Sunday, November 29, 2009

Retold Tales

Retold Tales are fun! Most of us are familiar with classic stories and nursery rhymes, but even if we're not, new twists and retelling can be great reads. I especially love them for storytime. I went searching for retold tales on my library shelves. Here's what I found and put on display:

Hush Little Dragon written by Boni Ashburn and Illustrated by Kelly Murphy. A mother dragon soothes her baby by singing him a rhyme. A fiendishly fun play on the Hush Little Baby lullaby, this mama dragon sings about snacks of the royal kind.

Young MacDonald by David Milgram in which Young MacDonald creates all sorts of mixed-up animals on the farm while the Old MacDonalds are away. He's got to set thing straight before the Old MacDonalds, aka his parents, get home.

Goldie and the Three Bears written and illustrated by Diane Stanley. Goldie can't seem to find a friend that is just right, until she happens upon Bear's house. Both the illustrations and the story are very sweet.

The Famous Adventures of a Bird-Brained Hen is written and illustrated by Jessica Souhami. It's a simple retelling of Henny Penny's story with colorful collage illustrations.

The Adventures of the Dish and the Spoon by Mini Grey. This book takes a couple of characters from the classic nursery rhyme. It's great fun. The Dish and the Spoon run away together and become vaudeville stars, of course, there is some trouble along the way.

Tom Thumb retold and illustrated by Richard Jesse Watson is a beautiful book. Mr. Watson's amazing illustrations alone make it a must read. There is so much detail! I actually have a signed copy of this book from when Mr. Watson visited our library. In it he drew a big beautiful lion for my son(amazingly quickly I might add). It's a book that we treasure.

Bubba the Cowboy Prince: A Fractured Texas Tale by Helen Ketteman and illustrated by James Warhola. Bubba is the "Cinderella" of this tale. He's the stepson of a wicked rancher and has some really mean stepbrothers and the fairy godmother is a cow. This is one of my absolute favorite stories. The voice is spot on. It'll have you talking like a cowboy in no time.

I'd love to know what your favorite retold tales are.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Unread - Interview with Lisha Cauthen

This month I used my wonder twin powers to transform Lisha Cauthen into a person who would let me ask her tons of questions and take an actual real life picture of herself so it could be posted on my blog. Didn't you know? Lisha is my twin. But watch out she's my evil twin and things may get, well, evil. Luckily she's evil in a Doofensmirtz kind of way. What? You don't know who Heinz Doofensmirtz is? Shame on you. He does evil stuff like try to move Big Ben to the Tri-State area so he doesn't have to go shopping for a wrist watch. Yup, that's the kind of evil twin I have. Here, see for yourself:

Okay Lisha, how long have you been writing, and why in the world would you want to do such a thing?

Really? Does anybody give a rat’s patootie how long I’ve been writing? The pathetic answer is: I wrote, illustrated and submitted a picture book when I was 12, which was (mumble) years ago. That’s when we literally banged our words out on manual typewriters--the ones where you had to slap the carriage back with your bare hand. And we used carbon paper. Yes my dears, dinosaurs roamed the land, and the Earth’s crust wasn’t quite solid yet.

Would you believe several of those editors answered me? I wish I still had those letters. I made half-hearted stabs at writing over the years as I raised my kids and did all the stuff you’ve got to do in life. But when the nest began to empty and I started to have time to think about what I wanted to do, I ran across a flyer for an SCBWI conference. I figured after years of supporting everybody else’s dreams, it was my turn, baby. (Cue inspirational, slightly defiant music. Mike Jung could probably help us out here.)

What kinds of stories do you write?

Heh. You kind of caught me. If you go to my blog or read The Sunflower Scoop or read my article on the ICL website or articles in the In The Wind KSCBWI newsletter or follow me on Twitter or meet me in a bar, you might assume I write humor. I don’t.

I write older YA. Geez, let’s not argue about whether “older” YA is a genre. I write “edgy” YA for boys that girls like to read too. With an unflinching point of view. I am not gratuitous, but I am honest. If the story needs a naughty word, one will be provided for you. If sex is called for, it will happen. But it will not be porn. Violence where conditions warrant. I belong to several excellent critique groups, and they have helped me see that a lot of the stuff you think you read in my WIP isn’t really on the page. It’s only hinted at—you make the rest up in your head.

Good job.

Of course, there’s some humor in my writing, just like there’s humor in every-day life. If there wasn’t, I doubt you’d make it to the last page in one piece.

Do you want to tell us what you’re working on now?

Tell me, has anyone said “no” to this question? What would you do, if they did? Leave a big blank space? Or has anyone misunderstood the question, and said, “Well, Heather, I’m painting my toenails a lovely shade of periwinkle.” Or maybe you’ve had a real smart aleck who said, “Working on right now? These questions!” I bet Mike Jung said that. Because I was really tempted to say that.

I am about to wrap up an urban paranormal YA I’ve got going. Boy point of view. I think this is the one. I have some interest generated from first page critiques at our KSCBWI conference. My critique buddies think this MS is light-years ahead of what I’ve done before, and I agree.

(Okay smartypants, Mike Jung, he knew what I was talking about because he's one of my peeps. Anyway, I'm just trying to toughen you all up for the real world of ambiguous questions when you get famous.)

What do you think is the hardest part about writing? What part of writing do you enjoy most?

The hardest part about writing is getting off Twitter. No question. Second hardest: convincing all non-writers that I AM WORKING WHEN I AM WRITING. THIS IS MY JOB. MY JOB IS AS IMPORTANT AS YOUR JOB.

I love writing when you are totally in the zone, and you are living the story, and everything else falls away. It’s like channeling, I suppose. Your fingers tippity-type away at the vision while you live it in real-time. Then you kind of “come to” and it’s been 3 hours.

Now that’s writing.

So, how many manuscripts have you written and what have you done with them? Do you have a submission strategy?

OMG. This is like True Confessions of the Shamefully Unpublished. Fine, Heather, just…. Fine.

This will be my fourth finished MS. The first was a woefully painful picture book manuscript, a hilariously awful rhyming little ditty about a boy who redecorates his room. (Please! No more rubber hose, Heather! I’ve told you everything I know!)

The second was a first-love, love story. A genre that I am wholly unsuited to write. But I must say I am still fond of those characters. It was the first novel I wrote, and it was a great accomplishment to put together a coherent story and finish it. I boxed it up with all its permutations and there it stays. I heartily recommend that everybody start with such a book, and go so over-the-top you get a nosebleed. When you speak of it, and you will, you will remember your first writing attempt with kindness.

The third was a fantasy YA that I submitted to about 20 agents and got some good feedback. It has its flaws, however. I have withdrawn it from consideration, and have several ideas for revision. I intend to totally revamp it after marketing my current MS. That’s the thing about writing. You’re always getting better, if you’re doing it right.

I saw Kate DiCamillo this summer, and she said she never read her own books after they were published, because she found too many things she wanted to go back and fix!

(Thank you. I will put away the hose now.)

I know you’re daring. How far would you go to get your book published?

Did you all see how she slipped that little “I know you’re daring” thing in there? Goading me to be outrageous, just to sell blogs?

Well, it worked.

I would take candy from a baby.
I would eat green eggs and ham.
I would marry Edward. No, wait a minute. Some things even I won’t do. Jacob. I’d marry Jacob.
I would spend an inordinate time trying to overthrow #mikesempire @lishacauthen on Twitter.
I would perform a haunting rendition of “Proud Mary” on the nose whistle.
I would bungee jump, if I retained all foreign rights.

(You are soooo easy.)

You are the editor of the very informative Kansas Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (KSCBWI) weekly newsletter: Sunflower Scoop. How do you manage to keep so on top of the writing world?

I could tell you, but then there would be this big tornado, you would age 30 years, and you would become the new Guardian of the Sunflower Scoop. Is that really what you want? I don’t think so.

It’s just a lot easier to subscribe. Free to any SCBWI member, $5 a YEAR if you’re not.

You’re also on the KSCBWI Advisory Committee, how has being such a big part of your local SCBWI chapter helped you?

Okay, I’ll try to get through this part without sobbing like a baby.

Believe it or not, I am by nature a shy person.


I had to go to two conferences before I had the nerve to go to a smaller gathering where I would have to (gasp!) talk to someone. At a workshop Sue Ford, the Kansas regional advisor, announced that they were looking for someone to do the weekly e-letter. Having working in PTA, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, I know that the way to get to know people is VOLUNTEER TO DO SOMETHING. So I raised my trembling hand.

Sue very kindly showed me how to do all the technical stuff and set me up for success.

Doing the newsletter put me on The Committee.

Which means I met people.

And I have made some dear, dear friends.


All these friends are writers, who talk about writing. One of us might come across a tidbit about an agent that will help someone else market a MS. Or we help each other work out plot points, or even role-play dialogue. You can’t do this stuff with normal people. I remember one day Sue Ford, Jenn Bailey and I sat around for 15 minutes discussing the sound a dryer would make if you stood on it and the metal depressed, then you got off and the metal sprang back. Who else talks about stuff like this?

There are perks that come with being behind the scenes. When you put together conferences, you are naturally going to have more time with the editors and agents who come to those conferences. Who do you think drives them to and from the airport and their hotels? Takes them to dinner?

I have made a few presentations, one of which was in front of Bruce Coville! The other presentation turned into my ICL article.

I could go on and on, but I think I already have. SCBWI, Rah! Sue Ford, Regional Advisor, Maximus.

(I have tears.)

Okay, this is getting ridiculous. You’re also a member of Heartland Writers for Kids and Teens as well as several other critique groups! Are you superwoman? Do you ever sleep?

Hey. I can’t live by your rules, man.

Heartland Writers for Kids and Teens is a group whose roots go back to 1967. It is a loose consortium of kidlit writers.

The main critique group meets Wednesday mornings, which is how I got involved. Lots of books coming out of that group. (Elizabeth C. Bunce…A Curse Dark as Gold, anyone?) (And by the way, she is delightful, self-effacing, and talks pretty much the way she writes.)

I also head a monthly YA critique group that we had to close to new members…you get to a saturation point. It’s an interesting mix of newbies to on-the-vergers. But don’t ever turn your nose up at a newbie, writers. They may tell you three things about your MS that make you nod politely, but the fourth thing might knock you right on your ass. New does not = dumb.

I bow to your complete dedication to the kidlit writing lifestyle. Do you have any advice for those of us who aren’t such a big part of the publishing world as you?

Ummm…. maybe you aren’t as weak-willed as I am. I’ve got to surround myself with motivation, or I start to wilt and feel like publication is an impossible goal, attained only by the lottery winners of the literary world.

If you are a fellow-wilter, one way to stay motivated is to read books like Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.

Get connected online at The Blue Boards. It’s a very knowledgeable and supportive community.

If there’s any way you can finagle it, a critique group makes a huge difference in how fast your writing will improve.

All right, I have to know, if you could live in any book which one would it be and why?

Wowzer. This is a toughie. Do I get editing privileges? And can I choose which character I am? Because if you’re in Gone With the Wind, it’s a hell of a lot cooler to be the often-married and land-on-her-feet Katie Scarlett O’Hara Hamilton Kennedy Butler than the pale, doomed, Melanie Hamilton Wilkes.

Alex, I’m going to have to go with Swiss Family Robinson. Does anybody read this book anymore? I know it’s rather stilted for today’s readers, but God, I loved this book. I probably read it three dozen times when I was a kid. Shipwrecked! Tigers! Pirates! My fantasy writer’s cottage is still a treehouse.

But then, you knew it would be something weird like that, didn’t you?

Yes I did.

Thank you Lisha for letting me torture you today. It was quite enjoyable. Besides all the amazing things Lisha does, she has a blog too, The Imaginal Realm. We should all go over there and give her a hard time.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Two Things

Today my first ever guest blog post is up over at Tara Lazar's blog. It's a little something about finding inspiration for Picture Book Idea Month. You can pop over there if you want to take a peek.

As far as my progress goes for PiBoIdMo, I've got nineteen little outlines/titles/ideas so far. I'm learning how to be more disciplined about writing my ideas down. Usually I'll have an idea and WANT to write it down. I'll really MEAN to write it down. Then, other things happen and I get distracted. By the time I get around to finding a piece of paper and a pen and a moment to think, the idea is long gone no matter how hard I wrack my brain trying to remember it. This month I haven't gone anywhere without my notebook and pen. I've even stopped on the road to write ideas down. (I can do that because it's a dirt road and like nobody ever drives on it. Convenient.) I'm writing things down right when I think of them. Then I still have them when I have time to work on them in earnest. Imagine that!

A little something else, Wendy Martin posted a great interview with Bonnie Adamson. She's illustrating Bedtime Monster. Our book comes out next year. It was fun to read about her process and to hear a tiny bit of news about our book. She says she's finishing up the illustrations. Yippee!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

I'm a Cool Dork

I split my shift at work the other day so I could go to my little guy's award ceremony at school. Of course, I jumped out of my car and raced into school to make sure I wasn't late. It was snowing that day, so I had my scarf wrapped around my neck.

My little guy's class came down the hall. I met my guy and walked into the gym with him and we sat down. We were talking while we were waiting for things to begin, and I took off my scarf.

Suddenly he looked embarrassed. When I asked him what was wrong he pointed to my name tag which I had forgotten to take off. "It's okay," I said, "I'm cool. I work at the library."

"I know," he said. But he still wanted me to take off the name tag.

It's good to know my little guy thinks librarians are cool. Name tags, though, are way dorky.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

How I Write--sorry trees

When I write a story I always write it out longhand first. More times than not a story starts as a scribble on the back of a receipt, a napkin, or random piece of paper I happen to find laying around. Later I write the story out onto some honest to goodness lined paper (or the back of another manuscript, which can get confusing.) After I've written and crossed out and drawn little doodles all over the handwritten story and can barely decipher it anymore I finally break down and type it up.

Of course, I'm not finished yet. I'm not a writer with the super human ability to write things once and be done with them. Not by a long shot. I print the story out. Then come more lines and scribbles and lots of arrows, and circles, and, unfortunately, more doodles(doodles mean I'm procrastinating.) Once the manuscript gets too messy, again, I type up the edits. This process can go on indefinitely depending on how the story is working and how incessantly picky I am.

And do I throw any of these doodled up papers away once they're typed up? Of course not! You never know, I might need something I wrote on one of the pages(you did see that I write new stories on the back of old manuscripts, didn't you?) Inevitably I end up with a huge amount of papers for each story which I file away in my trusty filing cabinet named Ralph--you never know, he could throw up a good idea at any time--bah dump dum.

Now that I'm working on my YA I'm feeling like I need to do something different. I'm still writing longhand for the most part. I'm still printing things out after I revise and am re-revising them over and over again. I am still still writing other things on the backs of my manuscript pages. *sigh.

I don't think I can possibly keep all these pages. Ralph will have to get a new friend just to hold all the copies.(I could name him Chuck. I'll have to put him up on Ralph.) Or maybe this is a time to start doing things differently. Do I really need all those old pages after I've revised them?

Today I started a notebook just for my YA. I don't ever do this(Maybe I was inspired my the shiny new notebook I wrote PiBoIdMo on. I've only written a few non-picture book ideas in that one.) My notebooks tend to be a free for all with whatever idea I have at any given moment mingling with old stories and ideas. Instead of writing random thoughts on the manuscript pages I'm going to put them in the notebook. Okay, I might still put them on the manuscript while I'm working, but I'll transfer them to the notebook. Really. I will!

I've also made some documents on my computer to save the scenes I cut. I think I can be organized and not have to go through reams of paper to find some thought I had way back on printout number 23. I've got pages, and chapters, and am experiencing new printer problems I've never had to deal with. I've written other longish works, but this one dares to plan on being the longest to date. It definitely is going to take a new plan, and unfortunately, quite a bit of paper. I will have to plant a tree just for this story.

So I'm wondering, how do you deal with your manuscripts? You're probably much more organized than I am.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

No No Nano

I was tempted, like I am every year, to do NaNoWriMo. It was especially tempting this year as I'm finally writing my YA novel in earnest. I could get it all done. Get those words out on the page. That's what NaNoWriMo is all about. Write now, edit later. Blah blah bladitty blah blah.<---Yes, that is what I would have to show for my month long stressful writing frenzy. It just doesn't seem worth it. Besides, I found something that I can really get into: PiBoIdMo.

Yes, I'm writing a YA, but I'm really a picture book writer at heart. I've even been missing my picture book writing as I plug away at this very long book in which I wonder if I even know what I'm doing. Picture Book Idea Month is perfect. Thrity new picture book ideas in thrity days. I can write my novel and keep coming up with new picture books ideas. For some reason I had separated the two in my mind; I'm working on my novel, I have to miss my picture books. No more!

I've got a shiny new notebook and a spunky green pen. I'm going to fill that notebook with picture book ideas. No title is too daring. No concept is too silly. No line is too whacked. I find inspiration everywhere, but this month I've got my eyes open just a little wider. I'm thinking about ideas just a little more. Maybe I'll veer from my YA path here and there, but it was bound to happen anyway. I told ya, I'm a picture book writer.

It's not too late! You can do PiBoWriMo too. Make it your own. The "rules" are flexible. Frolic on over to Tara Lazar's blog for a month full of inspiration and tips. I'll even be doing my first guest blog post ever later in the month. Yahoo!