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by Kira Bigwood

Thank you so much, Tara, for having me on your blog today. I’m thrilled to share my story—a Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature success story…that almost wasn’t.

It was 2018, and the third year in a row I was applying to the annual RUCCL One-on-One Plus Conference. If I’m being honest, I was feeling a bit deflated. The previous two years, I submitted what I thought were my absolute-slam-dunk manuscripts…andddddd got rejected. That year, I didn’t feel I had anything that resembled even a layup. I waited until the very last day to submit, and then decided to try something different.

Remember that Seinfeld episode where George does everything opposite?

Jerry tells him, “If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.”

I decided to test this theory. Going against all my instincts, I submitted what I thought was my weakest story (writing is subjective, after all). And wouldn’t you know, I got accepted!

Now I had been given the thrilling opportunity to travel to New Jersey. Where I knew no one. To attend a conference. Where I knew no one. And go over my work, face to face, with a real live editor (who, to recap, I did not know).

Kira was terrified.

But I wasn’t Kira. I was Opposite Kira!

For one whole weekend, I forced myself to go against every introvert instinct I had (a truly, truly difficult thing to do). Every time I felt like retreating into my bagel and cream cheese, I wondered, “What would Costanza do?”

That is how I found myself walking solo into a hotel bar to meet up with other attendees. That is how I found myself striking up a conversation with the conference co-chair (the charming Tara herself, who gave me a shout-out during her closing remarks). That is how I found myself showing my mentor one last manuscript—“It’s a lullaby for little spies, but it might not be anything yet”—which is how I found myself chatting up a different editor at lunch, who just happened to love spy stories.

And that, my friends, is how I found myself with a debut picture book.

SECRET, SECRET AGENT GUY (a 007-twist on the classic Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star) illustrated by the talented Celia Krampien, releases this May from Atheneum/Simon & Schuster. And all because I went against every instinct I had.

If you’re in a rut, why not try being your opposite self? Why not try doing everything “wrong?” It just might be the rightest thing you do.

Blog readers, Kira is giving away a PB critique!

Leave a comment below to enter.

A random winner will be selected soon!

Good luck!

Kira Bigwood is an advertising copywriter and kidlit author who lives in Chicago with her husband and three “spirited” children. Her debut picture book, SECRET, SECRET AGENT GUY, is now available for pre-order.. Say “Hi!” on Instagram @kirabigwood and Twitter @KBigwood.

2016 RUCCL Mentors


If you’re submitting to RUCCL One-on-One Plus Conference, please know…

The manuscript’s the thing.

If you send your submission to the wrong address, don’t worry, we’ll get it to the right place.

If you forget to send a check, don’t worry, we’ll get in touch.

If you somehow mess up the instructions, don’t worry. It’s OK. We are not here to impose penalties on you. We want you to get in, we really do! We read each manuscript thoroughly and determine its merits. There are no red marks on your paper or strikes against you. We strive to look for the positive in every submission we receive.

If you get in, rejoice! It means the reading team liked your submission AND we had a mentor to pair you with. Sometimes we have more mentors for YA than picture books, or more for MG than non-fiction, although we try to keep all genres balanced and fairly represented. So if you don’t get in, do not despair. It does not mean anything bad about your work. It might mean we just do not have enough room for you this year and we hope you will try again. Our conference grows each year. Last year was our biggest RUCCL One-on-One Plus ever, and this year will break the record books once again.

This being said, let’s review some of the issues found in last year’s crop of fiction picture book submissions. Pay attention to these things and polish your manuscript to a high sheen!

  • Not picture book language

Some manuscripts were lengthy and overly descriptive. The writer did not exhibit an understanding of the play between words and images that is essential to the picture book format. Sentences described what could have been shown instead. Shorter, snappier language where every word is carefully chosen is preferred. Some writers paginated their submission, with large paragraphs on every page—not the norm for a modern picture book. Overall, there was too much unnecessary text—text that did not move the story forward.

  • Story arc needed development

Some submissions did not contain a clear beginning, middle and end. The story had a muddled arc or a “one and done” plot—the character tried once and succeeded, which creates an unsatisfying ending because there isn’t sufficient tension. The reader has not had time to build empathy for the character’s struggle.

  • Concept needed development

Many submissions last year focused on the main character or the character’s friend moving. This concept is common and needs a fresh twist. The pretty, fancy princess theme also turned up a lot. The market is saturated with Fancy Nancy and Pinkalicious-like books, so again, a fresh twist is needed to make these concepts stand out. What about your character makes her different than what is already on the market?

  • Common concepts need a fresh take

If you are writing about a common concept, it needs a fresh twist to make it different and new. Try changing the character (from a child to a robot) or the setting (from modern times to prehistoric, from land to the sea) to create a new perspective.

For more on the RUCCL One-on-One Plus Conference, please visit


This year’s guest speakers were recently announced—Pat Cummings as the Keynote and Kate Dopirak as the Success Story.

Submissions are being accepted NOW, postmarked  through June 27, 2017.

Good luck and I hope to see you there!

Oh boy, it’s a new picture book by Brian Schatell, OWL BOY!

BrianSchatellphotoFor those of you who don’t know Brian, he co-chairs the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature One-on-One conference…and has been doing so for YEARS. You will not find anyone more giving of his time and talents to help aspiring kidlit authors and illustrators reach the next level in their careers. What he pulls together—over 80 publishing mentors in a jam-packed day of learning, networking and professional growth—for YOUR benefit is mind-boggling!

(What’s that? You don’t know about RUCCL? Well then GO HERE. The 2015 application is live now!)

So when I saw Brian’s new book and its pure adorableness, I had to talk to him about it. He’s OWLWAYS got some fantastic pieces of wisdom.

Brian, when I first heard you talking about OWL BOY, you said it was autobiographical, “except for the owls.” What did you mean?


This is a book about an obsessed, hyper-focused child; the sort of kid who when he’s interested in something, he’s interested all the way! That’s the sort of child I was, and that’s the sort of person I am today, still. Owls were not my own particular childhood focus. But one of my daughter’s elementary school classmates was a boy who knew every owl fact you could ever want to know, as well as every NY Yankee baseball statistic, among other things. That boy was certainly an inspiration for the owl part, but as I told his parents, the book is really about me!

As an author-illustrator, which part comes first for you, the owl or the egg? Er, I mean, the story or the pictures?

Owl Boy character sketch

Well, the concept comes first, and stews around in my brain for some time. Often this concept will include certain visual elements—a key spread, a visual joke. Picture books are a visual storytelling medium, after all. I carry a note book with me and when I get an idea pertaining to a particular book concept, I jot down the idea, but it may be a sketch or it may be a snippet of text, or often both together. I stuff these notebook pages into a folder, and when they start to accumulate, they begin to coalesce into a coherent book with a beginning, middle and end. Years ago, I used to type up the manuscript, sans pictures, as a first step, and then move to thumbnails, and then a dummy. More recently, the first time I commit something to paper, I’m sketching words and pictures together from the get-go, using my earlier notebook pages as reference. For OWL BOY, there was never a separately typed manuscript until after contract, when my editor and I were finessing it. The initial version of OWL BOY was a collection of sketches done on index cards.

Your last book was a few years ago. What changes in picture books have you noted from then to now and did that influence OWL BOY in any way?

That’s a really interesting question!

First of all, a lot of illustrators are doing their art on computers these days. For other illustration work I do, for the children’s apparel industry, I work nearly exclusively in Adobe Illustrator/photoshop, yet for my books I stubbornly cling to pen and watercolor. Nevertheless, the digital age has wrought some changes in my process. Specific to OWL BOY there are pages where I combined separate elements in digital layers, as opposed to actual overlays as done in the old days, or as opposed to cutting out and pasting down elements. There’s a spread in the book—the owl extravaganza spread—where the background sky and foreground objects are two different paintings which I separately scanned and combined digitally. Makes life much easier! It’s not as if I’m against full digital illustration in my books, but to try to recreate my hand-painted look on a computer wouldn’t save me any time, not the way I work, not for OWL BOY. However, I have a couple of book ideas in mind that I do specifically see as appropriate for all-digital art.

OWL BOY bedroom sketch

Another change these days is that pretty much all picture books are simultaneously released as e-books. This did have a pretty big impact on OWL BOY. In the book I employ speech balloons for certain dialogue elements, and my intention was to hand-letter the text in these balloons, as opposed to using a font for the regular text. But as my editor told me, the age of hand-lettered type is over! Because in an ebook the text pops up in size when the cursor hits it, I was required to use set type for the speech balloons, which I was not happy about. It took us a while to arrive upon an available font that approximated my concept of hand lettering, but I’m happy now. But it was a big adjustment!

As for changes in the picture book genre these past few years, I’ll just say that I write the stories that I have to write. Trends do evolve, there are good books and bad, there are always “hot” books, but to my mind, the attributes of a successful picture book remain the same: genuine voice, strong characters, warmth, empathy and emotion, a plot with an organic beginning, middle and denouement, words and pictures that complement each other to create a whole that is more than the sum of the parts, among other things.

Good to know some things will never change!

Winding the clock back a bit further, how did you first get involved in picture books and why is RUCCL so important to you?

As someone who drew my entire life, I had no particular interest in picture books until college. While attending Parsons School of Design, I discovered a new comic strip in New York City’s weekly alternative paper, The Village Voice, by a guy named Mark Alan Stamaty. It was called “MacDoodle Street” and something about its humor and aesthetic and crammed-with-detail drawings spoke to me immediately, and began to influence my own illustration style.


A year or so later, I saw that Stamaty was teaching a class at Parsons: a children’s book illustration and writing class. As I said, I hadn’t previously had the slightest interest in children’s books, but I enrolled anyway just to meet this guy. He could have been teaching a class in taxidermy—I still would have signed up! But as it happened, he had done some interesting books and was a very good teacher. The big semester project involved writing and illustrating an original picture book dummy. There and in other college classes I began creating freestanding illustrations with the juvenile market in mind, though in retrospect I was not very sophisticated about it.

After graduation, I visited the Children’s Book Council, which compiled lists of publishers and their submission/portfolio requirements. Things were a bit simpler then. This was prior to the big wave of conglomeration in publishing, so there were dozens of major independent houses to submit to. As an illustrator, most publishers had a weekly portfolio appointment day—actual appointments, not drop off! One such appointment eventually resulted in an offer to illustrate a nonfiction picture book, this only a few months after graduation. Once I completed that, I dug out the old picture book dummy I had made in Mark Stamaty’s class and submitted it to the people I had been working with, and they actually took it!

Goff-coverThat book was Farmer Goff and His Turkey Sam, which ended up being named an SLJ Best Book when it came out. One might suppose it was all smooth sailing from that point, but of course that’s not how the industry works.

The next book I submitted to my editor was rejected. The one after that they took. There were long periods when I wasn’t working on anything at all, and times when I worked on one idea for years. I’m not the most prolific author, and sometimes I just waited for an illustration assignment to come along. OWL BOY, which just came out, was begun five years ago! I do feel fortunate that following my first book, I’ve always been able to submit ideas to people I already know.

twocrazypigsEarly in my career I was invited to teach a children’s book illustration and writing course at Parsons School of Design, more or less the same type of class I had taken with Mark Stamaty. Naturally I called him for advice. I ended up teaching this class for 12 years. One of the most gratifying aspects of teaching was the ability to help people make creative breakthroughs, to help them raise their work to the next level. Some of my students eventually published!

A few years after I started teaching, I was invited to be a mentor at the Rutgers One-on-One Conference. And some years after that I joined the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature, which organizes the conference.

firstnightofhanukkahMy feelings about the conference are similar to my feelings about teaching. Juvenile publishing is not the most glamorous nor remunerative branch of publishing —JK Rowling and her ilk aside—so most of us do it out of a true love for the genre. But it is a small industry, and can be difficult to break into, so many of those fortunate enough to be working in it are very grateful to be able to do so, and want to “pay it forward,” as the saying goes. At the Rutgers conference, as in teaching, I want people to get published! I want them to make creative breakthroughs, I want to connect them to professionals who might be able to help their careers. And at Rutgers, I and my colleagues on the Council have been able to do just that.

PupandPop4The One-on-One Plus Conference, as it is now called, is unique in that we have a faculty of over 80 editors, agents, art directors, well-published authors and illustrators, and that every aspiring author or illustrator who attends is guaranteed a forty-five minute one-on-one session with one of these professional mentors, to discuss the work that they have submitted. As I’ve personally benefited from mentors like Mark Alan Stamaty, and the editor who took on my first book, I’m only too happy to see others go on to success from this conference that I help organize.

A few years ago I found myself doing an author/illustrator presentation at an elementary school on the same day that Mark Stamaty was making an appearance. He actually sat in the audience during my presentation, all those years after I had taken his class, and speaking in front of him, I felt like the kid who had hit a home run in the big game in front of all his friends and relatives! I’m very lucky to be able to do picture books, but I owe my career to the generosity of mentors. Rutgers is a great mentoring conference, and that’s why it is so important to me.

Thank you, Brian, for the hundreds of hours you’ve put into RUCCL. I’m sure everyone who has ever attended is full of gratitude, too. Many kudos to you on OWL BOY.

And OH BOY, you can win OWL BOY from Holiday House!

Just leave a comment to be entered. One comment per person, please. A winner will be announced in two weeks.

Good luck! 

I was stunned, honored and thrilled when renowned author/illustrator Trinka Hakes Noble asked if I would be the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature “Success Story” speaker this year. She asked me to tell the RUCCL attendees about my path to publication, to inspire them, to make them realize that they are the stars of the day. So I tried to be funny and touching and inspirational, and I hope I succeeded with the success story. For those of you who couldn’t be there, and for those who heard it and want a recap, here’s my speech.

Please note: I begin in costume, speaking with a deep English accent like a terrible, stereotypically stuffy author.

Good morning, ladies and gentleman.

Allow myself to introduce…myself.

I am a published author.

I have a luxuriant beard.

I smoke pipes.

I wear tweed jackets with elbow patches.

I take afternoon tea with Joan Didion. Ahh, dear, dear, Joan. Occasionally Joyce Carol Oates pops in with Michael Chabon. Oh, those two are a bloody riot! One time JC snuck a whoopee cushion on Michael’s chair and…well, that’s not a story for mixed company.

Ever since I signed my first contract, I have never received another rejection. Publishers fall at my feet and kiss my freshly polished Oxfords!

I use words like “verisimilitude” in everyday conversation. See, I just used it. “Verisimilitude, verisimilitude, verisimilitude.”

My toilet scrubs itself under the rim.

I have not a care in the world. Ahh, yes, the life of a published author is so very glamorous and elegant, don’t you agree?

[Remove costume. Shake hair loose.]

Yeah, right.

OK, this is really me.

Just an ordinary housewife and mother from Jersey. No, I didn’t say Jersey Shore. Snooki and I, we’re not author buddies.

But listen, just four years ago, I was you.

Sitting out there.

RUCCL 2008 was my first big conference. Heck, it was my first conference, period. I looked across the room to Kay Winters speaking and thought there was this enormous divide between me, the great unwashed, and Kay, the successful, multi-published author.

Turns out the divide was only five tables wide. Because that’s how far away I was sitting!

Once I approached Ms. Winters to thank her for the inspiring speech, we shook hands and suddenly there was no divide. And I’m here to tell you just that—there is no divide.

You’re here today because you’ve earned it. You’ve written something exceptional that has gotten noticed. Out of—how many applications were there this year, Trinka?—62.8 million applications, 88 of you are here! Amazing! You have great potential. You are on your way. You are so close to becoming published and you don’t even realize it!

If you think, like I did, that there is some great divide and you are going to be a transformed person once you sign a publishing contract, then, I’m sorry, but you are mistaken.

You’ll be just like Samantha Baker waking up on her 16th birthday, staring at her boobies in the mirror and realizing they’re the same size they were yesterday. (Sorry, fellas.)

Listen—we writers are one. We all share a common goal—to tell the best story we possibly can. I strive to do that every day, and so do you. There is no divide.

Of course, you will be jubilant when you receive an offer, but you will still be you. Unfortunately, your toilet will not clean itself. I should know. I’ve been staring at that damn toilet for three years!

So let me tell you a little about how I got here. I took 287 South, got off at Exit 9, merged right and…no sorry…

It began in second grade when I read CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. (And let me tell you, Gene Wilder will always be my Willy Wonka, not Johnny Depp.)

That book was so outrageously delicious, I knew immediately that I wanted to create fantastical stories like that. So my best friend Francine and I collaborated on our own book, a series of fractured fairy tales. I wrote and she illustrated. It was a beautiful little thing, and I still remember the jaunty little cap she drew on the main character. We were so proud of this thing, we called all our relatives and told them it was published.

After all, we were sure it would get published. It was perfection. Who would turn it down? They’d be crazy. If Ally Sheedy was only 12 when she wrote SHE WAS NICE TO MICE, we could beat her record and get published at age 8!

So we made our announcement prematurely and my two 80-yr-old great-grandparents fired up the ’67 Chrysler for the first time in months and creaked their bones to the local bookstore…but of course, our masterpiece could not be found.

So OK, it was my first newbie mistake!

I loved writing as a child and I did not understand why everyone else did not love it. When it was time for creative writing I jumped out of my seat and cheered. Everyone else groaned. Especially when the teacher gave the word count. I always asked, “Please sir, may I have some more?” Yes, Tara, you can write as many words as you want.

So flash forward to college…right here on the banks of the Old Raritan, I studied English and Creative Writing. I had every intention to land a job in children’s publishing so I could learn the business inside-out. But it was 1992, and our country was in a recession. There were no kidlit openings. But I did get a job in publishing. COMPUTER PROGRAMMING BOOKS. Blech.

Bored out of my mind, I didn’t stick around long. I then rode the wave of irrational exuberance of the “Information Superhighway” age and was too busy in high-tech marketing to write for children. Besides working insane hours, I was figure skating four times a week. Who had time to write?

I got married. I had my first daughter. I stayed home. We read together. And then those old feelings bubbled up to the surface. (And this analogy has nothing to do with nursing. Sorry again, fellas.) But I had a colicky baby and even less time. (Well, I really had more time than I wanted—I had 2am, 3am, 4am…)

When I was pregnant with my second daughter, in 2006, I saw an ad in my local paper for an organization called Women Who Write. They were organized into critique groups by genre, and they had an opening in their Writing for Children group. I told my husband I wanted to join. He agreed to put our toddler to bed (no easy feat, she didn’t sleep for four years and now I can’t get her out of bed) and I waddled off to evening meetings twice a month. I was only in the group two months when they went on summer hiatus. Then I took time off to have my daughter, but vowed to return in six months.

Well, six months turned into 12 months and I was more impatient than ever to get published. After all, I had postponed it most of my life. I was like Veruca Salt—“But Daddy, I want to publish a book NOW!”

But my early picture books were dreadful. Didactic. Adult protagonists. 1500 words. I didn’t know a thing about writing them.

So I joined SCBWI. I attended every NJ event I could, beginning with first page sessions. I took copious notes about every manuscript the professionals critiqued. I put those notes on a blog. And some knowledge started seeping in.

And then a mutual friend introduced me to author Corey Rosen Schwartz. Again, I imagined this great divide between us. I thought there was no way this woman, a published author, would want to be friends with me, a nobody, a wannabe. But remember, there is no divide. It only exists in our heads. Corey and I became fast friends. And we started critiquing each other’s work. And my stories began getting better.

Things were going pretty well for me. The Rutgers acceptance in 2008 gave me the confidence to know that I was on the right track.

And then, in 2009, I veered off track. Or rather, my body did. (OK, this is the sad part now. So everybody get your hankies out.)

On Halloween, I slipped on some wet leaves while trick-or-treating with my daughters and sprained my ankle. It was no big deal for me because I always sprain my ankle. I was a figure skater and my ankles had suffered a lot of damage over the years.

So I went home and put my feet up.

But the next day I woke up and half my foot was numb.

It was odd, but I thought maybe I had exacerbated an old injury. I had ankle surgery years ago and I remember my toe going numb at that time. So I just ignored it.

Until my entire left foot lost feeling.

And then my right foot joined the numb party.

Something was terribly wrong.

I went around like this until Thanksgiving, when the pressure of cooking a five-course meal collided with the distinct lack of pressure in my feet. I exploded at my family. I was sick and I needed help.

Three months worth of doctor’s visits and I had a diagnosis: Multiple Sclerosis.

I was devastated. And if there is a word that means beyond devastated, that’s what I really should insert here.

And the timing was really bad. I got the diagnosis a mere week before I was to attend an NJ-SCBWI Mentoring Conference. I had already sent in a manuscript called THE MONSTORE and I was supposed to be meeting with an editor from Sterling to discuss it.

There was no way I could attend.

The organizer was a friend so I called her and bawled, explaining that I was too sick to make it. She said she’d have the editor write up my critique and mail it out.

But I was in a deep depression. Not only was my walking impaired for the rest of my life, I thought my dream of becoming a kidlit author was kaput. Now, you don’t have to WALK to be able to TYPE so I don’t know why I thought this way, but I was not in a rational state of mind.

So when that envelope from the editor at Sterling arrived, I ignored it. I stayed in bed for days on end. My life was over.

Then I received an email from my friend at NJ-SCBWI. She said the editor was upset that I couldn’t make the workshop; she had wanted to meet me in person.

Meet me? WHY on earth would she want to do that? Remember the great divide?

This manuscript had been rejected from Rutgers (GASP! SHOCK! HORROR! I know, you weren’t expecting that, right?) and I had met with a picture book consultant who had gently pushed it back across the table like it was pea soup with a fly in it and she dubbed it “a practice manuscript”.

So I sneered at that envelope, skeptical of what lay concealed inside. It was thick. I assumed she hated it and she wanted to meet me in person to scold me about all the things I did wrong.

Instead I opened the envelope to read, “What a fun title and a unique premise. I was hooked on page one.”

She liked me! She really, really liked me!

I mean, she liked the STORY. (Don’t make that mistake of equating your work with YOU.) She asked to see a revision.

But I had always known I wanted an agent. Holy bacci balls, it was time!

Things then started happening fast. Corey had won a critique with author Jean Reidy and sent THE MONSTORE instead because she had nothing ready. Jean read THE MONSTORE and then Tweeted about how awesome it was. Then Ammi-Joan Paquette saw the Tweet and asked what she was reading. All of a sudden, I had a referral to Joan.

I got busy sending out queries to four other agents I had targeted.

Now you must realize at this time, I was still so sick and filled with anxiety and dread that I couldn’t get out of bed most of the day. In fact, I could barely speak until noon because I was on the wrong medication.

So when an agent called me two hours earlier than he said he would, I don’t know how I did it, but I managed to talk. Thank goodness I had an acting background because it was the best performance of my life.

But ultimately, I signed with Joan. I would like to say that signing with her finally lifted me out of my MS funk, but it didn’t. I knew I was doing something big, something I had dreamed of all my life, but I couldn’t even walk the contract to the post office. And I focused on what I couldn’t do instead of what I had accomplished.

Even when the offer from Aladdin came in a month later, I was only pretending to be happy. I had about two seconds worth of “I DID IT!” and then I went back to bed.

But, I went back to bed with a purpose…and a laptop. If I was now published, I certainly wasn’t going to stop with one book. I needed more. I could not be a one-hit wonder. The name KajaGooGoo Lazar does not look good on the cover of a picture book. (C’mon, who knows KajaGooGoo, the one-hit wonder from the 80’s? “Too shy shy, hush hush, eye to eye.”)

Writing slowly lifted me out of my funk. And once I was brave enough to tell my friends and family what was happening with my health, they began to lift me up, too.

And so, two years after I signed my first contract for THE MONSTORE, I now have two more books under contract…and I’m waiting to hear on a few more. There’s a few editors here I need to speak to…

But again, because I am up here and you are sitting down there does not mean there is a divide. As Kay Winters spoke in 2008, I said to myself, that’s going to be me someday. And look! Here I am! There is a space for you up here, too.

You should be proud of yourselves for making it here. When I attended in 2008, I really had only an inkling of how important this day was. And I had no idea that everyone was here for ME.

That’s right.

We’re all here for YOU.

This is YOUR special day. Like Katy Perry says, “Baby, you’re a firework. C’mon let your colors burst!” (Singing is not one of my talents.)

Remember that everyone assembled is here to help you take the next step in your career. This day was planned with you in mind. This fact was a little difficult for me to grasp back in 2008, so I put together something to help you remember this.

And because our chair informed me it was a fire hazard to set off Grucci fireworks in this room, I have something else that sparkles and glows all day long, just like you. (Will Sheri, Anita, Marcy and Andrew please come help me.)

These glow bracelets are for you to wear today, to remind you of how special you are. Of how you are the star of today. Every time you look down at your wrist, remember that we’re all supporting you. Any question you have, ask it. Anyone you want to approach, step right up, don’t be “too shy shy”. This is YOUR day. Make the most of it. And be a little kid at the same time.

So I leave you with these words:

There is no divide.

But there are glow bracelets!

Enjoy and have fun today!

This is the first in a series of posts on the 2008 Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature One-on-One Mentoring Conference. (Because I have 20 pages of notes to share!)

Phew! What a whirlwind day! I mingled with editors, mixed with agents, and milled about with other aspiring authors at the RUCCL mentoring conference. My head is spinning with suggestions. So where to start? Well, I’ll begin at the end, with keynote speaker K.L. Going. The author of Fat Kid Rules the World and The Liberation of Gabriel King wrapped up the event with an inspiring speech about “writing across the lines.”

Agent Linda Pratt introduces K.L. Going

Agent Linda Pratt introduces K.L. Going

K.L. began by telling us what we already know: as writers, we have many, many rules to follow. Manuscript length. Formatting. Submission guidelines. Avoid passive voice. Don’t write didactic tales.

“But writers are creative souls,” she said. “It’s hard for us to color within the lines.”

She stopped her speech and asked everyone to stand up. And then she told us to shake off those rules! So I grabbed my friend Jill by the shoulders and shimmied her around. She returned the favor. Wubba wubba wubba! Boy, that felt good!

“Despite what anyone else says,” she said, “there are times you must step across those lines.” She relayed her early writing experience, sitting on the floor of her sparse employee housing at Mohonk Mountain House, typing away on her laptop. It was the happiest time in her life because she wrote without rules. She didn’t care if anyone read her work, she simply wrote because that’s what brought her the most joy. She wasn’t thinking about marketability, high-concept hooks, or the current list of best-sellers. However, it was also the least productive time in her life since she wasn’t writing with that intention to sell.

So how can writers be both happy and productive? You need to choose which lines you’re willing to cross while staying inside others. With Fat Kid Rules the World, she wanted to create a character that wasn’t familiar. Troy is dirty, smelly and raw. And to some, offensive. That was a line she was willing to cross, potentially alienating some readers. But, she still wanted Troy to be lovable by the end of the book. She could not compromise on that essential rule of writing: creating likeable characters.

“You need to write what you want regardless of whether you think anyone else ‘gets it’,” she said. “But writing what you desire is always a risk.” With Fat Kid, she didn’t necessarily cater to the reader. There’s a hunk of bleeding leg and splattering of fat when Troy envisions the results of his own suicide, and some people may put the book down at that point. (In fact, her book was banned in some areas.) But others will stick with it and read on. If the reader’s journey isn’t easy, maybe it will be more redemptive and satisfying by the end.

She cautioned us further: you need to balance your risks. Troy may be unusual, but his emotional struggles are immediately known in the first chapter. Readers may not relate to his appearance, but they can relate to the critical inner voice we’ve all had whispering in our ears at some time in our lives.

K.L. told us it’s important to know the rules. Because you can only make educated decisions about your manuscript when you have knowledge of the industry. “But don’t forget that creativity has its own demands. Don’t be afraid to try something different. Step boldly across the lines!”

So, where are the lines for you?

As an aspiring author and mother of two young children, the time spent pursuing my career comes mostly at night, when the kids are asleep. I don’t have a lot of time, so I need to prioritize. Should I revise tonight? Or read? Blog? Research? Submit? I have to decide quickly; I only have thirty-three minutes until midnight. That’s when the baby wakes up. She loves ushering the new day in with a solid wail.

I suppose my choice tonight is to blog. I won’t have time for anything else.

I wonder if blogging is doing me any good. The majority of hits on my blog derive from “tattoo” searches, so who really reads this thing? (Which reminds me to tell you: if you want to pump up your site statistics, definitely slip in a word or two about body ink. Personally, I’ve got an inexplicable thing for Ami James, but I digress.)

Then I tell myself, it doesn’t matter if anyone reads this blog. It’s good writing practice. Even if the writing stinks (and it usually does), at least I’m meeting my daily word count quota.

But for the next few weeks, I’ll have my writing time spoken for. I’ll be busy preparing for the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature One-on-One Mentoring Conference (phew, that’s a mouthful, huh?). I have writing samples to polish and questions to prepare for my mentor, whomever that may be. I have my eye on a particular editor, but I doubt I’ll be lucky enough to get paired with that person.

And I feel panic bubbling up inside of me. I don’t know enough about the authors working in my genre, I don’t know enough about the mentors, I don’t know enough about the marketplace. I don’t know enough about comma splices. I need to know more so I can mix and mingle without sounding like a total noob.

But hey–maybe I should mingle with you.

Are you going to the RUCCL One-on-One Mentoring event in October? If so, drop me a note and let’s chat. I’ve got exactly twelve minutes left before the baby alarm goes off.

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