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November 30th, 2005

Inspiration struck!

Okay, so I didn't meet all my goals from yesterday. But I'm definitely moving forward, and that's what counts. I was supposed to get my submissions ready to submit for professional critiques. They're not due until December 15, but I want to make life easier on the manuscript coordinator. I was going to submit in separate batches, but think I will make my new goal to get it out in the mail in a single batch on Friday or Saturday. This way I'll Priority mail it (I'll have to since two copies each for 6 submissions will definitely be over the 13 oz. limit).

I didn't revise DIARY OF A KINDERGARTNER yet.  I jotted down ideas, and plan to get to them later, but my WIP was calling me, so now I'm up to almost 28,000 words.  Getting there! 

So as if I didn't have enough on my plate already, I was driving home after dropping my daughter at preschool and was thinking about the 6 critiques I received at the June conference. Well, I figured out how to fix the only manuscript I hadn't revised since the critique, which is so exciting!

1.  Sound Detective (PB).  I was critiqued by the energetic Yolanda LeRoy.  I'll never forget how she began the critique by asking questions about how I started writing, etc.  It made me feel extremely comfortable.  I hope to remember that one day when I'm sitting on the other end of a professional critique.  She made some great suggestions - which inspired me to change the story from verse to prose and develop the MC more.  I eagerly submitted it to her and the 4 month exclusive ended November 11th.  I'm holding off as long as possible before sending a status query.  Never sent one of those before, and I'm not sure exactly what to say.  I'm going to try to hold off until December 11th.  I'll let you know if I hear anything, or cave in and query earlier.

2.  Please Don't Eat My Guinea Pig (PB) This was critiqued by Loreen Leedy, and again I was inspired to switch from verse to prose (do you see a pattern here?)  This one hasn't been submitted yet.  I just ran it through one of my online critique groups and am considering one more critique before I send it out into the world.  She did suggest making the events ever-escalating and exaggerated so the illustrations would be funnier.  I'm proud to say that  one of the comments I received from my group was that it is very cute with room for funny illustrations!!! 

3.  A Plant Named Pookie (PB) which was critiqued by Frank Remkiewicz.  He actually had a teacher read it to get her impression as well.  I can't remember if he said she read it to herself or the class though.  Things tend to blur when you're having a paid critique - not to mention 6 in one day!  He wanted to hear more description of the MC and her mother.  That surprised me a little - I would have thought an illustrator would love having as much creative room as possible.  He said it didn't have to be anything major, just a few details.  Which greatly improved my manuscript.  This is the first manuscript I ever had critiqued and I spoke about it in the article I had published in the FL SCBWI newsletter entitled A Cave Writer Emerges, Diary of a Conference Newbie.  To make a long story short (too late, I know) it was originally A Plant Named Fred, and has come a long way since it's first critique!  I submitted it to 3 editors and am eagerly awaiting a response (phone call please - no tiny pieces of paper stuffed into my SASE, okay?)

4.  In My Heart (MG novel) critiqued by Emily Thomas.  This one made my head spin the most.  This novel originally started as a PB because that was all I wrote at the time, then realized it wasn't working because it needed to be a novel.  This is extremely close to my heart - and one of the most emotional manuscripts I've ever written.  I thought she would love my novel and say she just had to publish it.  Emily Thomas did mention that she loved parts of it (of course I completely forgot about that until I reread her typed critique later).  To rephrase, she thought I pretty much hit the reader over the head with how the MC felt about her brother who died.  I was shocked!  Then I came back to reality and realized she was 100% right.  I axed pretty much anything that resembled "I love my big brother, I have the best big brother in the world."  I sent the revised manuscript to Rutgers One-on-One and made it in!!!!  That felt wonderful.  And was an amazing experience.  I spoke to my mentor, Coleen Paratore, about my novel, and realized the beginning wasn't going to hook a reader, editor or agent the way it was.  By the time I got off the plane, I had an entire new beginning.  And I love it!  I've also run the novel through my critique group.  This one hasn't been submitted to editors yet (although it has been tough convincing myself to hold back).  The new version has only been submitted to one agent, who has the first three chapters.

5.  What Makes A Stranger Strange (was a PB - but I was struck with the inspiration this morning to turn it into a chapter book!  I'm so excited!)  This was critiqued by Elaine Landau who said that I had a good POV that draws in the reader, an important topic and was written well for the targeted young age group - and flowed well.  Am I blushing?  Okay, I love hearing all those wonderful things - but I also needed to hear the hard, honest reality that what I wrote was a nonfiction topic in a fictionalized framework, which would be an extremely difficult sell in today's market.  I had to choose between fiction and non-fiction, and she believed my heart was in fiction - and she was right.  We discussed a few amazing ideas, but since this one needed the most revision and I had so many projects and I wasn't 100% sure I knew where to go with this, it ended up in a drawer.  Then out of nowhere, I realized that it needs to be a chapter book - and take a much darker turn than my original PB had taken.  I already typed a few pages and can't wait to work on it more!

6.  Camp Creepy Wood (chapter book which jumped from about 4,000 words to 16,000 words from this critique through my wonderful critique group to the present).   This was critiqued by Dorian Cirrone.  By the way, it is not a scary story, but the girls at the camp were such creeps, the MC renamed the camp - and I renamed the story to I Want To Go Home.   That was one of the first things I learned from Dorian.  I did get some compliments, like my dialog is good and scenes are well written.  But learned that I needed to use more current names (Cheryl was changed to Lexi and Joan to Nicole).  I also changed incoming camp mail to e-mails.  This is submitted to one agent (who has had it for almost 2 months) and four editors (two of which have had it for over two months).  The waiting game is tough sometimes - but I will focus on my current projects - at least until the mail comes, I receive new e-mails or the phone rings.

I should also mention that my first professional critique was for Diary of a Kindergartner at the Poconos Retreat by Carolyn Yoder.  Even though she works with historical fiction/non-fiction, Carolyn truly put her heart into helping me improve my manuscript.  She told me to tighten and that I don't need to explain every action.  She also thought my MC sounded older.  I have two girls who do sound older than the typical children their age, but I'm still determined to find a way to make the dialogue truly sound like a Kindergartner.  Plus I'm revising the beginning (again).  I really believe I found the solution.  Guess I'll find out for sure after the Jan. critique! 

Guess you can see why I find professional critiques so valuable!  I can't wait until this year's critiques!  Yes, I'd love to hear they are 100% polished and can't be improved - but if there is any way to make them stronger - I want to hear about it. 

I hope some of this advice helps you with your writing also. 

Okay, back to work.  I have a lot to do! 

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mindyalyse
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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