Friday, January 30, 2009

Writer's Intensive Groups at SCBWI Conference

Today was interesting. Very, very interesting. The Grand Hyatt is a gorgeous hotel - lobby fits the name...grand in every way. There's a flippin' waterfall - a gigantic waterfall in the lobby.

To stay in stride with the swank of the hotel I decided to start my day with room service. I paid $9.00 for a small pot of coffee and $15.00 for a yogurt parfait for one. But it was a delicious $15.00 yogurt parfait.

Filled with my $24.00 breakfast, I headed downstairs for my first Intensive Critique Group. My nerves kicked in on the elevator ride down and I almost lost my $24.00 breakfast.

My worry and doubt were for naught. Got REALLY POSITIVE feedback from my a.m. critique group and the lovely Harper Collins editor. Like super, really good feedback.
Here's some of what I heard:
- I'm already rooting for your main character. I love how you show her flaws right away.
- Very tight writing. I have no style issues at all.
- I really like your sensory details.
- This reads very well...you have a nice rhythm.

The woman next to me, who flew in from Switzerland, leaned in and whispered, "Kate, this is really good. Really good." I'm pretty sure I smiled like lunatic.

The woman on the other side of me flew in FROM HAWAII!!! And the girl across from me flew in from Atlanta and the guy across from me flew in from Canada. Unbelievable.

I was lucky enough to sit with a very thoughtful and intelligent group of writers. They thought so deeply about my first 500 words and seemed to genuinely connect with the writing as well as give me some things to think about. Great, great, great experience.

Ended up jumping in with a group of fellow writers for lunch. Far more reasonable prices at the restaurant. Great conversation about books we've read and agents and query letters and what we write.

My p.m. critique group - whole new set of writers and new editor as well. I had decided way back that I would bring a different set of 500 words, from much later in my book. I wish I hadn't done that. I wish I had let the second group of writers look at the same opening 500 words - just to compare the feedback and the thinking. Oh well. The problem I faced with the action scene I chose was, no one knew who the heck the characters were or anything about the plot. I sorta dumped them smack into an insane moment from the book. Live and learn.

The feedback I got from the p.m. group was really them asking for clarification of what the hell was going on. My dumb fault. They liked my style and my pacing though.

Looking forward to tomorrow. It is filled with breakout sessions and speakers. The experience has been really cool so far...

p.s. met Prince Balthazar in person. He is one cool guy.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

SCBWI Writer's Conference

Can't wait for this weekend in NYC. I signed up for the writer's intensive critique groups on Friday. Kinda nervous and excited. I've worked on perfecting my two 500 word excerpts that will be looked at. Sca-ree.

I hope something interesting/exciting/hopeful comes out of the whole experience.

Got a rejection on a full today. Rejections rot. I am so ready for some good news.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Saturday, January 17, 2009

I Am 1 Million% Done, Done I Tell You

You know those contests where you post the first 250 words of your manuscript or maybe just the first paragraph or first sentence, so that fellow writers or sometimes even agents read/comment? Yeah, well, I'm done with them. One million percent done with them. And it's not for reasons you'd think.

No, I don't care that I don't win. I swear on chocolate, and I love chocolate.

No, I don't care that some of the people who comment on other people's writing are mean. I can take it because I don't know who they are. Now, if it were, let's say, my mother or my husband writing such insulting/stupid/clueless/rude things, well, I'd care. But, I don't know those people, so I can take it. Would I like it better if they gushed? Sure. Gushing is better.

My ah-ha moment came after entering the Secret Agent contest over at Miss Snark's First Victim - I'm post 13. Authoress, the writer who runs that blog, is a true writing warrior. My snit is in no way directed towards her. I can not wrap my brain around the amount of time she dedicates to her blog and all of its contests, advice posts, etc...

The Contest in a Nutshell:
- Writers post the first 250 words of their books to see if readers are hooked, or the tension is tight, or the dialogue is authentic, etc... This contest was the Are You Hooked one.
- Fellow writers post critique comments
- An actual, living, breathing agent, whose identity remains unknown until the end of the contest, also reads each and every submission & posts a comment
- The secret agent then chooses his/her favorite submission and a prize of some sort is awarded - like a manuscript review or a query letter critique, etc...
(can you see how much time this would take for Authoress to organize and run??? mind blowing)

My Ah-ha/Maybe These Contests Ain't For Me, moment:
While some books are packed with suspense from sentence one, others take a page or three to sprinkle in some foreshadowing nuggets, leaving the true suspense time to fester like an in-grown hair (that one was for you J) building up to explode over and over again throughout future pages in the book. Call it opinion, call it a matter of taste, call it individuality, call it style.

If every single book started out a break-neck speed...how boring would that be??? Gone would be the rich choices readers have at the bookstore now. You see, I wholeheartedly disagree with the kookie philosophy of blanketed, instant intensity in books. Which means I wholeheartedly disagree with the 29 comments on my first 250 words, minus my own comment of course. The comments that really drive me insane are the ones where the critic complains about something they'd never complain about if the whole manuscript was read (which I KNOW is impossible in that setting). BTW, I have never commented on my own writing submission before but I could not hold myself back.

No more contests for me. I'm done. I'm out. I'll stick to writing my books & trying my damndest to land the ever-elusive, oh-so-desired literary agent.
Updated Stats:
78 queries sent to date
40 rejections
6 requests - all still out

P.S. Only 13 more days until the SCBWI Winter Conference in NYC. I can NOT wait!!!!!!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

More Fire

Today I had one of my teaching colleagues come in and give an incredible presentation to my entire team - roughly 80 kids. We all smooshed into another colleague's classroom because he has a Smartboard...thanks Smartboard colleague. Okay, so, you know I'm in my social action unit and my friend/colleague, we'll call her M, she volunteered to go to Kosovo two different summers in a row. She ran a summer camp with a secret mission of bringing the Serbian and the Albanian children together under the guise of English Camp.

It worked. For the first time, ever, Serbian and Albanian children were able to humanize each other through her two week summer camp. She geniusly designed every activity to show things they'd have in common with each other - colors, flowers, animals, etc...

She is about the most humble/outstanding human being I know so it took some coaxing to get her to agree to speaking and sharing her photographs...but she gave in. I told her, she, is the living, breathing embodiment of social action. Cause she is.

She shared photographs of her time in Kosovo and history of the conflict as well as making the most impactful points to my kids:
- how lucky we are to have what we have in this country (24 hr. electricity, running water, government on our side, police on our side, more than one outfit, modern schools, supermarkets, etc...)
- how we all smile in the same language
- how powerful it is to intentionally make a difference in another human being's life - no matter how small the gesture

We had eighty 12 year-olds all in one room, and you seriously would've heard a pin drop. Isn't that cool? Afterwards, I had them write a reflection of the presentation - you know, their thoughts, reactions, etc... My kids would not stop writing. And their writing was so deep, so connected, so present. Not any blah, blah, blah.

Thanks, M.

Friday, January 9, 2009

So Fired Up

I'm smack in the middle of my Social Action unit with my students and the kids started researching their topics today. Some groups are focusing on hunger, or poverty, global warming or conservation, homelessness or volunteering, or donating, or Darfur, etc... They started out going through 12 centers - each center had a news article for them to read, to build background knowledge. Then they had to pick their 'Burning Issue' - the issue they had to do something about. The issue they couldn't believe or couldn't ignore.

Then I grouped them according to their issues. So, one group found this website on poverty that had a live counter in the top right corner, counting the number of human beings that have died from starvation that hour. It really impacted my students - they could not get their brains around the reality of people starving...to death. They are so fired up about raising awareness among their fellow students. The rest of the kids are 110% into their topics too - pretty cool stuff. It amazes me to hear the deep thinking, the discussions, the organizing, the teamwork, the 'how can this be happening?' talks - basically, the kids amaze me. Middle Schoolers are one incredible bunch of human beings - so much excitement and enthusiasm - it simply has to be tapped into.

Just thought I'd share. Hope you have a rockin' weekend.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Doubt Sucks Eggs, Rotten Eggs

I queried my behind off over my winter break from teaching (wish it showed in clothing - not so lucky). Sent 8 snail mails & 13 emails.

Query Stats To Date:
78 total queries sent since October 18, 2008
3 requests for full MS - no rejections yet
3 requests for partial MS - one rejection so far
34 other rejections (stupid rejections)

I also re-revised my original query, which was already brilliantly revised a few weeks back with the help of my awesome author friend - got LOADS of superior revising help. Spent WAY TOO MUCH time researching and reading others' query letters. Cried my eyes out while reading the 'road to publication' stories genius-ly compiled by Jill Wheeler (thanks for organizing those links)

Then, I questioned self, questioned ability to write, told self book wasn't that great, told self it would never happen, tasted the 'want to be published' in my tears (overdramatosis strikes yet again), picked/chewed the literal hell out of my cuticles (in the words of one, Austin Powers, "Ouch, very ouch.").

However, I also got my WIP up to page 106, ahh, but then, told self it was going nowhere & why bother writing it, boo hooed some more about having to stop WIP and go back into classroom (I know, poor me), received two more rejections today in mail...

But, I'll end on a good note - got a request for the rest of my book today, from an agent who had the first 3 chapters. Agent said they were intrigued by what was read so far. Intrigued is good.

I end with a smile.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

One of Those Perfect Moments

We spent New Year's down in Potomac, MD with college friends
(F. U. N.). We drove back home today. As we got closer to home, we swung by my sister's to pick up my nephew - so son 1 and son 2 could have their own F. U. N. The drive from my sister's to home is through the Chester County country side. It is one of my most favorite local drives - farms, the Brandywine River, cows, horses, old homes - all awesome.

I do have a point, I promise.

So, I'm driving, my two boys and my nephew in the back, husband to my right, we're all rockin' out to Kasabian and we cross over the railroad tracks near the Northbrook Canoe drop-in. Middle of the county pitch black, one house to our right and another across the street. Twisty, small road.

And just like that, literally out of the darkness...Fireworks. Fireworks light up the trees, the river, the world. No car in front of us, no car behind us. I pull over and ka-blam, Jeff Buckley's Halleluia starts playing on Sirius.

One after the other fireworks shot up through the blackness and exploded with magic and color and spectacular randomness, all while Jeff Buckley's haunting voice floated from the speakers like swirling clouds of wonder.

It was one of those perfect human moments. Had to share.

Happy New Year.