A couple of years ago I had an unfortunate accident involving boiling hot water, a cheap glass pitcher and a second degree burn on my right thigh. After a daunting tetanus shot (but the first shot in years where I didn't pass out--yay!), a couple of nurse techs who had no idea what they were doing, and a huge ace bandage wrapped around my leg, a nurse (who DID know what she was talking about) came in and listed of a bunch of Do's and Don'ts for the next week. One of the Don'ts was "Don't use colored towels. Go for white."
As it turns out, she admitted that the dye in colored towels tends to have components that could cause infection, so it is best to stick with white towels.
I marveled that no one tells you this stuff until AFTER you have something serious like a second degree burn. But, for all those never-burned-my-leg-because-I-was-smart-enough-to-keep-hot-liquid-out-of-a-cheap-glass-container people, this fact would never be known and you would continue rubbing colored towels all over your own bodies and, more importantly, your newborn babies' bodies.
When I registered for my baby, organic towels were at the top of the list. And when I buy new towels and washcloths--it's white for me! Not to mention, most of the stores I model my house after usually have a bathroom stocked with white towels, so fashion is not compromised.
I must admit, I have had trouble keeping white washcloths white (I think there's some rust in my water, and my husband works in construction, so . . . ) But the same rule for cloth diapers applies here--hang them in the sun, a natural bleach.
Above image found on Corbis.
I try to keep this mainly business, but for my friends and family following, I thought I'd give you a little Andie update.
In the past two weeks everything, and I mean, EVERYTHING, has started happening. Andie started crawling April 23rd (yeah, that's almost 11 months--that took forever!), then exactly ONE WEEK LATER she started walking. I was in her room sorting out all the too-small clothes and replacing them with lovely bigger hand-me-downs (thanks, Cami!) and Andie just stood up and walked (almost ran) five steps into my arms! No help, no coaxing. She just did it on her own. I was yelling and cheering, "Andie! You're walking! Andie!"
Andie also started signing. She's a pro at doing "more," but really I think "more" to her means "Okay, Mama, I'm doing sign language, now please give me what I want"--usually what she wants is more, but sometimes what she wants is food, to be picked up, or a drink. We're working out the details. She's also signing "all done" and "nurse."
In more Andie news, two more teeth are coming in! Not sure if anyone else's kid has done this (I'm sure someone has), but her top teeth (not the middle ones and not the fangs, the ones in between) are coming in. My baby girl's gonna have an "all I want for Christmas is my two front teeth" smile BEFORE rather than AFTER she loses them.
I've heard that babies grow in spurts. I just had no idea that all this fun could happen in two short weeks. Yikes!
Today, let's walk through your house and look for items you could buy local. I know it costs a little bit more, but in the spirit of capitalism, support someone's dream and buy their products (handmade or specially manufactured) and help keep their business going.
This past Easter I set out to Target to find some "cheap" presents I could give to my daughter (who won't remember this day since she's less than 1 year old). When all was said, I had three items in my shopping cart that I didn't really care about or want. A little more thought brought me to the conclusion that these three "cheap" items that I will likely throw away soon could easily be replaced for one item from our favorite local organic baby and kids' store Eco baby + kids. Suddenly, I was excited about buying a present again, and I knew it was going to be something I'd keep forever, and something that would help support one of my favorite local businesses.
My daughter and I scoured the shelves of Eco Baby + Kids and found a cute shirt (that's long enough to work as a dress right now) that's made from some of the softest organic cotton, and it's pink and beige strips just make me smile. I love it! This is something I won't be letting go of, ever. (I'll try and post pictures soon.)
Mother's Day, spring birthdays, graduation and more are just around the corner. Skip the cheap fillers in your presents and head down to your favorite locally owned stores and find something special to include in your presents.
**We now interrupt our regularly-scheduled Agent recap for our weekly Wednesday Walkthrough**
As we continue our walk through your home, let's linger in the kitchen for just a moment longer.
This week's focus is in your fridge again. I know it's unrealistic for most of us to eat 100 percent organic fruits and vegetables. With a newborn in the house, this is an especially difficult fact to swallow, but as we stick to our grocery budget, organic just doesn't always make the cut. There is hope though. When choosing what to buy organic and what to buy conventional, keep the pesticide content in mind. The information below is from Dr. Ben Kim's website. For the full article, click here.
I'm halfway through. I've cheated and already read some of the follow-up comments on what people learned, but I don't believe it's affecting my decisions.
A few of my thoughts:
1) This reminds me of grading papers. It starts slow, especially when you're figuring out what you're looking for and what's really important, but once you know what you're looking for, the process goes really quickly.
2) Also like grading, just as easy as it is to spot a plagiarist, it's equally as easy to spot a compelling hook and a well-written query.
3) Form rejections in this day and age (especially when agent blogs are so specific) are deserved. If you haven't done the research before you send the query, then you'll make the mistakes that will lead to rejection. You don't need a personal rejection; you need to put in some time, research what the agent wants, and be brutally honest with yourself if you're doing all of that in your query. Brutal honesty is hard. That's probably the greatest value of a good critique group (ie. bad critique group=ones who pat your back and tell you how wonderful the story is).
More thoughts to come.
The English teacher in me is screaming as I read through these queries. I spent lots of quality hot air trying to convince my students that they don't need phrases like, "I am going to write a book report about such and such" or "This will be about . . ." or "I believe you are going to . . ." Get rid of the first person, don't insult my intelligence by telling me something I can figure out on my own, and, as cliche as it may sound, show, don't tell. I've gotten through 4 queries so far, and now my baby girl is calling. More later :)
This week I'm going to be playing make-believe. Only this time, there will be slightly more real props than my old Cabbage Patch doll and super secret detective fingerprint kit.
This week, I'm going to be working on Nathan Bransford's Agent For a Day challenge. You can check out the details here. And you can follow along if you'd like. I'll be posting as "joy" so it won't be hard to follow my comments, but more importantly, I think you should leave comments of your own. All 50 queries will post at random times today, but Nathan has graciously left us a full week to respond (unlike his real life where he gets up to 15,000 queries a year, and generally, he responds within 24 hours).
Agents have told me that the "cream quickly rises to the top." So, despite the fact that these queries should be as Nathan says, "better than 50 percent of the queries" he usually sees because they're all from people who read his blog, I still expect that this little exercise will help illustrate that.
I'll try and post my observations as the week progresses. Happy agenting! (is that a word?)
I know I've given you a lot of food for thought this week, so I thought I'd back off on the end of the week and give you some time to soak it all in.
But I couldn't help sharing this one bit of advice that writers (published and unpublished) need to hear. Check it out here.
Day 6 of the SCBWI spring conference re-cap. Yes, the re-caps are finally coming to an end. After Elana Roth's excellent session (photo shout out to Okie Book Woman again!), there was a panel discussion, but the meat of what I learned in the conference was in the previous lectures, so I will not drag this re-cap along any farther than today.
Agent Elana Roth from Caren Johnson humanized agents for me. She took the agent "ahhhh" in the sky with angels singing in the background and brought it back down to someone who is there to work for you and with you. She continually emphasized that you, the author, are the commodity, and the agent should never forget that without the author, there is no job.
That said, Elana went on to parallel the agent/author relationship with that of a marriage.
Stage 1: Dating
Just as in a relationship with a significant other, before you go on a date, you make sure you yourself are in the best state possible, the same follows for your mss. It should be in the best state possible--revised, edited, etc. before you put it out there.
She also advised to know what you're looking for and make sure you "woo" the right agent. Elana suggested making a list of first-round and second-round agents, so once you're through the first list, you have even more you can query.
Her final point was to make sure you talk to the agent and ask questions (have them prepared ahead of time) to make sure you and the agent have similar expectations (eg. response time, vision for your career, possible editors to submit to, how you like to communicate, level of editorial work the agent will do, etc.)
Stage 2: Marriage
This is when the legal and business terms come into play--the contract. Elana emphasized that you should read the contract and make sure your rights are protected. She referred us to aaronline.org's FAQ section for a handy resource.
In a marriage, one of the challenges is the balance of power; the same follows with an author/agent relationship. The Author provides the product. The Agent provides the guidance and facilitates movement in the marketplace. In this relationship, as with marriage, communication (2-way) is vital. Trust is also indispensible.
Stage 3: The Divorce
If the passion for your writing dies, the relationship won't always work out. Elana's suggestions for when you need to part ways included these bits of advice: A) Talk it through--be curteous B) Terminate the agreement before you look for a new one C) Find out the book's status with all editors before you terminate D) Contract should cover all details pertaining to money.
Bonus agent info: In a recent lecture by Nathan Bransford at the University of Tulsa, he
addressed a question about how common it is for great authors to be passed by numerous publishing houses before someone picks them up (citing J. K. Rowling as an example). Nathan said that it's not as common as it's made out to be, and more importantly, something like Harry Potter may not have been the phenomenon it was if it had been taken by the wrong agent. You want someone who LOVES your book. If those people who passed on it didn't have the passion
to make it what it is today, then you don't want an agent like that anyway.
Back to SCBWI, all-in-all, I really enjoyed Elana's humor and wit as she presented her topic. Considering she was up against a rough time slot (an hour after lunch), she did a great job engaging the crowd and informing us about the harsh and happy details of reality.
As the conference wrapped up, I finally got the guts to pull out my camera. I got a single shot of the panel, and I made sure to get a picture with Stacy Nyikos who is both an accomplished author and my seat neighbor for the bulk of the conference.
Day 5 of the SCBWI Spring Conference Re-cap. Unfortunately, I do not have a picture of Abigail Samoun, so you will have to simply enjoy the tragically beautiful tulips wilting under the heavy snow that fell that day. Ahh, classic Oklahoma weather. We always have a random snow in March before spring is allowed to officially arrive.
That being said, when I wasn't looking longingly out the window and wishing I was back at home with my baby girl enjoying her first official snow, I was learning and growing under the able tutelage of Abigail Samoun, editor at Tricycle Press (an imprint of Ten Speed Press).
Abigail's speech painted a concrete picture of what an editor actually does. She began with a candid photo of her desk (well, we had to go on faith that the desk was there, it was not actually visible under her piles of books, letters, computer, slush piles, etc.) and continued through her job description, a motivational speech about rejection letters (and a tasty tidbit--if the editor personally signs their name, follow up!), and finally ended with some insight into the process of editing a manuscript.
Abigail told us that they generally receive 150 submission a week which amounts to 7500 a year (only 3-4 of those are actually chosen for publication). She did encourage us to submit since Tricycle is one of the few publishing houses that still accept unsolicited manuscripts.
As an editor, her job responsibilities include guiding a project through the development stage; championing projects (this point was brought home with an example of a book that wasn't immediately accepted in acquisitions, but she fought for and won); offering guidance and suggestions; keeper of the story's logic and clarity; helper to find the perfect illustrator, art director; and communicator with production staff.
Abigail made it clear that a relationship with an editor can be a work in progress. While you may not hit it off or get accepted right away, if there are signs of interest, you should definitely continue to reach out. It may take years, but developing a relationship with the editor can pay off in the long run.
Most of Abigail's illustrations centered around a book she worked on called The Day We Danced in Underpants. With a title like that, I was immediately sold.
**Due to my desire to finish up my SCBWI re-cap in a timely fashion, I have taken a break this week from the Wednesday Walkthrough series, but they will be back in full form next week!**
Once I get my first contract and sign for a multi-million dollar advance, I'll look like this lady above. wink. wink. I'm kidding. But, when publishing does become part of my world, today's lecture recap will come in handy. This is day 4 in the SCBWI spring conference recap. This one will be short and sweet.
Gail Gross from Intellectual Property Attorney, LLC, spoke about the technical side of contracts and negotiations. I scribbled notes furiously while she promised to "go slow," but I was soon left in her dust of terms and negotiations. Two things I learned from this lecture:
1) When I get published, if I don't have an agent, I better hire someone to read over the contract for me because I don't know enough to know if it's fair and if all of the rights are taken care of properly.
2) I need an agent.
3) I promised only two, but here's a bonus. When I start getting royalty reports, I should do the math myself and make sure the "numbers add up." Since I was a nerd and loved math in school, (I often taught English using mathematical equations since it just made more sense to me that way), I think I'll enjoy this part of the publishing experience. Gail also cautioned that "cumulative" does not necessarily mean publishers are calculating from the beginning of the contract. Sometimes it's just from the beginning of the last time they fixed or upgraded their computers.
**Photo courtesy of Okie Book Woman
I just found out one of my favorite bloggers/agents Nathan Bransford is going to be in Tulsa tomorrow night (April 7)! He'll be speaking at TU with agents for film and theater as well. As supportive as my hubby is about my writing, I'm not sure I can talk him into accompanying me to this lecture, so anyone want to join me? 7-9 PM in the Chapman Lecture Hall.
Day 3 of the SCBWI OK Spring Conference Re-cap:
Mary Kate Catellani, (pictured above far right, thanks Okie Book Woman!) assistant editor at Walker Books for Young Readers gave an insightful look into what makes a manuscript stand out. She illustrated most of her points with class works that generally fall in the midgrade novel genre, and she left all of us smiling as she wrapped up a short, but sweet, lecture. Here are her five main points.
1) Plot. It needs to appeal, be unique and intriguing. It should stand out from the others. It should have unique details. She also cited "high-concept plot" as popular now. She even defined the new term for us. It's simply a plot that can be described in one (fairly short) sentence.
2)Voice. Her definition of voice that stuck with me was "the inkling that makes me stop and think again of what I just read." She used an excerpt of Abigail Iris The One and Only to really bring her point home. The entire time she was reading, I felt transported back into my own head as a young child. It was surreal to have so many moments when I thought, "I remember feeling that way." Now, that's an accomplishment! Mary Kate
also admitted that voice is the primary reason she turns manuscripts down.
3) Characterization. MK referred us to Shannon Hale's website for writing exercises to develop characters, and she again gave some poignant examples of well-developed characters such as Gianna Z in The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z (to be released this fall) and the book Chasing Boys.
4) Setting. A couple of great examples: The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z and Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightning.
5) Detail. This wasn't something I had read or heard before. But MK talked about how well-written details really sell the piece and give it character. Her example, "My friends say I look like Anne Frank."
Mary Kate also detailed what kind of books she's looking for right now: plots where cultural or spiritual identity is explored, funny characters starring in picture books, nonfiction with a new angle. She is not open to chapter books.
Not only was her lecture great, Mary Kate was very approachable (like all of the speakers this conference) and humored me by answering some personal questions as well. I really appreciated that. She confessed her relationship with the slush pile was a sparse once-a-month fling. But she also affirmed that if your work is well written, it was easily stand out in the pile. Guess I better get back to writing!
Above photo of Kristin courtesy of Okie Book Woman :)
Day 2 of the SCBWI Oklahoma Spring Conference Re-cap
Kristin Daily editor at Harper Collins--my personal favorite speaker--covered a topic I'm most interested in now mainly since the book I've written falls into this category. She gave concrete details on what defines a chapter book and early reader. I have not been able to find information this specific before now which means this session alone was worth the price of admission.
EASY TO READ
Easy to Read books are generally 32-48 pages and are very structured. The primary goal of an easy reader is to put the first book into a child's hands that they can read on their own. ETR are not intended to be used in or with education texts, but often they are. ETR books generally come in one trim size (6" X 9"), and the font is usually a large 36 pt. Times New Roman. The content of the book is key despite the highly structured nature of the book--in other words, writing a good story is still the most important aspect of the book. Vocabulary is important, but the occasional difficult word is okay to include as long as the context clues surrounding the word make it easier for the child to define.
Also, along the lines of plot, ETR stories always center on the child. ETR stories are mainly told through dialogue and action. There is very little description, and the story should jump right into the action from the get-go. The sentence structure should be simple, but, as Kristin pointed out, this does not mean it has to be short choppy sentences (because that constitutes a boring story).
Illustrations for ETR are literal and concrete. Their purpose is to help the reader decipher the words in the text.
Chapter Books are a little different. The general audience of chapter books are children ages 6-10. The youngest chapter books start at about 60-70 book pages (about 5,000-6,000 words). The older chapter books (riding a fine line with midgrade novels) range from 9,000-10,000 words and generally have about 140 book pages.
CB generally have some black and white illustrations. Their plot is simple and does not include a lot of struggle. Generally the main character is over the top such as Captain Underpants. Kristin cited Bruce Hale's Underwhere series as a great place to look for quality writing in this genre.
Thank you, Kristin, for such a helpful and informative session. As I said at the conference, I'll be sending you something soon :)
This past weekend I spent my Saturday learning the in's and out's of the current children's publishing world at the SCBWI Oklahoma Spring Conference. This year's speakers came well-prepared with informative and helpful lectures. The speakers included Laurent Linn art director from Simon and Schuster for Young Readers; Mary Kate Castellani assistant editor at Walker Books for Young Readers; Kristin Daily editor at Harper Collins; Gail Gross royalty consultant for Intellectual Property Attorney, LLC; Abigail Samoun editor at Tricycle Press; and Elana Roth agent for Caren Johnson Literary Agency.
All of lectures had me scribbling furiously in my notepad. In an attempt not to overwhelm you'll, I'll cover one speaker per day.
Laurent Linn talked about the importance of having a unique take on a story, and as far as art direction goes, he said that current illustration trends are very cinematic in nature. The Scarecrow's Dance is an excellent example of that. He also categorized children's books in six genres I had not considered before: Holiday, Folk/Fairy Tale, Children's Discovery of the World, Young Child Deals with a Difficult Concept, Non-fiction, Animal. Two great quotes from his lecture:
"Know it (the writing craft), learn it, then forget it and let your subconscious do the work."
"Don't try too hard to do something unique because everyone is (inherently) unique."
Today let's take a walk through your fridge. Making healthier choices begins one tiny step at a time. It's easier to transition to healthy food if you don't try to do it all at once. Make attainable goals that you can accomplish. For example, you can make a goal to eat fruits or vegetables with every meal. Or maybe you can make a goal to have a live vegetable with every supper. Perhaps it would help to make a goal to try one new fruit or vegetable per week. It's all about one step at a time.
I've gotten the following information in my inbox a few times now, and I think the information is valuable enough to share. Whether you're adding fruits and vegetables once a week, day or meal, this information is helpful in choosing which things are most beneficial to you:
A sliced carrot looks like the human pupil, iris and radiating lines of the eye. Science now shows carrots greatly enhance blood flow to and function of the eyes.
A tomato has four chambers and is red, like the human heart. Research shows that tomatoes are loaded with lycopine and are pure heart and blood food.
Grapes hang in a cluster that has a the shape of the heart. Each grape looks like a blood cell, and all of the research today shows grapes are also profound heart and blood vitalizing food.
A walnut looks like a little brain, a left and right hemisphere, under cerebrums and lower cerebellums. Even the wrinkles or folds on the nut are just like the neo-cortex. We now know walnuts help develop more than three dozen neuron-transmitters for brain function.
Kidney beans actually heal and help maintain kidney function and yes, they look exactly like the human kidney.
Celery, bok choy, rhubarb and many more look just like bones. These foods specifically target bone strength. Bones are just 23 percent sodium and these foods are 23 percent sodium. If you don't have enough sodium in your diet, the body pulls it from the bones, thus making them weak. These foods replenish the skeletal needs of the body.
Avocados, eggplant and pears target the health and function of the womb and cervix of the female--they look just like these organs. Today's research shows that when a woman eats one avocado a week, it balances hormones, sheds unwanted birth weight, and prevents cervical cancers. Plus, it takes exactly 9 months to grow an avocado from blossom to ripened fruit! There are over 14,000 photolytic chemical constituents of nutrition in each one of these foods.
Figs are full of seeds and hang in twos when they grow. Figs increase the mobility of male sperm and increase the numbers of sperm as well to overcome male sterility.
Sweet potatoes look like the pancreas and actually balance the glycemic index of diabetes.
Olives assist the health and function of the ovaries.
Oranges, grapefruits and other citrus fruits look like the mammary glands of the female and actually assist the health of the breasts and the movement of lymph in and out of the breasts.
Onions look like the body's cells. Today's research shows onions help clear waste materials from all of the body cells. They even produce tears which wash the epithelial layers of the eyes. A working companion garlic also helps eliminate waste materials and dangerous free radicals from the body.