Writer Mentorship Lesson #2

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You could find children’s book author Mentor Trisha Speed Shaskan in a crowd. She’s the “cool glasses” girl. She also has great taste in meeting places and mentors.

My greatest lesson from my second SCBWI Writers Mentorship meeting with Trisha Speed Shaskan:

It takes a village to raise a writer. Find a good village.

I’m one of those people who needs to hear things 40 million times for them to sink in. Most people’s skulls aren’t that thick, but we all learn better with a diverse group of people challenging and encouraging. That’s why I was relieved to know that my mentor, too, has mentors.

My mentor's mentor: Long time MFA teacher at Hamline University, Jane Resh Thomas.

My mentor’s mentor: Jane Resh Thomas.

When I shared with Trisha that I had enrolled in an eight-week writing program with Jane Resh Thomas, she  almost spit out her tea.  I didn’t know it, but Trisha trained under Thomas for seven years, in the very same program, attending the very same time, the very same night of the week. Trisha LOVES Jane.

When an SCBWI friend mentioned that Jane Resh Thomas workshops were available, I had no intention of attending, thinking I was much too busy. I really had no clue what a big deal these workshops were.

Then one day I checked out my two-week children’s book stack from the library. When I got home, I thought I’d lost my marbles, because I’d selected a picture book that I’d just read. It was Jackie Urbanovic’s DUCK AT THE DOOR. But I read it again anyway. On the copyright page, Jackie wrote: “With Thanks to Jane Resh Thomas, who taught me to write, and to her writing group for so much laughter and support.”

YIKES! I dashed to my computer. Here’s what Hamline University has to say about Jane Resh Thomas:

Jane Resh Thomas, a recipient of the Kerlan Award for contributions to children’s literature, is the author of fifteen published and contracted books, including picture books, short fiction, middle-grade fiction, and biography. The Comeback Dog; Saying Good-Bye to Grandma; Courage at Indian Deep; and Behind the Mask: The Life of Queen Elizabeth I have won, among other honors, a Parent’s Choice Award; Notable Books and Best of the Best listing by the ALA; and a Minnesota Book Award. Her most recent books from Clarion are Blind Mountain, an adventure story, and The Counterfeit Princess, a historical novel.

I couldn’t email Ms. Thomas fast enough. She only had one opening available. I took it.

Before my first class, another friend emailed me a link to an article recognizing Minnesota children’s literature superstar Kate DiCamillo as STAR TRIBUNE’S Artist of the Year. Kate belonged to a writer’s group led by–wait for it–Jane Resh Thomas. That only sweetened the deal.

I’ll have tangible tips from Trisha in the February mentorship post. In the meantime, I hope you’ve found your teachers. The reason Trisha is such a fabulous mentor (besides all the talent, personality, and humility, of course) is that she comes from a fabulous village and she’s a fabulous mentee.

THE STORY OF FROG BELLY RAT BONE

FBRBAs our January KEM GEM, we’re excited to recommend The Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone, written and illustrated by creative superstar Timothy Basil Ering.

Why is that name familiar? Well, Timothy Basil Ering illustrated Kate DiCamillo’s Newberry Award Winning The Tale of Despereaux. Or maybe you’ve seen his amazing oil on wood or oil on canvas.

We’re betting the way-out-there Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone will entice you to dive into other Ering-illustrated creations, out of sheer curiosity. Here are a few more titles to enjoy:

  • Finn Throws a Fit by David Elliot
  • Punkzilla by Adam Rapp
  • Necks Out For Adventure by Timothy Basil Ering
  • Sad Doggy by Jennifer B. Lawrence

We invite you to our review page to see why we think The Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone is a KEM GEM.

We hope you’ll join in the conversation for this and all of our GEMs. Let us know, have we featured any of your favorites?

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Writer Mentorship Lesson #1

Thankful for my writer friends: Lou Aamodt, Kristi Herro, Alicia Scwab, Elise Parsley.

Thankful for my children’s critique friends: Lou Aamodt, Kristi Herro, Alicia Scwab, Elise Parsley. (See who else I’m thankful for on MY WRITING FRIENDS page.)

Recently, my wise writer/illustrator friend, Elise, marveled that we’re learning so much while reading, researching, writing, and reviewing with our writers groups; it’s like receiving a free graduate degree in children’s literature.

Her reflection sparked this meet-up mindset for me: This is more than friend-time. I’m part of a graduate program, learning from some of the best and the brightest. Don’t take one minute of this for granted.

2014-2015 SCBWI Writer Mentor Trisha Speed Shaskan has written over 40 books, including HONESTLY, LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD WAS ROTTEN!; TRULY, WE BOTH LOVED BEAUTY DEARLY!; and her 2015 release, PUNK SKUNKS, co-created with her husband, Stephen Shaskan. I’m beyond grateful for this opportunity to learn from her and get to know her as a friend and fellow lover of children’s literature.

After friendship, the best part about writers groups is the knowledge we share. For me, it’s definitely a win-win, because my comrades are all smarter than me. We’re like one big, spongy, interconnected brain. So, of course I had my writing friends in mind when I was selected this October by the MN Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) Conference Committee for the 2014-2015 Writer Mentorship with children’s book author, Trisha Speed Shaskan. Woo hoo! I would finally have something juicy and substantial to bring to the table!

I’m honored that Ms. Speed Shaskan (Trisha) and the committee found promise in my work and are devoted to prodding me past mediocrity. To pay this kindness forward, I’ve asked Trisha if I could share her wisdom, not only with my writers group friends, but with anyone who visits this blog. She generously said “yes,” so, rather than recapping from memory, I’ll share the email I sent to my critique friends.

To: Critique Lovelies

Subject: Mentorship notes

Hello!

I met with Trisha last evening and came away with a treasure chest full of wisdom.

I inquired about diverse reactions we’ve received from reviewers pertaining to alliteration in picture books. (Who’s right, those for and against?) Trisha laughed, because she wrote a book called, IF YOU WERE ALLITERATION. For picture books, she loves it.

Concerning word choices in children’s books, she thought words like “clambered” and “musty” were perfectly acceptable—even more desirable than dumbed down words. She said to think of picture books like a poem or a song and to go with the rhythm and words that ring true to the story. Since picture books are usually read by adults to children, (unlike easy readers and early chapter books, where the words need to be carefully selected for young readers) she said, “By all means, go for elevated, beautiful, active language.”

And she loves onomatopoeia. In fact, in my story she suggested I add more onomatopoeia, such as a “shuffled” during the stampede scene.

Concerning critique format, the following is the one her group incorporated. They’ve tried others and like this best:

Summary:

What Works:

Questions:
Character
Setting/World Building
Physical Description
Refrain

Final Note:

The process is similar to ours, but more formal.

The “summary” helps determine whether the writer’s vision has been successfully communicated. A bonus: it’s a helpful tool later, when creating a pitch.

“What works” helps the writer determine what to keep.

“Questions” make the story stronger. For instance, Trisha asked some of the same questions you asked. That showed me what I need to clarify.

She said it’s important to know the rules of the world we’re creating and stay consistent.

And sometimes to be generous and just tell the reader information directly, rather than trying to be subtle.

To reduce words, she gave me two examples where I used repetitive emotions  (that the illustrator will certainly reinforce) and said that eliminating one in each phrase would be an effective way to condense:

  • Shuddering, she slumped over her tomatoes and stroked the empty peddler space on her sash.
  • The Grand Duchess stomped toward the tower. (One word can replace four.) “I’LL TOSS HER TO THE CROCODILES MYSELF!”

Her critique for my manuscript was a page and a half, single-spaced. She suggested starting with the above format, then she will follow-up with line-by-line reviews after the questions have been addressed.

I hope I’ve shared something that will help you as well.

Much thanks to Trisha for her thoughtfulness and generosity! Watch for more Speed Shaskan wisdom in future posts.

THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER

BestChristmasPageantEver6As KEM’s Christmas gift to you, we heartily recommend The Best Christmas Pageant Ever for December’s KEM GEM. It’s a universal chapter book you’re sure to love. We all had difficulty choosing one favorite line. Just pouring over our notes made us snort with laughter. Barbara Robinson, the late author, wrote so many one-liner gems.

How sad that Robinson died in 2013, just like two other Barbara’s near and dear to me: Barbara Park of Junie B. Jones fame and my eldest sister, Barbara, who was also a fluent, funny writer. This caused me to note the many Barbara’s who have authored  amazing children’s books: Barbara Bottner, Barbara McClintock, Barbara Lehman, Barbara Cooney, to name a few. Maybe a special giftedness comes with that seven-letter name.

Anyway, go to our review page to see why we think The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is a KEM GEM. And we hope you’ll join us in the conversation.

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PERSEPOLIS: THE STORY OF A CHILDHOOD

 “. . . Since then, (1979, after the Shah fled Iran to escape the Islāmic revolution), this old and great civilization has been discussed mostly in connection with fundamentalism, fanaticism, and terrorism. As an Iranian who has lived more than half of my life in Iran, I know that this image is far from the truth. This is why writing Persepolis was so important to me. I believe that an entire nation should not be judged by the wrongdoings of a few extremists. I also don’t want those Iranians who lost their lives in prison defending freedom, who died in the war against Iraq, who suffered under various repressive regimes, or who were forced to leave their families and flee their homeland to be forgotten.

One can forgive but one should never forget.”

~From the introduction of THE COMPLETE PERSEPOLIS
Marjane Satrapi, Paris, September 2002

PersepolisOur November KEM GEM, Persepolis, The Story of a Childhood changed everything I thought I knew about life in Iran. I had no idea that, pre-1979,  Iranian women and girls were free to dress as they choose. I had assumed their restrictive dress code had been a part of their culture since the time of Mohammed. In reality, the fundamentalist rulers made it law after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Did you know that?

Read Persepolis:The Story of a Childhood to learn why we consider it a KEM GEM. Then, join the KEM GEM conversation. Please share your thoughts with us in the  COMMENTS section. We’ll post a new book recommendation on the 15th of next month, so plan to revisit to our KEM GEMs often. We’re excited to read and converse with you!

THECOMPLETEPERSEPOLISYoung adult and older readers may be interested in reading The Complete Persepolis, which includes Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood and Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return.

If you’ve already read the story, I highly recommend watching The Complete Persepolis motion picture, winner of the Cannes Film Jury Prize in 2007.  Your heart will break for the plight of the Iranian people while you fall in love with Marjane, her colorful grandmother and her courageous family. The artistically exquisite movie provides a perfect summary and refresher after reading the two-part memoir.

INTERVIEW WITH MARJANE SATRAPI

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2014 MN SCBWI Conference Highlights II

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Kelly Light and Peepy

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Peepy with Lisa Yee and me.

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Stephen Shaskan and Peepy

Trisha Speed Shaskan and Peepy

Trisha Speed Shaskan and Peepy

The 2014 MN SCBWI Conference brimmed with colorful characters. In her keynote “Schlemiel, Schlimazel, Give Us Any Chance, We’ll Take It,” KellyLight, creator of the Louise Loves Art series and illustrator of Elvis and the Underdogs and The Quirks, invited participants on her Laverne and Shirley-inspired  journey toward children’s book superstardom, encouraging us to take chances and push forward.
“I hope my story shows other SCBWI members that believing in yourself, along with a little goofy use of absolutely anything that helps to keep you going . . . can get you down that road to publication . . . maybe a bit bumped around and nauseous . . . But well on your way to realizing your dream.”  

See more at kellylight.com.

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Candice Keimig and Grace Hansen, ABDO Publishing

After an  ABDO Publishing  workshop by Candice Keimig, Art Director, and Grace Hansen, Editorial Marketing Coordinator, Lisa Yee, author of the Millicent Min and Bobby middle grade series presented her keynote, “From Slush Pile to Best-Seller: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.”

The realism in Lisa Yee’s work stems from her inspirations, real live people. Yee’s son Benny inspired Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally) and Bobby the Brave (Sometimes). Marley Sandelski first drew notice as a supporting character in Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time. But, when he became an inadvertent stop-bullying ambassador for real kids, Marley earned his own book as the protagonist in Warp Speed. The Kidney Hypothetical–How to Ruin Your Life in Seven Days came about when Yee’s daughter took a dangerous dare. Learn more about Lisa Yee, the 2014 Sid Fleischman Humor Award-winning author, at lisayee.com

2014 MN SCBWI Conference Intensives

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SCBWI Friend Shannon Berg

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Bruce Hale and Quinette Cook, SCBWI Regional Advisor

Sunday intensives by Bruce Hale, Carter Hasegawa, Lisa Yee, and Kelly Light proved to be a bittersweet opportunity–like being told you can only have one Lays Potato Chip.

I’d registered for Bruce Hale’s intensive, “Funny Business: The 7 1/2 Secrets of Writing Humor.”

Then I waffled, thinking, “Really, isn’t a sense of humor a natural gift either you have or you don’t? Maybe I made a mistake.”

Turns out I could have used another hour/week/year of Hale’s instruction. Funny can be dissected and analyzed.

Three Funny Business Don’ts:

  • Don’t use topical humor
  • Don’t try to get too cutesy.
  • Don’t telegraph your jokes

Three Funny Business Do’s:HumorComesFromCharacter600

  • Do respect your audience.
  • Do give them the humor they like.
  • Do let them finish the punchline.
  • Do work in threes. (Oops.)

For more writing tips, see BruceHaleWritingTips.com.IfWeAreNotFunny

Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.
~ Mark Twain

My conference highlight was being selected for the 2014-2015 Writer Mentorship. Mentor  Trisha Speed Shaskan, I won't take this blessing lightly. (No pun intended, Kelly Light.) Congratulations, Illustrator Mentorship winner Joanna Ward! You'll love working with Illustrator Mentor Nina Crittenden.

My conference highlight was being selected for the 2014-2015 Writer Mentorship.  Mentor Trisha Speed Shaskan, I won’t take this blessing lightly. (No pun intended, Kelly Light.) Congratulations, Illustrator Mentorship winner Joanna Hunt! You’ll love working with Illustrator Mentor Nina Crittenden.

 

 

 

2014-2015 MN SCBWI Conference Highlights I

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L to R: Jessica Freeburg, Celia Waldock, Quinette Freeburg, and Alicia Schwab

L to R: Jessica Freeburg, Celia Waldock, Quinette Cook, and Alicia Schwab

Thanks to the leadership and volunteers of the Minnesota Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators (SCBWI) for coordinating a fabulous 2014-2015 conference.
Event organizers usually hear more from participants about technology glitches and rest room malfunctions than when the life-bettering experiences they orchestrate. I hope that wasn’t the case this October.

Jessica and Quinette pictured with SCBWI member, Cynthia Weishapple

Jessica and Quinette pictured with SCBWI member, Cynthia Weishapple

These are the unsung leaders:

  • Quinette Cook – Regional Advisor
  • Jessica Freeburg – Assistant Regional Advisor
  • Alicia Schwab – Regional Illustrator Coordinator
  • Nina Crittendon – Registration Coordinator
  • Celia Waldock – Mentorship Coordinator
Alicia, Nina, and conference volunteer and MN SCBWI Banner Contest winner Sara Weingartner

Alicia, Nina, and conference volunteer and MN SCBWI Banner Contest winner Sara Weingartner

I don’t think any toilets overflowed, but our cups sure did, with professional guidance,  reinvigorated vision, and fellowship with other writers and illustrators.

Saturday, October 11, keynotes, workshops, and manuscript reviews were topped off by book signings, a reception, and a portfolio showcase.

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Bruce Hale

Bruce Hale, author of over 30 books for young readers, including the award-winning Chet Gecko Mysteries, School for S.P.I.E.S, and the Clark the Shark picture books, led the charge with Writer’s Mind, Warrior’s Mind: Winning the War of Art.

Hale instructed us with humor and inspiration, quoting the likes of  E. L. Doctorow: “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” And Steven Pressfield: “Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives. This second, we can sit down and do our work.”

Bruce Hale’s checklist for victory:

  1. Start good habits.
  2. Write like your hair is on fire.
  3. Think it through, take the big view.
  4. Teamwork makes the dream work.
  5. Face the iron tiger.
  6. Beat resistance with persistence.

See more at BruceHaleWritingTips.com

Carter Hasegawa

Carter Hasegawa

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Emily Clement

Saturday workshops included Carter Hasegawa, Assistant Editor, Candlewick Press, presenting Researching the Fantastic; and Emily Clement, Associate Editor, Arthur A. Levine Books presenting Love at First Sight: The Great First Page.

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MN SCBWI Conference Volunteer, Mark Ceilley, introducing Emily Clement

Since the workshops occurred simultaneously, I only have notes on Emily Clement’s workshop.

When Clement  receives a manuscript she asks herself these questions: Does it evoke emotion? Does it have that little something extra? Does it make her feel something? Does it exude authority and confidence, a language and style that intrigues, and expectations, hints, or promises?

Some of her examples of great first pages:

  • Lisa Yee’s Millicent Min, Girl Genius
  • Bobbie Pyron’s Lucky Strike
  • Kate Milford’s Greenglass House
  • Nikki Loftin’s Nightingale Nest

Look for more conference highlights about Lisa Yee, Kelly Light, and ABDO Publishing in upcoming posts. In the meantime, check out my 2014 MN SCBWI Conference Photo Album where you’ll see the photos from this story and more.

Ann Page, me, Bruce Hale, and Louise Aamodt

Ann Page, me, Bruce Hale, and Louise Aamodt