What Success, 2015?

As part of Julie Hedlund’s 12 Days of Christmas program, I am looking back before moving into the new year. Below is how this year went for me.

In retrospect, the year was more about listening, learning, and appreciating authors, agents, publishers, and writers who were recently published and writers still trying to put books in the hands of children and the adults who read to them. I am most grateful for those who have taught me and pushed me along my writing journey, especially to my writing critique group.

  1. Beginning Jan. 5, grandchildren visited. They are my exercise, both physical and mental, and often my inspiration for kid words, kid interactions, and a Picture Book manuscript.
  2. Similarly, Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 Writing Challenge added many exciting and informative Webinars this year. I wrote notes, recommendations, and jotted down recent publishers to find online. As a GOLD member this year, I submitted three times to agents, and wrote query letters. Two agents returned rejections. One so nice that it could have read “Dearest Pamela.” Who knew agents could be so nice? The fear was gone.
  3. Something on my to-do list was finalized this year. The attorney did most of the writing, but the objectives were noted on my list that prepared a Will, a Living Will, Power of Attorney for property and health. It takes a bit of searching to find necessary records and research legal terms online. But sitting with your attorney and asking questions, immediately answered, will provide comfort and a legal document that no one can alter or question. It’s done. And one’s successors will not have to argue over the unknown but simply collect anything left to them.
  4. Writing makes one a clear communicator. If ever that will come in handy, it is during times of family stress. I certainly wanted to consider my feelings and those of my family when my sister died May 17, 2015, less than a month after I last sat with her and after flying to her home in Arizona. E-mails seemed to fly back and forth as her condition was updated. Her oldest daughter was most dedicated and responsible. I shared a poem with her that I wrote after my father died. For her mother’s service, she shared her poem with me. I wrote to thank her and posted to my sister’s obituary.
  5. Professor, Emma Walton Hamilton (I shamelessly name drop.) is the accomplished daughter of Julie Andrews, famous actress, singer of –duh –the world. Emma teaches “Just Write for Kids!” Her course was professional, college-level, and upgraded my writing. In completing the course, I learned to dissect a Picture Book. I used Emma’s choice of five classic titles: Whistle for Willie, Where the Wild Things Are, Olivia, Knuffle Bunny, and Owen.
  6. I continued through 2015 by mapping these Picture Books: One Big Pair of Underwear, Laura Gehl; Snowmen at Night, Carolyn Buehner; When a Dragon Moves In, Jodie Moore; Little Red Gliding Hood, Tara Lazar; and What If . . .? by Anthony Browne. I paid close attention to theme, plot, point of view, the story arc and the story question.
  7. And, of course, I mapped my own manuscripts to see if they were close to submission status.
  8. I wrote and updated a guest list for a 50th Wedding Anniversary dinner that our daughter planned for me and spouse, Jim, and a total of 51 people. I wrote thank you notes.
  9. I wrote and rewrote manuscripts. I now have 18 total (in various stages).
  10. I submitted one manuscript to a publisher. I won’t hear back for another two months.
  11. I completed PiBoIdMo a Winner in November. Two additional manuscript in the making and ideas circled on every page of my 30-day journal. I’m thankful that Tara Lazar has organized this challenge. It’s a needed shove into a new year at the very least, and so much more.
  12. I attended an SCBWI luncheon/workshop for Fraidy Cats. Signed up to Tweet, Link in, and created a Facebook author page with their guidance. Still working on the goals of fully understanding social media, but I’m connected. That was the promise. I became aware of the workshop because
  13. I printed and actually read the entire SCBWI Bulletin!
  14. Used my Pay Pal and Amazon Prime for business and to reward myself, on occasion, with another wonderful Picture Book to read to my children.
  15. Purchased an excellent reference/motivational book by author/entrepreneur, Katie Davis, HOW TO PROMOTE YOUR CHILDREN’S BOOK.
  16. I got up in the middle of the night to write. Driven by a solitary word that kids might need to learn, I wrote a page. Then I slept ‘til morning.

HAPPY NEW YEAR dear reader!

 

THIS IS A PICTURE BOOK

LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD

Well, I have favorites. Then I opened the box with author Tara Lazar’s LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD (pictures by Troy Cummings).

Tara’s Little Red is more savvy than the Little Red Riding Hood of old, but she still wears a red cape, and, she’s on skates!

The reader follows as Little Red swizzles, loops, waltzes, and spins along the frozen enchanted forest trail to Grandma’s house. Grandma, always a good listener, learns that Red needs new skates. She can enter an upcoming competition and win them, but she can’t find a skating partner.

Quoting the book jacket flap, “[she] knows . . . Hansel already has Gretel, the Dish is skating with the Spoon, and the Seven Dwarfs are forming a hockey team instead!”

You’ll get reacquainted with many favorite children’s characters in this delightful fractured tale with a page-turning plot with dazzling illustrations for both boys and girls, and for Grandma’s too. And expect to read it over and over again.

MORE IN AN INTERVIEW HERE: http://sportygirlbooks.blogspot.com

DON’T GIVE UP

Finally, I got it. I watched this video (BELOW) by Ira Glass, “The Glass on Storytelling Part 3,” again. I read, updated, and wrote, sketching in a picture book story, one based on a Christmas song. (That’s how long I’ve kept the thought in my mind.)

A course offered by author/entrepreneur, Julie Hedlund, opened with the appropriate password. Finish this course and find the take-away was another goal.

A link prompted me to check out Chris Guillebeau.com and his book, THE $100 STARTUP. I stayed up later and later because the laundry did not speak to me. No one called or messaged me. My spouse slept, after folding clothes. There were no dishes in the sink. I concentrated on my goals for two hours without distraction.

Since my sister died a few months ago, I also read Chris Guillebeau’s blog on life/death/humanity, You Can’t Live as if You Only Had Three Months to Live. Chris wrote what many would do/say; such as,

  • I would give up my job.
  • I would give up my time with friends and start on my bucket list.
  • I would give up eating or eat special food.
  • I would give up spending or save more.

Chris and I agree on his surmise.

“Instead, ask: ‘How would I live if life stretched on endlessly?

When last I saw my sister, I had flown to stay with her for the weekend. She already had that six-month diagnosis. And she was giving away a few things to make more room for the necessary changes as she continued living in her home with added health services and her diminishing strength and mobility. Her simple life would stretch before her.

Prior to the diagnosis my sister had decided to create another chocolate wrapper poster. The first one was about 3ft. by 4ft. and created excitement and lots of conversation both during and afterwards. There were many unusual wrappers tucked under this and that on her kitchen table. I helped sort them and everything else in the piles so she could continue the project on a clean table.

We talked and read and laughed into the wee hours. We prayed Psalm 23. I helped her get ready for bed, which was a lift chair for her and a comfy bed for me. In the morning, necessities in the bath room took almost an hour. Then, I scrambled an egg with a dab of melted butter and a capful of milk and cooked it for one minute in her microwave, now moved to a kitchen chair so that she could wheel up and get it herself.

I knew my sister’s life was not long when I returned home, but the cancer moved at warp speed to her brain. Less than a month afterwards, she died in a hospice facility.

How do you live while dying? My sister watered her Lillies. She played her Elvis music. Her chocolate collage kept her hopeful. She had something to converse about with family and friends. She made them coffee; she gave love. She accepted help from her children; she accepted love. Her love danced in their eyes, as she lived on.

The Game of Lines by Hervé Tullet

Completely in the moment with these delightful children – a perfect school visit, a book of wonder.

The Picture Book Review

I had no idea that a book filled with only bright pink and yellow lines could be so absorbing, and yet it is so easy to lose track of time when playing The Game of Lines.

Each time I look through this book with one of my sons, I find myself oooh’ing and ahhhh’ing over each new image as if I were looking at fireworks.  Each combination of panels is a delightful and enchanting surprise — even after you’ve looked through it a bazillion times.

I’ve been delighted to watch my littlest one flip the split pages, turn the book upside down, and babble to us as he “reads” this book.  When we look through this book together, he’ll do the baby sign for “more” when we’ve come to the end, and I’ll open it back up and look through it with him again and again.

I’ve also been…

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Get Over the Winter Writing Blues

Shake it off. My motto today drives me to the keyboard. Or, maybe you need a prompt – a favorite writing exercise to provide something to write about.

Pick a color (favorite, hated, one from a hat). Then write about it in terms of the 5 senses. List HEAR, SEE, TASTE, TEXTURE, FEELING across the top of your page. Set your timer for 3-5 minutes. In each column, list as many words as you can about your color. Example: Red is a bell ringing, a crown, a rich bon bon, a velvet skirt, and haughty. Now keep going . . .

. . . AND if you are wonderfing how to format your Picture Book manuscript, click this link provided by Julie Hedlund and the 12 x 12 Writing Challenge, 2015.

http://www.writingpicturebooksforchildren.com/manuscript-formatting.html

PB 14:14 – Top Ten Elements of Picture Book Stories – Word Play

Picture Book author, Vivian Kirkfield, has allowed this reblog of her excellent post today. Wanting to write YOUR BOOK? Check this out.

Picture Books Help Kids Soar

Almost two years ago, I was privileged to travel to Singapore to speak at the 2013 Asian Festival of Children’s Content. I met authors and illustrators from all over the Pacific Rim countries and beyond.

For Day 12 of Christie Wild’s PB 14:14 Challenge, I’m offering one of the books by author/illustrator Christopher Cheng. Not only is he an amazing creator of children’s content, he’s also a stellar speaker at events all over the world – he’ll be presenting at the NESCBWI Conference in Chicago this April…wish I could go!

water-300x257

Title: Water

Author: Christopher Cheng

Illustrator: Susanna Gaho-Quek

Publisher: AFCC Publications

Date: 2013

Word Count: 180 estimated

Top Ten Element: Word Play

 

Opening Lines:

“In the air that we breathe

on ice capped peaks

frozen in time

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First There is Grattitude in 2015

for Julie Hedlund’s short program The12 Days of Christmas. The videos are archived and enabled me to participate. One suggestion was to write this post on gratitude. THANKS, Julie.

for TIME spent with family. It’s the real gift that keeps on giving, especially when I’m with any one of 10 grandchildren. The youngest begins pre-school. He has left his presence in my heart and home; thus, this arrangement of the manger scene on 2014 Christmas Eve.

Manager Scene

Manager Scene

for overall good health, in spite of having to continue exercising one knee and reinstate my exercise habit of many years, after repairs this past year.

for my writing habit that continues to prepare me and push me closer to my goal of publishing children’s books.

for travels with spouse to California and Maine.

for new friends and old friends who lift my spirits and who, in SCBWI and 12 x 12, critique my manuscripts.

for faith that holds steadfast, telling me I am not alone, and brings a little magic into the world at Christmas. (See my Christmas poem on my Poetry Page.)

for a sharp physician who confirmed that I need less medication now. YAHOO!

for money – the lack of it shall not, solely, determine my goals.

for a habit that I developed while working under a leader and friend, Pat Easterling, who said to write my to-do list before I go to bed. When I awake, I’ll know what I have to do, even before I make the coffee.

And, on these chilly days, I often think of my mother and grandmother who taught me to cook and clean. I am thankful for choices and opportunities they weren’t afforded. I’m thankful for my cozy home, favorite recipes, and my husband who love my cooking.

A 2014 SUCCESS STORY

It began with a program: Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge. There was a Bronze Level, Silver Level, and Golden Book Level. Not yet published as a children’s book author, and not yet written anything that was ready to publish, I chose the Silver Level, so I wouldn’t have the opportunity to submit to the programs featured agents. I had a lot to learn. That was my plan.

Then, I met writers like me, online. One illustrator was from my city. Some were authors already. It took a few weeks to get used to the forum technology, but I let folks read my first 250 words of a story and I read their words. I gave and received feedback. These were nice folks with a great attitude. They had written and/or published the best children’s books.

With new confidence, I had no problem volunteering to read my grandson’s favorite Rosemary Wells book as a guest of his kindergarten class. I’d like to make more visits.

I wanted to connect. I joined some of the writers in a private Facebook group. I met others in a Google launch and in Webinars. I joined Pinterest. I upgraded my Website and began to blog about my writing journey. (Thank you followers. Posting more often, a 2015 goal.)

I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) because it was recommended as a continuing resource. The 12 x 12 member from my city is also a member of my local SCBWI group.

I attended the SCBWI day-long conference in Chicago. DID I MENTION IT WAS ON A YACHT? The food was fabulous. The speakers were, too. And author Liz Garton Scanlon (wrote Caldecott award winner, ALL THE WORLD) presented a short workshop on revising a manuscript. I bought her books, one to serve as my example of a concept book. I learned how to edit my work for brevity and cut the “darlings” that did nothing to move my story forward.

AND, now I could give a critique that might be valuable to the writer. Three ladies in 12 x 12 and I formed a Critique Group. We live in different states and countries, but we’re on a schedule and submit work weekly. They don’t always tell me what I’d like to hear, but they tell me what I need to know. I learned to trust their expertise and trust myself, when I have reason. I learned to revise, revise, and revise again, until a manuscript shines.

Before I attended a summer SCBWI weekend conference, I made business cards. I worked hard to take in all the wisdom of an agent, an editor, and author who were speakers. I participated in another critique group for the weekend.

The next month, on a short family excursion, my brain produced a story faster than I could write. Another came out in rhyme in the car.

In 12 x 12, an author from Australia gave me a free critique – a prize bomb. That meant I could submit my entire manuscript to her. I couldn’t believe someone would take their valuable time to pour over my story and add her brilliant thoughts.

I also enrolled in other programs. Each program had an area in which I needed to improve, if an editor or agent were to take me seriously; such as, How to Make Money as a Writer and The Ultimate Guide to Picture Book Submissions.

Could I complete a November program, PiBoIdMo? It’s presented every year by Tara Lazar, picture book author. I DID IT! I got 30 ideas in 30 days! Two manuscripts are already written.

One amazing program that I desperately needed was Video Idiot Boot Camp, a Katie Davis product. It proved to be too much to finish just yet. However, I succeeded in updating my technology at home. I made a Welcome video and posted it on YouTube and on http://pammmiller.com . I can improve lots in this area, but I have made a place for an author’s work to be seen and grow. Most importantly, I have an account that is just for my business, because a writer is an entrepreneur.

While some of my journey was fun as well as pedagogical, I’ve developed a writing habit. I wrote 12 and one half manuscripts during 2014, posting 10 of them in 12 x 12. In 2015 I’ll return for another year of inspiration and support and try to give more than I have received.

Children’s books? At every opportunity, I’m looking at the latest, the funniest with telling illustration, the Best of 2014, the concepts and characters, because I am an entrepreneur and because I have young grandchildren who are learning to read. I’ve read over 100 picture books. My immediate goal, after posting this blog, is to update my list of 100. It will include my latest favorite, THE PICTURE BOOK WITH NO PICTURES by B.J. Novak. Although it seemed a gimmick, the author was brilliant because he simply wrote for kids to make them laugh and to want to read.

Please check out the video of B.J. Novak reading his book by searching for it on Amazon. It’s full of silly words that make children say, “Read it again.”

As a writer, I attended a Christmas party with my local group. Gosh, it was fun. Earlier, an agent had presented an amazing program for us. We were invited to submit a manuscript for critique. Mine has come back marked for revision. But we will talk again. And those professional comments make me very hopeful for my writing journey.

That’s my new plan: write, revise, talk with agents/editors. I’ve taken the first step.

Don’t forget to check out my Welcome Video and my 100 Best Children’s Picture Books List.

Manuscript in the Making

Picture books are stories with an author’s succinct words; that is, verbs that show action, words that rhyme, and lyrical writing. But that’s half of the book. The wonderful illustrations tell the part of the story that the words don’t.

Before that happens, the story is a draft manuscript. (Maybe you have written one lately.) In the first revision, I’m looking for a great opening sentence – it’s usually about three paragraphs down.

Often, I begin with back story. That’s the information about the setting or the main character’s (MC) description and traits. That’s okay, because I need to know all of this to define the MC, but I don’t need to write it all on the first page. (This is a good way to ease into your writing.)

A picture book is short. While editors used to suggest 1000 words, many advise cutting to 500-600 words before submitting for publication. The reader, an adult reading to a child of 4-8, wants to keep the child’s attention, so a good opening sentence begins in the middle of the action. Then the page must be turned to find out what happens.

I’ve cut lots of words by beginning with the third paragraph. I’ll save that draft. I might need to review my thoughts later. For example, when the MC rushes in the back door and tosses his/her book bag on the kitchen floor, I’m setting the time of day—after school time. If the MC gulps down part of a soon to follow meal, that part of the story won’t be illustrated with orange juice and muffins.

More revisions follow and cut more words. Descriptive words are deleted. It’s the job of the illustrator to decide hair color, princess dress or jeans, and whether the MC is a girl, a bunny, or a dragon, unless the title indicates or a “purple plastic purse” is a character trait and crucial to the story. My verbs should not be passive. Instead of “he was running,” I write “he ran.” I also delete modifiers: quickly, very, sweetly.

If I’ve rambled a bit (much like my blog today), I may have created a funny or cute situation, described a darling little girl’s playhouse. But, if those “darlings” don’t advance my plot, don’t show the result and consequences of the MC’s first attempt (of three) to solve his/her problem, out they must go.

Why don’t I just write into a grid the first time? Would I still need to revise? Yes. Revising improves and polishes my manuscript. It puts things in an expected order and, hopefully, goes a step beyond.

Writing, of course, isn’t just an organization of words. The words that flow from my pen (and yours) create a unique voice. It’s from my heart into the character. It’s creative fiction, but the story rings true. It breathes, and the magic begins.

For fun and inspiration read to a child this week, or the child in yourself. I’m beginning a list of my favorite Picture Books. Watch for the tab, soon.

Eating Humble Pie

On Saturday, Aug. 23, I attended the Art Opening Reception, “Inspired Journeys,” at the Prairie Art Alliance to congratulate, especially, one of the exhibitors, E. Vern Taylor.

The work of juried member artists and three featured artists comprised this exhibit: Pam Allen (jewelry), James Johnston (paintings, prints, and photos), and E. Vern Taylor (paintings and pastels). And I had planned to see this exhibit more than six months ago, when Vern Taylor told me of his plan to create images in paint and poetic stories.

So, on Saturday evening, I drove to the reception, parked, and entered the Hoogland Center. Vern Taylor was monopolized in the lobby by friends, family, and/or fellow artists. I turned the opposite direction, first, and entered the gallery.

As a past juried member of the gallery, I was excited by the bustling room and the familiar faces, some whom I had only seen on Facebook this last year. When I turned my attention to the exhibit, I recognized the work of the long-term juried artists and noticed many new names. Ceramics, wood, and 3-D collage complimented the paintings and pastels hung on the walls.

I moved on around to the meet and greet area assigned to the featured artists. Vern would probably be there, I thought.

The printed program gave a brief bio of each of the three. Pam Allen told how she created many art forms before finding that jewelry was her passion. James Johnston cited his faith and appreciation of Native Americans as inspiration for his painting and photography. He had exhibited in Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Wisconsin.

Music spilled over many conversations. I couldn’t see Vern yet. At the opposite end of the featured artists’ area, I joined some folks I knew who were also admiring Vern’s work.

Vern’s bio read, “Since seventh grade, I have loved the process of bringing a painting to fruition.” Vern created each piece in this exhibit as a remembrance of profound inspiration in his life. He added his poetry beside many framed paintings.

I was drawn to Vern’s mysterious painting of a midnight blue night. A golden moon outlined a large tree, and a shimmer of light from above highlighted a flower in the foreground. The grand and bold sea gull was pointed out by many. A large painting of Japanese maple leaf motifs refreshed like a breeze with reds, browns, and lavenders (on this hot and humid night). Vern’s poems I must read again to grasp all that he shares in rendering a beautiful, successful memoir.

No Vern in sight yet, so I talked a few more minutes – well, probably a half hour – and needed a cracker and cheese bite for my growling insides.

Now, alone, I felt my knee (not fully recovered) had tightened and swelled. I said good-by to another dear friend at the top of the stairs and felt the evening had ended.

In my car, after driving three blocks or so down the street, I wanted to know more about Vern’s . . . Yikes! I hadn’t talked to Vern. I hadn’t congratulated E. Vern Taylor or thanked him for all the months of work he put in to ready this exhibit.

So I now ask, publically, for forgiveness, E. Vern Taylor, and eat my humble pie.

If you see Vern, please pass this along: “You accomplished your goal. Yeah! Yours is a magnificent memoir, a truly “Inspired Journey.”