Wednesday, November 30, 2011
The funniest thing about writer’s groups is how priceless they are. There are so many services available to writers – for a fee. You can buy writer’s guides, writer’s markets, online subscriptions to industry newsletters, conference registrations (with additional fees for one on one critiques), writing classes, etc. And all these things have varying degrees of value, even if not proportionate to their cost. But ironically, the greatest investment you can make in your writing career is the one that doesn’t cost a thing!
Joining a writers group is free, yet priceless. For just a small commitment of your time, you get personal attention to your writing. You get emotional support for the ups and downs that come with the writer’s life. You get free therapy for all the everyday things that happen between your creative outbursts. And over time, you get to see your writing clearly and dramatically improve.
It’s a funny dynamic. You sit down at a table with four or five people you’ve never met, and you dare to bare your soul through your writing. You secretly hope that they’ll burst out in a spontaneous standing ovation for your literary genius. Instead they offer dry comments about your use of passive voice and give a few suggestions for improving the pacing. You smile politely and thank them for their comments. You politely offer your feedback on theirs. Then you go home and vent. How could they not recognize your brilliance? How dare they make corrections? Who do these people think they are? Then you settle down in a day or two and reread their comments only to realize they were right! How could you have missed such obvious errors in your writing? Next time you meet, you listen more closely to their comments, eager to take notes. After a few meetings, you’re hoping they’ll have suggestions to add. After a few months, you wouldn’t dream of showing one of your manuscripts to an editor without running it by your group. Your group of strangers has transformed into a circle of friends.
Aside from your common literary interests, you’ve become interested in each other. Each person in the group has come to know your strengths and weaknesses as a writer. And because they applaud your strengths, you trust them to correct your weaknesses (and in their presence, you can finally admit you DO have weaknesses as a writer.) You take their suggestions and make revisions, and over time you find they have fewer and fewer suggestions for improving your work. Then comes that magical meeting when, unprompted, they say “I love this!” or “this one is ready to submit to editors!” And the praise you initially wanted from strangers means so much more now, coming from friends. I’m proud to say that I’ve become a better writer because of my writers group. I’ve been fortunate to receive two book publishing offers this year, and I know without doubt, that my writer’s group helped to make that possible. I only hope I’ve been able to give them the same support and encouragement in return. If I don’t tell my friends in my writers group often enough, I’ll say it here now – you guys truly are priceless!
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
So, considering all this, how does an illustrator make good use of yellow? In art, yellow is stimulating, energetic and optimistic. In The Yellow Boat, by Margaret Hillert, illustrated by Ed Young, Young uses the color against blue, along with complementary purples and greens, to push yellow to center stage. Even the white of the tiny boat’s sail supports rather than upstages the yellow form beneath it.
In The Boy from the Sun, written and illustrated by Duncan Weller, yellow contrasts with the grey, smog-covered urban environment of three sad children. It is the only color that appears on the first five pages of this picture book. As other colors are introduced they are muted against the brilliance of the luminous yellow that commands the reader to ‘follow me, come see what I have to show you.’
Yellow can also be used for its iconic associations. Yellow tells stories all by itself, no words needed: a bus, even if simply drawn and painted yellow, immediately suggests a school bus to most readers; a yellow tape tells us to be cautious or to keep away; yellow painted on a curb tells a story of who is allowed to park in a particular spot and who is not. What other color, painted on a light bulb, tells us bugs will stay away?
Monday, November 28, 2011
Courtesy of twitter and book nerds everywhere, these triple mash-up titles gave me a chuckle. And now, without further ado about nothing but the truth, I give you my top ten picks.
The Memory Keeper's Daughter of Smoke and Lovely Bones
Play Misty of Chincoteague for Me and My Gal
The Lion, the Witch and the War of the World According to Garp
The Man Who Mistook His Reliable Wife for the Cat in the Hat
Stuart the Little Prince Caspian
Charlie and the Chocolate War and Peace
The Joy of Cooking the Very Hungry Caterpillars of the Earth
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Philosopher's Chamber of Secrets
A Time to Kill a Mockingjay
Ender's Hunger Game of Thrones
(If you have an appetite for more, search #literaryturducken on twitter.)
Monday, November 21, 2011
Why an author writes for the age group s/he chooses is a question that comes up often at seminars and workshops. Why do you write picture books? Middle grade? Young adult? Reasons are as varied as writers themselves. For myself, I often decide what form the work will take from the voice that brings me the story. This is because when a story idea begins to form it comes with a point of view, a tone of voice, a setting, and a problem or concern that needs a solution. These elements, taken together, tell me who the story is meant for. Sometimes the subject matter and the problem to be solved fixes the story as a picture book, or older. Sometimes this matching of story to audience is dynamic; a story that, at first, seemed most whole as a picture book can evolve into a middle grade novel, and vice versa; the book can even age up or down several times. So I would have to answer this question with ‘because that is who this story needed to be written for.’ Not very helpful, I have to admit, but it’s really true.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
A while back I wrote a piece on writer's block and recommended facing it head on. Writer's Digest recently posted an article advising the opposite approach. Sarah Maurer suggests taking a break and achieving a Zen state of mindlessness is the answer. So now you have both sides of the story (I'm sure there are many more!) What strategies have worked for you in overcoming writer's block? We'd love to hear them!
Monday, November 14, 2011
Most writers try to get their work published before it's ready, but that, too, is part of the learning process. You'll need to learn how and where to submit your writing and become accustomed to the ups and downs of the submission experience. There will be plenty of rejections, and you can learn important things from them. I have a different word for rejection letters: certificates of courage. Because getting past the fear of rejection and criticism is crucial in order to improve your writing.
A writer who continues to improve while simultaneously getting his work out for people to read--that is a writer who will (eventually) get published. If you stop improving, or stop submitting or stop writing all together, that's when publication doesn't happen. When you are moving up the learning curve, you will reach the point where everything comes together--the writing, the writer, the market, the timing. And good things will happen.
What motivates you to keep trying?
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
What color do we see when we look at the longest wavelength of the visible light spectrum? Red. Red is visually dominant which explains why we respond to red as we do and how it can be used effectively in illustration.
Neurological studies have shown that humans react to colors at a primal level; red stimulates and attracts, makes us more alert, even aggressive. In a group of colors, we see red first. In many cultures red is considered the color of good fortune, luck and prosperity. Red also plays roles in the animal kingdom. The poison-dart frog from Ecuador and the Texas coral snake both use variations of red in their body color to signal danger. Ever wonder why bright orange is worn by hunters? Deer cannot see red or its variations but it allows hunters to more easily see each other.
So, considering all this, how does an illustrator make good use of red? One way is to clothe the protagonist in red. In Last Night, by Hyewon Yum, red is used sparingly, barely present in a story that takes place at night. But the little girl wears a red nightgown thus preserving her leading status even when other creatures are drawn much larger or dominate the action on the page.
In The Three Questions, written and illustrated by Jon Muth, red is used so sparingly that at first it only appears in the brilliant red kite that the boy flies as he plays. It symbolizes wisdom. Near the end of the book, red is used in the boy’s shirt, appearing simultaneously with the text that tells us the boy is learning the lessons the old turtle has been teaching him. Red visually binds the boy to what he has learned.
On a more direct level, red can be used to alert the reader that the action is about to move faster or become more emotionally intense, even explosive. We see this when red is used to visually represent anger or rage.
Do other colors have a range of emotions this wide or deep? I’ll explore the contributions of other colors in later posts. Keep watching!