Monday, August 26, 2013

Hatching on Twitter

by Deb Dudley

Hi.  I’m @debTWP and I have a confession.  I LOVE Twitter.  In my quest to become more social media savvy, I dropped by Twitter one afternoon just to take a quick peek.  I had my own preconceived notion of what Twitter was, and firmly believed it wasn’t going to be for me.  But shortly after I hatched, I started seeing something I didn’t expect to see.  A huge flock of writers, editors, agents, publishers, teachers and booklovers floating through my twitter feed, tweeting.  And as I read their tweets, I became mesmerized by their conversations and I realized I wanted join them.

 For those of you who have already written off Twitter because you think it’s scary or silly, I’m posting this entry just for you. Don’t knock it, until you try it. Did you know writers are pitching agents on Twitter through events known as #Pitchmas and #Pitchmad?  Real live agents are hovering over those hashtags.  Watching.  Waiting.  And when they see a pitch they like, they swoop in and favorite it.  Then comes the magic.  The chosen ones, the favorites, are invited to submit.  *Cue fairy dust*  In case you’re not totally sold on Twitter yet, hold onto your feathers and read this next part very closely – I have seen writers land an agent through these events.  You may be wondering why I am sharing this juicy piece of Twitter trivia.  Well, I am a writer and a reader.  I want the best stories published.  So if you have a great story, and you feel you need an agent, this might be the way for you to find one.

Have I successfully convinced you to try Twitter?  If so, make sure you tweet me @debTWP and say hello.  Follow me, my writing group @RCW_Lit   and some of the people I follow.  Many of them are established writers, agents, publishers, teachers and book lovers.  Find your favorites.  Read their tweets.   Retweet, favorite or reply if you like them.  Share light-hearted moments and books you love.  And always try to be positive in your tweets.

Want to know why I love Twitter?  I have tweeted back and forth with some of my favorite writers and illustrators.  I have discovered local writers on Twitter who are now my face-to-face friends.  It’s a mecca of information, a bundle of contacts and a phenomenon.

If you think you’re ready, do some internet research on Twitter to learn the basics before you hatch.  Replace your egg with a headshot, add a bio so people know you’re legit, and start tweeting.  Twitter, like all other internet social media, can get hacked.  Only open links from those you trust, and don’t open DM (Direct Messages) links unless you know exactly what they are. 

And one last thing, if something totally fabulous happens to you because you joined Twitter, please let me know.  Because I also LOVE happy endings!

Happy Tweeting!
Previously  posted on Deb Dudley’s Blog

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Author/Illustrator Interview: Kevin O'Malley

Some people have all the talent, and Kevin O'Malley is one of them. He's an amazing illustrator. He can illustrate other people's stories or he can write his own. He's even written books that other people illustrated. On top of that, he's a fantastic presenter  and a hit with the kids at school visits. He's funny. He's nice (as far as I can tell). You can't hate him because he's too much fun to be around. The only thing to do with people like that is hang out with them any time you have a chance.

Luckily, he's coming to the James River Writers Annual Conference this year, which gives us all a chance to do exactly that. And, I had got the opportunity to interview him for the RCW blog, so we can do some virtual hanging out with Kevin O'Malley (KO, awesomest initals ever). Read on!

RCW: In your experience, how does writing compare to illustrating? Is one more challenging? Is the creative process very different for writing and illustrating? Or are they similar?

KO: When I illustrate, I have tried to satisfy the needs of a lot of writers. Writers always imagine. Their imagination is not not mine. When I get a manuscript I always try to imagine what the writer wants. But the text leads me to something different. Most of the time the author understands, but I have run into... problems.  When I make my books I write for me, I imagine spaces for pictures and I see spaces for text. I'm a poor writer. I write to fill holes that I can't express in in illustration.Writing is far, far harder.

RCW: I'm not buying that poor writer bit. Not for a minute. When you're illustrating a book authored by someone else, how much interaction do you have with the author?

KO: I have done a lot of books. Sometimes the authors like what I have done. Sometimes they want to poke my eyes out with hot pokers. The truth is, illustrator and authors don't talk. I am left to see what I see in the text.
This idea makes authors crazy. But I can say that I've never called an author and asked them to change a bit of text that I find lousy. You have to let the artist have their space. On the flip side, I always offer a piece of art to any author who is kind enough to work with me. Most of the time, truth be told, the writer wants a bit of art. Not sure how I feel about being hit by a dart in a club room basement.

RCW: Bonus safety tip: stay away from darts. So how do you get feedback on your work? 
KO: I have lovely friends and relations. They love me. I visit a ton of schools. Kids like my work. That is feedback enough. Praise is wonderful. But being comfortably middle class in a brilliant industry is a joy. My first book got me banned and more 'news' than I was comfortable with. I quickly realized that what I want in kids books and what the biz wants are different.

RCW: How do you decide which project to work on next?

KO: I have been married for twenty plus years to a wonderful women. We have delightful children. When I'm offered a job I consider the pass and fail of the text. Most of the time I want the coin. I will bend over backwards to make everybody happy.

On the flip side... Many years ago my wife fell in love with The Police and the musician Sting. She said, "I would wash his dirty hair." I told her if, on the off chance Sting should want me to do a book, she could have at him. Ten years later I was offered a book by Sting. I took the call while the wife was in the room. It was fish or cut bait. I told them I would call them back and explained the situation to my wife.... She said, "Oh my god, I'm going to wash his dirty hair!" I called the publisher and said no deal. To this day I lay in bed with one eye open.

RCW: So glad to hear your priorities are in order. So, tell us what your typical work day is like.

KO: I get up early and and finish the list of work I mapped out the day before. The muse is bull.

RCW: I'll won't tell the muse you said that. Your books cover a lot of different topics and genres. Is this true for you as a reader as well? What kinds of books do you like to read?

KO: I tend to read non fiction. I've tried so many other ways but true to the guy in me I want information not introspection.

RCW: What kinds of research do you do for your work?

KO: I write what amuses me. Research? Only when I need it. But if you don't love going to a library and hitting the stacks and finding interesting stuff, you don't know what good quality time is all about.

I have wanted to do kid's books since I was in the fourth grade. 
But the truth is, I got lucky. I dreamed of this and by happenstance, it happened. My friends think it's a hoot that it happened. And they are right.

RCW: One last question. What’s your favorite weapon for fighting off zombies? Just kidding, but we still want to know!

KO: Easy. "Shawn of the Dead." I'd throw my lesser ancient records at them. Heck, they're slower than me! 

But don't touch my first pressing 'Gentle Giant' albums man!

RCW: Wouldn't dream of it! Thanks so much, Kevin for the interview. 

If you'd like to join Kevin at the JRW conference, click over and register right now. Many of us at Richmond Children's Writers will be there too, and we'd love to meet up. Look for us there!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Hall of Fame

My family and I had the opportunity to travel to Canton, OH for the NFL Hall of Fame induction weekend this year. While we were in the area, we took a side trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. We enjoyed both halls tremendously. It was inspiring to see so many people who define their craft at one location. Which got me to thinking, isn't it time for a children's writer Hall of Fame? Wouldn't that be great to see all the luminaries of children's writing in one place? And if I were on the nominating committee I would select A.A. Milne, Lewis Carol, Dr. Seuss and Mo Willems for the inaugural class. Who would you choose?

Friday, August 2, 2013

Fly On the Wall

Highlights from the Richmond Children's Writers August Meeting

The first manuscript we critiqued this month was a resubmission after significant rewrites. We all noted how much stronger the story was now. This time around, the comments were much different. They had to do with very minor things like formatting issues, tightening a little here and a little there, and whether there might be a better choice for the main character's name. When a manuscript is close to being ready to submit, the type of feedback from readers will begin to change. The suggestions become very nit-picky, very micro. This can be frustrating, but it is a good sign. It means the big story elements are strong and there is nothing left to suggest but very minor changes.

The next manuscript is an excerpt from a young-adult novel that is set in a fantasy version of the Middle Ages. Many of us felt that the emotions and the tension in this section of the novel were well written and very compelling. One comment was that the story needed to be more grounded in the setting. That is, the vocabulary, the clothing, and the details should anchor the story soundly in its setting. This requires extra thought and research, but in a story like this one, it is absolutely necessary.

Next topic: Underwear. Some members of our group think this is a super fun topic for a picture book. Others are not so sure. It's a matter of personal taste. The world is made up of all kinds of people, including some who will enjoy a brief story about undies, and some who would rather read a story about frogs. 
The mixed reaction from the group can be a learning point in itself. It doesn't mean the manuscript is not marketable, but you might have to work a little harder to find the right editor or agent to send it to. Moral of the story: It's important to find just the right fit for underpants. 

The next submission is not really a critique, but a discussion. One of our members has a great idea for a nonfiction children's book, but she is looking for a way to present it in a kid-friendly way. She brought some examples of how this topic has been treated in other books for kids. She floated a few ideas and we discussed the possibilities. This is an area in which she is very knowledgeable and passionate. We all agreed that if she can find a way to capture that passion, young readers will respond to that.

Lastly, we discussed another excerpt from a novel. Parts of the scene were very visual, and we liked that. However, there was one thing in particular, a certain reaction by the protagonist, that seemed out of character. Given his background and his family situation, would he really react that way? These kinds of inconsistencies are hard for the writer to see, but once pointed out, they become glaringly obvious. That's why we need writing buddies!

For your writing pleasure, we offer a fun little writing prompt made up of elements taken from our manuscripts this month:

Write a scene in which a character in a historical setting makes a choice of underwear that is inconsistent with what he or she would normally choose. What motivates that choice?

Now, write away!