Monday, October 25, 2010

School Visits

I'm so excited to have been invited to my local elementary school to talk to the third grade this spring.  As some of you know, I have two books on the solar system and one about the discovery of America coming out in January (click here for more info).

As excited as I am, my main goal is to make sure my presentations are interesting for the kids.  So in preparation for working on my presentation, I googled (what else?) "Tips on School Visits."  And I found a great resource!

School Visit Experts

This website has some great outlines, tips, and suggestions from people who have spent years presenting to kids.  I'm so grateful for the site!

I'm working on visual aids as well as an auditory presentation.  I'm planning on talking about the writing process.  I might put together a power point presentation, but I'm not sure.

The following notes I took from the website

Presentation Length: 30 minutes
The Focus: How a nonfiction book gets published (for me, from assignment to finished product). 
The Sub-focus: How to research and put facts together to make an interesting book for readers.
Big-Picture Audience Take-Away: To learn about how a book gets published from beginning to end.
Table props to make the presentation 3-D: 
  • Stack of books used for research; binders with materials (1st drafts, writer’s guidelines, etc.
  • Music -- Maybe, maybe not—not sure yet
  • Possible Images for visual (power point) presentation
    • Writer’s guidelines
    • Screen shots of the final .pdf
    • Websites used for research
    • My office/workspace
    • The cubicle in the library where I write sometimes
 Classroom Connection
  • Before my visit
    • Ask the teachers and/or librarian to make the books available for the kids to preview prior to the event.
    • Encourage the teachers to have kids share stories, draw pictures or share photos of their favorite nonfiction topic (animals, space, nature).
  • After my visit
    • Invite kids to write letters, telling about their favorite part of the presentation, what tips they learned, or share a story they want to write. 
    • Leave behind a bibliography of picture books – both nonfiction and fiction. 
Other ideas: 
  • Create question cards that kids can choose out of a hat—brainstorm possible questions just in case they get stumped.
  • Think of the presentation in the same way you approach a book:  including plot, character, conflict, dialogue.  You do not have to be a standup comedian or even a polished public speaker.  It does help tremendously if you have a “story” to tell your audience that includes information about your latest work, your total body of work, your “themes”, the struggles you encountered on your way to becoming a published author.  The audience likes to know an appropriate amount about you as a person – past as well as present. (**I feel like this is the most important takeaway from the site.) 
  • ·         avoid plagiarism
  • ·         do research
  • ·         take notes
  • ·         construct a bibliography
  • ·         paraphrase
  • ·         distinguish a reliable source of information from an unreliable one
Thanks to the great bloggers at for the above tips.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Critiquing and friendship

Tina Laurel Lee asked me to write a post about my crit group and the critiquing process.  I've got a great crit group--we meet weekly, but we've only been in the same room a couple of times.  You see, we meet online.

We connected for the first time at the 2009 NESCBWI conference--and even then we didn't all meet each other in person.  Ansha and I knew each other and we met Jen in a session.  Jen knew Laura from her hometown.  We were in the right (write?) place at the right time and all admitted we needed a crit group.  A dynamic and energetic group of friends was born.

We all had partially completed novels at the time and immediately set up a schedule of bi-weekly submissions.  Laura and I subbed one week, Jen and Ansha subbed the next.  We met in a chat room weekly to share anecdotes, family stories, and encouragement.

Now, a year and a half later, we've all completed the works we had started.  Some of us are in revision mode, some are working on new things.  We've all queried and received positive feedback from agents and/or editors.  We're all still on the path toward being agented, but Jen's book TO FIND A WONDER was released last fall.  Her book launch was one of the most exciting moments our group has shared so far!

The critique process itself can be difficult.  It's not always easy to put your words out there.  We all have different writing styles and strengths--but that's the best part of our group.  I know Laura's going ask me questions about my protag's character and whether her behavior is realistic.  Ansha looks at the big picture.  Jen is stellar on detail and world building.  Without each of them, my novel would not be what it is today--getting good feedback and nibbles from agents.

We're now in our sophomore year--we still meet weekly in a chat room.  We've come together to see Jen's book turned into a successful musical.  Laura has become a successful and prolific blogger.  Ansha spearheaded a successful blog series this summer.  And I've had a few more nonfiction projects assigned by my publisher.

It's not always easy to be a writer.  Not everyone understands the trials and tribulations.  But my crit group understands.  They're often the first ones who hear about my recent rejections--because they get it.  Sometimes cheerleaders, sometimes task masters, sometimes psychologists.  My crit group!  Love you guys!

Ansha Kotyk
Jennifer Carson
Laura Pauling

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Pre writing and picking up where I left off

I'm sort of between projects right now...

Waiting for editor comments on a couple of nonfiction work-for-hire projects.  Still querying (and waiting on a couple fulls and partials) my YA contemporary realistic.  I find myself not having a writing project this morning for the first time in months.  Huh?

So I pulled out the beginning of a snowflake for the new wip I started last spring.  I honestly don't remember getting so far on it!  And you know what?  It's not bad.  I might even have something to work with.

But here's the thing: having worked on nonfic so much this summer, I've got a different perspective.  I really liked having an outline.  It gave me something to work with.  I knew the general direction I was going.  One of my crit partners swears by "pre-writing" -- something I've never really done before in my fiction.  I've started a snowflake, but haven't really used it to the fullest potential.

I think I might give myself permission NOT to write on this glorious perfect-for-writing day.  I might try thinking about the story.  The characters.  Their motivation.  Their back story.  I know I have some charts around here somewhere...

How much pre-writing do you do?


Friday, October 8, 2010

Tour Buses and Signed Books

The lovely Jan Brett appeared tonight at our local bookseller, Willow Books.  She was sweet, engaging, and sincere.  My little one and a friend sat in the front row riveted to every word.  Jan's new picture book, The Three Little Dassies, was inspired by a trip to Namibia.

She demonstrated how to draw one of her new characters: a little Dassy from Namibia. 

She signed books, answered questions, and encouraged budding artists.

And then drove away in her super cool book tour bus.  How many authors have tour buses?  Is that not the coolest thing ever?  I want one of those.  Do you think there's a hot tub on board?

There were Dassies being drawn in my house tonight.  My little artist was inspired, and so was I.  Thank you, Jan, for being wonderful.