Friday, June 27, 2014

Passionate or Practical? Writing To Market Children's Books {and Poetry Friday!}

Howdy, Campers!

Woo-woo!  The winner of Joan Bransfield Graham's new book, The Poem that Will Not End is Rosi Hollenbeck, who happens to be the SCBWI critique group coordinator for Northern and Central California. Congratulations, Rosi!  You'll find Joan's Wednesday Writing Workout here and my interview with her here.

Today we conclude our series on Writing What We Want to Write versus Writing What is Marketable (or, as I like to call it, WWWWWWWM). Each of us is taking turns thinking aloud about Marion Dane Bauer's terrific post, The Creative Mind, in which she writes convincingly about WWWWWWWM.

It's also Poetry Friday at Buffy's AND it's the start of TeachingAuthors' Summer Blogging Break--woo-woo!
Thanks, for hosting PF, Buffy!

First, let's review what TeachingAuthors have been saying so far this round:

JoAnn began the conversation by sharing her monarch haiku project and the new direction in which she's taking it; Carmela talked about how hard it is to work so long on beloved projects that don't sell...but finds redemption; Laura writes that it's a matter of prioritizing, e-publishing, sharing poetry love and more: and writing coach/writers' booster Esther sees the light, rewrites, submits like the devil, and stays optimistic. Her post has helped me stay optimistic, too.  In fact each of these posts has. I've been mulling over how to talk to you about this one.  It's potent. And personal.

Just like each of my blogmates, I've sent out countless manuscripts that have bounced back again and again and again and again.  *Sigh.*  I'd be a great boomerang maker.

For example, Girl Coming in for a Landing--a Novel in Poems (Knopf) took me ten years to sell. Then it won two major awards. Editors who rejected it said, "Teens don't read.  And if they do read, they don't read poetry."  As Esther reminds us: "Times change; markets change; publishers' needs change; editorial staffs change." Oy--is that ever true.

More recently, I finally found a way to fictionalize the story of the flood which destroyed my family's farm and how we rebuilt afterwards.  I'd been taking this picture book manuscript out, rewriting it, and putting it back in my bottom drawer for years.  Last year I was invited to join a dynamite critique group; I took a risk and showed them my story. At this Magic Table I learned what my story was missing and how to strengthen it.
This is what happens at our Magic Table. Sort of.
I was elated.  I sent it to my fabulous agent.  She told me that picture books these days must be short. VERY short.  Picture books used to be for ages 3-8 and could be as long as 1500 words.  These days, editors want picture books for ages 3-5.  After 650 words, editors roll their eyes, my agent told me.

I told the Magic Table this.  They helped me shorten it.  I sent it flying out my door again.

Editors said that it was too regional. I went back to the Magic Table. They said, What about all the floods around the country? What about your themes of resilience, problem solving, weather, storms, climate change and life cycles for heaven's sake? You've just got to help them see this.  You'd got to help your agent sell it.

SO...I hired a curriculum specialist...and resubmitted the story complete with Supplementary Materials including Themes, Common Core-related English Language Arts activities, Science-related activities, and a Glossary.

(Huh! Take That, I say with all those Capital Letters!)

And it's still not selling.

And yet...I believe in the Power of the Table. I do. I love this writing biz. I do. And I love my gang around that table. So what else can I do but believe? I keep on keeping on.

I wrote a poem recently to our group, to our leader, to the Magic Table. It was reverent, in awe of the smarts and wizardry at the Table.

But today I changed the poem. Maybe it's not a Magic Table after all. Here's the revised version:

by April Halprin Wayland

It's magic, you know.
Impossible feats of metaphor.
Six of us around this rosewood table,
savoring tea.

Spilling over our pages,
foreshadowing, fortune telling,
drawing stories
out of the shadows of these drapes.

The illusion of allusion.
A prophecy of sorcery.
The tinkling of full moon necklaces.
Shamans jingling bracelets
dangling from our sleight of hands.

But…are we clairvoyant?
Are we soothsayers, 
sorceresses, sorcerers?
Maybe it's all just make believe.


poem copyright © 2014 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

I am boldly stealing the following EXACT WORDING (and formatting) from today's Poetry Friday host, Buffy Silverman because it's 12:15 am here in California...and because it applies to Buffy, to me, and to many other poets in the kidlitosphere you may know (thank you, Buffy!):
In other poetry news, I recently submitted a poem to a children’s poetry anthology being prepared by Carol-Ann Hoyte on food and agriculture, and was happy to learn this week that the poem was accepted.  I’m in good company with many other Poetry Friday folks–look for the anthology in October of this year.

TeachingAuthors will be taking our annual blogging break--we'll be back Monday, July 13th.  See you then!
Four TeachingAuthors on summer break.

Written by April Halprin Wayland who thanks you for reading all the way to the end.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Wednesday Writing Workout: Mining for Nuggets of Gold in Those Stories You Left Behind

Please welcome back Tamera Will Wissinger, author of the 2014 ALSC Notable GONE FISHING (HHM), and help us celebrate her second book, the picture book THIS OLD BAND (Sky Pony Press) which released June 3.

Tamara is one of my fellow TA Carmela Martino’s many Student Success Stories.
But I’m happy to report: she’s one of my long-ago Ragdale Picture Book Workshop students too. J
Though she now lives in Vero Beach, Florida, I will always consider her my SCBWI-Illinois kin.

As recent posts noted, most writers’ drawers are crammed full with manuscripts that somehow haven’t found the light of day.
So Tamera’s WWW is more than timely, helping us mine the gold in those left-behind stories.

THIS OLD BAND features a ragtag band of cowboys counting and hollering from ten to one, making music with their jugs, combs, boots and whatever else they can find.
In its upcoming July 2014 review, School Library Journal  commended THIS OLD BAND for the “clever use of alliteration and rhyme, as well as laugh-out-loud funny tongue-twisters, that complement the singsong nature of the story, making the book ideal for both story-times and one-on-one sharing.”

Thanks, Tamera, for sharing your book and your know-how!

As always, I'm cheering you on!

Esther Hershenhorn

                                                       * * * * * * *

Mining for Nuggets of Gold in Stories Left Behind

Do you have any stories or poems that you’ve trunked, shelved, iced, buried, torpedoed, or locked in the vault? Work that was once your reason for showing up to write every day, but then at some point stopped being fun or interesting enough to continue? I do. Each piece’s end comes differently – sometimes I move on after barely starting, and other times I write through the end only to find that it didn’t turn out the way that I had intended. After the huge investments of time and energy, it can be disappointing, even heartbreaking.
My first picture book, THIS OLD BAND, has its genesis in in the demise of another rhyming concept book that will probably never be published because I’m not sure I’ll ever figure out how to write it. While I was creating it, though, in my mind it had such potential, such flair! There was going to be a duel! I wrote two (what I thought were) really terrific opening stanzas:
West, out near the great divide
Where bison roam and ranchers ride

Above the town of Twisted Pine,
Lived number one through number nine.

I outlined the rest of the story. I knew where I wanted this poem-story to go and I wrote and rewrote, but it didn’t go where I had planned and eventually I had to concede. I placed the manuscript in a drawer and moved on to something else.
Over the months and years, though, the heart of that story kept tugging at me. I loved that western setting, the idea of cowboys and cowgirls, the bison, the numbers. I had already acknowledged that the story didn’t work as it was, but I began to think in “what ifs” and “maybes”:
  • What if I kept the southwest setting and the element of counting?
  • Maybe these characters didn’t want to duel. What if I didn’t make them?
  • What if, instead, the main characters were cowboy/cowgirl friends who played simple instruments and made silly noises? Maybe they could perform as a band.
  • What if I threw out those “terrific” stanzas that were getting me nowhere and chose an entirely different rhythm and rhyme pattern?
Sifting through that old manuscript to mine those nuggets of gold was fun. Leaving behind the rest of the pieces that hadn't worked felt liberating. Equally satisfying was starting anew with my gold pieces of setting, characters, action, and new rhyme and rhythm. I began to uncover a different looking and sounding story that eventually became This Old Band. 

I believe that every shelved story or poem has valuable nuggets to mine if we’re willing to push past the gate of sorrow and frustration to search for them. Here are ideas for ways to approach a buried manuscript:
  • Which one speaks most loudly to your heart and your brain? Maybe that’s the one to consider first.
  • Do you need to actually read it to know what’s in there that is of value to you? Maybe there’s a gem of a conflict that you know by heart. Or a setting that is exceptional. Maybe it’s a secondary character – or an endearing character trait. With poetry it could be any detail that you found particularly charming. Maybe it’s a wonderful metaphor, a delightful image, or a single rhyming couplet.
  • If you do reread the manuscript – after all this time is it more clear to you what was working and what wasn’t? Go in and grab those nuggets that work; they are gold, and they are yours!
  • Consider what you have – it may not seem like much at first, but no story or poem does in the beginning.
  • Based on what you have, allow yourself to wonder. Say “maybe”…ask “what if?” Follow your beacons of gold and see where they lead you.
 I wish you good luck as you consider mining for your own gold nuggets. Maybe your real story is just waiting to be unearthed.

Tamera Will Wissinger

Monday, June 23, 2014

Seeing the Light vs. Seeing the Light of Day

Kudos and Thanks to my courageously-honest fellow TeachingAuthors JoAnn, Carmela and Laura - and to our TeachingAuthors readers as well - for sharing their understandable publishing and marketability concerns once they begin writing a story.
My filing cabinet too overflows with as-yet-sold manuscripts.

The adjective as-yet-sold speaks volumes about my optimism and Faith.
I’ve always believed that my Writer’s Story – and any story in which I’ve invested – would eventually bring that “inevitable yet surprising satisfactory resolution” required of all stories.
I truly am the Susan Lucci of Children’s Books. 
I fortunately have what editor Ted Solotoroff once called endurability, as referenced in Dani Shapiro’s STILL WRITING: THE PERILS AND PLEASURES OF A CREATIVE LIFE.

I write stories that grab my heart and won’t let go until I get the telling right.  Period.  
I write them one at a time, for however long it takes, in between teaching and coaching and speaking since I bring home the bacon, ’til each is ready for editorial submission.
I also revise them, again, and then again, for however long it takes, ’til each is ready for yet another editorial submission.
Prolific I am not. 

Do I creatively envision the manuscript as a published book while  I write and revise, listing likely publishers when I come upon them?
Of course.
Do I imagine an editor’s offer or a stellar review or the look of surprise on a Doubting Thomas’ face.
You bet.
And when Reality arrives, when my story still fails to see the light of day?
I tuck it away...for another day.

In other words, for whatever reasons, sane, sound or not, once I’m invested in a story and begin writing, I keep on going, no matter the current market place.  Period.

                                                                   (Morgue Files/lightfoot)

I first wrote my first published picture book THERE GOES LOWELL’S PARTY! some ten years earlier as an easy-to-read titled CALLING 'ROUND ABOUT THE RAIN.  I couldn’t give up on either Lowell or the Vance Randolph Ozark tales I’d studied in college.

I wrote and revised THE CONFE$$ION$ AND $ECRET$ OF HOWARD J. FINGERHUT for at least 7 editors over 12 years before Holiday House published it. I believed in Howie and his story whole-heartedly.

A year came and went while an agent worked unsuccessfully to place my newest baby board book TXTNG MAMA TXTNG BABY with a publisher.  I withdrew the book and lo and behold, my Sleeping Bear Press editor phoned to tell me of their new ownership and yes, they were looking for a first-time baby book!

Times change; markets change; publishers’ needs change; editorial staffs change.

My filing cabinets hold three of my favorite picture books: LOOP-DE-LOOP LEO, about a little boy who’s afraid to go out-and-about on his nursery school teacher’s looped rope; SING A SONG OF YITZY, about a little boy who longs to travel with his Papa’s Klezmer band; and my first book ever, CATCH A PATCH OF FOG, about a little boy who always has a piece of him hanging out when he plays Hide-and-Seek. Wouldn’t a patch of fog be the perfect solution?

The Truth is: I found my own courage writing Leo’s story; I learned each of us has a song to sing writing Yitzy’s tale; and my fog catcher’s wondering proved to be mine: Maybe I was someone worth finding?

In other words, writing my stories helped and helps me see the light.  Period. 
And those Aha! Moments sustain me and keep me keeping on.
I’ve always known: the right story at the right time helps the reader discover, uncover, recover his own story.
My years on task taught me, though: the same is true for the writer too.
Each of my stories, whether sold or not, has proved to be for me the right story at the right time.

Maybe, like Laura, I’ll soon consider epublishing, or better yet, independently publishing one or two of my tucked-away stories.  I’ve helped several of my writers successfully do both. 
I know that like JoAnn, I can’t help but return to several  of my much-loved unsold picture book texts and restructure them, reshape them, turn them on their sides, to see if there’s a better story-telling way to draw editorial interest.
Like Carmela, I’ll always keep my eyes and ears open for homes for my stories.

Meanwhile, I’ll continue to share my unsold manuscripts, publishing histories and all, with my students, to illuminate their journeys, and Cubs Fan that I am, keep believing in my stories.

Yet another perspective (minus Morgue Files photos of filing cabinets and light bulbs I couldn't upload!)

Esther Hershenhorn

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Birth of Old Man River [Poetry Friday] and Marketable... or Not

Minnesota: The Birth of Old Man River

A lake creates a lazy stream
That flows through pines and slips away,
Then picks up barges, logs and steam,
Becomes a mighty waterway.

Walk on rocks across this sliver,
Cross the current, slow and mild.
It will grow to Old Man River
Though for now it’s still a child. 

--Laura Purdie Salas, all rights reserved

The headwaters of the Mississippi River are in Lake Itasca, Minnesota.  At its start, the river is narrow and shallow, and you can cross the Mighty Mississippi by walking across some rather slippery rocks.

The water is high this year, so that rock path across the beginning of the Mississippi River is a bit underwater! Photo: Laura Purdie Salas

Here I am reading the poem:
Happy Poetry Friday! And welcome to my musings on our current topic, marketability of our manuscripts, and what we do with our unmarketable work.

Ah, this is such a touchy topic! As a poet, marketability is even MORE of a challenge than most other formats/genres. And as my career progresses, I am even more aware of this, always, because I need to make a certain income and want to earn that income by creating books I love. So, do I think about whether a project is marketable before I start it? Absolutely. If I decide it is not, what do I do? I might still write it, if it's something I feel like I just HAVE to write. But if it's not something I have to write, then I might skip it. I have way more ideas than I have time to write, so it's a matter of prioritizing. What project am I excited about writing that I think has at least a decent chance of selling to a publisher? That's what I take on.

Unfortunately, I usually don't realize a project is unmarketable until it's too late! Take my 50 state poems (please, publisher, take it!). Above is the Minnesota poem from that collection, plus a photo I took Tuesday at the headwaters.

So, what's my solution? Well, I have 6 poetry collections that I want to get out there. Four of them got lovely, wonderful responses from editors--some even went to acquisitions--but were deemed too hard to sell. Another one never went out because my agent felt it wasn't strongly marketable, and the final one I wrote for my blog in April. I am having trouble moving on from these unpublished collections. So...I've decided to e-publish them. I've got wonderful educators writing some teaching activities, and I'm going to try to market them TO educators, primarily.

I am fairly certain I won't recoup the monetary cost of producing the books (I'm estimating about $2,000 for the six books together), because self-published e-books typically DON'T sell well at all. At. All. Not to mention the many hours of work it will take. But my big hope is that I will connect with more teachers and librarians, spread some poetry love, and, ultimately, share my name and work. And that I can get some closure and put all my creative energy into new projects instead of constantly looking backward at what feels like unfinished business.

P.S. Don't get me wrong. I have LOADS of unpublished, unmarketable manuscripts that I would not consider putting out there. Some manuscripts are unmarketable for good reason:>)

P.P.S. Jone at Check It Out (who does the wonderful April poetry postcards!) has the Poetry Friday Roundup. Enjoy!

P.P.P.S. It's almost the end of our Rafflecopter Giveaway for Joan Bransfield Graham's THE POEM THAT WILL NOT END. Just go here and click on the link at the very end of the post. Good luck!

--posted by Laura Purdie Salas

Monday, June 16, 2014

Holding on to Hope for our "Unmarketable" Manuscripts

I proposed out current topic, which JoAnn kicked off on Friday, after reading Marion Dane Bauer's blog post, The Creative Mind. In the post, Marion writes of her experience creating a young adult short story collection that wasn't very marketable, in part, because "the book was awkward to place anywhere in the juvenile market." Unfortunately, I've written not only one, but possibly two, such books. At least Marion's reputation and sales history allowed her book to make it into print. My manuscripts, in contrast, are currently sitting in the proverbial "drawer," and may never see the light of day. This is especially frustrating because of the hours and hours of work I put into them. Both are set in 18th-century Milan--one a biography and the other a historical novel--and required extensive research. The more research I did, the more fascinated I became with my characters and their story. I'd hoped others would find them just as fascinating. The novel has done well in several writing competitions, and even took first place in the YA category of the 2013 Windy City RWA Four Seasons Romance Writing Contest. Admittedly, I've only sent it to a few editors and agents so far and, in general, they say it's well-written. Just not marketable enough. There's that dreaded word again. I've revised and submitted a few more places. But the longer it takes to hear back, the more my hope fades.

I'm looking forward to reading how my fellow TeachingAuthors deal with the issue of marketability. Our writing isn't only a creative pursuit--writing (and teaching) is what we do to pay the bills. At the moment, I can't afford to take a chance on creating another unmarketable book project, so I'm focusing on teaching and freelance writing. As much as I love teaching, I'm sad not to be working on a book project right now. I actually started a new middle-grade novel "just for fun" a few months ago, but I've put it on hold. Whenever I think about working on it, my inner critic says, "What will you do if this one turns out to be unmarketable too?" Some days the answer is "quit writing altogether."

Sorry, readers, writing this post is depressing even me! So I searched for some encouragement online. I Googled "unmarketable manuscript" and found the phrase in Sophy Burnham's For Writers Only: Inspiring Thoughts on the Exquisite Pain and Heady Joy of the Writing Life from Its Great Practitioners (Tarcher Books), a book I happen to own but haven't read in years. I pulled For Writers Only off my bookshelf and read Burnham's own rejection story. Burnham, who is a bestselling nonfiction author, spent four or five years working on a novel. When she finally finished it and sent it to her agent, he responded, "This is unmarketable. . . . Burn it. Every writer does one or two of these. You're a talented writer. Go write something I can sell."


Understandably, Burnham was crushed. She almost did destroy the manuscript. But then she remembered something her mother told her when she was ten or twelve years old:
"If you ever become a writer," she said, "remember never to throw away anything you've written."
(Funny, I often tell the young writers in my writing camps to never throw away anything they write, either!)

Burnham followed her mother's advice and packed the manuscript up in a box. Years later, Burnham was working with a new agent who asked if she had any other manuscripts. She brought out the boxed-up novel. The agent read it and thought it was "wonderful." Within a month, the agent had found a publisher for Revelations, Burnham's first published novel.

Burnham went on to say:
"In fairness to that first agent, the novel probably was unmarketable when he read it . . . in that climate, at that period of time. . . . But times and tastes change. What is the moral? Perhaps that you never know when you'll succeed, that all you can do is to follow your path with enthusiasm, and don't let rejection get you down."
Even before reading Burnham's story, I'd thought about the cyclical nature of the young adult fiction market and how what doesn't sell today may eventually be the next big thing. I haven't given up hope for my novel or the biography. Like JoAnn, I'm pondering other approaches that may make these manuscripts more appealing. In the mean time, I'm not throwing anything away. J

Out and About:
I'm teaching several one-day writing workshops for adults this summer at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. If you live in the area, I invite you to read more about these classes, and the children's writing camps I teach, on my website.

Also, don't forget to enter our current giveaway for a chance to win an autographed copy of Joan Bransfield Graham's latest picture book, The Poem That Will Not End: Fun with Poetic Forms and Voices!

Happy writing!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Back to the Backyard

In a recent blog post, Marion Dane Bauer addressed a topic important to all writers who hope to have their work accepted for publication. “When I begin a new manuscript,” she says, “especially one that will require a major commitment of time, I pause to consider whether what I want to write will be marketable.” In the series of posts that starts today, we Teaching Authors discuss our own experiences with and thoughts about the question of marketability.

For five summers now, I’ve been gathering monarch butterfly eggs and caterpillars and raising them in our backyard, protected from predators by a mosquito net tent. Last winter, I finally—finally!—found a way to write about the process in a series of haiku. Sidebars include facts about monarchs and tips for readers who might want to raise them, too. I call the poems “butterflyku” and the collection Butterflyku and Monarch How-To.

Here’s an excerpt:

Searching milkweed leaves,
I find what I’m looking for:
tiny monarch egg!

Five rejections later, I’m facing the prospect that this subject, important as it is to me, might not be acceptable in this form. Although I know that many manuscripts are sold after more than five rejections, I also understand that poetry collections are notoriously tough to sell. So I’m taking a different approach, a narrative nonfiction one that I hope will be more appealing to both editors and readers.

As I organize my thoughts in this new direction, I’m still learning. I attended a symposium last week at the Chicago Botanic Garden with brilliant speakers who elaborated on the urgent issues affecting monarchs today. I soaked up every word, took pages and pages of notes, and collected handouts to study.

To prepare for this year’s monarch project, I started three varieties of milkweed from seeds we collected last fall.

top to bottom: common, whorled, and butterfly milkweed
Now the monarchs are back! Eggs are hatching! Caterpillars are growing! Today's tally includes 4 eggs and 7 caterpillars. I’m heading back outside to keep an eye on the amazing creatures and their awe-inspiring transformation so I can try, try again with a topic that’s not only important but also fascinating and dear to my heart.

Wish me luck!

Don’t forget to enter our current giveaway for a chance to win an autographed copy of Joan Bransfield Graham's new book, The Poem That Will  Not End: Fun with Poetic Forms and Voices!

JoAnn Early Macken

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Wednesday Writing Workout: Putting Together the Pieces of Your Story

Today I'm pleased to share a Wednesday Writing Workout contributed by the inspiring and talented author Margo L. Dill.

I first met Margo some years ago at an SCBWI-Illinois writing conference. I believe she'd already sold her first novel, the middle-grade historical Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg (White Mane Kids), but it hadn't been published yet. With today's post, we join Margo's blog tour celebrating the release of her second novel, Caught Between Two Curses (Rocking Horse Publishing), a YA light paranormal romance novel about the Curse of the Billy Goat on the Chicago Cubs. Margo has two more books under contract--both picture books--one with High Hill Press and the other with Guardian Angel Publishing. Besides being a children's author, she is also a freelance editor with Editor 911: Your Projects Are My Emergency! and she is part of the WOW! Women On Writing e-zine's staff. There, she works as an editor, blogger, instructor, and social media manager. When she's not writing, editing, or teaching online, Margo loves to spend time with her husband, stepson, daughter, and crazy Boxer dog, Chester, in St. Louis, Missouri. You can learn more at Margo's website.

Here's a summary of Caught Between Two Curses:
Seventeen-year-old Julie Nigelson is cursed. So is her entire family. And it’s not just any-old-regular curse, either—it’s strangely connected to the famous “Curse of the Billy Goat” on the Chicago Cubs. Julie must figure out this mystery while her uncle lies in a coma and her entire love life is in ruins: her boyfriend Gus is pressuring her to have sex, while her best friend Matt is growing more attractive to her all the time. Somehow, Julie must figure out how to save her uncle, her family’s future, and her own love life—and time is running out!
As a die-hard Cubs fan, I'm really looking forward to reading Margo's new book. (I'm hoping the main character solves not only her problem, but the Cubs' curse too!)

And now, here's Margo's three-part Wednesday Writing Workout.

Wednesday Writing Workout: Putting the Pieces Together

Writing a novel is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle with my daughter. I’ve been teaching her to do the edge pieces first and then fill in the middle. This reminds me of writing a novel because writers usually start with an idea, maybe a plot or an interesting character with a problem—in other words, our border. We build our foundation for a story by piecing together our ideas. But sometimes, that beginning border, even with a few pieces filled in the middle, is not finished or even sturdy. Here are exercises I use with my WOW! Women On Writing novel students to add more pieces to their puzzle and come out with a strong, final product—a finished, publishable novel! (These can also be used with short stories and picture books.)
1. Create characters with internal and external problems.
The characters I remember best are the ones that struggled with both internal and external problems. What’s the problem your character has that he must overcome in the novel? Trying to raise money for a new bike? Figuring out how to deal with a sibling? Tired of moving around and always being the new kid at school? These are all external problems, and the ones that our plots are built on. 

But your character also needs an internal problem! In Caught Between Two Curses, Julie has to break two curses; but while she does this, she also struggles with her self-esteem and confidence as well as what love means. These are her internal struggles. While she rushes around to save her uncle, the events in the novel help her grow and work through her internal problems.

Just ask yourself these four questions either before you write your novel or even during revisions:
     a. What is your main character’s internal struggle?
     b. How does he or she solve it?
     c. What is the external problem in the novel that affects the main character?
     d. How does he or she solve it?

2. Brainstorm problems
If you find yourself with a strong border for your novel—an exciting beginning and an ending that will leave readers talking for years, but you are stuck in the muddy middle, make a list of 10 problems that a person can have that’s the same age as your main character and in the same time period. For example, my novel’s main character is 17, lives in Chicago in present day. Problems she can have are: pressure to have sex, temptation to do drugs, failing classes, negative body image, disloyal friends, etc. 

Once you have this list, are there any of these problems that you could turn into a subplot for either your main character or a minor character or sidekick? Subplots can often dry up the muddy middle and keep readers hiking to the end.

3. "Then what?"
The last exercise asks a simple question, “Then what?” Each time you answer, make the problem or situation worse for your main character. You don’t actually have to use all of these horrible situations in your book, but they may help you push your main character a little harder. Here’s an example:

     Julie learns a curse is on her family.
     Then what?

     The curse makes her uncle fall in a coma.
     Then what?

     Julie’s grandma says her uncle will die before he is 35 if the curse isn’t broken.
     Then what?

     He is 35 in less than 5 months.
     Then what?

     She has no idea what to do to break the curse.

Using these writing exercises while you are piecing together your novel will give you a complete story in no time! 

Thanks, Margo, for this terrific Wednesday Writing Workout. Congratulations on your new novel. I look forward to reading it.

Readers, do let us know if you try these exercises. If you'd like to read about where Margo gets her inspiration, check out this blog post. And if you haven't already done so, be sure to enter our current giveaway for a chance to win The Poem That Will Not End: Fun with Poetic Forms and Voices (Two Lions). See April's interview with the author, Joan Bransfield Graham, for complete details.

Happy writing!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Summer Writing - with Kids

While the official start of summer is still two weeks away, writers with kids newly freed from school may already be wondering if they'll ever write again. At least that's how I felt every June about this time. I was fortunate to stay home with our kids, and there were a couple of really frustrating summers early in my writing career (and boy, am I using that term loosely). I drove myself crazy trying to follow the old "write every day" advice. Why wouldn't my kids cooperate?!

But my dad had his own advice:  Enjoy your kids. They won't be little forever.

So I gave myself permission to take my own summer breaks. Play with the kids. Enjoy life. Store up memories. 

Back then, I was specializing in rejected picture book manuscripts. But I also submitted lots of poetry to kids' magazines, much of which was accepted (Thank you, Carus!). Oddly enough, I wrote MORE poems during those summers than at any other time ... usually after getting the kids to bed. We'd say our nighty-nights, then I'd spend an hour or so deciphering odd snippets of rhyme from the sticky notes I'd been slapping onto my desk throughout the day.

So if you're ankle deep in Legos and Play-Doh and soap bubbles and sidewalk chalk right now, relax and enjoy. But keep your eyes and ears and hearts open. And take notes.

If you're more determined than I was to keep your writing front and center through these summer days,  here are tips and advice from others who have found ways to make it work:

In the end, you have to do whatever works for YOU. Good luck!

Jill Esbaum

P.S. Enter our Rafflecopter giveaway to win a copy of Joan Bransfield Graham's The Poem That Will Not End:  Fun with Poetic Forms and Voices.

P.P.S. Two books I've written are part of a new series from National Geographic especially for 3-6 year olds. Hitting shelves June 25th are Explore My World:  Penguins, and Explore My World:  Snow Leopards. Watch for them!  :)

Friday, June 6, 2014

Interview with Poet Joan Bransfield Graham and Book Giveaway for Joan's New Book--Happy Poetry Friday!

Howdy, Campers!

Before we get to Poetry Friday, before you enter our newest book giveaway to win a new spanking-new poetry book, I'm thrilled to announce the winner of an autographed copy of Debbie Dadey's Treasure in Trident City (Aladdin).
Here's Carmela's guest TeachingAuthor Interview with the Debbie.)

And the winner is...drum roll, please...Catherine A!

Congratulations, Catherine!  

And now onto Poetry Friday, which is hosted by Carol, of,
interestingly enough, Carol's Corner. Thanks for hosting, Carol!

And today, we're lucky ducks. Why?  Because my dear friend, poet
Joan Bransfield Graham, is stopping by for a glass of iced tea!  Here she comes now ~ um...looks like I'd better bring a trough of tea...
The effervescent, inventive and truly original author and poet,
Joan Bransfield Graham. 

In January, when her latest book of poetry--The Poem That Will  Not End: Fun with Poetic Forms and Voices, illustrated by Krysten Brooker--was published, TeachingAuthors was proud to be part of Joan's blog tour.  At our stop of her tour she offered a Wednesday Writing Workout called the Olympic Writing Challenge.

Today, Joan has agreed to be tied to a spit and grilled with our tough TeachingAuthor interview questions.  She has also been kind enough to offer an autographed copy of  The Poem That Will  Not End: Fun with Poetic Forms and Voices to one of our lucky readers. (Here's Miss Rumphius' fabulous interview with Joan to whet your appetite for this book.)

This book giveaway runs from midnight, June 6 to the end of the day on June 21, 2014.  See below for entry details.

As I reported in January, Joan is an award-winning poet who can't STOP writing poetry. She has files and piles of poems, which have been featured in anthologies, magazines, textbooks, and on CDs. She likes to think "outside the page" because poetry is "everywhere." Her books SPLISH SPLASH and FLICKER FLASH--shape poems about water and light--were both chosen as School Library Journal Best Books of the Year and NCTE Notables, among many other honors, and have been described as "ingenious," "wonderfully evocative," and "stunningly delicious." She loves photography, art, traveling and lives not-too-far from me in Los Angeles, CA.

 Celebrating its 20th Birthday!

Celebrating its 15th Birthday!

So, Joan, how did you officially become a TeachingAuthor?

I officially became a TeachingAuthor when my teacher brain and my writer brain merged!  My favorite part about teaching was helping students leap beyond knowledge into creativity, to use their imaginations to see the world in new ways.

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

"Does a poem have to rhyme?"  Of course not.  I tell students rhyme can be like a wild horse that wants to take you in the wrong direction.  You have to be in charge of your poem and guide it; don't throw in any word just to make it rhyme.  Expressing what you want to say is the most important thing--use the form that works best. 

Lately, I've  been surprised when students haven't been able to tell me what a poetry "anthology" is.  The word anthology comes from the Greek word "anthologia," a "flower gathering."  Isn't that a great way to think of it . . . a bouquet of voices rather than poems from only one writer. 
Bouquets at the Davis, CA Farmer's Market
Recently in an assembly, before we were going to do a poem together in sign language, I asked, "What is sign language?" A kindergarten child said, "Using your hands to communicate."  Wow.

What one piece of advice do you have for teachers?

Share and enjoy poetry with your students across the curriculum--it fits everywhere!  Do poems in "call and response" so that everyone can participate, be part of the poem.

Tell us about one particular school visit which stays with you.

Spending a day in the life of a school is an honor and a joy.  Each school has its own personality.  Between assemblies at one school, a teacher came up to me with a little boy and told me he had come to the school speaking no English and also had developmental problems.  After my presentation, he went back to the classroom, picked up my book, and was singing the words he was so excited.  He wanted to give me a hug to thank me.  That's why we write, isn't it?  To open the world for ourselves . . . and others.

And what's next on the horizon for you?

I've just had an incredibly busy May in California, which took me down to San Ysidro, up to Bakersfield for their amazing week-long Young Author Fair, down to San Clemente, and, on May 16, to my daughter Aimee's graduation from the USC School of Cinematic Arts. 

June 28 - 30 I'm headed to ALA in Las Vegas, where I'll be reading in the Poetry Blast.  I have lots of poems due to come out in anthologies--April and I have been "flowers" in many of the same anthologies--at various times and many projects in the works.  On Oct. 25 I'll be doing a Spotlight presentation at the SCBWI CenCal Writers' Day at California Lutheran University.  March 7, 2015 you'll find me in Teaching Author mode conducting a workshop--REV YOUR POETRY POWER:  Poetic Forms, Voices, and Choices. 

And finally, since it's Poetry Friday in the Kidlitosphere, do you have a poem you'd like to share with our readers?

I'm torn about which poem to share.  I've been having so much fun with my "Conductor" poem from THE POEM THAT WILL NOT END.  I pass out my ocean drum, rain sticks, wooden frogs, thunder stick, and we have an environmental symphony.  Those who don't have an instrument are part of the "wind chorus."  I direct all this--"Conductor" is an Italian sonnet--with my large pencil baton as I read the poem. 

But I think I'll share my haiku:

     Smooth patch of white snow,
stretched out before watchful eyes--
                  an invitation!

poem © 2014 JoanBransfield Graham. All rights reserved

I say to students, "The next time you look at a blank sheet of white paper, think of it as a freshly-fallen field of snow, just waiting for the footprints that only you can make."

My character Ryan O'Brian writes because he has to, he has a "Fever" (Can you hear Peggy Lee singing?).  Thanks, April, for this opportunity to connect with kindred "fevered" spirits.

Thank YOU, Joan--and g'bye!  (Readers, be sure to enter below for a chance to win Joan's newest book!)

Joan with her trusty camera.  Behind her is one of her many fans.

Now it's time for you to enter for a chance to win an autographed copy of Joan's The Poem That Will  Not End: Fun with Poetic Forms and Voices. 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 telling us what you'll do with the book should you win: save it for yourself or give it away? 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.  ) The giveaway ends on June 21st. 

A note from Carmela: To enter the giveaway you MUST use the Rafflecopter widget below, since Rafflecopter will pick the winner. Posting a comment without doing so won't enter you into the drawing.

P.S. If you've never entered a Rafflecopter giveaway, here's info on how to enter a Rafflecopter giveaway and the difference between signing in with Facebook vs. with an email address. Email subscribers: if you received this post via email, you can click on the Rafflecopter link at the end of this message to access the entry form.
a Rafflecopter giveaway