Saturday, April 12, 2014

Writers Who Run: Push Yourself to the Finish Line

Last Saturday, I ran the 4th largest foot race in the U.S., the Cooper River Bridge Run in Charleston, SC. It's a 10k (6.2 miles). Nearly 40,000 runners show up to run the race and "Get Over It." Lots of fun costumes and great music. They even had watermelon cups at the finish line this year. YUM! Yep, I'll be going back next year. Can't wait. Did it in 1:21:19, which is slower than last year's time, but I was recovering from two separate injuries, too!

how to finish a race | how to finish a novel | story craft | running tips | writing tips

Anyway, onto the writing lesson and running analogy for the day. Motivation station, here we come! So, what do writing and running have to do with each other? Lots, if you love to do both! Pushing yourself through to the end comes to mind this week.

As writers, we must push ourselves to read more, write more, get the words down, revise, revise, revise. Submit, revise again, submit again. Perseverance is what it's all about, after craft, of course. If we don't push ourselves, no one else will. We must first write the story. Including the ending. Then, we can celebrate, revise, get published, whatever. And we start planning the next book. The characters. The plot. The theme. The format. We must write the next book!

As runners, we must push ourselves to get out and run. To take it easy to get through injuries. To bundle up on those cold days and just get it done. And at races, to make it to the finish line. When we're at the start line, the end is already in sight. It's like writing through the last chapter of your novel. You can hear the crowd cheering for you, and you simply have to finish it. Once we cross the finish line, we celebrate. We plan for the next race. When. Where. What distance. Who will go with us. Who will run with us. What the next training plan looks like. We must run the next race!

To the finish line and beyond!!! Because is there ever really truly a finish line? They just keep coming, and we must continually push ourselves to cross them. Others can't do it for us, they can only cheer us on.

What's YOUR next book about? What's YOUR next race coming up?

Keep on keepin' on... 

Friday, April 11, 2014

High Five #32: Persistance Is Key

Here’s a big HIGH FIVE congratulations to Cynthia Grady for her debut picture book, I Lay My Stitches Down. Thanks for being here today, Cynthia! Get ready for the fabulous five questions and Cynthia's fantastic answers. Take it away, Cynthia!

Title:  I Lay My Stitches Down: Poems of American Slavery
Author: Cynthia Grady
Illustrator:  Michele Wood
Publisher:  Eerdmans
Release date:  February 2012
Word count: Not sure. (14 poems plus historical notes for each poem)
Using the American folk tradition of quilting as a structural framework, poet Cynthia Grady weaves together spiritual, musical, and quilting references with evocative imagery to express the pain, sorrow, and weariness as well as the joy and hope sustained by those living in slavery in America. 
Each poem is named for a traditional quilt block pattern: Broken Dishes, Log Cabin; Birds in the Air, etc. and each poem is spoken in the voice of a different slave (except first and last poems—they are present day speakers). Each page also has an explanatory note that provides historical and sometimes literary context for each poem.
Question ONE: What are three of your favorite picture books? 

This is such a hard question! I never know whether to list all-time favorites or current favorites. But here are three books I love.

  1. The Ghost-eye Tree by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault
  2. Ol’ Bloo’s Boogie-Woogie Band and Blues Ensemble by Jan Huling
  3. If You Want to See a Whale by Julie Fogliano

Question TWO: All sound very interesting. Haven't read any of them, but I've heard of the third one. Despite not having any children of your own, how do you feel that you were drawn to write for them?

I’m drawn to the artful use of language, and combined art forms working together, so I love picture books for that reason. I don’t see myself as a writer for children so much as a writer who uses (among other things) the picture book form—one tool in a writer’s toolbox.

Question THREE: Interesting! I think that's especially true for nonfiction picture books. Picture books aren't just for children. The elementary schools in my area don't call them Easy Books, they call them Everybody Books. How might your book be used in the classroom?

Stitches can be used in so many ways! I’ve written a teacher’s guide that can be downloaded from the Eerdmans website. Teachers of older students can use it to supplement their study of American slavery as well as using it as a mentor text for writing and studying imagery in poetry, writing monologues, and in writing diary entries. All of the poems are written (mostly) in iambic pentameter, so it can be used for advanced work in poetry writing as well.

Teachers of younger students can use Michele Wood’s incredible paintings to anticipate the poems. Study the illustrations before reading the poem. What questions might the students have? Does the poem answer these questions? Does the illustration answer questions the poem may generate? How does the illustration support and/or extend the poem?

Question FOUR: Great! I think have a teacher's guide makes your book more accessible. Anyone's book, actually. I can see your book being used in an art unit as well. Maybe even have the children create their own quilt squares and/or poems with either the same theme of slavery, U.S. history, or any topic they choose. Well, the question we most want to know is what was your road to publication like?

I’ve been writing and submitting for a very long time! I’ve had a few individual poems (for adults) published, some essays on children’s literature, librarianship, and poetry published, but no books until 2012.

I wrote the first three poems in Stitches while designing a quilt over my winter vacation. They came to me all at once (author’s note contains a little more detail on this). The following February, I was taking a writing class where I workshopped these three poems and was encouraged to keep going. I wrote the next 11 poems over eight months.

I have no agent (yet), so I submitted to editors I’d been meeting at SCBWI conferences. It took me a little over four years to find a publisher (each editor kept my mss. for nearly a year before rejecting!). I think I submitted it a total of 6 times before I sent it to the slush pile at Eerdmans. Six months later I had an offer from them to publish.

I used no illustrator notes, but I did provide a small, 2-inch diagram of each quilt block to go with each poem (in case they didn’t know quilts).

Once accepted for publication, a few poems were tweaked in minor ways, but the historical notes were revised more substantially. I didn’t have book design in mind when I wrote them—some were a few sentences long and others were several paragraphs! I learned that they needed to all be of similar length, so the editor and I worked hard to get them there. Also, my author’s note was originally about 600 words—we ended up breaking it into a preface and author’s note of about 250 words each…. and the title was kept—I came up with it when I finished all the poems. It’s a line from the final poem.

I have 4 other picture book manuscripts that are submission ready, and one nonfiction manuscript currently out with an editor—THAT manuscript has been revised countless times, growing from 600 words to 4,000 words, and now back down to about 500 words—all at the request and suggestions of various editors via conference critiques. I’ve been working on it since 2005!

People are not kidding when they say persistence is key.

Question FIVE: That is such an awesome story. I love that the editor accepted your book even though you still need somewhat substantive edits with the historical notes. I also love that your title was able to be kept. And finally, what are your top three writing tips you can offer to writers seeking publication?

1. Study and analyze the masters in your genre.
2. Play, play, play with language if you want to improve.
3. Get out of your head by doing physical tasks—whether swimming laps or washing windows.

I love these tips, Cynthia! So very true. Playing with language. That could be as simple as playing word games with my kids more often. And being physical really does help. I'm pretty sure I've even read studies about that to prove it. Thank you so much for being with us today! I hope you get an agent soon and that your 2005 book will find a home, too!

You can find out more about Cynthia's other writings on her website.

Keep on keepin' on...

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Writers Who Run: Our Mantra

RACE DAY IS HERE. #CRBR is twitter lingo for Cooper River Bridge Run, which is in Charleston, SC. They happen to share the same mantra I've been using for a long time: "You don't have to go fast. You don't have to go far. You just have to show up!" Anyway, 6.2 miles, here I come.

Running mantra: You don't have to go fast. || Just do it. | writers who run

There's something uniquely thrilling about being among 40,000 people with the same goal - in person. To run a race and cross the finish line. I can already feel the adrenaline swelling within. If you've never tried it, start out with a local 5k. That was my first race. And then I went straight to a full marathon, 26.2 miles. And now I'm hooked. Even though lately, I might only get in 1-2 runs a week. At least it's not ZERO.

Running a race is the equivalent of attending a writer's conference. So many like-minded individuals sharing the same dream, sidled up next to each other to soak in the wisdom of those who have gone before. Imagine. A writer's retreat AND a race, rolled into one event. It's coming. For Writers Who Run.

But today, I run. And hope to not be in too much pain afterwards (and during). I do see ice packs on the horizon. Catch you next week, in a book, on the road, or somewhere in between.

What are YOU going to do this weekend?

Keep on keepin' on...

Friday, April 4, 2014

High Five #31 (4 of 14): Rebecca Colby's Big Break - In More Ways Than One

Week 4 of 14: Here’s a big HIGH FIVE congratulations going out to Rebecca Colby for her debut picture book, which just hit the shelves in the UK, and will be coming to the US in May. Read all about it!

Title:  There was a Wee Lassie who Swallowed a Midgie
Author: Rebecca Colby
Illustrator: Kate McLelland
Publisher: Picture Kelpies (Floris Books)
Release date: May 2014 US (March 2014 UK)
Word count: 624 words
In this Scottish twist on a much-loved rhyme, the wee lassie swallows a succession of Scotland’s favorite creatures to catch that pesky midgie—including a puffin, a Scottie dog, a seal, and even Nessie! After all that, the wee lassie can’t still be hungry. Can she? 
To find out more, you can also take a peek at the book on YouTube.

Question ONE: What are three of your favorite picture books? Just three mind you. 

  1. Tadpole’s Promise by Jeanne Willis, Illustrated by Tony Ross
    • This is a fantastic book about accepting others as they are, with an ending you won’t forget anytime soon. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea but the children I’ve shared it with have all loved it, as I do.    
  2. Mostly Monsterly by Tammi Sauer, Illustrated by Scott Magoon
    • This book is mostly monsterly, but like its main character, Bernadette, it also has a sweet side. The book shares the message that you should be yourself. Children will be pleasantly surprised to find out how Bernadette goes about remaining true to her sweet side while still acting like a monster. 
  3. No Matter What by Debi Gliori
    • I bought three copies of this book--one for each of my daughters and one for myself. It is a touching book about how a mother fox reassures her cub that her love for him is unconditional. I love this book and it never fails to bring tears to my eyes! 

Question TWO: Sounds like a lovely list. I bought Mostly Monsterly. Tammi Sauer is awesome. I should read it again. That is if I can find it on my shelves. So...what is your bedtime routine like with your children? How would you say books play a part in that?

I have two wee lassies at home who are 8 and 4 years old. Our bedtime routine is a bit bonkers because I’m not the best at enforcing bedtime. But if the kids have been bouncing off the walls for too long, all I have to say is, “If you’re not ready for bed in 5 minutes, there won’t be any stories tonight!” That always does the trick because they love their books! It’s a family affair and the four of us (hubby too) pig pile into one bed and read a couple of books before going to sleep. It’s a great way to end the day and everyone looks forward to it.

Question THREE: Oh, how I love that your hubby joins in the pig pile for book time. (Do you ever have to actually withhold their stories?) Speaking of stories, how might teachers use your story in the classroom?

Having been a teacher myself, I wanted to ensure the book could be used in the classroom across the curriculum. As such, I’ve produced a free teacher’s guide to the book for students in Kindergarten and Grade 1. The activities range from rhyming games, to measuring with midgies, making Loch Ness monster puppets, learning about habitats, playing Scottish animal movement games, and more. There are also a couple of coloring sheets at the end of the guide that are appropriate for younger children. The guide can be downloaded from my website.

Question FOUR: Awesome! I love that you have a website with resources available. What was your road to publication like and what resources can you give the rest of us?

My road to publication meandered for many years. I started writing picture books when my 8 year old was a baby, and I made every mistake in the book. I hired an illustrator for starters. Then I asked him to illustrate 31 pages of a 32 page book, not realizing until much later that I should have only asked him to illustrate 24 pages. After breaking the Guinness Book of World Records for the number of rejections received, I finally smartened up and found the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and sought professional advice. It was the best career move I’ve ever made. I can’t recommend SCBWI enough. Some of my best friends are SCBWI members, and the support is tremendous! Then I won the 2011 SCBWI Barbara Karlin grant and thought I’d made it. But it wasn’t until 2013 that an industry door finally opened for me.

I like to tell people I got two big breaks in one week: one good and one bad. I broke my wrist ice skating last February, but the day before, I was offered representation from Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. Signing with Kathleen really helped to soften the blow of breaking my wrist. A week later Kathleen sold my first book to Feiwel & Friends--which was not the Wee Lassie book but rather a book about a witch parade entitled It’s Raining Bats and Frogs. It was a month later that Wee Lassie sold to Floris Books. The dream had finally come true.

Question FIVE: That is such an awesome story. I love how each writer's journey is truly unique. Congrats on BOTH books! What are your top three writing tips you can offer to writers seeking publication so we can join you in the ranks of "dreams coming true"? 

  1. Read, read, read, then write, write, write! A writer needs to do both on a regular basis.
  2. Be determined to be determined! It can be a long road to publication and you musn’t give up. You know what they say about the difference between the writer that got published and the one that didn’t—the published writer never gave up! 
  3. Think outside the box. Can you come up with something that hasn’t been done before? Or find a brand new twist for a familiar story or rhyme? Don’t ever settle for your first 5 ideas because chances are they are not your best ideas. Challenge yourself to find something new to bring to the picture book market. (And if all else fails, go ice skating and hope for a big break!) 
Thank you so much, Rebecca! Part of the purpose of my blog is to help me read more and write more. And to help us all stay inspired and determined. Ideas, ideas... I suppose you can never have too many.

Keep on keepin' on...


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