Category Archives: business of writing

Not a New Year’s resolution

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After the intensity of Pitch Wars, I need to refocus on new writing.

I’ve started a new middle grade novel that may be cast as The Borrowers meets non-fatal Romeo and Juliet. I’m barely into the actual writing. But I made a decision today to get back on the horse of the sequel to Serendipity & Me as well. I’m going to do it by applying the magic of discipline.

When I was preparing for my senior recital at college, practicing the piano regularly was no longer just important, it was imperative. Somehow the discipline of practicing became easier the longer I did it. The discipline itself became enjoyable. So when I decided to start exercising regularly, I put the same idea into motion until exercising became enjoyable and something I didn’t (and don’t) want to miss.

I am ready to implement Project Discipline onto Serendipity & More. No matter what else I’m writing. I plan to write one poem a day, five times a week, to add to the manuscript. Surely this will move the novel into readiness. I’m sorry, readers-who-have-been-waiting, that it’s taken me this long to get this novel written. I vow to do better.

Feel free to check up on my progress. Accountability is a good thing.PICT1774

 

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Author duties

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Part of being an author these days is promoting your book. Writers are often the sorts of people who spend long hours alone and like it that way. It can feel like a shock to come out of one’s quiet writing room and meet with people. But it gets easier with time.

Sitting at a book signing table, lonely with your books while passersby try not to catch your eye, ends up being harder to do than putting on a presentation. School visits, while initially scary, usually turn out to be energizing and inspiring. All those kids! All those sweet, smart kids!

Here I am at a recent author’s fair in a library in South Bend. In the background (center top) is my friend Kathy Higgs-Coulthard, with her book of the fantastic title–Hanging with My Peeps. (Hint: There are chickens involved.) She had a great idea of having an activity for kids as they passed by. My librarian friend, Tracy, has come to say hello and lend me some literary support. All it takes to make an author smile is to smile at them while they’re waiting with their books. Try it sometime and see if I’m right.

How much revision can one story take?

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An infinite amount, if the writer is stubborn and persistent.

Case in point: I now have a novel manuscript that used to be a mid-size novel-in-verse that was once a short novel-in-verse that was once revised to a different gender that was once a picture book poetry manuscript that was once a poem. Got that? Two editors (maybe three) asked for revisions at various points, which lead me to hope for a contract. But it hasn’t happened so far.

Now the novel is out on submissions again, this time in prose, and almost three times the length of the last novel-in-verse rendition.

Why don’t I throw in the towel? Because my agent says he loves it. And more importantly, because my oldest son is the inspiration behind a boy who is passionate about soccer. It’s his turn for a dedication page in his honor.

Early trophy

Early trophy

In Italy with some of his soccer team, far right

In Italy with some of his soccer team, far right

Drooling over cups at Camp Nou, FC Barcelona

Drooling over cups at Camp Nou, FC Barcelona

Newspaper shot, high school game

Newspaper shot, high school game

How to know when a picture book should be a middle grade novel

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The easiest way to know when a picture book manuscript should really be a novel is to have an editor tell you so. This is what has happened to me with three picture books so far. I’m hoping I’ve learned enough from this that I can share some of the whys with you.

My picture book subjects were:

1. A motherless girl who finds a stray kitten, told in poems. Serendipity&Me

 

2. A boy who is passionate about soccer, told in poems. Brendan hotshots

Me with my little sister

Me with my little sister

3. A girl whose little sister is sick. (Don’t worry; mine isn’t.) You got it–also told in poems.

For the kitten story, an editor wrote, “I think you have more to say about this girl and her father.” She suggested a novella-in-verse. I asked myself, “Do I have more to say about them?” And the answer was Yes. There was a lot going on behind those 15 or so poems and that relationship. I wanted to find out what it was.

So reason number one: Depth. beach sunset Ventura. Marc 3 Have you only scratched the surface of the story and the characters with your picture book manuscript? Are there intriguing possibilities you could explore? You will probably also need to make your characters older.

For the soccer story, the age of children who were being read picture books, or even reading them themselves, wouldn’t be passionate in the same way, and certainly not as skilled, as the character in this book. So the audience for the book was older. Therefore, the book should be of a length appropriate for this age group.

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Same soccer-playing guy as the redhead above. Also my son.

Which leads us to reason number two: Age appropriateness. Are your characters’ skill sets and interests beyond the age of most young children? If your characters are too young for a middle grade novel, make them 9-14 and see what else happens to your story then.

For the sick sister story, an editor was concerned that the appendicitis limited the story’s appeal, and that the nontraditional structure already limited its saleability. This wasn’t a suggestion to move it to a novel, but it reminded me that another editor had suggested making it a book with chapters about the sisters. That would solve the problems, as novels-in-verse are an easier sell than picture books with the story written in poems, and the appendicitis would no longer be the main storyline.

So reasons number three and four: Subject Matter and Story Structure. Is your subject matter not universal enough for a picture book? This will limit sales to customers and to editors.

Anything more universal and less sophisticated than a box?

Anything more universal and less sophisticated than a box?

Is your story structure more accessible in novel form? Is it too sophisticated for a picture book? You can either find a more universal subject and write it more in keeping with a picture book, or you can take the story to a longer form for middle graders.     

The joy for me in moving a picture book to a novel is that these are already characters I love, and now I get to spend more time with them and get to know them better. May it be so for you, too.

Writing update

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A writer's historical journey

A writer’s historical journey

In 2012, I wrote a post asking what I should work on next. I listed three possibilities of novels I’d already started. Two and a half years later, I’ve written 2 out of 3 of those novels. (By “written” I mean in a substantial enough form to send to publishers. I don’t mean they’re published. Or finished. Because once an editor has accepted one, there will be plenty of revision. Because I’m not Roald Dahl. Or whoever that writer is who manages to send in perfect manuscripts. I’m sure I heard there was one.)

I started with the historical novel. Managed to fix the middle and workshopped it with four of my writing friends. Rewrote it. Took it to a revision conference in California. Rewrote it. Meanwhile my agent sent it out in both forms. I got lots of interesting comments, including a publisher who wanted me to revise, but who has been silent since receiving the revision. An editor who’d shown interest at the California retreat decided the revision had too many coincidences. She didn’t say what those were. So THREE PRAYERS is back on the shelf, awaiting inspiration for another rewrite.

A shelf inside Liezel's house.

A shelf inside Liezel’s house.

I developed the soccer novel-in-verse into an entirely new book. It continued to get looks in this form, but several times was rejected because no one could believe that a boy who liked soccer would read poetry. I kept resisting the suggestion that I change it to prose. But with this last suggestion, the editor took the time to take out the line breaks and show what the first five pages would look like if the words stayed the same but the spacing was different.

Keyboard to screen, the beautiful game.

Keyboard to screen, the beautiful game.

Maybe if it had been the first time this suggestion was made, it wouldn’t have swayed me. But seeing the prose version on the page like that was helpful. And I was worn down. And finally convinced.

So I tried it. And I continued on, revising using her five single-space pages of suggestions for more development. And I’m happy to report that, barring a few tweaks after my final readers’ comments come in, I’ll soon be ready to hand this off to my agent.

Number one on that old list, THE OTHER JESSAMY, is languishing. I look at it and love it and have no idea where to go with it. Someday….

Meanwhile, I’m working on another novel-in-verse that began as a picture book. If this doesn’t sound familiar, I haven’t talked about this trend yet. (Note to self: post on this subject.)

This new MG novel-in-verse is tentatively titled, ZOE, HERSELF. It’s a story about sisters. Stay tuned….

 

 

Want to get published? Get to know this word: Persistence

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I’ve just gotten back from a wonderful children’s writers conference on Mackinac Island in Michigan. It’s magical there…my friend got her first glimpse of it after we walked onto Main Street from the ferry, and she said, “It’s just like downtown Disneyland.” And I said, “Except it’s real.” There are no cars on the streets. You travel by foot, or by bicycle, or by some kind of horse transportation. (Although in winter, I hear they use snowmobiles.) It’s a step back in time.

Mackinac Island shuttle

Mackinac Island shuttle

The conference was also a step back in time as I realized I was once again learning my craft and back to the wishing-and-waiting time of getting published. It’s been over three years since I had a book accepted for publication, and not for lack of submitting. I have two novels going the rounds, along with numerous picture books. It feels like an impossible road to travel with no idea what will come next. With no idea whether publication is once again an impossible dream.

Road along Mackinac Island shoreline

Road along Mackinac Island shoreline

But I didn’t get where I am for lack of trying. It took about 25 years of submissions before I finally broke into the world of fiction publishing. Not a drop in the bucket. So I’m well-versed in how to do this wishing-and-waiting thing. Fortunately, I have a longer lifespan than a butterfly’s.

In the Butterfly House on Mackinac Island

In the Butterfly House on Mackinac Island

Hopefully, I still have enough time to wait. And it’s not going to break me to keep trying. Not like some thiings might.

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Goodnight, Dragons story time kit

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Newly available–a free story time kit you can use for Goodnight, Dragons, (by me, illustrated by Pascal Lemaitre, Disney*Hyperion, 2012). You can find my kit at the top of this site, at the link above, or under the “For Teachers” page.dragons 004

It’s free to download. You can make copies of Pascal’s coloring page for children, as long as you don’t try selling them.

Also included are songs, a craft and a game.

Not included are the soft, squishy plush animals. But you probably already have some of those.

I modeled this after the exquisitely designed story time kit by Kristi Valiant for her book, Penguin Cha-Cha.

Feel free to share this news with librarians, booksellers, teachers and parents.

Because everyone needs a cuddle of some sort or another….

 

Shrunken manuscript

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My oldest son is getting married in a week and I have lots to do to get ready for guests. But I couldn’t help myself–I had to take some time out to reshrink my manuscript so I can make sure everything is where it ought to be.

Let's get 'er done

Let’s get ‘er done

If you want instructions for shrinking your manuscript to get an all-in-a-glance overview, go to Darcy Pattison’s blog here: http://www.darcypattison.com/revision/shrunken-manuscript/

This novel-in-progress, Three Prayers, lays out at three rows of seven. It was 87 pages of manuscript before it was shrunk.

In the original shrinking, I could see where chapters needed to be added or divided. In this shrinking after revision (close to the time when I’ll be submitting it to my agent, Stephen Fraser), I noticed one chapter was abnormally long and I split it. This exercise of Darcy’s has been extremely helpful to me, a visual learner.

I can only cover 5 pages with my fabulous furry body

I can only cover 5 pages with my fabulous furry body

Cat assistants

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Cats like to help. Or at least , they like to think they’re helping.

I'll just keep this warm for you...

I’ll just keep this warm for you…

I am writing right now with a cat in a box on my lap. This is where he thinks he belongs when I’m at the computer. If I ignore him when he comes swishing around me, he stands on his hind legs and pokes my shoulder with his paw. Repeatedly. This can be annoying. So he’s on my lap. In a box. Because he’s a little bit weird.

Any box will do, but this one's my favorite.

Any box will do, but this one’s my favorite.

When I’m writing a book and come to the place where I need to see it all at once, I lay it down on the floor all around me. You can imagine how fun this is for the cats. I haven’t figured out yet why they feel the need to step on paper on the floor. Does the crinkling sound musical? Do they like the way they can leave paw prints on the page? Why is lying on paper preferable to lying on the carpet? I don’t know.

Pencils and papers and pens--oh my!

Pencils and papers and pens–oh my!

Pens are also a big draw. Writers’ tools are cats’ playthings. Which is not often helpful. Unless it is helpful to be distracted.

Don't worry--I got this!

Don’t worry–I got this!

Sometimes it is helpful. I don’t want to be so focused on the words that I forget the softer side of life. The fur that can purr.

How did all those cats fit in there?

How did all those cats fit in there?

International dragons

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Yesterday my mail deliverer kindly placed a package on my back deck. Inside: my first-time-ever translation of a book of mine.

It’s not in one of the romance languages. Or ancient Greek. I could maybe sort of read one of those. No, it’s a language that seems more fantastical because the letters are not any I can recognize. And the book is read from back to front. Perfect! If dragons could read, I think they would read this same way.

So here is the Hebrew translation of Goodnight, Dragons. I believe the publishers renamed their translation title as Every Dragon Needs a Hug. (Although I can’t confirm that by looking at it.) By the way, this might be a quirky gift to give for a bar or bat mitzvah.

New kid in town.

New kid in town.