Friday, September 28, 2012

Book Giveaway! The Author's Name Rhymes with Halloween: FORGET ME NOT by Carolee Dean

Howdy, Campers! Happy Poetry Friday! Info about how to enter today's Book Giveaway is far, far below.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by the Paper Tigers--thank you!

Years ago, I attended an informal farewell lunch after speaking at a writers' conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  I was tired and wasn't feeling well and very nearly skipped that lunch.  Luckily, I didn't. That's where I met the dynamic and sparkling Carolee Dean.

I have since had the great pleasure of being on a panel Carolee put together for this year's International Reading Association Convention in Chicago.  (That's where I learned how generous, well-organized and cool-under-pressure she is.)

Carolee keeps a gazillion plates spinning in the air at once.  She not only works in public schools as a speech-language pathologist, she also teaches writing, helps sponsor middle school and high school poetry slam teams, and is the author of three young adult novels all including original poetry.  They are: COMFORT (Houghton Mifflin), TAKE ME THERE (Simon Pulse), and the JUST ABOUT TO BE PUBLISHED paranormal verse novel FORGET ME NOT (Simon Pulse, Oct. 2, 2012)--which you, yes you can WIN in our Book Giveaway--woo-woo (details below)!

So let's meet Carolee in person.  Hey, Carolee--how did you officially become a TeachingAuthor?

I've spent over a decade working in the public schools as a speech-language pathologist with students of all ages and a variety of challenges. The most difficult thing for most of them is writing, and understandably, many of them hate doing it. I'm always trying out activities to inspire my reluctant writers. Sometimes the activities work. Sometimes they don't. When they do work I like to share them with other educators because I know how difficult it can be to continuously come up with inspiring lessons.

Among some of my better ideas is a twelve step story analysis method I call The Secret Language of Stories. I've given presentations on it at several state, national, and international conferences including the International Reading Association 2012 in Chicago where I co-presented on an all day panel with you and TeachingAuthor
Esther Hershenhorn. I have a description of the twelve steps
on a tab at my blog.

What's a common problem your students have and how do you address it? 

It's easy to get stuck staring at a big white page or a blank computer screen. I can't tell you how many times I hear the words, "I don't know what to write."  I reply, "writing isn't about knowing. There is no magic right or wrong answer as there is in other subjects.

Writing is about choosing, about considering the infinite possibilities and picking one." To this the student inevitably replies, "I still don't know what to write." Then I usually give the stumped pupil a whole list of suggestions which he or she usually doesn't like because that blank computer screen is still just so darn intimidating.

One strategy that has worked extremely well for me is to create a PowerPoint with directions on each slide for what part of the story to write on that particular slide. I also include suggestions about what kind of accompanying images to select. I usually let kids choose the images first since the pictures often inspire their writing. This has worked extremely well with even the most struggling writers. Kids love power point and they love Google Images.

I have some high school students who read and write at first and second grade levels and they have come up with some of the most amazing stories.

(Directions for Carolee's PowerPoint story along with a downloadable PowerPoint can be found under the Teacher Resources section of her blog).

Would you share a favorite writing exercise with our readers?

I like to get kids talking about stories before they write them. There is a strong connection between oral language and written language and it often helps to verbalize ideas before putting them down on paper.

One of my favorite activities is to cut out unusual pictures from magazines. Advertisements often contain images that may be interpreted in a variety of ways. I play music and then ask students to walk around the room. When the music stops I tell them to sit down in front of a picture and describe to the class what they think is going on.

We do this several times and I've found that the random nature of the activity takes off the pressure to think of something good. After they've all come up with two or three ideas, we sit down to write. I often use the structure of poetry for this stage of writing because the focus is on ideas rather than grammar.

I LOVE that idea, Carolee. I can see using it in my classes for adults writers, too. Okay, so tell us...what's on the horizon for you?

I'm in the process of writing up The Secret Language of Stories as a teacher sourcebook and I just wrote an article for Cynsations exploring the history of verse novels going all the way back to Homer and the Iliad and the Odyssey.

In the immediate future, FORGET ME NOT, my paranormal verse novel, is coming out October 2! It's about a girl who has been cyber bullied and hides out from her tormentors in a deserted part of the school only to find herself stuck in a hallway full of ghosts.
(Read the great Kirkus review of FORGET ME NOT here and another terrific review of her book here.)

Sounds wonderfully SPOOKY, Carolee--and just in time for Halloween! 

And finally, since it's Poetry Friday in the Kidlitosphere, would you share a poem from your new book with our readers?

Absolutely.  Here is an excerpt from FORGET ME NOT:


That's what Ms. Lane,
my writing teacher,
would say.
Spill it out onto
the page.
Sometimes it's
the only way

for thoughts heavy
as bricks
to become feathers
and fly away.

I could go
to her class.
Get my head

I'd sit next to

I wonder if
he's heard.

Even if he has,
I know

wouldn't say
a word.

poem © 2012 Carolee Dean. All rights reserved

Wonderful!  Thank you SO much for stopping by to talk with us, Carolee!

Here's the exquisite book trailer for FORGET ME NOT:

Campers!  Join Carolee's Ghost Tour which starts Oct. 3, and check out the original jewelry made especially for Carolee's book launch!

Carolee has generously offered to autograph a copy of  her about-to-be-published book for our BOOK GIVEAWAY.  Yay!  To enter, just follow these rules:

You must follow our TeachingAuthors blog to enter for a chance to win an autographed copy of Forget Me Not by Carolee Dean.  If you're not already a follower, you can sign up now in the sidebar to subscribe to our posts via email, Google Friend Connect, or Facebook Network blogs.

There are two ways to enter:
1) by a comment posted below
2) by sending an email to teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com with "Book Giveaway" in the subject line.

Just for the fun of it, tell us a true ghost story of your own in 50 words or less. This is optional!

Whichever way you enter, you MUST give us your name AND tell us how you follow us. If you enter via a comment, you MUST include a valid email address (formatted this way: youremail [at] gmail [dot] com) in your comment. Contest open only to residents of the United States. Incomplete entries will be discarded.
Entry deadline is 11 p.m. Thursday, October 11, 2012 (Central Standard Time). The winner will be chosen in a random drawing and announced on October 12th. [Note from Carmela--the original deadline was a week off. These are the corrected dates.]

Good luck, Campers!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

My Typical Writer's Day

We had LOTS of great entries in our latest giveaway contest--see the end of this post to find out who our winner is. 

As Jill shared last Friday, for our current TeachingAuthors topic we're talking a bit about our daily lives/routines as writers. Before I discuss my routine, I have a confession to make: I don't want to be writing this blog post right now.

It's not that I mind the topic, or that I dislike blogging, because I enjoy these posts and the opportunity to connect with you, our blog readers. It's just that I've been working hard, keeping "butt in chair" for the past few weeks, trying to finish the revision of my young-adult historical, and I'm almost done--"almost," as in, to start this blog post, I had to stop at page 274 of a 280-page manuscript! I really wanted to keep plugging away without interruption until I reached the end AND worked through Chapter 1 again so I could send it off to my Beta readers.

Ironically (given today's topic), I would easily have made it through those last pages if regular life hadn't intervened with a minor household crisis this afternoon. But that's a topic for another day.

However, since I'm being brutally honest here, I should also note that these last few weeks have really been more "fun" than "work." That's because I FINALLY got through the revision of Chapter 12--the pivotal chapter where the two formerly antagonistic main characters realize they're falling in love! Once I had that chapter working to my satisfaction, I was on a roll: tweaking scenes, pulling threads, deepening sensory details, adding imagery, polishing language, etc. The stuff I love to do!

If you've been following this blog for awhile, you know it's taken me a LONG time to get to this point with this current work-in-progress. In fact, I've been ready to give up on this novel countless times. Back in June 2011, I blogged about how having a "writing buddy" turned out to be the key to my getting a finished draft. But that draft still needed a lot of work--work I hope to have finished by the end of this week. Hooray!

[By the way--my blog post about having a "writing buddy" led me to write a freelance article on the topic for the 2013 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market (Writer's Digest Books), edited by Chuck Sambuchino. The book was just released on September 21, and is also available in ebook form.]

So, what IS my typical day like? I blogged about my "ideal" day back in June, 2009, and that ideal hasn't changed much, though I rarely live up to it.

I find I'm most productive if I get up around 6-6:30 in the morning and get to work as soon after breakfast as possible, without checking email or Facebook. Since I have a hard time resisting email, I set a timer and don't allow myself to look at it until after I've put in 2-4 hours of work, depending on what else I have going on that day. After email and lunch, I work another 2-4 hours, though I take an exercise break in the middle of the afternoon on most days. (If you haven't read about the recent studies citing the dangers of prolonged sitting, you may want to read this Forbes article: Why Sitting at Work Can be so Deadly.]

I should clarify that "work" varies depending on my teaching schedule and my work goals for the week. I'm not currently teaching any classes, so the "work" time these days may include:
  • writing/revising my current historical YA novel-in-progress (that's almost done!)
  • researching/planning where to submit a novel I recently finished co-writing with another author
  • writing a blog post, like this one, or planning future blogging topics
  • pitching/querying new freelance writing projects
  • writing/researching freelance writing projects
  • updating my website with information about upcoming classes, publications, etc.
Weeks when I am teaching, my "work" time includes lesson planning, publicizing classes, and reviewing student work.

Depending on how much time I spend on email and social media, my typical work day is usually 5-8 hours long, Monday through Friday, plus 4 hours or more on Saturday. (I often teach on Saturdays.) If I'm on deadline, or on a "roll" as I have been the last few weeks, I may put in some extra time after dinner. But I can't do that for an extended period. I agree with what Jill said on Friday, that we need to have time away from our work to gather the material that will enrich our writing.

I know many of you have full-time jobs that make it pretty much impossible to spend 2-4 hours per day writing. The good news is, many writers who have much less time to devote to their writing are still able to have successful careers. Esther recently mentioned a new blog by Carol Coven Grannick called Today I Am a Writer. In one of her first posts, Carol talks about how productive she's been by following the simple tenet of devoting the First, Best Hour to her work. As Carol has discovered, knowing we have a limited amount of time can sometimes help us stay focused. I'm a believer in Parkinson's law--work often does expand to fill the time allotted for its completion.

But even if an hour is more than you can muster, you may be surprised at what you can accomplish by writing simply fifteen minutes a day. Every August, award-winning author Laurie Halse Anderson hosts the "Write Fifteen Minutes a Day Challenge" on her blog. Here's an excerpt from what she posted on the last day of the challenge::
Life happens whether you are writing or not. You don’t have to wait for the right time, or that Muse-blessed idea or a fellowship to a writing colony or a winning lottery ticket or anything. You just have to give yourself permission to take seriously your writing dream.
So I hope you'll give yourself permission to take your writing dream seriously. Why not start today, by setting aside some regular writing time?. Even if you missed Anderson's Fifteeen Minutes a Day Challenge last month, there's nothing stopping you from using her posts to work through your own month of writing fifteen minutes a day. Day one begins here.  

And now, time to announce the winner of Lisa Cron's Wired for Story: The Writer's Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence (Ten Speed Pess). Our winner is:

Mary Jo Campbell

Congratulations, Mary Jo! (Please respond to my email so we can get the book in the mail right away.)

If you didn't win, never fear--we have more giveaways coming SOON!

And now, I'm going back to my novel.
Happy writing!

Friday, September 21, 2012

My Writing Life

This post is in response to reader Tara, who wanted to know more about the writing life.

Before I was a writer, here's how I pictured the job:  A wild-haired writer sits at a desk, typing madly, interrupted every now and again with a call from her agent, who wants to know how her book is coming along or report sales figures or discuss her upcoming book tour. Sometimes she removes her glasses and taps them against her teeth while gazing thoughtfully at the ceiling. She stands to stretch and yawn, looks out the window, maybe goes for a fresh cup of coffee or a contemplative walk before settling in for another few hours.

Confession:  I still think this is what life is like for blockbuster authors. Alas, I am not one of them (knock wood and never say never).

My writing life, by contrast, is very sporadic. I might write three to five hours one day, then not at all for two or three days. Or more. For years I felt guilty about that non-schedule. After all, a Real Writer would follow Steven King's advice (in his On Writing), which was basically:  1) have a writing space with a door you can close, 2) set daily writing goals, 3) don't come out until you've met them. I do have novelist friends who pretty much stick to this model.

But I've made peace with my own jackrabbit writing style because of two things:

1) I wholeheartedly believe that every bit of our lives away form writing – every book we read, every person we speak with, every place we visit, every hobby we enjoy – soaks into our beings and feeds our writing in ways big and small. Maybe some of us have wells that go dry faster than others? *shrug* So what might I be doing when I'm not writing? Lately, there's quilting, a hobby I'm just getting back into after years away. My latest project, a wall hanging:

I might be running errands. Seeing a relative. Dining out with friends. Reading. Traveling. Baking. Taking a class (right now:  Basic Drawing - loving it!). Participating in a church function. Watching a video or catching up on Facebook. Writing for this blog. Enjoying a writing retreat. Sitting in a board meeting. Answering e-mail. Visiting a school. Teaching a workshop. Walking the dog.

2) I am primarily a picture book writer. Writing picture books is very much a process, and parts of that process work best if you take mental breaks. Every story needs a cooling off period, followed by a lot of revision. A lot. So the fact that I'm not in my office 24/7 doesn't mean my mind isn't still grappling with whatever story problem has me stumped. Some (most!) of my best ideas and aha moments come to me when I'm away from my computer.

All that said, I have had a totally different routine lately, thanks to a couple of short-deadlined projects. Here's the first, due out in mid-November from National Geographic:

I'm working on a companion book now, which means I'm researching or writing or exchanging e-mails with editors pretty much all day, every day. Truthfully I've felt more like a Real Writer, working on these books, than I have for a long time. I'm loving that.

Does that mean I'll be changing my usual writing style when I go back to working on my own projects?  Um...probably not. At least not for picture book writing.

But I do have a novel in my head, so when I tackle that after the holidays, I'll be following Steven King's advice for as long as it takes to pound out that first draft:

1) Close the door.
2) Set a daily goal.
3) Write my brains out to meet it.

Look into my office. I'll be the one tapping my glasses against my teeth, gazing thoughtfully at the ceiling.

Jill Esbaum

Reminder:  If you haven't yet entered to win a copy of Lisa Cron's Wired for Story, there's still time! Missed Esther's two-thumbs-up review? Just scroll down of follow this link to Esther's post.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


I’m a TeachingAuthor, right?
So, the Teacher and the Writer in me can combine their high opinions and enthusiastically award Lisa Cron’s WIRED FOR STORY (Ten Speed Press, July, 2012) two Thumbs Up!

Both parts of me were actively, indeed compulsively engaged while I read this book, subtitled “The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence.”

I’m happy to say: the book proved providential. I’d just begun what I hoped would be a final revision of a middle grade novel.  Thanks to the beginning chapters, I instantly saw I still had Back Story to discover.

Maybe that fact explains why my copy of WIRED FOR STORY is now inked and yellow-marker-ed from cover to cover, the “Aha!’s” circled and starred, the turn-me-around explanations of and insights into key story elements underlined at least twice.  Page corners are bent, both top and bottom. 

Just to make sure I truly got these Story Truths - Truths now showcased in a whole new neuroscientific light, Truths I know cold and fervently teach, I first copied them into my Writer’s Notebook, next into my ongoing novel revision, then finally into the body of emails I sent several of my writers and students presently immersed in their storytelling and revisions.

As a teacher, I relentlessly remind my children’s book writers to think about their readers. 
Where are they cognitively, emotionally, chronologically?
What questions are they asking at the end of the chapter?
What keeps them caring and turning the pages?
But now, thanks to Lisa Cron and WIRED FOR STORY, I’ll exhort them to keep in mind their reader’s brain!
It’s wired, it turns out, to grasp the architecture of story; it’s wired to expect its necessary building blocks.

“Fire,” the author reveals, “is crucial to writing; it’s the very first ingredient of every story.  Passion is what drives us to write……but there is an implicit framework that must underlie a story in order for that passion, that fire, to ignite the reader’s brain.”

Lisa Cron is an instructor at the UCLA Extension Writer’s Program.  She’s worked in publishing, as an agent, as a TV producer, as a story consultant for film. 
In other words, she’s a TeachingAuthor too.
And it shows.

The book illuminates “the intricate mesh of interconnected elements that hold a story together," while zeroing in on how the brain works.
Its twelve-chapter organization is pure Show, Don’t Tell, from “How to Hook the Reader” to “What Does Your Protagonist Really Want?” to “Courting Conflict, the Agent of Change” to “Cause and Effect” to “The Road from Setup to Payoff” to “The Writer’s Brain on Story.”

Each chapter begins with a Cognitive Secret and a Story Secret.  For instance, when digging up our protagonist’s inner issue, cognitively we see the world not as it is, but as we believe it to be.  Story-wise, Cron tells us, we must know precisely when, and why, our protagonist’s worldview was knocked out of alignment.
Each chapter ends with a summarizing Checklist usable at any writing stage.
Cron parcels out the techniques and tips in delicious bites that build logically, using familiar examples from literature, movies and television for further concrete explanation.  Within each informational segment, she distinguishes between the Myth and the Reality.
Her tone is warm, friendly, personal, because she too is a writer who knows the challenges of story-telling.
Each chapter’s opening quote, many unknown to me, begs to be copied and shared.

Lisa now contributes to WriterUnboxed, a blog about the craft and business of fiction.
Visit her website to learn more about her and WIRED FOR STORY.

And, Good News:  YOU can enter to win an autographed copy of WIRED FOR STORY.  Be sure to see the details below.

So, thank you twice, Lisa Cron.

The Writer in me now embraces her current revision more confidently, knowing the story parts my reader’s brain expects in order to live and breathe and care (!) inside my novel.

The Teacher in me now has a new gift to bear.

Esther Hershenhorn


You must follow our TeachingAuthors blog to enter for a chance to win an autographed copy of Wired for Story by Lisa Cron.  If you're not already a follower, you can sign up now in the sidebar to subscribe to our posts via email, Google Friend Connect, or Facebook Network blogs.

There are two ways to enter:
  • by a comment posted below OR
  • by sending an email to teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com with "Book Giveaway" in the subject line.
Just for the fun of it, see if your cortex is working.  Along with your name, share the name of a part of your brain!
Whichever way you enter, you MUST give us your name AND tell us how you follow us. If you enter via a comment, you MUST include a valid email address (formatted like: teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com) in your comment. Contest open only to residents of the United States. Incomplete entries will be discarded.
Entry deadline is 11 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012 (Central Standard Time). The winner will be chosen in a random drawing and announced on Sept. 26.

Good luck!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Jump Starts and New Beginnings

Last week, Mary Ann, Carmela, and April responded to an Ask the TeachingAuthors question submitted by Joanna Cooke about the pros and cons of getting an MFA.

Here's my story...

The summer after I graduated from college, I moved to Los Angeles to be an unpaid intern on my favorite TV show, Days of Our Lives.  That summer, I remember watching the Democratic National Convention and the Olympics, eating scads of S'Mores with my awesome roommate, Gretchen, meeting tons of soap stars (both nice and not-so-nice), and attending my first national SCBWI conference in Marina del Rey.  On the last day of my internship, when I'd already shipped my belongings home and signed up for a medical transcription course at the local community college, I was hired to be a lowly writers' assistant.

For four years, I made coffee, fetched lunches, made thousands (millions?) of copies, talked to brain surgeons, answered questions from fans and actors and writers alike.  I also negotiated a four-day, ten hour/day work week so that I'd have a full day each week to actually write.  I was hired to ghost write a Nancy Drew mystery and had the opportunity to work with the fabulous Olga Litowinsky.  I sold a children's biography.  And I slowly began to realize that I was never going to get a shot at writing for the show.

Ultimately, I decided that I'd given my soap writing dream a good go.  I didn't have to live in Los Angeles to write children's books.  It was time to go home.

In Maryland, I took a variety of part-time jobs.  I wrote some articles and two more Nancy Drew novels.  But the hard truth was, I was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of a top-tier college; yet I was in my late twenties, living with my parents, and working as a secretary (a job for which I was overqualified on paper but utterly underqualified in practice).  While I was a published writer, I did not feel comfortable calling myself "a writer" -- or much else, for that matter. 

Then one day I saw an ad in the monthly SCBWI bulletin for the low-residency MFA program at Vermont College.  The program was in its infancy then.  I'd never heard of it.  But when I saw the list of faculty, I knew that I must apply.  I was desperate for a jump start, direction, affirmation, anything!

Now, I fully realize what children's book writers typically earn in terms of salary.  I was quite clear that it was unlikely that I'd ever recoup the money spent on my graduate education. I told myself it would be a spiritual investment.

I could not have imagined how truly magical my experience would be.  During my second residency, I received an email (there was no cell phone reception, and only one pay phone on the whole floor) stating that Days desperately needed a writers' assistant, and would I come back ASAP?  I said only if I'd have a shot at writing, and they said fine.  I found an apartment, flew home from Vermont, packed my things, and a week later I was back at work in L.A.

The day that Marion Dane Bauer called to tell me that my novel had won the Houghton Mifflin Award was the same day that I learned I would get a scriptwriting contract on Days.

The year that Houghton Mifflin accepted my novel for publication was the year my now-husband and I started dating, and the year it was published, we got engaged.

To say that Vermont College changed my life would be like saying having kids changed my life.  I truly was a different person when I graduated.

Not to say that it was all perfect and wonderful.  Juggling the program with a full-time job was often exhausting.  I had one difficult semester where I did not really "click" with my advisor.  I had to take a semester off because my job did not allow four weeks of vacation in the same year.  I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer during my last semester -- had surgery, radiation, moved back to Maryland, and yes, still graduated! 

Some unexpected benefits: When my daughter comes home from school gushing over a book by Phyllis Root or Carolyn Crimi or Susan Fletcher, I get to say, 'I know her!'  And nearly a decade later, I am still in touch almost daily with my classmates. 

I also remember the MFA being touted as a "terminal degree" that would allow one to teach at the college level.  Being a total introvert, I didn't think I would ever pursue this course, but ta-da, here I am.  And now, yes, I can definitely say I've earned back my monetary investment.

Nowadays, there are other MFA programs as well as options for great instruction -- McDaniel College's online certificate program (highly recommended), UCLA Extension, and courses, for example.  But to this day, I crave the monthly deadline pressure and the immediate feedback of a large, knowledgeable, supportive writing community.

For anyone looking for a fresh start, a jump start, or a new beginning, the MFA could be for you.

L'Shana Tova -- Happy New Year! -- Jeanne Marie

Friday, September 14, 2012

MFA--Should I or Shouldn't I? Poetry Friday!

Howdy, Campers!

Happy Poetry Friday!  Today's poem is about making a decision and so is your poetry writing prompt, below.

So we've been discussing going for an MFA.  Mary Ann posted that it was the best two years of her life. Carmela posted that one of the biggest pros was that it definitely made her a better writer and forced her to make writing a priority.

So...should I go for an MFA or shouldn't I?

It's complicated.

When I was seriously looking into applying to one of the low-residency MFA programs, our only child was a sophomore in college.

I was worried, mostly because I'm a sloooow reader and didn't know if I could keep up with the evil and overwhelming reading assignments I'd heard about.  And worried because I finally had the quiet time I'd craved for years.   Was I crazy?  Was I rushing to fill up the space before I'd even wallowed in it for a bit? 

Was I was just raising my hand, signing up, because I had no other plan?  Did I need to sit in the hallway surrounded by closed doors a little longer and wait to see which one opened on its own?

I decided to go for it.  (Well, 89% of me did.)  Now it was just a matter of deciding where I would apply.  I asked lots of MFA grads.  I got lots of advice.

Meanwhile, it was a gentle, blossoming time in our lives.  My son, who had been nearly absent from the family, hanging out with a girlfriend since he was 14,  was suddenly single and actually calling and texting us. 

We were making up for lost time.  It was delicious.  It was thirst-quenching.  My mother roots were taking in all the rain they could soak up for as long as it lasted.

Even when my husband could not come with me because of work demands, I would use our frequent flyer miles to fly up to Berkeley now and then, if only to sit in on one of my son's cognitive science classes, share a pizza with him and his friends at the Cheeseboard Collective, and fly home.

I knew that if I added an MFA program, this extra layer, to my life, it would be, well, an extra layer.  How would I balance my aging mother who lives alone, my aging uncle in a senior residence who needs my attention more and more, my writing career, my political activism, and, oh yes, family and marriage?

My stomach hurt thinking about it.

Here's what turned me around.  My friend Julie.  She knows me.  This is what she said:

Oh, April.  Don't do it now.  Not now when you finally have such a warm connection with your boy.  You'll have time later, Dear.  Do it when he's in medical school, when he's in residency, when he's married.  Do it then.  Enjoy him now.

Hmmm.  MFA.  Family.   MFA.  Family.

For some, it's not this simple.  It's not either-or.  But for me, it suddenly it was that simple.

Two years later, I have my golden boy, my best friend husband, my teaching gig, several new manuscripts and no regrets.

Okay, look—it's not all tied up in a bow.  I've had lots of rejections. I have self-doubt.  but I have the morning glories in my garden and space to breathe.

Writing Workout: Decisions, Decisions.

There are thirty inspiring ideas about how to make a decision on this blog post.  Choose one as a jumping off point for your poem.

(Of course, you'll have to decide which of the thirty to use, won't you?)

I chose this one:
Imagine having made the decision. If you get a feeling of relief, that’s the way to go, even if it’s coupled with sadness. -Emma Gilding

by April Halprin Wayland

Pull off the sheets
slip pillows out
pile in machine
then shut the door
hear it click shut
pour in the soap
hit button hard
watch the sheets whirl

sheets swirl in soap
just like my thoughts
round they go round

now they are warm
now they are dry
now they are clean

spread them out wide
pull them on tight
now I lie down
how do I feel?
Fresh. Clean. Relieved.
poem © 2012 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved

Thank you, Diane, for hosting Poetry Friday
at Random Noodling today!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Ask the TeachingAuthors: Pros/Cons of MFA Programs

A big THANK YOU to all the readers who entered our latest giveaway contest--see the end of this post to find out who our winner is. And stay tuned for more fun giveaways in the coming weeks.

As Mary Ann posted on Monday, this week we're answering an Ask the TeachingAuthors question submitted by Joanna Cooke. Before I share my comments on the topic, I want to remind readers that if you have a question you'd like us to address, either about writing for children/young adults or about the teaching of writing, you can use the link in our sidebar to submit your own Ask the TeachingAuthors question. Please keep in mind, though, that our posting schedule is usually set several months in advance, so we may not be able to address your question right away.

Now, back to our current question: Joanna asked us to share some of the pros/cons of getting an MFA. Mary Ann has already discussed one of the biggest advantages: your growth as a writer. I'd been freelance writing for years before entering the Vermont College MFA program. Like Mary Ann, I'd also attended conferences and taken workshops related specifically to both fiction writing and writing for children and teens. (Unlike Mary Ann, I was already active in the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, and had served as publicity chairperson for the Illinois chapter for a number of years. That's how I met Esther Hershenhorn!) Yet I didn't understand just how much I had to learn until I started at Vermont College. I'd enrolled with the intention of polishing a young adult novel I'd already written. After getting my first adviser's feedback on the manuscript, I realized that I wasn't skilled enough as a writer to tackle the major revisions the novel needed. I chose to work on several other projects instead, and eventually wrote a draft of the middle-grade novel that was later published by Candlewick Press, Rosa, Sola

So, for me, the number one "pro" of going through the MFA program was learning to be a better writer. When I look back on those two years, I'm still amazed at how much my fiction writing improved in that time, and also at how I learned to read so much more critically. However, another important advantage for me was a HUGE increase in my writing productivity. I wrote more in those two years than in any similar period before or since. In addition to starting and finishing a draft of my novel, I wrote several polished short stories and about five picture book manuscripts--all on top of the program-required critical essays and thesis writing, and teaching part-time. The monthly deadlines, and knowing my adviser was waiting to read and critique what I'd produced, really helped me stay on task.

One of the biggest "cons" of going to graduate school, at least for me, was the cost. It is a significant investment, and not an easy one for me to make. Interestingly, that turned out to also be a "pro" for me--I was determined to get the most for my money! As a result, the expense made it easier for me to say "no" to distractions and other demands on my time, thus raising the priority of fiction writing in my life. That, too, contributed to my productivity.

I could say plenty more about considerations when deciding on pursuing an MFA, but I'll leave that for April and Jeanne Marie who will also be blogging on the topic. Meanwhile, I want to remind readers that we have links to information about MFA programs in our sidebar, under the heading "Graduate Programs in Writing for Children and Young Adults." As Mary Ann mentioned, when we started at Vermont College, it was the only school that offered a graduate program devoted to writing for children and young adults. That's no longer the case. If you know of any programs we missed in the sidebar, please let us know and I'll add links to them as well.

And now, time to announce the winner of an autographed copy of And the Crowd Goes Wild! A Global Gathering of Sports Poems, edited by Heidi Roemer and Carol-Ann Hoyte. Our winner is:

Karen Casale

Congratulations, Karen! (Please respond to the email I sent you so we can get the book in the mail right away.)

If you didn't win, I hope you'll consider buying a copy of  And the Crowd Goes Wild! A Global Gathering of Sports Poems. As I mentioned in my interview post, a portion of the proceeds from both the paperback and e-book editions will be donated to Right to Play, an international organization that uses sports and games to educate and empower children facing adversity. The book is now available for purchase directly from the publisher, FriesenPress. If you're a librarian or bookseller, you can also order the book through Ingram. For more ordering information, see the official And the Crowd Goes Wild! A Global Gathering of Sports Poems website

And stay tuned for more fun book giveaways here in the coming weeks!

Happy writing!

Monday, September 10, 2012

MFA Programs: The Golden Ticket?

   It's Ask a Teaching Author time again.  This week's question is from Joanna Moore who wants to know our thoughts on MFA writing programs.

    I have an MFA in Writing for Children from Vermont College. Bottom line, my time in the Vermont MFA program was the best two years of my life.  At that point, I had been writing for thirty-something years, but I knew something was missing from my work. How did I know that? I knew because my rejection letters all said the same thing..."you write really well but..."  But what?  Nobody would tell me.  My MFA program did.

   I had been searching for that missing "something" a long time.  I went to every writer's conference I could find (although for some reason, the Society of Children's Book Writer's and Illustrators--SCBWI---never showed up on my radar.)  I read "how-to" books, lots of them.  I still stumbled around in the wilderness, looking for answers.  Through a series of incredible events, I found myself at Vermont College in the first MFA program dedicated exclusively to children's writing.

    Did I find my answers?  Yes.  Is an MFA like Willie Wonka's Golden Ticket?  No.  Having an MFA does not guarantee you a book contract, an agent (I still don't have one) or a Newbery medal.
What you are guaranteed is this;  if you keep an open mind and take advantage of every learning opportunity, you will be a better writer and teacher.

   I can only speak about my experience as a graduate of the Vermont College Summer Class of 2000.  I don't know if the Vermont program has changed, or anything at all about other programs. Taking that into consideration, the one-on-one intensive mentoring at VC was invaluable to me. As a low residency program, nearly all of my work was done through monthly mail packets. (At the time, e-mail was not as widespread as it is now, and most of my faculty mentors did not even have email accounts.)

     I turned in a set number of pages of "new work"-- a goal agreed on between my mentors and I during the on-campus sessions -- and a certain number of pages of revised work.  The packets were returned with copious notes and suggestions for revision.  I have worked with any number of editors over the years, and while my editors are all geniuses (really!), none of them has given me the attention and focus of my Vermont mentors.  There is a good reason for this.  As a student, I shared my mentor with no more than four or five other students.  An editor has any number of ongoing projects, even though you always hope that yours is the most important. My four Vermont mentors--all successful and renowned  children's authors--spoiled me with their extremely thorough critiques.

    MFA programs are not for everyone.  I am blessed that there was a time in my life when I had the time, money and energy necessary.  I went into the program with a specific goal; I had the idea for Yankee Girl, but not the slightest idea of how to write it.  I wanted to do justice to my idea, whether it was ever published or not. I knew almost nothing about plot, setting and characterization. Two years and four mentors later, I knew a lot more.

   I'm still learning.

   Don't forget that the deadline for entering the giveaway for the poetry anthology is 11 pm CST, Tuesday (as in tomorrow!)

    Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

Friday, September 7, 2012

Three More Random Acts of Publicity

Hi Everyone,
As Esther mentioned on Wednesday, this week we're participating in Random Acts of Publicity 2012. Unlike Esther, who introduced you to some new books, I want to remind you about three books published earlier this year that we've already mentioned here but that you may not have gotten around to reading yet. 

Back in May, I celebrated the release of my good friend Karen Schreck's new book, While He Was Away (Sourcebooks Fire), with a guest TeachingAuthor interview. I have to confess--I'd read Karen's manuscript quite some time ago, but I didn't have a chance to read the final book until just last week. While I loved the original story, I think the revisions brought more depth to both the characters and the plot. Even though I knew how the story would turn out, it still brought tears to my eyes. Well done, Karen!

If you missed my interview with Karen, here's her summary of the book's plot:
While He Was Away (Sourcebooks Fire), is about an eighteen-year old girl, Penna Weaver, whose boyfriend, David O’Dell, is deployed to Iraq. Penna and David are deeply in love, and commit to be true to each other while he’s away, but Penna quickly realizes that the realities of David’s situation will make this more challenging than either of them expected.  Lonely and isolated, it seems Penna’s world is falling apart, until she works to solve a family mystery, hidden for half a century, about love in wartime, and ultimately learns some powerful truths about love and forgiveness.
Karen recently posted on her blog that the book has already gone into a second printing. I encourage you to read Karen's book if you haven't already so you can understand why.  
Another book I'd like to recommend that I've just recently read myself is the latest release of my fellow TeachingAuthor, Mary Ann Rodman. Her picture book, The Roller Coaster Kid (Viking) came out in July and received some lovely reviews. No surprise if you've read the book, which does a wonderful job of weaving together several different themes. As Mary Ann said in her three-part series celebrating the book's release :
The heart of The Roller Coaster Kid is learning to face fear, whether it is of riding a roller coaster, or of the death of a loved one.
If you know any young readers who have lost a grandparent, you may want to consider sharing Mary Ann's book with them. 

And finally, just last week I posted a guest TeachingAuthor Interview with poet, author, teacher, and now editor, Heidi Bee Roemer to celebrate the release of the anthology she co-edited with Carol-Ann Hoyte: And the Crowd Goes Wild! A Global Gathering of Sports Poems (FriesenPress). I'm proud to have one of my poems included in this terrific anthology, and to know that a portion of the proceeds will be donated to Right to Play, an international organization that uses sports and games to educate and empower children facing adversity. We're currently running a giveaway where one lucky TeachingAuthors follower can win an autographed copy. See my interview post to enter. Or, if you can't wait, the book is now available for purchase as either an e-book or paperback directly from FriesenPress. And if you have time, I hope you'll visit us at one of the upcoming launch events:

Wednesday, September 26 at 6:30 – 7:30 p.m.
Mokena Library
11327 W. 195th Street
Mokena, Illinois 60448

Tuesday, October 16 at 7 p.m.
Anderson’s Bookshop
123 W. Jefferson Ave.
Naperville, IL  60540

Saturday, November 3 at 1 p.m. 
The Arlington Heights Library
500 N Dunton Ave.
Arlington Heights, IL

Saturday, November 17 at 1 p.m. 
The Magic Tree Book Store
141 N. Oak Park Ave.
Oak Park IL, 60301

Saturday, October 13 at 2 p.m.
Sunnyside Branch -- Ottawa Public Library
1049 Bank Street, Ottawa

Friday, November 9 at 5:30 p.m
Northern District Branch -- Toronto Public Library
40 Orchard View Blvd., Toronto
(just north of Yonge and Eglinton)

Finally, if you'd like to celebrate any 2012 books that may not have received as much attention as they deserved, please share their titles in the comments. And after you're done entering our giveaway, head on over to Write. Sketch. Repeat. to celebrate Poetry Friday!

Happy reading AND writing!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Kind Cup o' Publicity!

Were I to write a name poem for my first name Esther, at least one of my E’s would stand for Enthuse.
That’s what I do, often and gladly.
And I especially enjoy enthusing on behalf of others.

So, thank you, Darcy Pattison, for declaring this first week of September Random Acts of Publicity Week, giving me the chance to do some mighty loud praise-singing of several of my fellow Children’s Book World residents.
Once again I can pay Kindness forward, something I also enjoy doing, and introduce our readers to:

Almigal, a spunky little girl with a BIG personality who’s determined to hear “every   single sound in the whole entire universe!”  Almigal’s spirit and her cotton-candy pink cochlear implants will have everyone shouting “LET’S HEAR IT FOR ALMIGAL!”  That happens to be, of course, the title of Almigal’s picture book, written by debut author WendyKupfer and illustrated by Tammie Lyon (Handfinger Press, 2012). Talk about paying Kindness forward!  Five percent of book sales supports deaf children.

Gordy, a courageous little fellow who, with his Doctor’s help, initiates a restrictive diet so that he can be like other children – happy and healthy. Gordy’s triumphant story claims the pages of the picture book Gordy and the Magic Diet, written by first-time authors Kim Diersen and April Runge and deliciously illustrated by Carrie Hartman (Special Kids Enterprises, LP, 2012).  A portion of the proceeds will benefit non-profit organizations that help children navigate restrictive diets!

A spanking-new updated and expanded website - - that celebrates and honors the legacy of award-winning beloved author Syd Hoff  - think Danny and the Dinosaur - that went live yesterday, September 4, on the occasion of his 100th Birthday. Created by his niece Carol Edmonston, the site includes a rich selection of Syd’s cartoons, a Kids page featuring the “how to’s” of cartooning using letters and numbers and a downloadable chapter, just for starters.  

The September 9 launch of author Carol Coven Grannick’s new blog – Today I Am AWriter.  Many of our readers know Carol from her previous inspiring blog, The Irrepressible Writer.  Carol shared that in her newest venture, she plans “to explore the issue of what it means to be a writer without focusing so intensely on ultimate publication in a public way because perhaps I need the feeling of being witnessed.”  Also because she believes she is not alone!  If this issue resonates with you, visit Carol’s blog, posted six days a week, excluding Saturday.

a free cup o’coffee on National Coffee Day, September 29, between the hours of 7 am and 11 am, courtesy of 7-Eleven!

Hurrah! Hurray! Bravo! Mazel tov! – and - merci beaucoup, 7-Eleven!

And, believe it or not…
YOU can continue paying Kindness forward by kindly promoting someone you know.
Children’s Book Publicist Susan Raab of Raab Associates has kindly offered TEN (!) FREE (!) Marketing Consults for the Random Acts of Publicity Week.
The catch?
You can only enter a friend’s name! 
Check out Darcy Pattison’s September 6 post for full details.  You have only 24 hours to enter.  Entries begin at 12:01 am.

Let’s hear it for Kindness!
Esther Hershenhorn


Speaking of Giveaways, don’t forget our TeachingAuthor Book Giveway of Heidi Bee Roemer’s and Carol-Ann Hoyte’s poetry anthology And the Crowd Goes Wild! A Global Gathering of Sports Poems.  Entry deadline is 11 pm Tuesday, September 11, 2012 (CST).  The winner will be chosen in a random drawing and announced on September 12.