Monday, June 19, 2017

No Such Thing as Vacation....

When you're a writer, 'vacation' doesn't mean the same thing to us as it does to everyone else. Kind of like when someone suggests a 'vacation' at a house instead of a hotel- you have to do laundry, cooking, dishes, straightening up, and at some rentals, bring your own sheets, towels and blankets. Besides having to make beds, you have to pack all the stuff for them. You call that a vacation??

Same thing with writing. Although the kids are out of school, for me it just means that I don't have to run the youngster around to fencing, SAT tutoring, school activities, etc. But this is what I will be doing on my 'vacation:'

1. Revising a number of novels because I still love them and hope a new agent/editor will too.

2. Continue the agent search/query.

3.  Outline new novel for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) because I still haven't suffered enough doing it four times already.

4. Redesigning a new website. I hate tech work, so this is probably a two year project. Unless someone feels sorry for me and offers to help (not that my boys would....).

5. Work on my marketing. I need more attention for my middle grade series, Evolution Revolution. There very little love out there for Indies (even if well written and illustrated).

Yep, this is what I have to look forward to...
All those tasks are in addition to non-writing projects:

1. Finish painting and maintenance of church parsonage for new pastor to move in.

2.  Paint the pool bar (been a few years, looking dingy).

3.  Scrape and paint the concrete area where the pool filter is (got too burned out when I had to do the rest of the deck, but this spot sticks out and this bothers me. A lot.).

4.  Paint ceiling and walls in my bedroom (water leak).

5.  Continue the de-clutter. Slowly. Inch by inch. Step by step....

How I dream of this....
So, I don't even want to hear the word vacation- until September when everyone's at work and school and the house is quiet... I may actually get a day of quiet to just write for pleasure.

What's on your to do list for 'vacation?'

Char

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Story DOES Matter!

At the NJ SCBWI annual conference last weekend, I took a workshop titled, "Writing Marginalized Voices in Children's Books," which was presented by Andrea Loney and Emma Otheguy. It's one thing to believe in writing diverse characters- and another in getting it right.

Recently, a publishing professional told me that if I wasn't the same ethnicity as my characters, "That's a problem," and getting my work published would be very difficult, if not impossible. If I were to follow that dictate, then all I could write are stories with characters that are German and Swedish- and I would then be accused of only writing from the white perspective. It's a Catch 22 with no win for me. I might as well just give up writing because that's NOT what I want: a strictly 'white only' point of view. (To read that post, scroll down).

I shared a dinner table with Emma, who is of Cuban descent, and I met Andrea, a woman of color, at the workshop. They discussed how unrepresented these voices, stories, and people are. And besides being underrepresented, sometimes they are represented incorrectly. There are books out there rife with stereotypes which need to be discarded. Also, she and Emma talked about how polarizing books and writing around ethnicity can be.

Andrea gave us opportunities to talk about these things. I mentioned that in my middle grade book series, Evolution Revolution (Simple Machines, Simple Plans, Simple Lessons), the main characters are animals, and the main secondary character is a boy of color. When I showed the cover of the book, which features Jack the squirrel, to white children, they bought the book. When I showed children of color the picture of the boy who looked like them, they bought the book but white children mostly didn't. Same book, different responses. It's such a conundrum to me on how to present the book. I don't want to use two different approaches to discuss/sell my book depending on the ethnicity of the audience. It's an animal book, a science book, an adventure book. (There are other humans characters of other ethnicities and genders). Should I just give in and make all my characters white like me, even if it doesn't fit the story? (The character is also physically challenged and is homeschooled.)

Andrea's response was for us to write the story. BUT- make sure to do the research. Is my character accurately representing this ethnicity without stereotype? If I feel confident it is technically correct, a 'sensitivity reader' - person of color who can point out any stereotypical flaws in dialogue, appearance, customs, etc. that I may not realize I've employed, will help further ensure that I am presenting a marginalized voice/character will all fairness.

This is what writers across the spectrum need to hear, understand, and embrace. We all hate the stereotypes that we're faced with (I get really tired of 'dumb blonde' jokes, Nazi references, misogynistic remarks). I'm sure that's only an inkling of what marginalized people face.

But I took away that the story matters. I can write marginalized voices and characters, and so can you. If we write precisely, no one should question that even though we don't have the credentials of being born a specific ethnicity, we can still write that story. The only way to bring marginalized voices and people to wide acceptance is to keep writing that story the way it should be written.

I've gotten much more from this workshop from both Andrea and Emma, who related her experiences of her Cuban heritage and the journey of writing her book than I can do justice in this short post. Check out Andrea's picture book, Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee! and her other books here. For Emma's book, Marti's Song for Freedom, debuting Spring 2017, check here to pre-order or check for launch date.

Char


Monday, June 5, 2017

Love Lift Us Up...

I'm not going to get mushy on you, talking about love thy neighbor (though we need it), or love yourself (have you, lately?).

I'm sharing my 'love' of the children's book writing community. I'm an author, so I try to support writers- published and waiting to be. But today, I want to focus on the other half- the illustrators.

You all know I LOVE my illustrator, Cathy Daniels.


You've seen the Evolution Revolution series covers (I hope)- book 1, Simple Machines, book 2, Simple Plans,  and book 3, Simple Lessons. Here's a sneak peek at an interior illustration for Simple Lessons:


The picture tells a piece of the story (but read the whole book to see the other great pictures and get the whole story). Many people have been attracted to the book (kids and adults) because of the illustrations. When they're done this well, you know the illustrator put the best effort (and then some) into their work. If you're going Indie, don't be cheap and have your child scribble something. Hire a professional artist. You get what you pay for, and if your book is that important, doesn't it deserve wonderful illustrations? Check out Cathy's other works here.

My next gush is Mike Ciccotello. He's sort of newcomer to the New Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). I 'discovered' him last year, walking through the juried art show at our annual conference. This was his piece:


When I told him how much it 'spoke' to me, he gave me the print! It hangs in my office so I can always remember the joy and spark of imagination of being a child. This year, Mike won the People's Choice Award! Here's the pic:


And it's sitting in my office! I'm having huge fangirl moments here! After his family, I think I'm his biggest groupie! So I have the Mike wall. Check out Mike's work here. (I think he should make his own coffee cups- these are fab, but make sure to stroll around his site and see all his work.) And notice that he'd make a good book illustrator too....

But there is so much love to go around. My friend, Colleen Rowan Kosinski, gave me her signed print! Check it out:


 Notice the character in the background to the left... Her picture book, Lila's Sunflowers, debuted a few months ago, and is a wonderful story about- well, I won't ruin the surprise. It's touching and moving (tissue alert for sentimental slobs like me.) Check out her book and her work here.  More books are forthcoming, so I don't have to tell you what a talented illustrator she is.

There are soooo many wonderful artists at the conference, and I wish I could showcase them all. My friend, Kathy Temean, is working on displaying as many of the artwork as she can, so check out her blog over the next week or so and see the other outstanding, incredible, I'm-so-damn-jealous-of-their-talent artists. Visit their websites/blogs, praise them for their work. Spread the love. In a frightening world, art soothes the soul, calms the nerves, and lightens the heart.

Now I'm going to doodle some stick figures....

Char

Monday, May 29, 2017

Doing it Legal, Doing it Right...

First of all, a thoughtful Memorial Day to all as we take time out to remember, honor, and miss those who gave all or some of their lives for our liberties and country.


My dad and two uncles served respectively in the Navy and the Army.  I salute them and all the members of the Armed Forces, past and present. May God Bless America.

On a different note...

Lookee!


Registration of Copyrights for Evolution Revolution: Book 1, Simple Machines, and Evolution Revolution: Book 2, Simple Plans! Book 3, Simple Lessons, coming soon!

Be safe, be grateful, be compassionate, be diligent....

Char

Monday, May 22, 2017

Blurb, Blurb, Blurb...

Congratulations! Someone asked you to write a blurb for their novel.

After reading the book, it doesn't feel like an honor anymore, it feels like a trap.

Because you don't like the book.

You don't want to insult the author/friend with an honest "I didn't like it" tag, nor do you want to lie "I loved it!"

Sticky situation, yes, but it doesn't have to be, you're getting yourself worked up for nothing. You don't have to say you loved it, or even liked it. You are not required to mention the love triangle would bore your 90-year-old Puritan grandmother, or the over-description slowed the pace so much a snail was Indy 500 worthy in comparison. Nowhere are there rules for writing blurbs- except one: it has to come from the heart. Seems like a conundrum?



Consider this: "Fashion, witty prose, intrigue, and action- Blonde OPS has it all!" Author/publisher/ friend Shannon Delany wrote this blurb. Does it tell you if she absolutely adored it? No. Couldn't put it down? Nope. Had to create a fan club or she'd die? No way. What Delany does is tell you what the novel has: fashion, witty prose, intrigue, and action (all true). Those key words alone should help the reader decide if they want to read it. Using my own books as illustration (lest there be any misunderstanding about how wonderful everyone else's book is), here is the review for Sirenz Back in Fashion from Booklist: "The experiences of this sartorial odd couple are funny and entertaining... Bennardo and Zaman are bringing the gods into the twenty-first century." What a great review, right?


Well, kind of. Booklist was middle of the road; it liked some aspects, didn't like others. Those ellipses means there are other words in between the quotes. When using a not-starred review, authors, publishers, agents, and publicists put a positive spin on it by kind of hopping over the not-so-nice parts.

That's how you have to think- compartmentalize. List what you liked about the story; it could be that it's sci fi, that it has a dragon, that there is a tender romance. A few choice words are all that is needed. If I was asked to blurb Game of Thrones, which after three years I still haven't finished the first book because it's so dense, here's what I would say: "Rich and vivid description, deadly royal intrigue, and a diverse cast of villainy, Game of Thrones will keep you wondering who's next to die..." All that is true. And really, I constantly wondered who was the next corpse. Nowhere do I say I love it, or that you should spend your money on the books. Readers have to decide that for themselves. Perusing a few pages will tell them if it's something they would like.

So don't fret if someone asks you to do a blurb. You won't commit a mortal sin by helping an author out with a few words, even if you don't like the story. Blurbs are important because it may draw a potential reader in when they glance at the back cover. With so many books out there, decisions have to be made where to spend limited money. Books without a blurb may leave the impression that they aren't 'good' because no one will endorse them. Celebrities and well-known authors have no trouble getting blurbs. For a mid-list or debut author without connections, it's a struggle. I have seven books (soon eight) with my name on them and getting blurbs from the writing community is a nightmare (and I don't know any celebs) because they are afraid to commit.

Blurbs are an important starting point to book success. If you can help bring a reader to a book, it's the author's job to keep them in. Please say yes and gift the author with a few well-chosen words.

Char


Monday, May 8, 2017

Toughen Up, Cupcake!

Being an author is not for the weak, easily offended, or aggressive person. One critique can send you home in a fit of anger--or tears.



And then there are the agent and editor rejections. Nothing will prepare you for this, it's worse than being last one standing on the gym field and the two teams fighting over who has to choose you.

As I go through the latest rounds of submitting queries, hoping to hear, and reading the 'no's', it's time to bite my tongue (oh, sometimes it's so hard...).I thought I'd share a few of those memorable rejections so you know that you're not the only one who scratches your head at a response and thinks, what the hell?

The "Worst Rejection EVER":

On a scrap of paper (it was 2 inches wide. This cheap publishing house got 5 rejection slips on one sheet of standard paper), it read that not only did they not like the submission, but to "never submit anything to us again." Wow. That editor was definitely not a people person. But, they needn't worry; any editor who could send such a nasty rejection is not someone my Sirenz co-author and I would want to work with anyway.

The "Funny in an ironic way" rejection:

We submitted queries for Sirenz to many editors and agents. I ran into one such editor at Book Expo America, and said hello. She expressed interest in Sirenz. It was hard to keep a straight face when I told her she'd had it for two years- and that my co-author and I were at BEA to do a signing for it.

Runner up: a letter of rejection by another editor over two years later. Guess he was cleaning out his in-box and we were on the bottom.

Most rejections are form letters which is fine-as long as it isn't years later. Really, if an agent/editor was queried over six months ago, and I've followed up to ask if they were still interested and they didn't respond, I've written them off- and sent out queries to others.

The "Are you kidding me?" response:

You have to wonder about people in any business who take the time to write and send an insulting letter. A well known editor from a top publishing house wrote that besides not liking my story, she didn't like my writing. She wasted time better spent going through the slush pile looking for a possible bestseller just to write me a nasty letter. Based on that, I know I would not have liked working with her, so it was a win both ways. I still run into her at conferences. I'm cordial, but would never send anything to her again.

Believe it or not, it's nice to receive a personally written rejection. It's rare and special because not only does it mean the person queried took the time to read my manuscript, but to respond with thoughtful insight. Some offered general advice (join the SCBWI) and some suggestions pertinent to improving my story. To me, even though they are not accepting my manuscript, they are encouraging me. For the rare few who take the time to offer advice or suggestions, I thank you.

Most however, don't respond unless they're interested. To keep yourself from hanging around, waiting, waiting, waiting as precious time slips away (you should be working on something anyway), send out more queries. Gone are the days of 'exclusive submission.' Agents and editors can't expect a submitting author to wait for a single response-when it may never come. I can't count how many submissions never got a response. Asking me to send one query out at a time is unrealistic, and, I think, selfish.

The "Oh, that hurts"  rejection:

You get a rejection, and from the response you know they didn't read the query/excerpt/manuscript because they mention things that either don't appear in your story, or it's all wrong. Possibly a simple mix-up, but disheartening because the impression you made was so blah they mixed you up with others in the pile.

It's time to put these rejections in the recycle pile. While it was sometimes funny, it was bittersweet to look through them and wonder if I'd be farther down the road in my publishing dreams. I'm a different writer than I was back then, even a few months ago, when this new search began. And that's the nature of being an author. You take the rejections and suggestions, learn from them and move on.

Char


Monday, April 24, 2017

1, 2, Book 3! Debut!

Here it is - the final cover in my Evolution Revolution series, Book 3, Simple Lessons!



While this is the last book in the series, there's nothing from keeping Jack my genius squirrel from coming back for a visit - maybe for a short story, maybe for one more book, maybe for another series. Stories never really do end, do they?

Cathy Thole-Daniels, the illustrator, exceeded all my expectations. She listened to my suggestions, explained why she chose certain images, textures, and scenes. We didn't have any difficulties working together. I stood back and let her take charge; she's the artistic talent right? I only got involved when Cathy asked my opinion or I felt a change was needed. (They were always small ones.)  I've said before that people have been drawn to the books because of the covers and the illustrations. I can't wait to see what the interior illustrations for Simple Lessons will look like!

While yesterday was World Book Day, celebrate during the week- buy a book from an Indie or less-well known author. We need the book love!

And stay tuned for a sneak peek at an interior illustration!

Char