The Vibrant Triangle Part II

I try to remember now that my words on the page, my manuscripts, even (one day!) my published books are not the finished product. The experience of a child listening to my story completes the process. I just love that idea. It connects me to something bigger than my own self in my own room, writing away.” Tam Smith

Smart stuff, right? Maybe a fresh perspective on picture book writing. Read more about The Vibrant Triangle in Liz Garton Scanlon’s interview with Tam Smith.

The Vibrant Triangle in Picture Books

Why are certain picture books read over and over again? Why do some become beloved bedtime or story time tales? According to Tam Smith, children’s author, the answer is found in The Vibrant Triangle.

This is no Da Vinci Code, folks.

According to Smith, “The Vibrant Triangle is the dynamic between the picture book, the adult reader and the child listener.” What creates the magic when a picture book is read out loud to a child? Read Part 1 of Liz Garton Scanlon’s (author of All the World) interview with Tam.

National Novel Writing Month – I’m Jumping In

I just signed up for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I’m s-o-o-o-o excited.

NaNoWriMo begins November 1st. It’s touted as “Thirty Days and Nights of Literary Abandon!” How can I resist?

I’ve written three other novels which are at various stages of resting and revision. But they weren’t written under pressure. I noodled around with them for months. They’re layered and complicated and have some trajectory problems – I think.

I’m hoping NaNoWriMo will force me to write quickly and linearly. And I’m anxious to see if the ticking clock and butt-in-chair motivation will keep some of my trajectory issues from creeping in.

But if you need an even better explanation as to why writers might subject themselves to such pressure, read Alegra Clarke’s “Writing With the Bulls.”

In the meantime, I’m doing a little outlining, brainstorming and all that honeymoon-stage prep.

If you’re signed up too, here’s some great advice:

If you’re in this with me, please buddy me. I’m “JFReidy.” If not, wish me luck. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

Pay it Forward Friday: Deb Cushman and WRITER SITES

Deb Cushman fired up her blog, Writer Sites, just a few months ago as “A place where Deb Cushman organizes her favorite writer websites and blogs!” And it’s one of my favorite feeds.

I was instantly drawn to Deb’s mission because a) I’m always on the lookout for new writing resources and b) I started A Totally Random Romp as a place to organize much of my writing stuff.

But Deb’s “stuff” is much better defined. And that’s the beauty of this blog. It sticks to its mission and features a different writing website or blog – with a screen shot and brief description – in each post. She’s featured old favorites as well as newer, lesser-known resources. And she’s always looking for site recommendations.

I may soon be able to delete my scores and scores of writing bookmarks! Thanks, Deb.

Talking about Titles

In many of my manuscript critiques, I discuss the importance of titles. As a matter of fact, the only part of a story posted for my Picture Book Peek Weeks is a working title. I understand that titles submitted are often not finalized – maybe a first thought or afterthought. Perhaps the writer intends to go back and spruce it up later. But some writers refuse to put much effort into titles. Why waste time when an editor will probably change it?

Remember the old saying? You only get one chance to make a first impression? Well that can apply to titles too. When it’s time for submission, consider brainstorming your best title. It’s not only a nod to your creativity, but more importantly, it’s a promise of the story to come.

Consider books you might pull from a shelf based on the title alone. That’s the first step. A great title, gets readers to take notice. But what about its story promise?

Let’s say you approach a Victorian home with exterior trim and shutters painted in whimsical colors. What might you expect to find inside? What if you knock on the door, because you love all things Victorian and you adore the playful exterior, but when you enter you find stark, modern, white rooms and contemporary furnishings? Would you be disappointed? Would you have to regroup? Would you want to look further?

Here’s an exercise. Think of three or four titles for your story. Then, with your title alone, approach a variety of readers who know nothing about your story and ask them to guess what it’s about. Don’t look for an exact plot match. That might be a little creepy. But look for the first impression your title gives as far as tone and premise. Will it be humorous? Sentimental? Dark? Listen for expectations that stray far from the core of your story. That might be a clue that your reader will have to work too hard to get over their initial expectation and that your story – even if well written – might disappoint.

I’m not saying that a title will make or break a book deal. But in this competitive market, why not put your best writing out there – right from the start?

Jessica at Bookends Literary has a great post about the importance of titles and the September 2009 Writer’s Digest features “The Art of Entitlement.” Need help coming up with that perfect title? Picture book author, Tammi Sauer, tells you how.

Or for feedback on your title, post it here and see what my blog readers have to say.

A final thought: A few editors have tuned into my blog. Could your Picture Book Peek Week title catch an editors eye?

Pay it Forward Friday: Mary Bartek

Mary Bartek, one of my oldest (meaning going back a long time with no reference to age because we don’t talk about age in our crit group) writing buddies published her award-winning FUNERALS AND FLY FISHING in 2004. And now 5 years later, this fun book has been released again in paperback. And it has a brand-new cover. I love it!

It’s the story of Brad Stanislawki, who’s looking forward to summer vacation and a break from his new school, where life hasn’t exactly been perfect. But unfortunately for Brad, getting away means a visit to his grandfather’s house – which also happens to be a funeral home. Bartek packs humor, adventure, poignancy – and even a few dead bodies – into this terrific tale.

And in paperback, it’s a great read anywhere for some lucky middle grade boy or girl.

An Ode to the Slush Pile

To all my Chicago relatives, “the slush pile” is not a dirty March remnant of a long snowy winter, but instead is the ever-growing stack of unsolicited book manuscripts an editor or an agent accumulates from a host of hopeful authors.

My first book which comes out next February, TOO PURPLEY!, was pulled from just such a pile.

Jim Hines pays hilarious tribute to this pile of piles in his Seuss-style rhyme.

Writers and non-writers, you won’t want to miss it.

Thoughts from Picture Book Peek Week #3

Picture Book Peek Week #3 brought me three highly original and beautifully written stories. And as always, I’m learning by critiquing.

Four important questions for all PB writers popped up from this Peek Week.

1. What is your story really about?
Hopefully you can answer this in one brief sentence. Then examine your text for any tangents or storylines that don’t contribute to your answer. Often we start out writing one story and it turns into another. And sometimes terrific new tales are born that way. But don’t try to force multiple stories to work together in one simple picture book. Start a new story if it’s calling you.

2. Is your story a poem or a picture book?
Examine your story arc by envisioning pictures and page turns. Then explore your story further by gauging the strength of its emotional content, character motivation and story problem. If your text is “story problem-free,” consider adding an ending with impact.

3. Is your tone consistent throughout your story?
Light and humorous. Sweet and sentimental. Serious.

4. Is your book is too teachy, too preachy or just a touch didactic?
Answer this question “Why did you write this story?” Your answer will tell you a lot about your motivation and content. If your answer is anything other than, “To write a story that kids will love,” you may want to take a closer look at your premise.

You can bet I’ll be asking these questions of my own works in progress.

Stay tuned for Picture Book Peek Week #4 coming later this fall!

Pay It Forward Friday – Elizabeth Dulemba

Darcy Pattison’s Random Acts of Publicity Week left me inspired with the power of the simple promotional push. So I’m adding to my blog

“Pay It Forward Fridays.”

When I can, I’ll be highlighting books, events and other news in the life of one of my fellow writers.

This week it’s:

Elizabeth Dulemba’s Blog Tour

Elizabeth is celebrating the first book she’s authored and illustrated:
Even though Elizabeth’s tour has been going on for a few days, you can jump in anytime. And it’s continuing until 10/02/09.

Check out her release party activities.

And her terrific trailer:

Then click here for her blog tour schedule.

Congratulations, Elizabeth!!