~ by Amanda Smith
Encore is a yearly event where some speakers from the NESCBWI Spring conference are invited to present their workshops. Two Encore events are offered to provide opportunity for more writers to learn from these excellent teachers. This year’s Encore II was held at Devens on Saturday, October 21. Because of the nature of Encore, the event is not themed, yet, somehow, every year, in the subtext of what the presenters are saying, a theme emerges. This year the common thread was PLAY.
Dana Meachan Rau, author of over 300 books, including Robot, Go Bot! and books in the Who Was? series, presented a workshop about injecting emotion in characters to encourage empathy from readers. She led us through writing exercises where we played around with writing a character’s emotion through a setting or an object. When we play to explore emotions, we connect deeper with our character’s emotion. “First we feel, then they [the readers] feel,” she said.
Molly Burnham, author of the Teddy Mars series and 2016 Sid Fleishman Humor Award winner, talked to us about humor and writing funny. She implored us to play for a minute, to horse around with ideas, to do seemingly silly three-minute writing exercises, like matching different animals with human actions, and finding the funny in it. Sometimes we get so bogged down in the work of it all. The deadlines, the goals, the next chapter. Playing is freeing for the exact reason that it is not a work in progress. And yet, playing accesses a different part of our brains, which sometimes leads to breakthroughs in our current work. She said, “It’s great just to play, we are artists after all.”
Under the direction of sticky-note queen and author AC Gaughen (Scarlet, Lady Thief, and Lion Heart) we played around with character traits. We scribbled pieces of identity on sticky notes. She then urged us to discarding the go-to traits, the comfort zone, and go with the unexpected, which leads to the development of more interesting characters. AC also had us play around with our character’s central traits. Through play we discovered how changing what is central to our character changes the conflict.
Chris Tebbetts, whose books include the Middle School series and Public School Superhero with James Patterson, as well as the Stranded series with Jeff Probst, presented on Improv and Play. He reminded us that “purpose should not be more important than play” and encouraged us to sometimes throw out the rules and just write. Write without thinking, don’t get logical, and see where it leads. “Improv helps limber up one’s creativity.” He also challenged us to sometimes “play with a limited set of tools.” Setting our own rules and staying within those rules help us think outside the box. Play off-screen, with visual techniques such as story-boarding and maps.
Erin Dionne (Models Don’t Eat Chocolate Cookies, Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking, Ollie and Science of Treasure Hunting and more) rounded the day off with quirky revision techniques. Revision lends itself to play, as not one technique works for every project. The revising writer needs to play around with a variety of hands-on techniques including story-boarding, spiderwebs, grids, calendars and maps, until they find what works for that particular project. “Problem solving is an act of creativity,” she said.
The presenters reminded us that every activity connected to our characters and story is considered work. So even when you are playing, you are still working. Playing is just more fun! We are writing for children after all.
by Sue Lowell Gallion, Guest 24 Carrot Blogger
I really appreciate how 24 Carrot Writing reminds us to pay attention to both parts of our split personality – writer and author. I’ve focused primarily on my author side in the past year, with my debut picture book, PUG MEETS PIG (illustrated by the amazing Joyce Wan, published by Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster), releasing in September 2016 and a second Pug and Pig book, PUG & PIG TRICK-OR-TREAT, which came out July 25.
However, I don’t know that my writer self ever considered what it meant to market and promote a seasonal picture book, both for the publisher and the author. I think a lot of us as writers naturally gravitate toward plots that center on a holiday. Holidays are milestones in any child’s or family’s life, as well as our own. I remember holidays and traditions more vividly than the every day, whether it was choosing a Valentine for a boy in my third grade class that didn’t seem mushy (was “pease be my podner” over the top?) or “cooking” in my cousins’ toy kitchen with our hardboiled Easter eggs (until our parents found us. . . )
The inspiration for Pug and Pig’s Halloween adventure was my black lab mix’s reaction to the terrier next door dressed in a skin-tight, glow-in-the-dark Halloween costume. That’s not a story starter that works well with other settings. (However, an unexpected plus to the book has been hearing from parents of children with sensory issues that their kids relate to Pug’s dislike of his tight costume and his mask. That’s really exciting!)
But the marketing slot for a seasonal book, such as PUG & PIG TRICK-OR-TREAT, is really tight. In bookstores, Halloween books go on display after Labor Day, after Back to School peaks. Last year, I was in a bookstore on the morning of Oct. 31. Halloween was already packed up, replaced by Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Hanukah. Think of the February holidays – Groundhog Day, Valentine’s Day, the Presidents. The peak time for story times or presentations using these books at schools, stores, and libraries is also less than six weeks.
My local librarians confirm that Halloween books, as well as other holiday books, are checked out all year long. My kids chose holiday picture books any time of the year, too. I probably can still recite most of CRANBERRY THANKSGIVING by Wende and Harry Devlin, and that isn’t because we read it only in November. Kids aren’t particularly concerned with the calendar versus how they respond to a particular book.
A seasonal book may be more attractive for guest blog posts, because bloggers like timely and topical posts. But once the holiday is past, promotion will likely seem out of place. In contrast, a birthday book or an afraid of the dark book, or any more universal theme or experience, can be promoted any time.
I’m having a ton of fun with the Halloween book, although this is a crazy six weeks. Because Pug and Pig wear skeleton costumes, of course I hunted for a skeleton costume of my own. Finding something that wasn’t going to scare little kids turned out to be a challenge. It’s hard to find a friendly-looking skull. A skeleton apron seemed to be the best option. I start events without the apron on. If the kids are really young, I may stick with orange and purple beads.
There’s always that tension between what we write and whether there might be a market for that manuscript. “Write what you love” doesn’t always match “there’s a place for that book on our list.” I’d be interested to know how many debut books actually are holiday books. My speculation is that a holiday book is more likely marketable after an author has other books out, or if it is a companion book or sequel featuring characters in an existing book.
Come November, I’ll be focusing more on my writer self. I plan to be more organized about goal setting for writing and revising as well as my author/business responsibilities.
However, as I make my way through this hectic October, I’ve rediscovered that candy corn is a fine carrot for me. And fortunately, it’s on the shelf all year long.
To celebrate October, and to whip our writing efforts into a productive fourth quarter frenzy, you are cordially invited to join us on
the 24 Carrot Writing Facebook page for our :
2nd Annual 24 Carrot
Writing Trick or Book Treat Party
Join the Writing Trick or Book Treat Party by sharing your favorite writing trick or tip, or treating your fellow writers to a book recommendation. Share your writing tip, or a recent children’s book that you have loved and/or used as a mentor text on our Facebook page.
When you share, we will enter you in our October 31 drawing for signed copies of children's literature. We are keeping the middle grade and young adult titles masked! But our picture book prize is a signed copy of Sue Lowell Gallion's newest picture book Pug & Pig Trick-or-Treat. And stay tuned for a guest blog by Sue later this month!
You don’t need a costume, but you do need to be a part of our 24 Carrot Facebook group. If you haven't joined yet, what are you waiting for? You'll get a weekly Facebook update every time we post a new blog or book pick! To join, just click the green "Join Our Facebook Group" button on your right. Or you can find us on Facebook at 24 Carrot Writing.
Come join our Writing Trick or Book Treat Party!
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