Saturday, April 16, 2011

SCBWI WWA Conference

It's underway! Our co-regional coordinators, Laurie Thompson and Joni Sensel, and the assistant coordinator, Kim Baker never fail to bring humor and encouragement with them. We're blessed to have these ladies!

Outstanding faculty on hand including agents Joe Monti, Sarah Davies, Tina Wexler and Marietta Zucker and editors Liz Waniewski and Martha Mihalick.

Monday, April 11, 2011

WIWC Children’s Market Fireside Chat part 1: Andrea Brown

The Andrea Brown Literary Agency is one the most recognized and respected in the industry. It really was a privilege to meet the founder and glean her wisdom. As all the Fireside Chat speakers, Andrea spoke once in the AM and once in the PM. Her first talk was entitled, “Demystifying the Children’s Book Industry.”
Here’s a snapshot of Andrea’s talk:
-          Write to your audience.
-          You have to BE a child, not just think like one.
-          Humor is necessary in every category/genre.
-          There’s always a market for bedtime picture books.
-          Focus on the universals of a child’s life.
-          People read GOOD stories. Write one of them.
-          “If you have writer’s block, it just means you’re not writing what you should be.”
-          Editors keep saying they want boy-centric books…and then don’t buy them.
-          For YA: don’t follow trends, write what you love.

Andrea’s  second talk was “Fundamentals of Adult/Children’s Fiction and Landing an Agent.” She hit us first with her  5 P’s of Publishing: Passion (write every day!), Product (you’ve got one shot with an agent, make it count with your best submission), Patience, Persistence and Promotion.
Andrea followed that with her 7 Fundamentals. She noted that a writer shouldn’t submit unless they could check off each one of these:
-          Memorable characters
-          Plot
-          Theme
-          Conflict
-          POV
-          Structure
-          Resolution
She posed an interesting question: how many of us would spend $25 to purchase our own book. Andrea also advised critique groups and workshop-style settings as being essential to success.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

WIWC: Saturday AM keynote with Garth Stein - Let Me Tell You A Story

It was a treat to hear Garth Stein for the first time Saturday morning. Garth started off the session by discussing the three easiest things for writers.
The easiest thing to do in the world is not write. The “second easiest thing is to talk about what you haven’t written with friends , family and strangers.” The third easiest thing is to “write about what you’ve never written” like plot points, vignettes, and only writing about what you think about writing but haven’t finished.
Garth: “Writing is a process of discovery.”
You must take the writer/reader relationship very seriously. It’s a matter of trust. There are mistakes in fiction but no accidents. Be aware when you’ve written a character sloppily (unrealistic). Dramatic truth: if you put a gun on the wall early in the story, you need to remove it by the time the story is over or we betray the trust.
Realize the story takes on a life of its own and that as storytellers we are just stewards.
On first drafts: he writes them for himself; all subsequent drafts are for the characters and story. Garth noted an interesting statistic from a study in Scientific American Mind: for the first time in history, less than 50% of Americans read for fun. He noted that reading is a social act. We must give something in order to receive something.
Garth reiterated time and again the importance of the writers’ role in society. We can be agents of change, and have an “obligation of being idealists.” Readers desire to be changed, that’s why they read. In his closing statement, Garth said “a book has no purpose until it’s read.”
NEXT UP: Children’s Market Fireside Chat part 1

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

WIWC Workshop: Jennie Shortridge on Pulling Stories from Your Passion

Today, I continue my report about the Whidbey Island Writer's Conference.

Jennie Shortridge is the author of When She Flew and a co-founder of Seattle7Writers. I appreciated her open and challenging demeanor. The workshop was one of the most helpful ones I’ve attended over the course of several writers conferences

She began with a quote:  “Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion.”

Jennie noted how we all write to instill something in our reader. As a writer, we may not realize what that ultimately is but the reader will form some type of relationship with it, which could be the opposite of what we envisioned. If the reader finds comfort or clarity, or is even angry with what you’ve written, your job has been accomplished. The message has been received for isn’t a story more than just words?

Jennie led us in some exercises and focused on sharing emotional truth in writing. She told us to further explore the question why we write . Personally, there are several reasons: because I can’t; to encourage or impart wisdom; and because I want readers to gain something positively that will influence their lives.

As writers, we’re curious souls, always striving to learn things and why they are the way they are. It’s a career of investigation and exploration, working to solve the mysteries of our own lives and the lives of others.

Jennie noted how we are the worlds’ “truth tellers” because we’re focused on fact-finding, emotional depth and the importance of defining the human condition.  “Each of us has something to tell the world and maybe more than one thing.”

Another thing Jennie said  that really stuck with me is something I’ve been working through myself the past few years: “The trials of your own life can be a valuable tool in your writing.” You may never know the impact it will have on your reader.

NEXT UP:  Saturday morning keynote with Garth Stein

Monday, April 4, 2011

Whidbey Island WC – Day 1, Part 2

I was fortunate to have my agent consult (pitch) and critique back to back late Friday morning. I pitched one of my novels to Laurie McLean of the Larsen Pomada Agency. For more info about Laurie, go to I haven’t pitched in person very frequently and found myself more relaxed than I would have imagined. I consider the pitch successful and it was certainly a learning experience. I’ll admit it was great to talk with someone who’s excited about my story idea. As we all know, getting an agent is more than pitching a great idea. The writing must exceed the setup you’ve provided. If the story, the characters and plot are dry or poor, it doesn’t matter what incredible idea you pitch.
The first 20 pages of my 1st novel was critiqued by agent/writer Mandy Hubbard. This was eye-opening for me. Those 20 pages were the longest portion of prose I’ve ever had reviewed by an agent or published writer. Mandy was honest but considerate. I appreciated her feedback, especially the fact she pointed out some issues I was previously unaware of. She confirmed some other problems I knew existed and already am busy revising.
I don’t believe it’s possible to overstate the importance of both pitch sessions and critiques. In two weeks, I’ll have the first 5 pages of one novel critiqued by another agent. I look forward to that feedback as well. The daunting task of revision lies before me for both novels but I’m diving in with both eyes open. Let the games begin!
NEXT UP:  Workshop review

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Whidbey Island Writers Conference Day 1, Part 1

I’d been looking forward to this conference for months. It was advertised as unique and I was intrigued to compare the differences with other conferences I’ve attended. I live a short distance from this year's site so the travel was incidental. Rain welcomed me Friday morning as I said goodbye to wife and kids. A short ferry ride from Everett to Clinton, a 30-minute drive and I arrived in Coupeville exactly at 9am for registration.
No familiar faces greeted me but I’d resolved in advance of the conference to cast off my historically wallflower-like personality around strangers and to engage people. I admit it takes me a few minutes to warm up to the idea. It’s not that I’m your traditional introvert; I’m just uncomfortable around strangers. I’ve learned that’s a bad trait to possess at writer’s conferences! Besides, who knows what great friend one might be missing by not reaching out.
Many editor/agent consults were already under way when I departed for my first session with Carolyn Tamler entitled “Envision Your Future as a Successful Writer.” I’ve become a huge advocate of goal-setting in writing and map my own goals out each year. While some of the session covered concepts I already used, I found it encouraging to break up into small groups and learn where other writers were coming from. It also helped me add to my list of goal, redefine some I’d purposely left vague and consider new priorities.
We all chose one specific goal with which to jump into the questionnaire. I chose to have at least three completed, full revised manuscripts ready to submit to an agent within a year. When I reviewed the question “what exists to get you to this goal?”, I discovered the amount of work I’ve completed but still required further revisions/edits. I get encouraged by the small things and while I realize cutting and slashing your novels can be challenging and painful, I welcomed the thought of the finished product – looking ahead to when my agent or editor will advise yet further rewrites.
Over the course of the next week, I will be covering my conference experience in detail for you and it’s my hope you’ll join me and glean something useful.
NEXT UP: Friday pitch session and critique