Mindy Hardwick's Blog

Author Mindy Hardwick Muses about Writing

Writing the Picture Book Handouts–Columbia City Branch Workshop

This evening, I’m presenting WRITING THE PICTURE BOOK, a free workshop at the Columbia City Branch of the Seattle Public Library from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. This is a free workshop, but you must have registered ahead of time.

For those of you not able to attend the workshop, and for anyone who attends and needs extra handouts, I’m posting the handout set here.

Enjoy!

 Writing the Picture Book Overview

Picture Book Structure Handout

Where the Wild Things Are Exercise

 

And, as part of the workshop, I’m going to be doing a drawing for one FREE picture book manuscript critique with me. If you want to learn more about my picture book manuscript critique services, please download the following handout.

Picture Book Critique Services

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Spooktacular Giveaway Hop

Spooktacular2013

Happy Halloween! I’m participating in the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop, sponsored by I Am A Reader, Not A Writer.

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. I live on a street with many children and love handing out treats and oohing and ahhing over their costumes. One of my own memories of Halloween is the Pumpkin Box costume.  This was a large box painted orange with black eyes and mouth. I wore it during fourth grade and hated it! All the girls that year were fancy witches and as they paraded into the bathroom to get ready, I had to stay in the classroom with the boys who teased me about my costume. That night, I went home and changed my costume to be a witch–just like everyone else. A few years ago, a boy came to my door wearing a box with the Amazon logo. He grinned at me and said, “I’m an Amazon package.” It reminded me a lot of my pumpkin box costume.

Here is a picture of my pumpkin box costume:

The Pumpkin Box Costume

The Pumpkin Box Costume

As a part of the Spooktacular Giveaway blog hop, I’m giving away one Kindle ebook copy of my sweet contemporary romance novella, HALLOWEEN LOVE FORTUNE and a $10 Amazon Gift card! To enter all you need to do is leave a comment telling me about a favorite (or least favorite) Halloween costume that you wore–or that you made for a child. Be sure to leave your email address so I can contact the winner. I will announce the winner of the blog hop on November 2, 2014. (US and International entries).

 

Halloween Love Fortunex

Blurb: Jenny Piercy is excited to help with the Elmheart Hotel’s old-fashion Halloween barn party and enjoys nothing more than working side-by-side long-time friend, Zach Cullver. But, it’s going to take more than a fortune teller’s prediction of true love to bring these two together. Can a coffin and a mummy costume show Zach and Jenny the best romance is found in long-time friendship in this sweet, contemporary romance novella? This is the second story in the Elmheart Hotel sweet contemporary novella series, but you do not have to read the first one to read this one.

A listing of all of the sweet romances in the Elmheart Hotel series can be found here.

 

To find the listings of the other blogs on the Spooktacular Giveaway Blog Hop, go here.

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Fall Author Events

A couple events where I’ll be in the next month or so:

Seattle RWA Conference-Saturday, October 18, 8:30-9:50 a.m., Bellevue Westin Hotel. As a part of the Seattle Romance Writers Association Conference, I’m presenting, “Map It Out: Using Setting To Plot Your Story.” This is a very hands-on, writing workshop and you’ll leave with great ideas for how to develop a plot by using your setting.

 

Writing the Picture Book–Seattle Public Library, Columbia Branch. Monday, October 20. 5:30-7:30 p.m. I’m presenting another Writing the Picture Book Workshop, this time at the Columbia Branch of the Seattle Public Library. This is a free workshop, but registration is required with the Columbia Branch library. Also, once again, at this workshop, I’ll be doing a drawing for a FREE picture book critique with me.

 

The Author Next Door Panel–Sunday, November 16 from 2:00-3:00 p.m. at the Mulkiteo Library. I‘ve been asked to be on a panel of local authors to speak about our experience with writing. If you have teens or tweens or are interested in writing, please bring them to this event as it’s a great chance to hear some of the inside scoop about being a writer in today’s marketplace. I will  also be doing a giveaway of a print copy of STAINED GLASS SUMMER.  The library has ebook copies of STAINED GLASS SUMMER, but not the limited edition print copies–so this is a special opportunity to win a print copy.

 

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School Visit Giveaways

I’ve always enjoyed doing school visits. As a former teacher, school visits allow me to do what I’ve always loved the best–talk to the kids about writing and work with them on writing their own stories.

My programs run for 60 to 90 minutes and I present no more than three programs in one day. I do charge for school visits, and often teachers and librarians work with the PTA or the school’s education foundations to obtain the funding. Sometimes grants can also be written for monies from local organizations such as banks and businesses.

Some of my workshops include a talk about being a writer where I show a power point with pictures from my childhood and feature each of my children’s books as well as talk about the process of how I write and what it’s like to publish with small, royalty paying epubishers.

I also present specific talks tailored to a specific writing skill such as Crafting Character or Writing from Life: Flash Prose. All of my school visit workshop topics can be found here.

Usually, I am invited to the school for the day, but some of my favorite ways I’ve visited with kids in the schools include:

Lunch with an author--This was a specific group of kids who were preselected by their teachers to have lunch with me and talk about writing.

Young Authors Clubs–Small groups of kids in an after-school program at schools or community centers and we focus more on a specific element of the craft of writing.

Alternative Education–I love visiting kids who are attending alternative high schools, middle schools, home schools and juvenile detention schools. I taught in an alternative high school and I find the kids who attend alternative schools to be highly creative. Poetry workshops or writing personal essays are some of my favorite workshops for these groups of kids.

One of the questions which often comes up from other authors is: What do you use for school giveaways? It’s not mandatory to offer giveaways, but it does make the workshop fun.  Here is a list of some of the things I offer: (I do one of these in a workshop–not all)

  • A drawing for one of my print books–Kids write their names on small pieces of paper and I draw one name.
  • A drawing for a critique of anything they wrote with limits (3 poems/10 pages of writing)
  • Postcards with my book cover on the front and a place for me to sign a message to the kids on the back–they love these!
  • Bookmarks with room to sign a message to them.
  • A drawing for a small bundle of goodies including things such as: a journal, and a special pen,
  • A drawing for a book about writing such as On Writing by Stephen King(This one works well for high school kids or 8th grade students)  or Spilling Ink: A Young Writers Handbook  by Anne Mazer (this works well for 4th-8th grade) or Wreck This Journal books are very popular with the kids too.

For those of you who do school visits, I’d loved to know what you offer as giveaways at the end of your visit!

 

 

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Young Adult Publishers Seeking Submissions

A couple markets for those who write young adult:

Cicada, a young adult magazine, is seeking stories, poems and comics on the theme of Tricksters and Thieves. Send your stories of pirates, charlatans, illusions, deceptions and trickery to editor Marianne Carus. Stories may be up to 9,000 words. Payment is 25 cents a word.  The deadline for submissions is October 31, 2104. Find more details here.

Entangled Teen and Entangled Select is seeking submissions. All stories should have strong romantic elements and be 50K to 100K in length. They are looking for contemporary, historical, science fiction, romantic thrillers, paranormal and Urban fantasy. Guidelines are here.

 Swoon Romance is seeking submissions for a teen romance line. Protagonists are between the ages of 14-19. Word count should fall between 50K-70K. Novels can be set anytime, anywhere – and can be realistic, supernatural, dystopic, historical, comedy, inspirational, suspense or a mash-up of any sort. Stories can be happily ever after…or just happily for now. Girl/boy, girl/girl, boy/boy – just wow us with the intense romance of your story. We can only accept original, completed novels that are not, and have never been under contract with another publisher — and we ask that all submissions be exclusive to us as long as they are on the site. Find all the submission guidelines here.

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Writing the Picture Book Workshop Handouts

This evening, I’m presenting WRITING THE PICTURE BOOK, a free workshop at the University Branch of the Seattle Public Library. If you are not able to attend, I am repeating this same workshop on Monday, October 20 from 5:30-7:30. at the Columbia City branch of the Seattle Public Library. Preregistration with the library is required for the workshops.

For those of you not able to attend the workshop, and for anyone who attends and needs extra handouts, I’m posting the handout set here.

Enjoy!

 Writing the Picture Book Overview

Picture Book Structure Handout

Where the Wild Things Are Exercise

 

And, as part of the workshop, I’m going to be doing a drawing for one FREE picture book manuscript critique with me. If you want to learn more about my picture book manuscript critique services, please download the following handout.

Picture Book Critique Services

 

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Clearing Your Mind Before Writing

The other day, a blog reader posted this question to me:

I was interested to find out how you center yourself and clear your thoughts prior to writing. I’ve had a tough time clearing my mind in getting my thoughts out. I do take pleasure in writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes tend to be wasted just
trying to figure out how to begin. Any suggestions or hints?

I posted a response in the comment section, but I thought I’d elaborate on my response here. If anyone else has questions about the writing process, please post them in the comment section and I’ll take one at a time and respond to them.

 

Thanks for the great question! There are a couple ways I center myself and clear my thoughts prior to writing:

1. Morning Pages–Years ago, I read and studied Julia Cameron’s books on creativity including The Artist Way. In her book, she recommends a couple tools for artists. One is Morning Pages. These are three pages of handwritten “junk,”–usually written when you first get up in the morning, but could be done before a writing too. For me, this clears my mind of all those “daily life” thoughts–When am I going to mow? Why is the light switch not working? Why is the cat eating too much? Sometimes, I will shift into my story mode by the end of those three pages, other times not. But the important thing is to get out all those random thoughts.

2. Outlining and the Brainstorming Work: I’m a big fan of doing pre-writing work before beginning any story. This includes getting to know your characters with character sketches, interviews, monologues and whatever else works for you–and there are tons of information and books out there on ways to do this character development work–I have my favorites, but that’s another post! I also work up a general plot outline of the major plot points (inciting incident, plot point one, dark moment, climax, etc) of the story before I write. This can change in that first draft, but it gives me a map to follow when I sit down to write.  If you are writing a story with a complex setting or a multiple book series based in the same setting, it can also be helpful to flesh out the details of that setting–such as a map, and those minor characters who live in that setting.  These tools help build your story world and can be used as refreshers when you sit down to write.

3.  Stop In the Middle--This is my favorite of all tools. Don’t stop at the end of your chapter or scene when things are all wrapped up. It will be harder to get back into the story. Instead, stop in the middle of the action in the middle of a scene. I can guarantee you’ll do anything to get back to your writing time the next day and hop into your story.

4. Make Notes When You Finish for The Day--No matter where you finish your writing for the day–in the middle of prime action or at the end of a chapter, make notes in your manuscript for where you want to go tomorrow. For me this is as simple as a brief summary of the scene and the goal of the character in that scene. These notes help me pick up my writing the next day without too much of a blank mind over where I’m going next.

Finally, set deadlines for yourself. Determine how long your writing session will be and how many words you will write in that session. Don’t make your writing session too long so it’s unrealistic for you. It’s okay to go over your goal, but set a reasonable goal so you can reach it. The same with the word count, when I’m fast drafting, I set myself a goal of 1500-1600 words a day. Editing is different. Depending on the editing process–if it’s copy edits or a final read through, I can move quickly. If I’m shaping and crafting that first draft, I move much more slowly. Learn your process and then set your goals based on what works for you.

And don’t forget to give yourself some reward at the end of that final deadline when you finish the draft or finally submit to that contest or editor. For example, I recently signed up to attend a Harlequin Reader Event in Seattle at the end of October. This is my carrot on the stick for reaching the deadline of getting my sweet contemporary novel draft finished and my first three chapters and synopsis sent off to an editor whose critique I won at an auction by the date of the Reader Event.

 

 

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Chapter Book Manuscript Critiques

The Loft Literary Center is now offering manuscript critiques in many genres including middle grade and young adult novels. I was especially pleased to see chapter book critiques offered as it can be hard to find people willing to critique this genre.

Kurtis Scaletta is offering full manuscript critiques (up to 11,00 words) of a chapter book. (ages 7-10). These are not middle grade stories with chapters. Chapter books are a genre themselves and include books such as: Ivy and Bean, and Clementine. If you are unsure, it’s a good idea to read some well-known chapter books such as Magic Tree House series or Junie B Jones and see if your story fits this format.

If you are ready for a chapter book manuscript critique, Kurtis asks that you submit the following:

  • A full manuscript for the first book (up to 11,000 words; required).
  • A short narrative that establishes the framework and expectations for each book in the series (up to 250 words; optional).
  • A list of possibilities for future books in the series (up to 250 words; optional).

In a two week turn-around he’ll offer:

A 1–2 page letter commenting on how to “play to your strengths,” and bolster your chances when you go out for submission. Kurtis will also address concerns related to theme, content, or formatting for this niche area, and then identify some possible next steps for your project. Kurtis will also be available to answer questions by phone or email.

You can find the price and details here.

Also, if you are interested in learning to write a chapter book, I highly recommend Anastasia Suen’s Children’s Novel on-line workshop. Find details for the Children’s Novel Workshop here.  She also offers picture book writing classes–including a non-fiction picture book workshop, a biography picture book writing class, a picture book intensive class and a rhyming picture book class. You can find all those classes here.

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Writing a Synopsis

This month, I’m working on a sweet, contemporary romance novel which I’m proposing for the Harlequin Heartwarming line. I won an editorial critique in the Brenda Novak auction and will be submitting in October. It’s also conference season and I’m attending the Seattle RWA Fall Conference where I’ll have the chance to meet with some agents to pitch the story.

As a part of the Harlequin proposal package, I need to include a synopsis. I’ve written synopsis for my middle grade and young adult, but I wasn’t quite sure how to write one for a romance so I signed up for author, Jennifer Archer’s class at Margie Lawson Academy.

If you don’t know about Margie Lawson Academy, this is a fabulous place for writers to take classes from not only Margie Lawson, but also some amazing writers. You can find the whole listing of upcoming classes here.

What is a synopsis? A synopsis is a marketing device intended to entice an agent, editor or marketing person to ask to read your entire manuscript. It includes the story hook as well as the key elements in your story’s plot.

For me, the key things I’ve learned in the class are:

  • When writing a synopsis for a romance (any genre–including YA and NA), be sure to connect all the plot points to how they impact the romance.  The external events should affect the characters’ internal struggles and cause their character growth. This was the biggest point of weakness for me in the synopsis I had written before the class. I included the plot points of the story, but I did not include how each of those events impacted the relationship between the characters.

 

  • Conflict is everything–there must be both an external and internal conflict for your main character. For example, in Cheryl Strayed book’s WILD, her external goal is to climb the Pacific Coast Trail, while her internal goal is to move through the grief of her mother. Every event in the story pushes against these two goals, forcing her character to grow and change.

 

  • Finally, cause and effect is key. The plot points form the structure for the synopsis and they are linked by cause and effect. This happens, and this is the effect, this happens and this is the effect. In a story, these cause and effect sequencing will also include the character’s internal reaction, but in a synopsis, the focus is on the plot of the story and the internal thoughts of a character are not included.

When I began the class, I wasn’t sold on the idea of writing the synopsis before I began the book. I thought it might take the fun out of the discovery process of the first draft. But instead, I found that by working and tightening the synopsis, it makes drafting the story a lot easier. I have a map to follow and I can see clearly how to tighten a chapter to zero in on the focus of the conflict. Plus, instead of writing hundreds of drafts which I try to figure out the story’s plot, I do all of that in my synopsis before I even begin writing.  Very effective process!

 

Contest Opportunity: Also, if you are interested in submitting to Harlequin, the annual contest, So You Think You Can Write opens on Monday, September 22, 2014. Polish up those opening chapters, decide what line you’d fit best, and send them in. You never know–you might just get a request for a full and find yourself one of the finalists! Details are here.

 

 

 

 

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The Opening Page

There is a lot of buzz flying around about the important first page of your novel. It started with a great conversation with my long time writing pal about her first chapter. She was a bit befuddled after three different critiques gave her three different directions about her opening chapter. As any writer knows, a critique is great but when three people are saying different things, you are left shaking your head and wondering, what exactly is it that’s not working?

This week, Harlequin is hosting the So You Think You Can Write On-Line Conference. It’s a great opportunity to hear from Harlequin editors about what their lines are looking for as well as gain writing tips.  The on-line conference kicks off Harlequin’s annual contest where one lucky author wins a contract with Harlequin.

On Monday, one of the tips was about crafting a great first page. Here are the tips.

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Looking at tip number five: Driving scenes, alarm clocks and generic weather descriptions are hard scenes to make fresh and dynamic: Start elsewhere, gave me some food for thought.

The romance story I am currently drafting, opens with a mountain highway driving scene in the middle of a fall storm. When I entered the pages in the Celtic Hearts RWA Contest this summer, the feedback I got was that yes, although this was not the best way to start a story, it does work in the opening of this particular story.

Why is this? In my story, the weather is the antagonist. All through the story, the hero and heroine will fight the weather, until it is the ultimate demise and forces them to come face to face with their internal struggles which are keeping them apart. It is important we are introduced to the weather in the opening pages. The weather is a character in this story. In the opening chapter, the heroine is struggling against the weather–trying to get where she wants to go before a tree crashes on her car.

But romance isn’t the only genre discussing the opening page of your story this week. Over on Dear Editor this week, the Editor was asked this question:

I am currently devouring you Writing New Adult Fiction. You strongly encourage authors to jump into the action from the very first sentence but a few current best sellers begin with backstory or as the day is dawning, as in The Fault in Our Stars and If I Stay. Can you give any insight as to what makes those slower beginnings work so well?

Dear Editor responds by saying:

In media res, or “in the middle of the action,” is about timing your book’s opening so that readers join a life in progress rather than shake your hand and read your cast list. This strategy is coupled with other strategies intended to intrigue readers, like piquing curiosity, startling them, triggering fears, etc. The Fault in Our Stars opens with Hazel going to the Support Group meeting where she’ll meet the love of her life. It’s the right time to enter her life even though the action isn’t bold. John Green then startles readers with first lines that defy expectations: a teen poo-poos her impending death. He then makes sure all teens can relate to that teen narrator even though they don’t suffer terminal cancer: Hazel suffers adults who claim to know how she should handle her problem because they are adults and adults know best. I feel your suffering, fellow teen! Her description of the meeting and how she’s been pushed to go feels more like commiserating with peers than a backstory dump.

In other words, it’s about the character and her problem which we are being asked to identify with in the opening of this book. The opening works because the character’s voice works.

And, I am going to go one step farther and say that yes, while all of these “guidelines” are important to pay attention to for the opening of a book, there is something else and that is:

What is the genre’s expectations for the story? What is it that readers who devour this particular genre (whether it be a category romance, YA or thriller) expect?

For example, when I pick up a Harlequin Heartwarming book, I am expecting to get a sweet love story, most often set in a small town location that has a warm and cozy feel.  I do not need or want to be hit over the head with exciting action to my story. I am more than fine reading about the weather IF it is tied to the story and that weather is interacting with the character in a way that I can sense there will be trouble ahead. What keeps me turning the pages as a reader is a sense of impending doom and something that is at stake–in relation to the genre’s guidelines. I do not want or expect to have someone killed in a sweet romance, so I do not need to have grab you action in that first page. But, I do need to understand what the stakes are for this character and that they are high enough for me to keep turning pages.

In young adult, what is it that I am looking for? It is the voice! I have picked up countless YA books and although they started with grab you by the throat action, I have set them down. Why? Because in YA, I want the teen voice. I want a sense of immediacy. I want the teen to take me and tell me his or her story and I want it to be authentic to that teen in that story. I have read a number of YA books where the teen voice is not authentic and I have put the book down–high stakes or not.

So for me,  the two things that need to be in my opening pages are:

1. A strong character voice

2. High stakes with something that is opposing that main character and an impending set of doom for that character that is in alignment with that particular genre’s story promise.

So..now, I’m curious….what do you think is important in an opening page?

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