Thank You NESCBWI for the Newest Tools in my Tool Box

Another year, another NESCBWI spring conference for the books (pun intended). This is the sixth time I’ve attended the conference, and every time I go I leave with something new. This year I left with a variety of things packed in my bag, and I don’t mean the books from the bookshop or the free toiletries from my room. We’re allowed to take the hairdryer right? No? Oh well. I’m talking new tools so that I can become a better writer. Things like becoming a possible Scrivener convert. Thank you Dee Romito. Realizing it isn’t as difficult to make my own swag as I once thought using Photoshop Express. Thank you AC Gaughen. But my biggest “ah ha” moment came from Harold Underdown’s class on revision. This is where I was able to finally understand a critique I received from JaneYolen a year ago by connecting it with what I learned in Harold’s class. Yes, some times it does take me that long to learn something. Just ask my wife. Actually don’t do that.

During a critique Jane added a few words sporadically through my manuscript and removed others there by strengthening the story. At the time I didn’t truly understand why the story sounded better. I just knew it did. It wasn’t until Harold’s class did it finally make sense. He started talking about writing for a response, which is using words or the lack there of to invoke a response in your reader. This is more than the age old writers’ mantra, “show don’t tell”. This is about creating an emotional response or leaving room for an emotional response. The words that Jane added as well as removed in my manuscript did exactly that. It was lightning striking my brain. I also figured out what was missing from a story I am currently working on, but even better, how to fix it. Does that mean this story will soon be published? Of course not, but at least now I have the tools to work on it.

Finally, I rounded out the conference with what surprisingly became one of my favorite workshops. It was titled, Writing Prompts for the Weary, run by Burleigh Muten. It was a simple course. She gave us prompts such as an object or a sentence and we wrote whatever we wanted. One of the prompts, which I will pair down and be taking into school visit workshops with me, was a particular favorite. I was amazed at how it inspired me to write, even after three days of writing intensives and two nights of “bar intensives”. She gave us a list of short phrases:

I am
I wonder
I hear
I see
I want
I am
I pretend
I feel
I touch
I worry
I cry
I am
I understand
I say
I try
I hope
I am

Then she said write.

I will admit for the first minute I thought this was going to be dumb. Staring at “I am” and asking myself, “Well? What are you?” Can be daunting. That is until you get out of your own way and simply answer the question.

I am a builder of stories
I wonder what I’ll write?
I hear the letters jumble in my head as they take form.
I see the shape, the meaning, each word’s truth.
I want to ignore them. Truth can be hard.
I am tired
I pretend the words are gone. But
I feel their weight as they build in my thoughts.
I touch the pen, the paper, it’s cool relief.
I worry I won’t do the words justice and they will stay where they are.
I cry onto the page tears of nouns, adjectives, an occasional adverb.
I am sawing my structure. Each line becomes leaner.
I understand the architecture.
I say the feeling. I feel the words.
I dream of its pointed spire.
I try for the truth.
I hope for understanding.
I am a builder of stories. I am a writer.

So again I thank all those who had their hands in putting together this conference. From the Coordinators, Josh Funk and Sera Rivers, to the faculty and volunteers who are too numerous to mention. Great job! And I’m already looking forward to next years.

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Be A Leader

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Imagine, if you will, you have a child that’s ten years old. He or she is in the middle of a soccer game and the score is tied with about 10 minutes left in the game. Calls have gone for your childs’ team and calls have gone against your childs’ team. But instead of playing the game and doing his or her best to lead their team to victory they run around yelling at the top of their lungs how the game is rigged. Your child yells at the referees, and yells at the opposing team’s parents calling them cheats out to destroy the game of soccer. Your child defies the very nature of the game and calls on his teammates to never play the game again if they should lose.

What would you do as a parent?

Honestly, what would you say to your child? Would it be something along the line:

“Good job! Granted you could have finished the game and possibly won, but this shows much better leadership.”

Or

“Stop whining about the calls, be a leader and play the best you can!”

I would like to think most parents would tell their kids to stop whining and finish the game. Leadership, good sportsmanship, these are qualities we try as parents to instill upon our kids. Qualities, I fear, that are lacking in this year’s Presidential Election.

I am obviously drawing a parallel with my soccer whiner and one particular candidate, Donald Trump. Now, before you tell me that this isn’t a fair comparison and fraud is rampant in our political system I have only one word:

STOP!

There has never been a case of voter fraud that has even come close to impacting a presidential election. But more importantly the election hasn’t happened yet! Nothing has been determined. You still have ten minutes left in the game and the score is close. Stop whining and play the game, you still have a chance to win.

Donald Trump’s constant rhetoric of a rigged election is nothing more than a spoiled child’s rants when he or she doesn’t get their way. So I ask you, if we wouldn’t accept this type of action from our own children why would we accept them from a Presidential Candidate?

I can understand the Republican point of view when it comes to policy. I may not agree with many of their stances when it comes to domestic and foreign affairs, but it’s something that can be discussed and compromises can be made. A good leader recognizes this and will do their best to work with the differences and not against them. This is not what Trump is doing. In fact, he couldn’t be more of the opposite. He’s calling it quits. Things aren’t going like he wants it so he’s taking his ball and he’s going home while calling everyone a cheater. Yes, he’s that kid on the playground.

It doesn’t bother me what your political party is, I don’t care if you are conservative or liberal. What Trump is doing transcends all of that. He is questioning the legitimacy of an election that hasn’t happened yet just because he is down in the polls. He can’t accept the fact that he may lose this election. He would rather stop the game, and watch it all burn than to admit defeat. Not only is this action dangerous, but it does a disservice to the people who will vote for him. Trump is so caught up in winning he has forgotten what he is running for in the first place, and his screaming and whining will delegitimize the very voice he is supposedly speaking for.

If he loses, as the polls say he will, then he needs to be the leader we all try and teach our children to be. Accept defeat gracefully and then work with the winning administration so that the voice of the other 40+% doesn’t get lost. Our country works best when we work together. No one person, and no one party has it 100% right. A good leader knows this, a good leader lives by this, and a good leader shows us they don’t tell us.

So I say to the winner, but more importantly to the loser of this election: Don’t tell me you are a good leader, act like one.

 

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My Time at the ILA 2016

I just returned from the ILA conference, International Literacy Association, that took place in Boston over the weekend, and I have to say it was very cool. It was my first time being invited to the conference and I had the honor of speaking as well.

I was a part of a session titled Ha,Ha,Ha Putting Humor in Children’s Literature and the 2016 Children’s Choice Award. I was joined by author-illustrator Erik Brooks and Members of the Children’s Choices selection committee/board of directors/ Professor Anita Hernandez, from New Mexico State University, and Michele Owen, a teacher  from Hill Farm Elementary out of Bryant, Arizona. I was asked to talk about Monster Needs a Party,

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a winner of the CBC 2016 Children’s Choices Award, and where my idea for the series came from. I also spoke about how I enjoy including higher level vocabulary into my writing. Both topics were big hits among the audience of teachers, librarians and other educational professionals. I showed a short video about kids needing Monstrous words, which can be found here. Even though the clip was short, it made an impact with many teachers. They even asked if it could somehow be included with future copies of Monster&Me books!

After my session I did a signing at the PGW booth. IMG_0649PGW is Mighty Media’s book distributor, and even though Mighty Media can’t be present at every conference, PGW usually is. I always love doing these types of signings because you are in an environment where everyone is there for the sake of expanding literature. So the lines of people waiting for a signed copy of my book are long, which feeds into my ego. Don’t tell my wife, that is the last thing she wants!

Once done with the signing then it’s my turn to be the fan and stand on line for signatures. Here is a picture of myself and David Hyde Costello, author of Little Pig Joins the Band. IMG_0653

He also drew a picture from a doodle I produced. Damn illustrators always showing off! Just kidding, it was very cool!

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If you have the opportunity to go next year I highly recommend it. Hopefully next year I will be able to attend again, it was a blast!

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Monster Mail episode 3

Hi everyone! I recently returned from the ALA (American Library Association) which was a lot of fun where I got to meet several talented authors and illustrators including the one and only Wendy Grieb! But now it back to reading the mail.

Just a few things to mention I will be at the Book Cellar in Chicago July 17th @ 11:00am for a story time and signing.

Also Look for Monster Needs Your Vote out August 6th 2015!

 

Now onto the Mail

 

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Monster Mail Episode 2

As you can tell from the title this is episode 2. I get such great thank you letters from kids I read to that I need to share them all! Well not all only 4 to 5 at a time, all would be insane and no one would sit through it. Any way keep the letters coming I love getting them an maybe you will see yours on here!

 

 

 

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Remember August 25th Monster Needs Your Vote!

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NESCBWI 2015 Conference: And My Fantasy Acceptance Speach

I just returned from the 2015 NESCBWI conference this past weekend and like always, it was fantastic! How many times do you get to go to a conference and hear not only this years Caldecott winner, Dan Santat, but also this years Newbury award winner, Kwame Alexander speak? Very Cool!

Listening to all the speakers and award winners got me thinking, what if that were me? What would I say to this giant crowd listening to my every word? Wide eyed writers and illustrators looking for that piece of advice to launch their career? Would I give advice? If I did, then I would have to compete with them for the next award. I don’t think so!

So here I give you my fantasy acceptance speech where I would endow upon you my top 5 tips of “Great Advice” to all the up and coming writers.

First off I want to thank you all who voted for me, this is so unexpected. I was once just like you sitting in the crowd and wondering how can I get to be that awesome, that handsome, that modest and gracious? Well you can’t. But here are some tips that will help you reach your goals at being a writer.

1: Don’t join a critique group. I mean really who knows your story better then you? All those people who are telling you the same thing on how to fix your manuscript? Morons. Stick with your gut. Don’t change a thing.

2: Don’t bother making you manuscript the best it can be before sending it out. Don’t worry about grammar or punctuation, thats what editors are for. Really lets think about this for a minute. If you make your story perfect before the editor sees it then why does a publisher need to keep them on? You’ve just caused someone to lose their job, their kids are going to live on the streets all because you insisted on using spell check. You have to stop thinking of yourselves as writers and start thinking of yourselves as job creators. Every time you miss use the word you’re/your an Editor gets a job. Your Welcome.

3: Do not do research on what publisher to send to. The shot gun effect is by far the best method of finding a publisher. Yes, maybe the publisher you send to only does niche erotic nature books. But maybe it will be your picture book that convinces them otherwise.

4: When you do send to a publisher contact them at least once a day, maybe even twice just to be sure. They get so many submissions every day so you want to make sure your name stays at the top of their list.

5: Agents. Waste of time. No reason to have the middle man say no to you when you can have the publisher do it for them. Plus when you get a contract you don’t need an agent to look it over. I’m sure the publisher will give you the best possible deal and look out for your financial interests.

Bonus Tip #6: Do not whatever you do join the SCBWI you will not meet great life long friends, connect with agents, editors and incredibly talented writers and artists. Or learn anything you don’t all ready know at the workshops. In fact take your membership dues, go to Vegas and play Baccarat, I hear its very easy to learn.

Thank you.

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Lets Get Busy Pod Cast Interview!

I had the honor and enjoyment of being invited on the Let Get Busy Pod Cast broadcasted by the very busy librarian Matthew Winner.  Where I talk about my newest books,

Seaver the Weaver illustrated by the Brothers Hilts,

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Monster Needs A Party from the Monster&Me series illustrated by Wendy Grieb,

 

 

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And everything in-between, including kick-ball. Matt is a great guy and a great interviewer, none of those gotcha questions Matt Lauer tried to pull on me; I’ve got my eye on you Lauer.  Any hoo without further ado here is the

Lets Get Busy Podcast!

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The Slush Pile on the Shelf

Slush

Slush pile. Two words writers hate.

Slush

So much so that I use it like a swear, “What the Slush pile!!” But it is something we all have to deal with. It is the first big hurdle in the life of a writer, rising above the slush pile. In fact the slush pile is something we all focus on to an almost obsessive extent. We go to conferences and learn all the things we need to do to make our stories shine. We learn how to present our stories to the editor or agent. From margins, to word count, to that catchy first line in your query letter. It all matters if you want to rise above the fray one day. And when that day comes, that glorious day when it all comes together and your story sits above them all and is chosen for publication–something happens that you are not prepared for.

It gets thrown into another slush pile.

The slush pile on the shelf. BOOKS_SlateNovelPrize.jpg.CROP.promo-mediumlarge

I didn’t really realize it until the other day, when I was at a book store doing a reading/signing surrounded by shelves covered in picture books. Shelves that were a good seven feet tall, 20 feet long and four books deep, stacked on top of each other. Trying to find a book was like fingering through a card catalog. That’s when I said to myself:

“What the slush pile! How is anyone going to find my book?” The answer is, they’re not. Not without a lot of help, that is.

Rising above the slush pile doesn’t end with publication. It actually gets worse: you are no longer competing with the 1000’s of manuscripts on an editor’s desk but the 10,000’s of books that have been published in the past few years.

But wait–don’t throw away that manuscript yet! Just like there are things you can do to make your story shine and catch the editor’s eye, there are things you can do to get your book in front of readers. This goes beyond publicity; publicity is great but not everyone is going to have the luxury of a publicist. I’m talking the boots-on-the-ground kind of work. There are a lot of things you can do.

Reviews:

Hopefully, your publisher will get your book in front of people who will write reviews. If your publisher doesn’t, then it’s up to you to do it. Solicit bloggers, librarians, even parent magazines. Give them a copy of your book with the understanding that you may not like what they say about it–though the payoff can be great if it’s a good review. I was at a signing where someone came up to me and bought a book solely because the reviews said it was good.

Book Tours:

Schools, Libraries, Bookstores, Craft fairs, Museums, Zoos. Where ever you can make a connection with your book to a reader is where you should go. If you want to rise above other writers, this is your chance to directly make an impression on your readers. Tailor your visit to your crowd. For schools, it is important to show the kids your writing process as well as the book. If it is a simple read-and-sign at a bookstore, think about providing a take-home craft along with your reading. Kids love doing them, and it keeps the kids and parents in the store longer. If they stay in the store longer, the store will like having you read and sign and will most likely ask you back.

Skype:

I’m putting this as a separate category even though it could easily fit under Book Tour, the reason being, Skype’s ability to reach the entire world. I’m not being overly dramatic here. I live in New Jersey, on the East Coast of the United States. Thanks to Skype, I have had visits with classes in California, Illinois, Minnesota, and Indonesia–literally the other side of the world. Skype in the Classroom is an incredible way for you as a writer to reach people you would not normally be able to visit.

Blogger/Podcast interviews:

Not all of us will be lucky enough to get on the Today Show to talk about our book. So we need to reach as many people as we can, and blogs are a door to people. Contact as many bloggers as you can. Follow them on Twitter retweet what they write. Follow their blogs and comment on their articles. Make a connection before you hit them with the, “Hey can you interview me about my book?”

Website:

Once you start getting your name out there, it is important that you have an established website for people to find out who you are, what you write about, and how your readers can make contact with you. If they can’t learn about you, then they may not buy your book.

Few of these approaches to publicity will show any kind of profit at first. After a bookstore signing where only one person shows up and doesn’t even buy your book, you will say to yourself “Holy slush pile! That was a waste of time!” But in all actuality it wasn’t. Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither was your book, and your reputation as a writer won’t be either. They say instant success is 5 years. That’s 5 years of hard work and moments of time feeling like they are wasted. You put the time in to rise above the slush pile and get your book published so why stop there? Give your book the time it deserves and rise above the slush pile on the shelf.
seavertheweaver_coverLook For Seaver the Weaver to be published March 17th by Mighty Media Press and Monster Needs a Party to bemonster_party_cover published April 14th by Mighty Media Press.

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The Deep Breath Before the Plunge

Right now I sit in my house and it is silent. A silence, that some have described as the deep breath before the plunge. Well maybe it’s not that dramatic, but I am definitely standing at the beginning of the unknown. In other words I have decided to become a full time writer. My family and I are making the big move to New Jersey and with that move I will leave the corporate world behind and write picture books; an exciting and yet scary notion.

My wife is from New Jersey and has always wanted to move back home and I am cool with that. But I never thought I would make the move and not try to find another position in the field of science. So this is a big deal for me. My writing career has hit a point that if I try to keep it part time with a new job, it could wither and die. It’s one thing when you’ve worked for a company for 22 years and have 5 weeks of vacation. Book signings, school visits and conferences, were liberties that I could take. It’s a whole other thing to try that at a new company with 2 weeks of vacation at best. I have three more books coming out next year, with two more each year after that through at least 2017. Plus expanding Monster into board books and possible online content. I had to make a decision.

Though, as I pack the house I can’t help but think, am I making the right the decision? Can I truly make this a career? What if I fail, can I go back into the science field? Is it okay to pack glassware with towels and underwear? The answers to all these questions elude me, but it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try. How else will I learn? Maybe it’s the scientist in me saying, “you can theorize all day but unless you run an experiment you know nothing.”

Easy to say, hard to do.

My science career is safe, I’ve done it for longer than I’ve been in school. But recently it’s lost its passion. It became laborious, with paper work, meaningless meetings and corporate acronyms. The pure science disappeared and so did my love for it.

I recently heard a quote from Jim Carey that pretty much summed it up for me. He said, “You can fail at the things you don’t like, so you might as well do the thing you love.”

I love writing picture books. It’s possible I will break a glass or two during this experiment but at least I will have the answer.

Now it’s time I took that breath.

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In the Outlet by the Light Switch

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The other day at a signing, a parent asked me why I was so specific in describing the night light in Monster Needs His Sleep. If you have not read the book yet then you should, it has been touted as one of the greatest picture books in modern time. Granted I am the one touting that but let’s not burden this discussion with silly details. As for the night light, in the book I describe it as a blue canary night light. Yes I agree, not a common night light and very specific to the fact that it is a canary.

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The reason being is that the mention of this particular glowing friend is to pay homage to my favorite band, They Might Be Giants (TMBG). If you know the band, then you know the song, Birdhouse in Your Soul, which is about a blue canary night light. I discovered TMBG in college, and haven’t stopped listening to them since. They were considered an alternative rock band with an odd sound to them; the accordion is featured quite often. Birdhouse in Your soul was the song that turned me on to their unique sound and writing style. A writing style, I might add, that has influenced my own. I love the unique topics and words that they use in their lyrics. They take unusual topics like James K. Polk, Pavlov’s dogs, or a snail shell and turn them into great music. It’s not just the topics that are unusual, the lyrics are as well. They use wonderful uncommon rhymes like shrew and caribou, victory and manifest destiny.

TMBG were never top 40 artists but there style of writing kept me listening. So when I started writing I wanted to do the same. I didn’t want my rhymes to be boring. I wanted people to read my books and come across a line and say, “Wow! I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone have a rhyme like this before in a picture book.” Have I succeeded? That is up to the critics. But I have to say I enjoy writing stories that have interesting rhymes like, negotiation and procrastination, or devastation and hesitation or even profiterole and casserole. Interesting and uncommon word choice is something a writer can do to help make their stories stand out not just to publishers, but to the parents and children reading them. Feeding a child’s mind is why we are reading to them, so let’s give them something to digest! The richer the language the more enticing it will be to the reader. So when I got the chance to throw a nod to the pair of geniuses that helped pave my road toward writing, I took it. Granted they probably will never know or care about the impact they had on my writing and that’s fine because as long as kids enjoy my books that’s good enough for me.

Now if only I could write a picture book about how Istanbul was once Constantinople then I know I will have truly let my freak flag fly.

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