Things I’ve learned

  1. Devoting a weekend to your craft is always worth it.

My belated thoughts on NJSCBWI: It was a fine conference and I got encouraging words on two manuscripts, which I’m certainly happy to hear. We’ll see what happens next. Ginger Clark is absolutely the agent you want to talk about contracts with, because her workshop on the topic was incredibly detailed and honest. Kurestin Armada made a great suggestion about querying: Run your query past someone who hasn’t read your book, to see how well it lands. (Blake Snyder says the same thing in “Save the Cat!” which I recommend highly.) Michelle Witte’s session on voice gave me a whole new to-read list.Wendi Silvano gets extra credit for giving us a detailed handout on how to write a picture book text to account for the eventual illustrations (for instance, using words and phrases that set up the artwork to show what happens next) — and sending the handout around ahead of time so we could follow along.

Oh, and keynote David Wiesner was funny and relatable (we’re fans of “Mr. Wuffles!” around here), and closing keynote Suzy Ismail, explaining why diversity in books matters and how to address it, was wise and occasionally heartbreaking.

2. Be careful what you wish for.

I wanted my kids to learn more about American history, since they don’t seem to be getting it in school yet, and since we live in a state that is teeming with historic sites. And yeah, okay, since I’ve been obsessively listening to the “Hamilton” soundtrack. That too. So I found this picture book at the library:51uJJMpSx5L.jpg

Which, funnily enough, cites as one of its sources the same Ron Chernow book that Lin-Manuel Miranda used to write the musical. (Side note: Must read Chernow book.) It’s well done — it doesn’t include every detail, obviously, but it does a good job of showing the parallels between Hamilton and Burr, and how the duel destroyed both their lives. The duel is handled fairly tastefully as well.

I left the book out for the kids to discover, and they were both fascinated by it, especially when they found out Hamilton and Burr were real people. And we all agreed that duels are stupid.

And then the kids took sides.

My daughter said Burr was the better guy. My son sided with Hamilton. They argued about it. I swear they came to blows in the back seat of the car.

Well, I did want them to care about history.

3. Stories matter.

This is more of a reminder to myself. I’ve been so upset and horrified by the news of the past week that it’s hard to fathom how anything I could write could make a difference amid so much sadness. But I have to think that it does. I know every story I read when I was young made a difference to me, taught me something. (Including comic books, incidentally, which taught me that with great power comes great responsibility. Not at all a bad thing to learn.) If the stories we tell ourselves determine who we are as people, then we need as many good stories as we can get. If I can be a part of that in some way, then — apologies to Eliza — that would be enough.

Catching up on reading

It was a lovely holiday with too much food, and though we haven’t gotten around to taking down the decorations yet (we have till Valentine’s Day on that, right? Some of the lights are red!), I did get in some book time. Because anytime is book time.

I finally got my copies of Tara Lazar’s “Little Red Gliding Hood” and Josh Funk’s “Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast,” spied in a fantastic bookstore in New York State. “Gliding Hood” is hysterical — we had fun pointing out all the other random fairy tale characters swirling around the ice next to Red and her *ahem* unusual skating partner. “Lady Pancake” is the most madcap refrigerator tour I’ve ever seen, with a down-to-the-wire finish that left me … well, hungry. I like French toast. Okay, and pancakes.

I’ve been catching up on Kate DiCamillo’s books because inexplicably I had not read them before, and I finished most of “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane” in one night, some of it through tears. I also picked up a copy of “The Tale of Despereaux,” which I already loved, and was reading it to my son until he snuck ahead and finished it without me. Well, fine then.

I also finally got to Matt de la Pena’s “Last Stop on Market Street,” which has a terrific sort of poetry to it (I love the dialogue), and Mac Barnett’s “Extra Yarn,” which has exactly the right modern-day fairy-tale feel.

And when not reading, I got some revising done. So generally, a productive break. Now that we’re all back to our regular schedules, let’s see how this month goes.

Blog tour: Linh Nguyen-Ng, ‘Mommy’s Little Wordlings’

Author Pic_Nguyenng_32315Today picture book author/illustrator Linh Nguyen-Ng makes a stop on her blog tour for her new book, “Mommy’s Little Wordlings.” Here’s what it’s about:

Little words hold big meanings. The Little Wordlings are children who use their simple words to express their feelings for loved ones. No one is more adored than the first person who made them smile. No one is more cherished than the person who gave them life. There is no one like Mommy. Join the Little Wordlings as they show Mommy how much she is appreciated and loved.

So nice to have you, Linh!

What is “Mommy’s Little Wordlings” about? What gave you the idea?

The book is about these little children called “little wordlings,” showing Mommy how much they love her. I started seeing a story unfold as I was sketching them on greeting cards.

How did you come to work with Anaiah Press?

They had a Facebook Pitch Party, where you pitch your work in four sentences. That’s what I did and my manuscript was requested.

Was it difficult matching words to the illustrations?

I think that depends on the book. For this one, it wasn’t as difficult for me as some of my other works. I enjoy the challenge of matching the correct words with the appropriate illustrations.

MLW_Bookcover_Front

Did you always want to be a writer or artist when you grew up?

As a kid, I wanted to be a fashion designer. I studied that in college. Fashion designing was a creative outlet to bring my ideas to life. Writing brings characters and stories to life for me. I guess I just like to create—make things come to life. Anyone who does that is an artist to me.

Do you consider yourself more of a writer or an illustrator?

I love to write because as I write I see images unfold like a movie. As I sketch, the story unravels differently in my head. For now, I think I’m more of a writer, simply because I’m currently doing more of that.

Would you ever consider illustrating someone else’s manuscript?

Right now, I don’t have the time. But the future holds many possibilities, so I won’t say that I’ll never illustrate someone else’s manuscript.

Where, how, and when do you find your inspiration?

For this book, my inspiration was my kids. I was a new mom, experiencing a new territory. And that gave me unique ideas to play with.

What do your children think of your book?

My 3-year-old daughter loves the illustrations. My 2-year-old son loves tossing it around like a toy, so I guess that means he loves it, right?

Do you have other books in the works?

Yes, I am working on a few picture books and a young adult novel.

Where can people get “Mommy’s Little Wordlings,” and where can they find you on the Internet?

The book is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

My contact info is below. I would love to hear from my readers.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lnguyenng

Twitter: @linhnguyenng

Google: google.com/+LinhNguyenNg44415777

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/29730214-linh-nguyen-ng

The focus group has spoken

And they don’t like revisions. They like me to keep the stories exactly the same. When I change things — and I do tend to change things — they always notice. And then they get annoyed.

Mean Mommy. Changing the words around.

One of the first children’s stories I wrote a while back was about a boy who dreamed he’d stolen the last cookie away from Mommy, and felt bad about it. This came from my son, who dreamed he’d stolen the last cookie away from Mommy, and felt bad about it. He woke up and apologized. (I know. Aww.)

But the story itself — well, there wasn’t much to it. I hadn’t really started researching picture books yet, and didn’t know about average story lengths (500-800 words, more or less, if you’re wondering) or that it was better to have the children in a story solve the problem themselves. So once I started writing other stories, I back-burnered the cookie story.

Finally I thought up a way to rewrite the idea into a proper picture book. I started on that last week. I hope to have a draft banged out soon.

My daughter and I were sharing the oversized chair over the weekend, reading books together, and since my laptop was handy I pulled it out and read her my troll story. She liked it. Then she requested the cookie story.

“No, I’m rewriting that one,” I explained. I’d prefer to finish the rewrite and read the kids that version.

“Mommy!” She was most displeased. She tried to talk me into changing my decision. I counteroffered with a different story. She ended negotiations by dismissing my work altogether, and insisting on one of the library books instead.

Truly the focus group is fickle.

The back and forth

I spent a few days writing a rough draft of a picture book manuscript, then switched over to the novel, adding some tweaks and flashback scenes suggested by one of my writer friends (who very kindly agreed to read the whole thing and give me feedback). It’s interesting going from one to the other — almost an exercise in opposites.

What the novel has most needed is additional description and context, including those flashback scenes, which are helping a lot to humanize one of the main characters (frankly she needed some humanizing). The scenes have been awfully fun to write too. I have a tendency to literally make things up as I go along, so writing these extra scenes down is giving me a chance to get to know my characters a little better. I keep going “Of course this happened, I should’ve known.” As though they hadn’t told me these things before now.

Picture books, given that they have, well, pictures, don’t need everything spelled out. In fact they need very little spelled out. They’re minimalist; every word counts. When I revise my manuscripts, I’m subtracting words, not adding them. It’s most like writing a poem. Which makes sense because my favorite picture books all sound like poems. Exhibit A: “Where the Wild Things Are,” which, after growing up with it and then reading it to my own kids, I can recite from memory.

Side note: How much fun would a poetry reading be if the poetry were children’s books? Somebody make this happen.

It’s funny how piling up the words, or scrubbing out the words, can make such a difference either way. Good practice, I think.

Progress progresses

12-x-12-new-badgeI’m still tweaking the novel, as my writers groupmates have offered some great suggestions for improving things here and there, and let’s face it, you’re never really done with a piece until it’s published. Which I don’t mind. Revising can actually give you a chance to see your work through different eyes, and that changed viewpoint can lead to revelations, and even better revisions. Kill your darlings, as everyone says now that it was the title of a Daniel Radcliffe movie which everyone may or may not have watched. (Full disclosure: I have not. I’d like to, though.)

In the meantime, I’ve joined 12 x 12 and it’s pretty fabulous. The goal is to write 12 picture books in 12 months. The website offers advice from published writers, a place where people can post the beginning of their manuscript for critiquing and critique others in turn, suggested services for writers and illustrators … it’s like NaNoWriMo except you have a whole year to accomplish things.  I didn’t get anywhere near my goal in NaNoWriMo this year (to be fair: NaNoWriMo is in November. We hosted Thanksgiving. That’s a bunch of days lost right there), so let’s see how I do with this.

Writing picture books is fun, even though I can’t quite let loose the way I can with adult fiction. The two genres satisfy different parts of my brain, I think. The tricky part will be balancing the novel with the picture books and making sure nothing gets neglected. Oh, and remembering to acknowledge my family on occasion. I should do that too.