Thursday, April 17, 2014


THE STORY BEHIND "VALENTINE'S DAY" AND MY SUCKER EXPERIENCE

In 2011 I never would have believed that submitting a short story to a new YA literary magazine would have resulted in a 3-year relationship and three published stories.  Thanks to SUCKER LITERARY'S amazing founder and editor Hannah Goodman, it has.

My first story came out in SUCKER #1 in January, 2012.  Compelling and Believable (or What I Learned in Sophomore English) is a dark story about what happens when a student gets the wrong kind of inspiration from a teacher's lessons.

I was so thrilled to have a story published in the first edition, I never dreamed that Hannah would publish a second story in SUCKER #2 in 2013.  In Angels and Serendipity, Ella's mother is dying of cancer at the exact moment the World Trade Center is being attacked on September 11th, 2001.  Frustrated by her inability to help her mom, Ella ventures into hell itself--downtown Manhattan--with the hope that she can save just one life.

I almost didn't submit a story for SUCKER #3, but then I had an inspiration.  I remembered suffering through a long-time unrequited crush in high school.  For a whole year I shared my angst with my best friend--we'd spend hours on the phone groaning and giggling, strategizing how to arrange chance meetings with my crush, giving him code names and hand signals so we could warn each other from a distance.  My crush never noticed--frankly, he was too into himself at the time--and when he finally woke up, I was not the girl he wanted.  I wondered, what would I have done if I'd ever had a chance with him alone?  And that thought turned into Valentine's Day, which was just published in SUCKER #3 on April 15, 2014.

Hannah and her fabulous staff have accomplished so much in the past three years--I can't thank them enough for their support.   

If you want to buy a paper or Kindle copy of any of the SUCKER issues, use the links in the right sidebar.




Monday, June 17, 2013

SCBWI-NJ 2013 Summer Conference (Part Three)

All work and no play makes for a dull conference.  Part of the fun is meeting new writers from near and far, catching up with friends you haven't seen in a long time, and (so I hear) karaoke night!

I learned about the about the karaoke party too late (watch out next year, though), but I was warmly welcomed by a friendly critique group from Connecticut who meet monthly to discuss their picture book projects. I was introduced to the group by Susan Montanari, who is a fellow coop-mate with Hen & Ink Literary Studio.  




...Susan and me



And here is most of the CT picture book critique group (there are 4 or 5 others who are absent):

They look dignified but they are really wild and crazy women.
       
 

Next year I'll get karaoke photos...




 

SCBWI-NJ 2013 Summer Conference (Part Two)

Here are some more helpful gleanings I took from conference events:

Heather Alexander of Dial Books/Penguin led a workshop on Voice.  
Two types of voice:  Authorial: the writer's own voice   vs.   Narrative: the voice of the character  
     invented by the writer.  [Songwriter vs. Singer; Director/Playwright vs. Actor]
There are FIVE components to voice:
1. DICTION: the characters' way of speaking (vocabulary, style of expression).
2. PERSPECTIVE: how the characters relate to the world (family, friends, religion, setting, school).
3. CHARACTER: the core of the person (what type? angry, optimistic, shy, extrovert). Voice
     can reveal age, gender, motivation.
4. DIALOGUE: The most direct link to voice. Normal speech patterns and dialogue are boring. Build
     in layers of meaning and subtext. Short sentences can create tension in a scene.
5. INTERIOR MONOLOGUE/DIALOGUE: What the character is thinking (feelings, judging, reacting). 
     May reveal an unreliable narrator. Reader may know more than the character does. Can
     be used to fill in backstory. Good for humor, sarcasm, emotion.
And lastly, some aspects of a YA voice:
Inexperienced, not worldly, growing, evolving, DRAMATIC (everything is a crisis, everything is for the
     first time), passionate.
**

Kit Grindstaff and Jennifer Hubbard gave suggestions on “Battling Your Inner Censor.” Jennifer is a fan of compartmentalizing (physically and mentally separating the writer and the editor).  Kit prefers to take breaks from the work and do visualization exercises to get perspective.
**
Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen claimed in her presentation “Believable Contemporary Characters” that all her main characters are aspects of HER. Characters must be deeply flawed.  You want readers to identify with the character, see their own flaws and empathize. Empathy is born of intimacy.  When characters confide in the reader, they become more real.  Real characters feel, change, grow, resist, experience highs, lows, epiphanies, triumphs, embarrassments, sorrows, growth, regression.  Sudipta knows the end of her book before she writes the middle.  She has to know where her main character is going.
**
Lauren Oliver, who was the final (amazing) keynote speaker, says that writing is a daily dose of decision making/problem solving.  Practicing builds skill. “Working every day builds a tolerance…like drinking!” When fans ask how she came to be such a good writer, she responds, “It’s hard not to get good at something you do every day for 21 years.”  All her books have two “macro” themes: Redemption and Transformation.  Every writer should figure out what his/her themes are.  
Here she is, signing her books:





Friday, June 14, 2013

SCBWI-NJ 2013 Summer Conference (Part One)


Last weekend was the annual NJ-SCBWI conference. Our new RA, Leeza Hernandez, managed her debut conference with efficiency, good humor, and grace. Congratulations to Leeza and her fabulous team.

Everyone gets something different out of these events, but here is one of my highlights:

Lexa Hillyer of Paper Lantern Lit spoke about her company’s 3-step process of taking an idea for a novel through to publication: “Spark, Structure, and Sparkle.”  The Spark is the idea you begin with, and she discussed how to heighten the concept. Be passionate. Don’t be afraid of big ideas, and allow the book to have a macro concept/theme (involving the greater world) as well as a micro concept/theme (personal to the main character).  Structure: PLL uses a classic 3-Act structure starting with an “inciting incident” in Act One, which leaves the main character with a problem to solve.  Act Two keeps raising the stakes and the hurdles that the main character has to overcome until the climax, a culminating event in which all the plots and subplots converge and come crashing down into a giant mess.  Act Three starts with a “moment of revelation” out of the ashes of destruction—the main character realizes that what she (he) thought she wanted was not what she really needed. Cue: character change.  Sparkle is the polishing process.  How to make your book the best it can be. Come up with the best possible title.  Consider the integrity of your chapters, and always re-write your first chapter after you finish the first draft (or second, or third).

More to follow!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Book Expo America 2012


June 5, 2012: Book Expo America, New York City
Book Expo America is overwhelming, particularly the first time you go.  My personal advice, now that I am an “experienced” conventioneer:  have a plan.  I’m not speaking to the “Exhibitors” here but to the “Attendees,” the people like me who go for (1) the experience, (2) the opportunity to listen to author and/or editor panels discuss the future of children’s books, and (3) the “FREEBIES” – aka free books, free bags, free posters, bookmarks, pens, toys, etc. and (4) if you have patience with really, really long lines: author autographs.

My plan was simple.  I decided to attend the first day of the book fair, hoping that the publishers would not already have run out of free books. I mapped out the YA panels I wanted to attend, the book signings I hoped to nab, and I was going to fill in the spare time between activities with grabbing a few new-book galleys (or ARCs, aka Advance Reader Copies). 

The Javits Center in New York is so enormous that you can easily rack up miles walking around it (and extra credit miles trying to find a ladies’ room—my advice is, don’t drink a lot).  Since I was able to attend as an Exhibitor through my job, I relied on a colleague for BEA advice—she explained to me that I might have to seek the free galleys in the back of booths as the publishers don’t always put them out at once.  Not wanting to go home empty-handed,  I began combing the endless (and I mean endless) aisles of publishers’ displays.  Within 15 minutes I had a bagful of YA galleys.  I dumped the bag in my company’s booth and went out with a fresh bag.  Another 15 minutes resulted in another bagful of books.

It was around this time that I realized why so many people had arrived at registration with empty rolling suitcases.  I was going to have to CARRY all these books home.

After a break to attend the YA Editors’ Buzz panel, I decided to queue up for the Harlequin Teen Books autograph hour.  They were supposedly giving away galleys of upcoming books, including one by Julie Kagawa I hoped to snag. I thought I’d jump into the line near the Harlequin booth, but was elbowed out of the way by a woman who pointed behind her at a long, long procession of ornery autograph seekers.  250 bodies later, I finally found the end of the line.  An efficient young woman handed me a “ticket” postcard marked with a yellow square, showing all the featured books.  Ten minutes into the wait (and still standing in the same sad spot), I collared an apologetic young man who informed me that only the first 100 people on the line were guaranteed books.  THEY had tickets with GREEN squares.  “So,” I muttered, trying to keep my sarcasm in check, “what are the rest of us standing here for?”  Well, in case some of the first 100 people in line don’t take a book, he said.  I turned this over in my head—why would anyone stand in line for an hour to get a book and NOT take one?  He just smiled. 

Okay, enough standing on line.  I went back to collecting free galleys.  Another bag filled quickly.

There is a whole area in the back of the convention hall specifically set aside for autographing.  Designated queues post author schedules.  The lines aren’t as bad as at Harlequin, but certain authors are very popular.  (All this information is available online before the book fair so that you can plan ahead.)  Simultaneously, other authors are signing books in their publishers’ booths, and there are always several panel discussions going on at the same time.  I gave up quickly on the autograph lines which took up too much precious time.

I ended up attending three panel discussions.  The Young Adult Editors’ Buzz panel discussed hot new books coming out and why the editors felt so passionate about their books.  A second discussion took place between six YA authors who discussed topics like whether or not they pay attention to YA trends, collaborative book writing, and how much fan feedback influences an author’s upcoming projects.  The last panel I attended explored the future of children’s books with regard to technology: e-books, apps, and other upcoming “new models.”  The most important message from that discussion was that technology is a tool and should enhance rather than interrupt content.  It should be used to provide more options to encourage children’s reading.

By 4:00 I had four stuffed, heavy bags of books.  I knew it was time to leave because this free-book thing was a compulsion, and I wouldn’t make it home if I kept collecting.  So the bag lady (me) marched to the shuttle bus, stumped to the train, dragged to the car.  I had scored about 30 YA books.  Now I have to read them. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

So long, Jumbo (and hello SUCKER)


“So long, Jumbo”

It is a nice thing, when you are a writer, to be able to answer the question: “What have you published?”  For a long time I haven’t had anything to respond. This week I am finally able to say, “I published a story in SUCKER LITERARY MAGAZINE online.

The characters about whom I write, mostly teens, would probably respond, “That’s so cool!”  or “Sweet!”  I must admit, I stopped briefly to pat myself on the back.  I am thrilled to lose my publishing-virginity, that clich├ęd elephant in the corner that all writers try to ignore.  There you go, Jumbo, have a peanut.  Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

So after the long wait for SUCKER’s debut (not so long when you realize a book can take a couple of years to be published after it is acquired), after the months of holding my breath in anticipation, how did the magazine turn out?  Wow!  It’s great—full of teen angst and love, romance and sex, coping with families, and lots of growing up.

Sucker is such a great title for this collection.  With interpretations both sweet and sour, it perfectly symbolizes adolescence—the years we bridge from childhood to adulthood, a time many of us still idolize but to which few would really want to return.

So, congrats to all us authors, but most of all, THANK YOU and congratulations to Hannah Goodman (also the author of a fabulous story in this issue) who did it the RIGHT way and published a quality online magazine for YA writers and readers.  Thanks, too, to her excellent staff of assistants—and a special mention for Alyssa Gaudreau whose sucker-themed photographs accompanying the stories were spot-on.

If you haven’t already read SUCKER, here’s a link: 
Click on the cover of the magazine and download it.  It’s free!

Now that Jumbo’s cleared out, I need to get back to work.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Consequences of the Heart

[In appreciation - for Donna Brooks]                       
            In June 2003 I participated in a writing conference at Manhattanville College in New York.  I was enrolled in the Masters in Writing program at the time, and we were required to attend at least one of the annual week-long summer conferences.  In addition to attending panels with editors and agents, going to readings, and learning about aspects of the publishing world, we all had to choose one creative seminar that we would attend every morning.  I chose the Writing for Young Adults seminar, led by Donna Brooks who was at that time the Editorial Director at Dutton Children’s Books, an imprint of the Penguin Group. 
            Donna admitted to us at the outset that she was nervous—she said she had never done anything like this before.  The information she passed to us came from her extensive knowledge of the children’s book business and her experience as an editor.  But once she felt comfortable with our group, it was her passion for the books and their authors that really came across and made an impression on me.  I took copious notes and still refer to them. 
            Shortly after our seminar, Donna left Dutton (which was, from what I understand, not her decision), and from what I've heard over the years, she left the children's book business to do different things with her life.  I have always considered it a tragic loss for all of us in the industry.  I only knew her for a week, but her editorial passion inspired me to follow my own heart, which led me to writing young adult stories.
            I’ve always wanted to pass on some of what Donna shared with us.  A lot of what she talked about had to do with character, specifically characters that are children.  Here are a few things she asked us to keep in mind when writing for children:
  • Consequences of the Heart:  consequences flow from a character’s choices and actions and emotional flow.
  • Children’s fiction is about the choices children make and the consequences of those choices, and how they live with them. 
  • Young children are feeling all the time.  Children are always dealing with their powerlessness.
  • Children experience things through concrete images:  i.e., when a parent dies, a child will want to know who will make the dinner, do the laundry, etc.
  • Don’t worry about a character reflecting badly on YOU (the writer).   Don’t let the “mother” in you take over—don’t write from a “mothering” place.  Let the character go wherever he/she needs to go.
  • “Every minute we are inventing ourselves.  Your characters are inventing themselves and by that, discovering what is important.” – D. Brooks