Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Critique Groups

 Are you a writer? Are you in a critique group?

If not, stop reading and go find a critique group!

I can't imagine what my writing would be like if I didn't have my group. They have cried with me, shared my successes, and taught me so much. And we almost never sit in the same room. Yes, that's right, we share online and through email. We chat on skype once a week.

Online critiques are great. You get specific feedback about what's working. You get grammatical and word choice ideas as well as passive voice suggestions.

It's much easier to find positive things to say than this woman is having! But it's a good rule of thumb.

Recently, I was invited to participate in a "live" critique group. I've been to a couple of meetings, and it's so different. You get to hear your work read aloud. You get immediate, gut reaction. It's no better or worse than the online group. Just different--you can focus on different things. You can ask directed questions.

Depending on  your personality, you might feel more comfortable with one over the other. Whichever type of group works for you, I can't recommend having a group high enough. You become a better writer when you critique others. You become a better, more well rounded critiquer when your work is critiqued by multiple people.

Now finding the group is a whole other matter...

Graphics used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Writing. In Tandem

I posted this on YA Stands this morning, but it's too important to me not to repeat here...

Recently I co authored a short story with a friend. It’s been accepted in an anthology and is due out later this summer.

Usually, upon hearing this, writers ask, “Oh my gosh, how did you do it?”

Funny, at the time it didn’t seem weird at all. Ansha Kotyk and I are really good friends, talk about writing often, brainstorm our own pieces with each other. It seems only natural that working on a joint project would be cool. And it was.

I wrote an initial scene. Prologue, let’s call it. I didn’t even know who the main character was. We met to brainstorm and came up with something I never in a million years would have come up with myself.

The end result? About 7000 words in less than a week between the two of us. A finished short story about two weeks after that. The story accepted into an anthology coming out of Pugalicious Press this summer.

Tips on co authoring: 
  •  Be open-minded. Even more so than you already are. ;) Two minds are better than one, and the piece belongs to both of you.
  • Talk through things that need compromise. The phone is your friend—some things you can’t do over email.
  •  Make sure you have the same goals and can agree on the outcome. (i.e., royalties, format, copy-edits, contract stuff, where you’re going to submit, etc. We wrote the piece specifically to specifications on the Pug Press website.)
  •  Be able to let it go if it doesn’t work.
Stay tuned for our release, “Stella’s Hero,” in the Timeless Anthology at Pugalicious Press. We can’t wait to share our heroine, a plucky shop-girl from the 1890s, and the love of her life, as they escape the confines of a society that tells them they aren’t supposed to be together. 

Ansha and I will both be talking a lot about this story, the anthology, and the process of co-authoring in the weeks to come.
This is not me and Ansha on a tandem bike. Nor is it our characters. Though I do think it illustrates the concept of tandem quite well. :)

Friday, June 8, 2012

Armchair BEA: The Future of Blogging

Today is the final day of Armchair BEA. I've only been posting since Wednesday because I joined late. And I won a prize yesterday--so Thank You to the organizers! It's been fun. I've had some great comments, met some cool people. Note to self: register earlier next year!

As far as the future of blogging goes...I'm not really sure. And I know that answer makes a terrible post. I guess for me, personally, I'll continue to blog as long as I have something to say. I love that I've met some of my best writer friends online--and that's because of my blog. I love being able to talk about books, writing, and life on my blog in a completely different way than I do on Facebook or Twitter.

I'm interested to see what other people say about the future of blogging. Thanks again to Armchair BEA for giving us a place to participate!

Inspired by the post at Stuck in YA who has some simple tips, I thought I'd brainstorm and come up with a few of my own.

1. I think the most important thing about blogging is to be yourself.
2. Keep posts short enough so that people will read them.
3. Don't overwhelm people with personal information--like the classic "info dump" in a novel, too boring. Pepper your posts lightly with the personal.
4. Commenting on other people's blogs will get them to visit yours--this is hard to do especially if you're busy, I have times when its all I can do to post, let alone comment. But I try.
5. Participate in twitter games, twitter parties--and be appropriate. As you get to know people, you'll create your own community.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Armchair BEA: Beyond the Blog

Today on Armchair BEA, the topic is Beyond Your Blog. We're discussing ways to make money with your writing. I started writing before I started blogging--really the blog was a way to connect with other writers, and reach out beyond my living room.

Like many writers, I started writing picture books for my child. However it soon became clear that selling a picture book was going to be an uphill battle and I really wanted more immediate gratification. If for nothing else, so my fragile ego could more easily take the rejection from the PB publishers.

I've been a freelance writer of nonfiction books for kids since 2008. This spring marks my tenth contract with Capstone Press--and it's been a wonderful thing for the ego and my writing. Working with a variety of editors on numerous topics has been amazing. This year, I've also started working with a book packager (basically an intermediary who connects writers with publishers).

How did I do it?

Query, baby, query. I didn't have any connections. I didn't have any insider information. I looked at the submission guidelines and I submitted. Writing samples, resume, cover letter--just like applying for a job.

My best advice for writers is to diversify your writing. Love writing YA? Try writing picture books. Try writing nonfiction. Try short stories. Try a book review. Don't pigeon hole yourself into one genre--be flexible. And once you feel comfortable, apply for a freelance writing gig. You can't get a freelance job without applying for one.

Good luck! (And I'm  happy to answer questions, either in the comments or privately.)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Armchair BEA

What's Armchair BEA you ask? Well, straight from their website, "If you're a book blogger who can't attend Book Expo America and the Book Blogger Convention in New York this June (June 4 - 8, 2012), you don't have to miss all the fun - this virtual convention is the place to be!"

And since I'm totally jealous of my agent-mate Taryn Albright -- I signed up to participate again this year. You can choose your level of involvement--from giveaways, to interviews, to vlogs, to just watching and/or commenting.

Today, we are talking about networking. Live networking. How do I network?

Well, I started coordinating meetups in my local area a year ago. I've met some great fellow writers that way. The next one will be in July -- stay tuned if you live in the Metro West Boston area, we'd love to see you!

I also volunteer at the SCBWI regional level (New England). In fact, for 2013, I'm the co chair. GREAT way to meet writers, agents, and editors.

Also, I try to introduce myself to librarians, booksellers, and readers whenever I can. I've started running workshops for kids and adults about writing, but that's still sort of new.

How do you network in person?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Meeting Up in Massachusetts

It was a dark and stormy night...

Ok, well, it was. But we met anyway. Only one loud crash of thunder disrupted our conversation, and then only for a quick second.

Sometimes all you need to do to recharge, is meet with some writer types. This is from last Tuesday night. From the left, Donna Woelki, Michele Litant, Pam Vaughan, Jenny Bagdigian, Me, and Linda Mullaly Hunt.

We'll be doing another meetup in July, so stay tuned if you live in the metro West Boston area.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Wrap Up: Gay Parents in YA Lit

So I wanted to write a wrap up post for this week, explaining why the presence of gay parents (or gay characters) in books for kids is so important to me. And I’ve been thinking about it, and thinking about it. It’s more than just an underrepresented group not getting their due attention. I love a good book, and I love when a good book highlights “real” characters in believable situations.

I think, partly, my interest in gay rights dates back to a time in my career about 15 years ago. I was a fledgling student affairs professional at a prestigious university in the greater Boston area, enjoying my daily bantering with students. 

At the beginning of the year, a young man named Robert spent a few afternoons with me planning the annual GLBT Halloween Party. It was going to be a huge bash, and it required tons of paperwork, police detail, DJ, decorations, costumes, food requisitions. The whole nine yards. But Robert worked through all the bureaucracy with an earnest dedication. He walked across campus and got all the signatures he needed. He loved a good party and was excited about the event—and I loved working with students with his kind of energy and follow-through. The GLBT dance always attracted hundreds of kids; gay and straight and transgendered and undecided. I was looking forward to it myself.

In hindsight, Robert had an edge. There was always a hint of self-deprecation about him. But I was young and didn’t see anything more than an attractive, confident young man with loads of friends. The university where I worked was very liberal—tolerant of different lifestyles, fashions, & religions. Maybe there was bigotry under the surface, but I didn’t see it. 

About a week before the big dance, Robert’s roommate found him hanging in his dorm room. I could not, nor could anyone who knew him, rationalize the smart, good-looking, kind-hearted boy with one who would take his own life. But obviously there were troubles in his life no one knew. And one day, it must have just gotten too hard to hide it.

I knew many other gay students in my time as a student activities professional. And for some reason, I always felt much more protective of them than I did with their straight counterparts. Maybe, in part, because of what happened to Robert. It’s not easy, but I’ve actually asked people if they were thinking about suicide—I’d rather embarrass myself than know I could have done something but didn’t. Sometimes they're grateful you care. Sometimes they never speak to you again.

It makes me so angry that our society can’t guarantee basic rights for the gay community that straight members of our community take for granted. I’m so happy to see that books for young people are finally starting to reflect real lifestyles, real cultures, real families, and real kids.

I think about Robert occasionally. I hope he found a place where he doesn’t have to pretend to be something he’s not. And I hope that the books that we profile in this series find their way into the hands of kids like him, and help make a difference in their lives.

If you've missed our week--please click here to link back to Tuesday for the list of bloggers participating in the week.