Thursday, April 28, 2011

Word After Word After Word

I just finished reading Newbery Medal-winning author Patricia Maclachlan's Word After Word After Word (Katherine Tegan Books, 2010). 
The first time I read it, I was swept away by the story. The second time I read it intentionally with a writer's eye. It was hard not to get swept away again. I stopped several times. Re-read paragraphs. Re-read sentences. Underlined passages. Made notes in the margin. Until I felt the layers of her work, wrap me in a quilt.
It was inviting.
                   A treasure.

Word After Word After Word, told through Lucy's eyes,  is about visits to a fourth grade classroom from a well-known author, Mrs. Mirabel, and how she opens their eyes to the the magic of words and writing. We learn a great deal about Lucy and her friends and what writing comes to mean to each of them and how each child has their own story. Their own words to share. And how they're all great writers.

A brilliant book in my opinion to be shared with readers young and old. I can't wait to see what my second grader says when she reads it. I have a feeling I'll be shopping for a new journal for her after she's done. Because the old one will be full. Yes, it's that inspiring.

A few of my favorite sentences from the book:

Page 79...

"She said we are good writers."
He looked at all of us.
"We are writers!"

Page 114...

"Remember this if you remember anything from our time together," said Ms. Mirabel. " You are brave." 

Page 115...

"No. It was too hard to say. But I could write it," I told her.

There are so many other great lines in this story, and the poems written by the children take your breath away. MacLachlan's love of language seeps onto every page. Filling you up until the river overflows.
So in closing...
We write to remember,
to solve,
to change,
to forgive,
to heal
and to feel.
Because everything we write

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Foxy New Picture Book

Today, I’m posting about my first advanced reader copy that I received from the Texas Library Association Conference 2011. Foxy and Egg (Holiday House, 2011) is a charming picture book by Alex T. Smith. Don’t you just LOVE the cover? Are you curious about the Egg character? Can the author/illustrator make Egg an interesting character? Let’s find out.

The book begins like this...

Of all the suspicious-looking houses in all the deserted woods in all the world, he had to roll up to hers…
Foxy Dubois was utterly charming and always kind to strangers, so she invited Egg in for a bite to eat.

The beginning introduces both characters and gives us the setting. The author chooses words like “suspicious-looking” and “had to roll up to” to create an aura of mystery and intrigue. Aren’t you curious to know what is going to happen next? The author is planting words that suggest a scheme is about to hatch, yes?

While Foxy skipped off to the kitchen, Egg rocked and rolled around the grand house.
“You have some interesting paintings,” shouted Egg.
But Foxy wasn’t listening. She was too busy cooking up a perfectly cunning plan…

Aha! We were right. A plan is about to hatch! What a great way to hook the reader and draw them into the story. Doesn’t that next line just beg you to turn the page? I don’t want to reveal all the juicy details but let’s just say this story delights the reader with a surprising ending. 

A few things I really like about this book are:

• It’s a fun read-aloud and the illustrations are bright and appealing and perfect for the intended audience (ages 4 – 8). 
• The story reminded me of an updated version of the classic fairytale Little Red Riding Hood except instead of a girl and a wolf, we have a fox and an egg. What words leap to mind when you think of a fox? Clever. Cunning. Sophisticated. How about when you think of an egg? Dull. Boring. Innocent. Definitely not very threatening, right? The author uses conceived perceptions to set-up the story and deliver the unexpected. He writes with intention. Chooses his characters for a reason. And makes the unimaginable seem believable.
• Every word is chosen carefully to reveal character, move the story forward and add suspense. 
• The ending is satisfying, surprising and delightful! 

Kirkus Review said “expert comic timing” and “Delicious, for all that it’s something of a literary hors d’ouevre.” 

This picture book has my seal of approval! If you like the humor found in Keiko Kasza’s or Jon Scieszka’s books, you’ll devour this gem of a story, too.

Next week, Alex T. Smith drops by to chat and share insights. You don’t want to miss this interview.

Have you studied any picture books lately? Gleam anything from them that has helped your writing? 

If so, I’d love to hear it. If not, I challenge you to pick up a few and read them with a writer’s eye. Study them for: character development, plot construction, pacing and rhythm, hook at the beginning, rule of three, conflict, and surprise ending. Just a few things to keep in mind while you read.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

First Annual Young Adult A to Z Conference


As Assistant Regional Advisor for the Austin SCBWI chapter, I'm fully aware of the trials, tribulations and triumphs of hosting and sponsoring a conference, and I'd like to raise my glass and toast the Writer's League of Texas (WLT) on the success of their first YA A to Z Conference held this past weekend in Austin at the Hyatt Regency.  I'd say it was a smashing success and Executive Director Cyndi Hughes (See a past interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith at Cynsations) and Office Manager Bethany Hegedus should step forward and take a bow along with their band of dedicated WLT staff and volunteers.  The conference followed on the coat tails of the Texas Library Association's Conference and created it's own literary buzz. 

Cyndi Hughes                        Bethany Hegedus  

   Tim Wynne-Jones

An all-star line-up was assembled of literary agents, editors and A-list authors and I caught several presentations including the keynote luncheon by author Tim Wynne-Jones. His talk on finding and releasing your inner genius was pure genius. I felt myself carried away listening to him talk about his experience of finding clues to solving his story problem within his first draft. It's a speech that left me speechless.

I was honored to moderate the panel Path to Publication: Options for Getting Your Book Out with authors PJ Hoover, Andrea White and Suzette Conway, Director of Education for Author Solutions Inc. Unfortunately due to severe storms in the mid-west the panel lost Suzette as her plane never left the ground from Indianapolis. But PJ and Andrea never missed a beat and delivered their wisdom and knowledge and answered attendees' questions.

Each person determines their own path to publication. There really is no map to follow. Some of the best advice is receive constructive feedback and then revise your work until it shines. Don't send out your work with only your kids or grand kids feedback. Seek out critique groups and workshops. Make sure your work is the best it can be!

I know you've heard that adage before but according to agents and editors, we need to hear it again. Many of their slush pile submissions have clearly never been vetted by anyone but the author.  So if you're one of those people who've never had your manuscript critiqued you might want to check out the Austin SCBWI Beyond the Basics: Applying and Analyzing Constructive Criticism Workshop with the Texas Sweethearts.


To wrap-up, the YA A to Z conference not only provided lots of information for attendees but pitch sessions with agents, manuscript critiques and plenty of networking opportunities. If you missed this conference, don't worry. The Writers' League of Texas hosts their annual Agents Conference on June 10 - 12, 2011 at the Hyatt Regency.

Texas Library Association Conference Wrap-up

Texas Library Association Conference Wrap-up

The Texas Library Association (TLA) Conference has come and gone for another year. Gone are the glorious books, the smiling librarians, the dynamic speakers (Librarians, authors, illustrators, teachers) and the buses of teens. But what we're left with are: new friends, new books and new inspiration to bring our stories into the hearts of kids. See you in Houston in 2012 for next year's conference!

 A big thank you to Austin SCBWI Regional Advisor Debbie Gonzales who coordinated the efforts needed for the TLA conference booth. She designed the booth to represent the heart and charm of the great State of Texas and it was widely received by everyone who stopped by. We put over 1,000 catalogs (ads of authors and illustrators who offer school visits) into the hands of librarians. Gave away packages of books to librarians who entered our free draws and made contact with authors and illustrators who want to be a part of next year's catalog which will be hosted by the Houston SCBWI chapter.

Here are a few pictures highlighting the many volunteers who manned the booth. It was another great effort by the Texas SCBWI chapters who sponsored the booth. Thanks, everyone!!

Austin Illustrator Chair Mark G. Mitchell, RA Debbie Gonzales and Austin SCBWI author Shelli Cornelison. Doesn't our booth look inviting?

Me and author Janet Fox . Janet was signing advanced reader copies for her latest novel FORGIVEN (Speak, June 2011) while visiting TLA.

Authors Janet Fox, Jo Whittemore, Donna Bowman Bratton and Bethany Hegedus.

 Me and author Donna Bowman Bratton.

Mother Goose and Mark G. Mitchell outside of the Austin Convention Center.

Authors Donna Bowman BrattonJo Whittemore, Emma VirjanJessica Lee Anderson andJeanette Larson at one of the TLA conference schmoozes.

Authors Jessica Lee AndersonJo Whittemore and PJ Hoover, some of the Texas Sweethearts and Scoundrels, speaking on a panel at TLA.

Author Phil Bildner and librarian Emily Gardner posing for a picture after speaking on a panel.

Friday, April 8, 2011

No Excuses and Great Writing Events Happening in and Around Austin

Well, I've got plenty of excuses for not blogging in FOREVER. But right now, none of them make sense. Does that make sense? 

I think the bottom line is that as my plate got fuller and fuller, I shoved the blogging into a napkin, kind of like you do when you're served brussel sprouts or turnip or beet tops. And yet I like all those things. So what I'm trying to say is that instead of eating my veggies first, I left them to the end and they got cold and then I didn't want to eat them anymore. Does that make sense?

In any case, No Excuses. 

I've had so much going on and it's all been good. The February Austin SCBWI Conference Books, Boots & Buckskin was a HUGE success thanks to a lot of hard work, giving volunteers, great leadership (Regional Advisor Debbie Gonzales) and a stellar line-up! Everybody I spoke with during and after the conference seemed to be glowing. It's hard catering to a group with varying levels of expertise but in my opinion there was something at the conference for everyone, and I believe if you come to any event with the right attitude you're bound to come away with an "aha" moment and a few more specks of wisdom in your pocket.

Right now, we're gearing up for the many librarians, editors, authors, illustrators, publishers, packagers that are about to descend on Austin as Austin hosts this year's Texas Library Association (TLA) Conference. If you're going to be at the conference please stop by the SCBWI booth (booth #1626) and say "Hi!"  There'll be a host of friendly authors and illustrators there to greet you with a warm SCBWI welcome!  
Also there are still a few last minute spots left to snag at the Writers' League of Texas YA A to Z Conference that runs on April 15th and 16th. It's your time to shine in front of authors, editors and agents so make haste and sign-up! I'll be moderating the Path to Publishing: Options for Getting Your Book Out with authors P.J. Hoover, Andrea White and Suzette Conway from Author Solutions on Saturday, April 16th. I hope you can come and gleam some advice from the experts.
This weekend I'll be attending the Houston SCBWI conference on Saturday then heading back to Austin to catch author Jo Whittemore's Odd Girl In (Aladdin) book launch at BookPeople. Both events are sure to be mind-blowing and fun!

We've just announced our next Austin SCBWI Workshop headlining the Texas Sweethearts.Beyond the Basics: Analyzing and Applying Constructive Criticism will fill up quickly so don't delay in visiting our website and registering for the July 30th, 2011 event!  If you're not currently in a critique group this will be a great chance to mingle, network and find that ideal group of like-minded writers.
Seeing as April is National Poetry Month I wanted to tell you about a wonderful poetry retreat sponsored by the Southern Breeze SCBWI chapter. Dive Into Poetry with Rebecca Kai Dotlichwill begin on Friday, June 10th and end on Sunday, June 12th, 2011 in Dahlonega, Georgia. No doubt these spots will fill up quickly with a chance to learn from one of the best poets and authors around. If you're not familiar with Rebecca's poetry check out her picture book Bella & Bean illustrated by Aileen Leijten (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2009) and she's also included in many poetry anthologies including Amazing Faces illustrated by Chris Soentpiet and compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins (Cynthia Leitich Smith's last interview with Lee) (Lee and Low Books Inc, 2010). One of my favorite poems in the anthology is her poem "Amazing Face."
I hope to see you at one of the many events happening in and around Austin in the next few weeks. There's just so much to be thankful for living in such a vibrant writing community and I promise to do better and keeping you abreast of all the activities on my blog.  
Have a great day!