Tuesday, March 31, 2015

COSCBWI Meeting March 2015

The March meeting for Central and Southern Ohio SCBWI involved one of my favorite activities: first page critiques.  Every writer knows how important it is to craft a winning first page for his or her manuscript.  The first page is a story's first impression with readers, so it's crucial to make that impression a great one.

For first  page critique meetings, members are invited to bring the first page of their middle grade or young adult manuscript, or the first 500 words of a picture book manuscript.  The work is shared with the group, and members give feedback on things they like about the text  as well as what could still use a bit of polish.

Here are a few tips and pointers the group discussed during this critique meeting:

1)  Don't be afraid to revise and, if necessary, even cut some of your text.  It's easy to get attached to every word of your manuscript, but sometimes it's important to focus on the entire forest instead of the individual trees.  Good critique buddies can help you hone in on what's important, and what can be trimmed.  You may love the way you describe every step of your main character's morning routine, but readers might not need to know that she brushed her teeth, combed her hair, put on clothes, walked downstairs, sat at the kitchen table, poured cereal, checked the expiration date on the milk carton, and so on and so forth.  (Unless it's a cautionary tale about the dangers of drinking expired milk.)  Rewriting--and even deleting--those precious words can be so hard to do, but it's worth the heartache if it makes your story shine.  (Just remember to keep some chocolate bars at your desk to help you through the toughest revisions!)        

2)  It's never too early to practice proper formatting.  You may like to type your manuscript drafts with a fun font and specialized spacing, but you should make it a habit to present your manuscript in standard formatting with double spacing, one-inch margins, and 12 point font in a generally accepted typeset like Times New Roman.  (SCBWI members can find great resources regarding formatting guidelines on the national website at www.scbwi.org.)  You may be surprised how your text falls once you put it in standard formatting--like cutting off in the middle of your favorite paragraph!  Practicing proper formatting early on can help you avoid any unexpected hiccups when it's time to submit your work to professionals.     

3)  Don't info dump!  Most writers have heard this rule of thumb over and over again, but it can't be repeated enough.  You may be inclined to cram every bit of back-story and detail into your first page to ground your reader in your story, but that can end up being intimidating.  (And you don't want to scare your reader off--or bore them, or confuse them!)  Sprinkle in any necessary details to help pique your reader's interest (like if your narrator is a teenage boy or a talking squirrel from the planet Nutonia), and remember that you have a whole novel to explain everything else.  

COSCBWI usually does at least one first page critique meeting a year, so I have four other summaries of past meetings you can check out, too!  (You can find them hereherehere, and here.  Boy have I been doing these meeting summaries for a long time!)  Our discussions are different during each critique meeting, so you may find some other handy tips from these prior years.

 If you'd like to learn more about Central and Southern Ohio SCBWI and upcoming events, check out http://ohiocensouth.scbwi.org/.  I hope to see you at the April meeting!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

COSCBWI Meeting February 2015


February's Central and Southern Ohio SCBWI meeting featured YA author Natalie Richards.  I was so disappointed that the meeting fell during my vacation, so I wasn't able to attend.  Fortunately, Assistant Regional Advisor, Andrea Hall, was kind enough to step in and do a guest post meeting summary!

Andrea Hall:
We had an amazing visit from Natalie Richards at the February meeting!  Natalie’s presentation was titled ‘Pieces of the Publishing Pie’ and it was entertaining as well as informative.

Natalie started off the presentation by reminding us to be serious about our writing.  Read a lot.  Write a lot.  Give yourself deadlines.  No one else is going to write the book for you.  Joining a critique group is a good idea.  Your critique partners can help you find your writing strengths/weaknesses.  Knowing these are critical.  Playing up your strengths in each manuscript can help make it better, and realizing your writing weaknesses can help you improve them or find a way to use them less in your writing (such as description: if it isn’t your strength, maybe don’t try writing a historical piece).
It was Natalie’s third manuscript that landed her a literary agent.  It was still rejected by publishers. Many times.  Natalie’s fourth manuscript was the one that finally sold.  Why did that story (Six Months Later) sell?  Natalie believes it was because she found a story that fit her skills and writing strengths.  She needed something quick paced with a twisty plot to keep readers turning the page.

Once her debut book came out, her job wasn’t over.  Numerous book promotions were set up to help market the novel as well as school-visits.  Natalie thought when all the copies of her book sold, that was it.  No one told her it had gone back to be reprinted!  Meeting other authors and making connections helped her navigate the world of a debut release.

So what challenges did she face with her 2nd novel, Gone Too Far?  Natalie felt more pressure to deliver.  She felt a new set of responsibility to the readers who fell in love with her debut.  There were also tighter publishing deadlines, a whole new slew of rejections, and another level of fear for how the book would be received.

Natalie's parting words of advice are to be prepared to pitch your story anywhere, be willing to revise everything, be willing to work hard, and don’t quit!

To learn more Natalie and her books, be sure to visit her website at  http://www.nataliedrichards.com/.

A big thanks to Andrea for her guest post!  You can follow her on Twitter at @andreadawnhall.   

If you'd like to learn more about Central and Southern Ohio SCBWI and upcoming events, check out http://ohiocensouth.scbwi.org/.  I hope to see you at the March meeting!

Note: Cover image is from Natalie's website at http://www.nataliedrichards.com/.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Fun in the Sun

Oh where, oh where, has Kathryn been?

For one glorious week, I was lucky enough to get away from this wretchedness...

And relax in this awesomeness!

I also discovered how fun it is to take panoramic photos!

"This awesomeness" refers to Sint Maarten/Saint Martin/St. Maarten and every spelling variation thereof.  (Even after spending a week on the island, we still don't know how to "officially" spell its name!)  The trip was a special celebration for my father-in-law's 60th birthday. 

Don't worry--we still dealt with plenty of nasty winter on the way there and back.  In fact, we had a nice overnight detour in Charlotte, NC, after our flights got utterly screwed up. 

30+ hours of travel and still (sorta) smiling.

But at least we got to stay in a hotel, unlike those poor travelers who had to sleep on airport cots.


Once we finally got to our destination, the week was an absolute blast!  We swam, we sunbathed, we napped, and we drank about a dozen cans of Fanta Pineapple soda.

I didn't even know this deliciousness existed!

When we weren't guzzling down 49 grams of sugar in one sitting, we did some activities around the island including snorkeling and ATV riding.  I've never snorkeled before, and I was pretty lousy at it.  But we saw some really cool stuff, like wild sea turtles and ginormous urchins!  (Hubby wouldn't let me take my camera on the boat, so no pics.  He swore my sunscreen-slick fingers would send it straight to the bottom of the ocean.  Psh.)  The ATV'ing was a lot of fun, too, and the tour took us around both the French and Dutch sides of the island. 

This beautiful beach was a highlight of the ATV tour, where tourists watch airplanes land on the island while sitting alarmingly close to this sign:


We also did a sunset dinner cruise, which was both lovely and tasty!

Although I usually enjoy drawing in the sand during my beach trips (like my last trip to Hilton Head), the waves quickly washed away everything I doodled in St. Maarten.  But I still had lots of fun sketching in our pool alcove-gazebo-deck-thingy, as well as in the cute little nook in our bedroom.

My favorite sketch of the week was a pelican doodle that I threw a splash of color on when we got home.

Of course, the week was over all too soon.  Our trip ended with more fun winter travel and an encounter with a disco ball camel at the St. Maarten airport.

Oh yeah, and we may or may not have seen Johnny Depp's yacht.

Our taxi driver said that it was, and I'm going to choose to believe him.  :)

Now that I've spent a week soaking up the heat like a lizard in the sun, I feel ready to face the rest of this never-ending winter.  (It has to end sometime, right?)  Although, I'd happily head back to the Caribbean--even if it meant another 30+ hours of travel!

Note: Weather map picture is a screen shot from www.weather.com.  The Fanta Pineapple picture is from www.amazon.com.  All other images were taken by me.