Wednesday, September 30, 2015

It Was the Best of Lines, It Was the Worst of Lines ~ by Patricia Toht

Perhaps you've seen the cartoon. The Peanuts character, Snoopy, sits atop his doghouse. He taps out the opening line: "It was a dark and stormy night..."

This line is often mocked as the absolute worst opening line of a novel.  Perhaps the beginning of Edward Buller-Lytton's PAUL CLIFFORD might not have become so thoroughly ridiculed had the author not crammed 51 more words into his first sentence. Today, his words have even inspired a yearly contest  for a novel's worst opening.

Yet one famous children's novelist, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, used the same seven words to open a Newbury-Winning book. "It was a dark and stormy night." So begins A WRINKLE IN TIME by Madeleine L'Engle. And it works quite well, I think.

So, what makes for a great opening line (or two)? 

It can be short: "There is no lake at Camp Green Lake." (HOLES by Louis Sachar)

It can be long: "I was ten years old when my little brother Louis began driving my mother's car, and by the time I was eleven, he had put over 400 miles on it." (MY BROTHER LOUIS MEASURES WORMS by Barbara Robinson)

It can be in between: "There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it." (THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER)

It can be ominous: "Sometimes there's no warning." (OATH BREAKER by Michelle Braver)

Or cheeky: : “This chapter is a very short one. It should really have been called ‘Preface’ or ‘Introduction’, but I knew that you would never read it if I called it by such a boring name, so I have called it Chapter One.” (THE DRAGON’S QUEST by Rosemary Manning)

I recently listened to a podcast, "Tim Key's Suspended Sentence", in which comedian/author Tim Key tried to unravel the mystery to a great opening. I think he nailed it when he stated:

"A good first line is a piece of cheese in a mousetrap. 
The reader takes a nibble and, SNAP!, is caught."

Humor can be a tasty nibble. Surprise can be tasty, too. So can mystery. Or shock. The key, I believe, is to touch a basic human emotion. Make your reader feel, wonder, laugh.

But, hey, I'm still working on this whole opening line thing. Let's see what others have to say. In a post from Writer's DigestJacob M. Appel lists seven scenarios that could make for a great start:
A statement of eternal principal.
A statement of simple fact.
A statement of paired facts.
A statement of simple fact, laced with significance.
A statement to introduce voice.
A statement to establish mood.
A statement that serves as a frame.

Check out the way that Maureen Lynas pairs picture book openings with these scenarios.

Can you have examples of your own? How do the openings shared in Monday's post fit with these?

Speaking of Monday's post, I have answers to the first lines quiz, (reading left to right, top to bottom, and color-coded, too!):
3. SORTA LIKE A ROCK STAR by Matthew Quick
4. THE RAVEN BOYS by Maggie Stiefvater
5. THE FINAL FOUR by Paul Volponi
6. DELIRIUM by Lauren Oliver
7. GOING BOVINE by Libba Bray
8. THE MADMAN'S DAUGHTER by Megan Shepherd
9. DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth

How did you do? (Better than I did, I'm sure!)

Monday, September 28, 2015

First Lines -- A Quiz ~ by Patricia Toht

I love my local library!
Photo by Richard Roche

The public library in Wheaton, Illinois has been ranked a Top 10 Library (2006) by Hennen's American Public Library Ratings. It sprawls over three floors, with the entire lower level being devoted to children's books. On the top level, there is also a section dedicated to Young Adult novels. It was in this section that I recently saw a display, topped by this sign:

Below the sign were pieces of paper, each containing the opening line or lines of a different book:

Beneath each piece of paper was the corresponding book. Well, each book was supposed to be under there. But the opening teasers worked so well that most of the books were checked out. Of course, that drove me crazy! Thank heaven, the thoughtful librarians had a cheat sheet with the answers. 

Do you know the answers? 

Would you like to? 

Well, you will have to wait until Wednesday. Until then, please join me in wondering -- 

What makes a good opening line?

Also, I have a little unfinished business to attend to. A winner has to be drawn for last week's giveaway. 

It's times like this that I wish I had an adorable guinea pig named Cookie. When author Cynthia Lord has a book to give away, she fans out strips of paper and waits for Cookie to go nibble on the winner's name. I tried to enlist our dog, Sanji, but this is the look he gave me --

So I relied on the old shake-in-the-bag method, and the book WHERE DO FAIRIES GO WHEN IT SNOWS? by Liza Gardner Walsh and Hazel Mitchell goes to...


And the winner of the Winter Fairy Kit is...


Congratulations, Janet and Cathy! We'll be in touch. 
Thank you to all of our readers who entered the drawing.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Yee-haw! SCBWI Conference Round-up: News You Can Use by Kathy Halsey

Howdy and Happy Friday! Last weekend I was lucky enough to attend the Northern Ohio SCBWI 13th conference, aptly titled "The Magic of 13." My home SCBWI is Central/Southern Ohio, but the literary line-up/sessions drew me to Cleveland: Denise Fleming, Miranda Paul, Shutta Crum, and Nikki Garcia, Loraine Joyner, Kendra Levin and MORE.

First Pages Panel: Michele Houts, Liz Coley, Marie Lamba, Nikki Garcia

Round-up of Rootin-Tootin' Advice and Info

Mary Kay Carson, author: No Fake Stuff! Researching, Writing, and Publishing Today's Nonfiction intensive: 

  • What can a book do that the internet can not? Re-examine the format of a traditional book and how that can affect your story, your format.  
  • Ages 8-12 is too big of a spread when pitching. Instead indicate grade range this way: "upper elementary, lower elementary, middle-grade audience."
  • "The Nonfiction Family Tree" is a new way of breaking down sub-genres within nonfiction created by Melissa Stewart & the Uncommon Core
Loraine Joyner, Senior Art Director Peachtree Publishers, Keynote Dinner Speech:
  • Time and effort are important in a writer's life. If you do nothing ELSE but write, it will take 5 years to have the 10,000 hours you need to learn your craft.
  • Think of the publishing business as a for-profit endeavor and a collaborative effort.
Jodell Sadler, Agent (mine!) & Founder, KidLit College:
  • Lucky me, again! My agent & roommate for the weekend connected, too. If you can spend a chunk of time with your agent, it is a true gift. 
  • Jodell, pacing queen, put Ohio writers through their own paces. We examined first pages, how the story looks on the page, poetry, prosody, and pauses.  I always learn something new when Jodell speaks.
  • And, super lucky folks can get connected with Nikki Garcia, assistant editor at little Brown Books for Young Readers, even if you weren't in Ohio. Check out KidLit College class "Begin with a Bang," October 24 @ 3 PM CST. Nikki will be doing editorial critiques.
Kendra Levi, Senior Editor, Viking's Children's Books:
  • "The Heroe's Journey" is the writer's journey. She recommend's Christopher Vogler's book, THE WRITER'S JOURNEY.
  • Kendra has a great guide imagery exercise for writers here. It does cost a mere $6.99. In her character motivation session, attendees were wowed by the wealth of information they could get about the main character from this exercise.
  • In a second exercise we wrote a letter FROM our main character to us in which the MC revealed a secret. Again, "wowsers." I had no idea my character wanted me to do a certain something!

Miranda signs stacks of books at Indian Trail Elementary Author Visit pre-conference

Miranda Paul, Author
  • We all know about revision, but Miranda espouses "The Pre-Revision Equation" for writers to ascertain if a manuscript has legs as a full-blown story. Here are a few of her steps.
  • Is this a story I am passionate about and am I qualified to write it?
  • Have you received positive feedback on this ms? Have others expressed interest in it or asked you, "Hey, what ever happened to ________?"(insert ms name.)
  • Can you think of other comp titles that are similar in style and/or subject, but not too similar or dissimilar for a publishing house you target?
The Magic of 13, SCBWI Northern Ohio Conference was indeed magical and I hope you  lived vicariously through my rocking round-up, pardoners. Yee-haw! 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Time to Pitch ~By Suzy Leopold

Are you ready for some pitching?

StL Cardinals
No! Not that kind of pitch
You don't need your bat and ball!

You need a piece of paper and a pencil.

I'm talking about a pitch for a book! Specifically, a verbal pitch for a reader, an agent or an author. 

WHO should write a pitch?     
  • Writers
WHAT is a pitch?    
  • A concise summary of a book. 
  • A compressed summary of a book.
  • A summary of a book expressed in very few words.
  • A synopsis of your story.
WHY write a pitch?
  • Support the vital idea and premise of a story.
  • An excellent tool that clearly states the purpose and meaning of a story.
  • To capture the attention and hook a reader, an agent and/or editor.
HOW to write a pitch:

There are numerous styles of pitches and many ideas on how to write a pitch.

There are elevator pitches, 3 to 5 minute pitches, structured loglines, verbal pitches and more. 

There are a variety of examples, templates, and frameworks to guide your writing as you create a pitch.

Example #1

1. Once upon a time there was ________.
2. Every day ________.
3. One day ________.
4. Because of that ________.
5. Because of that ________.
6. Until finally ________.

Example #2
  • Identify the main character. Who is he/she? Why should the reader care?
  • State what he/she wants/needs.
  • Explain what stands in the way.
  • Briefly share the beginning, middle and end.
  • Idnetify the genre.
  • Share your pitch with enthusiasm.
Example #3
  • Somebody ________.
  • Wants/Needs ________.
  • But ________.
  • So, ________.
  • Then ________.
Words to Know:
  • Concise
  • Succinct
  • Focused
  • Clarity
  • Premise

Additional Thoughts on Preparing a Verbal Pitch:

Consider the thesis of your manuscript. Think about a thesis in the thematic sense and not in terms of plot. What is your story ultimately about?

Think about the heart of your story. What is it truly about? What do you want the reader to take away?

Use active, concise language and short sentences so the listener can process all of the information. 

Just like writing a manuscript, once you have a draft for your pitch, it is important to reread it. Read the pitch aloud. Revise it again and again. Rewrite your pitch. 

Just as you seek some objective opinions and fresh eyes for your manuscripts, share your pitch with a trusted writerly friend or a critique group.

You may want to consider writing four to five pitches for one manuscript. Consider writing the pitch in different ways with several voices. Write a pitch in the main character's voice or in an author's voice.

Tell your story in a unique way so that the listener will request to hear more about your story.

A well planned pitch should intrigue and pique interest.  A thoughtful pitch will make your manuscript stand out from the rest. 

Choose your words carefully. This is time for your story to shine. Practice your pitch. Memorize your pitch.
Happy First Da
of Autumn

Autumn on the Illinois Prairie
Time to play ball!

Share your idea of a verbal pitch for a manuscript that you are writing. Post it in the comment section below.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Laughter and Learning
at Letters and Lines
SCBWI's Rocky Mountain Chapter's Fall Conference

By Leslie Colin Tribble

This past weekend I had the privilege of attending the Rocky Mountain Chapter's Fall Conference, Letters and Lines. This is my second year at this annual event and I loved every minute of the classes, industry panels and keynote session. Here are a few thoughts about what I learned and some general impressions about the conference. 

First, it's a glorious time to be in Colorado. It's an eight hour drive for me to attend this conference, but it's such a beautiful time of year the drive goes by quickly. The weather is still warm, which is incredibly helpful because everyone kept running outside to stand in the sun after freezing through sessions in the overly air-conditioned rooms. Besides, it's Colorado so you definitely want to be out under that blazing blue sky, enjoying the change of seasons.

Dan Yaccarino was the keynote speaker this year and he did a great job. Dan's speech was funny yet instructive, humble yet inspiring as he spoke of his career in illustration, writing, producing and designing. The theme of his keynote was, "Say Yes." There have been many points in Dan's career where he was asked to do something he'd never done, never even contemplated nor even entertained the remotest thought of doing it, yet he "Said Yes." I was inspired by the intersection of saying yes and as Dan put it, "the ability to work on an even bigger canvas." All of his varied projects have simply been a "bigger way to tell stories." It was especially reassuring to know he still gets plenty of rejections and not all his projects are home runs.

My next session was given by Deborah Warren of East/West Literary Agency and Erin Dealey. It was fun to hear how this agent-author duo sees the publication process and how much they enjoyed each other's presence. For them the agent/author relationship is "all about the connection and making sure the chemistry is there." One tidbit from this session: never submit on a Monday as agents and editors get slammed by submissions after weekends.

I missed part of the session given by Emma Ledbetter, Associate Editor for Atheneum Books for Young Readers. But what I did take home was her recommendation to add pagination to your manuscript submission, making sure you don't start with pages one or two (title, copyright, dedication, etc.) She also told us that Margaret Wise Brown said picture book manuscripts should be whistled to catch the rhythm and cadence.

Erin Dealey, author, had a great class on Strategies for a Long Shelf Life. She suggested asking yourself, what can I do for my local booksellers and librarians to make their job easier? Also, authors are completely worth an honorarium so ask for one or better yet, have it stipulated in the contract you send out to the store, school or library.

Deborah Warren gave a helpful session about marketing your work. She said, "Authors start the food chain of publishing," and "your passion for your book has to go up the whole food chain." Non-fiction writers will be happy to know Deborah doesn't consider NF a trend, it's here to stay since it's filling a need in the market.

The second day of Letters and Lines started with an impulse on my part. Instead of continuing on a picture book tract I sat in a session about writing novels in verse by Melanie Crowder, author. This session absolutely struck a chord with me and I'm excited about giving this new (to me) genre a try. To become familiar with this type of writing, Melanie suggested reading as many verse novels as you can find as well as reading lots of poetry.

Jenny Goebel gave a good talk on "To Plot or Not to Plot." I was pleased to learn that my haphazard way of winging it and then coming back to make sure I have all the plot necessities is really a method.

I also participated in the final picture book intensive which is a great way to get lots of eyes on your manuscript and comments from industry professionals. 

All in all, I thought this year's conference was great. The faculty was stellar and I learned so much. I'm excited to get out the red pen and revise, revise, revise!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Where Do Fairies Go When It Snows? and a Book Giveaway ~ by Patricia Toht

When my daughter was young, we visited a Waldorf school where we bought a set of fairy dolls, much like these:

"Eco Flower Fairies" available here.
The fairies were soft and colorful and the perfect size for a pocket. My daughter spent hours building a fairy world around them -- a pine cone became a pine tree, a pile of leaves was a soft fairy bed. She was a child who would've wondered (and worried) about fairies in the winter. I wish I had this new book to share with her then:

Where Do Fairies Go When It Snows? explores this question with rhyming questions and charming illustrations. It will wing its way into the world on October 15. Author Liza Gardner Walsh and illustrator Hazel Mitchell have dropped by to tell us about their wonderful, whimsical new book.

Hello, Liza! What draws you to writing about fairies?

Author Liza Gardner Walsh
What draws me to writing about fairies is first that I am a bit in the clouds myself. Sometimes I feel as if I might float away! But really, the main reason is seeing the wonder and magic of believing in children’s faces. The care and devotion that these young people put into creating worlds for the fairies and their utter earnestness about the endeavor is a true joy to watch. There is an underlying message that if you are kind and make the world better, the fairies will be happy. If I can in some small way encourage kids to make the world better than I feel like I am on the right track.

How was the process of writing this picture book different from your other books about fairy houses and fairy gardens?

This book was a joy to write because I started my writing career as a poet and I was able to put that hat on again. Although using less words doesn’t mean it is easier, there was a breeziness to writing this one that my other longer fairy books don't have. I was also working as a preschool teacher as I wrote this and listening to the most amazing questions each day. Sometimes questions don’t have an answer but imagining the possibilities is the best part!

And hello to you, Hazel! The books you’ve illustrated have vastly different stories. How do you go about starting your illustrations?

Illustrator Hazel Mitchell and Toby,
who will star in an upcoming book.
Yes, I've had a diversity of subjects to illustrate in my career so far! It's been interesting. When illustrating someone else's story I begin by reading the manuscript several times. The first time I read straight through to understand it and get the feel of it. Then I start thinking about the setting of the story, the characters, the mood, whether it’s non-fiction or fiction, narrative or not, what age group it’s for and what kind of illustrative style might fit.  Is it realistic, fantasy, fun, serious, cute? All these things give me a feel for what’s required. Sometimes I'm guided by an art director’s brief and sometimes I’m let loose with a free rein. On the next read through I’ll begin to make notes, jot down ideas for illustrations and characters. Start to think about where the page turns are. Maybe I will start to do picture research or mood boards. Then I’ll start to sketch the main characters. Once things are beginning to evolve I’ll dive right into thumbnails and I am off!

Wow, that's quite a process! In Where Do Fairies Go When It Snows?, what helped you capture the fine details of nature?

Liza's story suggested the environment fairies live in. I started to see scenes straight away. To understand where fairies really lived, I needed to look a little deeper. Liza has a couple of other great non-fiction books published by Down East Books about fairy houses and where fairies live, so I was able to do some research with them and see a multitude of REAL fairy houses in the wild! It helps that I love drawing nature and little critters and all kinds of tiny detail. Being British I grew up reading Beatrix Potter, Wind in the Willows, The Borrowers … so small worlds are in my blood! I had a wonderful time imagining fairy houses.

I see that you are both Maine residents. Just for fun, what is the best part about living in Maine and what is the worst?

Liza: The best thing about Maine is that it feels like its own country—rugged a little hard to reach, and the people who live here have this deep creative ingenuity and unique spirit.

Hazel: Best – Lobster! Worst – Black Fly!

Thank you for giving us a peek at your book, Liza and Hazel. 

Readers, you can join in on the fun of this new release! Liza and Hazel have graciously offered to GIVE AWAY a copy of Where Do Fairies Go When It Snows? and an adorable Winter Fairy Kit. Enter by commenting below. Winners names will be drawn in one week.
Isn't this wonderful?
(I know a not-so-little girl
who would love one...)
You can also support your local fairy author and illustrator by purchasing a copy of Where Do Fairies Go When It Snows? at indiebound or Amazon.

Liza Gardner Walsh has worked as a preschool teacher, children's librarian, writing teacher, museum educator, and holds a master's degree in writing from Vermont College. She is the author of several other books including Fairy House Handbook, Treasure Hunter's Handbook, and Muddy Boots.

Find Liza's website here, her Facebook page here, and on Twitter here.

Hazel Mitchell's first book was published in 2011 and her latest books also include Animally, Imani's Moon, One Word Pearl, and 1,2,3 by the Sea. Her first book as author/illustrator, Toby, will be published in 2016 by Candlewick Press. She is represented by Ginger Knowlton at Curtis Brown Ltd., NYC. 

Find Hazel's website here, her blog here, her Facebook page here, and on Twitter here. 

Let's celebrate Liza and Hazel's new book! Congratulations!