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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. On Neighborliness, “Balance,” and the Unpredictable Timing of Creativity: A Note to Myself (and You, Too, If You Need It)

The ideal circumstances in which you can create include ample free time, an absence of worries, and at least one enthusiastic supporter cheering you on. You might experience that lucky combination—or even two of the three components—once in a very long while.

In your actual life, things break, neighbors need help, and work-as-obligation fills up the hours and then the calendar. The concept of “balance” becomes a glittery myth.

You do what you can. You attend to the broken things. You take care of your neighbors (and we are all neighbors). Joyfully (or sometimes begrudgingly), you pay your dues. You wedge your creative spurts into the cracks, and you relish each happy slice.

You learn to recognize those glorious moments when everything falls into place in spite of the circumstances, and then you get busy. You make hay—or poems or paintings or pots—while the sun shines.

You do your best. And you know what, kiddo?

That’s enough.

The quarry road tumbles toward me
out of the early morning darkness,
lustrous with frost, an unrolled bolt
of softly glowing fabric, interwoven
with tiny glass beads on silver thread,
the cloth spilled out and then lovingly
smoothed by my father’s hand
as he stands behind his wooden counter
(dark as these fields) at Tilden’s Store
so many years ago. “Here,” he says smiling,
“you can make something special with this.”
Ted Kooser, Winter Morning Walks: One Hundred Postcards to Jim Harrison

Book Giveaway reminder:
Enter by September 26 for a chance to win an autographed copy of Barbara Krasner’s picture book biography Goldie Takes a Stand!

Today’s Poetry Friday Roundup is at The Poem Farm. Enjoy!

JoAnn Early Macken

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2. Book Giveaway & Writing Workout for Rosh Hashanah--What Writing Sins Will YOU Cast Away?

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The post below is refreshed and reprised from September 2013...the book giveaway of Barbara's picture book (about a slice of Golda Meir's childhood--and what an amazing leader she was even then) is NEW and ends September 26, 2014.

Howdy, Campers!

It's not Saint Patrick's Day, but we're lucky, lucky, lucky to open our doors and welcome Guest TeachingAuthor Barbara Krasner, who I interviewed last Friday, and who offers us her NEW picture book, Goldie Takes a Stand! A Tale of Young Golda Meir, to give away and a dynamite Wednesday Writing Workout for the New Year.


Feeling lucky? Enter our latest book giveaway!
Details on this post.
Here's Barbara...

...and here's the Writing Workout she's cooked up for us:

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, comes early this year and I’m glad. It gives me the opportunity to reflect on the past year and think about the coming year even before the leaves fall. I’m giving you a Rosh Hashanah challenge in three parts.

Part One: Rosh Hashanah, literally translated as head of the year, is a perfect time to think about the beginning of your manuscript. How many times do we hear that if we can’t grab the agent/editor/reader within just a few seconds, he or she will just move on to something else?

Ask yourself the following questions:

•    Do you have a compelling title?
•    Does your first line grab the reader? (My all-time favorites are from M.T. Anderson, “The woods were silent except for the screaming,” and from Kate DiCamillo, “My name is Opal Buloni, and last summer my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a dog.”)
•    Have you presented the main character on the first page?
•    Have you presented the problem within the first page, the first chapter?

These questions apply to fiction and nonfiction alike.

What are YOUR first lines?

Part Two: The Rosh Hashanah holiday includes a practice called Tashlich, casting off our sins. The practice is exemplified in April Halprin Wayland’s New Year at the Pier (Dial, 2009), winner of the Sydney Taylor Gold Award for Younger Readers,  and the mother-daughter team of Susan Schnur and Anna Schnur-Fishman’s Tashlich at Turtle Rock (Kar-Ben, 2010).

My question to you: What writing sins will you cast off this year?

When I think about this for myself, I think about:
•    I will cast off my lack of organization – I will organize all those papers into folders with easy-to-read tabs and file the folders
•    I will cast off watching reality TV (TCM movies only) – I need more time to write
•    I will cast off working on a gazillion projects at once – I will focus on one genre at a time, and right now, that’s poetry, and okay, picture books
•    I will cast off reading several books at once – I commit to reading a book fully before moving on to another.

You get the idea. What will you cast off?

Part Three: Here’s a prompt you can write to: Recall a Rosh Hashanah (or New Year) scene from your childhood and write about it. Who was there? Where were you? What action and dialogue took place?

Thank you so much for your three-part Rosh Hashanah writing challenge, Barbara, and for mentioning my book (blush)... shana tovah!

posted by April Halprin Wayland

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3. It's International Dot Day!


It’s International Dot Day!


Inspired by Peter H. Reynold’s picture book the dot (Candlewick Press, September 15, 2009), the event, like the book itself, celebrates creativity, courage and collaboration, encouraging each of us to make our mark and see where it takes us.

If you don’t know Reynolds’ book,
run, don’t walk, to your local library to check it out (literally and figuratively), then to your local bookstore to make it your own.
I promise you: the story of a caring teacher who dares her doubting student Vashti to trust her own abilities and bravely “make her mark” speaks volumes to all of us, no matter our age, no matter our role.
My very well-worn copy has seen five years of readings.
It’s my go-to book to launch school workshops, writing classes and presentations.
It’s my recommended Rx/gift combo to anyone setting out to mine his own treasure.

FYI: at last count, 1,677,200 human beings from 79 countries around the world have already registered to celebrate International Dot Day.
Why not join them?
The more the merrier.

You can start by downloading the free EducatorsHandbook.
For inspiration, view the videos to learn how others celebrate the date.
Stop by the The Celebri-dots blog to read about the works of some famous creative souls, many of whom are children’s book authors.
And visit TheDot Gallery to see what’s been created so far.

And stay connected with Dot Day participants.
Connect the dots via
the Dot Day Facebook page,
Twitter
(use the hashtags #DotDay, #Makeyourmark)
SKYPINGopportunities
and Pinterest.

Really and truly, there is no excuse NOT to be celebrating International Dot Day, not just today but all year long.

I found my own participation in International Dot Day – i.e. creating this post, nothing less than delicious and had planned to sign off by RE-using the above Mason Dots to spell out my name, perhaps even on the dotted line.

Since that is no longer possible, and I bet you know why, I offer up the following, courtesy of Mr. Samuel F. B. Morse.

                                       -- .- -.- . / -.-- --- ..- .-. / -- .- .-. -.-
(Click here, input the above, hit TRANSLATE, then PLAY to listen!)

Enjoy! Enjoy! Vashti and I are cheering you on!
Esther Hershenhorn

P.S.
I was surprised to learn how few green and yellow dots there are in your typical box of Mason Dots.

P.P.S.
Don't forget to enter our Rafflecopter Book Giveway to win a copy of Barbara Krasner's picture book biography of Golda Meir GOLDIE TAKES A STAND! GOLDA MEIR'S FIRST CRUSADE.


 



 

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4. A Golda Meir Picture Book Giveaway! Happy Poetry Friday! And Happy Nearly Jewish New Year!

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Howdy, Campers!

We have a brand new Book Giveaway for your very own autographed copy of a picture book biography (well, a real-life slice of life) of Golda Meir--just published!  Details at the bottom of this post.

Happy Poetry Friday!
 Thank you, Renee, of No Water River, for hosting today!
The link to Barbara Krasner's poem, "The Circle of Life,"
on a site which invites contributions of poetry and prose, is below ~


Today, we welcome author, teacher, blogger, historian, poet and conference organizer Barbara Krasner into our cozy cabin for a cuppa java.
Barbara Krasner

I first met Barbara online, as she was single-handedly organizing the Conference on Jewish Story, held this May in New York.  She invited me to be on the children's panel; it was an adventure and an honor to participate.

Barbara’s interests, accomplishments and energies are unending. She began writing short stories when she should have been paying attention in SAT prep classes! She majored in German and spent her junior year in Germany. Then she spent 30 years in corporate America...but the writing bug never left her. (Can anyone relate? Me, me!)

She's now the author of four nonfiction books, including Discovering Your Jewish Ancestors, and more than 200 articles for adults and children that have appeared in Highlights for Children, Cobblestone, Calliope, and Babaganewz . Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in many publications and she was the semi-finalist in the 2013 Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry.

Barbara publishes the popular blog, The Whole Megillah ~ The Writer's Resource for Jewish Story, she's the recipient of the first-ever Groner-Wikler Scholarship for dedication to Jewish children's literature, and is a member of the prestigious Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee of the Association of Jewish Libraries.

Is Barbara a TeachingAuthor?  Most definitely!   She earned her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, teaches children's literature and creative writing at William Paterson University, and leads the Highlights Foundation workshop, Writing Jewish-themed Children’s Books.

We’ve invited Barbara here today because her first book for children, illustrated by Kelsey Garrity-Riley, titled  Goldie Takes a Stand! Golda Meir's First Crusade  (Kar-Ben, 2014) just came out! (Kar-Ben, by the way, is the Jewish imprint of Lerner Publishing Group.)
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Mazel-tov, Barbara!


"Even at the age of nine, little Golda Meir
was known for being a leader.  As the president of
the American Young Sisters Society, she organizes her friends
to raise money to buy textbooks for immigrant classmates.
It’s not easy, and when her initial plan doesn’t work,
she’s forced to dream even bigger to find a way to help her community.
 A glimpse at the early life of Israel’s first
female Prime Minister, 
this story is based on
a true episode in the early life of Golda Meir."

Welcome, Barbara! What's a common problem your students have and how do you address it?
A common problem my students have is the fear of digging deep. To compensate, they produce redundant narrative that only skims the surface. I challenge them, as my mentors have challenged me, to take a deep breath and dive in.

Thank you--just reading that made me take a deep breath. Would you share a favorite writing exercise with our readers?

I am a certified Amherst Writers & Artists workshop leader and I really believe in the power of writing to timed prompts. A classic prompt is to recall a photograph and begin your writing session with, "In this one..."

Another favorite is to write about something hanging on the wall in a room of your childhood family home.

I want to try those!  What one piece of advice do you have for teachers?

Look for the strength of each student and build on that.

Barbara Krasner ~ teaching, speaking, inspiring ~
What's on the horizon for you?

I'm working on some Holocaust-related short stories and a couple of picture book biographies. In my master's program (Barbara's currently a candidate for an MA in Applied Historical Studies), I am looking for ways to take my academic requirements and turn them into literary projects. A new history book about my hometown of Kearny, New Jersey is an example of this. I am promoting my picture books this fall, such as my "What Would Goldie Do?" program at Jewish community centers (JCCs) and synagogues. I also hope to be teaching Writing Your Family History at my local JCC.

WOW, Barbara!  And since it's Poetry Friday in the Kidlitosphere, do you have a poem you'd like to share with our readers?

Here's a link to my poem, The Circle of Life on The Jewish Writing Project site, which invites contributions of poems and more.

(Readers, this site is well worth exploring and includes, among other things, a terrific page of questions and writing ideas for kids)

We'll close with a preview of Goldie Takes a Stand! (enter for a chance to win it below):



Thank you so much for coming by today, Barbara!

Book Giveaway
Enter for a chance to win an autographed copy of Goldie Takes a Stand!  This giveaway ends on September 26.

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 about your experience with writing or teaching historical fiction. And please include your name in your comment, if it's not obvious from your comment "identity." (If you prefer, you may submit your comment via email to: teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com.)

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.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

"Trust yourself.  Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life.  Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement." ~ Golda Meir

But wait ~ there's more! Barbara's Goldie Takes a Stand! will soon be followed by a Holocaust picture book, Liesl's Ocean Rescue (Gihon River Press, Fall 2014).

posted by April Halprin Wayland
p.s: It's nearly New Year'
s and my picture book, New Year at the Pier (Dial), winner of the Sidney Taylor Book Award for Younger Readers, celebrates the ritual of Tashlich, a wonderful, seaside gathering during the Jewish New Year (which begins September 24th and ends September 26th this year.)

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5. A Time of Transitions


This is a time of transitions here on the TeachingAuthors blog. Laura announced on Friday  that she is leaving our team. Even though she'd signed on as a temporary sub, I'd hoped we'd be able to convince her to continue as a regular. Unfortunately, other pressing demands are tugging at her. But I do hope she'll keep us in mind if circumstances change. J

Meanwhile, we wish her the best. At least we'll all be able to keep tabs on Laura over at her own blog.

Farewell to the lovely and talented, Laura Purdie Salas!
In two weeks, we'll also be saying farewell to long-time TeachingAuthor, Jill Esbaum. I'm VERY sad to see Jill go, L but she's leaving for a new, exciting adventure. I hope she'll share a little about it in her final post here. Of course, we wish her all the best, too. We're SO going to miss you, Jill!

We're going to really miss the wise and wonderful, Jill Esbaum!
But the news isn't all doom and gloom! I'm happy to announce that Mary Ann Rodman will be returning to the team! Hurrah! You can watch for her posts here every third Monday.

Mary Ann's BACK! YIPPEE!
Finally, I'm excited to report that a new TeachingAuthor will be joining the team in October. But I'm going to keep you in suspense about the new TA's identity a little while longer. J

I WILL tell you though, that we'll be sponsoring another great book giveaway this month! Be sure to see April's post this Friday for details.

Happy writing, all.
Carmela

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6. Until I Saw the Sea, by Lilian Moore [Poetry Friday]





Today is my last post as a member of the Teaching Authors blog, and I'm kind of melancholy about it. Stepping down is my choice, and I knew my time here was temporary when I agreed to do it. And there are several good reasons I need to leave the group--time being the most pressing. So in some ways it's a relief.

But...but...I am so amazed by these writers! They talk and brainstorm and support each other behind the scenes much more than I expected. They are a great group--and if I didn't have a blog of my own and too many commitments, I would be honored to stay here with Carmela, April, Esther, and JoAnn. In fact, I wish I had met up with this group years ago! You know how you meet people sometimes and think, "If I had met this person 20 years ago, I bet my life would be different right now"? That's kind of how I feel about the Teaching Authors. They might be surprised to hear this, because I've barely had time to answer emails, and I also chose not to participate in conversations and group decisions too deeply, knowing I would be saying goodbye before too long.

OK, enough melodrama, but, in honor of my somewhat melancholy mood about this, I'm sharing this poem by Lilian Moore, one of my favorite poets. This is from Something New Begins, which is out of print, but Amazon has some used copies, which I urge you to grab! It originally appeared in I Feel the Same Way. I love the slightly bittersweet beauty of so much of her nature poetry.

Until I Saw the Sea

Until I saw the sea
I did not know
that wind
could wrinkle water so.

I never knew
that sun
could splinter a whole sea of blue.

Nor
did I know before,
a sea breathes in and out
upon a shore.

--Lilian Moore, all rights reserved

Isn't that lovely? Sigh... Now, head on over to Laura Shovan's Author Amok blog for the Poetry Friday Roundup!




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7. Scribble-Dee-Dee is Right for Me!

I can't resist answering April's question about paper and pen vs. computer using her "Scribble-Dee-Dee." I'm so used to (and comfortable with) paper and pen that I almost never begin anything new on the computer. For me, most ideas form not in my head but in spiral notebooks with purple pens. In my usual approach, more polished, closer-to-final drafts belong on the computer.

I mentioned my habit of carrying a pocket notebook and pen in a post from four summers ago. Here's a little more on the subject.


I was surprised to see how many Teaching Authors go straight to the keyboard to record their thoughts. How about you?

Pat K. won the autographed copy of Sandy Brehl's middle grade novel Odin's Promise.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at Check It Out: Life and Books in a K5 Library School Setting. Enjoy!

JoAnn Early Macken

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8. WWW: Finding Your Voice


Today’s Wednesday Writing Workout comes to us courtesy of my fellow Newberry Library writing instructor, Chicago author and memoirist Carol LaChapelle.

When it comes to teaching Memoir Writing, Carol is “it”!
And so is her book, FINDING YOUR VOICE AND TELLING YOUR STORIES: 167 WAYS TO TELL YOUR LIFE STORIES (Marion Street Press).

Carol believes each life contains the makings of a memoir.

In FINDING YOUR VOICE, she shares writing tools, tricks of the trade, exercises and prompts to help any writer access and explore memories and turn them into stories. 

Carol also includes contributions from real students who have been using her methods to show readers how productive the writing exercises can be.

You can read Carol’s most recent essays in Next Avenue  and in American Magazine.

Carol invites TeachingAuthors readers to visit her blog  ForBoomersandBeyonders - Dispatches From the(New) Middle Ages and/or to “friend” her on Facebook.

You can email her directly for information about her online writing workshops at Madmoon55@aol.com

Thank you, Carol, for sharing one of your 167 ways for our TeachingAuthors readers to find their voice and tell their stories.

Enjoy! Enjoy!

Esther Hershenhorn

 

Finding Your Voice

In addition to writing and teaching workshops, I also consult with private clients on their various writing projects.  Recently, one of them, a woman in her late 70s who is writing a series of family stories, sent me a remembrance of her beloved grandmother to read and critique. 

In the piece, Joan writes about her many experiences with her grandmother from when she was a young girl.  As I read it, I realized that I didn’t really understand what was so special about “Gram,” though I knew Joan felt there were many things, else why commit this woman to paper?

And so after marking up the draft—mostly with questions—I summed up my comments at the end, including suggestions for the next revision, then sent it back to Joan along with this note.        

 I definitely like this idea for a family story; it’s important for future generations to know the people who went before them.

 I hope my notes, especially on the last page, will help in your revision. The major thing when starting to revise is to list for yourself those 2-4 most important characteristics/personality traits of your grandmother, as you experienced them.

 You don’t necessarily have to then list these traits in the actual revision, but you want the story—the specific experiences/details/scenes—to illustrate those. In other words, here’s the evidence that supports why you believe Gram is someone worth writing about.

I also referred Joan to my book, particularly Chapter Two, “Four Really Helpful Writing Techniques.”  The fourth technique, the Character Sketch, describes how I came to write one particular memory of a high school teacher, including the process by which that memory emerged on the blank page.  

I felt this might be helpful to Joan as she attempted to more specifically capture what was essential about her grandmother.

Following is that technique, which I have copied directly from my book’s initial manuscript.  I hope it will serve as a good reminder for all of us—new and practicing writers alike—when we come to write about the very special people in our own lives.

 4.  Character Sketch:  When you use the character sketch technique, you do more than simply describe someone physically.  That’s important of course as s/he will come more alive on the page the better that you—and your intended reader—can see what that person looks like, sounds like, moves like.

But a character sketch becomes more interesting when you add the person’s relevant personality traits and significant biographical information.

 For instance, if I were to do a character sketch of one of my favorite high school teachers, I’d include her height (short), athletic skill (she was our phys ed teacher), and coloring (her small, olive-dark face).  I’d also mention how young she was, and how demanding she was of us.  I’d describe how she looked while bouncing down the school halls (even when not wearing tennis shoes), gesticulating wildly alongside her friend and colleague, a much taller, paler, and mellower teacher.  Oh, and I guess I would mention that she was a nun who dressed in the black and white habit of her religious community—both in the gym and out.

I’d include relevant biographical information—a matter of keen interest among her former students, especially her decision to leave the convent after 20 years, marry a much younger man, sail around the world with him for a year, then return home and open a pizza parlor.

As I sit here now and write about the former Sister Joseph, more images of her come to mind, each small detail leading to another, and another, and then finally to a specific scene:
 
It is 1958 and our girls volleyball team has gathered in the gym after school for volleyball practice.  As we fumble our way around the court, Sr. Joe paces up and down the sidelines, barking orders at us, her black veil tied behind her back with a fat rubber band, the dour nun shoes exchanged for bright white tennies.  Her diminishing patience at our ineptitude now exhausted, she charges onto the court and to the spike position of my team.  Pushing aside Loretta, our best player, she yells “Set me up!” to the quaking girl next to her.  The rest of us stand there still as stones, and watch as Sr. Joe rises like some fiery rocket and hammers that ball over the net.

 Coda

Not long after my book was published in July 2008, I received a very surprising email from one of its readers.  Here’s how it begins:

Dear Ms. LaChapelle,
I am the "much younger man" to whom you refer on page 33 of your new book who married your former volleyball coach. I want to tell you that I (and she) nearly fell on the floor reading that recollection. While some of the details were slightly off, the essence of Sr. Joseph was right on.

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9. Longhand vs. Keyboarding?

Well, I had this post almost ready to go and was congratulating myself for being Ms. Prepared when – BAM! – I perused the brilliance that was April’s Friday post. I mean, poems and EVERYTHING. Color me deflated. Who wants to follow that? But here I am, up to bat. So….

Do I scrawl sentence fragments on a legal pad? Yes. Or more often on a napkin, grocery list, or the palm of my hand.


                                        Back of a recent grocery list. Hey, at least I can read this one!


Sometimes, if I’m driving, I’ll dictate a sudden insight into my iphone. And, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, sticky notes litter my desk like pastel snowdrifts more often than not.

But write an entire story in longhand? Nope. Not me. Oh, I’ve imagined it:  I’m sitting straight-backed in a wicker chair, dressed like Emily Dickinson, pouring my musings into a lovely cloth-bound notebook. Everything I write is profound and poetic. A soulful sigh escapes me every now and then as I squint at the ceiling, gathering my thoughts…

I do occasionally give it a shot (minus the all-white clothes). But, like Laura, my hand can’t keep up with my brain. The quality of my handwriting steadily declines until even I can’t decipher it. Plus I’m always, ALWAYS revising as I’m storybuilding, and seeing a page of crossed-out words/lines/paragraphs makes the smarmy internal editor (S.I.E.) sitting on my shoulder shake her head and tsk at my ineptitude.

It’s impresses me greatly to read about authors who write their stories longhand, then transfer them to their computers. That’s something I cannot even imagine. Give me a computer any day, as S.I.E. and I are happiest with greased-lightning keys and a handy-dandy Delete button.

Happy writing!

Jill Esbaum

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10. Clickety-clack or Scribble-dee-doo: Keyboard or Pen...what's best for you? And happy Poetry Friday!

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Howdy, Campers and Happy Poetry Friday!

Thank you, Irene, for jumping in to host PF this week
(and, Irene!  Congratulations on the upcoming publication
of your first poetry collection for children
which has gotten starred reviews from SLJ and Kirkus!)

We TeachingAuthors are discussing handwriting versus keyboard typing--read which Carmela, Laura, and Esther prefer.

Me? I'm bi.

When I'm in a boring meeting (or even an interesting meeting), under the hair dryer at the beauty parlor, or the passenger on a long trip, I'm happy to write poems in my little notebooks with my favorite pen.
.


But I became a writer as on one of these:

and my brain and fingers still adore keys.

So I wrote two poems today in honor of both:

TYPING
by April Halprin Wayland


It’s a sound idea—
a muscular,
a strong one.

It’s strapping, able-bodied one
it’s beefy—
it’s a long one.

It’s a strapping noun,
it’s her fingers plunked down
with a most decisive click.

It’s a piece of punctuation
that’s sealed—
it sticks.



LONGHAND.
by April Halprin Wayland

liquid longhand sometimes flows
or oozes slow
it drains from a dream 
to its place on the page

where it will not linger 
no, the pen seeps deeper
beneath each line
where longhand makes its own design

poems (c) 2014 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

And if you haven't already done so, don't forget to enter our current giveaway for a chance to win the historical middle-grade novel Odin's Promise (Crispin Press) by Sandy Brehl. See JoAnn's post for all the details.(We're supposed to sign our names at the bottom of each post...so hi, it's me--April Halprin Wayland!  G'bye!)

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11. Tools of the Trade


Fortunately, when it comes to the act of physically writing, I have MANY tools at my disposal.

For example, and gratefully, my iPhone.

Should my laptop refuse to reboot due to a software problem and require a 4-day repair visit to my local Best Buy's Geek Squad the Sunday before my Monday TeachingAuthors post is due, no problemo!

I simply create an email addressing the topic, request my TA administrator Carmela post it for me, along with an evidentiary photo, and remain grateful for the many and varied Tools of my Trade...as well as for Carmela. ☺️

Esther's laptop on Geek Squad counter
So, here are a few of the salient points I fully intended to post in the traditional manner via my laptop had it successfully rebooted this morning:

(1) To date my writing tools have included #2 pencils, pens of all sorts, manual and electric typewriters, a word processor, stack and laptop computers and one trusty iPhone.

(2) Thinking on this topic, examining my modus operandi when writing creatively, I surprisingly realized my multi-sensory learning style that enables me to READ must also be executed when I WRITE!

Note: Picture here the Five Senses Chart I'd planned to share.

Using my penmanship that combines both printing and cursive, because my 6th grade teacher Miss Peterson allowed us to choose and I couldn't decide, I write by hand in notebooks, on legal pads, on sticky notes, on napkins, on match books and menus and torn newspaper items when I am rolling out and exploring a story idea.

When I'm ready to roll everything up, though, and begin an actual story draft?
I'm seated at my laptop, ready to keyboard.

(3) In my Google search to learn more about multi-sensory learners, one link led to another and there I was learning all about BIC Fight for Your Write -www.bicfightforyourwrite.com.
BIC is on a mission to save handwriting.
Clicking on the Facts page at this website, I read that handwriting engages 14 different abilities, one if which is Inner Expressive Language.
No surprise there, at least for me.
Long live the Writer's Notebook!
Visit the website to learn more and maybe even sign the petition.

Hopefully my laptop and I will be back in business by Friday.
(Siddharta  promised.)
Meanwhile, I have my iPhone ....and should that require service, my Seven-year Pen.



Happy Writing, no matter your chosen tool!

Esther Hershenhorn
P.S.
Don't forget to enter our Book Giveaway!

P.S.S. from Carmela: I couldn't resist leaving in Esther's signature line from her email, just as she sent it:

iPhone compozed - sry 4 eny typoze=

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12. Poetry Friday and Writing Longhand Vs Keyboarding

http://images.indiebound.com/400/462/9781568462400.jpg

Happy Poetry Friday! Y'all are going to start to think that I only read poetry by J. Patrick Lewis. That is not true, though he is so versatile and prolific that I could share new poems here every time I post, and you would still enjoy a terrific variety, a great education in the art of poetry. I recently received a review copy of his forthcoming Everything Is a Poem: The Best of J. Patrick Lewis (Creative Editions, 2014). That's right. Pat is a rock star, and he has a greatest hits album!

I devoured this book start to finish, and I adore it. It collects some of his poems from the 1980s up to 2010. The topic categories include Animals, People, Reading (yes!), Sports (eh--only because I'm not a sports fan), Riddles and Epitaphs, Mother Nature(always my favorite), Places, and A Mix. The forms cover a huge range, from free verse to rhyming to specific poetic forms. If you're a fan of Lewis' work (and if not, why not?), do not miss this collection.

It was tough choosing just one to share, as there are around 60 poems here. But this is one of my very favorites:

What a Day

Out of dark's rougher neighborhoods,
Morning stumbles,
none too
bright,
recalling now
the thief,
Night,
who stole her work
of art--
Light.


--J. Patrick Lewis, all rights reserved

Here I am reading this poem:




Now, on to the question of longhand vs. keyboarding, the conversation Carmela started earlier this week. I come down firmly on the side of keyboarding. I do my morning pages that way (sorry, Julia Cameron), I do my nonfiction this way, and I do my poetry this way. At least, I prefer to. I do sometimes write longhand, usually when I'm on the road and don't have a keyboard handy. (Even then, I often carry a portable keyboard that works with my iPhone and is amazing!)

I feel stilted and uncomfortable writing in longhand. My hand can't keep up with my brain, and I can feel the ideas and phrases slipping away faster than I can record them. It's like being trapped in a cave where all this treasure is quickly draining down a hole in the floor, and I only have a tiny spoon to try to grab diamonds before they disappear. So, give me a keyboard any day!

One thing I don't mind doing at all in longhand is brainstorming. If I'm coming up with ideas or just playing around with thoughts on an existing piece, I'll happily make lists and charts and such. For example, when I was first working on poems for a night collection that will come out from Wordsong, I filled a little notebook with thoughts and possibilities.

 
 
And, recently, while doing revisions, I had a typed version with me that I made notes on while riding in a car or when I only had five minutes to work. That's when longhand works best for me, when I'm sporadically jotting notes. Write a few words. Put down the paper and go back to what I was actually supposed to be doing. Oops--new thought--grab that paper.



I will say that when I did Riddle-Ku on my blog for National Poetry Month, I wrote 95% of those while riding in a car along Lake Superior in February. I had a little mini-notebook just for that project, and every time I sat down in that seat and picked up my notebook, the poems started pouring out. For very short poems, I don't mind writing longhand. But...if I'd had my keyboard in the car with me and if my phone's battery lasted longer, I'd probably have been typing:>)

You don't have to write longhand OR by keyboard to go enjoy some more poetry! Poet and teacher Heidi Mordhorst at Juicy Little Universe has today's Poetry Friday Roundup--so don't miss it!

And if you haven't already done so, don't forget to enter our current giveaway for a chance to win the historical middle-grade novel Odin's Promise (Crispin Press) by Sandy Brehl. See JoAnn's post for all the details.

--Laura

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13. Wednesday Writing Workout with Guest Teaching Author Sandy Brehl!

Guest Teaching Author Sandy Brehl visited with us on Friday to share some background about her middle grade novel Odin's Promise. (We're giving away an autographed copy--see Friday's post for details!) Sandy also provided today's Wednesday Writing Workout.

Thank you so much for joining us, Sandy! Would you share a favorite writing exercise for our readers?

Since Odin’s Promise released, I’ve heard two comments most often. One reflects appreciation of the fact that characters, particularly the German soldiers, are not treated as caricatures or stereotypes. This wasn’t a conscious decision or my original intent, but my research made it clear that there were wide and varied motivations and reactions among the Norwegians and the occupiers. Surface behaviors were not necessarily indicators of genuine feelings. While the overt story may have been “good Guys VS. Bad Guys” the SUBTEXT reveals more complex dynamics at work.

I’ll suggest a favorite exercise that helps in reading AND writing with an increased awareness of SUBTEXT. I first read about SUBTEXT STRATEGY exercises in an article and later in a book created by developer Jean Anne Clyde and co-authors Barber, Hogue, and Wasz: BREAKTHROUGH TO MEANING: Helping Your Kids Become Better Readers, Writers, and Thinkers.

Here’s one strategy I use: Think of a crime drama or other dramatic series that is familiar to all. A full page print advertisement works well, too. Suggest a scene with simple dialogue (better yet, play a short YouTube clip like this one which does some of the work for you!)

Then quickly survey: “What was _________ really thinking when s/he said that?”  “How could you tell? (Body language? Earlier actions? Facial expression? Previous experience with the character?)

Since I advocate the use of picture books for all ages as compact, concise and compelling tools for sophisticated lessons, here’s one of my favorite activities: Share Chris Raschka’s picture book Yo! Yes? by reading aloud or sharing the YouTube video.

Working through the brief text page by page, discuss what each character is REALLY saying (and thinking) as he speaks; then explore the other’s reaction.

It’s likely not all will “read” the subtext identically. Some may “read” anxiety, others hostility, still others shyness or confusion, depending on their preconceptions. Keep in mind the words on the page are identical for all.

Once the story has been thoroughly explored, challenge writers to compose a story passage from a full double-page spread (or the whole story, if there’s time) with the dialogue restricted to the original text. Narration alone must do the important work of the illustrations. The finished piece should suggest the subtext but still allow for some interpretation among different readers. This might be conveyed by body postures, gestures, expressions, actions, tone of voice, etc.

If working in a group of three, two can reenact a portion of the story, replaying sections to allow full discussion. A recorder helps the team generate the best way to describe, phrase, and imply the emotions and attitudes intended without stating them outright. The finished text is then read aloud and enacted by the players, comparing to the original impact of the illustrated pages.

This exercise can be adapted to reveal underlayers of character personalities before writing:  If you know your story will have two teen boys, a mother, a younger sister, and a crabby old neighbor, imagine their responses to a single page color advertisement--perhaps a lingerie ad. Develop an internal script for each character’s thoughts when viewing the same ad. Is the crabby old neighbor a lecherous man or does he think about his wife deteriorating with Alzheimer's and remember how she looked on her wedding night? Does the mother worry about her son being hounded by aggressive young girls, or worry that he doesn’t even seem interested in girls, but his friend is drooling? Does the young girl have body image issues suggesting early anorexia, or does she disdain such images because she’s 100% tomboy?

Your interpretation of your characters’ responses might reshape your own story and its development.

As for that other frequent comment? Readers ask when they can expect the sequel so they can find out what happens next to Mari and her family. Odin’s Promise was written as a stand-alone title, but apparently there is enough subtext to generate emotional investment in my characters, which is the best compliment I could wish for. Research is well underway, with fingers crossed that this won’t be a thirty-year process.

Thank you again, Sandy! 
Readers, be sure to enter the book giveaway! The deadline is August 23.

JoAnn Early Macken

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14. Writing Longhand vs Typing: Does it Make a Difference?


Which do you prefer: writing longhand with a pen (or pencil) on paper or typing on a keyboard/electronic device? This is the question I posed to our TeachingAuthors for the series of posts I'm kicking off today. As I considered my own answer, I found some interesting information on how our writing tools may affect our creativity.

I was about twelve or thirteen when I first started writing for myself (as opposed to for school assignments). Back then, the only alternative I had to writing longhand was a manual typewriter on which I could eek out maybe 10-15 words per minute. So longhand it was. I wrote poetry, journaled, and did all my school assignments in longhand. When necessary, I then transcribed my written words to the printed page via my beautiful blue Smith Corona.

cropped version of photo by mpclemens, per CC rights 
By the time I started working as a freelance writer (MANY years later), personal computers had arrived on the scene. And I'd learned to type MUCH faster. So, for the sake of efficiency, I adapted my writing process to compose directly at the keyboard (as I'm doing with this blog post), but only for the nonfiction pieces I wrote for newspapers and magazines. For my "creative" writing--journals, poetry, short stories and my first novel--I stuck with longhand.

Then came graduate school, with its requirement of forty typed pages of writing per month. Once again, I adapted. I sat pounding out fiction--first short stories, then novel chapters--directly at the keyboard. For the most part, that worked fine. But every so often, I'd get stuck. I couldn't find the right words, or the words didn't have the right rhythm, or I couldn't get the feelings to come across on the page. I'd sit staring at the blinking cursor, my fingers frozen on the keys.

That's when I'd go make another cup of tea. Or stretch. Or take a walk. Sometimes that helped. But not always.

One day, while working on Rosa, Sola, I got the idea to take up a pen and write out a question for Rosa, my main character. I asked her what she was feeling in the particular scene I was working on. Then I closed my eyes and tried to imagine I was in Rosa's shoes at that moment. I opened my eyes and wrote the answer to the question, longhand, from Rosa's point of view. I was amazed at the words that flowed from my pen. They not only gave me insight into Rosa and her feelings, but also ideas for what would happen next in the story.


From then on, whenever I got stuck, no matter what I was writing, I turned to paper and pen. And almost every time, the writing was better than what I'd struggled to generate via the keyboard.

I decided to research why for this blog post. Chris Gayomali's Mentalfloss article "4 Benefits of Writing by Hand," like most of the other articles I found, says writing longhand makes you a better writer mainly because it slows you down. I think there's more to it than that. Otherwise, I could get the same benefits if I just typed slowly. But that doesn't help me at all.

I suspected that the difference really has something to do with how the physical act of putting pen to paper affects the creative side of our brain, our "right brain." Typing, on the other hand, seems to involve more of our logical left-brain.

Researching further, I found a Paris Review interview with poet and author Ted Hughes in which he said:
In handwriting the brain is mediated by the drawing hand, in typewriting by the fingers hitting the keyboard, in dictation by the idea of a vocal style, in word processing by touching the keyboard and by the screen’s feedback. The fact seems to be that each of these methods produces a different syntactic result from the same brain. Maybe the crucial element in handwriting is that the hand is simultaneously drawing. I know I’m very conscious of hidden imagery in handwriting—a subtext of a rudimentary picture language. Perhaps that tends to enforce more cooperation from the other side of the brain. And perhaps that extra load of right brain suggestions prompts a different succession of words and ideas.
This explanation rings truer for me than the "slower is better" theory. What do you think? I'd love if you'd let us know in the comments.

But first, you may want to also read Kelly Barson's fascinating article "Writing from Both Sides of the Brain" in the Hunger Mountain journal. Just make sure to come back here when you're done!

Okay, so if you read Barson's article, you know it includes several references to Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way (Tarcher). Cameron also recommends writing longhand, at least for "Morning Pages." As it happens, I'm currently preparing to teach a new 12-week workshop on The Artist's Way at the College of DuPage that will begin at the end of the month. This Wednesday, August 13, I'll be presenting a free Lunch Break Lecture giving potential students a "taste of" the workshop. If you're in the area, I hope you'll join us. Check my website for details.

And if you haven't already done so, don't forget to enter our current giveaway for a chance to win the historical middle-grade novel Odin's Promise (Crispin Press) by Sandy Brehl. See JoAnn's post for all the details.

Happy writing!
Carmela

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15. Guest Teaching Author Post and Book Giveaway with Sandy Brehl!

I first met Sandy Brehl as the super-efficient contact person for one of the best-planned school visits I've ever experienced. Later, I had opportunities to meet Sandy again through a number of SCBWI-Wisconsin events, also efficiently organized. When I was Regional Advisor, I knew that anything I left in her capable hands could be crossed off my list.

I'm happy to welcome Sandy today as a Guest Teaching Author. Look below for details about the giveaway of her new middle grade novel, Odin’s Promise.

Sandy Brehl retired after forty years of public school teaching in Milwaukee-area schools. Since then, she’s been an active member of SCBWI, devoting most of her time to writing and reading. Sandy enjoys gardening, art, and travel (to Norway, of course). Visit her website to learn more about Odin’s Promise and follow her blog. She also posts reviews and commentary about picture books at Unpacking the POWER of Picture Books. You can follow her on Twitter: @SandyBrehl and @PBWorkshop.

How did you become a Teaching Author?

Teaching came first. I began teaching right out of college and never stopped. For four decades I worked in elementary schools at many grade levels, leading writers throughout those years. The use of mentor text (before it was called that) and the “links to life” approach I used in leading kids to write more successfully, effectively, and with greater engagement meant I was always writing with and for students. This included writing across content areas.

I was always a competent writer, and I wrote often, but I only shared my writing with students and family. It wasn’t until an odd holiday circumstance and my own ignorance of the publishing industry that I gave any thought to submitting my work. I wrote a blog post about this uninformed and inauspicious start to becoming an author.

I had some encouraging successes, with poetry appearing in Spider Magazine and articles published in professional journals.  I eventually joined SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). With the help of workshops, conferences, and critiques, my writing efforts more consistently approached publishable quality.

Since retiring from full time teaching, I conduct workshops for educators, sharing ways to use the highest quality children’s literature to improve reading and writing instruction.

Odin’s Promise is compelling historical fiction for middle-grade readers. How did you balance the fiction and nonfiction aspects of your story?

I love reading historical fiction, and now writing it, too. Fact and fiction are like the opposite sides of a strip of paper, but they can be skillfully connected, like a mobius strip, making it hard to distinguish where each begins and ends. The story should be so compelling that readers aren’t distracted by the fact/fiction question – until the story ends. That’s when they start asking questions (and pursuing answers) about how much of the story is real.

A secondary plot in this book was inspired by actual events I heard about while visiting in Norway many years ago, told to me by the people who lived them. From the moment I heard their story, I was certain it should be in a book. I knew even then that it would be fictionalized, but wanted to tell it as authentically as possible. It turns out there was a very stubborn part of my brain that was unwilling to move more than a smidgeon away from the actual events and characters.

This story has a history nearly as long as my writing life does. It’s the cumulative result of years and years of continuing research and revisions guided by increasingly knowledgeable sources on a story that wouldn’t let me go. The more research I did, the more fictionalized but credible my story became.

Eventually a particular piece of research opened my mind to an entirely new approach. By then the factual content was as real to me as the characters who emerged.

How can teachers use your book in the classroom?

In a guest post for Alyson Beecher’s blog, Kid Lit Frenzy, I used the mobius strip comparison and suggested the benefits of historical fiction as a tool for launching research to answer personal questions. Typically research is used in a linear approach: start with a topic or other prompt, do research, organize results, then produce expository writing or answer factual questions.

Historical fiction often provides an author’s note addressing the fact/fiction elements. Many books, including mine, provide a list of resources for further investigation and related titles. Websites and digital resources allow students to examine maps, read and create timelines, and access guided questions.

I recommend that teachers introduce historical fiction as a genre and suggest using picture books for a model lesson. The interweaving of fact and fiction, which is the nature of this genre, can be examined in these shorter examples. Encourage readers to use sticky notes or notebooks to actively raise their questions while reading. After the book is complete, readers can pursue and compare their questions. They might offer and justify personal opinions as to the fact/fiction status of the content marked. Back matter and other resources can then be used to seek and share reliable answers to those questions.

Once students develop understanding of the interplay of fact and fiction in this genre, teachers might read aloud the timeless Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry, to develop background knowledge. Then Odin’s Promise can be offered to literature study groups along with other titles about Norway’s occupation: Shadow on the Mountain, by Margi Preuss, Snow Treasure, by Marie McSwigan, and The Klipfish Code, by Mary Casanova.

Could you describe your research process?

My research started pre-internet. That meant pursuing hard-to-find sources through the library, then noting the references used to create them. Those served as launching points for further searches. Of course, my notes were all hand-written, the books were often out-of-print (making them expensive or unavailable), and my dedicated research and writing times were limited to summers.

Once I began using online sources to expand my searches, technology made it possible to store and revisit my notes and writing attempts across all those years.

Each time I made a new run at the story or received another critique, I’d dive into further research. Along the way it became clear (to everyone but me) that my ideal audience would be middle-grade readers. I just couldn’t loosen my mental grip on the original inspirational story, which centered on older characters. Only when research led me to a scholarly work that incorporated journal entries, some written by younger people, was I able to see a middle-grade story.

As I read those passages, the fictional voice of Mari, my main character, helped me release my older approach. She shared her thoughts and views of the occupation. As she led me through her own concerns, fears, courage, love, and loyalty, she introduced me to her family and community. She was even generous enough to make space for portions of my original story in her life.

Could you share a story about a funny, moving, or interesting writing or speaking experience?
The most surprising thing to me is that this story includes a dog. I am an animal lover, and I even worked for some years in wildlife rehabilitation. I avoid reading realistic stories about animals, particularly dogs, because I may find myself deeply invested in a story but unwilling to finish reading for fear of injury to the animal. I might not even pick up and read this book if someone else had written it.

Earlier versions didn’t have a dog. I realized some potential readers might feel the same as I do about stories with animals. Mari gave me no choice. She needed Odin in her life, and the events that unfold were essential to her own growth and change.

Another surprising aspect to this book is that it was a “work-in-progress” for more than three decades. Once Mari’s voice came to me the story went from draft and revision to contract, further revision, and release in only two years.

Thank you, Sandy!
Readers, you can hear Sandy talk about Odin's Promise in a Milwaukee Public Radio interview.

Book Giveaway
Enter for a chance to win an autographed copy of Odin's Promise! The book giveaway ends on August 23.

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 about your experience with writing or teaching historical fiction. And please include your name in your comment, if it's not obvious from your comment "identity." (If you prefer, you may submit your comment via email to: teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com.)

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.

Good luck!

JoAnn Early Macken a Rafflecopter giveaway

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16. And the hits keep on a-comin'!

A writer puts her/his heart and soul into crafting a picture book story. Over a period of weeks or months, she sweats and strains to get every little element exactly right. Finally, it's ready. The main character is enormously appealing. The language sings. The storyline crackles. Not one word is unnecessary or out of place.

She sends it off, and ... an editor agrees. Woo-hoo! Break out the bubbly!

A fabulous illustrator brings the story to exquisite life. The writer can't believe her luck. Flash forward two or three (or five) years, and she's holding her story – this perfect story – in her hands, a picture book at last.

Then ... more good news. Glowing reviews. STARS. Additional printings. Big sales. Her book soon grows more popular than she dared to dream it could, and then ...

Her editor asks for a sequel. I imagine this request elicits astonishment and elation (and perhaps the eensiest shiver of terror).

I can only imagine, since it hasn't happened to me yet. But I have been asked (not contracted) to write a picture book sequel. For me, the toughest part was beginning. How much should I refer back to the first book? SHOULD I refer back to the first book at all? Well, I figured it out. But it made me wonder what other authors consider the toughest thing about writing a sequel.

To find out, I asked three of them I admire. Here's what they had to say.

Jennifer Berne, on writing Calvin, Look Out! (illustrated by Keith Bendis, coming Aug. 5th, 2014 – eek, that's tomorrow!), sequel to Calvin Can't Fly (Sterling Publishing, 2010):


"I think my biggest challenge in writing the Calvin sequel was making it as good, as interesting, as compelling and entertaining as the first Calvin book. Of course, isn't that the same challenge in writing any book following a previous book, sequel or not?

"Writing the sequel was easier because I had come to know Calvin, his way of thinking, his way of talking, his passions and frailties. But the sequel was harder because I didn't want it to be too imitative of the original, yet it did need to feel connected and like a natural next adventure.

"I hope I succeed in meeting all my goals for Calvin, Look Out! Only time and my wonderful young readers will tell."

Bonny Becker, on writing A Birthday for Bear (illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton) and other sequels to A Visitor for Bear (Candlewick Press, 2008):


"The biggest challenge without question is the problem of keeping the stories fresh. It's easy to think of situations that will frustrate Bear, but I don't want the escalation of the problem or the resolution to be too predictable. And I've tried to subtly move Bear's story along. His friendship with Mouse deepens and he's slowly coming out of his shell--in a way. At least, in the latest book, A LIBRARY BOOK FOR BEAR, Bear finally gets out of his house and there are actually other creatures in his world that he interacts with.

"Each sequel is easier in some ways and harder in others. I know these characters and their world better with each story, but, as mentioned, coming up with fresh situations and reactions doesn't get easier! It's also tempting to get lazy about it all--not work as hard for fresh language and gestures and such. So I work hard to reference back to earlier books--for example, Bear uses the skates he got in A BIRTHDAY FOR BEAR to get to the library and the humor works better if you know that Bear always ends up shouting--but I also want each book to be strong on its own.”

Pat Zietlow Miller, on writing Sophie's Seeds (currently in the pipeline), sequel to Sophie's Squash (Schwartz & Wade, 2013):

"My biggest challenge was that I had never imagined Sophie having a sequel. So I really had to start from scratch and ponder what she might do next.

"Plus, Sophie's Squash had been so well received that I felt a certain amount of pressure to do an equally good job. I hadn't ever felt that pressure before because I'd always written without anyone expecting it and waiting to see what I'd done.

"So writing Sophie's Seeds took longer and was a bit more painful, but I'm very happy with where we ended up and that Sophie got to have another adventure."

---------------

Count me among the biggest fans of Calvin, Bear & Mouse, and Sophie. Here's to their continuing stories. *clink*

Jill Esbaum
P.S.  You can now find me on Twitter @JEsbaum




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17. 3 FAB AudioBooks & a poem for Poetry Friday!

.
Howdy, Campers!

It's POETRY FRIDAY!
Thanks to Margaret for hosting Poetry Friday today!
(My poem's at the end of this post.)
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Our topic is What are We Reading?  I love this topic...I've learned so much about my blogmates, our readers and books.

Carmela, JoAnn, Jill, Laura and Esther have each checked in about the books they've checked out this summer.

My turn!

Here's what I've read recently:
THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green on my Kindle (loved it)
WE ARE CALLED TO RISE by Laura McBride ~ adult book (wonderfully written...but why are adult books so sad?)
TEA WITH GRANDPA written and illustrated by Barney Saltzberg ~ (SPOILER ALERT: I've bought copies to give to grandparents who Skype their grandkids)

What I'm currently reading:
DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth on my Kindle (not crazy about the writing so far).

But I am CRAZY CAKES for audiobooks.  I live in Southern California, so maybe that explains it.  Or maybe I should say I live in my car in Southern California. :-)

So here is my list of  3 WONDERFUL audiobooks in the order I read them.  And yes, you can say "read them" if you listened to them. Because I said so.

ONE:


Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco Stork, read by Lincoln Hoppe (read a review here)

Lincoln Hoppe is an AMAZING voice actor.  I think I want to marry him.

Hang in there with this audiobook. At first it felt soooo slow...I wasn't sure I was going to keep listening. But, boy, am I glad I did. I mean, wow.

From the Random House website:
"Reminiscent of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time in the intensity and purity of its voice, this extraordinary audiobook is a love story, a legal drama, and a celebration of the music each of us hears inside."

TWO:

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt, read by Sam Freed

From Wikipedia:
"Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, published by Clarion Books, is a 2004 historical fiction book by Gary D. Schmidt. The book received the Newbery Honor in 2005 and was selected as a Michael L. Printz Honor that same year. The book was based on a real event. In 1912, the government of Maine put the residents of Malaga Island in a mental hospital and razed their homes."

“Schmidt’s writing is infused with feeling and rich in imagery. With fully developed, memorable characters. . . This novel will leave a powerful impression on readers.” ~ School Library Journal, Starred


THREE:

Okay For Now by Gary D. SchmidtNational Book Award Finalist.  Read by Lincoln Hoppe.  (!)

Here's what the National Book Award website says:
“In this stunning novel, Schmidt expertly weaves multiple themes of loss and recovery in a story teeming with distinctive, unusual characters and invaluable lessons about love, creativity, and survival.”

His main character, Doug Swieteck, first appeared in Schmidt’s Newbery Honor book, THE WEDNESDAY WARS.

Listen to an 8 minute NPR on-air interview of Schmidt about OKAY FOR NOW here.

There.  Those are my Fab 3.

What I look forward to listening to next:

~ THE WEDNESDAY WARS by Gary D. Schmidt, read by Joel Johnstone. I think I may have this read years ago; I can't wait to listen to it. (I'm inspired by Esther and am reading a string of books by the same author...something I almost never do.  Gary D. Schmidt is a brilliant and deeply affecting writer.)

LISTENING IN THE BACKSEAT
by April Halprin Wayland

Are we twisting,
risking all,

listening to what the writer
wires us,

what the teller
sells us?

Twisting, uncertain,
wheeling...to the final curtain?


Did you know that many folks read books aloud for your listening pleasure on YouTube?  Go to YouTube and search for a book title.  For example, click here for a sampling of folks reading THE FAULT IN OUR STARS.

And...if you know any flat-out beginning picture book writers in the Los Angeles area, my six-week class, Writing Picture Books for Children in the UCLA Extension Writers' Program starts August 6th.  (The student who benefits most from this class has never heard of SCBWI.)

poem and drawing (c)2014 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

posted by April Halprin Wayland...who's amazed that you've read all the way to here.  Thank you. 

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18. Wednesday Writing Workout: Charactization: Tell It Sideways, Courtesy of Sherry Shahan


Today's Wednesday Writing Workout comes to us courtesy of the talented Sherry Shahan. 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." 

Her research has led to more than three dozen published books, fiction and nonfiction. To keep from becoming stale, Sherry likes to mix it up—writing picture books, easy readers, middle-grade novels, and YA. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and teaches a writing course for UCLA extension.

Her new young adult novel Skin and Bones (A. Whitman) is a quirky story set in an eating disorder unit of a metropolitan hospital. The main character “Bones” is a male teen with anorexia. He falls desperately in love with an aspiring ballerina who becomes his next deadly addiction.

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

                                                               *          *           *

Wednesday Writing Workout 
Tell It Sideways
by Sherry Shahan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’d be a little crowded.”

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

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

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

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

Thank you, Sherry, for this terrific Wednesday Writing Workout! Readers, if you give these exercises a try, do let us know how they work for you.

Happy writing!
Carmela

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19. Passionate or Practical? Writing To Market Children's Books {and Poetry Friday!}

.
Howdy, Campers!

Woo-woo!  The winner of Joan Bransfield Graham's new book, The Poem that Will Not End is Rosi Hollenbeck, who happens to be the SCBWI critique group coordinator for Northern and Central California. Congratulations, Rosi!  You'll find Joan's Wednesday Writing Workout here and my interview with her here.

Today we conclude our series on Writing What We Want to Write versus Writing What is Marketable (or, as I like to call it, WWWWWWWM). Each of us is taking turns thinking aloud about Marion Dane Bauer's terrific post, The Creative Mind, in which she writes convincingly about WWWWWWWM.

It's also Poetry Friday at Buffy's AND it's the start of TeachingAuthors' Summer Blogging Break--woo-woo!

http://buffysilverman.com/blog/
Thanks, for hosting PF, Buffy!

First, let's review what TeachingAuthors have been saying so far this round:

JoAnn began the conversation by sharing her monarch haiku project and the new direction in which she's taking it; Carmela talked about how hard it is to work so long on beloved projects that don't sell...but finds redemption; Laura writes that it's a matter of prioritizing, e-publishing, sharing poetry love and more: and writing coach/writers' booster Esther sees the light, rewrites, submits like the devil, and stays optimistic. Her post has helped me stay optimistic, too.  In fact each of these posts has.

So...wow. I've been mulling over how to talk to you about this one.  It's potent. And personal.

Just like each of my blogmates, I've sent out countless manuscripts that have bounced back again and again and again and again.  *Sigh.*  I'd be a great boomerang maker.


For example, Girl Coming in for a Landing--a Novel in Poems (Knopf) took me ten years to sell. Then it won two major awards. Editors who rejected it said, "Teens don't read.  And if they do read, they don't read poetry."  As Esther reminds us: "Times change; markets change; publishers' needs change; editorial staffs change." Oy--is that ever true.

More recently, I finally found a way to fictionalize the story of the flood which destroyed my family's farm and how we rebuilt afterwards.  I'd been taking this picture book manuscript out, rewriting it, and putting it back in my bottom drawer for years.  Last year I was invited to join a dynamite critique group; I took a risk and showed them my story. At this Magic Table I learned what my story was missing and how to strengthen it.
This is what happens at our Magic Table. Sort of.
I was elated.  I sent it to my fabulous agent.  She told me that picture books these days must be short. VERY short.  Picture books used to be for ages 3-8 and could be as long as 1500 words.  These days, editors want picture books for ages 3-5.  After 650 words, editors roll their eyes, my agent told me.

I told the Magic Table this.  They helped me shorten it.  I sent it flying out my door again.

Editors said that it was too regional. I went back to the Magic Table. They said, What about all the floods around the country? What about your themes of resilience, problem solving, weather, storms, climate change and life cycles for heaven's sake? You've just got to help them see this.  You'd got to help your agent sell it.

SO...I hired a curriculum specialist...and resubmitted the story complete with Supplementary Materials including Themes, Common Core-related English Language Arts activities, Science-related activities, and a Glossary.

(Huh! Take That, I say with all those Capital Letters!)

And it's still not selling.

And yet...I believe in the Power of the Table. I do. I love this writing biz. I do. And I love my gang around that table. So what else can I do but believe? I keep on keeping on.

I wrote a poem recently to our group, to our leader, to the Magic Table. It was reverent, in awe of the smarts and wizardry at the Table.

But today I changed the poem. Maybe it's not a Magic Table after all. Here's the revised version:

AROUND THIS TABLE
by April Halprin Wayland

It's magic, you know.
Impossible feats of metaphor.
Six of us around this rosewood table,
savoring tea.

Spilling over our pages,
foreshadowing, fortune telling,
drawing stories
out of the shadows of these drapes.

The illusion of allusion.
A prophecy of sorcery.
The tinkling of full moon necklaces.
Shamans jingling bracelets
dangling from our sleight of hands.

But…are we clairvoyant?
Are we soothsayers, 
sorceresses, sorcerers?
Maybe it's all just make believe.

Believe.


poem copyright © 2014 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.
I am boldly stealing the following EXACT WORDING (and formatting) from today's Poetry Friday host, Buffy Silverman because it's 12:15 am here in California...and because it applies to Buffy, to me, and to many other poets in the kidlitosphere you may know (thank you, Buffy!):
In other poetry news, I recently submitted a poem to a children’s poetry anthology being prepared by Carol-Ann Hoyte on food and agriculture, and was happy to learn this week that the poem was accepted.  I’m in good company with many other Poetry Friday folks–look for the anthology in October of this year.

TeachingAuthors will be taking our annual blogging break--we'll be back Monday, July 13th.  See you then!
Four TeachingAuthors on summer break.

Written by April Halprin Wayland who thanks you for reading all the way to the end.

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20. We're Back! And Talking about What We've Been Reading


Hello Readers,
I hope you're all enjoying summer (well, at least those of you in the Northern Hemisphere!). These are definitely not "lazy, hazy days" for me. I spent much of our blogging break working on lesson plans for upcoming classes, including a children's writing camp that begins today. (If you'd like to see my summer class offerings, check out my website.)

Today I'm kicking off a series of posts in which we TeachingAuthors talk about a book we recently read or are currently reading. Thanks to the lovely Linda Baie over at TeacherDance, I know about a meme in the blogging community called "It's Monday, What Are You Reading?" hosted at Teach Mentor Texts. I'm happy to have a blog post that qualifies for the roundup!

The book I'd like to discuss is John Green's The Fault in Our Stars (Dutton). Even though this bestseller has been out since 2012 and has been made into a "major motion picture," I didn't get around to reading it till this month. I might not have read it all if it hadn't been selected as one of our Anderson's Bookshop's Not for Kids Only Book Club titles for August.


I'm happy to say that even though I don't typically read or write contemporary young adult novels, I enjoyed this one. I was especially struck by two things right at the beginning:

A. The Author's Note:
In case you haven't read it (or somehow missed the page) the book includes an unusual Author's Note before Chapter One: 
Author’s Note
      This is not so much an author’s note as an author’s reminder of what was printed in small type a few pages ago: This book is a work of fiction. I made it up.
      Neither novels nor their readers benefit from attempts to divine whether any facts hide inside a story. Such efforts attack the very idea that made-up stories can matter, which is sort of the foundational assumption of our species.
      I appreciate your cooperation in this matter.
This note struck me for two reasons: 
  1. It reminded me of a question I'm often asked. Since my novel, Rosa, Sola, is based on events from my own childhood, readers often want to know how much of the novel "really happened." I think many who ask it are disappointed by my answer: None of it "really happened" because my life events happened to me, not to Rosa Bernardi. I don't think I could have written the story if I hadn't been able to separate myself from my character. 
  2. Green's note made me think more deeply about the nature of fiction and our purposes in reading/writing it. The note also reminded me of something I read years ago--that fiction is about Universal Truths, or "truth with a capital T." As a writer, I sometimes get so caught up in plot and craft, etc., that I can lose sight of the Truth.
If you'd like to read more about what Green meant by his Author's Note, see this page on his website.

B. That a story about cancer and death can be humorous:
From page one of The Fault in Our Stars, I was intrigued by the narrator's wit and voice. It begins:
Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death.
I have to admit--after first reading this sentence I wasn't completely sure Hazel was being sarcastic. After all, this was a book about a girl with cancer. But it soon became apparent that cancer hadn't killed her sense of humor. That surprised me, as did other things about the book. I'm not going to risk spoiling it for those of you who haven't read the novel yet by telling you what those other things were. I'll just say that I enjoyed the book more than I expected. And, reading as a writer, I learned from it.

I wonder how many of you, our readers, have read Green's book. I'd love to know what you thought of it. And if you have any "summer reading" recommendations, do share them with us. 

Happy writing (and reading)!

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21. Summertime, and the Reading Is Random

Wait—what day is it? I’m supposed to post today, right? I’m happy to say that we're having a busy, active summer so far with more adventures planned. Here’s what I’ve been reading:

  • Road maps. I have practically no sense of direction, but given enough time, I can figure out which way to go with a decent map, especially if it comes with step-by-step instructions. We just returned from a two-week trip to Colorado, and I took advantage of Map Quest and other smart phone apps for the first time.

  • Monarch butterfly information. Home from our trip, we found our backyard milkweed plants loaded with monarch eggs and caterpillars. I joined the Monarch Butterfly discussion list, where people post fascinating updates about current research as well as their own observations. In the past four days, I’ve gathered about 75 eggs and 15 caterpillars. Two chrysalises also hang in our backyard mosquito net tent. (A neighbor kept an eye on them while we were gone.)


  • Research on multiple topics for future books of my own and a couple freelance fact-checking projects.

  • An adult book (gasp!) I borrowed from my husband because I didn’t make it to the library before we left town. I’m finding it a bit too long and convoluted, but I’ve grown attached to the characters, so I’ll probably finish the book just to find out what happens to them.

Happy reading!
JoAnn Early Macken

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22. Summer: Long Days, Short Books

Each summer I order 15-20 new picture books to share at the Whispering Woods Picture Book Workshop hosted by my friend Linda Skeers and me. When a shipment arrives, I carry them in a big stack to my sofa, then sit down with them on my lap. I open the top cover of the top book, inhale that new-book smell, then slowly and blissfully read my way through the stack.

Well, sometimes it's blissful. Other times I find myself checking the publisher and wondering:  What did XXX see in this story that I'm missing? I hate it when that happens. (And then I hope really, really hard that nobody is disappointed in MY books like that. But I also know you can't please everybody. *sigh*  If only.)

The flip side is when I'm making my way (aloud) through a book – la, la, la – and a passage makes me STOP and catch my breath. In a good way. And I have to back up a page or two and come into it again. You know, to see if it was really that good, if it will make me stop and smile again. If it does, the next thing I have to know is "How'd she DO that?"



Gaston, by Kelly DiPucchio (illus by Christian Robinson) is the book that grabbed me this year. The whole story is adorable, but it's one little page that had me whispering a reverent, "Oh, man. Oh, man. Oh, man." And I didn't have to turn many pages to find it. Here's how the book begins:

       "Mrs. Poodle admired her new puppies.

                 "Fi-Fi,       Foo-Foo,       Ooh-La-La,       and Gaston."

Now, first of all, how fun is it to read those names aloud? Real.

So anyway, pictured are four white puppies. The reader is supposed to notice that one (Gaston) looks different from his litter mates. The reader MUST, in fact, notice that difference, because the entire story hangs on it. But like I said, the puppies are all white, and they're all about the same size. So here's where I was blown away. When you turn the page, you get this. The text reads:



      "Would you like to see them again?

                    "Fi-Fi,       Foo-Foo,       Ooh-La-La,        and Gaston.

      "Perfectly precious, aren't they?"

Oh, man. See what she did there? See how the text comes across feeling light and off-hand? She never says:  "Be sure to notice, kids, that one puppy is different." No. She finds a way to make sure kids see that difference WITHOUT telling them to, then blithely moves the story along with that slightly-flippant last line:  "Perfectly precious, aren't they?"

THAT, ladies and gentlemen, takes a confident writer, one who knows her craft – and how to make a point without hitting us on the head with it. The next thing I have to wonder is if this passage was in the book from the beginning, or was it added late in the process?

I'll probably never know. But I love it when I come away from a book inspired to write better. And I loved being reminded, again, that it only takes a handful of words for masterful writers to make magic.

Jill Esbaum








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23. Wednesday Writing Workout: Dialogue Secrets You Don't Want to Miss, courtesy of Kym Brunner


Today I'm happy to share a guest Wednesday Writing Workout from the amazing Kym Brunner, who is celebrating the release of not one, but TWO, novels this summer.


When I met Kym at an SCBWI-IL conference a few years back, I couldn't get over her enthusiasm and energy. I had no idea how she found time to write, given that she was a busy mom with a full-time teaching job (teaching middle-schoolers, no less!).

According to her bio, Kym's method of creating a manuscript is a four-step process: write, procrastinate, sleep, repeat. She's addicted to Tazo chai tea, going to the movies, and reality TV. When she's not reading or writing, Kym teaches seventh grade full time. She lives in Arlington Heights, Illinois with her family and two trusty writing companions, a pair of Shih Tzus named Sophie and Kahlua.

Kym's debut novel, Wanted:  Dead or In Love (Merit Press), was released last month. Here's the intriguing synopsis:
Impulsive high school senior Monroe Baker is on probation for a recent crime, but strives to stay out of trouble by working as a flapper at her father's Roaring 20's dinner show theater. When she cuts herself on one of the spent bullets from her father's gangster memorabilia collection, she unwittingly awakens Bonnie Parker's spirit, who begins speaking to Monroe from inside her head. 
Later that evening, Monroe shows the slugs to Jack, a boy she meets at a party. He unknowingly becomes infected by Clyde, who soon commits a crime using Jack's body. The teens learn that they have less than twenty-four hours to ditch the criminals or they'll share their bodies with the deadly outlaws indefinitely. 
And here's the blurb for her second novel, One Smart Cookie (Omnific Publishing), which came out July 15:

Sixteen year old Sophie Dumbrowski, is an adorably inept teen living above her family-owned Polish bakery with her man-hungry mother and her spirit-conjuring grandmother, who together, are determined to find Sophie the perfect boyfriend. 

But when Sophie meets two hot guys on the same day, she wonders if  this a blessing or a curse. And is Sophie's inability to choose part of the reason the bakery business is failing miserably? The three generations of women need to use their heads, along with their hearts, to figure things out...before it's too late.



Today Kym shares a terrific Wednesday Writing Workout on dialogue.


Wednesday Writing Workout: 
SHH! DIALOGUE SECRETS YOU DON’T WANT TO MISS!
by Kym Brunner 

Quick! After a person’s appearance, what’s the first thing you notice when you meet someone? If you’re like most of us, it’s what comes out of their mouths. First impressions and all that. But when you read, you can’t see the characters, so your first impressions are made based on what the characters say, not how they look.

Simple concept, right? Not so simple to deliver.
SO…HOW DO YOU MAKE YOUR CHARACTER MAKE A GOOD FIRST IMPRESSION?

Give them something to say that’s:
  • Believable
  • Fits their personality
  • Consistent, yet unexpected
  • Short and natural
1) Believable Dialogue

How do you know if it’s believable or not? Put on your walking shoes and get out your notebook! Head to the spot where the prototype of your character would go. Need to write teens talking together at lunch? Go to a fast-food restaurant near a high school. Want to know what couples say when they’re on a date? Head to a movie theater early and go see the latest romantic comedy. You get the idea.

***HINT: LISTEN AND TAKE GOOD NOTES. I promise you’ll forget the words and how they said them if you don’t.
2
2) Dialogue that fits the character’s personality

There’s a famous writing cliché that says a reader should be able to read a line of dialogue and know who the character is without the identifying dialogue tag.

The key is being the character when you write his or her lines. Imagine YOU are the sensitive butcher who is very observant (seriously, picture yourself looking out of the eyes of the butcher with your hands on a raw steak) and then write his or her lines. Better yet, listen to a butcher talk to customers and/or interview one to ask his top three concerns about his job. You might be surprised to learn what those things are…and so might your reader.

***HINT: SWITCH INTO THE MINDS of all of your characters (even the minor ones) as you write to create words that only THEY would say.
Image courtesy of smarnad/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
3) Consistent, yet unexpected? Huh?

Your job is to make sure your characters are real, that they speak the truth (or not, depending on who they are). In real life, characters might keep their thoughts to themselves. Not so in fiction. Characters that are pushed to the brink must speak out––to a best friend, to the cabbie, to the offending party, to the police.
Yes, we want dialogue to be authentic, but it IS a story and it does need to intrigue your readers. So let them speak their mind and propel the story ahead by providing interesting thoughts for your readers to mull over.

***HINT: TO KEEP PACING ON TRACK, use frequent dialogue to break up paragraphs of exposition.

4) Short and Natural

Cut to the chase. No one likes listening to boring blowhards, so don’t let your characters be “one of those people.” Remember tuning out a boring teacher? That’s what didactic dialogue and info dumps feels like to your readers. Only include information that’s absolutely necessary for the story’s sake and skip the rest. You might need to know the backstory, but keep it to yourself.

***HINT: READ ALL DIALOGUE OUT LOUD. Change voices to the way you imagine the characters interacting and it’ll feel more “real.” If you’re bored with the conversation, so is your reader. If it doesn't sound the way a person really talks, cut it or revise it. Listen to real people and you’ll notice most of us talk in short sentences with breaks for others to add commentary.

So there you have it. Write dialogue that’s believable, fits the characters, necessary, and natural and your readers will come back for more!

*****
Hopefully you’ll find authentic dialogue galore in Wanted:  Dead or In Love, which features two alternating POVs––one from Monroe (a modern-day teen who becomes possessed internally by the infamous Bonnie Parker), and the other from Clyde Barrow himself (who works hard to take over the body of Jack Hale, a teen male).

And if cultural humor is more your style, you’ll get a helping of Polish spirits along with a bounty of teen angst in One Smart Cookie.

Kym Brunner

Thanks so much, Kym! Readers, let us know if you try any of these techniques. Meanwhile, if you'd like to connect with Kym, you can do so via her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. And if you'd like a taste of Wanted:  Dead or In Love, here's the book trailer:


Happy writing (and reading!)
Carmela

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24. Poetry Friday: Last Impressions and What I'm Reading




For Poetry Friday, I'm sharing a poem from a book coming out this fall from J. Patrick Lewis and George Ella Lyon. I just received an ARC of Voices from the March on Washington (WordSong), and I've only read three of the poems. But they all knocked my socks off! I'll share more closer to the publication date, but here's a sneak peek to whet your appetite.

Last Impressions

black without white
is
a moonless
night
empty
as
a life
of endlessly
falling snow
is
white without black

--J. Patrick Lewis, all rights reserved

This lovely poem especially connected with me because I just wrote three poems about diversity for consideration for a friend's scholarly book on children's literature, and the one he chose uses blizzard/snow imagery as well!

And I love the way you can create many different complete thoughts that kind of overlap each other because of the line breaks. Gorgeous.

Here I am reading Pat's poem:



Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong, creators of the amazing Poetry Friday Anthology books, are hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup at Poetry for Children. Don't miss it!

Now on to what I've been reading. I've been working on attacking my to-read shelf this summer! I joined the Book-a-Day Challenge through Donalyn Miller and the Nerdy Book Club (http://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/2014/05/18/the-sixth-annual-book-a-day-challenge/). My goal is to average a book a day (surprise:>) And it's not too late! You pick your start and stop days, so if you have one month left of summer, go for it. Commit to reading a book a day, and share your books on your blog or Twitter (#bookaday). I post mine on Twitter--that accountability is great. Anyway, the thing I've learned most is that having a book-a-day really helps me get to a lot more picture books and poetry books--which are my favorite books, anyway. But they often get lost in the shuffle as I read research books or escape into mysteries. Below are the most recent 10 books I've finished. I have more in progress.

Looking over my list, I would say two other things I've learned are that I abandon books without guilt now (a major change from 10 years ago), and I want to read MORE picture books and poetry. Once book-a-day ends, I might have to come up with a picture book plan to keep me going!

P.S. Check that last book for the most finely-crafted nonfiction picture book I've read in months.

P.P.S. Those of you in the Los Angeles area who are aspiring picture book writers, check out Teaching Authors' April Halprin Wayland's upcoming class, Writing Picture Books for Children. It's Wednesday nights from August 6 through September 10. It might be just right for you, so don't miss out :>)

Happy reading,
Laura

Laura's bookshelf: read

Superworm
4 of 5 stars
Drama, a lizard wizard, an evil crow, and a superhero worm. All in delightful rhyme. What more could you ask for?

         
Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature
4 of 5 stars
A terrific nonfiction book to introduce the fairly complex concept of fractals (shapes that have smaller parts that resemble the larger, overall shape). Clear text and well-chosen photos are the strong points. I might have given this 5 s...

         
Guilt by Association
4 of 5 stars
A smart-mouthed DA sets out to prove her colleague's innocence (after being ordered to stay out of the investigation) on the side while investigating the rape of the daughter of an annoying, powerful businessman. Strong, relatable charac...

         
Have You Heard the Nesting Bird?
4 of 5 stars
Great rhyming nonfiction. We get to hear the calls of several species of birds and learn about their habits. Interspersed with that is a narrative about a bird that's calmly and quietly sitting on its nest--the nesting bird. It's a robin...

         
You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think: The 5 Money Secrets of the Happiest Retirees
4 of 5 stars
I am not very savvy about financial planning. I'm a good budgeter, but at age 47, I've only thought about retirement in general, far-off terms. I'm SO glad I read this book. After starting to follow the basic steps spelled out here, I'm ...

         
Feathers: Not Just for Flying
5 of 5 stars
Basically a perfect nonfiction picture book. The primary text, secondary text, and art work beautifully together. Great mentor text for exploring functions or for using similes. And terrific for units on birds. Gorgeous work!

goodreads.com
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25. The AUTHOR I'm Still Reading…

What have I been reading, and in some cases re-reading, these delicious summer days in Chicago?
Anything written by Dani Shapiro!

I hope that name rings a bell.                                                           
I declared her book STILL WRITING: THE PERILS AND PLEASURES OF WRITING a must-have for every writer’s shelf in my June 2 post.


Part memoir, part meditation on the creative process, part advice on craft, Dani Shapiro’s words enabled, empowered and equipped me to return to my writing and keep on keepin’ on.
In sharing those words weekly with my summer Newberry Library Writing Workshop students, I watched them do the same.

I knew instantly from her confession early on in STILL WRITING that I wanted and needed to read Dani Shapiro’s body of work, both fiction and nonfiction.

My words are my pickax, and with them I chip away at the rough surface of whatever it is I still need to know.”

I began with SLOW MOTION: A MEMOIR OF A LIFE RESCUED BY TRAGEDY, Dani Shapiro’s honest, heartfelt telling of her true story, “a life turned around – not by miracles or happy endings, but by unexpected personal catastrophe.”

Next I read DEVOTION: A MEMOIR, the story of her ongoing three-tiered inner journey to discover what makes a life meaningful.

The novel FAMILY HISTORY followed.  Living up to its flap copy, it was indeed a “stunning and brutally honest novel about one family’s harrowing recovery from devastation.”  Rachel Jensen’s story of the family crisis brought about by her adolescent daughter’s pain grabbed me from the get-go and wouldn’t let go.

I can say the same about BLACK & WHITE’s Clara Brodeur and her story which explores the stuff and limits of the mother-daughter relationship.

All of the books mentioned, whether memoir or fiction, totally absorbed me. I adore reading stories about families, about creative souls, about the human condition.  I worried.  I cared. Each book spoke to me - the mother, grandmother and former wife, the daughter and sister, the human being, but also, the writer and teacher.  Each book was literally un-put-downable.  Dani Shapiro writes elegantly, truthfully, her camera lens focused on only what’s important to the characters and their internal and external actions.  Her superb craft in seamlessly weaving important back story details into the forward-moving story is to be envied, as well as studied.  

And study it I did, because that’s how I learned my craft long ago, when I knew zippo about how to write for children: I read the bodies of work of Charlotte Zolotow and James Marshall and MarjorieWeinman Sharmat, when I longed to write picture books, of Betsy Byars and Phyllis Reynolds Naylor and Lois Lowry, when I longed to write a novel.  I read them first as a reader, second as a writer.  And I spent time learning their writer’s stories too.

I now subscribe to Dani Shapiro’s blog  - which is how I first discovered STILL WRITING, thanks to Carmela’s  Facebook sharing of Bruce Black’s April 18 sharing of the blog post “On the Long Haul” on his blog Wordswimmer.   

Fortunately, the summer’s not over and neither is my reading. Dani Shapiro’s novels PICTURING THE WRECK, FUGITIVE BLUE and PLAYING WITH FIRE are currently on hold for me at my local Chicago Public Library branch.
 
I clipped these words by Barbara Kingsolver from my Sunday Chicago Tribune.

“I learned to write by reading the kind of books I wished I’d written.”

How true, how true.
 
Happy (Summer) Reading - and - Writing!

Esther Hershenhorn

P.S.
If you’re in the Los Angeles area and want to write picture books, check out my fellow TeachingAuthor April Halprin Wayland’s upcoming class – Writing Picture Books for Children. It's Wednesday nights from August 6 through September 10.

 

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