One Word – SCBWI

On day 1 of the SCBWI LA Conference, the conference faculty came on stage and did quick introductions. Quick, because there were a lot of them. And quick, because they each got to say their name and one word to describe them.

I caught several of these one words as they came across. It was impossible to get each one but these are enough to help form your own writing word. Think of that as you read these, and let me know what your word is. I’ll let you know mine at the end.

  • Josh Adams (agent) – timeless
  • Tracey Adams (agent) – hope
  • Jill S. Alexander (author) – twang
  • M.T. Anderson (author) – speechless
  • Bonnie Bader (editor) – start
  • Marion Dane Bauer (author) – wildcard
  • Susan Campbell Bartoletti (author) – revision
  • Ashley Bryan (illustrator) – freedom
  • Priscilla Burris (illustrator) – portfolios
  • Ginger Clark (agent) – compartmentalize
  • Tina Nichols Curry (author) – original
  • Pat Cummings (author/teacher) – share
  • David Diaz (illustrator) – deliciousness
  • Kathleen Duey (author) – stretch
  • Julia Durango (author) – layers
  • Bruce Hale (author) – love
  • Deborah Halverson (author) – mold
  • Deborah Heiligman (author) – nosy
  • Ellen Hopkins (one of my fave authors!) – banned
  • Arthur A. Levine (editor) – choreography
  • William Low (illustrator) – dream
  • Stephanie Owens Lurie (editor) – entertainment
  • Krista Marino (editor) – loyalty
  • Mac McCool (illustrator) – adventures
  • Brenda Murray (editor) – zombies
  • Alexis O’Neill (author / teacher) – gigs
  • Greg Pincus (social media consultant) – connections
  • Alice Pope (SCBWI blogger) – friend (as a verb)
  • Jennifer Rees (editor) – vision
  • Michael Reisman (author) – awake
  • Lauren Rille (designer) – charm
  • Francesco Sedita (publisher) – cocktails
  • Erica Silverman (author) – Save the Library (it’s 3 words but I’ll give it a pass as it’s about the wonderful LA Public Library and the effort to keep it from ongoing budget and staff cuts!)
  • Ken Wright (agent) – thrilled

So what’s my word? It was touched on briefly by Erica Silverman, but no one used it as their sole word.


Why did I choose this one? It’s where I got my first taste into the vast world of books, and it’s stayed with me ever since. Yeah, take that FOX Chicago, people still do go to libraries and they are a great use of our tax dollars.

A little on my history with libraries:

Youth – started going to our small, small, small town library, which was attached to City Hall. Spent many an hour playing Oregon Trail and Family Feud on floppy disks in my elementary school library. Wanted to stay there forever.

High School – worked as an assistant in our high school library. Wanted to stay there forever.

College – worked all 4 years as a student assistant in the University of Kentucky main library. We switched from the Margaret I. King Library to the William T. Young Library my senior year. My focus was on interlibrary loan. Did the most extensive research on all my papers due to always being in the library. Was told by several professors that no student had ever done the amount of research I had for papers. Wanted to immerse myself in research forever.

Career (eleven years ago) – started my career with my current company in their Library & Research Center. Decided to pursue it further by getting  a master’s degree in library science.

Grad School – worked full time and got an MLS from the Florida State University.

Career (today) – stayed with the same company instead of going into public library work. Now work in Public Affairs but use my library & research skills nearly every day. Am the research nerd in my department; if anyone needs to find anything out about anything, they know who to go to.

Life (today) – Volunteer and serve on the Board of Directors for the Huntington Beach Public Library Literacy Volunteers. Teach new immigrants and others without vital reading / writing skills basic English. Frequently check out more than I can read just because I love having the books around.

So LIBRARY it is. My word of the day, but also of my life. What’s your word and your story?


Amy Goldman Koss – SCBWI Presentation

Amy Goldman Koss – SCBWI Presentation

I knew I would like Amy Goldman Koss by her name. I mean, she’s an Amy. Ironically, it was in her presentation that I met a new writing buddy at…and she is also an Amy. What can I say, I have an affinity for the name. I was never one of those kids who wished my parents had chosen differently, I loved my Amy-ness and still do.

Amy Goldman Koss gave a great breakout presentation on writing age. And her advice is really, REALLY simple: Remember what it was like to be the age of your reader. Think of your character’s reactions as yourself at that age.

Writing for young adults? Remember the crappiness of high school and describe it in all its glory. Writing picture books for young children? Remember the simplicity and joy of learning something new and exciting every day. And writing for middle grade? Well remember that boy who said you had buck teeth and looked like a beaver and have your character spit a loogie on him. Yeah…that’s a little personal regression there.

Here are some writing prompts she gave us:

  • Remember where you read when you were the age of your reader
  • Look in a mirror and describe yourself when you were the age of your reader

I first heard this in Amy’s session, but heard it repeated again by Rachel Vail in another session. You need to know EVERYTHING about your character.

  • Do they eat oatmeal or Cream of Wheat?
  • Do they wear boxers or briefs?
  • Are they a vegetarian or do they eat meat?

Every random detail you can think of, make a note of it. It doesn’t necessarily have to go in the manuscript, but you need to know this about them to write them true.

I asked her about writing across gender. Her fantastic response: “It’s the same shit.” The minor differences: Boys talk less, boy characters don’t like to stand genital to genital (it’s shoulder to shoulder), and boys need to have something to do in a scene.

Stuff to keep in mind when writing for kids:

Everybody’s insecure

Your enemy is so clear if you’re the picked on kid. If you are popular it gets dicier.

Take the characters that you love and treat them like dirt.

If you find a character you are writing is getting stale, do a find and replace and change their name. You may find that a “Casey” acts differently than a “Rhonda.”

Teenagers are not and are never altruistic – they are only thinking about themselves. They may be thinking “how do I make myself look more altruistic” but that is not real altruism.

And when I met Amy around in the hotel later that night, after buying a copy of her book “The Girls,” she signed it to “One of the Amy Crowd.”


SCBWI Day 1 – The Afternoon

First afternoon panel – What makes me want to choose your book? Featuring editors Nick Eliopolis, Claudia Gabel, Brenda Murray, and Jennifer Rees.

I felt an immediate connection to Jennifer Rees. When providing her biography, she mentioned she began her book career working as a bookseller for a Joseph Beth bookstore in Ohio. When in college in Lexington, Kentucky, I spent many a weekend at our local Joseph Beth. It’s a great store and glad to hear it getting some props at a national conference.

Some of the questions posed by the moderator:

Which is more important, voice or plot?

  • Jen – voice
  • Nick – plot
  • Claudia – voice, because it comes organically through the manuscript, but plot can be worked on together between an author and editor

Name two books you wish you were a part of in the last 10 years

  • Brenda – the big foot biography (think it was called “In Me Own Words”); the biography of Claudette Colvin
  • Nick – The Hungry Games, anything by Jon Green or Scott Westerfeld
  • Claudia – What I Saw & How I Lied
  • Jen – A Great & Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray; Speak by Laurie Hals Anderson

What are you looking for right now?

  • Nick – guy high concept
  • Brenda – something that teaches me information I didn’t know before (historical, modern, pop culture, scientific, any areas)
  • Jen – asks herself if it has commercial potential; will it have a wide audience?
  • Claudia – beautiful prose but also an author who can write fast; tween and teen mysteries

What are your pet peeves in submissions?

  • Jen – receiving a submission package that is not professional; cover letter is lacking, not a clear synopsis, all of these pieces are indicative of who you are as a writer
  • Brenda – not doing your research ahead of time. Why is your book different? What other books are out like it? What other authors write about this topic? What other publishing houses carry this type of work? You have to be as knowledgeable as possible.
  • Claudia – not seeing the author clearly in the cover letter/query letter. You need to put all of yourself into your work. The relationship is such a big part of the job and this is a chance to build it.

And the thing they probably wish they hadn’t told us but they did anyway.

They do (or do have their interns) read their slush. Brenda even mentioned that one of her first published titles came from the slush pile.

And your interesting fact for the day…a lot of the slush pile comes from prison!

Afternoon breakout panel – Writing Age with the extremely talented, personable, funny, and perfectly named Amy Goldman Koss.

I have lots of notes from this one too, so will do a separate post about it. But it was fantastic and I enjoyed her talk so much I bought one of her books and had her sign it at the wine & cheese reception later that night.

Day 1 –

New people met – between lunch and the sessions, about 8

Sessions attended – 4 keynotes and 2 breakouts

Books bought – 4

Ellen Hopkins burned

April Halprin Wayland girl coming in for a landing

Ann Haywood Leal Also known as Harper

Amy Goldman Koss The Girls

SCBWI Conference Day 1 – The Morning

It’s somewhat ironic that I started day 1 of a children’s writing conference by doing something I haven’t done since I was a teenager. I cut my leg shaving. And not just a small nick, no, this was full on large loss of blood massive bandaged cut. Even now, nearly 12 hours after the incident, I just took the bandage off and had to clean the wound again. It was right on my knee, so it’s a tad painful too. But enough about my grooming habits, and on to the conference!

It was my first SCBWI conference, and as I entered the Hyatt Century Plaza in West Hollywood and saw how many attendees were there, I felt a tad intimated and out of place. But after having the chance to meet some of those people and hear them speak throughout the day, I no longer have that feeling and even felt more prepared than some people I ran into.

Some of the highlights of the day and speakers I saw, met or heard:

Opening speaker – Jon Scieszka, author of the super cute picture book Robot Zot.

His tips for becoming a successful writer:

  1. Read every book possible in your genre. If you are a picture book writer, read the entire School Library Journal listing of 100 top picture books.
  2. You should also read some of the worst books in your chosen genre. A good place to start? Celebrity books.
  3. Do read children’s trade publications – School Library Journal, kid lit blogs, The Horn, Publisher’s Weekly.
  4. If you are writing a picture book, figure out what your word count is. Then cut it in half.
  5. No rhyming!
  6. No underwear fart books!
  7. No vampires!
  8. No alphabet books!
  9. No princesses!
  10. And no rhyming farting princesses teaching you the alphabet in their underwear while being chased by a vampire.

Second keynote speaker – M.T. Anderson, the only person to make Delaware sound interesting.

Per his introduction, he creates books for thinking kids. He says his craft is to interpose the landscape of fantasy on the American landscape, in a regular place such as say, Delaware.

Some of his other key points:

  1. Books take us away from home so we can actually see home.
  2. Through estrangement we are forced to see what we know in a new way.
  3. Literature restores the sense of the unknown in what we already know.
  4. He sang his version of the Delaware state song. Nuff said.

First breakout session – How to Think Like a Publisher with Stephanie Owens Lurie from Disney-Hyperion.

I have a LOT of notes from this session, so check back later for a post dedicated specifically to this topic.

 That was the morning, afternoon notes to follow!

Books as Life

Thought for today’s post I would go into some of my back story of why I love books so much. I wrote this last year when I was home for an extended period of time. It brought a lot of introspection my way, hence the “Books as Life” piece.


Books as Life

My old childhood friends have come to seek me again in adulthood.

Escapism into a good book.
The words of another created to envelope you and bring out their own take of your life situation.

The book, whether fiction, classical, non-fiction, poetry, or favorite childhood picture book, will grab on to a certain piece of you and tattoo what they have seen of you and you of them. Like a tattoo, the experience grows with you, and leaves an ever changing stretch mark on your internal skin. You should never leave a book unscathed; to do so means either you or the author has not given the experience the full sensory overload it demands.

The book not only knows if you have a Mr. Darcy, it knows if you want one, need one, or have been misguided away from one. It is felt through the way you race through certain scenes, the way you sigh, or perhaps the way you roll your eyes. It is up to you, the reader, to make your own story with this information; your book has with no pre-conceived notion of you. Are you a loveless Lolita, taken advantage of before setting your own, if not ideal, path for yourself? Or are you a Daisy (and there are two Daisys from which to choose). Both Daisys expects you to choose a love that would ultimately lead to someone else’s downfall (nay, death). Do you choose your own or that of the man you love? For you know in these tales, there is no happily ever after.

As a reader, do you understand what is expected of you? Books are not just paper, they are not to be read and discarded or dismissed. If you have not let at least one character into your life of friends, you have not read at all. Reading is not the act of viewing words and making sounds out of them, but rather escaping into another world and leaving with cherished friends and sometimes even hated foes. If you do only the former, you have seen words and you have moved on. Does Rebecca not haunt your thoughts; do you not often wonder “what if” in regards to Gatsby’s death? And do you ever think of the multiple victims of Humbert’s – not just Lolita but also her mother Charlotte and Claire Quilty, so easily dismissed though brutally murdered. A true reader sees all of these as characters, and not just names or words on a piece of paper.

Who are your characters? Have you felt the pain of Tennessee Williams’ Laura and her awkward quest for a “gentlemen suitor” or have you looked at the bottom of a glass of an empty drink across the sea with Jacob Barnes? If you are you, then can you also be a different version of you created decades, maybe centuries before. It is not to see you as a direct representation of Jay Gatsby or Daisy Miller or Jacob Barnes, but to understand that these characters are more than just a figment of someone’s imagination. They are your own imagination, and they are manifestations of all of us who study them, learn them, and understand them.

These are the ways books touch our lives, not only as a refuge, but also as mirror.


UCLA Writers’ Program

I just finished another writing class through the UCLA Extension Writer’s Program. I actually took two at the same time. One focused on discovering your muse and writing through her; I found that Polyhymnia called most strongly to me. And the other was about children’s writing, taught by published author Catherine Ipcizade.

I could never say enough great things about the Writer’s Program. They have taught many students who have gone on to become published authors of books, articles, and screenplays.

I had wanted to take another class for the summer session, but the end date was just three days prior to my wedding. So I’m going to wait until the fall semester to alleviate some of that stress. That doesn’t mean I’m putting my writing on hold though. No, instead of a class I signed up for a four day intensive writer’s conference out here in Los Angeles.

To prepare for the conference I want to get more of my YA novel in progress written, so I can talk about it intelligently during any networking opportunities. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from reading countless agent and editor blogs, it’s “don’t get someone excited about a project that isn’t anywhere near done.” You never know when you may be the one picked to send off a sample to someone.

If all goes well with this conference, I will consider going to the winter conference in New York City. But I think the group has their planning all wrong – the summer session should be in New York and the winter session in Los Angeles! You have to be uber-dedicated to make the trek to NYC in the middle of January. You don’t even have the pull of Christmas decorations to make it better.

What we’ll be discussing

Welcome! I’m Amy and I’m a developing children’s book author. My current project is a young adult book of verse for boys.

At least once a week I’ll be on here talking about the different ways I am learning about the YA genre. One way is reading a ton of author, literary agent and editor blogs. Another is reading YA books (minus Twilight). And yet another is attending classes and conferences.

I just completed a UCLA Extension class on children’s writing, have joined the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators, and will be attending their conference this summer in Los Angeles. Woo hoo! Luckily I’m just behind the orange curtain so the travel to the conference doesn’t have me shelling out any more money!

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