Saturday, January 23, 2010

2010 Writing & Illustrating for Young Readers Conference

We're letting you know that you can now register for The 2010 Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Conference!

This year's conference will be held
June 14-June 18, 2010, and promises to be an exciting week. Our new venue in Sandy, UT, is large and full of light. And we're working with the wonderful bookstore
The King's English! As usual, we have an amazing, award-winning faculty, too.

Our faculty includes:
Rick Walton and Cheri Earl--who will team-teach the Beginning Class
Bonny Becker--who will teach a Picture Book class
Kristyn Crow--who will teach a Picture Book class
Mike Knudson--who will teach a
Chapter Book class
Kevin Hawkes--who will teach the Illustration Class
Emily Wing Smith--who will teach the Beginning Novel Class
Ann Dee Ellis--who will teach the Contemporary Novel Class
Alane Ferguson--who will teach an Intermediate/Advanced Novel Class
Sara Zarr--who will teach an Intermediate/Advanced Novel Class
Brandon Mull--who will teach a Fantasy Class
Dave Wolverton (Dave Farland)--who will teach a Fantasy Class

Editors * and Agent:
Jennifer Hunt from Little, Brown
Mary Kole from
Andrea Brown Agency

If you can't spend the whole day with us, look into attending the afternoon sessions.
Additional speakers will include Will Terry, Guy
Francis, Ally Condie, Jennifer Grillone, Kirk Shaw, Matthew Kirby, Sydney Salter
For more information, and to register, please go to

* We're still waiting to hear back from one editor

Please forward this information on to your writing and illustrating friends. Thank you!!!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Picture Book Marathon

Join us as we "run" a Picture Book Marathon in February. Basically this is a Nanowrimo for picture book writers. You may have seen our article in the Nov/Dec issue of SCBWI's Bulletin.

There is no cost to join, we won’t release your email to anyone, and you won’t need to publicly post your work. The marathon is designed as a motivational tool and to jumpstart your writing.

Each person will write 26 picture books during the month, one per day. Since February has 28 days, this leaves you two rest days. We suggest you save at least one of those to "treat" yourself during the last week.

In January we've been sending out "training" tips for folks who signed up for the marathon. Once we start "running" on February 1st, we'll all communicate via the blog which will be only available to other "runners." So far over one hundred writers are "marathoning," some from as far away as Australia and Moscow, Russia!

Visit our website for more details and to sign up. The deadline to join is January 29.

Happy writing!

Jean Reagan and Lora Koehler

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

How to Get the Most Out of A Critique Group

I've been in a dedicated critique group, consisting of a former publisher and a published authors for the past year and a half. There have been amazing benefits, not only for my writing but also in enjoying the works of others.

So here are a few things I've noticed maximize the critique group experience:

1. Avoid Explanation/Defending Your Writing. The more you have to explain to others, the more editing you have to do. We have one member of our critique group who just nods when we pose questions and takes notes. The group also feels more open to express opinion.

2. Come Prepared With Questions. Kickstart the discussion with one or two thoughtful questions about character, plot or pacing. Help steer the discussion towards the weaker parts of your writing. It also doesn't hurt to ask what your fellow group members think you are doing well.

3. Critique Strengths & Weaknesses of Others. Authors come to critique groups for several reasons, but gaining support from fellow authors is one of them. Of course positive critique is essential, but helping your group members understand what they do well can help them play to their strengths.

4. Ignore Punctuation/Copyline Editing. This will inevitably be a waste of time. Each publishing company has it's own way of doing things.

5. Sleep On It. Wait overnight, or at least a day before tackling the suggestions you brought home from your critique group. Initially, if you've got a good group and you've listened well, you'll come home pretty wounded. But after you've had a good night's sleep, you'll start to get excited about the changes you're going to make.

What suggestions do you have for members of critique groups?

Tiffany Dominguez
Freelance Writer
Young Adult Fiction

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Other Hobbies

What do the rest of you do for fun? What are your hobbies?

Post a comment below to share!

Monday, January 18, 2010

An Interpretation of a Recent Rejection Letter

NOTE: Regular font is what the letter actually said; Italic font is my own idea about what they were trying to say. Hope that clears it up.


[Name & Address]

Dear Sarah,

Thank you for submitting your manuscript ______ to _______ for consideration for publishing. We appreciate you giving us the opportunity to review your work

(This is just standard practice and is built into the letter template. Don't take it personally. We aren't really thanking YOU; we are simply being nice.)

We receive a great many submissions and we review each one.

(The corners of our offices seem bare without the stacks of slush pile manuscripts, and we often use them to prop up uneven tables and chairs. One employee prefers to use manuscripts for reusable coasters for her coffee mugs. In fact, we probably wouldn't have even noticed yours except for the fact she ruined a pile by spilling an entire coffee pot on it, and we had look through them to see which ones were soaked and might attract bugs. Yours was okay, and, since it was almost time to go home, we read it.)

We take into consideration where our particular segment of the market is going and what our customers are looking for when we review items for publishing.

(We are interested in making a lot of money. Our customers want books, and we want money to make the payments on our new boats/cars/RVs/summer cabins-- it's a mutually beneficial relationship; too bad you're not a part of it.)

After careful consideration, our new products committee has decided to decline the opportunity to publish your work.

(Though we all had a great time laughing over your manuscript. We all placed bets on how many typos we could find! I lost that's why I ended up writing this letter.)

Please let us know if you would like your manuscript returned or destroyed. If you would like it returned you will need to cover the postage costs. Let us know by ____ or we will have it shredded.

(If you don't take it back, we will have a great time destroying it with all the other unwanted manuscripts we receive. It's a quite a party: shredding first, then a bonfire where we roast marshmallows and hotdogs. These parties really build company morale.)

We would be happy to review any future projects you may wish to submit for publishing/distribution.

(We haven't laughed so hard in years!)

We wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.

(May we recommend taking up another profession? Soon.)



"Finding Your Voice" by Carolyn Sloan

"...I was searching for something outside myself-- some sound that did not belong to me, that was not a part of me and was never to be created by me. And all the time I could have spent investigating my own instrument was instead trying to imitate and recreate [the] "perfect voice"... Remember your true voice can only be arrived at with a relaxed concentration and careful attention to individuality."

I read this quote during a brief time when I had delusions of actually being a good singer. I loved this quote and it has stuck with me, even if I'm still an off-key, toneless singer.

Too often when we start to develop our writing talents and skills, we immediately look to see how everyone else is doing it and we attempt to imitate them. We all have a true writer's voice that is uniquely ours; when we find that individuality, we can truly excel. That's when we don't just write, we create.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Writing Scenes

by Scott Rhoades

Today I thought I'd give some practical writing advice.

Don't do it.

Just kidding. Definitely do it. I couldn't stop you anyway. You write because you can't not write, even when you don't really want to do it.

So, since you're going to write anyway, let's talk scenes. You probably know that scenes are the backbone of story telling, but you might not know what makes a good scene. Chances are, you go purely by instinct. You have a certain thing happen, and that's a scene. But there's a tried-and-true formula you can use to create scenes. This will be old hat to some of you, but for others, it might make the difference between a lackluster plot and a page turner.

I know, we're artists, and as artists we're naturally predisposed to dislike words like "formula." But think about how music would sound if it didn't follow the expected formulas or rhythms and chord structures and all of that musical stuff. A story is the same way. be as creative as you like within the scene, but if you follow the established structure of a well-crafted scene, your scenes will sing and will keep your readers engaged as they move from one scene to the next.

I'm not going to go into a lot of detail. My posts tend to run a bit long as it is. But, I'll provide links to places where you can get a lot more information presented in a much better way. And maybe if there's interest I'll dive in deeper in future posts.

The basic formula is defined by writing guru Dwight Swain as "Scene and sequel." Other writers use similar, if not identical, terminology. It goes something like this.

You have a scene. A scene is followed by a sequel.

A scene consists of three elements: goal, conflict, and disaster. Your character has a goal. When trying to achieve that goal, conflict arises. Ultimately, the conflict results in a disaster that usually prevents your character from achieving the goal. Or, if he achieves it, some other disaster happens to make things worse than they were going into the scene. Your character's life gets worse and worse as the disasters pile up from scene to scene. That process creates plot.

A scene is followed by a sequel, which also contains three elements: reaction, dilemma, and decision. The character reacts to the disaster, recognizes the dilemma the disaster puts him in, and makes a decision. The decision creates the goal for the next scene, and it starts all over again.

My novel was floundering until I discovered this principle. Interesting stuff happened, but it wasn't very exciting. I edited with scenes and sequels in mind, and all of a sudden it was a lot more interesting. The plot hung together better, my protagonist was in greater peril, and the story became more fun to read.

So, when you write, instead of thinking in terms of chapters, think about scenes. As you begin each scene, make sure there's a clear goal and plenty of conflict, and remember to end with a disaster. Then, have your character react, recognize the dilemma, and make a decision to try to solve the dilemma. You'll notice a big difference.

You can read more about this on several Web sites, but i recommend the following books. I've read them all, and found them all worth the money. The first two are the best known, but the last two are more recent, and I think I actually enjoyed reading them more.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate" by Jacqueline Kelly

Over the Christmas holidays, I finally got a copy of "The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate" by Jacqueline Kelly. I had seen the book in one of my daughter's book orders and thought it looked interesting.

I LOVED it! The character, Calpurnia, was so lovable and I found myself rooting for her as she struggled against what her mom wanted her to be (a lady) and what she wanted to be (a scientist.) I recommended the book immediately to my niece who has always been a bit of a tom boy, preferring dogs to dolls.

I highly recommend this book. Plus, I love the fact that the author is a first time novelist who is also a doctor AND a lawyer. Whoa! Talk about your high achieving woman! I can't wait to read more by her.

Here's one of the starred book reviews I found on

From School Library Journal

Starred Review. Grade 5–8—A charming and inventive story of a child struggling to find her identity at the turn of the 20th century. As the only girl in an uppercrust Texas family of seven children, Calpurnia, 11, is expected to enter young womanhood with all its trappings of tight corsets, cookery, and handiwork. Unlike other girls her age, Callie is most content when observing and collecting scientific specimens with her grandfather. Bemoaning her lack of formal knowledge, he surreptitiously gives her a copy of The Origin of Species and Callie begins her exploration of the scientific method and evolution, eventually happening upon the possible discovery of a new plant species. Callie's mother, believing that a diet of Darwin, Dickens, and her grandfather's influence will make Callie dissatisfied with life, sets her on a path of cooking lessons, handiwork improvement, and an eventual debut into society. Callie's confusion and despair over her changing life will resonate with girls who feel different or are outsiders in their own society. Callie is a charming, inquisitive protagonist; a joyous, bright, and thoughtful creation. The conclusion encompasses bewilderment, excitement, and humor as the dawn of a new century approaches. Several scenes, including a younger brother's despair over his turkeys intended for the Thanksgiving table and Callie's heartache over receiving The Science of Housewifery as a Christmas gift, mix gentle humor and pathos to great effect. The book ends with uncertainty over Callie's future, but there's no uncertainty over the achievement of Kelly's debut novel.—Jennifer Schultz, Fauquier County Public Library, Warrenton, VA

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Susan Powell: Missing

I hope you will all grant me a few minutes’ indulgence…I’m going to go off-topic a bit here and talk about my dear friend, Susan Powell, who has been missing for a month. 

susan pioneer day

I’m sure many of you have heard her name and story by now.   But if you haven’t, here’s a quick summary:

Sunday, December 6, I walked home from church with Susan and her two little boys, ages 4 and 2.  She seemed happy and fine and nothing was out of the ordinary.

The next morning I got a frantic phone call from Jenny, Josh Powell’s (Susan’s husband) sister who lives here in Utah.  She was very worried and upset because neither Susan nor Josh were answering their phones, had showed up at work, or taken their kids to daycare.  She was at the house with police and when they broke a window to get in—fearing the family had suffered carbon monoxide poisoning—no one was there and the family car was also gone.

Her husband and boys returned that night, raising more questions than answers.

That was the beginning of the nightmare.  My life and the lives of everyone closely tied to Susan have changed in every way imaginable since then.  Her family and I are trying everything we can think of to find Susan…keep her name in the news…get her story and picture into every home in the country in the hopes that someone, somewhere, knows something that will help us find her.

To that end, yesterday we started a massive social media campaign that will run for 72 hours, ending on Thursday morning at 8 a.m. MST.  If you are interested in helping us spread the word, here’s some things you can do:

* Spread Susan’s YouTube channel and videos everywhere…share on your FB wall, e-mail to friends, anything.

* E-mail five friends with the subject line “Please forward to 5 friends” and include all the relevant links (which you can find here).

* Blog about Susan and her story.  Any pictures or video posted to the Friends and Family of Susan Powell Facebook group are freely available to share as needed in the effort to find Susan.

* Join the Friends and Family of Susan Powell Facebook group.  This group’s purpose is to gather news clips/videos/articles in one place, offer a place the family can go for words of comfort and hope, and act as “search central” for any topics that will help find her.

* Consider downloading/printing some fliers and posting them at your workplace or anywhere you go. 

* If you are on Twitter, follow @findsusan and tweet about her, using the hashtag #findsusan.

* Wear or display a purple ribbon to symbolize one of Susan’s favorite colors and bring awareness of her story to even more people.

This campaign is already working.  E-mails are flooding inboxes all over the country, the Facebook group has doubled in size in less than 24 hours, and…most importantly…tips have come in to the police.  THAT is what this is all about—hoping someone will remember something, just enough to help us find her.

Her family is suffering terribly.  The waiting is the worst part, not knowing where she is or what’s happened…it’s hard to describe the rollercoaster of emotions we are all on.

Any and all prayers, help, and support are appreciated more than we can say.

Thank you for allowing me this indulgence and now…I return you to your regularly scheduled blog. :)

susan and kiirsi

Kiirsi Hellewell is a stay-at-home mom who, in a previous life (before December 2009), lived quietly at home, enjoying homeschooling her children and dabbling in a few creative pursuits.  She lives in the Salt Lake City area.

Three Books by Pseudonymous Bosch

By chance, I picked up an interesting book months ago from a shelf in my public library. The cover and title intrigued me. "The Name of This Book is a Secret" by Pseudonymous Bosch.

The book was fantastic-- a mix of Lemony Snicket's narration (without the dreariness) with fabulous characters and an interesting plot. After I was done, my 9 year old daughter read it and became a instant fan.

Next we found the second book: "If You're Reading This, It's Too Late." Another great, humorous read. I love his narration and warnings he gives to the readers to prevent them getting involved in the struggle-- which of course just makes you want to know more!

The third book came out late last year with another intriguing title: "This Book is Not Good for You." I'm about half way through it now.

While trying to find pictures for this post, I found his website! What a wild ride. He encourages kids to decode his secret messages and learn his secret. My favorite: "The password to this website is Secret." And below that is a box for entering the password. I will admit it took me a bit to figure out what the password was.

So while this post may not give you lots of details and plot lines for the books, I hope it intrigues you enough to check out the books. If you liked "Series of Unfortunate Events" but want something more peppy and if you like Alcatraz in Brandon Sanderson's "Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians" series, you will enjoy these books.

Don't just take my word for it! My 9 year old is a big fan too!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

by Scott Rhoades

I thought I'd be totally original and write a New Year's Day post about some goals for 2010. Honestly, I'm not big on resolutions because they often just set us up for failure, but I thought I'd list a few ideas that might help writers in the new year. I hope most of these are new ideas you might not have thought of. Feel free to pick and choose from this list and take any ideas you like, and modify them if you want.

* Act like a child for a little while every day. Be silly. Play with play dough (and I don't mean making fancy adult-like creations--enjoy the pure joy of making simple snakes and other shapes you loved as a kid). Sing a nonsense song. Color outside the lines. Play with toys. Read a picture book, not as a writer but as a child, soaking in the words and the pictures. Take some advice from Woody Guthrie, who said, "I don't want the kids to be grownup. I want to see the grown folks be kids."

* Make more time for writing.

* Keep track of all of the books you read this year. I've done it two of the last three years, and it's really fun to look back and see how I fed my mind.

* Create or improve your writing space. It doesn't have to be a room. It can be a corner, a desk, or a personalized desktop on your computer. Make it fun and comfortable so it helps you feel creative and makes it easier to get your work done

* Read the biography, autobiography, or journal of a favorite author, one that talks about the challenges the writer faced so you realize that even famous authors struggle to get their words down. Some of my favorites include Twain's autobiography, Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath journal, and a biography of Douglas Adams.

* Commit to reading a certain number of local authors and other writers from your extended writing circles. While you're at it, extend your writing community.

* Join a critique group, either a face-to-face group or an online group.

* Read this blog regularly.

* Make every day an adventure. Go somewhere you've never been. It doesn't have to be far away. It can be in your town. Do something you've never done. Listen to a different kind of music. Eat something weird or scary. Every new experience is an adventure, and every adventure can lead to a story.

* Pick an author and make a plan to read everything he or she ever wrote, then do it

* Most importantly, be healthy and happy.

And have a great year!