Archive for September, 2010

SCBWI-LA Working Writers’ Retreat – CLASS of 2010

I met so many wonderful people at last weekend’s retreat and made so many lasting memories. I’m very glad they allowed me to be the unofficial photographer for the event.

The retreat felt a little like school–only it was way more fun. It seems like we managed to squeeze our wonderful college years into one weekend.  We learned so much, had some life-changing experiences and came out with lasting friendships.

I had a little fun with the pictures I took and I wanted to share them here. For those who see themselves in any of the pictures, feel free to download them and post them on your own blogs or facebook pages.  For those who don’t have any kind of social networks going, it’s about time to get one.  Emma Dryden did encourage us to navigate the digital landscape, after all. 😛 Besides, I’m eager to add you all as friends.

So without further delay, I present to you the SCBWI-LA Working Writers’ Retreat CLASS of 2010.

Formal Shot

Informal Shot – Notice how they look like AT & T Bars.

Formal Shot

Informal Shot – Bigger smiles.

Formal Shot – Some couldn’t wait for the informal shot :)

Informal Shot – Flaunt them sexy legs!

Formal Shot – Best group ever. Oops. I’m not supposed to be biased. Pretend you didn’t read that. 😀

Informal Shot – Well, not that much informal.

Wait, Lee had a great suggestion:

Jumping for joy! Sorry Angela, I think I totally covered you!

Formal Shot

Informal Shot –  I think only Mary Ann got the memo.

Formal Shot

Informal Shot – Getting ready to jump!

Last but definitely not the least, we present the SCBWI Working Writers’ Retreat FACULTY 2010

Formal Shot – Our Wonderful Faculty

Informal Shot – Yes even our venerable faculty know how to have fun

Class Picture

Say Published!

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It was my first time attending SCBWI-LA’s Working Writers’ Retreat.  So as not to be disappointed, I went into it expecting the worst — grueling critiques, bad food, overly critical group mates, and less than helpful faculty.

Boy, was I WRONG.

Friday, September 24, 2010

I arrived at the Mary and Joseph Retreat Center at 12:20 pm, and found at least ten other writers already exchanging business cards and stories outside.

Registration started at 12 noon, so I went into the big conference room area. I finally got to meet Marilyn Morton, the ever patient and helpful registrar. I filled out some forms, and gave it to the clerk at the front office. She gave me keys to my room and wished me a pleasant stay.

I couldn’t wait to meet up with old friends, and make new ones. So after lugging my stuff into the room, I joined the others at the lobby area. By then, the retreat packets had arrived and we all went through our schedules. I discovered that I was part of Critique Group 4, and was happy to note that my friend and writing group member Jenn Bailey was also part of the same group.

The introduction session began at 1:30 at the lounge.

Margaret welcomed us to the Mary & Joseph Retreat Center and explained the house rules, as well as some tips for enjoying our stay. She told us of the many peacocks within the grounds and encouraged us to write peacock stories, as she would definitely be interested in those.

Judy Enderle took the reins afterward, introducing the retreat’s faculty members Emma Dryden, Kendra Levin and Grace Maccarone. She also went through the schedule and introduced the other organizers of the event.

After the introductions, we immediately went into the first critique session with Kendra Levin. Kendra apologized for being a bit tired, as she was still on East Coast time. But despite her professed fatigue, her comments and suggestions were on the nose and more than  helpful.

We ended the session two hours later and I immediately knew that the weekend was going to be something special. I liked my groupmates right away and the feedback I received on my work was already sparking ideas for revision.

For the first time since I was in Grade School, dinner was served early (buffet-style) at 5 PM. I was starving by then, and was grateful for the warm and delicious food.

Immediately after dinner, we headed back to the lounge. Judy opened the session with some puns (as she would do for every speaker) and introduced Kendra Levin. Kendra Levin’s talk on Revising Your Manuscript from the Inside Out was fun and informative. I could already see how I would be using the five steps of revision she taught us.

Critique session number 2 was with Emma Dryden and followed right after Kendra’s talk. Emma’s comments were right on the spot, and though we finished the session at 9PM, my mind was wide awake with the wonderful suggestions not only Emma gave—but also the feedback I received from my group members.

I was having so much fun and wanted to remember everyone I met, that asked Marilyn and the other organizers if they would let me take a group picture the following day. They thought it was a wonderful idea and agreed eagerly. It’s a good thing I live fifteen minutes away. I was able to drive home and get my camera and tripod.

Lynette Townsend led the Stretch Your Pick and Axe session— stretching/ exercise after the critique. It was great for relaxing our information filled minds and releasing the stress in our muscles. It was the perfect introduction for the schmooze that followed after. Wine, cheese, crackers, soda, water and chocolates flowed as we writers mingled and chatted.

Saturday,  September 25, 2010

Saturday morning dawned warm and welcoming. I joined Sarah, Lynette and others for a short walking tour of the compound.

Beautiful grounds

It was a short, but fun walk. I took pictures, got to know other writers  and enjoyed a great morning  conversation with them.

Can you spot the cats?

Breakfast followed at 8 AM ,and boy, was it a welcome treat after 40 minutes of walking around in loops.

Breakfast, buffet-style

Critique Group 3 was with Judy Enderle, and though we all started out a bit slow and sluggish, we eventually got into the swing of things.

Grace Maccarone had her talk from 11 – 12 on What the Writer Learns from the Editor and the Editor Learns from the Writer. We got an inside look into the world of publishing as she talked about her own experiences working from both sides of the business, as both author and editor.

After lunch, critique session number 3 came in the form of Stephanie Gordon. Her tough love approach to the critique was a breath of fresh air and we all learned so many great tips about cutting out words and tightening our manuscripts.

Free time was from 3PM to dinner at 5PM. While others took catnaps, and others mingled, I wandered into the lounge. The Golden Opportunity Book Sale was ongoing the whole day and I finally got to look at the books. I was pleasantly surprised at the selection. The books looked almost brand new, and they were being sold for $5. Though I vowed to not spend more than $20 on books, I ended up buying $43 worth (The books were sold for the discount price of $3 at the end of the day)! I would normally have felt guilty, but the money was going to benefit the Walter Reed Middle School.

Right before dinner at 4:30PM, we gathered outside in the center’s small park for group pictures. Everyone was so excited to have their pictures taken with their newfound friends. They thanked me for coming up with such a great idea. I told them it was my pleasure that they agreed because I wanted to remember the wonderful retreat experience and the awesome people I met. Besides, I do love pictures!

The three L’s –Lisze, Lee and Lucy helping me set-up the photo shoot

Okay, who else is missing?

There’s Grace!

Test shot! Everyone smile!

Wait… it doesn’t feel complete… Someone’s still missing! Where’s Kendra?

Everyone present an accounted for !

Our group was lucky enough to have some free time from 6 – 8PM. Some people took off and explored the neighborhood, others stayed in their rooms and slept, and others like myself, lounged around the lobby, chatting with friends. My best friend actually drove up to the retreat center and enjoyed the great view of the moon and the city lights with me and other writer friends.

At 8:30 PM, it was back to work. We had our final critique session with Grace Maccarone. We tried to rush through our critiques so we could end at 10PM. We were all so tired at the end of the day, and we felt bad for Grace, who was so exhausted and still on East Coast time. But as it often happens, we got into the swing of things halfway through, and still ended our session at 10:40PM.

While the others schmoozed at the lounge with the usual fare of crackers, wine, cheese and chocolates, Jenn and  I had a mini-slumber party by ourselves. We fell asleep laughing at around 2 am.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The dining room was not as packed as usual come Sunday morning. I guessed that the other half was still probably in various stages of sleeping and waking. We all had a fun-filled night, after all.

We dragged ourselves to the lounge for one final session with Emma Dryden.

Despite my lack of sleep, I found myself wide awake as I listened to Emma’s talk about Publishing for Children in the Digital Landscape. Her talk was jam-packed with a history of digital technology (relevant to publishing), tips, techniques, and lessons on how to navigate the digital landscape of the publishing industry. We scribbled out pages of notes on her talk.

Her talk was followed by a question and answer portion and people raised their hands, eager to receive more of Emma’s wisdom.

The session ended with Stephanie Gordon thanking the editors Emma, Grace and Kendra, and recognizing the efforts of the other organizers –Judy, Claudia, Edie, Sarah, Marilyn and Lynette. We all gave these amazing people a round of applause and thanked them for the wonderful experience they had organized for everyone.

The weekend, though intense in terms of scheduling and the amount of helpful feedback, breezed by so fast. My groupmates were all supportive and had a way of giving comments and suggestions that wasn’t at all offensive, the food was superb, and the faculty not only helpful, but eager to inspire.

My only complaint was the heat, which really can’t be helped–and the showerhead in my room. The water was a mist instead of a shower, and it took me longer than usual to wash the shampoo off my hair. Other than that, however, I had a blast.  I can’t wait for the next retreat.  I’m already volunteering as the unofficial photographer for next year!

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New Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Trailer

I saw this today and I just had to share it. It’s the new trailer for Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows. Part 1 will be shown in theaters on November 19, 2010.

I will definitely be watching this movie with fellow Harry Potter fans on 3D!

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Cornelia Funke Book Signing

Last Friday,  September 17, 2010,  Cornelia Funke graced the Torrance Borders branch with her presence.  She came to promote her new book Reckless, the first in a series.

She expressed delight and surprise at the good turn out, and thanked everyone for showing up on a Friday night.

She read from the first chapter of her new book Reckless:

She also answered her fans’ questions about Dragonrider, about what inspired her to write, about Inkheart the movie and about writer’s block:

Cornelia Funke also answered the following questions:

1. Where do you get your story ideas?

2. What’s the favorite book you’ve written?

3. Who is your favorite author? What are your favorite books?

She also talks about Thief Lord, the book that changed her life, and about publishing;

After answering all these questions, Cornelia Funke signed her books and posed for pictures with her many avid readers.

She was also kind enough to give aspiring authors  some words of advice:

It was a wonderfully inspiring night and I left with six signed books and a big smile on my face.

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Wonderful things happen when we take time to give thanks for the simplest things.

A few weeks ago, I took the time to write to some of my favorite writing book authors.  I just wanted them to know how much their books had helped me improve my writing. I thought they’d be happy to know that all the hard work they put into writing their books had affected the life of at least one person.

I didn’t expect them to reply. After all, they are very busy people and I know for a fact how busy writers can get. But to my amazement, they all responded with words of gratitude, and expressed their joy that their books have helped me in my own writing.

One of my favorite authors in particular, stood out in her kindness. Pamela Jaye Smith, author of The Power of the Dark Side (which is the best book out there if you want to write the best villain, or create the greatest conflicts) and Inner Drives (which is great for fleshing out your characters and making them so real they jump off the page), not only thanked me for my kind compliments, but also offered to send me a copy of her latest work for my review!

Naturally, I jumped at the chance. I sent her my address, and a week later, I received a signed copy of her newest book; Symbols * Images * Codes: The Secret Language of Meaning in Film, TV, Games, and Visual Media.

I was ecstatic that one of my favorite writing book authors took the time out to send me a copy of her latest book, knowing it would help me further in my writing. I was so happy I had tears in my eyes.  I promised her I would read the book from cover to cover and review it for others to know just how helpful the book has been to me.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Michael Wiese Productions (August 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1932907742
  • ISBN-13: 978-1932907742
  • Product Dimensions: 10.9 x 7.3 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces

About the Author (From the author’s own website)

PAMELA JAYE SMITH is an Author, Consultant, Speaker, and award-winning Producer/Director with over twenty-five years experience in features, TV, music videos, commercials, documentaries, corporate, and military films.

She is also a Senior Producer at RGO Media Associates and a Consulting Producer for High Tech Media.

MYTHWORKS is Pamela’s consultation and information company featuring “Applied Mythology for more Powerful Reality”. She teaches and consults on story, communication, leadership, and creativity. MYTHWORKS also consults with organizations and individuals redesigning themselves and their images.

Clients and credits include Microsoft, Disney, Paramount, Columbia-Sony, Universal, RAI-TV Rome, UCLA, USC Film School, American Film Institute, Thot Fiction Marseille France, Master Writers Conference Lido-Venice Italy, Natl. Film Institute of Denmark, Creative Screenwriting EXPO, Pepperdine University, Natl. Assoc. of Broadcasters, and various film festivals and story conferences.

Pamela is an avid reader, drives a ‘77 Bronco, and enjoys opera. A dilettante approach to sports has included surfing, skiing, snorkeling, flying, go-cart & auto racing, and driving an off-shore oil rig and an Army tank — both under close supervision.

How the Book Helps Writers (Or My Review)

Despite the length of its title, Symbols * Images * Codes: The Secret Language of Meaning in Film, TV, Games, and Visual Media is actually an easy read.  I read it in one sitting, though I turn to its pages again and again, whenever I find myself in need of inspiration or ideas.

The book’s introduction explains why symbols, images and codes are exceptionally effective in media.  Symbols and images convey emotions, and states of mind –and since they are visuals—they use a universal language that engages our intuition and imagination. The book illustrates ways these visual symbols and images have been used to create effective and powerful movies and books.

The book is divided in chapters like Astrology & Astronomy, Numbers, Codes, Elements (Earth, Water, Air & Fire), Color, Architecture, Clothes, Weapons and even Human Anatomy. Each chapter shows how these things can be used consciously in books and movies to express and imply emotions, situations and concepts.

There are seven sections in each chapter:

1.      What It Means

o        Knowing the meaning of a symbol is important in using it effectively. This section explains the meaning of a symbol from antiquity to modern times, and across different cultures.

2.      In History, Myth & Contemporary Times

o        Lists examples of these images and symbols from history, myth and current events.

o        This section can give writers an idea of how to use the symbol in their own work.

3.      In Media

o        Illustrates how the symbol has been used in media, particularly in movies.

o        These examples can be used as both illustration and inspiration. Knowing how these symbols have been used before can help screenwriters (and writers) put a fresh spin on these symbols, and use them in other ways to bring out emotional response from the audience.

4.      Use

o        Explains when to use a particular symbol.  For example, if a writer wishes to convey joy or warmth, he can use the color yellow. Or if a writer wises to convey the concept of freedom, he can use the element of air as a symbol.

5.      Written Descriptions

o        Lists tips on what words writers can use to describe the given symbol.

o        This section also talks about how to choose potent, visceral words to create vivid images and more powerful prose.

6.      Cinematic Techniques

o        Presents suggestions on cinematic elements such as framing, position, lighting, sound, music, etc to create a certain effect or use a particular symbol, image or code.

7.      Other Examples

o        Lists movies and books for further research as examples of the symbol’s effective use.

Of course, learning to recognize and interpret symbols is admirable. But the book’s main goal is to teach writers and media folk how to consciously create and use these symbols, images and codes. Hence, the book’s final chapter lists  various exercises that can make writers more adept at the selection and use of symbols.

This book is definitely something all writers and screenwriters must have on their shelves.  I, for one, keep it right by my desk as I revise my novel.  I use this book in so many ways, but Pamela Jaye Smith, explains best how to use the book in her own words:

Keep this book beside your computer as you write your screenplay, novel or ad copy, and turn to it when you’re thinking, “Right, ‘Show don’t tell,’ but how do I show this emotion?” or “I want something spectacularly visual right here, but what would be the most effective?” or “Everyone in the audience should simply weep now; hmmm…what cue can I give them?” Designed to offer you a panoply of visuals to express and imply emotions, situations, and concepts this book can help you find a specific if you have the general idea. It can also help if you’re already seeing generic visuals in your head, but aren’t sure how to use them effectively.

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There’s always something to learn by attending the Westside Schmooze. This Wednesday was no different.

After the chairs had been arranged into a circle, Lee encouraged us to write our nametags and help ourselves to the cupcakes and sweets he had brought. Once everybody had settled down, Lee & Rita welcomed us all back to the schmooze.

Lee, as usual, announced the various SCBWI activities we might want to check out:

  • September 25-27, 2010 – The Working Writer’s Retreat in Palos Verdes, CA
    • This event is sold out   (Luckily, I registered early!)
  • October 17, 2010 – Down the Rabbit Hole
    • Field trip to San Juan Capistrano Mission and Los Rios Historic District.
    • A day of inspiration and writing exercises
  • October 30, 2010 – SCBWI-Ventura/Santa Barbara’s Writer’s Day
    • California Lutheran University, Preus-Brandt Forum
      60 W. Olsen Road, Thousand Oaks, CA 91360
    • Guest Speakers:
      • Mary E. Pearson, Author;
      • Rubin Pfeffer, East/West Literary Agency;
      • Andrea Welch, Editor, Beach Lane Books;
      • Stacy Whitman, Editorial Director, Tu Books;
      • Catherine Linka, Flintridge Bookstore and Coffeehouse and more.
    • Also includes a writing contest, illustration display, manuscript critiques and portfolio reviews.
  • November 13, 2010 – SCBWI-LA Illustrator’s Day
    • Illustrators, art directors, portfolio evaluations, contests and more!
    • Illustrator’s Day will be held at the Clairbourn School, San Gabriel, CA. Box lunch included.
  • January 14-16, 2011 – SCBWI Ventura/Santa Barbara Winter Retreat
    • Old Mission Santa Barbara, Mission Renewal Center
      2201 Laguna Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93105
    • For published and not-yet-published authors and author/illustrators.
      Manuscript Deadline: November 19, 2010
      (Registration payment may be sent in advance of November to secure a place.)
    • Featured Guests:
      • Andrew Karre, Editorial Director, Carolrhoda Books, Carolrhoda Lab, and Darby Creek — Lerner Publishing Group
      • Brenda Murray, Senior Editor, Scholastic Nonfiction & Reference
      • Grace Maccarone, Executive Editor, Holiday House
      • Melanie Kroupa, Editor-at-Large, Marshall Cavendish
      • Space is Limited!

After the announcements, Lee Wind & Rita Crayon-Huang, the dynamic duo and co-captains of the schmooze, dove into the main event:

This month’s topic was: How Writers Write: Getting Inspired and Getting It Done.

Lee and Rita  led us in a discussion of our favorite tips, techniques, tricks, rituals, and software to help us get our writing done.

Lee also gave us a compilation of quotes and inspiration he had gathered from speakers of the SCBWI Summer Conference.  His favorite quote was from Justin Chandra: “If everyone writes to the trends, then the vampires win.”

Rita, on the other hand, would add gems of tips and techniques to those the other writers shared. All of us scrambled to take notes. We wrote down every tip and technique everyone shared.

Here are some of the nuggets of wisdom I picked up that night:

On Writing Software

  • Check out writing softwares like Scrivner & Powerwriter
  • Use back-ups. is free and online.
  • Don’t be afraid to use technology. Ywriter5 is a free writing software program that allows you to generate reports and lists of characters, settings, objects, etc. It also allows you to move around scenes without cutting and pasting.

On Writing Rituals

  • Find a place and time to write.  A library is great because you need to switch of your cellphone and no one will disturb you once you’re inside.
  • Write what you love to read.
  • Set actual deadlines for yourself, or have someone set it for you. It helps to have accountability.
  • Give yourself a concrete assignment
  • Do everything to ritualize your writing.
  • Read your outlines or your own work before you sleep, so your mind is filled with your own story.
  • Write down your ideas. Make them legible. The creative mind has no memory.
  • Writing is like exercise—you have to go to the gym to keep in shape
  • Join a writer’s group
  • Write for 15 minutes a day.
  • Write 1000 words a day.
  • Just write a little a day to get yourself started.
  • Revisit your favorite authors and get inspired by their work.

On Getting Story Ideas

  • Illustrator’s Tip: Find the light to set the mood. The look of an image changes depending on where the light hits it.
  • Talk to as many people as you can. You can get a lot of story ideas.
  • You don’t have to use every single idea.
  • Most people spend 89% of their lives with their eyes closed. Be more observant of the world around you, and it will help your writing.
  • Dwell in the dysfunctional experiences of your life and use it in your stories.
  • Write the book that only you can write. Fuel whatever you’re writing with your own experiences.
  • Linda Sue Park says: Let your story choose the form.
  • Enrich your writing through experience.

On Writer’s Block

  • Figure out a ritual that works for you when you’re stuck. Take a shower before you write, clean the house etc.
  • If you get stuck on a scene, draw how you think the scene should look like.
  • When you find it hard to write a scene, picture what the character is holding in his hand.
  • If you’re stuck on something, play with toys—legos, cars, dolls, etc. Your brain is absorbing information while your hands are doing something non-sensical.

On Characterization

  • In real life, we know people through how they act and say things. This is good to remember as we write our characters
  • Characterization Tip: Try using a Character Box.  Gather things your characters might collect that relate to the five senses—a special tea they might drink, something they might wear—and put it in a box.
  • Play each character’s role. Be the character.
  • Characters can write each other letters.
  • Take a journal, and fill it with your main character’s life—letters he  might write, a watercolor of a house he might live in, a piece of fabric from clothes he might wear
  • Cut out magazine pictures of settings, characters, etc and make a folder for each.  You can take these out when you find it hard to describe a scene.
  • Let the character go where he wants to go.
  • Tamora Pierce takes pictures of people from a magazine and keeps them in a Casting folder for her characters.

On Revision

  • A scene comes alive when you use at least 3 senses.
  • Don’t be afraid to change things up when you find something isn’t working.
  • Don’t be afraid to kill your darlings.  Cut scenes, words, chapters when they aren’t working.
  • Read your work out loud.
  • Go toward conflict, instead of away
  • Plot, setting and dialogue are all connected.
  • Failure is an option. Give yourself permission to fail.

On Writing in General

  • Persevering is good.
  • Writers engage in 50% writing and 50% promoting
  • Know when to stop. If you know you’re burned out, take a break. It’s better than forcing yourself to write to the point of no return.
  • Have fun with what you’re doing.
  • Submit. You can be the best writer in the world, but if your manuscript just sits in your drawer, then no one will know it.
  • Find your voice.
  • Just write.

The best part about last night’s schmooze, was the many wonderful announcements regarding our members.  Sara and Jen both have books coming out in 2012  (save the date!), and  Scott showed us his book “The Seal Pup”, which everyone can pre-order on Amazon. Their success inspired the rest of us to keep on writing, and keep on working toward being published.

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When I decided to create and organize the Torrance Children’s Book Writing Group, I had only a vague notion of how the writing group was going to be. I needed a lot of information about how to get it started.

I surfed the net for articles on starting a writing group. The articles gave me ideas, but they didn’t give me the kind of information I really wanted.

It was a good thing I found Becky Levine’s book: The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide: How to Make Revisions, Self-Edit, and Give and Receive Feedback.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Writers Digest Books (January 15, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582976066
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582976068
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces

About the Author

Becky Levine was a freelance manuscript editor for many years. She has participated in critique groups for almost twenty years as she worked on various fiction and nonfiction projects. She writes feature articles and book reviews for local publications, and speaks in depth about critique groups at writing workshops and conferences. She is a member of  the Society of Children’s Books and Illustrators (SCBWI), Sisters in Crime (SINC), and the California Writers Club (CWC).

Becky also has a delightful blog and website that writers can learn a lot fromblog

About the Book ( Review)

“The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide” presents the best way to create a respectful, productive writing or critique group, discussing all the important details of finding a group, running a critique meeting, and building a group that will evolve with its members. Each chapter, whether discussing plot or character or voice, teaches the writer how to read for a critique, learn from criticism, organize and prioritize feedback, revise based on the specific feedback they receive, and more. This title is perfect for writers and creative-writing students.

How the Book Helps Writers (Or My Review)

Writing is a lonely task, and most times, a difficult one. Starting a  novel, revising a manuscript,  and polishing magazine articles is hard work. Often, we writers get so close to our own work that we fail to see glaring errors, inconsistencies and little details that could either make or break our book.

Writing groups and critique groups help writers spot these errors and improve not only a particular manuscript, but their writing skills as well.

When I couldn’t find a writing group for children’s books writers in our area, I decided to create one. Becky’s book helped me immensely in structuring our group meetings.

The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide is divided into six sections, which can help writers and writing groups at different stages of their writing. Each section also ends with helpful worksheets.

Section 1 is an introduction on the basics of a critique group. It helped me figure out how to choose the kind of group that was right for me, and gave me tips and instructions on how to set up and run a group.

Section 2 delves gives useful instructions on how to critique fiction—whether its for adult, young-adult or middle grade readers. It gives specific tips on how to critique for plot, character, point of view and voice, dialogue, description and scene structure. This was extremely helpful in our most recent critique session, as most of the words submitted for critique were fiction works.

Section 3 gives important instructions on how to critique non-fiction works like magazine articles, non-fiction book proposals, how to or self-help books, memoirs and travel writing.

I found Section 4 very helpful for our writing group.  It talks  about how to critique books for younger children  such as picture books, beginning-reader books and chapter books. I’ve made handouts based on the tips, instructions, and lessons Becky has listed in these chapters.

Section 5 dives into what to do after all the critiques. It shows writers how to revise and self-edit based on the critiques they have received from their group members.  Critique comments can be overwhelming and knowing how to make easy changes and even tackle the bigger revisions is a lifesaver for writers.

Section 6 talks about how to maintain an evolving group. The chapters include brainstorming topics, critiquing for submission, networking and promotion and even troubleshooting group dynamics.  It provides valuable information for writing group organizers and leaders.

The best thing about The Writing and Critique Group Survival Guide is that each section comes with worksheets, sample critiques and examples.  PDF downloads of the worksheets are even available for download here.

I would recommend this book for writers who wish to hone their editing skills and deepen their understanding of revision and editing. It is a most helpful resource, especially for writers who wish to either join or set-up their own writing group.

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International Literacy Day and Why I Write

When I attended the SCBWI-South Bay’s Midsummer Schmooze last July, our moderator Suzanne, gave us small, white tags. On these tags, she asked us to write one word that would describe what motivates us to write our stories. On my tag, I wrote:

I explained that all I really wanted was to write a good story that would inspire people (most especially kids) to take up books, and enjoy reading like I did.

Readers are my main motivation for writing.

I write so I can entice people into becoming avid readers and book lovers. I write to inspire literacy—especially in children.

At this day and age when television, video games and the internet are fast becoming the only source of information and entertainment for children, I feel it is even more important that we come out with books that create a new generation of readers.

It is for this reason that I am grateful to authors like J.K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyers.

They have managed to create worlds that young and old readers alike can obsess over, or lose themselves in. Their worlds have allowed people to exercise their powers of imagination. After getting a taste of what reading can do, I doubt that their followers will ever stop being readers. Just by putting pen to paper and writing their amazing stories, they have helped in the cause of Literacy.

Today is International Literacy Day.

In November of 1965, UNESCO proclaimed September 8th as International Literacy Day in order to highlight the importance of literacy.  According to the IRA (International Reading Association): more than 780 million of the world’s adults (nearly two-thirds of whom are women) do not know how to read or write, and between 94 and 115 million children lack access to education.

Today is International Literacy Day.

Today, we who know how to read, must acknowledge how fortunate we are to experience the joys of reading.

Today, we who know how to write, must strive even harder to create books that will encourage a new generation of readers.

Today, most of all, we must make ourselves aware of the millions who are unfortunate enough to be born into circumstances, which prevent them from experiencing the benefits of reading and writing. We must make ourselves aware of their need, and try to reach out to them in any possible way we can.

Today, we must ask ourselves: “how do I help spread literacy?”

Here are a few ideas:

1.     Donate books and money to organizations like The Literacy Network of Greater Los Angeles, and IBBY (International Board of Books for Young People).

2.     Read to your children and have them read to you. Let them know reading can be fun and encourage them to read often.

3.     Volunteer to help out as a tutor at your local library or school—especially if they have a literacy program.

4.     Give good books as Christmas or birthday presents.

5.     Read as often as you can.

6.     Read The Importance of Literacy and Books in Children’s Development by Denise Von Stockar.

7.     Find a great book to recommend to friends, and talk non-stop about it, until they become curious or intrigued enough to read it themselves.

8.    Become an author. Write a book that will inspire reading in children, and aid in the cause of Literacy.

What will you do to help the cause of literacy today?

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September 4, 2010 (3rd meetup): Critique Session 1

It was my first time at the Lawndale Library and I was pleasantly surprised by how beautiful the library was–inside and out.

Everything looked new and modern. There were computer terminals for students to use, as well as computerized check-in and check-out counters for the books.  Desks and chairs were spread out along the facility beside bookshelves.

The staff was accommodating, too . I arrived 30 minutes early for our 1 pm meeting. I wanted to set up the room for our critique session and prepare the usual sign-in materials. Though the room had been reserved for 1pm, Michelle, the librarian led me straight away to the meeting room.

There were a few teenagers working in the room when we got there, but they left without qualms when Michelle told them the room had been reserved. When I expressed my awe at how beautiful the library was, Michelle informed me the library had just been reconstructed about a year ago. I thanked her, and she left me to set up for the meeting.

I was so impressed with how functional the meeting room was, that I  just had to take pictures.

A long table spanned the length of the room. It had two outlets on either end for people who wanted to use their laptops. There  were two white boards complete with markers and erasers that we could use, as well as a TV.

People started trickling in around 1 PM.  We asked them to sign-in for attendance and gave them nametags.  (It was a good thing,too, because there were a lot of new faces that Saturday).  I encouraged our members to eat the cookies I had baked for the event, as well as take some water that Amanda had brought for everyone.

We started the meeting at 1 PM. We introduced ourselves, and gave everyone an idea of what we were currently writing or what we wanted to work on.  I always ask our members to pick a question from the box to answer. It’s a fun way of getting to know people, as well as sparking story ideas.

After the round of introductions, I introduced to them the newly formed Leadership Team, composed of Jennifer Bailey (Second Scribe/Co-Organizer), Lucy Ravitch (Steward/Logistics Commander), Amanda Touchton (Chamberlain/Treasurer) and Nandini Dev (Herald/Publicity Head).

I went into a short review of the last two meetups, for the sake of those who were just joining us for the first time.  I distributed copies of the old worksheets and handouts to our new attendees, and explained that these materials were the reason behind my request for them to bring a binder.

After expounding on the purpose of a critique session, and what to expect during a critique, I explained the format of our critique session:

  1. Each person will be given 25 minutes. A voice recorder may be used to record the reading and the critique.
  2. 5  minutes will be allotted for the reading of the piece. The work must be read by another member, to give the author a chance to hear her words, and make notes on what works/what doesn’t work.
  3. The rest of the 20 minutes will be for feedback and comments, during which time the author is not allowed to say anything. She is instead, encouraged to listen to the feedback with an open mind and take notes.

I used the model I had learned from the SCBWI Westside Schmooze critique session I had attended (Thanks, Lee Wind and Rita Crayon-Huang!):

TACT.  It’s a word that means having a keen sense of what to say or do to avoid giving offense, as well as  a skill in dealing with difficult or delicate situations. It’s also an acronym that stands for:

T = Terrific (Where we share what we loved about the piece, what story elements really work in the writing sample)

A = Author Questions (This comes at the last few minutes of critique time, where the author is encouraged to ask questions  to clarify comments or feedback regarding her piece.

C= Constructive comments (Members are encouraged to give honest and helpful critique of the author’s work, in a tactful manner)

T= Talent (A round of applause ends the critique session, and we encourage the author to keep on writing)

I asked Lucy to be the timer for our critique. We started with Nandini’s  “Ladybugs”, then proceeded to Amanda’s “Twins”, then to Jenn’s “Dark Forest.” The critiques went over the time limit so we had to take a break at 3PM because some of our members needed to attend to other events. During the break, we talked about logistics since our new members had questions about what to expect from next few meetups.

I informed them that the critique session was only part of what we planned to do in the writing group. I told them to expect writing workshops,  writing sessions, as well as book discussions and discussions on various story elements. I also told them that once we got our membership up, we would invite local authors to share their work and words of wisdom with us.

I also brought up the issue of  emails. I told them that some members might not appreciate having their inboxes flooded with meetup emails about other writing related activities or events.  We try to accommodate all our members’ needs, so they should feel free to tell us whether they mind the emails or not, as well as inform us about other issues that might come up.

We resumed our critiques with my own writing sample “Urth”. I  told them I didn’t mind if it wasn’t critiqued that day, because I knew we were running out of time, but everyone was nice enough to insist that they at least give their feedback. So, we skipped the reading and dove in right away to their comments–which were all very helpful, by the way.

The last critique we did was for Lucy’s “Pizza Menu” picture book.  We ended at 4pm, and though some of our members left early, they all promised to be back for the next session.

All in all, it was the best session we’ve had so far.  The venue was conducive and very functional,  the cookies  very helpful in “sweetening the blow” of the critiques (though everyone was very good about giving constructive and helpful comments), the water great for washing down the authors’ anxieties, feedback and comments were very helpful, and much appreciated, and most of all the energy brought in by our new attendees was positive and invigorating.

The book sale the library was having (where they were selling great titles  from 25c to $1) was only a bonus.

I left the library 5 minutes before it closed,  lugging  the 18 books I had bought for $11.

As I drove home, I thought about all the wonderful new writers I met today, and about all the great feedback I got.  I couldn’t help but smile, and look forward to our next meetup.

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I never realized just how important beginnings are, until I attended the Big Sur Writing Workshop last March. All the agents and editors I met emphasized one very important thing: the key to a rejection or acceptance often hinges on the first line of a manuscript.

Literary agents have the difficult task of finding a diamond in the rough. They wade through a sea of submissions (also known as the slushpile) and try to find manuscripts that they can sell.  In order to accomplish this enormous task (and also in order to keep their sanity), they have devised systems for finding these “diamonds” in the least amount of time.

I asked one of the editors present how she gets interested in a manuscript. She answered: “I read the first line. If that interests me, then I read the first paragraph. If the first paragraph is good, I read on until I get to the end of the first page. If the first page has kept my interest, I read the first chapter. If the first chapter works, then maybe I ask for the full manuscript.”

My stomach knitted itself into a sweater when I heard those words. My dreams of getting a book published, which awhile ago seemed so near, was now a galaxy away. I realized with horror just how much work I had to do, and I almost fainted.

Luckily, alcoholic beverages were within reach, and I took a sip (okay, maybe several sips) to calm my nerves.

I had already churned thousands of words into a story. Unwilling to let them go to waste, I immediately got to work finding a writing book that would help me create a strong beginning.

I found the help I was looking for—and more when I discovered Les Edgerton’s HOOKED: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go.

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Writers Digest Books (April 12, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582974578
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582974576
  • Product Dimensions: 6.9 x 4.9 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces

About the Book ( Review)

*The first pages are the #1 key to acceptance or rejection of manuscripts–most agents and editors claim to make their decision on a manuscript after the very first page, which means that no writer can afford to have a weak story beginning

*The first and only fiction-writing book that focuses exclusively on beginnings–no other book on the market addresses story beginnings in a comprehensive manner

Agents and editors agree: Improper story beginnings are the single biggest barrier to publication. Why? If a novel or short story has a bad beginning, then no one will keep reading. It’s just that simple. Hooked provides readers with a detailed understanding of what a beginning must include (setup, backstory, the inciting incident, etc.); instruction on how to successfully develop the story problem; tips on how to correct common beginning mistakes; exclusive insider advice from agents, acquiring book editors, and literary journal editors; and much more.

I read the entire book in one sitting, and re-read it again just to make notes. I have also recommended this book to several of my writing friends, as well as writing group members.

Les Edgerton has written numerous short stories, articles, essays, and screenplays. He has also written several books including Monday’s Meal, Managing Your Business, The Death of Tarpons, Finding Your Voice, and of course, Hooked.

In Hooked, Les Edgerton defines beginnings in terms of a novel, and explains why beginnings are very important.  he  also defines and expounds on story structure, scenes, as well as story elements which need to be included in the beginning of a novel such as the inciting incident, initial surface-problem and the story-worthy problem.  He gives us helpful instructions and tips on how to develop these story elements, and warns us of red flag opening lines we need to avoid writing.

Mr. Edgerton also analyzes twenty great opening lines from various novels and short stories, and explains to the reader what makes these lines work.  As an added bonus, he has collected insider advice from agents and editors on what they look for in a strong opening.

I’ve found that Mr. Edgerton’s tips not only apply to the very beginning of the book, but also to the beginning of every chapter.  I consult it every now and then, when I find my chapter’s opening lines less of a hook and more of a drag.

This book is a valuable source of information in creating strong beginnings in works of fiction. It is a book every writer must have on his shelf.

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