I’m thrilled that Angie has asked me to be her guest blogger. My name is Leah Pileggi, and I met Angie at Chatham University a few years ago. We were both in the MFA creative writing program, specializing in children’s writing.
On November 9 and 10, 2012, the WPASCBWI held its annual conference here in Pittsburgh. About 100 children’s writers and illustrators attended. Loads of information – stick with me!
On Friday night from 7-10, along with a cash bar and time to yack, participants broke into groups for round-table critiques. The manuscripts discussed in my group: a PB about mountain top coal mining, a poem in English and Spanish about Mexican jumping beans, a brand new chapter one of a YA novel about honor killings, a middle grade novel about a young girl dealing with her father’s death, and a PB about a dog who expects a little dog brother and instead gets a cat. Lots of tough love feedback for everyone.
On Saturday morning, we were welcomed by Pat Easton and Marcy Canterna, two of the many driving forces behind WPASCBWI.
Keynote speaker Nikki Grimes, Coretta Scott King award winner for Bronx Masquerade (and many honor books), drew us in with her rich, poetic voice. She talked about patience. Let that story rest if you’re still thinking it through or if you know you need more skill before you tackle it. It’ll be worth it. She’s working on a YA novel called Bump in the Road, and I will definitely preorder it.
An after-lunch panel discussion focused on first page submissions (read for us by Marcy) and 3-illustration portfolios that were projected on the wall behind the panel. The panel included Julie Ham, editor, Charlesbridge Publishing; Kristin Lewis, editor of three Scholastic language arts magazines; Noa Wheeler, editor, Henry Holt Books; and Joe Monti, agent, Barry Goldblatt Literary. Again, tough love critiques. Illustrations had never been handled that way before, and I think everyone agreed that we learned a lot from the panelists’ comments about shading and angle and color palette, something that many of us just-writers usually don’t think about.
Our afternoon address -- about the importance of story -- was given by Jonathan Gottschall, an adjunct English professor at Washington & Jefferson College who writes books that intersect science and art, including The Storytelling Animal, a New York Times.com Editor’s Choice.
The two workshops I attended were so packed with information that it kept me awake that night:
Noa Wheeler -- “Characters: Getting to Know Them”
She gave us 10 questions to ask ourselves about a character:
1. Is my character actively creating the story? Let the character take control.
2. Is there something in my character that people can relate to? Identify with?
3. What motivates the character? What does s/he want?
4. Unique personality?
5. Acts consistently? (Doesn't do things that would be totally out of character.)
6. How does the character’s voice express personality?
7. Is the speech pattern realistic? (Don't use an info dump to show what the character knows)
8. Is the character the center of the story?
9. Passion? Is your character capable of suffering in order to accomplish something?
10. Does the character change? (The character must grow and learn.)
Kristen Lewis – “Writing for Classroom Magazines: It’s All About Great Storytelling”
Did you know that there are 22 Scholastic magazines! Kristen edits three:
Action, reading intervention for below-level readers
Storyworks, for elementary ages
Scope, for middle school ages
These magazines involve core ELA skills relating to classroom standards.
See scholastic.com/scope to check out Scope.
She will accept by email ONE-PARAGRAPH PITCHES ONLY for her magazines. This is some of what she wants:
* Reader theater: Up to 18 parts to be read in class. Narrow scope, 1,600-1,800 words, "reinvigorate dead white guys" or use nonfiction subjects.
* Paired texts: 2 stories connected by theme/topic, more than 450 words
* Lazy Editor: 400 words, nonfiction, gross, shocking stuff that can be
made to be grammatically wrong so kids can fix them.
* Short fiction: 1,500-1,800. VERY HARD to get accepted. Snapshot of
character, moral quandaries.
* You Write It: Interviews with outstanding kids (that are used as the starting point for kids to write essays).
* Also, video script pitches are wanted.
Advice from her: Check stories that have already been done. Know the common core jargon. Send only 1 paragraph as a pitch. Takes at least a month to hear back. They own nonfiction; fiction is first rights. For nonfiction, if hired, include interview transcripts and a page of
All pieces are paid.
This is serious work, but if you’ve already done research on a particular subject, it wouldn't hurt to try a pitch. Her email: firstname.lastname@example.org
My blog, It’s a Wonder-Filled Life, is at leahpileggi.blogspot.com. I don’t just write about writing; I write about whatever I find interesting, which is almost everything.
My first novel, Prisoner 88, will be published by Charlesbridge in 2013. It was inspired by the story of a real 10-year-old boy in 1885 who served time in the Idaho Penitentiary for shooting a man who had threatened his pa.
Many thanks again, Angie, for asking me to be your guest blogger!