Category Archives: Goose Tracks

With Love and Gratitude,

This week’s post is a Ted Talk that I’d like every author and illustrator I know, and as importantly every educator, to see.

Please spend a few minutes sharing this with me.
It will really fire up your resolve to keep doing what you’re doing.

With love and gratitude,

Shirin

When what you’re looking for finds you.

One cold Melbourne morning, Kathryn Otoshi and I went location scouting for her coming book, Peter Dobb and the Wondrous Pod. Specifically, we were looking for Sir Wanderoy’s house cum book store. This is what we found…

Sometimes, life works like that. You have an idea of what you’re looking for, but you haven’t had time to really think about it. And then, the universe puts it in your path.  You realize the gift is exactly what you had in mind, down to unarticulated details.

The writing life is full of moments like these. Your character steps out of a book that you haven’t written yet and greets you in an antique shop. Your opening sentence floats to you on the wind, and you realize whatever it’s opening is already nascent within. You turn the corner, and that house in your head materializes as an old post office in Melbourne.

Here’s to the writing life—and to more gifts from the universe!

Shirin Yim Bridges

 

 

 

When what you find is that it shouldn’t be found.

So, if you’ve been following our goose tracks, Kathryn and I have been in the Red Center looking for clues as to the identity of the pod in her coming book, Peter Dobb and the Wondrous Pod. We had a hunch that it had something to do with the Aboriginal dream time, and for that reason we booked ourselves on back-to-back cultural tours and headed for a big red rock in the middle of a big red desert.

If you know me, you’ll know that I’m well traveled and have lived on four continents. I like to think of myself as culturally sensitive. But in retrospect, I rode into that red desert as prejudiced as any colonialist. All I was missing was the pith helmet.

My prejudice was that if you have a story, you will want to share it. I’m an author. That’s my world. My colleagues, my clients, my friends, my family, we are all story tellers who want our stories to be heard. So it was quite a revelation to me that there is a fundamentally different way of thinking about story: that you can treasure a story as a secret; that you can nurture a story in order not to share it.

What I learnt, following a guide around who was so passionate that he literally frothed at the mouth (correct use of literally), is that nobody is supposed to know the entire dream time story. Even within small family groups, what the men are allowed to know is different from what the women are allowed to know. Neither must search for or even inadvertently discover the story that belongs to the other. Hence the community’s wariness of photography, because it puts images out there of things that should be seen only by owners of a certain part of the dreaming.

As a story teller I’m fascinated by this concept of story—by having a great, intricate cloth, to which you hold only one thread. You know where your thread intersects others…threads coming from other family members, other families, other tribes. You also know that you’ll never see, are not meant to see, the whole picture. So you treasure and nurture this thread in trust, with faith that it has its place and its meaning, and that meaning you will never fully know.

In the red rock canyons, having let the others walk ahead so that I had everything under a blue bowl sky to myself, this thought is what resonated with me—that sometimes it’s OK not to know. You can hold something precious without knowing really how it relates to the rest of your life or the world. You can just have faith that it does. That it is sacred and necessary.

Sounds simple, but it goes so much against our cultural grain.

And where does that land us with the pod? We have more cultural sleuthing ahead, but at the very least we’ve learnt how delicate this dream time fabric is. How delicate and how very lovely.

Shirin Yim Bridges

In Search of the Pod: The Red Center

So we’ve made it to the Red Center: Uluru, a sacred site for all of Australia’s many aboriginal cultures.

Our one disclaimer: Kathryn says she’s sorry for her mispronunciation of Ayers Rock.

Coming soon, a slightly deeper dive.
Stay tuned!

Shirin Yim Bridges and Kathryn Otoshi

And they’re off! Kathryn and Shirin’s Great Adventure: The Treasure Hunt Down Under

In three days, fellow children’s author, Kathryn Otoshi, and I will be making the grueling journey to Sydney, Australia, to begin a three-week adventure that is, amazingly, all business.

First thought: This is what writers actually do.

Second thought: What a blessing to be a writer!

When I say “grueling,” I want you to know that I have been on a three-day camel trek into the Thar Desert that resulted in a butt blister, and I think cattle class for 18 hours on an international carrier is worse. But it will be worth it. Most of the trip is essentially a treasure hunt—researching key nuggets that Kathryn needs for a book. Nothing could be more fun to a self-confessed nerd and travel junkie like me.

This short video will explain exactly why we’re going and what we hope to accomplish. You’ll find an animated map of our itinerary in the sidebar to the right.

And then, we’ll be posting from the road. First stop: The SCWBI Australia East and New Zealand Conference where both of us will be speaking. Do the antipodeans have a different perspective on kids’ lit?

I’ll let you know!

Shirin Yim Bridges

Writers’ conferences: Are they the only short cut left?

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If you’ve heard me speak about writing and publishing—and chances are, if you’re following this blog, you have—you’ll have heard me say that conferences are the only short cut left if you want to get published (i.e. by someone else). So, half way through my 2014 conference season (two down; two to go), I thought I should put my oft-made assertion to the test.

Well, mea culpa, for a start, we have to get rid of the word “only.” If you are a celebrity—a movie star; a sports icon; English royalty; any household name—you have a short cut. If not everybody knows you, but several thousand people follow you, BING! BING! BING! you have a short cut again. If a publisher thinks they won’t have to work very hard to sell your book because you bring a crowd—or perhaps more accurately, a cloud—chances are they’ll publish your book.

What about the rest of us? For us, my assertion seems to prove true. And here are some concrete examples, culled from just two conferences within the past two weeks.

Conferences are the fastest way you can improve your craft.
I gave a workshop at the Book Passage Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference a couple of weeks ago, on writing middle-grade fiction. It was part of a three-workshop, middle-grade stream, all of which shared more or less the same title: writing for middle-grade readers. Each of the presenters sat in on the other two presentations.

Why were we there? You would think that faculty teaching the exact same thing would have the least to learn, right? But I learned a ton. I learned new ways to think about middle-grade fiction—Susan Lyn McComb’s must-haves in an opening paragraph; Amanda Conran’s what made a middle-grade hook. I learned new ways to edit the stuff. I learned new ways to teach it—both ladies went back to the books, read out relevant passages, taught by example. Oops! How had I missed the power of that?

I’m a better writer, editor, and teacher now. I guarantee it.

Conferences are the easiest way to find the best editor for you.
First, let me state something for the record. The second-best thing you can do for your career as a writer behind investing in conferences is finding the right developmental editor. (Okay, the two are so neck-and-neck that if I were writing a blog about the importance of editors, I’d probably flip this around.) Going out there unedited is like going to a job interview naked. In both cases, probably only Jamie Lee Curtis can get away with it.

But how do you find these fairy godmothers? You find them at conferences.

I’m going to change my metaphor: forget the fairy godmothers who are only needed during crises. A good developmental editor is to an author what a structural engineer is to an architect. Unlike the fairy godmothers, they are mandatory.

An architect’s need for an engineer has nothing to do with the architect’s ability or talent. No architect thinks “I’m so good, I don’t need one of those.” A structural engineer can see what even the best architect cannot see, and if s/he believes in the architect’s vision, s/he can help that vision get realized when without her/him, it would fall in a heap.

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But notice how I said “if s/he believes in the architect’s vision.” You don’t want to collaborate with someone who doesn’t get your work. And how will you know whether they do or don’t if you’re finding your editor through the Web and going only by how much they charge—which is the same no matter whether they love your work or think they’re only polishing it for the bin?

At a conference, you can meet not only one developmental editor, but many. You can gauge who sincerely likes your work, whose comments resonate most with you, and whom you like. I watched a student of mine interact with several dev editors at the Book Passage conference. I wondered whom he’d end up picking. I knew that with all of them he’d be in good hands—but which hands would he find most suitable? To have the power and information to make that choice is a rare short cut afforded by conferences.

Conferences will get your work in front of an agent or publisher, leap-frogging the slush pile.
My editor at HarperCollins/Greenwillow once told me how many manuscripts he received in a month. The number was so staggering I made a mental note of it, and gave this bit of information to any number of classes. The problem is that with each retelling, it seems more unbelievable. The further removed I am from that number falling from his lips, the more I think, did I make that up?

All my editor friends say “no.” They have stories to tell about the enormity of their own slush piles. Goosebottom Books is a tiny publisher of fun middle-grade non-fiction with a bias toward girls. Can you get any more niche than that? And yet I have a slush pile that is hard for me to take care of.

That slush pile can take years to emerge from, if you manage it at all. When the slush is finally sorted, it’s often by an intern whose primary job is to reject as much of the contents as possible. To avoid the slush pile, you need an agent, which can take years to find (and the best way of finding one is meeting one at a conference—read the paragraphs on dev editors and substitute the word “agent.”)

However, you can save yourself all this time and angst by buying yourself a consult—with a publisher, editor, or agent. It usually costs just under a hundred dollars and guarantees you’ll have their eyes and mind for a precious sliver of time.

Conferences can help you in the parallel job of being human.
I’ve mentioned the Book Passage conference a few times now, so let us shift our focus to DigiLit last weekend.

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I don’t know about you, but one of the things I find toughest about being a writer is that it takes so much time. Writing takes time. Researching takes time. As an aging publisher, all my “good eye” time (that finite number of hours before everything gets blurry) is completely consumed with things I have to read in order to do my job.

Well, surprise, surpise! At this conference I learned ways to make striking a balance easier. I learned about the new way of following news, for example, through Circa. This app not only lets you flag the stories you’re interested in, it keeps track of what you’ve read and what you have not, so no matter how long between drinks, it catches you up on what you’ve missed without making you wade through all that repetitive information other news outlets keep in there for people who’re only just getting onboard. Conversely, come to a story two weeks late, as I often do, and the app knows you’re a newbie and serves up all the information that the other channels are by now leaving out.

I learned that there are ways to streamline everything I do out there—err, here—to create a digital footprint. A more streamlined footprint = more time to be human. In fact, a more streamlined anything = more time to be human. So imagine my excitement at finding Quip, a way I can streamline our editing process! As their tagline says, “messaging and documents combined in one place.”

And most wonderful of all, I learned that the A List are also human. At a conference about publishing in the digital world, there can be no greater A-Lister in my book than Jane Friedman. I saw her washing her hands in the ladies’ room. In the mirror I could see not only her reflection but mine, and I noticed with consternation that I was bouncing up and down on my toes. How many times have I told my students not to stalk the faculty into the loo (oops, bathroom)! But if I let her go without professing my admiration, would I ever have the chance to speak to her again?!

YES. That is the beauty of conferences. For once in my life I listened to my own advice and let Jane wash her hands in peace. Later, I found her sitting in the exhibits area and went up to introduce myself. I told her the story I’ve just told you, and she laughed and blushed a little. Jane Friedman is shy.

And why is that the ultimate plug for conferences? Because at a conference you realize, first-hand, that we’re all human. And if a human can be an A-lister/on the faculty/published, then by golly
SO CAN  YOU!

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Hello world!

My first blog. I’m a writer and a publisher. I’m alive in 2014. How is this possible?

Well, I kept thinking I was too busy writing and publishing. But now I’ve seen the light. Now I see that this is writing and publishing, too; and that some of the things that I want to share with the world (my primary motivation in publishing) can be even better shared in this format.

For Goosebottom Books’ readers, and their educators and librarians, I’ll be sharing nerdy nuggets that delight me. (Did you know that they’ve found the bones of Richard III under a parking lot? The uncle accused of murdering the Princes in the Tower?) There’ll be interviews with our geese and other children’s and YA authors. If you follow this blog, you’ll also follow my goose tracks across Australia this summer, as I go off on a research trip with fellow kids’ author, Kathryn Otoshi.

For my writing and publishing students, and all the aspiring authors and publishers out there, here’s the chance for a behind-the-scenes peek. You’ll see how frustrating, rich, and rewarding the writing and/or publishing life can be. I’ll also be sharing the articles and opportunities that I used to share with my list-serve. Now I’ll be serving up all that great information right here.

So please follow Goose Tracks, and enjoy!

If you’d like to be informed of new posts in particular categories, just send an email to shirin.bridges@goosebottombooks.com and let me know which categories you’d like to follow. You can also review just those posts in those categories by using our pull-down menu on the left hand side.

Honk! Honk!

Shirin