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


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.
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?

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.

Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators
Children's Book Insider



EDUCATIONAL MATERIALS WEBSITES National Geographic School Publishing. Materials for the classroom. ***** ***** - Get a list of the 500 people who attended the Association of Educational Publishers summit on publishing for the digital future. ** – An example of one educational publisher, Evan Moor. ** Publishes materials for gifted children *** Megabig publisher for school materials ****,3120,-802,00.html ) author's guidelines for Pearson's companies **** lists websites of major educational publishers *****-lists of educational publishers


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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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GIRL ON FIRE: A Graphic Novel Review by Guest Blogger, Elliott Kurta

Written by a Grammy-winning musician,  Girl on Fire  is Alicia Keys ’ latest project. Aimed at mature middle-schoolers, this graphic novel i...