Thursday, December 24, 2009

Details Make a Difference

One of the instructional themes in Teaching the Story is that the details which an author includes make a difference in depicting a character, setting, or time period. I am repeatedly reminded of this fact in my own reading and writing.

Currently I am listening to Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson. This story of a young black female slave in New York City during the American Revolution is full of well-researched details. The foods the characters eat (eel pie, strawberry tarts, turtle soup); the clothes which the slaves wore (rags for gloves in the middle of winter); the fashion of the upper class women (mouse fur for fake eyebrows); the foods which the prisoners shared (buckets of moldy table scraps which friends or family brought)—all of these provide authenticity to Anderson’s thought-provoking story about the struggle for freedom. (By the way, this book would be a great supplement for upper elementary through high school students who are studying this time period. Make sure you download the reading guide and Anderson’s “Behind The Book” also.)

Recently I wrote a scene in my historical novel where my character puts her dog on a leash and walks him. Several days later, I interviewed George Snyder, a native Charlottean who lived in Myers Park in 1950—-the place and time period for my book. While showing me the house he grew up in and talking about his childhood George said, "We all had dogs. They weren't penned like they are nowadays. They would just run after us on our bikes. No one had leashes." I wouldn’t have guessed that in 1950 in Charlotte, NC dogs weren't on leashes. A minor detail, but one that is now correct.



Here is a picture of George pointing out the initials “LS” (for Luther Snyder) carved in the shutters of his grandfather’s eighty-year-old house. It’s an intriguing detail which would be tempting to work into my story. But as Karen Dionne warns in “Fact into Fiction” in the January 2010 issue of Writer’s Digest, “Facts are fun, but if a detail doesn’t move the story forward by establishing the setting, advancing the plot or shedding light on the characters, it doesn’t belong.”

In a few years when you read Half-Truths and you come across a savory detail—be sure that I have thought long and hard about including it. And if initials appear in a shutter somewhere you'll know there is a reason why.
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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Reading, Writing, & Gingerbread Houses

When my daughter Lori graduated from Covenant Day School three years ago, she challenged me by saying, "Mom, you've got a lot of time now. I think you should volunteer somewhere." I don't know about the "lots of time" -- but I did agree that I could be more involved on a volunteer basis in the community. Since my love is literacy, I approached Covenant Day High School and volunteered to coordinate a tutoring program. Together with volunteers from Christ Covenant Church, we are now in our third year. Last year we added a monthly trip to the school library as well as playing educational games when the students are done their work. Here is a slideshow including one of the library trips, tutoring, and our recent holiday party.



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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Scholastic Art and Writing Awards for Grades 7-12

The Alliance for Young Artists & Writers invites students in grades seven to twelve to participate in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards of 2010, the nation's longest-running, largest, most prestigious recognition program for creative teenagers in the literary arts. Scholarships are provided from a pool of $3.25 million in tuition support, the largest source of funding for teens in the arts. The top five writing portfolios submitted by graduating seniors are recognized with Portfolio Gold Awards of $10,000 each. Deadline is January 10, so you'll have something to do when you get back from winter break.
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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

My School in the Rain Forest



Back in November when I was a presenter at AASL, I got to play hostess to several authors who were also attending the event. I warned them ahead of time that the only "payment" I wished to receive was autographed copies of their books. They graciously complied and my library is richer. As I read them, I will share them with you.

My School in the Rain Forest by Margriet Ruurs (Boyds Mills Press, 2009) is a wonderful addition to her other book, My Librarian is a Camel. Through beautiful photographs and interesting text, Ruurs shows how children attend classes in such varied places as an outdoor school under a tree in Kenya, onboard the MV Anastasis hospital ship, and in a floating school on a lake in Cambodia. Children from kindergarten through middle school will learn from this eye-captivating book.



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Saturday, December 5, 2009

A Couch Story

I usually just blog about literacy. But when my daughter Lori (who is studying in Spain) posted this video on Facebook, I couldn't resist sharing it with you. Hope you enjoy it!



Besides...just think of all the literacy skills that were used to put this video together!
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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Look Mom, I'm in Highlights!

Do you remember reading Highlights Magazine in a doctor's office as a kid? Remember the page where other children sent in poetry and drawings? Didn't you always want to see your own work displayed in those pages?

Children's writers and illustrators still aspire to be published in Highlights. For many of us, it's a milestone that once we reach it, we feel that we've finally "arrived."

Joyce Hostetter, and I can now proudly say we have reached that milestone and gone beyond. Yesterday, a staff member of the Highlights Foundation sent out an e-mail quoting articles which Joyce and I had written in Talking Story. For those of you who may not have read them, here is what was delivered to thousands of in-boxes throughout the world yesterday (with the addition of a few pictures):

What I Did on My Summer Vacation
By Joyce Hostetter and Carol Baldwin
Excerpted by permission from Talking Story, a newsletter by Joyce Hostetter and Carol Baldwin.

By Carol
When Joyce suggested this title for an article, we both laughed. How many of you remember writing that familiar essay?

I was fortunate to travel five times this summer. The most exotic destination was fourteen days in Austria, the Czech Republic, and Germany. The most writing-intensive destination was the Highlights Foundation Writers Workshop in Chautauqua, New York. For years I dreamed of attending; and when my writing buddy decided to go, we took the plunge, paid our deposits, and signed up.



Joyce said it would be life changing. I'm expecting she'll be right.
If you're serious about writing or illustrating for children, this is an event you want to attend. For five days, one hundred-plus participants are surrounded by a faculty of twenty-two authors, illustrators, and editors whose desire is to see you produce your best possible work and get it published. Workshops, speeches, networking times, and critique sessions with faculty stuff each day to the brim.

I was challenged by both Patti Gauch and Harold Underdown (my critiquer) to find out what the character in my historical novel truly wants. Patti said that this desire must be the "arrow that drives the book." I learned about dialogue from Donna Jo Napoli, a sense of place from Kim Griswell (pictured below), and about beginnings and endings from Peter Jacobi. There were forty-five workshops offered—more than enough to inform and saturate every participant.



One of the benefits of the intimate atmosphere was schmoozing with other aspiring writers, famous authors, and accessible editors. I think I'll never forget the image of Jerry Spinelli (pictured below), walking hand-in-hand with his granddaughters to the bus taking us to a picnic. With his flannel shirt and jeans, he is the most casual famous individual I've ever met. (His granddaughter, by the way, had an autograph book and was collecting autographs of other writers. I think she was sweetly oblivious to the fact that her grandfather was probably the most famous writer there.) I enjoyed meeting Carolyn Yoder, Joyce's editor, and Andy Boyles, the science editor at Boyds Mills Press, who expressed interest in my glass book.
Life changing? Stay tuned. I'll let you know as the year progresses and I practice what I learned in beautiful Chautauqua, New York.


________________________________________
By Joyce

I, for one, would love to go to Chautauqua every summer. But Chautauqua is more like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. So I didn't let my mind dwell on that idea.
Instead I planned to mostly stay at home. I was tired of traveling during the school year and wanted to save my away time for a writing retreat in late summer.
So during the last full week of August, I indulged in a week in northeastern Pennsylvania at one of the Highlights Founders Workshops. These events, no matter the workshop title, are writer's heaven. At each one I've attended, I've grown as a writer and made new friends.
This event was a writing retreat with my Calkins Creek editor, Carolyn Yoder, and ten alumni retreaters.
I enjoyed
my own cabin with coffeepot and drinks in the fridge;
one-on-one critiques with Carolyn;
writing all week!;
writer friendships;
phenomenal food; and
Sunning weather.
It was the perfect summer vacation!

For more information about the Highlights Foundation Writers Workshop at Chautauqua or our Founders Workshops near Honesdale, Pennsylvania, visit www.highlightsfoundation.org or contact Jo Lloyd at contact@highlightsfoundation.org.
Please feel free to share this e-mail with others who may be interested.
Talking Story is a newsletter produced by authors Joyce Hostetter and Carol Baldwin
Highlights Magazine, HIghlights Founders Workshop, Calkins Creek, Highlights Writers Workshop, Joyce Hostetter, Talking Story

Friday, November 27, 2009

Writing into the Unknown

The last time you enjoyed a novel I bet you didn't stop to think if the author deliberated over what point of view to use, if she worried over the scene sequence, or if she wondered about just how much dialect to include. My guess is that you didn't question why the author gave the protagonist a dog rather than a cat as a pet and you didn't stop to wonder why the author included what the antagonist ate for dinner one night or what type of car her father drove. If the novel was written well, then you didn't stop to think about any of these questions because the book was seamless. The story flowed and you allowed yourself to be carried along with the current.

I'm on the opposite end of that process. I'm trolling about for the pieces that will fit together to create my story. I'm sitting down at a blank screen with thoughts sparking in my brain but not a clear idea of how they will come together. As a nonfiction writer, I feel more comfortable describing the intricate process of making a glass paperweight then imagining the conversation between my characters. Fiction feels a lot like I'm jumping off a cliff and I'm not exactly sure where I'll land. It is, as I wrote to my friend, Joyce Hostetter, writing into the unknown.

But as I explore Charlotte in 1950, the setting for my middle grade fiction, I'm meeting and talking to wonderful people who willingly share their stories. Already I have talked with several women who were pictured on the cover of LIFE magazine in July of 1951. One woman asked me why I was writing this book and wondered if it wouldn't be easier to write about something I already knew. I laughed, agreed, and said, But this is so much fun!" I paused and then added, "And I'm learning a lot too.

I find that as I tackle this project I need "real" prompts to weave together my story. I refer to several Norman Rockwell books of illustrations. My newspaper clippings file of Charlotte's history grows. I watch TV documentaries and plan to scour the public library to uncover what was newsworthy in the south in the summer of 1950. I'm looking forward to interviewing Charles Jones, one of the individuals who led 200 people to protest segregation in Charlotte in 1960. Each person I speak to adds another dimension to my story; each article another tidbit. With their voices in my head, their words recorded in my laptop, their pictures staring at me from books, I feel more equipped--but ultimately, when I sit down to write, I'm still writing into the unknown.
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Monday, November 23, 2009

NCCAT: Looking Back and Looking Forward

LOOKING BACK

Before we left our week at NCCAT, participants shared what they learned and Henry Wong, the NCCAT Center Fellow, led the group in song and dance. During the week several teachers wrote ABC books. Reflecting their work and honoring everyone's efforts, several teachers wrote the following ABC book and read it that morning. (Inside jokes are explained below.) If you're a North Carolina teacher who has always wanted to learn more about writing and publishing for children, I hope this poem and the movie which follows, will whet your appetite. Maybe you'll decide to apply and join us next year!

The ABC's of NCCAT

A is for AUTHORS that's what we want to be.
B is for BELLY-LAUGHS coming from you and me.
C is for CAKES and COOKIES that made us nice and fat.
D is for DIET which we'll start when we get back.
E is for EVERYONE working together.
F is for FRIENDSHIPS that will last forever.
G is for GIRLS and one token boy.
H is for HENRY who brought us metamorphic joy.
I is IMAGERY to make our writing flow.
J is for JOYCE and Carol the dynamic duo.
K is for KNOWLEDGE which we gained throughout the week.
L is for LINDA who never missed a beat.
M is for MORE DETAILS but all we heard was "MEH."*
N is for NCCAT a week of pure bliss.
O is for OUR trips which you didn't want to miss.
P is for PASSION each one of us discovered.
Q is for QUERY which Nina** uncovered.
R is for REVIVE, REJUVENATE, RESTORE.
S is for SUNDAY when we came to learn more.
T is for TEACHERS from all over the state.
U is for UNDISCOVERED stores we have yet to create.
V is for VARIETY which each of us displayed.
W is for WEATHER, it rained night and day.
X is for eXtreme work we did as a team.
Y is for YEARNING. We all have a dream.
And Z is for .....ZEBRA.***

* One teacher wrote a funny story about a cat whose thoughts were consistently heard as, "Meh."
**Nina Bagley led the group in creating altered books.
*** What else could "Z" be for?



LOOKING FORWARD
As we leave NCCAT, Joyce Hostetter (my fellow presenter), and I are already brainstorming how we would improve the workshop. She just posted a video on her blog which we will most likely show next year. This book trailer from Invisible Lines truly demonstrates the writing/revising cycle which is inherent in the writing process. Take a minute to view it. It is instructive for writers, teachers, and students.



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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Great Writing Resources for Children’s Writers


Hello from Cullowhee, North Carolina- home of NCCAT where Joyce Hostetter and I are teaching the seminar, "Is There a Children's Book in You?" We are acting as midwives-- helping 21 talented teachers from across the state write picture books, early chapter books, and novels.

Here are some writing resources I have collected for them, as well as for any of you who are also interested in writing and publishing for children.

HELPFUL WRITING WEBSITES:
Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators
Children's Book Insider

GRAPHIC NOVELS WEBSITES:

MAGAZINE WEBSITES:

EDUCATIONAL MATERIALS WEBSITES

http://ngsp.com/ National Geographic School Publishing. Materials for the classroom. *****

http://www.outofthecradle.net/categories/lunar-library/youth/youth-educator-materials/ *****

https://www.secureaep.com/awards/attendees.php - Get a list of the 500 people who attended the Association of Educational Publishers summit on publishing for the digital future. **

http://www.evan-moor.com/Science/Catalog.aspx?CurriculumID=6 – An example of one educational publisher, Evan Moor. **

http://www.prufrock.com/ Publishes materials for gifted children ***

http://www.pearsonhighered.com/ Megabig publisher for school materials ****
http://www.pearsonhighered.com/educator/hip_main_content/1,3120,-802,00.html ) author's guidelines for Pearson's companies

http://www.readingprograms.info/ed_pubs.html **** lists websites of major educational publishers

http://www.buzzle.com/chapters/education-and-higher-learning_teachers-guide-and-related-resources_publishers-and-publishing.asp *****-lists of educational publishers

PROPOSAL WEBSITES


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Monday, November 9, 2009

Books, Librarians, & Friends

As a presenter last week at AASL in Charlotte, I had the opportunity to meet media specialists from all over the country. I was deluged by librarians for my poster session on "Wikis, Red Font, & Revision: Ride the Revision Wave of the Future." Willing participants learned how to exercise muscle words: vivid verbs, specific nouns, image-driven adjectives, similes, metaphors, personification, onomatopoeia, and alliteration. I talked with dozens of people about using wikis to practice word processing and revision skills. I just about lost my voice.

On Friday, in my session on "Learn from the Masters: How Creating a Fictional Character and Setting Enhances Reading Instruction," I read selections from six mentor novels: Blue, Imitate the Tiger, Write Before Your Eyes, Double Helix, Cecelia's Harvest, and Milkweed. In small groups librarians enjoyed brainstorming characters FAST as well as writing sensory settings.



After the sessions, particpants told me they were excited about sharing these activities with the English teachers in their schools. Both days ended with pictures of me with my friends Margriet Ruurs, Joyce Hostetter, and of course...books. This sculpture is conveniently located across from the Charlotte Convention Center where the conference was held.

Teaching the Story sold out and I went home exhausted and satisfied. Two good days work.

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Authors Visit


Since I live in the city where AASL is having their national conference, and since my passion is writing and books, then you may have guessed that besides presenting two workshops, I invited several author friends to spend the night here. The only "price" to stay at my home was a copy of a book--which these three authors cheerfully paid. Left to right in this picture is:
Louise Hawes, North Carolina author of Black Pearls.. Watch the book trailer on her website and you'll be hooked!
Clay Carmichael, another North Carolina whose new book Wild Things is receiving wonderful reviews.
Margriet Ruurs is the author of many picture books, several novels, a few books for Maupin House, and edits a wonderful online magazine which publishes children's' work.

Excuse me now. I have some reading to catch up on!
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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Day of Tears: A Novel in Dialogue


Julian Lester's thought-provoking book, A Day of Tears, builds a fictional story out of of a real event: the day when the most slaves in American history--over400--were sold at one auction. The place is Savannah, Georgia, the time is 1859 and the slaveowner is Pierce Butler who is "forced" to sell his slaves to pay off his gambling debts. Known afterwards as "The Weeping Time," the four days were marked by torrential rain; thus the tie-in to the title of the book.

Many fine books have been written depicting the harsh and unjust conditions surrounding slavery. Jester's novel distinguishes itself by giving voice to each character who plays a part in the drama. As a result of sparse narrative, the reader is engaged in the immediacy of the setting and conflicts. Instead of the traditional novel format, Lester relies primarily on monologues to tell the story. Readers hear the voices of Pierce, his abolitionist wife Fanny Kemble, their two daughters (with two very different points of view on slavery), the auctioneer, several slaves (also with different perspectives on slavery), and the man who helps some of the slaves escape to Cincinnati. Interludes within the main story fast forward the action as the characters reflect upon the years and events that transpired after that pivotal day. The reader watches as families are torn apart--both slaves and their owners--over an issue that divided our country.

I listened to the book on CD and found the acting compelling. Even without much actual physical description of the characters, I could imagine them talking directly to me.

Since the book candidly shows a variety of perspectives on the same event, it makes an excellent Social Studies resource for classes studying the Antebellum Age in the south. In addition, language arts teachers should point out the different uses of syntax, word choice, and dialect to make the voice of each character distinct and powerful. Given the way it is written, this would be an excellent choice for readers theater in middle school or high school classrooms.

The author's notes at the end include glimpses into some of the resources which Lester used to write the book. Since I am researching my own historical novel, I was particularly interested in his resources. He cites a pamphlet "What Became of the Slaves on a Georgia Plantation?" which is in the Library of Congress and can be viewed online. Written by an observer to the entire event, it provides "up close and personal" details of the auction and makes a terrific companion tool to this book.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Monday Morning Mini-Blog



After my last blog post on Incognegro, my editor informed me that Maupin House has started a new blog for teachers for the forthcoming book, Teaching Graphic Novels by Katie Monnin. If this is a genre you use in your classroom, be sure to check out the blog and the book.






Last night I was moseying around on the internet and checked out my friend Joyce Hostetter's blog to see her latest post. She is my co-author for the newsletter Talking Story, and I was delighted to find a terrific summary of our latest issue. I hope you'll take a minute to visit her blog and then decide to subscribe to our newsletter. Our goal is to provide information about books as well as writing resources for teachers, media specialists, homeschool parents, and writers. Let us know how we're doing!






Friday, October 23, 2009

Incognegro

Researching an historical novel can take you many different places. Looking to expand my understanding of my young, light-skinned African American character, I searched my local library for books on multi-racial issues. One of the books which popped up was Incognegro, a graphic novel written by Mat Johnson and illustrated by Warren Pleece (DC Comics, 2008).

I am new to this genre, and admittedly brought a dose of skepticism to the book. I wondered if it would really be anything more than a glorified comic book. My embarrassment aside, I can now unequivocally say that yes, this illustrated novel is far different than the Archie comic books of my elementary school years.

Johnson tells the story of a light-skinned Harlem journalist, Zane Pinchback, who reports on lynchings. Zane can easily “pass” and publishes under his pseudonym, Incognegro . But he longs to “come out” and be a part of the Harlem Renaissance. Before he has a chance to do that, his boss asks him to investigate the arrest of a black man in Tupelo, Mississippi, accused of murdering a white woman. The black man is his dark-skinned brother Alonzo, and Zane has no choice but to go undercover again.

The short novel portrays the dangers he and his light-skinned friend Carl experience as they fool the “crackers” they meet in Mississippi. There are multiple twists and turns in this short 134-page book which surprise and confront the reader. Through realistic dialogue and vivid pictures, the time period is explicitly portrayed--including sub-plots depicting rural southern white prejudice.

Since Johnson did not hold back on time and race appropriate language or on his portrayal of violence and sexual liaisons, I would recommend this book for mature teens. My main issue with the book is that I found transitions between events difficult to follow; I had to reread sections to totally understand what was happening.

Incognegro’s portrayal of historical events will be an asset in the social studies and American history classrooms.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

How are You Celebrating the National Day on Writing?

October 20th is National Day on Writing. I'm celebrating the day by sharing a book that I have just begun to read as I research my young adult historical novel.

Notes of a White Black Woman (Pennsylvania State University Press: 1995) was written by lawyer Judy Scales-Trent. it is a collection of autobiographical essays about her experience as a light-skinned African American woman. It not only gives me insight into the issues she struggled with growing up, it also causes me to evaluate my own preconceived notions about race and color.

This segment is from her observations of generations of photographs in a family album:

"When you look at the photograph of my mother and her sisters, you see that two of the women have white skin. So did my uncle, Big Buddy. But then, when you turn the page to look at the photograph of the grandchildren, it almost takes your breath away, for these are all brown-skinned children. Their skin color ranges from light brown to dark brown, but it is clear that these are not white children....

I am just now realizing that I was so anxious about how they [the dark-skinned men Scales-Trent dated] viewed my color that I did not consider the value I attached to theirs. For it is very likely that without any instruction, without conscious plan, without even thinking about it, I--and perhaps others in my family--thought seriously about skin color when I thought about who would be the father of my children. For this is a country where it is dangerous to be too dark, and where it is wrong to be too light." (p. 48-9)

As a writer, I am indebted to other writers, such as Scales-Trent, who have shared their research and/or life experiences. My work will be richer as a result of their work and honest self-exploration. And that is definitely a reason to celebrate good writers and the writing craft.

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Monday, October 12, 2009

The Making of a Young Writer


Corey Heyward, a senior at Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School, first contacted me with questions about self-publishing. She had written and illustrated a children’s book for her graduation project and was trying to figure out how to proceed. I was intrigued with Corey’s interest and decided to interview her.

I found out that her children’s book was only one of four requirements which she needed to accomplish before graduation: Paper, Portfolio, Product, and Presentation. Corey chose to write a children's book because she loves to write. She said, “Since my topic, ‘The influence of the media on the environment’ talks a lot about green lifestyles in schools, I figured that writing a children's book about the environment would be perfect.”

When I asked her why she picked her topic, she replied, “I have always had a concern for the environment even when I was little. I used to want to grow up and be a part of the EPA. Plus, the environment is controversial enough to make my paper and project interesting.”

Corey’s book is titled, “The Birthday of Earth Day.” The two main characters are a squirrel and a rabbit who watch school children celebrate Earth Day.



These lines are from the perspective of a wise turtle who joins them:

“Every year, people are thankful for the Earth and all that it brings,
And they show their thanks,” croaked the turtle, “by doing nice things.

Like picking up trash,” he explained, “or saving a tree,
Or protecting the homes of little animals like you and me.”

By the end, the moral is clear:

“The squirrel, rabbit, and turtle watched until the kids finished their garden of green
And had given the plants water and picked up all trash they had seen.

All children and animals went home, the end of the day drawing near,
Wishing they could celebrate the Earth every day, instead of once a year."




Corey worked with Universal Printing who helped her decide things like size, color or non-color, the type of cover, stitching, etc. When she completed the book, she formatted it using InDesign and received instructions on how to upload it onto their website. To her delight, the proof was ready in less than a week.

I applaud Corey’s persistence in writing, illustrating, and self-publishing her first book. She’s planning on studying archeology in college next year, but we might want to watch for her name on Amazon in a few years!
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Monday, October 5, 2009

Vivid Verbs at Work



This sign is posted at the Ft. Fisher Aquaraium . During a recent visit with my two granddaughters I snapped a picture to share with all of you. Some folks really know how to exercise muscle words!

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Book Pleasures Plus

If you are a reader intereseted in locating a review, or if you're a writer interested in having your book reviewed, check out the Book Pleasures website. I found this international community of over 40 reviewers that review all genres by subscribing to Reporter's Source (more on that in a minute). Book Pleasures has been in existence for over 5 years, receives 7000 unique visitors per week, and has posted over 4000 book reviews and over 500 author interviews.

After I contacted Norm Goldman, the publisher of Book Pleasures, with an e-mail about Teaching the Story, he forwarded my request to his staff. Two individuals responded with interest, and at this point, one has reviewed my book. Click here to read Wendy Thomas' wonderful review; click here to read her interview of me.

If you are a writer looking for ways to increase your visibility to the general public, you might consider signing up for the Reporter's Source newsletter. The daily e-mail is a a free service which links journalists and other members of the media with businesses and individuals who can provide relevant information.

And while I'm talking about making your skills and talents known to journalists who need your story, consider signing up for HARO. You will receive three e-mails a day with a list of about 20 journalists who are looking for experts on a wide variety of topics. So far I have been interviewed for an article on "What it Takes to be a Teacher" (Click "Read the List Now" and go to page 12 to read my quote.) And I'm in the process of considering being a member of a the Ziggity Zoom Advisory Board.

And you thought that all that writers did was write. If only that were true!
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Saturday, September 19, 2009

No Rules

If given the option, I could much easier describe a crimson leaf that is heralding the approaching season, then picking the words my character, Kate Dinsmore, uses when talking to her sister Ginny. It feels as if there are no rules when writing my story. Of course there are reams of guidelines and lots of books on how to write fiction. But until I write my unique story that is taking place in Charlotte, NC in 1950, it has never existed before.

I can’t describe how my character looks, the clothes she wears, or her peculiar mannerisms until I create her. I can’t predict how she’ll react to getting snubbed at cotillion because it hasn’t happened yet. I don’t know what Kate will say when she meets Lillie, the light-skinned African American granddaughter of her grandmother’s cook. How (and why?) would they develop a friendship? What obstacles will they meet? If Kate visits Lillie in her home in Griertown, what will happen there? All of these are unanswered question because very simply, the story isn’t written yet. No rules. No road map.

It’s frustrating, exciting, and challenging—all in one. And that’s why I’m a huge fan of students learning to write fiction. Imaginations are stretched as young authors build their own mini-world in which original characters lose a soccer game, compete in a difficult karate match, fail a driver’s test, or do any number of things which make for an interesting story. And the author must plan the story so that events build to a satisfactory and logical conclusion.

Of course there are rules. One of most important ones for students to learn is that the imaginary world they have created must be believable. That means that very few 12-year-old girls take full charge of 5 younger siblings when their parents die or very few 16-year-old boys save the world single-handily from nuclear destruction.

For me, it means finding out what happens when a 13-year-old Caucasian girl who doesn’t fit in with the upper-crust society she is thrust into, and a 14-year-old light-skinned African American who feels different than the rest of her community--meet.

Stay tuned. I suspect I may discover this story just a step ahead of you. And in the process, I hope I create a story as beautiful and unique as these flaming red leaves in Crossville, Tennessee.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Talking Story is Live!


For days my fellow author, Joyce Hostetter, has been tweaking our newsletter, Talking Story. Writing the articles was the easy part. Putting it all together was another story. Although I moaned and groaned about the hours I spent editing and uploading addresses, to be honest, Joyce conceived the project and is responsible for how professional it looks. If you didn't receive a copy in your in-box today, click here, and you'll go right to it.

It feels good to have published this issue. As icing on the cake, I was delighted that my former editor at Maupin House, Emily Raij, chose to blog about us today.

My husband and I are in Crossville, Tn. for a few days of R & R. For him, that means golf and tennis. For me, it means 3 R's-Reading (Joyce's "Work in Progress" about a WWII conscientous objector); 'riting (time to get back to my historical novel. Hmmm...last I worked on it was in July. Where in the world was I?); and Recreating (have bikes, will travel.)

Sounds like a winning combination to me!
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Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Future of Books is Not Dead!


As Mark Twain once said, "The report of my death was an exaggeration." I hope the same can be said about books.

One fear that I have heard writers express, is that books, as you and I have known and loved them, are becoming extinct. The rumor in the publishing industry is that Kindle and other hand-held electronic devices, will replace hard cover novels, soft cover paperbacks, newspapers, magazines and every other form of print media.

But wow can you curl up on a sofa or in front of a fire with a hand-held 6" screen? How can you share the pictures of Winnie-the-Pooh's treks with Piglet with your six-year-old on a monitor that fits into the palm of your hand?

An article in The Charlotte Observer's business section on September 4 helps relieve these anxieties. According to "Electronic readers' high prices might limit appeal," the high price of the readers ($199 - $489) will limit the consumer base. According to analyst Sarah Rotman Epps, "The majority of consumers don't care enough about reading or technology to invest in this type of single purpose device at anything close to realistic prices." While I wish that Epps' thought about reading wasn't true, I think she has a very valid point about the cost.

The Kindle's credentials are impressive. Long battery life makes it extremely portable. And with a 1500 book capacity, it would take a long time to read all the books I could download to a tiny reader.

But that's a steep price tag to pay for the privilege of toting my library in my purse or backpack.

Call me old-fashioned, but I like to feel the pages I am turning and love the smell of old, musty books. I like to look at the cover of a book and think about what's inside. With my over-50-years-old-eyes, I don't want to have to be squinting at a small screen, or have to enlarge every article so big that I can only see a portion of one paragraph.

Mark Twain, you don't have to turn over in your grave. Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer will still find their way into the hearts--and hands of readers. Hopefully, for a very long time to come.
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