Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Writing Process: Sprints & Breaks. Get that MS into shape!

Dear Alison,

I made a mistake.

I didn't realize I was supposed to post Monday, May 30th. I deleted that lovely blog schedule you made us--that blog schedule that listed upcoming posting dates? I thought this morning I was being conscientious when I emailed you a request for a new copy. Turns out I was just being late.

But fear not, I have delivered.

Bob Marley makes me happy, especially this time of year when the sun shines down on us and we can jump into lakes without turning into icicles. I love swimming. I love biking. I love hiking in the woods. I love being outside, but I also love reading and writing. So, to fit everything in (as best as I can) I wake up early to read. I stay up late to write. I weasel time in during the park days and field days and carnival days and tie dye days. And you and I have taken up sprinting.

Oh my dear readers, fear not. We are not tugging on our sneakers. We are not breaking a sweat and burning our fair skin in the blazing sun. (Although, after some forty-five minute sessions, I have needed to cool off with a tall glass of icy cold water and a piece of chocolate.) No, our sessions work out our manuscripts. A few times a week (including weekends), we've managed to squeeze in several forty-five minute writing sprints.

Our sprint conversations look like this:


A few quick texts, and forty-five minutes turns into a writing frenzy. Similar to this...


Our writing sprints follow advice I adopted following Susan Campbell Bartoletti's keynote at the SCBWI EPA's 2014 Pocono Retreat. 

Susan writes for forty-five minutes without interruption. She ignores the phone. She ignores the email. She just writes. After forty-five minutes, her timer goes off and she stops typing--even if it's mid sentence. She steps away from the computer and takes a fifteen minute break to recharge her brain. She'll walk the dog, run a load of laundry, grab a snack. She doesn't look at email, answer the phone, or tweet. She's still thinking about her manuscript during that break, and when her fifteen minute break is up, she returns to her work with renewed vigor. 


Writing sprints work. 1,000s of words of content prove it.

 This time of year is especially busy for me. My mind wanders a lot because of my other demands. Our sprint sessions allow me to focus, and I love it. 

So, while I wrote Starr Lost in a month back in February. Starr Gone is taking a bit longer--but with our writing sprints it's in much better shape than it would be without them.

Sharing the writing love one letter at a time,
Kim 



Thursday, May 26, 2016

Revision Retreat at the Highlights Foundation with Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson

Dear Alison,

Picture it: the first week of June 2013. The sun shining, the lilacs blooming, and me, a young writer armed with a suitcase full of new clothes, two young adult manuscripts, shiny and new and ready to be published, (READ: naive and nowhere near ready to be published), and a burning desire to learn more about the revision process from two revision masters, Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson at the Highlights Foundation Revision Retreat. 

I should mention the second suitcase I packed. The one filled with balled nerves, reservations, and self-doubt brought on by the handful of rejections I received from agents. (READ AGAIN: naive and nowhere near ready to be published.) 

It was my first visit to the Highlights Foundation, my first experience as a writer attending a writing workshop, my first time away from my three kids, my first time spending a week working on my dream since my husband and I started our family. A week filled with firsts...

My first impression... 



My personal welcome...


Not a picture from my first visit. I didn't think to capture that first impression.
(READ naive and nowhere near ready to be published.)


My nerves slowly slipped away when I entered my cabin. After all, I was welcome here. That's what the sign said. I was welcome and my name was in big bold letters on the door. I took a deep breath, sat on my bed, and reread the workshop description.  

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Workshop Description (Copied from the Highlights Foundation page.) 

In this working retreat, Harold Underdown and editor Eileen Robinson will teach proven techniques for self-editing and revising and help writers try them out on their manuscripts. Mornings will be dedicated to revision techniques and afternoons to model critique groups, individual meetings, and writing time.
Participants will:
  • try out a variety of techniques for self-editing, from big picture revision down to line-editing;
  • explore ways to gain objectivity and more focused responses to manuscripts;
  • learn about reader response theory and how to use it to gain insights into a manuscript;
  • if interested, work together in a model critique group, formed at the retreat from students with similar interests, and led by the faculty, to critique one another’s manuscripts;
  • discover creative techniques, such as improvising new scenes or episodes as part of the revision process;
  • take part in group discussions and share favorite techniques; and
  • meet with an editor for individual consultations.
Intended for writers wanting to revise a draft of a manuscript while exploring and trying out proven techniques for self-editing and revising with the help of experienced editors and other writers; participants will need to bring a rough or finished draft of a novel, picture book, or narrative nonfiction.
I was excited. I was going to learn about revising my manuscripts from Eileen Robinson and Harold Underdown:


Eileen Robinson

Eileen Robinson

Eileen has helped many writers become first-time authors during her years at Scholastic. For almost ten years, she acquired, developed, and edited children’s books for both Scholastic, as executive editor, and Harcourt Publishers, as editorial manager. She has also worked … 
Harold Underdown

Harold Underdown

Harold is an independent editor who works with authors and publishers. He has worked at Macmillan, Orchard, and Charlesbridge, and has experience in trade and educational publishing.



That first afternoon, I put on a new outfit, brushed my hair, and headed down to the library to meet Harold and Eileen. Harold shook my hand and said, "Oh yes, you're the one with the scary book in the woods." 

Yes, yes I was. 

One published book and two book contracts later, I believe I am more than qualified to attest to the merits of the Revision Retreat and Harold's and Eileen's knowledge base. The content that was covered those four days provided that backbone to my writing arsenal.

I spend a lot of time praising the Highlights Foundation, but nowhere near enough for all that I've received in return. I even wrote a Thank You post over at the Eastern PA SCBWI blog, EasternPennPoints.

Here's a little sample: 

In New York, I found my people. I also found my writing BFF who told me about the Highlights Foundation. She described a cabin in the woods where I could work on the craft of writing. It sounded just about perfect to me. I applied for one of the Highlights Foundation’s scholarships which led me to Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson’s Kids Book Revision Retreat. One week with these writing experts, in the care of the Highlights Foundation, gave me new writing friends and a new way to look at my work-in-progress (which would ultimately be the series I sold to Inkspell Publishers).

Alison, you know all about the Highlights Foundation, but I want everyone to know about it, especially the Revision Retreat because writers from every step of the writing journey from beginning to experienced need guidance. Harold and Eileen give each writer just what they need, but it's up to the writer to make the most of it. 

I keep in touch with my writing friends I made that week. Friends like Judy Forney, Deb Aronson, and Dave Kane. Friends I keep in touch with regularly. Friends I even get to see.



Dave Kane and Kim Briggs catching up in Philadelphia.


Harold and I also keep in touch. He's offered manuscript advice, we've talked books, and he's one of my enthusiastic promoters of Kim's Big News.

For writers serious about developing their writing craft or considering dipping their toe into the writing world, I strongly suggest attending the Highlights Foundation Revision Retreat. Apply for a scholarship. Make the time to attend. All of our lives are busy, but aren't you worth it?  (YOU ARE in case you're wondering!!!!)


Sharing the writing love one letter at a time,

Kim 
AKA Enthusiastic Hugger  (You've been warned)
AKA Enthusiastic Promoter of the Highlights Foundation

Monday, May 23, 2016

Book Review: Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman

Dear Kim,

I considered posting the text that I sent you this past weekend about Girls on Fire, but I thought better of exposing our readers to the amount of expletives used. Instead I will share a censored version:




Robin Wasserman's masterpiece is a dark and twisty tale, too believable to be anything but young adult horror. Set in Battle Creek, Pennsylvania in 1991, a fitting town for Wasserman's many battles: high school reverence, best-of-friend manipulations, sexuality, and the battle to be just a girl in the world. 





Kurt Cobain (not Gwen) plays the soundtrack to this novel. His songs hang like storm clouds around the girls-- all devastation, destruction, and angst. 


Hannah Dexter seeks something more out of life. Then Hannah meets Lacey Champlain who is equal parts seductress and best friend. Lacey pulls Hannah (now Dex, per Lacey's order) into the fierce and violent fold of high school girlhood. 

The story opens (and spoiler-ish, ends) with a suicide. A boy took his life in the woods. Like most of the boys in the book, Craig means little to Lacey and Dex. But, the girlfriend he left behind, Nikki, means everything. 
Fear of Satanic cults permeate the town. Those fears are well founded, but the devil those parents know is no match for the girls in Battle Creek. 


From "Before Lacey", pages 6-7, GIRLS ON FIRE


Female relationships are beasts to write well, due to equal parts love and hate/ endure and surrender/ obsession and abandon. Wasserman captures the tightrope that is girl friendship. She does so without adult voice or sweet reminiscence of girlhood, two things that have no place in this type of book. Her world-- the hierarchy and battle of Battle Creek, Pennsylvania-- is honest and terrifying. 


Slide back in time, when grunge was king, and meet the girls of Battle Creek, Pennsylvania. They will scare the flannel off your back, but you will love them all the same.

Kim, you must read Robin Wasserman's Girls on FireThe book hit every note for me: rich language, layered characters, and a complex plot. While you are at it, check out Wasserman's article on LitHub about GIRLS in fiction. Which, like Girls on Fire, is too good to miss.

With love,
Alison



Thursday, May 19, 2016

Author Interview: Stacy Mozer, The Sweet Spot and More!

Dear Alison, 

We love, REALLY love, sharing writer love everyday. It's what we do. It's who we are, and today, I want to tell you all about a writing pal of mine Stacy Barnett Mozer, the author of The Sweet Spot.

Picture

When thirteen-year-old Sam Barrette’s baseball coach tells her that her attitude’s holding her back, she wants to hit him in the head with a line drive. Why shouldn’t she have an attitude? As the only girl playing in the 13U league, she’s had to listen to boys and people in the stands screaming things like “Go play softball,” all season, just because she’s a girl. Her coach barely lets her play, even though she’s one of the best hitters on the team.

KIM: Baseball and now softball rule our house, and a book about a girl playing baseball really excites me (I was a baseball player myself and have the bruises to prove that sometimes boys don't approve of girls on the field)! 

Hi Stacy! Thanks for stopping by INK Sisters Write today! We met at the NY SCBWI Conference a few years back and have been SCBWI buddies ever since. Tell us about your role in the NE SCBWI. 
 I am an Assistant Regional Advisor for New England. My specific job is to help our New England Members find and maintain critique groups. We currently have 47 open groups and too many closed groups to count so it can be a big job at times, especially right after a conference. 

KIM: When did you decide to become an author?
I decided to become an author about ten years ago when a group of third grade students told me that there was no way a real author who wrote real books could possibly revise as much as I asked them to revise. I have been writing and revising my own middle grade novels every since.

KIM: HA! Challenge accepted! Your book, The Sweet Spot, had a unique journey to publication. You self-published first. How did you find that experience? Any tips for budding self-publishers?
There was a lot that I liked about self-publishing. I was 100% in control of my own timeline and I didn’t have to wait for any approvals. If I liked something, I did it, no questions asked. But having the oversight isn’t a bad thing. The cover I used was a Createspace template, and while I thought it looked good, people in the know recognized it immediately as self-published. I hadn’t formatted the text correctly (it should be justified, not left). I also didn’t price the book high enough to be able to sell it in bookstores on consignment and didn’t have a good way for bookstores or libraries to by the book themselves. My tip to new self-publishers is to do lots of research before doing it yourself and to find a mentor who has experience. Also, make sure to be careful. If it isn’t your best work you don’t want it to be the work that defines you. Quality really really counts.

KIM: You spend your days teaching 3rd graders. Does your day job help or nurture your writing?  
Absolutely. I became a writer because of their challenge, but even more so, because of writing with and for my students. Every time I give an assignment to my class, I take that assignment on myself. Whether it is writing a fractured traditional tale (which is my current unit of study) or writing an essay about a loved book, if they have to do it, I have to do it. Those things don’t become books I write but reading my short work to kids helps me know what they enjoy as readers.

When do you manage to squeeze in writing time?
Not as often as I would like. I really take advantage of my vacations and summers and can spend 7 hours in a row working on a manuscript every day for three or four weeks. Most of my novels where written in a self-imposed NaNoWriMo. Then I spend the next year or so revising those initial pages.

So, book lover to book lover, what was the last book you read that made you….

LOL: 
Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast by Josh Funk

Cry: 
The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

Wish you had written it yourself: 
I would really like to write picture books, especially a fractured traditional tale. Maybe the one I am writing for my students next year will be publishable. Who knows? Two of my favorites are Little Red Gliding Hood by Tara Lazar and Ninja Red Riding Hood by Corey Rosen Schwartz.

Stay up way past your bedtime: 
Every book - Currently it is The Obsidian Mirror #2 by Catherine Fisher

What is one thing that always grabs your attention in a novel? 
Great characters. I love the spunky, fearless type who is not afraid to speak his or her mind.

And on the flip side, what always turns you off? 
Characters that are self-depricating. I hate it when a character whines and questions his or her own self-worth.

Inquiring minds want to know: what’s next? 
The sequel to The Sweet Spot will release this time next year. I’m also working on a middle grade fantasy.

Here at INK Sisters Write, we share the writing love one letter at a time. Any tips or words of inspiration for our readers? 

Never let anyone stop you from following your dreams. It is the theme of The Sweet Spot but it works for anything in life, especially writing.

Thanks for stopping by Stacy! Great to see you (even if it is via social media), and in case the rest of you want to give Stacy some writer love (and we sure hope you do), visit: Stacy Barnett Mozer


If you want to find out more about The Sweet Spot, check it out here: The Sweet Spot.


Sharing the writing love more letter at a time,
Kim