Friday, September 24, 2021

Gwen Neiman Levy’s Student/Writer Success Story + Book Giveaway!

 Oh, how Time flies when we’re realizing our Dreams!

You first met Gwen Neiman Levy, the star of today’s Student Success Story, here, in my March, 2020 post, when I lauded her determination for pursuing her Dream to write and publish a picture book about 2 BFFFs – 2 Best Feathered Friends Forever.

The true story of two unlikely friends, a Duck and a Turkey, had been living inside her head, her heart and her computer for more years than she could count.

Fast-forward 2 ½ years to today’s post celebrating the September release of Gwen’s timely picture book What the Cluck? (SimonSawyerPublishers), beautifully illustrated by Anna Curry.

Gwen knew: she was publishing this story!  There was truly no stopping her!

Throughout the time Gwen and I worked together, first in class, then next independently, her steadfastness to her Dream, no matter the obstacles, kept me leaping and keepin’ on.

I’m certain reading her Writer’s story will inspire you to do the same.

As for the story she wrote and published? Just enter our Book Giveaway at the end of this post to win your very own copy of What the Cluck?

Though it might sound tongue-in-cheek, I applaud Gwen’s pluck pursuing her Dream to publish a story about two feathered friends.

We all know how stultifying it is to begin at Step One in pursuit of any endeavor, artistic or not.

Yet Gwen continued forward, first learning her craft, honing her craft, fine-tuning her story, readying her story for readers, only to then need to learn  - as well as - conquer the ins and out of independent book publishing.

Again, and fortunately, there was truly no stopping her.

Take heart from Gwen’s story, as well as that of Myles’ and Sophie’s.  Then be sure to enter our Book Giveaway of Gwen’s debut picture book What the Cluck?

Oh, and thanks to our former TeachingAuthor Laura Purdie Salas for hosting today’s Poetry Friday at Small Readers for Brighter Days.  

Happy Dream Pursuing!

Esther Hershenhorn

. . . . . . . . . .

Readers will be happy to learn: there's a REAL Sophie and Myles! Please share how this story came to be.

The inspiration for What the Cluck? began with my fascination watching a friendship grow between a duck and a turkey on a small farm in Sawyer, Michigan.  My children and I visited the farm on weekends so they could come to know life on the farm.  Isobella, Myles and Sophie are the names of my beloved grandchildren.

Why do you think this "unlikely friendship" story is especially relevant today?

What the Cluck? tells a story about inclusion, acceptance, befriending those who are different - all necessary mind-sets for today's children in a world filled with uncertainty and prejudices.  I personally know that lessons of inclusion can begin at an early age.  Rogers and Hammerstein wrote "South Pacific" in 1949.  Both the song "You Have to Be Carefully Taught" and the musical received scrutiny for addressing the subject of relationships between difference races and ethnic groups.  I was 10 years old when I first heard the song. I am now 82 and certainly not enough progress has been made in the last 72 years.  However, we must not lose hope.  I know we will have peace and harmony some day.

YOU are new to writing for children. Yet you chose one of the most challenging formats to master - the Picture Book. What were some of your biggest challenges in telling this story to young readers?

When I began seriously working on the story that had sat unfinished in my computer for several years, I knew absolutely not one single thing about the world of authors, illustrators, publishers, book designers, website designers, public relations - and - writing.  All I knew was: I needed help!

Then...Esther Hershenhorn came into my life! I took her one-night-only class at the University of Chicago's Graham School's Writer's Studio and realized I'd found the person to help me finish my story.

Once the manuscript was ready for publication, I faced the challenge of putting together a team to help me independently publish the book.  When Anna finished her illustrations, TLC Book Design helped me put the book together so it was ready for printing.

Though a picture book is 50% words + 50% illustrations, the two elements miraculously total 150%. Please share how you discovered Anna Curry and how you worked with her as she brought Myles and Sophie and your story to the page.

Midway through the process I decided to change illustrators. I spent hours on the computer surfing the net. I must have looked at the portfolios of a thousand illustrators.  Finally, I narrowed my choice to two, then decided on Anna, who is represented by Shannon and Associates in New York.

Anna grew up on a farm in northern England and still resides on a farm.  She was the perfect illustrator to capture the essence and spirit of my characters.  She does not computer-generate her images.  All of her work is original and hand painted.  Each character is unique and expressive.

The long distance between us created delays and many emails suggesting additions and corrections.  But we worked well together, sharing ZOOM calls with my TLC team.

The final paintings are just wonderful.  They bring life to my words.

You worked non-stop, 24/7 to realize your Dream of bringing What the Cluck? to the hands and hearts of readers.  What Joys have you experienced, both expected and unexpected?

I feel such joy because I made my Dream come true! I published my children's book! Being 82 was a challenge. I needed to learn additional computer skills to communicate with my team members.  But I did it!

I realize now that if you have an idea and you are determined to develop it, your age doesn't matter.  You can do it!  It takes patience, concentration, research, finances and the love for what you are creating, whatever that art form.

I've received unexpected joy from my family's and friends' compliments and support.  When they say they are proud of me and my accomplishment, I tell them I am proud of me too!

And now that I know how to write a picture book and publish it independently, I am ready to write and publish Book Number Two!

. . . . . . . 

YAY! It's time to enter our Book Giveaway 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 October 1, 2021 and is open to US. 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.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, September 17, 2021


Dear Campers, my poem and the link to Poetry Friday are below.

I am veering from our topic this round (which is: writing spaces/places—talking about our physical writing space and/or how we’re motivating ourselves to write) to share sad news. 

Recently I learned a new word: felix culpa (FAY/FEE-liks KOOL/KUHL-pah). It means "An error or disaster that has fortunate consequences." 

Still, it knocked me for a loop when, on August 30, 2021, the following floated into my inbox (an excerpt):

We are sorrow-filled to share this announcement with you: Bookology and Fresh Bookology will no longer be published. It has been a project of our heart since 2014 but a change in life circumstances has brought us to face the reality that we can no longer commit over 40 volunteer hours each week to publishing the magazine and the weekly newsletter. We must, instead, focus our attentions on Winding Oak, our "day jobs."

My all-time favorite children's literature ezine, Bookology, which I urged all my students to subscribe to, published by Vicki and Steve Palmquist, has passed away

I am bereft.

photo credit: Arwan Sutanto

Vicki and Steve have had to make this difficult decision partly because Steve is dealing with a serious medical issue. 

GoFundMe page has been created by author and editor Lisa Bullard, who titles it, "Seeing Steve Palmquist Through Tough Times." On it she writes:

If you’ve read this far, you may already know what I know: few people have been as instrumental as the Palmquists in building bridges between the people who create children’s books and the advocates who place those books in front of kids. For the past three decades, the Palmquists have worked tirelessly to create innovative programs and organizations that promote literacy. Bookology, Children’s Literature Network, Books for Breakfast, the Alphabet Forest—these are just a few of the initiatives in which they’ve played instrumental roles and to which they’ve devoted countless volunteer hours.

Steve and Vicki have made an impact on the careers of hundreds of children’s book authors and illustrators, everyone from newcomers to some of the biggest names in the field. As one of the many writers who has benefitted from their wisdom, generosity, and hard work, I’m so grateful to them—not only for what they’ve done for my career, but for everything they’ve done to put books into the hands of young readers.

Steve and Vicki are happiest when they’re shining the spotlight on others.

I urge you to read Candice Ransom's final column in Bookology titled Listening for Stories...a sample of the beautiful, hilarious, inspiring, gripping, mind-exploding stories and events that swam into subscribers' inboxes each week for seven years...for free.


It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a possibility of BLUE SKIES ahead!

Albuquerque, NM 2006 


You may be aware that we have ceased publication of Bookology and Fresh Bookology in order to focus on Winding Oak work (see “medical expenses”). However, one of our clients had the great idea to send out occasional newsletters to that faithful mailing list (self-selected children’s literature professionals and enthusiasts) to announce our clients’ new books, share event news, and do book giveaways. We will be announcing this to those subscribers shortly so if you’re interested, contact us and we’ll provide you with the opportunities and costs for promoting your book(s) in this way. 

Fantastic news!

Here's today's poem:

by April Halprin Wayland

There will be no casket—just a link,

and had you asked it,

it would think you were asking for the moon.

“It’s just,” you protest, “you are leaving us too soon.”

In the fall of 2016, the Palmquists had to end the publication of another marvelous ezine, Quercus, for which we paid just $20 per year.

I was dumbstuck. 

I sent them the following:

Subject: ...but how will I...face the sun......or find a way through this book...without Quercus???

Dear Vicki and Steve,

Thank you. 

For creating a marvel.


For clearing space 

for the good stuff.


For writing and fighting 

for rights, 

for mirrors, 

for sunlight, 

for windows.


Thank you for putting 

so much 

into such a small box 

which made opening email 

a blessing.


With love, respect, admiration ~

and for the knowledge 

that your continued reinvention 

will be gifts to all of us.

I am learning that many crises in my life or in our world may, in the long run, turn out to be blessings. Bless you, Vicki and Steve!  

Steve & Vicki Palmquist, founders of Winding Oak.

And thank you, Denise, at Dare to Care for hosting Poetry Friday!

posted with sadness and hope by April Halprin Wayland (and a little help from our 9-month-old tortoises, Meredith & Derek)

Friday, September 10, 2021

Writing Spaces: Wherever You Go, There You Are!

 Last week, Bobbi took a global view of "writing space," with a great list of writing resources.   I am a more literal creature; this week I'll talk about physical writing spaces.

When I decided I was a writer at age7, I knew I'd need a private place, where no one could interrupt me, or look over my shoulder to correct my grammar or spelling. (My mom was big on "corrections." Even then, I knew "corrections" while writing a first draft, messed with your creative flow.) 

In a two bedroom, less-than-800-square-foot-house, the only truly private place was our one bathroom. I used the wooden top of the clothes hamper for a desk, and the toilet lid as a chair. I was set! Unless, of course, someone else had a dire need to "use the office."

If I wasn't writing in the bathroom, I was writing during class, when I was supposed to be listening to a teacher. This is how I learned to tune out voices. It didn't do much for my grades, but it was great training for the future, when I had to write under less-than-optimal circumstances. (More about that later.) 

Home from college, writing in my bedroom

As an adult, I've been lucky to always have a space for my desk. Sometimes I used the living room (when I lived alone in a dinky apartment), sometimes the "guest bedroom." (We don't have a lot of guests). 

However, my best and favorite office was the guest room in our 15th floor Bangkok apartment. I didn't adapt well to living abroad, and I used the space to escape reality. In that room, I could live completely in the world I was writing. I put up my inspiration/mood booster wall...magazine covers of my personal heroes--not always writers--cards from friends, reminders of life-before-Bangkok, snapshots (remember those?) and assorted stuff that kept me happy and focused. If I needed a break, there was a tiny utility balcony with a terrific view of the city. I wrote My Best Friend (my first sale) and the first draft of Yankee Girl in that room.

Once we moved back to the States, life changed, as it does when you have a growing child. My daughter was ready for kindergarten, and my husband's work contract wouldn't end for another two years. Lily and I moved in with my parents in Mississippi, God bless them.  My dad generously shared his office and computer with me. At that point, I was mostly revising. The creative juices just didn't get flowing under the portrait of a grumpy-looking Martin Luther that dominated the small room. Still, I sold My Best Friend while there. (Treasured memory: My dad going to the liquor store at 10 am to buy celebratory champagne, which we drank right then and there.)

Now, we live the Atlanta 'burbs, where we've been for twenty years. My original office was the FROG (Finished Room Over Garage). The previous owner of the house had specific notions of decor. The FROG came with navy and white wallpaper, printed with ships' blueprints, window shades resembling nautical flags and a ceiling fan painted with nautical stripes. Even with bookcases covering the walls, the visual noise was audible. Therefore, I wasn't awfully upset when I came home from a week of school visits in Colorado to discover my office had been moved to the living room and my daughter had taken over the FROG. (And painted the blueprint wallpaper Pepto-Bismol pink.) 

By that time, I wasn't spending much time in my office. The living room only had one window, and it was mostly blocked by shrubbery. Even without the shrubbery, the view was my neighbor's driveway. The desk and bookcase and even my Inspiration Wall had been shoehorned in...barely. The piano stayed in the room because there was just no other place to put it. If you ever run across the CD of First Grade Stinks, I filmed the intro in that space. 

I wasn't working in my office...because my daughter kept me running. Between school and over 30 hours per week at the skating rink, I was never home. I scribbled in notebooks as I waited in the carpool line. I took my laptop to the rink. ( invention ever!) I wrote in the snack bar/lobby as little boys played street hockey around me. I shared table space with skate moms and screaming babies and teens talking on the phone. I wrote and revised Jimmy's Stars as my daughter and her skating buddies squabbled over my head. (Nothing louder than fifth graders in a snit!) "Not paying attention" in third grade had paid off!

For some reason, though, I've never been able to use a laptop in a crowded coffee shop, or on a plane or even an airport waiting area. I can write with pen and paper. (Once, stuck without on a trans-Pacific flight without a notebook, I wrote on unused air sickness bags and cocktail napkins.) But with a laptop, I feel conspicuous, that I'm taking up too much space.  I have no problem in room, the lobby, whatever. As long as I can move my elbows, and stare into space without bothering anyone, I'm good.

In the end "writing space" isn't so much the location of my desk and laptop. It's about diving head first into my fictional world, and staying there. All hell can break loose around you, but you aren't there. You are safe away, in the world you've created.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

Friday, September 3, 2021

Writing Spaces: Getting Back to Basics


In my blog post, Connections Deja Vu!, I highlighted several online classes, webinars and websites that I’ve enjoyed as a means of staying connected through the long months of the pandemics, exploring various elements of the craft and business of writing.

As you may remember, I teach for the MFA Program at SNHU, working primarily with students who are finishing their creative thesis projects. Over the years, I have gathered quite a collection of articles and handouts that target some basic writing concepts that are often overlooked in workshops. This past year, I’ve enjoyed getting back to  these basics, finetuning my “writing space.”

You might be interested in a few of these handouts I've used in my classes:

Narrative Structure

Backstory and Exposition: 4 Key Tactics. Susan DeFreitas, contributing writer at Jane Friedman’s blog, explores effective strategies in inserting backstory into your narrative, explaining, “Landing your novel opening can be tricky. On the one hand, you need to get the reader sucked into the present moment of the story as it’s unfolding; on the other hand, there’s a lot you need to explain about the past, which is precisely the sort of thing that puts readers to sleep…This info is generally known as backstory (essential information about the characters’ past) and exposition (essential information about the context of the story). Getting it right is one of the biggest challenges you’ll face with your novel.”

Narrate vs. Dramatize. Alex Donne’s excellent video explains the difference between narrating and dramatizing (show vs. tell), and how you can fix these issues during the revision. Revision is when the magic happens!

Filter Words and Phrases to Avoid in Writing Fiction. Anne R. Allen created an excellent handout that  provides a list of writing filters, with practical examples of how to replace them. As she states,  “All words exist for a reason. Use them wisely to create engaging narrative.”

Purple Prose and the Word Surgeon’s Scalpel. Tom Bentley at Writer UnBoxed elaborates on how these filter words rob your narrative of its vigor. Bentley offers excellent examples and explanations, reminding writers to “Keep in mind that when you clean up your writing, you’re not scrubbing it of the voice that makes it distinct and delightful. You’re clearing your throat so that voice sings out strong and true.”

(Related to Narrative Structure) Dialogue

How to Format Dialogue Dax MacGregor offers nice illustrations on how to format dialogue, stating “Whether you are writing a short story, full novel or anything in between, the way you format dialogue is the same.”

The MasterClass in How to Format Dialogue in Your Short Story and Novel. The MasterClass staff put together this excellent handout, stating, “Whether you’re working on a novel or short story, writing dialogue can be a challenge. If you’re concerned about how to punctuate dialogue or how to format your quotation marks, fear not; the rules of dialogue in fiction and nonfiction can be mastered by following a few simple rules.

Active vs Passive Characters

How Can We Make Our Characters More Proactive?  Jami Gold’s excellent handout details how a character needs agency in their story, stating “In other words, passive and reactive characters—those without agency—go with the flow, make no decisions, and don’t affect the story because they’re always one step behind. In contrast, proactive/active characters make the story what it is.”

On Passive Characters. Mary Cole of Good Story Company explains, “It's hard for readers to engage with a passive character, especially in the protagonist role.”

Five Ways to Tell If You Have A Passive Protagonist (And If You Do, How To Fix Them). Jimena I. Novaro’s excellent discussion offers a study into passive characters, comparing two beloved novels to illustrate her points, stating “ To illustrate these five places where you can identify a passive protagonist, I’m going to use two books that I love. They’re both good books, but one has the unfortunate flaw of having a passive protagonist, while the other has an awesome, active protagonist. The examples for a passive protagonist are from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling; the examples for an active protagonist are from Sabriel by Garth Nix.”

Finding the Emotional Core.Related to creating active characters is taking advantage of a character’s emotional core. Jo Eberhardt on Writer UnBoxed explores strategies on how to create authentic characters that readers care about, stating, “Create a character who feels deep emotions, and invite the reader to join them on their journey. It creates a bond that can never be broken between your character and your reader — one that will still exist decades into the future.”

Mentor Texts

In which I look at Doctor Who to study how to create complex characters, using backstory to reveal the emotive arc. Adventures in Time and Space and Writing.  As I explained, “ {T}here is much to learn from the Doctor about writing the epic adventure. As the Doctor tells his companion, and in so doing reminding everyone, through those Tardis doors, stepping into story,  “… we might see anything. We could find new worlds, terrifying monsters, impossible things. And if you come with me... nothing will ever be the same again!

The Do’s and Don’ts of Storytelling According to Marvel.  K.M. Weiland offers this fascinating exploration into Marvel Movies as mentor texts, in which she “gleaned all kinds of interesting writing insights—which I highlight, movie by movie, in this series of blog posts.”

Plot Structures

On Pacing: Faster than the Speed of Thought. Donald Maass at Writers UnBoxed explains, “Plot pace is generally what people mean.  Keep things moving.  Get to the next event.  Don’t meander around, cut to the chase.  Get to the meat and quickly move on.  It’s as if story is a double-speed march, or ought to be…As we know, however, story is not always about moving events along rapidly.” 

Good Transitions: A Guide to Cementing Stories Together.  Amanda Mascarelle illustrates the process of creating strong transitions that move the story forward, stating, “Most writers learned in elementary school that a good story requires a compelling beginning, middle, and end. But how does one make the pieces fit neatly together? From my tattered memory of grade school, my teachers skipped that part. Or maybe I was home with the chicken pox the day we learned about transitions—the words and phrases, often subtly deployed, that give stories shape and tug readers from idea to idea.”

Mastering Scene Transitions. Beth Hill of The Editor’s Blog discusses how to create effective scene transitions, explaining, “A scene transition takes characters and readers to a new location, a new time, or a new point of view. Transitions can also be used to show a character’s change in heart or frame of mind.”

(Related to Plot) Causal Chains

Why Your Story Needs a Causal Chain. Matthew Retino at The Writing Cooperative demonstrates how – and why – causal chains support the plot, stating, “…chains are fundamental to most forms of fiction…This is especially true if your story has a tragic structure. The sense of inevitability, of one event leading inexorably to another, increases the sense of drama and impending doom.”

What a Coincidence: 7 Clever Strategies for Harnessing Coincidences in Fiction. Steven James at Writers Digest University, offers advice on causality, offering strategies to avoid the dreaded coincidence, stating, “Well-timed coincidences can catapult a story forward, but a poorly planned one can bring your readers to a dead stop. Use these 7 strategies to harness the power of this storytelling tool while steering clear of common missteps.”

(Related to Plot) Chapter Building

How To Organize A Chapter. Nathan Bransford explores strategies to create chapters that move the plot forward, explaining “Too many writers treat their chapters like tanks of gas. They take off without really knowing where they’re going, drive around aimlessly until they run out of fuel, sputter to a stop, and then they start the next chapter after someone takes pity on them and tows them somewhere new.” Of particular interest, he offers a very nice discussion on creating cliffhangers that engage readers, stating , “The key to crafting a great cliffhanger is to construct the climax of a chapter so that its resolution opens up even bigger questions. Think about the fate of Dumbledore in the Harry Potter novels, Han Solo being frozen in carbonite in Star Wars, or “Who shot J.R.” on Dallas.”

How to Structure Chapters of Your Novel: 8 Tips for Writing Chapters. In this very interesting discussion, MasterClass explains eight strategies that help writers create reader-friendly chapters, explaining,   “Chapters are the vessels of story structure, organizing the  plot points of the larger work and allowing the reader to take a break and absorb what they’ve learned. A short story can be read in one sitting, but a novel is usually broken up into accessible parts, forming a book that can be easily revisited whenever the moment arises. Structuring chapters in a way that keeps readers immersed in the story is essential to novel-writing.”

And finally, congratulations to Merysa R for winning our giveaway!

-- Bobbi Miller