Thursday, October 25, 2012

SCBWI-WI Conference Highlights, Part 1

Our annual fall conference was held Oct. 19-21, and it was a great time to hear inspiring and informative speakers, chat with old friends, meet new friends, get away from normal life for a bit, and eat way, way, too much chocolate. Without further ado, here are the high points from three speakers that I took away from the conference.

Kathi Appelt:
  • What's your MC's main ROLE in your story? It's often something fairly straightforward like son, daughter, sibling, or student. While your MC will no doubt have multiple roles in life just as we all do, one of these roles will be main in this story. Identify it.
  • What is your MC's controlling belief? As soon as Kathi said this, I began jotting down the controlling beliefs of the three POV characters in my WIP. This is powerful stuff, because the controlling belief PUSHES the character through the story. If your character doesn't seem quite jelled, or does unbelievable things, check that he's operating according to his controlling belief and not violating it.
  • Identify your MC's goal. The goal PULLS the MC through the story.
  • The story should contain a crisis of faith moment when the controlling belief is called into question. It may or may not be changed, but it should be challenged.
  • Whether or not the MC achieves the goal may not matter that much, because confronting the controlling belief alone can make a satisfying story.
  • Can you tell I LOVED Kathi's talk?
Sara Zarr:
  • Your experience or memory of a book is of how it made you feel.
  • Even an action scene should do emotional work.
  • If a chapter doesn't have emotional progression, either add it or cut the chapter.
  • Control pacing by adding or subtracting stage business.
  • Control pacing with language, sentence structure, and punctuation.
  • By pp. 30-50, are the seeds of everything that's going to happen there?
EM Kokie:
  • Voice is the personality of the teller of the story.
  • Voice is a promise of what's to come in the book.
  • Voice can be deliberately strengthened in revision.
  • Pacing issues can be a matter of verb tense. 
Stay tuned for next Thursday, when I'll give you highlights from one more talk: mine! :)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Of Contests, Pitches, Book Beginnings, and Walking the Line

After finishing a MG novel -- not the one I'm hard at work revising now, but the finished one immediately prior to it -- I of course began querying agents. I entered some online contests, too. And while most agents ask for either the query letter alone, or the query plus ten pages, or five pages, or three chapters, or sometimes even fifty pages, most contests ask for a very small sample of the actual work. It might be a pitch sentence plus, say, 150 words, or 250. That's it. And it does make sense. Those first 150 or 250 are crucially important in engaging the reader's interest. There are practical considerations, too. Most contests are slammed with entries, and accepting more than the first page or so from each entrant would become overwhelming.

Still, I've looked at my finished novel, and the one I'm working on, too, and have wondered if they really lend themselves to being evaluated in only 250 words. 400-500? Absolutely. But I've realized that the story structure in both of mine would be hard to get a good sense of in only 200-250 words. And the truth is, I have had much better results with the standard querying process than with contests.

I thought about this question again as I read the beginning of Kate Messner's MG novel Capture the Flag. There was nothing wrong with what I was reading at all. But, really, if the author weren't already agented, I'm not sure how the first couple of pages would fare in a pitch contest. Because there isn't a single child's POV in the entire first chapter. Through an adult's POV, three kids are shown sitting on a bench, but that's it. They don't look up; they don't speak; they're just noticed in passing. The children are not referenced until past the 200-word mark. My guess would be that if you handed the first 150-200 words to a number of readers, many would not realize they were reading the beginning of a children's book. Only the pitch sentence would say otherwise. Yet, in my opinion, the book does begin in the right spot.

I've made similar observations about two other books: What Came From the Stars, by Gary D. Schmidt; and Splendors and Glooms, by Laura Amy Schlitz. One begins with the dreaded prologue (and not a short one). You know, that thing you're not supposed to use because "everybody hates it"? Neither begins with a child character's POV. Both are awesome, and rather difficult (I admire difficult), MG novels.

If you've entered an online contest, or thought about doing so, have you ever felt that contests may be best suited to certain types of books? Or do you think what I'm noticing is mainly a matter of the three cited authors being allowed to do what they like based on past sales? Might I even raise the question of whether there are two tiers of novels: debuts and/or books from authors with marginal sales figures that need to walk a somewhat narrow line to maximize their chances to be published, and books from proven sellers who have earned the chance to expand into storytelling in all its fullness without always being hemmed by what you "can't" do?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Next Big Thing

I've been tagged by Vijaya to spill about my WIP. I'm actually pretty excited about this book and I like questionnaire/interview type stuff, so I'm happy to play.

What is the working title of your book?

Where did the idea come from?
A newspaper article about how to legally steal real estate.

What genre does your book fall under?
Upper MG contemporary mystery.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I absolutely haven't the foggiest. I don't know enough actors to be able to choose. My guess is that the kids would be played by newcomers and the adults might be played by more established actors. Funny thing: My daughter-in-law is an actress, but this story wouldn't really have a role for her.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
When Candy, age twelve, reacts to her discovery that her mother stole their house, she unwittingly lures a murderer out of hiding.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I'm going for an agent and traditional publication.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
This is another toughie. I started the book so long ago; in 2003-04 if I remember right. Then I stopped writing it and wrote 1.5 others and published yet another in between. And I probably threw away more than half of what I wrote in that first stint. I'm going to say my overall total time on the first draft is 18 months.

May we see an intro?
Two summers have passed since the forgotten man--homeless, harmless, younger than his scraggly gray looks suggested--was murdered on a humid night in a small woods.

What books in your genre would you compare this story to?
Oh, I am horrible at this. In fact, I recently took a stab at this with a friend and she said, no, I don't write like any of those people. All I can say is that someone who likes "smart MG mysteries" would like this. Don't anybody quote me, but how about "The Penderwicks meets Elise Broach"? Y'know, I really am not comfortable with the comparison stuff.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I just couldn't let that great newspaper article get away. Plus, I've done mysteries before and adored mysteries as a kid.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
I actually see it as kind of a "big book." Large cast. Large homestead. Three POVs. 60,000 words.

Let's see: five people who might like to play. I know lots of people have already, and I don't remember who did or didn't, but here goes.

Mirka Breen
Joyce Moyer Hostetter
Ruth Donnelly
Ruth Schiffman
Barbara Watson

 Rules of The Next Big Thing:

*Use this format for your post
*Answer the ten questions about your current WIP (work in progress)
*Tag five other writers/bloggers and add their links so we can hop over and meet them.

Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing:

What is your working title of your book?
Where did the idea come from for the book?
What genre does your book fall under?
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
May we see an intro?
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

September Critique Giveaway Winners! says the winners of the September critique giveaway are: Rhiann Wynn-Nolet and Jennifer Rumberger!

Here's the procedure. Email me at marcia at marciahoehne dot com:
  • The first 1000 words of your magazine story, chapter book, mid-grade novel, or YA novel pasted into the body of the email.
  • Be sure to tell me the genre of the material (one of the above four).
  • Put "Critique winner" in the subject line.
  • Deadline to submit is October 24.
  • When I receive your email, I'll acknowledge receipt and let you know when you can expect my response.
Congratulations to Rhiann and Jennifer, and thank you all so much for stopping by and entering. Wishing you all a great day in the world of books...