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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. Yet One More Thanks-Giving Thanku!


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

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

Each day I awake

-         grateful I’m here, alive and well,

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

-         especially grateful for the chance to love them back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow TeachingAuthors and our TeachingAuthors readers!

Esther Hershenhorn

P.S.

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

 

 

 

 

 

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2. Thanks from the Depths


the whole alphabet
is somehow not enough
to express my thanks


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck to all, and happy writing!
Carmela

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4. Apple Dumplings





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Morguefile


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

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

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

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

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

“No,” said the old woman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Not The End.

My list of grateful things:

My daughter, who stands above any list.

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

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

For apple dumplings.


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

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

Don’t forget about the CWIM giveaway!

Bobbi Miller


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

.
Howdy, Campers!

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

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

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


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

I'd like to thank...

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

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

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

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

Just goodness.

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

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

Here's my Thanku:

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


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

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


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

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

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6. WWW: Creating AUTHENTIC Characters


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

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

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

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

 

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

Enjoy! Enjoy!

Esther Hershenhorn

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How does it affect his/her school activities?

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

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

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

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7. A Half Glass of Blessings

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

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8. 3 (Yes, THREE!) Weeks of Thanks-Giving plus Another CWIM Giveaway!


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

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


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

Thanks-Giving

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

© 2014 Carmela Martino, All Rights Reserved

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

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


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

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

Good luck and happy writing!
Carmela

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

             Mixed-up Mad Hatterisms to Celebrate Hat Month

             Bees in your beanie.

A feather in your fez.

Pass the fedora.

Bearskin in hand.

Tom scored a tam trick!

Talking through your cap.

Tip o’ my turban.

Pass the sombrero.

Helmets off!

At the drop of a wimple.

Home is where you hang your beret.

              (Copyright 2014 Esther Hershenhorn)

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

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

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

             A Haiku Thank You

            Dear (fill-in-the-blank),

You knew how to make me smile.

Thank-u very much.

(Copyright 2014 Esther Hershenhorn)

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

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

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

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

Happy Writing!

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

Esther Hershenhorn

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10. Audience, Revising, and Poetry Friday!

Today, I’m continuing our Teaching Authors series on whether to try to appeal to reluctant readers, or any particular type of reader, when we write. So far, we seem to agree that we should write what moves us and hope that it moves others, too. I’m going off on a few tangents to add some related thoughts.


I started writing for kids when our kids were little. I found inspiration while hanging out with kids on playgrounds, in school, and at soccer games. I kept our kids in mind as I wrote. When they grew out of picture book age, I lost them as audience but kept their younger selves in mind, along with their friends, my own younger self, and the children my sisters used to be. Maybe that’s why one editor kindly described my voice as “classic.” With school visits dwindling, perhaps I should spend more time at the playground.

When I worked as a managing editor for an educational publisher, a reading specialist assigned reading levels to all our books. We also assigned each one an interest level, which was intended to attract reluctant readers to subjects that might appeal to them even if did not correlate with the reading level. This category included many high-interest topics for boys: amazing sports feats, weird facts, adventure stories. How well did it work? I can’t say. I thought of it as just one more marketing tool.

My writing group is remarkable in many ways, but what applies to this topic is their ability to pick out words, phrases, and concepts that seem too adult for a poem or picture book manuscript. Yesterday, I sifted through my filing cabinet and recycled a paper grocery bag full of old drafts. I was struck by the number of gently worded rejection letters, several of which referenced this problem, especially in my poetry collections. Although we should not focus too much on audience when we write, we should pay attention when we revise. Maybe some of those old poems are worth taking another crack at with a young audience specifically in mind.

I’m revising a nonfiction manuscript that includes a lot of scientific information. I’m putting more complex details in sidebars. A few nights ago, out of curiosity, I separated the main text from the sidebars and checked the reading levels separately. (To do this in Microsoft Word, select the text you want to check. Then on the Review tab, click Spelling and Grammar.) I went through the main text and checked it sentence by sentence so I could revise the most difficult ones. I’m not saying that reading level is necessarily an indicator of text complexity, but it does contribute. I use this feature a lot when I write for educational publishers who specify a reading level. When a sentence is too high, I substitute simpler words, divide it into two sentences, or even cut it.

Here’s an example:
We piled into the car, rode to the library, and picked out our favorite books to read and share.


The revised version:
We piled into the car. Mom drove us to the library. Each of us checked out a stack of books. We read our own, and then we traded.


Notice that I added words and also varied the sentence structure.

It’s Poetry Friday! Here’s a poem I found yesterday when I cleaned out my files.

My Singular Garden 
My garden is a skinny one
with just the right amount of sun.
I planted one delphinium,
one violet, one trillium,
one rosebush,
one geranium,
one tulip,
one chrysanthemum.
I wish I could continuum,
but I have reached the maximum.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at Teacher Dance. Enjoy!

Today is the last day for our 2015 Children's Writers and Illustrator's Market Book Giveaway! Enter here.

Finally, don’t forget to V O T E !

JoAnn Early Macken

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11. Wednesday Writing Workout: Finding the Best Beginning, Courtesy of Lenore Look


Hi Everyone,
The clock is ticking! If you haven't entered for a chance to win a copy of the 2015 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market (CWIM) yet, see the link at the end of this post. The giveaway ends on Friday!

We're hosting the 2015 CWIM giveaway this month to celebrate the publication of my article in it: "Writing for Boys (and other 'Reluctant Readers')." The article contains advice and insights from four award-winning authors known for writing books that appeal to reluctant readers: Matt de la PeñaLenore LookDavid Lubar, and Steve Sheinkin. Today, I'm pleased to share a guest Wednesday Writing Workout from one of those authors: Lenore Look!


Here's Lenore's bio, as it appears in the 2015 CWIM:
Lenore Look recently released the sixth book in her award-winning (and boy-friendly) Alvin Ho chapter book series: Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, the Forbidden Palace, and Other Tourist Attractions (Schwartz & Wade). She is also the author of the Ruby Lu series (Atheneum) and several acclaimed picture books, including Henry’s First-Moon Birthday (Simon & Schuster), Uncle Peter’s Amazing Chinese Wedding (Atheneum), and, her newest, Brush of the Gods (Random House), a historical fiction account of the life of Wu Daozi, China’s most famous painter. Lenore taught creative writing at Drew University and St. Elizabeth College in New Jersey, and frequently speaks in schools in the United States and Asia. She has also co-presented the Highlights Foundation workshop "Writing for Boys" with Bruce Coville and Rich Wallace. She lives in Hoboken, New Jersey, and blogs frequently at lenorelook.wordpress.com.

I'm a big fan of Lenore's Alvin Ho books, which is why I approached her about participating in the CWIM article. I haven't read Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, the Forbidden Palace, and Other Tourist Attractions yet, so I'll share the blurb for it that appears on Indiebound:
Here’s the sixth book in the beloved and hilarious Alvin Ho chapter book series, which has been compared to Diary of a Wimpy Kid and is perfect for both beginning and reluctant readers. 
Alvin, an Asian American second grader who’s afraid of everything, is taking his fears to a whole new level—or should we say, continent. On a trip to introduce brand-new baby Ho to relatives in China, Alvin’s anxiety is at fever pitch. First there’s the harrowing 16-hour plane ride; then there’s a whole slew of cultural differences to contend with: eating lunch food for breakfast, kung fu lessons, and acupuncture treatment (yikes!). Not to mention the crowds that make it easy for a small boy to get lost.
From Lenore Look and New York Times bestselling illustrator LeUyen Pham comes a drop-dead-funny and touching series with a truly unforgettable character.
Sounds like a fun read! J

For today's WWW, Lenore shares a great exercise in beginnings.

Wednesday Writing Workout:
Finding the Best Beginning
by Lenore Look

When I worked as a newspaper reporter, the first thing I learned was how important the “lede” or beginning of the story is. The first sentence is crucial. It’s called the “hook” because it snags your reader and reels them into your story. Without a strong hook, your reader will get away before you can tell them the five Ws and H – who, where, what, when, why and how.

When writing fiction, your hook is not just the best way to snag your reader, but it’s the place from which you will hang the rest of your story. It’s THAT important. For me, the beginning is the hardest part of the book to write. I’m faced with all my research, my characters, what I want to say, and a few ideas for scenes. It’s overwhelming. Where do I start? I pick something and have a go at it. It’s a mis-start, or a scrub, as they call it at NASA when a launch is aborted. I have many scrubs. When I find the spark that will finally launch my rocket, there’s more trouble.  Often I will agonize over the first sentence for days, re-writing it, tweaking it, throwing it out, starting it over, again and again. But when I finally get it right, it’s blast-off! And the rest of the book seems to write itself.

Here’s my top-secret recipe for finding the strongest beginning, and I hope it helps you find yours.

How to Find the Strongest Beginning to Any Piece of Writing.
1. Sit down.
2. Open your writer’s notebook.
3. Ask the following questions:
            a. Who’s your character?
            b. What’s your setting?
            c. What does your character want?
            d. What are the obstacles in her way?
4. Summarize the story you’re telling in one sentence.
5. Write your summary sentence in the center of a blank page.
6. Now surround your summary sentence with your answers to the questions from #3. Some people call this “clustering,” – if you draw circles around each of your sentences/ideas, it begins to look like a cluster of grapes. I don’t bother with the circles, instead I make lists, and surround my summary sentence with lists that answer the questions.
7. Add your research as they fit under the different questions in #3.
8. Step away.
9. Eat some ice cream.
10. Stare at the sunset.
11. Call a friend.
12. It’s important to start the next part with fresh eyes.


How to Find the Strongest Beginning, Part II
1. Look at your messy page(s).
2. Find the smallest, most simple detail that captures your entire story.
3. What you’re looking for is the KEY to your house. Keys are small. A small detail will open the door to the rest of the house, which is your story. All the rooms in your house are the different scenes that make up the story.
4. Study carefully the beginnings to books you like.
5. Using the detail you found in #2, and the inspiration you found from #4, write the most compelling beginning you can.
6. Let it lead you into the first room of your story.
7. Finish off the ice cream.
8. Stare at the sunset.
9. It may be the last sunset you see for a while.
10. Writing a book takes a long time.
11. Cry.
12. Cry your eyes out. It’s only the beginning. You still have the middle and the end to tackle!


            Writing Exercise Text © Lenore Look 2014, All rights reserved

Thanks, Lenore, for this terrific exercise! Readers, if any of you try today's WWW, do let us know how it works for you.

And don't forget to enter for a chance to win your own copy of the 2015 CWIM, where you'll be able to read additional helpful tips from Lenore. See my last blog post for details. The giveaway ends October 31.

Happy Writing!
Carmela

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12. Odd Girl Out


I was never a reluctant reader. I have to admit, I feared writing about this topic because it is something I know very little about. While my parents were not avid readers, they were willing to drive me to the library. When I was very young, I was confined to bed because of a long illness. I found solace in reading. I learned to read at a young age, and I read everything. I loved action/adventure stories. When I was finally healthy, I couldn’t run fast enough, all the time running about, creating my own adventures. And when I wasn’t running about, I was reading.


Ezra Jack Keat's APT 3
 I was the odd girl out in middle school. I was a nerd before it was cool to be a nerd. High school was a bit easier because it was small and private. The nuns didn’t take kindly if someone came to class without having read the assigned pages, or books as the case may be. So everyone read. No one liked the “or else.”

Of course, I didn’t have computers, iPhones or iPads or video games way back then. There was no Facebook or text talk. Ooo! I shudder to think how Sister Alice Marie might have reacted if I dared write into an essay, AFINIAFI (A friend in need is a friend indeed)!

Although, to be sure, nerds will be nerds, no matter which century, and kids will always be kids. A friend and I had learned Morse code, and then tapped out messages during class. Colonel Seese, the retired Army colonel who taught history, caught on. He was scarier than the nuns. While he approved of our ingenuity, we still had to serve detention.

  Those were different times. I have to wonder if there may be some connection between the gadgetry of today and reluctant readers. As much as these electronic gizmos can be an aid to our learning process, might they also be a deterrent? I wrote in my last post (here) about current studies that suggest old-fashion hand writing helps cognitive development, critical thinking skills, and reading skills. Connected to this is another important question, how does the new technology we use to read change the way we read? Are we still reading as thoroughly and attentively? As Jabr Ferris suggests (Scientific American, 2013), while studies are still ongoing, there seems to be a consensus that “modern screens and e-readers fail to adequately recreate certain tactile experiences of reading on paper that many people miss and, more importantly, prevent people from navigating long texts in an intuitive and satisfying way.”
 Where The Wild Things Are


 So could it be that one key to coaxing reluctant readers is to re-create that tactile and sensory experience?   

I have long been impressed by uber-teacher and Facebook friend Paul Hankins, who teaches English 11. He posts about his strategies that treat the senses and engages the reading process. His projects include using collage, which he calls remixes, to recreate covers of favorite books, including Ezra Jack Keat's APT 3 and Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are.



Halloween produces some of my favorite books. What better way for a tactile experience than skin shivers and tingling spines! So many books, but currently I am reading (again) Stephen Messer’s The Death of Yorik Mortwell (Random House/Yearling Edition, 2012), a mock-Gothic horror story inspired by Edward Gorey.

Another treat is Philippa Dowding’s Jake and the Giant Hand (Dundurn, 2014), all about weird stories gone wrong. 




As a writer, I take to heart the wisdom Carmela shared in her post: "If you want your writing to appeal to boys and other reluctant readers, don't try to target this particular audience. That's right, DON'T target them. Instead, write what moves, excites, or interests YOU." In my books (Big River's Daughter and Girls of Gettysburg), you can still find me running about, all the time running, and having the best adventures.


For more information, you might find this interesting: Jabr, Ferris. The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens. (Scientific American, April 2013)

What do you think? Share some of your insights, experiences and strategies below!

Bobbi Miller

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13. 3 Leading Ways to Target Your Writing for Children--NOT!....and Poetry Friday!

.
Howdy, Campers!  Happy Poetry Friday!  Poem and link to Poetry Friday are below ~

Our topic this round is Do you try to appeal to reluctant readers, or any particular type of reader, when you write? 

Carmela's post addresses the topic of writing to reading levels thoroughly. She writes:"If you want your writing to appeal to boys and other reluctant readers, don't try to target this particular audience. That's right, DON'T target them. Instead, write what moves, excites, or interests YOU."

Mary Ann's post, agrees: "I write what I am passionate about. I write for my inner eleven-year-old. It's the best that I can do. It's all any of us can do."

As for me?

I titled this 3 Leading Ways to Target Your Writing for Children--NOT!  because I agree with Carmela and Mary Ann's conclusions.  Essentially, write with passion and you'll hit a bullseye.

from morguefile.com
Here are three thoughts hopefully slightly related to this topic:

1) I am a reluctant reader.  Always have been. Once I dive into a book, I'm swimming, but getting to the edge of the pool, dipping my toe in? Terrifying.  Every book.  Every time.

2) Many years ago, former bookseller, and book reviewer Janet Zarem was hired by my son's elementary school to talk to parents about reading.  She began by passing out a paragraph in and asking us what it said.  Okay, so let's try it.  I'd like you to read this paragraph and tell me what it says.  You have two minutes:

*see bottom of this post for attribution*

When we saw the paragraph, we were scared'r than a long-tail cat in a room full of rockin' chairs.**

Isn't that a powerful way to show someone the world from a new or challenged or reluctant reader's point of view?

3) That's how scared many of us feel about learning anything new.

For example, UCLA Extension's Writers' Program is in the process of changing how its instructors post course materials for our students.  We are moving from a platform called Blackboard to one called Canvas.

When I saw the first email about this, I rolled into a little ball.  I felt as outdated and useless as a screen door on a submarine.***

I see now that I went through the five stages of loss and grief, finally arriving at acceptance: Wow--it's done, it didn't take long, and I am truly invincible.
Tah-dah--I did it!
RELUCTANT
by April Halprin Wayland


New? New?

Who are you talking to?

You’ll have to leave a message—
I think I have the flu.

It’s too bad that you saw me
I stick with tried and true.

If you want revolution,
I’ll leave it up to you.

Who? Me?
You found me up this tree?

Just cut that sheet in two?
And paste it here with glue?
That’s all we have to do?

I’m standing on my head, now:
I see your point of view.

poem & drawing (c) April Halprin Wayland 2014
=====================

Don't forget to enter our latest book giveaway for a chance to win a copy of the 2015 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market (in which our very own Carmela Martino has an article!). See Carmela's post for all the details.

The giveaway ends Oct 31.

Poetry Friday is at Merely Day By Day ~ Thanks, Cathy!



poem & drawing (c) April Halprin Wayland 2014

posted by April Halprin Wayland, who thanks you in Greek for reading all the way to here.

*from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Odyssey
**from: http://charlottenewcomers.blogspot.com/2008/01/southern-expressions-uglier-than.html
***from: http://www.examiner.com/article/southern-isms-50-of-the-funniest-southern-expressions-and-colloquialisms











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14. Hitting the Target Without Really Trying

     The question I am most asked by parents is "What is the reading level of your books?"

     I am currently teaching an adult class on writing for children.  The first question I am usually asked by those students is "How do you write at an appropriate reading difficulty for an age group?"

    Those questions are not as easy to answer as you might think.

     Carmela's Friday post stated that in reaching "reluctant readers" a writer should simply write whatever they are passionate about and the readers will follow.  I have most certainly found this to be true.

     When I first began writing, "targeting" a group, or writing with a specific grade level vocabulary never crossed my mind.  Thanks to years and years of working in children's library service, I have read thousands and thousands of children's books for all ages.  When I write, my brain goes into "child mode."  That's just the way I write, period.  My normal style involves short sentences and short paragraphs using simple words.

     I was not aware of my writing style, until my then elementary school-aged daughter introduced me to "Accelerated Reader."  This was the program her school used for "pleasure" reading. (I am not sure how pleasurable it was since it was required.)  Only books on the Accelerated Reader program were counted for the reading grade.  Books had point values, based on complexity of language and interest level.

    I was thrilled to learn that all my books were on the Accelerated Reader list, which increased the likelihood of their purchase by a school library. However, I was puzzled to learn that my middle grade books, Yankee Girl and Jimmy's Stars, were not being read by the fourth and fifth graders, my intended audience.

     The mystery was solved when one of my daughter's friends told me how much she liked Jimmy's Stars "even though it doesn't have many points."  A trip to the school library informed me that both of the books had a point value of 3.  For comparison, anything written by J.K. Rowling had a point value of upwards of 7.  That particular year, my daughter was supposed to read 7 points worth every six weeks.  How could I compete with Harry Potter?

     A little digging into the mysteries of Accelerated Reader yielded the information that while my middle grade books had a third grade reading level, their content was appropriate for upper fifth grade and sixth grade students.  Considering that the subjects of those books were Civil Rights Era Mississippi and the ravages of World War II, I thought that was a fair evaluation.

     Then parents began to ask me that troublesome reading level question.  This was often prefaced with something like, "My daughter is in second grade but she reads on a fourth grade level. She should be able to read your books, right?"

     I found myself in the strange position of talking down my own books. While the child in question would be able to read and recognize the words I had written, would they be able to understand the events in the book?  It had never occurred to me that a seven-year-old might read those books.  Tough things happen in them:  racial prejudice, death, violence.  Although I didn't "target" my writing, I didn't think anyone under ten would be reading them.  I started hedging my answers by telling parents they could buy the book but perhaps they should put it away until their child was older.  Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't.  No matter what I said, some parents completely missed the fact that some "low reading level" material might contain concepts too mature or sophisticated for a first grader who was "a really good reader."

     What did I learn from this experience?  Did this cause me to become a cautious, self-censoring writer?  Do I now write in a more complex style?

     No.

     I write what I am passionate about.  I write for my inner eleven-year-old.  It's the best that I can do.  It's all any of us can do.

     Don't forget to enter our latest book giveaway for a chance to win a copy of the 2015 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market.  See Carmela's post for details.

     The giveaway ends Oct 31.

     Best of luck,  Mary Ann

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15. Reaching Reluctant Readers, Poetry Friday, and a CWIM Giveaway!


Happy Poetry Friday, Everyone! Today I'll be sharing a fun, "spooky" poem by David L. Harrison. But first I'll tell you about my latest publication, an article in the 2015 Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market (Writer’s Digest Books), edited by Chuck Sambuchino. Then, at the end of this post, you'll find instructions for how to enter to win your very own copy of the 2015 Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market!


If you're not familiar with the Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market (also known as the CWIM), here's an excerpt from the book's blurb.
"If you write or illustrate for young readers with the hope of getting published, the '2015 Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market' is the trusted resource you need. Now in its 27th edition, 'CWIM' is the definitive publishing guide for anyone who seeks to write or illustrate for kids and young adults. Inside you'll find more than 500 listings for children's book markets (publishers, agents, magazines, and more)--including a point of contact, how to properly submit your work, and what categories each market accepts." 
In addition to the market listing, the CWIM includes great articles, interviews, and success stories. This year's edition features my interview roundup article, "Writing for Boys (and other 'Reluctant Readers')." The piece contains advice and insights from four award-winning authors known for writing books that appeal to reluctant readers: Matt de la Peña, Lenore Look, David Lubar, and Steve Sheinkin

Although  these authors write a wide variety of books, and everything from picture books to young adult novels, there was one bit of advice they all agreed on: If you want your writing to appeal to boys and other reluctant readers, don't try to target this particular audience. That's right, DON'T target them. Instead, write what moves, excites, or interests YOU. Then, "revise it over and over until it hums," as Matt de la Peña said. All four of the authors shared additional, specific advice on how to reach reluctant readers, especially boys. So be sure to enter our giveaway below for a chance to win your own copy of the CWIM!  

In researching "Writing for Boys (and other 'Reluctant Readers')," I discovered some very discouraging statistics about boys and reading. Not only do girls, on average, score higher on reading tests than boys, but the gender gap is widening. Fortunately, the news isn't all dire. As Jon Scieszka, the first National Ambassador of Young People's Literature and founder of Guys Read points out on the GuysRead website
". . . the good news is that research also shows that boys will read—if they are given reading that interests them."
Poetry can be a great way to hook boys (and other reluctant readers), especially if it's short, funny, and/or focuses on boy-friendly topics, such as sports, adventure, animals, and the supernatural. You'll find some wonderful books that fit this bill on the GuysRead list of poetry books. I also recommend just about anything written by David L. Harrison. His book Bugs: Poems about Creeping Things (Wordsong), illustrated by Rob Shepperson, is chock-full of poems with lots of boy-appeal. Here's one example: 

              cicada ghosts

              Haunted skins
              cling
              emptily
              to the rough bark
             of the hackberry
             tree,

             and farther up
             where I can't 
             see,
             ghosts are 
             buzzing 
             eerily:
             zz-zz-zz-zz
             zeeeeee!

          © David L. Harrison, all rights reserved

If you'd like to see the wonderful illustration that accompanies this poem in Bugs: Poems about Creeping Things, visit this page on David's blog (after you enter our drawing below!).

For additional resources on poetry and reluctant readers, see the Poetry Foundation article "Against Slogging: Engaging Poetry in the Classroomon" and the WBEZ piece, "Writing Poetry Improves Reluctant Readers." If you're a parent or teacher, you may also be interested in Literacy Connects compilation of activities to use with reluctant reader

Finally, before you head over to check out these resources or the other great poems in this week's Poetry Friday round-up at Today's Little Ditty, you'll want to enter to win your own copy of the 2015 Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market. You can do that via the Rafflecopter widget at the end of this post. You may enter via 1, 2, or all 3 options. For option 2, "Leave a Blog Post Comment," you must share a comment to TODAY'S blog post and include your name!
(If you prefer, you may submit your comment via email to: teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com. )

The giveaway ends on Oct. 31. 

Good luck and happy writing!
Carmela

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


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16. WWW: All About Rhythm


As promised, I’m sharing a most original WWW I came upon while reading NAMING THE WORLD, the collection of writing exercises gathered by Bret Anthony Johnston (Random House, 2007) I reviewed in Monday’s post

The author, Paul Lisicky, titled the exercise “All About Rhythm.”  
It appears in the section “Descriptive Language and Setting.”

Lisicky writes about finding a rhythm that matches the meaning of our story's drama – not a distracting rhythm but one that is crucial, that makes our fiction sing.

He began by quoting Virgina Woolf.

“Style is a very simple matter; it is all about rhythm.  Once you get that, you can’t use the wrong words….Now this is very profound, what rhythm is, and goes far deeper than words.  A sight, an emotion creates this wave in the mind, long before it makes words to fit it.”

How can we bring a poet’s central tools to our own work, he wondered, “and be more deeply aware of pauses, sentence length, stops, even alliteration and assonance in the prose we read and write,”  all the while opening ourselves to our own rhythms?

Enjoy! Enjoy!

Esther Hershenhorn

                                        * * * * * * * * * * 

Paul Lisicky’s ALL ABOUT RHYTHM

“Take a paragraph by a writer whose work has been important to you. 

Type it out once.

Then type it again.

Once you’ve done that, substitute your own noun for each noun, your own verb for each verb.

Replace all the adjectives and adverbs.

Play with it for a few days.

Then do another version.


If you’re lucky you might have the beginnings of a story.

Or, at the least, a more intimate sense of that writer’s rhythms.”

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17. A Resource Discovery: NAMING THE WORLD!


How fitting that today, the 522nd anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the New World, I share with you my recently-discovered resource, thanks to my writer Bridget Conway of Camden, Maine – NAMING THE WORLD (and other EXERCISES for the CREATIVE WRITER), edited by Bret Anthony Johnston (Random House, 2007).

Johnston writes in his introduction that “much of the writer’s work must be – can only be – accomplished by doggedly venturing into territories unknown, by risking failure with every word.  His purpose in gathering writing exercises from well-respected authors was “to create an environment in which each writer feels invited and prepared to take such risks.”

Like all discoveries, this collection of focused and insightful writing exercises widened my eyes, raised my eyebrows and had my brain whirling in record time.

Indeed, Betsy Lerner, author of another favorite resource of mine – THE FOREST FOR THE TREES: AN EDITOR’S ADVICE TO WRITERS (Riverhead, 2000) describes NAMING THE WORLD as “the equivalent of a master class in writing by some of the best writers/teachers around.”

What I especially like about NAMING THE WORLD is Johnston’s organization:  8 sections, 7 of which focus on a key element of fiction.  Each section begins with relevant perceptive quotes by well-known writers, then offers an overview of the particular element. Chosen authors’ understandable, doable exercises follow, exercises designed to “demystify the common and complex mechanisms by which the specific element operates.”  

Getting Started exercises and Daily Warm-ups bookend the sections which focus on:

       ·       Character

·         Point of view and tone

·         Plot and narrative

·         Dialogue and voice

·         Descriptive language and setting

·         Revision

I loved reading how some of my favorite authors, including Joyce Carol Oates, Elizabeth Strout, Elizabeth McCracken and Richard Bausch hone their craft.

I also loved discovering authors heretofore unknown to me.
Be sure to check back on Wednesday for Paul Lisicky’s exercise on the rhythm of language.
(His award-winning book THE BURNING HOUSE is currently on reserve at my Chicago Public Library.)


I’m happy to report my Newberry Library Picture Book Writing Workshop students this semester are also enjoying the exercises, completing one per week.

Explorers such as Columbus looked to the stars to help find their way.  With that thought in mind, I hereby declare NAMING THE STARS stellar, as in *-worthy.  The collection of exercises is certain to help writers discover their stories and how best to tell them.

In celebration of Signor Columbus’ 1492 New World landing, Happy Discovering!
 
Esther Hershenhorn

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18. Lucky, Lucky Me!

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend David Harrison’s “Poetry for the Delight of It” workshop, organized by the Highlights Foundation. I’m happy to report that I found not only the poetry but the entire experience delightful. From my ride from the airport to the tour of the Highlights for Children offices to the comfy couches where we discussed poetry to the massive fireplace on the patio where we roasted s’mores, every detail was taken care of so that I didn’t have to think about anything but poetry. And the food—oh, my! We were spoiled. During breaks and in the evenings, we retired to our own cozy cabins with rocking chairs on the porches and plenty of wonderful books to read—a writer’s heaven!


David Harrison (a Guest Teaching Author in 2012) led group discussions with a reassuring blend of wit, humor, explanation, and examples. He supplied writing prompts that resulted in humorous and heartfelt poems, and he provided perceptive, encouraging critiques of our work. Poets Jane Yolen and Kenn Nesbitt visited via Skype to share their own tips and examples. Boyds Mills Press Senior Editor Rebecca Davis participated in a session about editorial and marketing practices, and Executive Editor Liz Van Doren joined us for dinner.

Lucky me! I’m still floating.

Here’s a poem I wrote there, inspired by one of David’s prompts, about waking up early:
Day 
Catbird screeches up the morning.
Acorns drop to mark the minutes.
Knock! Woodpeckers count the hours.
Crickets sing me back to sleep.
Another lucky surprise: I got to meet and hang out with our longtime friend Linda Baie, who wrote about connecting the experience to writing in one of her blog posts. What fun!

Today’s Poetry Friday Roundup is at The Miss Rumphius Effect. Enjoy!

JoAnn Early Macken

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19. 5 Secrets for Cultivating Creativity


Creativity is tough to define and tougher still to write about. I’m no expert, but I know what works for me, and likely, you know what works for you. So I thought it might be fun to see what a few famous creative people had to say about the subject. I hope one of these nuggets inspires you. I’m putting a few up on my own bulletin board pronto.  :)

 (Note:  I apologize for the wonky spacing you'll see below. It looks perfect on the "compose" page.)

To cultivate creativity:

1.  Don’t overthink.


“It’s impossible to explain creativity. It’s like asking a bird, ‘How do you fly?’ You just do.” 
                                                                 –Eric Jerome Dickey

“Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.”
                        –Ray Bradbury

“The chief enemy of creativity is ‘good’ sense.” 
                                                                –Pablo Picasso

“Rational thoughts never drive people’s creativity the way emotions do.”
                                                                          –Neil deGrasse Tyson



2.  Stop worrying that everything you write has to be perfect.

     “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”
                                                                           –Scott Adams


“An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail.”
                                   –Edwin Land

“There is no innovation and creativity without failure. Period.”
                                                                    –Brene Brown


3.  Just do it.

    “Creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is the result of good work habits.”
                                                                   –Twyla Tharp


“Creativity is putting your imagination to work, and it’s produced the
most extraordinary results in human culture.”
                                   –Ken Robinson


“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”
                                                                           –Sylvia Plath


4.  Believe in your own unique and beautiful mind.
 
                    “Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look 
                    at things in a different way.”

                                   –Edward de Bono

                 “Creativity is piercing the mundane to find the marvelous.”
                                                                           –Bill Moyers


  “Rule of art:  Can’t kills creativity!”
                                   –Camille Paglia


5.  Trust your instincts…

“A hunch is creativity trying to tell you something.”
                                                   –Frank Capra


…and let yourself go.

“Creativity makes a leap, then looks to see where it is.”
                                          –Mason Cooley



More excellent posts about creativity:

http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2014/08/25/the-psychology-of-writing-daily-routine/

http://writerunboxed.com/2014/09/12/the-surprising-importance-of-doing-nothing/

This is my last post for TeachingAuthors. I’ll miss my friends here, as well as you readers who comment to let us know you're reading (that’s always appreciated!). But I’m not disappearing entirely. I’ll be blogging at a new blog called Picture Book Builders, along with seven other published picture book authors and illustrators. Every Tuesday and Friday we'll explore one of the many, many elements that go into the making of great picture books. Hope to see you there! Check us out at www.picturebookbuilders.com


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20. WWW: Make Your (Punctuation) Mark!


Its National Punctuation Day?
It’s National Punctuation Day.
I mean it’s NATIONAL PUNCTUATION DAY!

(Of course, only a writer could so enthuse for such a day.)
As writer Russell Baker aptly put it, When speaking aloud, you punctuate constantly – with body language.  Your listener hears commas, dashes, question marks, exclamation points, quotation marks as you shout, whisper, pause, wave your arms, roll your eyes, wrinkle your brow.  In writing, punctuation plays the role of body language.  It helps readers hear the way you want to be heard.

How might I celebrate,”  you ask, “what National Punctuation Day founder Jeff Rubin calls a celebration of the lowly comma, correctly used quotation marks, and other proper uses of periods, semicolons, and the very-mysterious ellipsis?
WellI recommend the following actions: first visit the website Jeff Rubin created; admire each and every pictured punctuation mark and give it its proper due; next take this test to check your command of commas/apostrophes; laugh heartily while you read Lynne Truss’ EATS, SHOOTS & LEAVES (Why, Commas Really Do Make a Difference); and finally, consider completing my Wednesday Writing Workout which offers writers a chance to re-purpose the 14 standard marks of punctuation in English grammar to create original emoticons all their own. [See below.]

Enjoy!

Esther Hershenhorn
P.S.
While doing All Things Punctuation, don’t forget to celebrate your inner exclamation mark! J

P.P.S.
And for sure, don’t forget to enter our Book Giveaway to win a copy of Barbara Krasner’s picture book biography of Golda Meir - GOLDIE TAKES A STAND: GOLDA MEIR’S FIRST CRUSADE.
The deadline is September 26.

                                                  * * * * * * * * * *

Those Emotive Punctuation Marks!

I M J 2 B writing about emoticons – punctuation marks RE-purposed to instantly connote an emotion when communicating electronically.

Think:  little sideways smiley faces.  :)

I learned all about them when creating my baby board book TXTNG MAMA TXTNG BABY which just celebrated its first anniversary.

[FYI: it’s now available at Joan Cusick’s JUDY MAXWELL HOMEand numerous copies will be raffled off at Northwestern University’s November 1 Community Baby Shower.]
The word “emoticon” blends “emotion” and “icon.”  An emoticon allows for a quick expression of feeling when the communication is electronic.

How might YOU (!) combine and re-arrange any and all of the 14 marks of punctuation  below to create an original emoticon?

 ?    !     .   ,   “ ”   -   _  [  ]   ( )    /  :   ;

Feel free to use keyboard letters, spacing options and numbers too.  Turn them upside down and sideways!
Think outside the []. J

Play.
Experiment.

In other words, have fun!

Think, too, of any and all emotions/situations – Joy, Distress, Anger, Confusion, e.g.
If you need inspiration, click here to see more examples.
And be sure to share them with our TeachingAuthors readers so we can use them to help them catch on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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21. 4 Ways I Boost My Creativity


Happy Poetry Friday! See the link at the end of this post to this week's round-up.

I'm not sharing a poem today. Instead, I'm continuing our current discussion on creativity. As Jill said in Monday's post: "Creativity is tough to define and tougher still to write about." I agree!

I did find a satisfactory basic definition at OxfordDictionaries:

"Creativity: The use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work."
But there are so many facets to creativity that it's hard to encapsulate the concept in one sentence. That's why I loved how Jill shared so many great quotations on the topic in her post. I'd like to add another quote to the list:
“Creation is in part merely the business of forgoing the great and small distractions.”
--E.B. White
I came across this E. B. White quote in a book I read recently: Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus & Sharpen Your Creative Mind, (Amazon Publishing) edited by Jocelyn K. Glei of 99u. The book is a compilation of quotes, interviews, and essays from experts in productivity and creativity. Interestingly, the tips often overlap with those in the article Jill linked to: "The Psychology of Writing and the Cognitive Science of the Perfect Daily Routine" by Maria Popova.

I don't believe there really is such a thing as a "perfect daily routine." We are each unique, and what works to activate one person's creativity might stifle someone else's. Also, I often have to adapt my routine to fit what's currently going on in my life. However, I've found 4 specific suggestions in Manage Your Day-to-Day that are really helping me resist "the great and small distractions":

1. Great Work Before Everything Else: 
"Do your most meaningful creative work at the beginning of your day, and leave 'reactive work'—like responding to e-mail or other messages—for later."
I recently made a rule for myself: No email before 10 a.m. It's been amazing to me how much this one simple rule has helped. Now instead of getting lost in email for an hour or more at the start of my day, I get lost in my current work-in-progress. Yay! I also have a second, related rule: check email no more than three times per day. This has really helped me be more focused and efficient when I do check email.

2. Jump-Start Your Creativity: 
"Establish 'associative triggers'—such as listening to the same music or arranging your desk in a certain way—that tell your mind it’s time to get down to work."
I call my "associative triggers" my "writing rituals" and I shared them last March when we did a series of posts about our writing routines.

3. Feel the Frequency:
"Commit to working on your project at consistent intervals—ideally every day—to build creative muscle and momentum over time."

In the post on my writing rituals, I talked about how I was in the middle of a "100-day, one hundred words a day (OHWAD) writing challenge." That worked at the time because I was writing a first draft. Now that I'm revising, I've modified it to a "100-day, fifteen minutes a day (FMAD)" challenge. I've committed to work at least 15 minutes/day, six days a week for 100 days. (I don't count my days off in the total.) I deliberately chose a very doable goal--15 minutes--that I could accomplish even when I have a day filled with other commitments. The challenge is working well for me so far: I began revising Chapter One on Day 1. Today is Day 27, and I'm now up to working on Chapter Eight.

4. Make Progress Visible:
"Make your daily achievements visible by saving iterations, posting milestones, or keeping a daily journal."

On Day 1 of my FMAD challenge I created a table in a Word document called Revision Log. In that document, I note such statistics as my start time, time spent, starting page and chapter, ending page and chapter, starting word count, and ending word count. Looking at my log now, I can see that my writing sessions have ranged from 20 minutes to over 2 hours. Without doing the math, I'd guess that I average about an hour a day. (If I wanted to get really fancy, I could put the stats into a spreadsheet and let it calculate my productivity rate.) For me, this log is a great psychological boost because I often fall into the trap of thinking my writing isn't going anywhere when in fact I am making slow, but steady, progress.

These are just four of the suggestions in Manage Your Day-to-Day that have helped me. Even if none of these ideas appeal to you, I hope that my sharing them here will nudge you into thinking about how to support your own creativity. Are you already happy with your routine/process? If so, we'd love to know what works for you. Please tell us via the comments.

I'll leave you with one last quote, from Jonah Lehrer's Wall Street Journal article "How To Be Creative:" 
"But creativity is not magic, and there's no such thing as a creative type. Creativity is not a trait that we inherit in our genes or a blessing bestowed by the angels. It's a skill. Anyone can learn to be creative and to get better at it."
Lehrer's article ends with "10 Quick Creativity Hacks" you may be interested in checking out. And for ten tips on how to make more regularly, see "How to Create the Habit of Writing" by Leo Babauta at Write to Done.

Reminder: Today's the last day to enter for a chance to win an autographed copy of Barbara Krasner’s picture book biography Goldie Takes a Stand  (Kar-Ben Publishing)!


Now you can head over to be inspired by all the Poetry Friday poems. This week's round-up is at former TeachingAuthor  Laura Salas's blog.

Happy writing!
Carmela

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22. Permission Granted

     I'm ba-a-a-ck!  I have been on sabbatical since the first of the year.  In an ironic twist,  the person who has written little in nine months has been asked to write a post on---creativity.

     I wasn't writing, but I was still teaching my Young Authors Workshops.  I did not feel my own creativity entirely dormant, because I was encouraging creativity in my students daily.  They, in turn, forced me to explore new ways of thinking about writing.

     This year some of my older students are into fan fiction.  They are some of the best writers I have ever had.  I believe they wrote better because, having their subject pre-selected, they could focus their energy on writing well, and often.  They didn't experience the first block that a lot of my students have, finding something to write about.

     I don't like giving my writers "prompts."  Most of them attend schools where "writing prompts" are given at least once a school day to write about a very specific topic in a "journal."  I thought this was a great idea until I learned from my daughter that the "journaling" was done for the five minutes or so the teacher took attendance.   The teacher riffled through the notebooks from time to time but never actually read them.  By the time students come to Young Authors, they have had it with "writing prompts" and "journaling."

    This past summer brought the most challenging groups to my writing workshops. My students are ages 9 through 14. A few were extremely competent writers (one had even been published in a national magazine at age 11!)  As I said, some were into fan fiction. There were the superhero fans.  Since two of the workshops were during the World Cup, all some could think and write about was soccer. And then there were "the unwilling participants"---the handful that were there because their parents use day camps as daycare--and mine was the only one open that week.  I was also working under the handicap that, no matter how the city recreational department described my workshop in the catalog, most of the kids (and all of the parents) were under the impression that it was a remedial writing/grammar/English-as-a-second-language class.  (Or as the kids put it "More school.")

     How could I get such a diverse group enthusiastic and creative about writing without getting too regimented and "teacher-ish."  Focused but not too focused?  Structured but not overly so?

     First, I gave them permission to write bad first drafts. (Anne Lamott's advice from Bird by Bird, re-rephrased in G-rated terms.)  Then, as a fellow TA mentioned last week, I told them not to think too hard.  Finally, I gave them "freedom of subject" without letting them know it.

     Just as a too specific writing prompt turns my students into a block of ice, unable to proceed with the voice of their language arts teacher echoing in their heads, telling them to "write anything you want" will make half the group also go into freezer mode, because it requires them to come up with something all on their own.  I get a lot of kids who have no idea how to create something out of thin air.

     So how do you give a prompt without being too general or too specific?  Thanks to my students, over the years, I think I have come up with the best prompt.  I give it as part of a list of specific prompts, the kind they are used to (and hate.) This is to give them the illusion that they have a choice in topics.  (No one has ever picked a decoy prompt.)  Then I give them the following suggestion:

     If you could be anyone or anything, in any time or place (in this world and time, or another), could do anything you wish, and know you could not fail, who would you be  What would you do?

     This open-ended, semi-focused prompt seemed to bring out the creativity in everyone.  The fan fiction people inserted themselves into their already-created characters and world.  The soccer kids became members of World Cup teams.  Super heroes made an appearance. Some became time travelers, putting themselves in the historical past, or the unknown future.  All of them took this exercise in many directions I had not anticipated.  It was great!

     This made a great foundation for the students to expand their work.  Once they had written three or four pages, it was easy for them to turn the main character (themselves) into something more fictional.  Or, in the case of the fan fiction writers, change the pre-packaged main character into something of their own invention.  In subsequent drafts we would worry about conflict and  subject- verb agreement and logic.  The main thing was to get over the initial road blocks to creativity, a blank page and a feeling of restriction.

     I am still not back to writing. When I do get out my half-finish WIP, I hope to remember the lessons my students taught me this summer.  Don't think too much.  Don't sweat the details in the first (or second) drafts.  Most of all, I will give myself permission to imagine myself in other time.  Another place.  Accomplishing what I have only dreamed of, knowing that I cannot fail.

     It's good to be back, you guys!.

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23. Welcoming the Newest Member of the TeachingAuthors Team!


Happy October, everyone!

A few weeks ago, I posted about this being a time of transitions here on TeachingAuthors as we said farewell to the wonderful Jill Esbaum and Laura Purdie Salas, and welcomed back Mary Ann Rodman, one of the original TeachingAuthors. Today, I'm happy to announce the name of the newest member of our team (drumroll please):


Bobbi at the wheel of the Lewis R French, an 1871 windjammer schooner and a National Historic Landmark.
JoAnn and I met Bobbi while we were attending Vermont College, and we were struck by her vibrant personality as well as her writing talent. If you're a longtime TeachingAuthors reader, you may recall that JoAnn shared a guest TeachingAuthor interview with Bobbi back in 2010. But Bobbi's been VERY busy since then, as you can see from her official bio posted on our About Us page. (If you haven't visited the About Us page lately, I encourage you to check it out--I've updated the bios for several TeachingAuthors.) Here's an excerpt from Bobbi's bio:
Bobbi Miller earned her MFA in Writing for Children from Vermont College, and was awarded honors with distinction for her Master of Arts in Children’s Literature degree from Simmons College in Boston. Her fifth book, a middle grade novel, Girls of Gettysburg (Holiday House) is recommended by Booklist as “a unique, exciting work.” School Library Journal calls the book a “riveting historical fiction.” The book is listed as a Hot Pick on Children’s Book Council for September 2014. Her first middle grade novel, Big River’s Daughter (Holiday House) comes recommended by the International Reading Association and was nominated for the Amelia Bloomer Project (American Library Association, 2013). The book is listed on A Mighty Girl’s Top 2013 Mighty Girl Books for Tweens and Teens. Bobbi has also written three picture books. Miss Sally Ann and the Panther (Holiday House) was selected to the Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2013 list, a cooperative project of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) and the Children's Book Council. Her other two picture books, Davy Crockett Gets Hitched and One Fine Trade, also published by Holiday House, were listed on the Bank Street College of Education Best Books of 2010. When she isn't writing or researching, Bobbi teaches College Reading and Writing, Writing for Children, and Rhetoric and Professional Writing for local universities as well as online college courses. 
So, as you can see, Bobbi comes to us with impressive credentials! We're thrilled to have her join our team.

You can read more about Bobbi and her work at her website. Meanwhile, I hope you'll give her a hearty welcome when she posts here for the first time on Monday.

Happy Writing!
Carmela

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24. 4 Reasons to Give Up Writing Creatively...and it's Poetry Friday!

.
Howdy, Campers!

The winner of  our latest autographed book giveaway is....KAY S!  Congratulations, Kay!

Today is Poetry Friday and the fabulous Jama Rattigan is hosting. A poem from my first verse novel is waiting for you at the end of this post. The poem is about... 

Creativity!

An example of creativity from morguefile.com
In case you've missed TeachingAuthors' series on Creativity, JoAnn started us off with kindness and community, Jill left us on a high note with 5 secrets of creativity, Esther got our juices flowing with a Writing Workout inspired by punctuation, Carmela offered "4 Ways I Boost my Creativity", and Mary Ann, back from a TA sabbatical (yay!), grants us permission.

My turn!

Here are four reasons why I think you should give up trying to be creative:
1) Don't you dare tell me what to do;
2) Get miserable;
3) Find someone so frickin' honest you want to hit them.
4) Write weird things.  Other peoples' brains are are loony as yours. Trust me.

1) Don't you dare tell me what to do.  For me, authentic ideas come most easily when no one is expecting a product; when I let myself play with words...the reason I fell in love with writing.

If you're our regular reader,you know I've been writing a poem a day since April 1, 2010.  I send them to my best friend, author Bruce Balan, who sails around the world in a trimaran, and he sends me his poem. (BTW, Oct. 2nd was Bruce's birthday. Since it's past his birthday, kindly sing to him the Birthday Song...backwards.)

Bruce can always smell if a poem is an assignment.  "It's stiff," he'll write.  "It's not you."

After I shake my fist at his sail mail critique, I pretend I'm not writing on assignment. I toss out everything I think I'm supposed to write and stand on my head...because I WANT to stand on my head. That's when words begin to flow from my heart.
Me, writing a poem...okay, not LITERALLY on my head...
2) Get miserable...(if you're already depressed, think of it as a big mud hole of ideas made especially for you!)  Some of my deepest, truest words are written when I am in a muddle of misery...or when I think back to some terrible time in my life, feeling every heartsick, petrified or bewildered feeling. (Why would anyone want to bring back life's worst moments in living color? You think writers might be just a teensy bit cuckoo?)

So, how can you stimulate creativity in students?  Make sure there's misery in their lives. When I read my students the tender book, I Remember Miss Perry by Pat Brisson, illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch (about the death of a beloved elementary school teacher), the topics they choose to tackle are much deeper than if I give them time to write without reading it first.

3) Find someone so frickin' honest you want to hit him. I write better when someone who believes in me and who is on the writing path with me (usually Bruce) reads my work and tells me his truth. (Sometimes I want to throw darts at him for his stupid, doo-doo head honesty--good thing he's in Thailand right now.)

Exhibit #1--recent correspondence between us:

From: Bruce 
To: April 
Subject: RE: poem for September 25, 2014 
Hi You,
This feels more like a very short story than a poem.
Doesn’t have your heart in it. It feels like an assignment.
Love,
B

(See what I mean?  Can't he just pretend a little bit that he likes it?)

From: April 
To: Bruce
Subject: Re: poem for September 25, 2014 

Well, damn.

I read it again tonight and see that you're right.  But maybe I can do something with it.  But maybe I can't.

Not sure it's worth it.

I am so tangled up in my novel.  I wish I could hire someone to sit with me and figure the darn thing out.

Why do we do this, again?  I forget.
xxx,
April

From: Bruce 
To: April  
Subject: RE: poem for September 25, 2014 

"I wish I could hire someone to sit with me and figure the darn thing out."

Unfortunately that is not possible. I, too, wish I could hire someone to fix so many problems but those problems always seem to be ones I need to deal with…not someone else.

I hate that part about writing.
B

4) Write weird things.  Other peoples' brains are as loony as yours. Trust me.  Go ahead, unlock the heavy wooden door in your brain and let the odd stuff out.

Let the odd stuff out (this odd stuff is from morguefile.com)
For example, here's a poem I thought no one would get. I wasn't even sure I got it.  And listen to this: my editor didn't throw it out--it's in my book, Girl Coming in for a Landing--a novel in poems (Knopf 2002)!

WRITER: CREATOR

I want to
make something
                         beautiful.

Peaches.

If I could
make peaches--grow them
from my pen...

or stretching my palms
up to the sun, watch as
they grow from my lifeline,

that
would be something
                               beautiful.

drawing and poem (c) 2014 by April Halprin Wayland.  All rights reserved.
 Okay, I'm done. I order you to be creative. GO.
And remember, Poetry Friday is at Jama's today!

Posted by April Halprin Wayland, who thanks you for reading all the way down to the end.  

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25. My No. 1 Tip: Writing by Hand!



Long, long time ago and in a galaxy far, far away, it was the time before computers. Even typewriters were not a common household item. At least, not in my childhood home on the front range of Colorado. Colorado Springs was small then, full of open spaces. The public library was way, way on the other side of town. There were no bookstores. The only library available to me was my school library. I checked out every book I could read. By fourth grade, my favorite authors were already Mark Twain, Jack London, Charles Dickens, James Fennimore Cooper, Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and many more. And if I wanted to have my very own copy of a book, so I didn’t have to return it, I copied the book.

By hand.

So is it a wonder that I became a writer when I grew up?

Even now, after all these decades, with the onslaught of computers, iPads and fancy programs that write text for you, I still write everything by hand. Even this article was first written by hand.

It turns out to be a good thing, to write by hand. Scientists now know that cursive writing is an important tool for cognitive development. It teaches the brain to be efficient, helps to develop critical thinking skills and refines motor control. In fact, children who learn cursive tend to learn how to read faster, generate more ideas and retain more information.

When I was copying my books in the fourth grade, I paid more attention to the details of the story. I experienced the characters on a deeper level because the very act of writing them out engaged all my senses. I had to pay attention to the words, how they were ordered, and how they were used. And, of course, I experienced the linear logic of the plot.


When I grew up, I began writing stories that featured the landscape and characters that were larger than life. A student of American history and folklore, my first books were picturebooks. If you want to know more about my picturebooks, check out JoAnn’s interview with me here!





 I continued exploring the American landscape, blending folklore and history in my first middle grade novel, Big River’s Daughter (Holiday House, 2013). The book comes recommended by the International Reading Association, and was nominated for the Amelia Bloomer Project (American Library Association, 2013). The book is listed on A Mighty Girl’s Top 2013 Mighty Girl Books for Tweens and Teens. My second middle grade historical fiction is Girls of Gettysburg (Holiday House 2014) and takes on the daunting challenge of researching the Battle of Gettysburg. For this story, I walked the battlefields four times, experiencing the very landscape where my characters lived and breathed, and died. If you are interesting in my research process for this book, you might enjoy this interview by Laurie J. Edwards, here.  The book comes recommended by Booklist as “a unique, exciting work.” School Library Journal calls the book a “riveting historical fiction.” The book is listed as a Hot Pick on Children’s Book Council for September 2014.


Of course, writers have to pay the bills. While I never planned to be a teacher, it seemed a natural fit. I teach college freshman and older students. Of course, now all the students use computers to read texts and compose their essays. And iPads, and even their phones. Most of them are proud to proclaim they have never used a pen or pencil. I make them print out the research and drafts, and have them write out their annotations and corrections on the paper. I make them experience the words and the organization in order to determine how everything fits together. They don’t always appreciate the experience. But their essays are usually better for it.

As Julia Cameron once said, “When we write by hand, we connect to ourselves. We may get speed and distance when we type, but we get a truer connection – to ourselves and our deepest thoughts – when we actually put pen to page.”

You might be interested to see more:

Why Writing by Hand Could Make You Smarter”, by William Klemm. Psychology Today. March 14, 2013.

Julia Cameron Live, "Morning Pages: why by hand?. The Artist’s Way." October 4, 2012

Bobbi Miller

Image from Morguefile




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