What Does THE END Look Like?

THE END. It’s usually a good place to be. It means you have completed a journey. The last day of November marked THE END for writers who participated in NaNoWriMo or PiBoIdMo. They’ve slogged through the hurdles of drafting a novel, or worked through creative bursts of ideas for picture books until they accumulated at least 30. But writer or not, when you’ve completed a task, it is always good to find yourself at THE END of it.

When I get to THE END of a project, I’m usually surrounded by chaos. I think I’m that classic creative type who works best in a mess. Up to a point… This November, I not only participated in PiBoIdMo, but did the final proofing of my forthcoming novel, The Boy Problem AND finished a novel I’ve been working on for years. I met all of my goals! But when I was finished, my desk looked like this:

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As much as this desk helped me get to THE END of two novels, I found I couldn’t begin to start a new project on it. So I did something I don’t like doing very much. I gave up a day of writing to organize. I stacked all of the drafts of The Boy Problem together.  The result was a ten inch, twenty seven pound stack. When you look at that you can kind of see how I work through a novel. With lots of little flags noting pages that still need work. This probably only represents half of them, many were pulled out along the way.

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There were a few more stacks not-quite-so-impressive stacks as well… but eventually, my desk looked like this.

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Yeah, I know there are still two pretty messy piles, but you don’t expect me to create in a completely clean environment, do you? The point is, I’ve reached THE END of some important projects! And now, with space on my desk, I can start a new project… a new beginning!

I recently received the ARCs for THE BOY PROBLEM! When  an author actually holds an ARC, the book finally feels real! It marks THE END of a great journey!

I recently received the ARCs for THE BOY PROBLEM! When an author actually holds an ARC, the book finally feels real.It marks THE END of a great journey!

Onward we go! What does THE END look like to you?

Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen Has Nothing to Write About

This post was originally published on November 29, 2010 at Tara Lazar’s blog in honor of PiBoIdMo. We thought those of you participating in this year’s picture book idea month might find it useful.

Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen Has Nothing to Write About

by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

pirate princessIf you’re like me, writing is work. By this I mean it is my job, my primary source of income (therefore, work) but also that it is just plain HARD. There is nothing so depressing as trying to come up with something new and fresh to write about—and coming up with nothing.

That happens to me a lot.

So what do you do?

Well, I really don’t know the answer. But here are some tricks I use to muddle through those times when I have nothing to write about.

1) Start with character. I truly believe that the most important aspect of a picture book, what drives its popularity the most, is a charismatic main character. The premise, the setting, the cutesy word play and rhyme—all of these are secondary to character. So if you need to brainstorm only one thing, work on that viable character list.

The trick to creating a truly charismatic main character is to blend flaws with flair. Don’t just come up with fifty cute character traits. Give your main character some faults, some defects—he will be infinitely more interesting.

2) Something old into something new. There are so many examples of authors who take an old idea and make it into something modern and fresh. The entire genre of fractured fairy tales is built on the premise that recognizable is always a benefit for marketing, but recognizable AND fresh is money in the bank. Now I’m not at all recommending that all you do is read a collection of Grimm’s fairy tales and add a hippopotamus to each story (don’t do that, because it was my idea first). But if you can take inspiration from something your audience will recognize and then take it to a brand new place, where is the downside?

quackensteinSome examples of this in my own work:
THE HOG PRINCE – we know it’s a frog prince, not a hog prince, but Eldon does not.
QUACKENSTEIN – isn’t every monster story better with a duck?
THE TWELVE WORST DAYS OF CHRISTMAS – believe it or not, in addition to a Christmas song, this is a sibling story

3) Look at your own life. And I mean this as way to eliminate bad ideas. When you’re having a hard time with inspiration, there is the temptation to use your own children or grandchildren as your muses. Trust me, this is a bad idea. Because as cute as their latest antics are to you, they very rarely make for good picture books. Save yourself. Don’t do it.

4) Exercise. Well, do a writing exercise at least. When you’re really stuck you could reinforce your writing ability by taking a book that is perhaps not one of your favorites and then rewriting it the way it should be. Obviously, you can’t then try to publish your version of Dora the Explorer (because Nora the Explorer or even Eleanora the Explorer is simply not going to be fresh enough to merit a whole new franchise!). But the exercise will show you that you are not only able to create a new story but one that is better than something that was actually published (which means there is hope for you yet) and, again, you never know where that road will lead.

Hampire_jacket5) When all else fails, take a breath. Sorry, guys, sometimes the ideas are not going to come. No matter how much you force it. When you are really and truly stuck, stop trying so hard. Instead, work on revising older manuscripts—maybe you can whip one of those into shape. Or perhaps the something old that you will turn into something new will come from your own pile of older ideas.

Inspiration Permission

In the last two weeks, I practically made myself at home over at Tara Lazar’s blog. I revealed two new covers for two new picture books and held a caption contest, and then I gave a math lesson for PiBoIdMo. I don’t want all my Nerdy Chicks (and Nerdy-Chicks-Supporters) to think I’ve forgotten about them, though. So I’ve been trying to think of something to share here in honor of PiBoIdMo.

Sometimes, inspirations come from from seemingly disparate places. That’s what happened here. I’ve managed to mash up the caption contest with a PiBoIdMo lesson.

There were a lot of great caption ideas for both ORANGUTANGLED and SNORING BEAUTY. I had to pick one winner, though, and that was Dawn Young with her very versatile entry, “Is this as awkward for you as it is for me?” (Works so well for both covers, no?)

BeFunky_snor beauty cover winner BeFunky_orangutangled winner.jpg

But like I said, there were so many wonderful ideas. Here are some more that stood out to me:

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What was very cool was how so many different people looked the same pictures but came up with such different ideas for what the characters were saying, thinking, or feeling — and often, their ideas did not resemble my books AT ALL. And I realized that here was something that could help all the PiBoIdMo participants and writers in general.

I give you my permission to take inspiration from other books.

All the people who participated in the caption contest looked at a picture and, without any other information, allowed themselves to imagine who the characters were. But what each of them came up with was his or her own idea, not mine. And many of them are ideas that can be built on.

To be very clear, I’m not advocating stealing other authors’ ideas! (Please don’t go write a book about three orangutans tangled up instead of two!) But I can see the beginning of new, original ideas in the captions that I read. For example, “Is this as awkward for you as it is for me?” — could that be a starting point to brainstorm other awkward situations? Could one of those situations be the basis of a new book? I think so.

I’ve actually used a version of this exercise in schools when I’ve conducted writing workshops. When you look at a spread of a picture book, there is only so much dialogue in the actual text that accompanies a picture. But if you ask a classroom of kids to fill in what that extended conversation might sound like…it’s actually amazing how far they can take it. They can start with one image and a few lines of text and they can write an entire scene around it. (Teachers, what do you think? Have you ever tried something similar with your students?)

So, writers, PiBoIdMo participants, Nerdy Chicks: when you get stuck on your next idea, I hope you’ll think of this suggestion, and I hope it will get some of you un-stuck. But even if it doesn’t, I guarantee you’ll have fun — and sometimes that’s all we need to get us going again.

 

 

Kathy Temean: Author, Illustrator, Consultant

Today’s interview is a bit of a collaboration…SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) is doing new “Author Spotlight” pieces to highlight authors and illustrators everyone should know about. The Regional Advisor of the New Jersey SCBWI chapterLeeza Hernandez (an author/illustrator extraordinaire and a Nerdy Chick herself! If you missed Leeza’s interview one this site, click HERE to check it out) featured the wonderful, energetic, fabulously nerdy Kathy Temean, and to go with that profile, we’ve got an interview of Kathy here at Nerdy Chicks Rule!

kathyTemean_headshot1Kathy is an author/illustrator and retired New Jersey SCBWI Regional Advisor. She is the author/ illustrator of Horseplay and many magazine articles and artwork. Individuals, major corporations, and businesses have commissioned her artwork. Kathy is the owner of Temean Consulting, www.temeanconsulting.com, a company that creates websites and helps writers and illustrators market themselves.  She publishes a daily blog WRITING AND ILLUSTRATING www.kathytemean.wordpress.com, which offers valuable tips on everything you need to know about writing for children. She also conducts interviews with agents, editors, authors, and illustrators in the field. Kathy writes MG and YA novels and illustrates children’s books. Yogi Berra written by Tina Overman and illustrated by Kathy came out in September. Welcome, Kathy!

So, Kathy, you’ve been involved in children’s publishing for a very long time. How do you see the books that are being published today as helping to empower girls to be smart (or, as we like to call it, nerdy)?
Girls are very lucky today. The books written today for them are excellent and there are so many good choices for teens. I think they are reading more because of the great books and writing that reflects their world and the type of strong girls they want to become.

Very, very true. Tell us about a fictitious nerdy chick you admire and why you admire her.

I have a lot of nerdy real life chicks I admire, but I guess for a fictitious one, I would chose Lily Hancock from “Lies Beneath” written by Ann Greenwood Brown. Lily never gives up, even when she falls in love with a murderous merman who is planning to kill her father to revenge the death of his mother. She works through all of it to find a way to make things work.

51uKvEvPtmL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_We agree — more people should understand how important creativity is to success. Now, in addition to being an author and illustrator, you are also an art educator. How do you see arts education as being important for today’s kids?

I feel any kind art builds creativity. Creativity helps in everything you want to do in life and spurs new ideas to get you where you want to go. Most people don’t give that any thought, but I have used all the creative things I learned in art with every job I’ve had to be successful, so “Yes,” I think the arts are just as important as the rest of the curriculum in school and is especially important to children who may not excel in other subjects.

What’s something you like to do that might be considered a little bit nerdy, but is actually really fun?

I collect cows. Yes, cows, but not real ones. Ever since I was in Chicago and saw ‘Cows on Parade,’ I have been into cows. I would like to buy a big concrete cow for my front lawn and decorate it each month, but I know my neighbors will go crazy and torment me about it. Is that nerdy enough? Perhaps someday, I will do it in my backyard.

What is one of your favorite achievements that you can credit to being a Nerdy Chick?
Years ago when I worked for Kraft Foods, they were giving away a Lincoln Continental as a prize, so I talked a car dealer into letting me take one of their cars into an Acme Food Store and building a big display of Kraft Food around it. There was a lot of coordinating to pull that off. We even had to take the front windows out of the storefront to get it inside the store. I won a big award for that accomplishment.

Thank you, Kathy, for being with us here today, and for sharing your thoughts. To learn more about Kathy, visit her website (www.kathytemean.com), her blog (www.kathytemean.wordpress.com) or follow her on Twitter: @kathytemean. And to read Kathy’s interview with SCBWI, click HERE, and to learn more about SCBWI, click HERE.

The Quotable Nerdy Character

A few weeks ago, I did a workshop on creating believable contemporary characters, and in the research process, I found a lot of inspirational quotes for writers — and readers. Hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

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“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.”

― Ernest Hemingway

“Your source material is the people you know, not those you don’t know, but every character is an extension of the author’s own personality.”

― Edward Albee

“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”

― Mark Twain

“Characterization is an accident that flows out of action and dialogue.”

― Jack Woodford

Picture1“When you’re with your wife, you don’t say I love you to your wife every day but the ways you look at her and your actions are another way to communicate. Don’t focus on dialogue, only focus on what you’re expressing.”

― Michel Hazanavicius

“I tend to relate to a character in terms of the arc: what’s interesting is where he starts versus where he ends up .”

― Edward Norton

“If you’re writing about a character, if he’s a powerful character, unless you give him vulnerability I don’t think he’ll be as interesting to the reader.”

—Stan Lee

What do you think? Are you ready to pick up your pencil (or open up your laptop) and get creating?

 

REMINDER

If you haven’t already, please remember to check out The Busy Librarian’s podcast featuring ME and enter the newest Nerdy Chicks GIVEAWAY!

 

Chick Lit for Chicklets

SAMSUNG CSCRecently, the Nerdy Chicks conducted a workshop at the New England SCBWI Conference about Creating Chick Lit for Chicklets. Here is a recap of what we talked about…

What is Chicklet Chick Lit?

Chick lit is genre fiction which addresses issues of modern womanhood, often humorously and lightheartedly. Chick lit for chicklets is pretty much the same thing but geared specifically to the interests of a child or young adult audience. The main character of Chick Lit is always a strong female who bucks authority to follow her dreams.

What qualifies as Chicklet Chick Lit?

Not every book with a female main character would be considered chicklet chick lit — this is important to keep in mind. Some books just happen to have female main characters. In this very limited case, just being a girl is not enough.

In Chicklet Chick Lit, the main character’s obstacles and challenges must be specific to gender. The chick lit heroine is very aware of her world and the details of this world will deeply affect her choices/actions.

Let me introduce you to my friends…

In addition to the main character, Chick Lit is often populated by strong secondary characters. Here are some of the archetypes commonly found in Chick Lit for Chicklets:

BFF

antiBFF

apparent parent

antiparent

boy friend

Now you all know more about writing Chick Lit for Chicklets — we hope you try your hand at this fabulous genre!

(If you attended the Nerdy Chicks’ workshop at NESCBWI and would like a copy of the entire PowerPoint, please fill out the form below or email Sudipta or Kami directly)

Kat Yeh: Mad Scribbles, Big Feet

297310_10150320631406460_1375238351_nA couple years ago, Kat Yeh and I were attending the same writer’s conference. I was in the middle of a conversation with a well-respected agent, when Kat walked by. Immediately, the person I was speaking to went silent and his eyes followed Kat as she walked away. When he finally remembered that he was supposed to be speaking to me, he turned back, shrugged, and said, “She’s very striking.” The funny thing is that this guy had no idea that, as striking as Kat is from across the room, she is so much more so in person. Kat has a warm and endearing personality that has you laughing and feeling like you’ve known her for years, even when you first meet. This explains why I’ve spilled so many secrets to her despite our relatively short friendship!

Magic-Brush-Yeh-Kat-9780802721792You're Lovable to MeKat is a graduate of Villanova University and she worked in sports marketing for many years before discovering she really is a wonderfully talented writer who needs to be putting books into the world for the rest of us to read. She is the author of the picture books YOU’RE LOVABLE TO ME (Random House Books for Young Readers) and THE MAGIC BRUSH A story of love, family and Chinese Characters (Walker Books for Young Readers) and the forthcoming novel, THE TRUTH ABOUT TWINKIE PIE (Little Brown BYR, coming 2014). She’s also the recipient of the 2012 SCBWI Sue Alexander Most Promising New Work Award.

Thank you, Kat, for joining us today on Nerdy Chicks Rule. Let’s get started! If you could give your middle school or high school self one piece of advice, what would it be?

I actually think I received the perfect piece of advice already at that age (though I was not really able to figure out how to use it till much later) A dear and wise-beyond-her -years friend gave me a little card with a tiny painting and the quote: “Being myself includes taking risks with myself, taking risks with my behavior so that I can see how it is I want to be” I think we were 13 or 14 at the time. She knew I was struggling and feeling stuck, so she made the card for me. I still have it.

And I wish I could honestly say I have other advice that I would give myself, but I kind of feel that all that stumbling and confusion was sort of necessary. Even the big plastic glasses and ill-advised outfit choice for my first 9th grade dance (brown cowl neck sweater and full-length a-line plaid skirt). I wouldn’t change any of it. But maybe I’d just go back and give myself a big hug.

If it makes you feel better, I never even went to my 9th grade dance (though had I gone, I’m sure my wardrobe choice would have been equally unfortunate). Let’s move on…You’re one of my favorite authors!

Funny, you’re one of mine 🙂

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Here are the Nerdy Chicks with Kat (and Joyce Wan) in Princeton (after that conference where Kat was declared “striking”)

My favorite things to read…Books that lush and literary and brave and unapologetic and a little bit strange and completely committed to the world they create: example anything by Franny Billingsley.

 How do you see the books that are being published today as helping to empower girls to be smart (or, as we like to call it, nerdy)?

I don’t think it is necessarily about what is being published today as much as it is about allowing a pretty free reign. Showing a lot of options, but then letting them make their own reading choices – and THEN being there to talk. Answer questions (or even better come up with more questions together!). Start discussions. Think of alternate endings. Be stumped. Be frustrated. Be in love. Then wonder and wonder and talk about why you both are feeling all these things. I love the George Carlin quote:  “Don’t just teach your children to read…Teach them to question what they read. Teach them to question everything.”

That is a terrific quote from a fairly smart (and nerdy!) man. But we’re called Nerdy Chicks Rule, so let’s re-focus on girls…Tell us about a fictitious nerdy chick you admire and why you admire her.

Is it too typical to say Jo March? I don’t think that I was ever as brave as she was as a teen, but I wanted to be. And of course, I always connected to her passion for reading and her utter desperate Need To Be a Writer – as well as her big feet and awkwardness and temper and fierce love and mad scribbling.

Your feet are not big! (Well, at least, not that big.) Moving on, though…What’s something you like to do that might be considered a little bit nerdy, but is actually really fun?

I love, love spending hours in used book stores or in the used book section of my local indy. Looking for old art books. Hidden overlooked early editions of favorites. I love finding books with quirky titles and wonderful content. It’s like a treasure hunt. I recently found a ratty copy of a book titled, LOVE & DROLLERY – A SELECTION OF AMATORY, MERRY AND SATIRICAL VERSE OF THE 17TH CENTURY for $7. Happiness.

That was totally going to be the title of my next book! I guess that’s why I should do more market research, especially in used book stores. You’ve convinced me to follow in your (normal-sized) footsteps! Now, what is one of your favorite achievements that you can credit to being a nerdy chick?

easy: without a doubt, it is only when being absolutely myself (and therefore, embracing the nerdy in me) that I have been able to Find & Be Found and Get & Be Gotten by like-minded souls who have become life friends.

527286_10151155108171460_496397820_nI love the way you describe that: Find & Be Found and Get & Be Gotten. Beautiful. Guess that’s why you’re an award-winning author, huh? 🙂

Now, for the fun part: if someone gave you $75 and you could only spend it on you, what would you do with it?

That’s hard. As a mom, I tend not to think about spending money on myself. I’d probably buy drinks and a load of appetizers somewhere yummy (and hopefully with music) where a friend and I could have long, leisurely talk-ish time together.

And, finally, can you tell us one thing you buy at the grocery store that you cannot live without?

For several months now it’s been baby arugula. I know – it’s not glamorous or decadent, but it makes me crazy. All dark and peppery and perfect.

Thank you again, Kat! If you want to find out more about the fabulous and fashionable Kat Yeh, visit her at katyeh.com (still under construction, but coming soon!) and follow her on Twitter: @yehface