Friday, April 29, 2011

What I Wish I'd Known...Happy Poetry Friday...and G'bye, Poetry Month 2011!

The celebration of our TeachingAuthors Second Blogiversary continues! You can still enter to win one of our two Critique Giveaways! Click on the link to learn the Contest details. As always, we’re cheering you on.
Howdy, Campers! And Thank you, Tabitha, at The Opposite of Indifference, for sponsoring today's Poetry Friday!

As Esther Hershenhorn posted on Wednesday, "Our Second Blogiversary got the six of us thinking: what nugget, what Truth, do we wish we’d known when we began writing for children?"

In a nutshell, what I wish I would have known when I began writing for children is keep writing.  And be wary of the lure of the stage.  I do love performing and teaching, so speaking in schools wasn't a bad thing when my first picture book, To Rabbittown, came out.

The problem?  My touring schedule overwhelmed my writing time.  As as result, I had fewer manuscripts in the pipeline.  Fewer books being published.  Lots to teach and tell, no product.

And that's my contribution in a nutshell on this topic!

Now it's time to say good-bye to Poetry Month 2011.  Boo-hoo.  I've been privileged to be part of Poetry Month is numerous ways:
To be honest, POSTING a poem a day is very different from WRITING a poem a day.  Even if I didn't include the story behind each poem and a poetry prompt, there's the awareness that other people besides my best friend will read the poem.  Pressure.  As my husband has said, I can make a picnic into homework.  It's true!

What have I learned in writing a poem a day for more than a year?  Be present.  Be ready to catch the poem when it appears. 

Here's my poem from June 24, 2011 about this:

by April Halprin Wayland

I hear the soft sound of my car's under-performing air conditioner,
I lean in to hear this murder mystery on tape,
I study the green left-turn arrow at Wilshire and La Cienega,
I listen to Uncle Davie’s doctor:
“Are you aware you have memory problems?”

Finally, it is the moldy smell of a corn cob 
in the compost pile this morning.
It is when I stopped holding my nose,
when I realized this small soil-covered cylinder was redolent;
when I realized it was good.
c) 2011 April Halprin Wayland, all rights reserved

Go outside.  That's always a good place for me to start. 

Lean down.  Look closely.  Now close your eyes.  
Smell.  Listen.  

What's around you?  What wants a say on your page?

Write your poem.   Perhaps the only structure is that each stanza has the same number of in my poem, above.  Or perhaps there's one repeating line.

Write with joy.  And share your words with someone who needs a poem.
Share your poem with a friend.

Eli and our backyard cow say g'bye to Poetry Month 2011 ~
poem, photo of Eli and the cow, and drawing (c) 2011 by April Halprin Wayland ~ all rights reserved

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Had I only known THEN what I know NOW!

The celebration of our TeachingAuthors Second Blogiversary continues!
You can still enter to win one of our two Critique Giveaways!
Click on the link to learn the Contest details.
As always, we’re cheering you on.

Our Second Blogiversary got the six of us thinking: what nugget, what Truth, do we wish we’d known when we began writing for children?

For me, “nugget” was the operative word, literally and figuratively.
I knew my answer instantly.
All I had to do was read (for the gazillionth time) the inscription on the one-of-a-kind gold and silver ring that’s adorned my right hand’s fourth finger for longer than I can remember: the journey is the reward.
(Note: poetically-inscribed jewelry is Jeanine Payer’s trademark.)

Of course, learning that Truth took a whole lot of years, underscoring the very nature of the word “journey.”

Back in 1977, when I first naively tried my hand at writing a picture book for my then two-year-old son, I shared the mindset of every beginning student and writer I’ve since encountered.
How hard could writing a picture book be, really?
I mean, I’d earned a Journalism degree and wrote for a newspaper!
I’d taught fifth grade in the finest of schools!
A picture book is but 32 pages.
The story, too, is for very young children.
And hadn’t I studied my favorite picture books from the inside out? Hadn’t I typed them out, cut them apart, repasted the text, read for the pictures?
And anyway, wouldn’t the illustrations fill in any details I missed?

Once the writing part was done, I’d use my Library’s publishing directories to gather names of editors at those houses I wanted to publish me.
I’d submit my story to the right person, and just like that, or rather, after a considerable (but certainly understandable) waiting period, I’d receive a letter requesting purchase of my story.
Voila. Abracadabra. My dream would be realized.
I would become a Children’s Book Author.
(Of course.)

I see now: I was only just beginning.
Beginning an education.
Beginning my writer’s story.
Beginning a journey for which I’m grateful every day.

But back then?
After each and every failed effort, I simply picked myself up, dusted myself off, filed away the form and growing personal rejection letters and began another story, my format explorations paralleling my growing son’s new interests and reading expertise.
I’d bravely sought out other children’s book writers, via SCBW (it was so new, the I hadn't been added yet!), local writing classes and lectures.
And I adjusted the carrot that swung before my nose, blocking all views.
You know the one – the one labeled “Publication.”

I honestly didn’t see the Light – or rather, the path I’d undertaken, until 1989 when I bravely left my Writing Room for (the sadly no longer in existence) Vassar College’s Summer Children’s Book Publishing Institute.
That’s where and when I learned, thanks to the Institute’s Director Barbara Lucas: that First Step I took back in 1977 brought me to a World - the Children’s Book World, a world worth traveling.

I had much in common with my characters as I made my way within that world, traveling the Universal Plot Line, past Way Stations, Depots and breath-taking scenery.
I was meeting friends, allies, mentors, crossing thresholds, undergoing tests, approaching inmost caves, experiencing supreme ordeals, rising from the ashes to return home heroic, the prize in hand.
The character is always smarter for the journey.
This writer was too.

True, finally selling my first picture book to the esteemed publisher Holiday House, a publisher I’d targeted when I first began, had me smiling. Like the Ugly Duckling who’d traveled for so long looking for his home, I’d never known such happiness.

But once I took in the view – all the roads I’d traveled, intentionally or otherwise, the people I’d encountered, the knowledge I’d gained, all I’d experienced good and bad, that view somehow paled against that non-stop swinging carrot, Publication.

I’m still out-and-about, traveling my much-loved world in all sorts of ways I hadn’t imagined when I first began writing, with more opportunities than one would think to remind myself of my ring’s truthful inscription.

Should I find myself disheartened, anxious, even doubtful, I just might treat myself to Jeanine Payer’s newest earrings, then keep on keepin' on.


Happy Traveling!

Esther Hershenhorn

Believe it or not, Jeanine Payer is sponsoring a Contest to honor National Poetry Month. The deadline for your poem submission is April 30.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Our Second Blogiversary, a Critique Giveaway, and a Special Poem!

Hooray! Today is our Second Blogiversary!

Where does the time go? Can you believe it's been two years since we launched this blog? Once again, we will celebrate by giving you, our loyal readers, a present:

Our Second Annual TeachingAuthors Critique Giveaway!

Full details are posted below. But first, since today is also Poetry Friday, I'd like to share a special blogiversary poem by my amazingly talented co-blogger April Halprin Wayland. If you'd like to read the story behind this poem, along with more of April's Poetry Month poetry, visit her website. And don't forget to check out today's Poetry Friday roundup at the Book Aunt blog.

      by April Halprin Wayland

     We six who ride our blog horse here
     are rather like that Paul Revere

     “One if by land, two if by sea,”
     was revolution's poetry

     We TeachingAuthors gallop, too,
     to share our lantern light with you

     we aim to help, support and cheer
     so you can write with joy, not fear

     in this New Land: Kidlitosphere

(c) 2011 April Halprin Wayland, all rights reserved

And now for our Giveaway Details:
For our blogiversary last year, we offered our first ever critique giveaway. This year we decided the best way to "help, support and cheer" would be to do it again. Only this time, TWO winners will have their choice of a critique of one of the following by a TeachingAuthor:
  • fiction picture book up to 750 words
  • nonfiction picture book up to 1000 words
  • first five pages of a novel (chapter book, middle grade, or young adult novel): up to 1250 words
  • poetry: up to 16 lines, 12-point font (1-2 poems)
  • magazine short story: up to 800 words 
  • synopsis of a middle grade or young adult novel: up to two pages max, single-spaced, 12-point font (Note: only one winner may choose this prize.)
Contest rules:
Since the manuscripts will be submitted via email, this giveaway will be open to all our readers worldwide. However, be sure to read the rules below carefully before entering:
  1. This giveaway is for our readers. Therefore, to qualify, you must follow us via Google Friend connect, Facebook/Networked Blogs, or as an email subscriber. If you are not already a follower, subscribe via one of the links in the sidebar before you enter. (We will verify that you're a follower!)
  2. Post a comment saying how you follow us for one entry. If you are an email subscriber, you must also provide your email address in your comment. Be sure to indicate which type of critique you'd like to win, too.
  3. You may receive one bonus entry by helping to spread the word about this giveaway via a blog post, Tweet, or Facebook link. As proof, you must post a second comment containing a link to your blog post, Twitter address, or Facebook wall.
  4. No more than two entries per person. All entries must be as comments to today's post.
  5. Entry deadline is 11 pm (CST) Tuesday, May 17, 2011.
  6. The winner will be determined using the random number generator at, and will be announced Wednesday, May 18. 
Please note: your manuscript must be formatted in the same way you would to submit it to an editor or agent: in a standard 12-point font on 8 1/2 x 11" paper with one inch margins. For more on manuscript format, see this article.

After we have identified the winners, we will assign the appropriate TeachingAuthor to each critique. That TeachingAuthor will contact the winner via email regarding the submission procedure.

If you'd like to read about our qualifications before submitting your entry, see our "About Us" page.

Important: Feedback and comments to the winner from the TeachingAuthor cannot be used as an endorsement in any way.

That's it! If I've left out something important, feel free to ask questions in your comments.
Good luck to all, and happy writing!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Winner of Gretchen Woelfle's Novel Is...

The winner of our TeachingAuthors Book Giveaway of Gretchen Woelfle's novel, All the World's a Stage is: Joyce Ray! 

It's great to hear from you, Joyce, and I hope you enjoy the book.

Happy Easter and Happy Passover to all!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Yearning for Spring

Where I live, spring is washing in and out like waves on Lake Michigan’s shore. We enjoyed a few gorgeous, warm days, but right now, I hear thunder, and it’s snowing. Again. The sleet that pelted us yesterday hasn’t even melted. We’re keeping the bird feeders full for early migrants; so far, we’ve seen yellow-rumped warblers, ovenbirds, and brown creepers. Crocuses popped up on the sunny front hill and promptly wilted in the cold. Now scilla is poking through the snow, along with the first hellebore shoots. Spring in Wisconsin makes us appreciate (and long for) warm, sunny weather.

In the meantime, we’ve still got more National Poetry Month to console us, inspire us, and entertain us. Here are a few poetic things that have kept me going this month.

Moon, Have You Met My Mother? The Collected Poems of Karla Kuskin. I started reading a few poems from this collection each night at bedtime because I love her sense of humor. I found myself waking up in the morning (and sometimes even in the middle of the night) with ideas for my own silly poems. Now I’m reading it through again, paying more attention to structure and language. What fun!

Jama Rattigan’s Poetry Potluck Series includes inspiring interviews with poets, recipes, and (of course) poems.

Laura Purdie Salas and Susan Taylor Brown are hosting a weekly online book club with poetry participation called Write After Reading: Living the Life Poetic, based on the book Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry by Sage Cohen. The conversation alternates between their blogs.

While I haven’t attempted the Poem-A-Day Challenge, I have had a pretty productive month so far. Maybe by this time next year, I’ll be brave enough to follow in April’s footsteps. And here comes May with more exciting children’s book-related events:

Children’s Book Week is May 2-8, 2011. I’ll be celebrating it with a reading at the Mukwonago Community Library on Wednesday, May 4, at 10:00 a.m.

National Picture Book Writing Week ("NaPiBoWriWee") is May 1-7, 2011. Write 7 Picture Books in 7 Days!

Remember that today is the last day to enter the giveaway for Gretchen Woelfle’s new middle-grade novel, All the World's a Stage: A Novel in Five Acts. See Jeanne Marie’s post for details.

Happy spring!
JoAnn Early Macken

Monday, April 18, 2011

Don't Forget our Book Giveaway!

I know Mary Ann has been having computer problems (as well as some pretty nasty spring storms in her area). In case she's unable to post today, I want to remind you that there's still time to enter for a chance to win an autographed copy of Gretchen Woelfle's middle-grade novel, All the World's a Stage: A Novel in Five Acts (Holiday House).

And Gretchen has more good news to share today: the book's trailer is School Library Journal's Book Trailer of the Week. If you haven't watched it yet, be sure to check it out here.

To enter our giveaway contest, follow the instructions in Jeanne Marie's post here.

Good luck!

Friday, April 15, 2011

To Post Poetry or Not to Post Poetry--THAT is the Question! ( & Happy Poetry Friday!)

Happy Poetry Friday,
hosted today by Diane at 
Random Noodling.  Thanks, Diane!
My own poem and a Writing Workout poetry prompt is 

Hello, Campers!  Today's question--Do I dare post an original poem?--is red hot, as I am 15 days into my second year of posting an original poem a day for Poetry Month.  What's a poet to do?
There are poets on both sides of this question: some wonder whether a publisher will want to buy a poem or a series of poems if they have already been published on the net. They might post a poetry exercise but not their own poems.  Others, including author Jane Yolen, comfortably post original poems on their websites or blogs.  Yolen always attaches a copyright at the end: © 2011 Your Name Here, All Rights Reserved.  I now do the same.

My own instinct is to come to the world with open hands. 


Actually, that's not true. At first I was nervous about exposing my words to the world.  But then Greg Pincus told me that he's only had good things come back to him as he's shared his words with the world.  And man, does Greg share--in great, big, generous doses--on listservs, on his Gottabook blog, at schools, at conferences, and person-to-person.   Here's what Greg says:
"I post lots of original poetry for free on my blog based on the idea that I wanted to (and still want to) create an audience for me and my work. I know there's risk that people can copy the poems, though that's also true of poems in books. And while it's true that folks could put their name on my poem, posting the work online creates a pretty clear "paper trail," so I don't lose much sleep about that, either. I've also always felt that if someone finds a way to make a lot of money by using my poetry, I'd write more and follow their method! 
I also don't think that posting work for free devalues it or poetry in general. The idea that there's free poetry online, so people are saying "why buy books?" doesn't follow for me. Instead, I think it creates fans who will support poetry and poets. It can create new readers. I've also sold poems off my blog after initially publishing them there, so I can say that free has been valuable to me that way, too. At a different point in my career, I might not see that same value. I can't say. I think, though, that having the ability to connect with my readers directly has more than made up for any potential downsides I can see now.
By the way, this is not to say that there isn't piracy online. I've seen poems reprinted without permission (both with and without attribution). However, for me, being unknown is a bigger concern than having a poem out there in the ether."

Greg's latest venture is called Poetry: Spread The Word.  You've got to watch the short video to get his clever idea for making author school visits affordable.

Author and poet Janet Wong, a remarkable human being and writer, says: "At two of my websites, and, you can find the full text of some of my poems (published and unpublished). I take the "Costco sample" approach to poem-sharing: if you like the little taste that I give you for free, maybe you'll buy a whole book--and, if you don't like it, thank you for at least giving it a try!"
Don't you love that Costco metaphor?  Among Janet's lastest adventures are two ebooks: Once Upon A Tiger: New Beginnings for Endangered Animals and PoetryTagTime , (an anthology of 30 children's poems for just 99 cents!)x

Author and poet Liz Scanlon Garton says, “My creative worldview is that there’s an abundance of poetry out there — more than enough ideas and pretty words for all of us to write a poem every day until we die. So, I don’t worry that someone will steal my work or that I will wear out my muse if I put original poems up on my blogs or elsewhere. In fact, the opposite. I’m pretty sure creative energy begets more creative energy.”
Liz's latest is a picture book illustrated by Arthur Howard about friendship in "couplets with an unfaltering rhythm and gentle good humor" (~ Publishers Weekly) called Noodle and Lou.

Here's my tribute (from among the poems on my Poetry Month Challengeto all poets (including fellow blogmate and poet, JoAnn Early Macken!) who share their words with an open hand:

by April Halprin Wayland
I step onto this rickety bamboo bridge
high over wild water
as winds sways rope
as I totter
as my heart stops
as I lose hope.
You reach across
stretching out
to me
All is not lost.
Your hand is all
I need.
(c) 2011  April Halprin Wayland, all rights reservedx
For the story behind the poem, click here and scroll down to the poem for April 10th.

Writing Workout:

Think of a big concept like generosity or peace or hatred or anger…you get the picture.  Now close your eyes and think about how this concept feels.  What image presents itself?  

It’s the old “Show, Don’t Tell.” Write a poem showing us this concept in concrete terms, as I tried to do with generosity. On your mark, get set, go!

P.S. from Carmela: Don't forget to enter our giveaway for a chance to win an autographed copy of Gretchen Woelfle's brand new middle-grade novel,  All the World's a Stage (Holiday House)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Book Giveaway and Guest Teaching Author Interview with Gretchen Woelfle

I met Gretchen Woelfle in that magical summer of 1998 when we immersed ourselves in our first residency at Vermont College. Soon after, I moved to L.A., and we spent a few memorable Saturdays strolling along Venice Beach and taking in the Pasadena museums. 

Gretchen is strikingly intelligent, impassioned, compassionate, a wonderful parent, and, of course, an awesome writer.  Her award-winning picture book, Katje, the Windmill Cat has been a favorite of many of the children in my life.  I've been privileged to read her breathtaking biographies of inspiring women: Jeannette Rankin, Mercy Otis Warren (forthcoming) and Charlotte Salomon (which had better be forthcoming!). You can read more about Gretchen at her website.

Her latest is the historical novel All the World's a Stage (Holiday House).  Check out her cool book trailer here:  

How did you get interested in writing?

I was a big reader as a kid, so naturally I became an English major. After that I took lots of jobs related to writing: copyeditor, researcher, art and travel journalism. Then I got my dream job – writing scripts for interactive multimedia educational projects. A few years later, something even better happened – I got laid off. I spent my free time perusing old family stories from nineteenth century Maine, thinking they would make good stories for children. I’d never written fiction, so I took classes at UCLA Extension, and sold several of the family stories to Cricket, Spider, and Cicada magazines. During school visits I always urge kids to record their own family stories.

Those short stories got me hooked on historical fiction. Reading and traveling are two of my passions. When I mixed them up with writing, I came up with historical fiction and biography, my current interests. ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE: A NOVEL IN FIVE ACTS, my latest book and first novel, began to germinate after reading a biography of Shakespeare. At that point my daughter was living in London, a city I’ve known and loved for decades, so I took several trips to visit her and do on-the spot-research for the novel.

I bicycled through the City of London, interviewed the historian at the Worshipful Company of Carpenters, researched at the Guildhall Library, took a private backstage tour of the Globe Theatre, and – best of all – attended many Shakespeare plays at the selfsame Globe. Back home again, I read more and more books on Elizabethan culture, London life, and the theatrical world of Shakespeare and his cohorts. Many writing teachers tell students to write what they know, but I do the opposite. I write about what I don’t know, but am eager to learn about. And that means more reading and more travel.

I'm curious about the five-act structure in ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE and how that choice affected your writing process.

If truth be told, I didn’t add the “acts and scenes” at first; I labeled them chapters. But as I revised and looked at the structure of the story, I realized I could emphasize Kit’s [my protagonist] drama by mirroring the world of the stage that he was living in. This also strengthens the metaphor of the title as well. But then the title didn’t get chosen until the book was written, sold, and edited. I guess the answer is that my writing process isn’t very logical, and reasons and motivations only appear after the fact!

I'd also love to know a more about writing dialogue in a period piece and how you use your historical research to make it sound believable. I'm also wondering about the changes you make so that a present-day reader can actually follow what's happening.

Aha! Here I can flaunt some of my research. I could probably not write authentic-sounding Elizabethan prose if my life depended on it, but I did read books about it. During the late 1500s English was undergoing a rapid transition to modern English. (The novel takes place in 1598-99.) For example, people (and Shakespeare) used ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ as well as the modern ‘you’ for second person singular. I used only ‘you’ to make it easier on my readers. Elizabethans used some contractions, but not others, so I was careful of that, and didn’t use “didn’t” because they did not. Other colloquialisms like ‘tis and ‘twas gave a period feel, while still being understandable. A glossary of underworld slang gave me some colorful expressions like “nip a bung” (cut [steal] a purse) and “strike a peg” (beat you up.) “Witless ninnyhammer” was the provisional title of the book at one point, which I still like, but people pointed out that no one would remember or understand it. A book of Shakespearian insults gave me some great expressions straight from the Bard, and a website for Renaissance Faire actors gave me more conversational tidbits. Though I tried to show meaning through action and context, I did add a glossary to All the World’s A Stage to make things perfectly clear.

How did you become a teaching author?

After taking some courses at UCLA Extension and attending SCBWI conferences, I sold my first book, a middle grade history of windmills: The Wind at Work. But I couldn’t get a picture book contract. Instead I got what my son called “excellent rejection letters.” You know the sort – “good story, well told, but sorry, not for us.” Vermont College had just started its MFA in Writing for Children program, and I hoped that might push me over the edge into “yes, we’ll publish it!” The MFA program offered individual work with an advisor for four semesters, along with eleven-day workshops twice a year. The program gave me so much more than I expected. The individual attention was superb, the workshops were fabulous, but the biggest and best surprise was the connection I made with my classmates – we are The Hive (four of whom blog here on Thirteen years later we are in daily contact, thanks to email. We are not only professional colleagues with answers to any question about writing and publishing, but are now close friends.

By the end of the two-year MFA program I had sold my first picture book, Katje the Windmill Cat, and was eager to share some of what I’d learned. So when I heard that UCLA Extension was hiring, I applied. I’ve taught both online and in-class courses in reading and writing children’s literature of all genres.

Would you share a favorite writing exercise for our readers?

Setting can be a great tool for a writer. In fiction or nonfiction, it adds broad context and particular details that can intensity the drama and ramp up emotional resonance. Setting can become a cliché as well – fierce argument in a rainstorm, romantic sunset walk on a beach. So I have my students write a scene that upends those clichés. A heated argument between lovers on the beach at sunset, or a love scene during a violent storm, using the details of the setting to overturn the clichés. Then I have them write the same scene in a very different setting. So you’ve got the same event in opposite settings – indoor-outdoor, quiet-noisy, beautiful-ugly, peaceful-chaotic – choosing sensory details in each setting to reflect the drama. This exercise takes students out of their heads into the environment, and also gets them to look in unexpected places for powerful storytelling.

Selling my first book

My story is a common one. First, I learned something about writing a story. Writing well is a given. There are three more essential skills though – NETWORKING, NETWORKING, and NETWORKING. We’re in luck, because children’s writers are friendly, helpful, generous people. Unlike other literary types, we are willing to share what and who we know.

I’ve never been plucked from a publisher’s slush pile. Rather, all of my sales have come from personal connections. Four book sales, including my first one, came from introductions to editors by friends. Another came from my advisor at Vermont College, still another from an editor I hosted at an SCBWI event. And those sales led to more books with the same editors. I got a spot as a regular blogger on Interesting Nonfiction for Kids ( thanks to a writer friend. And I’ve tried to return the favors. So write your best beloved books, then get out there and mingle. Take classes, join a critique group, attend SCBWI events, and network!

Win an autographed copy of Gretchen Woelfle’s All the World's a Stage!

To enter our drawing:

1. You must post a comment to today's blog post telling us why you'd like to win a copy of the book. (Will you keep it for yourself or give it as a gift to a young reader?)

2. You must include contact information in your comment. If you are not a blogger, or your email address is not accessible from your online profile, you must provide a valid email address in your comment. Entries without contact information will be disqualified. Note: the TeachingAuthors cannot prevent spammers from accessing email addresses posted within comments, so feel free to disguise your address by spelling out portions, such as the [at] and [dot].

3. You must post your comment by 11 pm (CST)  on Wednesday, April 20th. (The winner will be announced on Thursday, April 21st.) Note: Winners automatically grant us permission to post their names here on our TeachingAuthors website.

4. You must have a mailing address in the United States.

5. You must respond to the notification e-mail and provide a mailing address within 72 hours, or the prize will be forfeited and an alternate winner will be chosen.

Enjoy! And, thank you, Gretchen!

--Jeanne Marie

Monday, April 11, 2011

Start tweetin' those twaikus!

Could there be a more perfect way to celebrate both National Library Week – and – National Poetry Month than to tweet a twaiku that sings the praises of your Library?!

You read that right: a twaiku – a haiku sent via Twitter.

Twaiku use the same structure as haiku – 3 lines with 5-7-5 syllables respectively.
Unlike a haiku, however, a twaiku can only be 140 characters, or 130 with the American Library Association’s Twaiku Contest tag #nlwtwaiku.tag.

You read that right: an ALA Twaiku Contest that begins today, the start of National Library Week, and continues through Wednesday, April 13.
Please note: all submissions must be tagged #nlwtwaiku.
The staff of @yourlibrary will post a selection of the best twaiku at where everyone will have the opportunity to vote for their favorite entry through the end of National Library Week, Saturday, April 16.

Last year at this time, I serenaded (with apologies to Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson) the Top Five Libraries I’ve loved.
This year, however, (with a little bit of help from a fellow TeachingAuthor with a Twitter account!), I can tweet a twaiku that celebrates the Ultimate Credit Card.

Whenever I’m asked how I became a writer, I proudly show the card above.
“This is the card,” I say, “you don’t want to leave home without!”

                                         My Chicago Public Library Card

                                         Frequent card usage
                                         earns unlimited travel
                                         anywhere or time.

Now it’s your turn to think fondly of your library, then tweet a twaiku!
Consider your effort today's Writing Workout!

Esther Hershenhorn

There's still time to bid on the following TeachingAuthors' items being auctioned off at Kidlit4Japan:
a synopsis critique by Esther Hershenhorn;
(bid closes Tuesday 4/12 @ 12:00 pm EDT)
a signed copy of April Halprin Wayland's picture book New Year at the Pier;
(bid closes Tuesday 4/12 at 1:00 pm EDT)
a signed copy of JoAnn Early Macken's picture book Baby Says Moo?
(bid closes Tuesday 4/12 at 3:00 pm EDT)

Friday, April 8, 2011

Poetry, Poetry, Poetry Month!

I love April!

I'm out and about this week, presenting poetry workshops at Goodland Elementary School in Racine, Wisconsin, but I had to drop in for National Poetry Month!

Look for my poem "Construction Crew" and a recipe for Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip Muffins in Jama Rattigan's Poetry Potluck series.

You can now bid for an autographed copy of Baby Says "Moo!" in the Kidlit4Japan auction to aid victims of the 2011 Sendai earthquake and tsunami. (Auction for this item ends Tuesday 4/12 at 3:00 p.m. EDT.)

And here's a poem about writing a poem for National Poetry Month.

Writing a Poem

Sometimes I work like a cobbler,
stitching together snippets and scraps.
I leave the paper on my desk,
hoping elves will finish the job.

Sometimes I need carpenter’s tools
to measure and cut precisely.
I lean over the page with rule and vise,
fitting words into parquet patterns.

Sometimes, in mathematician mode,
I formulate an equation,
relying on logic
to multiply symbols and images.

Sometimes I'm an archaeologist
digging below the poem's surface,
scraping rubble away with a toothbrush,
unearthing my own brittle bones.

And sometimes words sing to me,
flap in my face,
or whisper themselves in my ear.
Then I’m the birthday girl,
streamered, confettied,
grasping (Oh, thank you!) at gifts.

JoAnn Early Macken

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

I am a Pantser. What about you?

Hello, my name is Carmela, and I am a Pantser.
You don't know what a "Pantser" is? Neither did I, until I came across the term on Larry Brooks's Storyfix site. A Pantser is someone who doesn't plot a novel in advance, but instead writes by the seat of her (or his) pants. The opposite of a Pantser is a Plotter--a writer who creates an outline or some sort of road map before actually writing the story.

The fact that I am a Pantser actually puzzles me. Given my logical, left-brained tendencies (my undergraduate degree is in math and computer science, after all), you'd think outlining would come naturally to me. I did actually outline the first novel I ever wrote. However, despite all my pre-planning, that novel ended up with plot issues nonetheless, which is why the manuscript is boxed away and will likely never see the light of day again.

Still, I gave pre-plotting another try in 2007, while working on a contemporary young adult novel. I discuss that experience in this column for the SCBWI-Illinois Prairie Wind. Bottom line: that manuscript is also boxed away. (Some writers have drawers of abandoned manuscripts, I have boxes.)

But I'm nothing if not persistent. For my current work-in-progress, a young adult novel set in 18th-century Italy (and based on the lives of two real people), I tried again to be a Plotter. I even made charts using Larry Brooks's techniques, such as identifying my novel's 8 story milestones and when they'd happen in the story. The charts looked great, until I began writing. The more I wrote, the farther I strayed from my plot plans. One reason things didn't go as planned: while researching the culture of the time, I learned some of the milestones I'd planned weren't very plausible. On the other hand, my research also unearthed information about historical events that provided terrific scene material--material I didn't know about when first plotting the story.

So why am I writing today about being a Pantser, instead of celebrating National Poetry Month? Well, over the weekend I reached a true milestone in my WIP: I passed the 70,000-word mark! Better still, I'm almost to the end of the story. (I might have finished it by now if I hadn't been struck by a nasty head cold that makes it hard to think straight. I'm hoping this post is at least coherent.) 

I'm also writing to share something that happened last week. As my novel's plot kept evolving, I realized that the climax and resolution I'd planned would no longer work. I had no idea how the story would end! For a while, that immobilized me. But I forced myself to keep plugging away all the same. After all, I did know where I wanted my main characters to be emotionally by the end of the novel. I just had to figure out to get them there.

Then, somewhere in the last 10,000 words or so, the story picked up momentum and took on a life of it's own. Characters started saying and doing things I hadn't planned, but that fit their personalities and societal limitations, AND THE STORY. Instead of having to force myself to keep "Butt in Chair" (a crucial requirement for Pantsers!), I practically leaped out of bed in the morning. I was excited to see where my characters would lead me that day.

Of course, after I finish the remaining few thousand words of this novel, I'll face a new challenge: I'll need to go back and revise the beginning to fit the story's final trajectory. But that's a different kind of fun for me--that's when I dig deeper into my characters and their motivations. I used to hate revision. Now I find it's my favorite part of the writing process.

Earlier this week I read the Psychology Today article "How to Write for Children Without Injuring Your Brain," a rebuttal to Martin Amis's derogatory comments about writing for young people. The article features an interview with children's author Joanne Rocklin. In talking about "flow and revision," Rocklin says:
 I've found Anne Lamott's concept of the awful first draft very liberating, as well as the UP and DOWN concept of writing: Get it DOWN, then fix it UP. 
Rocklin's "UP and DOWN concept" describes my process as a Pantser. I'm looking forward to soon entering the fixing-it-UP stage. :-)

One more thing: a number of articles and books I've read imply that being a Plotter is somehow better than being a Pantser (or vice versa). I disagree. I think we each have to find the process that works best for us. And our preferred process may change from one manuscript to another. Maybe I'll be a successful Plotter next time around.

Then again, maybe not.

What about you? Are you a Pantser or a Plotter? Please share your answer in the comments. If you're not sure, maybe the following Writing Workout will help you decide.

Writing Workout:
Figuring out if you're a Pantser or a Plotter

In his book Plot & Structure, best-selling author James Scott Bell uses the terms "No Outline People" (or NOPs) and "Outline People (or OPs) instead of Pantsers and Plotters. He suggests the following exercise to determine which you are:
"Make a list of your favorite novels. Put down at least ten titles. . . . Are they heavy on plot and action, or do you prefer more character-driven books? Or is there a mix?
      There are more NOPs on the literary/character-driven side, and more OPs on the commercial/plot-driven side. Take this into account in choosing a system. You should be writing the type of novel you most like to read."
[Personally, I have a mix on my list of favorites, though I do lean toward preferring character-driven novels.]

I encourage you to also check out Bell's book for techniques that help both NOPs and OPs. 
Happy writing.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Spring Break

Mary Ann is off enjoying Spring Break. She'll be back to post again in her usual slot in two weeks.

Meanwhile, if you haven't read April Halprin Wayland's post commemorating the start of Poetry Month, I hope you'll do so now. In addition to her inspiring Writing Workout on writing book spine poems, April shares links to all sorts of wonderful poetry-related events in the Kidlitosphere that you'll want to check out. And if you're looking for more poetic inspiration, download your own copy of PoetryTagTime, compiled by Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell (and featuring a poem by our own April) for only 99 cents
Happy Poetry Month, and Happy Writing!

Friday, April 1, 2011

April is Poetry Month! Book Spine Poems for Poetry Friday!

Hello, Campers --it's POETRY MONTH 2011!

At the end of this post, is a Writing Workout about Book Spine Poems.  Try your hand at one and let us know what you came up with! And below that is the Kidlistosphere's list of places to find poetry for Poetry Month.

Thanks to poet Amy Ludwig VanDerwater at The Poem Farm for hosting Poetry Friday today!

Yes, April is Poetry Month, which always pleases me to no end.  Not only is my name April, my birthday is in April and I was named for the Ogden Nash poem, "Always Marry an April Girl". I can hear you saying "Ahhhhh..."

For Poetry Month last year I took the Poem-A-Day-Challenge, writing a new poem each a day for the month of April (read them all here); it was such a profoundly naked and focusing exercise that I've continued to write a poem each day ever since.  So today marks my 366th poem in a row.  Journey with me as I write and post poems for Poetry Month 2011 here.

I only post the poems I write in the month of April; the rest I send, day by day, to my best friend, author and poet Bruce Balan, and his wife, who are sailing around the world in their red trimaran.  After dinner each night, while one washes the dishes, the other reads my poem aloud.  Then they send me their comments. I'm one lucky pup.

Poetry Month is rocking with events:

Over at GottaBook, Greg Pincus is reprising his amazing Thirty Poets in Thirty Days
And take a look at the new ebook poet Janet Wong and Professor Sylvia Vardell have cooked up  in time for Poetry Month for just 99 cents!
First Paperless Poetry e-Book Costs Just 99 Cents
Just in time for National Poetry Month, look for the first ever electronic-only poetry anthology of new poems by top poets for children (ages 0-8), PoetryTagTime, compiled by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong and available for only 99 cents at Amazon on April 1. This collection of 30 new, unpublished poems range from the humorous to serious, about tongues, turtles and toenails, in acrostics, quatrains, and free verse written by 30 of our best children's poets: Children’s Poet Laureates Jack Prelutsky and Mary Ann Hoberman; Newbery Honor winner Joyce Sidman; NCTE Poetry Award winners X.J. Kennedy, J. Patrick Lewis, Lee Bennett Hopkins, and Nikki Grimes; popular poets Douglas Florian, Betsy Franco, Jane Yolen, Alice Schertle, Helen Frost, Carole Boston Weatherford, Calef Brown, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, April Halprin Wayland, Leslie Bulion, Avis Harley, Joan Bransfield Graham, David L. Harrison, Julie Larios, Ann Whitford Paul, Bobbi Katz, Paul B. Janeczko, Laura Purdie Salas, Robert Weinstock, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, and Pat Mora. And the “connections” between poems as the poets voice how their poems are interconnected adds another layer of fun and meaning. You'll be able to share brand-new poems and poetry tips with children all month long for pennies a day!xxx
Even if you don’t own a Kindle, you can download the free Kindle app for a number of devices, including your Windows or Apple computer, iPad, iPhone, BlackBerry, or Android-powered phone. Also, be sure to check out our web site and companion blog for strategies for sharing each of the 30 poems in the book, rolling out one per day throughout the month of April.  
For more information: Then check out the PoetryTagTime blog, with fabulous classroom ideas!

Remember...the Kidlistosphere's list of events and places to find poetry during Poetry Month are listed below.

Book Spine Poems!

Here's a fun writing exercise which elementary school librarian Travis Jonker explains how to do here at the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) blog!

I tried creating a Book Spine Poem from my bookshelf:
The poem:
Ring out, wild bells!
Splish splash!
Calling the doves!
We are all born free!
That's how it is when we draw. [and write!]

(The books pictured: Writers on Writing selected and compiled by Jon Winokur,  Ring Out Wild Bells--Poems About Holidays and Seasons Selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, Splish Splash (shape poems about water) by Joan Bransfield Graham, Calling the Doves - El Canto de las Palomas by Juan Felipe Herrera, We Are All Born Free--The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Pictures, and That's How it is When We Draw by Ruth Lercher Bornstein)

Let us know what you came up with--send us your own book spine poems or those your students create ~

Irene Latham compiled this list for the Kidslitosphere:

Susan Taylor Brown will post Lessons Learned (Mostly About Me) in a Poem-a-Day

Liz Garton Scanlon will give us her third year of a Haiku-a-Day 

Jone MacCulloch will post 30 Days-30 Students: A poem a day from students 

Poetry Postcard Project: Have a student written and decorated poem sent to your 
home. Email her 

Gregory K. will present 30 Poets/30 Days -a whole month of never-before-seen poems by a slew of fabulous poets writing for kids. 

Jama Rattigan will present her 2nd Annual Poetry Potluck (original poem and favorite recipe by guest bloggers) 

Irene Latham will host a month-long Poetry Party: poetry quotes, trivia, craft tips, publishing resources & free books! 

Andromeda Jazmon will be doing her fourth year in a row of haiga (original haiku + my photos) at A Wrung Sponge

Janelle at Brimful Curiosities will host a National Poetry Month Kids Poetry Challenge challenge in which kids are invited to create pictures for the poems she posts each Friday.

NEW additions:
Anastasia Suen presents EduHaiku! Write a haiku about what you learned in school and share it with her on her EduHaiku blog or twitter.

Lori Degman, at Habitual Rhymer, posts a new poem each day of Poetry Month, along with "fun poem-writing ideas"

National Poetry Month Poetry Friday schedule: