What I've Been Up To This Month

The month isn’t even over yet, but so much has been packed into the last few weeks it feels more like two months already! That’s not exactly an excuse for neglecting the blog, but, you know, life happens. Anyway…

Beachside Nonfiction Workshop

I started out the month at the Beachside Nonfiction Workshop with Candace Fleming & Jennifer Swanson. It was amazing! The faculty were all stellar, the location was gorgeous, and the attendees were lovely. It was fun hanging out with other nonfiction geeks for an entire weekend. We all struggled to answer the “So, what do you write?” question, however, since we can usually just get away with “Nonfiction,” and have that be the end of it! I didn’t take nearly enough photos, but here’s the view from my hotel balcony…

Yes, it was hard work. There were a lot of sessions, and they were mostly master level, plus networking and critiques. I came away with so much useful information and new ideas to apply to my works in progress. There were obviously some other perks, too!

Seattle Reading Council Appearance

In the middle of the month, some of the members of my critique group (and all agency-mates at Erin Murphy Literary, as it turns out!), did an appearance at the Seattle Reading Council. It was a billed as a “Books and Chocolate” event… what could be better?! We each talked about our books and process and then took questions. The crowd was mostly teachers and librarians, so it made for a wonderful evening of sharing book love (and chocolate!) among likeminded new friends.

School visits

I had an elementary school visit where I got to talk to several third-grade classes about my writing journey, grit, and writing with emotion, as well as several fifth-grade classes about evaluating sources and spotting fake news. It was an awesome visit with super-engaged audiences, but alas, no photos. You’ll have to take my word for it!

I have another visit coming up early in June (the last one of the school year!), so I’ve been making sure everything is ready for that one, too.

SCBWI-WWA Spring Conference

Finally, I attended and helped with the SCBWI Western Washington‘s spring conference, Imagine That! It was a great weekend: hearing from inspiring speakers, getting feedback on one of my works in progress from a powerhouse editor, and catching up with author and illustrator friends in the industry. I’m still soaking it all up and processing what was said! Good stuff.

Book Releases!

Along with all of that I’ve been getting ready for the Two Truths and a Lie: Histories and Mysteries paperback release on May 21 AND preparing for the upcoming new release of Two Truths and a Lie: Forces of Nature on June 25th! I’ve designed and ordered postcards and swag, scheduled social media announcements, and made other plans to get the word out.

TTL: Histories and Mysteries cover
TTL: Forces of Nature cover

Works in Progress…

And, of course, there are those works in progress, too! Earlier this month I submitted both a nonfiction picture book revision and a graphic novel proposal to my agent. I’m currently revising a nonfiction picture book, a fiction picture book, and a middle-grade nonfiction manuscript. I’m also working on a brand-new nonfiction picture book draft and a young-adult nonfiction proposal. Busy, busy!

Yes, I do love my job. More so every day, in fact! =D

How has volunteerism impacted you–what's your story?

Happy National Volunteer Week!CelebrateService logo
According to the Points of Light website, “National Volunteer Week, April 12-18, 2015, is about… taking action and encouraging individuals and their respective communities to be at the center of social change – discovering and actively demonstrating their collective power to make a difference.”
That sounds a whole lot like the message behind Be a Changemaker, don’t you think? I thought so, so I decided to help spread the word about an initiative associated with National Volunteer Week called “What’s Your Story?” The purpose of that effort is to celebrate people who are doing awesome things and encourage others to get involved. You can play along by sharing your story, tagging friends and asking, “What’s Your Story?” and use #NVW2015 in hopes of getting #NVW2015 to trend on Twitter.
As for me personally, my most recent volunteer work was yesterday, helping to stuff 370+ attendee folders, organizing handouts, and getting prepared for the SCBWI Western Washington’s annual conference for writers and illustrators. It was hard work, and the group of a dozen or so of us were focused and busy for four hours, yet there were hugs, and laughter, and doughnuts, and it felt absolutely wonderful to be a part of. The conference itself kicks off on Friday, and I’ll be busy participating in and volunteering at it for three days straight. It’s an amazing experience every year. I can’t wait!
For more information on National Volunteer Week, the “What’s Your Story” campaign, or how you can play along on Twitter, Instagram, and/or Facebook, visit the Points of Light web page here.


SCBWI-WWA Nonfiction Intensive highlights

On Friday, Andrew Karre from Lerner/Carolrhoda gifted a group of our region’s nonfiction writers with over five hours of his undivided attention. And, wow, was it an afternoon to remember! He brainstormed with the group and helped us hone our ideas into something marketable. He gave feedback on our short proposals and/or first pages. And he gave insight into Lerner, the broader industry, and what makes for great nonfiction for kids. Here are a few of the gems from my notes:

  • Ask yourself, would it still be a good book if it was fiction? It shouldn’t matter where it ends up getting shelved—a good story is a good story.
  • “Be writers, not compilers of thinly-veiled lists.”
  • Straight biographies aren’t really needed anymore dead due to Internet and online databases. They need to be MORE than just a biography to be published as books today.
  • It’s harder for nonfiction authors to “brand” themselves, because there is so much less interaction with readers.
  • As school librarians disappear, it gets harder for kids to get to great nonfiction and vice versa. Kids will still manage to find a copy of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, for example, but they might not discover The Many Faces of George Washington.
  • Reviews are especially important for nonfiction.
  • One important facet of a nonfiction author’s job is to decide what to exclude.
  • Nonfiction proposal should first and foremost communicate your passion for the story, not follow a specific form.
  • Above all, you must CONNECT to kids!

I feel so lucky to have spent this time with Andrew and some of our region’s nonfiction authors. I have a slew of exciting ideas and a boatload of new inspiration and enthusiasm and for the work that we do. And I can’t wait to see the drafts that come out of it (my own as well as everyone else’s!). Happy [nonfiction] writing!

SCBWI Western Washington's 2011 conference wrap-up: part 2

I didn’t think SCBWI Western Washington’s 2011 conference could get any better than it was on Saturday, but yes, it could! Sunday started a little later (thank goodness, after all that dancing!). On Sunday, April 17, we started out by celebrating our awesomely talented and dedicated advisory committee. And they celebrated us with a great big surprise presentation!

Copyright Dana Sullivan

Before we even had time to see what goodies they put together for us, we jumped right into gear with Dan Santat‘s keynote. He not only gave a peek into the trajectory of his career so far (and trust me, it’s only going up, folks!), but he showed us that he, too, is indeed human. He made himself cry by showing us a picture of why he works so hard (his family), and he took the rest of us right along with him. 400 people wanted to give Dan a hug, but I think most of us settled for buying his books and becoming lifelong fans.
The local success story panel is always one of my favorites because 1) I usually know most of the people of the panel and love celebrating their successes, and 2) the stories are always so inspiring and leave us all feeling that someday, if we keep working hard, we could be up there telling our stories (about our stories). This year’s panel–featuring Carole Dagg, Caridad Ferrer, Liz Mills, Craig Orback, Wendy Wahman, Jesse Joshua Watson, and Jim Whiting–did not disappoint! From the 14-year labor-of-love personal-history novel to the 90-day start-to-finish topical and timely picture book (written AND illustrated by the same person!), these folks were all full of examples of the rewards that come from hard work and dedication.

Copyright Dana Sullivan

During lunch I finally had a chance to peek at the goodies from AdCom–HUGE MISTAKE! They had all written personal notes and messages inside the card (see awesome picture of the card front, above), and I totally teared up, again! We have such a great team, and I’m so thankful to work with each and every one of them. For them to go all out to thank ME reduced me to a blubbering mess. I finally pulled myself together enough to return to the ballroom, where I watched our awesome Assistant Regional Advisor, Kimberly Baker, open the thank you gift we got her. She burst into tears, so yeah, there I went AGAIN. Then, our Published Pro Liaison, Sara Easterly, presented our region’s first ever Lifetime Achievement Award to Peggy King Anderson. You can read Peggy’s take on it here, but we all know and love Peggy, so–yep, you guessed it–MORE tears!

Thank goodness the afternoon was jam-packed with information! First I went to Jim Whiting’s talk on Nonfiction Hooks. He had oodles of examples of revising to hook the write audience–with handouts! Then Jesse Joshua Watson talked about Writing for Change, with the inspiring story about how his book HOPE FOR HAITI came to be and organizations he has partnered with since (okay, I got a little teary here, too). Finally, the last breakout of the day for me was about authenticity, presented by agent Marietta Zacker. Marietta gave a brilliant talk illustrating the need to be absolutely true to yourself while still perfectly addressing your audience (yep, misty-eyed, sigh).
The rest, unfortunately, is a bit of a blur. But I know I ended the day on a total high–even before the foot massage and cocktails. 😉

SCBWI Western Washington conference 2011 wrap-up: part 1

Yes, the SCBWI Western Washington’s 20th Annual Writing & Illustrating for Children conference was over a month ago. I’m finally coming down from the high that weekend always leaves me with–and recovering from the hard work and long hours that go into organizing it. So, I thought I’d share some of the high points (for me) here.
On Friday, April 15, 2011, I attended our first ever Nonfiction Intensive, presented by Lionel Bender, Editorial Director at Bender Richardson White (BRW) and Jim Whiting, author and freelance editor. They gave us a great over of work-for-hire nonfiction from initial concept all the way to promotion and reviews, with everything in between. Some of the key takeaways for me were:

  • Always ask for a style guide
  • Consider getting your own consultant to fact-check for you
  • Always think globally for the broadest appeal
  • In many highly graphical nonfiction titles, design and layout come first, with author fitting appropriate text into designated spaces.
  • Never submit a manuscript that is under the requested word count. Better to be over if necessary, but try to stay as close as possible!
  • Try not to use any sources more than 4-5 years old.

Saturday, we started out with the editor/agent/art director panel. I always love hearing a) optimistic, b) down-to-earth friendly, and c) similar these industry professionals are. Far the doom and gloom scenarios we hear so often (picture books are dead, ebooks are going to destroy the world, etc.), these people believe in the power of story, and the need for those who can deliver it. They’re human beings (and darn nice ones, usually, if they’re in children’s publishing). And they all want to find the same thing, a great book.
Deborah Wiles gave one of the best keynotes I’ve ever heard. She’s a human being, too, and one of the most authentic and lovely ones I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. I was not the only one in the room dabbing my eyes and trying not to start the day with my makeup all a mess!
For Saturday’s afternoon breakout sessions, I first went to Lionel Bender’s “Working With a Book Packager.” Did you know most work-for-hire projects are published within about 6 months of when they are STARTED? I also went to Lionel’s “Visiting Book Fairs and Exhibitions.” I can’t wait until ALA midwinter is right here in Seattle in 2013! How great would it be to have a book to promote by then? I also learned about revision from the amazing Deborah Wiles in a stuffed-to-the-gills room. She analyzed some wonderful picture books for universal examples we should all try to emulate. Some of her tips included:

  • Every good story has a surprise–the end isn’t really the end.
  • Stick with NOUNS and VERBS!
  • Incorporate both contrasts and echoes.
  • Every emotion has an ACTION. What does it LOOK like? Show, don’t tell.
  • “The better you know your own story, the better writer you will be.”
  • Make and keep lists!

Saturday night we ate, drank, and danced the night away with both the faculty and the attendees. Ah, could it get any better?
I’ll answer that in the next blog post!

I'm off to NYC for #NY11SCBWI!

I have to admit, I’m a little more nervous about attending the SCBWI conference in NY this year. Yes, they’re going to have great speakers (Lois Lowry! Jane Yolen! R. L. Stine! Mo Willems! and plenty of other wonderful people!). And yes, there will be agents, editors, and publishers there. But I’ve gotten fairly used to that by going to so many great SCBWI events over the last few years.  No, that’s not why I’m nervous.
I’m nervous because NYC has been called “the bedbug capital of the world.”

I guess that’s supposed to be me, although the incredibly talented Dana Sullivan must have missed my tweet about packing to stay warm and only wearing comfortable shoes this trip (sorry NYC fashionistas, but it’s not like I had a chance anyway). And a martini? Perhaps he also doesn’t know I’m more of a Guinness-girl. At the very least, cocktails should definitely not have vegetables in them. Besides that, though, Dana’s pure brilliance. You can see more funny things from him, or even sign up to receive one by email every week, here.
Anyway, I’ve got plastic bags for all my clothes, I plan to keep my suitcase and clothes off the floor at all times, and I WILL be checking the bed and room when I arrive. So, let’s hope the only new things I bring back home with me are books.
Wish me luck!

Good news: ONE IS ENOUGH won an award!

In my last post, I was so busy gushing about the conference awesomeness I forgot to mention the best news of all!
My manuscript for ONE IS ENOUGH, a picture-book biography about Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, was one of those nominated for the SCBWI Western Washington 2010 Outstanding Work-in-Progress awards! Here’s the official slide:

This award is given by the faculty manuscript consultants, who select their favorite manuscripts–those they feel show the most promise of being eventually published–for the honor. I am especially tickled because my consultation was with an editor I really like personally who works for a publishing imprint whose list I would be incredibly honored to be a member of. Better yet, her revision notes make perfect sense to me. Of course, I still have to find a way to implement them.
Congratulations to all of the honorees! Now let’s get back to our keyboards, use what we’ve learned to polish those manuscripts until they shine, and then summon the courage to send them out into the world. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed!

SCBWI conferences: so many kinds of awesome

I’m finally starting to be able to come down from the high that was last weekend’s SCBWI Western Washington’s Writing and Illustrating for Children conference. After an extended period of not enough sleep, too much forced extroversion, and total detail overwhelm, I expected to be exhausted, but instead I was completely energized. It was so many kinds of awesome for me. I actually broke into tears driving home (the good kind, to be sure), and I’ve been walking around with a silly grin on my face ever since.

First of all, just being in the same room with that many people who care about the same thing I do is a gift. I’ve felt that at every writer’s conference I’ve ever been to, and that in itself is reason enough to go. As a recovering pleaser, I guess I’m still a total sucker for validation.
More than that, though, was the shift in my own reality. I had three  goals for this conference:

  1. Try to relax and enjoy the moment. I have a strong perfectionist streak and can be a total control freak sometimes, but this year I was able to (mostly) just let go and make the best of it.
  2. Connect with people rather than their roles. I have always felt self-conscious around the faculty—those gatekeepers and success stories whom I so admire and respect—but this year I felt like I could’ve brought all of them home to my messy house for beer and burgers (probably more of a testament to their humility and grace than any personal growth on my part!).
  3. Get more comfortable speaking to a crowd. I have always been terrified of public speaking, but this year it was not only easy, it was actually fun!

I’ve wished and worked for these qualities all my life, and they finally chose to manifest themselves last weekend. I feel like Laini Taylor’s Magpie Windwitch, stuffing my most noxious demons into a fine glass bottle and pounding the cork in tight—banishing them to darkness where they can no longer exercise their evil powers.
So, the trick now is to go back to the solitary work of writing and revising without the task list spreadsheet, inexorable deadline, or golden “boss” pin. I can’t delegate anything away to my more competent friends, no one will be stopping me in the hall to thank me for my efforts, and there will be no standing ovation when it’s done. But I still have more goals to achieve (and more demons to banish), so it’s back to work I go with a renewed sense of confidence and optimism.
How about you: did you have pre-conference goals, do you feel like you achieved them, and what’s up next on your to-do list?