Please join us to discuss everything literary (especially kid literary): good books, the writing life, the people and businesses who create books, controversies in book world, what's good to snack on while reading and writing, and anything else bookish. We welcome your thoughts.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Importance of Story


Dave Amaditz

At this year's Western Pennsylvania SCBWI annual conference I listened to our main speaker, Jonathan Gottschall, (The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human) talk about the importance of story. He reminded us that story is everywhere, that it has been with us throughout all of man's history and that it comes to us in many forms. It was told orally in prehistoric times. It was documented on cave walls to help remember, or to perhaps celebrate a successful hunt. Today, having evolved over time, story comes to us in movies, music, television, and advertising. And most importantly, for us as writers, in the form of books.

The speech reminded me I should be constantly alert for story ideas, for the way story is told, and for ways to incorporate these new ideas into my own writing.

Why then was I so surprised, that while beginning research for the ending of my novel on how write an investigative report, one of the first pieces of information the author, Luuk Sengers (The Hidden Scenario: Plotting and Outlining Investigative Stories) conveyed was that underlying all the facts and figures you might uncover while doing research, there must be a story.

A story in investigative writing?

 I shouldn't have been surprised, yet as I thought back on newspaper or magazine articles I had read, I realized they were right. Story was at the heart of every piece. Facts and figures were included, but they would be meaningless without story.

As I proceed with my writing I must keep this in mind. Setting, voice and plotting are all important, but where would they be without story?



Thursday, December 27, 2012

New Feature for 2013

Check out Dave and Marcy’s First Friday – Five Favorite Things – Debut Novel Day. Every first Friday of the month, we will highlight a debut author’s first work by picking five of our favorite things from that novel. On Monday, the author will respond to the same five questions. Look for Slide, by Jill Hathaway on January 4, 2013.

January 4 & January 7, 2013 – Slide by Jill Hathaway
February 1 & 4, 2013 – Freakling by Lana Krumwiede
March 1 & 4, 2013 - Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters by Meredith Zeitlin
April 5 & 8, 2013 – Goblin Secrets by William Alexander
May 3 & 6, 2013 – Personal Effects by E. M.Kokie

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

There's No Predicting the Future

     An interesting truth rang clear to our family this year as we sat around the Christmas Eve table: there's no predicting the future, or where it will take us. 2011's gathering consisted of my husband, myself, our adult daughter, our adult son, his wife, and my elderly father. As I finished up the dishes that year, stuffed the last bit of wrapping paper into the bulging garbage bag, and turned off the Christmas tree lights, I assumed, I'm sure, that Christmas 2012 would look much the same. I had no idea that my father's empty chair would be occupied my our daughter's new, but very significant, other, and that he would come packaged with two lovely children. Or that at the corner of the table, between our son and daughter-in-law, would be a new little grandson, lulled to sleep by the click, click, click of a swing. We veterans of the previous years, though thrilled with the changes (save losing my father), couldn't get over the fragility of our assumptions about the future.  
     I've noticed the same thing in writing a novel. While I like to think that I have a strong story line plotted out, that I know the path my main character will take, that I've decided what the supporting cast will look like, and most critically, that I know what my story is about, the truth is, my characters wander off to places I never knew they would go, with people I hadn't planned on creating, for reasons I had never considered. So, even when I think I can control the story by actually writing it, I find that stories have lives of their own that sweep us along in their current. There's no predicting the future, even when you're the one at the keyboard. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

New Feature for 2013

Check out Dave and Marcy’s First Friday – Five Favorite Things – Debut Novel Day. Every first Friday of the month, we will highlight a debut author’s first work by picking five of our favorite things from that novel. On Monday, the author will respond to the same five questions. Look for Slide, by Jill Hathaway on January 4, 2013.

January 4 & January 7, 2013 – Slide by Jill Hathaway
February 1 & 4, 2013 – Freakling by Lana Krumwiede
March 1 & 4, 2013 - Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters by Meredith Zeitlin
April 5 & 8, 2013 – Goblin Secrets by William Alexander
May 3 & 6, 2013 – Personal Effects by E. M.Kokie 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Mirro Cookie Press: Old and Simple Can Be Better Than New and Complicated

by Cynthia Light Brown

I grew up making Spritz cookies for Christmas. My dad would make several double batches with his 3 little girls dipping our fingers in to snatch some dough with the smell of almond extract wafting through the house and the dog gobbling up any cookies that fell off the table in the chaos. We always made green Christmas trees and rose poinsettias and if we were feeling bold maybe some yellow stars. The trusty Mirro cookie press clicked along for years and years pushing out probably thousands of cookies.

I have tried to make Spritz cookies. I got a cookie press from Williams-Sonoma a few years back for too much money. I tried for 2 years before admitting that the fancy ratchet design was just not working. I always gave up after one tray of cookies. Then I tried a Kitchen Aid cookie press with a somewhat different, but still fancy ratchet design. Still didn’t work. Then last year I tried a cheap cookie press. No comment. Mirro didn’t sell cookie presses anymore.
Ebay saved the day. Last January my new-old Mirro cookie press arrived for about $15. It was old, with a simple turning motion, even a little rusted. I tried it last Saturday and we now have hundreds of lovely, perfectly shaped green Christmas trees and rose poinsettias and even some bold blue snowflakes. I am in almond heaven.

There’s nothing wrong with fancy. I like a fancy dinner now and then, and I love my new-fangled iphone. But if you have a complicated plot, it needs to be based on a simple, solid structure. Original is over-rated if that’s all you have to offer; our favorite stories are ones that resonate in deep ways. Boy meets girl. Stranger comes to town.

There and back again. 

Recipe for Spritz Cookies

1 c. shortening (can substitute 1/2 with butter)
1 c. sugar
1 egg
2 1/2 cups flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon almond extract
food coloring (optional)

Cream the shortening. Slowly add sugar while beating. Add egg and other ingredients. Add coloring if desired. Put in a Mirro cookie press and press to your heart's desire.

Monday, December 10, 2012

There's 'Only One' Marc Harshman

How did I miss this wonderful news? Our own Marc Harshman of Wheeling is West Virginia's new poet laureate.  His appointment was made back in May, at which time Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said, "Whether it's one of his children's stories or a prose poem...", he hoped Harshman would, "...continue to challenge himself and inspire a new generation of writers."  Harshman later replied, "I was especially pleased that the governor's kind words noted my work for children, as I have always felt that there is really no divide between my work as a poet and my work as a children's author." 
This delightful poet and storyteller has written eleven books for children.  "Only One" was a Reading Rainbow review title on PBS TV and "The Storm" was a Junior Library Guild selection, a Smithsonian Notable Book for Children, a Children's Book Council Notable Book for Social Studies, and a Parent's Choice Award Recipient.  He has published three volumes of poetry. 
His poet laureate designation is just one among many: Harshman was honored in 1994 by receiving the Ezra Jack Keats/Kerlan Collection Fellowship from the University of Minnesota.  He was also named the West Virginia State English teacher of the year by the West Virginia English Language Arts Council in 1995.  More recently he was named the recipient of the WV Arts Commission Fellowship in Poetry for the year 2000 and the Fellowship in Children's Literature for 2008.
I belatedly congratulate Marc on this honor and hope anyone who is unfamiliar with his work will take a moment to pick up any one of his creations, and listen.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Reading Therapy Dog isn't a Reading Dog
by Kitty Griffin

I love this picture of my Welsh Corgi (Cardigan Variety) dog, Coriander. She and I belong to Tail Waggin' Tutors because she's a good listener. A very good listener. Part of my daily life now involves climbing into my car with my dog and going to schools and libraries so children can read to her. I don't have to do anything except hold the leash. Oh, sometimes I help out with a word or two, if a child asks, but mainly I'm just there to hold the leash. And smile. I smile because I watch as kids try to hold a book with one hand and pet with the other as they read to not me, but to my dog. There's something remarkable that happens to a kid when a cold nose gently pushes on their leg to encourage them to get to the next word. They might stumble a bit at the beginning, but it doesn't take long and they pick up speed and pronunciation.
It's not complicated, but there is a process each dog and handler must go through. Coriander and I went through intense obedience training. We learned to understand what each of us wanted. Then she went through a comprehensive test, one where she was put in a room full of people who yelled at her, stepped right in front of her, and poked canes or crutches at her. She had to pass by a group of children running and playing and not bark or get excited. She had to obey every command she was given. And she had to sit quietly with a stranger when I left the room. 
Once the test was done, oh no, we weren't finished. She had to be certified by her veterinarian and I had to fill out papers and sign a check to pay for liability insurance.
Then we were ready.
We've been to a psychiatric facility, hospice, hospitals, schools, and libraries, and of all the work she does, she loves the kids the most and they just adore her, so that's what I choose to do. But it still makes me laugh when I tell people I have a reading therapy dog and they stare and say, "Your dog can read?"

Monday, December 3, 2012

An Evening of Stardust, Hope and Secrets

by Jenny Ramaley

Pittsburgh is a great city on so many different levels. Rock solid people, great food, hidden architectural gems tucked into neighborhoods, and an endless bounty of learning opportunities. Of these, my favorite is the Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures series featuring children's writers --  “Black, White & Read All Over.” In the past I’ve posted articles on seeing John Green and Gayle Forman. The lectures are great fun. Good writers are generally good speakers and the latest visitor was exceptionally entertaining -- the creatively versatile, inimitable Neil Gaiman. What made the night extra special was that Neil wasn’t on a speaking tour. He knows Dr. Drew Davidson, from Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center, who convinced him to come and talk about the 15th anniversary and re-release of Neil’s book, “Stardust” -- for one night only. The Music Hall at the Carnegie Museum was packed. How cool is it to see authors treated like rock stars?

Neil talked about getting his initial inspiration for the book after accepting an award for his comic “Starman #19” at the 1991 World Fantasy Convention in Tuscon. If you’ve ever spent time in the desert away from city lights, you know what he’s talking about when he tells of seeing a lone shooting star against a “thick black vehement night’ filled with stars. He thought ‘what if it was a blazing diamond streaking across the sky . . . or a girl with a broken leg? (in case you haven’t read the book, I’ll stop here.)
Neil shared a bit about the writing process for the book. He told about buying a new old fashioned fountain pen and notebook, settling in to housesit at Tori Amos’s quirky bridge/house to write, and dictating into a cassette machine so his collaborator could illustrate the story as he wrote. To go from the handwritten word to typing it into the computer acts as an editing step for him, since he refuses to type any sections he feels aren't worthy of the time. After the book was printed and released, the model Claudia Schiffer fell in love with the story and nudged her director husband, Matthew Vaughn, into making a movie. (Robert DiNiro in drag is supposedly fabulous.) The film has done very well outside of the U.S. but Neil says he often ends up apologizing for all the extra ‘stuff’ the movie people added when they ‘mucked about’ with the story.
The audience was also treated to a reading from his new book due out in June (“The Ocean at the End of the Lane”). It started out as a short story, and deals with a few members of the Hemstock family – reoccurring characters sprinkled throughout several of his books, including “The Graveyard Book.” Then the story turned into a novella, then a very long novella, and surprised him by ending up as a novel. Be forewarned. Neil determined by the end of writing the story that although this book focuses on young people, the story is too dark for children. During the Q&A he clarified his thoughts on when a book is for children and when it is for adults. Using his book “Coraline” as an example, he explained that while parts of that story are dark, Coraline was a hopeful character and certainly not helpless (Okay for Kids); the new book gets quite dark and in it the child is truly helpless (Not Okay for Kids). Hope = children. Remember that. And if the youngsters are drawn to this new book, he assured us that the first two chapters are quite dull and will surely turn off any child who attempts to read it. We’ll see about that in June.
Truly an entertaining evening. But here’s the best part. Neil Gaiman told us a secret about an upcoming project. And he asked the hundreds of people to not post this tidbit on line and keep it to ourselves. And, since the packed auditorium was filled with Pittsburghers, I’m betting his secret is safe.
And hopefully he’ll come back.
Sarah Dessen is coming in January. I’ll report on her next month.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

There's No Last Way to Tell a Story

Recipes are a huge part of my life right now. I just said goodbye to a house full of company for whom I had to cook many meals over the course of the Thanksgiving holiday. The entire week before cookbooks covered the kitchen island: a 1965 Treasury of Great Recipes put together by Mary and Vincent Price, my trusty thirty-four year old binder into which I've taped and scribbled recipes most of my adult life, Barefoot Contessa's Back to Basics. I have a 1951 Whole Grain Cookery book with a preface by Pearl Buck, and The Fallingwater Cookbook, a collection of recipes that Elsie Henderson cooked for the Kaufmann family at their famous Fallingwater residence. Vegetarian cookbooks, pressure cooker recipes, a Polish Cooking cookbook, Martha Stewart, Rocco Dispirito and yada, yada, yada.

On night three of my obsessive search for a menu with just the right balance of easy (isn't it more about the company than the food?) and complex (well, it was my stage, after all) my husband wandered over and asked, "What are you looking for, now?"

"Cranberry salad," I said.

He picked up my notepad. "Isn't this a list of cranberry salad recipes? It looks like one, two, three, four, five, six different ways you can make cranberry salad.
Just pick one."

"I want someone to say, "Wow, love the cranberries.""

"How many ways can you make cranberries?"

That's funny, I thought, even though there's a finite choice of ingredients on the earth, they are the subject matter of every one of these books and thousands upon thousands more.

"I guess it's infinite. Or nearly so." It's the way the ingredients are combined, and stirred, and cooked that distinguishes them and allows for, literally, millions of recipes to emerge. There is no last recipe using cranberries and there never will be. 

It's the same with storytelling. Love. War. Winning. Losing. Hope.  The ingredients don't change. It's the writers recipe that makes it different. It's your secret ingredients that make it special. There's no last way to tell a story.The permutations are limitless.

                Whoops. How did this picture of my beautiful new grandson get in here?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Dave Amaditz

Well, I hope all the turkey lovers out there have begun to get their fill of everything Thanksgiving - food, football - - and shopping. I know in my house plates were crammed full of goodies, (more than one plate full for most and a plan to fill up on leftovers today) football monopolized our television, and at least half of our family (not me) participated in the madness called Black Friday.

Now, I'm not one who gets the biggest thrill out of the Thanksgiving feast, probably because stuffing (dressing) and gravy and green beans are three of my least favorite foods. But in order to keep things positive, as I always try to do, I'll admit I do love to eat mashed potatoes and all the pies we served for dessert.

Where am I going with this?

Since for me, Thanksgiving isn't necessarily about giving thanks about all the wonderful food, I thought I'd give a quick rundown of a few of the so many things I have in my life to be thankful for, the things I thanked God for last night at the dinner table.

Having a wonderful family who are always there for me through good times and bad.

The blessed good fortune to live in a beautiful home and to wake up daily knowing I have a roof over my head.

Overall good health and well-being.

Acknowledging that, even with its flaws, I live in the greatest country in the world, the greatest country in the history of the world.

The freedom to celebrate this day, or any other, in any way I choose because of the brave men and women who have sacrificed so much for all of us.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Perfectionism: The Turkey in My Studio (And a recipe for Leftover Turkey Chili)

Sigh. Once again I have a turkey problem.

I'm not referring to the tom who periodically patrols the road I take to the grocery store. ( But you wouldn't believe how big - and fierce - a wild turkey can be! Makes me a bit nervous in my little car when he doesn't want me to pass. Okay, practically terrified.)

My turkey's name is Perfectionism. 

And she's roosting on my pile of work-in-progress and keeping me from finishing things!

There is no one size-fits-all way to vanquish the perfectionism problem, any more than there's one perfect strategy for getting past that gobbler on Old Scrubgrass Road (though turning around and taking the long way nearly always works for me). I keep trying different things, and usually something clicks.

Here then, in no particular order are approaches that have helped me in the past and that I'll be trying the next few days:

Accept that I WILL make mistakes - and I can correct them later
I often want to be the sort whose first draft, first submission, first published piece is Just Right.  But then I remind myself that I usually have contempt for the Miss Perfect Pants sorts and feel a Yes! I'll-buy-all-your-books love for those authors whose success is preceeded by struggle.

Truth is I DO learn from my mistakes, and I DO get paralyzed completely by my efforts to be perfect from the start. And I would rather not be Miss Perfect Pants either.

Sometimes I have to read this quote from Mary Pickford (America's sweetheart) to remind myself to try again:

Try to be as nice to myself as I am to my writing buddies
I don't know about you, but I can easily get a tad, um, critical with myself over efforts that don't measure up. And I say things to myself that I would never say to someone in my writing group. Then I have to stop, fix myself a cup of tea, and maybe a little chocolate too - and read these wise words from Anne Lamott:
It does work - notice how I didn't even rewrite this notecard when I screwed up the "n" in "can"?

Bond with a perfectionism pal
Having a partner makes it easier for me to do almost anything I find hard - whether it's exercising, dieting, or being brave enough to take the short route, turkey or no turkey. Reaching out to a friend whose struggle mirrors mine works with my perfectionism too. (I just have to take care to avoid people who have already put perfectionism behind them - too much like having my naturally thin husband as a diet partner - or who are too enabling of my procrastination).

Take smaller bites
Instead of trying to write a whole novel or produce a polished dummy, I try to concentrate on a big manuscript chapter by chapter. Or even paragraph by paragraph. Picture book texts might be word by word! I'll trick myself into staying loose with drawings by using cheap printer paper or post-it notes instead of my expensive sketchbook or by sitting in a coffee shop instead of at my drawing table.

I also use a timer. Work for 15 minutes, then take a five minute break. Then another 15 minutes.

Focus on enjoying the process
The truth is, I mostly LIKE doing my artwork or writing - even when it's not going well. How lucky is it to do for a job what most people have to content themselves with enjoying as a hobby? I'll put on music, stick a flower on the desk, let myself  have fun. And discover yet again that playing is nearly always a good route to creative ideas.

When all else fails, follow Bob Newhart's Two-Word Advice

"STOP it!"

Hee, hee! Works just about every time for me!

Leftover Turkey Chili

After you've vanquished your own turkeys, you can have them for Thanksgiving dinner - and then make this excellent white chili, adapted from a recipe from Lori Benson, a friend in my book club.

2 TBSP olive oil

1-2 medium onions finely chopped

2-3 ribs celery, chopped (optional)

2 3-4 oz can of chopped green chilies (NOT drained)

6 TBSP (3/8 cup) flour

3 cups cooked turkey leftovers (half a rotisserie chicken is also about perfect)

2-3 cans great northern beans (drained and rinsed)

2 tsp of cumin

1 carton of turkey or chicken broth (32 oz)

Shredded cheese

Saute the onion and celery in the oil over medium heat until tender (about 4 minutes).  Add the green chilies and flour. Mix and heat through.  Add beans, broth and seasoning.  Simmer for about 20 minutes until thickened and you've written a couple of paragraphs.  Add the meat.  Heat until warm.  Serve with grated cheese. And popovers or cornbread. And beer.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Western PA SCBWI Fall Conference

by Marcy Collier

On Saturday, I attended the SCBWI Fall conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I got there early to help with registration. It was great to see many old friends and meet some new people at the conference.

Nikki Grimes gave a terrific keynote speech about learning patience. She said that when an idea excites her, she can't wait to produce it from start until the finish. She encouraged the crowd to keep writing. You'll figure out the story eventually. You may not always know where your story is going, but trust the process.

Next, I went to a session on creating characters with Noa Wheeler, editor at Henry Holt. She gave the audience terrific questions that they should ask characters, especially the main character in your story. Your character must be active not reactive. The reader should be able to relate to your character. Motivate your character and push him through the story. Noa gave the class some great questions and exercises to help us each develop our characters well.

My next session was with Agent Joe Monti with BG Literary on query letters. He encouraged the audience not to stress so much over the query letter. Most agents skim the query, read the sample pages, then if the manuscript interests them, they'll go back through the query letter. Your manuscript will be automatically rejected if you don't follow guidelines. Explain why you've targeted that particular agent or editor. Did you meet at a conference or maybe read an interview about them? Make your voice shine through in your manuscript.

After lunch and first pages, the crowd enjoyed a session with Jonathan Gottchall. Dr. Gottchall is a professor at Washington & Jeffererson College. His latest book, The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make us Human (Houghton Mifflin 2012), is about the evolutionary mystery of storytelling--about the way we shape stories, and stories shape us. People surrender themselves to story by reading, watching television, watching commercials and trading stories with one another. Daydreaming is the mind's default state. People have 2,000 daydreams a day, which equals about a third of their life. A story is about a character with a problem and the attempted solution. Stories are about people having their worst days and the problem structure is "the big fat thread in the story." Gottchall's talk was fascinating and made the crowd realize why the stories that we create are so important.

After an exciting day at the conference, I came home and attempted my 2,000 words for nanowrimo. Only 212 words later, my after-conference brain couldn't function. Instead, I made a yummy butternut squash soup. It's super easy and gluten free too!

Here's the link to the recipe Butternut Squash Soup, and a picture of the soup. This recipe calls for salt and pepper to taste, but I also add in a few shakes of cinnamon, nutmeg, basil and hot sauce for a bit of a kick. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


by Cynthia Light Brown

Don't be a 
Turkey by Douglas Brown

Or a 
Chicken from techvt
Or a 
Turkey Buzzard by dogtooth77

Or even a 


Just buzz on over...

Bee by ausiegall

 To your local poll


Vote! by Theresa Thompson

Sunday, November 4, 2012

How You Can Help Hurricane Sandy Victims

by Marcy Collier

Our New Jersey and New York friends have been hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. Kate Messner and Jen Malone have contacted editors, agents, art directors, and authors who are donating critiques, Skype visits, signed book packages, etc. The money raised will help provide relief to the hurricane victims.

Follow the link to Kathy Temean's blog to check out what's available.


Let's all try to help however we can, no matter how big or small.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Make 'em Laugh....

...or what I was supposed to present at KSRA before the interference of Frankenstorm...

    The Cat in the Hat would never have come back if Alice hadn't fallen down the rabbit hole.  There was really nothing funny at all in children's literature until Alice's Adventures in Wonderland arrived on bookshelves in 1865.  Yes, back in 1744 when A Little Pretty Pocket-Book Intended for the Instruction and Amusement of Little Master Tommy and Pretty Miss Polly was published, there wasn't much  to be amused about.  John Newbery was too busy teaching morals and 'rules of life'  along with the alphabet and a proverb or two.  (Though I dare say reading it aloud now is hilarious:   "Spit not forth any Thing that is not convenient to be swallowed, as the Stones of Plumbs, Cherries, or such like; but with Thy left hand, neatly move them to the Side of thy Plate" or "Smell not of thy Meat, nor put it to thy Nose; turn it not the other Side upward to view it upon Thy plate.")
    Well, it is 2012 and children's author Dan Greenburg, speaking a few years ago at an SCBWI Conference noted that the funniest word in the English language for kids is UNDERPANTS.  Of course it is. Why else would we have Captain Underpants, Underpants Thunderpants, Aliens Love Underpants, Dinosaurs Love Underpants, and The Underpants Zoo? Lest we need a reason to use humor in children's writing, there is plenty of documentation of its benefits: increased endorphin and dopamine release, increased relaxation response, increased creativity, improved problem solving skills and enhanced memory. Why shouldn't we make kids laugh? 
    Humor in children's literature is divided roughly into four categories:
****Physical Humor
****Humor of Character
****Humor of Situation
These categories coincide with children's developmental levels.  Physical humor is much like physical comedy (very visual) and can be found in books like The Cat in the Hat, Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, or I Want My Hat Back.
Wordplay is showcased in Runny Babbit and Amelia Bedelia,
Humor of Character with characters like Clifford the Big Red Dog, or Olivia
and Humor of Situation readily apparent in Dear Mrs. LaRue Letters from Obedience Camp or Click Clack Moo Cows that Type.

As most of my children's poetry is of the zany or nonsensical type, my school visit workshops are most often conducted with a humorous bent.  We write about insects from the their own point of view: what do spiders need these eight legs for?  What happens when a grasshopper wants to just take a walk? Does a ladybug have to act like a lady?
  Or pull out a map and ask kids what the people from Toast, North Carolina, Wink, Texas, or Embarrass, Minnesota like to be called?
  Suppose "There once was a monster named Dave, Who didn't know how to behave?" What do they teach in monster school if you like to bake cookies?
  Could a trout have a superpower?
  Or sometimes we just see what kind of a couplet we can make out of the words vanilla and gorilla.
  What kind of a creature is a SPLONK?
Engaging children with humor will reap huge rewards - and it makes the instructor feel good too.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Writers Groups: Sweet, Not Scary

I remember my first foray into a writer's group. It was twenty-something years ago. A neighbor suggested I try it after reading some silly rhyming clues I'd written for a neighborhood scavenger-hunt. I thought she was nuts. But the idea was intriguing. I was a stay-at-home mom in desperate need of an identity. I called.

They met in the lower level of the local library. Their leader had already published a YA novel. I was in awe. She was an actual author. I'd never met a real one. Everyone seated around the table were writers.  What was I doing here? But I took my seat and listened.  

Before long it became the night of the week I looked most forward to, and quite the heady construct for me. "I'm in a writers group," I'd drop demurely now and then. But the cool part couldn't be denied, I was learning . . . learning to write well, learning to critique, and learning about the industry. I'd never thought myself a writer, but the possibility seemed less and less remote as the months and years ticked away. 

Today I am a writer. And the most valuable asset I have in the realm of improving my craft and continuing to produce is my writers group. They expect me to write. They expect me to submit. With something as simple as a query letter, their input is indispensable. A group is invaluable for keeping current with constant changes in the industry, historically tracking editors movement from house to house, presently in the acceleration of technological publishing and promotion. It is shared knowledge that makes each of us more singularly knowledgable. There is no doubt that without a group of people that come together bi-monthly with words of encouragement, insightful criticism, and a true desire to see each other succeed, I would have stopped writing long ago. In fact, I would never have started.  

Many people do well writing alone. And it's true that not all groups have constructive positivity as their mantra. But, if you can find, or put together, a group with the qualities listed below, you will greatly enhance your chances of success.    

  • Meet regularly, whether in person or electronically.
  • Keep your critiques positive but constructive. 
  • Share group time equitably.  
  • Have a leader, whether rotating or consistent, but someone to keep the subject matter on point.
  • Talk about the industry, about names, about houses, about trends.   
  • Attend conferences and report back to the group
  • Stay supportive of each other and revel in each other's success.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Helping kids to Let their Imagination Loose--laughing all the way

A presentation for Keystone State Reading Association by Kitty Griffin

 Use the familiar to help unlock the imagination. Take what you know and begin to s---t------r--------e----------t------------------c------------------h as far a you can. If you find yourself laughing, you're on the right track. Bounce!

 There was an old lady who swallowed a fly…I don’t know why she swallowed that fly.
Wait a minute! This isn’t just an old lady she should have a name. Now, let’s giggle. What if her name is Ida Swallow? Names can really help pull out the smiles.
Now, let’s push this into a tall tale. We know she swallows a fly, a spider, a bird, a cat, a dog, and a hog. What if you create a super hero who helps save all of the critters she’s swallowed?
Now you play what if…
What if the hero gives her a bowl of Grandpa Chickenpops Stinky Soup, it’s so stinky that you throw up just smelling it?
Or what if the hero tickles Old Lady Swallow with a special feather and she sneezes them out?

Create your own tall tale!
Give your student a problem or a list of problems that they will be familiar with.
Global warming, water pollution, poor nutrition, etc.
Have them think carefully about a super hero who could help solve that problem. A good name is important. What makes them super? Or is it just a regular kid who has one special ability? Maybe it can be more than one kid.
Your character has a problem.
What will the character do to solve the problem?
How difficult can you make the situation for your character?

Fun with Fairy Tales
Let your students pick a favorite fairy tale and bounce it! Change the main character. What if in Red Riding Hood the Wolf was really kind and suspected that Little Red was after Granny’s hidden money?
What if the Three Little Pigs were bullies, trying to take over the neighborhood? Give them names like Spike, Pounce, and Chopper. Do you see how that changes the story?
Make a change in Jack and the Beanstalk by making Jack a Jackie. What if she sold the cow for magic potatoes that led down into the ground where a magic dwarf lived?
There is a reason children love to see the familiar flipped. Give them a chance to do the flipping. But always remind them, start with a good character and make sure your character has an interesting problem. Using the familiar can help lead them into all sorts of fun mischief.