Thursday, November 13, 2014

NaNoWriMo 2014, SCBWI Conference, and Me

Balancing Act, Pastel Pencil on Toned Paper;
Hello, Everyone! Happy NaNoWriMo! Hope those word counts are adding up and that you are finding plenty to write about. This year, thanks to a busy day-job and starting a new drawing class on Saturday mornings (sample above), I decided to go slow and steady, sticking to around 2000 words a day, with no weekend marathons. A more-sane approach is helping me to stay calm and positive about the process, and so far I haven't reached any dead-ends or resistance to my story (yet, LOL!). In other words, I'm hanging in there.

The other good thing I'm loving about this year's NaNoWriMo is that it's giving me a solid month of quiet focus to a) recover from finishing my WIP, The Abyssal Plain, and b) gather my strength to market the book, and c) contemplate everything I learned at the SCBWI Handsprings 2014 Conference here in Albuquerque at the end of October. 

I haven't written a book for young readers for several years, and it's a field I've been missing, especially as I've had an idea for a picture book rattling around in my head for the last eighteen months. So I could hardly pass up a conference so close to home I even went home for an hour to eat my lunch.

The Friday night and all-day Saturday event featured a fantastic line-up of guest speakers and workshop leaders: Julie Ham Bliven, editor from Charlesbridge; Liz Baker and Patti Ann Harris, editor and art director from Scholastic; and agent Sara Megibow. We also had the excellent input of our local members adding their experience and wisdom to the mix, and I came away with pages and pages of notes and good advice.

Some of my favorites:
  • Children's books are big again (yay!). As in REALLY big. If you've ever wanted to write a book for younger readers, this is the time to make that dream a reality.
  • When you go to write, however, don't just fall back on the books you enjoyed reading as a child. Take yourself to the library, the bookstore, and read online publishing lists and catalogs. In other words, research. Study what kinds of books are being published today. You might be surprised at how different they are . . .
  • . . . as well as being very close to what you loved, too. One of these similarities revolves around the idea of "perennial themes"; subjects that will always be popular, especially in picture books, e.g. bedtime, new sibling, holidays, counting and alphabet books. Study modern approaches to these themes and see how you can add your own personal twist.
  • Look for creative ways to layer those themes: e.g., can a bedtime book also be a counting book? (One little lamb put on his pajamas, two little lambs turned out the lights . . . )
  • Don't be afraid to explore the "dark side" of your theme/subject. Children need to express and explore negative feelings in a safe and open way.
  • Titles are super-important. In fact, they are so important they can determine where your book will be placed in the bookstore!
  • This is because many children's books buyers rarely remember the name of the writer or the illustrator (Sad, I know.) But book buyers do remember titles like Mr. Tiger Goes Wild.
  • If you're writing a picture book, make a "dummy" to ensure that your words and line breaks flow from page to page. (Easy dummy method: take 8 pieces of paper; fold them in half for a standard 32-page book that includes title and copyright pages.)
  • Picture book writers: Always think of your illustrator, even when you have no idea who that will be. Make sure your words inspire LOTS of pictures. There's nothing worse than having an illustrator receive your manuscript and say, "I don't know what to draw."
  • Editors can be open to a "reasonable" amount of art notes included with your text, so don't be too inhibited with your suggestions for pictures or a particular style of art.
  • Nonfiction writers: editors are looking for NF that reads like fiction. This goes for all age groups; picture books, too.
  • Books DO come from the slush pile. Keep submitting, don't give up.
  • Editors and agents take your membership in the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators very seriously--so if you haven't signed up, think about joining.
  • Read. Read. READ.
  • Books in verse for all age groups do well. Rhyming isn't as taboo as you might think. Just be sure to rhyme well.
Yes, I was inspired! The week before the conference I wrote a very rough draft of my picture book manuscript, and have since cut it up and laid it out line-by-line in dummy format. Currently it's "resting" in its own lovely folder, ready for rewriting as soon as NaNoWriMo is finished. And you know what? I'm actually looking forward to revisions--630 words is a whole lot better than 50K.

Tip of the Day: Joining a professional writer's organization, even if you have never been published, is one of the best ways I know to gain both confidence and inside information. If you're interested in writing for a younger audience, consider joining the SCBWI--the networking is excellent, and the constantly-updated marketing and publishing information they provide is invaluable.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Let's Go: Taiwan Trip with Artist Ming Franz



Spring Garden; Splash Ink Watercolor
with Gouache on Mulberry Paper

Happy Halloween! I can't believe it's been 3 weeks since my last blog post. Put it down to an overly-busy day job; going out of town for a bit; too many birthday parties to attend (including my blog's 6th anniversary--6 years!); getting ready for NaNoWriMo 2014 (cannot believe I've signed up again); and of course the fantastic Handsprings SCBWI conference here in Albuquerque last weekend--an amazing, and very tiring, event. I'll try to post some of my impressions from the conference next week, but for now my big news is:

I'm going to Taiwan next year! Best of all, there's still some room left on the tour for more friends of the arts to join up. Here's a sampling of info from the trip brochure:


Art and Scenic Tour of Taiwan with Ming Franz
March 25th to April 7, 2015

Ming Franz is an artist who is a native of Taiwan. This is her second tour leading artists to Taiwan. This tour will take you to visiting museums, art galleries, art studios and beautiful tropical Taiwan. 2 days flight, 12 days tour. 

Fees includes round trip air fare from San Francisco to Taipei, 12 days 4-5 star hotels, restaurants, tour bus and guide, all park and museum fees and tax, also basic medical insurance. Total is $3500 USD.  


Please go to her website to see the travel itinerary at www.mingfranzstudio.com, click on "Events" section. Feel free to contact her for questions at mingfranz555@gmail.com or 505-281-4956.


So what do you think?? Fun, or what?

I met Ming Franz last year when I took her Splash Ink Watercolor class through the UNM continuing education department. The class literally changed my entire approach to art-making, allowing me to be much more comfortable with who I am as an artist, rather than trying to constantly live up to my often unrealistic expectations. I know this is going to be a wonderful trip; I've never had the opportunity to visit any part of Asia, and I've never had the chance to seriously travel with other artists. I can't imagine what it must be like to be allowed to sketch unhindered and at leisure--usually my experiences have been people telling me to a) hurry up, and b) why can't you just take a photograph and draw at home? 

I really can't wait to start packing. In the meantime, we still have several months ahead, and I'm sure there's plenty to do till then, beginning, of course, with National Novel Writing Month tomorrow. Start flexing those plot muscles!


A Little Bird Told Me; Splash Ink Watercolor
 with Gouache on Mulberry Paper

Tip of the Day: Even if you can't make the trip, you can still be an "armchair traveler" by reading Ming's book, Splash Ink with Watercolor; Looking East, Painting West and visiting her website. Her artwork will inspire you on many levels. Personally I think they make amazing writing prompts. Just place your characters in one of her settings and let the magic begin!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Finishing the WIP and Visiting Open Space

From my sketchbook: 
"Open Space Farm Land." Watercolor Pencil.

Last week I finished the year-long revisions to my WIP, The Abyssal Plain. As in: finished, complete, all done. I can't believe this journey is finally over, at least the writing part of it. Soon I plan to begin my marketing, and after that I'm sure there will be more editorial changes to be made at some future date prior to publication. But for now, the book is written and ready to go. Which means I am now officially free to explore some new directions for awhile. So how apropos that I would recently visit a place called Open Space

Open Space is 30,000 undeveloped acres of land situated throughout Albuquerque with the intention that these acres stay wild and free and forever open to the public. Set somewhat in the center of it all is the Open Space Visitor's Center where I met up with the Colored Pencil Society for an afternoon of plein air drawing and painting. 

At first I was a bit nervous--plein air painting has never really been my thing, a topic I wrote about in my post Adventures in Travel Journaling. However, this time I remembered to bring a hat, sandwiches, water, and a sweater, and I was fine. More than fine--I sketched without getting a single bug bite, dirt smudge, or having to run to my car for refuge! 

It was good to be outdoors after all these weeks and months cooped up with my Alphasmart and more red pens than you can count. And it was also good to think about "open space" in more metaphorical and personal terms. For instance, what parts of my creative life can I keep open for new ideas, new methods, new subjects and mediums? Where do I want to stay open in my artwork, and why? And when do I have to follow the rules without neglecting my own individuality? 

These are good questions, and ones that I found myself thinking about while I was sketching the sun on the trees and watching the clouds float by. I also found myself thinking about what I want to do with the rest of this year. Some plans include:
  1. Writing a children's picture book set in Barcelona. 
  2. Designing and painting  illustrations for the book, even if it's just for my own fun. (Note for the curious: Sending a picture book manuscript with illustrations to a publisher is never recommended. Still, that doesn't mean I can't have some input at the end of the day, and the drawing does help me with the writing process.)
  3. Preparing and completing a piece of artwork for the upcoming Colored Pencil Society 2015 show here in Albuquerque--my first ever!
  4. Attending the October SCBWI conference, also here in Albuquerque. (I've signed up for all the picture book workshops.)
  5. Reading. Lots of reading.
  6. And of course, drafting my query and synopsis for The Abyssal Plain so I can begin submitting it to agents and editors early next year.
Looking at my list I almost feel like I'm embarking on a 3-month vacation. So what's on your Open Space list? Drop a line and let me know!

Tip of the Day: Collage can be an excellent way to cultivate and explore your own vision of creative open space. To give yourself plenty of room, try working with a format larger than your usual journal-sized page, for instance, a full-size piece of poster board or construction paper. Don't be in a rush to fill the paper, but do think of what will fill your spirit. Take your time to see what evolves, and what inspires you the most. Keep in mind that this isn't so much about being a "to-do" list as it is about finding what will keep you inspired and happy over the coming months. Enjoy!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Artist's Date--With Friends!

Writer's Group friend Elaine Soto choosing something
wonderful from Blue Bead Designs.

I'm a true believer in Julia Cameron's concept of the artist's date, something I've been lucky enough to take advantage of in the last few weeks. But sometimes I like to tweak it up and break the rule of "go somewhere by yourself." Which is exactly what I did with my writer's group last weekend when we went on the Tanoan Studio Tour here in Albuquerque. 

Tanoan is an exquisite gated community of custom homes built around a golf course and country club. Walking through the immaculately landscaped neighborhoods as we made our way from studio to studio was almost as much fun as seeing the artwork! 

Altogether we visited nine home studios:
  1. Margaret Ferrer makes necklaces and earrings with an ethnic flair. Her company is Blue Bead Designs LLC, and she can be reached at (505) 301-2661.
  2. Sandy Miller-Lastra and Diana Swanson work in fused glass. Their imaginative designs range from kitchen cupboard pulls to delicate jewelry pendants. Contact Diana at creationsx2@juno.com or (760) 601-4417.
  3. Carolyn Poole is an artist working in oils as well as other mediums. She paints portraits, landscapes, still life, and . . . pets! Her business postcard features a bull terrier who I swear could double as Swatch of Project Runway. Carolyn's contact info is (505) 828-3909 or crpoole@comcast.net.
  4. Brenda Bowman makes contemporary jewelry with semi-precious gemstones and glass beads. One item she had for sale that really stood out for me were her beaded wineglasses. She had wire wrapped the stems in a variety of colorful beads and patterns, an excellent way to know whose glass is whose at parties. Brenda can be contacted at www.brendasjewels.com
  5. Debi Housley, Heather Housley, Marie Torres Cimarusti. Debi and Heather made beaded and felted crosses and hair ornaments, and Marie has a series of children's picture books. More info about her books can be seen on Marie's Amazon Page.
  6. Jessica Bonzon is a quilter. Besides traditional bed quilts, she also has home items such as place-mats, wall hangings and pot holders for sale. She can be reached at Pieces and Patches, (505) 828-1066.
  7. Karen, Kirsten, and Jenn Swanson had modern paintings, drawings, and decorated bags for sale. The tiny drawstring bags are perfect for storing jewelry purchases!
  8. Rachel Nelson, the organizer of the tour, was selling wreaths, notecards, and paintings based on her photographs of the Tanoan community. She also very kindly gave visitors drilled pine cones ready to be made into bird feeders. Just smother the cones in peanut butter, roll in birdseed and hang in the garden--how cute is that?
  9. Gloria Dial Hightower is a local author writing mystery and adventure novels. Her titles include The Cotton Rope Strangler, In Total Darkness, The Shadow Mountain Murders, and her latest, Simon of Cyrene. The first three, a trilogy, are set in a Country Club community--a lot like where we took our tour, LOL! Books can be ordered from tomglo@comcast.net, or by phone, (505) 345-7192.
All of the studios generously provided us with snacks, water, and juice (much needed and appreciated by the time we arrived at each stop. The Albuquerque sun becomes pretty hot after an hour or two.). Heat aside, though, it was a glorious day, indeed, and I was so grateful for the opportunity to share it with my writing friends. Thank you everyone for the fun and hospitality! Looking forward to our next adventure.


Yay! Earrings!

Fused glass from Sandy Miller-Lastra and Diana Swanson
All that color was just luscious.

Blue and orange--always my favorite pair of 
complementary colors.

Fall is in the air with Pieces and Patches.

Tip of the Day: Taking the time to see what other artists, writers, and craftspeople are creating in their individual fields is just as important as setting aside time for your own work. Whether you take your artist's date on your own, or make it an event to share with friends, just make sure you go. Now is a particularly good time for exploring as there are so many shows and exhibits planned with the holidays in mind. (P.S. Shows make great places to find those holiday gifts, too!)

Friday, September 19, 2014

Marketing Time: Using a 12-Point List


Good news: The end is nigh! Finally, finally my current WIP, The Abyssal Plain, is just a few pages away from being finished. It's a great feeling, tinged, I must add, with a little sadness. No more exciting adventures for my characters. No more characters! No more figuring out how to get them from A to B. And rather than designing their homes and wardrobes, it's time to move on to marketing. Ugh.

Marketing has never been my favorite part of writing. Query letters, synopses, pitching--they've all been pretty scary to me. I know how small the window is for attracting the attention of an editor or agent, and I know how easily they can delete or ignore whatever they receive.

So that's why I want to turn everything upside down. I want to enjoy marketing, and I want to create marketing materials that will be read. My two main goals are:
  1. That I feel relaxed about writing my query and synopses (in all their wonderful forms, e.g., 1-page, 2-page, 3-page--you know how it goes), and,
  2. That whatever I write be easy to read. After all, who has the time to pore over pages and pages of convoluted story telling when all anyone wants to know is:  what is the story about?
To that end I've come up with a new approach: Before I write a single letter or outline, I'm going to brainstorm three types of 12-point lists:
  1. An ABOUT MY STORY list. This list will include whatever is relevant to sales, e.g., genre, word count, why I wrote the story, who are my potential readers.
  2. A 12-point EVENTS THAT HAPPEN IN THE STORY list, in other words, the top 12 plot points and why they matter.
  3. A 12-point CHARACTER ATTRIBUTE LIST for each of my major players.
Once I have my lists completed, I can then decide what is truly important in each, and what I can put into a single document to be edited and narrowed down even further until I hit pay dirt. 

I’ve always liked listing things in groups of twelve, (something I wrote about in my Take Twelve blog post) finding it a good way to focus and brainstorm at the same time. Aiming for twelve points on any subject seems to help me go beyond the obvious without going overboard and including too much information. My hope is that using the technique for my marketing will turn what has previously been a dreaded task into a good experience I'll look forward to. Wish me luck!

Tip of the Day: What are the top 12 things you can say about your current WIP?  Listing the most important points could be a great way to not only sell your book, but to get it organized before you write it, too!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Influenced By . . .


Who do you consider your literary influences? It's something I've been thinking about lately as I get ready to market my current WIP, The Abyssal Plain. Although I still have about 60 pages left to edit, I'm giving serious thought to my query letters, synopses, and anything else I can put together that can describe both my book and who I am as a writer.

Last night I made a list of all the authors I believe have had the most influence on my own work. In no particular order, they are:
  • Victoria Holt
  • Mary Stewart
  • Daphne Du Maurier
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Ursula Undset
  • Edgar Allen Poe
  • Jean Rhys
  • Katherine Neville
  • Doris Lessing
  • Willa Cather
  • Angela Carter
  • Velda Johnston
  • Shirley Hazzard
  • Luke Jennings
  • Arturo Perez-Reverte 
  • Yukio Mishima
  • Haruki Marukami
  • Ray Bradbury
After making my list, I wanted to know what it was these particular authors had in common and/or why they appealed to me so much. I narrowed it down to these categories:
  • Language. Rich, lush, yet also straightforward in meaning. Strong sentences that when read alone could almost be mistaken for poetry.
  • Gothic suspense. Characters and plot lines filled with a sense of foreboding and the darker side of human nature.
  • Details. Dress fabrics, tea ceremony rituals, the dust on Mars--I love experiencing every little nuance transporting me into a world I can see, hear, taste, smell, and until the oven timer rings and I have to choose between burning dinner or finishing "just one more page."
  • A brooding sense of melancholy. Although I enjoy a good conclusion to a story, I've never insisted any book I read end with "happily ever after." I'm just as comfortable with  open endings, characters who end up wiser but not necessarily happier, and anything that leaves me on a philosophical note regarding human nature.
  • International and historical settings and culture. One of my favorite things about reading is the chance to travel through both space and time without leaving home. From medieval Sweden to modern-day Japan, I've gone there just on the strength of my library card.
  • Genre description: literary fiction. I enjoy reading a wide variety of genres, but I always seem to come back to what I call "literary page-turners," books that don't necessarily follow strict (or any) genre guidelines, break a lot of the "writing rules," and yet manage to hook me in so I never want to stop reading. All of the authors I've listed above fit the bill perfectly.
I'm sure there are many more connections I could make between my authors-of-influence, but for now that seems to be a good start to understanding why I write the way I do. And speaking of writing, it's time to get back to work--hoping to turn those 60 pages into a nice round zero before the end of the month!

Tip of the Day: Making a list of "where you came from" is a great exercise for developing your personal brand and marketing materials. For extra credit, why not share some or all of your list under "Post a Comment"? Inquiring minds would love to know! Happy memories, everyone--looking forward to reading your findings.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Help! I Hate My Art Journal!


Okay, I don't hate-hate my art journal, but I'm definitely not happy with it. This is only the second time I've run into this problem, but that still doesn't make it any easier. The first time around I ended up throwing the (unfinished) journal away, in retrospect a bad decision, because now that it's gone, I've realized there were a lot of  pages I totally loved and wish I still had. 

The problem with both journals seems to be:

1. Size. Too small. I like to use a lot of images, words, colors, and collage papers, and a journal measuring only 5" x 6" just doesn’t give me the room I need. I must have bought these journals thinking they were "cute," but cute quickly became tight and cramped.

2. Paper. The journal I tossed had a delicate parchment-like feel that didn’t work well with ink, watercolor, or any kind of water-based medium. When I did use pencil, it felt scratchy and uncomfortable. At the other end of the spectrum, my current journal's pages have a slick, shiny surface that initially felt nice, but now seem like trying to draw on magazine pages. To make matters worse, I gessoed the majority of the pages thinking that would improve them. Not. The result was disastrous—the thicker pages have made the journal so chunky it’s bursting out of the binding, making the book even more unattractive to me. Yuk. So what's an art journaler to do? I don’t want to throw out the pages I do like, but I don't want to continue in this frustrating vein.   

Consequently, I've been brainstorming some ideas I could try to fix the problem, and you know what?  I think they’re going to work! I’m just sorry I didn’t think of them earlier in order to save that first, and now lost, journal. Maybe you can use these too!
  • Keep going. Seriously. Think of the journal as "practice." Sigh.
  • Collage over the bad pages with new images.
  • Take the whole thing apart and re-use the good pages for new material. If you’ve only completed a portion of the journal, cut or carefully remove your favorite pages from the binding. Do the same with any blank pages and use those for scratch paper or practice sheets. Especially gessoed or pre-tinted pages.   
  • Try improving both good and bad pages with ideas from a how-to book such as Collage Lab. 
  • Cut "bad" pages into small squares and divide them into color groupings for future mosaic-style collaging.
  •  Put the journal away and then just . . . walk away.  Forget about it for a while and start something new. 
  •  Change topics—if you’ve been using a particular theme, drop it and start something new, perhaps only using the journal for writing rather than art, or for you daily morning pages.
  • Use the journal for whining.  Call it "the bad, ugly, whiney journal" and put inside everything that upsets you. Burn it when you’re finished.
  •  Analyze why you don’t like this journal—is it the shape, size, color and/or theme choices? Figure out what's wrong and try not to repeat.
  •  Give it away. Ask someone else if they'd like to complete the journal. Or pass it on to friends as a Round Robin project.
  •  Go for messy and dangerous. Try out techniques you would be too afraid to put into your “good” journal.
  •  Keep any pages you tore out and use them to learn book binding. Make small finished journals of only a few pages each. Write poetry. Use them for greeting cards or other types of gifts.
Tip of the Day: The next time you are unhappy with a journal or sketchbook, keep in mind that everything you do is really just practice.  Use a bad experience to propel you into what you really want to do. Write out your findings and goals and then start afresh with a brand new journal. That's what I'm going to do!