It’s a Mystery, Pig Face!

February 2017

It's a Mystery, Pig Face!

How My Yard Work Helps my Writing

I am doing a lot of writing outside these days

And no, I don’t take a pen and paper….

I have been in the midst of revisions all week. I love this stage of writing a book. Every change makes it better and I can see first base in sight.

No, I wasn’t wrong when I said first base – there are so many stages after you hand your book in to your agent that really, you have only begun your journey, not finished it.

I have also been in the midst of serious yard work. I live on a little more than acre, and for some reason, I decided it was a swell idea to make lots and lots of gardens. Did I say lots?

And every spring, they must be raked and cleaned.  Soon things will have to be divided. The work never ends.

But it’s all worth it, because it results in this:

 

P1020812

and this

 

P1020805

But what I have also discovered is that while I meditate on the manual labour, I am also usually meditating on my work in progress. I solve a pesky conundrum hauling brush. I finally understand a character’s motivation while weeding. I wear myself out physically, but the me that returns to the keyboard seems remarkably refreshed and coherent.

And then the revisions result in something like this:

 

Pig-Face Cover

 

My Spring yard work is, I see, just another sort of revision. Which makes my aching muscles seem somewhat worth it…

 

 

 

A Great Day for Middle Grade Fiction!

I love book release days for the Sweet Sixteen Debut Authors.

It’s like watching baby birds fly from the nest, taking their goodness with them as they go!

Today there are four new MG novels being released that you need to know about!  I’ve read them and highly recommend them!

 

Making this an extra-special MG release day is that today is the 100th birthday of author Beverly Cleary, literary and MG legend!

 

beezus  Mouse and motorcycle

Read this great article about Beverly Cleary in the New York Times.

Then get on over here and read 100 amazing facts about her!

I hope the authors listed below have careers equally wonderful!

 

In alphabetical order, with their Amazon Books descriptions, here are today’s releases:

 

seventh grade

All Dillon wants is to be a real dancer. And if he wins a summer scholarship at Dance-Splosion, he’s on his way. The problem? His dad wants him to play football. And Dillon’s freestyle crew, the Dizzee Freekz, says that dance studios are for sellouts. His friends want Dillon to kill it at the audition—so he can turn around and tell the studio just how wrong their rules and creativity-strangling ways are.

At first, Dillon’s willing to go along with his crew’s plan, even convincing one of the snobbiest girls at school to work with him on his technique. But as Dillon’s dancing improves, he wonders: what if studios aren’t the enemy? And what if he actually has a shot at winning the scholarship?

Dillon’s life is about to get crazy . . . on and off the dance floor in this kid-friendly humorous debut by Brooks Benjamin.

 

counting thyme

 

When eleven-year-old Thyme Owens’ little brother, Val, is accepted into a new cancer drug trial, it’s just the second chance that he needs. But it also means the Owens family has to move to New York, thousands of miles away from Thyme’s best friend and everything she knows and loves. The island of Manhattan doesn’t exactly inspire new beginnings, but Thyme tries to embrace the change for what it is: temporary.

After Val’s treatment shows real promise and Mr. Owens accepts a full-time position in the city, Thyme has to face the frightening possibility that the move to New York is permanent. Thyme loves her brother, and knows the trial could save his life—she’d give anything for him to be well—but she still wants to go home, although the guilt of not wanting to stay is agonizing. She finds herself even more mixed up when her heart feels the tug of new friends, a first crush, and even a crotchety neighbor and his sweet whistling bird. All Thyme can do is count the minutes, the hours, and days, and hope time can bring both a miracle for Val and a way back home.

With equal parts heart and humor, Melanie Conklin’s debut is a courageous and charming story of love and family—and what it means to be counted.

 

Treasure at lure lake

 

I couldn’t believe what I saw: a map of a river next to a house and leading to a lake. Beside the lake was a tree, and beside the tree was an X.

Bryce’s best-laid plans for a backpacking trip with his grandpa seem about to fall through. But when he finds a treasure map in his grandpa’s barn, he just knows it’s going to lead to something good. One thing is certain—no matter what the treasure map leads to, this is going to be the biggest adventure of Bryce’s life!

 

The Last 5th grade

 

Laura Shovan’s engaging, big-hearted debut is a time capsule of one class’s poems during a transformative school year. Families change and new friendships form as these terrific kids grow up and move on in this whimsical novel-in-verse about finding your voice and making sure others hear it.

Eighteen kids,
one year of poems,
one school set to close.
Two yellow bulldozers
crouched outside,
ready to eat the building
in one greedy gulp.

But look out, bulldozers.
Ms. Hill’s fifth-grade class
has plans for you.
They’re going to speak up
and work together
to save their school.

These books are going to delight and entertain you and probably make you a little teary-eyed!  They are amazing!  Congratulations guys!

 

My First School Visit as an Author!

 

There is a first time for everything, and this past Monday was my first time doing a school visit as author!

 

Garden Creek School

Luckily for me, the school is an awesome one – Garden Creek Elementary School here in Fredericton – and the students were a delight!

For the next 6 weeks I will be conducting a creative writing class with 15 wonderful students every Monday afternoon.

I learned my first lesson on Monday: prepare, but remember that these are kids and they are going to ask a LOT of questions. I will know better for next Monday!

All I could think while I was talking to them was “This is the most fun ever.” Not a bad way to spend an afternoon and what a wonderful school to indoctrinate me into the world of school visits!

Heartfelt thanks to Principal Moffitt and the great kids at Garden Creek!

 

Daily Gleaner Interview!

 

I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by Tara Chislett from The Daily Gleaner, my local newspaper, about my transition into writing:

 

wendygleaner

Three years after leaving a seemingly successful career in the New Brunswick civil service, Wendy McLeod MacKnight is about 10 months away from publishing her debut children’s novel, It’s a Mystery, Pig Face! Photo: Tara Chislett/The Daily Gleaner

 

NB woman leaves successful civil service career to pursue her dream

Telegraph-Journal |

Wendy McLeod MacKnight wrote the first draft of a middle-school novel sitting at a kitchen table on Vancouver Island.

It was the mid-1980s. A St. Stephen native, MacKnight found herself thousands of kilometres away from home on the opposite coast, struggling to find a job while her husband, Barry, worked as an officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

“It was almost a bit of a love letter to my neighbourhood growing up,” she said. “It was really fun.”

When she finished, she bound it together and, along with a self-addressed stamped envelope, sent it away in the mail.

Then, she waited.

The first submission effort ended the way most do: a rejection letter.

The publisher had recently published a similar book, she said, but the feedback was kind. They encouraged her to keep going, to keep working on her novel.

“And I put it in a drawer,” she said.

“I kept reading in the genre but I didn’t keep going.”

Instead, she joined the New Brunswick civil service in 1989 and spent the next 23 years working her way through the ranks to eventually become the deputy minister for the province’s education department – a job that often meant putting in 80-plus hours a week, tethered to a constantly buzzing BlackBerry.

It wasn’t until she found herself sitting at her dying father’s bedside in a nursing home that she came to a fork in the road: despite working her way to a successful career, she wasn’t doing what she loved.

“I thought, you know, at some point, I packed my dream away,” she said.

“(Publishing a novel) was what other people did. You can never get published. You’ll never make any money. I fell into that.”

That moment, she said, marked the beginning of the end of her first career. She left the civil service in May 2013. Three years later and her debut middle grade novel, It’s a Mystery, Pig Face!, is a reality.

The novel, slated for release in February 2017, follows Tracy Munroe, an 11-year-old girl with three big goals to accomplish before she goes back to school: figure out a fantastic end to a summer adventure with her best friend, Ralph; make sure her little brother, Lester, AKA Pig Face, doesn’t tag along; and get Zach, the gorgeous new boy next door, to notice her.

But then Tracy and Ralph discover an envelope stuffed with money in the dugout at the baseball field. Suddenly, they have a mystery on their hands – did someone lose the cash or did someone steal it? Along with Lester, who forces them to let him tag along, the pair hunts for the truth in St. Stephen before they can be accused of the crime themselves.

McLeod MacKnight called the work involved in transforming that original draft into one it is today a “mortifying, year-and-a-half-long process” that challenged the perceptions she had about her skill as a writer.

“I was a policy analyst for years before I continued to move up. I can write a good briefing note. Still, I could write you one today on anything. I love writing,” she said.

“Then I realized I didn’t really know any of the mechanics of creative writing. I knew I read widely but I didn’t know the mechanics.”

To brush up her skills, McLeod MacKnight said she turned to the Internet, where online courses and experts were available at her fingertips. She started rewriting the book, taking in workshops and seeking out critiques whenever she could.

One of the people she reached out to was Sheree Fitch – a well-known Canadian author, who’s also from New Brunswick, and sister of a close friend.

“I said, ‘Listen. I really need you to tell me if I have any talent. I can do something else,’” she said.

The feedback she received was encouraging but also challenging. Fitch told her she could write, and encouraged her to dream big. She should try to break into the United States market. And the only way to do that, Fitch told her, was to find a literary agent.

“They’re the gatekeepers,” McLeod MacKnight said.

Having gone through a course and completed several rewrites, McLeod MacKnight said that became her focus. She started submitting again and getting requests for partial and full manuscripts.

Then it happened: In November 2014, Lauren Galit of the LKG Agency in New York City picked her manuscript out of a slush pile, read it and fell in love with the old-fashioned charm. She wanted more edits, but asked if McLeod MacKnight would sign with her.

By June 2015, McLeod MacKnight said her book had been purchased by Sky Pony Press, the children’s book imprint of Skyhorse Publishing in New York.

There’s still work to do and edits to be done, but sitting in her Hanwell living room, sipping a cup of sugar cookie tea, she said the three years since she left her job have been a whirlwind.

But there’s no secret to her success, she said.

“To completely change careers and actually break through? It’s all about tenacity.”

And although following the process – including the waiting, the rejections, the editing process – hasn’t always been easy, McLeod MacKnight said it’s been worth it.

“My worst day of writing is better than my best day in the civil service,” she said.

“I really feel like this is all about me. I gave my first career to the people of New Brunswick and the second one is about me but I’m also hoping it’s for the people of New Brunswick. My books are going to be set here. I really feel passionate about that.”

McLeod MacKnight said she hopes, through her books and telling her story, that she’ll be able to encourage others in New Brunswick – especially young people – to not limit themselves because of where they’re from.

That’s a message she plans to bring with her when she visits schools, whether it’s during the six-week creative writing enrichment program she’s set to lead at Garden Creek School this semester or when she returns to St. Stephen Elementary School to talk to the kids when her book is released.

“To me, it’s really important to talk to kids about that,” she said.

“That’s the one thing I try to tell everybody: figure out what you want to do. You can’t necessarily always do it the day you figure it out, but you can do it. It just means you have to put aside some time to do it.”

For McLeod MacKnight, that time is now. With publication on the horizon, she said she’s already got other projects on the go, including a novel set in Fredericton and the outline of the follow up to her debut.

She still puts in long days, but it’s different now.

“I loved my job (with the government) at various points. There were lots of things I was really, really proud of. I don’t regret it at all,” she said.

“But if you asked me would I rather have started this when I was 25? Yeah. Then I’d be publishing 50 books before I die instead of probably the 40 I’ll get out.”

 

Dig Too Deep and The Last Great Adventure of The PB&J Society are out today!

 

Two books I recently reviewed are out in the world today:

You can read my review of Amy Allgeyer’s YA novel Dig Too Deep here.

 

dig too deep

 

You can read my review of Janet Johnson’s MG novel The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society here.

 

PB&J

 

Excellent books from wonderful debut authors!

 

 

 

Learning Curves on the Road to Being a Writer

 

If only the acquisition of knowledge and experience were a straight line.

 

reality versus expectations

 

When I embarked on my new career, I knew it would take time to learn the skills and knowledge required to master writing.

Malcolm Gladwell posits that it takes approximately 10,000 hours to gain mastery.

I estimate I invested between 60,000 and 70,000 hours in my previous occupation. No wonder I felt like I had a handle on what I was doing!

I am starting all over again. I reckon that in the past three years I have accumulated around 6,000 writing hours. I’m inching towards 10,000, but it sure doesn’t feel like it sometimes.

I also have the uncomfortable feeling that at least half of those hours don’t even count, as I didn’t have a clue what I was doing! Wait – I’m still not sure I know what I’m doing half the time…

 

I knew it would be humbling to start over, just not sure I knew it would be SO humbling!

Am I being hard on myself? Probably. On the other hand, if you expect someone to publish your book and someone to read it, you should be hard on yourself I think.

Last week I handed in a manuscript to my agent. I have worked hard on this particular book over the past six months. I have written and rewritten it, edited and revised it, gotten excellent critiques and suggestions, and yet I am still on pins and needles. I love the work, but I am afraid I have missed something. I love the work, but I’m afraid she might think otherwise.

In my old career, I knew for sure whether or not something I passed in would pass muster. I am not yet there with this new career. And it is very disconcerting!

But I will keep writing, rewriting, reading, researching, doing whatever I need to do to put in the time until I can accurately and objectively assess my work with the same accuracy I once employed.

the meantime, I will light candles…

arghhh

The horror of it all!

 

 

 

Lions and Titles and Bears – Oh My!

via GIPHY

Writing Book Titles is not my forte.

In fact, you’ll be surprised to learn that the original title of It’s a Mystery, Pig Face! was Me, The Gang, and The Man in the Dark Suit.

What you will find most surprising about this is that when you read the book next year – for surely you will, dear reader – you will discover the last version of the book does not have a man in a dark suit.

I think I’ve proven how inept I am at coming up with an appropriate title. Even if the man in the dark suit was still running around, surely I could have done better than THAT.

In fact, the title It’s a Mystery, Pig Face! is actually taken directly from a line in the book.

I can thank my sister for pointing it out to me.

For the past week, I have been torturing myself as I try to find a suitable title for my work-in-progress.

So far there have been at least six titles. There were many more options on the scrap of paper upon which I wrote random plot-related words.

I am happy with the final title, but too superstitious to share it yet. After weeks of  rewriting and revising after comments, corrections, etc., I am about to pass it along to my agent.

A good title is a thing of beauty.

Some favourites:

  • A Wrinkle in Time
  • I Capture the Castle
  • The Sound and the Fury
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls
  • American Gods
  • Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel
  • Nights Below Station Street
  • Symptoms of Being Human

 

Some titles are literal, some are thematic, some are allusions. But a good one captures the essence of the book.

Maybe, just maybe, I’ll figure out how to do it well!

Please – share your favourite titles – I’d love to hear them!

 

 

 

The Winged Pen Blog Interviews Me!

 

the winged pen

I love the new blog, The Winged Pen.

So I was absolutely honoured when Kristi Wientge asked if I’d like to talk about my publication journey and flash the cover for It’s a Mystery, Pig Face! again – as if there was any doubt!!!

The interview was so much fun and you can read it here!

And then you should subscribe to The Winged Pen, as it is full of great information and inspiration!

Thanks Kristi!

Review: The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society!

PB&J

 

It’s not always easy maintaining a boy-girl friendship in Middle Grade

But Annie and Jason are doing a pretty good job, at least until the economic downturn forces Jason’s parents to sell their house and move for work.

Janet Sumner Johnson’s debut middle grade novel is everything I want in a middle grade novel: it’s sassy, funny, cozy, mysterious, heart-warming, and a little sad.

First of all, the cover is killer. Kids will definitely want to see what’s going on inside.

From the very first page the reader is completely taken with Annie and her best friend Jason, the two members of the PB&J Society.

Navigating family tensions, a new and odd friendship with an old foe, trying to maintain their boy-girl friendship in the face of teasing, and their desire to figure out a way to ensure that the PB&J Society doesn’t have to disband, we root for them every step of the way.

What I really love is how real their friendship feels.

There are ups and downs and Johnson doesn’t take the easy way out at the end, as some authors might have.

There are valuable lessons for kids in this book, but they are hidden in the sandwich.

I for one hope that we get more of Annie’s story, because she is just such a fun and perfectly imperfect character.

This book is sweet and funny and clever and very well written and I highly recommend it!  Plus, if you visit Janet’s website, you get a bonus story and the PB&J rules!

 The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society comes out April 1st!

Books as Change Agents

 

symptoms and girl who fell

One of the most important roles books can play in our lives is to shine a light on a particular social or political issue.

We are hardwired to learn and absorb information through stories, so it is no surprise that they are the perfect vehicle to open our hearts and minds.

In the past two weeks I’ve had the pleasure of reading two YA novels:

Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

The Girl Who Fell by S.M. Parker

Jeff’s book explores the world of gender fluidity, something which I wasn’t particularly knowledgeable about before I read the book, but which I was passionately supportive of by the end.

 

symptoms of being human

The tagline says it all: Boy or Girl? Yes.

Human Beings have a tendency to want to categorize things, and this categorization begins as soon as we are born and our parents are told we are male and female.

But what if you identify as both, depending on the day or even the time of day?

Garvin, and our protagonist Riley, help us understand gender fluidity in heart-warming and heart-wrenching ways. We walk in Riley’s shoes in this book and we are all the better for it.

I am convinced everyone, of all ages, should read this book. Garvin has found a way to educate us and entertain us, a fine balance to achieve and masterfully done here.

 

Likewise, Shannon Parker takes us into the world of intimate partner violence in The Girl Who Fell.

 

the girl who fell

 

Zephyr Doyle seems like a girl who’s on top of the world when we meet her. But as is the case for many young girls, Zephyr is insecure and reeling from her father walking out on her 18th birthday. When cute new boy Alec wants to date her, she is swept off her feet.

Parker has done her homework: she builds Alec’s controlling tendencies slowly, and we watch in fear as he isolates and belittles Zephyr, feeding on her insecurities like a vampire.  This is exactly how these predators work and the book does a wonderful job of showing why Zephyr stays, until it is almost too late.

Every high school in the US and Canada needs copies of these books in their libraries and in the hands of their guidance counsellors.

Pretty impressive debuts and available in bookstores everywhere!

 

Book Review: The Eye of Midnight

I love a well-written and adventurous Middle Grade book…

…and Andrew Brumbach’s The Eye of Midnight delivers.

 

eye of midnight

 

Here’s what I wrote in my Goodreads Review:

Cousins Maxine and William are to spend the summer with Grandfather Battersea, expecting a dull summer with a man they barely know. But from the very first chapter the cousins find themselves in a world of adventure, intrigue, and danger, as they navigate 1925 New York City. Toss in a mysterious courier and you have everything you need for an adventure! This is Indiana Jones for middle graders and you can’t put it down! Even better – the writing is divine – Brumbach immerses us in Maxine and William’s world and we are all the better for it! This book s a jewel and I can’t wait for the next adventure!

Here’s what I left out:

I was gobsmacked by Andrew’s imagery and description in this book, both of which are used so deftly that you kind of forget that he’s painting you a picture. Wait – gobsmacked isn’t the right word. Horribly jealous is more appropriate or inspired to do the same in my work would be better.

When I was a kid I took old Enid Blyton and Arthur Ransome novels out of the library and gobbled them up. This book is in the same thrilling category and I can see you and the kids in your life loving this book!

I’m not alone in my adoration:

A fast-paced, action-packed adventure…danger at every turn… Murders, mayhem, chases, capture, and daring feats… vivid descriptions and terse, to-the-point dialogue keep the action moving and readers constantly engaged and surprised.”

                                           –KIRKUS REVIEWS

“Nonstop adventure involving gangsters and a secret society of assassins . . . This debut novel is a youthful mystery worthy of John Bellairs, with lyrical language reminiscent of Edith Nesbit; yet it stands on its own, creating a fully realized world with clearly defined lines of good and evil, and just a dash of magic.”

                                                   –BOOKLIST 

This book will be a welcome addition to your personal library, your school library, ANY library!

But don’t say I didn’t warn you: Andrew’s going to keep you up all night reading and you’re going to be tweeting him to get the next one published already!

5 Stars!!!

Cover Reveal – It’s a Mystery, Pig Face!

 

Drumroll please….

I am so pleased to be able to share the cover for It’s a Mystery, Pig Face!

scroll down…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

a little further….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here it is:

 

Pig-Face Cover

 

How cute is that? You’re going to hear a lot more about them in the coming months leading up to book’s publication, but there’s Tracy, Pig Face (AKA Lester) and Ralph!

A paper bag filled with money. A town full of suspects. An annoying little brother. What’s a girl to do?

The illustrator, the immensely talented Valerio Fabbretti, has perfectly captured the characters in a big moment in the book. Valerio was on my dream list for illustrators, and I am so pleased Sky Pony Press, and my wonderful editor Alison Weiss, were able to secure him.

This is the kind of book cover I would have adored in elementary school, and I think it will really attract readers!

I am thrilled with how things are coming together and can’t wait to share more news and goodies in the coming months!

Would love to know what you think!

Inspiration

Are you inspired?

“I dream my painting and I paint my dream.”
– Vincent Van Goh

I have been thinking a lot of about inspiration recently. Maybe because sometimes it feels as if everything is inspiring me, while other times it feels like I have lost my ability to see the wonder around me.

My Work in Progress inspires me. Every day I wake up anxious to see what will happen next. While I have a detailed outline (as per last week’s post), most of the time I feel as if I am merely taking dictation from someone else.

I also wonder who that someone else is, that source of all creativity.

Sometimes, I start off inspired and then find myself hopelessly lost, wind-tossed on a rough sea, unable to see land. When I have tried to plow through that mist of confusion I seem to only get myself more lost. Sometimes, you just have to put things away for awhile and come back to them.

Sometimes you never do.

For me, the greatest source of inspiration is the what-if question.

 

what if

 

What if a girl and her best friend find a bag of money in a baseball dugout? What if her little brother won’t leave them alone as they try to solve the mystery, for they are certain there is a mystery…

That’s the basic premise behind It’s a Mystery, Pig-Face! I was sitting around thinking about my childhood and how my friends and I were always wanting to solve mysteries. If someone looked at us sideways, it was a mystery.  A few years later and many revisions later, a book was born.

I am already percolating on a new story idea, and this one arrived via my twitter feed. I won’t share it yet because it’s the merest wisp of any idea, but if all goes well, it will take root.

For about 3 months last year I felt as if I’d lost all inspiration. Blame it on the Sophomore book blues, but I just felt like I was out of gas.

The only solution: rest and reading.

Reading really good books by really good writers is ALWAYS inspirational.

 

inspiration_sign

 

What inspires YOU?

I’ve got a new gig!

I love keeping busy!

In addition to my own blog here at wendymcleodmacknight.com, I’ve been invited to be a regular blogger over at the wonderful Middle Grade Minded Blog!

 

middle grade minded

I’ve been a fan of the Middle Grade Minded blog for quite some time.

The Blog describes itself as follows:

About Us

 Middle Grade Minded is a group of up and coming middle grade writers looking to pull together our knowledge and become a resource on middle grade writing. We are but our own unique experiences, and each of us will be sharing advice, lessons learned on our writing adventures, and even some of our own middle grade memories. There will also be reviews, contests, and interviews with middle grade authors and agents. On this journey, we hope to help other writers as well as explore the world of middle grade together. Because let’s face it, middle grade is one of the most fun genres to write. Anything is possible with an infinite imagination.

We look forward to getting Middle Grade Minded with all of you!

It’s a wonderful source of fantastic information for writers and reads of middle grade fiction.

My first post is about why I write Middle Grade Fiction. I have to say: I loved writing this piece!  It was so much fun and so near and dear to my heart!

Middle Grade Minded is a great blog and I hope you’ll follow along with me and the other middle grade authors over there!

 

 

 

 

Revisions! (Sung to the Tune of Tradition! if you please)

I hear some people love revising. I do, too, but I sort of feel I suck at it.

I am in the throes of revising my current WIP and I was thinking that my process may be, to put it politely, a little ‘garbled’.

My first draft of every book has a loose outline that I mostly pants my way through.

I am more and more convinced that this is a wretched way to go about things, but I seem incapable of doing anything different.

Finally,  I end up with a printed version and

a WHOLE lot of notes…

 

rev4

Sigh.

Then I make a timeline with rolled paper.

“Ah yes, I will make sure I don’t have Wednesday night occur before Wednesday morning THIS time!”

 

 

rev3

 

I reread Martha Alderson’s Plot Whisperer to remind myself of why I am screwing this up…

 

rev2

 

Then I finally break down and do what works every.single.time: detailed scene-by-scene, chapter-by-chapter analysis.

 

detailed scene analysis

26 pages of good old-fashioned fun

In a panic, I refer back to other books on revisions. I stop and drink tea. I may watch some bad TV. I cut, cut, cut. And I add in all the lovely details that I can’t seem to come up with the first couple of go-rounds.

The draft I’ll turn into my agent will be so different from the original draft that they would hardly recognize each other if they sat side by side on the train, though they might both marvel that they have characters with the same name.

The first draft of my most recent book was 400 pages. I don’t know how Stephen King or Donna Tartt tame their  beasts. I cannot imagine revising a 700 page novel! But then, I’m not Donna or Stephen.

If you have advice, I’d love it!

 

 

 

Pig-Face Has a Publication Date

Houston, we have a date!

For everyone who’s been asking (and thank you for your interest!), It’s a Mystery, Pig-Face has an official publication date: February 7, 2017. While that’s still a ways away, it’s awesome to have a date and now I can do some serious planning around giveaways, launches, etc.

In less than one year, Pig-Face, Tracy and Ralph will be out in the world!  I can’t wait! And St. Stephen, you’re a big character in the book, too!

Woo-hoo!

Coming soon: cover reveal!

What I learned at #NY16SCWBI

You Gotta Find  Your Tribe

In my experience, conferences are all about networking and being inspired to return home with a new perspective about your work.

What I didn’t expect to find during my first SCWBI Conference was what Rita Williams-Garcia told us during her Sunday morning talk: “Look around – this is your tribe”.

scwbi group

Some Canadian and Australian Tribe Members!

When I walked into the first session on Saturday morning, all I experienced was a sea of faces.

Nearly 1200 faces.

But you chat with someone, which leads to chatting with someone else, and so on. And then SCWBI invites you to a lovely gala that night where you meet more people.

But the best thing is this: they are all passionate about children’s books. Just like I am.

It was like coming home, finding people who share a common theme: writing and illustrating the best books they can.

And throughout the conference I experienced more than my fair share of a-ha! moments:

  • William Joyce’s (!) infectious wild genius mind that refuses to be bound by anybody’s expectations except his own vision of excellence;
  • The Big 5 Publishing Houses telling us we are in the right business at the right time so long as what we produce is excellent;
  • Rainbow Rowell (!) encouraging us to come at our work using other creative mediums – hers is music – and not be afraid to play with tropes;
  • Agent Sarah Davies asking us to fill our readers with “wonder”;
  • Kate Messner and Linda Urban encouraging us to step away from the work now and then, whether to walk or engage in another creative pursuit, and get a writer pal;
  • Rita Williams-Garcia’s list of don’ts, which were seriously hysterical;
  • Jacquelyn Mitchard’s reminding us that our ending is “a beginning that ushers the reader back into the real world.”; and
  • Gary Schmidt’s poignant reminder of  how much Children’s Books matter.
  • The AMAZING quality of the illustrators!
  • Getting to see all of the award winners!
  • Getting to put faces to SCWBI staff and leaders!  Lin Oliver is my new crush!

And now I am back  at my desk, processing what  I have learned, glad to be able to incorporate those learnings into my WIP.

Lucky  me.

name tag

 

I’m Going to My First Writer’s Conference!

 

This weekend is the SCWBI Winter Conference in New York City.

SCWBI winter conference

 

I will be there. I will try to look like I fit in. I will try and act natural.

I will be squealing on the inside.

You see, I feel like Alice. I am a little late to the party.

mad-hatter-tea-party

I like to think of the 25 years I spent doing other things as the time I spent getting ready for what I am doing now.

But the truth is I see all these amazingly talented, younger authors debuting the most wonderful books this year and I am utterly gob-smacked. I can’t help but wonder where I might be now had I kept at it in my early 20s.

Oscar Wilde once famously said “One’s real life is often the life that one does not lead.”

Writing and writing conferences fall into that category for me.

So here I am, off to my first children’s writer’s conference in the same year my first book will be published. It’s heady stuff.

But it’s also kind of unnerving. For years I would hear about the SCWBI conferences and imagine myself sitting there, soaking up all that knowledge, meeting writers with similar interests to mine.

In my mind there was always a golden haze around it – it was Oz, and I had closed the gates on myself as I had given up on my writing.

oz gates

What a DIFFERENCE three years make! I am going! And so if you see someone gawking, looking a little too excited, a little too happy, kind of goofy, that’ll be me. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.

 

 

The Pain and Joy of Revisions

Life is one revision after another.

We crawl, we walk, we run, and sometimes if we are lucky, we fly.

Writing is no different. You come up with a great idea. Well, it seemed like a great idea, but then as you begin to write you find yourself stopping and starting, wondering “Who thought THIS up?” So you tweak it, turn it over, check its soft underbelly for weakness, discover it IS weak and begin again. Or change something. Or both.

You finish a first draft and think “This is the most brilliant story the world has ever seen. They might as well give me my Newbery Medal, my Oscar, my Pulitzer right now.”

A month later you read it again and think “This is unsalvageable”, but of course, it almost always is salvageable so long as you have the heart and the willingness to tear it all apart, move the pieces, throw a good chunk of the pieces away, and allow the true story, the one that needs to be told, to come out.

Revising-cartoon

 

When I first began writing, I was dogged by the twin enemies of excellence in writing: I thought I was a good writer and I was lazy.

I’d been told all my life I wrote well. Well yeah, but there is a huge difference between writing well in everyday life and writing well so your reader doesn’t want to put your book down.

And of course I wanted to get it right with draft one. Wouldn’t we all love that? I hang my head and admit to the rookie mistake of sending my manuscript to 5 agents before it is was ANYWHERE near being ready. I was shocked when I was rejected. But I shouldn’t have been, because the book was crap.

But I learned. I took courses, I got critiques, and I wrote and wrote and wrote. So long as I could think of a way to make it better, I tried. Only when I couldn’t, did I try submitting it again.

Apart from the reality that NO ONE is going to agree to publish your book until it is the best it can be, we  always have to remember who we are doing this for: the reader. They deserve our excellence. Anything less is a vanity project.

Can you tell I am in revising mode these days?  Well I am. I always will be. And I am glad.

Anyone else revising anything out there?

 

 

Author of Children's Literature

×