Thursday, August 25, 2016

Pete's Dragon created a picture book

Pete's Dragon Created a Picture Book

We are all about books here at Group Blog.
But please allow me to  interrupt our book 
love to talk about a children's movie.

It is Pete’s Dragon, an August 2016 release, by
an independent creator, bankrolled by
the Disney Folks.

I wasn't going to see it, but I'm glad I went to the theater
for it. Here are a few thoughts, why.

I left the moving wanting to climb a particular tree.

A key part of the plot is that a child reads &
 rereads & rereads….
a specific picture book that is very important to him
 in a touching way.

Legends & myths are some of my favorite literary tropes.
This one has a whopper.

Respect for imagination, forests & loyalty that is deserving
is to be appreciated.

The child actor, Oakes Fegley, is exceptional.

So, too are the special effects to make the facial
expressions of Elliott (the dragon) seem real.

It’s cool to see Robert Redford,  comfortable in his good-lookin’ older guy skin as a
storyteller. All the key actors are quite spiffy in their roles.

A nest of green pixie dust should be delivered to the creative maker, David Lowrey. Bravo!

So, go!

This is the news story that made me go see it. I guess I'm a sucker for the underdog.

This is the picture book, which the movie brought into being.

Those of you who are cinema history buffs will want me to add that this movie

is a remake of a 1977 movie. I didn't see that earlier one & wasn't aware of it
until the story about this new version came out.

Which family movies were part of
your summer? I also loved seeing The BFG,
riffing off Roald Dahl's
wonderful story.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Force Be With You (and Your Book Marketing) ~ by Patricia Toht

I like to gather ideas and brainstorm. I like first drafts. I even like revising. But the thought of marketing?
But authors are discovering ways to combine efforts to maximize the force of marketing. A new group, MGGetsReal, unites its members in marketing their books, which all share a common thread of tackling tough topics.

Before we talk about this power in numbers, let's meet #MGGetsReal member, Shannon Hitchcock:
Shannon's novel, RUBY LEE & ME, is the story of 12-year-old Sarah Beth Willis who has moved in with her grandparents after her sister's tragic accident. Sarah and her neighbor, Ruby Lee, will be in sixth grade together. But racial tensions are high in Shady Creek in the fall of 1969; Sarah is white and Ruby Lee is black. Race relations and personal guilt about her sister's accident could make for a rough year for Sarah...

Q: Hi Shannon! RUBY LEE & ME is loosely based on your childhood. Which parts of your youth did you draw upon for Sarah Beth, and which parts did you alter or make up?

A: The true part is the emotions. When Sarah Beth said she had always loved her sister, but before the accident she didn't know how much - that's exactly how I felt. [Shannon's sister Robin died tragically in a car crash when only 34.]
When Sarah Beth feels guilty about race relations in her town, I had those same feelings. When writing historical fiction, I have a motto to never let the truth stand in the way of a good story. I made up characters and embellished what really happened.

July 20, 1969
Q: What additional research did you need to do for RUBY LEE & ME?

A: Not an awful lot because this is based on a time period I actually lived through. Mostly I was fact-checking my memories, but I did read quite a bit about the first moonwalk.

Q: A reviewer on Goodreads applauds you for "...[weaving] fictional fact and factual fiction." What challenges did you find in weaving fact and fiction together?

A: My editor had to push me to make the racial issues more prominent. I was really uncomfortable when Sarah called Ruby a hateful name, but I think it sends an important message. Kids often get angry and call each other names without fully realizing how much words matter. There is a scene later in the book when Sarah finds out just how much hatred is behind the racial slur she uttered.

Q: There's been a call for more diverse books for children. Did this weigh heavily on you while writing, or did you find it inspiring?

To support We Need Diverse Books,
click here.
A: It weighed heavily on me, but if we're not writing books that matter, then it's a waste of time. I knew some white people would be offended I was dredging up the past. I also knew there would be African-Americans who might feel I didn't go far enough.

Q: How did it feel to get a Booklist starred review?

A: I cried! My first novel, THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL, garnered positive reviews, but no stars, so this was a special honor.

Q: Let's talk marketing! You're part of #MGGetsReal. How did you find each other? And is there power in numbers?

A: Author Shannon Wiersbitzky [who has written a book about Alzheimer's] emailed me about a group marketing effort and asked if I knew other writers that might be interested in participating. I suggested Kerry O'Malley Cerra, who has written a book about 9/11 and Joyce Moyer Hostetter, who has written a book about war trauma. Joyce recommended Kathleen Burkinshaw, who has a brand new book about Hiroshima. What we all have in common is that we've written about tough topics in a way appropriate for a middle grade audience. 

YES! There is power in group marketing!

• Shannon Wiersbitzky is the architect behind the whole thing. Without her #MGGetsReal wouldn't even exist. She made really cool group ads for Twitter.

• Joyce Hostetter and her daughter made a video about our books:

• Kerry O'Malley Cerra compiled a comprehensive list of middle grade books that tackle tough topics. Find all 164 books here.

• Kathleen Burkinshaw wrote for the NCTE blog, hosting a giveaway of all five books that will run through the end of August.

• The contribution that I am most proud of is my post for the Nerdy Book Club.

Thanks for joining us, Shannon. WOW! There truly is power in numbers. Best of luck to you and the #MGGetsReal group.

If you fear marketing, GROG readers, consider joining forces with fellow authors to share the load!

For more information on Shannon, visit her website and blog here.

Or follow Shannon on Twitter, @ShannonHitchcock.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Three Tips from Don Tate

"In the face of our greatest adversities, people can still do great things using their innate God-given gifts. Regardless of the circumstances, work hard, be persistent, believe in yourself, and never give up." 
~Don Tate

The Fabulous Don Tate and writing peeps.
By Janie Reinart

I too am a lover of words. I had the great fortune of meeting and listening to author/illustrator, Don Tate at the WOW Retreat. Don's words encouraged me and it was a delight to see his process.

As a child, Don preferred drawing to reading. When Don illustrates a manuscript, he begins by doodling in the margins all the images that come to his mind as he is reading. 

One of my favorite books Don Tate wrote and illustrated is Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton.  Don said he became a lover of words after he wrote this book. Find a teacher's guide here.

Don said, "I began by writing and revising the manuscript many times. Then I began to sketch, which affected the words. Revised the words, which affected the sketches--it was like a moving target."

The last page of Poet reads:Words made [George] strong. Words allowed him to dream. Words loosened the chains of bondage long before his last day as a slave.”

Three Tips from Don Tate:

1.  Draw, read, and write everyday.
2. Make your scenes visual and engaging to the reader--be a visual storyteller.
3. Work hard, be persistent, believe in yourself, and never give up.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Ask The Agent: Part 1


    At the WOW Conference in Helen, Georgia this past July, there was a stellar line-up of faculty. I had the pleasure of having Clelia Gore of Martin Literary and Media Management moderate a round table with me and another writer participating. She is lovely, smart, articulate, and very encouraging with her comments. She jumped right in with the manuscripts and never having seen them before was able to give great suggestions for improvement. She was willing to answer a few questions for us.

SHERRI: When do you consider a writer ready to query agents?

CLELIA: Remember, writing is rewriting. I want a writer to have gone through a full revision process--that means lots of drafts. It also means having had other people give you feedback on your manuscript. A writing group, writing partner, quality beta readers, or a hired editor are great options for manuscript reviewers. Someone who is either familiar with the genre as a reader or an experienced writer/editor who will give you quality feedback and a constructive, honest critique. Also, be mindful of the expected word counts. If I get a 100,000 word young adult novel, or an 80,000 word middle grade novel, to me, that's a red flag that the book hasn't been sufficiently edited. Research the expected word counts, and revise until you are in the range.

SHERRI: What do you think your strongest asset is as an agent?

CLELIA: I came to agenting via the legal field, and I have a deep appreciation of the client-agent relationship and how to manage it. My experience as an attorney also gives me a strong background in contracts and negotiation. I think I also have great taste and instincts when it comes to books and the book business.

SHERRI: How can a writer best determine when a manuscript is ready to share---close to the finish line, so to speak?

 CLELIA: Tough question! I think a lot of this is instinctual and a writer will likely just know when their manuscript feels ready to be submitted. The goal is to get your manuscript as near to publishable quality as you can. That means after many reads from top to bottom, you no longer think big changes are required. You can make small tweaks until the end of time, but I think the "ready" moment is when you feel confident that all of the big and medium tweaks needed have been made.

SHERRI: What makes a manuscript work for you?

CLELIA: Voice, characters, plot and writing have to come together. A strong voice matters a lot to young readers. I want flawed characters readers can connect with and root for. I want a compelling plot with resonating themes. And the writing has to be spot on. I especially appreciate manuscripts that feature voices and characters we haven't heard from as much in kid lit. Diversity is a biggie for me and I think that is true for a lot of agents and editors.

SHERRI: I know a lot of authors attend conferences and get 15 minute sessions with an agent and their manuscript. How would you advise authors to best use their time when meeting an agent for these one on one critiques?


CLELIA:  I think that the # 1 goal of these sessions is to make a personal connection with an agent. Agents are more likely to give your work their time and attention later on if they have met you in person. The best way to make an impression is to be professional, courteous and come prepared with a terrific pitch and manuscript. An agent is looking for someone they may want to partner with, someone who "gets" how to succeed in this very tough business. When an agent is giving feedback, be open to their commentary and do not use the short amount of time to counter their constructive criticism or say something like, "Well, my granddaughter/daughter/nephew really loved it." This happens more than you think and it's always off-putting from an agent point of view.

 SHERRI: What are some of the most important "Do's" and "Don'ts" for an author submitting to you?

CLELIA: Do your research. There will be the right and wrong agents to submit your work to--by doing a little research on what kinds of books an agent acquires, likes or has acquired and sold, you will be able to create a tailored submission list. Do follow individual submission requirements. These are in place to make the review process more efficient for us. We are dealing with a high volume of submissions and ones that don't follow our instructions are more likely to get passed on based on an administrative reason and not a reason based on a qualitative review of your work. Do consider your query like a business document. Don't get to cutesy, casual, or too familiar. Although we are working in a creative field (and I work exclusively in the kid lit field), this document has a business purpose and we are looking for serious, professional writers who are taking this as seriously as we do. The query is a sales pitch, so keep that in mind when you are writing it. Do give signals that you are a serious writer, not just a dabbler. In addition to being professional, you can tip off the agent that you are a serious writer by including any publication credits (no matter how small or outside of the genre), that you are a member of a writer's group, attend conferences, etc.

     At Martin Literary, Clelia represents all books under the children's book umbrella--that's picture books, middle grade and young adult books. Fiction and nonfiction across all genres. You can check out her blog at for periodic wish list postings. 
     Stay tuned for part 2 featuring another fine agent from WOW 2016.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Author Reflections from The WOW Retreat 2016 ~By Suzy Leopold

The Week Of Writing {WOW} Retreat 2016, July 18 - July 22 was like no other writing experience. Hosted by Kristen and Rusty Fulton, the five day event was filled with many opportunites to grow, learn and meet writers both published and prepublished. I am thankful for the opportunity to enjoy and share the experience with many writerly friends in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.
Rusty & Kristen Fulton
Fifty plus attendees gathered together in the beautiful hills of Helen, Georgia. The outstanding faculty included seven authors, four literary agents and five editors all willing to share the ins and outs of the kid lit industry.

Looking though my Love, Peace and Books journal I note page after page of copious notes with numerous thoughts. Thinking I want to share the entire five day experience with our GROG readers, I felt it best to focus on just one of the many highlights. Should I write about the author, agent, editor panels? How about the revision tables or even the thoughts about the first pages? And then there was the groovy hippie party!
Love, Peace & Books
Well, without further ado, let me introduce you the following seven amazing authors and share a snippet or two from their presentations:

Lisa Amstutz
Finding and Preparing Work for Hire
Lisa Amstutz

  • Take a chance and consider the educational market.
  • Request and study educational publishing catalogs, such as Capstone and Enslow Publishing.
  • Referred to work done by the following authors: Laurie Purdie Salas, Melissa Stewert, April Pulley Sayre and Nancy Sanders.

Ana Crespo
Illustration Driven Stories Non non-Illustrators
Ana Crespo

  • Titles are everything. Title need to be provocative and catch your attention immediately. For further information from a previously GROG Blog post read What's in a PB Title?
  • Consider a critique carefully and thoughtfully and be open to a new direction.
  • Understand the acquisition process as books are created by a team.

Make your story UNPUTDOWNABLE. 
Jill Esbaum

  • The opening lines of a story carry a lot of weight. Consider a contract with your reader.
  • Drop the reader into an adventure in progress as the reader wants to know who the story is about and what is the problem.
  • Find new facts that make you say, "I didn't know that!"
Set Yourself Up for Success
Barb Rosenstock

  • Think about the most important part of a story: SO WHAT? What's universial about this manuscript? What's unique about this story?
  • Keep the reader's attention with complelling characets who want/need something. Include tension and satisfy the reader with a resolution.
  • Stop looking for IDEAS. Look for STORIES.

Adding Humor in Kidlit
Linda Skeers

  • Home is where your story begins,
  • A writer can be funny writing both fiction and nonfiction stories.
  • The words: booger, fart, naked and underwear all stir up laughter and even snorting!

The keynote: My Journey and Creating Winning Picture Book Biographies
Don Tate

  • The educational market is where Don Tate began before he snagged his first trade book contract.
  • Write about what you know.
  • Recommended creating a book dummy with thumbnail sketches.

Heritage and Experience
Duncan Tonatiuh

  • Readers must *see* themselves in books. Celebrate diversity.
  • Has a great relationship with his editor and therefore does not work with an agent.
  • Illustrations are created by scanning in a drawing and then adding texture using photo shop, thus unique Pre-Columbian codex style. Characters are always drawn in profile.
Share your thoughts in the comment section below. GROGgers always like hearing from our readers. Do any of the highlights shared by these seven authors inspire you or affirm you as a writer? 

Prairie Flower Girl
For more information about the WOW Retreat 2017, please click here: Rock'n & Rolli'n & Writ'n WOW Retreat 2017. Make plans now to attend the WOW Retreat 2017. You are encouraged to check out a previous post Meet Kristen Fulton.

If you missed an earlier post about the WOW Retreat 2016, you can check it out at Week of Writing Recap by fellow GROGger Leslie Colin Tribble. Look for an upcoming post by Sherri Jones Rivers. She too, has some words to share about the WOW Retreat 2016.

Monday, August 8, 2016

My Week Without Social Media: Or, Why I'm Not Nearly As Important As I Think I Am!

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of chaperoning a mission trip with high school students from Kenosha’s St. Mary’s Lutheran Church and Spirit Alive Church.  37 of us loaded up in three huge vans and one Chevy Traverse and headed to Detroit.  We were blessed to use Hope Lutheran Church in Farmington Hills, MI as our base camp.
While in Detroit, we spent the bulk of our time supporting the Matrix Center.  This centrally located building is an oasis in the Osborne Neighborhood, just a few miles on the edge of Detroit.  We cleared vacant lots, did landscaping, painting and a whole host of other projects that the busy staff just never had the time to do. The hot temperatures made outdoor work challenging.  The intense summer sun and heat pushed us all to our limits.  Still, the trip was fantastic in every respect.  While I enjoyed the hard work, I also enjoyed the mental vacation from social media.
Mission trip
Image courtesy Victoria Fields.
We had asked the youth to limit their phone use.  We wanted them to ‘be in the moment’ that seems to develop when folks are not forever looking down at their tiny screens.  They rose to the occasion.  It seemed only fair that if I was asking them to step back, that I should do the same.  I added ‘vacation responders’ to all my email accounts, professed to the social media world that I was taking a break from it.
While I hardly ever have my phone’s volume up, I noticed the ‘notifications’ popping up on my screen over the directions app. almost immediately.  When we stopped, I was tempted to ‘just check’ on those emails or that funny tweet that popped up.  I knew I was going to have to do something drastic.  In fact, when I told my 18-year-old daughter what I had done, she let out an audible gasp.  I deleted ALL of the social media apps from my phone.  Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Facebook Messenger.  I even deleted my email accounts.  Besides the camera and photography apps, my iPhone was basically, and somewhat ironically, a phone.  The chaperones were using a group text to keep in touch between vans and occasionally we had to place a random call, so I left those two apps intact.  Almost immediately I felt the relief, but also a bit of anxiety.  The word ‘addiction’ gets thrown around pretty loosely.  I don’t think I’m addicted to the phone, but I have been conditioned to pick it up every time it vibrates, ‘just to check.’
One of the many beautiful art pieces at Hope Lutheran Church in Farmington, MI.
Why did I delete the apps?  Mostly because I have so little self-control; I'm just being totally honest.  I knew that if they were on the phone, I would look.  At first, just, a peek, but soon  full-fledged minutes would turn into hours and so on.  Why not just re-load them?  Well, that’s a good idea, but that would have taken time and by the time I had the ‘need’ to check notifications, the need had passed.  So, I embraced the void.  I figured if something earth shattering happened, I would find out soon enough.  I might even just get a phone call.  Remember those?
The soaring sanctuary of Hope Lutheran Church in Farmington, MI.
Unfortunately, some horrible events DID in fact happen.  There was an attack in France and shortly thereafter there was another shooting of police officers.  We were alerted to the possibility of violence in major cities across America following these shootings.  I had told the other leaders about my social media ‘fast’ and they were monitoring events.  We shared the bare bones of the events with the students that evening as we gathered.  Seeing their faces reminded me how we ‘used’ to get bad news.  Because we were all essentially processing it together, we had time to reflect, cry and pray.  I think we miss much of this in our 24/7 connected world.  By the time one event hits the news cycle there is another event happening.  We don’t’ have time in this ‘modern’ world to grieve.
The baptismal font is large and centrally located at the Hope Lutheran Church in Farmington, MI.
As the week wore on, I noticed that I didn’t even really miss the facebook updates or countless photos of friend's children or vacation images.  In fact, I actually found time to read.  Not as much as I would have liked to, but given the fact that I had 34 noisy teenagers around me all of the time, that I read at all is a miracle!
Detail of a building at the Heidelberg Project in Detroit.
I won’t lie. I was very anxious to re-load the apps and check in with my social media accounts.  Somewhat disappointedly, I must say that nobody ‘needed’ me.  Nobody offered me a book deal, that part in the new action film, nor had I won any lotteries.  In fact, there actually very few emails or updates on my accounts.  I’d like to think that it was because I told everyone I was offline, but I think that the actual reason is that I’m just not as important as I would like to think I am.  I say that not in a disparaging way, but in an honest and humble way.  The world will turn.  The sun will rise.  All without me.
One of the structures at the Heidelberg Project in Detroit.
And yet, despite the fact that I wasn’t ‘missed’ on social media, I made memories that I will never forget; even if I didn’t document them with a tweet, gram or post.  You could say I got to time travel because I saw the ‘future’ in the faces of the youth.  I spent countless hours with them singing, praying, working and sweating.  The future is indeed bright!
The General Motors Building in Downtown Detroit, MI.
How can you manage your social media ‘addiction?’  Well,  Ibrahim Husain’s POST on Lifehack has some fantastic tips, a couple I would like to highlight.  First, he states that you have to acknowledge you have a problem.  Use one of the many trackers to monitor your use.  MOMENT is one of the best in my opinion.  It literally tracks every time you pick your phone up and seeing those statistics can be quite sobering.  After you acknowledge this, you can start working to curb your addiction.  Husain suggests deleting many of the apps from your phone, permanently.  Do you really need Facebook and Twitter on your phone?  I personally have found that using an interface like TweetDeck helps me efficiently monitor and learn from my Twitter feed.  I haven’t found anything similarly for Facebook.  For now, I’m limiting myself to it by using a timer.  
The beautiful organ at Hope Lutheran Church in Farmingham, MI.
DID make a few changes as I re-loaded those apps back to my phone.  The first is that I turned off ALL notifications except a few key apps (text messaging and calendars).  I will NOT get notifications of new tweets, or posts to Instagram and Facebook.  I won’t even get notifications of email messages. I am sure I’ll miss a few emails late at night or early in the morning.  I apologize in advance to you if that happens. (Three weeks on, I've really enjoyed not seeing those messages on my screen.  It takes a little discipline to 'remember' to check the messages, emails, etc. but that is a much healthier 'problem' than being a slave to the notices.) Who knows, hopefully, I’ll find some time to let my mind drift; it is in that kind of moments I find I do my best thinking.  Maybe my monumental stack of books next to my bed will gradually shrink!  One thing is for sure, my week without social media has had a powerful impact on me.  Give it a try!
The whole crew gathered along the river walk in Detroit, MI.