Sunday, July 01, 2007


I spent 5 days last week at Rhode Island College at the ASTAL (Alliance for the Study and Teaching of Adolescent Literature) Summer Writing Institute. I thought it would be interesting to share my notes with all of you. The list of author mentors and speakers was IMPRESSIVE!

Author Speakers:
Patricia Reilly Giff, Janet Taylor Lisle, Patricia McCormick, Sarah Lamstein, and Melissa Stewart.

Instructors (all authors):
Kelly Easton, Mark Peter Hughes, Liza Ketchum.

Guest Speakers:
Kara LaReau, editor for Scholastic Books, R. James Stahl, publisher of the Merlyn’s Pen New Library of Young Adult Writing and head of The Olga! Project: Courage, Creativity, and Identity, and Jennifer Taber, publicist at Houghton Mifflin

The first person we heard was Kara La Reau, an editor at Scholastic, home of Harry Potter.

Kara La Reau (lives in Providence!) writes children’s picture books and edits children’s and YA books at Scholastic Press.

“Weeding is a great introduction to soil.” She told a story about how she recently bought her old, historic house and with the help of her green thumb sister, set out to tend to the extensive gardens. This was a difficult task as Kara is known to kill all plants.

Sister told her after she spent hours and hours weeding, you missed a whole bunch. You need to weed underneath. “You pulled the little weeds and missed the big ones.”

"I will never be able to get all the weeds but with someone else’s help, I can."

"I wasn’t weeding, I was editing."

Maxwell Perkins- editor of genius A Scott Berg.

Kara then talked about her role as editor at Scholastic:

Limit # of authors.

Then she told anecdotes about her relationship with her authors:
Author A- everything via letters.
Author B- meets at house or NYC
Author C- Hand hold, support and push
Author D- Brainstorm together before writes
Author E- “pot luck” author, keeps me on my toes

this is me! What’s hard for me is…while I enjoy Kara I just want to be the author…author D, D for Definitely….At this point, I’m done. I’ve checked out all I want is to run up and grab her and kidnap her for a few minutes, read to her my work, show her all I have written.

“Editor is handmaiden.” Kara's words.

And editor, “releases energy, creates nothing” someone else said this and she quoted it.

“Golden Age”
New genre is the graphic novel. Readers, early chapter books, picture books are all making a comeback.
YA is crossing over all over more praise and prominence than ever.

Separate team for Harry Potter at Scholastic.

“Know what it feels like to get what you need.” When I was transcribing my notes this sentence was just hanging in the middle of the paper...I have know idea if she said this or if I was just thinking this and wrote it down.

Qualities Finally we get to the goods-- do I have what she wants to read? Everyone sat up very straight at this point and pens were flying over paper.

Must be able to read past page one.
Title- needs to attract her.
Story well crafted
Something pulling me along
Description needs to be sharp

Query So how do I get my work to you? That's what we all needed to know at this point and of course she said query only.

“If I can resist it, I resist it.” Interesting again this quote hung on it's own in my notes. I think she was saying if she begins to read a manuscript and it sucks...she stops.

Only agented.

Harry Potter- now they are interested in other things. Thank GOD, I swear we all exhaled at this point.
Kara doesn’t do fantasy.
Query coupon The magic bullet...can't just email or send to Scholastic and I refuse to give you all any more info...unless she rejects me of course...Kidding! All the advice given over the 5 days was like you're going to be rejected– a lot, but don't burn bridges. Be nice...even if you want to send them a nasty response to the rejection.
3 month turn around
No fantasy, poetry, nonfiction.

Books for kids- Jean Brown- tell her I will participate. Note to self: donate books to ASTAL. Later on in the conference, Jean told me that several of her college students have used my books for book talks in her class! So cool! This also kind of touches upon the strangeness of being one of the most published and expereinced at this institute...that's never me. While I am always the black sheep so to's usually for being self published. This time I was a black sheep but I don't think any one cared that I was self published. They were just happy/impressed that I had something out there that was doing well.

MFA??? The ever pressing question I always struggle with during the time I am at a conference or retreat. The question has no GREAT answer. Kelly, my mentor, talked about the pros and cons...all stuff I have churned over in my mind. The bottom line is, and all authors can agree on this, you don't need it to be a GREAT and SUCCESSFUL writer!

Patty M. An author I am ashamed I knew very little about until that day and now I am SUCH a fan of not only her work BUT she is an amazing, courageous woman. She recently had her book SOLD published which is a work of YA fiction but based on her being in the trenches of Calcutta researching about traficking. Read on to hear some of the incredible things she says.

CUT Her first novel that was groundbreaking for the way it deals with the ever pressing teenage problem of "cutting".

Editor feedback helpful but not complimentary- need praise, like oxygen for writers. Her editor told her, about CUT as a manuscript, "Glad you got it out of your system…now let's move on." Well, it went on to win awards.

Adviser at Newsweek. Told her that CUT's point of view was going to implode. 2nd. So she rewrote it and it was published in the 2nd person, the very POV her adviser said would implode.

When book came out in galley form was sent to reviewers- Dunkin D scene, editor told her to cut it down. When reviews came out, they loved that scene.

"Be brave enough to stick to your guns."

Her advice to writers:
"Butt in chair.
Day after day, there isn’t anything glamorous about that. Remarkable things happen when you are there…it does arise."

The Artists Way Everywhere I go, this book comes up...maybe I should check it out?
"Doubts clutter mind."

-Now I just want to write-
Suggests do “morning pages”. From The Artist's Way.
Suggests critique group- choose wisely.
Listen to self.
Read out loud.
Get into the point of view perspective of the character.

Writing process is the inverse of multitasking.

Read and read widely.

Francine Prose Another author whose book I am told I should read.
"Read omnivorously."

This is her story about winning a major major award for her recent book SOLD.

Phone rang. Thought solicitation national book award caller ID almost didn’t pick up. ‘It’s my pleasure to notify you that Sold is nominated for national book award.

Then the doorbell rang. FED EX guy. Couldn’t tell anyone for 24 hours.
Wonderful and lasting.
Wore medal to bed.

When I’m invisible…not young and blond…I think, you’re not a National Book Award finalist!

Her Low Point
Not interviewing in Calcutta with a woman being beat in the next room.

Writing SOLD- "Energizes you- changes people." "Taking on the pimp culture."

Thought she would write about a plucky girl who outwits traffickers but then…realized she had to go there, to Calcutta. That changed everything.

Stretch into universal experience.
Problems are daunting…stories can have a numbing effect…tell story from 1 point of view.

Go out and find the perfect brownie

She has a background in Journalism

Patty graduated from VT College.

Generous community- people who write for children.

Jim Stahl.
Merlyn’s Pen
housed in RI

"Why pay attention to YA writers? We can learn more about kids than a focus group. Teaches us about ourselves. Give them back what’s been stolen." Loved that last true. Adults ruin everything fro teens.

Nonfiction As you can tell, I was tired at this, I too take nonfiction for granted.

No good trade books- over last 15 years, field has emerged. Jean Brown

90% of what we read on a daily basis is nonfiction. Yet the publishing world focuses more on fiction. Melissa Stewart. Write what you care about verses what you know.
Wide awake for this part! Group Lesson on Character:

Go around and say something unusual about yourself:

-I have 4 toes.
-I have an identical twin.
-My ancestors were on the Mayflower.
-I was a singer in a rock band in the 70s
-I am a puppeteer.
-I want to be a rap star.
These are all true. Can you guess which is mine?

Begin with a question I can’t answer and use the book to answer.

Read Flannery O’Conner

Characters can’t just say, “I’m sad. I’m miserable.” Life History of a Star. Funeral scene.

Nothing really dies it just transforms. Life History of a Star.

Heroes need flaws villains should have soft spots.

Psychic distance. Omniscience.
Rewrite a paragraph a different POV.
3rd person “off set” another kind of 3rd person.

All and all a great experience...can't wait until the day they ask me to be an instructor mentor. I am ready people. Ready now!!!!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Sounds fabulous! Thanks for posting. I have gotten a vicarious kick from it.