Friday, September 22, 2017

Sneak Peek at My Weekend on the Water Artist's Way Mini Class

The following is cross-posted on SCBWI Western Washington's blog. We have a creativity retreat coming up in October with great opportunities to customize your experience: member-led workshops, discussions, critiques, private writing time, walks in the woods — you decide! If you'd like to join us, register soon!

Hello, fellow retreaters! I can't wait to get to IslandWood and start soaking up the atmosphere, hobnobbing with you all, and marinating in all things KIDLIT & CREATIVITY until it's time to board that ferry back to reality.

I'm also excited to be leading a couple of exploratory sessions for anyone interested in learning more about Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way. In addition to following this creativity practice on my own since 2010, I've participated in two outstanding full-program workshops and attended one phenomenal intensive weekend retreat led by Cameron herself. I find the program tools easy to incorporate into my routine and the program's underlying philosophy adaptable to different belief systems, so I really enjoy sharing info with anyone thinking about giving it all a whirl.

Here's the official description of what I've planned for our retreat:

The Artist's Way Mini Class

Julia Cameron's 12-week program consists of targeted exercises and strategies meant to help anyone cultivate a more rewarding personal creativity practice. Along the way, students confront negative patterns and learn how to more easily and consistently access their creative talents. This mini class will cover key Artist's Way principles and give attendees a taste of the program's simple but effective methods. 

A few Artist's Way principles in action.
Saturday: Introduction to The Artist's Way
We'll take a quick look at the progression of themes in a full Artist’s Way cycle (from reclaiming a sense of creative safety to embracing creative possibility and beyond). Then we’ll discuss Morning Pages, Artist Dates, and Walks — aka the program’s hallmark “creative recovery” tools. And we’ll end with a short reflection exercise to start challenging any self-limiting beliefs that might be keeping you from following your personal creative path.

Important note about what Artist's Way techniques can help you discover and accept about your personal creative path: It's not my path or someone else's vision of your path or a path Julia Cameron lays out for you or a facsimile of the latest It-creative's path. It's all YOURS, and that's what makes it right.

Sunday: Artist's Way Hands-On Workshop
This session will include two fun hands-on activities designed to help you connect with some of your deepest creative interests and tap in to your personal power as a creative being. 

Translation in case that didn't sound fun: You will (1) interpret a relevant topic through a stream-of-consciousness drawing activity; and (2) rip up paper goods and use glue to create something new.

Is The Artist's Way right for you? I have no idea! It wasn't right for me until ... it was. But I do believe taking it for a test run in this setting will offer concrete creativity-boosting strategies you can later use, and benefit from, regardless of whether you decide to further explore the program after the retreat.

Each session stands alone, and everyone is welcome at one or the other or, of course, both.

I hope some of you will join me!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Change Is Afoot

How do you like's new home page? The full website is still a work in progress as I complete a move into brand-new digs after leaving the hosting platform I've used for 13 years. I've done enough work so far, though, to go ahead and launch an early version of the update.

Now I look forward to completing the (what seems monumental) task of further developing its various pages. At the moment, for example, cover images for most of my still-in-print titles are up on the Books section's Fiction and Nonfiction subpages, but there's nary a book summary to be had. See the buttonlike thingies I added under the home page's main image? They represent the categories, or bookshelves, I expect to build into the site, and someday they will be clickable buttons. I also have plans for adding more useful content to the Author Visits and Bio pages. These things do take time.

Some of you may have noticed another change. Maybe. It's subtle, but to me it's BIG.

Check out the author name I'm now using for my site and this blog. Yep, I've switched to Lisa L. Owens. That's what I used in the contracts for my next two books (biographies coming out in 2017), and for me this shift also signals the beginning of a new phase in my kidlit career. "L. L. Owens" has served me well, but that pen name was essentially chosen for me in the late 1990s when I started publishing. It made total sense at the time, and I have nothing but positive feelings about it. But I've decided to claim my full name as I pursue writing more trade books and fewer titles geared specifically for the school and library market. More on all that another day.

Change is hard — but it is good!

Friday, September 11, 2015

A Peaceful World Imagined in a Cloud

The Camellia flower's petals fall with its calyx, symbolizing perfect unity.
In remembrance of the September 11 attacks, Lois Brandt invited folks to spend 10 minutes today writing about a peaceful world — a meaningful endeavor, indeed.

What I immediately discovered while starting to write this morning was that it's a snap for me to imagine such a world. But the full-on peace I envision is the stuff of fantasies, of idylls. It's not based in the reality of the world's situation or the human condition, and today in particular, I really didn't want to write about an imaginary world.

So I went about my busy day, planning to try the exercise again once I'd shut down the office for the evening.

While coming in from an after-work dog walk, the Camellia next to my porch caught my eye. Several years ago, an arborist chopped the plant to its quick against my wishes. He insisted that it was in the wrong spot and about to die. Well, it soon started growing again, sprouting right on up out of its stump. This Camellia wanted to live and do its thing in its preferred location, bad soil and space issues be hanged. Its height does need to be contained so it doesn't hit a portion of the house, but otherwise, shrub and home peacefully coexist. The Camellia has even started blooming again, a testament to its resilience in the face of near destruction.

This much we know: Humans will forever experience conflict and, thank goodness, we will forever pursue peace. We learn from tragedy and seek to create a better future. It's what we do. On this somber anniversary of one of our darkest days, I can't offer a blueprint for achieving an ultimate state of peace — but I can pay my respects to those we lost on September 11 with a simple word cloud I created in their honor. I started with the word peace and then spent a few minutes brainstorming some key attitudes and actions that support it.

The color scheme I applied is called Quiet Morning; the cloud's shape is Unconstrained.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Win a Free Skype Visit or Books for Your Classroom!

I'm so pleased to share details of a giveaway sponsored by Online Author Visits!

OAV is a writers' group I belong to founded by my friend Suzanne Williams, the esteemed co-author of the wildly popular Goddess Girls series (among other terrific series and stand-alone books). We provide virtual author visits to schools, libraries, book clubs, writing groups, and anyone else wanting to host a chat with a professional children's or YA author. You can peruse our list of available authors here. We all enjoy using the online presentation format, which makes it easy to connect with people — regardless of location. And those seeking OAV's services love using the virtual option as a cost-effective and easy-to-schedule method of hosting an author guest for their meetings, classes, and other special events.

Online Author Visits has been online for a while, but with the dawn of this new year, we updated our website and reorganized as a group. To celebrate that, we decided to host a special giveaway! Prizes include (1) a FREE Skype visit with me and (2) a FREE set of Trudi Trueit's super-fun Secrets of a Lab Rat series.

This giveaway ends February 17. Winners will be randomly selected at that time. If you'd like to enter, we'd love to have you! Just surf on over to our most recent blog post to throw your hat into the ring. And feel free to share contest details with your favorite teachers, librarians, parents, writers, and readers. Note that you can also enter through OAV's Facebook page by clicking on the Giveaway tab.

Good luck to all who enter!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Deadlines. I've Got Deadlines.

I feel overwhelmed by looming deadlines this morning. This scene from The Pit and the Pendulum comes to mind, in all its Roger Corman–imagined glory:

And now I will stop feeling and get back to working. Must halt that pendulum so I can hop up from the desk, relatively unscathed, in time to truly enjoy a bit of this holiday season.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Getting Over Myself, One Milestone at a Time

I cracked open a new Morning Pages notebook today.

I'd been saving this one for when I reach a particular milestone in my writing work, but I woke up realizing that my mindset contributes to elevating that milestone to a level of preciousness I might decide I can't touch. Something I deny myself because I don't deserve it, or because reaching it means I have to let it go.

But guess what. This is just a notebook I like. I will use it now.

And the milestone? It's just one in the long line of career markers I've already passed. It is just one in the long line of future milestones I'll come to and love and move on from as I travel my long writer's-life road. I will stop holding the bloody thing so close to the bone now.

Monday, September 01, 2014

My Latest Titles

I'm pleased to share my new titles for Fall 2014 — two books in the Rourke nonfiction series United States Regions: Southern Region and Southwestern Region. These are, as you might guess, state studies books intended for classroom use in Grades 3–5. The content focus is to identify and investigate regions based on their common geography, industry, agriculture, and culture. I enjoyed getting to learn more about my two regions and working to make the information and broader concept used to frame it accessible for young readers.

Pretty covers, don't you think?

Monday, July 07, 2014

The "My Writing Process" Blog Tour Stops Here Today

Dori Hillestad Butler
Have you seen this writing-blog meme making the rounds lately? Well, last week, the talented Dori Hillestad Butler tagged me in her tour post, and I accepted the challenge. Dori and I met this spring when she moved to the Seattle area from Iowa City (my old stomping grounds), and we've discovered that our writing careers and Midwestern roots are just two of quite a few things we have in common. Thanks for putting me on the blog tour hot seat, Dori!

Be sure to visit Dori's author site to learn more about her numerous children's books, including the Edgar Award–winning The Buddy Files: The Case of the Lost Boy and her super-fun looking Haunted Library mystery series launching this summer.

And so the time has come for me to answer the tour's four questions designed to give readers a peek at how a writer's work . . . works.

(1) What am I working on?

I just recently finished checking layout proofs for two nonfiction books of mine due out later this summer. They're part of a new Rourke series called United States Regions, and I wrote the titles covering the South and Southwest. I can't wait to see the final copies!

My current works in progress include
  • a YA historical novel, aka My Pet. This project is where I focus all my off-the-clock writing energies right now.
  • one humorous picture book in revision, three additional picture books at various stages of development, and the dream of writing a YA nonfiction picture book to accompany the novel-in-progress mentioned above. But first things first — like finishing My Pet.
  • two middle-grade mysteries I once sold but that were shelved before publication during the economic downturn of 2008. I own the rights to those and will revise, submit, and hope to sell again.

(2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I tend toward writing quieter, character-driven fiction and heavily researched but highly accessible nonfiction (whether it's prompted by a publisher's specific topic request or it grows out of some tidbit that sparks my own need to know/write it). Because I work with a number of genres, markets, and target age levels/audiences, it's difficult for me to make any blanket statements describing my writing. But I do believe my voice comes through in each book. That's the goal, anyway. In my view, voice is the thing that differentiates any writer's output, whether it's a person's body of work or a stand-alone piece of writing.

(3) Why do I write what I do?

At the why-I-write-for-kids level: I feel at home writing for young readers because as a young person I always felt at home while reading and writing. I read so much and wrote so much (in those days I wrote in diary format) that growing up to work with words for a living seemed the only logical result of all that reading and writing. Reading and writing for the win!

At the why-I-write-things-like-my-personal-WIPs level: Because I have no other choice but to write those things. The stories I create come from my needs to
  • express thoughts and ideas
  • shine a light on small details and big concepts
  • weave compelling tales
  • present new information (or known information in a new way)
  • examine universal feelings and experiences
  • experiment with different types of writing
  • share my heart

(4) How does my writing process work?

It's the same for every project! Oh, and it's different for every project!

That constancy mixed with variety is one of my favorite things about writing.

But let me go into at least a little bit of detail:

I've yet to write anything that didn't involve some type of research, so after my idea takes hold, the research is where I start. This is true whether I'm working on fiction or nonfiction, and the amount of research I need to do varies. I might research a setting detail, potential character name, or biographical fact and get straight to writing — or I might spend months gathering and vetting piles of research before keying in Word One.

Sometimes I do the research and set it aside for the rest of the writing process. For my humorous picture book in development, for example, I did a quick check on the developmental appropriateness of my protagonist's dilemma relative to her age. I didn't need that information to write a draft, but that took no time to investigate, so why not.

Then there's the other end of the spectrum: Sometimes the research continues all the way to the bitter end. For the Neptune title in my Space Neighbors series, I monitored NASA's live feed of breaking Neptune research until probably an hour before turning in my final draft. A true nail-biter!

Once I've done some cursory research, I outline or outline/plot, depending on the type and expected length of the work. Then I start writing. If I have a deadline, I write to that. Deadline is here? Then the writing is done. If I'm writing on my own and plan to pursue publication, I set writing goals — and reset them if/when needed.

Now, if I'm writing on my own and have no particular plans for the work beyond trying it, I write until I stop getting anywhere. I may set it aside and pick it up again later. Or I may forget the writing ever existed. I know this can happen because I've had occasion to stumble across work I have no recollection of creating. What can I say. Life happens and things slip through the cracks. Besides, fellow writers, I'll bet you've done the same thing, too. OK, let me revise to plead: Please, fellow writers, PLEASE tell me you've done the same thing, too!

Thanks a bunch for reading my writing-process tour entry. For next Monday, I'm passing the blogging baton to my friend Wendy Wahman, the award-winning author-illustrator of some of my favorite picture books, including Don't Lick the Dog: Making Friends with Dogs, A Cat Like That, and Snowboy 1, 2, 3 (this one was illustrated by Wendy and written by Joe Wahman).

Don't Lick the Dog was selected as a 2010 Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year, starred for Outstanding Merit, and accepted to the Society of Illustrators Original Art show. Her book trailer for A Cat Like That was selected from over 7,000 entries for the Walker Art Center’s Catvidfest 2013. Wendy’s editorial illustrations have appeared in major publications including Harper’s Magazine, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and the Harvard Business Journal. She teaches art classes through the nonprofit organization Powerful Schools, and she enjoys sharing creativity exercises with both children and adults. 

Look for Wendy's post July 14!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Nonfiction Monday: A Chat with PURE GRIT Author Mary Cronk Farrell

I recently had the pleasure of attending one of Mary Cronk Farrell's readings in support of her terrific new YA nonfiction book, Pure Grit: How American World War II Nurses Survived Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific. It was fun to hear about her experience creating the book — and I was especially drawn to the story, which features an incredibly strong group of women who faced unspeakable hardships and dangers as combat nurses and prisoners of war. 

Pure Grit is thoroughly researched, beautifully written, and gorgeously photo-illustrated, making it a perfect title to feature on this Nonfiction Monday. Be sure to track it down in your local bookstore or library. And in the meantime, enjoy my Q&A with its author.

Welcome to my blog, Mary, and congratulations on the new book! How long have you been writing nonfiction for young readers?

For about ten years. Except for a couple magazine articles, Pure Grit is the first nonfiction book I have published for kids.

Tell us what sparked your interest in this story and why you wanted to write it for young adults.

When I first heard about the POW nurses, I was immediately drawn to the story by my curiosity about how they survived three years in the harsh conditions of prison camp, especially since many others in the camps died. It was difficult to believe, and also disappointing that I had not learned about these courageous women in school and I wanted young people to know about them. I was greatly inspired by their strength of purpose, their resilience, and their dedication to their vocation as nurses. I knew their story would inspire others, too.

From idea to final draft, how long did the research and writing take you? Were there any major stumbling blocks along the way?

It is difficult to gauge the amount of time I spent on this project. I worked on it intermittently for five years. Both the research and the writing were done in chunks of time between other projects I was working on.  I didn't have any major stumbling blocks. The research and writing were quite straightforward, but I will say that at times the material was very difficult emotionally. I remember a time or two that I was typing with tears running down my cheeks.

I’d love to hear about any particularly memorable interviews you conducted.

By far the most memorable interview was with Mildred Dalton Manning, the only one of the POW nurses still alive at the time I was writing the book. She was most gracious, and I felt honored to meet her. Another memorable interview was with Sascha Weinzheimer Jansen, who was a child in Santo Tomas Internment Camp where the Army nurses were imprisoned. She had been in the hospital for a tonsillectomy and remembered being cared for by Army Nurse Denny Williams. Her throat was not healing after the surgery, because the girl and everyone in the camp were starving and malnourished. Sascha remembers the nurse sitting with her all night when she was deathly ill.

What knowledge or message would you like readers to take away from their experience reading the Pure Grit?

I hope readers will get a strong sense of what it was like for these women to find themselves suddenly in the middle of war and then to be imprisoned for three years. I hope the book will cause questions to rise in readers' minds. I don't have specific ideas I want people to take away, other than how brave and dedicated the nurses were, but so many issues arise from the story that I think are worthy of thought and discussion.

What’s next for you as a writer? Any new children’s books in the works?

My next book, working title Fannie Never Flinched, is due out in February 2016.  It's another amazing true story about courage and dedication, this time a biography of one woman — Fannie Sellins — who was an incredible labor organizer in the early 1900s garment industry, coal fields, and steel mills. Like the POW nurses, her strength was imbued with compassion. Unfortunately, she did not survive, but died in a hail of bullets on the picket line of a Pennsylvania coal strike.

That sounds fascinating — I look forward to reading it. In the meantime, where can readers and reviewers find Pure Grit, and you?

Readers can get Pure Grit through any bookstore, on the ground or on the Internet, and I invite everyone to visit my website for more information about the POW nurses and me.

Terrific. Thanks so much for chatting with me, Mary!