Monday, October 30, 2017

Three New Books for Your Writer’s Bookshelf!

Oh, how I love recommending books about writing for our readers’ shelves!
This time around, while the first two titles target aspiring young writers, young-at-heart writers can also benefit.

Adam Lehrhaupt’s picture book THIS IS A GOOD STORY (Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster, 2017) does a very good job for readers 6 and older of nailing the essential components of story: character, plot, setting and conflict.  And all while the Narrator cleverly engages the reader’s participation in creating a story within a story to highlight each element. Kirkus writes, “This tongue-in-cheek way of delivering the rules of creative writing is clever, and paired with Magali Le Huche’s earnest, childlike illustrations, it seems to be aimed at giving helpful direction to aspiring young creators…”

Jack Gantos’ WRITING RADAR - USING YOUR JOURNAL TO SNOOP OUT AND CRAFT GREAT STORIES (Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2017) does an exceptional job showing young writers how mining their journals helps them make their stories shine.
Thanks to text boxes highlighting writing tips, Gantos’ own illustrations, sample stories and snippets of his childhood journals, readers revel in the creative process.  In starred reviews, PW, Booklist and SLJ agree: it’s a funny, laugh-out-loud, focused, useful must guide for young aspiring writers.  It’s Lucy Calkins’ Book of the Year – “a life-changer for kids and for those of us who teach them.”

For those of us who write for kids, Eve Heidi Bine-Stock’s newest book OH! THE THINKS I THINK (Eve Heidi Bine-Stock Publishing, 2017) focuses on both STORY – and – PROCESS, offering children’s book writers a journal and a workbook.  It’s a welcome addition to her family of children’s book writing books, especially the recently-published how-to books (HOW TO SELF-PUBLISH A CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOK, HOW TO WRITE A PICTURE BOOK, HOW TO ILLUSTRATE A CHILDREN'S PICTURE BOOK IF YOU CAN’T DRAW).  Word prompts, brainstorming exercises and planning guidelines suggest ways for writers to structure, write, analyze and edit their stories.  Intermittent delicious poetic verse charms and delights.

Which reminds me: don’t forget to enter our Book Giveaway for PET CRAZY (Pomelo Books), Sylvia Vardell’s and Janet Wong’s newest Poetry Friday Power Book which features the original poetry of our very own April Halprin Wayland.
Click here for details.  The deadline is November 8.

Happy reading – and – writing, no matter your age or years on task!

Esther Hershenhorn

Friday, October 27, 2017

3 Chances to Win PET CRAZY, a Poetry Friday Power Book

Howdy, Campers ~ Happy Poetry Friday! Link to PF is below.

Today Eli and I are excited to introduce you to the newest addition in the extraordinary series, Poetry Friday Power Books, PET CRAZY (Pomelo Books), by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong, illustrated by Franzi Paetzold. (At the end of this post you'll have a chance to win one of three autographed copies--lucky you!)

Eli, captivated by Pet Crazy 

As always, creators Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell turn teaching on its ear. They're a brilliant team unfailingly inventing original and inspiring curriculum for each book. This one's for younger elementary ages and they've nailed it. (Full disclosure: Eli is excited because my poem about his favorite place in the world--the dog park--is included.)

PET CRAZY: A Poetry Friday Power Book is a story in poems and a writing journal with twelve "PowerPacks" filled with activities to get young children thinking, drawing, reading, and writing about all kinds of pets. (Eli believes dogs are the best possible pet, but he says he's willing to keep an open mind.)

It was inspired by poems in The Poetry Friday Anthology® series. Five of these became  “anchor poems” that form the core of PET CRAZY.  Seven new poems were commissioned specifically for this book. Then Janet took these 12 anchor poems and connected them with 24 poems (which she wrote) to create a story featuring three animal-loving kids.

Here’s an example of how this book introduces the concept of free verse in PowerPack 11, near the end of the book, after the the poet's tools of rhyme, questions, repetition, stanzas, emotions, alliteration, acrostics, dialogue, found words and lists have been introduced:

 PowerPack 11 table of contents

 Anchor and Response poems

Mentor poem and Power2You

Pretty cool, right? (Eli says he's not at all surprised that PET CRAZY was chosen as a Children’s Book Council “Hot Off the Press” selection.)

And here are the contributors to PET CRAZY (and their pets):

Snot, enjoying her very own copy of  PET CRAZY

Kristy Dempsey (Dogs are her favorite pet, but a couple of cats named Rascal and Minnie have curled their way into her heart as well.)

Helen Frost (Helen enjoys raising and releasing monarch butterflies.) 

Janice Harrington (Her favorite pet was a wonderful mutt named Nipper.)

Eric Ode (When Eric was a teacher, classroom pets included painted turtles, red-bellied newts, and a rat named Crockett.)

Laura Shovan (Her family lost a beloved cat, Nutmeg, just like in her poem included in this book.)

Elizabeth Steinglass (She has a sleepy cat named Scout.)

Eileen Spinelli (Eileen and her husband raise monarch butterflies.)

Don Tate (Our sources say us he's a gym-rat. :-)

Padma Venkatraman (Padma's also an oceanographer; she undoubtedly loves ocean animals)

(me) (We have a cat named Snot--Eli would just as soon we didn't have her--a tortoise named Sheldon--who Eli likes quite a bit--five red-eared sliders, two box turtles, and last but not least Eli, a noodle-brain and an avid hiker.) [Guess who says he does not appreciate this description?]

Sylvia Vardell ( (Sylvia's favorite pets are dogs; she’s had three of them--Luther, Yenta, and Caesar--as well as Leonardo the tortoise, and a parakeet named Pecky.)

Tamera Will Wissinger (Tamera once had a small cat that was a ball retriever.)

Carole Boston Weatherford (Carole has shared her home with beagles Lucky, Snoopy, Hendrix and Gigi.)

Janet Wong (Janet's had dozens of pets, including birds, fish, a frog, hamsters, lizards, turtles, a cat, and dogs Bernadette, Coco, Nissa, and Angel.)

Nissa, teaching Janet "speak!"
Congratulations, Janet and Sylvia for producing another imaginative, satisfying, useful book!

Campers, we have THREE autographed copies of PET CRAZY to give away, thanks to the generosity of Pomelo Books! (Ever the optimist, Eli says if he were a teacher, a parent, or the relative of an aspiring poet, he'd enter right away to win it in time for the holidays.)

To enter, 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. If you haven't already "liked" our Facebook page, please do so today. In your comment, tell us what you'd do with this book if you win our giveaway--keep it for yourself or give it to a teacher or a young reader?

(If you prefer, submit your comment via email to: teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com.)

Email subscribers: if you received this post via email, 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 November 8th and is open to U.S. residents only.

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

And don't forget that it's Poetry Friday!
Thank you, Brenda, for hosting PF at Friendly Fairy Tales!

posted poetically by Eli, with help from April Halprin Wayland...and Snot, though Eli refuses to admit it.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Wednesday Writing Workout: LET'S BEAT IT OUT!

A brand-new TeachingAuthor in her own right/write brings us today’s beat-a-ful
Wednesday Writing Workout: debut picture book author and Colorado high school English teacher Heather Preusser.
Lucky me to have worked with Heather this past July at my Manuscript Workshop in Vermont on her next work, a YA novel.
And now lucky you to learn from her storytelling smarts.

Gorgeously illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewen, Heather’s picture book, A Symphony of Cowbells (Sleeping Bear Press, 2017), tells the tale of Petra and her Swiss cow, Elfi, who loses her bell and disrupts the harmony of the herd.

Heather believes Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat Beat Sheet- affectionately known as The BS2 - helped Petra and Elfi save the day - and - Heather save her picture book’s plot.

FYI: The Beat Sheet is a plot structure template; it reduces the three-act structure into small, manageable sections, each offering a specific goal for the story as a whole.

Thank you, Heather, for creating today’s WWW, teaching us how to plot our stories one beat at a time.

Happy Writing!

Esther Hershenhorn


              LET’S BEAT IT OUT!

     Whenever I’m stuck on a manuscript – whether I’m brainstorming a young adult novel or revising a picture book – I turn to the official “Blake Snyder Beat Sheet” (a.k.a. the BS2) from Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need. Seeing the fifteen different beats on one sheet is eye-opening; I can identify where certain beats are too long and where others are missing entirely.


To demonstrate, I put my debut picture book, A SYMPHONY OF COWBELLS, through the “BS2” test: 

Opening Image: In the end pages, the effusive midday sun rises behind the mountains, and figurines put on a musical performance, alluding to the titular symphony. A bell-less Elfi and Petra watch from above while two large Alpine crows fly about, adding to the activity we can both see and hear and hinting at the hustle and bustle to come. The clock motif that the illustrator, Eileen Ryan Ewen, weaves throughout the story not only connects to the Swiss setting but also hints at a ticking clock – literally – and increases the overall tension.

Theme Stated: The cover image features Petra offering a bouquet of sweet, tasty flowers to Elfi and establishes the theme of friendship. Efli wears her big booming brass bell proudly; however, it’s missing by the time we open the book. “What lengths should one go to help a friend?” becomes the central argument.

Set-Up: In the first few pages we’re introduced to the persistent protagonist, Petra, as well as her favorite caramel-colored cow, Elfi, who is both prideful and stubborn.

Catalyst: When Petra joins the herd in the lower meadows, she notices Elfi’s familiar melody is missing; her big, booming brass bell is gone.

Debate: Can Elfi make do without a bell? Petra’s father suggests this solution; however, Efli stamps her hoof.

Break into Two: Elf refuses to move, so Petra must march into Act Two. She helps her friend, literally taking hold of the reins and pulling the cow while her father pushes. Because Petra pulls toward the right, it encourages the reader to turn the page and keep reading.

B Story: In this manuscript, the A and B story run concurrently, and in the B story we’re introduced to two large Alpine crows. Although this isn’t a traditional love story, it is a love story: These crows adore shiny objects and, as flighty, thieving birds, they act as the “upside down versions” of the durable, dependable cows in Act One. 

Fun and Games: Petra proposes a different bell, a tiny tin bell that makes an embarrassing tinkling sound. Elfi scoffs at the suggestion. With its butt in the air, even the farm cat has fun inspecting the contents of a nearby bucket (another hint we’re in the upside down version of Act One).

Midpoint: Things are worse off than they were at the story’s start because now the entire herd is out of tune and refuses to move. If the cows don’t head to the high pasture, there will be no grazing, no milk, and no cheese! This is a false defeat. Even the curious cat has toppled over the bucket, symbolizing the toppling effect Elfi’s missing bell has on the entire farm.

Bad Guys Close In: While Petra begs Elfi to move, we see the consequences of Mr. Schmidt’s stolen pocket watch in the Jan-Brett-esque panel at the bottom of the page: The cheese shop owner has overslept (as has the mouse!), and a closed sign hangs on the door. Now everyone in Gimmelwald will be without scrumptious cheese.

All Is Lost: All is literally lost as Petra searches for Elfi’s bell. Although Petra finds nothing, the illustrations hint at a false victory: The cat in the background appears to have his eye on a few mice in the open cupboard, and the crows have gathered even more loot from mother’s jewelry box. The three Swiss cuckoo clocks hanging on the wall remind us that time is running out while the mice’s eminent death symbolizes a “whiff of death” moment.

Dark Night of the Soul: Petra looks out her window onto the pasture. Her posture – as well as the cat’s – suggests she’s been beaten and she knows it. That it’s dusk helps set a somber mood. At this point, there appears to be no solution, although the curtains blowing in the breeze hint that change is coming.

Break into Three: The next morning, while picking flowers for Elfi, Petra discovers a solution: She sees a crow carrying something shiny and decides to follow it. (The reader only sees the crow’s shadow, keeping the solution a secret for a few more pages.)

Finale: Petra follows the bird to a large nest. With the help of the neighbors and her parents, she reaches into the nest and discovers the missing items. She removes them in the reverse order, saving Elfi’s big booming bell for last. After Petra reunites bell and bovine, the other cows mosey up the mountainside; it’s a loud symphony! The panels at the bottom of each page show the other lost objects being returned to the rightful owners. The side panels echo the celebratory tone as well: The figurines play music while others hang colorful banners in preparation for the Alpine Cheese Festival on the last spread.

Final Image: Now the clock in the end pages suggests it’s evening with the moon rising behind the clouds. Everyone is tired from the adventure. Petra yawns, suggesting she’ll be asleep soon. The cool colors – blues and violets – create a calm mood, encouraging the young reader to drift off to sleep as well.

Now it’s your turn: take your current work-in-progress – or one of your favorite model texts – and “beat it out”!

Monday, October 23, 2017

What Exactly is a Short Story?

These last few days, theTeaching Authors have shared their admiration and wisdom about the indomitable short story. With special congratulations to our own TeachingAuthor Carla Killough McClafferty on having a story featured in the brand new collection, 30 People Who Changed the World: Fascinating Bite-Sized Essays from Award-Winning Writers--Intriguing People Through the Ages: From Imhotep to Malala edited by Jean Reynolds. Short stories are Mary Ann’s guilty pleasures.  Esther raises four cheers for the short story.

I have to admit, I am not a big reader of short stories, although I’m not exactly sure why. In fact, I'm not so sure I know what a short story is. O yes, I’ve read Edgar Allen Poe and Shirley Jackson. I’ve even published a few, working with the mighty Marion Zimmer Bradley when I first started out, many years ago.

But what exactly is a short story? I mean, I certainly understand the more cursory elements of the short story versus the novel. Short stories are, well, short. The character comes for a visit, stays for an evening, and complains about a particular problem. But then just as she is getting interesting, she leaves.

As Eudora Welty once said, “A short story is confined to one mood, to which everything in the story pertains. Characters, setting, time, events, are all subject to the mood. And you can try more ephemeral, more fleeting things in a story – you can work more by suggestion – than in a novel. Less is resolved, more is suggested, perhaps.”

 It turns out, the short story is becoming popular again. In her 2016 article, The Rise of the Short Story, Laurie Hertzel examines the reasons why the short story is not only gaining popularity, but enjoying a new heyday not seen in decades.

But, what exactly is a short story? 

“Writers who do short shorts need to be especially bold. They stake everything on a stroke of inventiveness. Sometimes they have to be prepared to speak out directly, not so much in order to state a theme as to provide a jarring or complicating commentary. The voice of the writer brushes, so to say, against his flash of invention. And then, almost before it begins, the fiction is brought to a stark conclusion - abrupt, bleeding, exhausting. This conclusion need not complete the action; it has only to break it off decisively.” -- Irving Howe

“It’s possible, in a poem or short story, to write about commonplace things and objects using commonplace but precise language, and to endow those things – a chair, a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a woman’s earring – with immense, even startling power.” – Raymond Carver 

“A short story I have written long ago would barge into my house in the middle of the night, shake me awake and shout, ‘Hey, this is no time for sleeping! You can’t forget me, there’s still more to write!’ Impelled by that voice, I would find myself writing a novel. In this sense, too, my short stories and novels connect inside me in a very natural, organic way.”Haruki Murakami

“A short story is the ultimate close-up magic trick – a couple of thousand words to take you around the universe or break your heart.” – Neil Gaiman

"I seem to turn out stories that violate the discipline of the short story form and don't obey the rules of progression for novels. I don't think about a particular form: I think more about fiction, let's say a chunk of fiction." -- Alice Munro

“I’ll give you the whole secret to short story writing. Here it is. Rule 1: Write stories that please yourself. There is no Rule 2.”O. Henry

Anita Desai (July 2017) reflects on how tales briefly told are in the habit of returning, that "... a short story is not a failed novel any more than a novella is an extended short story. Each has an altogether different set of rules and effects. Length is one of them, but lengths vary wildly. As Hortense Calisher said, “How long should a short story be? As long as a piece of string. I mean – to tie up the parcel with.”

 "Instead of those long stretches in which a novelist becomes stranded, the short-story writer must launch forth on what is a high-wire act, refusing to look back or down into the abyss, running the length of it at a sprint so as not to lose balance: quick, quick before you fall!" -- Anita Desai

So, it seems a short story is an organic, boldly told magical trick resembling a high wire act that stretches to the end of the universe and back. And if it makes you feel something, especially if it breaks your heart, it's good.

Does that sound about right?

Bobbi Miller

Friday, October 20, 2017

Out & About, And More on Short Stories

This has been a busy month for me, with various events to help launch my new novel, Playing by Heart (Vinspire Publishing). Last Friday, Oct. 13, I spoke at the Fall Conference of the Wisconsin Chapter of the Catholic Library Association on the "Story Behind the Story of Playing by Heart." Tuesday evening I hosted my first ever Facebook Launch Party. The party was a ton of work to plan but great fun. I laughed out loud at times, especially during Game #3. (If you want to see why, you can read the discussion for yourself.) Tuesday was also the day my guest blog post on "Pulling a Novel from the Drawer" was published on the terrific Cynsations blog.

And just last night I gave a presentation to the SCBWI-IL LaGrange-Naperville Network on the topic of "Working with Small Presses." That presentation was based on the research I did for my article of the same name in the brand new 2018 Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market. I still have three more events scheduled in the next ten days, including a signing at the amazing Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville Saturday, Oct. 28 at 2 p.m. If any of you are in the area, I hope you'll stop by.

Also, before I get to today's topic, I hope you won't mind if I share a small request. My new novel, Playing by Heart, is included in this year's SCBWI Book Stop. I'd love for you to stop by my page and post a comment to help me qualify for some great prizes. (Comments have to be posted by Sunday, 10/22.) While you're there, you can see the lovely video my publisher made for the book.

Now for today's topic: Short Stories. Because of all the busy-ness, I haven't had time to really think about my post for today. I'd actually been looking forward to this topic because I'm trying to write a short story for an anthology and I've been having a tough time with it. Part of the problem is that I went to set it in the same world as my novel Playing by Heart, featuring some of the same characters, but I don't want to have any "spoilers" for the novel.

In the September edition of my Creativity Newsletter, I shared about trying to get back into a fiction-writing mindset after being away from it for so long. I talked about reading a book that had been sitting (unread) on my shelf for ages, Movies in the Mind: How to Build a Better Short Story, by Colleen Mariah Rae. The book contains some interesting exercises, such as one in Chapter Two called "Nightly Recap" that asks you to do the following at the end of each day:
". . . lie in bed with the lights out and recall as vividly as you can as many details as you can. No paper, no pencil--you're just doing this in your head in the dark. Think through what you saw, smelled, tasted, touched, heard, and felt during the day. . . .
      Flesh out the details. Don't just say to yourself that the wool sweater worn by the person sitting next to you smelled pungent--stretch. Where in your nose did you smell it? Did it jab on both sides behind the tip of your nose? Details!"
Rae goes on to say that doing the "Nightly Recap" develops a "writer's repertoire" of material to draw from. As I said in my newsletter, I believe this exercise can help other types of creative work besides writing. I'd argue that paying attention to details this way feeds the creative part of our brain.

I noticed that doing this exercise regularly caused me to become more observant throughout the day. My mind seemed more "tuned in" to the sensory details around me. Unfortunately, these last few weeks I've been so exhausted by the end of the day that I've zonked out before even starting this exercise. I hope to get back to it when things settle down again, just as I hope to get back to working on my short story.

Meanwhile, I'd like to share a couple of articles that may be of interest to short-story writers. The first, "How to Write a Short Story from Start to Finish" by Joe Bunting links to a second article he wrote listing "Top 100 Short Story Ideas." I didn't find the latter helpful for my purposes. Do let me know if it helps any of you. Also, if you have any recommendations for books on the art of writing short stories, please share them in the comments.

And special congratulations to our own TeachingAuthor Carla Killough McClafferty on having a story featured in the brand new collection, 30 People Who Changed the World: Fascinating Bite-Sized Essays from Award-Winning Writers--Intriguing People Through the Ages: From Imhotep to Malala edited by Jean Reynolds. I can't wait to read it!

Don't forget: Today's Poetry Friday! This week's round-up is hosted by Leigh Ann at A Day in the Life.

Just saw this morning that today is also the National Day on Writing. When I think about #WhyIWrite, the first thing that comes to mind is that I can't NOT write. It's part of who I am. Does that make sense to anyone of you?

Remember, always Write with Joy!

PS: Forgot to say: Congratulations to Judy S. for winning our giveaway of Playing by Heart. For all those who didn't win, stay tuned. We'll be having another giveaway soon!

Monday, October 16, 2017

30 Short, True, Stories

In this series we’ve been writing about short stories.  I’m announcing a collection of short stories—true short stories—compiled in a new book titled 

In full disclosure, I have written one of the short articles in the book. Each of the 30 entries is short, punchy, and entertaining.  It is filled with people you know and people you’ve never heard of before.  I think it will be a great book for classroom teachers to use with students.  And the details learned in the book will make any adult seem like a shining star in any future battle of trivia.   

Carla Killough McClafferty

Click here here to enter the book giveaway for Playing by Heart written by our own amazing and talented Carmelo A. Martino.