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Energy Enthusiasm Excitement

2 Dec

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Energy. Enthusiasm. Excitement. These three words perfectly describe Sherri Duskey Rinker, author of the Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site series and several other books for young people.

Sherri must have been exhausted, she had already had two school visits that day. Yet here she came, eager to meet more fans.

Hosted by The Blue Manatee Bookstore she was here to talk to her audience… a loud rambunctious crowd to say the least. And talk she did. To them. On their level. Matching their energy, enthusiasm, and excitement note for note.

 

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Sherri asked them questions, responded to their questions (and sometimes off-topic comments), and told them stories about herself. And of course she read her newest book, Construction Site on Christmas Night.

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Every eye was focused on the book. Every ear was tuned into the story.  She totally had these kids… mind, body, and spirit. I was in awe of her.

On the way to dinner, I asked my granddaughters what they liked the best. The six year old liked Sherri’s story about her sons. She even compared them to herself and her sister, saying that she goes right to sleep after her stories but that her sister does not. And she liked that the author wrote all their names in the book. The three year old said she wanted chicken nuggets and fries, but not the orange fries her mommy gave her the other day… those were yucky. Yep, even my own prodigy can be off-topic at times!

Thanks for coming to Cincinnati, Sherri! So glad I got to meet you in real life! me and sherry

 

Off topic post script: Orange fries are NOT yucky. Mommy is right, they’re better for you than regular french fries.

 

 

Imperfect Gifts for Thanksgiving

21 Nov

Last July, my mother took a bad fall from the top of the staircase. She spent her birthday in the hospital. Luckily no bones were broken, but she had severe cuts and bruises and her dementia worsened significantly. Mom had to give up her license and her home. This has been an emotional ride for the whole family. Thankfully, mom doesn’t need to be alone through this, she has children and grandchildren and great grandchildren who love her dearly. Mom is living with my sister and brother-in-law who have made her feel welcome and needed. She spends many hours a week watching a digital picture frame of photos from her past and retelling those memories to everyone who stops in for a visit. In cleaning out her house, I passed heirlooms on to the family. One thing I kept for myself was her set of knitting needles. There are many things mom can’t do anymore, but knitting is something she can do. And teaching me to knit is one of her new tasks.

22291344_2014584645484208_4380399781917116534_oIn September, I was thrilled to meet funny man and Caledecott Award winner, Dan Santat. I was moved to tears hearing the back story behind his newest picture book, which he authorstrated.  In addition to getting my copy signed by the legendary surly asian guy, I also got a beautiful tote bag. That bag has become my knitting bag. I’m proud and happy to have a reminder that mom can still teach me something new literally ‘after the fall’. Like Humpty Dumpty, mom was able to pick herself back up (with lots of help and support) and move forward in her life. She is an inspiration to me and I know I’ll never read this story without thinking about her. IMG_7800

AFTER THE FALL written and illustrated by Dan Santat (Roaring Brook Press, 2017) That famous egg Humpty Dumpty takes the famous fall. But what happens when all the king’s horses and all the king’s men put him back together again? He’s patched up but not quite the same. Not only can’t he climb back up the wall to sit and do his favorite thing, bird watching, he can’t even climb up to the top bunk and ends up sleeping on the floor. The wall haunts him. Now even bird watching mocks him. He faces the wall every day. And little by little he works up the courage to climb back up. What happens when he does? Humpty Dumpty cracks again… and he flies away. Humpty Dumpty is the most beautiful bird in the sky.

So fast forward to today, two days before Thanksgiving and I count my blessings, always counting my family first. With mom’s help I have knit four scarves and one baby blanket to give my grandchildren for Thanksgiving. Today was such a gorgeous sunny day, I took pictures of everything outside to show off the rich colors.

 

 

 

If you look closely, you’ll see all the imperfections. But I hope you also see the love. The first two scarves have the most mistakes. Each one was ‘ripped’ and restarted more than once. There were a lot of dropped stitches and uneven edges. But I eventually mastered the simple garter stitch, casting on, binding off, and adding a new skein of yarn to a working project.  I finished them both off with pom-poms using up the leftover yarn and adding a bit of both colors mixed with white so each granddaughter would have a piece of her cousin’s scarf in her own. The next two multicolored pastel scarves are for the two older granddaughters’ younger sisters. The yarn was dyed like this and I bought a giant skein so I didn’t even have to add another ball to finish each one. By now, I was able to whip these up in a couple of days. Then the big challenge came. I learned to combine the knit stitch with the purl stitch and a slip stitch and followed a simple herring bone pattern using two different balls of yarn at the same time to make a car seat/stroller blanket for my youngest grandchild and first grandson… the little prince. Wow, after the scarves I thought I was up for something different. This was a little more than I had bargained for. Not only was I losing track of the pattern, I had trouble keeping my tension even, so one end of the blanket is much wider than the other end.

The scarves and blanket are ready to give my precious grandchildren. They’re not perfect, but then neither am I . So when my little ones are wrapped up in soft colorful yarn, they’re also wrapped up in my love. And because I am who I am, no gift is complete without a book. No, no one got my signed copy of AFTER THE FALL. But I did find three books featuring knitting to give each family.  Sadly, I mailed off the baby blanket this morning without a book picture, but you get the idea.

 

 

 

 

EXTRA YARN written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen (Balzer and Bray, 2012) In a black and white world Annabelle finds a box of colorful yarn. After knitting a sweater for herself, she uses   some of the extra yarn to knit a sweater for her dog, then her neighbor, and his dog, and her classmates, and her teacher but she still had extra yarn. It seems that tiny box had an endless supply of colorful yarn, so Annabelle knits sweaters for her mom and dad, and all the people (except Mr. Crabtree), and all the animals in her neighborhood. Then she goes around the world knitting and spreading bright colors over the otherwise drab scenery. An evil archduke offers Annabelle a million dollars for her box of yarn but she refuses to sell it, so he sends robbers into her room to steal the box. Unfortunately, when he gets the box it is empty. He curses her and throws the box out the window. The box finds its way back to Annabelle who still had enough extra yarn to knit a sweater for her tree.

LOST. FOUND written by Marsha Diane Arnold and illustrated by Matthew Cordell (Roaring Brook Press, 2015) Bear loses his long red scarf in the woods. It is alternately found and then repeatedly lost again by each animal who finds it. Eventually they all find it again in a clearing and in a struggle to claim the scarf for themselves they destroy it. But Bear has an idea, taking up all the loose yarn he teaches the forest animals to knit one extra long scarf that they all share around a campfire.

PENGUIN AND PINECONE written and illustrated by Salina Yoon (Bloomsbury, 2012) Penguin loves his new friend Pinecone and thinking he might be cold, Penguin knits him a scarf to match his own. Pinecone is still cold, so Penguin does the hardest thing… he helps him return home to the pine tree forest and leaves him in a pine nest to keep him warm. When Penguin returns he finds his friend has grown into something even greater.

Another great picture book is KNIT TOGETHER written and illustrated by Angela Dominguez (Dial Books, 2015). I wrote a post about it a few years ago. Follow this link for a quick review and some fun yarn activities you can do with your little ones too.

There’s more fun with LOST. FOUND and PENGUIN AND PINECONE on these pages.

*** If you got this far, please like, comment, or share. Thank you! ***

 

 

Polish Your Manuscript

28 Sep

Zoya-Natural-Deux-Nail-Polish-Collection-For-Fall-2014Getting a manicure this morning made me think about polish. Not just what color to apply to my nails, but also how to polish a manuscript. You’ve got your first draft, or second, or third. Is it ready to go out into the world?

Let’s start with the overall look. Do you want a serious or playful look? Modern or traditional? This will affect every other decision you make from the color to the shape to the length. The same is true for writing. You will make different decisions for fiction vs non-fiction, fantasy vs realistic, humorous vs serious. The structure of your manuscript depends on the ultimate form you envision.

Experiment with different colors. Use the color samples. I went in with my own polish but ended up with a different color. It was in the same color family, but richer and more ‘fall’ than ‘summer’. When writing, be sure to deepen or lighten a scene to achieve the overall mood you envision for the story.

Is it you? Look at all the options available. Many are not for you. Why? Too long, too glittery, too boring, too trendy? Remember there’s something for everyone. Some people like short, natural nails. Some like long, pointed, sparkly nails. Some like designs, flashy colors, or holiday styles. Readers look at options too. You need to reach YOUR readers, not EVERY reader. If you stay true to yourself, your readers will know it. They will flock to read your books, visit your websites, meet you in person. So even with a second, or third opinion, stay true to yourself. My technician provided the look I was going for with a simple piece of advice. She knew what I was wanted and she helped me reach MY goal.  A good critique group or partner can do the same thing with a line or scene that isn’t hitting the right notes. It’s still your story, but someone outside of your bubble might help you see it differently.

Don’t worry about the rough draft. You can’t be too precious about it. To start, my technician needed to soak and scrape the old polish off before we could proceed to the next step. Your first written draft should be treated the same way. Once it begins to grow out, you need to get in there and rewrite. Strip away whatever is not working. Like with nail color, you can change it up any time you want. This character not working? Add more dimension. That scene not working? Get rid of it. The mood feels off? Add details.

Trim and shape-up. Polish does not get applied to old scraggly nails. Shape up your writing too. Trim excess words and replace worn-out phrases with fresh ideas.

Senses are key. Color may be the main character in a manicure, but you can’t help but notice the other senses as well. Smell of the chemicals, feel the roughness of the emery board and the smoothness of the hand massage, listen to the chatter of the technicians and their clients, taste your complimentary beverage.  Give your reader the full range of sensory experiences in your story. Pay attention to the full range of senses. A story based solely on one sense will fall flat.

Emotion. Your technician wouldn’t be pleased if you were unhappy with your manicure. She wouldn’t want you to leave in tears. But with writing you might. What emotion do you want to convey? Do you want your readers to laugh, cry, puff out their chests, hang their heads, wring their hands. Do you want them to feel disappointment, fear, confidence? The worst thing would be to have your readers feel nothing. You want your readers invested in the story. If they can put down your book and walk away, you haven’t done your job. Make them feel!

Ambiance matters. Did you have to wait a long time to be seen? Was the staff friendly? Did your technician take his/her time with you? Pay attention to the details and the overall tone of your story. Simple things like language and sentence length can make or break a reading experience. Be sure you match both to your target audience. A long introduction will not work in a picture book, but world building in a high fantasy is much more complex. Know your readers and give them what they need. Give them what they don’t even know they need. Just like you’d reward your technician with a nice tip, your readership will reward you with enthusiasm and loyalty.

Your nails should shine when you leave the salon. Your manuscript should shine as well. Do you love your manicure? Was this is good experience? Do you want to come back? The salon needs return customers. So do authors. You want to leave your readers wanting to come back again and again. Give them heart. Give them passion. Give them quality. Give them a reason to care. Give them a reason to come back.

Time. Everyone knows you never leave the salon with wet nails! This holds true for your manuscript. Sometimes we’re so eager to get out there that we submit before we are ready. This could ruin your writing career. Like nails, your manuscript should never go out until it is completely ready. I know it looks great on the surface, but if it’s not solid through and through, it’s going to meet rejection. This is a slow business. Even with a stellar story, you usually have to wait a long time before you find an agent, an editor, a publisher. No matter how hard it is to sit and wait… sit and wait! (Of course with writing, unlike manicures, you can begin working on your next manuscript while this one is curing.)

Happy Writing!

And Happy Polishing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Creative Life

22 Jun

When thinking about creativity and creative people we often think of artists, musicians, or inventors. But really, when you get right down to it, we are ALL creative beings.  Merriam-Webster defines creative as ‘the ability or power to create’, and create as ‘to bring into existence something new’ and ‘to produce through imaginative skill’. Everyone from the boardroom to the maintenance room has the ability to create something new through imaginative skill at work and at home.

Children do this instinctively. Given an empty box, a child will create a whole new world, a new mode of transportation, a home for imaginary animals, or quiet place for contemplation.

French sculpture, painter, and pioneer of modern art, Henri Matisse defined creative people with these words:

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As writers, illustrators, publishers, and more we are well aware of the power of imagination and the creative souls of individuals. We make it our business to provide, enhance, nurture, model, and shape new ideas.

Today, I’m taking Matisse’s words to heart. Working on a new story idea, I need to be all these things (and more).

What do you need to reach your goals?

 

 

Title Comparison

2 May

What do two bunnies and carrot, four kids and four toys, one toddler, a baby, a dog and his toys,  one greedy ghost, and two brothers and one dinosaur all have in common? Their inability to share. Look at the book covers below. What else do all these stories have in common? The same title.

MINE!

Pictured in descending publication order:

25785748 written and illustrated by Susie Lee Jin (Simon & Schuster, 2016)

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written and illustrated by Sue Heap (Candlewick, 2014)

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written by Shutta Crum & illustrated by Patrice Barton (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011)

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written by Mathilde Stein and illustrated by Miles van Hout (Lemniscaat,2006)

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written and illustrated by Kevin Luthardt (Atheneum, 2001)

But what’s more important is what makes them different.

Let’s take a look at the uniqueness of these seemingly identical picture books. The theme of sharing is evident by the title and artwork on the covers, it’s what’s inside that makes these stories more unlike one another than simply the characters on the covers.

Three out of five of the books are nearly wordless, meaning the illustrations carry the story. Luthardt‘s story comes in at 30 words and Jin‘s story is told in only 19 words. Both Luthardt and Jin are author/illustrators meaning the complete storytelling experience is their own. Everything the reader experiences is a result of their text and art. Which brings us to the only book which has a low word count and is illustrated by someone other than the author. Crum‘s story comes in at only 8 words, even fewer than the two author/illustrators. Several page spreads have no text at all. How is that accomplished? Art Notes! Much of the story is told to the illustrator, Barton, through art notes. Barton then uses those notes to guide but not dictate her work. Not only is this important for writers and artists, but also for parents and caregivers. When ‘reading’ these stories with young children, be sure to leave room for the child’s story and their own interpretation of the story on the page. Ask questions, allow them to discover meaning and thus ‘read’ it for themselves.

The other two books are wordier. Heap‘s story is told in 224 words and Stein‘s story is told in a whopping 508 words. And contrary to popular opinion these are not the two oldest books, which generally have  a higher word count than today’s books. Are non-illustrator authors dependent on more words to tell their stories? No, Heap is an author/illustrator, only Stein is an author only. Her story is illustrated by van Hout whose artwork adds whimsy and humor to the text.

So, what about these stories with the same title makes them unique? They all discuss the theme of sharing but it’s how the theme is revealed that is unique. The low word count stories are targeted to a younger audience. In Crum‘s 8 word story a toddler of unidentified gender tries unsuccessfully to keep his toys away from a younger sibling but ends up losing all his toys to the dog. Jin‘s 19 word story replaces children with bunny rabbits who find one carrot, one top hat, and one very sad snowman. And Luthardt‘s 30 word story is about brothers who receive a stuffed dinosaur in the mail and end up ripping it in half before they learn that they need to share in order to play with their repaired gift.

The two books with the higher word count are geared for a slightly older and more mature audience. Both main characters are of preschool or school age. Heap‘s 224 word story centers around an older friend or sibling who finds it hard to share with three other younger children. It’s not until she sees how sad the baby is not to have one of her toys that she learns to share. This added a layer of empathy is more appropriate for older readers. Stein‘s 508 word story features a greedy ghost who arriving in a new home, insists on claiming everything from the toast to the toys as his own. The older girl protagonist sees only the bright side of his greediness allowing him to have whatever he wants and finding something else for herself. When the ghost sees that she is happy with what she has, but doesn’t want to play with him, he learns to share so they can have fun together. The change in the ghost’s attitude actually turns him into a ghost that the owner of the mansion up the hill doesn’t recognize. This measurable character change is a sign of maturity the older reader is working toward.

Same titles. Same theme. Different stories.

This is truly an example of what your mother always taught you: Don’t judge a book by its cover.

 

Lord of Books

24 Apr

Can you imagine not having access to a library? José Alberto Gutierrez of Columbia can. So he’s doing something about it.

José is know as the Lord of Books in his poor Colombian neighborhood of Bogotá.

He started picking books out of the garbage 20 years ago. On his rounds as a trash collector in the wealthy neighborhoods of Bogotá, José noticed books in good condition being discarded on a daily basis. His first rescue was a copy of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. He began bringing home 50 to 60 books a day. Now his home houses upwards of thirty thousand books reaching up to the ceiling!

José learned to read on his mother’s lap. She could only afford to allow him to go to school up to the second grade. The rest of José education came from her. His mother, and later his father, read to him every night, instilling a love for stories in a largely illiterate environment.

Columbia’s capital of over 13 million citizens, has only 19 libraries. Most of them are in the wealthier neighborhoods, leaving the poor neighborhoods without service and the people who need it most, without.

15 years ago, José opened his home library to his friends and neighbors. He calls his library The Strength of Words. His community library is now open every weekend to the citizens of southern Bogota. His neighbors come with bags to collect books to take home with them. Each bag, each book, each word, is strength for a population of people hungry for stories, news, education. As he is fond of saying, “reading is a tool for life”.

Now, José and his brother-in-law drive around town with boxes of books to distribute to the people of Bogotá who cannot come to him. This modern day bookmobile provides access to literature for hundreds of people per trip.

There are many videos on YouTube about José Gutierrez. Here is one of the most recent ones.

 

904b3364f397a7670b02538fe5c794ccv1_max_755x566_b3535db83dc50e27c1bb1392364c95a2“Books are one of humanity’s greatest inventions.” -José Alberto Gutierrez

Spring Training

26 Mar

lucy-psychiatristWas your winter writing as depressing as mine? ACK!

The story accepted by an honest-to-goodness editor in a real publishing house was turned down in the acquisitions meeting.

But I pulled myself together in time for the new year. And what a fun-filled, jam-packed year it’s been so far!

I spent January gathering ideas with Tara Lazar in Storystorm (aka PiBoIdMo). February brought a blizzard of information at the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York. And March has been a whirlwind of reading mentor texts with Carrie Charley Brown in ReFoReMo.

Now, with a fresh arsenal of writing ideas, information, and mentor texts I’m ready to take on a new season.

CharacterSpring Training is upon us and I’m going to be ready for the big game!

 It’s time to get off the bench and stretch those writing muscles. fce54108a076897bcd7844d5c2ad99ab

Write.

Write.

Write.

I’m working on honing my craft, developing those mad writing skills…

until I hit one out of the ballpark!  bfb5b5cf1817b81725091347991476b8

And when I finally get that call…

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all that training and practice and diligence will have paid off! your-a-good-man-charlie-brown-baseball-game-youtube-o3Vo6x-clipart

 

Special thanks to Charles M. Schulz, creator of the Peanuts characters, for his wisdom, creativity, inspiration, and many years of humor.

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