Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Worldly Wednesday: Joining Authors Worldwide

So I've decided to join a campaign of writers from around the globe in a platform building venture. 

I'm not entirely sure I understand what I'm getting into -- but I do know that meeting other writers and professionals in the industry has been a tremendous help to me as a writer and in figuring out the entire business aspect of writing.

So why not meet a couple hundred more?

Through the process of learning about this online campaign of writer networking, I've come to realize that writers truly are special people.  In other industries, individuals within the same trade view and treat each other as rivals.  But even though other writers are technically my "competition," we don't treat each other that way (at least the ones genuinely interested in producing great literature).  We work together, keeping slush off the store shelves.  We share writing tips, critique each others' manuscripts, and even share inside information on publishing houses

I guess, in that respect, it takes a village to write a book.  So I'm becoming a more active part in the global village of writers.

Interested in learning more about Rachael Harrie, the Australian Writer behind the massive worldwide campaign to connect writers?  She's got more than 1,000 followers on her blog and tons of useful information for writers. Visit her website and learn more about blog hopping around the world.  Then join us, if you can -- August 31 happens to be the official deadline.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Mommy Monday: Meet Artist/Illustrator Terry Howell Stanley

With a slight change in Wisconsin weather this Monday to cool, fall-like breezes - my Mommy Monday guests also offers a slight change from the ordinary AuthorMom interview.  Terry Howell Stanley is not only a mom and grandma, but she's an illustrator!

Terry Howell Stanley:  A Self-Portrait
Terry Howell Stanley has been a full-time artist for 15 years. She's had the opportunity to study with some of today's best artists and specializes in portraiture -- although she enjoys painting still life and landscape as well.

Now, let's see if I can ask her some questions that will 'paint the picture' of who she is.  (Ok, puns are done.)

Miranda:  So -- give everyone the scoop.  Whose that adorable little one in your life right now?

Terry:  I have 3 kids and one adorable, genius grandson.  *smile*

Miranda:  I know you've painted hundreds - maybe thousands? of portraits and landscapes.  But tell us more about the children's books you've illustrated.

Terry:  I've illustrated 4 "readers" (schoolbooks), two childrens books (one in progress) and technical illustrations (like step-by-step guides).

Miranda:  You mentioned that one book is in progress.  What can you tell us about that project and other things you're working on at the moment?

Terry:  Working on a book about pups and pirates right now and taking orders for portraits of people and pets for holiday gift-giving.

Miranda:  Oooh - gift giving and pets. Do you incorporate real people (and real pets) into your artwork?  What about your children and grandchildren?  Do real people and animals inspire you, then?

Terry:  My 32 year-old daughter has MS: She inspires me by her perseverance and determination to live a "normal" life. I have been known to sneak people and pets I know in as characters/"supporting casts" in some of my projects - the one I'm working on now will have quite a few of them. 

Miranda:  What advice do you have for moms with young children or who are just starting out on the path toward a career in children's writing or illustrating?

Terry:  Keep it light but have an underlying message. Remember your audience may turn out to be large and sensitivity to social issues can be important in getting your book published and/or distributed.

Miranda:  Great advice.  That seems to come from years of wisdom and experience.  Speaking of which, I know art came a little later in life for you.  What were you up to before being an artist?

Terry:  My first career was in law enforcement and I received advanced training as a police artist/forensic reconstructionist at the FBI Academy in Quantico, VA. How many people get TWO careers they love in one lifetime? My work is much more pleasant now! 

Miranda:  Thanks for stopping by my blog.  It was great to have you!

You can view more of Terry Howell Stanley's amazing illustrations, oil paintings, portraits and landscapes at her website, http://www.terrystanley.com.

Thanks for reading - and feel free to leave Terry a comment or question!


Friday, August 26, 2011

Focus Friday: Distracted Driving

Every night this week, I've been haunted by vivid (mostly terrifying) dreams.  My days have been filled with endless inspiration...new ideas for picture books, chapter books, novels, etc. have been pouring into my head as though a Muse is swimming inside my cerebral cortex.

That's the best way I can put it–what a wacky week of inspiration.

The majority of daytime thoughts haven't hit me while sitting at my computer, though (the Muse needs to work on her timing, I guess).  Mostly–they've been while driving.  Try and write on a sticky note when you're making a left (all while directing a two-year-old how to reach for the sippy cup he's thrown on the floor)...not so good.

I haven't been very good at rushing to write them all down.  And, to be clear, it's not just ideas pouring in.  The words...phrases...sentences...entire scenes of dialogue between characters seem to seep from the humid air of the car into my mind. (Good thing there's no law against "Inspired Driving.")

By the time I'm back at my desk, the idea is still there...but the words are gone.  The rush is gone a bit, too.  Frustration sets in.

What do you do?  How do you regain those amazing moments of clarity...those beautiful passages that unfold in your head and seem to float right out the car window? 

Rather than offering advice this Friday on how I've focused, I'm seeking it.  How do you take those divine moments of inspiration and strap them in a seat belt to keep them safe from flying through the windshield?

Or, am I the only one that gets those moments of inspiration at the strangest times, drunk on imagination while behind the wheel (in the bathroom, at the grocery store checkout, etc.)?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Worldly Wednesday: The Seed by Isabel Pin

 Several years ago, I came across The Seed, a picture book by French author/illustrator Isabel Pin (North-South Books).  Loved it, bought a copy, and refer to it again and again when teaching writing to kids.

What do I love about it?

  • It has a folk tale style (by now you all know I love cultural tales...).

  • The illustrations are unique and amazing (albeit maybe a little edgy/scary for small children...but mine really loved the scarabs).

  • The language isn't kiddish.  Part of this can be chalked up to Rosemary Lanning's translation, of course.  But the big words and terms used in the book (inventiveness, summoned, etc.) are appealing to me as a mother and teacher–I like a challenge for my kids.

The downsides to the book were, perhaps, an oversimplified ending (although this is a kid's tale, and I love seeing war avoided) and the fact that a few darkly illustrated pages make text a bit hard to read.

Now, in recommending this book - here's the tricky part:  it's very hard to come across copies of it!  You'll have to scour eBay and Amazon used listings, etc., to find it.  But if you're looking for something a little twisted and different, and with BOY appeal (yes, a book boys will like!) - it's worth searching out a copy.

What out-of-print, worldly book do you just love?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Mommy Monday: Meet Kelly Hashway

It's Mommy Monday!

In honor of this week's National Dog Day (Thursday), I'm welcoming the Author-Mom of May the Best Dog Win to my blog.  Kelly Hashway taught language arts for seven years before resigning to raise her daughter and become a full-time writer. In addition to her debut picture book, May the Best Dog Win, she has another picture book under contract and has published over seventy-five short stories.  

Miranda: Did you always want to be a children's author, or did becoming a Mom inspire that goal in some way?

Kelly:  I've always wanted to be a children's author, but before my daughter was born, I was focusing on middle grade and young adult. Ayla loves books, so we spend a good portion of every day reading picture books. And that started to make me wonder if I could write picture books. Ayla put me to the test for this age group one day when she asked me to read her a story about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. I didn't know of any, so I wrote one and sold it to a magazine. After that, I wrote more short stories and eventually picture books. I thank her by dedicating all my books to her, since she's my inspiration.

Miranda: Being a Mom and a writer can be an interesting combination.  What's the funniest Author-Mom story you've got?
Kelly:  Ooh, this is a toss up. At my first signing, my daughter was helping me by handing out flyers to get people into the store. She was outside with my mother who was watching her for me. A group of people came into the store carrying a flyer and my daughter came running in after them, shouting, "Mom, I got them to come in for you!" It was precious... and a little embarrassing. 
My other funny story was more of an embarrassment averted. I was doing my first radio interview from home. I had my mother come watch Ayla because the interviewer said we needed complete quiet or the recording would be ruined. So my mom and Ayla went in the playroom and shut the door. The interview went well, but afterwards my mom and I had a good laugh imagining all the funny and embarrassing things Ayla might have yelled had my mom not been there. The best--or maybe worst--was, "Mom, I pooped!" which she feels the need to announce to me every time. Thank goodness my mom was there to save me from that!

Miranda:  Your first published picture book, May the Best Dog Win, isn't just about a 'dog' problem.  What themes and ideas are especially familiar to parents and children?
Kelly:  The main character in the story is a dog named Dash. He loves spending time with Mom, but when the Sweeper arrives, Dash worries that he's losing his place in Mom's heart. The story is really about wanting to be loved. I think children and parents can easily relate to Dash and how he worries about not having a place in Mom's heart. It would be a great story for children who are welcoming younger brothers or sisters into the family. It reassures children that Mom (and Dad) will still love them just the same even though there's an addition to the family.

Miranda:  When writing a story, it's easy to get into "mommy mode" and want to teach a moral or lesson.  But kids these days seem to be able to detect preachy books, and prefer books that just have good stories.  It's pretty clear in reading your published stories for kids that you're pretty successful at escaping "mommy mode" when you write, in order to tell a great story. How do you do it?
Kelly:  Well, thank you! I think my background in teaching helps me here. From working with kids everyday, I know how smart they are. You can't talk down to them or you will lose them. I think people, kids included, will respond to you in the same manner in which you talk to them. I've also learned that a little humor can go a long way. I try to include humor in all my stories because it's something that appeals to everyone and it can really help a lesson come through without having to be preachy.

Miranda: What does your daughter think about your stories?
Kelly:  She's my biggest fan, and I love that. I keep a scrap book of all my published stories, and I have a bookshelf for my books and anthology publications. She "reads" them all the time. She has the characters and stories almost memorized. And every time I get a new acceptance she throws her arms around me and congratulates me. Of course she then tells me that she's had more stories published than me. She even had an imaginary agent before I found my agent! (Hmm, I may have ruined her.)

Miranda: If there's one thing I know from being an Author-Mom myself, it's that we like to keep busy.  So, what's up next for you, fellow Author-Mom?
Kelly:  *Deep breath* I'm working on a young adult manuscript, a middle grade manuscript, five picture books, a story for a horror anthology, and I write a short story a week for an educational publisher. On top of that, I'm busy promoting May the Best Dog Win. Oh and did I mention I have another young adult manuscript idea floating around in my head?

Miranda: Okay, now it's time to really get to know you–besides loving your work as a mother and author, what are three things about you that people would be surprised to know?
1. I can recite the alphabet backwards--faster than I can recite it forwards!
2. I'm obsessed with vacuuming. I have to do it everyday.
3. Before I had my daughter, I could run a 5K race (3.1 miles) in 18 minutes. Now I run on the treadmill while reading a book. :)

Thanks, Kelly!  What an awesome Author Mom story!  To learn more about Kelly Hashway, visit www.kellyhashway.com.  For a preview of her latest picture book, May the Best Dog win, visit this fReado site.  Kelly is also a frequent Tweeter, so you can link up with her on Twitter using @kellyhashway.
Coming up Next Monday:  Illustrator-Mom Terry Howell Stanley!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Worldly Wednesday: Animal Characters from Different Countries

In English folklore, there are many well-known animal characters–the tortoise, hare or rabbit, fox, and wolf.  But what about other places in the world?

Travel with me on an animal adventure around the world–and please add to my cast of characters!  IF you know of an animal character used commonly in a particular country or culture's folklore, list it in the comments section below.

Then, if you rewrite a worldly folk tale or legend, or adaptation of a fable, send a note and tell me about it, I'd love to feature it here.

Anansi - a tricky spider

Charley - 100+ year old Crocodile (good luck)
Bouki - Hyena

Zhu Badjie (a.k.a. "Pigsy") - half human, half pig

Mapinguari - a Yeti/sloth-like furry animal (now extinct()
Boi Bumba - an ox

Silche/Silkie - a seal-like animal with the ability to transform itself into a human

Kitsune - fox-like spirits that turn into witches

Now - share your favorite animal characters from around the world!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Mommy Monday: Meet Susan Manzke

The next AuthorMom in our series is someone that introduces herself and her life well–in her writing.  I don't have to interview her–you'll get to know her if you subscribe to her weekly column.

Susan Manzke is an inspiration.  She's been penning her column for 30 years, and I recently was invited to help her put together a collection of those columns into a newly published book, Words in My Pocket.  What a joy!

In her book, you'll really experience what it's like to be an author and a mother simultaneously, since Susan's journal-style essays are humorous and heartfelt excerpts from her life while raising a family on Sunnybook Farm in Seymour, Wisconsin.

Susan Manzke also visits classrooms–and dresses the part!  She's into historical fiction and life on the prairie, so her presentations are always interesting (see video link below!)

As for me, I subscribe to her weekly column via email (and I'm catching up on all of her writing that she did when I was too young to read!).  I love reading the words of someone who is humble, thoughtful, honest and simple–four qualities I love about my own mother!

So, head on over to Susan's website if you want to meet this AuthorMom (and GrandMom!) or begin receiving her down-to-earth weekly column!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Focus Friday: Preventative Maintenance

My Friday morning began with a trip to the dentist.  As the hygienist scraped and polished, and then as I was reminded to floss every day (*blush*), I was reminded about how important it is to do preventative maintenance.

As a Catholic, I often joke that it's better to "beg forgiveness rather than ask permission."  But in writing...especially in SUBMITTING, preventative maintenance can go a long way–in preventing rejections.

After finishing Assignment 8 of the ICL course, in which you research markets FIRST, then craft your idea and write your piece according to a publisher's guidelines, I realized the assignment is all about doing a bit of preventative maintenance.  Sending a query vs. the entire manuscript (where permitted) is also a bit of preventative maintenance.  In writing, I like being proactive, not reactive.

By brushing or flossing everyday, I prevent cavities and gum disease.  By taking 20 minutes every day to research a new market, or review the submission guidelines of a current market, I feel as though I'm preventing disaster–(note:  I'm still waiting for my first rejection letter...will it ever come?)

There are also other preventative maintenance measures every writer can take:
1) Read books on writing
2) Attend revision workshops or retreats
3) Join a critique group
4) Google the working title of your book or idea before you submit it
5) Review publisher catalogs and read selections
6) Update your blog, website, Facebook page, resume, etc. often

What do you do even before you submit a manuscript to curb the odds of rejection?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Focus Friday: I Need a Retreat!

My 2-year-old son is a much welcomed distraction!
Does anyone else feel the distraction of summer?  Or am I alone in my whirlwind of "Where does the time go?"

As fall approaches next month (Yes, where I live signs of fall begin to show themselves by the end of September), it's time to plan a writing retreat–or two.

Luckily, I've got a WONDERFUL local critique group of children's writers and one of us has a cabin.  (Side note: If you're not a member of the SCBWI nor have a critique group, I highly recommend joining).

While our group won't be roughing it this September (actually planning to bring several computers, an iPad, and laser printer), we will be bringing our focus, attention, and passion for writing.  And, there will be plenty of outdoor inspiration should I want to begin a new story!

I find that a date on the calendar helps me focus–as well as being away from distractions of home at least once or twice a year.  Planning a retreat gives me an 'official date' for which to polish up manuscripts, comb through lists of potential markets, and draft up rough pitches for query and cover letters.  The more prepared I am for the retreat, the more meaningful critique and feedback I can get from other writers and the more productive weekend I will have.

But...that's not all, folks!

Only four weeks after I return, I'll also attend the SCBWI-Wisconsin Fall Retreat.  That's right, a two-fer!  Two retreats back-to-back!  (OK, sales pitch over).  For me, I like to write, revise, and critique in "binges" and two retreat weekends within a month of each other is perfect for focusing and keeping my spirits high through the revision and submission process.

How about you?  Do you plan writing retreats?  Attend conferences or SCBWI chapter events?  Do they help you focus and regain passion?  Thoughts welcomed!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Worldly Wednesday: Does My Head Look Big in This? Aussie Book Review

Recently,  I picked up a book written by an Australian author called Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah.  Since I've helped UK-authors and even one Australian author edit their work in the past, I was prepared to read a novel with a slightly different perspective on culture, infused with many Aussie words, etc.

However, as I read the novel, I was struck by how 'American' the novel really seemed.  Before I go on, let me say that I don't see this as a bad thing; it was just a surprise.   (Note: The version I read was the version released by Orchard Books in New York, not the first publication by Pan Macmillian Australia in 2005.  Don't know if the two are vastly different, but something worth mentioning I suppose).

Aside from about four words that reminded me I was reading an Aussie-authored novel, I mostly felt that I was reading an American novel.  But, I couldn't put the book down.  In the first few chapters, the main Character, Amal, seems a bit snobby and over-teenage-esque (does that sound American?).  But quickly, she transforms into a realistic, wholesome character and I must commend Abdel-Fattah on her consistency of voice throughout the novel–which matches the title perfectly.

As a former English teacher (who may reenter the classroom again when the time is right), I'm always scouting for both American and world novels that not only introduce different cultures, but demonstrate for my students how alike human beings across the globe really are.  We are both self-conscious and proud, we long for affection and attention, and just when we think we've got things figured out–our world changes.  This novel is exactly that type of novel, addressing these issues.

Does My Head Look Big in This? is a novel I think that teenagers would really get into.  Sure, there are a few racy slang words in the book, but by far nothing compared to the canon of great literature (or reality TV) that our kids are exposed to.  Overall, it's an engaging story and I read it in two days.

I'm glad I read the book and it actually has inspired me to look for more great titles from Aussie writers.  Typically, I scan the shelves for new African or Central Asian authors, but on this Worldly Wednesday I'm making a note to be even more global and less focused on the areas of the world I've studied most.

Have you read a good Aussie novel lately?  Have a favorite Australian Children's or YA Author?  Like Vegemite?  Share all things Aussie today!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Mommy Monday: Interview with Children's Writer Kara Froberg

Welcome to Mommy Monday, Children's Writer Kara Froberg!

Miranda:  I'm so excited that you've taken time out of your busy schedule as mother and writer to share your experiences with readers.  Kara is an aspiring children's author on the path to publication - a track that many of our readers share!

Miranda: Kara, let's start at the beginning.  How did you decide you wanted to write for children? 

Kara:  I’ve always enjoyed writing for all ages, but when I had my first child I became interested in writing for him, featuring him as the main character. He enjoyed reading about himself and it sparked his creative side.

Miranda:  Neat!  Since then, have you published any of those stories featuring your son (or other characters)?

Kara: I have not been published – yet. I’m currently compiling a list of markets I’d like to submit to and am working on several projects.

Miranda:  Getting writing ready for publication isn't easy, and I know you're finishing up a course from the Institute of Children's Literature to help you become a better writer.  Would you recommend that course to other Moms who want to write for children? 

Kara: I would definitely recommend ICL to other moms. They are extremely flexible which is what every mom needs. I email my lessons to my instructor so it’s that much easier for me, I don’t have to go to the post office, or have the added expense of envelopes and postage, or paper and ink. If a problem arises, like one of my kids gets sick and I’m unable to get my lesson done on time, I can call or email student services and request an extension for my assignment.

Miranda:  Now - let's talk about those assignments, or stories!  Being the mother of three boys, do you find yourself writing stories geared more for boys? 

Kara: I usually do write more for boys. I don’t know if it’s because I have three boys or because I’m somewhat a tom-boy myself. My boys are the inspiration for several of my short stories. I’ve written two stories based on true events from my boys’ lives. One is for earliest readers and the other is for middle grades.

Miranda:  I have two children–a boy and a girl– so I can't imagine how three boys allow you time to write.  When do you fit that in? 

Kara: It’s not easy finding time to write with a teenager who is active in band, athletics, and works part-time plus a five year old and a two year old who crave their mommy’s attention. I try to write during nap time, when the little ones are outside playing, and, my personal favorite, after the rest of the family has gone to bed. I have always been a night owl so staying up until two or three doesn’t bother me. My husband and my oldest son are very good about keeping the younger two occupied if I have a deadline to meet or want to get some research done.

Miranda:  What are some stories you're working on currently? 

Kara: I’m currently working on my final assignment for ICL which is the first three chapters of a novel. The working title of it is Following the Path. It’s a young adult novel about an obese teen being bullied her senior year in high school. I intend to finish the novel by spring 2012. I am also working on several short stories for Christian middle grade markets and mainstream middle grade markets. I’d also like to try my hand at writing for adults. I have the seed of an idea for a horror story and I’ve been researching in preparation for a paranormal romance that has nothing what-so-ever to do with vampires or werewolves.

Miranda:  Sounds like a lot of ideas!  Which do you like better - the process of creating a new story, or revising one already written? 

Kara: I get excited when I have the seed of an idea. I like to nurture it and make it grow. The actual writing of a new story is difficult for me. I have all these ideas and I know where I want my story to go, but then I get a new idea and want to add it to the plot right away, it makes writing frustrating at time. However, once the story is done, I can sit down and really play with things. I can re-arrange scenes, add to them, or delete them altogether. I would much rather revise work that is already done than have to decide what should happen first and if a character fits this story or belongs somewhere else.

Miranda:  You've mentioned to me before this interview that one of your breakout strategies is to enter contests.  Can you tell us more about that?

Kara: I think the reason I’m doing contests is because if I don’t win, it doesn’t feel like a rejection. Plus, with a contest, you have strict word counts and deadlines to meet as opposed to writing a story and then looking for a market that fits that story. I also would like to be able to add to my resume that I’ve won this contest or was runner-up in that contest. Most contests publish the winning entries and give contributor copies and sometime prize money, so that’s an added benefit.

Miranda:  Besides giving yourself the occupational titles of writer and mother, what are three titles you might use to describe the 'full Kara Froberg' to readers?

Kara: Christian is the title that I enjoy most. I love God and am not afraid or ashamed to admit it, but I also don’t feel the need to push in other people’s faces.

Film and book critic also apply. I used to work for a video store and enjoyed recommending or warning the customers about the movies. I would also suggest the book that the movie was based on. After awhile, customers would stop in the store to ask me what a book title was that I had recommended or if I knew if I movie had been made about a certain book.

Lastly, I’d have to say the title of Supreme Procrastinator fits me perfectly. If I can think of something else to do, instead of the thing I’m supposed to be doing, you better believe I’ll do it. My goal is to become a Procrastinator instead of a Supreme Procrastinator by the end of the year. I have plenty of time before the end of the year, so, I’ll work on that goal later.

Miranda: Too funny!  Well I won't procrastinate in saying thank you for stopping over to be interviewed on my blog!  ¡Muchas Gracias!

Want to learn more about children's writer Kara Froberg?  Kara’s Blog can be found at http://Kara-writeaway.blogspot.com. 
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