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Happy Children’s Book Week! Since 1919, this national literacy initiative, the longest-running in our history and co-anchored by the Children’s Book Counciland Every Child A Reader, has celebrated books for young people and the joy of reading. Visit the website to learn the bounty of events and activities that commemorate this once-a-year week and to read more about this year’s poster creator, Grace Lee. Book Week’s goal? To make sure every child is a reader! But today is Wednesday, yes? – which means it’s time for a TeachingAuthors Wednesday Writing Workout, one that will give every child, both current and former, the opportunity to write.
Don’t forget to enter our Book Giveaway to win a copy of Stefanie Lyons’ YA novel in verse DATING DOWN (Flux). The deadline to enter is midnight May 15.
. . . . . . . .
Let’s tweak the Children’s Book Week goal a tad to read…. make sure every child – current and former (!) – is a reader who writes!
Click HERE to download these children’s book week story starters and create your own ending! What I Did begun by National Ambassador Katherine Paterson (New!) BLAM! begun by Mo Willems (2009 Children's Choice Book Award winner) (New!) The Night Visitor begun by Dinah Williams (2009 Children's Choice Book Award winner) (New!) And Then... begun by National Ambassador Emeritus Jon Scieszka
No matter how my writing students define “success” – perhaps beginning a picture book, completing a novel, earning an advanced degree or maybe winning a grant, their stories of success gladden my heart. Today I share my former student Stefanie Lyons’ Success Story to celebrate this month’s publication of her debut novel DATING DOWN (Flux), a YA novel in verse, with hopes her story will gladden your heart too. Thanks to Flux’s generosity, one lucky TeachingAuthor reader can win a copy of DATING DOWN simply by entering our Book Giveaway which runs from today May 4 through midnight May 15. (Please see details at the end of Stefanie’s Q & A). I first worked with Stefanie independently almost 15 years ago on a middle grade novel that still plays in my head. We worked together again in 2008 in my University of Chicago’s Writer’s Studio Novel Workshop. I was honored to recommend her to the Vermont College’s MFA in Writing for Children program in 2009 and of course, cheer her on as she completed her graduate degree. Stefanie describes herself on her website as a writer of all things young adultish.
The tag line for DATING DOWN is a grabber: When a good girl falls for a bad boy.
“She thought she loved him. She thought she could change him. She thought if she just believed in him enough, his cheating and his drugs and his lying would stop, and she'd be his and he'd be hers and they'd love each other forever. But for Samantha Henderson, X--the boy she will not name--is trouble. He's older, edgier, bohemian . . . and when he starts paying attention to Sam, she can't resist him. Samantha's family and friends try to warn her, but still she stays with him, risking her future and everything that really matters.” The Booklist review lauded Stefanie’s musical, poignant verse, calling the story “lyrical and heart-wrenching, exploring the emotional vicissitudes of love, sex, and drugs.” Kirkus recommended the book to fans of Ellen Hopkins. “Turbulent love via turbulent poems.” She’s also appearing on my First-Timers Panel at the Chicago Printers Row Lit Fest the weekend of June 7 and 8. Take heart and hope from my interview with Stefanie and be sure to enter our Book Giveaway for a free copy of Stefanie’s DATING DOWN.
And thanks to Stefanie who's out and about connecting with her readers for taking time to share her Success Story with our readers.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . Your unswerving focus from the year 2000 on to learn and hone your craft coupled with your non-stop efforts to grow as a writer, is note-worthy. What’s kept you going all these years? How did you come to know and believe what I shared in my 2009 VCFA recommendation: i.e. Stefanie Lyons was seated on the Right Pew in the Right Church.
What has kept me going all these years was the thought that I couldn’t quit. I’m a very
stubborn person when I want to be! Also, writing was something that took ahold of me from a young age and never let go. (Maybe it’s more stubborn than I am.) Writing is how I find fulfillment. It’s my joy. As for me being seated in the Right Pew in the Right Church, as you put it, I would rephrase it to say that I made sure I was in the Church and never got up from the Pew. It’s a story of tenacity, mostly. Can you share with our readers how DATING DOWN, a YA novel in verse, came to be – and the revisions it underwent, under the guidance of first your agent and then your editor? I was in grad school when I started DATING DOWN. I needed something to turn in and found this in a folder in my house. I pulled it out and thought, “Well, this isn’t as bad as I remember.” I revisited it and sent it in. My advisor loved it and helped me pare the voice into a more traditional verse novel. At the time, it was a prose/verse hybrid. My agent didn’t weigh in on this novel because it was already in the hands of Flux when we met. But that’s another story. You’re an enthusiastic member of the debut 2015 debut author blog Fearless Fifteeners. How has this group helped you grow as an author now out in the world bringing her book to readers? I’ve learned so much from them. Honestly, they’ve made this journey so fun. Having a group of writers going through the same debut experience at the same time has made the scary stuff a bonding experience and the highs that much higher. They provided a place where I could ask the dumb questions without bugging my editor or agent. How do I request my book be stocked in independent bookstores? Where do I go to make bookmarks? How do you sign your name to readers? Stuff like that. And the cheer-leading on release day. Banding together to do panels. These things have made all the difference. It has been the #1 most defining thing that has shaped my debut year. And that’s saying a lot. You – also – have a solid career in advertising! How do you balance your days so you have time to write – and – promote? Priorities. Some things are more important than others. Like sleep. Who needs it? What’s that One Thing You Wished You’d Known when you began your Writer’s Journey? How truly wonderful the Children’s Writer’s community is. And how much I’d grow just by befriending them. I always considered writing as a solo sport. It is quite the opposite, actually.
Enter via the Rafflecopter widget below to win a copy of Stefanie Lyon’s YA novel in verse, DATING DOWN. You can enter between now and midnight, May 15, 2015.a Rafflecopter giveaway
One of the great parts of being an author is speaking to audiences about my books. While I enjoy every group, some are extra special. Recently I had the opportunity to travel to Miami, Florida, to share my book In Defiance of Hitler: The Secret Mission of Varian Fry
. This book is about Varian Fry, an American journalist who volunteered to go to Nazi controlled France in 1940 to order to rescue (mostly) Jewish refugees whose lives were in danger. This true story of one man who believed he could make a difference is filled with intrigue and danger. Ultimately, Varian Fry rescued more than 2000 people. Yet few Americans have ever heard his name.
I was invited by the Holocaust Memorial Miami Beach
to share the work of Varian Fry as part of Holocaust Education Week. They asked me to speak to three different audiences. The first night, I presented my program for the public at the Holocaust Memorial. It was an honor to speak about rescue during the Holocaust at a place dedicated to the memory of so many who were not rescued. Every Holocaust Memorial is different, and here the centerpiece is the massive statue of a hand reaching toward the sky with human figures huddled around the bottom. The sculpture is powerful and moving. It says so much-silently. In the audience that night, listening to my program were Holocaust survivors and the descendants of some who had been killed at Auschwitz.
The next morning I spoke to university students at Miami Dade College. Many in the audience – including one of the administrators – had come to American as refugees. As I shared about the refugees of 1940 leaving their homes, these young adults understood the concept in a much more personal way than my usual audience does.
In the afternoon, I presented my program to students at a private Jewish high school. These modern American students carrying their backpacks entered the room and chatted as they took their seats. While relating the work of Varian Fry, I told them about several people who helped him. One of them was a seventeen-year-old boy named Justus Rosenberg. He was their age and his life was in danger because he was Jewish. Rosenberg survived but countless other teens didn’t.
I shared the work of Varian Fry with three different audiences in Miami. Each one was very special.
Carla Killough McClafferty
We are currently running a giveaway for IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD that ends at midnight on April 1. (CORRECTION NOTE: There was a typo in an earlier post that said the end date was April 6. The correct end date is April 1.) For more details see Esther Hershenhorn’s post: http://www.teachingauthors.com/2015/03/a-two-for-price-of-one-interview-with.html
Hip! Hip! Hooray! Today’s the day – I – post to celebrate As JoAnn noted in her Friday post, the anthology, which offers 156 bilingual (English/Spanish) poems celebrating 156 holidays, is the newest in a series of Poetry Friday anthologies compiled by award-winning poet Janet Wong and children’s poetry expert Dr. Sylvia Vardell, Professor in the School of Library and Information Studies at Texas Woman’s University.
The “transmedia” project offers its intended audience of K-5 readers and intended users of teachers and librarians a bounty of opportunities, including:
- a book version in paperback
- collectible trading cards, postcards and posters with poems on them, distributed or in sets as “Pocket Poems cards” or a “Book in a Box
- an e-book version, website and/or app featuring additional materials such as songs, audio readings, poem movies and video versions.
I am so honored Janet and Sylvia included my March 17 St. Patrick’s Day poem, which appears at the end of this celebratory post, in their original, child-friendly anthology. (Check my November 3, 2014 post as to the writing of this poem.)
How terrific of these talented anthologizing women to answer the following questions asked on behalf of our TeachingAuthors readers and honestly? – to satisfy my own curiosity as a participating poet.
With each title in The Poetry Friday Anthology series, you continue to mine new opportunities that invite young readers to embrace poetry and language. How did The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations come to be?
JW: Sylvia is FANATIC when it comes to holidays. Several years ago she loved creating our ebook holiday anthology, Gift Tag, I think she’s wanted to do a larger-scale holiday book ever since. SV: Yes, it’s true. I do love the preparation and celebration that comes with birthdays and other special occasions. But I also know that children find something to celebrate in lots of new moments they are experiencing and I love that energy and freshness. I’m hoping our book will introduce new ways to look at some of those familiar celebrations, as well as present brand new holidays and events that get kids thinking and trying new things. You invited an august body of poets to select an occasion and create a relevant poem. What were some of the challenges of the selection process?
JW: The hardest part of the selection process: having to say no to terrific poets and poems. We received triple the poems that we could accept. The 156 poems in both Spanish and English plus resources plus teaching tips makes the Teacher/Librarian Edition 372 pages and 1.8 pounds! We fit in as much as we could.
SV: An additional challenge was selecting the celebrations themselves. There are so many more holidays that we would’ve loved to feature. Janet and I went back and forth over which days to include. She wanted to omit Dewey Decimal Day—but there was no way that I’d let her do that! Which celebrations were most poet-popular/poet-unpopular? JW: We tried to limit the number of poems that we would receive for any particular holiday by steering poets toward unselected (or less-selected) holidays, but many poets sent us poems for a half dozen or more holidays, including ones that we already had “covered”—so we had multiple poems to choose from for just about every celebration. Pizza Day, Pasta Day, Sandwich Day, and Cookie Day were among the favorites. We poets apparently love our carbs! Can you share with our readers your vision for the “trading card” aspect of the experience? JW: Most kids love “stuff” more than they love books. A librarian once told me that the biggest sellers at her book fair were the little necklaces (that happened to come with a book). Making Pocket Poems® cards is a way to make poetry more accessible and inviting to everyone. People can find and print their own cards for free at our websites, PomeloBooks.com and PoetryCelebrations.com. What has been most gratifying for you in creating these singular collections? JW: For me, the most gratifying thing is that we've been able to inspire lots of educators (and whole school districts) to integrate poetry PLUS another content area—poetry plus science, for instance. SV: Personally, it’s been so fun to get to know so many poets who write for young people and sift through hundreds of poems—just a pleasure to read and read and read poetry. And professionally, I’ve been so gratified at the responses of teachers and librarians who learn about our anthologies, try the “Take 5” activities and say with surprise, “I can DO this!” For people who have never really been comfortable with poetry, that is the best compliment we could get!
Happy St. Patrick's Day, belatedly!
And Happy Poetry Month!
Don’t forget to enter our Book Giveaway to win an autographed copy of Paul Janeczko’s 50thbook, DEATH OF A HAT, illustrated by Chris Raschka. You can enter between now and April 22 (which just happens to be our SIXTH TeachingAuthors Blogiversary!).
By: Carmela Martino and 5 other authors
Blog: Teaching Authors
(Login to Add to MyJacketFlap
, April Halprin Wayland
, Esther Hershenhorn
, Janet S.Wong
, JoAnn Early Macken
, Lesson Plan
, National Poetry Month
, Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations
, poetry prompt
, Add a tag
Howdy, Campers! Happy Poetry Friday! (the PF link is at the end)
Authors-anthologists-publishers Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell have written an article well-worth reading (it's brief!) for National Poetry Month in the online magazine Bookology which begins:
"We are pressed for time, so we multitask. You might be eating breakfast while you’re reading Bookology, or doing laundry, or both. “Killing two birds with one stone” or “hatching two birds from the same egg”—integrated teaching—is the best way to fit everything in, especially in the K-5 classroom."
(read the whole article here
Janet and Sylvia's Poetry Friday Anthology
series does a LOT of heavy lifting including:
1) helping pressed-for-time teachers and librarians teach poetry while meeting the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and the Texas TEKS for English Language Arts (ELA)/Poetry and Science & Technology,
2) including a “Take 5!” mini-lesson with every poem in their collection for librarians, teachers, and parents with instructions for sharing, picture book pairings, and curriculum connections.
And in their NEW collection Janet and Sylvia have added another bonus: each of the 156 poems in this newest book appears in both English and Spanish--WOWEE!JoAnne's recent post sang out about
this book (which includes JoAnne's terrific Graduation Day poem), and Esther's post continued
, including an interview
of these two visionaries and Esther's very green
Saint Pat's Day poem.
As JoAnne writes:I’m thrilled to be one of 115 poets (and 3 Teaching Authors!) whose poems are featured in the brand-new Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations!
I'm thrilled that they've included two of my poems. This one's for National Thrift Shop Day (who knew?)
(Click to enlarge )
Have a fabulous Poetry Friday...and consider donating to a thrift shop today and then shopping in one, too ~
Remember to enter our Book Giveaway to win an autographed copy of Paul Janeczko’s 50th book, DEATH OF A HAT
, illustrated by Chris Raschka. You can enter between now and April 22 (which just happens to be our SIXTH TeachingAuthors
And...please stop by my poetry blog
where all Poetry Month long I'm posting PPPs--Previously Published Poems--from anthologies, Cricket Magazine and my novel in poems
It’s our TeachingAuthors Blogiversary 6!!!!!!
Today I'm working out by writing our readers and my fellow TeachingAuthors a heart-felt Thanku².
All of you have kept me writing Sunday to Sunday these past six years.
It bears repeating: thank you!
gifting Six TeachingAuthors* with treasured smarts and hearts. gifting readers for six years with their hearts and smarts.
*Carmela, JoAnn, April,
MaryAnn and Jeanne Marie, Jill and Laura, Bobbi, Carla -
Meet my fellow Chicago children’s book author, the lovely and talented Claudia Guadalupe Martinez who so generously agreed to share today’s Wednesday Writing Workout in celebration of the release of her second Cinco Puntos Press book, the YA novel PIG PARK.
As her biography notes, Claudia grew up in a close family in Segundo Barrio in El Paso, Texas. Reading the Spanish subtitles of old westerns for her father, she soon learned that letters form words. By six she knew she wanted to grow up to create stories. Her father, who died when she was eleven, encouraged her to dream big and write many books. Cinco Puntos Press is located in El Paso, Texas, “a fact that informs every book that we publish,” publisher John Byrd shared. Along with others championing diversity in children’s books today, he considers PIG PARK and Claudia’s debut award-winning novel THE SMELL OF OLD LADY PERFUME to be worthy examples of the kinds of books the Cooperative Children’s Book Center and WeNeedDiverseBooks encourage and seek. “Claudia,” Byrd wrote, “has a clear fronterizovoice: innocent, shy, witty, full of border culture and understanding. She used that voice well in THE SMELL OF OLD LADY PERFURME, earning herself a great deal of attention with readers, teachers and librarians looking for new and talented writers coming up out of the Hispanic community. That voice has matured in PIG PARK, still shy and clear, but now feisty as well and full of opinions as she chronicles the summer that fifteen-year-old Masi Burciaga and her neighbors came together to save Pig Park.”I so appreciate Claudia’s willingness to share her insights and expertise on creating authentic characters with our TeachingAuthors readers and writers. Esther HershenhornP.S.To enter our latest giveaway, a copy of CHILDREN'S WRITER'S AND ILLUSTRATOR'S MARKET 2015, check Carmela's Friday post.
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The face of America is ever-changing. “Minority” children are set to become the “majority” by the end of this decade, and are already such among babies under the age of one. Yet, among the children's book titles published, approximately only ten percent are by or about racially or ethnically diverse populations each year--according to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Wednesday Writing Workout: Creating Authentic Characters
This conversation isn’t new, but the mainstream is taking note, thanks to the success of the recent WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign. I am more frequently asked for advice on writing diversity, specifically when it comes to authenticity. In such instances, I refer my fellow writers to author Mitali Perkins' tips for writing diversity. Mitali lectures widely on the topic. When it comes to authenticity in racial identity, she advises writers to ask, "How and why does the author define race?” She suggests writers consider the following: “When race is explicit in a book, ask yourself and your students what would have been lost if a character’s race hadn’t been defined by the writer. Why did the author choose to define race?” The reason should be to establish something for the character, and not just to follow a trend or be politically correct. I, for example, wrote about young Chicana in THE SMELL OF OLD LADY PERFUME because I pulled from my own experiences growing up in a Texas border town. The Latino kids in PIG PARK were loosely based on my experiences in Chicago. Alternatively, writers can ask, “Why didn’t he or she let us know the race of the characters?” If no explicit race is mentioned, will this cause readers to default to white characters, or do other cues establish diverse identity? Physical appearance, language, names, food can all be used to designate diversity. While Mitali’s advice focuses on race, authors can apply it to creating authenticity for various other forms of identity. The point is to start thinking about how genuine the attempt at integration is. To figure out what this might mean for you, whether writing inside or outside your experience, try this exercise. Write a character biography based on his/her racial/ethnic identity. Answer the following questions: When and how did he/she become aware of his/her identity? What role has the specific identity played in his/her life? How does it affect his/her social activities? How does it affect his/her school activities? In what ways does the character benefit from this identity? In what ways doesn’t the character benefit? How does the specific identity affect your story? Variation: Write a biography based on another form of diverse identity (religious, sexual orientation, ability, etc.). We live in a complex world where identity is both assigned and assumed. Authentic diversity isn’t casual or happenstance, but something that we as writers must develop as carefully as all other aspects of our story.
Words and spirit were the stuff of my favorite books this year, beginning with Jen Bryant’s and Melissa Sweet’s already award-winning and multiply-starred picture book THE RIGHT WORD – ROGET AND HIS THESAURUS (Eerdmans Books, 2014). This story of how Dr. Peter Roget came to create a Thesaurus has been lauded for its lyrical text and brilliantly-detailed reader-friendly illustrations. I laud it for its celebration and love of words, its accessible story-telling of a one-of-a-kind long-ago individual hell bent on listing each and every one, its brilliant use of synonyms and downright gorgeousness. Just as every writer needs a Roget’s Thesaurus by his side, those of us who love words and good storytelling need THE RIGHT WORD on our bookshelf. Peter Roget remarks in the story “how wonderful it was to find just the right word!” My very sentiments. I love its subtitle: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have. A philosopher-poet and author, Repo wrote this book when “freshly on the other side of cancer.” He chose to exchange his life of words, he wrote, for a life of spirit. Each day’s entry offers a parable or a tradition, a quote or an insight, a poem or verse, followed by Repo’s beautifully-written comments and a related meditative exercise. Admittedly I don’t always do the exercises but instead journal about the eye-opening, heart-opening truths. Today’s December 15 entry opens with the truth, “The sun doesn’t stop shining because people are blind.” Repo then offers examples from the lives of Goya and Melville and closes with these words: “No one can really know what you are called to or what you are capable of but you. Even if no one sees or understands, you are irreplaceable.” Subtitled A SON’S SEARCH FOR HIS FAMILY’S PAST, journalist Sabar tells the story of his father Yona, a distinguished professor and author of the only dictionary of the language of Jesus, Aramaic. Aramaic was the language Yona's Jewish family spoke in the remote Kurdish village of Zakho in northeast Iraq. Mostly illiterate, Yona’s people lived harmoniously with their Muslim and Christian neighbors, considering themselves descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel. Part memoir, part history, part linguistic primer, part geography, at its core is the author’s story of reconnecting with a father he’d disparaged for his differentness. As the book’s cover states, it is “a son’s epic journey back to his father’s lost homeland.” The writing is superb, as in National Book Critics Circle Award Winner for Autobiography, allowing me to live inside this so unfamiliar story, no matter the locale, no matter the time period. “I am the keeper of my family’s stories," Sabar wrote. "I am the guardian of its honor. I am the defender of its traditions. As the first-born son of a Kurdish father, these, they tell me, are my duties. And yet even before my birth I resisted.”Sabar’s page-turning telling had the writer in me breathless, not to mention, envious. Finally, I consider Jacqueline Woodson’s BROWN GIRL DREAMING (Nancy Paulsen/Penguin, 2014) a book of words and spirit too.Recently named a National Book Award Winner, the novel in verse tells the story of Woodson’s childhood in the Jim Crow 60’s and 70’s and her longing to become a writer. I read the book from cover to cover in one sitting, then promptly returned to the first page and began again. Just the way Beverly Cleary took me back to West Philadelphia at age 9 with the mention of Ramona’s pink plastic raincoat, Jacqueline Woodson pierced my little girl’s longing to be a writer. "You’re a writer, Ms. Vivo says, her gray eyes bright behind thin wire frames. Her smile bigger than anything so I smile back, happy to hear these words from a teacher’s mouth."
May the above books gift you as they’ve gifted me this year.
Merry! Happy! Cheers for the New Year!
I meet the Best People doing what I do – for example Chicago writer, colleague, fellow teacher and SCBWI kin Barbara Gregorich who authors fiction and nonfiction for adults and children in a variety of formats on a variety of subjects.You can read a sample chapter of Guide here. To celebrate Barbara’s newest book, I invited her to share a Wednesday Writing Workout and lucky us – she agreed!Scroll down to read, enjoy and try Barbara’s exercises that demystify the all-important narrative element SETTING.Thanks, Barbara, for so generously sharing your smarts!Give Me Place, Lots of PlaceTwo summers ago I taught a week-long course on novel writing to 25 students: the youngest was fifteen, the oldest eighty-five. On our last day of class, three students read the first three pages of their novels-in-progress to all of us. All three novels were fantasy: two had human characters, one did not. Even now I remember those three stories vividly. Through skill, serendipity, or maybe even through my teaching, each of the students offered a piece in which the sense of place was palpable, and I’m convinced that one of the reasons I remember these three stories, their characters and conflicts, was because the settings were so well depicted.
One of the three was set in a dungeon, and the writer (the 15-year-old) was able to make us feel the environment. The prison cell was dank: we felt the chill and the damp. We saw the gray-green moss clinging to the wet stone walls. The bars were thick, rusty, and unbendable. We felt their tormenting power just as we felt the cold sea air that entered at will, just as we recoiled at the thin, gray, tasteless gruel delivered through the food slot each morning. In fiction, place isn’t just something for the reader to experience vicariously — though it is partly that. Place is the world the characters live in, and it helps shape these characters. Put your characters in a different setting, and they will behave differently. A writer who can create lifelike places through a few carefully chosen words that appeal to the senses is also well on the road to creating empathetic characters. When we see how place affects a fictional character we empathize, probably because we realize how real-life places affect us — isolated windowless work environments; cluttered, dog-hair-covered, stale-food-smelling cars; un-shoveled, foot-high hummocks of ice on city sidewalks; the welcome coolness of wet sand just below the scorching top layer on a summer day. Place, as I explain to my students, should never be depicted in such a way that it seems more important than the characters within that place. No description for description’s sake. Setting lets readers enter the world the characters live in and helps readers understand where the story is taking place. More than that, the more palpable the place, the better readers can see how setting influences character and how character modifies setting. In the dungeon story, for example, the place limited what the prisoner could do, but the prisoner also had an impact on the setting: he nurtured a small plant inside the cell, and he moved one of the stone blocks to where he could stand on it to look out the high, barred window. Here are some exercises I gave my 15-to-85-year-old students. Perhaps these, or modifications thereof, will inspire your and/or your students to think about the importance of place in fiction, and how setting and character shine light on one another.
Keep the Character, Change the Place
Ask students to take an existing story and change the setting completely. Have them rewrite the first two or three pages of the story with the new setting. Then compare the two stories: how does the character change? What is it that setting does to character?Comfortable Place or Not? Do your students tend to place their characters in places where the characters are comfortable? Say a dancer in the dance studio, or a great basketball player on the court? Or do they place their characters outside the comfort zone? Say a boy who has never, ever helped in the kitchen suddenly finds himself obligated to work in one to help his best friend. You might ask students to write acomfort-setting story first, and then rewrite it as an outside-the-comfort-zone story. It’s instructive to note how happy or sad setting can make characters feel, how good or bad, how confident or unconfident.
Same Place, Different Characters
Yet another approach to place is to have students write a two-different-POVs story, first from Character A’s POV, then from Character B’s. Both characters are in the same place at the same time. But are their reactions the same? How does setting impact each character? My experience has been that when students are asked to treat the setting as more than background information, they excel at bringing places to life and at showing how characters function in a particular setting.
We TeachingAuthors have been posting about our intended plotlines for 2015.
I so appreciate my fellow bloggers’ insights and their willingness to share their experiences, smarts and intentions for this coming year.
Like JoAnn, I’ve been walking a dog too this past week - my GrandDoggieDaughter Maggie, in the soul-freeing coatless-bootless-hatless-gloveless-scarfless clime of warm and sunny mountain-surrounded Phoenix.I’ve been thinking on what I need/want/wish to share in this post and it is this: when it comes to plotlines, the character’s in the driver’s seat. It took me forever - as in countless rejected manuscripts showcasing countless puppet-like characters - to understand this truth.And not just as it applies to the plotline of a story I’m writing…but also to the writer’s plotline I’m living every day. I need to know my character’s need/want/wish … and I need to know mine. Otherwise neither of us can act, re-act, grow and triumph as we drive the twists and turns of our stories’ highways. Digging deep within – my characters and myself - reveals the answer, always. Fortunately, we’re but 19 days into our new year. So as I work on my own writer’s story, I’m digging away, hoping to uncover my need/want/wish, helped by the following three insights I came upon the first week of January. Marketing guru Seth Godin’s January 1 post – “USED TO BE” – set off non-stop sparks in my mind and heart. The phrase “used to be,” it turns out, connotes neither failure nor obsolescence. Instead, it signals bravery and progress. “If you were brave enough to leap,” Godin posited, “who would you choose to 'used to be'?” Hmmmmm…..I pondered. The possibilities intrigued me.
In her January 4 Chicago Tribune column, writer Heidi Stevens suggested we skip declaring New Year’s resolutions and instead write a mission statement. A mission statement, she wrote, “was less about what she should tackle and more about the shape she wanted her life to take.” I liked that insight. What struck me most was her own mission statement: to focus on what she knows to be true. Hmmmmm….I pondered further. More possibilities to consider.
Finally, Stevens’ fellow Chicago Tribune writer Mary Schmich shared an idea in her January 7 column that April Halprin Wayland echoed in her January 9 post: choose one word to live by in the coming year. Having to select that one word that would guide your new year was akin to “being dropped inside a Super Target,” Schmich wrote, “and asked to pick one object, and only one, that you would carry with you for the next 12 months.” Once again, I pondered intriguing possibilities. Embrace? Flow? Risk? Grow? Leap? Simply, be?
What and who I used to be. My mission statement. My one word for the coming year.
I believe knowing all of the above will help me finally nail my need/want/wish for 2015.Just like that, I’ll be traveling my plotline, both hands on the wheel, eyes open and focused.
Happy Driving to our TeachingAuthors’ readers! Saturday, January 24, from noon to 4 pm (in respective time zones) is the first-ever National Readathon Day, a nation-wide reading session that allows you to promote reading while pledging and fundraising to support the National Book Foundation. Think of it like “a walk-a-thon charity drive, only you’re turning pages instead of walking laps.”
I had such a fortunate Teachable Moment while brainstorming my picture book FANCY THAT with my Holiday House Editor Mary Cash.I knew the setting – Berks County, Pennsylvania; I knew the time – 1841; and I knew my story’s Hero – young Pippin Biddle, orphaned without warning, the son of a limner - an itinerant portrait painter. Mary agreed with me that such a picture book would be ripe with historical and arts curriculum connections. My sketchy plotline was just that – i.e. sketchy: accompanied by his dog Biscuit, (whom I pictured to be lap-size), Pip would travel the Pennsylvania/New York area through the first 3 seasons of the year unsuccessfully earning his keep painting people’s portraits, returning at Thanksgiving with an empty purse and heart. “But why would young readers care about such a boy on such a journey?” I asked my editor. “Well,” Mary began, “could he have a few sisters who needed Pip to earn his keep?” she asked.Orphans, Mary shared, can be lovely in a story.“And, maybe,” she suggested, “Pip’s dog could be part of the resolution?”And then she paused, her gaze meeting mine.“You know, Christmas books do so much better than Thankgiving titles,” she commented. “What if Pip returned at Christmas?” Driven to tell this singular story, I back-burnered Mary’s 3 delicious suggestions with an open mind, even though I’m a nice Jewish girl from West Philadelphia and writing a Christmas picture book was not in my wheelhouse, as they say.
Fast forward to the stacks of the Wilmette Public Library, one week later, when I discovered (1) there wasno Thanksgiving to celebrate in the U.S. in 1841 and (2) few Americans celebrated Christmas at that time!
And OOPS²… except...the German immigrants, who’d just happened to settle in Berks County in central Pennsylvania, had brought along their Christmas tradition of making evergreen wreaths and decorating their fir trees!while Pip’s dog Biscuit gathers the greenery of each season, and Pip paints his portrait to send home to his Poor House-ensconced sisters Emma, Lyddie and Martha,
Pip’s sisters themselves, inspired by Pip’s portraits, create a livelihood that builds them their homeand Pip discovers his hidden talent.
Fancy that!Lucky Pip and his sisters! Lucky me and my readers!
And all quite by accident.
P.S.Jennifer T won the SKIN AND BONES giveaway!
P.P.S.A writer with whom I corresponded this past week shared the following Dalai Lama quote benath her name. I thought it relevant.
"Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck."
I write this post enormously grateful for how smart each fellow blogger has made me these past two weeks thanks to her posts that addressed the telling of our stories, whether true or not. As I read Mary Ann’s, April’s, Bobbi’s and JoAnn’s posts, all I could think about was the tiny blue Post-It Note I’d affixed long ago to my first desk-top computer: “It’s the STORY, stupid!” We are, as Kendall Haven wrote, story animals; we are, as Lisa Cron tells us, wired for story.
I’d originally titled this abecedarian book W IS FOR WRITING. Brainstorming with my CPS Alcott School fifth graders helped me choose writing-associated words to represent the letters A through Z. But even once I fine-tuned those choices to ensure they totally embraced the writing information I needed and wanted to share, I knew those twenty-six words in no way told a story.
And they needed to, if I was to pull in readers and keep them turning the pages. My fifth-grader Alberto said it best. “You should change the title,” he boldly advised me. “W IS FOR WRITING sounds like a textbook. I’d never want to buy it. But if you call it “W IS FOR WRITER,” he added, “I’ll think you wrote a book about me.” Alberto wanted hard facts, inspiration and encouragement. But most of all, he wanted – and expected – a story about writers with which he could connect. So here’s what I did to tell that story: (1) First I thought about my take-away, what I wanted my reader thinking when he closed the book – i.e. writers are readers! (2) Next I thought about what I wanted my reader thinking while he was reading my descriptive and explanatory poems and sidebars – i.e. young writers and award-winning authors share the very same writing process! (3) I then made sure the true facts I chose to include - about children’s books, about children’s book authors, about the writing process– served as concrete details that supported my story's take-away’s. (4) Finally, I did my best to create a narrative arc, addressing the reader while moving him from the all-encompassing people, they and their in the beginning alphabet pages…. to the inclusive we,us and our in the middle pages…
to the focused you and your in the final pages.
Thanks to Alberto, my twenty-six letters told a story - of a writer's life and process, A through Z
Today’s interview subject qualifies as a Student Success Story + a TeachingAuthor. He’s a national-award-winning former suburban Illinois across-the-grades classroom teacher and reading specialist who currently serves as Professor of Literacy Education at Judson University in Elgin, Illinois, directing the university’s Master of Education in Literacy program and co-directing the university’s doctoral program in Literacy Education. He also authors picture books, including STAY WITH SISTER (Pelican), (which he wrote in my 2011 Newberry Library Picture Book Workshop), YA fiction, including THIS SIDE OF PARADISE(Pelican) and academic books for teachers, including LIFE’S LITERACY LESSONS, IGNITING A PASSION FOR READING and, as of March 1, IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD (all Stenhouse). Dr. Layne also recently served as an elected Board Member of the International Reading Association, now the International Literacy Association. I’m honored to call this amazing former student-dash-TeachingAuthor both “Steven” and “friend” and welcome this opportunity to share him with our readers. His earnest zeal for literacy is nothing short of contagious. Steven travels the world igniting his audiences of teachers and writers. His mission statement as expressed on his website says it all. Passionate about reading. “Building lifetime readers,” he writes, “is what it’s all about for reading teachers and librarians. If we aren’t doing that – what are we doing?” In IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD, Steven puts forth the research, the insights, the experience of teachers, librarians and authors to reinforce readers’ confidence to continue and sustain the practice of reading aloud in grades K through 12. Thank you, Steven, for all you do to keep literacy alive – and – for sharing your smarts and experience with our TeachingAuthors readers. Thank you, too, for offering one lucky reader a signed copy of IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD via our TeachingAuthor Book Giveaway. (Instructions appear following the Q and A.) So, let’s divide the standard First Question of our Student Success Story/ TeachingAuthor Interview into two parts. How did your teaching career begin? I wanted it to begin right after college—but I had no teaching degree. My parents assured me I would starve if I became a teacher, so I became a therapist—who married a teacher. It took only two months of listening to her talk about her students for me to return to college again—and to follow my destiny. Over the years I worked with the impoverished, the insanely wealthy, the middle class – you name them, I taught them – every race, religion, shape, and size. I like to think those experiences taught me a few things. How did your writing career begin? I loved writing in school. I often made up my own cast of characters for dramas and wrote short stories and plays. My poetry and prose were awarded honors throughout high school. Many years later, when I was in a doctoral course called “Writing for Publication” and had finished all of the required “academic” submissions, I asked about writing a picture book. The professor encouraged me to “go for it.” I did, and 27 rejection letters later – I sold it. My mother and my aunt Mary bought copies right away but beyond that the sales were less than inspiring. My second book, The Teachers’ Night Before Christmas, became a national bestseller—selling over 100,000 copies. Suddenly, people wanted to talk to me about writing.
How does each role (teacher/author) inform and impact the other? The role of “Teacher” informs EVERYTHING that I do from the way I parent, to where I sit in church, to the way I interact on an airplane. When I write for kids – I draw on my knowledge from 15 years of classroom experience. I typically write fast-paced, plot-driven YA because I am thinking of what I know will grab the kind of reluctant readers I taught. When I write picture books, I try to stay under 500 words and to write about an issue that will emotionally resonate with primary-grade readers, again, because I taught those grades. Those kids were my first loves, so to speak. When I write for teachers—how can I NOT write “as teacher?” I spend a lot of time in public and private K-12 classrooms even now. A colleague and I have been teaching in three fifth-grade classes on and off this past year and those experiences are definitely going to play into the writing of an article, book, or curriculum. The role of “Author” informs my teaching, primarily when I am talking to teachers about the craft and the process of writing. I try not to speak only from my own experience but from that of others. In fact, I am often gently criticized for not shining a light on my own work, and while it is true that I can speak to my process better than anyone else’s—I am loathe to have audiences feel that I am trying to showcase my own work. That being said, I often pull from my knowledge of how “real world writing works” and from my experience when I teach about writing but am able to do so without using my own texts as the examples. How and why did you come to write IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD? My experience with read-alouds spans a wide range of grade levels. I read aloud, even now, to both my masters and my doctoral classes. The benefits are far-reaching and the research is sound, and yet the experience is often placed under the pedagogical microscope—raising eyebrows and leading to the question: “Is this a good use of instructional time?” I wanted to write the book that would settle the questions once and for all which is why I enlisted an army of voices from throughout the literacy arena to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with me on this issue. I know of no other book where an issue of instructional practice has received such a resolute stance from so many. My prayer is that this book will be every teacher’s and librarian’s defense if their practice in reading aloud to children or teens is questioned by someone who is ill-informed. Can you share one or two reader responses – to any of your books – that remain in your heart and keep you going…doing your important work? I wrote my first YA novel This Side of Paradise when a 7th grader in my classroom challenged me to write a book for kids who hate to read. That title has won more awards and recognition than all my other books combined. The other day I received a letter from a single mother from California. She was writing to tell me that her middle-school son, who had been having a tough time in school and HATED books – had discovered mine. He read it, then read the sequel, and then came to ask her if she could try to find out if and when another book in the series was coming. To see this book still working magic warms my heart. I receive a lot of mail about my professional book Igniting a Passion for Reading. I am frequently told by teachers that their reading of this title has completely altered their practice. Yesterday, I was contacted by a school district in Texas. They are opening three brand-new elementary schools and hiring all new faculty. Igniting and two other titles from my dear friends Regie Routman and Donalyn Miller are the three books around which they will anchor all instruction. They have asked me to come out and work with the teachers. What an honor – I am so blessed. What’s the next Steven Layne children’s book and/or Dr. Steven L. Layne academic title for which we should ready our bookshelves? Oh, I wish I could give you a definitive answer. I am due for a new picture book because I typically bounce between genres; however, I have four chapters of a YA novel started and an exciting new book for teachers also taking shape. You never know what I’m going to do next (and neither do I), and I actually kind of like it that way. Let’s just say, you can reserve a place on your shelf because something’s coming – we just don’t know what . . . or when. Here’s a way to instantly fill that saved space: enter our Rafflecopter Book Giveaway and win an autographed copy of Steven’s IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD (Stenhouse)! If you choose the “comment” option, please share your Favorite Read Aloud title – as either listener or reader.
If your name isn’t part of your comment “identity,” please include it in your comment for verification purposes. Comments may also be submitted via email to: teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com.
If the widget doesn’t appear for some reason (or you’re an email subscriber), use the link at the end of this post to take you to the entry form.
The Book Giveaway ends midnight, April 1.
Jim Trelease, author of THE READ-ALOUD HANDBOOK, properly praised this essential book for teachers and librarians in his review: "Amidst the clanging noise of today's technology, Steven Layne offers here a clear clarion call on behalf of reading to children. It is insightful, reasoned, entertaining (rare in the field), and carefully researched for those who might doubt the urgent need for something that doesn't need a Wi-Fi hot spot. It should be on every teacher's must-read list."
Be sure to enter our Book Giveaway of an autographed copy of IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD. Instructions follow after the Wednesday Writing Workout. The deadline to enter is April 6.
Were I entering our TeachingAuthors Book Giveaway, I’d share my #1 read-aloud title - Norton Juster’s THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH (Random House). As I wrote in my post celebrating Leonard Marcus’ 50th anniversary annotated edition of THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH, reading aloud this beloved classic marked the first day of school for every fifth grade class I taught. Once grown and married, many of my students wrote me to share how they in turn shared Milo’s tale with their children.
So what about you? What is your favorite read-aloud title?
Once again, I thank Steven – this time for allowing me to share his Read-aloud Tips and Recommendations - as listed in IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD, in today’s Wednesday Writing Workout.
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Wednesday Writing Workout:
Dr. Steven L. Layne’s Read-aloud Tips and Recommendations
As Dr. Layne declares in his newest book, when it comes to read-aloud, practice makes perfect! Here are a few of his practical read-aloud guidelines as shared in his March 1-released IN DEFENSE OF READ-ALOUD (Stenhouse).
Become familiar with the book before reading it.
Launch the book successfully.
· Provide a purpose for listening.
· Work out an advantageous seating arrangement. · Plan your stopping point. “Every stopping point is a secret reading-skill-reinforcement lesson just waiting to happen.” · Teach reading skills such as visualization, inferring, and sequencing. · Plan strategically for the end of the read-aloud. · Work out a positive solution for those students who get the book and read ahead. · Choose and balance the books and genres we read-aloud. Just in case you’re looking for a good book to read aloud, read through his list of “The Twelve Books Steven Loves to Read Aloud.” · COUNTERFEIT SON by Elaine Alphin (“My go-to- read-aloud for high school kids who need to be enticed back into the experience of being read to by an adult.”)
· Sue Stauffacher’S DONUTHEAD (“It has proven itself to me time and again when it comes to delighting students in the intermediate grades.”)
· Bill Grossman’s MY LITTLE SISTER ATE ONE HARE. (“How can you not fall in love with a picture book about a girl who eats all manner of disgusting things and then throws up – when it’s written by a guy whose last name is Grossman?” · Jerry Spinelli’s STARGIRL. (“Of all the books I have read aloud to students in my career, it is Jerry Spinelli’s STARGIRL that takes center stage.” And don’t forget to enter our TeachingAuthors Book Giveaway! The deadline is midnight, April 6.
Today’s Wednesday Writing Workout on how to turn an idea into a satisfying story was cooked up by Chicago debut novelist Kate Hannigan. The timing is perfect: Kate’s CUPCAKE COUSINS(Disney-Hyperion) releases this Friday, May 9, with an official 2:30 pm cupcakes-included launch at 57th Street Books in Hyde Park in Chicago, if anyone’s in the area (1301 E. 57th St.) J
Kate also blogs at Author Of, interviewing fellow authors of books for young readers of all ages. Illustrated by Brooke Boynton Hughes, CUPCAKE COUSINS tells the story of almost-10-year-old cousins Willow and Delia who have been asked to be flower girls and wear bright pink dresses for their aunt’s upcoming wedding. But the cousins would much rather don white aprons and be flour girls, whipping up some culinary magic to share with their entire family. Scrumptious recipes for whoopee pies, peach pancakes and other tasty treats are included.Kate’s next release is in April 2015: THE DETECTIVE’S ASSISTANT (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), an historical fiction middle grade novel. Kate also co-authored with Karen Duncan the community service book THE GOOD FUN! BOOK(Blue Marlin) which offers 12 months of parties kids can throw to help their communities and the world.
Thanks to Kate, for sharing her writer’s recipe for story-building with our TeachingAuthors readers. Her tips are write-on!
Finally I can say, what I knew I'd say some day,
having had the honor of working with Kate on earlier manuscripts:
Kate's on her way!
. . . . . . . . . . .
Whenever I’m just starting out with an idea, but it’s got no shape or clear direction, I call it a hot mess. It’s a bubbling stew of characters and plot twists and good intentions. But it’s definitely not a story yet. So how do we take a hot mess of a book idea and turn it into an actual manuscript? Lots of writers have ideas and techniques that work: You can find sites that offer up tools for outlining or worksheets or even fancy methods with clever names. But you also might benefit from a simpler, broad-based sketch. You’ll know what works best for you as you try them out. I have a few exercises that help me move from brain hiccups to first drafts, and I’ll share them here. They involve distilling ideas to their essence, literally sketching out the story arcs with little arrows and rainbow curves, and old-school outlining. When I came up with the idea for Cupcake Cousins, I was driving on the highway between Chicago and Western Michigan, where the book is set, and letting my mind wander. But it wasn’t until I had quiet time to put pencil to paper that I could begin to see an actual story take shape. You’ll hear plenty of naysayers who distrust the notion of outlining. “It’s too confining,” they complain. “I like to let my characters take me wherever they’re going,” they declare. Sure, but remember that those are the kind of people who run with scissors, who leave the house without a hat and eat high-cholesterol dinners. Let ’em partake in such risky behavior. Because as they’re enjoying the wind-in-the-hair rush of chasing their unruly characters, you’ll be too busy getting yours lovelies from Point A to Point Z to pay them any notice. And before long, you’ll have a solid first draft of a manuscript while they’re still lost on a literary back road. I’m a Type A person trapped in a Type B body, so you won’t hear me advocating for a rigid outlining regimen. But I will say that distilling, sketching, and outlining saved me and my stories. And I won’t begin a project without first coming up with the wire hanger on which to hang my story. Here’s a simple three-part exercise I do when I want to get my middle-grade story started, moving from hot mess of an idea to tangible first draft in hand. 1. Start with one sentence. Distill your book into one simple sentence. Two cousins are tired of being treated like babies, so they try to prove themselves through amazing feats of baking. This helps you focus in on the essence of your book. And simple language can be repeated: imagine your potential book editor walking down the hall to another cubicle and pitching your one-sentence summary to her neighbor. 2. Sketch out your story arcs. Seriously, grab a paper and pencil and start drawing curvy arcs. What does your main character learn over the long journey of your book? She starts out at Point A as what kind of person? And where is she at the story’s end? What about sub-characters? What do they want? How are they changed? If you’re a visual learner like me, you might benefit from seeing the way these story arcs rise and fall. And if you are setting up a lot of story threads, these sketches can help you make sure when and where you’re going to tie them off. 3. Flesh out your idea with an outline. Going from one-sentence summary to 30,000-word novel is an overwhelming notion. If you’re like me, you might get completely flummoxed at this point and bail on your project entirely. Don’t. Instead, create a simple outline of the book. And start by giving yourself some parameters, like word count. Early middle-grade books tend to hit about the same length. Let’s say you’re shooting for 28,000 words. Divide that total over 10 chapters, and you’re looking at writing 2, 800 words for each chapter. That’s a manageable target, right? Now you have a daily writing goal. But what do you want to say? Before you begin doing the writing, you have to do some heavy lifting – think of it as arranging the furniture. What are the 10 touch points you want to hit on in your book? Build your outline by writing down a quick one- or two-sentence summary of what needs to happen in each chapter as you move from the story’s beginning to end. Chapter 1: Willow stares at the ugly flower girl dress and determines she won’t wear it for the wedding. She and Delia can’t wait to get into the kitchen so they can cook their way out of these dreadful gowns. Chapter 2: Cat the new caterer appears in the kitchen, and she’s intimidating. But Willow and Delia aren’t convinced Cat knows how to make things as good as they do, so they “fix” her lemonade. The results are disastrous.Be flexible. Say you decide your chapters are too long for the pace you’re setting. So instead of 10 chapters of roughly 2,800 words each, you’re going to write about 20 chapters with 1,400 words per chapter and zip right along. Go back to your original outline and divide each chapter idea in half: Chapter 1: Willow stares at hideous pink dress and determines she won’t wear it for the wedding. Family heads off for vacation in Michigan with Willow feeling frustrated. Chapter 2: Willow and Delia meet up, extended family too. Aunt Rosie is crazy for the pink dresses while Willow and Delia are plotting NOT to wear them. They race off to the kitchen together, where they believe their true talents can flourish. Chapter 3: Inside the kitchen. The girls hear the screen door open, and they meet the new caterer, Cat. She poses a threat to their plan for cooking their way out of the ugly dresses.
Chapter 4: The cousins tinker with Cat’s lemonade to disastrous results, getting them off on the wrong foot with her and ousted from her kitchen. And so on.
Outline as roadmap. Creating a reliable, functional outline doesn’t have to lock you in. There is still the freedom to let your creative voice take you places. But it does help you stay focused on your destination. While we might enjoy a Sunday drive in the country, we eventually need to get to where we’re going, right? Let the outline serve as your roadmap. Flesh out your ideas even more with each pass. As you refine your outline, flesh out the ideas for each chapter in greater and greater detail, making sure to pace out the tension and conflict as you go. With each pass, your outline details should grow from just a few sentences into a few longer paragraphs. Almost writing itself. When it comes time to sit down and begin writing your manuscript, you’ll might be surprised how clearly focused your story is. The book could almost right itself! Okay, that’s not true, but you are in good shape because of your outline. You can see where your action peaks and where you provide the reader a rest. You can see where you’ve laid in turning points and tension, and where you’ve set up and then resolved the conflict. Outline into manuscript. As you keep refining your outline and begin the writing process that makes the chapters hang together, you’ll see your great idea transform into a real story. And that story will soon take the shape of a solid, working draft. And from there, you can just imagine the book it will soon become. You’re off and running! But not with scissors; you’re too smart for that.
I’ve been chomping at the bit while I awaited my scheduled posting time, that’s how eager I am to share Dani Shapiro’s STILL WRITING: THE PERILS AND PLEASURES OF A CREATIVE LIFE (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2013) with our TeachingAuthors readers.
How did I ever miss this book when it released last November! It’s a MUST book for every writer’s bookshelf that beautifully delivers the front flap copy’s promise: “Shapiro offers a gift to writers everywhere: an elegant guide of hard-won wisdom and encouragement for staying the course.” Part personal memoir, part meditation on the artistic process and part advice on craft gleaned from a twenty-year writing and teaching career, STILL WRITING inspires, encourages, informs and delights, and much like a children’s book, leaves the writer with hope. When it comes to writing, Dani Shapiro bares both the good and the not-so-good. As a result, I closed the book and was once again reminded that – at least when it comes to my writing, I am normal. I’m NOT alone. I’m not the odd-woman out. I’m not the only one struggling here. Much like Anne LaMott did in her BIRD BY BIRD instructions on writing and on life, Dani Shaprio gave me permission to do what I cannot not do, i.e. write. I like how Shapiro divided the book and the creative process into Beginnings, Middles and Ends. Her insightful and instructive bon mots within each section never fail to speak the truth whether addressing topics such as Riding the Wave, our Inner Censor, a Corner (start small) or Building the Boat, Courage, Rhythm and Distance or Exposure, Risk, Tribe and Envy. My three favorite quotes from STILL WRITING? “The only reason to be a writer is because you have to.” “My words are my pickax, and with them I chip away at the rough surface of whatever it is I still need to know.” And, finally, these words Shapiro shared about approaching her Writing Workshops, which had the writing teacher inside of me weeping:“We – this ragtag group of ten or twelve – are going to become a single organism. A collective unconscious. We are going to set aside our petty concerns and focus, instead, on the sentences in front of us. We will train our best selves – our empathic understanding, our optimism, our critical eye – to understand what each of us is trying to do. We are going to laugh, possibly cry, argue, roll our eyes. But we’re going to do it with respect, and even with love.” I can’t wait to begin each of my Summer Newberry Library Workshop sessions with relevant readings from this life-affirming/writer-affirming book. As an aside, I openly confess: I have a writer’s crush on Dani Shapiro. I’m taken with her smarts, her raw courage, her honesty, her talent, and most of all, her generosity in sharing all she’s come to live and know first-hand, as a writer, as a teacher, as a daughter, as a wife, as a mother, as a friend, all in the service of keeping her writers keeping on. I’ve now read her poignant, beautifully-written memoir SLOW MOTION: A Memoir of a Life Rescued by Tragedy. Her memoir DEVOTION: A Memoir and the novel FAMILY HISTORY top my book pile. I’ve also sent on links to Dani Shapiro’s blog to several of my students and writers. "There is only this moment,” Shapiro writes, “when we put pen to page.”STILL WRITING will help you do just that. Enjoy! And do share your thoughts once you lose yourself as I did in Shapiro’s book and writing.Esther Hershenhorn
Kudos and Thanks to my courageously-honest fellow TeachingAuthors JoAnn, Carmela and Laura - and to our TeachingAuthors readers as well - for sharing their understandable publishing and marketability concerns once they begin writing a story.
My filing cabinet too overflows with as-yet-sold manuscripts.
The adjective as-yet-sold speaks volumes about my optimism and Faith.
I’ve always believed that my Writer’s Story – and any story in which I’ve invested – would eventually bring that “inevitable yet surprising satisfactory resolution” required of all stories.
I truly am the Susan Lucci of Children’s Books.
I fortunately have what editor Ted Solotoroff once called endurability, as referenced in Dani Shapiro’s STILL WRITING: THE PERILS AND PLEASURES OF A CREATIVE LIFE.
I write stories that grab my heart and won’t let go. Period. I write them one at a time, for however long it takes, in between teaching and coaching and speaking since I bring home the bacon, ’til each is ready for editorial submission. I also revise them, again, and then again, for however long it takes, ’til each is ready for yet another editorial submission.Prolific I am not. Do I creatively envision the manuscript as a published book while I write and revise, listing likely publishers when I come upon them?Of course.Do I imagine an editor’s offer or a stellar review or the look of surprise on a Doubting Thomas’ face.You bet.And when Reality arrives, when my story still fails to see the light of day? I tuck it away...for another day. In other words, for whatever reasons, sane, sound or not, once I’m invested in a story and begin writing, I keep on going, no matter the current market place. Period. (Morgue Files/lightfoot)I first wrote my first published picture book THERE GOES LOWELL’S PARTY! some ten years earlier as an easy-to-read titled CALLING 'ROUND ABOUT THE RAIN. I couldn’t give up on either Lowell or the Vance Randolph Ozark tales I’d studied in college.I wrote and revised THE CONFE$$ION$ AND $ECRET$ OF HOWARD J. FINGERHUT for at least 7 editors over 12 years before Holiday House published it. I believed in Howie and his story whole-heartedly. A year came and went while an agent worked unsuccessfully to place my newest baby board book TXTNG MAMA TXTNG BABY with a publisher. I withdrew the book and lo and behold, my Sleeping Bear Press editor phoned to tell me of their new ownership and yes, they were looking for a first-time baby book! Times change; markets change; publishers’ needs change; editorial staffs change. My filing cabinets hold three of my favorite picture books: LOOP-DE-LOOP LEO, about a little boy who’s afraid to go out-and-about on his nursery school teacher’s looped rope; SING A SONG OF YITZY, about a little boy who longs to travel with his Papa’s Klezmer band; and my first book ever, CATCH A PATCH OF FOG, about a little boy who always has a piece of him hanging out when he plays Hide-and-Seek. Wouldn’t a patch of fog be the perfect solution? The Truth is: I found my own courage writing Leo’s story; I learned each of us has a song to sing writing Yitzy’s tale; and my fog catcher’s wondering proved to be mine: Maybe I was someone worth finding? In other words, writing my stories helped and helps me see the light. Period. And those Aha! Moments sustain me and keep me keeping on.I’ve always known: the right story at the right time helps the reader discover, uncover, recover his own story.My writing has taught me: the same is true for the writer too.Each of my stories, whether sold or not, has proved to be for me the right story at the right time. Maybe, like Laura, I’ll soon consider epublishing, or better yet, independently publishing one or two of my tucked-away stories. I’ve helped several of my writers successfully do both. I know that like JoAnn, I can’t help but return to several of my much-loved unsold picture book texts and restructure them, reshape them, turn them on their sides, to see if there’s a better story-telling way to draw editorial interest.Like Carmela, I’ll always keep my eyes and ears open for homes for my stories.Meanwhile, I’ll continue to share my unsold manuscripts and their publishing histories with my students, so they can see the light, and Cubs Fan that I am, keep believing in my stories.Yet another perspective (minus Morgue Files photos of filing cabinets and light bulbs I couldn't upload!)Esther Hershenhorn
But I’m happy to report: she’s one of my long-ago Ragdale Picture Book Workshop students too. J Though she now lives in Vero Beach, Florida, I will always consider her my SCBWI-Illinois kin.
As recent posts noted, most writers’ drawers are crammed full with manuscripts that somehow haven’t found the light of day.So Tamera’s WWW is more than timely, helping us mine the gold in those left-behind stories.
THIS OLD BAND features a ragtag band of cowboys counting and hollering from ten to one, making music with their jugs, combs, boots and whatever else they can find. In its upcoming July 2014 review, School Library Journal commended THIS OLD BAND for the “clever use of alliteration and rhyme, as well as laugh-out-loud funny tongue-twisters, that complement the singsong nature of the story, making the book ideal for both story-times and one-on-one sharing.”
Thanks, Tamera, for sharing your book and your know-how!
As always, I'm cheering you on!
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Mining for Nuggets of Gold in Stories Left Behind
Do you have any stories or poems that you’ve trunked, shelved, iced, buried, torpedoed, or locked in the vault? Work that was once your reason for showing up to write every day, but then at some point stopped being fun or interesting enough to continue? I do. Each piece’s end comes differently – sometimes I move on after barely starting, and other times I write through the end only to find that it didn’t turn out the way that I had intended. After the huge investments of time and energy, it can be disappointing, even heartbreaking.
My first picture book, THIS OLD BAND, has its genesis in in the demise of another rhyming concept book that will probably never be published because I’m not sure I’ll ever figure out how to write it. While I was creating it, though, in my mind it had such potential, such flair! There was going to be a duel! I wrote two (what I thought were) really terrific opening stanzas:West, out near the great divide Where bison roam and ranchers ride Above the town of Twisted Pine,Lived number one through number nine. I outlined the rest of the story. I knew where I wanted this poem-story to go and I wrote and rewrote, but it didn’t go where I had planned and eventually I had to concede. I placed the manuscript in a drawer and moved on to something else.Over the months and years, though, the heart of that story kept tugging at me. I loved that western setting, the idea of cowboys and cowgirls, the bison, the numbers. I had already acknowledged that the story didn’t work as it was, but I began to think in “what ifs” and “maybes”:
Sifting through that old manuscript to mine those nuggets of gold was fun. Leaving behind the rest of the pieces that hadn't worked felt liberating. Equally satisfying was starting anew with my gold pieces of setting, characters, action, and new rhyme and rhythm. I began to uncover a different looking and sounding story that eventually became This Old Band.
- What if I kept the southwest setting and the element of counting?
- Maybe these characters didn’t want to duel. What if I didn’t make them?
- What if, instead, the main characters were cowboy/cowgirl friends who played simple instruments and made silly noises? Maybe they could perform as a band.
- What if I threw out those “terrific” stanzas that were getting me nowhere and chose an entirely different rhythm and rhyme pattern?
I believe that every shelved story or poem has valuable nuggets to mine if we’re willing to push past the gate of sorrow and frustration to search for them. Here are ideas for ways to approach a buried manuscript:
I wish you good luck as you consider mining for your own gold nuggets. Maybe your real story is just waiting to be unearthed.
- Which one speaks most loudly to your heart and your brain? Maybe that’s the one to consider first.
- Do you need to actually read it to know what’s in there that is of value to you? Maybe there’s a gem of a conflict that you know by heart. Or a setting that is exceptional. Maybe it’s a secondary character – or an endearing character trait. With poetry it could be any detail that you found particularly charming. Maybe it’s a wonderful metaphor, a delightful image, or a single rhyming couplet.
- If you do reread the manuscript – after all this time is it more clear to you what was working and what wasn’t? Go in and grab those nuggets that work; they are gold, and they are yours!
- Consider what you have – it may not seem like much at first, but no story or poem does in the beginning.
- Based on what you have, allow yourself to wonder. Say “maybe”…ask “what if?” Follow your beacons of gold and see where they lead you.
What have I been reading, and in some cases re-reading, these delicious summer days in Chicago?Part memoir, part meditation on the creative process, part advice on craft, Dani Shapiro’s words enabled, empowered and equipped me to return to my writing and keep on keepin’ on.In sharing those words weekly with my summer Newberry Library Writing Workshop students, I watched them do the same.
Anything written by Dani Shapiro!
I hope that name rings a bell.
I declared her book STILL WRITING: THE PERILS AND PLEASURES OF WRITING a must-have for every writer’s shelf in my June 2 post.
I knew instantly from her confession early on in STILL WRITING that I wanted and needed to read Dani Shapiro’s body of work, both fiction and nonfiction. “My words are my pickax, and with them I chip away at the rough surface of whatever it is I still need to know.”I began with SLOW MOTION: A MEMOIR OF A LIFE RESCUED BY TRAGEDY, Dani Shapiro’s honest, heartfelt telling of her true story, “a life turned around – not by miracles or happy endings, but by unexpected personal catastrophe.” Next I read DEVOTION: A MEMOIR, the story of her ongoing three-tiered inner journey to discover what makes a life meaningful. The novel FAMILY HISTORY followed. Living up to its flap copy, it was indeed a “stunning and brutally honest novel about one family’s harrowing recovery from devastation.” Rachel Jensen’s story of the family crisis brought about by her adolescent daughter’s pain grabbed me from the get-go and wouldn’t let go. I can say the same about BLACK & WHITE’s Clara Brodeur and her story which explores the stuff and limits of the mother-daughter relationship. All of the books mentioned, whether memoir or fiction, totally absorbed me. I adore reading stories about families, about creative souls, about the human condition. I worried. I cared. Each book spoke to me - the mother, grandmother and former wife, the daughter and sister, the human being, but also, the writer and teacher. Each book was literally un-put-downable. Dani Shapiro writes elegantly, truthfully, her camera lens focused on only what’s important to the characters and their internal and external actions. Her superb craft in seamlessly weaving important back story details into the forward-moving story is to be envied, as well as studied.
And study it I did, because that’s how I learned my craft long ago, when I knew zippo about how to write for children: I read the bodies of work of Charlotte Zolotow and James Marshall and MarjorieWeinman Sharmat, when I longed to write picture books, of Betsy Byars and Phyllis Reynolds Naylor and Lois Lowry, when I longed to write a novel. I read them first as a reader, second as a writer. And I spent time learning their writer’s stories too.
I now subscribe to Dani Shapiro’s blog - which is how I first discovered STILL WRITING, thanks to Carmela’s Facebook sharing of Bruce Black’s April 18 sharing of the blog post “On the Long Haul” on his blog Wordswimmer.
Fortunately, the summer’s not over and neither is my reading. Dani Shapiro’s novels PICTURING THE WRECK, FUGITIVE BLUE and PLAYING WITH FIRE are currently on hold for me at my local Chicago Public Library branch.
I clipped these words by Barbara Kingsolver from my Sunday Chicago Tribune.
“I learned to write by reading the kind of books I wished I’d written.”
How true, how true.
Happy (Summer) Reading - and - Writing!If you’re in the Los Angeles area and want to write picture books, check out my fellow TeachingAuthor April Halprin Wayland’s upcoming class – Writing Picture Books for Children. It's Wednesday nights from August 6 through September 10.
Fortunately, when it comes to the act of physically writing, I have MANY tools at my disposal.
For example, and gratefully, my iPhone.
Should my laptop refuse to reboot due to a software problem and require a 4-day repair visit to my local Best Buy's Geek Squad the Sunday before my Monday TeachingAuthors post is due, no problemo!
I simply create an email addressing the topic, request my TA administrator Carmela post it for me, along with an evidentiary photo, and remain grateful for the many and varied Tools of my Trade...as well as for Carmela. ☺️
|Esther's laptop on Geek Squad counter|
So, here are a few of the salient points I fully intended to post in the traditional manner via my laptop had it successfully rebooted this morning:
(1) To date my writing tools have included #2 pencils, pens of all sorts, manual and electric typewriters, a word processor, stack and laptop computers and one trusty iPhone.
(2) Thinking on this topic, examining my modus operandi when writing creatively, I surprisingly realized my multi-sensory learning style that enables me to READ must also be executed when I WRITE!
Note: Picture here the Five Senses Chart I'd planned to share.
Using my penmanship that combines both printing and cursive, because my 6th grade teacher Miss Peterson allowed us to choose and I couldn't decide, I write by hand in notebooks, on legal pads, on sticky notes, on napkins, on match books and menus and torn newspaper items when I am rolling out and exploring a story idea.
When I'm ready to roll everything up, though, and begin an actual story draft?
I'm seated at my laptop, ready to keyboard.
(3) In my Google search to learn more about multi-sensory learners, one link led to another and there I was learning all about BIC Fight for Your Write -www.bicfightforyourwrite.com
BIC is on a mission to save handwriting.
Clicking on the Facts page at this website, I read that handwriting engages 14 different abilities, one if which is Inner Expressive Language.
No surprise there, at least for me.
Long live the Writer's Notebook!
Visit the website to learn more and maybe even sign the petition.
Hopefully my laptop and I will be back in business by Friday.
Meanwhile, I have my iPhone ....and should that require service, my Seven-year Pen.
Happy Writing, no matter your chosen tool!
Don't forget to enter our Book Giveaway
P.S.S. from Carmela: I couldn't resist leaving in Esther's signature line from her email, just as she sent it:
iPhone compozed - sry 4 eny typoze=
Today’s Wednesday Writing Workout comes to us courtesy of my fellow Newberry Library writing instructor, Chicago author and memoirist Carol LaChapelle. When it comes to teaching Memoir Writing, Carol is “it”!And so is her book, FINDING YOUR VOICE AND TELLING YOUR STORIES: 167 WAYS TO TELL YOUR LIFE STORIES (Marion Street Press). Carol believes each life contains the makings of a memoir. In FINDING YOUR VOICE, she shares writing tools, tricks of the trade, exercises and prompts to help any writer access and explore memories and turn them into stories. Carol also includes contributions from real students who have been using her methods to show readers how productive the writing exercises can be. You can read Carol’s most recent essays in Next Avenue and in American Magazine.Carol invites TeachingAuthors readers to visit her blog ForBoomersandBeyonders - Dispatches From the(New) Middle Ages and/or to “friend” her on Facebook. You can email her directly for information about her online writing workshops at Madmoon55@aol.com Thank you, Carol, for sharing one of your 167 ways for our TeachingAuthors readers to find their voice and tell their stories.Esther Hershenhorn
Finding Your Voice
In addition to writing and teaching workshops, I also consult with private clients on their various writing projects. Recently, one of them, a woman in her late 70s who is writing a series of family stories, sent me a remembrance of her beloved grandmother to read and critique. In the piece, Joan writes about her many experiences with her grandmother from when she was a young girl. As I read it, I realized that I didn’t really understand what was so special about “Gram,” though I knew Joan felt there were many things, else why commit this woman to paper? And so after marking up the draft—mostly with questions—I summed up my comments at the end, including suggestions for the next revision, then sent it back to Joan along with this note.
I definitely like this idea for a family story; it’s important for future generations to know the people who went before them.
I hope my notes, especially on the last page, will help in your revision. The major thing when starting to revise is to list for yourself those 2-4 most important characteristics/personality traits of your grandmother, as you experienced them.
You don’t necessarily have to then list these traits in the actual revision, but you want the story—the specific experiences/details/scenes—to illustrate those. In other words, here’s the evidence that supports why you believe Gram is someone worth writing about.
I also referred Joan to my book, particularly Chapter Two, “Four Really Helpful Writing Techniques.” The fourth technique, the Character Sketch, describes how I came to write one particular memory of a high school teacher, including the process by which that memory emerged on the blank page. I felt this might be helpful to Joan as she attempted to more specifically capture what was essential about her grandmother.Following is that technique, which I have copied directly from my book’s initial manuscript. I hope it will serve as a good reminder for all of us—new and practicing writers alike—when we come to write about the very special people in our own lives.
4. Character Sketch: When you use the character sketch technique, you do more than simply describe someone physically. That’s important of course as s/he will come more alive on the page the better that you—and your intended reader—can see what that person looks like, sounds like, moves like.
But a character sketch becomes more interesting when you add the person’s relevant personality traits and significant biographical information.
For instance, if I were to do a character sketch of one of my favorite high school teachers, I’d include her height (short), athletic skill (she was our phys ed teacher), and coloring (her small, olive-dark face). I’d also mention how young she was, and how demanding she was of us. I’d describe how she looked while bouncing down the school halls (even when not wearing tennis shoes), gesticulating wildly alongside her friend and colleague, a much taller, paler, and mellower teacher. Oh, and I guess I would mention that she was a nun who dressed in the black and white habit of her religious community—both in the gym and out.
I’d include relevant biographical information—a matter of keen interest among her former students, especially her decision to leave the convent after 20 years, marry a much younger man, sail around the world with him for a year, then return home and open a pizza parlor. As I sit here now and write about the former Sister Joseph, more images of her come to mind, each small detail leading to another, and another, and then finally to a specific scene:
It is 1958 and our girls volleyball team has gathered in the gym after school for volleyball practice. As we fumble our way around the court, Sr. Joe paces up and down the sidelines, barking orders at us, her black veil tied behind her back with a fat rubber band, the dour nun shoes exchanged for bright white tennies. Her diminishing patience at our ineptitude now exhausted, she charges onto the court and to the spike position of my team. Pushing aside Loretta, our best player, she yells “Set me up!” to the quaking girl next to her. The rest of us stand there still as stones, and watch as Sr. Joe rises like some fiery rocket and hammers that ball over the net.
Not long after my book was published in July 2008, I received a very surprising email from one of its readers. Here’s how it begins:I am the "much younger man" to whom you refer on page 33 of your new book who married your former volleyball coach. I want to tell you that I (and she) nearly fell on the floor reading that recollection. While some of the details were slightly off, the essence of Sr. Joseph was right on.
Inspired by Peter H. Reynold’s picture book the dot (Candlewick Press, September 15, 2009), the event, like the book itself, celebrates creativity, courage and collaboration, encouraging each of us to make our mark and see where it takes us.If you don’t know Reynolds’ book, run, don’t walk, to your local library to check it out (literally and figuratively), then to your local bookstore to make it your own.I promise you: the story of a caring teacher who dares her doubting student Vashti to trust her own abilities and bravely “make her mark” speaks volumes to all of us, no matter our age, no matter our role.My very well-worn copy has seen five years of readings.It’s my go-to book to launch school workshops, writing classes and presentations.It’s my recommended Rx/gift combo to anyone setting out to mine his own treasure.FYI: at last count, 1,677,200 human beings from 79 countries around the world have already registered to celebrate International Dot Day.Why not join them?The more the merrier.For inspiration, view the videos to learn how others celebrate the date.Stop by the The Celebri-dots blog to read about the works of some famous creative souls, many of whom are children’s book authors.And visit TheDot Gallery to see what’s been created so far.
It’s International Dot Day!
And stay connected with Dot Day participants. Connect the dots via the Dot Day Facebook page, Twitter
(use the hashtags #DotDay, #Makeyourmark
Really and truly, there is no excuse NOT to be celebrating International Dot Day, not just today but all year long.I found my own participation in International Dot Day – i.e. creating this post, nothing less than delicious and had planned to sign off by RE-using the above Mason Dots to spell out my name, perhaps even on the dotted line. Since that is no longer possible, and I bet you know why, I offer up the following, courtesy of Mr. Samuel F. B. Morse. -- .- -.- . / -.-- --- ..- .-. / -- .- .-. -.-(Click here, input the above, hit TRANSLATE, then PLAY to listen!) Enjoy! Enjoy! Vashti and I are cheering you on!Esther HershenhornP.S.I was surprised to learn how few green and yellow dots there are in your typical box of Mason Dots.P.P.S.Don't forget to enter our Rafflecopter Book Giveway to win a copy of Barbara Krasner's picture book biography of Golda Meir GOLDIE TAKES A STAND! GOLDA MEIR'S FIRST CRUSADE.
It’s National Punctuation Day?It’s National Punctuation Day.I mean – it’s NATIONAL PUNCTUATION DAY!
(Of course, only a writer could so enthuse for such a day.)As writer Russell Baker aptly put it, “When speaking aloud, you punctuate constantly – with body language. Your listener hears commas, dashes, question marks, exclamation points, quotation marks as you shout, whisper, pause, wave your arms, roll your eyes, wrinkle your brow. In writing, punctuation plays the role of body language. It helps readers hear the way you want to be heard.” “How might I celebrate,” you ask, “what National Punctuation Day founder Jeff Rubin calls ‘a celebration of the lowly comma, correctly used quotation marks, and other proper uses of periods, semicolons, and the very-mysterious ellipsis’?”Well…I recommend the following actions: first visit the website Jeff Rubin created; admire each and every pictured punctuation mark and give it its proper due; next take this test to check your command of commas/apostrophes; laugh heartily while you read Lynne Truss’ EATS, SHOOTS & LEAVES (Why, Commas Really Do Make a Difference); and finally, consider completing my Wednesday Writing Workout which offers writers a chance to re-purpose the 14 standard marks of punctuation in English grammar to create original emoticons all their own. [See below.]P.S.While doing All Things Punctuation, don’t forget to celebrate your inner exclamation mark! J P.P.S.And for sure, don’t forget to enter our Book Giveaway to win a copy of Barbara Krasner’s picture book biography of Golda Meir - GOLDIE TAKES A STAND: GOLDA MEIR’S FIRST CRUSADE.The deadline is September 26. Those Emotive Punctuation Marks! I M J 2 B writing about emoticons – punctuation marks RE-purposed to instantly connote an emotion when communicating electronically. Think: little sideways smiley faces. :) The word “emoticon” blends “emotion” and “icon.” An emoticon allows for a quick expression of feeling when the communication is electronic. How might YOU (!) combine and re-arrange any and all of the 14 marks of punctuation below to create an original emoticon?
? ! ’ . , “ ” - _ [ ] ( ) … / : ;
Feel free to use keyboard letters, spacing options and numbers too. Turn them upside down and sideways!Think outside the . JExperiment. In other words, have fun!Think, too, of any and all emotions/situations – Joy, Distress, Anger, Confusion, e.g.If you need inspiration, click here to see more examples.And be sure to share them with our TeachingAuthors readers so we can use them to help them catch on.
How fitting that today, the 522nd anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the New World, I share with you my recently-discovered resource, thanks to my writer Bridget Conway of Camden, Maine – NAMING THE WORLD (and other EXERCISES for the CREATIVE WRITER), edited by Bret Anthony Johnston (Random House, 2007). Johnston writes in his introduction that “much of the writer’s work must be – can only be – accomplished by doggedly venturing into territories unknown, by risking failure with every word. His purpose in gathering writing exercises from well-respected authors was “to create an environment in which each writer feels invited and prepared to take such risks.” Like all discoveries, this collection of focused and insightful writing exercises widened my eyes, raised my eyebrows and had my brain whirling in record time.What I especially like about NAMING THE WORLD is Johnston’s organization: 8 sections, 7 of which focus on a key element of fiction. Each section begins with relevant perceptive quotes by well-known writers, then offers an overview of the particular element. Chosen authors’ understandable, doable exercises follow, exercises designed to “demystify the common and complex mechanisms by which the specific element operates.” Getting Started exercises and Daily Warm-ups bookend the sections which focus on: · Descriptive language and setting I loved reading how some of my favorite authors, including Joyce Carol Oates, Elizabeth Strout, Elizabeth McCracken and Richard Bausch hone their craft. I also loved discovering authors heretofore unknown to me.Be sure to check back on Wednesday for Paul Lisicky’s exercise on the rhythm of language.(His award-winning book THE BURNING HOUSE is currently on reserve at my Chicago Public Library.) I’m happy to report my Newberry Library Picture Book Writing Workshop students this semester are also enjoying the exercises, completing one per week. Explorers such as Columbus looked to the stars to help find their way. With that thought in mind, I hereby declare NAMING THE STARS stellar, as in *-worthy. The collection of exercises is certain to help writers discover their stories and how best to tell them. In celebration of Signor Columbus’ 1492 New World landing, Happy Discovering!
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As promised, I’m sharing a most original WWW I came upon while reading NAMING THE WORLD, the collection of writing exercises gathered by Bret Anthony Johnston (Random House, 2007) I reviewed in Monday’s post. The author, Paul Lisicky, titled the exercise “All About Rhythm.” It appears in the section “Descriptive Language and Setting.” Lisicky writes about finding a rhythm that matches the meaning of our story's drama – not a distracting rhythm but one that is crucial, that makes our fiction sing. He began by quoting Virgina Woolf. “Style is a very simple matter; it is all about rhythm. Once you get that, you can’t use the wrong words….Now this is very profound, what rhythm is, and goes far deeper than words. A sight, an emotion creates this wave in the mind, long before it makes words to fit it.” How can we bring a poet’s central tools to our own work, he wondered, “and be more deeply aware of pauses, sentence length, stops, even alliteration and assonance in the prose we read and write,” all the while opening ourselves to our own rhythms?
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Paul Lisicky’s ALL ABOUT RHYTHM
“Take a paragraph by a writer whose work has been important to you. Once you’ve done that, substitute your own noun for each noun, your own verb for each verb. Replace all the adjectives and adverbs. Play with it for a few days. If you’re lucky you might have the beginnings of a story.
Or, at the least, a more intimate sense of that writer’s rhythms.”