Thursday, November 28, 2019

Conference Notes and Nudges. 10 Tips for Children's Authors

I'm horrible at keeping my social media updated with where I'm going and what I'm doing in regards to my writing pursuits, particularly in regards to conferences. Over the past year and a half or so, I've enjoyed quite a few, from the big SCBWI conference in LA to smaller ones, like the writing retreat with author Carol Lynch Williams, to online gatherings like Picture Book Summit in 2019 and 2018.  For me, attending these conferences provides fuel for kindling new ideas and sprucing up old ones.  They keep me moving forward on this writing journey, connect me with friends, and build bridges for making new opportunities.  For any writer, conferences can be invaluable.

Today I'm sharing some of the things I've learned.

1. Make connections and build relationships, particularly on social media. For a while, it seemed that "social media" was a four-letter word. It was deemed to be a drain for creatives, whose time would be better spent writing or illustrating. And for a while, I bought into this mindset, and stayed away from it for a handful of years. But while writing is one of those endeavors that requires separation from the rest of the world if any meaningful storytelling is going to be put on paper, I've learned that social media helps keep me connected to a wider world and allows me to share in the ups and downs of this publishing business that so many of us are trying to break into.

Some of my favorite social media gathering spots are on Twitter and Facebook.  Twitter has a whole network of picture book writers and editors that connect through hashtag conversations, such as #PBChat which was started by @JustinRColon earlier this year, as well as #PBCritiqueFest as started by @BrianGehrlein and #kidlit. On Facebook I'm a member of a handful of groups such as Julie Hedlund's 12x12 PB challenge and NF for Children's Writers. 

2. Write what you know.  This bit of advice has changed over the years.  Lately, I've heard: write what you interests you--even if you don't know it! Go out and learn about it. Personally, I follow the idea of: write what you love. Fall in love with your characters, your idea, your piece of nonfiction, and bring it to the best life it can live through the words that you feed it.

3. Ask questions. What does your character want? What is your emotional connection to this book? What are things you've fought for? What are things your character is fighting for? Do you have a sense of place on every page?

4. Keep writing through the submission process. Don't get hung up on one idea.

5. Comparative titles and Mentor titles are not the same thing. Comp titles are a sales tool to use in a pitch. They are a previous published book that you refer to that helps explain the nature of your manuscript to an agent or editor. Examples of how comp titles can be used are: I) My ms could be described as X meets Y; II) X but with the addition of Y; III) Readers of X will like Y.

6. Surprise them. Editors and agents like to be surprised in what they are reading. Share something with them that they didn't know about. Write something that only you know how to write. If you are moved by your own writing, it's likely that other readers will be moved as well. Write in a compelling, entertaining way about something that matters.... These sentiments were common themes that I heard from agents and editors at SCBWI-LA in August.

7. Advice from MT Anderson that I loved: Take the familiar and make it unfamiliar.  Take something unfamiliar and make something surprisingly familiar about it. Show us the invisible that lies all around us, but only you can see.

8. Advice from Tiffany Liao: If I can change the age of your MC and it doesn't affect what's presented, then the story is too watered down. Character drives everything.

9. Advice from Mem Fox: When writing, think about the child you're writing for, and nothing else.  And:  "I don't want children to understand everything I write. I teach them how to love reading with the right number of syllables and beats in the right place."

10. Advice from Brandy Colbert and Elana Arnold: Add a ticking clock. Give your MC a limited amount of time to achieve their goal or else face consequences.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Summer Musings

I've been quite fortunate this summer.
My writing has been productive.
My days have been leisurely.
My gardens have been fruitful....We actually had enough strawberries from all the rain to allow me to make a batch of strawberry jam. That is the first time that has happened in 20 years. So yummy!
And our family vacation was fun.

This is also the first summer in a long time where projects from teaching haven't interfered with my days, so I've actually been able to feel what it means to relax and turn my attention to my creative work--writing--without distraction. The goals I set for spring are being met, with numerous new picture book manuscripts completed and my MG is half-way done. Hooray!

One of my activities in summer is to help raise Monarch butterflies that I bring in as caterpillars. Raising them inside in enclosures ensures so that they won't be eaten by other predators and beetles that visit their home among the milkweed plants.

A couple days ago I saw a butterfly flitting around the milkweed that grows along the rock wall of my garden. Thinking it was a Monarch that had finally returned from Mexico or California, I grabbed my camera to take a picture.

Alas, as I got closer I realized it wasn't a Monarch. It was a Swallowtail visiting the showy flowers in bloom for their nectar.  But still beautiful.

I've heard the Monarchs have been slow to return to our area this year. Until then, the milkweed awaits and nourishes other butterflies that visit.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Spring into Writing

It's here.
Don't let the snow fool you. This is springtime in the mountains.
#SnowShoeing Last weekend

After what has been a long winter with days made gray by skies capped with heavy clouds, SPRING is standing on my doorstep -- threading its yellow light across my lawn, nudging the crocus flowers from the flowerbeds, and urging the tulip flowers that are still sleeping in bulbs beneath them to take notice.

In my yard, salmon pinks will follow purple.

These small events... that make SPRINGTIME springy... make me happy.

They awaken the creative sparks, leading me in slightly new directions, allowing me to see manuscripts I've been working on in new ways, making the revision process more crisp and fresh.

With such feelings stirring, it seems near impossible to do anything but breathe more life into the characters that have been reaching out from the page.

Which means it's time for spring cleaning. Or rather, re-energizing.

For that, I'm springing into my writer's chair at my writing desk and tackling a new list, which really is nothing more than the same old list, but with more verve.

1. Write. Write new. Write fast. Write now by visiting the ideas for picture books I've jotted down in notebooks over the last few months at different conferences and in different settings. Choose 10 of the best ideas and crank out rough drafts for at least 5.

2. Write more. Write with focus. Write with intention. Start with the most promising draft from above and revise that into a 1st draft to work on. Repeat for the others.

3. Write through Resting. While those manuscripts simmer on the back burner through April, work on finishing the first draft of the middle grade I've got going.

A full sunbow (like a rainbow
 and a moon bow) encircled the sun during our trek
4. Revise and Restock. I write most of my drafts in notebooks, so I'll have to allow time for restocking ink. Jetstream pens are my favorite. And one of them ran out of ink today. (Which is good, because it means I've been writing). (But I'm okay for now because I've got pens in bundles. Well, 6 to be exact.)

5. Assess my spring and summer calendars. Set goals, plan ahead to make deadlines. Summer won't last forever and I want to make the most of it.

6. Continue sharing and learning what I can from my writing groups and critiques and conferences. Yes, Write.

7. Keep writing, and keep reading, and repeat.

Happy Springtime!

View from a snowshoe trek last weekend above Bear Lake, Utah, #AllSnowAndSunshine

Monday, February 18, 2019

Meet children's author Laura Roettiger and her new picture book, Aliana Reaches for the Moon

Teachers and parents strive to inspire their students and children to become engaged and excited about the world around them.

As a parent, I loved discovering new ideas on how to have my children interact with nature when they were younger.  I believe that fostering this interest in learning played a large part in their ability to put themselves on their own paths to successful futures now that they're grown, because they learned how to ask questions and get excited about possibilities.  Looking back, their journeys began with picture books. There were so many that we read before bedtime.  Some of our favorites that featured nature were We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen, Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, and When Will It Be Spring? by Catherine Walters. 

Today, I'm excited to share a new picture book by Laura Roettiger called Aliana Reaches for the Moon.  This story is centered on the process of discovery and creative interaction with the natural world by a young girl as she creates a birthday gift for her brother. I anticipate that children will enjoy looking for clues about the gift Aliana makes in subsequent re-readings, and will be inspired to make marvelous creations of their own. 

Laura took time out of her schedule to share some insights about her new book. The book's birthday is tomorrow, February 19, so you will be able to bring this book into your own personal libraries to enjoy with the young readers in your life! 

What was your inspiration for Aliana Reaches for the Moon?

The inspiration for the story comes from a few different people and observations that I have woven together.  I moved from Chicago, Illinois to the mountains west of Boulder, Colorado in July 2016. It was the first time I lived away from the light pollution of a city and I was amazed by the brightness of the full moon. This is what starts Alianas journey in the book. Aliana is based on my own daughters and some of the wonderful children I taught in Chicago at Carlos Fuentes Charter School.

Your story is set in Colorado. What are some of your favorite outdoor places to explore in Colorado and beyond?

Colorado has so many ways to enjoy the outdoors. I had vacationed in Colorado many times including ski trips, hiking, river rafting, and a little mountain biking. Now that I live here, I hike trails with my Goldendoodle Charlie in all seasons. One of the biggest differences between living here and Chicago is the amount of time spent enjoying nature. My "backyard" is National Forest, so I can hike from my house or drive a few miles to a variety of trails. I've also learned to snowshoe which is an amazing workout. Several years ago, I took a hiking trip on the Oregon-Washington border seeing amazing waterfalls near the Columbia River Gorge. Minus the waterfalls, it's very much like that here. 

Do you have any favorite artists that combine science and art, perhaps like Aliana does?

I love impressionism. Artists like Monet, Degas, and Pissaro and their Post-Impressionist disciples Van Gogh, Seurat, and Gauguin have inspired me. I'm not sure if they combined science and art like da Vinci is known for, but I'm sure there are connections. My writing and photography are the way I express my art.

What were some of your favorite books when you were younger?

My favorite books included Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sydney Taylor's All of a Kind Family, and all of the Beverly Cleary books.

What is your typical day like as a writer? No real typical day. 

What is your favorite advice to share?

Author Laura Roettiger (on Left), signing a copy for a reader
Advice for writers: Join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), connect with other writers as much as possible - if you write picture books, Julie Hedlund's 12x12 Picture Book Challenge is an excellent source of support and education. Read widely, especially in the genre you write in. It’s important to study craft by reading and knowing what works and why. Be patient, because publishing is a long slow process.

Advice to support writers: Buy the book for yourself or to give as a gift. In addition to that, some of the other ways that are free and also valuable to writers include requesting a book from the library. Libraries make purchases based on patron requests. Write reviews online at Amazon and Goodreads. You can submit reviews on books you purchased elsewhere or read from the library. Talk about the books you enjoy. Recommendations from word of mouth are an important factor in purchasing books.

Find more information about Laura and connect with her at her website: