Banned Books Week

A few weeks ago, my editor at Penguin sent an email to her authors (yes, I’m one of her authors, how cool is that?!?). She forwarded some information from her marketing team and asked us (her authors) to post our feelings about banned books week. So I decided to make this video:

Apparently I need to do a better read job reading emails all the way through. Here is what the email said (now that I read past the part where I was considered one of her authors):

Banned Books Week is September 21-27 this year. Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read without censorship organized by the American Library Association. During Banned Books Week, Penguin USA, Penguin Teen, and Penguin Kids will be engaging in the conversation around anti-censorship and the freedom to read, and we would like to invite all of our PYRG authors and illustrators to take to their social channels to support this cause.

As Penguin encouraged me, I know encourage you (all three of my readers) to join the conversation and support the cause. Share reasons why you support Banned Books Week on your social channels. Participate in one or both of the official #BannedBooksWeek Twitter chats being run by ALA. These are scheduled for Monday 9/23 from 10-noon EST and Wed 9/25 from noon –2pm EST.

And be sure to use the tag #BannedBooksWeek.

read

What’s your favorite Banned Book? What’s your favorite Band Book?

Books That Have Stayed with Me … and Inspired Me | Part 2

Continuing my non-blog hop post, the following books are ones that have stayed with me and inspired me as a writer (see Part 1 where I discuss books 1-3: Iggy Peck, Architect, The Adventures of Nanny Piggins, & Vunce Upon a Time). But rather than simply listing them, I’m sharing explanations as to why I hold these books in such high personal esteem. Onward we go!

4. The Curious Garden written and illustrated by Peter Brown

Why this book? The first best book of the century

The Curious Garden

I can’t remember when I first encountered The Curious Garden. It was probably in 2009 when it was originally released, but it was well before I had any interest in diving in to the kidlit community. While the illustrations are fresh and modern, they still have a classic feel. This book gives me chills, a quality in a picture book I strive to someday write. The story is simple but also deeply layered, as are Brown’s illustrations. Yes, it’s Loraxian in content, but rather than telling us we can make a difference, Liam shows us how a single child can change a community (and the environment).

In my opinion (and to me, that’s one of only a few that count), I believe that 40 years from now we will look back at the first hundred years of picture books and The Curious Garden will be labeled as one of the best ever. To me it already is.

 

5. The Gardener written by Sarah Stewart and illustrated by David Small

Why this book? Talk about shivers, this one may cause a tear or two

The Gardener

While both The Curious Garden and The Gardener involve urban gardens, that’s about all they have in common. First off, The Gardener is written entirely in letter form. I recently learned that literary technique is referred to as epistolary via a rejected query of my ‘soon to be published by Viking/Penguin’ manuscript Dear Dragon*. I very much enjoy non-standard storytelling techniques, as well as non-standard story arcs. I’ve never been much of a rule of 3 writer, myself.

The Gardener has multiple plots and subplots. Will Lydia Grace fit in in the city? Will Uncle Jim like his surprise? Will Lydia ever get home? Not to mention minor, but critical characters like Ed and Emma Beech & Otis the store cat. The wordless spreads are priceless. I think I tear up on each of the final three spreads.

And yes, this won a Caldecott Honor, but it doesn’t need the honor to be a classic. It’s also nice to find out that the author and illustrator are wife and husband (I’m still trying to get Mama Funk to collaborate with me on something. I haven’t given up, Mama Funk!).

* I used the word epistolary in every subsequent query of Dear Dragon. #QueryTip: Re-use the positive language and remarks from personalized rejections in future queries – if that’s how agents & editors write about your manuscript, then that’s probably how they’d like to hear it.

 

6. Jurassic Park written by Michael Crichton

Why this book? Because I faked being sick in junior high so I could stay home and read this book

Jurassic Park

What? Jurassic Park? Josh, have you lost your mind? Well, this book is here for one simple reason (stated above). I was far from a voracious reader as an adolescent. Having said that, this was probably the first non-Beverly Cleary / Cam Jansen / Matt Christopher / Johnny Tremain / book report book I’d ever read. Jurassic Park was an eye-opener.

Why not Harry Potter, you ask? Well, to be honest, when I came up with the list as a Facebook post, for some reason Jurassic Park popped right into my head. Maybe Harry Potter was too cliche? Maybe it was too obvious? Maybe because it’s 7 books and I would have a hard time picking only one (#3) or two (#3 & #6)? Maybe it’ll be in the next post (it won’t)? I really don’t know. Much of the list was sort of a stream of consciousness (see The Curious Garden followed directly by The Gardener). So, yeah. Jurassic Park. Deal with it.

 

7. The Sneetches and Other Stories written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss

Why this book? Dr. Seuss. Duh.

The Sneetches

I had a hard time deciding between this and The Lorax (I was only going to pick one Dr. Seuss). Of all the long-form Dr. Seuss books that espouse some semi-veiled political angle, I think I’ve always appreciated the subtlety of The Sneetches. And the outcome. The war never ended in The Butter Battle Book. All we’re left with is hope in The Lorax. How safe is the tiny speck of Whoville once Horton’s tale ends? (Perhaps I also don’t like open ended stories, huh?)

Also, in my effort to end all Facebook and blog hops, I subtly tagged characters from each of the books rather than actual people -> and Sylvester McMonkey McBean sounded more subtle than The Onceler or The Lorax (not much more subtle, I know).

I know that no writer can ever write like Dr. Seuss or s/he will simply be copying Dr. Seuss, but while waiting for the midnight release or Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince at Borders (R.I.P.) in Sterling, VA, I read that Dr. Seuss fixated on every syllable in his stories. I believe that’s one of the reasons why his rhythm was so perfect. I also believe that not only every word, but every syllable deserves that kind of attention (and as I said earlier, my beliefs are really all that’s important to me).

And those other stories aren’t bad either. But I really chose this for The Sneetches.

 

The final installment of this series will appear … soonish!

 

Jump to Part 1

Jump to Part 3

Illustrator for DEAR DRAGON: Rodolfo Montalvo

I’ve got great news, everyone! The creative/editorial team at Viking Children’s went out and found the perfect artist to illustrate DEAR DRAGON. From Publisher’s Weekly Children’s Bookshelf Rights Report:

Announcement

Rodolfo Montalvo was most recently the recipient of the SCBWI Mentorship Award at the 2013 Summer Conference. His first published works were illustrations for The Contagious Colors of Mumpley Middle School, by Fowler DeWitt, (the second book in the series, The Amazing Wilmer Dooley, will be available later this summer).

contagious colors

Check out his work at RodolfoMontalvo.com – and I’m sure you’ll be as excited as I am that he’s been tapped to illustrate DEAR DRAGON. For more Rodolfo goodies, check out his interview with Kidlit Artists from last October.

The Moment

On Tuesday, July 9th, 2013 at 3:29 in the afternoon, my phone gave two short bursts against my leg notifying me that I had received an email. When I pulled it out of my pocket and looked, I saw a subject line containing the title of one of my manuscripts. In most circumstances, this would mean a form response from an agent (and in rare cases, the agent may have read enough of my manuscript to explain why it wasn’t a good fit). But unlike most emails with one of my titles in the subject, this one didn’t start with “Re: QUERY.”

In fact, this wasn’t a response at all. Someone manually typed the name of my story into the subject line of their outgoing email. This had never happened before. My head spun as I read words and phrases like “editor” and “imprint” and “really like the spirit.” I couldn’t believe this might actually be happening.

A dose of reality smacked the pit of my stomach when I got to the words as it currently stands, I’m afraid it probably won’t work.” Nooooo!!!!! Could this be nothing more than the nicest rejection letter ever?

Calendar-July-9

But wait! There was more. When my eyes arrived at “Would you open to writing a revision?” I realized this was not actually a rejection! And a few sentences later, the author of this email actually said “I look forward to hearing from you.” THEY were looking forward to hearing from ME?!?!? (how weird – that’s exactly what I say at the end of all my queries)

The next two weeks were a flurry of revisions and excited anxiety, and some day I’ll tell the whole story. It was another four months and more until I received offers of representation and publication.

But precisely one year ago, at this very moment, I received the first ever positive response to one of my manuscripts from an industry professional. *shivers just thinking about it*

NESCBWI 14 Conference Recaps

If you know me, you’ll know that I’m pretty quiet, reserved, and shy. I don’t really like talking much, especially about myself. You’ll also know I’m pretty sarcastic.

Therefore, rather than talking about my experience at last weekend’s conference (May 2-4), I thought I’d share some of my friends’ recaps. So here they are:

If I missed your blog post, feel free to share it in the comments, or just post your own thoughts on the grand spectacle that was NESCBWI 2014.

Who’s ready for next year?

Think outside your

crayon box

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting Ready for a Conference (One Year Later)

Exactly a year ago (to the minute – yes, I timed the publishing of this post), I posted about getting ready for the 2013 NESCBWI Conference. I listed the following goals:

Necessary I have fun and learn more about how to become a better writer.
Realistic I network well with other authors and find some with whom I can work with in a critique group of some sort.
Hopeful I network well with editors or agents and have something non-form to say when querying them at a later date.
Dreamlike An editor or agent likes my work enough to offer me some sort of deal or says they’d like to see more and take it back to their publishing house/agency.
Impossible An editor loves my work and wants to sign me to a multi-book contract for millions of dollars.

What were the results? I very successfully achieved the Necessary and the Realistic.

And while it didn’t happen that weekend, starting at that conference and over the last 365 days I’ve landed somewhere between the Dreamlike and the Impossible.* (And to be honest with you, my two loyal readers, it really feels that way)

Dreamlike and Impossible

So what are my goals this year? I think I’m going to limit myself to only the Necessary and the Realistic. The same goals I was able to achieve last year. Because that led me here.

Plus, I have a LOT to learn in order to become a better writer (and I’m also looking forward to some fun).

 

See you in Springfield!

 

* Note: I have multiple editors that like my work enough to offer me one-book contracts, none of which are for millions of dollars.

So, You Wrote a Book?

In the past two days, I’ve been referred to twice as a gateway of sorts to the publishing world. Two friends each contacted me regarding friends of theirs who have written a book (or books) for children. These friends of mine asked if I would meet/advise/consult/critique/etc their friends’ work.

I have yet to speak to either of the two writers, just our mutual friends. But I’m relatively confident this is the first time either writer has stepped outside their circle of family and friends regarding their writing.

So what should I tell them? I’ve written posts before about where to begin, but I really don’t want to overwhelm anyone. I want to educate, give a dose of reality, but ultimately inspire them?

What if I could find 5 articles or websites they could go to as that starting place?

$200 is about what you'll get in an advance as a first time author
$200 is about what you’ll get in an advance as a first time author

Here are my five:

  1. Start with Jennifer Laughran’s Word Count Post. It’s not impossible to get a 3,000 word picture book published in today’s market … no, actually it is. Get the disappointment over with first. You’re 15,000 word Young Adult novel just isn’t long enough. Let’s rip off the band-aid and move on.
  2. If you’re still with me and haven’t cried yourself to oblivion (or your word count is actually in line with the genre for which you’re writing), then GREAT! Let’s make sure your craft is as good as possible. There is no single link that will help make this happen, but if you join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, you’ll be able to find workshops, critique groups, conferences, retreats, and more -> and that will help you hone your craft. So the second link is to Join SCBWI.
  3. If you’re confident your manuscript is the best it can possibly be, it’s time to find somewhere to send it! Whether you are sending directly to publishers or looking for an agent, try to find a copy of the most recent Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market and SCBWI The Book. These will help you find out about which publishers are looking for what, as well as the agents looking for whom.
  4. But don’t send yet. You still need to write your query. What’s a query, you ask? A query is the professional business letter you send to the agent or editor ‘asking’ if they would like to read your manuscript (oh, I get it? asking=querying). How do you write one? I suggest starting at AgentyQuery.com. There are links from there to other sites, which will link to others, which link to an unending list of others – all filled with help writing queries. Querying is hard. But you will survive.
  5. Now that you have some sense of what you’re in for, read Delilah S. Dawson’s 25 Steps to Being a Traditionally Published Author. First, it’s hilarious. Second, it gives an exciting account of a success story. Third, it truly goes through every step of the trail to publication – highs, lows, and in-betweens.

I think that’s enough to fill anyone’s brain for a little while. If you had just 5 links to give someone starting out in the writing business, what would they be?