Mentor Texts and a Contest

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Susanna Leonard Hill hosts a Halloweensie writing contest every year. I’ve entered it for the past three years or so. This year, I tried something new.

I don’t write in rhyme. I don’t have the chops to do it justice, but I love poetry and read it often. In high school, my fantastic English teacher taught us how to write poetry using mentor texts. We basically copied the meter and form, but added our own words.

I wanted to try that with my 2016 Halloweensie entry. I used a stanza from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge as my inspiration:

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

I won’t put my entry here, you can click on my blog to see it if you like. The point is, by using a mentor text, I can write a solid poem without knowing all the technical aspects of poetry writing. Using a mentor text teaches me, on a visceral level, how to structure a poem, so that when I do apply myself to more in-depth study of poetic forms, I’ll be better prepared.

Mentor texts can work for you in many ways. Reading lots of good picture books eventually impresses into your mind the way a PB should be written. Same with other categories of books. If you take it a step further, you can break the mentor text down and analyze one aspect of it to help you with your weaknesses.

I recently used the text of one of my favorite books, Helen Lester’s Hooway for Wodney Wat, as a mentor text. Lester is a master at character development and plotting, not to mention huimg_2400mor and just about everything else you need to write good picture books. I wanted to see how she pulled of structuring her story, so I wrote it out in long hand.

In the first paragraph, she sets up the MC and the MC’s problem:

Poor Wodney. Wodney Wat. His real name was Rodney Rat, but he couldn’t pronounce his r’s.

Her next paragraph builds on how awful it is for Wodney, a rodent–wodent, to have this problem. We see how the other rodent kids tease him and how, little by little, he retreats inside his jacket. We now feel for Wodney and we want something good to happen to our sad little wodent.

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Proofreading: How To Trick Your Brain When it Wants to Trick You.

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Picture from Pixabay

I wish I could say that I’m a proofreading genius, but alas, I make dumb mistakes daily. When I worked in PR, we had a system of proofreading each other’s writings, which was a luxury.

We’re not always in a position to get a second read on our writing before we have to send it out on a deadline of one sort or another (I’m not talking about manuscripts, you should always get multiple critiques of those). If you’re writing a post, or a query, or if you had a manuscript edited then changed something at the last minute, you still want to make sure you go over your work.

I spent an evening nit-picking, literally, my kids’ hair (you have to love those ‘lice has been found at school’ notices), then I had to sit down and nit-pick a post I’d been working on. I missed things I shouldn’t have missed.

Let’s face it, writing is just one of many roles we take on each day and some days we aren’t as fresh as others. And even if your eyes are rested, your brain fills in mistakes. So it’s possible to read something a thousand times and not catch a glaring typo. Sadly, that typo becomes brighter than the noonday sun once you click the send button on a query to your dream agent. So what can you do when you truly don’t have a second pair of eyes to proofread something that has to go out ‘right now?’

These are tricks I’ve used before:

  • Read you’re text backwards. sdrawkcab txet er’uoy deaR. This method is great for catching double spaces after periods (for those like me who grew up with word processors and can’t kick the habit), misspellings, apostrophes in places they shouldn’t be and pesky words like your and you’re. Did you catch that, in fact?
  • If not, then read your stuff upside down to.
    upside-downDid you catch the two errors above? I often don’t in my own writing. You’re, your, to, too don’t show up on spellcheck and even if you know the rule for each one, your fingers may miss a key and your brain may skip over it because it knows what you meant. If you don’t know the rules regarding the use of each one, see here: http://www.livejournal.com/resources/homonyms.bml
  • Use Find on your keyboard to catch those pesky homonyms. Ctl F for MS Word/PC Command F for Mac. Put in your, too, their, etc. and go through with the Find option to double check each one.
  • Copy the text out in long-hand. Read each word as you write it.
  • E-mail the document to yourself and read it in your email. Any change in format will help re-awaken your brain and give you a chance to catch the things you may have missed.

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Interview with Agent Rick Richter

rick-richter I had a one-on-one critique session with Rick Richter at a writing conference in Boston. I wish I could have chatted with him for hours. As you’ll see from his answers, he’s got a wealth of information from his many years in the publishing industry, and I am grateful he took the time to answer the following questions, including the tough ones. Thank you, Rick!

Let me first set up your rather amazing resume. You were a co-founder (with many others) and former CEO of Candlewick Press, a publisher at Simon & Schuster Children’s Books, president of Simon & Schuster Sales and Distribution Division, the creator of Simon Spotlight, and the founder of Ruckus Media Group. While at S&S you helped reintroduce the market to Eloise and Raggedy Ann. You’ve also served as chairman of the Children’s Book Council, and as an early director of First Book, and you’re currently a literary agent at Zachary Shuster Harmsworth. I think it’s safe to say you know a lot about children’s literature. How did you get started on this path?

My father worked the night shift at the Boston Globethe “lobstah” shift I think is what they called itand he thought the book business was nobler than newspapers. “People don’t wrap fish in your work at the end of the day.” I remember him saying, so he encouraged me to find a job in books. My soon-to-be-wife introduced me to a friend who worked at a small company in Natick, MassachusettsPicture Book Studioand I fell head over heels over the work of Lizbeth Zwerger. I remember telling the staff there (the entire staff interviewed me!) that I would do anything at the company. “Anything at all.” I started packing books in their warehouse.

I was really fortunate to have two amazing bosses at this little company. The first, Motoko Inoue, went on to become Eric Carle’s long-time and exclusive agent. The second, Andrew Clements, went on to write the classic Frindle, and became a staple in the industry. So I learned to love the business at the knee of two highly principled and wonderful people. 

Now that you’re an agent, do you see the children’s lit world differently?

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Storyboarding for Picture Book Writers

IMG_1528A picture book text can paint a picture or it can set the stage for a corresponding visual story. Sort of the difference between

… and sailed back over a year and in and out of weeks and through a day…” (Where the Wild Things Are)

and

In the great green room there was a telephone …” (Goodnight Moon).

The first one paints a mood that the art alone can’t tell. The second one creates an image that accompanies the text. Both are good for the story they are telling, both create a visual without taking over for the artist.

The trick, as a text-only picture book creator, is to realize that you are a visual artist. Your text needs to create moods and images word by word, sentence by sentence, and it has to do it page by page and beginning to end.

One way to set yourself up for success in this area is to storyboard. Storyboarding your text will give you visual feedback on how your text works on each page. If you have a text-heavy page, you’ve either stepped into the artist’s area, or you have too many words, or your story may not be best suited as a picture book. You also need to be aware of your page turns.

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Interview with Mae and Moon Author/Illustrator Jami Gigot

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I met Jami through our critique group and enjoy reading her manuscripts. She creates warm and comforting characters that have a timeless feel, and she also illustrates them. Jami started her artistic career in digital animation before moving to 3D and VFX work, as you will see, and entered the kidlit world with her debut picture book Mae and Moon published through Ripple Grove Press. Her follow up book Seb and the Sun, also through Ripple Grove, is due in 2018.

Thank you, Jami for sharing your story.

 

Jami, you have a cool day job as a visual effects artist and you’ve worked on some pretty big movies: Batman v. Superman, Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Pan, and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Can you be more specific on what you do?

When a film is shot these days, a lot, sometimes even the majority, of shots are done in a studio in front of a giant green screen. I work with a team that fills in that space with digital environments, creatures, vehicles, and props, all of which are created solely in the computer. I do a lot of different tasks, but my main focus recently has been on texture painting and lighting scenes. 

Which movie has been your favorite to work on? Do you have a favorite sequence or asset?  Continue reading

Interview with Literary Agent Rubin Pfeffer

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I’m thrilled to inaugurate my new site with an interview from literary agent Rubin Pfeffer of Rubin Pfeffer Content, LLC. I met Rubin in a one-on-one critique session at a writing conference in Boston last year and was sad when the time ended. As you’ll see from his responses, he knows the publishing industry inside and out and has much to offer writers and illustrators. Thank you, Rubin!

You’ve had a pretty amazing career in publishing, including art director at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, vice president and publisher at Simon and Schuster and an independent agent at East West Literary. Then you started your agency in 2014, Rubin Pfeffer Content. Did the transition to agent change the way you work with authors?

Yes, definitely. You become much more aware of the authors as individuals, of their sensitivities, vulnerabilities, and their livelihoods. You’re on the side of the author. That’s not to say you’re not when you’re inside a publishing corporation, but as an agent, you’re much more concerned about the author’s business and dreams. When I was a publisher, I wasn’t sensitive enough to what delays and silence mean to authors. I regret, actually, having taken too long to sign contracts now that I see what it’s like to wait for them.

Can you give me a peek into your agenting day? What are the steps you usually go through when reading a submission?

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