Thursday, July 27, 2017

Spending the Summer Outside

For this series of posts, we Teaching Authors are sharing the views from our summer workplaces. Bobbi,  Carmela, and Esther have already posted about their locations. I’m spending most of my time at home. During a recent local weather forecast, I heard that the longest we’ve gone without rain so far this summer in Southeastern Wisconsin is three days. Everything is really green!

The flowers on our front hill are thriving!
Between thunderstorms and neighborhood construction projects (including our own new roof), it’s been hard to find quiet time. But in spite of noise and dust, I’m trying to write outside whenever I can.

In the backyard, I raise monarchs in a mosquito net tent and grow milkweed in pots.
Reading outside is a pleasure, too. I’ve been studying The Granite Pail: The Selected Poems of Lorine Niedecker. Niedecker’s poetry focuses on nature, especially around her Wisconsin home. Here are three of my favorites from that collection:

Get a load
         of April’s
frog rattle—
lowland freight cars
in the night

bee in milkweed flower

Poet’s work 
  advised me:
Learn a trade 
I learned
  to sit at desk
and condense 
No layoff
  from this

monarch butterfly, just released from the backyard tent

For best work
you ought to put forth
some effort
to stand
in north woods
among birch

Rosy, my backyard companion, in my favorite spot
Inspired by Niedecker’s approach to structure, I’m playing around with this draft:

wet notebook—
wind tips
leaf pockets 
last night’s rain falls

Where are you working?

Happy summer, all! Happy Poetry Friday! Today’s Roundup is at A Word Edgewise.

JoAnn Early Macken

Monday, July 24, 2017

The View from MY Chicago Desk

Ah! Let’s hear it for the soul-warming, sunny southern exposure the view from my Chicago desk offers me daily!

And, what about those postcard-perfect images my balcony conjures up
when I look west,
to the spine-steeling Water Tower, the only public building to survive the Great Chicago Fire of 1871,

or east, to Lake Michigan’s Spirit-calming ever-changing blue, blue waters?
I pinch myself often to test my Good Fortune’s realness.

No matter the work, woe or worry I’m wrestling, seeing my big-shouldered city that Carl Sandburg poetically-tagged “a tall bold slugger” miraculously keeps me at bat.

And should I falter somehow, and strike out, I can always pull up an internal treasure or two I’ve stored for such times.

Like the pure joy the seven talented writers (pictured below) magically made and bottled last week during our Manuscript Workshop at the Landgrove Inn in Landgrove, Vermont.

                           ( Left to right: Heather Preusser, Lee Miao, Libby Ester,
                             Jerry Oberle, Mary Serocynski, Beth Najberg,
                             Cheryl Sullivan)

Happy viewing from your desks, both in-and-ex-ternally!

Esther Hershenhorn

If you’re curious as to what I would see if able to look north, click here. :)

Friday, July 21, 2017

Working While Out and About

Hello Everyone,
As Bobbi mentioned on Monday, we're back from our summer break with a series on the "view from our window." My work the last few weeks has focused on teaching rather than writing, so I haven't been home much lately. But my "view" hasn't been in a traditional classroom. This week, I presented at the Catholic Writers Guild conference. This post is a bit late because I didn't get home till around 2 this afternoon. I'd spent the morning there signing books alongside fellow middle-grade/YA author Amy Cattapan and saying farewell to some lovely friends, some I'd just met in person for the first time.

Amy and I did NOT intentionally color-coordinate our outfits
Yesterday, Amy and I did a team presentation with YA author Stephanie Engelman on "Writing for Teens and Tweens." We forgot to ask someone to take a picture while we were speaking, but we did get one afterward:
Stephanie, me, and Amy right after our talk

Immediately before our team presentation, I gave a talk on "Turning Life into Fiction."

Photo courtesy of Amy Cattapan
All these presentations follow on the heels of my teaching a new week-long Creativity Camp for students age 9-12 at the Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oak Brook.
My camp students hard at work 
I won't be teaching for a while now, so I hope to get back to writing soon.

Meanwhile, don't forget--today is Poetry Friday. This week's roundup is over at The Logonauts.

Remember to Write with JOY!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Hello, it's me!

The Teaching Authors return this week with a new series on the view from our window. As you may remember, I recently moved to Georgia, so my work space is still a work in progress.

But some things never change. Like cats and their windows. And writers and their cats.

Comma’s back. And he says hello.

Meanwhile, here’s a poem to celebrate…

The View from the Window

Like a painting it is set before one,
But less brittle, ageless; these colours
Are renewed daily with variations
Of light and distance that no painter
Achieves or suggests. Then there is movement,
Change, as slowly the cloud bruises
Are healed by sunlight, or snow caps
A black mood; but gold at evening
To cheer the heart. All through history
The great brush has not rested,
Nor the paint dried; yet what eye,
Looking coolly, or, as we now,
through the tears' lenses, ever saw
This work and it was not finished?

-- R.S. (Ronald Stuart) Thomas

Bobbi Miller

Friday, June 23, 2017

You Can Sit on my Poem in NC!

Howdy, Campers, and happy Poetry Friday! The link to today's PF is below.

To find out how to win a copy of Darcy Patterson's newest book, Sleepers, read Carla's terrific interview with her here.

This is TeachingAuthors last post before our Summer Blogging Break. Ah, summer! Time for lemonade, reading in the shade, diving under waves, travel and parades, festivals galore and more and more and more! 😊 (Pssst--I've never used an emoji in a blog post before. I promise not to use one ever, ever again).

I received an interesting email in early January, 2016 (edited):
Dear April Wayland,

I write to you regarding your poem,
 “Taking Violin at School”, and my request to incorporate your poem into a public art project for the Town of Cary, North Carolina
[This, Dear Readers, is when I died and went to heaven.]
In 2013 the Town commissioned a design team to create a new streetscape for Academy Street, the Town’s “Festival Street,” in the heart of downtown. Concerts, street fairs, and major regional festivals are staged along this 6-block street throughout the year. 

As the pubic artist on the project, I designed twelve granite benches based on dulcimers, dobros, violins, and mandolins – all instruments that found their unique American voices in the hills and mountains of the Appalachians. These benches will be cut from native stone, then carved and etched at the quarry in Mt. Airy, NC. Once completed these stone benches will be set in configurations offering opportunities for musicians to play in duet, trio, quartet, quintet, sextet and as single artists – with room for small audiences to gather around. 

Into these stone benches I'm cutting text that speaks to either the specific instrument or more broadly to music and its presence.  My search for the right text led me to your poem, as well as to the poetry of North Carolina native Carl Sandburg, of Mary Anne Evans writing as George Eliot, of Coleridge, of Yeats, and others. Your poem, sited along the entry to the Town’s Library and adjacent to a violin studio, resonates as a perfect fit.    

My best regards, and thank you for your chosen work.
Jack Mackie

Needless to day, Jack and I became penpals. 
Jack Mackie
There is so much to tell you about my new best friend! His commissioned artworks include the Gift, Health Sciences Learning Center, University of Wisconsin; Vessel Fenceline, Santa Cruz California; Seats & Gavels, Scottsdale Arizona Justice Center; Dance Steps on Broadway, Seattle; Trillium Patch, Norfolk VA light rail station pavings: Charging Gates, Puget Sound Energy, Redmond WA: and the Trout Lily Clock, East Lancaster Transit Center, Ft. Worth TX. Wow--what great names he gives each project!

In addition, he's developed the Public Art Plans for the Memphis/Shelby County Central Library System; the Performing Arts Center, Mesa, Arizona; Historic Downtown Alexandria Riverfront, Alexandria VA; Charlotte NC Area Transit System; South Bay Area Rapid Transit, San Jose CA...and so much more--woo-woo!

And after many years of planning, Academy Street Melodies, in Cary NC is born.

I wanted you to meet him, so I've invited Jack to climb onto the porch of the TeachingAuthors tree house where I've just served him homemade lemonade...

Welcome, Jack--I'm so glad you're here. It sounds like you've created a truly beautiful streetscape. How did you come up with your design? I love sidewalks. It’s where people go to get from here to there, from home to work, from work to lunch, from work to home, from home to school, from school to home, from school or home to the art gallery or museum or café or swimming pool or movies or friend’s home, for a walk, or from home to violin practice… it’s a place best described as “the in-between,” not where I was nor where I’m going... This is where I love to work...possibly creating a moment, an aha.

Every place has stories to tell, as a public / civic artist it’s my task to find the stories and find the story-teller’s voice. The work is not about me, it must be about the people who live in a place, people who make that place their homes. I’m just the go-between who illuminates what’s already there. That’s where I always begin.

In the long list of “stuff” for a streetscape are benches, a place to invite us to have a seat, take a look around, ask, where are we?
bench designed by Jack Mackie
text by Mary Anne Evans (writing as George Eliot)
Jack, your answer's poetry! And why did you choose musical instruments? I approached people walking along Academy Street. I asked about Cary, why they live here or, if visitors, why they’ve come; what is it about Academy Street that brings them here; what should I explore?

It was in these conversations that the idea of musical instrument benches started to bubble up, and the idea of placing them in small “rooms” we could make with different paving materials, a cluster of trees, and always grouped, set for buskers, duets, trios, or a string quartet.

Next question was “which instruments?” I looked into the instruments of the festivals and found that many were immigrants –the Mandolin came to America as a Lute, with a deep rounded body and strings that were plucked. The Dobro, a unique American instrument, is claimed to be a mix of the guitar from Spain and the banjo. Dulcimers arrived as the German zither, the Swedish hummel, Norwegian langeleik, and the French epinette des Vosges. And the violin simply became the fiddle.

bench designed by Jack Mackie
text by Maya Angelou

How did you choose the poetry and quotes? I searched for text which speaks to and of the instrument that carries it or, of music, of dance, singing, or song. The text I chose was written by: Jonny Angel, Maya Angelou*, George Carlin, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Mary Anne Evans  [writing as George Eliot], Martin Hugo, John Muir, Walter Hines Page, Tan Pratonix ,R.R.Richardson*, Carl Sandburg*, April Halprin Wayland, William Butler Yeats  (* North Carolina Poet).

Some examples (most are just snips of the entire text used):

"Sweet Dulcimer.../in your strings and swirly grains /lie my life's story /and the way my river runs..." from R.R.Richardson, North Carolina poet

“Mandolin harmonies / trailed up Bear Hair Gap, / echoed between / the chestnuts, hickories & sweet blackberries.”  from Jonny Angel

"Sell me a violin, mister, of old mysterious wood.../ Sell me horsehair and rosin.../ Sell me something crushed in the heartsblood of pain readier than ever for one more song." from Carl Sandburg, North Carolina Poet

“and those who dance are considered insane by those who cannot hear the music”  credited to George Carlin

"I believe in the free public training of both the hands / and the mind of every child born of woman." WalterHines Page 


TAKING VIOLIN AT SCHOOL by April Halprin Wayland
I open my case
tighten my bow
pluck a string to tune.
I love to listen to it chirp across the echoing room.

My friends are in class
reading about
a famous English king,
But I am training this wooden bird upon my arm to sing.
from CALL DOWN THE MOON, Poems Of Music, selected by Myra Cohn Livingston (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 1995); reprinted in CRICKET Magazine 4/9; reprinted in GIRL COMING IN FOR A LANDING (Knopf 2002)

bench designed by Jack Mackie
text by April Halprin Wayland

What has surprised you about this project? I’m already receiving reports of buskers setting up on violins near the Town Library and children going from bench to bench making rubbings as they go. I never anticipated that we’d be going home with them to become their proud refrigerator art!

Readers, don't you agree that Jack is a poet in thought, words, design and art?  Thank you so much, Jack, for joining us today and for sharing your process. I am deeply honored that you chose my poem. Some day I hope to tune up my fiddle and play Pig's Ankle Rag next to one of your beautiful violin benches!

benches designed by Jack Mackie

photo of Emily (last name unknown) by Jack Mackie, who writes:
"as Emily sat to play, she read your poem saying, 'Oh, that’s so lovely….  I’m her….'"
(Yes, I'm now officially on cloud nine.)
Thank you, Heidi, for hosting Poetry Friday at My Juicy Little Universe!
~ a perfect picture of summer ~

TeachingAuthors will be back refreshed and rarin' to go on Monday, July 17th. It'll be hard, but we know you can hold on without us until then. We believe in you.

posted with gratitude by April Halprin Wayland with help from Jack Mackie, of course...and from the delicious cauliflower-curry soup from a friendly Mediterranean restaurant that let me work at a table as long as I wanted.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Guest TeachingAuthor Interview and Book Giveaway with Darcy Pattison

Today’s guest TeachingAuthor interview is a nationally known author and writing teacher, Darcy Pattison.  She is the author of fiction and nonfiction picture books, and novels.  Pattison travels all over the country to provide her high acclaimed Novel Revisions Retreats. 

As if that wasn’t enough, here are a few of her accomplishments: 
Storyteller, writing teacher, Queen of Revisions, and founder of Mims House ( publisher, Darcy Pattison has been published in nine languages. Her books, published with Harcourt, Philomel/Penguin, Harpercollins, Arbordale, and Mims House have received recognition for excellence with starred reviews in Kirkus, BCCB and PW. Three nonfiction nature books have been honored as National Science Teacher’s Association Outstanding Science Trade books. The Journey of Oliver K. Woodman (Harcourt) received an Irma Simonton Black and James H. Black Award for Excellence in Children's Literature Honor Book award, and has been published in a Houghton Mifflin textbook.  She’s the 2007 recipient of the Arkansas Governor’s Arts Award for Individual Artist for her work in children’s literature.

Darcy and I have been friends since the early days of both our careers.  We met when she was the SCBWI Regional Advisor, and since then have supported each other through the ups and downs of building careers as published authors.  We celebrate each other’s accomplishments, and commiserate each other’s disappointments.  I am fortunate to call Darcy my friend. 

Enter for a chance to win Sleepers, Darcy Pattison's new book!  Follow the instructions at the end to enter.       
She has agreed to give away a copy of her brand new novel titled Sleepers.  It is Book 1 in an exciting new trilogy called The Blue Planets World.  Enter the TeachingAuthor book giveaway for a chance to win this excellent book that will be released in July 2017.  Read this interview with Darcy and enter the giveaway at the end. 

Darcy Pattison
Now, here’s Darcy: 

1.     How did you become a TeachingAuthor?

I think I was born a teacher. When I learn new information, my first thought is, “How can I make this easier for a person to learn?”

When I read a book, I think about how I can entice someone to read and enjoy it. How can I set up the story in such a way to make it appealing? Our education system rarely recognizes the importance of reading for pleasure. I want to help kids enjoy the story, first and foremost. What you want is passionate readers, who will jump into discussions because they care about the story and characters. That comes most readily from readers who read for pleasure. That’s the first goal of teaching any book – did the reader enjoy it?
Once they’ve enjoyed a book, students are ready to discuss with passion.

2. What's a common problem/question that your students have and how do you address it?

One problem I see with readers in middle school and high school readers is that they start to self-identify with a particular genre and become unwilling to try other genres. It makes sense in many ways. The task of a middle and high school student is to become their own person. They start the process of deciding for themselves what they like and dislike. When they start to self-identify as a reader of historical fiction, for example, this aligns them with others who have a similar interest. Instead, I keep encouraging students to expand and to read other genres. While I can hardly be convinced to read a war story, I enjoy many other genres and find the variety stimulating. I try to encourage kids to branch out and find at least two or three genres to read.

3. Would you share a favorite writing exercise for our readers?

 When I’m teaching writing with kids, I love to use the Pick and Draw card game (, which was developed by my friend, artist and illustrator Rich Davis.

Students using the Pick and Draw card game created by illustrator Rich Davis. 

The card deck has different colored sets. The first option is the head cards, which present six possible head shapes. After the student draws the head shape they were dealt, though, they must decide on a name. A complete name. With a middle and last names. Specificity is the biggest problem of student writers, so I encourage it at every stage.

Next, they draw a card for a hair shape. Davis is brilliant in his choice of facial features, which create their own excitement. This time, they must write down something that the character wants. For older students, they must write three things the character wants.

We continue this way, alternating drawing a body part (eyes, nose, and ears), with a specific trait of the emerging character.  I usually ask students to tell something about what the character hates and fears, something about the family, and the place where they live.

Quickly, within 30 minutes, students have developed a character that excites them. They know enough about the character to write a story with this plot structure:

This is the story about ______, who more than anything else wants ______, but can’t have it because 1) _________(use a fear) , 2)__________ (encounters something they hate), and 3) __________(use something about the family), UNTIL ____________(How do they solve the problem?)

The one-hour class produces great stories. 

4.  How did you come to write your new science fiction series? Do you have any suggestions for teachers on how they might the books in the classroom? 

My forthcoming science fiction series, The Blue Planets World series, is about the first contact with an alien species. Earth finally hears from space: You only live on land; allow us to live in the seas.

If humans occupied the land, and aliens filled the seas, what would the world be like?

The story began when I was researching the plight of puma (cougars) in Brazil. The pumas live within sight of skyscrapers, in an urban landscape. Scientists are working to create corridors, wild places, which connect one bit of forest to the next. The plight of the puma bothered me for a long time. It seems to me that the environmental questions of the next generation have changed. We used to ask, “How can we preserve habitats for wildlife?”

But we’ve failed badly. Our student’s generation will have to answer this question: “How can we make room for wildlife in an urban environment?”

That led me to the science fiction story of the Blue Planets Worlds series. Beginning in July with Book 1, SLEEPERS, I explore the problems of sharing our world with another species. Science fiction is good at putting social or philosophical problems into a story form.

Ask students to think about a specific environmental problem and try to fictionalize it. Depending on the class, write an outline, a short story, a plot summary or character sketches for their environmental story.

Or, read other science fiction stories and discuss the questions that the writer probes in the story. For example, in Ender’s Game, the author explores the limits of war against another species. Is it right to utterly obliterate them before they kill us?

Thank you, Darcy, for sharing your work with!

Readers, to enter our drawing for a chance to win a copy of Sleepers (Mims House Books), written by Darcy Pattison, use the Rafflecopter widget below. You may enter via 1, 2, or all 3 options.

If you choose option 2, you MUST leave a comment on TODAY'S blog post below or on our TeachingAuthors Facebook page. If you haven't already "liked" our Facebook page, please do so today! In your comment, tell us what you'd do with the book if you win our giveaway--keep it for yourself or give it to a young reader?

(If you prefer, you may submit your comment via email to: teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com.)

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.

Note: if you submit your comments via email or Facebook, YOU MUST STILL ENTER THE DRAWING VIA THE WIDGET BELOW. The giveaway ends June 30 and is open to U.S. residents only.

P.S. 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.

Carla Killough McClafferty

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, June 16, 2017

Summer Scheduling (with a Few Distractions)

Summer Scheduling

Today is a good day for writing,
with my morning and afternoon free.
I’ll bring my pen and my notebook
to the backyard beneath a tree.

But first, I’ll just water the garden,
walk the dog around the block,
hang some laundry to dry in the sunshine,
find a spot for a meaningful rock.

I’ll fill up the empty bird feeders,
move the trellis where roses can climb,
check the milkweed for signs of monarchs—
oh, my goodness! Just look at the time!

JoAnn Early Macken

a bit of our backyard milkweed
I’m tickled that the tree in our backyard has grown enough to shade most of the yard, that the weather has been pleasant enough to make me want to spend most of my available time outside, and that I have such good company. Although I can be distracted by monarchs, the dog, or a hummingbird, I’m happy to say that most days are not like the one I’ve described in this poem!

Rosy on the glider
Be sure to see Carmela’s latest post for details about her Cover Release Giveaway! It’s not too late to sign up for her Creativity Newsletter and join the fun!

Today’s Poetry Friday Roundup is at Carol's Corner. Enjoy!

JoAnn Early Macken