Monday, July 30, 2012

We Have a Winnah!!! Roller Coaster Kid Bookaway Winner Announced.

     Drum roll, please! (Or several actually, since I forgot to post this last week.)  A personally autographed copy of The Roller Coaster Kid goes to Jenny Schwartzberg. (Jenny email me personally with your contact information)

   Thank you all who entered and shared your own summer "ups and downs" on roller coasters, past and present.  If you didn't win this time, never fear.  There is always another book giveaway just around the corner.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

Adverbs Aweigh; or Cleaner Drafts

    If you've been reading my posts for awhile, you have probably noticed that I write a lot, as in my posts are long. I throw everything but the kitchen sink into my first drafts. Sometimes, three drafts
later, the kitchen sink is still there. I cut and cut and cut...and my blogs are still too long (in my opinion.)

    Let's face it;  I'm wordy.

    For a long time, I suffered from what I call The Nancy Drew Syndrome.  I read a ton of Nancy Drew mysteries as a kid, if for no other reason than they were sold just about everywhere.  One hundred and twenty-five volumes later, I had absorbed that style of writing.  Lots of adverbs, lots of substitutions for the word "said."  Nancy rarely just "said" something; she exclaimed, proclaimed, complained, and maintained.  If she "said" something, you could count on their being adverb after it.  These are also called Tom Swifties, since the Tom Swift books were another product of the Stratemeyer Syndicate.
You could always count on Nancy (or Tom) to "retort thoughtfully" or "exclaim merrily."

   On top of my predilection for adverbs, I was also a big fan of the adjective. As kids, our teachers urged us toward "colorful" writing. My thesaurus and I were best buddies.  Why use one word, when you could you use three or four? (Especially if the assignment had a required word count!)  As an adult I learned that "colorful" writing really did have a color. . .purple.  I was writing purple prose. Eggplant purple. You get the picture.


   I was reminded of my own faults when I was working with my Young Writer's Workshop students this summer.  These kids were smart and creative, but there was something oddly familiar and off about
their writing.

   Oh yeah, right. Wordy.  Purple.

   Like any writer, these kids fought to keep every one of their precious words.  They were good words, weren't they?  They were descriptive, weren't they?  Why should they take them out?

   I would have to go through "the back door" to sell them on revision.

   I think I made them believers in spare writing after the following exercise.
Writer's Workout
    Select one page of a story (preferably one without a lot of dialog). Rewrite it without any adjectives or adverbs. Read it out loud.  Does it still make sense?  Is there an adjective that is essential to the story?
Ask yourself, "If I had to pay a hundred dollars to use this word, would I still do it?" Sometimes, you
just have to spend that imaginary hundred dollars.

    Does the writing sound dull without your adverbs?  My guess is that you were leaning on those adverbs instead of using more descriptive verbs.  For instance, "I walked slowly" could become "I
trudged/dragged/crept/crawled/limped etc, depending on context.

   My students discovered that not only did their pared down versions sounded better, it also amped up the tension, and improved the pacing.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

Friday, July 27, 2012

A Writing Workout from our First Ever Mystery Guest TeachingAuthor!

We have a special treat here today on our TeachingAuthors blog: a Writing Workout from a Mystery Guest TeachingAuthor (MGTA). This is a new feature we're trying out, so I hope you'll let us know what you think.

[Note: I'm still waiting to hear from Mary Ann about our giveaway winner. Sorry for the delay--we'll be posting the lucky winner's name soon.]

Now, here's the plan for today: I'll share our MGTA's bio before giving you his/her Writing Workout. See if you can guess who our guest author is before I reveal the MGTA's identity at the end of the post. (No fair looking up the MGTA's books online to find out the author's name!) Then let us know if you guessed correctly, or if the MGTA is someone who's work is new to you. You can respond via a comment, or send us an email.

Our first MGTA is the author of numerous books for young readers. MGTA's most recent publications are two young-adult novels, Dark of the Moon (Harcourt) and King of Ithaka (Henry Holt), and the four books in the middle-grade series, The Sherlock Files (Henry Holt). Nonfiction includes The Ancient Greek World and The Ancient Chinese World (The World in Ancient Times, Oxford University Press). This author was the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ Regional Advisor for the Midsouth from 1999 to 2009 and  is now SCBWI’s Regional Advisor Coordinator. MGTA was awarded the SCBWI Work-in-Progress Grant in 2005 and a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1994. MGTA holds a B.A. with Honors in Classics from Brown University, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Medieval Italian Literature from the University of California at Berkeley. This author lives in Nashville, TN and recently retired from teaching at Vanderbilt University. 

Have you identified our guest yet? Perhaps this MGTA's description of his/her path to becoming a TeachingAuthor will help:
Hi, everybody! So glad to be here at TeachingAuthors.

I was a college professor for 28 years, but not of creative writing! I taught Italian, and my students had to write in both English and Italian, especially when I taught Grammar and Composition. My students told me that they learned a lot about writing in general, not just writing in Italian, from that class! Occasionally I also taught classes in children’s literature and in writing for young readers. A few years into my teaching career I started writing for young readers, starting with nonfiction. I added fiction and now happily write both.

I like reading and writing stories that explore a familiar story from a point of view (POV) that we don’t usually hear from. I’ve written
King of Ithaka, a version of the Odyssey as told by Odysseus’s son, Telemachus, and Dark of the Moon, the myth of the Minotaur as seen by the Minotaur’s sister, Ariadne. As for reading, I love Grendel by John Gardner, which shows us the story of Beowulf from the point of view of the monster that Beowulf killed.  Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal (Christopher Moore) is a wonderfully new angle on a tale familiar to most people in the Western world. Donna Jo Napoli’s fairy-tale retellings usually create a different setting as well as a different POV character (her Beast is the best allegory of adolescence that I can imagine). I could go on and on . . .

But I won’t.
Before I reveal this author's name, here's our MGTA's terrific Writing Workout.

Writing Workout
First, a warmup: Take a familiar story and rewrite it—or at least summarize it—from the POV of someone who is marginal to the tale. Maybe Peter Rabbit’s mother is so frazzled from being a single mother to a kid with ADHD that she overdoes the discipline. Maybe Farmer McGregor is barely getting by on his vegetables and if Peter Rabbit eats them, his children will starve.

Now do the same with your own story, either a finished one, or one you’re thinking of writing (or a work in progress). If the minor characters seem uninteresting or undeveloped (the villain is there only because you need a villain; the best friend is there because your character needs a best friend), figure out who they really are. Nobody is a sidekick or a villain in her own life!

You’ll probably wind up with more interesting characters, and maybe even another story!

* * *

Thanks so much to our MGTA for this Writing Workout. If you give it a try, please let us know how it goes, either via a comment below or email.

Now, finally, it's time for the big reveal. Today's Mystery Guest TeachingAuthor is (drum roll please):

 Tracy Barrett!

As Tracy mentioned in her bio above, she recently retired from teaching at Vanderbilt University. She's been blogging about her transition out of full-time employment at Goodbye, Day Job! You can also read more about her at her website.

I was pleased to meet Tracy when she did a signing to promote her latest novel, Dark of the Moon (Harcourt) at Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville this past spring. Doesn't the book have a terrific cover? School Library Journal calls the novel "deft, dark, and enthralling." Here's a more detailed description from the flap copy:
Ariadne is destined to become a goddess of the moon. She leads a lonely life, filled with hours of rigorous training by stern priestesses. Her former friends no longer dare to look at her, much less speak to her. All that she has left are her mother and her beloved, misshapen brother Asterion, who must be held captive below the palace for his own safety. So when a ship arrives one spring day, bearing a tribute of slaves from Athens, Ariadne sneaks out to meet it. These newcomers don’t know the ways of Krete; perhaps they won’t be afraid of a girl who will someday be a powerful goddess. And indeed she meets Theseus, the son of the king of Athens. Ariadne finds herself drawn to the newcomer, and soon they form a friendship—one that could perhaps become something more. Yet Theseus is doomed to die as an offering to the Minotaur, that monster beneath the palace—unless he can kill the beast first. And that "monster" is Ariadne’s brother . . .
I'll be reconnecting with Tracy in September, when she'll be one of the speakers at this year's SCBWI Midsouth Fall Conference. Perhaps I'll meet some of our blog readers there, too?

Thank you, Tracy, for being our first Mystery Guest TeachingAuthor. Thanks, also, for sharing such a terrific Writing Workout with us.

Readers, how did you do? Were you able to guess the identity of our MGTA? Let us know via a comment, or send us an email. We'd also love to hear what you think of this new feature.

Happy Writing!
Carmela Martino

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Something I Learned this Summer

We often blog here at TeachingAuthors about the value of "Reading as a Writer." (If you've missed those posts, you'll find them here.) Well, this summer, while reading a historical novel set in 18th-century Europe--the same setting as my current work-in-progress (WIP)--I noticed a writing technique worth imitating. My desire to share that technique here inspired our current TeachingAuthors blog topic: "Something I Learned (or re-learned) this Summer."

The novel I read was for adults, but the technique would work in any kind of novel--from beginning chapter books on up--that includes a scene where a character is eavesdropping. Note: I didn't know the historical novel I read would also include sexually explicit scenes. For that reason, I'm not going to mention the title here, in case any young writers are reading this post. :-) Instead, I'll refer to the novel by its initals: TAGD. If you really want to know the title, you can contact me via Facebook.

Untitled photo by uhhhlaine (cc) *see note
 The eavesdropping scene in TAGD caught my attention for three reasons:
  1. It's the novel's opening scene;
  2. The scene really hooked me and made me want to read on;
  3. I'd been considering revising my young adult WIP to open with an eavesdropping scene.
I should mention that I already had an eavesdropping scene in my WIP. I was trying to decide whether to move that scene to the opening of the novel.

So what hooked me about the opening of TAGD? The use of details to flesh out not only the environment surrounding the main character, but also to help readers visualize the people she was listening in on. It's a simple technique that reaps great rewards.

Let me show you what I mean. Here's an excerpt from my WIP's eavesdropping scene BEFORE I revised it to add details. Note, the narrator is 13-year-old Emilia, and Maria is her older sister:    
     One day in early December, I overheard Mamma arguing with Father—something she never did. With the Sardinian occupation over, Father was planning to resume his academic meetings. He’d also decided to hire another tutor for Maria, to teach her philosophy and mathematics. As usual, Mamma did not approve.
     “What need does Maria have for another tutor?” Mamma said. “She already spends too much time with books. Haven’t you noticed her pallor? She did not recover from the throat illness the way her sisters did. Maria needs fresh air and physical activity, not more studies.”
     “Very well, then,” Father said, “We will increase the frequency of her dance lessons. And I will instruct her to keep a window open in her study. Come spring, I’ll have her tutors move her lessons to the garden.”
     “They will simply stuff her head with more book learning,” Mama said. “What of her real education, the one she would have received at a convent school? Maria should be learning practical skills, such as sewing and embroidery, and how to manage a home—skills that would make her a useful wife and mother.”
     “There will be time enough for that,” Father said. “She is still young.”
     “Young?” Mamma’s voice was shrill now. “Perhaps her modest demeanor has led you to forget that your eldest daughter is now 14! It is time to think of her future. Of her betrothal, and Emilia’s, too.”
     I started at the mention of my name. While I fully expected to marry one day, it had always seemed something in the distant future. 
After reading the opening of TAGD, I reread this scene and realized I hadn't provided any context for readers. There's no mention of where Emilia or her parents are when she overhears their argument. In fact, the scene is almost entirely dialogue. See if you can spot the changes in this revision:
    I was on my way to the harpsichord salon when I heard angry voices coming from Mamma’s sitting room. Drawing near, I realized Mamma was arguing with Father—something she rarely did. And something she should not be doing now, for she was heavy with child.
     There were already seven children in our family, and my youngest brother's birth had been a difficult one. Mamma had been bedridden for months afterward. She’d barely regained her strength when she was with child again. This time, she complained constantly of fatigue. And she grew more short-tempered with each passing day.
     Standing outside Mamma’s sitting room, I heard the irritation in her voice. “What need does Maria have for another tutor? She already spends too much time with books. Haven’t you noticed her pallor? She did not recover from the throat illness the way her sisters did. Maria needs fresh air and physical activity, not more studies.” I pictured Mamma seated in the high-backed armchair near the window, her tired legs atop the footstool cushion she herself had embroidered. No doubt her normally calm blue-gray eyes—eyes I had inherited—now flashed steely gray.
     “Very well, then,” Father said, “We will increase the frequency of her dance lessons. And I will order her to keep a window open in her study at all times.” His voice was calmer than Mamma’s. I leaned in closer and felt heat at the top of my head. The candle burning in the sconce beside the door was closer than I’d realized. Jerking my head away, I heard Father say, “Come spring, I’ll have her tutors move her lessons to the garden.”
     “They will simply stuff her head with more book learning,” Mamma said. “What of her real education, the one she would have received at a convent school? Maria should be cultivating practical skills, such as sewing and embroidery, and how to manage a home—skills that would make her a useful wife and mother.”
     “There will be time enough for that,” Father said. “She is young.”
     “Young?” Mamma’s voice was shrill. “Perhaps her modest demeanor has led you to forget that your eldest daughter is now 14! It is time to think of her future. Of her betrothal, and Emilia’s, too.”
  I started at the mention of my name. While I fully expected to marry one day, it had always seemed something in the distant future. 
In the revision, readers can now picture where the argument is taking place and where Emilia is standing as she eavesdrops. They also learn why Mamma is uncharacteristically irritable, and they can even visualize her through the eyes of Emilia's imagination:
I pictured Mamma seated in the high-backed armchair near the window, her tired legs atop the footstool cushion she herself had embroidered. No doubt her normally calm blue-gray eyes—eyes I had inherited—now flashed steely gray. 
These details not only help readers better "see" Mamma, they add clues about her personality, and Emilia's, too. The end result--I hope!--is that readers are more engaged in the story so that they'll be more likely to keep reading. I'd love to know if you agree. Do you think the revisions make the story stronger?

By the way, the above argument goes on for a few more paragraphs. At its conclusion, Emilia learns something that has profound implications and leads to an important decision on her part. Because of that, I decided not to open the novel with her eavesdropping. I felt readers needed to understand more about Emilia's character, and her position in the family, to understand the motives behind her decision.

Now it's your turn. Try the Writing Workout below to see how details can enhance a scene. And don't forget: You need to enter by 11 pm (CST) TODAY for a chance to win an autographed copy of Mary Ann Rodman's wonderful new picture book, The Roller Coaster Kid (Viking). See her post for details.

Oh, and I almost forgot: We've got an extra-special blog post lined up for Friday: A Writing Workout from a SURPRISE guest TeachingAuthor!  Be sure to stop by!

Writing Workout:
An Eavesdropping Scene

For this Writing Workout, you'll need a scene in which a character is eavesdropping on someone else's conversation. If you don't already have such a scene in a current WIP, you can create one using the above photo as a prompt. Start out with just the dialogue that the character overhears. Then go back and add sensory details that show exactly where your character is in relation to the people he or she is overhearing, and have your character imagine what the people are doing as they speak. Can you find a way to incorporate details that also provide clues about the characters' personalities?

Happy Writing!
Carmela Martino
* Note: If you use photos online, whether on a blog, Facebook, Pinterest, etc, I suggest you read "Bloggers Beware: You CAN Get Sued for Using Pics on Your Blog" by author Roni Loren . The eavesdropping photo above was posted by uhhhlaine on Flickr. The designation (cc) is to indicate that its Creative Commons license allows sharing. Our Writing Workout logo is clipart.

Monday, July 23, 2012

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

First, I must disclaim -- it's not over yet!  Here in Maryland, we have almost exactly one month left to go.  And here in the Ford household, we are squeezing the most out of every minute.
As I've said before, for many writers summer means a disruption of sacred writing routines.  I have no writing routines (at least not outside of my day job).  For me, summer means glorious time to relax, to write, to live!

Last summer I took a wonderful online novel writing workshop at McDaniel College (offered through their Writing for Children and Young Adults certificate program).  This summer I enrolled in a picture book course there.   My instructor this semester is editor Kristin Daly Rens, and we're using excellent texts by Ann Whitford Paul and Uri Shulevitz (for the writer/illustrator's perspective).

I have to admit that, regrettably, I did not pay much attention to picture books when I studied at Vermont College.  While I have the utmost respect for picture book writers (the most difficult form, in my humble opinion), I had never had a great interest in books for very young children.  I am not a visual thinker; I never had picture books read to me when I was a kid; and, most crucial, I never spent much time around very young kids if I could help it. 

Fast forward ten years.  I have two little ones and have read at least 1,000 pictures books since my daughter was born.  While I still don't anticipate that a picture book writer persona will spring suddenly from my soul, I realized that the novel writer in me could really benefit from learning more about the form.  A picture book is, after all, a novel in miniature.  All of the character and plotting issues that I struggle with in novel-writing have been laid bare in these last few weeks, deconstructed and reconstructed.  And it has been awesome!

One of our assignments this week was to discuss the contents of our "Writer's Toolboxes."  Here's an excerpt from my post:

I think that one of the most challenging aspects of creating a rootable character is finding a way to make him/her likeable and flawed at the same time. And while the importance of keeping the main character active is obvious, the execution of this maxim is often difficult.

Because one of the most important things a writer can do is read, I really appreciate the reading lists that Paul included in her book.

I also love the way that Shulevitz walks us through the process of creating a story board/dummying (is that a verb)? Since I vaguely knew what I needed to do but had never had it explained to me in such detail, this will be a reference I go to again and again.

The 'show/don't tell' advice has been pounded into my brain forever, and I pound it into my students' brains in turn. However, it's figuring out where a little telling is okay (and necessary) that's the big challenge.

Other items in my writer's tool box: grammar/mechanics; commitment; passion!

I discovered that it's good to reflect on this question from time to time.  What's in your Writer's Toolbox? --Jeanne Marie


Don't forget to enter our latest Teaching Authors Book Giveaway Contest, celebrating Mary Ann Rodman's new release, The Roller Coaster Kid (Viking).  Details can be found here.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Heart of the Story: The Roller Coaster Kid, Pt 3

     The time has come to tell you about that last ingredient of  The Roller Coaster Kid (Viking).  The element that binds it all together.


     No, no one in the book dies in an amusement park. I live near a Major Theme Park, which has had it's share of Unfortunate Incidents. When my local friends ask me what my new picture book is about, I have learned not to answer "Death and roller coasters," because one of those Unfortunate Incidents did involve a death on one of the "super" coasters.

   The heart of The Roller Coaster Kid, is learning to face fear, whether it is of riding a roller coaster, or the death of a loved one.  Publisher's Weekly put it much better than I can.

"When the time is right, you'll face your fear," Zach's grandmother tells him as they ride the Ferris wheel, after he refuses to ride the Whipper roller coaster with Grandpa. (This) moving story of grief and intergenerational ties, then skips ahead a year; "Everything's different.  Grandma's gone. Forever." . . . Rodman gives the story just the right measure of emotion...while underlining the importance of mourning and communication. 

     There really is a Roller Coaster Kid.  He is my next-door-neighbor's eighty-five-year old father. Mr. Baldwin is a good storyteller, and I always enjoy talking to him when he visits his son. (Some of the
incidents in Jimmy's Stars came from his own WWII experiences.) We bonded when I discovered that he grew up ten miles from my mother, at about the same time.

     We were deep into swapping Pittsburgh memories when he said, "Say, have you ever heard of West View Park?"  (See Monday's post for West View Park.) The story that Grandpa tells in the opening pages of The Roller Coaster Kid is Mr. Baldwin's own story. The only difference is that his experience with West View Park's Dips occurred when he was a teenager; in the book, Zach's Grandpa is much younger.

    Death.  What about death?  I'm getting to that.

    It was around this time that death cut a swath through my parent's generation.  Mr. Baldwin's wife.  Both of my in-laws.  My mother. People were comforting at the funerals, rarely at a loss for words.  But in the days to follow, I noticed that people seemed ill at ease with those left behind.  I particularly noticed that no one wanted to talk about the person who died.

    As a high school librarian I attended far too many student funerals. Their classmates wanted to talk about the friend who was gone forever. Students would gather in the library to share memories, personal, poignant, even silly.  The more they talked, the better able they seemed to deal with their loss.

                                     (Pawpaw Rodman, me, Mom, Meemaw, Dad)

   I lost two grandparents (one from each side of the family) within six months, the year I was nine.  I was told over and over that talking about Maga and Pawpaw would make my parents, or my surviving grandmother sad. I was an adult before I felt comfortable talking to my parents about their parents. As a nine-year-old, I was lucky to have literally dozens of cousins, more or less my age, with whom I could share my memories, and they could do the same.  As the cousins talked, we not only eased our own pain, but learned new things about our grandparents from each other.

                                                     (Maga and me)

     I don't claim to be any kind of psychologist or grief counselor. Like everything else I write, I write from my own experience. Zach's desire to cheer up Grandpa came from my own third grade desire to cheer up my parents. Zach's story ends the way I wish my own had.

     Roller coasters.  Fear. Death. Communication.  Those are ingredients that simmered in that mental crock pot for several years before I realized there was A Story In There.

     No discussion of The Roller Coaster Kid should not end without giving illustrator Roger Roth's work a tremendous shout out.  When I envisioned the setting for this book, I saw West View Park, plopped down on the site of Myrtle Beach's Pavilion.  Roger Roth took the sea motif and ran with it in ways I could never imagine (which is why he is an illustrator and I am not!)  Not only did he capture the atmosphere of an old-timey amusement park (think of the original Coney Island parks), he made Zach and Grandpa mirror images...fifty years apart.  Each time I look at the book I see some detail I missed before. I wish I could visit Oceanside Park and ride the Whipper . . . if only it existed.

     Don't forget to enter our Book Giveaway for an autographed copy of The Roller Coaster Kid. (See Monday's post for entry rules. Please remember: if you are entering via a comment, you must comment on that blog post. Or you may enter via email, as explained Monday.)  The deadline is 11pm (CST), Wednesday, July 25.

     Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

P.S.  Mr. Baldwin is still the Roller Coaster Kid. He enjoys traveling, and somehow, wherever he goes, he manages to find a new roller coaster to ride.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Primal Scream at the Amusement Park; The Writing of The Roller Coaster Kid; Pt 2

     Today is Part Two of "How I wrote The Roller Coaster Kid" our Teaching Author book giveaway.

      Both Riverview and West View Parks were demolished and replaced by shopping centers and such. (Sigh). I eventually got to Disneyland, which, in my twelve-year-old eyes, wasn't nearly as exciting as West View.

     After that, my encounters with park rides were reduced to the ones set up every fall at the Mississippi State Fair.  By then (high school) it was more about who was at the Fair with whom than riding the Wild Mouse or, my favorite, the Double Ferris Wheel. The Fair never felt like a park. 

      I grew up (sort of).  I got a degree, a job, and a husband.  Amusement parks faded from both my life and the country.  Mom-and-Pop parks were replaced by bigger and gaudier "theme" parks...the theme determined by whatever corporation owned the facility. These places became family vacation destinations.  If there was any place my husband and I (in our childless state) did not want to spend our precious vacation time, it was a place where you paid an obscene amount of money to hang upside down at 60 miles an hour on a "roller coaster" or squish around in wet shoes, after sitting in the front of a log flume ride.  Besides, my husband has a thing about heights.

     My husband and his friends grew up in the Carolinas and had always vacationed along the Grand Strand.  So married, and childless, we joined our unmarried (and childless friends) at the beach.  On one of those group beach holidays, someone suggested a trip to the Myrtle Beach Pavilion. I soon discovered that "The Pavilion"was a cross between West View Park and the Mississippi State Fair,
set a block away from the ocean. There were my old friends: the Bumper Cars, the Tilt-a-Whirl, and a roller coaster that looked very much like the late, lamented Dips.  Best of all, the Pavilion was an affordable cheap outrageous admission fee, reasonably priced rides.

    Even though I was much closer to 40 than I wanted to admit, I joined our friends on every ride.  My acrophobic husband obligingly held our hats, purses, and sunglasses as the rest of us paid to be flung and flipped around.  My inner eight-year-old was having a Big Time.

    I was having such a great time that I didn't think twice about climbing on something called The Swings.  Sounds pretty tame, hunh?  It looked tame...from the ground. I settled myself into a metal chair, suspended by chains, not unlike a playground "baby swing."  The ride operator came by and hooked a chain across the front of my seat and away we went.

     Up, up, up the swings rose.  OK, guys, I thought, as the Atlantic Ocean spread into panoramic view, that's high enough.  The swings jerked to a stop. Good. What had seemed like a harmless little ride on the ground felt downright unsubstantial and...well...scary, however many hundred feet we were above the ground. (You can see from the picture that it wasn't that high up.) Suddenly, the swings spun around like a demented merry-go-round, shooting out to the side at a ninety degree angle. For the first
time in my life, I felt utter terror.  I was going to die.  I knew it.  One of those chains would come undone and I would go flying out to sea.

    I screamed.  I am not a screamer, so I had thirty plus years of screams to unload. I screamed from some place deep inside me, as if something had broken lose.  I closed my eyes, pretended I wasn't suspended on playground chains flying sideways....and screamed.  Never before and never since have I felt so terrified.  Once The Swings of Death (as I had mentally re-named them) returned to earth, I slid out of my seat, and tottered over to my husband on jello-like legs.

    "Have fun?" he asked as I reclaimed my belongings.  Not exactly.  More as if I had gone through some sort of rebirthing scream therapy.  As if I had conquered a fear I didn't know I had.  Weird.

    The Pavilion was torn down in 2006 and turned into a parking lot for a giant Ferris Wheel.  I never had another chance to experience that moment of total terror on The Swings again.  Maybe once in a lifetime is enough.

     So what happened to The Roller Coaster Kid?  Well, that fear and catharsis forms the core of the book.  I'll talk about the third and final "ingredient" of the story in Friday's post.

     Don't forget to enter our Book Giveaway for an autographed copy of The Roller Coaster Kid (Viking).  For contest details see Monday's post.  The deadline is 11pm (CST) Wednesday, July 25 with the winner to be announced Thursday, July 26.  I am looking forward to more entries and amusement park memories.
Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

Monday, July 16, 2012

Ride with The Roller Coaster Kid, a TA Blogger Book Giveaway

   Welcome back from "summer break," dear readers. Your reward for checking in with Teaching Authors...another fabulous book giveaway.  In this case, the book happens to be my latest picture book,
The Roller Coaster Kid (Viking). Instructions for entering the Giveaway will be at the end of this post.

     Those of you who have been reading this blog awhile have probably encountered my philosophy of "crock pot
writing." (Crock pot not crack pot.)  I think of my creative mind as a slow cooker, simmering with various ingredients, on low heat. Every now and then I lift the lid, give the brew a taste test, to see if "it's soup yet?" (Those of us of a "certain age" will remember that line from the Lipton Cup of Soup commercials.)  Mostly, the answer is no. The lid goes back on until next time.

     The Roller Coaster Kid's "ingredients"come from such diverse sources, I didn't realize I was even writing a book, until the final "ingredient" presented itself in one of those rare Eureka! moments.

    I have mentioned my storytelling family before, particularly my mother's side.  I especially enjoyed the stories that involved their local amusement park, West View Park, in the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh. (West View Park appears in Jimmy's Stars.)  Most of the male members of Mom's family, her grandfather and brothers, worked at
West View during the Depression. That good looking fella to the left is my Uncle Andy, working the Milk Bottle Pitch kiosk.

     West View was one of the first amusement parks, built in 1906.
Since it was literally around-the-corner-and-down-the-hill from my Grandmother Smith's house, it was the only amusement park I knew as a child. Of course I had heard about Disneyland (this was waaaay before Disney World or any of the modern "theme parks") but that was in California, for crying out loud. I lived in Chicago and my relatives all lived in Pittsburgh. Only rich kids or Californians went to Disneyland. I didn't know anyone who had been to California let alone, Disneyland.

   Growing up in Chicago, I did see TV ads for Riverview Park, which was roughly the same vintage as West View. Every summer I begged my parents to make the trek from the Southern Suburbs to the North Side of Chicago, but somehow I never got to Riverview. As my mother reminded me, "Why would you want to go to Riverview?  It's just like West View, and you can go to West View with your cousins."
   Mom had a point. A trip to West View was always a big occasion, including at least a half of my dozen plus cousins living around Pittsburgh.  A big occasion, which in true 1950's fashion, involved wearing Sunday School clothes, crinolines, patent leather mary janes and all.  How those clothes survived the Bumper Cars, Tilt-a-Whirl and the Round-Up, I don't remember.

      I do remember that most fearsome of all the rides, West View's gigantic wooden roller coaster, The Dips.  Being tall enough to ride The Dips was a real milestone. And if you could ride The Dips without throwing up....well, you were practically a teenager. I think I rode it once or twice before the park was torn down in 1977.

     I suppose you could say that my memories of West View Park were the basic "stock" of the soup that became The Roller Coaster Kid...a book I didn't realize I was writing.

To Enter Our Roller Coaster Kid Book Giveaway: 
1. You must comment to today's post, telling us why you would like to win The Roller Coaster Kid.  Will you be keeping it for yourself or sharing it with another young reader? Addition from Carmela: or you may enter by sending an email to us at teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com with "Book Giveaway" in the subject line.
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 send us a valid email address in your comment.  Entries without contact information will be disqualified.  Note:  The TeachingAuthors cannot prevent spammers from accessing e-mail addresses posted within the comments, so feel free to disguise your address by spelling out portions such as "dot" and "at."
3.  You must send us your post by 11 pm (CST), Wednesday, July 25. Winner will be chosen at random via and announced on Thursday, July 26.  Note:  Winners automatically grant us permission to post their names here on the 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 chose.

Those are the official rules. If you feel like sharing an amusement park memory, that would be great, but certainly not required. I've already told you mine in today's post. I can't wait to hear your memories.

     More on The Roller Coaster Kid Wednesday.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

Friday, July 13, 2012

Summer Books in Three Words: a 2:06 minute Video!

Howdy, Campers and happy summer!

I thought you might be interested in a fun video to inspire summer
reading some of my California author friends and I cooked up.  We're
all members of The Children's Authors Network (CAN!)

Take a gander:

C'est tout!

Love and peace and justice for all,

April Halprin Wayland