February's Inspirational Quote

"One Hour at a Time"
~ Laurie Wallmark.

Dear Laurie,
You might not recall saying this and perhaps I won't remember the specifics but you are our inspiration for the rest of February and maybe even March.

You and I were on the phone and talking about how hard it is to write a novel and as usual I was whining and feeling sorry for my long-a$$ journey. And you told me about how you were working and how busy you were so you wrote your novel one hour at a time. Astounded I said, "You wrote your novel one hour at a time?" And you said, "Yup." And I thought, "Wow... ... ..."

Often times we think we need - or I think I need - huge chunks of time set aside so I can write. Do you do that too? What if we gave ourselves one hour of each day? If it turns into two, well then fine, but if not, at least you still had your One Hour at a Time. So that is the motto of the month, thanks to ours truly, Laurie Wallmark.

We love you, Laurie!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

So, as you may or may not know, Cathy Daniels and I have decided to become writing buddies for one another this summer. Our common goal - to finish our MG fantasy novels.

Each week we phone conference and talk about any triumphs or tribulations, brainstorm where needed, and help set weekly goals for the up-and-coming week.

After each conference I am going to post my weekly goals. I find that when I post something I become accountable for it. So, here are my weekly goals for this week...
  1. re-read my middle grade novel to become better acquainted with it. It's been a while since I've read it from page 1 to page 85. It's also been about a month since I've worked on it seriously and I feel reading it will help freshen things up.
  2. While reading, take notes for improvements for the next draft. But no messing around with it this time. I keep changing and making big edits and I believe this is why I haven't finished.
  3. Make a daily schedule with my kids so I can include time to write my novel, time to view houses and write my copies (the freelance work I do), and time for us to have fun together or with their friends.
So far I have already tackled number three. It felt good to have the girls be a part of this planning and they felt good to have input into our summer. A win-win situation.

I always struggle in the summer because there is so much I want/have to do. I want to write. I have to work. I want to be with my girls and have fun together. When I write, I feel guilty I am not with them. When I am working I feel guilty I am not with them. When I am with them, I feel pressure I am not writing or working. So coming up with a schedule showed all of us there is plenty time in the day to do all three.

I am going to be waking up early and getting my creative writing done while they are still sleeping. They have a more relaxed bed time in the summer which means they are sleeping later in the morning. Plus, it is vital for us writers to know what time of day we are most effective. I write best in the morning. I must write as soon as I wake up and keep at it till lunch - during the school year, that is. In the summer I won't write until lunch, but this way, at least I still write in the mornings for two and a half hours and the house will be still and quiet - another necessity.

The bonus is, I won't be riddled with guilt that I am not with the girls because they will be sleeping anyway.Then we decided on a two hour chunk of time they would want me to do my copy writing and what activities they can do while I work.

Once all this was figured out, we found we were left with the whole afternoon and evening to be together so we can do all the fun things we love to do together in the summer... go on bike rides, go on adventures, have friends over, throw a pool party...

Life lesson #679: it's never fun to go through the pain and struggles of life, but you always come out the other side with the most growth and learning. After all this is what we do to our MCs too, right?!

a flower from my garden...

Friday, June 27, 2008

October 2008 Mentoring Workshops

We have two mentoring workshops scheduled for this October. Both of these workshops include a professional critique and one-on-one time with an editor/agent.

The annual two day workshop in Tom's River is on October 4/5 with Tamra Tuller from Philomel and Nadia Cornier from Firebrand. Sign up early, as attendance is limited to 14 people.

Our first one day workshop of the season is on Sunday, October 26. So far, we've lined up Erin Molta, a senior editor from Scholastic. There will be three other editors/agents. Again, sign up early, as attendance is limited to 28 people.


Monday, June 16, 2008


So what is this lovable creature??? Yes the long awaited reveal is finally here... I promised you this would be a quick exercise on perspective and indeed it is. You all had some thoughtful ideas, butterflies, stick bugs, etc.

This is not a chrysalis or a cocoon, believe it or not. And the creature inside is not so lovable either. At least not to a tree. It can decimate a tree in a single season.

So what is it??? The suspense is killing you isn't it... It is a....

So what's a bagworm? Well, they are quite destructive, cunning, little creatures really. Their homes look like the tree they are living on, or feeding from really. The femails are wingless insects who rarely leave the shelter of their strange homes.

They are rarely ever seen out of their homes and rarely have ever been seen in full form. The females never leave their homes and carry them with them as they feed on the tree. I guess their foot, or whatever, is attached inside the bag and only the front half emerges to feed.

The best time to find these little buggers is when winter is turning into spring. Then as you see them, promptly remove the whole thing and place in plastic bag and discard.
My daughters and I discovered this one on one of our beloved crab cherry trees and waited patiently for it to reveal itself. We had others on pine trees that were made out of pine needles instead of bark.

When a tree expert came out to help me with a sickly tree he saw the bagworm and said, do you know what this is? I was so excited to finally find out, sure it would be some beautiful butterfly or Luna moth or some exquisite creature like that. When I found out it was a very destructive insect, I was thoroughly grossed out and my perspective was never quite the same again.

And so there in lies the lesson on perspective. At first we might look at something with understanding, sympathy, respect, reverence. And then we can shift our perspective and look at the very same thing with sickness, disgust, maybe even hatred.

Do you use this tool in your writing? Have you ever thought about your story from each character's perspective and how that might really change the scene, or your story in general? Are you stuck creating a distinct voice for each character? Try this exercise.

Pick a scene you are struggling with and re-write it from each character's perspective. If you truly are creating individual characters, each perspective should vary. Give it a try and see.

Regina Griffin at the NJ SCBWI June Conference

OK onto the next topic from the NJ SCBWI June Conference...

Anyone out there attend Regina Griffin's session?

Regina Griffin has been an editor for about 25 years. She is now starting up the US portion of Egmont, a well known UK publishing house.

Regina Griffin, laughing along side agent, Linda Pratt

She is actively seeking MG and YA novels. And check this out... she WANTS debut writers! Exciting news for many of us! However, according to their web page, they are not taking unsolicited MSs. So all of you out there who attended the NJ SCBWI June conference, consider this an open door that would otherwise be closed and send, send, send. Make sure to write in the subject line you attended the NJ SCBWI June conference.

Books she recommends: Harriet, the Spy... The Penderwicks...

What attracts her: a distinctive voice.

What interests her: quirky, inventive, interesting characters

Query No-no's: I read it to my kids and they loved it! (I agree, blech!)

One of her favorite first lines: "Where you going with that ax dad?" (Fern from Charlotte's Web)

She said imagine if it had been instead... " Fern had long brown hair and an inquisitive nature..."

Ratios to keep in mind: although the remainder of your novel might be requested, 80% of those are then rejected. :(

The one thing she said that haunts me is this... "When I first started in this career, we used to get, say, 30 manuscripts and 27 of them were really bad, so 3 got published. Now, say, I get 30 manuscripts and 27 of them are excellent, but still, only 3 can get published."

It makes you realize how far children's writers have come in 25 years. We have honed our craft, recognized that this is a separate and different talent than writing adult novels, and as a result, have made it incredibly difficult to become published! But as I was once told, if you never give up, you will prevail...

So what about you? What were your take-aways from Regina Griffin? Please share...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Still Reeling from the NJ SCBWI Conference???

NJ SCBWI RA, Kathy Temean with Jerry Spinelli and his Stargirl, Eileen Spinelli

It was so wonderful to see so many of you representing HCCWIG at the June conference this year (we've added the I to our name for all our Illustrators out there, btw) .

I thought it would be really fun to open up a session at a time to discuss here in the comments section. After I feel we've had a scintillating enough discussion, we will move on to another session, etc.

So please, DO NOT FEEL SHY. We want to hear about your experience conference-goers.

So let's start with Friday - Jerry and Eileen Spinelli. What an adorable writing duo and so down to earth and not full of themselves one bit. They could have said, "We're gardeners," with the same amount of non-egotism then we are multiple award winning authors...
For me my top three take-aways were...
  • when Jerry said he doesn't do rewrites. He begins each day by reading yesterday's pages and then writes forward and repeats until the end. And only then will he read the whole thing. I loved this because it validated for me my process - well at least the reading of yesterday's pages and then writing forward. I have read and re-written my story countless times and I still haven't reached the end. But hey, maybe I'm a Spinelli in the making...

  • when Jerry said, it is a different market now. Writers today are smarter about their craft so it is harder to break in. (I don't know if that made me feel relieved or like throwing up!)

  • and when Eileen read her book aloud to us. I was moved to tears!
  • Oh and (I know I said three, but...) the fact that I probably have one of the coolest end-of-school-year gifts to give to my daughters' teachers - autographed Jerry Spinelli books. How cool a gift is that for a teacher?!

So what about you? What was your take-away from that session?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Gallery Exhibit, ‘In & Out’

Gallery Exhibit, ‘In & Out’
Selections from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation Visual Artist/Educator Fellows.

I was invited to exhibit my illustrative work recently in a show at St. Elizabeth College in Morristown. The show is up until June 28th. The opening reception was on May 16th and I have included some photos of my piece and my daughter running around having a great time. Over 70 artists in the Foundation submitted and 36 were selected. I was chosen to exhibit a picture book illustration I had done for a story that has since expanded into a middle grade novel. I’m still working on the novel and the illustration is now a portfolio piece.

Thanks to the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation I was able to kick start a new career as an author/illustrator of children’s books. I received their summer grant last June of 2007. Among other things, I spent it on summer day care for my daughter while I used that precious time to work on a picture book idea that had long been shelved. Since I currently teach commercial art full time I thought I would have to wait until my daughter grew up before I could find time for my own work. The grant changed my life. I had an amazing summer doing what I had always wanted to do and I wanted more.

As kismet would have it, I found out about the HCCBWG, became one of the facilitators based on my previous incarnation as a published fantasy illustrator and began my dual journey as illustrator and author in the children’s market. I reactivated my SCBWI membership and have been flying towards my goals ever since, at a pace I never would have dreamed possible!
Thanks to the grant money I now have a website, a new camera, lighting equipment for photo-shoots and a hoard of art supplies. My ‘day’ job ties in really well with my publishing aspirations too. This year, again thanks to Geraldine Dodge, I won a school grant and used it to teach my seniors how to create their own children’s picture books, from concept to dummy book to the final stage of a printed bound book.

Things are happening! Currently the Geraldine R. Dodge foundation is using another illustration of mine for the cover of their Annual Report which goes out to about 700 national foundations and will also be displayed on their website. I have been interviewed for the next upcoming issue of SPROUTS (the New Jersey chapter SCBWI magazine) and my SCBWI logo was selected as the winner of the illustrator contest for NJSCBWI, which will be featured at this year’s conference on June 6 & 7. This past April, I attended the SCBWI NY portfolio conference and received interest in my work from Highlights Magazine and a number of artist’s agents. I am excited about NJSCBWI’s June conference this weekend and look forward to editor feedback on my novel, a first page on a picture book and another portfolio review. I’m also looking forward to seeing many of the HCCBWG members there! Good luck to everyone!
Cathy Daniels

Monday, June 2, 2008

June's Writing Exercise... The Mystery Critter

I can hear the moans from here. June's a busy month, I know, I know! I am up to my eyeballs in it too, believe me. But this little exercise will literally take you minutes. Not even.

So, if you have not tried one of these babies yet, now's your chance to get off easy.

This is a two-parter. Take a look at the pretty picture below and tell us what you think is inside.

That's it. Plain and simple.

NOW NO CHEATING OR SNOOPING AROUND ON THE INTERNET FOR THE ANSWER, YOU SAVVY WRITERS! Just look at the cocoon and make a prediction. What is your perspecitve on it? Who lives inside? Who will emerge? It doesn't have to be a story. Just a sentence or two. Even just a few words will suffice. That's it. Really.So what's part two? Part two is on me --- The reveal. (que music - dun, dun, dun, daaaaa). I will give you all until June 16th to write a sentence or a few words just sharing your perspective on this mystery critter. Then on June 17th, I will post what it is...

Easy, schmeezy...

Happy Writing