Thursday, November 26, 2009

Book Week Ending

It was the train back to T.O. Saturday morning, November 21. You've noticed the date of this post? You're wondering what happened to me posting promptly? Answer: It took about 30 seconds for my regular life to swamp me and divest me of book touring "star" status, ha ha!

Sights Seen from a Train
  • the many marvelous and varied shades of November brown
  • the staggered and stacked irregular rectangles of the Niagara Escarpment's limestone cliffs
  • deer snacking in a cornfield
Most Memorable Moments
  • seeing the girl diagonally ahead of me sleep slumped over her book as it rested on the pullout tray (as someone who has huge difficulty sleeping in any sort of moving vehicle, this was a marvel to me)
  • the wonderful lady beside Scot who was going to give our book to her grandchild
  • waiting to see if Scot would be kicked off the train for not having his ticket 
    • In his defense, the London lineup was colossal so we each went to different automatic ticket machines, fondly nicknamed "useless buckets of job killing bolts" by one employee early this week. Scot scanned his e-ticket and then, while the machine was preparing to print the real ticket, it promptly went out of service. This meant the next machine didn't recognize the e-ticket as valid. Train pulls in. No person to speak to. We both got on the train anyway. Suspense ensues. Scot tells his tale to a helpful conductor who found out that the ticket was indeed printed after that original machine came online, not that that was any good by that time. Still, Scot was not kicked off the train.
So then it was a car ride back home where my family was very glad to see me. Okay, so technically I found myself in an arena before I even made it home...such is my regular life.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Day Five Down

Off to London early in the morning.

Sights Seen from a Train
  • crumpled and lonely leaflet litter see-sawing in the breeze on a station platform
  • the scraped and scarred land of a gravel pit adorned with a rectangular jewel of turquoise water
  • fog shrouded barns and silos
  • combed cornfields rolling off into the distance
Most Memorable Moments
  • the two student greeters who made Scot and I feel so welcome at their school
  • posters on the school door and library made especially for us about our book
  • the respectful quiet clap of appreciation to welcome us
  • the girl who proudly handed us her autograph and drawings
  • seeing all the different writing projects from many grades proudly displayed all over school
And today's bonus
Sight Seen from a Taxi: Fatty Patty's Restaurant (complete with tagline proclaiming it to be A Food Experience). In fact, it might actually bump the Hefty Hoagie from the other day out of the running as the name of a super setting for a small town drama novel.

The Book Week presentations are now finished. Hard to believe! I'm sad to be done although admittedly a bit worn out. More profound thoughts (maybe) and pictures later.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Day Four Down

Toronto today. What a busy day!

Most Memorable Moments
  • the boy who had written and illustrated his transportation story and read it to Scot and I in front of his fellow students
  • the beautiful pink potted plant given to me 
  • the audience of kids who, despite an indoor recess and pent up energy, were amazing attentive listeners
Sights Seen from a Train
  • for the first time in five days, no train today!

And the CCBC and TD Book Awards gala at night. Wonderful to see the winners announced and hear them speak. Self-centeredly even better to see my book displayed on a screen maybe 20 feet tall. I will have to write on it all later. Sensory overload!!!!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Day Three Down

Today was Hamilton. Another couple great groups of kids, and an interview with Hamilton's Cable 14.

Most Memorable Moments
  • the girl who, while lining up to go back to class after the presentation, turned to me and shyly said, "Thanks for your words."
  • the posters about transportation a class had made and hung on the school hall wall to prepare for our visit
Sights Seen from the Train
Too dark to see much but too tired to read, so I stared out the window anyway...
  • the startling whoosh when trains whizzed by in the opposite direction
  • the polka dot parade of headlights on the street
  • glimpsing windows and their illuminated impressions of life 
And a bonus today:

Sight Seen from a Taxi
  • the Hefty Hoagie restaurant (doesn't that sound like a perfect setting for some hometown drama novel?)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Day Two Down

Kingston kids were terrific! I'll post about all the week's visits after the Book Week tour when I'm not so tired.

Most Memorable Moments
  • Being asked what it was like knowing so many kids would be reading my book (Awesome question from a grade 1 kid!!)
  • Being gifted with a school pen (I love pens!)
  • Hearing a Lebanese woman on the train talk about how she was travelling for love
  • Hearing two different cabbies dis their two (different) cities as the worst in Ontario

Sights Seen from the Train
  • The endless rippled blue of Lake Ontario
  • An older model tractor abandoned in a fallow field (Why....?)
  • A pile of TP on the lumpy green floor of the train bathroom which, sadly, I could see from my seat until someone unstuck the door and closed it (!!)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Day One Down

Ottawa library presentations went well. Great groups of kids! I think presenting with Scot Ritchie is a great way for the kids to see how both the words and the pictures are made. I'll post a roundup once the week's done; small updates as I'm able.

Today's Sights Seen from Train
  •  Sadly, none. It was too dark to see out the window.

Most Memorable Moment
  • Seeing Scot draw a hamster driving a station wagon to great gales of grade one laughter!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Book Week Beginning

To begin my Canadian Children's Book Week tour I spent most of the day traveling. First by car, then by VIA train. Kind of appropriate seeing as I'm touring about a book on transportation.

Best Sights Seen from the Train
  • A flock of wild turkeys
  • Feral apple trees, with lots of apples on them! (Why doesn't someone pick them and make applesauce? Only 1 year did the wild apple tree near me bear fruit and it was the best applesauce I've ever tasted.)
  • A hawk in flight
  • A turquoise vinyl three-seater sofa plunked in a field and facing the train tracks (cheap entertainment???)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Is Work for Hire for You?

Are you wanting to work for hire? From my perspective, you should ask yourself these questions:

Can you meet deadlines?
Your deadline is critical, and you may only have a month or so to get the job done. The packager needs you to meet your deadline because they have to put your words together with the visuals in the design. They are likely putting together several titles in a series at once and it all has to come together by the deadline they have with the publisher. You cannot hold up the process.

Do you like doing research?
Nonfiction titles will most definitely involve research. Know your way around a library? Not scared away by academic texts? Can you tell a reliable source from a not-so-reliable one? Excellent!

Are you able to distill a big concept into an age appropriate package?
You need to be aware of expectations in sentence length, the use of contractions or not, and vocabulary. Look at the book Children’s Writer’s Word Book for a solid overview. Also be aware of what concepts kids are taught at different grades so you’ll know which ideas/facts should be known and which are not. Look up your local provincial or state board of education and you’ll probably find the curriculum expectations all laid out.

Can you write quickly and clearly?
There is little room for creative license in this type of writing. Plain and direct language is needed. Example: In my creative writing I might describe a con trail as “jets chalking the sky.” In educational work for hire it’s just a con trail with the definition to follow or written in a glossary.

Are you a team player?
This is the publisher’s and/or the packager’s vision for a final product. You yourself might approach the whole topic in a differenet way, but that’s not what you were hired to do. You have to carry out someone else’s direction. You need to understand that a topic expert, an educational expert, and someone at the publisher as well as your editor at the packaging company are all going to comment on and have input into your work. All these views need to be incorporated into the final text.

If you answer yes to all those questions then give it a try. With a background in a particular science or other disipline, you might start there by looking for publishers who specialize in science or who produce books on history. Try writing some nonfiction for magazines to build up your writing resume. When you’re ready for work for hire book work, SCBWI maintains a list of educational pubilshers and a list of packagers for members. You can also find this type of info in Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market. Good luck!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Renaissance Books Are Out

One of the great things about doing work for hire is being able to spend time researching topics that fascinate me. The Renaissance is endlessly interesting to me because it was such a pivotal point in history. My two books are part of a whole series, so my topics were 

Cities and Statecraft in the Renaissance


Religion in the Renaissance

When I do work for hire I always like to find something within my realm of experience to bring to the project. This doesn’t have to be large, but I find it helps me as a starting point to connect to the topic on a more personal level. I mean, I’m trying to connect kids wtih the topic so hopefully I myself connect to it first. 

With this series I spent time remembering my trip to Europe some decades ago. I strolled those streets in Florence, often considered the birthplace of the Renaissance. I visited the cathedrals there and in Rome and many other major cities. This is my photo of the Duomo in Florence. Photos don't do the detail on it justice. 

One of the things that fascinated me most while I was pretty much anywhere in Europe was the History, and I do mean that with a capital H. Everywhere there were places or buildings that had existed for centuries, and they were  simply a part of the everyday lives of the people who lived there. That’s not something many North Americans experience in the same way.

I remember the marble cathedral steps worn down in the middle by the passage of thousands of feet through time...the bronze polished by hundreds of hands wanting their own little bit of good luck. Yes, that's me getting some good luck from the boar in the Florence market.

It's very satisfying to see this project finished. I worked with Bender Richardson White for Crabtree Publishing. I hope these books help to hook some kids onto a small piece of history.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Work for Hire for Higher Pay

Anyone who writes seriously knows that it’s very difficult to make enough money at this gig to support yourself let alone a family. Most of us have other jobs or do other writing related things to bring in some income (or have gainfully employed and understanding spouses). 

One of the options available to a writer to earn a little more money is work for hire. I’ve done a lot of that this past year. In fact, I have six books just out or about to come out (I’ll post them here in the next few days but you can also see them on my website now). I sound prolific when I say that. I'm not, really. That’s all part of work for hire. 

What does it mean when I work for hire? In my case,
a packager I met at a conference has approached me to write book(s) that are:

on a specific topic 
for a specific publisher 
with a specific page length and 
an age, vocabulary/concept target 
for a set fee. 
These books are designed to be used in a classroom and are usually part of a series specifically designed to meet a school curriculum requirement. Yes, they’re usually nonfiction books (although there are packagers who produce fiction series).

I go do the job I was hired to do, I get paid, and that’s it. Not many of these types of books make it onto awards lists or get shelved in bookstores. There’s little glory. But they
are used in classrooms, they do make it into libraries, and they really help kids with school. 

My background in writing on the job (magazine writing) really helps here. No, work for hire is often not particularly creative, but it does require skill. And I can still pursue my own creative ideas separately as well. It just means I have to work extra hard to carve out the creative time.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Weeks Past, Present and Future

Ack! What happened to last week? Two out of three kids home PD day...tour details to attend to.



5 Cities
5 Days
11 Presentations

That will be next week for me. Canadian Children's Book Week beginning November 14 will see me in Ottawa, Kingston, Hamilton, Toronto, and London. This is this year's poster.

I'm really looking forward to touring with Scot Ritchie as we talk to kids about our Grade 1 Giveaway Book. Hope everyone celebrates with a book or two--or seven (it's a WEEK after all).

I'll try to blog about it. But this means there's technology to master this week, and maybe some other posts here on some other stuff I've been up to this year.

If you smell smoke, it's not your neighbour burning leaves, it's my brain.