Tuesday, July 26, 2011

7th Grade Kathryn Gets Crafty

Amidst the travel and ferret caregiving, I also had a special wedding gift project I was working on during the past few weeks.  My friend and I have gotten into the habit of sending each other Nintendo gifts over the years.  I give her a birthday Mario blanket, she gives me a Zelda plushie; I send her Yoshi slippers, she sends me a Bowser race car.  It's a fun game and I began looking for a Nintendo wedding gift as soon as she announced her wedding date.  Unfortunately, it appears Nintendo never launched a wedding-themed line of toys and the few items that are hand-crafted by individual artists are not wallet-friendly.  So, after gathering information and ideas online, I decided to make her a joke Mario wedding cake topper myself!
Despite some snafoos and a terrifying battle with foaming glue, it was fun to make.  7th Grade Kathryn hasn't gotten crafty in a while--and let's just say she got carried away.  She wasn't satisfied with a hand-sponged facade and plastic figures.  No siree!  She jumped up an down like Mario in his frog-suit and said, "Oooh!  Let's paint little faces on those mushrooms!"
"And put a tiny bow tie and veil on Mario and Peach!"
"And add a Yoshi-egg present on the back!"

Adult Kathryn groaned at 7th Grade Kathryn's boundless enthusiasm, but agrees the extra-effort (and lack of sleep) was worth it in the end.  :)  

A very happy wedding wish to my beloved Coggins!  May your love ever grow as if you ate a Mega Mushroom and your happiness never end like Rainbow Road!

All the above characters and names are owned by Nintendo.
I purchased the figures.  Everything else was hand-painted.

Friday, July 22, 2011

SCBWI Summary: A Chat On Self Publishing

This week my local SCBWI chapter hosted two self-published children's authors, Peggy Harkins (The WindSinger) and Carey Corp (The Halo Chronicles: The Guardian).  The two writers led our group in a discussion on self-publishing--a publishing route that is becoming more common every day.  Though it used to come with stigma galore and rampant snubbing, recent success of many self-published authors is changing the way readers and industry pros look at non-traditionally published books.

In the not-so-distant-past, self-published books were generally considered those not "good enough" to get picked up by an agent and editor.  Instead of making the book better or writing something else, it was assumed these headstrong authors just wanted their novel published, whether it was worthy or not.  Nowadays, though, authors are increasingly choosing to self-publish for a variety of reasons from desiring a bigger piece of their royalty pie to wanting more control of their product.  Our guest authors, Harkins and Corp, self-published for their own reasons.  Harkins wanted her book in her father's hands before he passed away and Corp had been told her angel-themed book was great, but that the "Big Houses" (aka Penguin, HarperCollins, etc.) already had their books in that genre, so too bad for her.  But just as they had different reasons for self-publishing, the authors had different methods, too.

Harkins told us how after researching various print-on-demand publishers, she went with Author House (the company Paolini used to originally print Eragon once upon a time ago.)  For her, Author House had a variety of packages and options that suited her needs including editorial services (both content and mechanical), marketing materials, and the hard-copy book itself.  Of course, this type of service comes at a price.  (A quick look at their website shows basic packages from $599.00-$1,999.00--and that's not even including the extra editorial and marketing services!)  In comparison, Corp decided to go the online route first and uploaded her book to Smashwords which could then be adapted to Amazon and Barnes & Noble sites for downloading to all e-reader devices.  She wanted to focus on her online presence and only printed a small number of hard-copy books for family, friends, her dentist, etc. and any potential book-signings, figuring strangers were more willing to take a chance on a new, self-published author by purchasing a $2.99 e-book rather than a $10.00+ hard-copy.  After doing some research, she decided to go with Create Space for her printer and just received her first box of books the same day she spoke to us!  (How cool is that?!)

Of course, there are many pros and cons of self-publishing.  Here are some they mentioned:

-Author own all the rights to their book--that's right, ALL! :)
-Author gets a bigger chunk of the royalties
-Author gets to design their own cover
-Author can put extra things in the book like websites to visit or hotlines to call
-Author controls their writing destiny (can publish one book or fifteen different books and no on can stop them!  Mwa ha ha!)
-If the book sells really well, it can invoke the interest of agents and editors for future projects...

-Author has to work extra-hard to promote their book (although arguably, you have to do this more and more even at the Big publishing houses)
-Author doesn't have Big publishing house contacts, reviews and reputations to back them up
-Author still has some self-publishing stigma to battle
-Author has to design their own cover (for some people, this is either a blessing or a bane...)
-Author can spend A LOT of out-of-pocket money
-Self-published books will rarely be added to "Big Box" book store shelves

Both Harkins and Corp are new to this game of self-publishing and are unsure how successful the endeavor will turn out.  Both are glad they made this choice but are open to pursing the agent/editor route in the future.  Quite frankly, there are ups and downs to whichever publishing method you decide to follow.  Agents, editors and publishing houses do a lot of the legwork for you and make sure your book is as spectacular as it can possibly be.  HOWEVER they take a hefty chunk of the books sales and are harder to get into than a Hanson concert in 1997.  Self-publishing gives you more control of your product and profit, but you're forced to face everything as a one-person army.  It's an uphill battle either road you choose.  But hey, no one ever said writing was easy!
Us writers (the crowd) ALL want that agent's/editor's attention (aka hunky Taylor Hanson).
Harkins and Corp are both indomitable, impressive writers who grabbed the bull by the horns and are helping to lead the way in this self-publishing revolution.  I wish them the best of luck and can't wait to find out what their futures hold!  Be sure to check out their websites:


(On a side note, at the end of our meeting both authors gave away their books and I won Harkins' novel, The WindSinger!  Might be seeing a review for it in the upcoming weeks!) 

Both cover pics are from the respective author's website
Hanson pic from http://users.hanson.net

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Book Review #2: The Knife Of Never Letting Go

While I was at my Highlights Workshop, our faculty highly recommended we all read The Knife Of Never Letting Go.  Since there are talking animals in the book, I thought it would be particularly helpful for my own writing and was very eager to check it out!

Here's what Patrick Ness' website has to say about the book:

"Todd Hewitt is the last boy in Prentisstown.  But Prentisstown isn't like other towns.  Everyone can hear everyone else's thoughts in a constant, overwhelming, never-ending Noise.  There is no privacy.  There are no secrets.  Or are there?  Just one month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd unexpectedly stumbles upon a spot of complete silence.  Which is impossible.

Prentisstown has been lying to him. And now he's going to have to

After reading The Knife of Never Letting Go, I can see why our faculty thought so highly of it.  Patrick Ness is a very talented author and crafts a story that is strong in both its writing and plot.  The premise itself hooks you from the get-go: New World is a place where everyone can hear everyone else's thoughts--from the creatures in the swamp to the Mayor when he's sitting on his toilet.  No one is spared from this phenomenon, with one exception (which is a big part of the novel, so I'm not going to ruin it for you!)  The story is told in first person from Todd's perspective and is a great example of a strong "voice."  In addition to raging thoughts (both his own and everyone else's who invades his mind), Todd also has a dialect and punchy attitude.  The way we see the world through Todd's eyes, and how he reacts as his world unravels around him, is moving and unforgettable.  Readers are completely along for the roller-coaster ride, trying to keep pace with Todd as he outruns the baddies and flees for his life.  This break-neck pace makes the story move swiftly along, and I'm not sure I've ever read a book that had such cliff-hanger chapter endings that FORCE you to read on.  (Seriously, my husband had to shut the book for me at one point.  I wish I could write cliffhangers like that!)  It's a delightfully intricate and exciting story, too, and keeps you guessing (and laughing) all the way through the last page.

Now, back to the talking animals.  The way Ness makes his animals "talk" (or speak/think if that's a more appropriate term for it) is done quite well.  You can tell he put a lot of time into deciding how each different animal would sound and what sorts of things they would say.  These are not beings of higher intelligence; they are simply normal animals whose everyday thoughts can be heard and interpreted by humans.  The crocs say, "Flesh...feast...tooth," the squirrels shout taunts from the trees, and, well, I'll leave the rest to be surprises for you.  Todd's dog, Manchee, is the best animal of them all.  Though the pup's vocabulary may not consist of many words, what he does say is funny and infused with emotion that simply makes you love him to pieces.  Studying the way Ness portrays animal language is certainly useful in your own writing if you want a cat or elephant to speak in your story.

If you like unique, futuristic stories, The Knife of Never Letting Go is a great choice for you!  If you love stories with strong human-animal relationships, this is also the perfect book for you.  And if you want to study a creative way of portraying human-animal communication in your writing, you should definitely see Ness' talents at work.

You can find out more about Patrick Ness on his website at: http://www.patrickness.com/.  If you read this book, do let me know!  I'd love to hear what you think.  

And just in case you were wondering, do you know what sick ferrets say?

"No more medicine!  I don't want it!  It's yucky!  I hate it!  Blegh!  Leave me alone!"

Link says, "Yuck!"

Note: Cover photo is from Amazon.com.  The photograph is of my husband feeding our sick ferret, Link, his meds.