In 2013, I was lucky enough to receive a grant from SCBWI to pursue a writing project involving coast Redwood trees. Recently, I visited Redwood National and State Parks and made a brief video about my way-too-short time there. Be sure your audio is turned on, relax, and enjoy the magnificence of these very real giants... http://animoto.com/play/7EIRj8Axpl1d0pHpbTu0Fw
I'm happy to announce the first day of A Cool Summer Tail Blog Tour. The book launched this spring, but since this is a nonfiction children's book about how animals adapt to heat, it seemed appropriate to save the tour until the temperatures got nice and steamy. We all know how hard it is to stay cool when the thermometer rises. Can you imagine how much harder it would be if you were wearing a fur coat? A Cool Summer Tail gives readers some insight on how animals survive hot weather.
Blog tour participants can be entered to win a free, signed book and a plush animal featured in the book (fox, bear, or squirrel) just by visiting each stop on the tour and commenting to let us know you popped in. One commentor will be randomly selected. You'll learn about some very cool sites along the way, too. Here's the schedule:
August 11: Anastasia Suen: Booktalking #kidlit http://asuen.wordpress.com/ and Nonfiction Monday http://nonfictionmonday.wordpress.com/ (a nonfiction guru)
August 15: Deborah Diesen: Jumping the Candlestick http://jumpingthecandlestick.blogspot.com/ (New York Times bestselling children's book author and fellow Michigander)
August 15: Brittney Breakey: http://authorturf.com/ (unique and quirky interview questions that made me think!)
August 18: Jennifer Chamblis Bertman: http://writerjenn.blogspot.com/ (a peek at creators' work spaces)
In addition, Debbie Gonzalez and Sue Morris at Kidlit Reviews are reviewing A Cool Summer Tail on their websites. They are expecting you, so stop in for a look-see.
Then, stop back here on August 20 to find out who won the book and plush. (They would make a great summer birthday present!)
So...buckle your seatbelts. Here we go!
Shutta Crum, Michigan author extraordinaire (MINE!, Thunderboomer, Dozens of Cousins, etc), tagged me to participate in the ongoing Writing Process Blog Tour. Shutta's effervescence is her calling card, and just underneath it lies gobs of talent as a writer, poet, child whisperer, storyteller, mentor, and role model. I feel lucky to have crossed her path in life. Visit her website and you'll see what I mean.
Week after week, writer by writer, the Writing Process Blog Tour asks and answers 4 seemingly-simple-but-surprisingly-complex questions about how we write. Then we’re tagging others to post their answers, as well. My answers follow below and information about the person I tagged is at the very bottom. Be sure to scroll down so you can learn about her.
What are you currently working on?
If all goes well, I’ll have two picture books (one nonfiction nature and one fiction humor) ready for my agent by September. I have one picture book (fiction with nonfiction underpinnings) and one historical MG on submission and another picture book that will be going out soon. Hopefully there will be post-contract revisions for all of these soon!
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Right now, I am a multi-genre writer. However, I am a nonfiction (nature) author. The tagline on my website is “writing at the intersection of fiction and nonfiction” and that concept resonates deeply to me. If I can narrow in on a reality-based topic that is new and tell it in a fresh and fun way, then it’s a HOME RUN, baby!
Why do I write what I write?
If I hear, see, feel, taste something unknown to me, I often wonder if there is a story in it. Like every creator, I’m on a continual quest to learn and I love sharing what I learn with others – particularly children. When I see the light turn on in the eyes of children who read my stories, I know the hard work is worth it.
How does my individual writing process work?
I wouldn’t be Quickly-Bored Me if I didn’t have several picture book and novel projects in various stages of development. Here are my typical stages of a developing manuscript:
Get pinprick of an idea > write, revise > maybe there is something there > write, revise > like it enough to keep working on it and do some research > write, revise > send draft to my critique group > revise the heck out of it > run draft through crit group again > write, revise > ask secret ninja reader to react to it > write, revise > send to agent > write, revise > manuscript goes out to the world
More often than not, my pinprick of an idea doesn’t make it to the end of the cycle. If I lose steam on it, the passion isn’t there. One day, I asked my agent, Jodell Sadler, which project she thought I should focus on next, and she said, “Pick the one you care deeply about and jump in there.” It was great advice and it helped me realize we could work together effectively. She could have said, “Do X project because it is more commercial” and blown the flicker of my enthusiasm right out.
I do almost all of my writing at my computer, but carry notebooks and favorite pens with me everywhere. I write best after movement/exercise and will often solve issues with dialogue or characterization or plot while out in the woods or on the water. My first two books, A Warm Winter Tail and A Cool Summer Tail were born because of my experiences in Nature. (Yes, capital "N" because Nature is my best writing partner and I’d be lost without her.) Here are a few scenes from my trails...
I'm tagging Jennifer (Jenn) Chambliss Bertram who is an author to watch. In total transparency, she is in my critique group and I know how strong a writer she is. But I chose her for this blog tour because she a great example of how talent + experience + hard work leads to success. She's paid her dues as a writer, journalist, editor, student, and teacher. When she had her first baby, landed an amazing agent, and secured a three book contract in a matter of months, we weren't surprised, but we were very happy for her. Visit her website and stay tuned for her debut, The Book Scavenger, in 2015. Go Jenn!
If you haven't tried webinars yet, you are missing the high-powered speedboat. To view a webinar, you need an internet connection, audio through your computer speakers, and time. That's it!
My first webinar was in 2011, chosen through Writer's Digest because they were professional and had great course offerings. I loved the medium so I participated in webinars on topics as diverse as querying, common core, middle grade novel openings, and character development. I learned a ton cost-effectively and without leaving my office. Then, in my role as co-Regional Advisor for SCBWI-MI, I worked with co-RA Leslie Helakoski and with Aaron Brown from Delve Writing on creating a 5 part series of webinars (From Manuscript to Submission) for others to view. That's when I realized how effective they are for diverse audiences.
The trump card for webinars from my perspective is that I found my agent, Jodell Sadler, through one. She offered a picture book pacing session through Writer's Digest, and after I submitted a picture book for critique as part of the webinar, she requested more information about my writing and eventually, I signed with her. <insert happy dance>.
Bottom line (ha!): webinars rock. Go forth. Sign up for a webinar nearest (or far-est) from you. You'll be glad you did.
Michigan author, Jennifer Rumberger, was kind enough to interview me for her blog. She reviews picture books and participates in the Marvelous Middle Grade Monday series. She's an insightful seeker (and share-er) of knowledge in the kidlit world. Yay, Jennifer! Her adorable first book, Ducklings on the Move, is available by digital publisher, MeeGenius.
Adding humor to writing can be daunting and hard to define as a technique, so I wanted to share this article that was written by Tim Bete and appeared in Writer’s Digest five years ago. I think it can really help us develop a funny bone to use in our manuscripts...
The old TV game show “Match Game” illustrated how important one word can be to a joke. Gene Rayburn hosted the program, in which contestants filled in a blank in a sentence and hoped their answer matched those of the celebrity guests.
For example, “Brenda said to her son, `It’s not true that I wanted a daughter instead of you. Now shut up and put on your ______.’ “
Actor Gary Burghoff’s answer: “training bra.” Much funnier than if he had answered “earrings” or “perfume,” right?
Many of the same humor rules that apply to jokes also apply to the choice of individual words. Individual words can show exaggeration, or provide a surprise or double entendre—all of which are solid techniques to make people laugh.
But often writers spend more time on the order and structure of sentences than the individual words within sentences. When you’re writing a humor piece, don’t settle for an overall funny concept. By going back through the piece with a fine-tooth comb, and using these six tips to find the funniest words, you can turn a funny piece into a hilarious one.
LISTEN TO HOW WORDS SOUND
When a person reads, he hears the words in his mind. Words that sound funny when spoken also sound funny when read silently. In Neil Simon’s play The Sunshine Boys,
one character says this about comedy: “Fifty-seven years in this business, you
learn a few things. You know what words are funny and which words are not funny.
Alka Seltzer is funny. You say `Alka Seltzer,’ you get a laugh…Words with the
`k’ sound in them are funny. Casey Stengel, that’s a funny name. Robert Taylor
is not funny. Cupcake is funny. Tomato is not funny. Cookie is funny. Cucumber
is funny. Car keys. Cleveland…Cleveland is funny. Maryland is not funny. Then, there’s chicken. Chicken is funny. Pickle is funny.”
Read your writing aloud and listen to the sound of the words, as well as their meaning. Try substituting one word for another and listen to see if it makes a difference.
PICK A WORD THAT BREAKS A PATTERN
Mixing the length of sentences adds variety to a piece. Mixing the length and pattern of the word you use can do the same thing—and add humor. For example, “Bill’s favorite foods were beef tenderloin with béarnaise sauce, coconut creole bread pudding and Twinkies.” The word “Twinkies” breaks the pattern of the more sophisticated foods—and also includes the magic “k” sound. Big Idea Productions created an animated TV program called “3-2-1 Penguins!” The program is about four penguins named Zidgel, Midgel, Fidgel and Kevin. Notice how “Kevin” breaks the rhyming pattern of the first three names and offers a surprise. It would have been even funnier if a single syllable name had been used to break the two-syllable name pattern. For example, Zidgel, Midgel, Fidgel and Bob.
Generic words (e.g., automobile) aren’t as funny as specific words (e.g., Ford F150 pickup truck). Specific words add a level of detail that draws a reader into a story and makes it more believable and personal. I once wrote, “Kids are like martinis—the more you have, the looser you feel.” Using a specific drink (e.g., martini) is much
funnier than using a generic term (“I’ve often said that kids are like alcohol—the more you have, the looser you feel”).
The same is true for expressing quantity. “Forty-three” is funnier than “a lot.”
PUT THE FUNNIEST WORD AT THE END
Humor writers always put the punchline at the end of the joke. A corollary to that rule is to put the funniest word at the end of the punchline sentence. (Thanks to Keith Woods, dean of faculty at the Poynter Institute, for this great tip.) For example, compare these two sentences:
Kids are like martinis—you shouldn’t drive under the influence of either.
You shouldn’t drive under the influence of kids or martinis.
By putting the word “either” at the end of the sentence, the punchline comes as a surprise. Placing the word “martinis” at the end of the sentence telegraphs the punchline and diminishes the humor.
When revising a humor piece, reread each sentence with an eye for the funniest word. Then rewrite sentences using the same words in a different order to see which has the most impact.
FIND WORDS WITH MULTIPLE MEANINGS
The double entendre is a comedy staple, one that’s all about word choice. Country music song titles often use this device. Consider the songs “If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body, Would You Hold It Against Me?” and “Crystal, I Can See Through
You.”In the first example, “hold it against me” can refer to either “beautiful body” or the statement “you have a beautiful body.” The second example is more of a pun, in which “Crystal” can either be a woman’s name or something made of glass.
Choosing words with multiple meanings can be very pun-ny. (Sorry.)
USE A THESAURUS
For most writing, I don’t recommend using a thesaurus. Writers often end up adding uncommon or sophisticated words that result in a clunky writing style. But for humor writing, a thesaurus is an indispensable tool. There’s no quicker way to find potential funny words when you have a concept in mind but can’t come up with just what you’re looking for.
Say you’re writing a humorous piece about how your car always breaks down. Looking up “car” in a thesaurus will jumpstart your brainstorming and provide you with words that you probably wouldn’t have thought about, or at least not as quickly—and you can drive that clunker (or bucket, heap, junker) to the bank of funny writing.
I love learning about animals and how they navigate their often harsh existence. Maybe that's why I chose animal adaptation for the topics of my first two books (A Warm Winter Tail and A Cool Summer Tail due out mid-February). This video clip shows a red fox catching mice that are buried under feet of snow!! How cool is that?
The SCBWI Work-In-Progress (WIP) Grants assist children’s book writers and illustrators in the completion of a specific project currently not under contract, and are made possible by a generous grant from Amazon.com.
Award: Seven Grants of $2,000 will be awarded annually, one in each category. Seven Runner-Up Grants of $500 will also be awarded, one in each category. Authors of other projects cited by the judges as noteworthy will receive a Letter of Merit. In any given year, the SCBWI Grant Committee reserves the right to withhold the grant for that year.
Deadline: Applications may be submitted March 1-March 31
Eligibility: The grant is open to authors with a current work-in-progress. Illustrators can apply for one of the Don Freeman Grants
-Picture Book Text (Barbara Karlin Grant)
-Contemporary young adult novel
Additional Text Awards (you may apply for these in addtion to the text categories above):
Karen Cushman Grant (for an unpublished author over 50)
Anna Cross Giblin Award for Nonfiction (you do not send an additional application, this is chosen from all applications submitted to the Nonfiction category)
Unpublished Author Award (you do not send an additional application, this is chosen from all applications by unpublished authors across all the other text categories)
Don Freeman Illustrator Grants
1. You must be an SCBWI member through September of the application year.
2. Only electronic submissions in the form of ONE PDF will be accepted. No snail mail.
3. You may not submit a work that is under contract. If the work becomes under contract before the winner is announced, you will become ineligible.
4. You may submit to only one WIP grant category per year.
All applications must be submitted electronically as a single PDF
Title the PDF with your name (first_last.pdf). Make sure you put the category you are applying to (General, Contemporary, Multi-cultural, Nonfiction) in the subject line of the email.
The email address to send your application will not be available until the grant opens on March 1st.
YOUR APPLICATION MUST INCLUDE:
1. A one page cover letter with a synopsis.
The cover letter must include the following:
If you are Published or Unpublished
A double-spaced synopsis
The letter must be the first page of your application and be formatted as in the template below:
WIP Cover Letter Template
Sample WIP Cover Letter
2. The first 10 pages of your completed manuscript.
Your manuscript must be double spaced and cannot exceed 10 pages.
The email address to send your application will not be available until the grant opens on March 1st.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Other questions? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org