Monday, April 29, 2013

COSCBWI April 2013: Chapter Endings

This month's COSCBWI meeting was led by Regional Advisor, Linda Miller.  Linda discussed an oh-so important topic for writers: Chapter Endings!

Chapter endings are important in a manuscript because every single chapter has one--so you better learn how to write a great one!  They need to be well-thought, carefully crafted, and make your reader yearn to read just one more chapter.  (aka, "Grab that flashlight and read under the covers waaaaaay past bed time!")  So how does a writer achieve compelling--and utterly compulsive--chapter endings?

Linda gave the group many suggestions, including:

-Utilize cliffhangers and think in terms of commercial breaks in a TV show.  Where can you break off the action that will leave the reader on the edge of their seats?  This may involve a bit of rewriting, or just a little tweak.  Would your chapter end in a more exciting way if you simply took off the last few lines?   

-Use the end of a chapter to reveal a big surprise.  The last few lines might be a great place to throw in that exciting plot twist they'll never see coming!

-Think about the length of your chapters.  Short chapters are becoming more popular (and common), and your longer chapters may benefit from having the action broken down into smaller scenes.  Looking ahead, it's easy for your audience to read just one more chapter when that next chapter is only a few pages long.  (Then another...and another...and...) 

-Don't cut your chapter short, though, for the sake of creating a "false" or "forced" cliffhanger.  If you cut an action scene or conversation off in the middle, and seem heavy-handed while doing it, your reader might just get annoyed or even put your book down.  (Think about frustrating reality TV shows that take four commercial breaks to move the action forward.  Those equal zero fun.)

 -Don't feel the need to make every chapter a cliffhanger.  But at the same time, don't wrap up every chapter with a nice little bow.  By utilizing both types of endings, you can create satisfying pacing and a memorable experience for your reader.  

After Linda's discussion, the group read chapter endings from member volunteers.  Constructive critiques were given to help writers turn good chapter endings into GREAT ones!  I know everyone learned a lot from the group's suggestions and feedback.  :)

If you want to learn more about COSCBWI, you can find out more on the group website at  I hope to see you at the May meeting!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Lil' Update and Big Thank You

Hello my lovely blog readers!

Sorry it's been a bit quite around here recently.  Spring is always a busy time for me with tax season at my office.  But now those dreaded taxes have come and gone (kicking my butt in the process), and I can get back to my creative life!  My plate is still full, but now I get to focus on the fun stuff.

So what am I up to?

Oh, just a little bit of "light" reading!

Penny says, "Wouldn't you rather play with me?"

Yes, that Mount Everest of books is my reading preparation for the Wild Wild Midwest Conference.   (It's just a week and a half away now!  Woohoo!)  Ordinarily, I'm way more prepared for conferences by this point, but like I said, tax season was brutal.  If I go MIA over the next week, send a search party; it means I've been buried under an avalanche of novels.  ;) 

As for art, I'm currently working on a few exciting projects.  One is a gift for a special little niece of mine, and the other is the COSCBWI postcard project.  Remember how I said in last week's Illustrator Meeting summary that we were to bring three illustration sketches with us to the meeting?  And then I said I'd show you mine?  Well, here they are!

These three pieces are the first true sketch-work I've done with my new tablet.  (And I learned I LOVE sketching digitally with it!)  I also had lots of fun coming up with ideas that fit the fairy tale/nursery rhyme/fable theme.  So which one of these three sketches am I going to choose for my final postcard?  You'll just have to wait and see...

Lastly, I'm quite overdue for a thank you to you all!  See that number in the corner of your the screen?  My 10,000th pageview milestone flew right by me!  To make matters worse, I also forgot my two-year blog anniversary was last week!  (D'oh!)

I can't believe I've already been blogging for two years!  It seems like only yesterday that I was writing my welcome post...  I want to extend a HUGE thank you to all my loyal readers out there in cyber-land.  I always appreciate your support, kindness, and thoughtful comments.  This blog would be nothing without you.  :)

Now, onward to scale that mountain of books, finish those illustrations, and entertain you for another 10,000 pageviews!

Note: All art and photography in this post are (c) me, Kathryn Powers.  Please do not use them without my permission.  Thank you!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

COSCBWI April 2013 Illustrator Meeting: Postcards Part 2

This month's COSCBWI Illustrator Meeting took place at Barnes and Noble for some on-location learning.  Nikki Boetger, the COSCBWI Illustrator Coordinator, first had all the illustrators gather for a little catch-up and critique session.  If you remember from my summary of the March Illustrator Meeting, the COSCBWI illustrators have just started a multi-month postcard project.  (You can read my summary of that meeting here.)  Nikki asked us members to create two to three sketches based on our favorite fairy tales, fables, or nursery rhymes, which we were assigned to bring to the April meeting.  We shared the sketches as a group and gave each other constructive feedback.  Everyone had lovely sketches to share, and it was so great to see everyone's different illustration styles.  (I'll share my sketches in another post soon!)

After the critiques were wrapped up, Nikki led our second discussion on illustrator postcards: What do you do with them once they're complete?

Creating an illustration and printing a postcard is not very helpful for an illustrator's career if the finished product just sits around and gathers dust.  An illustrator needs to work up the courage to send their postcards out into the world!  Nikki showed us how to look up publishing house information on the copyright pages of picture books.  Located within the first few pages of every picture book, the copyright page is loaded with helpful information, from what year the book was published to the address of the publishing house.  She pointed out that often, the copyright page actually contains multiple addresses--one for each of the publishing houses' locations around the world.  And what does that mean for illustrators?  It means they can potentially send their postcards to art directors at all those different locations, even within the same overarching company!  (And spreading your eggs between more baskets is always a good thing!)

Nikki had several good tips for illustrators to consider when creating their postcard mailing list, including:

-Browse your local library or bookstore and look for trends within books that are published by the same house.  Does your style fit with theirs?  If your style is very realistic and all their work is cartoony, then they may not be the right house for your work.  (Same with bright versus pastel colors, traditional versus digital mediums, subject matter, etc.)

-Also while browsing, take note of what is on the market--especially what is selling well.  (It will be front and center in book stores.)  Will your work appeal to a young audience?  Or is your illustration style better suited to a different market, such as educational, graphic design, etc.?  (And maybe you're lucky and have a style that suits many different markets and needs!)

-Remember to research each publishing house for submission guidelines before mailing your postcard to them.  You may be instructed to send something specific, or discover that you'll need to acquire an agent first in order to get your work past the gatekeepers.

Nikki also noted that it is important to browse libraries and book stores a few times a year to see what's new or hot at the moment.  (And if you're a writer or illustrator, you're probably already doing that anyway.  Right?  Nudge, nudge.)  Seeing a shift in trends or a brand new book may just inspire you to send your postcards to new places!

Lastly, Nikki gave us our next assignment for the project: turning our sketches into postcards!  The next Illustrator Meeting will be held May 8 (location to be determined), and Nikki would like participants to start fleshing out their sketches into full pieces.  (This can be anything from adding color to painting a background, or even trying a new sketch if you don't like your current idea.)  New participants are also welcome to bring sketches and jump into the project, too!

You can find out more about COSCBWI on the group website ( and Facebook page!  I hope to see you at the next Illustrator Meeting!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Book Review #18: Secrets at Sea

This month's Animal Fantasy Book Review returns to one of my favorite critters: mice!  Secrets at Sea by Richard Peck has been on my reading list for quite some time.  It's brimming with romance, adventure, and adorable talking mice--a winning combination!  Here's the summary from the book jacket:

Helena is big-sister mouse to three younger siblings, living a snug and well-fed life within the ancient walls of the Cranston family home.  When the Cranston humans decide to sail away to England to find a husband for one of their daughters, the Cranston mice stow away in the name of family solidarity.

And so begins the scamper of their lives as Helena, her siblings, and their humans set sail on a life-changing voyage into the great world of titled humans...and titled mice, and surprise endings for all.

If you're a children's writer, then you're probably already familiar with Richard Peck's work.  (His novel, A Year Down Yonder, DID win the Newbery Medal!)  Secrets at Sea is a charming story with the perfect mix of humor, action, and heart.  Add in adorable illustrations by Kelly Murphy, and it's a book that neither children nor adults can put down!  What I found particularly impressive about this book, though, are Peck's use of "mouse-isms" and pairing of voice and perspective.

Helena narrates the book from the first-person perspective.  She is the current elder of the family, playing mother, father, and big-sister to three siblings.  (Alas, her parents and older siblings passed away, leaving her in charge of some feisty young mice.)  Peck does a fantastic job showing the world through Helena's eyes, giving the story quite a bit of attitude and humor.  While the reader can tell Helena loves her siblings with all her heart, they are also a great source of irritation and frustration.  Helena's well-intentioned nagging at her siblings--as well as the array of thoughts she keeps to herself--are so funny yet heartfelt.  She may be annoyed that she has to sew the tail back on her brother, or lecture her sister again and again about getting too cozy with humans, but beneath all her sass is an undercurrent of worry and love.  This first-person perspective, combined with Helena's strong voice, makes her such a compelling and memorable narrator--and therefore makes the story unforgettable, too.  If you're thinking about writing your own novel from the first-person perspective, you should definitely see how Peck crafts an amazing narrator.

Peck's many "mouse-isms" go hand in hand (er, paw in paw?) with his use of voice.  As I've mentioned in my other book reviews, world building is so important in animal fantasy stories.  This doesn't just entail where animal societies live or what they eat, but their belief systems, too.  In Secrets at Sea, Helena and the other mice repeat common phrases with deep meanings.  From the first chapter on, a number of statements are frequently echoed, such as, "Water is not a happy subject with mice," "Times come when mice must pay their way," and, "For mice, time always seems to be running out."  Mice all over the world are familiar with these sentiments, from Helena and her siblings to the Duchess of Cheddar Gorge.  The common "mouse-isms" unite Peck's rodent society in an interesting way, but they also add a bittersweet tone--and a wee bit of foreboding--to Helena's narrative voice.  It's a fascinating concept, and something you may just want to include in your own animal fantasy story!

If you like tales about talking mice (complete with adorable illustrations), then this book is perfect for you.  If you like stories with furry wit and plenty of secrets, it's also a great pick for you.  And if you've ever wondered if rodents traveled in style on grand ocean liners, then it's certainly a must-read for you!  (Who hasn't wondered that?)  Of course, if you write animal fantasy books, you definitely need to get your paws on a copy of Secrets at Sea.  

You can find out more about Richard Peck and his other books on the Penguin website here

And if you read this book, do let me know!  I'd love to hear what you think.  :)

Happy reading!  

Note: Summary blurb is from the jacket copy; cover art is from the Penguin website and (c) Kelly Murphy.