Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A to the Q: Voice

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: I read your posts about voice. Can you give a definition? I'm a little confused by the different descriptions of voice I find out there.

Put simply, voice as a literary term describes an author's writing style. Your voice plays out — in your writing — through your unique use of tone, syntax, dialogue, character, and story development. It's apparent in a given piece of writing or across your body of work.

Every author develops a unique writing style and voice. Yours will emerge with writing practice. The exercises I highlighted in my Finding Your Voice series (see links to all in Part 3) can help you connect with your natural, everyday, non-writing voice. The one that plays in your head.

Tapping in to that inner dialogue can go a long way toward helping you find a comfortable writing style, one that isn't forced or assumed (as an identity) when you sit down to write. You don't want to "put on" your writer's voice — you want it to come through naturally.

Friday, September 26, 2008

2008 National Book Festival

The Library of Congress is sponsoring the 2008 National Book Festival from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm Saturday, September 27 (tomorrow!), on the National Mall in Washington DC. (No, I won't be there — I will be on a plane heading East, but not quite that far!)

Click here for a list of podcasts by festival speakers, including several fixtures on the children's-lit scene such as Jan Brett, Joseph Bruchac, R. L. Stine, and
Ambassador for Young People's Literature Jon Scieszka.

And, here's a link to some great resources for libraries, educators, and parents about hosting your own book festivals and other book-lovers' events this year.

Some of My Favorite Writing Resources

Below is a list of writing resources I gave my students in last spring's online class Children's Writing Workshop. I've learned from and/or been inspired by each of these titles over the years, and I think that as a group the books cover tons of useful and important ground about craft, discipline, various must-know topics, and the publishing industry.

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Annie Lamott

Children's Writer's Reference by Berthe Amoss & Eric Suben

Children's Writer's Word Book by Alihandra Mogilner

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books by Harold D. Underdown

Creating Characters Kids Will Love by Elaine Marie Alphin

Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom by Ursula Nordstrom & Leonard S. Marcus

If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland

On Writing by Stephen King

On Writing Well by William Zinsser

Picture Writing: A New Approach to Writing for Kids and Teens by Anastasia Suen

Take Joy: A Book for Writers by Jane Yolen

Worlds of Childhood: The Art and Craft of Writing for Children by William Zinsser, editor

The Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children by Nancy Lamb

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

Writing to Learn by William Zinsser

Now, go add something new to your library "hold" list!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

New Madeline Book

Madeline author Ludwig Bemelmans' grandson has produced the first completely new Madeline story in 50 years. I'm not sure yet how I feel about that. I'll check out the new book, though.

Read a PW article about Madeline and the Cats of Rome and author John Bemelmans Marciano here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

EFA's New Fall Classes

Just a quickie note to promote EFA's Fall 2008 Education Program. I resigned as education chair over the summer after putting together one final lineup (my ninth). I'll miss working with EFA's membership, my fellow board members, and the course instructors, but the time was right for me to move on.

This season's offerings cover a wide variety of professional-development interests:

  • Pricing Strategies for Freelancers (online)
  • Copyediting Basics (online)
  • Substantive Editing Clinic (NYC)
  • Advanced Substantive Editing Clinic (NYC)
  • How to Get Freelance Writing Work (online; NEW!)

My replacement on the Board of Governors is Jennifer Maybin. I know she'll be a great fit!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

A to the Q: Children's Writing Genres

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: Can you define the various genres represented in children's lit?

A: Below are the children's book genre categories as I have worked with them.

Board books:
Ages 0–3; 10+ pages; very few words

Picture books:
Ages 3–6 or 4-8; 24–48 pages (32 is standard); 500–1,500 words (750–800 is the classic standard length)

Easy readers/books for young readers/early chapter books:
Ages 5–8; 48–64 pages; 1,000–5,000 words

Young middle grade:
Ages 7–9; 48–80 pages; 3,000–20,000 words (nonfiction is usually longer at this level)

Middle grade:
Ages 8–12; 80–160 pages; 10,000–40,000+ words

Young adults:
Ages 12+; up to 300 pages; up to 75,000 words

Genre classifications will vary slightly with each publisher. In general, with each step "up" on the genre ladder, you'll see more words, an increased complexity of language, reading, and reasoning skills; fewer illustrations; and more (and more tightly focused) sections within the larger work.

Works sometimes straddle genres. For example, you can find Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar in the forms of a board book and a picture book; an example of a different straddler type is Lois Lowry's The Giver, which is read as early as age 10/Grade 5 and is still appropriate and appealing to readers up to age 14/Grade 9. (Of course true genre straddlers, much like the two mentioned, are usually brilliant and therefore good for readers of a variety of skill and sophistication levels.)

For a bit more information (and you'll notice some slight classification differences) read the 2001 article "Understanding Children's Writing Genres" by Laura Backes. Harold D. Underdown's book, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books, also gives a great basic genre breakdown.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Ira Glass's Storytelling Insights

This American Life's Ira Glass isn't specifically talking about children's writing in these video clips about the building blocks of story, but do take a look. You won't be sorry.

Ira Glass on Storytelling #1

Ira Glass on Storytelling #2

Ira Glass on Storytelling #3

Ira Glass on Storytelling #4