Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Newbery / Caldecott Banquet 2012

There's so much to share with you about the ALA conference that it's kinda hard to figure out where to start.

I'm not starting with myself, although I'll subject you to Schneider award talk later.



(Focus, Wendelin, focus.)

I'm not going to tell you about the Newbery and Caldecott speeches either because that would take way too long and I'm already, what, three (yikes!) days behind on the non-place-holding post.

All I'm going to talk about today is the program of the Newbery / Caldecott banquet.

The program?

How boring is that?

Well, actually, no. It was very entertaining!

I'm not talking about the pre-speeches and gracious welcomes and introductions program. I'm talking about the physical program. I've never seen anything like it! It was so cool! And fun! And a nice thing to play with during the pre-speeches and gracious welcomes and introductions.

Okay. Check it out. This is what every one of the (approx) 750 people at the banquet had at their seat. Sitting there. On a plate. Begging you to slip off the yellow band and see what was inside.

And when you did and pulled up on the blue spiraled sections of the program, POP! a red "ball" jumped up. 

Underneath the red ball was the actual program, circular and in full, illustrated color.

Turns out that the winner of the Caldecott and his/her art director get to design the Banquet program each year (This year's winner was Chris Raschka for his artwork in A Ball for Daisy...which you probably picked up from the first graphic and which makes the whole program thing make sense.) Coolest program ever!

So that's the first leg of the ALA adventure. Have any of you ever attended?

More soon!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Place Holder!

Just checking in to say I just saw Jack Gantos give his Newbery speech and it was so good! Such a funny guy.

And that I will be back after the conference to write a real post!



Sunday, June 17, 2012

Hit Me With Your Best Quote

My mind is a-scatter with things to talk about. Which basically means I have no focus. Which is all right, except I need to write about something, right?

Well, this week maybe not.

I want to springboard a couple of subject dives from last week’s comments, but I really should put that in the comments of last week...only I don’t seem to be able to be everywhere at once. So diving into this pool:.

Jessica’s comment on The Running Dream being required reading, but that none of her recomendees have taken her up on her recommendation.

I can so relate!

As my dad always said, “You can bring a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink.”

Along the required reading line, I’ve thought for years that Flipped should be required reading for anyone thinking about getting married.  It should be the bridal shower gift. The bach’ party present.

Read this, dude. If you still think she’s the one, okay, then. Get hitched.

Or, Honey, open your eyes. You seeing what I’m seeing?

‘Cause brides often don't.

But somehow Flipped helps.

Moving on: The other thing that really got me was some commental exchange regarding shoes.

Was it shoes?

Yes. I think so. (But you guys bounce around so much [which I love, but excuse me, my already muddled mind gets mixed up]).

Anyway, I remember going, GASP. And then thinking NO! THEY’LL THINK I STOLE THEIR IDEA, when, in fact, I’d already written the idea in Killer Cruise.

Which just goes to show that Sammiacs are perceptive, astute, tuned in, and awesome.

So I've decided that the best course of action is to just TELL YOU SOMETHING OUT OF KILLER CRUISE (sorry, not yelling, really):

Casey gives Sammy a pair of (presently gray) high-tops with (presently black) Sharpie’d sayings written all over them.  Stuff like “Shortcut Sammy rides again!” and “S&C Forever”

I actually got the idea because years and years ago, my younger son gave me a pair of white Converse as a gift which he’d written quotes from my books all over. Stuff from Swear to Howdy, Runaway, and Sammy Keyes mostly. I thought it was the coolest present, and so thoughtful.

It was also such a Casey thing to do.

(Please, don’t get weird on me here.)

Anyway, Killer Cruise happens over Sammy’s b-day and I’d decided that Casey giving Sammy a pair of custom high-tops for her Graduation From Thirteen birthday was perfect.

Only someone ACTUALLY GUESSED IT in the comments and I’m, like, NOOOOOOO!

(Man, do I sound like Stephanie here, or what?)

Anyway, I’ve decided that instead of agonizing about it I should include y’all. So my question for the week is: What would you want Casey to write on Sammy’s shoes?

Hit me with your best quote!  (Fire awaaaaaaaay-yay-yay-yay)

I’ll put as many as I can into the book

Which brings me to ANOTHER (not shouting, really) random thought relating to last week’s comments:

Putting in scientific info (re: The Running Dream) is HARD because in doing research you learn so much and there’s a huge temptation is to include everything you now know in your story, only what that does is totally bog down the plot and make it BORING (not shouting, really) for the reader. So balancing information sharing and storytelling is definitely a delicate art.

My advice: Go for minimalist art.

Okay, so that’s my riffing on last week’s comments.  

I also had random thoughts about balding men and big noses, but I’ll save that for another time.

Is that enough random thoughting for one week?


(Not shouting, really.)

Are any of you going to ALA?

I’ll be there next weekend to receive my (happy sigh) Schneider Award for TRD.  I’m doing booth signings on Saturday (3-4:00 PM) and sometime Sunday (morning I think?). It’s in the convention schedule. I may be a day late (and definitely a dollar short) next week with the blog post because Sunday’s packed. But I should have something interesting (and potentially less random) to tell you about.

Meanwhile, hit me with your best shoe quote (but only if you don’t mind it appearing in Killer Cruise).

Looking forward to seeing what the comment conversation morphs into this week.

Shine on, you crazy diamonds!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Turn Up the Background Singers! (a post for writers)

After the request for writing tips from last week's comment section, I went back and reread my Writing Tips posts (mostly found in October 2009) to refresh my memory about what I'd already covered. I wish I had a treasure chest of secrets to share with you because I certainly would, but I can only come up with a couple of things to add to what I already wrote.

Keep in mind I'm the Accidental Writer and may not be the best source for these types of things...but I'll still try to help, and I'll still share what I can.

For starters, it didn't look like I'd addressed theme in the previous Writing Tips posts, and theme is very important. It's like the framework and invisible substrate which is then artfully concealed by the drywall and stucco and architectural detail of your story. For a story--especially a mystery--to hold together, the hidden stuff has to be really strong, and what helps strengthen any story is a defined theme.

I like when I have a theme from the get-go. Something I what to say or explore or present to my reader as food for thought. The theme is what I'm passionate about. It's the purpose for taking a year or more out of my life to tell a story. All my books have a theme. Some are stronger (or more obvious) than others, but they all have one. For example, in Sammy Keyes and the Runaway Elf, the theme was forgiveness--the power of, the benefit of, and the cost of bitterly resisting.

Now, I've found that the trick to making your theme work powerfully is to give it some backup. Subplots are great for this. (I feel like I've already talked about this, but maybe I've just talked about it at schools during workshop presentations, not here. So I'll just go on like I haven't typed about it. Forgive me if this is a boring redundancy.)

Anyway, subplots. In most Sammy  mysteries you'll find three threads--the mystery, Sammy's home life, and Sammy's school life. Most people say the mystery is the main plot and the other two are subplots, but I sort of view them as all vying for that #1 position.

To me subplots are as important as the main plot. They're like the backup singers who are sometimes better than the star singer. (For example Merry Clayton--whom you've never heard of--kicks Mick Jagger's tush in Gimme Shelter...and Mick lets her, which makes the whole thing work fabulously.) And for the subplots to contribute to their full potential, they must be in harmony with the theme.  So in Runaway Elf, the motivation behind the actions of each subplot's main characters is found within the theme--forgiveness.

Subplots will save you. When you're stuck in your plotting, when you're sagging in your novel's middle, subplots will save you. I believe if your novel is sagging it's because your character needs a job. Or a dog. Or a scary neighbor. Mess with their lives a little more. If your protagonist's life is too linear (or too smooth or becoming boring), add a thread. But then follow that thread through to the end! Don't leave us dangling with your little subplots to nowhere! And ideally, when you tie up all your subplots they should each contribute to the story as a whole...which means that--if at all possible--they should somehow hearken back to the theme.

I wish I had something to show you. Some visual to illustrate my process, but I don't. Partly because I don't think of it as being worthy of sharing. I do what I do, and with each book I'm re-amazed that it all turned out well. It always feels like an accident, even though I know it's not (entirely). I always feel a little like a fraud, even though at nearly 30 books, I know I'm doing something right. And it's somewhat comforting to know that this is apparently universal with writers. I've learned from reading what other writers say about themselves, that we're all a bit bemused by how we do what we do. At least the writers I like are. And I think that's partly because we dive in and hold our breath, hoping, praying we can swim well enough to make it to The End.

It's also because my outlines consist of crude diagrams, random words, and cryptic notes about possible events. Just enough to remind my brain what it was thinking. I don't have a chapter-by-chapter outline. Half the time I don't know who's going to answer the door Sammy's just knocked on. But I do know that whoever answers had better support the theme or I'll slam the door on them and knock again.

Has this been at all helpful? There are probably hundreds of books on writing. Maybe thousands! You can read them all and still feel unprepared. So stop. If you've got the basics of your story down, if you've got a theme, some subplots and an ending in mind, it's time to quit reading books about writing and start writing.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Stages of Agony (or...Rewriting Exposed)

I didn't have a chance to add my own comments to last week's interesting comment discussion, but it has influenced my post for this week. (Feel your power, commenters!)

I will not be talking about the Irish language or viral research, but will, instead, share something I do know something about, and that's rewriting.

(By the way, some of your comments about me last week were very generous and kind and made me feel like all the work that goes into my writing is noticed and appreciated, which was SO nice!)

I know I've done a previous post about rewriting, but this will give you a bigger, broader picture, and I think writers (or appreciators of writers) will find this interesting (and hopefully not too daunting).

What follows are different stages of the first page of Sammy Keyes and the Showdown in Sin City.

Here it is as initially submitted to Nancy (my editor, for you newbies). Keep in mind that this page is the result of the initial writing plus about 15 rewrites to get it "perfect" before submission to Random House. (Click image to enlarge.)

What follows next is my "perfect page" after Nancy weighed in on it and I reworked it. (Some of the pencil is her. The red pencil is what I did in response to what she did. And then, to confuse matters, I also wrote in regular pencil. If you're someone who's going to study this, you'll figure it out. If not, just see how my perfect first page has been brutalized.)

Next (below) is that brutalized page reworked again before being resubmitted to Nancy.

And finally, here it is again after two copy editors ("J" and "A") and Nancy have weighed in on the "REV 2" copy. (Those of you who follow the Sammy Keyes series will bust up at the electronic comments.)

Keep in mind this is ONE page. There are about THREE HUNDRED of these to agonize over in each book I write. (And believe me, some of it is agony!) I can spend half an hour debating the replacement of a word or the placement (or removal) of a comma by a copy editor. (Commas drive me crazy!) And then there's the maddening eleventh hour plot revision suggestion that requires analysis of the entire book to make sure one "little change" here doesn't mess something up elsewhere.

Some authors claim that final draft flies from their fingers.

I'm not one of those.

Some authors have editors who don't really edit.

Thankfully, I'm not one of those, either.

To be good at this craft you need to be willing to work and lucky enough to have an editor willing to do the same. I work very hard and I'm willing to weigh the advice and perspective of my editor and work some more.

Am I talented?

If so, I've worked very hard for that 'talent.'


That's more like it.

So yes, your comments from last week mean a lot to me. And I hope that showing you part of what I go through to be a writer worthy of those comments will inspire you to see the process through in your own writing. Be dedicated. Be tenacious.

That's how to make your talent shine.