Turbo Monkey Tales is a group blog focusing on the craft, production, marketing and consumption of Children's Literature. We are illustrators, writers, animators and media mongrels. We are readers! We are published, unpublished and self-published; agented and searching, and 100% dedicated to our Kid Lit journey, no matter where we are on the path. Join our Tribe and grab a vine. The more the merrier!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Conversation with New York Times Best Selling Author, Ellen Hopkins.

A Conversation with Ellen Hopkins
by Ellen Jellison

Recently, I was pleased to have the opportunity to spend an evening with Ellen Hopkins. I had just finished reading her latest book, COLLATERAL.  Written in free verse, poetry with a plot, the book is not only about the loved ones left behind by their soldiers deployed to Afghanistan, but about the soldiers themselves and the dangers they face. In COLLATERAL, the protagonist, Ashley, falls in love with a Marine. We, as readers, journey with Ashley down a path of joy and heartache. A path at times so lonely, that we want to climb inside the book and reassure Ashley that everything will be okay. As readers, we experience through Ellen Hopkin’s gift with words, love, pain, and that the collateral damage caused by war is far reaching. Ellen Hopkin’s COLLATERAL is a must read. Her voice is amazing and the reader easily becomes one with the protagonist, Ashley. We are not just reading a book; we are living Ashley’s story.

My daughter, Hanna, has read all of your books. COLLATERAL is my first. I was blown away. I couldn’t put the book down. How did you decide upon the idea of writing about the heartache of military deployment? What was your inspiration behind the book?

(Ellen) As with pretty much all my books, I have a lot of young military girlfriends, wives and actually soldiers, that read them. They come to me with stories like all my readers do. The idea fascinated me, it’s so hard to find young love and maintain young love, just in the course of being young. The thought of deployment and the thought of that person being sent away for 7 to 12 months at a time and trying to build a relationship, became something I really wanted to study and find answers, to find some kind of understanding, I guess.

In COLLATERAL, the protagonist is Ashley. We experience everything through her eyes. How difficult, or easy, was it for you to get inside her head and let the reader experience her story? How would you describe Ashley? Did you have someone you knew in mind while creating her character?

(Ellen) One of my long time readers is Kylie and the book is dedicated to her. Her boyfriend, Conner, also reads my books. We talked a lot online and when I decided to write the book, I thought of her. I talked six or seven hours with Kylie, about her relationship with Conner. Ashley is largely Kylie, and Conner is largely Cole. There are maybe some differences with the way the story unfolds, but similarities in how they met, where he was stationed, and how she would visit him. All those other small plot points came from her. I felt like I became Kylie when I was talking to her, and so Kylie became Ashley through me.

My daughter is married to a soldier currently serving in Afghanistan. How did you learn about the hardships the loved ones left behind faces?

(Ellen) I found an actual Marine battalion that was deployed four times. Matter of fact, that battalion is coming home now, this fall. I found battalion newsletters, Face book pages, and I listened to military families talk to each other, to their loved ones here, to over there. I also researched Afghan news sources. So the war stuff was what was happening over there. A lot of it came from the eyes of the people living in Iraq and Afghanistan, what they were seeing.

In COLLATERAL, my biggest disappointment was in Cole. Anger seems to be a problem for many soldiers. When writing the novel, did you ever think of ending it differently?  

(Ellen) I didn’t know how the ending would be until I wrote the book. So through the writing and getting to know Cole, you get to know your characters . . . it felt like that was how the book needed to go. There are different things in both Cole and Ashley’s personal lives that influenced their relationship. He’s a complex person, but not over the top harsh or mean. Also, what happens in the course of the book, through the Rewind sections, I hope readers will see Cole’s change with each deployment, which happens a lot in real life. I want the focus on our returning soldiers. So if you’re noticing small changes, those could be big changes at some point. Cole did have TBI (traumatic brain injury), different things happening within his brain that made him who he became, and that’s not an unusual story. My books rarely tie up pretty, so depending on the reader, happily ever after might be something they strive for, but I always try to strive for the most honest ending. I never plot plan or outline.

I liked the poetry written by Cole because we stepped outside of Ashley. That was the only time we became him. We saw him through his eyes, through his writing.

(Ellen) Right. I heard from a military wife who is a blogger, that she loved Cole’s poetry. You can see 
through the course of the book that the poems change because his thought process is changing. You also understand that war is the big driving factor of that change.

What did you, as an author, like best about COLLATERAL?

(Ellen) I loved Ashley and Cole’s love. I really did. It was such a pure love, especially for her, who had never experienced anything like that in her life. She had other boyfriends, but this was the person who became key to who she was. She changed too, through that relationship. She became a better person because of it, even though it may not have ended exactly as she wanted it to. She learned a lot in that love. A lot of us experience loves that for whatever reason end up dissolving. For Ashley and Cole, I can’t imagine that war wouldn’t have been a factor.

Was there a part of the book that was heart wrenching for you to write?

(Ellen) I think there were a couple parts. There’s a peripheral character, Darian, and her husband, Spencer. Theirs was a different kind of love in a way, with different driving factors behind it, but it ended up becoming a pure kind of love. You know, all the things that happen in the book to him, like the helicopter crash, those are inspired by true events. A helicopter crash happened on Pendleton similar to that. It was hard to write about, but that was a reaffirming part of the book, that sometimes you can make it through the really ugly stuff and still come out on the other side.

Characters drive a story. As readers, we become attached to them. Darian and Spencer have a rocky relationship, throughout the book, but in the end, even though he is badly wounded and she cheated, she stays with him. Was it from guilt? How would you describe Darian’s character?

(Ellen) Guilt was always there. It’s easier to step away when there’s no need for you to be there and he was gone for so long, right? And, so she had this other person in her life that probably would have taken care of her. He had money, a house . . . there was this idyllic place she could have gone. Instead, she chose to stay with Spence, and that was because Darian, for all her outwardly shallow characteristics . . . there was another depth to her we didn’t see. Sometimes we don’t know until we are put to the test.

As a writer and you come upon a story line that interests you, how do you prepare yourself?

(Ellen) I get the idea and then I character build. That and the pre-write are a big amount of time. For this book, specifically, I talked with many, many military girlfriends, some in depth. I really wanted to know. So like with Kylie, we sat and talked for a long time. You let them talk. You ask a question and let them talk. In the talking, they will eventually warm to you and share the little things that make the characters. Like the vampires in the story, girls who hang out in the bars. Ashley’s thinking . . . I love him and how can they just want to take him for these real shallow reasons? That emotion came from Kylie. At book signings, when I was starting to talk about the book, I had a young lady come up to me and say, my mom’s been an Air Force pilot since I’ve been born. She could die for all I care because she’s never there for me. My dad’s been there for me, and takes care of me. There’s a little tiny reference to that in the book. All those things come from real people, real places. I’ve not experienced this myself, but if you can allow people to put all that stuff inside you, it comes out though your characters.

What has been the most rewarding experience so far in writing COLLATERAL?

(Ellen) I developed an understanding, myself, of a life that I don’t know. We look at it peripherally, on the news or online or whatever, but I’m always looking for ways to understand people, people that aren’t like me. I want to understand what it’s like to have someone you love gone all the time. I want to understand what it’s like to be away, and what you come home to. I want to say that about 8% of our population is military? It’s not a lot. But it’s being a part of this big giant family that the rest of us are not a part of, or privy to that mind set. I wanted that understanding, and I developed a lot of empathy for our military families

You have to hand it to the guys being deployed.

(Ellen) But you know, there’s a certain scorn for that. I hate coming to politics, it’s such a weird place. There are people who do not value what happens, or what the military is. It’s an all volunteer force, so you must want to be there  is what some people think. But it’s more than that. The military is a way for young people get out of the house. It’s the way they go to college, or it becomes a career for them. For some, there aren’t a lot of choices, so the military is the best choice for some. That scorn for that is really frustrating. These young people, both men and women, are over there putting their lives on the line every single day and when they come home, they’re hurt. They’ve lost friends, they’ve lost relationships, and so to just think, well they bought into that. No! What they bought into was a career. And there’s patriotism there. They want to be the person to take care of their country.

Do you have a favorite book that you’ve written so far, or is there something about each one that you have a soft spot for?

(Ellen) There’s some that I don’t like as much as others. And I would say the Crank books, that are very close to me personally, are my least favorite. COLLATERAL is right up there at the top. I liked writing in that age group. I think there is really beautiful poetry in that book . . . I think COLLATERAL is my favorite.

Thank you, Ellen. I enjoyed our conversation. And thank you for all you do for the military community.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Revision: When to Start & When to Stop

Nano's almost over! Let the fun begin!

You've done it. You've written a book. Your manuscript is complete; your story arc has touched down. The first draft puking has stopped. Next up, my favorite phase...the glorious days/months/years of revision!

I adore revising. I have, in fact, been revising my books for years. And years. And...years, which makes me something of an expert on revision. And the first thing I can tell is...don't start yet. As much as you want to scrub the guck off those fifty-thousand words and let your critique group see them shine, don't. Put it away, for a few weeks at least, until you've forgotten everything you did or were trying to do. Going in cold is one of the best things you can do for a new manuscript. It's easier to see what's working and what's not because you've forgotten about all those darlings you've built in. You know...those super clever things that totally aren't working and detract from your story? Yeah, those.

So give yourself a month away from the infant manuscript. Read some books. Revise something else. Brainstorm new book ideas. Whatever. When you finally get back to it, you'll be a much more objective critic.

Let's skip ahead a few months/years/decades...  You've reread and revised. You've responded to comments from your critique group. You're ready to send it out but shouldn't you go through it one more time, just to make sure?

Obviously, we want our submittals to be the best they can be, but sometimes we writers just don't know when to let go. We put off sending out a manscript because we're being cautious or, possibly, as a subconcious effort to avoid rejection. [I could totally name some Monkeys who are super guilty of this, but I won't because I'm classy like that.]

So, when *is* a manuscript ready? Here are five points to consider...

1) You've changed something back to an earlier version. If you drafted a revision, then decided two weeks later that it worked better in the original, chances are it's time to stop revising. You could go back and forth forever. Better to send it out and see what a professional makes of it than spin your wheels endlessly.

2) The revisions you're working on make the book 'different' but not necessarily 'better'. There are hundreds of little changes that would make our books 'different'. But if you're making a lot of revisions that don't improve the manuscript, it's probably time to stop revising. If an editor or agent loves your book, they're certainly not going to reject it because your main character's name is Bob instead of Bill.

3) Your critique group opens your submittal and groans, "Ugh. Not this again." I usually submit something to the Monkeys once. If they suggest huge revisions to it, I might send it back for feedback on the changes, but that's rare. I never, ever send anything three times. My feeling is, once they sign off on it, it's pretty darn close to editor-ready.

4) Your heart isn't in it. Remember the first-draft days when you jotted down fab lines of dialogue and snazzy plot twists at stop lights?  If you don't feel at least a smidgeon of the same love for your manuscript, it's time to move on to something new. Writers write because it's our passion. If the passion between you and your manuscript is gone, it's because you've turned it into a job instead of a love. Send it out and let someone else fall in love with it.

5) You can't figure out what else to do with it. This seems obvious. If you can't find anything else to fix, it must be ready. Right? Yet so many times, we writers fail to see this. We stare at the words; we make small changes (a la #2); but we just can't believe it's ready. Perhaps we're waiting for a sign from the Almighty. Send out your book now written in the clouds. (FYI, this hardly ever happens.) If you can't figure out what else to do to it, the next step is probably to send it out. The first round of comments you get back will help you determine if there really is something you need to address, or if it just needs to find the right home. Either way, you're making forward progress.

Remember...one-hundred percent of shots not taken, don't score. Your book will never be published if it remains hidden on your hard drive. So take a chance. When it's ready--send it out!

Friday, November 23, 2012


Have you ever read the acknowledgements page in a book and mentally composed one of your own? For your book that someday might be published?* 

I have. And while I hate, hate, hate to jinx any future publication, I think an acknowledgments post might be a good idea, especially the day after Thanksgiving. Writing doesn't happen in a vacuum. We are surrounded by folks who keep us going. So:

Thanks to the amazing family and friends who have never, not once, mentioned a real job.

Thanks to the mothers who wonder why we aren’t already published.

Thanks to the crit group members who have an idea of why we aren’t published- and help us improve. Thank you, Turbo Monkeys (and Slushbusters!) for reading my best attempts at chapters and giving me feedback that's made me a better writer. Bless you for believing that I could be a better writer. 

Thanks to all the editors and agents who blog about this amazing industry and make it a little less mysterious. Thanks especially for this post. If I ever meet Janet Reid, I owe her a drink. Several. I don’t know how many times I’ve reread this, but I tear up every. single. time.

Thanks to SCBWI for the conferences, for the information, for the community. Thanks to the agents and editors at those conferences who encourage pale and trembling attendees.  

Thanks to the Nevada SCBWI Mentorship Program. To Ellen and Suzy who organized it, the marvelous faculty who staffed it, and Harold who mentored me. You all made the program so special- and introduced me to my fellow Monkeys!

Thanks to Highlights for the way they support and nurture those who love kidlit. Thanks for the scholarships that allow so many to attend their programs. Thanks to Patti for the times she was fierce with me.

Thanks to the writing community in Facebook and on the web– all the wonderful people who encourage us on a daily basis. 

Thank you for following Turbo Monkey Tales! We're so fortunate that you choose to swing through the kidlit jungle with us.  

Now it's your turn: who would you like to acknowledge? And for you published folks out there, who have you already acknowledged? 

*You know, your wildly successful debut novel whose pre-order sales have already outstripped Harry Potter, Twilight, and 50 Shades combined? That book.

picture provided by Wikipedia Commons

Monday, November 19, 2012

Awakening Memories for Authentic Writing

by Marilyn Hilton

Memories are practical and efficient things, serving us when we want them. We don't lose them; they just go to sleep until something pokes them awake. Recently I read the memoir of a writer who had grown up in New England, as I did, at about the same time as I did. Her experiences of being in college, listening to the music, watching the TV shows, wearing the clothing and hairstyles, knowing the weather, and the smells and sounds all felt so familiar. And as I recalled from her text how the mosquitoes came out at dusk and how fresh-cut hay smelled in summer, and how the frigid winter air dried your nose the moment you inhaled, and the sound of music wafting across a college quad once spring blossoms, other memories emerged which were uniquely mine.

I also remembered that when I was four or five, I'd slip into bed beside my mother every morning and slide my arm under her neck. I remembered sitting on the back stoop of my grandmother's house after supper, lingering over a Pepperidge Farm cherry turnover while crickets sang in the field across the road. I remembered the the places in the arms of my grandfather's chair where the varnish had worn away, the flavor of water drunk from a garden hose, and that I used to imagine our neighborhood, which was laid out in an oval, was one giant merry-go-round.

Whether we write for kids or adults, whether our stories are set in reality or a different world, the present or the past, details like these are what infuse our stories with authenticity and personality. But how can we coax those sleeping memories awake, especially if they've been snoozing for years? Here are some ideas:

  • Listen to music from that time in your life.
  • Look at magazines or catalogs from that time. Paging through old Sears catalogs, which I buy on ebay, often trigger my memories.
  • Find smells from that time. Old Spice reminds me of my dad, and the original Avon face cream reminds me of my mom.
  • Ask someone who was with you then, like your sister or brother or cousin or best friend, what they remember.
  • Sit with a notebook and pen and write a list, or draw a bubble diagram as fast as you can of a particular place or person or event.
  • Read a diary or journal you kept, or letters you or someone else wrote at that time.
  • Read your favorite book from then. Recently I reread A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which a teacher had recommended to me. Although reading it as an adult gave me a different perspective from when I was young, I also remembered how particular parts of the book had impressed the young me.
  • Visit a place you lived in or visted often. It's astounding how much you'll remember--details will fight each other for your attention.

As your memories awaken from their deep sleep, you'll discover this very cool thing that happens--they appear as fresh and new as when they first happened, without the tarnish of use.

What do you do to spark memories for your stories?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Halfway There: NaNoUhOh

Okay, who’s written 25,000 words already for NaNoWriMo?

Show of hands? Anyone? 

Me neither. 

But do not despair!

Today I offer you proof that no matter how far behind you are, there is hope!

I was talking with a writer friend about how I'd begun to doubt my chances of reaching 50,000 words by November 30th and she told me about Marissa Meyer. Marissa wrote the first three books in the Lunar Chronicles (the first novel in the series, Cinder, was released in January of 2012) during NaNoWriMo. Not three separate NaNoWriMos, ONE NaNoWriMo. Thirty days, 150,000 words.

That’s 5,000 words a day, people. I’ve still got time to write a book and a half!

Oh, heck, I might as well try for 10,000 words a day!

Author Rachel Aaron explains how she does just that in this guest post on SFWA’s website.

Totally doable, right?

Kiersten White wrote Paranormalcy in three weeks and Mind Games (out in February 2013) in nine days.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote his first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, in less than three weeks.

Agatha Christie wrote her first detective novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles in two weeks.

According to Robert Louis Stevenson’s stepson, the author wrote Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in three days.

John Boyne wrote The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas in two and a half days.

Even if you haven’t written a single word, you can still “win” NaNoWriMo! At this point, all you have to do is write 3,333.33 words per day!

And you only have to keep up that pace for two weeks! As opposed to month after month like Dame Barbara Cartland who holds the Guinness World Record for the most novels written in a year. Want to guess how many she wrote?

Dame Barbara. She wrote 723 novels during her lifetime. 
And looked fabulous while doing it.
Okay, so maybe you’re not one of those people who can whip out a rough draft in two weeks or even a month. But how will you know unless you try? That’s what NaNoWriMo is about for me this year. Going for it. Putting my writing first for an entire month and just seeing what happens.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got 2,417 more words to go today...

Monday, November 12, 2012

Teacher Conference: Teaching Writers Share Lessons

When people find out I’m a mom to a bunch, a teacher, and a writer, they often say, “I don’t know how you do it.” Seriously,  me neither. There's coffee and the frequent modification of standards, and yet lots of days I'm pretty sure I'm not quite doing it. Still, there isn’t any part I’d give up. I love teaching, writing, and momming (though they take turns being "the favorite").

Since I’m committed to on-going chaos, I thought I’d call on teaching/writing friends to see how they handle all the hats they wear, and these generous, over-worked souls answered!

The interviewees:

Dawn Callahan: My dear friend, critique partner, and a rockin’ high school high school English teacher. Dawn has the coolest zombie story in the works and has taught me tons about both writing and dedication.

Terri Farley, author of the Phantom Stallion series and Seven Tears Into the Sea, and long-time teacher of middle school, high school, and college students prior to dedicating herself to full-time writing. Terri continues to teach now as a visiting author and mentor to writers. (I had the privilege of working with Terri as my mentor teacher when I did my student teaching 63 eons ago! How lucky am I?)

Sarah McGuire: My beloved fellow monkey –and an up and coming writer of rich tales full of adventure and heart. Sarah teaches high school math and creative writing (I don't think there's anything she can't do).

David Michael Slater, author of 20 books (including picture books, the teen Sacred Books series, and a couple of titles for adults). He’s that prolific, and David teaches full-time for a gifted/talented magnet middle school program.

I asked everyone how teaching helps and hinders their writing. David offered that being among kids all the time helps him stay in tune with the middle grade and young adult mindset. Sarah agrees, and adds that besides the great opportunities for listening in on the worlds of students, teaching helps avoid the "lost in my own head" syndrome writers can be prone to. She says, "life outside writing is the wellspring of our writing." Dawn, too, finds that being in the thick of things, surrounded by kids engaged with reading and writing, keeps her in the mood to write. On the other hand, she points out that all the energy teaching and grading require can leave a person drained. Terri spoke of how, despite intent to grade holistically, she couldn't help but dive in and spend lots of time responding to even simple assignments. She still has nightmares that involve grade books. As much as we all love our chosen profession, all agreed teaching can be utterly consuming with planning, meetings, giving feedback, and record-keeping leaving little time for writing--the writing we'd like to be doing, anyway.
So what can be done?
  • David makes use of the snippets of time he does have. He explains, "Even five minutes is worth it. I can't tell you how many times I've found 50 pages of a draft I'd written, only to have no idea when the heck I'd written them." He also suggests trying not to have to reinvent your job each year, but he followed it with "Good luck with that!" so I suspect he's been as successful in that capacity as I have.
  • Sarah brings up some sage and comforting advice from our own Turbo Monkey (and former teacher!) Ellen Jellison. Ellen, she says, "essentially gave me permission to not write during the week. (Sometimes I do, though, because my fingers are just itching to get a scene down. I just don't feel guilty if I can't.) She suggested I make notes about all the ideas I have during the week and then write on the weekend."
  • Dawn suggests setting boundaries, as difficult as that is. She dedicates a set amount of time to grading essays, for example, and then puts them away for the day, and she makes every effort to use prep time at school efficiently so home time is free (well, freer). Papers can wait "a little longer," especially if the reward is a happy, productive writing teacher.
  • Terri offers perspective gleaned from years of writing, teaching, and parenting (experience she conveys so well in her workshops--don't miss a chance to see her!). She urges writers to "compartmentalize your writing as much as you can. Let others know when you will be writing and then follow through. Don't watch TV. Don't do Facebook. If you have to research something for your writing, make a list and do it later. Keep your flow!!! Don't take phone calls unless they're urgent. Don't listen to make sure your kids are doing their assigned chores (you'll know soon enough)." She encourages writers to not allow family or friends to guilt them into losing focus and reminds them that "your work is only as important to your family/friends as it is to you!"
The pay-off to taking those stolen moments dedicated to our own writing is the chance to have our stories be part of the lives of even more of those so-worth-it young people we care about. This dawned on me as I read in Terri's response how a favorite part of being a writer is reader mail, because it reminds her that she hasn't really left teaching, but just has "a larger classroom."
I got so many great thoughts and tips from my writing and teaching pals--I'm saving some of them up to fuel future blogs! But before I head off to set guilt-free boundaries and compartmentalize writing time with a little help from noise-cancelling headphones:
Do you have any tips for eeking out more writing time despite job/life demands, or maybe a story about a teacher who made a difference to you? You know teachers live for those stories. :)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The children are listening ... from Hazel Mitchell

Lately I have been working towards visiting more schools and libraries. Next year I have two picture books coming out for young children and now is the time to start thinking about what I can do to help promote them, including school visits and workshops. I live in a rural area of Central Maine and reaching out is important, especially with cut backs on art and creative time in schools and libraries in my area. So I have been thinking about what it is I can offer and how important that is to children.

Which got me to thinking about my own experience of author and illustrator visits in schools when I was a child. I racked my brain and I came up with virtually nothing! I keep thinking we MUST have had visits, people MUST have come to speak to us, but nothing stood out. I don't think I even knew what an illustrator did until I got to college. (And not hardly then). We had school trips to museums and (possibly) art galleries, but most of my knowledge came from wandering around museums and galleries on my own. And, of course, the wonderful old library in our town.

I say virtually, because I do remember ONE visit to my school by an author. I think I was about 14 years old. At that time I was constantly drawing and writing, making  little comic books and newsletters. Working on the school magazine. Making up plays. So I was interested to see what a REAL author did.

In my memory she is somewhere between 35 and 85. Wild grey hair, no makeup (possibly), hippy clothes and baggy cardigan. We gathered in the library, myself and my best friend up at the front of the crowd. She must have told us something about her life as an author for adults, but I only recall that she read us some of her writing. And I was appalled. This was writing?? The story, I believe, was about a woman's life. Except all I remember was a long, long list. A list about everything in her kitchen, her cupboard, her fridge, her closet. And it went on and on and on. I am sure it was a good idea, experimental, deep, 1970ish. Anyway, she was published so I respected that.  But I preferred my Bronte, CS Lewis and pony books.

At the end of the reading we were set the task to write a short story from a set title. The author would read them and then come back and talk to us about them at a later date. My best friend and I were mega excited ... we ran home and started writing. The stories were sent off and we waited for the return visit.

In the library the author gave our stories back to us. I turned excitedly to the last page to see what she'd written. 'Good Try'. Oh. My heart sank. I peered over at my best friend's story. Her last page was covered in flowery writing. She grinned widely and showed me. 'Natural writer, what a voice, you are a born story teller!' I smiled and offered congratulations. Then I sank down in my chair and hunched my shoulders.

My best friend stood at the front of the class and read out her story.

I went home. I got out my drawing pad and I drew. And I drew and drew, because this much I knew - I could draw! And if they noticed nothing else, they would notice that!

I stopped writing. Or at least I stopped thinking about it as much and enjoying it. I still read voraciously. Gradually ART took over my life.

Later, in my twenties and thirties, I started to pen little stories. I never did anything with them. They were just scribbles. Drawing was how I made my living. And then, finally, in my late 30's, the urge to storytell begin to re-emerge. I sent off a few chapters to agents .. I got some hand written rejections which I cherished. And then, mid 40's I realized there was nothing else I wanted to do with the rest of my life than to follow my dream and illustrate and write - for children. My writing is coming on, it has a ways to catch up with my drawing, but it will.

I tell you this story because it is a reminder to me, and to us all, that the children ARE listening. When I do a visit to a school I will bear in mind that every child is important - not just those with the talent that shines most brightly. And as I do more of these visits I realize that one of the most important sessions is the Q&A. Because that's when you really get to talk to the children ... not just tell them about you. I am going to sit up and pay attention to what THEY have to tell ME.

Thanks for listening and if you have any links about school visits or your experiences, would love to read your comments.


PS. I still love my best friend. She has a fabulous family, is a great cook and performer. But she has not, as far as I know, yet written and published a novel. Of course, there is still time!

Monday, November 5, 2012


Greetings fellow Turbo Monkeys,
It’s me Craig and I’m here to talk to you about Trans-media.
Another buzz word trending up?  For most people that’s all it is, but for me it’s something I have been expecting for decades.  
So is trans-media simply ebooks and video games?  No.
Trans-media is the release of specific story elements across many outlets including books, movies, TV shows, games and webisodics. But it’s not the retelling of the same story.   Each type of media offers it’s own contribution.  The comics for character origins, games for action conflict, TV series for the main unfolding story arc.  In essence, deep immersion into that world. Just like my project, The Goths. The Goths Trans-media project
Disney has been creating Trans-media for decades.  The Lion King animated film spawned video games, picture books, a spin off TV series called Timon and Pumbaa and a hit Broadway musical.
The requirement of diverse and technically advanced outlets might lead you to think only large publishers or movie studios are able to produce trans-media.  But I am here as proof that trans-media is not just for the Spielbergs, Disneys, Warner Brothers or Random Penguin Houses.  
Now what does this mean for you writers?  Build a world.  Don’t just tell a thin line of story.  All the history of your characters, their childhood dreams, their most traumatic experiences or their most influential friend will be required to produce the vast, lush, distinct yet connected stories necessary for trans-media productions.  
Trans-media has been around for years. It’s just that now we know what it looks like and what to call it.  Write prepared my friends. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Onward to Nevada!

Greetings fellow Monkeys!  

Ellen here, and for my blog this week, I’m going to tell you about an amazing writing opportunity, the Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program. (here)

Imagine staying at the St. Mary’s Art Center and Retreat in Virginia City, Nevada, writing and collaborating with others for a weekend in the spring and one in the fall. Sage covered mountains with a sprinkling of pine and aspens surround you. The sweet smell of sage lingers on the breeze, wild horses graze nearby.

It’s the belief of the Nevada Mentor Program that one of the best ways to improve your writing is to work one on one with a successful professional.  Nevada SCBWI is committed to giving our members the best opportunity to improve their writing and illustrating skills and to get closer to their goals of seeing their works published, or published at a higher level. After being accepted (and only about 20 folks are) you and two others are teamed up with a Mentor. Last year there were nine well-published professional children’s book and illustrators to act as mentors.

I’ve participated twice, and both times was fortunate enough to work with amazing mentors, Suzanne Morgan Williams and Terri Farley. Suzy’s published eleven nonfiction titles for children and a novel, Bull Rider (Margaret K. Elderberry, 2009). A former teacher, Suzy believes in attention to detail, thoughtful structure, and being open to new approaches to presenting a story. Terri is the author of the 24-book middle grade series, the Phantom Stallion and its sequel series, The Phantom Stallion: Wild Horse Island. Also a former teacher, Terri is a master at character development.  

I’ve come away from the Mentor Program each time with information that has helped me strengthen my writing craft. Not only did I have another pair of eyes reading my novel, picking up on plot and character issues, but also someone to share my story with. New ideas were generated. I learned from Suzy that it’s okay to dig and rip and revise over and over . . . and over and over. Suzy has a system to highlight plot, action, dialogue, etc., which helps her see, in full color, how the different sections of her text are working. Terri, on the other hand, focuses on getting inside a character’s skin. Characters must experience setting and conflict from the inside out. Your character must grow with the story. He/she must be believable. They must have a strong voice.

My last Mentor Retreat ended a few weeks ago. With everything fresh in my mind, I began revision. I needed to work on the plot. I needed an event to demonstrate conflict between my protagonist and his father. I needed to rip my book apart. I wanted to avoid becoming overwhelmed. I wondered how best to revise.

As an English teacher, I decided to “teach” my book to myself. My first assignment was to summarize each chapter. As I began, I paid special attention to plot progression and character interaction.  I highlighted these places. This enabled me to find the best place in the plot to add the new event I wanted, a sword fight between the protagonist and his father. I thought about the relationship between these two characters and decided I needed to strengthen their voices. Like Terri said, I needed to get inside their skin.     

I found a simple character chart that I had used in class. Three columns, the character, the trait and evidence of that trait revealed through thoughts, dialogue and actions of the character. I learned from Terri to give your protagonist three dominant traits, one being a negative one. As your character deals with conflict, he/she must cope with all three character traits, and in the end, even the negative trait becomes helpful.  

I color-coded the protagonist and other characters, paying special attention to their interaction with each other. I plastered myself to the protagonist and listened to his voice in everyday life, and during conflict. I felt his raw emotion. I experienced his world.   

When I finished, the fog of revision cleared. My summaries and charts became my road map. I felt more confident in tackling a major revision.

Thank you, Suzy and Terri! Discussing my work with you, having you help me see the positive and the negative, helped my writing become stronger.      

The mentor program does not guarantee publication, but if you enjoy mingling with others that have a passion for writing, and if you like the thought of an adventure, then head on out to Nevada!