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26. For the Long Years

Thank God for hard stones; thank God for hard facts; thank God for thorns and rocks and deserts and long years. At least I know now that I am not the best or strongest thing in the world. At least I know now that I have not dreamed everything.
– G. K. Chesterton

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27. The Library is Every Child’s Lighthouse


The library is every child’s lighthouse.
It is every person’s sanctuary.
It is every town and county’s fortress
in the face of ignorance,
intrusion and bad behavior.
– Amy Bloom

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28. A Behind-the-Scenes Glimpse at BLUE BIRDS

While doing school visits in April I thought it would be helpful for kids to see all the hidden work that goes into writing books. Here are the pictures I shared with them — a peek at the “work behind the work” for BLUE BIRDS:

20140428_144722This is my research notebook along with a few of my books and a scattering of bookmark notes. Plus a hand-drawn map of the way I pictured Fort Raleigh.

20140428_144845Here’s the 1587 manifest (those we know as the Lost Colony), some maps, and a timeline of what happened July and August 1587 on the island of Roanoke.

20140428_144949Here’s some feedback from early readers.

20140428_144924Here are some first draft observations I made (adapted from Cheryl Klein’s SECOND SIGHT).

20140428_144808These are “quilts” I’d create after each draft — a way for me to see if the dual point of view narrative was working or not.

edit lettersMy three editorial letters. One thing I love to do is pass around my letters to students. There are usually two responses: they laugh (Whoa! These are intense!) or  they want to know if the letters hurt my feelings (Whoa! These are intense!).

My response? Editors (and teachers) are like the friend who tells us we have spinach stuck in our teeth. It may feel a little embarrassing at first to see our flaws pointed out, but this is the stuff that makes us look infinitely better. It’s amazing to me how much hard work editors (and teachers) commit to writers (and students) while remaining largely behind-the-scenes. Editors and teachers, you are invaluable!

20140428_143607A page from the manuscript itself. Along with those detailed editorial letters, my editor also mails a printed copy of the manuscript with notes throughout.

20140428_142923The manuscript pile on my office floor. (I’ll reuse these for printing future rough drafts).

So there you have it, a glimpse into the inner workings of BLUE BIRDS. Any questions for me?

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29. Writing is not efficient, but no effort is ever wasted.

stormy sandias 2

There’s this book I wrote a while back, something I started in 2001 and officially set aside two years ago. It’s called CAN’T BREAK US and is loosely based on my mother’s girlhood club. The manuscript is something I love to pieces, but after years and years of work just wasn’t coming together. It was my second attempt at a novel, the one that served its purpose in teaching me to write (of course, I still have a lot to learn). I figured we’d reached our end together (the manuscript and I. Book are friends, you know).

Last summer, author/editor/teacher Mike Winchell asked if I might be interested in contributing two pieces of writing — one non-fiction, one fiction — for an anthology proposal. The idea was to show students how authors can take ideas from real life and turn them into a story. My mind went immediately to CAN’T BREAK US, which initially grew from the stories my mother told me in my childhood. Using my author’s note as a starting place, I created my non-fiction piece. Then I pulled out a pivotal chapter, re-wrote it as verse, and sent it in.

In March the anthology sold to Penguin in a two-book deal:

“BEEN THERE, DONE THAT [is] a thematic anthology series with a kid-friendly Common Core tie in, in which a who’s who of award-winning and bestselling MG/YA authors will share a nonfiction narrative, and then write a related short story in order to show the “from-life-to-page” process of taking real-life experiences and transforming them into works of fiction.”

My stories will be a part of the first volume, FAMILY, FRIENDS, ENEMIES AND FRENEMIES, tentatively set to release winter 2016.

It’s easy for me to say no effort is wasted when a scrapped manuscript is recycled into something salable, but I firmly believe this is true for all writing, whether it reaches publication or not. Every attempt at creating informs our later efforts. Word by word (and Bird by Bird) we make our way.

I’m honored a portion of this manuscript will live again in an entirely different form. I’m thrilled to be included alongside so many talented people.




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30. Phenomenal Woman

i rise

Such an influence on my life. Such a gift to the world. You will be sorely missed.

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31. Classroom Connections: PARCHED by Melanie Crowder + Giveaway

Silver Medal, Parent’s Choice Awards

Junior Library Guild Selection

“A thrilling, imaginative soul quencher. Crowder’s stunning debut is sure to become a modern classic.”—Rita Williams-Garcia, Newbery Honor-winning author of One Crazy Summer

“Readers will want to tackle [this story] with a full water bottle on hand.” Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, starred review

age range: middle grade
genre: eco-fable
teacher guide

Please tell us about your book.

Parched is a middle grade novel about a boy, a girl and her dog struggling to survive in a dangerous and drought-scarred land.  It’s a slim volume in which the spare prose mimics the bleak setting.

What inspired you to write this story?

Parched began with a single image that appeared in my mind one day. It was an aerial shot, as if I were in a plane flying low over the savanna. On the ground below, a skinny girl and her pack of dogs walked along a narrow game track. I wanted to know who she was and how she had come to be all alone in such a harsh place. As I dug into the story, I discovered that there was a boy, too, also hurting and alone.  I knew they needed each other, but that trust was next to impossible for both of them.

Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching? 
I am amazed by how much research can go into a work of fiction! I spent weeks combing through information on geology, flora and fauna and childhood trauma. Then, of course, there’s the fun stuff: biting into a horned cucumber to get that gooey, tart sensation, standing out in the rain and watching the droplets form and drip down a chain-link fence, and watching videos about dowsing (which is absolutely fascinating!)
What are some special challenges associated with writing an eco-fable?
Well, first, it’s not a broad genre. Parched doesn’t fit easily into any one familiar category. So where do you shelve a book like this? With the adventure stories? Next to the dystopian section? In the children’s section or the teen section? Of course, my answer is, why not all of the above?

Second, it’s so easy for books that begin with an environmental crisis to slide into didacticism. But the best thing about reading is activating your imagination and forming your own opinions—I would never want to take that away from my readers. That said, I hope I have struck just the right balance so that Musa, Sarel and Nandi’s story challenges my readers to think about some of these difficult issues.

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

Parched has natural tie-ins to science and social studies, and you can find a discussion guide for the book that explores many of these possibilities here. If I were a teacher, I would use the book as a springboard for projects in which students research an environmental issue facing their community and then develop service projects such as a stream clean-up day or a penny drive to raise money for a nearby wildlife rehabilitation center.

Kids have great ideas and I love to see their excitement translate into positive action in their world.


Melanie has donated a signed copy of Parched to give away. To enter, leave a comment below about something you learned in this interview. US and Canadian residents only, please. The contest closes Monday, June 1.

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32. Beyond Little House: Middle-Grade Frontier Books

frontier books

We all know the Little House books. If you know anything about me, you know Laura Ingalls and I are good friends. With May B. out there in the world, people often ask if I can recommend other frontier stories for young readers, those that move beyond the familiar titles we grew up with. Here’s a list put together by the Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Library with some additions of my own. Enjoy!

Hard Gold – Avi

Dear America: Land of Buffalo Bones – Bauer

The Courage of Sarah Noble – Dalgliesh

The Quilt Walk – Dallas

Weasel - DeFelice

Prairie River (series) – Gregory

My America: A Perfect Place – Hermes

Our Only May Amelia  and The Trouble with May Amelia – Holm

Julie Meyer: The Story of a Wagon Train Girl - Hoobler

To the Frontier: The Adventures of Young Buffalo Bill – Kimmel

Addie Across the Prairie – Lawlor

My Name is America: The Journal of Jedediah Barstow – Levine

Sarah, Plain and Tall – MacLachlan

My America: As Far as I Can See – McMullan

Dear America: West to the Land of Plenty – Murphy

May B. – Rose

One Came Home - Timberlake

I’ll add a few more titles in:

Prairie School: An I Can Read Book  – Avi

The Misadventures of Maude March – Couloumbis

Dear America: Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie – Gregory

Dear America: The Great Railroad Race – Gregory

Young Pioneers – Lane

Riding Freedom – Ryan

Pioneer Girl: A True Story of Growing Up on the Prairie – Warren

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33. Writing Links


9 Reasons to Say Goodbye to Your Critique Group :: Smack Dab in the Middle

Take a Different Approach to Writing : Eat Dessert First :: Adventures in YA Publishing

Why Verse? Poetic Novels for Historical Fiction, Displacement Stories, and Struggling Readers :: School Library Journal

Hope, Optimism, Despair: Writer’s Emotional Roller Coaster :: Darcy Pattison

See Grown-Ups Read :: Wall Street Journal

Behind the Books: Ten Ways Authors Can Help Educators :: Melissa Stewart

11 Indispensable Life Lessons Every Woman Can Learn From ‘Anne Of Green Gables’ :: Huffington Post


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34. Author A. C. Gaughen’s TEDx Talk

I love Annie, plain and simple.* She’s talented, poised, smart, and going far in this world. Just wanted to share her TEDx talk called Brighter Than a Spark.

Here’s a guest post Annie wrote several years ago about her year in Scotland and how it changed her perspective on writing.

*My neighbor girl loves her, too. When she found out A. C. Gaughen is a writing friend, she swooned.

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35. Why We Read


When we read a story, we inhabit it. The covers of the book are like a roof and four walls. What is to happen next will take place within the four walls of the story. And this is possible because the story’s voice makes everything its own.
- Jon Berger

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36. How to Publish a Successful Book


To publish a successful book, be sure you’ve got the following:

1. word of mouth (the everyday reader kind)

2. publisher support (this might come from a stellar marketing plan or in-house enthusiasm)

3. mysterious things out of everyone’s control that are often unnameable and unknown (these also can “doom” a book, like having a release in the midst of a blizzard/flood/hurricane)

4. magic

5. great trade reviews — I’m not convinced everyday readers even know these exist, but librarians and booksellers certainly do (and often base their purchases on them)

6. a great cover

7. a lot of reviews by “regular” people at Goodreads, Amazon, on blogs, and the like (this connects back to #1, but is less organic, more strategic, and less powerful, I think)

8. …and to give your book a second wind, make sure it’s nominated for awards


486. author efforts

How much of a book’s success is in the author’s hands? Is it even possible to measure an author’s promotional reach? The first question is easy: only the author’s efforts are in her control. But do writers really live this way? The second question is the more challenging one. I know of no hard and fast evidence that shows how an author’s promotional work affects overall sales, but I have to believe my one small voice doesn’t have the power to influence as many people as the other things on this list.

So where does that leave me?

Strangely comforted, believe it or not. I can’t make anything I write a hit. No one honestly knows how to make this happen, though we keep trying (and for those of us in publishing, it’s part of our job to do so). What I can do, though, is focus on promotion that excites me and drop the need to try everything.

How much of a book’s success do you think comes from an author’s efforts?

Anything you’d add to my list?

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37. Straight From the Source: Beth Kephart on Writing Historical Fiction

Beth Kephart has written memoir, history, poetry, a corporate fable, and many novels for young adults. Among her historical novels for young adults are DANGEROUS NEIGHBORS (Centennial Philadelphia), DR. RADWAY’S SARSAPARILLA RESOLVENT (1876 Philadelphia), SMALL DAMAGES (flashbacks to Franco’s Seville), GOING OVER (1983 Berlin, released April 2014), and MUD ANGELS (flashbacks to 1966 Florence, to be released in spring 2015).

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

It is such a mysterious process. Several things percolate; many things must collide. You need more than a location, a time period, a character, a theme. You need some urgent question. It can all sit there, going nowhere, until you find the urgent question.

How do you conduct your research? 

I use everything that I can find—old newspaper and magazine stories, diaries, books, photographs, videos, films, records—and, of course, I travel to the places where the stories take place.

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

I think that it is important not to know everything before you start, to keep the process mysterious as long as you can. I want to wake up with a desire to find out. I don’t want to follow an historical dot-to-dot map. So I do some research. I visit the place. I take photographs. I dream. And then I fill things in as I go, look for facts as I need them.

What is your favorite thing about research?

I studied the History and Sociology of Science at Penn, and so I feel very happy doing research, very alive digging into old things and looking for connections. I love the unexpected find. The price of a trolley ticket in 1876. The name of a restaurant on a certain corner. The brand of a telescope that an East German would have in 1970. The tonnage of rubble following a bomb.

Why is historical fiction important?

I think it is so important to try to imagine ourselves into the lives of others during critical junctures in world history. It is a hugely empathetic act. And empathy is, finally, what storytelling is all about—empathy for others, and empathy for ourselves.







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38. School Visits Galore

In the last six weeks I’ve done seventeen presentations in six different schools. Here’s a glimpse into this very busy, very rewarding time.

April 3 – Literacy Night: Truman Middle School, Albuquerque, NM

At Truman I talked to both kids and parents about the writing life: how long it had taken me to sell my first book, the inspiration behind May B., and finding satisfaction in the things we love. The evening ended with students sharing odes. My favorite? Ode to My Running Shoes.


April 15,16 – School visit: Dexter Elementary School, Dexter, NM

I’d never been to Dexter, NM — a community southeast of Roswell and 1,200 people strong. Let me tell you, I was incredibly impressed with everything happening there. Librarian Nancy Miles has brought thirteen authors to Dexter in the last fourteen years, all funded by proceeds from the school’s Scholastic Book Fair.

On the fist day, I spoke to K-2, doing a new presentation called The Poet’s Toolbox: Rhythm, Rhyme, and Repetition. On the second I pulled out my tried and true hands-on frontier activity called Buckboards, Bloomers, and Buffalo Chips. Dexter’s Elementary Battle of the Books team hosted a special luncheon for the thirteen “BoB” readers. Check out the gorgeous table display which included May’s apple barrel and  tinned peaches. Nancy printed “The Voice of the Wind” poem as bookmarks and called it courage and hope — the phrase I use when signing May. And speaking of signing… those eager kiddos had me sign those cans of peaches!

As they were leaving the library, a girl shouted, “I love you!” and a boy said, “This is the best day of my life!”

17 – School visit: Dexter Middle School, Dexter, NM

Day three in Dexter took me to the middle school, where I ate burgers with the BoB readers and discussed the many things that might have happened to Mrs. Oblinger after she left May. Let’s just say Dexter middle schoolers are very, very creative. I was also informed middle schoolers are definitely not too old for stickers (they gladly took the May B. ones I’d brought along). I once again presented Buckboards, Bloomers, and Buffalo Chips. For one session a BoB team from Roswell came to join the fun.

April 24 – School visit: Chaparral Elementary School, Santa Fe, NM

At Santa Fe’s Chaparral Elementary I led a Poetry 101 writing workshop for fifth graders and met with the BoB kids after school. Here’s a priceless exchange I overheard while setting up for the second presentation:

Student #1: I thought she’d have black hair.

Student #2: I thought she would be sixty.

April 29 and May 6 – School visit: Dennis Chavez Elementary School, Albuquerque, NM

I stopped at Dennis Chavez on two separate occasions, one day to talk about the writing process and another another to talk about the frontier. My favorite part? Several kids asking if I could pull strings to make more copies of May B. show up in the school library.


May 1 – School visit: Holy Ghost Catholic School, Albuquerque, NM

This little school reminded me of my beloved St. Matthew’s Episcopal School where I taught in Houma, Louisiana. Along with authors Kimberley Griffiths Little and Stephen McCranie I talked with kids K-8 at the school’s annual Author’s Day. The day began with an assembly celebrating books the children had written. It was a lovely thing.

For those of you interested in some nuts and bolts posts I’ve written about school visits, you can find them here:

School Visits: Seeking Them Out and Setting Them Up
Tis the Season to Skype!
Planning, Preparing, and “Performing” School Visits


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39. Adventures in Spain

Take a friendship fifty-two years strong,


add in a handful of kids and many visits to and fro,

With the Olabarrias

a year on exchange,


a wedding for one girl,


and now a wedding for the other!

After returning from Spain in January, my mom called to tell me Ines, the daughter of her friend Rosalia (her host sister during a student exchange in the 60′s) was getting married. Ines and I have known each other our whole lives through. Mom wanted to know if I’d be her date to Ines’s March wedding. I was ready to go on the spot.

I hadn’t been to Spain in twenty-six years. Hadn’t seen Ines since my own wedding eighteen years ago.

Mom and I met in Dallas and flew to Bilbao. We took a bus to San Sebastian to see Paula, our exchange student when I was in fourth grade.



Paula joined us in Bilbao one day.


On another we went to the Guggenheim.



These two girls got some time together again.



There was that wedding (Ines and Christopher both sing opera. Aren’t they especially glam?).


My lovely date.


All the Olabarria kids.


Because of that friendship made so many years ago, three families are now forever intertwined. How lovely is that?


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40. Novel Revision Class: Quotes and Links on Character

When revising, it’s essential you study your characters carefully to determine what’s working and what’s not. Here are some quotes and links I used in my revision class. I hope they point you in the right direction with your own work:


Quotes from Novel Metamorphosis:

Villains and emotional complexity: “Look for a place where you dislike the villain the most. At that point, how can you work in a tender scene with the villain’s friend?”

“Most dialogue is too long winded, too formal, and includes too much information.”

Quotes from Second Sight:

“At the end of your book, your main character should be better equipped to live that life…”

Characters often don’t know what they truly NEED. Don’t spell it out for the reader! Let them figure it out.

“…a character is a plot.You just have to find the other characters and the moral dilemmas that will force the character to change and grow.”

“Put those characters in situations that fascinate or trouble you personally — problems you want to write about, conflicts that move you in some way.”

Samuel Johnson: “Inconsistencies cannot both be right; but imputed to man [and characters!], they make both be true.”

“Use backstory to show the reader how the character became who she is, what her relationships with other people are like, and why the frontstory matters to her.”

“Action: what a character does to get what they want. Action is a result of Desire plus Attitude.”

“ To the minor characters in your book, the hero of your books isn’t your main character — it’s them…Everyone has reasons for doing the things they do and you need to know the reasons.”

“[As we read] we are right there in [the characters’] heads, having these experiences with them, sharing their pain; as as a result we share their growth as well.”

Quotes from Writing Irresistible KidLit:

“No description should ever be content to play only on the surface. Whether a reader is aware of it or not, he should always be learning about character on multiple levels, especially at the beginning of your story.”

“We must always know what your characters want (each and every one of them) when we see them in a scene together.”

Unconscious objective (Cheryl would classify this as an unknown need / desire): “Characters struggling with Unconscious Objective shouldn’t be able to articulate them. But those deep desires are something that you, the writer, must absolutely think about.”

“Think of yow you can lend your stories a more complex undertone by always reminding us of your character’s worries and anxieties.”


Where Do Character Strengths Come From? :: Cynsations
Determine Your Character’s Destiny :: The Write Practice
The Sensitive, Passionate Character :: Live, Write, Thrive
Character Development :: Janice Hardy’s Fiction University (a collection of articles covering protagonists, antagonists, developing strong characters, secondary characters, and character arcs)


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41. Novel Revision Class: Quotes and Links on Plot

When revising, it’s essential you study your plot carefully to determine what’s working and what’s not. Here are some quotes and links I used in my revision class. I hope they point you in the right direction with your own work:

plot line

Quotes from Novel Metamorphosis:

“The connection between the inner and outer arc, the emotional arc and the plot arc, isn’t always easy to see! When you set up an initial plot conflict, you need to immediately ask yourself what obligatory action scene is set up. When the inner conflict is set up, you need to ask what epiphany is set up.”

Quotes from Second Sight:

Good fiction creates “deliberate emotion…through immersing us in the character’s lived experience [via] well-crafted prose: prose where every word has been considered carefully by the author and belongs in the work; prose that communicates clearly.”

WANTS = action plot / NEEDS = emotional plot

“The difference between starting with premise and starting with character is usually that in a premise plot, the character has something done to him or her from the outside; and in a character plot, the character is the one who causes the action, thanks to the Desire.”

Quotes from Writing Irresistible KidLit:

Avoiding the infodump: “Information must emerge organically, usually within the context of action.”

“A kid reader, whether he knows it or not, is picking up a book with the following request in mind: Make me care.”

“Fiction runs on friction and trouble.”

“Decide whether we need to see the full action of every instant in your book? …Focus on your most powerful scenes.”

“You are a writer, not a security camera…Shape events and cherry-pick the ones that are going to be the most exciting and most significant for your story.”


Plot Structure :: Ingrid’s Notes (This is an incredible series on classic plot and arch plot, alternative plots and alternative structures)
Plotting :: Janice Hardy’s Fiction University (Another comprehensive list of posts on plot)

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42. Novel Revision Class: Quotes and Links on Revision

Revision requires an author to see her work with new eyes. Here are some quotes and links to point you in the right direction:


Quotes from Novel Metamorphosis:

Revision: What is the most dramatic way to tell this story?

“Revisions are the messy route toward powerful stories. …I never tell someone how to revise their story. Instead, I ask you to look at your story in different ways, apply various strategies of revisions, and tell your story, your way. You are in control and will make all the decisions yourself.”

“Competence is a hard-won prize that only comes with lots of study and practice.”

Quotes from Second Sight:

“When you’re writing that first draft, don’t worry about following the rules. Instead, tell yourself the story you’ve always wanted to hear, the story you’ve never read anywhere else, the one that scares you with the pleasure of writing it. Treasure the joy of the work, because it is hard work, but when you can find that just-right word, that perfect plot twist — there are fewer greater pleasures.”

“Editors work forward from the manuscript to make its truth all it can be…paying attention to details that add up to an overall result.”

“Good prose repeats words in close proximity to each other only by strategy or design, not by accident or sloppiness.”

“I test every sentence against the question ‘What purpose doest this serve?’”

“An editor’s greatest joy is a writer who can recognize his own weaknesses and respond with an intelligent revision.”

“For a writer, an artist, making a choice gives you something to work with. You make a choice, get the words on the page, see if it feels right. If it doesn’t, you edit it or go back and make a different decision. The hardest thing is getting past the fear of making a choice at all.”

Saul Bellow: “The main reason for rewriting is not to achieve a smooth surface, but to discover the inner truth of your characters.”

Quotes from Writing Irresistible KidLit:

“As you’re sitting down to write, you need to ask yourself: Am I writing a specific story that could only happen to this character in this world, in this time? What am I trying to say with this story? What do I want my readers to think when they put my book down?”

“What questions or mysteries does your first line raise?”

“Just because you put it first doesn’t mean that your current opening section is the real beginning.”

“Be a curator, not a camera…Believe it or not, most beginning writers will transcribe, as if they were a video camera…Another big mistake is focusing on transition scenes because you think you need to show how a character gets from one place to another.”


Novelists: You Are Gifted and Talented :: Darcy Pattison
WFMAD The Bones of the Writing Process, Parts 1 and 2 :: Laurie Halse Anderson
23 Essential Quotes from Ernest Hemingway About Writing :: The Write Practice
WFMAD (Write Fifteen Minutes a Day) Revision Roadmap #18 :: Laurie Halse Anderson
 WFMAD Temper Tantrums and Do Overs :: Laurie Halse Anderson
I don’t want an honest critique :: Darcy Pattison
WFMAD Getting Feedback on Your Story :: Laurie Halse Anderson
WFMAD Belonging to a Critique Group Without Murdering Anyone :: Laurie Halse Anderson
Balancing Thoughts, Description, Dialogue, and Action :: Between the Lines: Edits and Everything Else

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43. While I Was Away: Novel Revision Class

It’s been a good, long while since I’ve written a post around here. March 5, to be exact. Since then it’s been quick quotes or photos, guest posts or repeats.

March and April have been busy for me. I was on deadline with BLUE BIRDS, taught a Novel Revision class for our local SCBWI chapter, spent a week in Spain, and traveled to Dexter, NM and Santa Fe for school visits.

I thought it would be fun to share about these experiences in detail with you here. I’ll start with my Novel Revision course.

The idea for this course came while I was on a run. I was listening to Cheryl Klein and James Monohan’s Narrative Breakdown podcast on Revision Techniques, and it struck me how perfect this podcast would be as a starting place for a revision class. From there I developed a course for SCBWI members who’d drafted a middle grade or young adult manuscript but weren’t quite sure how to go about revision.

Those who signed up for the course received copies of Darcy Pattison’s NOVEL METAMORPHOSIS and Cheryl Klein’s SECOND SIGHT. Because so many already had Cheryl’s book, I gave those participants Mary Kole’s WRITING IRRESISTIBLE KIDLIT.

Members were paired with partners and exchanged manuscripts. They focused on big-picture changes (character growth instead of punctuation, for example) and wrote a letter to their partner which focused on three things:

  • What works
  • What needs work
  • What stuck out

Participants also wrote “letters to a sympathetic reader,” a technique Cheryl Klein sometimes uses with her authors when they begin the editing process together. The sympathetic letter focuses on

  • The real thing / key ideas / effect on reader the author is aiming for
  • Where the novel started from / idea came from
  • Big ideas the author is exploring
  • The things the author loves and wants to keep
  • The things the author knows are not working
  • How the author sees their main character (their purpose, journey, etc.)
  • What the book is now and where it should be
  • Mission / vision statement for the book

A sympathetic letter helps a writer to get back in touch with their initial ideas. It can also show how ideas have changed over the course of the draft. Though partners exchanged letters, its primary function is to teach a writer about their own work.

Much of our class centered around tips I gleaned from the Revision Techniques podcast and from Cheryl and Darcy’s books. My next two posts will be a collection of quotes and links I shared with my students on revision, plot, and character.

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44. Jumping In Feet First: A Guest Post at the Art of Simple


My first blog post ever  talked about my decision to leave the classroom and pursue writing full-time. Now I’m sharing about the experience over at The Art of Simple — how this crazy, counter-cultural choice was exactly right for me. Will you join me today?



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45. Tropical Rain Forest Sky Ponds — Margarita Engle

Here’s a poem by Margarita Engle from The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science.

engle tropical jpg

Looking for more ways to connect science and poetry? Here’s a great place to start.

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46. A Pawful of Poem Quotes — Lee Wardlaw


“A dog…is prose; 
   a cat is a poem.”
– Jean Burden

I’m a poet – and a cat person. So in honor of National Poetry Month, here is a small pawful of my favorite poem quotes and cat pix.  Enjoy!  – L.W.

“A poet is… 
a person who is passionately in love with language.”
– W.H. Auden

“Poetry is life distilled.”
– Gwendolyn Brooks

“A poet’s autobiography is his poetry. 
Anything else is just a footnote.”
– Yevgeny Yevtushenko

“Poetry and I fit together. 
I can’t imagine being without it…
It is food and drink, it is all seasons, 
it is the stuff of all existence.” 
– Lee Bennett Hopkins


“Like a piece of ice on a hot stove
the poem must ride on its own melting.”
– Robert Frost

“Never let the mud puddle get lost in the poetry
 because, in many ways, the mud puddle is the poetry.” 
– Valerie Worth

“Poetry is a language 
in which man explores his own amazement.”
– Christopher Fry

“I am a revolutionary so my son can be a farmer 
so his son can be a poet.” 
– John Adams


“Poetry is like fish: 
if it’s fresh, it’s good; 
if it’s stale, it’s bad; 
and if you’re not certain, 
try it on the cat.”
– Osbert Sitwell

“A poet dares be just so clear and no clearer….
He unzips the veil from beauty, but does not remove it. 
A poet utterly clear is a trifle glaring.” 
– E.B. White

“If you can’t be a poet, be the poem.” 
– David Carradine

“Poems are the ‘daredevil’ of writing
because a poem will say what nobody else wants to say.”
– Ralph Fletcher


“A good poem leaves me with further questions about
what came before and what came after, 
just like a photograph.
Of course, I could make up my mind
 that poetry is like pond algae, too.
Or even ice cream.”
– Thalia Chaltas

“Writing a poem is making music with words and space.”
– Arnold Adoff

“Prose is words in their best order;
 Poetry is the best words in their best order.”
– Samuel Coleridge

Kid snack

“Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.” 
– G.K. Chesterton

“Poetry is the tunnel at the end of the light.” 
– J. Patrick Lewis

“The distinction between historian and poet
is not in the one writing prose and the other verse…
the one describes the thing that has been,
and the other a kind of thing that might be. 
Hence, poetry is something more philosophical
 and of graver import than history,
 since its statements are of the nature rather of universals, 
whereas those of history are singulars.” 
– Aristotle

“We especially need imagination in science. 
It is not all mathematics, nor all logic, 
but it is somewhat beauty and poetry.”
– Maria Montessori

“As poets we are archaeologists of the interior and external worlds.  
Our work builds bridges between the two.”
– Ellen Kelley

“I have no doubts that the Devil grins,
As seas of ink I spatter.
Ye gods, forgive my ‘literary’ sins –
The other kind don’t matter.”

– Robert W. Service


“I once found a pretty good poem in the ear of my cat.”
– Alice Schertle

Lee Wardlaw swears that her first spoken word was ‘kitty’. Since then, she’s shared her life with 30 cats (not all at the same time!) and published 30 books for young readers, including WON TON – A CAT TALE TOLD IN HAIKU (illustrated by Eugene Yelchin), recipient of the 2012 Lee Bennett Hopkins Children’s Poetry Award, the 2012 Myra Cohn Livingston Poetry Award, and the Beehive (Utah) Poetry Book Award.  WON TON AND CHOPSTICK, a companion title also illustrated by Yelchin, will be released by Holt in 2015.



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47. Poetry, The Art for All Occasions — Carolee Dean

This is the final post for National Poetry Month. Much thanks to all who have participated and those who have read.

A couple of weeks ago my father-in-law died and I went to Texas to be with my mother-in-law. The ashes were coming from California and it was going to take several days to have them shipped from Texas, so we settled down to write the obituary and to share stories of his long and colorful life. There was a continuous stream of people arriving with food, flowers, and good wishes.

I had to leave to return to work and go on a long-planned trip to Colorado to see my son and daughter in college there. As I was back in New Mexico packing, I received a phone call from my mother-in-law asking if I could recommend a short poem to print on the thank you notes she was planning to send. I told her I would take some books of poetry on my road trip and send her a selection.

I searched the shelves in my daughter’s old room, where all the books of poetry are kept. Tired and a little frazzled, I couldn’t seem to find anything but a collection by Walt Whitman. Not many short selections there.

The next morning, armed with coffee, my suitcase, and a book of poems about two inches thick, I recalled that Whitman had written an elegy to Abraham Lincoln upon his death. As my husband drove north on Interstate 25, I found the poem and excitedly typed the first stanza into my phone to send to my mother-in-law.

     When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning

     O ever-returning spring! trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial, and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.

From “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”
by  Walt Whitman

After sending off the poem and returning numerous phone calls regarding the obituary, I breathed a great sigh of relief and opened a book I’d been meaning to read since Christmas, The Discovery of Poetry by Frances Mayes. It was my son’s college text from his poetry class. I’d read a bit of it while he was home for Thanksgiving and wanted to read more, so I asked him for a copy for Christmas.

Because I knew he was a poor college student, I told him he could even give me the used copy from class. And that’s exactly what he did, he gave me a book tattered around the edges, filled with notes and bent back corners. An absolute treasure. Best of all, he included some holiday haiku he’d written. Here is one of them:

Bells jingle and ring.
Tis the season to believe
everyone can sing.

As we sped past the Rocky Mountains and I read my son ‘s haiku, I thought of the many times I’ve given poems printed on bookmarks as Christmas gifts, and I was reminded of how much poetry touches our everyday lives. I also thought of how often I have received poems as gifts and how many of those poems now hang on the walls of my home.

Poetry has been used throughout the centuries to express thanks, regret, sorrow, humor, love, and a host of other emotions. It is printed on cards and written on walls. It is tucked into books on little slips of paper.

But most of all, poetry is engraved on our hearts and imprinted in our minds so that even after reading a poem years or decades earlier, we can recall its lines.

Carolee Dean is the author of several books including the young adult verse novel, Forget Me Not.
You may follow her blog at http://caroleedeanbooks.blogspot.com
Twitter @CaroleeJDean
Facebook Carolee Dean, Author



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48. Straight From the Source: Sheila O’Connor on Writing Historical Fiction

Sheila O’Connor is the award-winning author of four novels: Keeping Safe the StarsSparrow Road, Where No Gods Came and Tokens of Grace. Her poetry and fiction have been recognized with fellowships from the Bush Foundation, Loft McKnight and the Minnesota State Arts Board. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she is a professor in the MFA program at Hamline University where she also serves as fiction editor for Water~Stone Review.  Keeping Safe the Stars has recently been released in paperback.

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

I always begin with a character, and from there it is a character in a situation. I’m interested in the character’s trouble—why is their story important?  What are they up against and why? That’s the early work I do on a book.

How do you conduct your research? 

I like to jump into the story, discover the time period, and then ask myself: What elements of that time period are pressing in on the story?  We are all influenced by our historical time and place, and fictional characters are no different.  The world we live in shapes us. Once I’ve settled on the time and place of a novel, I immerse myself in it through books, movies, music, and lots of web research.

You do have a specific system for collecting data? 

I wish I did. I tend to empty the library of materials, and spend too much time on Google. I call people, I ask questions of people who may have lived during that time. I’m especially interested in talking to people that would have been the same age as my characters in that time period.

What kinds of sources do you use? 

Magazine, catalogues, newspapers, books, music, films, photos—anything I can get my hands on. The book I’m working on now has required looking at old baseball cards, Schwinn catalogues, reading obscure articles on psychiatric hospitals in the 1960’s, among other odd activities. I love it all.

What’s your favorite thing about writing historical fiction?

I love the way the time period determines certain events in the book, the kinds of choices characters have available to them, the way cultural norms of the time period would influence their decisions. My previous novel, KEEPING SAFE THE STARS, was set in 1974, during the week of the Nixon resignation, and there were all kinds of cultural norms at work during that time that helped me discover the story. Beyond that, I think it’s my own particular kind of fantasy, because I’m able to return to a time that no longer exists, and make it real again—which is a fantasy for me. We know our time and place, but the work of fiction allows us to occupy another, and whether it’s an imaginary country, or a small town in Minnesota in 1974, it’s a fiction world I’ve never inhabited.

Why is historical fiction important?

Historical fiction allows us to see the path behind us, to see how we’ve arrived at this moment, and in some ways it allows us to make sense of the world as we know it now. Beyond that, it can teach us things–both major and minor–things we might not otherwise know. I don’t write books to teach, but historical novels are rich opportunities for readers young and old to learn about another time and place, to imagine what it was like to be living in a reality other than our own.



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49. Writing Links

Query Questions with Tracey Adams :: It’s in the Details
Counting by 7s’ POV :: Augusta Scattergood
The Time it Takes :: Nerdy Book Club 
(includes a great ten-year timeline showing the writing process, from idea to publication, for Melissa Stewart’s picture book, NO MONKEYS, NO CHOCOLATE)


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50. Progressive Poem: Three Blue Eggs

I’m participating in the 2014 Progressive Poem, the brain child of poet and novelist Irene Latham. For every day of April, a different person adds a line. The poem’s been shaped along the way — broken into couplets, named by our last poet, Kate Coombs. The name is what inspired my line.


Three Blue Eggs

Sitting on a rock, airing out my feelings to the universe
Acting like a peacock, only making matters that much worse;

Should I trumpet like an elephant emoting to the moon
Or just ignore the warnings written in the rune?

Those stars can’t seal my future; it’s not inscribed in stone.
The possibilities are endless! Who could have known?

Gathering courage, spiral like an eagle after prey,
Then gird my wings for whirlwind gales in realms far, far away.

But, hold it! Let’s get practical! What’s needed before I go?
Time to be tactical—I’ll ask my friends what I should stow.

And in one breath, a honeyed word whispered low—dreams—
Whose voice? I turned to see. I was shocked. Irene’s!

“Each voyage starts with tattered maps; your dreams dance on this page.
Determine these dreams—then breathe them! Engage your inner sage.”

The merry hen said, “Take my sapphire eggs to charm your host.”
I tuck them close—still warm—then take my first step toward the coast.

This journey will not make me rich, and yet I long to be
Like luminescent jellyfish, awash in mystery.

I turn and whisper, “Won’t you come?” to all the beasts and birds
And listen while they scamper, their answers winging words:

“Take these steps alone to start; each journey is an art.
You are your own best company. Now it’s time to depart!”

I blow a kiss. I hike for days, blue eggs pressed to my chest.
One evening’s rest, campfire low, shifting shadows brought a guest.

A boy, with hair in wild waves and eyes blue as the sea,
Says, “You’ve traveled far. What did you find—your best discovery?”

“I found a bird, I found a song, I found a word,” I say.
The hidden eggs, I make them known. “I’ve brought these on the way.”

Please consider following the poem to its end.
April 29 – Ruth at There is No Such Thing as a Godforsaken Town
April 30 – Tara at A Teaching Life

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