Writing Informs the Yoga. Yoga Informs the Weekend.

1warrior2-1As many of you may know, I co-lead a writing retreat each summer on Long Island, The Writing Yoga Retreat. It’s all kinds of good for oh so many reasons. And you don’t have to already do yoga to attend. “Why,” you may ask yourself, “would I want to do that?” Honestly? Because we do stuff at our retreat that you won’t find anywhere else. Seriously. Also, at the Writing Yoga Retreat you’ll learn how to bring something different to your writing, and learn new ways of looking at what you’re working on. Now you might say, “Oh yeah? Like what?”

Ok, so one of your choices for a one-on-one consultation is to work with Tarot cards. WHO ELSE DOES THAT?! Nobody. We’re not fortune telling or anything. We use the Tarot deck as a jumping off point to explore character, theme, setting. We’ve even done readings for our participants’ characters. Come on, how cool is that?

During the twice daily yoga (and you know I’m not one of the people at the early morning class, right?) our instructors tailor the class to each person’s skill level, with modifications for beginners and greater challenges for advanced practitioners. At the beginning of the class when the yoga teacher does a dharma talk, the teaching connects the yoga you’re doing with writing. Actually, writing and the writing process is kind of woven into the whole class. It’s fantastic.

There’s also a Participant Showcase like you’ve never experienced before. Imagine this: We go off site to a delicious Italian restaurant, where we have dinner in a private room and endless glasses of wine. You’re at a long table with these people who you now count as friends, and you have the opportunity to read your work. Not a critique. Not a workshop. You just read. And then bask in applause! Our past participants have told us this was the highlight of their weekend. Last year’s participants wrote adult fiction, YA, middle grade fiction, picture books, and memoir. It was amazing hearing their work!

Our dinner with editors is pretty darn cool, too. We have 2 adult editors and 2 kidlit editors join us for dinner. You know, just a casual, Friday night dinner with SOME OF THE TOP NYC EDITORS THAT THERE ARE. Sorry for shouting. I just really want you to get how cool this is. This year’s editors are Justin Chanda from Simon & Schuster, Jill Davis from Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins, Naomi Gibbs from Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, and Connor Guy from Metropolitan Books/Macmillan. I’m so psyched for this part, I can’t even…(Oh my! I just made that “squee” noise people write about.)

To get a more yoga-y view of the weekend, check out Stefanie Lipsey’s post at writingyoga.com. She’s my partner in Writing Yoga crime, the yin to my Writing Yoga yang. And for more detailed information or to apply, go to writingandyogaretreat.com. (FYI – We have people apply rather than just register so we can make sure that you already have a work in progress and a commitment to your writing. We’re not judging or assessing.)

Ok, any questions?

 

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Top 10 Things I Say To Authors at Conferences

stickfigureGIFoozThis past weekend I was at the New England SCBWI conference, Thinking Outside the Crayon Box, doing query critiques and manuscript critiques. First of all, I happen to love going to this conference. It’s impeccably run, pretty darn big, draws really top notch speakers, and the attendees are some of the nicest people ever. But I noticed that the words that were coming out of my mouth as I spoke to the authors to whom I was assigned were pretty much the same as they usually are when I go to conferences anywhere.

Here’s the scene: I sit across a small round table with an author on the other side. They are either nervous or not, friendly or not, open to hearing my input on their query letter or manuscript, or not. Regardless, I always try to make them feel comfortable, usually with a joke (which is usually a dumb one), and I remind them I’m just a regular person. Often they politely laugh at my jokes. I do try to make a difference for them and their writing. But I’ve found that besides the things that are particular to each person’s manuscript, there’s a recurring theme to the things I usually end up saying. Here are the top 10 things (in no particular order) that come out of my mouth when I’m critiquing query letters and manuscripts at conferences:

1. You’ve got a good premise here, but I don’t feel the writing’s where it needs to be yet.

2. You need to show more and tell less.

3. Your dialogue still needs some work. It doesn’t feel authentically teen/middle grade.

4. I’m sorry, I’m just going to slurp down some more of this coffee.

5. This feels like info dumping; try to sneak all this backstory into your narrative.

6. I’ve read your first 10 pages but nothing’s happened yet; this feels like throat clearing before your story starts.

7. One of the most important tasks of your first pages is to have your reader feel invested in your character and want to find out what happens to them next.

8. You have to know your market and know who your manuscript is geared to. Middle grade books are focused on readers between 8 and 12 years old; young adult fiction is geared towards kids who are about 12 to 18.

9. Your word count is way too high. OR Your word count is way too low. Try to familiarize yourself to the industry standards

10. Yes, I’ll be hanging out in the bar later with the other agents and editors! ;-)

So, conference attendees who have heard any of these things from me, know that you’re in good company! And people who I will meet at conferences in the future? I’m certain I will be saying some of these things to you, too! But perhaps, now that you’ve read this blog post, you can go back to your manuscript and try to attend to some of these common pitfalls of writing.

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Quick Questions: An Interview with Farrar, Straus, Giroux BFYR Editorial Director Joy Peskin

joy peskin photo march 2015As editorial director of Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, Joy Peskin manages a department of six editors and edits a range of books for children and teenagers. Books she has edited for FSG BYR include Brandon Stanton’s Little Humans, a New York Times Bestseller; Kristin Elizabeth Clark’s Freakboy, which garnered three starred reviews; Leila Sales’s This Song Will Save Your Life, which received two starred reviews; and Rachel Bright’s Love Monster, a #1 Publishers Weekly Bestseller. Ava Dellaira’s Love Letters to the Dead, which Joy edited, will be published in twenty-two languages around the world, and has been optioned for film by the production team responsible for The Fault in Our Stars.

Before joining Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers in February, 2012, Joy was the associate publisher of Viking Children’s Books and an editor at Scholastic. Her favorite type of books, both to read and to edit, are contemporary, literary, realistic stories about real people facing real challenges. Authors with whom she has worked include Laurie Halse Anderson, Aaron Starmer, and Emily Jenkins.

Joy has also taught writing to aspiring authors, homeless youth, incarcerated women, and teens in a juvenile detention center.

And now, to the questions!

What advice do you have for writers to improve their craft?

As they say, practice makes perfect. The more you do something, the better you get at doing that thing. I was recently at a novel writing retreat at Vermont College, and the wonderful author Kathi Appelt shared advice she had once received: Write for five minutes every day. I loved that advice, because five minutes seems so doable. I also really recommend that writers hone their craft by taking classes and participating in writing programs. I’m still kind of high off of the Vermont College Novel Writing retreat, which was all kinds of wonderful, so I definitely recommend that low-residency MFA program. But folks not in the MFA program there can still attend retreats like the one I just attended.

What’s the best part and worst part of the editorial process for you?

There are lots of best parts. I love finding a new manuscript I feel like I just have to have and rushing into my boss’s office to tell him all about it. And I love that first talk with an author when/if she and I are really connecting over the phone. I also really love digging into a manuscript and giving an author line notes, and writing the editorial letter. I do enjoying writing the editorial letter, because for me, that’s my chance to have a dialogue with the author—to tell her what parts of the story that are really working and what parts I think could be improved upon, and why. And then of course it’s awesome when you get that first finished copy of the book. It’s sort of like magic. Just a few months ago this was a stack of paper, and now it’s this beautiful object. There is exactly one part of the process I don’t like, and that is sharing covers with authors. I want the author to be happy, and I’m so nervous sharing covers that I always do it at the very end of the day, and then I dash from my desk and try not to check my Blackberry until I’m almost at my train. When I hear back right away that the author is pleased, I’m so relieved! And when the author isn’t pleased, well, we work very hard to adjust the cover to make her happy in the end.

What did you read when you were a kid? Does it stand up to the test of time? If it were sent to you now, would you publish it?

I had a few childhood favorites. My mother read me The Velveteen Rabbit many time she and I always cried at the end. I adored that book. I read it to my son when he was a baby and it totally stands the test of time. If it was sent to me now, I hope I would have the intelligence to publish it, even though it’s a bit of an odd format (short illustrated chapter book). Other childhood favorites were Charlotte’s Web, the All-of-a-Kind Family books, and A Cricket in Times Square (which happens to be an FSG backlist gem). I was also into a Scholastic series called The Girls of Camby Hall and then when I was a little older I was all over Flowers in the Attic. I read it again not so long ago and I’m not going to lie: It’s sort of awful, but I enjoyed every page of it.

Taking the need to make money out of the equation, if you could work at any job in the world, would you stay in publishing? If not, what would you do?

Good question! I love what I do. My only complaint about my job here at FSG is that the days are over too quickly. I always wish I had more time with the books and more time with my colleagues. So I would not pick any other field outside of publishing and within publishing, I would not pick any job other than one I have. If I could split into two people who had two different jobs, though, the other me would be a child psychologist.

What’s currently on your manuscript wish list? What’s definitely not on the list?

I’d be very happy to receive a smart and keenly observed MG or YA ms about a character with an eating disorder. As for what I’m not looking for, I’m usually not one for fantasy or science fiction. If the book has trolls or magical lands or talismans or some such, it’s likely not for me.

Thanks for participating, Joy!

Thank you, Linda! This was a lot of fun.

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