Sunday, January 29, 2012

SCBWI Winter Conference Links Roundup & Submissions Guidelines

Whew! I had a terrific time teaching at the SCBWI Winter Conference yesterday. In my presentation, I mentioned or included links to the following:

Because two sessions of my presentation didn't leave time for any questions, I told participants that they could send general questions about writing, revision, editing, publishing, etc. to my website e-mail address, chavela_que at yahoo dot com. I will collect these questions through February 14, then answer ten of them here on my blog shortly afterward. If you're sending a question, please put the number of revision techniques covered in my workshop in your subject line, so I know you were actually at the session, and include your name with your question in the body of the e-mail. Thanks.

I also said that I would announce my submissions guidelines here once I had figured them out -- and I now have! If you were in one of my sessions, you may submit to me in the following manner:
  1. You can see my general "What I'm Looking For" at the Submissions page on my website. I will add to that I tend to acquire far more novels than picture books, and my list is pretty stuffed with great YA right now, so I'd love to find some more great middle-grade to balance it out. That doesn't mean I don't want to see terrific picture books or YA if it seems right for me! I encourage you to check out the Books page on my website and the "Books I Edit" label to the right to see more about the kinds of things I publish.
  2. Writers who attended my sessions may submit one manuscript within the next six months.
  3. When that time comes, open up a new e-mail to CBKEdit at gmail dot com. Up until this point, I have accepted unsolicited submissions solely through the post, but I decided this was a great opportunity to experiment with e-mail submissions. (Alas for the U. S. Postal Service, denying them one more source of support...)  If I like it, I may continue to use it for future conferences or even general unsolicited submissions, but right now, these guidelines apply to the SCBWI Winter Conference only. Agented submissions should continue to go to my work address.
  4. At the beginning of each of my sessions, I listed three key principles we work toward in revision. Put one of these principles in the subject line, followed by the title of your manuscript and your name. That is how I will know you actually attended my sessions. (I gave those of you in my third workshop a code word; you can put that code word in place of the principle if you like, but either works.) If you do not include a correct principle or code word in the subject line, your e-mail will be deleted unread.
  5. In the body of the e-mail, please include the following elements in this order:
    1. Your name
    2. The title of the manuscript
    3. The format/age/genre of the manuscript. To keep this simple, include any of these options as appropriate:  Picture Book / Easy Reader / Chapter Book / Middle-Grade / Young Adult / Nonfiction / Fantasy / Mystery / Romance / Paranormal / Historical / Poetry
    4. Your query letter, including your contact information, and a flap-copy-like summary of the work as a whole.
    5. A portion of the manuscript as follows:
      1. Picture Book: complete text
      2. Novel (whatever age): the first chapter
      3. Nonfiction / Poetry Collection / Etc.: the first ten pages
    6. If you are an author-illustrator with a picture book text that you want to illustrate, I suggest any of the following methods: (a) paste the full text here, then include one sample illustration in the body of the e-mail; (b) paste the full text here, then put a link to your website in the query letter  so I can see your style; (c) if you have a full dummy available online, simply include a link in your query -- no need to paste in the text.
  6. I am able to read HTML submissions, which will retain manuscript formatting; I am also able to read plain text, whichever you send and prefer. Please do not send attachments. I do not care about any formatting questions beyond the inclusion of the elements above in the order I specified them, so please don't ask them.
  7. You will receive an automatic reply letting you know your manuscript has been received. It says that you will get a response within six months, and I will do my best to keep to that. I have often failed to stay within these expectations in the past, which I regret, but I'm doing the best I can. 
  8. As with my submissions through the regular mail, if I am interested, I will send you some  personal response; if not, you will receive a form letter. Due to the demands created by the many manuscripts I receive and edit, I will not be able to correspond further than this if I am not interested. 
Thank you for attending my sessions, and your interest in sharing your manuscript with me. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Editorial Palavering: Martha Mihalick, Editor at Greenwillow Books / HarperColllins

(Second in an extremely occasional series of interviews with my editorial friends and colleagues.)

1.  How did you come to be a children's books editor? What were the biggest lessons in your editorial education, or what are three of your guiding editorial principles now?

I realized that children's book editor was a job sometime around sophomore year of college. I was looking around publisher websites for internship possibilities, and came across a description for an editorial assistant in a children's division. And I instantly knew that THAT was what I wanted to do when I graduated. So, two years later, during the summer right after graduation, I attended the University of Denver Publishing Institute, and patiently waited all month for the children's book lecture, which was given by Virginia Duncan, Greenwillow's publisher. Very fortunately for me, I got to talk to Virginia, and she was just beginning her search for a new editorial assistant at that time. And now I've been at Greenwillow for ten years!

Biggest lessons...hmm. Every day I learn something new, either from one of my colleagues or one of our authors! So perhaps the biggest lesson in my editorial education is that in the creative process everyone has to be open to continuing to learn.

Before I was in publishing, I also never realized just how important the page turn is. In picture books, it's a huge part of the pacing and build of the story, of course. But even in novels, that turn from end of chapter to beginning of chapter is important. Another big lesson is that it isn't necessarily an editor's job to know HOW to fix a problem in a story, but to know WHAT needs to be fixed.

2.  What kind of books do you do these days? (All picture books or all novels?) What are some common themes or ideas or motifs that run through books you acquire? How might those connect to your childhood reading or your own life?

Lately I have been acquiring mostly novels, but at Greenwillow, we all get to work on every book in some way, so I also see a lot of picture books every day. I love having the wide range of books to work on, and the fact that I don't have to pick one age group.

I've noticed that I'm very attracted to stories that involve significant--often heartwrenching--choices for the characters. And ones with strong friendship or sibling themes. And looking back, these do connect quite a bit to the themes that appealed to me in my childhood reading, as well. Robin McKinley's and Tamora Pierce's books were among my favorites, as were The Secret Garden, Matilda, and A Wrinkle in Time. I also seem to go for stories in which the child or teenager discovers or creates their own spaces, away from the parents or other authority figures. There’s something very magical about that, even in books that don’t involve any actual magic.

3.  What is your general editorial process like? How did you learn/develop it?

The first time I read through the manuscript, I try to do it straight through without picking up my pencil (this doesn't always work!) to get a sense of how the entire story plays out. Then I go through again, pencil in hand, jotting questions or thoughts in the margins as I go, and making notes on larger issues on another piece of paper. I use those notes to start my editorial letter, and will go back through the margin comments to pick up anything else that seems like it needs called out in the letter. Often, I'll talk to the other Greenwillowites who've had a chance to read the manuscript, and we'll discuss what we like and what we think needs attention, and I'll tweak the letter after those conversations. In later drafts, the balance usually shifts to heavier line editing and shorter letters. But every manuscript and every author are different, so the editorial process is a lot about finding the best way to work for each project.

Editing is interesting...on the one hand you're always learning, but on the other, it never feels like a process you're being taught. For the most part, I learned how to do it by because as an assistant I wrote reader's reports for the other editors, and then I was the one who xeroxed their editorial letters and marked-up manuscripts. So of course I read them as I xeroxed! A lot of it is experience, too, of course. The more manuscripts you work on, the more you know what has worked in the past and what hasn't. And there is always the instinctive part of it, too.

4.  You're very involved in social media, with your own blog and Tumblr, a strong role on the Greenwillow blog, and Twitter. As an editor, what do you get out of doing that?

Social media's been a really great way to make connections with agents, other editors, and writers. I've certainly gotten submissions because of something I've mentioned on Twitter--it's been a new channel to show what my taste is. And it's been a terrific way to get to know booksellers, librarians, and bloggers, too. I love hearing them talk about books, and I learn so much about their perspective from the blogs and twitter. Added bonus? There's nothing more warm-and-fuzzy-feeling than seeing people whose opinions you respect talking positively about one of your books!

Plus everything online give us so much access to such a wide array of information, and the people I follow through various platforms introduce me to articles I might not have found on my own but find incredibly interesting.

5.  I have to ask: What is it like to work with Megan Whalen Turner? And can you tell us anything at all about the next Gen book?

Well, Virginia is Megan's editor, so it's a better question for her! Megan is, of course, amazing, and I consider it a gift to have watched the last two books take shape.

I will tell you everything I know about the next Gen book: She's writing it.

6.  How many hours did you work in the past week? (Include time spent editing at home or reading manuscripts.)

Cheryl, you can't honestly expect me to tally that up! That would ruin the illusion that I have a life.

7.  How did you come to acquire and edit The Girl of Fire and Thorns, which was nominated for the Morris Award? Do you do a lot of debuts? What did it mean to you to have a book nominated for the Morris?
Oh, this is an exciting story! Rae Carson's agent, Holly Root, called me late one afternoon saying she had a manuscript that reminded her of Kristin Cashore and Robin McKinley. I said SEND IT OVER RIGHT NOW! Which she did. And I read it overnight. By the end of the next day, Rae and Holly had accepted our offer to publish it.

I have done a lot of debuts in the last couple years--Entwined by Heather Dixon, Mistwood by Leah Cypess, A Touch Mortal by Leah Clifford were all debut novels. And there are a few more coming in the next couple years, too! It's really inspiring as an editor to help launch an author's career, and know how many more books they have in them for all of the readers out there.

Having The Girl of Fire and Thorns named a finalist for the Morris is such a thrill, and an honor. Rae is an absolutely beautiful writer and the story she has to tell took my breath away. I'm so excited to know that others felt the same way, and am beyond happy for her!

8.  What book do you have coming out next, and why do you love it?

Bethany Griffin's Masque of the Red Death is coming in a few short months. It's a reimagining of Edgar Allan Poe's story, and it is breathtaking. Romance, despair, a fight for hope, a little touch of steampunk, and a destroyed society--all with that gothic tone that's so delicious in Poe. It's the first of two books, and definitely not one to miss! I was completely swept up in this story; it's another that I read in basically one sitting.

Then there's The Crown of Embers, coming out next fall. That's the sequel to The Girl of Fire and Thorns. And let me just tell you that you can't wait.

9.  What are three things you'd like to tell beginning writers / you never get to tell writers, but wish they knew / you find yourself telling writers over and over again? (Take your pick!) 

I pick "tell beginning writers."

* Write the story you HAVE to tell, not the story you think someone else wants to hear.
* Don't be too stiff in your writing. Stay loose and let your voice shine. Be YOU, not "An Author." That's how you'll stay true to your originality and unique perspective.
* Writing is an art, but being an author is a job. Make sure you learn how to balance the two and always be professional in your interactions with the publishing world.

Thanks, Martha!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

New Talk! "Some Observations on Electric Eels"

A week or so ago on Twitter, I promised that once I crossed the five-thousand-followers mark, I'd put another of my writing talks up on my website. Here it is:

The title comes from one of my favorite quotations ever, from the delightfully eely Dame Edith Sitwell: “I am not eccentric. It is just that I am more alive than most people. I am an unpopular electric eel set in a pond of goldfish.” To that end, it's about being an eel in a pond full of goldfish, about the ways we tell stories about eels and goldfish (because everyone thinks of themselves as an eel, no one as a goldfish), about the levels at which readers can connect to -- suture with -- characters in stories, and how to survive if you are an eel -- or a lonely kid, or a bullied one, or a writer or artist.

(What I really love about Dame Sitwell's quote is the "It is just that" -- that simple statement of fact, from her point of view, magnificently switching the locus of power over from anyone who would call her "eccentric" to herself and her own aliveness.)

Hope you enjoy!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Revision Techniques: Anything to Share?

I'll be speaking this Saturday at SCBWI National on Revision, giving a yet-again-revised version of my talk "Twenty-Five* Revision Techniques *(Subject to Revision)," which also appears in Second Sight. (If you're signed up for the session and you also have Second Sight, yes, it involves more than what you can read in the book, and will thus still be worth your time.) I feel pretty good about the talk, but I'm curious:

  •  Those of you who have read Second Sight or heard me give this speech: Which techniques did you actually try? Which were useful to you? Which were duds? (This will help me to know which to keep and which to cut this round.)
  • Anyone: What's your process? What strategies or techniques are most useful to you in revising these days? Any you'd like to share? (Fair warning:  If an idea sounds good to me, I may use it. But I will credit you, I promise.)
Thank you very much for the feedback, on both fronts. 

A Quick Ramble: The Power of Young Adult Reading

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year-old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs. -- John Rogers
I saw this quote in the comments on Ta-Nehisi Coates's blog this morning (in a post on Ron Paul, for context), and wanted to throw it up here to save because it ties to one of my pet theories:  that the book you fall in love with between the ages of twelve and fourteen has a defining effect on the entire rest of your life. For me it was Pride and Prejudice, and I've written before about where that's gotten me now. (The quote above is very male, I have to observe. And I bet a lot of people in their twenties now would say simply "Harry Potter.") Did you all have a book like this when you were a young teenager? What was it, and how has it played out in your life since?

I also went through an Ayn Rand phase, actually, where I loved Anthem and The Fountainhead, though I never quite got around to Atlas Shrugged. I never believed in the books' economic or cultural theories, partly because I spent nearly every Sunday morning of the prior sixteen years in church, and Jesus's words about loving your neighbor were planted far deeper in my consciousness than Ms. Rand's screeds against it. (I read The Fountainhead on a youth-group mission trip, which is probably the single most ironic place possible to read an Ayn Rand novel.) But her ideas about identity and self-knowledge and self-reliance had a major effect on me -- for instance, that "To say 'I love you,' one must first be able to say the 'I'":  that concept that it was important to have your own strong, whole sense of self before you could truly commit that self to another person. And also the idea of work as a basis for and expression of identity . . . Both of these things spoke powerfully to my burgeoning feminist intellectual self. I have no use for most of the rest of what she's written, and I'd doubtless sniff at the prose style today (and I remember thinking, "Goodness, these speeches go on for a while" and skimming when I was sixteen), but I'm grateful to her still for in part making me who I am.

And we do teenagers too little credit sometimes, I think, in worrying that they can't filter ideology from real life as I did. But probably this depends on the teenager. And I can't explore that idea in more depth now because I am, in fact, running late for my lovely, liberal, love-your-neighbor church . . . Which shows you truly which idea won out.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Kidlit Drink Night at SCBWI

Betsy and I are no longer running Kidlit Drink Night, but a terrific crew of whippersnappers* has taken up the banner, and they've planned a fabulous event for the upcoming New York National SCBWI Conference! To wit:

What: Kidlit Drink Night
When:  Friday, January 27, at 8 p.m.
Where: The Public House at 41st and Lexington (a new location, please note)
Why:  Tradition! Also fun, and by popular request.
Who: Anyone and everyone attending the conference or with an interest in children's/YA literature. 

I will be speaking at National SCBWI this year, so I'll definitely be there. (And copies of Second Sight will again be available in the conference bookstore if you want to pick it up.) Come by and say hi!

* I use this word because I am old. OLD. Compared to the whippersnappers, anyway. (Also it is fun.)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Racing for the Quilt

Many moons ago, I posted that my mother was collecting Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure t-shirts in order to create a breast-cancer support quilt, and I asked any blog readers who might have shirts to spare if they'd share them with her. You responded generously, and as a result, this quilt has now gone to a dear friend of my mom's who's living with the disease:

Isn't it beautiful? The shirts are, from left to right and top to bottom, from Rome, Italy (donated by Larry Litman); Chicago (Ann Gadzikowski); Denver (Jean Reidy or Hallie Tibbets); Kansas City (my mom); a Survivor shirt (unknown); Knoxville, Tennessee (Mrs. Bill Wright); Portland, Oregon (April Henry); Los Angeles County (unknown); and New York City (me). (My apologies if I'm  misattributing any of the shirts here.) If you donated a shirt and you don't see it here, please know that another four shirts are going to make a lap quilt for another friend to use during chemo treatments, so those too will find their way.

Thanks so much to all of you who donated your shirts or who participate in the Komen Race or other breast-cancer fundraisers every year.... I look at this quilt and I see all the women I know who have lived with or been lost to breast cancer, including especially my mom's mom, Carol Sadler; and I see the fight continuing. Peace, strength, and warmth to you all.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Two More Things I Love about IRISES (or, A Brief Comment on Economic Diversity in YA, Women's Wanting, & Writing Across Identity)

I wanted to follow up my previous post by noting two more things that make Irises extraordinary. First, I saw a blog review earlier this week that called the atmosphere of the novel, especially in the first half, "suffocating." That is true, and the reason it is suffocating is because the girls are poor. Their father was a minister in a working-class neighborhood; their mother requires ongoing major health care; their home (a rectory) is dependent upon their father, so after he dies, they're without a place to live, or any other options for support; and many of their friends prove not so much so (sometimes for reasons of Kate's own making, admittedly). Irises makes real the hard, indeed suffocating choices that people with limited financial resources are forced to make every day, which is a very rare thing in a YA fiction world that mostly focuses on teenagers in the middle class or above.

Second, I think my mouth fell open when I read the following passages, from three different points in the book:

"I always knew you had a selfish side, but I didn’t know how bad it was. It’s not just me. You’re going to go away and leave your sister with your mother? You don’t think that’s selfish? Why this place Stanford? You can pursue your dream of being a doctor here. Do you give a damn about anybody other than yourself?”
     Kate listened to Simon without responding. He wasn’t telling her anything new. She had questioned herself endlessly about whether her desire to go to Stanford was selfish and she had never been able to resolve the question. Every time she thought about it she became more confused.
Mary wanted to remind Aunt Julia that just a few seconds before she had thought Kate “capable,” but maybe you could be capable and selfish at the same time. She remembered all the moments when she thought Kate was selfish: when she told Mary she had to give up her hour of studio after school, when Mary found out she was going away to college. Now that feeling came to her again, but more confusingly:  Was Kate selfish, or was it Mary who was being selfish, wanting Kate to give up what she cherished most? And Aunt Julia? Was she the one who was selfish, wanting Kate to marry Simon so that they’d be off of her hands? This selfishness thing was very hard to figure out.

Kate looked at her hands. Then, raising her eyes, she said, “Am I selfish for wanting to go to Stanford?”
      “I don’t know. Are you?”
      “I promised Mother that I would be a doctor. I even promised her that I would go to Stanford. She wanted me to go there.”
     “You know,” he stopped to swallow his coffee, “I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but I have a good idea of how your father was with you. I’ve seen it many times before. Fathers like yours want a household where everyone is a saint, and a saint always sacrifices her interests for others. Saints are taught to think that wanting to go to the best college or wanting to have a high-paying job is a kind of ambition that God forbids. You’re not selfish because you want to go away to Stanford."
What stunned me about this was that, as a woman, I wrestle with the idea of selfishness all the time, and I know many of my girlfriends do too:  how much time, energy, and money we give to our jobs, our partners, our families, or our other commitments, vs. how much we keep for our selves, especially our secret selves -- the ones that want, hungrily, a big dream or frivolous shoes or time to write. It can be very, very hard for women even to admit we have those wants, much less to say, as Kate does, "I want to go to Stanford," and then to insist upon that dream even in the face of difficulty for other people. (The girls live in El Paso.) And having someone affirm the righteousness of the want -- "You're not selfish because you want to go away to Stanford" . . . In a wholly egalitarian world, women wouldn't need permission for or affirmation of their desires; but in the world we live in now, holy crap, that feels important and satisfying. (In fact, I think this is becoming one of the most important markers in a romance these days -- #5, 6, 11 and 12 in this list, maybe, in the specific form where the hero sees, understands, and supports the heroine's ambition, whatever it is.)

I have to say -- obviously speaking hugely generally, as I already am -- that men seem to take wanting, and getting or taking what they want, much more for granted, and the idea of selfishness is not as much of a preoccupation for them. And yet Francisco introduced this idea in Irises, and explored it in a depth that I've never seen from even a female writer, which is what astonished me so much. This is why I will never say "A X writer cannot write a Y character," where X and Y are two different genders, races, cultures, economic backgrounds, etc., because it is possible for it to be done well, as Trent Reedy also proved earlier this year. But it absolutely requires the writer to approach that difference with humility, respect, the willingness to listen and to let go of preconceived notions, all his/her observational skills and insights . . . all in service of making the Y character as human, real, and round -- as flawed and as worthy of love -- as the X person the writer already is. And I'm proud Francisco achieved that here with Kate and Mary, just as he had with Marcelo, Pancho, and D.Q.