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Children's & Fantasy/Sci-Fi Books


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Fun at WonderCon 2016

My sons and I made our annual pilgrimage to WonderCon to enjoy great art, revel in geekiness, and meet lots of interesting people. Here’s a samplingWC2016-05

Josh & Harrison outside the LA Convention Center

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The BACONNATION food truck. It’s porktastic!

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Not to be outdone is the Godzilla-themed MeSoHungry food truck.

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Why, yes, I WAS wondering what a Star Trek-cat mashup would look like. Scotty is a Scottish Fold! Chekhov should’ve been a Siberian.

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Captain Mexico and Mexican Punisher and a Trump pinata saying “Por ser un pendejo”. Well played, guys.

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Harrison as a dwarf barrel-rider from The Hobbit at The OneRing.net booth. He’s got the long hair – just needs a beard and some scale mail.

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My sons in front of our books at the Mysterious Galaxy booth.

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Josh with a Type-2 Energy Weapon, more commonly known as the Gravity Hammer – a powerful, two-handed melee weapon used by the Jiralhanae in the Covenant Empire. Or so I’m told.

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A quick photo prior to our panel. From right to left, authors: Barney Saltzberg, Josh Herz, Harrison Herz, Dan Santat, Bruce Hale, and Lisa Yee. Lisa was not part of our panel, but she is legally required to be present when Dan is in public. 🙂

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I secretly brought a furry trapper hat to make a THIS IS NOT MY HAT joke. Little did I suspect that all other four male panelists would be sporting hats. From right to left: Jon Klassen (including priceless expression), Antoinette Portis, Bruce Hale, Dan Santat, Barney Saltzberg, and Henry Herz.

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Me looking all moderatory while Bruce Hale answers a question from the audience.

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Me looking like the cat that ate the canary because I’m signing books with Jon Klassen, Antoinette Portis, Barney Saltzberg, Dan Santat, and Bruce Hale.

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This is Jon Klassen, but THIS IS NOT MY HAT. I’m wearing Bruce Hale’s famous fedora!

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One Word Was Too Big, and One Word Was Too Small

Writing GOOD rhyme is hard. We still have to create an engaging story with endearing characters… in under 500 words! Rhyme also constrains syllable counts and meter. And as with all picture books, word choice must be suitable for young readers. This can lead some authors to end their rhyming picture book (RPB) lines with single-syllable words.

If you view rhyming big words as a chore,
Your new book could end up a big bore.
Instead, if you use big words that add spice,
Most readers will find your book is quite nice.

Now, my meter is off, but I had two goals for that rhyme. The first was to reiterate my thesis. The other was to illustrate my thesis with a counterexample. The lines do rhyme, but the word choice is a bit boring. Multi-syllable words are definitely more challenging to rhyme. But their use adds spice and demonstrates a higher mastery of the craft. Below is a contrasting excerpt from an early draft of my (as yet unpublished) RPB, Never Feed a Yeti Spaghetti, in which monsters misbehave at a party.

vampireThe big night’s arrived, and the vampires knock first;
Unquenchable drinkers, who’re known for their thirst.
These two guests are gracious, and always say ‘please’.
Undying politeness is their expertise.

The multi-syllable “their expertise” adds sophistication and fun. I made sure that the meter matched that of the previous line’s “always say please”. I also worked in puns with “undying” (vampires are undead) and “thirst” (for blood). But perhaps expertise, undying, and unquenchable are a bit of a lexile stretch. And, thirst for blood is probably too dark for a PB. Further, using expertise to describe politeness feels forced. The requirements of rhyme don’t excuse us from the responsibility of remaining aware of whether words serve the story and are suitable for young readers. We must still be willing to murder our darlings, if necessary. Those lines did not make the final cut.

Here is a stanza I kept, which (I hope) demonstrates the desired characteristics of more complex words that add spice to the rhyme.

yetiIt’s dangerous serving a yeti spaghetti.
They toss it around like it’s crimson confetti.
There’s pasta afoot and red sauce on the wall;
A dining fiasco they failed to forestall.

 

Now, get out there and keep rhyming!


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Mea Culpa – Some Do’s & Don’ts of Promoting Books

If you’re not an author, you may not be aware that publishers expect authors to help promote their books. Many of us would prefer to spend all our time writing/illustrating, but that’s just the way the industry works. And as with most things, a balance must be struck. To paraphrase Goldilocks, one can promote too little, too much, or just right.

A kind friend pointed out to me recently that I’m promoting my books too much, which can lead to undesirable results. I thought hard about her feedback, and concluded she was right. I was guilty of over-promotion. I was annoying people I had no intention of annoying. Like Martha Stewart did, I needed to make amends. So, as my self-imposed penance and apology to anyone I have inadvertently offended, I thought it would be appropriate to blog about some do’s and don’ts of author self-promotion.

thumbsdown1a – DON’T SPAM

Spamming can take several forms, and be done via different media. So, while book promotion is an appropriate activity for authors, it should not be overdone, e.g., Tweeting about one’s latest book every hour, or making a Facebook comment on someone else’s feed that tries to shift the focus to your book. Standing on a virtual street corner yelling “Look at how awesome my book is!” is not going to work out well.

Spam

thumbsup1b – DO POST INTERESTING CONTENT

People who follow authors on social networks are interested in their books, but they are interested in other topics too. Below are some good examples of engaging with an audience without spamming them:

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Sharing art: One of many clever food-based doodles by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

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Posting pictures with author’s we admire: Salina Yoon with Eric Litwin

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Sharing events: Marcie Wessels shared information about free museum admission

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Sharing work in progress: a Flora-related sketch from Molly Idle

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Posting about craft (or humor): writing inspiration from Deborah Underwood

thumbsdown2a – DON’T ASK FOR BOOK BLURBS

A blurb is a one- or two-sentence positive statement about a book. Publishers use it to help promote the book, so it is natural that a publisher would want blurbs. That said, authors should typically not ask other authors directly for a blurb. It can make people uncomfortable. Perhaps they’re too busy to read your book. Perhaps they fear there’s a chance they won’t like your book, and then what do they say? Perhaps they’re concerned giving one person a blurb will open a floodgate of blurb requests.

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thumbsup2b – DO HAVE YOUR AGENT OR EDITOR ASK FOR BLURBS

If your publisher wants some blurbs, it is far better to have your editor, publicist, or literary agent make the requests. That way, the author being asked should not feel pressured and should feel comfortable declining without consequence.

thumbsdown3a – DON’T BE MEAN OR OFF-PUTTING

This goes without saying, but is included here for completeness. Publishing is a small industry, and if you’re mean to others, you’re not helping them or yourself. Writing, like cooking, is a subjective art. Some people like vanilla and some people like chocolate. Don’t make public comments that could upset people. Avoid social media posts of a potentially controversial or off-putting nature: politics, religion, sexuality, etc.

thumbsup3b – DO SUPPORT OTHERS

As an author, I know first-hand how much love, sweat and tears goes into creating a book. We all like to be supported in our writing endeavors. So it is greatly appreciated when others help by:

  • Buying a book, reading it, and giving it a good rating on Amazon and Goodreads
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  • Retweeting other authors’ tweets
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  • Liking, sharing, and posting supportive comments on other authors’ Facebook pages
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  • Mentoring newer authors
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  • Blogging about other authors
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  • Participating in groups that help others, like Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo
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Picture Book Writers: Let Your Creativity Loose with PiBoIdMo!

New writers, writers new to picture books, or any writers seeking good advice and encouragement should get themselves quickly over to Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo. Picture Book Idea Month is a picture book-centric homage to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). But rather than writing 50,000 words of a novel in a month, the goal is to come up with at least 30 ideas for picture books. PiBoIdMo includes a daily guest blog from traditionally published picture book authors offering words of wisdom. I had the honor of being one of Tara’s guest bloggers last year.

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A common challenge for picture book writers is: how do I come up with good ideas? The trick is to let your creativity loose. Turn off your super-ego. Don’t self-critique initially. Get in touch with your inner child. Give yourself permission to generate fun, outlandish, bizarre ideas. Only afterward, go through the sifting process to see which ideas are gems sparkling with potential to be transformed into a polished story.

Try this exercise: Below are some delightful cardboard silhouette images by John Marshall (posted on Bored Panda). Generate some picture book ideas based on each photo. How can you not!?

Shark

Enough with the begging. This is why you do not feed pets at the table.

Friendship

While I was watching the sunset tonight, I couldn’t stop blinking. “Hey. Do I have something in my eye?” I asked Keith, my chameleon friend.
“Yeah,” Keith said. “It’s a bug.”
“Can you get it out?” I asked.

The Pose

“In the yoga world, we call this the Standing Tree Pose,” I said.
“Oh. In the flamingo world, we call this standing,” the flamingo replied.

What’s That Smell?

Today, I was enjoying a sunset banana down by the lake when the most amazing thing happened. All of a sudden, this warm breeze started blowing across my neck and it smelled just like bananas too.

The Rock Dragon

So I was walking on the rocks tonight, looking for the tiny elephants, when a flash of light caught my eye. Though they are exceedingly rare, especially in Maine this time of year, a baby rock dragon was testing his fire breath right in front of me! Good thing I had a net.

Fish Bouquet

When I finally got up the nerve to approach the beautiful mermaid down on the beach, a friend suggested I bring her a bouquet of roses. But I had a better idea.

Boredom

The problem with Troll Haircut Day is the brutal monotony of it all.
“Tapered to a point?” I asked for the 74th time.

Rhino Ring Toss

I can’t think of a better way to wind down at the end of the day then with a little Rhino Ring Toss. For anyone interested: All you need is a rhinoceros and a ring and you’re good to go.

The Woodchuck

Today I finally answered a tongue twister I learned as a kid. I was just walking on the beach when I heard this little chop chop sound. It was a woodchuck.
“What are you doing?” I asked him.
“Chucking wood,” he answered.
“Really. How much can you do? I’ve always wanted to know.”
“Start counting, big boy,” the woodchuck said with a high-pitched laugh, then lifted his tiny axe and got to work.

Dining With A Bigfoot

I was sitting at the only restaurant on the island tonight when I heard a waitress talking to man at the table next to mine. It was the man’s name that got my attention. I couldn’t see his face, but even from behind I could tell he was around eight feet tall and covered with hair. He ordered two rare steaks and three chicken platters.

When the waitress walked away, I gathered my courage and leaned a little closer to the giant’s back. “Excuse me, sir,” I said. “I’m sorry to bother you but…why DO they call you Bigfoot?”

Jumping Practice

It’s hard enough to earn the trust of a wild baby lake dolphin. But to get one to jump through a hoop on command so close to shore… It makes all the years of patient training seem worth it tonight.

Epic Battle

This may look like just a still picture, but trust me: it was an epic battle, with all kinds of crazy flips and twists that went on and on. Stuff you’ve never seen before; really quality light sabering on both sides. But when it was all over, just when it looked like the bad guy was going to win…I came up with this killer move and saved the day. It was a good sunset.

Special Delivery

When Mars House of Pizza says: WE DELIVER ANYWHERE, they mean it.

My Hero

It’s pretty cool when you get to meet one of your childhood heroes. It’s even better when he agrees to sing “The Rainbow Connection” with you.

Tiny Elephants

What I love about the tiny elephants that you find all over the island is how friendly they are. At sunset, I could see them all over the rocks, and a few of them ran up to me when I approached. Now, granted, I was wearing peanut butter-scented lip gloss at the time, but I doubt that had anything to do with it.

Rock Hopping

Just a word of caution to the kids out there. I know dinosaur riding is becoming more and more popular, but it can be extremely dangerous. Believe me: It’s hard enough to ride one of these beasts on the sand, but rock hopping takes an experienced Dino-Wrangler. So…just be careful.


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My Excellent Adventure at the Big Sur Children’s Writing Workshop

I just got back from having an exhilarating time at the Big Sur Children’s Writing Workshop. The stunning scenery was matched by the accomplished faculty. Below are some images from my excellent adventure.

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The Big Sur Lodge, where we enjoyed wine, delicious food, and more wine. Did I mention the wine?

turkeys

For reasons I don’t fathom, there were big turkeys on the grounds. No turkeys were harmed in the aforementioned delicious food we were served.

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The Big Sur Lodge is nestled on a hillside covered with vegetation, most notable some enormous redwood trees.

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In a scene that could have been taken from Avatar, I saw a fallen tree, clearly long dead, from which green growth sprouted. In the above picture, tiny plants sprout from the leaves and debris that have accumulated in the fork of a tree trunk. I half-expected to see little pixies darting in and out.

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A gentle stream added its watery notes to the scenery.

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Majestic tree-clad hills overlook the lodge.

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Moss on a log.

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A mighty redwood is not impressed by my six-foot wingspan. I’m pretty sure there are some Wood Elves living in that tree.

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The distinguished faculty included (from l to r): Andrea Brown of Andrea Brown Literary Agency (ABLA) and New York Times bestselling authors Catherine Ryan Hide and Neil Schusterman.

agents

The immensely talented agents at ABLA (from l to r): Jennifer Matson, Jennifer Laughran, Caryn Wiseman, Andrea Brown, Laura Rennert, Jen Rofe, Jamie Weiss Chilton, and Lara Perkins.


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Be an Animal to Write a Picture Book

On November 20, 2014, the following guest post by me was featured on Tara Lazar’s Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo) blog.

Everything I know about writing picture books, I learned from animals.

Animals make great picture book characters. Just ask the Very Hungry Caterpillar. And animals offer authors and illustrators eight B’s of inspiration for creating PBs:

Be a sponge.

sponge

Soak up everything around you. View, listen, sniff, taste, and feel. Watch people (in public, not with a telescope from your house), read books (especially picture books), and watch TV and movies. Take notes. Even the most mundane situations can unexpectedly feed your muse.

Be a sharktopus.

sharktopus

OK, that’s not a real animal, but I’m making a point here, people. Combine elements into unlikely (and therefore hilarious) pairs, as in Doreen Cronin’s Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type. Practice riffing on the things you soak up. I did a classroom reading where this boy had a torn-up sneaker. I thought, picture book title: The Boy With Exploding Sneakers. Let your creativity run free. 

Be a honey badger.

honeybadger

Have no fear. Don’t be scared to put words to paper. Don’t flee from constructive criticism. Don’t be afraid of rejection. They all line the path to traditional publication. Honey badger don’t care, and neither should you! Get outside your comfort zone.

Be a dung beetle.

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Be tenacious, even on crappy days. Becoming published isn’t easy. But it won’t happen if you stop trying. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a one step. Revise, revise, revise. But remember that perfect can be the enemy of good enough. At some point, you need to submit! 

 Be an armadillo.

armadillo

You need to be thick-skinned and learn to roll with the punches. Understand that a publisher’s or agent’s rejection isn’t personal, but it is highly subjective. Many great works of literature were rejected repeatedly before being published, so you’re in good company.  

Be an ant.

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No man is an island, and no ant is a bridge. Teamwork is your best friend. Take advantage of critique groups to hone your craft. Join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) to develop a support network. Leverage social media to connect with fellow writers. You’re not alone.

Be a hagfish.

hagfish

Be flexible enough to incorporate helpful feedback. But feel free to ignore feedback that doesn’t resonate with your gut. Follow the rules, but recognize that they can be broken when the result is a success. Drew Daywalt’s The Day the Crayons Quit is a picture book with over 1,000 words and inanimate characters. But it’s also a New York Times bestseller.

Be a peacock spider.

Male peacock spiders don’t just have stunning colors. They have a delightfully entertaining mating dance (think MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This”). They show the ladies some enthusiasm! They wear their passion on their, er, sleeves. Writing is also an act of passion. Write about what you love. Have fun writing. Write the story that is inside you, trying to get out. But hopefully not like a chestburster from Alien, or Ian Ziering in the final scene of Sharknado.

Be a cat.

cat

Cats are lucky. They always land on their feet, and have nine lives.

There’s an expression, “luck favors the prepared.” Working at the other eight B’s is the best way to earn some luck. Good luck to you!