Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Kansas Book Festival

This fall I’ll be participating in the first-ever Kansas Book Festival, which takes place September 29 and 30 in the Lawrence-Dumont Stadium in Wichita. I’m looking forward to connecting with other writers, readers, librarians, teachers, and booksellers.

Festival activities include:

• Author appearances by Kansas writers
• Traditional music
• Cowboy poetry and western literature
• Stories of haunted Kansas
• American Indian storytelling
• Characters from Kansas’s literary and historic past
• Tributes to Kansas writers such as Gordon Parks and Langston Hughes
• Hands-on family activities
• Bookseller booths

For more information, visit the Book Festival website: www.kansasbookfestival.ks.gov.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

For the Love of It

The last few weeks have been good writing weeks. I’ve spent large chunks of nearly every day either writing or drawing. And I’ve been...happy. Which has just driven home a truth I sometimes forget in the publishing hubbub: What truly gives me joy is the act of creating. Publishing what I’ve created is wonderful, too. And long droughts between acceptance letters are depressing. But even in the dark times publishing-wise, the simple act of putting words on a page, sinking into my story, developing my characters to the point that they become a surprise even to me, fills me with great joy and satisfaction. It really is about the writing.

Monday, June 12, 2006

I Love a Mystery

I read all kinds of books—history, humor, adventure, sports, nonfiction—but my favorites, by far, are mysteries. And if a book combines history, humor, adventure, sports, or even nonfiction with a mystery, that’s even better. Lately I’ve read two mysteries, one for middle-graders and one for adults, that are both worth blogging about.

Behind the Curtain, by Peter Abrahams, is the second book in his Echo Falls mystery series aimed at readers in grades 5–8 (but great for anyone of any age who likes a good mystery). In this outing, intrepid sleuth/soccer star/budding actress Ingrid Levin-Hill is tracking down steriod dealers—discreetly because she’s afraid one of the culprits is her own brother.

Both Behind the Curtain and the first book in the series, Down the Rabbit Hole, are adventurous, funny, and fast-paced. One of my favorite aspects of the series is the way Abrahams paints the fictional town of Echo Falls. Setting tends to be an under-appreciated facet of fiction, but an evocative setting such as Echo Falls, with its rich history and social structure, adds depth, believabilty and atmosphere to the tale. The characters are well-drawn, especially my favorite, Grampy, who’s “had it up to here” with nearly everything.

Desert Run is Betty Webb’s fourth Lena Jones mystery, and it’s running neck-and-neck with her second, Desert Wives, as my favorite book of the series. In this installment, P.I. Lena is overseeing security for a crew filming a documentary about the World War II German POW escape from Camp Papago, Arizona. When former escapee Kapitan Erik Ernst, who has moved to Arizona and was the star of the movie, is murdered, Lena plunges into an investigation to clear the Kapitan’s Ethiopian caregiver of the charges. She soon realizes that Ernst’s murder is tied not only to his 1944 escape, but also to the 1944 murder of a family on a nearby farm.

Desert Run is well-written, well-researched, and tightly plotted, and, as in the previous Lena Jones mysteries, includes a bit of social consciousness (in this case, prejudice against immigrants and development encroaching on the natural beauty of the landscape) without becoming preachy. Like Behind the Curtain, Desert Run paints a vivid setting. My mom grew up in the Phoenix area, and I still have relatives who live there; I love being able to revisit the Arizona desert and its cities through Betty Webb’s books. Desert Run also does one of my favorite things in mysteries: It weaves real-life history into the modern-day fiction, then adds an Author’s Note at the back of the book to give readers more information about the 1944 German escape.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Kansas SCBWI Conference

For children’s writers in the middle of the country, the Kansas chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) is planning a terrific fall conference:

On the Yellow Brick Road to Publishing: Brains, Heart and Courage Needed
September 30, 2006

McCoy Meetin’ House
Park University
Parkville, MO

Conference Faculty
Along with keynote addresses, panels, and breakout sessions, the conference will offer manuscript critiques and a first-page critique session. Registration forms will soon be available on the Kansas SCBWI website and will be mailed to SCBWI members in Kansas and western Missouri. Email ks_scbwi@yahoo.com for more information and to request a registration form.

I was on the faculty of last year’s Kansas SCBWI conference, and I can vouch for the professional quality of the conference and the enormous amount of information, as well as cameradie, you’ll find there.

Kansas SCBWI is a chapter of the international SCBWI organization.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

78 Reasons

I admit it: When it comes to how-to-write books, I’m a junkie. I’ve read so many in the last 15+ years that it takes a rare gem to startle me out of my advice-induced stupor. Pat Walsh’s 78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never Be Published and 14 Reasons Why It Just Might is one such gem.

Walsh is founding editor of MacAdam/Cage, an independent publishing house in San Francisco, and his book is a frank, funny look at the submission process from an editor’s point of view, focusing on ways aspiring authors shoot themselves in the foot when sending their writing out into the world. The book validates things I already knew (proofread your cover letter and don’t mention your pets), confirms a few things I suspected (yes, editors do save the worst submissions to giggle about with their colleagues), and explains some things I had only vague ideas about (what is a P&L statement, and why does it wield so much power?).

One quality, other than the biting humor, that sets this book apart is Walsh’s honesty. He repeatedly urges writers to be honest—in their writing, in their dealings with editors and agents, in evaluating their own work—and he leads the way by presenting his advice with unflinching candor. How refreshing to hear that, no matter how often editors at conferences protest to the contrary, editors do take agented submissions more seriously—and read them more quickly—than unagented submissions. How nice to finally know how editors feel about the slush pile—and why. How wonderful to find that most editors value honest, straightforward cover letters over the hopped-up hype many how-to books advise sending out.

I have only one quibble with this book. Walsh says recommendations from successful authors are one of the best ways to get editors and agents interested in reading your submission. I’m sure this is true, and if you know a successful author who loves your work, by all means, ask for a recommendation. But Walsh advises budding writers to go a step further, to send their manuscript to authors they don’t know, asking them to read it and send back a positive blurb. He says authors won’t mind, that in fact, they love finding new writers they can recommend to their own agents. Please don’t believe this. Published authors do not welcome unsolicited manuscripts any more than agents and editors do, and they have even less time and motivation to read them. Sending your story to a writer you don’t know is a colossal waste of time for both of you.

That said, the other ninety-one pieces of advice in this book are worth reading and acting on. They truly could make the difference between a book that may never be published and one that just might.