Archive for April, 2010


April 28, 2010

I spent last weekend at a revision retreat sponsored by the Missouri SCBWI (Society of Book Writers and Illustrators) at the YMCA’s Trout Lodge.  Randi Rivers of Charlesbridge was the guest editor.  An incredibly nice aspect of this retreat was that she met with each participant twice.  Writers sent in a manuscript back in February. Randi marked up the manuscripts and wrote a revision letter. Plenty of writing time was built into the weekend so that writers could bring back a section to get some feedback on their changes.    

In order to make this work, the organizers knew that they couldn’t have Randi give the normal number of presentations that guest editors have in the past at this event.  I’ve been attending these retreats since 2003. In fact, I set up the first one.  So when the Missouri Assistant Regional Adviser asked me to consider being on the faculty, I had to say yes. 

I gave two talks: The Art of the Query Letter and Here’s the Pitch.  The first shared my biased view of what a query letter should be based on presentations by National Book Award Finalist Kathleen Duey and Philomel’s editorial director Michael Green not to mention reading various blogs and websites.   (Randi sat in.  She confirmed my theories  and answered questions. Nice!)   I also collected a bunch of queries and cover letters that helped writers either sell projects or receive offers of representation from agents to use as examples.   

 The second session on pitching projects was more of a workshop.  Each writer prepared a one-sentence pitch and a three-sentence pitch as the building blocks for a successful query letter.  And since this was a small group of talented wordsmiths, everyone had the opportunity and the willingness to read their pitches out loud.   Working together, we all helped sharpen each other’s pitches to capture the essence of the works in progress. 

I really feel like everyone emerged from the retreat with an improved project and the means to market it effectively.


The Copy Editor

April 24, 2010

Copy editors check over a manuscript for grammar and punctuation.  But they’re also the last line of defense when it comes to continuity and clarity.  Since so many books cross their desks, they can tell when things aren’t working.  I really feel like I’ve emerged with a stronger manuscript after two weeks of hard work.  Tomorrow–or should I say later today, I’ll get a chance to read a clean copy of the manuscript before the galleys are sent to the printer.  I’m actually look forward to seeing how it reads.

Word Wrangling with the Bounce Queen

April 19, 2010

I’ve given my students and other fellow writers plenty of advice through the years on how to make a poem “scan” correctly.  And I’ve always felt like a bit of a fraud when I’ve done it because I hadn’t ever sold a poem.  Still, twelve years of piano lessons and a good working relationship with mathematics will do things to a person’s brain and ear.  I could always tell when a syllable had been inserted.  During one session, a friend told me that I was the Bounce Queen. 

I knew from listening to editors speak that verse needs unforced rhymes and perfect rhythms unless you were Dr. Suess.  He could get away with a few things here and there.

But last week, I did it.  I sold a poem to the SCBWI BULLETIN.  This newsletter for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators takes poetry about writing and the writing life as a filler.  So even though my scrap of verse isn’t specifically for the children’s market, I’m counting it anyway.  I’m not sure yet when WORD WRANGLING will appear, but I’m very excited.

The 100 Best Chapter Books?

April 17, 2010

Betsy Bird admitted at the very beginning that her poll on the 100 best chapter books was not scientific.  But she did take a few wise steps.  Since some teachers required their classes to take part, she insisted that each book to make the final list needed to have two adults vote for it.   You can find the entire list with links here.  Her list of the twenty books that came close  were interesting as well. 

So how did my picks do?  Well, nine out of my ten favorite authors had places in the countdown even if my books didn’t win through.  For example, I picked Susan Cooper’s THE GREY KING over her DARK IS RISING and Lloyd Alexander’s BLACK CAULDRON over THE HIGH KING.  Five books of my books made the list. 

But I wasn’t trying to guess which books would make the list.  I was listing the books I loved when I was a kid so that they’d turn up.  I can appreciate children’s books as an adult, but I don’t always experience the love that I might have if I were plunging into them in third through eighth grade. 

So here, in alphabetical order are some of my favorite books that might have jostled for space on my list I’d thought of them in time or if I’d realized they were chapter books and not YA:

Anne of Green Gables
The Borrowers: Mary Norton
The Changeling (Zilpha Keatley Snyder)
Ghosts I Have Been: Richard Peck
Holes:   Louis Sachar
King of Attolia (As my stand-in for the Attolia books) Megan Whalen Turner 
Little Women: Louisa May Alcott
The Westing Game: Ellen Raskin
The Witch of Blackbird Pond
A Wrinkle in Time

Copy edits for SUSPECT

April 14, 2010

The copy edits for SUSPECT are flooding my mailbox.  What a great thing to come home to.  It definitely beats a wet basement.  I got peek at the final art for the jacket.  Very fun!  If I can figure out how to upload it, I will.

In the Gap

April 3, 2010

Calyn’s story, my work-in-progress, is set in the mountains.  So I’m getting excited for our trip to the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee.    Since I often like to work from pictures when I’m moving my characters, I know that photos of its old growth timber and second growth forests will be extremely helpful.