Thursday, July 24, 2014

Poetry Friday: Last Impressions and What I'm Reading




For Poetry Friday, I'm sharing a poem from a book coming out this fall from J. Patrick Lewis and George Ella Lyon. I just received an ARC of Voices from the March on Washington (WordSong), and I've only read three of the poems. But they all knocked my socks off! I'll share more closer to the publication date, but here's a sneak peek to whet your appetite.

Last Impressions

black without white
is
a moonless
night
empty
as
a life
of endlessly
falling snow
is
white without black

--J. Patrick Lewis, all rights reserved

This lovely poem especially connected with me because I just wrote three poems about diversity for consideration for a friend's scholarly book on children's literature, and the one he chose uses blizzard/snow imagery as well!

And I love the way you can create many different complete thoughts that kind of overlap each other because of the line breaks. Gorgeous.

Here I am reading Pat's poem:



Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong, creators of the amazing Poetry Friday Anthology books, are hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup at Poetry for Children. Don't miss it!

Now on to what I've been reading. I've been working on attacking my to-read shelf this summer! I joined the Book-a-Day Challenge through Donalyn Miller and the Nerdy Book Club (http://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/2014/05/18/the-sixth-annual-book-a-day-challenge/). My goal is to average a book a day (surprise:>) And it's not too late! You pick your start and stop days, so if you have one month left of summer, go for it. Commit to reading a book a day, and share your books on your blog or Twitter (#bookaday). I post mine on Twitter--that accountability is great. Anyway, the thing I've learned most is that having a book-a-day really helps me get to a lot more picture books and poetry books--which are my favorite books, anyway. But they often get lost in the shuffle as I read research books or escape into mysteries. Below are the most recent 10 books I've finished. I have more in progress.

Looking over my list, I would say two other things I've learned are that I abandon books without guilt now (a major change from 10 years ago), and I want to read MORE picture books and poetry. Once book-a-day ends, I might have to come up with a picture book plan to keep me going!

P.S. Check that last book for the most finely-crafted nonfiction picture book I've read in months.

P.P.S. Those of you in the Los Angeles area who are aspiring picture book writers, check out Teaching Authors' April Halprin Wayland's upcoming class, Writing Picture Books for Children. It's Wednesday nights from August 6 through September 10. It might be just right for you, so don't miss out :>)

Happy reading,
Laura

Laura's bookshelf: read

Superworm
4 of 5 stars
Drama, a lizard wizard, an evil crow, and a superhero worm. All in delightful rhyme. What more could you ask for?

         
Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature
4 of 5 stars
A terrific nonfiction book to introduce the fairly complex concept of fractals (shapes that have smaller parts that resemble the larger, overall shape). Clear text and well-chosen photos are the strong points. I might have given this 5 s...

         
Guilt by Association
4 of 5 stars
A smart-mouthed DA sets out to prove her colleague's innocence (after being ordered to stay out of the investigation) on the side while investigating the rape of the daughter of an annoying, powerful businessman. Strong, relatable charac...

         
Have You Heard the Nesting Bird?
4 of 5 stars
Great rhyming nonfiction. We get to hear the calls of several species of birds and learn about their habits. Interspersed with that is a narrative about a bird that's calmly and quietly sitting on its nest--the nesting bird. It's a robin...

         
You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think: The 5 Money Secrets of the Happiest Retirees
4 of 5 stars
I am not very savvy about financial planning. I'm a good budgeter, but at age 47, I've only thought about retirement in general, far-off terms. I'm SO glad I read this book. After starting to follow the basic steps spelled out here, I'm ...

         
Feathers: Not Just for Flying
5 of 5 stars
Basically a perfect nonfiction picture book. The primary text, secondary text, and art work beautifully together. Great mentor text for exploring functions or for using similes. And terrific for units on birds. Gorgeous work!

goodreads.com

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

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: 
SHH! DIALOGUE SECRETS YOU DON’T WANT TO MISS!
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.
SO…HOW DO YOU MAKE YOUR CHARACTER MAKE A GOOD FIRST IMPRESSION?

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
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!)
Carmela

Monday, July 21, 2014

Summer: Long Days, Short Books

Each summer I order 15-20 new picture books to share at the Whispering Woods Picture Book Workshop hosted by my friend Linda Skeers and me. When a shipment arrives, I carry them in a big stack to my sofa, then sit down with them on my lap. I open the top cover of the top book, inhale that new-book smell, then slowly and blissfully read my way through the stack.

Well, sometimes it's blissful. Other times I find myself checking the publisher and wondering:  What did XXX see in this story that I'm missing? I hate it when that happens. (And then I hope really, really hard that nobody is disappointed in MY books like that. But I also know you can't please everybody. *sigh*  If only.)

The flip side is when I'm making my way (aloud) through a book – la, la, la – and a passage makes me STOP and catch my breath. In a good way. And I have to back up a page or two and come into it again. You know, to see if it was really that good, if it will make me stop and smile again. If it does, the next thing I have to know is "How'd she DO that?"



Gaston, by Kelly DiPucchio (illus by Christian Robinson) is the book that grabbed me this year. The whole story is adorable, but it's one little page that had me whispering a reverent, "Oh, man. Oh, man. Oh, man." And I didn't have to turn many pages to find it. Here's how the book begins:

       "Mrs. Poodle admired her new puppies.

                 "Fi-Fi,       Foo-Foo,       Ooh-La-La,       and Gaston."

Now, first of all, how fun is it to read those names aloud? Real.

So anyway, pictured are four white puppies. The reader is supposed to notice that one (Gaston) looks different from his litter mates. The reader MUST, in fact, notice that difference, because the entire story hangs on it. But like I said, the puppies are all white, and they're all about the same size. So here's where I was blown away. When you turn the page, you get this. The text reads:



      "Would you like to see them again?

                    "Fi-Fi,       Foo-Foo,       Ooh-La-La,        and Gaston.

      "Perfectly precious, aren't they?"

Oh, man. See what she did there? See how the text comes across feeling light and off-hand? She never says:  "Be sure to notice, kids, that one puppy is different." No. She finds a way to make sure kids see that difference WITHOUT telling them to, then blithely moves the story along with that slightly-flippant last line:  "Perfectly precious, aren't they?"

THAT, ladies and gentlemen, takes a confident writer, one who knows her craft – and how to make a point without hitting us on the head with it. The next thing I have to wonder is if this passage was in the book from the beginning, or was it added late in the process?

I'll probably never know. But I love it when I come away from a book inspired to write better. And I loved being reminded, again, that it only takes a handful of words for masterful writers to make magic.

Jill Esbaum

Friday, July 18, 2014

Summertime, and the Reading Is Random

Wait—what day is it? I’m supposed to post today, right? I’m happy to say that we're having a busy, active summer so far with more adventures planned. Here’s what I’ve been reading:

  • Road maps. I have practically no sense of direction, but given enough time, I can figure out which way to go with a decent map, especially if it comes with step-by-step instructions. We just returned from a two-week trip to Colorado, and I took advantage of Map Quest and other smart phone apps for the first time.

  • Monarch butterfly information. Home from our trip, we found our backyard milkweed plants loaded with monarch eggs and caterpillars. I joined the Monarch Butterfly discussion list, where people post fascinating updates about current research as well as their own observations. In the past four days, I’ve gathered about 75 eggs and 15 caterpillars. Two chrysalises also hang in our backyard mosquito net tent. (A neighbor kept an eye on them while we were gone.)


  • Research on multiple topics for future books of my own and a couple freelance fact-checking projects.

  • An adult book (gasp!) I borrowed from my husband because I didn’t make it to the library before we left town. I’m finding it a bit too long and convoluted, but I’ve grown attached to the characters, so I’ll probably finish the book just to find out what happens to them.

Happy reading!
JoAnn Early Macken

Monday, July 14, 2014

We're Back! And Talking about What We've Been Reading


Hello Readers,
I hope you're all enjoying summer (well, at least those of you in the Northern Hemisphere!). These are definitely not "lazy, hazy days" for me. I spent much of our blogging break working on lesson plans for upcoming classes, including a children's writing camp that begins today. (If you'd like to see my summer class offerings, check out my website.)

Today I'm kicking off a series of posts in which we TeachingAuthors talk about a book we recently read or are currently reading. Thanks to the lovely Linda Baie over at TeacherDance, I know about a meme in the blogging community called "It's Monday, What Are You Reading?" hosted at Teach Mentor Texts. I'm happy to have a blog post that qualifies for the roundup!

The book I'd like to discuss is John Green's The Fault in Our Stars (Dutton). Even though this bestseller has been out since 2012 and has been made into a "major motion picture," I didn't get around to reading it till this month. I might not have read it all if it hadn't been selected as one of our Anderson's Bookshop's Not for Kids Only Book Club titles for August.


I'm happy to say that even though I don't typically read or write contemporary young adult novels, I enjoyed this one. I was especially struck by two things right at the beginning:

A. The Author's Note:
In case you haven't read it (or somehow missed the page) the book includes an unusual Author's Note before Chapter One: 
Author’s Note
      This is not so much an author’s note as an author’s reminder of what was printed in small type a few pages ago: This book is a work of fiction. I made it up.
      Neither novels nor their readers benefit from attempts to divine whether any facts hide inside a story. Such efforts attack the very idea that made-up stories can matter, which is sort of the foundational assumption of our species.
      I appreciate your cooperation in this matter.
This note struck me for two reasons: 
  1. It reminded me of a question I'm often asked. Since my novel, Rosa, Sola, is based on events from my own childhood, readers often want to know how much of the novel "really happened." I think many who ask it are disappointed by my answer: None of it "really happened" because my life events happened to me, not to Rosa Bernardi. I don't think I could have written the story if I hadn't been able to separate myself from my character. 
  2. Green's note made me think more deeply about the nature of fiction and our purposes in reading/writing it. The note also reminded me of something I read years ago--that fiction is about Universal Truths, or "truth with a capital T." As a writer, I sometimes get so caught up in plot and craft, etc., that I can lose sight of the Truth.
If you'd like to read more about what Green meant by his Author's Note, see this page on his website.

B. That a story about cancer and death can be humorous:
From page one of The Fault in Our Stars, I was intrigued by the narrator's wit and voice. It begins:
Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death.
I have to admit--after first reading this sentence I wasn't completely sure Hazel was being sarcastic. After all, this was a book about a girl with cancer. But it soon became apparent that cancer hadn't killed her sense of humor. That surprised me, as did other things about the book. I'm not going to risk spoiling it for those of you who haven't read the novel yet by telling you what those other things were. I'll just say that I enjoyed the book more than I expected. And, reading as a writer, I learned from it.

I wonder how many of you, our readers, have read Green's book. I'd love to know what you thought of it. And if you have any "summer reading" recommendations, do share them with us. 

Happy writing (and reading)!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Passionate or Practical? Writing To Market Children's Books {and Poetry Friday!}

.
Howdy, Campers!

Woo-woo!  The winner of Joan Bransfield Graham's new book, The Poem that Will Not End is Rosi Hollenbeck, who happens to be the SCBWI critique group coordinator for Northern and Central California. Congratulations, Rosi!  You'll find Joan's Wednesday Writing Workout here and my interview with her here.

Today we conclude our series on Writing What We Want to Write versus Writing What is Marketable (or, as I like to call it, WWWWWWWM). Each of us is taking turns thinking aloud about Marion Dane Bauer's terrific post, The Creative Mind, in which she writes convincingly about WWWWWWWM.

It's also Poetry Friday at Buffy's AND it's the start of TeachingAuthors' Summer Blogging Break--woo-woo!

http://buffysilverman.com/blog/
Thanks, for hosting PF, Buffy!

First, let's review what TeachingAuthors have been saying so far this round:

JoAnn began the conversation by sharing her monarch haiku project and the new direction in which she's taking it; Carmela talked about how hard it is to work so long on beloved projects that don't sell...but finds redemption; Laura writes that it's a matter of prioritizing, e-publishing, sharing poetry love and more: and writing coach/writers' booster Esther sees the light, rewrites, submits like the devil, and stays optimistic. Her post has helped me stay optimistic, too.  In fact each of these posts has.

So...wow. I've been mulling over how to talk to you about this one.  It's potent. And personal.

Just like each of my blogmates, I've sent out countless manuscripts that have bounced back again and again and again and again.  *Sigh.*  I'd be a great boomerang maker.


For example, Girl Coming in for a Landing--a Novel in Poems (Knopf) took me ten years to sell. Then it won two major awards. Editors who rejected it said, "Teens don't read.  And if they do read, they don't read poetry."  As Esther reminds us: "Times change; markets change; publishers' needs change; editorial staffs change." Oy--is that ever true.

More recently, I finally found a way to fictionalize the story of the flood which destroyed my family's farm and how we rebuilt afterwards.  I'd been taking this picture book manuscript out, rewriting it, and putting it back in my bottom drawer for years.  Last year I was invited to join a dynamite critique group; I took a risk and showed them my story. At this Magic Table I learned what my story was missing and how to strengthen it.
This is what happens at our Magic Table. Sort of.
I was elated.  I sent it to my fabulous agent.  She told me that picture books these days must be short. VERY short.  Picture books used to be for ages 3-8 and could be as long as 1500 words.  These days, editors want picture books for ages 3-5.  After 650 words, editors roll their eyes, my agent told me.

I told the Magic Table this.  They helped me shorten it.  I sent it flying out my door again.

Editors said that it was too regional. I went back to the Magic Table. They said, What about all the floods around the country? What about your themes of resilience, problem solving, weather, storms, climate change and life cycles for heaven's sake? You've just got to help them see this.  You'd got to help your agent sell it.

SO...I hired a curriculum specialist...and resubmitted the story complete with Supplementary Materials including Themes, Common Core-related English Language Arts activities, Science-related activities, and a Glossary.

(Huh! Take That, I say with all those Capital Letters!)

And it's still not selling.

And yet...I believe in the Power of the Table. I do. I love this writing biz. I do. And I love my gang around that table. So what else can I do but believe? I keep on keeping on.

I wrote a poem recently to our group, to our leader, to the Magic Table. It was reverent, in awe of the smarts and wizardry at the Table.

But today I changed the poem. Maybe it's not a Magic Table after all. Here's the revised version:

AROUND THIS TABLE
by April Halprin Wayland

It's magic, you know.
Impossible feats of metaphor.
Six of us around this rosewood table,
savoring tea.

Spilling over our pages,
foreshadowing, fortune telling,
drawing stories
out of the shadows of these drapes.

The illusion of allusion.
A prophecy of sorcery.
The tinkling of full moon necklaces.
Shamans jingling bracelets
dangling from our sleight of hands.

But…are we clairvoyant?
Are we soothsayers, 
sorceresses, sorcerers?
Maybe it's all just make believe.

Believe.


poem copyright © 2014 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

I am boldly stealing the following EXACT WORDING (and formatting) from today's Poetry Friday host, Buffy Silverman because it's 12:15 am here in California...and because it applies to Buffy, to me, and to many other poets in the kidlitosphere you may know (thank you, Buffy!):
In other poetry news, I recently submitted a poem to a children’s poetry anthology being prepared by Carol-Ann Hoyte on food and agriculture, and was happy to learn this week that the poem was accepted.  I’m in good company with many other Poetry Friday folks–look for the anthology in October of this year.

TeachingAuthors will be taking our annual blogging break--we'll be back Monday, July 13th.  See you then!
Four TeachingAuthors on summer break.

Written by April Halprin Wayland who thanks you for reading all the way to the end.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Wednesday Writing Workout: Mining for Nuggets of Gold in Those Stories You Left Behind


Please welcome back Tamera Will Wissinger, author of the 2014 ALSC Notable GONE FISHING (HHM), and help us celebrate her second book, the picture book THIS OLD BAND (Sky Pony Press) which released June 3.

Tamara is one of my fellow TA Carmela Martino’s many Student Success Stories.
But I’m happy to report: she’s one of my long-ago Ragdale Picture Book Workshop students too. J
Though she now lives in Vero Beach, Florida, I will always consider her my SCBWI-Illinois kin.

As recent posts noted, most writers’ drawers are crammed full with manuscripts that somehow haven’t found the light of day.
So Tamera’s WWW is more than timely, helping us mine the gold in those left-behind stories.


THIS OLD BAND features a ragtag band of cowboys counting and hollering from ten to one, making music with their jugs, combs, boots and whatever else they can find.
In its upcoming July 2014 review, School Library Journal  commended THIS OLD BAND for the “clever use of alliteration and rhyme, as well as laugh-out-loud funny tongue-twisters, that complement the singsong nature of the story, making the book ideal for both story-times and one-on-one sharing.”

Thanks, Tamera, for sharing your book and your know-how!

As always, I'm cheering you on!

Esther Hershenhorn

                                                       * * * * * * *

Mining for Nuggets of Gold in Stories Left Behind

Do you have any stories or poems that you’ve trunked, shelved, iced, buried, torpedoed, or locked in the vault? Work that was once your reason for showing up to write every day, but then at some point stopped being fun or interesting enough to continue? I do. Each piece’s end comes differently – sometimes I move on after barely starting, and other times I write through the end only to find that it didn’t turn out the way that I had intended. After the huge investments of time and energy, it can be disappointing, even heartbreaking.
My first picture book, THIS OLD BAND, has its genesis in in the demise of another rhyming concept book that will probably never be published because I’m not sure I’ll ever figure out how to write it. While I was creating it, though, in my mind it had such potential, such flair! There was going to be a duel! I wrote two (what I thought were) really terrific opening stanzas:
West, out near the great divide
Where bison roam and ranchers ride

Above the town of Twisted Pine,
Lived number one through number nine.

I outlined the rest of the story. I knew where I wanted this poem-story to go and I wrote and rewrote, but it didn’t go where I had planned and eventually I had to concede. I placed the manuscript in a drawer and moved on to something else.
Over the months and years, though, the heart of that story kept tugging at me. I loved that western setting, the idea of cowboys and cowgirls, the bison, the numbers. I had already acknowledged that the story didn’t work as it was, but I began to think in “what ifs” and “maybes”:
  • What if I kept the southwest setting and the element of counting?
  • Maybe these characters didn’t want to duel. What if I didn’t make them?
  • What if, instead, the main characters were cowboy/cowgirl friends who played simple instruments and made silly noises? Maybe they could perform as a band.
  • What if I threw out those “terrific” stanzas that were getting me nowhere and chose an entirely different rhythm and rhyme pattern?
Sifting through that old manuscript to mine those nuggets of gold was fun. Leaving behind the rest of the pieces that hadn't worked felt liberating. Equally satisfying was starting anew with my gold pieces of setting, characters, action, and new rhyme and rhythm. I began to uncover a different looking and sounding story that eventually became This Old Band. 

I believe that every shelved story or poem has valuable nuggets to mine if we’re willing to push past the gate of sorrow and frustration to search for them. Here are ideas for ways to approach a buried manuscript:
  • Which one speaks most loudly to your heart and your brain? Maybe that’s the one to consider first.
  • Do you need to actually read it to know what’s in there that is of value to you? Maybe there’s a gem of a conflict that you know by heart. Or a setting that is exceptional. Maybe it’s a secondary character – or an endearing character trait. With poetry it could be any detail that you found particularly charming. Maybe it’s a wonderful metaphor, a delightful image, or a single rhyming couplet.
  • If you do reread the manuscript – after all this time is it more clear to you what was working and what wasn’t? Go in and grab those nuggets that work; they are gold, and they are yours!
  • Consider what you have – it may not seem like much at first, but no story or poem does in the beginning.
  • Based on what you have, allow yourself to wonder. Say “maybe”…ask “what if?” Follow your beacons of gold and see where they lead you.
 I wish you good luck as you consider mining for your own gold nuggets. Maybe your real story is just waiting to be unearthed.

Tamera Will Wissinger

Monday, June 23, 2014

Seeing the Light vs. Seeing the Light of Day

Kudos and Thanks to my courageously-honest fellow TeachingAuthors JoAnn, Carmela and Laura - and to our TeachingAuthors readers as well - for sharing their understandable publishing and marketability concerns once they begin writing a story.
My filing cabinet too overflows with as-yet-sold manuscripts.

The adjective as-yet-sold speaks volumes about my optimism and Faith.
I’ve always believed that my Writer’s Story – and any story in which I’ve invested – would eventually bring that “inevitable yet surprising satisfactory resolution” required of all stories.
I truly am the Susan Lucci of Children’s Books. 
I fortunately have what editor Ted Solotoroff once called endurability, as referenced in Dani Shapiro’s STILL WRITING: THE PERILS AND PLEASURES OF A CREATIVE LIFE.

I write stories that grab my heart and won’t let go until I get the telling right.  Period.  
I write them one at a time, for however long it takes, in between teaching and coaching and speaking since I bring home the bacon, ’til each is ready for editorial submission.
I also revise them, again, and then again, for however long it takes, ’til each is ready for yet another editorial submission.
Prolific I am not. 

Do I creatively envision the manuscript as a published book while  I write and revise, listing likely publishers when I come upon them?
Of course.
Do I imagine an editor’s offer or a stellar review or the look of surprise on a Doubting Thomas’ face.
You bet.
And when Reality arrives, when my story still fails to see the light of day?
I tuck it away...for another day.

In other words, for whatever reasons, sane, sound or not, once I’m invested in a story and begin writing, I keep on going, no matter the current market place.  Period.

                                                                   (Morgue Files/lightfoot)

I first wrote my first published picture book THERE GOES LOWELL’S PARTY! some ten years earlier as an easy-to-read titled CALLING 'ROUND ABOUT THE RAIN.  I couldn’t give up on either Lowell or the Vance Randolph Ozark tales I’d studied in college.

I wrote and revised THE CONFE$$ION$ AND $ECRET$ OF HOWARD J. FINGERHUT for at least 7 editors over 12 years before Holiday House published it. I believed in Howie and his story whole-heartedly.

A year came and went while an agent worked unsuccessfully to place my newest baby board book TXTNG MAMA TXTNG BABY with a publisher.  I withdrew the book and lo and behold, my Sleeping Bear Press editor phoned to tell me of their new ownership and yes, they were looking for a first-time baby book!

Times change; markets change; publishers’ needs change; editorial staffs change.

My filing cabinets hold three of my favorite picture books: LOOP-DE-LOOP LEO, about a little boy who’s afraid to go out-and-about on his nursery school teacher’s looped rope; SING A SONG OF YITZY, about a little boy who longs to travel with his Papa’s Klezmer band; and my first book ever, CATCH A PATCH OF FOG, about a little boy who always has a piece of him hanging out when he plays Hide-and-Seek. Wouldn’t a patch of fog be the perfect solution?

The Truth is: I found my own courage writing Leo’s story; I learned each of us has a song to sing writing Yitzy’s tale; and my fog catcher’s wondering proved to be mine: Maybe I was someone worth finding?

In other words, writing my stories helped and helps me see the light.  Period. 
And those Aha! Moments sustain me and keep me keeping on.
I’ve always known: the right story at the right time helps the reader discover, uncover, recover his own story.
My years on task taught me, though: the same is true for the writer too.
Each of my stories, whether sold or not, has proved to be for me the right story at the right time.

Maybe, like Laura, I’ll soon consider epublishing, or better yet, independently publishing one or two of my tucked-away stories.  I’ve helped several of my writers successfully do both. 
I know that like JoAnn, I can’t help but return to several  of my much-loved unsold picture book texts and restructure them, reshape them, turn them on their sides, to see if there’s a better story-telling way to draw editorial interest.
Like Carmela, I’ll always keep my eyes and ears open for homes for my stories.

Meanwhile, I’ll continue to share my unsold manuscripts, publishing histories and all, with my students, to illuminate their journeys, and Cubs Fan that I am, keep believing in my stories.

Yet another perspective (minus Morgue Files photos of filing cabinets and light bulbs I couldn't upload!)

Esther Hershenhorn