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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

What Jane Yolen Said....

The Mid-Atlantic SCBWI Conference was this past weekend. And it was, as usual, a success! The conference promised, and delivered, a terrific line-up to a packed house. We had the great pleasure of listening and learning from Sarah Davies of Green house Literary; Valerie Tripp of the American Girl Series; Lonnie Plecha of Cricket Magazine; Elizabeth Carpentiere of FACES Magazine; Amanda Forr of Girl's Life; Julie Vosburgh Agnone of National Georgraphic Kids; Alvina Ling of Little, Brown; Jill Santopolo of Balzer and Bray; Allison Wortche of Knopf; Marilyn Mark of Marshall Cavendish; and our Keynote Speaker, Jane Yolen.

But before I get to Jane, let me first share with you some tips from Valerie Tripp. I really enjoyed her enthusiasm and absolute passion for what she writes. Here are a few quotes from her speech...

"Be patient....scribble. Writing is like housework, except after its finished it stays clean."

"Choose a genre that gives you purpose."

"Nurse those grudges. Forgive but don't forget." And she gave a personal example, which proved to be a great scene in one of her books.

What about Jane, you ask? Well, she had a list of 21 Writing Rules. I'll post my favorite ones here.

3. Don't let characters float on the page. Give them action....description of characters with great dialogue. "Context is everything."

4. Have fun writing. Butt in chair and heart on the page!

5. Wrinkles are far more interesting in your picture.

7. No one outside of a fairytale should have a happy ending. A meaningful ending must have a lifetime of discussion.

8. Finding the right words is the difference between a lightening bug and the lightening (this she quoted from someone...but I can't remember which writer).

11. The narrator shall be known right away in the opening line. Plan your first line well.

16. Too many writers ignore landscape. No one teaches us to see, except in art classes. Most of us miss the little things. Place (landscape) can be a metaphor or even a character.
The territory helps to shape the character. Your details must be precise, not as a visitor, but as a resident. Be an observer of nature as well as character. GO OUTSIDE. SIT IN A SHADOW. BECOME PART OF A TREE.

19. There may actually be projects you'll never complete. That's okay. Move on.

21. Just write. A writer writes and that's what matters.

Thank you, Jane, Valerie, and the others...


Saturday, October 18, 2008

Teaching Writers' Workshops

I'm teaching writers' workshops to elementary school students this year. I've started by working with fifth graders. Memories of fifth grade are especially sentimental to me, as it was my own fifth grade teacher who told me (and my parents) that I would someday become a writer. I don't know if I quite believed her back then, as I thought I would become a rock star. But somehow she knew the inevitable. A writer can't help but write.

My own workshop attendees are teaching me something interesting about life. When we have a passion and share that passion with others, we come full circle. I'm loving the kids' enthusiasm and zest for learning about the world of writing. Yes, these kids seem to be having fun and are inspiring me, too. When I received a pile of homemade thank you cards from one of the classes, it was better than receiving a bag of gold. Some thanked me for "opening up a new world," others said they started writing stories for fun, etc. I will hold on to those letters and treasure their thanks, and hope that I might see some of these budding writers in print someday.

I never tire of learning, either. I'm currently taking a terrific writing workshop with Anastasia Suen ( I believe a writer should never stop being a student. The craft of writing is lifelong and the art of writing is inspired by a life lived well.

"Live a good life
And in the end,
it's not the years in a life,
it's the life in the years."

~Abraham Lincoln

Cheers to writers' workshops everywhere.


Friday, October 3, 2008

Leesburg Idol for Writers

Friday evening, I drove twenty minutes to Old Town Leesburg, one of my favorite spots to shop, visit galleries, and eat. But this night was not for food, casual conversation, or gallery hopping. This was a rare occasion; it was Leesburg Idol for writers. As I parked my car and made the walk to my destination, I didn't know what to expect. Idol for writers...this should be interesting, I thought. I took part in this great adventure and entered the beginning of my novel, Kingdom's Gateway. The requirements were a cover page with the title, genre, and logline; a query letter; and the first three pages of a novel. A logline, should you be curious, is a one to two sentence summary of your story. It should be catchy, with personality, and show-off your unique voice. Not everyone stuck to the one to two sentence logline rule, as it is often hard to write what your story is about in so few words. But as all three agents (Idol judges) pointed is a must to master the skill of the logline.

To start off, we were introduced to our three great agents of the night, Deborah Grosvenor of Kneerim and Williams Agency; and Paige Wheeler and Jeff Kleinman of Folio Literary Management. Hearts raced, faces flushed, voices cracked while each logline was read aloud to the panel of judges for their first impressions. The judges deliberated (in front of us all) as to whether the story would garner an additional reading. They would decide if the submission would go into a yes, maybe, or no pile. If your story was put into the no pile, you knew the agent would not read past your logline. If it was put in the maybe pile, the agents would look further into your query letter, and if your logline made it into the yes pile, you were in the running.

I'm happy to say my story was one of the original six to make the final round, then two more were added from the maybe pile,bringing the total finalists to eight. The beginnings of all eight stories were read to the audience (for 1.5 minutes a piece). Then the round of judging took place. The audience voted for the winners of the first Leesburg Idol. It was enlightening, educational, and a great way to network with other writers and agents. And though I did not ultimately win one of the generous prizes, I came away feeling like a winner. The evening was a success for all!

If you live in the Northern Virginia area, you should check out Northern Virginia Writers and the Writer's Center for a listing of more great upcoming events.