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Happy 10th Anniversary FL SCBWI!

I had an amazing time at the 10th annual SCBWI Florida Regional Conference in Miami.  I'm lucky to live in an area with such a wonderful SCBWI group, filled with incredibly supportive and talented authors and illustrators.  Here's a special tribute that I included in the FL SCBWI listserv that I'd love to share with all of you, and hope you'll be able to join us for a future conference.  The January conference in Miami is a great excuse to escape the snow for a weekend, and our June conference is on Disney property, so you can easily turn it into a family vacation.

I'll paste the tribute part of the listserv below, and will add the rest in a second post--it includes some wonderful market info (including contests and a fun picture book challenge with deadlines in the next two days).

Hi everyone.  I want to thank our amazing RA, Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld, wonderful new ARA, Marcea Ustler, and all the fabulous volunteers for making the FL SCBWI conference in Miami an absolutely incredible experience for us.  I can’t rave enough about the speakers.  And thank all of you for making our 10th anniversary such a special event.

One of my favorite parts of the weekend was when Linda was given a beautiful necklace, a celebration cake, and several of our successful authors told her how much all her hard work and dedication helped their dreams come true.  Surprise again, Linda—because I contacted everyone and now you’ll have it in writing.  Any time you’re running around trying to replace a faculty member who can’t come last minute or any of the other issues that come up, you’ll remember how many people you’re helping…and how grateful we all are to you.


Joyce Sweeney

 Author of fourteen novels and one book of poetry.

She has twenty-nine students published and is now also directing plays.


I remember Linda contacting me about creating a possible SCBWI chapter...I told her, I'll do anything to help you make that happen.  We had that little conference at the elementary school and the next year, Linda had found a hotel and rounded up Judy Blume.  I knew that with SCBWI helping me I could go from a small time mentor to an Uber-mentor...and it happened.  SCBWI was not only an amazing place for me to find talented writers, but also to meet agents and editors to whom I still make referrals.  I have 29 people published from my workshops alone and I think the total number of people published in these past ten years from all of SCBWI Florida is about 40 people. We have incredible success stories like Alex Flinn who has a feature film coming out of her novel Beastly.  Or Christina Gonzalez, whose book has gone into multiple printings.  And other, quieter careers that are equally fullfilling.  Linda is a true fairy godmother to us all and she's also a wonderful writer. I know you'll all agree it's her turn to get some of that fairy dust!


Marjetta Geerling

Author of FANCY WHITE TRASH (Viking, '08)



At the very first SCBWI Miami Regional Conference in 2001, Alex Flinn (who I'd met only a few weeks before) introduced me to Joyce Sweeney and told Joyce she should work with me. Joyce mentored me, referred me to agent George Nicholson who took me on as a client in '02, and my first book sold in '07. Without my SCBWI critique groups and contacts, I probably would've given up long before the first contract came along. Thank you, Linda, for helping to create such a supportive community for children's writers in Florida!



Danielle Joseph

 Author of Shrinking Violet (MTV/Pocket Books, 2009)

Indigo Blues (Flux, 2010)

and Pure Red (Flux, coming October 2011)


Linda Bernfeld has done an awesome job in helping many writers reach their dreams. She has put together ten years of amazing SCBWI conferences, outdoing herself each year. Not only is she busy running two Florida conferences a year but she also runs a weekly critique group. I have been in Linda's critique group for almost nine years now. I have learned so much from the group and conferences which has helped me better my writing tenfold, eventually signing up with an amazing agent and am now awaiting my third book to be published this coming October. Thanks, Linda, you rock!


Debbie Reed Fischer

Author of Braless in Wonderland (Dutton)

  and Swimming with the Sharks (Flux)


The first time I attended an SCBWI conference, my head reeled. Not because of the wealth of information being presented, or the authors, agents and editors with whom I was casually mingling, but because of the overwhelming feeling that I had found my people. There were others who read and wrote YA?! And they weren’t in the closet like me! They read childrens' books openly and talked about getting published!

Incredible. I was not alone.

A lady sitting next to me during one of the sessions pointed to Joyce Sweeney in the crowd and said, “She’s a great workshop teacher and all the authors know her.” So, once again, I rustled up some courage and approached Joyce. Again, a warm welcome, more introductions, an overwhelming feeling I was among people who understood me and would guide me to where I needed to go on this writing journey.

I took Joyce’s class, and a few months later found myself in the weekly critique group she led, which included Norma Davids, Dorian Cirrone, Danielle Joseph, Adrienne Sylver, Janeen Mason, Gloria Rothstein, Laurie Friedman, Flora Doone, Linda Rodgriguez-Bernfeld, and many others. My new mentor, Joyce, explained that I would have to read what I had written and then we would discuss it.

 Talk about courage. Why didn’t I just stroll down the street in my bathrobe and zit cream mask? That would have been easier than sharing my words with people who were going to slice them and dice them and put them under a microscope.

But I learned. I became a better writer. I learned what I did well as well as what I had to work on. Most important, I created close bonds with other writers, which is so much of what SCBWI is all about. By the time the second conference rolled around the following year, I had a critique session with an agent named Steven Chudney, who told me within minutes of my pitch that I talked too much. Very perceptive! We laughed, and luckily, he decided to read what I had to say instead of listening to me babble. A few months later I officially had an agent. At that same conference, I met an editor from Dutton named Mark McVeigh, who later bought my second novel, Braless in Wonderland and became my editor.

So to recap: I met my teacher/ mentor, my agent, and my editor at SCBWI conferences. All because of a few chance meetings leading me to SCBWI.

And I met Linda. None of it would have been possible without Linda Rodriguez-Bernfeld. She gives up her own writing time for the demands of SCBWI, works hard all year to bring in the best of the best. All year, we writers look forward to the conferences where we strengthen those bonds.

That is why you MUST show up to these SCBWI conferences because you never know who you will meet that will bring you closer to your goal of being published. I am a prime example. 

To quote The Cat Ate my Gym Suit’s Paula Danziger, who spoke at the first conference I attended, “We make our own success. Put yourself in the right place, hope it’s the right time, and do your best.”

So, thank you so veryveryvery much, Linda, for providing the right place, year after year, and inspiring us to do our best. We are forever grateful.


Adrienne Sylver

Author of Hot Diggity Dog: The History of the Hot Dog


I first met Linda when I attended a critique group at the South Miami Library. I don’t think the group had had many meetings yet, and I remember that it was a small group, maybe just Linda, Sandy, and perhaps Susan at the time. From the minute I walked in the room, I was made to feel welcome. It was a place I belonged and it was an atmosphere where we could learn together. Linda really set the tone for what would become Florida SCBWI. Our little critique group grew over the years and moved to several different locations, but that feeling and camaraderie has never changed. Our much larger statewide organization is filled with people who are always willing to share, whether it’s advice on how to improve a manuscript or the feeling of joy when one of us sells a book. And while we may joke that Linda loves being an R.A. because it gets her a trip to L.A., we know that she is making the trip for us. Every time she returns, she’s got a list of terrific editors, agents, and authors who are willing to come to Florida to share their expertise. I’m happy to say that I’m an SCBWI success story; I met my editor at an SCBWI-Florida conference. Without Linda, that wouldn’t have been possible. And without Linda, we wouldn’t be sitting here this evening celebrating ten years together. Linda consistently puts the needs of others before the needs of herself, and she deserves a huge thank you from all of us.


The last speaker had us all in tears—it was Linda’s son, Brian.  And here’s what he had to say:


First off, Mom I helped you out this whole time because you've always been there to support me. I was seven when you started all of this.  I had no idea what it was, but I knew it was at my elementary school and there were cookies, and ever since then I haven’t wanted to miss one. You have always been there for me no matter what, going to my games, taking me to the hospital. And I have seen that you still have been able run these amazing conferences. I have seen and heard from experience going to all these events that you really run one hell of a show. And I can say with pride that 'Linda is my mom.' And for everything you have ever done for me, thank you, because I know if half of your work ethic has rubbed off on me, I will be one amazing and successful kid when I go off to college.  


Brian also has a message for us:  Tell everyone thank you so much for helping and supporting her. She wouldn’t be able to do this without any of you guys. She gets all the credit, but you guys are the heroes.


And here’s a special message from our wonderful, hard-working RA, Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld:

How do you say thank you for such a lovely gift? Not only the necklace, which I adore. The necklace is perfect. I love pearls and the Golden Kite Medallion is beautiful. I am going to have fun showing it to everyone the next time I get together with regional advisors.

But the truth is, the best gift was the parade of friends giving such wonderful testimonials about my small part in their success.  Plus, the testimonial of my awesome son. It meant so much having my family there to witness those speeches.

Organizing the conferences is a labor of love. I truly enjoy finding the speakers. I enjoy having them here and I love the fact that now Florida conferences have the reputation as the place to be for speakers. But they don’t come just because Florida is warm and they have fun at our events. They come because other editors are telling them if you have a chance to go to Florida, take it because the level of writing here is tremendous. I provide the opportunity but you provide the talent and the hard work that makes this state a goldmine for editors and agents.

We had at least 18 requests for manuscripts coming out of the January conference. Wow. That’s a tribute to you. And it makes it much easier for me to reach out to someone and say, “how would you like to come to Florida?”

The Mid-Year Workshop is scheduled for June 24-25 at the Coronado Springs Hotel in Disney World. I still haven’t settled on the number of intensives but we will definitely have an Illustrators’ Intensive, probably a Picture Book Intensive but I’m still trying to figure out the Novel Intensive. We are toying around with an idea but I don’t know if it will be in place of the Novel Intensive or in addition to the Novel Intensive. More on that soon.

The Workshop itself will have the Picture Book Track (Emma Dryden, Alan Katz), the Middle Grade Track (Joanna Volpe), the Young Adult Track (Kathleen Duey) a Poetry Track (Lee Bennett Hopkins and Kristen Daley Ren) plus an Interactive Media Track that I’m still finalizing. Emma Dryden will be speaking in that track as well as the PB track. Lisa Wheeler will be involved in the PB Intensive.

Because of the many family medical crises this year, I did not have the opportunity to pin down all the speakers before the January conference. But I’ve made great progress since then and I hope to have things settled by the end of next week.

There are so many people to thank after an event, especially an event as successful as the regional conference. I always manage to forget someone so I’m going to apologize in advance.  

Read more...Collapse )

Thanks again, Linda, for putting together such an amazing conference for us!  I can’t wait until the Orlando Workshop on June 25th (intensives will be on the 24th).  I’ll share the names of the rest of the faculty with all of you as soon as they are confirmed, and hope to see a lot of you there!

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Wow, it's been a really long time since I posted.  I'll fill you in on what I've been up to in a sec, and want to let you know that as soon as I'm able to put my Mom War revision aside for a bit, I'll type up my notes from the FL SCBWI Conference in Miami and share as much as I can with you.  It was an absolutely AMAZING weekend! 

Since it might be a few days or longer until I'm ready to post, I'll give you an incredible nugget agent Erin Murphy shared on a handout loaded with questions to explore when revising.  I do keep an eye on a lot of them already, but I love having them all in one easy to find place.  While I'm doing a few last full rounds of revision on Mom War, I'm going to select two to four questions each round and make sure I explore them in every scene.  Erin said that Robin LaFevers has a great site that contains a good portion of the ideas that inspired her handout.  I haven't had a chance to read through the entire site yet, but I love how easy it is to find writing gems like a characterization worksheet and plotting advice (scroll down and you'll see a list of labels on the right side).  Thanks for sharing all this wonderful writing info, Erin and Robin!   

Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld put on yet another amazing conference.  The speakers were incredible, and it was great to see so many writing friends, make some new ones, and spend time with the wonderful faculty.  If you want a sneak peek at the photos, you can view them here.   

What else have I been up to since I last posted?  Well, besides, revising, revising, revising, critiquing, reading, and attending the FL SCBWI Miami Conference, I also had to bring my 1 1/2 year old Bullmassador pup in for knee surgery. 

Lolly always seemed a bit stiff right after standing up, but when she started limping, I rushed her to the vet.  Before I knew it, we went to a surgeon who pinned her rear right knee into place.  It looks like we'll have to go through the same thing with the left knee, too.  She's been spending most of her time in my office, often curled around my chair. I can't wait until she's able to run around and chase balls again--it isn't easy keeping my energetic eighty-two pound pup from climbing stairs, running, and going into psycho play mode.

I went to Lake Tahoe for the first time with my family.  Wow--it is absolutely gorgeous there!  I'll share two of my favorite photos below, and if you want to see more, you can click on this link

I'll try to post the novel intensive notes soon, but need to go through my MG one more time,revise a couple picture books, and catch up on some critiques I owe before I'll reward myself by taking a break to type up my notes. 
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Book List and Computer Crash

My From The Mixed-Up Files post went up today!  I love funny books that have a quirky main character with a voice that jumps out at you, so I put together a list of fun books that can help kids make the transition from picture books and early chapter books into middle-grade novels.  Are there any books that helped you or a child you know take the leap into middle grade novels?  Hop on over and let me know--I'd love to have an even larger list for everyone who is looking for that type of book.  I already saw a few suggestions that sound great, and added them to my must-read list! 

I added a photo of Lollipop that my girls took.  She loves picture books, but is hoping I'll find some great middle-grade novels to read with her. 
I think I'm still recovering from all the November excitement...but unfortunately, my computer felt the strain of all those hours of typing and crashed a couple days ago.  At least it didn't happen during NaNoWriMo again this year.  Most of my work was backed up in e-mails sent to a special manuscript account and a flash drive I update once or twice a month.  But I had done an incredible amount of revisions on Mom Wars right before my computer crash and hadn't e-mailed it to myself in a few days.  I was thrilled to be able to bring my files up on a laptop using Carbonite...until I discovered that the apostrophe I had in the folder title that holds ALL of my manuscripts, synopses, etc. stopped me from being able to access it on another computer.  If any of you are using Carbonite, please make sure you don't have any special characters in your folder titles--they told me that none of these will allow access to files or folders: ~, \, /, |, :, ?, ", ', >, &, <, *, and extra spaces at the end of a folder name in the file name, folder name or the file path, has been known to cause Remote File Access to be unable to locate the file.

I'm pretty sure the tech will be able to save everything, and I managed to e-mail my Mom Wars manuscript to myself right before he took my computer, so I'm really relieved about that!  And today I won the battle of the printer.  I couldn't figure out which of the many plugs are for my printer and decided to use a wireless connection with my laptop.  But...about an hour and a half later, I finally realized that a pop up blocker might have been stopping it from working.  Whew!  Computer issues are so scary, and I hope this is the last time I'll have to worry about it for a long time...and that all of you don't have any issues.

Please remember to back up your work often...in several different methods, just in case something happens!  I've heard a lot of great things about Dropbox, and am thinking about trying it.  Do you have a backup method that you love? 
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I'm happy dancing because I hit over 50,000 words on my NaNoWriMo novel yesterday, and today I wrote the last few scenes of My Sister is NOT Human and found a place to add in an additional scene.  I can't believe I'm done already--wahoo!  I ended with 52,703 words and a total of 203 pages. 

I hope you're all doing great.  If you don't have as many words as you'd like, hang in there.  I added some NaNoWriMo tips in past posts, that could help your word count soar.  There's plenty of time to make your goal.  It definitely helps to think of it in smaller steps though.  And to clear a solid chunk of time a few times a day--it can be fifteen minutes, a half hour, hour...whatever works best for your schedule, and only focus on your writing. 

I'm off to type up my notes, so I'll be ready to dive into this revision when I'm finished getting my 09 NaNoWriMo novel, Mom Wars, ready to submit.  I should have last year's NaNo novel fully polished and ready to go in early 2011!
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43,329 words written and more NaNo tips!

I knew I wanted to try to make this my fastest year yet, but I wasn't sure I'd be able to beat my time of 14 - 17 days from past years.  It looks like I'll be finished with my new middle-grade novel, My Sister is NOT Human, by the end of this week.  Squee!  One thing I've done differently this year is participate in multiple word wars.  It's amazing to see how much I can get accomplished when I set aside one hour to write, and ignore e-mails, the phone...pretty much everything except my novel.  I've hit over 2000 words in many of them (I think my top scoring war was 2400--wow)!  Some people ask if all I do is sit and write all day.  Well, I think about my novel all day, but some of my most productive days have been full of planning ahead and only around three hours of writing.  For example, on November 7th, I participated in three hour long word wars and hit 7,061 words for the day.  The planning sessions in between have helped a lot!  I have the basic ideas for my plot and characters before NaNo starts, but writing out the highlights of what I think will come next has been a huge help (even though not all of my intended highlights happen, because my characters often surprise me).

How are you doing with your NaNo novels so far?  I'll post some tips below, to help you make it to the 50,000 word goal.  If you'd like to see even more tips, click on the tag at the bottom of this post.  

*As you can see, word wars have been a huge help to me this year!  See if you can challenge friends (I've started a few word wars on the Blueboards and love participating in the ones on the Facebook group NaNoWriMo Warriors...and the NaNoWriMo boards have them, too).  If you don't have time for a full hour, or haven't been able to connect with other writers at a time that's good for you...then challenge yourself!  You can chart your progress in a notebook and time yourself for a half hour, fifteen minutes...whatever works for you.  See if you can beat (or match) your word count in your next challenge.  If some counts are much higher than others, can you see why?  Maybe you planned those chapters a bit better.  Or maybe you started off mid scene and it was easier for you to get into the action.  It's great to see what makes the words flow for you the most.

* It can be easier to make smaller goals for yourself.  Believe it or not, I love watching my word count.  No, not every second, or I'd never get any writing done...but if I feel my pace slowing, I'll peek to see how far I have to go until I reach the next hundred.  Then see how close I am to the next thousand.  Those baby steps add up fast!

*Like I mentioned above, taking a small break and jotting down the highlights of what I think should happen in the next few scenes is a huge help to me.  Of course, my characters sometimes have other plans, and I'm happy to sit back and see what they have in mind.  Most of the time, I like it even better than my original plans.  But I've also decided not to use a few of their ideas.  In the past, I've deleted entire paragraphs.  Now, if I feel like I'm wandering down the wrong path, I'll highlight that section in yellow so I'll know it should be deleted later, and try another path.  

*If you get stuck, try thinking about the worst thing you can possibly do to your character, and see where that leads.  It will definitely add more conflict!  (The amazing Bruce Coville mentioned this years ago at a conference, and it has always stuck with me.)

*Don't forget to celebrate the milestones!  I think it's so important to find ways to celebrate while writing your novel.  I still do a happy dance every time I add 10,000 words.  And I love all the cheers and support from my writing friends...it really helps keep me going.  I'm not sure how I'll reward myself when I reach 50,000 words and the end of my novel...but I'll find some way to celebrate.  How are you going to celebrate your progress this month? 

If you're sitting around, wishing you had joined NaNoWriMo, but think it's too late...take a deep breath and join me in this amazing challenge.  Even if you don't make the full 50,000 words by the end of the month, you'll still make writing an even bigger priority...which means you'll have more accomplished this month than if you hadn't tried this challenge.  And think...you just might have the first draft of a novel finished by the end of this month!
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I'm happy dancing...because since November 1st, I've written 11,231 words of my new middle-grade novel, My Sister is NOT Human.  It feels amazing to see all the pieces coming together.  I love the voice of my main character, and can't wait to find out what she does next. 
I absolutely love NaNoWriMo.  It's wonderful to have an excuse to spend even more time working on a new novel.  It can be scary to start a brand new file, with characters and a story you don't know very well--especially after digging so deep into a revision for an older novel.  I love how well I'm getting to know the characters and story now.  It hasn't all been smooth sailing.  There was a name that just wasn't clicking for me, and about thirty pages into my novel, I ended up changing it to an alternate I had jotted down on a list, and it feels like a better fit now.  I also had to stop my internal editor from butting in when a bunch of back story ended up in the wrong place.  Yes, I know it will have to be streamlined and moved (possibly sprinkled throughout a few chapters), but the info is so helpful to me, that I let it gush out.

During last year's NaNo, I couldn't decide if the main character's dad should be divorced and out of the picture, or if he died, and every once in a while I'd change my mind.  By the time I hit the last quarter of my novel, I knew what the answer had to be.  And yes, I had a nice amount of clean up work to do in the earlier chapter--between that and other things I decided to change as I went along.  I just kept a list and made that part of my first of many rounds of revisions.  But writing at this fast pace has helped me in so many ways.  It gags my internal editor, and allows some really funny and unusual gems to flow into my manuscript.  It stops me from getting stuck...because there's no time for that.  I have to find a way to plow through. Sometimes, I'll jump to the next logical scene, but jot the page number and where I got stuck in my notebook.  Within twenty-four hours (usually while trying to fall asleep, take a shower, or driving) the answer comes to me and I'll go back to that spot and work it in.  And it gives me such motivation and support from all my NaNoWriMo, LJ, Facebook, and Blueboard friends.  It's so much fun to share this writing month with all of you, and I can't wait to hear how you're all doing.

I'll leave you with a few tips:

If you need some extra motivation, check out this awesome Facebook group--NaNoWriMo Warriors. You'll find a lot of support and invitations to word wars.  What...you never heard of them?  They're so much fun!  A moderator will tell you when to start and you type like crazy for an hour, then share your total with everyone.  Last night, a word war helped me add 1,268 words!

Here's a secret to raising your word count:  Think about one of your weaknesses.  What is usually missing in your early drafts?  I usually don't dig very deep into setting and descriptions, so last year I decided that any time I slowed my writing pace or could go into more details about something, I would.  Not only did it help my word count, but with a lot of streamlining, I had some amazing descriptions in my first draft.  Yay!  This can work with dialogue, internal thoughts...whatever you'd like to work on. 

Realize that this does NOT have to be perfect.  In fact, I think it's almost impossible for perfection to just flow out of your mind and fingers in a first draft.  I usually start NaNo after revising and adding new layers to older manuscripts, and often find myself trying to write at that same level when I plunge into my new novel.  You have to give yourself permission to get it wrong.  Because once the words are on the page, they're so much easier to mold into shape.  So let those words out!  You might be surprised by how many things that seem silly at the time actually work well for your manuscript.  And of course, you'll probably become a streamlining queen (like me).  But writing like this gives you the freedom to explore without fear of failure.  I've found that this writing style works well for me when tackling a really difficult in-depth revision request, too--especially after having a major brainstorming session.

If you'd like to see more NaNoWriMo tips from past posts, click here. And please share tips that work best for you, and how you tackle NaNoWriMo.   

Good luck!  I can't wait to see all your word counts soar.  Happy writing. :)
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Getting ready for NaNoWriMo 2010!

I'm slowly working my way through my huge October to-do list, so I'll be ready to attack my new novel on November 1st.  I can't wait!  The idea hit one night while I was out having dinner with my girls.  I jotted down lots of ideas and can't wait to dig into some plotting and characterization exercises.  I don't even know what the main character's name is yet!  I'll visit the Social Security site soon to snoop around for names that will work well for my novel.  If you still need some names for your manuscript, check out this awesome site!   

Agent Jill Corcoran posted something on Facebook that really stuck with me.  Here's what she said:

I keep reading queries with beautiful writing but NO STORY HOOK. Create your hook BEFORE you write the book. Then write your hooky book beautifully.

We have half a month to get those hooks ready!  I know how important they are, especially in this market.  It definitely makes sense to make sure the hook is as strong as possible before plunging into a new novel.  That was an issue I had with my MG, Ruby Bella Brown, Super Average Girl.  It needed something stronger to hook the reader and move the action forward from chapter to chapter.  I'm amazed at how much adding a hook or two can strengthen a novel...and it upped my word count from 30,000 to over 44,000 words. 

If you're stuck on a title, Jill Corcoran gave some tips on her blog.  The cover info is wonderful too, but if you just want the title tips, scroll down a bit.

My Mom Wars revision is coming along great.  Yay!  That's the one I wrote for NaNo 09.  I have about 65 pages that I think are in fantastic shape and over 100 pages in various stages of revision.  I'm hoping to finish doing at least one round of revisions on the entire novel before November 1st, but I had a slow revision week because I was stuck on a bee sting scene.  I kept checking details (it wasn't easy to find experts, but luckily a few writing buddies helped me with that).  But then I got bogged down in too many details and it really slowed the pace.  I'm slashing away now, and think it's coming out well.  I can't wait to hear what my crit buddies think of it! 

The bee sting scene was inspired by last year's October attack.  We had Lolly for less than a month when I saw her freaking out in the backyard, surrounded by bees.  I'm so grateful my girls weren't home.  I only got stung once while trying to rescue my pup.  We're lucky she wasn't allergic--she had so many stings we couldn't count them all!  Poor pup!  Lolly didn't even learn a lesson from this--she still tries to eat every bug she sees.

2010 seems to be the year of the wasps.  My girls wouldn't come in the garage because they saw one wasp, and I called in my pest control company again when I realized that it was way more than one wasp.  I don't even want to think about what would've happened with all these wasp babies flying around my house!  Luckily, none of us were stung this time.

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Wow--huge list of goals for October

I can't believe it's October 1st already.  Where did the time go?  I've been busy revising my 2009 NaNoWriMo humorous MG, Mom Wars, and trying not to think about the fact that I turned in a requested revision to an amazing agent eight weeks ago.  Diving into another project definitely helped pass the time.  I love the way the revision came out...it was the biggest, most intense one I've ever done--more of a rewrite with over 14,000 words added.  I'm dying to know what she thinks of it.  Hopefully I'll get good news soon.  In the meantime, I'll focus on something I can control--my huge to-do list for October, so I'll be ready to dive into NaNoWriMo on November 1st.  Who's going to take the NaNo plunge with me?

I have 31 days to make it through this massive list.  I have a feeling I won't be sleeping too much in October.  Or November!

My October To-Do List

  1. Get as much of my Mom Wars revision finished as possible.  I'm over page 100 now.  The first fifty pages are in fantastic shape.  The second fifty are in various stages of revision.  I'd love to complete at least one full round of revisions on the entire manuscript.
  2. Write my November From The Mixed-Up Files post and have it formatted and ready to go.
  3. Plot out my NaNoWriMo Novel.  I wasn't sure what I'd write until I was eating dinner at a restaurant with my girls.  That makes three NaNo novels in a row that they've inspired!  I jotted down tons of ideas, but put it aside so I could work on my revision.  Suddenly, lots of ideas keep coming to me again, so I need to write them down before they fly away.  I'd also love to do more detailed character sketches than I have in the past, and use a few writing exercises that I've learned.  A year ago, I took a Chapter One Workshop with Joyce Sweeney, and it helped me find the perfect place to begin Mom Wars (and add a cool hook), so I'll definitely go through those exercises again.
  4. Complete at least one writing article (I've had a few ideas floating around for a while, but thinking about NaNo gave me a fantastic article idea this morning.  I can't wait to see how it will come out!)
  5. Polish up at least three picture books and if there's time, work on one or two that are a bit further away from being able to submit.
  6. Get my November 15th sub of Mom Wars and a picture book sub ready for my groups.
  7. Finish all crits (and clear my schedule of them from November 1st through until I finish my NaNo novel...which is usually around the 16th of November).
  8. Keep exercising 4-6 times a week (I have a bad habit of slacking off when I have a huge to-do list and during NaNo).
  9. Spend lots of time with my family.
  10. Buy everyone in the house extra underwear...because we've run out in the past when I've fallen behind on laundry because I can't pry myself away from my NaNo novel.
What's on your to-do list for October?
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My girls loved reading when they were younger, but had trouble making the leap from picture books and early chapter books into middle-grade novels.  I’m thrilled to post an interview with author Laurie Friedman on The Mixed-Up Files...of Middle-Grade Authors site today.  Laurie and her spunky, lovable character, Mallory, have helped so many kids make this important transition.  The series begins when Mallory moves to a new town and starts 3rd grade, and follows her through summer camp, several trips, and culminates as she finishes 4th grade.   Since Mallory starts off as an eight year-old in the series and finishes at age ten, she takes the leap into middle-grade along with readers.

Hop on over to The Mixed-Up Files site to read the interview, that talks about the Mallory series, and how it can help kids make this important transition.  You'll also learn some secrets about what is in store for Mallory in the rest of the series.  The 14th book was recently released and there are a total of 20 under contract now....yes, I said 20.  Wow!

You'll also have a chance to win the most recent hot-off-the-press book, Mallory in the Spotlight

For those of you who write middle-grade novels and are agented and/or have at least one book under contract or out with a traditional publisher...From The Mixed-Up Files has decided to add four new members to our blog family.  Check out yesterday's blog post for more information!  

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Characterization Workshop

I feel lucky to live in an area where there are so many supportive writers!  I took yet another amazing workshop with Joyce Sweeney, and I’ve already been able to strengthen my middle-grade novel, Mom Wars, thanks to the new insight I’ve gained from these exercises.

Thanks Joyce, for letting me share this incredibly helpful info with my online friends!    

Readers really don’t get to know a character from a physical description—it’s always shown through dialogue.


·       The main character is basically the most like you—should have your heart and soul.  He or she is a disguised part of you.


·       The conflict the main character has should be something you have gone through and understand...or hope to understand. 


·       The better you know yourself, the better you’ll be able to make your character.  Make sure he or she has flaws—you can’t just paint the character in a good light.


Exercise 1: In about 75 words, describe your main character in a way that lets us see his or her built in flaw.


The plot can have four big turns, where the reader sees something change the character or make the character understand better. 

Plot turn 1: The first quarter point where readers get sucked into the story.

Plot turn 2: Midpoint.

Plot turn 3: Climax (can be close to the end).

Plot turn 4: Resolution.


Exercise 2: Write out the four plot points for your character—list the emotion next to each point.

You need to emotionally understand your supporting characters, because they’re all part of you on some level.


Exercise 3:  Write three positives about yourself.

            Next to them, write the opposite.  For example, if you’re generous, you could write selfish after it.

            Now...think about the antagonist in your story.  The opposite traits often show up in your antagonists over and over again.


Exercise 4: Write down the name of your antagonist/s (you MUST have at least one character who is an antagonist, it can’t just be a hurricane or other element—even if the element causes the downfall of your character, the antagonist will be there to cheer for his or her defeat).


Think about what the main character wants at the beginning and who stands in the way.  There should be a big confrontation with the biggest antagonist at the climax (or at least somebody laughing at his/her failure).


If multiple antagonists, try to go from the smallest to the largest antagonist for the biggest impact during the climax.


Other characters:

·       Foils—Exist to highlight something about the main character (usually something he/she isn’t, because it doesn’t help to have other characters who are exactly the same as the main character).  The opposite traits frame the main character.

·       Mentor (don’t have too many—and don’t let the mentor solve the main character’s problem—the main character MUST rescue herself).

·       Little thing to be protected, which raises the stakes (like Rue in The Hunger Games, Toto in The Wizard of Oz, and it could be something like a vulnerable gay friend).


Exercise 5:  List everyone in the book (except walk-on characters).

For children’s literature, see if you can keep your character list small...maybe ten people.

            Now, write why they are important to the story—how do they impact the main character?  (At this point, I realized that all mine worked except one, and it’s because she’s a walk-on character even though she’s in a few scenes). 

* Make sure every character has a purpose.  Don’t just give someone three brothers because that’s what you have.  Only use three brothers if they NEED to be in the story.  (In my first novel, I ended up having to cut a grandmother because both grandmothers served the same purpose, so she wasn’t needed, and I meshed the qualities together to create an even more unique, important-to-the-story grandmother.)


Exercise 6: Write a scene showing a huge conflict between your protagonist and the biggest antagonist (for those of you with completed drafts...write something that is NOT already in your novel).  *When I did that, I stumbled upon a great scene that I can’t wait to add during my revision of my MG, Mom Wars.


Exercise 7: Write a scene around the climax between the main character and the foil.


At the end, I asked Joyce if she had any advice for fleshing out characters.  I’ve really been trying to make sure mine are all unique…but it isn’t always easy to make them clear enough that you could actually tell who is talking if someone reads the dialogue without tags.

Here’s what she suggested:

1.     Take friends and stick them in there (she takes older friends and makes them younger but keeps similar speech patterns).

2.      Kathleen Duey’s interview method, where you start asking your character questions, then remove yourself from the process as much as possible and let your character take over.  (I’m absolutely in love with this one—it has given me so much insight into my characters!) 

3.     Kathleen also suggests to have a secondary character think about the main character and write a paragraph or two about him/her. This can help you flesh out characters and get to know your main character even better. Check out some of Kathleen’s other gems in this past blog post).

Here’s one last point that Joyce emphasized: Don’t forget that the emotional life is more important than the physical details.  Work on the inner life of your characters more than their exteriors—that’s what readers remember the most. 

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On Friday, I finished the biggest, most intense revision of my middle-grade novel.  When I first submitted it to fab agent, it was 30,000 words.  She loved the main character's voice, her lists, the comic strip she creates, and the humiliating but oh-so-humorous moments.  She asked for an exclusive revision and wanted to see more of my MC's strengths, and another layer to the story by adding an external goal to help push the action from chapter to chapter.  I ended up adding two new external goals (and finding a way to tie them together to show why they're both super important to her).  WOW...I can't believe how much stronger my manuscript is and how much more confident and determined my main character is!  My first full round of revisions brought the word count up to 48,600 words, and I was able to whittle it down to a little over 44,000 words before sending the requested revision back to her.  

It felt fantastic to hit the send button!  After happy dancing, I took a day off with my family to celebrate, then attacked a picture book on Sunday that was screaming for attention and read through all the notes of the MG I was revising when the agent first contacted me.  It feels great to jump back into that revision, and in order to make the time pass quickly, I'm going to see how much of my MG and PB revisions I can get done before hearing back from the agent.  It helps keep my mind off the wait and makes me even more productive than usual.

I want to say a HUGE thank you to everyone who cheered, gave me incredible feedback, and supported me throughout this revision.  I feel so lucky to have amazing friends like you.  (((Hugs)))

I was so busy revising, that I didn't have a chance to share some photos of my puppy's first birthday.  It's hard to believe my adorable little 6.2 pound Bullmasador is one already...and that Lollipop is somewhere in the 80 pound range (unless she gained even more weight since our last vet visit).  She loves curling up around my chair while I write, and is such a sweet dog.
Here's what Lolly looked like when we adopted her from The Humane Society in September and how she looks at one year.

And this is Becca fork feeding her the birthday breakfast eggs she made, and giving her a treat she and Sammi baked:

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I reached the end of one of the most intense and exciting rounds of revision the other day.  Yay!  I'm still happy dancing, even though I'm already digging into a few full rounds of tweaking, streamlining, and polishing so I can send it to a few wonderful crit buddies before I e-mail the requested revision to an agent.  I've learned so much about my characters, as well as my own writing strengths from brainstorming with Amazing Agent.  I've received many compliments about my voice, dialogue, and humor...but hadn't realized that Super Average Girl didn't have a big enough hook.  I ended up adding a new goal and am amazed at how much it ups the conflict and pushes the action forward throughout the entire novel.  Double yay!  Especially since I already thought of a way to up the hook in one of my older manuscripts, and am brainstorming ways to do the same in others.

My MG was 30,000 words when I first sent it to Amazing Agent, and when I finished this round it was over 48,600 words!  Wow...especially since there are some MG novels that are as long as my 18,600 word increase.  But don't worry, it won't stay that high for long.  Yesterday and today I knocked off almost 600 words and am keeping my eye out for areas I can streamline.  I've already killed off a few scenes from the original version that I loved, but don't feel as necessary now.  I saved them in an Orphan File...in case I ever want to visit them again.

Back to my revision!  I hope you're all having a great writing/revising day.  I'll paste in the last FL SCBWI listserv that I sent--there's some great market info in there.  Enjoy. :)

Hi everyone.  Our 10th Annual SCBWI Florida Regional Conference will be held on January 14-16, 2011 at the Wyndham Miami Airport Hotel.  We have a fantastic faculty lined up (and might just surprise you by adding another speaker or two...so keep your eyes open for updates). 

¬  Author Bruce Hale--The Chet Gecko Series, Prince of Underwhere Series

¬  Author Cinda Williams ChimaThe Warrior Heir, The Wizard Heir, The Dragon Heir, The Demon King

¬  Author Lauren MyracleEleven, Twelve, Thirteen, Bliss, TTYL

¬  Editor-in-Chief Bonnie Bader—Grosset and Dunlap and Price Stern Sloan

¬  Editor Kate Jacobs—Roaring Brook Press

¬  Agent Sarah Davies—Greenhouse Literary Agency

¬  Agent Erin Murphy—Erin Murphy Literary Agency

¬  Agent Michael Bourret—Dystel & Goderich Literary Management



Novel: Author Joyce Sweeney and agent Erin Murphy

Fantasy: Author Cinda Williams Chima

Picture Book: Author Gloria Rothstein


Read more about the conference and good news...Collapse )




The guidelines for the Highlights 2011 Fiction Contest are up, and they're looking for stories that involve an embarrassing moment.

Cheerios New Author Contest:  You could win $5,000 and have your original story for children 3 – 8 distributed inside boxes of Cheerios. NOTE:  You may not enter if you have received payment (or are about to receive payment for an upcoming publication).  Make sure you check the rules carefully!





Lauren Hodge recently left Little, Brown for Custom Publishing at Simon and Schuster.  She was a speaker at our 2010 Regional Conference.  (Thanks to Harold Underdown for the info.)


Catherine Onder has joined Disney-Hyperion as senior editor. She has been an editor at Harper Children's for the past seven years, and was a speaker at our 2007 Mid-Year Workshop.


Nancy Conescu will join Dutton Children's as executive editor on July 6, reporting to president Lauri Hornik. Most recently she was senior editor at Little, Brown Children's.


Cecily Kaiser will join Abrams on July 6 in the new role of publishing director for children's books for kids five-years-old and younger. Kaiser will be responsible for "conceptualizing, launching, and managing all aspects of this new initiative." She has been at Scholastic for the last 10 years, most recently as editorial director in the trade division for Cartwheel and Little Scholastic.




Check out this fabulous blog from agent Jennifer Laughran (from Andrea Brown, Literary Agency).  She always gives great info about the business and answers all kinds of questions about agents. 


Wow, this is a fantastic Q&A on the Greenwillow blog (they're an imprint of HarperCollins). 


The Bookshelf Muse posted a great list of blogs you can't live without and it has other great info, like an emotion thesaurus (scroll down and read all the options on the right side of the page).


Read more...Collapse )

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What Makes a Middle-Grade Novel Timeless?

How can books I loved as a child remain popular, when society changes so quickly? Nobody had cell phones or internet when I was in elementary school. So how can books written at that time still appeal to today’s kids? I believe the books that stand the test of time have unique characters readers can relate to, cheer for, and fall in love with, combined with situations that kids still have…like annoying siblings, school issues, fights with friends, and trying to see where you fit in our world.

I blogged about this on the Mixed-Up Files...of Middle-Grade Authors site today. I'd love to know why you think some middle-grade books remain popular for over thirty years, and which current books you believe will become timeless.  Hop on over and see which book I believe will become timeless, and find out what amazing authors like Lauren Myracle, Wendy Mass, Bruce Hale, Laurie Friedman, and Lisa Yee think about timeless middle-grade books.

Don't forget to check out our second summer giveaway, where one lucky reader will win these three fabulous middle-grade books:

The Reinvention of Edison Thomas by Jacqueline Houtman (ARC)
Mallory Goes Green by Laurie Friedman (hardcover)
A Dog's Way Home by Bobbie Pyron (ARC)

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Wow, this has been the most incredible and intense round of revisions ever. I've received such fantastic advice and feedback from an amazing agent, and it really has helped me dig deeper than I ever thought possible. I'm almost finished working two new goals into my middle-grade novel, and then I'll go back to the beginning and work in more of the great suggestions I received from an editor who critiqued it at the Orlando Workshop. And I have more character interviews to do. (Yes, I keep gushing about Kathleen Duey's interview exercise--I'm still in awe of the way my characters spill their secrets, hopes, and fears when I sit back and let them talk).

I'll post about the Picture Book Track at the FL SCBWI Mid-Year Workshop soon. :)

Check out some of the conference, market, and good news info I included in my most recent FL SCBWI listserv post (if you love children's literature and want to receive the full posts by e-mail, you can sign up using this link: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/FloridaSCBWI/).

Hi everyone. Wow, the 2010 FL SCBWI Mid-Year Workshop was a huge success—with 200 attendees! That says so much about our amazing Florida events. Thanks Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld (Regional Advisor), Michelle Delisle (Assistant Regional Advisor), Adrienne Sylver (Critique Coordinator), Flora Doone (for multiple duties, including updating our website), the incredible faculty, and all our wonderful volunteers who worked the registration desk, picked faculty up at the airport, loaned us Power Point projectors, and went out of their way to make this event so incredible.

Here are a few things people said after the 2010 Mid-Year Workshop:
See the comments hereCollapse )

Our 10th Annual SCBWI Florida Regional Conference will be held on January 14-16, 2011. We have a fantastic faculty lined up. I'll fill you in on the details in my next listserv, but so far, we have five agents and editors coming. Here's another reason not to miss this event—one of the agents is closed to submissions...unless you see her at a conference.

Congrats, everyone. :)
Click to see all the fabulous newsCollapse )

The new Highlights Magazine Current Needs List is up! http://www.highlights.com/current-needs


Alice Pope interviewed agent Chris Richman on her blog—and he's seeking new clients. He especially loves funny boy books, but two recent sales have been for teen girl books. http://scbwi.blogspot.com/2010/05/agent-interview-chris-richman-upstart.html.

Anna Olswanger is seeking unusual picture books author-illustrators! Check out her updated website: www.olswanger.com. If you are an illustrator who has worked as hard on your writing as you have on your art, please feel free to send her a query. (Here's a link to her agentquery page:

Agent Marisa Corvisiero is looking for middle-grade sci-fi chapter books for boys. For more info, check out this link: http://thoughtsfromaliteraryagent.blogspot.com/2010/06/call-for-submissions.html


Cynthia Leitich Smith wrote about our FL SCBWI Mid-Year Workshop on her amazing Cynsations blog. She also posted photos of some of our members (including Joyce Sweeney and Dorian Cirrone). Check it out here—she always includes a wealth of information in her posts: http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/2010/06/scbwi-florida-conference-disney-world.html

Harold Underdown is excited to announce that for the next several weeks, he'll be
"tweeting" bits of his Idiot's Guide -- short quotes, links to excerpts -- with giveaways for a few selected retweeters. New material from the book will be posted on The Purple Crayon, and if you want to get all the tweets, find out how here: http://www.facebook.com/notes.php?id=12816746532 Please feel free to comment, retweet, or join in in some other way. If you have a favorite line from the book, he'd love to hear about it.


From The Mixed-Up Files is an awesome new blog that launched on June 7th to celebrate books for middle-grade readers. I'm proud to be a part of it, along with a group of about thirty middle-grade authors. It's for anyone with a passion for children’s literature—teachers, librarians, parents, kids, writers, industry professionals—we offer regularly updated book lists organized by unique categories, author interviews, market news, and a behind-the-scenes look at the making of a children's book from writing to publishing to promoting. We're also running a contest where one lucky person will win NINE signed middle-grade books! Come check us out at: http://www.fromthemixedupfiles.com/

By now, I'm sure most of you have heard about the fabulous Whatcha' Reading Now? girls. They're all from Florida, and have created a wonderful site full of book reviews, info, and fun contests. They promise to bring you books for kids and teens that will make you think, cry, laugh out loud, or keep you at the edge of your seat. They love books that will make you think about the world in a new perspective and books that you won’t forget long after you’ve turned the last page and promise to read with passion, diligence, and open-mindedness to bring you reviews of books they love. Visit them at: http://whatchareadingnow.com/
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Notes from the amazing Novel Intensive

I feel so lucky to live in Florida, which has two amazing SCBWI events every year. The 2010 Mid-Year Workshop was incredible! I came home with so much information, inspiration, and enjoyed spending the weekend with people who love children's literature as much as I do.

On Friday, I attended the Novel Intensive led by Stephanie Owens Lurie (Disney-Hyperion), Alvina Ling (Little, Brown), and author Kathleen Duey. The three of them worked so well together, I've seen people refer to them as The Dream Team.

I can't give away all their secrets, but here's some of the things we discussed:

*During query critiques, both editors liked hearing that someone is an active SCBWI member, but including a list of specific conferences could make it sound like you're still in training. I was a bit surprised that magazine credits didn't impress them—they're more interested to hear about a promotional vehicle, like a blog, that shows a person is willing and able to do self-promotion.
See tons of great info from each of the speakersCollapse )
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Middle-Grade Rocks!

I am thrilled to be part of a new blog that celebrates middle-grade books. Hop on over to http://www.fromthemixedupfiles.com/ and join our lively discussion about everything middle-grade. We realized that the internet was filled with YA groups, and wanted to create an online home for this amazing age group as well.

Today, we have an interview with Danette Haworth, who recently released her second middle-grade novel, The Summer of Moonlight Secrets. Wow, what an amazing cover! I can't wait to read her book. Check out her interview to see how you can win a signed copy.

Scroll down to our June 9th post, and check out Tales of a Fourth Grade Reader, by Joanne Prushing Johnson. Browse her list of favorite books for ten year-olds and share some of your own.

Shh...secret peek at tomorrow. Hop on by to read about all the fantastic June middle-grade releases!

Our first post was on June 7th, and gives details about our launch contest, where one lucky person will win NINE signed books. Wow! I can't wait to see who will walk away with all those amazing middle-grade novels. I'm crossing my fingers and toes and wishing all of you good luck!

FL SCBWI--I didn't forget you! I've been super busy since I came back from the Mid-Year Workshop, and plan to post photos plus workshop and intensive notes soon. It was wonderful seeing so many of you there. What a fantastic weekend! In the next few days, I'll also blog about the upcoming Miami Conference, which will be held on January 14-16. I hope to see you there! Those of you looking for an agent will definitely want to keep the dates open, because we have three amazing agents joining us in Miami. I'll list them soon, but here's a huge hint...one is only open by referral or to writers she has met at conferences.
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The Orlando Workshop is one week away!

I can't wait to go to the Orlando Workshop. I'm taking the Novel Intensive a week from today with Kathleen Duey, Stephanie Owens Lurie (Disney-Hyperion), and Alvina Ling (Little, Brown). I know it will be an amazing day. Kathleen did such a fantastic job leading our last Novel Intensive, and gave me so many great writing tips. I can't wait to see what gems she'll share this time!

On Saturday, I'm taking the Picture Book Track with Tammi Sauer, Dan Santat, and Alexandra Cooper (Simon and Schuster). Alexandra Cooper did an amazing job with the 2009 Novel Intensive in Miami, and I know that Tammi and Dan will have so many wonderful tips for us.

I had a great time at Adrienne Sylver's signing for her fun picture book Hot Diggity Dog. Who knew that some people eat peanut butter hot dogs? Here's a photo of Adrienne signing a book for Becca. Check out Adrienne's t-shirt and cool hot dog pen!

Here's a bit of info from the second listserv post I sent to FL SCBWI.

We still need two more Power Point projectors for Saturday, June 5. Please let us know if you can lend us one (or more). It would be a huge help!


Frances Gilbert had to pull out of the Mid-Year Workshop for personal reasons. Alexandra Cooper (from Simon and Schuster) is thrilled to fly in to lead the Picture Book Intensive with Lisa McCourt and work with Tammi Sauer and Dan Santat in the Picture Book Track on Saturday. She's also taking over all of Frances Gilbert's critiques. Now that this is all set, everyone should receive an e-mail with critique matches soon!

I'm sorry that Frances Gilbert won't be able to join us, but I took an intensive with Alexandra Cooper before, and she's fantastic! We're all really lucky that she was able to come last minute. And we're also lucky that our conferences are so well organized, that past faculty tend to jump at the chance to work with us again. Yay for Linda and everyone else who helped give FL SCBWI such a great reputation!

The Novel Intensive and Picture Book Intensive are full, but there's still room in the Illustrators' Intensive and workshop tracks. We'd love to have you join us! Don't forget to look at the schedules—some of the tracks have homework. http://www.scbwiflorida.com/agendas.htm. I already sent the homework for the Series Track. If you're taking that track and didn't receive my e-mail, please let me know!

Janeen Mason's latest picture book, John Denver's FOR BABY (FOR BOBBIE) won the silver medal on May 24th, when the Independent Publishers Association announced their Ben Franklin Award winners at the Roosevelt Hotel in NYC.

I mentioned in my last listserv post that Emily van Beek was about to move to Folio Literary Management. Well, she's in her new home now, and has some great info about who she is and what she is looking for on the site: http://www.foliolit.com/s-emily.php

Sarah LaPolla at Curtis Brown is seeking: literary fiction, narrative nonfiction, urban fantasy, paranormal romance, science fiction, literary horror, and young adult fiction. She loves complex characters, coming-of-age stories, and strong narrators. E-query: sl(at)cbltd(dot)com. Query; also, include a synopsis (for fiction), a sample chapter and brief writing history. Responds within 8 weeks.


Agent Nathan Bransford blogs about voice: http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2010/05/how-to-craft-great-voice.html

Through the Tollbooth has an interview with agent Marietta Zacker about series. http://community.livejournal.com/thru_the_booth/180448.html


FROM FAIRY TALES TO CHILDREN'S BOOK SALES—The Magic of Writing For Kids is a five week writing workshop with Gloria Rothstein in Boca Raton. Check out the link on our website: http://www.scbwiflorida.com/gloria.htm
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I'm really excited to be the new listserv editor for FL SCBWI! I owe SCBWI so much for all the wonderful conferences, workshops, support, and connections over the years, and am thrilled to give back. Florida is bursting with great news right now, and I'd like to share some of it with all of you (plus, I have some great market info, too).

But first...I want to congratulate Christina Diaz Gonzalez (christina_dg) on her amazing launch for her debut novel, THE RED UMBRELLA. It was standing room only! There were well over 300 people there, and she sold more than 300 books at her first signing. No wonder her wonderful book went into a second printing before the official release date! Here are a couple of photos:

Here are a few things from my first listserv post (I had to make a few changes because some events listed have passed already, and I added one piece of market news that will be in my next post).

Don't forget to sign up for the amazing Mid-Year Workshop. The Novel Intensive and Picture Book Intensive are full, but there's still room in the Illustrator's Intensive and all the workshop tracks. Check out the amazing line up on our website, and join us in Orlando (the hotel is on Disney property, so it's a great excuse to take a family vacation)! http://www.scbwiflorida.com/details.htm Hop on over to our website and look at the schedules (I believe a couple haven't been posted yet...but keep checking, because they should be up soon). Don't forget to look, because some of the tracks have homework. http://www.scbwiflorida.com/agendas.htm

GOOD NEWS! Congrats, everyone. :)


Happy book birthday, Adrienne Sylver! Her non-fiction picture book, HOT DIGGITY DOG - THE HISTORY OF THE HOT DOG, illustrated by Elwood Smith, was just released on May 13. She'll be signing during her launch party on May 22 – 11 a.m. at Books & Books (265 Aragon Ave. Coral Gables, FL). Join her for a fun day of crafts, books and free hot dogs! Check out her website for more details about her picture book and additional signing dates. http://www.adriennesylver.com/home.html

Christina Diaz Gonzalez's debut novel, THE RED UMBRELLA, already went into a second printing before its recent release! Join her on May 21-23 at Cuba Nostalgia (Miami-Dade Youth Fairgrounds, Miami, FL). Check out her website for more details about her novel, additional signing dates, and a great book trailer. http://www.christinagonzalez.com/home.html

Donna Gephart's debut novel, AS IF BEING 12-3/4 ISN'T BAD ENOUGH, MY MOTHER IS RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT! won the Sid Fleischman Humor Award. 5th and 6th graders and EVERYONE else . . . come meet Hammy the Hamster and Donna Gephart at a fun event at Books & Books to celebrate her new book -- HOW TO SURVIVE MIDDLE SCHOOL! Sunday, May 16 from 3:00pm - 4:00pm at Books & Books (265 Aragon Avenue, Coral Gables, FL). http://www.booksandbooks.com/Donna_Gephart. That's tomorrow! I know it's short notice, but see if you can make it—I'm sure it will be an amazing event. You can check out her fun trailer with Hammy the Hamster on her website: http://www.donnagephart.com/


Jonathan Rosen signed with Steven Chudney, from The Chudney Agency.


Agent Emily van Beek is leaving Pippin Properties for Folio Literary
Management by the end of the month. RA Kathy Temean's blog has more details: http://kathytemean. wordpress. com/2010/ 05/09/emily- van-beek- leaves-pippin- for-folio- management/


Bree Ogden is now an Associate Literary Agent at Martin Literary Management, and she's looking to represent children's books, YA, and graphic novels. Check out her blog: http://agentbree.wordpress.com/ (scroll down to see a great interview)
And here's another interview: http://agentbree.wordpress.com/2010/05/04/my-galleycat-interview-with-jeff-rivera/

And here's a bit more great news that wasn't in my first listserv post:


Loreen Leedy's latest picture book is THE SHOCKING TRUTH ABOUT ENERGY, illustrated by the author and published by Holiday House. Kirkus has called it "...an electrifying introduction to the basics of energy." For more info, visit this page on her web site: http://www.loreenleedy.com/books/energy.html

Greg Neri's middle grade graphic novel YUMMY will be out in Fall from Lee and Low Books, followed by a YA novel GHETTO COWBOY from Candlewick in Spring ’11.


Janeen Mason's latest book, John Denver's FOR BABY (FOR BOBBIE) is a Finalist for Book of the Year Award! The announcements of Awards will be made at Book Expo America in NYC on May 26th.

And there's more great news for Janeen. On May 24th the Independent Publishers Association announces their Ben Franklin Award winners at the Roosevelt Hotel in NYC. FOR BABY is a medalist - but we don't know if it has won gold, silver, or bronze. What an exciting month! Let's keep our fingers and toes crossed for Janeen.

Loreen Leedy's CRAZY LIKE A FOX: A SIMILE STORY (Holiday House) has been nominated for the Bill Martin, Jr. Picture Book Award for 2011.

Greg Neri was just named the winner of the 2010 Lee Bennett Hopkins/International Reading Association Promising Poet Award!

Here are the finalists selected in the Writers' Network of South Florida's 12th Annual Writing Contest. Most of them are in my weekly critique group/workshop led by the incredible Joyce Sweeney! We wish them all lots of luck as they find out where they placed on May 19.

Laurie Taddanio, Boca Raton, Harry' Bear-thday
David Case, Wellington, Buzz, Buzz, Mrs. Tuzz
Laen Ghiloni, Delray Beach, Christmas by the Sea
Pascale Mackey, Aventura, My Mommy
Laen Ghiloni, Delray Beach, Maurice and the Horrible Hairball

Laen Ghiloni, Delray Beach, Murder by Chronology
Mindy Gars Dolandis, Boca Raton, A L S

Between digging deeper and deeper into my MG revisions, gathering all this info, and working on a super secret project that I can't wait to share with you in about a week, I haven't had time to organize and type up the third revision workshop post. I hope to blog about it soon!
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Revision Workshop part 2

I'm sorry that it took me so long to type up more of my notes from Joyce Sweeney's fabulous Revision Workshop. I've been in the middle of an intense revision myself, and love having new insight to help me dig deeper than ever into a manuscript. I am extremely lucky to be surrounded by Joyce and other fabulous people who constantly push me to dig deeper and discover more about my characters and story than I ever imagined possible. I hope these notes help you as much as they've helped me!

I only had time to add the next three numbers on the revision checklist, but they're chock full of helpful advice. I'll try to finish up the list (or at least add a few more gems) next week. I'm up to my eyeballs in my revision (and loving every minute of the process). I haven't even had time to prepare for NaPiBoWriWee (National Picture Book Writing Week) led by the amazing Paula Yoo. It's a challenge that starts on May 1st, where you have to write the first draft of seven picture books in seven days. I did it last year, and it was an amazing experience! I'm still revising some of them, and I'm absolutely in love with two of those manuscripts and can't wait to start submitting them soon). If you write picture books, take the NaPiBoWriWee challenge with me! Here's a link: http://paulayoo.com/blog

I posted some revision gems and numbers one through five of the revision checklist from Joyce Sweeney's workshop here: http://mindyalyse.livejournal.com/57556.html

6. Plot—this is the number one problem for most writers.
• Look at your external and internal arc by making a chapter by chapter outline of the action and emotion. It should happen in an escalating manner. Make sure you're motivating the changes in a character, and remember that not making a choice can actually count as a choice.
• These events should help change your character enough that he or she isn't the same person by the end of the novel. (Last summer, I learned a great exercise to test this in a revision intensive led by Julie Strauss-Gabel. First, write a journal entry in your character's voice, focusing on how he or she would've responded to a miserable day at the beginning of your novel. Then write a journal entry your character might write if he or she had the same miserable day at the end of your novel.)
• Watch TV shows or movies and write down how many minutes into it you see plot points occur. Then you can study the structure. This also works great while reading books—especially ones full of action and adventure.
7. Texture—subtext and description add layers to a manuscript. These specific details, such as setting, weather, sense of place, and sensory input help liven up a manuscript. If you mention food, what kind is it? Make up a song title instead of just saying music. Don't just say something smells wonderful, let us experience it by saying something specific, like jasmine. Don't keep it generic. Look at colors and symbols (a ticking clock signaling that time is running out, a bell can mean 'watch out', and standing in the middle of a bridge can show that a character needs to decide which way to go...forward or backward). If there's a death, you can use symbols to foreshadow it (check out the Dream Dictionary for some ideas).
8. Subplots and minor characters—they need to have their own arc. You can check this by creating a file of scenes for each major character (I search for the person's name, then copy and paste any scene they are in or are talked about into the new file). Look at one character story at a time, and make sure there are no loose threads. If there's a subplot about something a character collects, you can check that arc, too.
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Joyce Sweeney's Revision Workshop

Here's part one of my notes from Joyce Sweeney's revision workshop. Besides the gems in the beginning, she gave us a checklist of sixteen areas to explore during revisions. The first five are listed below, and I'll blog about the rest of her tips later this week.

There are two kinds of revision. The first type of revision we tackle is for ourselves. Once we've revised many, many times for ourselves (and critique groups), writers can find themselves revising for an agent or editor. Some revision notes are straightforward, while others feel more like a secret language. I feel so lucky that Joyce has helped me analyze revision requests and conference critiques. For this workshop, she's focusing on revising for ourselves.
Here are some incredibly helpful tips:
• Just because a manuscript is good and you're dying to send it out, doesn't mean it's ready. There's often so much more you can and should do...especially in such a competitive market.
• Before submitting, make sure it's the manuscript of your dreams...and then do at least one more round of revision to make sure. Don't send to an editor or agent, then contact them asking to send a better version.
• You can get dependent on groups and critique buddies. Make sure you learn from the comments so you won't keep making the same mistakes in future manuscripts. Don't expect them to fix the same mistakes over and over.
• Know your usual issues, such as having too many characters, weak plotting, etc. and watch out for it as you revise. See if you can find a critique buddy who is strong in those areas.
• You'll never get to the point where you don't need feedback. Even published authors need it. Do your best to find a great match (I've been extremely lucky with my groups and critique buddies...but it doesn't happen overnight—it can take a while to find the right people).
Here is a checklist of five areas to revise (and I'll blog about the rest soon).
1. Make sure you have a clean manuscript. Check for spelling issues, tense or point of view switches, and keep an eye out for some of the most common mistakes people make. (I highlighted some of them here: http://mindyalyse.livejournal.com/37710.html#cutid1).
2. Balance of elements—make sure there's a balance of narration, action, and description.
• Some of us overwrite (that's me in early drafts). Overwriters usually have beautiful language. They get seduced by the words and keep writing and writing. Make sure your words count. You can eliminate words like: that, then, while, just--instead of saying 'and then', stick with 'and'. (Years ago, Kathleen Duey pointed out that I had a habit of telling, then showing what I told. This is one way I streamline now. I also find it helpful to pretend I'm entering a contest with a word count and need to eliminate five hundred or so words—once they're gone, I've rarely put them back in).
• Others tend to underwrite—more like it's written for TV or a movie. Vary sentences to draw more attention from the reader. Use more description, and bring in different senses (more about this later).
3. Language—often the words that first pop onto the page aren't the best ones. Keep searching for the strongest possible language. You can see a word cloud on http://www.wordle.net. The larger the word appears, the more you've used it. This can be a great device, like a soundtrack that sets the mood with a word like 'danger', but make sure you don't have an echo of common words.
4. Striking images/art direction—watch where you stage important scenes like the climax. Make sure you find an interesting setting that readers can easily visualize.
5. Scene—every scene should have an arc, where there's a clear beginning, middle, and end. Make sure every scene matters. (Here's a link to an amazing scene building workshop Joyce recently led: http://mindyalyse.livejournal.com/56750.html.)
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I'll never forget my cave-writing years. I learned everything I could through SCBWI materials and every writing book I could get my hands on. Then, I heard about the NY Winter Conference and thought it sounded great. But scary. At the time, I only wrote picture books, and felt like I needed to have more than the five I had been working on. I needed months. Maybe a year. And then Hubby looked at me and said I should go. Thanks Hubby! It was the absolute best thing I ever could have done for myself and my writing career. I was so inspired that in the weeks before attending the conference, I wrote the first draft of a chapter book and started to write a second as well (both of them are now middle grade novels). I never even considered writing a novel before the conference...and came home so inspired that I started typing away, and realized when I hit 10,000 words that I was actually writing my first novel. Now, I've written at least a first draft of six middle grade novels and two young adult novels...and I can't even count how many picture books I've written--I'm guessing in the thirty range.

I love going to my local conferences--our RA, Linda Bernfeld, always does an amazing job. And I've been to the Poconos Retreat four times, Rutgers One-on-One Plus twice, and Chautauqua. The faculty for the Orlando Workshop is amazing--I hope you'll be able to join me there! Here's the link to our website: http://www.scbwiflorida.com/details.htm. The hotel is on Disney property, so it's the perfect excuse for a family vacation. :)

I had such a hard time choosing, but decided to take the Novel Intensive with the incredible Kathleen Duey (who gave me so many helpful gems at the Novel Intensive in Miami), and editors Alvina Ling and Stephanie Owens Lurie. I can't wait to take the Picture Book Track with Tammi Sauer, Dan Santat, and their editor, Frances Gilbert. I'd love to take the marketing track with Cynthia Leitich Smith--her blog and website are filled with a wealth of information and I really hope I'll be able to take a workshop with her once I have books to promote. I also love Danielle Joseph's novels, and know she'll do an amazing job with the YA track. Wow--what a hard choice!

Here's a peek at the amazing line up.

Picture Book Track
with author Tammi Sauer, illustrator Dan Santat and Frances Gilbert, Vice President and Editorial Director of children’s publishing at Sterling Publishing.

Middle Grade Track
with author Kathleen Duey and Alvina Ling, Senior Editor, Little Brown.

Young Adult Track
with author Danielle Joseph and
Brian Farrey, Editor, Flux.

Series Track
with author Terri Farley and
Stephanie Owens Lurie, Editorial Director, Disney – Hyperion.

Marketing Track
with author/blogger Cynthia Leitich Smith, author/social media consultant Greg Pincus and Ed Masessa, author and Senior Manager Product Development, Scholastic Book Fairs.

I hope to see you there!
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Here's a reminder that the SCBWI WIP Grant and Barbara Karlin Grant applications must be RECEIVED by March 15th! I've been revising my strongest MG, and wasn't sure if I'd be able to whip it into shape in time to apply, but I received a bright green light from my critique groups and am sending my application tomorrow using Priority Mail, which takes 2 - 3 days. Wahoo! It feels amazing to send new hope in the mail.

If you've been on the fence about applying...go for it! You have nothing to lose. And you might even find a way to strengthen your manuscript while making sure the sample is no longer than 2500 words for the WIP Grant. I was 14 words over, and love the way a streamlined section came out!

Good luck to everyone who is applying! I hope to see tons of LJ, Facebook, and Blueboard friends on the winner's list. :)
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Joyce Sweeney's Workshop--Scene Building

I feel lucky to live in an area with so many helpful writers, and especially my fabulous mentor, Joyce Sweeney. In addition to leading a weekly critique group that I participate in, she also holds workshops. In February, she led a fantastic workshop on scene building. By the end of the two hours, I knew exactly how to attack a new scene I needed to work into my novel! I asked how much I could blog about it, and Joyce said that I could share the details, because she always adds new material to her workshops.

Here it is! I hope it helps you as much as it helped me!


Each scene needs four things:
1. Idea
2. Plot
3. Voice
4. Structure (which includes emotion and character)

Everyone is good at one of these—it's like nature gives us one for free. We're often okay at two others as well. But there's usually one out of the four that we suck at, and need to work hard to achieve.

A well built scene is like a well-plotted novel. It has an arc.

If you feel like something is missing from a scene in your manuscript, see if you can add any of these to help round out your scene arc.

Parts of a scene:
1. Orientation—the reader is now in your world and needs to know who is in the scene, what is going on, and why, when, and where it is happening.
Exercise: Pick a chapter to work on throughout this exercise and write the first paragraph.
2. Promise—This is the foreshadow. What the reader should worry about. You can find a key word to use. In Headlock, Joyce used the word wash out as her key word.
Exercise: Write the second paragraph using a key word.
3. Inciting event—This is where the scene really begins. Often, a character will enter a scene at this point.
Exercise: Write your inciting incident.
4. Plot point 1: This happens when your main character becomes committed to a course of action.
5. Plot point 2: This is the low point in the scene. There is often a second low point...after that occurs, things usually start to look better.
6. Raise the stakes for your main character. This can occur at the same time as the climax (the most important thing and the real reason for writing the scene).
7. Resolution or promise (it depends on where you are in the book).

If it's the last chapter:
How different is the character now?
End the character arc of the entire book.
Hint of what was, and a little promise of what life might be like now.

If it's the first chapter or any other than the last:
Promise of upcoming event in the next chapter


• If a scene continues for several chapters without any time lapsing in between, then you can keep one scene arc for those chapters.
• Don't have two people talk, and then have someone speak up halfway through the scene that the reader didn't know was there the entire time.
• Scenes often have narration in the beginning and at the end, with lots of action and dialogue in between.
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Don't forget to back up your files!

I just had my second huge computer scare in the past two and a half months. In November, my computer crashed right in the middle of NaNoWriMo! I had to switch to my laptop for a week, and actually finished my novel in seventeen days, even with all the chaos (although having extremely limited online access probably increased my writing time--and after hitting 32,233 words in eleven days, I was determined not to let a computer crash get in my way).

Up until then, I backed up my manuscripts in two ways.
1. I have an e-mail account that is only used for manuscripts, and e-mail new and recently revised manuscripts there as often as possible.
2. I have a flash drive that I occasionally use to back up all my files...especially before a storm or when going to a conference.

After the November crash, I realized how close I came to losing all my files. Luckily, the tech was able to retrieve them...but I wasn't sure if I'd be as lucky the next time, and decided to add an online backup system, so I'm protected three different ways.

I had been very happy with the one I chose because it backed up new work daily. But I'm having second thoughts after my latest crash--which happened on a two-and-a-half-month old computer! I couldn't retrieve my files using my computer (which looked like the easiest option)and had to use my laptop to request the files I needed. Luckily, I had many that were e-mailed to myself, and had updated the flash drive before attending a conference mid January. But I had about a week or so of work that I hadn't e-mailed to myself yet, plus I was halfway through a critique for a friend. I requested 20 files...and somehow was only able to retrieve 6 of them! I was able to get a few more when asking a second or third time, but a few of the files I really needed were unavailable. They're still working on the problem...I haven't told them my computer is up and running again yet. They had said that they would go into my hard drive to try to retrieve the files if there's no other way for them to find them, and they needed 48 hours to check into the situation...but what if my hard drive had been destroyed?

I'm already looking for another backup program--one I can trust. I've heard many writers talk about Carbonite and browsed their site today, and am impressed with what I saw. It's the same price as the backup system I used, but they said you can retrieve a few files within minutes! I did request it from my backup program in the middle of the night (about 2:30 am when I got off the phone with the HP tech after trying to fix my computer since about 8:30 that night, and realizing it had crashed and they couldn't send a tech to my house for five days)--it took many hours before I received the first files by e-mail.

Do any of you have a backup program that you love and can rely on? For those of you who don't--go out and purchase one now! A program like Carbonite is only $54.95 a year, and gives you unlimited backups! That means that you can make sure all your manuscripts, photos, address lists, etc. are safe! And you should be able to access them anywhere (say you're on vacation and have a brilliant idea you want to add to a manuscript or receive a request for a manuscript, but don't have it with you--it should be easy to download it to whatever computer you can use so you can send it immediately). But even with a method like this--I really believe we should have other backups available (such as e-mail and a flash drive). This way, if you ever have computer issues--you'll know all those manuscripts you've worked so hard on are safe!
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Motivation Monday

What are your goals for this week? List them below, and we'll cheer each other on! There's something about writing down goals that makes them seem even more important (especially when they're in public)!

My top writing goals are:
1. Revise 15 pages of my MG, Mom Wars, and submit it to my online novel group in a week.
2. Make sure the 15 pages I revised using my online group's feedback are 100% ready for my weekly critique group meeting led by Joyce Sweeney.
3. Revise a picture book using feedback from my twice a month online group and get it ready for my other online group (and hopefully have it polished enough to submit within the next month).
4. Figure out which picture book to revise and submit to my twice a month online group a week from today (I'm torn between an early revision on one manuscript or trying to polish up one that's further along).
5. Interview two of my characters more. (Now that I'm thinking about it as an interview instead of me figuring out details about their lives, the voices are clearer and louder than ever...and I'm learning so many incredible things about them.)
6. Catch up on e-mails, the Blueboards, Facebook, and LJ. (I've been thinking about taking the Twitter plunge, but am not sure I'll have enough time to juggle everything right now).
7. Blog about the rest of the amazing Miami Conference!

I'd also like to revise even more of Mom Wars than the fifteen pages I have to send my group in a week. I'm torn between a first round of revision on the next fifteen or so pages, or going back to the beginning and doing an intense round of revision on the first 55 pages, using the new insights I have from the Novel Intensive and Miami Conference.

Personal goals:
1. Quality time with my family.
2. Exercise at least five times.
3. Take Lolly on more walks (which would be in addition to exercising).
4. Call the dog trainer and book her for another lesson (Lolly is doing fantastic, but tugs too much on walks, and has been stealing stuffed animals out of Sammi's room. She also developed a taste for towels).
5. Post more pictures on Facebook (I haven't updated my personal photos in months, and want to put up some from our December vacation, and Lolly is six months old now and I don't have a recent photo of her up).
6. Try to get more sleep (which is almost impossible if I want to make all my goals).
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The Novel Intensive at the SCBWI Miami Conference was an amazing experience! If you ever have the opportunity to take an intensive or workshop with Jennifer Rofé or Kathleen Duey...jump at the chance! Since I have so much to tell you, I won't go into details about the great POV exercise...but it definitely showed me how something as simple as a tree can bring out emotion and let a reader get to know two different characters better as they describe it. Our homework assignment was to write down our biggest roadblock. Jennifer Rofé and Kathleen Duey went around the room, giving us an incredible amount of suggestions, information, and inspiration.

Jennifer Rofé
• You need to write your story for you and stop listening to others...unless there's a common thread (meaning that critique partners, editors, or agents point out similar issues).
• It's okay not to like every character, as long as there is enough meat on the bones and the character is 3D.
• Look for unique actions. Think about the unique things people do besides biting a lip. Less is more!
• What is your character's motivation, and how does it drive your plot forward?
• Are the stakes high enough? Does the character really have something to lose?
• It's a good idea to check Publishers Marketplace to see what's selling—but still write YOUR story. (She said the next big thing seems to be mermaids.)
• Starting a manuscript with dialogue is fine, if done well.
• When it's slow getting into a story, it feels like pre-writing.
• Don't start with an explanation for what's about to happen (such as: who knew...).
• We can learn more about a character by the way he or she describes things. For example, look at the first two pages of The Year the Swallows Came Early by Kathryn Fitzmaurice. Groovy loves cooking and she immediately shows us by her word choices when comparing things to: See's candies, undercooked white rice, and discovering a way to chop onions without crying.

Kathleen Duey
• Take yourself seriously—then people around you will take you seriously.
• Instead of asking what would happen next, ask yourself what your character would do next.
• When a subplot question came up, she said not to get hung up on what's missing—look at what's there.
• End a chapter where a person can't put down the book.
• When you know how a story ends, you know better how it should begin.
• You can use your atmosphere to help you write different characters (if you're working on multiple books or work for hire vs. your own manuscripts). Some ways to do this are to change where you write or use a different scent (such as a candle) for each manuscript.
• When getting or giving a critique, a good method can be to use the letters B, C, D:
Don't believe it
• You don't have to put an argument or blood up front as long as we care and have a reason to turn to the second page.
• Hang around kids the age of your audience (for YA, a food court is a good place). When you write, gag your inner parent!
• Setting can make a familiar story fresh.
• Leave room to escalate.
• Make sure the entourage doesn't overshadow the protagonist.
• Discover your own process. When you have a good writing day, figure out why (for example, think about the time of day you wrote).
• Sit down with your character and interview him or her. The more unconscious you can make this part of the process, the better it works.
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Motivation Monday

I have a lot on my to-do list now that I'm back from the SCBWI Miami Conference. Wow--what an incredible weekend!

My top priorities for this week are:
1. Use some of the fabulous techniques I learned, like interviewing my characters (thanks for the extremely helpful tip, Kathleen Duey).
2. Finish getting a sub ready for my novel group.
3. Organize my notes and blog about the conference (hopefully in the next day or two).
4. Revise at least two picture books (one with great advice from a critique with Lauren Hodge, and the other with feedback from my critique group).
5. Send out some subs!

Other writing-related things on my to do list:
1. Post photos from the conference.
2. Run through Mom Wars from the beginning, using the fabulous advice from a critique and writing workshop with Jill Santopolo.
3. Catch up on e-mails.
4. Read more of The Year the Swallows Came Early.

Personal Goals:
1. Make sure Becca has a fantastic birthday(I can't believe she's turning 12 on Tuesday)!
2. Spend lots of time with my family (after spending more time than usual working on my writing and getting ready for the conference).
3. Exercise at least five times. (I'd love six, if possible, since I didn't have time to make my minimum exercise goal last week).

What are your goals this week?
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The first official Motivation Monday!

When I'm writing a new novel, I'm usually thrilled to have a high word count each day. Because of NaNoWriMo, I've written several first drafts in seventeen days or less. Revisions often feel like they creep by compared to that. It's hard to determine how much progress I'm making, because an incredible revision to one chapter can mean so much more than a lesser revision to five chapters. It feels great to share each step with friends who understand!

I love celebrating each milestone, no matter how big or small they are. When a few friends were impressed at the progress I made last week and asked me to send some motivation their way, I thought it would help to start the week off with Motivation Monday blog posts. Writing down goals and sharing them with friends is a great way to push ourselves harder. And of course, it's fun to celebrate when we make those goals. So...what do you want to do this week?

Here's what's on my list--both for my writing and personal life:

1. Figure out which novel I want to use for a group critique at the Novel Intensive on Friday, and type up my homework assignment.
2. Prepare everything I need to take to the Miami Conference.
3. Revise the next few chapters of Mom Wars for my online novel group.
4. Make sure my sub for Joyce's Wednesday class is as strong as it can be and print it up (and hope my girls are well enough that I can go).
5. Finish revising my PB for an online group (and see if I can figure out a title--Snoring Beauty has been used, so I don't know if Who Can Cure Snoring Beauty works, or if I should switch it to Dozing Beauty).
6. Type up the name tags for the Miami Conference and add the lunch tickets I already cut up.
7. Do at least one critique before I leave.
8. Catch up on at least thirty e-mails.
9. Read more of Skin Hunger (I'd love to curl up on the couch and read it straight through, but I have so many things to do this week, I'm only allowing myself short reading spurts--but it's hard to pry myself away)!

1. Spend quality time with my family every day.
2. Try to exercise at least four times this week (which is challenging when I'm away Thursday night until Sunday--so I'll settle for three times, if I have to).
3. Get my hair and nails done.
4. Make sure I'm packed and ready to go without staying up until 4am, like I usually do before a trip--it's so hard to pry myself away from my computer!
5. Figure out how we're going to celebrate Becca's birthday next week. I can't believe she's turning 12! Where did the time go?

Let's tackle our goals together this week!
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So many great workshop choices!

I'm having a hard time deciding which workshops to take at the SCBWI Florida Conference in Miami from January 15-17. I'm already signed up for the Novel Intensive with Kathleen Duey and Jennifer Rofe. I wish I could attend all the workshops, but have to choose one from each group. Any suggestions?

9:00 - 10:30 am Workshop 1 (choose one)
____ A. Richard Peck: Settings
____ B. Kadir Nelson: Q & A with Kadir Nelson
____ C. Jen Rofe: Revising with an Agent
____ D. Lauren Hodge: The Ultimate Picture Book Recipe: Reviewing the Key Ingredients
____ E. Brenda Bowen: The Long and Baffling Letter: How to Work with an Editor on Revisions

10:45 AM - 12:15 pm Workshop 2 (choose one)
____ F. Alexandra Flinn: Plotting
____ G. Jill Santopolo: Narrative voice and how to make it work for your character
____ H. Michael Grant: Building the Series
____ I. Henry Cole: An Hour and a Half With Your Very Own Personal Trainer for Picture Book Illustration
That Could Change Your Life!
____ J. Kathleen Duey: Building, Growing, Designing, Outlining, Dreaming up, Mapping, Plotting,
(add your favorite verb here) A Story

I hope to see many LJ, Blueboard, and Facebook friends there! The deadline for paid critiques is December 12, and early registration ends on December 20th, so there's still time to sign up.
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Wow, thanks Joyce. That makes finishing NaNoWriMo early even sweeter! Now, I just have to figure out which one of her amazing books to request. I absolutely love The Guardian. And Becca loves Waiting for June so much, I might need to replace it because she won't let our copy leave her room.

Here's a link to Joyce's most recent books:http://joycesweeney.net/novels.htm. But she made the generous offer to let me choose any of her books, even the vintage ones. Does anyone have a favorite that I should check into?

I'm sending lots of good and fast writing vibes to all my NaNoWriMo friends. Go, go, go...you can do it! I already miss the thrill of watching the words fly onto my computer--but I'm excited to dig into my first round of revisions.

I have one more tip for you: If you're not sure what should happen next, think of the worst thing that could possibly happen to your character. I heard the amazing Bruce Coville say this years ago at a conference, and it has always worked well for me. It definitely adds a lot of conflict and unexpected twists to my manuscripts.

I hope you all have a great weekend. :)
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Yesterday, I passed my 50,000 word goal for my humorous NaNoWriMo novel, Mom Wars. And I completed the first draft at 53,660 words--which came out to 192 pages (not bad for 17 days)! This is the fourth year in a row that I have won NaNoWriMo--and I had way more obstacles to overcome than usual. But I did it and just finished happy dancing with my puppy, Lolly. (Actually, she looked at me like I was crazy, then gave me a high five.)

I had to buy a new computer yesterday. The entire wireless network in my house had a nasty virus...but Windows kept rebooting because something inside melted. Luckily, the tech was able to save everything. Whew! I had over 32,000 words written on my original computer before the crash on November 11th, and wrote the other 20,000+ on my laptop (but I couldn't use my flash drive for fear of transferring the virus, so I had to start typing where I thought I left off--which was scary, and I was so proud of myself for brushing away my tears and getting back to work).

Now, I can't wait to organize all my notes of things I'd like to work in during my first revision (which starts tomorrow). I love this novel, and believe that after it's fully revised, it could attract a similar audience to the manuscript I hope will be my debut novel--Ruby Bella Brown, Super Average Girl (another NaNo novel, which was the writing sample that was accepted for the October 09 Rutgers One-on-One Plus Conference).

I'm sending tons of good and fast writing vibes to all my NaNoWriMo friends. Go, go, go--you can do it! If you find yourself stuck or working slower than you'd like, here are some tips:
1. Give yourself a specific amount of time to write, like a half hour or whatever works for you...several times throughout the day. Some of my best word counts are right before I have to pick my girls up from school, because I know my time is limited. That makes me put away online temptations much faster than when I have a huge block of writing time.
2. You can up the ante on tip number one if you try to challenge yourself to beat your previous word count during each writing spurt.
3. Challenge friends to a word war--decide on a time to start and stop, and write, write, write!
4. I know it's hard, but you need to stop listening to your internal editor--there's plenty of time to revise later. I came up with several plot points, characters, and where to begin the story before NaNo started, but since then, I've let the characters lead the story and love the surprises that have popped up.
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NaNoWriMo word count: 41,403!

I'm so thrilled that I was able to write 41,403 words on my humorous NaNoWriMo MG, Mom Wars, in fourteen days. I took some time off last weekend to spend with my family, and spent most of this past week battling a nasty computer virus (which kept rebooting my computer...until it refused to run Windows anymore). I lost at least a day and a half trying to get rid of the virus, then called in tech support--who came to take my computer on Thursday. The good news is that my files are safe, and I should hopefully have my computer back, virus-free, on Monday. The bad news is that I couldn't copy my NaNo novel onto my laptop, for fear of spreading the virus.

I admit, I broke into tears when I heard that he had to take my computer...but I quickly recovered, booted up my laptop, and started a brand new file. It was really hard at first. I had to try to remember where I left off the night before. There might be a small gap between where I ended the original file and began the new one, and it definitely slowed me down a bit. But I was so determined not to let this ruin NaNoWriMo. I've worked way too hard for that. Before I knew it, the words were flying again, and I ended up having my two largest word counts for NaNoWriMo 2009 on Thursday and Friday. I think it was a combination of determination, sitting back and letting the characters lead my story, and the fact that I couldn't really go online.

One thing that has helped me this year, was working in more descriptions. Dialogue comes naturally to me, but my first drafts usually lack setting and descriptions. I decided to use the fast-paced writing of NaNo to help me overcome that issue. I'm sure I'll have to cut down several of them, but so many wonderful descriptions popped up that I'm sure I'll be able to use (and they might not exist if I hadn't chosen this strategy). If you need to up your word count, especially for an MG that will probably be cut down to the 30,000 range during revisions, think about using NaNo to work on one of your writing weaknesses. It's the perfect time to play around!

I've seen some amazing word counts. Go, go, go everyone! I can't wait to hear all about your new novels. :)
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I hope you're having as much fun with NaNoWriMo as I am! Everyone is doing such an amazing job so far. I had my typical slower start, while getting to know my characters and story better. Now, I hit the stage where the words are flying onto my computer. What an incredible feeling!

Here are a few more NaNoWriMo tips I hope will help on your journey toward a 50,000 word novel by November 30th.

1. If you’re typing a little slower than you’d like, try to remember that this is a first draft—it’s not meant to be perfect. In fact, I think it’s impossible to make it perfect. So get plenty of BIC time (butt in chair), and write, write, write. Let the words flow, and try not to edit them too much. There’s plenty of time to revise later. This fast-paced writing will probably add many wonderful surprises, like humorous scenes your internal editor might have nixed, and plot twists you never would have considered until they magically appeared in your manuscript.

2. Think about your story and characters during the day…when you’re driving, in the shower, before you go to bed. And keep paper nearby, because I have a feeling you’ll keep discovering new things about your characters and their story, even when you’re away from your computer.

3. Did an unexpected character pop up? If you want to quickly find a great, current name for your characters, check out this social security site: http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/babynames/decades/names2000s.html

4. If you haven’t started NaNoWriMo yet, don’t be afraid to jump in at any time. I was revising a novel when I participated for the first time in 2006, and didn’t think I’d be able to take the plunge. (Okay, maybe I was a little scared that I wouldn’t be able to do it, too). But on November 7, I was thinking about my synopsis while getting ready for a party, when a brand new novel idea hit me. I ran downstairs to create a file of notes, and couldn’t stop typing. (Yes, I was late to the party. Very late! But it was worth it.) I ended up writing 60,000 words from November 7 through the 30th that year. So sit down, and write, write, write. I love NaNoWriMo because it forces us to set aside more writing time than usual—so even if we don’t hit that 50,000 word goal, we’ll still have more accomplished by the end of the month than we would without the NaNo push. Which makes us all winners!

Here is one of my favorite tips. Don’t forget to celebrate each milestone! So many of you have written over 10,000 words in the past six days. When I first started writing, I only wrote picture books…until one idea sprouted wings and surprised me. I kept typing and typing, not sure what I was creating…until I hit 10,000 words and realized that I was actually writing my first middle grade novel. I jumped out of my chair and danced around the room. Now, I do a happy dance for every 10,000 word milestone. You can also do something special for yourself—get a massage (which feels amazing after hunching over your computer all those hours), take a hot bubble bath, buy a favorite treat, get a manicure, eat lunch out with friends…whatever works for you.

I’m sending lots of good (and fast) writing vibes your way, and can’t wait to hear more about your NaNoWriMo novels!
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NaNoWriMo tips

A few friends have asked me for some NaNoWriMo tips. With a few hours left, I figured I should lock myself in my office and type them up for you. I'll add some new ones throughout the month. I hope you're all having a wonderful Halloween, and are ready to attack your new novel at midnight. I can't wait to dig into mine...and hear all about your progess.

Here are some tips you can use before NaNo begins, and also tonight at midnight, as you plunge into your new novel.

1. Let your idea simmer. Jot down any notes that pop into your mind. It does help to have at least a few plotting notes (some writers swear by outlines, but that’s definitely not my style). Character sketches are great, too. If you can find photos that look like your characters, keep them in a place you can easily see…especially in the beginning when you’re first getting to know your characters.
2. Brainstorm! Just sit down and type or write out all the possible plot and character trait possibilities. Don’t edit yourself, even if some of the ideas seem silly. Some of my favorite NaNo novel parts might not exist if I thought about them too much as the ideas formed. Now, you’ll have a list of possibilities if you get stuck! You can also stop writing to do a quick brainstorm to break through a writing wall, too. Don’t take too much time out from writing—plow through it, even if you know there’s a transition needed. You can jot down the page and what you need to fix—and once you reach the end of your novel or the perfect solution hits you, go back to that area and add it in.
3. Have a notebook next to you, so you can easily keep a list of all the amazing things you learn about your new novel. You can add character traits, school schedules, details you don’t want to forget, parts you need to change in the beginning once the novel is finished. I once had a tile floor that turned to wood a few chapters in, and made a note so I’d know to keep it wood from then on, and to change it in the early chapters once NaNo was over.
4. Before midnight, have your file formatted and ready to go. You’re probably on a sugar high from Halloween, and can’t wait to sit down and finally write this new novel that’s been simmering. Just a few more hours, and the fun begins. I can’t wait!
5. Buy extra underwear for everyone in the house. And do as many loads of laundry as possible before 12:01 am on November first—then break out the butt glue and shackle yourself to your computer.
6. Try to type at least a page after midnight tonight—hopefully more. For me, ideas flow the easiest at night (even though they often need more editing the next day). This might be just the jump start you need to turn that blank page into the beginning of your novel.
7. Here’s the most important one…
HAVE FUN!!!!! Enjoy the journey, because this kind of fast-paced writing helps hush the annoying internal editor inside all of us. Let the words flow…and watch your characters and novel spring more to life each day. Just think—in less than a month, you’ll have an entire new novel to play with. One that could become your debut…or an amazing addition to your current list.
Good luck! I’ll add more tips during NaNo, and can’t wait to cheer you on every step of the way.
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A bit of Rutgers info

I absolutely LOVE the Rutgers One-on-One Plus Conference. It was great in 2005, but I realize that I wasn't quite ready to fly then. Now, I truly do feel ready. I had an incredibly sweet and fabulous mentor--Jocelyn Davies from HarperCollins. She showed me a few ways to strengthen my MG even more. I am so grateful to her! Some of the suggestions were minor tweaks, but they still made a huge impact in the feel of my novel. And there was one suggestion about getting to know a secondary character better, and seeing her friendship with the main character before things start to turn sour which gave me chills once I saw the final revision. It was a major 'aha' moment for me. And one I plan to keep in mind for all future novels and revisions.

Dinner with my Blueboard friends on Friday night was wonderful (well...the service wasn't exactly great, but I was having too much fun to mind). I wish we could all hang out more in person. It was so much fun meeting some of them in person for the first time, and seeing some friends again. And I loved riding to the conference together! I can't rave about all the wonderful mentors enough. They volunteered their time, and I enjoyed talking with several of them. I love their enthusiasm and dedication--and am so glad I had a chance to chat with them!

I was going to blog about some of the details, but two writers did such a fantastic job, I'll link to their sites instead.

Kimberly Sabatini listed all the highlights in great detail:http://kimmiepoppins.livejournal.com/67127.html

And if you want to know more about the fabulous editors and agents who attended, check out these helpful posts from Colleen Kosinski: http://www.writergirl.myartsite.com/

Think about applying to Rutgers next year. It really is an amazing experience!
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Revisions, Rutgers, and a Playful Puppy

I can't believe I leave for Rutgers in three days! I'm really looking forward to it, and also can't wait to meet up with my Blueboard friends on Friday night for dinner. I've been busy revising as much as I can before Rutgers. I've discovered that my biggest issue is nailing my opening hook/chapter, and think that instead of asking questions I can easily ask my fabulous mentor, Joyce Sweeney, I'll see if there's time to discuss the MG I used as a writing sample (Super Average Girl), and bring the first chapter of a few other MGs. And probably a few PBs, in case my Rutgers mentor is an expert in that genre, too.

I think I have the beginning of Step Monster all ready to go, but will know for sure after running it through my critique group tomorrow. I was a bit surprised when I looked back at Camp Captive. Yes, I found places to tweak, but the beginning looks really strong to me. I'm not sure if I'll bring In My Heart and The Wall. Both need more work than the others, and aren't humorous. I'm hoping that Super Average Girl will be my debut novel, and would love to follow it up with one of the above two humorous novels--or possibly the MG I plan to write for NaNoWriMo. Wow--it's coming up soon! I'm getting more ideas for it every day, and can't wait for November 1st!

I'm working a bit slower than usual, because I'm spending lots of time with the adorable Bullmasador puppy we adopted from The Humane Society. Here's a photo of Lollipop taken a little over a week ago. When we adopted her at about 8 weeks and 6.20 pounds (she's now 11 weeks and about 14 pounds.)

Lolly's favorite place is hanging out in the office with me. Most of the time, she's wrapped around my chair. I'm having so much fun with her, but it's almost like having a baby again, and I'm trying to find a way to give her quality time and still make my writing goals. It's amazing to have sweet puppy kisses and cuddles in our house again. No dog could ever replace Bandit, our 13 1/2 Siberian Husky who passed away in December...but Lolly has definitely taken away some of the sting. My girls can't wait for Halloween now--they've never celebrated one without a dog in our family, and are anxious to dress Lolly up in her first costume.
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I was thrilled to receive my acceptance to the Rutgers One-on-One Plus Conference, and can't wait to attend! I had just completed my first MG and had a few chapters of my second novel written when I attended in 2005. It was a fabulous experience, and I learned so much that day--and from the many conferences, workshops, and writing intensives I've taken since then. I'm definitely going to be busy polishing up my manuscripts before the conference (and writing down any questions I'd like to ask my mentor or five on five group)!

I hope to see many of my LJ/Facebook/Blueboard friends there--it looks like we're all getting together that Friday night.

My girls were upset that I won't be home on my birthday, but I'm flying home that day and plan to go out and celebrate with them that night. I can't think of a better way to spend my birthday weekend, then celebrating with my family and attending a fantastic conference.

I just realized that I didn't post a photo from Danielle Joseph's signing for her fabulous debut YA, Shrinking Violet.

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More about the Orlando Workshop

I've been busy spending quality time with my girls while they're between school and camp, celebrating my 16th anniversary, revising an MG and a PB, and catching up on critiques I owe by the end of the month.

I promised you more information about the 2-Day Revision Intensive with Julie Strauss-Gabel and Suzanne Supplee, and here it is! So many participants had wonderful 'aha' moments. If you ever have a chance to take it, send in your registration ASAP because the spots fill up fast!

We had the amazing opportunity to read one of Suzanne's manuscripts exactly as she submitted it to Julie Strauss-Gabel. We had plenty of time to share our thoughts (with Suzanne out of the room), and then we read the editorial letters sent during her revisions. I'm reading the published version now, and have learned so much about the revision process from this exercise.

We also read e-mails and parts of a manuscript that changed while an author worked with Julie Strauss-Gabel for over two years! It's incredible to see how much the book changed over time--including an 'outstanding first line' that caught her immediate attention, but ended up being moved much later in the book.

Each of us brought copies of the first two pages of a completed MG or YA manuscript for everyone to read. We broke up into groups of four, removing our manuscripts from the pile, then had the chance to read through them all and discuss which we liked the most, and why. One thing that stood out was how much our personal preferences guided our choices. It really showed us that when editors or agents say a manuscript isn't right for them, it still might be amazing, but the subject or writing style didn't speak to them the way it might with another editor or agent. We also read some of our favorite first pages of published novels aloud.

We did so many wonderful hands-on exercises on voice/character, plotting, and were able to fill out a Title Information Sheet (and see examples of ones used for two Dutton Children's Books).

There are so many exercises I'd love to share with you--but it wouldn't be fair to give all their secrets away. It's hard to choose just one--so many of them gave me new insight into my manuscript. I'll summarize two parts of the voice/character exercise. First, write a journal entry in your character's voice, focusing on how he or she would've responded to a miserable day at the beginning of your novel. Then write a journal entry your character might write if he or she had the same miserable day at the end of your novel.

Here's a photo of Suzanne Supplee and Julie Strauss-Gabel:

Here's one of Lin Oliver, Bonnie Bader, Julie Strauss-Gabel, and Suzanne Supplee:

And here's a photo of Julie Strauss-Gabel, Martha Mihalick, Suzanne Supplee, and Dorian Cirrone.

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The Orlando Workshop was wonderful!

Linda Bernfeld and Gaby Triana put on another amazing workshop. I'll post more about the Writer's Intensive tomorrow, but have to say that if you ever have the chance to take a workshop like this with Julie Strauss-Gabel, jump at the chance! So many of us had those amazing 'aha' moments and came home fueled with ideas and knowledge to take our manuscripts to the next level.

It was great seeing my Chautauqua mentor, Bruce Coville again. He gave me some wonderful advice on my first fantasy MG, and made me smile when he said it has some deliciously chilling moments, and mentioned a few parts that are terrific and one that is just aces!

I am so grateful to the amazing editor who made me see how I can make my MG, Adventures of Bra Girl, even stronger. I'm definitely changing the title. I believe the new one will be Super Average Girl. I was thrilled to see several smiley faces and areas of my manuscript that she found funny and loved--and have some great new ideas to work in, too. I can't wait to dig into my revision!

It was wonderful seeing so many writing friends this weekend! I hope I'll see you again at the Miami Conference on January 15-17.
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I leave for Orlando tomorrow and can't wait for the Writer's Intensive! Our homework was to read a novel exactly as it was sent to Julie Strauss-Gabel when she decided to acquire it. The novel is now in print, but we have the rare opportunity to read the entire manuscript and discuss what we believe should be revised, then we'll get to see the editorial letter. The manuscript is amazing, but I still made lots of notes about areas that could be improved, or events that might be stronger in another order. I'm looking forward to seeing the editorial letter, and reading the published book.

I can't wait to have three different manuscripts critiqued(one PB and two MGs). My fabulous mentor from Chautauqua, Bruce Coville, is critiquing my first fantasy MG, that I wrote for NaNoWriMo 08 and have been busy revising. I'm also excited to get feedback on manuscripts I believe are ready to submit from agent Mark McVeigh and editor Jennifer Rees from Scholastic! And I'm looking forward to seeing all my writing friends, too.

I recently went to a signing for Alex Flinn's amazing novel, A Kiss in Time.

Alex Flinn's first retelling, Beastly is already being filmed, starring Vanessa Hudgens, Mary-Kate Olsen, and Alex Pettyfer. That's one movie I will definitely rush out to see!
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In a little over a month, I'm heading to Orlando for a revision intensive. Today, I received a nice introduction note from the instructors--Julie Strauss-Gabel, Associate Publisher of Dutton Children’s Books, and author Suzanne Supplee. I can't wait to attend the intensive--it sounds amazing!

If you're looking for a good excuse to take a Disney vacation, think about coming to the Orlando Workshop. Co-Regional Advisors Linda R. Bernfeld and Gaby Triana have lined up an incredible faculty! The revision intensive is full, but I believe everything else is still open. The illustrator's intensive is on June 19, and will be led by author/illustrators Jarrett Krosoczka and Janeen Mason.

Here are the workshop tracks for June 20, at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort.

Picture Book Track
Author/Illustrator Janeen Mason
Author Alison Jackson
Editor Jennifer Rees, Scholastic

Middle Grade Track
Executive Director, SCBWI and Co-Author Lin Oliver
Editor-in Chief Bonnie Bader, Grosset & Dunlap/PSS; Penguin Young Readers Group

Young Adult
Editor Martha Mihalick, Greenwillow Books
Author Dorian Cirrone

Science Fiction/Fantasy Track
Author Bruce Coville
Agent Michael Stearns, Firebrand Literary

Graphic Novel
Agent Mark McVeigh, The McVeigh Agency
Author/Illustrator Jarrett Krosoczka
Illustrator and Comic Artist Mac McCool

You can find more details here: http://scbwiflorida.com/jun09.html

I hope to see you in Orlando!
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I love a challenge!

Yesterday, I wrote my seventh picture book manuscript in a week, thanks to the seven in seven day challenge called NaPiBoWriWee on http://paulayoo.com/. I've been a huge fan of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for the past three years, and love writing the first draft of a novel in less than thirty days. This is the first time I've participated in a picture book challenge. I love the quirky surprises that popped up due to the quick pace, and can't wait to revise my new manuscripts and send them through my critique groups.

Thanks to Paula Yoo for coming up with this fun challenge! I can't wait to participate again next year.
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On Tuesday, I was thrilled to attend a book signing by my mentor, Joyce Sweeney. I believe The Guardian is her fourteenth published book--very impressive! A huge crowd of people came to watch, and she sold out of every book. I can't wait to dig into The Guardian as soon as I finish my current book!

Here's a photo from Joyce's signing:

We have so many wonderful books coming out in Florida. I'm looking forward to attending signings in the next few months for authors including Alex Flinn (A Kiss in Time), Danielle Joseph (Shrinking Violet), and Gaby Triana (Riding the Universe).

I feel lucky to live in an area with so many talented authors. Joyce has helped twenty-six authors become published, and has helped me in so many ways since I joined her weekly invitation-only workshop/critique group. And I've met so many wonderful authors and illustrators since I became active in local events in 2005. I'm really excited about the Two Day Novel Revision Intensive I'm taking in June. It filled up quickly, but all the other tracks are still available for the Orlando Workshop on June 20. I'll post more information about it soon.

I hope everyone has a fantastic weekend. :)
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Are you feeling lucky?

Lindsey Leavitt is having a contest on her blog, celebrating her luck (for signing with an amazing agent one year ago today and having her first book published one year from today). Help her celebrate by sharing your lucky experiences here: http://lindsey-leavitt.livejournal.com/98082.html?view=1086754#t1086754

This is what I wrote:

I got lucky when Hubby pretty much shoved me into my first SCBWI conference--in 2005 (I didn't think I was ready). I had arranged to meet a few writers for dinner through the SCBWI message board, and headed up to my room directly after.

Hubby was glad I went to dinner--but told me to get out of my room and go to the bar. I hate going places alone, but he said I needed to meet people. That's what he'd do. I circled the lobby several times before getting a glass of wine and reading the conference schedule. A group of writers were celebrating the success of one of their members, and invited me to join them. They gave me amazing tips--and I've attended some of my favorite conferences because of them (Chautauqua, Rutgers One-on-One Plus, and the Poconos Retreat). It was such a great first step for me--and I feel so lucky to have met such helpful writers, and lucky to have an understanding husband who helped me follow my love of writing and dream of publication.

I didn't write this, but I also feel lucky because:
* I have an amazing family.
* I have incredible friends--in person as well as online.
* I'm doing something I LOVE every day.
* Florida has an awesome SCBWI chapter--one that is supportive, active, and manages to get some of the best faculty around.
* I am so grateful that I'm working with my mentor, Joyce Sweeney. Having her in FL and being able to work closely with her has really helped my writing improve!

So why do you feel lucky?
Happy St. Patrick's Day!
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First revision of a NaNoWriMo manuscript

A couple weeks ago, I completed my most intense revision ever! It was for an MG I wrote for NaNoWriMo 2007. I had received a revision request on it, and went through the manuscript once with the suggestions in mind, then changed whatever jumped at me and made pages of notes for areas I could improve during round two. Each time I went through, I could see how much stronger it was...until I finally thought it was ready. I am so grateful that a blueboard friend offered to swap manuscript critiques. Even though this had been through my groups several times, having a fresh set of eyes helped me see new areas I could improve, and some ways I could make the revisions requested even stronger. So I finished those revisions and rode off into the sunset...

Okay, not quite. I was surprised how many revision rounds it took. Strengthening one area often gave me new insight into others, and it just kind of snowballed from there. Then, I got to that magical place, where it felt like I went through a couple of rounds changing a word here or there. And I knew it was ready.

Finishing that revision felt amazing! And yes, I did my typical happy dance celebration, like I do with every milestone.

And then I took out my NaNoWriMo 2008 project and dug into revisions. Except, my head was still in polishing mode, and I had a few intense days trying to take the manuscript up many levels at once, before I realized what I was doing. I practically knew the other manuscript by heart. I could be in a situation and know exactly what my other MC would do or say. But after writing this new novel in 16 days, and not really looking at it since...I was back to square one. Double checking my character sketches, looking at the list of changes I made while writing it (since I couldn't really edit during NaNo).

At first, it was kind of scary. Unfamiliar. But now, I really love getting to know these new characters better. And I love, love, love the story! So I'm excited to be working on this revision...but know I have to take it one step at a time. I can move this manuscript up one or two levels during this revision--and take as many rounds as I need to make it shine, like the other one.

Have you noticed anything like this when you finish polishing one manuscript and quickly jump into revising an early draft of another one?
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SCBWI Miami Conference

Thanks to all my friends who nudged me to post about the conference, I'm finally here! I couldn't wait to share all this wonderful info with you, but had such great insight about my MG which is almost ready to submit, that I had to dedicate all my time to it. Now, my revision is done, and I'm waiting to hear back from a writing friend who never read it before and offered to critique the full (and I can't wait to pay her back when hers is ready for a pair of fresh eyes).

Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld (RA) and Gaby Triana (ARA) put on yet another amazing conference filled with an incredible faculty, helpful information, writing exercises, and clowns. I'm not kidding! We actually had two stilt-walking clowns at our Saturday night Big Top Bash, where everyone (including some very talented and energetic editors and agents) danced their way through the night.

I'll give you notes about the wonderful intensive I took on Friday in another post. That afternoon, the conference began. One of my favorite parts was watching the first book panel. It was so inspiring to listen to the success stories of Marjetta Geerling, Debbie Reed Fischer, and Danette Haworth. I've heard so many great things about VIOLET RAINES ALMOST GOT STRUCK BY LIGHTNING, and can't wait to read my signed copy! And I love Marjetta's YA, FANCY WHITE TRASH, and Debbie's BRALESS IN WONDERLAND and SWIMMING WITH THE SHARKS. All three authors thanked my fabulous mentor, Joyce Sweeney, for her guidance and feedback (she has helped twenty-five writers become published!)

It's amazing how much was packed into Saturday! All the speeches were incredible and the day just flew by. It began with Arthur Levine discussing: Who You Are as a Writer=What I Publish. He said that humor comes out of warm appreciation of what is human. It has heart. He noted that a humorous book can be full of depth, like CRASH by Jerry Spinelli. He also said he wasn't surprised that people took HARRY POTTER to heart, because it's funny, exciting, and emotional.

Lisa Yee: Should Who You Are Dictate What You Write? She suggested writing what you know, what you want to know, and what is in your heart. She and Arthur Levine had a Q&A session together that was wonderful! I'm sure most of the writers in the audience hope to have that kind of connection with an editor one day.

Ginger Knowlton: Do's and Don'ts of the Agent Search (and Rescue). She said to always do our best--and stressed that our best will change from moment to moment. If you want an agent and an editor tells you he or she is taking your manuscript to the next level, let the editor know you are in the process of securing an agent. What struck me most, is how open she was with us. She mentioned a manuscript she had rejected, but looked at it again (I believe a few weeks later), and she called the author and offered representation--and ended up selling it! I'm so glad she shared this with us--it really does show that it takes having the right manuscript in the right place at the right time!

Alexandra Cooper: How and Why is a Manuscript Acquired? She said hardcovers generally receive more review attention, while paperbacks are more accessible because of their lower costs. She mentioned that the review publications seem to be a little behind now, and some authors wondered why they hadn't received reviews. She mentioned some of the differences between imprints. For example, Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers tends to publish contemporary, edgy (like Rachel Cohn), and high concept like THE MOTHER-DAUGHTER BOOK CLUB and THE HOMEWORK MACHINE. Atheneum leans toward more risk taking, quirky, and graphic novels. McElderry has a lot of fantasy and classic stories.

Mark Teague: Making Lively Picture Books. I enjoyed seeing the fire engine he chose for one of his books. He explained that current firetrucks would hide the Dalmatian firemen, so he searched older models until he found one that allowed him to actively show his characters.

Tina Wexler: Business Broker or BFF? Exploring the Author/Agent Relationship. An agent can be a friend, creative consultant, and a business partner. Think about the traits that are most important to you, like strong communication, and see how well a potential agent matches those traits.

Elaine Landau (who has written over 300 books) & Ruth VanderZee: Nonfiction--The Real Deal. After listening to them speak, many conference attendees are eager to try nonfiction for the first time! Elaine and Ruth suggest writing nonfiction with a twist, and gave examples of books that approach nonfiction in nontraditional ways, such as Verla Kay's COVERED WAGONS, BUMPY TRAILS which is written in rhyme and Candace Fleming's nonfiction scrapbook called THE LINCOLNS: A SCRAPBOOK LOOK AT ABRAHAM AND MARY.

Liz Waniewski: How to Wow an Editor (with your writing). She said to think about what really worries kids, such as being small. If three books are currently out on a topic, it's harder to have a new manuscript accepted on the same topic. She gave a handout of the top ten things Dial editors look for in both picture books and novels. I won't give all of them away, but a few that stand out are:
* Does this story surprise me and take me to places I didn't expect?
* Will I want to read this manuscript ten (or more) times?
* And the one she said is the most important...and the most difficult--is the voice authentic and real? Does it sound like a real kid and not an adult?
She gave us a list of the top ten picture book submission topics she received in the last three months. Bedtime, monsters acting un-monster-like, cats and kittens, going green, "I love you" stories, boredom, dealing with disabilities, baby bird learning to fly, and two that always seem to make this list--visiting grandparents and first day of school.
When asked what topics she often sees in novels, she mentioned new kid at school, high fantasy/quest, parents getting a divorce, and an ordinary kid who suddenly has super powers.

Linda Sue Park: Try it, You'll Like it! She said there is a secret formula to writing! But it's different for each person and each book. There are three common factors in this formula--read a lot (it's training for writers), have discipline, and the ability to revise. She gave a brilliant solution for people who believe they don't have time to read. Count up the number of hours you spend on the computer or watching TV for a week. Take half of those hours and use them to read the next week and every week for the rest of your life.
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I've been a conference addict since I attended my first one in early 2005. I always come back with so much information and inspiration--and I can't wait to have my middle grade novels critiqued by Arthur Levine and Linda Sue Park!

I'm looking forward to seeing many of my writing friends this weekend!

When you get a chance, please drop by and welcome my friend amydawndeluna to LJ! She's on Facebook and the Blueboards, and would love to keep in touch with other writers on LJ, too.
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Goodbye Bandit

Last week, my 13 1/2 year old Siberian Husky died. We knew she was getting old for a husky, but thought we still had more time left with her. At least she didn't suffer. As soon as we saw her have a seizure, we brought her to the vet, but there was nothing they could do for her. It's been way too quiet in the house without Bandit--sometimes I still expect her to greet me at the door, hang out in my office while I write, and beg for snacks, walks, or a ride in the car.

Here are some random thoughts about my sweet husky, who I still called a puppy until the day she died, because she had so much spunk.

About fourteen years ago, my brother died and four months later, my dad passed away. I felt such a huge hole in my life. Hubby and I didn't plan to buy a dog, but we saw those beautiful blue eyes, and just had to play with her. She showed her spunk right away, but I also wanted a cuddler, so I was told to pick her up. She was twelve pounds at the time, and she licked my face,lay her head on my shoulder, sighed, and fell asleep. At that moment, we knew she had to be part of our family.

My girls grew up with Bandit. I used to put her in a down/stay command when they were babies, and she'd crawl until she reached them. We watched a lot of baby videos this week, and most of them had at least a paw or snout. Bandit followed my girls everywhere--always full of kisses and cuddles. Bandit curled around Becca when she first learned to sit by herself, and my dog would press her nose into Becca's back to help steady her. I'll never forget the time she licked Becca's foot, then sneezed--it was the first time my daughter laughed!

When my grandma was sick, couldn't remember the names of relatives, and wouldn't get out of bed, I hopped in the car with Bandit and Gram seemed to be back to her usual self the second Bandit ran over to lick her.

I loved listening to Bandit talk. She'd do it throughout the day, but especially in the morning. I wish I knew what she was saying--I could usually tell the difference from her let me out, play with me because I'm bored, and feed me barks. She also learned to say I love you. Well, it was more like Ri ruv rooo! I'm glad she said it to me the day before she died.

Bandit brought so much love into our family. The house feels so empty without her. I don't think I'll ever be able to walk by one of her favorite spots without thinking about my sweet husky. She helped inspire so many of my book ideas. One of the earlier ones is a picture book called PLEASE DON'T EAT MY GUINEA PIG. She never did more than sniff and lick my daughter's pet though! The manuscript she helped inspire the most is a middle grade novel called ADVENTURES OF BRA GIRL. Bandit was terrified of storms, and used to try to hide under my desk or bury her head in my lap at the first crack of thunder. She helped me come up with the idea of my main character drawing a comic about Scaredy Dog, who is always attacked by giant dog-eating obstacles. She based it on her own pup--who ra roo's and plays bone hockey like Bandit did. I already loved that manuscript--but now it will mean even more when it is published!
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My NaNoWriMo novel is finished!

I'm happy dancing because the first draft of my NaNoWriMo novel is officially done! On Friday, I hit the 50,000 word mark, and yesterday I reached the end and flushed out two scenes. The final stats are 54,202 words, and a total of 202 pages. I'm still amazed that I hit the NaNo goal in 14 days, and completed the entire manuscript in 16 days!

I took many notes as I wrote my novel, since I made many discoveries along the way that will alter or add to earlier scenes. Now, I'm typing my notes into several categories, so I don't miss anything on my first round of revisions. Here's what I have so far:
Things to know.
Things to change.
Definitely work in.
Possibly work in.

In the things to know, I have notes about changing the floor from tile to wood, and names of people who only pop up once or twice in the book and aren't on my character sketch file. And in things to change, I noted when characters seem to disappear during a scene, so I can decide if I should involve them more, or eliminate them. I also have to change the name of a minor character, because it's too close to another name and might confuse readers.

How do you get ready to attack your first round of revisions?

I'm sending good writing vibes to all my NaNoWriMo friends. Go, go, go...you can do it!

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I can't believe that I have 2,000 words to go before making my NaNoWriMo goal! I have a feeling that the story will continue on for another thousand or so, but...wow! It feels amazing to almost have the rough draft of my MG, THE WALL, finished.

I'm sending tons of good writing vibes to all my friends. You can do it! My first year, I didn't start until November 7 (I didn't even have the idea until that morning), and then I wrote 60,000 words by November 30.

So go, go, go--most of you are past the 20,000 mark now, and going strong. With 18 days left, I know you can do it! I can't wait to cheer for all your milestones this month--and to hear more about your new novels.
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Mindy&#39;s head shot
Mindy Alyse Weiss
I write humorous middle-grade novels with heart and quirky picture books.

I'm an Administrator on the SCBWI Blueboard, the FL SCBWI Newsletter Editor and Critique Group Coordinator, and a proud member of From The Mixed Up Files...of Middle-Grade Authors

I've been married for twenty years and have two beautiful daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer mix pup who was rescued from the Everglades.

I've been published in Highlights three times and placed in the 80th Writer's Digest Competition.

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