Saturday, January 30, 2010

What do kids like to read?

Kathy Temean has some good info on her blog about what kids like to read:

In one of the reported studies, the authors observe, “. . . when reading options are limited, students are left with three choices: reading something outside of their interests, obtaining their preferred materials themselves, or not reading at all. Students who cannot afford to buy their preferred materials are more dependent on school sources and, thus, their choices are even more limited.”

Several studies in the article present their findings when groups of boys and girls were asked what they like to read. Generally, both genders in grades three to five like scary, funny, and action-packed stories.

In general, avid readers of both sexes share many of the same reading interests although there are some differences. Girls more frequently choose fiction and boys more frequently choose nonfiction. Girls more frequently prefer to read catalogues, song lyrics, poetry, and cookbooks. Boys more frequently read informational materials about videogames, sports, cars, and trucks. Boys also like fantasy, crime/detective stories, and war/spy stories, comics, graphic novels, and joke books.

Read more.

Try a writer's refuge

Caitlin Sullivan went to the Whidbey Island Writer's Refuge and came back all fired up. Here's her review:

I never realized that one of the things that inspires me to keep writing is to feel like a serious writer. From the minute you book your stay at WIWR until you leave reluctantly, you are treated with respect and the assumption that you will be productive in your time here.

Everything is set up for one person--you do not have to accommodate anyone else. The kitchen is only for you, there is only one chair, one desk, etc. There aren't just pencils provided, they are sharpened. You don't just have Internet connection, it's wireless and easy to connect to. In other words, you matter, you're important, and the solitude you need is supported. I can't guarantee that everyone will have a breakthrough in their writing as I did, but it sure helps to have a steady message day in and day out that nothing else matters more than your work, your real work.

When you're done writing for the day, you can go on incredible walks through the woods, by beaches, view wildlife, keep your thoughts IN the writing. But as soon as you'd like a little contact, you can get out to the charming town of Langley where there are FOUR bookstores, several restaurants, organic grocery stores, antiques, etc. And, you're only about 45 minutes from Seattle. The site is very clear and walks you through the sign-up process; yes, it would be nice to have these kinds of retreats be free but I personally don't have time to apply to all them and I don't want to wait to see if I've been accepted or rejected. This places costs way less than a resort with the same surroundings, and you are not bothered by the hosts. I am very grateful for this refuge and will return as soon as I possibly can.

Learn more about it.

Good news for Liz Mills

Liz co-wrote a geography book that is on Amazon's 4-star list, as well as a glowing review from Helium:

Incredibly written, this book is not only educational, but entertaining. Jane P. Gardner, with a degree in geology, uses her knowledge to put together an amazing tool for parents and educators to buy for their children. J. Elizabeth Mills, also an author to the book, is an experienced children's book writer.

This book is a useful resource for home schooling, for summer and winter indoor activity book, and useful for long car trips. Many children may find it fun to take along on camping trips. Parents can easily combine additional activities with many sections of the book. For example, when reading about Vermont, information is included about how maple syrup is made. How to cook pancakes or waffles, making your own syrup, or visiting a maple tree farm would combine nicely with it.

Congratulations, Liz!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Wish you were at the NY SCBWI conference?

Follow along on Twitter with Jaime Temairik and Jolie Stekly, two proud members of the SCBWI blogging team.

Here are all the tweets marked with the SCBWINY10 tag.

And here's the official conference blog.

Ha ha! Rejections publishers regretted

Having received some of these myself, I LOVED this collection:

Jorge Luis Borges

'utterly untranslatable'

Isaac Bashevis Singer

'It's Poland and the rich Jews again.'

Anais Nin

'There is no commercial advantage in acquiring her, and, in my opinion, no artistic.'

Jack Kerouac

'His frenetic and scrambled prose perfectly express the feverish travels of the Beat Generation. But is that enough? I don't think so.'

Lady Chatterley's Lover by D H Lawrence

'for your own sake do not publish this book.'

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

'an irresponsible holiday story'

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

'an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.'

Watership Down by Richard Adams

'older children wouldn't like it because its language was too difficult.'

On Sylvia Plath

'There certainly isn't enough genuine talent for us to take notice.'

Now read the rest

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Pitchfest! Ends tonight

The Caren Johnson literary agency is letting folks pitch them on projects today--and today only. The details:

  1. Post your pitch on the CJLA FORUM ( on Thursday, January 28th. This means 12AM until the following 11:59PM. No exceptions. Any pitches posted outside of those time stamps won't be responded to. (We have to draw the line somewhere.)
  2. Your pitch should be no more than 100 words long and tell us the overall concept/hook of your book. We do not want to hear the whole plot. This is good for us, and good for you. (For tidbits on how to pitch tightly, please see this previous blog post of mine.)
  3. You may only pitch one project.
  4. You may only pitch to one of us. (Since we overlap in YA, please take a closer look at the types of YA Caren and I each represent. She tends toward more paranormal and romance, I tend towards more speculative and high-concept.)
  5. Your book needs to be finished, because we'll be requesting material from this session.
Get more info here.

Writer wanted to develop backstory for superhero

This comes courtesy of Jim Whiting, and it might be of interest to fantasy writers:

Writer with fantasy writing experience to develop a back story for a super hero character. Knowledge of comic books, superhero adventure writing a requirement. Initial assignment 1,500 - 2000 words
Pay rate: negotiable
Contact: Sue Bohle
Title: President
Company: The Bohle Company

Boost your productivity

Michael Stearns at Upstart Crow blogged about software called Freedom. It shuts off your crack supply Internet connection for however many minutes you specify, leaving you free to develop new distractions, like grooming your arm hair write.

Read more here

And get the software (Mac-only) here.

You have to read this blog

It's celebrating the 35th anniversary of Greenwillow books--a truly amazing imprint at HarperCollins.

Editors there are posting about all sorts of things, including making test cakes for Amelia Bedelia books, upcoming debuts that I will for sure read (MISTWOOD by Leah Cypess), and a book that I will probably read many times, and possibly eat and marry: A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS by Megan Whalen Turner.

If you haven't read the three books that precede it, there's time before the April debut to finish them all. They're genius.

Here's the link.

Book trailer by Jennifer Wolf

Jennifer Wolf made this book trailer for SING ME TO SLEEP. Contact her if you're interesting in her services, or her advice if you're going to do it on your own. davenjenwolf AT

Look at the cute busines cards!

Lida Enche, winner of our cookie-decorating contest, is at it again. This time, it's business cards, which she is making to hand out at our annual conference. Have you registered yet? We've sold out the last few years and are on track to doing that again. So hop to it!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

What Chris Richman wants

One of my favorite agents in the world, Chris Richman of Upstart Crow Literary, has posted an extensive wish list for queries in the New Year. Here's the top:
Genuinely hilarious: Humor is tough. I get it. It’s also incredibly subjective. I’ve found, though, that because I say I’m looking for funny books for boys, I tend to see lots of submissions featuring farting, barfing, barfing that smells like a fart, or kids farting on barf. Sure, those things can be funny (even writing that last ridiculous sentence made me chuckle), but it takes more than gross humor to sustain an entire book. I want the sort of humor that makes me read sections out loud to annoyed friends and family. I want humor that arises out of witty dialogue, well-realized situations, and general madcapery (I just made that word up). Some books I read recently that really made me laugh include M.T. Anderson’s Whales on Stilts, Josh Lieb’s I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to be Your Class President, and the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books.

Sports-themed, but about more than just sports: I started writing specific information and examples before realizing the topic of sports books will require a separate post. Simply put, I want books that are about more than just the featured sport and stay away from common clich├ęs like the triumph of the underdog or the awesome-athlete-who-falls-from-grace-and-then-redeems-him/herself. More in a later blog update!

: While this can apply to teen, I’m speaking more about middle grade here. I have a soft spot for books that feel like they could have been written thirty years ago without too many major adjustments. These types of stories often withstand the test of time and don’t become dated as easily as stories fully dependent on technology, trends, and dialect from 2010. Think about Harry Potter: aside from some technologies from the Muggle world, Harry and company could have lived in the 1970s just as easily as the late 1990s/early 2000s.

And here's the rest.

More on queries

Agent Kristin Nelson is annotating more queries and opening pages on her blog. If you're thinking of querying, do check these out.

Here's what intrigued Kristin:

I have to say that Megan’s query immediately caught my attention as she had a whole different take on utilizing ghosts that I’ve never seen before. Besides, I like complex narrators. It’s not what is hitting the NYT list right now but I still find these stories super compelling.

Read the query and response

On the road less traveled

Nathan Bransford gives some great advice on his blog:
While I was away I was chatting with a friend who reads grants for a living, a job that bears some striking resemblance to query letter answering. And if you happen to be thinking about writing a grant at this very moment, I have a piece of advice for you: don't quote Gandhi.


Apparently everyone who applies for a grant quotes Gandhi! And while Gandhi is no doubt eminently quotable and no one will argue with his very uplifting and memorable sayings, reading Gandhi quote after Gandhi quote will steadily drive even the nicest grant reader insane.
Read the rest.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Kathleen Kemly at Secret Garden

On Feb. 23 at 7 p.m., the delightful and incredibly talented Kathleen will be reading at Secret Garden as part of their Ultimate Tuesday series.

Check out her site, then catch her in person.

There be pirates!

It's not just the music and movie industries being pecked at by pirates.

Here are some confessions of a book thief at The Millions:
The Real Caterpillar: In the past month, I have uploaded approximately 50 books to the torrent site where you contacted me. I am much less active then I once was. I used to scan many books, but in the past two years I have only done a few. Between 2002-2005 I created around 200 ebooks by scanning the physical copy, OCRing and proofing the output, and uploading them to USENET. I generally only upload content that I have scanned, with some exceptions. I have been out of the book scene for a while, concentrating on rare and out of print movies instead of books because it is much easier to rip a movie from VHS or DVD than to scan and proof a book.

Read the rest

Thanks to Suzanne Selfors for the link.

Kidlit contest: submit your first 500 words

Mary at is holding a contest:

Since the query contest worked out so well in October, I’m going to do another contest at the beginning of 2010… novel beginnings! That’s right, the beginning (up to 500 words) of your YA or MG novel!

It’s too messy to have people post their entries in comments, so please don’t leave an entry there. Only use the comments to ask questions. This time, I’m going to let you enter by e-mail only, to mary at kidlit dot com, with the subject line “Kidlit Contest.” Copy and paste your novel text… do not send attachments. Your entry has to be for a children’s novel (YA or MG, sorry, no picture books this time around), it has to be for a manuscript that is FINISHED and could be sent out to an agent, and it must be under 500 words.

To be clear, you have to email your entry to me with the subject line “Kidlit Contest” by January 31st, 2010 in order to qualify.

Get the details here.

Monday, January 25, 2010

James Patterson, Inc.

The New York Times Magazine has an interesting piece on how he's transformed publishing.

826 Seattle needs volunteers

826 Seattle, a non-profit writing center for kids, needs a hand. Here's where you can get your good karma and spend time listening to and observing kids. How many volunteer opportunities will actually improve your writing?

Drop-In Heroes Needed: Recent changes in semester and work schedules have pulled a number of volunteer tutors from our ranks and we are looking for new or reactivated tutors to join us in helping our incredibly grateful students at drop-in tutoring. Drop-in tutoring requires nothing but the following: a willingness to be adored by 1-5 (and possibly more) children, a yearning to encourage and co-navigate a variety of homework tasks, and a desire to make a weekly commitment to one (or more) 3 hour shifts on any day(s) Monday through Thursday, 3:00 – 6:00. Training and support are plentiful. Contact Kathleen at to learn more.

Broadview Thomson In-School Tutors: True, the chairs are small but the satisfaction is huge! Tutors are needed on Wednesdays from about 10:30 a.m. – 1:30 to join Samar and a small crew that journeys weekly into 3rd grade classrooms at Broadview Thomson (Greenwood Ave. N & 130th) to support small groups of students during their writers workshop time. Tutors are there to encourage, read drafts, ask questions, connect with kids and support the teacher's lesson. Contact Samar at to learn more.

OST (Out of School Time) Broadview Thomson: If we build it, (and we bring it to them) they will come. Kathleen is looking for folks to join her at Broadview Thomson for abbreviated drop-in tutoring shifts during the second semester (Feb-Jun). 826 Seattle is piloting a satellite location at B-T to serve the homework and writing support needs of middle school students who participate in the OST program on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 2:45 – 4:15 p.m. Contact Kathleen at to learn more.

Join The Beloved Field Trip Army: You will never feel more popular than you will when you join the field trip army. Every Tuesday and Thursday morning at 10:00 a.m., 25+ students and their teacher and chaperones can be seen eagerly and excitedly waiting outside of the Greenwood Space Travel Supply Co.—want to know why? Then you better contact Kathleen at These fantastic field trip experiences could absolutely not be offered to our local school children without the two amazing teams of volunteers that deliver them—a variety of roles are available, either on Tuesdays or Thursdays, mentorship, training and fun is absolutely included!

Thanks to Brenda Winter Hansen for the info.

What First Page sessions are like

Kristin Nelson posted about a first pages session she did with Kate Testerman (both are agents, and Kate even came to one of our conferences).

If you're considering a First Pages session at our upcoming conference, read this so you know what to expect.

An excerpt:
-out of the 20 we read, Kate and I would have asked for sample pages from just 1 of the projects read. That’s actually pretty good! I have done this workshop where I wouldn’t have asked for any. And what was really interesting is that everyone in the room knew it while it was being read. The audience’s attention was caught and engaged. You could tell by the reaction. People leaned forward in their chairs a little while listening. They reacted when it was funny. People just paid closer attention. So the workshop attendees sensed it just as we did. Fascinating. You folks know more than you think you do.
I've been to a bunch of first-pages sessions, and think some of these would go better for writers if we were sure to read our pages aloud to a critique group. Not to friends. Not to family. But to people who are telling us whether we're ready yet to submit. You really can hear when the writing rises off the page (just as you can hear the unintended comedy of over-written sentences and misplaced modifiers, which is super-painful).

This really makes me want to visit Beach Lane Books

Here's a photo of their offices, snagged from Jaime's CocoaStomp blog, in which she has a lovely interview with Allyn Johnston. One really great way to know if you should pitch an editor is to get to know that editor a bit in person. Check it out, and see if Beach Lane Books (which published last year's ALL THE WORLD) might be for you.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Another cover controversy

Remember the whole LIAR business? There's another problem with a too-light-skinned character on the cover of a book. This time, Bloomsbury's cutting off the supply of the U.S. edition until a replacement cover can be issued. And they're apologizing:
Bloomsbury is ceasing to supply copies of the US edition of Magic Under Glass. The jacket design has caused offense and we apologize for our mistake. Copies of the book with a new jacket design will be available shortly.
Here's what the author, Jaclyn Dolamore, has to say.

And this is just guessing on my part, but I bet if more cover designers read the story and not just the jacket blurb, we wouldn't have issues like this.

Old James Thurber interview

This one's on Paris Review, and if you've ever had a piece of art or writing come out not exactly as you'd intended, you have to check it out. The first bit:

Well, once I did a drawing for The New Yorker of a naked woman on all fours up on top of a bookcase—a big bookcase. She’s up there near the ceiling, and in the room are her husband and two other women. The husband is saying to one of the women, obviously a guest, “This is the present Mrs. Harris. That’s my first wife up there.” Well, when I did the cartoon originally I meant the naked woman to be at the top of a flight of stairs, but I lost the sense of perspective and instead of getting in the stairs when I drew my line down, there she was stuck up there, naked, on a bookcase.

Read the rest

Friday, January 22, 2010

Extreme makeover: picture book edition

The always interesting ShelfTalk blog at the Seattle Public Library has a post up about the transformation certain picture book characters have taken.

If that putz Arthur denies his nose job or claims he was just fixing a deviated septum one more time, we can now remind him that his old covers don't lie.

Check out the post
. And remember, you can always click on over to ShelfTalk from the list of links on the left-hand side of the Chinook Update.

Revisions class

Eileen Robinson and Harold Underdown, children's book editors, have a program called Kid's Book Revision, and they're offering a class that starts on Feb. 20.

Get the details here.

Because if you're going to torture yourself

...with your Amazon page rank, you might as well make it international.

Here's the tool: Aaron Shepard's Sales Rank Express.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Science writers: a contest to enter

Our critique group coordinator Lois Brandt sends this along:

Children's Writer is having a science writing contest. Deadline is February 27. These are great contests, free to subscribers. If you don't subscribe the $13 reading fee with get you an eight month subscription to their excellent newsletter.

An article on a science topic for age 11, to 750 words. The emphasis in this contest is on finding a current subject and giving it a fresh angle. Delve into any of the “hard” sciences—chemistry, physics, biology, etc.—but avoid softer nature and environmental topics. Winners will be selected on subject choice, hook, angle, clarity, writing style, and reading excitement. Entries should be fun and informative. Publishability is the ultimate criterion.

Entries must be received by February 27, 2010. Current subscribers to Children’s Writer enter free. For all others, the entry fee is $13, which includes an 8-month subscription. Winners will be announced in the July 2010 issue. Prizes: $250 for first place plus publication in Children’s Writer; $100 for second place; and $50 for third and fourth places.

Send to: Children’s Writer, Science Contest, 93 Long Ridge Road, West Redding, CT 06896.

8 ways to kill an idea

I thought this was funny, and a good reminder that creativity is a fragile thing. Gird your loins, people! Gird your loins!

See the rest.

Book signing: Heather Brewer

Author Heather Brewer launches The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod: Eleventh Grade Burns on Tuesday, Feb. 9 at 7 p.m. in the Secret Garden Bookshop in Ballard.
High school totally bites when you’re half human, half vampire.

Here's the invite from Suzanne at Secret Garden:
This is the blood-chilling fourth installment in the popular series with over 250,000 copies in print. Hailed by Publishers Weekly as “Humorous… and something fresh in the vampire lit genre”, The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod series is a darkly humorous take on the daily perils of high school for an outsider. Eleventh Grade Burns combines doomed love, failing friendships, and psycho-sadistic vampires--perfect for anyone who is tired of hearing about that other perfect vampire couple.

Come meet the author, listen to her non-belief in happy endings (unless they involve blood), and get a signed book. Free.

Buy a Greg Ruth print, benefit Haiti

Lida Enche sends word that Greg Ruth, who illustrates graphic novels and children's books, is selling prints to benefit earthquake victims in Haiti. If you're interested, visit his Etsy shop.

What's it like to have a novel on submission?

Most of us dream of the day we get an agent, thinking that will make it all better.

Kiersten White, whose PARANORMALCY will come from HarperTeen in September, tells it like it is:

I'm going to let you in on a secret, one that agented writers can't admit publicly for fear of shooting themselves in the foot, and one that writers with book deals don't talk about because we've completely blocked it out of our minds due to severe psychological trauma. It's this:

Being on submission sucks.

Sucks, sucks, sucks sucks sucks sucks SUCKS.

It bears repeating one more time, I think.


(Being on submission, or going out on sub, for the uninitiated, is when your very talented and incredibly brilliant agent takes your manuscript from your trembling hands and sends it on its merry, hopeful way to editors. All agents go about this differently, but the end goal is for one or more editors to offer to buy it.)

A study of excellence: WHEN YOU REACH ME

The Story Sleuths--our own Meg Lippert, Allyson Valentine Schrier, and Heather Hedin Singh--analyzed Newbery Award winner WHEN YOU REACH ME in November.

If you want to study what makes that book great, check out their lists of posts on the book.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Kids Heart Authors Day coming

Hey authors, here's a chance to sign books and take part in a terrific event. Contact Mary Harris using the address below if you're interested:
Kids Heart Authors Day was such a huge success last year that we're going to do it again this year.

Mitali Perkins initiated the program last year--her plan was that on (or near) near Valentine's Day area authors would commit to be at local bookstores to interact with kid readers/sign books, etc.

Mary Harris (Parkplace Books), Stesha Brandon (University Bookstores), Mary Kay Sneeringer (Edmonds Bookshop ), Mary Gleysteen ( Eagle Harbor Books), Suzanne Droppert ( Liberty Bay Books), Cheryl McKeon ( Third Place Books), Linda (Mockingbird Books), Tegan Tigani (Queen Anne Books), and Christy McDanold (Secret Garden Books) will be participating this year, which we are calling Kids Heart Books Day.

We are looking forward to local authors and illustrators signing up for one hour visits between 10 and noon, and 1 and 3 on Saturday, February 13. Some stores may want to hold their event on Sunday. We need you to make it work. Please contact Mary Harris as soon as possible (and before Jan 31) at if you are able to participate in this love in for kids' lit.

What happens when an editor falls in love

Nancy Mercado, an editor at Macmillan, explains:

It’s been said before, but as an editor, sometimes you are reading a manuscript looking for a reason to say no. By far the best part of the job, however, is when a manuscript comes along and beckons you. It says, read a little bit more, come along with me, for I have a story to tell you. And that’s how I felt when reading Birthmarked (then called The Baby Quota) for the first time. I felt beckoned. I felt compelled. I talked my husband’s ear off about it. I described the plot at length at a crowded dinner party. In short, I became very annoying to be around.

So, what was it that so drew me into this manuscript? Mostly it was the main character Gaia who was so brave, and yet up against many obstacles. In the first chapter, Gaia has to do something unthinkable: she helps deliver a baby and then she has to take that child away from its mother and hand it over to unknown persons within the Enclave. I just had to know what Gaia thought about that, and how she was going to deal with the moral implications of her action. And then when Gaia meets Leon, the brooding soldier who grew up behind the walls of the Enclave, I just had to know what, if anything, might transpire between them. I was drawn into the book because I wanted to know what would happen next*; it was that simple and that wonderful.

Read the rest.

George Shannon event at Adams Elementary School

He'll be reading from STORIES TO SOLVE: FOLKTALES FROM AROUND THE WORLD. He will also discuss his other books, including MORE STORIES TO SOLVE: Fifteen Folktales from Around the World, TOMORROW'S ALPHABET, WHITE IS FOR BLUEBERRY, and THE SECRET CHICKEN CLUB.

It's at 7 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 5 at Adams Elementary School, 6110 28th Ave. NW in Seattle, and is sponsored by Secret Garden Books.

The public reading is the final event of Adams Elementary School’s third annual six-week-long ADAMS READS THE SAME BOOK program. In late December, the Adams PTA purchased paperback copies of Stories to Solve for all 400 students to read with their families.

As part of the book reading, librarian Marlene Friend has invited Adams students to create a “book reaction”—a painting, poem, skit or other artistic expression. These will be presented and on display the night of the reading.

The community is invited to attend the reading, Q&A, and book signing. Free.

The Oregon Coast Children's Book Writers Workshop

If you want to travel to Oregon for an intensive workshop with established authors, editors, and an agent, this one might be for you.

The details from the organizers:
From July 12-16 we present the eighth Oregon Coast Children's Book Writers Workshop in the exquisite Oregon coast town of Oceanside.

The instructors for the workshop will include five established children's book authors (between them, specializing in YA and middle school novels, picture books, non-fiction, magazine pieces, and poetry), two children's book editors from major houses, and one children's book agent. Summer Workshop 2010 promise to be our best yet because:

- The instructor-student ratio will be a maximum of one to six,
- Each day, you will meet with an instructor for at least one comprehensive consultation, and
- You can have one-on-one informal meetings with instructors each day as well, and
- Every student who wishes can have an anonymous first page manuscript critique by all eight instructors in front of the class, and
- We will offer at least twelve instructional lectures on various aspects of writing and publishing, and
- There will be two evening readings/discussions by instructors, and
- Out-of-class consultations with instructors are available, and
- There will be at least three guest lectures, and
- There will be two wonderful parties (quite appropriate for friends, partners, spouses, children)

If you are ambitious to publish a children's book (or simply adore children's books), this is the workshop for you. It will allow you to connect directly with authors, editors, agents who are active in the children's book business. If you go to the website and look under Evaluations, you'll see that it's received extraordinarily high praise (some listed below).

The course is available for graduate credit.

For complete information we welcome you to visit our website.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Books to benefit orphans in Africa

Here's an opportunity to help via our colleague, Michele Torrey:
As many of you know, in 2007 I co-founded Orphans Africa (OA). Part of our mission is to educate some of the 2.5 million orphans in Tanzania, East Africa. On February 27, 2010, we are holding a benefit dinner and auction at the Liberty Theater in Puyallup to help raise funds for OA. These funds will go toward building a kitchen and dining hall and finishing construction on the dormitories for our Marilynn Primary and Nursery School. The dormitories will house 72 orphans, ages 3-12.

So, I'm pulling in any and all favors from all my dear writer-friends and asking you to please donate at least one signed copy of one of your books. I'd like to create book baskets according to age; the baskets will be auctioned to our guests. (Books for adults are fine, too! New books only, please.)

Please send books to: Michele Torrey, PO Box 1371, South Bend, WA 98586-1371. Please try to get them to me no later than February 10; if you want your donation listed in our evening program, I must receive them by the 1st of February.

You can read about my work in Tanzania by visiting my spankin' new OA website! And I'd LOVE it if you'd come to the benefit! Consider this an official invitation! We'll be auctioning such things as photo safaris in South Africa and vacations in Maui, as well as TONS of other cool stuff! For more info on the benefit, including how to order tickets, visit our OA Benefit Blog.

Rebecca Stead coming to town

Fresh off her Newbery win, Rebecca Stead will visit the U Village Barnes and Noble on Feb. 1 at 7 p.m.

If you haven't read WHEN YOU REACH ME yet, this is your chance to get a signed copy and meet the author everyone's so gaga over.

The official details:

Rebecca Stead (author of When You Reach Me):
Barnes & Noble
Monday, February 01, 7:00 PM
2675 NE University Village Street, Seattle, WA 98105

19th Annual Writing and Illustrating for Children Conference--registration is now open!

Don't delay! 
We expect the conference to sell out well in advance, and space in the additional opportunities is very limited.
 For more information and to register, please visit

Monday, January 18, 2010

Ripped from the headlines

Wouldn't this make a funny plot for a novel? From the New York Times:

A Facebook Movement, Against Mom and Dad

They feel her pain. At the Spence School and Greenwich High and Fullerton Union High and Nyack High and Narragansett High, teenagers and near-teenagers, 806 as of Friday morning, are waving a virtual flag for Tess Chapin, a 15-year-old from Sunnyside, Queens, who has been grounded for five weeks. By the time you are reading this, Tess’s Facebook group — “1000 to get tess ungrounded” — may well have reached its stated membership goal.

This is teenage rebellion, electronic style — peaceful, organized and, apparently, contagious.

So basically, Tess explains on her group page, she made an honest late-night mistake. Her parents flipped, and they grounded her for five weeks — “thats my childhood right there,” she wrote. “please join so I can convice them to unground me. please please please.”

On Monday, the official start of what Tess calls her “groundation,” she circulated a petition during sixth period and after school at Millennium High School in Lower Manhattan, where she is a sophomore. At a friend’s suggestion, once she got home, Tess basically put the petition online by starting the Facebook group, which she categorized under Organizations: Advocacy. The group promptly took off, proving that no adolescent experience, in the age of social networking, is too small to start a movement.

Read the rest

And the medals go to...

Rebecca Stead wins the Newbery for WHEN YOU REACH ME; Jerry Pinkney, the Caldecott for THE LION & THE MOUSE; and Libba Bray, the Printz, for GOING BOVINE.

For the long list of books acknowledged by the American Library Association, click here.

What's a Mary Sue?

Kate Testerman at KT Literary has the scoop:

I had several questions on my live blog yesterday about Mary Sues. Karen asked, “What lets you know a character is a Mary Sue from the query or the sample pages?” And Allreb added, “I’d also be really curious to know what you consider a Mary Sue character, or how a character gets to be so Mary Sue you’re turned off by her.” (And for Stina, a photo of a Mary Jane shoe, just for comparison!)

According to Wikipedia,

A Mary Sue (sometimes just Sue), in literary criticism and particularly in fanfiction, is a fictional character with overly idealized and hackneyed mannerisms, lacking noteworthy flaws, and primarily functioning as wish-fulfillment fantasies for their authors or readers. Perhaps the single underlying feature of all characters described as “Mary Sues” is that they are too ostentatious for the audience’s taste, or that the author seems to favor the character too highly. The author may seem to push how exceptional and wonderful the “Mary Sue” character is on his or her audience, sometimes leading the audience to dislike or even resent the character fairly quickly; such a character could be described as an “author’s pet”.

Read the rest

Join a critique group

Here's an invitation from Lois Brandt, our critique group coordinator:

A critique group is a meeting of professional writers or illustrators. (Professional doesn’t necessarily mean members are published, it means that group members are working hard on the craft of writing and/or illustration.)

Critique groups get together in-person or online to comment on each other’s work. Members give one another encouragement, offer ideas for revision, and may share marketing information as well.

Dozens of children's writers and illustrators in the Western Washington region meet regularly in various critique groups. Many books and articles have been vetted through these informal, very professional, support groups.

Need help joining a critique group? Sign up with our SCBWI Western Washington Critique Group Coordinator, Lois Brandt. You can sign up at one of our monthly meetings, at our conference, or you can email Lois (

Lois will then provide you with enough information to pursue one of the options below.

1. Check out openings in existing critique groups. You will be given a list of critique groups with openings for either online or in-person critique.

2. Start a new critique group. You will also be given a list of other members in your area who are looking for groups. You can start either a local in-person group or a regional online group.

Still have questions about SCBWI critique groups? Please feel free to contact Lois (

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Publishers seeking amazing debuts

This comes from Alan Rinzler's blog:

“Everybody’s looking for the next big thing — a work of great literary fiction from an unknown writer who’s never been published.”

That’s according to Jay Schaefer, an editor-at-large at Workman Publishers in New York City and its subsidiary, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Schaefer, a publishing veteran best known for producing the huge best seller Under the Tuscan Sun during his long tenure at Chronicle Books, spoke with me the other day after making the rounds at two writers conferences out here on the West Coast.

Read the rest

Thanks to Molly Hall for the link.

Good news for Ann Teplick

She writes:

"I am a 2010 CityArtist recipient, having received funds from the Seattle Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs for a collection of poems entitled The Beauty of a Beet, Poems from the Bedside. These poems explore the struggle and beauty at the bedside of loved ones who are dying, and incorporate Japanese death poetry and the death stories of Hindu, Tibetan Buddhist, and Zen masters into some of the text. I will be reading at three Seattle venues in late 2010."

Friday, January 15, 2010

Operation Teen Book Drop

Each year Operation Teen Book Drop--an annual event started by our own readergirlz--delivers about 10,000 new books to teens in need. In 2008 and 2009, rgz, YALSA and GuysLitWire worked with publishers to deliver 20,000 books to teens in hospitals.

This year, another 10,000 books will go to teens on Native American Reservations and tribal lands, with help from If I Can Read, I Can Do Anything.

We can get involved in the fun by pledging to drop a YA novel in a public place on April 15, which also happens to be Support Teen Literature Day. When you do, please tweet about it and help spread the word about the importance of teen literature.

For more information, visit readergirlz. Or, check out the Operation TBD trailer, put together by Holly Cupala.

8 tips for dealing with rejection

As we enter the post-holiday submission season, Kathy Temean has some timely advice on her blog:

  1. Use the Susan O’Keeffe method. In case you don’t know Susan, she is a very successful author. One day she shared what she tells herself. “I may not be the best writer in the world, but I know I am going to be the most persistent writer in the world.” These are words that have really paid off for her. I think they could pay off for you, too.

  2. You make it happen. Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. Make a plan to work on the weaknesses or decide how to work around them. Then use the Susan O’Keeffe method and keep submitting.

  3. Make sure what you are submitting is your best work. Don’t be so eager to submit that you just print it out and submit. That will only set you up for rejection and too much rejection sets you up for giving up. Get feedback from other writers and let your masterpiece sit for a while before sending it out.
Read the rest.

SLJ makes big predictions for awards

Jonathan Hunt's Heavy Medal blog on SLJ makes predictions for this year's big awards. Have your own? Comment below!

Thoughts on coming up with first lines of your novel

Robert Bacon, who blogs at Selling Books, has thoughts on first lines.

Nothing is more critical than the first few lines of a story, since this will often influence whether or not a reader will continue with a work. And a great opening is never more important than for a non-established writer who is trying to garner an audience or the budding author who is trying to acquire an agent or publisher.

Writer’s like Dickens and Woolf Provide a Lofty Pedestal

It would be wonderful if lines like “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” or, “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself,” were on the forefront of our thinking when we first sat down at a keyboard. The reality, however, is that this is not how it plays out for most of us. But there are ways to attract a reader without having to conjure up the catch phrase of the century.

Read the rest.

Meanwhile, does anyone have favorite opening lines to share? If so, comment below.

Another reason to seek an agent

Slush piles are starting to melt because publishers no longer want to pay to wade through them, according to the Wall Street Journal. (And yet, the same story claims Writers House gets 100 queries a month. Per day, maybe.)

Anyway, it's an interesting read and covers both screenwriting and books. Here's the intro:

In 1991, a book editor at Random House pulled from the heaps of unsolicited manuscripts a novel about a murder that roils a Baltimore suburb. Written by a first-time author and mother-to-be named Mary Cahill, "Carpool" was published to fanfare. Ms. Cahill was interviewed on the "Today" show. "Carpool" was a best seller.

That was the last time Random House, the largest publisher in the U.S., remembers publishing anything found in a slush pile. Today, Random House and most of its major counterparts refuse to accept unsolicited material.

Check out the rest.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Book market outlook for 2010

Publishers are playing it safe, though 2009 was better than expected. For fledgling authors, especially those of a literary sort, it's a tough prospect.

Read the whole thing at

Here's a query for a YA novel

Kristin Nelson has posted this query on her blog:

Dear Ms. Nelson:

I am seeking representation for my completed 62,000 word young adult novel, IN MEMORY OF.

Sixteen-year-old Cass McKenna would take the company of the dead over the living any day. Unlike her high school classmates, the dead don't lie or judge, and they're way less scary than Danielle, the best-bud-turned-backstabber who kicked Cass to the bottom of the social ladder in seventh grade. Since then, Cass has styled herself as an avenger. Using the secrets her ghostly friends stumble across, she exposes her fellow students' deceits and knocks the poseurs down a peg.

When Tim Reed, the student council V.P., asks Cass to chat with his recently-deceased mom, her instinct is to laugh in his face. But Tim's part of Danielle's crowd. He can give Cass dirt the dead don't know. Intent on revenge, Cass offers to trade her spirit-detecting skills for his information. She isn't counting on chasing a ghost who would rather hide than speak to her, facing the explosive intervention of an angry student, or discovering that Tim's actually an okay guy. Then Tim sinks into a suicidal depression, and Cass has to choose: run back to the safety of the dead, or risk everything to stop Tim from becoming a ghost himself.

Told in Cass' distinctive voice, at turns sarcastic and sensitive, IN MEMORY OF will appeal to fans of Scott Westerfeld and Annette Curtis Klause.

My short fiction has appeared in Brutarian Quarterly and On Spec. I maintain the Toronto Speculative Fiction Writers Group, and I've worked with children and teens as a recreational programmer and behavioral therapist for several years.

Thank you for your time.


Megan Crewe

Want to see how it fared? Click through for an annotated version with Kristin's comments.

Conference registration coming soon

Soon you'll be able to register for our spring conference, which happens April 10 and 11 at the Marriott Redmond Town Center (there are also two events on the 9th, and illustrator's intensive and kid-lit drink night).

If you've never been to one of our conferences, we hope you'll join us. We're offering something new this year for new conference attendees: an orientation session in the morning that will help you meet new friends and learn important dos and don'ts, as well as get a sense of what appropriate expectations are.

You can learn all about the conference on our main site.

And remember, if you do want to come, register promptly. Our conferences usually sell out. Watch this space to find out when registration opens. If you pay for our regional benefits, you'll receive word via e-mail, as well.

Class: Storytelling through Picture Book Illustration

Doug Keith and Rollin Thomas are offering the next segment in their picture book class at Pratt. Here's the description:

Whether you want to create a picture book or a graphic novel, this class will help you write/illustrate with effective storytelling through a visual medium. Learn to refine your ideas with a study of story structure and sequential art techniques. Develop your craft, style and voice for publication, explore the market and add to your portfolio. $375 for 31.5 class hours over nine weeks.

Pratt Fine Arts Center

Wednesdays 1/20/10 – 3/17/10 6:30 – 10 pm

No prerequisite except the desire to learn to create Children’s Picture Books

Contact Rollin Thomas with questions on course content:

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Oops! Are you overwriting?

This piece on Editorial Ass is full of chuckles and good advice:
We need to talk about my editing pet peeve. And, well, to put bluntly, it's not me. It's you.

I know that you think that saying things in a straightforward way is boring. I can tell, having worked through about sixty grueling pages of your writing in the last week. If only your content wasn't so good, I would kick this project away and wash my hands. But curses! Your story is so good. So instead, I need you to work with me a little here.

The thing about your overwriting, Overwriter? I mean, even worse than the fact that it's terrible and embarrassing for you. It's just boring. It's going to be the thing that makes people put your book down and never buy it. I know that in your mind, this language was a good idea. You clearly put a lot of time into stringing together as many adjectives, adverbs, and "replacement" nouns that struck you as interesting. So I'm gonna need you to try to be honest with yourself and flexible with me here.
Read the rest (especially for the list of words to avoid).

How should authors market themselves?

Nathan Bransford, as usual, has good insights:

Instead: do what you're best at. Don't make yourself miserable doing what you think you should be doing, do what you enjoy doing. Utilize your time where it's best spent:
- If you have a talent and passion for blogging: do that.
- If you enjoy Twitter and know the ins and outs: do that.
- If you are a great public speaker and love attending writers conferences: do that.
- If you have media connections and can utilize them: do that.
- If you love pounding the pavement and meeting with local bookstores to arrange signings and events: do that.
- If you are an amateur filmmaker on the side and have an idea for a killer book trailer: do that.
- If you think creatively and enjoy thinking of wacky publicity events: do that.
- If you are fabulously wealthy and you want to drop books from an airplane with $100 bills attached: do that, and please make sure to stop by San Francisco.

Read the whole thing

7 things I've learned so far

Jim Whiting sent along this essay by Jody M. Roy. It's full of wisdom about the writing and editing process.

I particularly liked these bits:

2. Editorial notes are both an immediate to-do list and a long-term lesson plan. I first transform editorial notes into a very specific checklist for my work in the coming hours or, as the case may be, weeks. Then I dive into the work, one tiny to-do at a time, until every single item has been completed. If I stop there, I make my editor happy. However, if I take the process one step farther, I grow as a writer. Once I’ve completed a round of revisions, I cull any editing notes that are not completely unique to the work at hand and rewrite them into guidelines that will inform my future projects. Over time, I internalize the lessons and develop new skills.

4. If a cut doesn’t hurt, it’s not deep enough. I wish this weren’t true, but it is. A piece is always stronger after a good pruning. If an argument, character, scene, or individual word isn’t necessary, if it doesn’t contribute in some way to the overall purpose of the piece, it needs to go. In revising Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead: The Frank Meeink Story, 180 pages were sliced (yes, you read that right: pages, not words!) from the original draft. It about killed me, but those cuts streamlined the narrative, focused the characters, and, ultimately, made the book accessible to a wider audience.
Read the rest.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A book that would not be published today

BONERS, by Dr. Seuss.


You think I'm making this up, don't you? Well, I'm not.

5 ways to conquer self-doubt

Alexandra Levit, a Wall Street Journal career columnist, has this advice on the Zen Habits blog:

Self doubt has been something I’ve struggled with all my life, from debating whether I could get into a top tier university to believing I could succeed as a writer. It’s a very human emotion, and it’s made worse for some people because of life experiences or temperament. Self doubt also makes you feel alone. Sometimes you think you’re the only person in the universe who suffers from a crisis of confidence, and you wish that you could be more like your successful, self-assured neighbor. Well, I guarantee that your neighbor doubts himself every now and then too.

You won’t ever be able to rid yourself of doubt entirely – believe me, I’ve tried. But I hope that these suggestions will lessen your pain when dark thoughts are all around you.

Go back in time: The first step to overcoming self doubt is to recognize that it’s there in the first place. Think about the circumstances that are leading you to feel insecure, and see if you notice any patterns. Are there particular situations (for example, dealing with a new boss, speaking in public) that prompt you to feel this way? Make a note of times in the past when you doubted yourself but ended up coming through with flying colors. Knowledge and recognition of your past successes will bolster your courage regarding what you can achieve in the future.

Read the rest.

Rubin Pfeffer becomes agent

Publishers Weekly has the scoop:
Former publishing executive Rubin Pfeffer, who was most recently senior v-p and publisher of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, has gone to the agenting side and is opening an East Coast office for the Los Angeles-based outfit, East/West Literary. Pfeffer has been brought on as an agent and partner, and will be based in Boston, handling digital initiatives, among other things, for the agency, which specializes in representing children's authors and illustrators. According to an announcement from EWA, Pfeffer will be "developing and creating content for the 21st-century incarnations of publishing, both electronic and traditional print."

And on his client list already? Richard Jesse Watson (as well as Faith Pray, Richard and Susi Watson's daughter). Huzzah!

Read the whole item. (The East/West Literary Agency website is still being built or I'd link to that, too.)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Twitter: the go-to buzz-builder for authors?

You'll no doubt remember the great information Lisa Schroeder shared with us in December about life as a novelist. She posted last week about how Twitter helped her launch CHASING BROOKLYN. If you're still thinking about joining the fray, this will probably make you take the leap.

While you're getting started, you can find Lisa here: And you can find the SCBWI Western Washington here:

Meanwhile, here's a piece by Harold Underdown (author of the Idiot's Guide to Children's Publishing) on social networking and online promotion, and what authors are expected to do these days.

You feelin' lucky?

Kathy Temean has gathered a number of contests on her blog (alas, nothing for picture book writers/illustrators). As with all contests, do check the fine print before you enter.

New club for Seattle artists

Dana Sullivan sent this Seattle magazine piece our way; it's about the Canoe Social Club, "a place where artful matters are discussed, argued and celebrated with vigor and intention.”

Read the rest here
. Or, visit the club's website.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Great Critique on Tuesday: participation limited

If you received confirmation that you're part of our annual Great Critique on Tuesday, Jan. 12, terrific.

Registration starts at 6:45 and the meeting at 7 p.m., sharp. Please be prompt.

If you did not receive confirmation that you're part of the Great Critique, please stay home. Use the evening to work on your writing--or read a book.

The Great Critique sold out in 36 hours. If you didn't make the cut, we understand how disappointing that is.

We do this event every year, though, so do sign up again as soon as the invitation hits your inbox.

Please do NOT show up at the door. We will have to turn you away. No one is permitted to come and observe or audit sessions, and there are no exceptions. We've had people in the past misunderstand this or try to sneak by, and we'd love to avoid that sort of uncomfortable situation this year.

Thank you for your understanding. We will now return to our regularly scheduled friendly voice.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Donald Maas on voice

The literary agent Donald Maas has posted on Writer Unboxed blog about voice:

Voice…or Volume?

Voice in fiction is a term poorly defined. What does it mean? Style? Subject matter? Sensibility? World view? All of the above? Whatever it means editors, agents and readers all want it.

The thing is, every novelist already has a voice. It may be comic, deadpan, dry, pulpy, shrill, objective, distant, intimate, arty or a thousand other things. It comes through in the story that an author chooses to tell and the way in which they choose to tell it.

Why then do editors constantly say to me they are seeking writers with a “voice.” Aren’t they already getting that?

Clearly not—not enough of that, anyway. Attached to the word “voice,” I frequently hear the adjective “strong.” Editors are looking for authors with a “strong voice.”


The issue in most manuscripts, then, is not whether the author has a voice but whether they are using it to maximum effect. Does the language of the novel light it up? Does the story stab our hearts? Does its passion grip us? Do we see the world in new ways?

Read the rest.

And here are the rest of his posts on their blog.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The three-act, eight-sequence structure

If you're struggling with the structure of your novel, hop on over to the blog of Alexandra Sokoloff, a novelist and screenwriter who's broken down structure into manageable bits.

Here's the top of a post on how you can use index cards to tame your work in progress:
But the real secret of film writing and filmmaking, that we are going to steal for our novel writing, is that most movies are a Three-Act, Eight-Sequence structure. Yes, most movies can be broken up into 8 discrete 12-15-minute sequences, each of which has a beginning, middle and end.

I swear.

The eight-sequence structure evolved from the early days of film when movies were divided into reels (physical film reels), each holding about ten minutes of film (movies were also shorter, proportionately!). The projectionist had to manually change each reel as it finished. Early screenwriters incorporated this rhythm into their writing, developing sequences that lasted exactly the length of a reel, and modern films still follow that same storytelling rhythm.

And the eight-sequence structure actually translates beautifully to novel structuring, although you might end up with a few more sequences in the end. So I want to get you familiar with the eight-sequence structure in film first, and we’ll go on to talk about the application to novels.

And here's the rest.

Nina Laden at Secret Garden Books

On Tuesday, Jan. 26, the amazing Nina Laden will be at Secret Garden Books from 7-7:30 p.m.
Nina Laden’s written many award winning books for children, including The Night I Followed the Dog, Private I-Guana, and Romeow and Drooliet. She'll be at the store to talk about her newest book for the very young, Button Nose.

Nina is part of their Ultimate Tuesdays storytime series the last Tuesday of every month. There are prizes for kids as they walk out the door.

Peggy King Anderson class has openings

You could fill a room with students who've launched children's writing careers from Peggy King Anderson's classroom. Why not join the crowd?

She currently has openings in her Magic of Writing for Children (beginning level) which starts this week, Wednesday, January 20, at Bellevue College, North Campus.* (Note: this is updated from the original January 13 start date.)

In this 8-week series (bargain priced at $189) Peggy will cover the basics of writing for children in a fun, interactive class, with time for writing exercises and feedback on your own writing.

To register online, go to

For phone registration call 425-564-2263.

If you’d like further info, contact Peggy by email peggy AT or call her at 425-823-6149. You can also visit her website at

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Erin Taylor, an illustrator, writes on her blog about a book that's helping her illustrate:

I have bought books before on "how to draw children" or "drawing people", but they always bored me- seemed better suited for the fine artist because every person in there was so stiff and posed. About a month ago I began reading Drawn to Life volumes I and II, which are collections of amazing notes that Walt Stanchfield gave to his animation students over the several years he was with the Walt Disney company. These books are all about giving life to your subject- movement, action, gesture... anything but stiff and posed. He talks a lot about capturing the essence of that person, a maximum amount of gesture with a minimum amount of lines. It also talks about feeling that gesture that you are drawing and understanding why your subject is feeling that way. Even though these notes were intended for animators, they work wonderfully for me because as a children's book illustrator my subjects (the actors in my story) need to appear to be in movement, full of life, and even the quietest of gestures needs to be relatable to the child reading the book.

Read the rest (and thanks to Liz Mills for the link).

How to research historical novels

Our own Michele Torrey has a great blog post about how she researches her historical novels, including pitfalls to avoid and sources to use. Here's the start:

As a writer of historical novels, I must conduct a lot of research. Over the years, I’ve become quite adept at finding what I need and separating the wheat from the chaff. Recently, I was asked some in-depth questions by a colleague regarding historical research. As they were common questions, I thought I’d share the Q&A for those of you who also struggle with research. Hopefully it will be helpful. If you still have questions, post them to me here and I’ll try to answer as best I can.

Remember, these are only my opinions. Have your grain of salt handy.

Q: My main question is what do you do when reliable sources disagree?

A: First of all, make certain that they ARE reliable sources. Are they experts in their field? Is it current scholarship? (Scholarship is much more objective than it used to be, with even more resources available to draw upon.) Is it a primary source? If two or more reliable sources disagree, and if you can’t find any kind of agreement out there as to who is right, then you can feel free to make your own decision as it suits your novel.

And here's the rest.

Learn to illustrate children's books with Craig Orback

Illustrator Craig Orback has three new Children's Book Illustration classes starting soon.

He is the illustrator of over 15 books for children including "Nature's Paintbox: A Seasonal Gallery of Art and Verse", and the forthcoming picture book "The Can Man", due for release in March.

He has been teaching illustration and painting classes locally for 8 years. To learn about his work visit his website and blog.

Children's Book Illustration

Discover basic illustration techniques as well as a variety of media commonly used in illustration. This class is a combination of the history of children's book illustration and the hands on practice of illustration. Through various assignments to be worked on in class and finished at home you will learn how to complete illustrations for young readers. This introductory course is a great way to learn new techniques and find out more about the business side of illustration, as well as what it takes to get your work seen by the right people.

North Seattle Community College, Wednesdays, 8 Sessions, 1/27/10-3/17/10, 3:00-5pm, $125 Call (206) 527-3705. More info.

Bellevue Community College, Wednesdays, 8 Sessions, 1/27/10-3/17/10, 6:30-9pm, $179 Call (425) 564-2263. More info.

Whatcom Community College, Thursdays, 8 Sessions, 1/28/10-3/18/10, 6:30-8:30pm, $159 Call (360) 383-3200. More info.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Lemony Snicket's coming to town

Daniel Handler, the genius behind Lemony Snicket, is coming to Benaroya Hall on March 5 at 7:30 p.m. as part of the Seattle Arts & Lectures series.

Handler/Snicket will discuss their lives and work. There's a reception afterward for patron ticket holders.

Tickets are $25-$50, and $10 for Student/Under 25. Buy tickets at or by calling 206.621.2230.

Portrait of a successful query

Some of you who've traveled to international SCBWI conferences may have met the lovely Sydney Salter. Here's how she caught the attention of agent Ted Malawer:

When I first started agenting, I was working as an assistant at Firebrand Literary, going through the slush—which, in our case, was electronic. With hundreds and hundreds of queries, it’s tough to stand out. Sydney, however, did just that. First, she had a great title that totally made me laugh. Second, she sets up her main character’s dilemma in a succinct and interesting way. In one simple paragraph, I had a great idea of who Jory was and what her life was about—the interesting tidbit about her mother help show the novel’s sense of humor, too.

Read the rest.

Kirkus Reviews back from the dead

Hooray! Insert your own zombie joke here as you read about the news.

How to get blackballed in publishing

This amusing bit was on Editorial Anonymous, detailing how you can ensure you'll never have a career in children's publishing by doing any of the following:
  • Sending me lingerie, pornographic manuscripts, or death threats. You're nuts. I've given your name to security.
  • Calling or emailing me repeatedly in the belief that you're just too charming to have to play by the rules. Using the phone or email forces me to respond personally to you, and the thought of all the patient, rule-abiding, very likely more talented authors in the slush pile who would love to hear from me personally—when in fact I'm busy dealing with jackasses like you—boils my blood.
  • Writing a manuscript so totally out of touch with children—or humans—that I have to share it with all of my colleagues.
Be sure to read an older post titled "More Ways You Aren't Going to Get Published."

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

10 questions Dutton editors ask about your manuscript

This comes from the super-useful blog of Kathy Temean:

1. Who is the readership for this book?

2. Does this story surprise me and take me to places I didn’t expect?

3. Is this a main character I care about?

4. Am I personally moved by this story or sitituation?

5. I this a theme/emotion/concern that a lot of kids will be able to relate to?

6. Has this been done a million times before?

7. Will I want to read this manuscript ten (or more) times?

8. Is the voice/character authentic and real?

9. For picture books: Would this story be visually interesteding for 32 pages? Could I esaily envision the illustrations for this?

10. For novels: Does the action of the story move at a good pace and hold our interest? Does tension build as the story moves forward?

On creating a fantasy world

Kristin Cashore has a great piece on the Horn Book site explaining, among other things, why Po could never say, "Hot dog, Katsa!" and how she wishes she'd invented something like a killybong.

The author of GRACELING and FIRE tells what she did and what she wishes she'd done to build the world of those books. Here's a tease:

I want to talk about skeletons, muscles, and sinews — and about what it was like to write my first novel, Graceling. I had these incredibly exciting ideas. I had these characters who had particular magical abilities, and they were inside my head fighting with each other, and I was just bursting to tell their story. I sat down in front of a blank piece of paper and wrote the first scene — and there was a jail break and there was kung fu–type stuff and there was a sparkly boy — and I got to the end of the chapter and I said to myself, Woo-hoo!!

But the next thing I thought was, Oh, crap. Because what I saw in my head was a skeleton that was only partly formed. I had some of the bones. I knew the basics about my five or six main characters, I knew their arcs, I knew their relationships to one another. I knew the really big stuff — I knew my plot. But I didn’t have the sinews that held all the bones together. I didn’t know what the landscapes were like. I didn’t know the backstories of my secondary characters. I didn’t know the quirks of their personalities, or even the quirks of my main characters’ personalities — like how Katsa dressed, or how well Po could bear pain, or whether Bitterblue was chatty.

Those little things are essential to every action, every interaction, every line — and you can’t proceed without them. When you start a book, you’re trying to make something out of nothing, and you need it to grow fast. And so, at the beginning of a book, practically every word can cause the writer growing pains. It’s like those poor chickens in the factory farms that are pumped full of drugs so that they mature too soon and produce seventeen eggs a day. At times you feel like you’re forcing something into being that would rather not be, and you’re making too many choices; there’s too much power for you to misuse.

Check out the rest.

Class: The Artist's Way

Annie Gage sent this along, hospitably:

“Helped me get "unstuck" and on track in my creative ambitions” -Past Artist’s Way Student

February 8–April 26
Mondays, 6 p.m.-8 p.m.
Classes held in Fremont.

Students are required to purchase their own copy of the book The Artist’s Way

Kate Gavigan worked in social services as a trainer for over 10 years when she found herself drawn to the material in The Artist's Way. She credits her mid-life career change (now working at her dream job as a PR Manager at a theater) to having gone through The Artist's Way.

Carol Battistoni studied art as an undergraduate, which led her to study counseling psychology and expressive arts therapy. She currently works as a psychotherapist in Seattle and continues to explore the process of making art as a vehicle to knowing oneself more intimately.

TO REGISTER: Pay by check and send to Carol Battistoni, 4010 Stone Way North, Suite 200, Seattle 98103 or credit card via paypal at Carol’s website:

Questions: Contact Kate Gavigan at kateearth AT

And the new national ambassador for young people's literature is...

Katherine Paterson!

The BRIDGE TO TERABITHA author will be very blinged out with her Ambassador's medal and Newbery Medals, won't she? Read all about it on

Monday, January 4, 2010

South Sound gathering on Jan. 5

SCBWI WWA's South Sound Network is kicking off with the New Year! Gatherings are expected to be held on the first Tuesday of each month at 7:00 p.m. at the Barnes & Noble in West Olympia (1530 Black Lake Blvd SW, Olympia, 98502).

The first one will be tomorrow -- Tuesday, Jan. 5. If you'd like to try to make it, please e-mail Kiki Hamilton at so she'll know how many people to expect. Future meetings and discussion topics will be developed based on interest shown. And thanks to Kiki for spearheading the effort!

Oooh! Read all about Jim Whiting

The Seattle Times picked up a Kitsap Sun piece about Jim and his 109--109!--books.

My favorite quote:

"I like to say I'm a walking advertisement for a liberal arts education. I have so many interests that I always have these 'Aha!' moments where I get excited about whatever it is I'm writing about."

Whiting's work also makes him "one popular guy at parties." That is, if you don't mind listening to a guy describe the training habits of cage fighters or how childbirth was carried out in Hungary, circa 1860.

I would like more information on both topics, please.

Assorted bits of good news

Joni Sensel's THE FARWALKER'S QUEST is a finalist in the middle grade fantasy category of the Cybils award (right between Laini Taylor and Neil Gaiman--what a talent sandwich).

Our former member Joan Holub has an easy reader on the list: SHAMPOODLE.

Justina Chen is on the list in the YA category for the oft-starred NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL.

Our honorary member Lisa Schroeder also gets a nod in the YA category for FAR FROM YOU.

And in other bits of happiness, Brenda Z. Guiberson's LIFE IN THE BOREAL FOREST is featured today on Anastasia Suen's site (and it was featured last night in my living room; my 9-year-old wanted to know how Gennady Spirin did the fantastic illustrations).

54 tips from writers on writing

Here's a nice bit to start your new year from Maya Angelou:

“What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.’”

There's much more here.

Farewell, Mr. Ambassador!

Today is Jon Sciezska's last day as the Ambassador of Children's Literature.

Betsy Bird at Fuse# 8 on School Library Journal has a fitting video tribute.

She and I share a favorite:

But really, you should watch them all. Stay tuned for news on his replacement tomorrow.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Perspective on assessing agents

I found this on the Literary Rambles blog--it's a long post full of good advice on finding a good agent match. Here's the conclusion:

Focus on legitimacy. Focus on sales and clients. Take all the time you might spend assessing details and create a really rockin' list of questions to ask an agent if they offer. Because that's where it's at. THAT is where you can get the low-down, from the source, and make a truly informed decision. You're not bound to accept an offer when you query an agent. Use that to your advantage. Query all the agents that MIGHT be a good match and then slow down, interview them, and find out for sure.

Read the whole thing.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Some brisk advice from Colleen Lindsay

Colleen Lindsay, who has been blogging at The Swivet, is changing directions with her blog. Her rationale contains good advice for writers:

If you really want to read a blog only about agenting and getting published, this is not the place for you. Go visit Nathan Bransford and Rachelle Gardner and Jessica Faust; in my opinion, these are the three best agent blogs out there. (And unlike me, they genuinely enjoy writing about what they do!) In fact, I think you'd do well to bookmark those three blogs and skip most of the rest. Spend that extra time writing. Or reading. Or better yet, spend that time playing with your kids or dogs or cats. Or spending time with friends. In other words, spend more time in the real world and stop worrying about which agent has the better advice on how many words a query letter should be or whether your salutation is perfect or whether angels are hot in YA right now or whether you should use MS Word's wordcount or go with an antiquated (and ridiculous) 250-words per page calculation that someone made up 100 years ago. (For the love of all that is holy, just get over this obsession and use the frakkin' word count tool in Word!)

Because the truth is that NONE of these things is going to make you a better writer, or will better your odds of getting published.

What will make you a better writer? Living a full life. Having friends. Having lovers. Having a real community of people around you. Living outside your own head. Putting down the pen and paper, turning off the computer and walking away from it now and again and just allowing yourself to experience a real life.

Enter the Highlights fiction contest

The Highlights 2010 fiction contest is now open (entries have to be in between Jan. 1 and Jan. 31).

The prize is $1,000 or tuition for the Highlights Foundation Writers Workshop at Chautauqua. Read on!

CATEGORY: Fiction based on a true story from your family.
PRIZES: Three prizes of $1,000 or tuition for the Highlights Foundation Writers Workshop at Chautauqua.
ENTRY DATES: All entries must be postmarked between Jan. 1 and Jan. 31, 2010.

More info here.