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It’s always a pleasure to meet and introduce a fellow Michigander and Wolverine! But that’s not the only thing I have in common with today’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author is Laura Wolfe. She too gave up an intense, high-power, corporate career to focus on her children and her dream of writing – yay! Given how dedicated Laura has been to her craft and to the challenge, I have no doubt that we will ALL be calling her a children’s AUTHOR one day, in addition to a children’s writer. Please welcome Laura!

I have two passions: horses and writing. Everyone who knows me knows that I am passionate about horses. But somewhere along the line, perhaps through discouraging comments about the dismal odds of becoming a successful children’s writer, I learned to keep my desire to become a writer to myself.  After all, I was not published. I couldn’t tell people I was a writer, could I? While working at my unfulfilling desk job, I secretly wrote outlines of stories on my computer. I joined the SCBWI, but remained anonymous. I kept a journal of story ideas on my bedside table.I couldn’t help but notice that all of my stories involved horses.Every year, I bought the new edition of the Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market. I occasionally submitted my work to magazines. Like so many of us, I was learning by doing. No one, except my (very supportive) husband, knew about my writing.     

It wasn’t until I made the decision to leave my full-time job and stay home with my two young children, I became serious about “honing my craft” and getting published.I started a blog, www.RockingHorseWriting.com, to track my journey and keep myself accountable. But I lacked a clear focus. I needed goals that I could set for myself and achieve. Thankfully, I heard about the 12 x 12 challenge through my local SCBWI chapter. 

Becoming a Gold Member in the 12 x 12 was the best thing I have done to move my writing forward. Through the forum, I found an online writing partner who has been motivating and insightful. I also joined an online critique group made up of other 12 x 12 members. This group has been instrumental in helping me revise and refine my manuscripts.  “Another story about horses, Laura?” they ask good-naturedly every month. They are brutally honest (and I do mean BRUTAL), but they are supportive and encouraging too. Since starting the challenge in January, I have completed five manuscripts and revised one. I have submitted my manuscripts to three of the featured 12 x 12 agents so far.

The knowledge I’ve gained through 12 x 12 has given me confidence in my writing. I now tell people that I am a children’s writer.  And guess what? They don’t laugh. I can visualize the day I tell people that I am a children’s AUTHOR. Oh, how great it will feel to say those words!  Until then, I am happy in my work.  I have found a way to combine my two passions, horses and writing.  It just doesn’t get much better than that!   

In addition to being a children’s writer, Laura Wolfe is a wife and mom of two young children, a horsewoman, an animal lover and an environmental advocate. Because she believes in “writing what you know”, many of her stories focus on horses and the crazy antics of her young children. When she is not writing picture books, she is playing superheroes with her kids, horsing around at the barn, or spoiling her rescue dog. In her previous life, she was an attorney, a legal editor, and a successful real estate broker. After having kids, she quickly decided that life was too short not to pursue her passions.

Laura holds a BA in English from the University of Michigan and a JD With Honor from DePaul University College of Law. She has been a member of the Michigan chapter of the SCBWI since 2010. Laura is currently active in several online writing communities, including 12×12, PB Lovers Critique Group, and CBI Clubhouse.

Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, Authors, Books, Creativity, Goals, Guest Blogging, SCBWI, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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I never tire of hearing (or reading) people say how tough it is to write a picture book. But I was especially impressed by the admission from today’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author, Connie Dowell, that she waited to try writing picture books for years because she knew she needed strong writing skills. So often it’s the other way around! People think they are going to ‘cut their teeth’ on picture books and then graduate to longer-form fiction or non-fiction. Please welcome Connie and read on to learn more about the differences of writing picture books vs. middle grade/YA fiction in this fascinating post. 

Picture Books and Carry-over Skills

When I tell people I’m working on a picture book, I’m often surprised by how many people assume picture books are easier to write than other forms. I’m quick to correct them. Picture books are tough! In fact, I put off trying a picture book manuscript for years, worried I wasn’t a strong enough writer to do one justice.

I had been writing middle grade and young adult for a long time when I first fell in love with picture books as a library assistant during graduate school. I couldn’t resist flipping through the picture books in the library’s collection to see the beautiful images and read the sometimes lyrical, sometimes funny, always fascinating words. I wanted to write those words, but I already knew that, frequently, the shorter the piece the more difficult it is to compose.

This year, I finally took the 12 x 12 challenge, hoping the regular writing exercise and community environment would be just what I needed to get started in this intimidating (to me) new category. It couldn’t have been more perfect. Knowing I have to get 12 of these puppies at least in first-draft form before 2014, I’ve been furiously brainstorming and putting pen to paper and hands to keyboard, no matter how awful I feel like my drafts are when I write them. Not only have I a learned a great deal about picture books through this process, I’ve gained writing skills that carry over to fiction for other age groups as well. Furthermore, I’ve learned those skills as a direct result of some of the differences between picture book and novel writing, the length and the illustration component.

The shorter length of picture books intensifies the entire writing process. It forces me to think about every single word I put on the page. In just a few months of doing this challenge, I’m writing more concisely than I ever have before and editing more ruthlessly to eliminate redundancy and unnecessary words. In addition, the short length makes picture book characterization more difficult and more crucial. It’s too easy to have characters feel like fill-in-the-blanks, because as writers we don’t have much word count to work in those details that bring characters to life. It’s important to concentrate on what’s special about not just the protagonist but any secondary characters and bear all that in mind for every single action the character takes.

The illustration component of picture books presents an additional challenge. One of the first maxims you learn in picture books is to “leave room for the pictures,” and boy was that hard for me. I spent years refining my use of visual description, finding just the right balance between not enough and too much detail. When I started writing picture books, all that was gone, and I finally realized how much I used it as a crutch. Without visual description, I started thinking about smells, textures, etc. A book is not a movie screen; it can appeal to more than just the eyes and ears.

Thus far I have written and revised two picture book manuscripts, I’m working on a third, and I have a long list of ideas to fill the rest of the year. I’ve enjoyed exploring this fascinating form and improved as not only a picture book writer, but as a writer overall. I can’t wait to see how much I will have learned by the end of the year.

Connie B. Dowell is a university writing tutor and writing center assistant manager. Her freelance editing and proofreading business launches in May. Always passionate about children’s literature, in high school and college, she hid her books for younger readers lest anyone should discover that she read “little kid books.” Now she reads whatever she pleases right out in the open, daring anyone to judge. Connie lives in Virginia with her husband and an overly clingy cat. Find her online at www.bookechoes.com.

Categories: 12 x 12, Authors, Books, Children's Books, Creativity, Goals, Guest Blogging, Picture Books, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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Sneak peek at seahorses from SHIVER!

Sneak peek at seahorses from SHIVER!

I had a most bountiful birthday week! Feeling most grateful and fortunate indeed.

Quotes on Gratitude

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you plant.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

“Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start.” – Nido Qubein

“Happiness resides not in possessions, and not in gold. Happiness dwells in the soul.” – Democritus

Gratitude list for the week ending May 25

  1. I had the extreme honor of being featured on the fabulous Happy Birthday Author blog. Right alongside many of my heroes of the craft! Thanks again Eric!
  2. I received so many heartfelt and heartwarming messages from friends and family for my birthday. I felt truly loved and appreciated.
  3. I received three coveted books as gifts plus gift certificates for more!
  4. Sharing a meal and some wine with friends the night before my birthday
  5. Going to see EPIC with the kids
  6. Watching my cousin’s daughter graduate high school, AND listen to her singing the National Anthem to start the ceremony! I am in awe of her talent and accomplishment.
  7. A SHIVER OF SHARKS is in production and should release next week!
  8. I made huge progress on my presentation on storybook apps for the NJ-SCBWI conference and I’m SO EXCITED to present!
  9. I got lots of good exercise this week.
  10. My kids finished their school year in good spirits and with great report cards.

What are you grateful for this week?

Categories: A Shiver of Sharks, Apps, Birthdays, Digital Publishing, Family, Friendship, Gratitude Sunday, Guest Blogging, Movies, SCBWI, Storybook Apps · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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If I had to choose a phrase to describe today’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author Carrie Charley Brown, it would be “Newbie No More!” Her excitement and dedication to writing and this community is contagious and inspiring. She’s grabbed her passion for writing with both hands and clearly is not going to let go! And while I ordinarily wouldn’t suggest writing while driving, I had to both laugh and give a thumbs up in Carrie’s case. You go, girl! Please welcome Carrie!

How do you Spell Newbie?

Nervous, Excited, Worried, Busy, Inquisitive, Eager.

That’s enough going on inside one head to explode!  So, how do you spell relief?

12 x 12, of course!

My journey from teacher to author began in the form of a little spark in 1991. It ignited into a picture book manuscript. That flame was rather snuffed spending nineteen years on the back burner, so that a teaching career, marriage, kids, and life could happen. My husband and I assumed reversed roles when an unexpected lay-off terminated his career. Back to teaching I went! I have always wondered why that flame chose to lash out at such an inopportune time.

I vividly remember being half asleep, pumping myself with coffee, and then yelling some not-so-nice words at some guy who cut me off in traffic. I took one look at the surprised expressions on my kids’ faces in the backseat, and a fire started to roar through my mind. I grabbed a crumpled up napkin, and started writing furiously as we blazed down the expressway. (Yikes!) When I ran out of room, I snatched a wrinkled receipt and scribbled more. I was bursting! But, with such a busy schedule, I had to stuff the ideas into a notebook for a later date. I was so eager to get into my writing, but my mind was only on break during my morning drives.

My husband finally found work and we reversed our roles again. I joined the SCBWI in the fall of 2012, and finally completed the two manuscripts that had burned themselves into my driving time in 2010. I felt free, and very, very green! I read everything I could get my hands on, started a critique group, and researched agents. I completed four additional manuscripts and a handful of short stories. I received my first big rejection during a professional critique with a big time editor at a SCBWI event in October.  My flame didn’t feel so bright anymore. After trying to revise my manuscript in every thinkable way, it went in the drawer.

Enter: PiBoIdMo 2012. Yes! All I needed was more ideas! Sparks were everywhere! From there, I heard about 12 x 12 and became a Gold Member in January.

12 x 12 spells relief:

Nervous?  I am meeting so many awesome writers from all over the world! Connecting lead me to my critique groups, an amazing critique partner, and collaborations. It makes me feel comfortable when my new colleagues offer suggestions, and recommend trusted sources for education, information, and professional services.

Excited!  With a special mixture of PiBoIdMo ideas and a bunch of new ones, I am writing my little heart out!  I love “reporting in” at the end of each month and daily to my critique partner.

Worried?  It is comforting to have people all around me that know exactly what I am going through. 12 x 12 is like a big hug!  Each and every person I have interacted with in this process has strengthened me as a professional and a person. I am learning that differences are good, and this business is truly subjective.

Busy!  The First 250, Query Corner, and Pitch Perfect all allow me to critique the work of other writers. I enjoy helping, and feel a knack for editing. It has helped me become better at revising my own work, too.

Inquisitive? I found support in the 12 x 12 Facebook Group when I needed to know if I was “normal.” Many of my questions are answered by reading the posts of others.

Eager!  12 x 12 has motivated me to produce 7 new manuscripts since January! I am actively submitting and received my first three requests! Everyone has to start somewhere, and 12 x 12 is the perfect place for a Newbie!

Carrie Charley Brown has been inspiring children with the magic of picture books ever since her first teaching job. After 10 years of teaching and an equal amount of years as a full-time mom, she opened a new chapter of her life as a writer in 2012. Her current writing projects include picture books, adult humor, and middle grade fiction. She lives in Mansfield, Texas with her husband Richard, and their three children. Not surprisingly, her children all love to read and write. You can follow her on Twitter at @carriebrowntx or her new blog websites, Carrie On… Together! or Carrie On.

Categories: 12 x 12, Authors, Books, Children's Books, Creativity, Guest Blogging, PiBoIdMo, Picture Book Month, Picture Books, Queries, SCBWI, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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Today I am ecstatic to bring you a different kind of “How I Got My Agent” story. This one is special because it is the first, of hopefully many, success stories of authors finding agents through 12 x 12. Once again I was moved to tears by a member’s expression of what 12 x 12 has done for her confidence, her writing and her career. I can honestly say the only time I’ve ever been more pleased to announce that someone signed with an agent is when it was me! Without further ado, congratulations to Pat Miller, who recently signed with Stephen Fraser of Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency! May there be many more 12 x 12 participants who come after you! :-)

I began my writing career out of green-eyed jealousy in 1994 with a magazine article. (That’s another story.) I mostly wrote for school librarians. I reconnected with children’s writing, thanks to Tara Lazar’s Picture Book Idea Month challenge, in November 2012. Tara mentioned Julie Hedlund’s upcoming 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge. Perhaps it was the timing, perhaps the financial investment, but I decided to commit. Here’s how 12 x 12 has made 2013 my luckiest writing year.

ENCOURAGEMENT I began reading other people’s work and submitting my own in the 250 Words Forum. I had done more than six months of research on the sea captain who invented the hole in the doughnut. Now I felt encouraged to stop researching and start writing.

COMPANIONSHIP The 12 x 12 Facebook page peopled my writing space with amiable fellow writers. I was surrounded by their hopes and encouraged by their work. My difficulties were theirs–I wasn’t alone. I began showing up at my desk every morning at 7:00, feeling the invisible but warm company of kindred spirits.

ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS Is a particular conference worth the money? Which writing books are most helpful? How does one format a picture book? The 12×12 group reminds me of a trampoline—throw out a question and within hours, answers bounce up from all over! When I asked if anyone had experience with making book trailers, Julie connected me with Katie Davis. I’ll be joining her Video Idiot Boot Campin May.

RESOURCES Members often suggest sites, blogs, and resources that inspire and educate. Lori Degman told us about a site called Rate Your Story. Over the next couple of months, I submitted three stories. My Stone Soup variant rated a 7, The Hole Story of the Doughnut earned a 3, and Lone Star, Lone Star convinced someone to give it a 1. Encouraged, I sent Lone Star out to several regional publishers.

EXPERT HELP I committed to bringing my Hole Story to completion. I returned to Rate your Story to peruse their list of editors for hire. From a list of heavy hitters, I chose Jill Esbaum, author of 11 picture books and former instructor for the Institute of Children’s Literature. She helped me revise my story, and with high hopes, I submitted it to the Highlights Fiction Contest.

I had more than 200 pages of research on my doughnut inventor. In February I began to feel a book was necessary. But where to begin? What to include? What to leave out? On January 23, Elaine Kearns recommended Dear Editor.com, where you send in questions to editor Deborah Halverson. Deborah’s answer to my questions appeared the next day. I began the book.

NEW DIRECTIONS In mid-January, Janie Reinart posted a site about building one’s author platform. Reading it convinced me I needed to learn about using social media to promote my work. In a marvelous coincidence, another member recommended marketing magician Rivka Kawano. On January 28, I took her three-hour online seminar called “Author Success in 2013”. It was so helpful that I signed for her twelve week course,  Author’s Marketing Class.

CRITIQUE GROUP In early February, Laura Carpenter posted on the forum’s Critique Connect that she wanted to form a group. Lickety-split, nine of us joined her from seven states and Canada—my first critique group! Soon the stories began to fly, as well as posts about our vacations, our discouragements, and our delight in the group.

SHARED SUCCESSES  We participated in the voting for Janie Reinart’s book, Love You More Than You Know, nominated for Best Cleveland Book of 2013. And she won! Tracey Cox shared news of the debut of her cleverly named Arachnabet: An Alphabet of Spiders. Cheryl Lawton Malone nearly won the March Madness Poetry Match with her poem, “Autocorrect”. The success of any of us gave us all hope.

ACCESS TO AGENTS In January, Emma Walton Hamilton taught us to write query letters and posted her analysis of 40 queries submitted by 12x12ers. In February, Stephen Fraser of the Jennifer de Chiara Literary Agency became the first of 11 monthly agents willing to look at our work and make suggestions.

By mid-February, The Hole Story of the Doughnut had been through numerous revisions and shaped up as a picture book biography. I crafted my e-query based on Emma’s advice. I followed it with the manuscript that had been through my critique group, Rate Your Story, Jill Esbaum, and Kathi Appelt, the Newbery-honor winner whose critique I won at a local SCBWI auction. With a small prayer, I hit “send” and off went my manuscript to Stephen Fraser.

A REALIZED DREAM Julie sent out interview and biographic information on Stephen Fraser when he stepped up to be our first agent reader. He sounded experienced, passionate, and kind. Just the kind of agent I would like if I had one. He amazed all of us by turning our stories around in three days or less. And he liked my story. Could I make some changes and resubmit? The day after April Fool’s Day, Stephen called me and offered to represent The Hole Story. I tried not to squeal like a pre-teen at a Bieber concert. He patiently answered my questions and said his contract would be in the mail. HIS CONTRACT WOULD BE IN THE MAIL! I was fizzy with joy, thrilled to have an agent, and very aware of how much I owe to Julie Hedlund and  the writers of 12 x 12. Thanks to them, my nineteen-year career became an overnight success.

Pat Miller is the author of 20 professional books and more than 200 articles for school librarians. Her first children’s book, Substitute Groundhog, garnered 32 rejection letters before publication by Albert Whitman. It was named a Junior Library Guild selection. Find out more at www.patmillerbooks.com.

Categories: 12 x 12, Agents, Authors, Books, Children's Books, Creativity, Goals, Guest Blogging, How I Got My Agent, PiBoIdMo, Picture Book Month, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries, SCBWI, Social Media, Video Idiot Boot Camp, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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NaPiI am SO honored to be on Paula Yoo’s blog as a guest poster for the wrap-up of National Picture Book Writing Week (NaPiBoWriWee). Although I could not participate as a writer this year, NaPiBoWriWee was the first writing challenge I ever participated in, and that is one reason it holds a special place in my heart.

The second reason is thus. During that first challenge, it was day six and I was writing a story with the clever title of “Thomas’s Promises.” In it, a boy named Thomas keeps promising his mother he’ll clean his room, do his homework, feed the dog… just as soon as he’s finished playing. Of course he doesn’t keep those promises, so one day his mother decides to turn the tables on him and boy does he learn a lesson!

It was in the midst of boring the pants off myself writing this story that I decided I couldn’t stand to work on it for one more minute. I decided instead to start over on a brand new draft I’d been wanting to write for a while based on another catchy title. I had the basic premise, but I had no idea how I would execute on that premise.

What happened next was one of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve ever had as a writer. The story took over and brought me along on the adventure as it unfolded. When I reached the unexpected (to me) ending, I had tears in my eyes. Having one of my own stories make me cry had never happened before, nor has it happened since. But it was at that moment I knew my writing could trigger deep feelings in readers.

That story has gone through many revisions. It is as yet unpublished, but I know it will be someday. More importantly though, it stoked my confidence as a writer. For that, I am forever grateful to Paula and NaPiBoWriWee. I wanted to share the story with you to demonstrate the power of writing challenges and writing communities like the one Paula puts together every year.

Congratulations, Paula, on the 5th Anniversary of NaPiBoWriWee!!

P.S. Doesn’t this year’s logo match my website perfectly? ;-)

Categories: Authors, Creativity, Friendship, Goals, Guest Blogging, NaPiBoWriWee, Picture Books, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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TRcruiseFinally! A Tuesday 12 x 12 author who loves sleep as much as I do! I always thought I was the only one who was rabid about getting enough sleep. ;-) Meet Teresa Robeson, who has brought so much humor and heart to the 12 x 12 challenge (AND a recipe for vodka creamsicles!). Just read her bio at the end of this post and you’ll have a good sense of how lucky we 12 x 12 folks are to get to steep in her enthusiasm and energy every day. Please welcome Teresa! 

Once upon a time, a young girl loved writing and drawing so much that her mother urged her to take creative writing or fine arts at university. But like any cranky kid, she didn’t listen to her mom and tried to do a science degree instead.

Fast forward a few years – while panicking about turning 30, the girl decided to get serious about writing. So she took a writing-for-children course and wrote what she thought was a nice picture book based on autobiographical material. Turns out it was more of a short-story, and while Ladybug Magazine published it, the girl thought she was a failure as a picture book writer and moved on.

You might think this was the end of the story, but fast forward again a bunch more years, and this girl, now no longer young, had her interest in writing PBs renewed when she came across Paula Yoo’s NaPiBoWriWee. Sometime thereafter, she “met” Julie Hedlund at Write-On Con and Verla Kay, and the rest is 12×12 history! The end.

Kidding. Smile But I’ll stop talking about myself in the third person.

I joined 12×12 because it sounded like what I needed after doing NaPiBoWriWee. So far, 12×12 has exceeded my expectations. Through it, I have become a part of the most amazing critique group (love you ladies – Kristen, Elaine, Victoria, Yvonne, Renee, and Sylvia!), written 3 drafts and polished a couple of old ones, submitted to the three scheduled agents, and made friends with a bunch of supportive and talented writers.

I usually don’t feel qualified to give people advice, but you’re probably here to read some and not just to see me ramble on about myself. LOL! Three things have worked well for me in my so-called writing career. I want to share them with my fellow PB-Padawans:

1) Get thee to a critique group. I can’t believe I wrote (on and off) for 20 years without one. Now I have three and they are my guiding lights, my partners in crime, and my cheerleaders extraordinaire! I was invited to join these critique groups by invitation via a Gotham Writer’s Workshop class, the local SCBWI chapter, and the 12×12 Challenge. Whether you’re already part of one or need to start one yourself, I recommend the book “The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide” by Becky Levine to help guide you.

2) Don’t believe the lies and excuses you tell yourself about why you can’t spend more time writing. I love my sleep. I used to joke that the top three things I love most are my family, food, and sleep, not necessarily in that order. I claimed that I couldn’t give up sleep to write like professional writers urged us to do. This year, with the big Five-Oh breathing down my neck, I decided that it was time to stop making excuses. I started getting up 1.5 hours earlier than I used to and, holy cow, I got so much more writing in! It’s apparently decent writing too because I’ve won two contests since and was a finalist in a third.

3) Never stop learning. I’ve taken classes at the Institute of Children’s Literature, Gotham Writer’s Workshop, and Indiana University Continuing Education, and am currently taking Picture Book Academy and will be taking Making Picture Book Magic in June, taught by the fabulous and talented Mira Reisberg and Susanna Hill, respectively. And, of course, read voraciously about the craft and all books in general.

Teresa grew up in Hong Kong and Vancouver but, these days, find herself in the middle of nowhere Midwest as a homeschooling mom and a wannabe-homesteader. Baking is her preferred method of procrastination but she also enjoys knitting, sewing, crocheting, making cheese and yogurt, and will soon start spinning and weaving. She was raised by Star Trek and Chinese fairy tales, and writes speculative fiction for adults and YA in addition to picture books. She has a degree in Speech Science/Linguistics that she never uses, and still wants to be an astrophysicist or opera singer when she grows up. You can find out more than you ever wanted to know about her at her webite, teresarobeson.com, or blog, Growing, Writing, and Creating.

 

 

Categories: 12 x 12, 12 x 12 Featured Author, Authors, Books, Children's Books, Goals, Guest Blogging, NaPiBoWriWee, Picture Books, SCBWI, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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Bridget Magee Author PictureIt’s always a special treat when I get to introduce someone for the Tuesday 12 x 12 series whom I’ve met in person. I had the extreme good fortune of meeting Bridget Magee last May at the Highlights Foundation Poetry for All workshop. I’ll tell you something. I was terrified to attend that workshop. I do not consider myself a poet by any definition, but as a picture book writer (and even a rhymer), I set the goal of learning more about how to use the principles of poetry in what is obviously a spare form of writing.

I was lucky enough to sit at Bridget’s table the first evening at dinner, when I arrived wide-eyed and with heart beating like a jackrabbit. Since she joined 12 x 12, I assume she’s forgiven me for steering the conversation into what is more comfortable ground for me – picture books. But I’ll tell you another thing. After hearing and reading her work over the course of four days, I can tell you her poems are astounding. So I’m honored to host her today. Please welcome Bridget! P.S. Personally, I think Smidgey needs his own story! :-)

I am thankful for 12×12.  The feeling of community, the generosity of spirit, and the opportunities to share successes and struggles have been invaluable.  But I am most thankful for 12×12 because it has reconnected me with old friends.  These old friends spoke to me in the middle of the night.  They came into being as I showered.  I brought them into being, but over time I stopped playing with them.  These old friends are the characters in my 20+ picture book drafts that wait on my computer, and on paper in my desk.

I met most of these friends during my MFA program.  Each one has a special place in my heart, and with the help of 12×12 they will get the attention and nurturing they deserve.  Some may stay at home, living on my computer indefinitely.  Some will flourish and grow to the point that they will go out into the world and live in the hearts of  young readers.  But all will get the love they deserve.

Because of 12×12, I started 2013 by visiting Spike.  I hadn’t seen that brute of a dog in years, but I loved him and I wanted to see if I could clean him up and make him presentable.  Spike was all growls and grit until a new gerbil, Squeakers, moved in. Poor Spike had lain nervously in my desk drawer waiting for me to visit him and give his story a fresh perspective.  He was waiting for me to make his conflict – large dog vs. innocuous gerbil – more dramatic, with fewer words.  Through the First 250 Words section on the Membership Forum, both Spike and I receive valuable feedback and encouragement to overcome our fears and revise.  Both of us are stronger for it.

In February, I checked on little Miss Mimi, the toddler who demanded a pet.  She hadn’t changed a bit since languishing on my hard drive for the last few years.  She was still loud, still demanding, and she still couldn’t make up her mind.  But I made her mind up for her, when I reexamined her story with a fresh perspective.  Clearer words, tighter story, and stronger verbs have given Mimi the kind of voice she needs to get published.

March will reintroduce me to in another old friend.  Will it be Stuart, the clumsy boy who only wants to create?  Or Moe who never did listen to his mother?  I’m not sure, but I do know that each month for the rest of the year (and beyond) I will be spending time with old friends, thanks to 12×12.

Bridget Magee has plenty of old friends, but does not consider herself old.  She is a former Elementary Teacher and School Librarian.  She has her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University where she focused on picture books and poetry.  Since 1/1/2011, she has maintained a Poem-A-Day blog at www.weewordsforweeones.blogspot.com.   Bridget has won various awards for her poetry through the Arizona State Poetry Society and has a Poem of the Month feature in the East Tucson Macaroni Kid E-Newsletter Publication.  She also writes articles for adults about family life and adoption.  And she is learning to be a public speaker with the hopes of being a professional speaker about children’s literature, adoption, and family. A self described picture book junky, Bridget, when not writing, can be found reading.  She lives in Tucson, AZ with her husband, Joe, daughters, Colleen and Maureen, and crazy dog, Smidgey. 

Writer. Poet. Speaker. Mom. 

Categories: 12 x 12, Authors, Creativity, Friendship, Goals, Guest Blogging, Picture Books, Poetry, Rhyming, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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Vivian Kirkfield picA This post from today’s 12 x 12 author Vivian Kirkfield took my breath away! Look how much she has accomplished over the past year! I am both honored and humbled that 12 x 12 was among sparks that lit her creative bonfire. Vivian’s experience epitomizes everything I aim and hope for with 12 x 12 — that people find a safe place to learn, become part of a caring community and stretch themselves as writers. I hope you enjoy her story as much as I did. Welcome Vivian!

I love books! As a young child, I was small in stature and people would stare at what looked like a walking stack of books when I left the library. This obsession love for books of any genre continued throughout my life. To be perfectly honest though, picture books had me from the first page turn.

As a kindergarten and Head Start teacher, I read picture books with my students. When I became a mom, my children might not have had all of the newest and most popular toys…but they ALWAYS had lots of picture books. And I enjoyed scribbling stories for them as we waited at the doctor’s office or sat in the car on long road trips. Sadly, most of those stories were lost during our many moves…and not one of those stories was ever submitted.

Fast forward to 2012…through a stroke of luck/karma/destiny…I connected with Julie Hedlund…discovered 12×12…and embarked on a year of sheer bliss and happiness. And 12×12 in 2013 is even more supercalifragilisticexpealidocious!

For me, there is a magical quality surrounding 12×12. Miraculous things occur:

  • DIRECTION AND GUIDANCE: I now know where I am headed (most of the time…and my husband might disagree). I write every day (picture book stories in addition to checks to pay the bills). This year, as a Golden Level Member, I’m able to submit to agents without the angst and anxiety of finding them myself…although now, because of 12×12, I know I can do that.
  • COMMUNITY AND RESOURCES: Being part of this group is like coming home…there is support and encouragement from other members. I can honestly say I’ve never been part of a more generous group of people. I even found my amazing online international critique group here (big wave to Hannah, Tina, Diane, Carrie and Allie). The 12×12 Facebook page is a treasure trove of information about query letters and agent submission and contests and everything writing picture books. If you have a question, ask it…someone will provide an answer. If you have a problem…post it…someone will offer a solution. And everyone really CARES…about each other…and everyone is genuinely happy when success comes knocking at someone’s door/mailbox. There is a sharing of knowledge, expertise and LOVE that shines through each comment.

In September of 2010, I published a book to help parents and teachers. I wanted to get it ‘out there’ in social media-land even though I always shrank (and being so small, I have no inches to spare) from technology. I set up an author website. I started a parenting blog. I got active on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Google+, Pinterest…and I’m still hobbling along learning every day.

In 2012, because of 12×12, I wrote twelve picture book drafts, entered several writing challenges and contests, did PiBoIdMo and won Emma Walton Hamilton’s Just Write For Kids online picture book writing course (thank you, Julie and Emma!). Best of all, I connected with amazing people and will be speaking at the 2013 Asian Festival of Children’s Content in Singapore this May…because of one of those connections.

So, what does 12×12 have in store for me this year? I’ve already written two picture book drafts. I submitted my first-ever picture book query in January and clicked ‘send’ for my first-ever picture book manuscript submission in February. I also submitted a story for the Highlights Fiction Contest. I’m polishing up a new picture book story and will be submitting it to agent Tricia Lawrence later this month, as well as to the SCBWI Barbara Karlin Grant competition.

The best thing is that I am having so much fun. When I retired this past December, my younger son told me, “Mom, you are turning to the next page in the book of your life.”  12×12 is definitely a very important chapter in that book!

Vivian Kirkfield is an educator and mom. Her mission: help children become lovers of books and reading and empower parents with tools and tactics that make the difficult job of parenting a little easier and a lot more fun. She believes that one of the most important tasks of parenthood is to read with children. When she is not hiking and fly-fishing in the Colorado Rockies with her husband of 45 years, Vivian is reading, crafting and cooking with local kindergarten classes…and writing picture book stories, of course.

Categories: 12 x 12, Authors, Books, Friendship, Guest Blogging, Parenting, PiBoIdMo, Picture Books, Queries, SCBWI, Social Media, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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profile pic 2013Today it is my pleasure to bring Sylvia Liu to the Tuesday 12 x 12 series. This is Sylvia’s second year partaking of the challenge, and she has been a huge supporter and enthusiastic giver of her expertise the whole time. Sylvia understands the value of external motivation and peer support and how both are vital to growing as a writer. She gives freely of her knowledge on her blog and website, and I highly encourage you to go there after you read her post today to be wowed by her amazing art. Here is a woman headed for high places. Please welcome Sylvia!

The Value of Critiques

by Sylvia Liu

Sometimes when you write a story, don’t you feel it’s just perfect, and you can’t wait to send it to a publisher or agent so that you can be discovered already? Yeah, I felt that way about a recent manuscript. I shared it with one of my critique friends, and she essentially said, “meh.” She also gave me some great suggestions to improve it. After I got over my shock that she didn’t think this would be the next worldwide picture book bestseller, I realized all over again why it is so important to have my work critiqued by others.

1. The Story in Your Head is Not What is Written.

When I write, I know the feelings and images I want to convey. But the words I choose are rooted in my own experiences and emotions that are not necessarily universal. Someone who doesn’t share my worldview, sense of humor, or baggage background may not get the same feelings from my words. By trusting my story to fresh eyes, I can gauge how close I am to achieving my intended effect.

2. A Writer Does Half the Job; the Reader Does the Rest. 

The corollary is that, in any story, the reader brings her own life experiences. A good story takes a life of its own as people react to it in different ways. Critiques help me discover the range of reactions a story elicits. For example, in one story I shared, half the readers thought one of the main characters was imaginary and the rest thought he was real. I had intended him to be real, but I liked the other interpretation too. As I refine the story, I will consciously keep the ambiguity.

3. Any Story, No Matter How Brilliant, Can Be Improved.

No matter what level of writing we are at, constructive criticism can improve our work. Even the most accomplished writer can get too attached to a hard-won turn of phrase or lovingly created scene that may not move the story forward. Writers who know the rules (such as show, don’t tell; use active voice; raise the stakes) can use reminders. And writers exploring unfamiliar genres may need to learn the conventions (for example, the Rule of Threes in picture books).

4. Critiquing Others Will Help You Grow as a Writer.

Author Sarah Pinneo recently wrote an article on how critiquing queries is a great way to improve one’s own queries. It’s so much easier to identify ways to improve other people’s manuscripts, even as I struggle with the same issues. And once I notice a common pitfall enough times, I try to avoid it in my own writing.

5. All of the Above Applies to My Art as Well.

In some ways, I need less feedback on my illustrations because I can compare the finished project with my mental image. But I have still found critiques to be invaluable. Comments on composition, color choices, perspective and other issues that I did not notice have all been instrumental in making my pieces stronger.

12 x 12 is A Great Place to Get Critiques

Because of all these reasons, one of the best parts of 12 x 12 for me has been all the opportunities for getting critiques of my work: (1) the first 250 words in the Forum; (2) the ability to connect with critique partners, and (3) the PB Illustrators Critique Group, a Facebook group open to illustrators in 12 x 12. It is also through 12 x 12 that I discovered Rate Your Story, a great way to get free professional critiques of picture book manuscripts.

All who have critiqued my work have been generous with their knowledge and constructive in their criticisms. Without a doubt, my work has improved as a direct result.

Sylvia Liu is a former environmental lawyer turned artist/illustrator/writer. She is working on several picture book projects and developing an illustrated chapter book. She blogs about children’s illustration, picture books, ebooks, infographics, and Blogger tips at Sylvia Liu Land. Check out her portfolio, Art and Illustration by Sylvia Liu, or find her on Twitter @artsylliu, Facebook, Pinterest, or Google+.

 

Categories: 12 x 12, Authors, Children's Books, Creativity, Goals, Guest Blogging, Picture Books, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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