Wednesday, October 22, 2008

West Hollywood Book Fair 2008

Authors from Latinos In Lotusland were present at the fair!

Tips in Writing for Children

A Writing Tip from Newbery Honor Novelist Carolyn Coman

As writers, we're prone to hearing voices—sometimes a chorus of them. We strain to hear the true and natural voices of our characters and our narrators. We wait for our deepest unconscious to talk to us in whatever way it does. And at some point in the process, we invite in response from trusted readers—a fellow writer, or teacher, or editor—and their voices help us see where we are with our stories, and where we need to go.

There are also voices that aren't helpful at all, just plenty loud and persistent: the internal censor, the distracter, the voice that's always there with the perfect taunt. You will never write this story; it isn't worth writing anyway; you will never get it published; if you do, it won't be successful and you'll never be able to write the next one. . . . The variations are endless. It's the mean voice that adapts itself perfectly to jiggle our worst, next fear.

Let's listen to the voices that serve our stories. Ask/tell the others to be quiet; and if they won't, then make a deal: we will listen to them after we have sat down at our desks and worked on our stories for a chunk of time. Let's cultivate a discipline that reduces the clatter of voices that undermine what really matters: writing the best stories we possibly can.

Happy Writing!

Carolyn Coman's acclaimed novels for children and young adults include The Big House, Many Stones (National Book Award finalist and a 2001 Michael L. Printz Honor book), Bee and Jacky, What Jamie Saw (National Book Award finalist and Newbery Honor book), and Tell Me Everything. She has taught fiction writing at Harvard Extension, Harvard Summer School, and the Chautauqua Institute. For eight years she was a faculty member of the Vermont College MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults Program, and she is currently on the faculty of Hamline University's new MFA program.
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A Writing Tip from Picture-Book Author/Illustrator Dominic Catalano

Writing a picture book can be daunting. Having to write to a specific book length, pacing the story in a purposeful and dramatic way to move the reader forward—engaged and anticipating what's next to come—is indeed challenging. And, all this in just thirty-two, that's right, count 'em, thirty-two pages.

Here's an idea: think in scenes, like a movie!

Breaking those thirty-two pages into scenes can help to realize the overall experience of the book. Page 1/scene 1 and pages 2 and 3/scene 2, like the opening credits of a film, can offer visual material, such as illustrations and font styles, that sets the stage, foreshadows, and eases the reader into the opening written text. The next fourteen scenes (all spreads except for the last on page 32), build the story to a climax and, like scenes in a movie, change through shifts in point of view, location, or action.

An illustrator has a distinct advantage here, being trained to think visually. An author, however, brings the delight and power of language to the picture-book mix. When an author writes visually, pacing a story into scenes, an illustrator (who might also be the author—talk about split personalities) can easily follow the flow of the narrative, enhancing and adding to the dramatic, humorous, or aesthetic effect.

Who knows, you might be the next Chris Van Allsburg, whose picture book (think Jumanji, The Polar Express, and the soon-to-be-released Zathura) is the next blockbuster to make it to the silver screen.

Happy Creating!

Dominic Catalano holds an MA in fine arts, an MFA in illustration, and most recently was awarded a PhD in art education from Ohio State University. He is an assistant professor at Bowling Green State University in northwestern Ohio. Dominic has illustrated twenty-five trade and mass-market picture books, four of which he also wrote—Wolf Plays Alone, Frog Went A-Courting, Santa and the Three Bears, and Mr. Basset Plays. His work has also appeared in numerous children's magazines and reading series.

If you'd like to learn more from Dominic, join him for the Visual Art of the Picture Book, a special workshop for illustrators, from November 6-9, 2008. For more information, visit

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A Writing Tip from Children's Editor Paula Morrow

Tight writing is related to focus. There are two aspects involved, which for lack of better terms I'll call close-up and wide-angle. When taking pictures with a camera, you usually use one or the other; but when editing, you need both. Close-up focus is the line-by-line, word-by-word process of trimming out unnecessary words and phrases to streamline each sentence. "Cats are able to hunt at night because of their ability to see in the dark" sixteen words) becomes "Cats can hunt at night because they can see in the dark" (twelve words).

Equally important is wide-angle focus, in which you examine the structure, organization, and development of the entire manuscript. Do you have a clear narrative arc that builds inexorably to a memorable climax and then resolves quickly? How much backstory is actually necessary? How much detail is required, and how much is padding? Could you delete the first paragraph? The first page? Why is material from chapter two repeated in chapter five? Is a whole page of dialog necessary on page three, or is some of the dialog purposeless chitchat that impedes the plot?

When you're tightening a manuscript, read it multiple times. Focus on either the close-up or the wide-angle in each reading—but not both at once.

Happy Streamlining!

Paula Morrow considers her main talent to be editing, although she has written more than two hundred published stories, articles, poems, and activities. Before joining Cricket Magazine Group in the 1980s, she edited publications for the state of Michigan and for NOAA, then owned a desktop-publishing business. As executive editor of Ladybug and Babybug magazines, she also edited titles for Cricket Books and packaged books for McGraw-Hill Children's Publishing and Scholastic Book Clubs. Paula is a regular columnist for the children's writers' magazine Once Upon a Time, a weekly children's book reviewer for newspapers in northern Illinois, and an instructor with the Institute of Children's Literature. She is editor and publisher of the new small press Boxing Day Books.

If you'd like to learn more from Paula, she will be offering Writing Fiction for Children's Magazines for the Highlights Foundation, November 13—16, 2008. For more information, visit

Highlights Foundation, Inc.
814 Court Street
Honesdale, PA 18431
Phone: (570) 251-4500

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