Friday, August 30, 2019

My End of Summer Workspace and a Related Poem

We TeachingAuthors have been sharing pictures of the view from, or of, our workspace, so let me start with this one:

This photo isn't exactly the view from my workspace. I took it while on my afternoon walk through the neighborhood. The tree caught my attention because its leaves are already starting to change colors. Can you tell? As beautiful as it is, for me, the tree is a sad reminder that summer is winding down, at least here in North America.

I'd been hoping to get away for a writing retreat this month, to spend several days focused on my current work-in-progress. And I'd planned to have pictures to share from that retreat. Sadly, I didn't manage to get away. Instead, I've been setting aside days at home devoted to the project. The following photo was taken in my office, and it will give you some clues about my project.

As you've probably guessed, I've been spending time reading and writing poetry. Of course, if you subscribe to my Creativity Newsletter, you already knew that. I shared a draft of a just-for-fun poem in my last newsletter and you can read it online here. (If you'd like to subscribe to the newsletter, which I send out every other month, you can do so here.)

In addition to reading and writing poetry, I've been listening to it, too, thanks to the Daily Poem podcast. That's where I recently heard Jane Kenyon's Three Songs at the End of Summer.   
Here's an excerpt from the poem:

Three Songs at the End of Summer (excerpt)
            by Jane Kenyon

A second crop of hay lies cut  
and turned. Five gleaming crows  
search and peck between the rows.
They make a low, companionable squawk,  
and like midwives and undertakers  
possess a weird authority.

Crickets leap from the stubble,  
parting before me like the Red Sea.  
The garden sprawls and spoils.

Across the lake the campers have learned  
to water ski. They have, or they haven’t.  
Sounds of the instructor’s megaphone  
suffuse the hazy air. “Relax! Relax!”

Cloud shadows rush over drying hay,  
fences, dusty lane, and railroad ravine.  
The first yellowing fronds of goldenrod  
brighten the margins of the woods.

Schoolbooks, carpools, pleated skirts;  
water, silver-still, and a vee of geese. . . .

       Copyright © 2005 by the Estate of Jane Kenyon. 

Read all of “Three Songs at the End of Summer” at the Poetry Foundation website.

I'm looking forward to reading lots more great poetry today via the Poetry Friday roundup, which is hosted this week by Australian author and poet Kathryn Apel.

Remember to always Write with Joy! 

Friday, August 23, 2019

3 Dogs in My Writing Room!

Howdy, Campers, and Happy Poetry Friday!  (My poem and the link to PF is below.)

For a short and sunny summer read, we TeachingAuthors are posting the view from my / of my work space.  So far, Bobbi's shared summer windows and her animal editors , Mary Ann shared two rooms with a view...and coffee, Esther offered us picture book author Zakieh Mohammed's Wednesday Writing Workoutand then she shared a photo of the "one wonderous addition" from her summer windows.

If I turned around from my desk, I'd see Eli chewing on whatever toy he's chosen from his toy drawer...

...but usually I'm poeming, politicking and bouncing on the BOSU ball I stole from my husband years ago:

working at my desk, August 2013.
Photo by Jone MacCulloch
This is Our Summer of Dogs. My son and his fiancee are overseas, so Eli's two "nieces," Penny (the smart, shy, territorial butterscotch and white 8-year-old) and Gin (the bouncy, licky black 9-month-old puppy whose sibling's name was Tonic), are staying with us. For six weeks.

Everyone has chosen a toy from Eli's toy drawer.

Since Jone took the photo of me on the Bosu ball above, I've turned my desk to face the wall. (I rescued the letters from a business that was changing its name.)

Three dogs has been an adjustment.

That's the understatement of the year. I know it's not the same as moving to another state, changing my name, or becoming an electrician. Still, it feels as if I'm working on a master's degree in walking three dogs and picking up more than one poop at a time.

by April Halprin Wayland

One dog is just one.
Him and me.
Hear me hum.

Two dogs are just fine.
Two dogs.
In two straight lines.

Three dogs?  My gosh—unstoppable!
Friends say they will strengthen me.                                                   (I say they are all adoptable!)

poem (c) 2019 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

Have a wonderful last whiff of summer or beginning of a new school year, Campers!

And thank you, Amy, for hosting Poetry Friday at The Poem Farm
This week, Amy's hosting a celebration of the life of Lee Bennett Hopkins; she invites everyone who wishes to share a poem inspired by or including a line from a LBH poem. Tag with #DearOneLBH.  

Stay tuned! TeachingAuthors will continue the appreciation
of Lee's poetry on September 20th.

posted by April Halprin Wayland, with the help of Eli, Penny and Gin, with love

Friday, August 16, 2019

The Views From MY Windows This Summer…

I’m happy to report: this summer’s views from my Chicago hi-rise’s windows remain the same as shared in my July post two years ago… with but one wondrous addition when looking south:


I’m also happy to report: like Christine at today’s Poetry Friday link, I too have been wondering and wandering.
Feast your eyes on but a few of the people, places and “animals” my iPhone camera captured the past three months.

Enjoy the view wherever you are wandering and wondering!

Esther Hershenhorn

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Wednesday Writing Workout: The Reader’s Role

Meet my fellow Chicago writer, debut author Zakieh Mohammed, an award-winning teacher and Chicago public school administrator who kindly created today’s Wednesday Writing Workout.
Ripple Grove Press released Zakieh’s picture book A Girl Named October, gorgeously illustrated by Andrea Tripke, this past spring.

October’s story is especially timely, given the current demand for children’s books that address the importance of kindness and empathy.  She navigates her days, unaware how even the smallest memory, interaction and expression can impact the larger world.

It was Zakieh’s hope that by reaching the Reader and meaningfully interacting, October’s questions become the Reader’s.
She notes on her book’s dedication page that October was inspired by her youngest sister who spoke the central line - “I’m touching the world.”  The spirit and depth of those words stayed with Zakieh, even after her sister lost her battle with leukemia at the age of nine.

The flap copy notes, “Touching the world is no longer an abstract idea, but a concrete action that reveals how everything we do affects everyone around us.”

Reviewers lauded the text’s poetry, the lighthearted approach, yet the powerful message that everything around us holds value and offers connectivity.

Thank you, Zakieh, for reminding us of our role as authors.  We pose the questions, not answer them for our Readers. Answering them is our challenged Reader’s Role.

Enjoy today’s Wednesday Writing Workout!

Esther Hershenhorn

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The Reader’s Role

     A Girl Named October asks a great deal of the reader. The pictures the illustrator drew capture the tone and spirit of the story, but the text itself is ultimately a series of unanswered questions about our place in the world and the power of our presence in everything.

     When I taught, stories expanded my students’ exposure to literature, demonstrated elements of writing, and allowed my students to become more reflective and ask themselves questions through the lens of their value system, bias, expectation, and hope.

● Why are we afraid to try things that are new or different? Green Eggs and Ham
● Why can telling the truth be difficult? The Emperor’s New Clothes
● Is the loss of one’s ideal equal to the loss of one’s life? Things Fall Apart

     The authors do not answer the questions for us, but pose them, and challenge us to consider the questions through ourselves and our own sensibilities. Whether the author is asking an overarching question, or a series of questions, creating an interplay between the printed story and the Reader is important, and an exercise all writers should undertake.

     Asking your Readers to reflect on their beliefs does not mean you are challenging their beliefs; rather you are allowing the reader space to unpack and better understand their truth. When developing a character or storyline, do you want the story to read in a monologic way or do you want to create opportunities for internal and external dialogue?

     A story allows us to do something so many mediums do not; we get to explore and discover even after the words have been formally printed onto a page. It is important to become the Reader to determine if what you as the author intended, does ask the Reader to reflect and struggle. In A Girl Named October, the Reader is part of the quest for answers, and is asked to respond for the silent protagonist:

● “I’m touching the world,” she said, her world seeming pleasant, calm, and full of purpose.
“There are so many ways, aren’t there?
● “I’m standing on the world,” she responded with certainty. Then, pointing at my feet, she asked, “Aren’t you?”
● “October smiled, handing me one [a book]. “When I read them, I can see farther. Can’t you?”
● “I speak loudly when I say nothing at all. You heard me, didn’t you?”

     Whether a picture book, chapter book, young adult novel, or adult novel-- whether a simple idea, humorous narrative, dramatic tale, or epic thriller, a writer needs to establish whether their story asks anything of the Reader,  whether what they are asking will resonate, and whether their story can ask more of the Reader.

     Using your manuscript(s) draft, write down your answer to the question: “What question(s) am I asking the Reader to explore?”

Consider what question(s) you want your Readers to ask themselves that go beyond the character and story, and towards reflection. You are asked to write down your response because, as writers, we know our stories backwards and forwards, in our head and in our heart, and assume our story’s message is clear; but, oftentimes, feedback suggests the motivation behind a character’s actions needs strengthening.

     If the story is about sharing, are you trying to teach a child about fairness? Equity? Kindness? There is no wrong answer, but it has to be the right question. Whether it is for a picture book or novel, the question you are posing to the Reader is critical to the engagement and investment of the Reader. This technique is different than being asked to write down the theme of your story. The theme can be a word or phrase, but it is static. Establishing the question you want to explore with your Readers makes your manuscript dynamic.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Two Rooms with a View

We Teaching Authors are looking out our windows this month (what else would you do in August?)
Coffee and a laptop on the deck.

To be honest, my home office has zero view. It was originally a tiny living room with plantation shutters. If you open the shutters the view is...a bunch of shrubbery, grown to where there is no view.  It's so claustrophobic, I only use it when I don't need to be inspired...just focused. Revisions and research and such. Nothing like a no-view room to keep you on task.

Here is where my laptop and I spend the majority of time in good weather...the back deck. Our lot is so heavily wooded that in summer I can imagine I'm on a Vermont mountain top (if I ignore the ancient swing set we've never gotten around to taking down.) We are surrounded by neighbors, but unless someone is mowing the lawn or using a chain saw, I feel alone in the woods.

We also have a rental house on Ocean Isle Beach, NC. We spend a lot of time there during the off-season (Oct-May) because it stays rented the rest of the time. When my husband and I designed it, I made sure to put in a writing porch off the master bedroom. Now that is some view.
Need coffee!

The ocean calms me, even on the days when it's so gloomy, you can't tell where the sky ends and the sea begins. For me a calm mind is a working mind. All the negative you-don't-know-what-you're-doing gremlins disappear. Words materialize on the page. Magic! When weather forces me inside, the view is the same from the dining room table. Even when fog rolls in, rain falls, and the waves explode on the shore, my creative mind stays in a Zen-like state.
And coffee appears, along with creativity.

No matter what the view, this is what writers aspire to achieve, this condition of creative mindfulness, aka, The Zone.  Go forth, and find your Creative Zone.
Find the horizon...I dare you!

Sunrise the morning before Hurricane Michael last fall.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Summer Windows and Winners!

Congratulations to Irene L, the winner of our giveaway of HOW I LEARNED TO FALL OUT OF TREES by Vincent X. Kirsch!

We are on the last days of a busy summer. We at Teaching Authors thought you might enjoy seeing what our working space looks like!

This is my workdesk. I'm working on revisions as I take Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson's Kid Book Revisions Summer School 2019. It's a lot of reading and writing and more reading and writing!

But, I have help! This is Apollo.

We are best companions.

But sometimes, all this reading and writing can be exhausting! Apollo knows what to do.

When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name. 
(The Naming of Cats, by TS Eliot) 

I hope you are enjoying your summer days!

--Bobbi Miller