The Sweet Spot – Musings on PB Length

Image

I spent the last two weeks analyzing picture books in the context of Christie Wright Wild’s Top Ten Story Elements. And it was fascinating. I learned a lot about patterns, rhyme, character, and all the other things that make picture books great.

But it also got me thinking about picture books in a new way. I started thinking more about length and structure – both in what I like to read, and what I like to write, and so I thought I’d share my realizations.

When it comes to PB length, we’ve all heard it – less is more. Nowadays it seems like many agents and editors won’t even look at PBs over 500 words. The books I looked at over the last fortnight (sorry, couldn’t resist, how often do you get to use the word ‘fortnight’?) ranged from a meager 154 words to a verbose 1716. They are all books I like, books I enjoy reading to my kids. But my favorites definitely fall in the 600 – 900 word range. Longer than that, I end up paraphrasing or parsing chunks altogether (resulting in stories in the 600 – 900 word range) in order to hold my kids’ attention – especially the two-year-olds.

And the shorter books? Well, of the ones I studied, most of the shorter books were set up in more of a comic-book style, with dialogue making up 100% of the text*. They’re also (mostly) written by author-illustrators. And while they’re funny and enjoyable, they’re not my style to write.

(*Of course there are exceptions to this: the “Pete the Cat” books tell a complete story in about 250 words, while Ode to Underwear had no dialogue at all.)

What is it that draws me to longer books? Well, I think it’s the mix of narrative and dialogue. The sense I get of reading a ‘real’ story. The mid-length books offer enough repetition to amuse the kids, but have enough other words to stop me as an adult from getting bored with them.

And these are the kinds of books I like to write. The PBs I’ve written (and hope to one day get published) all fall in the 600 – 750 word range, with a mix of narrative and dialogue, but plenty of room for illustration.

What about you? What’s your sweet spot? What length PBs do you gravitate toward writing and reading, and what draws you to them? Let me know in the comments.

(Author’s note: I wrote this on Wednesday, and of course, yesterday I sat down and wrote a 185-word rhyming PB with no dialogue. So, even those of us who think we have a “sweet spot” can be inspired to write something outside our norm.)

14:14 Blog Challenge Day 14

Underwear

Title: Ode to Underwear
Author: Helaine Becker
Illustrator: Mike Boldt
Publisher: Scholastic Canada Ltd.
Year: 2013
Word Count: 166 (by my count, although there are a few hyphenated compound words that I wasn’t sure how to count)

Summary: Really, the title says it all.

For this book I am going to be looking at the element of Rhyme. (It’s about time, you’d think considering how much I love rhyming books, I would’ve tackled one before now, but apparently most of the rhyming books I own are more than ten years old – what can I say, I’m a sucker for the classics.)

Let’s start by looking at the first quatrain:

Let’s hear it for our underwear,

Our fun-to-wear best underwear!

It keeps us warm and dry down there.

So give a cheer for underwear.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – here I am using it as an example of rhyme, and Becker’s gone and rhymed underwear with underwear two out of three times. But that is where her genius lies. Read this aloud to a child. Better yet, to a couple of kids. I guarantee you by the time you get to the third repetition of ‘underwear’ they will have dissolved into giggles. (The only way it could have been better would be if she had used ‘underpants’ – it’s a funnier word – but there are  fewer rhymes for that.) And although she uses the word underwear throughout the book, she doesn’t rhyme it with itself again.

I’ve listed the rest of the rhymes below:

Lacy/horse-racy

Sheer/rear

Drawers/adores (I really like the word play in this one, because although the “drawers”in the ode refer to underwear, the illustration has the underwear jumping out of dresser drawers)

Bare/underwear

Baggy/saggy (get that image out of your head)

Frilly/silly

Kind/behind

Share/underwear

Shorts/sports

Glow/show (with an extra rhyme in the illustration “Oh no!”)

Becker ends with a final quatrain that  mirrors the original:

So grab your very favourite pair,

Wave them high now, if you dare –

Just be sure you have a spare –

And give three cheers for underwear!

We just got this book last week, and already I think we’ve read it twenty times. My kids love the rhymes, the silly illustrations, and the fact that I’m saying the word “underwear” over and over again. It’s a definitely a fun read for kids, and those of us who have the mentality of kids (hee hee, underwear!)

Well, that’s it for 14:14. Tune in tomorrow to see some other musings inspired by reading all these great PBs.

14:14 Blog Challenge Day 13

Sophie

Title: Sophie and the Sea Monster
Author: Don Gillmor
Illustrator: Michael Martchenko
Publisher: North Winds Press (An imprint of Scholastic Canada Ltd.)
Year: 2005
Word Count: 775 (approximately)

Summary: The sea monster living under Sophie’s bed has almost as many fears as Sophie herself. In order to get him out, she’ll have to help him overcome them, and maybe manage to overcome a few of her own while she’s at it.

I knew I wanted to look at this book, but I had a hard time picking which story element to examine with it. I could have picked Theme (overcoming fears), Dialogue (some of the dialogue really makes the characters), or a few of the others, but eventually I decided to go with Character.

Sophie is a great character. Gillmor sets out her personality by beginning the book with a  list of the things Sophie fears:

“Sophie worried about wearing the right clothes to school. She worried about big dogs, bats, thunderstorms, snapping turtles, and losing her homework.” Notice how he starts with a very reasonable “worry” – wearing the right clothes, and builds to other pretty reasonable fears: bats, dogs and thunderstorms are all pretty scary. Snapping turtles are also scary, but I don’t know how often you’d encounter one. And losing her homework, well, that could be bad.

But then he continues on page two, “She wondered what held the moon up and she worried that it would fall on her house. She worried about everything all the time. But most of all, Sophie worried that there was a sea monster under her bed.” In just three sentences Gillmor has turned Sophie from a regular girl with reasonable fears to a neurotic, but cute, kid.

By giving Sophie some outrageous fears, Gillmor makes her more likeable and child-like, but it also gives the reader a sense of superiority, which creates sympathy for Sophie. (My four-year-old shares a lot of Sophie’s fears – including big dogs and monsters – but she knows the moon won’t fall down on her head, and some of her enjoyment of the book comes from having fewer fears than Sophie.)

I love the way Gillmor then makes one of those irrational (if common) fears real – there really is a sea monster under Sophie’s bed – and it’s there because it’s scared of more things than Sophie is! As Sophie tries to help the sea monster overcome his fears so he can move out of her room, she learns to overcome her own fears, growing as a character, and solving her own problem.

This is a really cute book. I love Martchenko’s illustrations (as always, you heard me rave about him when I analyzed the Munsch books). I also love the way Gillmor manages to make Sophie’s parents and brother come to life with only a line or two of dialogue (when my kids get older, I imagine my husband and I will sound just like Sophie’s parents).

My kids love the silly songs, and watching Sophie and the sea monster try to overcome their fears. If you haven’t read this one before, I suggest you check it out.

14:14 Blog Challenge Day 12

Image

Title: The Gingerbread Girl
Author & Illustrator: Lisa Campbell Ernst
Publisher: Scholastic Inc.
Year: 2006
Word Count: 1189 (+ 58-word ‘Prequel’)

Summary: Just like her brother the Gingerbread Boy, the Gingerbread Girl runs away from the lonely couple who made her, but she’s determined to avoid his fate.

This is a good book to examine the element of Pattern. The whole story is based on the fable of the Gingerbread Boy, and repeats the pattern laid out in his story: he runs away, encounters various animals and people who want to eat him, taunts them with his rhyme, and runs away until he meets a devious fox who tricks him into getting eaten.

Like her brother, the Gingerbread Girl taunts those chasing her. It starts with the little old man and woman who made her, and the simple rhyme that becomes the refrain on every page:

“I’ll run and I’ll run

With a leap and a twirl.

You can’t catch me,

I’m the Gingerbread Girl!”

Every time she meets a new threat, the Gingerbread Girl sings a personalized taunt (eg.

“Hey, Farmers, don’t bother!

Like my brother, I’m fast!

Run all you want,

But I’ve learned from his past!”)

before continuing on with her teasing refrain.

This continues until she meets the fox, and finally changes both her refrain and the pattern laid out by her brother’s story (but I’m not going to tell you how – you’ll have to read the book and see).

Pattern is also visible in the illustration. Each spread (except the first and last) is split into a page of text and a page of illustration. The illustration page is an image of the Gingerbread Girl encountering new people/animals who want to eat her, while a banner across the top of the text page shows the rest of the people chasing her. As the story progresses more and more people and animals join the chase, until there are 30 pursuers above the text watching her encounter with the fox.

My sons love the repetition of the Gingerbread Girl’s song, and always gleefully finish the refrain for me. It’s a cute little story, and one of the only holiday books that I didn’t pack away for the season.

14:14 Blog Challenge Day 11

Pigeon Stay Up Late

Title: Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late!
Author & Illustrator: Mo Willems
Publisher: Hyperion Books for Children
Year: 2006
Word Count: 199

Summary: It’s bedtime, but the Pigeon doesn’t want to sleep, so he tries every trick he can think of to convince you (the reader) to let him stay up late.

I wasn’t going to look at two Pigeon books, but I just had to examine Willems’ use of Character (see my last Pigeon post) and Conflict. What I love the most about his use of Conflict in this book is that the conflict is between the Pigeon and the reader.

The books starts with the Bus Driver (who is now the Pigeon’s owner/keeper/father-figure) asking the reader to stop the Pigeon from staying up late. Then the Pigeon comes up with excuses and pleas, each more desperate than the last, to try and stay up. (“It’s the middle of the day in China!”)

The Pigeon gets more and more frantic, upping the tension until the final inevitable (well, to anyone who’s ever dealt with a child who wants to stay up, it’s inevitable) conclusion.

My kids love getting to be the ‘bad guy’ in this book. I’m certain they’ve tried just about every technique the Pigeon uses to stay up late, yet they love getting to be the ones to tell him “No!” This book is just too much fun, and a great read for bedtime.

14:14 Blog Challenge Day 10

Image

Title: The Sandcastle Contest
Author: Robert Munsch
Illustrator: Michael Martchenko
Publisher: Scholastic Canada Ltd.
Year: 2005
Word Count: 716 (approximately)

Summary: Matthew decides to enter a sandcastle contest, but his creations are almost too good to be believed.

I chose to examine Beginnings and Endings in this book, partly because it has such a nice cyclical nature to it, and partly because I feel that talking about the ending doesn’t ruin the reading experience. Most of the humor in this book comes from the silly fun in the middle, and that’s the part I’m going to keep secret. If you want to find out what silliness Matthew gets up to in the contest, you’ll have to read it yourself.

Spread 1 shows Matthew’s family getting ready to go camping. Matthew’s dad is checking the list to make sure they have everything. Matthew says they forgot the dog.

“We don’t even own a dog!”

“I know,” said Matthew. “Now would be a good time to get a dog.”

Spread 2 shows the family driving away with their car and trailer packed full.

 “No dog!” said his dad. “Now, do we have everything?”

“NO!” yelled Matthew. “We don’t have my sandbox.”

But his mom promises they’ll stop at a beach to play in the sand.

Spread 14 (last spread) shows the back of the car, pulling two (Well three, but I won’t give away that sight gag – but it’s in Spread 2 as well) trailers: the one packed full of camping gear, and the other is a sandbox on wheels, holding Matthew and his dog.

And so the story comes full circle. The family is packed up and going camping.

It’s a pretty silly story, but my kids love comparing the illustration in Spread 2 to the one in Spread 14. Martchenko is always amazing, filling his work with sight gags and references to other Munsch stories he’s illustrated. I just can’t say enough good things about the Munsch-Martchenko books.

14:14 Blog Challenge Day 9

Image

Title: Fox and Squirrel
Author & Illustrator: Ruth Ohi
Publisher: North Winds Press (An Imprint of Scholastic Canada)
Year: 2013
Word Count: 178

Summary: Fox and Squirrel are as different as can be…but there are a lot of things they have in common too – even if others can’t see it.

For this book I decided to look at the element of Theme. The theme of the book is friendship.

The text starts with Squirrel questioning why they are friends when they “are very different.” “Not that different,” Fox replies. Each time Squirrel points out a difference, Fox reminds Squirrel of their similarities.

But it’s the pictures that really illustrate the relationship between the two animals. Even though they’re arguing, Squirrel shares his snack with Fox, and helps warm him when he’s cold.

And when Rat shows up and questions why the two are friends, they don’t hold a grudge against him.

This book is sweet, and touching, and shows how people (well, animals, technically) don’t have to be carbon copies of each other in order to be friends.

14:14 Blog Challenge Day 8

Image

Title: Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons
Author: Eric Litwin
Illustrator: James Dean (creator of Pete the Cat)
Publisher: Scholastic
Year: 2012
Word Count: 310 (? I’m uncertain what all should be counted as words, especially since there are numerals that I read out as I read it to my kids, but this is a good ballpark.)

Summary: Pete the Cat loves his shirt with its four colorful buttons. But losing a button doesn’t make him love it any less. Pete can always find the good in a situation.

I decided to look at Pacing with this book. Sure, I could have looked at repetition again, like I did with Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes, as this book is equally cyclical, but I decided to look at the neat way Litwin (along with Dean, the editor, and the art director) keeps you turning the pages.

Spread 1: Pete loves his shirt with the four buttons so much, he sings “this song:”

Spread 2: Pete’s song.

Spread 3: Pete loses a button. “How many buttons are left?”

Spread 4: The answer to the question (also spelled out as an equation)

Repeat for four more cycles of these spreads until the final twist ending (which you may see coming, but I didn’t. I laughed soooo hard!)

Litwin uses repetition and anticipation to great effect. In the first of the spreads the reader turns the page to see what Pete’s song is. The other Pete the Cat books I’ve read also feature songs, so this is an example of both anticipation and repetition.

After the song (Spread 2), the reader wants to know what happens next – after all, Pete’s life never seems to be easy. More anticipation and repetition (both from story to story, and within the story itself as the cycles repeat).

Spread 3 (and Spreads 7, 11, and 15) leaves the reader hanging with a question. My four-year-old practically rips the book out of my hand to turn the page and prove she got the answer right.

There’s a reason I’ve posted about two of the Pete the Cat books. Litwin knows how to keep the reader flipping pages and reading on, and always coming back for more.

14:14 Blog Challenge Day 7

Here we are, one week into the 14:14 Blog Challenge. Today will mark my 7th Picture Book analyzed according to Christie Wright Wild‘s Top 10 Story Elements for Picture Books. Hope you’re all enjoying taking a look at the books as much as I am. I know my “to-read” list has become considerably longer in the past week (and is set to grow even more next week). I’ll try to put up a regular post next Friday, after the challenge is over. Until then, you can just keep checking out all the wonderful PBs I’ve read.

Image

Title: I’m Bored
Author: Michael Ian Black
Illustrator: Debbie Ridpath Ohi
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Year: 2012
Word Count: 251

Summary: The little girl is bored, but when a potato accuses kids of being boring she sets out to prove how exciting being a kid can be.

Once again, I’m going to be looking at Character. The little girl in this book is so alive, so likeable, and so believably childlike, that it wasn’t until I sat down to write this that I realized she doesn’t have a name.

She starts the book complaining about how bored she is. Ohi’s “Peanuts”-esque illustrations, as cartoonish as they are, really capture the postures of boredom. Along with Black’s text (“Bored. Blaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.”) the girl epitomizes boredom. I could really see myself as a child in this part. (I was bored a lot.)

When the potato she meets accuses her – and all kids – of being boring, she becomes active and sets out to prove him wrong. In doing so, she realizes just how exciting life as a kid is, thus solving her own problem. – Don’t worry if you think I’m giving away the ending, there’s still a delicious twist at the end, that you’ll have to read the book to see.

Even though my kids are a bit young for the concept of boredom, they love watching the girl come up with all the fun things kids can do.

14:14 Blog Challenge Day 6

Elephant & Piggie

Title: I Am Invited to a Party (An Elephant and Piggie Book)
Author & Illustrator: Mo Willems
Publisher: Hyperion Books for Children
Year: 2007
Word Count: 154 (approximately)

Summary: It’s Piggie’s first party, and she doesn’t know what to expect. Good thing Gerald is there to help her get ready.

I’m going to keep this post short and sweet – just like the book it’s based on. Despite its short word count, this book is a great example of Patterns. Willems uses the Rule of Three as Gerald helps Piggie get dressed. The book sets up a scene and repeats it three times.

After the initial invitation, Piggie and Gerald frolic and cheer (“Party!”) Three times, Gerald interrupts their pre-party celebration to suggest  a change of clothes  because they “must be ready.” Three times, they comment on how Gerald “knows parties.” And three times they “zip” off to get changed, until finally they are ready to see if they’re dressed appropriately for the party.

The story is cute, and my kids love seeing what Piggie and Gerald are going to put on next. The repetition keeps us flipping the pages, until the final quirky finish (you’ll have to read it to see).

14:14 Blog Challenge Day 5

Image

Title: Lucia and the Light
Author: Phyllis Root
Illustrator: Mary GrandPré
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Year: 2006
Word Count: 1716

Summary: When the sun disappears, Lucia sets out to find it before the whole world freezes. (Based on a Norse legend.)

I am going to look at the element of Word Play in this story. And with good reason. The language in this book is as beautiful as the illustrations (and that’s saying a lot – the pictures are gorgeous).

The first line of the book is: “Lucia and her mother and baby brother lived with a velvet-brown cow and a milk-white cat in a little house at the foot of a mountain in the Far North.” Already we have two beautiful metaphorical descriptions: the “velvet-brown cow” and the “milk-white cat.”

When the sun disappears, “dark roosted on the land.” This time Root uses anthropomorphism (or would it be zoomorphism? The Latin geek in me is unclear, and Google failed me) to compare the way darkness settled on the land, to that of a bird settling in its nest.

Root’s beautiful descriptions continue as she describes the snowy landscape and the effect on Lucia. “Lucia’s fingers were sticks of ice.” (metaphor) The snow “was almost as soft as her feather bed.” (simile) And my personal favorite simile in the whole book: “Icicles hung from the trees like frozen tears.”

Root also uses onomatopoeia as she depicts the “shoosh, shoosh” of Lucia’s skis on the snow, the “splunk” of Lucia falling in the snow, and the “scritch, scritch,” of Lucia striking her tinderbox.

When Lucia returns from her journey after (spoiler alert) rescuing the sun, the sunlight is “as warm and sweet as honey.” And Lucia’s mother calls Lucia her “sunshine.”

I am so enamored with the language and the illustrations in this book, I just can’t recommend it enough. It is so beautiful.

14:14 Blog Challenge Day 4

Image

Title: Down the Drain!
Author: Robert Munsch
Illustrator: Michael Martchenko
Publisher: Scholastic Canada Ltd.
Year: 2009
Word Count: 892 (approximately)

Summary: When Adam’s Dad gets distracted while supervising bath time, things quickly spiral out of control!

Robert Munsch is an absolute master of Patterns. This book is a great example of how he uses repetition and the Rule of Three (I’m a big fan of the Rule of Three, have you noticed? I’m also a big fan of Munsch’s books).

When Adam gets dirty his father tells him, “Your hands are dirty. Your face is dirty. Your feet are dirty.” Three things. Adam’s response? “No, no, no!” Three nos. (Noes? How do you pluralize ‘no’?) Followed by:

“Soap in my eyes!

Soap in my ears!

Soap in my mouth!”

Another set of three.

Once Adam is in the bath, his father is distracted by three different phone calls (Which he answers “Hello? Hello? Hello?” and signs off, “Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.” More threes).

The bathroom floods, and Adam’s dad begs him to pull the plug. But Adam won’t agree until his father fulfills, you guessed it, three requests. When Adam finally does pull the plug he gets sucked down the drain, and has three problems stopping him from getting out.

But the three problems have three solutions, and the second last page has yet another wonderful three word alliterative description of Adam’s new situation (I’m not going to put it here, you’ll just have to read the book and find out).

I love Robert Munsch books (especially the ones illustrated by Martchenko). The way he uses language, the repetitions, the silliness, I could go on – and I will when I evaluate another Munsch book later in 14:14.

14:14 Blog Challenge Day 3

Image

Title: The Pocket Mommy
Author: Rachel Eugster
Illustrator: Tom Goldsmith
Publisher: Tundra Books
Year: 2013
Word Count: 1162 (approximately)

Summary: When Samuel is nervous about going to kindergarten by himself, his mommy gives him a pocket-sized version of herself to keep him company. But he soon realizes kindergarten is no place for mommies – especially pocket-sized ones.

I decided to look at the element of Dialogue for this story. Samuel and his mommy (both real and pocket-sized) trade realistic dialogue throughout the book.

“You’re real?”

“Sure!” the Pocket Mommy called, in a pocket-sized voice. “I’m here to help.”

Each page of the book mixes dialogue and description, finding a perfect balance. At the beginning, when the Pocket Mommy is being helpful she has just a single line of dialogue to illustrate her helpfulness:

In Circle Time, Samuel couldn’t remember the words to the song.

“I can help!” said the Pocket Mommy.

But as the Pocket Mommy’s help gets more overbearing and interfering, her dialogue increases:

“These books need a good sorting,” she declared. “Stays, stays, goes. Stays, stays, goes.”

In this book it is the dialogue that really illustrates the relationship between Samuel and his mommy, underscored by the descriptions and pictures. My kids love watching (listening?) as Samuel’s dialogue starts sounding more and more parental, and the Pocket Mommy’s starts sounding more and more childlike, until eventually he realizes that he doesn’t need a Mommy at school as well as at home.

14:14 Blog Challenge Day 2

Image

Title: The Pigeon Wants a Puppy!
Author & Illustrator: Mo Willems
Publisher: Scholastic Inc.
Year: 2008
Word Count: 154

Summary: The Pigeon really, really wants a puppy. But he hasn’t exactly thought the whole thing through.

I would have to say that the most important feature of the Pigeon books is Character. In fact, he’s such a great character he’s spawned a whole slew of other books, including The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog, The Pigeon Has Feelings,Too, and the one that started it all: Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus (which is just a shade too old to be included in 14:14).

With every wheedling attempt and plea to get a puppy, (“You don’t want me to be happy, do you?”) the Pigeon becomes more and more lovable. Parents will hear their children in the Pigeon’s words, and my kids love that the Pigeon sounds like them.

The Pigeon is definitely an active character, as most of the book revolves around him trying harder and harder to convince the reader to let him have a puppy.

Without giving away the ending, it’s hard to discuss how the Pigeon solves his own problem, but suffice it to say, he does, in the most Pigeon-like (and childlike) way possible.

The Pigeon is one of my family’s favorite characters. My sister-in-law even made my daughter a pigeon toy for her birthday last year. Check it out. And then go check out the Pigeon books, if you haven’t already.

Image

14:14 Blog Challenge Day 1

For the next two weeks I’m going to be participating in Christie Wright Wild’s 14:14 blog challenge. Every day for the next fourteen days I am going to examine one of Christie’s Top 10 Story Elements for Picture Books in a different book. The idea is to look at what makes these books great, and to introduce people to picture books they may not be familiar with.

Here we go:

Image

Title: Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes
Author: Eric Litwin (aka Mr. Eric)
Illustrator: James Dean
Publisher: Scholastic
Year: 2008
Word Count: 272

Summary: Pete the Cat loves his white shoes, but it’s a dirty world out there. Fortunately, nothing he steps in can change the way Pete feels about his shoes.

This is a great book to study Patterns. It is all about repetition. The story is told in three-page cycles:

1) Pete loves the color of his shoes.

2) He loves them so much he sings a song about them.

3) “Oh no!” Something happens to change the color of his shoes. But does Pete get upset? “Goodness no!” He just keeps “walking along and singing his song.”

This book is also a great example of the Rule of Three. The cycles are three pages long, the songs are three lines long, and Pete’s shoes change color three times before turning back to their original white (along with a twist).

My two-year-old, barely-verbal sons love this book. The repetition lets them chime in with the words they know, and they really feel like they’re part of the story.

There are a bunch of other Pete the Cat books as well, including Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes and (another I’m planning on reviewing as part of 14:14) Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons.

Conference Conundrum

Image

Decisions, decisions. I’ve never been good with them. But this spring’s conference choices are driving me nuts. How do I choose? I thought I’d lay out some pros and cons* of the three “conferences” I’m looking at, and see if it can help me decide.

*Pros and cons are particular to my situation – what’s a con to me, may well be a pro to you.

Niagara Retreat and Conference 

Held in a monastery in Niagara Falls Canada, this small conference packs a lot of punch. I went last year and had a blast. The price includes accommodation, meals (amazing, amazing meals), and a one-on-one critique. With everything happening on-site, there’s more time to meet and connect with the other writers and staff, including two nights of just hanging out. Jackie manages to attract killer speakers (last year I met Sara Zarr, Ellen Hopkins, and Kimberley Griffiths-Little!)

Pros:

  • First Five Page Crit Circles (held on Friday, reconvening on Sunday to assess revisions)
  • Faculty – This year includes Jodi Meadows, Hazel Mitchell, Sarah Davies (of Greenhouse Literary), Rob Sanders, and R.J. Anderson, among others.
  • Size – As I said above, the conference is small, giving ample opportunity to make connections.
  • The Food – Seriously. It was that good.

Cons:

  • Distance – Sure it’s located in my province, but since I don’t drive, I’m looking at about an 8-hour + bus ride (spread over 12 hours). It was the worst part, by far, of last year’s trip.
  • The Agent – Sarah Davies is an amazing agent, but she doesn’t rep PBs, which rules out the chance of making an agent connection (I know it’s not likely to happen, but it’s still something to think about)
  • More decisions – Do I go as a PB writer (and go to the illustrator-focused stream) or as a novelist (I brought my MG novel for crit last year, and I don’t really want to bring it again)
  • Meeting the same people – It’s great to see friends from other conferences, but I’d also like to make new connections and meet new people. I’m guessing a lot of faces will be familiar from last year and the SCBWI Canada East conferences.

New England SCBWI Conference 

A big conference held in Massachusetts, it has a list of agents and editors that goes on and on.

Pros:

  • Agents – That list of agents and editors that goes on and on, includes agents I’d love a chance to get my work in front of.
  • The Workshops – There’s so many interesting-sounding ones, I don’t know how I’ll choose between them (this is a good thing).

Cons:

  • The Price – It’s a decent price for a conference, but once I add in airfare, hotel, and food it’s going to cost more than Niagara (but not a ridiculous amount more).
  • Passport – Yeah, this may seem like a silly thing to worry about, but it’s one more cost and another detail to get sorted.
  • The Size – I’m a little intimidated to attend a conference this large without knowing at least one other person. Also, there’s no guarantee I’ll meet, or even see, the agents I’m drooling over.

12 x 12 

PB Author Julie Hedlund organizes an online community where the goal is to write one picture book a month for twelve months (12 x 12). There are three levels of membership, and the one I’m looking at (Gold) allows you to skip the slush pile for one participating agent a month.

Yes, I know that technically this isn’t a conference, but I choose to do it I can’t afford either of the other conferences.

Pros:

  • Agent access – Skipping the slush pile for one agent a month. Yes, please!
  • Cost – Way less expensive than the other contests.
  • Networking – Still lots of chances to make connections.
  • It’s online – No need to worry about planes or buses, bad hair days, or my inability to sleep in hotel rooms.

Cons:

  • It’s online – No chance to get away from it all and just focus on writing for a few days.
  • Agent access – If I get an agent some time during the next few months through my other querying, the extra money spent on the Gold level is a waste.
  • No in-person connections – Online networking is great, but it’s not the same as meeting face to face.

So, there you go. All the reasons I should or shouldn’t go to all the conferences I want to attend. Right now, the best answer I can come up with is, if the stars align and I get an offer from an agent before the end of February (what, it could happen) I will go to Niagara. But if not? I’m not sure.

What about you? How do you decide which conferences to attend?

Where Do You Find The Time?

Image

When I started thinking about writing a blog, I was going to call it “Writing While They Sleep,” because that’s what I did. But, of course, now that the Boys have decided they don’t need no stinkin’ naps (They’re wrong. They do. They really, really, do!), I’ve had to adjust my plans.

My daughter (aka “the Girl”) is in full-time kindergarten. The Boys attend pre-school two mornings a week, giving me a precious 4 hours a week of uninterrupted writing time, which I savour. They also have mandatory “quiet” time for at least an hour a day. More writing time (but more interrupted).

Beyond that, I write in every spare second I can. Dinner simmering on the stove? I write. Kids playing happily and quietly? I write. (A major bonus of having twins is that they play together and entertain each other.)

Before I did NaNo, I wouldn’t try and write unless I had at least an hour free. After all, how can you get into a story if you know you’re going to be interrupted? But when you have to write 50,000 words in a month, you learn to get over it. Sure, maybe I’ve let the grilled cheese get a little extra toasty because I couldn’t pull myself away from that exciting scene – but it was worth it. (Pro tip: eat burned food upside-down so the burned part doesn’t directly touch your tongue.)

Other things I’ve learned: Even if you’re a pantser, like me, always know what the next scene is going to be. When I’m writing a book I spend most of my non-writing time daydreaming about the next scene. That way, when it’s time to write, all I have to do is record what’s been playing out in my head.

In addition to that, try not to stop writing at the end of a scene. It’s so much easier (and more motivating) to start each session by finishing up the scene you left hanging. Then you can move onto the next scene (which you’ve been daydreaming about). I found it eliminates a lot of staring at a blank screen wondering what comes next.

Also? Practice. NaNo 2012 I averaged 500 words an hour. By NaNo 2013 I was hitting closer to 1200. They’re not perfect words, but they’re words. And you can’t start revising, until you have something written.

Finally, find a way to motivate yourself. Pick a word count and give yourself a reward every time you hit it. I get a Lindt chocolate ball for every 3,000 words. It makes getting those words down even…well, sweeter.

All this said, I don’t know how things are going to play out come summer, when the Girl is home all day, every day, and the Boys will have officially given up on napping – but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. Maybe I’ll start getting up an hour before everyone else. Or maybe I’ll just end up seeing less of my husband and write after the kids go to bed. Heck, maybe I’ll invent a pocket dimension daycare to send the kids to for a few hours a day. But I will find a way to write – after all, I need my chocolate fixes.