Thursday, June 30, 2011

7th Grade Kathryn At The Beach

Me relaxing on the beach. (Yes, ACTUALLY relaxing!)
After all my hard work finishing up my manuscript last week, hubby and I are enjoying some relaxation time at the beach this week. Maybe it's just my English major background, but I can't take one step on the sand without this running through my head:

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
It's always ourselves we find in the sea
-E. E. Cummings, "Maggie and Milly and Molly and May"

(On a side note, know what you won't find in the sea? Your sunglasses after a wave smacks them off your face. Trust me.)

Want to hear 7th Grade Kathryn's poetic take on the beach?

Washed up on this shore I was one day
Though how long I've been here, I cannot say

Nothing to do, I sit here and fry
Watching shark fins go silently by

I sit and I wait, and I wait some more
Hoping that something will end up on my shore

This island is all but a coconut tree,
The ocean, the sand, my boredom, and me

-7th Grade Kathryn, "The Island"

So, I'm pretty sure E. E. Cummings said it better. (And what was I thinking with that first line? Maybe a more appropriate title would have been "Yoda On The Beach.")

I've had a lot of fun letting 7th Grade Kathryn have free rein this week: sleeping in; doing puzzles; playing games; and eating junk food galore.  She also did these:

(Heck, this might have even been 7 Year Old Kathryn taking over!)

7th Grade Kathryn hopes you're having a fun week, too! Enjoy the 4th of July Holiday and do something on your day off to make your 7th grade self proud! I'm off to play Pictionary and drink pink lemonade. Woohoo!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Barnes & Noble Wrap-Up

Our Barnes & Noble Bookfair was a lot of fun yesterday. Thanks to everyone who made it out for the day! If you couldn't make it, here are some interesting things you missed:

-Our illustrator panel talked about the ups and downs of the art world. Did you know an artist's original works are scanned then digitally touched up and re-sized to fit in the final book? Or that one of the best ways to get art "gigs" is by sending out art postcards to publishing houses? We also got to find out how to turn numbers into animals with a fun art lesson by Steve Harpster!

-Educator Joanna Dossous discussed how to choose picture books for your kids. With shelves upon shelves of books in stores, choosing the perfect book can be tricky. She recommends looking for books with repetition, fun rhymes and educational merit so kids can learn and begin their love of reading at the same time.

-Author Sally Derby spoke about how to form a successful writer's group. In addition to meeting and critquing, she recommends having group "submission parties" where everyone goes to the Post Office and sends something off (a query letter, manuscript, etc.) then celebrates! What a fun idea--and it makes you send your baby out into the world, too! (No one is going to knock on your door and ask for that book, you know!)

-Author Dee Garretson gave a session on creating memorable characters. She recommends studying people around you (inconspiculously of course) and stealing their quirks and mannerisms for your own characters!

-Our author panel discussed many great topics and fielded questions from our audience. Linda Gerber talked about how an author she knows had her entire book stolen electonically then posted with a new ISBN number on Amazon. Yikes! Dee Garretson talked about how publishing houses can run online "presence diagnostics" and give you a report card on how you measure up. (Kind of like Santa Claus with his naughty and nice list, and you don't want to be determined a "slacker!") Edith Pattou talked about how important it is to keep fans happy. She has been working on the third book in her series for a long time now. Her fans are getting impatient, but she knows how important it is to give them a spectacular book. (I know I'd rather wait a while for an awesome book than have it be rushed and disappointing!)

Unfortunately, I had to leave after the author session, but I'm sure the last two sessions were great and informative, too! If you missed the event but still want to help our SCBWI group raise money, you can still use our voucher code on Barnes and Noble online through June 30. Our Bookfair ID code is 10475671. You apply it at the end of your online checkout on the "bookfair code" spot and a percentage of the sales goes towards helping aspiring authors and illustrators achieve their dreams. (A cause near and dear to my heart!) Thanks for your support and I hope to see you at our next event!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Words Of Wisdom From 7th Grade Kathryn

My little sister recently finished 7th grade.  By some stroke of serendipity, she had many of the same teachers I did all those years ago.  I decided to dig up a few old projects for her to bring in and show her teachers including my 7th grade Language Arts writing journal.  (Boy, I'd forgotten we called it "Language Arts" back then!)  Of course, I couldn't resist reading through my middle grade musings and I stumbled upon this journal entry: If you could win any award, what would it be?  Did I choose a writing award or art award or even a Noble Peace Prize?  No, I chose this:
"I think that the best award I would want is a Relaxation Award.  This award would be given to me because I really like to relax and do this as much as possible.  Too many people are always busy and no one makes time to relax.  People who do relax and try to stay under control of everyday life should be recognized and awarded for keeping their sanity.  I definitely think this award is for me, especially because being 'lazy' would now be considered a good thing."
My desk is almost as bad as this.  Just ask my hubby.

If you know me, then you know this is both ironic and hilarious.  I am now one of the worst relaxers in the entire universe!  I think a lot of other aspiring writers feel this way, too.  We just don't have much of a choice.  Day jobs and "real world" responsibilities eat up a massive chunk of time, forcing our "free time" (or "me time") to become our only writing time.  Unfortunately, then you are constantly forced to make choices like:  should I watch one episode of "The Office" or lose out on 20 minutes of revising?  Finish writing this scene or get one more hour of sleep?  Take pathetically whimpering dog for a walk or keep to revision schedule?  The ultimate goal of someday, somehow reaching publication makes me choose writing 99.9% of the time, but it can be draining.  It's like those little mice say in Cinderella: "She goes around in circles til she's very very dizzy.  Still they holler, 'Keep a'busy Cinderelly!'" 
I'm currently finishing up a ginormous round of revisions and will soon be sending my baby bird out into the world.  And once it has left the nest, I'm going to make a better effort to follow 7th grade Kathryn's advice.  There's a hefty number of activities on my "Fun To Do" list including: a Netflix queue of dozens upon dozens of unwatched movies; learning to play my ocarina Zelda-style; reading one year's worth of SCBWI magazines; putting together the spice rack we got for our wedding three years ago; finishing a cross-stitch from High School; letting my artistic muse run wild on my barely-used graphic tablet; and completing a slew of videogames that date all the way back to Super Nintendo.  Plus, there's a ferrety little character running around in my head who wants to know how his story ends... 
7th grade Kathryn was one smart cookie.  I think she would be happy I'm following my dream, but sad I still haven't finished playing Donkey Kong 64.  Since I don't foresee quitting my day-job anytime in the near future, I will just have to re-balance my responsibilities and carve out time to do these things.  If I can find one hour a day to call my own (or even just a few hours per week!), I think I will be a very happy person.  Whether you're a writer or a Chihuahua breeder or a professional mime or the President of the United States, I think everyone agrees there are simply not enough hours in the day.  But if you had one extra hour all to yourself, what would you do with it?  And what would your 7th grade self say if he or she could see you now?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Sneak Peek Behind The Scenes Of Barnes & Noble

Our COSCBWI Barnes & Noble bookfair is just around the corner on June 25 at Easton Town Center.  It's a fundraising opportunity for our local SCBWI chapter and we hope to raise enough money to host a FREE event for our members next year.  When customers use our bookfair voucher at checkout (in-store or online), our organization earns a percentage of the sale.  Pretty cool, huh?  We have a spectacular line-up planned for anyone who comes to the store that day including author and illustrator presentations by: Edith Pattou, Dee Garretson, Linda Gerber, Steve Harpster, Tracey Dils, Nikki Boetger, Sally Derby and Erin Burchwell.  Think of it as a free mini-conference that just happens to take place by the oh-so-delicious Cheesecake Factory.  (Anyone for dessert at the end of the day?)

In preparation for our upcoming bookfair, B&N Community Relations Manager, Jill Folden, came to our chapter meeting this past week to talk about what it takes to get your published book into the store.  Her discussion mainly applied to authors whose books have been self-published or published by a smaller publishing house rather than the biggies like Scholastic and Penguin. Though it's harder to get your foot in the B&N door in these instances, all hope is not lost.  Authors can still set up in-store book-signings and sales if they follow a list of guidelines and pass a submission process.  Many of the criteria on the guidelines are non-negotiable but make perfect sense.  Books MUST have an ISBN number and a barcode for starters, otherwise they simply cannot be sold.  It must also be available through a wholesaler so they can order it more easily and hopefully turn a profit, too.  You have to send the book (printed and bound--not the manuscript) as well as your marketing plan, etc. to The Small Press Department for review and approval.  The biggest surprise to me were the guidelines on what physical materials the book can contain.  For safety compliance reasons, they can only stock books that have been "cleared" by material standards and contain no hazardous components like lead.  This is particularly important to self-publishers and they recommend you make sure the publisher/printer you choose only uses high-quality materials that meet safety guidelines.  (I shudder at the thought of lead-filled books in the hands of kids!)

A lot of the time, though, Corporate ultimately mandates what goes in the store and what doesn't.  The books they carry from the main publishing houses are all carefully researched and distributed.  They decide shelf placement and what goes on the end caps, display tables, etc.  She told us that once a week, they even have someone come in to each store who "re-stages" the shelves, making sure the appropriate books are where they belong, in the appropriate numbers, and displayed just so.  (Now I don't feel so bad when I take a book off a shelf and can't remember where it goes.)   

Jill also talked a bit about Nooks--yet another way to get your work into the hands of readers.  She said anyone can set up their book in this format and start selling their novel electronically through the Barnes & Noble website.  The royalties are higher, but the e-books sell for cheaper to begin with, so you may bring in big bucks or mere peanuts depending on your sales.  I personally don't have an e-reader, but I'm starting to think they're looking pretty irresistible...

It was very interesting to hear all this behind the scenes info.  I now feel like I have a much better understanding of Barnes & Noble's book purchasing procedures and options for authors.  Our event is in good hands with Jill at the helm and I can't wait for our bookfair this weekend!  For more information about our event, check out our website:  For online purchases you wish to make to help our cause, the code is: Bookfair ID 10475671 (Note: at checkout, the code goes in the Bookfair spot--not the coupon spot.)  This Saturday's event is sure to be great!  We hope to see you there!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Book Review #1: East

As a writer, I read almost as much as I write.  Reading widely allows you to learn from other writers, as well as keep up with current trends and popular styles.

Since I write fantasy, I read A LOT of it, particularly books with animals.  As part of a new feature of my blog, I've decided to review some of these books I've read.  I'll primarily be focusing on fantasies with animal aspects, but don't be surprised if you see some reviews of other genre books I just couldn't put down.  With that in mind, here is my very first review of Edith Pattou's lovely book, East.
Rose has always felt out of place in her family, a wanderer in a bunch of homebodies. So when an enormous white bear mysteriously shows up and asks her to come away with him — in exchange for health and prosperity for her ailing family — she readily agrees. The bear takes Rose to a distant castle, where each night she is confronted with a mystery. In solving that mystery, she loses her heart, discovers her purpose, and realizes her travels have only just begun. 

In case you didn't know, this book has won bountiful awards.  I can tell you, it deserved every one of them!  East is a retelling of "East of the Sun, West of the Moon."  However, since I was not familiar with that tale prior to reading East, I essentially equate it to Beauty and the Beast kicked up a notch.  In this instance, the beast must win over the maiden with minimal use of words and the ever-present threat that he might eat her.  The relationship between Rose and the White Bear is extremely poignant.  Their trials are heart-wrenching and leave you turning the pages, rushing to (hopefully) find that happy ending.  One of the things I enjoyed most about this book was Pattou's use of voice and point of view.  The story is told from the perspective of Rose, her brother, her father, the Troll Queen and the White Bear.  With some talent of writing-magic unbeknownst to me, Pattou weaves her story through each of these narrators while keeping each voice distinctly unique.  As such, the chapters are fairly short and similar to potato chips: you can't read just one.

Of course, the element of magic is important in the fantasy genre, and Pattou executes it admirably.  The magic in East is not blatantly overt, but rather subtle and intertwined with the world.  In fact, many of the characters spend a great deal of time coming up with logical explanations for the magic that occurs.  But remarkable things do happen (whether the characters believe it or not), and they add such a wonderful flavor to the tale.  Pattou's delightful use of language only adds to the magical elements, and I can assure you that you will be enchanted by "moon dresses" and "story knives" by the end of the book.

So is East a book for you?  Do you like stories with animal enchantments, romance, magic, adventure and poetic writing?  Did you enjoy reading Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver or watching Disney's "Beauty and the Beast?"  Then yes!  This book is for you!  So scoot on over to your local bookstore and pick it up ASAP.  You won't be disappointed.

You can find out more about Edith Pattou on her website:  If you read this book, please let me know!  I'd love to hear what you think.

Note: The summary blurb and cover photo are both from Pattou's website.   

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Um, is there an echo in here?

I have heard time and time again that one of the biggest things agents and editors look for in your work is a "unique voice."  Everyone wants it.  Everyone strives for it.  But my recent reading seems contradictory to this advice.  During my binge-reading these past few months, I have read four books with practically the same voice.  I won't say what books they are or who wrote them, but I will say they are all contemporary novels written, agented, and edited by different people.  This "echoed" voice is that of the quirky, snarky, klutzy, foot-in-mouth, counter-culture, teenage rebel girl. 

Honestly, I don't read a lot of contemporary YA fiction, so perhaps this is the norm for the genre.  But it seems strange to me that four books with four first-person female narrators sound so darn alike.  Don't get me wrong, I have thoroughly enjoyed each of these novels.  Their storylines were completely different and engaging--it's just that over the span of my reading, the separate voices all blended into one not-so-unique voice.  As I currently read the fourth book with this "echo" voice, I find myself groaning inwardly and thinking, "I get it--she's the Queen of Wit.  Yes, she inevitably embarrasses herself in front of the boy she likes.  Of course she says the worst thing possible to her <insert authority figure here>.  Yeah, she curses like a sailor even though she's not supposed to--what a bleeping rebel."  And don't forget that beneath that hard, crusty exterior there's inevitably a gooey nougat center of feelings.  It just gets a little tedious to break through that shell after a while.  Snark, snark, snark.  Angst, angst, angst.  Snarkity, snark, angst, snarky. 

To me, this matter raises a lot of questions.  Has the snarky, teenage voice now become overdone?  Are all these books written this way because it is in fact the modern teen voice--the one most teens relate to?  (I can't imagine EVERY teen in the world registers a 10 on the Sassy Scale.)  Is this voice something to emulate or avoid, then?  Arguably, this suggests that now the "unique" voice would be that of the quiet, studious teen who thinks before she speaks and does not step out of line.  Boring, perhaps, but unique nonetheless.  Am I just horribly out of touch with my former sixteen year old self?  Completely nuts?  Is it a fluke occurrence that I happened to pick up four books with coincidentally similar voices?  Maybe writers and avid readers of the genre would read these same books and point out a billion ways in which the voices are different.  Maybe they would read the fantasy I favor and say, "You're daft.  These books sound all the same to me!"  Or is it really the plots that made these four books stand out in the sea of hopeful manuscripts, masquerading as a unique voice?  Perhaps voice really isn't as pivotal as everyone makes it sound, but rather a piece of the whole.  I just don't know.  But it's something to ponder, don't you think?