Thursday, May 31, 2007

Biz Buzz: "Republish or Perish"

Click here for the latest on the rights-grabbing issue mentioned in my 5/24 post. The Authors Guild is mounting a campaign at BookExpo called "Republish or Perish," which encourages authors to protest Simon & Schuster's new contract terms and report any similar fits of grabbiness by other publishers. Hint: To see the flyer, click on the link provided on the Guild's home page. At 6:00 p.m. Pacific, anyway, the link on the main article page didn't work for me.

Biz Buzz: Children's Lit Ambassador

As reported by Rachel Deahl in today's PW Children's Bookshelf, the CBC and LOC have created a "government-recognized" national post called the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature.

Deahl writes: "The goal for the position, which will be given to renowned children's illustrators and authors of both fiction and nonfiction, is twofold . . . First, it's to 'bestow an honor to someone who has contributed greatly to children's books.' The other hope . . . is that the ambassador will be able to 'spread the word and raise awareness' about the importance of reading and children's literature at large."

Each ambassador will serve a two-year term and travel the country for speaking engagements and literary events that promote the mission of the post. The first ambassador will be named in January 2008. I can't wait to see who it is!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Finding Your Voice, Part 2

It's high time that I make good on my May 16 promise to follow up on the reflection exercises I posted in Finding Your Voice, Part 1. Up to speed now? Good. I'll continue.

A student in my recent workshop asked how I defined youth in the context of those exercises. I thought it was a great question, because I specifically chose to say "youth" instead of "childhood." For the purposes of the work, I think of youth in terms of any age from first memory to the upper limit of the age group you would like to work in as a children's writer. I hate to explicitly set parameters, though, because I want anyone trying the exercises to feel free to interpret the term broadly and respond to what first comes to mind.

As you may have guessed, the reflection exercises are geared toward getting you thinking about what you want to write, or which niche(s) you want to inhabit as a children's writer. Thinking with intention about such things as the books you loved as a young person and the children's books you enjoy today can serve as a great jumping-off point for (a) deciding whether to write fiction or nonfiction and (b) for which age group(s) you want to write. Let's face it, we all do higher quality writing when we're comfortable and interested. And the more natural/less forced your writing seems to the reader — never mind a potential publisher — the better!

I contend that songs/books/memories of youth can help you zero in on what you should be writing. To illustrate, I'll use my own experiences as an example. See whether you think you can use your responses to the reflection exercises in the same way I use mine.

About the books: Of course I can think of many specific books I loved at a number of young ages: Caps for Sale, anyone? Little Women, The Wind in the Willows, and Charlotte's Web? Every Nancy Drew mystery on the planet? But the three pieces of children's writing that stand out from all the rest — from my youth and subsequent experience with such works — are Elizabeth George Speare's The Witch of Blackbird Pond (historical fiction/literary fiction), Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl (nonfiction/memoir), and Katherine Paterson's Jacob Have I Loved (literary fiction). I read the first two books in the 5th and 6th grades, respectively, and I read the third in my 20s as part of my job. I read each of them at least three times, and each one has stayed fresh in my memory.

What do those titles have in common, and how do they relate to my writing?

Well, for one, all three feature stories told from the perspective of a young teen girl. Although I do write for all age levels, I find that I'm most comfortable writing for the upper-middle-grade to YA reader. The writing comes more naturally to me than when I'm, say, writing for a very young audience.

Now that's not to suggest that you shouldn't (or that I don't) write for different age levels. If you want to, do it. A good writer who practices her craft and continually challenges herself to broaden her skills can do several things well. However, I firmly believe that there will always be one particular age range toward which any given writer gravitates.

If you are new to children's writing, you will probably want to try writing for several different age levels at some point — perhaps you'll even want to do so as a way to help you choose your path. But with some reflection and research, I think you'll find that you already know where you want to be, writing-wise.

To be continued.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Biz Buzz: Rights Grabbing

Have you been following the flap surrounding recent changes to Simon & Schuster's standard author contract? Last week Authors Guild issued a press release about a new S&S "rights-grabbing" clause. Ooh, S&S is maaaaddddd! But Authors Guild is standing firm. You can catch up on the fracas here.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Pruning Is Good

Surprise, this post is NOT about editing or the art of revision!

So, as the pup and I finished our lunchtime walk today, I got a sudden itch to do a bit of springtime pruning. Think: one scant part didn't want to get right back to the grind, one heaping part needed to think through some issues away from the computer and phone, and two solid parts it's just plain time to clean up the shrubs.

In 30 minutes I filled the yard-waste bin with deadwood from overgrown heather, spent blooms from a rhododendron, and whatever other debris I felt like grabbing with my garden-gloved hands (gotta protect the instruments!). It was great. Next thing I knew, I was back in my office and ready to plow through the rest of the day.

This type of chore always helps clear my head, and today it worked like a charm because I made a few decisions I'd been avoiding. Something about the rhythm of pruning and clearing — coupled with the satisfaction of seeing concrete progress — helps bring clarity to what's cookin' in the noggin:

Time to dump Client X?
Yes. Should I send my nonfiction proposal to Publisher B, who encouraged me to contact them with ideas? No; the topic isn't quite right for their list. Is the professional volunteer work I do benefiting me, professionally? Nope, not all of it; it's definitely time to take serious stock and cut back.

These issues all affect my business and so all needed my attention. It can be difficult, though, to carve out time for decision making when I'm sitting at my desk. There my mind automatically turns to more obvious tasks like writing, editing, and communicating with clients. Billable things, mostly.

But, fact is, the business runs more smoothly when I consciously take the time to check in on my goals and readjust plans as needed. And it gets old saving all of that for evenings and weekends or next year. I can't logically (or logistically) take a meeting with myself. I can, however, opt to take a "working prune" in the middle of my workday.

I hesitate to call that a perk of the job; rather, I think it's just a reality of the home business environment. Strategies and practices that work here won't always work in an office setting, and (in the vernacular of the self-employed) vicey versey.

Pruning is good!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Finding Your Voice, Part 1

Over lunch at the desk (turkey, Swiss, and tomato on Ezekiel bread . . . not bad, not great), I sifted through the materials for the online writing workshop I recently taught. I'm planning to stage a live version of the class sometime soonish, so I'm starting to think about what I can reuse.

The first homework I assigned is something I've used in other workshops, and I think it's fun. It's part of a series of exercises designed to help new children's writers (or those who are simply exploring the possibility of writing for children) connect with an authentic voice. See what you think. I'll follow up in subsequent posts with further related exercises and a discussion of how, exactly, you can use them to inform your writing.

Reflection Exercises
Write or type your answers to the following.
  1. Note the name of the last children's book you read just because you wanted to, whatever it was — from a baby's board book to the most recent Harry Potter novel. Note when and why you read it, too. (There are no wrong answers here, folks!)
  2. Write down the title of your all-time favorite book from your youth. Whatever springs to mind first. Note when you first read it and why you think it stands out for you. One title only, please.
  3. List 1–10 songs (no more) that always take you back in time to your youth. See how many come to mind in a few good minutes of thinking about it. The actual number of tunes is really up to you and depends on how strongly you associate time and place with music. Whatever you come up with, please list the songs in descending order starting with the one that gives you the strongest time-machine effect.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

I Am the Sonnet

I just clicked on a link to a personality test sent to me today. The idea is that you answer several multiple choice questions, and the results compare you to your most compatible poetry form. Okay. Why not. When you finish, the site then gives you some html to paste into your own site so you can share your personal form with the world (and send others to the test).

Here's what came up for me:

I am the sonnet, never quickly thrilled;
Not prone to overstated gushing praise
Nor yet to seething rants and anger, filled
With overstretched opinions to rephrase;
But on the other hand, not fond of fools,
And thus, not fond of people, on the whole;
And holding to the sound and useful rules,
Not those that seek unjustified control.
I'm balanced, measured, sensible (at least,
I think I am, and usually I'm right);
And when more ostentatious types have ceased,
I'm still around, and doing, still, alright.
In short, I'm calm and rational and stable -
Or, well, I am, as much as I am able.
What Poetry Form Are You?