I have never been the kind of writer who outlines. It’s probably no accident that up until now my longest published pieces have been around 3,000 words. Of course, it is not strictly true that I never used outlines. When I had long pieces to write for the newspaper, I would pull a clean reporter’s notebook from my drawer and copy over the quotes I planned to use in my longer newspaper pieces. I copied them in sections — a skeletal outline. I don’t think I’ll ever write another story without writing an outline. I became a convert over the course of revising Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator. Right after I sold my manuscript, I was lucky enough to attend a workshop session led by my editor called “Story in Nonviction.” He mentioned a book I had read many years before called Writing for Story by Jon Franklin. I re-read the book when I got home from the conference and I tried Franklin’s process. It includes outlining and it really helped. Today I needed to begin writing a new piece. I will be attending another conference in October (Writing and Illustrating for Kids 2007) and I need to get something ready for formal critique. I started with an outline. One of the best things about outlining is that it frees me to write sections out of order. (In fact, Franklin recommends writing them out of order.) I can also pick up where I left off more easily. Try it.
Keeping my 12-year-old in books is a challenge. He’s a voracious reader and is often casting around for fresh material. My mother brought me a list titled, “Waiting for Harry Potter? Try …. ” that she had picked up at a public library in Evanston, Illinois. I showed him the list; he said he wasn’t interested in any of the books. After he complained a few days later about not having any fresh reading material, I took the list to my local library. Of the 28 books (by 19 different authors) listed on the card, I was able to put my hands on four. I put in intra-library loan requests for another six. I came in with the stack and let him know that I had gotten him the books. He didn’t pick them up for a few hours, but four days later, he’s finished at least four (including a big ole thick trilogy). I emailed the guy at the main library branch who is responsible for inter-library loan today, requesting another four books. I am grateful for the list and for the librarian who took the time to put it together. I also re-learned a lesson about how important it is to keep good books within my son’s reach. To access the Evanston Public Library’s “Beyond Harry and Frodo” list, click here.
One of the emails that came from Boyds Mills Press on Thursday was a request for a photograph of me that could appear in the Spring catalog on my book’s page. (preferably color and at least 300 dpi) I emailed back with a link to my website’s ‘About Sarah’ page, which includes my publicity photo. It met with approval so I emailed a copy at full resolution. Of course, there is no one way to do marketing in this business and there is not one model for how much of the marketing will be done by the publishing house and how much by the author. From my years as a member of SCBWI (and, therefore, reader of the SCBWI Bulletin and other various publications) and as an attender of many SCBWI/Southern Breeze regional conferences, I know that at least some of the marketing for Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator will be done by me. While I am waiting and hoping for a conversation on marketing with my editor and others at Boyds Mills, I am already working on my website, blog, brochure aimed at schools and libraries, and business cards.
I should’ve known better than to declare the revisions finished before the text had been laid down with the photos. Today, my editor sent another set of proposed (though it must be said, minor) changes. I spent a few hours hunting up some more photos. At one point in the text, I draw attention to an anatomical difference between wolfsnails and common prey snails. I had to find a photo that showed the feature in the prey snail. Even with my handy Adobe Bridge, it took a while to go through nearly 1,000 (full resolution, raw) photographs. I’m sure we’re getting close — today I also cleared the copy edited version of the acknowledgments — but I’ll let my editor tell me when we’re done. I’m willing to keep writing until the presses run.
I should’ve known better than to declare the revisions finished before the text had been laid down with the photos. Today, my editor sent another set of proposed (though it must be said, minor) changes. I spent a few hours hunting up some more photos. At one point in the text, I draw attention to an anotomical difference between wolfsnails and common prey snails. I had to find a photo that showed the feature in the prey snail. Even with my handy Adobe Bridge, it took a while to go through nearly 1,000 (full resolution, raw) photographs. I’m sure we’re getting close — today I also cleared the copyedited version of the acknowledgements — but I’ll let my editor tell me when we’re done. I’m willing to keep writing until the presses run.
Today I got to see two photos … and they looked good. The colors are true. Seeing them blown up to 6.5 inches by 10 inches was a little scary for me — because I tend to hone in on all the flaws. But capturing a wolfsnail going about his daily business does not lend itself to perfect focus and lighting in every shot. I should see galleys of the entire book in about two weeks.
This is the first in a series of posts describing tools I have found helpful in my writing. I learned about nature journaling at the 2007 Writing From Nature Founders Workshop offered by the Highlights Foundation. While I have been taking photographs and doing darkroom work since I was a teenager, I never considered myself someone who could draw. I learned from our workshop leader, Mark Baldwin, education director at the Roger Tory Peterson Insitute, that there are good reasons to do it anyway. The process of drawing enlists parts of the brain that writing doesn’t. Drawing helped me see things I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise and it led to questions, which is always a good thing for nonfiction writers. Here is a sketch from the journal I kept during the workshop and a photograph of the same subject. To read the full text of an article I wrote describing nature journaling techniques, click here.
I spend hours a day reading in the summer. What bliss! About half the time I am reading to one or more of my sons. This summer we started with my youngest son’s assigned summer reading: Cricket in Times Square, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and Maniac Magee. It is a tribute to these classics that we all enjoyed them – even on this, our third go-round in four years. Much of the time, my twelve-year-old feigned disinterest. Then, before I’d turned many pages, he’d creep down from the upstairs landing and settle on a step just out of sight. We moved on to my middle son’s must-reads: A Single Shard, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and A Tale of Despereaux. One day, after we’d gotten a good part of the way into Linda Sue Park’s Newberry winner, my 10-year-old decided he couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. He secreted the book away for hours of reading on his own. He confided in me later that evening that Crane-Man dies, but kept the secret from his younger brother. Having dispatched the summer reading, we rooted around for fresh material. I came up with The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall. The cover of this National Book Award winner didn’t impress the boys and they remained skeptical after reading the blurb – after all, this was the story of a bunch of girls going on vacation. I did my usual trick. … I started reading. After one chapter, they were begging for more. When I closed the book, the youngest asked, voice full of hope, whether there was a second book. Even though school has started, we’re still reading away. We’re well into The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. The foreshadowing got a little dark for them a few chapters in and we took a break – they asked me to start again a few days later. They decided they couldn’t handle it right before bedtime so we read it in the afternoons. Once again, the 10-year-old took off on his own. He’s finished now, but we will continue. He said he’ll listen along; he likes the voice I have for Constance (she has the temperament of a toddler). Doesn’t he know where I learned to talk like a toddler?
With the manuscript back from the copyeditor, my editor emailed it to me to consider the changes and comments. I sent him my suggestions; he sent me his responses. And we did it again. And again. (It made me wonder what writers and editors did before the advent of email and high-speed internet connections.) I sent the all-but-final text to my expert reviewer with a plea for a quick turnaround. He obliged, getting it back within the day. And, he liked it! I made some small changes where he thought we could describe the wolfsnail’s doings more accurately. I sent the proposed changes to my editor. He sent me a cleaned-up version — with one more suggested change from his end. I agreed with the suggestion, but thought the line should go on a different page. He agreed. (Actually, he had intended it for the place I proposed, but in his haste had pasted in the wrong place.) So, voila! We’re ready for the designer to drop the text into the design file.
With no more book stuff to do today, I turned my attention to the jungle of basil growing in one of the containers in my garden. My mother was by last week and suggested that if I wanted to get a fall crop I should trim it back mercilessly. I did exactly that. The kitchen smelled of basil for hours as I trimmed, washed, and pulverized what turned out to be about 10 cups of basil. We’re having pizza tonight — some with tomato sauce and some with pesto sauce. I took this shot with my Nikon 50 mm F 1.8D inside on my kitchen table using available light.
This photograph shows a wolfsnail. I used this shot, among others, to help sell my manuscript to Boyds Mills Press. Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator is due out in Spring 2008. I found the snail attached to a brick near my front porch. I placed it on a lily leaf and shot it with natural light, using a Tamron 90 mm macro lens on my Nikon D70.