Friday, January 17, 2020

20/20 Revision: Re-learning to See


A word of many meanings. It can be the act of seeing the physical world.

Or the ability to see into the future.  I usually can't predict what I'm having for lunch, let alone what's going to happen next year, or even next week.

Another definition, according to Webster's, is to imagine. My ability to imagine has been working at a slow speed lately. Sometimes it stops working altogether.

Then there is this, the last definition--"something seen; a lovely sight."

This is Maui, where my husband and I spent five days before Christmas, celebrating out 30th anniversary. Five days of "lovely sights." If you've never been, this place can be a shock to your senses. A carnival of color. Stark contrasts--lava fields and Jurassic Park lushness. Rainbows appearing from nowhere...then disappearing.
Perfect (for me) weather--75 degrees every day with soft breezes. Go to the top of a dead volcano, and it's 38 degrees and I don't even want to guess the wind chill.

We snorkeled. Getting up close and personal with the Yellow Tang and Rainbow Butterfly Fish is my idea of nirvana.

Under the sea--da-da-da-da-da!
 We lucked into arriving the first day of whale watching season. Our guide warned us that we might not see anything this so early, but we did!  Whales arcing over the ocean, slapping their mighty tails, the marine mammal mating call. Whale watching was Craig's idea; I was just along for the ride. But I'm so glad I did.
Whale watching with total strangers.

Maui is a great place to stargaze. The island tries to keep light pollution to a minimum. So much so, that driving unfamiliar roads at night is not a good idea, they are so sparsely lit. We signed on for a "star watch tour" at the top of Haleakala, the highest point on the island. We climbed into a van with six other tourists and our sprightly seventy-something ex-hippie guide and wound our way to the top of Haleakala, a dead volcano.

Talk about visions! The late afternoon lit up canyons and craters, a cross between the Grand Canyon in on direction, and the surface of the moon in the other. Gazing down to the ocean and small towns was the kind of view you get from a plane. A 10,000 ft elevation will do that. It's another world up there.
Me on the moon (Haleakala)

 Craig and I chuckled at the instructions to wear sweats and heavy socks and that we would be given wind suits.  We stopped laughing when we got out of the van at the summit, and were blasted with 30 mph winds. We jumped into those wind suits, gratefully accepted our guide's offer of hot chocolate and Christmas cookies, and snuggled into camp chairs to watch the sun slowly sink into the Pacific. We also snickered as other tourists pulled into the parking lot to take sunset pictures, only to discover that shorts and flip-flops really weren't a good idea. I wonder how their pictures turned out...people shivering, shoulders hunched to their ears, hair whipping their faces, screaming "Take the picture, I'm freezing!"
That's the Pacific at the top of the shot

Darkness fell. Even without the guide's huge portable telescope, the sky lit up with stars and planets. Who knew you could see Saturn without a telescope? And there were all the constellations I've read about, but could never pick out for myself. Despite the wind and the cold (and my wind pants that kept falling down) I could've stayed up there forever. But the clouds rolled in, above and below us. Time to go, while our driver could still negotiate the endless switchbacks. A fantasy ride through the clouds. The van's radio faded in and out of a classic rock station. Suddenly, The Beatles "Something" came through loud and clear, our senior ex-hippie driver singing harmony. We rolled down, down through the clouds in our warm magic bus, like a waking dream. Back to the meeting point where is was still 75 degrees, with gentle breezes and no clouds.

So you, you say, you had a nice vacation. So what does this have to do with writing.

Its the "vision thing" as a former president once said. All of these thing existed, but we had to choose to see them. We were with other tourists on all our excursions. While we were snorkeling, others chose to sit in the shade and bitch that there were no soft drinks, just water. On the whale watching cruise, people complained that it was overcast, and they couldn't take pictures of the sunset. And of course, there were those ill-prepared people at Haleakala, focused only getting a picture before they froze, not even looking at the sunset behind them.

There is always something to observe if we so choose.  No, I can't hop over to Maui when I want to refresh my vision. But I can choose to take a closer look, right where I am, even in suburban Atlanta. There are people to observe, flowers to discover, the variety of ways that rain can fall.

And on those days when nothing seems interesting, nothing sparks my eye, I can remember that the sun and moon and Venus are always in the sky, even when I can't see them.
And so aloha to our 50th state.
Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Wednesday Writing Workout: Befriending the Revision Monster

Today I'm happy to share a guest Wednesday Writing Workout from Illinois author Shirin Shamsi.

Shirin was born and raised in the UK to immigrant parents from Pakistan. She moved to the United States where she raised three wonderful human beings who are doing great things in the world.
Shirin always wanted to write stories in which her children would see themselves. Living on three different continents gave her a global perspective and she dreams of writing stories that inspire empathy. You can read more about her at her website and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Shirin's most recent book is the middle-grade novel Laila and the Sands of Time (Spork). Here's a brief summary:

Thirteen-year-old Laila, still grieving over her father's death, goes on their planned pilgrimage to Mecca with her aunt and uncle. While on pilgrimage, Laila is transported back in time to 7th-century Arabia. There she faces the dangers of the desert, takes on a disguise, and saves a baby's life. But will she ever return to her own time?

Here's Shirin's Wednesday Writing Workout.
Wednesday Writing Workout:
Befriending the Revision Monster
by Shirin Shamsi

I began writing Laila and the Sands of Time when my eldest daughter asked me to write a chapter book. At the time I considered myself a picture book author only.

The journey has been a long road. I learned much from it. I was a total "pantser" before and now try to be a plotter, so hopefully I am becoming a bit of both.

I feared revision before. In fact, I believe it was the fear of revision that made procrastination much more palatable to me. My fear of revision grew and grew until it became a monster.

Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

Let’s face it, if you love writing then revision is going to be your companion for the duration of your writing career. It has taken a lot of time, patience, and perseverance, but I now come to revision with the same excitement I bring to writing a rough draft. Revision and I are now best friends.
From the time I signed the contract for Laila and the Sands of Time to the moment when I held it in my hands, it took two whole years. During that time I went back and forth with my editor. Without my amazing editor, I feel my book would not have been as good. It was a learning process for me, being my first middle grade novel. I was impatient to see my story in print, but even when I thought my story was perfect, my editor made it shine. Our constant back and forth conversations and revision made my book the best it could be.

I feel so passionate about revision that I would like to share a few ideas here with you:
  1. When you feel your story is complete, put it away. Let it rest.
  2. When you read it again, ask yourself if every fact has been researched. For Laila, I had to research a lot about 7th-century Arabia. I feared getting the facts wrong.
  3. Also ask yourself: Does everything make sense? Is every page interesting?
  4. Each time you revise, approach your work with a new goal, such as word choice, tone, factual details, story arc, plot.
  5. Go through each page to cut out the “widows” and “orphans” at the beginning and end of each page. It will make for a cleaner and tighter story.
  6. Read your story as though someone else has written it. Does it still excite you? If your answer is “YES” then you are ready to share your story with the world.
Revision is a lengthy process. I think of it as excavation. We have to dig deep, cut through hard obstacles to get to our gem of a story.
Image by PaulaPaulsen from Pixabay
Good luck. Keep writing. Keep revising.
Thank you, Shirin, for today's Wednesday Writing Workout. Readers, I hope you'll try her suggestions. If you do, please let us know how they work for you.

Posted by Carmela

Friday, January 10, 2020


Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald
Doctor Who, Wikipedia.
Copyright BBC

Welcome back to Teaching Authors!

Unsinkable. That’s the One Word that my friend (I will call her Clara) gifted me on New Years Day. The word means full of energy. Not able to be defeated or to fail. Synonyms include soaring and free. Buoyant.

According to the practice, the One Word Resolution brings clarity by taking all your big plans for life change and narrowing them down into a single focus. This one word centers on your character and creates a vision for your future. It acts as a mantra or guiding principle for the new year. The idea is focused around having a central word or theme to guide your actions or what you want to embrace.

I have never considered participating in the One Word Resolution. How can a writer choose just one word?

“Fear Makes Companions of Us All.” – Clara Oswald
2019 had been a challenging year. There have been many transitions, negative and positive.

You may recall in 2017, I separated from my dear agent. I had searched for years for the right agent, firing two agents along the way because they were not serving my best interest. Finally, finally I found the ONE. After five years, and the sale of my two historical fiction middle grade books, my agent decided to focus on picturebooks and so ended our relationship. Since then, despite many hopeful connections and queries, agents requesting revisions and promising possibilities, I have not been able to find a new agent.

Of course, I haven’t stopped writing. I did manage to sell my first graphic novel.

As Rachel Olsen, co-author of  My One Word: Change Your Life With Just One Word says, this word gives you a focus on how you approach all aspects of your life for this one year. It helps you determine the kind of person you want to become. A word can’t be broken. It serves as a reminder; a filter. It’s who you want to be instead of what you regret.
"Let Me Be Brave." – Clara Oswald
I have now transitioned into Medicare age, and am facing that dreaded process. It is not without it’s own wistfulness. I am the first one in my family to make it to this age. Both of my parents and my younger brother didn’t make it this far. I am the Last One Standing. 

 But I am still here.

And, of course, there are other challenges that comes with age. Loss of beloved friends. Loss of beloved companions. Disconnections and reconnections. Then there's Trump.
"Show Me the Stars." – Clara Oswald
I am teaching more classes at the MFA Creative Writing Program at Southern New Hampshire University. I have enjoyed several of Harold Underdown’s and Eileen Robinson’s Kid and YA Book Revisions online courses and workshops. It has kept my head in the game, and I have managed to finish two novels in the last two years and revised another manuscript, a potential series, now being reviewed.

All things considered, Clara did well in gifting me this word. Unsinkable. Thank you!
What is your One Word?
As you consider your One Word, here is my gift to you, Maya Angelou reading one of my favorite picture books, Life Doesn't Frighten Me.(illustrated by Jean-Michel Basquiat. Abrams Books, 1993)

-- Bobbi Miller

Friday, December 20, 2019

2 Poems of Hope for the New Year

Howdy, Campers ~ and happy Poetry Friday (Two poems and the PF link are below)

CONGRATULATIONS to the TeachingAuthors reader who won Kimberly Hutmacher's book, Your Nose Never Stops Growing and Other Cool Human Body Facts in our last giveaway of the year.... drum roll, please...

 ---> John S! <---
(This is not a picture of John, but I'll bet he's this excited)

I'm honored to be writing the last TeachingAuthors post of our 10th year. We'll return refreshed and ready to entertain, educate and inspire you on January 10, 2020.

I wanted to end this year with a note of hope.

Or two.

I scrolled through old poems tagged with the word hope--there are lots!

Then I cold-bloodedly killed off all but two...and can't decide which to post. So here are two to send you into the new year with hearts full of hope. Which do you prefer?

by April Halprin Wayland
July 27, 2018

I'm fourteen
the sand is neon hot
I run into the sea
letting its waves drink me

I swim as if I'm in our school's pool
burying my face in its warm water
savoring that strange grey light the concrete walls cast
reveling in its chlorine smell

but I'm in Kauai, Hawaii, salt in my eyes, salt in the air
there are fish below, but I don't have a snorkel or mask
so I swim and swim and swim
there are no concrete walls here

and oof! I bump into a snorkeling man and his daughter
we laugh and he takes off his gear, "Here—you've got to see this"
as if it were the most natural thing
as if we were long-time friends

so I do—I put my mouth on the bite tab
even though we've never met
and slip on the mask to see
what I knew was there

what I didn't know
was how much kindness
was swimming
so near

by April Halprin Wayland
August 19, 2010

My brain is sinking into the first chapter of a really great book.
I’m on top of the bed leaning against four fat pillows
wearing my seriously soft socks
as always.

Gary's reading The Economist on the little couch
head back against the square cushion he’s positioned just right  
feet on the opposite arm of the couch
as always.

Eli is upside down, back legs against the couch
front legs straight up in the air, paws flopped
eyes closed, breathing deeply
as always.

The balcony door nearest the couch
is open
letting in a loose tangle of African daisies
and this just-right August night.

I turn a page.
Something makes me look up.
pokes her head in the bedroom door.

Her green eyes narrow.
She studies the dog for a minute.
Then she slinks blackly along the edge of the room
towards our bed.

I wave my arm frantically over my head,
finally catch Gary's eye,
mouth, “ELSIE!”
and point.

Elsie is evading a predator.
She relaxes as she slips past the bed
which will block Eli's view if he wakes,
then takes a cat-light leap, landing next to my thigh.

By the time I turn on the ten’ clock news
(which wakes Eli)
Elsie is warm on my stomach.
Eli trots over.

She offers her head to him for a lick.
For several licks.
She leans further forward,

His tail wags furiously.
He puts his paw on her
and cocks his head.
Her ears flatten.

Elsie's purr goes guttural, dark, deep.
Eli sits down.
Then he yawns (I am so bored).
Chews an itch by his tail. Lies down.

Maybe there is hope
for peace
in the Middle East
after all.

 Elsie & Eli the first day they met, 2010

Eli romancing Elsie when they were young

poems (c) 2019 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

From all of us at TeachingAuthors ~
may you have moments of peace
this holiday season
and may we all find
in the new year.

posted with a little help from Eli by April Halprin Wayland

Friday, December 13, 2019

Three Poetry-Writing Titles for Your Bookshelf (and a Poem Inspired by Them)

Happy Poetry Friday! I share an original poem at the end of this post, along with a link to this week's terrific poetry-related Wednesday Writing Workout from Kimberly Hutmacher, in case you missed it. (The post includes a giveaway of Kimberly's nonfiction book Your Nose Never Stops Growing and Other Cool Human Body Facts (Capstone Press).

Today I'd like to share three poetry-writing titles for your reference. I was inspired by Esther's post last Friday, in which she shared five new titles of interest to aspiring writers of all ages, but especially young writers. While the books I'll discuss today are not new releases, two of them are new to me.

I mentioned last August that I've been reading and writing poetry as I work on my own poetry project. I've also been reading books on poetry writing. I started out by rereading Ralph Fletcher's Poetry Matters: Writing a Poem from the Inside Out (HarperCollins). Even though the book is intended for grades 5-9, I find it helpful for my own writing, and I find the examples from young poets quite inspiring.

I read a second book that approaches poetry "from the inside out:" Sandford Lyne's Writing Poetry from the Inside Out: Finding Your Voice through the Craft of Poetry (Sourcebooks). While the book's focus is poetry-writing, I think it would benefit all sorts of writers. This is not a book that addresses rhyme, meter, or form. Instead, it's about how to open our awareness to the world around us. As Lyne says:
"Writing poetry is about seeing patterns, seeing resemblances, seeing symbols and metaphors; it is about seeing connections. Writing poetry is about a deeper appreciation and deeper discernment, about respecting our own individuality and the individuality of others. Writing poetry is about economy, about bringing order out of chaos, about fine-tuning the aesthetic sense; it is about nurturing our sensitivity to beauty and preserving the beauty of the world."
After reading the book, I researched Lyne to see what else he'd written and was very sad to learn that he died in 2007, the same year this book was published. I found a lovely tribute to him online that talks of how he shared his delight in poetry with thousands of children and teachers. He compiled two anthologies of poems by some of the children he taught: Soft Hay Will Catch You: Poems by Young People (Simon & Schuster, 2004) and Ten- Second Rainshowers: Poems by Young People (Simon & Schuster, 1996). He used some of those poems as examples in Writing Poetry from the Inside Out, too.
Lyne's book includes a writing exercise called poem-sketching that's been helping me develop my poetry muscles. The poem I share below came out of that process.

The poetry-writing book I'm currently reading, The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets (University of Nebraska Press) by Ted Kooser, was included in the list of "Suggested Reading" in Lyne's book. Although it was published in 2005, Kooser's book is new to me. I'm finding it both inspiring and, as the subtitle says, filled with lots of practical advice.

Kooser says:
"What is most difficult for a poet is to find the time to read and write when there are so many distractions, like making a living and caring for others. But the time set aside for being a poet, even if only for a few moments each day, can be wonderfully happy, full of joyous, solitary discovery."
I've been experiencing some truly "joyous" moments playing with poetry the last few months. As I mentioned above, the poem I'm sharing today was inspired by Lyne's poem-sketching process. (You can read more about the process here and here.) The word group that prompted my poem consisted of "poems, flock, wings, fly."

Inspired by April's willingness to share her poetry-writing process, I give you first an early draft of the poem:

        Flocking Poems 

     Poems flock to me
     like migrating birds.
     Their wings rustle
     in the distance.
     I wait, smiling,
     as they fly nearer and nearer.
     they alight on this table
     waiting to be heard
     and fed.
  Copyright 2019 Carmela A. Martino 

Image by Gerhard Gellinger from Pixabay

You can see I used all the words in the initial draft, but some were edited out in the revision process. Here's the current, much shorter, version.

       Flocking Poems 

     Poems flock to me
     like migrating birds.
     They alight on the page
     waiting to be heard.
  Copyright 2019 Carmela A. Martino 

Not sure I'm satisfied with this one yet. I'd love to know your thoughts on both poems. I plan to include this post in this week's Poetry Friday round-up over at Elizabeth Steinglass's blog. When you're done there, don't forget to read Kimberly Hutmacher's poetry-related Wednesday Writing Workout and enter our giveaway of her nonfiction book Your Nose Never Stops Growing and Other Cool Human Body Facts (Capstone Press).

Remember to always Write with Joy!

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Wednesday Writing Workout: Combining Poetry and Nonfiction, and a Book Giveaway!

Today I'm happy to bring you a Wednesday Writing Workout from nonfiction author and poet extraordinaire, Kimberly Hutmacher.

Kimberly is the author of 32 nonfiction books for children and 150+ articles, stories, and poems for magazines! Her latest is a series of three books on musical instruments, French Horn, Harp, and Djembe, to be released by Weigl AV2 Publishing in  2020. When Kimberly isn't working on a book project, she blogs for Poetry Friday at Kimberly Hutmacher Writes. She also contributes activities, crafts, and book recommendations to S.T.E.A.M. Powered Poetry, a site featuring inspiring STEAM-themed poetry videos for grades K-8.

To celebrate her appearance here on TeachingAuthors, Kimberly is giving away a copy of her book Your Nose Never Stops Growing and Other Cool Human Body Facts (Capstone Press) to one lucky TeachingAuthors reader.

Did you know the smallest muscle in the human body is located inside the ear? Did you know the average American shoe size has increased 2 sizes since 1970? Did you know tooth enamel is the hardest part of the body? Your Nose Never Stops Growing and Other Cool Human Body Facts is brimming with interesting and unusual human body trivia. The book is part of Capstone's Mind Blowing Facts Series. See the end of this post for instructions on how to enter to win your own copy! But first, here's Kim's Wednesday Writing Workout.

Wednesday Writing Workout:
Combining Poetry and Nonfiction

My two favorite writing genres are poetry and nonfiction. In my work, the two forms often collide. My nonfiction picture book, Paws, Claws, Hands, and Feet (Arbordale 2009) and my nonfiction series of books on time for Capstone Press are written in rhyme. Sometimes, I’m asked to write STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) poems for a curriculum or a testing company. Once in a while, I’ll write a STEAM-themed poem for a magazine. I contribute accompanying activities, crafts, and book recommendations to Heidi Bee Roemer’s S.T.E.A.M. Powered Poetry Vlog. Today’s Wednesday Writing Workout lets us stretch both our nonfiction and our poetry writing muscles. 

Step 1: Find and read a STEAM-themed article that interests you. Here are a few online publications you might find helpful:
Step 2: Read the article again, and jot down some notes: key points, interesting words, descriptions of images that come to mind, questions you have about the topic and/or anything you might want to research further, etc.

Step 3: Write a poem based on what you’ve read. Your poem can be a feast for readers covering an entire process (Example: water cycle) or introduce readers to just a small taste of your topic (Example: evaporation). Your poem can be as long or as short as you like and it can be written in any form.

The following poem is an example of how I used this process for a Today’s Little Ditty Challenge at Michelle Heidenrich’s blog. Linda Mitchell challenged us to write a found haiku from any article on any subject that fascinated us. For this particular challenge, our haiku had to be made up of all words/phrases from the article. The article about spiders that inspired my poem can be found here on the News&Observer site.
And here's my haiku:

               Half as strong as steel
          Silk produced from spinnerets
               All done by instinct

       Copyright 2019 Kimberly M. Hutmacher

Remember, for this exercise,  there are no word, phrase, or form requirements. Just try to keep it on a STEAM topic.

Magazine publishers are looking more and more for STEAM-related content. Once you’ve written your poem and revised it to the best of your ability, you might consider submitting it to a children’s magazine for consideration. Click here for a list of possible markets.

Be sure to stop by the S.T.E.A.M. Powered Poetry Vlog to view inspiring STEAM-themed poetry videos. New videos and content are added every month. Be sure to follow and subscribe!


A big THANK YOU to Kimberly for today's Wednesday Writing Workout and for providing a book for today's giveaway.

Readers, before you leave, be sure to enter our giveaway for a chance to win her book Your Nose Never Stops Growing and Other Cool Human Body Facts (Capstone Press).

To enter our drawing, use the Rafflecopter widget below. You may enter via 1, 2, or all 3 options. (Note: if the widget doesn't appear, click on the link at the end of this post that says "a Rafflecopter giveaway" to enter.)

If you choose option 2, you MUST leave a comment on TODAY'S blog post or on our TeachingAuthors Facebook page. If you haven't already "liked" our Facebook page, please do so today!

In your comment, we'd love if you would share a STEAM-related topic you enjoy reading.

If you prefer, you may submit your comment via email to: teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com.

Note: if you submit your comments via email or Facebook, YOU MUST STILL ENTER THE DRAWING VIA RAFFLECOPTER BELOW. The giveaway ends December 18, 2019 and is open to U.S. residents only.

Posted by Carmela 

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.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, December 6, 2019

Five New Titles for Santa’s Young Writers List – and Your List, Too!

Here we are, less than 3 weeks away from Santa’s deliveries to talented Young Writers - and maybe Once-Young Writers, too.
Given how busy I know Mr. Claus, his elves and gift-givers everywhere must be, it’s the least I can do to suggest five new books that would surely bring joy to any Young Writer. Together these titles offer a variety of formats, focuses and tellings.

Sally Lloyd-Jones’ LOOK! I WROTE A BOOK! (AND YOU CAN TOO!), illustrated by Neal Layton and published by Schwartz & Wade, is the perfect picture book introduction to the writing process for the youngest of Young Writers. In easy-to-understand language that makes for easy-to-laugh-at illustrations, the spirited first-person narrator answers the question just “how the heck do you write a book?” It’s all there, 100% kid-friendly, from brain-storming good ideas to structuring a story through creating an author bio, collecting back cover blurbs and marketing, even contemplating a sequel.  The Wall Street Journal aptly described this step-by-step guide as “a story-telling anatomy lesson masquerading as giddy fun….”

Fans of GOODNIGHT, MOON and THE RUNAWAY BUNNY will delight in Mac Barnett’s THE IMPORTANT THING ABOUT MARGARET WISE BROWN (Balzer & Bray), gorgeously illustrated by Sarah Jacoby,.  They will also likely be surprised by all they learn about this important writer who believed children deserve important books. Margaret Wise Brown’s simplicity, clarity, directness and love of concrete details appear on the very first page, establishing the book’s oh, so appropriate tone and unorthodox telling.

“Margaret Wise Brown lived 42 years.
  This book is 42 pages long.
  You can’t fit somebody’s life into 42 pages,
                                           so I am just going to tell you some important things.”

School Library Journal’s starred-review verdict: “An important, groundbreaking biography inspired by Brown's legacy.”

Young Writers especially take heart and hope upon learning their favorite writers experience just about everything they do when working hard to tell their stories well.  That’s why Vicki Conrad’s picture book biography of Beverly Cleary for older readers JUST LIKE BEVERLY (Little Bigfoot/Sasquatch Books), illustrated by David Hohn, is both eye-opening and heart-opening. Beverly Cleary’s spirit, early reading struggles, hard work and encouragement from her parents and a special teacher will inspire all who write, Ramona Fans or not.
Kirkus noted in a starred review, “A loving and informative tribute worthy of celebrating Cleary’s 103rd year of life.”

Writers and readers ages 10 and up will spend hours pouring through the text and illustrations of Elizabeth Haidle’s collective graphic biography BEFORE THEY WERE AUTHORS – FAMOUS WRITERS AS KIDS (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).  This lively anthology offers all sorts of delicious facts and insights about 10 beloved literary legends, both alive and long-gone: Mark Twain, Maya Angelou, Dr. Seuss, Sandra Cisneros, Roald Dahl, J.K. Rowling, Gene Luen Yang, Beatrix Potter, C.S. Lewis and Madeleine L’Engle. A most illuminating introduction – “What Makes A Writer?” – underscores how each writer follows his own path.  “It’s good to remember – all famous authors were once ordinary kids who felt that the writing of tales was something they couldn’t live without.”
Booklist described the book as a “reverential and playful volume.”

Paul Fleischman wrote LOTS of books to look at when he was young and in NO MAP, Great Trip (Greenwillow), he reflects on his writer’s travels from early childhood on to his twenties.  Indeed, the book’s subtitle is “A Young Writer’s Road to Page One.” What’s particularly notable is how those early travels and experiences wound up impacting the much-loved children’s books he came to write, including JOYFUL NOISE and SEEDFOLKS. Childhood photos, including those of his Newbery Medalist father Sid Fleischman, and interspersed “Writing Know-How” tips offer lots of personal and solid writing advice for middle grade students and up.
Booklist’s review referenced the book as part memoir, part guide-book and lauded its lively telling.

Here’s hoping writers everywhere find the above titles just “write."

Happy Gift-Giving! Happy Holidays! Happy Writing!

Esther Hershenhorn


Thanks to Tanita S. Davis for hosting today’s Poetry Friday at [Fiction, instead of lies].

Friday, November 22, 2019

Is Your Middle Weighing You Down? Pump It UP

I find beginnings and endings fun to write. Usually, I know how I want to begin and how I’d like my manuscript to end. Middles however can be bothersome. A real pain. And I don’t think I’m alone with that problem.

Most of the time, slow middles are easy to spot-at least in the work of others. Have you ever read the flap copy of a library book, scanned the first chapter, and knew you had a winner in your hands? You rushed home planning to read it stretch out on the sofa with a glass of iced tea. This book was so hot, you would spend the night on the sofa until you read the last page.

Then, somewhere in the middle, the momentum slowed. The tension stretched into limp elastic. If it wasn’t for your caffeinated tea, you would go to bed. What happened? Are there times when your writing suffers from this dilemma? How do you know?

Author Barbara Lowell turns to her critique group for answers. “You have
completed your first draft and done some revision. But you hear from your critique partners or beta readers that the middle of your manuscript is sagging. You know that you need to keep your story moving forward. And now it’s stuck in the middle. What can you do?

Try cutting.  Cut anything that stops your story – unnecessary details, description, backstory, narrative, internal dialogue that will make the reader want to skip ahead. Every word in your manuscript needs to serve the story. It’s difficult to cut what you love, but if it has to be done to make your story work, then do it. To test this, put brackets around words, sentences, paragraphs, sections you think need cutting, and reread the manuscript out loud without them. A tighter story often solves the problem of a sagging middle.”

If not, what can you do to fix it? I’m a firm believer in the power of mentor texts. I love picture book biographies and I admire those who write them. As I read, I try to identify their “keep them reading” technique. Sometimes, it’s a question the author asks throughout the book. Keep reading to learn the answer.


Another book that used a similar technique is

by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich. She uses the refrain, Someday Is Now when Clara Luper’s
group of students start to plan sit-ins. The author switches to Someday Was Now
when they actually sit-in. What happened during  the sit-ins? Where the students hurt?
Readers will want to know the answers.

I asked author, Kim Ventrella how she handles middles in her novels.

“Oh the horror of the saggy middle. It’s almost as bad as the dreaded ’soggy bottom’ in British baking. So how do you avoid it? Of course, every story is different, but in general, it's around this time in the story when your character moves from simply reacting to external events to driving the action. If you get to the middle and your character is still being ping-ponged around by external forces, see how you can change that. Challenge your main character to make her own plans and take control of the action.”

Alice Faye Duncan uses another technique to keep readers engaged. “Before I begin a writing project, I often identify some symbol as my reoccurring motif. When the middle slumps, I brood over the many facets of my symbol and in due season, I find overlooked elements to support the middle. While writing A SONG FOR GWENDOLYN BROOKS, my reoccurring image was a flower. As the middle slogged along, it came to me that a bloom is a bud before maturation. This metaphor was just what I needed to precisely express the poet's development between childhood and her Pulitzer Prize writing career.”

As I read Alice’s comments, I immediately connected with them. I had a symbol at the beginning of a story, then I let it disappear and I was stuck. Now, I can see a way to pump up my middle. I challenge you to think about the above ideas. Try them with your writing projects.

Posted by Gwendolyn Hooks

Friday, November 15, 2019

Connecting Lily Pads: The Messy Middle

To follow three outstanding posts by April, Bobbie, and Carmela on "messy middles"is a major challenge.  They've already covered so much but we all have our ways of slogging through those messy middles.

I am a meandering writer. First chapters are easy. You're setting the story up, introducing characters and conflict. Chapter two you do more of the same. In fact, you're cruising along until you hit that bog/swamp/deep dark forest (choose a metaphor) aka: the messy middle. You know the "heart of the story" (see April's post) but do you know the end of your story?

I don't mean you have the last chapter, dialog and all in your head (although you might...I write last chapters first...but that's a post for another time.) More importantly, do you know how your character has changed since chapter one? If you don't, you can't really pick your way through the bog/swamp/forest because you don't know where you're going. You are wandering through that messy, messy middle, that muddle of characters and incidents that you think will get you to the end.

 I used to write my way out of the middle. That's a good way to have a 600 page first draft of a 225 page novel. Even then, you might still feel that you haven't arrived where you wanted to go. Especially if you didn't know where you were going to begin with.

Organization has always been a big problem for me. Organization is so big, so overwhelming. Outlines have never worked for me. I was the student who wrote a term paper first, then went back and wrote the required outline. That doesn't work so well with fiction.

One of my mentors in the Vermont College MFA program, a writer known for extremely spare writing...not a wasted word anywhere...told me this. (Paraphrasing) Don't worry about the last scene or chapter. Think about how your character changes throughout the story. How is she different at the end? Build a bridge between the two things you the story begins...and how the character is at the end. Build a bridge, inch by inch through the unknown.

This is a variation on the answer to the question, "How do you eat an elephant?" Answer: "One bite at a time." This is not working from an outline. It's working from the question: "And then what happens?" What starts your character's journey to change? Then what happens? What happens because of that? Cause and effect, cause and effect. Getting your character into as much peril as possible without killing them. (Although in frustration, I've often thought of loading my characters into a car, and driving them off a cliff, Thelma-and-Louise-style. "And then they all died. The end!")

I don't write in sequence. I mentioned earlier that I write final chapters first. That gives me a "ballpark destination." Of course that chapter will be re-written, or even discarded over many drafts, but it gives me someplace to head. I am standing in the first couple of chapters, and I see where I want to wind up. But how do I get there?

A scene, and incident, a bit of conversation will come to mind...and I write that. I don't know exactly where it is in the bog/swamp/forest...but it's in there. I don't worry where. I write as much as I can around that incite...and then wait. Another bit will come to mind. I write that...and again, don't know where it comes in the character's journey. I keep doing this until I finish what I think of as a first draft. (No one else would think of it that way!)

Second, third, and who-knows-how-many-drafts--I sort out theses hopscotching scenes, written in no particular order. I arrange and rearrange them. Reading through them sometimes causes me to throw a few out, or consolidate, or to have a Big Revelation.

Once these scenes are in an order that makes sense, I begin bridging those scenes. What characters, information, emotional change needs to occur next? I think of this process as building connectors between a bunch of lily pads. They're all floating in the same pond, but I need to connect them to get to shore (the last chapter). Frogs can hop from pad to pad...but readers need connections to get from episode to episode.

This works for me because my mind doesn't work in a linear fashion. I have ADHD and problems with executive function (the part of your brain that plans and orders tasks.) My mind hops around, and I can't help it. So instead of fighting against it, I've harnessed it. I've written and published 10 books and two short stories working this way.

Does it work? Judge for yourself. This is how I wrote this post.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman