SCBWI Conference in NY, Feb 2015

logo-scbwiI’m attending the annual, (inter)national children’s book conference with SCBWI. I’m also taking over as the Regional Advisor (R.A.) for the Northern CA/Central region of SCBWI, which encompasses about 400 members in 33 counties (not sure if I want you to applaud or pity me, haha). Lately I’ve heard a bunch of beginner writer questions. I’m re-posting a Q&A-type video I made a little while ago, and hopefully it’ll help answer questions you didn’t even think to ask.

Click the video on the blog post below.

Did I leave anything out? Do you have more Qs that need As? I’m working on a follow-up video and want to be sure to cover your next round of questions–so please, let me know!.

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8 Writing Tips in 8 Minutes: Bitsy’s tips for the newbie picture book writer

As I’m headed to the (inter)national children’s book conference with SCBWI, I’ve had a few beginner questions about how to get started. Hopefully this video is as helpful now as it was when I first posted it.

Bitsy Kemper

Thinking of writing a children’s book? Have you written one but not sure what to do with it? Well a-looky here, I’ve got some slick tips for you, dear beginner. It’ll be the best eight minutes of your day! (Unless you won the lottery, in which case may I say how beautiful you look today?)

Feel free to share the video on your own blog or website. Just please give a link back to me here, okay? Thanks, doll.

If you have tips or tricks that you’d like to share with fellow newbies, please let me know! You may be featured in a future video 🙂

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Setting Means More Than Location

woman-packing-boxes-writing1209-300x200

We recently moved. We are only a dozen miles from our last house, but it’s a world away. We went from “the middle of flippin’ nowhere” to “closer to society.” The drive time alone makes a huge difference to my peace of mind. But there are other, seemingly smaller things that have an impact on the everyday me.

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It got me thinking about setting. I’ve been writing more now, and have been hyper sensitive to what is going on around my main characters. Where a story takes place is more than location. It affects a person’s (or character’s) mood, mindset, and inherent and unknowingly learned truths.

looking_over_london    brain      girlindress

Let me give you some examples.

In the new house, I’m surrounded by things I’ve forgotten. Maybe I never realized how much I enjoy them. They include:

1. The sound of a lawnmower   lanmower

Country living provides the every-so-often drone of a far-off tractor. Or the faint hum of a riding mower. Now, hearing a lawn being mowed in close range reminds me there are people nearby. In my mind, when I hear the mower, I see a person pushing the mower. People–my neighbors–are up and about, caring about their yard and tending to it. It makes me feel like I’m part of the bigger picture. Had I not lived the rural life for the past 14 years, I probably wouldn’t even notice the sound. Or, it might make me crazy to hear it all the time. Maybe I’d wake in a fury if the buzzing was wafting through my open window at 7am on a Saturday. Now, though, I love it.

When your main character hears the whir of his next door neighbor’s lawnmower, how does he or she feel about it? And maybe more importantly, why?

2. The smell of cut grass                                                                                                     rotarymower

I’ve always thought heaven will smell like a freshly-cut lawn. That smell is so overwhelming wonderful to me, I can’t even tell you. And I get to smell it now! The sound of a lawnmower being pushed around next door is wonderful to me not only because of a sense of community, but because the soft wind will carry that lovely, earthy scent directly to my haven’t-smelled-that-in-ages nose. It smells divine. And I have the loud murmuring lawnmower to thank for it. rainbows from Amys window at delapre abbey

Does you main character even recognize the smell of grass? Why does where they live make a difference to their reaction?

3. Construction sounds                                                                                                 tractordirt

BEEPBEEPBEEP throughout the day might make one go mad. But now, I hear it and smile. It’s the sound of progress. It’s the sound of roads being made and homes (not houses) being built. It’s a harbinger of a future community, a community I can’t wait to be a part of. So bring on the beeping and pounding and shouting. It’s worth it.

suburbsWales

What would your main character think?

4. Blasted radios and shouts from construction workers

The daylong hustle and bustle is a welcoming noise to me. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a city-like atmosphere so shouting-over-the-banging reminds me of that simpler time in my life? Those sounds I hear today come from the very people that are making way for MY neighbors. No, I don’t like the chosen radio station and no, you shouldn’t park your truck in the middle of the road every morning, and would it kill you to walk five feet instead of shouting? But I know it’s temporary, and I know it’s the price to pay for the incoming greater good. These people made my home too. I don’t begrudge them; I thank them.

boombox

How would your main characters react to construction going on down their streets? How do they feel about commotion they can’t control? Would they try to change it? How? Would they complain to a supervisor, write a letter, complain yet do nothing? Their reaction (or lack of action) is telling.

5. No ever-lingering horse-poo scent, no roosters, no windy roads, no driving three miles to get my mail and newspaper

Have you ever heard a real sheep? I swear to you, it sounds like some guy is standing out in a field going “BAA baaa BAA BAA.” It’s hilarious. Maybe I’ll miss that sound just because it makes me laugh. But probably not.

stock-footage-handsome-young-man-walking-in-wheat-field-at-summertime

Other frustrations are sure to replace the ongoing eau de manure we had at the old house. But I know for CERTAIN I will NEVER EVER EVER no matter what EVER miss hearing cock-a-friggin-do ALL DAY AND NIGHT. Whoever told you roosters cackle at the break of dawn is lying. ROOSTERS CROW ALL DAY EVERY DAY AND IT NEVER STOPS NOT EVEN WHEN YOU REMIND YOUR NEIGHBOR THAT FARM ANIMALS ARE AGAINST ASSOCIATION RULES. There are no chickens or roosters or horse droppings in my new suburbia. None. And that’s pretty flippin’ cool.

rooster

How would your main character react to city racket vs urban din vs suburbian quiet? What are they used to hearing, smelling, seeing? Which do they prefer? Do they even realize they prefer one over the other?

These are just a few ways my outlook has changed since moving. I’m sure the fondness will wear off, but I’m thinking I’ll miss the clamor when construction ends. I really like being in the middle of things. It’s why we moved. If I hadn’t had all those years surrounded by our home on the range, I doubt I’d feel any of the above. I’d probably be tired of seeing garage doors and dream of moving out to the country.

Our stories need all this background too. Setting is more than location. It affects more than you think. Make sure your characters feel what they feel not just because it’s how you wrote it, but because it’s their truth.

Garden Path

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some windows to open.

Where does “trick or treat” come from*?

I mustache you for candy

I mustache you for candy

At the risk of creating a post that will be immediately dated, I found out something today I never knew. Not one to bottle up joy, I thought I’d keep the cork off and share with you.

Certainly you already know Halloween comes from Hallow and evening, that Hallowe’en was the original spelling with the v left out, and it stood for the evening before All Hallows Day on Nov 1st, making Oct 31st All Hallows Eve, which is the day/night before the feasts of the saints and souls of loved ones that have passed on.

And certainly you know never to write such a long sentence as that one. Whew, I’m tired just rereading it. But I digress.

“All Hallows” in Old English, according to dictionary.com, means “feast of the saints.” The Catholic church today calls November first All Saints Day, and celebrates saints as well as family members that have died. (FWIW, All Souls Day is the following day, Nov 2, and is technically set aside to pray for those that may have died without a clean slate and might need our prayerful help to get past St. Peter. But again, I digress.) And now back to trick or treating.

Who wants some candy?

Who wants some candy?

Tradition several hundred years ago had it that you’d dress in something scary to ward off the evil spirits that were trolling the earth the night before the Holy day, hence the costumes we wear today.

But how did “trick or treat” start? That’s where the fun comes in. In the Middle Ages, the poor would knock on doors asking for food the night before All Souls Day. It was called “souling.” In exchange and in gratitude for any food you’d give them (probably not in a pillowcase though), they’d pray for your deceased loved ones (pls see earlier reference to All Souls Day…some family members needed all the help they could get…).

Then the Scots and Irish upped the ante. In the 1800s, they had (and still have, apparently) a custom called “guising.” Children dress up in costume and do some sort of entertaining, such as card trick, singing in rhyme, or telling a story, in exchange for a treat. Hence the trick and the treat. I’m guessing, and have no proof here, that the saying was probably a question, rather than a demand, and was more a complete sentence, as in  “Trick for treat?” Again, I’m guessing, but the dressing up part probably had a positive and direct correlation on the treat presented. History says kids usually hit up the richer households (which I know for a fact is still done, doesn’t everyone know that one house that gives out FULL SIZE candy bars?!?). The Scots and Irish brought that tradition here when they immigrated in the early 1900s.

Trick or treat

There’s always that one guy that doesn’t dress up

The practice didn’t sit well with many Americans at first. By the 1930s, it kinda pissed off some folks. Kids were gung-ho on the idea, though, and didn’t want to stop. That might be where the or comes in…a mild threat. Again, no historical proof on the “or” part, just my thought. (Figures the U.S. throws a little bullying into the mix, huh?)

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What could be scarier than a ’60s gogo dancer?

By the 1950s our Oct 31st tradition of donning odd clothing, knocking on a stranger’s door, demanding they give us edible loot, and walking away (and/or TPing the houses that handed out pennies or a stick of Juicyfruit) was in full swing. As is my annual Nov 1st sugar hangover.

Super Kitty suffers Halloween payback

Super Kitty suffers Halloween payback

Much like most of America and American tradition, Halloween is a blend of many cultures, many countries, and many meanings. I like that such an American thing we enjoy today (costumes, parties, celebrations, candyfest) has little to do with America. We didn’t create it or start it. But we helped it evolve. We owe our sweet-filled night o’ fun to many that came before us. The SEVEN BILLION DOLLAR (that $7,000,000,000 — nine zeros) that’ll be generated this Halloween proves how much we’ve embraced it.

So go out, enjoy your night of trickery and treating. Just take it easy on the fun-sized sweets and/or monster punch. Even Super Kitty learned that lesson the hard way.

*The factual information here was gathered and double checked from books, websites, historical research, and other reliable sources. I’m an author, for Pete’s sake, I’d never knowingly report or quote falsehoods. Seriously. If you know or find any facts contrary to what I’ve written here, I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment or email me. I love learning.

Twitter 101: The Basics, For Writers

Twitter 101 for Writers Part One

The past few writers’ conference presentations I’ve given about Author Platforms have prompted many of the same questions. Most surround social media. I’m gonna tackle one biggie here: Twitter. Let’s look at the very basic concept of Twitter in this post, for the true beginner. How to use it effectively will be a different post, so be sure to keep looking around on my site if you need more help or detail.

“I know what Twitter is, but I don’t know how to use it like I should. Is there a specific process?” “Why do I want to use Twitter in the first place?” “What is Twitter anyway?” Let’s start with the very basics. Here are some definitions of Twitter:

  • Twitter is the best way to connect with people, express yourself and discover what’s happening. – Twitter

That’s kinda broad. Let’s look at a different definition:

  • Twitter is a free social networking microblogging service that allows registered members to broadcast short update posts called tweets. –WhatIs.com

Okay, that’s not really helpful at all. Let’s give it one more try:

  • A stupid site for stupid people with no friends, who think everyone else gives a sh*t what they’re doing at any given time. –UrbanDictionary.com

Haha well that sure is one way to look at it! I view Twitter as a huge cocktail party. You interact as much as you want, you come in and out of conversations as you see fit, you listen to other people rant or rave, you observe trends and popular topics, you initiate some conversations and contribute to others, you walk around to see what’s happening over in that side of the room, and yes maybe you enjoy a few people so much that you follow them around a little bit.

Looking at some statistics, it’s clear that social media is here to stay.

  • Facebook: 1.23 Billion users as of Dec 2013, 81% outside of U.S. (Facebook.com), 57% American adults, 73% 12-17 year olds (Pew Research)
  • LinkedIn: 277 million users as of Feb 2014 (Digital Marketing Ramblings)
  • Instagram (where you share photos and up to 15-second videos, image filters are offered): 150 million active users, 1.2 Billion likes/day (DMR, Feb 2014)
  • Vine (users share 6-second videos) : 40 million users (Vine)
  • Twitter: As of Aug 2013, Twitter reports

    280 Million users

    500 Million tweets/day

    Average 5,700 tweets PER SECOND

    135,000 new users/day

A tweet, or Twitter post, gives you 140 spaces, called characters, to say whatever you want. “Happy birthday” is 14 characters (without the quote marks), and “Happy birthday!” (without quotes) is 15. With quotes, they’d 16 and 17 characters. Anything that takes up a space, even a blank space, counts as one. The good news is you are forced to be brief. The bad news is it takes practice to get your point across succinctly.

Once you’ve got the hang of 140 characters, why keep going? What’s in it for you? Plenty. When used effectively, Twitter can:

8 Phrases that should NEVER come out of your mouth

Here are eight words and phrases that should never, and I mean NEVER come out of your mouth. At least not to me. In random order:

1. When you see I’m in the midst of a book you’re already read: “Did you get to the part where…

Don't. Say. A. Word.

Don’t. Say. A. Word.

Are you serious? What if I’m not there yet, you idiot? You just ruined it for me!

2. When discussing a book or movie I haven’t read/seen, but you have “Oh the ending of that is sooo unexpected.”

"This is the part where they all die in the end..."

“This is the part where they all die in the end…”

 Come closer so I can smack you. You pretty much just ruined any surprise I wouldn’t have seen coming. Now I’m gonna be on edge the whole time thinking Is that the shocker? Or is that it? She said surprise, so it can’t end up this way. I wonder if x or y will happen… Oh, I bet he turns out to be that guy’s father… Anything creative I come up with will make the real ending suck. Continue reading

“…finish at your leisure…”

When someone asks me to take a look at or work on something “at my leisure,” it takes everything to not point out that leisure, by its very definition, means time not spent working. It’s a time free from work/duty. So, reviewing something at my leisure is an oxymoron. If I’m not working, I am not going to look at work. I am not going to think about work.

I used to think vacation meant less work, not no work. I now happily embrace the true meaning of leisure. Mostly.

Quite frankly, wish I did sooner. 

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Shutting off the phone only works for so long (What if Uncle Harry takes a turn?). Staying someplace without wireless access sounds good but let’s face it, there’s *always* a Starbucks nearby that can give you a quick hit (I mean, how else are you going to post all those selfies on Facebook and Instagram?). Editing instead of writing is a great goal but never works (once those creative juices start a-flowing you don’t wanna shut them off). Going cold turkey, at least for a few days, seems to work best for me.

What about you?