Friday, September 25, 2020

My Latest Writing Career Surprise and a Poem from Louisa May Alcott

Happy Poetry Friday! You'll find a link to this week's roundup by Jone Rush MacCulloch at the end of this post. Today, I'm sharing an excerpt from a poem that appeared in a classic novel. The roundabout way I found the poem is tied to my topic: "Surprises Along the Way." Last week, Gwen kicked off this series by discussing several surprises in her writing journey. While I, too, have had many career surprises, I'm going to share just one—my latest. Also, at the bottom of this post, I include a link to an anniversary giveaway for Playing by Heart

Before I begin, let me announce the winner of our giveaway of Carol Grannick’s debut novel in verse, Reeni's Turn. Congratulations to:

Merysa C!

Now, for today's topic.

After years of writing everything from nonfiction articles for newspapers and magazines to novels for tweens and teens, my latest surprise is that I'm back to my first love: poetry. I mentioned my return to poetry back in this August 2019 post. Of course, I've dabbled in poetry off and on over the years. I've even had a few poems published in magazines and anthologies for kids. But I haven't been focused on poetry the way I am right now.   

In my very first TeachingAuthors post, I talked about how I began writing in sixth or seventh grade, when I started keeping a journal and writing poetry. I was published for the first time around age 16: my seven-line poem, "My Sanctuary," appeared in Crystals in the Dark: An Anthology of Creative Writing from the Chicago Public Schools. Several more of my poems were published while I was still in high school. But I eventually put poetry aside for more "serious" endeavors.

It's been probably two years now since I made the decision to rework a picture book manuscript into poetry. In that time, I've been having great fun reading, studying, and writing poetry in a variety of forms. Although the draft is nearing completion, I want to make poetry an ongoing part of my life. 😄

I mentioned above that I discovered the poem I'm excerpting from today in a roundabout way. I'd been looking for kid-friendly poetry anthologies when I saw this one on a shelf in the juvenile section of my local library: The Waldorf Book of Poetry edited by David Kennedy. 

The book includes a poem by Louisa May Alcott that appears in Chapter 16 of Little Women. I haven't read Little Women in years and didn't recall the poem at all, or even that the book contained poetry. When I read Alcott's cheerful "A Song from the Suds" in The Waldorf Book of Poetry I was especially struck by the second stanza:

Excerpt from "A Song from the Suds"
by Louisa May Alcott 
(from Little Women) 

I wish we could wash from our hearts and souls   
      The stains of the week away,   
And let water and air by their magic make   
      Ourselves as pure as they;           
Then on the earth there would be indeed   
      A glorious washing-day!

(You can read the whole poem here.) 

There's so much I'd like to wash from my heart and soul these days. The closest alternative I've found is spending time outdoors. Nature has been my greatest balm lately, and I'm grateful for the lovely fall weather we're having.

For more poetry, be sure to check out this week's Poetry Friday roundup hosted by Jone Rush MacCulloch at her new blog.  

Finally, as promised, here's a link to the book giveaway I'm hosting to celebrate the third anniversary of the release of my young-adult historical romance, Playing by Heart

Posted by Carmela

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.


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.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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.