Where Do I Begin…

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I was at a routine doctor appointment today and it happened again.  I told my new doctor I write books for children and she said “WOW! I’ve written a children’s book, too! What do I do next?”

Lots of children’s authors get annoyed by these very frequent questions. (Right, Doctor Clueless. I removed my neighbor’s appendix this afternoon. So what do I do next?) But well meaning potential authors always excite me. Life may have directed them down a different path, but somewhere in the back of their minds (and in the center of their hearts) they dream of writing for children. Often they’ve already produced a manuscript with their own children.

And I’m living this person’s dream! Lucky me! I’m all too ready to share the joy!!!!

So what is next?

That’s up to you. The first question I ask a sincere author-to-be is what’s your goal?  Is it to save your children’s stories as a family legacy? Is it to become the next J. K. Rowling? Do you envision yourself as a serious professional writer in the future or is this a one time fun project?

Writing is an art and like other arts it can take many forms. A concert pianist who plays (or dreams of playing) at Carnegie Hall has a different level of training and commitment than an at home piano player who’s the hit of every family gathering and neighborhood party. There’s nothing wrong and a whole lot right with both paths.

First stop in my completely unbiased (!) opinion is visit the resources on our From The Mixed-Up Files website. We have a whole page devoted to aspiring authors and you won’t find a more accessible place to find out what to expect when trying to move forward with writing and publishing a children’s book.

Another blog I recommend (okay I’m one of the founding members there, too) is www.ThroughTheTollbooth.com  It’s a children’s writer’s craft blog written by a rather stunning group of super successful children’s authors (plus me) trained at Vermont College of Fine Arts Writing for Children & Young Adults masters program. Search the archives for just about any how to topic and you’ll find the answer (well lots of different approaches and answers) in The Tollbooth.

And perhaps the best advice is head to your local chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators – aka SCBWI.   Annual SCBWI conferences can seem pricey, but they’re well worth the investment whether you consider writing for children a casual hobby or a serious vocation, and most chapters have smaller less expensive or free events sprinkled through the year. You’ll meet kindred spirits, and you’ll learn not just what you think you need to know, but things you never knew you didn’t know, or never knew you’d need to know or… well you get the picture. There’s loads of great information on the SCBWI website, too, so be sure to pay a visit!

Finally (and by now the person who’s asked me “what next’s” eyes have usually glazed over because all they wanted to know is my editor’s personal phone number) I strongly recommend a bit (okay a whole lot) of reading.

Most adults haven’t read many children’s books since they left elementary school. Go to the children’s department of your library. Go to the children’s book section of a bookstore. Even poke around in the children’s book category of an online bookseller if you have no other alternative. Don’t focus on the books you remember from your childhood. Get a feel for what’s in style now. You don’t want your literary pride and joy to be the book equivalent of a bustle skirt or a moth eaten zoot suit– even if it is historic fiction. While you’re there pick up a copy of a good guide to children’s books and publishing like Harold Underdown’s The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books. And pick up Anita Silvey’s 100 Best Books For Children  It’s not her only children’s book guide. It may not even be her best children’s book guide. I love her Book A Day Almanac. But if you love children’s books and you want to write them, even as a casual hobby or fling, make it your responsibility to be familiar with everything on this list.

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So what’s my advice when someone says “I’ve written a children’s book. What’s next?” I say raise a glass of champagne. You deserve it!!  (and invite me to toast you!) Then get back to work.

Tami Lewis Brown bids a very very fond farewell to From The Mixed-Up Files with this post about just starting out. I’ve enjoyed every golden moment of this wonderful community and welcome all who join behind me!

Little Dead Riding Hood by Amie Borst

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You know things are going to suck when you’re the new kid. But when you’re the new kid and a vampire… well, it bites!

Unlike most kids, Scarlet Small’s problems go far beyond just trying to fit in. She would settle for a normal life, but being twelve years old for an entire century is a real pain in the neck. Plus, her appetite for security guards, house pets and bloody toms (tomato juice) is out of control. So in order to keep their vampire-secret, her parents, Mort and Drac, resort to moving for the hundredth time, despite Scarlet being dead-set against it. Things couldn’t be worse at her new school, either. Not only does she have a strange skeleton-girl as a classmate, but a smelly werewolf is intent on revealing her secret.

When she meets Granny—who fills her with cookies, goodies, and treats, and seems to understand her more than anyone—she’s sure things will be different. But with a fork-stabbing incident, a cherry pie massacre, and a town full of crazy people, Scarlet’s O-positive she’ll never live to see another undead day. Not even her Vampire Rule Book can save her from the mess she’s in.

Why can’t she ever just follow the rules?

Amazon, Books-A-Million, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound, Goodreads

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I hold the awesome job of being the interview coordinator here at The Mixed-Up Files. It means I meet wonderful authors, interact with publicists who go above and beyond the call of duty to promote books for their clients, and I have the opportunity to read many incredible middle-grade books.

The downfall?

It’s really hard to interview yourself. But…that’s what I’m going to do!

Amie: Hi Amie! *waves to reflection in the mirror* It’s great to have you here at MUF today! Tell us a little about your book.

Self: *rubs arm awkwardly* Little Dead Riding Hood is the second book in the Scarily Ever Laughter series. It’s a companion novel to Cinderskella. Both books are co-authored by my 14 year old daughter (who, btw, was only 9 when she came up with the idea for the series). Scarlet Small (dead riding hood) is a vampire trying to fit in at her new school, but with a werewolf intent on destroying her afterlife, that’s pretty difficult.

Amie: Whoa. So you’ve got vampires and werewolves? *scratches head* Isn’t the whole Twilight thing over?

Self: That’s probably true. But don’t worry. The only relation LDRH has to Twilight is mocking it. In a nice way of course. *sparkly unicorns are the best*

Amie: Oh. I see. So what’s it like to write with your daughter?

Self: You know, I think most people would dread writing with their kids but I enjoy it. Bethanie is a hard worker, she’s dedicated and creative, and she’s not intimidated by deadlines, mistakes, or the writing process in general.

Amie: So you fight a lot.

Self: Who said that? Weren’t you listening?

Amie: *quickly changes subject* One last question. Chocolate or cupcakes? Chimichanga or chicken pot pie? Mountains or ocean?

Self: First of all, you can’t count. That was THREE questions.

Amie: Hey, I never said math was my best subject. Just answer the question. I mean questionS.

Self: Well that’s easy. All of the above!

Thanks for being here Amie!

 

Amie…I mean, I have a few contests happening, ’cause I’m a happenin’ kind of gal. The first is a giveaway for a copy of LITTLE DEAD RIDING HOOD! You can enter by filling out the rafflecopter form below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

  The second is a scavenger hunt on my blog! This week’s prize is a free SKYPE VISIT! Wahoo! So if you’re a teacher (or know one) who’d love to have Bethanie and I virtually visit your classroom, be sure to enter the rafflecopter form below. You can also go to my blog and visit all the stops during my blog tour as well as follow the scavenger hunt for lots of great prizes through November 7th!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Amie Borst is the author of Cinderskella and Little Dead Riding Hood. She frequently talks to herself. You can find her on facebook, twitter, her blog, and two soon to be released websites – Amieborst.com and AmieAndBethanieBorst.com

Processing

Few things make Writer Me more nervous than being asked about my “process”. So much of how I make a book remains mysterious to me that process is too kind a word. My lurching, my fumbling, stumbling, grabbing and grasping–that I could talk about all night. Not that anyone would want to listen.

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Periodically, I take myself in hand and try to say, with some semblance of articulateness, how I do what I do. Now seems a good time, since next year is an unusual one for me: I’ve got two new books, in genres that differ yet overlap. Moonpenny Island, a novel, is pure middle grade (ages 8-12), but Cody and the Fountain of Happiness is what is called a chapter book (ages 7-10). I’ve been thinking about what I was doing in each book–what’s the same and what’s distinct.

Right off the bat: they were equally challenging to write. I’d say the same about picture books, YA, and adult fiction, all of which I’ve done. For me, writing is just hard hard hard, which means slow slow slow.

The challenges were different, though. Both have subplots, but Moonpenny has more, and twining them all together, not to mention bringing them to a conclusion that wasn’t a series of bullet points, took serious wrangling. Cody’s subplots stuck closer to home–the main story–and were easier to call in at the end. Cody has fewer characters, and the setting stays more in the background. In Moonpenny, as you might guess from the title, sense of place is strong and crucial.

Not to say, by any means, that writing more simply is simpler. My middle grade novels are usually forty-to-sixty-thousand words, where the Cody book (it is–yay! first in a series) is about fifteen thousand. At a quarter of the words, the demands of a chapter book are daunting. Sentences are shorter, which makes choosing the perfect details (and cutting all the others) even more essential.  I spent forever finding Cody’s voice. As a younger child, her vocabulary is smaller, but her feelings, her thoughts and her questions, are just as big as a tween’s. In Moonpenny, my main character, Flor, gets to venture into thinking and speculation too abstract for Cody, but Cody gets to wears her heart on her sleeve in a way that Flor feels too old and self-conscious for. The different, crazy delights these two girls gave me as I wrote them!

There is also the matter of joy. In chapter books, it’s a sure thing. Characters will have problems, they’ll grow and change, but there’s never any doubt that all will come right in the end. There’s only so much angst their worlds will bear. In middle grade, things can–and recently this seems more and more the case–take a darker tone. The world can give middle grade characters more of a battering. Joy may no longer be guaranteed, but hope must be, always.

I loved writing both (I know I said it was hard hard hard–but amnesia has already set in). At times I’d get confused, and give Cody a middle grade problem, or rein in the lushness of Flor’s voice. But mostly, happily, the books informed each other. Writing them in tandem was like getting to know two sisters, one a little older and more serious, the other younger and funnier, each of them bossy and eager in her own way. Each has her own evolving view of the world, and her own urgent, important story to tell. I like to think that older middle grade readers might enjoy kicking back with Cody, and younger one might go up on tiptoe to meet Flor.

Some other “chapter books” I think work for younger middle grade readers are listed here. Please add your own suggestions!

Clementine books by Sara Pennypacker

Alvin Ho books by Lenore Look

Anything by Dick King-Smith

Marvin Redpost books by Louis Sachar

Humphrey books by Betty G. Birney

*****

Tricia’s other middle grade novels include What Happened on Fox Street and Mo Wren, Lost and Found,  both published by HarperCollins.