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Cheryl's Musings

Cheryl's Musings: October 2008

Cheryl's Musings

How to Thrive on the Writer's Road


Emotions and the Writer

As a writer, I have an odd relationship with my emotions. Too much emotion, and I can't focus to write; too little, and my words are dead as old leaves. Over the years, I've developed strategies for harnessing the power of emotions in my writing--and strategies to keep emotions from stifling my creativity.

Emotions should be:
  1. Noticed. When I feel sad, happy, surprised, afraid, and so on, I tend to keep a little piece of myself as a detached observer. My writer self needs to take notes on the physicality of emotions. All those collected details will show up in my writing.

  2. Remembered. If I'm writing an emotion, I can make it more real by re-living, in memory, an event that provoked that emotion in me.

  3. Managed. If a little emotion can bring writing to life, too much can flatten me and make me incapable of writing. A little exercise, deep breathing, and yoga do wonders for focusing my mind on the present even when life offers me a myriad of distractions. (Doesn't it always?)

  4. Freed. Often I need to clear out an emotional overload by talking, journaling, or drawing my way through a particular issue. I think emotions need to be acknowledged and accepted before they'll continue on their merry way...freeing my mind for other pursuits!

  5. Rested. Writing an emotional passage can be as exhausting as living through that emotion in the real world. I come up to breathe afterward, exhausted! Don't forget to take breathers and recharge.

I wonder: are people creative because they have rich emotional lives, or do their emotions intensify because they are creative?

Maybe the two egg each other on :).


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Middle School: Ramblings of a Grownup who Remembers

I think our culture tends not to consider kids "real" people; you know, they don't have jobs, don't vote, their worries are "unimportant". Not true. Middle school was about the time that everything became important in my life. It's a time when everything becomes more complicated, too, and school begins its not-so-subtle shift from fun and simple (mostly) to a proving ground for the rest of your life.

Middle school is also a time when kids face some of life's uglier lessons. Like--what is bullying? How do you stand up for yourself? When do you take a stand and when do you step back and decide the the fight isn't worth it?

Many of today's middle schools provide anti-bullying programs, to teach kids how to deal with tough situations. I like that. I like it because I remember seeing bullying, when I was in middle school, and I remember doing nothing. I was a quiet kid, a sheltered kid who never realized this kind of stuff happened. Without thinking about appropriate responses beforehand, I had no idea what to do--so I did nothing. I've regretted it ever since.

We're teaching our quiet kids, our kids who see and care about injustices around them, to stand up and make a difference. Sounds good, right? The problem is that when someone steps outside their comfort zone--when a quiet kid tries to stand up against a perceived wrong--she might get it wrong the first time.

If I'd tried to stand up for this girl, the one with the greasy hair who had a mood ring one of the popular girls decided she wanted--if I'd tried to stand up for her, I bet I would have been the one to get in trouble. Why? Because I probably would have done it poorly, maybe used too much force or broken some unwritten "rule" of confrontation. And because the popular girls were the ones who knew how to lie. They'd practiced sweet-talking teachers before. They knew smooth ways to slant the story in their favor. And me? I was the gawky kid who got tongue-tied when embarrassed--traits that are often misinterpreted as signs of a guilty conscience.

The quiet kids, the sensitive kids--they're the ones most likely to see the wrongs in our world and try to right them. Unfortunately, they also tend to be the ones with the least experience with confrontation. And when the quiet kids step into the territory of the popular, the more articulate, and the extroverts to assert themselves--well, sometimes they screw it up. Sometimes they're the ones who get in trouble.
So what, should they quit trying? Nope. Quiet kids, introverts, gawky and shy kids, geeky kids--well, maybe we screw up when we try to stand up for ourselves, but we also grow and learn from the experience. And I still believe we're the ones who will change the world into a better place. Guess that's why I write for them.


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What is Cheryl doing right now?

Who all out there is on Facebook or MySpace or some other networking site? I'm on Facebook, and it's cool in some ways and a huge time sink in others. Man! I turn around for a few minutes, and I'm kidnapped or poked or tagged in a photo or someone wants me to send a flower to save the rain forest...

I haven't decided how much of it is a "useful" use of my time, but it's definitely fun. And it lets me keep in touch with people I might not otherwise contact quite so frequently--like the folks from the writing retreat I just attended. Pretty cool.

But back to what I'm doing right now--I'm READING! And rewriting, but in between rewriting binges, I now have a pile of books to devour. Yesterday I raced through R.A. Nelson's Breathe My Name. Today, I'm reading it again, to absorb the great voice and language use. Here's a taste:

"See?" Momma says, holding up the jar with the crawdads. "Everything knows about fear."

And it's true. I've seen spiders, the smallest spider you can see, little bitty red ones smaller than a freckle--they run like crazy if you put your finger down next to them. Their fear is as big as any fear in the whole world.

...Momma is good at scaring things.

And here's another favorite passage, a spider metaphor that R.A. Nelson carries and develops through the entire story:

Maybe that's what she always was. Only none of us knew, because she kept it hidden. And through everything, all the times she was kissing us or playing games with us or being the queen of our pretend kingdom, really she was a spider underneath everything, just itching to break free. And every night the stiff little spidery hairs were coming to the surface, and she had to be careful to pluck them off each morning so that no one would suspect she was really a spider.

As a writer, I sometimes forget to let my characters see the world through metaphor and whimsy. That's my assignment for tonight: to take a passage and rewrite, letting my character make sense of her world with a type of understanding that moves beyond the ordinary.

Thanks for the inspiration, R.A.Nelson!

:) Cheryl

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Writing Away Retreat - October 2008

If you caught yesterday's post, you know two important things: 1) that I've resurfaced, and 2) that I just returned from the most amazing retreat experience ever. The Writing Away Retreat gave me the following:
  • One-on-one time with YA author R.A. Nelson, which involved a manuscript critique plus answers to my hundred and one questions about the world of writing, publishing, agents, editors, and authors.

  • One-on-one time with author/editor Lee Ann Ward of Champagne books, who also provided a manuscript critique, answers to another hundred and one questions, and great discussion about how the heck to balance being a mom, writer, and money-earner.

  • A coaching session with Lisa Gates, who is a great actress as well as insightful (and funny) coach.

  • Fantastic food, provided by Cicily.

  • Days filled with writing, writing, and more writing, interspersed with time in the hot tub, creativity hikes, and the occasional nap. I plotted out an entire book and wrote 30+ pages. (Translation: I'm VERY happy!!)

  • Encouragement, camaraderie, lots of info about the publishing world, and plain fun sprinkled between writing jags.

  • And evenings of readings and discussions around the dining table and fireplace.'s hard to express. I left, though, recharged and refreshed. Maybe more importantly, I left with a new sense of perspective and clearer priorities for this crazy writing life. And I left writing!

Writing retreats, home-grown or otherwise, are great. This one--if you're ready for hours and hours of solid time, if you could use mentorship more than another conference, take a look at the Writing Away Retreat. It goes beyond great. It's fantabulous!!!

:) Cheryl

PS--Thanks to Cicily for the photo, showing me enjoying a particularly good meal....

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Just One Word...

Or should it be WOW?

I returned from the first-ever Writing Away Retreat, hosted by the incredible Cicily Janus, and it was far and away one of the best writing events I've ever attended. More on that later, when I have more than a few secs to write. BUT...if you're interested, check out If at all possible, I'll be there for the May 2009 retreat.

Meanwhile, here's info on an opportunity to attend for FREE, from Cicily:

Dishing up fear! Let's combine my love for cooking and short stories! I've heard editors say that horror/thriller writer's are hard to find. And good ones, even more difficult to find. So let's prove them wrong.

CONTEST: Submit a short story or portion of novel UP TO 5K words to using this as your topic: "Dishing up fear." Can be anything as long as it fits within this topic. Of course I'm looking for the very best writing, not just gore for gore sake. Not into that. I'm much more easily scared with suspenseful words...

Entry Fee: $10.00 USD via paypal.Once entry is sent into above email address, paypal invoice will be sent out. All non-paid entries will be discarded. For your money, you get a crit. of your short or novel excerpt and if it's good enough, a suggestion of where you can submit the piece within the short story markets.

Deadline: January 1, 2009: Midnight. Must be submitted and paid for by that date.

Submit to: with Writing Away Retreats Contest as the subject line. Stories must be attached as a PDF/RTF/DOC file otherwise will not be opened. Any entry over 5K words will be disqualified. WINNER ANNOUNCED ON JANUARY 15th, 2009.

Winner receives a full ride to Writing Away Retreats worth 1000.00 USD. If winner wishes to bring spouse or friend to the retreat, he/she will have to pay the remainder of 750.00 of the couple charge. Don't miss out on this wonderful opportunity to study your craft with the best in the field, bask in the creative light at a wonderful destination and taste some of the best food you've ever experienced all in one place. Good Luck!

Yours in Words, Cicily (

OH AND PLEASE REPOST THIS ON ANY SITES YOU MIGHT DEEM APPROPRIATE! Website for Writing Away Retreats to be updated with contest details and registration details for May Retreat within the next week or two.

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When you're working a ton...

Most of the writers I know don't have the luxury of being full time, this-is-my-only-job writers. Most of us have other full time jobs as well. Sometimes several. So it's easy to get into a place of putting in way too many hours, way too many nights in a row. How do we avoid burning out?

It's on my mind because that's where I am right now. I'm crazy-busy, for all the best reasons: paying freelance work, a book that an agent and an editor have both requested, another book that just received a fantabulous critique from the author-in-residence at the writing retreat I just attended, plus a science book series on the docket for a great small publishing house in Texas. I've been walking that fine line between energized and overwhelmed!

And I know I'm not the only one. At the beginning of the writing road, authors spend hours taking classes, cranking out first drafts, participating in critique groups, rewriting and rewriting--all in addition to their other full-time jobs. Authors farther along the career writers' path spend days on the road promoting their books, visiting schools, and trying to squeeze in writing time in between the rest.

Balance: that weird, flux state that all writers--perhaps all people--strive to attain. How? How do we do it?

We start by taking time off. Completely off. If you're working (if I'm working) ten, twelve, fourteen hours a day, you can't survive without breaks that are just as intensive as your writing time. If you're writing 24/7 (or if it feels that way), make sure there are a few hours when you're not allowed to write. Use them to stare at the ceiling, walk the dogs, make nachos for your kids, cuddle by candlelight....and recharge.

Sure, you could read this sort of advice in any anti-stress article; but where would be the fun in that? Happy writing!

:) Cheryl

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Heading out to write...

I'll be away from internet access for the next few day, because I'm heading into the mountains for a writing retreat. And I'm VERY excited! Wish me luck deciding which of the projects I should focus on!



Trusting the Process

Time and again, I find myself striving to make my writing process more efficient--and time and again, it doesn't happen. Although I can streamline some things--I'm a great fan of writing out character descriptions and plot outlines beforehand, for example--I can't seem to shorten the amount of time it takes me to rewrite a book.

I was wondering this morning if that's part of the process: spending time getting to know characters, plot, theme, setting.

I find myself writing lengthy passages of dialog in order to discover one key line; writing lengthy passages of description in order to capture the whole of it in a few well-chosen words; and writing paragraphs of theme-musings in order to draw out the core of what I'm trying to say. Ideally, I'd like to get to that one line of dialog, description, or theme the first go-around, but is that even possible?

I can make goals for pages to edit or write, but I can't seem to cut down the number of passes it takes for me to make good writing excellent. And seems to work.

Trusting the process: I think I'll post that above my computer.

:) Cheryl

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In a few weeks, one of my favorite writing events of the year rolls around: National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I know quite a few writers who are going to participate and *hopefully* I'll be joining them.

What is NaNoWriMo? It's an organization ( and an event, a time when writers around the world collectively commit to writing a ridiculous number of words in a single month. People come to it with different hopes. Some just want to see if they can write a book. Some see it as a contest. Some enjoy the encouragement and camaraderie--there are in-person write-ins one can join to meet with other writers on the same journey. Some want a deadline to motivate their creativity and energy.

You'd be surprised what people can accomplish in a month.

The most successful enter the month with a plan. For me, it's not about competition or even the camaraderie (although it's cool to think of all those other writers working out there). For me, it's about setting aside some time to write the project I haven't gotten around to writing. I wrote my current project-in-revision, Juggling the Keystone, during NaNoWriMo. This time around, I'm hoping to use the month to write a book I've been kicking around in my head since February.

Anyone else going to participate? Happy writing to you!


PS--Image courtesy of

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Writing Strategy of the Day

When, for whatever reason, I'm stuck in a passage of writing, one of my favorite strategies is to make lists. Lists are a nonthreatening way for me to sidestep my internal editor; they let me collect concrete details about a scene, character, or plot line; and they help me slip into a state of flow, where words waterfall from my subconscious unhindered.

For setting? I list smells, tastes, feelings, and sounds as well as what my character sees. I also list my characters thoughts, emotional reactions.

For a conversation? I list phrases, information, snappy comebacks, snide remarks that might pop into the scene.

For a character description? I list physical details, smells (again--I'm big on smells), and sounds; but also analogies and metaphors I might use to encapsulate a key characteristic.

For character actions? I list what they're thinking about, how they're feeling, what memories the current events might draw to the surface.

No, I don't use every idea that hits my list--but I write them all down. That's part of the process of getting into flow and turning off that internal editor. When I'm finished, I usually have a nice collection of details that let me move the story forward.

Happy writing!




Writing: The Mind Game

The "mind game" aspect of writing has been on MY mind a lot lately, maybe because I'm trying to overcome it long enough to get some words down daily. For me, writing is all about conquering--or maybe wooing--the mind. I have to put my mind in another place to write a great scene description; slip my mind into another body to write convincingly from someone else's point of view.

Today's mind game? Sidestepping the following:
  1. Existential writing questions (you know, the "What is the meaning of writing, the universe, and everything?" kind, or worse, the "Should I really spend the time on this rewrite or would it be smarter to come up with a REALLY great idea...?")

  2. Sudden hunger/thirst/caffeine attacks

  3. Laundry

  4. Puppy lips on my keyboard (theoretically)

  5. Lists of "to-do"s that are really "to-don't"s, at least during writing time

  6. Napping urges

  7. A dozen new craft ideas that I should test and write up RIGHT NOW (not that that would be a bad thing, in that I'd have some crafts to submit and get some more subs out there, but they aren't my current top priority)

  8. Sudden ideas for other stories/characters/worlds/magic systems

  9. Repeats of above nap, food, drink, and caffeine siren calls

  10. Cruising the net and reading all my favorite blogs....

:) Cheryl

PS--No, I was not kidding about the puppy lips. Look at that face! Could you push him away? :P

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Most Common Writing Mistakes: RMC-SCBWI 2008 Fall Conference Editor/Agent Panel (Part 2)

Continued from yesterday: More questions and responses provided by editors/agents John Rudolph (G.P. Putnam's Sons), Julie Strauss-Gabel (Dutton), Melissa Manlove (Chronicle), and Barry Goldblatt (Barry Goldblatt Literary Agency).

6. Explain how imprints/umbrella publishing organizations work?

Julie: Submit only to one person at the publishing company per pass, not to two people from two different imprints. As a rule, imprints don't compete against each other. YOU pick the best imprint for your manuscript before submitting. Also--never submit the same manuscript to two editors at the same imprint.

John: Each imprint has its own personality and set of submission guidelines. Note--you can submit to one imprint first, the to another.

7. What trends do you see in the children's publishing market?

All: If you (authors) see a trend in publishing, they (the editors/agents) have already bought that type of manuscript for the next several years. Don't try to follow trends.

Most areas of the industry are doing well except for picture books.

John: Even in picture books, there are exceptions, books that will sell.

Julie: There's a spread. There are two or three hugely-successful titles (for ex., vampire books). Then a few more of this type of book hit the shelves because readers are actively looking for them. Then this book type comes out in established series paperback originals. By that point, they aren't looking for more of the same.

Consider: they are currently working on they're 2010-2011 list.

8. What type of book do you want to see more of?

Barry: Good ones! There are lots of different types of readers, so a single "book formula" doesn't work.

John: It's too difficult to categorize. If a book is good, we buy it.

Barry: We don't want a book. We want writers or artists we can work with for a long time.

9. What type of book would you like to see less of?

Barry: Bad ones :)

Melissa: Books that will appeal to a broad audience. Ask yourself: how many people will love your manuscript? One hundred is not enough. Need to sell tens of thousands to make a book successful.

Julie: "Good enough" is not good enough for the children's writer. Ultimately, our goal as writers should deal with what happens when our books get to their kid readers.

10. What kind of competition do aspiring authors face? That is, what percentage of submissions do you actually acquire?

John: Small. In 2006, he wrote 500 letters to people who had potential. 10-12/year actually published.

Melissa: Receives unsolicited 12,000 subs/year, of which she publishes 1-2.

Barry: Signed no new writers last year. This year, he's signed two. He receives 200 queries per week.

[Cheryl: I think I'll remain in denial about those figures. Sheesh! I'm used to facing tough odds, but those are ridiculous.]

11. What do you want to see in a query letter or cover letter?

Barry: The purpose of the cover letter is to make him want to read the book. Don't spend time telling about yourself. The cover letter should be like the preview for a TV show. A preview doesn't tell you about the actors' schooling or previous films. Focuses on the story and why you want to see it. The letter should read like flap copy. Anything extra provides him with potential reasons to say no. (Note: Later, Barry added that he doesn't find it valuable to hear about publishing credits, etc., in a cover letter, either. It's all about the book concept and the writing.)

John: DON'T tell him how to sell your book.

Julie: Keep the letter simple. Put a taste of what's in the book, but not too much. (Barry disagrees. In his letters, he wants more info about the book.)

Melissa: Don't put in "It's charming/great/my kids love it." Tell her about the manuscript.

Note: all but Barry would like to see publishing credits, if relevant. However, these are only 10% of the decision.

:) Cheryl

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Most Common Writing Mistakes: RMC-SCBWI 2008 Fall Conference Editor/Agent Panel

Here are some of the questions and responses provided by editors/agents John Rudolph (G.P. Putnam's Sons), Julie Strauss-Gabel (Dutton), Melissa Manlove (Chronicle), and Barry Goldblatt (Barry Goldblatt Literary Agency).

1. What are some of the most common mistakes you seen in manuscript submissions?

John: Submissions inappropriate for Putnam's list--mass market titles, nonfiction manuscripts geared more toward educational publishing than trade publishing

Julie: Bad writing, submissions that don't follow the guidelines, non-ambitious writing. Her guidelines state no unsolicited email queries: she deletes any email queries unread.

2. When you look at a manuscript that might get a personal rejection letter, what problems do you often see?

Melissa: Great writing, but the story lacks a strong hook

Barry: Beautiful language, but no story yet

Julie: Inevitably, she sees plotting problems. She considers this the last piece of the puzzle. Voice and character HAVE to be solid.

3. What advice can you give an author on the midlist to help him or her "break out"?

Barry: There's no longer any such thing as the midlist. Writers either "hit it" or don't. They have to challenge themselves every time, with every new manuscript.

Julie: The authors who are most supported by her house are those who promote and support their own books.

Melissa: Struggling authors are often writing books that appeal only to a narrow audience

4. What sorts of revision requests do you make before acquiring a manuscript?

John: All kinds! Might suggest plot changes, a new ending for a picture book, a chance in writing tense...there isn't one kind of change he requests more often than another.

5. Why are you willing to work through revisions with an author before acquisition?

Julie: It's standard to go through a round of revision before acquisition. This is an important step--it allows both sides to "feel out" the revision process and how it will work. Authors should always be open to working through revisions. Revision requests are only made when the book is close.

Melissa: Writing is one skill and revision is another. She wants to know if you have that skill before agreeing to work with you.

...More tomorrow!

:) Cheryl

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Meet the RMC-SCBWI 2008 editors and agents: John Rudolph, Melissa Manlove, Julie Strauss-Gabel, Barry Goldblatt

More from the 2008 RMC-SCBWI Fall Conference: Editor/Agent Panel

One of the conference's most valuable sessions (in my opinion) was an editor/agent panel addressing various questions about this crazy business of writing and publishing. Panel members included:
  • John Rudolph*, Executive Editor at G.P.Putnam's Sons, an imprint of the Penguin Young Readers Group. "He edits picture books, middle-grade and young adult novels, and a small number of nonfiction titles. Among the authors and illustrators he's been lucky enough to work with are Pete Seeger, Tomie dePaola, Richard Michelson, Nathaniel Philbrick, Padma Venkatraman, Jack Higgins, Brenda Woods, Pete Hautman, R. Gregory Christie, Steve Schindler, Mary Azarian, and Wendy Anderson Halperin." Putnam publishes 55-60 books per year.
  • Melissa Manlove*, Assistant Editor at Chronicle Books. Acquires picture books, chapter books, middle grade, and YA. She describes herself as "passionate about all genres and topics in children's books, with the exception of religious themes. When acquiring, she looks for fresh takes on familiar topics as well as the new and unusual. More important than topic, however, is an effective approach and strong, graceful writing."
  • Julie Strauss-Gabel*, Associate Editorial Director at Dutton Children's Books. She edits "picture books and fiction for older readers (middle grade and young adult). Some of Julie's books include The Milkman and Market Day by Carol Cordsen,...; Easy Street, by Rita Gray...; Printz Medalist Looking for Alaska, and Printz Honor Book An Abundance of Katherines, both by John Green...; Edgar Award Winner Buried by Robin Merrow MacCready; Gods of Manhattan by Scott Mebus; Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen and The Fashion Disaster that Changed My Life, by Kauren Myracle; and Safe by Susan Shaw." More info about Dutton Children's Books can be found at .
  • Barry Goldblatt has owned and operated his own literary agency since September 2000. He represents authors such as Holly Black, Cassandra Clare, and Libba Bray. He has about 45 current clients. Although he's gained a name as a "fantasy agent," he represents writers of many types. More info about Barry and his agency can be found at

I'll cover the panel's response to a number of writing/publishing related questions tomorrow (such as: What are the most common writing mistakes you see? What problems might you see in a manuscript that merits a personal rejection? What advice can you give an author on the midlist?)

:) Cheryl

* Information obtained from speaker biographies, Letters & Lines RMC-SCBWI Fall Conference 2008 handout.

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Notes from Julie Strauss-Gable's First Pages Session

In case you don't know, a "first pages" session is one where writers can anonymously submit the first page of a manuscript, which an industry professional (in this case, Julie S-G) critiques before her attentive audience. Some of these sessions are a total waste of time to attend and some provide great insight into the editor/agent's interests, editing style, and (if you submit a page) your own manuscript. Julie S-G didn't disappoint. She zipped through pages rapidly enough that we had time at the end for a few questions; but she didn't skimp on providing meaty critique.

Here are some of the common complaints she had about picture book first pages:

  • The story is targeted at too mature a reader. She said to remember that the picture book market is driven by the younger end reader, so concepts need to be simple, characters young, and rhythm/pacing/theme especially appropriate to children 4 to 6 years old.

  • In stories with repetition: several times, she commented on a lack of consistency in the pattern or a lack of "expected rhythm" for the child to anticipate and follow.

  • In some, the story ideas were nice, but they didn't build. The story became just a series of examples. For example, one story featured pairs of animals related to each other in some way. (I won't get too specific for the author's privacy). The pairing concept was interesting, the story language lovely--but the story didn't build in any way. Ask yourself, Julie said, how to encourage page turns? How will each creature pair be illustrated? Will their environments be too similar? A picture book needs to use variety in settings.

  • In some, the complaint was that the story didn't provide enough comfort for young readers--whether that comes in the form of repeated phrases, repeated paragraph or sentence structure, or in the characters themselves.

  • Another common complaint: the picture book that contains too much explaining or scene setting. For ex., a picture book about a labradoodle can't contain paragraphs explaining what a labradoodle is.

Take-homes for me: First, that Julie S-G is a fabulous editor and I'd love to have a first page critiqued by her; second, that picture books have a number of definable elements that help them to work:

  • Strong, unique characters

  • Variety of settings or scenes

  • Repetition in the language or story format

  • Comfort for young children

  • Fun for the adult reader

  • Spare, spare, language where every word counts

  • A building story line with a surprise of some sort at the end.

It makes me itch to work on my picture book ideas again--but I'm kind of busy with other projects still and I'm *trying* not to start more until I have some closure on the others.

:) Cheryl

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The Infamous Barry Goldblatt

I'd have to say that agent Barry Goldblatt wins the award for causing the greatest stir at this year's RMC-SCBWI fall conference. On the Manuscript Critique registration form (he served as one of the critique-ers) he rated his own line: "NOTE: Agent Barry Goldblatt has indicated that he is fair but quite blunt in his critiques. Please indicate whether you feel you can handle such a critique: ___ Yes ___ No." He arrived at the conference surrounded by this mystical aura of "scary agent".

When you meet him, the reputation is difficult to believe. He's a normal-looking guy (no Darth Vader-esque rasp or Darth Maul tattoos) with an easy smile and a quick wit. Sure, he's got strong opinions about the world of writing--but which of us doesn't?

Here's what speaks most in his favor: the people who know and love him, such as sweet and funny Lauren Myracle, gentle (but tough) Julie Strauss-Gabel, and, of course, an admirable group of authors who I don't know personally but LOVE as writers: Holly Black, Cassandra Clare, Shannon Hale, Libba Bray...I mean, if all these great folks love him, can he really be that bad?

From what I hear, that depends more on you than on him.

If you're looking for a pat on the back or a confidence boost, I'd look elsewhere. But if you go to a conference and REALLY want to know what's wrong with your work and how to make it better, he's your man. Sign up for a critique or first pages session with him. But be forewarned: he might not follow that nice "critique sandwich" we're taught in critique groups. His view? He has ten minutes--or less--to give an author feedback. If you want something useful, he doesn't have time to waste on anything but what's most important.

The problem is that, for most of us on this writing road, we need to hear that we're nowhere near the mark, that our story is old, the dialog goes on too long, the voice isn't working--BIG stuff that is no fun to hear. In the past, I've been to many critiques where the critique-er tiptoed around the real issues. I left those sessions feeling like I didn't know where to go next. When I had a critique with Barry Goldblatt, I left with a laundry list of changes to make, potential story problems to avoid, and a bit of brainstorming about better places to start the story. I left the session on fire to rewrite--and I've been rewriting ever since.

And no, he didn't say he loved the story or anything like that. He just shared my enthusiasm for good writing and how to make it better...which meant pointing out a heck of a lot of things that I was doing wrong. So is he a scary editor? It all depends on where you are as a writer.

:) Cheryl

Check out Barry Goldblatt's amazing client list and submission guidelines at:

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