June 28, 2013

Keep 'em Coming Back

Whether you write for children or for adults, you most likely have a blog—which leads to a question:  do you blog about yourself or do you blog to inspire others?  After reading several writers’ blogs, I found a good majority of writers focus on themselves.  “Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” to quote comedian Jerry Seinfeld, yet it’s surprising to think that an audience would continue to read posts that center on a writer’s life.  

If however, you enjoy blogging about yourself, don’t despair.  There are ways to keep and even grow an audience.  The recipe for writing a slice of life blog includes three important ingredients that are easy to incorporate.

1.  The blog must be unique.  Specifically, the blogger needs to find a way to make the mundane exciting.  This can be done by writing a post in an unusually creative or entertaining manner.   For example, check out: www.sharonkaycreech.blogspot.com.  Author Sharon Creech includes photos and writes short posts that read like poetry.

2.  The post should conclude with an up-beat or encouraging message.  Readers want to feel uplifted, not powerless or depressed.   Put a positive spin on tough situations.  Give the audience hope.

3.  The blog needs to be relatable.  In other words, bloggers must connect with their audience and appeal to the widest human interests.  This can be achieved by providing “take-away” value—something readers may appreciate or learn from and apply to their lives.

Humor is not a requirement in writing slice of life; however, if the blog is hilarious, then chances are it’ll have a huge following.  But then here’s the rub:  How do bloggers know they are funny?  Unfortunately, there’s no meter to gauge that.  I do know that when someone is funny, they don’t just write funny.  They live and breathe funny.  It’s an organic part of who they are.  Funny people can take the most ordinary thing and make it hilarious.  For them, entertaining others is effortless and natural.   

Bloggers that focus on themselves must make their posts worth reading if they want to retain an audience and grow followers.  It’s like the kid in the AT & T commercial with Beck Bennett who answers the “What’s better, more or less” question with:  “We want more.” Likewise, readers want more and it’s a blogger’s job to deliver.  Bloggers who write about their lives need to be aware of their audience.  Successful bloggers know that means making their posts unique, positive, and relatable. That’s why successful bloggers have their audience always coming back for more.

June 23, 2013

Story vs. Situation

Editors publish stories, not situations.  What's the difference?  Conflict is absent in a situation.  For example:  If a child spends the day at the zoo with his parents, rides the train, and has a picnic lunch, then it's a situation, not a story.  But if the child is gets lost at the zoo, then conflict has been created and you have the beginnings of a story.

A story needs to have a main character who faces a problem.  The earlier the conflict is mentioned, the better.  It will create tension and interest and will hook the audience.  The conflict should be relevant to a child, something he could experience or is likely to understand.  More, the problem must be solved by the main character.

Take for example the wonderful picture book,      I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen.  The book is not just about a day in the forest with a bear and his woodland friends.  The bear has a problem: his hat is missing and he wants it back.  One by one, he asks each animal he comes across if they have seen his hat.  He gets despondent until a deer refreshes his memory.  So, the bear renews his search and succeeds in finding his hat, which in the end, leads to a humorous implied conclusion. 

Ask yourself these questions when you write your story: 
Does the main character have a problem that he eventually solves by himself?
Is there action, a climax, and a resolution?
Will solving that problem change the main character in some way?

If you’ve answered “yes” to these questions, then you gone beyond a situation and you likely have a very good story to tell.

June 17, 2013

Passion Sells

If you want people to take notice, you need to have passion.  This is true for any career or profession, not just for children’s writers.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I went shopping for the tree of my dreams—a yellowwood tree.  When we visited Garden Center “A,” we were greeted by an employee who admitted he didn’t know much about the tree and preferred to talk about his hometown.  We noticed his lack of interest.  He really didn’t seem to care whether we found a tree or not.  He did however, ask another employee to help us out.  The second fellow knew very little about the tree, but he did Google it.  But, I could have done that. 

We drove to Garden Center “B,” expecting better service; and here too, the salesperson lacked interest.   He was polite and showed us an assortment of trees, yet he didn’t seem to care whether we found the flowering shade tree we sought.  

We drove to one more garden center located close by.  An employee at Garden Center "C" listened carefully to what we wanted and promptly showed us the tree we had in mind.  Then, he piqued our curiosity with a tree we had never considered.  It was a beauty, a Kwanzan cherry tree; and, it met our requirements.   Later, we walked back to the office where he showed us a chart in which the owner had scored and rated trees, so we could get a feel for how the yellowwood compared to other shade trees. 

The salesman was knowledgeable and passionate about trees and it showed.  What amazed me was, I had had my heart set on a yellowwood tree for over twenty years, but after discussing the other option, and I was convinced that it wasn’t the best tree for us.  

So back to passion and to its connection to writing.  Passion sells!  I think this is what counts when you submit your work to an editor or agent.  Your passion must show in your query.  It’s all about finding the perfect words to let the love of your work shine through.

If you have the chance to speak with a publisher during a conference or to pitch your book, passion must be evident in your delivery and in tone of your voice.  When you sell your story, being low-key and shy may work against you. 

Whether you pitch an editor or write a query, your excitement and commitment to the story must be felt.  You and your work are a package that publishers consider as a whole.  Editors and agents will take notice when you are passionate about your work.  Trust me, it’s contagious.  Of course, the writing has to be sensational, but when passion is evident they will be dying to get their hands on your story.

Photo courtesy of Mr. Jack's Farm
And so what of tree-shopping trip?  Because of the sales person’s enthusiasm, we changed our minds about buying a yellowwood tree.   His passion convinced us.  No regrets.  The rose-like, pink flowering Kwanzan cherry tree now blooms in our backyard.

June 3, 2013

Award-winning author Hetherington sponsors the Crosley Word Contest

Sands Hetherington majored in history at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) and has an M.F.A. in creative writing and an M.A. in English from UNC-Greensboro.  He raised his son John as a single parent. During those formative years, Sands read to his young son every night. As a result, he and John developed the Crosley crocodile character in the Night Buddies series of chapter books. Sands Hetherington credits his son John for being his principal motivator. 

Sands shares the story of winning the Next Generation Indie Book Award and invites kids to participate in the Crosley Word Contest: 

It was a Monday, or it may as well have been because I was feeling lousy due to the spring pollen. I dreaded getting out of bed and handling all of the business I had to face, including clearing a steamer trunk full of e-mails, which I had been especially dreading.

I’m glad I decided to tackle the e-mails first. After clearing off seven or eight humdrum communications, there was the announcement! Night Buddies and the Pineapple Cheesecake Scare, my first book in the Night Buddies series, had been awarded Winner of the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Awards in the Children’s/Juvenile Fiction category. It couldn’t have come at a better time!

My allergies cleared up (for the rest of the day anyway), and I went about my other business with energy I hadn’t had in years. It reminded me of two incidents: one was when General Grant received General Lee’s offer to discuss peace terms, and Grant’s migraine instantly cleared up, and the other was when W. B. Yeats heard about his Nobel Prize in the middle of the night and got out of bed and cooked sausages. I usually do cereal in the morning, but I did have one Italian sausage left over from the night before, so I went and fried it up as a celebratory gesture.

Then I thanked John and Crosley for their part. They are the main characters in the stories I created with my son John, when he was a young lad. Kids love the books, and it’s all the more gratifying to get this kind of recognition from my peers in the publishing community. Creating memorable characters is a main goal in writing these Adventures After Lights Out. Night Buddies, Impostors, and One Far-Out Flying Machine is the second book, recently released.

I’m now writing the third book in the series, and if you’d like to get in on the action, Crosley has a contest going on. It’s what he calls the Night Buddies Adventure Series Wacky Word contest. Winner #1 will receive a $25 gift card to a bookstore of their choice & both titles signed by yours truly. Four runners up get prizes too. And who knows? The winning words could end up in my next book!  
Visit this link to participate: http://familiesmatter2us.blogspot.com
You might want to have some sausages on hand, just in case!

For more information on author Sands Hetherington, go to www.nightbuddiesadventures.com

Like our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/nightbuddies

May 27, 2013

Little Glitches

Recently, I searched for a graduation card that I had squirreled away.  With graduation fast approaching, I wanted to wrap my daughter's gift and add the card.  But the card was nowhere to be found.  I searched the  basket where cards are always kept.  I rifled through the stack three times, but without any luck.  The card had disappeared.  I was crushed. No other one would do.  It was after all, the perfect card.

This little glitch was ruining my day.  I questioned why this had happened.  Finally, after realizing that complaining about it wasn't going to help me find it, I accepted the fact that losing the card was meant to be.  The solution:  to drive back to Target with the hope that an identical card would still be available.  Since I was hell-bent on finding the exact card, I dashed out that very day to buy one.  While I rushed out, I decided I would make the most of my time.  I'd run two errands: one to Target and the other to Macy’s, located just a few minutes away.
"Look out world. Here you come!"

Luckily I found the exact same graduation card.  Perfect!  Amazing!  Unbelievable!  Then I drove over to Macy’s to make a return.  On my way out, I noticed the shoe saleslady who frequently waits on me.  Over time we had gotten to know each other. On the occasions that she fitted me for shoes, she'd often talk about her son's health.  So before rushing back to my car, I stopped to ask about him. She shared with me that he would be needing major surgery soon.  I listened quietly as she described what would be involved.  Before leaving, I told her I’d keep him in my prayers and for this, she hugged and thanked me.

I firmly believe things happen for a reason.  When the graduation card was lost, it put me on the path to connect with an acquaintance who needed some support.  I adopt this belief to my writing as well.  When I get a rejection I try to remember this was meant to be.  I tell myself to consider editing my work or to start searching for another market.  Rejections are little glitches, that if I let them, can ruin my day.  But when I remember there’s probably a good reason for a rejection, then I can move on and focus on what is supposed to happen because of it.

May 20, 2013

DitzAbled Princess

The Children's Writer's World invites Jewel Kats to share the inspiration behind her new book.

Everything starts off as an idea.


Webcomics are no different.

There’s a tale behind the popular reality-series webcomic, “DitzAbled Princess,” and graphic novel that features the same “cast” of characters.  This story involves inspiration, needs, and wants.
Here’s the back story…

I’ve always been a comic strip junkie. I can’t run anymore, but I’ll grab the funny pages faster than you can blink. As a kid, I spent hours reading Archie comics as an in-patient at The Hospital for Sick Children. I reached for “Betty and Veronica Double Digests” during my bout with anorexia and depression. I turned to comics during my divorce. In short, comics have given me the will to live at times.

Now, the idea for “DitzAbled Princess” came during a happy time in my life. (Thankfully, this period has lasted!) I was engaged to my second husband, Alan, when the idea struck. Our conversation has almost become legendary.

It goes like this…
“You’re always reading ‘Betty and Veronica Double Digests’,” Alan once said. “You’re such a funny character in real life. Why don’t you try writing a comic strip?”

These three sentences changed my life.

I never told him this, but I immediately knew that I wanted to write about the present. Sadness hung over me for so long, and I wanted to finally record my joys. I also knew women like me—chicks with disabilities—failed to appear in the mainstream comic strip market. I wanted to change that. Pronto. 

Confession: I just never knew that “DitzAbled Princess” would take off this way.

I attribute the success of “DitzAbled Princess” to the lacking presence of a female comic character with physical disabilities. The fact that “DitzAbled Princess” is a reality-series webcomic based on real everyday people only heightens its appeal. (Who doesn’t want to be a guilt-free peeping Tom?)

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. It really boggles my mind why this has never been done before. C’mon it’s 2013! People with disabilities have existed since the beginning of humankind. It’s about time someone included a “DitzAbled Princess” strip in their lineup.

Our webcomic publisher, Tapastic.com, has taken a lead. Our graphic novel publisher, Marvelous Spirit Press, is playing its vital part.  Now, it’s YOUR turn to be a pioneer, and take in the world of “DitzAbled Princess.”

Remember, everything starts off as an idea.


Webcomic and graphic novel reading is no different.   

May 13, 2013

Andy Smithson: Blast of the Dragon's Fury

The Children's Writer's World invites L.R.W. Lee to share the inspiration behind her new book.

From my earliest memory, I’ve always wanted to write a children’s novel that was multi-layered with a complex story line.  But I wanted to do more than this.  I wanted to leave my readers with a narrative that could improve their lives as well. 

I well remember the first time I read C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia.  It was an almost magical experience for me.  I was fascinated by the land and all the characters and how they got into a strange, but wonderful world.  Narnia was more than that for me though.  Running through the story was another narrative, one of redemption.  Aslan was a depiction of Jesus.  The Stone Table that was rent in two when Alsan was slain on it was just like the veil of the Temple that was torn in two when Jesus died.  And there was so much more.  I loved the two levels of meaning…I was hooked! 

Since then, I have read J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and many other similarly styled narratives.  I love the complexity and multiple story layers; this general form fascinated me.  I assessed I was up for the challenge.  But, what message should be included to potentially improve my reader’s lives?

I puzzled with this question for many years.  Only while I was working with a mentor growing a company did I arrive at a satisfactory conclusion.  My mentor is a man of integrity and ethics.  I learned from him many lessons including overcoming frustration, impatience, fear and many more.  As I embodied these, my life became more peaceful and enjoyable.  I wanted to share.

Taking these elements and coupling them with my love of the mystery of castles with hidden tunnels and more, Andy Smithson was born.