Thursday, August 30, 2007

Coming Down the Home Stretch

My house is a mess, the dishes are piling up, the kitchen floor’s gone unmopped for nearly three weeks, I haven’t dusted in at least that long, and the socks on top of the pile of unfolded laundry in my bedroom is getting altitude sickness. My stack of mail and bills are resembling the leaning tower of Pisa.

Clearly I’m in The Deadline Zone.

Friday, August 24, 2007

SCBWI Conferene Notes - Tamora Pierce

I fell in love with Tamora Pierce’s writing the minute I opened Beka Cooper: Terrier, so I was thrilled when I learned she would be speaking at this year’s conference. I attended her breakout workshop entitled: Developing Cultures in the Fantasy Novel. A rather dry title for such a fascinating process.

Or maybe it was especially fascinating to me. You see, it turns out that Tamora Pierce has exactly the same research/world building process as I do! How cool is that! I feel so thoroughly validated now.

Here are some notes from my research twin.

She opened with a Lionel Trilling quote: The immature artist imitates. The mature artist steals.

One thing she talked about was maps, and here is where I confess that I am obsessed with maps. Love them. Since I’ve started writing fantasy, I’ve come to learn that I absolutely cannot create a fantasy world without a map.

Especially if I’m creating an original fantasy world, as opposed to creating a fantasy element in an historical setting.

The truth is, who we are, as a species, a race, a person, is all shaped by the land from which we sprung and the neighborhood we grew up in. Maps are vital to my process, and Ms. Pierce’s as well.

They also make terrific sources for surnames and nobility titles since many of those are based on landholdings.

Ms. Pierce also talks about following her obsession. When she was younger, she’d fall in love with an historical time period and absolutely devour everything she could about the time or culture, only to find herself using that years later when crafting one of her fantasy worlds.

Another tactic she talks about is studying a political system or culture, then recasting it in a different land or time period. (This is where the part about the mature writer stealing comes in.)

Her personal favorite as far as maps go is a map of Jerusalem, as it is a city that can be traversed in a day and as such makes a terrific launching pad for a city of your own construct.

She collects baby name books and cookbooks, both terrific sources of information about their cultures.

Finally, she reminded us that we don’t want to drown our readers in historical or fantasy world details, but to give them only a taste. Use the details to supply texture and detail and enrich the main conflict of the story.

Some other points she had to make about fantasy:

Fantasy is not safe
Kids need to understand that they aren’t the only ones to screw up.
Some of the deepest, darkest issues are dealt with in fantasy.
There is a current trend in fantasy to focus on the faults and weaknesses of governments.
Fantasy deals with honor. Honor is almost no longer talked about, except in fantasy.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Editor's Thoughts on Perfect Books

Ever wonder what editors think makes the perfect book?

Duh? What writer hasn't?

At the recent SCBWI National Conference, we had a chance to hear straight from the mouth of five highly respected editors in children's books, and I thought some of you might be interested in what they had to say.

One thing that struck me was that they all enjoyed the search for the perfect book, but didn't expect to find it. Would, in fact, be disappointed if they found a perfect book because then there would be no role for them to play in the process of creating the book, which was a perspective I hadn't really considered before. As Julie Strauss-Gabel explained, they weren't interested in just being copy editors.

Dinah Stevenson of Clarion Books
  • Original, not derivative
  • Good story that leaves her perfectly satisfied
  • No indifferent reactions to the book, love it or hate it
Emma Dryden of Antheneum
  • Peeling away layers to tell the story
  • A book that has clearly been well planned, but also has room for surprises
  • Word play
  • Non rigid text that is open to many interpretations
Rachel Griffiths of PUSH (Scholastic Imprint)
  • She responds to honesty
  • A peek into a fascinating mind
Julie Strauss-Gabel of Dutton
  • The author of her perfect book would be independently wealthy and would consider editing to be a non-adversarial process
  • Ambition in terms of structural and emotional goals of the story
  • She is specifically looking for older YA literary, contemporary fiction
Allyn Johnston of Harcourt
  • Loves picture books
  • Wants a book to cast a spell around those reading it

Thursday, August 09, 2007

SCBWI Conference Notes-Series Proposals

It seems as if I'm always apologizing around here, mostly for being such an intermittent blogger. In fact, I was thinking that I would have to just give up and go on hiatus until after I got my mss turned in on September 1, but then I went to the SCBWI conference and realized I have tons of great notes to share. Hopefully that will make up for my lackadaisical blogging habits. Which will get much better come Fall, I promise. Plus, I am doing a large portion of my blogging on the Theodosia site, as well as over at Shrinking Violets.


I was one of the lucky few who was able to get in to Bonnie Bader's (Editorial Director Grosset & Dunlap) Creating The Series two part breakout session. She was hugely generous in the information she shared with us, so I in turn will share it with you. She listened to everyone's hooks/pitches, and handed out a number of successful series proposals that had sold, so there was tons of great, concrete information.

What Makes a Good Proposal

1. A strong, succinct logline - boil the premise of the series down to three sentences, making sure to include the hook. Bonnie really emphasized this hook concept. The hook/logline really needs to be fresh and different, a unique twist on stuff they see all the time.

2. A strong, succinct one page overview of the story. A synopsis that clarifies the arc of the series and the protagonists journey. Make sure any unifying elements for the series books are emphasized. Note: You can have different protagonists in each book, you just need to be sure and stress the unifying themes/elements in the proposal.

3. Character Breakdown - A one paragraph description of each of the main characters (protagonist, best friend, the foil, the love interest, the antagonist, etc.) Be unique and creative by using distinctive choices for your characters that help them stand out from all the others that cross their desks.

4. A half page synopsis each of the first three books and a smaller blurb for "possible follow ups."

5. Three sample chapters - the first three chapters of the first book, preferably.

6. Marketing Pitch (Optional) - info that can show the editor why this series will sell. This is NOT a "my book is the next Harry Potter" type hard sell, but a comparison to other similar books in the market place that is working and why yours is different and what hole or niche your series is filling.

Next up, brilliant ways to put the internet to work for you by Cynthia Leitich Smith.