Thursday, April 28, 2011

Kathryn's Misadventures in Library Land

A few days ago, I went to my local library to pick up some reserved books and left feeling as bewildered as Alice in Wonderland.  I'm a little embarrassed to admit this, but it was probably the first time I'd set foot in a library in five or six years.  (I get books from the library all the time, its just that my wonderful hubby usually picks them up and all I ever see is the outside drop box when I return them.)  Apparently the library has changed a lot during this time and I've become an outdated encyclopedia gathering dust in the stacks.  Here's what bemused me:

1)  I decided I'd actually browse for once and wanted to see if they had any books on the history of ferrets.  I found the pet section easily, but locating the ferret books was another matter.  It would have helped if the section was alphabetized--which it wasn't.  (I can just see my elementary school librarian fainting at the notion.)  There was a huge section on dogs, followed by a smaller one on cats.  Then I found hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, ferrets and chimpanzees all crammed on one shelf in that order.  Huh?  I stood there for a bit puzzling the logic.  Were they arranged by popularity as pets?  Cuteness?  Odds that one will bite you?  How frequently you will need to clean up their poop?  I left the section shaking my head, fighting the urge reorganize them all.

2) Next I thought I'd look for a book on pirates.  (Hmmm...anyone care to guess what my new manuscript is about?)  I walked through an array of stacks and subjects from mythology to baby name books, but found no pirates.  I even looked in the children's section for some easy-to-digest non-fiction.  Still no pirates!  At that point I located one of the handy-dandy reference computers.  I discovered there were pirate books in the system, they were just all scattered throughout the many libraries of Columbus.  It's not like the library I was visiting had all their pirate books checked out; they simply didn't have any.  (Granted, the library closest to me is on the small side, but it's still big enough that I truly thought they'd have something!)  Apparently you can't just go to a library anymore and expect to find your topic du jour--you must reserve your choices online or embark on a scavenger hunt around the city.  That kind of bummed me out.

3) So while I was growing disappointed in the kid's section, my eyes fell on a row at the back: Audio Books!  I was ecstatic.  My car might be the only one made after 2000 that doesn't have a CD player in it.  As shocking as it may sound, I don't own an ipod either, which means my upcoming drive to Honesdale, PA for the Highlights Workshop is shaping up to be pretty dull.  But if I got some audio books, I could be happily entertained the whole way there!  Thrilled with my brilliant idea, I picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone then frowned.  Why was the case so floppy?  I opened it up to find the book wasn't on tapes--it was on several CD's!  I scanned the section frantically.  All the books were on CD's!  When did that happen?!  I did manage to find a few antique books on clunky tapes in the adult section--real edge-of-your-seat thrillers like the autobiography of Bill Clinton.  I walked away grumbling.  Bill Clinton's life story won't keep me from falling asleep at the wheel and driving off the Pennsylvania mountains.

Dispirited, I decided to throw in the towel and collect my reserves, but the misadventure wasn't over yet.  I scanned the "P" section of the reserves only to find my books had gone AWOL.  There was a Carol Powers and Edward Powers, but no Kathryn Powers.  For several minutes I scoured the display, inspecting the reserves book by book.  I knew I was at the right library; I knew I'd arrived before the delinquency date.  So where were they?!  As I started to make my way to the librarian's desk to demand they stop hiding my books, I passed the "S" section and stopped in my tracks.  I almost smacked myself.  D'oh!  My library card was still under my maiden name!  That's how long I hadn't been to a library.  Feeling moronic, I found my books snug in their proper spot under "Seeberger" and stomped to the check out desk. 

To top it all off, I started scanning my books only to find they wouldn't scan.  I put the barcode under the red light, jiggled it, glared at the back of the book and tried again.  After perhaps a dozen attempts, one of the staff came over to explain I was using the wrong barcode.  "That's the one you'd use if you were buying the book in the store.  It won't work here," she said (I'm sure laughing inwardly to herself).  Sheepish and shamefaced, I mumbled my thanks, finally checked out and made a beeline for the exit. 

Moral of the story?  Don't let half a decade pass in between trips to the library or you will make an utter fool of yourself.  Lesson learned.             

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Awesome Advice From 80's Music

As some of you know, I received some wonderful news a few weeks ago that I was accepted to the Highlights Foundation Whole Novel Fantasy Workshop.  The trip is just a few days away now and I'm looking forward to posting all the amazing things I learn next week from our faculty, fantasy authors Laura Ruby and Anne Ursu.  I still find it hard to believe I was accepted and I hope my story will help give you the courage to try out for the many programs, workshops, grants and amazing opportunities that are available to us writers.

When I first received the email from my SCBWI list serve regarding the workshop, I took a quick look at it, thought to myself, "That sounds like fun," then promptly pressed the little X shooing the message away.  But it didn't leave my mind.  Before long, I found myself reading the email again thinking to myself, "That sounds really fun," and closed it once more.  Half a second later, my itchy fingers clicked it open again and I couldn't stop thinking, "That sounds really really really fun!"  By then, the seeds of excitement had taken root in my brain.  The workshop sounded great: an entire week working on my manuscript with two fantasy authors while staying in little cabins, getting home-cooked meals each day AND having hours upon hours to write, write, write in the Poconos?  Throw in some pony rides and palm trees and it's practically heaven!  BUT it was pricey; it involved taking an entire week off of work; and they only accepted eight people into the program.  Sure, it would be awesome to go, but who was I kidding?  I'd never get in; never be able to afford it.  I almost talked myself out of bothering to apply.  Almost...
Now, I've applied for SCBWI grants and other things before and nothing has ever panned out.  (Truly, I've never been the luckiest of people--it's kind of ridiculous.  Ask anyone in my family.)  But here's where that 80's music comes in.  No matter how hard I tried to forget I ever read that email, daydreams of writing for a week in the serenity of the mountains just wouldn't let go.  And then, a string of lyrics crept into my mind:

So swallow all your tears my love
And put on your new face
You can never win or lose if you don't run the race... 

Yes, that is totally "Love My Way" by the Psychedelic Furs and yes, it ALWAYS gets stuck in my head when I'm in this situation.  I fretted and rationalized then fretted some more and the song just didn't go away until I found myself emailing the Highlights administrator asking for an application.  Oh, and did they have any scholarship opportunities too?  Unfortunately, the deadline was looming as I'd learned about the workshop a bit late; fortunately, I had just completed major revisions of the first few chapters of my manuscript so they were in acceptable submission shape.  So I crafted my application packet, filled out all the forms, said a little prayer and sent it on its way.  Then waited.  And waited a bit more.  (But not agonizingly long--I suppose that's one side benefit to sending in application packets at the last minute.)  And on March 15 while I was at the office scrambling to finish 1120S tax returns for our endless sea of clients, I got The Email.

At first, it was just like all those other letters I've gotten back from agents/editors/etc.: "Dear Kathryn, Thank you for your interest in (insert whatever agency/publishing house/organization here)We are pleased (wait, pleased?!) to invite you to attend..."  I think I read the email eight times, expecting the words to reassemble themselves and say, "Just kidding!"  Highlights actually picked me to go and awarded me a scholarship too?  It was too good to be true!  I'd expected to fall maybe somewhere between places 20-67 in their ranking of applicants, but certainly not in the top 8 that actually got to attend.  So after a little dance of joy, I emailed them back, "Yes! Thank you!" and now I'm packing my bags to head to Honesdale, PA in three more days. :)

So, let's get back to you.  Have you been eying a certain magazine you'd like to submit your short story to?  Hear about an upcoming workshop that tickles your fancy?  Been sweating over sending that query letter out?  Or maybe you're just trying to find the guts to write that first sentence of the novel brewing in your mind.  Well, you know what my 80's rocker pals have to say to that:

You can never win or lose if you don't run the race...

Sunday, April 24, 2011

3rd Annual Scarlet and Gray Conference

There are three pieces of advice I wish I could give every aspiring children's writer and illustrator.  Piece of advice number one?  Join SCBWI.  Got that?  JOIN SCBWI!  NOW!  You'll be glad you did, trust me.  Piece of advice number two?  Go to conferences!  As many as you can afford, as often as you can.  You never know who you will meet and what you will learn as you bask in the wisdom of publishing gurus.  And last, but certainly not least?  Get involved!  Why?  Well, just keep on reading to find out.    

The 3rd Annual Scarlet and Gray Writers and Illustrator's Conference was last weekend, hosted by my local SCBWI chapter.  I happily volunteered for our Conference Committee back when our event was just a tiny seed of an idea.  Not so long ago, my parents were telling me to "get involved with extra-curriculars," "add those activities to my resume" and "strive to become a leader" for the sake of my college applications.  (Perhaps you are giving your own kids/nieces/neighbors/paperboys/etc. the same advice.)  Well, guess what?  It applies to writing, too!  (So Mom and Dad weren't just nagging all those years...)  

Though the past few months have been A LOT of work, they've been a lot of fun, too, and given me once-in-a-lifetime experiences.  While participating in the orchestration of an astoundingly complex event, I got to meet authors as I procured donations (and some autographs!) for our attendees and get up-close and personal with our conference faculty.  And we had one awesome conference faculty including editors Heather Alexander and Krista Marino, agents Susan Hawk and Mandy Hubbard, author Rhonda Stapleton, illustrator Tim Bowers, and publishing pros Tanya Dean Anderson and Jeffrey Marks.  (Did I mention how awesome they were?)  As part of the Conference Committee, I got to spend extra time getting to know the faculty during our after-event dinners and unplanned after-dinner events.  (I won't go into details, but I will tell you these industry big-wigs can be delightfully goofy...)  I've been to my fair share of conferences over the years, but this is the first time I had the opportunity to get behind-the-scenes and form relationships with pros I would hardly have said two words to if I was in the usual peanut gallery of attendees.  I can tell you the last-minute meetings and trips to "Party City" searching for gift bags and sticky-back nametags was well worth it. :)

 So, have I convinced you to: 1) Join SCBWI! 2) Go to conferences! and 3) Get involved?  If not, here's a smattering of what I learned last weekend to entice you to jump into the pool of writing conferences.  (I would have liked to post these earlier, but with the tax-deadline at my day-job CPA office and the holiday weekend, I got a little sidetracked.  Better late than never!)

Breakout Session 1: Heather Alexander described the day in the life of an editor which includes a lot of work, a lot of stress and a lot of tea drinking.  (Not the relaxing kind, the me-need-more-caffeine-to-function kind.)  It was enlightening to see why our manuscripts sit around in stacks for months while we twiddle our thumbs impatiently, desperate for a response.  It's not that editors don't want to read them (which she assured us they certainly do), they just hardly have enough time in the day to tackle the to-do lists that get them their paychecks.  With all the last-minute meetings, sudden priority changes and slew of deadlines, it's a wonder the poor editors aren't zombies by the end of the day!

Breakout Session 2: Krista Marino spoke about the last books she acquired and why.  Quite a bit goes into the process of taking on a manuscript or project.  Not only does she have to find a manuscript she loves, but she has to make sure it isn't a copycat of something else on the market, determine if it is a book that will sell, and confirm it is not too similar to a book already on their house's list among a million other considerations.  She also talked about how here tastes can change from project to project, which is why she's a never-say-never sort of gal!  (Except when it comes to talking animals.  She said twice those books are NOT for her.  Too bad for me and my talking, four-legged, furry characters...)  Additionally, she spoke about how she acquires manuscripts including agent submissions, author recommendations and even conference critiques.  So don't despair--you're next conference critique could just land you a book deal!

Breakout Session 3: Susan Hawk went over the oh-so-complicated world of Query Letters.  (It is a tangled topic I'm still trying to chop my way through...)  She said the shorter it is, the better since she gets about 100 queries per week.  She recommends including what your story is about, who the main character is, his/her problem and a hook.  She also likes to see a brief bio and blurb about publishing credits.  Lastly, she likes it when authors show their excitement for their project in their query.  I've never heard an agent say that before, but it really hit home for me.  If you're ready to query, it means you've probably been working on your manuscript for quite some time, know it from the inside out, and still believe in it with every inch of your being.  Conveying that enthusiasm in your query letter will make the agent enthusiastic, too, (and want to see more!)  I don't know about you, but I'm still kid-on-Christmas-morning excited about my manuscript and will definitely work on including that enthusiasm in my query revisions!

Breakout Session 4:  Tim Bowers discussed his career as an illustrator and tips for emerging artists.  This was the first illustrator breakout session I've ever attended at a conference; the artist in me was ready to lap up some info after years of neglect.  (More of that re-emerging artist in a later post.)  Tim's art is beautiful and inspiring AND he loves talking animals. (Ah, a kindred spirit!)  He spoke about the process of book illustration from sketches to book dummies to a finished product.  Illustrators work just as hard as writers and must make changes to their art for editors and publishers just like authors must edit their words.  He recommends illustrators get an agent, too, and advised everyone to keep up the contacts they make over the years!  You just never know who will end up influencing your life in unexpected ways...

Am I overloading you on conference goodness yet?  And those were just the four breakout sessions I attended!  I'm not even going to go into the keynote address, my critique, or the wealth of knowledge my peers shared from the breakout sessions they attended!  If you couldn't attend the event, I hope my notes have been helpful and inspired you to attend more conferences (or even your first conference if you are new to the game.)  I may not be published yet, but I truly believe this advice will help you find the path to success.  

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Hello and a very warm welcome to my blog!  I have a passion for children's literature and write middle grade fantasy--the awesome kind with talking animals and a generous dose of magic.  I am the Membership Coordinator of my local SCBWI chapter and attend conferences and workshops whenever possible, soaking up info like a ShamWow.  Though writing occupies much of my life, I have many other loves including reading, art, video games, recipe experimenting, and anything four-legged and fuzzy (particularly my rascally ferrets and super-sweet cavapoo).  I've learned over the years that too much of one thing ultimately turns out to be a bad thing (except where peach cobbler is concerned), so expect to see a healthy mix of topics grace my blog.  I may post about ferrets one day, a writing tip the next followed by my latest quesadilla concoction or a book review.  Eclectic?  You bet!  But if you stick around, I promise I'll do my best to inspire, enlighten and amuse you.