Thursday, January 26, 2012

Wild Onions, Orange Popsicles, and Truth

Yesterday Joyce Hostetter and I brainstormed our upcoming workshop for the Write2Ignite conference. We have presented “Using Life Experiences to Inform Your Writing” at other venues, but we like to tweak it each time to make it fresh.

We introduce ourselves by each reading a passage that springboards from our own life experiences.  Previously, I have read from an article for adults in which I show my father’s story-reading influence upon me as a writer. Joyce challenged me use a childhood memory that has impacted my current work in progress, Half-Truths.

We always begin this workshop by providing sensory stimuli to help prompt memories.  Participants build upon these experiences in two different writing activities. Yesterday Joyce and I chewed over how to help writers get to the essence, or “truth” of those memories.

Joyce and I embracing the book sculptures on The Green
in Charlotte, NC

After our conversation, I e-mailed Joyce and asked to clarify what she meant about the discovering the truth of an experience. She replied,

“In the shed scene in BLUE, I refer to the smell of oil and dirt and how that reminds Ann Fay of her Daddy.  But for me, the smell of dirt and oil reminds me mostly of summer days when I would go to the garage and take an inner tube down from a pole on the wall and go to the pond to swim. 

“I could describe my own experience in the book – I could talk about hearing the screen door slam as I left the house, running to the garage to beat my siblings to the biggest inner tube, smelling the mix of dirt and oil on the old garage floor, and looping the inner tube over my arm with my towel as I walked to the pond.

“Instead I took a smell that has good memories and applied it to Ann Fay’s daddy and her longing for him. The trick is using details to give life to our stories without simply writing a fictionalized memoir— in other words— pulling nuggets from our lives to inform our writing but not to dictate a scene."

I read Joyce’s email and then went outside to do yard work.  As I raked and weeded I thought about Joyce’s challenge: to see if a nugget from my past could inform my work. I dug up wild onions, smelled them, remembered their odor, and wondered if one of main characters would ever sniff wild onions. I came inside and wrote this poem from Kate Dinsmore’s perspective.

Image courtesy of

Wild Onions

The smell is pungent and my eyes sting when I hold them to my nose.
My nose tingles. The earth is springy and brown.
Lillie and I wash our hands after weeding and we both smell like onions.
The same color of muddy water washes down the drain.
I end up with white hands; hers are only slightly darker than mine.
Yet she has to sit at the back of the bus.
She goes to a school where the books are used.
She has to worry every time she walks through Myers Park if someone is going to accuse her of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
She is always looking over her shoulder.
Wondering, if she will ever measure up to some white standard of beauty. Actually, never feeling like she will measure up.
Now my eyes and nose tingle, not from onions, but I am sad for my friend.
And yes,
She is my friend.

This poured out of me and left me in tears—the poem and process both surprised and delighted me.

What about the orange popsicles? I think I’ll tuck that taste and memory into my pocket and save them for another poem.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Children's Literature Symposium in Chapel Hill

Recently, a group of writers, teachers, librarians and storytellers gathered to listen to ten children’s literature experts and writers. Here are some highlights:

Storyteller Brian Sturm opened the afternoon with a story demonstrating how our “brains are hardwired to understand stories—the best vehicle to communicate truth.” He then advised writers to:

    Brian Sturm
  • Give readers and/or listeners enough description so they can see events.
  •  Remember that jeopardy works because readers want to fight alongside the protagonist.
  • Create idiosyncratic characters that are both familiar and novel.
  • Capture the heart with the familiar; hook the mind with what is new.
Susie Wilde, a professional book reviewer, shared her evaluation of eleven picture books. Her “bad book pile,” (mostly written by celebrities or authors of adult books) included:
Her “good book pile” included:
  • Mirror Mirror by Marilyn Singer. “Unlike DeLuise's self-serving Goldilocks, this has a fresh approach when re-imagining familiar characters.”
  • Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake by Michael Kaplan. “Features a wholly original, memorable character bound to be loved by child readers because it is spot on in a child’s perspective.
  • Heart and Soul by Kadir Nelson. Good African American history stories.
  • Tia Isa wants a Car by Meg Medina.  “There is satisfaction when the resolution rewards the reader.”
  • Good night, Good Night Construction Site by Sherry Rinker. Very good rhythm and rhyme.
  • Milo and the Magic Stones by Marcus Pfister.  “This book offers two endings so a child can choose between greed and selfishness to solve a problem.”
Karin Michel, head of youth services at the Chapel Hill library, stated that series are huge and that classics are still being read. She includes out-of-print books in her collection. “Libraries help extend the life of books that are worth reading.”

Sarah Carr, the children’s books manager at Flyleaf Books hand sells many books to her customers and their parents.  She noted the popularity of books in Spanish and picture books with lots of description. “Bookstores, as well as libraries, are also places to build a community of readers.”
Susie Wilde, Karin Michel, Sarah Carr
Novelist Stephen Messer admitted, “When I was young, I thought the coolest thing would be to be the author of one of the books I was reading.” He wrote his debut novel, Windblowne in longhand, which was helpful because every day he added a little more and couldn’t delete anything. When he is writing, he surrounds himself with things that remind him of the book. Oak trees outside his window, a dragon kite, and a poster of a powerful wind--all brought him into Windblowne’s fantasy setting.

Allan Wolf, Jackie Ogburn, Jane Baskerville Muphy, Stephen Messer, Barbara Younger
Jacqueline Ogburn, an award-winning picture book author advised, “Write to evoke pictures, not to describe them. Concentrate on dialogue, action, and character. Writing a picture book has much in common with writing a screenplay,” she said. “Turning a page in a picture book is the equivalent of a new scene.” Click here to listen to her book, The Bake Shop Ghost, read by Daniel Pinkwater.  

Performance poet Allan Wolf treated the group to two poetry performances, which is the art form that brought him into writing for children. “We write because we have something to say,” he said. “Part of exploration of what you don’t know leads to finding it out- don’t worry about that. Your questions will take you down an avenue that no one else has gone on.“

Monday, January 16, 2012

Upcoming Events

I wanted to share two events on my calendar that might interest you.

On March 13 I begin a 6 week class on Tuesday evenings from 6:30-8:30. Crafting Characters that Connect will meet on the main campus of Central Piedmont Community College. The course focuses on the basic principles involved in writing compelling, three-dimensional characters for short and long narratives. Students will examine character depth and growth, write dialogue, learn to identify a character’s wants and needs and complete a character’s autobiography. For more information and to register, go to the CPCC website. 

On March 16-17 I will be participating in the fourth annual Write 2 Ignite Conference in Greenville, S.C. On Saturday I have the privilege of being one of the keynote speakers; you can find  more information about "Humility in the Marketplace" here.

There are a number of great workshops to choose from.  Among them, Joyce Hostetter and I will co-lead a workshop, Using Life Experiences to Pump Up Your Writing on Friday evening and on Saturday I'll be leading a mini-version of my CPCC class and cover the highlights of Crafting Characters that Connect. 

Write 2 Ignite is holding a special contest until January 31st. Check it out for the opportunity to win a critique as well as Terry Burn's book, A Writer's Survival Guide to Publication.  And if finances are a problem, make sure you check out the scholarships which are being offered. 

If you have any questions about either of these events, feel free to leave me a comment or write to me at

Hope to see you at one of these events!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Palace of Mirrors

If you're looking for a book similar to other titles by Margaret Peterson Haddix, then Palace of Mirrors   may not be what you are looking for. Unlike Among the Hidden and the other books in the Shadow Children series which are futuristic and political, Palace of Mirrors takes place in a medieval/fantasy setting. 

Although I found that this book started slow, the story of a peasant girl who is raised believing that she is the "True Princess" develops interesting twists when the conflict heats up in the second half of the book.  Girl readers in upper elementary and middle school will enjoy the turn of events which Cecelia, the main character, encounters. 

Although I think most readers will read this book for its entertainment value, the dialogue between Cecelia and Harper, her best friend, about making choices vs. following your destiny could generate interesting discussions. In addition, girl readers will enjoy the power that Haddix gives to her main character.  

Saturday, January 7, 2012

And the winner is...

The winner of Augusta Scattergood's debut novel


Clara Gillow Clark! 

Thanks to all of you for participating. My blog stats for this week broke a record with all of your entries and "view pages!"

My own copy of Glory Be is in the mail and after I review it, I plan to give it away also. Stay tuned, you'll have a second chance to win this book!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Giving Away Glory Be!

Yesterday Augusta Scattergood's debut novel, Glory Be was released. In this interview she reveals some of the "story behind the story" that I expect will be interesting to writers and readers alike.  At the end are directions how you can enter to win a copy of this book. 

                   CAROL: Is there a part of your life in Glory Be? If so, how did you incorporate it into your story?
                   AUGUSTA: There is so much of my life in this story. The two sisters are (very loosely) based on my sister and me .  But she’s not really like Glory as much as I’m like the bossy older sister, Jesslyn!           
        Some of the history is part of me. Glory Be takes place during 1964, Freedom Summer. Like Glory, I lived in a small town in the Mississippi Delta most of my life, so I was there. My friends and I were very innocent about what was going on around us. Maybe that’s why I wanted to give Glory a little spirit, even a “cause” to fight for.  It was hard to write the parts that dealt with hatred and meanness, but so many young readers don’t know a lot about the Civil Rights Movement, about Freedom Summer, and this is a story told from a young girl’s point of view about a situation that could have happened.
CAROL: Can you tell me some of the "story behind the story"? Where did the idea come from, how many forms did it take before you realized it was a novel?
AUGUSTA:  Glory Be actually started life as a short story for adults, titled Junk Poker. It took place during the summer, when the sisters (like my sister and I) played a forbidden game of Blackjack while they were supposed to be resting from the heat.  I wrote that 10 years ago. The maid was originally a wedding planner.  Quickly I realized I was telling a story for middle grade readers, and the wedding planner left the story. 
      CAROL:  How many revisions did you go through?
      AUGUSTA: More than I can count! I wrote the bare bones of a middle grade historical during a terrific workshop class at The New School in New York eight years ago. It’s had a lot of revisions!
                       In the year before my agent accepted me (after she’d told me she loved the story but it wasn’t quite ready for subbing), it went through three big revisions- two on my own and a last look with freelance editor extraordinaire, Joyce Sweeney. I didn’t make a lot of significant changes in the characters or the setting, or the basic plot. But I had to kill off a couple of my favorites things. I’ve saved them for for another story. 
CAROL: Do you have an agent?
AUGUSTAI found my agent at the Maryland SCBWI conference. I met her when she critiqued the beginning chapters of a different MS of mine. She liked it and asked to see it all. After what seemed like an eternity, she said it wasn’t ready. The next summer, I returned to that same weekend conference. I took Glory Be to be critiqued by a different agent. He liked it. But first I sent it to Agent #1, as an exclusive. Turns out she loves middle grade, is a fan of historical fiction, and even lived in the South and married a southerner! So she got it. Her name is Linda Pratt, and we have become good friends and have a great professional connection.
  CAROL:  Can you share any tips on writing/publishing?
 AUGUSTARead everything in your genre that you can get your hands on. The hot-off-the-press stuff, the Newbery winners, the kids’ favorites. I had a distinct advantage, having been a school librarian for 20 years. When I left that profession to write, a friend had started a website about the South: USA Deepsouth. This was pre-blogging, and really almost before there were many websites like it. I offered to write book reviews of books about the South. That mushroomed into writing for other publications. I know that helped.
                     Then just as I was getting serious about the submission process, I took a one-day workshop at Media Bistro in New York, run by Joy Peskin, an editor for Viking. After the workshop, some of us sat around and talked about “how to get published.” This was 2008. A blog was suggested. I went home that night and started blogging about books and writing. I think that gave me an online presence so that my to-be agent and anybody she subbed to could find me easily. That sounds so obvious now with Facebook and all the other connections writers make.
 CAROL:  What's next? Are you working on a second book? 
AUGUSTAAm I ever. The same book Linda said wasn’t ready in 2009 still isn’t ready! But it’s getting closer. It’s another middle grade. Kind of historical, in that it’s set in 1974.  I actually have another teensy idea for a third book, set in Mississippi. Also in the past. Teensy idea in that I know the characters’ names and a little bit about them. I’m hoping they’ll soon tell me their story. That would help, wouldn’t it?

Thank you, Augusta, for sharing your journey with us. I wish you much success in this debut novel and next time you have a party and celebrate with a Glory Be cake...I want a piece!

Meanwhile, be the first of your friends to read this book. To win an autographed copy, share this post on Facebook or Twitter and leave me a comment sharing which you did. I will pick a winner on January 7th. Maybe it will be you!

ADDED BONUS: If you don't already follow my blog,  sign up to be a follower and tell me that that in your comment. As a "thank you" I'll enter your name twice!!


  Although I moved to WordPress for my new website , I'm still having issues with sending out blog notifications. Here's this week&#...