Thursday, April 27, 2017

Flower Showers and the Poetry Friday Roundup!

Welcome to the Poetry Friday Roundup, the last roundup of this year’s National Poetry Month. I’ve enjoyed taking part in NPM by posting a new poem each week on my blog and also reading many of the wonderful poems posted by so many wonderful poets. Hooray and thanks to all who are participating!

Here in southeastern Wisconsin, we’re having a wet spring. We’ve already received at least a couple inches more than our average precipitation up to this point in the year, and the forecast shows rain for the next four days. So as we dodge the raindrops, I’ve been thinking about April showers and what they are supposed to bring.

Flower Showers 
Gray day—
that’s okay.
Plop, drip.
Plants sip. 
Soaked roots.
New shoots.
Green scene.
Wet sheen. 
Squish, gush.
Leaves lush.
Raincoats, boots,
Quick walks.
Tall stalks.
Flowers open?
Keep hopin’! 
JoAnn Early Macken
The weather is weird all over, isn’t it? I plan to join the Milwaukee People’s Climate Rally Call to Action on Saturday. If you’re interested, here’s where you can find a Climate March near you.

After this post, I’ll be taking a break from the Teaching Authors blog. In my last post, I described my work with Bring Your Bag Shorewood’s Boomerang Bags project. Besides writing, I hope to spend more time sewing and working in the garden. Soon.

Don’t forget to enter our Book Giveaway. To celebrate the TeachingAuthors’ 8th Blogiversary (hooray!), we’re giving away a copy of Author and Story Coach Lisa Cron’s Story GeniusSee Esther’s post for details.

Happy Poetry Friday! Add your link below.

JoAnn Early Macken

P.S. This is my first time using Inlinkz. If it doesn’t work properly, please add your link in the comments. Thanks! I’ll keep checking back.

Monday, April 24, 2017


Today marks the 8th Blogiversary of our TeachingAuthors story!
What better way to celebrate eight by thanking you, our Readers, with a Book Giveaway of Lisa Cron’s STORY GENIUS.

In my Two Thumbs Up review that follows, I share Lisa’s insistence that if a story is to help the reader navigate his world, the writer must fully know his characters:  their wants, their needs, and the why’s behind them, but also their worlds and what they rightly – or wrongly -  believe.
Here’s hoping that in thinking about our Readers in similar fashion, we’ve not only eased your travels these past eight years as you tell your stories. Here’s hoping we’ve been both your arm and umbrella as April so beautifully described in her April 21 poem “Taxi Waiting.”

I offer my sincere thanks, too, to my fellow TeachingAuthors “villagers” who’ve kept me blogging, teaching, authoring and keepin’ on since April 22, 2009: Jill Esbaum, Jeanne Marie Grunwell-Ford, JoAnn Early Macken, Carmela Martino, Carla Killough McClafferty, Bobbi Miller, Laura Purdy Salas, Mary Ann Rodman and April Halprin Wayland.

Help us blow out our “One-is-for-Good Luck” candle by entering the Book Giveaway that follows my TWO THUMBS UP review.

TWO THUMBS UP REVIEW: STORY GENIUS by Lisa Cron (Ten Speed Press, 2016)

Author and Story Coach Lisa Cron has done it again, offering the TeachingAuthor in me an eye-opening, thought-provoking look at STORY vs. WRITING.

You got that right: STORY vs. WRITING.  As I often tell my students and writers, there’s the story, and then there’s the way we choose to tell that story to our intended audience.
STORY GENIUS takes that truth to a whole different level, making the case and showing readers that fully knowing and investing in a character’s BACK STORY before his current story ever begins enables the story – i.e. the external plot – to write itself.
The note I stuck to my desktop years ago says it all: “It’s the story, stupid!”

Forget pantsers, Lisa Cron advises - those writers who hope to discover story by writing blindly to the end.
Forget plotters.
Forget recommended unsuccessful first drafts.
Even forget external structure models.
When seeking to tell your story, remember only: stories begin “in the middle,” in medias res, and you can’t have an after without a before.

STORY GENIUS underscores what Lisa Cron considers the two parts of writing a story – two parts I came to think of as two halves: the protagonist’s Inner Story and the External Gauntlet that spurs the protagonist’s inner struggle.
In the first half’s six well-organized chapters that build upon each other, she shows us how to dig deep to learn a protagonist’s inner workings.  We move from an idea to the phrasing of a What if? question to our story’s Who, Why and Worldview, in which our protagonist’s burning desires and misbeliefs are plumbed and explored.  Finally we reach the When that brings our protagonist to an offer he can’t refuse – i.e. the point in the middle where the storytelling begins.
It’s in the second half that STORY GENIUS’ blueprint system emerges, allowing for a “scene-by-scene progression that begins with a now-known opening.
Scene Cards are the vehicle, noting the cause and effect of the external plot and what Lisa Cron calls The Third Rail or internal plot, the piece our brains crave.
Think: What happens?  What are the consequences?
Think: Why it matters? What’s the realization?  And so?
I found the chapter on Subplots (The Secret to Layering) especially helpful, putting forth subplots as “an integral story layer that, once exposed, sheds light on the surface meaning.”
That exposure, of course, comes from digging deep in the first half.

Throughout STORY GENIUS, “What to do” exercises follow each teaching point, inviting us to try our hand.
But even better, Lisa Cron offers a pure “Show, Don’t Tell” example of each point by sharing her friend Jenny Nash’s step-by-step evolution of her novel from the first inkling of her idea to actual scenes.

Lisa Cron is an engaging Narrator and indeed, TeachingAuthor. She knows personally, from years of story coaching and writing, the obstacles we confront when trying so hard to tell our good stories well. In STORY GENIUS, she shares real life situational examples that comfort and console while offering concrete examples from contemporary and classic books, movies, tv and plays that illuminate her teaching points.

WIRED FOR STORY, which you can read about here, WOW-ed me in unexpected ways. STORY GENIUS is the perfect sequel, building on Lisa Cron’s neurologically-based story tenets.

You can read more about Lisa Cron, her books and how to subscribe to her newsletter here.  

Happy storytelling!

Esther Hershenhorn

. . . . . . . .


Now for some celebratory gift-giving!  To enter our new drawing for a chance to win a copy of Lisa Cron’s STORY GENIUS, use the Rafflecopter widget below.  You may enter via 1, 2 or all 3 options.

If you choose option 2, you must leave a comment on today’s blog post below or on our TeachingAuthors Facebook page.  We’d love to know, by the way, what topics and themes you’d like us to feature in upcoming posts. If you haven’t already liked our Facebook page, please do so today!  If you prefer, you may submit your comment via email to: teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com.

Email subscribers: if you received this post via email, you can click on the Rafflecopter link at the end of this message to access the entry form.

Note: if you submit your comments via email or Facebook, you must still enter the drawing via the widget below.  The giveaway ends May 5, 2017 and is open to U.S. residents only.

P.S.  If you’ve never entered a Rafllecopter giveaway, here’s info on how to enter a Rafflecopter giveaway and the difference between signing in with Facebook vs. with an email address.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, April 21, 2017


Howdy, Campers!

Happy Poetry Friday (link to today's host below)! I forgot about posting today. I forgot!

...until my wonderful fellow blogger (our blog's Captain and Queen Mother, Carmela Martino) gently texted, "Everything ok? It's your turn to post and you usually get it done early."


And so here we are. Now. And National Poetry Month! I wrote this poem on April 9, 2017, but Carmela helped me through the storm today, so it feels as if I could have written it just's all about now, isn't it? 

by April Halprin Wayland

Night. Storm.

Thunder roars.

I am perched on

our front porch.

Raindrops drum.

Cab has come.

Downpour now is nearly tidal.

Taxi-cab is parked. It idles.

Torrent pours. I droop, I drag.

A plastic bag is all I have.

And then from where?

Someone standing right here.

Umbrella open,

offers arm.

We're off the porch,

into the storm.

poem © 2017 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved


I need a t-shirt which reads: it takes a village to post a poem...but this one is pretty cool, too:

My fabulous new t-shirt! The UCLA Extension Writers' Program
gave each instructor at our annual retreat
(my next class runs Oct 3-Dec 12)

Thank you, Tabatha, for hosting today's PF at The Opposite of Indifference ~

Yes, Virginia, it really does take a village...and a dog. And a stuffed monkey. Posted with love by April Halprin Wayland with help from Carmela Martino, Eli and Monkey ~

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Infinite Library

I love libraries large and small.  Tiny rural libraries as well as marble-fronted university libraries.  Since I grew up in a place and time without library access, I have a deep love a appreciation for physical libraries.   

As a researcher, I’ve had the rare privilege to use amazing libraries such as the Fred. W. Smith Library for the Study of George Washington, Harvard University, Boston Athenaeum, and Columbia University.  Nothing can take the place of actually seeing historic documents.  But research trips cost a lot of money so it isn’t always possible to travel to do library research.  Publishers do not pay the expenses for authors as they travel to do research--Gasp!  That might come as a surprise for new authors at the beginning of their careers.  Nope. You are on your own, kiddies.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t access the information you need.  Fortunately today, great libraries have made research possible by putting primary source documents online.   It is truly amazing the types of primary sources you can access from your computer, anytime and anywhere.   In a matter of seconds, while sitting on my porch, I can access documents such as the patent for the Wright brothers’ plane, or letters written by George Washington, and see actual footage of the D Day landing.  I love it! 

With so many primary source documents online today, you can do first class research from anywhere!
Today via the Internet we have access to unlimited information.  What do you want to find out?

Carla Killough McClafferty

Monday, April 10, 2017

Bigger On the Inside

Photo by Cynthia Cotten
Perhaps you’ve heard, the TARDIS returns this week, bringing with it all sorts of new adventures. (You may remember that I am as old as twelve Timelords, thirteen if you count the War Doctor. As such, I have been a geek long before there was a word for it.)

It seems to be the most obvious of memes that a book, like the TARDIS, is bigger on the inside. I’m sure a simple google search would produce a thousand illustrations.

Recently I read an interesting piece, The Importance of Ideas

I’ve long said that we are the product of all the stories we have ever read, and that we are influenced by all the characters we have experienced. The University Blog makes a similar statement, offering that “what you read and retain has a potential bearing on what you read and retain after that.”

We know as writers and teachers that reading is important. It’s another obvious meme. We learn about different perspectives even as we shape our own. That’s how new ideas are created. As the University Blog states:

“Ideas are important, too. Without ideas, progress isn’t made, change doesn’t happen, much of human development stops."

In other words, ideas are bigger on the inside.

“Ideas make the world, for they are the guide to future practice. Even the flimsiest ideas rooted in prejudice and ignorance make history and form public culture…Ideas, when mobilized, become the templates of thought and practice.” (Ash Amin & Michael O’Neill, Thinking About Almost Everything)

Librarians are the superheroes who stand guard for these “templates of thoughts and practice” and the stuff of future-building. These days, it seems everyone has an opinion about everything. But not all opinions are equally weighted. As the Doctor might say, some opinions are just “lasagna.”

Recently I had a wonderful librarian visit my college research class to help my students to refine their process of “crap detection.” Teaching media literacy is not new, but with the recent explosion of social media, and the rise of fake media, the process has become convoluted, and downright messy. The hour-long experience proved an invaluable lesson.

Here are a few interesting pieces on what we can do to battle fake news in the classroom:

Battling Fake News in the Classroom, and how one educator helps students develop media literacy.

Cool Tools for Schools, a technology program for librarians and teachers, focusing on how to use critical thinking to judge the reliability of news reports and information sources.

PBS Newhour Extra on how to teach students about fake news.

Ernest Hemingway once said that a great writer needs to have “a built-in, shock-proof crap detector.” While not all of our students need become great writers, certainly every student, as well as the rest of us, will become informed citizens when we are active participants in a better future-building, and stay engaged in that process of lifelong learning.

Remember what the Doctor said,

“You want weapons? We’re in a library! Books are the best weapon in the world. Arm yourself!”

Speaking of, I believe that's the TARDIS now!

Bobbi Miller

(PS. The TARDIS Free Library was designed and built by Steve Cotten, photo by Cynthia Cotten. All other photos courtesy of Pixabay)

Friday, April 7, 2017

A Golden Shovel Poem in Honor of Gwendolyn Brooks

On Monday, Esther suggested writing a Golden Shovel poem in honor of poet Gwendolyn Brooks as a way to celebrate National Poetry Month. I have long admired Brooks's poem "We Real Cool." However, even though Brooks and I both grew up in Chicago, I didn't know much about her before reading Esther's post and this bio about her on Chicago's Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy website. According to the Prep Academy bio, Brooks wrote more than 75 poems by the time she was sixteen. While I also wrote lots of poetry in my tween and teen years, I don't believe I came close to that number.

I've been so wrapped in freelance writing and novel editing that I rarely write poetry these days. So I decided to take up Esther's challenge and try my hand at a Golden Shovel poem. I haven't had time to polish it, so please don't judge the poem below too harshly. 😊

My Golden Shovel was inspired by Brooks's poem "Mayor Harold Washington," which begins:    
Mayor. Worldman. Historyman.
Beyond steps that occur and close,
your steps are echo-makers.
I had moved to the suburbs by the time Washington was elected mayor of the city, but his influence was felt throughout the metropolitan area. So I was especially struck by the line:
 your steps are echo-makers
I've used these words as the end words for my poem:

            Baby Steps
                 --after "Mayor Harold Washington" 

            Inspired by your life, your words, your
            Poetry, I take timid baby steps,
            searching for my own words, ones that are
            powerful enough to also be Echo-makers.

                        © Carmela Martino, All rights reserved.

image courtesy of Pixabay
If you missed the explanation of the Golden Shovel form, see Esther's post for details. If it inspires you to write your own Golden Shovel, I hope you'll share it with us in the comments.

By the way, in her post, Esther mentioned that there will be a celebration of The Golden Shovel Anthology: New Poems Honoring Gwendolyn Brooks (University of Arkansas Press) at Chicago's Poetry Foundation this Wednesday, April 12, 2017. You can find details on the Poetry Foundation site.

For more Poetry Month fun, check out this week's Poetry Friday roundup hosted by Irene Latham at Live Your Poem.

Remember to Write with JOY!

Monday, April 3, 2017

A Golden Way to Dig In and Celebrate National Poetry Month - Gwendolyn Brooks-Style

It’s April!
Which means, it’s time to wish our Readers Happy National Poetry Month
The 30-day event, designated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, holds the title of the World’s Largest Literary Celebration. 

What better way to celebrate than to try your hand at a new poetic form – the Golden Shovel - created in 2014 by the MacArthur “genius grant” poet Terrence Hayes to honor the unforgettable American poet Gwendolyn Brooks.
Because 2017 marks Ms. Brooks’ 100th Birthday, creating a Golden Shovel allows you two celebrations for the price of one.

FYI: Born June 7 in Topeka, Kansas in 1917 and a Southsider all her life, Gwendolyn Brooks served as Illinois’ Poet Laureate, our country’s official poetry consultant, was the first black writer to receive the Pulitzer Prize - for her collection Annie Allen in 1950, and dedicated her life to embracing and growing Young Chicago Authors. In 1945, her first published work, A Street in Bronzeville, chronicled the “everyday lives, aspiration and disappointments” of her Chicago neighbors.
She mentored numerous poets, including Patricia Smith, and others who went on to mentor Chance the Rapper.

Her first collection of 34 poems for children, Bronzeville Boys and Girls, was published in 1956, edited by the legendary Ursula Nordstrom. As Maria Popova wrote in Brain Pickings, “…the collection was a revolutionary act of creative courage in its era, a decade before the peak of the civil rights movement.  It granted a generation of children the tremendous gift of being seen, of having the validity of their experience mirrored back by the page, of being assured that they belong in literature and art.”
Ronni Solbert illustrated the original edition. Faith Ringgold illustrated the 2015 reprint.
Each poem’s title bore a child’s name. GERTRUDE is one of my favorites.


“When I hear Marian Anderson sing,
I am a STUFFless kind of thing.
Heart is like the flying air.
I cannot find it anywhere.
Fingers tingle. I am cold
And warm and young and very old.
But, most, I am a STUFFless thing
When I hear Marian Anderson sing.”

Terrance Hayes understandably wanted to keep Gwendolyn Brooks' voice alive.  He wanted the world to know its rhythms and its heart.
His technique – The Golden Shovel – does just that.

Here’s how the Golden Shovel form works:
you pick a favorite Brooks poem;
next you pick a favorite line;
then, using each word from the chosen line to end the lines of your poem, create a poem that honors Ms. Brooks’ spirit.

If you choose a line with six words, your poem is six lines long.

Click here to read Hayes’ original poem titled “The Golden Shovel."
Hayes invited several well-known poets, including Mark Doty, Sharon Olds, Nikki Giovanni and Billy Collins, to create original Golden Shovel poems, then gathered them in his collection The Golden Shovel Anthology: New Poems Honoring Gwendolyn Brooks.

Some have called this technique “something borrowed, something new.”
The Poetry Foundation, which is celebrating Hayes’ anthology April 12 here in Chicago, notes that this kind of borrowing method is similar to the cento form, in which the writer creates an entire poem from other poets’ lines.  The erasure form in which a writer removes lines from an existing poem is also similar.

Visit The Poetry Foundation and Poem Hunter for lists of Ms. Brooks’ poems so you can choose one  for your Golden Shovel poem.
Or perhaps create an 8-line poem using the end words of each of the lines of GERTRUDE – i.e. sing, thing, air, anywhere, cold, old, thing, sing.

And while you’re writing, be sure to remember Ms. Gwendolyn Brooks.
Happy (poetic) diggin’!

Esther Hershenhorn

The Academy of American Poets sponsors 30 days/30 ways to celebrate National Poetry Month.

Follow the thousands of National Poetry Month celebrations using #npm17 and/or follow the Academy of American Poets @POETSorg.

Congratulations to Ruth Spiro, winner of our Book Giveaway of Matthew Bird’s THE SECRETS OF STORY (Writer’s Digest, 2016)!