Monday, March 13, 2017

Feeling Creative?

 Reminiscing About Your Favorite Candy?

Who is ready for some creativity calisthenics? Inspired by Kenvin Henkes genius book about the life of a marshmallow chick as a friend, can you share a narrative poem or short short about a food who becomes a child's friend? (100 words or less folks) 

And because a picture is worth a thousand jelly beans, you can also share your story as an illustration. 

Can you do it?! Yes, you can! I'd even be willing to send the winner a prize in the food they pick (no caviar, please). 

You can post the story to your blog or include the whole story in a comment on this post. The winner will be announced here and on my Facebook community, 

Another inspirtation of this contest is the wonderful work of my friend Vivian Kirkfield who runs the #50 Precious Words Writing Contest and the fantastic blog, Picture Books Help Kids Soar. Thank you for the inspiration, Vivian. 

Swim with the Swedish Fish. Hop with chocolate bunnies. Picnic with gummy bears. Let's get creative with candy, folks!  Happy Writing!

This contest is open until 3/31/17.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Crafting Characters 

Who Have Special Needs

by Kortney Price 
 Holloway Literary Agency

In my submission interests I list that I am always interested in work containing special needs characters. Why? Because I grew up working in the special needs community (Check out TASK!).  This community has taught and inspired me so much over the years and I want to give back and help them to be heard and understood. Because I want others who don’t feel comfortable around people with special needs to have the opportunity to learn through books and experience the same wonderful community.

When we include characters who are different from ourselves in our stories, we have to keep in mind that they cannot be defined as different. They have to be that puzzle piece that fits perfectly into your story to create the big picture you want readers to see. So, if you’re creating special needs characters in your story, here are a couple of tips I’ve picked up along the way.

     1)   Disability is Not a Definition. Focus on the Individual

      When you’re crafting a special needs character make sure you’re not defining them by their disability. We already know that characters need flaws, strengths, goals and a voice to feel well rounded. The same goes for special needs characters. Who are they as a person? That should be your focus. 

    2)   Research, Research, Research

      You’re going to be researching for some element of your story anyway, why not really get to know what’s happening in your character’s brain or body? The human brain is like a computer. People with certain special needs have brains that run on a different operating system than what you might be used to. Really learning about how your character’s brain runs will help you to create a well-rounded character both in your head and on the page.

3)   Know Why Your character is Present

Every character in your story has to have a purpose. If your protagonist has a little brother or sister with special needs, make sure they have a purpose in your story. If you don’t give your characters a purpose you run the risk of your story becoming cluttered or having characters who only serve to diversify your story rather than express theme or move the plot.

If you are working on writing a story featuring those in the special needs community, check out these links for lists of award winning books featuring characters with a variety of special needs.

·       Schneider Family Book Award Winners
·         Dolly Gray Award Winners

If you’re looking for reliable resources in your research, check out this awesome list of sources on the Autism Speaks website, the Department of Mental Health’s website, or try heading out to volunteer and spend some time with the special needs community in your area.

Call for Submissions:

I’m currently looking for manuscripts in the middle grade to new adult range. If you have a story featuring special needs characters and would like to submit to our agency, check out our submission guidelines here.

WIN a free critique with Associate Agent Kortney Price:

If you share your comments on this blog by March 31st, you'll be entered to win a critique with Ms. Price. If you're the winner, you can submit up to 10 pages of a manuscript that fits her call for submissions and get a written critique of your work.

Share Your Thoughts:

What are your thoughts on the portrayals of characters with special needs in children's and young adult literature? Are such portrayals important? How so? Which books do an excellent job? Which don't? Why? Come join the discussion and enter the chance to win a free critique. 


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Hello Folks!

Just a quick announcement that my short story "The Weekend" was published by Visitant Lit. I hope you'll check it out and give it a read.

Thank you.

A LaFaye

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Mentoring Bond:
Finding a Mentor is Investing in Your Literary Future

By A. LaFaye

The Winding Road to Mentorship

My road to finding writing mentors has been like my writing style—long and winding!

My writing aspirations began with a popularity campaign.  The kids in my small-town Wisconsin school didn’t know what to do with a quirky, creative kid who left the classroom when she already knew the material so that she could wait for a passing sixth grader who could answer her questions about how the world worked.  My strangeness pushed other kids into their default setting for oddities—tease it until it goes away.

My strategy for addressing this problem was to become famous, clearly not an achievable task for the not-so average eight year old.  But what did I know?

Not enough, clearly, so I went to the book with the most famous people I could think of—THE GUINESS BOOK OF WORLD RECORDS. I poured over the book, intent on finding a record I could break.  I was already taller than the shortest person ever and with parent’s who were in the five-foot height bracket, I would never be the tallest woman in the world.  With height records unreachable, I kept looking and discovered that Dorothy Straight had published a novel when she was six which was ironically titled something like The History of the World. I’ve never been able to find a copy of that book, but it inspired me to become a writer. 

Unfamiliar with the role of writer, I did all I could to learn more, reading books, asking for advice, and trying to find people who would read my work.  Things did not go well. The books said, “Write what you know.” What did I know, I was eight? My teachers didn’t want to read my work because I couldn’t spell, my penmanship was awful, and my short stories ran on the long side. They recommended I learned the fundamentals first.  With dyslexia that proved challenging. 

Fast forward to my first college professor who told me I didn’t know a thing about writing and I should just give up.  See how well I listened?

Actually, what I said was, “Okay, if I don’t know how to write, then teach me.” And so I found my first reluctant mentor.

At first, graduate school wasn’t much better.  When I asked a professor to read a novel I’d written, her reply was that she had to scrape and fight to get her own work published, so I would have to do the same thing. So much for finding a mentor.

Each of these challenges in my path toward find a mentor taught me the importance of generosity and helping others. The very things I found when I entered the graduate program in writing for children and young adults at Hollins University.  There, I met faculty and visiting authors who were generous with their time, talents, and mentoring skills. As a result of this amazing creative community, I won a scholarship to an SCBWI conference where I met the late agent George Nicholson who represented me for my first five novels, including my debut novel, The Year of the Sawdust Man which received my best blurb ever as a result of my time at Hollins. While I was there, Elizabeth Forsyeth Hailey came as a visiting author and she agreed to read my novel, saying after,“I read the book with the same sense of joy and wonder that I had when I read a debut novel by an unknown author, To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee.” This praise filled me with humility and gratitude, not just to her, but to the mentors who helped me write that book and to the program and the University which brought together so many amazing writers who could shepherd me through this process.

Finding Mentoring Opportunities

Not everyone can pool the resources of time and money to invest in a graduate program in writing like the one at Hollins though, so seeking mentoring opportunities like those offered by the writing workshops at The Highlights Foundation, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and illustrators (SCBWI), and wonderful regional workshops and conferences. 

There are also fabulous mentoring programs offered through regional organizations like the Loft Literary Center in Minnesota, online programs like Kidlit College, and many of the MFAs in writing for children and young adults offer mentor opportunities, courses, and webinars.

There are also excellent literary coaches who specialize in writing for children like Emma Dryden of Emma Dryden Books who draws from her decades of experience in the publishing field to mentor writers, but like graduate programs, these services are quite expenses. For those who can afford it, they are an excellent way to go.

All of these are worthwhile avenues of honing your craft, but today, I wanted to focus on the benefits of mentoring with another author who has coaching experience whether it is in an established program like #Novel Direct at KidlitCollege or more informal writing groups like those you can develop through critique match up sites on Facebook like this one hosted by Subit Club.  I’m a member of a critique group composed of clients with the same literary agents and I couldn’t be happier with support, challenges, and guidance of my fellow writers from Storm Literary Agency.

Going Into Mentorship in the Right Mindset

No matter how you approach the mentoring process the most important things to keep in mind are the need to be open to growth to importance of embracing the unnecessarily dreaded part of the writing process REVISION. The reality is that even the most polished and published authors can continue to grow and learn about their art and revision is NOT a punitive stage of a creative process.  It should be an invigorating, creative, expansion of the initial flow of creativity that forges a story in its early, molten stages. For me, revision is a  Re-Invisioning of my work that gives me an opportunity to explore the hidden recesses and layers of the work I started.

Why You Should Seek a Mentor

You know what it’s like when you go through your day thinking you’re looking great in your new outfit and then you see yourself in a mirror or a photograph and think, I look like that?

You need a literary version of a mirror and let me tell you, selfies are as distorted and hard to do in writing as they are with your phone.  When you reread your work, it’s important to know the literary elements that go into making a good story great and to test your spelling and your grammar (something I’m still lousy at), but there is only so much you can really “see” when looking at your own writing because you automatically fill in all of the subconscious level inspiration and knowledge that went into creating the piece. That subliminal subtext doesn’t travel with your work and a mentor can help you see what isn’t on the page yet.

But unlike an editor who no longer has the time to share revision suggestions with you, a mentor will not only tell you what is not working in a piece, but they will give you the feedback you need to help you re-invision the piece and bring it to the height of its potential. 

Why I Mentor

The initial difficulties I faced in starting my career as a writer and the amazing mentors and guides I met in graduate school have all taught me the essential importance of sharing your talents and time with others in pursuit of the same goals.

In my opinion, what I have was gifted to me to share with others and inspire them to make this world a better place. As a writer, this happens by mentoring fellow writers to become the best they possible can at what they are seeking to do. It’s not my role to shape into a writer like myself because the world deserves to see, hear, read the voice and vision of each individual artist out there and a mentor’s job is to help them hone their own endowed skills.  That’s why I teach in the creative writing program at Greenville College, the graduate program at Hollins that helped me launch my career and dive into the opportunity to mentor other writers in a program like the Novel Direct Contest through Kidlit College.  It gives me a chance to help writers reach their full potential and successfully pursue their dream of a career in writing. 

As a professor, conference critic, workshop facilitator, and writing coach I have helped many writers move from idea to published manuscript and many of them have even gone on to be nominated for and/or win national awards.  Seeing their work shine, makes my heart glow.

So, I invite every author and illustrator to seek out the courses, programs, and mentorships that will help them bloom as an artist.  May you find all the inspiration, guidance, and support you need on the road to become the best you can be at what you love to do!

A LaFaye
@artlafaye on Twitter and Instagram
Find me at Sylvanocity: A Creative Community with Author A. LaFaye on FB