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Wednesday Writing Workout comes from Holly Thompson, a fellow TeachingAuthor, just in time to
celebrate yesterday’s Delacorte/Random House release of her second young adult
novel in verse, The Languge Inside.
The novel tells
the story of Emma Karas “who was raised in Japan; it’s the country she calls
home.But when her mother is diagnosed
with breast cancer, Emma’s family moves to a town outside Lowell,
Massachusetts, to stay with Emma’s grandmother while
her mom undergoes treatment.
Emma feels out of place in the United States. She begins to have migraines, and
longs to be back in Japan. At her grandmother's urging, she volunteers in a
long-term care center to help Zena, a patient with locked-in syndrome, write
down her poems. There, Emma meets Samnang, another volunteer, who assists
elderly Cambodian refugees. Weekly visits to the care center, Zena's poems,
dance, and noodle soup bring Emma and Samnang closer, until Emma must make a
painful choice: stay in Massachusetts, or return home early to Japan.”
The starred School Library Journal review called the
novel “a sensitive and compelling read that will inspire teens to contemplate
how they can make a difference.”
Kirkus described the novel as “an artistic picture of
devastation, fragility, bonds and choices.”
The Horn Book Magazine remarked that “readers will finish
the book knowing that, like Zena, the Cambodian refugees, and the tsunami
victims, Emma has the strength to ‘a hundred times fall down / a hundred and
one times get up.’”
TeachingAuthors readers met Holly in 2011 when my March 16 Student Success Story
interview celebrated the release of her first
young adult novel in verse, Orchards.
Orchards went on to win the APALA Asian/Pacific
American Award for Literature.
Raised in Massachusetts,
Holly earned a B.A. in biology from Mount Holyoke College and an M.A. in
English (concentration creative writing/fiction) from New York University’s
Creative Writing Program. A longtime resident of Japan, Holly teaches creative
writing at Yokohama City University and also serves as Regional Advisor for the
Japan Chapter of SCBWI.Holly’s fiction
often relates to Japan and Asia.
Holly, on yet another successful book!
And, thank you
for sharing your expertise with our TeachingAuthors readers – who happen to
have only until Sunday, May 19 to enter our TeachingAuthors Blogiversary
Click here to
enter – if you haven’t already – the raffle to win one of 4 $25 Anderson’s
Bookshop Gift Certificates.
. . . . . . . .
Holly Thompson’s Wednesday Writing
Workout: Poetry with a Plot
When I do author
school visits, I love to introduce students to narrative poems and narrative
verse and get them started on writing their own. You can write and/or teach
this type of poetry, too – poetry I call “Poetry with a Plot.”
2. Also gather
some verse novels. Select one scene to share with students. Choose a scene that
has a fairly clear beginning, middle and end. Chapter 22, Visitors, of my novel Orchards
is an example of a scene in verse with
a clear plot arc.
3. Create a list
of situations to share with students. Here are a few examples of some
situations that I like to use:
a decision a first time a last time a betrayal an encounter an argument a mix-up a lie
With the students:
1. Read the
narrative poems aloud. For each narrative poem, ask students to react. Ask:
What lines or stanzas do you like? Why? What is the mini plot of the poem—what
happens in this poem? Then have them look at the structure and style of the
poem. Ask: Do the structure and style help create the narrative? How?
2. Read aloud a
scene from a verse novel. Ask students to react. Ask: What lines or stanzas do
you like? What lines move you? What lines are powerful? Where did your breath
catch? Where did the pace pick up or slow down? Why? What is the basic plot arc
of the scene? Did any action happen off the page? How did the writer structure
the scene and create tension—with repetition, white space, short lines, long
lines, particular images, or sounds and rhythms?
3. Next, give
students your list of situations. Have students brainstorm examples of the
various types of situations. Students will then choose one type of situation
from which to create a narrative poem or scene in verse. Point out, for
example, that “Oranges” can be considered a first time poem; “Our Other Sister”
a lie poem; “Fifteen” and “Traveling Through the Dark” decision poems; and
“Cod” a betrayal poem. Chapter 22 in Orchards
might be considered an encounter scene. Tell students they can start from a
true situation, or partially fictionalize a situation, or veer away from actual
truth to completely fictionalize a situation.
students create first drafts of their narrative poems or scenes, have them work
at revising, individually and in peer workshops, checking for the narrative
arc, details, poetic elements, line breaks and spacing.
5. Finally when
students have polished their work, have students read, perform, create
multimedia presentations, publish in zines or submit their narrative poems or
scenes in verse to school magazines.
Be prepared to
be amazed! Good luck and let me know if you try this approach to introducing
narrative poems and and narrative verse.
Anybody who has been in one of my workshops knows what a fanatic I am for the one-sentence synopsis. If you don't know what I'm talking about, take a look at the title page of (almost) any book for kids. See the sentence that sums up the entire story? Not much to it, is there? Should be easy to write one, then, right? Um...
Sometimes called an elevator pitch – because if you find yourself in an elevator with an editor and s/he asks what you're working on, you don't want to ramble on like a doofus (she said from experience) – the one-sentence synopsis is also an excellent tool for keeping your story on track during the writing process.
Oh, how many times my stories – especially my rhyming stories – go off in a direction I hadn't intended. When a story veers out of control, I know it's time to back up the truck and ask myself one simple question:
What is this story really about?
Crafting a one-sentence synopsis has saved my bacon time and again. It cuts to the heart of the story, clarifies your main character's motivation, and illuminates the path from a story's beginning to its end.
So give it a try. Write a one-sentence synopsis for your work in progress.
1. Your main character's name.
2. What it is s/he is struggling with.
3. What's at stake for your MC (if not readily apparent).
4. What s/he does to reach her goal or overcome the problem (if needed).
Here's an example from one of my 2014 books, I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo! (Dial):
Nadine, a braggy cow, gets into hilarious trouble when, to save face, she's forced to lead her friends on a nighttime hike through the spooky woods.
That probably isn't what will be on the finished book's title page, but it's my one-sentence synopsis of this story. It pretty much tells you everything you need to know in deciding whether to read it or replace it on the shelf.
If you care to, go ahead and put your synopsis into the comment section, I'd love to see what you're working on.
For my last post of 2012, I'm going to break from our series on publishing opportunities (see Esther's last two posts and Carmela's post, with more to come!)...
I've been thinking about my family and our, well, interesting year (especially the part about my husband dying of a heart attack and being brought back and now being completely and miraculously fine); about hard times and hope, about sunrises, candles, glowing kitchen windows at night, and about the dark of winter and the glint of winter sunlight.
WINTER SOLSTICE: GIRL TALKING TO THE SUN by April Halprin Wayland On a hard day's chill, when my heart stands still, Sun, oh, Sun, where do you disappear? Then Sun answers me, answers quietly, Look around, little girl, I am here, I am here.
I am Jewish; I just recently learned that the fifth night of Hanukkah (which can be spelled many ways) is the first night in which there are more flames than darkness, more candles lit than unlit, and represents the triumph of light over darkness.
I love that.
Okay...ready for today's writing workout, Campers?
WRITING WORKOUT: A Light in the Darkness
1) Take a cozy moment to scribble ten ideas triggered by the phrase, "a light in the darkness" or by the 1:06 minute video above. Jot down memories, images, or the name of someone in particular who helped light your way in a dark time.
2) Consider imitating the rhyme scheme of the poem above:
3) Or write a 100-word story.
3) Or write forget #2 and #3 and write the poem or story you were meant to write today.
4) Write like a little kid who is so jumpy-excited to get a piece of paper and a pencil she can barely sit still. Give that little kid a chance; let's see what gift she creates for you this holiday season!
I hope you're all rested and refreshed and ready to plunge ahead into 2013.
While on our winter blogging break, we TeachingAuthorswere busy working behind-the-scenes, planning a new weekly feature. If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know we often include Writing Workouts with our posts. As it says in our sidebar: "We invite classroom teachers to use these writing exercises with their students, and adult writers to try them on their own."Many of you have told us that you especially appreciate and look forward to our Writing Workouts. So we've decided to pull them out of our regular posts and create a separate feature: the Wednesday Writing Workout!
As you can see, we've added some text but kept our former Writing Workout image--a set of barbells and a ribbon with a medal. The logo represents how everyone who works out with us is a winner!
While continuing with our regular posts on Mondays and Fridays, we'll devote Wednesdays to Wednesday Writing Workouts. Each WWW will be written by one of the TeachingAuthorsor, as is the case today, by a Mystery Guest TeachingAuthor.
To introduce the new feature and celebrate a new year, we're also having a Book Giveaway! Every writer and writing teacher will want a copy of our giveaway book on his/her reference/inspiration shelf: Keep Calm and Query On: Notes on Writing (and Living) with Hope (Divertir Publishing). And the book happens to be written by today's Mystery Guest TeachingAuthor.
I'll share our Mystery Guest TeachingAuthor's bio before giving you his Writing Workout. See if you can guess the author's identity before I reveal it below. (No fair looking up the MGTA's books online before that!)
Before I reveal the identity of our Mystery Guest TeachingAuthor, here's his TERRIFIC Wednesday Writing Workout:
Give Logic a Lollipop:
I am one of those people who believes that we’re all still children, really. Whether we’re 32 or 64 or 96, there’s something innate in us that stubbornly refuses to grow up no matter how much coffee we drink (in my case, a lot), how much we worry about paying bills, or how professional we look in our formal attire. The kid-like parts of us are often covered by layer after layer of logic. While the growth of logic is hugely beneficial to things like paying our bills, walking out of the house with matching socks and a straight tie or proper dress, and generally being responsible, an area that is bleached of vitality by our intense focus on forcing everything to make sense is our writing life.
This Wednesday Writing Workout, then, asks us to momentarily allow logic to sit by himself on the far bench, way over on the other side of the room. Give Logic a lollipop and the latest Time magazine, and then sneak off to your writing desk and try something illogical to fuel those writing muscles.
1. Visualize your favorite film actor or actress.
2. Close your eyes, and continue visualizing that person, and then reach out—literally!—your hand and shake their hand, up and down. Then smile knowingly (eyes still closed) like you and your favorite film star are sharing some inside joke even though you haven’t spoken any words yet. You’re that tight.
3. Open your mouth (literally!) and speak the very first words that come to mind.
4. Now open your eyes, pick up your pen or open up a Word document on your computer and write your name, then a colon, then the words you’ve just said.
5. Then write the actor’s / actress’s name, a colon, and his / her response.
6. Continue writing your ‘scene’ with dialogue that emerges organically and no matter how seemingly ridiculous it is, just follow the exercise through.
7. Every once in a while, try to insert a small note on the setting—the weather outside, what you’re eating (lollipops?), what noises occur in the background, and anything else that creates the mood of your conversation.
8. Try to continue this scene for at least two pages. This is a perfect opportunity to work our writing muscles by putting ourselves into a situation that allows the kid-like part of us to trump the adult part of us.
So often, as writers, we can think in terms of productivity and progress. And these are both great things in the life of a writer. Hey, who doesn’t want to add a few more pages to that novel, or bang out a few more notes for that picture book? But sometimes, persistent focus on productivity and progress have the side effect of hiding us from the kid-like parts of our writer selves, that are concerned—almost entirely—with joy, engagement, emotion, quirks, and creativity.
My seven-year-old nephew loves writing stories. When I talk with him about what he’s writing, he doesn’t give me the latest page count or the stats on which publishers have checked out his work yet. Even while I sometimes focus too much on those things, I try to shake my head and heart to return to what matters: the creation itself. The sheer beauty, hilarity, pain, joy, and love of it. And this process must, by definition, involve flights of fancy and the decision to leave logic a little lonely at times.
Today, for your Wednesday Writing Workout, craft this scene and let the kid in you lead the way. I promise you’ll discover pearls that—if nothing else—will make you laugh, and possibly even provide a kernel for a louder pop later.
* * *
What a wonderful Wednesday Writing Workout to inaugurate our new feature! And now, finally, it's time for the big reveal. Today's Mystery Guest TeachingAuthor is (drum roll please):
To enter our drawing, you must follow the TeachingAuthors blog. (If you’re not already a follower, you can sign up now in our sidebar to subscribe to our posts via email, Google Friend Connect, or Facebook Network blogs.)
You may enter the contest one of two ways:
1) by posting a comment below OR
2) by sending an email to teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com with "Book Giveaway" in the subject line.
Whichever way you enter, you MUST:
1) Just for fun, tell us whether you guessed Luke's identity before the big reveal. We'd also love your feedback on his Writing Workout and/or what you think of our new Wednesday Writing Workout feature.
2) give us your first and last name, AND
3) tell us how you follow us (via email, Google Friend Connect, or Facebook Network blogs) .
4) If you enter via a comment, you MUST include a valid email address (formatted this way: youremail [at] gmail [dot] com) in your comment.
This contest is open only to followers who can provide a mailing address in the United States. Incomplete entries will be discarded. The entry deadline is 11 p.m. (CST) next Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013. We'll announce the winner on Friday, Jan. 11. Good luck!
My mother says that everyone remembers the trees of their childhood.
I recently attended the annual FOCAL (Friends of Children and Literature) Luncheon hosted by the Los Angeles Public Library Children's Literature Department. Each year, FOCAL gives an award to an outstanding children's book with California content. This year's award deservedly went to my friend Joanne Rocklin for her wonderful book, One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street (Abrams).
Each detail of this inspired centerpiece references her book.
Joanne's memories of her beloved orange trees inspired my poem that day (I write a poem a day); I thought perhaps a memory of a tree in your life might inspire you, too.
I wrote about our Meyer Lemon tree and how incredibly generous it is. See for yourself:
I want to share my lemon tree poem with you...but here's my dilemma: dozens of my poems have been published in poetry anthologies...but recent contracts specify that poems can never have been published--even on a blog. ACK!
Now it's your turn.
1) Close your eyes. Think of a tree from your childhood...or any tree of significance to you.
2) List details of that tree that cover all five senses, or write snippets of your memories of the tree.
3) Or you may want to simply plunge in, and see what memories sprout from your pen or keyboard.
4) Consider putting your poem (or was it a story that emerged?) into a form...or not.
5) Consider sending your poem to someone who would remember that tree.
6) Leave a comment about this exercise. :-)
Mystery Guest Wednesday Writing Workout: Five
Tips for Tightening Your Manuscript
Today’s Wednesday Writing Workout comes to you courtesy of
an award-winning author whose talent, pluck and love define her.Her titles include the tween novels Julia’s Kitchen
and Jemma Hartman, Camper Extraordinaire (both
Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Her newest book, The Yuckiest, Stinkiest Best Valentine Ever (Dial), tells the story
of Leon who’s hopelessly in love with Zoey Maloney. But the valentine he
creates for her wants nothing to do with Leon’s mushy sentiments. The valentine
thinks this holiday is all about candy, and he runs away rather than suffer the
embarrassment of saying "I love you." As Leon follows the valentine
through town, boys, girls, and teens join the chase and chime in on their
perspectives of love until finally, the conflict comes to a heart-pounding,
sweaty-palm conclusion in of all places – a candy shop.Our Mystery Guest lives in Deerfield,
Illinois, sharing her days, nights and writing time with her husband and three
Have you identified our Mystery Guest Author
yet?She’s a true Student Success Story!
The Wednesday Writing Workout:Five Tips for Tightening Your Manuscript
Once you’ve finished your manuscript and revised
the story so that the characters are authentic, the setting comes to life, and
the plot makes sense and is filled with tension, before you submit it to an
editor or agent, you should turn to the writing itself and see how you can make
it tighter and more effective. Here are a few tricks I’ve learned over the
years. Give them a try:
1.Circle all your verbs. Make sure each one
is powerful and specific. Then delete as many adverbs as possible. If you’ve
chosen the best verbs, you won’t need them anyway.
2.Look for rhetorical questions in your
manuscript and delete them. Chances are you don’t need them and they’re slowing
your story down. In the rare event that you do need them, change the question
to a direct sentence. And in the even rarer case that you absolutely must have
a rhetorical question, keep it. Just be conscious about it. 3.Watch out for word echoes. Don’t use the
same word more than once on the same page or even on consecutive pages. 4.Read the first and last sentence of each
chapter and make sure you are varying them and starting and finishing with a
bang. 5.Find twenty words to cut on each page. I
promise, you won’t miss them.
Why bother with all this cutting and tightening?
Simply put, it makes for a better reading experience, and that’s the whole
* * * * * * *
So, in the wild chance you didn’t identify Brenda Ferber, click here to read my last week’s January
14 Student Success Story Interview with this award-winning author.
Click here to learn more about her newest book –
The Yuckiest, Stinkiest Best Valentine
And, finally, congratulations, Karen Casale of Connecticut,
this week's TeachingAuthor Book Giveaway Winner! You won an autographed copy of Brenda’s
Thank you, Brenda, from the bottoms
of our TeachingAuthors’ hearts, for sharing yourself, your Writing Life, a copy
of your book – and – today’s Wednesday Writing Workout with our TeachingAuthors readers, writers and teachers.
It's that time of year... Today I turned in my syllabus for the fall semester. Oh, summer, I miss you already.
Of course we've all been engrossed in the Olympics this week, cheering for Michael Phelps (hometown boy), Gabby Douglas, and all the rest. Looking at track, at gymnastics, at swimming, it occurs to me -- you can be a breast stroke specialist and so-so in the free; outstanding on the vault and a little shaky on the beam. Like "sport," writing involves a HUGE compendium of skill sets that need to come together in a rather miraculous way to make even a passable final product.
Like athletes, writers have coaches (editors) and fans; we also need to put in our time (thousands of hours) and sweat. Unlike athletes, we have more than one chance on the big stage to get it right. Hallelujah. This is great news! Yet trying to convince my students that editing is not only important but a gift remains one of my biggest teaching hurdles.
This week I've worn my article-writer hat; my scriptwriter hat; my picture book writer hat. I just signed up for a romance writing class this fall, so we'll see whether I have a romance writer hat in my closet. However, my teacher hat is rather new and stiff still. I find that one of the greatest challenges in college comp is teaching students global skills and grammar skills; research skills and sentence-level editing. Some students have had many of these skills since they were very young; others don't know where to put periods or apostrophes. However, some who struggle with grammar are still among my strongest writers on a global level. And how do you differentiate instruction for students you see for a whopping two-and-a-half hours per week? Whew!
I have spent the last week contemplating last year's syllabus -- what worked and what didn't? What do I want to keep, tweak, revamp, delete? One exercise that was fairly effective last year involved introductions and conclusions. Many introductory comp students have had the five-paragraph essay format effectively drilled into their heads. They think they are required to write an introduction that concludes with a three-point thesis; that the introductory sentence of each of the next three paragraphs should repeat one third of the thesis statement; and that the concluding paragraph should begin with a restatement of the thesis statement, going on to summarize all that has come before.
Many students are shocked when I suggest that it is not good practice to say the same thing three times; in fact, many are shocked by the mere notion that they can write more than or fewer than five pargraphs in one essay. We spend much of the semester working toward the notion that the five-paragraph format is a template that can be molded to a variety of shapes, forms, and purposes.
Our textbooks concentrate on suggestions for making introductions and conclusions more interesting: start with dialogue; start with a story; start with an interesting fact. In the final paragraph, end with a story; bring your reader back to the beginning; offer a tip or a suggestion; look toward the future.
Many students nonetheless are resistant to these ideas and continue to write summary-type paragraphs that add zero interest to their papers. So we tried this writing workout:
Rewrite your introduction once, and then do it again. Use two different techniques (anecdote, interesti
As long as I have lived in Georgia, (eleven years now), the state has suffered from drought. I don't remember what a green lawn looks like. My yard (and everyone else's) has turned cornflake brown, with lots of bald spots. Lake levels have dropped until people with "lakefront homes" now have "mud front homes." Fourth of July often includes a ban on fireworks. Even sparklers feel hazardous when everything around you has turned to kindling.
The writing life has it's dry spells, too. We all have them, even though we don't like to admit it. After all, we are writers. This is what we do.We are supposed to be endless founts of creativity. We are "supposed" to write every day. When we don't, we feel guilty. OK, I feel guilty. For me, not writing is in the same league with not working out and eating junk food. A few days of not writing and I come down with a bad case of brain fog.
My first experience with a dry writing well came at the end of my MFA program at Vermont College. After two years and four drafts, I thought I had finished Yankee Girl. (Wrong. I had another two years and three drafts to go.) Feeling very pleased with myself I jumped right into a new novel. I had a setting and some characters so I thought I was good to go. I wrote the first couple of chapters and sent them off to my faculty mentor, Randy Powell for critique.
Randy made his usual cogent comments on the writing, but ended his last letter with a comment I thought odd at the time. Sometimes, after a big project like Yankee Girl, he wrote, it's good to let the creative well refill. What was he talking about?
A year and another "finished" novel later, I figured out what he meant. I had three hundred pages of writing; I didn't have three hundred pages of a novel. I'd pushed myself to write a novel, when I really didn't have a novel in me at the time. Sigh. Fortunately, by then I was working with an editor on yet another revision of Yankee Girl. From those three hundred pages (which are still lurking in my hard drive) I learned to let a story simmer on a back burner awhile. Writing Yankee Girl drained me, emotionally and creatively. I should have given myself some time off. I should have let my well refill, as Randy had suggested.
However, time off can turn into goofing off. You can't just sit around waiting for rain to refill your well. The trick is to keep writing, keep priming the pump until you get your mojo back.
I should know. I am halfway through my current work-in-progress. For a variety of reasons, I am too creatively pooped out to do the story justice, right now. So what am I doing?
Writing this blog, for one thing. Knowing that I will be talking to you all every other Monday has kept me going. I am also lucky enough to have a series of Young Writer's Workshops lined up for this school year. Working with students always energizes me.
But what if you don't write a blog or have a continuous supply of workshops and school visits to keep you sharp? What if you don't have the time or energy to journal for even fifteen minutes?
Writer's Workout I try to find at least three things every day that I want to write in my journal. Three things that make me stop and
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Like much of the United States, Illinois is experiencing a terrible drought this year. Earlier this month, the USDA declared 98 of Illinois's 102 counties "disaster areas" because of the combination of drought and heat. Interestingly, the county I live in is one of the few NOT designated a disaster area. You'd never guess it from looking at the parched lawns around here.
I was inspired to suggest the topic of "writing droughts" to the TeachingAuthors team after reading "A Writer's (non) Drought" by my friend Leanne Pankuch on her blog. Leanne quotes a local meteorologist as saying, “Drought begets drought,” and talks about how the phrase is as true about writing as it is about weather. I agree.
If you're not familiar with the term, here's Cameron's description of it from her blog:
The Artist Date is a once-weekly, festive, solo expedition to explore
something that interests you. The Artist Date need not be overtly
“artistic”– think mischief more than mastery. Artist Dates fire up the
imagination. They spark whimsy. They encourage play. Since art is about
the play of ideas, they feed our creative work by replenishing our inner
well of images and inspiration.
Happy hot and glorious summer! I'm loving this hotter-than-usual Southern California summer: lying on hot cement by the pool in a wet bathing suit, barefeet, no sleeves, long days, bright mornings, driving with all the windows down, sleeping with all the windows open, taking Eli to the dog park early because he's black and brown and otherwise he gets too hot to romp like a pony, cold drinks with just the right kind of crunchy ice...I can go on listing all the things I love about summer.
And now onto the topic we TeachingAuthors have been discussing:
GETTING THROUGH TIMES OF DROUGHT
OR HOW I FILL THE WRITING WELL.
(Sorry...I didn't mean to shout.)
Mary Ann posted about finding at least three things to write in her journal each day that trigger her curiosity. Carmela posted that she replenishes her writer's well by taking herself on an artist playdate. And Carmela tells us about her friend, Leanne Pankuch, who writes a page a day.
My contribution is the following poem, inspired by our topic.
DROUGHT by April Halprin Wayland
we've been through Hard Times.
The Long Drought.
Dry? Oh my.
We place our plates upside down,
glasses bottom side up,
so the winds won't blast dust into 'em.
Our typewriters go thirsty on parched parchment.
We've got scrawny stories—or none at all.
We hear that on the outskirts of Amarillo,
crows built a nest from barbed wire—
the only thing they could scavenge
from burned-out fields.
Those birds made a nest
from barbed wire?
Well, Sir, then so can we.
And then: we'll crow.
Meteorologically-speaking, 2012 will go down in
the Record Books as The Year of the Drought.
And metaphorically-speaking, as this series of
TeachingAuthors posts affirms, writers too face droughts at some point in their
But Bridget Doyle’s article in the August 18
Chicago Tribune last week emboldened me, the “Non-stop Finder of Life’s Silver
Linings,” (according to my Six-word Memoir), to
share my seemingly-simple prescription for
anyone suffering the pain and heartache of Writer’s Drought.
The Tribune headline reads GARDENS THRIVING IN DROUGHT – JUST ADD WATER
Wolan, of Arlington Heights, harvests tomatoes from her garden plot. Green
beans are also “doing fabulous,” she says, and she has a bumper crop of basil.
“We couldn’t control the sunlight or heat this year, but we could control the
water,” she says. (Stacey Wescott, Chicago Tribune)
My Rx for writers wishing to thrive during their particular droughts?
This summer I wrote a research-heavy, fiction/nonfiction mashup of a book with a very short deadline. Its style and content required input from book teams at two companies on separate continents and lots of hurried revisions. During this time I also planned and planted extensive landscaping, revised a couple of picture books, led a writing workshop, tried to keep our newly-seeded lawn (and that landscaping!) alive during the drought, walked the dog every day, returned to a hobby (quilting and fabric arts) after too many years away, and–
I'll stop there, because it's simply LIFE. You know how it goes. But because this summer felt especially crazy for me, my well of creativity is currently running on empty. It happens to all of us at times, and I've enjoyed learning how my fellow TAs tackle the problem. Amazing how we all find different ways to refill.
What works best for me is reading.
Writing excellence inspires me, refilling my well like nothing else can. Mystery. Humor. Biography. Historical fiction. Books for kids. Books for adults. Doesn't matter, as long as it's great writing. Lucky for me, I recently stumbled across Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce mysteries, which are tripping my creative trigger, big time. He's a fabulous writer overall, but one thing I've particularly appreciated is his mastery of the simile. Here are a few examples:
"The voice – a woman's – cut through the shop like a falling icicle."
"She was staring at me through her lenses like a birdwatcher who has unexpectedly come upon the rare spotted crake."
"I could almost follow her thoughts as the piano's notes went flying past my ears like birds from a forest fire."
Ideally, a simile provides insight into your character and/or makes a reader see something in a new, very specific, way. An effective simile should be distinct, delightful, unexpected. I don't know about you, but reading the ones above makes me want to write snappier similes myself. I also know that when I feel ready to begin the middle grade novel now lodged in my head, my writing is going to benefit enormously from having read Mr. Bradley's work.
This one's easy and fun. Below are ten clichéd similes. Brainstorm fresh alternatives. If you can make them voice-specific to a character from your current work in progress, so much the better.
eat like a pig
fight like cats and dogs
sleep like a log
work like a dog
dry as a bone
black as night
hard as a rock
busy as a bee
cold as ice
quiet as a mouse
…shishh-shishh-shishh (in a nod to Mary Ann's post on sound, this is the sound of shuffling through all the entry names on strips of paper in a pail with my eyes closed and then pulling one out) Irene Latham! How appropriate for Poetry Friday—congratulations, poet Irene!
Life is what happens to you / While you're busy making other plans,
John Lennon wrote in his song Beautiful Boy.
I have been working on the election for more than a year and have put my 14-year-old-novel-that-scares-the-dickens-out-of-me aside. You know the one--the one that's supposed to be in bookstores everywhere by now. At least that was the plan.
Every day my stomach twinges; I wonder if I'll ever finish it. If I'm capable of finishing it.
Don't try to force anything. Let life be a deep let-go.
See God opening millions of flowers every day without forcing the buds
~ Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh
by April Halprin Wayland .
"Come in," I say to my almost-book.
But it stays outside,
in a halo of porch light.
It will not take off its coat or paisley rain boots,
though I offer it a place on the couch
and a cup of hot tea.
It seems comfortable out there,
dripping off the roof.
So I go about my days, my nights,
researching, running, writing.
Wrestling with wildlife.
Every now and then I tilt my head
to look out the window
at my almost-book on the wooden porch.
It's out there still,
in no hurry,
surrounded by the fragrance of tuberose.
poem (c) 2012 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.
Writing Workout: Wrestling with Demons
In the poem above, I told an embarrassing truth that haunts me. It's October...nearly Halloween.
Since I seem to be confessing sins lately, I'll get this out of the way fast: does anyone else ever get scared because you know that deep, down, you're really a fraud? Here are two worries in the whispery-thicket of my mind, keeping me from that research phone call or email:
What do you mean, call the zoo and ask the herpetologist my question? Who am I?!?!? I'm nobody!
How can I interview a group of seventh grade girls? What if this never gets published? They'll feel betrayed!
I can't tell you how many books I've done copious research for, most of that research saved on my computer. I've interviewed rock and mineral experts, my 91-year-old Uncle Davie about flying bombers in WWII and pitching sparkling strands of tin foil out of the fuselage to mess up enemy radar.
This is my favorite photo of Uncle Davie, taken when he was 85.
I've emailed middle school girls and their mothers about body image, I've researched compulsive overeating, anorexia, alopecia, snakes, floods, tashlich, Passover food, Hawaiian hikes, foods that have holes in them (Swiss cheese, olives, bagels, dried apple rings, red and green bell peppers, pineapple rings, bundt cake and cherry lifesavers for dessert.) and so much more--oy!
Research, for me, comes down to the beauty of finding that one defining detail.
I was fiddling and with dactyls and double dactyls this week. A dactyl contains three syllables: one stressed followed by two unstressed (/ - - ). So, for example, the word marmalade (MAR-ma-lade), which we say with a stress on the first syllable, is a dactylic word. The phrase, "Talk to me!" is also a dactyl.
The rhythm of a dactyl makes you want to dance. It's light and suits playful topics.
Dactyls remind me of pterodactyls. But that's not where I went. Instead, I took out a handy can of Play Doh and opened it. WOWZA!
The topic rumbling around TeachingAuthors lately is, What Are Your Writing Fears and What Do You Do About Them?
Fears? Who me?
Okay. I do have a fear. But only one. And it's a teeny-tiny, gentle, kindly, whispering voice in my brain: ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND? YOU CAN'T DO THIS! YOU COULD NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS DO THIS! YOU ARE A COMPLETELY INCOMPETENT IMBECILE WHO DOESN'T EVEN KNOW HOW TO SPELL THE WORD IMBECILE WITHOUT ASKING GOOGLE "HOW DO YOU SPELL IMBOCILE?"--NEVER MIND WRITE A POEM OR A STORY OR A BLOG POST!
After petting the head of this still, small voice and sliding it a warm saucer of milk, what do I do (I mean, after barreling into my closet and shutting the door)? I get someone to whip me into submission.
Here on the TeachingAuthors blog, we've been discussing the classic children's books we never read till adulthood. The series was inspired, in part, by Esther's interview with Leonard Marcus in honor of the release of The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth last month. When Esther first told me about the new book, I felt a twinge of guilt--I'd never read the original Phantom Tollbooth. So I suggested this topic to motivate me to finally read Norton Juster's masterpiece. If you're wondering what classics and must-reads you may have missed, be sure to check out the links in the Writing Workout below.
I wasn't reading yet in 1961 when The Phantom Tollbooth was first published, but that was no excuse for my not reading this classic. When, as an adult, I became interested in writing for children, I began reading voraciously in the field. Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, which Mary Ann blogged about on Monday, was one of the many children's books I came to as an adult that I fell in love with. (Unlike Mary Ann, I'm somewhat of a Math geek, which made me love L'Engle's book all the more!) Yet, despite a number of fellow children's literature enthusiasts telling me that Tollbooth was one of their all-time favorites, I never made time to read the book, until Esther's interview with Leonard Marcus inspired me to do so a few weeks ago.
I'm happy to report that I thoroughly enjoyed the book. The wordplay and puns are great fun, but the Math geek in me was especially happy to see the book's celebration of numbers. I was also impressed at how Juster wove important themes about the value of education and action into such an entertaining read. One of my favorite paragraphs (among many) was:
"You must never feel badly about making mistakes," explained Reason quietly, "as long as you take the trouble to learn from them. For you often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons."
I believe the combination of entertainment and enduring themes contributed to making The Phantom Tollbooth such a classic. I'm grateful to Leonard Marcus for bringing this book back into the spotlight. In case you missed the short video in which Norton Juster, Jules Feiffer, and Leonard Marcus discuss the book's creation, I've embedded it below, or you can watch it at YouTube here.
Are there any classic children's/young adult books you missed reading as a child or teen? If so, please share their titles in the comments below. And if you need suggestions of children's/YA books now considered "must reads," see the Writing Workout below.
Inspired by Esther’s invention of the thanku (a thank you note in haiku form), we Teaching Authors are celebrating our first annual Ten Days of Thanks-Giving with poems in that form and others.
When I thought about writing a Thanksgiving thanku, I started by brainstorming a list of possible topics—people, places, and things I'm grateful for. My gratitude list was impossibly long, so I decided to focus on that moment.
stillness before dawn— recliner, cozy blanket, coffee, notebook, pen
Although it fits the syllable count and describes something I'm grateful for, this one doesn't feel like a thank you note. I went back to my list. In my poetry class this week, two students introduced me to new forms, so I decided to try them.
The etheree has ten lines of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 syllables—or in reverse, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1. An etheree with more than one stanza can include both.
This form seemed to suit my long list of things I’m grateful for, so I chose some that fit the pattern.
luck coffee purple pens soft yellow yarn dogs with wagging tails chances to start over sunlight streaking through dense woods crossing chores off my to-do list kicking up crunchy leaves on my walk old family photo albums, labeled
Notice how coffee appears in both poems? I like to write first thing in the morning. But not only did this feel more like a list poem than a thank you note, using the etheree form forced me to leave out some of the most obvious things I’m grateful for. I could certainly add more stanzas with the number of syllables counting back down and up again. And again and again. (As I said, I have a long list!)
The lanturne is shaped like a Japanese lantern: it has five lines with 1, 2, 3, 4, and 1 syllables. Mine, like the thanku above, focuses on a moment.
long drive home from night class open the door sniff
fresh spicy aroma what’s in the pot? look
warm kitchen windows steamed homemade chili taste
beans (two kinds) tomatoes from your garden yum
sweet welcome (comfort food) how you show your love
This one hits the spot for me because it feels more like a thank you note. The end came as a surprise, which is one of my favorite things about writing. Sometimes I don't know what I'm writing about until it comes out of my pen.
Writing Workout: Write a Thanks-Giving poem. Teachers, invite your classes to join in! Try a thanku, an etheree, a lanturne, or another new form. See if you can express your thanks in 25 words or less. Then post your poems here or on any of our posts during our Ten Days of Thanks-Giving, November 20-30. Or
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Sarah Albee--yay, Sarah (who's an amazing author--check out her website)! Here's Sarah's Beautiful Oops: My oops moment happened when I was a very junior editor at Sesame Street. I was editing my first big book, a SS songbook (because I was the only editor in my dept who could read music and play piano). I went over to Jeff Moss's house (composer of Rubber Duckie) to show him some song arrangements, and when we got to People In Your Neighborhood (his song) we both stared at the composer credit, which read Joe Raposo (his long-time rival and writer of Bein' Green, among many others). Jeff was notoriously curmudgeonly, and I knew there was a good chance he would flip, even though of course it was just galleys and there would be plenty of opportunity to change it. So I quickly made a joke about it (along the lines of how interchangeable he and Joe were, whatevs). After five tense seconds, he grinned broadly. And we became fast friends.
~ I decided which version of Ashoken Farewell I wanted to play at a recent tribute to the journalist Daniel Pearl by watching different versions on YouTube; then Freda Sideroff posted a snippet she'd filmed of me and hammer dulcimer player, Phee Sherline at the tribute concert (what goes around comes around!...)
I learned how to pronounce author Jon Scieszka's name (and lots of other authors and illustrators names) by listening here.(hint: it rhymes with the soda, Fresca)
Raise your hand if you get overwhelmed. Do you? Whew! And I thought I was the only one. Well, JoAnn is right. I just need to try one new thing. And I'm going to change the adjective: try one small thing.
So...here's my poem, based on an old song. But just one verse, not all of them. That's my one small thing!
(listen to the song on this video first, so you know the tune, then read the new words...)
THE BLOGGER BEARS' POETRY FRIDAY
by April Halprin Wayland
with apologies to Jimmy Kennedy and John W. Bratton
If you go onto the internet
You're sure of a big surprise.
If you go onto the internet
You'd better go in disguise.
For every bear who hopes to express
Will gather there to write on Wordpress
Today's Fri-day, when every bear posts a poem!
Poem time for blogging bears
The Kidlit blogging bears are having a lovely time today.
Watch them, catch them unawares,
And hear them rhyming on their holiday.
See them tweet their permalink
They love to click in sync
And never have any cares.
At night they share on Mister Linky
now they can go to bed
Because they're tired little blogging bears.
If you go onto the internet
You're sure of a big surprise.
If you go onto the internet
You'd better go in disguise.
For every bear chewing sunflower seeds
Will gather there to read RSS feeds
Today's Fri-day--when every bear posts a poem!
12 Comments on Happy Poetry Friday! Write your own Lingo Poem--and then sing it to your cat!, last added: 2/25/2012
Now, back to the subject of Women's History: Like Mary Ann, I love reading well-written historical fiction featuring female protagonists. It's the next best thing to time travel! However, I despise books where female protagonists are not portrayed authentically. One of my specific "pet peeves" is the absence of church or prayer in novels set in times and places where daily life revolved around religious practices. Historical novelist Linda Proud expressed similar feelings on her blog:
"I’ve just read a book set in the 13th century where neither the feisty heroine . . . nor her lover nor her horrible husband nor any other character ever goes to church. Never a priest wanders into the story, never a bell rings, never a new cathedral appears on the skyline. Don’t get me wrong – it was exceptionally-well written and a gripping read. It was just that something was missing, . . . ."
As an author, though, I know it can be tricky to incorporate religious practices without boring our readers, especially when those readers are children or teens. My current work-in-progress is a young-adult novel set in 18th-century Milan and inspired by two real-life sisters. More is known about the elder sister, Maria, a child prodigy who could speak seven languages by her teen years and who became famous as a female mathematician. I originally considered making her the novel's main character. But Maria was a devoutly religious girl who spent her teen years trying to convince her father to let her become a nun. I decided it would be too challenging (for me, at least) to hook today's average teen reader with such a main character.
This round, each Teaching Author (so far Carmela and Mary Ann) will be sharing one of our favorite posts by blogmate JoAnn Early Macken, now on our Blog Advisory Board (or BAB). Just kidding. We don't actually have a BAB, although maybe we should. We're saying goodbye to JoAnn who is so busy teaching, writing and running Wisconsin's SCBWI chapter, she can scarcely breathe.
JoAnn's poetry and photos sing. Though we had hoped to talk about different posts from JoAnn's tenure, I was so struck by her poetry in the same post Mary Ann chose, I have to share JoAnn's photo and poem, "Landscape with Dog Nose":
Landscape with Dog Nose by JoAnn Early Macken
I wanted to capture the crisp horizon,
gradations of shades,
but she insisted on
stepping into the shot.
Well, why not?
She’s always part of the picture. photo and poem (c) 2012 JoAnn Early Macken, all rights reserved
I'll miss blogmate JoAnn's unique view of the natural world, her kindness, her beautific smile, her poetry...and so much more.
We have a special treat here today on our TeachingAuthors blog: a Writing Workout from a Mystery Guest TeachingAuthor (MGTA). This is a new feature we're trying out, so I hope you'll let us know what you think.
[Note: I'm still waiting to hear from Mary Ann about our giveaway winner. Sorry for the delay--we'll be posting the lucky winner's name soon.]
Now, here's the plan for today: I'll share our MGTA's bio before giving you his/her Writing Workout. See if you can guess who our guest author is before I reveal the MGTA's identity at the end of the post. (No fair looking up the MGTA's books online to find out the author's name!) Then let us know if you guessed correctly, or if the MGTA is someone who's work is new to you. You can respond via a comment, or send us an email.
Our first MGTA is the author of numerous books for young readers. MGTA's most recent publications are two young-adult novels, Dark of the Moon (Harcourt) and King of Ithaka (Henry Holt), and the four books in the middle-grade series, The Sherlock Files (Henry Holt). Nonfiction includes The Ancient Greek World and The Ancient Chinese World (The World in Ancient Times, Oxford University Press). This author was the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ Regional Advisor for the Midsouth from 1999 to 2009 and is now SCBWI’s Regional Advisor Coordinator. MGTA was awarded the SCBWI Work-in-Progress Grant in 2005 and a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1994. MGTA holds a B.A. with Honors in Classics from Brown University, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Medieval Italian Literature from the University of California at Berkeley. This author lives in Nashville, TN and recently retired from teaching at Vanderbilt University.
Have you identified our guestyet? Perhaps this MGTA's description of his/her path to becoming a TeachingAuthor will help:
Hi, everybody! So glad to be here at TeachingAuthors.
I was a college professor for 28 years, but not of creative writing! I taught Italian, and my students had to write in both English and Italian, especially when I taught Grammar and Composition. My students told me that they learned a lot about writing in general, not just writing in Italian, from that class! Occasionally I also taught classes in children’s literature and in writing for young readers. A few years into my teaching career I started writing for young readers, starting with nonfiction. I added fiction and now happily write both.
I like reading and writing stories that explore a familiar story from a point of view (POV) that we don’t usually hear from. I’ve written King of Ithaka, a version of the Odyssey as told by Odysseus’s son, Telemachus, and Dark of the Moon, the myth of the Minotaur as seen by the Minotaur’s sister, A
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Howdy, Campers! And...surprise! Following the success of our first Mystery Guest TeachingAuthor which Carmela Martino posted last Friday, here's our second ever Mystery Guest TeachingAuthor (MGTA)—complete with his/her Writing Workoutand a fabulous Book Giveaway! OMG. I'll bet you can barely stand the excitement. The details about the giveaway are below, but DO NOT GO THERE YET. If you do, you'll find out who our MGTA is and blow the whole deal.
Here's how we play the MGTA game: I'll share our MGTA's bio before giving you his/her Writing Workout [listen...this his/her thing is getting awkward...I'll give this to you: it's a her]. You try to guess who our guest author is before I reveal the MGTA's identity at the end of the post. (And even though it's going to kill you, no fair clicking on the MGTA's book links to find out the author's name!)
Then let us know if you figured out who this most amazing lady is, either by commenting below, or an email.