Friday, August 29, 2014

Scribble-Dee-Dee is Right for Me!

I can't resist answering April's question about paper and pen vs. computer using her "Scribble-Dee-Dee." I'm so used to (and comfortable with) paper and pen that I almost never begin anything new on the computer. For me, most ideas form not in my head but in spiral notebooks with purple pens. In my usual approach, more polished, closer-to-final drafts belong on the computer.

I mentioned my habit of carrying a pocket notebook and pen in a post from four summers ago. Here's a little more on the subject.

I was surprised to see how many Teaching Authors go straight to the keyboard to record their thoughts. How about you?

Pat K. won the autographed copy of Sandy Brehl's middle grade novel Odin's Promise.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at Check It Out: Life and Books in a K5 Library School Setting. Enjoy!

JoAnn Early Macken

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

WWW: Finding Your Voice

Today’s Wednesday Writing Workout comes to us courtesy of my fellow Newberry Library writing instructor, Chicago author and memoirist Carol LaChapelle.

When it comes to teaching Memoir Writing, Carol is “it”!

Carol believes each life contains the makings of a memoir.

In FINDING YOUR VOICE, she shares writing tools, tricks of the trade, exercises and prompts to help any writer access and explore memories and turn them into stories. 

Carol also includes contributions from real students who have been using her methods to show readers how productive the writing exercises can be.

You can read Carol’s most recent essays in Next Avenue  and in America Magazine.

Carol invites TeachingAuthors readers to visit her blog  ForBoomersandBeyonders - Dispatches From the(New) Middle Ages and/or to “friend” her on Facebook.

You can email her directly for information about her online writing workshops at 

Thank you, Carol, for sharing one of your 167 ways for our TeachingAuthors readers to find their voice and tell their stories.

Enjoy! Enjoy!

Esther Hershenhorn

Finding Your Voice

In addition to writing and teaching workshops, I also consult with private clients on their various writing projects.  Recently, one of them, a woman in her late 70s who is writing a series of family stories, sent me a remembrance of her beloved grandmother to read and critique. 

In the piece, Joan writes about her many experiences with her grandmother from when she was a young girl.  As I read it, I realized that I didn’t really understand what was so special about “Gram,” though I knew Joan felt there were many things, else why commit this woman to paper?

And so after marking up the draft—mostly with questions—I summed up my comments at the end, including suggestions for the next revision, then sent it back to Joan along with this note.        

 I definitely like this idea for a family story; it’s important for future generations to know the people who went before them.

 I hope my notes, especially on the last page, will help in your revision. The major thing when starting to revise is to list for yourself those 2-4 most important characteristics/personality traits of your grandmother, as you experienced them.

 You don’t necessarily have to then list these traits in the actual revision, but you want the story—the specific experiences/details/scenes—to illustrate those. In other words, here’s the evidence that supports why you believe Gram is someone worth writing about.

I also referred Joan to my book, particularly Chapter Two, “Four Really Helpful Writing Techniques.”  The fourth technique, the Character Sketch, describes how I came to write one particular memory of a high school teacher, including the process by which that memory emerged on the blank page.  

I felt this might be helpful to Joan as she attempted to more specifically capture what was essential about her grandmother.

Following is that technique, which I have copied directly from my book’s initial manuscript.  I hope it will serve as a good reminder for all of us—new and practicing writers alike—when we come to write about the very special people in our own lives.

 4.  Character Sketch:  When you use the character sketch technique, you do more than simply describe someone physically.  That’s important of course as s/he will come more alive on the page the better that you—and your intended reader—can see what that person looks like, sounds like, moves like.

But a character sketch becomes more interesting when you add the person’s relevant personality traits and significant biographical information.

 For instance, if I were to do a character sketch of one of my favorite high school teachers, I’d include her height (short), athletic skill (she was our phys ed teacher), and coloring (her small, olive-dark face).  I’d also mention how young she was, and how demanding she was of us.  I’d describe how she looked while bouncing down the school halls (even when not wearing tennis shoes), gesticulating wildly alongside her friend and colleague, a much taller, paler, and mellower teacher.  Oh, and I guess I would mention that she was a nun who dressed in the black and white habit of her religious community—both in the gym and out.

I’d include relevant biographical information—a matter of keen interest among her former students, especially her decision to leave the convent after 20 years, marry a much younger man, sail around the world with him for a year, then return home and open a pizza parlor.

As I sit here now and write about the former Sister Joseph, more images of her come to mind, each small detail leading to another, and another, and then finally to a specific scene:

It is 1958 and our girls volleyball team has gathered in the gym after school for volleyball practice.  As we fumble our way around the court, Sr. Joe paces up and down the sidelines, barking orders at us, her black veil tied behind her back with a fat rubber band, the dour nun shoes exchanged for bright white tennies.  Her diminishing patience at our ineptitude now exhausted, she charges onto the court and to the spike position of my team.  Pushing aside Loretta, our best player, she yells “Set me up!” to the quaking girl next to her.  The rest of us stand there still as stones, and watch as Sr. Joe rises like some fiery rocket and hammers that ball over the net.


Not long after my book was published in July 2008, I received a very surprising email from one of its readers.  Here’s how it begins:

Dear Ms. LaChapelle,
I am the "much younger man" to whom you refer on page 33 of your new book who married your former volleyball coach. I want to tell you that I (and she) nearly fell on the floor reading that recollection. While some of the details were slightly off, the essence of Sr. Joseph was right on.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Longhand vs. Keyboarding?

Well, I had this post almost ready to go and was congratulating myself for being Ms. Prepared when – BAM! – I perused the brilliance that was April’s Friday post. I mean, poems and EVERYTHING. Color me deflated. Who wants to follow that? But here I am, up to bat. So….

Do I scrawl sentence fragments on a legal pad? Yes. Or more often on a napkin, grocery list, or the palm of my hand.

                                        Back of a recent grocery list. Hey, at least I can read this one!

Sometimes, if I’m driving, I’ll dictate a sudden insight into my iphone. And, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, sticky notes litter my desk like pastel snowdrifts more often than not.

But write an entire story in longhand? Nope. Not me. Oh, I’ve imagined it:  I’m sitting straight-backed in a wicker chair, dressed like Emily Dickinson, pouring my musings into a lovely cloth-bound notebook. Everything I write is profound and poetic. A soulful sigh escapes me every now and then as I squint at the ceiling, gathering my thoughts…

I do occasionally give it a shot (minus the all-white clothes). But, like Laura, my hand can’t keep up with my brain. The quality of my handwriting steadily declines until even I can’t decipher it. Plus I’m always, ALWAYS revising as I’m storybuilding, and seeing a page of crossed-out words/lines/paragraphs makes the smarmy internal editor (S.I.E.) sitting on my shoulder shake her head and tsk at my ineptitude.

It’s impresses me greatly to read about authors who write their stories longhand, then transfer them to their computers. That’s something I cannot even imagine. Give me a computer any day, as S.I.E. and I are happiest with greased-lightning keys and a handy-dandy Delete button.

Happy writing!

Jill Esbaum

Friday, August 22, 2014

Clickety-clack or Scribble-dee-doo: Keyboard or Pen...what's best for you? And happy Poetry Friday!

Howdy, Campers and Happy Poetry Friday!

Thank you, Irene, for jumping in to host PF this week
(and, Irene!  Congratulations on the upcoming publication
of your first poetry collection for children
which has gotten starred reviews from SLJ and Kirkus!)

We TeachingAuthors are discussing handwriting versus keyboard typing--read which Carmela, Laura, and Esther prefer.

Me? I'm bi.

When I'm in a boring meeting (or even an interesting meeting), under the hair dryer at the beauty parlor, or the passenger on a long trip, I'm happy to write poems in my little notebooks with my favorite pen.

But I became a writer on one of these:

and my brain and fingers still adore keys.

So I wrote two poems today in honor of both:

by April Halprin Wayland

It’s a sound idea—
a muscular,
a strong one.

It’s a burly, able-bodied one
it’s beefy—
it’s a long one.

It’s a strapping noun,
it’s her fingers plunked down
with a most decisive click.

It’s a piece of punctuation
that’s sealed—
it sticks.

by April Halprin Wayland

liquid longhand sometimes flows
or oozes slow
it drains from a dream 
to its place on the page

where it will not linger 
no, the pen seeps deeper
beneath each line
where longhand makes its own design

poems (c) 2014 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

And if you haven't already done so, don't forget to enter our current giveaway for a chance to win the historical middle-grade novel Odin's Promise (Crispin Press) by Sandy Brehl. See JoAnn's post for all the details.(We're supposed to sign our names at the bottom of each hi, it's me--April Halprin Wayland!  G'bye!)

Monday, August 18, 2014

Tools of the Trade

(Carmela here. I had to post this on behalf of Esther. Read on and you'll understand why.)

Fortunately, when it comes to the act of physically writing, I have MANY tools at my disposal.

For example, and gratefully, my iPhone.

Should my laptop refuse to reboot due to a software problem and require a 4-day repair visit to my local Best Buy's Geek Squad the Sunday before my Monday TeachingAuthors post is due, no problemo!

I simply create an email addressing the topic, request my TA administrator Carmela post it for me, along with an evidentiary photo, and remain grateful for the many and varied Tools of my well as for Carmela. ☺️
Esther's laptop on Geek Squad counter
So, here are a few of the salient points I fully intended to post in the traditional manner via my laptop had it successfully rebooted this morning:

(1) To date my writing tools have included #2 pencils, pens of all sorts, manual and electric typewriters, a word processor, stack and laptop computers and one trusty iPhone.

(2) Thinking on this topic, examining my modus operandi when writing creatively, I surprisingly realized my multi-sensory learning style that enables me to READ must also be executed when I WRITE!

Note: Picture here the Five Senses Chart I'd planned to share.

Using my penmanship that combines both printing and cursive, because my 6th grade teacher Miss Peterson allowed us to choose and I couldn't decide, I write by hand in notebooks, on legal pads, on sticky notes, on napkins, on match books and menus and torn newspaper items when I am rolling out and exploring a story idea.

When I'm ready to roll everything up, though, and begin an actual story draft?
I'm seated at my laptop, ready to keyboard.

(3) In my Google search to learn more about multi-sensory learners, one link led to another and there I was learning all about BIC Fight for Your Write
BIC is on a mission to save handwriting.
Clicking on the Facts page at this website, I read that handwriting engages 14 different abilities, one if which is Inner Expressive Language.
No surprise there, at least for me.
Long live the Writer's Notebook!
Visit the website to learn more and maybe even sign the petition.

Hopefully my laptop and I will be back in business by Friday.
(Siddharta  promised.)
Meanwhile, I have my iPhone ....and should that require service, my Seven-year Pen.

Happy Writing, no matter your chosen tool!

Esther Hershenhorn
Don't forget to enter our Book Giveaway!

P.S.S. from Carmela: I couldn't resist leaving in Esther's signature line from her email, just as she sent it:

iPhone compozed - sry 4 eny typoze=

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Poetry Friday and Writing Longhand Vs Keyboarding

Happy Poetry Friday! Y'all are going to start to think that I only read poetry by J. Patrick Lewis. That is not true, though he is so versatile and prolific that I could share new poems here every time I post, and you would still enjoy a terrific variety, a great education in the art of poetry. I recently received a review copy of his forthcoming Everything Is a Poem: The Best of J. Patrick Lewis (Creative Editions, 2014). That's right. Pat is a rock star, and he has a greatest hits album!

I devoured this book start to finish, and I adore it. It collects some of his poems from the 1980s up to 2010. The topic categories include Animals, People, Reading (yes!), Sports (eh--only because I'm not a sports fan), Riddles and Epitaphs, Mother Nature(always my favorite), Places, and A Mix. The forms cover a huge range, from free verse to rhyming to specific poetic forms. If you're a fan of Lewis' work (and if not, why not?), do not miss this collection.

It was tough choosing just one to share, as there are around 60 poems here. But this is one of my very favorites:

What a Day

Out of dark's rougher neighborhoods,
Morning stumbles,
none too
recalling now
the thief,
who stole her work
of art--

--J. Patrick Lewis, all rights reserved

Here I am reading this poem:

Now, on to the question of longhand vs. keyboarding, the conversation Carmela started earlier this week. I come down firmly on the side of keyboarding. I do my morning pages that way (sorry, Julia Cameron), I do my nonfiction this way, and I do my poetry this way. At least, I prefer to. I do sometimes write longhand, usually when I'm on the road and don't have a keyboard handy. (Even then, I often carry a portable keyboard that works with my iPhone and is amazing!)

I feel stilted and uncomfortable writing in longhand. My hand can't keep up with my brain, and I can feel the ideas and phrases slipping away faster than I can record them. It's like being trapped in a cave where all this treasure is quickly draining down a hole in the floor, and I only have a tiny spoon to try to grab diamonds before they disappear. So, give me a keyboard any day!

One thing I don't mind doing at all in longhand is brainstorming. If I'm coming up with ideas or just playing around with thoughts on an existing piece, I'll happily make lists and charts and such. For example, when I was first working on poems for a night collection that will come out from Wordsong, I filled a little notebook with thoughts and possibilities.

And, recently, while doing revisions, I had a typed version with me that I made notes on while riding in a car or when I only had five minutes to work. That's when longhand works best for me, when I'm sporadically jotting notes. Write a few words. Put down the paper and go back to what I was actually supposed to be doing. Oops--new thought--grab that paper.

I will say that when I did Riddle-Ku on my blog for National Poetry Month, I wrote 95% of those while riding in a car along Lake Superior in February. I had a little mini-notebook just for that project, and every time I sat down in that seat and picked up my notebook, the poems started pouring out. For very short poems, I don't mind writing longhand. But...if I'd had my keyboard in the car with me and if my phone's battery lasted longer, I'd probably have been typing:>)

You don't have to write longhand OR by keyboard to go enjoy some more poetry! Poet and teacher Heidi Mordhorst at Juicy Little Universe has today's Poetry Friday Roundup--so don't miss it!

And if you haven't already done so, don't forget to enter our current giveaway for a chance to win the historical middle-grade novel Odin's Promise (Crispin Press) by Sandy Brehl. See JoAnn's post for all the details.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Wednesday Writing Workout with Guest Teaching Author Sandy Brehl!

Guest Teaching Author Sandy Brehl visited with us on Friday to share some background about her middle grade novel Odin's Promise. (We're giving away an autographed copy--see Friday's post for details!) Sandy also provided today's Wednesday Writing Workout.

Thank you so much for joining us, Sandy! Would you share a favorite writing exercise for our readers?

Since Odin’s Promise released, I’ve heard two comments most often. One reflects appreciation of the fact that characters, particularly the German soldiers, are not treated as caricatures or stereotypes. This wasn’t a conscious decision or my original intent, but my research made it clear that there were wide and varied motivations and reactions among the Norwegians and the occupiers. Surface behaviors were not necessarily indicators of genuine feelings. While the overt story may have been “good Guys VS. Bad Guys” the SUBTEXT reveals more complex dynamics at work.

I’ll suggest a favorite exercise that helps in reading AND writing with an increased awareness of SUBTEXT. I first read about SUBTEXT STRATEGY exercises in an article and later in a book created by developer Jean Anne Clyde and co-authors Barber, Hogue, and Wasz: BREAKTHROUGH TO MEANING: Helping Your Kids Become Better Readers, Writers, and Thinkers.

Here’s one strategy I use: Think of a crime drama or other dramatic series that is familiar to all. A full page print advertisement works well, too. Suggest a scene with simple dialogue (better yet, play a short YouTube clip like this one which does some of the work for you!)

Then quickly survey: “What was _________ really thinking when s/he said that?”  “How could you tell? (Body language? Earlier actions? Facial expression? Previous experience with the character?)

Since I advocate the use of picture books for all ages as compact, concise and compelling tools for sophisticated lessons, here’s one of my favorite activities: Share Chris Raschka’s picture book Yo! Yes? by reading aloud or sharing the YouTube video.

Working through the brief text page by page, discuss what each character is REALLY saying (and thinking) as he speaks; then explore the other’s reaction.

It’s likely not all will “read” the subtext identically. Some may “read” anxiety, others hostility, still others shyness or confusion, depending on their preconceptions. Keep in mind the words on the page are identical for all.

Once the story has been thoroughly explored, challenge writers to compose a story passage from a full double-page spread (or the whole story, if there’s time) with the dialogue restricted to the original text. Narration alone must do the important work of the illustrations. The finished piece should suggest the subtext but still allow for some interpretation among different readers. This might be conveyed by body postures, gestures, expressions, actions, tone of voice, etc.

If working in a group of three, two can reenact a portion of the story, replaying sections to allow full discussion. A recorder helps the team generate the best way to describe, phrase, and imply the emotions and attitudes intended without stating them outright. The finished text is then read aloud and enacted by the players, comparing to the original impact of the illustrated pages.

This exercise can be adapted to reveal underlayers of character personalities before writing:  If you know your story will have two teen boys, a mother, a younger sister, and a crabby old neighbor, imagine their responses to a single page color advertisement--perhaps a lingerie ad. Develop an internal script for each character’s thoughts when viewing the same ad. Is the crabby old neighbor a lecherous man or does he think about his wife deteriorating with Alzheimer's and remember how she looked on her wedding night? Does the mother worry about her son being hounded by aggressive young girls, or worry that he doesn’t even seem interested in girls, but his friend is drooling? Does the young girl have body image issues suggesting early anorexia, or does she disdain such images because she’s 100% tomboy?

Your interpretation of your characters’ responses might reshape your own story and its development.

As for that other frequent comment? Readers ask when they can expect the sequel so they can find out what happens next to Mari and her family. Odin’s Promise was written as a stand-alone title, but apparently there is enough subtext to generate emotional investment in my characters, which is the best compliment I could wish for. Research is well underway, with fingers crossed that this won’t be a thirty-year process.

Thank you again, Sandy! 
Readers, be sure to enter the book giveaway! The deadline is August 23.

JoAnn Early Macken

Monday, August 11, 2014

Writing Longhand vs Typing: Does it Make a Difference?

Which do you prefer: writing longhand with a pen (or pencil) on paper or typing on a keyboard/electronic device? This is the question I posed to our TeachingAuthors for the series of posts I'm kicking off today. As I considered my own answer, I found some interesting information on how our writing tools may affect our creativity.

I was about twelve or thirteen when I first started writing for myself (as opposed to for school assignments). Back then, the only alternative I had to writing longhand was a manual typewriter on which I could eek out maybe 10-15 words per minute. So longhand it was. I wrote poetry, journaled, and did all my school assignments in longhand. When necessary, I then transcribed my written words to the printed page via my beautiful blue Smith Corona.

cropped version of photo by mpclemens, per CC rights 
By the time I started working as a freelance writer (MANY years later), personal computers had arrived on the scene. And I'd learned to type MUCH faster. So, for the sake of efficiency, I adapted my writing process to compose directly at the keyboard (as I'm doing with this blog post), but only for the nonfiction pieces I wrote for newspapers and magazines. For my "creative" writing--journals, poetry, short stories and my first novel--I stuck with longhand.

Then came graduate school, with its requirement of forty typed pages of writing per month. Once again, I adapted. I sat pounding out fiction--first short stories, then novel chapters--directly at the keyboard. For the most part, that worked fine. But every so often, I'd get stuck. I couldn't find the right words, or the words didn't have the right rhythm, or I couldn't get the feelings to come across on the page. I'd sit staring at the blinking cursor, my fingers frozen on the keys.

That's when I'd go make another cup of tea. Or stretch. Or take a walk. Sometimes that helped. But not always.

One day, while working on Rosa, Sola, I got the idea to take up a pen and write out a question for Rosa, my main character. I asked her what she was feeling in the particular scene I was working on. Then I closed my eyes and tried to imagine I was in Rosa's shoes at that moment. I opened my eyes and wrote the answer to the question, longhand, from Rosa's point of view. I was amazed at the words that flowed from my pen. They not only gave me insight into Rosa and her feelings, but also ideas for what would happen next in the story.

From then on, whenever I got stuck, no matter what I was writing, I turned to paper and pen. And almost every time, the writing was better than what I'd struggled to generate via the keyboard.

I decided to research why for this blog post. Chris Gayomali's Mentalfloss article "4 Benefits of Writing by Hand," like most of the other articles I found, says writing longhand makes you a better writer mainly because it slows you down. I think there's more to it than that. Otherwise, I could get the same benefits if I just typed slowly. But that doesn't help me at all.

I suspected that the difference really has something to do with how the physical act of putting pen to paper affects the creative side of our brain, our "right brain." Typing, on the other hand, seems to involve more of our logical left-brain.

Researching further, I found a Paris Review interview with poet and author Ted Hughes in which he said:
In handwriting the brain is mediated by the drawing hand, in typewriting by the fingers hitting the keyboard, in dictation by the idea of a vocal style, in word processing by touching the keyboard and by the screen’s feedback. The fact seems to be that each of these methods produces a different syntactic result from the same brain. Maybe the crucial element in handwriting is that the hand is simultaneously drawing. I know I’m very conscious of hidden imagery in handwriting—a subtext of a rudimentary picture language. Perhaps that tends to enforce more cooperation from the other side of the brain. And perhaps that extra load of right brain suggestions prompts a different succession of words and ideas.
This explanation rings truer for me than the "slower is better" theory. What do you think? I'd love if you'd let us know in the comments.

But first, you may want to also read Kelly Barson's fascinating article "Writing from Both Sides of the Brain" in the Hunger Mountain journal. Just make sure to come back here when you're done!

Okay, so if you read Barson's article, you know it includes several references to Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way (Tarcher). Cameron also recommends writing longhand, at least for "Morning Pages." As it happens, I'm currently preparing to teach a new 12-week workshop on The Artist's Way at the College of DuPage that will begin at the end of the month. This Wednesday, August 13, I'll be presenting a free Lunch Break Lecture giving potential students a "taste of" the workshop. If you're in the area, I hope you'll join us. Check my website for details.

And if you haven't already done so, don't forget to enter our current giveaway for a chance to win the historical middle-grade novel Odin's Promise (Crispin Press) by Sandy Brehl. See JoAnn's post for all the details.

Happy writing!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Guest Teaching Author Post and Book Giveaway with Sandy Brehl!

I first met Sandy Brehl as the super-efficient contact person for one of the best-planned school visits I've ever experienced. Later, I had opportunities to meet Sandy again through a number of SCBWI-Wisconsin events, also efficiently organized. When I was Regional Advisor, I knew that anything I left in her capable hands could be crossed off my list.

I'm happy to welcome Sandy today as a Guest Teaching Author. Look below for details about the giveaway of her new middle grade novel, Odin’s Promise.

Sandy Brehl retired after forty years of public school teaching in Milwaukee-area schools. Since then, she’s been an active member of SCBWI, devoting most of her time to writing and reading. Sandy enjoys gardening, art, and travel (to Norway, of course). Visit her website to learn more about Odin’s Promise and follow her blog. She also posts reviews and commentary about picture books at Unpacking the POWER of Picture Books. You can follow her on Twitter: @SandyBrehl and @PBWorkshop.

How did you become a Teaching Author?

Teaching came first. I began teaching right out of college and never stopped. For four decades I worked in elementary schools at many grade levels, leading writers throughout those years. The use of mentor text (before it was called that) and the “links to life” approach I used in leading kids to write more successfully, effectively, and with greater engagement meant I was always writing with and for students. This included writing across content areas.

I was always a competent writer, and I wrote often, but I only shared my writing with students and family. It wasn’t until an odd holiday circumstance and my own ignorance of the publishing industry that I gave any thought to submitting my work. I wrote a blog post about this uninformed and inauspicious start to becoming an author.

I had some encouraging successes, with poetry appearing in Spider Magazine and articles published in professional journals.  I eventually joined SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). With the help of workshops, conferences, and critiques, my writing efforts more consistently approached publishable quality.

Since retiring from full time teaching, I conduct workshops for educators, sharing ways to use the highest quality children’s literature to improve reading and writing instruction.

Odin’s Promise is compelling historical fiction for middle-grade readers. How did you balance the fiction and nonfiction aspects of your story?

I love reading historical fiction, and now writing it, too. Fact and fiction are like the opposite sides of a strip of paper, but they can be skillfully connected, like a mobius strip, making it hard to distinguish where each begins and ends. The story should be so compelling that readers aren’t distracted by the fact/fiction question – until the story ends. That’s when they start asking questions (and pursuing answers) about how much of the story is real.

A secondary plot in this book was inspired by actual events I heard about while visiting in Norway many years ago, told to me by the people who lived them. From the moment I heard their story, I was certain it should be in a book. I knew even then that it would be fictionalized, but wanted to tell it as authentically as possible. It turns out there was a very stubborn part of my brain that was unwilling to move more than a smidgeon away from the actual events and characters.

This story has a history nearly as long as my writing life does. It’s the cumulative result of years and years of continuing research and revisions guided by increasingly knowledgeable sources on a story that wouldn’t let me go. The more research I did, the more fictionalized but credible my story became.

Eventually a particular piece of research opened my mind to an entirely new approach. By then the factual content was as real to me as the characters who emerged.

How can teachers use your book in the classroom?

In a guest post for Alyson Beecher’s blog, Kid Lit Frenzy, I used the mobius strip comparison and suggested the benefits of historical fiction as a tool for launching research to answer personal questions. Typically research is used in a linear approach: start with a topic or other prompt, do research, organize results, then produce expository writing or answer factual questions.

Historical fiction often provides an author’s note addressing the fact/fiction elements. Many books, including mine, provide a list of resources for further investigation and related titles. Websites and digital resources allow students to examine maps, read and create timelines, and access guided questions.

I recommend that teachers introduce historical fiction as a genre and suggest using picture books for a model lesson. The interweaving of fact and fiction, which is the nature of this genre, can be examined in these shorter examples. Encourage readers to use sticky notes or notebooks to actively raise their questions while reading. After the book is complete, readers can pursue and compare their questions. They might offer and justify personal opinions as to the fact/fiction status of the content marked. Back matter and other resources can then be used to seek and share reliable answers to those questions.

Once students develop understanding of the interplay of fact and fiction in this genre, teachers might read aloud the timeless Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry, to develop background knowledge. Then Odin’s Promise can be offered to literature study groups along with other titles about Norway’s occupation: Shadow on the Mountain, by Margi Preuss, Snow Treasure, by Marie McSwigan, and The Klipfish Code, by Mary Casanova.

Could you describe your research process?

My research started pre-internet. That meant pursuing hard-to-find sources through the library, then noting the references used to create them. Those served as launching points for further searches. Of course, my notes were all hand-written, the books were often out-of-print (making them expensive or unavailable), and my dedicated research and writing times were limited to summers.

Once I began using online sources to expand my searches, technology made it possible to store and revisit my notes and writing attempts across all those years.

Each time I made a new run at the story or received another critique, I’d dive into further research. Along the way it became clear (to everyone but me) that my ideal audience would be middle-grade readers. I just couldn’t loosen my mental grip on the original inspirational story, which centered on older characters. Only when research led me to a scholarly work that incorporated journal entries, some written by younger people, was I able to see a middle-grade story.

As I read those passages, the fictional voice of Mari, my main character, helped me release my older approach. She shared her thoughts and views of the occupation. As she led me through her own concerns, fears, courage, love, and loyalty, she introduced me to her family and community. She was even generous enough to make space for portions of my original story in her life.

Could you share a story about a funny, moving, or interesting writing or speaking experience?
The most surprising thing to me is that this story includes a dog. I am an animal lover, and I even worked for some years in wildlife rehabilitation. I avoid reading realistic stories about animals, particularly dogs, because I may find myself deeply invested in a story but unwilling to finish reading for fear of injury to the animal. I might not even pick up and read this book if someone else had written it.

Earlier versions didn’t have a dog. I realized some potential readers might feel the same as I do about stories with animals. Mari gave me no choice. She needed Odin in her life, and the events that unfold were essential to her own growth and change.

Another surprising aspect to this book is that it was a “work-in-progress” for more than three decades. Once Mari’s voice came to me the story went from draft and revision to contract, further revision, and release in only two years.

Thank you, Sandy!
Readers, you can hear Sandy talk about Odin's Promise in a Milwaukee Public Radio interview.

Book Giveaway
Enter for a chance to win an autographed copy of Odin's Promise! The book giveaway ends on August 23.

Use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter via 1, 2, or all 3 options specified. If you choose the "comment" option, share a comment to today's blog post about your experience with writing or teaching historical fiction. And please include your name in your comment, if it's not obvious from your comment "identity." (If you prefer, you may submit your comment via email to: teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com.)

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JoAnn Early Macken a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, August 4, 2014

And the hits keep on a-comin'!

A writer puts her/his heart and soul into crafting a picture book story. Over a period of weeks or months, she sweats and strains to get every little element exactly right. Finally, it's ready. The main character is enormously appealing. The language sings. The storyline crackles. Not one word is unnecessary or out of place.

She sends it off, and ... an editor agrees. Woo-hoo! Break out the bubbly!

A fabulous illustrator brings the story to exquisite life. The writer can't believe her luck. Flash forward two or three (or five) years, and she's holding her story – this perfect story – in her hands, a picture book at last.

Then ... more good news. Glowing reviews. STARS. Additional printings. Big sales. Her book soon grows more popular than she dared to dream it could, and then ...

Her editor asks for a sequel. I imagine this request elicits astonishment and elation (and perhaps the eensiest shiver of terror).

I can only imagine, since it hasn't happened to me yet. But I have been asked (not contracted) to write a picture book sequel. For me, the toughest part was beginning. How much should I refer back to the first book? SHOULD I refer back to the first book at all? Well, I figured it out. But it made me wonder what other authors consider the toughest thing about writing a sequel.

To find out, I asked three of them I admire. Here's what they had to say.

Jennifer Berne, on writing Calvin, Look Out! (illustrated by Keith Bendis, coming Aug. 5th, 2014 – eek, that's tomorrow!), sequel to Calvin Can't Fly (Sterling Publishing, 2010):

"I think my biggest challenge in writing the Calvin sequel was making it as good, as interesting, as compelling and entertaining as the first Calvin book. Of course, isn't that the same challenge in writing any book following a previous book, sequel or not?

"Writing the sequel was easier because I had come to know Calvin, his way of thinking, his way of talking, his passions and frailties. But the sequel was harder because I didn't want it to be too imitative of the original, yet it did need to feel connected and like a natural next adventure.

"I hope I succeed in meeting all my goals for Calvin, Look Out! Only time and my wonderful young readers will tell."

Bonny Becker, on writing A Library Book for Bear (illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton) and other sequels to A Visitor for Bear (Candlewick Press, 2008):

                                                                                   Photo credit:  Bonny Becker

"The biggest challenge without question is the problem of keeping the stories fresh. It's easy to think of situations that will frustrate Bear, but I don't want the escalation of the problem or the resolution to be too predictable. And I've tried to subtly move Bear's story along. His friendship with Mouse deepens and he's slowly coming out of his shell--in a way. At least, in the latest book, A LIBRARY BOOK FOR BEAR, Bear finally gets out of his house and there are actually other creatures in his world that he interacts with.

"Each sequel is easier in some ways and harder in others. I know these characters and their world better with each story, but, as mentioned, coming up with fresh situations and reactions doesn't get easier! It's also tempting to get lazy about it all--not work as hard for fresh language and gestures and such. So I work hard to reference back to earlier books--for example, Bear uses the skates he got in A BIRTHDAY FOR BEAR to get to the library and the humor works better if you know that Bear always ends up shouting--but I also want each book to be strong on its own.”

Pat Zietlow Miller, on writing Sophie's Seeds (currently in the pipeline), sequel to Sophie's Squash (Schwartz & Wade, 2013):

"My biggest challenge was that I had never imagined Sophie having a sequel. So I really had to start from scratch and ponder what she might do next.

"Plus, Sophie's Squash had been so well received that I felt a certain amount of pressure to do an equally good job. I hadn't ever felt that pressure before because I'd always written without anyone expecting it and waiting to see what I'd done.

"So writing Sophie's Seeds took longer and was a bit more painful, but I'm very happy with where we ended up and that Sophie got to have another adventure."


Count me among the biggest fans of Calvin, Bear & Mouse, and Sophie. Here's to their continuing stories. *clink*

Jill Esbaum
P.S.  You can now find me on Twitter @JEsbaum

Friday, August 1, 2014

3 FAB AudioBooks & a poem for Poetry Friday!

Howdy, Campers!
Thanks to Margaret for hosting Poetry Friday today!
(My poem's at the end of this post.)
Our topic is What are We Reading?  I love this topic...I've learned so much about my blogmates, our readers and books.

Carmela, JoAnn, Jill, Laura and Esther have each checked in about the books they've checked out this summer.

My turn!

Here's what I've read recently:
THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green on my Kindle (loved it)
WE ARE CALLED TO RISE by Laura McBride ~ adult book (wonderfully written...but why are adult books so sad?)
TEA WITH GRANDPA written and illustrated by Barney Saltzberg ~ (SPOILER ALERT: I've bought copies to give to grandparents who Skype their grandkids)

What I'm currently reading:
DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth on my Kindle (not crazy about the writing so far).

But I am CRAZY CAKES for audiobooks.  I live in Southern California, so maybe that explains it.  Or maybe I should say I live in my car in Southern California. :-)

So here is my list of  3 WONDERFUL audiobooks in the order I read them.  And yes, you can say "read them" if you listened to them. Because I said so.


Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco Stork, read by Lincoln Hoppe (read a review here)

Lincoln Hoppe is an AMAZING voice actor.  I think I want to marry him.

Hang in there with this audiobook. At first it felt soooo slow...I wasn't sure I was going to keep listening. But, boy, am I glad I did. I mean, wow.

From the Random House website:
"Reminiscent of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time in the intensity and purity of its voice, this extraordinary audiobook is a love story, a legal drama, and a celebration of the music each of us hears inside."


Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt, read by Sam Freed

From Wikipedia:
"Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, published by Clarion Books, is a 2004 historical fiction book by Gary D. Schmidt. The book received the Newbery Honor in 2005 and was selected as a Michael L. Printz Honor that same year. The book was based on a real event. In 1912, the government of Maine put the residents of Malaga Island in a mental hospital and razed their homes."

“Schmidt’s writing is infused with feeling and rich in imagery. With fully developed, memorable characters. . . This novel will leave a powerful impression on readers.” ~ School Library Journal, Starred


Okay For Now by Gary D. SchmidtNational Book Award Finalist.  Read by Lincoln Hoppe.  (!)

Here's what the National Book Award website says:
“In this stunning novel, Schmidt expertly weaves multiple themes of loss and recovery in a story teeming with distinctive, unusual characters and invaluable lessons about love, creativity, and survival.”

His main character, Doug Swieteck, first appeared in Schmidt’s Newbery Honor book, THE WEDNESDAY WARS.

Listen to an 8 minute NPR on-air interview of Schmidt about OKAY FOR NOW here.

There.  Those are my Fab 3.

What I look forward to listening to next:

~ THE WEDNESDAY WARS by Gary D. Schmidt, read by Joel Johnstone. I think I may have this read years ago; I can't wait to listen to it. (I'm inspired by Esther and am reading a string of books by the same author...something I almost never do.  Gary D. Schmidt is a brilliant and deeply affecting writer.)

by April Halprin Wayland

Are we twisting,
risking all,

listening to what the writer
wires us,

what the teller
sells us?

Twisting, uncertain, the final curtain?

Did you know that many folks read books aloud for your listening pleasure on YouTube?  Go to YouTube and search for a book title.  For example, click here for a sampling of folks reading THE FAULT IN OUR STARS.

And...if you know any flat-out beginning picture book writers in the Los Angeles area, my six-week class, Writing Picture Books for Children in the UCLA Extension Writers' Program starts August 6th.  (The student who benefits most from this class has never heard of SCBWI.)

poem and drawing (c)2014 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

posted by April Halprin Wayland...who's amazed that you've read all the way to here.  Thank you.