Monday, November 12, 2018

Looking for our Giveaway Winner: Lynne L

The good news first: we had a record-breaking number of entries in response to our giveaway of Ann Whitford Paul's revision edition of Writing Picture Books! And the Rafflecopter widget has picked our two lucky winners.

The not-so-good news: we haven't heard back from one of those winners: Lynne L.

We've sent Lynne multiple emails without a response. If we don't hear from her by 11:59 p.m., (Central time) Tuesday, November  13, we'll have to chose another winner to take her place.

So, Lynne L, if you're out there, please check your inbox and Spam folders and reply to the email we sent you. If you can't find the email, or you're not sure you're the right Lynne L, email us at TeachingAuthors [at] gmail [dot] com for more information.

Happy Monday, all.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Families--the Gift That Keeps on Giving.

     November is the Month of Giving Thanks. Everybody else saves it for Turkey-and-Football-Thursday, but we Teaching Authors take the whole month to be thankful. Cutting to the chase, I am thankful for my family. Not just my husband and daughter and extremely needy dog. I am thankful for my extended family...not only both sides of my family, but both sides of my husband's as well.
Me, my daughter and husband. Benihana wouldn't let us bring the dog.

     Whether it's luck or karma or whatever, my entire family are terrific storytellers. Not that any of them thought that of themselves. They didn't  think there was anything particularly fascinating about their lives. I beg to differ.

   It began with Mom. I loved stories. Not just the ones in books, but the ones Mom told about her childhood. To an only child like me, living on a farm with seven siblings who lived to prank the neighbors sounded exotic. Mom, who was so self conscious about writing, she wrote rough drafts of letters to her family, was a hilariously uninhibited storyteller. The first stories I ever wrote were based on Mom's childhood.  She hooked me on writing and family stories.
From left-Mom, a visitor, Aunt Georgia, Uncle Jim. My grandfather
is behind Jim, the other adults are the parents of the boy in front.

Mom's youngest sibling was my favorite aunt, who had a unique perspective on the family.  Born when my grandmother was 45, (unimaginable in the 1920's), she was the only child at home during WWII. My mother and her brothers were in the service, one sister married, the other two working and rarely home. The stories she told me were ones my mother never knew.  Her sweet, gentle remembrances of the Pittsburgh homefront formed the core of Jimmy's Stars.
Aunts Agnes,left and Sarah, hanging laundry, 1944

Aunt Agnes as a young woman

From Mom's family, I learned the concepts of point of view and unreliable narrator.  My aunts and uncles could tell me a story I had heard from Mom, but each had a totally different take it on it. The same family tale from eight different people, and each remembered a detail the others didn't. Each felt differently about the same event. I learned that people could experience the same event, yet perceive it in a different way. In my nuclear family, there were only two sides of a story, mine and my parents. What a revelation to learn that all adults didn't see things the same way!  I learned truth could be a personal perception.
The only picture of all Mom's siblings, minus one. In front, from
left, Sarah, Mary Anne, Mom. Back, Georgia, Andy, Jim, Agnes

 My Grandmother Rodman dropped out of fourth grade. She was needed at home to raise her five half siblings as her mother slowly died of "consumption." Her stories were distinctly Dickensian. Her older brothers left home at 12 and 14 to get away from their "evil stepfather", who abused all of the children. When her mother died, and "evil stepfather" tried to marry my 14-year-old grandmother, she too ran away and became a "hired girl," always with the idea of returning for the "little'uns." As a young mother, she, my grandfather, my dad and his older brother lived through the deadliest tornado in American history. I heard these stories over and over. My grandmother had a keen eye for detail, and knew how to sequence a story, building to the climax. Again, she didn't think her life was anything but ordinary....but in addition to the violence of her childhood, and the gore and horror of "The Storm," her stories contained descriptions of making peanut brittle, being given her dead mother's clothes ("Somebody ought to get some wear out of them.") memorizing poetry for contests at her one room school house. I soaked it all in.
Grandmother Rodman, my Meemaw. She told her stories while  crocheting,
or as she is doing here, embroidering.

My father-in-law John, age 2
My father-in-law John could tie with my grandmother for The Childhood Most Like a Dickens Novel prize. Losing his train engineer father in a wreck at age four, dying slowly at home from burns from the exploding locomotive boiler. His mother leaving him and his three-year-old sister with maiden aunts, while she went to chiropractic college in St. Louis. She was a take-charge-lady who wasn't counting on remarriage to save her little family. Although she did remarry, the family bounced from state to state during the Depression, barely getting by.

While his childhood was grim, his adult life was nothing but sheer luck. He joined the Navy in the 1930's to pay for college. He did his time, then went to Purdue, only to be recalled in 1940. His base? Pearl Harbor. His ship left for maneuvers Dec 4, 1941, missing the attack on the US fleet. Over the next four years, he survived two ships sunk in torpedo attacks, met and married my mother-in-law, an Australian debutante, and fought in so many naval battles I've lost track. The Battle of Savo Island is the one I remember.

Like my grandmother, my father-in-law John had an incredible memory. He once told me that when he couldn't sleep, he reimagining every night watch on ship--the other sailors, the weather, the enemy vessels. I could  (and did) listen to him for hours. He was the only WWII veteran I knew who would talk about being in combat...while sober.
John, high school graduation and sister Virginia.

"You're a good listener," he'd say. "None of my kids care anything about the war or family history." I couldn't imagine someone not caring about their family's past, but my husband and sister-in-law didn't. I am sad that they cared so little for their father's brave and incredible life.

Babs' engagement picture, 1943
 My mother in law could also spin a yarn, before Alzheimer's took her past.  I mean, who has a father who founded a political party and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth? Who grew up in a mansion on Sydney Harbor, facing what would one day by the Sydney Opera House? Raised by nannies and sent to a convent school, and was a junior Australian tennis champ? Who squabbled with her younger sister (by ten months) as to which was the "pretty one" and which was the "sporty one." Who worked for MGM Australia after the University of Sydney "invited" her to leave? ("I don't believe you are quite focused on your education.  Perhaps later.") My mother-in-law, that's who. And speaking of different POV's, I heard all these stories again, during the one delightful and memorable afternoon I spent with her sister, still living in Sydney. (She assured me that she was the pretty one!)

This group of storytellers also includes my horde of cousins, thirty plus including second and third cousins. The Rodman bunch have my grandmother's eye for detail. The Smith crew have the same deadpan humor as Mom. Oh, and then there are their parents, aunts and uncles by marriage. Dad's older brother brought home a British war bride who had hair-raising stories of living through the London Blitz. Aunt Agnes's husband had a Horatio Alger childhood, the kind that only a smart and enterprising boy in Depression Era Pittsburgh could have experienced. (Favorite story--selling a war bond to Art Rooney, the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, as part of a newsboys' bond drive.)
Just some of the cousins. From left, me, Melissa, Kelly, Fran

This is my family. They all have(had) their quirks and prejudices and ongoing feuds with other family members. They also had guts and drive to live through hard times, wars and personal sorrow. Lucky for me, they didn't believe in forgetting their pasts, good or bad. They told me, always the eager listener.

As a child, I overheard Mom talking about me.

"She's a writer," Mom said, in an exasperated voice. "I don't know where she gets it."

But I do--from Mom and Dad, Meemaw and Pawpaw.  Aunts Agnes, Sarah and Georgia. Uncles Tom, Andy and Jim. Uncle Gee and Aunt Eileen. In-laws John and Babs, and Babs' sister Adele. All my cousins, but especially Sherry, Val, Melissa and Walt. Thank you all. Through you, I've lived other lives and times. You gave me the gift of our families stories. The best gift a writer can have.

Friday, November 2, 2018

A Nation's Strength

Don’t forget, award-winning author, poet, teacher and mentor Ann Whitford Paul has revised and expanded her 2009 go-to hands-on guide on writing picture books, aptly named WRITING PICTURE BOOKS!Writer’s Digest releases this 2018 edition November 13. You can win a free copy in our Book Giveaway! Be sure to check the entry details at the end of Esther’s post!

For these weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, we at Teacher’s Authors continue our tradition of giving thanks. This week, I give thanks to our most fundamental characteristic that defines our American way: we have a voice in our destiny. As Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice (New York University) suggests, the American democracy “remains a living, breathing idea, a work in progress…American democracy is not perfect, but it is perfectible. For all of us… America is not just an actuality but a potentiality, too.” This week, don’t forget to use your voice, your right to have a say in what defines us as a people and a society.

Meanwhile, I found a wonderful resource in teaching civic education to help students build their basic civic knowledge and understand their role as active citizens. Civics in Literature  is a production between the National Constitution Center and the Rendell Center for Citizenship.We the Civics Kids offers a selection of lessons and activities that enable students to find their voice and work as a change agent in their community!

A Nation's Strength
What makes a nation's pillars high
And its foundations strong?
What makes it mighty to defy
The foes that round it throng?

It is not gold. Its kingdoms grand
Go down in battle shock;
Its shafts are laid on sinking sand,
Not on abiding rock.

Is it the sword? Ask the red dust
Of empires passed away;
The blood has turned their stones to rust,
Their glory to decay.

And is it pride? Ah, that bright crown
Has seemed to nations sweet;
But God has struck its luster down
In ashes at his feet.

Not gold but only men can make
A people great and strong;
Men who for truth and honor's sake
Stand fast and suffer long.

Brave men who work while others sleep,
Who dare while others fly...
They build a nation's pillars deep
And lift them to the sky.

-- by William Ralph Emerson. Born in 1833, Emerson was an architect and  the second cousin to Ralph Waldo Emerson. "A Nation's Strength" first appeared in Our Little Kings and Queens at Home and at School (Louis Benham & Co., 1891). This poem is in the public domain.

"I will tell you that we are not powerless... Every single one of us has something that, if done in numbers too big to tamper with, cannot be suppressed and cannot be denied.” -Oprah Winfrey

Bobbi Miller

Friday, October 26, 2018


I’m happy to report: award-winning author, poet, teacher and mentor Ann Whitford Paul has revised and expanded her 2009 go-to hands-on guide on writing picture books, aptly named WRITING PICTURE BOOKS! Writer’s Digest releases this 2018 edition November 13.
I’m even happier to report:  YOU can win a free copy in our Book Giveaway!  Be sure to check the entry details at the end of this post.

This news is truly headline-worthy for anyone writing a picture book today.  Our world and thus children’s book publishing have changed in ways that impact both the stories we tell and how we tell them in the picture book format.
Think: the turbulent financial times 2008 brought us.
Think: WeNeedDiverseBooks.  STEM.  Common Core. Graphic illustrations.  Herstory. #OwnVoices. Meta books.
Pete the Cat’s Misadventures still appeal to young readers.  Mo Willems’ fans grow mightily on an annual basis.  Tomie DePaola remains beloved.
Our stories still need to offer Universal Truths and recognizable sentiments so they connect with readers.
The picture book, however, has changed with the times.

Fortunately, Ann’s attention to the process, from story creation to publication, hasn’t lessened. (Note: read my 2009 Thumbs Up review.)
Idea generation.  Character creation.  Point of View.  Beginnings and Endings.  Plotting. Word count. Rhyme and more.  Ann’s easy-to-grasp instruction once again shines.
As for the rich and relevant examples and hands-on revision exercises, again, Ann understands HOW we as writers learn – and hone – our craft.

“What’s new?” you ask, "..revised...expanded?"
That is but one of the questions Ann graciously answers in the interview that appears below.
You have my word: the 2018 edition of WRITING PICTURE BOOKS is every bit as right-on and write-on as the first edition.  Be sure to enter our Book Giveaway so you might win a copy. And if you don't, you can always pre-order. :)

I offer Ann my sincere thanks - for sharing the details of her newest edition with our TeachingAuthors readers, for donating two copies for two Book Giveaways but more importantly, for writing this invaluable textbook. She makes a challenging task – i.e. writing picture books, easier.

Happy Reading and Picture Book Writing!

Esther Hershenhorn
Thanks to A JOURNEY THROUGH THE PAGES for hosting this week’s Poetry Friday Roundup..

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

What prompted you and Writers Digest to revise your 2009 edition of WRITING PICTURE BOOKS?

Writer’s Digest approached me about a revision, because we were approaching the ten-year
anniversary. We’ve both been thrilled with the response to the first edition and I jumped at the opportunity because so many changes have occurred in the business since the first edition. Also, I’ve learned a lot of things through my own writing and wanted to share this new knowledge with writers.

How did your revision reshape the book’s organization as well as content? What additions and/or enhancements can the reader expect to find? What subtractions might they miss?

The organization remains the same but with additional chapters—on basic plots, page turns, finding an agent, the business of publishing. In addition, all book examples were replaced with books published within the last ten years. I also rewrote all the examples and quizzes so that writers who might have read the first book, would have additional illustrations of concepts to help solidify their knowledge. The one thing you won’t find in the new edition of the story is the No-no’s in a Manuscript Quiz. There simply wasn’t room. But I also did write a new one and will post it on my web-site after the book comes out.

IMHO: WRITING PICTURE BOOKS is the #1 go-to text on how to write a picture book. I’ve used it with my students and writers since 2009.  Can you share a few glowing responses, a few Fan Letters you’ve received from writers who learned and honed their craft via this book? 

Oh, darn! I should have saved some fan letters, but sadly I have not. I can tell you that periodically people e-mail me about how the book has helped them, how they’ve done the exercises, and sometimes even sold a book. I LOVE getting those notes and probably should have saved some of them. I do respond to each one, but, unfortunately, I have a niece who is a professional organizer and she has taught me to purge, purge, purge! I’m grateful though to anyone who writes—the truth is that a positive letter makes my day and spurs me to keep writing. So please don’t be shy. Let me know how my book has impacted you.

You noted in your 2009 edition that you wrote WRITING PICTURE BOOKS in memory of the unforgettable Sue Alexander and that a portion of the proceeds of this book would help fund the SCBWI Barbara Karlin Runner-Up Grant.  How has this support “recognized and encouraged the work of aspiring picture book writers” and how will it continue?

I’ve spoken to many recipients of this award and they all say how much it boosted their self-confidence and sometimes even led to publication. It was a pleasure to be able to support picture book writers.

In honor of the publication of this new edition, Writer’s Digest Books and I are establishing through SCBWI the Ann Whitford Paul-Writer’s Digest Most Promising Picture Book Grant of $1,000 to be awarded yearly.
After judging non-specific genre children’s books contests, it became obvious to me that picture book manuscripts were easily ignored. I think the prejudice that short must be simple to write is responsible for that. Writing picture books with their focus, brevity and lyrical prose can be terribly difficult. I struggle sometimes for years to get my stories right. I wanted to recognize that struggle and honor those who write these short, but challenging, manuscripts.

Can you share news of the latest Ann Paul picture books?

 The same year that the first Writing Picture Books came out, so did another book of mine titled IF ANIMALS KISSED GOOD NIGHT. Its sales were good, not spectacular, but still I was surprised when FSG took it out-of-print. Then much to my even bigger surprise, they republished it as a board book with a new cover. The sales sky-rocketed. And then, the publisher asked me to do another IF ANIMALS SAID I LOVE YOU and IF ANIMALS CELEBRATED CHRISTMAS. And next year there will be a fourth IF ANIMALS WENT TO SCHOOL. So I’ve been busy with these.

Finally, picture books do indeed do important work.  Today’s picture books bring so much to the page: diversity, social justice, activism, gender equality.  Yet there still remain bedtime stories, tales of forever maternal love, first-day-of-school titles, just to name a few.  What is your take on the important work this format does and why sales of picture books are again on the rise?

I LOVE this question! I came to writing picture books after years of bed-and-nap time reading to my children. In our too-busy world, those quiet times, sitting skin-to-skin reading together, were a gift to all involved. Adult and child alike were fully committed, focused on the same thing. We shared the tactile experience of the smooth pages, the quiet whoosh of the page turns, the bright visuals and of course, the words, the glorious musical words. No wonder sales of picture books are on the rise! We need those moments of togetherness more than ever.

Picture books are the first introduction for children to reading. They are enticed in by the pictures. The words sneak up on them and suddenly, they are saying them along with us and even pointing specific words out. Studies show that children who are read to come to elementary school well ahead of those who haven’t had those experiences.

Our books let children know they’re not alone when dealing with a bully, that other parents divorce, too, and that there are places in the world where people live differently. When they develop empathy for the characters in our books, they can translate this to real lives.

But it isn’t enough to write just any old book. If our words aren’t compelling and lyrical and tell a powerful story, children’s interest in reading will wither and die. We are the first step on the road to becoming a life-time reader who can discern fact from fiction, and that is an awesome responsibility.
                                                                    * * *

So, readers, to enter our drawing for a chance to win your very own copy of Ann Whitford Paul’s 2018 edition of WRITING PICTURE BOOKS (Writer’s Digest), use the Rafflecopter widget below.  You may enter via 1, 2, or 3 options.
If you choose option 2, you MUST leave a comment on TODAY’S blog pose below or on our TeachingAuthors Facebook page, sharing your Favorite Picture Book published between 2009 and 2018.

(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 November 8 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.

Remember: there will be TWO lucky winners!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, October 19, 2018

3-in-1: Poetry Tool, Song a Writing Exercise

Howdy, Campers, and Happy Poetry Friday! The link to PF is below.

 TeachingAuthors' posts this round are about the various ways we continue to school ourselves in the craft of writing. Bobby kicked us off by discussing a new book on craft she's studying while also re-reading a favorite classic. Esther shared about being inspired by a new collection of essays from fellow teacher Sharon Darrow. Mary Ann also turns to books for her re-education, not only craft books but new fiction, too. In contrast, Carla's ongoing education comes from talking to and working with other writers. Carmela went "back to school" by attending the SCBWI-Wisconsin 2018 Fall Retreat and Conference held in Green Lake, WI

And I've gone back to school singing.

We're four weeks into my ten-week class on Writing the Children's Picture Book at UCLA Extension. This week we learned about some of the poet's tools (rhyme, rhythm, alliteration, metaphor, simile, sounds, repetition). Can I teach them everything in one three-hour class?  I can't. So I focus on my favorite:                                                 

There are so many books from which to choose! I usually read aloud: YOU NEST HERE WITH ME by Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y.Stemple, illustrated by Melissa Sweet; WAIT, written and illustrated by Antoinette Portis (a story written in 18 words...99% are either "hurry!" or "wait!"); BUZZ by Janet S. Wong, illustrated by Margaret Chodos-Irvine (all the ways "buzz" is in our lives); RED IS BEST by Kathy Stinson, illustrated by Robin Baird Lewis ; WHEN I WAS YOUNG IN THE MOUNTAINS by Cynthia Rylant (fabulous details), illustrated by DianeGoode; MILLIONS OF CATS by Wanda Gag, first published in 1928; ALL THE WORLD by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee (we saw how much heavy-lifting illustrator Marla Frazee did to tell this story; give the illustrator room to dance!), and the classic, WHAT DO YOU SAY, DEAR by Sesyle Joslin, illustrated by Maurice Sendak.

Repetition makes words playful or powerful or mournful or hopeful. Listeners can't help but join in.

Next, I teach them to sing this sea shanty:

Deep Blue Sea (traditional) lyrics may vary

Deep blue sea, baby, deep blue sea (3x)
It was Willy what got drownded in the deep blue sea

Wrap him up in a silken shroud (3x)
It was Willy what got drownded in the deep blue sea

Dig his grave with a silver spade (3x)
It was Willy what got drownded in the deep blue sea

Lower him down with a golden chain (3x)
It was Willy what got drownded in the deep blue sea

Then I tell them that musician Jim Bell changed the words but followed the format of this song. He writes: “When my daughter was 6 ½, she said as we were driving to school one day, “Daddy, they won’t have a war before I’m 21, will they?”  Before I could respond, she added, “Or at least they don’t shoot little girls before they’re 7, do they?”   Not long after this I was singing her to sleep and found myself taking an old tune to form a song of reassurance that we adults can sing to the children of the world.”

Deep Blue Sea
new words by Jim Bell
Deep blue sea, baby, deep blue sea (3 x)
Now there’s peace in all the lands & o’er the deep blue sea

Sleep my child, you are safe and sound (3 x) for
Now there’s peace in all the lands & o’er the deep blue sea

Just yesterday war clouds hung so low (3 x)
But now there’s peace in all the lands & o’er the deep blue sea

Love of life finally turned the tide (3 x)
And now there’s peace in all the lands & o’er the deep blue sea
words © 1982 John Bell

Next, I show them lyrics I've written to this melody:

Take my hand, baby, walk with me (3 x)
Sing a song and I’ll harmonize (3x)
Once a seed, baby, now a tree (3 x)
Reach across towards the other side (3 x)
Hold me close and I'll hold you, we'll watch the bright sun rise.
words © 2018 April Halprin Wayland

And finally, leaving the traditional lyrics up at the front of the class as a mentor text, I give them time to write their own words using the pattern of this song.

Try it yourself--with this song or with one of your favorites and see where it takes you, where it takes you!

Thanks for hosting Poetry Friday at Friendly Fairy Tales, Brenda!

posted with hope by April Halprin Wayland, with help from Timmy the tin boy on his goose (Timmy is acting out today and refuses sit up straight...)

Friday, October 12, 2018

Taking Myself "Back to School"

I've so enjoyed reading my fellow TeachingAuthors' posts about the various ways they continue to school themselves in the craft of writing. Bobby kicked us off by discussing a new book on craft she's studying while also re-reading a favorite classic. Esther shared about being inspired by a new collection of essays from fellow teacher Sharon Darrow. Mary Ann also turns to books for her re-education, not only craft books but new fiction, too. In contrast, Carla's ongoing education comes from talking to and working with other writers.

So what can I add to this discussion? Well, this fall, I went "back to school" by attending the SCBWI-Wisconsin 2018 Fall Retreat and Conference held in Green Lake, WI. I was invited to attend the conference as a presenter on a panel discussing "The Truth of Creating: Rejections, Waiting, Perseverance and Inner Critics." You can see the panel participants in the photo below.

Left to right: me (Carmela Martino), E.M. Kokie, Deanna Singh, Stef Wade,
Joanna Hinsey, and moderator Michelle Houts
But being a presenter didn't keep me from being a student, too. While I don't recall learning anything specifically about the craft of writing, I came away with insights into more productive ways to approach my writing process. For example, one of the breakout sessions I attended was "Come to the Page as You Are … Wired," presented by Genevieve Artel, a creativity coach. I reflected on the impact of what I learned from Genevieve in my latest Creativity Newsletter. If you're not a subscriber, below is the gist of what I said:

In the presentation, Genevieve talked about how understanding our personality type can help us improve our creative life. She notes in the session description:
". . .  every individual is uniquely wired with cognitive preferences, flow states, and strengths. Many of the frustrations we experience on our journey are the result of a perceived set of practices that go against our intrinsic nature." 
I rode to and from the conference with fellow Illinois author Cathy Velasco, who attended Genevieve's session, too. We were both intrigued by the presentation, and Cathy later sent me a link to this piece on The Myers-Briggs Types of 101 Famous Authors. (If you aren't familiar with Myers-Briggs, the article includes a brief explanation at the beginning.) There are lots of online quizzes to determine your Myers-Briggs type, but I've found the results to be inconsistent. That's why Genevieve recommends working with someone like her who's specifically trained to do personality profiles.

However, I have received a consistent result from all the quizzes I've taken regarding one of the Myers-Briggs traits: Introversion vs. Extraversion. The definitions of these words in Myers-Briggs terminology don't exactly match our everyday usage. (Which is why I'm using the Myers-Briggs spelling for Extravert and Extraversion.) For example, I am definitely an Introvert as defined by Myers-Briggs. That doesn't mean I dislike being in groups or public speaking. The fact is, I enjoy teaching and presenting. But I can only be "out in the world" for so long before I start to feel drained. To put this in Myers-Briggs terms, I draw energy from being alone rather than from being around others.

Even though I've known this about myself for a long time, I never thought about what my introversion means to my writing habits. Inspired by Genevieve's talk, I spent some time researching the topic and found a terrific website called Write with Personality by Andrea J. Wenger. On the site, Wegner provides helpful strategies for writers based on their Myers-Briggs personality type. For example, in this post, she emphasizes the importance of what she calls "Playing to Your Strengths." The post links to other articles on the site specifically for either introverted or extraverted writers. Wenger also notes:
"The 'right' techniques are the ones that work well for you, even if they don’t work at all for your coworker or critique partner."
At the SCBWI-Wisconsin conference, Genevieve shared an important tip for Introverts like me: we need to recognize our need to be alone and give ourselves permission to do so. But as Wegner points out here, too much alone time can cause introverted writers to "lose sight of their audience." She provides ideas for how to avoid that problem. Conversely, if you're an Extravert, it may help you to know this tidbit from Wegner; ". . . there are more extraverts in the U.S. population, but more introverts among writing instructors. If you’re an extravert, the natural writing process of introverts may not work well for you at all." I'm glad that even though I'm one of those introverted writing instructors, I always tell my students there is no one right approach to writing--you have to find what works for you.

I'm so glad I attended the Wisconsin retreat, and I look forward to continuing my education at future events. The next will be the ACFW Chicago one-day Write to Success Conference on Saturday, November 3, in Schaumburg, IL, which will feature topics of interest to both beginning writers and published authors. In addition to expanding my own education, I'll be presenting on the subject of "Turning Life into Fiction." If you're in the Chicago area, I invite you to join us. Even if you can't attend the conference, you're welcome to browse the free Book Expo that will follow!

See details here.
I'm also looking forward to attending the Windy City RWA retreat Feb. 22-23, 2019 in Naperville, IL. James Scott Bell will be presenting a full-day workshop on "Writing a Novel They Can’t Put Down.Registration is now open if you'd like to join us.

Don't forget to check out this week's Poetry Friday round-up hosted by former TeachingAuthor Laura Purdie Salas at Writing the World for Kids.

And remember to always Write with Joy!

Friday, October 5, 2018

Learning from Friends

In honor of the start of another school year, we TeachingAuthors have been writing about various ways we “school” ourselves.  As usual, my fellow TAs have written eloquent blogs on this topic in a wide variety of ways.   I’m taking a different direction.  One of the ways I believe we as writers continue to learn is to talk to other writers.   Most of our families don’t quite “get” what we do, or why we do it.  Sometimes I don’t understand it myself.   That is why developing friendships with other writers are critical.  They understand.   

I’ve had the blessing in my life of having a fellow writer in my local area.  Darcy Pattison is a nationally known author, writing teacher, and independent publisher.   Click here for Mims House Books.  We met for the first time many years ago when her first book came out (a picture book), and mine (an adult inspirational) was about to be released.  We got to know each other slowly through our local SCBWI chapter—which Darcy started in our state.   

I was beginning to write my first nonfiction book for young readers in those days.  I bought stacks and stacks of how-to books, which are still in my bookshelf.  I devoured books about character and setting and formatting manuscripts and on and on.  Learning all these things was necessary.  But at some point there comes a time in a writer’s life when you have learned enough about how to write and you need to actually do it.  The next step is what I call: Put your seat in a seat and work.   In some ways that is when your real education as a writer begins. 

As the friendship between Darcy and I grew over the years, so did each of our published books.  (Her list is far longer than mine!)  Our writing styles and the types of books we each write are very different but we have been able to help each other.   The main way I believe we help each other is not in the form of manuscript critique—although we do that for each other.  It is in the way we discuss our work—over countless cups of coffee, phone conversations, emails and texts.  We bounce ideas off each other.  We brainstorm together.  We discuss how to handle various situations that come up in publishing.  We support each other.  We are sad for each other when disappointments come.  And we rejoice with each other when good things happen.   

In the words of E. B. White in Charlotte’s Web:

It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.  Charlotte was both.”

My friend Darcy is both.  I look forward to a friendship that lasts for many more years as we learn from each other.  

I hope each writer who reads this blog will find a writing buddy-or maybe a whole group of friends to support them.   

Carla Killough McClafferty

Darcy Pattison and I with our books at the Arkansas Reading Association conference.  

CONGRATULATIONS TO COLLEEN K, the winner of our TA giveaway!! She will receive a copy of Great Morning! Poems for School Leaders and Read Aloudby Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong.  Enjoy the book Colleen K.     

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Re-visiting Old Friends (hint...they're books!)

 You remember the first week or so of each grade in elementary school was always "review time?"  Those easy A's for simply remembering the stuff you were supposed to have learned last year?  That's how I still think of fall, a time of review and re-assessment of my writing, before moving forward. This year, however, my work didn't need review so much as my mind needed a good jumpstart.

 My brain went on vacation sometime last spring, and I don't mean it was in a hammock somewhere in the Caribbeans, sipping Pina coladas. It's been jammed to the gills with more than usual day-to-day stuff, and the toxic mental environment of the country. My head felt like I'd eaten nothing but stale potato chips for months. Time to send the brain back to school...tuition free.

I've always secretly believed The Answer to Life is in books. I'm still looking for that particular book; it's out there somewhere. Meanwhile, there are my "old friends" books...the ones I return to over and over for their sane advice.

My number one go-to book is, and always will be, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.  Although I've never heard her speak, I can somehow hear her as I re-read my favorite parts marked with Post-It's and the occasional Cadbury bar wrapper.  She reminds me writers are full of self-doubt, no matter how successful. Each new project comes with a new set of fears. The writing never gets easier. First drafts always suck; that's what first drafts are for. I think of Anne as a kind of writer's therapist. And unlike my actual therapist, I haven't paid Anne anything since 1999 when I bought the book.

After Anne bolsters my spirit, I move on to What's Your Story:  A Young Person's Guide to Writing Fiction by Marion Dane Bauer. Marion was one of my mentors in the Vermont College MFA program, and this was her textbook. Don't let the title fool you. It's anybody's guide to writing fiction, regardless of age. If there is such a thing as a blueprint for story building, this is it. Again, I hear Marion's voice on every page, because in this case, I actually know how she sounds!

Marion and I have totally different writing styles; hers' spare, minimalist, not one word more of
description or backstory than the story requires. My first drafts remind me of an ice cream concoction that Baskin Robbins once called "The Kitchen Sink": a Matterhorn of many ice cream flavors, sauces, nuts, sprinkles, assorted crunchy "things," topped off by a cloud of whipped cream and multiple cherries. Over and over as I edit my own work, I hear Marion's voice.  "Why is this...(character, scene, description, flashback) here? How does this move the story along?" In my critique groups, I have shortened this question to HDTMTSA. My fellow critiquers know they have wandered afield when they see that.

Lastly, my oldest "friend"  Julia Cameron. I've "known" her longer than the other two. We "met" when her book The Artist's Way came out in 1992, around the time I first began writing seriously.  Julia taught me how to shake up my creativity, and to stop thinking so hard.  I learned to observe more closely, use my mad eavesdropping "skills" for good not evil (!) and to find another creative outlet in addition to writing. I spent a lot of "artist dates" with my trusty old, pre-digital Canon camera.

Julia has spun the Artist's Way concept every which way she can into a multitude of books--for kids, for parents, for "older" people, for "transitioning" people (transitioning into becoming "older") and her latest...for dieters. Two of my favorite subjects in the same book--dieting and writing! The book boils down to a series of different kinds of journals for dieters. I hate diet journaling. And I've "regular" journaled my whole life. However, she came up with a new journal that helped vacuum out the toxic sludge that filled my brain...The Life Story Journal.

The Life Story Journal is not for publication, writing practice or even especially for generating writing ideas. I've fictionalized my own life and family in nearly everyone of my books. In doing so, I have sometimes forgotten what "the real story" is. Julia's idea is to go back as far as you can remember...and write down everything you can remember. For someone my age whose first memories start at age 3, that's pretty intimidating...and laborious. I also never write anything in sequence. So I've picked random years to write about. Not in any sort of prose...just images, flashes of events, people, descriptions....whatever flotsam and jetsam I find attached to 1957 or 64 or 2001. By consciously not looking for story ideas, they come easily from this no-strings attached method of recounting memory.  Lots of junk there too...but lots of good stuff, too.
1963--What do I remember? I'm the one in the maroon dress.

Lastly, I read something new and challenging after a summer of reading adult fiction (which I rarely do) that all seemed alike to me, and formulaic children's stories. My choice, the latest book by an actual friend. An Na was in the Vermont College program the same time as I, so I was privileged to hear early version of her Printz Award winner, A Step from Heaven.  Her style is so precise, her stories could've been written with a diamond pen....chiseled on to glass, each word exactly right.  She is not a prolific writer, so when I learned her new book would arrive March 2018, I pre-ordered for my Kindle...and promptly forgot it was there. (I have an ungodly amount of stuff on my Kindle).

I believe The Space Between Breaths will become a classic for the 21st century. The book is short, the premise seems simple. Grace, a high school senior, has never given up hope that her missing schizophrenic mother will some day come home.  Her remote researcher father is consumed with finding a cure for this disease.

That's where the simple part ends...somewhere around page three.  An Na takes the use of the unreliable narrator to a new level...or does she? Who is the narrator? Is there more than one? Where are we in time? Is it now, the past or a flashback dodging in and out of the present? I suspect that there are as many perceptions of what happens as there are readers. I have gone back and back, and with each reading, I find more subtle hints that all is not as it appears. How did I miss these the first time? Why?  Because the author fools us into thinking this is a straightforward teen-missing-mom story until it is too late...the reader is already invested in Grace when we also begin to question her.

So having visited old friends for counsel, inspiration and's back to work I go.

School is in!

Friday, September 21, 2018

Learning from The Best: The Worlds and Words of Sharon Darrow

When it’s time for this TeachingAuthor to retool, I often return to my friend, Sharon Darrow, one of my earliest fellow writers and SCBWI kin, to bask in the wisdom she’s gleaned from a lifetime of writing and teaching.

Lucky me that this time around, Sharon could share not only herself but her newest book, WORLDS WITHIN WORDS (Pudding Hill Press, 2018), a compilation of her lectures presented during twenty-five years of teaching in the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program of Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Sharon believes, as do I, that “one’s writing and one’s life each impinge upon and transform the other.”
Both the book and Sharon heartfully enlightened and inspired me so I could keep on keepin’ on, teaching, coaching and even writing.  Part III – THE TEACHING WRITER, proved especially insightful.

Many here in my home state of Illinois know Sharon as not only the founder of our SCBWI Chapter in the late 80’s but as an inspiring teacher and award-winning author. She helped found the VCFA Writing for Children and Young Adults MFA program, serving in every capacity the past 20 years from graduate assistant to program director to faculty chair. She retired this past January.  VCFA’S Darrow Lectures honor all Sharon’s contributed to the words and worlds of her students. She’s also an alumna of VCFA’s MFA in Writing program, graduating in 1996.

Sharon’s books include the picture books OLD THUNDER AND MISS RANEY (DK Inc) and THROUGH THE TEMPESTS DARK AND WILD - THE STORY OF MARY SHELLEY (Candlewick). Her Candlewick YA titles include TRASH and THE PAINTERS OF LEXIEVILLE. Sharon is also a published poet, contributing to Lee Bennett Hopkins’ HOME TO ME: POEMS ACROSS AMERICA and numerous anthologies.

I loved sharing Sharon this past July with my Vermont Manuscript Workshop writers.  All of us sat spell-bound, taking in her words with our ears and hearts so we could connect with our stories and readers.

The blurbs on the back of WORLDS WITHIN WORDS say it all.  Louise Hawes writes that Sharon’s teaching changes lives.  William Alexander refers to her as “a mentor straight out of myth and folktale.” Carrie Jones shares that Sharon “reaches into a student’s soul and helps to make it sing.”

Sharon truly leads, worthy of a poem, in fact, in our current Book Giveaway of Sylvia Vardell’s and Janet Wong’s GREAT MORNING! – POEMS FOR SCHOOL LEADERS TO READ ALOUD (Pomelo Books).

But see for yourself as you read through Sharon’s answers to my questions below and come to know my go-to TeachingAuthor.

Thank you, Sharon, for your acts of YOU-ness! (I stole those words from a Calypso greeting card!)
I’ve longed to attend VCFA…and now I have, vicariously, at least, via your newest book.

And happy word-making and world-building to all!

Oh, and don’t forget to enter our Book Giveaway of Sylvia Vardell’s and Janet Wong’s GREAT MORNING! – Poems for School Leaders to Read Aloud (Pomelo Books). Click here for more information.

Esther Hershenhorn

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

So, how exactly did your teaching inform your writing?

I think that it started the other way around with my writing informing my teaching. From my teachers, I developed some quite strong opinions about the process of writing and hoped to pass my knowledge on to my students. Over the course of time, I had students who proved that not all my notions held across the board and they sometimes found ways to do amazing things in their work that “broke the rules,” if there are such things. So I’ve grown in my understanding of what can and “should” be done in my own prose style, and even more in my poetry. I’ve always been a voice-based writer and have trusted that, but seeing the various ways my students at VCFA came at their work has given me more confidence in finding other ways into my imagination. I’m still not a writer who begins with a sense of structure, and that slows my work down considerably because at some point I have to retrace my steps and go back to work on that. Some of my students were incredible at structure and in conceptualizing story arc. I learned from them and, in turn, challenged them to build up characterization and voice. From my point of view, we have all grown and learned from each other and I owe them many thanks.

Who were a few of your teachers/mentors/TeachingAuthors and how are you different for the way they viewed story, writing and the writer’s life?

 I began studying with Fred Shafer after hearing him speak at Off-Campus Writers in early 1989. I joined his short story workshop and then his novel workshop. I owe so much to him, not just in my writing, but also in my teaching. I didn’t realize then that I was learning to teach as well as to write from him, but I was. I also learned much from other Chicago area teachers, such as Sharon Sloan Fiffer and Sharon Solwitz at The Writers.
I entered VCFA’s MFA in Writing in 1994 before the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults was started. I worked with the amazing Bret Lott (fiction) and the equally amazing David Wojahn (poetry), as well as having workshops with other fine poets and fiction writers on the faculty.
My first agent was Jim Roginsky, who taught me so very much about writing for children, and my first editors were Melanie Kroupa and Mary Lee Donovan, both of whom taught me and guided me into the children’s book world. I am so grateful for them.
Many years attending and participating in SCBWI events and listening to authors, editors, and agents gave me a good grounding in writing for children and young adults. Plus, the years of critique groups of my peers—what would I have done without those writer friends as guides and support? I don’t even want to think about it.
After I received my MFA, I taught at Colombia College Chicago, which has a wonderful history of guest authors and poets, most of whom were very different from those of my MFA program. I learned to stretch my writing there. Also, my poetry students were great teachers for me. I loved their openness, excitement, and joy/angst rhythms in their work and student lives.
In addition, I’ve spent 20 years listening to lectures at VCFA by some of the field’s finest authors and teachers, too many to list here, but I am so grateful for the experience of being on faculty and thus still being able to be a student for so many years.

All of these teachers gave me models for the writing life. They took themselves seriously and me seriously, which enabled me to believe in myself as a writer—and later, as a teacher. They viewed story as almost a sacred calling, not just making things up, but making the Self real through story. They taught me that story is not about facts, but about truth, the inner life of things and characters, that can illuminate and guide the reader—and the writer—to become better and stronger people.

It’s often said the teacher learns more than the student.  What have your students taught you?

They have taught be so much! They have surprised me and stymied me and delighted me. I love the books they have published that I was privileged to see at early stages. I’m so proud of them. I’m heartened by their courage and perseverance, their willingness to work hard, to learn, to experiment, to revise, and revise, and revise. They have taught me that it is never too late and to never give up. My VCFA students will always be my guiding lights.

Can you please share a bit about your current writing projects?

For the first nine months of this year, I worked on revisions of a YA novel and a Middle-grade novel, both of which had been long in the works. Now, I’m turning my attention to another YA novel, one of three I’ve begun. I think the energy right now is for the science fiction project, though the realistic MG and YA mystery are still intriguing me. I also never seem to tire of tinkering with picture books and writing poetry.
It was fun and challenging to bring together the essays and exercises in Worlds within Words: Writing and the Writing Life and to publish it through IngramSpark under my own publishing imprint of Pudding Hill Press. Once I learned the process, I decided to bring out paperback and ebook editions of my first novel, The Painters of Lexieville, which had gone out of print. I’m sold on the idea of authors bringing out new editions of their out-of-print titles once the rights have reverted to them. I love that Painters is once again readily available.

Finally, once a teacher, always a teacher – what are you up to now?  Whose lives are you currently changing via your teaching?

This year, 2018, is the first year since 1997 that I didn’t have Vermont College of Fine Arts’ students’ writing to critique, so I’ve done less work with adult writers and more with young people.
At the International School of Curitiba, Brazil, I spent a week working with all ages, from pre-school through high school. I’ve always written my stories as they presented themselves to my imagination, whether picture books, poetry, or novels, and I’ve often wondered if I should have tried to concentrate in one area, age, or style. The week in Brazil made me glad I didn’t because I had books published that all ages could enjoy—even adults, with the new writing book.
I also taught two weeks for the Vermont Governor’s Institute on the Arts at Castleton University. The students ranged from 14 to 17 and I worked with poets and prose writers, as well as a few who were interested in producing cartoons and graphic novels. I wanted to be a cartoonist when I was young, so this delighted me.
Next year, I will be teaching and critiquing adults again at the 2019 SCBWI Wild Wild Midwest Conference in Naperville, IL, the Oak Park SCBWI Network and at Off-Campus Writers in Winnetka, IL.