Friday, September 19, 2014

On Neighborliness, “Balance,” and the Unpredictable Timing of Creativity: A Note to Myself (and You, Too, If You Need It)

The ideal circumstances in which you can create include ample free time, an absence of worries, and at least one enthusiastic supporter cheering you on. You might experience that lucky combination—or even two of the three components—once in a very long while.

In your actual life, things break, neighbors need help, and work-as-obligation fills up the hours and then the calendar. The concept of “balance” becomes a glittery myth.

You do what you can. You attend to the broken things. You take care of your neighbors (and we are all neighbors). Joyfully (or sometimes begrudgingly), you pay your dues. You wedge your creative spurts into the cracks, and you relish each happy slice.

You learn to recognize those glorious moments when everything falls into place in spite of the circumstances, and then you get busy. You make hay—or poems or paintings or pots—while the sun shines.

You do your best. And you know what, kiddo?

That’s enough.

The quarry road tumbles toward me
out of the early morning darkness,
lustrous with frost, an unrolled bolt
of softly glowing fabric, interwoven
with tiny glass beads on silver thread,
the cloth spilled out and then lovingly
smoothed by my father’s hand
as he stands behind his wooden counter
(dark as these fields) at Tilden’s Store
so many years ago. “Here,” he says smiling,
“you can make something special with this.”
Ted Kooser, Winter Morning Walks: One Hundred Postcards to Jim Harrison

Book Giveaway reminder:
Enter by September 26 for a chance to win an autographed copy of Barbara Krasner’s picture book biography Goldie Takes a Stand!

Today’s Poetry Friday Roundup is at The Poem Farm. Enjoy!

JoAnn Early Macken

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Book Giveaway & Writing Workout for Rosh Hashanah--What Writing Sins Will YOU Cast Away?

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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

Monday, September 15, 2014

It's International Dot Day!


It’s International Dot Day!


Inspired by Peter H. Reynold’s picture book the dot (Candlewick Press, September 15, 2009), the event, like the book itself, celebrates creativity, courage and collaboration, encouraging each of us to make our mark and see where it takes us.

If you don’t know Reynolds’ book,
run, don’t walk, to your local library to check it out (literally and figuratively), then to your local bookstore to make it your own.
I promise you: the story of a caring teacher who dares her doubting student Vashti to trust her own abilities and bravely “make her mark” speaks volumes to all of us, no matter our age, no matter our role.
My very well-worn copy has seen five years of readings.
It’s my go-to book to launch school workshops, writing classes and presentations.
It’s my recommended Rx/gift combo to anyone setting out to mine his own treasure.

FYI: at last count, 1,677,200 human beings from 79 countries around the world have already registered to celebrate International Dot Day.
Why not join them?
The more the merrier.

You can start by downloading the free EducatorsHandbook.
For inspiration, view the videos to learn how others celebrate the date.
Stop by the The Celebri-dots blog to read about the works of some famous creative souls, many of whom are children’s book authors.
And visit TheDot Gallery to see what’s been created so far.

And stay connected with Dot Day participants.
Connect the dots via
the Dot Day Facebook page,
Twitter
(use the hashtags #DotDay, #Makeyourmark)
SKYPING opportunities
and Pinterest.

Really and truly, there is no excuse NOT to be celebrating International Dot Day, not just today but all year long.

I found my own participation in International Dot Day – i.e. creating this post, nothing less than delicious and had planned to sign off by RE-using the above Mason Dots to spell out my name, perhaps even on the dotted line.

Since that is no longer possible, and I bet you know why, I offer up the following, courtesy of Mr. Samuel F. B. Morse.

                                       -- .- -.- . / -.-- --- ..- .-. / -- .- .-. -.-
(Click here, input the above, hit TRANSLATE, then PLAY to listen!)

Enjoy! Enjoy! Vashti and I are cheering you on!
Esther Hershenhorn

P.S.
I was surprised to learn how few green and yellow dots there are in your typical box of Mason Dots.

P.P.S.
Don't forget to enter our Rafflecopter Book Giveway to win a copy of Barbara Krasner's picture book biography of Golda Meir GOLDIE TAKES A STAND! GOLDA MEIR'S FIRST CRUSADE.

Friday, September 12, 2014

A Golda Meir Picture Book Giveaway! Happy Poetry Friday! And Happy Nearly Jewish New Year!

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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.)
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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.)

Monday, September 8, 2014

A Time of Transitions


This is a time of transitions here on the TeachingAuthors blog. Laura announced on Friday  that she is leaving our team. Even though she'd signed on as a temporary sub, I'd hoped we'd be able to convince her to continue as a regular. Unfortunately, other pressing demands are tugging at her. But I do hope she'll keep us in mind if circumstances change. J

Meanwhile, we wish her the best. At least we'll all be able to keep tabs on Laura over at her own blog.

Farewell to the lovely and talented, Laura Purdie Salas!
In two weeks, we'll also be saying farewell to long-time TeachingAuthor, Jill Esbaum. I'm VERY sad to see Jill go, L but she's leaving for a new, exciting adventure. I hope she'll share a little about it in her final post here. Of course, we wish her all the best, too. We're SO going to miss you, Jill!

We're going to really miss the wise and wonderful, Jill Esbaum!
But the news isn't all doom and gloom! I'm happy to announce that Mary Ann Rodman will be returning to the team! Hurrah! You can watch for her posts here every third Monday.

Mary Ann's BACK! YIPPEE!
Finally, I'm excited to report that a new TeachingAuthor will be joining the team in October. But I'm going to keep you in suspense about the new TA's identity a little while longer. J

I WILL tell you though, that we'll be sponsoring another great book giveaway this month! Be sure to see April's post this Friday for details.

Happy writing, all.
Carmela

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Until I Saw the Sea, by Lilian Moore [Poetry Friday]





Today is my last post as a member of the Teaching Authors blog, and I'm kind of melancholy about it. Stepping down is my choice, and I knew my time here was temporary when I agreed to do it. And there are several good reasons I need to leave the group--time being the most pressing. So in some ways it's a relief.

But...but...I am so amazed by these writers! They talk and brainstorm and support each other behind the scenes much more than I expected. They are a great group--and if I didn't have a blog of my own and too many commitments, I would be honored to stay here with Carmela, April, Esther, and JoAnn. In fact, I wish I had met up with this group years ago! You know how you meet people sometimes and think, "If I had met this person 20 years ago, I bet my life would be different right now"? That's kind of how I feel about the Teaching Authors. They might be surprised to hear this, because I've barely had time to answer emails, and I also chose not to participate in conversations and group decisions too deeply, knowing I would be saying goodbye before too long.

OK, enough melodrama, but, in honor of my somewhat melancholy mood about this, I'm sharing this poem by Lilian Moore, one of my favorite poets. This is from Something New Begins, which is out of print, but Amazon has some used copies, which I urge you to grab! It originally appeared in I Feel the Same Way. I love the slightly bittersweet beauty of so much of her nature poetry.

Until I Saw the Sea

Until I saw the sea
I did not know
that wind
could wrinkle water so.

I never knew
that sun
could splinter a whole sea of blue.

Nor
did I know before,
a sea breathes in and out
upon a shore.

--Lilian Moore, all rights reserved

Isn't that lovely? Sigh... Now, head on over to Laura Shovan's Author Amok blog for the Poetry Friday Roundup!




Friday, August 29, 2014

Scribble-Dee-Dee is Right for Me!

I can't resist answering April's question about paper and pen vs. computer using her "Scribble-Dee-Dee." I'm so used to (and comfortable with) paper and pen that I almost never begin anything new on the computer. For me, most ideas form not in my head but in spiral notebooks with purple pens. In my usual approach, more polished, closer-to-final drafts belong on the computer.

I mentioned my habit of carrying a pocket notebook and pen in a post from four summers ago. Here's a little more on the subject.


I was surprised to see how many Teaching Authors go straight to the keyboard to record their thoughts. How about you?

Pat K. won the autographed copy of Sandy Brehl's middle grade novel Odin's Promise.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at Check It Out: Life and Books in a K5 Library School Setting. Enjoy!

JoAnn Early Macken

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

WWW: Finding Your Voice


Today’s Wednesday Writing Workout comes to us courtesy of my fellow Newberry Library writing instructor, Chicago author and memoirist Carol LaChapelle.

When it comes to teaching Memoir Writing, Carol is “it”!
And so is her book, FINDING YOUR VOICE AND TELLING YOUR STORIES: 167 WAYS TO TELL YOUR LIFE STORIES (Marion Street Press).

Carol believes each life contains the makings of a memoir.

In FINDING YOUR VOICE, she shares writing tools, tricks of the trade, exercises and prompts to help any writer access and explore memories and turn them into stories. 

Carol also includes contributions from real students who have been using her methods to show readers how productive the writing exercises can be.

You can read Carol’s most recent essays in Next Avenue  and in America Magazine.

Carol invites TeachingAuthors readers to visit her blog  ForBoomersandBeyonders - Dispatches From the(New) Middle Ages and/or to “friend” her on Facebook.

You can email her directly for information about her online writing workshops at madmoon55@hotmail.com. 

Thank you, Carol, for sharing one of your 167 ways for our TeachingAuthors readers to find their voice and tell their stories.

Enjoy! Enjoy!

Esther Hershenhorn



Finding Your Voice

In addition to writing and teaching workshops, I also consult with private clients on their various writing projects.  Recently, one of them, a woman in her late 70s who is writing a series of family stories, sent me a remembrance of her beloved grandmother to read and critique. 

In the piece, Joan writes about her many experiences with her grandmother from when she was a young girl.  As I read it, I realized that I didn’t really understand what was so special about “Gram,” though I knew Joan felt there were many things, else why commit this woman to paper?

And so after marking up the draft—mostly with questions—I summed up my comments at the end, including suggestions for the next revision, then sent it back to Joan along with this note.        

 I definitely like this idea for a family story; it’s important for future generations to know the people who went before them.

 I hope my notes, especially on the last page, will help in your revision. The major thing when starting to revise is to list for yourself those 2-4 most important characteristics/personality traits of your grandmother, as you experienced them.

 You don’t necessarily have to then list these traits in the actual revision, but you want the story—the specific experiences/details/scenes—to illustrate those. In other words, here’s the evidence that supports why you believe Gram is someone worth writing about.

I also referred Joan to my book, particularly Chapter Two, “Four Really Helpful Writing Techniques.”  The fourth technique, the Character Sketch, describes how I came to write one particular memory of a high school teacher, including the process by which that memory emerged on the blank page.  

I felt this might be helpful to Joan as she attempted to more specifically capture what was essential about her grandmother.

Following is that technique, which I have copied directly from my book’s initial manuscript.  I hope it will serve as a good reminder for all of us—new and practicing writers alike—when we come to write about the very special people in our own lives.

 4.  Character Sketch:  When you use the character sketch technique, you do more than simply describe someone physically.  That’s important of course as s/he will come more alive on the page the better that you—and your intended reader—can see what that person looks like, sounds like, moves like.

But a character sketch becomes more interesting when you add the person’s relevant personality traits and significant biographical information.

 For instance, if I were to do a character sketch of one of my favorite high school teachers, I’d include her height (short), athletic skill (she was our phys ed teacher), and coloring (her small, olive-dark face).  I’d also mention how young she was, and how demanding she was of us.  I’d describe how she looked while bouncing down the school halls (even when not wearing tennis shoes), gesticulating wildly alongside her friend and colleague, a much taller, paler, and mellower teacher.  Oh, and I guess I would mention that she was a nun who dressed in the black and white habit of her religious community—both in the gym and out.

I’d include relevant biographical information—a matter of keen interest among her former students, especially her decision to leave the convent after 20 years, marry a much younger man, sail around the world with him for a year, then return home and open a pizza parlor.

As I sit here now and write about the former Sister Joseph, more images of her come to mind, each small detail leading to another, and another, and then finally to a specific scene:

It is 1958 and our girls volleyball team has gathered in the gym after school for volleyball practice.  As we fumble our way around the court, Sr. Joe paces up and down the sidelines, barking orders at us, her black veil tied behind her back with a fat rubber band, the dour nun shoes exchanged for bright white tennies.  Her diminishing patience at our ineptitude now exhausted, she charges onto the court and to the spike position of my team.  Pushing aside Loretta, our best player, she yells “Set me up!” to the quaking girl next to her.  The rest of us stand there still as stones, and watch as Sr. Joe rises like some fiery rocket and hammers that ball over the net.

 Coda

Not long after my book was published in July 2008, I received a very surprising email from one of its readers.  Here’s how it begins:

Dear Ms. LaChapelle,
I am the "much younger man" to whom you refer on page 33 of your new book who married your former volleyball coach. I want to tell you that I (and she) nearly fell on the floor reading that recollection. While some of the details were slightly off, the essence of Sr. Joseph was right on.