Monday, August 30, 2010

Q and A

Okay, so I am working on a page of Q and A for my website. I have a few that I know I want to include....but I could use a little help. Imagine you are a kid (I know...most of us on this blog still are in one way or another!) Think about the kind of stuff you would like to know about an author. Let your inner kid out and help me think of some interesting factoids that people might want to know.

Of course, I am toying with the idea of just making up a bunch of lies.

But then I would feel bad.

However, it would be fun......


P.S. And if you have stuff that your inner adult wants to know, you can ask that, too. I'll try to have my inner adult answer, but she doesn't come around here too often. Cramps her style.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Painting Myself Into a Corner

I don't really have an office. Not at all, actually. I have a wooden folding tray upon which my laptop sits and a lovely large brown leather executive type of chair. It looks strange, giant chair, tiny desk, but oh well. The desk and chair were not the problem.

The corner was the problem.

I put my desk in a corner that was last inhabited by my husband's golf clubs. You know, those long, steel (or titanium) things that hang out of the top of a funny looking bag that scrape up any painted thing that they touch? Yeah, those things...well, my new office-corner (or should I say corner-office) was gross. I am not a picky person, but it looked like Beast (from Beauty and the Beast...coming out on DVD this fall!) had his own personal clawing festival on my walls. With dirty, muddy claws. Gross.

I washed the wall but it didn't help much.

So I got some lovely blue paint, kind of turquoise-tiffany blue and I painted my corner. It makes me so happy when I sit down to write to see this lovely HUGE splash of color.

What else makes me happy? A chile relleno burrito brought to me by my husband so I could get a little writing done.

You know, when you have a blue corner and a burrito, there's really no writing task you can't tackle.

So, what about you? Any little indulgences that make your writing life happier?


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Summer Goals-Year in Review

For me, this time of year is really more of the "new year" than the whole December/January thing. I tend to look back at my year and see what I have accomplished and what I still want to accomplish. But first, I need to check in with my Summer Goals. (I am counting Labor Day as the deadline).

1. Keelie of the Lake, MG. My goal was to finish the first draft. That is SO not going to happen. I am halfway there. I am adjusting my goal to finish a draft by November (when I get my Trinket edits). It would be really nice to have a draft done before I start to work with my editor.

2. Wren Faire-I was supposed to decide what I wanted to do with this. Did I want to keep it YA? Did I want to revise it for more of a tween audience? I still don't know. I finally got brave and opened the file. I was truly scared to do it. I was terrified it would stink to high heaven. But it didn't stink, which is good. However, I was unable to reach a decision, so......time will tell.

3. Surfiesta, PB-I vowed to eat a page of this book if I couldn't write the last poem. Guess what? I am going to have to look up recipes for how-to-eat-bad-poem if I don't hurry up and finish!! Two weeks! Yikes!!!

4. Nix the Naughty, Chapterbook revision-YAY! Done!!!

5. Area 51 Elementary, Chapterbook-Didn't touch. Not even once. (Will probably back burner this for a while.)

6. New PictureBook Idea-Yeah, as if.

7. Chicken Wizard (Was I going to brainstorm a second adventure for him? I don't even remember....)

So, what happened StoryQueen?? Not exactly dismal, but, well....I had higher hopes for my time off. HoweverI did do a lot in the past year:

I revised The Seven Tales of Trinket, finished the draft of Wren Faire, learned how to query an agent, got an agent, revised Trinket a couple of times, wrote two brand new picture books, wrote two easy readers, wrote and revised Nix the Naughty (chapterbook) and wrote synopses for other books in the Nix series, made my first vlog, appeared at six author events, taught a children's writing workshop....oh, and did my other job.

Now I am feeling better. I am going to cut myself some slack on the summer goals.

How about you? How are your summer goals coming along? Yearly accomplishments?


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Why a Query is like a Poem

I've been thinking a lot about queries since Write On Con. Well, actually, I was thinking about them even before that. I've been wondering what makes a good query.

I've come to the conclusion that a good query is startlingly like a good poem. Somehow, somewhere inside, it resonates with your soul. It makes you feel. It makes you wonder. The purpose of a poem isn't just to exist, but to make that connection between reader and poet.

The purpose is the connection.

When I read through the queries on Write On Con, I found the comments very interesting. And I found myself disagreeing with most of them.

Because there is not just ONE way to write a query, much like there is not just ONE way to write a poem.

And people, anyone who tells you there is only one way is wrong.

I think there is a tendency towards creating some kind of generic query that follows all of the rules like a good school boy. And then guess what happens? All of the queries end up sounding the same.

Generic writing is not compelling writing.

I know of which I speak. For I, too, once wrote a generic query.

I followed all of the rules....or the rules I thought existed out there and squeezed (hammered, chiseled, stuffed) my thoughts into a recipe for what seemed to be a successful query template. And I made it all fit.

Kind of like a too-tight sweater that pulls in the wrong places and isn't really that flattering.

I mean, just because you can wear something, doesn't mean you should.

(Sorry, metaphor switch. At first the query was a poem, then a schoolboy and now it is a sweater?? I'll get back to the poem part, I promise. I just can't help but sometimes put in a little motherly advice. And the just because you can doesn't mean you should line is one spoken often in the Thomas house. I mean, I have teenage daughters.)

So, anyway, after a bit of time (and very little response to my little query,) I looked at it again and realized that I followed all of the rules but that my query did NOT reflect very well the book I had written. As in not at all. I mean, I wouldn't even want to read the book I described. And I wrote it.

Then I realized that the query doesn't need to be the best query. It does not need to be the best little school boy. It just needs to make the best connection it can between my book and the reader.

And connections of any kind are magical. Everyone knows that.

So, I sat down and thought like a poet. I let the words flow out of me, allowing the voice I had so easily let loose on the page when writing my book have a turn at describing the book. I tried not to think about the agent or editor who might read my words, but rather that a friend might actually have to read it. I took all of the pretentious stuff out, since I hate sounding pretentious to friends. I allowed a more genuine take on my book to fill my heart and spill out.

And I thought what the heck? At least this represents my book better than the last, dry, generic query did. If an agent is going to reject my book, at least they will know what they are rejecting, right?

Now I am not saying that I actually wrote a poem and sent it in as a query. There were no rhyming words. There was no iambic pentameter. (But it would be funny to try some day.....) But there was an attempt to write a query that provided an electric connection between my book and whoever read it. I let my query sound like it was written by the same person who wrote the book.

And the first agent I sent the query to is now my agent, the wonderful Joanna Stampfel-Volpe.

So, I guess what I am saying is that when you write your query, remember that its sole purpose is to create a connection. The only rule it has to follow is to make the reader go dang I want to read that book. Now.

A beautiful poem is remembered not for its words (though they may be lovely or haunting or achingly perfect), but for the chord it strikes within the reader's soul.


Friday, August 13, 2010

Withdrawals. Presents. Food.

1. I am in serious withdrawals over the end of WriteOnCon. I mean, for the past three days, I've woken up to find three hours worth of workshop posts that I get to catch up on (Yay West Coast!) And then, throughout the day, every hour there was something new and cool to read and absorb.

And it was all in one place! Talk about one stop shopping.

I cannot imagine the work that went in to organizing it all.

It was amazing.

And I miss it, sooooooo much.

2. I did a storytime at Yellow Book Road in San Diego on Tuesday. It is an awesome independent bookstore (and if you need books signed by me, they can arrange for that and ship them too you.) Anyway, one family bought about 7 copies of Happy Birthday, Good Knight. 7 copies?

"That's a lot of copies," says I.

"Well, they are party favors for a royal birthday party."

Wow. What a great idea. I mean, I give books as presents a lot. A LOT. But what a great idea to give books as party favors! I mean, those of us with little ones KNOW how much we spend filling little favor bags with crumby* little plastic crud that everyone just throws away so that the younger members of the family don't choke on it. Books are the party favor that keep on giving!
(And you don't have to give hard covers or anything! But imagine how cool it would be if your child came home with a paperback book instead of plastic crud.)

I can see this working for pre-teen/teen parties, too. Imagine a slumber party where everyone gets a copy of The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting or some similarly adreneline-rush worthy tale. (If you can, watch Kimberly's vlog on WriteOnCon, Thursday. She is the master of building suspense!) Far more fun than just watching a scary movie.

So, give books as favors (and they don't have to be mine.)

3. After the storytime/signing, my husband took me out to lunch. We went to Point Loma Seafood. We split a halibut sandwich. It was 15 bucks. Seriously. 15 bucks. I mean, is there any sandwich in the world worth 15 bucks?

Yes. There is. And if I had a choice of eating lobster or having the 15 buck halibut sandwich, I'd pick the sandwich. The sourdough bread was so fresh and warm, and the fish just melted in your mouth.

But luckily is was 15 bucks (and I am cheap) so we just split it because then we drove by Five Guys burgers which have the best burgers in the world. Really. The best. so, we split a burger and brought some burgers home for the girls. They had bacon and mushrooms....OMG so good.
My husband is a burger fanatic. Everytime we visit a new city, he must search for the perfect burger. Five Guys is way up on his list.

So, what a week! Anyone out there do anything besides hang out at the con?


*my preferred spelling is crummy, but I decided I ought to read The Catcher in the Rye, you know, since I never did in school, and he uses crumby a LOT. (But in my head, when I spell it crumby, I always hear the "b" which cracks me up.)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Where I'll Be....

Yay! It's Write On Con Week!

I am so excited that some fabulous blogger pals have put this event together. Who would have thought they would have so much response! Over 1400 people registered to take part in the forums. WoW!

One of the reasons I really wanted to be a part of this is because I have never really been able to go to one of the Big Conferences. You know the ones....the ones that keep you glued to your laptop, wondering what the next crumb of amazingness to be posted on somebody's blog who is lucky enough to be there will be. It's not that I didn't want to go to one. It's more that the scheduling gods have been against me each year (sometimes they duked it out with the recession gods.....or the giant-looming-project gods). Either way, same result. No conference for Shelley.

But I GET TO GO! And you do, too!

So, head on over starting tomorrow. I will make an appearance on Thursday afternoon at 3:30 (but I am not sure if that is Eastern Time or what. I'll keep you posted.)

Also, I think I'm going to be at Yellow Book Road in San Diego on Wednesday at 11:00 for storytime....knights and dragons welcome!


P.S. Thank you for all of the nice comments on my blog last week. The support of the blogging community is the absolute best thing about the internet. The best.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

In Which I Make This Noise: Wooohoooooooo!!!

So, those of you that read this blog from time to time know that I write not only children's picture books, but that I have been trying my hand at middle grade novel writing as well.

Even though I had published nine books without an agent, I knew that times had changed, and that if I wanted to sell my middle grade, I needed the help of an agent. Last spring, I signed with the amazing Joanna Stampfel-Volpe (who is magic) and today, we get to tell you about this:*

Middle grade

Picture book author Shelley Moore Thomas's debut THE SEVEN TALES OF TRINKET, about a young bard named Trinket, an old tattered map, Thomas the Pig Boy, and the quest to find Trinket's father, pitched as WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON meets Gail Carson Levine, to Beth Potter at Farrar, Straus Children's, at auction, by Joanna Volpe at Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation (NA).

Yay! Yay! Yay! Yay! Yay! er, um....oops, I said I would make this noise: Wooohoooooo!!!

I am soooo happy. If ever there was a book that was close, close, close to my heart, it is this one. (And to be compared to two Newberry medal winners in the description totally floored me!) And I can't wait to work with Beth (she laughed at my jokes on the phone.....or maybe that was nervous matter, she's stuck with me now.)

And here's the thing, I never would have known about Joanna without my participation in the blogging community (having read her name bandied about from time to time, always in the most awesome circumstances) thank you, blog friends! For being there, for posting about writing stuff, for posting about stuff that has nothing to do with writing but makes me smile, for having a blog! (And JSV case you were wondering....)

You are all awesome.

So...cake anyone?

I am thinking chocolate with chocolate buttercream icing......
or maybe a flourless chocolate cake....



*they left out a word in the announcement and it didn't make sense, so I added the word on my blog....just so you know.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Why Writing a Book is Like Teaching School AND Having a Baby

I forget every time I start something new just how hard it can be down in the trenches of a book.

I remember it differently, of course. I only remember that it must have been easy. (It could not have been this hard, could it?)

I look back on finished projects and remember typing the last words and a feeling sadness in my soul that my time with it is over. I remember working on the book like I was in love with it and all we did for the months that it took to get written was dance in fields of daisies (cushy daisies, of course) and make lovey-dovey eyes at each other.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

I know this because in addition to writing my books and blogging, I play around in journals a lot. I also keep a document for each book in which I just free-write a lot about how the book is going, where I want it to go, why I can't seem to get there and all that. Oh, the angst!!! You would think I was a new teacher with the roughest class ever (been there, done that) or having a three day labor trying to pump out a giagantic baby (been there, done that). It's so hard. Why? Why? Why?


But I did. I went back and taught more kids (more than 20 years of teaching) had more babies (3 daughters altogether) and wrote more books (lots).


Because our minds are kind and we forget the hardest parts. We forget the self-doubt, the wondering if we have been fooling-ourselves-and-perhaps-we-shouldn't-be-doing-this-at -all
thoughts. We only remember the wonderful feeling of looking into the faces of children who couldn't read before they came to you, or holding your baby for the first time, or typing the last words on a story and knowing it is the best thing you have ever written.

So, the forgetting is great. It allows us the time, distance and hope to try to do it again.
It must not have been that hard, right? Daisies and lovey-dovey looks and all.

But then, there are days like today. AAAUUUGH! It was never this hard before! What am I doing wrong?? What? What? It was easy writing the last book, right?

I am glad for the journal entries which remind me that it was and is hard work to write a book.

Hard work.

But I made it through that book, which is now something I really love.

I can make it through this, too.

(So can you, even if you have never taught kids or had a baby....I promise.)