Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Questions A Writer Should Know How to Answer

As I prepare for my first ever big writing conference (SCBWI New York), I'm trying to calm my nerves by thinking about how to answer some questions that might come up in casual conversation. But it occurred to me that I often get asked these questions by non-writers, too. Every once in a while, it’s not a bad idea to take a minute to think about how you’d answer these questions, and even practice them, so you don’t become all tongue-tied if the occasion comes up.

1. What do you write?

2. How did you become a writer/get started writing?

3. What are you working on now?

4. Have you ever been published or where can I find your books?

Of course, you need to keep in mind who’s asking. Some of the writing lingo we use as writers may not be familiar to non-writers. I recently had a conversation where I ended up explaining the term “dystopian” in a hallway of my school. (Lucky for me, I can now refer to the TV series Revolution). And I’m often asked to explain what “middle grade” means – not to be confused with “middle school”, which doesn’t necessarily capture the same age group. There’s also the difference between YA and MG (see MG vs YA: What's the Difference by MiG Writer Debbie Ridpath Ohi for clarification), which isn’t always as clear cut as we’d like to think.

Of course, at SCBWI, everyone will know these distinctions, which will make conversations and explanations that much easier. I can concentrate on what I want people to know about me and my writing. (Because even though I’m an introvert, I do want people to read and know about my work.) It will also be useful to remember that I can draw on these questions when I’m trying to think of what to say to other writers that I meet (since I’m sure they’ll know the answers and feel comfortable talking a little about their work), along with these:

5. Have you been to one of these conferences before?

6. Do you have any tips for a newbie?*

Painful as it may be for someone who spends a lot of time on the computer, it's important to be able to articulate something sensible about what I'm actually doing for all those hours (so I'd better not mention all the time I spend reading blogs and, lately, tweets.) Can you think of any other questions a writer needs to be able to answer?

*For more tips on calming your nerves before attending a big conference, check out Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s comics for conference newbies.

-- Andrea


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Dear Readers,

I ran out to get the newspaper yesterday and found a package on my doorstep. I’m not sure how it got there - my dogs have poor manners when it comes to someone walking up to our house. (Ax murderer, UPS guy - eh? It’s all the same to them. Bark! Bark! Bark!) 

I wasn’t expecting anything so I eagerly scooped it up and brought inside. It was from my new publisher, Holiday House - a book on the house’s first sixty-five year history. Tucked inside, there was a dated, handwritten note:

Dear Carmella,

Welcome to Holiday House - and thank you for being a part of this story.

It was signed John Briggs.*

Wow. How cool was that?

I guess I never really thought about myself as being a part of something bigger, part of someone else’s story and history. It was a neat feeling and an unexpected surprise. **

Later in the afternoon, I got to thinking about it. You know, if we write for children and teens aren’t we ALL part of something special and bigger than ourselves? Most of us will never make the New York Times Best Sellers list or win an award. Shoot. Some of us may never be published. (Or be published again.) But that’s okay. We’ve got one of the greatest callings in the world. To inspired, teach, reach, comfort, delight, and challenge young readers. 

So in case no one has told you this lately, thank you for being part of the story. Thank you for writing the books and poems and songs and for illustrating those stories that help make the world better and brighter. 


* He’s the current owner and president of Holiday House.
** I don’t mean to in any way suggest that my other publishers haven’t been awesome. Because they totally have. They show me love in different ways and I thoroughly enjoy being a part of their stories, too.  

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

MiG Writers: Meeting In Person For The First Time At The SCBWI Winter Conference

Only a couple of weeks left until the SCBWI Winter Conference in NYC! I'm so looking forward to the event, not just because of the amazing faculty line-up and programming, but also because it will be the first time that all members of our MiG Writer group meet in person!

I've met Andrea Mack and Carmella Van Vleet once before and look forward to seeing them again, but I haven't yet met Christina Farley, Kate Fall or Susan Laidlaw in person.

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I started attending SCBWI conventions regularly in 2009. I was so nervous about not knowing anyone there, and about having to go up and introduce myself to strangers. I'm an introvert at heart (I suspect many creative types are), so I decided to do some prep ahead of time to make things easier at the event.

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This prep included:

1. Networking online ahead of time on the SCBWI message boards and other social media. I didn't hide the fact that I was a nervous newbie.

2. Doing some comics about being nervous.

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Turns out I wasn't the only nervous newbie! Plus the veterans were generous in offering advice on how make the conference more enjoyable. I also made plans ahead of time to get together with others:

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But not TOO many plans! I wanted to leave flexibility for hanging out with people I had met at the conference.

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I also read over posts people had written about conference etiquette and tips on how to meet (and how NOT to meet) others in the industry. But the most important piece of advice, I found, was to HAVE REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS:

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Also: to have a clear idea of what my goals were for the conference. And again, make those goals realistic. 

One of my goals for this conference coming up: To meet the other MiG Writers in person.

Can't wait. :-)

p.s. If you'd like to see all my SCBWI Newbie Comics, see this blog post.

Debbie Ridpath Ohi writes and illustrates for young people. She illustrated I'M BORED by Michael Ian Black (Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers), which was chosen as a New York Times Notable Children's Book Of 2012. Debbie is currently working on two more books for S&S. Blog: Twitter: @inkyelbows.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Congrats to Carmella on the sale of her MG novel, ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG FAT QUITTER, to Holiday House!

We at MiG Writers are thrilled to announce that Carmella Van Vleet's debut middle grade novel, ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG FAT QUITTER, has sold to Holiday House!

Congrats to Carmella and her agent Marie Lamba (The Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency) on this news. You can find out more about Carmella and her work at her website.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

My Life is Like a YA Novel

More specifically my life is like my YA  novel. Does that really surprise you? Aren’t we all just writing about ourselves under a thinly veiled guise of creative inspiration? You can’t tell me that J.K. Rowlings isn’t half witch the way she makes money appear.

So, back to my point, in my YA novel, my main character Emma moves to Pakistan. It’s a radical change from her former home in the Philippines. In the past three months I have moved to SocialMediaLand. It’s a radical change from my former home, which was my former home – four walls, a roof, familiar faces, you get the drift. 

In the Philippines, Emma has lots of friends, fun activities, the freedom to go where she wants, and a warm and hospitable culture. In Pakistan no one knows her, though a few kind girls try to help her fit in. The culture itself is at times hostile, even threatening, and her freedom of movement is severely curtailed. 

This is totally me!

In my own home, I’m very popular. My husband likes me, my kids like me, my 3lb. Yorkie thinks I’m the best thing since sliced chicken. And I am competent and have enormous freedom. I know how to operate all the machinery, the dishwasher, the coffee maker. I can even hop in the car and go exactly where I want, when I want.

In SocialMedialand I’m very unpopular. I’m not joking! I am wildly, demonstrably, and honestly kind of amusingly unpopular. Do you want proof? There are 166 YA books listed on Goodreads as coming out in 2013. My book, AN INFIDEL IN PARADISE, is the 166th on the list of books people want to read. So among the thousands of Goodread readers, I am the last person anyone wants to meet.  If that’s not a hostile environment, I don’t know what is. If I showed up at Goodreads High School, I would definitely be eating alone in the lunch room.

Another incontrovertible parallel, and the main reason I’ve been so reluctant to move to SocialMediaLand, is I that don’t know how to operate anything and it takes me forever to get anywhere, if I get there at all. My blog for example has no pictures, not because I  have no pictures but because I can’t figure out how to upload them. I didn’t even have a website for the longest time because just the thought of creating and navigating one put me into a cold sweat. I tried and failed to create an author’s page on Goodreads, though in light of my recent rating over there, this example is looking a lot less random. In any case, this is just the tip of the iceberg, believe me.

But, like Emma, I have not been totally abandoned in SocialMediaWasteLand. On the first day of school Emma is befriended by a group of girls who do their best to help her fit in. Gradually, she makes more friends and amid the hostility of those who don’t really know her, she discovers a home with the few who take the time to. My MiG partners are my first-day-of-school girls. They’ve been with me almost since the beginning of my writing journey and do their best to explain the rules of SocialMediaLand, though I still maintain the rules defy explanation.  Gradually, I’m making more friends in SocialMediaLand  – shout out to @TheLucky13s and of course the talented, supportive team at @TundraBooks

But I’m still 166th of 166 at Goodreads. Does that mean I’ll be eating alone at the lunch table? I guess on Feb. 12th when AN INFIDEL IN PARADISE arrives in stores, we’ll all find out. But whatever happens my Yorkie still thinks I’m amazing.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The MiG's 2013 Goals

Happy New Year! Another year rolls in and we are super excited about  2013. Each January we always make our goals and share them with each other. This year we thought how fun it would be to share our goals with you.

Here they are!

Andrea Mack

1. Finish rewriting Novel #4 (my middle grade novel about a girl on a wilderness adventure).

 2. Finish drafting Novel #5, the middle grade novel I started during NaNo. I'm excited about his project and it's keeping me writing and puzzling about the plot.

 3. Write two picture book manuscripts based on ideas I collected during Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo). I have some good ones and I want to take the time to develop them into stories.

Debbie Ridpath Ohi

 1. I will make regular time for my novel writing every day, no matter what excitement is going on in my picture book career, and even it means just writing a very small chunk or revamping the outline or (in the case of severe deadline crunch for other projects) just thinking about the story and characters and what's happening next. The important goal is to devote some focus on my novel(s) every single day.

2. I will finish my revamped outline for my MG novel and write the first draft.

3. I will come up with 10 new picture book ideas a month (roughly two per week). Halfway through the year, I'll choose the idea I like the most and spend the last half of the year polishing the mss, working on rough visual ideas.

Christina Farley
(whose YA novel GILDED launches from Amazon Children's this November)

 1. Jan- Write and send sequel proposal to agent.

 2. Jan- Write and send new book series proposal to agent.

 3. Jan- Work on revisions of GILDED.

 4. Feb/Mar- Launch new website.

 5. Mar- Aug- If sequel is a go, revise it and send to agent.

 6. July- Work on book launch.

 7. Sept- Nov- Organize for the launch of GILDED.

 8. Nov- Launch GILDED into the world!

  Carmella Van Vleet
(whose EXPLORE ELECTRICITY! launches from Nomad Press in August)

 1. Finish revising my YA and send off to agent. Revise some more. (Hopefully submit to editors by end of the year.)

 2. Fine tune my picture book (with astronaut Kathy Sullivan) so agent can start submitting.

 3. Start outlining a new MG.

 4. Get together a brochure and look for more opportunities for author visits.

 5. Promote my new book, Explore Electricity!, due out in August.

 6. Read. Every day. (I'm inspired by Andrea and her annual 100-books- a-year goal. I need to get myself in gear!!)

 7. Sign some contracts. :-)

  Susan Laidlaw
(whose AN INFIDEL IN PARADISE launches in Feb from Tundra Books)

 I'm going to finish revisions on my second novel well before my March 1st. deadline, so I have time to mull over the changes I've made before submitting it, which means putting in a solid morning of writing, every morning, which is when I'm most creative. If I don't feel I can continue into the afternoon, I'll spend a few hours every afternoon doing something toward marketing my first book, which includes getting back to my blog. I will try to blog once a week.

 I will begin research on my third novel as soon as we get to Mumbai in February, which means volunteering with an NGO working with either street kids, or underage prostitutes. I'm going to finish the rough draft of my third novel before the end of May and try to have the revised version in my agents hands before the summer.

 I will stay on top of my critiquing responsibilities with my critique group because they really are the best and I love being a part of the Migs.

  Kate Fall

 Oh, Lord, manage stress, YES!

 I try to think of one word for the year. This year it's THINK. Think Big. Do my books interconnect? Think of new markets. Should I be writing for adults? Think more before I first draft. Think of what I want and can get from my career, and think on what I'm learning from others.