This guest post by Michelle Leonard is reposted from TheWingedPen.com.
The window to nominate YOUR
Favorite Children’s and Young Adult
books for prestigious Cybils Awards is open
now through October 15th!
What are Cybils Awards?
The first Cybils Awards were presented in February 2007. If you are really sharp, you probably just figured out that makes this year the 10th anniversary for Cybils! 10 points to your favorite Hogwart’s house for being a genius!
Yay! Congrats, Cybils!
Cybils Awards are given by the KidLit blogging community each year to the best books in the following categories.
- Easy Readers and Early Chapter Books
- Elementary/Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction
- Fiction Picture Books/Board Books
- Graphic Novels
- Middle-Grade Fiction
- Middle-Grade/Young Adult Nonfiction
- Juvenile/Elementary Nonfiction
- Young Adult Fiction
- Young Adult Speculative Fiction
Lizzie Lovett’s disappearance is all anyone at Griffin Mills High School can talk about. Hawthorne Creely can’t believe all the attention Lizzie’s getting. She was a cheerleader and homecoming queen. Nothing bad ever happens to people like Lizzie. Plus, she graduated and moved away three years ago. Don’t people have something better to obsess over? Hawthorne imagines Lizzie somewhere safe, laughing as hundreds of people show up for her vigil.
But as everyone else moves on from the gossip and the search parties, Hawthorn becomes more intent on finding the truth. She stumbles into Lizzie’s old job as a waitress in a diner, then starts hanging out with her boyfriend and searching for clues to the disappearance.
I love buying books as gifts. What else can provide so much joy for so little money? Okay, the best things in life are free, as they say. But for things that have a price tag, books are really high on the entertainment value/dollar meter. I’m reminded of this every Christmas and every August when my soon-to-be-twelve-year-old bookworm makes a wish list.
Her wish list was not only books, but it was dominated by them. It included:
I picked up a copy of Jen Malone’s At Your Service at the 2015 New England SCBWI Conference after attending her great talk on middle grade voice. (Find the book review here.) I enjoyed the story and my 11-year-old daughter became a fan. She now knows to ask for Jen Malone books when I’m heading to the conference, so this year she got The Sleepover and Map to the Stars. Here’s what we thought:
I met Pam Vaughan at my first NESCBWI (New England Society of Children’s Book Authors and Illustrators) Conference in 2014. At the time, I was overwhelmed by the awesome authors all around me and my mind buzzed with all I was learning from the great workshops on craft and the publishing industry. I kept catching glimpses of Pam running around everywhere with her camera. I soon realized she was the conference photographer and was trying to get a picture of each of the 600+ attendees!
After the conference, I checked out Pam’s photos on the NESCBWI Facebook page. (I’m not sure she got all 600, but it seemed like she was pretty close!) Her pictures were awesome! They let me relive the weekend. I even came across a picture of myself sitting at breakfast with another author (who was trying to turn a query letter I’d written into something that might actually get a request). This reminded me that I’d heard several times at the conference that I needed to be on Twitter. I liked the picture and with a download and a crop, BAM, I had a photo to replace the egg on my newbie Twitter account.
Fast forward to the 2016 conference – that picture still on my twitter account as well as my blog, The Winged Pen blog, and my Google+ account. When I ran into Pam again, I asked her if she’d be willing to take an “official” author photo of me since I was ready for an upgrade. I was psyched when she said yes!
I asked Pam if she could share some of her photography insight.
Rebecca: Your pictures are fantastic! How long have you been taking pictures? What types are your favorites to take?
Pam: I’ve been taking photos for years. My father has taken photos since I was young so I’ve learned so much from him. I’m constantly picking his brain about everything photography. I take pictures at sporting events; it’s great when I can capture the action and emotion of the athletes. I love to photograph nature; birds, animals, landscapes, especially things around the ocean. I was asked to be the NESCBWI conference photographer for 2014 & 2015. It was a wonderful experience!
Rebecca: When we met to take my photo you brought another author also. That was great! I find it hard to smile naturally with a camera pointed at my face. But Deb was so funny, she made it easy to ignore the camera and just smile. What other secrets do you have for taking great author photos?
Pam: The secret to taking great photos is, “Take a lot!” With digital cameras it’s easy to
take a myriad of pictures. I like to move around and take shots from different angles, and sometimes vary the poses. I never know which ones will end up looking good. I also think people look their best when they are relaxed and comfortable. Having someone else there doing the same thing makes the session so much better. People talking and engaging with each other makes the interaction less awkward and more fun, so it’s easier to take more photos. Plus, everyone enjoys meeting people this way, and we all walk away with new connections!
Rebecca: You mentioned that you were “working on the photos” on your computer. What kind of magic do you do behind the scenes?
Pam: Well if it’s magic, I probably shouldn’t divulge! Joking aside, compared to outdoors, taking pictures indoors is much more challenging. The lighting can be difficult. Also, in a large conference like NESCBWI it’s hard to get just the right subject in my frame. The editing I do involves adjusting the lighting, cropping and sometimes cloning. That means if I see something distracting, like a fire extinguisher next to someone’s head, I’ll take that out. I have a few other tricks, but I can’t tell you all of them!
Rebecca: I heard in a talk on school presentations that it’s important to have an updated picture on social media so that the students and teachers recognize you. Are there other benefits to having a good author picture?
Pam: People are using photos in so many places now. Blogs, Websites, Facebook, Twitter, just to name a few. Authors and illustrators are also using their photos on their book flaps, business cards, and promotional materials. You don’t always want the same photo in all places, so having a few options is helpful.
Rebecca: I didn’t realize when I downloaded and cropped that picture that I should have been giving you a photo credit all that time! Sorry! What should be included in a photo credit?
Pam: No problem. For me, you can simply say, Photo courtesy of Pam Vaughan or Picture taken by Pam Vaughan. Or even a simple thank you often works. I can’t speak for everyone. I think it depends on the photographer and his/her individual policies.
Rebecca: How can people contact you if they’d rather entrust their photos to you than take their own?
Pam: They can email me at email@example.com. I’m also on twitter @pamvau. I live in central MA.
Rebecca: When you aren’t taking picture what else do you do?
Pam: I attend the NESCBWI conference because I write middle grade and picture books. I’m on the Board of Directors at The Writers’ Loft (www.thewritersloft.org) and I’m one of the co-directors of the SCBWI Whispering Pines Writers’ Retreat (We’re working on our website). I’m planning on taking some author photos at Whispering Pines next year. I also present workshops on Leadership, Mental Toughness and Team Building (www.pvteamconsulting.com).
Rebecca: Thanks Pam! Thanks also to Jennifer Jacobson and Deb O’Brien for allowing us to use their photos!
REBECCA J. ALLEN writes middle grade and young adult stories that blend mystery and adventure. Her best story ideas come from her two crazy kids. She’s on Twitter and is also a contributor at The Winged Pen.
When I first started using the book, it opened my eyes to conveying emotions through actions. Well, okay, I used the easy ones all the time. The shrugs, nods and raised eyebrows. But the thesaurus helped me think about a more diverse range of actions humans use to convey emotion, and more subtle ones. I mean, you can only have characters’ brows furrow so many times in one story, right?
As I continued my writing journey, I started making notes on the pages. The thesaurus isn’t exhaustive; it only lists as many expressions as can fit on one page for each emotion. It also focuses on adult, mainstream characters. Where are the fist bumps for my middle graders? The face palms? I created my own mini-Emotion Thesaurus with the frequently used quirks of for my characters. I did this partly for character consistency throughout a story, but also to make sure that different characters’ expressions are distinct enough. I don’t want all my tweens biting their lip every time they get nervous.
Even with my personal Emotion Thesaurus, I still turn back to the original. When I’m stuck on how a character might convey their emotions in a scene, I like to push back from the keyboard for a second and visualize the action like a movie. What feels like the natural expression? When doing this, a scan through the appropriate page in The Emotion Thesaurus starts the ideas flowing.
- Paint chips. To “shop” for character flaws and strengths. Sometimes I have a feeling about what’s going wrong for a potential character, but I can’t quite figure out what flaw or strength it is. When I read through the table of contents in either of these thesauri, my characters can try on a trait for size. My imagination doesn’t always call these traits by the same names so having a list helps me tease out what kind of character I’m writing about. Without the thesauri, you have to hold two things in your mind at once: what your character is like and what possibilities there are. I love tools that free up my imagination.
- A Story Trap. The Reverse Backstory Tool in the appendix of The Negative Trait Thesaurus is the perfect trap to catch core of your story on the page. Take ten minutes to try it out and see what I mean. (Download it here.) For more, see my blog post here.
- A Ratchet For Conflict. The Negative Trait Thesaurus and The Positive Trait Thesaurus include a section for each trait called: “Traits in supporting characters that may cause conflict.” Let that sink in for a moment.
Laurel and I want to send high-fives and a big “Thanks!” to Angela and Becca for these great resources. I’m sure you can imagine why we’re excited about the new tools coming out this week, The Urban Setting Thesaurus and The Rural Setting Thesaurus. Find out more about them here.
REBECCA J. ALLEN writes middle grade and young adult stories that blend mystery and adventure. Her best story ideas come from her two crazy kids. Unlike many writers, Rebecca did not write her first story at age eight…at least not fiction. She was the editor of her high school yearbook and wrote for her college newspaper. But her first fiction course scared the bejeezus out of her! Having overcome her fear of fiction, Rebecca loves see how much trouble she can get her characters into, and sometimes back out of. She’s on Twitter and is also a contributor at The Winged Pen.
LAUREL DECHER writes stories about all things Italian, vegetable, or musical. Beloved pets of the past include “Stretchy the Leech” and a guinea pig that unexpectedly produced twins. She’s famous for a nonexistent sense of direction, but carries maps because people always ask her for directions. When she’s not lost, she can be found on Twitterand on her blog, This Is An Overseas Post, where she writes about life with her family in Germany. She’s still a Vermonter and an epidemiologist at heart. PSA: Eat more kale! Her short fiction for adults, UNFORESEEN TIMES,originally appeared in Windhover.
I am an unabashed fangirl of great writing, and have the photos to prove it here. So when I heard that Maggie Stiefvater would be nearby on her book signing tour for The Raven King, the fourth and last book in The Raven Cycle, the date immediately went on my calendar. Luckily, someone cheered on Twitter about getting off the wait list for an earlier stop on Maggie’s tour because…what? Sold out seats on a book tour? I found out when the tickets would go “on sale” (they were free but registration was required.) Good thing. They were sold out the next morning.
Tickets in hand, next on my “to do” list was catching up on my Stiefvater “To Be Read” list. I’d finished Shiver and The Raven Boys. I’d read The Scorpio Races at least two and a half times. But The Raven King is the fourth book in The Raven Cycle. I had 848 pages of The Dream Thieves and Blue Lily, Lily Blue to devour in two weeks. All I can say is: thank goodness for audio books!
An Unlikely Story, the book store hosting the event, has a huge room above the retail space which was filled to capacity with over a hundred and fifty fans. Maggie didn’t disappoint. She spoke for forty minutes without any notes, relating and sometimes acting out stories from the tour (she stayed in a luxury silo and a haunted house in Connecticut while traveling), on research for The Raven Cycle (She visited Welch castles and ley lines while deathly ill), and of racing John Green on a dirt track in Minnesota (John Green crashed his car and it caught fire. He’s fine now. Maggie won.)
Maggie also relayed some writerly advice that I was sure friends at The Winged Pen and subscribers would appreciate. When asked about her writing process, Maggie said she spends a lot of time on research. “I’m not a very good writer. I’m a better thief.”
Hmm. I’m going to go to work on my thieving skills.
She related the story of selecting her undergraduate major. Maggie got into her first-choice college and knew she wanted “an extraordinary life” that combined her love of music, art, and writing. She auditioned for the music department at the college. She was rejected. She could not be a music major or even take lessons. She submitted her portfolio to the art department and was rejected. Maggie had already written several books and submitted her best to the English department. Again, she was rejected. Maggie majored in history and was not allowed to take a single class in music, art or writing while at college.
Maggie said she knew the “no’s” from the professors weren’t personal. She considered them a “not yet” and a challenge to come back with something even more impressive. Hitting the New York Times’ bestsellers list qualifies!
Thanks to Maggie for so many great books and for her inspiring story of perseverance! Find out more about Maggie on Tumblr.
REBECCA J. ALLEN writes middle grade and young adult stories that blend mystery and adventure. Her best story ideas come from her two crazy kids.
Unlike many writers, Rebecca did not write her first story at age eight…at least not fiction. She was the editor of her high school yearbook and wrote for her college newspaper. But her first fiction course scared the bejeezus out of her! Having overcome her fear of fiction, Rebecca loves see how much trouble she can get her characters into, and sometimes back out of. She’s on Twitter and her website is here.
When was the last time you did wrote just for fun? I have to admit I haven’t for a long time. It’s hard to squeeze writing time in around the rest of life, so when I get it, I feel pressure to be productive: write the next chapter, deepen a character arc, start on revisions. Something needs to get checked off the list.
So when I saw that Jo Knowles was leading two workshops at the New England SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference, I let out a SQUEE, put the workshop on creating memorable characters down as a must-have, and eyed suspiciously her second one titled Improv for Writers: Reinventing Your Approach to Writing “Just for Fun.” Jo writes “feel all the feels” books, like See You at Harry’s and Read Between the Lines, so part of me wanted to take the workshop, whatever it was. Another part of me wasn’t sure. I signed up anyway.
This was a Sunday afternoon workshop, the last time slot in a three-day conference. I was exhausted and my mind buzzed with overstimulation, so I couldn’t imagine being able to sit and focus on writing. But Jo, over two hours, challenged us with writing prompts on settings, characters and conflict, pushing us deeper as we transitioned from one topic to the next. She asked for volunteers to read their pieces, all words dashed off in five minutes or ten, and always found something special to highlight.
Two things struck me about “writing for fun.” First, it was easy. I’d been entirely prepared to forgive myself for not coming up with much from the workshop except for brilliant insights collected from Jo. But spending just a few brief minutes envisioning a character or a setting let me take them farther than I would have imagined. I realized that this would be a great exercise for getting to know settings or characters when I got ready to draft a new story. Thinking about them freely before they needed to be fit carefully into a scene could make them deeper and more real.
Second, I realized everyone in the room was very inspired by the exercise. By just the act of writing for fun, writing something that they may never use in a project. Jo always had several volunteers willing to share their response. At the end of the workshop, she made a recording of everyone in the class saying, in just a sentence, why they write. If you listen to it here, you’ll hear the inspiration in the voices.
Coming out of the workshop I felt “writing for fun” was something I should fit into my everyday routine. I can afford to spend ten minutes on a writing prompt before I dive into the revision list, or on the weekend when I’m not doing “serious writing.” Since, in the back of my mind, I’m still thinking about the “to do” list, I plan to start by directing my “writing for fun” to pieces that I may use in future stories.
When I asked the Pennies if they write just for fun, I found that most want to, but seldom have time. I did find a couple free writers. Julie Artz said, “I love free writing and would like to do more! I almost always start a new story by free writing everything I can think of about the story idea (this grows into my long form synopsis). I also free write when I get stuck (often poetry).”
Laurel Decher said, “Freewriting helps me to process life and catch funny incidents. It’s like Dumbledore’s Pensieve. In my Scrivener ‘spare parts’ file I have a folder for free writes so that I can easily move pieces to a project or a blog post.”
I’d love to hear how you fit writing for fun into your routine in the comments! Do you do it never? Sometimes? Always? Do you focus it on things that might be useful on a future project or just write about whatever’s in front of your eyes or on your mind?
REBECCA J. ALLEN writes middle grade and young adult stories that blend mystery and adventure. Her best story ideas come from her two crazy kids.
Unlike many writers, Rebecca did not write her first story at age eight…at least not fiction. She was the editor of her high school yearbook and wrote for her college newspaper. But her first fiction course scared the bejeezus out of her! Having overcome her fear of fiction, Rebecca loves see how much trouble she can get her characters into, and sometimes back out of. She’s on Twitter and is also a contributor at The Winged Pen.
I loved the ARC of Carrie Firestone’s debut YA novel, The Loose Ends List! The book will be released on June 7th by Little, Brown. Carrie is insanely busy – both with getting ready for the launch and with edits for her second novel, but she graciously let us steal a few minutes of her time to tell us about preparing for her debut novel’s pub date.
FoWP: The ARC for The Loose Ends List came out in September, 9 months before your launch. What happens during the time between the ARC’s release and the pub date? What has your publisher been doing to get the word out about the book? What have you been doing?
Carrie: First of all, thank you so much for inviting me to be part of your fantastic blog! It seems like books take forever to hit the shelves. And in some ways that’s true. My editor acquired the LEL in June of 2014 and it will be released in June of 2016. The ARC (Advance Reader Copy) has been circulating around to booksellers, bloggers and other reviewers. Little, Brown has an amazing team dedicated to marketing and publicity. They have been getting the book into the hands of people who will create buzz. They also have a pre-pub online plan through their website NOVL. I am just beginning to work on my website, and create Facebook and Twitter author pages to be more available online.
FoWP: As a debut author, this is your first time preparing for a book launch. Was there anything that surprised you about the process?
Carrie: I am part of a YA/MG debut community called the Sweet 16’s. I was surprised by how warm, encouraging, and supportive this group of authors has been. There’s no competitive nasty stuff. Everyone has been collegial and welcoming. It’s great to be able to talk to people who truly “get it.”
FoWP: You sold The Loose Ends List as the first book in a two-book deal, so you’re writing another story while preparing for the book launch. That must be hectic! Tell us about balancing your time between the two projects.
Carrie: I’m still trying to figure out how to balance everything. You should see my laundry piles! When I’m working on a draft for book two, everything else is on hold. It’s a very intense process. Then I turn the draft into my editor and I have several weeks to work on the marketing/social media/social part of preparing for book one’s launch. Balancing those things is easier than balancing all the other family/life responsibilities.
FoWP: What advice do you have for writers still in the query and submission trenches?
Carrie: I queried agents with two other books and got LOTS of rejections before I landed my wonderful agent, Sara. I advise writers to study query-writing websites, and ask other writers for feedback on the letter and the manuscript. Then listen to the feedback. Be willing to make sweeping changes. When I look back at the first two books, I realize they just weren’t good ENOUGH. And the query letters were terrible. If you’re getting a lot of rejections, you may want to put your current WIP away and start writing a new book. It sounds harsh, but this business is very Darwinian. I used to say to my mom, “I’m not submitting it. It’s not good enough.” She thought I was being hard on myself. But I wasn’t. I knew it wasn’t MY best work. Don’t jump the gun and get excited and start submitting until it’s your VERY best work. That takes time, and practice, and probably a drawer full of rejections. We’ve all been there!
About the author:
Carrie Firestone is a former New York City high school teacher who now lives and writes in Connecticut.
About The Loose Ends List:
A refreshing, funny, and moving debut novel about first loves, last wishes, and letting go.
Seventeen-year-old Maddie O’Neill Levine lives a charmed life, and is primed to spend the perfect pre-college summer with her best friends and young-at-heart socialite grandmother (also Maddie’s closest confidante), tying up high school loose ends. Maddie’s plans change the instant Gram announces that she is terminally ill and has booked the family on a secret “death with dignity” cruise ship so that she can leave the world in her own unconventional way – and give the O’Neill clan an unforgettable summer of dreams-come-true in the process.
Soon, Maddie is on the trip of a lifetime with her over-the-top family. As they travel the globe, Maddie bonds with other passengers and falls for Enzo, who is processing his own grief. But despite the laughter, headiness of first love, and excitement of glamorous destinations, Maddie knows she is on the brink of losing Gram. She struggles to find the strength to say good-bye in a whirlwind summer shaped by love, loss, and the power of forgiveness.
Pre-order The Loose Ends List:
About R.J. Allen