Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Sublime and the Romantic

William Wordsworth

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Lord Byron

Percy Shelley

(John Keats -- holding his chin)

Christine Rossetti

Saturday, January 27, 2018

What Am I Working On?

I meant to post a new Word Count Wednesday, but as it is Saturday and Hump Day has come and gone, I'll have to try again next week.

But I did want to touch base about my creative endeavors, or lack thereof....

My big project that I am currently working on is a middle grade comedy-sci-fi novel about a time travel field trip that goes horribly wrong. Unfortunately, I haven't touched it in a week.

We are three weeks into the semester, and this means that I am hunkering down into my work, as I usually do this time of year. Eeking out a page a day shouldn't be an impossible task... but it seems that every day I come home from teaching class, my creative energies are depleted. This is all just the same old excuse, I know. Lots of ideas, not enough time/energy. It boils down to laziness. So hopefully admitting to it will make me unlazy.

I have been productive in the realm of picture book revisions. I tinkered with one of my favorites from last summer's big project. I was brave enough to send one of the manuscripts to my agent... and she LOVED IT! (*whew*)

She will be pairing my work with one of her artists and hopefully it will be sent out to editors in early spring. It's always nice to have a submission in the near future.

Speaking of submissions, we haven't heard much back from the Dragon picture book. Not sure if that's a good sign, or a bad one... Probably not great. The books of mine that have sold usually get a rather quick response (about two or three weeks). But you never know. Papa Bear's Page Fright was at Peter Pauper for almost a year before they said yes.

Keeping my fingers crossed, as always. And what about you, folks? Are you working on anything? Send me a comment -- or feel free to get in touch with me through other means of social media...

My Facebook Author Page

My Tumblr Page


My Twitter Count That No One Ever Visits

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

17th Century Japanese Literature

examples of the kanazōshi genre

kanazōshi included a wide-variety of forms, many of which were non-fictional (travel journals, memoirs) but also included poetry and stories. (The emphasis seems to be self-expression and education, rather than for fame or profit.)

It also included translations of other works,
such as this Japanese version of Aesop's Fables: Isoho Monogatari

examples of the ukiyo-zōshi genre

And, if you have an hour-and-a-half to spare, you might enjoy watching Akira Kurosawa's Dreams. 


Finally, if you want to watch a very rapid and amusing take on Japanese History, check out this video... 

Monday, January 22, 2018

World Literature Resources - Week #3

We are getting just a glimpse of several much larger works. One of them happens to be the opening chapter of an enormously lengthy novel called The Story of the Stone, more commonly known as Dream of the Red Chamber. Over the decades, chinese film makers have attempted to bring this romantic-supernatural-drama to life, but this trailer seems to be the most ambitious of the adaptations:

We are also exploring another Chinese novel, Journey to the West (AKA Monkey). It details the adventures (and misadventures) of a young priest who is traveling to India in search of Buddhist texts. Along the way he is joined by a powerful Monkey, a greedy Pig, and a dragon.

As films often do, this popular Chinese movie takes liberties with the source material:

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

10 Tips for Writing Picture Books

So, you want to write a picture book? The good news: they are short. The typical word count of a modern picture book is about 500 words. It's quite rare to go above 1000. And some picture books are wordless, or if not wordless, rely on very few words.

Here's a book called Hug. My family loves this book. It's about a monkey named Bobo who wants a hug from his mama. The only three words used are "hug," "Bobo" and "Mama."

If you are a professional quality artist then it might be possible for you to become both the author and illustrator (just like Jez Alborough). However, if you can draw only stick figures using RoseArt Crayons then you'll need to write a really clever and/or heartwarming and/or original picture book manuscript if you want to gain the interest of agents and editors.

So, if the end goal is to write a brilliant manuscript, how do we accomplish that task. Well, one way is to just sit down and write something and maybe it will be awesome. If that doesn't work, here are some tips to consider....

1) Explore the Past

Become at least a little bit familiar with the history of Children's Literature. This will not only reveal what's been done before, but also what's been overdone. More importantly, you'll notice shifts throughout the centuries, revealing society's expectations of children.

This illustration is from the earliest known children's book. That kid looks terrified of the adult.

(Hey, do you know who gets the royalties to Goodnight Moon?)

2) Explore new titles at your local book store....

...or visit your local library... 

3) Write stories with characters you care about. If you love your characters, there's a good chance your reader will fall in love with them too.

4) Your characters shouldn't be perfect. They should have flaws. In fact, some of the best characters make mistakes.

"Excuse me, monkey, would you help me deliver these newspapers?"

"Yeah, I'll get right on that."

4a) If you are writing non-fiction... your book should still have a sense of fun and imagination, and it might also have character. Use elements of fiction to make the non-fiction come to life.

This is a book about the life and work of Jane Goodall.

5) Don't talk down to your reader. Respect the imagination and intelligence of your audience.

6) Don't rhyme unless you are skilled with rhythm and meter. Don't let rhymes dictate the story. That's why many editors say they don't want to read anymore rhyming picture books.

 Here's a terrific article that gets into more detail about the curse of verse and the crime of rhyme.  (See what I did there?)

7) Write scenes that illustrators crave.

"Billy Twitters and the Whale"

"Mr. Tiger Goes Wild"

"Children Make Terrible Pets"

Most picture books have text on 31 pages. Learning how to create stories that fit perfectly into this format, as well as creating narratives with potential surprises ("page-turnability") is essential to success.

9) Don't be Dr. Seuss. We already have a Dr. Seuss. Be you.

10) Read your work out loud. Read it aloud too. Picture books are meant to be seen and heard.

Here's a video by author Mem Fox, discussing her passion for writing children's books and the importance of reading to children.

Word Count Wednesday - January 17th, 2018

Well, it's been a couple months. But now that Creative Writing class is starting up again, it's time to begin Word Count Wednesday, yet again. (For those of you who are new to WCW, this is simply a way of keeping yourself accountable as a writer, and it's a fun way to vent and share your ideas as they develop.)

Let's get to it...

What Have I Been Working On? 

Over winter break I wrote four chapters of a middle grade novel (a project that I had abandoned during the summer -- but now it's back to life!) But I haven't worked on it much during this first week of school. However, I did complete a picture book draft of a new project. (This ones about bugs.)

Word Count: 1700 words (Not much, but at least it's something.)

How Do I feel About the Process?

The beginning of the semester generates a very familiar feeling. I start off with these lofty ambitions of balancing work, homelife, and my writing... but very soon I'm going to have a big batch of essays to grade, and then all my creative ambitions will deflate like a forgotten pool toy.

Hopefully, in between the busy demands of my teaching gig, I will be able to finish most if not all of my middle grade novel. I've already completed about 1/4th of the project. I've got until June 1st to meet my personal deadline. I will triumph. And then I won't be a sad, pathetic, deflated shark. I will be this magnificent beast:

Do you want to participate in Word Count Wednesday? Leave a comment and tell us what your working on. Or better yet, if I don't have you on my Blog List already, gimme a link to your own Word Count Wednesday Blog Post.

World Lit: Commedia dell'Arte & the Dawn of Molière

How do you say it? (with a cool Italian accent)

But what is Commedia dell'Arte? According to Encyclopedia Brittanica it is a "lost" theatrical art form. 

We know a lot about this style of theater... but because of the improvisational nature of Commedia dell'Arte, much delivery, dialogue, costumes, and jokes are lost to the ages. 

But we do know many of the key ingredients... 

The Great Outdoors:
Performances of Commedia dell'Arte began in Italy in early to mid 1500s. In contrast to dramas and tragedies, these comedies tended to be performed outside, and were attended by the general population. 

Traveling Troupes:

Actors of Commedia dell'Arte were typically nomadic, traveling from one village (or city) to the next. As the demand for this art form thrived throughout much of Europe (including France), troupe became even more mobile. 

Costumes and Masks:

Distinct colors and fabric patterns denoted the different stock characters. Masks featured highly exaggerated facial features. (I think all of them look creepy, but maybe that's just me.)

Women in the Theater:

Take that, Shakespeare! The first professional actresses (since the fall of Rome) performed Commedia dell'Arte. 

Loose Plot + Improv + Well-Practiced Slapstick = Commedia:

It wasn't pure improvisation... Most shows had a rough sketch with a clear conflict, beginning middle and end. Actors knew each others characters so well that they developed comedic routines, speeches, quips, and pratfalls. 

The medium flourished for centuries... evolving into many different theatrical forms. Including... our hero of the afternoon... 

As well as modern day silly people at Renaissance Fairs... 

And don't forget these guys... 

Unfortunately... when Napoleon took over most of Europe he did not care for the satirical nature of Commedia dell'Arte... So he had it outlawed in 1797. 

But let's back up again... before that that 5 foot, Seven inched general ruined everything. 

In the golden age of Commedia dell'Arte, most troupes consisted of at least ten players. Most storylines contained what was called the Usual Ten... 

Four Innamorati (Two pairs of Lovers)
Two Vecchi (Old men who are often greedy or overbearing or both)
One Captain (who is boastful yet usually a coward)
One Colombina ( often a maid, almost always a trickster -- sound familiar?)
Two Zanni (trickster characters / sometimes servants) 

Now... where does Moliere come into play? He was born Jean-Bapiste Poquelin... he adopted his stage name later in life. The year of his birth was 1622... just six years after the death of Shakespeare. Hmmm... 

(Reincarnation, anyone?)

This French-speaking vlogger provides a quick overview of the playwright's career... 

Friday, January 12, 2018

"A Celebration of Local Authors"

Tomorrow I will be participating in a Local Author Book Fair at the Oldtown Newhall Library in Santa Clarita. (I'll be hanging out between 10am and 3pm, if you are around town and want to stop by.)

I will also be participating in a panel of children's book authors. I'll be chatting about my book...

And I will be hanging out with a lot of other authors... including...

Laura Holton

Janet Squires