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1. Wednesday Writing Workout: The Cinderella Trifecta: Is Writing on Assignment Right for You?

Today, I'm happy to welcome back former TeachingAuthor Laura Purdie Salas with a guest Wednesday Writing Workout tailor-made for our current TeachingAuthors' series on how we each "Make a Living as a Writer." Laura was one of the authors I interviewed for my article of the same title that appears in the 2016 Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market, edited by Chuck Sambuchino (Writer's Digest Books). If you haven't entered our drawing for a chance to win your own copy of the 2016 CWIM, be sure to do so here, AFTER you try Laura's eye-opening writing exercise below.

<!--[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE <![endif]--> Wednesday Writing Workout:
The Cinderella Trifecta: Is Writing on Assignment Right for You?
by Laura Purdie Salas

Hey, it’s fun to be back here at TeachingAuthors I was honored to be interviewed for Carmela's terrific article in the 2016 Children’sWriter’s & Illustrator’s Market.

BookSpeak! - trade market
You know, I make my living as a writer, and I love writing the books I choose to write (my trade market books), like BookSpeak! Poems About Books and WaterCan Be…. But, so far, the books I’ve loved to write have not exactly brought in millions. Or enough to keep my family in groceries. That’s OK. They’re books I had to write, and I adore them. 

But, I do need to pay bills, and one of my major sources of income is writing on assignment. I write books and short passages for publishers who hire me to write very specific works for particular age groups and, sometimes, reading levels.
Water Can Be... - trade market
If this is something that sounds interesting to you, you might want to give this exercise a try. Even though the majority of writing I do on assignment is nonfiction, I also do some poetry and fiction that way, too. We’re going to use fiction here, so that you don’t get caught up in research and getting your facts right (which is, of course, extremely important in nonfiction books!). 

For this exercise, we’re going to use a story we likely already know, and we’re going to shape it in three different ways.

I would like you to use the tale of Cinderella as the basis for your short works. I’ll use The Three Little Pigs as an example for each one. Don’t be nervous! This is just to see IF you’re comfortable with this kind of writing and, if so, what age range might work best for you. Ready?

Part 1: Retell the complete tale Cinderella in 150 words, for 1stgraders.

My example, based on The Three Little Pigs:

Once, there were three little pigs. They were brothers. One day, the pigs went out into the world. It was time to build their own homes. 

The first little pig built his home out of straw. The Big Bad Wolf huffed and puffed and blew the house down. 

The second little pig built his home out of sticks. The Big Bad Wolf huffed and puffed and blew the house down. 

The third little pig was a hard worker. He built a strong home out of bricks. The Big Bad Wolf huffed and puffed. But he could not blow it down.

The wolf was mad. And hungry. He came down the chimney to eat the pig. But the third little pig was also smart. He had built a fire in the fireplace. The wolf yelped in pain and ran away.

And the three little pigs lived happily ever after.

Colors of Fall - education market
Part 2: Retell Cinderella for 4th graders in 400 words, and emphasize narrative voice and theme.

My example is just the first couple of paragraphs (130 words) of such a passage, based on The Three Little Pigs. 

Once up a time, there were three little pigs. They were brothers, and two of the pigs were oh so lazy and not very intelligent! The third little pig, however, was not only a hard worker, but he was also very clever.

One day, it was time for the three little pigs to go out into the great wide world and build their own houses. The first two pigs did not want to put much effort into anything, so the first one built his house out of straw! The second built his house out of sticks! They should have known better. They had just finished when a big, bad wolf came along. This wolf was drooling and snarling and hungry. He thought a little pig sounded like a scrumptious treat.
Do you see the difference? Let’s try one more.

Part 3: Retell Cinderella for 7th graders in 600 words from the point of view of a wicked stepsister. 

Here’s my example, just the first few paragraphs (111 words), from the point of view of the big bad wolf. It’s a little low on readability, actually, so I’d have to make sure to use longer paragraphs and sentences here and there and keep the reading level up a bit higher.

You can’t blame me for trying. Really, who would be ridiculous enough to think that some insubstantial straw or rickety old sticks would be tough enough to thwart my attempts to enter? Oh, you haven’t heard about my adventure? Well, let me explain…

I was just wandering along the boulevard one day, minding my own business.  Suddenly, I heard a clattering sound further down the avenue. Then I spied three little pigs, all hard at work constructing residences. At least, one of them was working diligently. That one was mixing mortar and placing bricks and building a proper, sturdy house--I despise that. But the other two were much more promising.

So, how do you feel? Did at least one of these three pieces feel somewhat natural to you? Did you enjoy the puzzle of trying to tell certain information in a very specific way—as dictated by someone else?

Y Is for Yowl! - education market
If the answer to at least one of the above is yes, then you might want to try writing on assignment, too. If you’re interested in learning about writing for the educational market, you can check out my book, Writing for the Educational Market: Informational Books for Kids. And Lisa Bullard, who was also interviewed in Carmela's article, and I offer critiquing/coaching services for children’s writers at MentorsForRent.com. We have worked with a number of writers who have subsequently broken into the educational market. We’d be happy to schedule a consultation to answer your questions or review your introductory packet. I also sometimes discuss educational writing in my eletter for writers, A Writer Can Be…

I’d love to hear in the Comments what your experience with this Wednesday Writing Workout was like. Was one part super-easy for you and another part impossible? Were they all equal? Is this a market you might be interested in pursuing? Inquiring minds want to know:>)

Laura Purdie Salas

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2. Publish: Theme

Hi folks, I am writing a summer long series. It's called Publish and is in conjunction with my TEENSPublish workshop at the Ringer Library in College Station, Texas. The tribe is working hard. We had a committee meeting this week about the title of our book and here it is:  A New Generation: TEENSPublish 2015 Anthology. We also picked a trim size for our book.  Now on to the topic.

This week we dove into theme. I think some of this will relate to any creative life. We created word clouds through Wordle.net.  First we wrote a list of topics. These topics were used to create our cloud.  The word cloud image has to be posted somewhere and stared at on a regular basis as you create your work.  In other words, don't mess with theme while you are writing. Be aware of it but don't touch it.  You will end up on the road of didactic and moralistic.  Avoid at all cost.

We talked about how theme works.  You take a topic and then you say what the author is trying to say about that topic.  Here are two examples.  In Star Wars, a topic is destiny.  The road to destiny will show up when your pining for it, it won't be what you expected, it will rip you away from everything you have ever known, it will be harder than you ever dreamed, and it will be better than you ever expected. In Finding Nemo, a topic is fatherhood.  A father will go to the ends of the earth to save a beloved son; nothing will stand in his way.

Finally I mentioned some of my theme tricks. I drop quotes around to inspire me as I work on a book. I put them in junk drawers, tape them to the bottom of lamps, and tuck them between the pages of my favorite books, and when I stumble on them, I think about them. I also pick out a list of inspirational songs and play them before or while I am working. I also chose inspirational images and then stare at them when I get stuck.  These activities feed my theme. I don't know how and I don't want to know. The journey of writing a book is saying what you want to say and it something of a mystery, just like you.

I hope you enjoyed this little trip into theme.  I hope you never think about and create it anyway. Dig into your soul and you will share what your theme. I will be back next week with revision.

Here is doodle for you:


A quote for your pocket. This is some inspiration for one of my books.

“The past is never dead. It's not even past.” William Faulkner.

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3. Publish: Plot

Hi folks, I'm starting a series that will last for the summer. It's called Publish and is in conjunction with my TEENSPublish workshop at the Ringer Library in College Station, Texas. This is the third week I'm covering plot. I think some of this will relate to any creative life.

Oh, yes, when you tell a story, you must offer a plot. 

First up, an exercise, characters writes a letter to the writer about his or her journey. Try this. You might find something out about your character's journey that you did not know before. Plot is related to character. Who you are has a lot to do with what you want. What you want has a lot to do with what you will do. What you do has a lot to with who you are. Put plot and character together to write a compelling story.

You might want to check out these two videos. Matthew Winkler's video explains the mono-myth.  Next, from Glove and Boots is another explanation of the hero's journey.  Both of these are good stuff. If you want a deeper understanding of the mono-myth, enjoy. The play between plot and character is illustrated clearly in these two vids. Nothing like knowledge to perk up a story.

Finally we spent some time writing and sharing a section of work with each other. For me, this is essential for creating a plot. Watching for glazed over eyes or riveted eyes while reading your story will tell you much about how you are doing in terms of your plotting. 

The toughest thing for me to learn  about plot was the mid-point. This is a crucial part of plot.   In PLUMB CRAZY (me writing as Cece Barlow), my mid-point comes with the boyfriend fail. My character seeks her concept of the perfect boyfriend, but at the mid-point realizes her concepts are not working. She releases her preconceived notions and this leads her to something better than perfect -- a real boyfriend.

I hope you will come back next week for notes on setting.

Now a doodle. I saw this in a dream: two hats.

A quote for your pocket.

What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter - a soothing, calming influence on the mind, rather like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue. Henri Matisse

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4. WWW: All About Rhythm

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?

Enjoy! Enjoy!

Esther Hershenhorn

                                        * * * * * * * * * * 


“Take a paragraph by a writer whose work has been important to you. 

Type it out once.

Then type it again.

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.

Then do another version.

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.”

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5. Wednesday Writing Workout: Finding the Best Beginning, Courtesy of Lenore Look

Hi Everyone,
The clock is ticking! If you haven't entered for a chance to win a copy of the 2015 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market (CWIM) yet, see the link at the end of this post. The giveaway ends on Friday!

We're hosting the 2015 CWIM giveaway this month to celebrate the publication of my article in it: "Writing for Boys (and other 'Reluctant Readers')." The article contains advice and insights from four award-winning authors known for writing books that appeal to reluctant readers: Matt de la PeñaLenore LookDavid Lubar, and Steve Sheinkin. Today, I'm pleased to share a guest Wednesday Writing Workout from one of those authors: Lenore Look!

Here's Lenore's bio, as it appears in the 2015 CWIM:
Lenore Look recently released the sixth book in her award-winning (and boy-friendly) Alvin Ho chapter book series: Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, the Forbidden Palace, and Other Tourist Attractions (Schwartz & Wade). She is also the author of the Ruby Lu series (Atheneum) and several acclaimed picture books, including Henry’s First-Moon Birthday (Simon & Schuster), Uncle Peter’s Amazing Chinese Wedding (Atheneum), and, her newest, Brush of the Gods (Random House), a historical fiction account of the life of Wu Daozi, China’s most famous painter. Lenore taught creative writing at Drew University and St. Elizabeth College in New Jersey, and frequently speaks in schools in the United States and Asia. She has also co-presented the Highlights Foundation workshop "Writing for Boys" with Bruce Coville and Rich Wallace. She lives in Hoboken, New Jersey, and blogs frequently at lenorelook.wordpress.com.

I'm a big fan of Lenore's Alvin Ho books, which is why I approached her about participating in the CWIM article. I haven't read Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, the Forbidden Palace, and Other Tourist Attractions yet, so I'll share the blurb for it that appears on Indiebound:
Here’s the sixth book in the beloved and hilarious Alvin Ho chapter book series, which has been compared to Diary of a Wimpy Kid and is perfect for both beginning and reluctant readers. 
Alvin, an Asian American second grader who’s afraid of everything, is taking his fears to a whole new level—or should we say, continent. On a trip to introduce brand-new baby Ho to relatives in China, Alvin’s anxiety is at fever pitch. First there’s the harrowing 16-hour plane ride; then there’s a whole slew of cultural differences to contend with: eating lunch food for breakfast, kung fu lessons, and acupuncture treatment (yikes!). Not to mention the crowds that make it easy for a small boy to get lost.
From Lenore Look and New York Times bestselling illustrator LeUyen Pham comes a drop-dead-funny and touching series with a truly unforgettable character.
Sounds like a fun read! J

For today's WWW, Lenore shares a great exercise in beginnings.

Wednesday Writing Workout:
Finding the Best Beginning
by Lenore Look

When I worked as a newspaper reporter, the first thing I learned was how important the “lede” or beginning of the story is. The first sentence is crucial. It’s called the “hook” because it snags your reader and reels them into your story. Without a strong hook, your reader will get away before you can tell them the five Ws and H – who, where, what, when, why and how.

When writing fiction, your hook is not just the best way to snag your reader, but it’s the place from which you will hang the rest of your story. It’s THAT important. For me, the beginning is the hardest part of the book to write. I’m faced with all my research, my characters, what I want to say, and a few ideas for scenes. It’s overwhelming. Where do I start? I pick something and have a go at it. It’s a mis-start, or a scrub, as they call it at NASA when a launch is aborted. I have many scrubs. When I find the spark that will finally launch my rocket, there’s more trouble.  Often I will agonize over the first sentence for days, re-writing it, tweaking it, throwing it out, starting it over, again and again. But when I finally get it right, it’s blast-off! And the rest of the book seems to write itself.

Here’s my top-secret recipe for finding the strongest beginning, and I hope it helps you find yours.

How to Find the Strongest Beginning to Any Piece of Writing.
1. Sit down.
2. Open your writer’s notebook.
3. Ask the following questions:
            a. Who’s your character?
            b. What’s your setting?
            c. What does your character want?
            d. What are the obstacles in her way?
4. Summarize the story you’re telling in one sentence.
5. Write your summary sentence in the center of a blank page.
6. Now surround your summary sentence with your answers to the questions from #3. Some people call this “clustering,” – if you draw circles around each of your sentences/ideas, it begins to look like a cluster of grapes. I don’t bother with the circles, instead I make lists, and surround my summary sentence with lists that answer the questions.
7. Add your research as they fit under the different questions in #3.
8. Step away.
9. Eat some ice cream.
10. Stare at the sunset.
11. Call a friend.
12. It’s important to start the next part with fresh eyes.

How to Find the Strongest Beginning, Part II
1. Look at your messy page(s).
2. Find the smallest, most simple detail that captures your entire story.
3. What you’re looking for is the KEY to your house. Keys are small. A small detail will open the door to the rest of the house, which is your story. All the rooms in your house are the different scenes that make up the story.
4. Study carefully the beginnings to books you like.
5. Using the detail you found in #2, and the inspiration you found from #4, write the most compelling beginning you can.
6. Let it lead you into the first room of your story.
7. Finish off the ice cream.
8. Stare at the sunset.
9. It may be the last sunset you see for a while.
10. Writing a book takes a long time.
11. Cry.
12. Cry your eyes out. It’s only the beginning. You still have the middle and the end to tackle!

            Writing Exercise Text © Lenore Look 2014, All rights reserved

Thanks, Lenore, for this terrific exercise! Readers, if any of you try today's WWW, do let us know how it works for you.

And don't forget to enter for a chance to win your own copy of the 2015 CWIM, where you'll be able to read additional helpful tips from Lenore. See my last blog post for details. The giveaway ends October 31.

Happy Writing!

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6. Wednesday Writing Workout: Characterization (Encore Presentation)

As a follow-up to last Friday's Guest TeachingAuthor Interview with Sherry Shahan, I'm repeating the Wednesday Writing Workout she shared with us in July 2014. After reading this post, I'm sure you'll want to enter for a chance to win a copy of Sherry's Skin and Bones (A. Whitman), if you haven't already entered the contest.

Sherry's young adult novel is a quirky story set in an eating disorder unit of a metropolitan hospital. The main character “Bones” is a male teen with anorexia. He falls desperately in love with an aspiring ballerina who becomes his next deadly addiction.

The novel was inspired by a short story Sherry wrote years ago, “Iris and Jim.” It appeared in print eight times worldwide. Her agent kept encouraging her to expand “Iris and Jim” into a novel. Easy for her to say!

                                                               *          *           *

Wednesday Writing Workout 
Tell It Sideways
by Sherry Shahan

During the first draft of Skin and Bones I stumbled over a number of unexpected obstacles. How could I give a character an idiosyncratic tone without sounding flippant? Eating disorders are serious, and in too many instances, life-threatening. 

Sometimes I sprinkled facts into farcical narration. Other times statistics emerged through dialogue between prominent characters—either in an argument or by using humor. Either way, creating quirky characters felt more organic when their traits were slipped in sideways instead of straight on.

There are endless ways to introduce a character, such as telling the reader about personality:
"Mrs. Freeman could never be brought to admit herself wrong on any point." —      Flannery O'Connor, "Good Country People."
Or by detailing a character’s appearance:
"The baker wore a white apron that looked like a smock. Straps cut under his arms, went around in back and then to the front again, where they were secured under his heavy waist ."   —Raymond Carver "A Small, Good Thing"
The art of creating fully realized characters is often a challenge to new writers of fiction. As a longtime teacher I’ve noticed:

1.) Writers who use short cuts, such a clichés, which produce cardboard or stereotypical characters.
2.) Writers who stubbornly pattern the main character after themselves in a way that’s unrealistic.
3.) Writers who are so involved in working out a complicated plot that their characters don’t receive enough attention.

In Skin and Bones I let readers get to know my characters though humorous dialogue. This technique works best when characters have opposing viewpoints. 

Consider the following scene. (Note: Lard is a compulsive over-eater; Bones is anorexic.)

“I’ll never buy food shot up with hormones when I own a restaurant,” Lard said. “Chicken nuggets sound healthy enough, but they have more than three dozen ingredients—not a lot of chicken in a nugget.”

Bones put on rubber gloves in case he’d have to touch something with calories. “Can’t we talk about something else?”

“That’s the wrong attitude, man. Don’t you want to get over this shit?”

“Not at this particular moment, since it’s almost lunch and my jaw still hurts from breakfast.”

Lard shook his head. “I’m glad I don’t live inside your skin.”

“It’d be a little crowded.”

Exercise #1: Choose a scene from a work-in-progress where a new character is introduced. (Or choose one from an existing novel.) Write a paragraph about the character without using physical descriptions. Repeat for a secondary character.

Exercise #2: Give each character a strong opinion about a subject. Do Nice Girls Really Finish Last? Should Fried Food Come With a Warning? Make sure your characters have opposing positions. Next, write a paragraph from each person’s viewpoint.

Exercise #3: Using the differing viewpoints, compose a scene with humorous dialogue. Try not to be funny just for humor’s sake. See if you can weave in a piece 
of factual information (Lard’s stats. about Chicken Nuggets), along with a unique character trait (Bones wearing gloves to keep from absorbing calories through his skin.)

I hope these exercises help you think about characterization in a less conventional way. Thanks for letting me stop by!

Readers, if you haven't already done so, head on over to Friday's post and enter for a chance to win your own autographed copy of  Skin and Bones (A. Whitman).

Good luck and Happy writing!

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7. Utter Expression Without Consequence: a Wednesday Writing Workout by Barney Saltzberg

Howdy, Campers!
(Before I begin...make sure to enter our latest Book Giveaway of Sherry Shahan's Skin & Bones (which ends February 6th)!

Two of the six TeachingAuthors in our corporate headquarters.
photo courtesy morguefile.com
In 2012 we invited author/illustrator (and good friend) Barney Saltzberg into our tree house for a cuppa tea, a chat, and a book give-away, and just last Friday we told you about the newly launched, worldwide Beautiful Oops! Day based on his book.

Today, to complete the trifecta, Barney is graciously sharing a Wednesday Writing Workout with us.  Take it away, Barney!

This is Barney (with friends).  He's the cutest one.
Barney: I thought I'd share something I teach at UCLA Extension which seems to help unleash power and in many cases, people’s dark side.  It's terrific.

I call it, Utter Expression Without Consequence. Here's the prompt:

Write to someone and really let them know how you feel.  It’s a chance to get anything and everything off your chest.  It could be that you secretly are in love with someone.  You could despise someone.  Maybe a boss is constantly picking on you and you haven’t opened you mouth to complain.  Now's your chance!

It can be in the form of a letter, or even a list.
Choose your blackest crayon.
from morguefile.com
This exercise gives you the opportunity to tap into feelings which you've sat on.  Topics which you've avoided.  Now's your chance to pour everything out...to a boyfriend, a wife, a friend.  Or someone you ‘thought’ was a friend.  A boss.  Anyone you address.  Just let it go and flow.  This is a very freeing moment.

What I find is that this prompt helps shape a character. Ultimately, I hope this exercise lets the writer get into the head of a character who has a lot weighing on them.  It's a step towards shaping a character.  Our job is to know who we are writing about, even if some of the background research we write never makes it into our story.  It just makes it so our characters appear to be writing the story for us when situations arise, because we know them so well.

Have fun with this--dive in!

I wish I had something brilliant to tell you as far as how this writing prompt helped make a story. I can say that time and time again, I saw how it empowered people.  Students who were struggling to find their voice finally had a sense of what that looked and felt like.

C'mon...tell them how you feel!
From morguefile.com
A woman told off her husband in a letter.  A teacher got everything she ever wanted to yell at an administrator on paper.  If you are looking for a way to tap into feelings, this is a great way to dive in.

Thank you, Barney!  And readers ~ tell us how you really feel!

posted loudly and proudly by April Halprin Wayland

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8. Publish -- Pre-writing

Hi folks, I'm starting a series that will last for the summer. It's called Publish and is in conjunction with my TEENSPublish workshop at the Ringer Library in College Station, Texas. This first week I'm covering pre-writing. I think some of this will relate to any creative life.  

Publishing is different than writing. The two are related but not the same. Writing is about splashing the words on the page. Writing can be personal, for yourself. Writing that will be published comes with an added zest. It's not about the writer; it's about the reader. Every word will be seen by others. Every word will have the potential to influence someone's life. Every word must grab the reader and shake them up. If not, the words won't be read.

The most important words of a story are the first five pages. If you can get someone hooked on the first five pages, they will read the rest of the book.  I mentioned if main characters were waking up in the first scene that there better be a sack of flesh-eating spiders about to descend upon them. I suggested the participants check out The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman. This is a handy book to sharpen the hook.

As a part of pre-writing, we talked about the need for an interesting main character. If a character doesn't have redeeming qualities, no one will follow him or her to the end of the story.  Anti-heroes are popular right now.  Going against the grain is always popular.  Sadness is having a heyday too.  All this is fine but it is important to add likability to the main character. This is huge. Some quick tricks to garner likability -- save someone or something  in the first chapter, create contrast with exterior and interior self (i.e. hard criminal - exterior, wounded protector - interior.), finally, isolate your character by killing off everyone he or she loves.

Finally the last thing in pre-writing was the chance for each writer to discuss their story without interruption. We live in a world that is all about being heard.  The chance to speak without anyone immediately jumping and contradicting and offering an opinion is rare. Each participant was given seven minutes to share their vision without interruption.  How many times do we get the chance to be heard?  It is so rare. It's also a chance to listen.  Our society has lost listening to each other, and in this we have lost something of ourselves. It's so important to be quiet, to be still, and hear what is being said. Writers need to listen. To tell the truth, we all do.

I hope this journey into pre-writing was provocative to you.  I hope that you think about all this as you move forward with projects.  Next week, I'm going to cover characterization.

Now for the doodle. Cat Doodle

Quote for your pocket:

At dawn my lover comes to me
And tells me of her dreams
With no attempts to shovel the glimpse
Into the ditch of what each one means
At times I think there are no words
But these to tell what's true
And there are no truths outside the Gates of Eden

Bob Dylan

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9. Find Your Novel Opening: Quickly, Efficiently–and with MORE Creativity

The Aliens Inc, Chapter Book Series

Try Book 1 for Free

I’ve been fiddling with the opening of the second book of a trilogy, Blue Planets, for several weeks, trying to plot, trying to think of new and exciting ways to tell the story. I KNOW the story. It’s bringing it down to specifics that’s hard.

Part of my problem is that Book 1 in this trilogy opens with a scene that echoes the movie “Jaws.” That book and movie has a powerful, action packed opening image and scene that sets up the stakes clearly. My Book 1 opening echoes the action, and twists the meaning into a new, surprising direction. I like the opening I create there.

But it also set up a problem: How can I echo the “Jaws” opening for Book 2?
I’ve struggled for a couple weeks with this question and finally found the answer.
Don’t. Find another image that works.

Using a Mentor Text or Story

Find Your Novel's Opening: Quickly, Efficiently and with MORE Creativity

Perhaps, though, the process I used in the opening for Book 1 can be repeated for Book 2. I used “Jaws” as a mentor text, echoing its action and setting the stakes very high. What if I found a different mentor text/movie for the next book?

At Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat site, they’ve done a series of analyses of movie plots that are called Beat Sheets under his system. I decided to go through them and write a short summary of how I could or couldn’t echo the different movies for this opening. I knew that I had to approach it as a writing exercise and just go overboard and let the ideas flow.

In an hour, I wrote the summaries for the following twenty possible opening scenes. After, I went back and wrote a sentence of how the closing scene might echo back to the opening scene. That closing scene ideas — only written after all the opening scene summaries were completed — helped me evaluate how well this opening fit my story. Note also that I drew a blank on about three of the movie openings and couldn’t figure out how it would fit my story.

The Grunt Work: Writing 20 Possible Summaries of Opening Scene

Note: You won’t understand what some of this means, since I’m not explaining all the background, setting, characters, etc. That’s OK. The point is to see how I echoed the mentor text/story in some way. The link for each movie title goes to the Save the Cat plot analysis for that movie, where you can read the opening image synopsis and compare it to mine. You may think some of my opening as strangely at odds with the mentor text. That’s fine. I consider the mentor text/story as merely a starting point and go where the story takes me.

  1. A la Ultron.
    The opening image is of a huge conch shell that is blown and echoes throughout the ocean. Jake is swimming and hears it—has to stop up his ears it’s so loud. But no human hears it—at a weird frequency. It’s an emergency call to the Mer, but Jake doesn’t know that yet. The umjaadi plague is spreading and they still don’t know what it is.
    Final Echo: A hospital ward full of sick patients and the doctor telling someone that unless someone finds a cure, they’ll all die. The Mer will be gone.
  2. A la The Conversation .
    The opening image is Edinburgh, Scotland the castle with a full moon overhead. Home of Harry Potter, the setting is almost mythical. But the reality of walking the seven hills, and climbing up the highest pulls Jake back to Earth (so to speak). From the top, he sees the Frith of Forth and the bridge—with the aquarium under it, where they’ll go tomorrow.
    Final echo: back on the hill, Jake now understands what is beneath the waters he sees.
  3. A la Whiplash.
    Jake is swimming laps in a pool—with no one around—when Cy Blevins walks in. You’re not related to the Commander, you’re the Ambassador’s son—we know all about you. OK. So, what? You can’t live here.
    Jake swims, but wants to jump out and beat up Cy.
    Final echo: No. Doesn’t work.
  4. A la Birdman.
    Jake is swimming and keeps asking himself, “How did we wind up here? Am I Earthling or Risonian?” He turns sharks into tour guides, he is thrilled with electric shock from eels, he talks to octopuses.

Final echo: I am Earthling.

  • A la Tommy Boy.
    Jake is a toddler swimming on Rison and when a camouflaged creature (octopus-like) unfurls, he is startled and starts to cry. Turns to Swann for comfort, but Swann turns him around and says, SEE. Watch. Learn to see.
    Final echo: Swimming and points out a camouflaged creature to Swann.
  • A la Ratatouille.
    B/w documentary about octopuses, compared with what we know today. They were once feared as monsters, but we now know they are very intelligent (playing with toys to get crabs). We see what we expect to see, and that changes slowly. (Or: what’s alien comes from what’s in OUR heads, not what we see in front of us.)
    Final echo: B/W Risonain documentary on first contact Earth—from the Risonian POV. We now know Earthlings are much more complicated and intelligent than we thought at first.
  • A la Babadook.
    Go for a memory and emotion. Jake relives a moment with Em where they kiss—or almost kiss. But then shakes himself. No. She didn’t want to be friends.
    Final echo: A final kiss.
  • A la Star Trek (2009).
    The camera moves along an underwater ship and reveals it to be a U-Boat. Follow with the scene of the DCS dive.
    Final echo: Maybe Mom is sick from something on Earth?
  • A la American Sniper.
    (Scene with dramatic first kill – will he shoot a kid?)
    Scene with dramatic first ______?
    Clearly, this one didn’t work.
  • A a Lego Movie.
    From a boat, Dr. Max Bari lowers a figure on a stretcher into the ocean, then dives in after her—without scuba gear. He tugs the stretcher deeper and deeper until there are lights in the distance. . .
    Final echo: Jake lifts off in a rocket ship and watches Earth get smaller and smaller in the distance, and turns his face toward Rison and hopes. . .
  • A la Big Hero 6.
    Setting: Sanfransokyo
    My Setting: Aberforth Hills
  • Final echo: Earth leaders touring Aberforth Hills

  • A la Liar Liar.
    In a classroom, they are going around telling what their fathers do. A young Jake says his father is a test tube. No, it’s the Leader of our People. No, it’s really a test tube.
    Final echo: Jake with Dad.
  • A la Fury.
    (Ambush of triumphant soldier by vanquished.) No ideas. Didn’t work for me.
  • A la Gone Girl.
    (Sharp contrast of emotions: head on shoulder of husband contrasted with his thoughts of killing her. Result: Worry for her safety)
    Contrasting emotions? Invade Earth and just take it! Take the long, slow route to a long-term healthy relationship.
  • Mom is giving a speech to the world leaders about Rison’s needs. Jake is drawing pictures of skulls and wishing he could blast all of Earth so Risonians could take over. How can they ever live together on the same planet and not kill each other?
    Final echo: Fight that ends in a truce.

  • A la Guardians of the Galaxy.
    Sitting alone, Jake is listening to a cd mix that Em gave him and wishing they hadn’t quarreled. He gets a call from Marisa, who says she wants to meet with him. I hear you’re going to Edinburgh. Mom and Dad aren’t saying much—but I think Em has been kidnapped and they know who did it, but they won’t go after her. I think she’s somewhere near Edinburgh.
    Final echo: Jake gives Em a cd of Risonian operas and says, I’ll be back with the cure.
  • A la How to Train Your Dragon 2.
    Jake is spinning a globe of the world and narrating for his class (OR Swann) back home-videoconference call. He tells of how Earthlings/US once put it’s citizens in jail because they “might” have been traitors. How they questioned the loyalty of citizen merely because of their heritage. How unfair it is and how he’s worried that the Risonians will be even more feared and how suspicion will abound.
    Final echo: Suspicious news reports: There are fears that Jake Quad-di is returning home with intelligence that will allow the Risonians to attack. His mother, Ambassador Dayexi Quad-di assures us that he only returns to bring back a cure for the Phoke. But why would he risk his life for them?
  • A la Twilight Zone.
    The camera pans across oceans, racing across the seas, until it zooms in on a conference room where Mom is talking to world leaders, a clear image of politics/diplomacy.
    Final echo: Not emotional enough to pursue.
  • A la Muppets Most Wanted.
    Start with pan down from The End—the last movie—and sing about how the studio ordered a sequel.
    Final echo: No. Don’t like this metadata stuff.
  • A la Her.
    Jake is writing a letter to the editor, or editorial or something—and we pull back to see that he’s writing it for Mom. He’s her assistant now, and she trusts his knowledge of English and culture. (Not emotional enough. HER is a love story, so the emotions there are about truly falling in love. It’s not going to work in this story.)
  • A la Inside Llewyn Davis.
    The scene opens on a rowdy swimming pool with kids taking bets. Jake lines up with another guy and when the whistle blows, the other boy dives in and races away. When that guy touches the opposite wall, Jake dives in, velcroes his legs and swims. He almost beats the other guy back, but is won out by a touch.
    I win! Says the other swimmer.
    Jake shakes his head. He swam almost twice as fast—and the Earthling says he won? That’s crazy.
    We’re never letting you compete in the Olympics! Says one kid.
  • Final echo: Argument: You think I can do miracles. Sure, I can outswim any human boy, but on Rison, I’m nothing. I’m just a normal kid. How can I find the cure to the umjaadi in time? I can’t. But I have to try.

    Notice that I didn’t hold myself to an impossible standard. If the movie’s opening didn’t spark something almost immediately, I moved on. Further, I didn’t stop at just one try. I persevered, knowing that I needed to fully explore my options.

    Evaluate the Possible Openings

    After writing all of these, I had to evaluate which one fit my story best. First, I went back and added the Final Echo to each, so I’d know if it fit the theme/plot/characters well enough to carry through the whole story. In other words, I double checked my ideas about the story, my intentions.

    Then I asked these questions of each opening:

    • Which sets the tone I want?
    • Which sets the emotional problems?
    • Which sets the themes?
    • Which one sets up the stakes as very high?

    Results of Opening Images Writing Exercise
    I found several good images that took me in new and different directions than I’d previously been trying—and that’s exciting.

    1. Warning conch shell – warning comes true, all Mer sick.
    2. Jake as toddler scared by octopus-like creature un-camouflaging – Watches old Risonian documentary and realizes that Earthlings are complicated.
    3. Dr. Max lowers a patient into the water and goes into a foreign world – Jake lifts off in rocket for a foreign world.
    4. Listens to Em’s cd – gives her a cd when he leaves.
    5. Jake narrates the globe – a news show narrates Jake’s trip to Rison.
    6. Jake outswims Earthlings – but realizes he’s just a normal kid on Rison.

    Which one did I choose? Actually, several. Because I have a main plot and several subplots, I realized that several of these can work in sequence to open the different subplots.

    Sometimes, I approach a story methodically, just doing a writing exercise. This time, I was stuck, and the exercise unstuck me. That was a valuable hour of writing!

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    10. The Progressive Poem's denouement!

    Howdy Campers!

    Remember to enter to win in our 4 x 4 Blogiversary Celebration!

    Today I have the absolute honor and (as Esther would say) knee-buckling responsibility to write the last line of 2013's Progressive Poem.  Yay!  And yikes!

    The brainchild of Irene Latham, this Progressive Poem has been moving from blog to blog, growing poet by poet, for 29 days until it's come here for one final line.  For the poem and a list of contributing poets, see below.
    At the end of a month posting rough drafts of poems about dogs, I think you could say that this, too, is a rough draft.  As Laura Puride Salas says, it's poetry improv.  Yes, and a poetry game.  It's been fascinating to read the process of those who've proceeded me.

    When I got the line by Denise Mortensen, it's such a great line, I thought I should just write THE END.  Then I could talk about how a poet needs to know when to quit and when a good line's a good ending.  That would be funny. If only I had the courage!

    But I don't.  So off we go!

    Here is the list of the poets who each contributed a line (in this space, some appear to be a line and then some, but they are all really one line each), and below their names is the (yikes!) finished poem.  Take a bow, poets!

    by Thirty Poets on a mission in the Kidlitosphere...see list above

    When you listen to your footsteps
    the words become music and
    the rhythm that you’re rapping gets your fingers tapping, too.
    Your pen starts dancing across the page
    a private pirouette, a solitary samba until
    smiling, you’re beguiling as your love comes shining through.

    Pause a moment in your dreaming, hear the whispers
    of the words, one dancer to another, saying
    Listen, that’s our cue! Mind your meter. Find your rhyme.
    Ignore the trepidation while you jitterbug and jive.
    Arm in arm, toe to toe, words begin to wiggle and flow
    as your heart starts singing let your mind keep swinging

    from life’s trapeze, like a clown on the breeze.
    Swinging upside down, throw and catch new sounds–
    Take a risk, try a trick; break a sweat: safety net?
    Don’t check! You’re soaring and exploring,
    dangle high, blood rush; spiral down, crowd hush–
    limb-by-line-by-limb envision, pyramidic penned precision.

    And if you should topple, if you should flop
    if your meter takes a beating; your rhyme runs out of steam—
    know this tumbling and fumbling is all part of the act,
    so get up with a flourish. Your pencil’s still intact.
    Snap those synapses! Feel the pulsing through your pen
    Commit, measure by measure, to the coda’s cadence.

    You've got them now--in the palm of your hand!
    Finger by finger you’re reeling them in—
    Big Top throng refrains from cheering, strains to hear the poem nearing…
    Inky paws, uncaged, claw straw and sawdust
    Until… CRACK! You’re in the center ring, mind unleashed, your words take wing--
    they circle, soar, then light in the lap of an open-mouthed child; the crowd goes wild.

    *  *  *  *  *  *  *

    * Barnum's circus was originally called "P.T. Barnum's Great Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Hippodrome," which is pretty much what our poem is. ("Greatest Show on Earth" was added later...that's us, too!)

    It never hurts to join forces...

    ...ask all the thirsty pooches at the dog park!
    Let's play some more!

    Hey--where'd everybody go???

    G'bye to Poetry Month 2013!  See you next year!

    Posted by April Halprin Wayland

    28 Comments on The Progressive Poem's denouement!, last added: 5/3/2013
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    Hello, all!

    First things first:  If you haven't yet entered to win in our 4 x 4 Blogiversary Celebration, go! Do! Who wouldn't love selecting a few FREE books from one of our favorite indies?

    Secondly, wasn't yesterday's Progressive Poem a blast? Thanks, April! A tough act to follow, for sure, but it's Wednesday, and that means it's time for a workout.

    This week I've tapped one of my favorite teaching authors, novelist Sharelle (pronounced like Cheryl) Byars Moranville. Sharelle holds a Ph.D. in English and has taught as an adjunct professor at various colleges and universities. She's also a regular workshop leader at the University of Iowa Summer Writing Workshop. Here she is, prepared for warmer temperatures:

    Sharelle's beautifully-crafted novels include the award-winning Over the River, The Purple Ribbon, A Higher Geometry, The Snows, and her latest, The Hop (Kirkus:  "an enchanting adventure.") I'm a great admirer of Sharelle's writing, which is filled with powerful sensory details and layers of emotion that go straight to a reader's heart. 

    Here's a backstory exercise Sharelle uses with her writing students – and for her own stories, as well.
    • Diagram the important places in the story. For example, the main character's house. Show the layout, the directional orientation (for the cast of light, breeze through the house, etc.) Think about the view from each window.
    • Furnish the house. Think about the furnishings and what those reveal about backstory, character, and conflict.
    • Pick a particular item in the house – a keychain, a coffee mug, a knick-knack, a lamp, a toothbrush – and use it as a prompt for exploring backstory, character, and conflict. Use it to create a scene between two characters.
    • Pick an item in the house that will become a motif in the story – i.e., invested with an emotional content, like the backpack in Susan Patron's The Higher Power of Lucky or the pearls in Kimberly Willis Holt's When Zachary Beaver Came to Town.
    Be sure to check out Sharelle's website:  www.sharellebyarsmoranville.com

    Happy writing!

    Jill Esbaum

    7 Comments on , last added: 5/3/2013
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    12. Wednesday Writing Workout ~ NEWSPAPER STORY STARTERS ~ !

    Howdy, Campers!

    Before we get to today's Wednesday Writing Workout, I wanted to share author and bookseller Elizabeth Bluemle's latest post on her Publishers Weekly blog, ShelfTalker.  It moved me.  It's called "The Best Author Letter Ever."

    Yes, Virginia, we--authors and teachers--can change a child's life.  Here ~ in case you need to dry your eyes:

    And now, on to today's Wednesday Writing Workout!  But first some background:

    Last month I was fortunate to participate in the beautifully organized Fay B. Kaigler Children's Book Festival in Hattiesburg, Mississippi...

    April Halprin Wayland, Robyn Hood Black, and Irene Latham
    play with food poems for their panel,
    “Take Five! Create Fun with The Poetry Friday Anthology"
    photo by Beck McDowell

    ...where I met the wonderful Beck McDowell,

     Author Beck McDowell

    ...author of the eerily timely novel, This is Not a Drill (Penguin), published just a few weeks before Sandyhook.

    Beck gives us today's 


    1) Give this exercise about 20 minutes.

    2) Divide the class into groups of two or three.

    3) Let them choose newspapers and magazines from a stack you've brought in.

    4) Their job will be to select a news article and make up their own story using the article as a starting point.  They'll add characters, twists, etc. to create an even more engaging story.

    4) Each group elects a spokesperson.  The spokesperson shares a two-to-three minute synopsis of the "story" they've outlined, beginning with what the article actually said so everyone knows their starting point and how the group changed it.

    Beck says, "...you're demonstrating where ideas come from and how a real event can trigger a story idea that's ultimately totally different from the original."

    Thank you, Beck!

     BONUS: while writing this, I came across
    "102 Ways to Use Newspapers" in the classroom. 
    Monkey combs his favorite paper for story ideas

    P.S: My Writing Picture Books for Children class in the UCLA Extension Writers Program (which I've taught since 1999) started this week.  I hope to use the newspaper exercise in class this quarter.  Let me know how it works!  And if you have any suggestions on how to make it more effective, my students will be most grateful--please take a moment to scribble a comment!

    Finally, don't forget: there's still time to enter our blogiversary giveaway for a chance to win one of four $25 gift cards to Anderson's Bookshops. See this post for details.

    And after you've entered, take five minutes and do a free write.  Remember to breathe...and to write for the fun of it ~
    picture of Monkey and drawing of dancer by April Halprin Wayland. 

    posted by April Halprin Wayland

    4 Comments on Wednesday Writing Workout ~ NEWSPAPER STORY STARTERS ~ !, last added: 5/9/2013
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    13. Wednesday Writing Workout--STAND ON YOUR HEAD and revise!

    Howdy Campers!   Welcome to another edition of TeachingAuthors'

    TeachingAuthors--and most writing teachers--have taught and discussed versions of this exercise over the years—and it's worth repeating.

    Last week I tweaked it just a bit and the raw results in student writing was much more personal than when I've used this exercise before--their stories were notably stronger.

    In my UCLA Extension Writers' Program class on Writing the Children's Picture Book, I spend one of the three-hour classes on rewriting.  I tell my students, "the information I'm about to tell you may be a tad depressng."

    Then I show them a stack of revisions of my 1087-word picture book. I read an early draft, a middle draft and the final published book.  I show a PowerPoint which details the long journey to publication:

    •    April 2000: interviewed expert on topic; wrote first version
    •    April 2002: additional interviews
    •    October 2004: accepted by publisher
    •    January 2005: author’s revision sent to Dial
    •    July 2005: editorial notes promised
    •    December 2005: editorial notes received
    •    January 2006: author’s revision sent to editor
    •    January 2006: line edit promised “soon”
    •    March 2006: line edits promised “May at the earliest”
    •    May 2006: no line edits yet
    •    May 2006: illustrator accepts offer
    •    September 2006: considerable line edits received
    •    September 2006 (about 12 days later): edited ms. sent off with new title
    •    May 2007 titles still under discussion—August 2008 projected publication date
    •    September 2007—book delayed until summer 2009 because illustrator is delayed.
    •    April 2008—tiny edit: five small word changes
    •    Fall 2008: illustrations arrive—wow, wow, WOW!
    •    June 2009: book ship—yippee!
    •    Summer 2009 lots of PR
    •    September 2009: official launch—bricks-and-mortar and blog tour

          = 38 versions from start to finish.

    After depressing them with the timeline, I did something different this time.  I read them the touching picture book, I Remember Miss Perry, written by Pat Brission, illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch (he's also the illustrator of New Year at the Pier).  It's about the death of a beloved elementary school teachers and how her students work through it by sharing happy memories of her.  It's a delicious book about a topic no one wants to talk about--the kind of book that every school needs in its library, because when you need it, you need it immediately.

    I want my students to feel they can tackle any topic in a children's picture book as long as it's written honestly.  As long as it rings true.

    So, here's the exercise:

    1) Have your students brainstorm for five minutes, writing a list of experiences from their childhood that rocked their world. 

    Tell them to jot down whatever comes to mind, writing quickly. They don't need to worry about neatness or spelling or complete sentences--they're making notes for themselves.

    Here are some possible topics:

    When did you do something that made you feel grown-up?

    Maybe you helped paint the kitchen.
    Maybe you did something that helped someone older than you solve a problem.

    When did something scary happen to you?
    Maybe your dog ran away.
    Maybe your parents separated.

    When did something joyous happen to you?
    Maybe your family moved into a nice home for the first time.
    Maybe you learned how to skateboard or read.

    2) Give them just five minutes to circle one of the things on their list that they want to write about and then write a brief outline of the whole story. 

    3) Tell them to change one thing about this story.
    Tell them: BE WILD!  
    They might change:
    ~ Point of view.  Instead of first person, try third person.  Or perhaps the family dog tells the story.
    ~ Time period.    Instead of the present, try setting it in ancient times, in the 1920s, in the future.
    ~ Place:              Instead of on a farm, try setting it underwater, in a volcano, on an island, in New York.
    ~ Characters:      Instead of people, try ground hogs, lightning bugs, elevators, a jar of pickles or cows.
    ~ Plot:                Instead of the cricket finding his home at the end, perhaps he gets even more lost.  Or instead of the bully getting her comeuppance, throw a party for her and see what happens.

    As I said, this is the first year I've read my students that book before we launched into this exercise; the stories were more heartfelt than in the past.
    They tried riskier subjects, subjects that were closer to their skin--and every idea was worth pursuing.
    I hope you try it--either in your own writing or with students.  Then let me know what happens!
    And, hey--thanks for reading this!
    April Halprin Wayland

    3 Comments on Wednesday Writing Workout--STAND ON YOUR HEAD and revise!, last added: 6/22/2013
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    14. Wednesday Writing Workout to fill your well: Poets in the Gallery!

    Howdy, Campers!

    It's Wednesday, and you know what that means!  It's time for another TeachingAuthors


    Do you ever feel as if your idea well has run dry?  Here's an exercise that's sure to tap into ideas you didn't know were waiting to pour out.

    I've taken the adult poetry class, The Courage to Write, taught by Anthony A. Lee, several times.  He's a terrific poet and a kind and generous teacher.  

    Tony's classes are held in a building which also houses an art gallery.  During one class, we wrote poems based on the following exercise...and then came back at night to read our poems at the opening of the art exhibit. Scary and invigorating!

    Note: although the exercise below is written to inspire a poem, you can use this exercise to begin a poem or a story.
    based on a workshop by Anthony A. Lee
    1. Go to a gallery or any place where art is displayed.
    2. Which photo, painting or sculpture calls to you?  Walk around until you find it.
    3. Sit down in front of it.  Breathe deeply.  Close your eyes.  Listen to the sounds of the gallery.
    4. Open your eyes.  Look at the art for a full minute.
    5. Now, begin writing.  Describe an image in the artwork. Just report it; write exactly what you see.
    6. Once you have that image on your paper, begin a poem with the word "I."  The only rule is to write in the first person. 
    7. Write as fast as you can. Write without a plan. Whatever happens, happens.
    8. Describing something, as a journalist does, is the Reporting Voice.  That voice comes from the lips, the mouth, the throat. 
    9. Writing about feelings comes from a lower, truer, sometimes scarier place.  This is the Deep Voice.  This voice attracts readers.  It connects them to your story.  Be brave.  Find the feelings.  Go there. 
    10. When you’re done, write it again, taking out as many words as you can. 
    11. Write it a third time.  Do you really all those “the”s, “and”s, or “a”s?  Try taking them out. 
    12. Now, take out all the adverbs.
    13. Next, take out most of the adjectives.
    14. Poetry is word music.  Read your work aloud. Do you like the sound of your poem?
    15. Don't hide your light under a bushel—your poem is a gift to be shared.  Bring someone you love to that piece of art.  Share your poem with them.  Bring an extra copy and leave it by the artwork.
    Tony says: asking your students (or yourself) to describe an image in the artwork is better than telling them simply to write something about the piece of art, which will make some students freeze.

    Try it!  Have fun!

    And, apropos of nothing, here's a sign I saw in Seattle recently which made me laugh:

    This post was written by April Halprin Wayland.  Thank you for reading it! 
    (Our cruel and heartless blog mistress makes us put our names here so we can't hide from our subscribers.)

    2 Comments on Wednesday Writing Workout to fill your well: Poets in the Gallery!, last added: 7/24/2013
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    15. Wednesday Writing Workout

    Today's Wednesday Writing Workout is one adapted (with permission) from a blog post by Pulitzer Prize Finalist author Lee Martin. Martin writes both fiction and nonfiction and teaches in the MFA program at Ohio State. The following exercise is a simplified version of one he has used with his advanced undergraduate creative nonfiction students. You can find his version here if you wish.

    1.  Locate yourself in the natural world.

    2.  Sketch in the sensory details of the place. Take in your surroundings. What do you see and feel? Now close your eyes. What sounds stand out? Can you distinguish specific scents?

    3.  Let those details lead you to a statement that expresses a mood. This is simplest if you go ahead and use the word "feel" in your statement. The way the leaves whisper high above my head makes me feel wistful, wishing to be up there among them, sharing secrets. Or Far away a dog howls for attention, making me feel lonely.

    4.  Carry that mood inward. Make statements about what being in that place is like for you. Martin suggests:  Being in this place makes me feel/wonder/think/question. . . .

    5.  Come back to one of the details of the place, perhaps a detail that you featured in the first step of this activity. This time find something new in that detail. Martin suggests, for instance:  I keep coming back to the sight/sound/smell of. . . .    Why does that detail stand out for you?

    Putting yourself into the natural world, allowing yourself to see and experience it more deeply, can open you – and your writing - in ways that may surprise you. Or even trigger an idea for a brand new project.

    Come back Friday to meet an author who turned a close encounter with nature into a joyful and educational picture book.

    Happy writing!

    Jill Esbaum
    P.S.  You can still enter our contest to win a copy of Sonya Sones' new novel in verse, To Be Perfectly Honest. Click here!

    3 Comments on Wednesday Writing Workout, last added: 8/29/2013
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    16. Happy New Year! Guest Teaching Author Barbara Krasner offers a Wednesday Writing Workout (actually THREE workouts)!

    Howdy, Campers!

    It's not Saint Patrick's Day, but we're lucky, lucky, lucky to open our doors and welcome Guest TeachingAuthor Barbara Krasner, who offers us a dynamite Wednesday Writing Workout for the New Year.

    As long as we're feeling lucky, enter our latest book giveaway!
    Details at the end...
    Here's a bit about Barbara:  In the fall of 2014, her picture book, Goldie Takes a Stand! A Tale of Young Golda Meir, will be published by Kar-Ben, the Jewish imprint of Lerner Publishing Group. In addition, she's written four nonfiction books (including Discovering Your Jewish Ancestors) and more than 200 articles for adults and children that have appeared in Highlights for Children, Cobblestone, Calliope, and Babaganewz.

    She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, an MBA in Marketing from Rutgers University, and blogs at The Whole Megillah/The Writer’s Resource for Jewish-themed Children’s Books.  Barbara is currently on the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee.

    Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in Poetica, Jewish Women’s Literary Annual, Mused-BellaOnline Literary Review, Jewishfiction.net, in the Paterson Literary Review; she was a semi-finalist in the 2013 Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry in the upcoming Nimrod International Journal (!!)

    Barbara is definitely a TeachingAuthor, teaching creative writing in the English department of William Paterson University and a workshop, Writing Jewish-themed Children’s Books at the Highlights Foundation.

    You see what I mean when I say we're lucky to have her come by today?  WOWZA!

    And now, here's Barbara with the Writing Workout
    she's cooked up for us!

    Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, comes early this year and I’m glad. It gives me the opportunity to reflect on the past year and think about the coming year even before the leaves fall. I’m giving you a Rosh Hashanah challenge in three parts.

    Part One: Rosh Hashanah, literally translated as head of the year, is a perfect time to think about the beginning of your manuscript. How many times do we hear that if we can’t grab the agent/editor/reader within just a few seconds, he or she will just move on to something else?

    Ask yourself the following questions:

    •    Do you have a compelling title?
    •    Does your first line grab the reader? (My all-time favorites are from M.T. Anderson, “The woods were silent except for the screaming,” and from Kate DiCamillo, “My name is Opal Buloni, and last summer my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a dog.”)
    •    Have you presented the main character on the first page?
    •    Have you presented the problem within the first page, the first chapter?

    These questions apply to fiction and nonfiction alike.

    What are your first lines?

    Part Two: The Rosh Hashanah holiday includes a practice called Tashlich, casting off our sins. The practice is exemplified in April Halprin Wayland’s New Year at the Pier (Dial, 2009) and the mother-daughter team of Susan Schnur and Anna Schnur-Fishman’s Tashlich at Turtle Rock (Kar-Ben, 2010). My question to you: What writing sins will you cast off this year?
    When I think about this for myself, I think about:
    •    I will cast off my lack of organization – I will organize all those papers into folders with easy-to-read tabs and file the folders
    •    I will cast off watching reality TV (TCM movies only) – I need more time to write
    •    I will cast off working on a gazillion projects at once – I will focus on one genre at a time, and right now, that’s poetry, and okay, picture books
    •    I will cast off reading several books at once – I commit to reading a book fully before moving on to another.

    You get the idea. What will you cast off?

    Part Three: Here’s a prompt you can write to: Recall a Rosh Hashanah (or New Year) scene from your childhood and write about it. Who was there? Where were you? What action and dialogue took place?

    Thank you so much for your three-part Rosh Hashanah writing challenge, Barbara, and shana tovah!

    But wait! Before you head off to write about a memorable New Year, be sure to enter for a chance to win a copy of Lisa Morlock's terrific rhyming picture book, Track that Scat! (Sleeping Bear Press). 

    posted by April Halprin Wayland

    3 Comments on Happy New Year! Guest Teaching Author Barbara Krasner offers a Wednesday Writing Workout (actually THREE workouts)!, last added: 9/13/2013
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    17. Bullying...A Writing Prompt for our Wednesday Writing Workout

    Breaking News:

    April's poem, "When Mom Plays Just for Me" will appear on Children’s Poet Laureate Kenn Nesbitt's homepage www.PoetryMinute.org at 8:00am Eastern Time on Thursday, October 3 and will remain there for 24 hours, when it will be replaced by another poem. (April's poem will remain on the site but not on the home page.)  Its permanent link (which won't work until 10-3-13):

    Howdy Campers!

    Remember to enter our current giveaway of Alexis O'Neill's book, The Kite That Bridged Two Nations ~

    Welcome to another edition of TeachingAuthors'...

    Okay...raise your hand if you've never been bullied.

    Yeah, me, too.

    Mary Ann kicked off our discussion on bullying for National Bullying Month (who knew?) with a deeply affecting post, I Wonder What Happened to Todd: A Bully's Tale.

    Bullies I've known remind me of turtles: mostly they stay in their civilized shells, and then, without warning, they stretch their heads out and snap off someone's finger.

    I had to chair a meeting of a non-profit organization this weekend to decide what we were going to do about a member who is a bully.

    I'll call our guy Bluto.  Bluto, like the turtle, was usually friendly--he'd come early to set-up chairs, help collect dues, etc.  Every once in a while, though, he'd explode at someone shy, someone weak, someone Not Important.  In the latest incident, the atmosphere in our meeting was so toxic, people felt afraid for their safety.  Things had clearly gone too far.

    Attending a meeting to figure out how to handle Bluto was not on the top of my list of fun things to do on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.  Ahead of this would have been eating a porcupine, finding out my father was a single-celled alga, and staying in bed all day.  

    Staying in bed all day--
    a great alternative to being a grown-up...

    In preparation for this meeting, I spoke at length with an expert on disruptive behavior.  I learned:
    1) Bullies pick on people who are weaker than they are.
    2) You need to stand up to a bully.
    3) Be empathetic.
    4) Create clear boundaries.

    I can always use a good script.  She gave me words to use (or not):

    We need you to take a time out from our organization for six months. This is the natural consequence of your actions. We hope you understand. This is also hard for us.  We're saddened. We hope you will use the next six months to work on this.  At the end of six months, if you chose to come back (and we hope you do) we hope you'll have taken the opportunity to work on this.  We'll meet with you and talk with you before you come back to a meeting.  We hope you do work it out.  People are afraid of you and you need to look at that. If you cannot, boy, we're sure going to miss you.  This is a great loss for us. (Hug him.)

    At the end of six months, here's what's expected: Civility. You can't yell. You can't create a threat. You need to listen.

    Interestingly enough, during the meeting on what to do about Bluto, Mary Kate shot out an angry comment. At that moment I realized that I'm as afraid of Mary Kate as I am of Bluto.  I remembered what I had learned from the expert, took a deep breath and said, "Could you not speak so angrily to me?"

    Mary Kate's response was dramatic.  She looked at me in surprise--almost as if I had awakened her from a dream.  She apologized. During the rest of the meeting she was kinder to all of us than she'd ever been.

    Amazing how that works.  And that sense that I awakened a bully from a dream?  That's sometimes how I feel when I eat too much...suddenly I wake up and say, "Whoa!  I think we're finished with lunch!"

    I wouldn't be surprised if bullying behavior was an addiction, like smoking, drinking, overeating, compulsive spending, hoarding, etc.  Hmm.

    So, today's Wednesday Writing Workout focuses on 2013 National Bullying Month's theme, The end of bullying begins with me.

    Here's your writing workout:
    1) Who is a bully?  Choose Bluto (of the Popeye fame),someone who once bullied you, or someone who intimidates you today.

    2) Pretend that bully is in front of you now.  Jot down how you feel or how you felt as a child facing that bully.  Include details of the place, smells, physical sensations (has your stomach turned to acid? Are your palms sweaty?).  Include weather, background noises you hear or can't hear because you're so frightened, what gives you courage or how you ate a box of cookies later to blot out the fear.

    4) Now: make a boundary.  Write what you wish you could have said to the bully.  Scribble to your heart's content. Be annoyed.  Be angry.  Be clear.  Tell that bully to BACK OFF!

    5) That's your raw material.  Now go ahead and write the bully story or poem you really, really really need to write.

    P.S: I'm pleased that one of my poems appears in the terrific book, THE BULLY, THE BULLIED, THE BYSTANDER, THE BRAVE edited by David Booth and Larry Swartz (Rubicon Publishing)

    Thank you for stopping by today! 

    Remember to go to this blog post for the Book Giveaway details for The Kite That Bridged Two Nations.  And g'luck!Alexis, by the way, is also the author of a wonderful picture book about a bully, The Recess Queen.
    ~ posted by April Halprin Wayland who is no longer afraid of Tom P, from second grade.

    2 Comments on Bullying...A Writing Prompt for our Wednesday Writing Workout, last added: 10/4/2013
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    18. Wednesday Writing Workout: Putting Together the Pieces of Your Story

    Today I'm pleased to share a Wednesday Writing Workout contributed by the inspiring and talented author Margo L. Dill.

    I first met Margo some years ago at an SCBWI-Illinois writing conference. I believe she'd already sold her first novel, the middle-grade historical Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg (White Mane Kids), but it hadn't been published yet. With today's post, we join Margo's blog tour celebrating the release of her second novel, Caught Between Two Curses (Rocking Horse Publishing), a YA light paranormal romance novel about the Curse of the Billy Goat on the Chicago Cubs. Margo has two more books under contract--both picture books--one with High Hill Press and the other with Guardian Angel Publishing. Besides being a children's author, she is also a freelance editor with Editor 911: Your Projects Are My Emergency! and she is part of the WOW! Women On Writing e-zine's staff. There, she works as an editor, blogger, instructor, and social media manager. When she's not writing, editing, or teaching online, Margo loves to spend time with her husband, stepson, daughter, and crazy Boxer dog, Chester, in St. Louis, Missouri. You can learn more at Margo's website.

    Here's a summary of Caught Between Two Curses:
    Seventeen-year-old Julie Nigelson is cursed. So is her entire family. And it’s not just any-old-regular curse, either—it’s strangely connected to the famous “Curse of the Billy Goat” on the Chicago Cubs. Julie must figure out this mystery while her uncle lies in a coma and her entire love life is in ruins: her boyfriend Gus is pressuring her to have sex, while her best friend Matt is growing more attractive to her all the time. Somehow, Julie must figure out how to save her uncle, her family’s future, and her own love life—and time is running out!
    As a die-hard Cubs fan, I'm really looking forward to reading Margo's new book. (I'm hoping the main character solves not only her problem, but the Cubs' curse too!)

    And now, here's Margo's three-part Wednesday Writing Workout.

    Wednesday Writing Workout: Putting the Pieces Together

    Writing a novel is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle with my daughter. I’ve been teaching her to do the edge pieces first and then fill in the middle. This reminds me of writing a novel because writers usually start with an idea, maybe a plot or an interesting character with a problem—in other words, our border. We build our foundation for a story by piecing together our ideas. But sometimes, that beginning border, even with a few pieces filled in the middle, is not finished or even sturdy. Here are exercises I use with my WOW! Women On Writing novel students to add more pieces to their puzzle and come out with a strong, final product—a finished, publishable novel! (These can also be used with short stories and picture books.)
    1. Create characters with internal and external problems.
    The characters I remember best are the ones that struggled with both internal and external problems. What’s the problem your character has that he must overcome in the novel? Trying to raise money for a new bike? Figuring out how to deal with a sibling? Tired of moving around and always being the new kid at school? These are all external problems, and the ones that our plots are built on. 

    But your character also needs an internal problem! In Caught Between Two Curses, Julie has to break two curses; but while she does this, she also struggles with her self-esteem and confidence as well as what love means. These are her internal struggles. While she rushes around to save her uncle, the events in the novel help her grow and work through her internal problems.

    Just ask yourself these four questions either before you write your novel or even during revisions:
         a. What is your main character’s internal struggle?
         b. How does he or she solve it?
         c. What is the external problem in the novel that affects the main character?
         d. How does he or she solve it?

    2. Brainstorm problems
    If you find yourself with a strong border for your novel—an exciting beginning and an ending that will leave readers talking for years, but you are stuck in the muddy middle, make a list of 10 problems that a person can have that’s the same age as your main character and in the same time period. For example, my novel’s main character is 17, lives in Chicago in present day. Problems she can have are: pressure to have sex, temptation to do drugs, failing classes, negative body image, disloyal friends, etc. 

    Once you have this list, are there any of these problems that you could turn into a subplot for either your main character or a minor character or sidekick? Subplots can often dry up the muddy middle and keep readers hiking to the end.

    3. "Then what?"
    The last exercise asks a simple question, “Then what?” Each time you answer, make the problem or situation worse for your main character. You don’t actually have to use all of these horrible situations in your book, but they may help you push your main character a little harder. Here’s an example:

         Julie learns a curse is on her family.
         Then what?

         The curse makes her uncle fall in a coma.
         Then what?

         Julie’s grandma says her uncle will die before he is 35 if the curse isn’t broken.
         Then what?

         He is 35 in less than 5 months.
         Then what?

         She has no idea what to do to break the curse.

    Using these writing exercises while you are piecing together your novel will give you a complete story in no time! 

    Thanks, Margo, for this terrific Wednesday Writing Workout. Congratulations on your new novel. I look forward to reading it.

    Readers, do let us know if you try these exercises. If you'd like to read about where Margo gets her inspiration, check out this blog post. And if you haven't already done so, be sure to enter our current giveaway for a chance to win The Poem That Will Not End: Fun with Poetic Forms and Voices (Two Lions). See April's interview with the author, Joan Bransfield Graham, for complete details.

    Happy writing!

    0 Comments on Wednesday Writing Workout: Putting Together the Pieces of Your Story as of 6/11/2014 8:03:00 AM
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    19. Wednesday Writing Workout: Dialogue Secrets You Don't Want to Miss, courtesy of Kym Brunner

    Today I'm happy to share a guest Wednesday Writing Workout from the amazing Kym Brunner, who is celebrating the release of not one, but TWO, novels this summer.

    When I met Kym at an SCBWI-IL conference a few years back, I couldn't get over her enthusiasm and energy. I had no idea how she found time to write, given that she was a busy mom with a full-time teaching job (teaching middle-schoolers, no less!).

    According to her bio, Kym's method of creating a manuscript is a four-step process: write, procrastinate, sleep, repeat. She's addicted to Tazo chai tea, going to the movies, and reality TV. When she's not reading or writing, Kym teaches seventh grade full time. She lives in Arlington Heights, Illinois with her family and two trusty writing companions, a pair of Shih Tzus named Sophie and Kahlua.

    Kym's debut novel, Wanted:  Dead or In Love (Merit Press), was released last month. Here's the intriguing synopsis:
    Impulsive high school senior Monroe Baker is on probation for a recent crime, but strives to stay out of trouble by working as a flapper at her father's Roaring 20's dinner show theater. When she cuts herself on one of the spent bullets from her father's gangster memorabilia collection, she unwittingly awakens Bonnie Parker's spirit, who begins speaking to Monroe from inside her head. 
    Later that evening, Monroe shows the slugs to Jack, a boy she meets at a party. He unknowingly becomes infected by Clyde, who soon commits a crime using Jack's body. The teens learn that they have less than twenty-four hours to ditch the criminals or they'll share their bodies with the deadly outlaws indefinitely. 
    And here's the blurb for her second novel, One Smart Cookie (Omnific Publishing), which came out July 15:

    Sixteen year old Sophie Dumbrowski, is an adorably inept teen living above her family-owned Polish bakery with her man-hungry mother and her spirit-conjuring grandmother, who together, are determined to find Sophie the perfect boyfriend. 

    But when Sophie meets two hot guys on the same day, she wonders if  this a blessing or a curse. And is Sophie's inability to choose part of the reason the bakery business is failing miserably? The three generations of women need to use their heads, along with their hearts, to figure things out...before it's too late.

    Today Kym shares a terrific Wednesday Writing Workout on dialogue.

    Wednesday Writing Workout: 
    by Kym Brunner 

    Quick! After a person’s appearance, what’s the first thing you notice when you meet someone? If you’re like most of us, it’s what comes out of their mouths. First impressions and all that. But when you read, you can’t see the characters, so your first impressions are made based on what the characters say, not how they look.

    Simple concept, right? Not so simple to deliver.

    Give them something to say that’s:
    • Believable
    • Fits their personality
    • Consistent, yet unexpected
    • Short and natural
    1) Believable Dialogue

    How do you know if it’s believable or not? Put on your walking shoes and get out your notebook! Head to the spot where the prototype of your character would go. Need to write teens talking together at lunch? Go to a fast-food restaurant near a high school. Want to know what couples say when they’re on a date? Head to a movie theater early and go see the latest romantic comedy. You get the idea.

    ***HINT: LISTEN AND TAKE GOOD NOTES. I promise you’ll forget the words and how they said them if you don’t.
    2) Dialogue that fits the character’s personality

    There’s a famous writing cliché that says a reader should be able to read a line of dialogue and know who the character is without the identifying dialogue tag.

    The key is being the character when you write his or her lines. Imagine YOU are the sensitive butcher who is very observant (seriously, picture yourself looking out of the eyes of the butcher with your hands on a raw steak) and then write his or her lines. Better yet, listen to a butcher talk to customers and/or interview one to ask his top three concerns about his job. You might be surprised to learn what those things are…and so might your reader.

    ***HINT: SWITCH INTO THE MINDS of all of your characters (even the minor ones) as you write to create words that only THEY would say.
    Image courtesy of smarnad/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
    3) Consistent, yet unexpected? Huh?

    Your job is to make sure your characters are real, that they speak the truth (or not, depending on who they are). In real life, characters might keep their thoughts to themselves. Not so in fiction. Characters that are pushed to the brink must speak out––to a best friend, to the cabbie, to the offending party, to the police.
    Yes, we want dialogue to be authentic, but it IS a story and it does need to intrigue your readers. So let them speak their mind and propel the story ahead by providing interesting thoughts for your readers to mull over.

    ***HINT: TO KEEP PACING ON TRACK, use frequent dialogue to break up paragraphs of exposition.

    4) Short and Natural

    Cut to the chase. No one likes listening to boring blowhards, so don’t let your characters be “one of those people.” Remember tuning out a boring teacher? That’s what didactic dialogue and info dumps feels like to your readers. Only include information that’s absolutely necessary for the story’s sake and skip the rest. You might need to know the backstory, but keep it to yourself.

    ***HINT: READ ALL DIALOGUE OUT LOUD. Change voices to the way you imagine the characters interacting and it’ll feel more “real.” If you’re bored with the conversation, so is your reader. If it doesn't sound the way a person really talks, cut it or revise it. Listen to real people and you’ll notice most of us talk in short sentences with breaks for others to add commentary.

    So there you have it. Write dialogue that’s believable, fits the characters, necessary, and natural and your readers will come back for more!

    Hopefully you’ll find authentic dialogue galore in Wanted:  Dead or In Love, which features two alternating POVs––one from Monroe (a modern-day teen who becomes possessed internally by the infamous Bonnie Parker), and the other from Clyde Barrow himself (who works hard to take over the body of Jack Hale, a teen male).

    And if cultural humor is more your style, you’ll get a helping of Polish spirits along with a bounty of teen angst in One Smart Cookie.

    Kym Brunner

    Thanks so much, Kym! Readers, let us know if you try any of these techniques. Meanwhile, if you'd like to connect with Kym, you can do so via her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. And if you'd like a taste of Wanted:  Dead or In Love, here's the book trailer:

    Happy writing (and reading!)

    0 Comments on Wednesday Writing Workout: Dialogue Secrets You Don't Want to Miss, courtesy of Kym Brunner as of 7/25/2014 12:30:00 AM
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    20. A Golda Meir Picture Book Giveaway! Happy Poetry Friday! And Happy Nearly Jewish New Year!

    Howdy, Campers!

    We have a brand new Book Giveaway for your very own autographed copy of a picture book biography (well, a real-life slice of life) of Golda Meir--just published!  Details at the bottom of this post.

    Happy Poetry Friday!
     Thank you, Renee, of No Water River, for hosting today!
    The link to Barbara Krasner's poem, "The Circle of Life,"
    on a site which invites contributions of poetry and prose, is below ~

    Today, we welcome author, teacher, blogger, historian, poet and conference organizer Barbara Krasner into our cozy cabin for a cuppa java.
    Barbara Krasner

    I first met Barbara online, as she was single-handedly organizing the Conference on Jewish Story, held this May in New York.  She invited me to be on the children's panel; it was an adventure and an honor to participate.

    Barbara’s interests, accomplishments and energies are unending. She began writing short stories when she should have been paying attention in SAT prep classes! She majored in German and spent her junior year in Germany. Then she spent 30 years in corporate America...but the writing bug never left her. (Can anyone relate? Me, me!)

    She's now the author of four nonfiction books, including Discovering Your Jewish Ancestors, and more than 200 articles for adults and children that have appeared in Highlights for Children, Cobblestone, Calliope, and Babaganewz . Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in many publications and she was the semi-finalist in the 2013 Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry.

    Barbara publishes the popular blog, The Whole Megillah ~ The Writer's Resource for Jewish Story, she's the recipient of the first-ever Groner-Wikler Scholarship for dedication to Jewish children's literature, and is a member of the prestigious Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee of the Association of Jewish Libraries.

    Is Barbara a TeachingAuthor?  Most definitely!   She earned her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, teaches children's literature and creative writing at William Paterson University, and leads the Highlights Foundation workshop, Writing Jewish-themed Children’s Books.

    We’ve invited Barbara here today because her first book for children, illustrated by Kelsey Garrity-Riley, titled  Goldie Takes a Stand! Golda Meir's First Crusade  (Kar-Ben, 2014) just came out! (Kar-Ben, by the way, is the Jewish imprint of Lerner Publishing Group.)
    Mazel-tov, Barbara!

    "Even at the age of nine, little Golda Meir
    was known for being a leader.  As the president of
    the American Young Sisters Society, she organizes her friends
    to raise money to buy textbooks for immigrant classmates.
    It’s not easy, and when her initial plan doesn’t work,
    she’s forced to dream even bigger to find a way to help her community.
     A glimpse at the early life of Israel’s first
    female Prime Minister, 
    this story is based on
    a true episode in the early life of Golda Meir."

    Welcome, Barbara! What's a common problem your students have and how do you address it?
    A common problem my students have is the fear of digging deep. To compensate, they produce redundant narrative that only skims the surface. I challenge them, as my mentors have challenged me, to take a deep breath and dive in.

    Thank you--just reading that made me take a deep breath. Would you share a favorite writing exercise with our readers?

    I am a certified Amherst Writers & Artists workshop leader and I really believe in the power of writing to timed prompts. A classic prompt is to recall a photograph and begin your writing session with, "In this one..."

    Another favorite is to write about something hanging on the wall in a room of your childhood family home.

    I want to try those!  What one piece of advice do you have for teachers?

    Look for the strength of each student and build on that.

    Barbara Krasner ~ teaching, speaking, inspiring ~
    What's on the horizon for you?

    I'm working on some Holocaust-related short stories and a couple of picture book biographies. In my master's program (Barbara's currently a candidate for an MA in Applied Historical Studies), I am looking for ways to take my academic requirements and turn them into literary projects. A new history book about my hometown of Kearny, New Jersey is an example of this. I am promoting my picture books this fall, such as my "What Would Goldie Do?" program at Jewish community centers (JCCs) and synagogues. I also hope to be teaching Writing Your Family History at my local JCC.

    WOW, Barbara!  And since it's Poetry Friday in the Kidlitosphere, do you have a poem you'd like to share with our readers?

    Here's a link to my poem, The Circle of Life on The Jewish Writing Project site, which invites contributions of poems and more.

    (Readers, this site is well worth exploring and includes, among other things, a terrific page of questions and writing ideas for kids)

    We'll close with a preview of Goldie Takes a Stand! (enter for a chance to win it below):

    Thank you so much for coming by today, Barbara!

    Book Giveaway
    Enter for a chance to win an autographed copy of Goldie Takes a Stand!  This giveaway ends on September 26.

    Use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter via 1, 2, or all 3 options specified. If you choose the "comment" option, share a comment to today's blog post about your experience with writing or teaching historical fiction. And please include your name in your comment, if it's not obvious from your comment "identity." (If you prefer, you may submit your comment via email to: teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com.)

    If you've never entered a Rafflecopter giveaway, here's info on how to enter a Rafflecopter giveaway and the difference between signing in with Facebook vs. with an email address. Email subscribers: if you received this post via email, you can click on the Rafflecopter link at the end of this message to access the entry form.

    Good luck!

    a Rafflecopter giveaway

    "Trust yourself.  Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life.  Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement." ~ Golda Meir

    But wait ~ there's more! Barbara's Goldie Takes a Stand! will soon be followed by a Holocaust picture book, Liesl's Ocean Rescue (Gihon River Press, Fall 2014).

    posted by April Halprin Wayland
    p.s: It's nearly New Year'
    s and my picture book, New Year at the Pier (Dial), winner of the Sidney Taylor Book Award for Younger Readers, celebrates the ritual of Tashlich, a wonderful, seaside gathering during the Jewish New Year (which begins September 24th and ends September 26th this year.)

    0 Comments on A Golda Meir Picture Book Giveaway! Happy Poetry Friday! And Happy Nearly Jewish New Year! as of 9/12/2014 6:46:00 AM
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    21. Book Giveaway & Writing Workout for Rosh Hashanah--What Writing Sins Will YOU Cast Away?

    The post below is refreshed and reprised from September 2013...the book giveaway of Barbara's picture book (about a slice of Golda Meir's childhood--and what an amazing leader she was even then) is NEW and ends September 26, 2014.

    Howdy, Campers!

    It's not Saint Patrick's Day, but we're lucky, lucky, lucky to open our doors and welcome Guest TeachingAuthor Barbara Krasner, who I interviewed last Friday, and who offers us her NEW picture book, Goldie Takes a Stand! A Tale of Young Golda Meir, to give away and a dynamite Wednesday Writing Workout for the New Year.

    Feeling lucky? Enter our latest book giveaway!
    Details on this post.
    Here's Barbara...

    ...and here's the Writing Workout she's cooked up for us:

    Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, comes early this year and I’m glad. It gives me the opportunity to reflect on the past year and think about the coming year even before the leaves fall. I’m giving you a Rosh Hashanah challenge in three parts.

    Part One: Rosh Hashanah, literally translated as head of the year, is a perfect time to think about the beginning of your manuscript. How many times do we hear that if we can’t grab the agent/editor/reader within just a few seconds, he or she will just move on to something else?

    Ask yourself the following questions:

    •    Do you have a compelling title?
    •    Does your first line grab the reader? (My all-time favorites are from M.T. Anderson, “The woods were silent except for the screaming,” and from Kate DiCamillo, “My name is Opal Buloni, and last summer my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a dog.”)
    •    Have you presented the main character on the first page?
    •    Have you presented the problem within the first page, the first chapter?

    These questions apply to fiction and nonfiction alike.

    What are YOUR first lines?

    Part Two: The Rosh Hashanah holiday includes a practice called Tashlich, casting off our sins. The practice is exemplified in April Halprin Wayland’s New Year at the Pier (Dial, 2009), winner of the Sydney Taylor Gold Award for Younger Readers,  and the mother-daughter team of Susan Schnur and Anna Schnur-Fishman’s Tashlich at Turtle Rock (Kar-Ben, 2010).

    My question to you: What writing sins will you cast off this year?

    When I think about this for myself, I think about:
    •    I will cast off my lack of organization – I will organize all those papers into folders with easy-to-read tabs and file the folders
    •    I will cast off watching reality TV (TCM movies only) – I need more time to write
    •    I will cast off working on a gazillion projects at once – I will focus on one genre at a time, and right now, that’s poetry, and okay, picture books
    •    I will cast off reading several books at once – I commit to reading a book fully before moving on to another.

    You get the idea. What will you cast off?

    Part Three: Here’s a prompt you can write to: Recall a Rosh Hashanah (or New Year) scene from your childhood and write about it. Who was there? Where were you? What action and dialogue took place?

    Thank you so much for your three-part Rosh Hashanah writing challenge, Barbara, and for mentioning my book (blush)... shana tovah!

    posted by April Halprin Wayland

    0 Comments on Book Giveaway & Writing Workout for Rosh Hashanah--What Writing Sins Will YOU Cast Away? as of 9/17/2014 6:44:00 AM
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    22. Do the Unexpected

    How are you all fairing with our workout? The holidays are in high gear right now, and we're physically working out getting in that last minute shopping, but we can't ignore our writing muscles. 
    Last week we wrote the scene that grabbed us. Now we're going to do the scary thing and throw something in the mix. Take whatever part of the book you're working on and add one of the following, then see what happens. Remember you don't have to keep it, but it's a great exercise to test out your characters. We love to torture them!

    • Your character finds out someone close has just died.
    • Your character is injured.
    • The antagonist shows up unexpectedly. 
    • Severe weather interferes (e.g, storm, earthquake, heatwave)
    You have to do this exercise the first half of the week, because we're doing double time now that we have our heart rates up. The second exercise is this:

    Take another character from the same book and put them in the same situation to see what happens. 

    Did you learn something about the other character you didn't know? What did that do to your perspective? I'd love to hear if you found anything interesting from this! Don't be afraid to email me. Good luck!

    8 Comments on Do the Unexpected, last added: 12/18/2012
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    23. Wind Down

    Merry Christmas to all those who celebrate it! 

    You've all done a great workout with me! Thanks. And if you didn't squeeze it in, that's okay - you can go back and do it when you're ready. I hope you found some inspiration in there. Today we stretch and wind down so we can spend time with family.

    So all I want you to do is write down your next goal. Be specific and positive. Like, "I will write ten chapters by February." Or whatever applies to your situation. Then put it in a place you'll see it often. On the fridge, cork-board, computer background, whatever. 

    And one more thing...


    4 Comments on Wind Down, last added: 12/26/2012
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    24. Memory Poet-Tree: a Wednesday Writing Workout

    Howdy Campers! Welcome to...

    My mother says that everyone remembers the trees of their childhood.

    I recently attended the annual FOCAL (Friends of Children and Literature) Luncheon hosted by the Los Angeles Public Library Children's Literature Department. Each year, FOCAL gives an award to an outstanding children's book with California content.  This year's award deservedly went to my friend Joanne Rocklin for her wonderful book, One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street (Abrams).

    This book bubbles over with the voice of middle graders.  It's a wonderful and truly amazing work, as the avalanche of great reviews and awards attests.

    Joanne's acceptance speech was thoroughly Joanne: full of enthusiasm, aware of her audience, bursting with love.

    I had such a great time, I bought one of the centerpieces, made by
    Ray Moszkowicz's art students at Palms Middle School:
     Each detail of this inspired centerpiece references her book.

    Joanne's memories of her beloved orange trees inspired my poem that day (I write a poem a day); I thought perhaps a memory of a tree in your life might inspire you, too.

    I wrote about our Meyer Lemon tree and how incredibly generous it is.  See for yourself:

    I want to share my lemon tree poem with you...but here's my dilemma: dozens of my poems have been published in poetry anthologies...but recent contracts specify that poems can never have been published--even on a blog.  ACK!

    But wait! I see that I've blogged on this topic before... so let's use a poem I've posted previously:

    by April Halprin Wayland

    I sit under this tree
    to sit under this tree.

    Not to win anything.
    Just me and tree.

    If the wind happens to drop
    a sweet plum in my lap, though,

    I would never say no
    to a plum.
    poem © 2013 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved
    Now it's your turn. 
    1) Close your eyes. Think of a tree from your childhood...or any tree of significance to you.
    2) List details of that tree that cover all five senses, or write snippets of your memories of the tree.
    3) Or you may want to simply plunge in, and see what memories sprout from your pen or keyboard.
    4) Consider putting your poem (or was it a story that emerged?) into a form...or not.
    5) Consider sending your poem to someone who would remember that tree.
    6) Leave a comment about this exercise.  :-)

    Don't forget to enter to enter our Book Giveaway to win
    Brenda Ferber's Valentine's Day picture book,  
    The Yuckiest, Stinkiest, Best Valentine Ever (Dial)
     All the details are in Esther's post below. 

    And thanks for coming to today's Wednesday Writing Workout!

    poem and lemon tree photo © 2013 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved

    13 Comments on Memory Poet-Tree: a Wednesday Writing Workout, last added: 1/19/2013
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    25. A Magnet Poem

    Last year at the Perth Writers Festival family Day  I got a free magnet board and enough letter magnets to spell my name. This year  got a sheet of magnet words. Today I finally opened both - and wrote a poem. Not a great photo - actually very hard to photograph because of white background and tiny size of words. But lots of fun.

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