Web of light

I am taking part in :

The Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge – TRANSIENT

While on a late autumn bushwalk I photographed this tangled web. It seemed  designed to capture the scarce morning rays that penetrated the rainforest canopy. The light captured by the silk was transient and had already faded by the time we passed. Spiders themselves have a transient existence most do not survive the winter months perhaps this was a beautiful testament to the last exertion of a spider’s life.

 

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An Aussie doing 12 X 12

 

Aussie 12 X 12I’m  to the halfway point of the annual Picture Book Challenge founded by picture book author, Julie Hedlund. The idea of the 12 X 12 challenge is to write a picture book each month.  It’s a challenge I took on in a moment of frustration when I felt like a break from my usual writing genre (middle grade). I love a challenge, or more accurately, I need a kick up the pants in the form of deadlines and cheer-leading.  The 12 x 12 challenge is patronised internationally  and attracts over 800 participants.  The perks of membership and cost are well documented here http://12x12challenge.com/membership/  As I hadn’t done the challenge before I paid for the Shel Silverstein – level membership.

After a quick perusal of the ‘Introduce yourself’ forum on the 12 x 12 member page I deduced that only about 10 % of participants appear to be non-USA citizens.

So what is the Australian experience of 12 x 12 . What are some things to consider?

1. Budget for the exchange rate.

The actual cost of membership was around AUD $200 (USD $147).

The cost of the recommended text, Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul was AUD $20 and I could only get this through Book Depository.

Last month I also purchased, Picture Book Blueprint, which was a special deal offered by webinar presenter Laura Backes (25% off). This deal wasn’t so special when taking into account the Australian exchange rate. It cost around 200 AUD for lifetime access to the PB blueprint video presentations, downloadable PDF’s and facebook page. This latter purchase was entirely indulgent and it is not a requirement of the challenge. I haven’t used this resource yet but intend to for next month’s effort.

2. The time difference. Live webinars were generally staged at 4 to 6 am Australian time but this is not a huge problem (see below)

3. The picture book market in USA is different.

– Narrative non-fiction particularly picture book biographies seem to be very popular. This isn’t just coming from the webinars and industry experts on the 12 X12 page. For my own interest I asked the members of my critique group (all from USA) what their own children’s favourite picture books were. Many named biographies in their lists.

– More room for niche books – those which address minority groups and issues . The awarded and prolific Australian author Michelle Worthington said at the NSW Writers Festival that her more specialised books such as, Noah chases the Wind, featuring a child with autism, are sold direct to USA publishers.

– There seems to be more leniency with word count. Picture book competitions in Australia and general advice I’ve received from industry insiders advise that texts should not exceed 500  words. In the USA picture books that go up to 900 words seem to be more accepted. I think this is partly due to the popularity of narrative non-fiction.

– Agents seem to be almost mandatory over there whereas most first-time picture book authors here gain publication through direct submission. A consequence of this author- agent relationship, often stated in the 12 X 12 discussions, is that writers should have at least three submission-ready manuscripts before putting one forward to agent.  Agents represent authors rather than books and seek clients with depth. In Australia if you have single manuscript that you’ve polished (and polished again) then it is pointless labouring away on another two or three before you submit that first one. Submit, then work on your next book – there is sure to be lots of waiting whether successful or not.

4. Terminology and Australian culture. This is the hardest problem for me to get around when writing for 12 x 12 . It is not just the obvious terminology differences ie thongs vs flip flops, trolleys vs carts, Mum vs mom, but also cultural practices. For instance, the naming of school grades, popular sports and pastimes. I mentioned cricket (the game) in one of my stories, but of course, my US critiquers didn’t get it and many Australian kids can’t relate to baseball (although both my children played the pitching game).

 

The above three points are not necessarily drawbacks. The following are counterpoints to the above discussions:

1.  Cost. The price of this challenge is less that you would pay for one good PB manuscript assessment or one conference registration. The monthly webinars have so far been well-presented and packed with information and relevant examples. Julie Hedlund hosts industry experts which all have something different to offer from polishing/editing, to rhyming and non-fiction and finding ideas that resonate. Julie herself asks the right questions and adds useful anecdotes in an easy-to-listen style. The webinars are worth the price of admission alone but there is also many discussion forums you can join on aspects of picture book writing and a manuscript assessment forum where you can post your picture book texts for comment. I’ve only used the latter feature once for an early draft. I received some good feedback but, to be honest, I’m a little worried about this forum as your text is available to every member of 12 X 12 (800+) so you do this at your own risk. I felt more comfortable when I joined with a small critique group with five members. There are plenty of opportunities to join these smaller critique groups which are advertised in a section called Critique Connect.

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My already dog-eared copy of Writing Picture Books

This years writing craft book is money well spent. Ann Whitford Paul’s, Writing Picture Books is packed with ideas on age-appropriateness, structure, voice, character and plot devices. This book was published in 2009 so some of the example texts listed are a bit dated (although some are ageless) and need to be supplemented with studies of modern texts. This where I’m at a bit of disadvantage as I no longer have young children who bring home books or have the need to buy picture books. However I have gleaned quite a bit from listening to the webinars as they give excellent modern examples. Many picture books readings are available on You-tube although I can’t imagine these videos don’t infringe some sort of copyright laws.

I’ve  paid for a year’s subscription to ‘Storybox Library’ which is an Australian site where picture books are read out loud (often by celebrities). This is a lovely site but as a writer there is nothing like having the picture book in your hands to have a close look at the layout, language and page turns. You can source books at libraries but it is easy to get overwhelmed when you go into the children’s section – and there will be some poor quality picture books on the shelves. It is worthwhile doing a little research around the best new picture books including looking at the CBCA Awards for early readers http://cbca.org.au/short-list-2017 for past few years and the koala awards http://www.koalansw.org.au/winners/.

So in short – Yes the price of 12 X 12 is worth it. And I would recommend Ann Whitford Paul’s book even if you’re not doing the challenge.

2. Time difference. Each webinars is made available as a replay  about a week after live event so you can watch at your own leisure – and not necessarily all at once. Of course, with a replay you can’t participate in the live question/answer sessions but I haven’t watched a replay yet where I wished they’d asked this or that question. The reply webinars remain available on login for about a three weeks – so plenty of time to watch. Other forms of communication are not time dependent  – the discussion forums are always open and historical discussions kept. I use email for my small critique group and view and occasionally comment on the 12 X 12 facebook page. The two occasions I had a minor  queries Kelli Panique (Julie’s administrative assistant) has replied to my emails promptly.

3 & 4 Market. You may want to target the USA market. If this is the case 12 x 12 is a great way to get a feel for what works in the States. It’s good to run your story past US critiquers to test how internationally friendly your characters, setting and language are.  Australian author, Mem Fox is hugely popular in the USA – and she even mentioned cricket in Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge. Still, you shouldn’t go into 12 X 12 thinking the US market is easier to crack. 12 X 12 bloggers and social media posts present many, many stories of continual rejections, near misses and years of revising and education. The market may be bigger over there but so are the number of aspiring picture book authors.

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I am not a model challenger as I have written only three manuscripts so far in the six months but I am quite happy with that given that Julie Hedlund herself says she never actually wins the challenge. And I’m am learning mountains and those mountains are steep. Above all I know now – writing publishable picture books is a lot harder than it looks.

I have taken a departure from my shorts with this post as I had a lot to say. But have a few more shortish posts to go on my other blogs.

 

Soft focus in nature

 

I am taking part in :

The Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge – FOCUS

Some of us would prefer a soft focus lens when our portrait is taken – fuzzy is flattering. When nature is feeling demure and mystical she has her own set of soft focus lenses.

The blur of mist and snow

The soft light of evenings and grey days

 

Through water – spray and sea

 

 

City in order

Taking part in the:

Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge – ORDER

Order photo

A barrier of straight metal posts in a row,  looking over neat houses in rows.  In the orderly city of Hobart.  Taken from the not-so conventional MONA (Museum of Old and New Art).

Wanna join me in this challenge? – along with hundreds of others.  It’s a great excuse to reminisce over your old photo files.

Illustrators are storytellers

literaleigh shorts orange (2)Two of my works have been illustrated in the last 6 months.

The first was my flash fiction piece, The Age-old Battle published in The Readers Digest 100 Word Short Stories. I didn’t know this anthology would be illustrated at all, let alone my particular story. So it was an unexpected pleasure when I opened the book to find the powerful image of my protagonist. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any illustrator credited in the book.

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The age-old battle with illustration

The second one was ‘Thongs on the Path’ published in June 2017 issue of School Magazine. Wow! What a thrill to receive my two copies in the mail and see David Legge’s quirky interpretation of my story on the front cover. David is a talented illustrator of many books and author/illustrator of the terrific picture book –  Bamboozled. I didn’t laugh at my text when I wrote ‘Thongs on the Path’ but I did have a giggle at the inside illustrations. A good illustrator does that. They don’t just create appropriate pictures to match the words they add something to the story. I’ve always been in awe of artistic talent (because I have none). But more than that children’s illustrators are, in fact, co-authors as their interpretation of characters and scenes are important to the narrative and to the mood of the story.

From this one passage in my short story:

“He (Uncle Kevin) wouldn’t be needing his scratchy, heavy human clothes again, but the Zulerians wanted to keep them – to display in their museum.

David Legge created this:

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Thongs on the Path (one of the inside illustrations by D.Legge)

I hadn’t put anything about the appearance of the aliens, or the display and yet his interpretation was perfect and funny and went beyond my imagination.

While doing the 12 X 12 Picture Book Challenge this year (my experience in a future blog post) I have to keep reminding myself that it’s important to leave room for narrative input by an illustrator. Less description and less action narration. It is not an easy switch when you are used to writing non-illustrated stories.

In and Out of my Comfort Zone 3

literaleigh shorts orange (2)My third post of things I have done IN and OUT of comfort zone. The out is the important one as these are the things that have taken a little courage or effort to push beyond the everyday. It has been a while since I’ve written, Ins and Outs but I will try to be succinct, as this post is meant to fit into my shorts series of posts.

In:

Nature nerding:nature collage 2_Page_1 (2) I’ve been busy bird-watching, spotted many mammals, observed incredible insects, sensational spiders and recently had a flurry of fungus fun.

Visits to the state forests of the Southern Highlands – Wingello, Belanglo and Penrose started me on my fungi fixation. The pine plantations are rich with mushrooms – both poisonous and edible. My husband says I now have fungi on the brain, well I guess that’s better than on my feet (I think). Blame the bored-doodle (previously named distractordog) we only travelled far afield to the state forests because we were catering for her boundless energy. Dogs are allowed off-leash in state forests but not at all in the National Parks or the Illawarra Escarpment State Conservation Areas closer to home.

I’ve always appreciated flora and fauna but a few new book gifts, websites and naturalists on social media have further encouraged me. My next post in Natures Lovers Log will list those resources that have aided and abetted by obsession. My instagram and facebook followers may have wondered whether the mother and writer has been hijacked by the biology nerd.

webcap When I was young I always dreamed of a job as a park ranger, marine scientist, museum curator or biology researcher. But my nature hobby is the next best thing – maybe better, as I can go wherever my photos and feet take me with no expectation or restriction.

 

Out :

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Some of my roving photography at the SCBWI conference.

Nervous conference attendee: In September last year I attended my first SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference, held in Sydney. To push myself way out of my comfort zone I dived in head first and signed up to be a roving reporter/photographer. I am not a natural networker and, as I suspected, I felt out of by depth in the company of esteemed authors and publishers. However, I didn’t regret signing up for the reporting job. Taking photos gave me something to do and an excuse to mingle. If you’re an introvert like me and have a mortal fear of looking like an impostor it’s helpful to go to conference with an activity in mind – whether to participate in a pitch session, or help the organisers or have plans to meet fellow participants – perhaps those you have only previously known online.  My favourite part of the conference was viewing the wonderful portfolios on display at the illustrator showcase. But I was also inspired by the varied panel discussions and always entertained by Susanne Gervay’s (Aust/NZ Regional Advisor) warm and funny MC-ing.

 

Muddling through a MOOC:MOCC iowa cert (3) I participated in a MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) called ‘Storied Women’ (how to write women in fiction) conducted by the International Writing Program (IWP) at the University of Iowa, USA. I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for as this was my first adult literary course. The assignments tested me. The parameters set for the assignments were broad enough so that everybody (and there were 1000’s) could write a different story but focused enough to make you think about aspects of plot, character or form discussed in the lectures.  Being a free* course there is no real pressure to complete it but I was swept up in the challenge. I eagerly awaited each of the video lectures and readings and completed the five weekly assignments. These assignments are submitted online and are commented on by peers. The usefulness and number of the comments vary but at the end of the course I had five pieces that I wouldn’t have otherwise written. I’m a convert and intend to participate in selected future  IWP MOOCS.

*Note: the course is free but to get a certificate sent via email is US$50. You must accumulate enough points via submitting comments and assignments to gain this award. I saw this money as a donation but probably won’t purchase the certificate next time. The work I’d produced by the end of the course was the real reward.

Playing catch-up in shorts

I’ve been slack, very slack with this blog of late. Because like a true Geminii I get bored easily and am tempted by the next glittering thing. The next glittering writing project/genre/challenge and the next platform on social media. But here I am back with a renewed fondness for my blog because, let’s face it, I’m verbose. Restraining my word count is not my strong point. So really Twitter, Facebook and recently Instagram just don’t fill my rambling need.

And I admit I lost faith in my blog for a time I’ve been reading other excellent writing blogs and did a course on social media for writers and realised I’m doing it all wrong.

I should have a brand, a focus for my blog. I should target my potential fiction readers.  But like my restless Geminii personality my blog is a hotch-potch of nature photography and taxonomy, book reviews, writing (in all genres and ages) travel and general musings.

Who is going to follow that? Who has my eclectic blend of interests?

Probably nobody.

But that’s who I am. And even if I write to nobody but myself at least I’ll be writing a variety of things that’ll keep me interested. If one week somebody visits my blog who is interested in the Asian House Gecko and the next week another person reads my poetry challenge efforts and the next week a dystopian enthusiast reads my book review on, Wool then, to me, that’s thrilling. Not practical. Not good marketing. Just fun.

So what to do now? How do I play catch-up?

Well I’m writing a series of shorts. Not so succinct they are Twitter or Instagram size, but short enough to summarise my endeavours and observations over the last 8 months. Including:

 Reading shorts – Mini-reviews of the books I have read recently with a focus on my, Use for Writers (as there are plenty of reviews out there which have good synopses and inciteful opinions) – on my Book Reviews blog.

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Creativity/Musing shorts – What I’ve learnt, where I’m heading on my writing journey and how I stepped outside my comfort zone in the last 8 months – on my Literaleigh blog

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Nature shorts – this is the one I am looking forward to most. I’ve taken many photos and want to share some observations – on Nature Lovers Log.

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