Thursday, October 29, 2009

A New Blog Award and the SCBWI Winter Conference

Many thanks to Deb over at Ranch Girl Ramblings for the Best Blog Award! If you haven't been to her blog yet, check it out. It's a fun place to visit!

Now for the rules:

1. To accept the award, post it on your blog together with the name of the person who has granted the award and his/her blog link.

2. Pass the award to other bloggers that you have recently discovered and think are great! Remember to contact the bloggers to let them know they have been chosen for this award.

I'm passing it to these deserving bloggers:

Roni Griffin at Fiction Groupie

Susan R. Mills at A Walk in My Shoes

Sherrie Petersen at Write About Now

Jennifer Mann at Jen's Red Wagon

Caroline Starr Rose at Caroline by line

Abby Annis

Shelley Moore Thomas at Storyqueen's Storycastle

Shelli at Market My Words

For the children's writers out there, SCBWI has opened registration for the
SCBWI 2010 Winter Conference in New York City!

Guess. What. I'M GOING!

[insert one triple Lutz out of pure joy--ice not necessary]

I know we're not all writing kidlit, but here's a question for those of you who are: has anyone been to both the SCBWI Winter Conference in NYC and the SCBWI Summer Conference in LA? This will be my second Winter Conference, but I haven't made it to the one in LA yet. If you've been to both, I'd love to hear how one compares to the other.

And now in honor of Halloween, here is something scary for you to imagine:
what if there were no SCBWI? It's an SCBWI tribute that Kimberly Baker created for the 2009 SCBWI Western Washington regional conference. Click'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Blog Award and an Intro to my Critique Group

To start off, Stephanie Faris gave me the Humane Award. It was so nice to receive, and I've already added it to my sidebar. Thanks so much, Stephanie!

Now I get to pass it! I'm giving it to:

Deb at Ranch Girl Ramblings
Tamika at The Write Worship
Lydia Sharp at The Sharp Angle
Natalie Bahm
Corey Schwartz at Thing 1 and Thing 2
Rosslyn Elliot at Inkhorn Blue
Beth at This Mommy's Life


Other than that, I thought I'd talk a bit about my critique group. Not counting our mentor,
Sheila Roberts, there are four of us: Bev Young, Martha Schoemaker, Sarah Shepard, and me. Sarah and Sheila met at the pool, but the rest of us already knew each other through Field's End. We formed a critique group after taking a twelve-week class Sheila had taught that focused on the first three chapters of a novel. (We knew we had a good thing going so we asked Sheila if she'd consider taking us beyond the first three chapters. Fortunately for us, she said yes!)

Twice a month we meet at Sheila's house where she babies us and feeds us amazing things she has baked. Have I told you we love her? After a couple minutes of tea and chatting, we get rolling with our chapter critiques. The critiques, brainstorming, and writing talk are
why we formed a critique group, but the food is definitely a benny!

On the non-Sheila weeks, we meet and critique each other's work. Here's a picture of us last week at a cafe.

Sarah, Martha, and me

Bev couldn't make it, but you'd like her. Everybody likes Bev. She's a wonderful lady who adds a lot to our group. Since I write kidlit and have a teaching background, I should mention she has a PhD in Education with an emphasis in Children's Literature.

We have fun, and we appreciate each other's support and time. As we all know, the road to publication (and beyond!) is a long one; how nice to go on the journey with friends.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Thoughts on Pen Names

Pen names are in the air. Both Roni and Susan have been thinking about them too. And while I'm no expert--mine has been official for less than a week--I do have some thoughts.

First, however, I'd like to thank you for the thoughtful and supportive comments you gave when I announced I'd made the leap. I appreciate it. :)

Things to think about before switching to a pseudonym:

*It sounds obvious, but
pick a name you like. You'll be the one wearing it.

*Is it easy to remember and spell? Ideally, people will be looking for your books at bookstores and libraries, and they'll be wanting to recommend your books to their friends. Make it easy on them. (I realize there are plenty of super successful authors out there with complicated names; I'm just thinking if you're coming up with a new name anyway, why pick a tricky one?)

*Is the domain name available?

*Is there another author with that name? Google it. Even if you find writers, I'm guessing it's not a problem unless they're in your genre or a similar one. For instance, I found a Dawn Simon who is a poet and one who writes medical stuff. No big deal, right? (If it is, please break it to me gently.) Since I'm YA, I also did a search at the SCBWI Web site.

*Have you guys heard that when agents or editors Google our names, it's great if we can appear on the first page--or even better, in the top spot? With my new name, that will require some serious blogging, awards, books, and other positive Internet mentions. I'm totally open to TV appearances and movie cameos, but I'm not holding my breath on those. This was a con on my pro-con pen name list. It relates to the next point. Set your angst-ometers, because you might just pick up on a little bit...

*How many people on social networks have the name you're considering? This I failed to look into until after the fact. Imagine my surprise when I learned ONE HUNDRED FORTY-SEVEN people with my pen name have Facebook accounts. You know when your heart starts beating extra fast, you get really hot, and your blood feels like it's dividing like oil and water inside your veins? Yeah, that was me a couple nights ago. The fact that I could start my own small town populated solely by people named Dawn Simon was a wee bit unnerving. Not to mention creepy. (If any of you write Twilight Zoney stuff and you'd like to take that idea, I'm willing to play one of the townspeople if you'll plug my blog and help get me to the first page of Google. Hee! I
am kidding. I think.) Note to Scott Perkins: I'm feeling your pain. See, I met Scott at the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference, and he said there are Facebook groups of people who share his name.

*Go to a bookstore and find where your books will be shelved. Would the pen name bring you closer to eye level or farther away?

*Bounce it off someone in the industry--an agent, an editor, or a successful author.

I hope I don't sound negative--there's clearly a fun side to pen names, and I'm glad I'm trying out mine. After YA, my second love is MG, so I may end up using both names in the future. Who knows?

My point is, changing your writing name is a big deal, and you'll want to give it plenty of thought. That said, what
really matters in the big picture: our writing.

the coolest pen name in the world + a story that lacks = notaheckofalot

Do you have anything to add to my list of things to consider, any places where you disagree, or any other thoughts on pen names?

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Writer Formerly Known as Dawn VanderMeer ;)

I've decided to write under a new name. Actually, it's an old one since it's my maiden name: Dawn Simon.

You likey? I hope so.

I'm still Dawn VanderMeer in "real life", and I'm still happily married. No need for Internet rumors! Hubby Jim fully supports this, if you're wondering.

Changing my writing name was a BIG decision. And a hard one--I like both names. The thing is, I've contemplated this quite a bit over the last few years. I finally made a pros & cons list, and each side had quite a few points on it. But the pros won.

One pro-change reason: Simon is easier to remember and spell, which is good for a business name. I get a lot of "Vander-something", VandeMeer, or Van Der Mere. You can't really mess up Simon without trying.

Also, I now get an extra link to my parents and my brothers. I haven't been Dawn Simon since Jim and I got married eighteen years ago. It might be fun to have one name in my personal world and one name in my writing world. A little like Miley and Hannah Montana, only I'm not a teenager, I can't sing well, I'm not famous, and I don't have a secret identity. I did say a little. You may even think I look like Miley Cyrus if you squint, tilt your head, and get your eyes dilated. We both have legs. And heads.

Once I knew I'd eventually change my name, sooner seemed wiser than later. Every year, I meet more writers, agents, and editors. And then there's the Internet presence we're all supposed to be building. Why build under one name and then switch?

At this point, I don't even want to switch blogspot addresses because I'm afraid I'll lose some followers. With "dawnvandermeer" still in the blogspot URL, I hope I don't confuse people. Jim set it up so if you type or, it will take you to my blog. He really is a computer guru.

Have you ever thought about writing under another name? If you did, what would you choose?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Jurgen Wolff - Fueling the Creative Mind

Let me start by telling you about Field's End, a local writers' community I've been involved with for approximately seven years. (If you click on the Field's End link, read the part titled "Our History".) It's a volunteer-based organization with a core team of individuals at the helm who make amazing things happen. While taking classes and volunteering in small capacities (I've never been on the core team), I've met lots of writers through Field's End. A small number of the many talented people who have taught Field's End classes or have spoken at a Field's End event in the past include David Guterson (one of the founders and a member of the first core team), Susan Wiggs (a former core team member), Laura Kalpakian, Sheila Roberts (my mentor), George Shannon (currently on the core team), Donald Maass, and Christopher Vogler. Jurgen Wolff spoke on Saturday, and I was lucky to be an event volunteer.
In this photo,
Sheridan Bolger (the administrator for Jurgen Wolff's workshops) is on the left, Jurgen Wolff is in the middle, and I'm on the right.

Jurgen Wolff is an impressive guy--very smart and willing to share from his experiences. Saturday's workshop, "Fueling the Creative Mind", was quite unique. He lead us in visualizations to help us understand our characters better. He went over story structures and taught us various writing techniques dealing with brainstorming, writing, and rewriting. He combines his background as a certified hypnotherapist and as a writer in his craft books. Here is how he sums up
YOUR WRITING COACH: "It takes you from the idea all the way through to publication, and the emphasis is on the psychological aspects of writing as well as the craft." He lives in London most of the year. All of his books aren't available in the U.S., but some are.

A few more pics from Saturday:

Left: Brenda Olson is a Field's End core team member and a buddy from SCBWI.
Martha Schoemaker (
who writes women's fiction and is one of my lovely critique partners) and Margaret Nevinski (also an SCBWI member and friend) also volunteered.

George Shannon is a huge part of the Field's End volunteer force. He's also a fabulous dancer. (Okay, I don't actually know what kind of dancer he is--he was merely dipping me for the photo. Hee!)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Just So You Know...

The SCBWI Winter Conference, which will be held in January, is calling to me. I want to go, I want to go, I want to go!

I went to the Winter Conference in 2007, and I had such a great time. I heard huge authors speak ("huge" as in reputation, not height--they were normal people, size-wise), and they were so inspirational. May I name-drop since I admit that not one of these authors is aware of my existence, thus making my name-dropping less obnoxious?
Susan Cooper, Ann Brashares, Tomie dePaola, Brian Selznick, Katherine Paterson, and Jane Yolen were all there. Seriously. We shared oxygen from the same building. While that oxygen didn't taste or smell any different from the oxygen here at home (except for when I'm near my dog Thistle who has some serious gas issues), it nourished my spirit in a special way.

Thistle - unashamed or unaware?

Hubby Jim is thinking we might be able to swing it so I can go. It's still iffy, though. I'm crossing my fingers!

Oh! I haven't said where the conference is held. New York City! I only had about two followers at the time, but I posted about how much I love New York back in June. Have I mentioned how badly I want to go to this conference? And to the SCBWI Summer Conference? They're my dream conferences.

If you could hear any writer (still living) in your genre speak, whom would you choose?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Blogging Class

Saturday was the Blogging 101 for Writers class that I'd mentioned a while back. It turned out, it wasn't just writers who signed up; it was beginning bloggers with various backgrounds and plans for their future blogs. Our instructor was Tamara Sellman, creativity coach and independent editor.

A member of my critique group,
Martha Schoemaker, also took the class.

Isn't Martha a good sport, modeling for me? ;)

The class was interesting for me because I use Blogger, and Tamara had us playing with WordPress. Tamara is big into blogging and uses both Blogger and WordPress (she has more than one blog), so she is an ideal teacher. She said an advantage of WordPress is it can be used as a content management system. Not being a techie myself, that meant nothing to me until she explained a content management system allows you to have static pages. An example of a static page might be a page on an author's Web site that shows the covers of his or her books.

We started our own sandbox blogs (experimental blogs) just so we could mess around with and learn the WordPress capabilities. I definitely see some pretty neat things about WordPress.
One is that WordPress is integrated with Akismet, a nice spam-fighting tool. But I really like Blogger too. Both are free and easy to use. WordPress has upgrades you can pay for, but since these upgrades aren't anything that I need now, I can get what I want out of either one for free. Both offer beautiful templates.

I won't compare lots of features (Blogger vs. WordPress) because I'm not qualified. Still, I wanted to post about this because as bloggers, I think it's good to be aware of our options. Anyone can start a sandbox blog (it doesn't have to be made public--it's only for you to learn with) in order to get a feeling for what else is out there.

While my husband is a computer guru and willing to be my 24/7 tech support hotline, I am someone who is not tech savvy. If you have more info you'd like to pass, feel free to do so in my comments. Otherwise, tell me if you use Blogger, WordPress, or whatever, and say how it's going for you. I'm sticking with Blogger, at least for now. I like it, it's easy, and I'm comfortable here.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Writing Community

I've been thinking quite a bit about community this week, specifically the writing community. We're a special group--very unique.

Look at critique groups. I love my critique group, and not just because they feed me baked goods and tea. My critique group reads every word on every page of every chapter that I turn in, from sh**ty first draft to polished project, and they try hard to make my work better. We share information, encourage each other, give honest critiques--you know the drill. Our critique groups are our support groups, our first lines of defense. The price? Giving back the same time and energy that's being spent on us, plus a few bucks to have muffins and at least two varieties of tea on hand when you're hosting. (Nice snackage = happy critique group)

Lots of local writers--published and unpublished--have helped me. While we continue to hear about the competitive, tightening market, I regularly see writers helping writers. Of course you see it, too, at conferences, on blogs, or wherever. It's all around us: writers giving tips, helping with pitches, editing query letters, offering encouragement--people in various stages of their careers trying to help others move up the ladder. Yes, we also see or hear about the aggressive writers who chase agents or editors into bathrooms and elevators, but I think that's only a small percentage of us; most of us know better.

Whether writing friends are critique partners, fellow bloggers, or people we've met at conferences and workshops, they just get it, don't they? They understand the ups, the downs, the investments of heart and time--they get it all because they're living it too. The camaraderie reminds me of what my hubby and I experienced in the military community when he was a Naval officer. And just as spouses and children are part of the military community, our spouses and children are part of the writing community.

Then there are people like Debra, one of my closest friends. She isn't a writer, but she's right with me in the thick of everything. When I was submitting, she'd ask about whom we were querying. She's a true friend.

Debra and I, riding the ups and downs together

While discussing the writing community, let's not forget the agents and the editors. I'm a positive person, but I get really irritated when people have a writers vs. agents and editors--"us vs. them"--attitude. The agents and editors I've met have been kind to me. One agent who rejected a manuscript (that's now in the drawer) offered to have a follow-up phone call with me. As you know, that's huge because agents are some of the busiest people on the planet. When I thanked him for his time at the beginning of the call, he said, "My time isn't worth any more than your time, Dawn." We spoke for over half an hour, and he let me pick his brain about his thoughts on my manuscript, on the market, or whatever. Amazing guy. Regardless of who eventually signs me, I will always be a fan of his, as an agent and as a human being.

You've all probably already discovered the blogs of
Nathan Bransford and Moonrat. They're great examples of industry professionals in the writing community who have a lot of heart. If you want evidence, click on the posts I linked to their names. They totally get it, and I'm happy they're in our community.

And so, bloggy friends, thanks for being a positive part of my writing community. I hope I'm giving as much as I'm receiving.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Book Signing - Sheila Roberts and Susan Wiggs

I went to an uber fun book signing on Saturday. My fabulous mentor Sheila Roberts was signing with #1 New York Times bestselling author Susan Wiggs. They're best friends, they're in the same critique group, and they're both extremely talented. Plus, they're just really nice people. I bought Sheila's ANGEL LANE and Susan's LAKESHORE CHRISTMAS.

Sheila Roberts and Susan Wiggs
Barnes & Noble

Silverdale, WA

I won a gift basket, nibbled on homemade yummies, chatted with friends, and walked away with two new books. Definitely a great day!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The First Page

Every page matters, but think about the importance of that first page. And it's not even a full page! Talk about pressure, right? Have you heard how long an agent or an editor will give a submission before deciding whether to reject it or request more material from the author? Answers vary, but I usually hear it's not long. It sounds unfair, but it isn't. Challenging for the writer, yes. Unfair, no. It actually makes sense.

When you're at a bookstore and you pick up a book by an unknown author (what most of us non-celebs start out as), how long do you give it? People buying books won't wade through forty-seven pages, waiting for the good part--not even if they happen to know an author worked really hard and is rumored to be a lovely person who nurses sick cats back to health in her spare time. We have to snag them right away, and hooking them is easier said than done. Of course, "them" = prospective agents, editors, and eventually future readers.

I've been to quite a few first page sessions at conferences and workshops where attendees' first pages were critiqued by agents, editors, and authors. When it was agents and editors doing the critiquing, they sometimes shared whether they would go on to page two if the work had been a submission.

It's interesting to hear the thought process of someone on the other side of the desk, and it's so educational. You can learn a ton from other people's mistakes and successes. If you submit your manuscript's first page and they get to it, you'll learn even more from your own. (By the way, the pages are usually presented anonymously so it's less scary.)

Here are some of the things I've heard from agents and editors in the past two years when first pages were being evaluated:

*One editor said he almost always reads beyond the first page.

*One agent said she often stops at one page.

*An editor said he sees too many stories that start out with a child being forced to spend the summer with a relative.

*One person said too many interjections create a choppy reading experience.

*One agent appreciates small details in the story.

*More than one person said to avoid starting the story with the protagonist waking up. Apparently, they see a lot of that in children's book submissions.

*Most of the editors and agents weren't wild about prologues.

*One editor said she likes a hooky opening line, but not something super bizarre.

*One editor said she stops if the protagonist is giving too much description, allowing her to see the author plotting.

I don't know if these comments are helpful without the first page samples, but I hope they are. Something nice about being there in person was gauging my own taste, imagining myself as the agent or editor being queried. Certain first pages intrigued me and told me the person who wrote them had real talent and experience. I think those things do show up on the page, and pretty quickly. That motivates me to try my hardest to make my own pages shine.

It makes sense that so many agents' submission guidelines request the first three to ten pages with the query letter, doesn't it? If I were an agent, that's what I'd do.

I went to a session at a conference where an editor who had earlier critiqued our first pages read aloud the first pages of books she'd acquired, books that are coming out this year. It was fascinating. Now I find myself paying extra close attention to the first pages of my favorite YA books. It's so inspirational. And just think...all of these books' authors started out like us, unpublished but working hard to make their dreams come true.

Do you have any first page tips?
They don't have to be for YA/children's. We're a mixed group, and I think that's cool.

By the way, I've never thanked my followers. Thank you so much for your support, good cheer, and knowledge. I learn from you here and at your own blogs. <3 span="">