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 We are published, unpublished and self-published; agented and searching, and 100% dedicated to our Kid Lit journey, no matter where we are on the path.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!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Terri Farley's Writin' Riders Workshop

by Ellen

Murphy and me

A couple of weekends ago, I swung into the saddle for a two day trail ride with Terri Farley and eight other writers. Terri is the author of Seven Tears into the Sea and the Phantom Stallion Series. Not only is Terri a well-known author, she is also an advocate for wild horses.

Terri’s workshop, Writin’ Riders, was held at the Wild Horse Sanctuary near Redding, California. The sanctuary encompasses five thousand acres of rugged beauty below the foothills of Mt. Lassen, where hundreds of wild horses have found a home. During the trail ride, we were lucky to see many of these beautiful animals.

Upon arriving the morning of the ride, Terri gave a brief overview of the workshop: character, conflict, and the five senses being the focus. She gave us little notebooks, fitting perfectly into our back pocket for recording any information or thoughts we may have.

Terri Farley
After six hours in the saddle, we arrived at our base camp. The camp actually had a shower in a water tower and outhouses with flush toilets! We chose cabins and cabin mates and then relaxed until a cowboy barbeque. That evening, by lantern light, we sat around a table near the campfire and discussed character and conflict and the importance of bringing your writing to life using the senses. We brainstormed, wrote short stories and then shared them, enjoying everyone’s creativity.
Sharing our writing

In the morning, we saddled up for the long ride back to the Wild Horse Sanctuary. As I rode along on my horse, Murphy, I thought about Terri. Not only is she a well-known author, but she works tirelessly saving wild horses. Because of her, many horses running free today at the sanctuary have escaped the slaughterhouse and found a home. And as I enjoyed watching so many colts and fillies, the “ new generation” I imagined if they could, they’d thank Terri.
A wild mare and her foal

Who knows . . . maybe the wild horses whinnying were saying just that. As for me, this monkey on horseback thanks you, Terri, for an amazing writer’s workshop.

In the end, I leave you with the senses that I recorded. I hope they will help you to envision this unique and wonderful writing experience.

Sight- trails made by wild horses, dusty pathways over and around volcanic rock, up and up to the top of the world where hazy vistas of the Sacramento Valley spread far below. Spiky white pine, thick junipers, Manzanita bushes and tiny purple wild flowers, bleached horse bones, jade-green watering holes, curious wild horses, a black night stretched tight across the sky crowded with bazillions of bright stars.

Looking out over the Sacramento Valley

Hearing-the clip-clop of horseshoes upon rock, horses snorting, the jingle of a bridle, the creak of saddle leather, the wind playing in the pines, teasing the junipers, the cry of a hawk, the call of a quail, a wild horse whinnying, the campfire crackling, the cowboy dinner bell clanging, laughter, soft voices rising and falling on the evening breeze, pens scratching on paper, a shared story. Nature’s peaceful quiet.
Touch-a horse’s velvety nose, like butterfly wings across the palm of your hand, the apple gone, the horse nudging for more, blowing great puffs of air into your ear. Being held captive by the hot, June sun and at last set free by icy, spring water plashed upon your face. Thorny buck brush and prickly live oak. Snuggling into your sleeping bag after a long days ride, muscles aching yet satisfied.


Taste-flavorful camp coffee, tangy cowboy beans, icy spring water, a cold beer, peppery sausage and gravy poured over fluffy biscuits, scrambled eggs and sweet, red strawberries.

Smell-brittle pine and spicy juniper on a warm breeze, the heavenly, honey smell of a horse, the pungent smell of campfire smoke, a sweet summer’s evening, camp coffee brewing, a fresh, rosy dawn.

Evening at camp
So next year, no matter where you are in your writing, grab your boots and saddle up for a Writin’ Riders Workshop!  

Monday, June 17, 2013

Ventana Sierra Advanced Writer's Workshop - Defining Giving Back

Greetings Turbo Monkeys

I write this from Carson City, Nevada, where I am experiencing the first ever Ventana Sierra Advanced Writers Workshop.

I’ve learned to include sales figures, articles and social media stats in my Pitch Kit by Laurie McLean.  http://forewordliterary.com

How to “turn” a pitch by Michael Bourret (and what the market is seeking at this moment)  http://www.dystel.com/staff/mike.html

To ask the right questions by Judith Curr

Why this book?
Who will read it?
How will you tell your readers about it?
... Most important “What kind of cake is it?”

Lorin Oberweger taught me that slow things should be told quickly and that fast things should be experienced slowly and with great detail.  http://www.free-expressions.com

This world builder learned from Emma Dryden that not only should I describe the physical landmarks but I should also create the tenets, values and emotions of the worlds I design.  And that the world within my characters should also be as deeply detailed.  

This is an amazing workshop and I highly recommend you be here next year.

But seriously, the biggest lesson I learned at Ventana Sierra was the definition of giving.

The faculty gave back their honorariums, others gave scholarships, Ellen Hopkins is giving back to writers...but the Ventana Sierra Organization is giving so so so much more.

Ventana Sierra was formed specifically to help highly motivated young people, who desired college or career training, but were financially unable to accomplish their goals to build solid career paths toward a more positive future. The application process is stringent, the expectations high. Those who enter the program must commit to a minimum of two years substance-free, and maintain a 3.0 GPA if they choose a college track. Those entering career apprenticeship programs must receive regular above average reviews by their mentors.
In exchange, participants will receive housing, tuition and books, transportation, medical care and life skills classes.
"We're new, so we're trying to jumpstart the program now. We have purchased our first house, which will serve up to six young people, and hope to purchase another house by the end of the year so we'll have living quarters for twelve, six boys and six girls. So it will provide housing, life skills classes, food, medical care if they need it—whatever assistance they need to be able to concentrate on learning or reaching career goals without having to, you know, struggle by living on the street, or by, or whatever. I just want to make it easy for them to be able to get that." 
 --  Ellen Hopkins

Take a moment from learning your craft, from designing your world and from your writer’s life and visit http://ventanasierra.org
Is there something you can give? 
Likes? Shares? Time? 
Have a wondrous day!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Lead with the IPA...not the Plunger

by Amy

A few weeks ago in a mad rush to get to a meeting, I side-swiped a concrete column in the parking deck. And by ‘side-swiped’ I mean put a massive dent in the passenger door of my car and scraped off a bunch of paint. Woe was me. Having grown up with four gear-head brothers, though, I knew exactly what to do. I got out my toilet plunger and went to work on the dent.

Later that evening, the dent still firmly embedded in my door, I was lamenting to Sarah about the accident, the failure of my plungering, the far-awayness of my Monkey Troop…everything.

“If I were there,” she said, “I’d give you hugs and IPA.” (If you don't know, IPA stands for India Pale Ale, and it's the hoppiest, happiest beer on the planet.)

“If you were here,” I said, “you’d get your plunger and I’d get my plunger and we’d pop that dent out. I’m sure it’s just a two-plunger dent.”

Sarah agreed. “Tempt some of your girlfriends over!” she said. “But lead with the IPA and not the plunger.”

She’s brilliant, that Sarah. Because, seriously…which sounds more enticing? “Come over for a beer?” Or “Go get your icky toilet plunger, drag it across town to my house and mash it onto my car?”

No contest, right?   

Then I started thinking…that’s good advice for queries. In both cases, we’re trying to tempt someone to invest in us – time, effort, representation, plungering. And in both cases, we need to make the temptation as irresistible as possible.

The key, then, is this: identifying the IPA of your book.

What’s the most unique, marketable aspect of the story? Yes, you’ve written about vampires, and yes, millions of vampire books have sold so clearly they’re popular. But what’s special about YOUR vampires? Are they cross-dressing vampires? Have they infiltrated the CIA? Do they run the International Union of Circus Clowns? THAT’s the IPA. (Some people might call this the ‘hook’ but I like to say IPA because, well, I like IPA.)

The IPA should be the first thing an agent or editor sees when they read your query. Leading with vampires who sparkle or “Jeffrey doesn’t know it, but he’s the fulfillment of a legend…” will end your slush-escape in the blink of an agent's eye. Because they've seen those concepts...ad nauseum.

Instead, you have to hook them with something fresh. “After his first night performing under the big tent, Jeffrey discovers why clowns wear rubber noses when his real one is sliced off by the Varken, the International Cult that rules the Clown Union, to ensure his loyalty." 

A missing nose = total IPA.  A clown union = more IPA.

Vampires and legends? They’re Bud Light.

So find the most unique, most exciting, most ‘hooky’ aspect of your story and get it into your query first. Because once the toilet plunger comes out, things don’t smell so sweet. And nobody likes a stinky query.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Slant, or Write Like You Mean It

by Sarah McGuire

By Eduard Friedrich Leybold (1798-1879)

For those who haven't heard, I signed with Tracey Adams of Adams Literary in April. (I still can't believe my good fortune!) Ever since then, I've been whipping VALIANT into shape before we send it out. In this round of revisions, I've been working on a) tightening the manuscript*, and b) writing on a slant.

What is slant? That's what I asked Patti Gauch last year when she told me I needed to write with it. Patti described writing on a slant as a wash of color over a scene. She made the point that if a character was feeling something, it would show up in everything: dialog, narration, description. I needed to write the scene like my character meant it.

Rather than bore you with all it took for me to finally understand what Patti meant, here's an example of the first time I intentionally wrote on a slant, from the first page of VALIANT.

Unslanted version:

The city lay against the far horizon, dark as a lump of coal in the morning light.

“Reggen is a fine sight, isn’t it?” said Luca.

I knew from Father’s description that the city of Reggen lay between a cliff and the Kovar River, and that it rose up, tier upon tier, like some elaborate pastry.

But I couldn’t see any of that. I went back to rolling up my frost-stiffened blanket.

“Well?” pressed Luca, his face creased with a smile. “What do you think of your new home, Saville?” He was too old lead his own caravan, but he didn’t wish to spend his last years in a city. So he tended the fires of this merchant caravan and drove the wagon that carried the food. These last few weeks, he’d been more of a father to me than Father was.

What did I think? I thought of my friend Elise who laughed even more than I did. She was going to be married to the boy with the serious eyes, the one her father had picked, and I would not be there. I thought of Mama’s grave, and how I used to sit beside it and tell her how Father had fought with the Tailor’s Guild again, how I’d finished two vests for him, though I hated to sew. And I’d sing to her: silly songs or the lullabies she’d taught me. It was only right, for she’d sung me to sleep as a child.

It wasn't that bad. It set the stage. It introduced Saville. It introduced the city she tries to save from a giant army. I wasn't ashamed to have Patti read it.

Then we had the conversation about slant, and I wrote this:

The city lay against the far horizon, dark as a lump of coal in the morning light.

I wanted nothing more than to turn around, right there in the middle of the road, with frost-twisted fields stretching away in every direction. If I had my way, I would have left Father and the merchant caravan taking us to Reggen.

I would have walked the full month back to Danavir. Back to my friend Elise who laughed even more than I did. I’d be there when she married the boy with the serious eyes, the one her father had picked. I’d go back to Mama’s grave and sit beside it like I used to. I’d tell her that Father had found a city without a Tailor’s Guild and that he could sew any way he wished– and that I’d never sew for him again. And then I’d sing to her: silly songs or the lullabies she’d taught me.

It was only right, for she’d sung me to sleep as a child.

But I kept walking towards Reggen while the wagons, all seventeen of them, groaned and creaked as if they were men too old to be walking out in the morning frost.

I remember sitting back after writing that and thinking, wow. And I've been doing a lot of that this round of revision– the writing on a slant part, not the 'wow' part.

I'm still new to this, but I wanted to share a few things I've learned as I write on a slant.

1) Slant often involves telling. The second paragraph in my story is telling– specific, detailed telling. And that's okay, because sometimes telling gets to the heart of what you feel. When I announced the test on verifying trig identities last month, my class told me exactly how they felt about it. Then I told them how I felt about it, and... well you get the idea. There's lots of slant to be had in proper telling. Don't be afraid of it.

2) Sometimes it just needs to go. If a scene is flat AND you don't need it, cut it. Slant only the scenes that you need.

3) For me, slantiness comes towards the end of writing. There are some scenes that I write slanty the very first time. But there are other scenes– the beginnings of chapters where I'm clearing my throat and making sure everyone's standing where they're supposed to– that are as exciting as a math textbook. (Believe me, I know.) I let them stay that way until I know what to do with them. The important part is that I recognize they still need work.

4) To slant a scene, I read the non-slanty portion and figure out what emotion should be coloring it. Then I open a new document and play with it. Normally, I spit out a few horrifyingly awful paragraphs as I try to figure it out. Finally, I get a few sentences or a turn of phrase that sets the tone for everything else. As you can see above, I didn't completely overhaul the passage. I just needed to get it started right, and then tweak everything that came afterwards.

We've all written on a slant before, but I think one aspect of becoming a great writer is being able to deliberately use the writing tools and techniques you have. As much as I love the serendipitous, bolt-from-above aspect of writing, I also want to reach the place where many (not all!) of the high points in my writing are there because I put them there, not because I lucked out. This way of thinking about emotion in writing has given me a way to approach boring passages and fix them, even if I wasn't inspired when I wrote them.

I'd love to hear techniques you have that help you write like you mean it!

(And I should say that even though Patti reviewed this, any mistakes I've made here are certainly my own. She also used the term slant in a slight different, but equally fabulous, way a few years ago. You can click here to read more about it.)

*I have kept track of how many words I cut from each chapter because I'm mathy like that.