Daily Archives: January 30, 2010

Story-Makers Making Stories: Day 2

Libba Bray, best-selling author

Libba Bray, author of the “The Gemma Doyle Trilogy” and award-winning “Going Bovine,” started the morning with humor sharing her thoughts on “Writing as an Extreme Sport.”

Tweet about SCBWI keynote speaker Libba Bray

Tweet about SCBWI keynote speaker Libba Bray

Here are a few pointers from Libba:

  1. Be the giraffe: Don’t jump to the obvious. Dig deeper for the unexpected.
  2. Find the cracks. Let the light in: Allow the characters be fully human. Let them have flaws. Allow them to make mistakes – not placing them in harm’s way, but for on the path of painful truth.
  3. Stay away from trends: Danger, Will Robinson. Danger!  Don’t stray to far from your story where you can’t hear your characters whisper. No sure thing exists, in the world of writing, except what is deep down in your heart. Make it as true as you possibly can, then dig deeper.
  4. First you jump off the cliff, then you build your wings: Take the fear in. Welcome it. It’s your compass. Go ahead. Jump. Experience the terror of the fall. Trust in your work, and wait for the wind to help you soar.

Alvina Ling, Senior Editor, Little Brown

Alvina spoke about Literary Novels. She shared the distinction between commercial and literary.

  • Literary fiction: characters focus, description, beauty of the language.
  • Commercial fiction: adventure, plot, story gets to the point quickly, less character-driven

“I love meaty tragic books that make me cry, make me think, and offer hope.”

As a literary editor, Alvin is looking for books to fall in love with, savor every word. Literary fiction steeps in relationships, characters, development of internal struggle. Literary fiction is quieter than the commercial fiction; more about the writing, less about the plot. Both should be well-written.

Literary books may not sell well, but hopefully get a good review.

Ben Schrank, Publisher, Razorbill

Ben shared insights on the teen fiction market.

  1. Don’t “windmill-write” — too much info to set the stage, where words are thrown to the wind.
  2. All stories have been told before. Tell them in new ways.
  3. Teen readers need the cafeteria connection — real life issues.
  4. Combination of voice and concept important.

“I can almost scratch a manuscript to see if it’s something I’ve never seen before.”

Vampire quote from Ben Schrank @ SCBWI NYC

Vampire quote from Ben Schrank @ SCBWI NYC

The real pleasure of being a writer is writing, not publishing:

“If you write a good book, it should find it’s way to the market.”

Authors: it pays to be nice:

  • If you behave badly with your writers group, they won’t give you good feedback.
  • If you behave badly with your agent, He/she may not pitch to editor.
  • If you behave badly with your editor, he/she may not not push book forward to publication. And so on….

Arianne Lewin, Senior Editor, Disney/Hyperion

Arianne shared insights on the YA fantasy market.

What she’s looking for:

  • Baseline: quality writing, plot line, character development.
  • World-building: Craft fantasy world focused on people and stories. Story must stay personal to the main character.
  • Concept: idea must be workable, fit into a logical structure. Characters can’t suddenly discover new powers to solve problems in the plot.
  • Rules: Scope out all the rules of the fantasy world. Understand them and how the characters would interact in this new world.

“Fantasy stories can’t be an excuse for the characters to stare at the world and wonder.”

Spaghetti tweet by Arianne Lewin @ SCBWI NYC

Spaghetti tweet by Arianne Lewin @ SCBWI NYC

Good story-tellers unfold the world without exposition. Find an organic way to introduce information. Start at a pivotal moment in the story, but decide what is the pivotal moment for your character.

Common mistake of new writers: too aggressive with fantasy elements. They cram everything into the story. The dragon saving an elf in vampire land won’t ever work.

The end game: “What are the stakes that create tension for your readers? Make sure your reader can relate to them.”

Craft tweet by Arianne Lewin @ SCBWI NYC

Craft tweet by Arianne Lewin @ SCBWI NYC

Whew! Another big day. Mary Poppins on Broadway awaits. Tootles.

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Story-Makers Making Stories in NYC

Quick highlights from today’s Writers’ Intensive at the 11th Annual Winter Conference for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. For starters, I started the day out at the wrong conference. A man with an accent-other-than-mine asked me if is was a “story-maker,” or so that’s what I thought he said. I followed him to a registration table, only to find out it was the “History-makers’ Conference.” My bad. But, then again, I could’ve been at the right place, but for two pesky letters.

Fiction writers = story-makers. Can you think of a better description?

I finally found the right registration table and the right room, packed wall to wall with writers, editors and agents.

SCBWI Winter Conference, NYC 2010

SCBWI Winter Conference, NYC 2010

I’ve attended the NYC Winter Conference several times, but today was my first pre-conference Writers’ Intensive. Intensive is the PERfect title: two, count them, two critique sessions in one day, where we humbled ourselves by reading 500 words of a manuscript aloud  to a group of eight writers and an editor/agent.

We giggled a good deal in our first critique session:

  • Francesco Sedita, Vice President and Publisher, Grosset and Dunlap and author of “Miss Popularity,”
  • Charlene Allen (New York),
  • Genetta Adair (Tennessee),
  • Sheralee Hill Inglehart (California),
  • Lucia Arno-Bernsen,
  • Leah Odze Epstein (New York),
  • Sharon Dembro, and
  • Stasia Ward Kehow (Washington).

Our second session included the delightful Suzanne Young, author of the Naughty List series, as our guest SCBWI blogger.

  • Michelle Nagler, Editorial Director, Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books,
  • Christina Jespersen (Denmark),
  • Allison Keeton, (Connecticut),
  • Janie Makuch, (twittersphere),
  • Sandy Opheim,
  • Allison Keeton,
  • Priya Ardis, and
  • Bridget Casey.

I’m so thankful for the opportunity to grow and learn from the editors and authors contributing to our critique sessions. But…critique (of any kind) can feel like ripping off a bandaid. Necessary to move forward, but OUCH, it stings.

The more I learn about the craft of fiction the more I learn that I need to learn.

I’m in an eternal do-loop…or at least that’s how it feels sometimes. That’s why writers’ conferences are so important. We come to hone the craft, and learn about the industry. Oh, and make new friends too.

BTW: Shout out to writer Billy Baldwin, a new buddy from last summer’s Southampton Writers’ Conference. How fun to see him again and hear about how his stories are progressing.

Much more to cram into my brain tomorrow. Yawn. More later.

Keep up to date on what’s happening at the conference on the SCBWI conference blog.


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