Friday, June 29, 2012

Write a Hidden Word Poem for Poetry Friday!

Howdy Campers--happy Poetry Friday!  Happy Summer!

Truly a summer girl...from
So--how's life?

Well, if you're poet and author B.J. Lee, life is pretty great, because you've just won our giveaway from my June 22nd interview of poet David L. Harrison.  B.J. won David's new poetry book, Cowboys! Congratulations, B.J!  (B.J, btw, along with David himself and Teaching Authors Carmela Martino and JoAnn Early Macken, will have a poem in the forthcoming poetry anthology, And The Crowd Goes Wild! A Global Gathering of Sports Poems!)

Ah, summertime!  When I read Carmela's post below, asking for our favorite summertime writing venues, I knew exactly what I'd answer.  Coffee shops.  I love, love, love working in coffee shops.  I love the blur of words around me that aren't directed at me.  I love the energy.  I love that no plants are asking to be watered, no Eli is making big-puppy eyes, asking to be walked, no refrigerator is singing sexy songs to me...yay, coffee shops!

My refrigerator sings sexy songs to me when I'm trying to write...does yours?

As you may remember, I write one poem every day.  And as you might imagine, not every one is a great poem.  Or even a good poem.

So I have what I call PHPs...Place Holder Poems.  A PHP is my wild card, it's what I call a "not-very-good-poem-but-at-least-I-wrote-a-poem-today" poem.

Last July I was playing with writing poems and hiding words in them.

Here's a Hidden Word poem that's definitely a PHP...(I'm only sharing this with you because I know you understand about writing stinky poems...)

by April Halprin Wayland

Mom's CAMPaigning for us to turn off the TV.
if we do, she says we’ll have a great summer.

She says we have to pay atTENTion
or we’ll miss the falling stars.

I like exploring in the foREST—
it's don't know, relaxing.

So, what do you think we should do
after we catch a sNAPping turtle?

  Hidden Word Poems

1) Decide on a theme.  I chose summer.

2) Make a list of simple words that might nestle inside other words. 

My list:
camp, tent, rest, nap. (My first brainstorming list was much longer:
sun, slow, no school, sand, barefeet, toes, swim, moon, stars, beach, ocean, sea, sail, sleep, peanuts, popcorn, crackerjacks, win, hotdog, rest, nap, goof, play...)

3) Can you weave your words into a poem? Give it a try!

4) Remember to write with joy ~

If this doesn't say summer, I don't know what does...from

And hey!  TeachingAuthors will be taking a summer break, July 1-15th!  We'll be back on July 16th to celebrate TeachingAuthor Mary Ann Rodman's The Rollercoaster Kid--yay, Mary Ann!

Tah-tah for now!  And happy first half of July! ~ April Halprin Wayland

Poem and drawing (c) 2012 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved. (Yes, even if it is a stinky poem.)

 Poetry Friday is hosted by The Paper Tigers today--thanks, gang!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

In the Good Old Summertime

It's been interesting to read how summer affects the writing schedules of my co-bloggers. For Jeanne Marie, it's a time when she can write more consistently than usual. For Esther, it's time to catch up reading, with not so much writing. And for Mary Ann, it's a time to be inspired by her workshop students.

Like Mary Ann, I'm also inspired by the young writers in my summer camps. I teach two girls' writing camps at the Hinsdale Center for the Arts. (If you know any girls in the Chicago area who like to write, there's still time to enroll. See the right sidebar of this page on my website for details.) But since I also teach young writers via homeschool and private classes during the school year, I'm lucky enough to have that inspiration all year long. 

So, in summer, what I look forward to is the opportunity to vary my writing venue and routine. The warmer weather means I can take my laptop out on the patio to work. Or, if it's too hot, I can escape to the library or a coffee shop without having to bundle up in layers of clothes. Granted, we probably have enough good days in spring and fall to do the same, but for some reason, when summer arrives, I have a sudden longing to spend more time outdoors, or at least out of my office.
Wish MY backyard had as many flowers as this writer's!
I found it ironic, then, to be posting the following on my Facebook page a few weeks ago:
This would be a lovely day to work outside. Only trouble is, I'm writing a scene set in mid-December, 1736 in a drafty palazzo. Don't want to make it too hard for my imagination. :-) 
Instead of sitting outside, where I really wanted to be, I stayed at my computer desk clutching a glass of iced tea to help me feel cold. It worked too--I ended up with goosebumps, which was perfect. The things we do for our craft! (Maybe if I had a stronger imagination I could have written the scene while sitting in the warm sunshine.)
How about you? Do you ever change your writing environment to give your imagination a boost? I'd also like to know, does your writing routine change at all in summer? Please share your answers by posting a comment. And if you try the following Writing Workout, let me know how it works for you.

Don't forget--today's the last day to enter to win an autographed copy of David Harrison's terrific picture book Cowboys (Wordsong)! Read April's amazing interview with him for details.

Writing Workout
Varying Your Writing Venue

Do you tend to write in the same one or two places all the time? If so, try a change of venue and observe how it affects your writing. Some possibilities:
  • at the beach
  • in your backyard
  • at a park
  • at the zoo
  • at an outdoor concert
  • in a coffee shop
  • in a restaurant
  • at the library
  • at a museum
If you've never thought much about how your surroundings affect your writing, check out this post, "Where's Your Writing Location" by Steven Savage.

And wherever you end up, Happy Writing!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Summertime...and the Writing is Intense

    Although it's been in the 80's here for months (winter? spring? didn't happen here), summer officially began a couple of days ago. Right on Hotlanta schedule, the temperature went from 80 something to 90 something immediately.

     I begin my Young Writer's Workshops for the parks department today. No matter what week I begin (and I've been doing this for years), it will always be the hottest week of the summer at that point.  This is a good thing, for me at least.

    I turn into a slug in hot weather, and spending six hours a day with young, enthusiastic writers gets me up and inspired.  Inspiration is what I need in the summer, when my schedule is even crazier than usual.  Writing time is sandwiched between workshops and increased practice sessions and competitions for my daughter, the figure skater. Even though everything is air-conditioned, all that running around in hot, sticky, snail-paced Atlanta traffic sucks the energy out of you. Makes you cranky. Makes you want to go sit in the neighborhood pool with a margarita (if the neighborhood pool let you bring in alcohol, which it doesn't.)

  When I was a full-time teacher, my writing time was confined to the summer months. With a work day that started at 7am and frequently went on past midnight (including the sixty mile round trip commute) I just didn't have the time. I also hadn't learned that if inspired, you can write in ten and fifteen minute mini-blocks of time. Back then, I thought if you couldn't spend four or five solid hours at your desk (before the invention of laptops) then you just couldn't write at all.

    Writing has been my "day job" for fifteen years. (Holy cow, I hadn't done the math until just now!) I also haven't done a lot (OK, any) contemplation of how the change of season affects my writing. But since you asked...

    I am a night writer by nature. I usually fight this inclination because if I write before sleep, I go on writing in my dreams. Which is not particularly restful. I can make this up in summer catnapping.

    Extra daylight hours do not inspire me to stay parked in front of a laptop inside. They do inspire me to walk (even if it's just around the asphalt parking lot of the skating rink). Maybe pace would be a better word. Whatever you call it, mindless activity gets my mojo going. I can pace outside at home, but I live in a friendly neighborhood. Passing a dog-walking neighbor without at least saying "Hi" blows my stream of thought. I never have that problem in the rink parking lot.

   More than anything, however, my young authors (ages 10-14) bring out my best creative game. They help me as much (if not more) than I help them.  Each group is different and memorable. This year I have a new venue...a converted carriage house on the grounds of an antebellum mansion. Who knows what kind of writing energy we will find there?

   Now if you will excuse me, I need to load up the car with all the teaching necessities...books, white boards, markers, dictionaries, and a pencil sharpener (wherever I am giving the workshop, there never seems to be a pencil sharpener!) I am off to meet a new group of fresh, excited and eager-to-learn writers.

    I can't wait.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

P.S from Carmela: Don't forget to enter our current giveaway contest for a chance to win an autographed copy of David Harrison's picture book Cowboys (Wordsong). Read April's terrific interview with him for details.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Interview with Poet David Harrison, Writing Exercise, & Book Giveaway for Poetry Friday!

Howdy, Campers, and happy Poetry Friday!  We have an interview, a poetry exercise and a book giveaway for you today--wowee kazowee, let's get started!

I'm proud to introduce poet David L. Harrison, a friend and a gentleman with so much energy I'm sure he wears the Invisible Energizing Cape of Poetry.
Note: it's almost as hard to see as his cape,
but his website URL includes his middle initial, L:

Fun facts about David L. Harrison (read more on his website) :

  • David's first book for children, The Boy With a Drum, a Little Golden Book, sold over two million copies. 
  • He received the Christopher Award for The Book of Giant Stories
  • He's published over eighty titles that have sold more than fifteen million copies and earned numerous honors. 
  • He's been anthologized in more than one hundred books and appeared in dozens of magazines and journals. 
  • His work's been translated into twelve languages.
  • David holds science degrees from Drury and Emory universities and honorary doctorate of letters degrees from Missouri State University and Drury University. 
  • He is poet laureate of Drury, MO.
  • There's an elementary school named for him.
  • David and Teaching Authors Carmela Martino and JoAnn Early Macken all have poems in the forthcoming poetry anthology, And The Crowd Goes Wild! A Global Gathering of Sports Poems!

I think I want an elementary school after me, too.  Yeah, I do.

And yee-haw--here's another fun fact!  To celebrate summer and his appearance on our blog, David has donated an autographed copy of COWBOYS, perfect poems for your buckaroos!  To whet your whistle, here's what Publisher's Weekly said about Cowboys: "Readers who long to ride and wrangle should be entranced." Details on how to enter are at the end of this post.

So, David--let's begin!  How did you officially become a TeachingAuthor?
Like most authors of children’s books, I’m invited to visit schools. A school visit is a serious responsibility. The first time I spoke in public as an author was at Lindenwood College in Missouri soon after Little Turtle’s Big Adventure came out in 1969. Nancy Polette invited me. I was scared silly. Whether conducting writers’ workshops, speaking at parents’ nights, facing classes of graduate students, or presenting at conferences where you can barely see the back of the room, I’m always a little nervous. I think it’s nervousness that generates the energy we need to stand up and begin. Somewhere along the line I’ve turned into the last thing I ever expected to be: a teacher (of sorts).

Okay...what's a common question students ask and how do you address it?
Questions are experience related. Little ones get hung up on who makes the covers. Second graders ask how many books I can make in a day. Fifth graders wonder where ideas come from. (Wasn’t it Ted Geisel who told people he bought his ideas in a sack at a store with a funny name?) Middle schoolers worry about looking dumb and high school kids are way too grown up to ask a question about writing. Like, duh, who cares?

So you take ‘em as they come, respond honestly, and attempt to wear away natural resistance to having meaningful, two-way conversations about writing. Adult students are another matter. When I began writing, I made all the usual mistakes and didn’t know how much I didn’t know about my chosen profession. (Don Rumsfeld would have approved that sentence.)

So I approach every adult student with the respect he or she deserves, given the enormous amount of time, energy, and sheer cussed determination it’s going to take before they can hold their first victory dance around an acceptance letter. Writers must know their audience. They must study the market. They must seek fresh ways to express their ideas. They must develop the patience to rework the same page, paragraph, sentence, a dozen times, two dozen, as many times as it takes, until it’s ready. If writing for children were a recipe, those would be the main ingredients.

Would you share a favorite poetry exercise for our readers?
I love to work from lists. Begin with themes: family, friends, hobbies, school. Make a list of subjects related to the theme. Turn the subjects into poems.

Theme: hobbies
Subjects: video games, collecting insects, memorizing license plates, writing stories, cooking, taking pictures, gardening, getting autographs, learning another language, swimming, building sand castles.
Poem: gardening

by David L. Harrison

What I planted:


squash galore.

What I got:


sore knees.

Next time

before I plant,
I’ll try the store. 

What one piece of advice do you have for teachers?
I worry that too many teachers feel uncomfortable teaching poetry. Some may wish they could have special teachers in the building for poetry just as they have for art, physical education, and computers. I remind teachers that at the very least they know more about language and writing than the youngsters they teach so there’s nothing wrong with standing at the board and working on poems together. Poems written in elementary school are not destined to change the world. 

They are learning experiences. So is everything else during the school years. I say, “Your third graders move on each year but you don’t. And each year you practice with your latest crop, the more comfortable you are writing and teaching the subject and the better your poetry becomes. I offer three rules for teaching poetry in elementary school: 1) Keep it fun. 2) Keep it fun. 3) Keep it fun.

Can you share a funny story with our readers?
I love the telling thank-you note. Standard procedure calls for obligatory notes to authors following visits. I try to hang onto the ones that make me laugh.

Dear Mr. Harrison,

I think you’re the best author in the whole world!
P.S. I like Dr. Seuss better.

Dear Mr. Harrison,
Thanks for coming. I loved getting out of class.

Dear Mr. Harrison,
I love your books! I’ve never read a single one.

Dear Mr. Harrison,
I have to write this thank you note.
Thank you.
"The guy beside me is Ken Slesarik,
a poet and elementary teacher from Arizona.
He attended my poetry workshop

and photo-shopped me as a hunk."

What's on the horizon?
I split my time between trade books and books for teachers. I have fifteen projects in the works at various stages from early talks to manuscripts nearly completed. For trade books I focus on poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. If I have a favorite, it would be poetry, but I love all three genres.

My newest venture is a DVD series of writing tips for students in grades 3-5. There are twenty 5-minute tips, four each about Getting Started, Poetry, Fiction, Nonfiction, and Revising. Also included in the kit are a Teachers’ Guide, a set of twenty Student Writing Journals, and three of my trade books used as examples in the Teachers’ Guide. The package is published by Stourbridge Distributors and is called LET’S WRITE THIS WEEK WITH DAVID HARRISON. It will be on the market by late July or early August. Teachers can also take this as an online graduate course through Drury University.

Fifteen projects?!?!?!  Wow!  And finally, since it's Poetry Friday in the Kidlitosphere, would you share one of your poems with our readers?

Thanks for asking! Here’s one from my e-book, Goose Lake, a collection of prose and poetry about a year in the life of a small lake, which is listed on and Barnes & This selection will appear in the upcoming National Geographic Kids Book of Animal Poetry, edited by J. Patrick Lewis.

What Was That?
by David L. Harrison

If the lake were a mouth opened wide to swallow sky and popcorn 
clouds, the narrow strip of land stretched tight around it would be the lip. Seeds planted by wind and obliging birds sprout tangled gardens of saplings and weeds run amok. In rocky places, stones shoulder to shoulder wear sunbathing turtles like bronze helmets. 

lip of the lake never sleeps. Life and death meet in the twisted underbrush where herons stand like statues of herons awaiting the unwary. A kingfisher that looks like it needs a haircut watches the shallows for a minnowy snack. 

Geese defiant with motherhood hiss away foxes with a hankering for gosling. Finches flit from limb to bank, ignoring sleepy-eyed bullfrogs that need their rest till sundown.

Ducks catapult into the water
and herons’ legs trail like kite tails
in their sudden flight to
somewhere safer.

Flat shells smack the lake.
Bony heads resurface,
stare at their forsaken thrones.

What was that?

Maybe nothing.

A dog barked,

a child ran,
a turtle slipped.

All’s clear

on the lip of the lake,
for now.

poems © 2012 David L. Harrison. All rights reserved

We're SO glad you stopped by, David--and good luck with your gazillion projects!  

Readers, to enter our drawing for an autographed copy of Cowboys, post a brief comment about a cowboy (or a cowdog...cowkid...cowdad?) in your life..or comment on anything David discussed that will stay with you. Be sure to include an email address (formatted like: teachingauthors at gmail dot com) or a link to an email address. can email your comment to teachingauthors at gmail dot com with "Contest" in the subject line. Entry deadline Wednesday, June 27,2012 11 pm (CST). You must have a U.S. mailing address to win. The winner will be announced on June 29th. Good Luck!

And thank you, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater at the Poetry Farm,
for hosting today!
And listen to Amy and Barry Lane's song, More Than A Number
on Amy's blog today (or click here to hear it) ~
a powerful anthem to right the wrongs of our education system...

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

What’s on YOUR plate for the Summer?

Every summer I’m tempted to enroll my Inner Child in my local library’s Summer Reading Program.
There’s always an enticing theme – the bi-centennial celebrationLincoln’s Birthday, the Olympics or a new museum exhibit, prescribed fun procedures and the deliciousness of sharing the book you read with a knowing volunteer up-close-and-personal.
The Blue Ribbons, the certificates, the book bags and occasional surprise guest readers all make for a satisfying summer.

This summer, the Chicago Public Library’s Kids Summer Reading Program gave my Inner Child (and me) pause.
I love the title – RAHM'S READERS; but I especially love the tag line – You Are What You Read.

Those are words a writer needs to think about.

A few weeks ago, at a local SCBWI-Illinois chapter program, SCBWI Executive Director and Founder Lin Oliver shared a Writer’s Truth she’d learned from none other than Judy Blume:  “Write the kind of book you like to read.”
How many times have I instructed my students: “Look at the books that line your shelves; look at the publisher names on each book’s spine. Those are the genres, the formats you’ll be writing and those are the publishers you’ll likely target.”

So, what’s on my plate this summer? 

Certainly the kind of books I write,
but also, the kind of books my students and writers write.
In other words,
a variety of children’s book formats – picture books, middle grade and young adult fiction, graphic novels,
a mix of genres, both adult and children’s – memoir, biography, politics and how-to,
and my Standard Summer Fare, a heaping serving of adult fiction.

I’ll be reading more than I’ll be writing, that’s for sure.
But since writers are readers, I’ll still be on task.

 Happy Summer!

Esther Hershenhorn

Writing Workout

What’s on YOUR plate for the Summer? 

Recently the U.S. Government instituted the What’s On My Plate program, reshaping and re-visioning the once-revered Food Pyramid to ensure we eat a balanced diet of essential nutrients.

Just for the fun of it, see if there’s balance to your Summer Reading selections.  Section the plate below by audience, or by format, or by genre, or by subject, then place your stacked titles accordingly.
 And, think about the kinds of books you write.  Was Judy Blume’s advice on target? Do you write what you read?

Monday, June 18, 2012


Summertime means great disruption for many writers -- kids home, vacations, camps, endless driving.  Summertime in the Ford household is bliss (mostly, when the kids aren't fighting).  We're all on summer vacation!  While many writers struggle to maintain a normal schedule over the summer, summer is the time when I find my groove.  I can carve out writing time nearly every day -- often on the deck or even at the community pool (yay). 

Last summer I took a great novel workshop; this summer I'm taking an equally great picture book writing class.  In addition to the end of the semester, this year the beginning of summer coincided with a day-job change for me.  Suddenly I have actual spare time -- time to read, time to exercise.  I wish it would never end!

My daughter, lapping me in the page count department, is currently writing an "American Girl" book -- the doll's name is Lilly, and she is primarily preoccupied with playing with her "nextstore nabor." So far we have managed to avoid purchasing an actual doll.  Please wish me luck on that front. 

What the Fords are reading this week:

The Tale of Desperaux
The Secret Garden

Baseball Mouse by Syd Hoff

Signed by Zelda by Kate Feiffer
Dumpling Days by Grace Lin

Happy reading and writing to all! --Jeanne Marie

Writing Workout

In my picture book writing class, I've noted that many, many ideas stem directly from real life.  A simple, single incident, after all, can be transformed into a whole book.

Coincidentally, my daughter just found a little notebook given to me by the wonderful Phyllis Harris.  It was made for the express purpose of recording the crazy things my kids said.  I had, sadly, let my trasncription duties lapse, but I was hugely amused by what I'd recorded and forgotten.  So was my daughter.  This exercise is a spin on the traditional writing journal... If you have kids -- write down what they say.  It could be a gold mine someday.  At the very least, you will preserve some priceless memories forever.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Brain Draino or You Can't Fail

     Hey gang, it's Friday and I'm not April. If you've tuned in for April's wonderful poetry, you can stop reading now. It's summertime and the schedules are crazy (as in I forgot to write my Monday blog...and didn't even know until Tuesday because I hadn't opened my computer in two days.) Hence, here I am to continue the current thread of "Unblocking Creativity."

   I live in an older house with iffy plumbing. Something is always backing up, leaking, or just plain not working. Kind of like my brain a lot of days.  While I have published ten books in eight years, I have been working on another book for the same eight years.  It's a YA historical fiction verse novel in three voices.  Think that's enough of a challenge for someone who has never written YA, poetry or anything multi-voiced?  I believe this is known as "leaving your comfort zone."

    I don't like leaving my comfort zone. It took me so many years to find my comfort zone, I am in no rush to leave it.  I could happily write middle grade fiction and picture books forever. Unfortunately, this story that will not leave me alone.  While I was writing Jimmy's Stars and First Grade Stinks and A Tree for Emmy, this other story was also living in my head. And it wasn't living there quietly. At least once a week, one of the characters whacks me on the head and says, "Hey, you!  You thought us up, now do something with us."
     I don't usually have this problem.  Sure, it always takes me a long time to write any book, but I am usually confident that I will finish, eventually. On the other hand, I've never taken eight years to write something, with no end in sight (even though I have the entire book outlined, and written three drafts).

     Let's face it. I am intimidated by my own creation.  Sometimes I see my three main characters as those giant heads on Easter Island...big and scary and something I don't want to get very close to. This leads to all kinds of brain clogging thinking ("Who do I think I am trying to write this particular book?"  "Nobody will ever want it." "Why am I even trying to write poetry?")  The next thing I know, I have closed my laptop and am playing endless games of Words With Friends on my Kindle (I keep hoping to be matched up with Alec Baldwin some day.)

      I am afraid that I am not good enough to write this story that is so very important to me. If I could only write one more book in my life, it would have to be this one.

    So here is my brilliant quote (a little Draino for the brain, if you will).

   What would you do if you knew you couldn't fail?

   I have no idea who said this originally, but it is something my husband says at least once a week. Unlike me, he is all about pushing the envelope, waving bye-bye to comfort zones, a shark in constant motion. (OK, he's not sharklike at all, except that he never stops moving and thinking.)  I doubt his brain plumbing has ever clogged with self doubt.

    What would I do if I knew I couldn't fail? Well, duh. I'd sit down every morning for however long my crazily unscheduled life allows, and sneak back into my characters heads. I know them so well...but apparently, they also know me, and my weaknesses.  "Go ahead," they taunt me. "Just try to get me right on the page. I dare you."

     I am not a person who takes dares. And here we are, back in my comfort zone, my Kindle ready to take me away from dares and defeat.

     My favorite writing guru, Anne Lamott has the same problem, which is reassuring. She devoted an entire chapter in Bird by Bird to those nagging, whiney, inner critics. When her channels get clogged she appears to have panic attacks. I just turn into a non-writing slug. She suggests lots of deep breathing
to get herself "back in the creative stream."

    Deep breathing doesn't work for me.  Making myself aware of my breathing makes me hyperventilate. A hyperventilating, non-writing slug.  Not good.

    What brings me back is a leisurely lap around my jungle-like backyard, reminding myself I can't fail. I know these characters. I know this story. I cannot fail. The Easter Island heads turn back into normal-sized humans. They stop scowling, and invite me back to their world.

    Alec Baldwin will have to wait.

Writer's Workout---All good physical workouts should start with a warm-up and end with a cool down.   I find that brain clog most often happens when I try to just jump into my story, because I am trying to get as far and as fast as I can before my brain poops out.  I make the same mistake in exercising. Both writing and exercise go much better if you make yourself spend ten minutes or so warming up.  Here are some warmups that work for me.

1. Music--a few minutes listening to whatever kind of music puts you in a creative mood. Since I am usually writing something historical, I listen to music of that era. This is not permission to listen to
the entire CD of Abbey Road or Dark Side of the Moon. Ten minutes, tops.

2. Pictures--I have a small collection of old postcards and photos (not family pictures, pictures of strangers I've picked up at flea markets). Meditating on one of those for a few minutes will send me back to my story.

3.  Having a conversation (on paper) with one of my characters. I will ask the character a question that has been bothering me, and then listen for the response. Often, I find my character answering a completely different question...which tells me that I didn't ask the right question!  They aren't mean about it....they are just reminding me where their story is going...and that I can't force them to go where they don't want to go.

4. Reminding myself of my successes--This sounds kind of egotistical, but a therapist suggested it to me  when I first began writing, and it works when nothing else will. I have framed copies of every writing award I won as a kid (thanks to my mom who actually hung them in our den...much to my embarrassment as a teenager). I have a shelf of the books I've already published. I have a couple of plexiglass doodads that seem to be the form that awards take these days. (I have three identical awards for three completely different honors....I have to look closely at the etching to see which is which!)  In the days before I had awards, I had "nice rejection" letters to remind that yes, I can write and I cannot fail.  

Well, that's not entirely true.  You can fail...but only if you quit.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Keeping the Channel Open

We're in the midst of a series of posts sharing quotes intended to provide everyone with some mid-year inspiration. I don't know about you, our readers, but these quotes  have already helped me, especially the one April shared last week from Marla Frazee. In particular, I was struck by this sentence:
"The more personal and heartfelt the story is for the author and/or illustrator of the book, the more universal the emotion that can be gleaned from it."
These words opened my eyes to a problem with my current work-in-progress: I wasn't putting enough of myself into the story. This was probably due, at least in part, to the fact that the novel is based on the life of a girl who lived nearly 300 years ago. Reading the above quote reminded me that I had to find a way to connect with my protagonist on an emotional level if I wanted my readers to do so, too. After thinking more about my character and her situation, I did indeed find some things we have in common. I'm currently reworking the story to make that "universal emotion" come through. Thanks so much to Marla, and to April for sharing her words!

The quote I'm sharing today is one I recently gave a dear friend of mine who I'll call Debbie. For years,  Debbie's dreamed of writing a screenplay or novel. But, as so many of us do, she put more practical pursuits ahead of her dream--earning a living, helping out with the family business, raising her daughters. Now that her older daughter has graduated college and her younger is away at school, Debbie has more time to pursue her dream. Yet she's still hesitant. So for her birthday, I gave her a blank journal, a pen, and this quote from Martha Graham:
"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 of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open."
Funny thing is, as I typed up this quote to give to my friend, I realized I needed it as much as she did. I'd begun to doubt the value of my work-in-progress and to question that anyone could ever care as deeply about it as I did. Reading Graham's words reminded me that I was uniquely qualified to tell this story simply because I cared about it in a way no one else could.

So, after printing out Debbie's copy of the quote, I printed a second for myself. It now sits on my desk as a daily reminder to "keep the channel open."

I invite everyone to try the following  Writing Workout with Graham's words in mind. (You can read the rest of the quote at   

Writing Workout
Keeping the Channel Open

One way to "keep the channel open," is via timed freewriting. I first read of this technique years ago in Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones. In a timed freewriting session, the idea is to keep your pen moving without pausing and definitely without editing. (I recommend doing freewrites with pen and paper rather than at a keyboard.) If you find yourself stuck, you write something like "I don't know what to write next but I'll think of something soon." If your mind wanders away from your main topic, that's fine. Just keep writing.
For today's Writing Workout:
  1. Open your journal to a blank page, or take out a blank sheet of paper.
  2. At the top of the page, write: What idea is calling to me that I keep pushing aside? What might happen if I pursued it?
  3. Set a timer for 10 minutes.
  4. Write a response to the above questions. Try to write without stopping. Don't edit yourself. Keep the channel open and let your thoughts flow until the timer goes off.   
  5. If you get stuck, write: I don't know what to write next but I'll think of something soon. Write it multiple times, if necessary.
  6. If you can, come back and tell us how the exercise worked for you.
You can read more about timed-freewriting at Getting Started: Freewriting, which includes a freewriting example.
Happy (free)writing!

Friday, June 8, 2012

It's never too late...(redux)

It’s never too late to announce a TeachingAuthors Book Giveaway Winner.

So, congratulations, Kathy Mazurowski, the winner of Natalie Ziarnik’s debut picture book, Madeleine’s Light: The Story of Camille Claudel (Boyds Mills Press)!

I happen to know that Kathy is a true Becomer, (a la the George Eliot quote I shared Wednesday), newly-retired from teaching and eager to now write full-time.

Thanks to the readers who entered this Book Giveaway, sharing the folks they would have liked to meet when they were young.
Answers ranged from Kathy’s Shel Silverstein to Tom Edison and Mary Martin.
My choice? Hopalong Cassidy’s side-kick Lucky.
Really and truly.

Since it never hurts to hear something twice, and today happens to be Poetry Friday, I offer up a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem that shares Eliot’s sentiment.

Enjoy! And, Happy Becoming!

Esther Hershenhorn

“It is too late! Ah, nothing is too late—
Cato learned Greek at eighty; Sophocles
Wrote his grand “Oedipus,” and Simonides
Bore off the prize of verse from his compeers
When each had numbered more than fourscore years;
And Theophrastus, at fourscore and ten,
Had begun his “Characters of Men.”
Chaucer, at Woodstock, with his nightingales,
At sixty wrote the “Canterbury Tales.”
Goethe, at Weimar, toiling to the last,
Completed “Faust” when eighty years were past.
What then? Shall we sit idly down and say,
“The night has come; it is no longer day”?
For age is opportunity no less
Than youth itself, though in another dress.
And as the evening twilight fades away,
The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.
It is never too late to start doing what is right.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

It's never too late!

More years ago than I care to count, I mailed myself a lovely greeting card with the following message hand-printed on an antique press:

“It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”

The words belong to English novelist Mary Ann Evans whose pen name was George Eliot but I took them to be mine and shaped them into a mantra of sorts.

Of course I had to tweak Eliot’s words, changing the be to become.

I love that verb become and the infinite number of ever-changing nouns and adjectives it can take on in a lifetime.

It brings to mind the often-quoted words of Jean Karl who founded Athenem and first published authors Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, E.L. Koenigsburg and Judith Viorst.

“A children’s book respects…..a child’s capacity to become.”

Becoming is very much on my mind this morning because tonight begins my Summer Workshop “The Write Place,” a facilitated children’s book writers group, at Chicago’s Newberry Library.

Each of my twelve writers declares a project for the six-week workshop – revising a picture book manuscript, defining a book’s setting and world, developing a novel’s plotline, creating a synopsis, and has the opportunity to share his work and progress in a supportive environment.

Usually, I begin the workshop by reading aloud a children’s book certain to inspire, encourage, and like all children’s book, offer Hope.
Last year I read my students Holly Meade’s picture book If I Never Ever Endeavor.
Other years I’ve read Peter Reynolds’ The Dot, Ruth Krauss’ The Carrot Seed, William Steig’s Brave Irene.

This year, though, I realized it’s the 10th year I’ve offered this workshop!  Revisiting the rosters of the last nine years, my teacher’s heart quickened:  so many of my students had
realized their writer's dreams!

So tonight, I will share my Students’ Success Stories and how it clearly wasn’t too late for them to become – a writer, an author, a reviewer, a blogger, a teacher, an MFA candidate, an MFA-degree holder, a writing community leader, proud, committed, professional, connected.

One of those students is author Natalie Ziarnik, whose interview appeared last week and whose debut picture book Madeleine’s Light: The Story of Camille Claudel you can still win if you enter our BookGiveaway by midnight tonight.  The clock is tick-tick-ticking away!

Speaking of which, remember: it's never too late!

Esther Hershenhorn

Writing Workout

 I encourage my writing students to begin an Author’s File and then commit to paper their story’s story spark, their vision for the project when published, a working biography, attempts at answering the questions they’re certain to be asked once published – i.e. Why do you write for children?  What’s your favorite children’s book?  When did you begin writing?

But what about their vision for themselves?

Here’s the writing assignment I’ll be sharing tonight:  visit and write your future you an email!  Send along some words of inspiration, or as the website suggests, “a kick in the pants.”  The best part is: you can pick the day and year the email will be delivered to you in the future!  Just follow the website’s directions re choosing an email address.


Monday, June 4, 2012

Putting Away Childish Things

It's the last week of school in Frederick County.  Three more days until my baby is a kindergartner.  My daughter said yesterday, "This is how I transport myself back to my childhood" as she broke forth with the theme song to "Dora, the Explorer."  Then she laughed and said, "I know I'm sort of still in it.  But not really.  Because I'm growing up."  Oh, how she is.  And I have to confess, a part of me wishes we could remain in this golden moment of our (and their) lives forever.

From Madeleine L'Engle (courtesy of
“I am still every age that I have been. Because I was once a child, I am always a child. Because I was once a searching adolescent, given to moods and ecstasies, these are still part of me, and always will be... This does not mean that I ought to be trapped or enclosed in any of these ages...the delayed adolescent, the childish adult, but that they are in me to be drawn on; to forget is a form of suicide... Far too many people misunderstand what *putting away childish things* means, and think that forgetting what it is like to think and feel and touch and smell and taste and see and hear like a three-year-old or a thirteen-year-old or a twenty-three-year-old means being grownup. When I'm with these people I, like the kids, feel that if this is what it means to be a grown-up, then I don't ever want to be one. Instead of which, if I can retain a child's awareness and joy, and *be* fifty-one, then I will really learn what it means to be grownup.”  

Whew!  That makes me feel a little better.

My husband plays in a community band, and we drove an hour yesterday to a local band festival.  I was listening to the (very good) group before his and found my elementary school band director playing first trombone.  I approached him afterward -- I'm sure he had no idea who I was -- and told him that he'd been my teacher thirty years ago.  He shook my kids' hands and encouraged them to take up instrumental music.  Then I saw his skin was thin, mottled, he used a walker -- he must be at least 85.  But he was there, his face the same, his ability to play undiminished.  I told him that I played my flute into adulthood, and that I'd met my husband because we were both playing in the church choir.  He was a wonderful teacher, and I was so grateful for the chance to tell him what an impact he had on my life.  All these years later, I can remember the metal band chairs, Philip Garrant on clarinet to my right, Marty Martin on sax behind me, the sweltering room, the chalkboard where Mr. Taylor taught us about time signatures and offbeats.  I'm quite sure I can still play his arrangements of "Rudolph" and the theme to "Star Wars." 

Because I'm an army brat, I don't have an old family home or neighborhood to go back to.  All of the people from my early childhood who are not related to me have essentially vanished.  I cherish the memories, but I can't describe how much it meant to see him again. -- Jeanne Marie

P.S. Don't forget -- there's still time to enter our picture book giveaway! Don't miss your chance to win an autographed copy of Natalie Ziarnik's debut picture book, Madeline's Light (Boyd's Mills Press). See Esther's Student Success Story Interview with Natalie for details. 

Writing Workout  

Here's an exercise that will need to be adjusted for each age group, but my college students had great fun with it.  As we discussed audience and purpose, I asked each to write:

1. A text to a friend describing a night at a party.
2. The speech given to a parent later that night explaining why the student had missed curfew.
3. The email sent to me explaining why the student would not be in class the next day.

We shared around the table and had some good laughs.  Have fun!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Poetry Friday, a Giveaway, a Writing Exercise and a Quote From California's Poet Laureate--how lucky can you get?!?

Howdy, Campers!

Yes, it really is National Flip A Coin Day! says:

This tradition dates back to Julius Caesar...[who] would take a coin and flip it to make decisions...The correct answer was "heads", which of course carried his image on the coin...Use this method of decision making...for everything you do today.

Today is also my day to share an inspirational quote that inspires my writing.  But which one--which ONE?!?  Oh, that's right...toss a coin! 

Actually, no.  No coin.  Because there are a gazillion quotes I love--my Quotations file is overflowing!  So here are two I want to share with you today because I love you deeply.  (Also, because I just had coffee.  The two feelings are related.)

This quote is from an interview with Caldecott winning illustrator and author, Marla Frazee:

"I set All the World in a place I love – the central coast region of Southern California – and populated it with people and things that I love. I stopped worrying that I wasn’t representing every place, every person, every possible experience. And I hoped that through this personal expression of mine, others would find their own personal meanings as well. I do believe this to be the over-arching philosophy behind most of the books I’ve fallen in love with over the years. The more personal and heartfelt the story is for the author and/or illustrator of the book, the more universal the emotion that can be gleaned from it. We see this again and again. But it’s hard to remember. It is so easy to go to a place of, “Well, that’s just about me. No one will care about that.” But actually, if it comes from a true place and is spoken from the heart, people do care. A lot."

Take a deep breath.  What a relief...right?

This next quote helped me after I emerged from my office and told my husband that I love-love-love slaving over (this is...writing) my daily poem...but then, what's the point?  Who cares?

I'm a native Californian, and poet Juan Felipe Herrera  (whose lyrical Calling the Doves/El Canto de Las Palomas changed my writing life and inspired me to write my first novel in poems) is our new Poet Laureate.  His quote in a recent Los Angeles Times article, helps me keep writing a poem a day:

"Amazing things can happen when you are just going for the poem, when it’s just pure.  You may be living on saltines, but you are giving all your life to this, and great things can happen."

(p.s: I like saltines)


1) Write a poem about a coin toss.  Or write on a topic that's been niggling at you, asking for your full attention.

2) Think about what Marla said.  Make it yours--from a true place, from the heart.

2) Think about what Juan said.  Give your life to this and great things will happen.

*     *     *

And hark! There's still time to enter our picture book giveaway!  Don't miss your chance to win an autographed copy of Natalie Ziarnik's debut picture book, Madeline's Light (Boyd's Mills Press). See Esther's Student Success Story Interview with Natalie for details. 

Poetry Friday is at Carol's Corner today...thank you, Carol!