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!!

Top 10 Picture Book Takeaways from the RMC-SCBWI Conference

My Top 10 Picture Book Takeaways from the RMC-SCBWI Conference

10. Beware of dialog-heavy picture book manuscripts.

9. The only beef editors and agents have against rhyming picture books is that they’re so often poorly written.

8. Manuscripts need to be more perfect than ever before they’re ready for submission.

7. While marketing yourself is certainly important, a writer’s MOST important job is to make his/her book amazing.

6. Perfect picture books are like a dance between text and illustrations.

5. Adding just one word – the perfect word – to a picture book text, can carry layers of emotion like wistfulness, uncertainty or imperfection.

4. Picture book pacing is a combination of text on the page, text-free pages, punctuation, page turns, timing and breathing.

3. Even humorous picture books carry an emotional truth and strike an emotional and harmonic chord at the end.

2. Picture book endings should disarm us. They must have a touch of mystery, a touch of magic, and space for the reader to fill in the ending or ponder it.

1. If you ever have a chance to see Allyn Johnston and Marla Frazee present together, don’t miss it. You’ll leave with inspiration (and laughter!) for a lifetime.

Folksingers – Some of the Grandest Storytellers of All

Back in the day, before music videos, before CDs, even before 8-Track Tapes (if you owned one, fess up now – I never did) there was Puff the Magic Dragon and Peter, Paul and Mary. All drug culture references aside (I was too young to know of such things) the song became one of my first stories. Having memorized every word of every verse, I pondered the name “Jackie Paper,” wondered about the land called “Honah Lee” (had to be some Hawaiian island) and couldn’t quite figure out what was so special about “string and sealing wax.”

But the remaining details of this mystical song were clear in my mind. As clear as a favorite fairy tale.

With several guitar-picking siblings in the house, I grew up with folk music. And those songs make for some of the richest story-telling in my childhood. What better way to pass down a story if not in song?

I developed great passion for not only the stories – would Charlie ever get off the MTA? (The Kingston Trio)

– but also the questions – Where Have All the Flowers Gone? (Seeger)

– and the promises.

I’m so grateful to these folk masters, the stories they sang and legacy they left us.
RIP Mary Travers.

Picture Book Peek Week #3 Coming September 21st!!

Back by popular demand: Picture Book Peek Week
Free critiques of select PB manuscripts – including those wretched rhymers (Yup, 3 of my upcoming PBs are written in verse!)

Peek Week #3 begins September 21st. I’ve changed up the format a bit. Here’s how it will work:

Sign up for a critique by entering your PB WORKING TITLE in the comment section of this blog post anytime (midnight to midnight Mountain Time) on September 21st. Titles submitted before or after September 21st will not be considered.

I’ll throw all titles into a hat and pick 3 for critique.

Keep in mind:

* Manuscripts must be 1000 words or less.

* I accept only fiction.

* Level of detail in the critique will vary based on my impression of the caliber of the writing.

* Please understand that I’m not an editor and will not be providing line-editing of your work. My critique will be comprised of suggestions for improving your manuscript. So please send me your most polished piece.

* The 3 critique winners may e-mail me their manuscripts as Word attachments. Manuscripts will be kept completely private. When I receive the manuscripts, I’ll let the authors know when they can expect my critique.

* As with any art form, likes and dislikes are entirely subjective. Please understand that my critiques are only one reader’s/writer’s opinion. It’s always wise to seek feedback from a few different readers. If my ideas resonate with you, they’re yours to use. If you disagree, I encourage you to compare my comments with those of other readers. But in the end, it’s your book. Stay true to your vision.

I look forward to reading your work.
P.S. For little “fashionistas” everywhere- TOO PURPLEY!Preorder it now!