Category Archives: children’s writing

Every Word Counts

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I’ve been revising the same 25 words for 3 weeks. As a picture book writer, I’m forced to care, forced to be precise.  Every word counts.  With only 500 words to tell an entire story, every word must develop the character, define the plot, and move the story forward.  If it doesn’t, it’s out.

While it may be easy to tell a child a story that they like to hear, it is quite another to write a manuscript that an editor wants to publish. Picture book publishing is trending toward spare language. Most are now fewer than 700 words and the greatest percentage of those are under 500. A walk through a bookstore will reveal this reality.  Wordy picture books are out.  That is a little disheartening for those of us who have a passion for words.

At the same time, using fewer words creates a fantastic challenge.  It’s a game.  In the same vein as Name That Tune, I can write that story in 300 words or 200 or 100.  Can you?

Many of us write a free flowing style of draft and then chop words off to get to the desired (or tolerated) length.  Try this:  Write your story from the least amount of words and add a few as you need them. For example – Harry. Beach. Scared. Sharks. Jellyfish. Crabs. Teddy bear drowning. Harry saves him. Harry loves water.

OK.  It’s not a good story, but an illustration of how few words you need to convey a story.  I bet your mind even filled in the description of the scene and the characters. If each of you used this template for a story, we would end up with dozens of different stories.  And if each of those stories were given to different illustrators, the variations would become even greater.

Go ahead.  Take the challenge. Then let me know how you do.

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Author Interview with Carol Larese Millward

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Carol Larese Millward is the author of the YA novel Star in the Middle published by WestSide Books.Carol talks about her book and the impact it has had on her readers.

Just after the birth of her son, Star tries to cope with her new reality as a teenage single parent.  Told in alternating points of view between Star and the father, Wil, each try and reconcile choices made and build a road for the future.

Carol Larese Millward

What lead you to write this story?

I worked with teen parents through two of Maryland Family Support Centers. I loved working with young families, but I was also struck by the impact an unplanned pregnancy can have on young lives. I wrote Star in the Middle to raise awareness about the difficulties teen parents face and the importance of teen pregnancy prevention programs.

Did alternating points of view make it more or less difficult to write?

Actually, it made it easier to write. Dual voices helped me focus on both parents and how each was dealing with the birth of their baby, how it changed their feelings for each other, and about themselves—and, of course, how they related to the baby in such different ways.

How has the novel been received?

I am so pleased when I visit teen book clubs and classrooms and hear the dialogue the book inspires! It was important to me to start a conversation about the issues my fictional characters face with young adults. I have heard good things from teen readers, educators and people working with teens, and adult readers. For reviews and comments from readers, please visit my website at http://www.carollaresemillward.com

What are the most important things you learned about marketing your book?

It’s important to get the word out early, long before the book is published. It’s an on-going process and it all takes time and energy. I love getting out there and talking about my book. It’s very important to me on so many levels!

Is there anything you wished you had known before you started writing this novel?

What an interesting question. I think Star in the Middle was the novel I was supposed to write. It felt right from the very beginning. I cared so deeply about the young families I worked with, and I continue to be committed to talking to teens about taking care of themselves and their dreams. That said, I wish I had known earlier that my character sketch of Star had the potential to be a novel!

Do you have an agent?  How did you find your publisher?

I don’t have an agent. I attended a SCBWI conference and had a manuscript critiqued by author, Beckie Weinheimer (Converting Kate). When information about WestSide Books crossed her computer screen, she encouraged me to send my manuscript. Star in the Middle was actually the second manuscript I submitted to WestSide Books. I am still revising the first!

What are you working on now?

I have several projects going. I’m still revising The Winged Moon, my first YA novel manuscript, and I’m writing another YA manuscript entitled Changing Colors. I have a Halloween picture book manuscript, Mrs. Shimmhog’s Broom, that I’m revising and hope to get in the mail in the next week or two.

Carol, thanks for taking the time to give us a peek behind the scenes.

This novel is a great way to create avenues for discussion about healthy lifestyle choices with the teens in your life. You can find out more about Carol and her debut novel, Star in the Middle at www.carollaresemillward.com.  Contact Carol about author visits and book club discussions. The book can be purchased on Amazon.com which, of course, you should do right now.

Are you a children’s or YA author?  Let’s tell the world about your hard work!  Leave a comment or send me an e-mail.

SCBWI Writers’ Conference Wisdom

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I recently attended the SCBWI regional writers’ conference near Fredricksburg, Maryland.  There was a packed house of eager writers scribbling notes, hoping to absorb great wisdom from a few goddesses of the publishing world.  In case you didn’t make it, I scribbled a few notes myself.

SCBWI

Marilyn Brigham, editor from Marshall Cavendish, started the event.  Hardly a warm up act, her talk kept my pencil moving from the first utterance. I’ll highlight her tips, at least the ones I can read.

  • Use powerful words and sentence structure.
  • Repetition is bad. (You could feel the picture book authors gasping.  She later explained that she wasn’t talking about purposeful repetition.) Watch for words that keep creeping up in your language. (ie, though, just, so, really, etc.)
  • Along the same lines, watch for echoes like unfair and unfairness or phrases like “of course”, “I was like,” and “I couldn’t help but wonder.”
  • When fleshing out ideas for ideas for a story, mix it up and keep it fresh. Lots of stories or themes have been told over and over, but in a unique way.
  • Don’t overstate the message in the story.
  • Don’t use adult language in a children’s story.  Seems obvious, but she’s seen everything.
  • Don’t use out of date language.
  • Cliches – editors hate them – repeat – editors hate them.
  • Cut out the clutter – adverbs are mostly unnecessary.  Watch for too many adjectives, too.
  • Cut out unnecessary prepositions. “face up to the problem.”
  • Cut out words that are implied. “tall skyscraper.”
  • Use parallel sentence structure. “I came. I saw. I conquered.”
  • Use active voice. “The letter was mailed by Dad.” vs. “Dad mailed the letter.”
  • Look to the writers you admire.  Read. Read. Read.
  • Writing is HARD WORK!

Thanks, Marilyn, for all of those great tips.

As tough as it is to give up the money and the time to go to a conference, it is part of how you become a writer – a better writer, that is.  One who can write a book, package it, sell it, and get it into the hands of readers, many of whom are writers. Thanks to Edie Hemingway and the rest of the SCBWI MD/DE/WV organizing team for putting on a such great conference.

I Guess I Always Knew

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Yesterday, I read a great post on Freshly Pressed by Susan on her blog Three Cats on a Sofa.  It is called Letter to My Past Self.  I contemplated her idea.  What would I write to give the younger me more insight and more direction?

While I like the idea, it struck me that the younger me didn’t want to hear it.  As a young adult, a time for me of selfish indulgence, I needed to break free and make it in the world…or not.  I needed to fall flat, make mistakes, and get dirty.  I needed to be inefficient and poor, impulsive and stupid.  There wasn’t anything a “real” adult could have said to make me a better decision maker.  I just needed time to grow up.

Ironically, I grew up when I listened to me, the child. The youngest me remembers skipping to Kindergarten on a beautiful sunny spring day wearing the dress covered with lavender flowers and pale green leaves that my mom made for me.  I remember the unmasked and unfiltered joy that I felt just being in that moment.

When I was about 10 years old, my dad asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I said, “I don’t know.  I just want to make people happy.”

He said, “Awww, that’s no kind of job.”

Little did either he or I know at the time, but I grew up to be a professional juggler and children’s entertainer. My career is to make people happy.

And now, I write.  I write for the joy of expressing what I see and hear and feel.  And I write children’s stories to share that joy.  I not only get to tell a story that I hope will be fabled or funny, inspiring or adventurous, but to facilitate a relationship between a child and a someone who loves them enough to share that moment.  How cool is that?

So what will you do?  Write a letter to your younger self or let your younger self write to you?

10 Great Blogs for Children’s Writers

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Here is a list of a few of my go-to blogs when I’m looking for fresh and interesting information, news, and tips for writing and blogging. If your looking for even more, check out the blogger’s blog roll and see who they like to follow.  Leave a comment and make some friends.  Who knows the path it may take?

In no particular order….

Writers First Aid Blog – From the Institute of Children’s Literature

Write4Kids! – Home of Children’s Book Insider

Jennifer Represents – Jennifer Laughran, Literary Agent.  Code name literaticat

SCBWI MD/DE/WV Regional Blog -Edie Hemingway and Laura Bowers, tag team bloggers

Writers and Illustrators – Kathy Temean’s Blog with NJ SCBWI info and more

Nathan Bransford – Literary agent turned author

Anita Nolan’s Blog – packed with good stuff

Guide to Literary Agents – Chuck Sambuchino, editor of the book by the same name

The Urban Muse – Susan Johnston, named Top 10 blogs for writers

Think Traffic – Increase traffic to your blog

Do you have some favorites?  Let me know.  I would love to check them out.

SCBWI Writers Conference

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There’s lots of action at the SCBWI Writers Conference going on now in New York City.  If you didn’t get there this year, you can still glean all of the great information from the speakers with up to the minute blogs and tweets.

The SCBWI Conference Blog – There are a team of bloggers to report on the workshops and speakers throughout the conference.

To follow the conference on Twitter, use #ny11scbwi.

Writing from Childhood Memories

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Our childhood experience shapes our adult world.  As a children’s writer, I find myself drawing on what I remember feeling or people I remember meeting or memories of certain quirky things.  With 6 kids in the family, we had more than our share of interesting material for future writing.

Milk.  That’s a theme that’s sparked more than one conversation in our house.  There was the ubiquitous milk mustache.  Much of my childhood, we looked like 6 white-lipped Groucho Marxs. Didn’t we have napkins?

Then there was the milk-out-the nose incident.  There was always someone cracking a joke or doing something stupid. The trick was to time it so the punchline came as the most people were gulping down there required 8 ounces of the white stuff. Although, admittedly, root beer stings a lot more coming out.

The most memorable of all was the milk shampoo.  Kids are crabby at 6 o’clock by nature.  Sit the crabbiest, whiniest one next to the parent with the worst day at work and you’ve got yourself a treasured family memory.  Simmering like a fine sauce, we watched as tensions grew.  The heat got turned up and before you knew it, a glass of milk got poured on said child’s head.  Now, that’s a beautiful thing.

What childhood memories have sparked your writing? Leave me a comment.  I love to hear stories.