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The Day the Music Died

Carol K. ReeseToday, 40 years ago, my best friend died.

Carol K. Reese.

Born: November 9, 1955.

Died: April 5, 1973.

It was such a long time ago, and yet just a moment’s distance in my memory. We were just 17. That was the day the music died.

Carol: Definition

  1. an old round dance with singing,
  2. a song of joy or mirth <the carol of a bird — Lord Byron>
  3. a popular song or ballad of religious joy
Origin of Carol:

Middle English carole, from Anglo-French, modification of Late Latin choraula choral song, from Latin, choral accompanist, from Greek choraulēs, from choros chorus +aulein to play a reed instrument, from aulos, a reed instrument.

First Known Use: 14th century
Carol hanging upside down.

The irrepressible Carol: upside down.

Travel back to 1973 with me to Sunday, the last day of Spring Break our Junior year in high school. Carol had gone camping with my family at Canyon Dam, not far from San Marcos, Texas, where we lived. We came home from camping and hopped on our bikes to “cruise” out to Sonic, our high school hangout. Riding back up the steep hill to her house, she told me she felt tired. Carol was never tired. Never. She had boundless energy. The next day, she stayed home from school. A first for Carol, who had never missed a day of school in her whole life. I left campus and drove to her house during lunch break. (Cell phones, texting, and email didn’t exist in our world.)

In less than two weeks, she was gone. The doctors thought she had mono, then hepatitis. They simply didn’t know what happened.

Carol: 1973 SMHS concert

Carol: 1973 SMHS concert

The night she died, I was at school rehearsing for our Spring Choir concert. She should have been been with me on the rickety risers rather than in a hospital bed. I stood on the back row, singing, when images of my life without Carol flooded before my eyes. I pictured the Spring concert with an empty place where she should have been standing. I flashed forward to Senior night on the football field. She didn’t get roses from the players because she wasn’t there. She was missing from Senior prom, and Senior Day at the river park. And more. And more. I couldn’t hold back the tears, so I dashed out of the auditorium to find refuge in the entryway bathroom. I sobbed and sobbed. I didn’t understand what I was seeing. I thought perhaps she might be too weak to come back to school. We had so many plans for our Senior year. I couldn’t imagine not having her by my side for the highs and lows of life. I told myself I was being silly, pulled it together, and returned to rehearsal. The moment I opened my mouth to sing, I choked on fresh tears. More images flashed before my eyes. Carol wasn’t in any of them.

I bolted from rehearsal, raced to my car, and headed home — with gut-wrenching sobs that made driving difficult. I searched for Daddy, who was rehearsing one of his youth choirs across the street from our house. He stopped rehearsal to console me. Daddy always made everything better. I was emotionally exhausted. I went home and collapsed on my bed. After Daddy got home a bit later, I heard the phone rang. He called me into the living room and sat me on his lap. Mother stood ashen by his side. Carol’s family had just called to say she died. She left this world at that very moment during rehearsal when the “my-life-without-Carol” slideshow started playing in my head.

That day, I changed. I may have looked the same from the outside, but I was no longer a carefree teenager full of plans for the future. I got sucked inside the sink hole of my heart. I didn’t want talk about Carol to well-meaning outsiders. I hated being told how I should feel or how I should move forward. I really didn’t care what anyone said. I refused to give her up. I put my jagged heart in a treasure box that only I could access. She was my secret pain. No one could take her from me and I would never forget her. That was my vow.

Fast forward to now. I can only write this blogpost because I’m cracking open my treasure box and setting Carol free. I’ve held her prisoner for far too long. I thank DC Metro Church for getting me to this place of freedom.

In November last year, I was in a Thrive prayer service and David Stine, our pastor, said that someone in the group had a broken heart that needed healing. I was sitting up in the back row on the risers. I felt as if I’d been hit with a sledge hammer. The experience really shook me. I sat there processing. I didn’t think I had a broken heart. I walked through a list of adversaries at work, loved ones who died, divorce. Nothing clicked. I simply didn’t get it…until a small voice inside whispered the word, “Carol.” Gut punch. A groundswell of tears gushed out, as if a pipeline burst. I was thankful to be in the back of the sanctuary. What a revelation that I’ve been a “walking-wounded” for nearly four decades. I never saw myself that way. I imagined myself quite resilient. How wrong I’ve been.

To top it off, I realized it was Carol’s birthday weekend. She would have turned 57.

God always surprises me with His perfect timing and creative order. I’m really thankful He knows the very “heart” of me, and loves me despite my brokenness. He lets me think I’m moving toward one thing, when He’s actually getting me in position for what He really wants. The DC Metro Thrive  prayer night was all having a “heart” for giving. I interpreted it literally as financial giving.  But what God wanted from me was my buried treasure.  [Note: God has an amazing poetic sense of symmetry as well. He revealed Carol's death to me on the risers in the school auditorium. He revealed my broken heart to me on the risers in the DC Metro Church sanctuary.]

God, the Great Healer, revealed my broken heart when He knew I was strong enough to face it. I’d been praying to be fully the person God wanted, and He showed me He had to heal my heart first.  He needed to get me to a place where I could freely give Him my most prized possession — Carol. She was the Thrive offering He wanted me to bring to the alter.

So here’s the thing about broken hearts: sometimes we don’t know we have them, yet the jagged edges poke and prick and gash new holes as we bend and shift and stretch our hearts. We bleed internally, yet think we’re ok. We may feel pain, but we ignore it and distract ourselves with shiny objects. I’d stuffed my broken heart into a treasure box that I wouldn’t let anyone see. It was my way of keeping Carol alive — and not letting go.

How many of you hold on to broken hearts, broken promises, broken dreams?

Today may be your day to “let go and let God.”

1973 San Marcos HS Choir portrait. Carol @ Left in Pink. Beth @ Right in Blue.

1973 San Marcos High School Choir portrait. Carol @ Left in Pink. Beth @ Right in Blue.

Carol, 2nd from Right. 1973 SMHS Royal Guard

Carol, 2nd from Right. 1973 SMHS Royal Guard

Carol wrote this:

Even though we travel in different directions, our paths may cross and we will meet –

I will look at you.

You will look at me.

We will take ourselves and share them with each other. We will discover together there are things that are more important than ourselves. We begin trying to please each other because we care, but sometimes we try too hard and it becomes time to stop and remember ourselves again –

I can only be me.

You can only be you.

In life, we each have our own path to follow –

You have yours, and

I have mine.

We are all different so each of our paths are different — 

You travel one direction.

I travel the other.

On our paths, we meet certain problems that will have to be solved, obstacles that will have to be righted, goals that will have to be reached –

You must deal with yours.

I must deal with mine.

We cannot change for each other.

I must step aside and let you continue down your path.

You must do the same for me.

I do not know what I will encounter next, but I leave with a greater understanding of myself and others because of you.

I know that even though our paths have crossed, we will never be able the walk the same one — 

but, instead, just meet at the crossings.

Thank you, Carol, for crossing my path. I’m different because of you. I miss you.

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I Met Beth Moore!

Coming back yesterday from the STs-132 mission tweetup hosted by the Johnson Space Center, I met Beth Moore at the airport.

Beth Moore. Credit: Living Proof Ministries

Beth Moore. Credit: Living Proof Ministries

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Beth Moore, founder of Living Proof Ministries, let me just tell you she’s an inspiration to women of faith around the world with her books and Biblical studies. My daughters, sister and Mother have all read, taken, and shared Beth Moore studies through the years. In fact, when I was in Zambia visiting my missionary aunt Melody, we watched a Beth Moore series video with the other missionary ladies serving in country. “Breaking Free” was my first Beth Moore experience. My daughter shared “Praying God’s Word” with me when I was going through a tough time. I bought the book to share with my friends. I have a library full of Beth Moore books and devotionals.

No, Beth Moore's hair doesn't look like this!

No, Beth Moore's hair doesn't look like this!

Back to my story: I noticed a petite woman on the escalator in front of me wearing a cute outfit and Texas hair. Those of you from Texas know what I’m talking about. Texas hair is perfectly coiffed. Virginia hair is pony-tailed or clipped. (I moved from Texas hair to Virginia hair long ago. I’ve worked in DC for 20 years now.)

I followed this cutely-dressed woman into the airport tram. As the doors opened, I saw her face for the first time. She looked so familiar. Then it hit me, she looked just like Beth Moore — who I’ve only ever seen in video and on book bios. As we left the tram I asked her if anyone ever told her she looked like Beth Moore. She responded with a laugh, “Oh, I get that all the time.” I laughed and told her I wasn’t surprised because she looked just like her. As I started to walk away, she added,

“….It’s because I am Beth Moore.”

Wow! We chatted as we headed down the escalator and to our respective gates. I told her how my daughter Steph and I visited the JAM facilities in South Africa because of her!

Last Christmas, I attended a Christmas tea at the Willard hosted by a colleague’s church. At the tea, Candice Pretorius, daughter-in-law of JAM founder Peter Pretorius, showed a video with a clip by Beth Moore talking about JAM‘s amazing work feeding poor children in Africa. I talked with Candice about Steph wanting to serve orphans in South Africa and that we were planning a trip to survey potential organizations. Candice connected us with Joy Nell at JAM Headquarters in Johannesburg to learn more about what JAM does.

As it turned out, JAM really doesn’t need counselors at this time. They focus on feeding the most at risk children. And what a great job they do! See earlier blogposts of our time in Africa.

JAM Headquarters in Johannesburg, South Africa

JAM Headquarters in Johannesburg, South Africa

Steph, BTW, just graduated in May with her Masters in Community Counseling, with a specialty in play therapy. I shared with Beth Moore that she accepted a one-year (or more) position with Bethany House in Johannesburg, South Africa to work with victim empowerment program to counsel kids with untreated trauma. She leaves in July.  Here’s the cool part about meeting Beth Moore: she told me several times how thankful she was that my daughter was going to serve in South Africa.

She told me to tell Steph how proud she was of her.

Bethany House

Bethany House

Just let me tell you, those few words of encouragement on a chance meeting in the IAH airport (though I don’t believe in chance) made all the difference to my daughter Steph. She’s facing some life-altering experiences — both thrilling and unsettling. She’s uprooting to a different continent, leaving friends and family, and starting over with children who desperately need help. She’s following God’s call for her life, but it doesn’t mean it’s easy. Beth Moore’s heartfelt words of thanks gave Steph a boost when she needs it most.

Thank you Beth Moore for all you do! So cool to meet you!!

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Snapshot: Bologna

Quick tour of Bologna. I have more pics, but I’ll start with these. Enjoy. :)

Bologna streets

Streets of Bologna

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Dot-Connecting Snippets: SCBWI Bologna 2010

With spotty wireless access at our Bologna hotel — four WiFi providers in four days — blogging became a contact sport. Now that I’m back home, I can share a few snippets about the personal connections I made in Bologna without fear of losing internet connection.

Bologna Book Fair Logo

My sister Aimee, of Aimee Louise Photography, flew up from Dallas, Texas to travel with me to Bologna. She offered her services to the SCBWI Bologna organizers for the conference. They graciously accepted. YAY! How fun for us to attend together! While Aimee documented events at the symposium and Bologna Children’s Book Fair, I attended the writers’ sessions and manuscript critiques. Aimee shared a few of her pics with me — like this one of Illustrator John Shelley’s tie. Her blog has more pics.

Illustrator John Shelley's tie

Illustrator John Shelley's tie. Photo credit: Aimee Woolverton

John, one of the organizers of the SCBWI Bologna 2010 event, wowed us with his wardrobe choices and colors. Red seems to be a theme for him. I’m not sure yet what it reveals about him, but he’s hard to miss in a crowd. Delightful. Unique. Engaging. The tie says it all!

I enjoyed chatting with Leonard Marcus, Children’s book historian, author and critic. Aimee used his book reviews in Parenting magazine to pick books for her boys. Leonard is interested in putting together an art exhibition of childrens’ books on space. What a great idea. We have a NASA Art Program. Might be a good fit.

"Do" of Tara Books. BolognaRagazzi Award winner

"Do" of Tara Books. BolognaRagazzi Award winner

What a privilege to speak with Gita Wolf of Tara Books in India. They search for local artisans to translate their art into book form. “Do!” — text by Gita and illustrations by Ramesh Hengadi and Shantaram DhadpeGita — won a BolognaRagazzi Award in the New Horizons category. I love how a magnificent book like this can bring rich traditions of India to children around the world.

Funny story about Neal Porter of Roaring Brook Press. We could only get wireless down in the lobby at our hotel — when we could get it to work. Aimee was processing her conference images, selecting the top dozen to submit to the SCBWI organizers, but couldn’t get her internet access to work. She put the images on a thumb drive for me to email her selections. I was waiting for the images to upload into email. Took forEVER.

While I waited impatiently, Neal Porter walked into the lobby with colleagues. His image stared at me from my computer screen while he settled on a couch nearby. So bazaar. I walked over and showed him Aimee’s picture. He loved it and asked us to email it to him. I did. Of all the hotel lobbies in all the city….

Neal Porter. Photo credit: Aimee Woolverton

Neal Porter. Photo credit: Aimee Woolverton

I met new friends and reconnected with writers I’d met in Bologna two years ago. The amazing Candy Gourlay typed furiously in front of me during the conference, trying to capture notes from our presenters. Her blog, Notes from the Slush Pile, is delightful. I was blown away by Candy’s writing in during the 2008 symposium — lyrical, musical language. She’s a gifted writer. Her post about Richard Peck captures his “call to action” for us as writers.

Sarah Towle , founder and creator of Time Traveler Tours, gave us great advice on best places to eat near our hotel. She’s writing a wonderful historical novel about the French revolution. Based on the excerpt she read to us during one of the sessions, I can’t wait for a publisher to snap up her manuscript.

Author Sandra Nickel. photo credit: Aimee Woolverton

Sandra Nickel. Credit: Aimee

I met a kindred spirit: Sandra Nickel from Switzerland. She’s writing a story about a haunted French chalet. Sounds intriguing. She signed with an agent in the last few weeks, so things should get moving for her. She’s so much fun. I wish we lived closer!

Marjorie Van Heerden is a children’s book writer and illustrator from South Africa. My daughter is moving down to South Africa in July to work with Bethany House Trust as a counselor, so I was thrilled to spend time with Marjorie and soak up her stories about my daughter’s new home.  Marjorie illustrated over 100 children’s books which have been published in 33 languages. In her spare time, she serves as the co-regional advisor of the new South African chapter of SCBWI. She invited us to visit her in Cape Town. We just may take her up on her offer.

Space Cat by Doug Cushman

I met Doug Cushman, author/illustrator of over 100 books, during lunch at the conference, then kept running into him at the Bologna Book Fair, the shops in Bologna, and on our flight from Bologna to Paris (his home base). He’s warm and unassuming — though he thought we were stalking him. ;) Nice, nice guy. Bonus points for a guy who writes about a Space Cat!

The manuscript critiques, as much as I hate them, really gave me great insights into how to make the stories better.

Ellen Hopkins, author of multiple New York Times bestsellers in teen fiction, as well as numerous non-fiction books, critiqued “Purrgus, A Cat of Olden Times.” She suggested the story should be about a boy, rather than a cat; and challenged me to consider nonfiction. So many possibilities. Thanks Ellen. Her newest in the “Crank” series, “Fallout,” comes out this fall.

Literary Agent John Cusick of Scott Treimel NY critiqued “The Ultra Secret Lives of Xandri and Jam.” He liked the concept but thought little Jam should be older — 5 or 6, possibly 7. Makes sense. He offered great insight on how readers relate to characters. I look forward to my next rewrite with his comments in mind. John’s young adult novel, Girl Parts, will debut this fall. How cool is that?

Purely by happenstance, I was given the opportunity to pitch “Xandri and Jam” to Ginger Clark, Literary Agent for Curtis Brown in New York. I’d actually met Ginger briefly at a 2007 writers’ conference in Texas. Ok, we didn’t actually meet. She stood beside a group of us at the reception and I offered for her to join us. Ginger doesn’t carry fond memories of the conference or Texans, for that matter; but is willing to overlook my Texan heritage. Good thing.

At the Bologna airport, we befriended Erika Pedrick, Subsidiary Rights Supervisor for APA Books/Magination Press of the American Psychological Association. She stood in line in front of us at the Air France baggage counter for over an hour, only to get turned away and told to return in 30 minutes for the next flight. We became traveling buddies. What a nice surprise out of a frustrating experience.

SCBWI Bologna Fair Booth. Photo credit: Aimee Woolverton

SCBWI Bologna Fair Booth. Photo credit: Aimee Woolverton

A big THANK YOU to Team Bologna:

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Bits of Wisdom: SCBWI Bologna 2010

Bologna International Children's Book Fair 2010

Bologna International Children's Book Fair 2010

Wifi access hampers my ability to share tidbits from our SCBWI Bologna conference in a timely manner. With the expectation of instant access to information these days, a 48 hour delay from spotty service feels frustrating.

Hard to imagine the days of old when written word travelled by foot, horseback or boat.

Here are my hastily-typed notes from Monday’s conference.

Fiona Kenshole: Taking the Mystery out of the Movie Deals

Fiona Kenshole: Taking the Mystery out of Movie Deals

Fiona Kenshole: Taking the Mystery out of Movie Deals

Fiona heads up the Acquisitions Department of Laika Entertainment, the Oregon- based feature animation studio. They recently produced the Academy Award-nominated animated film, Coraline.

“I am a personal shopper for filmmakers.”

What are movie studios looking for?

  • Ancillaries — merchandising, and more;
  • Spirit and theme of story that translates well on screen;
  • Best selling book not necessary to make good movie; and
  • Interested in a “brand.”

The Holy Grail = a story that appeals to boys and girls and is contemporary and relatable.

We often option book of Genesis, but make the story of Moses.

Small independent producers still make lovely films from non-brand books.

Each film takes for years to make. I’m looking for options in 2020.

Option process:

  • Option deal – give film producer the right to work on story to film – one year-18 months.
  • Sometimes authors get money up front. Sometimes not.
  • You, the author, give the studio ALL rights to your book.
  • Even though your book is optioned for a film, doesn’t mean a film will EVER be made.

The studio investment in a film is so huge, movie studios need merchandising to make their investment profitable.

Fox is the most book-friendly studio.

Warner – 180 options each year, make 10% of them each year.

Development process — from book to script and beyond.

When reading a book, the magic of the journey is the interpretation inside your head. Film is about what people say and people do in on the screen as you watch.

  • No one will sit in the theater long enough to have the entire book unfold.
  • Film translates the “spirit” of the book.
  • Screenwriters may need to add or delete character.
  • Screenwriters shift the point of view of the book from inside to the outside view of film-makers.
  • Writers lose control of what happens in book. Decisions by film-making crews.
  • Control: writers have none.
  • Best thing you can have is a great relationship with film-makers and trust the process.

Book to film: 1 page = 1 minute = $1M!

Sometimes we work for three years to sift for the nugget of the story to craft a good screen-play adaption.

Dressidea Cowell – “How to Train your Dragon” – “superficially, the film is not like the book, but the theme is still there…!” Book optioned in 2003 for 2010 debut.

Making Coraline:

  • Coraline’s sweaters knitted by hand with knitting needles the size of human hair!
  • Every vowel sound has a different face – over 12000 faces!
  • 6 seconds a week for animation!

Holly Black of Spiderwick Chronicles managed her expectations about her movie option. At the end of filming she asked, “Can I be excited now?”

Fiona’s Advice:

“Take the money and run!”

or

“Be careful what you wish for.”

Ellen Hopkins: The YA Renaissance

Ellen is the award-winning author of twenty children’s nonfiction books, and six New York Times bestselling young adult novels-in-verse. She also critiqued one of my manuscripts — giving me thought-provoking ideas on a change of characters…and perhaps a non-fiction book, as well.

Her thoughts on the Young Adult (YA) market and how it’s changing:

  • YA pushed into 14 and older.
  • Edgier.
  • 9-12 = Tween fiction.
  • Newer grey areas in categories.
  • New middle ground above the YA market.
  • Tween fiction – stories with positive family interaction.
  • Notable exception in Tween Lit – Lemony Snickett and JK Rowlings – adult characters aren’t good guys.
  • Tween for girls – Lizzy Maguire, Hanna Montana.
  • Tween for boys – graphic novels, Harry Potter.

YA authors should write for readers aged 11 to 70, but aim at the older teen.

Why write YA ?

  1. It’s a hungry market.
  2. YA readers buy their own books.
  3. Buy independently from their parents.
  4. Write for your audience, not parents and librarians

YA writers – we feel responsibility to our readers, we write better literature.

  1. To shed new light on old problems
  2. To make a positive difference in a young person’s life

It helps if you’ve never quite graduated.

Where will your journey start? Don’t underestimate your readers.

Start with a premise:

Has it happened to you? Your family? Kids? Someone you know? Or maybe it happened to someone you read about. Or hear about.

“Tricks” about teen prostitutes – I spent a week in Vegas with Vice Squad, talking to teens on the street.

Build characters: 2 month process before ever putting words on paper.

Protagonist

  • Antagonist
  • Friends
  • Foils
  • Adults

Hugely important to have characters relate to readers.

  • Characters should have flaws, Let us see them and let us know how each character feels about having flaws.
  • Bad guy could be a werewolf, a blizzard, addiction, a computer – what if a chat room took on a life of its own?
  • Understand not only the victims, but also the perpetrators.
  • Break stereotypes. Challenge yourselves so you can challenge your readers to break stereotypes.
  • How can friends propel your story forward?
  • Foils are human obstacles that stand in the way of your protagonist getting what he or she needs of wants….
  • Create realistic, musti-layered characters.
  • No flat characters.
  • What is their background, motivation, philosophy on war, drug use, college, future on this planet.
  • If they’re hopeful, why? If not, why not?

Voice:

  • How will you tell this story to make it uniquely your own?
  • Think visually. Unsusual formatting – including verse, journals, letters, etc.
  • YA novels are often told 1st person, to put the reader solidly into the characters’ heads.
  • Beware of didacticism and slang – date your book.
  • Don’t stomp on your characters’ voices with your voice as a storyteller.
  • What is the most impactful way to tell story.

Recommended authors:

Richard Peck

The adorable Richard Peck received the National Humanities Medal in 2002, the first Children’s book writer to receive the award. His remarks at SCBWI conference had us laughing and cheering. I’m thrilled to share his advice to writers of children’s books.

“Stories for the young must move in a straight line to where they should go.”

Our opening lines – our minefield.
Are we writing with invitation simplicity?

EB white uses simple language: “Where’s papa going with that ax.”

As authors, we can doom ourselves with our own words.

“You are writing for a generation of youth whose facebook pages grow hot into the night, long after parents go to sleep.”

Adverbs:

  • Adverbs destroy the rhythm of our speech.
  • Boys don’t use adverbs. Why write with them?
  • If you see an adverb, shoot it.

Voice:

In the lonely front of the classroom, I was handed another career – writing. When you’re a teacher you have no time for your own problems. As a writer, you have no time for yourself either because your characters are clamoring for attention.

  • Third person = distance.
  • Speak as they speak.
  • I learned how to talk in no other voice than the young character I’m writing about.
  • Story is about the reader, not the writer.
  • No one in this world wants to read your writing, except your own mother.

“My students kicked the living autobiography out of me.”

The Story:

  • Story is an alternative reality. Not what wasn’t but what should’ve been.
  • Story must entertain above all else.
  • The hook upon which all stories hang – universal truth that all actions have consequences.
  • If actions have no consequences, the book falls apart.
  • Consequences: Least attractive proposition for young readers.
  • Sermon is not entertainment.
  • But if you can’t preach, add paranormal science fiction to grab their attention.
  • Use anything to lure readers into our story.

Children’s book writers: “We have a higher calling, a deeper craft.”

  • Live on our reader’s turf without invading it.
  • Because of Mark Twain, the Mississippi River flows through all our stories.
  • We never write about anyone who can walk away.
  • Our stories must end with more hope than that of “moving home after college.”
  • We must go on the road to act out the book to our readers – to readers who don’t read reviews.
  • Every book is a survival manual.
  • We always throw our characters into the deep end.
  • We turn up the heat!
  • A book, like a school, should provide what is no longer available in life.
  • A book should be a tighter community than in real life.
  • Scenes strung together by an invisible wire….

Character development:

  • Characters take on life based on luck – Characters become another human being on the page when we get outside ourselves.
  • A story is always about something that did NOT happen to the writer,

“If Earnest Hemingway had really caught all those fish, or climbed all those mountains, or loved all those women, he would never have had time to write…nor the need to.”

While the text message is always fiction, it is never literature.

Social networking: A book unites, what the computer divides.

Nobody but a reader ever became a writer…

Twice as many college graduates get degrees in social work than in literature or foreign language combined.

“If you can’t find yourself on the page, you’ll go looking for yourself… in all the wrong places.”

First pages Agent Panel

Kristen Nelson of Nelson Literary Agency, Stephen Chutney of The Chutney Agency, Francis Plumpton of Richards Literary Agency, Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary Agency, Rosemary Stimola of Stimola Literary Studio, Marcia Wernick of Sheldon Fogleman Agency, Kendra Marcus of BookStop Literary Agency.

SCBWI agent panel

SCBWI agent panel

Kristen Nelson – What grabs our attention? The turn of a phrase, character resonance…not action for action’s sake.

Rosemary Stimola – Don’t wax nostalgic, that’s an adult thing. Kids don’t look back.

Sarah Davies – Titles sell books. Invoke an intriguing spirit of the story through the title.

Kristen Nelson – Interested in simple writing. Need to write complex concepts with simple language.

Marcia Wernick – Rhyme needs to work really well. Otherwise, no point. Need brilliant writing to pull off rhyme.

Rosemary – Rhyme: what’s the driving force? Story should be in the driver’s seat. Rhyme shouldn’t drive the story.

Sara – Don’t force words into the rhyming line to tell story.

Kristen – Read your own words aloud. Smooth out dialogue.

Stephen– A decent middle grade = 40-45k words. You can always tell a novel in fewer words.

Kristen – I see tons of manuscripts about “waking up…in a dream…etc.”

Marcia – First few lines need to draw reader in – grab reader, throttle them.

Kendra – What is your book about? Why should I care? We also read tons of: “First day of summer vacation…”

Rosemary – If your character is starting summer vacation, start it!

Rosemary – A times, language gets in the way of the story. I’m not against imagery, but my attention is pulled away from the story.

Sarah – Agents see lots of overwriting, easy to overload a pieces with adverbs and adjectives. Keep it simple!

Rosemary – Take care with “regionality” – words, descriptions unique to a certain place. May not be understood across areas.

Rosemary – Spiraling: story moves forward then slips backward. Not good.

Sarah – I see “travel” stories each week. Not too interested in stories to teach children about “places.”

Rosemary – Photographic novel in fiction (unless you’re the photographer) is harder to sell, but nonfiction might work.

Agent summary:

Kendra Marcus

www.bookstopliterary.com

  • We’re looking for young, middle, YA.
  • We work hard for good stories.
  • Not interested in trends.
  • Want stories that sound like a child and relates to children.
  • Love non-fiction. Send me some!

Marcia Wernick

www.sheldonfolglemanagency.com

  • 3 agents: Sheldon, Linda Pratt, Marcia.
  • Love to find new talent, but don’t take new clients.
  • Looking for prolific authors.
  • Mean-spirited stories don’t appeal to me.
  • Love voice.
  • Character-driven story + voice compels and attracts me.

Rosemary Stimola

www.stimolaliterarystudio.com

  • Eclectic tastes.
  • Dystopian realm – Suzanne Collins of Hunger Games.
  • Don’t follow trends but like setting them.
  • Love new talent.

Sarah Davies

www.greenhouseliterary.com

  • Sarah + Julia Churchhill in UK.
  • All about new talent.
  • Business only 2 years old.
  • Very editorial.
  • Complete rewrites.
  • Fiction rather than non-fiction.
  • Heartland: middle grade, tween, YA.
  • Doing quite well with middle grade – beautifully voiced middle grade.
  • Would love to find more Kate DiCamillo-type girl stories.
  • Like great commercial ideas.
  • YA – looking for fresh voice, different.

Frances Plumpton

  • New Zealand clients only.
  • Picture books.
  • Like whole gamet of stories.

Stephen Chutney

www.thechutneyagency.com

  • Great book = wonderful characters, great voice, great settings.
  • Historical fiction – looking to fill hole in marketplace — Templar Trilogy, etc.
  • What’s really selling now? Realistic contemporary fiction with characters and voices and situations that leap off the page.

Kristen Nelson

Nelson agency — learn more at: www.pubrants.blogspot.com

  • Fiction: YA + adult + middle grade.
  • Glad to make NY Times list without blood and guts.
  • Query letter – all electronic.
  • Email us.

Kendra – publishing is a pendulum. It will swing back.

Marcia — picture books: market is quite fierce

Publishing Today: from Idea to Marketplace.

Dierdre McDermott of UK WalkerBook Publishing, Stephen Roxburgh of Namelos US electronic publishing, Gita Wolf of Tara Books in India, Sara Grant of Working Partners UK, Tessa Strickland of Barefoot Books UK, Sarah Foster of WalkerBook in Australia & New Zealand, and Neal Porter of Roaring Brook Press.

SCBWI Bologna Panel: Editors and Publishers

Stephen Roxburgh

  • No longer tied to ink on paper.
  • Hard cover and paperback – print only on demand.
  • Electronic version – immediate download.
  • Publishing for young people who don’t care about medium of delivery.
  • Surface you read on shouldn’t determine what you read.

Gita Wolf

  • Make books entirely by hand.
  • Tactile experience.
  • Collective of writers and artists making books we want to see out in the marketplace.
  • Use the strengths we have – people who paint walls and floors – and nudge tradition along to a more contemporary field.
  • “Do” – award-winning book – 2010 BolognaRagazzi award.
  • Brings back the craft of bookmaking.
  • Bookmaking artisans.

Sara Grant

  • We are writers.
  • Work with Sarah Davies Greenhouse literary agency.
  • Work out story line to fill gaps.
  • Look for writers to write the samples from storywriters based on sample outline.
  • Sample chapters shopped around to publisher.
  • New story coming out: David Beckham meets James Bond.

Neal Porter

  • Started as small independent house, now owned by McMillian.
  • 60% picture books.
  • “A Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring.”
  • Took five years to bring into being.

Tess Strickland

  • Where language is image other than words.
  • 12-16 new projects per year.
  • Young fiction program – bringing into the English language wonderful stories that haven’t made their way into English.
  • “The Gift” – Carol Ann Duffy and Rob Ryan Peters.
  • Looking for books that will stay around for sometime.
  • The title is very important – title WAS “The Plot” but was changed to “The Gift”

Sarah Foster

  • Walker Books in Australia & New Zealand.
  • Sister company: Candlewick press.
  • “Simpson and His Donkey.”
  • “Pearl Verses: The World,” by Sally Murphy Illustrators by Heather Potter.
  • Picturebook making is very slow.

Question/Answer Session:

Question: Digital revolution – is this hopeful news? How is the revolution affecting your editorial/publishing process?

Sarah Foster – We make it up as we go. Agents don’t think through what they’re asking editors for.

Stephen Roxburgh – Publishers don’t know what to do with e-books. They don’t know how to re-gear. Business model has to be dealt with. In the meantime, books are being withheld.  Model – it’s a partnership. We split 50-50. But we don’t know what we’re splitting. It may be 50% of nothing.

Dierdre – A good story is good story. No matter the medium.

Question: Is the picture book is the last book standing?

Tessa – Books not going away. Just like TV didn’t do away with books. Making our books available e-books. YouTube videos from picture books. Internet plays an absolutely central role in what we do.

Gita – Marketing question. We use internet/youtube We have oral storytellers. We put the bards (who sing) on YouTube. Book is the intermediate step.

Neal Potter – Penguin did iPad models of books. Spot: DK Guide to Rome (GPS map). Vampire Academy series. Changed my feelings about digital books. GPS applications of DK is revolutionary app. Allows us to go beyond the 32 page format. 32-page format is a great economical model – works to constrain authors/editors.

Question: Print on Demand model. Do authors and illustrators still need publishers?

Tessa – Illustrators enjoy online media. Blogging is a great medium for writers. Marketing directions really exciting.

Stephen – Traditional publishers brought set of capabilities to the table. Access to distribution from publishers. Traditional set of functions on the table will change. Publishers need to give authors what we need.

Neal – Editorial process. It’s what we do. It depends on how authors value what we do. As publishers have gone more corporate. Editorial process diminishing with how fast market process moving.

Sara Grant – Glad I never took to market some of my apprentice novels – aka – garbage.

Stephen – Brilliant editors let go. You can find editorial help outside the publishing houses.

Question: How is this changing editorial process?

Sara Grant – New generation of editors – proactive about the type of fiction they want to create.

Tessa – 25% new authors.

Neal – 25% new

Dierdre – 2 new – finding new picture book writing hard.

Stephen – 80% new.

Sara – 1 new writer – great training writers to work with editors.

Sarah – majority new.

Question: How do you find voices?

Sara – Online forum, speak at conferences, form online with sample writing. Collaborative effort, not original stories

Gita – We travel a lot to find best artists, community art. We find only one or two people each place who are willing to work in a new art form or format.

Question: Global market – which countries are the fastest growing?

Gita – Is India really as hot a market as hype would have it? Not convinced.

Neal – Americans are great navel gazers. We’ve avoided selling our books across the world. Americans are more culturally insular.  To turn it around, I come here to Bologna to see what I don’t see in U.S. – new and fresh.

Dierdre – If your book can make it to America, you can make it everywhere. Millions of people with money to spend. Good books will go anywhere.

Sara – Find an agent with an international base.

Stephen – Distribution. In cyberspace, everything is around the corner. Not today, but talk to me tomorrow.

Question: How important the BUZZ is to make the book survive?

Neal – Issue of maintaining or starting the buzz. Authors must take proactive role in selling book. Editors and marketers cut from budgets. What money is left is concentrated on big names.  Blogging, networking, facebooking helps authors. How do you separate the quality sounds from the rest of the noise?

Bologna Fair 2011

Bologna Fair 2011

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SnOMG=X-teroid Invasion!

I’m snowed in. I should be shoveling out. But, I really don’t feel like it. I’m not in the mood to exert the energy required to uncover almost two feet of snow. If I were smart, I’d be shoveling out every couple of inches. Or if I were really smart, I’d move to the British Virgin Islands. Yet, here I sit — a blanket of white falling hard and fast out my windows. No end in sight.

Snowmaggedon. Snowpocalypse. SnOMG!

While I sat here, posting info on tomorrow’s Super Bowl Sunday STS-130 Space Shuttle launch on Facebook, I ran across this X-files-looking Hubble image of a “mysterious X-shaped debris pattern and trailing streamers of dust” that astronomers have never seen before.

Hubble discovers X-teroid

Hubble discovers X-teroid

I know this can all be explained-away by science. Here’s what NASA has to say about it: “Hubble shows the main nucleus of P/2010 A2 lies outside its own halo of dust. This has never been seen before in a comet-like object. The nucleus is estimated to be 460 feet in diameter.”

But…what if it really is a spacecraft of some kind?

Ok, let’s stop here. Let me warn you that I have a vivid imagination. …Now, with that said, hear me out.

What if this crazy blizzard is a cover for a planet X-teroid invasion?

Look at the timing. Hubble catches a glimpse of the advance X-ship. Then, the snow storm of the century hits our Nation’s Capitol!

Rather suspect. Wouldn’t you agree?

No? You’re not buying my alien conspiracy theory? I’m crushed. ;) But hey, what a fun SciFy plot. SnOMG=X-teroid Invasion. I’m selling the rights. Who’s buying?

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with some of my crazy blizzard shots. Then, I guess I have no excuse left NOT to go shovel my way out.

SnOMG Trees

SnOMG Trees

snOMG snow boat (i.e. hammock)

snOMG snow boat (i.e. hammock)

SnOMG front steps

SnOMG front steps

snOMG is devouring my car

snOMG is devouring my car

Tootles! A-shoveling I go….

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Zombieland, formerly known as Penn Station

The cab driver stopped at the curb and pointed across the street. Penn Station. Our destination. I stepped from the cab. Frigid 16-degree air bit the flesh on my face, as if ravenous hunger drove its aggression. Sharp. Painful. I thought about Steph’s poor ungloved hand. Somewhere on the streets of New York City lay one turquoise glove. We gathered our luggage and dodged oncoming traffic to cross the street.

“Which way, Mom?”

“I have no idea. I’ve never been dropped off here before.” I looked up to see the Madison Square Garden sign overhead. Somewhere inside this structure, our Amtrak train awaited. I lead my daughter into the building.

The moment we stepped beyond the entry, we encountered creatures — humanlike, yet not quite alive. None made eye-contact. Some spat unrecognizable words. They shuffled in slow forward motion, as if on auto-pilot. Male and female, tall and short, dirty and ragged. Everywhere, yet nowhere.

I felt as if we’d entered Zombieland, formerly known as Penn Station.

“Are they allowed to live here?” Steph spoke softly, fearing one of the creatures might awake to our presence.

“I don’t know. Maybe if they keep moving. It’s too cold out there to survive for long.” We kept moving too, quickening our pace.

Steph saw the ticketed passenger lounge area before I did. Humans greeted us. Real, live humans. They stood apart from the zombies — making eye-contact, speaking words we understood, and yes, they smiled. We flashed our tickets and slipped into the safety zone where zombies weren’t allowed. Guilt followed us in.

+++

NYC 42nd Ave.

NYC 42nd Ave.

I’ve been back from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Winter Conference in New York City for several days now. The images from Penn Station still haunt me. I’m overwhelmed by what I saw. I looked up statistics for New York City: 38,000 individuals EACH night use shelters. That number obviously misses all the homeless we saw in Penn Station at 6:00 in the morning. The NYC Department of Homeless Services offers help for those in need, but the problem just seems SO huge.

Sometimes I fixate on issues that I think are problems — like my heater can’t seem to get over 64 degrees in this crazy cold weather. But hey, I have a home to shelter me. I may get frustrated when project I’m working on doesn’t go forward as quickly as I’d like. But, I have a job and a paycheck coming every two weeks. How easy to let all the little things in life bug us. In the grand scheme of life, who really cares if I don’t make it through the traffic light behind the car in front of me?

My trip to Zombieland reminded me: be thankful, count my blessings, help those who can’t help themselves.

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