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funny. He’s inventive. He has a rich and loving family that includes his very
busy Mum, his rather odd Nana, his sort-of-stepdad Rob and his sister Samantha.
likes everything most boys his age do, whether they live in the U.S. or
Australia: going to school, learning, hanging out with his friends.
perfect his Life would be if only his classmate George Hamel vanished!
a lame joke on Jack’s part led to George calling him a “Butt head.” Once the whole
school joined in, Jack’s school days spelled D-A-N-G-E-R.
shares his plight in the award-winning I AM JACK, a rite-of-passage children’s
book in Australia lauded as “accessible and hilarious…an absolute must.” Published
in the U.S. by KaneMiller in 2012, School Library Journal called I AM JACK “a
solid addition to the growing collection of books about bullying.”
first engagingly-told novel was adapted into a successfully-touring play in
Australia and will begin its U.S. run in 2014.
second and third novels include ALWAYS JACK (which deals with cancer in
families) and SUPER JACK (which deals with blended families.)
meet Jack’s creator, Susanne Gervay, the award-winning, Order of Australia for
Literature author whom I proudly call friend, colleague and SCBWI Kin. (Susanne
serves as the Regional Advisor for SCBWI’s Eastern Australia and New ZealandChapter.)
it turns out, was based on Susanne’s real-life son Jack.
discovered that Jack was being bullied, I fulfilled my Jack's worst nightmare.
Yes, I went up to the school. Yes, he was scared. Yes, the school acted. Yes,
the bully was called up.
six months for things to really change. Eventually my Jack worked through the
bullying with the support of family, friends, the school. By the end he felt
good about himself, had great friends, loved his school, did his school work,
played soccer and learnt that society can be a fair place.”
shared with me an email that followed her recent school visit to a multicultural state
school, the Bankstown Public School in Sydney.
Here’s what Akila in 5p posted on the class blog:
“At first if someone calls you names like Bumhead
(poor Jack) it's funny, the next time it's just nothing, a million times feels
like ok you can stop now and a jillion times equals AHHHHHH I had enough!"
Remember what Susanne Gervay said. Teasing is not bullying. Bullying affects
you in a different way. It makes you scared. We can help stop bullying in many
ways! You've got to give a helping hand and help someone else in trouble. And
remember George Hamel? Well I remember Susanne saying that he had supporters
which can happen here too. Bullying can happen at anytime and anywhere. If
you're bullied then tell somebody. Your family and friends are there to love
and help you so appreciate that!”
the website for National Bullying Prevention Month, sponsored by Pacer, I was
taken with the Pacer Center tag – “Champions for Children with Disabilities.”
I said to myself. “That’s what bullying – in any form, does. It DIS-ables the victim.”
as Jack says in the KaneMiller book sticker that introduces this post,
stops a bully.
– the victim, the aggressor, the observer – to take action.
at least it can and should, with the right book.
applaud MaryAnn and April for sharing their vulnerability so honestly in last
week’s posts, and in the books and poems they write.
I applaud Susanne Gervay for doing the same in I AM JACK.
Dane Bauer spoke the Truth in WHAT’S YOUR STORY?: we need to put our own
stories in the stories we write if they’re ever to resound in our readers’
hearts, if they're ever to enable them to do what needs doing.
read a book and stop a bully!
forget! The October 9 deadline looms for our Book Giveaway of Alexis O’Neill’s
newest book The Kite That Bridged Two Nations.
I am unabashedly a Big Jeanne Marie Grunwell Ford Fan.
Like our readers and my fellow TA’s, I shall sorely miss her
Who else but Jeanne Marie could spend her days telling the sentimental
soap opera saga of the rootable Hortons – “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives!” - while grounding our TeachingAuthors readers in the
Truthful Realities of her Every-Day’s-a-Balancing-Act Writer’s Life?
wonder my Favorite Jeanne Marie post is “The Middle,” with her March 15, 2010 “Job Description” a close second.
“In life,” Jeanne Marie wrote in her January 2 New Year’s post in
2012, “it occurs to me that we tend to focus a tremendous amount of our
energy and attention on beginnings and endings -- the weddings and the
funerals, as it were. But it's the vast middle that comprises the
bulk of our existence. Likewise, in writing, we start with an idea
-- a character, a situation, a premise. Usually we know where
we want to start and where we want to go. But it's the getting there
that makes the story, breaks the story, or too often stops us from
finishing the story. After the sexy thrill of the beginning fades, we must
still live there, in the treacherous middle, for a very long time before
we can ever type THE END.
that the truth!” I sighed.
just so happens, speaking of soap operas, I am the Susan Lucci of Children’s Books.
know all about Middles.
Children’s Book Writing Quest had a Middle so vast, four American Presidents came
and went, and two were re-elections.
Beginning was terrific. It got me going.
Ending was even better than I’d – continually and creatively - imagined.
it through my Middle, though, proved my mettle.
that’s what Middles do, be they the sagging centers of the stories we write or
the seemingly never-ending mid-sections of the writer’s story we’re living.
prove our mettle, as in strength of character and spirited determination.
courage, bravery, guts, grit, nerve, pluck,
resolve, valor, vigor and cojones.
our Heroes and Heroines must do we must do too.
We keep on keepin' on.
the end of Jeanne Marie’s post, she shared her writing mantra – “Slow and steady,”
giving me another opportunity to shout “Ain’t that the truth!”
luck would have it, while thinking about Middles and today’s post, I received my
daily email from marketing guru Seth Godin.
It was titled “The Red Lantern.” Thank
you to my writer, Dr. Carol Swartz of UNC Charlotte, for connecting me to this brilliant
blog and thank you, Seth Godin, for gifting me with the perfect ending to my Jeanne
Red Lantern Award is presented to the Iditarod musher who makes it through that grueling event's middle and finishes... last. Godin put forth that this type of award should be offered more often, for all sorts of endeavors - school projects, performances, competitions.
year, the Red Lantern Award was presented to rookie musher Christine Roalofs on March 17. She and her team made it to Nome from Willow in
13 days, 22 hours, 36 minutes and 8 seconds.
a whole lot of sand (and snow and mud) through the hourglass!
you, Jeanne Marie, for grounding me in the Real World these past four years. You kept me keeping on.
Fan Esther Hershenhorn
Welcome 2 2day’s Wednesday Writing Workout, a Txtng
Mini-lesson of sorts– and – our continuing TeachingAuthor
celebration of my new baby board book soon to arrive in stores everywhere, TXTNG MAMA TXTNG BABY.
Remember: our celebration includes a Book Giveaway of TWO
signed copies of this perfect baby gift of a book, so click HERE for the details and be sure to
enter by next Tuesday, August 13.
I wrote in Monday’s post, it is a
Techy-Techy World for 2day’s Babies.
while researching Texting’s history and the gazillion pros and cons that
surround this newest means of expression, I was surprised to learn from
linguist David Crystal, author of TXTNG The gr8 db8 (Oxford University, 2009) that
texting’s been around a mighty long time and
(2) most popular beliefs about
texting are incorrect, or at least, debatable.
graphic distinctiveness is not a totally new phenomenon,” Crystal writes. “Nor is its use restricted to the young
generation. There is increasing evidence
that it helps rather than hinders literacy.
And only a very tiny part of the language uses its distinctive
to Crystal, “Texting has added a new dimension to language use, indeed, but its
long-term impact on the already existing varieties of language is likely to be
negligible. It is not a bad thing.”
identifies several distinctive features of texting, many of which suggest novelty but children’s
literature proves otherwise.
instance, logograms, which use “single
letters, numerals and typographic symbols to represent words, parts of words,
or even – as in the case of x and z – noises associated with actions.”
b, 2, @, x for kiss.
William Steig’s C D B, first
published by Simon & Schuster in 1968!
And Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s WUMBERS (Chronicle Books, 2012).
especially Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s and illustrator Tom Lichtenheld’s
dedic8 this book 2 William Steig, the cr8or of CDB! (cer10ly the inspiration for this book) and so many other cla6.”
logograms, the pronunciation is what matters, not the visual shape.
initialism is “the reduction of
words to their initial letters.
NATO and BBC. (They are often called acronyms.)
also think BFF, OMG, GF.
Lauren Myracle’s ttfn.
features include omitted letters (bunsn
brnr, txtng, msg), nonstandard spellings
(cuz, thanx, ya), shortenings (doc,
gov, mob) and genuine novelties (IMHO/in
my humble opinion).
gr8 fn I had imagining Mama’s n Baby’s conversation, using a variety of text
features 2 cr8 a book which seems to have some very nice (language) company. The teacher in me also liked learning the names of Texting's features.
I hope you did too!
any 2 characters – real, imagined, animal, human, and get them talking, or
rather, TXTNG (!) on their smart phones and/or tablets.
the 2 characters Happy? Sad? Confused? Angry? Hopeful? Plotting? Nasty? Kind?
they young or old or middle-aged?
does each come at his or her hand-held device?
Word choice, expressions, phrasing, rhythms - and this case, spellings - connote VOICE!
about your beginning – the inciting incident of sorts that gets the conversation
rolling, your middle, your end.
what dialogue does for a story: i.e.
(1) informs the reader
(2) advances the story
(3) reveals character
don’t forget to use a variety of text features!
:) TXTNG :(
that long ago
the Greeks gave us our vowels –
our A and E and I and O
and Y (that sometimes) howls?
How :( I M
2 c what txtng’s wrought!
When now I tweet
words short n sweet
I X the vowels
* * * * *
10 Q April Halprin Wayland and CarmelaMartino and Jill Esbaum, our group blog’s “usual” Poetry Friday posters, for allowing me to
take this Friday slot and thus continue the celebration of Sleeping Bear Press’
release of my new baby board book soon to arrive in stores everywhere, TXTNG MAMA TXTNG BABY.
FYI: Our week-long celebration
includes a Book Giveaway of TWO signed copies of this perfect baby gift of a
book. Click HERE
for the details and be sure to enter by next Tuesday, August 13.
I wrote in Monday’s post how my grandson inspired TXTNG MAMA
TXTNG BABY whilst he was in utero.
My Baby Antennae had been (understandably) working overtime. All I saw – everywhere I looked – were Mamas
thumbing their hand-held devices and nearby, babies finger-swiping the same.
with THAT? I wondered.
To answer the above
question, and the millions that followed, I spent a whole lot of time (cer10ly longer
than my grandson’s gestation!) researching Texting and Technology as well as their impact on Babies and
I needed to know: just what is
There were definitions
aplenty but linguist David Crystal’s TXTNGThe Gr8 Db8 (Oxford University, 2009) allowed the writer in me to understand this language – and – its
features, several of which I shared in my Wednesday Writing Workout.
And is texting really killing writing?
There were opinions
Fortunately, I came
upon Columbia University linguist Dr. John McWhorter’s TED Talk – “Txtng is
killing language. JK!!”
texting “a whole new way of writing,” fingered speech that allows us to write
the way we speak, an expansion of a young person’s linguistic repertoire.
Noting texting’s loose
structure, McWhorter remarks, “No one thinks about capital letters or
punctuation when one texts, but then again, do you think about those things
when you talk?”
Click HERE to listen to Dr. McWhorter's TED Talk. Enjoy
I needed to explore and
experience 2day’s Babies’ and Toddlers’ Techy-Techy World, the Digital World in
which these smallest of humans live and breath and laugh and learn, not to
mention, swipe and tap and thumb.
Every day brought A New
Something with A New Action, A New Opportunity, a New Possibility for digital
natives, both parent and child.
comprehensive article “The Touch-Screen Generation” in the April 2013 issue of THE
ATLANTIC magazine grounded, informed and enlightened me.
Click HERE to check it
out for yourself, making sure you leave time for the Readers Comments.
Finally, I needed to read
and understand the research.
I explored the website, read the studies and findings
and understood instantly the requisite human touch Touch Technology demands when it comes to babies and
toddlers and technology.
Click HERE to read their newest posting on imaginary play with
I M still on the hunt
for anything and everything that is remotely related to babies, toddlers,
texting and technology.
I clip, I
cut-and-paste, I purchase, I stockpile.
Wednesday, the Chicago
Tribune brought news of smart watches.
Later that afternoon, I discovered the
BabyBook Onesie at Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s Zen and Now Gift Shop.
Who knows WHAT might
juice my Writer’s Muse next week, next month, next year?
4 now, I M Byond :) I was able 2
use this newest of languages 2 cr8 TXTNG
MAMA TXTNG BABY and bring my grandson’s Digital World to the ultimate
hand-held device: the baby board book.
10 Q for letting me share.
I am a thoroughly unimaginative writer. I had this pointed out to me by a second grader (!!), during the Q & A part of a school visit.
"Where so you get your ideas" is always a favorite question. This particular day I was explaining the origins of My Best Friend and First Grade Stinks (my daughter, Lily), Yankee Girl (my own childhood) and Jimmy's Stars, (my mother's family). When I finished another little hand waved from the back of the pack,
"So you just write about your own family?" said the student.
I had to take a beat before I answered "yes."
It had never occurred to me before, All of my stories up to that point did
have their origins in family stories, I come from a family of storytellers, and I grew up always looking for stories of my own to add to the family collection.
Since then, I have broadened my scope a little. A Tree for Emmy
is based on Lily's best and oldest friend. The Roller Coaster Kid
came from the father of my next-door-neighbor. I am currently working on a short story based on two of Lily's friends, But try as I may, my stories always seem to begin with a character or situation that I have encountered in my own life.
However, starting off with something that happened in "real life" does not mean that I am merely narrating an actual occurrence. Life is not so tidy as fiction. Life does not have opening scenes, exposition, a climax and a denouement. Sometimes live does
have those elements, but it also has a lot of extraneous stuff as well. Fiction has filters. Fiction has to be shaped.
is the book that hews closest to the events of my life. The first draft was around 400 pages. I included every detail and incident that happened when I moved to Mississippi as a fifth grader. While I wrestled to get this sprawling mess into something that resembled a story, I learned a cardinal rule of fiction writing: Just because something happened, doesn't mean it is important to the story. For example, your Irish setter may have been in the room when you had a monumental fight with your best friend. You may have been wearing a pink sweatshirt and matching high tops. Unless your dog plays an active part in the scene (she jumps on your friend to break up the fight) or what you wear is essential to the character, these are details that can be cut. They clutter your story.
Or, as one of my mentors at Vermont College told me over and over, "Because it "really happened that way" is not a good enough reason to include it in your story.
She usually followed this admonition with "How does (this detail, character, plot point) move the story along?" The answer was usually "It doesn't." And another page of perfectly good but pointless prose would disappear into the "Delete and Save" file.
I have yet to write a story beginning with a character totally imaginary. I have edged a bit away from the side of the pool, venturing deeper into the wholly fictional end of writing. My current work-in-progress is based on an event that happened to someone my daughter knows. She doesn't know him well, or any of the details of what "really" happened. It doesn't matter. My mind is creating characters, envisioning scenes and hearing conversations. All of this from the offhand remark "Mom, there's this guy at school who..."
To celebrate the arrival of Esther's new book, TXTNG MAMA, in the warehouse, we are extending our giveaway of the book through August 20, 2013. Click here
Posted by Mary Ann Rodman
my terrific City of Chicago on a gorgeous August Saturday,
what I could write today to meaningfully follow my colleagues’ posts about Real
Life sparking fiction,
what do I come upon,
the northeast corner of the Chicago Cultural Center,
the StoryCorps Chicago StoryBooth!
is THE perfect vehicle to help us turn Real Life stories into well-told,
thus the PERFECT subject to punctuate
our past weeks' discussion.
love how good ol’ Serendipity works.
FYI: StoryCorps is the independent national
nonprofit oral history organization whose mission is “to provide people of all
backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share and preserve the
stories of our lives.”
I love its tag line: “Every voice matters.”
Since it began in 2003, StoryCorps has collected
and archived more than 45,000 interviews with nearly 90,000 participants. Each conversation is recorded on a free CD to
share; the CD is preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of
Millions listen to weekly broadcasts of these
conversations on NPR’s Morning Edition, on Listening pages, in podcasts and via books and animation.
The StoryBooth is here to stay in Chicago for
the next three years, if not longer. The
box-like structure is actually a compact recording studio hooked up with a
soundboard, a small table with two chairs, two microphones and the requisite
box of tissues.
Thanks to StoryCorps’ partnership with the
Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, the Chicago Public Media and
Chicago Public Radio station WBEZ, anyone has the opportunity to record a
40-minute conversation with a loved one.
For years, I’ve shared this little-known national storytelling organization with teachers,
librarians, young writers and especially their families.
Do-It-Yourself Instruction Guidelines are free and easy to follow.
for what questions to ask – on the day after Thanksgiving or on any day you’re
wanting to learn another person’s story, check out this printer-friendly version of
Great Questions to Ask.
StoryCorps’ Story Questions – and Question Generator - that first grabbed my
writing teacher’s eye.
Story Questions gift Family Literacy Night participants - or - First-Day-of-School Classmate Interviewers -
or - even New Student/New Teacher/New Principle Biographers - with easy-to-understand
opportunities to enrich their storytelling.
better, they also gift any fictive writer
wanting and needing to know his characters more fully.
Back Story is everything when it
comes to knowing our characters – fictive or real.
the StoryCorps questions also make for rich additions to Jeanne Marie’s WWW – “Where I’m From…” exercise.
visit WBEZ’s StoryCorps Chicago StoryBooth
if you get the chance - or - simply stop by the StoryCorps website and
spend time listening, learning, reading and questioning.
National Day of Listening is celebrated the day after Thanksgiving. This year, come November 29, everyone is
invited to use a smart phone, tablet, computer or tape recorder to record an
interview with a loved one.
one of these days I’ll invite my fellow Chicago Teaching Author Carmela Martino
to meet me at the Chicago Cultural Center so we can record our TeachingAuthors.com story? :)
forget to enter our Book Giveaway to win a copy of Sonya Sones’ newest novel in
verse To Be Perfectly Honest.
HERE for the Details.
it comes to celebrating Teen Technology, I feel Mary Ann’s and Jill’s pain.
don’t exactly qualify as a Teen.
HERE to see just which high school Reunion I’m attending this May.)
this is the book I’m currently reading.
also boldly revealed my Inner Luddite in a post last March. (Click HERE.)
sure do love to CLICK, then follow the links to CONNECT with all sorts of
wondrous People, Places and Things.
instance, there I was,
my fingers stroll the Internet on behalf of a writer with a UK-suited book,
what did I come upon but
why I’m wishing you a belated Happy World Book Day!
site is ripe with new books, authors and curriculum connections for readers,
writers, teachers and librarians.
yes, I found three, count ’em,
three publishing possibilities for my writer.)
Editor Gillian Engberg sent me a lovely Quick Tips email, calling my attention
Writing Resources for the Common Core Classroom.
and connecting I came upon a terrific timely
opportunity for Kiddos co-sponsored by DC Comics and Capstone – The “Be a Super Hero, Read!” Writing Contest. Running
through April 15, the Contest encourages kids in grades 3 through 6 to write
about a real-life superhero in their lives.
HERE for the Rules.
speaking of writing Kiddos, how could I not
click on the Denver Post’s Next Gen, the online newspaper for youth-written
met several middle school reporters during my visit to the Colorado International Reading
Association Conference in February.
HERE and connect to Collin Colaizzi and his write-up of author and Writing Guru
Ralph Fletcher’s talk on the importance of a Writer’s Notebook.
turns out that, despite my long-gone teenage years and my lack of Tech savvy,
my Inner Luddite and I have had One Swell
Time CLICKING and CONNECTING this past week, occasioning numerous opportunities
to showcase our gelasins.
HERE if you’re eager to learn last week’s A.Word.A.Day.)
someday soon I’ll be CLICKING and MANUFACTURING,
thanks to the opportunities and possibilities of Tech’s newest child, 3-D Printing!
Happy Clicking and Connecting!
Be sure to click
HERE to enter to win Tamera Wissinger’s Gone
Fishing: A Novel in Verse. You only have until 11 pm, Wednesday, March 13.
better way to continue celebrating our 4 x 4 Blogiversary Celebration by
introducing our readers to the incomparable Pat Wroclawski, Bookseller
Extraordinaire to the 4th Power.
Pat left the world way too soon in March of 2005 but her Spirit lives on in the
countless individuals she touched – readers, writers, parents, teachers, me.
many times I finish a novel, or page through a picture book, or wonder at a
biography and think, “Oh, how Pat would have loved this book!”
knew of Pat long before I – boldly –
introduced myself to her. She’d managed
the Chestnut Court Book Shop in Winnetka for 15 years, then headed the Children’s
Department at Kroch’s and Brentano’s flagship store in Chicago before returning
to the renamed Bookstall at Chestnut Court as a consultant. (FYI: Kroch’s and Brentano’s was the largest
bookstore in Chicago and at one time the largest privately-owned bookstore chain
in the U.S. It closed in 1995.)
I’d heard about Pat proved true and then some.
never-ending knowledge of children’s literature.
impeccable taste in books.
love of reading.
respect for and interest in writers and illustrators.
passion for All Things Children's Book glowed from within.
Bookstall’s Children’s Book Section became an invaluable resource for me as I
traveled my Writer’s Plotline. The best
of the best lined the section’s shelves.
course Pat herself proved the best resource of all.
cheered me on as I made my way, introducing me to esteemed authors and
illustrators, to books I should know, to opportunities that helped me grow as a
writer, and to the Association of Booksellers for Children, which Pat helped
found, now a part of ABA re-named the ABC Children’s Group and a most vital piece
of the Children’s Book World.
I shall always remain grateful for how warmly Pat welcomed and embraced my fellow
She personally decorated the store’s windows and
greeted each and every guest.
she was there in the audience of Northern Illinois University’s March 1999
Children’s Literature Conference keeping me strong in my first-time-ever speaking presentation to 500 educators and librarians
Pat’s smile undid my buckling knees.
well as mentor, teacher, advocate, friend.
somehow made time too to help found in 1989 yet another important children’s
book organization, Winnetka’s and Northfield’s Alliance for Early Childhood -
community collaboration that promotes the healthy growth and development of
children from birth age to eight by providing resources, programs, and support for
the parents and professionals who teach and care for them.”
years Pat wrote the organization’s monthly column “At Home with Books.” In the
Fall, 2005 issue, her daughter Margaret Wroclawski Griffen shared with readers
what her mother taught her about children’s books.
“Everything I Know About Children’s Books I Learned From My Mother,” this beautiful tribute keeps Pat’s Spirit alive.
The Margaret Wroclawski Memorial Collection now holds some
100 titles at the Winnetka/Northfield Public Library.
the books they hand their readers, booksellers change lives too.
extraordinary ones, like my Pat Wroclawski.
forget to celebrate our 4th Blogiversary by entering our 4 x4
give-away! You can win one of 4 $25 gift
certificates to Anderson’s Bookshop! All
you need do is share the name of your favorite
independent bookstore, and maybe even bookseller.
HERE for details.
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.”
1. Gather some
narrative poems—poems that tell a story—to share with students. Examples are
Gary Soto’s “Oranges,” Jeffrey Harrison’s “Our Other Sister,”
Naomi Shihab Nye’s “My Father and theFig Tree,” and “Fifteen”
or “Traveling Through The Dark,” by William Stafford, and my poem “Cod” (published in PoetryFriday Anthology Middle School)
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 first time
a last time
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.
I first read Nancy’s manuscripts, some 19 years ago, I knew instantly: she was the Real Thing, ripe
with talent, original stories and a unique voice. Her teaching experience showed through, too,
helping her target the right format for the right story for the right reader.
also evinced Passion, with a capital P, and enough Perseverance to serve three
children’s book writers no matter where they were in their careers.
and agents as well as writing kin agreed, offering the necessary encouragement,
revision suggestions and interest to keep Nancy keepin’ on.
she’s represented by Holly Root of the Waxman Leavell Literary Agency; Kirkus
starred This Journal Belongs to Ratchet; and Sourcebooks
just bought her second middle grade
novel! She also contributes to the group
blog of the debut authors of 2013 – the Lucky 13’s.
Student Success Story indeed.
As for Ratchet's "Student Success Story," she
spends her days fixing cars with her dad in the garage, living in a world of spark plugs, pistons, and crankshafts –not exactly normal for
an eleven-year-old girl. Even with the odds stacked against her, Ratchet endeavors to change her
life and realizes her skill as a mechanic might just be the path to her first
friend. But in the process, she alienates her father and discovers a secret she
wishes she never knew. She finds a way to, not only accept the truth she
discovers, but also accept herself and her dad.
I wrote in a blurb for Sourcebooks, “Readers will fall in love with
eleven-year-old Rachel, nick-named Ratchet by her car mechanic-environmentalist
Dad, as she writes from her Life in her Home School Language Arts Journal, wanting
to repair what’s broken, needing to replace the missing parts, so her very own
engine can run true and on course.
Ratchet’s journal proves a user-friendly Instruction Manual for readers
– and especially writers – eager to discover the wonder of their own life
been sharing this original story in this original format with teachers and
Young Authors since I received my ARC from Nancy in February. All love the book – and Ratchet - as much as
sure to enter our TeachingAuthors Book Giveaway for AN AUTOGRAPHED COPY OF This Journal Belongs to Ratchet.
Include a shout-out for your Favorite Car – real, imagined,
long-ago, present, fictional, cinematic, even longed-for. The deadline to enter is June 3. See contest details following the interview below.
And, also be sure to check back in two days for Nancy J.
Cavanaugh’s Wednesday Writing Workout!
Thank you, Nancy J. Cavanaugh, Children’s Book Author (!), for sharing your Writer's Journey, yourself and This Journal Belongs to Ratchet with our TeachingAuthors readers.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
We first worked together privately in the early 90’s when
you were just beginning “your race to the finish line,” on two picture books
that still remain in my heart and on
my brain’s Hard Drive. Do you recall
what you were hoping to learn – and – what you indeed took away – about
writing, the Children’s Book World, publishing - so you could keep on writing?
I was hoping to take my writing to the
next level, so my questions were: Do I
have all the essential parts of the story?
And, what will make my story marketable?
Two things I remember learning from you:
1. not to miss opportunities – opportunities to develop my characters,
opportunities to add layers to my story, opportunities to add emotion to the
overall plot; 2. to dig deep and find
out what my story was REALLY about – not just on the surface, not just what was
happening, but what “life thing” the story was really about.
I’ve always considered your classroom teaching experiences
That Extra Something that bolstered both your writing and the stories you chose
to tell. Please share how your teaching
impacted, influenced and inspired your writing?
As a teacher, and then later as a
librarian, I got to read SO many books aloud to students, and I had the
opportunity to see what young people were reading and what they liked
best. That’s sort of the obvious way in
which my school experience helped my writing, but something not quite so
obvious is the impact of the repetition of certain stories over the years. There are many books which I read over and
over throughout the years, and as I did this, I was learning the patterns of
language that we find in stories. These
patterns were practically becoming engrained in my DNA. The understanding of what “story” really is
was becoming part of my soul. I believe
that understanding of story is always at work in me now as I write.
What kept you going all these years so you could indeed
cross your much-desired Finish Line?
Wonderful writing friends.
Enriching experiences (researching
topics, attending meetings, conferences, workshops, and retreats)
The satisfaction of always having
something to strive for
Small successes along the way (having
articles and short stories published in magazines and books)
How did Ratchet’s story come to be – and – why did you
choose a home-schooled student’s journal as her storytelling vehicle?
The idea started with a character, and
her name was always Ratchet. My ideas
usually start that way, and then I let my imagination dream up what the
character’s issues are and what her story might be. I chose Homeschooling for Ratchet because it
seemed to be the best way to isolate her.
Also, because of her father, it made sense that he wouldn’t want her to
go to school in mainstream society. The
idea of writing through the assignments in Ratchet’s journal came to me in the
very beginning, but it took a lot of figuring out along the way in order to
tell the whole story in this format.
What about the revision process for This Journal Belongs to Ratchet? How did your agent Holly Root and
your Sourcebooks editor Aubrey Poole help you fine-tune the manuscript to earn
a prized Kirkus-starred review.
My agent Holly is a wonderful editor
and always has helpful suggestions before we send something out, but I had
already done a great deal of revising before sending it to Holly, so we didn’t
really have to do much – just a few tweaks here and there. When my editor Aubrey read Ratchet, though she loved the character
and the story, she asked for revisions even before Sourcebooks acquired
it. She gave me some specific direction as
to what she was looking for and thankfully I was able to deliver. After Sourcebooks bought the manuscript,
Aubrey and I did two more rounds of revisions, and I absolutely loved it
because she’s a fabulous editor. She
always had an amazing vision for what the book could be, and she guided me so
that my writing would get there. I also
have to add here that Aubrey worked hard to get just the right cover and
artwork for Ratchet, and I think that
has really made this book stand out and become something special – so much more
than I ever imagined.
Finally, can you let us in on your next book, also to be published by Sourcebooks? :-)
My next book will be coming in Fall
2014 and will be another alternative format.
The entire story is told in lists, letters, and writing assignments, in
which a girl named Abigail uses her language arts class’s Friendly Letter
Project to cope with the worst school year ever – and in the process turns it
into the best year ever.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
And now, for the giveaway details:
Our blogiversary giveaway
was such a success that we're again using Rafflecopter
to run this giveaway. If you've never entered a Rafflecopter giveaway, you may want to read their info on how to enter a Rafflecopter giveaway
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To enter for a chance to win an autographed copy of This Journal Belongs to Ratchet
(Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky) log into Rafflecopter below
(via either Facebook or an email address). You'll see that we've provided three different options
for entering the giveaway--you can pick one or up to all three
. The more options you choose, the greater your chances of winning. While we haven't made it a requirement, we hope that everyone will pick the first option--subscribing to the TeachingAuthors
blog. If you're already a TeachingAuthors
subscriber, you still need to click on that button and tell us how you follow our blog, which will give you THREE entries in the giveaway!
(If you received this post via email, you can click on the Rafflecopter link at the end of this message to enter.)
As it says in the "Terms and Conditions," this giveaway is open to U.S. residents only
. You must be 18 or older to enter. And please note: email addresses will only be used to contact winners. The giveaway will run from now through June 3, 2013. Winners will be notified June 4, 2013.
If you have any questions about the giveaway, feel free to email us at teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Now you –
and/or - your students - can write a Success
Story, thanks to the Revision Tips our Monday Student Success Story
Interviewee, children’s book author Nancy J. Cavanaugh, shares in today’s
Wednesday Writing Workout!
Thanks, Nancy, for introducing our readers to ThePlot Whisperer, Martha Alderson.
Let’s hear it for that prefix “re”!
My main character Ratchet knows a lot about engines,
and I know just a little bit too. The
way I learned about engines was by taking them apart. Taking something apart is a really great way
to learn how it works. It’s also a great
way to figure out what’s wrong with something when it doesn’t work. When you bring your car to a mechanic, you
don’t expect him to open the hood and just stare at the engine. You expect him to get out his tools and start
taking things apart. It’s really the
same way with writing. It’s called
revision, and it gets messy. When you
finish a draft, your first inclination is to love it and to think it’s
perfect. It feels so rewarding to have
that clean copy in your hands, and it looks so good! But, the reality is, if you want to make it
better and take it to the next level, it’s got to get messy all over
Martha Alderson’s Blockbuster Plots and The Plot Whisperer provide me a lot of direction when I am taking apart
a manuscript. In her books and DVDs,
Martha uses a plot planner and a scene tracker.
Very simply put, it’s a method of taking apart your story by listing
each scene. Putting your story into this
format allows you to get your head around the whole thing at one time. Listing your scenes this way enables you to
determine whether each scene works within itself and to determine whether each
scene works within the overall plot. Taking
apart your manuscript his way also helps you clarify which parts of the overall
plot are not working or what parts are missing altogether. (Martha’s books and DVDs give detailed
instructions on how to create the scene tracker and plot planner. Check out Martha’s website to learn more.
At first, Martha’s method seemed much too tedious
and time consuming. I didn’t want to take
apart my manuscript piece by piece after I had worked so hard to write it, but
when I finally got tired of my story not working, I decided to give it a
try. I did my own version of Martha’s
scene tracker and plot planner, but I used her basic format to find what was
missing in my plot and make my story stronger.
It took a lot of work, a lot of time, and made a big mess of my
manuscript; but if I hadn’t taken things apart in this way, I never would’ve
been able to see what was really wrong with my story and why it wasn’t
My advice? Find
a revision method that works for you, and take the time to do it because when
it comes to revision there really are no shortcuts. Taking apart your story is necessary, and
that takes time and gets messy, but when you put in the time and clean up the
mess, your story will run like a race car.
# # #
not make the living – AND – the
learning easy this Summertime by
signing up to receive daily and/or weekly emails from three of my very favorite
all-year-long online services?
(1) A.Word.A.Day with Anu
The New York Times called A.Word.A.Day “The most
welcomed, most enduring piece of daily mass e-mail in cyberspace.”
Monday through Friday, subscribers receive a new
word, one of five purposefully grouped words that underscore a particular
This past week?
Selected words were those that appeared to be misspellings:
How fun to learn why and how they weren’t!
Take a look at Friday’s post for jargon to see all that each post offers:
noun: A colorless, pale
yellow, or smoky variety of zircon.
French jargon, from Italian giargone, from Persian zargun (golden). Earliest
documented use: 1769.
genial jeweler then suggested white jargoon."
P.G. Wodehouse; The Intrusion of Jimmy; W.J. Watt and Co.; 1910.
Explore "jargoon" in the Visual Thesaurus.
A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:
greatest obstacle to discovering the shape of the earth, the continents, and
the oceans was not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge. -Daniel J.
Boorstin, historian, professor, attorney, and writer (1914-2004)
I especially enjoy the Visual Thesaurus.
I especially appreciate
the added inclusion of previous days’ words, just in case the definitions and
pronunciations had somehow lost their place on my brain’s Hard Drive.
Click here to increase your vocabulary on a daily basis.
You can send a Gift Subscription too!
to my bi-lingual Brazilian-born grandson, Brazilian Portuguese is my Transparent language of choice.
I still don’t speak this language well – and my sweet, sweet lindo namerado (little boyfriend) recently turned three.
I do understand his words and conversation.
especially love the ability to hear a
native speak the word, not only by itself but in a sentence.
like A.Word.A.Day, I can always return to previous words that – somehow –
refused to stick. J
of speech: Adverb
examples: Meu filho chega
amanhã de sua viagem.
English examples: My son arrives tomorrow from his trip.
|I have always relied on Booklist, the bi-monthly review journal of the American Library Association, available at most libraries, to keep me sharp and smart when it comes to the best of the children’s books being published.||
I’m happy to report that many free Booklist offerings are now available online.
the Great Reads page, with terrific book recommendations for both kids and adults,
the Bookends blog by Cindy and Lynn,
the monthly youth e-newsletters Quick Tips, aimed at connecting books to the classroom, and the new e-newsletter focused on YA Books, Booklandia,
and the free Webinars.
Maybe amanhã you'll check out the above, thus making sure your summer's living and learning are easy?
post not only officially restarts our
TeachingAuthors blog after a brief Summer Hiatus.
jump-starts our writers’ engines with
a winning opportunity: Lee & Low’s New Voices Contest.
a Writing Contest serves as the perfect external battery to get any writer goinggoinggoing and moving forward.
Motivation – i.e. publication, prize money, a publisher’s attention, for
Focus – i.e. a specific format, theme or subject matter.
Opportunity – i.e. a guaranteed reading and audience!
don’t forget DEADLINE – in this case, September 30, 2013.
excel at keeping writers writing.)
those unfamiliar with this independent publisher, Lee & Low Books focuses
on diversity, specializing in high quality multicultural children’s books. The company’s mission is “to meet the need
for stories that all children can
identify with and enjoy. They pride
themselves on books about everyone, for everyone.
in 2000, the annual New Voices Award is given to a writer of color of a
children’s picture book manuscript. The Award winner receives a cash prize of
$1,000 and Lee & Low’s standard publication contract, including the basic
advance and royalties for a first-time author.
An Honor Award winner will receive a cash prize of $500.
who have published other work in venues such as children’s magazines, young
adult or adult fiction or nonfiction are eligible. Only un-agented submissions will be accepted.
that has been published in any format published online or independently is not
eligible for this award.
click on the previous years’ winners and learn more about embracing this winning
opportunity, click HERE.
luck would have it, in her recent June 27 blog post, Anastasia Suen interviewed
Pamela Tuck, author of AS FAST AS WORDS COULD FLY which won the 2007 Lee &
Low New Voices Award. This debut picture
book tells a story based on Ms. Tuck’s dad’s journey of desegregating the Pitt
County School System in Greenville, NC in the 1960’s.
course, when it comes to Writing Contests and external batteries, it goes
without saying: one might lose the Contest but still drive away a Winner.
last month, one of my students shared her Good News that while she hadn’t won
the Highlights Fiction Contest this year, the magazine wished to purchase her
story in rhyme for publication!
two months ago, another writer’s Honorable Mention in a themed blog’s picture
book contest kept her believing in and submitting her original manuscript.
love sharing with Young Writers how Christopher Paul Curtis’ college manuscript
became the novel The Watsons Go to
Birmingham which eventually lost out in the no-longer-offered Delacorte
Contest. But he did win an editor (Wendy
Lamb) plus the chance to revise, allowing the book to go on to win a Newbery
is up and running again!
tuned for more Contests to jump-start
And be sure to check out our newest Writing Contests Links
keep us in the Loop.)
M Byond :)
the day I shout to the World:
week Sleeping Bear Press
my baby board book
Txtng Mama Txtng Baby!
read that title right:
Txtng Mama Txtng Baby.
to their parents’ hand-held devices, tablets and computers, Babies everywhere
are tapping or thumbing keyboards and finger-swiping screens, honing digital
skills while living their Baby lives.
fun I had bringing this newest of worlds to the sturdy pages of the ultimate
hand-held device: the baby board book.
fun it was adding that human touch to
sure to read to the end of this post to learn how two TeachingAuthor readers can win a free copy of Txtng Mama Txtng Baby.
love the story- a playful through-the-day conversation between Mama and Baby that
love the telling – tunefully-ordered familiar text phrases, such as I C U and xxooo, that beg to be repeated.
love the illustrations – baby-friendly emoticons that instantly bring smiles.
love the smart-phone-look-alike design, so readers and listeners can turn (or
swipe) the pages.
I love so many things about this 4” x 6 ½” book, starting with the cheery cover and the ♥ key on the keyboard.
of all, I love the book’s dedication: “2
n 4 Gabriel.”
truth, my grandson gifted me with this book before he was born.
his arrival, my Baby Antennae rose far and wide. Everywhere I looked I saw
Mamas thumbing their hand-held devices and nearby, Babies finger-swiping the
Texting Mamas, I said to myself.
was up with THAT?
time I read the handwriting on the wall and it was written in text!
by then, the four words texting Mamas
texting Babies had become a refrain that book-ended a dialogue that
eventually gave birth to a baby board book.
vision and efforts of my Sleeping Bear Press publisher Heather Hughes, editor
Amy Lennex and art director Jennifer Bacheller contributed immeasurably to the
book’s singular look and telling, not to mention its caring delivery.
|Cartoon ©2013 Harry Bliss; Used with permission.|
course, anyone who knows me, and not even well,
knows I am The Least Likely Person to Have Created This Book.
texted my very first message January 18, 2013, at 2:13 pm, three years after entertaining
the idea behind this book.)
uncovered my Techy ID - “digital immigrant.”
have the heart of a Luddite.
and I don’t play well together.
my very first foray into children’s book writing was another baby board book, inspired by my grandson’s Poppy, my then
one-year-old son, in 1976: THE A TO Z OF ME.
created a personalized ABC book, with plastic inserts for renewable photos, to
capture a baby’s loves and life.
Publishers and toy companies embraced the abecedarian story but regrettably turned
it down due to my telling’s exorbitant manufacturing costs.
technology simply isn’t available,” one company executive told me, “to produce
this book and make a profit.”
knew what was coming down the pike?!
the early part of this 21st century, the Internet offered any parent
free software and POD opportunities to
help create and publish a personalized ABC book for his or her child.
here’s one more thing I love about Txtng
Mama Txtng Baby: 2day’s Techy-Techy World is my story!
sure to return Wednesday, for a Writing Workout that utilizes this newest of
languages - text, then again on Friday when I share not only a text-written
poem to honor Poetry Friday, but truths I gleaned from my research on Babies,
Toddlers, Texting and Technology.
my message remains the same: Mama ♥ Baby.
Q 4 letting me share my Good News.
free to tweet it 2 and add it to your Facebook page. J
U Wednesday 4 a WWW!
And now, for the Book
again we’re using Rafflecopter to give away two signed copies of Txtng Mama Txtng Baby (Sleeping Bear Press)!
you've never entered a Rafflecopter giveaway, you may want to read HERE about
how it words. And click
HERE to learn the difference between signing in with Facebook vs. signing in
with your email address.
You’ll see you have three different
options for entering the giveaway: you can pick one or up to all
three. The more options you choose, the
greater your chances of winning. (If you received this post via
email, you can click on the Rafflecopter link at the end of this message to
you enter via a comment to this blog post, please tell us your favorite
emoticon--think the : and ) that create a smiling face, or an initialism, such as OMG.
giveaway will run from today, August 5, through August 13, 2013. Winners will be notified August 14, 2013.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
book’s subtitle says it all: “Notes on
Writing (and Living) with Hope.
my fellow TeachingAuthors Jeanne Marie, Carmela and Jill who so generously shared
their Writing Lives these past two weeks, Luke Reynolds pulls back the curtain on
his magic-making too, in honestly examining his Writer’s Life, letting us see and
know the goings-on.
that’s what writers do, Reynolds
reminds us in this two-part collection of personal remembrances and essays:
they go on!
Jobs, Families, Life, Emergencies.
Failures, Rejections, Turndowns, Turn-backs.
has the kind of resume our readers love.
former teacher of grades 7 through 12 and writer of children’s fiction, he’s
the editor of the forthcoming book for teens and tweens BREAK THESE RULES (Chicago Press, 2013).
co-edited BURNED IN: FUELING THE FIRE TO TEACH (Teachers College Press, 2011) and DEDICATED TO THE PEOPLE OF DARFUR (Rutgers University Press, 2009).
College Press also published this year his latest book for teachers, A CALL TO CREATIVITY: WRITING, READING, AND INSPIRING STUDENTS IN AN AGE OF STANDARDIZATION.
Part One of KEEP CALM AND QUERY ON, “On
the Path,” Reynolds shares his journey, past and present. Each chapter's title is the stuff of a
Follow Your Delight,
Trace Your Despair, Fight Your Demons
Writing (and Living)
I finally sold my first trade children’s book, I crowned myself (deservedly) “The
Susan Lucci of Children’s Books;” I proudly wear the title.
reading Reynold’s story, warts and all, calmed me, emboldened me, encouraged me
– GO ON!
to have his words mid-way in my writing career.
always feels so good to know we’re not alone.
Part Two, “Finding Footsteps,” heralded writers (Daniel Handler, Jane Smiley,
Ann Hood, Robert Pinsky, John Dufresne, just to name a few), answer Reynolds’
thoughtful questions, thus giving peeks inside their writing lives.
What inspires you to
craft prose, and what deflates you (if anything)?
Can you share a
particularly difficult rejection story and how you overcame the emotion of that
How do you feel before
you write, while you’re writing, and after you write?
What kinds of writing
support do you need or greatly appreciate as you work?
bon mots made me sit up and listen.
to have read these authors' words mid-way in my writing career.
again, I was calmed, emboldened, encouraged – GO ON!
repeat: it always feels so good to know we’re not alone.
truth is, no matter when or where or how we work, at some point in the process,
our Writers’ Spirits are bound to lag.
now, thanks to Luke Reynolds, we can keep calm and query on!
sample Reynold’s graceful writing and earnest Writer’s World vision, check out
Hunger Mountain, the Vermont College of Fine Arts Journal of the Art.
stay tuned for a TeachingAuthor Book Giveaway somewhere down the road of this
Rx for Any Writer’s Spirit, KEEP CALM AND
where do I weigh in on the value of
research when writing fiction?
for starters, I disagree with Sherman Alexie, a writer I greatly admire who so
generously offered his Top 10 Pieces of Advice for Writers in a recent
writersdigest.com blog: I don’t think
research is overrated.
fact, I’d say it’s under-rated.
know first-hand: digging up the concrete
details relevant to each of my imagined stories - for starters, the people, the times and
places, the weather and daily living of lives, allowed me to grow my characters
and puzzle out their plotlines, all while uncovering my story’s Truths.
all know 3 is the magic number when supporting an opinion, so I’ll gladly share
3 instances when research enhanced and enriched my stories, making the fictive
details incredibly credible.
could not have written my first picture book There Goes Lowell’s Party! (Holiday House) without traveling the
Ozarks courtesy of a host of books I met while reading my way through the 910 Section of the Wilmette
Public Library. (That’s right! I wrote a book set in the Ozarks in May without
ever setting foot there myself!) Shelves of books offered me maps to
read, photographs to study, land forms and water ways that could work their way
into my text. As for the rain proverbs (Section
398) that kept my plotline going – the skies growing red, the birds flying low,
the leaves tickling Lowell’s cheeks, I came to know them thanks to Ozark
folklorist Vance Randolph. My book’s
illustrator Jacqueline Rogers’ first request was for me to send on my primary and
secondary research. I also found a slew
of place and character names printed on maps of Missouri and Arkansas. By
the time Lowell’s kin made it to his party, despite rain and floods and mud
slides and twisters, my readers knew the wonder of familial love.
As for my delicious picture book CHICKEN SOUP BY HEART?
believe it or not, I read and cooked chicken soup recipes (Section 641) from
around the world. In fact, in its first
iteration, Rudie Dinkins was one of many multi-cultural characters who, so loved
by their afterschool babysitter, Mrs. Gittel, wanted to cook her chicken soup
when she came down with the flu. And to
counter my editor’s doubt that chicken soup could be sweet, as Mrs. Gittel
liked her chicken soup, I was forced to keep digging through cook books until I
came upon a Hungarian recipe. Readers
came to see the crucial ingredient – the reciprocity of love.
picture book FANCY THAT demanded time-travel, back to 1841and Berks County,
Pennsylvania (Section 900). Once again,
my Wilmette Public Library served as the World’s Best Travel Agent. Pippin Biddle, my story’s orphaned young
limner, who set his heart on earning his keep traveling about painting people’s
portraits, all to get his three sisters out of the Poorhouse, was a unique
combination of every single limner I read about in Jean Lipman’s comprehensive
book (Section 750). Fortunately, I was
earnest in my research; otherwise Pip would have returned at Thanksgiving, only
there wasn’t a Thanksgiving yet; Pip’s dog would have been a breed (Jack Russell Terrier)
yet created. A Christmas return directed
me to Sections 248 and 249 of the Library, so I could read about the Germans who’d
brought Christmas to America in the late 1830’s, and Pip’s sisters could then save
the day with their wreath-making business!
To my surprise, I’d written a book about hidden talents and how they
reside in each of us.
is a lie that tells the truth,” Stephen King wrote. IMHO, research helps the writer tell the best
Writing and Researching!
forget to celebrate NCTE’s Fourth Annual National Day on Writing Friday October
19 and Saturday, October 20.
year’s theme is What I Write.
Friday and Saturday, tweet out your compositions of all sorts and post them to
Twitter using the hashtag #WhatIWrite, and
if space allows, #dayonwriting.
Since the National Gallery of Writing opened on October 20, 2009, more than 3,300 galleries were created and nearly 33,000 writing contributions were submitted. While the
Gallery is now closed for submissions, it is a searchable archive and is a
great resource for you to use when involving others in writing.
forget to enter our Guest TeachingAuthor Book Giveaway to win an autographed copy of Eileen Meyer’s Who’s Faster? Animals on the Move.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to all in the path of Hurricane Sandy, including our own Jeanne Marie. As a last-minute sub for her, I'm posting a quick preview of a special event we'll be sponsoring in November. We've decided to expand last year's Ten Days of Thanks-Giving into a full Two Weeks of Thanks-Giving, and we're hoping many of you will again join in the celebration, especially if you're a teacher or fellow blogger. This post includes an invitation to teachers who'd like to incorporate the event into their November lesson plans.
Before I explain how to participate, let me share some background: In October, 2011 Esther blogged about a poetry form called a Thanku--a thank you note written in the from of a haiku. Her post inspired the TeachingAuthors team to sponsor our first ever Ten Days of Thanks-Giving last November. During those ten days, all our posts included thank you notes to someone special. In my post, I shared the following Thanku addressed to my teacher and mentor, Sharon Darrow:
yielded a harvest beyond
We also invited readers and fellow bloggers to share their own thank yous via comments, emails, or blog posts. At the end of the ten days, we posted some of those thank you notes on our blog, along with a round up of links to other blogs that had participated in the event.
We plan to do the same this year, with some minor modifications. As I mentioned, we're expanding the event so that it will run for two full weeks. This year's Two Weeks of Thanks-Giving
will take place November 16-November 30
. We will again invite our readers and fellow bloggers to participate by writing a thank you note of no more than 25 words via prose or a poetry form of your choice
. (We'd love to see more Thankus!) But this year, we ask that your thank yous be writing-related
, expressing your gratitude to a writing teacher who helped you or to a writer you admire
. You may consider following Sherman Alexie's #1 bit of advice in his Top 10 Pieces of Writing Advice
 When you read a piece of writing that you admire, send a note of thanks to the author. Be effusive with your praise. Writing is a lonely business. Do your best to make it a little less lonely.
Now, to all the classroom teachers out there:
We invite you to give your students the same assignment-- to compose a thank you note to an author of their choosing. Please limit the assignment to 25 words of prose or poetry. (If you're planning to have them write their notes as Thankus, see Esther's original post for inspiration
.) We'd love for you to share some of your students' notes with us, either via a comment, email, or your own blog posts. We'll then include some of their work (or a link to your blog post) in our final round-up on November 30. The kick-off post on November 16 will include complete details on how to submit to us.
For all our readers:
We hope you'll also participate in our Two Weeks of Thanks-Giving
. Again, watch for our November 16 kick-off post for complete details. And if you know any teachers who may be interested in participating, please share this information with them as soon as possible.
Finally, for those participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)
or Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo)
, good luck!
release of the hands-on how-to book for middle grade and young adult writers Writing Irresistible Kidlit (Writer’s
Digest) gifts Moveable Type literary agent and KidLit.com creator Mary Kole
with yet one more title: Teaching
Ultimate Guide to Crafting Fiction for Young Adult and Middle Grade Readers, Mary’s
interactive book offers up a bevy of agent-learned tricks, treats and best of
all tools certain to help writers learn and hone their craft as well as their
world. She shares writing exercises,
candid commentary and a collection of book excerpts and personal insights from
bestselling authors and editors who specialize in the children’s book market.
Movable Type from the Andrea Brown Literary Agency where she distinguished
herself as an inventive and entrepreneurial agent. Her books include author-illustrator Lindsay
Wards’ When Blue Met Egg (Dial), Emily Hainsworth’s YA debut Through to You (Balzer
+ Bray) and Dianna Winget’s A Smidget of Sky (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). KidLit.com was named one of Writer’s Digest’s
Top 100 Websites for Writers; over 50,000 readers visit the site monthly.
Halloween, a favorite holiday of just about every children’s book writer and
teacher I know, I consider Mary’s answers to my questions both below delicious,
calorie-free Treats and writer-friendly Tricks, plural.
For one more
Treat, be sure to read below of our TeachingAuthor Book Giveaway of the 2013 Children’s
Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market (Writer’s Digest) which includes two of
Mary’s articles - “Crafting
a Query” and “Building Your Author Platform.”
(1) How did you become
a Teaching (Agent) Author?
I became an agent after reading for free at an agency to learn more about the
publishing business. But I've always been passionate about teaching others, so
I knew that I wanted to pass on what I was learning to writers. The publishing
business is often difficult to wrap one's head around, so I wanted to pull back
the curtain a little bit. I understand things better once I articulate them and
explain them to others, so the teaching aspect of my work has also been
invaluable to me.
(2) Why and how did
your book come to be?
I started out as a writer, so part of it was definitely yearning to be a
published author. But the book also became a personal challenge: Do I have
enough to say about the writing craft and can I say it in a way that it earns
its keep on my readers' writing reference shelves hope the answer to both
questions is "yes," of course, and I'm excited to see the reactions once the book is out in the world. Since I was doing a lot of programming and
teaching for Writer's Digest, publishing the guide with them was a natural fit
and the process of actually getting the book deal was easy. The process of
writing it, though, took a lot more stress and work, but I'm very happy with
the finished product.
(3) What are the Top
Three problems you note in manuscripts when you’re reading as an agent?
Beginnings are tough to do well, and I often notice that writers don't start
with a strong sense of the present moment and present action. A lot of
beginnings have tons of backstory and info-dumping and not enough conflict to
hook a reader in. In terms of character, writers can always work on motivation
and objective--a really strong reason for characters to be doing what they're
doing, and an overarching goal that they work toward in the story. In a prose
sense, I often find myself giving the following note: "You are saying
something fundamentally simple in an overly complicated way." Not
everything needs to be a showcase for Writing-with-a-capital-W. Sometimes
there's style in simplicity.
(4) What are the Top
Three writers’ questions you receive at www.kidlit.com?
Other than that, I've been answering writing questions on the site since 2009
and there are a lot of different concerns that writers have. I don't
know if I can pick the runners up in terms of popularity.
(5) Please share a
favorite Writing Exercise.
To really help writers individuate characters and think about voice, I like to
ask them to describe the same scene or landscape from the POVs of two different
characters. Think about syntax, word choice, what each character notices and
how. This often drives home the point that each fictional person is unique and
has a very distinct lens that should inform every choice that a writer is
(6) You’ve worn so many
hats while residing in the Children’s Book World! Which do you love wearing the
to say "reader" but, to tell you the truth, there is no better way to
frustrate one's love of reading than to actually work in publishing, where you
are reading more than you ever thought possible and under time constraints. So
I'll say that my favorite hat is "cheerleader," because there's no
better feeling than believing in a project and championing it through to
Thanks, Mary Kole, for the opportunity to bring you and your
new book Writing Irresistible Fiction to
the attention of our TeachingAuthor readers.
Trick or treat? You
bet! We’re giving away one copy of the 2013 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s
Market (Writer’s Digest)!
You must follow our TeachingAuthors blog to enter our
drawing. If you’re not already a
follower, you can sign up now in the sidebar to
subscribe to our posts via email, Google Friend Connect, or Facebook Network
There are two ways to enter:
1) by a comment posted below
2) by sending an email to teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com with "Book
Giveaway" in the subject line.
Just for the fun of it, and since we’re offering a Writer’s Book, share your #1
chocolate Trick or Treat candy. J
Whichever way you enter, you MUST give us
your first and last name AND tell us how you follow us. If you enter via a
comment, you MUST include a valid email address (formatted this way: youremail
[at] gmail [dot] com) in your comment. Contest open only to residents of the
United States. Incomplete entries will be discarded. Entry deadline is 11 pm
(CST) Wednesday, November 7, 2012. Winners will be announced Friday,
November 9, 2012. Good luck to all!
to more years on task than I’d ever imagined, I’m personally acquainted with
the proverbial carrot that swings beneath our writers’ noses whilst we bravely and
anxiously navigate our Writer’s Journeys.
we stop for a second and look around at our Children’s Book World, a multitude
of publishing rainbows are there for our viewing before we reach our wished-for,
offers its very own pot o’gold, an opportunity to achieve publication and thus
experience pride, satisfaction, affirmation and sometimes even $$$.
a treasure trove of opportunity awaiting us writers, besides the one we first set out to capture.
travel here, there and everywhere, despite unrewarded efforts, creatively
visualizing our stories when printed
and bound, covered and blurbed – in other words, published.
instance, what about writing fiction for children’s magazines?
what about writing nonfiction articles for educational publishers?
better, what about writing nonfiction children’s magazine articles?!
to Melissa Abramovitz’s Thumbs-Up guide, coincidentally (and appropriately) titled
A Treasure Trove of Opportunity: How to
Write & Sell Articles for Children’s Magazines (E & E Publishing,
2012), we can now put our writing skills, interests and talents to work mining other paths to publication.
There is indeed a market for nonfiction children's magazine articles.
senior editor Debra Hess shared with Melissa, “While
we publish roughly the same amount of fiction and nonfiction in Highlights, we receive substantially
more fiction submissions than nonfiction submissions. As a result, nonfiction has a higher chance
of being purchased. We are always
looking for new nonfiction writers.”
Melissa knows all about writing – for all age
groups, from preschoolers through adults.
Her publishing credits include educational books on health topics, as
well as science, nature and history, fiction, poetry and five rhyming picture
books. But she especially knows all
about writing nonfiction magazine articles.
In this one-of-a-kind resource based on her
twenty-five years of experience and extensive body of work, as well as
interviews with other nonfiction magazine writers and editors, she generously
shares insights she’s gleaned, proven tricks of the trade and the tools she
uses to move from generating ideas to researching to structuring, on to creating
whole pieces, formatting and revising, on to querying likely publishers,
considering contracts and marketing your work.
Concrete learner that I am, I was especially
taken with Melissa’s “Show, don’t tell” examples when making a point. She shares her own published articles as well
as those of others. She offers the
nitty-gritty details - of referencing
references, photo inclusions, author rights, and nailing a story’s audience,
just to name a few.
Her listing of “salable structures” sparked all
sorts of ideas: How-to articles,
puzzles, quizzes, sidebars, nonfiction verse, personal experience articles, slice-of-life
or inspirational articles, profiles and as-told-to articles.
Appendix A: Grammar Gateway even offers tips on
sentence structure, spelling, punctuation and unbreakable rules – good for any
writer, no matter the format, genre, audience and publishing segment.
Consider this post, consider Melissa Abramovitz's book but one knock at your Writer’s
(And we all know how many times Opportunity
reported in my December 5 post “Good Ol’ Opportunity,” in which I
offered my Thumbs Up review of Melissa
Ambramovitz’s guide to writing nonfiction children’s magazine articles, A Treasure Trove of Opportunity, a multitude of publishing rainbows besides those first sought await
children’s book writers on their road to publication.
In other words, Opportunity knocks often and loudly in the Children’s Book World.
out the following pots o’gold waiting for you should you answer your door:
(2) the Highlights 2013 Fiction Contest
This coming year, the judges welcome stories of any
genre (mystery, historical fiction, sports, humor, holiday,
long as the stories are intended for kids ages 6
Three prizes of $1,000 or tuition for any Highlights
Founders Workshop will be awarded.
Entries must be postmarked between January 1 and
January 31, 2013.
(3) The 12x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge
This is the perfect follow-up to PiBoIdMo.
Participants will be encouraged to write one picture
book draft a month, for 2013’s twelve months.
Registration is now open.
You’ll receive support, motivation and accountability,
not to mention insights and instruction from authors, illustrators, editors, art
directors and agents.
Please note: NaNoWriMo participants can continue learning at the challenge's blog.
Be sure to check back for the first TeachingAuthors post of the
New Year when we offer our readers yet one
more opportunity to work their writing muscles throughout the coming year.
Good Luck! – and – Happy Holidays!
Don’t forget our TeachingAuthors autographed Book Giveaway of former TA JoAnn Early
Macken’s newest, Write a Poem Step by Step: A
Simple, Logical Plan You Can Follow to Write Your Own Poems.
To enter our drawing, you must follow the TeachingAuthors blog. If you’re not already a follower, you can sign up now in
the 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 give us your first and last name AND tell us
how you follow us (via email, Google Friend Connect, or Facebook Network
blogs). If you enter via a comment, you MUST include a valid email address
(formatted this way: youremail [at] gmail [dot] com) in your comment.
Be sure to tell us about a book that influenced
your own teaching or writing.
This contest is open only to residents of the
United States. Incomplete entries will be discarded. The entry deadline is 11
p.m. (CST) Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012. I'll announce the winner on Wednesday, Dec.
19. Good luck!
a pleasure to introduce our readers to the talented and determined award-winning
author Brenda Ferber, my unforgettable Ragdale Picture Book Workshop student, and
her newest book, the picture book The Yuckiest, Stinkiest, Best Valentine Ever (Dial).
original story, lively writing, Positive Mental Attitude and incredible
open-mindedness marked her as The Real Thing; she soaked me up and wrung me out as
if I were a sponge. I knew her moxie and
PMA would help her keep the Faith and I was right: The Yuckiest, Stinkiest, Best Valentine Ever collected around 70
that particular Ragdale Workshop’s roster boasts three published children’s
book creators (one an illustrator), two MFA in Writing for Children holders and
two oh, so close pre-published writers.)
is the author of tween novels Julia’s
Kitchen and Jemma Hartman, Camper
Extraordinaire (both Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Her newest book 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.
be sure to read how YOU can win your very own autographed copy of The Yuckiest, Stinkiest, Best Valentine Ever
in the Book Giveaway that follows the interview.
Enjoy and learn from one of our Children’s
Book World’s Bests!
What inspired you to sign up for my 2004 Spring Picture Book
Workshop at Ragdale?
I had written what I thought was a
picture book manuscript that was receiving its share of rejections, so I knew I
wanted someone with a great critical eye to tell me what I could do to revise
it. I learned a ton from your workshop, and I ended up deciding that what I had
written was not actually a picture book but rather a short story. It didn’t
quite have that re-readability factor, and there weren’t enough different
moments to illustrate. I could have revised it to try to make it more “picture
booky,” but instead, I decided to send it to Ladybug magazine, and they bought
it! That story, “A Cheer for Charlie,” was the first thing I ever published.
Do you recall any specific ways the class helped you?
I remember you telling us to study a
picture book thoroughly, not just the words and pictures, but also the end
papers, the flap copy, everything. Since then, I always look at the Library of
Congress description on the copyright page, I always check out the author and
illustrator bios, I always read the flap copy, and I always take note of end
papers. Not only do beautiful endpapers (as opposed to just a solid sheet of
color) indicate that the publisher has put extra care into the book, but they
also set the reader up for what’s inside. I have to say that I was so pleased
with the end papers for The Yuckiest,
Stinkiest, Best Valentine Ever. The candy hearts set the perfect tone for
what’s to come when you turn the page.
You eventually went on
to publish, but first the middle grade novel, Julia’s Kitchen (FSG), which won the Sydney Taylor Book Award for
Older Readers , then Jemma Hartman, Camper Extraordinare (Farrar Straus & Giroux). Why and how did you move from writing picture
books to writing middle grade fiction?
truth is, I always wanted to write children’s novels, but I thought that
picture books would be easier. Silly me! I had this crazy fantasy that I’d whip
out a few picture books, develop a relationship with an editor, and then easily
write and sell novels. Not one part of that fantasy was accurate! First of all,
writing picture books is way harder than writing novels (for me anyway), and
even though I wrote this picture book before I wrote my novel, I wasn’t able to
sell it until after I had sold two novels, and even then it wasn’t to the same
editor. Second of all, no matter how many books I write and sell, it never gets
any easier. But I have to admit, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love the
The Yuckiest, Stinkiest, Best Valentine Ever has remained in your heart despite years of rejection. What kept you on task and what kept you
believing, in this story as well as in yourself as a picture book writer?
I collected around 70 rejection letters over the course of five years for this
book! The thing that kept me believing in this particular story was that I
truly loved it, and I could imagine it finding a large audience. Right after
college, I worked at the Leo Burnett advertising agency, and I learned there
the importance of Big Ideas – specifically how to recognize when you have one
and when you don’t. I believed Yuckiest
Stinkiest was a Big Idea, and I knew I just had to find the right editor to
see it that way. Happily, Kathy Dawson ended up being that person! Meanwhile,
two things kept me believing in myself as a writer while collecting all those
rejection letters. First, I’m sort of insanely optimistic, and I saw each
rejection as getting one step closer to acceptance. Second, I absolutely love
to revise, and I used any and all personal comments on the rejection letters as
fuel for my revision. Just about everything except the initial concept changed
in those five years, and the story is so much richer, funnier, and heartfelt,
thanks to rejection.
You’re not only a Student Success Story –
you’re a Teacher Success Story! What
insights that you gleaned from the
learning process do you make sure you share with your learning writers?
I was revising my first novel, Julia’s
Kitchen, with my wonderful editor at FSG (Beverly Reingold), I learned the
most important thing I’ve ever learned as a writer, and I try to pass that on
to every student I have the privilege of coaching: Be authentic. It sounds
simple, but it’s not. You’re making up a story. It’s pretend. But when a reader
comes to it, it has to be 100% truthful, 100% believable. Every thought, every
description, every action, every emotion, it all has to be real. So I tell my
students (and myself) to imagine that you’re writing a true story. It’s a story
that happened to a friend of yours, and you’re telling your best friend about
it over coffee. If there are any places in the story where your best friend
would say, “What? No way? I don’t believe you. That couldn’t have happened!”
or, “That doesn’t make sense. What are you talking about?” then you are not
being authentic, and you’ve got some revising to do. Even with a picture book
like Yuckiest, Stinkiest, where a
valentine comes to life, the emotions and actions need to be authentic. The
valentine needs to act like a real person who is terrified of expressing
emotions, and Leon needs to be a believable boy who wants nothing more than to
share his love with the girl of his dreams.
How do you balance your
full-time writing job with not only marketing and teaching but also mothering
just make the commitment to do it. I try to write every day. Of course some
days and weeks are harder to find the time than others, and I get frustrated
when I don’t write as much as I want. But I remind myself that being a mom is
my first priority, my first love, and such a privilege. In a minute, my kids
will all be in college, so I might as well appreciate the chaos, laughter, and
very full schedule in my life right now.
Can you describe your
elation and sense of satisfaction when you first held the f & g’s (folded
and gathered pages) of The Yuckiest,
Stinkiest, Best Valentine Ever?
was amazing, but the biggest thrill came before that when I saw a pdf of the
whole book. I was blown away by Tedd Arnold’s hilarious and heartwarming
illustrations. I’d been a fan of his since my kids were young and we had all
fallen in love with his book, Parts.
I could hardly believe he was illustrating my story! When I opened that pdf and
saw his vibrant illustrations and Sunday-comic-style approach, tears sprung to
my eyes because his art exceeded all my expectations, and I knew that the book
would find the audience I had dreamed of all those years ago.
an autographed copy of Brenda Ferber’s The Yuckiest, Stinkiest Best Valentine Ever! (Dial)
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
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) give us your first and last name AND
2) tell us how you follow us (via email, Google Friend Connect, or Facebook
Network blogs) .
3) If you enter via a comment, you MUST include a valid email address
(formatted this way: youremail [at] gmail [dot] com) in your comment. And JUST FOR Fun, share your favorite Candy
Hearts Valentine inscription!
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 Monday, January 21, 2013. We'll announce the winner on Wednesday,
January 23. Good luck!
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:
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.
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.
Watch out for word echoes. Don’t use the
same word more than once on the same page or even on consecutive pages.
Read the first and last sentence of each
chapter and make sure you are varying them and starting and finishing with a
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.
Writer’s Bookshelf consumes just about every inch of my writing room’s cleverly-extended window sill. While I peck away at my laptop’s
keyboard, wandering and wondering, each book sits there, winking and waving.
on Craft, the Writing Process and Children’s Literature,
on Elements of Narrative,
To’s, handbooks, manuals, Dummies Guides,
(abridged and unabridged),
dab in the middle of the line-up, though, rests my very favorite writer’s book -
M.B. Goffstein’s A Writer (Harper
& Row, 1984). Its sky-blue book
spine short and slight brilliantly shines as my writer’s North Star.
almost hoping you’ve never ever heard
of this title, so this post can gift you the way the book first gifted me.
came upon it at Florence Shay’s antiquarian bookstore Titles, in Highland Park,
while out and about on my Writer’s Journey sometime in the late 80’s.
was figuratively lost, unsure of my
this small treasure of a book, I was instantly found.
spent daydreaming, imagining, probing my heart…
to A Writer, that’s what writers do.
sits on her couch,
holding an idea,
until it’s time
to set words
to cut, prune,
plan, and shape them.
in her heart,
and weather every mood
and change of mind,
she will care for.
then, I was seeding and feeding my own stories as well as my writer self.
Brooke Goffstein’s simplicity in words and lines spoke to the gardener in me.
I still grow my own stories but I also spend my days seeding and feeding other writers –
Young Authors and authors young-at-heart.
A Writer speaks even more loudly.
don’t take my word for it. See for
to know this Minnesota-born writer, illustrator, children’s book creator,
Parsons School of Design faculty member.
about her books, including the 1977 Caldecott Honored Fish for Supper.
Be sure to check her Tips for Picture Book Writers and Illustrators.
while Florence Shay and Titles, Inc. are sadly no longer with us, search other
antiquarian bookstores for Goffstein’s one-of-a-kind books.
you should you come upon A Writer for
sale so it can shine on your Writer’s
especially love that Goffstein dedicated A
Writer to Charlotte Zolotow, beloved children’s book author and
award-winning Ursula-Nordstrom-trained editor whose Admiring Declines I still treasure
as much as my first edition copy of M.B. Goffstein’s A Writer
- Write something you
don't know but long to know.
- It is tiresome to read a
text that the author hasn't fought for, lost, and by some miracle when all hope
is gone, found.
- Do them (your readers) the
honor of reaching for something far beyond you.
Today’s Wednesday Writing Workout comes to you
courtesy of a TeachingAuthor I so admire and respect, an award-winning picture
book author, poet and UCLA instructor whose hands-on text Writing Picture Books (Hint! Hint!) I recommend at least once a
week to writers and students. She could
truly be M.B. Goffstein’s “writer,” seated on her living room couch, cutting,
pruning, shaping and planning the words she wishes to set upon paper. Her picture books include Word Builder (Simon & Schuster) and Tortuga
in Trouble (Holiday House).
* * * * * * * * *
Wednesday Writing Workout: Exercising Your Imagination!
One of the challenges of a writer is to
create something new—a story, poem, an essay—that hasn’t been done before. That
sounds like a tall order, but it’s not as difficult as it sounds. Putting
yourself into an inanimate object is a fun and easy way to write uniquely.
Have you ever wondered how a book feels if
you close it before the end?
Have you ever pondered how a tree endures
Can you guess what a snowman’s last words
This exercise will give you an opportunity
to answer those questions.
To show you how, let’s take a pencil.
Imagine that you are the pencil. What might you say to the person holding it?
Then write without stopping or revising.
For example, here’s what I wrote:
“You think you have complete control of
me. It’s true you do and I hate it. I have to write what you insist, but if I
could write my own story, if I could swirl my words across the paper, here’s
what I’d say. Inside me lurk words more beautiful than you could ever express.
I long to spill my soul, to stand up and shout gray silver words. Then you
would know that I too, have thoughts. And I am sure, then, that you would never
chew on me. . . how I hate the way you bite down my eraser and your saliva
slivers down my yellow. You wouldn’t like it if I did that to you. How I hate
the way you fling me into box with other pencils, not knowing, not caring how
special I am.”
Okay, a rambling paragraph of unedited raw
spillage, but rereading, I was surprised by several things here. The phrases
“shout gray silver words” and “how I hate the way you bite down on my eraser”
and “your saliva slivers down my yellow,” they gave me a niggle that I took as
a sign to explore them further. I thought and thought about those phrases and
after much revising came up with this poem in the form of a cinquain.
my stub. Treat me right
I will refuse to record
So here’s your writing workout for this
week: Go up to those questions I asked
Then be a book, a tree or a snowman, or all three if you’re feeling ambitious,
and let your words flow.
guarantee you’ll surprise yourself.
may not get a story, a poem or an essay out of it, but you’ll be exercising
your imagination, something all writers need to do regularly.
* * * * * * * * * * *
might recall the Thumbs Up review I gave Writing
Picture Books when our TeachingAuthors blog began.
For more Writer Tips from Ann, click here.
Ann Whitford Paul gets - and loves - the picture book.
Ann Whitford Paul gets - and loves – writers and writing.
Thanks, Ann, for
keeping my writing muscles, and those of our TeachingAuthors readers, burning.
View Next 25 Posts
There I was, out and about at the
2013 Colorado Chapter IRA Heroes in Literacy Conference in Denver, sharing with
teachers proven ways to seed and feed their Young Authors, when a workshop
presenter shared a proven way with me I knew I’d quickly share with you.
Please meet Deanna Duray’s Little
School Third Graders, digital citizens with the handle Fervent Learners!
Their classroom was one of seven (out
of 127 applicants!) in Jefferson County, Colorado to receive on January 14th
an iPad 1:1 Grant from the local Karl Friedman Family Foundation.
It was obvious from the workshop’s
get-go: weekly blogging was proving to be a veritable Miracle Gro for Deanna Duray’s
students. They were writing, posting,
commenting, communicating, reading, learning and noticeably blooming.
Our concerns about security,
technical difficulties, school day opportunities and parent and administration
support proved unwarranted.
Using our own laptops and ipads,
we explored www.kidblog.org, set up accounts, wrote posts, inserted photos,
embedded web tools and even commented.
Her Principal Robert C. Lopez’
Vote of Confidence upped my eagerness to share Deanna Duray’s Fervent Learners
with my blog’s readers.
I emailed Deanna Duray to ask
what she loves best about her third graders blogging.
Having an authentic audience was
on the top of her list.
“It gives us the
opportunity to reach outside of our classroom walls and show our families and
others how we are growing as writers. Just this last week our class blogged
about the upcoming state testing and what it takes to be a FERVENT test taker.
I shared our blog link with one of our 6th grade teachers and her students
replied back. I love how blogging gives students a wider audience!"
As for her fervent bloggers and
what they love best?
“I love that you can comment on
other people's blogs!” wrote Micaela.
“I love how I can blog from home!”
Kayla loved how “you can express
your feelings to all the people that will be reading your blog.”
Kyle loved how “you can change
font and write what you want to write.”
Click on Fervent Learners.
Explore the Blogroll.
Scroll the Blog Directory.
Choose a post and share your
If you’re a classroom teacher,
consider introducing this opportunity to your
If you’re a writer, especially of
children’s books, consider each Fervent Learner post a mini-lesson on Voice.
And, thank you, Deanna Duray and
Fervent Learners, for sharing your experience and expertise.