Post Writers’ Conference Weekend Evaluation — The Set Up (i.e., Part I)

It’s been a week since the SCBWI-MI fall writers’ conference on Mackinac Island. The day after the conference, life swung immediately back into normal mode. So now, one week later, I need to evaluate what went on.

My husband thought it best to make the 4.5 hour drive a day early so I’d be fresh going into the conference (v.s. leaving home at 3 a.m.). I took advantage of the alone time by stopping at Hartwick Pines State Park for logging photos (for Logging Winter) and at McGilpin Rock (for Tales of the Lost Schooner cover shots). I bought my ferry ticket that Thursday evening to avoid the rush the next morning, then drove over to the International Sky Park for sunset over Lake Michigan and a view of the galaxy plane (a.k.a., Milky Way). I returned to the motel room where the owner and I chased a big grey bat out of my room. (It was huge!) And then I slept. I think.

Friday morning I found I ‘d been successful in avoiding the ferry rush to Mackinac Island, for I was the only passenger on board for the 8 a.m. trip. As I couldn’t check into the conference hotel until 4 p.m., I decided to do some research. I’d written a MG story eight years ago, set on Mackinac Island, and thought to revive the story by renting a bike and seeing the inland spots I’d only seen photos of. At Crack-in-the-Island, in the middle of the woods, on one in sight, the chain fell off my rental. I wasn’t too worried. You can’t really get lost for long on an island with an eight-mile circumference. Still, it took me 45 minutes to find another human, during which time I discovered that when a chain if off a bike, not only can’t you pedal forward, but you also can’t brake. Did I mention I was near the top part of the island? My 1-hour ride turned into three, but upon my return I still had an hour before conference registration, so I mingled with the other early conference folk.

From Friday, 2 p.m., until Sunday, 1:30 p.m., the SCBWI-MI writers’ conference hosted speakers like editor Arthur Levine, editor Christy Ottaviano, and agent Jodell Sadler, along with a host of Michigan speakers and writers including yours truly.

The 3 p.m. ferry was the earliest post-conference way off the island. By 4:00 I climbed into my van on the mainland. Four and a half hours and three cans of Red Bull later I pulled into our driveway.

(Stay tuned for Part II of Post Writers’ Conference Weekend Evaluation, as in the actual writers part of the weekend.)

One Week From Writers’ Conference

Next week at this time I’ll be on an island in northern Michigan for our SCBWI fall writers’ conference along with Arthur Levine and Jodell Sadler, just to name-drop a couple of speakers. I also will be on a panel discussing non-traditional publication and epublication. No pressure.

It’s a five-hour drive up there, a ferry ride across to the island, and staying in a hotel twice as expensive than what I’d normally spend. Will it be worth it? Every minute and every penny!

Besides the incredible amount of knowledge intake from an event like this, there are the reunions with writers and illustrators I haven’t seen for a while and the networking and meeting of new comrades. The excitement builds. So do my worries. Even a seasoned conference-goers like myself has some concerns. Will I make the right travel connections? Will the travel weather and the island weather be lovely, horrid, or not matter?  Will I bring too much, too little? Will I be able to speak without having a cotton ball throat, even to greet people, or want to hide in my room?

I therefore share two important things to know when attending a writers’ conference: 1) It’s not about you; and 2) It’s all about you.

For the first point, it doesn’t matter if you’re wearing cute shoes. Really. It doesn’t matter that you feel insecure about a thousand things. Only you will know that. Every other honest person would admit the same. You will need to step outside of worrying about the way you look or speak or act, and try to set yourself free for the weekend. Breathe deeply. You are there for your written words (or illustrations). Quit looking in a mirror. Straighten up. Stand tall. Remember, it’s not about you.

For the second point, it really is all about you, or rather what you represent. You are at the conference not only to learn, but also to connect with others in similar positions as you. The world of writing and illustrating for kids is a wonderful avocation/vocation with dynamic people who care — care about fellow writers and illustrators, and care about our readers. We’re all in this together. Reach out to others. Talk. Share. Reflect. Take home ways to better your craft  and to proceed into a lifetime of this twisting and changing and wonderfully spinning career choice. Remember, it’s all about you.

Mackinac Island SCBWI-MI 2014 Conference, look out! Here we come!

 

WAR UNICORN, tween fantasy by S.L.Carlson Release Date Today!

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DEAR Readers

My tween fantasy, WAR UNICORN, is now released for publication today by MuseItYoung, available at MuseItUp, Amazon Kindle, B&N Nook, and several others. I’ve been answering author interview questions this past week to be posted over the next couple of months with various blogsters. So, I thought I’d do an author self-interview to get the ball rolling.

*I also have three eCopies of my book to randomly be given away to the lucky three picked from those leaving a comment here. Good luck!

Sandy: So, S.L., welcome to my blog. When I think of unicorns, I think of cutesy mythological animals who are calm and lovely. Whatever made you think to make a unicorn into a warrior animal?

S.L.: Good question, Sandy. And, by the way, thanks for interviewing me on your blog today.

Sandy: My pleasure.

S.L.: To your question, that is the whole point behind my story. (Was there a pun there?) I was thinking of various fantasy creatures and thinking what twists I could give them. Then it struck me to give the loveliest of all animals, the unicorn, a very different twist.

Sandy: Hence, War Unicorn.

S.L.: Hence, War Unicorn.

Sandy: I’m aware that you’ve self-published several historical fictions for middle graders — all of which I’ve enjoyed. Tween fantasy is for a different age and a different genre. Are you finding that difficult to separate the two?

S.L.: Actually, no. That is the very reason I chose to use my initials for my fantasy books, to separate the author name with age group and genres. My middle grade historical fictions go by my common name and my tween fantasies go by my initials, S.L. Carlson.

Sandy: Did you intend to let it slip that you have other fantasy books in the works?

S.L.: Ha. So you caught that, did you? Yes. I actually have a middle grade fantasy out already called Star Opening, which was the first full story I wrote decades ago, revised and rewritten many times of course. I’m working on two other tween fantasies, one, the sequel to War Unicorn, and the other a collaboration with my son John.

Sandy: I’m glad to hear there’s going to be a sequel. And a collaboration with your son? That sound interesting.

S.L.: Thank you. The collaboration is indeed interesting, rather like two books in one…or three.

Sandy: I’ll look forward to those. Thanks again for coming onto my blog today. Please let us know when your other interviews come out, and especially when your next tween fantasy is available.

S.L.: You can count on it.

Sandy: Readers, don’t forget to leave a comment below for your chance to win a free copy of War Unicorn by S.L. Carlson. Contest ends September 7 at midnight.

You may purchase your own copy at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MV8VDYG among other places.

Michigan Signs (for the balance)

After my post about British Signs and Street Crossings, I started thinking how someone from another country coming to upper Michigan would react to some of our signs here. For example…

There is the infamous Michigan no-brainer: “Do Not Pass When Opposing Cars Present,” a sign I always go by too quickly to whip out my iPhone for a shot. It is for a two lane road opening to a three land road on a hill. The third central lane is for passing coming up the hill. But if no one’s in that lane, feel free to go into it to pass your slow downhill car in front of you.

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There’s the caution sign that the road ends…before you drive into Lake Michigan.

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There are the “Icy Bridge” or the newer “Bridge freezes before road” signs.

Hotels up north warn to be on the lookout for falling icicles (even in summer?) or instructing guests to not use hotel towels to wipe down sleds, or no snowmobiles allowed through the parking lot.

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A central Michigan truck company placed this sign on the back of their truck:

IMG_9156  But you had to drive up real close in order to read it.

Is this sign for a zoo? Or to be on the lookout for mating wildlife (X-ing)? Or is it a misspelling and polite way of indicating a nudist camp crossing ahead?

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Other states have their own peculiarities. When we lived in South Dakota there were official signs like, “Next Rest Area 365 miles” or “Do not cross road when flooded” or my personal favorite, a series of old pickup tires hung on fence posts in the Black Hills with the white words painted on them: “No Hunt.”

In defense of signs in England, we’ve all got our own local signs which may bring a smile or questioning look to outsiders. Mostly they’re used to keep us safe, I suppose, or on the flip side, not get sued.

So when you are writing your real or make-believe worlds, be aware of your region’s culturally different signs intended to help or guide, not confuse people.

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British Signs and Street Crossings

Before we headed to England for our first time this summer, Friend Mary who frequently travels there, told us when crossing the street in the UK, do the opposite. American rule: Look left, then right, then left again. British rule, she said: look right, then left, then right again. As we would depend on foot or public transportation for the entire stay, I felt it an experienced and helpful suggestion. Or so I thought. It only took me that first day walking in crowded-busy London to realise her rule needed some modification. Sandy’s 4-part rule for crossing London streets: Always use the crosswalk; look all four ways before stepping out onto the roadway; keep on looking as you cross; and watch out for that occasional driver in his mega-expensive car to run the red light or spin around the corner. And for a self-reminder, every time I crossed a road, I actually pointed my arm out at a 45 degree angle to the right. Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy. Using my method, we only nearly got run over about forty-five times — not bad for a 10-day stay. There were also the safety islands in the middle of busy streets, and the squiggly lines painted on the roads. Look 4 ways and point to right (except when you’re on one of those safety isles, when you’d point left).

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Signs in Britain are different from in America, too. When we arrived at Gatwick Airport, “Toilets” was a welcomed if somewhat blushing sign to spot, but then there was this running man on a green background with an arrow to a white rectangle.

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My mind ran some possibilities: fire escape route (with up-pointed arrow), hallway to bomb shelter (with down-pointed arrow), or maybe “Run for your life! There’s a tiger loose in the terminal!”

I’ve always felt the best thing to do when you can’t conveniently look things up is to ask questions of a living person.

“Way out,” came the answer. I must have blinked as I went through my mental files, because he quickly added, “What you would call the exit.”

I hadn’t even said I was an American!

A sign of a white man going down steps on a blue background and the word “Subway” did not mean to public transportation, but a way to cross the street underneath the street: stairs down, cross beneath, stairs up.

There was one sign near St. James’s Park in London which took me a day later to figure out. Of course, when you’re in a hurry to get across the street, looking all ways, and pointing, and then look up and notice this sign — the only one I’d seen like it in our then-8-day stay —  you don’t really have time to think what it means.

I wonder, if you hadn’t had this set up in the blog post, given just one second of time, can you figure it out?

 

 

 

 

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Little England. Big America.

It was only upon our return to the United States that I realized how big America is. I mean, I knew ahead of time that England was about the size of the state of Michigan, but everywhere I looked on our return was . The driver’s lanes here are wider. The sidewalks here are wider. Even the wastepaper baskets and toilets are bigger. In England, it was obvious who were Americans by their big (loud) voices. Yards, if they exist, are tiny.  Distances between major cities are shorter over there. Semi trucks are shorter in the UK, and even on the motorways for several days, I saw no doubles or scary triples like in the USA. And upon our return, I was surprised to notice how physically big Americans are. I guess my eyes had merely overlooked that fact before, or been adjusted to the sights. But coming home, it seemed that every store I entered, I found big people — big compared to thin Englanders. (Of course, you can find some skinny Americans, and you can find some plumb Brits.)

Therefore, it’s my casual observation that England is little and America is big.

Relating this information to writing…what is the feeling of your setting? Is it large and roomy or elbows-tucked-in small? How would your main character respond growing up in a roomy land v.s. a crowded one? Or feel visiting one the opposite type of setting?

Play with your characters. Play with your setting. Write, rewrite, tweek.

Tower of London, London, England

We are now back in the States, but our trip to England for the first time is still in processing mode. One of the last places we visited in London was the Tower of London. Very stupidly, I’m embarrassed to admit, I used to think that the Tower of London was Big Ben. I never saw the big deal that people made of climbing this tower. Oh, silly, ignorant American!

Our first plan was to see the Tower of London on a day when we were touring seven other London sights. But by the time we arrived there, we only had an hour to see it, and since it wasn’t just a tower, we didn’t think that would give it justice. We decided to spend our one “flex day” entirely at the Tower of London. I am so glad we did. It’s not your hour tourist stop. We spent four hours there and still didn’t see everything.

Even though it’s a museum (and so much more), it is not a free museum like most museums in England. There is a cost, with lots of tourist shops nearby.

We followed Rick Steve’s advice and bought our tickets near the tube stop instead of at the gate, saving several pounds by doing this. I don’t understand it; it’s just a fact. By stopping by the establishment the day before, we knew it was going to be crowded. In fact, ALL of London is crowded. But we figured if we got there right when the gates opened, it might not be quite so crowded. It was a good choice, but by the time we left, I felt downright claustrophobic.

The Tower of London is not a single tower as I used to think. It is a fortress with history and numberous buildings, and today there are actually people living within the walls. This is the land of the Yoeman Warders, a.k.a, Beefeaters who are dressed in black tunics and hats, although today their biggest role is opening the gates, giving tours, and locking the gates. There were also, however grenadier soldiers (in red uniforms and tall, fuzzy hats) on the grounds, standing or marching in front of two buildings. They carried heavy guns, similar to AK17s. One grenadier guarded the building where the crown jewels are kept; the other was at the Queen’s House. These are not toy soldiers to please tourists. The are true soldiers with real weapons protecting both the royalty and riches of the country.

You cannot take photos inside the building where the crown jewels are kept, and to get a close-up view of it in its glass case, you step onto a moving walkway. Look fast! I was impressed with the giant diamond rock, fist-sized, no: larger. But I was also impressed in an entirely different way with the four-foot golden alter plate for serving holy communion at the coronations. There were lots of sparkles in this building of the Tower of London, but as a fantasy writer, I was actually more interested in the White Tower with its 500 years of armor inside the White Tower (a separate building within the Tower of London). Why there was even a 15′ tall dragon made of weapons, armor and shields.

Prisoners are no longer kept in the Tower of London, neither is the armour used. But there is something about the grounds which caused me to know this was not a normal tourist stop. I felt quiet, respectful, even a bit scared. Perhaps it was the serious guards with their modern-day weapons. Perhaps it was from the ghosts of the many who were beheaded within those walls. Perhaps it was because of the legend of the ravens staying on the grounds (or England would fall). Or maybe, as I stood on the wall and overlooked Tower Bridge (often mistakenly called London Bridge), I knew hundreds of years of history and millions of lives passed right over the very stones and bricks upon which I trod. I was in the ethers of history itself.

London’s Book Benches and other Book Art

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I spotted the first book bench inside the lobby of the British Library. ADORABLE! I couldn’t take a photo of it because no photographs were allowed inside the Library. Also, there was a man sitting in the middle of it. Too, it was poor lighting. (Poor lighting in a library, you say? Yes, I answer, for photography, anyway.) Later we spotted another book bench at the Tower of London and later yet near St. Paul’s Cathedral.  They are new. There are more. This trip wasn’t intended as a treasure hunt for book benches, but I could see that as a London goal! It was fun stumbling upon three of them. They are very unique and whimsical.

With more and more readers reading from electrical devises, this artsy-bench is a lovely throw-back. I mean, can you see yourself sitting on an iPhone bench? Not quite the same feelings as on a book bench. Besides, what about those unintentional phone calls when you sit down?

When we visited Canterbury, I spotted a lovely little second-hand bookstore (yes, I HAD to buy a book in there). On the tip-top self, out of reach without a step-stool, they’d displayed books with folded down pages into different art forms. I wasn’t quite sure if I was offended or delighted with this. If it were one of my books, I’d be offended. However, if they were made from books which the owner found disgusting or would never-ever sale, then changing them into true art is an entirely different matter.

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EBooks are handy and available, and my own books are available in both print and eForm. But how could you ever (even how horribly written it might be) make an art form out of an eBook?

LONG LIVE PHYSICAL BOOKS WITH PAPER AND SPINES!

(For an article on the London Book Benches, check out:  https://www.yahoo.com/travel/london-books-about-town-art-benches-91760077992.html )
Sandy on Book Bench

Toilets (American Translation for this British Word: Bathrooms)

First, have you noticed that although it is a daily human occurrence, most authors do not show their characters in the bathroom? Unless it’s to do something illegal, private, or escape, this little room is merely used as a setting.

Secondly, the terms. I’ve heard it called the ladies or gents, a public convenience, the necessity room, the out back, a privy, and an outhouse–the last three for little buildings separate from a main building, or used at camp grounds. A thousand years ago in Rome and other large cities across Europe, using these facilities could be large with fifty or seventy holes. Men and women used the same room.

Thirdly, on our recent trip to England, it was difficult at first for me to refer to bathrooms or restrooms as toilets. But there they are–all over Britain–signs saying “TOILETS.” In fact, when I saw large signs in windows for “Flat TO LET” my mind wanted to stick in the letter “I” in the space.

Of course, the Brits have other words for this room, like loo or bog or water closet or W.C. One tour bus trip we took had us meet back at Bog Island. I didn’t think much about it until I returned to the bus and realized there were steps going down under the street on this little triangle surrounded by road. It’s now closed off, but once upon a time those steps led to the bathrooms, or toilets, or bogs.

As an American, when I think of toilets, I think of the actual seat and bowl and tank. So when I saw a sign reading “Men working in women’s toilets,” I imagined tiny men inside a toilet bowl. (Must have been jet lag thinking.)

In many public places in London, like the Tube or train stations or near the Thames River, it costs to use the facilities. My friend Mary often goes to England for work. She’s usually around the Manchester area, up north. She warned us that it would cost 20p to use the toilets. So before we left, I made sure my husband and I each had 20p with us. I was delighted to find my first toilet in England free. That one was in the airport, near the custom’s line. But later when I came across pay toilets in London, they were for 30p or 50p. So much for being prepared with p to pee.

However, do not let a fear of finding a bathroom in England stop you. There are, indeed, plenty of free restrooms. Restaurants have them. Museums have them. Churches and cathedrals have them. So when you go to England, you may feel free to go.

Restaurants, Cafes, Pubs — Eating out in London

London is a crowded place. It’s been that way for over a thousand years. Consequently, the buildings are flush to each other on the block. The eateries also tend to be must smaller than the restaurants we in America are more familiar with. For instance, you could fit 3 restaurants into the space of one fast food chain restaurant here. Indoor seating is about for twenty people, max. There are often four or so small tables with chairs along the front of the restaurant or cafe on the sidewalk.

Screenless windows and doors are left opened during business hours. In a ten-day period, I only saw three bugs. They must come out at night or something in order to pollinate the plants.

Pubs are dark on the inside, but in summer, it’s light until 9:30, GMT. Again, the inside seating of pubs is quite limited, but crowds can stand outside. We had a pub about fifty yards from our hotel door. (We had a small room six floors above the front door.) We’d pass this corner pub each night to go to a small grocery story a couple blocks away for our next day’s picnic lunch. Along the windows outside the pub (and other pubs have this as well) and on the quieter side street is a narrow metal shelf wide, enough to place a drink upon. The sidewalk was shoulder-to-shoulder people, about six times more people could stand outside there and socialize than sit down inside.

Another thing I noticed besides outside seating (and standing) was that people in London sit on steps or on lawns. Going through Hyde Park on a Sunday afternoon, we found thousands of people sitting on the grass, either eating or merely socializing. The pond area of the Victoria and Albert Museum was so crowded with people sitting on steps or grass that we had to slowly weave our way through them.

Although it’s no longer legal to sell food for pigeons, there are still many pigeons around, and they are there to snatch up any fallen (or intended) crumbs from the human eaters. We ate at the Raven Cafe in the Tower of London. There was only outdoor seating. Pigeons danced on our feet, begging for treats. Pigeons also apparently have the right of way in England. We had to duck more than once to avoid flying pigeon during our stay. The whoosh of wings brushing my hair is still vivid.

I must close by saying that the taste of the food in England is exceptional. I didn’t have a bad spoonful of anything during our entire time in this lovely little country.