Friday, October 30, 2009

This Poetry Friday is being hosted by Jennie Rothschild at her blog, Biblio File. There you will find links to lots of holiday poetry.

In the spirit of the holiday, I offer this classic from Harry Behn's book The Little Hill.


Tonight is the night
When dead leaves fly
Like witches on switches
Across the sky,
When elf and sprite
Flit through the night
On a moony sheen.
Tonight is the night
When leaves make a sound
Like a gnome in his home
Under the ground,
When spooks and trolls
Creep out of holes
Mossy and green.
Tonight is the night
When pumpkins stare
Through sheaves and leaves
When ghoul and ghost
And goblin host
Dance round their queen.
It's Hallowe'en!

Here are Friday's Famous Firsts:

1. "In the great green room, there was a telephone and a red balloon."

2. "These two very old people are the father and mother of Mr. Bucket."

Can you identify the title and author for each work?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What writers have influenced you and why? That's a great question to visit now and again. Answering the "why?" is one way to stay in touch with your craft. The writers you connect with may not be writing in your genre, but you can still learn from them.

Ernest Hemingway speaks to me in his work and through his comments on the process. Two of his quotes that complement each other are:
  • "All good books have one thing in common - they are truer than if they had really happened."
In workshops, I often encounter new writers whose stories recount real-life experiences. This can be a great place to start, but it can sometimes cause the writer to become trapped in the remembered details. It's the old, "but that's not exactly what they said" or "that's not exactly how it happened" struggle. The goal of a writer is to tell a great story and that may require letting go of some of the details if they don't serve the finished work.
  • "When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature."
The people who inhabit a work of fiction must be real to the writer in order to become real to the reader and complete with hopes and fears, trials and triumphs, and those behaviors that make each of us unique.

Both of these quotes speak to honesty in writing.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Wild West Fairy Tales are one of the many avenues writers have explored in the retelling of some of the well-known classics. Here are a few of my favorites...

  • Bubba the Cowboy Prince by Helen Ketteman is a Texas take on Cinderella. Bubba is at the mercy of his wicked stepdaddy and his two bossy stepbrothers, Dwayne and Milton. All three boys have eyes for neighboring rancher, Miz Lurleen, but it's Bubba who wins her heart, with a little help from...his fairy godcow.
  • Little Red Cowboy Hat by Susan Lowell is, as you might guess, a nod to the classic Little Red Riding Hood. But in this version the damsel in distress has no need for a brawny woodcutter to come to the rescue...Little Red and Grandma saddle up and run the wolf clean out of the country. As the story says, "This time he picked the wrong grandma."
  • Of course, I'll have to include The Gingerbread Cowboy. In this Wild West adventure, a rancher's wife tires of baking biscuits and creates a Gingerbread Cowboy who escapes her kitchen for the wilds of the American Southwest. Pursued by the rancher and his wife, a roadrunner, javalinas, long-horn cattle and cowboys, he eludes them all...only to be caught by the traditional trickster, the coyote.

Here are the answers to Friday's Famous Firsts:

1. I'm Emily Elizabeth, and I have a dog. Clifford the Big Red Dog by Norman Bridwell

2. "Did Mama sing everyday?" asked Caleb. Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia Maclachlan

Friday, October 23, 2009

October contains an interesting mix of month-long observances and special days. Two attracted my attention for very different reasons.

It's family history month: Family stories from both modern generations and historical periods can be a wonderful inspiration for stories. You do need to keep in mind that it's not necessary to relate the story just as it occurred. Jot down the bones and use the incident as a starting point. If a story has been handed down over a period of time, ask yourself what has made it an enduring tale.

It's also Adopt-a-Shelter-Dog-month. Interestingly enough, I've noticed an increasing number of books about rescued pets making it to the bookstore shelves. I must admit my interest is far more personal. I've been involved in animal rescue for many years and strongly believe in the "Don't shop, Adopt," motto. For more on this topic visit the ASPCA website.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at Big A, Little a this week. Check it out.

Here are Friday's Famous Firsts:

1. I'm Emily Elizabeth, and I have a dog.

2. "Did Mama sing everyday?" asked Caleb.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

It's Writer's Wednesday.
I've had many questions from readers about finding publishers and/or agents so this week I'm going to refer you to three great posts at Writer Girl, the blog of Colleen Rowan Kosinski. Colleen has a three-part post over as many days that provides both biographical information and preferences as regards genre for the editors and agents.

Check it out. Then do your homework by following up with the editor's or agent's website for the most current submission information.

Make sure your manuscript gets a final polish then give your story wings!!! Best of luck.

Monday, October 19, 2009

I visited a preschool recently and many of the parents asked me about story suggestions to read aloud. There are so many wonderful books for young children that it isn't easy to select just a few so I thought I'd look at some of the categories of books that I'd recommend.

  • Concept books that deal with the alphabet or numbers can help introduce topics and strengthen a child's skills in preparation for kindergarten. One of my favorite alphabet books is Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. Published originally in 1989, there is now a special anniversary edition available. Bill Martin is also the author of Chicka Chicka 1, 2, 3.

  • Predictable stories allow a child to anticipate the action or identify a repeating phrase. Is your Mama a Llama? by Deborah Guarino is always a lot of fun because it combines the repeating refrain with a series of riddles posed by the baby animals that Lloyd the Llama encounters.

Here are the answers to Friday's Famous Firsts:

1. "Brian Robeson stared out the window of the small plane at the endless green northern wilderness below." Hatchet by Gary Paulsen.

2."All children, except one grow up." Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie

Friday, October 16, 2009

The ideal time to help a child develop a love of reading is when they are very young, but it is never too late to introduce a child to the wonder of books. It just requires a bit more imagination with an older child.
  • Provide books and/or magazines on a favorite hobby, sport or interest.
  • Offer older children the opportunity to read to younger siblings. This can be particularly helpful for children who are struggling as readers because the simpler stories enable them to practice their reading using materials that will allow them to feel successful.
  • Connect reading to activities that will stimulate a desire to "read more about it" such as trips to museums, observatories, zoos, car shows, sporting events, etc.
  • Remember that not all reading has to take place between the covers of a book. Read and discuss signs, maps, movie guides, newspaper articles, even comic strips.
Here are Friday's Famous Firsts: Do you know the title and author of these first lines from well-known children's books?

1. "Brian Robeson stared out the window of the small plane at the endless green northern wilderness below."

2."All children, except one, grow up."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

It's Writer's Wednesday and the topic is backstory.
A character's backstory can be approached from two perspectives.

From a writer's point of view, backstory is the information the author must have to create a character's voice and motivate the actions, thoughts and decisions made throughout the story. An editor once told me that if someone asked what my character ate for breakfast or watched on TV, I should have an immediate answer regardless of who, what, where or when my character existed. The point the editor was trying to make was that a writer should know their characters on a much deeper level than might appear necessary to the plot. That knowledge will help answer the all important "why." Why did the character do or say what they did at any given moment? Because the author needed them to for that plot point is not the answer you're looking for.

From a reader's point of view, backstory is the information the reader needs in order to believe and accept a character's behavior. That backstory will consist of events and experiences that occurred before the opening page of the book. The challenge for the writer is to determine where and how to convey that information. One of the most common mistakes is to give too much too soon. Another hazard is to fall into a rhythm of providing a bit of backstory just in time to explain the next action...a pattern that will come across as unnatural or contrived. Let the readers become invested in the characters and their struggles then weave the backstory through the book providing just enough to enable the readers to draw their own conclusions about the "why" behind a character's choices.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Just for fun take a look at these classic Halloween offerings from some well known authors and illustrators.

Here are the answers for Friday's Famous Firsts:

1. "The young prince was know here and there (and just about everywhere else) as Prince Brat." The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman - Newbery Medal 1987.

2. "In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines." Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans.

Friday, October 9, 2009

I visited with a class of fifth graders this week and found myself offering encouragement to students who struggle with the same insecurities about their writing that I hear from adults in workshop settings. I'm not sure we ever outgrow our apprehensions when it comes to setting down our words on paper. Perhaps it's experience and sheer repetition that eventually allows us to trust that we've created a work that is ready for public viewing -- in a workshop setting or as a submission.

One of the things I almost always do with classes is read excerpts from some of my rejection letters. I think it is important for the children to understand that no writer ever gets it right the first time. I hear from so many students who are disappointed in themselves when they fall short of perfection and other's who don't make an effort because they view success as being out of their reach. If I don't achieve anything else in my visit I hope to change their perception of the process and help them to understand that the real failure is not to try.

Here are Friday's Famous Firsts:
Do you know the title and author for these well-know first lines?

1. "The young prince was known here and there (and just about everywhere else) as Prince Brat."

2. "In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines."

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

It's Writer's Wednesday and I'm thinking about the publishing side of the business. After all a writer's hard work, it ultimately comes down to getting your book into print.

Before you dive into your next project ask some tough questions beginning with why should a publisher take on your project? "It's a cute story" is not the answer an editor wants to hear. Know your audience. And know what other books in your genre, on your subject are already in the market place. How does your work bring something new to readers? Is it a fresh take on a popular theme? How is your voice distinctive? A great way to educate yourself is to visit your local bookstore and look at what's on the shelf. Check the copyright dates. If the book has been in print for quite a while ask yourself why it has had enduring success. For books that are new, try to figure out what qualities inspired an editor to take a chance.

Stay informed about the business of publishing particularly now when the industry is undergoing substantial change. Here is an article the helps put the business in perspective: 12 Steps to Better Book Publishing by Jonathan Karp - in Publishers Weekly April 20, 2009. Even though this article is focused on adult books, the concerns raised could easily be applied to the children's market.

Monday, October 5, 2009

October is Cookbook Month so let's take a look at child-friendly cookbooks.

If you are fan of cooking shows, you'll recognize the author of Paula Deen's cookbook for the lunch-box set. Television's down-home cook, Paula Deen, has organized her recipes by event: sleepover, picnic, bake sale, etc. and provided instruction for eight-year-olds and up.

Web-savvy preteens will enjoy The Spatulatta cookbook: recipes for kids, by kids from the James Beard award-winning Spatulatta Web site. This a companion to, the cooking website of two young sisters, Isabella and Olivia Gerasole. The recipes range from easy to complicated and include ingredient lists along with equipment required and a glossary. This would be a great addition to a child's cookbook collection once they've mastered some of the more basic skills.

It is October after all, so I had to include Wormy Apple Croissants and other Halloween recipes by Brekka Hervey Larrew. Here you will find easy to follow recipes for deliciously creepy fare.

Last, but not least, here is Cooking by the Numbers by Cecilia Minden. This is one of several books in the Real World Math series discussing math in everyday situations by this author. This volume looks at how math is utilized in the kitchen when measuring ingredients or making adjustments to recipes. It helps answer a question teachers hear so often, "Why do I need to learn this?"

And now the answers to Friday's Famous Firsts:

1. "Where's Papa going with that ax," said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast. Charlotte's Web by E. B. White

2. Tuesday eveing, around eight. Tuesday by David Wiesner

Friday, October 2, 2009

If you are a fan of children's books...and aren't we all...then get on over to the Cybils -- Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards -- site and nominate your favorite new children's book. The 2009 nominations are open for any children's book published in English between October 16, 2008 and the close of nominations on October 15, 2009. You'll find all the information plus a handy online nomination form.

Here are Friday's Famous Firsts:

1. "Where's Papa going with that ax?" said Fern to her mother as they
were setting the table for breakfast.

2. Tuesday evening, around eight.

Can you identify the title and author who wrote these famous first lines?

The Gingerbread Cowboy Book Trailer