Monthly Archives: January 2011

Favorite Quotes from SCBWI Winter 2011

I had an awesome, inspiring weekend in New York City.  I made some new writerly friends (Hi, Guys!  *waves*), and met some amazing authors.

Here are some highlights – I apologize if my quotes are not exact.  I did my best to take faithful notes, but I also didn’t want to miss anything important by focusing on note-taking.

  • Picture books are the lynchpin of a child’s emotional beginning.  Jane Yolen
  • “I’ve read 40 of your books and they’re so boring.”  From a letter by a child to R.L. Stine
  • Say yes to everything.  You never know where it will lead.  R.L. Stine
  • Save the chaos and drama for your books.  Sara Zarr
  • Fundamental difference between adults and kids is that kids are shorter.  Mo Willems 
  • Don’t believe in yourself.  Believe in the work.  Linda Sue Park
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Read-Through Thursday

This is a new series for my blog, wherein I will discuss whatever book or books I’m reading or have just finished that week.  Feel free to post in the comments what you’re reading this week, too, or your own thoughts about the books I discuss.

I just started reading Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins.  I have not been reading this long enough to even tell you what it is about yet.  All I can say is:

  •  In Bamboo People, she explores conflict in Burma from the perspective of two teen boys.
  • I have been interested in Mitali Perkins since I started following her on Twitter almost a year ago.  Like me, she has lived in some interesting far away places.  Like me, she chooses to write about those far away places.

 I look forward to learning more about Burma and Ms. Perkins through this work.

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Pre-SCBWI Midwinter

Next weekend I will attend the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Midwinter conference for the first time.  I have been to other writing conferences, even other SCBWI conferences.  But they were regional.  This is the big one.

For two days, I will schmooze with and learn from authors, agents, and editors from all around the children’s publishing world.  I’m so excited!  And I’m so nervous.

Okay, deep breaths. 

I won’t be in any official pitch sessions and it isn’t like anyone will judge my writing on the spot.  But I’m not the best networker.  I’m shy (it’s true).  I get tongue-tied.  And I blush (OMG do I blush, especially since starting this migraine medication).  I’m not great at small talk (I get that from my dad).  If it comes to a choice between saying something that sounds stupid in my head or saying nothing, I choose nothing (except for those occasional times when I say the stupid thing and put my foot in my mouth and feel terrible for decades later – no exaggeration).  Which can be awkward.

So I’ll have to figure out a way to channel my mother’s warmth and confidence.  And it’s not like I haven’t done this before.  I’ve been to several conferences and I’ve made friends at all of them (in fact I met two of my most awesomest critique partners at the first conference I ever attended), and had decent conversations with editors and agents.  I somehow manage not to make a fool of myself.

I’m sure I can pull off that miracle again.  Right?

Anyone else out there going too?  I’d love to finally put faces and handshakes (or hugs) to names!

Okay, wish me luck.  Wish for clear weather in the Northeast, too, while you’re at it.  Now I’m off to figure out transportation.

PS  (Thursday morning) I spoke to my brother the other day about my nerves regarding the logistics and he said, “What are you worried about?  You’re a world traveler.”  And it really helped.  I am much calmer and I’m ready to take on NY!

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Read-Through Thursday: Matched

This is a new series for my blog, wherein I will discuss whatever book or books I’m reading or have just finished that week.  Feel free to post in the comments what you’re reading this week, too, or your own thoughts about the books I discuss.

1/20/10:  Matched by Ally Condie

A girl in a strictly-controlled future society sees her Match after the Match Banquet and then sees the face of another boy.  It was strange enough that her Match is her best friend, weirder still that she knows the other boy too.  When her grandfather dies, right on schedule, and gives her part of the Dylan Thomas poem Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night – which is not one of The Hundred Poems and therefore isn’t supposed to exist anymore – it feels like everything is pushing Cassia to ask questions, to want choices, and to rebel.

 This book has received many mega-awesome reviews.  It is on many lists of top books from 2010.  I had been hearing and reading about it for months and I couldn’t wait to read it.  So, I really wanted to like it.

I have to make a painful confession:  The first half was slow.  At some point I realized that nothing much was happening.  There wasn’t a whole lot of action.

However, I kept turning pages.  Not because I felt I had to or that it might get better, but because I wanted to.  Because I had to keep turning pages.  Despite the lack of action, what this book had in abundance was tension.

There was tension between how Cassia was supposed to live and how she wanted to live.  There was tension between her two Matches.  There was tension about which Match she should be with and which she wanted to be with (yes, another love triangle – oh, YA).  There was tension between Cassia and the various Officials she came into contact with.  Plenty of tension – everywhere, on every page, in every scene, between every possible combination of characters.

About halfway in, the tension became great enough and the action increased to the point where it was difficult to put the book down.  In addition, the prose was beautiful throughout.

In terms of tension, this book is so valuable to a writer.  Donald Maass (yup, him again) advocates “tension on every page” and Ally Condie certainly delivers.

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Heroes

Last summer I read agent, Donald Maass’ How to Write the Breakout Novel and completed the workbook for each of my YA manuscripts.  To create characters, Maass recommends thinking about your own heroes and what qualities in a person you find heroic.

For many, many years, my hero was Jimmy Carter.  Whenever those questions would arise about which person, living or dead, you’d want to share a meal with, I didn’t hesitate, I didn’t need to think about it. 

Until Carter’s anti-Semitic comments were published.  Then I was devastated.  I was disillusioned.  To this day when I’m asked who my hero is, I have no answer.   Instead, I have heroes who are closer to home:  my husband, who would do anything for our family – and does on a regular basis – and who never lets me doubt my abilities or our family’s security; my maternal grandmother, who spent most of her post-retirement time volunteering for three different organizations despite her own economic situation.

However, my former idolizing of Jimmy Carter is instructive.  What I appreciated about our former president is what he had done for other peoples of the world.  Apparently, to me a hero is someone who has convictions, lives by those convictions (or pretends to) and attempts to make the world a better place for all.  Maass recommends thinking about what we consider heroic qualities and giving some of those qualities to our main character. 

This means that each writer’s main character will include a bit of that writer’s ideals.  Each writer’s main character will be different from anyone else’s, even if that main character fits an archetype. 

For example, I wanted Sophie to be a selfish, self-absorbed, entitled, ignorant about the world American teen of the 21st century.  Before you click the X at the top of your screen, let me assure you that I don’t think all American teens are selfish, self-absorbed, entitled and ignorant about the world.  But I do think those are trends in our society.  And I wanted Sophie to learn that there is injustice in the world, and to become passionate about something outside herself.

Hopefully I have accomplished that and others will agree.

In the meantime, what qualities do you find heroic?  Who are your heroes?  How would you give heroic qualities to your characters (or, for non-writers, how would you teach those heroic qualities to your children)?

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Read-Through Thursday: Great Expectations

This is a new series for my blog, wherein I will discuss whatever book or books I’m reading or have just finished that week.  Feel free to post in the comments what you’re reading this week, too, or your own thoughts about the books I discuss.

1/13/10:  Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

I know, I know.  I wrote about this book on Monday.  But I haven’t read enough of Matched to have anything worth saying yet.  And I came across a new passage I love in GE:

“Look at me,” said Miss Havisham.  “You are not afraid of a woman who has never seen the sun since you were born?”

I regret to state that I was not afraid of telling the enormous lie comprehended in the answer “No.”

Let me say, too, that Miss Havisham is unlike any character I have yet come across.  Pip remarks that the room she sits in seems to have stopped in time.  The clocks are all stopped at the same time.  Miss Havisham wears a yellowing wedding dress.  If she picks up an item from the table next to her, she replaces it in exactly the same position.  She even wears just one shoe, while the other sits on the table next to Miss Havisham.  Pip, and the reader, gets the impression that nothing has changed in that room since Miss Havisham donned the wedding dress.  We don’t yet know how long ago that was.

And Pip continues to make me laugh.

Not to worry, Friends.  I already have a non-Great Expectations-related post planned for next Monday.

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Great Expectations

Isn’t this a great blog post title?  I have great expectations for 2011.  But it is also the title of a book by Dickens that I have been reading (slowly, oh so slowly) on my Kindle.  I downloaded it for free when I first got my Kindle because I had always wanted to read it.

A novel I read a few years ago really gave me the itch to read Great Expectations.  Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair and sequels, used Dickens’ Miss Havisham as a character, as a mentor, in fact, for the main character.  She was so unusual and fun that I absolutely wanted to know more.

I say I’m reading it slowly because, as you know, I’m currently reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, as it says over there on the right.  I used to carry whatever book I was reading to the gym to read on the exercise bike (I hate that thing!) or in between my aerobic workout and my strength training class, or while waiting to pick up my youngest son from preschool.  But since receiving the Kindle (thanks again RocketMan!), I don’t have to lug a giant hardcover anymore.

So, I only read Great Expectations at the gym or when I’m stuck waiting somewhere without my current read.

But, I am loving this novel!  The characterizations are great.  The narrator is funny, irreverent and self-aware.  For example, here is one of Pip’s observations about the man who will bring him to Miss Havisham’s house, Mr. Pumblechook, a sort of benefactor to the sister and brother-in-law who have raised him (by hand) thus far:

The same opportunity served me for noticing that Mr. Pumblechook appeared to conduct his business by keeping his eye on the coachmaker, who appeared to get on in life by putting his hands in his pockets and contemplating the baker, who in his turn folded his arms and stared at the grocer, who stood at his door and yawned at the chemist.  The watchmaker, always poring over a little desk with a magnifying-glass at his eye, and always inspected by a group of smock-frocks poring over him through the glass of his shop-window, seemed to be about the only person in the High Street whose trade engaged his attention.

 Tee hee.  Two meager sentences, 109 words, to show that his so-called benefactor doesn’t do a whole lot of work, but just about as much as all the other shop-keepers, except for the watchmaker, of course.

Okay, now that I have shown myself to be a complete word nerd, or book nerd, or some such, what classics inspire or surprised you?

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