Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Newbery-Honor-winning Author Kathi Appelt's Wednesday Writing Workout

Today we have an extra-special Wednesday Writing Workout, provided by the terrific teacher and amazing author, Kathi Appelt!

In case you're not familiar with Kathi's work, she is the author of the Newbery-honor winner and National Book Award Finalist The Underneath, as well as the highly acclaimed novel Keeper, and many wonderful picture books. She is a member of the faculty at Vermont College’s Master of Fine Arts program and occasionally teaches creative writing at Texas A&M University. Kathi has two grown children and lives in Texas with her husband.

We invited Kathi to be our guest today to celebrate last week's release of her new middle-grade novel, The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp. (What a gorgeous cover!) The book has already garnered starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, PublishersWeekly, and School Library Journal. That's right--FOUR starred reviews! Several reviewers have referred to this novel, set in a Texas swamp and filled with a great cast of characters (including humans and critters), as a "rollicking tale." Here's a brief description:
Twelve-year-old Chap Brayburn, ancient Sugar Man, and his raccoon-brother Swamp Scouts Bingo and J'miah try to save Bayou Tourterelle from feral pigs Clydine and Buzzie, greedy Sunny Boy Beaucoup, and world-class alligator wrestler and would-be land developer Jaeger Stitch. 
I can't wait to read it!
If you'd like to know more about Kathi and her work, check out her website. And be sure to read through to the end of this post, where I ask Kathi about the connections between today's Writing Workout and The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp.

Kathi Appelt's Wednesday Writing Workout:
                          Whirled P’s

I’m often asked where I get my ideas, and one day while doodling at my desk, it occurred to me that most of my stories start with something I’ve found in the letter P, particularly People, Places and Pets.  Those three are the most Popular when it comes to digging into my idea file.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the letter P, which looks rather like a half-eaten Popsicle on the Page, is chock full of idea generators. 

Here are a few besides the three I mentioned above:


Well, the list goes on and on, but you get my drift.  As an exercise, then, choose one of the “Big Three” (People, Places, Pets), and then write a story using at least one of the other P’s on the list. 

Example:  People and Present might lead to a story about the time my step-mother gave my sister a pair of boots that had the stars and stripes on them.  They were uglier than ugly and my sister was heartbroken.  But she also didn’t want to hurt my step-mother’s feelings, so she wore them anyways.  It was a true predicament.

Another example:  Place and Props might lead to a poem about my kitchen window and the hummingbird feeder that I keep in the tree just outside it.

Final example:  Pets and Puddle could be the perfect setting for a story about a kitten who tries to leap a big puddle OR a puppy who leaves a puddle on the kitchen floor. 

There aren’t any hard and fast rules here.

So, take those P’s and stir them up, whirl them (as my friend Liz Garton Scanlon suggests).  And see what happens.  I’ll bet something Phantastic shows up.  

Thanks so much for sharing this wonderful Writing Workout with us today, Kathi. And congratulations on all the Phantastic reviews of The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp.

Readers, as a follow-up, I asked Kathi if any parts of The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp were inspired by this exercise. Here's what she said:
Definitely place comes to mind.  When I was in college, I lived in deep, swampy East Texas where I encountered all sorts of wildlife, including the poisonous sort.  And of course PIES!  Pies are central to the story.  Then there are the pricker vines, the pine trees, and the paisanos.  
So, lots of P's.
Well, Readers, I hope you're inspired to whirl a few P's of your own. If so, please let us know what you Produce.

Happy Writing!


Beverley Baird said...

What a fun exercise! Can't wait to read your new book as well Kathi

Suzanne Warr said...

A perfect parade of ideas, all purpled and positive to make my brain popcorn!

Jill said...

LOVE this, Kathi. Fun to try with writing workshop kids, too. Oh, the Possibilities!

April Halprin Wayland said...

My students will love this exercise--and I will, too, when we're looking for inspiration.

Congratulations on all the stars-I can't wait to read your book and figure out who all those characters are!

Esther Hershenhorn said...

I offer plenty of thanks, Kathi, for your Whirling P's WWW.
I'm sharing this with my writers, PRONTO, and printing it out for me!
Your Fan Esther

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks for stopping by, Beverley and Suzanne. And Suzanne, I love the idea of "brain popcorn." :-)

Kenda Turner said...

What a *playful* formula for generating ideas, thank you! And interestingly, I checked "The True Blue Scouts" out at the library just this week before coming across this post--can't wait to get started on reading it :-)