Monday, July 26, 2010

Ready or Not: SCBWI Summer Conference

In just three short days I’ll be settled (hopefully) on a plane, jetting across the country to Los Angeles, California. Yup, it’s time for the annual Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference. If you’ve never been, and you are a writer and, or, illustrator of books for children, this is a conference to keep in mind. It’s a blast. Seriously. Great speakers, workshops, a Saturday night party by the pool, and the Golden Kite Award lunch, to name a few of the scheduled events. And the fabulous Lin Oliver and Stephen Mooser, the rest of the SCBWI staff, and the always wonderful attendees add pure fun and laughs to the agenda. The attendees include people who have published, those hoping to publish, and those just considering writing for kids. All are welcomed and encouraged and inspired. I’ve made some wonderful friends at this conference. Fellow writers that I still keep in touch with and that I am looking forward to seeing again.

Sometimes magic happens at this conference, too. Last year, a good friend of mine received a wonderful review of her picture book manuscript and was nominated for the Sue Alexander Most Promising New Work Award. Manuscripts submitted for individual critiques at the LA conference and deemed the most promising for publication get nominated. Exciting, right? And, a few years before that, my agent called me while I was attending this conference to tell me that he had sold my first novel, Dog Gone. After that call, I pretty much lost my ability to concentrate, but I still had a great time. Yup, magic.

If you are not attending the conference this year, but you are interested in knowing what is happening during the four plus days of fun, nonsense, and inspiration, check out SCBWI bloggers document the presentations, speakers, workshops, etc. Following the blog is almost as good as being at the conference. Almost.

When I return from LA, I’ll probably be blogging about the long weekend. I kind of live with an SCBWI Summer Conference hangover for a few weeks after I get home—but it’s a delicious hangover. One that I savor. : )

Monday, July 19, 2010

Ten Ways to Procrastinate

  1. Read. This is probably the best way to put off facing the work in progress. However, if you’ve completed War and Peace, Atlas Shrugged, and The Complete Works of Shakespeare, it’s probably time to address the question of what, exactly, you are trying to avoid.
  2. Blog. This is not a bad way to procrastinate. At least you are still writing. Go ahead and guess why I am putting together this post.
  3. Clean the toilets (only if you’re really, really desperate).
  4. Trim your own hair. You’ll do it once. Then you’ll realize that concentrating on the work in progress is far better than looking like you stuck your head in a wood chipper.
  5. Go for a walk. Notice that I didn’t write run. Running goes too quickly. Number of miles = depth of procrastination.
  6. Make dinner. At 7 a.m. Because maybe, just maybe the inspiration will hit about when it’s time for dinner. Prep dinner early and the writing problem is solved, even though dinner may not be very tasty.
  7. Write and answer emails. Your writer friends will understand why they hear from you three times in two hours. They’ve probably written a few emails to avoid their manuscripts, too.
  8. Go on vacation. This is serious procrastination since it requires pre-planning. No matter how much work I think that I’ll get done while away from the daily responsibilities, I get little accomplished. The “Hey, I’m vacation” attitude kicks in. Also, sand in my laptop is never a good thing.
  9. Answer the phone. When my writing is cruising, I ignore any and all ringing phones. But when it’s time to procrastinate, calls get answered. I’ve even engaged more than one telemarketer in conversation. They all hung up on me.
  10. Type I will not procrastinate, I will not procrastinate, I will not procrastinate over and over and over again until this becomes so miserable that facing the work in progress is sweet relief.

Okay, there are my tricks. Now I should get back to work.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Who Versus Whom

When to use who and when to use whom have always frustrated me. I don’t always keep the usage rules and regulations for these two straight. I’m considering tattoos--one on each of my inner forearms. If I ink the definition of when to use who on my left arm and the definition of when to use whom on my right arm, my writing may improve. Plus, these tats might look hot. Or, umm, not.

Am I the only one who muddles who and whom? In case I am not the only one, and before I commit to the tattoos, let’s go over the usage. Who is used as the subject of a verb or complement of a linking verb (pardon my yawns). As in: Cynthia was the one who threw her laptop out the window. Most reference sources recommend pinpointing the subject for each verb to help figure out whether to use who or whom. In the sentence above, frustrated Cynthia threw her laptop, so who coordinates with the subject and is therefore correct. Who threw her laptop out the window? Ah, yes, wicked Cynthia threw her laptop out the window.

Whom is used as the object of the verb or the object of a preposition (I’m yawning again, sorry). Cynthia asked whom to fix her shattered laptop? Here, the subject and verb are Cynthia asked. The pronoun following the verb is the object of the verb, which means that whom is correct.

Do you have this memorized? No? Then you’re relating to my dilemma. But before you decide on grammar definitions as forearm tats, try this handy trick from Writer’s Digest: If the subject can be replaced with he or she, use who; if the subject can be replaced with him or her, use whom. Note: sometimes you may need to play with the sentence to make this work. For example, Cynthia was the one who threw her laptop out the window might be She threw her laptop out the window. Once you see that she best replaces Cynthia, you know that who and not whom should be used in the sentence. Cynthia asked him/her to fix her shattered laptop? Illustrates that whom works better than who in this sentence about busted computers.

This bit of magic doesn’t always work, but it has saved my bacon on more than one occasion, so I’m holding off on the grammar tattoos. For now.

Monday, July 5, 2010

One of My Favorites

The holiday weekend is behind us, like it or not. I hope everyone had a wonderful July 4th. Anyway, it's time for me to get back into my writing. As a kick start, I picked up one of my favorite books on the art of novel writing. Since I think this book is truly fabulous, I thought that I'd share it with you.

If I really love a book, whether it be fiction or nonfiction, it sits on my desk, within reach. The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose, and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great by Donald Maass is one such book. Here are a few sample tid-bits of its wisdom:

Tid-bit number one: Think about the first and the last lines of a story scene. How important are they? (Answer: Very important). The first and the last lines of a scene can set the tone, the atmosphere, and reader expectations. The beginning and ending lines have the potential to shape a scene. In The Fire in Fiction, Mr. Maass gives examples and advice on how to get those lines right.

Another bit of wisdom: Have you ever noticed that sometimes novels don’t have enough events that affect many of those that have been introduced in the story? Big events that affect and change lots of the characters can have powerful impacts that reverberate through a novel and keep readers flipping pages. What writer wouldn’t be open to embracing a technique to keep readers riveted?

Bit number three: The value of micro-tension. For me, this discussion is the gem of the book. Most readers and writers know that tension is important to a novel. But the micro-tension, the tension that comes from the conflicting emotions in dialogue, action, and exposition, the inner conflict of the characters that keeps readers in suspense without pushing them over the edge can not be overlooked. Too much big-time tension can lead to reader migraines and high blood pressure for everyone. Not so with micro-tension. The discussion of micro-tension truly resonated with me.

I could go on outlining more snippets of wisdom from The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose, and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great, but I need to get back to my own work in progress after the long weekend. Yes, I need to work on the first and last lines, the big events, and the micro-tension.