It was a dark and stormy post—

The best books start here.

Tag: On Writing

Bulwer-Lytton-200x274

It’s award season and the results are finally in!

No, no, not those awards, which remind us that the people who create children’s books are artists as well as craftspeople.

No, I’m talking about the Bulwer-Lytton Awards for worst opening sentence. It is Edward George Bulwer-Lytton whose 1830 masterpiece Paul Clifford begins:

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

In his honor, each year hundreds of writers compete to write similarly overwrought and overextended sentences, and they are always a riot. Mere … [more]

marginaliaThere are two sorts of people in the world: Those who write in and mark up books; and those who view those of us who do write in books as sacrilegious pigs.

Okay, okay—maybe there are a few other sorts of people. (I’ve never been a fan of that whole “There are two kinds of people” routine, except where it is inarguable: women/men; living/dead; rational people/fans of Glenn Beck.)

Myself, I’ve gone from treating every book as a sancrosanct object (as a boy) to routinely scribbling in books (as an adult). Some I so love that I want to puzzle out how they work, and I buy multiple copies and mark them up (Moore, Munro, Cheever, Konigsburg, others). Some books I find so maddening that I have to immediately vent my hooting disdain (among them … [more]

twentyI was fortunate enough last summer to speak with Bruce Coville at an SCBWI event in Orlando. (He’s an amazing speaker—truly amazing—and if you catch word that he is speaking somewhere, by all means go and see him.) Bruce mentioned something he called “The Rule of Twenty.” He doesn’t recall where he picked it up—a business article? a self-help book? a primer on original thinking?—but wherever it came from, I have since relied on it and relied on it often.

What is it? Put most simply, it is this: It is only when one reaches the twentieth or so idea that one starts entering the realm of the truly original idea.

The first five or ten? Those are the obvious ones that the brain goes to along its well-traveled paths. Most people’s heads … [more]

I recently judged a contest for the blog at QueryTracker.net, a great site for writers at the query stage looking for more information about potential agents (and where my client Cole Gibsen first learned about me). I agreed to help out and, seeking something that would be both 1) easy on me and 2) beneficial to writers, I decided to limit the entries to pitches of 25 words or less. To see the winners and more details about the contest, head HERE.

I can already hear many of you groaning. If boiling  down a story into two or three paragraphs for a query is like stubbing your toe, then fitting an entire novel into 25 words is like getting a 50 ton anvil dropped on your cat. You know, if you really like … [more]

PenPaperRecently a writer asked me the following question:

After I finished a YA book I particularly loved, I found out that the writer is on faculty at the Vermont College MFA program. It’s a low-res program – ideal for my lifestyle. I’m considering applying and wondered about your perspective on the pros and cons of an MFA…My goals would be to develop as a stronger writer. For me, that means learning how to go deeper with POV and understanding how to vary my sentence structure to improve pace and description.

This is a great question and one I’m sure many writers anxious to break into publishing ponder at one point or another. In my opinion, a writer who considers, enrolls in, or has completed an MFA is off to a good start. I tend to … [more]

kabook225An agent typically works with manuscripts in two different ways.

The first is when an author comes to me with a completed manuscript. If we decide to work together, we’ll spend time revising—focusing on character development, style, and storytelling. It is always exciting to help a writer best achieve his or her vision, and as many of my authors know, the revision process is one of my greatest joys.

The second is when an author comes to me with an idea. There is no manuscript—just the spark of something wonderful inside that curious (and thrilling!) thing known as the Author’s Brain. In that case, it is my job to help the author translate the idea onto the page, and then work with him or her to craft the arc of the story, develop the characters … [more]

shovelWriters generally hate being asked where they get their ideas. Neil Gaiman tackled the issue on his website (my favorite reply he used to give to the question is “From a little ideas shop in Bognor Regis”). In On Writing Stephen King quipped that he got his ideas from “a small, bloodthirsty elf who lives in a hole under my desk.” Of course, if you can’t afford trips to Bognor Regis and you feel the imprisonment of elves, however thirsty for blood they are,  to be inhumane, you’re likely forced to come up with more creative ways to speed the muse.

King (after the elf admission) recommended asking “what if” questions for inspiration. Other authors scour the news for ideas, and look for simple stories they can then adapt and personalize. Some writers look to … [more]

soccer

I’m an avid sports fan. How avid? Well, I used to contribute content for a fantasy football website. I shared partial season tickets for the Philadelphia Phillies before moving to NYC. I subscribe to ESPN the Magazine. I was even once a mediocre athlete, earning seven varsity letters during my high school career. There’s more, but I don’t want to terrify you.

Given the above revelations, it should come as no surprise that I’d love to find sports books for children. But not just any sports books for children: I want books that are fresh, intelligent, and about more than just the games on the field.… [more]


dickens[Some weeks back I was in Chicago to give a couple of talks at an SCBWI conference. While I was in fine form for much of the conference, I punted my final talk, to my chagrin. Part of the issue was an ill-advised, last-minute rejiggering of my notes and talking points into a confusing mess of arrows and write-ins (a poor idea, as it is all too easy to lose the thread of an argument while speaking); but more the issue was an inability to get my head around the topic. The title of the talk had been dictated to me—”The Joys and Challenges of Agenting Across Formats”—and, I blithely asserted, I had little if anything to say about that beyond, “Yes, agenting these sorts of manuscripts is different.”

Well, I was blazingly incorrect about [more]

Little__Brown_and_Company-logo-9849B524CB-seeklogo.comIf you work in publishing in any capacity whatsoever, then you likely have a deep affection for Little, Brown. And not just because they are riding so high these days. Sure, they the publishers of a kind-of-sort-of-somewhat-successful series you may have heard of, but they also have one of the sharpest, most insistently singular lists around. Not just the thrill-a-minute money machines of James Patterson, but also cheerily commercial fare such as Vampirates, literary bestsellers that smart kids love such as The Mysterious Benedict Society, compelling and complex teen fiction about dark stuff in life such as The Hate List and North of Beautiful, and more more more. It’s just a great house with great books, and the people who edit there are pretty fabulous, too.

But this isn’t a … [more]