathi's is the kind of writing I aspire to. Complex, layered, nuanced, rhythmic. The Underneath will resonate for years.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Yes, I Know...

Once again, the all-consuming life has taken over. But...I submitted packet 4 today to Sarah, so I have no excuse now but to post.

SCBWI Brazos Valley held its annual conference this weekend, and we had the best faculty possible. Cynthia Leitich Smith (author most recently of the hilarious and gruesomely intriguing Tantalize) and her husband Greg were there, along with Kathi Appelt (National Book Award finalist for The Underneath) and her agent Emily Van Beek, and Kim Griswell, Editor from Highlights. All of our presenters were outstanding. It was especially exciting to have Kathi, as the NBA announcement is this Wednesday, and we are crossing fingers!

You can see photos of our event at Cynthia's blog (just ignore the awful one of me...)

I do have a piece here that will also appear in our little newsletter, but I think might be helpful at large:

At our conference this past weekend, we ended with a “first pages” analysis. Randomly chosen first pages were read aloud to the audience and panel members (our invited speakers and critiquers), and each speaker gave a flash reaction. That is, was the first page compelling enough to entice an editor to read on?

This analysis went hand-in-hand with Sherry Garland’s great presentation on “Grand Openings”, in which Sherry outlined some of the best ways to open a story.

At the end of the conference, some in the audience expressed concern that the responses to the first pages were overwhelmingly negative, to which Kim Griswell answered, “Yes, the market is tough, and what you’re hearing is that your opening must be terrific.”

I reflected later that I heard a slightly different message. I heard lots of “Yes, I would be intrigued enough to read on”. I also heard that different aspects of the openings were handled well – some had great characters, some excellent description, others intriguing plot ideas or good voice.

What does this mean for us writers? First, I think we tend to hear negative comments before we hear positives. Maybe that harks back to our childhoods, when we tended to hear “no” before “yes”! But more importantly, I think the market is tough, and it pays for all of us to recognize that the first pages of our novels or picture books need to be honed and polished.

Personally, I spend more time on my first page than I do on any other aspect of my writing. I’ve rewritten my first pages dozens of times, and shared them with my critique partners until they get a “wow”. We live in an era of snap judgements. Hooking your reader on the first page is the equivalent of grabbing the TV viewer with remote control in hand: you’ve got seconds, if you’re lucky.

I’m headed back to my work in progress, to rethink my first page. It won’t be the last time I rewrite it, but the attention I place there will be well worth the outcome – an opening that promises more great stuff to come.