Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Our Latest Winner and a Break from Blogging

Thank you to all the readers who entered our latest contest by sharing your favorite or "dream" conferences. Unfortunately, we can have only one winner. This time, it is Amy M. of Colorado. Amy will receive an autographed copy of Claudia Friddell's picture book, Goliath: Hero of the Great Baltimore Fire. Congratulations, Amy! And our thanks again to Claudia for being our guest TeachingAuthor.

I mentioned on Monday that I'd be announcing a break in our blogging schedule. As much as we all enjoy blogging and connecting with our readers, we occasionally need a vacation. So, after April's post on Friday, we will take a two-week break.

On Monday, July 19, Jeanne Marie will return to kick-off a new series of posts. Make sure you re-join us then, as we're planning at least one (and possibly two!) book giveaways in July.

Happy writing!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Giveaway Reminder, and Why I Need a Vacation

Don't forget to enter for a chance to win an autographed copy of Claudia Friddell's beautiful debut picture book Goliath: Hero of the Great Baltimore Fire, illustrated by Troy Howell. To enter, follow the instructions in Esther's last post. Entry deadline is 11 pm CST Tuesday, June 29.

As many of you know, I coordinate our posts here at My responsibilities include sending out the monthly blogging schedule to all the TeachingAuthors. Unfortunately, there was an error in the last schedule I gave everyone. Because of my mistake, Mary Ann didn't know that today was her turn to post. Unfortunately, due to previous commitments, she won't be able to post. My apologies to everyone, but especially Mary Ann, for my mistake.

On Wednesday, I'll post the name of our giveaway winner, along with the official announcement of a brief break in our blogging schedule next month. The vacation comes none to soon for me. Juggling teaching, writing, blogging, meetings, and personal life has been more of a challenge than usual for me lately. I'm looking forward to a little time off. :-) Meanwhile, I'll share a few recent items of interest from the Kidlit blogosphere:

Blogosphere Buzz
Happy writing!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Three Good Reasons to Attend a Writing Conference

My husband is waiting for me with a pot of hot coffee, a loaded car, and a canoe paddle, so I’m going to make this post brief. I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) in 1996 and attended my first SCBWI-Wisconsin annual fall retreat in 1997. I think I’ve missed only one year since then.

I go back year after year for three good reasons.

1. To network with other authors and illustrators. Many of the SCBWI members I met that first year also return every fall (along with a growing number of new members), so every retreat is a reunion of dear friends. I love hearing about their projects, progress, and successes! We Wisconsinites also have a rich tradition of sharing food and drinks along with our manuscripts.

2. To learn from the speakers. Even after all these years, I still collect invaluable information from the authors, illustrators, editors, agents, and art directors who speak. The market keeps changing, it helps to have updates, and it never hurts to hear another perspective.

3. To make contacts with editors. A conference provides opportunities for writers to meet with editors (and for illustrators to meet with art directors) and learn about their work, their previous projects, and their preferences. After many conferences, speakers accept submissions from attendees, sometimes even if their company policy is not to accept unsolicited submissions.

Over the years as I’ve become more involved with SCBWI, I’ve enjoyed taking on volunteer responsibilities, getting to know even more members, and occasionally being a speaker myself. Interested? You know you are! Check the SCBWI web site for regional events in your area, listed by date or by region. Whether you go as a shy observer, a willing participant, or a dedicated volunteer, go! And if you go to Wisconsin’s fall retreat, look for me!

We’re off to the river!

JoAnn Early Macken

P.S. Don't forget to enter the contest to win an autographed copy of Goliath: Hero of the Great Baltimore Fire by Claudia Friddell.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Retreat (SCBWI-Arizona), A TeachingAuthor (Claudia Friddell), a Hero and Book Give-away (Goliath), Oh, My!

In March, 2006, Sharon Darrow and I facilitated the SCBWI-Arizona Spring Retreat we’d purposefully titled “Mining for Gold: Re-visioning Your Writing and Your Writer's Life.”

But I mined gold, too, that last week of March, when I connected with writer Claudia Friddell of Baltimore, Maryland.

Claudia had arrived with an eye-opening, little-known story about the fire horse Goliath – the horse that had saved Baltimore during the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904. Claudia’s heart beat loudly each time she spoke about Goliath, when she shared her research, when she read aloud her fictional tale. I knew instantly she had a winner of a story - only a non-fiction telling true to horse and event.

During the next four years, Claudia continued to teach First Grade at the Gilman School, a private boys school in Baltimore, worked with me as a Writing Coach to fine-tune and revision her non-fictional telling, researched and smartly targeted likely publishers at BookExpo in Washington, D.C., then sold her polished gem Goliath: Hero of the Great Baltimore Fire to Sleeping Bear Press. The picture book, gorgeously illustrated by Troy Howell, published May 1 to stellar reviews. Each time I reread the book, I marvel at the “You-are-There!” experience Claudia created. Her verbs and sound words would make any teacher smile.

I couldn’t wait to introduce Claudia Friddell, TeachingAuthor, former student, now friend and colleague, to our TeachingAuthor readers!

Sleeping Bear Press generously agreed to donate an autographed copy of Claudia’s book, to be awarded to one of our lucky readers. To be eligible, post a comment  by 11 pm CST, Tuesday, June 29 about a Writing Conference you've attended or wish to attend. We’ll announce the winner on June 30. If you don't have a Google profile, please include an email address to qualify. (Note from Carmela: drawing entry comments must be made to today's blog post. So if you previously commented regarding a conference you recommended, you'll need to re-post to enter the drawing. Also, this is for U.S. residents only. To read our complete giveaway guidelines, see: this post.)

Thank you, Claudia, for agreeing to this TeachingAuthor interview.

And, thank you, Michelle Parker-Rock, SCBWI-Arizona Regional Advisor, for orchestrating that March, 2006 truly golden Spring Retreat.

                * * * * * * * * *

1. How did you become a TeachingAuthor?

Two constants in my adult life have been teaching and writing. Four years ago, I had the great fortune to receive a sabbatical from my school to concentrate on researching and writing books. One of the books I wrote during that semester was Goliath, Hero of the Great Baltimore Fire. I also attended an SCBWI Writer's Retreat in Arizona, where I met Esther Hershenhorn. Right from the start, Esther treated me, and all of the participants, as professionals. She helped me believe in myself as a writer and her encouragement inspired me along the way to getting Goliath published. A few months later, I met Heather Hughes, the publisher of Sleeping Bear Press, at the Book Expo in Washington D.C. I loved their books and felt that Sleeping Bear would be the perfect home for Goliath. Fortunately for me, the folks at SBP agreed! I couldn’t have asked for a better experience as a first time author!

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

My students are at the very beginning of their journeys as writers, and it is difficult for them to offer details, especially when writing journal entries and stories. They write a few minutes, stall, and say, “I don’t know what else to write.” Of course they can verbally offer lots of specifics, but when it is time to put pencil to paper, they often write sentences like, “We played a game. It was fun.” To help them include more details, I encourage them to try their best to answer the five W’s in their writing: who, what, where, when, and why. This simple suggestion helps guide them in creating interesting and informative sentences.

3. Would you share a favorite writing exercise for our readers?

One of my favorite lessons is our recipe unit which teaches students to write lists and directions. The purpose is to help students write important details by choosing words carefully. First, I ask the students to write down the steps to making a peanut butter (or soy nut butter!) and jelly sandwich. I read one student recipe aloud and with the ingredients, I follow the written directions exactly. If they write, “Put peanut butter on bread,” I put the jar of peanut butter on the loaf of bread. You can imagine all of the ridiculous interpretations a teacher can make with vague directions. The demonstration can get very messy and hilarious! The students then correct their own writing by making their directions (especially their verbs!) more specific - “Spread peanut butter on one side of one slice of bread with a knife.” Of course, the students get to make and eat their own sandwiches when they are finished writing their own detailed directions!

4. What one piece of advice do you have for teachers?

My advice to teachers is to allow students to write in a journal as often as possible without editing their entries. Ignore the misspelled words and the run on sentences. Offer only encouragement and focus on their strengths. There is plenty of opportunity to correct and edit writing assignments, but it is important to remember that a journal is the place for writers to have the freedom to take risks without the fear of being critiqued.

5. Can you share an important story about a book signing?

One of the most exciting aspects of being a teacher/author has been sharing the launching of Goliath with many of my students, former students, and their families. Since Goliath was a fire horse in the 1904 fire that nearly destroyed Baltimore, we had the launch party at the Fire Museum of Maryland. This was the perfect place for children and adults to see what turn-of-the-century fire houses and equipment looked like. They were excited to see the Hale Water Tower that Goliath pulled to safety, but the biggest hit of the day was Sam, the one ton Percheron draft horse (just like Goliath!). This gentle giant helped greet the visitors at the fire museum door. It was quite a treat to see my students meet such a magnificent (one ton!) horse! My students and their parents are still talking about Sam!

To “attend” the signing, click here
Esther Hershenhorn

A Very Long P.S.

The substance of Jeanne Marie’s Monday post was much on my mind as I readied this interview and I must share why.

In 1989, I flew aboard a small plane from La Guardia to Poughkeepsie, NY to attend the Vassar Children’s Book Publishing Institute, THE best children’s book writing program at that time, created by Barbara Lucas, the former head of Harcourt's Children's Book Publishing when it had a Brace and a Jovanovich. I’d declared the program My Final Test: would/should/could I keep on writing for children – or – must I now join the staff of a children’s bookstore? I’d been writing for 12 years and publication of my work still proved elusive. I was so undone by my perceived ineptitude and un-readiness, so certain I was “less than,” I spent the entire plane ride throwing up. The stewardess had to find extra paper bags.

I’d studied the attendee list, found a writer from my sister’s Pennsylvania home town, readied an introduction for the opening social event, only to learn my sister’s neighbor “knew nothing about children’s books” yet had 3 books coming out with Harper and Row, one illustrated by William Joyce, another by Hillary Knight.

I was sipping Chardonnary, feigning great interest, but mentally planning my return home the next morning, by train (!), when a conference faculty member sought me out, sharing the news that Barbara Lucas had made an exception, giving her special permission to work with me privately, they had both deemed my submitted novel that close to publication.

I attended the Vassar Institute 3 Junes in a row, still unpublished. Posters from The Original Art Exhibition which celebrated The Fine Art of Children's Book Illustration had graced our classroom all 3 years.  To show her Faith in me as a writer, the last year Barbara gifted me with my favorite.  It was illustrator Troy Howell’s image of a beautiful black-top-hatted little boy, breasting an open book, surrounded by a possibility-filled sky. The magic was palpable. I later learned Mr. Howell created the poster to celebrate the exhibition's 10th anniversary; the little boy was his.

I’ve worked at my writer’s desk beneath that beautifully-framed poster for 19 years.

Imagine my smile, my delight, my sigh when Claudia told me Troy Howell was illustrating her Goliath.

The delicious Karma of our Children's Book World continues to amaze me.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Networking for Introverts

I once worked at an Industrial Psychology firm, where I administered hundreds of Myers-Briggs tests.  My own test results showed the most extreme case of introversion that I encountered in my albeit brief career.  I am an INFJ, a rare type.  How many of you can say the same?  I'd actually venture to bet plenty. 

At writing conferences, I note that there seem to be more of "my people" than not; whereas in the world at large, not so much.  And yet, there we are, a room full of introverts trying painfully to network. 

I will be bold and say right now -- I HATE WRITING CONFERENCES!  I like the results of having attended (sometimes), but the actual process is awkward and, frankly, often excruciating.

My first writing conference was the big one -- the annual SCBWI conference in L.A., 1992.  (Were you there, April?) I was 21 years old, was completing an unpaid internship at DAYS OF OUR LIVES, and had no car to get me from Burbank to Marina del Rey.  (If anyone here has ever contemplated living in L.A. without a car, you get how badly I wanted to attend this conference.)  I believe I took three buses, and I know it took me four hours to get home.  But wow, was it worth the effort.  At the Golden Kite reception, one of the keynote speakers, Mary Downing Hahn, was seated at my table.  She is from my hometown, and I am a big fan.  (My husband teaches at least one of her books to his students, as well.)  She also happens to be VERY funny. Mary Downing Hahn is the person who taught me that it is indeed possible for an introvert to make a room full of people burst into gales of laughter.

My manuscript consultation that year was with the late Craig Virden, who was then the head honcho at Bantam-Doubleday-Dell.  He was extremely kind and enthusiastic enough about my manuscript to tell me to send it to his Executive Editor with his blessing.   Can you imagine?  Excitement!  Then deflation, months later, when she rejected it outright.  (As an aside, the same manuscript subsequently got buried on Stephanie Owens Lurie's desk.  Over a year later, I received a rejection note: "I'm sure you've sold this by now..."  Nope.  Not yet! )

The following year, my manuscript consultation was with a writer whose work I did not know.  She hated my manuscript -- she hated everything about it.  She did not have one positive thing to say.  I accept constructive criticism well.  I am enthusiastic about rewriting when feedback resonates, makes sense, makes the work better.  This was an unnecessarily miserable experience.  Even my college students know that the first thing you do when giving feedback is find SOMETHING nice to say.  What I took away from this experience (and I say this as the veteran of a workshop-based MFA program) is the understanding that when you enter into a critique with a stranger (or even a non-stranger with whom you are just not simpatico), you must guard your ego carefully.  A mantra I always share with my students: Everything is subjective! 
After being a shy attendee at several conferences and hearing dozens upon dozens of lectures at Vermont College, I finally promised myself a respite from writing conferences for awhile.  But as my time and focus have waned with the births of my darling children, I realized last year that it was time to get reinspired by communing with like-minded folk.

Last summer I attended the alumni mini-residency at Vermont College, which included small workshop groups with well-known editors.  For serious writers, mid-residency events for alums at Vermont College (and, I believe, Hamline) are open to the general public and are a terrific opportunity worth considering.

In short, this business is tough.  If a little handshaking and smiling is what it takes to get your manuscript out of the slush pile -- by all means, do it!  I have twice paid money and then backed out of attending our local SCBWI event because I know no one, and a weekend is a long commitment when one has small children.  However, I am once again again aiming for my July debut.  As JoAnn would say, wish me luck!  And if you have any tips, please share.  As the tightknit Chicago groups have shown me -- starting local seems a good way to go. --Jeanne Marie

Friday, June 18, 2010

39th annual International SCBWI summer conference! And...ever do affirmations?

Happy Poetry Friday!
  Poem and Writing Workout --how do write affirmations--below.

Today I’m continuing the topic of a writer’s conference I’d recommend…and why.

In the first class I ever took in the UCLA Extension Writers Program in about 1984, my teacher, the late Terry Dunahoo (who I call the Johnny Appleseed of Southern California children's book writers), told us to join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrator (SCBWI) and to attend the annual international conference which, luckily for us, was in Los Angeles. 

Like a good solider (or a well-trained little sister), I did what my teacher told us to do, and boy, am I glad I did. I swear that the classes I took through the UCLA Extension Writers Program and my membership in SCBWI made me the writer I am today.  I've been going every summer since then.

From this West Coaster’s point of view, SCBWI’s annual conference in Century City, California is a fabulous trip-to-New-York-in-a-box.  Editors, authors and web gurus that we’d never EVER get an appointment to see if we flew to New York on our own, show up in LA to teach us, inspire us, critique our manuscripts and party with us.

Come if you possibly can.  Really.  But here’s the great news!  If you can’t come to my home state, you can follow conference action on the SCBWI Blog, which has already begun posting preconference interviews.
How cool is that?
Here's a list poem about the conference:

by April Halprin Wayland

I join 800, sometimes 900
kith and kin,
blood and family,
clansmen and women
as we sing our
ways through
this galaxy, this most amazing writing world
in solidarity
in fellowship
in unity...
in hope.

And if you DO come to the conference, please find me and tell me you’re a TeachingAuthors reader!  This will be my eighth year of critiquing picture book manuscripts.  Is that cool or what?

Writing Workout

When I was a marketing manager at Pacific Bell lo, these many long years ago, I was pretty much a round peg in a square hole.  I knew the corporate world wasn't the right one for me....but I wasn’t sure where I belonged. 

Every once in a while managers were sent to seminars on business and leadership topics.  One of these changed my life.

I remember sitting on the floor in this particular one-day workshop taking notes and wearing jeans and shoes that were not high-heels.  My feet felt wonderful. This seminar was about goal setting and specifically about the power of affirmations. 

We were taught to write three to five affirmations on a 3 x 5 card and keep it in our wallets. Affirmations, we were told, are in the present tense, as if whatever our goal is had already come true. We were told to focus on our affirmations every day in three ways:
1.    Say the affirmation aloud.
2.    Visualize it as true.
3.    Feel it to be true viscerally in our bodies.

Every day as I drove east on the Santa Monica (10) Freeway into downtown Los Angeles, I would say them, see them and feel them.

I said: I am the author of a published children’s book.
I pictured a stack of my published books on the passenger side of my car as I drove.
I let myself feel the joy of being published.

Shortly thereafter I left Pac Bell and began to write children's books and poetry.

One day, perhaps five years after that workshop, I was driving east on the 10 freeway to speak at a school when I glanced over at the passenger side of my car.  There sat a stack of my first book , TO RABBITTOWN.

I got chills.

So…what are your hopes, dreams, wishes?

Write out three to five goals—
at least one about your writing or teaching.
At least one about your health.
At least one about adding fun into your life.

Every day, for each affirmation:
1.    Say it aloud.
2.    Visualize it. 
3.    Feel your body sensations as if it were already true: close your eyes and feel the blood flowing in your veins, your heart expanding, your breathing slow with a sense of well-being.

And then write.  With joy.
photo, drawings and poem (c) by April Halprin Wayland

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Writers' Conferences We Recommend

Are you considering attending a writer's conference this year? We thought it would be helpful if we shared our experiences of conferences we'd recommend. I'm going to kick off the topic by talking about a conference that truly changed how I saw myself as a writer: the Highlights Foundation Writers Workshop at Chautauqua. As it explains on their website:
The conference includes seminars, small-group workshops, and one-on-one sessions with some of the most accomplished and prominent authors, illustrators, editors, critics, and publishers in the world of children’s literature.
Before attending Chautauqua, I was a relative "newbie" to writing for children. I'd freelanced for newspapers and magazines, but I hadn't published anything for children, or any fiction whatsoever. I had taken a class in writing for children and joined SCBWI. After hearing several fellow SCBWI members praise the Highlights conference, I looked into it. Initially, the cost was more than I was ready to invest in my fledgling career. Besides, how could I manage to get away for a whole week?

Then, in 1996, I found out Sharon Creech was going to be on that year's faculty. I was (and still am) a huge fan of her Newbery-winning novel, Walk Two Moons. As if that wasn't enough, Richard Peck was going to be there, too. Somehow, I found the money, made arrangements for my son to stay at my sister's, kissed my husband good-bye, and got on that plane.

From the moment I set foot on the grounds of the Chautauqua Institution, I felt I was in a special place.  Surrounded by historic homes with wide front porches overflowing with summer flowers, I thought I'd stepped back in time. Having a room on the fourth floor of a turn-of-the-century hotel (with no elevator) reinforced that. :-)
 Here I am sitting on the front porch of the Spencer Hotel, where I stayed.

Then I got my conference folder. I had submitted a manuscript for critique--the beginning of a young-adult novel I was working on. I did a double-take when I read the name of the faculty member who'd be critiquing my manuscript: Sharon Creech! Oh. My. Gosh. I was both thrilled and nervous. I mean, how do you talk to a Newbery-medalist?

I was still trembling at my good fortune when I walked over to the opening banquet. One of the staff members at the door directed me to a table near the podium. As I sat down, the gentleman next to me introduced himself. Again I did a double-take. His name was Richard Peck. Oh. My. Gosh. Again. I was so nervous, I didn't know what to say. But he was so kind and friendly. He put me and all the other attendees at our table at ease right away. He spoke to us as peers, not only with small talk about where we were from, but also questions about what kind of writing we did. Then he got up and gave the most inspiring speech about writing for children that I had ever heard.

As everyone else applauded Richard Peck after his speech, I was still furiously taking notes (that's me on the left) so I wouldn't forget his words of wisdom.

Later, when I had my one-on-one session with Sharon Creech, she put me at ease, too. She gave me specific advice on how I could improve my manuscript. And in our follow-up session, she even shared some marketing tips.
Here I am with Sharon Creech.  (I was so young back then!)

I also met for one-on-one sessions with my second mentor, Patricia Broderick, editorial director at Teaching PreK-8 Magazine. Pat made me feel so comfortable that I soon found myself asking her a question that had haunted me for a long time: "Do you have to be born a fiction writer, or is it something you can learn?" Pat answered with the following quote (Sorry, I didn't catch the source.):

"Writing can't be taught, but it can be learned."

That quote helped me find the confidence to pursue my dream of writing fiction. I now share the quote with all my writing students.
Here I am with Pat Broderick. Her advice really made me smile!

The Highlights Writers Workshop at Chautauqua is much more than one-on-one sessions with amazing mentors. It's also an intensive week filled with whole group sessions, small workshops, extra-curricular activities, and wonderful meals with fellow students and faculty. This excerpt from the conference website beautifully sums up my experience there:
As you spend your days and evenings with this group, you notice that no matter what stage of your writing career you are in, you feel respected. Your fellow attendees and the faculty care about you and your work. Everyone seems willing to help you achieve your goals as a writer.

Even if you’ve never been published before, you feel like a writer. You are a writer.   
Attending the Highlights Writers Workshop at Chautauqua was an amazing experience for me. I left there feeling truly affirmed and renewed as a writer. I recommend the conference to everyone, but especially to beginning writers who really need that initial boost in confidence. Scholarships are available for those who can't afford it. And you can also read a host of writing tips from past conferences on their website.

I'd love to know if any of you readers have also attended a Chautauqua conference. If you have, please post a comment about your experience. Over the next two weeks, my fellow TeachingAuthors will be sharing additional conference recommendations. I hope you'll share your recommendations, too.

Happy Writing!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Confessions of a Reformed Mindless Reader

   If you have been following this blog, you know that I am compulsive reader. As a kid I read everything...cereal boxes, shampoo bottles, a newspaper scrap on the floor of a taxi...everything. Restricted to a two-books-at-a-time limit on library books (bad library, bad!), I usually had read one of them by the time I got home.  The happiest day of my life was when the librarian at the Jackson (Mississippi) Public Library said, "Honey, you can take home as many books as you can carry." This became great training for my future career...librarian!
    To say that I was an uncritical reader would be a vast understatement. If I found an author I liked, I would every single thing the library had. To me, Authors (I always thought of them in capital letters) were Deities.  They thought up stories, wrote them without making spelling mistakes, and then zillions of kids all over the world would read their books. Authors were perfect.
    Towards the end of elementary school, I started to notice something; I never read a book with a character who was even remotely like me. (This was pre-Judy Blume). None of them had braces, or glasses, or had to take allergy shots every week. My fictional soul mate was Harriet the Spy, right down to (lensless) glasses, hightop sneakers and notebook. But even Harriet lived in NYC, where cool things happened.  I realized that Authors were really authors, who sometimes wrote books that I really hated (me hating a book?!)  but I didn't know why. Literary criticism was not encouraged in my school. Book reports were for re-hashing the plot in 350 words. My opinion of the book was unimportant.
     I learned to "read like writer" in my MFA program.  My usual approach to reading was to dive in, and if the first page didn't grab me, it was on to another book. But I had a reading list of books that I had
to read. And analyze.  Even if I hated the first page. After finishing, I re-read it, line by line and to figure out what worked and what didn't.
   Next I would take a highlighter to the book (yes, I cringed!)  Using different colors, I  underscored action, dialog and description. Then I would go back and re-highlight the individual characters, and sensory details  Was it all visual, or did the author engage all five senses? Now, my book was a quick visual chart, the colors showing the balance and flow of dialog, action and description.
    I learned that every character, action and detail should "move the story along." Every scene should build on the previous scenes. I outlined action. I made web-like drawings connecting the interactions of the characters.
    By the time I had gone through that process with two books, On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer,
and Becoming Abigail by Rachel Vail, I had absorbed the process into my subconscious.  I could be reading along, really enjoying a story and a little voice in my head would say "That dialog doesn't doesn't sound like two ten-year-olds talking; they sound like adults."
    Even though it has been years since I highlighted those books in oblivion, the lessons I learned stayed with me. True, I can no longer dive head first into a book and let it wash over me in pure pleasure. But there are no perfect authors, there are no perfect books. In the end, I decide whether the flaws are outweighed by the strength of other components. (Sometimes I ask "Did this book
even have an editor?") Do I read on, or not?
      Wait.  I was wrong.  There are two perfect books...Charlotte's Web and Harriet the Spy.
       All literary opinions are purely those of Mary Ann Rodman and do not represent those of any other
Teaching Author!

Summer Reading

What I've read so far (school has been out for three weeks here Atlanta):

Countdown by Deb Wiles
Take Me with You by Carolyn Marsden
Three Rivers Rising by Jame Richards
The Best and Hardest Thing by Pat Brisson
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (I think I am the last person in the world to read it)
Tell Us We're Home by Marina Budhos
The Girl in the Green Sweater by Krystyna Chiger
Party by Tom Leveen
Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman
The Year of Goodbyes by Debby Levy
Borderline by Allen Stratton

Reading right now:

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (late again!)
Sprout by Dale Peck
Under a Red Sky: Memoir of  a Childhood in Communist Romnia by Haya Leah Molnar
Mockingbird by Katherine Erskine
Saving Maddie by Varian Johnson

In my beach bag for July (some of these are late June releases)

Wicked Girls by Stephanie Hemphill
Glimpse by Carol Lynn Williams
Word After Word After Word by Patricia MacLachlan
The London Eye Mystery by Siobahn Dowd

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

Friday, June 11, 2010


Today's Teaching Authors post is number 200 already—wow! I'm so happy to be working with my clever, talented, generous blogmates. Thanks, you guys!

Blogosphere Buzz

Speaking of my blogmates, you can read an interview with our own April, posted by Heidi Estrin, on The Association of Jewish Libraries Blog. April will be speaking at the 2010 Association of Jewish Libraries Convention in Seattle and will also be an honored guest at the Tuesday night gala, where she will receive the 2010 Sydney Taylor Book Award for her picture book New Year at the Pier: A Rosh Hashanah Story. Congratulations, April! We're so proud of you!

I've barely had a moment to think about writing as a reader, although I heartily recommend it. I’ll have to address that topic some other time. Today is my husband’s birthday. (Happy birthday, dear Gene!) Our younger son graduated from high school last night. (Congratulations, Billy! Whoopee!) I just completed two conference speaking proposals. With help from my brilliant writing group, I’ve been working on a major revision of an old picture book manuscript that I just couldn't give up on. After eleven years and more versions than I can keep track of, I think I finally have one that’s ready to submit. Cross your fingers!

Out and About

I leave Sunday to spend a week in Madison, Wisconsin, teaching a weeklong course called “The Building Blocks of Children’s Literature” for the Write by the Lake Writers Workshop and Retreat at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Saturday, June 19, the day after I come home, I’ll be at the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books. From 11:00 – 11:50 a.m., I’ll be on a panel in the Library North Lounge with Ann Angel and Lisa Albert called "Up Close and Personal: Biographies for Teens." Autographing follows near the bookstore. From 2:30 – about 3:45 p.m., I’ll be at the SCBWI-Wisconsin table near the library. Then from 4:00 – 4:50 p.m., I’ll be on a panel in the Library South Lounge with Janet Piehl and Carol Schwartz called "Best Friends: Words and Pictures in Children’s Books." Autographing follows near the bookstore. Please stop by if you'll be in the neighborhood!

The following Tuesday, my summer semester begins. Yikes! My pile of books to read includes many I’ll be dipping into for the two courses I’m teaching at Mount Mary College, Advanced Workshop in Poetry and Workshop in Technical Communication and Design. Right now, I’m taking my time with Firekeeper: Selected Poems by Pattiann Rogers. I met her recently at a workshop at Woodland Pattern Book Center in Milwaukee, and I devoured The Dream of the Marsh Wren: Writing as Reciprocal Creation, a book Ron Koertge recommended many years ago when I was a student at Vermont College. I’m so glad I finally found it. For my future enjoyment, I’ve got these to haul along to Madison (unless I finish them before I leave):

Time You Let Me In: 25 poets under 25 selected by Naomi Shihab Nye
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
Word after Word after Word by Patricia MacLachlan
Split by Swati Avasthi
Tricks by Ellen Hopkins
Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey

I can't wait to dive in!

JoAnn Early Macken

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Reading like a Writer.....

Anyone who knows me - as a Writing Teacher and/or Writing Coach, knows I consider every book published (traditionally or otherwise) a Teacher-in-Waiting.
All one has to do is read like a Writer.
(Picture my smiling face here.)

I’m proud to say I came to this consideration from personal experience, an experience I shared in the September/October 2008 SCBWI Bulletin article “The Book That Changed Me.”
Really and truly, Marjorie Weinman Sharmat’s and Kay Chorao’s picture book I’m Terrific (Holiday House, 1977) changed my writer’s life.

I discovered I’m Terrific with my almost-three year old son on the New Books shelf during a Moms-and-Tots visit at my Wilmette Public Library. The cover grabbed our attention. The smallish bear was obviously self-contented and we liked the soon-to-be-awarded gold star in the robin’s beak.
By story’s end, Jason Bear’s tale had struck a chord in my toddler’s heart.
But….the tale and the telling had struck a chord in my heart, too: the first-ever picture book I was writing looked and felt the same.

I spent days reading and re-reading I’m Terrific, only minus the toddler and wearing my Writer’s Cap.
Admittedly, I was first looking to learn the how-to of the picture book format. I began by typing out Sharmat’s text as it appeared on the pages, leaving triple-spaces for each successive page turn.
I indented where the author indented, placing characters’ words within quotation marks. Dialogue, I sensed, contributed immediacy and energy, and that fine balance between narrative and dialogue moved along the story. I noticed repetition of both phrases and sentence structure. The sentences themselves offered noun-verb clarity, yet my fingers felt the rhythm of Sharmat’s playful words.
Jason Bear’s three friends - Raymond Squirrel, Marvin Raccoon and Henrietta Emily Bear, appeared within the building scenes, always in the same order, creating the expectation necessary for young listeners. Jason’s Mama claimed the transitional scenes. Each scene called for a new and different setting. A star-studded Jason spoke the story’s final words. “Thank you,” he said, once his friends dubbed him terrific.

Next, I revisited Kay Chorao’s soft, penciled illustrations. I covered the text and read the story visually, as my toddler son did. The pictures said it all, amplifying characters’ actions, re-actions and emotions.

Finally, I cut apart one of my carbon-ed (!) text copies, paragraph by paragraph, then re-pasted the words to the pages of the blank 32-page book I’d created. I left space for the front matter, then room for the accompanying illustrations.

Just like that, I suddenly got it!
A picture book story is told across fourteen double-page spreads, creating, sort of, a play’s three acts!
And within each newly-set changing scene, the characters speak their thoughts and feelings as the action worsens!
And, Yes: everything comes together at the end, tied up with a bow! There wasn’t one part of Jason’s story hanging out, un-tethered.

The Good News is, I didn’t stop there, with my how-to education of the picture book format.
I kept on going, reading my way through all of Sharmat’s work, meeting Lucretia the Unbearable, Dudley Possum and Thornton the Worrier. Each of Sharmat’s books introduced me to a new publisher, perhaps one for my stories – Harper, Dutton, and others now gone or since renamed. Soon I was studying their catalogues, holding and reading each publisher’s offerings, coming to know their singular sensibilities. Each picture book also introduced me to a new and wondrous illustrator – Emily Arnold McCully, Marc Simont and Rosanne Litzinger, who eventually illustrated my picture book Chicken Soup by Heart. In turn, each illustrator introduced me to yet another author and publisher. I deconstructed and rebuilt Sharmat’s Nate the Great to learn how to write easy-to-reads; I did the same and learned novel writing, thanks to Sharmat’s Maggie Marmelstein.

In other words, reading I’m Terrific as a reader, the book amused and delighted me, as it should have. But reading I’m Terrific as a writer, the book informed and inspired me, as only it could have. The structure and nuances of the picture book format, an author’s and illustrator’s body of work, new artists, new publishers, new works, new formats – all were mine to know and treasure from but one focused study. Jason Everett Bear and Mesdames Sharmat and Chorao deserve buckets of gold stars for all they taught me.
I still turn to children’s books to learn and hone my craft; I encourage my students and writers to do the same.

This past year I’ve typed out one picture book biography after another, allowing my fingers to feel the flow, to come to know the essence of a telling. I’ve especially focused on biographies of African-Americans, since the subject of my picture biography is a little-known slave.  Along the way I’m discovering possible editors, publishers and illustrators.

It bears repeating (may Jason Bear forgive me): every book published (traditionally or otherwise), is a Teacher-in-Waiting.
All one has to do is read like a writer.

Esther Hershenhorn

As luck would have it, Holiday House published my very first picture book There Goes Lowell’s Party! in 1998, one year after re-issuing I’m Terrific to mark its twentieth anniversary. (My now-grown toddler and I knew a good book when we saw one.) When I found myself seated across from Kay Chorao at the Holiday House ALA Dinner that year, I shared how I’m Terrific illuminated my writer’s journey. “Thank you,” she said. Then she graciously signed my copy, drawing stars that lit the page.

I just finished reading Scott Turow’s Innocent. I’m currently reading Lauren Oliver’s Before the Fall.
Stacked atop my bedroom night table this summer, awaiting my attention, are the following books:
John Grisham’s Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer
Rachel Vail’s Justin Case
Julia Durango’s Sea of the Dead
Stephen Swinburne’s Wiff and Dirty George.
Becky Levine’s The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide (which I’ll be reviewing for TeachingAuthors)

The following ARCs picked up at IRA have their own pile:
Deborah Wiles’ Countdown
Andrea Beaty’s Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies
Sarah Dooley’s Livvie Owen Lived Here
Susan Meddaugh’s Martha On the Case (Crime Stories)

On Mother’s Day, I became the proud owner of a (I can’t believe I’m writing this….) Kindle!
I can’t imagine ordering up a children’s book title for this spiffy electronic vessel.
But the following books are locked and loaded:
Anna Quindlan’s Every Last One
Joseph Epstein’s The Love Song of A. Jerome Minkoff: And Other Stories.
Lisa Kogan’s Someone Will Be With You Shortly

Monday, June 7, 2010

Reading, Writing, Rhythm

Happy Almost-Summer! This week our neighborhood book club started discussing beach reads (would that we were going to the beach).  I'm wrapping up my teaching for the semester and thinking I might actually find a few extra reading hours to spare.  I can't wait to see the reading recommendations posted by YOU. For more suggestions, check out the new links in our sidebar to the Bank Street book lists.

I freely admit that I am a fickle reader.  I read a dozen books simultaneously.  Unless I am truly riveted, I may make it to the midway point, the two-thirds point, but it's relatively rare that I reach the end.  I was an avid consumer of fiction in elementary school, but somewhere along the way (too many deadly-dull (to me) "classics," too little time, and a very SLOW reading speed), I turned into a picky one.  I'm not quite a reluctant reader, but I am a reluctant finisher.  Is there a single soul out there with a similar reading style?

My reading-as-a-writer M.O. is haphazard.  No highlighter or studying or writing workouts for me.  Basically, I need a plot that I love and a style that feels natural -- not pretentious, not too "spare," not to "voicey-voice."  If the writer seems to be trying too hard, I will have to try too hard to get through the book.  A book with the above criteria is the one that gets me to the end and sticks with me, often forever. 

In combing through my books-to-finish piles scattered about the house as well as the home page of my wonderful new Kindle (more on the Kindle in another post), my summer kidlit reading plan consists of the following:

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass
Sophie the Awesome by Lara Bergen
Th1rteen R3asons Why by Jay Asher (I am behind the curve on this one, but wow, what a book!)
Before I Fall  by Lauren Oliver
The Billionaire's Curse by Richard Newsome
A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban (another wow!)
It's Raining Cupcakes by Lisa Schroeder
The Kane Chronicles, Book One by Rick Riordan
The Seventh Level, by Jody Feldman
The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone (super-wow!)

Then there's the ultimate reader/writer/parent book for me:
Book Crush: For Kids and Teens by Nancy Pearl

I also look forward to the treasure trove of easy readers and picture books that my kids will be bringing home all summer long.

For those interested in reading a wonderful novel in poems this summer, enter April's book giveaway here.

Please share your own reading recommendations if are so inclined, and happy summer to all! --Jeanne Marie

Friday, June 4, 2010

We Interrupt This Regularly Scheduled ask for more writing exercise ideas (win a book!)!

Happy Poetry Friday
!  Poem and Writing Workout below.

Our blog topic is reading as a writer.  I'm going to modify it and list some books I'm currently reading as a writing teacher

You may remember that after ten years as instructor with the UCLA Extension Writers Program, I'm teaching a brand-spanking-new class this summer.

My vision is to make this class as playful as the theater games class I took years ago.  No matter how tired my friend Steve and I were after a day in the corporate world, we couldn't wait to get to class.

What was so special about it that energized us?  We were moving or we were mediating, we were reacting to smells or blindfolded, we were hugging or we were chasing each other, we turned into gorillas or bananas.

I want my picture book students to be equally energized.  I want them out of their desks with exercises that get them stretching, walking, laughing, observing, closing their eyes, tasting, singing, crying, playing group games.  I'll be covering such topics as point of view, dialogue, rewriting, publishing and more.  Here are a few of the books I'm using:

Writing Workout
The poet William Stafford wrote a poem every morning all of his life.  Since taking the National Poetry Month Challenge to write a poem a day for the month of April, I'm continuing, inspired by the book, Early Morning--Remembering my Father, William Stafford by Kim Stafford. 

Today part of a sentence Stafford wrote inspired me: "At a certain sound today I hear Father turn onto the gravel drive at supper time..."  It reminded me of our dog, Eli, sleeping on his couch in the upstairs bedroom as I write.

As soon as he hears my husband at the front gate, he runs to the open window, peers down, sees Gary and wildly wags his tail.

So I wrote this for my daily poem:

by April Halprin Wayland

shoes on cement               
key metal gate                   
whistle of man                
done with day’s work              

lifting an ear                   
wrinkling wet nose
twitching a tail

putting big paws on the ledge
dog looking down—man looking up
wiggly rump

galloping over the hall
tearing down all of the stairs
bounding outside

tangle of legs
plough into man
crash to the ground

licking this
most beloved

happily ever after

(until man leaves for work the next morning)

*     *     *     *     *     *
The dog's excitement seemed to lend itself to a short, clipped rhythm.  In poetry, a stressed beat is noted with a slash (/) while an unstressed beat is merely a period.  The rhythm I used in this poem was mostly: /../  (Shoes on cement  /../).

What about your memory of someone coming home?  Can you put it into a poem?
If the rhythm I used feels appropriate for your poem, try it yourself.  (For more guidance regarding poetic meter and rhythm, see Myra Cohn Livingston's book, Poem-Making.)

Remember to breathe.  Remember to enter to win my book by posting an exercise and including your email address.  And above all, remember to write with joy ~

poem, drawing and photo (c) April Halprin Wayland

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Kicking off Summer Reading, and More on Reading as a Writer

Every June, the National Education Association sponsors Summer Reading Month here in the United States. If you're an educator or parent, you can visit the NEA website for tips on encouraging children and teens to read during the summer. The NEA also has additional suggestions on their beautiful June 2010 calendar page.

June also happens to be Audiobook Month. Check out the Blogosphere Buzz section below for links to free audiobook downloads of some pretty exciting titles.

I plan to kick off my summer reading with the Newbery-honor-winner Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin. The novel is the June pick for the Not For Kids Only Book Club sponsored by Anderson's Bookshops.  I really enjoy being part of this great book club for adults who want to read and discuss books for children and teens. After I finish reading Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, I plan to read the May posts about the book at StorySleuths, a blog where three writers "read like writers, investigating award-winning children's literature for clues about how to improve our own writing." 

My students know that I'm big on reading as a way to improve our writing skills. I blogged about this topic last year, and included a number of references with specific tips on just how to "read as a writer." But I was reminded of the value of the practice recently when my friend, Michelle Sussman, posted on Facebook asking for tips on how to incorporate backstory into a novel. (By "backstory" I mean events that happened to the character in the past, before the events of the current story.)  Michelle's question reminded me of how I learned to weave in backstory--by reading as a writer. I took the advice of one of my mentors at Vermont College and bought a paperback copy of a novel I admired, The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson, and then reread it, highlighting every instance of backstory. Before trying this exercise, I’d assumed authors only included backstory in the opening chapters. I was amazed to learn that Paterson had woven it throughout her novel, up to and including the last chapter. My 148-page copy of The Great Gilly Hopkins has three purple-highlighted lines on page 146! It was an invaluable lesson that has really stuck with me.

Since Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is our Book Club selection, I won't be reading it to learn any specific writing techniques. But nowadays I can't help studying every book I read. Next on my to-read list is Barbara Quick's YA novel Golden Web, set in 14th-century Italy. I'll be reading that one specifically to see how Quick incorporates setting details of the time period into her story.

For these two weeks, the TeachingAuthors will be sharing things we've learned from reading as writers. I hope some of you, our blog readers, will join the discussion by posting comments about how reading has helped your writing, too.   And do tell us: what's on your summer reading list? Perhaps it's a book you'd like to use with the Writing Workout below.  

Blogosphere Buzz
  • Don't forget--this weekend, June 4-6 is the 5th Annual 48-hour Reading Challenge. Unfortunately, I don't think I'll be able to participate this year, but I hope many of our readers will. It's a perfect opportunity to "read as a writer."
  • As I mentioned above, June is Audiobook Month. To celebrate, members of the Audiobook Community are offering weekly free audiobook downloads. See the Simply Audiobooks blog for details.
  • And speaking of audiobooks, beginning July 1, SYNC, an online community seeking to build the audience for audiobooks among readers age 13 and up, will be giving away 2 free downloads every week--a popular Young Adult title paired with a Classic title that appears on Summer Reading lists. (Hunger Games is one of the popular titles they'll be offering.) See their site for details
  • Betsy Bird's great children's literature blog at School Library Journal has moved. You will now find it here. If you're looking for some great reads for this summer, check out the results of her "Top 100 Children's Novels Poll." 
  • Our very own JoAnn Early Macken is one of the authors featured on Jennifer Bertman's blog series on writers and their "creative spaces." See this post for a peak into JoAnn's workspace. 
  • Last Friday, I had the honor of being the Featured Blogger at Sally Murphy's Writing for Children Blog. Thanks again, Sally!
Writing Workout
Reading as a Writer

(This is a recap of the Writing Workout I shared on this topic last year.)

In preparation for "reading as a writer," decide what aspect of writing you (or your students) will study. For example, as I mentioned above, I used this technique to study backstory. But you might want to focus on characterization, dialogue, description, plot, setting, use of flashbacks, etc. Ideally, you will read the book you are studying more than once. The first time is to simply enjoy the story. However, if you're pressed for time, you can read for pleasure and analyze at the same time.

If you are able, purchase a paperback copy of the book you've chosen. With a highlighting pen, mark occurrences of the technique you are studying. I used a purple highlighter to mark every occurrence of backstory in The Great Gilly Hopkins, whether it was via a flashback, dialogue, narrative, etc. If you're working with a borrowed book, then take notes describing each occurrence of the technique, making  sure to include the corresponding page numbers. When you're done, come back and post here about your experience and what you learned from it.

Happy Writing (and Reading!)