Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Transformation from Translation

Those of you who read my Facebook posts about hosting our Japanese exchange student know it was a positive (and often, humorous) experience. Please read my article about it on the Arlington Patch.  

I hope you had a wonderful Memorial Day weekend. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Avoiding Adverbs and Circumventing Clichés

In November, I featured Jessica's book Show and Tell in a Nutshell.  She's back with a new book!

Too many adverbs and clichés in your writing? I've got just the fix for you.
by Jessica Bell

Writers constantly have rules thrown at them left, right, and center. Show, don’t tell! Stop using so many dialogue tags! More sensory detail! More tension! Speed up the pace! Yada yada yada ... it can become overwhelming, yes? I used to feel overwhelmed by it all too. In fact, I still do sometimes. It’s hard enough to get the words on the page, let alone consider how to put them there.

In Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, she says that in order not to be overwhelmed, a writer needs to focus on short assignments. She refers to the one-inch picture frame on her desk and how that little picture frame reminds her to focus on bite-sized pieces of the whole story. Basically, if you focus on one small thing at a time, the story will eventually come together to create a whole. I believe the same applies to learning the craft of writing. If writers focus on one aspect of the craft at a time, the process will seem less daunting and piece by piece it will come together.

My name’s Jessica Bell, and my own struggles with feeling overwhelmed inspired me to write the Writing in a Nutshell Series of pocket-sized writing guides. So you can learn to hone your craft in bite-sized, manageable pieces. In the first book of the series, I focused on demonstrating how to transition “telling” into “showing.” In Adverbs & Clichés in a Nutshell: Demonstrated Subversions of Adverbs & Clichés into Gourmet Imagery, I deal with another of the most common criticisms aspiring writers face: to absolutely avoid adverbs and clichés like the plague. But see, right now, I just used one of each. I also used a couple in the first two paragraphs of this post because they come naturally, and we utilize them frequently in everyday speech. But in fiction, too many adverbs and clichés weaken your prose. It’s considered “lazy writing,” because it means we don’t have to show what’s happening.

If your manuscript has too many adverbs and clichés, it most likely means that the emotion you felt while writing it is not going to translate to the reader in the same way. So how exactly can we approach the subversion of adverbs and clichés? For starters, play around with simile and metaphor when you’re trying to convey emotion, and for action, use strong verbs to show it happening in real time.

The key? Think smaller details rather than the bigger picture.

Need some help and inspiration?

In Adverbs & Clichés in a Nutshell: Demonstrated Subversions of Adverbs & Clichés into Gourmet Imagery, you will find thirty-four examples of prose which clearly demonstrate how to turn those pesky adverbs and clichés into vivid and unique imagery. Dispersed throughout are blank pages to craft your own unique examples. Extra writing prompts are also provided at the back of the book.
“Jessica Bell's latest pocket guide, Adverbs & Clichés in a Nutshell, will inspire you to leave bland behind and pursue your creative best. With force and clarity, she demonstrates how adverbs and clichés hobble vibrant writing. She then marks a course toward unique expression and provides workouts that will help writers at every level develop a distinctive voice.” ~Laurel Garver, freelance editor, author of Never Gone and Muddy-Fingered Midnights
Purchase links:
Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon Ca | Kobo

Bio: The Australian-native contemporary fiction author and poet, Jessica Bell, also makes a living as an editor and writer for global ELT publishers (English Language Teaching), such as Pearson Education, HarperCollins, Macmillan Education, Education First and Cengage Learning.

She is the co-publishing editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and the director of the Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca.

For more information about Jessica please visit:
Website | Blog | Twitter | Facebook

Monday, May 6, 2013

NESCBWI 2013 – What it Meant to Me

Me with Sharon Creech.

I attended the New England chapter of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference (say that 3 times fast) this weekend.

Each year, I grow as a writer.

Each year, the conference has a different meaning for me.

The first time, I went with a friend and stayed for one day. I didn’t even stay overnight. I saw agent Stephen Fraser speak and dared to speak to him afterwards.

The following year, I went alone and stayed for two days. I had my first critique with an editor (it didn’t go well—I’d made my middle grade protagonist 9). I found 1 friend in the bar.

I still hang out with her each year.

Through her, I’ve met people. Through me, she’s met people.

At some point, I began to volunteer. Between volunteering and meeting people through blogging and Facebook, my circle of friends expanded. I’ve had the same roommate for 3 years. She even drives me to the conference.

 (Thanks, Judy Mintz!) 

My writing got better, so my critiques became more positive.

I’ve stopped sweating before I sit in front of an agent or editor.

Writers are rock stars to me. This conference has given me many opportunities to meet them.

In years past, faculty, organizers, agents, and editors sat at reserved tables. This year, the signs on the tables were gone. This meant all of us could sit anywhere. Since two writers whom I greatly admire were speaking that day, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity.

On Saturday morning I sat in the front. Since I was supposed to help for Sharon Creech's  keynote, I introduced myself to her. She joined my table. After the initial “OhMyGodSharonCreechIsTalkingToMe—ActNormal” wore off, I enjoyed the conversation. Turns out she lives near my dad, so we had a lot to talk about.

My favorite line came from Sharon’s Creech’s closing:

"Whatever words you have to say, may you have the good fortune to say them to a child."

At lunchtime, keynote speaker and author/illustrator Grace Lin  sat with us. I didn’t get say much to her, but I did talk to her husband and got her baby to smile.

My favorite line from Grace Lin:

"If your work is as true to yourself as possible, then you've created something no one else in the world can."

This weekend, Jo Knowles received the Crystal Kite Award. The honor moved her to tears. She said:

“I hope my 10-year journey will inspire you to keep on the path. The journey to publication can be achingly ‘meandering’. But please don't measure time as an indicator of your success. Instead, use each day to improve your craft. Use each conference to make new friends. Appreciate your mentors and be a mentor yourself.” 

This resonated with me. Not only did I realize there’s no expiration date on becoming a published author, but that I truly belong. When I saw Jo in the elevator later, I thanked her.  Here’s her whole speech. 

Note: Jo’s been a conference attendee for 17 YEARS.

This year, I became more social and comfortable. No longer do I walk into a room and wonder where I’ll sit or whom to talk to. No longer do I need the safety net of a handful of writer friends I’ve accumulated. Now I just go and talk. To everyone.

When authors sign my books, I no longer squeak a few words of adoration or only manage, “Thank you.” I just talk to them. 

I realized I’m no longer an outsider—I’m a part of the fabric of the conference. And I want to do even more next year. Attending is not just about attending workshops. My learning needs have changed. Established authors feel more like cohorts, even if their career is ahead of mine. I don’t need to be intimidated by agents and editors.  I belong.

This means that just connecting with the writers, agents, and editors is as valuable as furiously copying notes at every workshop. It’s only 3 days each year. It’s not school, so I’m no longer rushing to bed to be fresh in the morning. I don’t want to miss anything. There are a handful of committed people who organize and run this conference. SCBWI, especially the New England Branch, has been pivotal to my writing progress. I want to give back even more.

Do you attend conferences?
What do you expect from conferences?
What do conferences mean to you?