December 2015 Inside ▪ Q&A with children’s author Bart King▪ How to reach your goals▪ Writing prompt: Take stock▪ Market tip: [a place for writer

Kickstart Your Writing Purple

December 2015


Q&A with children’s author Bart King
How to reach your goals
Writing prompt: Take stock
Market tip: [a place for writers]
New class: Being your own publisher
(Online) Kickstart Your Writing
Nerdy Words: Affect/effect
Student showcase: “Finnegan’s Wood” (excerpt) by Shirley Lewton

The Drake Equation copy

Bart King on writing for children

Joining us for a Q&A this month is Bart King, Northeast Portlander and author of The Big Book of Boy Stuff, The Big Book of Girl Stuff, ten other nonfiction books for kids, and An Architectural Guidebook to Portland. His first novel, The Drake Equation (from Disney Hyperion, available for preorder now), is coming out in 2016.

Bart taught middle school for 15 years, then took a leave of absence five years ago to devote himself to writing. In addition to authoring books, he writes for educational publishers and testing agencies. Among other things, he is good at tailoring material for readers of different ages, from first grade through college. He is currently working on his next novel, a satirical sci-fi tale about pop culture.

How long have you been writing?

While I’ve been writing all my life, the bulk of my early output was confined to elaborate stick figure comics and snappy birthday cards. I sold a few humorous essays in the late 1990s. My first book came out in 2000.

What do you enjoy about writing for kids?

It is just fun, plain and simple. I can write about almost any topic, no matter how goofy, that strikes my fancy.

What have you learned about your writing process that has been helpful to know?

I’ve learned that I am very lazy and like to procrastinate, and therefore, if I want to get anything done, I have to work EVERY day (including weekends and, if I can get away with it, holidays). When it comes to writing fiction, my theory was that a novel could be like a big burlap sack and I could just jam cool ideas and funny stories into it until it was full. But it turns out that writing a novel that a publisher wants to buy is a little bit trickier than that. (More fool me!)

Are there any misconceptions about writing for kids? For example, do writers assume it’s easy or that you need to talk down to the reader?

I think the most pervasive misconception among would-be writers is that it’s easy to write picture books. I’ve only dabbled in that particular part of the writing field, and trust me, it’s not easy in the slightest. Writing a good picture book is a true art!

What children’s book authors do you admire?

Brace yourselves—I don’t read other children’s authors.

Okay, that’s not exactly true. But after my first kids’ book came out in 2004, I did something weird—I generally stopped reading books for kids. (And trust me, as a middle school teacher, I had been reading them a lot until then!)

I started my boycott for two reasons: There are so many truly talented children’s authors that reading their wonderful prose made me want to quit before I started. And I think that whatever small virtue I have as a writer may have to do with my outlook on life. If I let my outlook be influenced by other people writing in the same field as I am, well, it’s not very original anymore, is it?

That said, I do break my own rule. This year, I discovered Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole and thought it was the funniest book I’ve ever read. I also admired two recent graphic novels: Maggie Thrash’s Honor Girl and Mariko Tamaki’s This One Summer. And while it’s too scurrilous for YA, Caitlin Moran’s How to Build a Girl made me laugh. I do read an awful lot of books, ranging from nonfiction to literature to genre fiction, and I list the books I finish and love on GoodReads and Shelfari. (Invitation to anyone reading this: Be my friend on those sites!)

What tips do you have for a children’s writer hoping to connect with an agent or publisher?

Truthfully, I’ve gotten where I am now by sheer luck. Really. And even though I’ve been writing professionally for a long time, I only got an agent a couple of years ago when I started trying to write fiction. So my best advice? “Be lucky.”

I’ll add to that something that Bob Mankoff, the comics editor at The New Yorker, said: “The difference between an amateur and a professional is that an amateur really likes EVERYTHING they do.”

Your first novel, The Drake Equation, will be coming out in 2016. What should fans of your work expect? Anything surprising or different?

Almost all of my previous books have been humorous nonfiction, so the big novelty with The Drake Equation is that it’s humorous fiction. More specifically, it’s a funny science-fiction adventure about a seventh-grade boy who’s a birdwatcher. I’m quite proud of it.

Fun fact: My editor had just finished working with Rick Riordan (author of Percy Jackson & the Olympians) when she started my project. She was too polite to say how disappointing this transition must have been!

Are you funny all the time, or just in print?

My wife laughed when I read this question aloud to her from the other room. And I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure she might have murmured, “Neither.”

Wise words on how to reach your writing goals

Author and writing coach Nancy Woods tackles the subject of how to turn your writing goals into reality in her recent blog post. She explains her basic approach, gives specific examples, and offers tips.

“Whatever your writing goals are, achieving them requires one thing: completing a string of small, specific tasks. Hoping it will happen or talking about it happening or complaining about it not happening aren’t going to cut it. You have to have a plan—a plan that includes a series of small, specific tasks.

“Experienced writers know how to convert a big goal — such as writing a memoir — into a series of tasks that can be completed in one sitting. Each day writers need look no further than that that one task. It’s like walking across a stream one stepping stone at a time."
Read more. Then start making your goals actually happen!

Writing Prompt

Writing prompt

Take stock

As the end of the year approaches, it’s important to take stock of your writing. What writing projects did you finish this year? What projects would you like to write next?

Market tip

[a place for writers]

Ready to submit your work? Where?

This is a difficult question for many writers. Sometimes the most visible markets are hard to get published in because so many writers submit to them. If you are starting out, you might have better luck with a small or local publication, a new publication that is just now building its contributor pool, or a publication that focuses on a specific, narrow topic—such as working in California’s Central Valley or desert road trips in Dodge Darts—that you happen to know something about. (Lucky you!)

For decades, the classifieds section of the magazine Poets & Writers was the go-to source for these types of literary markets, and it still is a great resource. But there are others. We’ll cover some of them during the next few issues of Kickstart.

Our market tip this month is [a place for writers], an online callboard for literary publications and contests. Founded in 1997, it is maintained by Barbara Fletcher, a published poet, blogger/writer, and web editor/producer.

[a place for writers] is similar to Poets & Writers but has more emphasis on Canadian and world markets. It posts calls from everything from independent presses to large, well-established journals, including blogs, web journals, and print magazines with wide distribution. Popular tags on the site are poetry, short stories, creative nonfiction, flash fiction, memoir, and essay.

If your writing fits into one of those categories, give [a place for writers] a whirl—and let us know how it turns out!

Vinnie copy

New class: Being Your Own Publisher

Date: Saturday, January 30, 2016

Time: 1-2:30 p.m.

Location: 4620 N.E. Sandy Blvd., Room 1, Portland, OR 97213

Cost: $50

To register: Mail a check for $50 to Nancy Woods, P.O. Box 18032, Portland, OR 97218. Make the check out to Nancy Woods. To pay by credit card, call 503-288-2469.

The tools of publishing have changed, and authors have taken note. Print-on-demand technology, ebooks, and the prominence of online bookstores have made self-publishing an alluring process to many. But is it right for you? In this 90-minute class, Vinnie Kinsella offers authors insight into the risks and rewards of self-publishing. The class is specifically designed to give authors a clear picture of what the process involves. It will answer the following questions, plus several more:

What are the costs of self-publishing?
How do I avoid getting scammed?
How do I choose the best approach for my book?
How much work is really involved?

Vinnie Kinsella has worn many hats: writer, editor, book designer, project manager, publisher, and college instructor. He currently works with independent authors to produce commercially viable print books and ebooks. He is also in the process of publishing his own project, Fashionably Late: Gay, Bi, and Trans Men Who Came Out Later in Life.

For more information, contact Nancy Woods.

Kickstart Workshops Blue

(Online) Kickstart Your Writing

Dates: January 5- March 8, 2016

Cost: $200/10 Weeks

This online version of the Kickstart Your Writing class can be taken from the comfort of your home and worked on when your schedule allows. All you need is e-mail (no Skype or chat rooms). Students will set weekly goals, post their writing online at designated times, and receive feedback from the instructor and other students.

Whether you’re working on a novel or interested in short stories, memoir, essays, articles or other forms of fiction or nonfiction, Kickstart Your Writing offers a supportive environment in which you can work on specific writing projects.

To register, mail a check to Nancy Woods, P.O. Box 18032, Portland, OR 97218. Make the check out to Nancy Woods. To pay by credit card, call 503-288-2469.

For more information: wordpics@aracnet.comor (503) 288-2469.

Nerdy Words

Nerdy Words: Affect/effect, verb or noun?

By Ann Sihler

This wouldn’t be a real writing newsletter if we didn’t discuss confusing words now and then, such as “affect” and “effect.” Judging by how often writers continue to mix up these two near-twinsies, it seems like either people need to hear the explanation one more time in order to "get it," or we should just give up and go back to non-standardized spellings like we had at the time of Lewis and Clark, whose journals include words such as “Vestles,” “incamped," and “Inhabetents.” I’ll try the former approach. (For now, at least. I make no promises about later!)

The short version of the explanation is that “affect” is a verb and “effect” is a noun, as in: “Stop kicking the back of my seat! It’s affecting my driving! I’m warning you: The effects of continued seat kicking could be dire—to you!"

Sometimes with confusing words I don’t want to bother to remember which is which, so I just look up the correct usage every time. (Is that lazy or just stupid? You decide!) But for confusing words I use often, I develop a mnemonic. For affect/effect, for example, I remember that the “a” in “affect” is the same as the “a” in “action.” Action is what verbs are all about, so “affect” is the verb, which means that “effect” is the noun. Admittedly this mnemonic is nerdy, but it makes sense, yes?

Except. Being a mishmash of so many other languages, English always has exceptions. In this case, it’s that “effect” can also be used as a verb, when it means “to bring about,” as in “only through consistent, coordinated effort can we effect change.”

But this is an uncommon usage. Thinking of “affect” as a verb and “effect” as a noun, using whatever mnemonic works for you, will cover 99 percent of the uses of these words.

Student Showcase

“Finnegan’s Wood” (excerpt) by Shirley Lewton

Shirley Lewton has been writing for as long as she can remember—poetry and a journal when she was young, and short stories during the past 15 years. Finnegan’s Wood was inspired by a trip she made to Ireland last spring, after having long been fascinated by Irish literature, film, mythology, and storytelling. The tale is written for 9- to 13-year olds and will be illustrated by Shirley’s daughter, artist Oriana Lewton-Leopold. In writing Finnegan’s Wood, Shirley hopes to recapture the wonder she felt reading stories of magic and fairies when she was young.

“But you do know about Finnegan’s Wood,” Clare said slowly. There was not a trace of a smile on her solemn face. “Will you tell us about why we can’t go there?” Aoife, too, looked expectantly at their aunt.

Great Aunt Dana heaved a long sigh, stood up from the kitchen chair and reached behind herself to untie the faded pink apron she wore. “It’s a terrible sad story,” she said letting out a second sigh as she walked to a wall hook and hung up the apron.

“Ah well, there we are.” Great Aunt Dana lowered herself slowly onto her chair. Laying her hands flat on the table she looked from one girl to the other. “Now, to start, wouldn’t you be wanting to know who Finnegan was?” Silent nods from the sisters were her answers. “Faith, I can’t tell you how long ago it was but a man named Brian Finnegan owned all of the land you can see when you stand on the roof of this very house.” She raised a hand and pointed a gnarled finger toward the ceiling. The sisters raised their eyes in response.

“Look in every direction and it would be Brian Finnegan’s land you’d be seeing,” the old woman continued as she swept her arms out wide. “And do you think Mr. Finnegan was a happy man? Contented to sit in his great big house lookin’ out onto all that land?” Clare and Aoife stared at their aunt in silence. She stared right back at them, raised her eyebrows and asked, “Well, what do you think?”

Clare clutched the side of her chair and wiggled back and forth. “Well, sure,” she said. “He has all that land and everything.”

“Wouldn’t ya think he would be happy? Aoife, what do you think?”

“Well, it depends. We don’t know anything about him, really.” Aoife’s mouth twitched as she looked into the old woman’s eyes.

“True enough, dear. Let me tell you he was a contented man with a beautiful wife and a little boy named Colin who filled his parents’ hearts with joy the moment his little eyes opened to the world. His hair was black as the raven’s, eyes blue as the sky on a brilliant summer day. In fact,” Great Aunt Dana paused and gazed at Clare, “he could have been your brother.”

“My brother?”

“Didn’t you hear me tell you?”

Aoife gave her sister a jab with her elbow. “You have black hair and blue eyes, too.”

“The very thing,” the old woman said. “Now this boy was a curious one with an adventurous spirit that made his parents proud but also gave them great worry about his chances for the long life they hoped he would have. Colin was three when he climbed to the top of the tallest tree in the forest and when he was nine he tamed a horse so wild that his father had given it up for a lost cause after it threw him off twenty or more times. Faith, didn’t Colin win every race in the land with that very horse? A black stallion named Ibath it was. Didn’t they jump fences taller than Colin himself and win every race in the land?

“Now, Colin’s mother, Maeve, grew thin with the worry over her child. Many a broken bone the boy suffered and the cuts and scratches and bruises were a wear on the poor woman. She begged Brian to forbid Colin from riding the stallion, but he refused and didn’t he spend many a long year wishin’ he had given in to his wife’s wishes?”

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