Monday, January 30, 2017

Five Fingers/Five Titles for Teaching Young Authors (And Those Young-At-Heart)

So, to answer April’s insightful question posed in her Friday post, you can find my current fingerprint all over today’s post, literally and figuratively.

For a variety of reasons too many to share, it’s the TEACHING part of my TeachingAuthor handle that currently fills my days. I’m a gardener of sorts, seeding and feeding writers, helping others tell their stories to young readers.  I pinch myself daily, honored to be doing so.  I also remain grateful.  Ironically, it is I who likely blooms fuller from helping such singular folks grow their diverse offerings.

As luck would have it, I often have the chance to seed and feed Young Authors. I take joy when sharing writing resources, opportunities, connections and book titles (how-to’s, biographies, autobiographies, related fiction) with teachers, librarians, parents, booksellers – and best of all, the young writers themselves who squeeze me out like a sponge.

Here are five titles I’ve recently added to my Young Authors hand-out, though in truth, all five speak to writers of all ages.

👍WRITING WITH ROSIE by Patricia Reilly Giff (Holiday House, 2016)
Thumbs up for award-winning author Patricia Reilly Giff’s writing how-to book for writers and readers ages 8-12.  The subtitle says it all: You can write a story too.
In conversational chapters that engage, amuse (thanks to her dog Rosie), inform and inspire, Giff introduces the elements of narrative (character, plot, setting, conflict, resolution), shares how she dealt with those elements, offering specific Show, Don’t Tell examples from her published books (CAN YOU SEE HOW I DID IT?), then gives the young writer a chance to try his hand (YOUR TURN). Kirkus called it “the best recent writing guide for young readers and writers.”  Giff knows her audience and how to reach them in age-appropriate meaningful ways.  Holiday House also offers an accompanying Educators Guide with Instructional Standards.  Giff’s spirit abounds.  “Writing is a joyous part of my life. I want that joy for you too, because we all have stories to tell.”

👌 WHERE ARE THE WORDS? by Jodi McKay and Denise Holmes (Albert Whitman, 2016)
 McKay’s introduction to punctuation marks and how they work to tell a story is A-OK!  Thanks to Holmes’ reader-friendly illustrations, the marks come to life, building on each other’s expertise to help Period tell his tale.  The resulting story appears at the end, punctuated correctly.  Young readers ages 4 to 8 come to know each mark in a way that makes their usage unforgettable. 

👏 HOW THIS BOOK WAS MADE by Mac Barnett and Adam Rex (Disney-Hyperion, 2016)
Applause! Applause! There’s finally a fun picture book that SHOWS readers in pictures and in words how a writer’s idea becomes a book they can hold in their own two hands. In between there are “dangerous animals, an angry mob, unreasonable editorial demands, high-seas adventure and traffic.” The Narrator-dash-Writer writes and rewrites and works with his editor so the illustrator can make his art in a timely fashion so the publisher can print the book so it eventually can sit reader-ready on a shelf! There’s just enough absurdity to keep the reader laughing but just enough reality to keep the reader and future writer learning. Barnett and Rex make making a book understandable and fun.

THE UNCORKER OF OCEAN BOTTLES by Michelle Cuevas and Erin E. Stead (Dial, 2016) 
High Fives to Cuevas for her gorgeous writing and Stead for her beautiful illustrations that capture the uncorker’s one-of-a-kind life and heart-stopping situation. This book deservedly sits on numerous Best Books of 2016 lists – SLJ, the Boston Globe, People Magazine and Time. The story is a keeper, like the unaddressed party invitation the nameless character receives.  Bottled messages especially appeal to young writers. Wonder prevails and gets us all “What-if?-ing.” Just think about the author, to launch a story idea.  Or think about the recipient.  Maybe think about the message.  It’s a terrific device when a writer needs to step into another person’s – or character’s – shoes, as both the writer and the reader. A bottled message and its mystery make a swell story hook, too.  

A CHILD OF BOOKS by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston (Candlewick Press, 2016)
V is for victory in Jeffers’ prose poem.  Beautifully illustrated by Winston’s clever typographical images created from text from favorite classics, all the words – both Jeffers’ and Winston’s - sing the praises of the travel opportunities stories bring the reader. Might this be the perfect explanation for how readers become writers?  How might young writers create text images from their favorite stories to create stories of their own? (Oh, to have a classroom of young writers ripe for such an assignment!)

🤞 My fingers are crossed you’ll come to know, explore and use the above five titles, whether sharing them with Young Writers or telling your stories.


Esther Hershenhorn

Friday, January 27, 2017

3 Things I Am Doing Today...What's YOUR Fingerprint?

Howdy, Campers, and Happy Poetry Friday! (The link to PF and my poem are below.)

Today's TeachingAuthor topic is "What are you working on now?" An alternate topic I could have chosen was: "Since the ALA awards were announced this week, what is your reaction as a writer to the success/acclaim for other writers. Does it inspire you, or make you envious?

All last year I was thinking about the fact that we are each a fingerprint. We can only help another so much. Ultimately, each person must discover what works in her life; what her fingerprint is.

So...what am I working on now? You mean, what am I doing today?


That's a tough one.

To be honest...

I'm not sure.

I'm so tired of the dead bodies of stories that stretch back for decades. It's not that they are unfinished. Most of them are finished. The problem is that they're not quite right. I listen to my critique group or a workshop teacher or a mentor or my best friend but mostly myself...and know that I haven't quite touched the heart of the story; it doesn't yet move the reader. I haven't gone deep enough.

I hear their comments, each given kindly in the belief that I can fix the story and then--TA-DAH! I'll send it off with a note in its lunchbox to an editor and it will roll back to me on a rose covered float with a publishing contract in hand.

I hear them. I understand that I need to jump from this lily pad to that one, by the far edge of the pond... But I can't seem to make the changes. I don't know how.

photo by me

This is hard to admit!

In my over-thirty year career as a children's book author and poet, I've seriously considered leaving the profession once before.

I remember that I was driving two hours home from ALA in San Diego on a rainy night. I had just come from a private party, celebrating an award for the book of a dear friend. And I was sobbing.

I passed a billboard featuring a beautiful baby. Maybe I should quit writing and adopt a baby, I thought.

I didn't know if I could go to one more conference where there seemed to be so much success. It was if I had stepped into Facebook where only fabulous things happen to people. I couldn't stand it anymore.

That's not exactly how I feel now. I can celebrate other people's success today. I wish I were feeling anger or rage or defiance. I'm not. What I'm feeling is heart-sickness.

So, what am I working on now? Figuring it all out: who I want to be. What I want to do. Whether I ever want to write again. (That last sentence is not exactly true. Keep reading.)

Some of this upheaval is due to the current political landscape. Part of me feels I have to stop my life and help save the world. But maybe part of me wants to do this precisely because that would be easier than wading through my confusion and sadness. Hard to know.

So here's what I'm doing:

1) For today, I am writing one poem and also writing beside my sister TeachingAuthors. I love writing a poem a day, which I've done since April 1, 2010. I send them to my friend and he sends me his. I won't stop writing a poem a day, nor will I stop blogging, which has opened a door for me I didn't even know was down the hallway.

2) For today, I have not quit my verse novel...the one I wrote and which was accepted for publication by Dial Books for Young Readers over a decade ago and then cancelled, and which I've been writing and finishing and rewriting and rewriting and not writing and nearly setting fire to since 2002. It's bubbling just under my skin. For today I am letting it bubble.

3) For today, I am listening to my own fingerprint. Just for today I am not listening to mentors or workshop leaders or best-selling writing books or even my beloved fellow writers. Just for today, I am listening to what feels right for me, teaching what feels right for this class, for this poem, for this picture book, for this novel. Maybe what I write doesn't fit into today's publishing world. And I have zero desire to self-publish. But still I think about my verse novel almost every day. Mostly with sadness, but with a touch of desire. And some small hope that maybe I haven't yet lived the part of my life that needs to be added to it to complete this book. And others, too.

"I haven't yet lived the part of my life..." Yet is a powerful word.

A month after the election, I was reading about the eyes of flies, for reasons which escape me now:
"House fly eyes are compound organs that are comprised of thousands of individual lenses. Compound eyes are capable of detecting both the polarization of light and color spectrums unseen by humans.”

Reading that triggered the poem I wrote that day, which even I don't understand:

by April Halprin Wayland

"Why," asked Sir Spider, "are you an optimist, friend Fly?"

"I've iridescent eyes," said the ever watchful fly...

and then she said, "Good-bye!"
poem (c) 2017 by April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

For today, those are three things I am doing and an odd poem. That's my fingerprint. What's yours?

Thank you, Beyond LiteracyLink for hosting today ~

Posted by April Halprin Wayland with the help of Eli, who slept quietly on his doggy couch while I wrote.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Describing the Indescribable in Six Words

OK, I admit it.  I’m an over thinker.  I can’t help it.  It is how I arrived way back when.
So to distill my life into a six word memoir is harder than I thought it would be.  There are so many different directions it could go.  And the thought of casting my six-word memoir out into cyberspace—where words never disappear—became more and more daunting the longer I thought about it.   Yes, that is the “over thinking” thing popping up again.

I tried to come up with a memoir that was lighthearted and meaningful that I could connect to something in my life.  Hmmmm . . . what could it be?  But memories are an unruly thing.  Lighthearted is not where my memory train stopped.   Instead my mind turned to another moment in my life when I had to decide on just a few words to describe the indescribable. 

Corey Andrew McClafferty
9-16-87 — 11-24-88

Corey, my fourteen-month-old son, had just died from a head injury after falling off the swing in the back yard.  I picked out a tombstone.  I didn’t want a tombstone, and I sure didn’t want one with my son’s name on it.   They asked if we wanted to add anything besides his name, birth and death dates.  How could a few words possibly capture what my son meant to me?  Finally I mumbled “Our beloved son.”  Three words that can never scratch the surface of the love I still have for my son, and the devastation of his loss.

How does this melancholy memory connect to writing this blog?  I began writing only after Corey died.  If he had not died, I would never have written a single word.  After his death I knew I was supposed to write a book about my experience.  My first book titled Forgiving God is a Christian inspirational book about the Spiritual battle I faced after Corey’s death and how God brought me through it and back to Him.   After that, I began writing nonfiction books for young readers.

Cover for my first book, Forgiving God

Corey’s death has taught me many things about my God, my work, and my life.  One of those things has been that life is short, sometimes very short.  Every day costs me one day of my life and I don’t know how many days there will be.  So I have a very simple six-word memoir:

Life’s a gift, treasure each day.

Carla Killough McClafferty 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Starting the Year with Good News

Hello, all!
I'm happy to share some Good News in this, my first post of 2017:

I finally have a new novel coming out! 

My young-adult historical romance, PLAYING BY HEART, will be published by Vinspire Publishing this fall. The novel is set in 18th-century Milan and was inspired by the life of Maria Teresa Agnesi, one of the first women to compose a serious opera. The story grew out of my research for a biography of Maria Teresa's older sister, Maria Gaetana Agnesi, who is considered one of the first female mathematicians of modern times. (To learn more about her, see this website I created. You'll find a link on this page to a video featuring the music of Maria Teresa Agnesi.)

At its core, PLAYING BY HEART is the story of two sisters struggling to follow their true callings at a time when women had little autonomy. This is the same novel I blogged about in 2014. In that post, I shared about how the manuscript had done well in several writing contests, and even took first place in the YA category of the 2013 Windy City RWA Four Seasons Romance Writing Contest:

Isn't this the coolest plaque? Thanks Windy City!

Unfortunately, the editors and agents who read it all told me historical fiction is a "tough sell" in the young adult market. I set the manuscript aside and hoped the situation would change, as it often does in publishing.

Then, last March, I had the opportunity to pitch to an editor from Vinspire Publishing as part of the 2016 Catholic Writers Guild Online Conference (CWCO). The editor liked the pitch, asked to see sample chapters, and eventually offered me a contract. I'm currently editing the manuscript to prepare it for publication. (To read another Vinspire success story, see my Guest TeachingAuthor interview with A.J. Cattapan.)

While this post's title, "Starting the Year with Good News," happens to contain six words, it is not my six-word memoir for our current TeachingAuthor series. But my six-word memoir is closely tied to my good news, as you'll soon see.

Inspired by the forthcoming release of PLAYING BY HEART, I've decided to explore some new endeavors this year. These include:
  1. Trying out a new software app for my e-newsletter. I sent out my first 2017 e-newsletter two weeks ago using MailerLite. I love all the great features I can take advantage of with MailerLite, but I'm having some compatibility issues with my website. I hope I can work those out. If you're a subscriber but didn't get the newsletter, please check your Spam folder. If it's not there, please email me via my website.
  2. Expanding the content of my e-newsletter. In addition to publishing news and info about my writing classes, the newsletter now contains creativity tips. I hope the bonus materials will inspire my readers in their own creative endeavors. You can click here to read the first issue online. If you'd like to subscribe, see the right sidebar of my website.
  3. Learning to use Twitter to connect with fellow writers and readers. I've been on Facebook a long time, and even have an author page there, but I've resisted Twitter because I didn't want another social media distraction. I finally broke down and activated the Twitter account I created years ago. You'll find me @carmelamartino
  4. Presenting at an online conference. Last summer, I gave the presentation "Coping with Your Inner Critic" at the Catholic Writer's Guild Live Conference (CWCL). On Friday, February 17, I'll repeat that presentation for the 2017 Catholic Writers Guild Online Conference (CWCO). Fingers crossed that the technology will work the way it's supposed to! By the way: I recently learned (via Twitter!) that Vinspire Publishing, which usually accepts only agented submissions, will be open to pitches again at this year's CWCO. If you have a manuscript you think might fit their list (be sure to check them out first), consider attending the conference. For a detailed schedule and presenter bios, see the links on this page.
  5. Trying out voice recognition software. I've been struggling with a painful wrist injury for months now that has been slow to heal. I recently bought Dragon Dictation in the hope of reducing my keyboarding. If any of you already use it, I'd love to know any tips/advice you have.
  6. Making new writing friends. Since PLAYING BY HEART crosses multiple genres, I'm finding it helpful to connect with writers in a variety of organizations. I recently attended a local Romance Writers of America (RWA) chapter meeting. I'm also looking into the Historical Novel Society and American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW). If you belong to any of these organizations, or have others to recommend, let me know.
Given all these new endeavors, I'm a little worried about getting distracted from my writing. And that leads to my six-word memoir, which is my personal intention for 2017:

Staying rooted while sprouting new branches.

Here's to a successful year for us all!

Don't forget--it's Poetry Friday. This week's roundup is over at Violet Nesdoly/Poems.

Remember to always Write with Joy!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Family is More Than Blood

Beau and Becca, 36 years apart

Numbers take on a really wibbly wobbly effect once you reach a certain age.

Now in my sixties – a number that carries all sorts of weirdness – I have been an orphan over half of my life. In one year’s time, a mere 365 days, I went from one of five to on my own. I am now ten years older than my mother on her last day. I am three years older than my father. I am over twice the age my brother would have been, and my eldest has been gone longer still.

These are unsettled times, as volatile as ever I remember from way back then. The fear that everyone feels now is thick as San Francisco fog. Worry about jobs, losing health insurance, paying the mortgage, student loans – it’s overwhelming.

There is a palatable grief as we witness the changing of the guard in Washington.

This is why I’ve enjoyed this series of six word memoirs so much. April spoke of moving fearlessly forward, keeping hope alive. Recently Robert Hardies (Washington Post)  offered three ways to cultivate hope, even when it seems hopeless. Of hope, says Hardies, “start where you are and take one step at a time.” You do the best you can with what you have.

Esther spoke about finding the silver-lining.  It’s not always easy, says Esther, because silver linings play hide-and-seek. But she keeps going because she knows – she has faith – that they are there.

Faith is always easier said than done, especially in the face of fretful times. For over twenty years (there’s that number thing again), I have been a writer. But like most writers, and artists, I’ve had plenty of hope, plenty of determination, plenty of ideas, just not enough money to pay the bills. I worked as a journalist, as an editor, as a bookseller. For over twenty years, I’ve worked as an adjunct. An adjunct’s life, like the life of an artist, is uncertain. There are no guarantees. You live semester to semester, month to month. You pay for your own health insurance, your own retirement. At one point, I was teaching at five colleges, twelve classes a semester. And all the while I sent out hundreds and hundreds of CVs and resumes for a full time job. Some I got as far as the interview process, but it always came to three reasons why I was rejected. One, I had the wrong degree. Two, I had the wrong experience. Three, I lived in the wrong location. Eventually, a fourth was included, though it was implied between the lines, I was too old.

Eventually, most of the programs where I taught closed or moved elsewhere. Still, for most of this time, I had two colleges – five classes over the school year -- that were steady.

Until it wasn’t.

So, now what?

I am more than a ridiculous old woman who lives in the woods. I am a statistic. I am one of 5.6 million involuntary part time workers, those of us who prefer full-time work but can’t find it. I am one of the 14.1 per cent who is an older American, and one of 28 percent noninstitutionalized – and isn’t that a glorious word. Not.-- older Americans living alone. Did I tell you how much I hate numbers?

We are all so afraid of what lies ahead.

As Hardies says, we “need a horizon in our lives that is larger than today’s headlines.” Faith – however you define it – provides that larger perspective that spreads across the horizon. Lift your eyes to the hills, he says. Keep your eye on the horizon and keep moving forward.

Mary Ann spoke of puzzles,  that works in progress are long haul projects. Isn’t that the definition of life itself, a long haul project? She reminds us that “it will all come together, somehow.”

Hardies tells us of Rumi, and “There is a secret medicine given only to those who hurt so hard, they cannot hope. Look as long as you can at the friend you love.”

Fearless. Faith.


So we come full circle to my six-word memoir: Family is more than blood.

“This is my family. I found it all on my own. It’s little and broken, but still good. Yeah, still good.” (says the wise alien, Stitch)

For most of my life, and all of her life, it has been just the two of us. We were the Gilmore Girls before the Gilmore girls. And recently, my little, broken family welcomed two new people. My little, broken family grows!

But I have learned over the many, many decades that blood is not as strong as togetherness. Family is not always defined by shared ancestry, but rather by a shared life.

Those who hold you up.

Those who show you the pieces of the puzzle.

Those who point to the horizon, and walk with you.

And if all this is true, then I have a really, really, really big family. Thank you, Monica, for believing in me. And Cynthia, for all our TARDIS larks. And Eric, and Marion, for holding me up. And Karen, for taking my hand. And Vera, for the hearts. And Emma, for your Dumbledore wisdom. And Jo, for the years. And Bonny and Bette, for all the hugs. And Bruce and Joanna, for your journeys and stories and inspirations. And for Teaching Authors, for bringing me into the sisterhood.

I could go on, but you get my point.

Indeed, these are scary times. You have every right to be afraid, feel betrayed, and be angry. But just remember, you are not alone, and therein lies your courage and your hope.

Take care,

Bobbi Miller
P.S. Yes, it's actually a five-word memoir. But I have always been a bit wibbly wobbly with numbers.