Sunday, January 31, 2010

SCBWI Destination Publication 2010 Conference

(Photo borrowed from author Jo Whittemore's Facebook page, and thanks to the mother-in-law for my favorite sweater.)

The Austin SCBWI Destination Publication 2010 conference was a total success. The speakers were topnotch. The organizers were gracious and tireless. The attendees enthusiastic and energized.

Highlights (for me): Hanging out with my literary agent, MarkMcVeigh. On Friday afternoon, after picking him up from the airport, and getting him checked in to his hotel, we sat down and discussed my work. He offered valuable feedback on three of my manuscripts, and we discussed a plan of action for getting them ready for sale. We also discussed my YA novel WIP, now at over 10,000 words, first draft.

After discussing my manuscripts, we, um, went shopping. My wife will never believe it, but I did. And I didn't complain or make a mean face, not once, I don't think. Mark was looking for vintage cowboy boots, so I took him to several Goodwill and Salvation Army stores. He schooled me about clothing and designer labels, ties, men's and women's shoes, purses. Did you know that Prada was much more than a word in a movie title? Mark is a class act. Unfortunately for him, though, Austin is more about cargo shorts and flip-flops, so he didn't find Couture anything. But I found something: THE LITTLE RASCALS remastered on VHS, for $1.00.

Other highlights:
--The pre-conference party at the home of Greg and Cynthia Leitich-Smith. The food, yum! I didn't go the the post conference party. I'm not exactly a socialite, so after one party and a full day of conferencing, I just needed to get away from people and hide.

--Caldecott Honor illustrator Marla Frazee's keynote, followed by a sit-down discussion with author Liz Garton Scanlon. They discussed their true collaboration on the book, ALL THE WORLD. I was so affected by the discussion that I will never approach a picture book project the same. I think through my picture books before sketching, of course. I plan and I create thumbnails, too. But Marla takes this process to a much higher level. She raised the bar, and I spent much of the evening considering how I need to change my work habits to reach that level. I was amazed by Liz. I already knew she was talented. I've had the honor of reading a few of her WIPs. But I didn't know the backstory behind ALL THE WORLD. Wow, she's truly a rock star.

--Chatting with up-and-comer illustrator-author Clint Young. If you don't recognize that name, you soon will. Believe me.

--Hanging out with award-winning illustrator Mike Benny.

--Carmen Oliver received the MEREDITH DAVIS VOLUNTEER OF THE YEAR AWARD, which was so well deserved.

All of the speakers were fantastic, but I especially enjoyed Lisa Graff's talk, "Write Like an Author, Revise like an Editor." She described herself as "being a little bit goofy," and yes she was, but that's what made her presentation so much fun. You can tell she writes for teens. She reminded us to read books with the eye of an editor, which is something I've already been doing, and explains why I know nothing about the current book I'm reading. I'm reading it, but I'm not focused on the story at all, I'm asking myself questions like, "Why did the author begin her dialog here?" and "What motivated the character to do this?" You do learn a lot by reading this way, but it's definitely kills the fun of the story.

The day ended with a panel that included many successful Austin authors and illustrators, including Chris Barton, Jessica Anderson, Liz Garton Scanlon, P.J. Hoover, Jennifer Ziegler, Shana Burg, Philp Yates, Patrice Barton and Jacqueline Kelly. Each offered a golden nugget of wisdom, and I especially cracked up at the wonderful poetry of Philp Yates, who wrote and shared an ode to Austin's talented children's and YA community.

Lowlight: Walking up to Newbery Honor author, Kirby Larson at the Leitich-Smith party, and asking her, "So, are you an agent, editor, author or illustrator?." Then asking her, "What have you written?"

Great day, it was. Too bad my handwriting is so sloppy, I can't even read the notes I took.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

5 quick writing tips

So this guy sends an email, asking me for writing advice. Says he’s looking for a “good older writer” to make his stuff better.


Anyway, I’m honored he thinks I’m a good writer, and I’m thankful he offered his compliments. But instead of responding to him directly, I’m quickly posting a few tips.

1. Write everyday. Doesn’t matter what you write – stories, poems, whatever. Just write.

2. Read everyday. Yes, it does matter what you read. Read the kind of stuff you want to write. Want to write novels? Read lots of novels. Want to write poetry? Read lots of poetry.

3. Join a writers group. SCBWI is a good one if you're writing for kids. If you’re in Texas, The Writer’s League of Texas is another. But there are others. In these groups, you’ll find lots of writers like yourself who are asking the same questions, and lots and lots of published writers who can answer them.

4. Take a writing course. Now if you’re like me, you don’t have time and can’t afford one. But that’s no excuse. There’s lots of online resources that can teach you about correct grammar, punctuation and general writing tips. Where do you think I learned to write bad metaphors.

5. Um, write some more. Practice makes perfect. Revise (throw it away, start over).

Of course there’s more, at least there is when you get more into storytelling. Voice. Point of view. Tense. Story and character arc. Rising and falling action. Similes . . . on and on and on and on. Just enough stuff to make you want to tear your hair out. But that will come later. For now, simply write. And have fun!

And please forgive my typos and spelling and grammar, because I'm learning, too.

Specific advice to the guy who wrote the letter to me: Spell it out. “R U happy 4 me?” is a great way to express yourself in a text message. But probably a bad habit to lose early on, though keep in mind, all rules are made to be broken.