Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Questions from a New Writer

Louise recently left a comment on my blog, under Robyn Opie's Blog Tour. Louise asked me a number of questions, so today I thought I'd answer them.

Thank you Louise for posting these questions.

I have no formal writing qualifications but I do have a need to write. Do you think it's a necessity with all the competition today to have a piece of paper to make publishers take note of your work or is passion and a good story enough?

I don't have a piece of paper, not in the form of writing qualifications. I've completed short courses on writing children's books, none of which provide a piece of paper though they are all run by the government. I've read books on writing for children and, of course, I read a lot of children's books.

So, to answer this question, publishers are more interested in passion and a good story than formal writing qualifications. Formal qualifications do not make a writer, nor a great story. They can help but they are not a guarantee.

Yes, you have to have skills. Completing courses is important, in my opinion. I'm sure the courses I did improved my writing, knowledge and chances of getting published. Feedback from an experienced writer, tutor, is invaluable.

Publishers are looking for great characters, who react in interesting ways to a variety of circumstances. Think Harry Potter. He is a character and the world has taken to him in a huge way. Create characters that publishers and readers will embrace. Then you can put your character or characters into numerous situations and your readers will want to read about every one.

Where does your determination come from and how did you have the courage to push your first novel from beginning to end? I have always wanted to write a romance novel but found the task too daunting.

Firstly, I'm going to give you some advice on your desire to write a romance novel. Your thoughts are telling you that it is too daunting. That is one way of looking at this task. But I prefer to look at it another way - small, easy pieces. A romance novel is a bunch of chapters. A chapter is not daunting. A chapter is relatively easy. When you finish that small step, then you move on to the next one. I call this bite-size pieces. When a task looks too big, break it down into manageable steps. In the case of a novel, break it down into manageable chapters.

I usually work with similar targets. When I was finishing my last manuscript, I decided I wanted to write 500 words a day. I didn't stop until I'd written 500 words. One day I missed my target and had to write more the next day to make up for it. As I got further into the manuscript, I was writing 1,000 words a day, even 2,000 words near the end. Using this workable target kept me on track and eventually increased my productivity quite remarkably.

Give yourself workable targets - bite-size pieces.

This answer to the first part of your question might sound too easy. But, in my experience, it is simple. Writing is a habit. Get into the habit of writing every day and you will not be able to help yourself. You'll have to write every day. That's how life is for me. Just as I have a habit of biting my nails, I have a habit of writing. I've written every day for so long now I can't break the habit. I have to write. So sit yourself down every day, preferably at the same time, and write. Pretty soon, you'll find you sit down to write automatically, without thought. Your mind is programmed with a habit.

At first you'll have to consciously sit down and write. After a while, when you do this every day, the action becomes subconscious. Involuntary, automatic actions are part of the subconscious, such as breathing, walking, brushing your teeth etc. You don't think about these things. You just do them. They are programmed habits. Writing can be a programmed habit too. I'm living proof of that.

The other part of the answer is also simple. Publishers, agents, producers, all need writers. Without writers they would not have work, jobs or businesses. In my experience, publishers are happy to look at my manuscripts because my stories might make them money. I also live by the writers' mantra of "what if". If I don't try, I'll never know what could have been. I have to try to find out the answer. I don't want to be sitting around in my old age wondering "what if". I'm going to do now and find out "what if" now`.

I love reading to my children and some of the books they bring home are so poorly written I don't know how they were published. Am I being unrealistic thinking that I could write anything better?

No, you're not being unrealistic. I sometimes read books and wonder how they got published. I know I could do better!

The answer can be simple - the writer is well known and the book will sell well simply by having the writer's name on the front cover. In many publishing houses, the sales and marketing people have the final say on what books are published. It can be frustrating for editors, who champion a particular book, only to have it rejected by the money people, and another book the editor doesn't like so much could be accepted for publication. This is a fact of life. Publishing is a business.

If you want to get published you have to think that you can write better. If you think that you can write worse, then go away and chop wood - writing is not for you. You have to believe in yourself to do your best work. You have to have the right attitude. Our thoughts are the most important influences in our lives. Our thoughts inspire our actions. Our thoughts create our destinies. Go forward with the right thoughts - yes, you can write something better.

As you can probably guess, I believe writing success has a lot to do with your attitude and thoughts. I know this from experience. My e-book, "How to Write a Great Children's Book, deals with all the technical skills of writing, such as characters, dialogue, setting, show don't tell and much more. My e-book also delves into attitude and thoughts. These are the real secrets to success, in my opinion. To learn more about "How to Write a Great Children's Book" please visit my website http://www.robynopie.com/howtowriteagreatchildrensbook.html

I hope this information helps you.

Thanks again for visiting.

Happy writing and publishing,

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Reviews of My Children's Book "Black Baron", for 9 to 14 Year Olds

Review from Aussiereviews.com
Reviewed by Sally Murphy, September 08

Black Baron is on the run.

Turning around, Dad glared at me and held up his hand like a policeman stopping traffic. “I’m not sharing my house with a cockroach as if…as if…” He flung his hands in the air, turned around and stormed off.

Black Baron didn’t take up much room, I thought. Besides, no one was using the space under my bed. “He’s not hurting anyone,” I tried again.

“It isn’t natural,” Dad said. “People don’t keep cockroaches as pets.”

Jake’s cockroach, Black Baron, is on a winning streak. In Fact, he’s probably the best racing cockroach ever. But Jake knows that Black Baron wouldn’t be welcome in the house if Mum knew he was there. That’s why Black Baron is kept under the bed, which is a great place until Mum tidies Jake’s bedroom and not only discovers the cockroach but also inadvertently releases it. When Dad calls in the exterminator, Jake thinks he’ll never see Black Baron again.

Black Baron is one title in the new Lightning Strikes series from Walker Books, a series aimed at 9 to 14 year old readers, and likely to engage reluctant readers with its contemporary look and non-threatening length. Black Baron is humorous, with chaos ensuing as Jake searches for his cockroach and tries to prevent it being exterminated, but also touches on serious issues such as family conflict and financial stress. The friendship Jake shares with his mates is also a very positive element of this story. A great read for upper primary aged readers.

Black Baron by Robyn Opie
Walker Books 2008

CLICK HERE to read the review on http://www.aussiereviews.com/
CLICK HERE to purchase your copy of Black Baron from Walker Books

Review from Otago Daily Times, New Zealand
6 September 2008

Latest offerings from series books impress

Black Baron by Robyn Opie (Walker Books, pbk, $15) is a fast-paced, short novel for junior readers who are just discovering chapter books.

The Baron is the best racing cockroach Jake has had, until his mum discovers it and targets it for extermination.

There are a couple of narrow escapes before the bug finds a sort of cockroach heaven.

Good fun.

- Raymond Huber is a Dunedin teacher.

CLICK HERE for an online version of the above review

Friday, October 31, 2008

PM Moon Publishers Announce First Annual Writing Contest

Judge Robyn Opie - that is, judge of a writing contest for new authors. If you'd like to enter, please read the following press release.

PM Moon Publishers, a small, independent company established to publish good writing from new and not-so-new writers, announces our First Annual Writing Contest for new writers and new authors only.

Your entry must be completely original, written in English, unpublished, and not accepted by any other publisher at the time of submission. The contest is open to all new writers or new authors.

Who Is Eligible: Contest is open to any new author. A new author is defined as any new writer who has never received a publishing contract. or an author who has earned less than $500.00 in either advances or royalties.

What to Submit: Manuscripts can be submitted in the following categories: children's fiction, middle grade fiction, and young adult literature.

Children's fiction will be no less than 2400 words and no more 4800 words. It should be suitable for k-3.

Middle Grade Fiction will be no more than 40,000 words and suitable for grades 4 through 8.

Young Adult Fiction will be no less than 50,000 words and suitable for grades 9 through 12.

When to Submit: The contest period will be open from November 15th 2008 until February 15th 2009.

Evaluation of the submissions will be on-going from November 15, 2008 until 11:59 P.M. EST on February 15, 2009.

Final contest results will be announced on our Web site on or about March 31, 2009.

How to Submit: The entry fee for each manuscript submitted is twenty dollars US ($20.00). All entry fees are payable through Pay Pal: publisher ( @ ) pmmoonpublishers dot com

The Judges
Joyce A. Anthony (http://joyceanthony.tripod.com/index.html)
Joyce A. Anthony, the author of Storm, is a Pennsylvania-born writer who shares her home with a passion for writing, photography and life in general. She has written numerous articles on parenting and mental health issues. She has published one short story previous to Storm.

Martha Hite (http://www.savannahscastle.com/)
Martha Hite, the author of Savannah's Castle, lives in the mountains of Western Maryland with her husband, Walter and their son Sean. She is a voracious reader and an equally prolific writer. She has finished three novels and several short stories, in addition to Savannah's Castle.

Robyn Opie (http://www.robynopie.com/)
Robyn Opie is the author of more than 70 published children's books. She has been writing for children for 10 years; most of her books are sold around the world and many have been translated into foreign languages. She works full time writing for children and is now working with several producers on TV/Film projects.

Andrea Philhower
Andrea, better know as Tina, has a critical eye for detail which she uses often to critique authors' work.

Lois Szymanski (http://www.loisszymanski.com/)
Lois Szymanski, the author of sixteen books, teamed up with her high school friend and fellow author, Shelley Sykes, in the 1990's, to create a new series called The Gettysburg Ghost Gang. She was the regional director of SCBWI for Maryland, West Virginia and Delaware. She has written several other children's books, including the new Charming Ponies series from Harper Collins.

Best of luck with your entry. I'm looking forward to reading it.
Robyn Opie

Friday, September 26, 2008

Writing Children's Books with Robyn Opie Receives and Nominates Weblog Award

Thank you so much Jewel Sample from Jewel's Sand Box News for nominating me for this writer's award. Jewel's Sand Box News portrays a view of various elements of American family life to ponder, chat about and enjoy, much like sand displays a variety of colors, shapes, sizes and represents various compositions of its environment.

My instructions are to nominate other blogs worthy of this award. Talk about a hard decision! There are so many wonderful blogs around. It may take me a few days to complete this list.

Ready for it?

Rob Parnell's Easy Way to Write Blog

The official blog of the Easy Way to Write from Rob Parnell, updated weekly - sometimes more often! Rob Parnell has been helping writers improve their skills and chances of getting published on the Net since 2002 and now, through the Australian Writing Academy he's helping writers off line too. Read his blogs, subscribe to his free newsletter and writing lessons from www.easywaytowrite.com

Sally Murphy's Writing for Children Blog

Articles, interviews, advice and more from Sally Murphy and visiting bloggers.

Writer's First Aid: a Medicine Chest of Hope

Kristi Holl is the author of 35 books, both fiction and nonfiction, including WRITER'S FIRST AID, a blog to help alleviate the inevitable pains of the writing life, increase your writing energy, and help you make your writing dreams come true.

Cynsations with Cynthia Leitich Smith

Interviews, reading recommendations, publishing information, literacy advocacy, writer resources, news in children's and young adult literature. Celebrating 10 years of www.cynthialeitichsmith.com.

Rules for recipients of the Brillante Weblog Premio are as follows:

1. The award may be displayed on a winner's blog.

2. Add a link to the person you received the award from.

3. Nominate up to seven other blogs.

4. Add their links to your blog.

5. Add a message to each person that you have passed the award on in the comments section of their blog.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Review of The Pony Game by Fran Knight

My children's book The Pony Game draws from my childhood. It is based on my home, friends. pets and my personal experience of looking after a horse. I was pleased to find and read this review of The Pony Game. Just as I wanted to share a snippet of my children, I'd like to share this review with you.

If you'd like to purchase The Pony Game from Angus & Robertson's on-line bookstore click here

ReadPlus Review Blog - Jun 17 2008

The Pony Game by Robyn Opie

Lothian Children's Books, 2007 (Ages 7-10) The second in the Giggles Series from Lothian is absorbing.

Lucy wishes her dog, Beauty was a horse. Together they play the pony game, where she uses a tea towel on Beauty's back as a saddle and they frolic all over the back yard, imagining they are riding over the hills. When Lucy gets to look after a real horse for a week, she is too tired to play with Beauty and the dog feels neglected.

When the owner of the horse sees Lucy's dog she is just as jealous, because she cannot have a dog. Lucy realises that she has the best of both worlds.

Young readers will love this story and its illustrations and the ability to read it for themselves. The Giggles Series is sure to be a winner with the target audience.

Fran Knight
© Copyright Pledger Consulting 2007

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Plotting and Developing a Story: Cyclone Santa

In 2001, my then publisher, Barrie Publishing, produced an Australian fiction series. They were looking for stories with an Australian historical background for a second series. It was at this time I wrote Caught in a Cyclone, set at Christmas 1974 during Cyclone Tracy.

Before I could submit my manuscript, Barrie Publishing decided not to pursue a second series.

Years later, I submitted Caught in a Cyclone to Era Publications. The editors’ reactions surprised me. I thought it was a good story but I wasn’t expecting seasoned editors to become so enthusiastic and emotional over it. Caught in a Cyclone was accepted and published in 2007.

My partner, Rob, and I live in a residential three bedroom home with a large games room out the back. In the games room are a pool table and a dart board. We like to play pool every night to relax but also to discuss writing and our various projects. We often use this recreational time to brainstorm, plot and plan. One night, we discussed Cyclone Tracy and how we thought this subject would make a great feature film.

At first, we attempted to gain interest from the film industry in my book Caught in a Cyclone. The responses were all much the same - the book was too slight and too static to become a feature film of approximately 120 minutes. We spoke to Bernadette O’Mahony from the Australian Children’s Television Foundation and she gave us some valuable advice and ideas. We met with a local producer and script editor, who had also gave us a couple of suggestions.

The advice, suggestions and ideas were helpful and we were grateful for the assistance. But, if we wanted to gain interest in a feature film based on Cyclone Tracy, we needed a plot or plots for our screen story. We were rather daunted and overwhelmed with the prospect of coming up with the entire contents of a movie. Where, oh, where to start?

The games room. We headed straight to our sanctuary and, while we played pool, we discussed the obvious - what we knew so far. We wanted to make a family movie set during Cyclone Tracy. So what did we have? Okay, a family movie set during Cyclone Tracy would obviously have Cyclone Tracy, a family and Christmas.

When I wrote the book Caught in a Cyclone, the publisher wouldn't allow me to mention Christmas for fear of offending those people who do not celebrate Christmas. I'm sure we're all aware of the need or apparent need for political correctness. But I always believed that Christmas should be an element of any Cyclone Tracy story. So Christmas would feature in our movie.

After speaking to Bernadette O'Mahony, we knew that we needed several - at least three - child characters. Caught in a Cyclone was focused on one girl. That wasn't enough. Our family in Cyclone Santa would have a girl and a boy. Plus we would find a way to add another child who wasn't connected to the family.

We also knew that we needed more than one setting. There is only one setting in Caught in a Cyclone and the book had been called 'too static'. In many ways, having people read the book helped us find out what we couldn't do in a feature film. When you think about a cyclone, an obvious choice of setting - to us, anyway - seemed to be the hospital.

We decided that our family in the movie would be separated during the cyclone, to add drama and tension. An automatic response would be to have the father at work and therefore separated from his family at a time of impending disaster. But automatic responses can be cliche. We turned this idea on its head and put the mother at work. Why not make her a nurse at the hospital? That way, the father can be at home looking after the children. We made the father an electrician who wasn’t able to find work due to the holiday season, though the family needed his income. Clearly, work would not be an issue after the cyclone.

Once we’d placed the mother, Toni, at the hospital as a nurse, we were able to develop the story around the hospital. Okay, we have a family - two parents and two children, separated at the time of Cyclone Tracy. We also had two settings - the family home and the hospital. It still wasn't enough. Now what?

Enter Ben and Jam.

Ben is a contractor for PMG (Australia Post), who flies a Tiger Moth to outback communities to deliver the mail. He is based on a real person. We imagined him being an Aussie version of Scrooge and therefore having a major dislike of Christmas. We wanted to see him transform by the end of the film. Our character needed to go on a hero's journey. That is, to change and grow by the end of the story.

In Outback Australia, Ben is forced to help Jam, an Aboriginal boy with diabetes who is seriously ill and needs urgent medical assistance. Ben has to fly his Tiger Moth into Darwin during Cyclone Tracy to take Jam to hospital.

During my research into Cyclone Tracy, I read a story about a man who flew a light aircraft into Darwin airport before it was closed as a result of the cyclone. We were amazed that someone could fly through a cyclone and imagined the drama of doing so. We had to include this element in our story.

Now, we had Toni, a nurse at the hospital, and Ben flying to the hospital. We realized we could use the hospital as a focal point at the end of the movie. Let's say that one of the children was injured and the father, Joe, could take the children to the hospital.

Writers are always told to raise the stakes, up the ante, make things harder for the characters. Wasn't a cyclone enough? No, we decided. There had to be conflict between the characters that is resolved at the end of the film, at the hospital perhaps.

At this point, we realised that we needed to connect Ben and Jam to Toni, Joe and the children. Okay, but how?

Why not make Ben related to Toni or Joe? Still, where's the conflict? Family members can be in conflict and often are, for whatever reasons. Right, then Ben is in conflict with his family and it explains why he dislikes Christmas. Family and Christmas go together. What if Ben has some issues from his childhood with his father?

Enter Eric Ayers, Ben's and Toni's father. Now, Eric needs to be at the hospital so that he can be, initially, in conflict with Ben and, later, in reconciliation.

Why would Ben and Eric reconcile after all these years? Maybe because of the relationship Ben has with Jam. Having to save the boy, albiet reluctantly, could change Ben enough to facilitate the reconciliation.

We were on a roll! And it was thanks to our characters.

The whole story became about Ben being forced to save Jam and therefore reconciling with his family. We were excited! And the disappointment over my book Caught in a Cyclone being 'too slight' and 'too static' was long forgotten as we created a new family, new problems, new solutions, and an entirely new plot.

Jam has a special place in our hearts and minds, mainly because he will always remind us of playing pool together. When one of us hits a lucky shot and the ball, no skill involved, ends up in a pocket, Rob sings out, ‘Jam’. We were discussing possible names for our character. After Rob made a fluky shot, I looked at him and said, ‘What about Jam?’

We have a friend who works in Aboriginal Communities. Every time we saw him, he told us stories about indigenous people and their beliefs. We were able to draw on some of this information as we plotted Cyclone Santa.

The first thing we did, after brainstorming, was write a treatment – a 20 page synopsis or outline of the film. Our evening in the games room had given us enough information to complete the treatment.

Initially, we were overwhelmed at how to create a 120 minute feature film, especially when we knew we couldn't use my book. But we knew that we had to try. So we just did it.

We started with the characters and the event Cyclone Tracy. Developing the characters helped us come up with a large, 120 minute plot (or thereabouts). Once we knew more about them, we knew how our story was going to unfold. After all, the story is about the characters – it’s their journeys, their stories. In a way, we let the characters define their destinies, with a little help from us.

© Copyright Robyn Opie. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

My You Tube Video


My partner Rob Parnell of http://www.easywaytowrite.com/ created a video of me. It's a short interview about writing children's books. Go here to view it http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qplau03KR2s

Bigger News

This month my novel "Black Baron" was released by Walker Books Australia. I've been waiting for this moment for a long time. Finally it's here and it's fantastic! For more information or to purchase "Black Baron" please visit the Walker Books website - http://www.walkerbooks.com.au/Books/Lightning-Strikes-Black-Baron-9781921150586-Black-Baron-9781921150586

More Fabulous News

My website http://www.robynopie.com/ has been included in the 2008 Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites. Thanks to everyone who voted for me. It's way cool!

Best wishes,
Robyn Opie