PSA: The Virginia Children’s Book Festival is Fabulous

This past weekend, the third annual Virginia Children’s Book Festival took place on Longwood University campus in Farmville, VA. I’m not affiliated with the festival except as a gleeful, starstruck visitor, but let me tell you: it is the best. They bring in some real rock stars of the writing and illustrating world for panel discussions, presentations, workshops, signings, and more. The local schools know what a great event this is: thousands of schoolkids of all ages are bused in, some from schools more than two hours away.

Oh, and did I mention the part where it’s all free?

A few things I got to do at the festival:

  • Listen to Matt de la Peña talk about how he went from reluctant reader to author and Neal Shusterman explain how he develops book series

author Matt de la Peña

author Neal Shusterman

  • Attend a lively, funny panel discussion wherein Rita Williams-Garcia told the story of how she missed the call announcing her third Coretta Scott King award, then waxed enthusiastic about using money made by her books to finally buy a new refrigerator
  • See author/illustrator John Rocco’s fantastic presentation on how he makes book covers like the ones he did for the Percy Jackson series
  • Listen to Tim Tingle tell the story – accompanied by music! – of his picture book Crossing Bok Chitto

author Tim Tingle

  • Watch a panel of fantastic authors talk about civil rights in children’s literature, with the event being held in the historic R.R. Moton museum

panel of authors

  • Hear Neal Shusterman and Christy Marx – who created the show Jem and wrote for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, G.I. Joe, and more – discuss writing for TV shows and video games
  • Learn about how one writes a Choose Your Own Adventure book from Anson Montgomery, whose late father was a founder of the series

Despite all the classes of schoolkids who get bused in, there are absolutely opportunities for one-on-one conversations with the authors and illustrators. They’ll sign your book, take a photo with you, answer questions, smile patiently while you fangirl at them . . . it’s great. If you get the chance to check out this festival, go for it. You’ll be glad you did.

We Need to Talk About Scrivener

Hey guys. Guys. So I went to this conference, and it was neat and everything, and I hope to recap it soon. I also read a bit of my writing aloud with other authors at the Brewster Literary Evening at our library, which I was strong-armed into doing because they had so few people sign up who weren’t poets and they wanted more variety, but which I nonetheless greatly enjoyed. Now, busy though I am with preparing to be clobbered by a hurricane with the same name as my mother (if this were fiction, there would be a really unsubtle metaphor in there), I have to share with you a thing that is great. That thing is Scrivener.

You may have heard of it already – I had. I’d thought, “Eh, it’s probably neat, but mastering it would involve time and I’d have to pay money and would it really make that much of a difference to my work and life?” (This is, incidentally, a fair description of how I feel about the idea of watching Doctor Who.)

And yeah, it does cost money (though I hear that you get a discount if you finish NaNoWriMo). But not all that much, and can I just say that it’s awesome? Multiple author panelists at the conference I attended raved about it, and I really liked the idea of the little corkboard displays and stuff, so I thought I’d give it a try. I bought the software and spent about an hour going through the full tutorial. And the niftiness factor, it is high.

I’d been thus far unsatisfied with other programs I’d used to organize my writing thoughts and research. A paper notebook is fine for brainstorming, but when I’m actually writing, there’s a laptop on my lap and nothing else, so I really wanted something on the computer. I tried just writing my notes out in my regular word processing program, but I would either wind up with one long, rambly document that I’d have to search through for a specific detail or an unwieldy number of shorter documents, usually scattered through folders in an inconvenient way. I tried the free downloadable program GrowlyNotes and, while some aspects of it are neat, it just didn’t work for me. Scrivener was the only such program I’d heard of designed specifically for writers, so it seemed worth a shot.

And it is great. Basically, opening a Scrivener document gives you a virtual binder (mine, at least, had been thoughtfully emptied of women) which you can divide into folders. The project I’m currently working on has a folder for characters, a folder for locations, a folder for general information about the geography and culture of this fantasy world, and a template folder. The template folder allows you to create templates – e.g. a character sheet – from which to easily create files. Each of these can hold text files, images, even sound files, which can be linked to each other, tagged with keywords that you can use to sort them, and viewed in a bunch of different ways.

For example, you can put them on a corkboard (corkboard!) as index cards (index cards!):

Screen shot Characters

Each of these index cards represents the “synopsis” I’ve given to a full character sheet within the Characters folder.

Notice the different-colored pushpins in the upper right corners of the index cards. These represent colors I’ve assigned to keywords: in this case, the turquoise represents male characters and the gold female characters. (Turquoise and gold are the colors of this country, Liratora.)

If you don’t like the corkboard, then you’re strange, but you can see the files in a folder with their synopses in outline view, too:

Screen shot cities

You can also split the screen:

Screen shot split screen

This view can be especially useful if, for example, you’ve found a picture that looks like one of your characters, and you put the picture in one panel and your current draft in the other panel.

Because that’s another thing. Even though I’m not currently using Scrivener for this purpose – I just wanted a place to put my notes – it has a lot of handy features for you to use in writing the actual draft. (Especially if you’re writing a script, which I’m not, but that’s cool.) Plus, when you go to export a draft at the end, it has some cool options, like exporting it directly into e-book-friendly format.

Plus, click on one of these to make it bigger and check out the little icons I got to choose for my Characters, Locations, etc. folders. How great are they? That’s what happens when you create a program specifically geared toward writers. Those icons are designed to represent “characters” and “locations” folders. And they’re not even the only options. I’LL BE SHALLOW IF I WANT TO SHUT UP.

So, Scrivener. Nic approves.

What’s Going On

Guess what’s coming up? It’s the James River Writers’ conference! In preparation, I am:

A. Putting together a pitch for The Book of Foxes for the pitch session for which I’ve signed up. (The really tough bit was choosing just a few of the illustrations to represent the more than 150 drawings that are an integral part of the book. I ended up cobbling together illustrations from different parts of the book into three pages of pics: one that introduces the three most important characters, one that’s a full-page action sequence, and one that shows a couple of the supporting mythological critters.)

B. Reading the Malinda Lo books I haven’t already, because she’s going to be there. I enjoyed Ash and Huntress pretty well, but the epic, fairy-tale tone made me feel a little distant from the characters. I’m hoping Adaptation won’t do that.

So, excitement!

In other things that are fun, a pie-chart breakdown of Voldemort’s soul. Also, things to ban instead of books (can I nominate “not believing graphic novels are real books”?).

James River Writers’ Conference

I spent Friday and Saturday at the ever-excellent annual James River Writers conference in Richmond. Located in the Library of Virginia, it ran from 9:00 to 4:30 each of those days. A quick run-down of the fun stuff I did there:

1. Saw David L. Robbins, who I can now ALMOST call by his name instead of “Professor Robbins.” He’s now teaching at VCU, and hopes to return to William & Mary when its poor public-school budget has the monies.

Apparently he has named a character after me in his new book, Broken Jewel, which comes out November 10. He used my real last name – “Anica Lewis” is my writing name, “Anica” and “Lewis” being my two middle names. So that’s MAJOR Willcox to you! And if you forget the extra L, you can drop and give me ten!

2. Bought Professor David R.’s book War of the Rats. Also Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater. Edgy YA werewolf love story? Yes please. Got both books signed. Conferences are awesome. I felt even better about this because the book table was provided by a local independent, Fountain Bookstore.

3. Attended many panels. This means – that’s right – a list within a list!