Friday, October 21, 2011

The Funniest Thing About...

The funniest thing about writers’ conferences is the panel Q&A. At every conference I’ve attended where they have a panel of successful authors, eventually someone will ask how they got started in children’s writing; what was their big break? I have heard writers begin their answers to that question in the following ways: “my husband’s agent…, while I was working at Scholastic…, the publisher of my adult romance novel…, a friend of mine who knew Jane Yolen…, after being an agent for ten years…” I have NEVER heard a single author say, “They pulled my manuscript from the slush pile and called me.” For all the assurances I hear from editors and agents at these panels that they read and consider every manuscript they receive, it seems odd that the (admittedly anecdotal) evidence suggests that having a friend in the business is still the quickest route to publication. But fear not! You do have a friend in the business. If you’re at a writers’ conference, look around. Talk to the person next to you. Everyone there at the conference is “in the business.” They all care about children’s publishing. Many of them have already been published or know someone who has. Talk with them. Reach out to them. You never know when a, “Hey, I like your sweater,” comment can turn into a, “I write in the same style, I think my agent might be interested in your work,” moment In addition, the agents and editors that attend these conferences WANT to find someone to publish. They want to make their weekend speaking engagement worth giving up a trip to the beach or the mountains. They want to connect, not just with a manuscript, but with an author – face to face. Take advantage of these opportunities and sign up for the one on one consultations and evaluations. Chances are, they won’t fall in love with your first submission, but you will have made another connection with “someone in the business.” Who knows, maybe you will end up on one of those wrters’ panels answering a question with, “My friend the agent…”

Pebbles of Writing Wisdom

I love going to writers conferences. It's not so much about what I learn, although that alone is valuable. It's more about hanging out with writers, catching their energy and passion, and thinking about my own writing in a new way. Let me illustrate by sharing a few pebbles of wisdom from the recent James River Writers Conference. Unfortunately, my notes did not include the names of the persons who dropped these gems in my lap, which means I can't give proper credit to the speakers.

- Write to the hole in your heart.

- Writers have to deal with ambiguity. It's your own truth that you bring to the muddle that clarifies it.

- Plot is the tracing out of a character's desire, the laying out of what the character wants versus what the character gets.

- Write the way Otis Redding sings, with rhythm, emotion and voice. His music emulates desire.

-When someone is reading my book, that person is in my care. The whole point of literature is to make you feel more human, and it's the writers responsibility to make that happen.

Everything about the conference feeds my writer self. What awakens the writer in you?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Do Audio Books Talk to You?

One of my favorite ways of reading is to listen. I have heard those critical of audio books say that listening isn’t really reading. But that is how reading often begins. As a child, I loved being read to. Even now, stories come more alive for me when a voice adds to the images spilling out with the words. Reading through listening is both a very old and simple medium (the story-telling tradition goes back thousands of years) and a sophisticated, complex, modern phenomenon thanks to computer technology. Today a single story teller can reach untold thousands, even millions of listeners through the magic of digital media. I have a hunch that the nomadic story-tellers of old would be delighted.

My passion for listening/reading has had one unexpected result. My rate of reading has increased. I choose a wider variety of books and I read more constantly. I have also developed a list of favorite narrators alongside my lists of favorite authors, books and movies. At the moment, Jim Dale, narrator of the Harry Potter books, is at the top of my narrator list. People I know who are challenged by reading text, the visually impaired, blind or dyslexic also read constantly and voraciously, thanks to the magic of audio books.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Getting Kids into Books

My daughter is perhaps the most picky reader I know. She likes fantasy, but only a certain type of fantasy. She likes mystery, but only a certain kind of mystery. You get the idea. Sometimes I'll give her a book I think she's going to love and she's only lukewarm about it. In spite of that, we keep trying because when she connects with a book, she is IN LOVE with it.

Her latest book crush is a little-known middle grade book called Abby Carnelia's One and Only Magical Power by David Pogue. She is dumbfounded as to why no one else she knows has read this incredibly awesome book. I suggested she write what she likes about Abby Carnelia's story and I could post it as a review on Amazon.

We also found the author's email address on his website and decided to send him a message. I told her we might not hear anything back because this author is a busy man who writes a column for the NY Times. A few days later, we got an email back. He told her that she is exactly the kind of person he hoped would read his book and like it. She felt like a rock star reader!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Favorite Fall Books

My absolute favorite book about fall is Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree. I have always loved Halloween and from my first exposure to fellow Richmonder, Edgar Allen Poe, I have always been drawn to tales of the supernatural. This book combines both elements as seven boys race through time and space to save the life of their very ill friend. In the course of their adventures with the mysterious Moundshroud, they learn the very roots of the Halloween celebration – past the original Hallowed ‘eve of the Catholic church, past the Mexican Dia del Muerta, past the Celtic New Year, past even the Roman fall festivals, all the way back to ancient Egypt and beyond. This is that rare blend of cultural and historical facts woven seamlessly with excellent story telling. This book precisely captures the mood of my favorite part of my favorite season.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Favorite Fall Book

My favorite Fall book really focuses on the colors of all four seasons. Fall is devoted to the glories of brown. No color, other than orange (to my mind, linked more to Halloween) denotes the closing of the agrarian year with more resonance than brown. But I have never particularly liked brown. However, the way Joyce Sidman writes about brown in Red Sings from Treetops (a Caldecott Honor book in 2010), whimsically illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski, guarantees that I will never look at brown in the quite the same way again. Listen:

fat and glossy,
rises in honking flocks.
Brown rustles and whispers underfoot.
Brown gleams in my hand:
a tiny round house,
dolloped with roof.

The last phrase, a powerful description of the promise of an acorn, is pure delight.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Favorite Fall Books

Hooray for the pumpkin pie! Fall has arrived and in the next few posts, we'll be sharing our favorite books about autumn delights: pumpkins, leaves, spooky fun, and family feasts.

Luckily, one of my favorite picture books of all time happens to have an autumnal theme. Fletcher and the Falling Leaves, by Julia Rawlinson (illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke) is everything a good picture book should be. It's funny. It's beautiful. It's simple yet meaningful on many levels.

When Autumn arrives, a young fox becomes concerned when his favorite tree changes colors and dropping its leaves. Something must be wrong. Fletcher tries to help his tree, but to no avail. Not to worry, for a happy ending with a twist is in store. Fletcher and the Falling Leaves is not just another autumn-themed book. It's a story about friendship and the acceptance of change.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Reading for a Record

Our own Lana Krumwiede and Brian Rock are teaming up with PBS Sprout and Learning Care Group to help break the record for most people reading the same book on the same day. Sadly, the book is not one by either Lana or Brian (maybe next year!) They will instead be reading the enjoyable, Llama, Llama, Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney. The purpose of the record breaking attempt is to help make reading a priority for at risk preschoolers. According to the Learning Care website, "Millions of children in low-income neighborhoods are at risk of school failure before they even start Kindergarten. Led by Jumpstart, “Read for the Record” is a program that mobilizes adults and children to close the early education achievement gap. In cooperation with Jumpstart and Sprout, we are proud to stand up and read together as one voice to demand that all children receive the quality early education they deserve."
If you'd like to join Lana and Brian in setting the record, you can play along at home by joining us on Facebook at either 7:30 p.m. ET, 7:30 p.m. CT or 7:30 p.m. PT, when our own Dr. Heather Wittenberg will read the book live.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Kevin Nesbitt's Scary Good Poetry

To help get everyone in the mood for Halloween, children's poet Kevin Nesbitt is posting a funny Halloween or monster themed poem on his Facebook page every day in October. Don't miss out, Kevin's poems are a real treat! Here's a peak at today's poem:

My Father Looks Like Frankenstein
My father looks like Frankenstein,
my mom looks like Godzilla,
my brother looks like Dracula,
my sister, Vampirella.

My family is the scariest
in this entire city.
I really can't explain how I
turned out to be so pretty.
--Kenn Nesbitt