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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: encouragement, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 164
1. Three Quotes to Keep You Writing When You Feel You Don’t Know How


Two weeks ago at my writing retreat when I was nearing the end of my manuscript and wasn’t sure how it would all come together, my friend Uma Krishnaswami shared these quotes with me. They are paraphrases in the spirit of the original, things she reminds herself of in the uncertainty of the work. They’ve encouraged me, and I hope they’ll do the same for you.


Whatever moves you, write that story.
— Norma Fox Mazer

Write the book you don’t know how to write.
— M. T. Anderson

Trust that you will become the writer that the next revision needs you to be.
— Sharon Darrow

I’m beginning to understand that I’ll find my best writing only when I’m courageous enough to move toward the impossible and unknowable.

The post Three Quotes to Keep You Writing When You Feel You Don’t Know How appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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2. Returning to Creative Spaces


For three years now I’ve had the privilege of returning to an old adobe house in Corrales for a writing retreat. The home is lovely and spacious with creaking wooden floors in some rooms and uneven brick in others and the gorgeous curving lines adobe lends to everything. It’s so very New Mexican, just being there inspires me.

There’s something grounding about going back to the same creative space year after year. This chaise is where I finished first-round edits on Blue Birds two years ago. It’s the same spot where this year I put in a twenty-five hour mad dash to the end of a new set of first-round edits, punctuated with breaks for meals and sleeping, a bit of conversation and this movie.

monday deadline

I was able to immerse myself in my work in a way that doesn’t happen often at home, surrounded by like-minded women who understand the joy, the discomfort, and the privilege of the writing life. And once, after our time together had passed, I was able to enter the real world again refreshed and with a renewed sense of why what I do matters and the purpose behind it all.

I hope you, too, find spaces that speak beauty and inspiration into your own creative endeavors.


The post Returning to Creative Spaces appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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3. Overwhelmed with Gratitude


I’m not sure thank you adequately expresses my appreciation for those of you who read here, but those are the only words I have. I hope you sense the weightiness and heart behind them:

Many thanks to those of you who read this post and wrote Amazon reviews for May B., Blue Birds, and Over in the Wetlands. It took time and reflection as well as true interest and love on your part, and I am so grateful.

Thank you for the bolstering words many of you left (including the lovely gift from my neighbor pictured above) when I let you know I needed some encouragement to finish my first-round edits. I’ve returned to your comments many times these past weeks. They kept me working to the very end.

When I started blogging six years ago this month, I had no sense of the rich and enduring connections I’d make as a result. For those of you who have been here from the beginning or have joined in sometime afterward,

thank you,

thank you,

thank you.

The post Overwhelmed with Gratitude appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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4. Finding God's Presence--Daddy, I Love You

When I first met Nan Jones at a Christian Devotions writers’ conference several years ago, I immediately sensed the fragrance of her love for Christ.Over the years, I’ve watched Nan consistently cling to that love and put her faith into action.
She is an author/speaker who “uses the words of her heart to assist fellow Christians in discovering the Presence of God in their darkest hour. Her devotional blog, Morning Glory, has become a place of community for Christians to find encouragement in God’s Word and comfort in His Presence.” 
She has been published in several anthologies as well as the online inspirational sites Christian Devotions, and Inspire a Fire. 
Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas will release her debut book, The Perils of a Pastor’s Wife June 30, 2015. Blessed to be a beta reader, I can say this book is wonderful. You’ll hear more about that in an interview I do with Nan later this summer.
Nan also features as a guest blogger on several sites and I’m delighted to have her guest blogging for me this week

Finding God's Presence ~ Daddy, I Love You 

by Nan Jones

The pitter-patter of tiny feet echoed through the hallway, running gleefully towards her dad.

"Daddy! Daddy!"
Daddy sat his briefcase by the door just in time to receive a leaping toddler into his strong arms. Father and daughter hugged, exchanging glances that reflected their adoration of one another. Hearts raced. Faces smiled. Eyes gleamed.

The child relaxed in her daddy's arms. She placed her chubby little cheek next to her father's and quietly whispered, "Daddy ... I love you, daddy."

The one the child had been seeking, she found.

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5. Unexpected Joy


If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it.
―Mary Oliver

The post Unexpected Joy appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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6. Two Words You Don't Want to Hear & One Book You Really Should Read: Interview with Author, Venita McCart

"It's Cancer"
“It’s Cancer”—Finding Help and Hope on the Road to Recovery was recently released by Straight Street Books. There’s a great need for this book because statistics state one out of every two men, and one out of every three women, will hear those two words no one wants to hear. "It's cancer."
While statistics sound cold and clinical, this book is not. Rather it is full of hope, encouragement, and helpful guidance.
I am delighted to have the author and cancer survivor, Venita McCart, as a guest on my blog this week. Venita and I became friends a few years ago and I’ve eagerly waited for her to write this book. Not only does it offer help for those diagnosed with cancer, but it is enlightening and beneficial for the rest of us to read.
In “It’s Cancer”—, Venita shares her own experiences as well as those of others. The back copy reads, “Come alongside patient survivors as they successfully overcome the obstacles of weighing treatment advice, managing caregivers, establishing attainable goals, realigning expectations, and embracing a new normal during and after cancer. Grapple with the tough questions about suffering, death, and heaven. Learn the value of being your own advocate, accepting setbacks, choosing gratitude, and developing a closer relationship with God.
As the founder of Faith Force Cancer Support Ministry in Illinois, Venita continues to validate the realities of cancer while offering strategies for finding inner joy and peace. I’m delighted to have her share with us today.

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7. Step by Step, Word by Word


Twenty-three years ago this summer I backpacked down the Grand Canyon’s Kaibab Trail with seven kids from my youth group and came up Bright Angel a week later. Each day we packed our gear at three in the morning so we could begin our hike before the heat kicked in full blast. By the last morning of the trip, I was utterly spent. The steep climb out of the canyon left me feeling like maybe I wouldn’t make it. Maybe I’d be stuck on that trail forever.

I stopped moving about a half mile from the canyon’s rim, unsure how to muster up the strength to keep going. It didn’t matter I could see the end. Getting there felt near impossible.


That’s when I experienced a simple act of kindness that has lived with me ever since. My youth sponsor, Jim, told me I wouldn’t finish alone. We’d make it to the top together, one hundred steps at a time. Step by step we counted, resting after every set. While before the half mile had felt unsurmountable, broken down in tiny bits with someone else to walk beside me, it was doable. It was accomplishment and gratitude and so much celebration.

As I near the end of a complete manuscript overhaul in the midst of first-round edits (the second time I’ve re-written this book, by the way), I’ve thought a lot about that moment. I’m a few weeks out from my deadline, and honestly, I’m not sure of the words needed to make it to the end. Right now my focus must be each tiny writing moment, where the story moves forward, step by step.

Friends, I need an extra dose of courage and a second wind, if you have any to offer. Things will be quiet around here until I’ve turned my work in.



The post Step by Step, Word by Word appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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8. mindfulness and the writer’s mind

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

You’ve heard of mindfulness, yes? Okay, so maybe you’ve “heard” of it, but your understanding is a tad fuzzy. If I give you a link to a delightful introduction via the lovely Anderson Cooper, can I trust you to come back to Frog on a Dime to read the rest of this post? Oh, you know I can never deny you anything. Okay, my little gum drop, have a look.

You’re back! [Trying not to look surprised] So, this mindfulness-ness thing, now you know it’s really about being aware, about being present–about being. Am I a pro at that? Oh, you little snickerdoodle. You do know how to make me chuckle. All I know is practicing mindfulness is a good, life-enhancing thing that I believe can and will enhance my writing (and yes, yours, too).

I came up with a squatty list of ways mindfulness may do you (and me) good as a writer:

  • Mindfulness improves your ability to focus. Instead of being a mind-wandering writer, you can be present for the project at hand (literally on the keyboard).
  • Mindfulness makes you aware of life’s simplest moments–waking, showering, eating, walking, breathing. Relishing and being present in even the mundanity (sure, that’s a word) of every day enriches the way you are able to translate simple, sensual experiences into words for your readers.
  • Mindfulness may unplug writer’s block – when you’re blocked, it makes you stressed and being stressed keeps you blocked. Mindfulness helps to calm and center you so the ideas can flow. Because who among us wants to be wordstipated?

No doubt, this is not an exhaustive list. Let me hear your ideas. I am aware. I am present. I am ready to listen. I am headed to the kitchen . . . (see, I need more practice).

Want to know more about the benefits of mindfulness? Here’s some fine information from the good folks at Harvard Medical School. Enjoy.

I am a human being, not a human doing. ~ Dr. Wayne Dyer

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9. 48 of the most important hours in a writer’s life

Doodle by Vicky Lorencen

Doodle by Vicky Lorencen

There are a plethora of important days in a writer’s life. (Pardon my use of plethora, but it’s such a keen word.) But, in my book, there are 48 hours that stand out from the rest. They are far from the most fun, but a lot hinges on how we choose to handle them.

Day 1 – The First 24 Hours at Ground Zero

You receive a rejection letter or slam into a serious setback. I know there are some who say it’s best to roll with it. Rejection is knit into a writer’s life and there’s no point becoming unraveled by it. I commend you for your ability to be cavalier, but I can’t manage it myself. The times I’ve tried only came back to chomp me. Stuffing the sadness caused tears to erupt at the oh-so-wrong times, so I’m better off taking 24 hours to wallow and be a wreck.

I say, allow yourself to free-fall into the velvet bean bag chair of despair. Lie on your back and let the tears collect in your ears until it sounds like the ocean. Ask a musical friend to set that sadistic, frozen-hearted rejection letter to music–in a minor key. Eat your weight in whatever sweet or salty concoction delights you. Imagine the source of your angst tethered to a termite colony wearing only plywood underpants. Get those toes curled deep in the Quicksand of Certaindoom. Hand your friends and family this form too:


My name is: _________________________________________________________
(I suggest using your real name here, not your pen name. Make it easy on the first responder.)

Emergency contact: __________________________________________________ Genre type: (PB, MG, YA)
(e.g., Agent; Nearest Living Author Friend; Ben and/or Jerry)

While you are waiting for the Emergency Contact to arrive, follow these five simple steps:

Step 1 Check to make sure I’m breathing.
This step is especially if you found me face down in the area rug. Wave a Lindt truffle next to my nose to revive me.

Step 2 Do NOT apply logic.
Even small doses of logic have been known to be toxic at this point.

For example, these seemingly sensible words will NOT help:
“You’ve only tried two editors, right? You can try more.”
“Maybe it’s not you. Maybe the editor was just having an off day.” Liar.
“There’s always next year.”
“It’s not the end of the world.” Yes. Yes, it is the end of the world. The sun will not come up
tomorrow, no matter what that Annie girl says.

Step 3 Do NOT offer compliments, such as, “Well, I really liked your story.”
I don’t care. Your opinion doesn’t count right now. It will tomorrow (provided there is a tomorrow), but not now.

Step 4 If I look like I’m trying to put on a brave front, induce tears.
Force me to re-read the rejection letter out loud in front of a mirror so I can see how pitiful I look. Offer generous amounts of Kleenex.

Step 5 Apply ice cream to the site of the babbling in liberal doses.

To the rejected writer: Be sure to write your kind first responder a thank you note. That is, when you feel like writing again.

Day 2 – The Next 24 Hours at Resurrection Central

Today is the day you get on with it. Attitude follows action, so act like you’re bouncing back and you may actually believe it. (Besides, if you spent the first 24 hours wisely, you won’t want to curl back into the fetal position.) You’re now ready to stretch and stand up straight. Breathe. Wash your tear-streaked, Hershey’s Kiss encrusted mug. Pull on a fresh pair of big girl panties. Put on real I-can-be-seen-in-public clothes. Open your laptop. Pop open a file filled with half-finished projects. See what’s going on in there. It’s likely there’s something you like. Maybe even love. Type. Type again. Type some more. You see there, my little Puffalump? You’re going to be okay. I will too.

If your heart is broken, make art with the pieces. ~ Shane Koyczan

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10. Navigating a Debut Year: Public Life

                           All Over But the Shoutin' Wildflowers from Winter: A Novel A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar Circle of Secrets A Kingdom Strange: The Brief and Tragic History of the Lost Colony of Roanoke

I first ran this series five months after May B. hit the shelves. With Blue Birds releasing next week (!), it feels like the right time for me to revisit my Writer’s Manifesto — a list of things I’d like to focus on in my public, private, and writing life. 

This is not in any way meant to be preachy or condemning (please notice I’m directing all of this to myself). I have yet to figure everything out and am in many ways a pro at doing the exact opposite of what I know is best. Yet these are ideas I’ve circled back to again and again, things I know will ultimately benefit my career, my friendships, my writing and my life. I’d love to hear your thoughts below.

In my public life I will…
  • Be generous: In my interactions with others and in the way I conduct myself, I’d love to be known as generous. This doesn’t mean committing to every opportunity or request that comes. It means being warm, friendly, and supportive of the writing community and the publishers, teachers, librarians, booksellers and readers who make it all happen.
  • Speak well of fellow writers: Whether I know them personally or not. Whether I like their work or not. These people are my people. This is enough of a reason to speak kindly or not at all.
  • Conduct myself in a becoming way: While I can’t control what others think of me (more on that below), I can choose to present myself in a way I’m proud of, whether that be in person or through social media. I am in no way perfect, believe me, but I strive not to embarrass myself, the children I write for, or the people who publish my writing.
In my public life I won’t…
  • Add to or perpetuate gossip: In just these few months as a debut, I’ve already heard things about fellow authors that have broken my heart. Whether shared maliciously, as some sort of cautionary tale, or just for fun, it’s been more than I need to know. I refuse to participate in keeping the stories going, and I will ask you not share whatever it is you’ve heard about others with me.
  • Disparage others’ books, genres, or talents but will find value in what they create: For much of my life, I’ve been a self-proclaimed book snob. Many writers talk of becoming more and more critical as readers the longer they write. For me, some sort of weird opposite has happened. Because I know first hand of the hard work the writing life demands, I’m learning to appreciate books, topics, and styles I would have ignored years ago. The books I don’t connect with aren’t really my concern: they weren’t written for me. There is an audience for them somewhere.

The post Navigating a Debut Year: Public Life appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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11. Navigating a Debut Year: Writing Life

                  The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers The Name of the Rose The Crimson Petal and the White Crossing to Safety Sophie's World

I first ran this series five months after May B. hit the shelves. With Blue Birds releasing next week (!), it feels like the right time for me to revisit my Writer’s Manifesto — a list of things I’d like to focus on in my public, private, and writing life. 

This is not in any way meant to be preachy or condemning (please notice I’m directing all of this to myself). I have yet to figure everything out and am in many ways a pro at doing the exact opposite of what I know is best. Yet these are ideas I’ve circled back to again and again, things I know will ultimately benefit my career, my friendships, my writing and my life. I’d love to hear your thoughts below.

In my writing life I will…
  • Write the stories that speak to me: I will continue to write what nourishes and interests me first and worry about the market second.
  • Seek guidance, support, and direction when needed: I will ask questions of my agent and editor when I’m unsure or need help. I will go to other writers in the same life phase or those older and wiser when I need assistance.

In my writing life I will not…
  • Lose my love for story, kids, or words: Once you’re published, art becomes commodity. It’s not right or wrong, it just is. I want my motivation and passion to remain firmly in the place it always has been. While there are no guarantees of success in writing this way, their is much joy, and this, in the end, is more important to me.
  • Compare one book against another: I choose not to be paralyzed by comparing my titles to previous books I’ve written. Each deserves to stand alone and has its own merit. The rest of the publishing world has the freedom to compare if they choose. For me to do so is unfair to new stories beginning to form.
  • Despair: If you know me well, you know panic is a part of my writing when I’m drafting something new. I fret that I don’t know how to write or have nothing new to say. But I can’t let that panic lead to despair. Reminding myself that things always start this way keeps things in perspective. Allowing myself to play with language and ideas is much more doable than telling myself I’m writing an entire book. Choosing to nurture rather than berate gives me permission to try.

It’s my hope that holding to what I’ve processed these last few months will keep me grounded, help me grasp the deep satisfaction writing brings, and hold at bay the things that only lead to disappointment.

What about you? What things do you want to uphold in your public, private, and writing lives?

The post Navigating a Debut Year: Writing Life appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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12. You Never Know Who Is Watching at a Writers’ Conference

by Sally Matheny

You Never Know Who Is Watching
Even though writers' conferences can be physically exhausting, I still feel revived after participating in this year’s Write2ignite Conference. Not only through the reinforcing of my writing skills, but also through the refreshing of my spirit.

If you didn’t attend the 2015 Write2Ignite Conference, allow me to share with you a glimpse of some blessings I witnessed. I’m sure there were additional blessings, because you never know who is watching at a writers’ conference.

Here’s my short list:

I witnessed an outstanding director, Jean Hall, who has the amazing gift of staying calm under all circumstances, and keeps things running smoothly. Her faith in God to bring it all together is always apparent. And she also carries a handy-dandy, tiny pair of scissors on her key chain. I’m looking for a miniature roll of duct tape so she’ll have the perfect combo set.

A super, helpful young man named Dylan came to help the team set up for the conference. Dylan maintained a quiet presence during the entire conference and was always there to help whenever called upon. He also had excellent skills for noticing items people misplaced.

I had the pleasure of transporting author, Tim Shoemaker, back and forth to the conference each day. I appreciated his helpful words as I shared with him about my pre-speaking jitters. In addition, he was kind and understanding when I missed our turn-off and when I kept juggling and dropping things once we arrived!

I knew, without a doubt, my family was praying for me back at home. Several friends mentioned they were praying for me. But what a blessing it was to have Kim Peterson and Jenny Cote individually pull me aside and whisper a prayer over me before I spoke. God heard all our prayers and his amazing grace calmed me just before I stepped behind the podium. Thank you, Lord.

I noticed smiling teens enthusiastic about writing. One teen in particular I heard go up to Tim Shoemaker and thank him for speaking. She said she didn’t write for boys but his talk about the topic helped her have a better understanding of her brother!

Tim Shoemaker talks with a teen.

I observed numerous authors and editors taking time to chat with teens and adults outside of the classrooms. Award-winning author of six books, Jenny Cote paused to offer a word of praise to those selling their first published book. Those encouraging words go a long way.

Watching members of the leadership team do their jobs with enthusiasm is always a blessing. It’s like a joyful family reunion whenever we get together and we all love the mission of Write2Ignite. 

During Praise and Worship time, I loved watching Donna Earnhardt take heed of the Holy Spirit prompting her to call on someone to give a testimony. What a tremendous blessing to hear a young teen girl, without prior notice, volunteer. She eagerly shared a vivid description of when the woman with the alabaster box poured perfume on Jesus’ feet. If that wasn't enough, Donna, who had been wiping her tears as she listened to the girl speak, then stepped up to show the audience the song lyrics that were already cued up for the next song, “The Alabaster Box.” How awesome was that?

Later, another woman shared her testimony of how God spared her life in a horrific accident, providing her a second chance to accept His love and eternal salvation. She reminded us of the importance of seizing those opportunities today, not to wait. Even though this woman still experiences tremendous physical pain every day, she is using her written and spoken words to point others in the direction of her Savior.

I watched people volunteer to help others all weekend—with an umbrella, a ride to lunch, and a seat in the auditorium. Smiles, prayers, and encouraging words weaved throughout the crowd.

Even the homeschool mom, who volunteered to help with the snacks in the Green Room, continually checked to make sure everyone had what they needed. She kept asking if the coffee was fresh enough. She cared about those she served and gave full attention to every detail. What a blessing.

There were numerous others who volunteered their time and talents to the conference, some of whose names I do not know. But one was Helen Weigt who designed our resource book and then served at the front desk during the conference. Her talent and friendly smile blessed us all.

I saw God’s blessings overflow this weekend. I can’t help but wonder what others perceived. Surely, in the crowd on campus, there was someone who was struggling with a life issue, someone who was lonely, or someone who is not in a close relationship with Jesus Christ. I hope they saw a glimpse of what I saw.

If you did attend the Write2Ignite Conference this year, what blessings did you see?

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13. Good Friday

By Thy birth, Thy cross, and passion
By Thy tears of deep compassion
By Thy mighty intercession
Lord and Savior, help us!

Lo, The Storms of Life Are Breaking


The post Good Friday appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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14. E is for Encouragement - A to Z 2015 Challenge




the act of encouraging.

A simple act of giving a few words of encouragement go a long way. When you share your positive words of someone's accomplishments or struggles, watch them stand a wee bit taller when you offer your encouragement. 

Something as simple as saying...

"good job" 

"I'm here for you" 

"I like how you are developing this scene, may I offer a suggestion" 

will often change a person's self-doubt to a positive. Try it, today and everyday and brighten someone's day!

Thanks for visiting and commenting. You have certainly brightened my day! 


Best wishes,
Donna M. McDine
Multi Award-winning Children's Author

Ignite curiosity in your child through reading!

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A Sandy Grave ~ January 2014 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ 2014 Purple Dragonfly 1st Place Picture Books 6+, Story Monster Approved, Beach Book Festival Honorable Mention 2014, Reader's Favorite Five Star Review

Powder Monkey ~ May 2013 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ Story Monster Approved and Reader's Favorite Five Star Review

Hockey Agony ~ January 2013 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ New England Book Festival Honorable Mention 2014, Story Monster Approved and Reader's Favorite Five Star Review

The Golden Pathway ~ August 2010 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc.
~ Literary Classics Silver Award and Seal of Approval, Readers Favorite 2012 International Book Awards Honorable Mention and Dan Poynter's Global e-Book Awards Finalist

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15. time for the spring cleaning giveaway!

Take your pick!

Take your pick!

It’s time. As much as it pains me, I must purge my bookshelves a bit. Because I’m your fan, I want to share my purgings with you. Huh. That didn’t come out right, did it.

Moving on–we have a resource for non-fiction writers, one for picture book attempters,  a practical book for any writer and (yes, there’s more) a set of brilliant middle grade novels by masters of the genre. And you thought this was going to be an ordinary day. Silly you!

Lean in and I’ll tell you how you can be a winner of the Spring Cleaning Giveaway: simply comment on this post and let me know which book (or books), you’d like to win. Then, I’ll draw names on Friday, April 17 at Noon. Easy sneezy.

Here’s what’s on the menu (and good luck deciding!) . . .

The Magazine Article: How to Think It, Plan It Write It by Peter Jacobi

This book was published in the late 1900s (makes it sounds really outdated, doesn’t it). What it lacks in advice about online research, it more than makes up for in how to add substance, depth and honesty to your work as a non-fiction writer. Plus, it’s Peter Jacobi. He’s amazing. If you ever get the chance to hear him speak, do. He’s a true orator. And can that guy write. Oh, my. Did I mention this book is signed? I almost hate to part with it.

Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children’s Books by Uri Shulevitz

This is a classic. If you write (or aim to write) picture books, you simply must have this book. It’s a treasure. And yes, I am willing to share it with you. Is that love or what?

Writer’s First Aid: Getting Organized, Getting Inspired and Sticking to It by Kristi Holl

I met Kristi ages ago at a Highlights Foundation workshop. This lady knows her stuff. While this little volume looks demure, it can be a real kick in the pants.

These fine middle grade novels, I’m offering as set. You can study them for craft, enjoy each as a fun, quick read and then share them with a child you love.

  • A Series of Unfortunate Events, No. 2: The Reptile Room by Lemony Snicket
  • Lost in Cyberspace by Richard Peck
  • Hank Zipzer, The World’s Underachiever: Niagara Falls, or Does It? by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver
  • This Gum for Hire by Bruce Hale

Have you made up your mind? Don’t wait too long. Leave a comment by Noon on Friday and hopefully you’ll be a winner. Regardless, you are a fine person and there are plenty of kids who would be happy to sit by you at lunch. Remember, don’t slouch.

With freedom, books, flowers and the moon, who could not be happy? ~ Oscar Wilde

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16. Classroom Connections: LOVE TWELVE MILES LONG by Glenda Armand

Last summer at SCBWI‘s national conference, I struck up a conversation with another attendee while standing in a winding sandwich line. It was absolutely my pleasure to befriend a fellow former teacher turned author, someone who also writes historical fiction and picture books and has even tried her hand at verse. That night I bought a copy of Glenda Armand’s Love Twelve Miles Long, a beautifully moving story. I’ll let Glenda tell you more.

genre: historical fiction
setting: Maryland, 1820s
age range: 6-11
teacher’s guide
Glenda Armand’s website

This poignant story, based on Frederick Douglass’s childhood, tells how his mother, a slave, would walk twelve miles at night for a brief visit with her son. Soothing text describes how she overcomes the monotony and loneliness through songs (joyful and sad), the solace of prayer, and love. Emotional paintings capture moods, especially the joy of reunion that wipes away weariness. — Horn Book

Starting with the boy’s elemental question, “Mama, why can’t I live with you?,” the words and pictures tell the family separation story in all its heartbreak and hope. — Booklist

Share this with young readers as a series of homilies on dreams and a family love strong enough to overcome any adversity. — Kirkus Reviews


Please tell us about your book.

Frederick Douglass was born a slave, escaped and went on to become a great orator and writer who championed the cause of freedom for his fellow African Americans. In his autobiography, Douglass showed the cruelty of slavery from his unique perspective as a former slave. It is a testament to Douglass’s remarkable life that President Abraham Lincoln called this former slave, “my friend Douglass.”

Love Twelve Miles Long takes place long before Frederick Douglass has become famous and successful. The setting is a farmhouse kitchen on a Maryland farm. It is evening and 5-year-old Frederick’s mother, Harriet, a slave who lives on different farm on their master’s plantation, has come to visit. The story allows the reader to peak in on mother and son as they share a few precious moments.

What inspired you to write this story?

When I read his autobiography, I was struck by Frederick Douglass’s strong feelings for his mother despite his having spent so little time with her. In fact, he only remembered seeing his mother at night on the few occasions that she was able to walk the twelve miles to spend time with her son. I believed that there was a story in those visits that spoke to the universal bond between mother and child.

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

I read Frederick Douglass’s autobiography while preparing to teach eighth grade US history after many years of teaching in the elementary grades. The passage in which Douglass mentions his mother’s night time visits touched my heart. I could just imagine the love it took for her to walk twelve miles (one way!) to spend time with her son, who lived with the cook who served as babysitter for the slave children who were too young to work.

After reading his other autobiography written later in life, I came up with the way I would tell the story of Frederick and his mother.

I decided to envision Harriet and Frederick in their master’s kitchen, the place where the visits occurred. Then, with pen in hand (literally), I “listened” in on their conversation. There were times when I felt that Harriet was guiding my pen as I wrote. For instance, at one point Frederick asks, “Why did God make us slaves?” After writing the question, I crossed it out because I really didn’t have an answer. But then I heard Harriet’ voice saying, “Let him ask the question.” So I did.

What are some special challenges associated with writing historical fiction?

I love the challenge of writing historical fiction. I like taking events that I know happened to real people (like the visits Harriet paid to Frederick) and imagining things that could have happened (their conversation) and mixing them together to make a story. To me, this makes historical figures interesting, accessible and human. 

My books are introductions to real events and people that I hope invite the reader to find out more about the subjects.

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

Love Twelve Miles Long lends itself to many classroom discussions/topics:

  • United States History/African American History/Black History Month
  • Mother’s Day/Families/Mother-child relationships/Love
  • Childhood experiences/Memories/Separation
  • Frederick Douglass/Abraham Lincoln/Slavery/Civil War
  • Dreams/Aspirations/Empathy/Compassion/Esteem/Confidence
  • Realistic Fiction/Historical Fiction

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17. the smartest thing you can do after you hit “send”

You poured your very self, spleen and all, into your manuscript and you’ve sent it off to an editor. Now what? Well, while you wait for a verdict, there are any number of things you could do . . .

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

A Half Dozen Ways to Go Way Wrong While You Wait

1. Revise the manuscript you just submitted–either on-screen or in-brain. The deed is done (for now). Let it rest already.

2. Eat your weight in _____________. Even if it’s kale, uh, still not a gold-star idea.

3. Whine about the editor’s perceived lack of speed on Facebook/Twitter/And So On. These things take time. You know this. You are a marathon runner, not a sprinter. The same is true for editors. Now, do some stretches and drink your vitamin-infused water, Sweet Knees. Go to your Zenny place. That’s it. Breathe. Good.

4. Follow up too soon. You just planted a, oh, let’s call it a pumpkin seed. It will sprout. Trust the process. Fretting, pestering and pacing won’t help. An answer will come, maybe not the one that you want, but it will come (most likely).

5. Check your email 24/7 (a tactic formerly known as Stalking the Mail Carrier).

6. Drive your friends, family, sweetheart, coworkers and critique group bonkers. These are your A team, the folks who will celebrate with you or console you. Do not suck them into your swirling chartreuse vortex of neuroses any more than necessary, or at least evenly distribute your crazy, not unlike chocolate curls on a cupcake. See how pretty?

One and a Half Ways to Spend Your Wait Time Wisely

Jump into something new. Or revisit something old, perhaps a manuscript you were allowing to cool a bit. Can’t stomach the idea of actually writing another novel right now? That’s okay. Write an article. Pen a poem. Do research for your next novel. Interview your new characters. Piece together an outline or road map or even a grocery list of scenes or ideas for your next project. Keep moving.

Reward yourself. Do you know how many well-intentioned, would-be authors are out there with half-scripts fermenting in a folder? Neither do I. But the point is, you finished an entire manuscript. Then you had the audacity to send it to a real editor. What are you, a freak of nature? A Titan? That’s amazing. Reward yourself in a meaningful way. Yes, yes, I’m giving you permission. Why are you still reading? Shoo. Go celebrate you!

Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day. ~ A.A. Milne

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18. Iron Sharpens Iron


Saying there is one true path to writing a polished work is folly. There are lots of paths and we create them as we walk. – Linda Urban

So grateful to have finally met Valerie Geary, a friend who has helped me find so many paths and walked with me along the way.

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19. Six Years of Working Hard and Believing

winter apples

As much as I love blogging, I’m not always sure other people are listening in. A few weeks ago I got an incredible email from blog reader Linda Jackson that reminded me what I do here does indeed connect with readers, sometimes in very big ways.

Hi Caroline,

Since that day I received an email from Amazon stating that May B. was a book of the month then saw your WOW Wednesday post on Adventures in Children’s Publishing, I have been totally inspired and motivated by your story. I don’t know if you know this, but I have a list of authors on my website under a tab titled Inspiration, and you are at the top of the list. What has inspired me most was your post Plow to the End of the RowAnd today I want to share with you that I have plowed to the end of the row, which is quite fitting seeing that the main character in the manuscript that finally landed me an agent actually has to work in a cotton field. 

After six years of working hard and believing, 200+ queries, 4 manuscripts (one of them rewritten multiple times, once from scratch), 4 R&R’s from agents, 7 pitch contest wins, I finally got “The Call” today.

So, that’s my story, and I wanted you to know how you influenced it…which is why I will ALWAYS BUY YOUR BOOKS! Interestingly, after reading your post on Working Hard and Believing, I remember thinking, Lord, please don’t let that happen to me. I could never survive 200 queries. When I read about Kathryn Stockett and her five years of querying, I said I could never do that. And when I read that Becca Fitzpatrick re-wrote the same manuscript for five years and even trashed it and rewrote it from scratch, I said I could never do that. have done ALL that and more. The manuscript that I queried forever and rewrote forever is still NOT the one that got an editor/agent’s attention. I had to write something new. We never know what we can survive until we have to survive it.

Thanks for being an inspiration,


I’ve been sitting on this email for weeks, waiting to hear where Linda’s book landed. Here’s the official news from Publisher’s Marketplace:

Mississippi-native Linda Jackson’s BECOMING ROSA, a coming-of-age tale set in Mississippi in 1955, about a young African-American girl who dreams of a life beyond the cotton fields, to Elizabeth Bewley at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s, at auction, in a two-book deal, for publication in Fall 2016, by Victoria Marini at Gelfman Schneider/ICM (World English).

Congratulations, Linda! Your story has thrilled me down to my toes and has inspired me to keep plowing. Now, readers, go out and congratulate the remarkable Linda Jackson.

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20. don’t go minding my heart

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

You’ve had them. Those dreams of days that exist solely in your mind’s eye. You imagine how you’ll feel, what you’ll say or do as soon as the thing you’ve longed for a long time flips from fantasy to reality.

Then, that magical day arrives, and in a blink, you realize your mind’s eye was playing tricks on you.

It was like that for me earlier this month when my dream agent Erin Murphy offered to represent me. I was near tears, but then a surreal calm covered me. Not at all what I expected.  I always assumed I’d hang up the phone and do a squeal/jump/cry combo. (Just picture it!) But I didn’t. I sat alone in my office in stunned silence.  I’ve heard from friends who’ve had a similar experience.

Why? Well, I’ve pondered on that.

My best guess is that when your brain has been standing guard over your dream-holding heart for many years, it takes a bit before it can stand down and let your heart be happy. Your mind cares so much about your safety, it goes deaf to the cries of your heart that’s saying, “This is great news! Let’s celebrate!”

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Thankfully, it only took about 24 hours before my mind unlocked my heart and I was free to be both grateful and giddy (yes, I even skipped down the hall with happiness).

Now, I know there’s still lots of work ahead, no guarantees and more opportunities for rejection, trail and error, and failure. My mind will still be busy watching over my heart, but for now, I’m delighted to enjoy this milestone.

Let me encourage you to celebrate your milestones too–sending out a submission you’ve spent many months (maybe years) preparing, making the shift from beer to champagne rejections (that is a big deal!), selling an article to a magazine you admire, getting that beloved book contract or whatever achievement makes your heart smile and your dear, overworked mind nod in agreement.

Remember to celebrate milestones as you prepare for the road ahead. ~ Nelson Mandela



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21. There is No Schedule


If you’ve been around here for any length of time, you know my friend  J. Anderson Coats says a lot of things that resonate with me. She’s the one who gave me my favorite piece of writing advice and came up with that great cow-through-a-colander writing metaphor.

During a recent email exchange with my Class of 2k12 friends, Jillian shared this:

A writing career is not a sprint. It’s a marathon. You’re not on a schedule. There is no schedule.

That first part, I’ve probably heard it a thousand times. But the second part? It felt like a revelation. It’s true that when you’re on deadline you most certainly have a schedule, but otherwise, the writing life is wide open.

So you know what?

  • If there’s no schedule, someone else isn’t going to beat you to the punch. What you’re working on now will not somehow be replaced by someone else’s (faster) efforts.
  • The market isn’t in charge of your story. You are.
  • For you published folks, you will not be forgotten if you somehow don’t get to keep some “regular” publishing schedule. Yes, your readers might age out, as they say, but there are always new readers to take their place and earlier books to introduce readers to the new ones, whenever they happen to be published.
  • Unless you’re contractually committed, you can write whatever you want whenever you want.
  • And there’s what author/illustrator Ruth McNally Barshaw (my niece’s former Girl Scout leader!) posted on Facebook a few days ago:

Repeated themes I heard at the writer-illustrator conference in LA: Slow down. Take time to do your best work. When you think it’s done, set it aside to assess again later. Build on what you borrow. Be courageous — do work you find important, no matter what others say. LIVE so you’ll have a rich portfolio of experiences to draw and write from. What gets your next book published isn’t luck, desperation, a magic shortcut, or networking with stars; it’s your hard work, your being ready to jump at sudden opportunities, and your connections with friends. #SCBWI14

Here’s to approaching your writing with freedom in the days ahead!




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22. how to give your writing shine, volume and manageability

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

You’ve seen the commercials. There’s a woman with limpity blahsville hair. Her shoulders, schlumpy. Her eyes, rolled. She blows a puff of air upward from her lower lip and ruffles her scruffy bangs–the universal breath of disgust. Then, some product whooshes onto the screen. It’s a bottle of glamorous, sexy-smelling hope for hair. Ms. Lackluster snatches the wunderproduct, suds it through her sorry locks and voila! Cue the fans to blow a mane so magnificent as to make Fabio throw in the towel.

What if there was a “product” that could do the same–give shine, volume and manageability–to your writing? Good news! There is. It’s called Critique Group.

Here’s how this amazing product works:

Shine. Nothing will give your writing that dazzling sheen you desire like a robust critique. Your group can help you snip those dry, split ends created by worn or useless verbiage, identify stronger verbs and methodically polish your work.

Volume. Receiving regular feedback on your work helps to fuel your momentum, which hopefully, results in higher word counts and more pages than you may have accumulated as a solo act. So luxurious!

Manageability. Critique groups, regardless of how you arrange them, typically come with a schedule for sharing your work. Knowing you have these deadlines can help you plan, set goals and make the whole writing process more aimful instead of aimless.

You say you don’t have a critique group of your very own? Instead of pulling out your hair, let’s find you a group ASAP.

Consider these ideas for either starting or connecting with an established group:

  • Use social media. Let Facebook friends or Twitter followers know you’d like to join or start a group.
  • Visit discussion boards and search “critique groups” to see who’s seeking. For example, you could start with the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and explore the Resources section.
  • Talk with your local children’s librarian or a writing instructor at your local community college about your desire to form a group. You may learn about others who have expressed the same. If there’s a public bulletin board at the library or community college, post a “Want Ad” there.
  • Go to writing conferences or take writing classes and do a little friendly snooping to find out about the groups of your fellow attendees. Who knows, they may be hoping to add a new member.
  • Ask other writing friends for ideas. Ask how they decided between joining a face-to-face or online group (and the advantages/disadvantages of each), how their group is structured and if they know of a group with an opening. If your friend is groupless, ask about starting a new group of your own.

If you’re already in a group and have more ideas, tips for how to structure or improve a critique group, please share.

Wishing you gorgeous “hair” days ahead!

You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children. ~ Madeleine L’Engle

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23. 100 things I wouldn’t know

In honor of my 100th blog post, I want to share 100 things I wouldn’t know if I’d never become a children’s writer.

Collage by Vicky Lorencen

Collage by Vicky Lorencen

  1. Follow submission guidelines like you are assembling a nuclear warhead. No fudging.
  2. Trends are to be watched, not followed.
  3. Focus on what you’re doing well. Do more of that.
  4. A synopsis is as much for your benefit as it is the editor’s.
  5. Writing is reductive. Writing should be like a sale at the GAP–it should always be 20% off. (Mo Willems)
  6. Waiting for opportunities is fiddle faddle. Create them.
  7. Don’t ask too much of a first chapter. It’s an invitation to the reader and an opportunity to assure her you can be trusted. (Andrew Karre)
  8. Query letters are the most important and least read letter you’ll ever write.
  9. Show a character’s feelings through reactions.
  10. Just about everybody struggles with jealousy. I am jealous of those who don’t.
  11. Picture books are an art form unto themselves.
  12. Query letters need to sound like your real voice, not a superficial marketing pitch.
  13. Joining a critique group can be a game changer.
  14. Having a social media presence is important, but don’t let it infringe on your writing time.
  15. Always send thank you notes.
  16. Scene = Time + Place + One Change (Candace Fleming)
  17. Having beautiful file folders makes revision more funner. More fun, that is.
  18. Do not bother with Goodreads.
  19. Use index cards to map out scenes in a novel.
  20. For novels, ask–what is the job of this chapter?
  21. Facebook can really mess with your head.
  22. Follow-up with queries and submissions. You did the sending after all.
  23. Keep in touch with the editors, agents and participants you meet at conferences.
  24. Small workshops are often more worthwhile than big conferences.
  25. Back up your files and back up your back up files.
  26. Write what you know.
  27. Write what you wish you knew.
  28. Look for the seeds to resolving your story’s conflict within the story itself.
  29. Characters have been alive a long time before they introduced themselves to you.
  30. Writing costs money, time and energy. It’s worth it.
  31. If you feel stuck in your genre of choice, shake things up by writing in a different one.
  32. Everybody wants to quit at some point.
  33. Giving back doubles the investment you’ve made in your own writing.
  34. The journey to publication is not a race.
  35. Take thank you notes with you to conferences so you can thank people right away.
  36. Identifying (and eradicating) your crutch words can help to tighten your writing. Find/replace is your friend.
  37. Print out your entire novel in 8 pt. font, highlight the “solid” parts, then spread it out to see where the plot sags. (Thanks, Darcy Pattison)
  38. One carry-on bag is really all you need.
  39. Characters must undergo an inner and outer journey.
  40. Resist the urge to hide during conferences.
  41. Talk about your dreams and ambitions.
  42. Having a blog is fun work.
  43. You don’t have to start a novel with a big bang. Let the reader get to know the character before the inciting incident.
  44. Flying solo isn’t heroic. It’s nonsense.
  45. In a query letter, use quotes from the book to show character. (Christy Ottaviano)
  46. Your first idea is not unique. Twist it.
  47. Accept critiques with grace.
  48. Give critiques with humility.
  49. An editor’s job is to help clarify what your book is about.
  50. When you read, read like a writer.
  51. Give the same amount of care to world building/setting as you do to creating characters.
  52. A good cup of tea can fix a lot of things.
  53. Progress is the difference between finding time to write and making time to write.
  54. We write to re-write. And then to re-write what we re-wrote.
  55. Editors and agents are people too.
  56. Writing is an act of revelation. (Cynthia Leitich Smith)
  57. Use Find & Replace to weed out those just so very, very, very useless words.
  58. Your family may never grasp that staring off in space in part of the writing process.
  59. Writing will drive you to do otherwise loathsome tasks like cleaning the refrigerator (at your neighbor’s house because you’ve already cleaned yours. Oh, and organized your sock drawer. Twice.)
  60. Writing makes every life experience—from fixing a flat to flying in a helicopter–fodder for future writing.
  61. Disappointment is standard issue.
  62. You can always quit. No one is forcing you to write.
  63. Reading at open mic is a hoot. (I mean this.)
  64. Figure out a way to remember names (for when you go to conferences). You’re a word person. You can do this.
  65. There are two kinds of non-writing people—those who are in awe of you and those who think anyone can be a writer, especially for children. Don’t worry about either kind.
  66. Pretend to be confident. You may be a shy person, but that’s no one’s business but your own.
  67. Rejection sucks.
  68. There are three effective ways to make rejection suck less. I don’t know what those ways are.
  69. Readers bond with characters when we ask them to stretch. (Cynthia Leitich Smith)
  70. When you get stuck, stop. Move on to something new or take a nap. Let your mind wrestle with the knots a while before you go back.
  71. Writing is like wood carving. You go from larger to smaller, so don’t focus on details first.
  72. Most parents only get to name two, three, maybe four or so people. Writers get to name lots of people. Cool.
  73. Characters may push you. Let them.
  74. Grammar matters. At least know the rules before you snap them.
  75. Be respectful to everyone, even (and especially) on social media.
  76. Stories must balance between the specific and the universal.
  77. It’s important not to have a sense of preciousness with your work. (Shaun Tan)
  78. In writing, the author is the third wheel. You’re in the way. No one wants you there. You need to be invisible. (Mo Willems)
  79. Laughing at your own writing is a great feeling, so long as you were intending to be funny.
  80. A main character’s problem must feel organic to the story.Writers cannot emotionally protect themselves. (Coe Booth)
  81. It’s important to love my secondary characters as much as my main characters.
  82. Reinvention is the dark chocolate in the writer’s life. (Jane Yolen)
  83. Secondary characters can’t just exist to serve the main character’s story.
  84. Don’t let details overwhelm or derail a story.
  85. Before you begin drafting a novel, create character sketches by interviewing each character.
  86. Stay out of a character’s head as long as possible. (Andrew Karre)
  87. Invest in your friendships with other writers. It will always, always be worth it.
  88. Pay attention to what kids do, enjoy and worry about now. Some things never change, but not everything.
  89. No one wears a T-shirt with their favorite plot on it. Readers fall in love with characters.
  90. A writer’s validation has to come from what her work means to a reader and not from reviews or awards. (Ed Spicer)
  91. Reliable WiFi and a laptop with a light up keyboard are splendid things.
  92. Create a room in your own in your home (or at least a zone) that’s for writing only.
  93. The feel of book pitch needs to match the tone of the story.
  94. Something as ordinary as weather can be used to impact the mood of a story. [Cue the thunder-clap.]
  95. To learn about my characters, I need to ask where am “I” in my writing. (Coe Booth)
  96. You can write an entire novel without once using a semi-colon.
  97. Ultimately, the purpose of storytelling is to remind us of something ordinary or familiar. (Shaun Tan)
  98. Generally speaking, chocolate will not fill plot holes. But it can’t hurt to try.
  99. Brilliance strikes two seconds after you hit send on a submission.
  100. Everything takes longer than you think it will. Even reading lists.

The list could surely go on, and there is nothing more wonderful than a list, instrument of wondrous hypotyposis. ~ Umberto Eco

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24. Dyslexia and MAY B.

This weekend I’m speaking at the Southwest Branch of the International Dyslexia Association. I’m amazed that three years later, my book is still connecting with readers — especially young people with learning disabilities.

may b 300

Here’s an interview I did a few months ago that ran in the SWIDA newsletter:

What inspired you to choose a girl with dyslexia as your main character?

In order for a book to work, an author must not give their characters what they want (at least not straight away), but must make them face their fears and weaknesses. Without these things, there is no change. Without change, there is no story.

May’s name came to me before her story did. I liked the way May Betterly could become May B. and how “maybe” could speak to her perception of herself (maybe is such a wishy-washy word. It makes me think of mediocre or so-so). I knew early on that May wanted to be a teacher, and decided the most direct way to challenge her would be to make this dream virtually impossible. Pulling her out of school and giving her dyslexia (in an era where this would have been completely misunderstood) fit the bill.

What special challenges did this choice create?

The first is obvious: I am not an expert on dyslexia in the least. At first, I wasn’t sure exactly what her challenge was — anxiety? Fear? A learning disability? Because the book doesn’t spell out exactly what is going on, I thought I could get by with not addressing things: If May and her teachers didn’t know, why would we, as readers, need to?

My editor wasn’t impressed with my line of thinking. She told me (and rightly so!) that if I left readers hanging, they’d feel frustrated. She suggested I weave more clues that pointed toward dyslexia in the text and that I define May’s disability in the author’s note.

This terrified me. I was sure as soon as I used a technical word I’d be claiming some sort of expertise. The more I researched, though, the more I was reminded that dyslexia is not a one-size-fits-all struggle. I tried to convey in the author’s note general similarities those with dyslexia commonly share (issues with fluency, word recognition, and comprehension; the omission of words and anxiety stemming from reading aloud, for example) and techniques that some find helpful (repetition, reading in unison with one or more people). I also had a writing friend who is a literacy expert read the manuscript.

More than once a person has asked me on what authority I’ve written this book. I’ve come to the conclusion I am qualified to tell May’s story because it is one of identity and self-worth — something all of us must face at some point, something that becomes very real to young people as they become aware of their place in this world.

Before you were a writer, you were a classroom teacher. How did working with students with reading disabilities shape your perspective of May B.?

I’m going to turn this question on its head a little. It wasn’t working with students with reading disabilities that shaped my perspective so much as examining my own time in the classroom — my attitudes, my efforts, and if I’m honest, my shortcomings. In forcing myself to sit with this character and her two very different teachers, I found myself reflecting again and again on my teaching. What I learned wasn’t always attractive. It’s easy to love the hard worker, the kid who wants to do well. It’s not so easy to get behind the child who isn’t as winsome. I have to confess there are kids I put more effort into because I enjoyed them more. There are others I didn’t try as hard with, sometimes because I wasn’t qualified, sometimes because I didn’t fully understand their needs. And sometimes I didn’t put as much work in because I didn’t want to.

If I was going to tell the most honest story I could, I couldn’t hide from these unattractive qualities I found in myself. Instead, I needed to mine them to make the story real, to make it work.

Do you have any words of wisdom you would like to offer students with dyslexia?

I hesitate when taking about the traditional ideas behind character development — the need for flaws and weakness — when talking about May Betterly. I don’t ever want children who have learning disabilities to see themselves as flawed or weak. It was very important to me that May not be “cured” of her dyslexia, first, because it’s an untrue way to look at disability, and second because it sends a damaging message, one that says you are only whole without disability.

Part of my reason in writing the book was to examine the concept of worth — how so often who we are becomes based on what others tell us about ourselves or on what we’re able to do. Like May, I think all of us in some way feel we don’t measure up. Struggles, like dyslexia, don’t define us. They are not shameful. They might be seen as “character flaws” in a book (ways a character is made real and relatable), but such real-life struggles never, ever make a person somehow worth less.

Last year I got an email that thanked me for writing May B. It directed me to a blog post that literally took my breath away:

At the end of May B., I am crying. I am crying at the ways she is so strong and capable.

…I feel like Caroline Starr Rose wrote this book in part for me.

It was as if she were writing to encourage me on behalf of all my teachers in and outside of the classroom who for years didn’t see that all the misspelled words and run-ons as a red flag. It was as if she were writing right into the places of my heart where those accusations of being careless and not good enough had settled. And she whispered that like May, I could overcome. I could hope for the good things even when they are hard. Thank you, Caroline. Thank you, May.

I hope readers of all sorts will be able to relate to — and find confidence and courage in — May’s story.

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25. take the spot your super power quiz

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

In 2013, I was fortunate to receive a critique from the lovely and ever-encouraging YA author Cynthia Leitich Smith. After reviewing the opening chapter of my second middle grade novel, Cyn told me humor was my super power. Me? I have a SUPER power? Well, if I have one, I know for certain you do too.

Maybe your super power is . . .

  • Writing realistic dialogue
  • Riding that fine line between sweet and sentimental
  • Creating rich, other-worldly settings
  • Weaving intricate, suspenseful plots
  • Concocting quirky, but believable characters
  • Being just plain funny
  • None of the above–it’s your own proprietary blend

It’s always easier to pinpoint someone else’s super power, isn’t it. My friend Lisa Wheeler is a whiz with rhyme. Catherine Bieberich and Kelly Barson are able to strike a perfect balance between heart and humor. Jennifer Whistler crafts novels with a highly visual, cinematic quality. Others, like Monica Harris, are grand researchers who cull little-known tidbits from old texts to make even snoresville non-fiction topics intriguing.

What’s the point in knowing your super power? Well, as with a lot of things, it’s empowering to have a “go to”—like that perfected dish you can always whip without worry or that compliment-winning outfit in your closet. You can’t make lemon chicken piccata or wear that same suede jacket every day, but when the time is right, it’s confidence-building to know it’s there when you need it.

You can’t lean on your superpower for everything. (Even Superman had his day job as Clark Kent.) That’s why it’s important to read widely, request critiques, participate in workshops and stretch yourself by writing outside your comfort genre. Because my super power is humor, it’s easy for me to write in silly sound bites and let my characters make clever asides. While being funny can be engaging and amusing, overuse of humor can lapse into what I call “snarkasm.” Chronic quipping distances readers and makes otherwise 3-D characters seem shallow. A clever boy can become what political consultant David Alexrod described as a “congenital smart aleck.” There’s nothing super about that.

So, how about you? What’s your super power? (You may even have more than one!)

Spot Your Super Power Quiz

  1. When someone critique’s my work, the first positive thing I most often hear is:
    1. You’re so ___________________________.
    2. Your writing is ________________________.
  2. I feel most at ease writing ____________________.
  3. If I had to compare my work to someone else’s, it’d have to be:_____________________ and his/her work is known for ____________________________.
  4. Three words I’d use to describe my work:
    1. ___________________________
    2. ___________________________
    3. ___________________________
  5.  Text/call a fellow writer and ask for three words to describe your work:
    1. ___________________________
    2. ___________________________
    3. ___________________________
  6. Is there an overlap between the answers to questions 4 and 5? If so:_______________________.

My super power is:__________________________.

Super! Please use your super powers for good. And remember to pick up your cape from the dry cleaners.

We must be careful with our words – we’re like superheroes and words are like our super powers. Super powers should always be used to help others. ~ Dianna Hardy


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