Interview with Darshana Khiani

I’m excited to introduce all of you to Darshana. She is the mastermind behind the blog Floweringminds.com where she features authors and promotes diversity in kidlit. My kind of gal.

Hi, Darshana! I’m excited to get to know you better because we share a love of Richard Scarry and Blondie. That pretty much sums up my childhood!

I’d like to focus on diversity since that’s what you advocate. What are the biggest changes you’ve seen recently in books for children.

Thank you very much for having me. I’m happy to be discussing diversity here.

Ever since the We Need Diverse Books organization came onto the scene in 2014, there has been an uptick in diverse books being published, more discussions on the topic of diversity at conferences, and publishers understanding the need for sensitivity readers. It is an exciting time; I hope this momentum continues and doesn’t get relegated to a trend. We are a diverse nation and our children’s literature should continue to reflect that.

What are some changes you project to be in the pipelines in the future?

I would like to see the continued breadth of stories within the various diverse categories. This will help break down stereotypes and give readers a richer experience. Nigerian author, Chimamada Adiche, gave an eloquent speech on “The Danger of a Single-Story”. Her talk struck a chord with me, as I remembered having to defend and explain my summer holidays in Kenya and India to fellow students when I was a child. Looking back, can I blame my classmates for their unawareness when the only images they saw of those countries were of malnourished, poor, and hungry children on fundraising infomercials? Within any diverse group, there will be a range of people and experiences and it is important for there to be a body of literature to show the full spectrum.

With the political climate being what it is today, there is a need for books where multiculturalism is at the forefront, discussing inclusivity and understanding. As our nation’s awareness increases, I hope we can see more stories with diverse characters where the primary focus is a universal truth and the multicultural part is secondary.

Are there any topics you’d love to read about that you haven’t read yet?

While there is a lot of discussion around racial, gender, religious diversity and neurodiversity, there isn’t much about economic diversity. There has been a smattering of books in MG and YA dealing with economic hardship but not enough. Back in 2008, I remember watching a 60 Minutes segment about the high percentage of homeless kids in Florida wondering if there were books that reflected their reality. Recently, there was a picture book, STILL A FAMILY by Brenda Sturgis, that had a lovely message of still being a family even though the father had to stay at a men’s shelter while the young daughter and mother were at the women’s shelter. Katherine Applegate’s MG novel, CRENSHAW, touched on childhood hunger.

Across the various diverse groups there has been an increase of books coming out in the YA and MG categories, but I’d like to see that diversity also reflected in both Picture Books and Early Chapter Books.

What’s your dream book that you’d like to read or even write?

As for my dream book to read, I’ll let you know once I find it. As for writing, one of the things on my writing bucket list is to create a modern rendition of the Akbar and Birbal Indian folktales. I loved the wit and wisdom in those stories.

What are you working on now?

Currently, I’m learning the craft of early chapter books as I try to convert one of my picture book South Asian characters into the longer format. I’m also constantly writing and revising picture books.

Also, I know you work with the We Need Diverse Books campaign as a picture book application reader. Do you have any advice for authors writing PBs?

Perfect timing! The We Need Diverse Books organization is currently accepting applications for readers until the end of August. Whether you are a picture book writer or a novelist, I highly recommend taking advantage of any opportunity that has you reading many stories in the category that you write. You will gain an appreciation of how fresh, original, and well-crafted a story needs to be in order to stand out.

 Additionally, for picture book writers, I would recommend reading as many current picture books as possible. I read about 250 a year. When I started back in 2011, the focus was on character-driven stories, then quirky and subversive – the market is constantly changing. Finally, of course: write, write, write. Picture books are a bit of a numbers game. The more stories you have out there, the better shot you have at something getting picked up. Kate Messner wrote an awesome post a while back titled “Picture Book Math”, where she discusses her productivity over a year.

On that note, I had better get back to my stories! Happy Writing!

Thank you so much, Darshana for taking the time out of your busy schedule to share with us. 

You can find out more about Darshana on her blog, twitter, Instagram: @dkwriter and Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/floweringminds/

Kristi Wientge is the author of KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE out August 15th 2017 with Simon & Schuster BFYR. She is represented by Patricia Nelson at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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4 on 400 July Feedback

Thank you to all the brave souls who entered this month’s Four on 400 contest!

Sharing your writing takes courage, and we appreciate your enthusiasm for our contest.


Below, we’ve posted the first 400 words from this month’s winner, along with feedback from at least four of our members. We also encourage our readers to share their (constructive) suggestions and encouragement in the comments section below.

 

Working Title: Gravenhurst, Upper MG Fantasy

CHAPTER 1—EVERETT

            Everett opened his hotel room’s closet door, glancing at the mirror that reflected his sleepy eyes and blond, bed-head hair. His reflections in the mirror hanging on the other door directly behind him followed the previous one, but instead of getting smaller they were all the same size. And, one of the reflections was an ugly, yellow-green face. He rubbed his eyes. This shouldn’t be.

            He looked again, no strange face glared back. What’s going on? Another one of his imagi-morning experiences. Every morning for the past week he’d seen the strange, ugly green face. He thought it was because he was hungry or maybe because he was not sleeping as well as he did in his own bed.

            Hunger. That’s what it was.

He shrugged, and reached for a shirt.

A large black bat exploded out of the closet. Its wings brushed Everett’s head, then it circled above him.

            “Get away!” Everett ducked, waving his arms wildly as he ran around the around the room, avoiding the circling bat.

            The bat, about the size of a dove, with weird, oversized, red eyes, hovered near the ceiling. Everett stood still. His heart pounded and his chest heaved from huge gulps of air. He grabbed a wooden hanger and swung at the bat, missing each time. It moved faster than any bat Everett had ever seen as it flew toward the suite’s sitting room at the end of the hall. When he got there, the bat was gone. It had to be hiding. He poked the hanger behind a dark blue velvet couch, four wingback chairs, and matching dark blue velvet drapes.

Nothing.

            Bats couldn’t just disappear. Or … appear…

Everett wouldn’t have been as startled if the bat was in their barn back in Michigan. Besides, how could a bat that size get inside a downtown London hotel? The windows couldn’t be opened.

And something else …

Those large, bright red eyes that had followed his every move.

            Everett checked his photographic memory, mentally paging through each science book and nature magazine. Bats’ eyes were black or brown, but the cones inside the eyes reflected red from a flashlight. There were no red eyed bats … and no flashlight.

            After several slow, deep breaths, Everett noticed a pink sticky note on the coffee table:

Meet us in the restaurant downstairs.

Tell Jillian to hurry up.

Mom.

Jessica Vitalis: What an interesting opening; thanks for sharing! I love the idea of a bat attacking a boy in a London hotel room and appreciated the details you used (velvet couch and wingback chairs, etc.). The first couple of paragraphs didn’t necessarily do their job in terms of pulling me in to the story; my suggestion would be to start with Everett opening the closet door in the hotel and having the bat swoop out at him–maybe he even has the imagi-morning experience as his gaze sweeps past the mirror but it’s within the context of trying to get this bat out of his room (i.e. a passing glance in the mirror), which I think could be expanded quite a bit before revealing that the bat disappears. The action will suck us in and you can layer in details as far as traveling and not sleeping well, etc. as the action unfolds. Good luck!

Julie Artz: I’d love to read a MG fantasy about a boy with a photographic memory and a quirky voice (loved the “imagi-morning experiences”), but I agree with Jessica that this opening didn’t draw me in as much as I wished it had. Starting with a mirror felt a little cliche and jumping between the yellow-green face and the bat felt like too much for the opening scene. I wasn’t sure where my attention was supposed to be focused. I’d like to know a little bit more about what Everett wants in this scene–is he worried someone else will see the bat or that he’ll get in trouble? Why is he chasing it? What is he going to do now that it has disappeared? Maybe slow down a bit and immerse us more in this bat scene as a set-up for whatever is going to come next. Good luck!

Gabrielle Byrne: I think you’re on the right track with your active verbs and sharing some setting details (I also liked the wingback chairs), but it feels too busy to me. I think it may be that you’ve started in the wrong place, which happens a lot with drafting, to authors at all stages. I think we need to bond more with Everett–care more about him, to care about these weird things he’s experiencing. Who is he, and why is he in London instead of Michigan, and how does he feel about being there? If he’s been having these experiences the last few days, what’s that doing to him? We know he’s tired, but what is that like for him, and is he scared to look in the mirror–afraid of it happening again? Try backing the scene up a little, to when he’s thinking about just getting up, since he can’t sleep anyway. Play with this first page and try writing it a few different ways, focusing down on what it would be like to be Everett and what’s at stake for him in these first few moments. Good luck!

Marty Mayberry: What a creative premise! I love the idea of a yellow-green face in the mirror and a red-eyed bat bursting from the closet. You’ve done a great job describing the scene, as well as feeding in little details about Everett, without making this feel cumbersome. As others have noted, that first paragraph didn’t draw me in as much as I’d hoped. Starting with action (seeing the ugly, yellow-green face in the mirror) felt rushed. My preference is to be introduced to a character before things start to happen to him. I also wasn’t sure of Everett’s age in this initial scene. The fact that he was alone in a hotel room led me to believe Everett was an adult. Perhaps backing up and starting with an introduction to Everett and why he is alone in the hotel room (i.e., his parents are waiting downstairs, he has to hurry or xx will happen, etc.) will help ground the reader. Then you can introduce the face/bat. All the best with this!

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MYC: Finding Your Voice

Welcome to this week’s Master Your Craft post! Each Wednesday we’ll discuss prewriting and drafting a new book from the BIG IDEA to QUERYING. Last week, we continued our series on character development with a warning to not let our friends write bad books!!

This week we’ll tackle the ever-elusive craft of VOICE!

Some of you may ask: Why is voice part of character development?

Well, friend, I’m soooo glad you asked. I once put the question to my Winged Pen peeps: What comes first, voice or plot? I truly thought it was one or the other that came first to any and everyone. I was so surprised when only two of us chose voice as our starting point.

Regardless of how you tackle writing a story, I stand by developing your character’s voice early on in the process. A strong voice will draw your readers in and make your story memorable. Voice sets the tone and creates opportunities for your character to take on the plot headfirst.

Articles and books often portray voice in a vague you’ve-got-it-or-ya-don’t kind of element. Everyone has a voice, it’s a matter of uncovering yours. Here are a few pointers how:

 

Do: Don’t:
1. Know your character well. (age, worldview, family dynamics, academic abilities, etc.) Interviewing is very helpful!! 1. Stereotype
2. Monologue (either out loud or on paper) 2. Confuse accents or colloquialism with voice
3. Read & re-read books with voice you love—Hound Dog True by Linda Urban and The Tiger Rising by Kate Dicamillo are a few I turn to. Conversely, pinpoint books/paragraphs you find aren’t authentic in voice and discuss why. 3. Don’t use your character’s culture as a way to add flourishes to their voice (eg. confusing and outlandish metaphors)

Number 3 under Don’ts leads me to what voice is versus what it isn’t:

Voice Is: Voice Isn’t:
1. Compelling 1. Confusing
2. Specific 2. Generic
3. Unique 3. Bland
4. Purposeful 4. Passive
5. Revealing 5. Disjointed

Knowing your character is like having a black and white coloring sheet and voice is the color you add to the picture. Mood, attitudes, personality, worldview all play a part in the colors you choose.

As an author you also have a unique voice. Do you write short, simple sentences? Are you prone to purple prose? Either way, you need to refine your writing and ensure it meets the Do’s and Is’s above. Both forms of writing are effective. Pick up any of Kate Dicamillo books and be wowed by her strong, poignant writing. Then pick up Laini Taylor and fall in love with magically spooky, but oh-so beautiful descriptions.

Your plot may control your character and her voice, but do not underestimate voice. It has the power to drive your plot. When done well, both your plot and your voice will compete in creating a well-developed story.

 

USEFUL TIDBITS FROM THE PROS:

[Voice] can reflect region, ethnicity or historical era as well as character. However, with these variants, a little goes a long way.

Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint by Nancy Kress

Voice= Person + Tense + Prosody

+ (Diction + Syntax + Tone + Imagination + Details)

Second Sight by Cheryl B. Klein

Once you discover the authenticity within yourself, you can move into all the other voices that inhabit your imagination with an assurance you never before experienced.

The Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children by Nancy Lamb

When you are at ease with family and friends, listen for the way you have of expressing ideas, your authentic voice.

The Writer’s Compass by Nancy Ellen Dodd

2 Voice Challenges:

  1. Your characters must have such distinct voices and speech patterns that if I were to take the dialogue tags out of your scenes, I could tell exactly who is speaking.
  2. When I pick up a book with the cover ripped off and no name on the pages, I should be able to read a paragraph and identify you as the author.

Writing Irresistible Kidlit by Mary Kole

You’re after a particular, distinctive verbalization construct that perfectly conveys how he views the world and how his mind works.

Plot Versus Character by Jeff Gerke

Kristi is the author of KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE out with S&S BFYR August 2017. She is repped by Patricia Nelson at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency.

How to Break Your Resolutions & Live to Tell About It

It’s still January and everyone’s talking about goals. Making goals, keeping goals, how to write your goals and Blah, Blah, Blah!

Actually, I’m a very goal oriented person. I love goals. I make goals to shatter them, not just reach them. BUT 2016 was a bit of a different story.

Shortly after finalizing the edits for my first book, I hit a huge snag. A snag that ripped right through my writing mojo and into all other aspects of my life.

  • I didn’t achieve my Good Reads goal of 60 books (Holy Crap!!! I was reading 100-200 books a year for the past 5 years! In 2016 I couldn’t even manage 1 a week!!!)
  • I wasted spent 8 months trudging through drafts and scribbles of a second manuscript only to agree with my agent that we needed to put it aside and start on another.
  • I failed my NaNoWriMo attempt. I wasn’t even motivated by the chart this year! Usually that rising bar graph is what gets me out of bed in November.
  • I got 0, zip, zilch writing done from mid-November till my kids started their new year on the 3rd of January.

Sure, I could have forced in some writing, but sometimes you just know it’s going to be crap. So I threw myself into some embroidery projects and my girls got me hooked to Dance Moms (don’t judge because all those episodes actually sparked a thread in my incomplete NaNo project).

As you review the month of January or even all of 2016 in preparation for 2017, it’s really important to remember a few things as you create and/or break your resolutions:

  1. Analyze your situation: Are you lacking the motivation or desire to write? Are you being lazy or in a funk? These are important distinctions to make. Sometimes I’m too scared to sit down and write because I know I set up a bunch of question marks for the next day and I’m avoiding rolling up my sleeves and writing through it. Other times, I’m truly, truly in a funk and everything feels stupid and worthless and hopeless.
  2. Don’t make excuses: It’s okay to give yourself a break and pull back when something isn’t working or go make that 20th cup of coffee or meet that friend you haven’t seen in months for lunch, BUT be sure you’re not just giving yourself any old excuse not to get your butt in the chair.
  3. Take the kind of advice you give: Ask yourself, “What would I tell my friend to do in this situation?” And do that. Don’t give in to the funk!
  4. Find people who motivate you and push you: There are too many downward spiraling moments in anyone’s writing journey not to have people to share it with. Writing people are everywhere! Find them!
  5. Don’t take yourself or your goals too seriously: Part of the creative process is the down time it takes to work problems, plots, themes, etc. out. You need to have an end goal. You need to get your butt in the chair, but also: life happens.

So, as you break into 2017 and possibly break a few resolutions, remember it’s okay to fail. View your setbacks as learning opportunities. Take a break, but don’t make excuses.

Happy 2017!

Kristi Wientge is the author of KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE out 15th August 2017 with Simon & Schuster BFYR.

The Call with Julie Artz

Hi, Julie. I’m so excited that you’ve signed with Jennie Dunham of Dunham Lit and are on your way to publishing success! I think The Call is one of the most desired/feared/nerve-wracking/exciting/elusive steps a writer works toward. You’ve nailed your query and finally garnered some interest, but now what?

Photo credit: Gail Werner
Photo credit: Gail Werner   

 

She sent me an email. I had received a similar email from her in the spring that ended up being a Revise & Resubmit on an older manuscript, but the wording on this one was different, so I was pretty sure it was going to be an offer. She didn’t mention a time, but she called me the next morning, so there was only one day of nail-biting.

How did you prepare for The Call? Any sites or blog posts that you felt were helpful in preparing?

I emailed my amazing Pitch Wars 2015 mentor, Juliana Brandt, who shared her list of questions and gave me an awesome pep-talk. And I emailed a couple of critique partners to freak out/ask for advice. I also did a little cyber stalking internet research on the agency and its clients. I read Janet Reid’s blog religiously and she talks a lot about how to maintain good agent-writer relationships. If you’re querying and not subscribed to her blog, go subscribe NOW!

I have to ask where you did the call? Were your kids and husband home?

I was home alone, thank goodness, because I was pacing all over the house with my phone and notebook. I was so nervous and had to keep moving (and reminding myself not to talk too much)! Once I got off the call, I was getting DMs, emails, text messages, and phone calls all at once. I didn’t even text my husband until later because I was on the phone with The Winged Pen’s own Jessica Vitalis, talking her ear off as she drove out of town!

How were you feeling when the call started? How did you feel once the conversations got going?

I had already had a really positive interaction with Jennie about the R&R on my previous manuscript, so I was feeling really good from the moment the call started. Even before it started, really. I sent her The Elephant Tree instead of the revision (with her permission) because I felt it was a stronger manuscript and she was enthusiastic about the project from the moment I pitched it to her. The call blew me away. By the time we had this call, she had read all three of my middle grades, so I knew she really got me as a writer. And she said all the right things. I was floating by the end.

What was the big deciding factor on deciding that this was the agent for you? Was there a moment in the call or something she said?

When she made me cry (in a good way), I just knew that she got me 100% and was going to be the perfect fit.

How has communication been since the call and what’s the next step for you?

I have been working on revisions on The Elephant Tree since we signed in October. So in addition to discussing revisions, we’ve also had a productive back-and-forth about my next story. The one I was plotting before I signed with Jennie is a totally different genre than The Elephant Tree (dark fantasy instead of contemporary with a sprinkle of magic), so it doesn’t make a very good follow-up.

 I came up with a character and pitched Jennie a story idea that, unfortunately, has been done in an upcoming MG. That’s why I’m so glad to have an industry insider to help me navigate this—can you imagine if I’d written the whole story before I found out someone else had done something similar? I was able to take that same character, who I’m sort of falling in love with, and put her into a new story that Jennie thought would make a great follow-up to The Elephant Tree. Now if I can just get these edits done, I can start writing the shiny new story!

Are there any questions you wish you had asked that you didn’t?

We got so busy talking about edits for my current manuscript and story ideas for my next one that we completely forgot to talk about what her contract looks like! She had to email me the contract after the fact. I actually thought of a ton of questions after I got off the phone with her, so we had another round of email back and forth during my nudge week.

Any advice for querying writers working toward The Call?

Don’t give up! This was the third middle-grade manuscript I’d queried (fourth manuscript total because there was that one awful chicklit novel I wrote in my twenties and was foolish enough to query) and I racked up over a hundred rejections on my Pitch Wars 2015 manuscript before I shelved it to focus on The Elephant Tree. The evening before I got the email from Jennie, I got a heart-breaking pass from another agent that had me so down in the dumps that I’d actually told my critique partners I was all done with this manuscript (even though I only sent a total of 48 queries on it!). The next day, I had an offer.

Julie, thanks so much for letting me pester you with all these questions and congrats on this giant leap forward. I can’t wait to see what’s next for you. Follow Julie on Twitter @julieartz. You can also find her at julieartz.com.

~Kristi Wientge is the author of KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE out August 2017 with Simon & Schuster BFYR and is repped by Patricia Nelson at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency.