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1. 3 things I've learned About Conferences & Me

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Howdy, Campers--and happy Poetry Friday!
(See below for a poem about being a writer by Richard Wilbur and for today's PF host.)

We're in the middle of TeachingAuthors' series on Summer Learning Opportunities.

So far we've heard from JoAnn--who, through her own fascinating Summer Science Experiments, is learning more about hatching monarchs in her backyard; Esther--who's learning about authors from her own fair city (Chicago), discovered four "eye-openingly insightful" blogs, learned about the "3-paragraph query," and how to "attend" the National SCBWI conference if you can't be there in person. Carla shares what she's learned about the unexpected benefits from attending an SCBWI conference, and Mary Ann inspires us with her summer Young Writer's Camp.

As for me, I'm looking forward to being on the faculty of the National SCBWI Conference from July 31 through August 2nd (with intensive workshops available for an additional fee on Monday, August 3rd). Once again I'll be critiquing manuscripts submitted by conference attendees who've paid extra for written and face-to-face critiques.

My very smart friend, author and poet Greg Pincus (who blogs at GottaBook) posted the link to this fabulous blog post on attending an SCBWI conference by art director Giuseppe Castellano...and our own Esther has written what is by now a classic essay on attending an SCBWI conference.

Esther and I come at conferences from two very different perspectives. Basically, She jumps into the fray carrying a bunch of balloons; I get overwhelmed by more than 10 people at a party.

So, here are three things I've learned about conferences (how they affect me and how I cope) in the 24 years I've attended SCBWI in Los Angeles:

1) Be kind to yourself.  This conference can be overwhelming. No--I take that back: this conference is overwhelming. This summer 1000 people are attending from around the world.

A few of the attendees at this year's SCBWI Conference
(from morguefile.com)

We crowd into a posh hotel over a long summer weekend. The excited, anxious, ecstatic, frightened, enthusiastic, vibrating energy of 1000 friendly/shy/talkative/mute children's book professionals and pre-professionals (thanks for that term, Carla!) can be paralyzing.  The air in any hotel over that many days with that many people gets used up. And so do I.

2) Take breaks. I usually stand in the back because there's simply TOO MUCH SITTING!  That's one way I've learned to give my body a break. I've also learned (to my astonishment) that it's okay not to attend every single session. I can actually go outside and gulp fresh air...sit on the grass with my eyes closed for a few minutes. It's amazing how so simple an action as breathing can change my body chemistry.  Ahhhhhh....

No--not me.
(from morguefile.com)

3) And I've learned that some years I just need to be VELCRO®.

from morguefile.com

Although there have been many years I couldn't wait to sign up for the conference, couldn't wait to bond with new peeps, couldn't wait to find out what everyone was doing and share what I was up to, there have been other years, too.

Years when I couldn't figure out how to write that book--the one that was going to put me on the map, years when no one had invited me to submit a poem since the Ice Age, years when I was raw, raw, raw from rejection, Those are the years when I did NOT want to attend that stupid conference.  Nope.  Not gonna do it. And you can't make me.

It's about the shame, of course. I'm judging my insides against everyone else's outsides. It's like that false fog which hovers over FaceBook where I see those sparkling photos and know that every one of my FB friends are completely fulfilled, are always at goal weight, and have (just yesterday) signed a three-book deal.  (It's true--they have, you know.)

That's when I've learned I need to VELCRO® myself to real-life friends at the conference.  Hang with them. Go into the hall with them. Choose whatever breakout session they choose--it doesn't matter. They're my peeps. My buds. The ones who believe in me...and I believe in them. They save me from the darkness every time.

So, if you're coming to the SCBWI conference, please come up and say hello!We can VELCRO® together for awhile.

And Campers--if you are going to any gathering this summer that makes you a teensy bit uneasy, a little bit insecure, maybe the following quote will help. It's helped me.

Just for today, be open to the possibility
that there is nothing wrong with you.

Finally, here is a poem to inspire you:

THE WRITER
by Richard Wilbur

In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story.

I pause in the stairwell, hearing
From her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys
Like a chain hauled over a gunwale.

Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage.
click here for the rest of this poem

The poetry gods and goddesses bring Poetry Friday to Keri Recommends today. Thanks for hosting, Keri!

posted live from the floor of SCBWI's National Conference in living color and with love by April Halprin Wayland


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2. Guest Post: Channeling Your Middle Grade Voice with Rachele Alpine!

rachelepic

Amie here first: Today we have a guest post from the truly hilarious Rachele Alpine — her new middle grade, Operation Pucker Up just hit shelves, and after you read this, you won’t want to miss it… The full title of her post is: Channeling Your Inner Middle Grade Voice By Using Your Old Diaries: AKA… Revisiting the Most Awkward Years of your Life!

Time and time again I hear authors say that when you sit down to work on a book not to worry about what other people are going to think, forget the trends, silence your inner editor and just write what you love.

Operation Pucker Up Postcard FrontWrite what you love. What a freeing way to think.

So that’s exactly what I did when I wrote my debut MG novel Operation Pucker Up. I wrote what I loved. Or more specifically, I wrote a book the middle school version of me would have loved.

But middle school was a long time ago, so in order to reminisce about those wonderful years of cringe-worthy moments, I went straight to the source.

My middle school diary. (Click on each of these images to see a larger version.)

Diary1

So sophisticated and chic. The teddy bears with the red hearts just scream maturity. And while I thought the lock was sure to protect all my secrets, it was no match for the pair of scissors my sister used and then so sneakily stapled and taped back together thinking I’d never suspect a thing. No, seriously. She didn’t think I’d notice. She put it right back in the hiding spot I used and acted all innocent when I found it. Newsflash…I noticed!

diary2

After my sister discovered the diary, I was very careful about when I’d let another set of eyes look at it. I wrote a note to myself inside the cover with instructions as to when I could share this diary:

Diary 3

It’s kind of sweet to think about how the younger version of myself wanted to share these words and experiences with my future kids. I just hope the middle school version of myself wouldn’t have minded that instead of sharing my diary with only my kids, I shared some of my experiences with potentially thousands of kids who will pick up Operation Pucker up and read it. Whoops!

Diary4

I found a lot of good material when revisiting these pages. My diary reminded me of all those mixed up feelings that I was going through when I hit middle school, and I drew from those when developing the main character, Grace, in my book. Grace is cast as Snow White in her school’s play, only to remember that Snow White is kissed by Prince Charming. She’s never kissed anyone before, and is terrified at the thought of having her first kiss on stage. Her friends launch Operation Pucker Up, a plan to get her her first kiss before she has to have it on stage. Sure enough, the plan gets out of hand and Grace feels like everything is moving too fast and her friends are trying to make her into someone she isn’t. My middle school self could definitely relate to Grace’s feelings, as I worried about the friendships around me and how everything was changing.

Diary 5

In the book, Grace goes to her first boy/girl party, and I pretty much struck oil with all the information I provided for myself in my diary when my own experience going to my first boy/girl party. I had created a list of questions/worries before I went to the party and afterwards, I filled it all out. Talk about the perfect glimpse into the head of a middle schooler!

Diary6Diary 7Diary 8Diary 9

Throughout the book, Grace is trying to figure out the confusing world of boys and first kisses. The road to love is often rocky and traumatic in middle school, as evidenced from my love of a “younger” man. Yes, it is true, I was in sixth grade in love with a boy in fifth grade. Gasp! Just call me a cougar! Looking back now I can laugh, but it does remind me of how major things could seem when you were young.

Diary 11Diary 12Diary 13

I love the fact that the awkward, confused, sensitive middle school version of myself provided inspiration and information for books I would write in the future. In fact, I’m pretty sure I have material for the next few decades with everything that I so honestly and openly chronicled while growing up. As I work on my next MG novel, I plan to continue to dig through all of my diaries and see what I can find. I’ll draw from those moments, remember them, use them, and then thank God that I don’t have to live through them again!

Canary-2Rachele Alpine is a lover of gummy candy, bad reality TV, and coffee…so much coffee. She’s the author of the MG novels Operation Pucker Up (Simon & Schuster) and You Throw Like a Girl (Simon & Schuster, 2017), and the YA novel Canary (Medallion). You can visit her website, check out her pictures on Instagram, like her on Facebook, or send her a tweet on Twitter @ralpine.

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3. Gratitude Post: David Diaz, mentoring, found object art inspiration

Many thanks to my friend David Diaz for his friendship and mentorship. I got to know David through the SCBWI, when I was chosen for the SCBWI-LA Illustration Mentorship program in 2010. David has been recently touching base with many of the Mentees, past and present, to find out how they're doing...he is doing this on his own time and volition, not because it's an official part of the program. He and I chatted yesterday, and I had the chance to thank him again for his early advice. I also told him how my venture into found object doodles started because of HIM, at one of his Lost Weekends.

You can find out more about David on Wikipedia, Facebook and an Illustrator Spotlight via Kidlit411.

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4. Gender Roles and the Heroine

Your world is your own; traditional gender roles need not apply. This means that even if your fantasy is inspired by 1300s France, you can still have women being professors at universities or leading armies. A classic image that comes to mind of a woman in history is the passive homemaker waiting for her husband to come back from war. There were certainly quite a few of those, but that image doesn’t account for what these women actually did while waiting. The result is a picture where a lady stands at the threshold of her manor looking wistfully out the horizon to catch a shadow of her husband. In reality, she was probably too damn busy making sure her crop yield would cover both her taxes and the food needs of her household. Since stories tend to focus on the epic, and since fantasy in particular isn’t usually about actual, historical daily life, the public perception of gender roles in history is still a little stuck in this romanticized notion of passive and desperate reliance on men. The people that read these stories then go on to write their own, continuing the vicious, misinformed cycle that can even go so far as to influence society’s perception of present-day reality. Literature is an extremely powerful brainwashing tool.

Here’s the thing. Only you can break this oversaturation and constant recycling of “women had no power back then.” A good way to do that is by doing some research in unbiased gender history and exposing the public to the shocking notion that humans didn’t have the luxury to lock fifty percent of the population into an ivory tower.

Another way to do it is to write an awesome book where you totally reinvent gender roles within your world. And you can start as small as with your main character’s background story.

Alter the Intention

If you have a girl whose character arc depends on her being extremely sheltered at the start, don’t let the reason she’s sheltered rely on the fact that she’s female. Not only is it kind of lazy, it’s dependent on exactly the sort of cultural norm you’re trying to steer away from. Instead, it could be that a kidnapping attempt in her early childhood led to her parents overreacting. If she’s not allowed to learn swordplay, it could be because her family believes she’d never have use for it since they’d always be protecting her. If she’s being forced to marry against her will, it’s because they want to make sure she’s always provided for. The idea is that the driving forces behind her important life events will have little to do with the basic fact that she’s female. If you change the intention and complicate the reasoning from “because she’s a girl” to something less gender-related, it becomes actual logic that can be used in plot and character development: The story starts with her running away from the arranged marriage, arranged because her family’s misguided but genuine concern for her well-being is blinding them to her misery. Just as she’s trying to adjust to the novelty of freedom, the attempted kidnappers resurface, suddenly throwing her into crippling self-doubt. She can’t physically fight back against them because she’s weak; but she’s weak not because she’s a girl, but because she was never taught how to fight. The story that ends up being told is not one about a girl struggling against the patriarchy but one about a girl overcoming insecurity ingrained from childhood by an overprotective family she feels she cannot return to.

Weaknesses Are Allowed

Women are traditionally viewed as the weaker and more submissive sex. Breaking out of this view in your story might lead you to the conclusion that your main girl character has to be physically and emotionally strong. A common thing I come across (and sometimes catch myself writing) is a female character who overcompensates for all those damsels in distress by being ridiculously tough in every way possible. This “strong female protagonist”, often patronisingly described as feisty, turns into a caricature of a person instead of a representation of reality. For example, the girl above who was protected all her life and never learned to fight still probably won’t be able to fight very well just a few months after she’s left home. Maybe she’ll never be able to fight well. Some people are just uncoordinated. This means that she’ll inevitably have to rely on those around her for physical protection. And that’s totally fine. Because again, the reason she’s physically weak is because she just is. That doesn’t mean she’s not crafty and can’t help out in different ways. It just means that when one of those kidnappers shows up, she won’t be the one fighting them; that role will go to the person protecting her. She doesn’t have to have all the qualities of the “strong female protagonist”. She first and foremost has to be a believable person.

Background Characters

By the way, that girl’s protector can easily be a lady. The kidnappers can also be ladies. All of the characters can be ladies. Why not? A lot of times the opposite is true, with men occupying all active roles and women left to the job of “plot device”, up there in importance with Tree #2 in the elementary school play. In an attempt to remedy this, some people, while still having women as mostly weak and submissive, will nevertheless have a couple of ladies in incredibly powerful leadership roles. This is excellent; it shows that women in that writer’s world are able to achieve a position that relies on their intelligence and strength. However, these stories often miss the women in less powerful roles. These women have to climb that ladder somehow. They didn’t get to the top overnight, which means they have to have had a lower status in the past. Regardless, women will often be absent from starting or midrange roles. You don’t usually see a woman as a foot soldier, unless she’s a main character. And even if you do, she’s always something more; undiscovered prodigy bomb technician that diffuses the bomb at the last minute; master sniper that helps them hit their target; top-class martial artist that leads them through a push. She’s never just a bumbling soldier who didn’t clean her gun properly, like so many of the other male peons are.

It all goes back to the initial lack of women in these stories, and the attempt to rectify this lack. During this attempt, the women become special, having skills that are sometimes better than those of most men. At first glance this doesn’t seem bad, because it seems to show women who are powerful and successful in roles traditionally held by men. But there’s a sneaky kind of damage to it: it implies that women can only be in these roles if their skill sets are abnormally high. The best thing you can do for gender equality in your world is to take a bunch of women, put them on the front lines with the men, kill them all, and then have everybody react with equal grief. None of this “Even the women were killed!” None of this “Women and children first!” (…Well, children first, yes.)

Which leads me to my last point.

Don’t Make It a Big Deal

If, in your world, traditional gender roles don’t apply, then you don’t have to justify why one of the best warriors in the land is a woman. Similarly, you have to remember to make some of the most mediocre warriors women as well. The worst thing you can do is have people constantly commenting on how strong she is for a woman, or how she’s the only woman in her class, or how even though she’s a fighter she still knows how to cook. Nobody cares.  The men also probably know how to cook. It’s an important part of being an independent person. Drawing attention to the woman’s gender will take power away from why she’s as successful as she is: because she’s strong, because she’s skilled, and because she learned how to fight. You never hear phrases like, “Yeah he’s a pretty good fighter for a man.” Though, you might hear, “Yeah he sews pretty well for a man.” And that is just as damaging for the other side.

Gender Still Exists

Gender is a thing, and it’s foolish to ignore it…which seems to contradict everything I’ve just said. Still, physically, men and women are different. This will always result in situations where one character might be better at completing a task than another simply because of their gender. The key is that one gender should never be excluded from the possibility of doing that task, excepting in obviously physically limiting situations (because I just know that somebody’s going to say that a man can’t birth a child). And even in a world of equality, there will always be some outlying group of misogynists or misandrists itching to push people down. They can be part of your story too. And if your story is good at putting on display the strengths and weaknesses of the characters, and if those strengths and weaknesses are well-developed and don’t rely on gender, then it can expose the individual and shared features that your characters possess, and most importantly, uncover how absolutely ridiculous those misogynists and misandrists are.

Because oh my god. If you could build a world like the one I’ve described, I would read that book. I would read that book so hard.

So please write it.

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5. The 2nd Annual Pretty Much World Famous Illustration Contest For Children's Illustrators!!!

WOO HOO!  The day has finally arrived!  It's time for . . .


The 2nd Annual Pretty Much World Famous
Illustration Contest for Children's Illustrators!

The ContestDraw/Paint/Create a children's picture book illustration (no text required - art only) the topic for which shall be
discovery

Above all things, these illustrations are meant to evoke story, so it is crucial that they present at least one character, a setting, and ideally hint at/suggest some kind of plot or conflict idea.

Illustrations should be 8x10, horizontal or vertical, any medium, posted in jpg at least 72 px.  Illustrators may enter more than one entry if they're feeling ambitious :)

Post:  Your entry should be posted on your blog between right now this very second and Friday June 26 at 9 PM EDT (contest deadline!)  Please add your post-specific link to the link list below which will remain up all week so that people will be able to come visit and enjoy your amazing artwork.  If you don't have a blog but would like to enter, you will be able to copy and paste your entry into the comments below.  (If anyone has trouble commenting, which unfortunately happens, you may email me and I'll post your entry for you!)

Judging:  entries will be judged by multi-talented, award-winning author/illustrators Iza Trapani, author and illustrator of over 20 gorgeous picture books, and Lisa Thiesing, author and illustrator of 40 beautiful and fun picture books and early readers!   Judging criteria to include:

 - does the illustration evoke a sense of story,
 - is the picture readable to a young audience,
 - how well does it show the character(s) and
 - is/are the character(s) appealing (character development),
 - originality,
 - skill.

They will narrow down the entrants to 6 finalists (or possibly a couple more or less depending on the number of entries :)) which will be posted here on Monday June 29 for you to vote on for a winner.  The vote will be closed at 5PM EST on Thursday July 2 and the winner will be announced on Friday July 3... along with something for the writers in our audience, so stay tuned! :)

The Prizes!:  There will definitely be a 1st prize.  Whether we give prizes for 1st only, 1st-3rd, or 1st-6th will depend on how many entries we get.  We need at least 12 entries to place through 3rd, and at least 20 to place through 6th.

We've got some great prizes lined up including a chance to take Mark Mitchell's fantastic Make Your Marks And Splashes Online Children's Book Illustration Class (a $249 value, but really priceless!)  This class is packed with video lessons on the topics of drawing, painting, and children's book illustration and video interviews with children's illustrators. It also includes three months of online group critique sessions (2 sessions per month, at this point) with Mark and guest instructors, so the winner could also get the equivalent of a portfolio critique if she/he participated in all six of the sessions.  You can read all about it here: http://howtobeachildrensbookillustrator.com/NewCoursehome2/

http://howtobeachildrensbookillustrator.com/NewCoursehome2/


Additional prizes will include:

 - a Wacon Intuos Pen and Touch Small Tablet (see details HERE)

 - a $50 gift certificate to Dick Blick Art Materials (which is online)

 - choices of the following books:
      - Writing With Pictures by Uri Shulevitz
      - 2015 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market by Chuck Sambuchino

  - a Canson sketch pad and a small set of Derwent or Faber Castell colored pencils

and of course the bragging rights to having won or placed in a Pretty Much World Famous Contest! :)

So ready, set, GO! artists!  We can't wait to see what you've created!  We're ready to be inspired! :)

Remember, add your post-specific blog link to the link list below or email your illustration to me for posting here!

And our first entry to be submitted (from an artist who doesn't have a blog) is this one from Tina Marantettte:

illustration copyright 2015 Tina Marantette


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6. 48 days, day 7: a bit of inspiration and validation

 {{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }} 

My foot waving hello at 6am
 It's 11am and I am about to plunge into my Rachel revision and finish it. So say I. SO SAY I.

No backing down, now... just do it, Debbie. You've got enough, you've got what you need, and you can finish this revision. Today.

If I am really brave, I will send it to my agent by the end of business today. That is my goal. THAT IS MY GOAL. He lives in California. That gives me a few extra hours. hahahahahaha.

I am a watering fool right now, trying to keep new grass alive, as we near the end of this almost-year of a water management project which evolved into an edible yard and garden project along the way, and Other Stuff.

I can see, I'm falling into a routine, 7 days into this 48. Up early and either write or do correspondence while it's dark... read some, too. Once the sun is up, go outside while it's still bearable and water. This takes two hours. I have to visit everything, plump pillows, tell stories, check on the patients. Something ate my hosta last night. Who does that? Deer? I don't want to talk about it. Big, fat, beautiful hosta leaves, gone.
"The dingo ate your hosta."
What I read this morning provided me with great inspiration to get to the desk and write, which is what happens after the watering, and where I'm about to go right now. Here's what I read:

First, a piece by photographer Sally Mann in the New York Times Magazine. You must read it. It's so strong, so good, so true. Every time I read good writing, it teaches me something. This piece also taught me a little more about being human. I loved it. I have long admired Mann's work, and it was a pleasure to "hear" her talk about it in-depth; the highs, the lows, the scary bits and the calling-us-to-account bits. I read this in the 5am dark this morning. I thought, "I want to write like this." Inspiration.

Then there is this piece that I read as I came in from watering, the writer James Salter interviewed by the Paris Review -- must have been in the '90s -- about writing fiction. Here is the nugget that is sending me back to the page energized:

I find the most difficult part of writing is to get it down initially because what you have written is usually so terrible that it’s disheartening, you don’t want to go on. That’s what I think is hard—the discouragement that comes from seeing what you have done. This is all you could manage?

How many times have I felt like this! Also, on heroes:

There is everyday heroism. I think of Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path,” about a black woman walking miles to town on the railroad track to get some medicine for her grandchild. I think real devotion is heroic.

That's a thought I can use as I write about Rachel Carson, but I will also use it for book 3 of the '60s trilogy. I would also attribute it to Sunny in REVOLUTION, and to most of my characters in my books. I write about everyday struggle and everyday acts of heroism. Uncle Otts in COUNTDOWN. Joe and John Henry in FREEDOM SUMMER. Comfort letting her dog go in order to save her cousin in EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS. House reading to Mr. Norwood Boyd in ALL-STARS. Even Ruby saving Melba Jane on stage in LOVE, RUBY LAVENDER.

So those words inspire me by validating my writing experience. Which makes me feel like a real writer. Validation and inspiration send me back to the page when I think, as I do almost every writing day: this is all you could manage?

I'm going to manage to finish my revision today. What are you up to, one week, 7 days in?



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7. It the book birthday for Blood Will Tell!

Today is the book birthday for Blood Will Tell, the second in my Point Last Seen series inspired by the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office Searcn and Rescue team. Nine months ago, over 100 people signed up for the lastest round of clases. They underwent hundreds of training, and during that time the unit provided over 30,000 hours of volunteer work. It’s a tough course - just 53 finished and 33 completed all 87 requirements for graduation.

Two things make MSCOSAR different. One is the group is teen led and made up primarily of teens. The second is that about 30 percent of what the group does is search for crime scene evidence.

This book features the same three friend as were in Blood Will Tell. Alexis, whose mother is mentally ill. Ruby, who understand things far more than she understand people. And Nick, who desperately wants to prove that he is as strong and brave as he longs to be.

Real-life roots
Blood Will Tell was inspired by two true stories. Back in 1987 in Colorado, a bicyclist checked out what he thought was a mannequin in a field and discovered it was really the body of 37-year-old woman. She had been stabbed in the back and died from blood loss.

But before the bicyclist realized it was really a body, a 15-year-old saw also saw it while walking to school. Thinking it was a mannequin left as a prank, he did not report it to the police. After his father told police that his son usually walked through that lot, the police pulled the teen, whose nickname was ”Toothpick,” out of class.

He was questioned for hous alone, but always said he was innocent. Still, they zeroed in on him because he had never reported the body to the police. There was no physical evidence. They did find hundreds of violent drawings, a couple of knives, and a newspaper clipping about the murder.

Eventually, he was tried for the murder and convicted. It was covered on a lot of “real-life” TV shows, with titles like Drawn to Murder and Murder Illustrated.  In the end, DNA evidence proved his evidence and he won millions from the state of Colorado.

Can DNA lie?
The other case was in San Fransisco. A millionaire was tied up and robbed. He ended up suffocating on the packing tape used to keep him from crying out. A forensics team found DNA on his fingernails that belonged to an unknown person. The sample was put into a DNA database and turned up a “hit” — a local man with a long criminal record.

Arrested and charged with murder, that men spent more than five months in jail with a possible death sentence hanging over his head.

Then his defense realized he had been hospitalized the night of the murder. But how did an innocent man’s DNA end up on a murder victim?

I won't give away the answer, but I will say that for 15 years, German police searched for a serial killer they called the “Phantom of Heilbronn” — an unknown female linked by traces of DNA to six murders across Germany and Austria. Police had found her DNA on items ranging from a cookie to a heroin syringe to a stolen car. She had been involved in over 40 crimes, rangning from murder to a car-dealership robbery and a school break-in,

In 2009, the police found their “suspect”: a worker at a factory that produced the cotton swabs police used in their investigations. She had been accidentally contaminating them with her own DNA.

Those two cases really make me wonder about our reliance on the infallibility of DNA evidence. After all DNA can’t tell your when it’s been left or under what circumstances. It may  not lie, but it may not tell the whole truth either.

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8. 3 Ways To Inspire a Poem--Oops!

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Howdy Campers!

I'm wildly inspired by the postings of my fellows at Poetry Friday today--see the link below.

Bobbi begins our What-Inspires-You series with Inspirations and Geniuses; Jo Ann is up next with the help of her camera: Zooming in on Inspiration; Esther offers An Inspiring Weekly Digest You Need to Know About; Carla opens our eyes to Inspiration From the Library of Congress; and Mary Ann touches us with tales about family members in Inspiration is a Blast From the Past.

So what are the top three things that inspire my daily poems?

1) Um...deadlines. 

“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” ~ Douglas Adams

I was inspired to write this post today when I was putting an appointment in my calendar...and saw that I was supposed to have posted this morning.  Oops!

"My sole inspiration is a telephone call from a director." ~ Cole Porter, composer and songwriter

Deadlines and assignments mean that I cannot take all day cleaning my proverbial closet. I write and rewrite...and bam!--even if it's not the world's most perfect piece, I post it or send it off--done!

2) Life. Especially the sad parts. 

"I've had an unhappy life, thank God." ~ Russell Baker, author, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist

The difficult and/or unhappy times of my life are rich grounds for writing.  I can create this richness, though, even when my life is humming along, if I listen to what's happening in my chest cavity. If I walk into the world looking for my poem, all senses open.

The last time my mom and I took a nature walk.  She's the shorter one.

3) Someone who believes in me.  Two or three someones is even better. 

"Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, writer and philosopher

My husband came with me on a quick trip to meet with my agent and two of my editors this week.  I wanted him to meet these significant people in my work life. New York can be exhilarating...and it can scare the pants off me, too.  It always takes me a day to remember how to use the subways and navigate the city.  His presence on the subway and in those meetings meant the world to me.

My sailing-around-the-world friend, Bruce, is a daily supporter of my work, even when he says the poem doesn't work (which of course I know he's just not reading correctly--he's clearly tired from working on the boat all day).

Every writer in my critique groups past and present and everyone in the Kidlitosphere community: we cheer each other on; that cheering echoes and echoes and echoes inside all of us.
my team

And so? Here's today's (raw) poem written 1) for a deadline, 2) based on life, and with the support of--well, all of you.

LOOKING FOR INSPIRATION
by April Halprin Wayland

bald little god
sits on the pond’s rim, 
his feet all in

his head turning side to side
toward fluttering leaves
toward ebbing tide 

below impatient clouds
that mumble, 
This is going too slow

so they snap out 
a spiky lighting streak 
and Man—does little god go!

He jumps right up and does he run!
He’s going, going, getting things
DONE!

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

Get inspired by the bounty at Buffy's Blog today--thanks for hosting, Buffy!

posted by April Halprin Wayland, Monkey, and our always inspired dog, Eli

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9. Inspiration is a blast from the past

     I find inspiration in real life. Rummaging through flea markets and antique stores, examining the jumbled pieces of other peoples' lives sets my story radar pinging. How did these odds and ends come to rest, unwanted by their "families," in a junk store? A story begins simmering in the back of my brain.

    I am addicted to old family pictures. I gaze at the walls of other people's houses, memorizing family portraits. My mother practically raised me at estate sales and junk stores. I was not allowed to touch anything, but I could ask all the questions I wanted. What was this metal thing used for? Who wore shoes that buttoned up the sides? Did you have a doll like this when you were a little girl?

   The two people who encouraged my curiosity in the past would be surprised to learn I consider them the fairy godmothers of my writing.  Those two people were my Grandmother Rodman and my mom, both natural born storytellers.

The couple in the middle are my Rodman grandparents
      Although her father had been a country schoolmaster, my Grandmother Rodman's education ended at 11. However, she loved to read and never stopped learning through out her very long life (she lived to be 97). Her childhood was positively Dickensian; orphaned at 11, she lived with an "evil stepfather" and numerous half-siblings. Her older brothers had gone off to "seek their fortunes" and escape their abusive stepfather.  Murder, the county poor farm, setting off on her own at 15 to make her way in the world...all these elements were part of my grandmother's story.  As a young mother she survived the most deadly tornado in U.S. history. She told "The Storm Story" when few people talked about tragedies.  My grandmother made sense of her own life by telling the stories, over and over, always in an undramatic, matter of fact voice.

     She knew which details would make her story real for a little listener...the taste of homemade peanut brittle, the mustard color of a funnel cloud so enormous it blocked the sky, the stiff, slick material of her mother's "Sunday dress." Her stories were peopled with characters named Country and Myrtle and Ardell.  She evoked the sound of their voices, the way they stood and moved, the little quirks that made those long-dead people come alive. She was economical with her words, as she brought the events to the climax, never once saying "Oh I forgot to say that..."

   Not only could my grandmother put names to the family photos she kept in a big silk stationary box under her bed, she could spin stories about every one of them. She also told me about my father growing up in small-town, Depression-era,  Southern Illinois. My father did not tell me his own boyhood until very recently.  Learning what kind of little boy he had been, helped me understand my sometimes puzzling, taciturn dad.

Mom on the far right, her brother Jimmy and sister Agnes
   My mother would be shocked to learn that she inspired me. I was a sickly kid and missed a lot of school. Mom entertained me with stories of her childhood, first on a small family farm and then helping her mother run a Pittsburgh boarding house during the Depression. The middle child of eight, her stories seemed exciting and exotic, better than any library book. Mom prefaced her stories with, "Now times were different when I was a little. We probably shouldn't have done some of this stuff then, and you aren't to do it now. If you do, I will stop telling you stories." That was threat enough to keep me from trying some of the stunts of Mom and her family.  My uncles' trapeze in the farm's apple orchard. The Great Silverware War of Easter 1932. Their beloved maiden aunt who taught them to play poker. The first story I ever wrote at age seven was about Mom moving from to town after the bank took the farm.  My 11-year-old mother and her sister rode a streetcar back to their old home, to gather whatever they had could of what was left behind. (No, I'm not telling you what they took...I'm still working on this story.)

   Mom was a one-woman show. She imitated voices, created sound effects and even acted out the events when her vocabulary failed her.  Ironically, she considered herself shy and disliked speaking in public. Writing anything, such as a letter, was a laborious process that would go through several drafts before she would write on her good linen stationary with a fountain pen.  Since Mom wrote to at least some of her family every week, that was a lot of moaning and groaning and crumpled up notebook paper. (I learned the pain and value of revision early!)`

    Jimmy's Stars began when I found a WWII two-star service flag in a box lot of china I bought at an auction. I knew from photos that Mom's family had a four-star flag in the window of the boarding house (three for my uncles and one for Mom who was a WAVE). Looking at that flag, I heard my mother's voice recounting life on the Homefront, the terror of receiving a telegram, the peculiarity of wartime rationing. With those stories as a foundation,Jimmy's Stars was the fastest I've ever written anything...18 months. (That included lightening striking my computer and wiping out the unbacked-up first five chapters.)

  Yankee Girl is based on my own childhood stories I told my daughter. I am currently working on two books that are based on Grandmother Rodman tales.
                                                                                                             
    I'm sure that neither my grandmother or mother knew they would inspire my own books. Their stories taught me the beauty and drama of everyday life. This sense of wonder in what seems ordinary to us, I try to pass on to my own students. Over the years, they have told me about grandparents who wandered in the rubble of WWII Europe, orphaned and homeless. Of their parents as children, in refugee camps, fleeing Asia by boat. One girl's family escaped the Holocaust by immigrating to Cuba... and then fled Cuba after the Revolution. My hope is that these tales will live on in my students' writing.  I think the best gift you can give a child is a family story.

     I was blessed to be descended from two of the best storytellers ever. Thanks, Meemaw.  Thanks, Mom.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

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10. An Inspiring Weekly Digest You NEED to Know About!


This is your brain.













And this is Maria Popova who will gladly pick it each and every Sunday morning if you register to receive Brain Pickings, her weekly free website digest that I promise you offers unlimited inspiration to keep you keepin’ on – personally, professionally and any way you need to. 



Ms. Popoval, “a cartographer of meaning in a digital world,” continues to offer visitors to her website “an inventory of cross-disciplinary interestingness, spanning art, science, design, history, philosophy and more.” 
The Sunday digest offers the week’s most “unmissable” articles.


Here’s who and what came my way last Sunday, May 17:

Wendell Berry on How to Be a Poet and a Complete Human Being 

The Heart and the Bottle (by Oliver Jeffers): A Tender Illustrated Fable of What Happens When We Deny Our Difficult Emotions   

The Magic of Moss and What It Teaches Us About the Art of Attentiveness to Life at All Scales


I owe fellow writer and friend Ellen Reagan untold thanks for first connecting me to
what’s now my weekly dose of inspiration, insights and mind-whirling knowledge I never even knew I needed to have.

WOW’s!” and sighs and smiles and “I didn’t know that’s!” usually punctuate my first reading of the digest.
At the end of the day, I return to save/copy to my journal particularly relevant and/or meaningful quotes and lines  - about life, love, children, work, writing, disappointment, joy, wonder, marriage, you-name-it.
Throughout the week that follows I find myself forwarding at least one article or quote to someone I care about.

You can listen here to Maria Popova talk about how and why she created Brain Pickings.
You’ll be so happy she did.

And do subscribe to the weekly digest. 
You’ll be so happy you did.

Happy Brain Pickings!

Esther Hershenhorn

P.S.
You can also savor Maria Popova's delicious and nourishing fare via Facebook and Twitter.
(www.facebook.com/brainpickings.mariapopova/Brain Pickings @brainpickings


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11. Zooming In on Inspiration

When I finish a big project, I usually have to take a few days to get my bearings. I look around, dazed, trying to figure out what to do next. Morning Pages help. Walking to the lake helps. Spring is inspiring!

My camera helps me focus—literally—when I need to slow down and pay attention. For me, that can be the key to opening up to new ideas.

I just turned in the fourth (and final) book in a nonfiction series for an educational publisher. It drained me more than I expected. So I’m filling the well. Here are some things I’m paying attention to.


Last fall, I buried 40 potted milkweed plants  (3 varieties) under dry leaves next to the house. When the weather warmed up, I put them in the sun next to the garage. So far, 18 of them have sprouted. Three more plants (and one more variety) have popped up in the flower bed, which is shadier. Now I'm watching for monarchs. (Are you? Check the migration map to see if they're in your neighborhood yet.)


A pair of white-breasted nuthatches were cleaning out a hole in a branch above the garage the other day. Will they build a nest there? I hope so. I love their weird calls (described by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology as "a loud, nasal yank") and the way they hop down tree trunks head first.


One of my favorite wildflowers, a shooting star, is blooming in the park. What an encouraging surprise! Maybe I can go back to work now.

Bobbi started this series of Teaching Authors posts about inspiration with a collection of wonderful quotes. Be sure to check it out if you need a dose of inspiration—and who doesn't?

Congratulations to Karen C, who won our giveaway of the YA novel in verse Dating Down by Stephanie Lyons. (Read all about it in Esther's interview.)

Baby Says "Moo!" is now a board book! Watch for a Teaching Authors Book Giveaway in June.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme. Enjoy!

JoAnn Early Macken

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12. For My Writing Friends: Some Great Books To Help You Up Your Game!

I’m so excited by these books, I have to pass them along.

First of all, right now you can get for the incredibly low price of $20 this entire story bundle of writing books. I would have bought just one of the books on my own–the horse one by Judith Tarr, since I’m writing a lot of horse scenes these days for The Bradamante Saga and yes, I’d like to make sure I get them right–but then once I saw all the other awesome craft books in this bundle: SOLD. Because every writer can get better, and it’s such a pleasure to read a great craft book by authors who are experts in their field.
Story Bundle Writing Books

And speaking of authors who are experts in their field, the great young adult author Tom Leveen now has a new book out on writing dialogue. Before turning to novels, Tom spent many years in the theater as both an actor and director. I’ve taught writing workshops with him, and his tips for writing great dialogue are always FANTASTIC. Treat yourself to this book. You’ll learn a ton.


That’s it for now, gang. Happy Writing!

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13. #689 – Dress Me! by Sarah Frances Hardy

CBW-email-childrens_2015

 

IMAGE 1X
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Dress Me!

Written by Sarah Frances Hardy
Illustrated by Sarah Frances Hardy
Sky Pony Press           5/05/2015
978-1-63220-823-3
20 pages               Age 3—7
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“This little girl can be a lawyer, doctor, superhero, or plumber. She can be graceful, creative, brave, caring, silly, and even scary. She can wear braids or glasses, a crown or a beret. There are infinite, limitless possibilities, and this little girl gets to choose who and what she wants to be. And there’s always the option for her to be ‘just me.’ From the author/illustrator of Paint Me! comes a delightful, imaginative story about a little girl with some incredible aspirations.” [book jacket]

Review
The nameless young girl, along with her loyal puppy, take readers through part of their day as they move from room-to-room, outfit-to-outfit, and activity-to-activity. They start their day deciding what to wear. Deciding to start with some exercise, the girl pulls down her pink tutu, matching top, a violet sash, and . . . wait, what about her feet? No worries, pup has fetched the girl’s pink ballet slippers, dutifully waiting for his friend to slip them on her feet. With a high twirl and a long leap the pair dance, never out of step. The young girl and her dog take on a gamut of outfits (tutu, smock, scrubs, dresses, and masks), and identities (artist, teacher, lawyer, diva, builder, or plumber), as they dance, paint, fly through the air, and take lunch orders.

Dress Me! interior 1pass JAM_page19_image17

Older children have books such as WIGU Publishing’s When I Grow Up I Want to be a . . . series to help them decide what they might like to become. Dress Me does the same for younger children, in terms they y understand. More than that, Dress Me is about being yourself while enjoying who you are, right now. The illustrations tell the majority of the story. I like that Dress Me leaves much of the narration to the reader—or he young listener. While the young girl teaches a couch full of attentive stuffed animals (and one real puppy), the text reads,

“Teacher me.”

I like that kids can decide why the girl is teaching, what she is teaching, and to whom she, dong a great job of blending in to the scene. Pup does the same in this scene. Dress Me will appeal to young girls more than boys, even though Hardy includes male-oriented careers and activities boys enjoy. The illustrations are delightful. Each spread is loaded with detail, adding continuity by carrying items from one spread to the next. For example, the puppy pulls a blue-striped tie from the laundry basket. In the next image he wears the tie while pretending to be in court, on the wrong side of the young girl’s law. She has pushed a pair of glasses atop her head while waitressing and worn correctly as a teacher.

Dress Me is the perfect book for preschoolers beginning to self-explore their world and their place in it. Parents will appreciate the creativity Dress Me can inspire in young girls, who will begin to think out of their prescribed female roles. More importantly, Dress Me encourages young girls to enthusiastically be themselves.

Dress Me! interior 1pass JAM_page19_image14

A final note: the illustrations are the best yet from Hardy who improves with each book. Dress Me! is Hardy’s third book. Her others are Paint Me! and Puzzled by Pink (reviewed HERE).

DRESS ME! Text and illustrations copyright © 2015 by Sarah Frances Hardy. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Sky Pony Press, New York, NY.

Purchase Dress Me! at AmazonBook DepositorySky Pony Press.

Learn more about Dress Me! HERE.
Meet the author/illustrator, Sarah Frances Hardy:
Website:  http://www.sfhardy.com/
Blog:  http://sfhardy.blogspot.com/
Facebook:  http://bit.ly/SarahFrancesHardyFacebook
Twitter:  https://twitter.com/sfhardy2
Find more picture books at the Sky Pony Press website:  http://www.skyponypress.com/

Sky Pony Press is an imprint of Sky Horse Publishing

Also by Sarah Frances Hardy

Paint Me!

Paint Me!

Puzzled by Pink

Puzzled by Pink

 

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Review word count = 455

Copyright © 2015 by Sue Morris/Kid Lit Reviews.

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dress me ftc


Filed under: 4stars, Library Donated Books, NonFiction, Picture Book Tagged: aspirations, be yourself, Dress Me!, enjoy being yourself, inspiration, little girls books, make-believe, puppies, Sarah Frances Hardy, self esteem, Sky Pony Press

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14. The FAT CAT Get Healthy for Summer Giveaway!

I get soooo many e-mails from people who have just read or listened to FAT CAT and want some more tips about how to do what Cat does in the book and totally transform their bodies and their health.

So guess what? I’m going to give you the chance to win a great book to get you started.

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau has written numerous books and cookbooks and has an amazing podcast and is generally out there inspiring people and teaching them how to make lifelong changes that will make them feel happy, healthy, and strong. Those of you who have listened to the FAT CAT audio book know that Colleen and I have a great conversation at the end of the book about both of our food backgrounds and what led us to make changes. I love Colleen’s work. I’m also happy to introduce other people to it.

So for this month’s giveaway, you’ll have the chance to win a signed copy of her new book, The 30-Day Vegan Challenge: The Ultimate Guide to Eating Healthfully and Living Compassionately. The winner will also receive a signed copy of FAT CAT, along with a Karmic Cafe T-shirt just like the one Amanda designs in FAT CAT.

You can enter the giveaway here. And remember the cool extra-credit detail: When you enter you’ll get a confirmation email that contains your own personal special code. When you post that code on your own blog or Twitter or Facebook, you’ll get 3 extra entries in your own name every time someone else enters from that link. So the more you share, the better your chances are of winning! Go get ‘em!

Good luck to all of you!

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15. Three Questions With Jane Yolen: Advice For Young Writers, Books, Tea and YOU NEST HERE WITH ME

For Part 1 of my YOU NEST HERE WITH ME series, please see Three Questions With Heidi Stemple.

Photo: Jason Stemple.

I was thrilled to meet Jane Yolen at a recent SCBWI conference, and even more excited when Jane read my f&g of Where Are My Books? and liked it (see photo at the very end of this interview). Jane Yolen is the renowned author of many children's books, fantasy, and science fiction, including Owl Moon, The Devil's Arithmetic, and How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? Her books, poems and stories have won many awards, including the Caldecott Medal.

You can find Jane at her website, JaneYolen.com, on Facebook and on Twitter. She and her daughter Heidi Stemple run a Picture Book Boot Camp (next one is Sept. 10-13, 2015), which is a Master Class in her home:

Her newest book is YOU NEST HERE WITH ME, a picture book co-written with Heidi Stemple (see Heidi's Three Questions interview in Inkygirl.com earlier today) and illustrated by Melissa Sweet, published by Boyds Mill Press in March 2015.

Synopsis of YOU NEST HERE WITH ME:

This lyrical bedtime book is an ode to baby birds everywhere and to sleepy children, home safe in their own beds. As a mother describes how different species of birds nest, secure and cozy with their mama birds, she tucks her own child into bed with the soothing refrain, “you nest here with me”—easing her little one and readers alike to slumber. Perfect for a young audience, this poetic text begs to be read aloud, and is accompanied by Melissa Sweet’s incredibly warm and original art.

Q. Could you please take a photo of something in your office and tell us the story behind it?

Photo: Heidi Stemple.

Like most writers, I have an enormous research library in my home and when I am working on a particular project, those books get scattered around my writing room.

As I am currently working on two very different manuscripts--one set in the Holocaust (the first section in the Lodz Ghetto) and the other a graphic novel trilogy set in 1930s Edinburgh, I chose to pick out a book from each of those piles to feature in the photograph. At the top is a day-by-day catalog of what happened during the ghetto years in Lodz, and in the second materials about Scotland through the ages. Fiction has to take the real and massage it into a story that nay (or may not) have actually happened. We recreate (hi)story and bring our readers along.

Photo: Heidi Stemple.

From Jane, about the photo above: "I can't seem to write without a cup of tea (British decaf with demarara sugar and a splash of Lactaid milk.) I keep making cuppas coming all day long."

Q. What advice do you have for young writers?

Read, read, read.

Write something every day.

Never take no for an answer.

Don't believe your reviews--either good or bad.

Heart on the page.

Know that books are not just written, but rewritten.

(Above: Listen as Jane reads and critiques her very first poem)

 

Q. What are you excited about right now?


Two of my old books recently splashed out big: HOW DO DINOSAURS GET WELL SOON (Scholastic) won the Colorado One Book Award, and BAD GIRLS (Charlesbridge)--written with daughter Heidi Stemple--won the Magnolia Award, Mississippi's Children's Book Award for the middle grades. Plus the latest book Heidi and I just published--YOU NEST HERE WITH ME (Boyds Mills) with amazing illustrations by Melissa Sweet--has recently had a tremendous start and after only a month is getting a second printing.

But honestly, I am always most excited about the manuscript I am working on now. That's where my heart is, where my soul is. That is where my tomorrow is.

 

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For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.

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16. Three Questions with Heidi Stemple: Advice For Young Readers, Owls and YOU NEST HERE WITH ME

For Part 2 of the YOU NEST HERE WITH ME series, please see Three Questions With Jane Yolen.


Heidi Stemple didn’t want to be a writer when she grew up. In fact, after she graduated from college, she became a probation officer in Florida. It wasn’t until she was 28 years old that she gave in and joined the family business, publishing her first short story in a book called Famous Writers and Their Kids Write Spooky Stories. The famous writer was her mom, author Jane Yolen. Since then, she has published twenty books and numerous short stories and poems, mostly for children.

I had a chance to hang out with Heidi at the SCBWI Summer Conference last year. She's smart, she's funny and she's so supportive of others in the industry. Then partway through a group conversation, I also discovered that her mom is Jane Yolen (!!). 

Heidi and Jane run a Picture Book Boot Camp (next one is Sept. 10-13, 2015), which is a Master Class in Jane's home:

Where to find out more about Heidi:

Heidi's website - Twitter - Heidi's Author Page on FacebookFacebook page about the yearly owl count

Synopsis of You Nest Here With Me (Boyds Mill Press, 2015):

This rhyming bedtime book is part lullaby and part introductory field guide for the smallest ornithologists. But, at its heart, it reminds baby birds and children alike that home is wherever you are safely tucked in with your family. If you look in the back of You Nest Here With Me , you'll see that part of the dedication is to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. If you want to know more about birds--including listening to owl calls, visit them at: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/Page.aspx?pid=1478.

Heidi's office. (The cat is named Romeo)

Q. Could you please take a photo of something in your office and tell us the story behind it?

I love birds. All birds. But, especially owls.

"Think I'm kidding about the owls? I even have owl nesting dolls."

I have about a hundred owls in my house. Actually, I’ve never counted them, but there are a lot.

Heidi's living room. "See the owl in the rafters? His name is Wilbur and he watches out over the house." My mother, author Jane Yolen, wrote a book you might know called Owl Moon. It’s about a little girl who goes out owling with her dad. What you may not know is that the little girl is me and Pa is my father, David Stemple, who was a great owler. He was the one who taught me to call owls and now, once a year, I lead a team of owlers for the Audubon Christmas Bird Count. On our best year (so far) we called down 67 owls from midnight to 7am.

These (pictured above) are probably my favorite owls—they make up a bookend that my dad had in his office. Now they sit on the bookshelf right next to my desk and remind me of him.

Q. What advice do you have for young writers?

When you live in a family of writers (my mother and both my brothers work in children’s books) you know that inspiration comes from everywhere. You never know when and from where an idea for a story will pop up. Keep your eyes, ears, and mind open at all times for those ideas. And, write them down because ideas are slippery little buggers.

Prep for the Owl Count

 Every writer has all sorts of notes jotted all over the place with ideas for stories or poems or essays or speeches. I even have the beginning of a story on my iphone—you can’t really understand it because I dictated it with voice-to-text and it got most of the words wrong. But, it’s good enough for me to figure it out later when I am ready to write that story.

Q. What are you excited about right now?

I am always excited about my newest book and the book (or usually books) I am working on. So, besides the projects I am writing and researching right now (which involve pirates, the civil war, the Christmas Bird Count, cookies, the moon, monsters, and soup—yes soup) I am probably MOST excited about my brand new book You Nest Here With Me (co-authored by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Melissa Sweet). This is a book that took 12 years to get published. We sold it twice—to the same editor at 2 different publishing companies—and then waited 3 years for the illustrations. I am glad we were patient because we are so happy with the way it turned out.

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For more interviews, see my Inkygirl Interview Archive.

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17. EARTH DAY, 2015 on Miss Marple’s Musings – How will you celebrate?

Earth Day’s 45th anniversary could be the most exciting year in environmental history. The year in which economic growth and sustainability join hands. It’s our turn to lead. So our world leaders can follow by example. I have very excited … Continue reading

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18. Black and White Ink

cait chock jeans black and white drawing
Black and White Ink

Shadows speaking louder than words.
Night and day lose meaning.
Whispers in the grey.
Hinting a secret.

White. Arresting.
A look.
A crease. A fold.

Casting sweet envelope
for emotion.


Black and white drawing first shared on my Instagram page HERE.

To order a print of this piece, or inquire for other commissions, send an email to: cait@caitchock.com

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19. ADDitude Magazine Post

ADDitude Magazine provides “strategies and support for ADHD and LD.” They reprinted my Huffington Post essay about my daughter’s struggle with Tourette Syndrome. The magazine is a wonderful resource, and I hope you’ll pass it along to anyone you know who could benefit from it. Thank you! Move Therapy: How Frozen Gave My Daughter Hope

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20. Tracing Inspiration

Most writers will get the “where do you get your ideas?” question at least once in their careers. Probably many, many times. Short of tossing out a snarky response like “J.C. Penney” or “the Idea catalog,” I usually reply, “From everything around me.” Helpful, right?

acceleradeI’m not kidding though. I’m actually not the most observant of people and I have a terrible memory, which is why I became a writer instead of a consulting detective. (I know, these aren’t good qualities for a writer either, but I figure in the digital age everyone is going to carry their memories in their pockets or on their wrists one day, so I’m just ahead of the curve.) Truth is, I get ideas from all sorts of places: overheard conversations, misread words, images, other books, TV shows, etc.

My short story “All the Lonely People” (Shimmer #13, 2011), came from a billboard for a sports drink with the slogan “Don’t Fade,” which inspired a story about a woman who can see people who are literally fading from life and can either help them stick around or disappear entirely. The “Eleanor Rigby” references came in later.

supernaturalI heard a friend refer to winter as “the time when everything dies,” which inspired me to write a story called “The Dying Time” (forthcoming) about a village where everyone becomes temporarily undead and hibernates during the winter, which is bad news for the guy who stumbles into town just as autumn is ending. Meanwhile, a fantasy short story mashup of Gilmore Girls and Supernatural began life as a Tweeted pun which led to “The Grimoire Girls” (also forthcoming). You get the idea. This is why I carry a notebook and pen everywhere; I write down anything that triggers inspiration in my brain, because you never know what it can turn into.

Naturally, the internet is also fertile ground for ideas. Online research (and books!) inspired and informed a lot of the hacking that appears in The Silence of Six, because I was striving for authenticity and plausibility. But one big plot point originated from a web article I read years ago — probably back in 2010, well before I started working on the book — about USB flash drives embedded in walls. These “dead drops” were in public so anyone could transfer files to them or copy files off with their laptop, as long as they knew about them. (Not really a good idea when you think about it, but still.)

deaddrops1I was fascinated with the concept, so much so that when (mild spoiler) my characters needed a way to hide files out in the open, I remembered it; however, I had thought these were mysterious installations that were propagating everywhere. But it turns out that they originated from a Berlin-based artist named Aram Bartholl. Unfortunately, when I stole the idea for The Silence of Six, I didn’t think to look up the articles again, so I failed to properly credit them. (Sorry, Aram! You’re a genius.) Kids, do your research. (Here’s another recent article about Dead Drops in The Guardian.)

An interesting thing about inspiration is you often can’t trace it back to the source. Minds are complex and ideas have a way of taking over and growing, so it’s difficult to untangle where it all came from. Everything I’ve ever written has essentially grown out of the books I’ve read, the films I’ve seen, my favorite TV shows, and so on. How can I acknowledge all of those influences? It’s one reason why some copyright theft and plagiarism accusations can be difficult to prove, because it’s possible for someone to unconsciously copy someone else’s work or ideas — to a degree. Again, do your research!

Where do you get your ideas?

By the way, if you’re fascinated by dead drops too, you can win a special The Silence of Six USB drive this week (through March 15, 2015) in Adaptive’s #ChallengeofSix digital scavenger hunt, with online puzzles and clues inspired by the book. Grand prize is an Xbox One! Watch this video for more info and to get the first clue.

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21. 9 Things to Make Your Life a Little Better…

Happy Spring everyone! Since this season is all about new growth, renewal, and fertility it’s only fitting that I share a post that reflects the promise of better (and brighter) days ahead. The following is taken from a Hallmark® birthday card I received from my mom this year. Trust me it’s worth the read, and guaranteed to put a smile on your face…

Trust your instincts. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t…fun, tempting…maybe, but not right.

Remember your manners. It doesn’t cost you anything, but speaks volumes about who you are. Having CLASS starts with this.

Never let possessions “own” you. It’s just STUFF! The most valuable things in life—friends, respect, love, knowledge—don’t cost money… Hokey, but true.

Nurture your friendships. The investment you make in true friends will pay huge dividends all your life—remember, you can’t make an old friend.

Keep your hands clean. This is meant both literally and figuratively… It will save you a lot of regrets later…

Believe in yourself. Another hokey one, but you DO happen to be the only YOU in existence, and you’re also the only person in the world who can TRULY hold you back in life…

Be grateful. Don’t waste all your todays in anticipation of some grand tomorrow. NOW is all we’ve got. Live in it!

Treat others the way you want to be treated. Just because you’re smarter or richer or prettier than someone else doesn’t mean you’re BETTER. It just means you’ve been more blessed.

Always keep playing. Who says adults have to give up toys? Keep the little kid inside you alive… it keeps your imagination primed. Silly is good. 

I’m kind of partial to the last one! Thanks a heap for reading my blog. If you have time, please leave a comment and share some of the things that have made your life a little better. Cheers and have a great week!

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22. the year of exploration

For some time I have been birthing -- in my head and on paper -- a new way of seeing, working, living, connecting, and being in the world. Why? Maybe it's turning 60, with the knowledge that there is less time before me than behind me for sure. Maybe it's recent disappointments and realizations. Maybe it's recent gifts and surprises. Maybe it's the on-going therapy, which is hard work. I'm sure it is.

Whatever it is, this shift in my thinking feels major, so I'm going to do something about it, and I will chronicle it here, March 20, 2015 to March 20, 2016 (start where you are, and I started with Saturday's post).

I want to see where this new energy and commitment take me and my work. I'll also Instagram my explorations, using the hashtag "theyearofexploration."

I'll label it that way here, too. I used the blog to chronicle my 2012 year off the road to finish REVOLUTION and called it "the year of possibility." You can read about it by clicking on the label on the sidebar. (or here. :>)

I'll tag some of these exploration posts "the home economics project." I've had a project in mind for a long, long time, and I want to start making it visible.

I'll chronicle book three of the sixties trilogy as well. I've already starting documenting photographs and research at Pinterest. You'll find a "book three hold file" and a "book three playlist possibilities" board as well as the many boards for COUNTDOWN and REVOLUTION... and I've started resource boards for my other books.. I'll get to them as I can.




I'm going back to the roots of what makes me happy. I'm going to write more. I'm going to use my hands more, which is something that grounds me and centers me and helps me understand my place in the great continuum.

To that end, I have purchased four cacti, three French lavender plants, and a mother fern. I'm going to take a class at Creativebug - line drawing with Lisa Congdon. Also, Lisa's sketchbook explorations work-along at Creativebug. I've got my supplies (which include these plants!) and I'm ready to go.

I have no expectations. I want to do what I ask students to do when I teach writing: pay attention, ask questions, make connections.

I'll be an explorer like Comfort Snowberger in EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS: Explorer, Recipe Tester, and Funeral Reporter. Like Dove, the 9-year-old anthropologist-in-training in LOVE, RUBY LAVENDER. I shall be an anthropologist of my life. I'll try to let go of anxiety about the future, and just stay in the day. I will work hard. I will try to uncover as well as discover. I hope to learn a lot. Wanna come with?

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23. Kickass Women of Science Fiction: Including Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Another Giveaway!

Some people say I’m a book pusher. I’m okay with that. I get impatient with friends when they still haven’t read that book I recommended at least A WEEK AGO, for heaven’s sake, so I just go online and send it to them. Pushy? Bossy? I will not apologize. People need to read certain books and yes, I do know what’s good for them.

Which is why I’m about to go full-on pushy once again, and not only recommend some books that you need to read RIGHT NOW to fulfill your need for kickass science fiction heroines, I’m also going to go the extra step of enforcing that by actually giving them away free to one lucky winner.

Diving into the Wreck ebook cover webFirst, Diving Into the Wreck, part of the Diving Universe series by Hugo Award-winning science fiction author Kristine Kathryn Rusch. I’ve been a fan and student of Kris’s for about 13 years, and have always viewed her as a pretty badass woman and author in her own right. But she also writes amazingly complicated and strong women characters who are always so much fun to spend time with. Kris has generously offered to give the lucky winner a signed copy of the book. She also answered some interview questions for me that I’ll share below, so hang on. It’s always fun to hear how other writers think.

 

The Lost WorldSecond is Michael Crichton’s The Lost World, and if you were a fan of his Jurassic Park you may think you already know all there is to know about this sequel, but I think perhaps you don’t. Because the reason I’m pushing it is that it has one of my favorite heroines of all time, Sarah Harding, who is both scientist and never-say-die person-you-most-want-with-you-in-a-crisis, and I am so inspired by her intelligence and toughness I actually reread this book about twice a year just to pump myself up. I think once you’ve experienced Sarah Harding for yourself, you’ll be totally hooked, too.

 

Parallelogram OmnibusThird is my own Parallelogram seriesWhy am I book-pushing my own series? Because I wrote it for a particular reason: to show two very different girls who are entirely kickass in their own separate ways. One is a scientific explorer, willing to try out all sorts of bizarre (and potentially hazardous) physics theories she’s come up with, and the other is a teen adventurer who has been raised by her very badass explorer grandmother to handle all sorts of physical risks with a cool head and a deep will to survive.

In my spare time I like to read a lot of true adventure books by real-life explorers, and I based the teenage adventurer Halli and her grandmother Ginny on two women explorers I really admire: Roz Savage, who rowed solo across the Atlantic (why not??), and Helen Thayer, who was the first person to ski solo and unsupported to the magnetic North Pole. When she was 50, by the way. So yeah, I think you should read Parallelogram for the same reason you should read the Rusch and Crichton books: because the girls and women in these books will entertain and inspire you.

I asked Kristine Kathryn Rusch a few questions about her own writing process and what inspires her to write the strong kinds of characters you’ll find in all of her work:

RB: What qualities do you admire in the heroine of your book Diving Into The Wreck? Did you write those qualities into her character on purpose, or did they develop over time on their own?

KKR: Boss is her own person. She only lets people call her Boss, and she won’t tell anyone her name, because it’s her business. What I love about Boss is that she is so secure in who she is. She knows what she can and cannot do, and she knows just how much she’s willing to tell/give in any situation. She admits when she’s wrong, and she analyzes everything. She’s very strong, but she also can be vulnerable.

My characters come fully formed, but they do reveal parts of themselves over time. Boss & I share a love of history, but she’s so much more adventurous than I am. She would go crazy in a room writing all day. I love it. I never add traits consciously. Subconsiously, who knows? I assume so. But the characters are real people to me, with their flaws and strengths, and that includes Boss.

RB: Who are some of your favorite kickass heroines in other people’s science fiction books and movies? What about them inspires you as a person and/or as a writer? (I’m a big fan of Ripley’s in the Alien series. When she’s rescuing the little girl Newt from the breeding area in Aliens and fighting off the queen alien and her posse–you’d better believe Ripley makes me want to be braver in real life.)

KKR: Favorite SF women. Honestly, that’s a tough one for me. Most of the sf I read is short fiction, and the characters are one-offs. None of the women in the stories I read rise to the level of favorite. I like Ripley–and she was inspiring to me–but is not someone who comes to mind easily.

In SF, my examples were always negative. For example, in Trek, I was so happy that Kathryn Janeway had her own ship. Then I saw the dang first episode, and when she was faced with a big issue that James T. Kirk could have solved in 45 minutes, she gave in, and made her crew suffer for **years**  I think most of the sf films/TV suffer from stupid women problems.

The strong women I read about appear in the mystery genre. I adore Sara Paretsky’s VI Warshawski. I used to love Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Malone, especially when I encountered her in the 1980s. The female lead detectives were unusual women, who did their own thing in a man’s world. They’re the inspiration for my sf heroines.

RB: This is a chicken-or-the-egg question: Do you give your characters some of your own kickass qualities of bravery, wisdom, compassion, etc.–or do you feel inspired as you write their stories to be more like them yourself?

KKR: LOL, Robin. I love that you think I have kickass qualities. I think my characters are more articulate than I am, smarter than I am, more adventurous than I am, and more courageous than I am. I am blunt and stubborn and difficult, and in my fiction, those qualities are virtues, so there’s some of me there. But these folks are not people I want to be: they’re people I want to meet.

RB: Which character of yours has changed you the most as a person? Why?

KKR: The character of mine who has changed me the most as a person is Smokey Dalton, from my Kris Nelscott mysteries. He’s an African-American detective in the late 1960s. He’s a true hero, in my opinion. But his situations are beyond difficult. I always put him in the middle of a historical situation, and then ask him to respond. Some of those historical situations–I keep thinking, if I were there, would I have had the courage to do what he did? Would I have known what to do? And the thing I admire most about Smokey: His world, horrid as it is, doesn’t break him. It makes him stronger. That has had a huge impact on me and my thinking and my writing.

RB: What do you prefer in your favorite heroines, whether it’s the ones you write, read, or watch: More stoic than compassionate, vice versa,or a particular ratio of both? (For me, 80% stoic, 20% compassionate.)

KKR: Compassion first. I quit reading a mystery series set in the Middle Ages because our heroine–a smart and active woman–had a baby, and then abandoned that baby to go on a crusade. Well, this is the Middle Ages, and yes, she might have done that historically, but it would take 2-3 years to return to that child, and there would be no guarantee that the child was safe or well cared for. So I quit reading right there. The woman was too selfish for me to read about. Stoic, yes. But willing to sacrifice someone she loved for her own ends. Not someone I want to read about.

RB: Bonus question: I know you’re a big fan of the time travel series OUTLANDER, as am I. (I just finished the fourth book. What a ride!) If you were in Claire’s position, catapulted back to 1745 Scotland, what skills would you want to bring to the mix? I love her medical knowledge–it’s such a huge asset. But is there some skill you’d find just as valuable?

KKR: Great question. I have a wide variety of historical knowledge and weird trivia. I know how to make a match for example, and I know how to sterilize a room (even back then) and I know what’ll happen when in most of the English-speaking world. So I like to think all of that will be beneficial. Knowing outspoken me, though, I’d probably be jailed as a witch and executed. :-) I also know that I’d be panicked as hell about dying of something preventable, like the cold that has felled me this week in 2015. If it became an infection in 1745, I could die. And I’d probably worry about that more than anything (except the food, which–yuck!) So as you can tell, I’m probably too much of a worrier to time travel safely.

SPEAKING OF TIME TRAVEL …

Kris and I both have novels in the Time Travel Story Bundle, which is on sale for just two more weeks. Here’s your chance to score a whole bunch of great fiction at an incredibly low price. Don’t miss it!

All_Covers_Large

And as soon as you buy the bundle, head on over to my GIVEAWAY PAGE and enter to win those three fabulous science fiction books! I push them because I love–the heroines in those books and you, Dear Readers. Enjoy!

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24. Helder Guimarães

You have to see this…

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25. Risks and rewards

2015 is my year for risks.  I have risked speaking up.  I have risked grappling in a tournament with people who were 20-40 years younger than me.  And last week I took an Urban Escape and Evasion class in Los Angeles.  It was amazing/scary/fun.

The first day, we learned how to get out of duct tape, zip ties, rope, and even handcuffs.




If you're duct-taped, hold your arms close together, then bring your hands high over head and and hit your elbows hard across your own ribs.  I learned the hard way that if your arms are too far apart, this doesn't work. This trick also works for zip ties, although it can hurt your wrists (which is why the instructor made "Wonder Woman" bracelets out of duct tape first).  If that fails, try rubbing your bound hands on a sharp edge like a door..  Above, author Hannah Jayne demonstrates the correct technique for breaking duct tape, as well as how you can use paracord (a lot of preppers replace their shoelaces with paracord, or wear it as a bracelet) to saw through paracord by bicycling madly in the air.  Later, we practiced shimming or picking our handcuffs using bobby pins or broken off barrettes with pillow cases over our heads.



Here's what happens if you get handcuffs/duct tape/zip ties etc. wrong:



We also learned how to pick locks and steal cars, although we didn't practice that last one.



We learned how to figure out if you are being followed and how to weaponize anything.  We learned that most people think they are in a survival situation if they miss lunch.

The last day, we were kidnapped, hooded, stun gunned (I still have marks!), and then your captors go for a “smoke break” and you have to use everything you just learned to make your way to a certain point, collecting information and photos along the way.

We learned that if you are full of adrenaline, you dont feel as much.  At the start of the exercise, we got caught in a parking lot surrounded by 10 or 11 foot high chain link fences.  And we were being chased by a real-life security guard.  Hannah started climbing the fence, which meant I had to, too.  At the top, the chain links had been cut off, forming a pointy barrier.  I have some crazy bruises, one for each point, on one leg.

But we made it. We had been to GoodWill the night before and cached some outfits. (It is very hard to cache anything in Los Angeles and then go back and find it the next day. You always have eyes on you, and cacheing arouses curiosity).  First I was a nurse (I even looked like a nurse even though it was just a plain pink Tshirt layered over a white Tshirt, and Hannah was a goth girl.  Then Hannah was pregnant with some of her previous clothes, and I was her churchy-looking mom.  Finally, we were both tourists.



Even though we were hunted by 10 people who had our picture, and we had to stay with proscribed boundaries, we were not caught!

I'm so glad I took this risk.  I turn 56 in two weeks and I'm pretty pround of myself.

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