Friday, July 31, 2009

One of the questions I hear most often from new writers is, "How do I know when my manuscript is ready to submit?"

First your work must be as polished as you know how to make it, but that's only the beginning. Find some objective readers who will look at your manuscript and give you feedback. Check SCBWI for critiquenics or writer's workshops. Another good source of writing classes can be your community college or local adult education center. Sometimes instructors will have private groups that you might be invited to join once the class is completed. Then revise again. Back to the readers, etc.

Once I complete a manuscript, I put it away for a time. A break from the work can be very useful because it gives me a new perspective and a little distance helps me be more objective with it comes to revising. This is particularly true with stories I've submitted. Anytime a manuscript is declined, I see it as an opportunity for improvement. My work is as polished as I can make it before submission, but if the story comes back; I always search for a way to make it better. As soon as I submit one story, I get to work on another. Each project develops new insights and teaches me something that I can apply to my rewrites.

When you've done all you know how to do, then it's time to "Give your story wings." It's a bit like sending your child off for their first day of school...scary? Yes! But you have to believe your story is prepared for the adventure. If it returns with a skinned knee, you fix it up and send it off again.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

In honor of the National Day of the Cowboy, I was invited to share my book, The Gingerbread Cowboy, at OutWest Marketing on Main Street in Newhall which is in the Santa Clarita Valley, CA. I had a great time reading my story and better yet, meeting some terrific people. Bobbi and Jim Bell, who own the store were such thoughtful hosts. Their store carries an eclectic mix of Native American and Western inspired goods for men, women, children and the home along with some delicious foods. I also met some of the artists they feature. Bob Hernandez was exhibiting some amazing punched tin folk art. Laila Asgari, the talent behind Serendipity Blue designs in glass, brought some of her beautiful cowgirl inspired glass art. I couldn't leave for the day without purchasing a special piece to take with me.

Originally part of an old Spanish land grant, Newhall was founded at a whistle stop for the Southern Pacific Railroad in the 1800s. Santa Clarita is the home of Gene Autry's Melody Ranch (now the Veluzat Motion Picture Ranch). Western television series filmed there include Gunsmoke, the Lone Ranger, and Annie Oakly. More recently, Melody Ranch was the location for HBO's Deadwood. Western movies were also at home here. Renowned actors from Tom Mix and William S. Hart to Gary Cooper starred in films shot in the Santa Clarita Valley. John Ford made particular use of Beale's cut, one of Santa Clarita's historic features, for his 1939 film "Stagecoach," starring John Wayne. Beale's cut is a 90 foot vertical cut that was dug in the 1800's with pick and shovel to create a pass between Los Angeles and California's Central Valley.

Santa Clarita's Western Heritage also includes William S. Hart's Horseshoe Ranch with its Spanish style mansion and surrounding grounds. The ranch is now known as William S. Hart Park. The house is preserved as a museum that contains Hart's original furnishings and art work. The park is home to bison descended from a herd donated by Walt Disney.

Friday, July 17, 2009

For all you writers out there -- check out today's blog by author and artist Tina Nichols Coury for the Writing Tip of the Day by Terry Pierce. Terry offers some great suggestions about how to tighten and strengthen your story using those highlighters we all have. My fistful fill a mug that lists the top ten reasons to become a librarian.

While you're at it be sure to visit Terry's blog as well for more great thoughts on the writing of children's books. Terry's currently blogging from Vermont College where she's participating in an intense writer's workshop.

Time to get those highlighters out of the mug and back to work.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Check out Wendell Dryden's thoughtful post "Readability - Form and Substance" on his blog: qualities - communities - literacies. Wendell raises an interesting point about how the readability of a story is aided or complicated by decisions regarding the way words and letters are displayed on a page. He uses newspapers, Green Eggs and Ham and My Car as examples to compare and contrast word alignment in the text and various writing conventions. He goes on to discuss how editorial choices influence the success of both youth and adult readers.

As a writer of children's books -- picture books in particular -- I'm always very conscious of word choice. How does each word best convey my story? Does the reading level meet the needs of my target audience? I read everything out loud, more than once, to check sentence fluency - the way words and phrases flow together.

As a library media specialist, I'm concerned with finding books with an appropriate reading level for each student on a daily basis. Wendell shines a light on another component to consider.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Not long ago I was offered the opportunity to serve as one of the moderators for an SCBWI Critiquenic at Roxbury Park in Beverly Hills. The event was organized by Dawn Knobbe who is SCBWI-LA Small Events Coordinator and Executive Editor for Toe the Line. Despite the threat of rain, there was a pretty good crowd when I arrived. Each moderator was assigned a group of writers based on a particular type of material. Mine was picture books. We found a comfortable spot under a tree, settled down with our picnic lunches to get acquainted then went to work reading and offering suggestions on the shared work.

What a great experience! It was a treat to hear so many different stories...ten writers...ten ideas...imaginative and original, each told in the author's unique voice. The enthusiasm that the writers brought to their work and the thoughtful suggestions offered to their fellow writers was impressive. I left the writing workshop renewed, energized, and grateful for the chance to spend an afternoon with people who are so passionate about developing their craft.

I was reminded of a marvelous quote from
Jane Yolen, "Love the writing, love the writing, love the writing...the rest will follow."

Writing is such a solitary endeavor. We work in a vacuum. It's empowering to feel the connection that a workshop provides. My mind was humming with ideas for my own manuscripts as I made the drive home. I couldn't wait to get my hands on my story.

Friday, July 10, 2009

I've been meaning to start this blog for a while...quite a while actually, but there was always an excuse to wait. A manuscript to submit, or revise, or write. A new idea for a book that needed researching or outlining. The next project that I wanted to undertake as Library Media Specialist. Book signings to attend, writing workshops to give, literacy events to support with my time and energy. Finally one of the those little voices in my head shouted, "Enough!"

The light came on...Why do I do all that I do?

My passion for words and the music of language? Maybe it's being Irish -- that ancient Celtic tradition of storytelling when the bards could weave spells with their words. No doubt that's part of it. But not all...

There are the children I will see this coming school year as Library Media Specialist - the eager primary students, the third and fourth grade children - so curious and ready to explore, the fifth and sixth graders looking for a challenge. And always, sadly, the students who regard books with disinterest or worse - dread. And there are the educators, parents, and community members that I work with in our continuing goal of making literacy a fact for everyone.

Ultimately, the why is about sharing the passion, the magic, the eagerness, the curiosity and the challenge.

It's all about the books. Yes. That's why I do what I do. I read for the magic that is a storyteller's art. I write because I have to tell the stories. But the greatest joy for me is in the sharing. And now this blog will let me share with all the readers and writers I've had the good fortune to know and perhaps with a few new folks as well.

Wow! Look at the time. I'll be blurry-eyed tomorrow - no - today, but I did it! You all know that quote about the long journey. This is one more step.

The Gingerbread Cowboy Book Trailer