Friday, March 24, 2017

Photography, Another Way of Seeing

   I like to see things from a different perspective--hanging upside down from monkey bars, peering at the undersides of school desks (gross!!) or even sideways, balancing on a bed.

   While it's been decades since I've been near monkey bars (although I do occasionally still hang off the side of my bed and imagine living on the ceiling---a la Mrs. Piggle Wiggle) I still have one way of "seeing differently" from those kindergarten days: photography.

    My dad has been a lifelong shutterbug. I have an ancient "selfie" of him at about 12,  box camera shooting into a bedroom dresser mirror. I have gorgeous early Kodachrome slides he took when he was stationed in Oahu during WWII, as well as room by room pictures of my parents' first apartment, with my mother pointing to various wedding presents, Carol Merrill-style.

      This is the first picture I ever took. These are my parents in front of their fence (yes, we actually had a white picket fence.)  Dad allowed me to use his camera, showing me where to look and what to click. I was 6.

That Christmas I got my very own Kodak Brownie flash. I went nuts taking pictures of everything that didn't move. My parents waited until Memorial Day to tell me that my camera needed film. (Just as well...remember the days of film developing?)

I used my camera for the usual things a kid would; relatives, friends, holiday gatherings. I longed to use color film, Brownies used only black and white. The only thing I wanted for my 13th birthday was a Kodak Instamatic...and some color film! Here is the first picture I took with that camera, my Grandmother Rodman (aka Meemaw).  This picture taught me that often the camera catches things that the human eye does not. I never saw Meemaw's hands still. She quilted, crocheted, embroidered, made doll dresses. This is the only time I ever saw her stop to enjoy the spring flowers. I later
learned that she had a hard childhood.  When her mother passed away when Meemaw was 11 she raised her half sibling, taking over all the tasks a mother would perform. She once told me (when she was 95) "Inside, I'm still 15." I can see it here.


 I kept on talking pictures throughout high school and college with a temperamental Yaschica box camera that required a light meter, a gadget I never quite got the hang of. And then another Yaschica without the light meter. As a teacher, I took pictures of my students, especially of our Drama Club productions.

I acquired my husband and a Canon Rebel,the same year. (Truth be told, it was the Andre Agassi commercials that sucked me in.) I had found photographic Nirvana. No light meter, no bulky box balancing. And terrific pictures most of the time. It was about then I read Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way. I liked the book, but so many exercises and so little time. More things to feel guilty about. (Morning pages? Nope. Meditation? Not without falling asleep.) However, I did latch on to the idea of the "artist's date" where once a week you spent time going something artistic, but NOT connected to your main field. We lived in Wisconsin at the time, so I spent endless "artist's dates" photographing frozen fountains, scary-looking icicles and ice boulders pushed up on the shores of Lake Winnebago.

After I had my daughter, Lily Nell, she became the most-photographed baby (at least until Beyonce and Jay-Z had one.) I took so many pictures that my in-laws thought it would be hilarious to give Lily Kodak stock as a christening present.
Totally unstaged
Craig's first Father's Day, with his two girls, Lily and out dog,Vanilla Ice.
Last day of elementary school. Yay!
As you can tell I'm no Ansel Adams. I just enjoy the different view through a camera lens.It sneaks into my writing, the same way music does. (I'm also not a great pianist either.) But appreciation informs anything else you do.  Like, say, writing.

. And the legacy goes on.  Lily was one of 10 AP Photography Students for 2012. Last Christmas she visited a friend in Alaska. She flew over the mountains (no she is not a pilot!) but she took her camera. Always another way of seeing.


Posted by Mary Ann Rodman


Monday, March 20, 2017

My One Thing is Spring



Jo Ann reminded us that “Writing is our work and our passion, but let’s face it: most of us can’t write all day long.”   But I have to admit,  at this moment,  after all the snow and all the politics, the one thing I need now is spring. I need a break from the cold, and the shoveling, and the wind shrilling through my chimney. I need time off from raking snow off my roof, and scraping ice off my windshield. I need some flowers and color and hope for better days.

So, here is some spring, as we wait for our own spring:


The sun just touched the morning;

The morning, happy thing,

Supposed that he had come to dwell,

And life would be all spring. -Emily Dickinson
 




 Spring work is going on with joyful enthusiasm.

-- John Muir (Wilderness World of John Muir) 

 


 
 That is one good thing about this world...there are always sure to be more springs. - L.M. Montgomery (Anne of Avonlea)





A Robin said: The Spring will never come,

And I shall never care to build again.

A Rosebush said: These frosts are wearisome,

My sap will never stir for sun or rain.

The half Moon said: These nights are fogged and slow,

I neither care to wax nor care to wane.

The Ocean said: I thirst from long ago,

Because earth's rivers cannot fill the main. —

When Springtime came, red Robin built a nest,

And trilled a lover's song in sheer delight.

Grey hoarfrost vanished, and the Rose with might

Clothed her in leaves and buds of crimson core.

The dim Moon brightened. Ocean sunned his crest,

Dimpled his blue, yet thirsted evermore.
--Christina Rossetti





When the groundhog casts his shadow,

And the small birds sing,

And the pussywillows happen

And the sun shines warm,

And when the peepers peep,

Then it is Spring.


-- Margaret Wise Brown




It always amazes me to look at the little, wrinkled brown seeds and think of the rainbows in 'em," said Captain Jim. "When I ponder on them seeds I don't find it nowise hard to believe that we've got souls that'll live in other worlds. You couldn't hardly believe there was life in them tiny things, some no bigger than grains of dust, let alone colour and scent, if you hadn't seen the miracle, could you?

-- L.M. Montgomery (Anne’s House of Dreams)


Wishing you a happy Spring!

 Bobbi Miller
(All photos by Pixabay)

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Creativity: One Little Thing

Writing is our work and our passion, but let’s face it: most of us can’t write all day long. Besides the necessary family, household, and job responsibilities, many authors I know have other creative outlets that feed their writing, benefit from it, and even provide inspiration. Some creative pursuits allow us to occupy our hands while our brains unravel other mysteries. Some are welcome distractions when we’ve reached a limit of time or attention.

For years, my sisters and I have made hats and donated them to homeless shelters and other charities. With a Knifty Knitter loom, I can crank out a small hat during an evening of TV watching—and not feel so guilty about watching TV. The process is so simple I can do it almost without looking.

Now I’ve found a new passion. Writing a nonfiction work-for-hire book about plastic (Take a Closer Look at Plastic) gave me a reason and an opportunity to explore how and why plastic is so harmful to our environment. A newspaper article about a group in a nearby suburb trying to do something about the problems of plastic led me to investigate what could be done in our progressive village.

Attending our local Conservation Committee meetings, I met other like-minded people who wanted to do something. We formed a group, Bring Your Bag Shorewood, with a focus on education and a Facebook page. We posted signs in local stores to remind people to bring their own shopping bags. We gave away reusable bags donated by the Conservation Committee and a grocery store. We handed out “I brought my bag!” stickers to people who remembered. With people from that nearby suburb, we started a web site to try to connect with similar groups across the state.

Now we’re embarking on our most ambitious project yet: sewing reusable shopping bags to leave in stores. People who forget theirs can borrow one and bring it back for someone else to use. We’ve joined with Boomerang Bags, which started in Australia and is rapidly spreading around the world. We’re collecting fabric donations, fundraising, and planning our first Sewing Bee.

I’m so excited about this project, which helps the planet by reducing the use of single-use shopping bags while keeping leftover and unwanted fabric (and gently used tablecloths, sheets, and clothing) out of landfills. I just made my first Boomerang Bag from hand-painted fabric donated by my neighbor. Next, we’ll add a pocket with our silk screened logo.


I love being part of a worldwide movement with women from all over the globe. I love the idea that one little thing we can all do can make a big difference in the world. And it’s giving me new ideas to write about. Hooray!
all over the world
many little things add up:
one big difference
What’s your One Little Thing?

Book Giveaways!
Peggy F. won the 2017 Childrens Writers and Illustrators Market. Congratulations, Peggy!

Be sure to enter our new giveaway for a chance to win a copy of Matt Bird’s The Secrets of Story.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Happy Poetry Friday! Robyn Hood Black has the roundup. Enjoy!

JoAnn Early Macken

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

WEDNESDAY WRITING WORKOUT: Never Let the Truth Get in the Way of a Good Story



Today's Wednesday Writing Workout  - intended to get you THINKING about Fiction vs. Fact - comes to you courtesy of my Chicago writer LisaMaggiore.  I knew pronto her “Ava” picture book manuscript was a Winner when I first read it. Sky Pony Press obviously agreed because they published AVA THE MONSTER SLAYER: A WARRIOR WHO WEARS GLASSES, illustrated by Ross Felten, in 2015.  

I’m happy to report: Lisa’s currently working on an AVA sequel as well as a YA novel. She lives with her husband and four children in the city.  For the past 20 years, she was a dedicated social worker – a profession she proudly admits helped her write about tragedy and love. 

Like her Heroine Ava, Lisa excels at both conquering Scary Moments – and – telling stories.  If you don’t believe me, click HERE to listen to and watch her perform her Live Lit LOUDER THAN A MOM performance last February in which she shares her TRUE story of giving both to her daughter at a Chicago gas station! 

Fortunately, when it comes to fiction, Lisa makes sure she never lets the Truth get in the way of a good story. 😊

Thank you, Lisa, for jump-starting our TeachingAuthors readers' brains, showing and sharing how they can do the same.  

And, Readers: don’t forget to click HERE to enter our TeachingAuthors Book Giveaway of Matt Bird’s THE SECRETS OF STORY (Writer’s Digest, 2016)!

Enjoy and learn!

Esther Hershenhorn

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


TRUTH VS. AUTHENTICITY

“Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”
Some believe the words belong to Mark Twain; others believe the words appear in The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs.  Either way, its meaning can be confusing when writing
a story.  Should the truth be omitted or entwined in a story?  And how does being authentic come into play?

As a writer who has taken on a YA historical fiction project, writing in the realm of truth
and authenticity requires a fine balance.  My protagonist, Tin, is male an Amerasian, both of which I am not.  He has lived in an orphanage, survived war, and been a refugee in America - all of which I have never experienced.  Some literary critics have argued that if you’re not writing from your own direct experience, what’s being written cannot be true.  I can begin to question myself as a writer – how can I tell a story that I have never experienced in a truthful and authentic way?

I fell in love with my idea for my YA historical and as writers know, you must love your story, or why would anyone else?  To give myself permission to write this story, I decided to strip away ideas that I had about truth and authenticity and look up the definitions.
This is what I found in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary.

Truth: the body of real things, events and facts; a judgment, proposition, or idea that is true or accepted as true.
Authentic: true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.

These definitions really helped to guide my writing and here’s how.  When I teased away the truth, what I found is that my story’s mission is about drawing out a minority voice and combating oppression, two ideas in storytelling that I’m
deeply passionate about.  My protagonist, Tin, is a fictional character, based on
years of research and interviews with Vietnamese refugees.  But I’m mindful of
giving him an authentic voice because I have worked on being an empathic
interviewer and observer.  I did those things by taking careful notes while conducting interviews, attending Vietnamese events, and easting at Vietnamese
restaurants.  It also helped that my oldest daughter is half Vietnamese; her father and his family escaped Saigon as it was falling to the Communists in 1975.

When I discovered Tin’s authentic voice, I added “truth” but flavored it with
fiction.  Since this is a historical novel, I had real events, facts, and ideas that were accepted as true but how much of that truth I placed in the story was up to me to decide.  Truth is measurable, since it is based in a recorded fact, but truth
is also how someone felt emotionally.  That is not something that can be
measured since it’s linked to an emotion through a personal experience.  

And this is where I think writers can get the two mixed up.  Authentic voice is not
necessarily hinged on truth, rather on what your character would/do if you
were not looking. It involves being vulnerable and sharing emotions, exposing
fears, uncovering anxieties.  The authentic voice pulls the reader into a place of
understanding, if done right, on why your protagonist took a certain action, even
if the reader may not agree with the protagonist’s decision.  The truth does not
mean giving the reader what he wants to hear, but as Ernest Hemingway described as the authenticity found in novels, “All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards, it all belongs to you.”

As a writer working with truth and authenticity, you must enter the reader’s brain and heart.  Truth can do the brain work and engage the reader in the
journey in a curious and excited, even scary way.  Authenticity works the heart,
by helping the reader belive that the journey will be worthwhile and fulfilling.
And at the end of the day, I’m hoping that the reader is engaged in my mission: telling a truthful and authentic story that is bigger than any of us.

* * * * * * * 

Monday, March 13, 2017

A Must-have Book (PLUS Book Giveaway) for Storytellers!


I’ve been writing for children since 1977 and teaching writers since 1996!
My writing room’s shelves, desk and window sills boast enough books on writing-related topics to rival the stock of any Writer’s Bookshop.
Craft. Process. Story. The writer’s life. Writing for children. The ins and outs of publishing.
From Aristotle to Zinsser, with Lamott and McKee in the middle, each title stands ready to help me do my job.
 
I’m happy to report, and with total confidence, there’s not one book on my shelves like Matt Bird’s THE SECRETS OF STORY (Writer’s Digest, 2016).  It’s a must-have book on craft both smart and practical, Thumbs-up deserving - not only because of its eye-opening approach to storytelling, its thoughtfully-focused content, its sensible organization and the author’s personal writing style, but especially because the book delivers its subtitle’s promise - “Innovative Tools for Perfecting Your Fiction and Captivating Readers.”
The Good News is: those innovative tools can be yours simply by entering our Book Giveaway.  Be sure to read the details at the end of this post.

Matt Bird’s bona fides includes an MFA in Screenwriting from Columbia University, years of screenwriting and a long-running successful blog on storytelling, COCKEYED CARAVAN, recently renamed THE SECRET OF STORIES. 
He offers the heart of this comprehensive book up front and early, on page 2, in fact: “Tell the story that would win you over, even if you didn’t want to hear it.”
And then in three Parts laden with common sense and cathartic Aha’s (Writing for Strangers, The Ultimate Story Checklist and Getting from Good to “Good Lord, This Is Amazing!”), he shares the means to the end - a good story told well.
Bird believes audience satisfaction is the name of the game.  “You have to embrace your audience,” he writes. “They are the only reason to write anything.”  Listening to our audiences is key, he tells writers; it’s what allows us to build identification between our hero and our audience. Fortunately, his Thirteen Essential Laws of Writing for Strangers show us how to listen.
By the time I reached Law #4 - AUDIENCES DON’T REALLY CARE ABOUT STORIES; THEY CARE ABOUT CHARACTERS, I’d put aside my yellow highlighter,
read to #13, then typed up all thirteen and emailed them to several of my writers and students.

And so it went as I – eagerly! - read through Parts II and III, cornering pages, underlining previously-recognized Truths, bracketing paragraphs, starring key words, writing in the margins and the top and bottom of pages to restate in my words what Matt Bird presented.  And all the while I kept thinking of my stories as well as my students’ and writers’ stories and how we now could perfect them, and thinking of how I’ll retool my SpringUniversity of Chicago Writer’s Studio Workshop - A Facilitated Children’s Novelists Writing Group, thanks to the book’s checklists.

How’s this for one of Matt Bird’s head-bobbing, comforting Truths: “Writing is not one big talent.  It is a discipline consisting of several distinct skills, each of which must be individually mastered by writing every day, day after day, for years, as you slowly get better.”

He then goes on to list the seven skills he believes writers need to master – Concept, Character, Structure and Plot, Scene Work, Dialogue, Tone and Theme.  One by one, chapter by chapter, he breaks down each skill according to definition, common misconceptions and the relevant questions that need to be asked.
It’s those relevant questions we must ask and answer if our storytelling ever is to satisfy our audience, the questions that by book’s end become handy-dandy tools.

For example, in underscoring the importance of creating compelling characters, how do we get our audience to believe, care and invest?  Matt Bird shares question after question we need to ask, making sure his illustrating examples drawn from familiar movies, tv shows and novels facilitate and serve our understanding. 
He does the same for structure (The Challenge, the Easy Way, the Hard Way, the Climax) and Scene Work (The Set-up, Conflict and Outcome), sharing relevant questions, each brilliantly exampled.

In his Preface, Matt Bird reveals that he hopes his book is “useful, illuminating and most, of all, fun.”  With this audience-member, he realized all three.
I can’t recall the last time I sat with a book on the craft of writing as fully engaged as I was reading THE SECRETS OF STORY and I think I know why.
In writing his book, Matt Bird thought about and embraced his audience of storytellers; he’d listened to their needs and worked hard to satisfy them. 😊
Writing in a lively, honest-to-the-bone style, he bravely put himself into the mix – his screenwriting studies, his unexpected illness, his life experiences, and best of all, his disappointments.  Even though THE SECRETS OF STORY is a work of nonfiction, how could I not believe, care and invest?

“If you really value your audience,” he writes, again up front and early, “you’ll never have to choose between audience satisfaction and writing from the heart, because the two will be one and the same.”

For the record, I personally am ignoring Matt Bird’s Final Rule, which is to ignore everything he said in the book’s previous 330 pages.  Way before that point, he’d written so convincingly, his Rules had segued and become the beliefs every storyteller needs.

Make time to visit Matt Bird’s blog.  Check the resources listed on the right side of the page, especially The Ultimate Story Checklist.  

To learn more about the author, click here to read his September 19, 2016 interview at the Blabbermouth blog.

IMHO: THE SECRETS OF STORY belongs on every writer’s bookshelf.

Happy storytelling! Happy checklisting!

Esther Hershenhorn

………………………………………………………………………………….

Now, to procure your copy of Matt Bird’s THE SECRETS OF STORY, enter our Book Giveaway and perhaps you’ll be the lucky winner.  Use our Rafflecopter widget below.  You may enter via 1, 2, or all 3 options.

If you choose option 2, you must leave a comment on today’s blog post below or on our TeachingAuthors Facebook page. If you haven’t already liked our Facebook page, please do so today! If you prefer, you may submit your comment via email to: Teachingauthors[at]gmail [dot] com


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.

Note: if you submit your comments via email or Facebook, you must still enter the drawing via the widget below.  The giveaway ends March 29, 2017, and is open to U.S. residents only.

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.


Friday, March 10, 2017

3 More Writer Resources, Plus a Question


Hello, Everyone!
Today I'm wrapping up our series on Writer Resources. I also want to remind you that this is the last day to enter our giveaway of the 2017 edition of one of the best writer resources for those who write for children and teens: the Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market (Writer's Digest Books). This edition features my co-blogger JoAnn Early Macken's article "Be Your Own Literary Agent." See JoAnn's post to enter.


If you're new to our blog and you missed the other posts in this series, here's a link that will allow you to scroll through all of them, as well as previous posts on the topic.

Here are three final resources for you, plus a question:

Grammarly 

Grammarly provides software that you can use to check spelling and grammar, not only within documents but anywhere you type. It's checking this blog post and flagging errors as I write it. I've been using the free version, which includes weekly reports on how accurate and productive I've been in comparison to other users. So far, I'm doing okay. 😊

Google Blogger Emojis/Special Characters

See the smiley face at the end of the last paragraph? It used to be difficult to include emojis and special characters, like the copyright symbol, in blogs hosted by Google Blogger. I just recently noticed that there's now a searchable drop-down box filled with them built into the posting toolbar. 👌

IFTTT (IF This Then This)
to Automate Repetitive Activities

Wikipedia defines IFTTT as "a free web-based service that people use to create chains of simple conditional statements, called applets. An applet is triggered by changes that occur within other web services such as Gmail, Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest." For example, I mentioned in January that I'd finally activated the Twitter account I set up long ago (@carmelamartino). Now I'm also on Instagram (@cmartinoauthor). I used IFTTT for the first time this week, to set up an applet that automatically posts my Instagram photos to Twitter. I'm hoping to find other ways IFTTT can help automate my social media activity. If you have suggestions, do let me know, either here or on one of my social media sites.

Now for the question:

What Writer Resource Do You Recommend?

In particular, I'd like to know if any of you have used TextExpander, or a similar product, to create shortcuts for text you type frequently. Or do you have any other resources that help you as a writer? Please tell us in the comments to this post or on our Facebook page.

Before I sign off, I'd like to share a link to a new website promoting young-adult fiction that features Catholic characters and themes: CatholicTeenBooks.com. I'm honored to have my novel,
 Rosa, Sola, included there.


And don't forget that today is Poetry Friday. See the roundup hosted by Michelle Barnes at Today's Little Ditty.

Remember to Write with JOY!
Carmela

Monday, March 6, 2017

Online Research Sources for Writers and Teachers



I love facts.  And lists of facts.  And lists of lists of facts.  There are countless amazing online resources for writers.  Since this is the theme for TeachingAuthors.com for a couple of weeks, I thought I'd share some of my favorites.  













If you want the complete list of the resources for writers I've compiled, go to the "for teachers" page on my website: 

Click here for Carla Killough McClafferty's website.


Carla Killough McClafferty


Win a copy of Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market 2017!


Friday, March 3, 2017

2017 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market Giveaway Reminder


Hello everyone,

Unfortunately, Mary Ann isn't able to post today. We'll continue our series on "Writer Resources" Monday. Meanwhile, I'm here to remind you that there's still time to enter for a chance to win the latest edition of one of the best writer resources for those who write for children and teens:
the Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market (Writer's Digest Books). See JoAnn's post for details.


And don't forget to check out this week's Poetry Friday roundup at Heidi Mordhorst's My Juicy Little Universe.

Remember to Write with JOY!
Carmela