Saturday, June 30, 2018

June 2018 CWHV Conference

Photo by Doug Dundas
June 9, 2018, the Children’s Writers of the Hudson Valley celebrated its 6th annual writer’s conference with old and new writing friends at the Hampton Inn & Suites in the Hudson Valley.

Our Keynote speaker was Jennifer Donnelly, a New York Times Bestselling author, who spoke of her writer’s journey. It was inspirational to hear how long and how hard she worked on her first novel (over 10 years!). There’s hope for all of us!

She also hosted a workshop on writing historical novels and discussed how her research led to traveling as she wrote her first novel, A NORTHERN LIGHT, winner of the Carnegie Medal, the LA Times Book Prize, a Printz Honor, and named “One of the 100 Best Young Adult Books of all Time” by TIME Magazine.

Lesa Cline-Ransome
Lesa Cline-Ransome, an award-winning author, led a workshop on character exploration through observation, research and memory in non-fiction picture books. If you want your story to be authentic, research is crucial. A bonus to researching your facts is that it can stimulate  your creative juices and lead to other ideas. The writing exercises were to write a story a 6-word story and write a first line based on a photo that she displayed.

Meredith Mundy
We broke for a delicious Panera’s lunch, networking and bookstore.

In the afternoon, Meredith Mundy, Executive Editor at Abrams Appleseed, discussed the importance of the first line in your picture books. Your first line should leave the reader wondering what happened or why? The writing exercise was to take the first line from your manuscripts and rewrite them using the tips we learned in the workshop.  
Bess Cozby, Editor at Tor/Forge Books, led a workshop on world building in fantasy, science fiction and dystopian novels. She discussed the power of perspective and how characters are shaped by their reactions to time, place and the choices that they make. The writing exercise involved putting your characters in difference environments and how character choices were related to past or present experiences.

Gary Giolo and Susanna Reich
Our closing speakers were Susanna Reich, an award-winning author, and Gary Giolo, a New York Times Bestselling author on writing biographies for children and young teens. They discussed primary and secondary sources for research, different methods of research and not leaving the writing behind. They closed out the session with music and song.

Additional manuscript critiques were done by Sarah LaPolla, agent at Bradford Literary Agency and Barbara 
Paulding, Editorial Director of Peter Pauper Press.

Check out #CWHV for my tweets during the conference. 

A special thanks to our faculty, Bess Cozby, Jennifer Donnelly, Gary Golio, Sarah LaPolla, Meredith Mundy, Barbara Paulding, Lesa Cline-Ransome, Susanna Reich; our book seller, Merritt Bookstore; the CWHV team and Kara Cerilli, an attendee who showed up with her camera and took pictures.
Our conference would not exist without the continued support from our hardworking attendees. The CWHV team thanks and appreciates you.

To receive updates about our current or future conferences, sign up for our newsletter.

“Thank you for organizing such a great, intimate conference. Please keep me on your email list. I would definitely attend future events. I was thrilled to meet Jennifer as I’ve been a fan of hers ever since I read Northern Lights.” Debbie St. Thomas, 2018 attendee.

Sarah LaPolla
Barbara Paulding

Bess Cozby


Thursday, May 31, 2018


Children love to tattle, especially on their siblings. To every mom’s dismay, it’s hard for children to discern when tattling is necessary. I recently read MILES MCHALE, TATTLETALE by Christianne Jones, art by Elina Ellis.

Miles Mchale is a frequent tattletale at home and at school. The teacher can’t take it anymore and holds a contest. Whichever team tattles the least for one week, wins a prize. With the help of a pledge, the children learn when it is okay to tattle. But, even with the pledge, Miles doesn’t understand when to tell and when to keep silent. Not only is he causing his team to lose, his friends are upset with him. He decides no more tattling. When his sister takes a cookie and gets hurt, he needs to decide is this a tattle or telling moment. And has he learned the difference in time for his team to win?

I think this book is an excellent teaching tool, the explanations are kid friendly, the pledge is easy for kids to understand and remember, the characters are animals with personality and the kids will enjoy the tattling situations.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are children who are quiet and shy. This can cause parental angst. FUCHSIA FIERCE by Christianne Jones, illustrated by Kelly Canby is a story about a fearful child who prefers living in the shadows.

Fuchsia Fierce is not a bold child, but quiet, shy, tiny and timid. Her parents send her to Confidence Camp, but she makes up excuses why she can’t participate in swimming or climbing a wall or telling a story.  Fuchsia finds camp boring while the other kids are having fun. At the next activity she decides to join in. Her friends are supportive, and she feels emboldened to try new things. She tells her parents what she has discovered about herself, things that she is good at and things she needs to work on. She is still quiet, shy, tiny and timid, but learns she can be brave, strong and fearless. And learns being tiny is not a bad thing and even has its advantages.

I think this is a wonderful book for the shy child. I also like the subtle lesson for the parents. For example, when Fuchsia refuses to participate in climbing a wall, she is given the responsibility of helping with the equipment. With each activity that she refuses to do, she is given a task related to that activity. The child doesn’t feel left out or different or ostracized. She learns she can still participate while gaining confidence. Love that!

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Highlights Workshops and Other Conferences

I’m a big fan of writing conferences, especially the Highlights Foundation Workshops. The faculty is always experienced, knowledgeable, approachable and friendly.

Some workshop topics include learning how to write board books, picture books, novels, fairy tales, mysteries, poetry, nonfiction, how to market your book, school visits and many others. 

Questions to investigate when considering a writing conference: Is the faculty scholarly? Do they write or have expertise in the subject of their workshop? Are they published in that subject? 

Reading their bio critically will answer most of these questions. If there is no education listed, check their website for school(s) attended or prior jobs. If publishing credits are absent, do an Amazon search.

What is the format? Lecture or hands-on-workshops? Peer critiques? Panel discussions? Pick a format that meets your current needs.

Writing conferences abound and many are excellent. Do your research, ask others who have attended them or trust your gut.

Click the link below to see a full list of Highlights workshops with descriptions.
This link is to an upcoming Highlights picture book workshop on June 7 - June 10, 2018 with Leslie Helakoski and Darcy Pattison.

30 Conferences for author, bloggers and freelancers

A state list of conferences (not all inclusive, but a mix of small and large conferences).

Bonus link!
Leslie Helakoski and Darcy Pattison have posted a list of 9 Picture Book Topics to Avoid.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Tips for Observing and Using Body Language

As writers, we frequently hear that one of the best ways to make our characters more three-dimensional is to observe people. There are the usual public places: malls, playgrounds and sporting events, but what if you can’t leave your house. The cable guy is coming, the car’s in the shop or inclement weather.  

Watch cable news. Since they are all news all the time, they have a variety of guests that provide ample opportunity for viewing different people and their body language.

Tune into MTV. Their reality shows usually have eccentric characters and they’re typically younger than the cable news’ guests. Besides their body language, listen to their speech and note how they are dressed.

For the fun of it, watch a TV minister. They are frequently dramatic with bouts of weeping, kneeling, shouting and even fancy footwork.

Observe your own family and friends. How do they walk into the room? Do they shuffle? Stride in like they’re on a mission? Head held up or down? What do they do with their hands? How do they sit? Where are their feet? Are they kicking you?

Consider having your characters interact with their environment. You can manipulate the setting, so they can touch or move something that is important to them, distressing to someone else or heightens the plot.

You can also influence how the reader feels about a character through body language. Suppose you don’t want the reader to like the character, you don’t have to give him negative personality traits (abusive, rude, ill-mannered, etc.) which could be cliché.

Give him disgusting body habits: he eats his own ear wax, picks his toe nails at the dinner table or sneezes on his hands and then wipes them on the furniture. Gross, right? I’m immediately detached from this character just from writing it.

For writers, researching body language is easy.  All we have to do is train ourselves to watch people critically.

Monday, February 26, 2018


GEMINI by Sonya Mukherjee is a sensitive, authentic and mesmerizing dual voice novel about conjoined twins who wrestle with thoughts of separation (and the inherent complications of surgery) or staying together.

Clara longs to be single, to be able to move independently of Hailey, to have privacy, to pursue her own goals, to live where she wants to and do things that everyone else takes for granted: driving a car, flying in a plane or making her own decisions instead of always compromising or sacrificing.

She doesn’t like to attract attention to themselves. She doesn’t want to see the stares or hear the comments from onlookers. Her biggest fear is being alone.

Hailey can’t imagine life without her sister, her constant companion. She wants to travel and go to art school outside of their small, cloistered community. Hailey’s attitude is more courageous. She doesn’t worry about being in a relationship or finding love. If someone can’t get past their conjoinedness, they aren’t worthy of them.

She is outspoken and will stand her ground and stand up for Clara. If someone wants to look at them, let them look. Hailey even draws attention to herself with her pink hair, heavy eyeliner and tattoos.

The challenge to writing a dual voiced novel is giving each character a different personality with well-defined goals, dreams, desires and fears and, probably the hardest to achieve, two distinct voices.

I won’t spoil the ending, but will say the author writes with honesty when presenting all sides to surgical separation, the emotional ups and downs of being a senior in high school and keeping the reader in suspense, not knowing what Hailey’s and Clara’s decision will be. 

MAMA LION WINS THE RACE by Jon J. Muth is a delightful picture book. The story is about a race with Mama Lion and her Tigey, the Flying Pandinis, the Knitted Monkey Crew and Bun Bun. During the race, Mama Lion points out the world is beautiful and friendly. Suddenly, Tigey swerves to avoid an obstacle in the road. No one is hurt, but the car is damaged. The pandas stop to help, but later have their own car trouble. With unknowing help from the monkeys, the pandas solve their problem. Mama Lion and Tigey are in first place, but make a decision in the name of friendship that will affect the race.

I love so many things about this story. Mama Lion and Tigey (a tiger) are a mixed family, characters are praised and encouraged, they demonstrate helpful behavior and generosity and Tigey learns the true meaning of friendship.

Children will enjoy the bright color palette, the facial expressions of the animals, the whimsical monkeys and the different styled cars.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Questions to Think About Before Writing Your Story

I recently read that many writers, new and seasoned, spend too much time revising their rejected picture book manuscripts (guilty). Maybe we change the setting or characters or POV hoping that revision will lead to an offer from an editor or agent. But who can blame us? To discard a story that we've invested time in without exploring every avenue or possibility is akin to saying we knew it wasn't any good to start with!

Other reasons why we refuse to ditch our old manuscripts: 
1. We know this is a subjective business. (Just because several editors or agents didn't like it, doesn't mean the next one won't!)
2. We’ve all heard stories about an author being rejected hundreds of times until he hit the right agent or editor.
3. We know agents or editors can be brutal when they’re trying to clear their inbox before a vacation or holiday. (One editor told me she gives each query 3 seconds to make her fall in love with it!)

The truth is, as much as we love our story, the reason it’s not being accepted is probably because the concept is not strong enough or absent, or the idea is not unique or marketable. The other truth is, we need to let go of the old stories and focus on better ideas. 

I've posted a link to a blog post by picture book author Tara Luebbe. She explains how to consider the market before even writing your story.

Savvy Book Writers has a blog post with more questions to consider before you even put fingers to keys.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Time Frame for Revising a Manuscript

Signing up for your first or twenty first novel critique from an industry professional can be both exciting and frightening. You frequently check your inbox and then one day, there it is. The critique. But when you open the email and see six pages of notes and comments, you’re shell shocked. 

You didn’t think the manuscript had that many problems. You read the notes and disagree, maybe even think she doesn’t get it. After a few days of pondering the suggestions and rereading the email, the sting is gone and you’re ready to start the revision.

You may not know where to start. Some people use Post It notes or different colored highlighters to track each character's thread, plot lines, complications, climax and resolutions. Once the manuscript is marked up, some writers address one problem at a time while others take it one page at a time.

Once you’ve figured out how you’re going to tackle the revision, you plunge in and start the process. At some point, you start to wonder if you’re taking too long, if you’re doing it wrong or even how long should it take.

Below is the link to a blog post from Tracy Marchini, agent at BookEnds Literary and children’s author. She explains why a revision takes time and answers the question: How long should it take?