Saturday, January 29, 2011

SCBWI's Winter Conference - Day 1

Let me start out with last night's Kid Lit Night. It's this informal gathering of agents, editors and writers all smooshed together in a pub, drinking, laughing, and connecting. There were A LOT of people in that pub, some I hung out with: Christina, Weronika, Shana, Frankie, Donna & Sarah and some I simply recognized from "blogworld" or other conferences: Sara Crowe, Mary Kole, Edward Necarsulmer, Jennifer Laughran, & writer Kim Sabatini. It was just great to talk face-to-face with so many interesting people from the publishing industry.

Now onto SCBWI Day 1:

A.M. keynote, the one, the only, Lois Lowry. Her speech was moving and real as well as hysterically funny at times. She shared that she lost her older sister soon after she herself was married and came across this quote: Give sorrow words. Which she did when she wrote A SUMMER TO DIE. She challenged the writers in the room to give happiness words...and fear...and jealousy. Give life to emotions.

She also said, "When writing, what works best are the things that surprise you as a writer." Go for it.

Then, believe it or not, came Jane Yolen in a picture book panel discussion. She made many excellent points in her talk but I think my favorite was when she pointed out that picture books must have a lyricism to them. A lyric sensibility. A rhythmic sensibility. Because they will be read aloud to a listening child. She advised reading your picture book manuscript aloud - and often - to check for that lyrical flow.

Next on the panel came illustrator Mark Teague who said good illustrations are really there to service the story and must be worthy of the text as well as extend it beyond just the written word. No small task, eh? But very sound advice.

Finally, last on the panel was editor Patricia Lee Gauch who beautifully shared in a very poetic way her thoughts on picture books. She urged writers to be storytellers and constantly go deep into "the well" (who you are as a person, the child in you). She said its crucial to drive the story. She was very clear and said. And my favorite part of her talk was when she said, "Don't squeeze an idea too hard or the idea will put its tail between its legs and run away."

Then we were all off - all 1200+ of us - off to the breakout sessions. First up for me was agent Ginger Clark. She was witty, genuine and very smart. She stated a few times that publishing is a for profit business and its always looking for the big hit. She shared the results of an informal survey she conducted with some editors she knows - asking them what they're currently looking for in MG/YA:
- Dystopia
- More Middle Grade
- Harder SF (more technical)
- Mind bending psycho thrillers
- YA based on the Tudors

Second breakout session was with senior editor from Simon & Schuster, Alexandra Cooper. She made it clear that it is a really big decision for a publisher to take on a manuscript because it is a commitment on their part. In the submission process she said books need to have a hook as well as really good writing. It can't be just one or the other in today's crowded market.

And that's my day in a nutshell. SCBWI is a stellar organization and this conference runs like a top.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

SCBWI in NYC tomorrow, bay-bee

The title of the post says it all. I'm so excited. I'll share everything I learn. Check back.

Also, the SCBWI official Twitter hashtag is #NY11SCBWI.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Five Things I Wish I Knew BEFORE I Queried

Happy Tuesday.

I had the distinct pleasure of meeting up with some fascinating writers at Philly Lit Night, organized by Simon C. Larter and Frankie Diane Mallis. Thanks for a great experience. If you scroll down to the bottom of my blog, I've linked to all of the fine writers I met. Go Philly!

The subject of blogging came up and we shared how we draw a blank sometimes, don't blog everyday and then ended up talking about the cool people we've formed connections with. Just discussing blogging got me thinking on the drive home. My car is definitely a think-tank for me (when it's kid free).

I am a firm believer in "giving back" and "paying it forward". This is an incredible online community of writers, filled with people who are willing to share advice, cheer you up, reach out when you need it the most, join in your heartbreak and celebrate with you.

In that vein, here are five things I wish I'd known before mailing my first query letter:

1. I wish I knew about the query forums on Absolute Write and Evil Editor. Let me warn you: NOT for the faint of heart. But, if all you want to hear is how great your query is, then you may not be ready to query. I didn't find out about these two sites until well into my query journey. And my ass was handed to me each time I posted - but my query got stronger and stronger and stronger. I often wonder how much shorter my query hell would've been if I had known these sites existed before I'd mailed (and emailed) out a single query. Hindsight is 20/20.

ADVICE: Get query feedback from reputable sources and get a lot of it. Don't take one person's opinion as gospel - get a ton of opinions. Join Teen Fire or YALitChat or She Writes. Download Elana Johnson's FROM THE QUERY TO THE CALL. It's free now you know!

2. I wish I didn't take the gushing of family members (obviously well intentioned) as a sign from God Almighty himself that my first novel was ready to query. It wasn't. I have always been a "get it done and get it done fast" kind of person. I wish I would've been patient and let the book sit and stew for a while - taken my time with it. But I didn't. I rushed and it cost me countless rejections and frustrating moments on my journey.

ADVICE: Don't be fooled into false confidence when it comes to your first novel. Do everything you can to get feedback from industry people and fellow writers. How? Go to conferences, join a writer's group, submit your work to public contests.

3. I wish I knew the power of a solid critique group earlier. I didn't let another writer read my manuscript until I had written my fourth novel. Yet I continued to query that first novel, which desperately needed a re-write. I just didn't know it yet. The rejections continued to pile up for that book. AFTER my crit parters (*waves at Christina, Susan & Weronika*) gave me solid feedback on my fourth novel I queried it. And the requests came in quick - ultimately landing me my agent.

ADVICE: Let other writers you trust read your work and give you feedback. It is crucial.

4. I wish I joined earlier. Oh, I used the site frequently but not as a paying member. After joining, a whole new world of information opened up to me and it helped me be very precise as to who I queried and when. That site is just an incredible resource and I can not sing it's praises loud enough. And no, I have no affiliation with them whatsoever. I'm just a lover of what they provide.

ADVICE: I'm thinking it's obvious. Check the site out and you'll see.

5. I wish I didn't compare my query journey to other writers. Yes, I know it's human nature, but it's also extremely unhealthy and seriously gets in the way of success. I wish I'd had the mantra of: This is your journey, not anyone else's. Instead, I did a lot of comparing and boo hoo'ing. I wish I didn't do that.

ADVICE: Do everything in your power not to compare. Every writer is different. Every book is different. Every agent is different. Your query journey is your journey for a reason. Learn from the obstacles put in front of you and don't be distracted from doing so by comparing to others - it gets you no where. Trust me.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Happy Friday

Happy Friday everyone.

SCBWI's Winter Conference in NYC is exactly one week away. Very excited to meet blog friends in person and see old friends.

Bring it on.

And I will blog about my experience and the spectacular information I learn.

I will leave you with a song. A Happy Friday song. Turn it up LOUD.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Apocalypsies Interview The Elevensies

Over at The Apocalypsies blog something fantastically interesting has commenced. We Apocalypsies will interview The Elevensies - 2011 debut authors - one fascinating, debut author at a time.

Up today is Danette Vigilante

And if you scroll down you'll see Beth Revis and Maurissa Guibord

Great interviews...great writers...and GREAT books.

Friday, January 14, 2011

My Query That Landed me My Agent

Matthew Rush over at The Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment or the QQQE if you're in the know ; ) posted my query letter today - complete with my thoughts on what the heck I wrote and why the heck I wrote it - and Matthew's thoughts as well. He runs a cool blog. You'll see.

I would be pretty psyched if you checked it out HERE.

And a BIG HUGE THANK YOU to Matthew for sharing my query with his large group of blog followers...the dude averages 30 comments a post. Yeah, he's that helpful over there.

Happy Weekend to you all.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


Back in the summer of 2006 I attended a PAWLP (Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project) conference and Mr. James Howe was the keynote speaker. He spoke to the room full of 300 educators and shared how he gets ideas and writes. He shared where the idea for the now classic, BUNNICULA orginated from, and about his then current book, THE MISFITS.

Even though this was four years ago, I can still remember how genuine this man was. How transparent. How kind. He shared a few personal stories of bullying and had the whole room in the palm of his hands...especially me. At the time I had just closed my summer day camp, Camp Kindness, and gone back into teaching middle school LA full time. I sat next to my friend Rina, and as James Howe spoke, she leaned in and whispered, "You should tell him about Camp Kindness."

I mouthed back, "No."

She nudged me and whispered, "Do it."

After the room exploded with applause for Mr. Howe's heartfelt presentation, the ginormous line formed for him to sign books. I swear I remember all 300 people lining up. Rina and I sat there talking and talking and she said, "Kate, he would definitely relate to Camp Kindness. Wait till the line gets to the end, and then jump in as the last person."

Me deciding to bite the bullet and be the last person in line was the beginning of our friendship. Rina was right, he loved the concepts I taught my campers at Camp Kindness: tolerance, acceptance and of course, kindness. Since there was no one behind me in line we got to have a pretty decent conversation. I do remember me being REALLY nervous talking with him - the guy is a living writing star - the real deal - and he was talking with me like I wasn't a bumbling dummy. He asked me to email him the link to my camp, scribbled his email down on the back of my flyer, and so it began.

Since 2006 James Howe and I have become friends. He is one of the most genuinely kind human beings I have ever had the pleasure of getting to know. His heart beats for one thing, one strong passion - treating all people with human kindness.

Well, his passion shines through in his latest book, ADDIE ON THE INSIDE. This book is a companion to his critically acclaimed novels, THE MISFITS and TOTALLY JOE. When he shared that he would be sending me an ARC of the book, I was honored - to say the least.

This novel is written in free verse poetry and it is a masterpiece.

If you follow my blog, you know I have very high standards when it comes to books and I do not throw around the word masterpiece lightly. I know what I like when it comes to writing...authenticity. James Howe has given readers an authentic character who has a lot to say. Addie's views on the world are bold, brave and tolerant. I hope Addie will become the hero of adolescents everywhere.

If I had the privilege of going to school with Addie we would've totally been best friends. I know it. She repeatedly stands up for what she believes in, she champions the causes of the bullied...the victims of intolerance...racism...stupidity. She is one heck of a chick.

And this is one heck of a book. I dog-eared so many genius lines and whole poems that I eventually gave up and just enjoyed reading. Never once did I feel like James Howe was talking to me - instead I was literally inside Addie's head - and it was a fascinating place to be.

Enough genuine book love. Just get your hands on this baby when it comes out (which is summer 2011) and you'll see what I mean. It is an important book. A book that matters for all the right reasons.

And James Howe put me in his Acknowledgments. For real. I believe I have read my name approximately 8,672 times and I still can't get over it.

p.s. If you are a teacher, buy a class set. No, buy two class sets - one for this year and one to keep. This book makes me want to get back into the classroom because I would plan an entire Social Justice unit around the necessary topics Addie faces head on. Middle school students are the most amazing age group around - once you help them identify their passion...they are almost unstoppable. They just need to be inspired by their teachers, by their parents - by anyone.

They need to meet Addie.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

NOOKcolor = My Favorite Gift. And Some Photos...

Well, party people, I can't believe it's January 6th. Huh? Six days already gone. Let me tell you that I have been spending a lot of time wiping the drool from what my husband got me for Christmas...the NOOKcolor.

Let me back up and say first that holding an actual book, cracking its spine, breathing it still a sacred experience for me and can never be topped or replaced by an ereader. But, and this is a fairly big but, convenience is King in my life. And my new ereader is wickedly convenient.

My agent suggested I read Ender's Game for a bit of inspiration as I plow through my complete re-write of my MG sci-fi trilogy (book 1 & 2) and it was the first book I purchased. Beth Revis' Across the Universe was #2.

And I love this thing. It's ridiculously easy to use, light, has color and I can even put my own manuscripts on it in pdf format. So cool. I bought a magazine the other day and flipped through every page - electronically!!! Wild, wild stuff.

So, now you know why I've been so 'absent' round these parts. I've been a reading/re-writing fool. This re-write has been one of the most challenging and exhilarating and exciting writing experiences I've had yet. Challenging because it's, you know, re-writing. And this was the very first novel I wrote so I've had my hand in it 100's of times. You should see the amount of printed drafts I have from Staples - dating all the way back to April 2007!! A stack.

Starting from scratch was scary. But once I got going - and talked to that brilliant agent of mine - it morphed into exhilarating and exciting. My authentic (and way better) writing voice is so strong this time around and it all feels dang right. It's all coming together.

Something else that came together were my author photos. I had about 8,654 photographs taken - two 'costume' changes - two location changes and bingo-boingo-bammo...two fairly decent head shots. One for the math book I co-authored (shiny new link up above BTW) and one for my YA - EVERYTHING'S NOT LOST.

Unveiled here, now, for the first time. I think they turned out pretty good...and my husband was the photographer. Yay for husbands that know how to not make their wives heads look ugly. And yay for graphic designer sisters who live in Australia who know how to manipulate the lighting in a photo that's already been taken - see her handy work in the second photo below.

The YA one...

The Math book one...

Monday, January 3, 2011

2011 Here We Come...

One of my friends shared this video on facebook and I watched it in its entirety. All I have to say is, press play and be blown away by this woman.

Watch it with fresh, new 2011 eyes...