Thursday, July 31, 2008

Ever Try to Write While the Ceiling's Caving In?

I have carpet people here today (tomorrow, too, darn it all). They're installing new carpeting in every room on the main floor. I remember a very loud process when we replaced the basement carpet a couple years ago. But this process is SCREAMING LOUD!!!!

I honestly can't imagine the origins of some of the booms I've heard. I know they're moving furniture, pulling up the old carpets, placing screws in the floorboards to fix the creaky creaks, and laying down the new pad/carpet. I expected to hear some ripping and banging, much of it disruptive. But seriously, why is the noise level SO high?

Fingers crossed that all the furniture is still intact. I assume I'll hear screams (and silence when the work stops) if any people get hurt. I also assume that I don't really need to worry that the ceiling is going to fall on my head — or worse, on my pretty iMac.

Oh wait, I think they're stopping for lunch. Ahhhhhh! When they start up again, I think I'll see about taking my traumatized dog and the laptop to the park for a spell. It's a cool enough day that the pup will be fine tagging along on a few errands, too.

Might as well bolt — we're not getting much done around here.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Literary Meme

I could use a distraction this Wednesday morning, so I'm posting a meme that's been floating around the blogosphere for a few months, especially on writer blogs.

The inspiration for the meme: The NEA reported that American adults have, on average, read just 6 out of the (NEA-selected) top 100 literary works of all time. So bloggers started posting their own "scores."

You can see from my list that I've read fewer than half the titles. Is that good? Is it bad considering my profession? Does it matter?

I don't know . . . although I read quite a few on my own, I can claim many of these reads only because they were educational and/or occupational requirements. I enjoyed all of them, though. And I've read gazillions of works not mentioned (including stuff I personally think should be on a list of musts), as have most writers and reading-inclined adults I know.

I haven't looked into the NEA's specific concerns re the list — as in whether they feel adults should have been exposed to these works in school or should be seeking them out in lieu of watching American Idol (a winning idea, btw). But reading is good no matter what. And playing with lists is fun!

The instructions:

1) Look at the list and bold the titles you have read. (For books I started but didn't finish, I've bolded a roughly proportionate amount of text.)

2) Place an asterisk* next to the books you LOVED.

3) Flag those you've read multiple times.

4) {Bracket} the titles you have viewed in the form of a movie/miniseries.

5) Reprint this list on your blog.

1. {Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen*}
2. {The Lord of the Rings - J. R. R. Tolkien*}
3. {Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte*} (5)
4. {Harry} Potter Series - J. K. Rowling (I'm reading Book 4 now.)
5. {To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee*}
6. The Bible
7. {Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte*} (3)
8. 1984 - George Orwell (2)
9. His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10. {Great Expectations - Charles Dickens} (3)
11. {Little Women - Louisa May Alcott*} (4)
12. Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13. {Catch-22 - Joseph Heller*}
14. Complete Works of Shakespeare
15. Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier*
16. The Hobbit - J. R. R. Tolkien* (2)
17. Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18. Catcher in the Rye - J. D. Salinger (2)
19. The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20. {Middlemarch - George Eliot*}
21. {Gone with the Wind - Margaret Mitchell}
22. {The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald}
23. Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24. {War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy}
25. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
26. {Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh}
27. Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28. The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29. {Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll}
30. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame* (4)
31. {Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy}
32. {David Copperfield - Charles Dickens}
33 The Chronicles of Narnia - C. S. Lewis
34. {Emma - Jane Austen}
35. {Persuasion - Jane Austen}
36. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - C. S. Lewis* (2)
37. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39. {Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden}
40. {Winnie the Pooh - A. A. Milne}
41. Animal Farm - George Orwell
42. The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44. A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving*
45. The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins*
46. Anne of Green Gables - L. M. Montgomery
47. Far From the Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48. The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood* (2)
49. Lord of the Flies - William Golding* (2)
50. Atonement - Ian McEwan
51. Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52. Dune - Frank Herbert
53. Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54. {Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen}
55. A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56. The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57. A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens*
58. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - Mark Haddon
60. Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61. {Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck}
62. {Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov}
63. The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64. The Lovely Bones
65. {Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas}
66. On the Road - Jack Kerouac
67. Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68. {Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding}
69. Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
70. {Moby Dick - Herman Melville}
71. {Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens}
72. {Dracula - Bram Stoker}
73. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett* (2)
74. Notes from a Small Island - Bill Bryson
75. Ulysses - James Joyce
76. The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath*
77. Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78. Germinal - Emile Zola
79. {Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray}
80. Possession - A. S. Byatt
81. {A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens*}
82. Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83. {The Color Purple - Alice Walker}
84. {The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro}
85. {Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert}
86. A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87. {Charlotte's Web - E. B. White*} (3)
88. The Five People You Meet in Heaven - Mitch Albom
89. {The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle*}
90. The Faraway Tree Collection
91. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92. The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93. The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94. Watership Down - Richard Adams* (2)
95. A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96. A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97. {The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas}
98. {Hamlet - William Shakespeare} (5)
99. {Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl}
100. {Les Miserables - Victor Hugo*} (2)

Monday, July 28, 2008

A to the Q: Getting Hired as a Freelance Children's Writer

A to the Q is an ongoing series of posts in which I answer questions I've received from blog readers, workshop students, and others about writing and navigating the waters of children's publishing. My aim is to share what I know and spark your search for even more information.

Q: What does it take to be hired and hired consistently as a freelance children's book writer?

A: There is no magic formula for guaranteeing that you will get hired consistently as a children's book writer, or even that you'll get hired . . . Ever. But if you educate yourself on the market, hone your children's writing skills, pick a niche* to pursue, and then persist in applying for projects and completing/submitting your own projects, you'll give yourself a leg up.

I suggest applying what you already know from your other experiences in the workforce. That means using a similar work-generating process:
  • learn about the profession
  • polish your skills
  • research your market so you know what children's book publishers want and where to look for work
  • apply for work
  • do consistently excellent work once you start snagging gigs
  • foster and maintain great working relationships with your clients
  • network with writers, editors, and other publishing professionals
  • look ahead to future projects
  • stay abreast of industry trends
  • actively seek new opportunities

In sum, as with any other job, you have to make it happen!

*I believe narrowing your focus by picking a niche — whether it's for a limited time to get you started or forever — is key.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Feeding the Self-Promotional Beast

I spent part of yesterday and most of this morning on nothing but self-promotional activities — all the stuff that writers/freelancers need to do to stay on clients' minds and initiate new contacts with peers.

Sample tasks:

Getting in touch with clients and other colleagues. I needed information from a few people, owed correspondence to others, and needed to remind a couple of folks that I still exist.

Creating a profile on relevant networking sites. I set up shop on JacketFlap , an online community of people working in children's publishing. I think I first became aware of it 2 years ago . . . so, bad me for taking so long to go back and get started. I did the same thing on BlogHer, an online community for women in the blogosphere. We'll see whether I really find/take the time to reap the benefits from joining the sites. Right now I intend to try, but only time will tell if I find them as useful as they seem . . . or if I'm just not going to add them to my to-do list.

Discussing promotional ideas with my painter. He was here doing interior work all week, and we traded self-employment stories. We're in totally different businesses, but hey, a good promotional idea is a good promotional idea. Thing is, I just haven't done anything more than send a few flyers — and that was "once upon a time" at that. It's good, though, to periodically reconsider the value of investing in advertising, mailings, giveaways, and so on. What doesn't make sense one year might be a no-brainer must-do another.

So, those are the types of PR tasks I try to fit in every now and again. How do you promote YOU?

Monday, July 21, 2008

I'm Okay with YA!

I saw this article from Sunday's NYT calling out the stigma of writing YA material. Writer Margo Rabb, a YA author herself, talks about the experience of having her intended-for-adults novel picked up by a YA publisher. Sympathy from those who consider publishing in the YA milieu "less than" ensued.

I can't tell you how many times I've had people ask me about my work, hear that I write for the children's market, assume a stance of concerned pity, and then express a sincere hope that, someday, I'll be able to make the crossover into (insert implied modifier "real") writing for adults. Happens all the time. And it makes me laugh.

Not that I have anything against writing for adults. I'm no genre-classification bigot. But what's so awful about making your way writing for the younger set? Can't think of a single thing!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A to the Q: Author-Illustrator Info

A to the Q is an ongoing series of posts in which I answer questions I've received from blog readers, workshop students, and others about writing and navigating the waters of children's publishing. My aim is to share what I know and spark your search for even more information.

Q: How would I go about being both author and illustrator?

A: As you know, I am not an illustrator, so my ability to help on this one is limited. But here are my two cents regarding things that might help you investigate the possibility:

(1) Look for a copy of the annual Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator's Markets at your library or bookstore. It always features articles on exactly this topic. When you’re just getting started, this type of resource can answer tons of questions for you. Older editions can be just as valuable as the current one.

(2) I strongly recommend seeing whether there’s an SCBWI chapter in your area. Consider joining the national organization as a first step — that will give you access to local/regional/national conferences and meetings, the various SCBWI publications, their online discussion forum, and so on. SCBWI conferences are always invaluable, even (or perhaps especially so) when you're starting out. From there you can scope out your local or regional chapter and make further decisions about whether it's a good fit. Things to consider: Are there regular meetings and events that focus on topics of interest to you? Does it seem to present good networking opportunities? Is there a way for you to get involved and help the chapter address more of your needs?

Really, the process of getting work as an author-illustrator is the same as getting work as an author only. But you will need to pitch your work in a different way. Depending on the publisher, you might need an agent, you might be required to submit a complete manuscript on your own (the ms would usually consist of the text plus rough art), you might start by submitting writing or art samples alone, or you might need to follow some other rules as laid out in the submission policies.

Now for some useful resources. Below is a link to a handy guide from the Children’s Book Council. You can view it online or download the PDF. It provides a list of publishers with info about what types of submissions they accept (specific to artists and artist-writers) and how they want to receive them.

Getting Your Book Published: An Illustrator's Guide

And, for fun, here's a list of author-illustrator sites/blogs to explore and enjoy:

Dav Pilkey's Extra-Crunchy Webstite O' Fun
The site title says it all.

David Wiesner — The Art of Visual Storytelling
Wiesner's award-winning style is something to behold, whether he's writing, illustrating, or creating a stunning wordless picture book (which absolutely counts as both writing and illustrating). Take a peek at his works, creative process, and words of wisdom.

Denise Fleming
Get some ideas of your own by seeing how this acclaimed author-illustrator works and what all she has accomplished.

Devas T. Rants and Raves
Don Tate II's blog chronicles his day-to-day life as a long-time illustrator, as well as his more recent journey as an author.

Kevin Henkes
Caldecott-winning Kevin Henkes seems to do it all — he writes for kids of all ages, and he illustrates some of the most memorable picture books of our time.

Lane Smith Books
There's no blog here, but any aspiring author-illustrator can enjoy looking through Lane Smith's catalog of notable books, checking out the rough sketches he's posted, and just hoping for some of his great success to inspire — or rub off!

Lois Lowry
This Newbery winner's site offers a glimpse at all of her groundbreaking books, some of which she has illustrated. Follow the link to her blog, too, for additional insight into what makes this treasured figure of children's literature tick.

Lundentoons Blog
Illustrator-writer-cartoonist Einar Lunden shares his thoughts about writing and illustrating.

Mo Willems Doodles
This is a fun, informative blog by the talented author-illustrator-cartoonist Mo Willems.

Tomie de Paola
Click around the site to see de Paola discuss his writing and illustrating processes, read a great FAQ section, and more.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A to the Q: Speaker Attributions

While doing a bit of electronic file shuffling yesterday, I found several documents containing Q&As from some of the online writing workshops I've taught. That triggered my memory of an email folder full of responses to questions about the children's writing biz I've sent out to students, clients, and other interested folks. So I asked myself, "Hey, why not start a regular blog feature in which I share one question (and one relevant answer, of course) per installment?" And I answered myself, "Done. I'll call the feature A to the Q." Hope you'll find the topics useful!

Q: Lisa, here is a rather basic question. What are your thoughts on he said/she said vs. nothing said, or else more descriptive verbs, like “she added,” “he whispered,” “I teased,” etc. For picture books, must we always have a person identified as the speaker?

A: Ah, how to handle speaker attributions. When writing for kids, for the most part, yes, you must always identify the speaker. In a simple running dialogue, you should ID each speaker, but certainly there are cases in which you can skip an attribution or two . . . an example would be skipping the last one on a page or in a section in a two-person dialogue.

The level and style of a picture book will also inform your actions. In a book targeted to more skilled readers, you might have more dialogue and make more assumptions that the reader can keep up. Or you could write a picture book for the very young in which you show just one character on a spread (or just one who is old enough to speak). For that type of presentation, explicit attributions — and even the conventional quotation marks — are unnecessary.

In my writing, I like to try to stick with “he said/she said” or “said Herbie/asked Herbie” (or “Herbie said/Herbie asked” . . . just use consistently throughout). I think it’s a good idea to try to avoid more descriptive verbs in favor of letting the spoken part color the speaker’s intent, but I don’t stick to that by ANY stretch of reality. Although the longer I do this, the better I get at letting the dialogue itself do the talking — I will happily cop to being able to see a clear evolution in my attribution style over the years. Of the examples you noted, I find “added” and “whispered” innocent and useful, with “teased” great when judiciously used. Some will argue that “said” is the only way to go, but my personal feeling as a writer-editor-reader is that sometimes the extra shading just works.

As for taking it a step further with verb-adverb embellishments — for example, “angrily shouted,” “proclaimed loudly,” or “sobbingly replied” — my advice is to back away from the flourish! Again, I have committed more than my fair share of attributional sins in the past, so I pass no judgment. Working with these types of picky issues is just part of the game, and anyone working hard to refine his or her craft will deal with this one sooner or later (and then forever).

Click here for a discussion that closely aligns with my feelings on speaker attribution. It’s not directed toward children’s writers, but I still think it applies.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Life Happens

I did something strange today: I read a particular ezine for the first time in, oh, about 2 years. I've subscribed to it for a long time, and I used to read it weekly — it was just part of my routine. But, along with keeping up with other kid-lit blogs, implementing concrete plans for growing my business, completing numerous household projects, spending quality time with friends and family, coordinating the final steps of "settling in" to a house/community, reading that leaning tower of adult lit I'm interested in, continually challenging my culinary skills, teaching my now-old dog a few new tricks . . . and so on and on and on . . . I let it slide.

Seems like a small thing, doesn't it? The reading of the newsletter, that is. Yet far more important activities had taken its place. Taken the place of everything for a while. As I hinted a couple of posts ago, I'm ready to stop the "coasting." Ready to move on, as it were. But in the particular life circumstance I'm experiencing, it's hard to know how to move on. All you can really do is work on it until you make it happen (or it happens by sheer dumb luck).

In keeping with my desire to keep most of my non-writing life out of the blog, I'm not going to get specific about the life circumstance I so vaguely mentioned above. Yet it's impossible to NOT have your personal life affect your work on some level, don't you think? It strikes me that this is especially true when you're a writer. For me, anyway, writing full-time takes a greater level of consistent emotional investment than, say, working as a bank teller (something I did in my young adulthood). So when practically ALL of your ever-lovin' emotional energy is being spent on people/situations you consider more important than work, getting said work done becomes difficult. Burdensome, even. So does the simple act of writing for fun. And that's no fun and no fair!

The good news is that I'm back to possessing more available head space. That means I'm slowly getting back to my fully engaged working/writing persona. Not that I ever stopped working or writing — or that I wasn't able to perform for pay as needed. But writing wasn't driving me in the same way it usually does. Instead it was riding in the trunk, stuffed in a duffel bag, waiting for me to pull it out and fluff it up after my long, crazy road trip to Not Entirely Sure Where, Yet.

If any of that makes sense, then you, too, know that Life Happens. And today, I'm going out on a limb to say that I'm glad it does. After all, who among us can't use a little fodder for future fiction?