Old Dog; New Tricks; Any time Surprises

Kent District Library puts on writers conferences in Grand Rapids. I attended once before, spoke on marketing another time, and decided to go again this spring. Realizing the conference is mostly for newbie writers, and having nine books published, I wasn’t sure what I would get out of it. Then came the emails of the waiting list, and to let them know if we were unable to attend. I thought to give up my spot, but something compelled me to go, not for what I could get out of it, but what I could give to others.

The physical conference set-up was different from my other times. Attendees sat around tables, six per table. I sat with six strangers. Previously, we were packed in rows, where I only socialized with the persons on my right or left, and everyone was on their own for lunch. This time, all morning and during the provided lunch we six were able to get to know each other. One had never heard of critique groups. Connections and invites were made. Towards the end of lunch I finally confessed that I was published, but…and then I rambled a bit about the confusion between author Sandy Carlson (for my MG historical fictions) and author S. L. Carlson (for my YA fantasies). I gave them each my business card (I was the only one with any), but warned them my website needed some serious updating. From their feedback, I realized I ought to set up a separate website for S. L. Carlson. It meant additional research and work, but what an unexpected epiphany… coming from newbies! This old dog learned new tricks from young pups. I thank you! Woof.

The breakout session on podcasting was eye-opening-new to me as well. Yet another reason to attend writers conferences: to keep updated on the industry’s technology.

Keep on writing. Keep on learning. Woof-woof!

 

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Post Writers’ Conference Weekend Evaluation — The Punchline (i.e., Part II) – Intellectual Property

It’s now two weeks after the SCBWI-MI fall conference on Mackinac Island. It was time spent in a lovely location, thinking about my writing, learning new things, and networking with old and new friends.

One thing I used to do after each writers conference or listening to an author speak, was to share that experience and knowledge with others. That was intended to be today’s post. However, these days, more and more, intellectual property is flicking it’s finger on my temple letting me know that is no longer acceptable; that if people want to hear the speakers, they need to pay to go to the venu. So now I wonder what I can share outside of “I learned so much and I networked with fellow writers and illustrators.”

One of my friends spends a lot of the conference time in her room, writing. It is quiet time away from family and her busy lifestyle, surrounded and inspired by fellow writers. My goal was to speak at the conference and help others understand the pitfalls and successes of self-publishing and ePublishing, and to do island research while there.

When a big name speaker talks mostly about him- or herself, I tend to get a bit ho-hum-y. I could read about that information elsewhere. I’m at the conference (paying the big bucks for their intellectual property) to find out what’s current in the book industry, what works for them, and if they are an editor or agent, what tickles their fancies so if I have a story I think will match their likes which I can submit to them later. Mostly, I think success in this industry is a matter of luck — of outstanding writing, of course, but also luck. Constantly develop your writing craft, and be lucky.

I did learn things at the conference, but since I’m unable to share this information, I’ll let it marinate for a while and perhaps it will be tweeked and transformed someday into Sandy-speak.

Or maybe I’ll just write. There are always three or more stories I have in progress at any moment.

Whether you are able to attend a conference or not, keep on reading about craft; keep on bettering your writing. Every six months you should be a better writer than six months earlier. Read. Write. Learn. Wishing you each the best in your writing endeavors.

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!

 

Non Conference Goers Alternative

Literature Blogs

This weekend is our local SCBWI chapter’s annual fall conference — for the first time, it was held on Mackinac Island. (Heaving a long, wishful sigh.) For about a month, chatter on our listserv has been mostly about the upcoming conference. Since about three-fourths of the chapter members are not at the conference, I thought I’d start a discussion on the listserv about what books we each are reading. The responses plum made me grin. Writing is about so much more than writing, or even reading for that matter, but it’s a start. There were books others mentioned which I’d been meaning to read and now have been given that extra nudge. Community. We may write alone, but we are not alone. Even though we 200+ were not on the idyllic island, trying to pay attention to dynamic and inspirational speakers, we are still connected, as writers, as readers, as adventurers.

Today, I finished a Louis L’Amour book (not in my writing genre, but it’s essential to read out of your genre now and then). I also am reading through THE ARTIST’S WAY by Julia Cameron, taking one chapter per week as the book suggests, in order to unblock my blocked creativity. Of course, several of the suggestions in her book would work best if I were a monk, uninvolved in this ole world.

So…? What books are you reading at the moment?

Writer’s Inspiration Boost

 Literature Blogs

I’ve been thinking and thinking and thinking of how to connect two main characters in one of my novels (besides the obvious conflicts). I need (want) them to be interconnected, but I can’t brainstorm how they do. It’s been a struggle on my poor brain. I think about them, wander away, sometimes for a couple months, then come back to think some more. I keep wondering why it’s not working, or if I should just trash one character or perhaps the entire story. (It’s not really writer’s block. Although, I admit, I don’t know what that is besides an excuse.) However, the problem makes me wonder about various ways to boost inspiration and imagination and creativity.

1) Eat well, sleep well, get exercise, see your doctor. Being pain-free, and having blood moving swiftly through your body and into your little grey cells, can only help stimulate writing thoughts and get those creative juices flowing. Sometimes when I’m stuck, I take a LONG walk. This does three things for me: unfreezes my stiffened muscles from sitting hours in one position at my computer; distracts me with neighborhood happenings; and releases some built up story-making-adreneline to free my mind to think more clearly.

2) Get off of drugs which make your brain sluggish. (Talk with your doctor about this one.)

3) Get onto drugs, which make your brain a wilderness to explore. (A Federal Marshall I know who is a mystery writer solves his writer’s block or plot problems by “sitting down with Jack” (a bottle of Jack Daniels) until he comes up with a solution in his plot. Personally, I think this way would turn my mind to mush, so it’s not something I recommend; just something I know works for one crazed writer.)

4) Find writing support. Join a writing organization and participate. You can also find writing support by taking a class or by reading books on craft. Three of my favorite ones include ON WRITING, THE FIRST FIVE PAGES, and NOVEL METAMORPHOSIS: UNCOMMON WAYS TO REVISE. In the Nov/Dec 2010 issue of SCBWI bulletin, Kate Dopirak writes about forming her “writing team” in a classroom of middle school kids. A self-published author I know uses his “editors,” who are six beta readers, including librarians and teachers. There are unlimited writing support groups on-line (critique groups, forums, listservs, blogs, etc). It can be done live (critique groups, writing conferences, going to hear visiting authors, local write-ins, etc.). 5) Step back from the story. Maybe start another one. But then come back to your original story, knead out those bumps, and become an award-winning author.

What additional ways do you have to boost your writing?

SCBWI-MI Fall 2010 Writers Conference, Final Conference Post

 Literature Blogs

The final speaker-talk at our SCBWI-MI Fall Writers Conference was Darcy Pattison. She spoke on Social Media. First, she did a hand-show questionnaire. I must admit that I felt rather proud of our chapter with so many raising their hands to having a website, a blog, on FaceBook, on Linked In, on Good Reads, YouTube, etc.

Darcy told us to focus, that social media is driven by content.

Know who you are – What do you like to do, consistently?

Who is your audience? Kids? Parents? Teachers? Librarians? Writers? Illustrators? Your on-line presence is different, depending on your audience.

When do you do things on line? For instance, Twitter is today’s news gotten yesterday.

Where does your cyber audience live? (i.e., which listservs, forums, chats, etc)

Research what is typical for what you like. Follow 10-15 blogs. Join in on conversations; leave comments.

Why do social media? Darcy did it to find a peer community. (I can relate to this point. When I lived in South Dakota, there were a total of twenty-eight SCBWI members in both North and South Dakota combined. The closest member to me lived several hours away. My live critique group in Rapid City were all adult writers who thought what I wrote was “nice.” Yeah. Needed more than that – a peer community.)

Put sustenance of real value on your blog. Don’t let it just be about me, me, me. Let what you say be of value to your audience.

 There was so much more she shared, lots of interesting details or suggestions. Buy her books or CD, or go to a conference or retreat where she is a speaker. You will not regret it. Check her out at www.darcypattison.com (Thanks, Darcy.)

SCBWI-MI Fall Writers Conference, Pt 5

(Two conference speaker summaries today; I happened to have invited both these ladies to the conference.)

Speaker One: On Sunday, October 10, I participated in (listened in on) a group critique time with Tor Senior Editor Susan Chang. She chose five story outlines from the participants and gave each a fifteen minute critique about what worked and what didn’t. Here are the highlights from the five stories. The opening pages need to have action. Every chapter has something moving the plot forward or building the character arc. With more than one plots, each one must escalate the rising arc. A strong story foundation is needed. Shaky or thin plot problems collapse the story. Determine what your foundation is, and then if it is strong or weak. Make your characters believable, and make sure there are links between cause and affect, i.e., why is the character acting like this? Susan mentioned that showing while writing (v.s. telling) makes it more like a movie, and this is a good thing. She recommended the book MAKING GOOD SCRIPTS GREAT

Speaker Two: Amy Lennex, Senior Editor with Sleeping Bear Press in Michigan, spoke about who and what Sleeping Bear Press is, and things they publish. Amy shared with the group the publishing process. After the writer writes a story, and it goes through the revision process to become polished, an editor must love it. The editor takes the manuscript to the editorial group, and they must love it. It then goes to Acquisitions, and they must love it. A projected positive profit and loss statement is developed to determine if accepting this manuscript is a good investment or not. If it is, then a contract is issued, and the story is put on a pub schedule. The last step before publication, is the search for an illustrator. They listen to what booksellers have to say. What age group is this book written for? Will adults as well as children like this book? Is there a need for this subject matter, or has it been done before? Will this book have media attention? (i.e., is it timely?) Amy gave the example of FIRST DOG, which was written before President Obama gave a dog to his girls. The story was written, but since the illustrator didn’t know what kind of dog it was going to be, he left a blank doggie shape on each page, to be “revised” as soon as the dog type was known. Advice from Sleeping Bear Press authors: Love your book and promote it. Love words. Enjoy the process, and write every day. Those who attended the conference were given two colored stickies, one for each editor. It is to go on their submission envelope. Although Tor is open to submissions, Sleeping Bear Press is not. By attending the conference, attendees got a “free look” pass for their manuscript to be looked at by Sleeping Bear. I used up one of my colored stickies already.

SCBWI-MI Fall 2010 Writing Conference, Pt 4

 Literature Blogs

On Saturday, October 9, 2010, fantasy writer Cinda Chima spoke at the SCBWI-MI Writers Conference on “Engaging a Middle-Grade and Young Adult Reader.” She stressed the importance of drawing the readers in with your first line. She said to open during a change, or with an interesting character, or an interesting setting; to open with humor, or with atmosphere and suspense. She gave several examples of first lines of novels.

Cinda said that writers need to make a promise to the readers about the story in the very beginning, and then keep that promise at the end.

Use conflict and action to keep the readers reading. Story happens when character and conflict collide. She encouraged us to “write cinamatically” with our delivery, like screenwriters.

New world-building slows the pace of a story, so deliver information on a “need to know” basis. To help speed the pace, use dialogue with the scene, use short paragraphs and sentences, and use simple sentence structures.

Cinda suggested printing out your story, then highlighting in different colors the narrative, the action, the dialogue, and “the exciting parts” to see where the story drags.

She spattered her talk with quotes, one from Alfred Hitchcock: “Drama is life with the dull bits cut out.”

SCBWI-MI Fall 2010 Writing Conference, Pt 3

 Literature Blogs

At the writers conference a week ago, I was honored to get into Darcy Pattison’s workshop, “Using the Hero’s Journey to Enhance Your Novel.” Darcy is amazing, and so spot-on in her craft of writing suggestions. I highly recommend her books, CDs, or attending her novel revision workshop (which I sincerely hope to do someday).

Darcy based her talk (tweeked to that which only Darcy can do) on THE WRITER’S JOURNEY, by Chistopher Vogler. At the conference, I bought two copies — one for me and one as a gift. This post is paraphrased from Darcy’s talk. Formulas are meant just guides.

The big picture (of your story) is in three Acts: Act One (approx 8 chapters) is the set up; Act Two (approx 16 chapters) is the twists and turns; and Act Three (approx 8 chapters) is the resolution.

Act One Objectives: show the hero in his/her ordinary world, call to adventure, refusal, crossing the threshold.

Act Two Objectives: tests, enemies, allies, approach to inmost cave, supreme ordeal, reward.

Act Three Objectives: the road back, resurrection, and return with elixir.

Darcy used BRIDGE TO TERABITHA for her example throughout the workshop, with some mention of the original STAR WARS. Some of my own  favorite fantasy stories which also follow this “formula” are THE HOBBIT, LOTR, and THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE. The formula works!

On to work on my own writing. <deep and heavy sigh> Writing is such hard work.