Friday, May 22, 2015

Zooming In on Inspiration

When I finish a big project, I usually have to take a few days to get my bearings. I look around, dazed, trying to figure out what to do next. Morning Pages help. Walking to the lake helps. Spring is inspiring!

My camera helps me focus—literally—when I need to slow down and pay attention. For me, that can be the key to opening up to new ideas.

I just turned in the fourth (and final) book in a nonfiction series for an educational publisher. It drained me more than I expected. So I’m filling the well. Here are some things I’m paying attention to.


Last fall, I buried 40 potted milkweed plants  (3 varieties) under dry leaves next to the house. When the weather warmed up, I put them in the sun next to the garage. So far, 18 of them have sprouted. Three more plants (and one more variety) have popped up in the flower bed, which is shadier. Now I'm watching for monarchs. (Are you? Check the migration map to see if they're in your neighborhood yet.)


A pair of white-breasted nuthatches were cleaning out a hole in a branch above the garage the other day. Will they build a nest there? I hope so. I love their weird calls (described by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology as "a loud, nasal yank") and the way they hop down tree trunks head first.


One of my favorite wildflowers, a shooting star, is blooming in the park. What an encouraging surprise! Maybe I can go back to work now.

Bobbi started this series of Teaching Authors posts about inspiration with a collection of wonderful quotes. Be sure to check it out if you need a dose of inspiration—and who doesn't?

Congratulations to Karen C, who won our giveaway of the YA novel in verse Dating Down by Stephanie Lyons. (Read all about it in Esther's interview.)

Baby Says "Moo!" is now a board book! Watch for a Teaching Authors Book Giveaway in June.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme. Enjoy!

JoAnn Early Macken

Monday, May 18, 2015

Inspirations and Geniuses




Thomas Edison, 1921.
Title adapted from Laurie J. Edwards’ discussion on inspiration. Thank you!

Fred White blogged in 2010 that “Being inspired smacks of amateurish, daydreamy passivity, the notion that some supernatural presence must appear before us before the words can flow. And we’re reminded to death of Thomas Edison’s overquoted words about invention demanding 99 percent perspiration and 1 percent inspiration, perhaps not realizing that without that primal 1 percent jolt from the gods, Edison might not have been driven to sweat out the hard work or to cope with a zillion things going wrong.”

Inspiration is important for any creative activity. In fact, some argue that art made the world (See Nigel Spivey’s How Art Made the World, 2005). When early humans produced art over 77,000 years ago, they crafted tools and embellished it with color, but the defining element that made it stand above their Homo habilis ancestors using tools is found the singular capacity of using the imagination. From these humble beginnings, civilizations were born.

And inspiration fires the imagination. I’ve asked some of my favorite people about their favorite inspirations, and include them below. All photographs are from the Library of Congress, used with permission.


 From Laurie J. Edwards, YA author extraordinaire:


Henry Ford, 1924. His first car and his ten millionth car.

 
 “Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eye off the goal.” ~ Henry Ford

Bamboo Gardens, China, 1900.
From Rebecca Colby, author of It’s Raining Bats and Frogs and other picturebooks:

"The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it." ~ Chinese Proverb




 

Martha Graham, Age 67, 1961.
  From Marcia Strykowski, author of Call Me Amy:

"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of
you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost."  ~ Martha Graham



 



Eleanor Roosevelt, 1946.


 From Yvonne Ventresca, author of Pandemic:

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. . . .You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”  ~ Eleanor Roosevelt





And because it's Mark Twain:

Mark Twain, 1903.
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” ~ Mark Twain




 
From Christina Banach, author of Minty and other YA fiction: 
“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”  ~ Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird.

 
Historic mural depicting the Harper Lee novel, "To Kill a Mockingbird" located in Monroeville, Alabama. 1961.
 “Inspiration matters because it prods us to traverse the full spectrum of human experience. An important part of what it means to be a writer is to become so turned on to the business of being alive, to be so completely inspired by life, that you will harvest ideas for writing everywhere—from books, from people, from music and other art forms, from the natural world, and most of all from your own inner resources.” ~ Fred White, 2010


What inspires you?


Bobbi Miller

Friday, May 15, 2015

Barbara Bottner's Feet, Go to Sleep blog tour--and Poetry Friday!

.
Howdy, Campers! What's store for you at TeachingAuthors today? A new picture book, its blog tour, a guest author and poet, two original poems, and a reminder to enter our latest book giveaway . Whew!

In honor of Poetry Friday, (link at the bottom of this post) my teacher and friend, New York Times bestselling author, Barbara Bottner has opened her notebook to share a poem with us from a work-in-progress (W.I.P.). And I've added my poem about being in her writing group.

But first: TeachingAuthors is proud to be part of Barbara's blog tour (see tour schedule below) celebrating her brand-new book, Feet, Go to Sleep (Penguin Random House), illustrated by Maggie Smith.


From the book flap:Fiona is not ready for bed. But after a long day at the beach, her mom knows she must be tired from her head to her toes. So together they send each part of her off to sleep.  As Fiona relaxes her body, she remembers a day when feet were for splashing in the waves, legs were for running after cousins, tummy was for holding strawberries, and arms were for throwing beach balls. And bit by bit, memory by memory, Fiona slips from a  great day into a good night.

Trust me, Campers, it's a perfect-for-summer bedtime book, weaving in a relaxation technique we can use to help kids go to sleep after an exciting day.

And when I asked Barbara if she would share a poem from her W.I.P. verse novel, I See Thunder, she said, "Sure!"

I’M A MONSTER
by Barbara Bottner

I’m not Davy’s mother
but Mother demands
that I do things she should do

like take him with me, everywhere I go.
And Davy walks really slowly.
Sometimes I wonder if he does it
just to annoy me.

Today, I’m going to the Grand Concourse
to buy fresh salty pretzels.

Just as I'm leaving, Mother says:
“take David with you.”
Her shrill voice
says do not dare object.

She has no idea how that makes
going to the Grand Concourse
nothing like what I had in mind.
 
“C’mon,” I say.
“Put your jacket on already!”
He's so easy going.
I'm so hard going.

“Where are your glasses, Davy?”
Now my voice
is shrill.

He looks at me with his big browns,
mumbles:  “It’s hard to be me
when you’re angry at me.”

That’s when I get a grip on my nasty self.
(c) Barbara Bottner from her work-in-progress, I SEE THUNDER. All rights reserved.


Thank you, Barbara.  I especially love these lines: He's so easy going./I'm so hard going....“It’s hard to be me/when you’re angry at me.”...and that last line. One poem can say so much.

When asked "Where do you get your ideas?" here are some pearls from Barbara:...the ‘material’ we use in the beginning is often our own.  So I wrote books about being the worst dancer in the class, being messy, being rebellious. It’s not the events themselves, it’s what they stir up in me…We are the clay and we are the potter and I believe you have to be both if you want to be an author…work authentically…follow where the story wants to go.

There's too much to tell you about what a fine teacher Barbara is...


...how intuitive she is, how she challenges us to dig deeper and deeper still...

AROUND BARBARA’S TABLE
by April Halprin Wayland

It's magic, you know
the tinkling of her full moon necklace
impossible feats of metaphor.
Six of us around her rosewood table
savoring tea

spilling over our pages
foreshadowing, fortune telling
drawing stories
out of the shadows
of her drapes.

The illusion of allusion.
A prophecy of sorcery.
She's a shaman jingling bracelets
on her sleight of hand.

It's wizardry, you know.
She's clairvoyant,
soothsayer,
sorceress,
source.

(c) April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

Thanks for including us on your blog tour, Barbara!  Jump on board her tour and you may win a copy of Feet, Go to Sleep! Here's the schedule:

5/21 Shelf-employed

And...you have until midnight, May 15, 2015 to enter TeachingAuthors' latest book giveaway for Stephanie Lyons' new book, Dating Down--don't miss out!

And thank you, Diane of Random Noodling for hosting Poetry Friday!

posted by April Halprin Wayland while sharing sips of Pellegrino with Barbara's new pup, Petey.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Talking Critter Books and Me

    Books where the main characters are animals are among my favorite.  Charlotte's Web is forever and always the one book I would take to a desert island.  I love the work of picture book authors Kevin Henkes, Carolyn Crimi and Lisa Wheeler, who often place their stories in the animal world.  (If there is a Hall of Fame for picture book authors, those three should definitely be included.)

     I love what I call "talking critter" books, in which the animals are anthropomorphic.  I just can't write them.

    To me, anthropomorphic books are a form of fantasy.  Animals don't talk or go to kindergarden or wear sneakers. Fantasy.  I don't write fantasy. I can't write fantasy.  My creative mind just doesn't work that way. My stories are mostly rooted in the real world of children. I'm a literal sort of person.

    I have published two "talking critter" books.
Surprise Soup was written about little boys. Something about that manuscript inspired the art department and the illustrator to make the little boys into little bears. Changing the species of the character made it a much funnier book...but I can't take any credit for writing an anthropomorphic book.  The illustrator did it for me. (Thank G. Brian Karas!)
     The other book, Camp K-9, was inspired by my dog, Nilla. She was a cocker-spitz mix, with floppy ears, a thick white coat, and a joyful personality.  In fact, Nilla was far more popular with the neighbors than the Downing family.  She was actually invited to parties that we weren't! Nilla was so human-like, it wasn't hard for me to imagine her as a teen-age girl.  My husband and I would invent adventures for her. Nilla as a Laker Girl.  Running up a phone bill.  Hanging out at the mall with her (also imaginary) BFF, Stacy.

     When we traveled, we boarded our "child" at a kennel called Camp K-9, which had a cute logo of a dog toting a sleeping bag and a tennis racquet. That got my imagination going.  What would dogs do at camp? I used my own experiences as a camper and a counselor to put together a day as a "doggy camper." I used a lot of dog puns and references to add humor.  The other "campers" were based on the dogs in my neighborhood.  That was pretty easy.

    After that, I had to find some tension, a problem, that my girl dog might experience with her bunkmates. That was the hard part. I fiddled and fiddled with the story for four or five years. Finally, after many many critiques by my friends and writing group, I felt Camp K-9 was as good as it was going to get. (Fortunately, my publisher liked it.)

     Will I write another "talking critter" book?  I don't know.  I had been inventing "Nilla adventures" in my head for ten years before I tried to write one down, and it was the most difficult thing I've ever written.  Cute one-liners and puns are one thing; shaping them into a coherent story, with a beginning, middle and end. Who knows?  Right now I am "inventing adventures" for my extremely ill-behaved cat, Rosie.  (She's giving me the evil eye right now.) Maybe...

     Don't forget to enter our latest book giveaway for Stephanie Lyons' new book, Dating Down.  The deadline is midnight, May 15 2015, so don't miss out.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

Friday, May 8, 2015

And the Horse He Rode In On

 
Our theme this month is animals, so my thoughts immediately went to some fascinating details I like share with students when I do a school visit relating to my book The Many Faces of George Washington.  
 

George Washington trained his own horses and was considered to be an expert horseman.  During the American Revolution, General Washington rode one of two horses.  One was a brown horse named Nelson.  The other was a white horse named Blueskin.  During battle (yes, Washington actually fought in battle) he rode Nelson because the noise and chaos didn’t bother the calm horse.  But when Washington was just going about everyday life, he rode Blueskin. 

In portraits painted during the 18th century that depict Washington during the Revolution, he is shown with one of these two horses.  If the scene depicts a scene following a battle, Nelson is pictured.  But when the painting is not a battle scene, Blueskin is with him. 
 
General George Washington at Trenton by John Trumbull

 
Mount Vernon created three wax figures of George Washington. 
This one depicts General Washington at Valley Forge riding Blueskin.

Find out more about George Washington's historic home
 
 
 
To see a portrait of Washington with Nelson:
 
 
It fascinates me to think how much American history happened on horseback!
 
 
Carla Killough McClafferty
 
 
Remember to enter our book giveaway to win a copy of Stefanie Lyons’ YA novel in verse DATING DOWN (Flux). The deadline to enter is midnight May 15.
 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Wednesday Writing Workout: Celebrate Children's Book Week!




Happy Children’s Book Week!

Since 1919, this national literacy initiative, the longest-running in our history and co-anchored by the Children’s Book Council and Every Child A Reader, has celebrated books for young people and the joy of reading.

Visit the website to learn the bounty of events and activities that commemorate this once-a-year week and to read more about this  year’s poster creator, Grace Lee.

Book Week’s goal? To make sure every child is a reader!

But today is Wednesday, yes? – which means it’s time for a TeachingAuthors Wednesday Writing Workout, one that will give every child, both current and former, the opportunity to write.

Enjoy!

Esther Hershenhorn

P.S.
Don’t forget to enter our Book Giveaway to win a copy of Stefanie Lyons’ YA novel in verse DATING DOWN (Flux). The deadline to enter is midnight May 15.

                                                        . . . . . . . . 


Let’s tweak the Children’s Book Week goal a tad to read…. make sure every child – current and former (!) – is a reader who writes!

Click HERE to download these children’s book week story starters and create your own ending!


What I Did begun by National Ambassador Katherine Paterson (New!)
BLAM! begun by Mo Willems (2009 Children's Choice Book Award winner) (New!) 
The Night Visitor begun by Dinah Williams (2009 Children's Choice Book Award winner) (New!) 
And Then... begun by National Ambassador Emeritus Jon Scieszka
The Unexpected Blast begun by Elaine Landau (2008 Children’s Choice Book Award winner)
Surprise On the Mat begun by Lola Schaefer (2008 Children’s Choice Book Award winner)
One Morning... begun by Mary Pope Osborne

One Evening... begun by Lemony Snicket

Monday, May 4, 2015

Student Success Story: Stefanie Lyons

No matter how my writing students define “success” – perhaps beginning a picture book, completing a novel, earning an advanced degree or maybe winning a grant, their stories of success gladden my heart.

Today I share my former student Stefanie Lyons’ Success Story to celebrate this month’s publication of her debut novel DATING DOWN (Flux), a YA novel in verse, with hopes her story will gladden your heart too.

Thanks to Flux’s generosity, one lucky TeachingAuthor reader can win a copy of DATING DOWN simply by entering our Book Giveaway which runs from today May 4 through midnight May 15.
(Please see details at the end of Stefanie’s Q & A).

I first worked with Stefanie independently almost 15 years ago on a middle grade novel that still plays in my head.  We worked together again in 2008 in my University of Chicago’s Writer’s Studio Novel Workshop.  I was honored to recommend her to the Vermont College’s MFA in Writing for Children program in 2009 and of course, cheer her on as she completed her graduate degree.

Stefanie describes herself on her website as a writer of all things young adultish.
The tag line for DATING DOWN is a grabber:  When a good girl falls for a bad boy.

     “She thought she loved him. She thought she could change him. She thought if she just believed in him enough, his cheating and his drugs and his lying would stop, and she'd be his and he'd be hers and they'd love each other forever.
     But for Samantha Henderson, X--the boy she will not name--is trouble. He's older, edgier, bohemian . . . and when he starts paying attention to Sam, she can't resist him. Samantha's family and friends try to warn her, but still she stays with him, risking her future and everything that really matters.”
The Booklist review lauded Stefanie’s musical, poignant verse, calling the story “lyrical and heart-wrenching, exploring the emotional vicissitudes of love, sex, and drugs.”
Kirkus recommended the book to fans of Ellen Hopkins.  “Turbulent love via turbulent poems.”

Stefanie is an active member of the debut MG and YA authors blog FearlessFifteeners.
She’s also appearing on my First-Timers Panel at the Chicago Printers Row Lit Fest the weekend of June 7 and 8.  

Take heart and hope from my interview with Stefanie and be sure to enter our Book Giveaway for a free copy of Stefanie’s DATING DOWN.

And thanks to Stefanie who's out and about connecting with her readers for taking time to share her Success Story with our readers.

Esther Hershenhorn

                        . . . . . . . . . . . . .



      Your unswerving focus from the year 2000 on to learn and hone your craft coupled with your non-stop efforts to grow as a writer, is note-worthy.  What’s kept you going all these years?  How did you come to know and believe what I shared in my 2009 VCFA recommendation: i.e. Stefanie Lyons was seated on the Right Pew in the Right Church.

      What has kept me going all these years was the thought that I couldn’t quit. I’m a very
      stubborn person when I want to be! Also, writing was something that took ahold of me from a young age and never let go. (Maybe it’s more stubborn than I am.) Writing is how I find fulfillment. It’s my joy. As for me being seated in the Right Pew in the Right Church, as you put it, I would rephrase it to say that I made sure I was in the Church and never got up from the Pew. It’s a story of tenacity, mostly.

      Can you share with our readers how DATING DOWN, a YA novel in verse, came to be – and the revisions it underwent, under the guidance of first your agent and then your editor?

      I was in grad school when I started DATING DOWN. I needed something to turn in and found this in a folder in my house. I pulled it out and thought, “Well, this isn’t as bad as I remember.” I revisited it and sent it in. My advisor loved it and helped me pare the voice into a more traditional verse novel. At the time, it was a prose/verse hybrid. My agent didn’t weigh in on this novel because it was already in the hands of Flux when we met. But that’s another story. 

      You’re an enthusiastic member of the debut 2015 debut author blog Fearless Fifteeners. How has this group helped you grow as an author now out in the world bringing her book to readers?

      I’ve learned so much from them. Honestly, they’ve made this journey so fun. Having a group of writers going through the same debut experience at the same time has made the scary stuff a bonding experience and the highs that much higher. They provided a place where I could ask the dumb questions without bugging my editor or agent. How do I request my book be stocked in independent bookstores? Where do I go to make bookmarks? How do you sign your name to readers? Stuff like that. And the cheer-leading on release day. Banding together to do panels. These things have made all the difference. It has been the #1 most defining thing that has shaped my debut year. And that’s saying a lot.

      You – also – have a solid career in advertising!  How do you balance your days so you have time to write – and – promote?

      Priorities. Some things are more important than others. Like sleep. Who needs it?

      What’s that One Thing You Wished You’d Known when you began your Writer’s Journey? 


      How truly wonderful the Children’s Writer’s community is. And how much I’d grow just by befriending them. I always considered writing as a solo sport. It is quite the opposite, actually.

. . . .

Enter via the Rafflecopter widget below to win a copy of Stefanie Lyon’s YA novel in verse, DATING DOWN.  You can enter between now and midnight, May 15, 2015.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, May 1, 2015

Poems, Animals, and Animal Poems

I’m sorry to see National Poetry Month end. Mine went out with a bang, though, in a wonderful Family Literacy Night celebration at an elementary school in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Happily, the date coincided with Poem in Your Pocket Day.

What fun to see students so excited about poetry! To watch them proudly pull out and unfold their handwritten index cards. To hear them bravely recite their favorite poems.

I was able to narrow my own favorite poems down to eleven—quite an achievement, I think! I brought five copies of each to hand out in case anyone forgot theirs. I’m glad to say that I came home with only three poems and that many of the ones I handed out went to parents. I hope they’ll keep sharing.

On to May! For this Teaching Authors series, we’re writing about animals. Bobbi began with some favorite animal books.

For all of April (National Poetry Month), I wrote a haiku a day. (You can see the April archive on my blog.) I looked back through the poems and found that 13 of the 30 addressed animals, mostly birds. Here in Wisconsin, we see a lot of birds migrating through to summer homes at this time of year, so that seems logical. One thing I loved about the daily haiku practice is that this year, I noticed.

Here’s one more haiku from this morning. I can’t seem to stop!


Squirrel winds her way
from limb to limb, encumbered
mouth full of dry leaves

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at A Year of Reading, at least for now. Enjoy!

JoAnn Early Macken