Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Eve of NaNoWriMo

OK, so I'm really going to do this! I am going to write a novel in a month! And isn't it appropriate that the eve of NaNoWriMo would be Halloween--that time of year when we seek out the object of our fears for the fun of it! Very much akin to NaNoWriMo.

So, starting tomorrow, I will join thousands of writers across the world, each on a personal quest to write 50,000 words over 30 days for National Novel Writing Month. That's nearly 1700 words per day!

I am taking this brief opportunity to notify my very small audience of followers that my blog entries will be sporadic at best over the next 30 days. I will attempt to post updates and observations on my experience with NaNoWriMo, as I believe they will be full of folly and fodder. I promise not to bore you, but to instead entertain you through small doses of my escapades in novel writing.

I just took a break from working on my book outline. My first step in that process was to create a "character arc." (see below)

I will refer back to the character arc throughout my writing to make sure my main character is experiencing a sufficient amount of turmoil and drama throughout the story. It's sort of like a roller coaster ride--for the character and me!

For my freakishly observant followers, yes, this version of the character arc is backwards. I took the roller coaster pic using PhotoBooth on my MacBook Air. I know...I think it's cool, too!

And this is my work space -- evidence of the organized chaos I've just welcomed into my world. Can you say glutton for punishment! To do what I do, this space and these tools are my bare essentials; though, their individual order of importance shifts depending on my mood--it's my prerogative.

1. MacBook Air laptop (my electronic love)
2. Journals (yes, multiples)
3. Greta Garbo writing instrument (a reminder to do all things with confidence)
4. Book In A Month guide (my crutch)
5. Writing Children's Books for Dummies (my guide)
6. COFFEE!! (my lifeline)
7. Snacks (see yogurt cup sandwiched between laptop and pens--no explanation necessary)
8. My ceramic baby doll with one lost shoe (my muse)
9. A large supply of post-it notes (say hello to my little friend)
10. Books, books, books, and more books (my inspiration)
11. My new Flip cam for the occasional video posting describing my NaNoWriMo experience. WARNING to potential viewers--it might not be pretty ;-).

I hope you'll stop by during the next month to check my pulse and my caffeine intake, or to just witness the wonder of writing for an aspiring author. And if you're curious about NaNoWriMo, find out more on the website at Enjoy!

Always, Athena

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Top 10 SCBWI Observations--I Found My Tribe

Last Saturday, I attended my first children's book writers conference in Northern Virginia. I was nervous and exhilarated all at once. There were published authors, self-published authors, aspiring authors, illustrators, publishers, agents, editors, all eager to connect and learn more. My top ten initial observations were as follows:

1. This is clearly an industry dominated by women. Two thumbs up!
2. Everyone was genuinely friendly and eager to share experience and advice.
3. There was no overt sense of competition.
4. We like to eat--all kinds of food!
5. Of all the attendees, approximately 10 were men; one African-American.
6. Of all the female attendees, approximately 15 were minority women--diversity is craved and welcomed.
7. Many of the participants appeared not to be inclined to join the digital age; many that were joining were "kicking and screaming" their way into it. **Of course, I jumped in head first with a website, Twitter, and a blog--I was the unofficial digital advocate throughout the conference.**
8. Getting a book published doesn't make a lot of economic sense but offers an overdose of profound accomplishment.
9. Once you publish a book, it belongs to the reader.
10. Finding time to write is NOT indulgent; it is the bare essential that nurtures your craft.
BONUS: In the words of author Lisa Yee, "I found my tribe."

Stay tuned for posts on my MS feedback (including a pic with my author/advisor), notes from the funny and insightful keynote speaker, and advice on seeking out an agent--straight from the mouths of agents.

Always, Athena

Friday, October 22, 2010

SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Fall Conference

Tomorrow I'll join hundreds of children's book authors and aspiring authors for my first writer's conference. I will meet with Mary Quattlebaum, author of 18 award-winning picture books, poetry books, and middle grade novels, and she will give me feedback on my first manuscript, Flower Girl Princess. Needless to say, I am nervous and excited. So, I'm spending the evening crafting my pitch, revising my manuscript (again), and researching the faculty for tomorrow's fall conference. I will be posting a recap of my first conference experience in a couple of days--who I met, what Ms. Quattlebaum advised, and what I learned. Wish me luck...happy reading!

Always, Athena

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Tackling White Mind

What the heck is white mind? Is it the opposite of black soul? Is it a new game? Or maybe a new political affiliation?  No, no, and no.

In the current issue of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Bulletin, there is the final installment of a three-part series in the Illustrator's Perspective column that "...examines what illustrators can do so that all kinds of children can see themselves reflected in our books." Boldly titled "White Mind," I have followed this column and the author's blog, Coloring Between the Lines, with curiosity, some angst, and a thirst for answers. On her blog, Anne Sibley O'Brien, tackles issues of race and culture as they relate to children's literature, and with great precision delves into what she considers white conditioning.

As an African-American woman writing stories for children, characters of various cultural backgrounds are born in my imagination. Admittedly, most of them are children of color. But interestingly, when I begin to write, I envision and treat my characters as "every child." They are not usually identified as "ethnic," just simply as girls or boys. This small fact probably won't surprise O'Brien.

But I cannot help but wonder what editors and publishers will see...what they will assume about my writing and my characters. I wonder, but I don't worry.

One of my goals as an aspiring author is to normalize racial differences and grow the presence of children of color in picture books, early readers, and middle school chapter books. Children of all nationalities should browse the shelves in libraries and open the pages of books to see themselves depicted as princesses or pirates, wizards or witches, mermaids or munchkins, vampires or valedictorians. Yes, I too have a dream.

In the final installment of "White Mind," O'Brien asks, "What if all races of children got auditions for all picture book roles that didn't require particular racial identities to tell the story truly?" Imagine a Cinderalla of Asian descent. A Nigerian Harry Potter. An African-American Little Mermaid. Or Hispanic Hardy Boys. Same characters, same plot, just a different appearance.

I was an adult before I became acutely aware of my racial identity. I had spent my entire life surrounded by faces that looked like mine. Sure, I had the odd teacher or administrator or librarian that was white, but that was the extent of my brush with diversity.

After graduating from college, I became immersed in a professional world where I was the only one that looked like me. Navigating through curious stares, awkward questions about hair, and intellectual discussions about nationality with my white counterparts, we all became both teacher and student.  Our epiphany was our glorious "sameness." We explored our differences and discovered we were more alike than different. Children's literature has the power to do that for young minds; writers and illustrators have the awesome responsibility of being the conduit for that power.

I am grateful to writer/illustrators like O'Brien, who tackle tough issues to make a difference. "White Mind" doesn't just happen in children's literature; it happens in many corners of society. Acknowledging its existence and providing roadmap to the atypical path of diversity is a great start. Thanks, Ms. O'Brien.

Always, Athena

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Knuffle Bunny Free

If you haven't indulged in the work of Mo Willems, your time has come. With the recent release of Knuffle Bunny Free, Willems closes what began as a cautionary tale with an unexpected diversion. Told with sincerity, sentimentality, and style, Knuffle Bunny Free is a touching tale of letting go and sharing happiness.

Knuffle Bunny is a trilogy about a little girl, Trixie, and her closest inanimate friend, a stuffed bunny with floppy ears. In the first story, Knuffle Bunny, Trixie misplaces her companion and like all toddlers, is unable to articulate her loss. Written and illustrated by Willems, this story was a runaway success that continues to feed our fascination with a musical rendition, Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical. It debuted to Kennedy Center audiences in May 2010, and the traveling tour kicked off in Prince George's County, Maryland and continues through late spring 2011. If you can get tickets, it's sure to tickle your fancy. And even better, my sister-in-law, Paige Hernandez-Funn,  is the choreographer!

In Knuffle Bunny, Too, Trixie is off to her first day of school with Knuffle Bunny and to her surprise, her classmate also has a very similar companion, and what ensues is tender chaos and warm acceptance.  And finally, in book three we meet an even older Trixie in Knuffle Bunny Free, and with a tinge of sadness witness the release of her life-long companion.

These stories are perfect for the children in our lives that grow and mature before our very eyes, leaving behind the symbols of their development. Sometimes these symbols move from the bed to the toy chest to the garage and ultimately in the arms of other children. And sometimes they stay behind, relics of the past, trapped on canopy beds or in wooden toy chests, waiting and hoping that their owners return and include them in their new lives. Mo Willems has captured the spirit of growing children and the adults that watch, participate, and steer the bittersweet development of children. I hope you enjoy the Knuffle Bunny series and share it with the great children in your world.

Always, Athena

Friday, October 8, 2010

Young At Heart

I've always considered myself young at heart. I buy Barbie dolls. I build doll houses. I play games with children. I read children's picture books. I use my stepdaughter as an excuse to see all the new kids' movies. I adore Spongebob Squarepants. I was married in Disney World with Mickey and Minnie as our special guests. I epitomize what it means to be young at heart.

So, it was only logical that I would proclaim my intent to write stories for children. This proclamation reminded me of my very first children's book, written when I was a 13-year old junior high student. 

To fulfill an 8th grade creative writing requirement, I selected the creation of a book-- a picture book. My story was written in rhyme and illustrated by my classmate and friend, Ronald Woodard. I designed the cover and hand bound the book with laminated pages, staples, glue, and wallpaper scraps. Upon completion, I promoted my book to my audience of one--my teacher. At the tender age of 13, I was self-published and introduced to the world the story of Little Lisa.

Fast forward 30 years and my talents and dreams are coming full circle. I am reviving my creative writing. My imagination is stirred. My confidence growing. 30 years ago, a young girl felt no fear and wrote from her experiences and her heart. It has taken three decades for that young girl to reconnect with her adult self. My writing and I have come full circle. Why should I fear failure when I've already accomplished my goal?

Do you remember your first work of art? How old were you? Does the person that you were then compliment who you've become? Can the two work together for a better result? Are you young at heart?

All relevant questions with fascinating answers. I hope you'll share!

Always, Athena

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Good Ol' NaNoWriMo

November is National Novel Writing Month. This year, I am taking off the proverbial gloves and am comitting to writing 50,000 words in one month with NaNoWriMo. It's "thirty days and nights of literary abandon!" To give you a taste of my participating counterparts, check out the YouTube parody below...and then pray for me!

If you've ever felt the literary tug of becoming a novelist, join me in this all-consuming quest! I would love to have a partner in crime!

Always, Athena

Monday, October 4, 2010

Set the Scene, Set the Tone

This week I'm working on settings for my stories. I have a flower girl princess in Hawaii. A young pianist in SoHo. Five tween girls in Atlanta, GA. And four little girls in an imaginary land that's sugary and sweet.

In our real lives, where we live plays a role in who we are, positively or negatively. It's a contribution to who we are and who we want to become. It can define or defy us.

In fiction, it is very much the same. Setting adds context to character, and the characters drive the story. When a new story idea begins to form for me, I first envision the character and then where they live. For example, imagine the story of a preteen boy contemplating running away from home:

Jacob lives in a large urban city, in a cramped two bedroom apartment with his parents, grandmother, and three younger siblings. His afternoon walk from school can be more dangerous than walking down a dark alley. He sees the same thing every day: broken glass and broken spirits. Fractured sidewalks and fractured dreams. Crumbling school buildings and a crumbling education. Each day brings him closer to escape. But he's desperate and inpatient. He can't wait, refuses to wait another six years. After what happened in the school courtyard today, he knows he can never go back.

Suddenly the reader understands Jacob's desire to runaway. It's not through dialogue, but through the description of his neighborhood; it adds context to his story.

Setting is simply what surrounds the character or where the action occurs. A house. An apartment. The classroom. The bathroom. The kitchen. An amusement park. A haunted house. A stairwell. A garden. Taking it a step further, it also includes the elements within the setting. Dancing teapots. Paintings with roving eyes. Singing tulips. Blinking night lights. Squeaky doors. Leaky faucets. Spinning chairs. A magic lamp.

In addition to the setting and its elements, there's also the meaning of place. Is it incidental to the story? Does it help or interrupt the flow of the story? Are you adding something measurable to the context of the story? Is it an exotic location? Does your action happen in multiple locations? Addressing the questions strengthen the use of setting, and can also shield from overuse.

When I begin selecting a setting, I of course "Google;" but I also pay close attention to the mundane activities in the life of children: doing homework, after-school activities, reading, eating dinner, setting the table, folding clothes, and other chores. And then I apply the mundane to the extraordinary. My character doesn't just do homework, but she's transported into a different school book every night. Or, my character isn't just putting clothes away, but she's gobbled up by her messy sock drawer and becomes trapped in a maze of tights, socks, and footies. The books and the drawer are my setting and play a pivotal role in the advancement of my character's action.

Setting appears in the early sentences, paragraphs, and pages in all well-written literature. It plays a pivotal role to the character and the plot. It requires research and attention to detail, and it's one of my favorite elements. In the near future, you'll read more about what it's like for a tween girl growing up in SoHo, five little sweethearts spreading their sugary love on Icing Lane, or five tween girls navigating life in Atlanta, GA. Stay tuned!

Always, Athena

Sunday, October 3, 2010

New for Young Readers: Keena Ford

Second-grader Keena Ford is back, and this time there's a mix-up with her secret journal. The trouble starts when Keena accidentally leaves her journal at the apartment of her mean classmate, Tiffany. When she discovers her mistake, she panics. She's written things in her journal that aren't so nice about her friends and family. When her mom refuses to take her back to Tiffany's to get the journal, she knows there's going to be trouble. The next day, Tiffany informs Keena that she's read the journal and is going to tell all of Keena's secrets! Well, unless Keena does everything Tiffany says, of course.
With a little help from her brother, a friend, some classic fables, and a visiting author, Keena discovers what she must do to stand up to Tiffany and apologize to her friends. This is a first edition, hard cover, early reader chapter book with wonderful pencil sketches scattered throughout the book. It's perfect for children ready to jump into "bigger kid" books but are not yet ready for middle-grade topics or length. The vocabulary is easy enough and includes some challenging words to improve a young reader's skills. This is the third book in the Keena Ford series. I recommend all three books for your young readers, girls and boys: Keena Ford and the Second Grade Mix-Up, Keena Ford and the Field Trip Mix-Up, and Keena Ford and the Secret Journal Mix-up.

About the Author and Illustrator: 
Melissa Thomson is an elementary school teacher who lives in Arlington, Virginia. Frank Morrison was awarded the 2005 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Greta Garbo & Me

There's something mysteriously special about a fountain pen. The exquisite nib, delicately sculpted to resemble a work of fine art. Externally it's smooth; internally, a bit temperamental. If you write with a fountain pen, then you know that you are actually in a relationship with your writing instrument...selecting the width of your nib, perfecting your unique writing position, choosing ink colors, filling and refilling, cleaning and polishing. It is all very romantic and fulfilling.

My favorite writing instrument is the Mont Blanc special edition Greta Garbo Writing Instrument. It "authentically reflects the remarkable style and glamour of a woman who set her own standards to become a legend, not only in her own time but for many generations to follow. This Edition is also dedicated to the women of today who, in the Garbo tradition, believe in the fulfillment of their own visions." Wow! Those are high expectations for a pen!

My Greta Garbo fountain pen was a gift from my husband, and therefore carries sentimentality along with its ink. It is described as a "Barrel made of black precious resin, cap made of cream coloured precious resin. Clip set with one white, round Akoya pearl. Platinum-plated fittings. Cap ring embellished with the 'Greta Garbo' signature."

Its outward beauty is second only to its writing perfection. When I put pen to paper with my Greta Garbo, my words are smooth and sensual. Each letter is gloriously pronounced, causing me to search my vocabulary for the most exotic phrases worthy of such an intoxicating experience.

The dramatic art of writing -- not typing or word processing, but actual writing -- is becoming a relic amongst our affair with technology. I admit to writing on my laptop; it's quick and efficient. But my best work is captured in my journals and notebooks when I lay glorious pen to paper. 

I love the art of writing. And thanks to my husband, I have an instrument that speaks and writes volumes about the woman that I am--full of spirit with a restless energy to pursue my personal happiness. I found an unlikely kindred spirit in Greta Garbo:  a woman of humble birth who became the ultimate fashion and trend icon, a symbol for all those who challenge normal expectations in search for better ones. She believed in women fulfilling their visions; I believe and am attempting the same. High expectations for me and my pen!

Always, Athena

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Connecting the Dots

My journey to become an author began with an idea, that grew into a proposal, was nurtured into a first draft manuscript, and has blossomed into a personal truth: I can write and I am creative. So what?

     The first few steps were easy, personal, and pure. I could write with wreckless abandon because the act of writing is of a solitary nature. But at some point, after writing, and revising, and researching, and revising again, I would have to give my manuscript wings and let it fly. It must be exposed to the world, naked in plain view for all to love, hate, or ignore.
     This is a pivotal point for a writer turned aspiring author. How you proceed is critical. The good news is, there's help. When I emerged from my writing euphoria, I knew that I could not travel this road alone if I ever wanted to be published. I turned to my tried and true friend Google and found the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).
     On my first visit to the site, I spent two hours and became a member. This professional resource connected me with like-minded spirits in my region. It offered conferences, classes, and connectivity. It opened my eyes to the possibility of writing for children as a profession, and introduced me to a flourishing industry committed to challenging a child's imagination. In this place, I knew I was no longer alone. It gave me the confidence to share my work; not for self-fulfillment, but to become a better writer for children. I was inspired by the illustrations, and vividly saw my characters come to life.
     Since that time, I've connected to a world of authors, agents, writers, publishers, editors, and illustrators. I joined the magnificent world of Twitter, built a website, launched this blog, follow at least a dozen other blogs, have written more stories, found an editor, and am going to my first conference in October--to include a manuscript review by children's book author Mary Quattlebaum.
     Am I afraid? Certainly! Writing your first book is monumental. You love it, nurture it, cradle and caress it, and then send it off into the world hopeful that you've given it the best that you've got. It's a leap of faith. I am thankful for SCBWI for giving me a forum, guidance, and comrades. I am desperate to know if my writing needs polishing.... if my plot is lack-luster...if my main character falls I can become a better writer.
     Connecting and networking is key in this industry. There's so much to learn and so many options. The act of writing is only the first step.
     A decade ago, an aspiring author didn't have Twitter, Facebook, or the proliferation of blogs. Just out of curiosity, I consulted the 1995 edition of a Webster's dictionary for the definition of blog; it was non-existent. Now in 2010, blog is not only in the dictionary, but blogs have become a force, challenging traditional journalism and demanding a place at the table. This is a world where aspiring authors have found a voice. It is a connection.
     I am still connecting the dots, but not on my own. The SCBWI, Victoria Mixon, Mary Quattlebaum, Marissa Graff, Martina Boone, Jennifer Laughran, Mary Kole, Cornell DeVille, and many more have helped me on this journey. I don't know if the world of children's publishing is different by nature, but it has already given me more than I could ever give back.

Always, Athena

From SCBWI...
10 FAQs About Children's Book Publishing
New to publishing for young readers? Here are the questions most frequently asked, helpfully answered by a group of professionals in the field. 
From Keyboard to Printed Page
Here are the basics on how to format your writing for submission to agents and editors.
Types of Publishers
This handy guide gives you a quick summary of the different types of publishers and book packagers who may be interested in your work, as a well as a short, general overview of how they work.
From the Editor's DeskEver wish you could pick an editor's brain about what she's looking for, or what she might suggest? You're in luck. Beverly Horowitz, VP & Publisher at Bantam Delacorte Dell Books for Young Readers answers your questions.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Under Advisement

As a writer who just publicly acknowledged that I am an "aspiring author," I am thirsty for knowledge and hungry for the advice of those who've taken this journey before me. I read blogs, and articles, and Twitter links to more blogs and more articles. I download free guides. I study the work of other authors. I ask naive questions and insert myself into conversations best left to the pros. I take classes, attend book signings, and carry a notebook wherever I go. But I am an aspiring author; what else should I do?

There are no right or wrong approaches to chasing a dream. You choose what you're most comfortable with and move forward. It's simple. For me, I seek advice from multiple sources. Some of it is useful, while some of it I forget with the flick of keystroke.

My disposition allows me to accept advice easily, but not without discernment. I make my own choices and live or perish by them. For example: I've decided to write picture books for children and have two finished MSS under revision.  But I'm also studying early readers to bring to life a new character who haunts me, and am committing to writing a middle grade novel in a month with NaNoWriMo and a BIAM guide. Why not commit to one at a time? Why risk sinking when I could easily swim with one?This is my time for discovery! The sky is my limit, the clouds my fall back plan. I am in control of my destiny and am throwing caution to the wind.

I will probably always be under advisement on this journey, which is ok. You're never too old to learn or too good to accept sound advice. Below are a few golden nuggets that I've come to rely on. This list will continue to grow as I grow. And a little advice from me: start your own list and let others speak knowledge and wisdom into your craft. What have you got to lose?

Always, Athena

“Don’t stop, no matter what. Even the best writers wrote ugly when they first started.” --Virginia Burns

"Your voice is something that is inherently you. It’s rather like a literary fingerprint. No one of us, no matter how similar our personalities or geographical or social upbringing, will ever put words on paper in exactly the same order." --K.M. Weiland

"The practice of outlining a book before trying to write it is especially beneficial to beginning writers. First, it requires thinking the story through while eliminating a lot of wasted time chasing unworkable ideas. Second, it provides a blueprint to which the writer can refer while working on a story over the course of months or even years." --Rekha Ambardar

"Picture books are short! Read them at the bookstore, and look at very current ones at the library. Over the last several decades, the word count has dropped tremendously. Most publishers are looking for picture books under 1,000 words, and 500 words is even better. Remember that a lot of description can be left out – that’s the illustrator’s job. Then cut and cut some more until what’s left sounds like poetry." --Jennifer Jensen

"Remember that a picture book is 32 pages. Half of those pages are pictures, so try keep the word-count under 500. When you’re drafting a picture book it’s useful to make your own mock-book, copying from a real book all the features like endpapers, the title page, dedication and publishing information page and so on. It also helps to put the text on each page to see how is pans out." --Mem Fox

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Milestone Moment!

Today I reached 10 followers--not counting myself! As promised, my first "Talented 10" followers will receive a special gift from me. Look for an email message from me with more information. Thanks for following!

Ray (my loving husband)
James Ware (my dad)
Karen Strong
Dominique Cobb (my sister)
DAJ Consulting (my brother-in-law)
E. Van Lowe
Ayana Ware (my sister)

Thank God for family! Always, Athena

Marilyn Nelson & Tim Basil Ering share "Snook Alone" @ National Book Fest

National Book Fest 2010 - Mem Fox

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Choice

I am the eldest of six siblings. The two youngest, my only brother and youngest sister, are practically a generation away from me. They are two children, frozen in time in my mind, that I imagine when I'm conjuring stories to write.

When they were kids, I adored them, and they me. Whenever I walked through the door, I crossed a threshold into a festival of giggles and tickling. With me came the promise of candy, a scary chase through the house with my eyelids flipped to expose the blood red lining (disgustingly embarrassing--I know!), board games with a twist, clown face with balloon filled candy attached to my body, and the reading of their favorite book.

For Jaware and Ayana, their favorite book was The Monster At The End of This Book, featuring the lovable Grover of Sesame Street fame. In the book, Grover begs kids not to turn the pages because  there's a monster at the end. Of course, kids continue to turn the pages because they want and need to see this monster. He builds brick walls to prevent forward movement. He transforms into a human blockade to hold down the pages to no avail. And ultimately, we reach the monster at the end of the book. If you haven't read this delightfully funny story, I won't ruin the end for you but encourage you to give it a whirl at your local public library.

When I read this story to my brother and sister, they hung on my every word. I brought the story to life, struggling to turn the pages and enlisting their help when the pages were too heavy. I begged and nearly cried on behalf of Grover for them not to turn the pages. I shivered, and shook, and cringed, and kept my eyes tightly shut until the next page was revealed. Together, we were awe-struck and excited about this funny little book. And I read it COUNTLESS times!

The pure expression of joy on their faces is why I have chosen to write for kids. Today, I still read to children. My goddaughters love Pinkalicious. My stepdaughter adores Knuffle Bunny and sleeps with her version every night. My godson prefers any book with animals, cars, and/or super heroes. It's for them all that I chose to write and create picture books for kids.

The road I chose is not easy. It requires me to show more, and tell less. My words will rely on illustrations. Every word counts and must be carefully chosen. There are less than 1,000 words in a picture book, most are less than 500. One of the most popular picture books of all time, Where the Wild Things Are, is a mere 338 words (and it was adapted into a movie).

What genre have you chosen, and why? Do you dabble in and cross multiple genres? Can you remember what inspired you?

This is my choice -- not easy, but fulfilling. I may never be acclaimed; I prefer to be adored. It's my choice and I'm basking in it!

Always, Athena

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Athena in Wonderland

It happened Monday night, quite unexpectedly, while reading one of the numerous blogs I now follow. I clicked on a link and was transported to a page that would be my equivalent to Alice's Wonderland. Ok, so I lean a bit to the dramatic, but it did lead to an important milestone: I found an editor.

For me, this was profound. I began writing children's stories a mere few months ago. I rushed into it blindly but passionately. No experience, no direction, no sense of the realities of book publishing for children. My only companion on this journey has been the desire to write stories that elicit sparks of fascination, curiosity, and joy in the eyes of children.

Like Alice, I have stumbled upon an alternate reality, lured and guided by a gentle spirit. For Alice, it was a somewhat nervous rabbit. For me, it's every child who's ever said, "read me a story."

My wonderland is very much like Alice's world. It's enticing, a bit exotic, somewhat scary, and appropriately challenging. Each character that I meet on this epic journey helps me make it to my next destination. Three months ago, I would have never imagined that I would have written two children's stories, became addicted to Twitter, be "followed" by authors like Kim Wayans and aspiring authors like Karen Strong, built a website, corresponded with veteran authors, and launched a blog. This world that I've joined rises up to meet me and pushes me toward the prize.

It's an imaginative world full of authors, publishers, editors, critics, bloggers, forums, websites, advisers, teachers, and other aspiring authors. In it breathes a sacred craft of perfect opposites: critiqued and celebrated, beloved and beguiling.

Since being lured into this alternate reality, my words no longer stumble from my fingertips. They elegantly and confidently glide across the keyboard, each keystroke a triumph. Yet, they are not all perfect. Some of them, alas, are flawed and will ultimately be driven from the page leaving only a crimson scar in remembrance. And I will mourn their loss each time. I welcome this ritual with a sense of trepidation and resigned acceptance. The weight of my words and the worth of my stories will be at the mercy of my editor, and I welcome her into my wonderland. Will she be the Mad Hatter or the Queen of Hearts? My money is on the Mad Hatter.

Whether it's down the rabbit hole, through the looking glass, or a wrinkle in time, all aspiring authors feel a sense of euphoria at their milestones. Thanks for joining me on my small indulgence.

Always, Athena

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Plot Thickens

Last night, I came across Cornelle DeVille's blog. Like me, his blog is dedicated to "aspiring authors on their journey toward publication." A couple of weeks ago, he posted a recommendation for his fellow aspiring authors to take advantage of a set of YouTube videos posted by Martha Alderson, "The Plot Whisperer." I watched the first video and knew that I had stumbled upon a treasure.

I consider myself a writer aspiring to be an author; there is a difference.  When I was in high school desperately trying to select a college major, my father asked me an easy enough question: "What do you like to do?" The answer was simple (or so I thought). I replied, "Write. I like to write." Up until that point, the only creative writing I had explored was poetry, and my exploration was both private and academically unsupported. My father had encouraged my love of poetry when he discovered my early pre-teen work, but, he could not fathom a "career" as a poet. So, with his direction, I decided to major in English with a focus on journalism. Ah, ha -- a way to make a living writing. And so I took the road most travelled, forsaking my passion.

Fast-forward nearly 25 years and I've come full circle...and the plot does thicken. I write most days in my professional career in public relations. I've been a freelance writer for national publications. I've written broadcast commercial scripts, press releases, features, newsletter articles, proposals, grants, annual reports, and more. I am handsomely compensated for my work; I am also completely detached from my work.

I am finally returning to the place where a young girl dreamed in rhythmic words and phrases to the delight of "herself." I am a creative writer without the benefit of academics to help nurture my craft. So, I'm starting from scratch and savoring every moment!

And thanks to Cornelle and Martha, I will be studying plot over the next few weeks. I watched the first of six videos posted by Martha. She began her "plot whispering" lesson with pre-plotting and character (which helps in the creation of my first character sketch for a YA novel). She offered simple questions to consider: What does your character want? What are they working towards, what's their goal? The goal, she insists must be measurable. OK, I can handle this.

Her first example, to my delight, was the wildly popular Where the Wild Things Are.  In this story, Max's goal is to be a wild thing, to make mischief. Simple.

In response, I offer up three of my characters. Jasmine, who wants to be challenged. Chloe, who wants to stay hidden in her shell. And a little girl who wants to blend in. Believe it or not, I had not thought of any of my characters with goals. That short exercise connected and endeared me to these characters.

How Martha is going to guide me to the next step remains to be seen. Another blogger/author, Janice Hardy, and her Other Side of The Story blog reminds us that "Story is, but plot does." I have stories for each of my characters. I may also have weak plots. Who knows. I am an aspiring author with a passion for telling stories that children will love and a sincere desire to sharpen my writing craft to deliver on a promise. I will always be open to learning; it's a bare necessity.

Thank you for joining me on this journey. I can now honestly say, "I love what I do."

Always, Athena

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Diligence and Commitment

So, life happens! It's been a week and a day since my last post and I am swimming in frustration. Long hours on the job leaves little time to update my blog AND write. So, I've decided that it's ok to not update the blog daily, but it's not ok to disappear for a week.

For my seven followers (yes, that includes me), I have created an editorial calendar, a schedule of sorts. Now, you can look forward to specific postings on dedicated days. This is my promise to you and myself. Beginning this week you'll see postings on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays or Sundays (depends on my weekend schedule) as follows:

Mondays: The Craft of Writing (topics to help aspiring writers become better at their craft)
Wednesdays:  Industry Round-Up (topics related to the children's publishing industry -- which can be a little different from traditional publishing)
Fridays: My Favorite Things (postings that give you insight into who I am and what makes me tick)
Saturdays/Sundays: Kids Literature (a focus on new and old kids literature in the market--with links to purchase)

I do reserve the right to alter or grow this calendar at my leisure ;-). I am promising you diligence and commitment; I am making the same promise to myself. And when I reach 10 followers, I will send my "talented tenth" a special gift to remind you to remain connected to your inner child. And when I reach 25 followers, I will host a contest for a collection of autographed children's books.

Check back often and keep me honest!

Always, Athena

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Character Matters

We know them well...

Wilbur, Charlotte, Harry Potter, Peter Rabbit, Alice, Cinderella, Holden Caulfield, Max, Sam-I-Am, Mrs. Whatsit, Dorothy, Nancy Drew, and so many others. They are old friends that linger in our minds well into adulthood, in small ways shaping and shifting our lives. Some are old, some new, some recreated, some preserved in time. Next to our parents, they were our first heroes and heroines. They helped us identify the pieces of our personalities. They made us laugh and cry. They comforted and they excited. They were more than figments of our imaginations; they were the food that fed our hungry imaginations.

The characters from my favorite childhood books are never far from my mind when I write. Certainly plot, theme, scenery, point of view, and tone are all equally important drivers in our stories. But without characters to make the mistakes, find the treasure, solve the mystery, follow the road, travel in time, lose the slipper, weave the web, or make the eggs, we're left with empty words on a page.

So, character matters. When I'm creating a new character, I pull from many sources. My stepdaughter is an overflowing fountain of material. But so are her friends. I find traits in magazine articles about children. I am inspired by the stories of children who are making an impact in their communities. I discover stories on websites dedicated to enriching the lives of children. I pull from my personal experiences working with children. I capture minute details watching the children in my family play. Sources for character enrichment abound!

Like author E.B. White, I am "Always...on the lookout for the presence of wonder" when writing. This, my friends, is the easy part. The trickery lies in the organization of what you've discovered to deliver a memorable character. Enter the Character Bible-- a blueprint of your character to answer questions about personality and desires. It addresses the emotional, social, and physical attributes of your character and gives you direction.

What's his name? Is he a namesake? Why?
How old is he?
What are his physical attributes (hair, skin, eyes, height, weight, etc.)?
What is his ethnicity?
Where does he live? Where was he born?
What are his physical quirks?
Who are his friends? Why?
Is he smart? Is he dull? What does he excel in? Where does he fail?
Does he have a big secret?
Does he have siblings? Who's in his family?
What are his weaknesses/flaws?
Is he introverted or extroverted?
Is he athletic?
What small details sets him apart from others?

These are just a few questions to help you create memorable, believable, consistent, and interesting characters. In The Writer's Guide to Crafting Stories for Children, the author suggest the following when crafting characters: validate confusion, celebrate inconsistency, choose names carefully, ignore the facts, ignore the opinions of others, and ignore the truth.

Creating characters is my favorite part of the writing process. I love the research, the realities, the revisions, and the reward. How do you create memorable characters? Share it here... this is a safe space where character matters!

Always, Athena

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

An Aspiring Author, Her Inspiration, and Her Books

It happened on a perfect, white sand beach in Aruba; me watching my beautiful stepdaughter bask in the glory of being a flower girl in my sister's wedding. As she spun around picture-perfect in the sand, my mind began to spin tales of a little girl crowned "the flower girl princess," spreading flower girl power to weddings all over the world. And that was all the inspiration I needed to put pen to paper and write my first children's story: "Adventures of A Flower Girl Princess."

The inspiration was easy; it was the story, characters, and plot that had me stumped. But, fearless in my endeavor, I turned to  a tried and true resource: books! Avid readers know that the answer to any problem can be found hidden between the pages of books. So I scoured the Internet in search of books to guide me in my quest to become a children's book author.

What I found were two books that have become indisposable: The Writer's Guide to Crafting Stories for Children and Writing Children's Books for Dummies.

The Writer's Guide to Crafting Stories for Children is written by children's book author, Nancy Lamb. With the experience of having written over 40 books for children and adults, her book provides practical advice, is a great reference resource, and is very entertaining. Literary agent Andrea Brown describes it as "...much more educational than taking an entire semester of Children's Books 101 anywhere." It covers foundation and structure, plot and subplot, characters, point of view, voice and tone, premise, theme, moral, and so much more. It encourages you to feed your creative spirit, but not at the expense of mastering the craft. As I type this post, it sits nestled near me with its creased seam, ink-stained pages, and highlighted passages, at the ready granting advice to this aspiring author.

The second book, my book-writing bible, is Writing Children's Books for Dummies. My first instinct with this book was to discard it. Could a book for "dummies" really have merit in the world of children's book publishing? I know that I am but a babe in the woods, a novice at best, and that I may not be qualified to recommend a book that is seemingly so simplistic -- but here goes! This book has helped me to plan and create, which is appealing to my Libran sensibilities. It has given me the tools to organize my space, my writing habits, and my stories. Written by a publishing executive who was also a children's book writer (Lisa Rojany Buccieri), and an author with nine For Dummies titles (Peter Economy), this reference book takes the novice writer from the basics of writing children's books to understanding the market, through the writing process to plot and scenery, and finishing off with publishing, promotion, and sources for great storylines. In my humble opinion, it is a must have for every novice and aspiring children's book author.

Now, armed with the two books I can't write without, I am moving onward and upward towards my publishing dream. Tomorrow, I submit my first manuscript for a professional critique through the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Tune in tomorrow for a recap on my "manuscript via snail mail" adventure. Always, Athena.

Monday, September 6, 2010


Happy Labor Day! What an appropriate holiday to launch my Aspiring Author blog. Writing for me is a labor of love; publishing is another story. This blog is my journey into the world of book publishing. I've been reading a lot, following authors and publishers on Twitter, talking more freely about my writing, and now, I'm going to share what I'm learning in real time with you. This is not just a place for me to write about my experience, but I'll also offer valuable information on the publishing world through links and other resources that I discover along the way. If you're an aspiring author, know an aspiring author, or are just curious about what makes someone want to write a book and seek the approval of publishers, this is the site for you. I hope you'll come by often. And please follow me or leave a comment...I crave feedback! Thanks for stopping by. Until next time...Always, Athena