Teaching and Writing

Hi Everyone! We know we have not been around as much as usual these days, and we miss posting about things going on in our lives and yours like The Minimalist Challenge (update coming soon!) and Vacations (more on this next sumer!). So, where have we been? You might remember that we started a sister blog with a writing theme called NerdyChicksWrite.com and over there we hosted the first ever Kidlit Summer School where twenty-four authors gave writing advice on one theme: character development. The good news is that it was more successful than we anticipated, and was even covered in Publisher’s Weekly. The bad news is that it took WAY more time than we thought to run it!

Read the Publisher's Weekly article about Kidlit Summer School HERE or visit the BLOG to see posts on character.

Read the Publisher’s Weekly article about Kidlit Summer School HERE or visit the BLOG to see posts on character.

Still, we loved the experience, especially since writing and teaching are two of our favorite things. Sudipta talks about this in a guest post over on Tara Lazar’s blog: How Teaching Makes You Better at DOING. (She’s doing a giveaway too until the 16th. Check it out!) And Kami teaches a little about writing this week on the Writer’s Digest blog. (Another giveaway too!) Now we’re embracing teaching writing on a new level with Kidlit Writing School. If you are interested in writing a novel or a picture book, check out these courses. There is a free webinar on Monday, open to anyone, whether or not you take the courses! And we have sign-up specials running until September 20. Classes start October 6. These include critiques from Sudipta and I as well as a chance to win a critique from agent Rachel Orr. You can read all of the details HERE on our home page.

Nerdy Chicks Logo with CIRCLE - TASSEL - WHITE CIRCLE (transparent)

Here is a little more about the classes:

Picture Book A to Z’s: Plotting in Picture Books: The ability to craft a strong picture book plot is one of the factors that separates unpublished writers from those who consistently sign publishing contracts to see their work in print. This course will teach you the essentials of creating compelling plots, starting with Arcs, Beginnings, and Climaxes — then literally taking you through the alphabet. Each topic will be explored in depth, both in the lessons and in the discussion forums and webinars. The writing exercises that are a part of of the course are designed to help you apply the lessons to your own writing seamlessly and immediately. By the end of the course, you will never look at plotting the same way again!

Crafting the Kidlit Novel ​One Bite at a Time: How Writing a Novel is Like Eating a T-Rex and Other Things That Bite Back With Children’s Authors Kami Kinard and Rebecca Petruck :In today’s competitive market, a manuscript must be compelling, demonstrate deep knowledge of the category, and be of highest quality in order to attract an editor. This course will teach you how to dig deep into what your novel is truly about with specific exercises designed to bypass the superficial ideas and get to the heart of story. Further lessons will help you create main and secondary characters readers will feel passionate about; structure your plot to build maximum tension; practice the craft of writing itself; and coach you on how to write to the end. It’s a lot of ground to cover in one month, but fun lessons, practical exercises that apply to your own writing, forum discussions with your peers, and weekly webinars will keep your energy high as you craft your kidlit novel. We’ll wrap up the course with a discussion of today’s kidlit market and where we think your projects might fit into it.

Now that Summer School is over, we’ll be back with our regular blogging too. Coming next week: Back to school advice from our blog guests! See you soon!

Picture Books, Problems, and the Quotable Yoda

I’m an author, and one who mainly writes picture books. Every day, when I sit down at my computer to work, I try to think of new picture book ideas to work on.

That’s when I realize I have a problem. A real problem. A panic-worthy problem.

I don’t have anything to write about!

(See what I mean about a problem?)

Luckily, my college experience beat something into my brain that has served me well, even now when I do nothing at all with my college (or graduate) degree. It’s a simple rule of life, applicable to anything, apropos to everything. Even writing picture books.

All problems have solutions.

To find a solution as a scientist, I was taught to find the right protocol and to rely only on things that are true. And where I went to school, there was quite a bit of Yoda-quoting as well (well for it – I will tie it in, I promise!). So that’s what we are going to talk about today in this post: how to solve the problem of writing a new story.

Finding the right protocol

When I was a scientist, I dealt with proven techniques and tested procedures. When I became a writer, I quickly realized that I was most effective – and most efficient – when I used proven techniques and tested procedures.

I’m not trying to imply that writing a picture book is like following a recipe. The magic that happens when you write a publishable story is not something anyone can tell you about. What you can learn is how to write a technically correct narrative. The rest is fairy dust and rainbows.

But back to the protocol, I can certainly tell you that secret:

  • orangutangled coverLimit yourself to 500 words. I’m finding in today’s market, even 500 is considered long (the last picture book I sold had 22 words in it).
  • Write stories with a beginning, middle, and end. Young children need to be grounded in the reality of the world of your story before they can understand or appreciate it. So avoid the pitfall of jumping too quickly into the story. Remember, your story doesn’t take place on any old day – it happens on that day that the world became different. If you don’t tell the reader how things normally are (in that good story beginning), how will they understand the significance of the change? Similarly, young readers need to be satisfied at the conclusion of the story – the “happily ever after” moment, if you will – so you have to leave room for that.
  • Use no more than 10% of your word count for the beginning, 10% for the end, and 80% for the middle. As much as your readers need grounding and resolution, you don’t want to bog the story down with these things. Get to it, get it done, move on.
  • DDM coverMake use of the rule of three. Remember the Three Little Pigs and The Three Billy Goats Gruff? Those are the classic examples but most literature utilizes the rule of three in determining “how much plot” is necessary to be satisfying. So put your main character through at least three hurdles (more often, three failures and then a final success) over the course of your story.

Relying only on things that are true

Obviously, there is much, much more we could discuss, but that’s a lot for one blog post. So I’d like to shift gears and talk about truth.

The purpose of science is to expose the truth about the universe, to take something mysterious and make it less so. The purpose of literature is basically the same. So in all these scientific steps to writing that I take, my goal is to expose and convey a universal truth through character and through theme.

Truth in character is harder than you’d think. That’s because the picture book main character has to be true to the reader’s experience and to the author’s experience.

The temptation when creating a main character is to focus on the charismatic, the character’s talents, skills, and gifts. But a trick to keeping your character true is to balance the flair by imbuing him with flaws. Remember who your reader is: a child who probably feels on the wrong side of right most of the time. That child wants to be able to identify with the main character – and it is the flaws that make that possible.

Truth in theme is often what separates a good, publishable picture book manuscript from a fun romp. A lot of writers – even experienced ones – focus so much on creating compelling characters and crafting a gripping plot that they forget that the primary role of literature is to expose universal truths. Now, the scope of a picture book is obviously not the same as WAR AND PEACE, but we still need to deal with universal themes. Is your book about friendship? Family? Is it about finding your place in the world? About learning patience and perseverance? Whatever it is, make sure there is something more to the story than a bunch of punch lines. Experiencing the theme, seeing the truth – that’s what makes a book re-readable.

Putting it all together

Writing a good book can be a problem. But all problems have solutions. For me, the solution involves the steps I’ve outlined above.

Except…I left off a step. And it’s kind of an important one.

You have to find a way to put all the things above together in a logical way. And that’s where some of the art of what we do as authors comes into play.

Snoring Beauty, Sudipta Bardhan-QuallenAs much as I am a believer in following tried and true protocols, each of us has to find the formula that works for our story – one that allows the character to go on meaningful quest in a way that makes sense. To make it even more complex, it will likely be a different set of steps for each story. In essence, we reinvent the wheel every time.

So what do I hope you take from this post? Please know I’m not saying at all that a story can’t work with four failures before the main character solves the problem, or can’t be published at 700 words. You find what works for you, just as I’ve found what works for me. While all problems have solutions, your solution may be different from mine.

But at least you know now that there is a solution. And that’s what I hope you take away. Every day you sit down to write, no matter how problematic it is, there is a solution.

Which means it is not impossible.

And if it’s possible, it can be doable.

And if it is doable, well – remember the immortal words of Yoda: “Do or do not. There is no try.”

I hope you all choose “do.”

Add Poetry to Your Prose

SAMSUNG CSCApril was National Poetry Month, a fabulous celebration of one of my favorite genres of literature. Earlier this month, we celebrated on this blog with Spine Poems and a wonderful interview with Children’s Poet Amy VanDerwater. But now that the month has drawn to a close, we wanted to give you some ways to keep the lessons of National Poetry Month close to our (writer’s) hearts.

In honor of National Poetry Month, here are three poetic devices that all writers should consider adding to their author’s toolboxes:

  1. Meter. Basically, think rhythm, not rhyme (necessarily). Have you ever listened to a song that was so catchy that you couldn’t keep from tapping your feet?  Find ways to add that pulse to your prose. If you can get your reader so caught up in the cadence of your words, he or she won’t be able to put your book down.
  2. Onomatopoeia. Not only is that the most fun word in the world to say (and if you use it in your writing, you can ask people, “Did you notice all the onomatopoeia?” And that might be your only chance to use that word naturally in a sentence in a given day) but it is actually a very powerful technique to bring more of your reader’s senses into the scene.  Think of how much more powerful it is to use a well-placed crash, hic, achoo!, or BANG! Than simply saying, “All the dishes fell to the floor,” or “Right in the middle of my speech, I started hiccupping.”
  3. Alliteration. Did you notice above when I was extolling the virtues of meter, I used phrases like “pulse to your prose” and “caught up in the cadence”? The simple addition of alliteration makes the phrasing more musical, more lyrical – more poetic. When you’re searching for the perfect word to form your sentences, think about those words in relation to the others – and find the alliteration to elevate your writing.

We’ll see you next April for the next celebration of National Poetry Month!

PictureBy the way, in case you are interested in learning more about incorporating poetic techniques into your writing, please consider joining me for either my new online course From Storyteller to Exquisite Writer: The Pleasures and Craft of Poetic Techniques  at the Children’s Book Academy or for a free webinar titled Why All Writers Need to Know Poetic Techniques and How to Use Them  on Monday May 12th  at 9PM Eastern/ 6PM Pacific Time!

Book Spine Poetry

April is National Poetry Month. According to the Academy of American Poets:

“National Poetry Month is a month-long, national celebration of poetry established by the Academy of American Poets. The concept is to widen the attention of individuals and the media—to the art of poetry, to living poets, to our complex poetic heritage, and to poetry books and journals of wide aesthetic range and concern. We hope to increase the visibility and availability of poetry in popular culture while acknowledging and celebrating poetry’s ability to sustain itself in the many places where it is practiced and appreciated.”

There are many ways to celebrate National Poetry Month, but one of my favorites is to create Book Spine Poetry. These are poems you don’t write so much as “find” in the title ideas of other authors. In honor of National Poetry Month, my children and I came up with a bunch of Book Spine Poems — we hope you enjoy reading them as much as we enjoyed “writing” them!

1397611200346

 

Love and longing in Bombay

Cloaked

Time and chance

In darkness

 

1397611433277

 

Heavens to Betsy!

Beautiful chaos

Ruined

My life

Without fail

 

 

1397611381552Baby Bear, Baby Bear, what do you see?

The night fairy

Perfect piggies

The witch of Blackbird Pond

The last unicorn

But not the hippopotamus

 

1397611326858The bad beginning

An offer you can’t refuse

The nasty bits

The enemy

The end of the affair

Game Over

 

 

1397611158416The Elephant’s journey

The hard way

Accidentally fooled

A hog on ice

 

 

 

1397611076867Pirate Princess

You’re finally here!

To catch a mermaid

Demon of the waters

Into the deep

With nothing to lose

 

 

How will you celebrate National Poetry Month?

 

 

 

 

 

The Long Road to BEAUTY

The night before her book release,

The skies were cold and dreary.

And in her house

The author groused,

“The wait has made me weary!”

 That opening is an homage to my newest book, SNORING BEAUTY, which will be celebrating its book birthday tomorrow. It’s strange for me to call it my “newest” book in that it was one of the first picture books I ever wrote way back near the beginning of my career, in 2005.

Snoring Beauty, Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

“Fun for reading aloud, and children will be happy to help with the multiple snoring sounds.” – Booklist

Let me remind you guys about 2005:

  • Tom Cruise jumped on Oprah’s couch over his love for Katie Holmes (they are now divorced).
  • George W. Bush declared, “I’m the decider.”
  • Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith was the top grossing movie, despite it grossing out Star Wars fans everywhere.

That’s how long I’ve had to wait to see this book come to life. And this is how I’ve felt about it:

“This journey has been very slow!

For nine long years I’ve waited!

My kids have grown,

I’ve had six phones!

My patience has abated.”

As an author, I suffer under the delusion that the book is mine – that I am in control of its destiny. (Even after over a decade in the industry, that delusion persists.) But the truth is that there comes a point when the fate of most books is more outside the author’s hands than not. I’ve been very lucky – in the intervening years, I’ve written and published many other books. I didn’t have to wait day after day for the SNORING BEAUTY box – there were other boxes to fill the time until this book’s time had come. But that doesn’t mean the wait was easy. Think about when you miss someone terribly. The presence of other people you love may distract you from missing him, but it never truly takes it away completely. You still find yourself staring longingly out the window, hoping to catch a glimpse of him coming to your door. That’s what it was like to wait for this book to go through the production process.

But this is how I felt at the end of that loooooooooong process:

But then she takes a single book

And rifles through the pages.

“It does look grand!

I understand

Why this has taken ages!”

I know I’m biased, but SNORING BEAUTY is a beautiful book. Jane Manning’s art is perfect and it looks almost exactly as I’d imagined it. I’m very proud of it and it seems to be getting a warm reception. While it is never fun to be patient, in this case the old adage is true – good things come to those who wait. Now there’s only one more thing to wait for: tomorrow’s official release date.

I can’t wait.

Some fun SNORING BEAUTY facts:

  • SB dediThis is not my first animal-kissing-human book. I’m not sure what that says about me.
  • Most of the time, my kids fight over who the book is dedicated to. This time, my girls (either of whom could be B.) are fighting to establish that the book is dedicated to the OTHER. The funny thing is that neither of the girls is really B! (The real B., by the way, does snore – I have it recorded! – and is beautiful.)
  • The whole wedding day concept was not part of the original story. All that came out of the revision process as a way to but the focus on Mouse and increase the urgency of waking Beauty that night.
  • I have a checkered history when it comes to mice. Check out my secret things to learn more.

CONTACT by Laurisa White Reyes

There are stages in the life of a book, and we authors celebrate each one.  Today marks one such celebrated stage for Laurisa White Reyes’s upcoming novel, CONTACT.  Her cover is being revealed! We will be interviewing Laurisa, who is also the editor of Middle Shelf Magazine, here in May.  But today, you can get a taste of what her novel is about here, and scroll down to see its fabulous cover.
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“It takes only half a second, like those commercials where a crash test dummy rockets forward at high speed and slams into a wall. In that instant every thought in Emma Lynn Walsh’s head collides with mine—every thought, memory, hope, disappointment and dream.
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I open my eyes to see Dr. Walsh peering at me, a puzzled expression on her face.
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“Let—go—of—me,” I order though clenched teeth.”
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 Mira wants to die. She’s attempted suicide twice already and failed. Every time she comes in contact with another person, skin to skin, that person’s psyche uploads into hers. While her psychologist considers this a gift, for Mira it’s a curse from which she cannot escape. 
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To make matters worse, Mira’s father is being investigated for the deaths of several volunteer test subjects of the miracle drug Gaudium. Shortly after Mira’s mother starts asking questions, she ends up in a coma. Although her father claims it was an accident, thanks to her “condition” Mira knows the truth, but proving it just might get her killed.
COMING JUNE 23rd 2014…
Contact book
Congrats Laurisa on a great cover!
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Psssst – The book trailer for my next book, The Boy Problem, will be revealed on Laurisa’s blog on Monday, March 3. Make sure to pop over there to check it out!
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Author Corrine Jackson on Strong Female Characters plus a Giveaway!

Corrine Jackson

Today we welcome Young Adult author Corrine Jackson to the blog to talk about strong female characters. Corrine’s second book in her Sense Thieves trilogy, PUSHED, features Remy, a girl with uncanny healing powers  (a synopsis follows Corrine’s post). You can enter to win a copy by leaving the name of your favorite strong female character in a comment below! You can also enter the official blog tour giveaway. Keep reading for details. 🙂

 Corrine’s thoughts on creating strong female characters:

In philosophical terms, human agency is “the capacity of an agent (a person or other entity, human or any living being in general, or soul-consciousness in religion) to act in a world.” The key word there is ACT. In my undergrad literature classes, we spent a lot of time discussing how agency is what separates our heroes from secondary characters. Heroes take action. They are a force to be reckoned with. How much agency did Oedipus Rex have over his fate vs. the oracle predicting the outcome? How much power did Othello exert in the circumstances that led to the murder of his wife Desdemona, or was he merely an instrument for Iago? What we’re really talking about when we talk about human agency is the power to act. And writers know that action is what propels a story forward.

Too often female characters are powerless to make choices that impact their future. Male characters make decisions for them. This female character is waiting around for a male to save her. She is defined by the man in her life, rather than by the choices she is making. She lacks agency. Sometimes this is used as a plot device, until the last moment when she finally saves the world via some magical power.  

Strong female characters, like their male counterparts, will ACT. She will play a role in her fate, and make choices and decisions that push PUSHED bookthe story along. In my Sense Thieves series, Remy has the power to heal people with her touch, but she’s been raised in an abusive household, taught that people inevitably cause pain. That description of her background isn’t what makes her strong. She could be waiting for a hero to save her. But despite her circumstances (maybe because of them), Remy chooses to help people, to save people because nobody saved her. She heals people even though it frequently puts her life at risk and always causes her pain. That choice to act, even when it’s ill-advised (and puts her in a great deal of danger in PUSHED) makes her strong in my book. The decisions don’t have to be good ones, but the character does have to be making choices to drive the story forward. A female character in this role is a strong one, in my opinion.

*Source: Wikipedia

To find out more about the strong female character Corrine created in Remy, check out this synopsis of PUSHED! (Giveaway details follow. )

She didn’t know how far she’d go—until she was pushed.

Remy O’Malley was just learning to harness her uncanny healing power when she discovered the other, darker half of her bloodline. Now she lives trapped between two worlds, uneasy among her fellow Healers—and relentlessly hunted by the Protectors.  Forced to conceal her dual identity, and the presence of her Protector boyfriend Asher Blackwell, Remy encounters a shadow community of Healers who will put her loyalties to the test.

Pushed to the limit, with the lives of those she loves most on the line, Remy must decide whether to choose sides in a centuries-old war—or make the ultimate sacrifice and go to a place from which she may never return…

 Publisher: Kensington/KTeen   ISBN-10: 0758273347

Buy PUSHED:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million| German Amazon

Add to Your Shelf:

Goodreads

 

The Giveaway below is officially over. Entries were numbered and the total number was entered into the Random Number Generator at random.org, which selected Michele. Congratulations Michele!

Giveaway(s)! There are TWO ways to win a copy of PUSHED!

1. Comment on this post with the name of your favorite strong female character. I hope we get a long list because I’d love to make a strong-female pie chart ! Contest ends on midnight February 15 to enter this blog’s giveaway! A winner will be chosen using random.org.

2. Enter the official blog tour giveaway here: a Rafflecopter giveaway !

You can enter both giveaways. Yay for strong female characters!

More about PUSHED author Corrine Jackson: Young adult author Corrine Jackson lives in San Francisco and has over ten years experience in marketing. She has bachelor and master degrees in English, and an MFA in Creative Writing from Spalding University. Her novels include If I Lie (Simon Pulse) and the Sense Thieves trilogy (KTeen), comprised of Touched,Pushed, and Ignited (5/27/14). Visit her at CorrineJackson.com or on Twitter at @Cory_Jackson.

Visit other stops on the PUSHED blog tour by clicking HERE.

PUSHED book