Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What I'm Working on Now

Just sent a revision of a chapter book mystery series proposal to my agent, Liza Voges of Eden Street LLC. I first wrote "Book #1" in 2003. It circulated for a couple of years, but there were too many mysteries on the market then, and it never sold. I'm hoping the demand for mysteries has picked up. I'd gotten some nice comments from editors and some good suggestions for revision, too. The suggestions helped guide my revision. It's much easier to see a story with fresh eyes when it's been sitting a while--in this case, five years!

My Goddess Girls co-author, Joan Holub, and I are also working on proposals for a couple of new series that we'd like to write together. Our first two GG books debut April 6th, and we're hoping to put together a blog tour that first week of April. If anyone reading this has a blog that would be interested in being a "stop" on our tour, please let us know! Our editor has agreed to supply a giveaway book to each host blog.

Besides the above, I'm beginning to think about and gather ideas for the next draft of the middle grade novel I'm writing that's set on the Oregon coast. And I'm finalizing arrangements for a multi-city trip in March to speak at a Children's Literature Festival in Warrensburg, Missouri, three schools in Omaha, NE, and a school library conference in Charleston, SC. Should be fun!

Friday, February 12, 2010

When Your Book Offends a Reader

Sooner or later it will happen to you. Regardless of how innocent or innocuous you think your writing is, someone will take offense at something you've written. You could, of course, try to avoid the use of certain words, phrases (or even whole scenes) that you think might cause trouble. (And I'm not even thinking about the obvious, like swear words or words relating to certain body parts.) But is it desirable or even possible to avoid all controversy in your writing? I think not.

If certain words, phrases, and scenes are integral to your story, I don't believe you should avoid using them just because you're afraid someone might object. At the same time, it's good to be sensitive to the age and maturity level of your readers. The problem is, we don't all agree on what's appropriate for children of certain ages. And words can be received and interpreted in ways you don't expect.

So write your story in the way you think best. If your editor has concerns over something you've written, she'll let you know. Make the change if you don't think it will hurt the story, but not if you think it will. Go with your gut. And if your book does offend someone, well, that's life. But maybe you'll have the opportunity, as I did, to respond and explain why you made the word choices you did. If you're lucky, that reader might just be open to changing his or her view.

Dear Ms. Williams,

My daughter happens to really love reading about fairies and I have
indulged her with as many books as she would like on the subject and yours are among them. I was reading her Poppy and the Vanishing Fairy at bedtime and I am deeply disappointed that you would include the "Brownies" as fairy servants. I am confounded and deeply disturbed that such an obvious slavery reference would be published in 2008 of all years.
I write to you as a concerned mother and would very much like to hear your perspective on how you came to create these characters. Please explain to me why you think I should not find this offensive.

Dear Ms. F.,

According to the research I did on fairy folk while writing my books, the term "brownies" originated in Scotland, possibly used for inhabitants of Britain before the arrival of the
Celts. Because my publisher was also concerned that some readers might confuse the term as a reference to slavery, I described "Bink" as having reddish-brown hair and freckles. (I even experimented with having him talk with a Scottish lilt, but we decided the alterations in his speech might prove too difficult for young readers.) It's unfortunate that there's no illustration of Bink in the "Poppy" book (I just flipped through it to check!) because the illustration of him in Book #1: Daisy and the Magic Lesson, clearly shows that he's white (p.36). In fairy lore, brownies love doing household chores, but dislike others interfering with their work, something I used as part of the plot line in Book #3: Rose and the Delicious Secret. I hope this explanation helps and that your daughter continues to enjoy the books.

Dear Ms. Williams,

This is so helpful~ thank you. I was unaware that there is a long-standing history of Fairy Folk nor their origins and I am very satisfied with your answer. So interesting!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Hooray for Scab McNally!

I just finished reading Trudi Trueit's Secrets of a Lab Rat: No Girls Allowed (Dogs Okay). What a fun book for 7 - 10 year old readers! Scab McNally, a fourth-grader, tries to enlist his "smart times ten" sister in his quest to convince their parents to get a dog. However, he nearly blows his chances when he concocts a stinky sister-repellent spray bearing her name and everyone in school finds out about it. Boys, especially, will enjoy the gross-out humor, but the book offers more than that. In addition to the funny, fast-paced narrative, Trueit explores the trickiness of relationships with friends and siblings in a sensitive and satisfying way.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Studying Publisher Catalogs: a heretical viewpoint

This advice is given to writers all the time: Study publisher catalogs to find out what they publish to see if your manuscript is a good fit. Quite honestly, I have never found such study to be a practice worth my time (and that's even before I had an agent to make submissions on my behalf).

Perhaps if I were a nonfiction writer there would be some value in studying catalogs. I might find out that Publisher X has an animal series that lacks the book on wombats I'm dying to write and that I'm sure they'll want. But how does studying catalogs help the fiction writer? All you really need to know is if Publisher X publishes fiction for the age group and in the genre(s) you write. That information is readily available in the marketing section of writer magazines and online, and in reference books like Children's Writers and Illustrators Market Guide.

The truth is, the big publishers ALL publish the same kinds of things. And knowing that Publisher X has two other series of fiction chapter books about princesses doesn't tell you a thing. They might not want to publish a third series of princess books, but then again, they might. The only way you'll know for sure is to query or send them your manuscript.

If you've got an alternative viewpoint on this issue, I'd love to hear it!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Learning New WritingTricks

I saw a review of a new book for children's writers in the latest SCBWI Bulletin and, after reading the review, knew I had to have it. I ordered it from Amazon and read it cover-to-cover. Nancy I. Sander's Yes! You Can: Learn How to Write Children's Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career may even teach this old dog some new tricks. I especially liked her concept "The Triple Crown of Success" wherein she recommends spending time on three separate goals: writing to get published in low-pay, no-pay markets (especially for beginners who need to establish some writing credits), writing to earn an income, and writing for personal fulfillment. The book is a bit repetitious, but I forgave the author for that because I knew she was just trying to get her message across. She probably realized that thick-headed writers like me require a lot of repetition for anything to "stick." I'm going to experiment with some of the things she suggests and see what happens!