Friday, May 31, 2019

Literary Classics Awards - A Journey of My Own by Kena Sosa

I'm delighted to share Kena Sosa's story of receiving the coveted Children's Literary Classics Silver Seal honor. She traveled to South Dakota to participate in the Great American Book Festival and to be honored at the awards gala. Here is Kena's story in her words:

Never in my career as an author did I imagine following an enthusiastic live reader of a picture book about circuses  with a chapter from my own book about a child escaping Nazis. Yet, at this year’s Great American Book Festival, I stood on a stage to do just that. It was one of just many unexpected twists and turns of life. I just had to smile, because books can do that. The readers take the audience from one world to the next just by turning the page. 

I write because it is as natural as birth after a long gestation of ideas; anything else that comes along is a welcome bonus.  A few months ago, I received the surprise of a lifetime to hear that my book, Kindertransport - a child’s journey was a finalist to receive an award. My attention span flickers constantly from working with young children for so long. Writing a chapter book was a challenge for me in that way. So to hear the book be so well-received was just the boost I needed. In my heart, there was only one option: I had to go in person to receive the award, the only way I could believe it. So, this year I attended GABFest in Rapid City, South Dakota, and the Literary Classics Awards as a writer and as an award-winning author.  

Winning for Kindertransport - a child’s journey is extremely special for so many reasons. The book was made possible by the Billie J. Levy Research and Travel Grant that I was awarded a few years ago, which allowed me to travel to Hartford, Connecticut to research the topic more in depth at the Dodd Research Center at the University of Connecticut. There I was put in contact with three Kindertransportees, who by phone were gracious enough to share their personal experiences with me. We recorded the interviews to use as oral histories for others to learn from at the university. To my surprise and elation, one of the interviewees, Mrs. Eva Greenwood, came to my grant committee presentation at the end of my stay. Happy tears are not enough to express how grateful I am for the series of events and incredible people that set this story in motion. 

Arriving in South Dakota, I was mentally ready to make the best of the entire agenda.  I caught a terrible cold so my voice wasn’t honey on the ears, but I shared my tips and advice at the Authors Round Table on the 10th as best I could.  The best thing for me about attending events like these isn’t showing off, but learning from my fellow authors and members of the publishing industry. I scribbled just as much in my notebook as anyone else about new ways to get publicity and various perspectives about agents, pitching, marketing, and apps. We all have room to grow. 

Saturday the 11th was designated for us to meet voracious readers at the festival downtown and hopefully sell out our stock of award-winning books. The weather didn’t cooperate, but, boy, did it make for some excitement. And, I got to keep my vinyl banner with my name and award-winning status. I sold some books between spurts of rain, and that’s nothing to shrug off. 
Although pushed back due to weather, I did have the privilege of doing my reading from Kindertransport - a child’s journey. I started off with my dedication to the three Kindertransportees I interviewed in order to research and create this book. If they hadn't shared their stories, writing this one wouldn’t have been possible.  I followed by reading Chapter 3, depicting Helen’s packing and boarding the train, questioning herself and her parents’ decision to send her away. It had been a while since I read the words aloud myself. The moment took me right back to my time in Connecticut, conducting the interviews and hearing the details of their experiences for the first time ever. It is beyond touching that they shared with me and how honored I am to share pieces of their stories tied together as Helen’s. 

The time at the festival included absolutely awe-inspiring sights nearby including Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, The Badlands, and for those willing to cross into Wyoming about an hour away, one could see the infamous Devil’s Tower monument.

Sunday, we had the day to ourselves to get ready for the gala at night. Sunday night would make the award official. 

We filled ourselves to the brims with hors d’oeuvres like beef wellington and Greek cucumbers, splashed with a glass of wine, as the excitement built around the official red carpet inside the Dahl Arts Center.  As our names were called in front of loved ones, we walked the stage as happy graduates of successful books. Receiving our medals one by one and posing for photos, we heard the applause that many of us dream. Medals clanked as we walked back to our seats, inspiring giddiness and giggles in the audience. 

At the finale we took a group photo, all dressed up in our finest and wearing our medals, blazing grins of accomplishment. Just like the rain and hail that danced with our booths on Saturday, the whirlwind weekend was suddenly over.  

Driving back to Texas, the emotion was overwhelming. I can only hope now that I can return one day to relive it again.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Revise! Revise! Revise!

Revise! Revise! Revise!

         For over 10 years, I've heard or read from some  "experts" and authors that writers should never revise as they write, but they should revise only after the project is finished. Some of us disagree.

         Not revising or editing until one finishes writing a whole story or book goes against common sense and everything I’ve learned in all the years I’ve studied, have written, have taught, and have read. The reasons why I disagree are several, but a main one (and I’ve seen examples of this too many times) is if an author waits until after he finishes and then changes something toward the start, he often forgets a later part of the story affected by the change but not adjusted. A story develops from the beginning to end, and once written, any change at the beginning makes differences later in the piece, changes that are easy to miss. Thus cohesion and coherence become weak and faulty. The same result happens if a change is made toward the end but a point or event toward the beginning creates confusion because of that change.

         I know some “writers” who think any major editing should be done by an editor. Let me share something I found in the August, 2005 issue of The Writer. According to Sam McCarver, the author of six John Darnell mystery novels,

                   In the time-intensive world of publishing, you may have only one
                   opportunity to intrigue an editor with your writing, your main
                   character and your story. And you must often do than within pages
                   – or the first few sentences – of your manuscript.

                   Editors are pressed for time and very perceptive in identifying good writing,
                   interesting characters and gripping stories, so they move fast through
                   your pages.

         McCarver goes on to say that an author must write the best story or novel possible: edit it, polish it, enhance it. Then he should read and make final changes – all before ever allowing anyone else to read it. Yes, before allowing anyone else to read an manuscript, the author should have spent hours improving a rough draft. 

         Before I continue, allow me to share an example of not editing or revising as one writes: A best-selling author (one I admired, met, and wrote reviews for her) released a new book. As usual, I had to read her latest. I discovered an error caused by not making revisions where needed. She wrote about an event, but she then had at least four chapters of action and time passages before another chapter discussed the event as it happened. When I contacted her about the problem, she told me that no one on her staff discovered the problem, caused by a change made after she finished the book. That book sold over 200,000 copies and had many reviews showing readers had been confused by that problem. 

         Writing a story or novel is only half the job: Revising is the other half, a most important half, of writing. Ernest Hemingway, E.B. White, F. Scott Fitzgerald all admitted the need to revise and rewrite. Hemingway admitted he cut as he wrote, yet, he would take weeks to revise a book.

         McCarver’s article “How to revise your FICTION” gives eight steps for editing a person’s work. I happen to agree with his points, especially the one which states that delaying all editing until the manuscript is finished is a mistake.

         However, let’s examine this author’s ideas, as well as those expounded in many composition text books and believed by me:

1. Accept revising as the other half of writing. E.B. White stated that the best writing is rewriting.

2. Adopt good editing procedures. To produce a better first draft, one should begin revising with the first word written, making improvements as he goes. As a writer completes a day’s production, he should study what’s on the screen, if using a computer. If he sees a need for any changes, he should make them while they are fresh in his mind. Then he should print what is finished.

         According to Chang-rae Lee, winner of the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award, he tries to polish as he goes because what leads him to the next sentence is the sentence before. "I find that it's hard to move on unless I've really understood what's happening, what comes before and where it's heading."

3. Review printed pages. Writers should print out the pages finished and set them aside to “cool.” Then they should read the printout with a pen in hand, noting corrections or revisions that will improve the writing. After making changes on the computer, writers should reprint the pages, adding to the pile of finished pages. Each day’s, or period’s, work should be the same: writing, rereading, editing, and making changes as one goes.

4. Identify errors and correct them. According to McCarver, three procedures are critical in the revision process: correcting mistakes, improving content, and enhancing the story.

         The first attention needs to go to spelling and punctuation errors, typos, grammatical mistakes, and inconsistencies in tense or point of view. Although such mistakes may seem minor to the author, editors expect manuscripts to be virtually free of any errors.

5. Improve content. “What you say and how you say it also must be polished to the best of your ability,” states McCarver. “Improving content also includes considering the structure and sharpening your word choice,” as well as re-examining characters for consistency, making sure the plot hangs together, that scenes are compelling and dialogue natural, and that all loose ends are tied up.

         Word choice is a topic for another editorial, but it is a vital part of good writing.

6. Concentrate on enhancement. Enhancement goes beyond making corrections and improving content and style: It means increasing the quality and impact of the writing. A techniques given by McCarver are as follows:

         * Inserting foreshadowing for greater event impact later.
         * Increasing the emotion in dialogue and thoughts in scenes.
         * Adding or strengthening subplots.
         * Intensifying the consequences of actions and events.
         * Adding twists to the plot.
         * Shortening flashbacks, if used, and including action in them.
         * Making characters seem more real, depicting their actions, dialogue and thoughts more naturally and powerfully.

7. Do that final revision. After finishing the whole manuscript, revise again.

8. Take one last look. After revising the complete manuscript again, the author should reread the printed pages before mailing them or sending a query letter. All errors and last minute changes should be made.

         All authors want to impress editors by providing a story that the editors cannot put down. Each author, through a manuscript, has only one chance to make a great first impression.

Note: “How to revise your FICTION” by Sam McCarver in The Writer, August, 2005, provided research material for this editorial as did several composition text books and notes from my files.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Tragedy at 35 Pushed Author to Realize Her Purpose

Losing her husband to cancer leads writer to pursue what makes her happy 
               4RV author Laura Wellington's story in her own words

It was during my teenage years when I realized that I wanted to write children’s books. From the very beginning, I loved children. No shock that I ended up having five of my own nor began my career as a preschool teacher. Ironically, it was another teacher, my English professor during my freshman year of high school, who encouraged me to follow my dream. When he learned that I could draw too, he encouraged me even more.

But love, tragedy, and responsibilities would place that dream on hold for some time to come. At age thirty-five, I’d lose my husband of twelve years to Cancer. I was left with four little kids to raise, two technology companies to turnaround and run, a huge whole in my heart, and a new future to find.

I began to write and draw again to help me cope with the loneliness, heartache, and pressure that ensued. My hobby would eventually turn professional and award-winning. I’d go on to write a few books for women, launch a popular blog, become a TEDx speaker, and expand my involvement with children by becoming a licensed foster parent and voice in the foster care community. As I raised my own four, I’d commit myself to helping foster children everywhere, which resulted in my eventually having a fifth child as well. But still, no children’s books were forthcoming with my name on them.

At age fifty-two, however, all this would change. I would create a series called “Jasper’s Giant Imagination” to entertain and educate children through imagination, personification, and fun. The stories would delight kids, make them laugh as well as teach them about topics they’d all face some time or another, such as catching the flu bug or balancing computer time with outdoor playtime. I would both write and illustrate these books. And I would dedicate the entire series to the 480,000+ foster children living in the United States who needed to continue to believe in their own dreams too. Heart Gallery of America was so taken with the series that they came out, publicly, in support of “Jasper’s Giant Imagination.”

Needless-to-say, as soon as I created the series, it took on a life of its own. 4RV Publishing scooped up the publishing rights expeditiously and Bejuba! Entertainment decided to take things a step further and sign the series to be transformed into a new preschool television series. The main character in the series, Jasper, will be portrayed as a foster child; the story-line will include children with disabilities and minorities; and all of the many incredible, enriching ‘differences’ will result in a unique and amazing world inspiring kids to learn, laugh, and dream.

The first book in the series, called “I’M SICK,” just launched at retail. I can not explain my excitement or the satisfaction I feel in watching my true purpose come to life. Admittedly, it took enormous pain, resilience, growth, steadfastness, determination, confidence, patience, and experience to make this happen, none of which I had when I was a teenager or could have harnessed any earlier than I did. It is a wonderful feeling to finally come into my own and create something so meaningful and beneficial.

It reminds me of how ‘life works out.’ Maybe not as I expected it to be, but it does. That’s a lesson worth remembering. It’s one to take with you in your own life and share.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Book Prepares Children for Storms

     Storm season has arrived, and so has a book by Tony LoPresti that will help prepare children for the serious storm, a tornado: Storm Sentinel. Illustrations by Jeanne Conway help make a normally frightening subject less scary as Fred tells his story:

     Hi! My name is Fred. I am a tornado siren. Oh, you don’t know what a tornado siren is? My friends and I watch over people. We let them know when a tornado might be coming. When you open the pages of this book and read my story, you will learn I am a Storm Sentinel.


Sunday, May 5, 2019

Time Management, Organization, and Your Writing

Contributed by Karen Cioffi

When I first started out in my writing career, I began to think more and more about organizing my writing. But, I was in what I call, slow mode.

I worked on my stories with the intent to eventually... hopefully get published. However, I was in no rush; writing came after everything else I had to do.

That changed.

Being a former assistant controller for a manufacturing company, I knew what commitment meant. So, I decided to make writing my second career.

Suddenly, I was writing and illustrating a book my family decided I should self-publish. That meant researching companies that offered print-on-demand service along with working on the book itself.

While in the process of doing this, I was writing other works and submitting them to publishers and agents. As with most of us, I received rejection after rejection.

I also joined the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). This site has tons and tons of helpful writing and publishing information from new and seasoned writers. In addition to this, I joined a critique group.
Writing clubs were on my mind too. I found a good one at the time and that was when my writing took on more depth and I entered the business of writing.

At the time I joined the writing club, my book was in the process of going to the printing stage of publishing. So, I had to broaden my writing arena to include learning about marketing and publicity on a very low budget. I also became a member in several children's writer's groups online. Juggling all these things was a true challenge, one that I didn't always live up to.

In addition to all this, I tried to participate in every teleseminar and teleconference I came across as well as doing research on writing and marketing. To add more on my plate, I became a co-moderator in a very active critique group, and I created a website and a blog. At times, it felt very overwhelmed.

What I finally realized, out of necessity, is that I had to create and enforce a time management schedule.

This came to a boiling point when I received a letter from an agent requesting three chapters of my short story along with a 3-5 page synopsis.

I was so overwhelmed at the time, I didn't immediately respond. Okay, it was also because I didn't have a 3-page synopsis ready. Because I was so frazzled I sent the agent the chapters she requested, but told her if she still wanted my synopsis after reading the chapters I would love to send it.

I still cringe at my stupidity when I think of this . . . at the lost opportunity.

After this long, long lead in, my advice is: don't wait until you become so frazzled by an overwhelming workload and lack of organization that you become your own stumbling block to success.

If you're reading this now, and don't have a time management schedule in place, MAKE ONE TODAY and try your best to stick to it.

This article was originally published at:


Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author. She runs a successful children’s ghostwriting and rewriting business and welcomes working with new clients.

For tips on writing for children OR if you need help with your project, contact her at Writing for Children with Karen Cioffi.

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