Thursday, November 13, 2008

Well I finally did it.  I'm on facebook.  My daughter was mortified when I told her.  So if you find me, ask to be my friend.  I promise to say yes!  

You might be asking, "Why join facebook now?"  Well, I chose not to go to my 20th HS reunion this past weekend, and wanted to  find out what I missed.  Now I'm regretting not going.  I was so shy in HS that I felt like I didn't really want to go through that again.  But now I'm a totally different person now, and I really should've gone.  Oh well, I think there's another one in 5 years!

As for school, I just sent out packet 4 and am ready to start on packet 5.  This packet will be all about creative non-fiction and historical fiction.  I think this will be the toughest packet yet, since I rarely read those genres.  It's a stretch, but that's what going to school is all about.  What do you write, and what would be your biggest stretch?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Has it really been almost 2 months?!

I'm still here!!!!  Buried under packets and books, but here.   

My third packet was on YA, with the beginning of a new YA novel.  I don't want to say too much about it since it's still so deeply under construction (I don't want to jinx it!).  My advisor's comments on it were mostly positive, with some criticisms of course.  I keep making the same mistake in all of my beginnings of novels:  stereotyping.  For example, I've made the mean girl in a MG novel blonde and beautiful.  I've made the teenager in my YA an angry girl who hates her parents.  I need to stop doing what's already been done and think of something new!

My completed MG novel is coming along quite well; revisions should be done very soon (maybe by the end of the semester!)  Then what?  I don't know.  I guess I begin the submissions process.  Uh-oh.

I'm now working on my 4th packet:  horror, sci-fi, and fantasy.  My new beginning for this packet is YA horror story with a ghost, but NO VAMPIRES!! Some days the work is easier than others.  Today was a good day and the scene flowed.  Yesterday, not so much.  And the essays for this packet are stumping me, so I just keep reading and hoping that something will come to me before the packet is due.

My residency is coming up soon:  Jan. 12-22.  I've already gotten my train tix, and now I'm deciding which beginning of a novel (3 to choose from) or  picture books I want to submit for the workshop.  Do I choose the one that I think is the best?  Or the one that needs the most help?  Or the one that's closest to submission-ready (which would be the picture books, I think)?

On the Vermont College MFA forum we are discussing our fantasy plans for the few weeks we have at the end of the semester, after our last packet is handed in and before the residency. Here's mine:
1.  Read FOR FUN (preferably an adult book).
2.  Catch up on the last 6 months of scrapbooking that I've fallen behind on (actually I was behind before I started school, so it's more like a year behind).
3.  Work on my needlepoint that's been collecting dust in a corner.
4.  Go to the movies!
5.  Go out to dinner without feeling like I should be at home working!
6.  Sleep late.
7.  Go to bed early.
8.  Watch TV with my husband.
9.  Play a game with my kids.
10.  Eat chocolate (ok, I've been doing this all along, but I love chocolate, and it's my fantasy!)

What would you do?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Hi, my name is Dawn, and I'm an anal-organizational freak. (Everyone: Hi Dawn.)

It's true, I admit it.  I am anal when it comes to organizing my life and plans.  My friends call me rainman.  But I didn't really see it for myself until earlier this week.  A writer friend asked me how I was doing my packets for school.  I proceeded to tell her exactly how I was handling this semester, and when I finished I realized how completely psycho it sounded!  

As you know, I have to send in a packet each month to my faculty advisor containing 20 pages of new writing, 20 pages of revision, 2 critical essays, and an annotated bibliography of at least 10 books.  Well, I wanted to try as many new things as possible this semester, so my plan is to do something different with each packet.  Packet 1 was all about picture books.  I read 23 (?) of them, my essays were on topics surrounding them, and I wrote 7 of them (some better than others!).  

Packet 2 was all about Middle Grade novels.  I read 20 of them, my essays involved them, I wrote 20 pages of a new MG novel, and revised my completed MG novel.  

For my third packet, I'll be working on a new YA and revising PBs.  

The 4th packet will be sci-fi/horror/fantasy.  

And the 5th will be creative non-fiction/historical fiction.  

So by the end of the semester, I'll have one completed and revised MG, 3 completed and revised PBs, and the beginnings of a YA, a MG, a Sci-fi or horror YA/MG novel, and a creative non-fiction or historical fiction YA/MG novel.  Then next semester I can focus in a little more on the things I enjoyed most.  I'd love to have all of those beginnings completed by graduation, at least in first drafts.

That's my plan.  I know-rainman.  
What are you rainman-ish about?  Do you ever get anal about your writing life?  Or are you free and spontaneous?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Preparing packet #2

Packet 2 is due next week-the 11th-and I have one essay left.  My first essay was entitled:  I Hate This Character.  So Why Am I Still Reading?  I asked the question, does the reader have to like the protagonist?  So many times, we writers hear how we need to make the protagonist "likable", "identifiable", or "interesting".  I agree the main character needs to be interesting, especially if he's not easy to like or identify with.  Emotion is such an important part of every story, and we must feel something for the characters or we won't bother reading the story.  But can we hate that main character?  

I think it's ok to hate the character, as long as it's a believable character and we hate them the way we'd hate a person in real life.  If we hate them because they are too flat, or they say things that don't fit with their personality, then we will stop reading.  But if we hate them because we believe they are doing/saying horrible things, and we believe they really would say/do these things, then we, as readers, are eager to keep reading to see what they will say/do next.  Does that make sense?  

I used the example of Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen.  His main character, Cole, is despicable, but we believe he would be that way because of his home life.  The motivation makes sense with his personality.  Still, the reader Hates him until he changes about midway through the book.  The reader doesn't really sympathize with him until he begins to realize how awful he's been.

In my MG novel, the main character says and does horrible things because she is so angry and sad and guilty over the loss of her sister.  I think, I hope, I've painted her in a realistic fashion and that readers will stick around to see if she can get past all these emotions.  In fact, my advisor read a particular scene and said she wanted to slug my character.  I think that's good, because it means she believes in this character.  I think any time we can get the reader to feel a strong emotion about our characters because of who they are or what they've done in the story, we have accomplished our goal of capturing the reader's attention.

Do you have any unlikable characters in your stories?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

I'm back!

Yes, I'm still alive.  I have been down the Jersey shore for the entire month of August with no internet access.  You don't realize how addicted you are to technology until you don't have it.
We had a wonderful time at the beach-but a month is a loooooooong time to be away from home.  I'm happy to get back to a normal routine.  The kids start school in a couple of days and things can get back to the way they are supposed to be-with everyone out of the house!  I sent my first packet in to my Vermont College faculty advisor a couple weeks ago.  She gave me some wonderful feedback on the picture books I'd written as well as my completed novel. The best news was that she really liked the novel and gave me some suggestions on a few things that pulled her out of the story.  She called one part of the novel "bloody brilliant"!  I did a happy dance around the house for that one!
I have to tell you, I'm sick of picture books, though, after focusing on them last month.  This month I am working on middle grade novels, and enjoying it much more.  In addition to revisions on the finished one I mentioned, I also am about 20 pages into a new one.  This packet is due on Sept. 11, so I'd better go get to work!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Home sweet home

I got home on the 18th after a long train ride from Vermont.  I was so happy to be home with my family, but I truly missed all the friends I made at school.  I never expected to develop such strong connections with so many people-people who are going through the same thing I am.  No one here quite understands my life right now, but my Vermont friends get it.  

On the 16th, the first 20 pages of my middle grade novel was workshopped.  I was terrified that someone would say, "Oops, now we see that you don't belong here.  You aren't good enough yet.  Come back in a few years."  But no one did.  In fact, I got many compliments on the novel, and lots of helpful feedback.  The common thread in all the critiques was that it was ambitious, and complex, and that I had taken on a big task for myself.  That kind of freaked me out.  But the novel is finished, and no loose ends were left hanging.  So I guess it's not too bad.  I gave the entire novel to Sarah Ellis to read, and she'll give me some feedback on it with her response to my first packet.  Which is due on August 13th.  OMG!  

I am focusing this packet on the picture book.  I've written a couple first drafts  so far-I intend to turn in 4 or 5 picture books with this packet, an annotated bibliography of about 20 books (mostly pb's), and 2 critical essays whose topics will be something to do with picture books also.  I'm feeling pretty confident about the rest of the packet-but those essays are stressing me out.   I'm beginning to think that maybe picture books are not my thing.  They are really hard to write well!!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What day is today?

Yesterday, whatever day that was, I went to graduate lectures, graduate readings, workshop, and I met with Sarah Ellis and the rest of her group of students (there are 5 of us).  I also read one of my picture book manuscripts (minus the pictures) to the rest of the newbies.  We each read a piece of work for 3 minutes or less.  I am part of an amazingly talented group of writers.  I am honored to be a member of this class-the Working Titles.  

What did I learn today?  I learned about the controlling belief of characters.  I will explain more about this when I have more time.  I've learned so much over the last week that my brain feels full.

Today's agenda?  Lecture by Rita Williams-Garcia, graduate lectures and readings, meet with Sarah Ellis privately to talk about what, exactly, I will be working on this semester.  It's an early night tonight, and I will be hitting the sack as soon as I can.

Tomorrow? I forget.  Lack of sleep will do that to a person.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Day 7

Yesterday, July 13, 2008 we had 2 graduate lectures that were fascinating (one compared the artistic life of Picasso to the way a writer learns-it was wonderful!)  Then we had a lecture by Martine Leavitt that spoke about the writing life and ways to make it more effective.  We ate lunch with Norma Fox Mazer, and then we workshopped 2 pieces (not mine-I go on Wednesday). More graduate readings, Sarah Ellis spoke about fairies in literature, pizza dinner where we decided our interim class name would be Working Title.  We heard MT Anderson, Alan Cumyn, Sharon Darrow, and Shelley Tanaka read their work.  Then we waited.  The staff assigned us to our faculty advisor over dinner, but tormented us by making us wait until 10:30 to post it!  I will be working with Sarah Ellis and I am very excited about it!  I think she'll be a great teacher and I'll get a lot out of this semester.

What did I learn?  I learned to announce myself as a writer.  I learned to make the time to write regularly, because no one else will make the time for me.  I learned that I have the power to make things happen.

Today's agenda:  Meet with Sarah Ellis and the rest of my group.  Free morning (I don't know what to do with myself!).  Workshop.  Tonight I read for the rest of the newbies.  With a microphone.  Ugh.

Tomorrow:  Lunch with Kathi Appelt to discuss her new book, THE UNDERNEATH!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Day 6 - Picture Book Day

Yesterday, July 12, 2008, we heard some fabulous lectures!  Susan Stevens Crummel and Janet Stevens, sister author and illustrator, told us about the process they went through in writing some of their incredible picture books (too many to mention here).  They were entertaining and really gave us a glimpse into their highly creative minds.  We also heard from alum Sarah Sullivan, who spoke of her experiences in getting published.  And finally, we heard from Jeanette Larson, editor at Harcourt, who spoke of the process of creating a picture book from the other side of the editor's desk.  There was a Q&A panel with these guest where they answered the questions we all have.  We had a BBQ dinner on the green and an opportunity to get to know our classmates a little better.  Then...the big party!!! It was a great time, but I'll never be able to look at the faculty the same way!  They were dancing and partying with the rest of us and having a fantastic time!  

What did I learn?  Vermont College is an amazing place where magic happens.  People make connections with other students as well as faculty that will carry on long after graduation.  The school feels like a giant family; no one ever feels left out and can join or not join in at any time.  The faculty put themselves in the mix with the students-they stay in the dorms, attend the lectures, and play at the parties.  I will miss this place terribly when I'm done!

Today's agenda:  A few graduate lectures, a lecture by Martine Leavitt, author of Keturah and Lord Death, and readings tonight by some of the faculty, including MT Anderson, author of Feed (among others)-who by the way was dancing up a storm last night!  Tonight we get the results of the "speed dating"!  But honestly, I'd be happy with any one of the 15 advisors; they're all wonderful.

Tomorrow:  Meet with advisor; FREE MORNING!!!  Two whole hours with nothing scheduled!  Yahoo!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Day 5 - Lectures Continue...

Yesterday, July 11, 2008, our first lecture was by Shelley Tanaka, author of many creative non-fiction picture books, and the second was by Tim Wynne-Jones, author of Rex Zero, King of Nothing.  Both lectures were fascinating.  Later in the day we had a funny lecture by MT Anderson, author of Feed and Octavian Nothing among many others.  He was a great speaker, but in listening to him I realized how little I really know about the science of writing!  The auction later in the evening was hysterical-with the auctioneers being MT Anderson and Tim Wynne-Jones.  I wish someone had recorded it-we could've put it on YouTube!  The auction raised $8500 for the school's scholarship fund.

What did I learn today?  I learned about motivation, and how important finding your character's motivation is for you story.  How motivation drives plot.  And I learned how much I still need to learn!

Today's agenda:  Picture book day with lectures by Illustrator Janet Stevens and picture book author Susan Stevens Crummel, author Sarah Sullivan, and agent Jeanette Larson.  Later is the big party!

Tomorrow:  Norma Fox Mazer is coming to discuss her new book, The Missing Girl.  And...tomorrow night we find out who our faculty advisor is for this semester!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Day 4 - Lectures begin

Yesterday, July 10, 2008, we had our first set of lectures.  We heard from Sharon Darrow, author of a wonderful book called Painters of Lexieville (and others), and Alan Cumyn, author of The Secret Life of Owen Skye (and others), and Louise Hawes, author of Black Pearls (and others).  Then we had workshop, where we spent 2 hours discussing 2 very talented people's work.  My workshop day is sometime next week, I think.  We also went to a graduate lecture that was fabulous, faculty readings, and of course, speed dating.  That was where we had about an hour or so to interview each of the 15 faculty members so we could choose 8 for our list.  Basically it is a process of elimination-who do I not want to work with.  Some factors are that an advisor works with primarily poetry, for example.  I am not a poet, so I would not want to work with her.  It was a mad dash around the campus to ask a question or two of each advisor.  
Food has been interesting.  Last night for dinner it was Tempe Dogs.  I think that's a form of tofu in the shape of a hot dog.  I had vegetables and a piece of bread.  The cookies though are another story.
Then of course there was karaoke.  I only stayed for a few minutes, and it was fun, but by that time my brain was frazzled and I needed some time back in the room to decompress before going to sleep.  I was not the only one.  

What did I learn?
In Sharon's workshop and in Louise's workshop, I learned ways to dig deeper to get to the true heart and passion of the character.  In Alan's workshop, I learned some of the pitfalls of writing and how to avoid them.  In the grad. lecture, I learned the science of creating humor.  In workshop, I learned to read carefully and what things to look for when critiquing a piece of writing.  I learned nothing in Karaoke that I didn't already know (I am not brave enough to get up and sing unless I have many magaritas!)

Today's agenda:
Today is registration, so I have to fork over the money.  Also lectures by Shelley Tanaka, Tim Wynne-Jones, and MT Anderson.  Tonight is yet another cocktail party and then an auction of some sort run by Tim Wynne-Jones and MT Anderson.  Should be fun!

Picture Book Special Day Event!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Day 3 - Orientation

Yesterday, July 9, 2008 was a jam-packed day with so much information I felt like my brain would pop.  We had library orientation, and computer lab orientation, and a general new student orientation.  I've now introduced myself to this group at least 5 times-they know more about me at this point than most of my friends at home!  We had lunch with the faculty; I sat with Kathi Appelt, author of the amazing book THE UNDERNEATH, and Leda Schubert, author of the beautiful picture story book BALLET OF THE ELEPHANTS.  They were both truly incredible people who genuinely love teaching us newbies.  In a few days, I'll have to list the names of the faculty members I would like to have as my advisor this semester.  Out of the 15 (?), I get to list 8, and then it's a random selection from there.  Each residency, the number to choose gets lower so you are more likely to work with exactly who you want.  Everyone says, "Trust the Process."  In other words, you will get exactly who you are meant to get each semester and it all works out in the end.  I believe that's true.  I have to, because they are all so wonderful, I don't know who to eliminate from my list!

What did I learn today? 
 I learned that living this closely with a group of people bonds you in ways I never would've imagined.  When the "upper-classmen" got back together on campus yesterday, there was laughter, tears, hugs, and just a general excitement.  You could see how close they were.  It's a very special connection.

What's on today's agenda?
Let the wild rumpus begin!  We have many lectures scheduled today-Sharon Darrow, Alan Cumyn, Louise Hawes, and a couple of graduating students.  Oh, and our first workshop.  After dinner is faculty readings and then KARAOKE!

Tomorrow: More lectures!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Day 2 - Meeting the newbies

So, yesterday, July 8, 2008, was spent getting settled into the dorms (was that only yesterday that I dragged my enormous suitcase up 3 flights of stairs?) and getting to know the other newbie students.  I've met lots of wonderful and interesting people.  The thing that strikes me most, though, is the diversity, in age, in location, and in interests.  At 38, I am right in the middle of the age range.  We have a few grandmothers, and a few young-uns, and many people like me with young and teenage children.  It's fascinating!  There are people from all over the world, literally (one woman has been living in Iceland for the past 2 years and is in the process of moving to China!)  and certainly from all over the US.  Not too many men, though.  I think there are only 3 or 4 in our class.  And that's another thing-our graduating class is huge compared to previous classes.  The group that just graduated in January only had 8 people.  Our group has 27!  

What did I learn today?  That walking up and down the hill from the college into the town of Montpelier is hard work (people have likened it to the Grinch's descent into Whoville).  That dorm rooms with no air in the summer are HOT!  And that it's fun to get to know lots of new people with similar interests.

Today's agenda:
Orientations.  All day.  And a cocktail reception tonight.  I may need a drink after a whole day of orientation.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Day 1 - Travel

Yesterday, Monday, July 7, 2008, I took the train from Stamford, CT to Montpelier, VT.  Because of delays, it took about 9 hours.  But it was 9 hours of watching dvd's, reading, napping, and chatting with the 3 other new students I met on the train.  Then it was off to sleep at Betsy's Bed and Breakfast for a good night sleep.

What did I learn?
I learned that everyone is as excited and nervous as I am.
I don't know how to relax and do nothing.  I was so antsy on the train, I probably drove everyone else crazy.

What's on today's agenda?
Checking in to the dorms, lunch at Thrush Tavern with as many newbies as I can gather, exploring the town, then an informal dinner at the school.  Who knows what else might come up?!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

This is it!

The day that I've been waiting for for the past 6 months, really the past 2 years, is finally here.  Tomorrow morning I get on a train bound for Montpelier, Vermont to begin my MFA degree at Vermont College of Fine Arts.  I'll be on the train for 8 hours, ugh, and on Tuesday I'll meet up with other incoming students for lunch before we begin our official journey.  After only writing seriously for a little over a year, it really is a dream come true to be doing this.   Unfortunately I haven't had time to get excited about it because I've been too busy stressing over the little details of my being away for 2 weeks.  Making sure the house is fully stocked with food, all the laundry is done, my DH knows what to do with the kids to get them off to camp and home again each day.  I've discovered that I am completely obsessive about these little details--so much so that I seriously haven't thought much about going back to school at all.  I suppose once I get on the train tomorrow reality will suddenly hit me in the face and I'll realize I am actually doing this.  Then I can stress over that for awhile.
I will continue to keep you posted as much as I can throughout the residency.  If I can find time in the EXTREMELY BUSY schedule!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

A Little Overwhelmed...

Well, I got my residency schedule, and it is 10 days of BUSY!  It's all very exciting, and I really can't wait, but, boy, am I going to be exhausted by the time I get home!  In addition to the faculty lectures, and graduate lectures, and readings, and workshops, there are also receptions, cocktail parties, karaoke, dance/games night, and just general parties!  One of the biggest benefits of doing a program like the one at Vermont College is the networking.  Making friends and acquaintances that can help you, either emotionally or at a career-level; people who are in a similar situation as you.
Some of the authors I'll be meeting and learning from are:
Kathi Appelt (author of The Underneath-a strong competitor for the Newbery this year)
Norma Fox Mazer
MT Anderson
Tim Wynne-Jones
Rita Williams-Garcia
Sharon Darrow
Martine Leavitt
(and I found out that Cynthia Letiech-Smith will be returning in January!)
And these are only a few of the talented writers I'll be working with!

Amazing, right?
I'll be posting one more time before I leave, and then I'll try to post each night to keep you up with my experiences in Vermont.
Hopefully this will be helpful to anyone considering attending a low-rez program.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Low-Residency MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts

Wow, that's a long title!  I said last time that I would describe the program to you, so here it is.  I am describing the program at Vermont College, but there are many wonderful programs (though I think VC is the best) that are run in a similar way.  Here are the main points:
It's a 2 year program-with a 10-day residency in January, and another in July.
So you go to the school for 10 days twice a year for 2 years and go to lectures and seminars given by active, published authors.   You also have your writing workshopped while there (I'll talk about that more in a minute.)
You are matched up with a faculty member advisor for that semester.  After the residency you are expected to send in a packet of work once a month (the number of new pages and revised pages is pre-determined with your advisor).  This is the best part, to me.  In many writing classes, you are given assignments.  Here you get to work on your own chosen writing.  And, you're encouraged to explore different styles and genres in a safe environment with an advisor who won't hesitate to tell you something stinks (in the nicest possible way).

Back to the workshop.  About 2 months prior to the residency you send 20 pages of your work to the school.  They group the students in heterogenous groups-newbies and graduating students and everything in between, as well as picture books and middle grade and young adult pieces.  The school binds the pages together and sends them to each student a few weeks before the residency.  Each student reads and critiques the works in their binder (there are about 12 people in each group, plus 2 faculty members-you only have to read the pages from your group).  Then at the residency your work is the focus of a one-hour workshop, with feedback from the other 11 students + the faculty in your group.  Sounds awesome, right?

So that's where I'm at right now.  I've received and begun to read my workshop binder, making notes on each page.  I'm feeling a little nervous at this point about everyone else reading my story.  I mean, I love my book, but I don't know if anyone else will!  And the other work in the binder is soooooo good!  

I'm really excited to get started with this, because I know I have so much to learn.  Hopefully my honest insights on other people's work will be helpful too.

I leave mid-day on July 7th.  I CAN'T WAIT!!! 

Friday, May 30, 2008

It's been awhile...

Wow-I hadn't realized how long it had been since I last wrote.  Here's what's been going on:

1.  I have completed 2 major revisions of my novel, Sisters.  It's now as polished as I can make it for right now.  I sent in the first 20 pages for my residency workshop at Vermont College (which, by the way, is only 38 days away).

2.  After sending in those pages, I put the manuscript away and will not be looking at it again until after school is finished, unless I can convince my advisor to accept and critique it with the first packet.  

3.  I have begun to work on my new middle grade novel (I think I'm channeling a 13 year old girl...)  I am 12 pages in so far.

4.  I read the prologue and first 2 chapters last night at our library (along with a few other talented writers reading their work) for the 300th anniversary of "Ridgefield Writes".  I was nervous, of course, but not as bad as last time I read my work for an audience.  I guess it's true that it gets easier each time.  At least that's what I hope!

In my next blog, I will describe how the low residency program at Vermont College works, since it's only a little over a month away (did I mention that?).   

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Favorite Books

It's a dangerous thing to be a children's writer and work at a children's book fair.  I'm going to be broke by the end of the week.  Such awesome books!  Some of the popular titles are:  The Boy Who Dared, Swindle, Diary of a Wimpy Kid (both of them), and The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  Of course I'm not talking about the "garbage" books, like the Guinness Book of Gaming Records, and Invasion of the Campfire Weenies.  I picked up The Book Thief and Clementine myself.
So what kids' books have you read recently?  What are your favorites and what did you think was "garbage"?  What books are still on your list?

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Just say no

How do I get myself so overcommitted?  I don't understand.  I hate being in leadership roles, I'm not overly interested in being part of the team, I really don't even want to get involved.  And yet, here I am, "Scholastic Liason" for the elementary school book fair.  I was told it would be simple, placing orders and checking the boxes when they arrive.  I pictured myself with a clipboard checking off the books and that was the end of it.  But no...they lied to hook me and now I'm stuck.  Next week, I have to be at the elementary school every day at 8 am to set up the books, stay through the day to see what the big sellers are and to rearrange the shelves if necessary, and stay until 5 or 6 to place reorders for the next day.  How did this happen?  In the meantime, my 2 boys are both playing soccer AND baseball, and my oldest daughter is playing softball.  Can I tell you how crazy my schedule is?!  The highlight of next week, aside from the obvious-bedtime-is that I'm showing an author around our school for the day on Wednesday.  Author, and former teacher, Laurie Krebs is visiting our school for the day.  That part at least should be fun!  I fully intend to pick her brain.
So, how do you organize your life so you can be an involved parent without being psycho?  And, by the way, still get some writing done?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

I've been tagged!

So, I've been tagged by Sheri (  Here are the rules:
  • Grab the nearest book.
  • Open to page 123.
  • Find the fifth sentence.
  • Post the next three sentences.
  • Tag five people

  • However, Sheri has suggested a twist on the game.  She suggested we post the sentences mentioned above from our own WIP, page 30, or page 3 for picture books.  So here is mine, from my middle grade novel.

    “Really?” She looked so happy at that moment, I almost felt guilty for the trouble I planned to cause her.  Almost. 

    “Thank you for your help, Lena.”

    “It’s my pleasure.”  I pointed to the problems and explained how to do them.  She nodded in all the right places and continued working on the page.

    “That’s right,” I encouraged.  Then I watched her spend the next half hour doing her homework all wrong.

    So now I need to tag some people: (Sarah) (Rebecca) (Janet) (Michele) (Lyz)

    Okay, Ladies-get to it!

    Wednesday, April 16, 2008

    New Ideas

    Now that I've finished my novel, except for the dreaded revisions, of course, I need to come up with a new idea to work on.  So I started thinking, how can I come up with an idea?  
    I've been jotting down ideas in a notebook for a few months now, sometimes a whole thought, sometimes just a name.  These are fragments, at best, but they could trigger a new story.  Many of them came from dreams.
    How do you get your ideas?  Do you keep a running list of thoughts, do you journal every day, do you have a brainstorming session, do you keep a dream log, diary, thought book?  What do you do when you need to start something new?

    Sunday, April 13, 2008


    Well, after a few roadblocks and smaller obstacles, I have finished the first draft of my middle grade novel.  While I know it will go through many revisions (and desperately needs those revisions), I am so proud of it.  It is the longest thing I've ever written (28,574 words), and the story is wonderful (if I do say so myself).  I am planning to do as many revisions as I can before I have to send it off to Vermont College to be workshopped at my first residency.  Then I will put it away, to save for after I finish school.  I can't wait to see how much I can improve it after studying the craft for two years.
    Speaking of my residency, I'm getting really excited about it.  I've been reading books by the faculty, and gathering ideas of what I might work on during the first semester.  Summer can't come soon enough!

    Saturday, March 29, 2008


    So I told you last time I had completed 20k words of my mg novel.  I showed it to my new critique group (two wonderful women and extraordinary writers) to read from the beginning for the first time.  They liked my story a lot, and gave me some insightful feedback that really made sense to me.  Part of their suggestions involved tightening up the timeline and changing (somewhat) the personality of one of the main characters.  In other words, there were some major revisions to be done.  So I have a dilemma.  Do I push on and complete the last 10k words or so to finish the rough draft using a timeline and character that I know will be changed significantly, or do I stop moving ahead and start revising what I've got so far?  This roadblock had me stuck, not writing anything, for days.  What would you suggest in this situation, and have you ever been in this situation yourself?

    Friday, March 14, 2008

    Over halfway there...

    I hit 20k words in my middle grade novel today.  It's very exciting to me, because I've never written anything this long before.  When I first started, I had an idea for the plot and an idea of the characters, but the thought of actually completing this book was overwhelming.  Little by little I've plugged away-it goes pretty slowly for me since I revise each chapter before I go on to the next.  In fact I revise each paragraph that way too.  Then I let my critique group rip it apart and I revise again based on their suggestions.  I check the word count constantly because I am still not confident about being able to write 25-30k words.  But I'm already at 20k, so I guess I can do another 10k.  Watch, I'll probably end up writing another 30k and have to cut, cut, cut.
    So, what are you working on and where are you at in your project now?

    Tuesday, March 4, 2008

    Was the Muse friendly today?

    This is what my husband asks me each day when he gets home.  You know those days, where your words flow from your fingertips, the characters move of their own volition, and you look at the clock and wonder where the last two hours went and who the heck wrote those 5 pages?  Those are the days when the Muse is friendly.  We like those days!  Then there are those other days, the ones where you can sit for hours and not write a word.  Days where your characters sit down in protest and look to you (of all people!) to tell them what to do.   Days where you write a sentence only to hit the delete button right after you hit the period.  We hate those days.  Writers are creatures of extremes-either it's a great writing day or it's terrible.  Either the Muse was friendly or she never showed up.
    Tell me about your Muse.  Male or Female?  Old or Young?  Mine is an Italian grandmother I think.  She hits me on the back of the head and calls me a "stu-nod" (sp?) when I can't think of anything to write or question her abilities.  She gives me guilt when I don't make time for her every day.  And she keeps making me get something to eat when I'm writing!  What is your Muse like?

    Saturday, March 1, 2008

    Now we wait...

    So I sent out two picture book manuscripts to an agent.  This is my first submission, so I'm very excited, and very nervous!  I know it's a long shot at this point, but I had to give it a try since this agency has only opened up for unsolicited submissions from scbwi conference attendees for 6 months.  I emailed the cover letter and stories, as per her guidelines, so now we wait.  and wait.  and wait.  By the way, have I mentioned that I am not a patient person?

    Sunday, February 24, 2008

    Decision time!

    Well, after I heard from Lesley University, I decided it was time to make a choice.  (I still haven't heard from Hamline, but at this point I've decided I don't want to go out to Minnesota in the winter!)  So it comes down, for me, to Lesley and Vermont.  They are both excellent, well-respected programs.  Here are the main differences as I see them:
    1.  Vermont is in Montpelier-a quintessential New England town; Lesley is in Cambridge-an amazing city, close to Boston, and surrounded by Harvard and Boston Art Institute.
    2.  Vermont's mfa degree is in writing for children and young adults, which means that everyone there would be focused on writing children's books; Lesley has several genres in it's mfa in creative writing program (fiction, screenwriting, poetry, etc) where I could focus on writing for children, but I would be very exposed to other genres.
    3.  Vermont uses the well-established program for it's mfa-one that most of the low-residency schools currently use; Lesley also uses a similar program, but add an independent study component on top of it.  
    I have decided, based on these three differences, that the best school for me is Vermont College writing for children and young adults.
    Now I just have to send them a check!
    Please drop me a note if you currently, previously, or some day will, attend Vermont College!

    Friday, February 22, 2008

    One more editor...

    Alessandra Balzer, Hyperion
    She doesn't usually accept unsolicited submissions, but for attendees of the conference, she will accept one submission/person until April 10th.  She works with pb through ya.  She's looking for stand-out writing, strong voice, humor, an approach of the familiar in a new way, a clever title/concept. She said pbs should be easily read aloud, funny, able to withstand millions of readings, short with a satisfying story arc.  She said books need a hook; it could be beautiful writing, a commercial concept, or a holiday or school curriculum tie-in.  Be sure to put SCBWI NY on the envelope and keep the cover letter short and sweet.  Her address is:  Alessandra Balzer, Hyperion Books for Children, 114 5th Ave, NY, NY 10011.  Expect a 4-6 week response time.

    More information from SCBWI NY conference

    I have gathered the information from several attendees of the conference regarding the breakout sessions with editors.  The following is a compilation of that information:

    David Gale, VP and Editorial Director Simon & Schuster BFYP
    Looking for all genres from pb to ya, although he despises rhyming pbs!  He enjoys a quirky character driven story, and short pb (1-2 lines per page).  He asked that we address submissions to the "Submissions Department" instead of to him directly.

    Nancy Siscoe, Associate Publishing Director and Executive Editor, Knopf & Crown
    (A division of Random House) She also expressed the desire for shorter pb text.  She takes pb and mg.

    Jennifer Hunt, Little Brown Books for Young Readers
    12 acquiring editors, Jennifer Hunt's assistant editor, T.S. Ferguson, also acquires material.
    She is not looking for pb manuscripts at this time.  Key features in manuscripts are voice, original characters and plot, and craft (well-written).

    Molly O'Neill, Assistant Editor, Bowen Press
    I have no information on her, except that she is not looking for pb texts now.  She does not accept unsolicited manuscripts, but I think if you put SCBWI-Midwinter Conference on the envelope, she may be required to at least look at it.  I believe that is a condition for them to attend these conferences.

    Reka Simonsen, Henry Holt
    Spring/Summer are the best times to submit.  Henry Holt tends to be educational, and connect to the classroom curriculum in some way.  They are NOT trendy.

    Caitlyn Dlouhy, Atheneum Books
    Always accepts unsolicited submissions.  Response time is usually 2-3 months, but could be longer.  Likes character driven plots with a strong voice.

    Wendy Loggia, Delacorte
    No pb.  All "girly" books.  Yearling Contest for mg opens up for submissions in April.  Does not usually take unsolicited submissions.

    Anamika Bhatnager, Sr. Editor, Scholastic
    Attendees of conference can submit pb through ya manuscripts until Jan. 2009.  Be sure to check the guidelines

    I apologize if there is information missing and invite you to post any additional information you have.  You can find the submission guidelines for each of these publishing houses online,  or in CWIM 2008.  I hope you found this information helpful!

    Sunday, February 10, 2008

    SCBWI-New York

    I spent the weekend in New York City at the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators winter conference.  It was enlightening, inspiring, and otherwise exhausting.  I'm a little star struck with meeting such authors as Tomie DePaola, Susan Patron, and Carolyn Mackler.  It was an amazing weekend.  One of the big questions was:  is the picture book dead (or dying)?  The answer was a resounding NO.  But the picture book (particularly the rhyming picture book) is the most difficult to sell.  And it's one of the hardest things to write because every single word must be essential to the story.  The level of the reader must be considered with every word, and the patience of the parent to read the story (usually over and over) must also be considered.  So, the question becomes, why on earth would anyone choose to write a picture book, given all these strikes against it before it's even finished?  I believe the answer is simple.  The writer does not choose the story; the story chooses the writer.  And the writer must write the story that has chosen him.

    Wednesday, February 6, 2008

    Always Follow the Directions

    I used to tell that to my students all the time.  They would rush ahead to do their work, and inevitably get it wrong because they didn't take the time to read the directions carefully.  I now give this advice to you, my fellow writers, because this time it's me that made the mistakes.  I am entering two of my children's picture books into a contest.  On the submission form it clearly states to check the website for further submission details.  Did I do that?  No.  Now, as it turns out, I have sent off the stories with a cover letter that has been formatted incorrectly.  It has all the information they asked for, but it's not in the format they want.  And I've been told it will be automatically eliminated because of it.  So, I am rushing to re-submit the stories, with the properly formatted title page.  All because I failed to follow my own advice.  As my father used to say, do as I say, not as I do.
    Oh well.


    So far, I've been accepted to Spalding University, Pine Manor, and Vermont College.  I am still waiting, anxiously, to hear from Hamline University and Lesley University.  But I must say, at the moment I am leaning toward Vermont College.  I've heard Montpelier is a beautiful town, and the program is supposed to be phenomenal.   So now we wait.

    Monday, January 14, 2008

    the first post...

    This is my first blog post-and I am really excited about it!  I am a writer (or trying to be a writer).  I've applied to 5 schools to get my low-residency mfa (masters of fine arts) in writing.  I applied to Lesley, Vermont, Pine Manor, Spalding, and Hamline.  I plan to focus on writing for children.  If anyone out there has applied to any those schools, or any other mfa programs, drop a note and tell me about it!