January 31, 2011

The Phyllis Week Kick-Off!

Phyllis would like it to be known far and wide that this is PHYLLIS WEEK!  (She wishes there was a way to make that sparkly!)  Feel free to send fan mail (and strawberries!) to the Weather Prophet Extraordinaire, and bake yourself a celebratory cake in her honor.  Also, she says your boss should be very understanding if you need to take a National Holiday, especially on Wednesday (Groundhog Day)!  Or Thursday (Phyllis's birthday)!!

So, when was it that weather became such drama?

Maybe with the advent of The Weather Channel.  I'm not sure.  But I get such a kick out of listening to radio announcers and TV weatherpeople turning pretty much any kind of weather into As The World Turns :)

"We've got a cold front moving in off the Plains carrying dense quantities of moisture mixed with Arctic temperatures driven by El Nino via the Jet Stream.  Batten down the hatches!  Stock up on milk and toilet paper!  Make sure there are fresh batteries in your emergency flashlights and radio!  We may get nearly 1/4 inch of snow with temperatures down near 30!!!"

But this week it appears to be for real.  The weather dramatists are predicting... you guessed it!... A LOT MORE SNOW AND ICE!  And this brings me to an interesting question:  if the entire northeast is supposed to be in the grip of a fierce winter storm on Wednesday morning (and for those of you who don't live with Phyllis constantly reminding you, that's Groundhog Day!), it does not seem possible for any of the weather prognosticating groundhogs (from Punxsutawney Phyllis (NY) - or Phil (PA) for traditionalists -  to Smith Lake Jake in AL, Staten Island Chuck in NY, Shubenacadie Sam in Nova Scotia, Wiarton Willie in Ontario, Jimmy the Groundhog in WI, Woodstock Willie in IL, or Buckeye Chuck in OH, among others!) to see their shadows and hideaway for 6 more weeks of winter.  On the other hand, given the winter we're having, it seems equally impossible (although it would be awfully nice!) that an early spring could be on the horizon.

Wednesday February 2 is going to be an interesting day!

Phyllis would like to celebrate her week by having all of you write comments on:
a) why she is the most beautiful
b) why she is the smartest
c) why her weather predictions are ALWAYS correct
d) what you would like to hear her sing
e) what you would like to give her for a birthday present (her birthday is Feb. 3!) or,
f) all of the above!!!

Now, she and I are off to the Ridgefield Library in Connecticut for story hour.  Woo-hoo!

Happy Phyllis Week, Everyone :)

January 28, 2011

Am I Doing This Write? (Or, Writers Must Be Part Rhino)

I'm working a little harder than usual for upbeat this morning, but it's a tough morning that starts with three rejections.  I may need some cake :)

There must be something in the air today, though, because over at The Write-At-Home-Mom, Megan was posting about rejection, too, (much more eloquently than I am, I might add!) and how you have to keep your perspective.  (She's so right, but there are days when it's so hard!  Hmmm... Should I have blueberry, spice, or devil's food for breakfast...?)

Rejection is part of being a writer.  We all know that.  It is why we must be part rhino, so that those wounding arrows let fly by agents, editors and reviewers will bounce off without bringing us to our knees.  If you're going to put your work out there for the world to see, some people will like it, and some won't - there's just no getting around it.  (Maybe blueberry.  That's part fruit, and therefore healthful...)
self portrait

Rather than let this latest set-back ruin my day, however, I thought, maybe I can use it to brighten yours!  After you've read a few of my rejection letters, perhaps you'll feel better about your own :)

So here you go, a little sample, a smattering, a smorgasbord, if you will, to boost your morale and remind you that you're not alone in rejection!  Have you ever gotten any of these?

The Basic Form Rejection:
Dear Writer,
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to consider your manuscript.  While we have enjoyed reviewing your work, I am afraid it is not quite right for our program.
Sincerely, The Editorial Department

The Multiple Choice Rejection: (please check all that apply)
Dear Author,
Many thanks for your submission.  Unfortunately, this one didn't work for us.
___ It's not suited to our present needs
___ It's language or concept is too mature for our audience
___ We seldom buy rhyming picture books
___ It needs more character/plot development
___ We have a very limited non-fiction line
Sincerely, The Editors

The Personal Rejections:
Dear Ms. Hill,
Although this is a lovely, simple text that would be easy for kids to read, the word choice is predictable and banal and the story line feels thin for the length.
Sincerely, The Editor

Dear Ms. Hill,
Your story has a wonderfully inventive ending, but the overarching conflict didn't capture my imagination as successfully as the resolution did.
Sincerely, The Editor

Dear Ms. Hill,
... the message was too heavy-handed...
... it's too didactic...
... it's too long... too short... too familiar... too bizarre... too... too... too...
... although your manuscript is charming/funny/engaging/sweet, ultimately it's not strong enough for today's market.
Sincerely, Editor after Editor after Editor

Hmmph!  Somehow the term "overarching conflict" seems a little "heavy-handed" for a picture book :)

Even if you get published, you're not immune to rejection.  There are professional reviewers (who may say things like, "...this sometimes challenging story may baffle new readers..."), and then there are amateur reviewers (see Library Thing, GoodReads, Amazon, or lots of others!)  One person on Library Thing said about No Sword Fighting In The House (and I quote exactly) "Gosh, this such an awful book," and another on GoodReads called Freight Train Trip "bizarre" and didn't understand "the undercurrent of mortal peril."  Really?  In a board book, that's what she found?

So now, I hope you're all chuckling and patting yourselves on the back because your rejections haven't been this bad!

Anyone who wants to brighten my day in return can comment with rejection tales of their own :)

Have a great weekend.  I'm going to get some cake.  And to heck with a healthy breakfast.  Devil's food it is!

Chocolate - it's what's for breakfast :)

January 27, 2011

Breaking Into Writing

Yesterday's post included a potential writing opportunity, which got me to thinking about breaking into writing...

From time to time, (like last Friday) I post about some of the things that writers struggle with from the point of view of someone who is published because that's where I'm fortunate enough to be coming from.

This does not mean that I've forgotten how it felt to be hoping to get published.  (Honestly?  I still hope that every day and it's not much different!)

But worrying about sales figures, or about whether people are reading and liking your books is what my husband refers to as "dilemmas of the privileged."  I know there are tons of great writers out there, quite probably better writers than I am, who are still waiting for that first call from a publisher, who dream of  seeing their book on a library or bookstore shelf, and who would love to be obsessively checking their rankings on Amazon.  I used to be one.  And even though I've got a few books out, I'm still one.

Because if you're a writer, one article or magazine story or book is never enough.  You're always writing, always wanting to share your stories, always hoping to publish something new that will make that possible.  There is no finish line.  I know a lot of writers, and none of them have written and published one book and then said, "OK.  That's it.  I'm done."

But the road to publication is a hard one.  It involves talent and persistence and just plain luck - I've had stories turned down because the editor accepted something similar just the week before.  It can take a LO-OOO-NG time.  Not only that, but the fact that you manage to get published once doesn't necessarily (or even probably) mean that you will get published again, or that it will be any easier.

So what (besides writing, of course) do you do while you're waiting to get published for the first (or subsequent) time?

Yoga?  Not for me.  I'm too impatient!

Housecleaning?  Um, I think we've established the fact that housecleaning is not my activity of choice :)

Bake?  Fun, but potential side effects (can you say hippo?)

So, would you like to know my little secret?

Writing contests!

I love them.  They give you practice with deadlines and word counts and subject matter - at conforming to an editor's preferences or requirements.  They are fun.  From many, you will get feedback about your work which can be very helpful in making that story, and/or your writing in general, better.  Should you happen to win or place, you get money (sometimes quite a bit) and prestige - you can say "Story A won the Writer's Writing Contest!" which might potentially help you sell Story A to a publisher.  And there are even some contests where the winner is awarded publication by major publishing houses.  These are opportunities to get your manuscript in front of an editor when you might otherwise need an agent to do so.

I hate sitting around waiting (yeah, back to that impatience :))  Sending a manuscript to a contest makes me feel like I'm doing something constructive, and gives me something extra to hope for and look forward to... After all, Story A could win the Writer's Writing Contest...!  And the more you submit, the more hope you have of success - don't you think?  I haven't done a writing contest in quite a while, and I think it's time to get back in the game!

If you're interested, here are a few you can check out:

Children's Writer Contests
Delacorte Press Contest For A First YA Novel
Highlights Fiction Contest
Southwest Writers Contest
Writer's Digest Contests

There are LOTS more!  Please feel free to post your favorites in the comments if you're a contest junkie too :)

So what are you waiting for?  The deadline for Highlights is Monday and first prize is $1000!  Spruce up an old story or write a new one.  Send it in and see what happens.

Most of all, have fun and good luck :)

January 26, 2011

Meet Kathy Welsh!

Writers, sit up and take note!  This post includes potential writing opportunities - how's that for making your day :)

After being deliberately vague yesterday about the timing of upcoming guest posts, we're off and running with one today!  (Maybe I should remember that trick...!)

Please welcome Kathy Welsh, a talented writer and the creator of Country Courier Magazine!

Kathy Welsh
Kathy's story is an inspiring one for aspiring writers.  She was not encouraged to write as a child, nor did she have formal training or education in her chosen field of journalism.  Nevertheless, feeling that her community lacked adequate coverage in local news, she "took the bull by the horns"and began submitting articles to her local weekly paper.  Although she had no writing credentials to speak of, her passion for local news came through and her articles were published.  It was the beginning of a career in freelance journalism.  She moved from the occasional article to weekly articles and eventually to a weekly column.  Today she is editor-in-chief and publisher of her own magazine, Country Courier, a local publication for Union Vale, New York.  She is a role model for making writing dreams come true!

SLH:  Kathy, how did you first become involved in writing?

KW:  This really all began quite by accident!  My very first job was in the publishing world - Western Publishing Inc. in Poughkeepsie, NY - as an expediter in the purchasing department.  After leaving my job when I had my first child, I began writing for Taconic Press, which I did for several years.  My husband's job relocated which took us to West Virginia.  There I connected with The Valley Press, a local weekly newspaper, and freelanced for them until our next relocation - northwestern New Jersey.  Again I contacted the local weekly newspaper, The Star Gazette, and began covering three counties for three different editors.  This is where I really honed my skills as a reporter and covered everything from school news to feature articles to municipal news.

SLH:  How did you get involved with Country Courier?

KW:  When I created Country Courier Magazine we had made our final move back home here to Union Vale. Publishing the magazine was a natural progression from newspapers to a magazine-style format. I already knew what my readers liked so I used those topics to create this publication. And it has been very well received!

SLH:  What are your goals for Country Courier?

KW:  Our goal is to remain a free, direct-mail and online publication. We have currently updated our website from quarterly to daily news to provide our readers with “More News More Often."  And, we are also changing our print format from magazine style to more of a tabloid style to provide more news for our readers. This will debut mid April.

SLH:  What, if any, writing opportunities might there be for interested authors?  What types of submissions are you looking for?

KW:  Now that we offer a daily online website, we are looking for writers and photographers to contribute articles, news and photographs.  I am interested in local news about people, places and things from municipal to feature stories.  All submissions will have a byline.  Writers need not have previous publishing experience, but I reserve the right to reject any pieces that do not fit the criteria of the magazine.

Sample photographic cover
from Country Courier
SLH:  How can writers/photographers contact you?

KW:  Please email Kathy[at]CountryCourierMagazine[dot]com.

SLH:  Where can interested readers and/or writers view the magazine and follow your writing and activities?

KW:  The magazine is online at Country Courier Magazine.  You can also follow me on Twitter and FaceBook.

Thank you so much for joining us, Kathy!

I urge everyone to visit Country Courier online.  The new website is beautiful, and a quick perusal will give you a feel for the type of writing Kathy might be interested in publishing!

January 25, 2011

Chasing Away The January Blues

Yep, in case you were wondering, it's still January.  It's still cold.  And it's snowing... again....  I'm guessing y'all could use a little pick-me-up.  Am I right or am I right or am I right?

So I will give you a quick glimpse of things to come and then you'll have something to look forward to!

Very soon (we're going with vague here because, well, I don't actually know when they'll be ready) we will be having a guest post with Kathy Welsh, creator of Country Courier Magazine, who may have some opportunities for aspiring writers!

Also, possibly even more exciting (if you can imagine that) a guest post with Cori Doerrfeld, the talented author/illustrator of the new children's picture book PENNY LOVES PINK.  Her post will include a contest for a free signed copy of PENNY!

Also, a guest post with Karen Orloff, author of the best-selling I WANNA IGUANA and the new I WANNA NEW ROOM!  Her post will include a contest for a free signed copy of I WANNA NEW ROOM!

Also (yes! even more!) an upcoming guest-post with Donna Farrell, children's illustrator and creator of beautiful websites and blogs for children's authors, illustrators, and others, which will discuss important design features to keep in mind when creating an internet presence.  Maybe we'll think up a contest and prize to go with that too!

So now, aren't you all feeling much better?  Filled with enthusiasm to head out to work in the frigid, snowy darkness?  (Well, maybe not that much better... :))

Here's a little something to occupy your mind so you don't think about how January it still is:

What kinds of games/contests do you like to play?  If we were having a game/contest on this blog, for example, say, to give away a copy of a book like PENNY :), what do you think would be fun?

Anyone who posts a comment with ideas will get an extra chance at PENNY or NEW ROOM (please specify your preference) for every useful unique contest idea they contribute.  (First one to list the idea gets the credit for that idea.)  That's like a contest for contests!  So fire when ready - I'm open to all ideas!  (And Teri, I will count yours from back in December when you listed them in the Contest Contest post!)

Mwaa-ha-ha... I think we showed those January blues who is boss!

January 24, 2011

Procrastination Station

It is -12 degrees this morning.  Seriously.  I am not making this up.

When my husband got to the train station it was -15!

I suppose if you live in South Dakota or Minnesota, that's no big deal, but around here, that's pretty darn cold!

Even the dogs have decided that discretion is the better part of valor and are doing squirrel patrol from inside the house :)  Not the most calm or quiet pastime, I might add...

By noon, our esteemed weather forecasters predict it will be up to a whopping 10, at which point the dogs and I will be able to brave an outing.  In the meantime, it's a perfect time to write.

Except I suddenly feel a mad urge to vacuum.  And there's laundry to fold.  And I could certainly unload the dishwasher.  And when was the last time I cleaned out my closet?  Or polished the silver?  And maybe I should take a toothbrush to the tile grout in the bathroom....

Which brings me to today's topic:

Procrastination: (v) to put off, defer, or delay action until a later time...

Procrastination, I am your queen!

But apparently I am not the only writer who feels this way.  In just the past few days, fellow author bloggers have mentioned the same problem (see Nancie's thoughts) and offered advice on how to make better use of your time (see Novel Journey)  And a writer friend of mine mentioned that she gets her work done thanks to Macfreedom, which allows you to turn off your WiFi for a preset amount of time (no more checking your inbox every 20 seconds or playing sporcle!!!)  It seems many writers suffer from this problem.

And there's a good reason.  Writing is hard!

Gene Fowler said, "Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead," and Walter Wellesley Smith said, "There's nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein."  A.A. Milne, whom I've quoted before, said, "I know of no work manual or mental to equal the appalling heart-breaking anguish of fetching an idea from nowhere."

So if you're a writer, and a procrastinator, not only are you not alone, you're in very good company :)  And I think it's always nice to know you've got company - that others struggle with the same things you do and understand the difficulties.

But I've discovered a curious thing.  I can't not write for very long.  If I start vacuuming or unloading the dishwasher, one of those tasks where the hands are busy but the mind is free, I often find that I suddenly have a lot of ideas and need to write them down immediately.  Which explains why my house tends to be half-vacuumed, the laundry is folded but not put away, and (who are we kidding) the tile grout in the bathroom has not been scrubbed by toothbrush since we moved in :)

Maybe it's backwards procrastination...  I procrastinate from writing by doing chores, and I procrastinate from doing chores by writing!  See?  I told you...

Procrastination, I am your queen!

Writing is hard.  But we love it anyway.  We're writers, so we have to write, and no matter how much we procrastinate, we'll get to it eventually.  In the meantime, take comfort in the fact that we're all in it together :)

How do you procrastinate (maybe by reading this blog... :)) and what do you do to get yourself back in gear?  Share with your fellows in procrastination!

January 21, 2011

Happiness Is... A Fan!

It's official.  I have a fan!  Possibly two!

I know.  I can't believe it either!

Here's what happened.

A few days ago, I got an actual article of fan mail which said (and I quote) "I LOVE your blog!"  Imagine that!  She loves my blog!  Way to make my day!

But it gets even better (I know.  The mind reels.)

Yesterday, in the same week (what are the odds) I made a phone call, and when I identified myself, the person who answered said, "Susanna Hill, as in Punxsutawney Phyllis?"

WOW!  That never happened before!  (And the fact that the person turned out to be the husband of a teacher whose wonderful preschool I have visited many times, and who was therefore more likely than many to have heard of me, did not detract in any way from that moment of heartwarming happiness at being recognized by association with one of my books!)

This brings me to an interesting point, though.  Writers of picture books do not have the same opportunities for interacting with their readers as writers of MG and YA books do.  This is not necessarily because picture books touch their audience less deeply.  It probably has more to do with the fact that most 4 year olds are more interested in playing in the sandbox than writing fan mail :)  The picture book set is not widely known for visiting websites or reading and commenting on blogs :)

But this means that, unless an adult who reads to them is unusually motivated, enough to find time in an already over-scheduled day to write a note, you're not likely to hear... anything. In fact, one of the reasons I started this blog was precisely to encourage more of that interaction between writers and the children, parents, teachers, and librarians we write for.  We want to know what you think.  What do you like?  What do you look for?  What can we do better?

When your picture book is first published, if you're lucky, you'll get a few nice words from one of the big reviewers.  After that, it kind of drops into the void.  Days go by.  Amazon rankings take one step forward and two steps back.  Pinkaliscious sells a bajillion copies and your book waits wistfully, hoping someone will pick it.  Publishers only send statements twice a year, so that leaves A LOT of days to wonder whether anyone is even reading your book, never mind whether they like it.  When the statements do arrive, in this economy, sales can be disappointing.  It's hard to remember that the sales figures are not necessarily a reflection of your book's worth (although they may be.)  There is no way to measure how many times your book is read in schools, or how frequently it is checked out of public libraries, or whether, somewhere, a child asks for it over and over and over again.  People might be reading (and liking) your book... or they might not.  There is a lot of uncertainty involved in being a writer.

But that is exactly why the rare moments when someone takes the time to tell you that their son loves Freight Train Trip, or their daughter demands Can't Sleep Without Sheep every night at bedtime, or you get invited to visit a school, or someone mentions that they love your blog or know who you are... that is why those moments are especially sweet.  They can carry us through a whole bunch of those uncertain days.

So when next uncertainty strikes (which will probably be in about 10 minutes) I shall martial positive thoughts.

I mean, after all, I have a fan!  Possibly even two :)

January 20, 2011

Thursday Thrills!

I know.  You can barely contain your excitement for today's post.  I apologize if I'm responsible for keeping you up all night, tossing and turning, checking the clock every thirty seconds in hopes that it was morning so you could finally tune in and see who won the contest and what the surprise is :)

But you can stop champing at the bit.  The big moment has arrived....  Who knew Thursday could be this thrilling?

First, I am pleased to announce the winner of Monday's Picture Book Game Contest!

(Drum roll please... Drrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!)

And the winner is.... Jenny!

Congratulations, Jenny, come on down!

Let's show Jenny her prize.  In addition to the SLHill title of her choice, personally signed in any way she'd like, Jenny wins the admiration of her puzzle-solving peers, and the opportunity to have her name up in pink on this blog!  YAY, JENNY!!!  

(Jenny, please use the "email me" button in the right margin of the blog to let me know which book you'd like, how you want it signed, and what your mailing address is.  Well done!)

I think our other finalists deserve a moment of recognition for their stellar attempts, don't you?  So we will celebrate them in runner-up orange:  Yay, Megan, Teri, and Diane!  Excellent work!

To everyone else, good try and don't worry... there will be other opportunities to win soon.  You know perfectly well that I can't resist making up contests :)

Now, for the surprise.  Really, could this day get any better?

The book trailer for April Fool, Phyllis! is at last up and running on YouTube!  Here's the link:

April Fool, Phyllis! - Children's Picture Book Trailer

Please turn the sound up so you can hear the catchy tune that goes with it (although I should warn you - if you're like me, it's liable to get stuck in your head for weeks :))

Please feel free to click "like" and share the link with every single person you know - I want to go viral :)  Wouldn't that be awesome?  Probably there should be a book trailer award for homemade imovie trailers - like an Academy Award - only instead of the Oscar it could be the Phyllis... :)

Enjoy, everyone!  And don't forget to join me here at 10:30 for The Writer's Club where this morning's topic will be... anything you feel like talking about!

January 19, 2011

Contest Update: Keep Those Entries Coming!

Nothing like a low pressure system bringing rain, ice, sleet, and snow to make everyone feel like they'd rather play a game then work.

Actually, now that I think of it, it's possible the weather doesn't have that much to do with it...

But anyway, check it out!  We have 4 finalists so far - 4 people who are so familiar with children's picture books that they were able to solve the entire list.  Not to mention, a couple others who are doing pretty well.  I'm impressed!  (And in case you are wondering why you haven't seen their lists, I have deliberately not posted their responses yet, lest you be overcome by an irresistible temptation to peek :))  Congratulations to Megan, Jenny, Teri, and Diane!  Who else is going to join them in the pantheon of contenders for a free book?  You still have 15 plus hours to get your entry in...

(And I must add, bonus points to Jenny who responded with a challenge of her own - clearly a puzzle junkie after my own heart!)

Get those entries in, folks.  Let's give Megan, Jenny, Teri, and Diane a run for their money!  If you're just tuning in, you will find all the information you need in Monday's post - Blue Monday? Bah! Humbug! Play The Write Contest! - just scroll down :)

The winner will be announced TOMORROW!  I suggest a reduced intake of caffeine and chocolate today lest you find yourself uncontrollably excited.  Cake should be OK though... wheat (whole grain), eggs (protein), milk (calcium)... it's practically health food :)

January 18, 2011

Ouch! A Hard Day for Punxsutawney Phyllis!

So, how's everyone doing on yesterday's contest?  Still hard at work, I hope?

I've received 2 attempts so far.  One person got 5 titles, but only 2 complete with author.  The other person got 14 completely correct - well done! (but in order to help you resist temptation, I have not published her post yet :))

Let's give them some competition!  Remember, there's a prize up for grabs.  If you win you can give it to a child, donate it to a classroom or library, or keep it for yourself :)  And I'll give you another hint:  one of the answers is a COMPLETE giveaway.  If you don't get that one, REALLY!

For anyone who didn't see yesterday's post, please scroll down and join the fun!  A contest is only a contest if people enter :)

Now, I have something truly horrifying to share with you...

(You think I'm kidding, but just wait until you see!)

Only a few days ago, when I was discussing the writer's club, I mentioned my disappointment that Phyllis didn't have a stuffedty in her honor.  Well, it turns out I was wrong.  She has one, but not created by me, or Holiday House, or Jeff Ebbeler.  That would have been awesome and cute.

Apparently the Punxsutawney Chamber of Commerce has decided to embrace the idea that Punxsutawney Phil has a wife named Punxsutawney Phyllis (I ask you!) and, for the first time ever, has created a plush toy in her honor.  You have to see it to truly feel my pain.  Prepare yourself (seriously!) and click the link below:

Punxsutawney Phyllis doll

Poor Phyllis.  Her name has been besmirched.  Really, I think the only solution is for me (or Holiday House or Jeff) to make a real Phyllis stuffedty.  She should be cute and furry, with her little green overalls with the yellow flower.

Problem is, I have no idea how to go about that.  Anyone?  Anyone?  Phyllis's honor is at stake.  She needs to be redeemed or she's going to have a hard time holding her head up in public!

If anyone is interested, there is also an article about the wife.  Please feel free to read it... and then write to the Punxsutawney Chamber of Commerce and tell them they've got it all wrong!  Phyllis is Phil's great niece, she's really cute, she already has a book about her, and she deserves a plush toy that will do her proud!  (And the Chamber of Commerce could get a lot more sales and good publicity out of a children's book and cute toy... just sayin'!)

Shame on Punxsutawney!  But they still have time to get it right... :)

Now, thinking caps on everyone, and back to the contest.  There's a prize to be won!

January 17, 2011

Blue Monday? Bah! Humbug! Play the Write Contest!

When I was in school, back in the 1900s, I liked English (surprise, surprise!)

Math, not so much.  I mean, seriously, what are you supposed to do with this?

Well, since you asked, that is the formula for calculating the most depressing day of the year, whereby Sky Travel hoped to book a lot of vacations.

Taking into account the weather, debt, time since the holidays, failure of New Year's resolutions, motivational level, the need to take action, and the fact that it's Monday, the formula doesn't actually work and is completely meaningless in mathematical terms.  And yet it still allows us to know that today, January 17, 2011, is the Most Depressing Day of this Year.  See how useful math is(n't)?

Even though it's totally bogus, it has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Now that people know which day they're supposed to be most depressed, they follow along like sheep.

But here's what I think.  Bah!  Humbug!  I don't want you to be depressed!  It's a beautiful day (even though it's zero!) and I have something to cheer you up!  A game!  With a prize!

Below is a list of (I think pretty) well-known picture books and their authors.  The trick is, all you get is initials.  For example:  CW by EBW (which would, of course, be Charlotte's Web by E.B. White - yes, I realize that's not a picture book, I'm just giving you an example - I don't want to give away the farm!)

Get it?

So figure them all out and list them in the comments (and no cheating! - we're on the honor system here!  Keep your eyes on your own paper because other people might be wrong, and if you copy you will not have the satisfaction of a job well done and you will feel guilty should you win!)

If you get them all, you will be eligible to win a free signed copy of whichever of my books you want (although if you choose April Fool, Phyllis you'll have to wait a bit because I don't have any yet :))  This is assuming anyone plays and that at least one person gets all the answers.

Since I realize not everyone reads all blogs every day, you have until midnight Wednesday January 19 to get your answers in.  You may ask for an extension if need be.  Since I am in charge, and exceptionally nice, I might consider it. And I'll give you one hint:  these are all traditional picture books - not novelty books or early readers -  and they are all personal favorites (and that was actually two hints!)

So, you're not depressed anymore, are you?  You're energized, motivated, and gung-ho to beat everyone else to the finish line!

Good luck everyone!  Ready, set, GO!

1.  CG by HAR
2.  BAJFF by RH
3.  L,L,C by BW
4.  WTWTA by MS
5.  OBAG by PR
6.  M by LB
7.  FNATPP by JO'C
8.  MWFD by RM
9.  PP by SLH
10.  MMAHSS by VLB
11.  HTDD by GZ
12.  AATT,H,NG,VBD by JV
13.  TPE by CVA
14.  TVHC by EC
15.  TRF by MP
16.  TSOF by ML
17.  LPPP by KH

(P.S.  It's nearly 10:30 - time for The Writer's Club - so grab your coffee and come on over and say what's on your mind this morning!  I'm thinking about PLOT - and how hard it is!)

January 14, 2011

The Writer's Club

Writing can be a lonely business - just you, your computer (or notebook and pen), your mug of coffee (or tea if you lean that way), and your thoughts (should you happen to have any :))

If you're lucky, you might also have your dogs keeping your feet warm (or your cat lying on top of your work in that oh-so-helpful way that cats have!)

But let's face it, as writers, we spend a lot of time alone.

Wouldn't it be great if all us writer's could take a break every morning from 10:30 - 10:45 and have a good old fashioned coffee klatch?  Just put our writing aside for a few minutes and chat - about writing, frustration and success, who's working on what and how it's going, our fears and hopes and aspirations, and the fact that the laundry is NEVER DONE?

Sometimes I think you have to be a writer to get writers.  There are a whole host of discussion topics I never tire of (How do I get through the tricky part of my current WIP?  How do I make my MC seem real?  What's the best way to convey emotion without sentimentality?  Why did Skippyjon Jones get a stuffty when Phyllis didn't?  Will I ever sell another ms?  What if I never have another idea in my ENTIRE LIFE? :)) that the non-writer people in my life would be more than happy never to discuss at all!

So I think we should have a club.  I'd suggest the Breakfast Club but that's been done.  Let's have the Writer's Club.  Every day at 10:30, come on over here and post whatever is on your mind, and all your writer friends will chime in with sage advice, words of encouragement, or writerly commiseration.  It will be fifteen minutes of the day we can all look forward to, companionship and understanding guaranteed!

Of course, on this particular day, I will not be here at 10:30 - I have a non-negotiable appointment with my son's laundry (what did I just say about laundry?!) - but y'all can get started without me and I'll catch up once the washing machine is running!

Happy Writing!

January 13, 2011

The Write Facts

Let's begin the morning with a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday!  Scout, my beloved brown dog, is 4 years old today.  (And, I might add, she shares her birthday with McDreamy from Grey's Anatomy - coincidence...?)

baby pictures...

...for your enjoyment
(because she's so cute!)
In case you were wondering (admit it, you were!) there will definitely be cake :)  (Yellow, with vanilla icing, because chocolate, though delicious, is very bad for dogs!)

So anyway...

I'm always wondering about stuff.  Just the way my mind works (and no comments along the lines of, "What?  Your mind works?"!)

I've been writing for years, and I've been fortunate enough to publish a few books.  I know a lot more than when I started about the process a book goes through from idea to bookstore/library shelf.

I used to have no idea what a proof, a galley, or an F&G was.  Now I have some of each that I can share with kids on school visits so that they can know something about the writing business.  (I would have LOVED to have an author come visit my school when I was a kid... back in the olden days... before the invention of the wheel...!)

Just this year, I got a running sheet for the first time (thanks to my wonderful editor at Walker!)  If you've never seen one, it's the coolest thing ever. The whole book is printed on one huge sheet, with pages all upside down, backwards, and out of order.  But when you fold it the right way and cut it in the right place, it's the book!

But although I'm slightly less ignorant than I was, there are still a whole lot of things about the publishing world that I want to know!

For example, how many books do you have to sell for your publisher to feel you are doing well?  (And "as many as possible" though obvious, is not a helpful answer!)  And, if you don't earn out your advance, do publishers perceive your book as a failure?  And, with so many amazing books and authors out there, how do you get people to notice your book?

So in case you, like me, wonder about stuff, here are some interesting tidbits I found out recently:

1.  The average picture book writer will write 10 books for every 1 their agent deems strong enough to submit - no guarantee of publishing.  (And if you don't have an agent, you can figure for yourself that 1 out of every 10 books you write will hopefully be saleable.  I don't think my average is that good - more like 1 out of 20 :))

2.  There are about 300 editors actively acquiring in children's books at the moment (that's all levels of children's books, and editors from houses of all sizes across the board.)  Of these, only 70-100 are even looking for picture books.

3.  This year, 150,000 authors will finish their masterpiece, but only about 1/3 of all new titles sell more than 100 copies.

4.  Only a small percentage of published books earn out their advances.

I'm not trying to depress you!  It's just, I wonder about this stuff, so I thought you might too.

Anyone who has any other interesting facts on file, please share!  I'm always interested!

Have a wonderful day, and eat some cake in honor of Scouty Brown - yours can be chocolate - she won't mind :)

January 12, 2011

Write On.. and On

Phyllis announced this morning that she wants another story.

Apparently the fact that she's got a new story coming out in a few weeks has only whetted her appetite for further adventure.

The thing is, I love Phyllis.  I would be more than happy to write her another story.  (No doubt she will bug me until I do, so there's that incentive as well... :))

The question is, how much is enough?

Fancy Nancy appears to be able to sustain interest book after book after book.  Same with Pinkalicious, Lilly, Harry the Dirty Dog, and Curious George.  For other characters, one story is enough.  You don't see the continuing sagas of Ferdinand or Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouak, Pack and Quack.

So how does a writer decide whether to revisit or move on?

In my own writing, most picture book ideas are stand-alones.  But Phyllis seems to be a character who doesn't quit at one story.  When I wrote the first one, I never thought of a sequel, but a couple years later she felt she had more to say :)  And now I find a little piece of an idea niggling in the back of my brain, rolling around, turning over and over, investigating itself the way your tongue explores the space where a tooth used to be, wondering if there's anything to it.

I don't know yet.  Is the world ready for a third adventure in Punxsutawney?

Phyllis thinks so!!!

January 11, 2011

Getting Started

First things first:  here's a link to the CLN annotated list of ALA winners from yesterday, in case you haven't seen it yet.  There are many books here that I'm looking forward to reading, especially the Michael Printz winner and honor books!

Second things second: yes, I have finished the new book trailer for April Fool, Phyllis! but no, it isn't up yet because there is a sticky part that isn't playing correctly and I can't figure out why.  If there are any technological geniuses out there who understand the nuances of imovie please feel free to share your expertise in the comments and up your karma quotient for the day :)

Now, on to today's important topic: getting started.

I told you I was taking a writing course.  It officially began yesterday.  My assignment for the week is to either rewrite a scene from something I've already written, or write something new.  I think I'm going to go for option B - write something new.

Which leads me to "getting started."

There are a lot of "getting started" moments in a writer's day.  There's getting yourself started - not so easy at 5:30 AM when it's dark and 9 degrees... again... :)  There's getting the coffee maker started - that one is easy :)  There's getting the Dog Mobile started to meet the school bus - always tricky because a) the Dog Mobile is unpredictable and cranky and b) we live 6/10 of a mile from the bus stop (so no visual contact), the bus driver is unpredictable and cranky, and when it suits her (like yesterday) she leaves without us...  This in turn can affect getting the work day started by as much as an hour and a half.

Then there's getting the coffee maker started again in order to fuel getting work started which involves
     a) computer on, butt in chair
     b) a strict self-command to stop checking email and stop reading other people's interesting blogs and get inspired for the day, and
     c) actually getting started on writing, which involves either getting started from where I left off yesterday or getting started from scratch on something new.  (BTW, I think they call it "starting from scratch" because of the amount of time spent staring into space scratching your head (literally or metaphorically) while you try to think up something to write :))

For many writers, the blank page is intimidating.  Luckily, I am under strict orders from myself to "be inspired at 9 o'clock every morning" (see yesterday's post:)) so I have no excuse!  I confess, though, that on many days I am not that inspired at 9:01...  When that happens, I just write.  Anything that comes into my head.  It's like priming the pump.  If I can just get the words flowing, I have a hope of directing them where I want them to go.  Eventually.  Some days it works out, others I do a lot of deleting.  But as David Eddings said, "A writer's apprenticeship usually involves writing a million words (which are then discarded) before he's almost ready to begin."  This helps me convince myself that no writing is wasted - it takes a long time to get to a million words!

Today, for my course, I'm going to get started on something new.  I wonder what it will be?  I'm pretty interested to find out!  I hope it's good!

What are your "getting started" moments?  Which are hard and which are easy?  How do you deal with the hard ones?

January 10, 2011

Writing Inspiration

Some call it inspiration.

Other's call it the muse.

Still other's might say it's a caffeine and chocolate overload :)

But whatever its name, it is a writer's best friend.

Where writing is concerned, there are few things to equal the euphoria of a great idea, the feeling that you have something so wonderful to express that your fingers can't fly across the keyboard fast enough.  Those moments when words and ideas flow effortlessly are pinnacles of the writing life, something we, as writers, look forward to and hope for every day.

The problem is (at least in my experience!) those moments are few and far between.

If I personally waited for inspiration to strike, I might only write once or twice a year :)

Therefore, I go by the words of Peter DeVries:  "I write when I'm inspired, and I see to it that I'm inspired to write at 9 o'clock every morning."  Words to live by!

So it's 9 o'clock, and here I am, ready to make my own inspiration for the day.  But today I have a little boost and I will share it with you!  It's award day!  At 10:45 EST, the ALA will announce the Newbery, Caldecott, Michael Printz, Coretta Scott King, and numerous other awards.  It's a chance to see, and be inspired by, the best in children's books.


So tune in, see who the winners are, be inspired by success and great writing, and then sit down at your own keyboard or notebook and make some magic.  Who knows?  The words we write today might be the award winners of the future!

After the awards are posted, comment below on your favorites!

January 7, 2011

Snow Day!

Breaking news:  we are having our first official snow day of the year!  And it is actually snowing (which is not always the case - in these days of doppler radar (don't you love it when I use technical terms I don't really know the meanings of?) the school districts have been known to jump the gun with a little too much enthusiasm.)

I love snow days!

I'm no longer a kid (I know that comes as a shock :)) and I don't attend school, so snow days shouldn't be that different from regular days.  I still have plenty of work to do.

But somehow, snow days are still great.  The kids can sleep late and have a fun-filled, relaxing day.  We can have a fire in the fireplace before evening - so cozy:)  There's an almost lazy feel to the day because if the school buses can't venture out then I am certainly not going to endanger society by taking the Dog Mobile out of the garage!  So, no errands.  And something about being holed up, warm and dry, while the snow falls peacefully outside is very conducive to writing stories.  At least for me.  As long as I don't get side-tracked into reading stories instead :)

Aside from writing, I have a special project for today.  I'm almost finished with the book trailer for April Fool, Phyllis!  I know you've all been counting the minutes until you can see it, so this is surely thrilling news :)  It just needs some more of that nit-picky tweaking I'm so not fond of, and then it needs some complimentary music.  Anyone have any ideas?  I'm open to suggestion.  I can't wait until it's completely done and I can share it with you!

Also, I hope you all noticed the totally cool count-down thingy on the right side of the blog page.  It's counting down to the release of April Fool, Phyllis!  So fun, don't you think?

In other news, I have allowed myself to be talked into joining Month of Poetry.  Yes, it's true.  My apologies to all the real poets out there.  I wrote my first Haiku poem yesterday.  It was not good.  Maybe today I'll try a limerick...  There once was a dog on the hill/who loved to chase after a squirrel...  Maybe not.

But I'm thinking of dogs and squirrels because, at this very moment, Jemma is climbing a tree.  I am not making this up.  A squirrel ran up it (well, let's be honest - she chased it there) and she's doing her darndest to get up after it.  Four sets of claws are doggedly (:)) clinging to bark, and it is obvious she intends to catch that squirrel by sheer force of will.  Oops.  Sliding.  If only I'd been a little quicker with the camera!  Story idea here?

So it's time to get to work (as soon as I take dem dogs for a snowy walk and give the squirrels a little break!)  I hope I'll have the new trailer to share with you by Monday.

Have a great weekend, and if you live around here, happy snow day!

January 6, 2011

Finding The Groove

So, y'all know I intend to write a novel this year.

What you may not know is that I have tried before.

Here's how it went:

Novel #1(from about 1999): my agent liked it but said it needed more - a strong subplot.  12 years later, I'm still trying to figure out how to add a sub-plot.

Novel #2: written for a course at the Institute of Children's Literature, I thought I was doing better with this one but, being a self-doubter by nature, I kept feeling that my instructor was being too kind, so I gave the novel to a an acquaintance and fellow writer to read.  Her comments were so brutal that I haven't had the courage to take that one back out of the sock drawer.

Novel #3: has about 30 pages written with two alternate beginnings and I'm considering a third.

Novel #4: has about 30 pages written with three alternate beginnings.

Novel #5: An adventure story with elements of magic.  I wrote a chapter a day for 42 days for my kids.  They loved it.  Really.  And a couple other people who read it loved it as well.  My agent never got past page 90.  It's currently being inflicted on my writing group.

Novel #6: has about 30 pages written with two alternate beginnings neither of which I like yet.

Novel #7: has about 30 pages written with three alternate beginnings.

Novel #8: has about 30 pages written.

Are you sensing a theme here?  Now you know why I have my work cut out for me!!!

So anyway, I read this interview with G. Neri on Cynsations blog yesterday.  It included some writing tips, and one of them really struck home with me.  It said:

"1.  Give yourself permission to write badly.  That's right.  Even the greatest writers I know admit their first drafts suck.  So forget even trying.  The first draft is all about getting it out of your head and onto the paper (or disk).  It's the number one obstacle that keeps would-be writers from ever finishing a novel.  They get stuck trying to make every page, every sentence, every word perfect just right.  Forget it.  Just find a word, throw together a sentence that communicates the basic idea, and move on.  Know that it will suck.  Embrace its suckage... move forward until you reach the end, then go back and fix.  Otherwise, you'll never get done."

This is good advice for me.  I can spend weeks revising a paragraph, but as you can see from my track record, I'm not so good on completion!  Didn't I just list 5 novels with 30 (admittedly very polished but going nowhere!) pages?

What's your biggest writing obstacle?  How do you cope with it?

Stay tuned as the year progresses, and we'll see if my novel progresses with it!  Ultimately, I think it's all about finding the groove :)

January 5, 2011

Goldilocks and the Three Hairs

Rapunzel and I have something in common.  Neither one of us spends a lot of time getting her hair cut.

Rapunzel and I also have something in common with Goldilocks.  We all have blond hair.  Or at least, we used to.  I'll get to that in a second.

Anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I take fashion ignorance to unprecedented levels.

I wear blue jeans if at all possible.

I am not really sure what a pump is.  (The kind for your feet, not the thing that gets water out of the basement when it floods.)

I have never, in my entire life (which according to some began during the stone age) had a manicure or a pedicure.  (No, I am not making this up.  Get your jaw off the floor.)

I have never worn make-up, unless you count the time in 9th grade when, for a bit part in Wild Oats, I had to wear mascara.  It made my eyes itch, so henceforth I have avoided the stage.  And make-up.

Hairstyles?  Handbags?  Haute coutour?  Forget it.

Fashion.  Ignorance.

So when I tell you that yesterday I had my annual haircut you will understand that it was a Big Deal.  My concession to fashion, such as it is.

Really, once a year is enough.  I can't be bothered to go any more often.  I have too many other things to do.  And anyone can trim their own bangs.  (Although I read somewhere that trimming your own bangs was a sign of self-loathing....  hmmm....)

I used to get my hair cut every 18 months or so, but that all changed when the three hairs showed up.  (This is the part I was getting to.  You can stop holding your breath in anticipation.)  Allow me to explain...

Locks of Love is an organization that accepts donations of hair to make hairpieces for financially disadvantaged children who suffer long-term medical hair loss from any diagnosis.  The minimum length requirement is 10 inches, and I found that if I grew my hair for about 18 months I could donate that without shaving my head completely.  Then, one fine day, the three hairs showed up.  Unmistakeable.  Impossible to hide.  Three gray hairs, front and center.

The ladies at the place where I used to get my hair cut (which has since gone out of business... coincidence?) informed me that Locks of Love would not accept hair with gray in it because it didn't hold dye evenly.  Foolish me.  I believed them.

Here's how I discovered my mistake yesterday:

I seated myself before the lovely Veronica, whose unenviable job it was to hack off my golden tresses.

"What would you like?" she chirped.

Before I could respond, she began flinging around terms like, "layers," "highlights," and "side bangs" with reckless abandon.  I was forced to throw cold water on her blaze of enthusiasm.

"Hold it," I said.  "Let me explain.  I wash my hair.  And comb it.  That's it.  There will be no styling.  No blow drying.  No mousse, no gel, no spray.  Nada."

Her face fell.  "So, just a simple cut?" she clarified, no doubt hoping against hope that she had misunderstood and there was still time to talk me into a devilock, a pixie cut, or anything with a name.  Even a mullet.

"Just a simple cut," I confirmed.  "The simplest."

With a sigh she set to work.  Snip, snip, snip.  I could almost hear her thinking, "Bor-ing!"

"You know," she said conversationally, "another three inches and you could donate to Locks of Love."

"No," I responded, secure in my superior knowledge.  "I have three gray hairs.  Locks of Love won't take it."

"Yes they will," she chirped, once again enthusiastic.

What???  Could this be true???  Had I really been so completely hoodwinked???

I refrained from raining on her parade by saying a better time to have mentioned this would have been two minutes ago before she started snipping.

7 inches of prime hair - unbleached, uncolored, un-permed, undamaged by hair products or blow dryers of any kind and blond except for three hairs - was currently hitting the salon floor.  Wasted!

If I was going to make any donations, I would have to start from scratch.

"Well," I said, "maybe next time."

I then made good use of the rest of my time in the chair by asking her questions about beauty school.  You never know, I might want to write a character someday who has talents and/or aspirations in that direction.  So the ordeal wasn't a total waste of time.  I like to keep a weather eye for useful material.

The moral of the story?  Don't let a few gray hairs stop you from donating.  In fact, I believe Locks of Love will accept your hair even if it is mostly gray, or even all gray.  As for Rapunzel, she could help a lot of kids if she'd get out of that tower and share her hair!

And me?  Now that my head is lighter, maybe some great ideas will float out of it.  You never know!

January 4, 2011

Poet Or Not?

I'm a little afraid of poetry.

Actually, that's a lie.

I'm a LOT afraid of poetry!

That probably sounds bizarre coming from someone who has three published books in rhyme, but to me, rhyming about airplanes, freight trains, and construction vehicles is not quite the same as poetry.  Certainly, a lot of poems do rhyme - good poems, real poems - but the concept of poetry can be much more elegant and sophisticated than my version of it, and I'm not really sure I can do it.

How, for example, does one go about writing poetry that doesn't rhyme?

For all my years of education, and all the writing courses I've taken (admittedly, avoiding poetry :)) I really wouldn't know where to begin.

If I'm going to be well-rounded (and no, I am not talking about my post-holiday figure, thank you very much!), I'm thinking maybe I should dip a toe into the waters of poetry.  I am not willing to risk a whole foot, never mind both.  A toe will have to do for now.

Megan over at The Write-At-Home Mom is participating in Month of Poetry.  Dare I join her?  I suppose I could, purely for your entertainment...  If I were to try writing a poem a day you would surely get plenty of amusement if I shared my attempts...  I don't know if my delicate ego could take it, though.  I'm very sensitive :)

Here's the most recent poem I wrote.  If you say nice things, I'll consider sharing future attempts.  If you laugh, I will hear you!

Striped in festive red and white
Pretty peppermint delight
Smooth and sweet and cool as ice
Candy canes are mighty nice!

What do you think?  Should I add yet another writing challenge to my list for 2011?  Anyone else want to do it with me?

January 3, 2011

Learning By Example

Happy New Year, Everyone!

I find something energizing about January first, don't you?  It's a lot like a blank page - a fresh start full of possibilities!

At the beginning of the New Year, I feel inspired to try new things... and totally overload myself with projects and commitments of all kinds :)  Everything seems so interesting!  I've got a number of school/library/book festival visits scheduled already.  I'm taking an 8 week writing course starting a week from today.  I'm going to do the Picture Book Marathon in February, and PiBoIdMo again in November, and I intend to write at least one novel this year (do not laugh!) in addition to my usual writing.  Plus the blog.  Plus the marketing/publicity work that mid-listers like me find it important to pursue.  Plus my writing group.  Plus life in general.  I hope you're beginning to understand my fondness for caffeine :)

But now I've found another fun, worthwhile thing to do and I invite you all to join me!  A couple of my fellow bloggers are doing it, or did it last year.  Over on Home Girl's Book Blog a 100 Book Challenge is being issued.  The Goal: read at least 100 books this year!  The challenge says any book counts, including crossovers from other challenges should you happen to be doing any.  I plan to stick to picture books, MGs and YAs because that's what I write (or hope to!)

Here's my theory: yes, reading is time-consuming, but if you're going to write, there's an awful lot you can learn from reading talented authors in the genres you're interested in.  For me, making a serious attempt at a MG or YA novel can only be helped by learning from example.  Also, it gives me a good excuse to read a lot of great books :)

So who's with me?  Anyone else want to give it a try?  Eventually, when I figure out how, I'll put a button in the sidebar, but for now, the link above will work.  Comment below if you decide you're in - I'd love to have some company!  I don't know if I'll make 100, but I plan to give it my best shot.  I'm thinking of starting with Shiver, by Maggie Stiefvater.  Right after I finish this post.  And do some writing.  And laundry.  And take the dogs for an outing.  And make a fresh pot of coffee :)
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