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1. Wisdom from Saving Lucas Biggs

“…What you said, you reminded me so much of Grandpa Joshua. The way you keep faith in people, even though so many awful things have happened to you.”

“That’s because Grandpa  Joshua and I bother to do the math.”

“What math?”

“For every big, bad, attention-getting thing that happens, there are thousands of small good ones, acts that might even seem ordinary but really aren’t, so many that we can forget to notice them or to count them up. But it’s what has always amazed me: not how terrible people can be to each other, but how good, in spite of everything.”

 

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post Wisdom from Saving Lucas Biggs originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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2. Straight From the Source: Julie Berry on Writing Historical Fiction

Julie Berry is the author of the acclaimed young adult novel The Passion of Dolssa, the award-winning, All the Truth That’s in Me (2013, Viking) and The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place (2014, Roaring Brook), and six other critically acclaimed titles for young readers. She grew up in western New York and holds a BS from Rensselaer in communication and an MFA from Vermont College in writing for children and young adults. Before becoming an author, she worked in software sales and marketing. She now lives in southern California with her husband and four sons. Find her online at www.julieberrybooks.com, or on Twitter.

What typically comes first for you: a character? An era? A story idea? How do you proceed from there?

For The Passion of Dolssa, both character and era came first, or rather, both found me independently. For a long time I’d been fascinated by the brave young women mystics of the Middle Ages. I had wanted to explore them more in some kind of project. Quite separately, I thought it would be fun to write a main character who was a matchmaker. In yet another corner of my brain, an idea rolled around about a group of three sisters, witches in a very small sense of the word, running a tavern (although young). In another disconnected vein of my life, I was taking a history of the Middle Ages course, where I learned for the first time about the violent history of anti-heresy warfare and inquisition in southern France in the 13th Century. Then one day I had a sort of eureka moment where all of these separate strands braided themselves together as one story idea. And I was off and running.

How do you conduct your research?

Muddlingly. I try to immerse myself as much as I can in books about, and written during, that time period. One of the most important things, I find, is determining which are the most credible, current, trusted academians whose books will best help you unravel the complex past. History (the study of the past, as opposed to the past itself) is anything but monolithic and unanimous. Our study and understanding of our past is constantly changing. So I think it’s vital to be a critical consumer of historical sources, and pay close attention to choosing well whom to trust. Once I know what I’m looking for, it’s often a hunt to acquire rare or out-of-print titles that I need. I try to read as much as I can that was written during that time period, also, so I can hear the voices and language of the time (filtered through the lens of who’s doing the writing – too often it’s only the elite and the empowered). I generally need to read my important sources twice.

In addition to lots of reading, I spend a lot of time with maps and museum resources, trying to see as much as possible what the world I envision actually looked like. I look for music historians who can help me hear their nearly lost tunes, and for historically based cookbooks so I know what ingredients they had and how they cooked. I’m chasing down all sorts of things like when would the sun have set at that latitude at this date, and what did they eat/wear/shoot/burn/drive/marry, etc.. Best of all, whenever possible, I try to go to the location where my story takes place. I need to absorb the sense of place as much as my senses allow me to. 

You do have a specific system for collecting data?

I fear I don’t have a specific system for anything in my life. “Dive in and muck around” is pretty much my approach.

At what point do you feel comfortable beginning to draft? How does your research continue once you begin writing?

I usually write in tandem with the research. I’m quite comfortable making changes later as I need to. But I think getting to know a character and getting to know her world can happen in tandem, so long as you’re willing to make painful changes if needed. For example, if you reach a point where you realize that your character has attitudes or opinions she couldn’t possibly have had at that place and time, you have to be willing to perform radical character surgery. But that said, I find that I can hum along on both tracks. Writing a rough first draft as I research helps me focus my inquiries onto things I actually need to know.

What is your favorite thing about research?

Oh, I could just stay right in the research rabbit-hole and never come out. I love, love, love the learning. At first, all the strange names and places are generally bewildering. Most complex historical texts will introduce you to a long list of players in the drama of the past, and it’s a lot to keep track of. In my last book, just about every man, no lie, was named Raimon. “Everyone’s Named Raymond,” basically. So the magic, for me, is when I’ve studied enough and taken enough notes to reach the point where it’s all clicking. I remember who’s who and where’s where and why it all matters. When I can coherently explain it to someone else in detail, then I know I’m ready to make a good story with it. It feels terrific to reach the peak of that mountain.

What are some obstacles writing historical fiction brings?

The pill that was hardest for me to swallow, but most necessary, is accepting that fact that no matter how hard I work to be accurate, I can’t ever be fully accurate in my depiction of the past. This is because, no matter how I try to understand their world, their beliefs, their cultural context, I can’t stop myself from being someone who looks at it from the anachronistic perspective of their future. I am looking back. I know how their story ends. And I’m a child of a different planet, so to speak. The past is a country I’ve never visited, nor can I. Even the most devotedly researched book remains a work of artifice, of pretend, of illusion. So, in a sense, the hardest part of this job is that you know from the get-go that you’ll fail. Art comes into play as you accept those limitations and reach toward the ideal of truth, beautifully if possible, anyway.

What’s one of the most interesting things you’ve learned while researching?

Stuff that’s generally unprintable. 😉

Why is historical fiction important?

I’m not sure how many people would ever decide to study the past, preserve it for future generations, and distill what it has to teach us, if they didn’t learn to care about it, somewhere along the line. I think historical fiction, especially the highest quality historical fiction for young readers, helps link young minds to the past through the caring they come to feel for real and fictitious characters, now dead. The hallmark of good fiction is how it tells the truth and enables empathy. By pointing that understanding and caring toward the past, we help young people – not just the future historians, but future thinkers of every kind – see themselves as heirs of a tremendous legacy and the forebears of a hopeful future. In other words, as a part of, but not the center of, humanity.

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post Straight From the Source: Julie Berry on Writing Historical Fiction originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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3. Happy Author

The post Happy Author originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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4. My Favorite Posts of All Time

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After six and half years of blogging, I thought it would be fun to revive some oldies but goodies. The plan is to do this once a month. You can see the first, Top Posts of All Time, here.

The posts I’m sharing today have struck a deep chord in me. Whether they made me feel like I was part of something important (the Donalyn Miller interview), were an out-of-the-blue email from a reader, or were reflections on the writing process (pretty much everything else), these are the words I want to return to, that feel familiar and right and brave. I hope you enjoy them, too.

The Book Whisperer: An Interview with Donalyn Miller
Plowing, Planting, Hoping, Dreaming
Ode to a Research Notebook
Sometimes You Get an Email That Takes Your Breath Away
Step by Step, Word by Word
The Then and the Now: Reflections Over Chicago
5 Ways I’m Learning to Write Smart and Not Scared

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post My Favorite Posts of All Time originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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5. Classroom Connections: The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society by Janet Sumner Johnson

age range: 9-12 years
genre: contemporary fiction
PB&J Society Rules
PB&J Society Bonus Chapter
Janet Sumner Johnson’s website

Please tell us about your book.

Some things are better together. Like peanut butter and jelly. Or Annie and Jason. So when her best friend’s house is threatened with foreclosure, Annie Jenkins is bursting with ideas to save Jason’s home. She could sell her appendix on eBay. (Why not?) Win the lottery. (It’s worth a shot!) Face the evil bankers herself. (She’s one tough cookie, after all.) Or hunt down an elusive (and questionably real) pirate treasure. Whatever the plan, it has to work, or this is undoubtedly The Last Great Adventure of the PB & J Society.

What inspired you to write this story?

I originally started writing this book based on memories from my own childhood. However, that version of the book was all over the place and not very good, so I shelved it. When I read through it many years later, Annie and Jason were so much fun, I couldn’t let them go.

Around that same time, the housing crisis was in full swing, and foreclosures were becoming all too common. I had some friends facing this, and I wondered how it affected their children. It was an easy connection to have Annie and Jason face this conflict, and the book grew out of that.

Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching? 

My book, while not historical in and of itself, does have bits of history which required research here and there. Most of my research came after the first draft on an as-needed basis. For what I needed, simple internet-based searches worked fine, and I would usually fact check across various sites. However, I did use my Dr. Husband for some medical questions. Very useful to have an expert in the house!

One interesting thing I learned in my research is that Peanut Butter used to be called Peanut Paste. Sounds gross, right? John Harvey Kellogg (Yes, that Kellogg) patented a peanut-butter-making process in 1898. However, even though most information that I found credited Mr. Kellogg as the first patent-holder, a Canadian gentleman named Marcellus Gilmore Edson actually received a U.S. patent for his own peanut-butter making process in 1884. Maybe they ignore him because he’s Canadian? Maybe because his name isn’t as recognizable? I don’t know. But I thought that was interesting.

Another thing I learned is that peanut butter, apparently, wasn’t as tasty back then. It was invented for people with bad teeth who couldn’t chew. Who knew?

What are some special challenges associated with writing contemporary middle-grade fiction? 

I love writing contemporary fiction because it is easy to identify with the characters and their circumstances. They face stuff we deal with in a very recognizable way. But one of the challenges is that time marches on and things change very quickly.

For example, in an earlier draft of my book, I made some references to Twinkies. And then BOOM! Hostess went bankrupt and Twinkies were gone. Just like that. I had to do an emergency edit and cut those references all out.

Of course, we all know that Twinkies are now back, but I decided it was better to keep them out.

Also in an earlier draft, I referenced iPods a lot. My editor rightly suggested that those are now out-dated, and kids have moved on to iPhones. Really, what I should be learning is not to use brand names in my writing!

But even then, you can’t always know what to avoid. In another book, I had one character telling another to “Let it go.” After a certain Disney movie was released, I couldn’t read the passage the same anymore, and had to change it.

In short, it can be tricky to keep a contemporary feel to a contemporary book when it takes years to write and publish it.

What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?

There are quite a few discussion topics in my book, both serious and fun.

On the serious side:
-foreclosure
-moving
-making/being a friend
-parent’s job loss
-growing up

On the fun side:
-brain freeze
-pirates
-treasure maps
-ways to earn money
-soccer

 

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post Classroom Connections: The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society by Janet Sumner Johnson originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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6. Why We Read

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When I look back, I am so impressed again with the life-giving power of literature. If I were a young person today, trying to gain a sense of myself in the world, I would do that again by reading, just as I did when I was young.
– Maya Angelou

 

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

 

The post Why We Read originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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7. Middle Grade Books Are Not About You and Me (With a Nod to Colby Sharp and Linda Urban)

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I few weeks ago I shared a link to a blog post by teacher Colby Sharp. In it he talked about picking up a middle grade book and feeling like he’d seen it all before. Then he read these words by author Linda Urban:

Colby went on to say “middle grade books are not about you and me” (in other words, the adults out there).

I’ve thought so much about Colby’s and Linda’s words these past few months. They’ve helped me solidify some of my ideas about children’s literature, actually. While I will always, always, always believe a good book is a good book for everyone, regardless of age (though not all books are for every reader, which is another discussion entirely), Linda has reminded me that children’s literature is first and foremost for children.

Of course I know this, but I think sometimes I bring an outside perspective (as both reader and writer) that doesn’t always serve the work best. Rather, this is where I’d like my focus to be:

  • If this book is for a young reader, what is it they’ll discover that will be meaningful and ring true?
  • What am I willing to say as an author that might feel trite or old news to the grow ups but could be new and important to young readers?
  • Am I willing as a reader not to have my needs met first when I am reading middle grade?

I’m curious what readers here think.

 

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post Middle Grade Books Are Not About You and Me (With a Nod to Colby Sharp and Linda Urban) originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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8. Meet Local Authors, ABQ Readers and Teachers!

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Fri-Sun — April 15th, 16th, 17th
Barnes & Noble, Coronado Mall (6600 Menaul Blvd)

From SCBWI-NM:

Nearly 20 local authors and illustrators will be giving talks, readings, and signings over this three day event. We will also have a table set up with as many local authors’ and illustrators’ books as we can get our hands on! Many autographed copies will be available.

*Bonus, the fair coincides with Barnes & Noble’s Educator Appreciation Week—meaning all educators (K-12) that have signed up for an education membership with Barnes & Noble, will get 25% off their purchases!

This is a huge event for New Mexico’s chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators — the first of its kind. I’ll be there Sunday, April 17 from noon to two and will read Over in the Wetlands and give a presentation about Roanoke’s Lost Colony. (If you’re an elementary teacher, be sure to pick up a copy of Blue Birds. It’s on the New Mexico Battle of the Books list next year).

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Please spread the word. I’d love to see you there!

 

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post Meet Local Authors, ABQ Readers and Teachers! originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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9. Reading and Writing Links

flamingos

How to Balance Showing Versus Telling :: Jody Hedlund

Book Club Resources :: The Deliberate Reader

21 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Started Writing :: The Review Review

5 Rituals and Routines that Changed My Writing Life :: Huffington Post

“That was my own little MFA” — novelist Camille Pagán on frustration and success :: Laura Vanderkam

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post Reading and Writing Links originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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10. Reflections on Morning Pages Three Months In

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Last December a friend whose life circumstances had kept her from writing for quite some time mentioned she’d started Morning Pages. She was almost 100 days in, and for the first time in years had found she was looking forward to returning to the page.

For those of you unfamiliar with the practice, Morning Pages is a discipline developed by Julia Cameron, author of the classic how-to on creative recovery, The Artist’s Way. I’ve had a copy of the book for almost ten years, but have never read past the first few chapters. Listening to my friend talk about moving toward her work with new joy and expectation, I thought about trying The Artist’s Way again. Maybe I could use regular journaling as a discipline in my own writing life.

The book is meant to be read as a self-led course, one chapter a week. Participants commit to two things: the Artist Date, a weekly experience meant to fill the creative well (what Cameron describes as “assigned play”), and the Morning Pages, a three-page handwritten daily exercise meant to reconnect the artist with creativity.

While I haven’t always been consistent with my weekly reading (and even less so with the Artist Date), I have loved my own version of Morning Pages.* Three months in, the practice has become a key part of my day.

There are no rules about the writing. Because of that I’ve been free to use the exercise for anything. Sometimes I simply type out everything I’m thinking. The Morning Pages then become a place for me to process and set aside the thoughts I might not have known were bothering me. I also write about the things I want to accomplish or need to remember, an impromptu daily list of sorts. Other times I use the writing to prime the pump for my work later in the day. I’ve used it to brainstorm the last few lines in a picture book and as a place to figure out a revision plan of attack. This blog post, which has become the most popular ever in six plus years of blogging, started in one of those ten-minute sessions. Some mornings I write as I might in a traditional journal. And when I’m truly stuck, I keep my virtual pencil moving by typing one of Julia’s affirmations: I am competent and confident in my creative work (yes, this is a little corny, but it’s a good thing to “hear” myself say!).

Here I am, close to my own 100 days, so grateful for this new experience.

Do any of you write Morning Pages? I’d love if you’d share your thoughts in the comments below.

 

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

 

 

* Ten minutes of typing on weekdays.

The post Reflections on Morning Pages Three Months In originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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11. Listen in on the What Should I Read Next podcast

I recently talked with Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy on her new podcast, What Should I Read Next. We discussed verse novels, why I’m uncomfortable talking publicly about books I don’t enjoy, and being a generous reader.

After recording, I realized I misspoke about something and want to set the record straight. I said Mimi from Full Cicada Moon could have been friends with my May Betterly, if the two had been real girls. But I realized it was my Alis and Kimi that I thought would befriend Mimi. You can find literary friends for May here.

Anne and I had an invigorating conversation, one that left me with two new library books on my nightstand. I hope you’ll listen in!

 

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post Listen in on the What Should I Read Next podcast originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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12. On Writing

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There is a “rule” that gets passed around a lot as advice for beginning writers. “You must write every day,” They say. Whoever They is. I never liked this rule. Instead, I say, “Write like it matters to you.” So that might mean you write every day or every other day or every weekend or maybe you write every day until you finish a project and then you take some time off. I don’t think you need to write EVERY SINGLE DAY of your WHOLE ENTIRE LIFE to be successful. That is a long held myth, and I think writers do themselves a disservice repeating it and passing it along as advice. It’s okay to let the field lay fallow for a while. It’s okay to sit and think. It’s okay to do nothing.
— Valerie Geary

Valerie is documenting the writing process from sale to publication on her Facebook page. I encourage you to follow along.

 

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post On Writing originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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13. Answering Your Questions

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Today I’m going to answer specific questions and respond to some comments left in the reader survey I mentioned last time.

If you ever host a writing workshop online or in person I’d love a chance to sign up.

If you’re in Albuquerque, you’re in luck! I’ll be offering a three-hour workshop about writing picture books on August 20. It will run from 1:00pm to 4:00pm at Erna Fergusson Library (3700 San Mateo Blvd NE). The event is free if you are a member of SCBWI.

If you’re ever curious about things like this, you can click through to my events page and learn more.

I’m embarrassed because I don’t know if I subscribe to your newsletter.

If you’d like to subscribe but don’t know how or aren’t sure if you’ve already signed up, simply click here and enter your name and email address in the spaces provided. I send out the newsletter roughly four times a year. Sometimes newsletter readers get special privileges blog readers don’t.

A heads up: I’m going to build a launch team for my Klondike novel using newsletter readers only. That means a select number of subscribers interested in participating will get a free, early copy of the book! All I ask in return is you leave an honest review at Amazon and one other online review site. Subscribers, look for a newsletter with more information in a few months.

And finally, here are some blogs that come recommended by regular readers (some reading and writing related, some not). Thank you for sharing some sites that are new to me, too!

 

The post Answering Your Questions originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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14. Survey Says

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When you blog, it’s hard to have a sense of who is out there listening. It’s also tricky when it comes to knowing what readers connect with and what they don’t. Conducting occasional surveys helps me to get a feel for regular readers (and helps me define what regular even means).

Results were really interesting. Of those who took the survey, 100% were female. You can see the age break down above. I was surprised and encouraged by the huge age range. Sometimes I wonder if the experiences of a middle-aged children’s author are meaningful to others. I worry I might not be talking broadly enough when I share my own writing “story”. Not only does the variety of readers tell me yes, you are engaged in what’s happening here, a number of you told me you come back to the blog for the following reasons:

I love the way you write about your creative process – it’s informed, purposeful, and yet so human.

Your honest voice, your encouragement, your stories…

I love the thoughtful articles on writing, the quotes, and links to good reading. And mostly, you.

I like the writing resources and your experiences with publishing/marketing your own books.

 

And my favorite:

You feel like an old friend.

 

83.3% of regular readers consider themselves an author or aspiring author. 66.7% are readers. As a result, you’re most interested in posts about writing, publication, and reading. Posts on historical fiction and inspirational quotes ranked close behind.

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Most regular readers followed me over from Blogger, but many started reading in the last year or two.image (5)

Most first found my blog through Facebook…
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… and visit a few times a month (You see from the chart above a “regular reader” can mean a lot of different things).
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Almost all regular readers find out about new posts through Facebook, a reader, or through an email subscription (which is available as a sign up in the side bar).

More next time on some specific questions and comments readers shared.

For those of you who are regulars, a huge, huge thank you for letting me into your world and your inbox. There are a number of reasons why I continue to blog, and one of them is the satisfaction that comes from having an immediate audience (There’s no two-year lag time, like is often the case with a book). Thank you for listening and caring and responding. Thank you for loving my books and spreading the word. It means the world to me.

 

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

 

The post Survey Says originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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15. Wisdom from THE WOLF WILDER

… the beauty of the world is itself a kind of company…

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post Wisdom from THE WOLF WILDER originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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16. Subject to Sorrows and Death

Nativity of the Blessed Virgin

For whatever reason God chose to make man as he is— limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death—He had the honesty and the courage to take His own medicine. Whatever game He is playing with His creation, He has kept His own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that He has not exacted from Himself.

He has Himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair and death. When He was a man, He played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it well worthwhile.
— Dorothy Sayers

The post Subject to Sorrows and Death originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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17. KidLit Auction: Bid on a Verse Novel Critique

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KidLit Auction for John and Betsy MacLeod

Recently one of our own in the KidLit community, Betsy MacLeod, and her husband John, were dealt a cruel blow when John was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). Beyond the heartbreaking reality of his diagnosis, John and Betsy are faced with enormous and mounting medical expenses, many of which are not covered by insurance. To help them financially and in spirit, we are offering wonderful items through this online Kidlit Auction, which will run from March 17th to March 30th, 2016.

Signed books, artwork, manuscript critiques, vacation homes from Vermont and Cape Cod to Scotland, and more will help raise money to improve the quality of what remains of John’s life.

Join me in supporting John and Betsy MacLeod. I’ve donated a full verse novel critique (which will include manuscript notes and an editorial letter) as well as a signed copy of Blue Birds. If you are an aspiring verse novelist or know someone who is, please spread the word. And please share with others you know who might be interested in supporting the MacLeod family.

 

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post KidLit Auction: Bid on a Verse Novel Critique originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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18. Straight From the Source: Author Kate Hannigan on Writing Historical Fiction

Kate Hannigan writes fiction and non-fiction for young readers. She got hooked on historical fiction when she discovered a copy of The Thorn Birds on the tippy-top highest shelf when she was in seventh grade – clearly forbidden reading, which made it even better! She used to work in daily newspapers but now spends her time down the rabbit hole researching her next books. The Detective’s Assistant was named a 2016 Golden Kite Award winner from SCBWI, a Booklist “Best of 2015” pick, as well as a “Best of the Best 2015” book with Chicago Public Library. Visit Kate online at KateHannigan.com.

Detectives Assistant cover medium

Why is historical fiction important?

It’s a window into the past, and for children who are meeting historical figures for the first time in our books, it’s so important that we engage and inform as well as entertain. If a reader really takes to a historical fiction work, then that might open up a whole new world to them. They might dig deep into learning more about a particular era in history, or pursue more historical work. It’s very exciting!

What kinds of sources do you use? 

I try to do full-immersion research, and I tap from anywhere I can find material. Right now, for a new project, I have a couple documentaries I’m watching, stacks of library books (shhh, don’t turn me in, but I use FOUR cards for our public library; mine and my three kids’ cards), original writing or reporting when I can find it, as well as museum trips so I can see and absorb all I can.

For The Detective’s Assistant, I was wandering the Chicago History Museum when I saw their beautiful exhibit of Daguerrotypes. And I knew at that moment that a framed photo like I was seeing in the museum would play a part in my book.

To get a sense of the language of the times, I try to read books that would have been in circulation at the time my book is set. So for The Detective’s Assistant, I read books like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which published in 1852 but would have still been read and discussed when my book is set in 1859. Sister Carrie, which came later, helped me understand the desperation a woman might feel moving to the big city and trying to fend for herself in the 19th century.

I found a copy of “Godey’s Ladies Book,” the popular magazine of the 1850s, for sale on eBay. So I got an 1856 copy and read what women in my book might have been reading. And newspapers! I am a former newspaper gal, so my heart is with newspaper research. The headlines, the way stories are presented, the language of the times: newspaper archives are a rich source of understanding the day to day living.

What are some obstacles writing historical fiction brings?

Sometimes the subject of our research has been obliterated by time. For the research into Kate Warne’s life, I had to rely on Allan Pinkerton’s writing. But the Great Fire that wiped out Chicago in 1871 destroyed Pinkerton’s detailed record-keeping of his operatives and cases. So what I could find of her was very limited.

What is your favorite thing about research?

It is endless! It’s like falling down a rabbit hole.

What’s your least favorite thing about research?

It is endless! It’s like falling down a rabbit hole!

What’s one of the most interesting things you’ve learned while researching?

There was a whole lot of Underground Railroad research in my book, as well as the buildup to the Civil War. And best of all, Abe Lincoln. I learned so many interesting things by reading so much about this era. I’d say the most interesting thing I read, among so many wonderful anecdotes, had to do with the connective tissue of Life.

People might already know this one, but it was fascinating to me to learn that Lincoln’s son Robert was once saved from grave injury or death by John Wilkes Booth’s brother, Edwin Booth, a popular actor. Robert Lincoln was waiting for a train in 1863 or ’64 when he was jostled by the crowd and fell into the gap between a moving train and the platform. Robert Lincoln recalled the incident later:
. . . the train began to move, and by the motion I was twisted off my feet, and had dropped somewhat, with feet downward, into the open space, and was personally helpless, when my coat collar was vigorously seized and I was quickly pulled up and out to a secure footing on the platform. Upon turning to thank my rescuer I saw it was Edwin Booth, whose face was of course well known to me, and I expressed my gratitude to him, and in doing so, called him by name.
Such a human moment – one individual coming to the aid of another. We know what transpired just a year or so later between Edwin’s brother and Robert’s father. It reminds me how our lives are all so closely intertwined. And it’s one of the reasons why I love history!

The post Straight From the Source: Author Kate Hannigan on Writing Historical Fiction originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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19. Top Posts of All Time

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In 2009 I stopped teaching without any publishing prospects, but with the burning conviction it was time to put everything behind my efforts to finally sell a book. I did what every other aspiring author was doing then: I started a blog.

A few months later, I signed with my first agent. Four months after that, May B. was under contract. Through highs and lows this blog has been a constant, a place for me to think through ideas, share bits of encouragement, introduce readers to new books, and celebrate my own. Whether you’ve been here from the beginning or are entirely new, I thank you for the ways you’ve added to the conversation and become a key part of my writing life.

Over the next few months I plan to highlight key posts that have risen to the top. Today’s are the posts that are read most often (I wrote this before last week, when this post, now the top post of all time, went live). While my sense is most regular readers are aspiring writers, it’s interesting to note these posts almost exclusively speak to teachers, librarians, and parents looking to share books with their children.

Running a Book Club for Kids

The first post in a series based on my experience running after-school book clubs, this post has been number one around here for years. Included in the post are links to the rest of the series.

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The Gift of Friendship

I love knowing that the second most-widely read post on the blog is essentially a love letter to my dear friend, Jamie C. Martin, whose own book comes out later this year. The post touches on the ways friends bolster and inspire us, in this case how Jamie pushed me to be brave when writing Blue Birds.

Third-Grade Book Club Reading Lists

Straight from my after-school book club days, this is the list I used with third-grade readers, plus a run down of everything I included in my Welcome to Book Club handout.

Classroom Connections: Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Lynda’s had a pretty phenomenal year, hitting the NYT Bestseller’s List with her second middle-grade novel, Fish in a Tree, and going on to win the American Library Association’s Schneider Family Book Award, which “embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.” This interview includes links to Lynda’s website and educator’s guide.

Fast Five: Novels About Teachers and Their Students

This one’s been a favorite for a long time, with a number of oldie but goodies sure to inspire.

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Reading in the Wild: 5 Things Wild Readers Do

Teacher turned author turned Scholastic Press guru, Donalyn Miller, has written two glorious books about reading and teaching that I devoured. This post is one of several that grew out of her second book, Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer’s Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits. Read our interview based on Donalyn’s first book, The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child, here.

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post Top Posts of All Time originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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20. Classics Take up Residence in Our Hearts

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. . . When we read the classic stories that make us laugh aloud or cry, or shrivel with fright or hug ourselves with happiness, it is my hunch that we could, if we tried, track the main idea down to a pivotal moment in the writer’s life—or several pivotal moments. These classic stories have the quality of ‘difference.’ They are here today, and here tomorrow, and here the day after, since children’s books and folktales which are loved and remembered do more than entertain for a while: they move children profoundly, and having done so they take up residence in their hearts and stay there. They are remembered affectionately, sometimes word for word, into adulthood.
— Mem Fox

 

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

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21. Tell Me What You Think

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It’s been a long time since I’ve conducted a reader survey. I’d love to hear what first brought you here and what (I hope!) keeps you coming back.

The survey is nineteen questions long and should take five minutes, maybe ten if you have a lot to say. It is also anonymous. I won’t know who you are unless you choose to identify yourself somehow. Please know you can be completely candid. Simply click through to begin. Thank you to Sheila of The Deliberate Reader for letting me tweak a survey she used a couple months ago.

Thank you so much for reading here, friends!

 

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post Tell Me What You Think originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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22. Writing Links

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Evolution of a Writing Process by Donna Galanti :: Project Mayhem

Ingredients of Good Multicultural Historical Fiction: Psychology :: Mad About MG History

Writing Rules :: Writer Unboxed

That One Time When Linda Urban Put Me In My Place :: SharpRead

The Editorial Dance: Finding the Right Editor :: Darcy Pattison’s Fiction Notes

Sarah Aronson Talks Desserts, Playing, and Rebooting One’s Writing Career :: Greenhouse Literary

What do you think of the blog? I’d love to hear from you!

The post Writing Links originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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23. Classroom Connections: The Last Boy at St. Edith’s by Lee Gjertsen Malone

The Last Boy at St. Edith’s
age range: 8-12
genre: contemporary fiction
Lee Gjertsen Malone’s website

This is a funny, emotional book that will quickly become a favorite to many a reader, regardless of age. Sweet, funny, exciting—a spectacular debut. — Kirkus, starred review

Humor mixes with more serious issues in this clever debut. — Booklist

Malone’s debut is a sweet, candid novel about fitting in, messing up, and making amends. — Publisher’s Weekly

Please tell us about your book.

It’s the story of a boy named Jeremy who goes to an all girl’s school that tried to go coed but failed. He ends up being the very last boy left at the school, because his mother works there and won’t let him transfer, so he hatches a plan with his best friend to pull some epic pranks in an effort to get himself expelled.

What inspired you to write this story?

It began with a conversation with my husband. He went to an all-boy’s school that went coed a few years after he graduated, and we got a fundraising newsletter from his alma mater. As a graduate of public schools, I was fascinated with the whole idea – why a previously single gender school would decide to go coed, and, because this is where my mind goes, how would they know it would work? And what would happen if it didn’t work, and instead of there being more and more kids of your gender each year, there were fewer and fewer?

And the same time I was also thinking I wanted to write a book about a strong boy-girl friendship that was tested by growing up, and the combination of those two ideas got me started writing this book.

Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching? 

I love doing research, even if it’s not obvious in the finished book. I love it almost too much. For this book I researched a lot of things – saint names, the economic development of western Massachusetts, and how doorknobs are put together. Oh, and pranks. Lots and lots of pranks.

What are some special challenges associated with writing middle grade?

First, I think that while it’s true that in any novel every scene has to have a purpose, in middle grade I think it’s even more important – because of the space constraints, every scene needs to do double and triple duty. There’s also the tricky issue of the middle grade voice. It’s not easy to find that balance where your kids sound like kids and the story feels like something they would be interested in without becoming a parody of the way kids talk.

What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?

The book touches on a few topics I think would be great for classroom conversations. The first is gender – what does it mean to act like a boy? What does it mean to act like a girl? And why does it matter? Do you need to have friends and role models like yourself in order to know how you are supposed to be?

Secondly, Jeremy, the main character, is a lot of ways a cultural norm in our society. He’s white, male, middle class. He wouldn’t stand out at all in a lot of places. But he definitely does stand out at St. Edith’s. Which leads to the question, what makes something a norm anyway? How can you decide what’s normal without considering the context?

And finally, the main characters make some really bad decisions in the book that seem like good ideas at first. They never intend to hurt anyone with their pranks but they end up causing a lot more trouble than they expected. I think it’s interesting to think about what you should do when something you never intended to cause people trouble backfires.

What do you think of the blog? I’d love to hear from you.
Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post Classroom Connections: The Last Boy at St. Edith’s by Lee Gjertsen Malone originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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24. 6 Take Aways from a Stay-at-Home Writing Retreat

Klondike Boo

Last week my husband took the boys to the Mountain West Basketball Tournament, giving me four days with the house to myself. I planned to use the time as a stay-at-home writing retreat, just Boo and me and fiendish typing.

It was spectacular.

I decided I needed to be prepared but open when it came to this writing time. While I hoped my Klondike manuscript would be back in my possession, I couldn’t plan on that happening (It wasn’t. I worked on it anyway and am thrilled with what I’ve accomplished). My goal was to have a sense of how I wanted to use the four days, but not be so rigid that I missed a creative opportunity. I ended up splitting the time between two projects, one in its very beginnings and the other nearing its end.

I planned ahead about regular commitments and how I’d handle them. For example, I got up at roughly the same time I would have had my family been home. I kept my Thursday running date and attended church on Sunday. But I made room for flexibility, skipping the gym on Friday and going to a book signing Saturday afternoon. As for meals, I pulled a few things out of the freezer, cooked twice (with leftovers for when my family returned), and even ordered pizza one night.

Most importantly, I knew I needed to have realistic, relaxed expectations while still committing to hard work. I am not a fast writer and never will be. With four days stretching before me, it would have been very easy to convince myself I’d do super-fantastic, out-of-character things, like write 10,000 words a day. Not happening, ever. Instead I focused on these things:

  •  I decided not to serve my ego (those 10,000 words) or my anxiety (worry I wouldn’t accomplish anything), but simply show up and enjoy the work.
  •  I told myself it was more important to be productive instead of producing. (In other words, I didn’t have to have loads to show for all the time I put in. Creativity isn’t always something that can be measured. I’m learning to be okay with this.)
  • I strongly believe that every writing moment teaches me. That makes it worth it, whether it’s eventually cut or kept, whether it sells or doesn’t.

If I ever have the opportunity to do this again, I hope I can enter in with the same mindset and experience the same satisfaction. The writing life is one pretty wonderful thing.

 

Sunday will be the last day readers may take my blog survey. If you have a few minutes, I’d love to hear what you think!

The post 6 Take Aways from a Stay-at-Home Writing Retreat originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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25. Why We Read

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A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it.
−Samuel Johnson

 

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

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