Friday, September 18, 2020

Career Surprises Along My Road to Fortune and Fame as a Children’s Book Writer

My road was more of a circular path on No Thank You Boulevard. 
But I learned a lot from my travels. (And I’m still learning.) It has been therapeutic thinking about those highways and byways that led to dead-ins for so many years. My first career surprise was the time it took to become a published author. I can be a time waster and that was part of my problem. But the main reason was learning to write well enough that a publisher wanted to take a chance on me. Thankfully, I found one after years of studying the craft and writing. I was close to the point of “I need to try another career path. I think I was truly surprised to find an editor who saw worth in my writing.
Early in my career, I met several people who warned me about sharing my ideas. Someone might steal your idea. I was always skeptical. To this day, I’ve never met anyone who was as equally fascinated with our Oklahoma prairie dogs. But I did learn that the more I talked about an idea, the less interesting it became.
There is one exception to the above comments. I have found the most supportive authors in my critique group. Over the years, we have learned each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I always feel comfortable sharing my writing with them. I know I will have a stronger manuscript by the time I leave.

  All of the above have molded me into a much better writer than I ever thought I could me. But I was still super surprised when my Tiny Stitches – The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas won two awards: SCBWI CRYSTAL KITE and the NAACP IMAGE AWARD. They are my career surprises and my cheerleaders.

Friday, September 11, 2020


 As I wrote in my very first TeachingAuthors Thanku, I consider my students and writers “my storied treasures.”

Lucky me!

And now lucky you, because today I’m sharing one of those treasures - the author/poet/chronicler Carol Coven Grannickand – gifting you with the chance to win a copy of her novel in verse REENI’S TURN (Fitzroy Books) which officially debuts this Sunday! In fact, you can attend her Sunday, 1 pm CST Book Launch at the Book Stall in Winnetka, Illinois simply by clicking here.

Full disclosure: Carol and I are a Mutual Admiration Society. We share a bevy of descriptive labels: Chicagoans, SCBWI-Illinois kin, children’s book creators, VERY long-time Writer’s Journey travelers, learning partners, and best of all, friends.
So you can imagine just how far my Teacher/Writing Coach buttons are poppin’ ….now that young readers will have the chance to hold REENI’S TURN in their hands and hearts.
Finally, it’s Carol’s turn! Some of you may already know Carol from her well-read chronicles of the writer’s life – published in SCBWI-Illinois’ newsletter The Prairie Wind and posted on popular blogs such as Cynsations and the Nerdy Book Club.

By underscoring the importance of resilience and learned optimism, Carol has kept scores of children’s book writers keepin’ on.

Carol’s eleven-year-old Reeni will do the same.

She’s a young dancer.  But she’s struggling with lifelong shyness, anxiety and a newly-developing and expanding body that doesn’t match the ballerina posters on her bedroom wall.  Ultimately Reeni must choose between coming to terms with her natural limitations or taking a chance on becoming the girl of her dreams. The story addresses universal themes of emotional resilience, body acceptance, and the search for courage.

Early readers lauded the “deeply-moving verse” and the connection readers will make with Reeni’s struggle.

Carol’s poetry and fiction for young readers has appeared and/or is forthcoming in Hello, Babybug, Highlights, Ladybug, Cricket, and Hunger Mountain. Her work for adults has appeared in Otherwise Engaged, A Moment of Your Time, Red Coyote, The Write City Magazine, West Texas Literary Review, 2018 Mizmor Anthology, The Lake, Broad! and other venues.

Thank you, Carol, for sharing REENI’S TURN, your Journey, your Spirit and this long-awaited singular Moment with our TeachingAuthors readers.

            My teacher’s heart kvells*
            like any Jewish mother’s
            Such storied treasures.


 As always, I’m cheering you on!

Oh, and thanks to Kiesha Shepard at Whispers From the Ridge for hosting today’s Poetry Friday.

Happy Reading!

Esther Hershenhorn


Remember, Readers: you can win a copy of Carol’s REENI’S TURN just by entering our Book Giveaway at the end of Carol’s interview.

. . . . . . .

Here you are, finally, after years on task, readying for your official launch this Sunday of your first published children’s book, the middle grade novel in verse REENI’S TURN. Just how gratifying is this long-awaited moment? How much better is it than those you likely creatively visualized to keep you moving forward on your Writer’s Journey?

First, thank you, Esther, for this opportunity to visit Teaching Authors. I am a regular follower who constantly learns from the TA posts, and I’m honored to be here. To your question: I’m pretty certain I never visualized this moment, or these days leading up to the launch!

What lit my way was the process of discovery of Reeni’s character and of how the story would unfold. For me, that happened through writing, rewriting, revising, and re-visioning, then putting the manuscript away for a while before trying again. I didn’t know whether REENI’S TURN would ever find a publisher, and after a while, didn’t think about it unless it seemed a draft was ready for submission. My passion for this story fueled my work over the years, even when “forward” felt “backward”.

But now, and in the context of all the important issues we face in our current world, it feels like a virtual celebration will be the perfect thing for welcoming REENI’S TURN into the world. My biggest dream was always to have the story enable conversations with children and their adults, and now that’s possible. I feel a huge amount of gratitude to family, friends, and colleagues who cheered me on over the years with kind words, critique, crucial pieces of middle grade information, and above-and-beyond multiple draft readings and feedback. 

REENI’S TURN takes on the issue of body image and the underrepresented frequency in middle grade literature of dieting among young tweens. What are your hopes for this novel in the dialogues it will create – for both the reader and our world?

 Most of us want to live in a world in which we are valued and for our character rather than our shape or size, skin color, religion, ethnicity, and more. I believe size and weight stigma, non-stereotyped chubby and fat characters, and the diet culture’s impact on young children, beg for inclusion in diverse middle grade literature. 

I’d love for REENI’S TURN to open meaningful conversations about the story and the issues it raises—specific to the story as well as unique to each tween’s life. How does the pressure to be “thin” and “trim” cause us to question our value? What about Reeni’s great strength for self-reflection? Is introspection helpful, or harmful? Is an introspective journey just as powerful as an external one when we search for self-acceptance, the ability to speak up, the leaps we take to discover courage? How do we become the person we want to be if that involves facing down fears that have always stopped us in the past? How does it feel to need the safety of your family and other loving adults, and still need to be independent, finding solutions to your own problems even if you make mistakes along the way?

I love that my shy and fearful Reeni, propelled by her own strengths, knowing she has a safety net of support, decides to take a big leap into the unknown and try, at least once, to make a significant change in her life, and maybe in the world as well.

I hope that we see that we all have that capacity.

 I happen to know: (1) you explored both prose and poetry as story-telling choices when writing REENI’S TURN and (2) while growing and crafting REENI’S TURN, you were privy to a whole host of voices, each recommending a different way to go.  How did you come to choose the novel in verse as the best format for Reeni to share her story of self-discovery? How were you able to find your way?

 My first draft was prose, probably because it felt like a natural extension of the seed story, “The Inside Ballerina”, my first children’s story published in Cricket in 2001. But when I began the post-critique revision, rhythms and words danced around in my brain. I wrote them down, and this changed and intensified the voice of the story. I felt the difference, even though the verse and the story itself were nowhere near finished.

After a few drafts, a professional critique with a respected editor guided me in creating a middle grade story and challenged the authenticity of the verse, suggesting I revise in poetic prose. I tried. It was difficult and unpleasant, and felt like it came from a different part of my brain. I didn’t mind difficult, not at all. But the prose seemed to be fighting with the rhythms, the line breaks, the white space in my head. But I also respected that I didn’t quite know what I was doing, and I don’t regret the attempt to return it to prose.

The next summer I attended a workshop with another respected mentor. Before my ten-page critique began, she asked, “Is there some reason you didn’t write this in verse?” That workshop was a turning point in my commitment to verse, and the hard work to make each verse—which are 95% of the book—authentic. I did have a couple of more prose requests from agents who felt that “verse novels are a hard sell”, but prose no longer matched my vision for the book.

As the years and revisions went on, there were many voices, as you put it, wanting not prose instead of verse, but content in and then the same content out. During that time of adding, subtracting, reorganizing, and streamlining, REENI’S TURN won a Finalist placement from the Katherine Paterson Award and Honorable Mention in the Sydney Taylor Manuscript Competition. By early 2019, I had revised the book to where I wanted it to be, and had several full manuscript requests with agents when Publisher Jaynie Royal of Regal House said she loved REENI’S TURN, and offered me a contract with her PAL-listed middle grade imprint, Fitzroy Books. I accepted, revised in a way that felt good to both of us, and found out what life was like without revising REENI’S TURN.

I believe verse works best for Reeni’s story because small doses of big, intense issues in lyrical language create greater accessibility to the story itself and to the specifics of  Reeni’s journey. The rhythms change with dance, her voices, her interactions with friends and family, and more. White space allows breathing and respite time to think, feel, and heal between “scenes”.

But ultimately, I stayed with verse and worked to make it shine because I had come to trust myself as a writer and a woman with a story to tell. I didn’t want to ignore the rhythms and sounds and beats that accompanied the language in my brain.

And just as my character learns to trust and listen to her “still, small voice”, I listened to mine.

Your website showcases your writer’s diversity: you are an Author, a Poet and a Chronicler. How do you balance your writing day/life, and as important, how has each separate focus helped you grow as a writer?

 I do love different formats and genres. REENI’S TURN (MG) is so close to my heart, and was a long-lived passion and mission. My poetry for very young children is a joy-generator—I love their voices! My lyrical picture books, vastly different in their subjects and tone, are now with agent Joyce Sweeney at The Seymour Agency. I’ve written occasional short middle grade fiction—maybe I’ll write more. And as a “chronicler”, I’ve long written regular columns, blog posts, and lots of guest posts and articles exploring the inner, emotional life of the writer (mine, and others’), and I continue to enjoy that.

With all that, I must submerge myself in one writing project at a time. I often write a poem first thing in the morning (especially since COVID), but then I’ll focus on a new work, or a revision, or my column, or it might be a “business” day, especially in these last months spent focusing on the pre-launch, during which I’ll do a lot of emails, send out ARCs, order postcards, business cards, posters. I am best in the mornings, beginning at 5, but I won’t ignore empty paper and pen if something pops into my brain later in the day!

I love variety, and I love delving deeply into one thing at a time.

YAY! and HURRAY! Now it’s Carol Coven Grannick’s turn! What can your readers – of your books, your poetry, your articles and posts, look forward to enjoying down the road?                                                

I wish I knew! In terms of my columns, I’ll continue to detail my journey and the journeys of other writers I interview. I have a lot of guest posts coming out—including one at Sylvia Vardell’s site last Poetry Friday that goes more into depth about why I wrote REENI’S TURN in verse. I believe it’s important for us to share our true journeys. I hear from readers that it helps, and that makes me happy. In terms of fiction and poetry, my agent is subbing a picture book right now, with a number of others ready to go; I’m finishing an adult poetry chapbook; I’m creating a collection of early childhood poetry; and I continue to draft new picture books, the latest based on something I’m watching unfold on my balcony, even as I write this answer. 

But I love surprises, so I’m ready for anything!



To enter our drawing, use the Rafflecopter widget below.  You may enter via 1, 2, or all 3 options.  (Note: if the widget doesn’t appear, click on the link at the end of this post that says “a Rafflecopter giveaway” to enter.)

If you choose option 2, you MUST leave a comment on TODAY’S blog post or on our TeachingAuthors Facebook page.  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. 

Note: if you submit your comments via email or Facebook, YOU MUST STILL ENTER THE DRAWING VIA RAFFLECOPTER BELOW.  The giveaway ends September 21, 2020 and is open to U.S. residents only.


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Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Take My Picture Book Class From Your Front Porch!

Howdy Campers!  

My fabulous 2019 class with some of their favorite picture books
helps me celebrate my 20th year teaching in UCLA Extension Writers' Program

My 10-week Beginning Picture Book class begins Wednesday, 9/30/20 to 12/9/20 from 3-6pm PST. I'd love to see you in one of those friendly squares. If you're interested, sign up SOON, enrollment's limited. More info at the very bottom of this post.

Welcome to another...

I've been feeling breathless about teaching virtually (see Margaret's wonderful One Word poem on this topic) and yesterday my generous UCLA Extension Writers' Program colleague, Adam McOmber, who also teaches in the Vermont College of Fine Arts, administered virtual oxygen to me. As so many of you know, the amount of stuff to learn can be freaking overwhelming. But with Adam's help (and the help of my wonderful Program Rep, Ashley Griggs) I'm finally getting it.

Deep breath.

Today's WWW comes from an exercise Adam uses in his novel writing class, which is also a great prompt for picture writers and for poets, with a little tweaking.
photo of Adam McOmber by Ryan Bakerink

He gives each student one chapter of a book. After they've read it, he asks: what are three inspirations you got from this book?

For picture writers:

1) Read a picture book.

2) Write down three things in this book that might inspire a new picture book or inspire you to rewrite an existing manuscript in a completely different way.


For poets:

1) Read a poem.

2) Write down three things the poet does that might inspire a new poem or inspire you to rewrite an existing poem.

Try this!  And please let me know how it goes. I really want to know. 

Writing the Children's Picture Book

photo of April Halprin Wayland (and Steve, the guy who took her on her first date) by Sonya Sones

when? 10 Wednesdays, 3pm to 6pm PST, 9/30 to 12/9 (no meeting 11/11)

where? Anywhere!

Designed for beginning picture book writers, this fun, fast-paced course surveys the genre's breathtaking possibilities, exploring its art, craft, and publishing practices (what are editors looking for?). You'll compare a wide variety of picture book structures, characters, and themes, and learn how to use voice, poetic and muscular language, point-of-view, repetition, and more. Through a balance of lecture, writing assignments, feedback, and the 10 books you read each week, you'll gain a clear sense of your own writing strengths, the ability to give and receive valuable critiques, and knowledge of the submission process--all in a nurturing community of writers.
April Halprin Wayland is the author of seven picture books, including More Than Enough: A Passover Story (Dial), It’s Not My Turn to Look for Grandma! (Knopf), and New Year at the Pier: A Rosh Hashanah Story(Dial), named Best Jewish Picture Book and winner of the Sydney Taylor Gold Book Award. Ms. Wayland won the Myra Cohn Livingston Award for Girl Coming In for a Landing: A Novel in Poems and has won seven poetry awards from the SCBWI. She is a recipient of the UCLA Extension Outstanding Instructor Award in Creative Writing.
Our Students Say it Best!
“Not only is April some kind of genius of rhyme and language, but she is a fabulous instructor—clear, endlessly inventive, and no-nonsense. I have learned more than I thought possible and had a great time doing it."

"Every class the three hours flew by.”

"She presented a great combination of whimsy, encouragement and discipline that I thought was the perfect tone for beginners like me."

37609: Picture Book I WRITING-X 441.1; 3 Credits; Writers' Program: (310)
                                   Enrollment limited.

posted by April Halprin Wayland, with the help of Eli and Monkey ~

Friday, September 4, 2020

While Waiting for Godot

I don't know about you, but I'm creatively drained. Some of you have been hunkered over your novels or poems or entirely-new-genre-you-have-invented, neurons firing, fingers flying. Some of you have paced your living space, talking to your characters, listening to what they say, taking notes.

And then, some of you are me...brain blank, soul deflated, for whom every task seem enormous. This summer I've felt as though I've been trapped in a never ending performance of Waiting for Godot. For those of you who aren't former drama majors, Godot is a two act play in which nothing happens. Literally, nothing. Two characters, on an all-but-empty stage (there is a tree) waiting for the mysterious Godot, who never appears. In the interim, the two characters talk, sometimes in gibberish. A few other characters appear, announce Godot's imminent arrival, then disappear. Godot does not arrive.

"We should go," says one character to another. They don't move. Curtain.

That's where I am right now. I should go. I don't move. 

The last six months have been soul-sucking for the world, with a particularly loud sucking sound over the U.S. Life has lurched along in other places, but not at my house. Or in my head. My writer's brain hasn't died, but it's certainly dormant. I listen to a lot of music--classical, folk, pop, rap. Mood elevators without a prescription. I walk my constant companion, a 16-year-old rescue dog named Ms O. Ms O's arthritic pace forces me to take time to smell the roses. Or whatever else is in the air since June's roses are long past. (Lately, it's been a Mount Everest of mulch in a neighbor's yard.) While O's nose works over every square inch of suburban sod, I am forced to notice sights like this. (Tried as I might, I could not find the words "Some Pig" hidden in this beauty. Enlarge to see that it's dew on a cobwebs. On a shrub.)

My husband has been working from the kitchen table since March. Like me, he was a drama major. That means his normal speaking voice can project to the back row of a theater. Three rooms away, even with the door closed, I can hear his end of Zoom meetings. I've learned more than I have ever wanted to know about international chain supply management and finance. 

I know I'm privileged to be living in a 'good" Godot World--healthy, a roof over my head and at least one guaranteed income. If only I could write. People have written in far dire circumstances--I know of at least three writers who wrote not just while they were in chemotherapy--they wrote during the treatments, needle pumping chemicals into them. People have written in bomb shelters and fox holes. In prison. While trapped in the true prison of an abusive relationship. So why can't I, sitting in my cozy sunroom, Ms O at my feet, coffee mug at hand....just write? 

Because in Godot World, you can't move. You never know why Didi and Gogo (the Godot characters) can't leave...they just can't. (There is no motivation for anything in Waiting for Godot. It's for good reason it's been classified as Theater of the Absurd.) 

My only defense for the present day absurdities, is to find an alternative reality, the only (legal and relatively healthy) way I can.

I read. 

I am an indiscriminate reader. I will attempt to read anything (although life is too short to waste it on crummy writing...I'll give anything shot for at least the first chapter) But just as you can't take any old remedy for what ails you (Pepto-Bismal for a migraine? Aspirin for a broken arm?) I am more selective in my reading.

There are always my "comfort food books" that I rea whenever I need a warm hug--Charlotte's Web, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, The Diary of a Young Girl, Harriet the Spy, The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  But since March, I've made some new friends:  Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein (her newest book, The Enigma Game comes out in November--can't wait!), Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland, They Went Left by Monica Hesse, Butterfly Yellow by Thanhha Lai, Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby, The Women of Copper Country by Mary Doria Russell, Sadie by Courtney Summers, The Chaperone by Laura Moriarity and anything by Ruth Sepetys and Erin Entrada Kelly.  And that's just the fiction.

My true love is non-fiction...real people in other difficult times. The following have kept me company in the sunroom: Lifeboat 12 by Susan Wood, Voyage of the Damned by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts, 999 by Heather Dun Macadam, Rust by Eleise Colette Goldbach, Nomadland by Jessica Bruder, Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker, Daring to Drive by Manal Al-Sharif, Five Days at Memorial by Sherri Fink. 

I love graphic novels and memoirs, too many to mention. A special place goes to this year's Newbery winner New Kid by Jerry Kraft. Kraft's story resonated with me on so many levels.

What do all these books have in common? All of them are about strong people, enduring tough times. Why these books? Why not something funny, fluffy...a little chick lit, a little David Sedaris? I'm not looking to escape; there is no "escaping." I'm reading to heal my damaged soul. I'm reading to experience others living through tough, even brutal times. I'm looking for the brave, the selfless, those who thought themselves cowardly, but who really weren't. Not saints, not sinners. People who persevered. 

It's basic bibliotherapy. I've always found my comfort in books. 

I still am.

Friday, August 28, 2020

More Notes on The Writer's Journey and Other Insanity

 As we continue to explore how the unexpected might inform our writing, it becomes all the more challenging to stay motivated given the current crisis. One way to keep my head in the game is webinars.  Boy howdy, this year I’ve had the joy of attending some inspirational webinars, including a couple of Emma Dryden’s discussions, on revision and another on agents. I’ve attended several classes hosted by Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson, their most excellent novel revision graduate online workshop with KBR Workshops.  This time, I want to highlight another most excellent class hosted by Lorin Oberweger’s Free Expressions. 

This was a lecture given by Christopher Vogler, celebrating the 25th anniversary of his book, The Writer’s Journey (Michael Wiese Productions, 1992). 

The Writer's Journey is an old favorite, a steady, inspirational read. So I was beyond excited to hear Chris Vogler discuss his approach to writing. Talk about drinking the Secret Elixir! Chris Vogler explored the monomyth and its relationship to story. He explained -- to my delight -- how myth is a metaphor for a mystery that is beyond human comprehension. And story is the expression of that metaphor.

While the book explores the monomyth, and its impact in the storytelling process, Vogler expands the myth to include the writer. The writer as hero. Every storyteller bends this archetypal pattern to her own purpose or the needs of her culture. That’s why the hero has a thousand faces, states Chris Vogler. And that’s why  at the heart of the story is always a journey. The writer’s journey.

In his lecture, Vogler discussed another excellent read, Lajos Egri’s The Art of Dramatic Writing (Touchstone, 1942). He used Egri’s discussion on character to supplement his discussion on writer – a character unto herself --  going on a journey. Character, according to Egri, is the fundamental material writers use to reflect Life’s  great themes. And in storytelling, writers seem  always interested in the darker shape of things because that’s where the mystery lies, the thing  that needs to be understood. At a fundamental level, a writer writes to understand this mysteriousness in life and humanity. Characters risk everything to go after what they want. In that risk-taking, the best of characters – the heroes – often lose everything in order to gain that understanding. 

The hero’s journey, you may remember, is found in all sorts of storytelling. Writers go on a similar journey, states Chris Vogler. In fact, as he states, “The hero’s journey and the writer’s journey are one and the same.” 

Most writers I know received their call to adventure at a young age. George Orwell knew he wanted to be a writer by the time he was five. Neil Gaiman also discovered his love of story at a young age, describing himself as “a feral child who was raised in libraries.” J.K. Rowling wrote her first story at age six, a book about a rabbit with measles. Raised by her grandparents, Lucy Maud Montgomery battled a debilitating sense of loneliness by creating imaginary friends, Katie Maurice and Lucy Gray, who lived in a fairy room behind a bookcase. 

Writing is certainly hard work, “a perilous journey inward to probe the depths of one soul.” It is a fearsome process, no matter how many books one has under their belts. Sue Grafton, author of the wildly popular Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Series, once stated, “Most days when I sit down at my computer, I’m scared half out of my mind.” The mighty Stephen King noted, “I’m afraid of failing at whatever story I’m writing – that it won’t come up for me, or I won’t be able to finish it.” Even the mythic J.R.R. Tolkien said, as the first book of his iconic series was published, “It is written in my life-blood…I am dreading the publication, for it will be impossible not to mind what is said. I have exposed my heart to be shot at.” 

Chris Vogler shows that anyone – new as well as established writers – who sets out to write a story encounters all the trials and tribulations, joys and rewards of the hero’s journey. 

A writer encounters her trickster, taking shape as computer problems, doctor appointments and time management issues, and other “enemies of the status quo" that also bring perspective on the process. Pandemics, too, fall under this category.

A writer meets the grumpy threshold guardian in the form of our inner and relentless judgments of our work. The tension rises as we face the searing remarks of a reviewer, a copyeditor, an agent, or an editor. And finally, we cross the Rubicon. We are published. But the journey is just beginning, as we “fully enter the mysterious, exciting Special World” of a published writer. The ordeals become all the more exhausting as we face deadlines and revisions and constant rejections. As we build our platforms and speak – holy moly! – to readers. And our beloveds go out of print, and favorite editors retire, and the rise of the internet dragons. 

Along the way, if we are lucky, we meet our sidekicks, our Dr. Watson, our Rory and Amy, our Hermione Granger, our Samwise Gamgee. Sometimes, we meet our mentors, our Dumbledore or Gandolf wielding his magic purple crayon, the sage who gives advice, who tells us to keep going, just keep swimming. Don’t give up. 

Take hope, states Chris Vogler, “for writing is magic. Even the simplest act of writing is almost supernatural…We can make a few abstract marks on a piece of paper in a certain order and someone a world away and a thousand years from now can know our deepest thoughts. The boundaries of space and time and even the limitations of death can be transcended.” 

It was an exhilarating lecture!

 -- Bobbi Miller

Friday, August 21, 2020


Howdy, Campers ~ and Happy Poetry Friday! (poems and link to PF below)

I've been playing with Golden Shovel poems a lot lately--they seem to tap into my pandemic-related moods I'm not even aware I have. Recently I began to use dictionary definitions instead of a line from someone's poem. I call those Golden Definition poems. And now I'm splashing in the waters of what I call Golden Quote poems. 

The idea behind all of these forms is the same: take one line and use each word of that line (in order) to end each line of your poem. C'est tout--that's it! 

I'll keep this short  (hard for me!). Here are four of my Golden Something or Other poems:


by April Halprin Wayland

I keep wanting things. I keep having

them, and then they're gone.

I keep flicking ashes, watching them go astray.

I keep playing with my watch or

watching mists disappear. I feel I've missed


something or someone. The

one thing that steadies me is the way

you sit still when I talk about being bewildered

in this wilderness. I feel I need a machete as sharp as

a surgeon's scalpel, something that hurts to

use. I keep opening drawers. I keep opening doors, as if I'm about to place

one foot outside. Should I?  Should I put it on this wet grass, going off in a new direction?

poem (c) 2020 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

One definition of LOST: having gone astray or missed the way; bewildered as to place, direction, etc. 

(I played with the last line just being "Etc," but that didn't work.  Then I made it longer, but it was a depressing ending. So I ignored the "etc."  And I can do that because I'm Goddess of Not-A-Golden-Shovel poems.)

by April Halprin Wayland

There is no hope,

but what there is

is everything else: the

jewels beneath the ocean, the feeling

that shivers over my arms when you do that,

a little blond head sticking out the window to see what

the squirrel is doing. There truly is

a field full of all the things I've always wanted—

so full, in fact, that I can

spend the rest of my life and be

in love with all the things I have and I've had.

poem (c) 2020 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

HOPE: Hope is the feeling that what is wanted can be had.

drawing (c) April Halprin Wayland



by April Halprin Wayland

First there was the bear. But she was tired,

and by the looks of him, the bear was tired

too, with

dark circles under his eyes and seemingly nothing

going on in his tired

head. And with

everything the way it was, everything

sliding down the hill towards them, she was too tired

to deal with

something as trivial as the

bear. Surely the world’s

phone directory was heavy with other saviors. In fact, guess its weight:

there had to be a lot of goddamn golden names in there. Or what about the bear? He

was snoozing now. Choose HIM. Had 

he ever raised his paw to help?  Never.

Which meant it was his time to step up. He should be the one chosen

to fix everything, to

save the whole goddamn world, not her. Are you listening, Bear?

poem (c) 2020 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

Here's the quote: “Tired, tired with nothing, tired with everything, tired with the world’s weight he had never chosen to bear.”― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned 

drawing (c) April Halprin Wayland

by April Halprin Wayland

She wanted to thank

the dog. "Do you

write him a letter, do you thank him for

licking you?" she wondered.  Listening

to him scratch his rump (thump, thump, thump), she was overwhelmed with

love. Finally, she wrote, "Oh how I love your

wagging tail, your chocolate eyes!"

poem (c) 2020 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

Here's the quote from my friend Julie Rose Palmer, writer, poet, artist and musician. She wrote, “Thank you for listening with your eyes.” (about reading her emails).


How about you?  Try a GOLDEN SOMETHING-OR-OTHER poem ~ invent it. Then write it!

Thank you, Ramona, for hosting Poetry Friday at Pleasures From the Page!

posted with hope and gratitude by April Halprin Wayland and her dog, Eli 

drawing (c) April Halprin Wayland

Friday, August 14, 2020

From Once upon a time…to…Happily ever after! – thanks to Richard Peck’s Best-ever Writing Tip!

Once upon a time I had the good fortune to learn my craft from the 

inimitable award-winning author Richard Peck, a true Best Man if ever 

there was one.


The result?

My stories, no matter the format, now organically end happily ever after.

I gladly pass along Mr. Peck’s keen eye-opening words so your 

Beginnings and Endings do what they must:

     “On your first page is the last, on your last page the first.”  

Stuck on your ending as you finalize your revision? Revisit your 


Unsure of your beginning? Reread your ending.

And, reread books, especially picture books, to see the truth of Richard 

Peck’s advice.

If you’re unfamiliar with Richard Peck, or even if you’re not, take a 

moment to read this glorious tribute, then seek his published work. 

His contributions to children’s literature are note-worthy.

SCBWI offers his brilliant Master Class on Writing the Novel for 

Young Readers in the current Summer Spectacular Bookstore

And, for pure Show, Don’t Tell, read Matthew Winner’s post on First 

Page/Last Page connections.  The examples underscore Richard Peck’s 


Thanks to Molly Hogan for hosting Poetry Friday today at 


Molly’s August 7 post addressed gratitude.

I remain forever grateful to Richard Peck for all he taught me – 

in person and through his books, about writing and Life.

Happy writing!

Esther Hershenhorn

Friday, August 7, 2020

Two Connected Bits of Writing Advice from Ann Patchett and Sharon Darrow

As we near the end of our series of posts featuring favorite writing tips, I'm relieved none of the other TeachingAuthors has discussed the advice I'm sharing today. It's actually two bits of advice. I heard the first many years ago from one of my first writing teachers, Sharon Darrow. I'm paraphrasing her words here, but Sharon said:
When you're writing, imagine you're using a pencil that has an eraser on the end. Everything is fine as long as you focus on the writing--on keeping the pencil moving. But if you stop to erase (to edit), you'll stop the writing flow. There's no way to physically write and erase at the same time.

I recently heard Ann Patchett say something similar in an interview on the July 22, 2020 edition of the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast. (I'm a big fan of Gretchen Rubin's podcast and books. I mentioned her book The Four Tendencies in my post 3 Aids for Creativity in the Time of the Coronavirus.)

In the podcast, Rubin and her sister, Elizabeth Craft interview Patchett about her bestselling adult novel, The Dutch House (Harper). The book is the latest Happier Podcast Book Club pick and the first Patchett novel I've read. (Note: the podcast interview contains lots of spoilers, so if you're planning to read The Dutch House, do it before listening to the podcast.) Near the end of the interview, Patchett shares several pieces of writing advice. Gretchen Rubin posted a graphic on her Instagram account of the tip I want to share with you today:

As Patchett says, there are times when we need to look at our work critically. But that comes later, after we have a solid draft. We need to make some art first so we'll have something to shape later.

When I'm working on a draft, I try to hold onto the image of the pencil moving across the page and resist the urge to "erase."

Don't forgot to check out this week's Poetry Friday round-up hosted by former TeachingAuthor Laura Purdie Salas.
Posted by Carmela

Friday, July 31, 2020


       “You’re not reading that right!” said a new member of my critique group with dismay sprawled across her face. 
         It might have been me years ago when I first joined them. I was used to other writers silently reading five to ten pages of my fabulous, neatly typed and copied pages of my latest writing project 
       But over the years, I’ve learned there is no right way to read a manuscript. A person can only read what the writer has typed and submitted to the group. If they’ve typed a boring manuscript, the reader will read a boring manuscript. I’ve silently groaned while listening to my words that I thought were perfect.
Try it. During the reading, listen for overused words. Even your favorite, most active verb has a life span. Search for a replacement. Read other writers in your genre. Sometimes I type the paragraph or paragraphs that make my heart beat faster. The simple act of typing forces me to think more deeply about the words on the page.
       If a paragraph or a page makes your heart beat faster, read it aloud and focus on the “how”. Just how did the author bring magic to the page?

Posted by Gwendolyn Hooks

Friday, July 24, 2020

Best Writing Tip Ever--or What I Learned from Wile. E. Coyote

     I don't know where I picked up this "best writing tip." It could've been in the Vermont College MFA Writing for Children program.  Or at one of the many, many writer's conferences I've attended over the years. Maybe it was in one of the dozens of "craft" books I've consumed. I'm sorry I can't credit this writing tip to anyone specific.  All I know is that isn't mine originally.

So here it is.

Stop writing.

I'm one of those people that can't get started when I sit down to write. I fiddle around. I read my mail. I play an online word game. Maybe two.  OK, maybe more than two. Then I go back to my document screen. Words have not magically appeared while I was trying to get started.

This blank screen (or if you're Old School, blank sheet of paper) stares at me. No, glares at me, in all it's blinding white glory. I can look at the previous paragraph or chapter and tell myself, "Look. You wrote this yesterday. See? This sounds pretty good. You can do it, Mary Ann."

The screen doesn't blink. Still blank.

I get a second (or third) cup of coffee.

Sometimes, with that next cup and a hour or so of spinning my wheels, I might squeeze out a couple of terrible sentences. I keep writing sentences, boards thrown randomly over a muddy patch of plot. The sentences, fuzzy and badly placed, will get me to dry ground. But after I regain solid footing...I have to go back and clean up that rickety word bridge. By that time, I can rearrange those boards into a recognizable narrative. If I don't clean up the mess it right then, I'll have the same problem months later when I revise. So it's writing, re-writing...then three hours are gone, and I have a paragraph.


Who has hours to waste with unproductive writing?

So here's what I do now.

I stop writing.

I don't write to the end of a scene or a chapter. I just stop. Stop in mid-chapter, paragraph or even sentence.


If I write until I run out of ideas, guess what? 99% of the time, when I next turn on the computer, I will still be out of ideas! It's like Wile E. Coyote running to the edge of a cliff, and realizing there is no bridge. Dead end.


...if I stop while I still have the end of the scene, or chapter firm in my head, I can begin the next time, knowing that the next words are already there .  No stalling, no hem-hawing around. The act of continuing what was already in my head, creates momentum.  The physics of writing--A writer in the act of writing will continue to write. Or--A writer at rest will continue to be at rest.  Or something like that. (Physics is not my strong suit.)

When I'm engaged in writing what I already know, most often, my subconscious is "building the bridge" ahead. So, unlike poor Coyote, when I get to the end of what I "know," I will discover that the road ahead has cleared...or a bridge has been built...or fill-in your own simile. And as you merrily make your way down to the road of your story, remember to stop. Stop before you get to the next dead end.

Don't fall off the cliff, like Wile E. Coyote.

It works for me. I hope it works for you, too.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Wednesday Writing Workout: The Little We Need for Happiness

I’m happy to report that yet one more unexpected Kodak Moment came my way this month, thanks to COVID-19: that of two long-ago high school friends who’d unintentionally socially distanced before it was in vogue, reconnecting gloriously via ZOOM’s technology.
And you, our Readers, get to reap the rewards.
My BFF from the 60’s – Jane Anne Staw, who will always be “Janie” to me - is a TeachingAuthor, too.

Jane has taught at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Stanford University and for over 20 years at The
University of California at Berkeley Extension, where she was named an Honored Instructor. Most recently, she’s taught for 12 years in the MFA Program in Writing at the University of San Francisco. She’s been a Bay Area Writing Coach for the past 15 years.

Did she and I know, all those years ago, when we worked on Lower Merion High School’s newspaper, the Merionite, or maybe even the school year book, The Enchiridion, that writing, teaching and writers would fill our days and hearts one day?
I cannot say.
But I do so love that we’re both Teaching Authors.

For sure, there were those few photo album moments as the years tumbled by, many captured photographically by Jane.  Shared First Mom experiences when we amazingly discovered each other in neighboring Chicago ‘burbs. Catch-up phone chats once thousands of miles separated us.  Treasured conversations at milestone years-apart high school reunions. Celebrations of each other’s publishing successes.

But no matter. Once Jane clicked on my Zoom invitation and she appeared on my laptop’s screen, we picked up right where we’d left off the last time we’d spoken… and we didn’t miss a beat.
Jane’s latest book is SMALL: The Little We Need for Happiness (Shanti Arts, 2017).
Once I hit “leave meeting,” I visited her blog based on SMALL, immediately subscribed and knew that her current posts were the stuff of a TeachingAuthors Wednesday Writing Workout.

For so many of us, again thanks to COVID-19, engaging our children and/or grandchildren in the learning process has become a part of our days, nights, and often, weekends.
Jane’s July 1 post on her Writing Workshop interactions with her two precious granddaughters both inform and inspire.

Thank you, Janie, for granting me permission to reprint your post as today's Wednesday Writing Workout!

Readers, Enjoy!

And let's keep looking for those – small - Unexpected Kodak Moments.

Esther Hershenhorn
I highly recommend Jane’s UNSTUCK (St. Martin’s Griffin) in case any of you are facing Writer’s Block.

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


I began holding “Writing Workshops” with my granddaughters as soon as the Shelter-In-Place orders hit, and have continued this summer, though modified and less frequently. Last Wednesday, for example, we collaborated on writing a “graphic story” on the sidewalk in front of their house, each one of us successively adding a sentence to the plot, as well as drawing a chalk illustration for our sentences. The plot, as far as we got, went something like this: Two sisters were stuck inside the house. They didn’t like being stuck inside. But it was raining so they couldn’t go outside. They were bored. They had nothing they wanted to do inside the house. They were tired of all their puzzles and games.

In addition to the illustrations under each sentence, we created a border for every sidewalk square, framing each segment of the story and its illustration in colorful configurations of lines and curves. We had a lot of fun sitting on the warm concrete, thick pieces of pastel chalk in our hands, collaborating on the plot and the illustrations, the sun shining down on us, neighbors walking their dog, clearing a swath around us and smiling as they passed.

After about 45 minutes, the girls had had enough of sitting mostly still and concentrating, so I decided to shift activities and teach them something about small. I selected one of the flowering plants in their garden for us to admire. Once we had all discussed what made that particular plant beautiful, each of us picked a flower from that plant. “Look at that flower for a minute and notice one small detail you find lovely,” I told them.

“It looks like lace around the edges,” seven-year-old Poppy announced.
“I see a slightly darker blue line down the middle of each petal,” eight-and-a-half-year-old Amelie offered.
“Look at the tiny bulge where the stem begins,” Poppy offered.
“The back side of the petal is lighter than the front,” Amelie observed.
“You know,” Poppy exclaimed, “I thought the plant was beautiful, but each tiny flower is even more beautiful than the whole plant.”
“Yes, and there’s lots to discover about each tiny flower!” Amelie added.

Not only was this a lovely lesson in small, it was also an opportunity to bone up on my botany. I googled “Anatomy of a Flower” on my phone, and the three of us were soon comparing the pistils, antlers, sepals and filaments on the rose, fuschia, dogwood and salvia blossoms in the garden.

As we stood several feet apart, masks covering our mouths and noses, outstretched hands cradling petals and whole blooms, I realized that this moment of discovering nature’s infinite beauty had been brought to me—to the three of us–by Covid 19.
                                            # #  #

Friday, July 17, 2020

The Breakout Outline

This writing exercise – one I use in my classes -- is adapted from one of my favorite writing books, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass (2004). Sooner or later, every writer needs to use an outline to help weave together various literary components. This is especially true if there is a large cast of characters or a multi-layered plotline. Agents often request outlines before seeing the full manuscript. Publishers will require them if an option novel is proposed.

There is no magic number for how many pages an outline needs to be effective. As with everything else grounded in the creative, it depends upon your purpose. Many long-winded outlines can be just as useless as those not long enough. I like this outline template by Maass because it sharpens the focus of the narrative. Also, it works very well during the revision process, when you outline your draft to help add texture, sharpen the causal chain, and  highlight  the character’s outer and inner conflict.

Plot fundamentals. Write down the following.

1. Where is your novel set? Who is your main character, and what is his primary conflict or goal?

2. What does your protagonist’s most want and why?

3. What is your protagonist’s second plot layer?  What is your protagonist’s third plot layer?

5. What is the first subplot? What is the second subplot?

7. Who is the most important secondary (supporting) character, what is his primary conflict, and what does he most want?

8. Who is the novel’s antagonist, what is his primary conflict or goal, and what does he most want?

The Middle. Write down the following.
1. What are the five biggest steps toward the solution of the central conflict? In other words, what are the five turning points or events, including the story’s climax, that take place in the narrative?

2. What are the five most important steps toward, or away from, what your protagonist most wants? These steps are consequences of choices that the protagonist makes. This step helps identify the causal chain that creates the plot’s spine.

3. What are the three most important steps (each) toward, or away from, the resolution of your first and second subplot?

4. What are the three most important steps (each) toward, or away from, the resolution of the plot layers?

5. What are the three most important steps toward, and away from, the resolution of each main conflict facing your secondary characters and your antagonist?

Key Highlights. Write down the following.
1. Two moments of strong inner conflict.

2. Three larger-than-life actions.

3. Two moments frozen in time. (For example, Juliet laments over Romeo, as Romeo listens below. Their first kiss erases all the wrongs of the past and ignores all future conflicts. Another example: Eliot says good-bye to ET, and ET responds with a gesture, saying: I’ll be right here.)

4. Two measures of change.

Check out his book for the complete discussion on his outlining process!

-- Bobbi Miller

Friday, July 10, 2020

The Best Poetry Tip Lee Bennett Hopkins Ever Taught Me

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

Perhaps some of you really ARE camping right this very minute! Boy, that sure sounds good now: aromatic pines, refreshing dips in a clear lake, scent of wood smoke and that close-your-eyes crackling as you gather 'round to roast marshmallows and sing...ahhhhh.

This round, TeachingAuthors will each share a favorite piece of  writing advice.

Mine came from Lee Bennett Hopkins, who told me: 

Root out all unnecessary "the"s.

It's such a simple idea, yet it can change a poem profoundly.

Or at least clean it up.

(In the paragraph describing your camp-out above, I deleted four "the"s.)

by April Halprin Wayland

It's a simple word, really,
but you need it?

Watch deer tug a tree
for a banquet of greens...

he steers clear of each "the,"
but devours those leaves.

poem © 2020 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved

Or, as Laura Shovan just shared so succinctly in the comments below, "every word must earn its place in a poem."

So try Lee's tip...and then report back and tell me about it--I can't wait to hear!

Thank you, Ruth, for hosting a Poetry Friday party at 

posted with love by April Halprin Wayland and Eli, who is tuckered out after this morning's walk:
you can see Eli in the distance

writing poetry can be exhausting!

Friday, June 26, 2020

MY Favorite Grab ‘N’ Go Writing Exercise: The Name Poem!

This month my fellow TeachingAuthor bloggers and I are putting forth our favorite Writing Exercises for you to grab and go.
April shared her new In One Word poetry form, Bobbi her favorite Writing Workshops, and Gwendolyn her practice of typing out favorite texts and/or passages,
Carmela advised us to try something new and Mary Ann reposted her Creative Eavesdropping exercise.
My favorite Writing Exercise is an Oldie-but-Goodie, too: The Name Poem.

I came upon this exercise serendipitously when my Holiday House editor Mary Cash requested I drop my character Howie Fingergut’s grade from Fifth to Fourth.
I of course said: “Of course!” 😊
But it was fifth graders I knew like the back of my hand. I’d never taught fourth graders.
It was a few weeks later, while seated in a Fourth Grade classroom at The Frances Parker School in Lincoln Park, that my eyes zeroed in on the Name Poems dotting the walls.
Name Poems?
Name Poems!
I could define my character Howie and his singular world view with but 5 adjectives! Why hadn’t I thought of this earlier?

Howie’s name poem not only helped me nail Howie. It helped me nail his heart and thus, what he was after.  Howie, it turns out, had longed to change his “I” word to “Important.”

I recommend my students and writers create Name Poems for their characters.
I don’t know why but this exercise always works.

What also works, though, is to create a Name Poem for yourself!
It’s a sure-fire way to see just where your story crosses paths with your character’s.
Katherine Paterson wrote that, when it comes to our characters, it’s simply “one heart in hiding…reaching out to another.”

Imagine my smile when I discovered just how much I had in common with Howard J. Fingerhut.

For the record, once you grab this exercise to define your character and/or yourself, choosing defining adjectives isn’t the only way to go. Think about verbs, nouns and even favorite expressions.

Thanks to Karen’s Got A Blog for hosting today’s Poetry Friday.

Happy Writer-Muscle-Building!

Esther Hershenhorn