Monday, October 5, 2009

S is for Serendipity and How It Sparks a Story

Find out about our TeachingAuthors Book Giveaway running all this week!  Click here for details on how to enter for a chance to win your own autographed copy of S is for Story: A Writer’s Alphabet. And be sure to try out the related Writing Workout at the end of this post.

This week we’re featuring a series of Q&A posts related to my fellow TeachingAuthor Esther Hershenhorn’s newest book, S is for Story: A Writer’s Alphabet, an A-to-Z journey through a writer’s life and process.

Mary Ann:
Can you share with our readers, Esther, how and why you came to write this nonfiction book?

How could I not begin an alphabetically-arranged writing book with A is for Alphabet?  I especially love Lewis Carroll’s words from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland which end my book’s first double-page spread: “Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end; then stop.”

As for the story behind S is for Story: A Writer’s Alphabet, believe it or not, it begins, “It was a dark and stormy night ..."

Or rather, it was a dark and stormy Thursday in early January, 2007.  I sat across the lunch table from my friend and fellow author Steven Layne at Chicago’s Grand Lux Café.

A part of me was back at my Lincoln Park writing desk, eager to tackle my middle-grade novel’s revision. In fact, I’d hemmed and hawed about keeping the lunch date, torn between my writing and catching up with a dear friend, even while CTA-ing my bundled self to the restaurant.

Still, I watched and listened as Steven made his way through his soup-and-sandwich combo singing, non-stop, between bites and sips, the praises of his P is for Princess publisher.

“Esther,” Steven declared, readying for dessert, “you need to publish with Sleeping Bear Press!”

My brain instantly played Connect the Dots: Sleeping Bear Press?  Oh, ABC books!  A book on writing because that was what I knew!  Website searches of SBP and Amazon followed.  Next, a review of every writing book I used with Young Writers.

By dinnertime, I’d dedicated the next 42 hours until my U.S. Mail Lady’s Saturday noon pick-up to thoughtfully readying a proposal for (what I then titled) W is for Writing.

Theodor Seuss Geisel wrote of his own serendipitous meeting with his former college friend-turned-Vanguard Press juvenile editor who purchased And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street after the good Dr.’s twenty-some rejections, “If I’d been going down the other side of Madison Avenue, I would be in the dry-cleaning business today.”

I’ve asked myself often during the past two years: what if I had stayed home that dark, damp, gray and cold Thursday?!

My, oh, my, what I would have missed.

As further luck would have it, throughout those 42 early January hours, that little girl I once was who lives inside of me poked and prodded and wouldn’t let me be.  Maybe, she whispered, I could write the book she’d wanted to own, when she’d decided to someday write children’s books.  Maybe my book could answer her questions.

Of course, her questions are those of any young person interested in writing.  I answer these questions daily, on school visits, in libraries, when coaching writers in my Author-to-Author program, when celebrating Young Authors at city and state events.

How nice that I can now answer those questions by handing children my Writer’s Alphabet.

And when I do, I’ll be sure to speak the words Steven taught me to share when gifting a student with a carefully-chosen book.

“Here,” I’ll say, “I’ve been thinking about you.”

•    Zachary Pullen’s singular, compelling S is for Story: A Writer’s Alphabet’s illustrations reflect his respect for young writers and writing.  Visit Zak’s website to learn more about his work and other books.
•    My website offers Young Writers Extras – opportunities to write, read and discover, at home, in school, or at the library.
•    Visit my website’s newest page, Tour, to learn the What, When and Where of my out-and-about book events, signings, school visits, conference engagements, writer presentations, teacher workshops and upcoming October-through November Blog Tour.
•    Click here for Sleeping Bear Press’ Teacher’s Guide to S is for Story: A Writer’s Alphabet.

Writing Workout

The word “abecedarian” (ā-bē-(ˌ)sē-ˈder-ē-ən) just about gives away its meaning.

An abecedarian  is a person who’s learning the letters of the alphabet.  The word abecedarian also describes anything that is related to the alphabet.

S is for Story: A Writer’s Alphabet tells the story of a writer’s life and process from A to Z.  How might you tell your story from A to Z?  Or the story of your family, or your favorite sports team, recording artist, or classroom even?

List the letters A through Z.  Choose meaningful subject words that tell your subject’s story.  For example, The A-to-Z of Me might include:

            A is for Aunt Anne.
            B is for my books.
            C is for my cousin Jane who lives in New Jersey.

            First choose naming words or nouns.
            Next, grow your story by adding verbs (actions words) or adjectives (describing words) or even both.

[Note: book image used with permission.]

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