Tag Archives: Mary Poppins

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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Brain Food and Writer’s Cramp

Of all the amazing people I met at the Southampton Writers’ Conference, the highlight for me, BY FAR, was seeing:

Julie Andrews!

Yep. Sound of Music. Mary Poppins. Princess Diaries. That Julie Andrews! In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit the Sound of Music is my favorite movie OF ALL TIME. I come from a musical family and grew up with a bucket-load of cousins. We wrote plays and adapted musicals to perform at family gatherings at Grandma’s house in Austin, Texas. We often pretended to be the Von Trapp family singers.

Julie Andrews and her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton read from their new poetry anthology: Julie Andrews’ Collection of Poems, Songs, and Lullabies. Made me fall in love with poetry again. I kept thinking of  the poetry book from my childhood sitting on my bookshelf STILL after all these years, A Treasure Chest of Poetry. Mother gave it to me WAY back forever ago when I was in 3rd grade. The pages are dog-eared. Listening to Emma and her mother on stage brought back so many memories of times my mother read aloud to me. She cherished books, and so do I.

Maybe that’s why I write.

This was my first experience at the Stony Brook Southampton conference. The program offered MUCH more than writer’s cramp — though I have the aching wrist to prove they’ve put us to work. (I finally located all the outlets to plug in my computer. Ahhhh.)

This conference exposed us to the art and creators of fiction in its many delightful forms: books, illustrations, TV shows, drama, poetry, music.

Allow me to name drop:

Cindy Kane:

My instructor for the conference. Cindy edited childrens’ trade book for over 20 years at Bantam Books for Young Readers, Four Winds Press, and Dial Books for Young Readers. She edited the 2001 Newbery Medal winner, A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck; and wrote a middle-grade fantasy novel, The Genie in the Book, under her married name, Cindy Trumbore.

Mitchell Kriegman of Wainscott Studios:

Emmy award winning writer, director and creator who worked with legendary Jim Henson, and created a number of successful kid’s shows, including Clarissa, Rugrats, Ren and Stimpy, Doug, and more. Currently he’s working on PBSKids series It’s a Big Big World.

We visited Mitchell Kriegman’s studio, met with his team of magicians, and watched filming for the Purple Berry episode. I sang the Purple Berry song the rest of the day. Yes, it’s still stuck in my head, painting it berry-colored purple from the inside out.

Marsha Norman:

Playwright, Pulitzer Prize winner, The Secret Garden Stage Adaptation, Broadway’s The Color PurplePublished work: Four Plays, novel The Fortune Teller.

Tim McDonald:

Playwright, director: Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka, Ant and the Elephant, Musical Adventures of Flat StanleyPhantom Tollbooth.

Emma Walton Hamilton:

Best-selling children’s book author, freelance editor, speaker, arts educator, and daughter of Julie Andrews! She’s the Co-Founder of the Bay Street Theatre. She co-authored 16 books for children and young adults, making it to the NY Times Bestseller list four times. Her latest book is Raising Bookworms.

Margaret McMullen

Award-winning author of In My Mother’s House, How I Found the Strong, Cashay, and When I Crossed No-Bob. We can look forward to new work coming out in 2010 for Houghton Mifflin.

Tor Seidler

Author of The Dulcimer Boy, A Rat’s TaleThe Wainscott Weasel, an ALA Notable Book, Terpin, and 1997 National Book Award finalist, Mean Margaret.

Gahan Wilson

Author, cartoonist, and illustrator. You’ve seen his work in the The New Yorker and National Lampoon. His books: Harry, the Fat Bear SpyHarry and the Sea Serpent, Harry and the Snow Melting Ray, and Spooky Stories for a Dark and Stormy Night.

Along with the many panel discussions and artist presenations, we enjoyed a wonderful theater reading  by most of the original cast of The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley.

Here are a few iPhone pics of our adventures in Southampton.

Inspired by the Julie Andrews’ Collection of Poems, Songs and Lullabies, I leave you with a poem I loved as a child:

A Name in the Sand by Hannah Flagg Gould

Alone I walked the ocean strand;

A pearly shell was is my hand;

I stooped and wrote upon the sand

My name — the year — the day.

As onward from the spot I passed,

One lingering look behind I cast;

A wave came rolling high and fast,

And washed my lines away.

And so, methought, ’twill shortly be

With every mark on earth from me:

A wave of dark oblivion’s sea

Will sweep across the place

Where I have trod the sandy shore

Of time, and been, to be no more,

Of me — my day — the name I bore,

To leave nor track nor trace.

And yet, with Him who counts the sands

And hold the waters in His hands,

I know a lasting record stands

Inscribed against my name,

Of all this mortal part has wrought,

Of all this thinking soul has thought,

And from these fleeting moments caught

For glory or for shame.


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