Fermentation Time, by Anthony D. Fredericks

Navigating clip_image002[2] (1)    Nonfiction

A monthly column by Anthony D. Fredericks

red-wineLet’s assume you’re making preparations for a weekend party. Lots of your friends are coming over and you want to be sure you have some great food and their favorite beverages. So, you drive over to your local liquor store and ask one of the employees to suggest a good wine. She takes you over to a display area of new wines and points out two different possibilities:

  1. El Vino de Hoboken (Hoboken, NJ): This Cabernet Sauvignon has been fermenting in industrial steel drums since Tuesday.
  2. Fleur Élégante (Sonoma Valley, CA): This Cabernet  has been fermenting for at least four years in fine old oaken casks.

Which one do you select?

Here’s one of the most difficult things I do as a writer—I give my manuscripts some fermentation time. After I’ve gone through a couple of drafts with a book idea, I put the manuscript in a desk drawer and let it sit. I don’t disturb it, I don’t reread it, I just let it sit there . . . fermenting. It begins to mature; it begins to age. But, most important, I move on to other projects and allow that manuscript to exit from my consciousness.

brainWhile I work on new projects, the former one is receding from view and is becoming a distant memory. Perhaps eight weeks go by, thirteen weeks, seventeen. My thoughts have been elsewhere, my brain cells have been purged of its memory, and my mind has been cleansed. I resist all temptation to take it out and peruse it just for the fun of it. After all, would I disturb a fine wine aging in an oaken casket while it is still fermenting? Of course not!

After sufficient time has passed, I retrieve that manuscript and read it through. I now have a new perspective and the realization that I’m looking at this product as though it was brand new. I begin to see some things I hadn’t noticed before. I see some vocabulary that must be replaced, I see a description that’s not particularly well developed, and I see some facts that now sound silly. In short, I see the manuscript through new eyes. I know there will (and should) be changes, and now I’m ready to address those needs with a fresh viewpoint and a new perspective. That “fermentation” has offered me something quite different than what I started with, and the resultant editing is usually more intense and definitely more precise.

Here’s an example: The paragraph below was part of the eighth or ninth draft of a book I was working on about the animals that live in the canopy of redwood trees. It was okay . . . but, not quite “ready for prime time.” It needed percolation.

redwood-national-parkSeveral different animals creep and crawl through the treetops of the redwood forest. Most of them can’t be seen from the ground and are almost invisible to human eyes. Many of these animals, including mammals, insects, and birds, live more than 200 feet above the ground.

I purged the paragraph from my hard drive, stuffed a hard copy into a file folder, and placed it in the back of my file cabinet. It sat there for about three months, during which time I pursued other assignments and manuscripts. Eventually, I retrieved it and began to see it in a whole new light. My creative wheels starting spinning in new directions, and I saw all the changes that needed to be made. Fourteen drafts later it was transformed into two verses of a counting book for young readers. Here’s the final version:

Creeping, hopping, zipping
Throughout the redwoods green
Are many different creatures
Who are very seldom seen. 

They live among the branches
High in this tall, tall tree,
Insects, birds, and mammals,
Let’s count them—one, two, three.

These two stanzas eventually became the opening for Tall Tall Tree (https://amzn.to/2VqQhol), a book that subsequently earned the 2018 Outstanding Science Trade Book Award and the 2018 IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award (Gold). I believe that success was due, in large measure, to the percolation time that allowed this book to mellow . . . age . . . evolve . . . into its present state.

___________________

WritingChildrensBooks

Tony is an award-winning author of more than fifty children’s books. He has also authored Writing Children’s Books: Everything You Need to Know from Story Creation to Getting Published [“. . .  provides all the necessary resources and proven strategies critical in navigating the challenging world of children’s books.” – 5 stars] (https://amzn.to/2tREKCa).

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Love Made Visible: Call for Submissions of Art and Poetry

wooden hearts

It’s winter. It’s cold and dark here in Eastern PA. What better way to bring warmth and light into our hearts than to once again spread love all month long in February? #LoveMadeVisible is not just a celebration of love but also a celebration of YOU, the Eastern PA SCBWI members. All February we will be posting artwork and poetry from our members, whether you’re published or unpublished, new to EPA or a long-time member. Don’t be shy—send it in!

A few things to remember:bug love

  • The theme is LOVE, which can be happy or sad or anywhere in between. It can be a parent’s love, a sibling’s love, a romantic love, the love of a pet, or any other kind of love.
  • Submissions are due January 30, but we’ll kick things off on February 1, so submit early if you can! Send submissions and questions to me, Laura Parnum, at lparnum@msn.com.
  • Include a short bio with your submission and any social media or website info that you’d like to include, so that our members can find you and get to know you better.
  • We won’t own copyrights to your work. If you’d like it to be removed when the month is over, just let me know.
  • You can also include a giveaway! Give a random commenter a print, a book, or even a free e-mail critique. I will select the winners and pass their info on to you. Postage is your responsibility.

Can’t wait to spread the LOVE!

—Laura

finger love

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The Right Verb, by Anthony D. Fredericks

Navigating clip_image002[2] (1)Nonfiction

A monthly column by Anthony D. Fredericks


cinnamon rolls

 

Question: What does a thesaurus eat for breakfast? 

Answer: A synonym roll.

 

Let’s take a look at the following passage:

Cheetahs can run very fast. They can run much faster than an ostrich or an antelope. They run after their prey at incredible speeds. For years, it was thought that cheetahs could run at over 70 mph. But, now we know they run considerably slower. A group of scientists accurately measured cheetahs running at a maximum speed of “only” about 59 mph.

Did you notice something wrong with that passage? It was scientifically accurate, it was grammatically correct, and it was syntactically specific. But, it was as dull as dishwater. Why? The primary (and only) verb was overused, trite, and hackneyed. True, the passage made a point, but it made that point at the expense of interest.

SurferHere’s the key: Good nonfiction writing is not always dependent on the accuracy of the information presented, but rather on the verbs used to convey that information. Verbs give your writing appeal, intrigue, allure, action, involvement, and, most important, interest. In fact, verbs may be the most important grammatical element you can employ in your nonfiction work.

As nonfiction writers, we often have a tendency to concentrate on concrete nouns frequently surrounded by a cacophony of descriptive adjectives (“a masterful aerial display,” “an enormous yet lethargic rodent,” “an oxygen-deprived environment”). You may remember, as do I, those high school English lessons that emphasized flowery and colorful adjectives as a way of spicing up our writing and giving it more pizzazz. With no disrespect to my former teachers, I am often reminded of something even more powerful; this from the best writing book around, The Elements of Style. Strunk and White emphatically state, “Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs.”

Their advice is just as true for nonfiction children’s books as it is for the steamiest adult fiction in the romance section of your local bookstore.

thunder-953118__480The substitution of a weak or weedy verb with a powerful one can energize your writing and ensure that your readers experience an engaging explanation of a new topic or complex subject. “Electric” verbs have the power to reinvigorate your writing and energize young readers as never before. They also have the potential to turn any subject into a page-turning event that will win rave reviews from librarians, teachers, parents, and, of course, kids themselves.

Here are three types of verbs you’ll want to flush from your manuscripts:

  1. Passive Verbs. These are verbs often referred to as “state of being” verbs—ones that take up space but convey no energy. Should these be eliminated completely? No! But, if your sentences are limp and lifeless, it’s certain that far too many of these have crept into your exposition. Examples include am, being, has, does, will, should, may, can, could, and was. Here are some sample sentences: [poor] The cheetah was walking slowly around the bushes; [good] The cheetah crept through the bushes.
  2. Verbs + Adverbs. Adverbs often weaken the intent of verbs; they are classic “space-fillers” that should be used sparingly—very sparingly. Look at these sample sentences: [poor] The cheetah ran quickly and rapidly after the gazelle; [good] The cheetah sped after the gazelle.
  3. cheetah-2859581__480-ing Verbs. When authors use -ing verbs, it frequently diminishes their intent. In many cases, it turns an active verb into a passive one. It also distances the reader from the action and turns lean sentences into flabby ones. Check these out: [poor] The cheetah was walking over to her cubs; [good] The cheetah walked to her cubs.

The basic rule is, when in doubt, focus on the verbs in your writing more than the adjectives (and certainly the adverbs). You will passionately draw the reader into your subject, inject a healthy dose of interest into your writing, and expand the reader’s vocabulary while offering a closer look at your subject matter. To assist you in selecting appropriate verbs, you may want to consult the Active Verbs List at https://www.upt.pitt.edu/sites/default/files/Active-Verbs-List.pdf.

_________________________

WritingChildrensBooksTony is an award-winning author of more than fifty children’s books, including the 2018 Outstanding Science Trade Book Tall Tall Tree (https://amzn.to/2KDjDyg). He also authored Writing Children’s Books: Everything You Need to Know from Story Creation to Getting Published [“This book tells the truth about being an author of children’s books.” – 5 stars] (https://amzn.to/2tREKCa).

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Writer’s Block (Don’t Fall for It!), by Anthony D. Fredericks

Navigating clip_image002[2] (1) Nonfiction

A monthly column by Anthony D. Fredericks


thinking manI don’t get “writer’s block!” Never have, never will.

Why? Because I believe writer’s block is a personal exemption—a “get-out-of-jail-free” card. It’s an all-too-common fallback; a walled defense against discipline; and a self-imposed pardon for the sins of inaction. It’s a cheap way to justify a writer’s lack of incentive, drive, or passion.

It’s an escape clause for the unmotivated.

Wikipedia defines writer’s block as “a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work, or experiences a creative slowdown.” I’m OK with that definition as it offers the uninitiated (the nonwriter) a way to compartmentalize and clarify an apparently common “affliction” of the writing class. My degree of uncomfortableness comes from the overt tendency of many writers to give in to this “disease.” As stated above, it’s an excuse the brain buys into—a way to justify that what you are facing is insurmountable, unconquerable, or unimaginable.

woman writerWriter’s block may be something dancing among the brain cells of other writers; but it’s something I refuse entrance into my cranium. I do that by engaging in any number of creative measures that prevent either its birth or its influence.

The list below includes a few strategies I’ve incorporated into my writing regime. Some of these are done on a regular basis as elements of my daily activities, rather than at times when I might be struck with this insidious disease. In short, I take a proactive stance to writer’s block, believing that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. My secret: Make some of these suggestions a regular part of your time in front of the computer—well in advance of any potential onset of the disease. Use them before you get the disease, not when you might be face-to-face with this monster.

  1. Visit a library – Spend some time and read the good, the bad, and the ugly.
  2. Write in a different place – The laundry room, a closet, the basement, in your car—it doesn’t matter. A new environment always stimulates new thoughts.
  3. Start in the middle of your book, not the beginning – Beginnings are always tough; middles are much easier.
  4. graphic man at laptopUse a different writing tool – A pencil, a crayon, a paint brush—anything that takes you out of your comfort zone.
  5. Set the timer – Write as much as you can about anything for two minutes, five minutes, ten minutes.
  6. Freewrite – Write about anything bouncing around in your head.
  7. Browse photos – Access those photos from your vacation last year. Any book ideas there?
  8. Copy and type the first paragraph from a favorite nonfiction book. Close the book and pretend that that paragraph is yours. Now write the rest of the story.
  9. Listen to two different types of music – Smooth jazz and classic rock and roll always energize my brain cells.
  10. Do a different kind of writing – Write a memoir, a racy narrative, a letter to your congresswoman, a complaint to the electric company, a science fiction tale.
  11. writing deskRead some quotes about writing – Click on brainyquotes.com and look for writing quotes.
  12. Watch some funny YouTube videos – Laughter always changes your mindset.
  13. Write at a different time – Very early in the morning, very late at night, just after dinner, during commercials on TV, while folding laundry.
  14. Take a trip – Around the block, to a neighboring city, the beach, a friend’s house, a new grocery store.
  15. Paint – Pick up a paintbrush and paint a picture of your concept. It doesn’t have to be pretty—no one will see it.
  16. Write a letter to your audience – Tell them why you are writing this book.
  17. Have a long conversation with someone under the age of sixteen.

___________________

WritingChildrensBooksTony is an award-winning author of more than fifty children’s books, including the 2018 Outstanding Science Trade Book Tall Tall Tree (https://amzn.to/2KDjDyg). He also authored Writing Children’s Books: Everything You Need to Know from Story Creation to Getting Published [“This book contains everything you need to know and understand about writing children’s books.” – 5 stars] (https://amzn.to/2tREKCa).

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Eastern PA SCBWI Meet & Greet on November 12 in Newtown, PA, by Virginia Law Manning

frank and kathy

Please join author Frank Murphy, store owner Kathy Tholey Morrison, and fellow authors and illustrators at the Newtown Bookshop on Monday, November 12, for an evening of book talk and networking. Frank will speak to attendees about writing nonfiction for children. Then Kathy and Frank will discuss the dynamics of a healthy author/independent bookseller relationship. This free event is open to SCBWI members and nonmembers. Together we’ll celebrate Love Your Bookstore Week, and attendees can take the Love Your Bookstore Challenge.

BenFranklinFrank Murphy is the author of fun historical fiction/biography books for children, including five leveled readers published by Random House in the popular Step into Reading series. In July 2019, Sleeping Bear Press will publish A Boy Like You written by Frank Murphy, illustrated by Kayla Harren.

Here’s what Frank has to say about The Newtown Bookshop:

“I love The Newtown Bookshop. It’s nestled in a row of stores in a strip mall in Newtown, PA. It doesn’t matter who is working there when I walk in—each person is friendly and so ready to talk books. Kathy Morrison, the owner, is really supportive of local authors, and her knowledge and love for children’s books make her that much more of a true book aficionado. From the window displays as you approach and the literary knickknacks they feature as you walk into the shop, to your journey to the back of the shop where the large children’s book section rests, you will always find a new book you didn’t know existed. The Newtown Bookshop is nestled right in the corner of my heart!”

NewtownBookshopInterior

I hope you’ll join us for this free event! Here are the details:

Eastern PA SCBWI Meet & Greet

When: Monday, November 12, from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m.

Where: Newtown Bookshop, 2835 S. Eagle Road, Newtown, PA 18940

LoveYourBookstorelogoPlease RSVP to Virginia Law Manning at epa-ic@scbwi.org.

Store’s website: https://www.newtownbookshop.com/

For more information about Love Your Bookstore Week and the Love Your Bookstore Challenge, please visit http://www.loveyourbookstore.com/.

 

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A Critique Group Update & Something New! by Heather Stigall

As I approach my one-year anniversary as EPA’s Critique Group Coordinator, I want to take this time to congratulate our members. I have met many of you at local events, and we have connected through e-mail and social media. We are writing and illustrating and achieving our goals. We are evolving and growing and making books. I can see our growth in one area in particular—critique groups.

achievement-3390228__480In the past year, I’ve added ten new groups to our Critique Group page. Ten! That is a lot. And that means we are working on our craft. We are supporting each other. We are teaching and learning and putting ourselves out there. We want our work to shine and to be worthy of the young readers who will someday be hugging our books to their chests.

If you are not yet in a critique group, but would like to be, please look at our site’s listings on our Critique Group page to see if there is one open in your area that meets your needs. If there isn’t one in your area, it’s time to step up! To borrow a phrase from the movie Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will come.” I can help guide the way, but it’s up to you, dear members, to build your critique groups. If you are asking yourself, “Why would I do that? How do I do that? What do I do once I get started?” I encourage you to check out my previous blog posts that answer these questions (The WHYs of Critique Groups; The HOWs of Critique Groups; The WHO, WHERE & WHENs of Critique Groups; and The WHATs of Critique Groups). Or, just e-mail me! My contact information is on the Critique Group page.

epa critique swapAnd now for something new!

You know I am a huge fan of critique groups, and I encourage every writer to be part of one. But what if your group genre, location, and meeting times are perfect, but no one else writes fantasy? Or your group is only a group of two (or even one) right now, and you’d like more (or any!) eyes on your manuscript? Or your group has seen so many versions of your manuscript, they are all blurring together? Maybe you’d like the opportunity to swap manuscripts with a set of fresh eyes; with someone you can trust, because they are local members of SCBWI who are dedicated to honing their craft. Now there’s a place just for you.

selection-64197__480I have created a new Facebook group called EPA Critique Swap. Like other manuscript swap groups already out there, this is a place to connect with other kid lit writers and illustrators to swap manuscripts and dummies. But this group is ONLY for SCBWI members in the Eastern Pennsylvania chapter. You must request to join, and acceptance will only be granted if you are an EPA SCBWI member. You may join and use the group whether or not you are already in a critique group. Rules for posting are listed in the group, but here are the basics: Post what you write, the word count you want read, and what kind of feedback you are looking for. Interested parties then private message the author/illustrator, and both make arrangements for swapping work. The expectation is that members will exchange critiques, not just request and receive feedback on their own work.

My hope is that this becomes an additional way we, as creators, can continue to support each other on our journeys. Who knows? Maybe one set of fresh eyes will be just what your manuscript needs to whip it into shape. Maybe a new critique group will form out of connections made on EPA Critique Swap (If that does happen, please tell me so I can add your group to the CG page!). Maybe you’ll make a new friend.

Now, go create!

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Where Do You Get Your Ideas? Part 3, by Anthony D. Fredericks

Navigating clip_image002[2] (1) Nonfiction

A monthly column by Anthony D. Fredericks


mindmap-2123973__480Getting new and exciting ideas for writing children’s books—particularly nonfiction—is a constant challenge. In both the August and September columns we looked at some common sources for ideas and how those ideas could be reconceptualized to help us generate some incredible new writing possibilities. This month, we’ll look at additional possibilities that will get your fingers dancing across your computer keyboard like never before.

Consider these options:

Junk mail

mail-truck-3248139__480I often discover many “nuggets” in the junk mail that arrives every day. A postcard about why I need a new set of kitchen windows might evolve into a story about how the Romans were the first to use glass for windows in 100 AD. An envelope with an offer for life insurance may stimulate an idea about how to relate to a relative with Parkinson’s disease. An ad about a sale at a local furniture store might generate an idea about unusual forms of furniture from around the world. Or, a flyer about the discounts available at the grocery store may create a story about how various foods make it from the garden or field to one’s dinner table. What you discover in your mailbox can be a daily reminder of some incredible writing opportunities.

Talking with kids

grandmother-1822564__480A very simple way of getting new ideas is to talk with kids. Your kids, kids in the neighborhood, kids in your child’s class, or kids you see at the local playground are all potential sources of information for book topics. If it’s a nice Saturday, I’ll take a book and visit a local park. I’ll find a bench near a playground set and settle in to read for an hour or two. But, I’ll listen carefully whenever any children swing on the swings, slide down the slides, or climb over the monkey bars. What do they share with each other? What do they say, and how do they say it? What topics command their interest? Here is a good place to collect terms, phrases, and sentences that might drive a nonfiction story.

Exploring online communities

Finding inspiration and support can also be accomplished via several online communities. For example, LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) offers a host of writing groups, support organizations, and instructional forums directed specifically at both novice and experienced writers. I’ve found that a few minutes perusing one of those groups can help me work through a “mental block” or a writing challenge with a new sense of creativity and originality. I’ve also discovered a few new ideas to add to my notebook.

Watching TV

Tall tall treeThe TV can be a constant source of inspiration and creativity. What shows are “hot” right now? What are some of the most popular shows watched by your children or the friends of your children? What are the topics or subjects you are drawn to? What gets you excited, enthralled, or enchanted? Did you learn something new in a particular TV special that might be a topic for a future nonfiction book? Don’t forget the videos you watch on YouTube or Netflix. What strikes your fancy? What keeps you “glued” to the screen? My latest children’s book was the result of a documentary about redwoods (and a subsequent trip to the redwood forests of Northern California).

I’ve learned that ideas can pop up at any time—in the doctor’s office, in line at the grocery store, at a concert, while walking through the neighborhood park, or while at a movie. My job is to be ready for those ideas whenever they may appear. In essence, I don’t just write when I’m at my desk in the morning, I’m prepared to write at almost any time of the day or night. Writers live, breathe, and exist to write. Ideas may surface at any time … any place. It takes discipline to be ready and waiting for them.

___________________

WritingChildrensBooks

Tony is an award-winning author of more than fifty children’s books, including the 2018 Outstanding Science Trade Book Tall Tall Tree (https://amzn.to/2KDjDyg). This blog post was excerpted and modified from Chapter 9 in Tony’s latest writing book: Writing Children’s Books: Everything You Need to Know from Story Creation to Getting Published (https://amzn.to/2tREKCa).

 

 

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