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Welcome! We are six children's book authors with a wide range (and many years) of experience teaching writing to children, teens, and adults. Here, we share our unique perspective as writing teachers who are also working writers. Our regular features include writing exercises (our "Writing Workouts"), teaching tips, author interviews, book reviews, and answers to your "Ask the Teaching Authors" questions.
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1. S is for Story, True or Not

I join my fellow bloggers in welcoming award-winning nonfiction writer Carla Killough McClafferty to TeachingAuthors.com.

I write this post enormously grateful for how smart each fellow blogger has made me these past two weeks thanks to her posts that addressed the telling of our stories, whether true or not.

As I read Mary Ann’s, April’s, Bobbi’s and JoAnn’s posts, all I could think about was the tiny blue Post-It Note I’d affixed long ago to my first desk-top computer: “It’s the STORY, stupid!”

We are, as Kendall Haven wrote, story animals; we are, as Lisa Cron tells us, wired for story.

This truth both grabbed and guided me while writing – forgive the coincidence – S IS FOR STORY: A WRITER’S ALPHABET (Sleeping Bear Press).
I’d originally titled this abecedarian book W IS FOR WRITING.  Brainstorming with my CPS Alcott School fifth graders helped me choose writing-associated words to represent the letters A through Z.  But even once I fine-tuned those choices to ensure they totally embraced the writing information I needed and wanted to share, I knew those twenty-six words in no way told a story.

And they needed to, if I was to pull in readers and keep them turning the pages.

My fifth-grader Alberto said it best.  “You should change the title,” he boldly advised me.  “W IS FOR WRITING sounds like a textbook.  I’d never want to buy it.  But if you call it “W IS FOR WRITER,” he added, “I’ll think you wrote a book about me.”

Alberto wanted hard facts, inspiration and encouragement.  But most of all, he wanted – and expected – a story about writers with which he could connect.

So here’s what I did to tell that story:

(1)   First I thought about my take-away, what I wanted my reader thinking when he closed the book – i.e. writers are readers!  

(2)   Next I thought about what I wanted my reader thinking while he was reading my descriptive and explanatory poems and sidebars – i.e. young writers and award-winning authors share the very same writing process!

(3)  I then made sure the true facts I chose to include - about children’s books, about children’s book authors, about the writing process– served as concrete details that supported my story's take-away’s.

(4)  Finally, I did my best to create a narrative arc, addressing the reader while moving him from the all-encompassing people, they and their in the beginning alphabet pages….


to the inclusive we,us and our in the middle pages


 to the focused you and your in the final pages.
  

Thanks to Alberto, my twenty-six letters told a story - of a writer's life and process, A through Z.

Happy STORY-telling!

Esther Hershenhorn

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2. Facts + Poetry = Creative Nonfiction

In this series of Teaching Author posts, we’re discussing the areas of overlap between fiction and nonfiction. Today, I’m thinking about creative nonfiction.

What is Creative Nonfiction? According to Lee Gutkind (known as the “Father of Creative Nonfiction”), “The words ‘creative’ and ‘nonfiction’ describe the form. The word ‘creative’ refers to the use of literary craft, the techniques fiction writers, playwrights, and poets employ to present nonfiction—factually accurate prose about real people and events—in a compelling, vivid, dramatic manner. The goal is to make nonfiction stories read like fiction so that your readers are as enthralled by fact as they are by fantasy.”

One critical point about writing creative nonfiction is that creativity does not apply to the facts. Authors cannot invent dialog, combine characters, fiddle with time lines, or in any other way divert from the truth and still call it nonfiction. The creative part applies only to the way factual information is presented.

One way to present nonfiction in a compelling, vivid manner is to take advantage of the techniques of poetry. When I wrote the nonfiction picture book Flip, Float, Fly: Seeds on the Move (gorgeously illustrated by Pam Paparone), I made a conscious effort to use imagery, alliteration, repetition, and onomatopoeia while explaining how seeds get around. When she called with the good news, the editor called it a perfect blend of nonfiction and poetry. Yippee, right?

Fiona Bayrock’s “Eleven Tips for Writing Successful Nonfiction for Kids” lists more helpful and age-appropriate methods for grabbing kids’ attention, starting with “Tap into your Ew!, Phew!, and Cool!”

Marcie Flinchum Atkins has compiled a helpful list of ten Nonfiction Poetic Picture Books. She points out that these excellent books (including some by Teaching Authors friends April Pulley Sayre, Laura Purdie Salas, and Lola Schaefer) can be used in classrooms to teach good writing skills. We can all learn from such wonderful examples!

Heidi Mordhorst has this week’s Poetry Friday Roundup at My Juicy Little Universe. Enjoy!

JoAnn Early Macken

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3. The A-Ha Moment! Wednesday Writing Workout with Monica Kulling


In my previous post I offered that isn't it a wonder that using fictional techniques to relay the telling of facts and biography seems a natural fit?
 
 Monica Kulling is the master of biography.
 Monica’s poetic narrative – a hallmark of all her books – breathes life to her characters as she explores the thematic values of determination and persistence. Her Great Idea Series, published by Tundra Books, is one of my favorite nonfiction series for young readers.

 
Monica excels at taking a moment in history, oftentimes a forgotten moment, and fashioning a story that is both compelling and informative. The books showcase inventors, some more known than others, and how they were inspired to create their inventions that, in many ways, changed the course of history. Monica’s fascination with the late 19th and early 20th centuries confined her research to that particular period. When choosing who to write about, says Monica, “I need enough material to make an interesting narrative.” Monica researches extensively, using online and in print sources.


Inventors are clever, says Monica, and they are ingenious in finding ways to realize their dreams. She focuses on that ‘a-ha’ moment, when a great idea clicks in your brain and has you racing off in pursuit.

The picture book format allows Monica to bring depth and breadth to each inventor’s story.


Her book, It’s a Snap: George Eastman’s First Photograph (2009), illustrated by Bill Slavin, tells the story how Eastman invented the photograph, and thus ushered in the new age of documenting history as well as the advent of ‘selfies. 

Another book in the series, Going Up: Elisha Otis’s Trip to the Top (2012), illustrated by David Parkins, depicts the founding of the elevator, allowing skyscrapers to literally touch the sky. And one of my favorites, the award-winning In the Bag: Margaret Knight Wraps It Up (2011), also illustrated by David Parkins, tells the story about the young inventor of the folded paper bag who eventually owned over twenty patents.


Says Monica, “I’ve always been more interested in the struggle than in the achievement. It’s the nail-biting will-they or won’t they, can-they or can’t-they, that engages a young reader most.”


Tundra Books chooses wonderful illustrators. Each of the four illustrators who have worked on the series has been able to depict the time period in all its glorious detail. 
Illustration by Richard Rudnicki. Used with permission.
 
  One of my favorites, Richard Rudnicki’s illustrations for Making Contact: Marconi Goes Wireless (2013) are full of the same energy as Monica’s characters. His sweeping landscapes, done in acrylics on watercolor paper, are particularly striking, depicting the Newfoundland coastline, with its cold grey colors, whirling storm clouds, and the bright dot of a kite flying in the wind make me shiver with awe.


Monica’s newest edition to the series is Spic-And-Span: Lillian Gilbreth’s Wonder Kitchen (2014).
This book follows the amazing story of Lillian Gilbreth, the inspiration for the matriarch in the movie and book, Cheaper By The Dozen. Her life is so much more amazing than a movie or a book, however. When her husband dies unexpectedly, Lillian forges ahead to raise her children alone. An efficiency expert, industrial engineer and psychologist, Lillian’s designs and inventions are still considered fundamental to contemporary kitchens eighty years later.

Thank you, Monica, for this neat activity from the Learning Activities for Spic-and-Span! Lillian Gilbreth’s Wonder Kitchen:



Talking about Clockwork:
“The kitchen is the heart of the home. It should run like clockwork.” What does it mean to say that the kitchen should “run like clockwork”? Why was Lillian’s kitchen not running like clockwork? What was her solution?


Can you think about anything in your classroom or your home that needs to “run like clockwork”? What steps must be taken in order for this to happen?


As a class, walk around the classroom and make a list of any “inefficiencies.” Is there anything about the classroom’s design that could be improved on in order to save time and space?

Bobbi Miller

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4. The Greatest of Illusions


Morguefile.com
We are story animals, suggests Kendall Haven (Story Proof: The Science Behind the Startling Power of Story, 2007). We have told our stories for over 100,000 years. Not every culture has developed codified laws or written language, but every culture in the history of the world has created myths, legends, fables, and folk tales.


Stories are so old, so intimately connected with language, some researchers suggest that language was created to express stories. In fact, evolutionary biologists now believe we are hardwired to think in story forms. Cognitive scientists know that stories help us understand and remember information for longer periods. Researchers have found that telling stories at an early age helps develop math abilities and language literacy. And teachers know that understanding the story process helps young readers understand the organization of language.


Isn’t it a wonder that using fictional techniques to relay the telling of facts and biography seems a natural fit? After all, life is messy and fragmented. But stories provide a form for that experience. Stories shape random events into a coherent sequence. Stories help readers focus on the essentials, sifting through the distractions. As writer May Sarton once said,  “Art is order, but it is made out of the chaos of life.”

One criticism of narrative nonfiction is the use of psychological action and dialogue. Stories freely engage in psychological action to help readers empathize with the protagonist. But, in narrative nonfiction, how would the author know just how George Washington – or any historical character – really feels and thinks about an event?


Easy. Writers report on their protagonist’s thoughts and feelings by using inferences, in which a character’s state of mind is revealed by reportable observations. As Jon Franklin, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, stated, “People don’t think in words. They think in the experience of the moment.”

 One of my favorite authors, and one of my favorite books, that achieve this psychological action so magnificently is Russell Freedman’s Washington at Valley Forge (Holiday House, 2008). With his first sentence, Freedman establishes the desperate conditions faced by Washington and his men: “Private Joseph Plumb Martin leaned into the icy wind, pushed one sore and aching foot ahead of the other, and kept on marching.”


  Washington’s troops were beaten down and bedraggled. Martin was not only hungry; he was “perishing with thirst.” Freedman weaves primary sources into the narrative to demonstrate the psychological action.


Another favorite is Phillip Hoose, in his wondrous epic tale of The Race to Save the Lord God Bird (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2004). The book begins with Alexander Wilson and his quest for the ivory-billed woodpecker: “Alexander Wilson clucked his horse slowly along the margin of a swamp in North Carolina. Bending forward in the saddle…Wilson’s heart must have been racing as he dismounted and crept toward the bird…”

Likewise, readers hold their breath as the scene unfolds. The story sweeps across two centuries, never loosing hold of the reader’s attention as it explores the tragedy of extinction, and the triumph of the human spirit.  



As the great Virginia Hamilton once offered, every fiction has its own basic reality…


“…through which the life of the characters and their illusions are revealed, and from which past meaning often creeps into the setting. The task for any writer is to discover the ‘reality tone’ of each work – the basis of truth upon which all variations on the whole language system is set. For reality may be the greatest of all illusions.” (Virginia Hamilton, Illusions and Reality, 1980).

Bobbi Miller

 

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5. "Just the Facts, M'am"--fiction vs non-fiction on Poetry Friday

.
Howdy, Campers, and Happy Poetry Friday! (the link to this week's PF host is below.)

First: welcome, welcome to our newest TeachingAuthor, Carla!  I am in awe of your writer's journey, Carla, because when I learned that we would be discussing non-fiction, my legs trembled and my palms grew cold and damp.  Unlike you and Mary Ann, in her wonderful first salvo on this topic, I am not, by nature, a researcher.  I am NOT a "Just the facts, M'am."

Jack Webb as Joe Friday in Dragnet, from Wikipedia

But... is this really true?

Well...I DO tell my students that real details bring fiction to life, and have them listen to the following short audioclip from StoryCorps.  Talk about bringing a subject to life! The details Laura Greenberg shares with her daughter are priceless--not to mention hilarious.

Still, I struggled to write poems for The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science (Pomelo Books).  By "struggled" I mean I read science articles and wrote tons of stinky poems about rocks, astronauts, materials science, the expiration dates on seed packages,electricity, science experiments...and on and on and on.

But...I dread gettting facts wrong--my worst nightmare. (Confession: writing these blog posts scares the bejeebers out of me.)

In fiction, I can fly my fairy-self to Planet Bodiddley and make up all the materials science by myself.  But if I have to convey facts?  And then somehow bake them into a tasty poetry pie?  I get tied up in knots.  My writing becomes stiff as a board.  I'm afraid of...

But finally I stumbled on this fascinating fact, in a review of The Big Thirst by Charles Fishman:"The water coming out of your kitchen tap is four billion years old and might well have been sipped by a Tyrannosaurus rex."

Wow. Think of the water you drink.  Think of the water you take a BATH in!!!! Ten versions of "Space Bathtub" later (with considerable coaching from the ever-patient anthologists, Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell) this fact became a poem for kindergartners:

OLD WATER
by April Halprin Wayland

I am having a soak in the tub.
Mom is giving my neck a strong scrub.

Water sloshes against the sides.
H2O's seeping into my eyes.

The wet stuff running down my face?
She says it came from outer space!

The water washing between my toes
was born a billion years ago.

from The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science
(c) 2014 April Halprin Wayland, all rights reserved

If you're a K-5th grade teacher, this book is so immediately useful, you'll cry with relief when you open it. Trust me. For details, and to watch under-two minute videos of poets (Bobbi Katz, Kristy Dempsey, Mary Lee Hahn, Susan Blackaby, Buffy Silverman, Linda Sue Park and me) reciting our science poems from this anthology, go to Renee LaTulippe's No Water River.  Again, trust me. (A little foreshadowing: Pomelo Books' newest anthology, Celebrations! comes just in time for Poetry Month this year--stay tuned!)

Here's a terrific vimeo of "Old Water" produced by Christopher Alello:


And thank you, Linda Baie, fabulous friend of TeachingAuthors, for hosting Poetry Friday today!

posted safely and scientifically by April Halprin Wayland wearing safety goggles

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6. Getting It Right

    First off, a big Teaching Authors welcome to our latest TA, Carla McClafferty. Not only did Carla and I meet and bond some fifteen years ago at an SCBWI retreat in Arkansas, we once shared an editor. Greetings, old friend, and welcome aboard. For the next couple of posts we are going to be talking about your genre, non-fiction, and what it shares with fiction.

    I have always wanted to be a Carla-sort of writer, a non-fiction writer. "Write what you love" is one of those things writing teachers (like me) tell their students. I love non-fiction. My "adult" reading consists almost entirely of biographies and history. If I read two adult novels a year, that's a big deal for me.

   So why don't I write non-fiction for children?  The reasons are endless, so I'll boil it down to one.  I just can't stick to the facts.

    Both of my novels, Yankee Girl and Jimmy's Stars began life as memoirs. YG was about my life, JS about my mother's family. Because they both took place in other times and places...Mississippi 1964 and Pittsburgh 1943...I did a boatload of research to make sure I had the details right. For the World War II world of Jimmy's Stars, I made a timeline of what battles occurred where and when between September 1943 and September 1944, and when news of those battles reached the States.  I compiled a radio schedule for the Pittsburgh stations. I studied streetcar routes. I poured over the various rationing schedules for gasoline, food, clothing.

    You would think that Yankee Girl would not require quite so much research, since after all, this was based on my own elementary school years.  I even had my 5th and 6th grade diaries. Still....do you remember what week the Beatles' "I Feel Fine" reached number one on the charts?  Neither did I.  Since the main character is a huge Beatles fan, there is at least one reference to a Beatles' song in every chapter. In addition, this the height of the Civil Rights Movement (the Selma March to Montgomery occurs about three quarters of the way through YG). I had to know exactly what date  this protest or that bombing occurred.  I remembered that these things had happened but that wasn't enough. I had to know exactly when. I spent a dismal five months in the microfilm room of the Jackson Mississippi library, going through a year's worth of newspapers, reliving a sad and scary time.

    By now you are thinking, "Well, with all this research, why didn't she just go ahead an write those memoirs?"  Good question. All I can say is that my mind refuses to march in a straight line . Yes the facts are there, because they are part of the story.  But once I start writing, my "real" character refuses to stick to their own "real" story.  I start thinking "but wouldn't it be more interesting if this happened instead?  Or if her best friend was this kind of person?"  Before I know it, I am off on a completely different story than I had first intended. The only thing that remains the same is the structure of historical fact and detail that makes the story "real" for me (and hopefully for the reader as well.)

    I am just beginning to write contemporary fiction for young people and guess what?  There is no less research involved.  Next month I will have a story in a YA anthology called Things I'll Never Say. 
I live in Georgia.  My main characters live in Georgia.  I have lived here for fourteen years.  Yet, for a 3,000 word story here are just a few story points I needed to find out to make the story real:  price of admission to the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, driving times between different towns, the academic school year of Emory University, the most popular spring break towns with Georgia teens...well, you get the point.

    My point?  Getting the details right is one of the ingredients for making a story real.  Editors care about details. I spent weeks nattering back and forth with my Yankee Girl editor over the dates of those Beatles songs.  Readers care.  I had an adult write me that if the mother in Yankee Girl used a steam iron, then she didn't also need to sprinkle her clothes before ironing. I was a little miffed that someone could read a 225 page book and this is what she chose to write me. It never occurred to me look up that sprinkling/steam iron detail.  That's the way my mom always ironed. (I still probably need to look that up.)

    I once read a Big Time Award Winning Book that took place in a state where I had lived and knew very well.  This author had placed four major cities within an hours drive of each other. In reality, they were in different corners of the state and hours away from each other.  Whatever affection I had for the book died right then. Good grief, anybody could look at an atlas (this was pre-Internet) and see where those cities were.  I later read an interview by the author and discovered that she had never visited that state (or apparently done any research) but she "knew" somebody who "used" to live there. That was one of those moments when you want to scream and throw the book across the room.

   That was the moment when I decided that for me, getting the details "right." Facts are front and center of a non-fiction, but they are no less important in fiction.

     Now about that steam iron....

  Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

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7. How I Became a Teaching Author

My path to becoming an author is . . . unusual.  Like most writers, I’ve loved books all my life.  Some of my earliest memories are of being bribed by the promise of a Golden Book if I would go to sleep in my own bed rather than my parent’s bed (I took the bribe).  However, as I grew up, a wide variety of books were not readily available to me.  Our small town didn’t have a library and neither did my elementary school.  What passed as our “library” was a small collection of books sitting on the bookshelf below the wide windows that ran the whole length of the classroom. 



Peter Rabbit was my favorite book, and was
also one my Mama bought to bribe me.  

Somewhere around the third grade I got a pink diary.  I’d like to say my diary entries were long narratives about my hopes and dreams that show a budding writer’s flair for the dramatic.  That is not the case.  In reality my diary entries are so sparse that the entire text of my five year diary could fit on a napkin, a cocktail napkin.   But when I look at that diary now, I do see the beginnings of an author—a nonfiction author.  Each diary entry contains the facts and does not include any extraneous information or fluff.  For example on one especially important day in history, July 20, 1969, I simply stated: “Dear Diary, the astronauts landed & are walking on the moon.”  It is simple, to the point, and has the sense of immediacy—not a bad start for a future nonfiction author.

My childhood diary shows an early glimpse into my future as a nonfiction author.  My straightforward recording of the moon landing came just one day after my confession that I dreaded facing my piano teacher (I hadn't been practicing.) 

As an adult, my first career is as a Registered Radiologic Technologist.  Next I became a wife and busy mother of three children.  I read voraciously, but still had no thoughts of becoming a writer.  In fact, I would never have become an author if tragedy had not entered my life.  My youngest son, fourteen-month-old Corey, fell off of the backyard swing and died from a head injury.  Life as I knew it ceased to exist.  I was devastated, to say the least.  Ultimately I wrote an inspirational book about the Spiritual battle I faced after Corey’s death and how God brought me through it and back to Him titled Forgiving God.  It was the first book I’d ever written.


My first book, an adult inspirational book that deals with the death of my son, Corey.

After my first book was published, I began writing nonfiction books for young readers.  No classes.  No journalism degree.  No mentor.  I just started researching and writing.  Along the way I joined SCBWI, went to writer’s conferences, and learned all I could about children’s publishing.   I listened to the old writer’s adage that says “write what you know” when I chose X-rays as the topic for my first book in this genre.  That book, titled The Head Bone’s Connected to the Neck Bone: The Weird, Wacky and Wonderful X-ray, was awarded the SCBWI work-in-progress grant and published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (FSG).  When that book was finished, I wondered if I could do it again.  I could.  The next two books, Something Out of Nothing: Marie Curie and Radium and In Defiance of Hitler: The Secret Mission of Varian Fry were also published by FSG.   Then came The Many Faces of George Washington: Remaking a Presidential Icon published by Carolrhoda, Tech Titans by Scholastic, and my newest book Fourth Down and Inches: Concussion and Football’s Make-or-Break Moment also with Carolrhoda.  



 
 

 
My nonfiction books for young readers. 

Since libraries fill me with awe and appreciation, I’m thrilled to know that my books are in library collections all over the world.  In some ways I’ve come full circle.  I began as a child with no library access and I became a nonfiction author who has done research in some of the finest libraries in America including Columbia University, Harvard University, and the Boston Athenaeum.   



Doing research at the library at Harvard.

I didn’t plan to become a writer or a public speaker.  But the twists and turns of life have turned me into both, and they are a good fit for me.  I love the challenge of researching a topic I know nothing about.  I love to write about ordinary people who have done extraordinary things.   I love to capture the imagination of a live audience and take them on a journey as I share with them the amazing things I’ve learned about the subjects of my books.   And as an added bonus, researching my books has given me incredible life experiences that I will always treasure.  I’ve visited Marie Curie’s office at the Radium Institute in Paris and sat in her chair, behind her desk.  I’ve stayed on the grounds of George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon and watched the sunrise over the Potomac River while standing on the piazza.   I’ve looked into the faces of men and women who were saved from the Nazis by Varian Fry and listened to their personal experiences.  I’ve wept with the parents of teens who lost their lives as a result of concussions.  I’ve presented programs in a wide variety of venues including C Span 2 Book TV, Colonial Williamsburg, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the U.S. Consulate in Marseilles, France, teacher conferences, workshops, and at many schools.
 
Now I’m honored to join this amazing group of women known as TeachingAuthors.  It will be a whole new adventure and I’m looking forward to it.

Carla Killough McClafferty
www.carlamcclafferty.com
 

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8. YAY! for lucky accidents!


The Celebrate Oops! initiative we TeachingAuthors are currently exploring in our February posts celebrates both Barney Saltzberg’s picture book BEAUTIFUL OOPS! – and – the Teachable Moments accidents fortunately bring us.

I had such a fortunate Teachable Moment while brainstorming my picture book FANCY THAT with my Holiday House Editor Mary Cash.
I knew the setting – Berks County, Pennsylvania; I knew the time – 1841; and I knew my story’s Hero – young Pippin Biddle, orphaned without warning, the son of a limner - an itinerant portrait painter.

Mary agreed with me that such a picture book would be ripe with historical and arts curriculum connections.

My sketchy plotline was just that – i.e. sketchy: accompanied by his dog Biscuit, (whom I pictured to be lap-size), Pip would travel the Pennsylvania/New York area through the first 3 seasons of the year unsuccessfully earning his keep painting people’s portraits, returning at Thanksgiving with an empty purse and heart.

“But why would young readers care about such a boy on such a journey?” I asked my editor. 

“Well,” Mary began, “could he have a few sisters who needed Pip to earn his keep?” she asked.
Orphans, Mary shared, can be lovely in a story.
“And, maybe,” she suggested, “Pip’s dog could be part of the resolution?”
And then she paused, her gaze meeting mine.
“You know, Christmas books do so much better than Thankgiving titles,” she commented.  “What if Pip returned at Christmas?”

Driven to tell this singular story, I back-burnered Mary’s 3 delicious suggestions with an open mind, even though I’m a nice Jewish girl from West Philadelphia and writing a Christmas picture book was not in my wheelhouse, as they say.

But guess what?

Fast forward to the stacks of the Wilmette Public Library, one week later, when I discovered (1) there wasno Thanksgiving to celebrate in the U.S. in 1841 and (2) few Americans celebrated Christmas at that time!

OOPS!
And OOPS²… except...the German immigrants, who’d just happened to settle in Berks County in central Pennsylvania, had brought along their Christmas tradition of making evergreen wreaths and decorating their fir trees!

So,
while Pip’s dog Biscuit gathers the greenery of each season, and Pip paints his portrait to send home to his Poor House-ensconced sisters Emma, Lyddie and Martha,

 


before too long,
Pip’s sisters themselves, inspired by Pip’s portraits, create a livelihood that builds them their home


and Pip discovers his hidden talent.

 
Fancy that!

Lucky Pip and his sisters! Lucky me and my readers!

And all quite by accident.

Esther Hershenhorn

P.S.
Jennifer T won the SKIN AND BONES giveaway!

P.P.S.
A writer with whom I corresponded this past week shared the following Dalai Lama quote benath her name.  I thought it relevant.

 "Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck." 

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9. Mom’s Good Advice

It’s my turn to continue the discussion of Beautiful Oops. (To learn more, read Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg. Read about Celebrate Oops!, “an initiative designed to build confidence and turn accidents into teaching moments.” Also check out Aprils and Bobbis posts and Barney Saltzbergs Wednesday Writing Workout.)

When this topic came up, I thought it would be an easy one to write about. I make a lot of mistakes. I tried to think of one I turned into a positive experience. Not so easy.

Brainstorming gave me a couple of ideas. One was Milton the Monster. The other was Mom saying “Oopsie Daisy” when one of us kids fell down.

The mistakes that haunt me now are often errors of omission—things I should have done but didn’t. Given a difficult choice, I can agonize until it’s too late to do anything. What if a better option comes up? Mom used to say, “Sometimes not to decide is to decide.”

Bird feeders outside Mom's window. Can you tell I'm craving spring?

Fear can be paralyzing, so sometimes almost any action is better than none. What if I make the wrong choice? No use crying over spilled milk, Mom says.

I always try to make the best of whatever situation I find myself in. But when I try to think about my mistakes, well, I don’t want to. Mom's advice? Don't dwell on them. Maybe blocking them out is the best way for me to be able to pick myself up, dust myself off, and carry on.

Thanks, Mom!

Don’t forget to enter our drawing for an autographed copy of the young adult novel Skin and Bones by Sherry Shahan. Today’s the last day!

JoAnn Early Macken

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10. Utter Expression Without Consequence: a Wednesday Writing Workout by Barney Saltzberg

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Howdy, Campers!
(Before I begin...make sure to enter our latest Book Giveaway of Sherry Shahan's Skin & Bones (which ends February 6th)!

Two of the six TeachingAuthors in our corporate headquarters.
photo courtesy morguefile.com
In 2012 we invited author/illustrator (and good friend) Barney Saltzberg into our tree house for a cuppa tea, a chat, and a book give-away, and just last Friday we told you about the newly launched, worldwide Beautiful Oops! Day based on his book.

Today, to complete the trifecta, Barney is graciously sharing a Wednesday Writing Workout with us.  Take it away, Barney!

This is Barney (with friends).  He's the cutest one.
Barney: I thought I'd share something I teach at UCLA Extension which seems to help unleash power and in many cases, people’s dark side.  It's terrific.

I call it, Utter Expression Without Consequence. Here's the prompt:

Write to someone and really let them know how you feel.  It’s a chance to get anything and everything off your chest.  It could be that you secretly are in love with someone.  You could despise someone.  Maybe a boss is constantly picking on you and you haven’t opened you mouth to complain.  Now's your chance!

It can be in the form of a letter, or even a list.
Choose your blackest crayon.
from morguefile.com
This exercise gives you the opportunity to tap into feelings which you've sat on.  Topics which you've avoided.  Now's your chance to pour everything out...to a boyfriend, a wife, a friend.  Or someone you ‘thought’ was a friend.  A boss.  Anyone you address.  Just let it go and flow.  This is a very freeing moment.

What I find is that this prompt helps shape a character. Ultimately, I hope this exercise lets the writer get into the head of a character who has a lot weighing on them.  It's a step towards shaping a character.  Our job is to know who we are writing about, even if some of the background research we write never makes it into our story.  It just makes it so our characters appear to be writing the story for us when situations arise, because we know them so well.

Have fun with this--dive in!

I wish I had something brilliant to tell you as far as how this writing prompt helped make a story. I can say that time and time again, I saw how it empowered people.  Students who were struggling to find their voice finally had a sense of what that looked and felt like.

C
C'mon...tell them how you feel!
From morguefile.com
A woman told off her husband in a letter.  A teacher got everything she ever wanted to yell at an administrator on paper.  If you are looking for a way to tap into feelings, this is a great way to dive in.

Thank you, Barney!  And readers ~ tell us how you really feel!

posted loudly and proudly by April Halprin Wayland

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11. Possible Imaginations


As April Halprin Wayland reminded us, sometimes mistakes are masterpieces waiting to happen, that there is a “magical transformation from blunder to wonder.” 
  
We continue to celebrate The Beautiful Oops Day!


 The transition from blunder to wonder can be challenging. As psychologist Kristi DeName   suggested, whenever we experience transitions, we are letting go of Some Thing. These transitions are defined by loss. Some losses are profound: a marriage, a home, a friend, a pet, a job. Some are less profound, as we let go of habits or objects, or an idea. But all change is scary because all loss is scary. It is unsettling, overwhelming, disappointing, and confusing.


Adapting to change forces us to gain perspective. We are forced to re-examine our lives and our choices… and our options.

Blunders Ahoy!

As you know, I’ve long studied American folklore and history. I graduated from Vermont with a four-book contract for picture books that highlighted my love of American folklore and history. But, as much as I knew about writing and story, I knew nothing of the business of children’s publishing. That was my blunder, followed quickly by another: I signed on with the first agent who would help me with the multi-contracts. While this agent helped seal the deal with the contracts, issues arose. Needless to say, that relationship didn’t work out. I was referred to another agent, and more problems arose. It turned out that the contracts contained a couple of damaging clauses. According to this second agent, I couldn’t submit work elsewhere, and she couldn’t renegotiate the clauses. In other words, my career was not only stalled, it was completely derailed.


My first two picture books came out in 2009, eight years after signing the contract. The third book came out in 2012, eleven years after signing the contract. The fourth contract, however, was cancelled. Determined, I went to Author’s Guild, learned what I had to in order to understand these clauses, and then I renegotiated the particular clauses myself.


But there was yet another, stronger riptide I had to steer through. Beginning in 2001, the children’s market was changing dramatically. The folklore picture book market was bottoming out. The very genre that I had studied, loved, and sought as my career was no longer an option. Talk about a bumpy ride! My friend Eric Kimmel said I should write middle grade books.


Middle grade novels? I liked reading middle grade novels, but I had never considered writing them. How was I going to combine all that I had learned and loved in folklore and history with this new format? Was it even possible in a market that no longer viewed folklore as relevant? Historical fiction was having an equally hard time in the market.

 

  What do I do now?


Not only do writers have to adapt to the shifting markets, sometimes we have to make our own place in it. And there’s the wonder of it!! As my wonderful new agent, Karen Grencik, said “As long as you are writing what’s in your heart and doing the best you can…” Finally, twelve years after I graduated from Vermont College, Karen sold my first middle-grade novel Big River’s Daughter to Holiday House. Three months after that, she sold my second middle grade novel, Girls of Gettysburg, also to Holiday House. All things happen for a reason at the time they are supposed to happen. As River and Tiger plunged into the wilds of the frontier, taking on the Pirates Laffite and the extraordinary landscape of the mighty Mississippi River in the rough-and-tumble Big River’s Daughter, there is that truth of River’s journey: if one perseveres, life can be full of possible imaginations. 


This here story is all true, as near as I can recollect. It ain’t a prettified story. Life as a river rat is stomping hard, and don’t I know it. It’s life wild and wooly, a real rough and tumble. But like Da said, life on the big river is full of possible imaginations. And we river rats, we aim to see it through in our own way. That’s the honest truth of it.” River Fillian, Big River’s Daughter 

Bobbi Miller



Don’t forget about our giveaway, featuring an autographed copy of Sherry Shahan’s YA novel, Skin and Bones!

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12. Beautiful OOPS Day--Mistakes into Masterpieces

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Howdy, Campers!

Happy Poetry Friday (link at the end, original poem's in this post)!

If you follow this blog, you'll remember the day we spent with author/illustrator Barney Saltzberg and his marvelous book, Beautiful Oops! (Workman). Well, guess what?

Now there's a worldwide Beautiful Oops! Day!












Tell me if this sounds familiar: you've wrapped the gift for your friend Julie, sealed it in a box, stuck stamps on it and then, as you're listening to the Beatles sing "Hey Jude," you address the package... to Jude. OOPS!

Now what?  Well, if you're Barney, you'll make a weird-looking cartoon heart over the word "Jude"...which sprouts legs and arms, a top hat and cane, and suddenly there's a host of fabulous creatures framing Julie's mailing address...a veritable celebration.  That's a Beautiful Oops...a mistake made beautiful.

The point of this book is to encourage all of us to allow "the magical transformation from blunder to wonder," and as schools all over the world celebrate Beautiful Oops Day (in any month, on any day; a school could decide to celebrate Beautiful Oops Day each month), I wish we'd celebrated it when I was in school!


The Beautiful Oops Day website includes project ideas shared by teachers from all over the world to get you started.  And here's a 1:41 minute video of Barney sharing with young students:


How does this translate to writing?  I just happen to have a perfect example.  Here's a new poem author Bruce Balan sent me just this week; beneath it is his "mistake" backstory:

THE PLAINTIFF CALL OF THE WILD
by Bruce Balan


I submit to the court
that this species
has ignored the proper protocol:
They’ve decided that it’s all
for them
and no one else;
Not fish nor elk
nor tiny eels.
Their ills are real.
They spoil and take
break and forsake
and maul
every spot and plot
and it’s not as if
they don’t know…
They do!
They just ignore,
which underscores
my call.

Please dear Judge,
I do not intend to fawn,
but
I pray the court
will look kindly on my call
before my clients all
are gone.

(c) 2015 by Bruce Balan. All rights reserved.
Bruce (whose newest book, The Magic Hippo, is available at the iTunes store, B&N, and Amazon) explains: "I was going to write a poem called The Plaintive Call of the Wild (it just popped into my head), but I misspelled plaintive and so ran with it…"

Perhaps today's Beautiful Oops lesson is RUN WITH IT!

So, thank you, Barney Saltzberg, for gifting us the space to make mistakes; to be human.Campers, stay tuned: on February 4, 2015, Barney will share a Wednesday Writing Workout on this very blog!


Poetry Friday's at Paul Hankin's These 4 Corners today...thanks, Paul!
 

posted with inevitable mistakes by April Halprin Wayland

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13. Wednesday Writing Workout: Characterization (Encore Presentation)

As a follow-up to last Friday's Guest TeachingAuthor Interview with Sherry Shahan, I'm repeating the Wednesday Writing Workout she shared with us in July 2014. After reading this post, I'm sure you'll want to enter for a chance to win a copy of Sherry's Skin and Bones (A. Whitman), if you haven't already entered the contest.

Sherry's young adult novel is a quirky story set in an eating disorder unit of a metropolitan hospital. The main character “Bones” is a male teen with anorexia. He falls desperately in love with an aspiring ballerina who becomes his next deadly addiction.

The novel was inspired by a short story Sherry wrote years ago, “Iris and Jim.” It appeared in print eight times worldwide. Her agent kept encouraging her to expand “Iris and Jim” into a novel. Easy for her to say!

                                                               *          *           *

Wednesday Writing Workout 
Tell It Sideways
by Sherry Shahan

During the first draft of Skin and Bones I stumbled over a number of unexpected obstacles. How could I give a character an idiosyncratic tone without sounding flippant? Eating disorders are serious, and in too many instances, life-threatening. 

Sometimes I sprinkled facts into farcical narration. Other times statistics emerged through dialogue between prominent characters—either in an argument or by using humor. Either way, creating quirky characters felt more organic when their traits were slipped in sideways instead of straight on.

There are endless ways to introduce a character, such as telling the reader about personality:
"Mrs. Freeman could never be brought to admit herself wrong on any point." —      Flannery O'Connor, "Good Country People."
Or by detailing a character’s appearance:
"The baker wore a white apron that looked like a smock. Straps cut under his arms, went around in back and then to the front again, where they were secured under his heavy waist ."   —Raymond Carver "A Small, Good Thing"
The art of creating fully realized characters is often a challenge to new writers of fiction. As a longtime teacher I’ve noticed:

1.) Writers who use short cuts, such a clichés, which produce cardboard or stereotypical characters.
2.) Writers who stubbornly pattern the main character after themselves in a way that’s unrealistic.
3.) Writers who are so involved in working out a complicated plot that their characters don’t receive enough attention.

In Skin and Bones I let readers get to know my characters though humorous dialogue. This technique works best when characters have opposing viewpoints. 

Consider the following scene. (Note: Lard is a compulsive over-eater; Bones is anorexic.)

“I’ll never buy food shot up with hormones when I own a restaurant,” Lard said. “Chicken nuggets sound healthy enough, but they have more than three dozen ingredients—not a lot of chicken in a nugget.”

Bones put on rubber gloves in case he’d have to touch something with calories. “Can’t we talk about something else?”

“That’s the wrong attitude, man. Don’t you want to get over this shit?”

“Not at this particular moment, since it’s almost lunch and my jaw still hurts from breakfast.”

Lard shook his head. “I’m glad I don’t live inside your skin.”

“It’d be a little crowded.”

Exercise #1: Choose a scene from a work-in-progress where a new character is introduced. (Or choose one from an existing novel.) Write a paragraph about the character without using physical descriptions. Repeat for a secondary character.

Exercise #2: Give each character a strong opinion about a subject. Do Nice Girls Really Finish Last? Should Fried Food Come With a Warning? Make sure your characters have opposing positions. Next, write a paragraph from each person’s viewpoint.

Exercise #3: Using the differing viewpoints, compose a scene with humorous dialogue. Try not to be funny just for humor’s sake. See if you can weave in a piece 
of factual information (Lard’s stats. about Chicken Nuggets), along with a unique character trait (Bones wearing gloves to keep from absorbing calories through his skin.)

I hope these exercises help you think about characterization in a less conventional way. Thanks for letting me stop by!
Sherry
www.SherryShahan.com

Readers, if you haven't already done so, head on over to Friday's post and enter for a chance to win your own autographed copy of  Skin and Bones (A. Whitman).

Good luck and Happy writing!
Carmela

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14. A Rose by Any Other Name Can Be...a Heather: Naming Characters

     There are two things about writing that never get any easier for me. . .coming up with a good title and naming characters.  I still have a hard time with titles, but I have developed strategies to give my characters good names.

    I spent most of my pregnancy struggling to come up with just the right name for my daughter, a name that would be all her own. In writing, I do not have the luxury of spending eight months on one character name.

    I believe that name is the single most important aspect of a character. It is usually the first thing a reader learns about him.  The name should reflect the character's personality is some way, however subtle.  Sometimes that is a mysterious process that goes on in the author's head, unexplainable to anyone else.  I do not know how E.B. White decided on Charlotte and Wilbur, but can you imagine them named anything else?  A book called Barbara's Web?  A pig named Bob?  No, somehow Charlotte and Wilbur, along with Fern and Templeton and Mr. Zuckerman are so right, they could not be anything else.

    Since I write historical fiction, I have a second barrier to finding just the right name. My names need to fit the time period.  The characters in Yankee Girl were pretty easy.  The book was about my sixth grade class.  I used names that were popular in 1964, as well as names that were popular in the South.  Jimmy's Stars, which takes place in 1943, was a little more difficult.  I knew that my main character was born in 1932, and would have graduated from high school in 1950. I scoured libraries and second-hand stores for 1949-50 high school annuals. (There were an awful lot of girls named Betty.)

    Contemporary fiction isn't much easier.  Names change as quickly as any other fashion.  Some names scream a particular decade.  I am a baby boomer, and I was usually the only Mary Ann in a class full of Debbies, Karens, Cathys and Sharons.  When I was a middle school teacher in the late 80's, I taught more than a few Farrahs. My friends who had babies about then named them Ashley and Kate (not after the Olsen twins!)  When I had my daughter in 1994, I was the only one in my childbirth class who did not name their child Tyler or Taylor (regardless of sex).

   Then there are adult names. In children's books, they are usually not a central character but occasionally they are.  (Miss Gruen and Reverend Taylor in Yankee Girl come to mind.) How do you name adults?

   Here is a list of sources I have compiled that help me with The Naming Game.

   1.  Baby name books.  These often reflect the popularity (or lack of popularity) of a name, as well as give a cultural origin. (Warning:  I learned not to carry one of these in public unless I wanted to start rumors about a possible new addition to my family.)

   2.  School annuals.  These work for both contemporary and historical fiction.

   3.  School directories, websites, newsletters, newspapers, class lists.  Schools in my neck of the woods generate an enormous amount of student information. If you don't have access to your own personal student, read the school news pages online or in your neighborhood paper/website.

   4.  Obituaries.  Yeah, I know it's kind of morbid, but I have collected a number of "old-timey" names from them.  Around here, they usually include the person's nickname as well.

   5.  Observation.  I live a mile away from the fastest growing immigrant community in the country.  Call me nosy (or a writer), but I notice workers' name tags.  I ask the employee where they are from and how they pronounce their name.  No one has been insulted (yet), and I have collected names I would never have thought of on my own.

    6.  The Social Security Index of Popular Baby Names. This site is unbelievably cool.  It lists the top 200 names for boys and girls for each decade, from 1880 to 2010.  Not only is it searchable by decade, but by each state as well. (Apparently Mary and James were the hot names of my decade.) http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/babynames/decades

   What do I do with all these names?  I list them in a notebook, separate from my regular journal. Right now, the 1910 Social Security list is getting a heavy workout from me.  My characters are named.

      Now if I could just think of a title...

     Don't forget about our current book giveaway.  For more information click here.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

 

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15. Guest TeachingAuthor Interview and Book Giveaway with Sherry Shahan

I've enjoyed reading my fellow TeachingAuthor' posts on plotting and planning. That series ended with Esther's post on Monday. Today, I'm presenting a new topic: a guest TeachingAuthor interview and book giveaway! But first, I want to share some updates regarding our blog. The next few months will be a busy time for me due to a variety of personal and professional commitments. (If you live in the Chicago area and you're looking for a writing class, I hope you'll check out my class offerings, including one tomorrow on "Great Beginnings.") So, while I'll continue to work behind the scenes here, I'll be taking a blogging break. And I'm THRILLED to announce that the talented Carla Killough McClafferty will be blogging in my place. If you don't know Carla, do read her bio info on our About Us page. I hope you'll give her a hearty welcome when she makes her debut here three weeks from today.

Now, for today's guest TeachingAuthor interview, let me re-introduce you to Sherry Shahan, author of picture books, easy readers, and novels for middle grade and young adults. You may recall that Sherry contributed a terrific Wednesday Writing Workout back in July. I began that post by saying:

>>Sherry and I first met virtually, when she joined the New Year/New Novel (NYNN) Yahoo group I started back in 2009. I love the photo she sent for today's post--it personifies her willingness to do the tough research sometimes required for the stories she writes. As she says on her website, she has:

 "ridden on horseback into Africa’s Maasailand, hiked through a leech-infested rain forest in Australia, shivered inside a dogsled for the first part of the famed 1,049 mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Alaska, rode-the-foam on a long-board in Hawaii, and spun around dance floors in Havana, Cuba."   
<<

Sherry's most recent young-adult novel, Skin and Bones (A. Whitman) required a different kind of research, as she shares in her interview below. According to Kirkus Reviews, she did her work well::
"Shahan tackles eating disorders in a fast-paced, contemporary coming-of-age novel. . . A quick read with a worthy message: We are all recovering from something, and the right companions can help you heal. The wrong ones can kill you."

The paperback edition of Skin and Bones will be released in March. Meanwhile, Sherry is generously contributing an autographed copy for a  TeachingAuthors' book giveaway. To enter, see the instructions at the end of this post. First, though, be sure to read the following interview:


Sherry, how did you become a TeachingAuthor?

In the 1980s I lived in a small town and didn’t know anyone who was a writer. I hadn’t even heard of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). I heard about a local Writers Conference and signed up. At the end of the workshop focusing on children’s books, I asked the instructor if she’d critique my middle-grade novel manuscript. She agreed. Soon thereafter she told me she’d shared it with her editor (a school book fair publisher). They bought that novel and I worked with them on five more.
Fast forward: After graduating from Vermont College of Fine Arts (MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, 2007) I was brimming with enthusiasm about writing. My friends soon tired of discussions of emotional subtext, objective correlatives, polyphonic elements, etc. When I heard that UCLA was seeking teachers for online writing courses I sent the department chair my resumé. I’ve been teaching for them ever since.

What's a common problem that your students have and how do you address it?

It’s simply the overuse of passive verbs—and that’s across the board, no matter what the person’s writing experience. As an exercise, I post a short paragraph that’s riddled with ‘was,’ ‘seems to be,” ‘must have been,’ ‘would,’ ‘had,’ etc. I then ask them to reconstruct the paragraph using active verbs. Happily, writings submitted after the exercise shine with lively, active language.

Back in July you shared a terrific Wednesday Writing Workout with our readers and talked a bit about Skin and Bones. You mentioned then that the novel started out as a short story. What inspired that original story and how did you expand it to a novel?

I had a crazy idea about a love story from the perspective of a teen guy with anorexia, which I set in an Eating Disorders Unit of a hospital. The short story sold right away to a major literary journal. Later, a London publisher included it in their YA anthology, and after that it appeared in their Best of collection. So far the 1,400-word version of Skin and Bones has appeared eight times worldwide.

My agent kept encouraging me to expand the story into a novel. But I wasn’t ready to spend a year (or more) with young people in the throes of a life-threatening illness. I weighed the pros and cons.

Pros:
* The short story would serve as an outline since the basic story arc was in place.
Each character already had a distinctive voice.
The hospital setting was firmly fixed in my mind.
The subject matter had proven itself to be of interest to readers.
Proven ground is attractive to editors and publishers, as long as the topic is approached in a fresh way.

Cons:
* The story would require an additional 60,000 words.
I would have to create additional characters.
Every character would require a convincing backstory.
I would need compelling subplots.
Every scene would require richer subtext.

Well, the "Pros" obviously won out.J We don’t often hear or read of boys having anorexia. How did you go about researching this story? What kind of response has it received from readers and teachers?

My primary research was memoirs about teens with addictions. There were striking similarities between the mindset of say, someone with anorexia or bulimia, and a young person addicted to drugs. Shame and guilt effected both addictions. I wasn’t prepared for the skillful manner in which teens—males and females—manipulated friends, family, and the environment in order to keep their obsession secret.

I’ve been visiting high schools and libraries talking about Skin and Bones and the dangers of eating disorders. Many people have known a male with anorexia. According to N.A.M.E.D. (National Association of Males with Eating Disorders) approximately ten million males in the U.S. suffer with this disease. Sadly, there are too many heart-breaking examples on the Internet.

Do you have any suggestions for teachers on how they might use one of your books in the classroom?

My Alaskan-based adventure novel Ice Island (Random House/Yearling) is used as part of the “IDITA-Read” program, a fun reading race from Anchorage to Nome.

Goal:
Read *1,049 minutes or pages appropriate to student’s reading level.

Procedure:
1.  Explain to the students that they will compete in their own Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Their race will be a reading race.
2.  Each student draws a musher from entries on the Iditarod website (which includes trail maps, mushers’ diaries, etc.). Students try to read faster (pages or minutes) than the distance their musher travels on the trail.
3.  Teachers track each student’s progress on a large map of Alaska by daily visits to the Iditarod website.
4.  Students select their books before the “vet check.” (Dogs are checked before the race to make sure they’re healthy.)  Teachers decide if students’ books are “healthy” (grade/ability level).
5.  As students read their way to each checkpoint, they are responsible for logging in their time and having it checked by a race marshal (teacher or librarian).
6.  Provide prizes or special recognition for those who compete in the reading race.

Materials:
1.  Large map of Alaska with Iditarod Trail & checkpoints clearly marked.
2.  Legend listing distances between checkpoints.
3.  Name pins/tags to mark students’ reading progress on the trail.
4.  Sleds or dogs (felt or construction paper) to mark progress of mushers.
5.  Iditarod “Reading Log” for each student.
6.  Lots of books!

Objectives:
1.  Encourage recreational reading.
2.  Develop an interest in history and geography of Alaska.
3.  Encourage completion of a project.

Wow, what a fun activity! I hope some of our blog followers who are teachers will give it a try and report back to us. Finally, Sherry, what are you working on now?

I’ve just finished a very rough draft of a YA novel that explores the emotional and psychological trauma of abduction. My protagonist is a sixteen year-old girl who’s kidnapped on her way to meet her boyfriend. The kidnapper isn’t someone the readers will suspect.

Sounds like a real thriller, Sherry. Good luck researching that one! And thanks again for today's interview.
Readers, here's your opportunity to enter for a chance to win an autographed copy of Skin and Bones (A. Whitman). Use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter via 1, 2, or all 3 options specified. If you choose the "comment" option, share a comment to TODAY'S blog post answering this question: 
What will you do with the book should you win: save it for yourself or give it away?

If your name isn't part of your comment "identity," please include it in your comment for verification purposes. Comments may also be submitted via email to: teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com

If the widget doesn't appear for some reason (or you're an email subscriber), use the link below to take you to the entry form.

The giveaway ends on Feb. 6. 
After you've entered, don't forget to check today's Poetry Friday roundup over at A Teaching Life.
Good luck and happy writing!
Carmela

P.S. If you've never entered a Rafflecopter giveaway, here's info on how to enter a Rafflecopter giveaway and the difference between signing in with Facebook vs. with an email address. Email subscribers: if you received this post via email, you can click on the Rafflecopter link at the end of this message to access the entry form.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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16. Happy Driving!

We TeachingAuthors have been posting about our intended plotlines for 2015.
I so appreciate my fellow bloggers’ insights and their willingness to share their experiences, smarts and intentions for this coming year.

Like JoAnn, I’ve been walking a dog too this past week - my GrandDoggieDaughter Maggie, in the soul-freeing coatless-bootless-hatless-gloveless-scarfless clime of warm and sunny mountain-surrounded Phoenix.
I’ve been thinking on what I need/want/wish to share in this post and it is this: when it comes to plotlines, the character’s in the driver’s seat.

It took me forever - as in countless rejected manuscripts showcasing countless puppet-like characters - to understand this truth.
And not just as it applies to the plotline of a story I’m writing…but also to the writer’s plotline I’m living every day.
I need to know my character’s need/want/wish … and I need to know mine.
Otherwise neither of us can act, re-act, grow and triumph as we drive the twists and turns of our stories’ highways.
Digging deep within – my characters and myself - reveals the answer, always.

Fortunately, we’re but 19 days into our new year.
So as I work on my own writer’s story, I’m digging away, hoping to uncover my need/want/wish, helped by the following three insights I came upon the first week of January.

Marketing guru Seth Godin’s January 1 post – “USED TO BE” – set off non-stop sparks in my mind and heart.
The phrase “used to be,” it turns out, connotes neither failure nor obsolescence.  Instead, it signals bravery and progress.
“If you were brave enough to leap,” Godin posited, “who would you choose to 'used to be'?”
Hmmmmm…..I pondered.
The possibilities intrigued me.
 
In her January 4 Chicago Tribune column, writer Heidi Stevens suggested we skip declaring New Year’s resolutions and instead write a mission statement.
A mission statement, she wrote, “was less about what she should tackle and more about the shape she wanted her life to take.”
I liked that insight.  What struck me most was her own mission statement: to focus on what she knows to be true.
Hmmmmm….I pondered further.
More possibilities to consider.
 
Finally, Stevens’ fellow Chicago Tribune writer Mary Schmich shared an idea in her January 7 column that April Halprin Wayland echoed in her January 9 post:  choose one word to live by in the coming year.
Having to select that one word that would guide your new year was akin to “being dropped inside a Super Target,” Schmich wrote, “and asked to pick one object, and only one, that you would carry with you for the next 12 months.”
Once again, I pondered intriguing possibilities.
Embrace?  Flow?  Risk? Grow?  Leap?  Simply, be?
 
What and who I used to be.  My mission statement.  My one word for the coming year.
I believe knowing all of the above will help me finally nail my need/want/wish for 2015.
Just like that, I’ll be traveling my plotline, both hands on the wheel, eyes open and focused. 

Happy Driving to our TeachingAuthors’ readers!

Esther Hershenhorn

P.S.
Saturday, January 24, from noon to 4 pm (in respective time zones) is the first-ever National Readathon Day, a nation-wide reading session that allows you to promote reading while pledging and fundraising to support the National Book Foundation. Think of it like “a walk-a-thon charity drive, only you’re turning pages instead of walking laps.”

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17. More, More, More

Today, I continue our Teaching Authors “What Are We ‘Plotting’ for 2015?” series. Deadlines loom for two educational publisher projects as well as a couple other things I hope to accomplish soon, so I promised myself I would keep this short. What I’m plotting is mostly more of the same: more writing, more submitting, and—this is the new part—more sticking my neck out.

On the first of the year, I wrote about my schedule for 2015. I blocked out more time to exercise and added in some time every week to focus on long-term goals. I have been walking more, which is good for my writing because something about the rhythm makes me think differently. I find myself jotting down notes and dictating text messages to send to my email. When I get home, surprise! Ideas!

my walking companion, Bea
One way I hope to stick my neck out is by participating in Poetry Friday more often. Today, I posted a poem on my blog in response to a challenge Joyce Sidman issued last week in an interview with Michelle Heidenrich Barnes on Today’s Little Ditty: a “Deeper Wisdom” poem, modeled after Joyce’s thoughtful “What Do the Trees Know?” in her gorgeous new poetry collection, Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold. I really enjoyed the process, especially with such an inspiring model poem.

I’m also researching editors and trying to submit more manuscripts more regularly. I’d love to participate in conferences. And my web site desperately needs updating. I’d better get to work!

JoAnn Early Macken

P.S. Today's Poetry Friday Roundup is at Live Your Poem. . . with Irene Latham. Enjoy!

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18. WWW: Demystifying Setting

I meet the Best People doing what I do –
for example Chicago writer, colleague, fellow teacher and SCBWI kin Barbara Gregorich who authors fiction and nonfiction for adults and children in a variety of formats on a variety of subjects.

Barbara's titles include more than 150 educational activity books, a score of School Zone Start to Read and Read and Think books, two Houghton early readers – Walter Buys a Pig in a Poke and Other Stories and Walter Paints Himself into a Corner and Other Stories, She’s On First, Jack and Larryand her most recent book, Guide to Writing the Mystery Novel: Lots of Examples, Plus Dead Bodies (Create Space, 2014), which Midwest Book Review called “an accessible primer for writers of all skill and experienced levels.”
You can read a sample chapter of Guide here.
To celebrate Barbara’s newest book, I invited her to share a Wednesday Writing Workout and lucky us – she agreed!

Scroll down to read, enjoy and try Barbara’s exercises that demystify the all-important narrative element SETTING.

Thanks, Barbara, for so generously sharing your smarts!

Esther Hershenhorn

                                                         . . . . . . . . . .

Give Me Place, Lots of Place

Two summers ago I taught a week-long course on novel writing to 25 students: the youngest was fifteen, the oldest eighty-five. On our last day of class, three students read the first three pages of their novels-in-progress to all of us. All three novels were fantasy: two had human characters, one did not. Even now I remember those three stories vividly. Through skill, serendipity, or maybe even through my teaching, each of the students offered a piece in which the sense of place was palpable, and I’m convinced that one of the reasons I remember these three stories, their characters and conflicts, was because the settings were so well depicted.

One of the three was set in a dungeon, and the writer (the 15-year-old) was able to make us feel the environment. The prison cell was dank: we felt the chill and the damp. We saw the gray-green moss clinging to the wet stone walls. The bars were thick, rusty, and unbendable. We felt their tormenting power just as we felt the cold sea air that entered at will, just as we recoiled at the thin, gray, tasteless gruel delivered through the food slot each morning.

In fiction, place isn’t just something for the reader to experience vicariously — though it is partly that. Place is the world the characters live in, and it helps shape these characters. Put your characters in a different setting, and they will behave differently.

A writer who can create lifelike places through a few carefully chosen words that appeal to the senses is also well on the road to creating empathetic characters. When we see how place affects a fictional character we empathize, probably because we realize how real-life places affect us — isolated windowless work environments; cluttered, dog-hair-covered, stale-food-smelling cars; un-shoveled, foot-high hummocks of ice on city sidewalks; the welcome coolness of wet sand just below the scorching top layer on a summer day.

Place, as I explain to my students, should never be depicted in such a way that it  seems more important than the characters within that place. No description for description’s sake. Setting lets readers enter the world the characters live in and helps readers understand where the story is taking place. More than that, the more palpable the place, the better readers can see how setting influences character and how character modifies setting. In the dungeon story, for example, the place limited what the prisoner could do, but the prisoner also had an impact on the setting: he nurtured a small plant inside the cell, and he moved one of the stone blocks to where he could stand on it to look out the high, barred window.

Here are some exercises I gave my 15-to-85-year-old students.

Perhaps these, or modifications thereof, will inspire your and/or your students to think about the importance of place in fiction, and how setting and character shine light on one another.

Keep the Character, Change the Place
Ask students to take an existing story and change the setting completely. Have them rewrite the first two or three pages of the story with the new setting. Then compare the two stories: how does the character change? What is it that setting does to character?

Comfortable Place or Not?
Do your students tend to place their characters in places where the characters are comfortable? Say a dancer in the dance studio, or a great basketball player on the court? Or do they place their characters outside the comfort zone? Say a boy who has never, ever helped in the kitchen suddenly finds himself obligated to work in one to help his best friend. You might ask students to write a
comfort-setting story first, and then rewrite it as an outside-the-comfort-zone story. It’s instructive to note how happy or sad setting can make characters feel, how good or bad, how confident or unconfident.

Same Place, Different Characters
Yet another approach to place is to have students write a two-different-POVs story, first from Character A’s POV, then from Character B’s. Both characters are in the same place at the same time. But are their reactions the same? How does setting impact each character? My experience has been that when students are asked to treat the setting as more than background information, they excel at bringing places to life and at showing how characters function in a particular setting.

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19. Books and Chocolate Chip Cookies

O my! How can I have just one favorite book with all the marvelous, marvelous treats that came out this year – and every year! I think books are like chocolate chip cookies: I can’t have just ONE!

Monica Kulling’s Great Idea Series is one of my favorite nonfiction series for young readers. The books showcase inventors, some more known than others, and how they were inspired to create their inventions that, in many ways, changed the course of history. Monica excels at taking a moment in history, oftentimes a forgotten moment, and fashioning a story that is both compelling and informative. Her poetic narrative makes the book the perfect read aloud. Her newest book is “Spic-And-Span: Lillian Gilbreth’s Wonder Kitchen.”  This book follows the amazing story of Lillian Gilbreth, the inspiration for the matriarch in the movie and book, Cheaper By The Dozen.



I am a huge fan of western movies as well as classic western reads. Erin Johnson's (Laurie J. Edwards ) book,  “Grace and the Guiltless,”  is written in the same vein as Zane Gray’s classic westerns. In fact, I am reminded of Gray’s two books in particular, Riders of the Purple Sage and Wildfire. The detailed imagery of Tombstone, Arizona and the surrounding western desert sets the tone of the story.





 Christina Banach’s book, “Minty,” is a gripping, mystical story of love and loss, told from Minty’s point of view, reminiscent of one of my favorite movies, Ghost. An engrossing character-driven tale that combines unfailing heartbreak, perfectly timed humor, and an obsession of all things Roman.





Given current events, Yvonne Ventresca's new novel, “Pandemic,” is less
science fiction/dystopian and more of a harrowing prophecy. An outbreak of a strange new flu is spreading quickly with deadly results. Her parents out of town on business, Lil finds herself alone as tragedy strikes. The plot is fast-paced and thoroughly engrossing as she struggles to find hope and trust amidst a terrifying life and death ordeal.



Marcia Strykowski’s book, “Call Me Amy,”  is set in a quaint coastal town in Maine, in a coming-of-age story that presents a timeless tale of friendship, teamwork and community responsibility. This book reminds me in many ways of Hoot, the 2003 Newbery Honor by Carl Hiaasen. I’m currently reading its sequel, Amy’s Choice!


I also revisited Eric Kimmel’s “Moby Dick,”
A great, great read aloud! Can’t we just hear the booming baritone foreshadowing doom as Captain Ahab comes on deck! The sailors' fate is sealed as the Captain and the Pequod chase the great white, Moby Dick.  With the rhythm of a sea shanty, the narrative rises and falls and rises with the action, in tune with the lush, rich oil and pencil illustrations by Andrew Glass. And then, the great white whale, Moby Dick, rises out of the depths in a dynamic two-page spread. The Pequod faces its destiny and the narrator ends with a   warning, "The moral of this story is,/ as my sad tale has shown:/ Respect all creatures, great and small,/ and leave the whales alone!” Ahoy!



And finally -- but certainly not the last of my favorites -- Donna Marie Merritt’s “Her House”  is a splendid collection, made all the more splendid by Wendell Minor’s cover art depicting seagulls at sunset, an open invitation for readers to take a walk along the beach to see life in a glorious new light.


Keep reading. It's one of the most marvelous adventures that anyone can have!"  -- Lloyd Alexander.

 Time for another chocolate chip cookie and a new adventure!  

 Bobbi Miller

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20. Reading for Pleasure, Not Research

I read way too fast. I skim over details to find out What Happens. In the process, I sometimes miss important points. Plus I usually read at night. Because I’m tired, I often forget what I’ve read, and I have to go back a few pages the next night and reread to figure out what’s going on. I’m always trying to make myself Slow Down and Pay Attention. When I read a book I really enjoy, I start over at the beginning as soon as I reach the end. The second time through, I notice the language, the writing techniques, the way crucial details are revealed at just the right moments. I zip through a lot of books that way, and they tend to blur together in my mind. Because I’m always researching picture books and poetry, I read mostly young adult novels for pleasure. Here are three that stuck with me this year.

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley. Although the plot involves several issues, the one I remember best is the relationship between the two brothers. I ached for the narrator. I cried at the end.

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, another sibling relationship story. I read this on a plane, and I never read on planes. I could not put it down.




Egg and Spoon by Gregory Maguire. I remember telling my husband that I could leave this one on my bedside table and reread it for the rest of my life. The writing is gorgeous, and the story is compelling, with plenty of food for thought.




Most of the poetry I’m reading these days is research for my Poet’s Workshop series for Crabtree Publishing. I’ve finished books 5 (Haiku) and 6 (Cinquains). Now I’m looking forward to moving on to Concrete Poems and List Poems. One more nonfiction series is lined up for another educational publisher in 2015. I'm looking forward to researching four more interesting topics!

Happy holidays, all!
xox,
JoAnn Early Macken

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21. Of Words and Spirit...


Words and spirit were the stuff of my favorite books this year,
beginning with Jen Bryant’s and Melissa Sweet’s already award-winning and multiply-starred picture book THE RIGHT WORD – ROGET AND HIS THESAURUS (Eerdmans Books, 2014).
This story of how Dr. Peter Roget came to create a Thesaurus has been lauded for its lyrical text and brilliantly-detailed reader-friendly illustrations. I laud it for its celebration and love of words, its accessible story-telling of a one-of-a-kind long-ago individual hell bent on listing each and every one, its brilliant use of synonyms and downright gorgeousness.  Just as every writer needs a Roget’s Thesaurus by his side, those of us who love words and good storytelling need THE RIGHT WORD on our bookshelf.
Peter Roget remarks in the story “how wonderful it was to find just the right word!”
My very sentiments.

Mark Repo’s THE BOOK OF AWAKENING (Conari Press, 2011) sits on my bedside table for daily reading.
I love its subtitle: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have.
A philosopher-poet and author, Repo wrote this book when “freshly on the other side of cancer.”
He chose to exchange his life of words, he wrote, for a life of spirit.
Each day’s entry offers a parable or a tradition, a quote or an insight, a poem or verse, followed by Repo’s beautifully-written comments and a related meditative exercise.
Admittedly I don’t always do the exercises but instead journal about the eye-opening, heart-opening truths.
Today’s December 15 entry opens with the truth, “The sun doesn’t stop shining because people are blind.”
Repo then offers examples from the lives of Goya and Melville and closes with these words:
“No one can really know what you are called to or what you are capable of but you.  Even if no one sees or understands, you are irreplaceable.”

Ariel Sabar’s MY FATHER’S PARADISE is a book of words and spirit.
Subtitled A SON’S SEARCH FOR HIS FAMILY’S PAST, journalist Sabar tells the story of his father Yona, a distinguished professor and author of the only dictionary of the language of Jesus, Aramaic.  Aramaic was the language Yona's Jewish family spoke in the remote Kurdish village of Zakho in northeast Iraq.  Mostly illiterate, Yona’s people lived harmoniously with their Muslim and Christian neighbors, considering themselves descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel.  Part memoir, part history, part linguistic primer, part geography, at its core is the author’s story of reconnecting with a father he’d disparaged for his differentness.  As the book’s cover states, it is “a son’s epic journey back to his father’s lost homeland.”
The writing is superb, as in National Book Critics Circle Award Winner for Autobiography, allowing me to live inside this so unfamiliar story, no matter the locale, no matter the time period. 
“I am the keeper of my family’s stories," Sabar wrote. "I am the guardian of its honor.  I am the defender of its traditions.  As the first-born son of a Kurdish father, these, they tell me, are my duties.  And yet even before my birth I resisted.”
Sabar’s page-turning telling had the writer in me breathless, not to mention, envious. 

Finally, I consider Jacqueline Woodson’s BROWN GIRL DREAMING  (Nancy Paulsen/Penguin, 2014) a book of words and spirit too.
Recently named a National Book Award Winner, the novel in verse tells the story of Woodson’s childhood in the Jim Crow 60’s and 70’s and her longing to become a writer.
I read the book from cover to cover in one sitting, then promptly returned to the first page and began again.
Just the way Beverly Cleary took me back to West Philadelphia at age 9 with the mention of Ramona’s pink plastic raincoat, Jacqueline Woodson pierced my little girl’s longing to be a writer.

    "You’re a writer, Ms. Vivo says,
    her gray eyes bright behind
    thin wire frames.  Her smile bigger than anything
    so I smile back, happy to hear these words
    from a teacher’s mouth."

 May the above books gift you as they’ve gifted me this year.

 Merry! Happy! Cheers for the New Year!

 Esther Hershenhorn

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22. 2 Favorite Reads: One Classic, One New, & Links to Best Books of 2014


Today, in our last TeachingAuthors' post for 2014, I wrap up our series about our favorite reads of the year. In case you missed the earlier posts, Mary Ann kicked off the series by talking about a graphic novel she enjoyed, April shared a poetry title, Bobbi discussed a bounty of books, JoAnn shared not only favorite titles but also a description of her reading process, and Esther even included a couple of adult books on her list. After sharing my two favorites, I'll also provide links to several "Best of 2014" lists published by review journals. That should give you plenty of reading material to get through winter break!

This has been such a busy year that I probably wouldn't have read any books for pleasure if I wasn't a member of the "Not for Kids Only" (NFKO) Book Club sponsored by Anderson's Bookshop. Both my favorites of the year are books I read with the group.

My first is the classic, The Giver, by Lois Lowry, originally published in 1993 by Houghton Mifflin and winner of the 1994 Newbery medal.


Our NFKO group read the book in preparation for seeing The Giver movie together as a group. Most of us had read the novel before, as I had back in 1997. While re-reading it this August, I was surprised by how little I remembered. I recalled the ending clearly, because I’d reread it several times to try to understand it. I also recalled that Jonas’s eyes were different, and how he’d first seen the color of an apple. But other than that, it was like reading the novel for the first time.

After my first reading in 1997, this is the response I wrote in my book-reading journal:
"This book was extremely well-written.  The futuristic world seemed so real it was frightening. Jonas made a great hero: intelligent, sensitive and brave, yet still uncertain and with his own fears.  . . . I can see why it won the Newbery."     
I'm a much more critical reader now than in 1997, and I was even more impressed with the novel this time. I was so enthralled with the story and with Jonas's world that I went on to read the other three books in the Quartet: Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son. While they are all masterfully written, The Giver is still my favorite.

By the way, I didn't know what inspired Lois Lowry to originally write The Giver until I read this post on Anita Silvey's Children's Book-a-Day Almanac. If you're not familiar with this classic novel, or haven't read it recently, I suggest you pick it up, especially if you've seen the movie. While I enjoyed seeing the world of The Giver brought to life so brilliantly in the movie, there are several significant differences between the movie and the book. I'm not sure all the changes were for the better.

The other favorite I'd like to share is Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff, published by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers in 2013.


This middle-grade novel is a fun re-imagining of the Rumpelstiltskin tale in which the title character turns out to be the story's hero. Here's an excerpt from the School Library Journal review that sums it up well:
"All the elements of the original story are here--the greedy miller, the somewhat dimwitted daughter, and Rump's magical ability to spin straw into gold--but Shurtliff fleshes out the boy's backstory, developing an appealing hero who is coping with the curse of his magical skills while searching for his true name and destiny. This captivating fantasy has action, emotional depth, and lots of humor."
I identified with the main character--initially known only as "Rump"--right away because, like him, I hated my name as a child. I was the only "Carmela" in my K-8 elementary school and even in my high school. I disliked having such an unusual name and I despised the "nicknames" the other kids gave me. Eventually, though, I grew to love my name, as "Rump" does by the end of the novel.

I happened to read Rump while I was preparing to teach a summer writing camp for ages 11-14. I decided to use it as an example for our class discussion on choosing character names. After I read the first chapter to the students, several of them went out to borrow or buy their own copies of the book to read the rest of the story. I know of no better recommendation for a children's novel!  

And now, as promised, here are links to some of the review journal lists of "Best Books of 2014" for children and teens:
Don't forget, today is Poetry Friday. When you're done checking out all these great lists, be sure to head over to this week's roundup by Buffy Silverman at Buffy's Blog.

Wishing you all a safe and happy holiday season!

Our blog posts will resume on Monday, January 5, 2015.
Until then, happy writing (and reading)!
Carmela

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23. Plotting for a New Year

     Happy New Year, readers. I hope you had a wonderful holiday season that included reading some of our favorite books from December.  (Too much to hope that much writing went on. At least not at my house.)

     So we are starting off 2015 with a discussion of plotting a story.

     Uh-oh.  Houston, we have a problem.

     I don't plot my stories. Ever,  So if you are hoping to learn how to plot in this post, you can stop reading now.  One of the other TA's will tell you everything you need to know in the following weeks.

     I'm here to tell the rest of you still reading, it's OK to not plot.

     I have visceral reaction to anything requires plotting. Anything that has to be done in specific sequential steps, sends me over the edge.  Cooking, math, putting anything together with instructions. I'm awful at all of those things. A couple of years ago, when educational testing discovered that my daughter has the same difficulty I learned this had a name...something like "difficulty with executive reasoning." (Which I suppose means I'll never be President...but I digress.) Sometimes dessert should come first.  I almost always read the end of a book first.  Working from step A to step B to step C just doesn't work for me.  Never has.

     I was the student who wrote the term paper first, then the outline.  When I was first trying to be a real writer (as opposed to that seat-of-my-pants writer I had been as a teen and young adult) I discovered that some real writers outlined everything they wrote as a first step.  This news was so discouraging I stopped writing for several years, because obviously, I had been doing it wrong.

    Of course, that didn't last forever. I went back to writing in the same old any-which-way-I can (including out of sequence) method.  I did learn a few things. I learned to plan before I wrote.

    Planning and plotting are not the same thing.  Plotting is knowing what happens first, then next, then next and at the end. I never know more than one of those things before I start writing.  I've stopped worrying about it.  Planning is knowing what you need to know before you type that first word.

   I've mentioned before that writing the minute you get a good idea is not usually the best thing to do.  You need to know your characters before you write about them.  Who can you write about more successfully?  Your best friend or someone you talked to for five minutes at a party? You should know your characters as well as you do your friends before you write about them. That's the first step in my Plan.

    Because once a librarian, always a librarian at heart, I think about what I don't know but should for my story. Do I need to research a geographic area?  A time period? Speech patterns and slang for a particular area?  A disease?  A career that I know nothing about?  Now is the time to get as many of those answers as you can, before you start writing. What is more frustrating than reaching page 100 and discovering you are missing a chunk of important information. (This will happen anyway, but not as much if you do it upfront.)

    This is also the time I pick my Imaginary Reader. Imaginary Reader is the kid I envision reading my book.  Imaginary Reader sits next to me while I write. Is IR a girl or a boy, or both?  How old? Do they like to read or not?  What about my story would interest them?  (Actually, I should probably come with my IR first. See?  That old executive reasoning problem.)

    So if you are not a Plotter, fear not.  You can be a Planner.  It's worked for me so far.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

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24. 13 Ways of Looking at Plotting ~ and Happy Poetry Friday!

.
Howdy, Campers!

Happy Poetry Friday!  A poem by Paul Bennett and the link to Tabatha's Poetry Friday post are below.

In TeachingAuthors' opening round for 2015, we are each asking ourselves, "What Are We 'Plotting' for 2015?"

Mary Ann started us out, sharing how she does or does not plot."Planning and plotting are not the same thing," she writes. "Plotting is knowing what happens first, then next, then next and at the end. I never know more than one of those things before I start writing.  I've stopped worrying about it."

Thank you, Mary Ann. I haven't a clue how to plot.  When I sit down to write, I'm never sure if I'm starting a poem, a song, a verse novel or a picture book.  I might be inspired by a color or a phrase from the news. Of course I knew not everyone plots their stories methodically, but it's great relief to be reminded of this!

A group photo of the TeachingAuthors.
from morguefile.com
We are each snowflakes in the way we approach writing and life; and beyond this, I think that we are different from moment to moment, year to year, in crisis and celebration.

For example, until recently, I would say I'm fairly disciplined.  I've been writing a poem every day since April 1, 2010 (1,743 poems), I brawl with L.A. traffic every two weeks to meet with my marvelous critique group, I write in amiable silence with three or four other writers weekly, and I have a goal or two tucked away in my writer's smock--a couple of picture books, a novel in verse, a collection of poetry, a Pulitzer Prize.

But when my mother began to fade, particularly this last year, it was all I could do to hold onto my writer's smock.  Why? Partly because of the increased responsibility, and partly because of the foggy lethargy which set in.
Yeah...kinda like this.
from morguefile.com
There is so much to do, now that Mom has died.  So, I've stopped attending my critique group, stopped writing books, stopped meeting with other authors at my friend's sunny kitchen table.

I still write a poem a day, though.

So, What am I Plotting in 2015?  Nothing.

Well, writing a poem a day.  But beyond that?  I haven't a clue.

I'm reading Loving Grief by Paul Bennett, a book in brief chapters, each of which ends in a poem, written after the death of his wife.  In the chapter, Coming to a Stop, he writes that the three times over a period of months his legs would no longer carry him forward.  He stopped. On a street, in an airport, on a hiking trail.  Later, he wrote, "those incidents of coming to a stop, those moments of stillness, struck me as early invitations from deep within myself to start new."

Here is the poem which ends that chapter:

Well. I was going to post the poem, until I read the copyright page (oops) which states that I cannot post it without permission.  So I won't.

What I will do is to post my own poem about stopping in my life.  Please note that each person experiences a death uniquely. I don't feel as if I'm in deep grief right now. Still:

STOPPING BY THE WOODS
by April Halprin Wayland

No snow.
No woods.

But I pause.
To hear the hawk.
To breathe my breath.
To hold this stone.

Alone.

poem (c) 2015 April Halprin Wayland.  All rights reserved.

I think I'm listening for the music to cue my next step.

I'll be ready.


(So...the title of this blog?  You were expecting a parody of
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird?)

posted with affection by April Halprin Wayland

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25. Doctor Who and Historical Fiction

 
http://morguefile.com/
As Mary Ann Rodman suggests, there is plotting and there is planning. But sometimes, especially when one reads and writes historical fiction, there’s the wibbly wobbly, timey wimey stuff.

Historical fiction is the coming together of two opposing elements: fact and fiction. The controversy is grounded in conveying the ‘truth’ of history. Other popular genres have distinct rules that govern basic premises. Dystopian fiction, for example, features a futuristic universe in which the illusion of a perfect society is maintained through corporate, technologic, or totalitarian control. Using an exaggerate worse-case scenario, the dystopian story becomes a commentary about social norms and trends.

 But, historical fiction defies easy explanation. For some, historical fiction is first and foremost fiction, and therefore anything goes. Others condemn the blending of invention with well-known and accepted facts, and consider the genre a betrayal.

 Perhaps a better way to understand the genre is to take a lesson from The Doctor. Yes, that Doctor: “People assume that time is a strict progression of cause and effect…but actually, it’s more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly, timey wimey stuff.” Perhaps the same thing can be said of plot and the historical fiction.

 In historical fiction, setting is usually considered ‘historical’ if it is at fifty or more years in the past. As such, the author writes from research rather than personal experience. But as an old turnip, my personal history dates back to the years prior to Korean War. The Civil Rights Movement, the Freedom Riders, the Bay of Pigs, the JFK Assassination, the Landing on the Moon, and the first Dr. Who episode are not some fixed points in history but a function of my experience. Yet, for the last generations, these are often just dates in a textbook. And the plot is a linear expression that begins on a certain date. The award-winning book, The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis (1995), depicting the Birmingham, Alabama church bombing of 1963, is often listed as historical fiction. Yet I remember vividly watching the events unfold on my parents’ black and white television.

 Defining the ‘historical’ in 'historical fiction' is a bit wobbly, depending upon the age of the

http://morguefile.com/
researcher and author.
 Historians work within a broad spectrum of data-gathering, gathering volumes of primary sources coupled with previous research. They use footnotes, endnotes, separate chapters, appendixes and other textual formatting to clarify their observations. Plotting and planning resemble Vinn diagrams and flowcharts, looking similar to the opening credits of Doctor Who as the Tardis moves forward and backward in time. But the artistic nature of historical fiction presents several challenges in books for children. Events must be “winnowed and sifted”, as Sheila Egoff explains, in order to create forward movement that leads to a resolution. Authors choose between which details to include, and exclude, and this choice is wholly dependent upon the character’s goal. More important, resolution rarely happens in history. The same with happy endings. Because of the culling process, critics often claim that historical fiction is inherently biased.

Yet, nothing about history is obvious, and facts are often open to interpretation. Once upon a time, it was considered factual that the world was flat, that blood-letting was the proper way of treating disease, that women were emotionally and physically incapable of rational thought. In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue, but he didn’t discover America. In fact, some would say he was less an explorer and more of a conqueror. History tends to be written by those who survived it. As such, no history is without its bias. The meaning of history, just as it is for the novel, lays not in the chain of events themselves, but on the historian’s [and writer’s] interpretation of it,” as Jill Paton Walsh once noted.

 Some facts, such as dates of specific events, are fixed. We know, for example, that the Battle of Gettysburg occurred July 1 to July 3, in 1963. The interpretations of what happened over those three days remains a favorite in historical fiction. My interpretation of the battle, in Girls of Gettysburg (Holiday House, August 2014), featured three perspectives that are rare in these historical fiction depictions: the daughter of a free black living seven miles north from the Mason-Dixon line, the daughter of the well-to-do local merchant, and a girl disguised as a Confederate soldier. The plot weaves together the fates of these girls, a tapestry that reflects their humanity, heartache and heroism in a battle that ultimately defined a nation.


Critics and researchers can be unrelenting in their quest for accuracy. The process of writing historical fiction, like researching history itself, is neither straightforward nor a risk-free process. As the Doctor tells his companion, and in so doing reminding everyone,  through those doors...

 “… we might see anything. We could find new worlds, terrifying monsters, impossible things. And if you come with me... nothing will ever be the same again!” 


Bobbi Miller

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