Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Taking Stock and Tag, You're It!

     So I've been tagged - TWICE!  Sher A. Hart: My Best Part and Clarike Bowman-Jahn have lonnggg lists of questions on their blogs to answer. Since I'm on a roll today editing-wise, I'm combining the two lists and answering ten this morning to save time.
    As I thought about each answer, I surprised myself with some of the responses. Sometimes it's fun to reassess where you stand as a writer and what/who has influenced you along the way. Here goes:
Name your top three favorite books: This changes constantly! Right now it's Daughter of Smoke and Bone, The Book Thief, and The Disenchantments.
Favorite Genre for Reading and Writing:  I read Young Adult and write Middle Grade.
Favorite Websites/Blogs That Have Helped You Develop as a Writer: and Verla Kay's Message Board.
Favorite Character You'd Like to Use in Your Own Book: Gilly Hopkins from The Great Gilly Hopkins is feisty and vulnerable, a good combination character to mix things up while keeping it real.
Have You Ever Helped a New Writer Before and What Does It Feel Like? Yes, I have. I'm a co-network rep for SCBWI-Illinois so I get to help writers in our area. Some are experienced, others are new to writing so I get to steer them (hopefully) in the right direction. It's very satisfying to offer encouragement!
Are you on Facebook or Google Plus? Both actually, but Google Plus doesn't work for me. It's redundant in my opinion. It hasn't shown me that it's any better than Facebook. I don't need another distraction so I don't use it.
What's One Item You Always Buy at the Grocery Store? Fresh strawberries! And when I find a really good sale, I cut them up and freeze them.
Where In the World Would You Like to Go? In the U.S., I have 3 more states to go to until I've visited them all - Alaska, Hawaii, and Delaware. In the world, Ireland & Scotland.
When Visiting Other Blogs, What Bothers You Most? Design. If there's too much stuff in the sidebar, too many gadgets and flashing things, I get distracted. I'm there for the writing and/or information, not the bells and whistles.
If You Could Have One Superpower, What Would it Be? I'd definitely be invisible! Then I could stare and eavesdrop on people without seeming to be a social misfit/stalker/creepy person.
     I'll tag some folks in another post. Right now the manuscript is calling my name, and I gotta listen when that happens!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Lights, Camera, Hugo!

     Our writer's group went to see The Invention of Hugo Cabret the other night at an historic theater in downtown Normal. The outing was hugely fun, with dinner beforehand and a two-block walk to the theater for the 7 p.m. showing. Some of us had read the book already and most had seen the movie at least once.
     If you don't know the story, I won't give away any spoilers but here's a summary: the story follows a young orphan in 1930s Paris while he works in the walls of the city's train station tending the clocks. At the heart of the story, the boy is obsessed with restoring an automaton which he and his father worked on before his father's untimely death. It's based on the Caldecott-winning picture book/novel by Brian Selznick. With a name like Selznick, I was curious to know if he had a Hollywood lineage. Sure enough, when I looked him up, I found he is the first cousin, twice removed, of David O. Selznick, producer of Gone With the Wind, Academy Award winner for Best Picture of the year in 1939 (I recognized the name only because I was obsessed with GWTW as a teen).
     From Selznick's website, he reports that Hugo was inspired by a passage in the book, Edison’s Eve. It  tells of a collection of automata that belonged to moviemaker George Melies. After Melies's death,  the automata were tossed in the garbage by the museum staff. Selznick, a fan of Melies and automata, was fascinated, imagining a young boy finding an automaton in the trash.
     Hugo has been nominated for Academy Awards in eleven categories, including Best Picture and Best Director (Martin Scorcese)! It was a fantastic movie, and Selznick's story deserves the accolades. I'd love to see another Selznick creation win an Oscar.
     Here's to Hugo - cheers!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Valentine for Christmas

     Seeing that title, you're thinking I'm confused, right? It's Valentine's Day after all. What does this holiday have to do with Christmas? Quite a bit actually, at least in my house. Let me tell you the story:
     Back in 2002, I discovered the Society of Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators and decided to start writing exclusively for kids. I was a writer long before that, having worked on newspapers since high school. But after seeing a brief in the newspaper about a children's writing workshop at Augustana College, I signed up. That's where I learned about SCBWI and all that it offered a fledgling childrens writer like me.
Esther Howland valentine, circa 1850
     In the beginning, I made a list of goals: write everyday, submit something every week; have five pieces circulating at one time. I hoped to sell a non-fiction piece first, since that was my 'specialty'.  Later that year, after researching, revising, and hand-wringing when I finally worked up the courage to send them off, one of my stories sold to Highlights for Children magazine. My very first sale! I was yell-from-the-rooftops, jump-over-the-moon excited! And so was the rest of my family.
     The story was about Esther Howland, a 19th-century New Englander who started her own valentine-making company. Mid-century, she was the largest company in the United States, grossing over $100,000 with the cards that she and a handful of local women assembled in the attic workshop of Howland's home in Worcester, Massachussetts. I read her story in a local newspaper article and it fascinated me, as well as the photos of the delicate, multi-layered valentines.
    Flash forward four months to the Christmas after I'd made the Highlights sale. My husband has always had the gift for finding me just the right present, but that year he topped them all, past and (mostly likely) future. His gift was perfect: romantic, creative, and very personal. Contacting one of the sources I'd used for the article, a lady who collected antique valentines and had Howland valentines of her own, he asked to buy one for me to commemorate my first sale.
     Needless to say, I was stunned when I unwrapped the valentine, encased in a heavy plastic sleeve, and read the collector's accompanying letter. She wrote she had never sold one of her valentines before, had no intention of doing so again, but this was an 'extenuating circumstance'. Indeed, it was. I look at the valentine now, framed and hanging in our front room, as a token of love and recognition for an important milestone. I can't imagine a more thoughtful gift.
     Happy Valentine's Day everyone!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Freeing Yourself with Free Verse: Mini Challenge #4

     The Monday Mini Challenge is a 5-minute writing exercise inspired in part by an excerpt of a middle-grade or young adult novel I've recently read. Use it as a warm-up, a procrastination device, or maybe (let's be hopeful) a springboard to a real, live writing project! 
     I was all set to give you a Challenge on Dialogue this morning, but a post last Friday at Swagger Writers prompted a detour into a poetry exercise. SW blogger Regina Gort's self-affirming poem, which she wrote in a group poetry therapy session, was inspirational enough that I wanted to try it the next morning as a writing prompt. If you want to try it yourself, here's the post.
     And it got me thinking about poetry in general, bringing to mind the free verse novel which I really enjoyed last month, Chasing Brooklyn by Lisa Schroeder. Brooklyn is one of the main characters, a girl who is haunted by the ghost of her friend, Gabe, who has recently died. She wonders why the ghost isn't her boyfriend, Lucca, who died a year earlier. Instead, Lucca's ghost is trying to get his brother, Nico (the other main character), to reach out to Brooklyn.
     It's beautifully written in its alternating point-of-view, with a lyrical freshness full of raw emotion. One passage in the middle is a good example of what to expect from the rest of the novel:
     Sitting in my chair,
     writing in my notebook,
     a cold invisible feather
     tickles my cheek.
     A soft brush
     of whispers
     strokes my hair.
     There is nothing to see.
     Nothing to hear.
     But I know with all my being
     Gabe is with me
     in my lair.
     Chilling, yes? How might have the passage been different if the author chose to write it in a straight narrative form? I doubt it could have a greater impact but it'd be interesting to see the result.
     Your turn! Take a paragraph or two of something you've already written and try it in free verse. Listen to sounds patterns, repetition, and syllable counts when you read it aloud.
     Ready, set, go!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Friday Five: Enrich Your Writing By NOT Writing!

This plaque is more inspiring than the
messy desk edited from the photo!
   While taking a break from revising, I took stock of my writing room and noticed all of the STUFF I've surrounded myself with to keep me company every day while I work. Then I started thinking of the ways we feed our creativity. One of my writer friends knits beautiful baby sweaters. Another volunteers at a home daycare once a week to lead a craft project, so she can stay connected with kids since her own have grown up.
     Here are some ways I feed my creativity:

  1. Reaching out to other writers by joining social networks. A biggie! This week I learned that Rachael Harrie is hosting another Platform Building Crusade. I met many of you last fall during her Third Challenge. If you're interested in signing up again, go to her website to learn more. 
  2. See that plaque up above? It's a little thing, but inspiring sayings make me happy. They affirm our beliefs and affirmation of any kind feeds the creative spirit, yes? 
  3. Nature is a biggie for me, too. Walking my dog, working in the garden, and even shoveling snow helps clear my head and gives me a fresh perspective on a writing roadblock sometimes. 
  4. Working with another medium. Playing an instrument, painting, weaving, and working with clay are other ways we can still 'create' when we need a break from writing. Multi-media collage fascinates me at the moment (maybe I'll show you my little project soon). Two of my favorite collage artists are Corrine Smith and Ardith Goodwin
  5. Share an experience with one of your characters. Okay, this is technically called research, but that sounds like drudgery. What does your main character do in his or her free time? Maybe this activity isn't something that even appears in the book, but it will go a long way for getting to know that character's desires and what makes them tick. Maybe it's bowling, putting together an ant farm, making a fort out of the couch cushions and a sheet (what will your kids think when they see you doing THIS? 'Mommy's really lost it this time, hasn't she?').
     How do you feed your creativity?

    Tuesday, February 7, 2012

    Igniting the Spark

         Last Friday I was invited by a school organization to talk with 60 high school students about writing. Loved it. Though I'm not a natural at public speaking, get me talking about writing and I can go on and on.
         I could tell some kids in the audience would rather have been back in their classrooms, heads bent over their books, pretending to read, and instead catching a few zzzz's before the bell rang for the next period. But others listened, bright-eyed and leaning forward in their seats. Seeing them, I knew if they weren't already writing their own stories, they would be soon. They had that look in their eye.
         I remember the first time I realized I could be a writer, and would be a writer someday.  Mrs. Clarke, my fourth grade teacher, invited her friend to visit our class and talk about writing. I wish I could remember who she was or what she wrote, but she stood in front of our class holding two of her books to her chest, and I remember thinking, wow! she actually MADE that book! There was a real live person who created that very real book, and not some ambiguous name on a cover in the library. The realization was electric! I thought, I can write stories and see my name in print someday. I can do that, too!
         And that someday came true, thanks in part to Mrs. Clarke's author friend.
         What about you? Who inspired you to be a writer?

    Friday, February 3, 2012

    Autographs, Blog Hops & ABC Friday Five

       In the spirit of signing up for a blog challenge (more on that later), I'm attempting to be mildly creative with my Friday Five post. Can I find something worthy to say about my writing week with the first five letters of the alphabet? We'll see...
    1. Found an AUTOGRAPHED copy of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars at the grocery store yesterday. Yeah, that's right...the grocery store. The yellow 'Signed Copy' sticker caught my eye after the graphic black, white and blue cover. Opened it up and sure enough, his scrawled initials in black Sharpie were there. 
    2. BLOGGING. Signed up for the 'Blogging from 'A to Z' Challenge' which starts in April.  Sign up here if you're up for posting daily during the month about something relating to each letter of the alphabet (see, told you I'd fill you in).
    3. Revisions are giving me brain CRAMPS! In the process of cutting, rearranging, and rewriting, I'm wanting to SEE everything at once. Tried a Post-It arrangement on the wall (worked for the last manuscript) but have progressed to a poster board timeline with a one-line chapter summary along said timeline. Not sure it's serving the purpose but it sure is pretty.
    4. DOGS helping literacy was in the news this week. Students at Dudley Elementary School in Rocky Mount, VA read to therapy pooches and their trainers during the week. The kids get reading practice and an audience which doesn't correct their mistakes. After posting this link on Facebook, I found out that my local elementary school brings in dogs for the reading program, too. And I sub there on a weekly basis! How did I not know this?
    5. EDUCATING about 75 high school students on writing for children today. Talking to young people about my passion for writing and books is the best! 
    Have a fantastic weekend everyone!

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