Con Round-Up Part I: SCBWI NYC

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On February 6th, I headed down to New York City for the 21st SCBWI Winter Conference — one of two national events organized by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. It had been a while since I’d been to the national conference — since 2014 to be precise — and I was looking forward to seeing the changes.

I arrived early, as the New England team (including myself and my regional conference co-director Casey Robinson) had a meeting on Friday morning. Business attended to, I escaped for a couple of hours to meet a friend from Brazil for a visit to the Met. Oh, important detail: my friend is a tour guide, so I had an amazing personalized glimpse at the museum’s permanent collection. If you’ve never been to the Met before, I thoroughly recommend this ‘taster’ version, where you get to sample a little from several different rooms and wings. After a post-museum lunch, it was time to head back to the hotel and relax with friends before getting ready for the Golden Kite Awards at night.

Watching the awards ceremony on Friday evening was definitely one of my personal highlights (and not just because of the strawberries and champagne reception!). Besides opening words from Kwame Alexander, who reminded us that “in the end, we answer for the children, to the children”, and James Patterson, who urged the gatekeepers in the room not to get in the way of kids reading for pleasure, we heard moving acceptance speeches from the award recipients, challenging us all to strive for more in our own work. Find a full list of the Golden Kite awards at: https://www.scbwi.org/announcing-the-golden-kite-and-sid-fleischman-winners/

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NESCBWI team members with the wonderful Debbie Ridpath Ohi (photo credit goes to Debbie)

Saturday began with a great keynote by author Kate Messner, centering on wonder and curiosity, and setting the tone nicely for the conference. This was followed by two workshop intensives that took place throughout the day. My first was on writing genre fiction, with Tor editor Melissa Frain. We talked through the challenges of worldbuilding and the subsequent perils of info-dumping, and then she walked us through an interesting first pages exercise.

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Kate Messner’s ‘Curiosity License’

I was particularly inspired by my afternoon intensive with agent Chelsea Eberly, who talked us through identifying our author brand. She broke this down into a number of key aspects, among which were to root our work in authenticity (what makes you YOU?) and to identify and focus on our strengths (where do you shine?).

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Workshop notes…

The day’s programming concluded with a heartwarming keynote address by Jerry Pinkney, who talked us through his journey as an artist, starting from his earliest place of inspiration: his father’s basement workshop. Later, the evening centered around the traditional networking dinner, with regional tables set up so attendees could meet and mingle with others from their area, if they so desired. I lingered a while afterwards, chatting to friends (old and new!), but soon called it a night.

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Part of our fantastic NESCBWI regional team! (photo credit Kristine Asselin)

Sunday brought my last intensive session, with Harper Collins editor Tiara Kittrell. Tiara talked us through the key elements of a variety of genres, and shared tips on how to successfully blur the lines between them to create fresh ways to tell stories. I had to leave straight after, and was sorry to miss what I’ve heard was a wonderful final keynote with author Derrick Barnes, but I still carried home a head and notebook full of new ideas and inspiration to fuel my writing work. All in all, it was a fantastic, exhausting, amazing weekend, and I’m glad I decided to return to the New York conference after such a long break!

NYC SCBWI and Boskone 57 Schedule

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Con bags at the ready…

It’s February tomorrow, and February brings ALL THE CONS. Or, well, two at least.

I’ll be in NYC next weekend for the SCBWI Winter Conference, which runs from February 7-9. I’m not part of any official programming, but will be wearing my ‘NESCBWI Regional Conference Co-Director’ hat (not literally. I own no fancy conference hats, alas), so come and find me if you want to talk about all things books, writing, and kid lit, or just to hang out and have a cup of tea in the hotel lobby. Hit me up on Twitter! @jspinkmills

From February 14-16 I’ll be in Boston for my yearly pilgrimage to Boskone. I’ll be on three program items, which leaves me plenty of time to catch up with people and make new friends. Planning to go to Boskone for the first time? Already a regular but we haven’t met yet? Come and find me — let’s chat!

Besides hanging around the lobby bar or attending other people’s panels, here’s where you can find me at Boskone:

Blood-Curdling Science Fiction

15 Feb 2020, Saturday 11:00 – 11:50, Marina 2

Where does the thin (red) line between science fiction and horror lie? Why does science fiction horror fascinate us so much? What is it about horror in SF that is so absolutely terrifying? What examples do we have of science fiction that will make your blood run cold? And is it getting harder to make SF fiction that is truly scary?

Errick Nunnally (Moderator), Juliana Spink Mills, Julie C. Day, Nicholas Kaufmann, Darrell Schweitzer

Books That Get Kids Reading!

15 Feb 2020, Saturday 18:00 – 18:50, Harbor II

Hundreds of new children’s books are published every year. Yet recommended reading lists still include the same old children’s classics, with only a few new titles. Our panelists share some of their favorite new children’s books and authors from recent years that should be added to the lists.

Juliana Spink Mills (Moderator), Michael Stearns (Upstart Crow Literary), Julia Rios, Adi Rule, Trisha J. Wooldridge

Broad Universe Group Reading

15 Feb 2020, Saturday 20:00 – 21:20, Griffin

Join members of Broad Universe — a nonprofit association dedicated to supporting, encouraging, and promoting female authors of science fiction, fantasy, and horror — as they read tidbits of works and works in progress. Readers will include LJ Cohen, Marianna Martin, Roberta Rogow, Juliana Spink Mills, and Trisha J. Wooldridge. Moderated by Elaine Isaak.

Finding YOUR Story

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More essence than solid shape…

I’m stuck at the moment on a passion project. I have other things I could be — should be — working on. Like revising the YA novel I wrote over a year ago. Or finally getting around to finishing Star Blade, the last part of my Blade Hunt Chronicles trilogy. But over and over, I find myself drawn back to the fantasy work-in-progress I’ve been obsessing over for the past year or so.

Sometimes, stories arrive clear-cut and blazingly obvious. We can see where we have to go and how to get there, and the characters are set from the start. There will be ups and downs in the writing — there always are — but these are stories that almost lead us by the hand. They’ll need revisions, and edits, and sometimes a full rewrite or two, but their general structure is there from the very beginning.

Other times, there are stories that are nebulous. More gut feeling than sign-posted path. More essence than solid shape. We want — need — to tell them, but it’s hard when we don’t know exactly what form the telling should take. This is one of those stories. I can almost see it, but not quite. It’s been through a full draft and a partial rewrite, besides a one-chapter experiment that just didn’t work at all. Each of these ‘takes’ has been different, with only the bare bones of worldbuilding and characters in common. And now I have an idea for an entirely new version. Part of me thinks that I’m chasing moonbeams, and that this story either isn’t really mine, or that I’m not yet ready for it. But the rest of me just can’t let it go.

I think all writers have a story like this in their past, or perhaps waiting for them to stumble upon it in the future. One that grabs us by the heart and whisper-screams ‘look at me’, that teases and begs and demands to be told. One that just won’t go down easy on the page until we’ve ripped it to pieces to find exactly what part of it is actually ours to claim. This one, this frustrating, enticing, beautiful little tale? I’ll get it written, eventually. I just need to allow myself time, I think, to dig through all the images and ideas and find my story.

Have Book, Will Read #22

It’s freezing in Connecticut, and perfect book-and-blanket weather! Although I must confess that I’ve slowed down on the reading in November — I’m using NaNoWriMo to give my novel rewrite a boost, so have eased off on other people’s words to focus on my own. I have, however, managed to make a nice dent in my to-read list over the past few months, so here are a few favorites from that particular pile…

Recent Reads: A bit of this, a bit of that…

I’ve had Peter McLean’s Priest of Bones languishing on my Kindle for a while, and I’m so glad that I finally got around to it. This is a really good read in the grand old ‘Grimdark Fantasy’ tradition, with a fun cast of characters and some very nice worldbuilding. It follows soldier and field priest Tomas Piety as he heads home from war to reclaim the crime empire he left behind, and soon turns into a game of strategy and intrigue when national politics stick grubby paws into Piety’s business. I absolutely recommend it for fans of this style of fantasy.

My daughter’s been telling me for months that I should have a look at Leigh Bardugo’s The Language of Thorns, and guess what? She was right. You don’t need to have read Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology or her Shadow and Bone trilogy for this, though a working knowledge of her Grishaverse is helpful. However, I’d recommend at least Six of Crows, which is a fabulous heist story in the style of Scott Lynch’s Locke Lamora books. Thorns itself is a collection of folktales, some original and others clear retellings of known stories, written in a variety of styles that match the different nations in Bardugo’s expanded world. Lyrical and also surprisingly funny at times, this is a thoroughly enjoyable read.

When I heard that Disney’s upcoming Hawkeye TV show was going to be loosely based on the Matt Fraction Hawkeye comics, I decided to take a look. I’m not much of a graphic novel person, but the little I saw online intrigued me, and I was lucky enough that my local library had the first volumes in one neat omnibus edition. Honestly, this is so good! I’ve always liked Barton’s character in the Avengers movies, but this took things to a new level. Great characterization, and I can’t wait to see how they handle Clint and Kate’s interactions on-screen. Also, I need to read the rest of the series now, especially the one in ASL, which I hear is fabulous.

Both my daughter and I are fans of Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid novels, and the latest in the series, That Ain’t Witchcraft, certainly lives up to the very high bar set by the previous books. We’re once again in Antimony Price’s point of view, as she investigates a little ghost trouble in New England and ends up taking on the Crossroads itself. Annie and Sam are adorable as usual, and the whole ensemble cast is perfect. My only complaint? Now I need a family reunion novella with the entire dysfunctional Price crew united and under one roof, significant others and all… If you like urban fantasy and haven’t yet tried InCryptid, please do! I love these books — they take every one of my boxes, tick them neatly, and hand them back gift-wrapped and beribboned.

Now Reading: “We use it to light things from far away,” I said. “You know,” Tom said, “things you have to light from far away probably shouldn’t be lit at all.” – The Blackthorn Key.

I picked up The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands a while back, and am now on the third book, The Assassin’s Curse. This middle grade historical adventure series is absolutely fantastic! The books center around an apothecary’s apprentice, Christopher Rowe, and his friends, and are set against the backdrop of 1660s England complete with threats of the plague and of political conspiracies galore. The series is fun, well-written, and full of code-breaking, apothecary secrets, and twisty plots. It’s written for kids, but honestly, there’s plenty in them that will appeal to adults, too. Good stuff.

To Read: Old friends, new beginnings.

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert was one of my favorite books of 2018! Now I have the ARC for the sequel in hand, and can’t wait to get started. The Night Country releases on January 7th 2020, and returns us to the magic and darkness of Albert’s Hinterland. If you haven’t read the first book yet, give this wonderful blend of fantasy and magical realism a try.

Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater just landed in our mailbox in all its big hardcover glory, signed bookplate and all. Can you tell that we’re fans in this house? This is the long-awaited sequel to the Raven Cycle series, and focuses on Ronan Lynch, my absolute favorite of all Stiefvater’s Raven Boys. To get in gear for this brand new release, both my daughter and I reread the four original Raven Cycle books; now we’re all fired up and ready for more Ronan and Adam, and to meet all the new characters that Stiefvater has promised us for this series.

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Crossing the Streams: reaching across writing communities

Anyone who has watched Ghostbusters will remember that, although ‘crossing the streams’ was supposed to be a Terrible Thing, ultimately it vanquished the Big Bad and saved the day. Likewise, for writers, learning to cross-network between different writing communities can enrich our lives and take our work to a whole new level.

In 2012, I joined my first writing community, the SFFChronicles.com — an online science fiction and fantasy forum with an active writer’s section. At the time, I had just made the decision to get back into writing and was working on my first novel, a middle grade fantasy. While researching children’s fiction resources I found the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), but back then I lived in Brazil, and we had no regional chapters I could look into.

A year later, following my husband’s job relocation, I moved to Connecticut. As soon as I arrived, I joined the SCBWI. Six months later, I went to my first SCBWI conference in New York. I was making connections, online and in person, and my writing world was growing. At the same time, I continued to be an active participant in the sci fi and fantasy community. Both were equally important in teaching me about how publishing works, and in honing my writing skills.

From the kid lit community I learned how to craft middle grade and YA; the SF/F world taught me about genre fiction. The first was invaluable in helping me understand traditional publishing; the second showed me how to navigate anthology submission calls and other short story markets. The SCBWI brought me my wonderful local critique partners; the SF/F community gave me my first beta readers, and eventually a second online critique group. The SCBWI encouraged me to volunteer at conferences and events, and to get involved at a local level, organizing meet and greets for my area. SF/F brought participation opportunities for convention panels, my first public reading, and an opening to write interviews for a genre website. Both groups have nurtured me and cheered for my successes along the way, and expanded both my horizons and my circle of friends. I couldn’t keep moving forward without both of these communities at my side.

When I go to SCBWI events I’m always intrigued by how few members seem to even consider reaching beyond the kid lit community for connection and knowledge. The SCBWI is a wonderful place to call home, but there are many other thriving organizations out there to be explored. The Romance Writers of America is a busy and inclusive example, with many small local chapters throughout the USA. The Mystery Writers of America is another great society with active chapters in different regions. And those are only two among many. Broadening our worlds and cross-networking between communities can be a wonderful way to gain further insight in our work and widen that support web that is so crucial in the difficult world of publishing.

Whatever you chosen ‘home’ community, consider stepping outside and looking for others to connect with. Have a look around, both online and in your local area, and see what you can find. Take a chance on adding a whole new side to your network by joining additional writing organizations — either official ones, like those mentioned above, or unofficial ones such as the forum I’ve been on since 2012. Getting involved with a new community may be scary at first, but by casting that net a little wider and crossing those streams, you may find your creativity shines bigger, and brighter, and bolder than ever.

There’s a whole wide world outside that window…

Have Book, Will Read #21

It’s 2019! Well, it’s actually been 2019 for a while now, but I haven’t done a book round-up since 2018 so does that mean I get to celebrate New Year’s all over again? No? Ah, well, it was worth a try. *discreetly shoves champagne glass and party streamers under the table*

I actually followed my New Year’s resolution and made a good dent in my to-read list. Okay, who are we kidding, that thing is huge! But I have upped my reading game this year, and it feels good to be back! Here are a few of my favorites from the last couple of months.

Recent Reads: A world tour of mythology.

I’d heard good things about City of Brass, so when I spotted it in my local library, I immediately picked it up. S.A. Chakraborty’s lush fantasy tale starts in the streets of 18th century Cairo and travels to Daevabad, the legendary city of brass, home to the djinn. Beautifully written, and with plenty of twists and turns to keep readers on their feet, I swept through this in a day and a half, absolutely enchanted. 

Another 2018 release that plays with different world mythologies is Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse. Set after a future climate apocalypse has ravaged the USA and the Navajo people have created the magically protected land of Dinétah, the story follows monster hunter Maggie Hoskie on the trail of dark witchcraft and ancient legends reborn. Roanhorse’s prose is swift and fierce, and Maggie is a wonderful character — at the same time flawed and fragile, yet strong as stone.

This next one is a relative oldie compared to the other books in this post, but I’d been wanting to read The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater for a while. I love Stiefvater’s writing style in the Raven Cycle series, and this one has a similar atmospheric allure. However, instead of dusty Virginia roads and rolling hills, we have bracing winds and sea-salt spray, tough island grass and even tougher island people. It plays loosely with the Celtic myth of the water horse, using it to tell a tale of resilience and determination. Very nice.

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black may well end up being one of my favorite books of the year. This dark fairytale has underlying themes of abuse and isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty. The story of a mortal girl, brought up in the land of Faerie among the members of the Royal Court and caught up in the violence and political intrigue that accompanies the fight for the throne, it’s a breathtaking read and I absolutely raced through the pages.

Now Reading: The end of the Shattered Realms.

I’ve only just started Deathcaster by Cinda Williams Chima, last book in the Shattered Realms quartet, but I’m already mourning the end of this series. I was thrilled when, back in 2016, Chima gave readers the chance to dive back into her Seven Realms world with a new quartet of novels, set a generation after The Crimson Crown concluded. It’s been wonderful meeting a whole new cast of characters while enjoying the setting she so beautifully delivered in the previous series.

To Read: It’s all about those sequels…

I have two sequels on my reading list, and I’d like to get to them soon while the previous books are fresh in my mind. Both are the second-in-series of books mentioned above: The Wicked King by Holly Black, and Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty. I’m looking forward to jumping back into Black and Chakraborty’s worlds!

How has your reading been so far this year? Any good sci fi or fantasy suggestions? Let me know in the comments!

Swords and Swans

Book news! Well, anthology news, actually. Tomorrow my short story King Swan comes out in a brand new collection — Gorgon: Stories of Emergence (Pantheon Magazine).

From the official blurb: “Be changed. GORGON: STORIES OF EMERGENCE contains 42 transformative stories spanning all genres from both emerging and new voices alike, with all new stories by Gwendolyn Kiste, Richard Thomas, Annie Neugebauer, Eden Royce, Beth Cato, D.A. Xiaolin Spires and more, and featuring 10 illustrations by Carrion House.”

I’ve had a peek at some of the stories and they’re awesome! You can buy Gorgon on Amazon in ebook and paperback, starting tomorrow…

Also…

It’s been two years today since HEART BLADE was published! Happy bookversary to the Blade Hunt Chronicles!

Happy New Year!

Misty says, “Have a great year!” She also says, “Keep reading! Bring treats!!”

You should…probably do what she says.

And Onwards

Here we are, on the brink of a brand-new year. Yes, it’s an arbitrary calendar division and one day is the same as the next, etc, etc. But personally, I’ve always loved the concept of celebrating time passed and a new year ahead.

A quick look at 2018!

Writer things

  • One novel written, another with a solid start
  • Two short stories published; a third sold but not yet out; and a fourth written, edited, and approved for an upcoming collaborative anthology
  • Three interviews given
  • Writing events: one Con as panelist (participated in 3 panels), one retreat, a one-day workshop, and two library events (one as panelist)
  • A successful number of SCBWI meet and greets organized and held in our area (thanks to all my co-organizers!)

Fun stuffs

  • Fave books this year include The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, Man O’War by Dan Jones, Brandon Sanderson’s Oathbringer, the Magisterium series by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black, Nnedi Okorafor’s Akata Witch and Akata Warrior, The Empyreus Proof by Bryan Wigmore, and Leigh Bardugo’s Crooked Kingdom
  • Some of the movies I loved were Black PantherAnt-Man and the Wasp, and Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse. Yeah, those superhero movies are still topping the bill for me…
  • TV shows! Marvel’s Runaways was an unexpected delight. The Expanse is still one of my favorite shows. Into the Badlands and Midnight, Texas continued to deliver good storylines. In terms of animation, 2018 saw the final seasons of Voltron Legendary Defender *sobs* and Star Wars Rebels *sobs harder*. But it also kicked off The Dragon Prince and the new She-Ra reboot, both extremely enjoyable, so plenty to look forward to in 2019

Personal bits and pieces

  • We have a new rescue pup! Misty is seven months old, and both a delight and a tiny terror. We love her!
  • We visited family in Brazil in July/August and got to spend time with old friends, too. We returned to Brazil briefly over Christmas week, for much more difficult reasons. It’s always hard to face the brutal finality of burying someone you love, however much you think you’re prepared
  • On the other hand, and because life tends to do this: brand new baby nephew! He lives on a different continent, so I didn’t get to go all grabby hands, but thankfully Facetime and WhatsApp are a thing
  • I passed the one-year milestone of working at my town library and am so grateful I get to do this. I love my job!

Coming in 2019

  • ALL THE CONS! Well, three. I’m a panelist again at Boskone in February, and I’ll be doing my first reading, as part of the Broad Universe program. In August I’m off to Ireland, first to Dublin for Worldcon, and then to Belfast for Eurocon. It’ll be a great chance to connect with some of my UK writer friends who I haven’t met in person yet
  • Book release: some of us ladies over at the SFFChronicles.com have been working on a science fiction anthology with an all-female line-up of authors. Out in 2019
  • Star Blade! Hopefully this new year will bring the last installment of my YA trilogy. I’m working hard to make that happen…

THANK YOU FOR ALL YOUR SUPPORT IN 2018. SEE YOU IN 2019!

With All Your Heart

Adapted from a guest blog I originally wrote for fantasy romance author Suzanne Jackson.

Anyone who’s been hanging around the Twittersphere lately will have seen writers sharing their ‘rules for writing’. Now, I’m not that big on ‘rules’ (what works for one person might backfire splendidly for another!), but here are a few things I figured out early on and which keep me going. Hopefully, they’ll help you too!

Three things I’ve learned about writing:

1. Take Your Time. As the saying goes, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. When I started writing ‘for real’, one of the first things I did was read a lot of bios and websites of authors I admired. To my surprise, there were very few true ‘overnight success’ stories. One author took ten years to be published, another five. Another more than that combined. Some writers didn’t become household names until their third, or fifth, or seventh book.

Beginner-writer-me found this hugely reassuring. If other people could do it, so could I. If I had to put in the time to learn the craft and get it right, then so be it. I wouldn’t be the first, or the last, to take a deep breath and tell myself, “As long as it takes.” I knew this was something I loved, and that I was prepared to be in it for the long haul. I just had to jump in, and keep going.

2. Make Mistakes. Also known as: you have nothing to prove. When I was younger, I’d always planned on becoming a writer ‘someday’. Perhaps when I ‘grew up’. But somehow, I never got around to it. Probably because I had this weird notion that writers sat down at their perfect writing desks and dashed out the Next Big Classic all in one go. Yes, I really was that naive! I knew nothing about messy first drafts, or that it takes rewrites, revisions, and a whole lot of elbow grease to produce something halfway decent. So of course, with that sort of self-inflicted pressure, inevitably I was terrified of starting and failing.

When I figured out that the writing business was a long-distance event (see number 1), this led to the realization that nothing had to be perfect right away. I could allow myself time to work things out, to back my story into corners and fall into plot holes. I could get it wrong, and dust myself off, and rewrite, and get it wrong again, as many times as necessary. The only thing I couldn’t do, was let the fear of failure hold me back from trying.

3. Have Fun!  Along with realization number 2, came the awareness that I didn’t actually want to write the Next Big Classic. I wasn’t fussed about literary immortality, or having my books on required reading lists. I couldn’t care less whether my prose was gorgeously poetic. Instead, I wanted to enjoy my writing. I wanted to fill my pages with fight scenes, and daring escapes, and fireballs. Maybe a breathless first kiss or two. I was an 80’s teen, and all those hours spent watching the likes of Star Wars, Die Hard, Back to the Future, and The Goonies had to impact my writer’s soul somehow. Once I figured out the sort of things I enjoyed writing, the stories took off and the words just flowed. I was having fun, and I never ever wanted to stop.

Of course, these discoveries may have worked for me, but may not work for you. Find the small bits of wisdom that inspire you, personally, and use them to keep going on the dark days. We all have those days – beginner writer or seasoned pro – and sometimes you just need to remind yourself of why and how you got started in the first place. And then get up, dust yourself off, and jump back in with all your heart.