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1. Creative Writing- can it be taught? - Linda Strachan

There has been a lot of debate about whether creative writing can be taught and whether it should be taught.  
I do believe that you can teach certain aspects of creative writing - but then I would say that, having written a book about it!   
Some say writers should be free to find their own way, to experiment. That is fine, but why reinvent the wheel?
I think it is akin to someone who wants to draw buildings or street scenes being told that no one should teach them about perspective, they should find out by trial and error.

There are aspects of any skill, including writing, that can be taught, there is always something new to learn and I think the best teachers in any field will encourage students to go out and experiment, but they give them some kind of board to dive from.
It is important that the people who are teaching have some kind of credibility and publishing credentials. There are so many universities and colleges offering creative writing courses and I often wonder how many of them give their students any insight into the realities of what it takes to survive as a writer in this day and age. Do they tell them how uncertain a career path it is, that even if the book they write on the course gets published (with lots of time, help and support when writing it), that is no guarantee for the future?

I get a real buzz from working with emerging writers of any age. I love encouraging people to explore their creativity, and watching as they discover they have written something that surprises them; seeing ideas blossom into stories and their characters growing into fully fleshed out people.
We all know that writing can be scary, and sharing it with others is sometimes the most difficult thing, which is why creating a sense of trust within a group of students is so important. They should feel safe, and confident that any comments though honest, will not be destructive.  Whether a novice writing in secret, or an experienced writer waiting to hear what people think of your new book, we all feel wary when putting our latest creation out there. People may not like it!  But we keep on writing, because we love it, and hate it, and we just have to do it.
Moniack Mhor



I recently spent a weekend at Scotland's Creative Writing Centre, Moniack Mhor.  I've been there a few times before, tutoring Arvon courses much like those discussed in the post last Sunday The Arvon Habit by Sheena Wilkinson.   

This time I was working with a group of adults both at Moniack Mhor and at the Abriachan Forest Trust, on a short course called Words in the Landscape, and what a landscape it is!
View from my window at Moniack Mhor

We spent one day at Abriachan walking in the forest, being inspired by our surroundings. 

It was wonderful to stand quietly in the middle of the forest and -

LISTEN to the quiet, and the noises we often miss because we are talking or making noise ourselves -
Abriachan Forest Trust cabin classroom





LOOK at everything around us from the great majesty of trees to the smallest insect walking on the water - 

FEEL the wind against your skin, the warmth of the early spring sunshine -

IMAGINE what creatures might have inhabited these woods thousands of years ago, or in an imaginary world far away.  



Artist's Impression of Straw Bale Studio




On the second afternoon at Moniack Mhor some of us were lucky enough to be the first to try out the newly finished Straw Bale Studio, an 'eco friendly tutorial space. It was really exciting to see it finished.

I had watched some of the early stages of the build when I was there in August last year.

The group created some great stories and ideas for further writing.


I always come away inspired and ready to get back to my own writing. 

Running courses in creative writing reminds me to make sure my readers will care about my characters; to make the plot layered, the characters flawed and fascinating; to work harder on dialogue, and at making the plot grab the reader and pull them through the story.  It sharpens my critical senses and reminds me of all the things I have been working on with my students.  

Teaching creative writing is hard work but rewarding in so many ways.


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


Linda Strachan is the author of over 60 books for all ages from picture books to teenage novels and the writing handbook Writing For Children  

Her latest YA novel is Don't Judge Me  


Linda  is  Patron of Reading to Liberton High School, Edinburgh 


website:  www.lindastrachan.com
blog:  Bookwords



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2. KANSAS CITY

My heart hurts for the families and communities in Kansas City. It was a senseless crime. And it was crime that originated in a heart filled with hate. If you haven’t seen the news, you can see the story here: http://www.cnn.com/2014/04/14/us/kansas-jewish-center-shooting/ Thus, this my reply: RESPONSE TO FEAR AND HATRED: Winter can’t stop Spring from […]

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3. GOING ON AN ADVENTURE WITH GARY PAULSEN

Today’s wonderful post comes from my blogger friend Marriah K. Nissen.  Here’s Marriah:

Every night at bedtime, my daughter and husband crack open a book and wander through a story someone else has dreamed up. My daughter is more of the fairytale fanatic, enjoying journeys that take place in a realm that I read about as a child. Her most recent personal read has been the original story of The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Anderson. My husband, on the other hand, tends to be more of a realist. The middle ground they both decide on means that the book they choose has to have adventure. Lately, the type of adventure they’ve both been seeking has centered on the works of one author in particular – Gary Paulsen.

The fact that my husband enjoys Paulsen’s work comes as no surprise. I never read any of Paulsen’s books while I was growing up, and when I saw the tomes lining my shelves after I got married, I wasn’t surprised to see why I hadn’t. Paulsen has a flair for writing more from the young boy perspective, which sadly enough, I feel is lacking in MG and YA literature today. That’s not to say that works aren’t being written for boys, but the most popular ones tend to hinge on fantastical elements and far-fetched storylines, like Percy Jackson and Harry Potter, both of which still hit the tops of most MG and YA lists. What’s missing in these books is real-life adventure, something a boy can go out and experience on his own.

You might be asking then why my daughter loves Paulsen’s books so much. Mainly because the stories hinge on that big “S” word we all like to find in our novels – Suspense. In Paulsen’s stories, like Dogsong, The Voyage of the Frog, and Hatchet, the main characters are boys, but these are kids around her age, kids going through real-life conflicts and hardships. They find themselves in uncertain, often times harrowing circumstances, and she’s just hoping that they survive in the end. She loves anything that will take her on a great adventure as seen through the eyes of a child around her age.

In Dogsong, young Russel Suskitt leaves the modern world with nothing more than a dog sled and a chance to find his own “song” inside himself. In The Voyage of the Frog, David Alspeth sets out to fulfill his uncle’s final wish and sets sail in the Frog.     voyage of Frog

And in Hatchet, Brian Robeson finds himself stranded in the wilderness of Canada and must somehow stay alive. In all of these stories, unknown adventures await the main characters, adventures they never knew they’d encounter. What makes these stories so wonderful to read is that the characters come out better for it on the other end:

 Russel finds his “song” and helps a young girl along the way.       Paulsen_-_Dogsong_Coverart

 David, even after being lost at sea, knows he’s fulfilled his uncle’s last request.

 Brian not only survives the wilderness, but teaches others how to as well in The River, the sequel to Hatchet.

In all, Paulsen writes stories about survival, something for which children today still hold a keen interest. Not only do they get to read a story that puts them on the edge of their seat, but they also absorb a learning experience about how to hack your way out of the wilds of Canada or survive a storm at sea in a tiny sailboat. If we are to believe as writers the old saying, “Write what you know,” much like Paulsen did, then we should also take it one step further. Add a little excitement and suspense into the mix. After running away from home at the age of 14, Gary Paulsen used his experiences in his writing when he embarked on a life filled with odd jobs, such as traveling with a carnival, being a sailor, and entering the Iditarod.                     200px-Hatchet

When he decided to write about his journeys in life, he managed to do it with a suspenseful flair. To this day he remains a mainstay in the young adult market and continues to show his “intense desire to tap deeply into the human spirit and to encourage readers to observe and care about the world around them.”*

If you’ve never taken the opportunity to read one of Paulsen’s many stories, then I encourage you to do so. You just might glean a little insight into your own life.

*According to: http://www.randomhouse.com/features/garypaulsen/about.html

Marriah K. Nissen is an adult historical author and co-author of the award-winning blog The Writing Sisterhood. Her previous work has won both regional and national competitions, including the Soul-Making Keats Literary Awards, the Southwest Writers Literary Contest, and the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Contest. For the third straight year, she has recently received the New Mexico Press Women’s Award for best informational blog. She has her M.A. in French language, literature and culture and is an active member of SouthWest Writers in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She is currently working on her latest novel, which centers on the building of the first atomic bomb in Los Alamos, New Mexico.

 


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4. Celebrate Earth Day 2014 With Some Fun Activities for Kids and Adults Alike!

April 22nd is Earth Day. It’s the perfect time to do something special with your children to celebrate our planet and learn to take care of it.

Here’s a fun activity from nature writer, J J Murphy.

Make Friends With a Tree: How to Make Tree Bark Rubbings and a Tree Shaped Poem

J J Murphy
By JJ Murphy

Trees have different shapes depending not only on their species, but on their living conditions.

Bring a journal or field notebook while taking a walk in a nearby park or woods and look at the shapes of the trees growing in swampy areas, open areas, sloped areas, mountain tops.

Notice the shapes of the trees and the characteristics of their bark (smooth or rough), leaves (net veined or parallel veins), branches (alternate or opposite).

Materials:

  • a sheet of light weight paper for each type of tree you want to study- newsprint paper works well
  • a dark color (preferably fat) wax crayon, and
  • a piece of string or thin rope long enough to tie around the trunk

Procedure:1. Poke holes in the top corners of your paper

2. Thread your string through one hole, wrap it around the tree trunk and tie the end to the other hole

3. Remove the paper from your crayon

4. Hold the crayon horizontally, rubbing it in one direction from the top of your page to the bottom.

Make a scrap book of your rubbings

  • What can you learn about each tree?
  • Notice the texture (smooth or rough) the pattern of the bark, the thickness of the trunk.
  • Study the tree in winter, spring, summer and autumn. What differences do you notice?

Upon return to the classroom, look up the identity of the tree in a field guide, and then write a poem so that the words form the shape of the tree and reflect something about one or more characteristics of the tree.

Here is an example:

I

Chop

White pine

Needles, steep them

In boiled water to make tea

That warms and nourishes my body

And my spirit when brutal northeast wind

Forces me to abandon my hike and seek shelter

Indoors

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

JJ Murphy is a freelance writer who helps companies, small businesses and individuals to express their awareness and dedication to developing sustainable technology and to preserve our natural resources. She writes articles for natural magazines, hiking publications, simple living publications in print and online. She also creates curricula to help public schools home schooling groups, private schools, wilderness camps, adult learning groups, and continuing education programs stretch and expand their students’ knowledge.

She holds a Master of Arts degree from the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas and a B.A. degree in English and Anthropology from the University of Connecticut. Her client list includes writers, business consultants, motivational speakers, psychologists, financial planners, educators, and politicians.

Visit her website http://www.WriterByNature.com for articles, wild food recipes and for more information, including JJ’s favorite places for gear and supplies.

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5. Many Children’s Writers – and Even Published Children’s Writers – Find Critique Groups to Be Helpful

critiqueThrough the years I’ve belonged to several critique groups myself.

Quite often though, I’ve seen writers get discouraged from the feedback they received through critique groups and a few of these writers even gave up trying to write for children.

That should never happen!

Here are some tips for helping everyone make the most of a critique group:

1. Be sure to join or start a critique group that includes at least a few published children’s writers. If no one in your group has been published, it is a case of “the blind leading the blind.” Writers in the group might not know what to look for in a manuscript. As a result, comments and suggestions will be based more on personal tastes rather than any real knowledge of what makes a children’s manuscript marketable.

2. Make sure the comments and suggestions given to each writer are positive and constructive. Too often, manuscript critiques turn into attacks on a manuscript rather than any positive and constructive criticism of the work itself. Also, beginning writers tend to nit-pick over small details (the color of a character’s hair or the word used to describe something) rather than the elements that will make or break a story – elements such as conflict, rising action, point-of-view, etc.

3. Start by critiquing short pieces rather than novels-in-progress. I recommend this for a couple of reasons.

First, critiquing short pieces will allow time for everyone in the group to submit work for critique at each and every session. You want each person to feel he/she received something of value at each session. With shorter manuscripts there is less of a tendency to get bogged down with a single manuscript and spend too much time on it, leaving little or no time for critiquing all the other manuscripts presented for critique.

Second, shorter pieces are easier to critique, especially if everyone is checking to see if these short works include all the key elements of a marketable story. It’s often difficult (particularly for beginning children’s writers) to identify just what needs to be changed or revised in the chapter of a novel, for example. But generally, the problems in a short work, like a picture book manuscript or a short-story, can be easily identified if writers know what these are.

4. Give yourself time to get to know and trust each member in the group. Your critique partners can become valued friends and associates over the years. But it takes a while to really get to know and trust someone new.

When you join or start a critique group, before each and every meeting, remind yourself to be positive, helpful, and constructive in your criticism.

Try to never leave the session knowing that you’ve made a writer feel hopeless about his or her work. Do everything you can to make each writer in the group feel comfortable, even if you are not the leader of the group.

Over time, members will begin to trust each other and be willing to share more and more of their work with the group.

5. Celebrate each member’s publishing successes.

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

Happy writing!

Suzanne Lieurance

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6. Calling Young Writers Grades 1-8.

The Society of Young Inklings, a non-profit with a mission of empowering young writers, publishes an annual anthology of the stories and poems of talented young writers–this year we are holding a contest to see whose pieces will be included. We are looking for fresh new voices to publish in our anthology.

Young writers in grades 1-8 with stories or poems are encouraged to enter the contest. Submissions must be in final draft and students must commit to completing an editing process if their piece is chosen. For more information on the contest please check HERE.

We’re looking for bloggers who might want to do a guest post about the contest to help us reach students who may not otherwise know about the opportunity. We also have an email specifically for educators in case anyone wants that to pass on to a teacher/librarian. If you’d like that email to forward on, email me directly, and I’m happy to forward it to you.

Here are some Q and A’s about the contest.

Q: Who is the Inklings Book Contest for?

A: All young writers who are ready to take their writing to the next level. Writing is just one part of the creative process. Just as it’s important for actors, musicians and dancers to perform, it’s important for writers to have their stories read and enjoyed. We learn new things about ourselves as writers when we prepare our work for readers, and also when we hear feedback about our published pieces. All writers, regardless of their age, need access to that kind of essential feedback. Plus, it’s inspiring to hear that a reader loved our story, and it makes all the hard work worthwhile. Positive feedback sends writers back to their writing desks to create again.

Q: How will I know if my story is ready to submit?

A: One excellent way to prepare a story for submission is to read it out loud to a friend or a group of friends. Ask for feedback about what’s working and what questions your friends may have. Aside from being a huge confidence booster, you’ll also find out what additions or changes may help your story be more clear and more engaging. Notice where people laugh, in particular, and see if you can magnify that effect. Humor often comes in threes. If you have one funny moment that’s working well, you can build on it by repeating the moment with a small change. On the Young Inklings website, you’ll also find a checklist to help you check the fine details of your story just before sending it in.

Q: Why do you ask all of the writers to revise for the Inklings Book?

A: When professional writers send their work into a publisher, they have the opportunity to work with an editor who helps them refine their work. At some point in the writing process, writers need an outside eye. This person helps us read the story from a new perspective: the perspective of someone who doesn’t have all of our personal memories, experiences and passions. We learn what we might need to add or change to help a reader experience the story fully. Some writers are worried about revising with someone else, because they feel their story shouldn’t be influenced by anyone but themselves. All artists are influenced by many factors, though. Our writing is influenced by the books we read, the experiences we have, the voices in our communities, and many other sources. When an editor provides us with outside perspective, this is just another way to make our writing even more spectacular.

Q: Is it a real, published book?

A: Yep! We’re thrilled because the Inklings Book is not going to only be available online, but also in the fabulous independent store, Hicklebees. Young writers and their mentors will all be contributing authors for the book, so the final product will be a collaboration of many creative minds.
******************
Naomi Kinsman

Executive Director
Society of Young Inklings

www.younginklings.org

Thanks for helping me spread the word to deserving young writers!

 

 

 


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7. Rock Tumbling a Picture Book:The Art of Revision.

Today’s Post comes from my writing friend and soon to be published Picture Book Author Beth Ferry, who writes about the revision process she goes through for her picture books.

Here’s Beth:

I can clearly remember the summer I was given a rock tumbler. It was a gift of transformation. A gift of possibility. It was THE gift of the 70s. I can remember carefully placing those dusty rocks into the chamber, knowing that very soon I would be the proud owner of sparkling, gleaming gemstones. I remember how LOUD it was and how LONG it took. I also remember being amazed by what emerged.

Many, many years later, the idea of the rock tumbler came back to me. In so many ways, writing is a lot like tumbling rocks. In addition to rocks and water, rock tumbling requires sand-sized particles of silicon carbide, also known as GRIT. Grit is tough and hard and unrelenting. It wears down the rocks, smooths them and rounds them. GRIT is a crucial part of WRITING.           Beth_Ferry_photo

There are 4 steps to Rock polishing:

1.                  Shaping the rock

2.                  Removing the scratches

3.                  Smoothing and polishing the rock

4.                  Burnishing the rock

What do these steps have to do with writing? Well, think of them this way:

1.                  Writing and shaping the story

2.                  Big picture edit

3.                  Small picture edit

4.                  Polishing edit

My first step is to unearth the story, get it down, write it! Ideas truly come from everywhere, but I mostly get my inspiration from words that I like. Some words just speak to me louder than others and an idea will often spark from that one particular word. My FIRST DRAFT is very much like a lumpy brown rock. It usually isn’t pretty, but it has potential. With a little work, I know I can expose the beauty within.  During the FIRST DRAFT, I shape my story. I explore the plot, characters and conflict.  I don’t worry about each word, just the essence of the story. Am I telling the story I planned to tell? Does it have an arc? Is the ending satisfying? Just the first draft alone takes many, many rewrites.

Once I’m happy with the overall shape of my story, I drop it into the tumbler. Here’s where it gets LOUD. I read the story out loud. Again and again and again. I read it inside; I read it outside; I read it to my dog and to my family. Nothing is more useful that hearing my words out in the air. This is where I hear my mistakes, the slow parts, and the beautiful parts. What goes on inside my head is very different than what goes on outside of it so it is crucial to read your story out loud.

Once my story is tumbling around in my head and in decent shape, it’s time for the BIG PICTURE EDIT. This is truly the hardest part. This is where I ask myself who will be reading this story? Who will be buying it? Is it too much like another story?  It’s basically a question of worth. Will my story add to the greater good? Will it make the reader think, laugh, cry or clamor for more? Does my story belong out in the world and will it enhance not only the shelf, but the reader him/herself? Is it a gem? Hopefully I’ve answered yes to these questions and, if so, I move onto the SMALL PICTURE EDIT.

The SMALL PICTURE EDIT may be the longest process. I might rewrite a story 12 times or 83 times. When I think about how many times the rock revolves in the tumbler, I know that I might possibly make hundreds of tweaks to any one story. Tweaks that involve line editing, using my thesaurus, and more reading out loud. I check for clear, concise sentences, for matching tenses and consistent POV. I ask myself if the resolution is not only satisfying, but hopefully unexpected or fun as well. Does my story make me happy? Is my word count satisfactory? Rocks lose approximately 30% of their size during tumbling, so I am not afraid to cut, cut, cut.  I try to lose as many words as I can in this step of editing. This is also when I share with my critique group. A critique group is essential. There is no better support than other committed writers writing the same genre, and no better eyes to point out not only your mistakes, but your successes as well. Whether in-person or on-line, a critique group adds a valuable layer to your editing process. Finally, when I feel that my story has a nice shine, I put it away.

Yes, indeed! It’s like walking away from that rock tumbler and letting it churn for weeks.  As eager as I am to peer into that barrel and see my shining gems, I don’t. I need some distance so that I will have fresh eyes when I read it again. This is the part of the process where I work on another story. Remember, besides water and GRIT, a rock tumbler needs to be filled with other rocks or the process won’t work. I always have more that one story tumbling around. I work on those. Then after a week or two, I take the story back out and read it OUT LOUD with fresh eyes. This is the polishing step. I can usually identify the problem spots right away at this point. I work on those. Then if I love the story as much as I did before I walked away from it, I know I am done. Finished. My story is shaped, sanded and polished. It is ready to meet the world, a gleaming gem full of possibility.

Beth Ferry lives with her family by the beach in New Jersey. She is represented by Elena Giovinazzo of Pippin Properties and her first picture book, Stick and Stone, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld will be released on April 7, 2015.  In addition to this, she’s sold two other picture books:
Land Shark illustrated by Ben Mantle, Chronicle Books, TBD   and,

Pirate’s Perfect Pet, illustrated by Matthew Myers, Candlewick Press, Fall 2016

 


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8. Fiction Magic: Kickstart Your Writing with Deb Lund

Sometimes writers need a good kick in the pants.

Wouldn’t it be great to have your own personal writing coach by your side every day to get you moving? She could whip the sheets off you each morning, bugle reveille in your ear, even toast  you an Eggo while you shower.

Eh, who am I kidding? Writers don’t shower!

Anyway…

Author Deb Lund brought together her 20+ years of teaching experience in a magical way—with 54 surprising writing prompts, tips and tricks for you to apply to your work-in-progress whenever you’re feeling stuck. It’s like having that writing coach right there with you, only a lot less annoying. It’s “Fiction Magic”!

Fiction Magic Title screenshotMagicalDebLund

For years, Deb taught 4th- and 5th-grade students how to write, and she wanted to make it cool for them, so she developed these cards. Her real “aha” moment came when she realized that she could teach adults the same way she taught children, using the same FUN strategies. ABRACADABRA! These “magical” cards act as triggers to pull something out of your head that you wouldn’t ordinarily be able to coax out.

At the Oregon Silver Falls SCBWI Writing Retreat, star agent Jen Rofé of Andrea Brown Literary Agency attended Deb’s session and then exclaimed, “I want all my writers to have your cards!” Yep, she was that impressed. The only problem? Deb’s cards were a prototype that cost her $200 to produce. How could she make them for a dozen writers? A hundred? A THOUSAND?

Enter Kickstarter. Deb’s Fiction Magic campaign is on right now and it’s 94% funded already! But with just 10 days to go, she needs your help. And believe me, you want her help, too!

Let’s do a few tricks right now, shall we? Whip out your WIP and see if these magical remedies help!

.

AGREE TO A BAD DEAL
Your characters must make some bad choices along the way. They may even have to negotiate for something they need or want with people they loathe. Characters may know they’re agreeing to bad deals but feel they have no choice. Or the deals appear good, but fall apart later. Or time factors make the deals even more ominous. Make the stakes of bad deals so high it’s difficult for your characters to back out of them.

When you feel stressed by all that’s on your plate, be gentle with yourself. Let your characters agree to bad deals, but the only agreement you need to make with yourself right now is to write, no matter how bad the writing may seem.

.

REVEAL A SECRET
Secrets can be powerful tools or sources of trouble. Or both. What information could your characters unwittingly slip out to the wrong people? Characters could be in danger because of secrets. Other characters could reveal secrets that affect your lead characters, whether the secrets were theirs or not. In trying to cover up secrets or escaping from those trying to conceal secrets, what could go wrong? Who will be angry? Hurt? Feeling betrayed? Put in life or death situations?

Do you keep your dreams secret? Sometimes they need protection, but when you’re ready and the time is right, reveal them to others who believe in you.

.

THROW IN AN OBSTACLE
If you’re lucky, you’ll pick this card over and over, because this is Key. Your characters are on quests. Delay them. Interrupt their journeys. Who or what could step in to make your characters stop in their tracks? The interruptions may be people, objects, circumstances, thoughts, feelings… Send your characters merrily down the road, and then run them into roadblocks. Keep tossing them unending hardship. Warm up your pitching arm and let it rip. Throw after throw after throw.

As a writer, you have plenty obstacles. For each one you throw at your character, remove one from your writing life! Where will you start?

.

fictionmagic

There are 51 more Fiction Magic tricks for you to try. But only if you help Deb reach her goal.

Check out her Kickstarter and create your own magic! (Even if that includes the bugle call. But that’s not for me. I am NOT a morning person!)


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9. Interview with Children’s Book Author Sandra Bennett

It’s Author Interview Thursday and I’m so excited that we have another opportunity to be inspired by an author who has encountered the challenges associated with getting a book published and is still standing.Sandra Bennett Today’s special guest comes from the beautiful nation of Australia. We connected via Facebook and it’s been a pleasure to get to know her better in the build up to this interview. She’s a teacher by profession and is really passionate about increasing the literacy levels in children. She recently got her first children’s book published and I know it’s going to be the first of many to come from her pen. Her passion for reading and writing is so infectious as you’ll agree with me by the end of this interview. So without further ado, please join me in welcoming Sandra Bennett.

 

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and that first moment when you knew you could write.

I am a bookaholic. I have had my nose in a book for as long as I can remember.  I started writing in my teens and won my first national poetry award when I was sixteen. By the time I went to teachers college and studied children’s picture books and their authors I knew I wanted to write for children too. I don’t know if I could say I had an exact moment when I knew I could write, I just always knew it was something I had to do. It was a natural progression, a part of my teaching and my love of literacy. I wrote stories for the kids in my classes and for my own sons. When we lived in Thailand I began writing stories about our adventures and experiences living amongst a different culture, and then when we returned home to Australia I decided it was time to study children’s writing further so that I could one day reach my dream of publishing stories for all children to enjoy.

 

I had the privilege to read your book ‘Gingerbread Aliens.’ Can you tell us what inspired you to write this book and the ideal audience for this book?Gingerbread Aliens

My passion throughout my teaching career has always been helping struggling readers to not only learn to read but find the joy in books that I have always found. Having the desire to reach and encourage as many children as I can to learn to read is my inspiration to write this book as well as many others. I have discovered from first-hand experience that children increase their ability to learn to read when they read something not only familiar but that they really enjoy as well. I wanted to write a story that was not only engaging, funny and entertaining, I wanted to hook the reader at the end of each chapter so that they couldn’t put the book down. Gingerbread Aliens was inspired from the chaos cooking in my own kitchen with my three sons many years ago when I realised I could twist the experience into a hilarious tale of somewhat epic proportions. This then in turn leads the reader on an adventure that keeps them guessing all the way to the end. Gingerbread Aliens is ideal for children learning to read or reluctant early readers who have not yet found a love of books. Ages 6-10 is ideal for them to read themselves, however I have found 4-5 year olds have really loved it too when read out loud by a parent, grandparent or significant other.

 

How do you combine being a full time teacher, married with three children and writing?

Doing anything you love is always a balancing act and a bit of a challenge but if you have the determination to reach a goal you will always find a way. Having a laptop helps as I can take my writing anywhere and I am able to write whenever the urge takes me. When I was teaching I usually kept it to weekends or late at night, however I have retired from teaching now that my boys are older and are independent young men. This has enabled me to have more time to devote during the day to developing my ideas, although I admit I am still a mum first who likes to have a meal on the table when her boys come home each evening. I travel a lot more these days as well with my husband for his work, so again a laptop is very convenient. I just plug in no matter which city we happen to be in and away I go.

 

What were some of your favourite books as a child? Chronicles of Narnia

As a child C.S. Lewis, “The Chronicles of Narnia,” would have to be my all-time favourite, I can’t go past a good adventure. I also loved reading mystery series like “Trixie Belden,” Nancy Drew,” and “The Hardy Boys.” Guess I’m showing my age a bit here. By the time I was in my teens I found the wonderful humour of Douglass Adams “Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.” It was even more fantastic when I was able to re-read it and share it with my own teenage son. On that point,  may I add some of my other favourites that I read along with my boys as they grew up. Emily Rodda’s “Deltora Quest,’ anything and everything by Paul Jennings, in particular “Round the Twist.” Paul Jennings has such a great sense of humour to attract kids to read. Jasper Fforde’s clever literary feast “Thursday Next” series and of course I can’t go past “Harry Potter.” J.K. Rowling was masterful the way she made a whole generation of children start reading again.

 

What three things should writers avoid when writing dialogue? 

  1. Avoid using said after each person speaks. Try to show who is speaking through an action or emotion. It comes back to the old saying “show, don’t tell.”
  2. Be careful not to make the language stiff or stilted. Good dialogue does not have to be formal, it has to flow naturally.
  3. The words must fit the character. If it’s a teenager use teenage jargon, a grandparent may have completely different idiosyncrasies. Do not fall into the trap of letting all your characters speech sound the same. Make sure they are individuals.

 

What book or film has the best dialogue that inspires you to be a better writer and why?Sandra Bennett Reading

It’s an old classic but a good one that has lasted throughout the generations, Jane Austin’s “Pride and Prejudice.” I defy any young teenage girl not to fall in love with the arrogant yet debonair Mr Darcey and who can’t help but laugh at the ever meddling dialogue of the forever vexatious Mrs Bennett? (I know I am Mrs Bennett too, it has not gone unnoticed in this household either.) The setting of the story may be well before our times and therefore the dialogue is much more structured however it is fitting for the day and tells the story in a manner befitting late eighteenth century English society.

 

Toy Story or Shrek?

Toy Story! While Shrek was fabulous in it’s own right, I can’t go past the humour and delight of Toy Story. I love the whole concept of the child’s toys coming to life when he is not around. I can just imagine this happening in bedrooms and playrooms everywhere. I also love the fact that they used toys that I grew up with as did my own boys. Toy soldiers, Mr Potato Head, Slinky the dog, even Barbie entered in the sequel. Again it comes back to telling a story with things that all kids can relate to and what is closer to their hearts than the toys they play with every day.

  

I had the privilege to read to several Year groups at a Primary school recently. The experience really made me consider being a teacher. What advice would you have for me and anyone reading this interview who are thinking about pursuing a career as a teacher?Sandra Bennett Reading Gingerbread Aliens

Teaching is an enormously rewarding career. There is nothing like the joy of watching the delight rise on a little face when they have a “light bulb” moment or realize they can finally achieve something that they have struggled to learn. There are no words to express the feeling of how wonderful the opportunity it is to take a group of small students from the beginning of the year and watch them grow and teach them to learn. When they start off unable to read and leave you as independent readers by the end of the year, you know you have done something right. Teaching can engulf every waking hour as you tend to put your heart and soul into your class. Preparation and evaluation can leave you with very little time for anything else, so good time management skills are essential.

 

If you were not a teacher, what would you do?

I am already doing it! I am no longer teaching. I spend my days writing, researching, marketing and when I can I visit schools for book readings. I would like to add writing classes in schools one day to my list of skills but haven’t really looked into that yet.

 

What three things should a first time visitor to Australia do?Australia

Wow, that’s harder to answer than you might think. Australia is such a large place and there are so many wonderful things to see and do and places to visit. It depends on whether you are into scenery, the arts, animals or culture? 

  1. I guess most people would say you have to visit Sydney Harbour. It is one of the most beautiful harbours in the world. (Yes I am a tiny bit biased. I did grow up in Sydney). The Opera House is spectacular, the Botanic Gardens are magnificent, The Rocks are full of our convict history, and Darling Harbour is alive with wonderful multicultural restaurants, and it is all under the backdrop of the “Coathanger” our amazing Sydney Harbour Bridge, which if you are not scared of heights, you can climb.

While you are in Sydney you should also take the time for a surf at any of our superb beaches that spread north and south along our coastline. Feel the sand beneath your toes and smell the salty sea air before you dive into the crisp clear blue ocean waves. I virtually grew up on Cronulla Beach on Sydney’s south side so the sea is in my veins. 

  1. Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef off Queensland’s magnificent northern coast is another must.  The colorful coral and exotic tropical fish have to be seen to be believed. The turquoise water is so clear you can see forever while you float amongst the tranquillity of the gently lapping waves that relax your inner soul. 
  1. Explore the Outback. Take in the vast contrast of the red centre and the Indigenous Aboriginal Culture.  Whether you fly to Alice Springs and Uluru, Kakadu or the Kimberly Ranges in Western Australia, there are spectacular gorges, waterfalls, rock art and Aboriginal paintings and artifacts galore. Recently I had the awe inspiring experience of swimming under a waterfall in an outback waterhole. It was something I’ll certainly never forget. 

I know you only asked for three, but I would like to add one more on a personal note. Whenever we have visitors from overseas they always ask to see Kangaroos.Sandra Bennett with a Roo We have many kangaroos hopping through our property daily as we live in the country not the city, but the kangaroos here are wild and will not allow you to get close enough to touch. So we take our visitors across to the South Coast of New South Wales to a little spot in Murramarang National Park, called Pretty Beach (just north of Bateman’s Bay) where the kangaroos are quite tame. Here you are welcome to pat them, the only request by the park rangers is that you do not feed the roos, please allow them to forage for themselves. We find our guests always go home feeling overwhelmed to have had such an awesome and amazing experience.

  

What can we expect from Sandra Bennett in the next 12 months? 

Book two in my Alien Adventure Series is complete. The Bradberrie boys are up to more mischief and mayhem yet again! I hope to have it released soon, but no date is set just yet. So stay tuned “Alien Shenanigans” is coming soon! I am in the middle of writing the third book in the series. With a bit of luck it might be ready by Christmas. I am also considering publishing one or two of my picture books this year. I have quite a few works in the pipeline. It is just a matter of deciding which direction I want to take.

 

Where can readers and fans connect with you? 

I have an author Facebook page they are welcome to follow at 

https://www.facebook.com/GingerbreadAliens

Readers and fans can also follow either of my blogs. I paste the same content to both so that following one is sufficient. I try to write advice for parents looking for help with the home reading struggle as well as including author interviews, book reviews, and the occasional recipe or science experiment. When Alien Shenanigans is released there will be more fun science coming. J 

http://sandrabennettauthor.com/

http://gingerbreadaliens.blogspot.com.au/

https://plus.google.com/102400431461177159068/posts

 

Any advice for authors out there who are either just starting out or getting frustrated with the industry?

Read, read and read some more. Then write , write and write even more!  The old adage ‘practice makes perfect’ is alive and strong when it comes to writing. There is no easy way to writing, you just have to keep at it. Take classes, learn your craft, join writing groups but don’t be afraid to put pen to paper. Even if you don’t feel your writing is good enough to show anyone else, keep writing until you find something you feel worthy of sharing. If writing and reading is your passion, (as it is mine) then don’t let anyone or anything stop you. Follow your dream, it doesn’t matter whether your book ever becomes a best seller or not, as long as it puts a smile on at least one face then you have done what you set out to achieve. I may have only published one children’s book so far, but during my journey I have learnt a lot. Be prepared to market yourself, be social media savvy, hang in there and write more books. The more books you publish the more you will develop a following and become known, but most of all, be true to yourself and never give up!

 

It’s been an absolute delight having you with us today Sandra. I just admire the fact that your primary motivation for writing is not the dollar bills but the fact that you love the written word and the opportunity to affect others with your words. How can one go wrong with that sort of mindset? Please do check out the links Sandra gave above and be sure to like her Facebook page. You can also get a copy of her book, Gingerbread Aliens by clicking the link below.

Gingerbread Aliens on Amazon

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10. I should get an award or something

Not sure why scientists are so ga-ga over figuring out what black holes really are. I’ve already done that. And I know how they are formed. Revisions = black holes Revisions are formed when first drafts become second drafts, third drafts, fourth drafts, etc. An endless loop of deletions and additions that suck the writer…

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11. Deadline extended!

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12. To Prologue or Not to Prologue?

Ready to startMany middle grade and YA authors debate whether or not to include a prologue when beginning their manuscripts. Prologues are sections of story that precede the first chapter, similar to an introduction, but their sequencing in relationship to the following chapter(s) is not necessarily chronological. Often structured as a flash forward or flash back, a prologue can provide details that justify a character’s motives later on, or offer a quick glimpse at the central action, conflict or climax of the story that lies ahead. (This kind of prologue was used by Stephanie Meyers in Twilight.)

It’s important to know that prologues are not wildly popular with editors – they can feel like a cheat, something the author has chosen to use because he or she can’t figure out how else to incorporate that information, or because their beginning isn’t strong enough.  They can also be viewed as a stalling tactic, a way to write your way in to the story, like a kind of literary ‘throat-clearing.’

Don’t decide definitively to include a prologue until your manuscript is complete… and even then, make sure you are including one for the right reasons. Below are some pros and cons of prologues that may help in choosing whether or not to create one for your story:

Prologue Pros

  • Can provide details that will explain character motives later on
  • May tempt readers to read on by allowing a glimpse of the excitement that lies ahead
  • Provides a place for important backstory without slowing momentum once the story is underway

Prologue Cons

  • Can be viewed as a stalling tactic or sign that you’re unsure how to begin
  • May be overlooked or ignored by readers, who may then miss the key information it contains

(Interested in more information like this? Check out my home study courses in writing picture books, chapter books and middle grade novels and young adult fiction, at JustWriteChildrensBooks.com

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13. but I don’t even like kids

Look. I'm carrying a kettle of scalding water.

“Look! I’m carrying a kettle of scalding water.”

What’s with the face? You don’t like honesty? It’s not completely accurate to say I don’t like kids, because I do–on a child-by-child basis. But the species in general? Not so much.

And in case you’re wondering, yes I have two children of my own. Do I love them? With all my heart. Do I want to be surrounded by a battery of wee nose miners on a daily basis? Oh, my. NO.

I knew it. “The face” is back. You’re wondering why I want to write children’s books when I’m not a super fan of kids. Let me explain how I reconcile the apparent disconnect–at least as I understand so far.

Not too long ago I met Andrew Karre, the editorial director for Carolrhoda Books, at a retreat for children’s writers. He told us he believes children’s literature is about children, and not written for children. What’s the distinction? Motivation. Rather than being audience-centric and focusing on pleasing the reader, Karre suggests the drive to create children’s literature needs to focus inward. Intriguing perspective, isn’t it? I had to noodle over it for quite a while, but I think he’s right.

From the time I recognized myself as a writer an ice age ago, I knew I wanted to write children’s books. Isn’t that odd? So specific. So narrow. Children’s literature has an innate openness, optimism, humor, bravery and tenderness that makes it irresistible to me, as a reader and a writer. Those are the qualities I want funneling through my brain, my heart and my imagination. Writing about children allows me to experience that. I am so lucky. Knowing a child may enjoy what I love to write is a spectacular bonus.

What about you? Why does children’s literature call to you?

(And by the way, if you like kids, it’s okay. I still accept you.)

A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.
~ C.S. Lewis


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14. LAST RESORT

I wrote a picture book over a year ago. I love it. But it has never felt “right” to me. I’ve revised countless times. My kids are tired of hearing me read it outloud. And my critique partners are ready to put it to bed. But still… it felt like something was wrong. I didn’t…

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15. Writing for Children – helpful ideas by Alan Dapre

I’ve had over 50 books traditionally published in a range of genres. A few are plays for teenagers and younger children. Some are linked to characters on TV (such as Brum) and are joke, puzzle, activity and story books. Others are … Continue reading

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16. I’m NOT Dead

Really. I’m not dead. I just ate a piece of cake. I’ve just been AWOL from blogging for a while. I’ve been held prisoner by the Dust Bunny regime in my home. They declared war because I’ve started back with my FlyLady routine. The bunnies claim I am “messing with the natural order” of things […]

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17. SCBWI FL Conference Recap #2: Editor Panel

Let’s welcome Mindy Alyse Weiss back…she’s got the scoop from the recent SCBWI FL Conference. And boy, what a scoop it is! It’s chocolate fudge with rainbow sprinkles!

Ever wonder about an editor’s wish list? Wonder no longer! In the Editor Panel, Stacy Abrams, Kat Brzozowski, Aubrey Poole, Laura Whitaker and Andrea Pinkney discussed what kind of projects they’re seeking—and not seeking. There seems to be a trend away from dystopian and paranormal novels in YA.

A Wonderful Editor Panel

Stacy Abrams, Executive Editorial Director of Bliss and Entangled Teen
Contemporary (no paranormal or dystopian). Can have an issue in it, but the book can’t be about the issue.

Kat Brzozowski, Associate Editor, Thomas Dunne Books, MacMillan
Dystopian is hard. Would love a good YA mystery. Comes across as loving dark but does love girl meets boy and they kiss, light romantic contemporary stuff for girls.
With social media, if you do one thing well but don’t like another, don’t force it.

Aubrey Poole, Associate Editor, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky and Fire
Loves sci fi, YA, not looking at genre really—it’s the stories that stand out within a genre. More experimenting with format. Read more about her wish list here.

Laura Whitaker, Associate Editor, Bloomsbury Children’s Books
She’s tired of dystopian and paranormal YA. She wants to be immersed in a story so much that she’s physically removed from her own issues. She wants to read about real people. Contemporary, original voice. With MG and YA, networking is important. Do a lot of digital marketing initiatives. You can get a huge impact from doing a blog tour. “Help me help you.”

Andrea Pinkney, Vice-President and Executive Editor, Scholastic
More diversity, African American boys, adventure, mystery, fun. Contemporary stories. *You need to normalize and not make it about the problem, even with something like bi-polar.” She’s interested in a novel with a character who has piercing or a lot of tattoos.

A Laura Whitaker

Laura Whitaker, Associate Editor, Bloomsbury

Besides writing a well-crafted story, how do you catch an editor’s attention? Laura Whitaker presented “Dating 101: What Makes YOU Desirable to an Editor”.

Tell her something interesting about your writing journey. What drew you to telling this story? Let her know any cool things you can share about yourself—show what makes you vibrant and unique.

Title—come up with something original that represents your work. If the title is the same when you’re published and there’s a story behind how you arrived at the title, marketing will want it later for a blog/Tumblr piece.

She’ll look at a query for 30 seconds to a minute. First thing should be the hook, then a two sentence synopsis (three if you have to), then info about yourself.

Your website is your calling card—especially for picture books.

Do you tweet out interesting, dynamic tweets? It’s the best way to build connections with other authors, agents, and editors. Twitter is more important for MG and YA.

Interact! Do you write about the process or what you’re working on? Marketing and publicity want to see your social media platform. The more social media, the better—but it is not a substitute for the craft.

Thanks again, Mindy!

Come back on Friday for the rest of the scoop from SCBWI FL. We’ll have vanilla and strawberry for those who don’t like chocolate. (Don’t like CHOCOLATE? Who are you people???)


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18. Precooked Children and Pushy Parents - Clémentine Beauvais

My new research project for my academic work is on precocious children in literature and culture. I was trying to explain this in wobbly Spanish to my friend in Madrid by saying that I was studying 'el niño precocido', which made her burst out laughing - turns out it means the 'precooked child'.

It's a shame I'm not actually doing that; as far as I'm aware, it's a very undertheorised motif.


Maurice Sendak, In the Night Kitchen
Anyway, the term 'precooked' keeps popping back into my head as I read. Throughout the 20th century, there's been a conceptual battle around the question of child precocity in child psychology and the sociology of education. 'Precocious' children are now widely considered, as the etymology suggests, to be 'praecox', 'ripe before their age', mostly thanks to an alignment of good circumstances: supportive family and school environments, task commitment, and above all social valuation of whichever type of 'intelligence' the child manages to develop ahead of peers.

But the literature, though it does acknowledge parental involvement in so-called child 'precocity', can be vociferous against parents. Parents are often described as 'pushing' their child, 'too early', with no regard for 'normal development'. In other words, they're indeed 'precooking' their child in the hope that it will have the equivalent effect as their 'ripening early'. 

And everyone knows that no amount of apple compote will make up for their being unripe.

Even scientifically rigorous articles get into very harsh denunciations of parents who try to 'create' 'precocious' children. Some scholars make the striking claim that exceptional children ahead of their peers who have been 'pushed' by their parents don't 'deserve' to be called precocious. Since the notion is essentially fallacious, its definition fluctuates anyway, but the hostility against the 'pushy parent' is interestingly intense.

Roald Dahl's Matilda famously begins with a critique of such parents:

It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.
Some parents go further. They become so blinded by adoration they manage to convince themselves their child has qualities of genius.

Children's books and films are indeed generally quite severe against parents who 'push' their children to 'overachieve', and don't grant them the same status as children presented as 'naturally gifted'.There's a clear moral split between the precooked and the precocious, even if in effect they achieve the same results. 
The bad precocious child
  Dahl is at the forefront - think of the punishments endured by the 'precooked' children of pushy parents in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

The myth of child precocity is paradoxical. It's torn between conflicting adult desires that such children should be, on the one hand, entirely unexplainable (a conservative, mystical view of precocity) and on the other hand, possible to create (from a more liberal democratic perspective).
 
So we don't like the idea that some children should be born with more 'gifts' than others: that hurts our egalitarianism. But at the same time, we definitely don't like to see how they're made, how they're cooked, specifically by their parents. It feels like we're just being tricked ('it's not real precocity!'). The ambiguity of this discourse is reflected in scientific articles about child precocity or 'giftedness', and often in children's books and films.

TMI.

At heart, we want to believe in the possibility of a 'miraculous' child whose intelligence and creativity has no rational explanation. We also think that pushy parents are only pushy out of pure narcissism. And also, yes, we're jealous: who are these parents who are so 'gifted' at this parenting thing? (Judging from my Facebook feed, it's a ferocious competition out there).

We prefer to think that they will suffer a sad fate, and their children too. They will be punished for precooking children when they aren't ripe enough. HA!

Children's literature from Jacqueline Wilson to J.K. Rowling often indulges in such dreams, with cautionary tales that such 'fake precocious children' will never 'achieve their potential' and instead end up depressed and lonely - or, for the more positive tales, rebel before they're completely rotten.


The good precocious child
How hypocritical we writers can be... We know that we depend on an army of pushy middle-class parents to get their kids to read our books; increasingly so with the rumoured decline of the book. We deify precocious, 'gifted', 'genius' children in our texts. And we desperately want to have an impact on children, too.

And yet the ideal precocious child is uncooked, free from additives, a mystery to all. It is a child who laughs at the efforts of well-meaning adults to influence her.

That ideal precocious child lands in our writerly nets.

And then we can give it our books. Children's literature is absolutely OK with 'real' precocious child characters reading our books. We just love being in charge of the cooking.

_____________________________________

Clementine Beauvais, hypocrite auteur of several books featuring precocious children, writes in both French and English. The former are of all kinds and shapes, and the latter a humour/adventure detective series, the Sesame Seade mysteries (Hodder). She blogs here about children's literature and academia and is on Twitter @blueclementine.

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19. SCBWI FL Conference Recap #3: Picture Book Intensive

Today we’re lucky to have Peggy Robbins Janousky visiting to share highlights from SCBWI FL’s Picture Book Intensive. Take it away, Peggy!

peggyI have attended many picture book intensives over the years, but this one topped them all. Participants were treated to an all-star panel that included: agent Deborah Warren of East West Literary, editor Laura Whitaker of Bloomsbury, author and editor Andrea Davis Pinkney and author Toni Buzzeo.

The presentations were practical, but powerful:

  • Always bring your “A” game.
  • Rhyme is not taboo, but bad rhyme is.
  • Picture books are getting shorter and are being targeted for younger audiences.
  • Show, don’t tell.
  • Hook me and keep me hooked.
  • Be passionate about your book and be able to pitch in just a few sentences.

One of the best things that was presented was the HOT list. These are the topics that editors and Barnes and Noble want now:

  • Moments of the day
  • School stories
  • Learning concepts
  • Holidays (MLK, Valentine’s Day, 4th of July, St. Patrick’s Day)
  • Friends and family biographies
  • Character-driven stories
  • Original stories that every kid will love
  • Interactive picture books
  • Finding the new in the old

If you haven’t taken an intensive before, I strongly urge you to consider it. Intensives are exactly that, intense. They give you the opportunity to delve in deeper and they also give you the opportunity to get to know the presenters on a more intimate level. I came away from this intensive with a new sense of purpose and drive. I also came away with a few good friends. All in all, it was money worth spending.

I have to admit, I almost did not attend the Miami conference. I was having a pity party and I wasn’t really up for the company. I had broken my leg in three places. Needless to say, getting around was a wee bit difficult. I was ready to bail. I am glad I didn’t. The first page of my manuscript was read during “first page reads”. Much to my surprise, the panel loved it. One editor wanted to know who wrote it, an agent wanted to read more, and another editor wanted to acquire it. I have to admit, I was in shock. By the end of the weekend, thanks to the help of a good friend, I had signed with that agent. Just one month later… My bio and picture are up on the East West Literary website. The editor that I mentioned is considering three of my manuscripts. And I am still pinching myself.

I will tell you that this was not an overnight success. I have attended many conferences and taken copious notes. I have revised, cut, and revised some more. I have also had moments where I was so rejected that I thought I would never put myself through another critique again. So what’s the moral of the story? Never give up. Never let pity or self-doubt get the upper hand. Believe with all your heart that your day will come. Then get off your butt and get to that conference. Your happily ever after is waiting for you to show up!

Peggy Robbins Janousky uses her offbeat sense of humor to write offbeat picture books. When she is not writing, Peggy uses her time to rescue stray animals. Much to her family’s dismay, she keeps them all.

kristenfultonAnd thanks to Kristen Fulton for adding this summary of Andrea Pinkney’s workshop: The Write Stuff.

  • Writers write every day, whether it be a holiday or vacation.
  • Find your “twinkle”—what makes you sparkle around others?
  • Establish immediacy—using voice, characterization, mystery and drama.
  • Ask yourself, “Why does the reader want to come on this journey and what makes the reader stay on this journey?”
  • Writing is fun—and hard work.
  • Writing is re-writing at least 10 times.
  • Just get started and keep going.
  • Read every day, whether it be a holiday or vacation.

Kristen Fulton writes non-fiction picture books and is running an amazing non-fiction picture book retreat with loads of agents, editors, and authors on July 7-12. Check out her website for details!


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20. AWP Panel

AWP: Our panel, "What I Wish I'd Known Before I Started Writing for Children and Young Adults," seemed like a success. At least we had a good time. It seemed as if our audience did. At least there wasn't much shuffling, squirming, and reading of programs while we were talking. :)

Heather Bouwman organized us and moderated the panel. My buddies from my writing group, Shelley Tougas and Kirstin Cronn-Mills, and I joined Sheila O'Connor to fill out the panel.

We all are used to talking in front of groups, so we were surprised by how nervous we were beforehand.

I wonder if everybody who gives presentations runs over what they forgot to say or wish they had said during the program. I do that in school, too, but then I get to see my students again in a few days, so I can add or correct or fix what I missed. There's no second chance when it's a conference.

Anyway, one thing I wanted to say is that I think every writer should write poetry, even if he or she never publishes any...It's such a terrific exercise in conciseness and paying attention to language and lyricism. I think writing for kids uses those skills, absolutely and entirely.
I never felt that as fully as when I wrote Beauty Missing, Hair Hissing: Medusa Tells All for the "Other Side of Myth" series published by Capstone. That book started out as a longish lyrical poem and then condensed itself into the snarkier voice of Medusa in which it was published.

Anyway, AWP was fun, and I had a grand adventure with my two buddies. We were reduced to uncontrollable laughter several times.
We became the Three Musketeers of Vehicular Safety (in our cab to the airport), and the Three Musketeers of Row 19 (in the aircraft). Yeah, we tried to be reasonably quiet. Not sure how well that worked. But we had fun.



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21. Welcome to Middle Grade March.

Welcome to Middle Grade March 2014.  Today I am highlighting Deb Marshall’s new blog about all things Middle Grade. She’s already featured Holly Schindler and her wonderful book THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY, some great book reviews, and will feature my interview about writing Historical Fiction on March 15.

This is a blog started by Deb Marshall & Akossiwa Ketoglo to celebrate middle grade literature, all month, starting March 1, 2014. This is a continuation of Jill @ The Owls original March of Middle Grade Books.

Expect fun and informative interviews, book reviews, giveaways and all sorts of fun shenanigans.

Deb is also hosting a readathon for the Kick-Off and here is the link to the post about that:

http://middlegrademarch.com/2014/02/17/middle-grade-march-kick-off-read-a-thon/

Here’s the link to the site and the post with my interview.  www.middlegrademarch.com


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22. Dr. Seuss’ Birthday + School Visit = GREAT DAY!

Yesterday was Read Across America Day and the day schools celebrated Dr. Seuss’ birthday… and I had such a fabulous day! I had the opportunity to visit Mineral Springs Elementary School and share Being Frank with Pre-K through 2nd grade students! Big thanks to Jerry Ethridge for the pics below! Filed under: writing for children […]

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23. Making Space During Lent Physically — Through Fasting

Originally posted on Bible 365:
Text: Matthew 6:16-18 The season of Lent – that 40 days of preparation and penitence leading to Easter– has begun. In Matthew 6, Jesus himself taught about the practices that have become the traditional disciplines of this season. In the previous blog entry, we considered what he said there about prayer.…

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24. Got a Story To Tell? Here Are 2 Ways to Do It.

Today’s post features two children’s book authors who traveled a less traditional route to publication by self-publishing their Picture Books.  The first one is OSCAR HERNANDEZ.  Here’s his story.

When looking into publishing (or self-publishing) a kid’s book, I quickly realized that the options are surprisingly complicated and really tough. Children’s book authors don’t have the technical prowess to create their own book that is modern, competitive with the market, and provides the feedback that they need. Lil’ Readers, is a children’s bookstore app for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.  Lil’ Readers allows you to bring high quality, beautifully illustrated and animated children’s books with you wherever you go. Essentially it’s a mobile bookshelf. It’s not an apple IBook, but and independent app through apple. I currently have 5 books in the app. I am still teaching in the classroom where I get to see all the reactions on kid’s faces from reading my books to my students.

                               Oscar book cover

I started writing mini plays for kids; some were good some were bad. Most of them made me laugh, so I kept writing more. Eventually I met a person that inspired me to write a lot; that person was Dr. Joe Robinette. Down to earth, but full of attention to detail, he made me love the art of writing. The writing didn’t have to be a long story; it didn’t even have to be a book. Often it was a two minute skit performed in front of about eight to ten children.   He knew how to make stories come to life, but most importantly he knew what the reader wanted to see. By carefully placing words and phrases in a certain order he would capture a reader and an audience. For all that he taught me, I thank him a million times over.

 Fast forward to my epic writers block and how my first book was born. I was thinking too hard one day, and so I continued to stare at a blank piece of paper. Five minutes went by, my phone rang, ESPN came on and my dog had to potty. The perfect storm of writers block and distraction forced me to put the pen down and go for a run. While on my run I came upon a dog. I also came upon its owner, who was yelling at me NOT to run! Now, I don’t know if you know anything about running for exercise; but running is a huge part of it! Long story short, the dog as old as he was, started to chase me. Luckily for me I was wearing my really, really short- shorts and was able to get a longer strides, leading to my escape.                         runningtailscover

 While on the same run I met another lovely dog, and then another! I couldn’t wait to get home. I started telling that story to people and then it hit me. Stories shouldn’t be forced; it’s not how crazy they are. They are about relating to someone and taking them away into your story as they read it. As it turns out, I’m writing children’s books now. Some are good, none are bad, most of them make everyone laugh and so I will keep going. It hasn’t been the easiest thing I’ve ever done but it’s one of greatest things I will leave behind. My latest book “Just Us” was illustrated by the 2013 finalist of Doddle for Google. The Book came out fantastic; I can’t wait to see where my pen takes me next.

You can contact Oscar at the following:  Facebook- Oscar Hernandez lilreaders  

Instagram-  oskhernandez             email- oscar.stories@gmail.com       Twitter- @osk_hernandez

Here are the books:
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/lil-readers-interactive-childrens/id741987182?mt=8

The second story comes from ADAM GIANFORCARO:

Adam Gianforcaro is the author of the poetry collection Morning Time in the Household, Looking Out and the children’s picture book Uma the Umbrella. He has had several other works published in print and online magazines, his most recent work forthcoming in the Los Angeles Review. Gianforcaro works as a writer in Philadelphia and lives in New Jersey.                                                        adam G


Story:

I began writing Uma the Umbrella as an assignment in a class called Writing Children’s Stories at Rowan University. I wanted to portray a story of someone— or something— not fitting in, but finding his or her way somehow, someway. It’s quite an unoriginal idea, but it’s a feeling that is relatable and difficult to accept as a child. The main moral I wanted to portray was that there is no set way of doing things, no set way of living, no set way to find happiness and be content with who we are inside or outside. I can’t remember why I chose an umbrella, but I suspect it was raining that day, and I was likely walking to class clasping the handle of my own umbrella.

When the class adjourned at the end of the semester, I filed the story away on my computer. I found it two years later when I was rummaging through old files. I sent it away for publication to several places to no avail. I was not used to writing for the children’s market, and it was difficult for me to find its way into publication. Ultimately, I went through Halo Publishing International who helped me find an editor and illustrator for my work.                     COVER.pdf-page-001

The book is available in paperback or e-book through the Halo website http://www.halopublishing.com/bookstore/index.php?route=product%2Fsearch&filter_description=true&filter_name=gianforcaro,  Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

 


 

 

 


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25. What’s a GROG? (Not what I thought it was.)

When I was but a wee thing, our family would often drive past a restaurant sign in town: “Good Food and Grog”. So I pestered my parents, “What is GROG?” My father replied, “Grilled frog.”

grog

HORRIFYING! Cooked Kermit!? Envisioning swaths of crisped, green skin beside a sobbing Miss Piggy, I vowed never to eat there.

Well, today I have put that childhood nightmare to bed. I have learned that GROG actually means GROUP BLOG. And, I’ve got a new kidlit grog to share with you.

Welcome author Todd Burleson, GROG spokesperson (who assures me he’s never roasted an amphibian over the coals).

grogheader

The term GROG evolved out of a desire to gather a group of writers and form a new blog about children’s literature. There are several phenomenal group blogs in the literature world. Many gave us inspiration, but none of them met the specific needs of our group. And, in the spirit of all things creative, we came together to form this GROG.

Our aim with this blog is to provide:

G: Guidance and support
R: Resources on the craft of writing
O: Opportunities to expand our skills
G: Great folks who support readers and writers of all ages!

Each weekday we will be focusing on a specific topic. Here are the daily foci:

Mondays: Mentor Texts
We will look at how mentor texts and other approaches can help teachers and writers of all ages to develop writing skills. We envision doing book reviews here too.

Tuesdays: Tools & Technology
We’ll look at tools, often technological, that can help us as writers.

Wednesdays: Craft
We’ll focus on the craft of writing. Sometimes it will be a writing lesson, other times it might be a review of a book on writing.

Thursdays: Submissions
On Thursday’s we’ll focus our thoughts on submissions, contests, query letters and more.

Fridays: Finds
These will be a smattering of awesome discoveries that we want to share with you.

Now why start a group blog instead of just an individual one?

  1. Being practical, we knew that sharing the load would help us remain faithful to posting while also maintaining our writing, teaching, family lives.
  2. We believe that the power of the group is to harness our connections.
  3. We know that each of us has a specific passion. By harnessing the power of the group, we get to share many more ideas and hopefully will reach and benefit many others.
  4. We enjoy being together. When we chat or meet via Google Hangouts, the ideas and passions flow.
  5. Finally, its a way to make the world ‘smaller.’ We have group members all over North American and even one in Seoul, South Korea. We may not be in the same time zone, but we all are dedicated to supporting one another as GROGgers and reaching a larger audience.

We have some phenomenal contributors at all stages of publication, but all eager to share. They are: Jan Godown Annino, Marcie Flinchum Atkins, Todd Burleson,
Tina Wheatcraft Cho, Kathy Halsey, Suzy Leopold, Christy Mihaly, Janie Reinart, Sherri Jones Rivers, Patricia Toht, Leslie Colin Tribble, Pam Vaughan and
Jackie Wellington.

Thanks, Todd! And good luck to you all!

So please go visit these fine folks at Groggorg.blogspot.com.

They will be giving away a boatload of prizes in the beginning of April, including a signed copy of THE MONSTORE by yours truly. You can also like their Facebook page and follow them on Twitter.

Kermit will thank you.

kermit2


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