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?