Saturday, June 30, 2018

Post Mentorship Program Interview with Tara O'Dowd

by Patti Buff

The inaugural Europolitan Mentorship Program ended this spring and now it's time to check in with our three mentees, Tara O'Dowd, Linda Hopke, and Kerry Dwyer to see how they fared.

Tara O'Dowd
Our first interview is with Tara who was mentored by Janet Fox.

 Your mentorship with Janet is over. For 6 months the two of you worked on your project Middle Grade project. What stands out the most about this time?

How intense it was!!! Patti Buff sent out an email to the three of us in the mentorship program, warning us that this was likely to be emotionally intense and to require a lot of work. I remember wondering how it could be any more intense than preparing for a contest or for submitting your work for critique. I was completely wrong. 

The first time I sent my entire novel off to Janet, I was terrified that she would reply that it was a disaster. She did not, and she kindly warned me each time she sent feedback that I might feel bad about her comments despite the fact that she felt I was making great strides… Even with her thoughtfulness, revising an entire novel with major goals in mind and a deadline three times in eight months, while under a lot of pressure for my paid work, was something else. 

What got me through it? The fun novels Janet recommended, lots of Russian ice cream (for research purposes only…), and my dog Troika—the best typing disruptor in the world. And the quirky bits in my novel—Janet made me put more of the fun stuff in.

Strangest place I wrote: on the bleachers at the ice rink. Despite/because of the cold, I revised/rewrote about 10,000 words there. Good ones, too!

Fun fact: my day job is as a union organizer, and I was leading meal delivery riders on strike for a couple months during this process… Ironically, as zombies crept back into my revision they also crept into one of the actions I was involved in. Not through my doing—I swear it!

Long ice skating practices offer productive work time

Learning to write everywhere, at anytime, is so important. Most of us never have the chance to work with an expert so closely. What was it like to work so intimately with a publishing professional on your project? Was it challenging to rework a piece and send it to the same person for even more feedback?

Before this mentorship, I had received critiques from a few other publishing professionals, as well as feedback from a number of peers. Working with Janet for six months, gave me a feeling of purpose and trust (although I still had jitters each time I waited for her comments!) that I missed with the piecemeal approach, as well as, I believe, reducing the amount of time necessary to clean up the internal and external plot lines. It is like choosing the train itinerary that goes straight through instead of the one that leaves earlier but involves five changes.

Can you tell us in details what you worked on with your mentor? Did you work on one or several aspects of your novel? 

We worked on my MG novel ROYAL ROSALIE AND THE ZOMBIE MISSION. It had been through several drafts at the beginning of the mentorship, but the emotional line of the plot was missing. We went through three revisions of the entire novel (!) with substantial plot changes in each revision, as well as developing my understanding of how characters’ emotional arcs inform plot. With each draft, Janet was able to pinpoint precisely which books on craft—sometimes to the chapter—would be most helpful to address the issues with my WIP.

Janet is not only kind, but she has great insight into what is going on with a WIP. She also has amazing craft knowledge—imagine being able to refer a writer to chapter X of Y book, the second edition. I would highly recommend working with her if you get the chance. And buy her books! The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle is the best creepy MG I’ve read in a long time. Maybe ever. 

Research? If I must....

That's amazing. Her webinar on revision Janet held in June was also jam packed with details, so I can only imagine what it was like working with her for 6 months. Now after this experience, how ready to you feel to put yourself and your work out into the world? Do you feel this mentorship prepared you for working with an art director/editor at a publishing house? And what’s next for you, creatively? 

Yes! Per Janet, I am one draft away from querying… Queue the jitters. 

I had two projects in the works before the mentorship. One was a superhero novel, and the other a simple, mean comedy. I have to take a look back at both and see which one appeals. I would also like to write a girl’s illustrated diary with a confident, take-charge MC, and a twist on a boy’s dancing book. After I get this next draft done, though.

Trioka - the cheerleader/disrupter 

How exciting! Best of luck on querying, Tara. We'll all be cheering you on. And thank you for sharing your mentorship experience with us. It sounds like it was an amazing time.

Europolitan Mentorship Program:

The Europolitan Mentorship program pairs qualified, inspirational mentors with aspiring authors and illustrators, who write in English, to help bring them closer to publication, or to publication at a higher level. Each mentor will select one mentee from all applicants.

This six-month online one-on-one program provides mentees the opportunity to work personally with and learn from a successful professional with teaching experience and a proven track record in children’s literature. Look for the announcement for the 2019 Mentorship Program in Spring 2019!

Friday, April 27, 2018

Paul's Story Trigonometry

by Paul Malone

Paul’s Story Trigonometry is a useful way of visualising the central conflict in a story. By using such a model, you can gain critical insight into your story: Have you identified the central conflict? Do you understand the main characters’ desires and resulting actions? Do these opposing courses of action collide (climax)? And is the story resolution integral to the conflict (not incidental)?

Model 1: Two main characters

Model 1 Explanation:

Desire: Three human desires: to have, to become, to be freed from.

Action objective: the action the character takes to try and satisfy their desire.

Tension: arising through the opposing character desires and resulting actions (opposing forces).

Climax: Where these two opposing action objectives finally collide.

Resolution: The result of these two opposing desires and action objectives.

Model 1 Example: Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers.

First published by Harper Collins Children’s Books in 2005, Lost and Found is a delightful illustrated book by Oliver Jeffers. From the book’s back cover: “Once there was a boy and one day he found a penguin at his door…”

Here is the story model:

As seen from the model above, the conflict in this story comes about through a humorous misunderstanding; and the climax is a revelation for the boy (who is a little lonely too). See also how the resolution is integral to the story: loneliness is resolved for both the boy and penguin, and a beautiful friendship blossoms.

Model 2: multiple main characters

The story trigonometry model can also be expanded to encompass multiple main characters. The model below shows 3 main characters:

The above model shows a central character with two other main characters. 

Model 2 Example: Matilda by Roald Dahl

A much-loved story by Roald Dahl, Matilda was first published in 1988. With such memorable characters as Matilda Wormwood, Miss Trunchbull, and Miss Honey (to name a few), Matilda is bound to be enjoyed by readers for generations to come. Here’s a model based on three main characters:

From the above example, the relationship between the main characters, their desires and “action objectives” are clear. The story tension arises (in part) through conflict (Matilda / Trunchbull) and the mystery behind Miss Honey and the unfolding friendship (Matilda / Miss Honey). The model could be expanded to include other characters such as Matilda’s parents.

Using the model

By sketching out the central story conflict early in your writing, you can readily discover or gain a strong sense of the story outcome. You may not know the details of this outcome (How exactly does Matilda and Miss Honey defeat Miss Trunchbull?), but with the general outcome in mind (Miss Trunchbull is defeated, Matilda lives with Miss Honey), you can write towards it, enjoying all the discoveries along the way.

Paul Malone is an Australian writer living in Austria. His short stories have appeared in leading children’s literary publications, including The School Magazine (Australia) and Scoop Magazine (UK). When not writing his own stories, he runs the occasional writing workshop in Vienna. He also loves meeting other SCBWI members! More about Paul here: