Recently, Rob Sanders of Picture This! challenged his blog readers to gather story ideas from their backyards. Ah, the great outdoors. Right now in Florida, color is bursting through the grays and browns of winter. Add to that the intoxicating scent of orange blossoms and the drone of bees pollinating and . . . I'm sorry, what was I saying?
It's nearly impossible not to be distracted by Spring. Every year, I succumb to its call and fight its effects through the beginning of May when summer claims the Sunshine State. Sometimes, I take my work outside to the porch, thinking the fresh air will be invigorating. And it is! But the wrong senses are stirred. My brain wanders away from the story and into the garden. The dogs feel it too. They whine at the door, begging to go out to dig and chase bees, lizards, squirrels - anything that moves. I long to dig too, nesting seeds in the earth, and to romp like dogs do, without fear of anyone thinking you're silly.
I admire Rob's spirited challenge to find inspiration in the backyard. He's a very industrious fellow and no doubt, he's already developed stories from his nature walk. But until there's a vaccination for Spring Fever, I best do my writing indoors.
We writers spend so much time alone with our story characters, we feel awkward in the presence of humans. Despite our insecurities, we attend conferences and critique groups, partly to ease our craving for social contact. I believe most writers benefit from peer support, especially when they're submitting and facing those confidence-crippling rejections.
I have several friends who are submitting manuscripts to various venues, some without the support of critique groups. I feel for them and it makes me even more grateful for my group. For me, nothing beats a physical group, the sincere advice, sympathetic coos and enthusiastic cheers offered in person. But when I submit, my insecurity rises to atomic level and I need additional support. Two children's writer's venues I've found extremely useful are the Verla Kay and Society of Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators' discussion boards. On Verla Kay, members can post questions in threads covering topics like genre, marketing, and craft. VKers helped me shape an agent-worthy query and while I waited, I researched query response time on their agent list. Some VK members are published authors who generously share their experience. Once, I was thrilled when Maggie Stiefvater answered my question and that was after she'd became a YA fantasy star.
SCBWI offers a similar discussion venue but you must be a paid member to participate. Most serious children's writers join the organization which has been the hub of my writing community, supporting regional critique groups and conferences. SCBWI's website provides helpful resources for beginning writers and grant opportunities. Writers use the discussion board to form physical and online critique groups, network, inform and learn. When I sold my first story, I sought clarification on contract terms and received a helpful response from a legal expert on SCBWI.
I'm sure there are other valuable websites dedicated to the children's writing community. The best thing about virtual venues is showing up just as you are and not worrying about bed hair or that coffee stain on your shirt. I've found the online writing community kind and encouraging, so no excuses, come out of your cave, turn on the computer and click!
Spring's here, no doubt. The azaleas are blooming and bees buzzing, oak pollen turning cars green. All that activity woke my muse from her long winter nap, ending an excruciating dry spell. She's granted me three picture book stories and rough sketches for a dummy book. While attempting to resurrect last year's novel, the protaganist of my very first book appeared. I listened to her telling her story in my head for a week and finally gave her the floor.
That's the thing about stories. You can't always control them. I considered my first book a learning experience and wasn't sure I'd ever revisit it. But here it is revived. I spent a week digesting the original's weak plot and passive protaganist and brainstorming new material. Chapter one is roughly written and the story's unfolding bit by bit. There's so little of the first book in it, they're barely related.
Picture books aren't docile either. Once you step into that realm, ideas for new stories multiply. I've been working on a dog book for kidlitart's dummy book challenge. Last weekend, a new story popped up and wrote itself in one day. I thought, maybe I should illustrate this story instead. New stories always seem shinier than old ones. They glow with potential, especially since no one else has seen them. Then you take them to critique and before you even get there, doubt dulls their finish. Afterwards, no matter how high the praise, you know that story won't shine again without lots of polish.
But I'm not complaining. I'm happy to have something to polish and I'm learning to accept the mercurial fountain that springs stories to life, grateful for the words that come.
When I attended Julianna Baggott's workshop at Eckerd College's Writer's in Paradise Conference two years ago, Fox 2000 had bought the film rights to Pure, the first book in Julianna's YA dystopian trilogy. The book sold shortly after and I'm excited to announce it's here!
I was familiar with Julianna's middle grade novels, The Anybodies series and The Prince of Fenway Park. I loved her intricate plots, quirky settings, odd characters and sense of humor, dark and rich like the best chocolate. Julianna's equally delightful in person; insightful, witty and passionate about writing. So I wasn't surprised by the powerful opening in her first novel for young adults. Pure is a vivid depiction of a post apocalyptic world. Protaganist, Pressia bears the scars of the bombings that destroyed civilization. She's lived most of her life among the ruins but carries early memories of a better past and wonders if the the unmarked people who dwell in The Dome are living that way still. Now, Pressia's about to turn sixteen, a dangerous milestone, one she's hoping she'll survive.
Congratulations to Julianna for this riveting new work. Go to Pure to read the book's opening and be sure to watch the trailer. Then tell me the girl with a doll's head for a hand doesn't intrique you.
January feels like a pause between the holidays and spring, which usually comes to Florida in mid February. But this year we've had a mild winter and the trees and ladybugs have declared spring early.
It's hard to stay inside. My husband and I have lengthened our morning walks, exploring new territory. I'm fascinated by scenes viewed through portals-like openings. They seem like invitations to explore . . .
. . . or intros to stories.
There are stories everywhere I look. Like these otters romping in a tree stump. Is the face in the wood a self portrait of the artist? Was he inspired by creatures he saw in the creek that runs alongside the stump?
On the way home, we found two tiles scattered beside an intersection. We flipped them over and united them. Were they tossed out a car window? Are they mourning love lost or celebrating new love? How can the imagination not be sparked by this mystery?
I write middle grade and young adult books with a magical twist, and I'm represented by the fabulous Leslie Zampetti at Open Book Literary.
Lorin Oberweger - Freelance Editor