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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. 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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2. 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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3. 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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4. 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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5. 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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6. 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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7. 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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8. 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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9. 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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10. 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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11. 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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12. 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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13. 15 Best Poetry Books of 2014...Pick 1!

.
Howdy Campers!

Yippee!--it's Poetry Friday!  (the link's at the end of this post ~)

Confession regarding the title of this post: I lied. Although there were many wonderful poetry books this year, I'm going to talk about just one.

You may already have read it...or read about it on Laura Purdie Salas' TeachingAuthors post in May.

You may already know that it's gotten starred reviews in Publisher's Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist and School Library Journal.

You may have heard that it's one of Publisher's Weekly's Best Picture Books of 2014, it's a School Library Journal Best Nonfiction Book of the Year, it's in the American Booksellers Association Best Books for Children Catalog, and it's on lists predicting the 2015 Caldecott for illustrator Melissa Sweet.

Of course I'm talking about
selected by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

In this beautiful collection, master anthologist Paul B. Janeczko has organized 36 very short gems around the four seasons, illuminated by Melissa Sweet's both sophisticated and whimsical illustrations.  Wow.

My father was a farmer and an artist. When he sketched my mother playing piano, his goal was to use as few lines as possible to tell that moment of my mother, the light from the window, that sonata.  

In the same way, these poems show moments...and so much more in a few short lines.

Here's one of my favorites from this sterling anthology:

FIREFLY JULY

When I was ten, one summer night,
The baby stars that leapt
Among the trees like dimes of light,
I cupped, and capped, and kept.


Another of my favorites is the always amazing Joyce Sidman’s “A Happy Meeting,” which describes what happens when rain meets dirt (first, “soft, cinnamon kisses,” then, “marriage: mud”). 

And...surprise! I am honored that one of my poems is included in this collection:

SANDPIPERS

Sandpipers run with
their needle beaks digging--they're
hemming the ocean.
April Halprin Wayland

and look who just popped in to wave hello...
poet and anthologist Paul B. Janeczko and illustrator Melissa Sweet!

for hosting Poetry Friday today!

posted with affection by April Halprin Wayland in honor of
my mother, who loved both words and music ~

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14. More "Gratitudes" from our Readers


Even though today is Wednesday, this isn't a Wednesday Writing Workout post. (We'll be back with more workouts in January.) I just wanted to share a quick update regarding our Three Weeks of Thanks-Giving challenge. This year was the first time we ran a book giveaway in conjunction with our series of posts expressing our gratitude. Last Friday, when I posted my wrap-up linking to posts by other bloggers who joined in our challenge, I didn't realize that a number of our readers had shared their "gratitudes" in their giveaway contest entries. It wasn't until I reviewed all the entries this past Monday that I saw them. Their gratitude was so uplifting I had to share them with you.
When asked to "Tell us three things you're grateful for," here's what they said:

  • Family, children's books, great blogs to follow!
  • I'm grateful for my family, my awesome poetry friends, and for my wonderful life.  Sometimes I have to pinch myself to see if it all is real.
  • I am grateful for my family, friends and God for my life. 
  • Health, loved ones and faith top the list today!
  • My job, my friends, and my family
  • Wonderful family, immediate and extended, fabulous friends from way back and from recently, and writing for the sake of writing. Thankful, happy, humbled.
  • I'm thankful for: the cornucopia of rich SCBWI IL and beyond authors and Illustrators sharing their skills and knowledge with us; my family that perpetually allows me to pour myself into my writing and art; and nature that is a constant well of inspiration for all that I create! 
  • Thankful for family and thankful for the snow
  • I'm grateful for 1. my hubby, 2. currently having no obstacle, be it physical, mental, emotional, or practical, to enjoying every simple joy in life that I could wish for, and 3. having no obstacles (except for my own inefficiencies) to exercising creativity in many ways every day.
  • I am filled with gratitude for my loving home and family, more than five years of being cancer free, and my opportunities to make a difference. 
  • I am grateful for: A wonderful network of writers through SCBWI. My two challenging, supportive writers groups: one in Illinois and one in Virginia. My family, who provide inspiration, encouragement, ideas, and yes--distractions.
  • I'm grateful for health, happiness and heaps of good books to read--and WRITE!
WE'RE grateful so many of our readers took time to share their "gratitudes" with us! 

Congratulations to our giveaway winner, Margaret Simon, who shared her wonderful "Thanku to Roux" along with a student Thanku at her blog, Reflections on the Teche on November 8.


Thanks again to everyone who participated.
Happy writing!
Carmela

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15. Our Favorite Books: Drama by Raina Telgemeier

     December 1.  The year is winding down.  While to some December means end-of-the-year holidays and cold weather, to me it means the arrival of  "Best of the Year" booklists.  I pore over them the way I used to study the old Sears Christmas catalogs, agreeing with some selections, shaking my head over others and marking those still to be read. The Teaching Authors don't think the reviewers at Publisher's Weekly and School Library Journal should have all the fun.  In the next couple of weeks we will be discussing our own favorites reads of 2014, whether they were published this year or not.

     In fact, my favorite read of the year, the graphic novel Drama by Raina Telgemeier, was published in 2012. Telgemeier also published this year, Sisters, which is every bit as good as Drama.  However, Drama first caught my eye because it is about a subject close to my heart...a middle school drama club.  Having been a middle school (and high school) drama club director for many years, I wanted to see how close the book came to my own experience.

     Telegemeier not only nailed the excitement of producing drama on stage, but all the little "dramas" that go on every day in middle school.  Callie, the main character, can't sing or act well enough to perform on stage in the school musical, but she loves theater so much she is thrilled to design and build the sets. The characters are not the school "cool" kids but the "stage rats," kids besotted by the world of theater.  One detail that the author captured perfectly is the ability of these junior actors to accept each other unconditionally.  Nothing really mattered except whether or not a person could perform their assigned task, onstage or off.

     Telgemeier is also the author of Smile, a graphic novel of living though orthodontia. Smile is geared for an elementary audience getting their first braces. Drama is most definitely for an older reader, sixth grade and up.  My review for Drama?  Standing ovation, all the way!

posted by Mary Ann Rodman

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16. Three Weeks of Thanks-Giving Wrap-up


Today closes out our Three Weeks of Thanks-Giving. See below for my round-up of posts and thank-you notes. If you haven't shared your link/comment yet, you can still do so. I'll update this post later with any additional links/emails we receive. And don't forget--today's the last day to enter for a chance to win a copy of the 2015 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market (CWIM) containing my interview roundup article, "Writing for Boys (and other 'Reluctant Readers')." See my November 7 post for all the details.


Thanksgiving is over for most people (and many are busy celebrating the more recent American ritual of "Black Friday"). However, I'm getting ready to celebrate our second Thanksgiving this week, this one with my husband's family gathering here in our home. This two-Thanksgivings-in-one-week tradition started years ago when my son was young. When my husband and I were first married, we actually spent Thanksgiving day with both our families, eating an early meal at one home and then driving to eat a second Thanksgiving dinner at another. After our son was born, we realized that was no longer practical. My in-laws came up with a simple solution: scheduling their family gathering on a different day, usually the weekend before or after Thanksgiving. Over the years, I've been very grateful to be able to celebrate fully with both sides of the family. So, while some of you may be gearing up for the December holidays, I'll be cleaning and cooking in preparation for Thanksgiving #2. That's why I'm keeping this post short. J     

Here are the links to the Three Weeks of Thanks-Giving blog posts:
Also, I want to thank the two readers who were unable to post their Thanks-Giving comments but took the time to email them to us:
  1. Wendy, who blogs at An Education in Books, who wrote: "I am thankful for my family and for the unexpected snow!"
  2. And Julie Phend, who said, "I am grateful for: 
A wonderful network of writers through SCBWI.
My two challenging, supportive writers groups: one in Illinois and one in Virginia.
My family, who provide inspiration, encouragement, ideas, and yes--distractions."
Don't forget to check out today's Poetry Friday round-up over at Carol's Corner.

Happy writing!
Carmela

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17. Yet One More Thanks-Giving Thanku!


Finally it’s my turn to join my fellow TeachingAuthors in sharing Three Things for Which I Am Grateful and my 2014 Thanku.
(And oh, how I delight in how we've kept alive this original poetic form - a Haiku that expresses thanks.)

When folks ask me how I am, I often borrow the three-word response of former Ambassador Walter Annenberg, philanthropist and founder of the School of Communication I attended - i.e. “hopeful and grateful.”

Each day I awake

-         grateful I’m here, alive and well,

-         grateful I’m loved by treasured family and friends,

-         especially grateful for the chance to love them back.

I also offer thanks for the joy my life’s work brings me and the non-stop opportunities the Universe delivers which I gladly pay forward. 

As for that second adjective “hopeful,” like all Cubs fans, I always believe “Next year’s The Year!”  (And this time it really could be!)

You can share your Thanku’s by commenting on any of our TeachingAuthors blog posts through November 28.

You can also send them via email to teachingauthors@gmail.com, with “Thanks-Giving” as the subject, and even post them on your own blog, sharing the link with us via a comment or email. Carmela will list the links in a later post.

And don’t forget our Book Giveaway of the 2015 Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market!

And now for my Thanku to my soon-to-be-five bi-lingual (Brazilian Portuguese and English) lindo grandson who, though Rio-born, lives in my heart para sempre*.

 
Obrigado to my Grandson Gabe
My Carioca
who snuggles up to tell me,
“I love you, Vovo!”

 
Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow TeachingAuthors and our TeachingAuthors readers!

Esther Hershenhorn

P.S.

*beautiful
**forever
***Thank You
****a native of Brazil
*****endearing Portuguese name for Grandmother

 

 

 

 

 

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18. Thanks from the Depths


the whole alphabet
is somehow not enough
to express my thanks


Hello from the depths of a big freelance project—for which I am grateful, of course! Today I continue the Three Weeks of Thanks-Giving series, in which each Teaching Author is supposed to share three things she is grateful for. Like the others who posted before me, I tried, but I can’t limit it to three. So I’m sharing three categories.


People: my dear husband Gene, our strong, determined, and healthy (!) sons, my mom and my sisters, my cousins, my writing companions: my wonderful VCFA classmates the Hive, my writing group (How is it that we’ve never given ourselves a name?), the amazing current and former fellow Teaching Authors (and the readers who make our posting so rewarding), my Poetry Friday pals who inspire me even though many of us have not met yet, editors who respond with thoughtful comments even when they reject my work, teachers and students, writers everywhere who share their joys and woes, plus anyone who works for justice, anyone who tries to save the planet and its inhabitants, and anyone who tries and tries and tries again

Places: home with all its connotations (warmth, respite, a place to put my feet up), Lake Michigan, wilderness wherever it still exists

Things: sunshine, opportunities, courage, even (or especially) when it’s borrowed, reliable transportation that enables us to visit family and see a bit more of the wide, wonderful world, and the Internet, which makes worldwide communication possible--along with travel directions, weather reports, and planning for family reunions (Yea, cousins!)

That’s all I can think of for now, although another thing or two will surely pop up as soon as I click “Publish.” As in years past, we also invite you, our readers (and your students), to join in by sharing your own thanks with us in one of three ways:

  • Comment on any of our blog posts through Nov. 28.
  • Send them via email to teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com, with “Thanks-Giving” as the subject. We might share some of your comments in our posts.
  • Post them on your own blog and then share the link with us via a comment or email. (Feel free to include the Three Weeks image in your post.) On November 28, Carmela will provide a roundup of all the links we receive.

Don’t forget about our CWIM Giveaway! You can enter until November 28.

Today’s Poetry Friday Roundup is at Tapestry of Words. Enjoy! And happy Thanksgiving, from the depths of my heart!
xox,
JoAnn Early Macken


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19. Here's to Our Story-Traveling Readers!

So,
I’d like to take a side road of sorts in continuing our TeachingAuthors discussion on writers’ reader considerations.

Yes, indeedy, I agree with my fellow bloggers: writing with passion trumps every consideration when we are writing to tell ourselves the story.
That kind of telling is the stuff of our firstdraft, our first pass, at who and what grabbed our hearts.

Our second draft, though? 
That’s the draft in which we make choices to grow a story and tell that story the best way possible to our intended reader.
IMHO, the “best way possible” considers where that reader is chronologically, emotionally and cognitively so he or she can easily travel the story, can emotionally connect with the characters, can live inside the story and take its truths into his or her heart.

When I read a student’s or writer’s manuscript for the very first time, when I read my own first drafts readying to finally revise, I read on behalf of the intended young reader.
Both the story and the format must be age-appropriate, of course.
But do I know who claims the story and what it’s about? Am I grounded in the story’s time and place? What kind of story am I expecting?
Left unanswered, those questions will likely force the intended reader to leave the story.
Language must also be considered – word choice, sentence structure, metaphorical language, as JoAnn noted when she wrote about assessing reading levels in her Friday post.
And richness of language need not be sacrificed – ever (!) - for clarity.

JoAnn’s post brought a smile as I remembered my experience this past September attempting to write original poems for the newest addition to THE POETRY FRIDAY ANTHOLOGYseries (Pomelo Books), THE POETRY FRIDAY ANTHOLOGY FOR CELEBRATIONS, scheduled for an official April 1, 2015 pub date.  The book features 150 poems in Spanish and English versions for preK and up, covering a wide variety of celebrations: Poem in Your Pocket Day to National Pet Week to Juneteenth to International Talk-Like-a-Pirate Day to World Bread Day to Winter Solstice.

Invited writers could choose a day that spoke to them and try their hand at creating a poem.

Hmmm…National Hat Month?
I loved that idea and began fingering my way through my Roget’s Thesaurus, having a high ol’ time.

Here’s the poem I first submitted, in celebration of National Hat Month:

             Mixed-up Mad Hatterisms to Celebrate Hat Month

             Bees in your beanie.

A feather in your fez.

Pass the fedora.

Bearskin in hand.

Tom scored a tam trick!

Talking through your cap.

Tip o’ my turban.

Pass the sombrero.

Helmets off!

At the drop of a wimple.

Home is where you hang your beret.

              (Copyright 2014 Esther Hershenhorn)

The anthology editor Janet Wong returned the poem, kindly reminding me of the designated preK-and-older audience.  

Hmmm…National Write a Letter of Appreciation Week?
That’s the ticket! I thought.
I brainstormed all sorts of letter-writing possibilities and settled on our TeachingAuthors Thank-u’s.

Here’s the second poem I sent off to Janet:

             A Haiku Thank You

            Dear (fill-in-the-blank),

You knew how to make me smile.

Thank-u very much.

(Copyright 2014 Esther Hershenhorn)

Janet remained kind while again reminding me of the designated preK-and-older audience.

“How about St. Patrick’s Day?” Janet wrote me.  “There’s St. Patrick and everyone dressed in green and folks even dye their rivers green!”

I think I got this now! I thought.  And I was off and running.
This time, though, after brainstorming All Things St. Patrick’s Day, I thought about my pre-K and K readers.  I even Googled “St. Patrick’s Day curriculum for preschoolers” to learn the top 3 take-aways for little ones about this day.

I’m currently unable to share my finally-accepted poem, “St. Patrick’s Day.”
Suffice it to say, I again had fun writing about my suggested green  March 17 celebration, but…
I was extremely aware of my audience’s needs.

Happy Writing!

Our young readers deserve our passion, our best writing – and – IMHO, our consideration of their chronological, emotional and cognitive needs.

Esther Hershenhorn

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20. 3 (Yes, THREE!) Weeks of Thanks-Giving plus Another CWIM Giveaway!


If your name wasn't selected in the drawing for our 2015 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market (CWIM) giveaway, I have good news for you: Writer's Digest Books, publisher of the CWIM, has generously donated a SECOND COPY for us to give away! See details at the end of this post. And congratulations to Sue H, who won the first copy.

If you're a long-time TeachingAuthors follower, you know about our tradition of setting aside time in November to give thanks. It started in 2011, with our Ten Days of Thanks-Giving, inspired, in part, by Esther post about thank-you haikus, also known as Thankus. In 2012 we expanded to Two Weeks of Thanks-Giving, which we repeated in 2013. This year, we've decided to stretch our Thanks-Giving posts to a full Three Weeks of Thanks-Giving!


We're going to keep our Thanks-Giving simple this year. Each of the TeachingAuthors will share 3 things we're grateful for. As in years past, we're also inviting you, our readers (and your students!), to join in by sharing your own "gratitudes" with us in one of three ways:
  1. Share them in a comment to any of our blog posts from today through Nov. 28.
  2. Send them to us via email to teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com, with "Thanks-Giving" as the subject. Depending on the number of emails we receive, we may share some of your gratitiudes in our posts.
  3. Post them on your own blog and then share the link with us via a comment or email. (Feel free to include the above image in your post.) On November 28, I'll provide a round-up of all the links we receive.
To get us started, here are my three "gratitudes":
  1. My loving and supportive family. First and foremost, I'm grateful for the three very special men in my life: my husband, my son, and my father-in-law (who now occupies my son's old room). But I'm also blessed to have a wonderful extended family--being Italian means that includes A LOT of people. J
  2. My wonderful writing friends. Three groups, in particular, support and nurture me on a regular basis: my fellow TeachingAuthors, my Vermont College classmates (known as The Hive), and my critique group. Without them, I would have quit writing a long time ago. Thanks for helping me stick with it, Ladies!
  3. Our amazing TeachingAuthor readers. This blog wouldn't be here if not for the feedback and affirmation we receive from you, our readers. I'm especially grateful for three lovely ladies I've never met who often comment on my posts, so I know someone is reading them: Linda Baie, Jan Godown Annino, and Rosi.   
Hmm. I'm sensing a theme here. It inspired me to write this Thanku:

Thanks-Giving

Three times three times three . . . . . 
My thanks keep multiplying,
to infinity.

© 2014 Carmela Martino, All Rights Reserved

I invite all of you to also participate in our Three Weeks of Thanks-Giving and share your "gratitudes" with us!

To my above "gratitudes," I'd like to add a huge THANK YOU! to Writer's Digest Books for donating a second copy of the 2015 Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market (CWIM) for us to give away.


Readers, use the Rafflecopter widget at the end of this post to enter our giveaway drawing. You may enter via 1, 2, or all 3 options. The giveaway ends on Nov. 28. 

When you're done here, check out the terrific Poetry Friday roundup over at Diane Mayr's Random Noodling.

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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21. A Half Glass of Blessings

     It's a good thing we have a holiday dedicated to thankfulness. Otherwise I would rarely give my blessings a thought. I am one of those "the glass is half empty" people.  So here is what fills my glass this year.

     Sorry, Carmela, but I have to begin with one you already mentioned, our terrific Vermont College MFA group, The Hive.  Outside of my family, they are my longest sustained relationship. Most of us met on the airport bus going to campus on a July evening in 1998. Rarely a day goes by that at I am not in contact with at least one of them.  Collectively, they are a never-ending source of energy, enthusiasm and advice. I truly do not know how I survived as a writer without them.  Thank you, lovely Bees!

     Next up on the gratitude list is my own local critique group, WINGS (Writers in North Georgia).  Every month (with occasional sabbaticals) since October 2001, I have driven the hundred miles, round trip, to meet with this group of five in Conyers, Georgia. Driving that far in Atlanta traffic is no small matter, but the reward is worth every nerve-wracking mile.  Connie, Nancy, T.K. and Stephanie as well as our Fearless Leader Susan (plus member-in-absentia, Maureen) are the best writers and critiquers one could ever hope to find.  Almost everything I have published is the result of their sharp eyes and spot-on suggestions. I could not fly without my WINGS.

     Lastly, I am grateful for SCBWI, The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (we writers do like our acronyms!)  I learned about SCBWI from a Hive member while I was at Vermont College and wasted no time joining.  SCBWI is more than just an organization of like minded people.
It is an endless supply of all a writer needs:  the latest publishing information, editorial contacts, writing conferences, and most of all Opportunity (with a capital O). The conferences alone provide the opportunity to meet editors and agents, to submit manuscripts to houses that would otherwise be closed to unagented authors (like me), to have work critiqued by industry professionals. SCBWI, you are worth every penny in membership dues and conference fees.

    To enter our latest giveaway, a copy of Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market, check Carmela's Friday post.  (http://www.teachingauthors.com/2014/11/thanks-giving-CWIM-giveaway.html).  Good luck and Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

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22. WWW: Creating AUTHENTIC Characters


Meet my fellow Chicago children’s book author, the lovely and talented Claudia Guadalupe Martinez who so generously agreed to share today’s Wednesday Writing Workout in celebration of the release of her second Cinco Puntos Press book, the YA novel PIG PARK.

As her biography notes, Claudia grew up in a close family in Segundo Barrio in El Paso, Texas.  Reading the Spanish subtitles of old westerns for her father, she soon learned that letters form words. By six she knew she wanted to grow up to create stories.  Her father, who died when she was eleven, encouraged her to dream big and write many books. 

Cinco Puntos Press is located in El Paso, Texas, “a fact that informs every book that we publish,” publisher John Byrd shared.  Along with others championing diversity in children’s books today, he considers PIG PARK and Claudia’s debut award-winning novel THE SMELL OF OLD LADY PERFUME to be worthy examples of the kinds of books the Cooperative Children’s Book Center and WeNeedDiverseBooks encourage and seek.

“Claudia,” Byrd wrote, “has a clear fronterizovoice: innocent, shy, witty, full of border culture and understanding.  She used that voice well in THE SMELL OF OLD LADY PERFURME, earning herself a great deal of attention with readers, teachers and librarians looking for new and talented writers coming up out of the Hispanic community. That voice has matured in PIG PARK, still shy and clear, but now feisty as well and full of opinions as she chronicles the summer that fifteen-year-old Masi Burciaga and her neighbors came together to save Pig Park.”

 

I so appreciate Claudia’s willingness to share her insights and expertise on creating authentic characters with our TeachingAuthors readers and writers.

Enjoy! Enjoy!

Esther Hershenhorn

P.S.
To enter our latest giveaway, a copy of CHILDREN'S WRITER'S AND ILLUSTRATOR'S MARKET 2015, check Carmela's Friday post.

                                              *  * * * * * * * * * * * *


 Wednesday Writing Workout: Creating Authentic Characters
The face of America is ever-changing.  “Minority” children are set to become the “majority” by the end of this decade, and are already such among babies under the age of one.  Yet, among the children's book titles published, approximately only ten percent are by or about racially or ethnically diverse populations each year--according to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

This conversation isn’t new, but the mainstream is taking note, thanks to the success of the recent  WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign.  I am more frequently asked for advice on writing diversity, specifically when it comes to authenticity.  In such instances, I refer my fellow writers to author Mitali Perkins' tips for writing diversity.  Mitali lectures widely on the topic.

When it comes to authenticity in racial identity, she advises writers to ask, "How and why does the author define race?”   She suggests writers consider the following:

“When race is explicit in a book, ask yourself and your students what would have been lost if a character’s race hadn’t been defined by the writer. Why did the author choose to define race?”  The reason should be to establish something for the character, and not just to follow a trend or be politically correct.  I, for example, wrote about young Chicana in THE SMELL OF OLD LADY PERFUME because I pulled from my own experiences growing up in a Texas border town.  The Latino kids in PIG PARK were loosely based on my experiences in Chicago.

Alternatively, writers can ask, “Why didn’t he or she let us know the race of the characters?”  If no explicit race is mentioned, will this cause readers to default to white characters, or do other cues establish diverse identity?  Physical appearance, language, names, food can all be used to designate diversity.

While Mitali’s advice focuses on race, authors can apply it to creating authenticity for various other forms of identity.  The point is to start thinking about how genuine the attempt at integration is.

To figure out what this might mean for you, whether writing inside or outside your experience, try this exercise.

Write a character biography based on his/her racial/ethnic identity.  Answer the following questions:
                                                                      
When and how did he/she become aware of his/her identity?

What role has the specific identity played in his/her life?
                                                                    
How does it affect his/her social activities?

How does it affect his/her school activities?

In what ways does the character benefit from this identity? In what ways doesn’t the character benefit?
                                                         
How does the specific identity affect your story?

Variation: Write a biography based on another form of diverse identity (religious, sexual orientation, ability, etc.).

 
We live in a complex world where identity is both assigned and assumed.  Authentic diversity isn’t casual or happenstance, but something that we as writers must develop as carefully as all other aspects of our story.

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23. 3 (well,5 actually) of the Most Kindhearted People in my Life...and Poetry Friday!

.
Howdy, Campers!

Happy Almost-Thanksgiving and Happy Poetry Friday (original poem and link to Poetry Friday below)

To enter our latest giveaway, a copy of Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market, check out Carmela's post.

I'm the third TeachingAuthor to chime in on our annual Three Weeks of Thanks-Giving--woo woo!


Carmela thanked three times three, topping it off with an original Thanku Haiku, Mary Ann succinctly thanked three writing-related groups and I'd like to thank...

I'd like to thank...

Oh, geez, gang.  Our host for Poetry Friday, Keri, just lost her grandfather.

It all comes down to love, doesn't it?

Not good looks. (When you're young your skin looks, well, young.  When you're old it doesn't.)

Not rushing around. ("Is there anything that you regret", I asked my nearly-92-year-old mother, recently. "Rushing," she said.)

Just goodness.

Here's who I'm grateful for this very minute (how can one edit it down to just three?!?):
  • my husband, Gary Wayland, who accompanies me deep into the jungles of my darkest thoughts and who always, always, always has my back;
  • my friend, "folksinger and songfighter" Ross Altman, who landed like an angel on the front steps of our house today, and walked twice around the block with me, listening as I poured out my troubles;
  • my three best friends--Elizabeth Forrest, who will move heaven and earth to help anyone anytime, anywhere; author and SCBWI 's regional events editor Rebecca Gold, who moved all the way across the country (how dare she?) but still wraps her long arm around me when I need her most--and I needed her this morning...and author Bruce Balan (all the way over in Thailand, for heaven's sake!) who immediately offered to jump on a plane and be by my side when my husband was ill.
So many.  And so many more, of course.

I'll bet you thought I was going to write a Thanku for one of them, right?  Surprise!

Here's my Thanku:

For the way you play
those black and whites; for the way
you brush my hair, Mom.


Don't forget to enter to win a copy of Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market, check out Carmela's post. Good luck!

Poetry Friday's at Kerry's this week.  Thank you for hosting, Keri!  And Happy Thanksgiving to All!


With an open heart,
April Halprin Wayland, who deeply appreciates you reading all the way to the bottom.

Poem and photo (c) 2014 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

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24. Apple Dumplings





If you live long enough, life becomes more about letting go than of gathering. It is inevitable, this letting go.

Sometimes we have to let go of our favorite things: our favorite pair of shorts worn to the fray. Our favorite book with its tattered pages. Even our car, with its 200,000 miles of memories.

Sometimes we let go of clutter, and wonder why it took us so long to throw them out. You know what I speak of: The box full of old research gathered for stories that probably won’t ever be written. Those uncomfortable shoes with pointy toes and impossibly high heels that you never, ever wore, but dang they look sparklie. Those skinny jeans that felt more like a bone corset then denim. Those old love letters, although the guy went on to marry someone else. Those laser disks (what?). Those eight-tracks (what?). That rotary phone (what?). Those old ideas that no longer serve a purpose in our lives.

Sometimes the letting go is more profound, as we say good-bye to our special friends, the four-legged as well as the two-legged sort. And those with wings. And we say goodbye to family. To colleagues and heroes and inspirations.

Of course, the key phrase in all of this, If You Live. And perhaps, along the way of living our lives, we gather some understanding of it all. We become, hopefully, wise. It’s an elusive concept to grasp. Through the ages, religious leaders, philosophers, even politicians have debated on what is wisdom.

According to Dr. Vivian Clayton, wisdom consists of three elements: cognition, reflection, compassion. Wisdom happens when we take the time to gain insights and perspectives from one’s cognitive knowledge , what she calls the reflective dimension. Then we can use those insights to understand and help others, what she calls the compassionate dimension.

Of course, if it were that easy, with just three ingredients, there wouldn’t be all this debating about what it means. That’s why I like hanging out with poets. They know about such things. Marion Dane Bauer inspired me in her recent post, “Because receiving is another way of giving. The giver grows in the giving. And that’s a truth we all need to hold close at any time of life!”

And her wisdom resonated with me. I am not the poet like my fellow Teaching Authors. Did you see Carmela’s Thanks-Giving Thanku

I am just a storyteller. Begging your indulgence, I was reminded of an old English folktale (Source: Lindsay, Maud. The Storyteller. Lothrop, Lee & Shepard; 1915).  It went something like this: 

There once was an old woman who lived in the woods. One day, she decided to bake apple dumplings. These dumplings were her favorite. She had everything she needed to bake the dumplings, except for the apples. She had plenty of plums, however. She filled a basket with these plums, covering them in her finest white linen. Then she dressed in her finest clothes and set out to trade these plums for some apples.


Morguefile


By and by, she came across a young woman. The old woman asked the younger if she had apples to trade for her plums.

“No,” said the young woman, as she looked with such longing at the plums. “I have plenty of chickens, and not much else.”

The old woman traded her basket of plums for a bag of feathers. The old woman thought it was a good trade. The bag of feathers was much lighter to carry.

By and by, the old woman came to a garden, one of the loveliest gardens she had ever seen. She stopped a moment to smell the roses when she heard a couple arguing. The couple saw her, too.

“Tell us, old woman," said the woman.  "Do you agree that cotton is best for making a cushion on our bed?”

“No,” said the old woman.

“See, the old woman agrees with me,” said the man. “Straw is best for our bed!”

“Never straw!” said the old woman, as she held up her bag of feathers. “But a bed made of feathers is fit for a king!”

The old woman traded the bag of feathers for a bouquet of roses. She thought it was a good trade.

By and by, the old woman met a young prince who looked as sad as a rainy day.

“I go to meet my lady love,” said the young prince. “But I have no gift to show her how I truly value her.”

“Give you lady love these roses,” said the old woman. “And she will know.”

She traded the bouquet of roses for a gold farthing. What a good trade! At last she had enough money to buy her apples!

You may think the story might end here, for it seems like a happy ending. But it does not.

By and by, the old woman came to a young mother and her child, who stood with a big and furry dog. They were all frail from hunger.

How can I eat apply dumplings when my neighbors cannot eat at all? thought the old woman. And she said to the young mother,” I have need for a companion, and would ask for your help. May I trade this gold coin for your handsome dog?”

The young mother agreed. The old woman worried now, for how could she take care of a big and furry dog? Where would he sleep? What would he eat? Lost in her thoughts, she didn’t notice where she was walking.

“That’s one fine dog,” someone said. She looked up to see an old man rocking on his porch. His house sat in the shade of an old apple tree.

“That’s a fine apple tree,” she said.
Morguefile


“Apple trees are poor company to an old man who cannot bake,” he said. “But I’d trade all the apples you want for that fine fellow!”

The old woman traded the big and furry dog for a barrel of apples. She baked apple dumplings for her and her new friend. And that night, she enjoyed one of the finest apple dumplings she had ever baked.

Not The End.

My list of grateful things:

My daughter, who stands above any list.

For the wisdom of my friends. For working in a field where my heroes have become my friends. Including Eric and Marion, Monica and Emma, and Karen, and far too many that I do not have space enough to list. Thank you.

For the compassion, and love of my kindred spirits, like Cynthia, Carmela and The Teaching Authors, Rebecca and the Collective, Brian and the Snuggies; for soul sisters Jo and guiding lights Bonny and Bette. And many more. Thank you.

For apple dumplings.


If you like this tale, you might be interested in my book, One Fine Trade, illustrated by Will Hillenbrand (Holiday House, 2009).

You also might be interesting in this: Phyllis Korkki. “The Science of Older and Wiser,” New York Times , March 2014.

Don’t forget about the CWIM giveaway!

Bobbi Miller


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25. Wednesday Writing Workout: "The Stakes Should Always Be Death," Courtesy of Maureen McQuerry


Today I'm pleased to share with you a guest Wednesday Writing Workout on creating tension in fiction from award-winning author Maureen McQuerry. Before I tell you about Maureen, a quick reminder that it's not too late to enter for a chance to win a copy of the 2015 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market (CWIM) edited by Chuck Sambuchino and published by Writer's Digest Books. See the link at the end of today's post.

Now, about Maureen McQuerry: I was recently introduced to Maureen (via email) through a mutual friend. Her first YA novel, The Peculiars (Abrams/Amulet) was an ALA Best Book for Young Adult Readers 2013, Bank Street and Horn Book recommended book, and a winner of the Westchester Award. Her most recent novel Beyond the Door (Abrams/Amulet), has been named a Booklist top Ten Fantasy/SciFi for Youth. The second book in the series, The Telling Stone, releases May 2015. Maureen has taught writing to children and adults and loves giving author talks in schools and at conferences.

I'm hoping to meet Maureen in person when she visits Chicago in a few weeks. So far, she's scheduled to do a signing at The Book Stall in Winnetka on December 6 and one at The Magic Tree Bookstore in Oak Park on December 8. For more info, check out her website. You can also connect with her via Facebook and Twitter.

Before I share Maureen's WWW on tension, here's a little about her newest novel, Beyond the Door:
        Between his love of learning and his passion for Scrabble, Timothy James has always felt like an outsider. The only person who really understands him is his older sister, Sarah, and he’s also fairly certain nothing interesting will ever happen to him. But one dark spring night, everything changes.
A mystery of unparalleled proportions begins to unfold, revealing Timothy's role in an ancient prophecy and an age-old battle of Light against Dark. Together with Sarah and the school bully, Jessica, Timothy must embark on a quest to prevent the Dark from controlling the future—and changing the past. Can the trio work together in order to fight the ancient evil that threatens our world?
      The first book in the Time Out of Time series, Beyond the Door, is a fast-paced adventure that combines Celtic myth, shapeshifters, and a secret code in a coming of age story.
VOYA described the novel as "jam-packed with twists and turns," a sure sign that Maureen knows a thing or two about creating tension. Here's her Wednesday Writing Workout on the topic:   

Wednesday Writing Workout:
The Stakes Should Always Be Death
by Maureen McQuerry

Story isn't about plot. It isn't about character or setting or a great idea. It's about how events change people. We keep reading because we want to find out how a character navigates all the struggles that come her way. In fact the most critical component in reader satisfaction is the protagonist's arc. And notice I used the word struggle, because struggle is what changes characters. It's what changes us.

Struggle implies conflict and tension. Tension keeps us turning the pages. But how do you add conflict and tension to a story without an explosion or battle scene on every page, maybe without explosions or battles in your book at all? Tension begins with the stakes. If you've ever been told your novel is too quiet, it may be that your stakes aren't high enough.  The greater the stakes, the greater the risk, the greater the tension and the more pages turned.

What do I mean by stakes?  Stakes are what your protagonist has on the line. In a dystopian world like Hunger Games, the stakes are personal survival, survival of people you love, of a community, of the world. But not every story will or should be dystopian or apocalyptic. The stakes may be the risk of emotional death. In my MG novel Beyond the Door, Timothy finds himself in physical danger, the type of danger that might result in death, but he fears failing to complete his challenge almost as much. He believes it's his one chance to prove himself in the eyes of his friends. His self-worth is on the line.

For the reader to be concerned, risk has to be real and the protagonists' motivation worthy. Worthy motivations involve noble concepts like: forgiveness, love, redemption, self-worth. For example, a character who wants a part in the school play engages us when the stakes are based on a motivation that is worthy. She wants a part in the play because she sees it as a way to connect with her estranged father who was once an actor, but has rejected her or because she's never once fit in anywhere, been bullied or is handicapped and it's her one chance to find a community. If she fails here, she may never try again. Hope and worry for the protagonist create tension.
  • A good beginning question to ask is what are the stakes for my protagonist? What is at risk? What will die?
Because a story is about how events change characters, you must have a clear idea of your character's arcs. In Beyond the Door, Timothy needed to evolve from an insecure observer to a confident leader.
  • Ask: What is my protagonist like at the start of this adventure? What do I want her to be like at the end of the story?
  • What will it take to get her there? What kind of gut-wrenching decisions, public humiliations, dark nights of the soul? What antagonists will she have to face?
  • Does each turning point create change? That's what moving a story forward means.
Below are some considerations for assessing your story for tension.
 
Assessing the risk in your story:
  • The risk of failure must be real and must be devastating—big consequences.
  • Conflict must be external and internal—your protagonist must struggle in her mind and heart and with external forces.
  • Tension must be relentless.
  • A clear antagonist strengthens the conflict.
  • The solution must require everything the protagonist has—the greater the risk, the more we worry.
  • The solution should be inevitable, but surprising (Aristotle).
A few time honored techniques to increase tension, such as those below, will keep readers turning the pages.

Techniques to increase tension:
  • Increase the stakes—as mentioned above
  • Withhold info from protagonist—mystery novels are a great example of how one missing piece of information can put your protagonist at risk.
  • Introduce doubt—Who can she trust? Were her assumptions faulty?
  • Limit time—the ticking clock.
  • Give and take away—just as your protagonist has everything she needs, the bottom falls out.
Whatever struggles your character faces, remember they are the engines of transformation and tension is the fuel.

 Writing Exercise Text © Maureen McQuerry 2014, All rights reserved.

Thanks for this, Maureen. I've already used your questions to assess (and up!) the level of risk in my current work-in-progress. Readers, if you try any of these techniques, let us know how they work for you.

Meanwhile, don't forget that time is running out for you to enter the drawing for the 2015 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market (CWIM) giveaway, Along with tons of great information and resources, the 2015 CWIM features my interview roundup article, "Writing for Boys (and other 'Reluctant Readers.'" To enter, see my last post.

Good luck to all, and happy writing!
Carmela

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