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Joyce Sweeney Critique Giveaway and Plotting Workshop Notes

Joyce at a book signing

I’m thrilled to share information from another one of Joyce Sweeney’s amazing workshops. Dialogue and humor are some of my writing strengths, but I’ve always had to work extra-hard to plot my novels well.  I love brainstorming a story idea and jotting down character traits ahead of time, but have never been a fan of outlining.  I was thrilled to see how well Joyce’s Plot Clock works for me—on existing manuscripts I want to rewrite and before writing new manuscripts.  It’s a tool I plan to use throughout my career!

Speaking of helpful tools…don’t forget to read all the way down to the bottom of this post, to see how you can win a critique from Joyce Sweeney!

Before I describe Joyce’s plot clock, fill in this important sentence about your novel:

My book is about _____ who grapples with _______ and discovers _________.

*Make sure it’s the external main plot, not an internal one!

**If there are flashbacks, the main plot is what is happening in real time.

The Plot Clock has four acts (picture a circle divided into four equal parts).  The length of the acts in your manuscript should be even, or at least close to even, if possible.


Show the ordinary world, and that something is wrong (something needs to happen).  Readers need to feel a lack, a need, just before the inciting event…which is the new thing that comes into the character’s life and changes everything.  The main character resists the change.

If very commercial, the inciting incident has to come up soon!

End of Act 1 is the binding point.  You can push characters into it, have them trapped, or some external event can make them want to do it.

*Note: Start putting the external events you know on the Plot Clock first.  Don't rush--you don't want to cram your own events in.  You might find that they're missing on the clock and you have to brainstorm a new scene

~That’s what happened to me!  I had trouble finding the binding point on the MG I brought with me…and it led to a huge discovery about my character that I was able to weave through the entire novel.  I had a misunderstanding between my MC and her best friend, where the friend got mad that she didn’t tell her important things.  It used to be that my MC was embarrassed, and just didn’t have the chance (or didn’t go out of her way) to tell her…but after looking at the Plot Clock, I now see how important it is for her to not tell her friend on purpose, for fear of losing her after having her last best friend ditched her a year ago.


Characters usually try to use their old techniques to solve this new problem.  But not doing the right thing causes losses or failures that escalate in a sad way.

At the low point between Act 2 and Act 3—characters think they can’t make it through this.  They change!  Try something different.

ACT 3: 

You can’t go straight from the low point to the climax—this act shows progress.  Things start getting better!  To counteract that, you escalate the stakes. As the protagonist gets stronger, the antagonist gets stronger, too. The second half of the book should signal where the climax will be. We pretty much have a clue what will need to be fought—what's right, wrong, etc. But you still need to keep the reader in suspense!

End of Act 3 is the turning point.  Joyce says most people don’t know anything about the turning point.  It raises the stakes and affects the climax in really important ways.  I wish I could go into more detail, but I’m trying not to give away all of Joyce’s secrets.

I feel so lucky to live close enough to attend Joyce’s weekly workshop, plus her other local events.  I’m really excited that she now has a virtual class that starts on Monday, February 11th.  I’m signed up and ready to take my writing to the next level, and I hope to see a lot of my online friends in the class forum!

In order to celebrate the launch of her virtual class, Joyce has offered a ten page novel critique or a picture book critique as a prize!  And guess what…if this awesome giveaway receives more than 50 entries, she’ll add a grand prize, which will be revealed on Wednesday, when I post an interview of her—AND IT WILL BE A MUCH LARGER CRITIQUE THAN THE ONE ALREADY LISTED!

Enter using the Rafflecopter link below.  You’ll receive one entry for:

*Leaving a comment on this post or on Joyce Sweeney's website

*Signing up for Joyce Sweeney's free monthly newsletter

*Plus one entry for each shout out on a blog, Facebook, Twitter, or other social media. (Please list where you’ve shared it in the comments of this post).

                                        CLICK HERE TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY!

Don’t forget to come back on Wednesday to read an interview with Joyce where you’ll find out more about her virtual class, plus see what advice she’d give writers who keep coming close to getting an agent or editor, but haven't received that magical ‘yes’ yet.  You’ll also find out what incredibly generous grand prize could be added to the giveaway.  The winner/s will be announced on Sunday, February 10th.  Good luck!

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Happy 1st Birthday, Ruby!

My sweet little puppy is one today.  Happy birthday, Ruby!

I honestly didn’t think Hubby would let us get another dog, and was thrilled when Ruby came into our lives.  It’s hard to believe that she was abandoned out in the Everglades, fighting for her life.  I’m incredibly thankful that a local rescue group saved her!  Ruby was so scared when we first met her.  I’ll never forget how she shook when I held her for the first time. It wasn’t an instant connection.  I thought she was adorable, but she didn’t really want to interact with us.  Then, another dog was brought into the room, and Ruby’s eyes lit up.  She practically hopped around the room, kissing the dog right on the mouth.  We just sat back, watching them play, and I could tell that with some love and attention, she’d be incredible with people, too.  When I was about to leave, I picked her up and she wasn’t shaking anymore.  She gave me a tiny kiss on my nose, then lay her head against my cheek.  That’s it.  I was totally sold!

C Ruby loves her new boneRuby opening a door

I feel so lucky to have Ruby in my life.  She’s totally in love with her big sister, Lolly.  My three year-old bullmassador acts like a puppy again, and I love seeing them snuggle and play tug of war.  I’m still in awe of how smart Ruby is!  She figured out how to open every door in my house, and practically taught herself to walk next to us off leash, even if a dog is barking at her!  I love the way Ruby makes these adorable grunting sounds, especially when she’s happy. And she lets me know when she needs something—she jumps up to get my attention, then leads me to whatever it is she wants (I always know if she’s hungry, thirsty, wants to go out, or is bored and wants to play). 

I think every writer should have a special pet or two.  It’s so nice having them keep me company!  They often curl up by my chair, and constantly inspire me.  In fact, I believe every novel that I’ve written has at least one animal in it.  Lolly helped me come up with an amazing dog for my MG, Mom Wars.  And the sweet Siberian Husky I was lucky to have for 13 ½ years inspired one of my favorite characters…a husky-sheepdog-mystery mutt who is the biggest scaredy dog on the planet, and sheds enough fur to form a guinea pig. Our birthday pup has the same name as the main character in that book…and I can’t wait to see how my grunting, door-opening dog will work her way into a future manuscript or two.

I’d love to know who keeps you company when you write, and how animals inspire your stories.  

I’m off to celebrate Ruby’s birthday with a special treat my daughter made…vanilla cupcakes with peanut butter frosting for Ruby and Lolly and butter cream frosting for us.  Yum!

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Finding Balance

It's not always easy to balance writing and family.  For a while, life was fairly quiet while my girls were in school, and I had tons of writing time.  I've always loved a challenge, and amazed myself with achievements.  I remember plunging into my first NaNoWriMo last minute in 2006.  It felt incredible to surround myself with others who were all working toward the same goal--50,000 words of a novel.  I started about a week late, and was excited to still make my goal by the end of November.  Each year, I pushed myself harder.  And harder.  One year, I had to go away mid-month, and was determined to make my NaNo goal by then, so I could enjoy the time with my family without being tempted to escape to my hotel room to make more progress. I completed NaNo in 11 days!!!!  And last year, I believe I came up with about 90 new picture book ideas through PiBoIdMo (even though the goal is 30). 

I've been on a bit of a roller coaster this past year.  My older daughter has been doing a wonderful job trying to overcome an eating disorder.  She wasn't ready to go to our local high school though, so she's home with me and our pups, and doing virtual school.  We decided that Lolly and Ruby will be her school mascots -the Massive Mastiff and Regal Beagle.
Lolly and Ruby holding paws
It's great spending all this extra time with my daughter.  But between doctor appointments, bark-fests when my daughter takes a break to play with the pups, and daily interruptions I never used to have, I've been working a lot slower than usual. Taking several weeks or longer to do a round of revisions that I could normally knock out in less than a week was frustrating at first...but I've found that one perk is that I can see my manuscripts in a different light when I have the chance to really dig into them.

I definitely used to spend too much time writing (and doing writing related things). I'm heavily involved in so many things--From the Mixed-Up Files...of Middle-Grade Authors, I'm the FL SCBWI Listserv editor, an administrator on Verla Kay's Blueboards, I'm in five critique groups...plus all the time I spend on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc. But now I feel like I haven't had enough quality writing time, which makes it scary to participate in challenges (if I say I'm going to do something, I feel beyond awful if I'm not successful).  I've thought about it, and I'm still determined to do NaNoWriMo and PiBoIdMo in November.  And I really, really hope I complete both!  But this year, I can't put my entire life on hold to do them.  I need to find some balance.  Yes, I'll probably stock up on extra underwear because the laundry mountain tends to get out of control in November.  And I'm sure I'll sneak into my office quite a bit and probably will say no to some events in order to have extra writing time...but I'm not going to shackle myself to my computer.  Helping my daughter through her rough battle with an eating disorder made me appreciate my family and friends even more than before. I'm not sure how I'll find the right balance...but I'm determined to do it!

I have a huge to-do list I'd love to tackle before November 1st.  I just took a plotting workshop with my amazing mentor, Joyce Sweeney, and had a huge 'aha' moment for my MG, so I'd love to finish running the revision through the entire manuscript and have a chance to read through the full in one sitting by then.  And there's another MG I'd love to go through.  Plus, I love the plot clock that Joyce uses, and for the first time, plan to loosely plot out my NaNo novel (I usually have at least a rough idea about the beginning, end, a few events, and character sketches ahead of time...but now I want to make sure I have all 4 acts, the potential inciting incident and binding point, etc. in mind...even though I know it's possible my characters will take me in another direction once I get to know them better.)  I also want to get as many picture books written for the 12 x 12 challenge by then (and hopefully get the rest into rough draft form by the end of the year).  I only wrote 5 out of the 12 drafts this year, and have so many great ideas  from last years' PiBoIdMo begging to be written.  And I have crits to get back to some amazing writers by the end of this month, too.  I have a feeling I won't make all of these goals by Halloween...but I'll do what I can and make sure I tackle the most important ones first.  

The thought of signing up for a challenge and not being able to complete it terrifies me.  But for years, I've told people that they're winners in these challenges, even if they don't make their goal...because they've produced much more than they probably would have without the challenge.  And I totally meant it...for them.  So why is it hard for me to believe that's true for me as well?  I always try my best in everything I do, but if life gets in the way of me completing my challenges this year, I don't want to feel awful about it.  I'll do my best and try to find a good balance between writing, my family, and writing related activities...and see what happens.

How do you balance writing, family, and everything else in your life?   
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A Chance to Win a 20 Page Critique From Agent Alyssa Eisner Henkin!

I've had such a fun and busy few days with my family that I just realized that the winners of up to a 20 page critique of an MG from agent Alyssa Eisner Henkin and a copy of Wonder by R. J. Palacio will be drawn in a few hours, and I hadn't shouted it out here.  There's also a link toward the bottom that gives you another way to enter a giveaway for a 20 page critique from Alyssa Eisner Henkin...and this one is good for PB, MG, and YA!  Hop on over to the Mixed-Up Files site and check it out.

I had so much fun interviewing Alyssa, and learned a lot from her responses.  She discussed the changing market, great ways for authors to promote themselves and their books, and went into detail about a middle-grade novel by client Adam Glendon Sidwell named Evertaster that kept coming close with publishers.  Even though editors raved about it, the book was ultimately turned away because it was too quirky.  Adam had his book independently published by the new ebook publishing platform launched by Trident Media Group, and Evertaster hit #52 overall in books on amazon.com and #1 in children's mystery books on its first day of publication!  I loved reading about all the ways Adam helped promote his book...including cross-promotion with a pie company and an amazing trailer that's so professional, it looks like it could be a movie preview!  
I can't wait to see who will win the generous critiques from Alyssa Eisner Henkin.  What an amazing opportunity!  And now there are two books I can't wait to read.  Who can resist Evertaster after seeing that incredible trailer?  And I've had Wonder on my to-read list ever since people raved about it on the Favorite Middle-Grade Novel post I wrote on the Mixed-Up Files in March.  Now it's on my must-read list.  Check out the blurb on Indiebound:
I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse.
August Pullman was born with a facial deformity that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. WONDER, now a New York Times bestseller, begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance. 
In a world where bullying among young people is an epidemic, this is a refreshing new narrative full of heart and hope. R.J. Palacio has called her debut novel “a meditation on kindness” —indeed, every reader will come away with a greater appreciation for the simple courage of friendship. Auggie is a hero to root for, a diamond in the rough who proves that you can’t blend in when you were born to stand out.

I love that Wonder inspired the Choose Kind anti-bullying campaign.  Kids can be so cruel to each other, especially in middle school.  It's nice to see a book and campaign that can help kids avoid the awful emotional and physical pain that bullies cause.  

Don't forget to hop over to my interview on the Mixed-Up Files site.  You'll have until 7 pm EST tonight to enter for a chance to win a copy of Wonder and a 20 page MG critique from Alyssa Eisner Henkin.  Good luck!

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I love interviews!

When I first joined From the Mixed-Up Files...of Middle-Grade Authors, I knew I loved chatting about everything middle grade, but I didn't realize how much I'd enjoy posting interviews.  I've met so many wonderful authors and have had fun coming up with questions I think our readers will love, and give them a chance to get to know the authors and their incredible book/s better. 

I was surprised to read something on Facebook the other day that said someone sent interview questions to an author, and clearly hadn't read any of her books. There's so much you can learn from an interview, I can't imagine why an interviewer would miss the chance to try to share some kind of unique information.  There are a few things that I do frequently ask, like favorite books (because I think that anyone who loves the author's books will probably discover some new books to read, or rediscover ones that haven't been read in a while), and I like asking if the author has a writing and/or illustrating exercise to share (I've added a few gems to my revision techniques through the responses to this one). It's also fun to hold giveaways and allow readers the chance to win a signed book or other cool prize.  

What do love about interviews, and what do you wish some people would do differently when coming up with interview questions?

My latest interview is up on the Mixed-Up Files site.  It's with Robin Mellom, author of THE CLASSROOM: The Epic Documentary of a Not-Yet Epic Kid, the first book in her series for middle grade readers and DITCHED: A Love Story, a teen romantic comedy.  Robin 
shares the differences between writing MG and YA, her favorite and least favorite middle school memories, and how a chat with the editor of her debut novel helped turn the first manuscript she wrote into an amazing middle grade series.
One lucky winner will receive a signed copy of THE CLASSROOM!  Check out this amazing trailer:
Hop on over to the Mixed-Up Files site and leave a comment to enter.  You have until 10:00 pm EST tonight. 

I never posted the link from my Mixed-Up Files interview with Jonathan Auxier, author of 
Peter Nimble & His Fantastic Eyes, the tale of a small, blind, orphan who also happens to be the greatest thief who ever lived.  He shares a fantastic writing exercise, what surprised him the most while writing his debut novel, and how he ended up creating an illustration for each chapter. Check out Jonathan's interview here.    

Late next week, I have another interview coming up on the Mixed-Up Files site...and this one is with an agent who will offer one giveaway of an MG that has made several bestseller lists, as well as a critique of up to 20 pages of a middle grade novel (and there will be a link for a second way to enter a critique giveaway that will be open for manuscripts ranging from picture book through young adult novels)! I'll post a link here when my interview is up. 

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

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A winner! Plus one more Random Act of Kindness.

It was so much fun participating in RAOK (Random Acts of Kindness) during the launch of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. I bought the e-book as soon as it was released, and LOVE it.  What a fantastic way to celebrate the birth of an amazing book.  I love how much this helped bring our wonderful writing community even closer, and think it would be great to participate in an annual RAOK. Surprises are always fun, and it's nice to know how much you mean to people (and let them know how special they are to you). 

Thanks for all the sweet comments on my RAOK post...and for entering to win a critique of a picture book or the first ten pages of a chapter book, MG, or YA.  I wish I could give critiques to all of you...but then I'd probably end up a zombie and my manuscripts would complain that I'm neglecting them.  

I wrote all the names on pink pieces of paper and placed them in a bag.  Then, my daughter offered to choose the winner.  Actually, she asked if she could put her name in first, then if she chose herself, I could do her homework assignment instead of giving her a critique (and no...I didn't add her name, but tomorrow morning I'm bringing in bagels and special cookies to thank her for helping me).

Here's Sammi holding up the name of the winner.
It's a little hard to read in the photo, but...

Congratulations, Sue--you won the critique!    

But wait...there's more to the story.  Sammi wanted her friend to pick out a name, too.  And since she pulled it out of the bag and this celebration encourages random acts of kindness, I decided that I'd critique a picture book or five pages of a chapter book, MG, or YA for another winner.  So...                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

                  Congratulations, Jennifer Rumberger--you won a critique, too! 

This was fun, and I can't wait to read the winning manuscripts.  Did any of you participate in Random Acts of Kindness this week, or have someone honor you with one?  I'd love to hear about it!
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Random Act Of Kindness BLITZ--win a critique!

A smile. An encouraging word. A thoughtful gesture. Each day people interact with us, help, and make our day a bit brighter and full. This is especially true in the Writing Community

Take a second to think about writers you know, like the critique partner who works with you to improve your manuscript. The writing friend who listens, supports and keeps you strong when times are tough. The author who generously offers council, advice and inspiration when asked.

      So many people take the time to make us feel special, don't they? They comment on our blogs, re-tweet our posts, chat with us on forums and wish us Happy Birthday on Facebook.        


                                       Kindness ROCKS!          

To commemorate the release of their book The Emotion Thesaurus, Becca and Angela at The Bookshelf Muse are hosting a TITANIC Random Act Of Kindness BLITZ. And because I think KINDNESS is contagious, I'm participating too!

Wow, where do I start?  There are so many writers I want to thank.  I'm incredibly lucky to have my wonderful mentor, Joyce Sweeney. She's helped me grow so much as a writer (everything from plotting and characterization, to writing a dazzling first chapter and strong scenes that always move the action forward).  She's been there for me every step of the way--celebrating great news, and giving me hugs and pep talks after some heart-breaking rejections.  I'm sending her a bookstore certificate as a surprise thank you for everything she has done for me!

Another huge thank you goes out to Marjetta Geerling who recently gave me an awesome critique that I hope will take my MG from being great to can't-turn-it-down awesome.  Marjetta helped point out that I tend to make things too easy for my main character.  Even though I torture her a lot, I often fix problems too quickly and sometimes have things happen to her instead of having her actions cause bad things to happen.  Wow...my eyes are wide open now!  I'm excited that my revision is almost done, and am thrilled that Joyce, Marjetta, and my critique groups have helped my manuscript shine so brightly. I recently sent Marjetta a special thank you gift, but had to thank her again in today's post.

How do I even begin to fit in the rest of the people who have been amazing friends and critique partners?  I want each and every one of you to know how much you mean to me, and how grateful I am for everything.  You've all helped me improve my writing, have been there to support me, cheer with me, and encourage me every step of the way.  One of the best things that came from the second time I went to Rutgers was getting to know two online friends better, and forming an informal critique group with them.  Thanks so much, Kim Sabatini and Jodi Moore for everything.  And I'm really glad you brought Megan Gilpin into our critique family--I owe the three of you so much.  xoxo  

NI (Novel Idea) has helped me so much through the years.  Thanks to Amie Borst, Ann Marie Meyers, Rose Cooper, Jen Swanson, and all the past members, too!

RQ (Revision Queens) has been a huge help with my picture books through the years.  Thanks Laura Crawford, Amy Dawn DeLuna, Cathy Cronin, Leslie McCrary, and all past members (both in RQ and the previous name, TBA). :)  

Thanks to everyone past and present in The Prose Shop, my weekly group led by the amazing Joyce Sweeney, my monthly Boca group, and all the amazing writers I've swapped critiques with through the years (the picture book crits have been a huge help, and I'm really grateful to those of you who took the time to critique an entire novel, like Karen Schwartz, Shel Delisle, Amanda Coppedge, Heather Burke, and Sharon Pavon--and those who helped me have huge breakthroughs like David Case, Stacie Ramey, Kerry Cerra, and Nicole Cabrera).  I wish I could name more of you, but this post already has enough words to create two to three picture books!    

I hope you all know how much you mean to me.  I'm sending a huge thank you for always pushing me to write the best possible novels and picture books.  You all rock, and I feel so lucky to have you in my life.  (((Hugs)))  I'm also incredibly grateful to all my writing friends who have been there to cheer me on, offer advice, and share all kinds of sweet comments through here, Facebook, and Twitter.    

I wish I could give every single one of you a gift today...but even though that isn't possible, I'm going to close my eyes and wish that you all receive fantastic writing news, and that we'll have tons of reasons to celebrate soon!  And in honor of everything you've done for me, I'll pay it forward by offering one critique of a picture book or the first ten pages of a chapter book, MG, or YA.  Just leave a comment below and I'll randomly draw a winner on Thursday and announce who it is on Friday.  I'll give you an extra entry for each time you share this link (don't forget to let me know so I can add all your entries).   I can't wait to read the winning pages.  Good luck!   

One of the reasons I jumped at the chance to participate is that The Bookshelf Muse has been a fantastic resource for me and other writers (I've given the link to so many writing friends through the years). Becca and Angela have put so much into their fantastic site...and now their e-book.  After everything they've done, I'm thrilled to help celebrate the launch of their e-book and give a huge shout out to people who have made a world of difference to me because they're such amazing friends and critiquers.

Becca and Angela have a special RAOK gift waiting for you as well, so hop on over to The Bookshelf Muse to pick it up.

Do you know someone special that you'd like to randomly acknowledge?  Don't be shy--come join us and celebrate! Send them an email, give them a shout out, or show your appreciation in another way.  Kindness makes the world go round. :)  

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PB challenge, Mixed-Up Files openings, and a new puppy!

I can't believe how busy things have been, but I've been making incredible progress on my MG and PB.  I love finding ways to dig deeper into my manuscripts, and I also love the extra push that challenges give me.

I've been a member of From The Mixed-Up Files...of Middle-Grade Authors since our group started, and am thrilled with the impact our blog has had.  It's wonderful helping to introduce new and beloved older novels to middle-grade lovers.  My must-read stack is always overflowing with incredible books!  If you write MG and love middle-grade books as much as I do, I hope you'll apply for one of the available spots.  Here's the link.  Hurry, because the deadline is tomorrow!

I'm thrilled that the 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge has inspired me to try to write one new manuscript a month in 2012.  For the past several years, I've always participated in Paula Yoo's NaPiBoWriWee (National Picture Book Writing Week) which inspires participants to write 7 new picture book drafts in 7 days, from May 1st - 7th.  I love that challenge, and am going to do my best to tackle that along with the 12 x 12...while revising a middle grade novel.  Not easy...but definitely worth the extra effort.  I love having brand new manuscripts to mold into shape.  So...who is going to take the NaPiBoWriWee challenge with me?  There's a wonderful and supportive Facebook group for it.  Let me know if you want me to add you, and we'll cheer each other on.   

I've had less writing time than usual though, because we recently adopted a puppy.  Ruby is a beagle and pointer mix who was one of over 100 dogs rescued from the Everglades.  We weren't looking for another dog, but couldn't resist this adorable face!  I'll fill you in on how we ended up finding her another time.  I need to finish up more of my MG revision and get ready for NaPiBoWriWee!

Here's a photo of Ruby (who was 11 pounds when we adopted her) and our 2 1/2 year old, 90 pound Bullmassador, Lolly. It's amazing how much these two love each other already.  We're so glad they both found their way into our family and hearts.
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Christian Trimmer – Editor at Disney Hyperion

I really enjoyed hearing Christian Trimmer speak at a recent SCBWI event at The Loft at Congress.  Huge thanks to Christian, Linda Bernfeld, Laurie Taddonio, and Flora Doone for putting together such a wonderful event.  And free, too!  FL SCBWI rocks, and I’m so lucky to be a part of it.
Christian Trimmer

Christian has been in the business for seven years, and absolutely raves about his authors, such as Mo Willems, Stacey Kade, and Robin Mellom. Right now, he said that Disney Hyperion isn’t actively looking for paranormal or much science fiction.  He loves books with rich details that find the truth in relationships, like Ditched by Robin Mellom and Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford.

What do editors want?  Christian said a great voice, authenticity, and honest emotions.  Research helps make the world more believable. Pay attention to the details!  This helps make sure that readers can see the scenes, too and adds a layer of credibility. 

In almost all his editorial letters, he mentions character motivation.  If you can’t see what drives a character, then neither will readers.  When you create a character, you want readers to see themselves in that person.  You need to have an emotional arc (which helps readers genuinely care about a character) and a narrative arc.

     Here are some tips Christian shared with us:     

* Build a network—it’s great for support (he could tell our local SCBWI is an extremely supportive group).  Seek help with info if you need it.

* Make yourself stand out.  Marketing and publicity love when a writer has an active blog and large online following.

* Seek out agents who rep books from authors you admire.

* If you receive several offers, make sure you chat with an editor on the phone before accepting to make sure he or she is the right one for you. 

* You need to be prepared to sell books.  You have to talk about your books, and try to get your face out in the community to teachers, librarians, and book sellers.

* Envision your entire career—not just selling one book.  

* Set real deadlines and be disciplined enough to make them.  Write daily!

* Everyone’s path is different.

* Aim to have a second book published about a year after the first one is out.  Write at least one book per year to keep the momentum going.

* It’s good to have a couple manuscripts under your belt when you sign with an agent.  You never know which manuscript will hit first. 

Someone asked about boy books.  Christian said boys don’t read as much as girls do.  Humor definitely works, and when you have a boy main character, it can’t hurt to throw in a girl to widen your audience.

Besides a great voice and everything else I mentioned, what else is Christian looking for?  He said he’d love to find a religious allegory (bible tales made relevant for today), and something about recent wars in Afghanistan or Irac and how they affected teens.

Christian was full of helpful information, and went out of his way to chat with everyone and answer questions.  I hope we’ll have him at another event soon!   

When you have a chance, check out my recent From the Mixed-Up Files...of Middle-Grade Authors blog post. There are so many middle-grade novels, it’s hard to know what to read next.  If I love a book, I usually rush to pick up future novels from that author.  But how do you find great new authors in the first place?

I often seek out books that friends rave about, plus anything that catches my eye on the Mixed-Up Files book lists (you can browse categories like reluctant readers, books for boys, fantasy/paranormal, etc. and if you scroll toward the bottom you’ll see all our past new release posts).

Since we love helping our readers discover great new books, I listed some of my favorite middle-grade novels that came out in the past couple of years by new authors (or authors who are new to this genre).  I’d love to know what some of your favorite books are, too! 

Mindy's head shot

Voice Workshop with Agent Jill Corcoran

How to Improve Your Writing Voice and Characters’ Voices

Agent Jill Corcoran at the 2012 FL SCBWI Conference in Miami

Jill Corcoran talked about the difference between the author voice, which is in everything you write, and the manuscript voice, which changes according to things like tone, the target audience, and point of view.

She had us write a short scene with two characters from one point of view, then write it from the other.  It’s amazing how you can feel the difference.  Even better…this exercise can help with writer’s block! 

Character Voice

·       Make your characters distinct so you don’t always need to put in tags.   There’s a great way to test this—take the tags out of dialogue and see if you (or others) can tell who is talking.

·       Give each character something unique.  Weaving these little details in helps give dimension.

·       Readers fill in the gaps—you need to leave some white space.

Here are some other great suggestions from Jill:

·                       When you sit down and write, you don’t always have to write your book.  Just write anything.  It helps you find your voice, gives you space, and stops you from feeling pressured.  A bad day can affect your writing.  She said to strive for more than BIC…you want Butt In Quality Chair.

·       Read outside your genre.  This helps you see styles of writing that might be great for you.

·       Make dialogue count…especially when it’s up front.

·       Try to write three pages every morning before doing anything else.

·       Play around to find the right voice for your manuscript. You can try a different point of view, tone, day, attitude, etc. 

·       Think about where your book will sit in a bookstore, and keep that in mind when you revise.

Other notes:

Most picture books are not in 1st person because it makes them more universal.

Jill loves multiple point of view.

I loved listening to Jill critique first pages during her workshop and on the First Pages Panel.  She always has tons of fantastic advice to share.  Check out her amazing blog.