Monday, October 31, 2011

Screaming Good Books

Last year, Neil Gaiman proposed giving scary books as gifts on Halloween. As some of you know, I don't really do scary books, mostly because they're...well...scary. But scary picture books? Those I can mostly handle. So as my gift to you, I give you my list of Screaming Good Books.

Here are a few off my favorite spooky picture books to give to your little ghoul:
Halloween ABC by Eve Merriam
Mommy? by Maurice Sendak
The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone
Julius's Candy Corn by Kevin Henkes
The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams
Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willams
Piggie Pie! by Margie Palatini
Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola
The Littlest Witch by Jeanne Massey
Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark by Alvin Schwartz (This book's for older readers but is still a picture book. Also, if you haven't read this book in awhile, make sure to check out the new edition illustrated by Brett Helquist—of A Series of Unfortunate Events fame.)

And four bonus spooky chapter books that I read this year:
A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz
The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Cryer's Cross by Lisa McMann

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Dream Big, or Highlights from the SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Fall Conference

This was my first official year on the SCBWI Fall Conference Planning Committee, and boy was it crazy hard work. I don't know how these women (and sometimes men) do this year after year after year. But all the hard work totally paid off this weekend. Children's book industry professionals all came together just outside the Beltway to inspire, teach and even sometimes admonish the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI community.

We all know I'm a sucker for both baseball and books, so Brian Lies didn't have to work all that hard to get me rooting for him. But when he showed up at the conference hotel around 11 p.m. while I was setting up the AV equipment, he proceeded to spend the next hour making sure his presentation worked with our system and even let me be a fangirl for a little while. Then bright an early the next morning, Brian gave an amazing opening address.

He framed his speech around his marketing plan for his books, including advice on brainstorming (nothing is off the table), going beyond what the publisher is willing to do (his family wraps their van in art for every book) and the most important meal of the day (breakfast, of course). While much of his concepts directly translate into promotional ideas for published authors, the underlying message was clearly for everyone: Investing in yourself will give you the best returns.
"If you believe—if you imagine the wacky stuff—it can happen... Success really does breed success, but you have to keep the ball rolling."
—Brian Lies
author of Bats at the Ballgame and Bats at the Beach

Brian was followed by a panel of literary agents who talked about what they do and what they're looking for in clients. This is also where I get to insert a plug for my friend Megan Sheperd, whose book The Madman's Daughter comes out from HarperCollins in 2013, in large part thanks for her agent, Quinlan Lee. And after hearing Quinlan speak and talking to her after the conference, I can understand why Megan speaks so highly of Quinlan. Both her and Jennifer's dedication to their clients and the children's book industry was clear in their advice.
"If you send to everyone at one time, you lose the opportunity to revise and resubmit."
—Jennifer RofĂ©
agent with Andrea Brown Literary Agency
"One book, two hands, countless reasons we do what we do."
—Quinlan Lee
agent with Adams Literary
Next up as editor extraordinar Chelsea Eberly talking about "The Hook for Your Book". While I missed the first part of her talk because of other conference responsibilities, she gave wonderful insight into why you need to know what about your novel will hook the reader. In knowing what makes your novel strong and unique, you are able not only to pitch it to industry professionals but also fix a lot of problems in your writing before you begin submitting.
"Think about the book industry, which means doing your homework... If you don’t know what you’ve written, you’ve kind of handed us an easy rejection."
—Chelsea Eberly
editor at Random House
National Book Award-winner Han Nolan gave the keynote address. She is both talented and insightful as well as humble and kind. I have never heard a speaker expose herself so fully to an audience, and it nearly broke my heart. She spoke about some of her most embarrassing moments as a writing and why she keeps writing despite the challenges.
"We don’t need more junk, and the young people we’re writing for don’t need more junk. They need to be inspired and invigorated... Powerful art can change you, it can change the world."
—Han Nolan
author of Pregnant Pause and Dancing on the Edge

Time management is a huge issue for authors and aspiring writers alike, and the local author panel addressed how to accomplish your writing goals without sacrificing the rest of you life. And these woman—who are writers, mothers, teachers, friends—understand what it takes to be a Renaissance Woman.
"It is fair to ask yourself what you’re trading your writing time for."
—Wendy Shang
author of The Great Wall Of Lucy Wu
"You can expect kind things to come your way, and you should extend kind things to others as well."
"At some point you have to say, okay, this is when I’m going to write and this is when I’m going to take care of business... We all get the same 24 hours in a day."
—Anne Marie Pace
author of Vampirina Ballerina and Never Ever Talk to Strangers
"You have to compartmentalize yourself...but you also need a break."
—Amy Brecount White
author of Forget-Her-Nots

The day finished off with an the editor panel discussing how voice influences plot and character development. With both practical and theoretical advice on how to develop a unique, believable voice in writing, these editors proved why they are so trusted and respected in the children's book industry.
"It’s so easy to forget to look through your character’s eyes and [instead] look through our own eyes because they’re more familiar... Ask yourself: What would I do if I were the character in this scenario?"
—Abby Ranger
editor at Disney-Hyperion
"There are no absolutes in writing, so clearly all of the rules we give you you are free to break."
—Chelsea Eberly
editor at Random House
"Figure out what your character is most afraid of and then make them do it... When the internal and external conflicts interlace, it makes for a very nuanced story."
—Caroline Abbey
editor at Bloomsbury
It's pretty obvious why I enjoyed this conference so much. Every SCBWI event I attend gets me excited to do more with and be better at what I feel such a deep passion to do. If you aren't a member of SCBWI, join now. And if you already are a member, it was great to see you at the conference, and I look forward to seeing you again next year!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Falling in Love with the Second City

Growing up in the shadow of man-made mountains, I never realized that most kids don't go to Broadway plays or museum exhibits practically every week. It wasn't until high school that I discovered even the kids from my hometown didn't spend their summers exploring the ethnic neighborhoods, swimming in the largest of the Great Lakes or cheering on the Boys in Black.

A few weeks ago when my best friend from Idaho met me in Chicago for vacation, I wanted to help her fall in love with my favorite city in the world. There was only one slight problem: I've had almost thirty years to explore Chi-Town, and Tammy only had six days.

Day One: Home Sweet Home

After landing and meeting up at the airport with many hugs and much giggling (yes, I giggle), Tammy and I met up with my family at Protillo's, the best greasy Italian beef around—and their chocolate cake shakes aren't bad either. We then drove around my hometown to show Tammy where I went to school (it was homecoming weekend, so we saw everyone leaving the powder puff game), all the Frank Lloyd Wright buildings along tree-lined streets, the library where I spent the majority of my free time, and the old downtown area, complete with riverboat casino and the last theater Frank Sinatra preformed in before his death.

Day Two: Bookends

We started off the day with an L ride up to the Newberry Library. Though I've walked past it many times, this was the first time I had ever been in the library built by the man who founded the American Library Association and has the highest honor in children's writing named after him. We then walked down the Magnificent Mile and saw one of the only buildings to survive the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Of course, sampling Chicago's famous stuffed pizza and taking pictures of Cloud Gate (more commonly known as "The Bean") are must-do tourist activities. We then ended our day chilling at the Harold Washington Library, which was—at the time of its completions—the largest public library in the world.

Day Three: Faith and Family

Saturday morning we headed to the LDS temple in the morning with my mom. The grounds are always so peaceful and beautiful, and this particular temple has a lot of meaning to me personally. We also ran into some old friends of my parents who knew them BC (Before Children), which was kind of cool. Back at my sister's house, her boyfriend Tom was getting ready to leave for a month of Army training in Germany. We ate lunch and played some card games until he had to go. While Tom will only be gone for a little while, his trip to Germany is in preparation for deployment to the Middle East next year. Not an easy afternoon of good-byes.

Day Four: Hyde Park

This had to be the most beautiful day of the entire trip. We didn't spend anywhere near enough time browsing the local bookstores, but we did spend a few hours learning the history of the written word in the Oriental Museum. They were setting up for a wedding at the Rockefeller Chapel, and a few knights in shining armor were practicing their sward skills on Quad of the University of Chicago. After walking around the Museum of Science and Industry and discussing the Columbian Exposition that took place there in 1893, we enjoyed the perfect weather along the lakefront. To cap off a pretty perfect day, we had dinner with my middle school English teacher, who, after all these years, is still correcting my grammar.

Day Five: View from the Top

What does the world look like from the top? Very small. The Willis Tower—nope, I just can't do it. The Sears Tower is not my favorite tourist stop in Chicago, but we did start off the day walking through Grant Park, where we strolled the Museum Campus and enjoyed the cooling spray of the water at Buckingham Fountain. The gardens were still a bit of a mess from the Chicago Marathon the day before, we everything was still in bloom. We also caught a bit of the Columbus Day Parade, and I stopped by my favorite paintings at the Art Institute. Then we traveled up to catch a glimpse of four states on Skydeck before hopping on the L to Old Town where Second City performs. I've seen the troupe several times, but as improve mandates, no show is ever the same.

Day Six: Boat Ride

The Wendella Boat Tours have been a staple of family activities for years, and no matter how often I do it, I always have fun. It's the perfect view of my favorite city. After five days of non-stop touring, we headed back to my parent's house for a not-so-quiet dinner with my high-school best friend and her family. (I love it when my worlds collide like that.) It doesn't seem to matter how far away I live or how long I've been gone, but dinner at my mom's table always feels like home.

Honestly, I already miss Chicago—especially my family. But I'm also glad to be back in DC. My heart might reside in a few places across the country, yet I'm always glad to come home again.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Blog on Backorder

There are so many things I want to post about! I have pictures from my Chicago trip, highlights from visiting the new MLK Memorial with my uncle, reminders about the SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Fall Conference this coming Saturday, thoughts on prepping for NaNoWriMo, and so many other things. But I just don't have the energy.

I mean, in the entire month of September I read a grand total of five books, four of which were picture books. And halfway through October? Three: two picture books and one graphic novel. Okay, so that graphic novel was absolutely wonderful (Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life for those of you wondering), and I'd be perfectly content to read nothing for the next year as long as it was the novel I read last month (shame on you if you haven't read The Gray Wolf Throne), but does that really make up for the fact that I've got a stack of unread books on my nightstand that I'm desperate to read?

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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Time Flies, or Time to Fly

In less than 20 hours, I'll be with my two sisters—one my sister by blood and the other my sister by choice, but both my best friends in the world. Gwen and Tammy have never met, so I'm way excited for them to get to know each other rather than just know each other through me. This is also Tammy's first time to Chicago, which means I get to play tour guide in one of my favorite cities in the world.

Packing/laundering/cleaning is a pain, and I'm terrified to leave behind the excessive amount of work I have. But even that can't keep me from wanting to jump out of my skin in anticipation. God really knew what he was doing when her created sister—there's nothing better in the world.