Sunday, August 16, 2009

Road Trip - BC Unchained

Just 26 sleeps until we set out on our road trip of BC.

We've dubbed it BC Unchained, as the goal - wherever possible - is to eschew all chain hotels, restaurants, and grocery stores, and shop local wherever and whenever possible.

We have no set itinerary, other than to leave home on Sept. 10, setting out in the direction of Pemberton. After that, we will take whichever fork in the road most appeals to us at the time.

Lots of friends and acquaintances throughout the province have invited us to drop by - and we will certainly give them a call if/when we fetch up in their neck of the woods. And if they're home, we'll drop by. But no promises.

The one thing I am collecting is a list of recommended motels, restaurants, etc. We'll carry the list with us, and if we're in the neighbourhood, check them out.

So comment here if you can recommend a funky motel, a world class deli, a great coffee shop (esp. if it's got Wireless Internet) and any other business that meets our criteria.

I'll be blogging as we go.

Friday, August 14, 2009

25 trees celebrate an anniversary and help the environment

Surrey Public Library's
Library Grove

Planting day, Oct. 2, 2008 (Photo: Michael Ho)

In 2008, planning its 25th anniversary year, and as one of the initiatives of its Green Committee, Surrey Public Library came up with the idea of creating Library Grove – a planting of 25 trees in a local park to recognize the value of trees in the library’s collections and of their value to the environment.

It was amazing how quickly the word spread; calls and emails came in from individuals and businesses wanting to sponsor one of the trees. Participants at the 2007 Surrey Writer’s Conference contributed to a tree, children using the library contributed their quarters to buy a leaf on the Children’s Tree...

Photo: Michael Ho

After some negotiation with the City of Surrey, the new Holland Park in North Surrey was selected for the site, and on October 2, 2008 the Library Grove was dedicated, with many of the tree sponsors taking up a shovel to plant their tree.

I left the library in early that year, but of all the projects I’d been involved with over my 30 years there, this is perhaps one I’m most proud to have been involved with.

On August 23 (noon – 3 p.m.) I’ll be thrilled to be reading in the Library Grove as part of the Arts Picnics in the Parks, a project developed by South Surrey writer Virginia Gillespie, who will also be reading along with local editor and writer Sylvia Taylor and poet Heidi Greco.

For the first time since I planted it, I will also have the chance to go back and see how 'my tree' is doing.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

SCWBI LA Conference round-up, part 2

Good to know my previous post proved useful. Here are a few more tips gleaned from my scribbles.
(Edited to add that Debbie Ohi, aka Inkygirl is also posting gleanings from her time at the SCWBI. Check it out )

One. Openings.
This may be your only/best chance to grab the editor's/agent's/reader's attention. These five elements of a strong opening came from a workshop by Daniel Lazar, agent with Writers' House and Courtney Bongiolatti, editor with Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
*examples are mine, not theirs.
1. Protagonist's age. This needs to be determined early. Not by blatant references such as 'Millie Milani, aged nine years old...'*, but by oblique reference and inferences from which the reader will intuit the age.
2. Voice - here it is again. That elusive element that gives a piece of writing its unique 'ring'.
3. Situation - establish the set-up early. ..The hot air balloon that has become untethered and is carrying its passengers away, the dog crate that has come unlatched giving its occupant one chance of escape, the swing that has passed its point of no return and is carrying the main character above the inner city park... *
4. Tone - in some ways voice might contribute to this, but this element conveys whether the piece will be high action, dark suspense, humour...
5. 'A certain unclassifiable magic' - which can't be described, no formula conveyed, but this is the element that often gives the first reader an 'aha moment' in which they know the work will be something special.

Two. Most editors and agents need to love your work to champion it. They can no longer take chances on submissions that might make it in the market place, that are very close but not quite, that have something undefinable that they hope to tease from the work.

Three. 'Emotional truths drive the best story, but write from the character's conviction, not your own.' Karen Cushman, author

Four. 'When you're writing, separate the writer from the editor from the critic. Then dump the critic.' Karen Cushman, author

Five. Publishers want books that have a purpose on their list, that are not there just because they're 'good'.

Six. When pitching to an editor or agent, define how your book is both similar and different to others on the market. Two-minute 'Elevator pitches' are too long for anything other than lengthy written queries. Find a short hook line that in some way conveys the spirit and content of your book.

Seven. Richard Peck said: (amongst many other things)
'An epiphany is the sharp point of no return.'
'Make rough music out of real speech.' (Quoting Mark Twain on dialogue)
'A story is always a question. Never an answer.'
'We can't always help kids out of the holes they find themselves in. But our books can keep them company'.

Eight. Death is fiction is often better conveyed third hand. Through the actions and reactions of those affected by it. (Paraphrased from a point made by Steve Watkins, author of Down Sand Mountain.)

Nine. If a writer appears to be difficult to work with (overdemanding, overeactive, not respecting boundaries, etc.) an agent or editor is likely to pass on their work, regardless of how good it is.

Ten. Every main characters need to cast a vivid shadow.

That's it for me. Now I better get to work following up on the goals I came away with from the conference. The blog here can provide more words of wisdom gleaned from presentations and speeches by a very diligent bunch of bloggers during the weekend event.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

SCWBI LA conference round-up

While I could not possibly reproduce the depth and breath of the information I picked up at this week's LA conference of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators - and doubt I'll get around to decoding the full notebook of scribbled notes I came home with any time soon - these are the top ten points I thought I'd share with anyone who might be interested in children's books - as a writer, reader, teacher, librarian...

1. While the publishing market is struggling with house merges, downsizing, editor losses, etc, there still is a market for kids' books, and lots of editors, agents and publishers who continue to be passionate about children's books - PBs, middle grade and YA. Especially those that are well written with a strong voice and an original story, or new take on an old idea.

2. YA is thriving, but that means that with a strong market focus on that category, there will still need to be good MGs and PBs for when the focus shifts back in that direction. YA is partly thriving because of the crossover of adults now picking up YA titles.

3. If you've never heard Richard Peck speak, you must not miss the next chance you get. You may not agree with his perspective on everything, but no one could question his passion or commitment, or the compelling presence of this icon of contemporary children's literature. And if you haven't read his work - do so soon.

4. Even the 'quieter' picture books (which right now can be a tough sell) need a narrative arc. Beautiful text won't cut it. You need a beginning, middle, and end, as you do in any story. And they are getting shorter. 750 words is good. 1,000 words is perhaps the max. you'll get away with in most cases.

5. Lots of talk about 'quiet' books, how they are harder to sell. But everyone seemed to have a hard time defining what 'quiet' means. Perhaps it's a book driven more by theme and language than a strong and original story.

6. Voice is often the ingredient that first catches an editor or agent's attention. You develop that by writing a lot, getting so deep into the character that the world and story you convey is expressed in their terms, not yours. Think of music. How you can tell the difference between Bach and Vivaldi, Sting or the Partridge Family. Even if you don't recognize the song or the words they're signing. Tempo and pace contribute to voice. The individual words you use and how you put them together...

7. Children's writers, illustrators, agents and editors are very generous. They share their skill and knowledge, support each other, celebrate each others' successes. I've rarely been in a more collegial environment.

8. Write from the heart not the head - don't over-worry about the market/trends/what your writing peers are writing and selling. When you've written it, that's the time to find out where your story fits and do what it takes to find the best home for it.

9. Conform to what editors and agents want when you submit manuscripts and queries. Check their websites when you start planning to market your work, then again just as you're ready to send it off in case they've changed their criteria. Don't put roadblocks in the way of other writers' work being read (adding to already large submission piles) by sending in work your too early, to the wrong people, in the wrong way.

10. Consume children's books. Not just those of your writing peers. Buy them for yourself, your friends, neighbours, kids' school, to donate to local libraries (God knows, most of them are experiencing some kind of hard times). It one thing to worry about the health of children's publishing, but we need to be supporting it by buying good books.

Speaking of which. I came home with about 85 titles that were mentioned during the conference, which writers I met there had recently published, or had been recognized in one way or another. Here are ten that I plan to track down first - picked at random, purely by titles that most appealed to me... right now. *Indicates those that I have already read

1. The Curious Garden by Peter Brown
2. Dust of a Hundred Dogs by A. S. King
3. Touching Snow by M. Sindy Felin
4. A Visitor for Bear by Bonnie Becker and Kady MacDonald Denton
5. Wintergirls by Laurie Anderson
6. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins *
7. Ash by Melinda Lo
8. The Other Side of Blue by Valerie Patterson
9. Sarah Plain and Tall by Patricia Maclachlan *
10. Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta