by Francine Puckly
With a chill in the air and notoriously unpredictable weather, Opening Day is upon us. Hot dogs, popcorn and peanuts, new lineups, and impeccable turf await. A few years ago Ted Berg penned an article entitled, “The 10 Best Things about Opening Day” (http://www.usatoday.com/story/gameon/2013/04/01/10-best-things-about-opening-day/2041583/). There’s nothing quite like a new baseball season, and there’s nothing quite like the feeling of beginning a new project or novel. And here’s how Berg’s Top 10 applies to starting a brand new novel!
10. Fresh Looks
In baseball, this means it’s time to sport new uniforms, but for me and my new novel, we’re showing off new software (Scrivener), flashy new composition notebooks, my favorite pens and Sharpies, and a multitude of jewel-toned post-its I purchased in the off season. My reusable foam plot-planning poster board is ready to take the field. This is the best my writing space will look for months and maybe years! And wait! What’s that sound? I think the organist is playing the first few bars of “Take Me Out to the Book Store.”
9. Ballpark favorites again available
Berg said that, “opening day provides an opportunity to eat hot dogs without being judged.” And for writers, the first draft is our opportunity to slap down all of the crazy ideas that come to mind as we crank through the what-ifs of a new story littered with a cast of new characters. No limiting expectations, no reviews, no analyses. It might be the only time in our writing process we’re not worried about the agent or editor, the reader, the critic, missing story parts, or the dilemma of what stays and what goes.
8. Spring training is over
So is your research. At least for now. It’s time to play ball…er, write the draft. That means don’t stop to research. Flag any missing pieces of information with those pretty little post-its you bought.
As MLB and various ballparks roll out elaborate décor, you might look to playlists with songs that suit your characters or intended plot, a collage of magazine clippings or photos that depict character and setting, or Pinterest files to inspire your writing. Adorn your workspace with helpful details. I have a collage of photos I’ve taken and/or downloaded from the Internet posted in my writing area. Whenever I feel stymied on plot, I study those for inspiration.
6. The pageantry
First pitches, national anthems, and introductions of every player, coach and trainer. Writing pageantry is introducing each room, character and supporting character. We plunge into detail the way Milwaukee’s Bernie Brewer plunges into a huge mug of beer. We immerse ourselves in detail. The rooms of the house. The landscape. The shingles and siding. Every character.
5. Ridiculous “pace” stats
“For one day in 1994,” Berg wrote, “Cubs outfielder Karl ‘Tuffy’ Rhodes was on pace to hit 486 home runs in a season after a three-homer opening day outburst.” Nobody hits 486 home runs in a season. And those 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo? That’s 600,000 words a year, or ten+ middle grade novels a year. Woo hoo! And those 41 ideas you had for PiBoIdMo last year? You’re going to write over 400 picture books this year! NOT. They’re impossible numbers to sustain, but that doesn’t mean we can’t rejoice in getting off to a ridiculously fast start as we leave our inner critic behind.
4. Skipping school or work
Playing hooky to do what we love is easy at the beginning. At the start of a project we are willing to decline other opportunities so that we can take our laptops and notebooks off to write in seclusion. But eventually life’s demands creep in and the next thing we know we’ve missed four days (or maybe even four weeks!) straight. What we can learn from playing hooky or skipping other commitments is how to make our writing a priority year-round, not just at the launch or as we approach the finish line. Set some goals, people! And reward yourselves when you hit them! (http://www.24carrotwriting.com/-blog/give-yourself-a-carrot).
3. All of the aces
Who are the heavy hitters in your story? Make sure you have a great team of characters to support your plot.
2. Every team is undefeated.
So is your project. No rejections. ’Nuff said.
And the number one thing about Opening Day?
1. They play baseball.
And we write novels. Or illustrate books. We have the coolest jobs on earth. Now get out there and throw the first pitch!
Give Yourself a Carrot
by Annie Cronin Romano
Like working jigsaw puzzles? White Mountain Puzzles has a few jigsaws with a literary flair.
This book "Best Sellers" puzzle will keep you busy with 1000 pieces of literature's favorites.
How many have you read?
The bookplates below are just a few samples of the designs you'll find at
Gone Reading, a web store for reading enthusiasts.
Ever wished a perfume could capture the aroma of libraries, leather-bound
books, and Mr. Darcy? Well, a few claim to have done it! Check out
Sweet Tea Apothecary for their "Dead Writers" scent (hey, I didn't name it!)
or head over to Demeter to discover "Paperback."
Okay...do NOT tell me you wouldn't love walking into that next critique
group meeting with your appetizer served on a book-shaped platter!
I mean, how fun is this? You can see all the size options at Gone Reading.
Wish you could wear a favorite book around your neck? Don't we all? Well, you can if you web surf your way over to Uncommon Goods. They've got scarves featuring passages from Jane Eyre, Alice in Wonderland, and Wuthering Heights.
Need one more idea?
Writer's Block wine.
I hope you enjoyed (and try) some of these suggestions for writing rewards.
Now, go treat yourself to that hard earned carrot!
And keep striving to meet your upcoming goals.
I'll share some more carrot ideas in a few months!
Don't Waste Your Bad Mood!
by Kelly Carey
During his Oscar acceptance speech for Best Animated Feature, Pete Docter, the director of Inside Out, made me realize that I’ve been wasting my bad moods.
I don’t write when I’m mad, angry, upset or scared. Instead, I wait to be in the perfect mood before I sit at the computer to write.
What a huge mistake!
Every mood should be my perfect writing mood. Tapping into all my emotions, by writing when I’m sad, mad, or nervous, instead of just relaxed and happy, will give my characters greater emotional depth and their stories more range and universal appeal. I should use the entire Inside Out mood board.
Thanks to Pete’s words, I will no longer wait for both a quiet house and a quiet mind to write. He made me realize that I am missing out if I don’t grab the opportunity to write when I’m annoyed, upset or hurt. As Pete advised, “there are days you’re going to feel sad…angry…scared. That’s nothing you can choose. But you can make stuff. Make films, draw, write – it will make a world of difference.”
I am done using the excuse of my mood as a reason not to write. Instead, I’m going to embrace my mood as a reason to write. As Pete Docter said, “we are so lucky because we get to make stuff”. Funnel all your feelings into your characters and their stories; use your mood as an impetus to capture the full range of human emotions.
As a bonus, when you have gifted your characters with your less than perfect mood, you will hit save on the computer and whistle away from your workspace feeling accomplished, and happy. In the words of my fellow blogger Amanda, "It's like exercise. Just less sweaty!".
Writing in a bad mood will not only enrich your writing, but improve your day. Now that’s happy writing.
~ By Amanda Smith
February 24 was World Read Aloud Day. As part of my second grader’s class activities, parents and other guests were invited to read to the students. Even though I had only 15 minutes, I arrived with arms full of my favorite picture books to share with these excited little ones. What a glorious start to my day!
I had a diverse selection of books, but it soon became clear which ones got the kids’ attention. This caused me to ponder: What makes a great read-aloud book?
Josh Funk, author of LADY PANCAKE AND SIR FRENCH TOAST, and PIRASAURS! once said that a picture book is actually a performance piece. If you think about it, most picture books are read aloud by adults to children. And following this logic, picture books should thus have clear stage directions. As writers, how do we cue our readers?
We have all read books where the voice of a character is so clear, you know exactly how it is supposed to sound. How can one read SKIPPYJON JONES ( Judy Schachner) without one’s muy muy mejor Spanish accent? Or not use one’s Mr. Miyagi voice for Master Zutzu in WINK, THE NINJA WHO WANTED TO BE NOTICED ( J.C. Phillips) ? “The Loudest cricket is the first to be caught.” The cadence and rhythm of the language itself directs the reading.
Sometimes, as in UNICORN THINKS HE’S PRETTY GREAT (Bob Shea), the typography gives clues as to where the accent should be. Printing Unicorn’s words in rainbow colors with little sparklies around them, brings out the sweetest of voices from the reader and helps distinguish between Unicorn and Goat’s voices in places where dialogue isn’t tagged. In WOLFIE THE BUNNY (Amy Dyckman), Dot’s desperate “He’s going to eat us all up!” is emphasized by using bigger capitalized words. Even a non-reader will look at that text and know Dot is yelling.
Punctuation is another tool a writer can use to direct the reading. Tara Lazar’s THE MONSTORE starts like this: “At the back of Frankensweet’s Candy Shoppe, under the last box of sour gum balls, there is a trap door.
Knock five times, hand over a bag of squirmy worms, and you can crawl inside…
All those commas, those stacked phrases, the ellipse, and the use of the power of three (times two) masterfully build so much tension on the very first page, that by the page turn, your kid will be in your lap. And you will be reading in your very best horror-movie trailer voice.
Other times the stage directions come in the form of negative space. Negative space in language is created by pauses and silence. In RAGWEED’S FARM DOG HANDBOOK (Anne Vittur Kennedy), the humor of the delivery lies in the variation of long and short sentences. The short sentences (“Pigs lie in the mud all day and get bigger and BIGGER. That’s their job. That’s not your job. Don’t lie in the mud. Mud is lovely.”) allow for a deadpan delivery. As we know, comedy is all about timing and Kennedy brilliantly helps her readers deliver that timing with her sentence structure.
Whether it is voice, cadence and rhythm, typography, rhyme, negative space, or punctuation, these tools help readers read our books the way we intended. This is why it is so important to read our works in progress aloud. And to read books in print aloud. And to read aloud to children, bringing printed language to life.
I will be more aware of these tools as I work on my own manuscripts and hopefully, one day, they will become great read-alouds. In the meantime, is there a job where I can just read aloud to kids?
by Francine Puckly
24 Carrot Writing welcomes picture book writer Donna Mae, author of MARSHMALLOWS GALORE (illustrated by Brandon Fall) and THE WOOLY ADVENTURES OF PURL (illustrated by Valeria Issa).
Thank you, Donna, for taking the time for this interview and congratulations on the release of your second book, THE WOOLY ADVENTURES OF PURL. Can you start off by telling our readers a little bit about the development of this story idea?
Certainly. The idea for the story blossomed while I was knitting. It’s a very focused and present-moment hobby, almost like meditation. I recalled how difficult knitting seemed when my Mom taught me. When I got the hang of it, I didn’t want to stop. I loved it. The idea of a little girl being obsessed with knitting (as most knitters can be) seemed like such a fun idea for a children’s book. So we see what happens when a little girl receives knitting needles and a pet lamb for her sixth birthday!
Why did you choose self-publishing over the traditional publishing route?
I am in the 6th decade of my life, and I knew getting traditionally published could be a lengthy process. Actually, someone at my critique group said she knew an older writer who wanted to get published but decided to do it herself because “she needed a book before she died”! It was funny but at the same time it resonated with me.
Self-publishing isn’t for everyone. What do you feel has been the key to your success as a self-published author?
People want to try self-publishing because they think it’s an easy road. Print on demand gets them on Amazon without a lot of out-of-pocket expenses. My intention, however, was to have a hardcover children’s book with jacket. I knew Barnes & Noble could pick it up if it was worthy and looked professional. On-demand sites only print paperback, so that was not an option for me.
I really believed that for me, taking fear and doubt out of the equation would make everything work smoothly. I took a whole visualization approach--I visualized my book on the shelves of Barnes & Noble. Together with my intention as well as meeting the requirements, it has worked for me.
But self-publishing is not for everyone. You have to be willing to do the work. Staying open to possibilities is key. I think my thoughts and attitude jettisoned me through the process. One example is that this fall I was part of a vendor/craft fair at a school in Holden. My sales were so-so, but I looked at it in a positive way. I accepted the day and knew anything could come from it. One of the teachers from the school bought my books and loved them, and a week later I got an opportunity to showcase my book for an author visit! Put yourself out there. Don’t allow frustration to stop you. Keep a positive attitude. Believe in yourself.
How did the publishing process for THE WOOLY ADVENTURES OF PURL differ from that of MARSHMALLOWS GALORE?
I took the same steps with both my books, yet different illustrators and their expertise made each process unique. My first book, MARSHMALLOWS GALORE, was illustrated by Brandon Fall, an experienced, talented illustrator from Colorado. His work background had been in film illustration at Disney. He had illustrated many children’s books before mine and was able to give me some much-needed advice and direction. I learned about page turn and illustrating excitement and all about single- and double-page spreads. My second book, THE WOOLY ADVENTURES OF PURL, was illustrated by Valeria Issa, a young professional woman living in London. The language, of all things, created a little challenge. We did a lot of laughing as some of the terms we use are not translated the same in England versus the United States. Also, the five-hour time difference was a little tricky. Additionally, sending my books to print proved a different experience. When you, your illustrator, and the printing company are all on different time zones, it takes patience and persistence to get the product finalized.
How do you market your books? And do you have any marketing advice for other authors?
Out-of-the–box thinking is crucial. New and unique ideas for events and school visits make the difference. True, being shelved in Barnes & Noble has given me access to in-store readings and posted events, but the possibilities to market a book are endless. Here’s a short list of what I’ve done and would recommend:
You have to be creative and take risks if you want to succeed. Stay positive! Miracles happen in common hours!!!
How is your writing week structured? Do you set weekly writing goals or targets?
I take a very gentle approach to my writing and try not to beat myself up if I don’t meet a target goal. Meditating helps me focus and come up with story ideas. When I get ideas I write them down, and I revisit them often to see what might make more sense to me this time compared to last. I come up with ideas often. I write weekly. And I’m always working on the next project. Staying focused has become second nature. (Finally!)
You said in a recent radio interview that you had an epiphany in 2005 to “make your life work.” Can you tell us a little bit about how that impacted your life and your writing?
As a person, I was quiet and shy on the inside but a little loud and bold on the outside. My inside and outside didn’t match. My epiphany was the realization that my life needed fine-tuning. I needed to make my life work. I wasn’t sure what that meant but I was so filled with joy that I started writing. I wrote every day. I wrote sweet rhyming poems about my husband and my children and everything in between. I wrote a funny poem about the Red Sox and it got published. I wrote a poem for a famous roadside lobster shack in Maine and sent it to them. A year later, the senior editor at Downeast magazine emailed me to ask if they could put my poem in a book. It was at that moment I revisited an old dream of mine. A “knowing” that had been told to me when I was a young mother. “Someday you will write children’s books.” Just like that. I know it sounds crazy but that is exactly how it happened for me.
I joined SCBWI, read books on writing for children, read blogs and turned to social media to see what other authors were doing. I was welcomed into my critique group. I felt like a duck out of water but forced myself to keep at it no matter what. My new self was blossoming and I needed to find where it might take me. So, thanks girls for believing in me when I wasn’t sure I believed in myself!
I know that you are a member of SCBWI and participate in an SCBWI critique group. How does peer feedback factor into your writing process?
My peer feedback is essential to my writing. They offer up all their years of knowledge and expertise. So, from having zero books to self-publishing two children’s books, you can say they are my lifeline.
I get so much more than I can give. I’m still in awe of the fact that they have welcomed me into the group. We all come to this wondrous world of writing with many different backgrounds. Some have been writing for 10 years while others have been writing as far back as they can remember. But we all have something of value to offer.
Which picture book writers have inspired you and your creative work?
As a young mother reading to my own children, we loved Shel Silverstein, Dr. Seuss, and anything that rhymed. For whatever reason, it’s rhyming that I write and love. It’s comfortable. It’s like putting a puzzle together—you have to make the pieces fit.
What advice do you have for beginning writers?
Read, read, read. Join SCBWI, go to conferences, listen and learn. Know that everyone has his/her own special voice in which to tell a story. But most of all, remember there’s room for everyone. Stay positive, work hard, believe in yourself and never look back!
Find out more about Donna Mae at www.donnamaeauthor.com.
Donna will be back later this spring to talk about book videos and trailers and other forms of book promotion. Check out her MARSHMALLOWS GALORE video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8F7AMRRsRCc
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