December 2010 Archives

Shortlisted? - Mockingbird

Speculation about the 2011 Newbery awards started last fall as people discussed books they'd like to see considered.

Mockingbird (Philomel Books, 2010) by Kathryn Erskine is one of the ones I kept hearing mentioned. (It's already won a National Book Award.) I am so glad I followed up and read this book. Read the opening:

"It looks like a one-winged bird crouching in the corner of our living room. Hurt. Trying to fly every time the heat pump turns on with a click and a groan and blows cold air onto the sheet and lifts it up and it flutters for just a moment and then falls down again. Still. Dead."

Wow! I had to keep reading. I was drawn into Caitlyn's world immediately. Her brother who used to explain all the confusing things in life to this 10-year-old-girl with Asperger's is dead. Her father cries a lot. People want to help her, but she'd rather hide. This girl who doesn't fit in with the "norm" has surprising insights into life. Caitlin seeks for closure (she looked up the word in the dictionary) for herself and her father and works on finding a friend.

Whether the book wins the Newbery or not, it's definitely an award winner on my shelf. I think everyone should read it. Those who want a glimpse into the life of a child with Asperger's should definitely read it.

On her site, Kathryn includes information on the books she read while researching this novel. You won't want to miss the section on all the places where she's lived.

Of especially naughty children, it is sometimes said: "They must have been raised by wolves." The Incorrigible children actually were. So reads the beginning of the jacket flap for The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Book 1: The Mysterious Howling (Balzar and Bray, 2010) by Maryrose Wood.
Take your typical poor girl who must be a governess and make it untypical with lots of humor and you'll have Miss Penelope Lumley, aka Lumawoo, and the 3 children she must civilize. . . by the Christmas party. This story actually welcomes clichés. Watch out for squirrels and Old Timothy. And what exactly do the guests mean by their comments about a hunt?
hidden gallery.jpg
I'm looking forward to the sequel, The Hidden Gallery, which will be in stores Feb 22, 2011.

Reading on Maryrose's website, I discovered she also writes books for teens. I'll have to check them out.

Her publisher offers the game below to go along with the book. (used by permission)

Ready, Set, Goal

"Writers, it's getting close to the new year. Do you set goals? Forget dropping pounds. Pound out more words." James Scott Bell

His tweet is so apropos. Just Tuesday on #kidlitchat people were discussing their 2011 goals and it reminded me that I needed to assess my 2010 writing goals and create 2011 goals. Last year I was fortunate to have a writer friend challenge a group of us to come up with a list of goals and due dates and bring them to a meeting. (Thanks again, Heather!) We learned from each other and revised our goals. Here's the general outline of mine, post meeting:

- Don't read until afternoons - Monday through Friday

- Keep my two completed novels out until someone is willing to represent one of them. I listed novels and had lists of agents I planned to submit to
- Finish rewrites on mg mystery and get it out by end of year
- Complete first draft of YA WIP by certain date
- Complete first draft of boy mg WIP by certain date

- Get pb revised and submitted by certain date

- Submit 2 magazine pieces each month

- Post minimum of 1 article per month
- Post 2-4 book reviews each month

- Make the following changes to my website

I could have added my twice a week writing appointment and my monthly critique group meeting, but those have become engrained through years of habit. I also am an instructor for ICL and have weekly student assignments, but since they come in email and by UPS, they are hard to forget.

The Whys and How My Goals Worked

Email, Twitter
- I'm strongest and best at writing in the morning, so besides a quick check on when/where my writing buddies and I are meeting, I wanted to cut down the time spent on those easier tasks. Not as successful as I'd like, but at least I had the frequent reminder of my goal.

- I'm not a speed novel writer. Probably because I work on too many projects at once. But I know from my years of experience that works for me. Still I thought goals might speed me up and keep me on task.
- I determined one novel needed lots more rewriting, so I quit submitting early in the year. Haven't gotten to rewriting.
- The second novel kept going out until I heard Deborah Halverson (aka Dear-Editor) talk in LA at the SCBWI conference. Now I'm going through it with her Ultimate Novel Checklist. (If you get a chance to hear her speak, jump on it!)
- Finish rewrites on mg mystery - not done
- Finish two WIPs - neither is done, but I definitely made more progress

Picture Book
- Got it rewritten and sent out. No response. Got professional critique at conference in September and was told I had two stories. Light dawned. Must rewrite. When I get good idea on how best to do so . . .
- In November I got an opportunity to submit a picture book based on a fable on spec to a Korean publisher doing ESL. Wrote, submitted, revised by specifications, got contract. Still working on revisions. Asked to do other projects for them on spec - in progress.

Short Stories, Articles and Blogs
- I've been more successful in the past selling short stories and articles than I have in the last five years. If I don't write and submit, I can't sell them. I have stories written that have never been submitted. That needs to change.
- I created charts of the months where I recorded the number of submissions/posts in each category. Was I 100% successful in 2010? No. Was I more successful than in 2009? YES!
- I blog on my website for several reasons - it's a good way to add content, I have things I like to share about writing (they make a great place for me to refer other writers), and I enjoy sharing books I like/love. Oh, yeah, and it's fun. This one is the most easily measurable. I increased posts by 16 in 2011. Some book posts mentioned multiple books.

This was at the bottom for a reason. I made more pressing changes. Asked for help on harder ones from my computer experts in the family. Some are done and some aren't.


Was I over optimistic about how much I'd get done in 2010? Unfortunately, yes. Will I continue with goals in 2011? Oh, yes. After revising.

I learned for my Works-in-Progress that I need to make those goals more tangible. For 2011, I plan to list where I am in the novel at the start of the year--probably by word count since chapters get combined or inserted. Each month I plan to see where I am in word count. I think it will point out how much I am progressing or not.

I didn't write it down, but I also had weekly schedule goals. Usually they were:
Monday - finish up student assignments
Tuesday - write or revise WIPs
Wednesday - get ss and article submissions ready and/or sent out, work on blog posts, do general writing recordkeeping
Thursday - write or revise WIPs
Friday - work on student assignments
This year I think I'll write those down, too.

Some writers have word or page count goals per day. Others have a goal of finishing a chapter in a certain amount of time. Illustrators might have a number of paintings or sketches to accomplish in a certain time. What matters is to have what in the business world of project management is called a S.M.A.R.T. goal. Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. A goal such as "get an agent" isn't really under your control. A goal of "submit so many queries to agents by this date" is under your control and measurable.

I also think we writers need to be flexible in our goals. Writing a picture book on spec was not one of my goals at the beginning of the year. Revising the two novels yet again were not my goals. But the former resulted in a sale and the latter is going to make them so much better.

Another goal I may include for 2011 is which craft books I plan to read this year. I have this list, but don't get to many. Writing it down will give me a better chance. I already read some helpful writing magazines and list serves on a regular basis. If you don't, you might want to put that on your goals list. Speaking of lists, a new article was recently posted on goal setting for the new writer. Check out "Lists That Motivate!" by Amy Houts. It's specifically aimed at ICL students, but definitely has some good points.

So are you ready to set your own goals?

Write them down and share them with someone. Throughout the year share how you each are doing on meeting your goals. Don't use it as a chance to beat yourself up at what you've missed, but an opportunity to encourage yourself to press on.

You're welcome to share your goals here, too. (If you don't see the comment box, click on the title above and it should show below this text.)

The world of reality has

The world of reality has limits; the world of imagination has none.
Jean Jacques Rousseau

Historical Fantasy - Plain Kate

plain-kate.jpgKate's woodcarver father has taught her woodcarving, too, but when he dies unexpectedly, someone inferior gets his place. She's not old enough to be apprenticed yet, so must leave her home and fend for herself. For a while she lives in her father's stall. But she's so good with her knife the people wonder if she's a witch and want to blame her for the failed crops and sickness. Linay, a stranger offers her a way of escape in exchange for her shadow and she agrees. She also receives a gift - her cat Taggle can now talk. But now without a shadow people really do think she is a witch. What can she do to survive?

Plain Kate (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2010) by Erin Bow is sad, believable, and spooky. The book came out this fall and is described by the author as "a Russian-flavored historical fantasy." I enjoyed Kate a lot. I want my very own Taggle. But what cat lover wouldn't want a talking cat?

The author was born in Iowa, raised in Nebraska and now resides in Ontario. Read more about her here. Her previous last name could feature in a fantasy itself...

Thanks to Mike Jung--who will also be publishing a book with Arthur--for turning me on to this book.

Yes, I watched the original show of that title featuring the handsome Robert Wagner in the late 60s. The main character was a cat burglar who got caught thieving and was recruited by the government to steal for Uncle Sam.

Connwaer got caught thieving by a magician. He also was recruited. But not to steal.
Conn may not be living on the streets anymore, but life is even more dangerous than before. At least he's more likely to get a decent meal now that he's a wizard's apprentice.

magic thief.jpg

I've read the first two books, The Magic Thief (HarperCollins, 2008) and The Magic Thief: Lost (HarperCollins, 2009), both by Sarah Prineas. Connwaer has caught my imagination and stolen my heart. I must know what's going to happen to him next! And I will as soon as I get my hands on The Magic Thief: Found (HarperCollins, 2010). Fortunately, I am reading these in English. Those in Germany have to wait for book 3 till 2011.


Check out this extra, a map of the city of Wellmet, an interview of Sarah, and more at the publisher's site.


Read about the author on her site. She has a blog entry on voice. She has a unique take on magic, which I won't reveal here. (You have to read the books!)

I love the illustrator's work with these books, too. See more of Antonio Javier Caparo's work. I bet you'll agree the work is lovely.

An Editor's Day


Why isn't the editor getting back to me? If your manuscript was unsolicited, it ends up in the slush pile. The slush pile gets read last. But even if your manuscript was requested, it will take time for the editor to respond. Here's why:

Editor 1: 5 Ms that occupy one editor's day:
  • Meetings - they are "not what's get in the way of my work, they ARE my work"
  • Marketing - "performances" - includes flap copy, which is so important
  • Mail
  • Mechanics - looking at the different stages of the book in the manufacturing process
  • Manuscripts

His "M" for manuscripts includes the ones he's editing now. That doesn't leave much time to look at new projects.

Editor 2: A glimpse into what one senior editor does:
  • Budget for next year - chart of all books - project costs, copies selling, etc.
  • Budget for conference, conventions, staff, salaries
  • Manage staff - pour oil over troubled water - part the Red Sea
  • Balance list
  • Manage up - be aware of what managers want
  • Proposals for books that she's bidding on
  • Look at profit and loss statements for individual books and the department
  • Schmooze with authors, agents
  • Make print and buying decisions
  • Read books the house may acquire
  • Communicate with colleagues about books
  • Edit
  • Marketing, presale, sale meetings
  • E-mail, phone calls

This senior editor probably does not read many manuscripts that have not been vetted by other editors in the house, or by an agent.

Editor 3: An yet another view:
  • Meetings
  • Interruptions
  • Trying to read manuscript
  • Lunch at desk
  • E-mails
  • Phone calls
  • Brainstorming
  • Take the above and remix

I've heard many editors say they do the reading of submissions away from the office. That might include on the train ride home, evenings, and over the weekend. So, they often read manuscripts in their "free" time.

Further Editor Info from a Q&A

How do you balance lists?
- We pick books we will love in 3-6 years

How do editors determine marketing budget for an individual book?
- Make a wish list for each book, balance with colleagues
- Every season there's a book that is a sleeper - it rises to the top unsuspected

How do bidding auctions work?
- The editor gets a call - this is going to be big and why (credentials)
- Reads it (may not even be that great a book but upper management wants them to look at it)
- Come up with marketing plan, proposal
- Date is set for auction
- Call on date and give bid
- Oh, but we already have that bid, relook and rebid perhaps
- Phone tag
- Next day - are you in or not?

What do editors discuss at an editorial meeting?
- Great voice
- Ability for writer to keep interest - some foreshadowing
- Is this story something new - a fresh perspective - honest look
- Fully realized characters - subtle quirks and nuances so readers can develop a relationship with character
- What's the best way to get this book out there - whether hardback or paperback
- Platform - quotes from other writers, etc. - not the writer's worry

The above info collected from a variety of editors.

What can we control? Our writing. And hope someday to be a part of an editor's day.

Marketing is important, but it's

Marketing is important, but it's not what I want to know about first, or even most. You MUST tell me what the book is about, and tell me about it in a way that is compelling.
Janet Reid

The only thing I can

The only thing I can control is my writing. So I work at getting better and better so that no one—NO ONE—can ever turn down any of my books again.
Jane Yolen

How'd You Get That Gig?

I've heard that question and others like it when people found out about my sale of a picture book to the Korean publisher, Unibooks (유니북스), for their ESL program for young children.

Is it who you know?
Yes, and no. Yes, a friend of mine posted the information about the publisher, but it wasn't directed specifically to me. It was posted on a list-serve in August (I think). Here's what she said:

I have a writing opportunity that may interest some of you or some of your
members. A respected Korean English language publisher is looking for
writers to do work-for-hire books for grade levels kindergarten - Jr. high.
Books are nonfiction and fiction, based on set content area themes or
topics, for example, upcoming social studies topics are "feelings" and

Word length is 250 - 1500 words and fee ranges from $300 to $1200 per book depending on target age range for each series.

If you, or a writer you know, would be interested in doing this kind of
work, please shoot me an email so I can find a few good candidates to
suggest to this company. Someone with some magazine experience or published credits would be preferable. I'd like to get something to them in the next couple of weeks. Writing projects would start immediately in October.

So that was about networking really. Talking and listening to other writers. Paying attention. Being open.


What happened next?
I told my friend I was interested and gave her a brief bio. I think she received interest from at least 30 other writers. She asked us to answer some questions and then she sent the whole batch of info to the publisher.

November 3rd, someone from the publisher contacted me via email. (Normally I delete emails coming with any foreign language in the "from," but fortunately, not this one!) She mentioned my friend sending her the info, had visited my website, told me briefly about the project and asked if I was interested. Of course, I said "yes."

Next step, I received more details and suggested topics. I chose one, "Belling the Cat," refreshed my memory on the original story, followed the publisher's specific guidelines and wrote it up and submitted. Here's what I got back on November 17th: "We like your script. It's like a piece of musical. And embedded parts are well settled. At the same time, we feel you abbreviated the story because of word count. You can use up to 250 words. So we'd like to suggest you several things." And it went into very specific details. Payment was discussed, but no contract.

I rewrote; sent it back. This time, November 29th, I got a contract . . . along with other rewrite suggestions. And encouragement to write one or two more stories for them. I've rewritten "Belling the Cat" again and am waiting for their feedback. I think it is much stronger and clearer, but what makes sense to me as a native English speaker may not make sense to Koreans who learn English as a second language.

Meanwhile, another person from Unibooks contacted me. She's working on the next level up and read one of the first two versions of "Belling the Cat" and would like me to write something for them. Of course, I said, "yes." I imagine the future books for both projects will go along a similar process: write on spec, make changes, and if they like them, I'll get a contract, then make more changes.

What can you do?
So my advice to you is network with other writers, read writing list-serves, pay attention to opportunities, be willing to try out for them, and work hard on your writing and rewriting.

I know NO writers of

I know NO writers of fiction who aren't assailed by the monsters of doubt along the way.
Jane Yolen

chains.jpg13-year-old Isabel was promised her freedom on the death of her owner, but the old lady's heir sells her and her sister Ruth to an awful New York couple who are selfish. Set during the American revolution, Isabel gets hooked up in the fight for the country's freedom to gain her own freedom. Isabel has such mixed feelings about her involvement with the revolutionaries - she gets betrayed by them and the British.

Chains (Simon and Schuster, 2008) by Laurie Halse Anderson is really good--of course. The sequel, Forge, has recently come out and is on my to be read list. I heard Laurie talk about the research she does for her books when she visited Kansas City* in October. One fact for Chains that she used was about women of the time wanting bushy eyebrows and used mouse fur!

fever.jpgLast week I also finished another of Laurie's historical thrillers (as she calls her historicals) set not that much later. Fever 1793 (Simon and Schuster, 2000) is about the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia. We often don't appreciate how fortunate we are. This fascinating story reminds us.

Laurie's site has extra information about both time periods, teacher resources, material aimed directly at students, and more.

*See my friend Lisha's report with video.

Facts just slip into your mind - The Red Umbrella

redumbrella_small.jpgCuba, 1961, Lucia and her little brother Frankie are glad that Castro has closed the schools and they get to laze on the beach, but the then truckloads of soldiers go by. Her parents make them stay in the house and the one time they go out, they see some businessmen being beaten. Lucia thinks they must be rebels. But then people start saying her father is a rebel and she sees the murdered body of her doctor who just wanted to discuss things. What will Lucia's family do?

The Red Umbrella (Knopf, 2010) by Christina Diaz Gonzalez is an excellent historical book. It's one of those that gives you an education without you realizing you're being educated. That's probably one of the reason it is winning awards!

I was fortunate to briefly meet Christina after I'd read her book. She's very gracious and friendly. And, yes, as beautiful as her pictures. Read about her on her site, where she also has information about awards, her upcoming book, and a link to her blog. I especially enjoyed her entry about 20 things that stood out in her last year, posted on her birthday 8/20.