Two exciting 12 x 12 in 2012 announcements!

Announcement #1

Beginning February 7th, a pre-published participant of the 12 x 12 challenge will guest post on the blog for the new Tuesday 12 x 12 series.  Each participating author and/or illustrator will write a post on a topic of their choice related to the challenge – why they joined, what they’ve learned, connections they’ve made, books they’ve written, etc.

I am so excited about this series because it will give you a chance to get to know some of the talented and courageous writers who have taken the plunge with me into this challenge.  Many of these writers, you will discover, have fabulous blogs of their own where they generously share their knowledge, successes, and bumps along the road.

You may be wondering why this series is focused on pre-published authors specifically.  For one thing, I guess I have a soft spot for pre-pubbies (my newly minted term), since I am one myself. Second, I already have plans to feature many published authors and illustrators throughout the challenge, so I wanted to shine the light on the great folks putting in the hours and the hard work it takes to get published today.  Finally, I have learned so much from reading their blogs already, and I know you will too.  After all, you don’t have to be traditionally published in order to have knowledge and experience worth sharing.  If so, my own blog would be out of business! 🙂  So I hope you’ll come by on Tuesdays and give these brave souls the support and encouragement they deserve.

Announcement #2

I was thrilled to welcome freelance editor Tamson Weston into the 12 x 12 challenge as a participant.  Tamson has very generously offered to give participants a FANTASTIC opportunity to practice writing pitches for the chance to win a manuscript critique from her.  More details will be provided on February 16th when the contest goes live, but because you will only have FOUR DAYS to submit your pitches, I wanted to give you some advance warning so you can start working on them in your “spare” time.

You may choose ONE of your WIPs and submit a pitch that is no more than 140 characters (same as a maximum Twitter message), along with THE FIRST line of your book.  The only exception is if your book is in verse, in which case you can submit the first four lines.  So get ready, because this is a HUGE opportunity.  The grand prize winner will receive a manuscript critique from Tamson.  Again, more information on how to submit, how the entries will be judged, etc. will be posted on February 16th.

Tamson is published children’s book author and editor with over 15 years experience at several prestigious publishing houses including HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Disney Hyperion.  Adam Rex, Mac Barnett, Robert Weinstock, Adam Gopnik, Jane Leslie Conly, Anne Rockwell, Deborah Hopkinson, Jen Violi, Alexander Stadler, and Dan Santat are just a few of the authors/illustrators she’s worked with.

Are you excited yet??

Now, I suggest you go follow Tamson everywhere she lives!

Tamson’s Blog

Tamson’s Facebook Page

Tamson on Twitter

Still need to sign up for the 12 x 12?  Go here
Categories: 12 x 12 in 2012, Authors, Children's Books, Guest Blogging, Picture Books, Publishing, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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Last Friday, as part of the Rocky Mountain SCBWI annual conference, I participated in a picture-book writing intensive led by Alexandra Penfold, editor at the Paula Wiseman Books imprint of Simon & Schuster.  After a group discussion, each of us got 10 minutes to read a draft of one of our WIPs and get feedback from Alexandra (and others in the group).

The story I took is a relatively new draft (I’ve only done a couple of major revisions on it).  Normally, if I’m getting feedback from an editor or agent, I’d bring a more polished piece, but in this case, I felt stuck and really needed some solid direction.  I felt I’d taken it far enough to not be embarrassed by presenting it.  After all, I’m not a total newbie anymore, right?

So I found myself quite surprised and embarrassed when Alexandra asked me, “What is your story question?  What is the one truth that you want your reader to take away from this story?”  I blushed, fumbled, and blathered before I realized… I don’t know.  I don’t know what my story question is.

Such a rookie mistake.  Needless to say, I was not happy at being called out on something that is pretty fundamental to the writing process.  Doh!

Lucky for me, I forgot to pack my headphones, so when I went to run on the treadmill later, I had nothing to do but mull over what I’d learned in the workshop.  That’s when it hit me: my original story question was no longer valid, and I figured out what the new question was.

See, I don’t usually start stories with a question that I want to explore or answer.  I almost always start with a concept, a character name or a title that sounds catchy.  In the case of my existing story, it was a concept – a specific way to fracture a fairy tale.  What I realized is that although I do write a story question before drafting, I have a tendency to shoe-horn the question to fit whatever concept, title, etc. I want to work with.  In my current story, my original story question was:

What do you do if the person you are supposed to marry turns out to be a shrew?

After the writing intensive, I realized the question really is:

What do you do when everyone in your trusted circle is telling you to do something, but your heart is saying no?

Not only is the second question more relevant to the story, it’s also much more compelling and universal, no?

In the end, I’m glad I got called out on something that it a weakness of mine as a writer – understanding and expressing the essential truth of what I am writing.  Now it is firmly on my radar, and I’ll be looking out for that in my future writing.  I suppose that large of a lesson was worth a little embarrassment.

And, as an added bonus, I was so deep in thought during my run that it wasn’t until I felt sweat dripping on my shoes that I realized I’d been running for almost an hour.  Time flies when you’re sweating over your writing…

What “tics” do you have in your writing or your profession that require vigilance on your part?

Categories: Children's Books, Picture Books, Publishing, SCBWI, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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FOODOO, my entry for Brenda Drake’s Show Me the Voice Blogfest, was selected as one of the 20 semi-finalists whose entries will be given to agent Natalie Fischer.  She will now choose three who will win critiques from her.  THANK YOU to everyone who provided comments and encouragement.  I have been working on this manuscript for a long time, alternating between loving and loathing it and suffering many crises of confidence along the way.  Getting positive feedback on the piece at this stage is a balm to my writerly soul.

Agent/author Mandy Hubbard wrote a great post last week about celebrating the small (and big) victories along the path of a writer.  She keeps a large vase on her desk, and whenever she gets good news – a book deal, sells foreign rights, etc. – she pops open a bottle of champagne and writes what she is celebrating on the bottom of the cork.  Then, when things aren’t going so well, she can go to the vase and remind herself of her accomplishments.

Since it is so easy to get discouraged in this business, I thought the “vase of corks” was a great idea.  So I am going to christen my own vase this weekend by celebrating this little milestone.  I am unpublished and unagented, so getting an agent to look at my work in any capacity is most definitely something to celebrate.  Next time I want to shred FOODOO, I’ll pull out that cork…

Congratulations to everyone who entered and to the other semi-finalists.  If you haven’t already done so, go read the entries.  They are amazing!  Thanks, too, to Brenda Drake for hosting such a fun contest.

P.S.  I just love how I can Google “Mandy Hubbard” and “champagne cork” and find the post I was looking for.  What DID people do in the days before the Internet???

Categories: Agents, Children's Books, Picture Books, Publishing, Rhyming, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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Thanks to everyone who commented on my original entry for the Show Me the Voice Blogfest.  This is the revised version (of the first 250 words) that I submitted:

Title: Foodoo

Genre: Picture Book Fiction

Ginny McMaudy loved all kinds of thrills,
Like riding her bike over towering hills,
Smacking a cannonball into the pool,
Swashbuckling swords in a pirate ship duel.

Turning a cartwheel with balance and grace.
Fooling the pitcher and stealing third base.
But one thrill that Ginny still wanted to try?
An amusement park ride with a track to the sky.

Brian rode last year while she circled ‘round
On kiddie rides barely four feet off the ground.
This year she knew she would conquer that ‘coaster.
This year her brother would not get to roast her.

She raced Brian down to the Beck’s County Fair,
And waited in line for the ‘coaster called DARE.
Brian said, “Shorty, you won’t get to ride.”
“Just watch me,” said Ginny, and shoved him aside.

Ginny flushed red when she got turned away.
Worse, she watched Brian ride ten times that day.
Denied her first ride… what a whale of a bummer.
She grumbled, but vowed to grow tall by next summer.

“I might need to try an enchantment or two,
Or whip up a potion of TALLESTNESS brew…”
Ginny tried every known type of elixir.
Not even one of them managed to fix her.

She chanted a growth spell while waving her arms.
She dug a deep hole and buried six charms.
She danced round in circles; her head got all buzzy.
She read books on tallness; Her eyeballs went fuzzy.

One book advised, “To grow tall like Paul Bunyan,
Try bathing in fruit juice or suck on an onion…

I’ll find out on Thursday if I’m one of the 20 finalists who will get a chance to win a critique with Natalie Fischer.  Good luck to everyone who participated.  I had a great time reading the entries – lots of talent out there!  Thanks again for your help and support!

Categories: Agents, Children's Books, Picture Books, Rhyming, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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Hi everyone,

No Gratitude Sunday post today because I am participating in Brenda Drake‘s Show Me the Voice Blogfest.  (btw, Happy Birthday Brenda!)  Here’s how it works: Participants post the first 250 words of a completed mss.  Blog followers and other participants can provide critiques (keeping them helpful and focused on voice) in the comments.  On March 22, we will incorporate any changes from the critiques and email the final 250 words to Brenda.  A panel of peer judges will choose the best 20, and will then forward them to agent Natalie Fischer, of Bradford Literary Agency, who is always on the lookout for writing with great voice.  Natalie will then choose three winners, who will win critiques of their mss or queries.

Here is my entry.  For full disclosure, I must tell you that I am both under the weather and on a spring break ski trip with my kids.  Therefore, I may not get to provide as many reciprocal critiques as I otherwise would.  But I promise to do my best.  Thanks in advance to anyone who takes a crack at this!

Name: Julie Hedlund

Title: FOODOO

Genre: Picture Book Fiction

Ginny McMaudy loved all kinds of thrills,
Like riding her bike over towering hills,
Smacking a cannonball into the pool,
Swashbuckling swords in a pirate ship duel.

Turning a cartwheel with balance and grace.
Fooling the pitcher and stealing third base.
Just one kid matched Ginny for courage and pluck —
Her brother, advantaged by height and good luck.

Ginny thought, I can do anything Brian can do.
But deep down inside she knew this wasn’t true.
Because one thrill he’d had that she wanted to try?
An amusement park ride with a track to the sky.

So she raced Brian down to the Beck’s County Fair,
And waited in line for a ‘coaster called DARE.
Brian said, “Shorty, you won’t get to ride.”
“Just watch me,” said Ginny, and shoved him aside.

Ginny was crushed when she got turned away.
Worse, she watched Brian ride ten times that day.
Denied her first ride… what a whale of a bummer.
She grumbled, but vowed to grow tall by next summer.

“I might need to try an enchantment or two,
Or whip up a potion of TALLESTNESS brew…”
Ginny tried every known type of elixir.
Not even one of them managed to fix her.

She chanted a growth spell while waving her arms.
She dug a deep hole and buried six charms.
She danced round in circles; her head got all buzzy.
She read books about tallness; Her eyeballs went fuzzy.

One book advised, “To grow tall like Paul Bunyan,
Try bathing in fruit juice or suck on an onion…

So, lay it on me.  What do you think?

Categories: Agents, Children's Books, Picture Books, Publishing, Queries, Rhyming, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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One of my crit partners, Alison Stevens, is hosting the Super-Snooper Blogfest today.  Instructions are to describe a setting that tells us something about a character’s personality. Characters can be of any age, living in any time or place. However, we cannot describe the character, just his or her stuff.  Then you get to guess what you think the character is like.  This exercise came at a great time for me because I am trying to get back into the head of one of my characters for purposes of revising a WIP (my crit partners will probably know who this is – don’t tell!).

Here goes:

The wide dresser is a mess.  A hairbrush rests on the edge, with threads of kinky amber hair coiled around its bristles.  Ponytail holders and headbands lay nearby, trailing the same hair.  On the other end sits a ball glove, wrapped around a baseball and tied with string.  In between is a flotsam of items including swimming goggles, a bicycle bell, a few plastic toy horses, stray crayons and markers, dice, Silly Bandz, one soccer cleat, mismatched socks, a red clock radio/CD player, plastic flowers in a cobalt vase, and a small cauldron filled with coins and buttons.  The pegs on the mirror above the dresser are draped with a beaded purse, a seashell necklace and a black bag filled with magic cards.  The books stacked on the floor next to the dresser include How I Became a Pirate, Alexander and the Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, Fox in Sox, Ramona the Pest, Pippi Longstocking, and Sleepover Squad #3: The Trouble with Brothers.  Leaning against the dresser on the other side is the broom from last Halloween’s witch costume.

What can you tell about this character from this stuff?  Age, gender, personality?  Which things led you to which conclusions?

Categories: Children's Books, Social Media, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , ,

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We-ell, ya know… we all want to have a plan.

But now I am going to admit something that might make you think I’m the Scrooge of New Year’s:  I find reading other people’s New Year’s Resolutions boring.  Why?  Because they have no bearing on my life whatsoever.  They’re kind of interesting in a voyeuristic sense and/or if they give you ideas, but really, after reading post after post of them, my eyeballs are hanging out of my sockets by springs and there’s a pile of drool collecting on my desk.

There.  I said it.

HOWEVER, while I don’t love reading others’ resolutions, I realize that many people do.  I also believe in the power of not just setting goals, but writing them down, sharing them, and creating a plan to hold oneself accountable.  So it is in this spirit that I embrace my inner hypocrite and present you with my resolutions for two areas of my life (I wouldn’t think of subjecting you to the ones about my finances, my house and my family).  Those areas are…. drumroll…. Writing and Health and Wellness.  Posting them here is my way of holding myself accountable because at some point, I’ll feel obligated to come back and tell you all how I measured up.  So here goes:

Writing

1. Land an agent. I know, I know! I can hear you all screaming about S.M.A.R.T. goals, claiming this one isn’t Specific, Measurable, Achievable (at least independently), Realistic or Time-based.  Yeah, I worked in the corporate world too.  Yet, I would feel remiss if I didn’t put this on the list because this is the biggest next step toward reaching my future publication goals.  SO – I have created sub-goals that are SMART.  If I achieve those but still don’t get an agent, I’ll mark it as success.  I just want to make sure I’ve done everything within my control to work toward this goal.

  • Get primary WiP (call it WiP #1) submission-ready (again!) by end of January
  • Have a list of 8 agents to query for that WiP ready by end of January
  • Begin querying WiP #1 to those 8 agents beginning of February
  • Get WiP #2 submission-ready by end of March
  • Have a list of 8 additional agents to the ones queried for Wip #1 ready by end of March
  • Begin querying WiP #2 beginning of April (assuming no response/progress on WiP #1)
  • Write a first draft of BRAND NEW SUPER SHINY IDEA by end of February
  • Have BRAND NEW SUPER SHINY IDEA submission-ready by end of June

That’s as far as I can reasonably plan, I think, so I commit to setting new goals in June to keep this on track.

2. Write every weekday. Here writing is defined exclusively as new writing or revising a WiP.

  • Schedule a minimum of one hour of uninterrupted writing time each weekday.

3. Writing-related work every weekday. Writing-related work can be reading, research, writing pitches or query letters, blogging, social media, etc.

  • Must complete a minimum of one hour of writing-related work each day.  Does not need to be consecutive or uninterrupted.

4. Study craft and market for Travel Writing and Personal Essays. After picture books, these are other areas of writing that have great appeal to me, especially because they can also support research for the children’s writing (international research, anyone?).  So this year I just want to make inroads into understanding the markets for this type of writing and to begin working and studying the craft and how it differs from what I am doing now.

  • One hour of writing-related work per week must be dedicated to either travel or personal essay writing

Health/Wellness

So it turns out I have a big birthday coming up.  Although I always have health/wellness related resolutions and goals, they are more important than ever this year.

1. Be in great shape by 40th birthday. Again, I realize this violates all of the tenets of SMART goals, so again I broke it down.

  • Lose 15 pounds by:
  • Counting daily calories consumed beginning Jan. 10th. This is really a bummer because I hate doing this, but I know it’s the only way to be honest with myself about how much I am actually eating/drinking.
  • Exercise 5-7 days each week unless sick
  • 2 of the 5 sessions must be strength/yoga/pilates
  • 1 of the 2 strength sessions must be a full-body strength workout
  • Wine on weekends only unless special occasion.  This is also a bummer. I love my red wine at the end of the day.  Honestly, sometimes I’d like it as an IV drip.  But truth be told, it not only accumulates on my waistline, but it *gasp* impacts my productivity the next day if I’ve indulged in a couple of drinks the night before.  So in the spirit of keeping all the resolutions intact, I will limit wine to weekends outside of special weekday occasions.  Special occasions include things like: book club, dinners with friends, date nights, etc.  Special occasions do not include “because I deserve it” after a long day or because the kids are pushing every single button I have.

2. Run at least one race of 10K or greater distance

3. Learn to ski moguls with confidence. I can ski them, but not well.  This is the year I change that.

4. Craniosacral therapy once a month

5. Yoga at least once a month

6. Five-minute morning meditation first thing – before kids get up

So there you have it.  I know it’s an ambitious list, but at the start of a squeaky-clean year, I feel ready to tackle it!

What about you? Do you like reading other people’s resolutions? Do you think resolutions actually work?

Categories: Goals, Health/Fitness, Picture Books, Queries, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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Often, when I attend conferences or workshops like the one in Big Sur last weekend, I end up coming away with a “lightbulb moment” that defines the experience for me.  This time, that moment was given to me by none other than the illustrious Mary Kole of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, and of Kidlit.com fame.  It was:

“The Publisher is your first customer.”

I was seeking clarification from Mary on what constitutes a compelling hook, especially since it seems one of my manuscripts is in need of a stronger one.  I came with the belief that if the story/topic/message had obvious appeal to parents and/or kids, that = hook.  Not necessarily so.  For lack of a better way to explain it, I left with the understanding that a story (mine being a picture book) can’t just be well-written, entertaining, funny or poignant (even though those are all great too).  In order to rise above the ordinary, a story must have an element of magic – not in a literal sense, but in a literary sense.

Marla Frazee, who was also on faculty, said picture books need “emotional resonance.”  Meaning they need to make us feel something deeply when we read them.  It’s that feeling, that hook, that magic that makes a child and a parent want to read that book over and over again, versus just gleaning the message and putting it down forever.  That’s what publishers are looking for.

This notion of the publisher as the first customer may not be fair.  We might not agree.  Our friends and families might not agree.  Even our agents might not agree.  But it is reality if we’re looking to be traditionally published.

Does that mean we should always write with a little mini-publisher sitting on our shoulders shouting, “What’s the big idea?”  No.  Of course not.  I’m pretty sure that as soon as you “try” to write a knockout bestseller you won’t.  Because that magic is also sometimes called heart.  It has to come from yours or it won’t have the emotional resonance.  I personally believe the only way to find that heart, that magic is to keep writing until it shows up naturally – then revise the hell out of it so that the magic shines through.  So that’s what I’m going to work on now as I approach the next set of revisions to my WIPs.

Mary goes into much more detail about this topic in her post, Picture Book or Short Story? That post is a good place to start if I’ve confused you more than helped you!

P.S.  Mary also said that publishers, not surprisingly, are all looking for the next Fancy Nancy.  So let’s all get on that, shall we?  🙂

 

Categories: Agents, Authors, Children's Books, Picture Books, Publishing, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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Good to be back on the blog.  I’ve been discussing a certain kind of Pi – as in PiBoIdMo, and even some of the frustration/self-doubt that plagued me last

My first-ever homemade apple pie

week.

 

But this time I am writing about a different kind of pie – that is, apple pie.  Specifically an apple pie I made myself.  From scratch.  Even the crust.  With apples I picked that very day right from a tree in a field near our house.  From tree to pie in less than one day.  How’s that for the pioneer spirit?

This may not seem like a big deal to many of you, but believe me when I say I am not a baker.  I am a very good cook, and I love cooking, but baking?  Not so much.  This is the first time I have ever made a pie fully from scratch, all by myself without using a store-bought crust.  Can you sense that I am rather tickled with myself?  What’s more, making that pie helped my writing.

You may be wondering how spending four hours making a pie (including the time it took to hike down to the tree and back) is any help to writing.  Well, sometimes when you’re stuck on one thing, it can help to shift your attention somewhere else for a while.  Hiking in the fresh air, peeling lots of apples, rolling out the dough for the crust – all of those things forced me to slow down and to focus on the moment and the task at hand.  I accomplished something I had always been afraid to even try – making pie crust.  Pie crust is intimidating.  My own crust turned out far from perfect.  It was lopsided and had holes in it that needed repair before I could bake it.  I had to remove pieces from over-crusted parts and graft them onto the under-crusted parts.  I couldn’t master the fluted edge, so I renamed it the “bumpy” edge.  But despite its imperfections it tasted delicious when it came together with all the other ingredients.  I was proud.  It was mine.  It was edible.  If that’s not a metaphor for writing, I don’t know what is (minus, hopefully, the edible part).

My family came home to a warm house smelling of cinnamon, and I presented that pie like it was love itself.  Their accolades and requests for seconds did much to boost my flagging morale.

Call it a coincidence, but my PiBoIdMo ideas have been more free-flowing and interesting since then.  I plucked up the courage to send out another query letter.  I’ve resumed work on a stalled WiP.  Maybe there was a little bit of magic baked in that pie…

I will not, however, be using the pie as a PiBo idea, since there have been so many wonderful apple pie stories published already, including my favorite by Marjorie Priceman: How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World.  If you haven’t read it, do so.  It’s a perfect book for fall and includes a recipe.

Categories: Autumn, Children's Books, Cooking, Family, PiBoIdMo, Picture Books, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , ,

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I can’t believe it’s only Day 5 of PiBoIdMo and I’m finding myself a bit stumped already.  I think, if I’m honest with myself, it’s self-consciousness or fear or self-doubt or all of the above.  One of my goals for the challenge was to stretch myself beyond the surface ideas, to get into some truly unique and fantastical areas that I haven’t explored (my WIPs, thus far, are at least somewhat grounded in reality).

I was reading Monkey With a Tool Belt, by Chris Monroe, to my son a couple of nights ago, and this book is a perfect example of the kind of lunacy that can only work in picture books.  If you haven’t read it, DO.  Here, in my own words, is a brief summary.  Chico Bon Bon is a monkey with a tool belt.  He builds and fixes things for his friends and family.  One day, he spies a banana split in the distance.  He approaches; it turns out to be fake.  A box falls down over him and he finds himself kidnapped by an organ grinder whose previous monkey ran away.  The organ grinder takes him far away to the circus.  Lucky for Chico he’s wearing his tool belt.  He hatches an elaborate plan to escape from the box using all sorts of tools like a drill-bit extender, hacksaw, mini-file, lemon squeezer and of course – the water buffalo noise maker.  All ends up well when Chico tucks himself into bed that night at home, tool belt and all.

The book is outrageous and silly and has absolutely no point whatsoever (except, perhaps, ingenuity).  It’s just FUN.  Of course Chris Monroe is the only person who could write that story because, well, who else would come up with that idea?

THAT is what I am looking for.  An idea that is so totally mine that it couldn’t be anyone else’s.  And it’s hard.  Much harder than I thought.

Is it just me?  If so, please tell me what you all are doing to ignite the creative spark and come up with those awesome ideas.  I could use some inspiration right now. 🙂

 

Categories: Books, Children's Books, PiBoIdMo, Picture Books, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , ,

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