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.


Carmela Martino said...

Thanks for sharing with us, Claudia. GOLIATH sounds like a fascinating book.

D.E. Malone said...

Great interview! Thanks for keeping the hope alive for us who have our own Goliath's waiting to be discovered.
In the 9 years that I've been attending conferences, my single favorite experience has been the Highlights Foundation Chautauqua. The faculty was stellar and so generous with their time. There was inspiration around every corner.

mag said...

Can't wait to read Golliath! Congratulations!
My teaching and writing life changed when I attended the Writing Institute at UNH with Tom Newkirk, Linda Rief, Donald Murray and Graves and Barbara Clooney was a speaker. I brought home In the Middle and a slew of convictions to start reading and writing workshop in my classes.
I loved the Highlights conference in the historic halls of the University of Virginia. My sister and I love to remember the kind folks we met.

Bobbi Miller said...

What a grand interview! And what a gorgeous, gorgeous book!

writerlady said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
writerlady said...

Loved the interview, Claudia. I can't wait to read "Goliath". :)

I would love LOVE to attend the Writer's Workshop at Chautuaqua, Dawn M. Just reading the description of the the Workshop Curriculum every year makes me feel creative. I'm saving my pennies. :)

Pat Zietlow Miller said...

Great story! I would love to attend the Highlights Foundation conference or the Rutgers Conference. I've heard wonderful things about both.

Pat Zietlow Miller

Doraine said...

This sounds like a wonderful book. Thanks for sharing. My best conference experience was Chautauqua. Something in my frozen writer's heart broke open listening to Patricia Gauch. When we talked about it later, she named it "permission." Yes, it was life changing.

cbrothman said...

This story sounds amazing and I will look it up in my school library for a read aloud to the class this fall. I am a fan of historical books. I will be attending my first conference/writing program at the Columbia University in NYC next Monday. I am very excited to be able to share my knowledge with my students and to further my desire to write and illusrate a children's book. My email address is
and thank you

Anonymous said...

When I joined SCBWI many many years ago I began attending the Illinois annual conference which was a weekend retreat back then. Every year I have been inspired, informed and indeed delighted. Almost ten years ago my daughter moved to Nashville so I began attending the Midsouth annual conferences and was not disappointed. Every year the conference has gotten better and is well worth the trip even if you can't visit your daughter there. Mary Sandford, whose only choice to get this published was to select anonymous.

Anonymous said...

Loved the interview Esther and Claudia. Can't wait to read the book.
Mary Sandford(this was in my original comment;o)

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Esther Hershenhorn said...

I KNEW our TeachingAuthors readers would take heart and hope from Claudia Friddell's interview.
She never stopped revisioning; she never stopped believing.
Thanks to all for sharing conference experiences - and - conference Dreams.
I still have Chautauqua on my To Do List.
Meanwhile, here's the link to my Networking Tips for the upcoming LA SCBWI Conference -[493]LA10-Networking.pdf
There's much to take away, no matter the conference you're attending.
My Vassar Institute friend, author Marge Facklam, once shared her take on children's book writer conference attendees - "former childhood playmates suddenly meeting up again." :)
Have you ever noticed how we get to the Heart of things pronto,once we connect?

Esther Hershenhorn said...

Make that - REconnect. :)

April Halprin Wayland said...

Dear Doraine,

I loved that phrase, "frozen writer's heart". Wonderful.

Jeanne Marie Grunwell Ford said...

Esther, thanks for the very inspiring story. I might have to have some Chardonnay tonight in your honor.

Claudia, thanks so much for the terrific interview. I am a big fan of the PBJ exercise, too. I do it with college students, and it's still messy! Are you attending the MD SCBWI conference in July? If so, I will "know" one person there. :)

Amy said...

I've attended some great general writing conferences--this summer the LA SCBWI will be my first for children and young adults. So that's my pick (Chautuaqua sounds fabulous...a month at a writer's colony also sounds like it would fit my bill). And when I was a teacher, my involvement in the National Writing Project (Denver Writing Project, local expression) was unparalleled.

[April, I was reading "Girl..." the night before I finally had the courage to resign from my public school teaching job and become a writer who teaches, not a teacher who writes. My first novel in verse is close to being ready for submission. So thanks! Bunches! From my journal, 18 April 2007: "I have to write./A splinter pushes up through my skin/and I can't sleep/until this sliver of words/works its way out."]

April Halprin Wayland said...

Dear Amy,

I'm so honored that my poem worked its way into your journal...into your life--wow! And that's partly why we write, right?

Congratulations on your novel being close to submission. Woweekazowee!

Mary Ann Dames - Reading, Writing, & Recipes said...

Goliath does sound like a wonderful book, indeed. I laughed over the recipe exercise. Since I create recipes, I try to remember to write the instructions as if my husband was in charge of the kicthen. His ideed of cooking is microwaved frozen burrito. At least he won't starve.

elsie said...

It is always interesting to learn the journey taken in the publication of a book. Students never realize the amount of revision that goes into a publication. Goliath looks like a great book. Chautuaqua sounds like a great writing conference to attend. The location alone would be inspiring.

Deborah Bates Cavitt said...

My daught-in-law's father and brother are firefighters. I can't wait to read this to our two grandsons. What an inspiration.

Sandy Brehl said...

I have only been able to attend single day conferences/workshops, which were incredibly helpful. A retreat or longer conference is on my bucket list. At the top is the Highlights' Foundation Chatauqua week. In the meantime their website has some thoroughly helpful archived presentations.
Hope I got this in time to be included in the drawing!

Carmela Martino said...

Sandy, you did post in time to qualify. However, you didn't provide an email address, and there's no address associated with your Google profile. Be sure to include an address next time. You'll have another opportunity in July.
I'll announce our winner in my blog post today.