Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Quote of the Day

"Gardens are not made by singing, 'Oh, how beautiful,' and sitting in the shade." —Rudyard Kipling

And neither are stories, articles, or books. Nor, for that matter, is anything else in life you want to create.

It can still astonish me sometimes, but I can't tell you how many nonwriters and wannabe-writers I encounter who think writing involves little more than A LOT of passive, quiet contemplation in repose. Part of that, I know, can be blamed on the often romantic depiction of writing in the media. And writing is one of those things that nearly every person with reading and/or typing skills thinks s/he'd excel at if only s/he had the time or "connections." There is no shifting the tide of perception.

I don't know about you, but I'd never get anything written all cozied up by the fire or sprawled along the water's edge. To me, writing is work. Fortunately, I do get paid for it by people who think so too.

Monday, February 25, 2008

It's Monday — Get Moving, Get Writing!

Here's a YouTuber's creative melding of Blur's "Song 2" with Gene Kelly's fast, furious, fancy footwork. I don't know the lyrics at all, but the driving beat of the song showcases Kelly's awesome precision and gorgeous artistry. Watching it helps pump me up to tackle this week's big pile o' writing. Gotta get a move on. Today, tomorrow, and all week long!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Election-Themed Books for Kids

Looking for timely books about elections or the political process to share with your children/students? One or more of these titles might just fit the bill:

Declare Yourself: Speak. Connect. Vote. 50 Celebrated Americans Tell You Why by Declare Yourself, a national nonpartisan, nonprofit youth voter initiative. Ages 14 and up.

The Emancipation Proclamation by Dennis B. Fradin
An exploration of how the U.S. has changed since the Emancipation Proclamation. Ages 8 and up.

The Founders by Dennis B. Fradin
Bios of the 39 men who created and signed the U.S. Constitution. Ages 8 and up.

Madam President: The Extraordinary True (and Evolving) Story of Women in Politics by Catherine Thimmesh
Women in politics, from Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Nancy Pelosi. Ages 9–12.

My Teacher for President by Kay Winters
Oliver's teacher is shown conducting normal classroom activities and carrying out the comparable tasks she'd perform as president. Ages 6–8.

Otto Runs for President by Rosemary Wells
Dog runs for class president. Wins. Must keep election promises! Coming May 2008. Ages 4–8.

So You Want to Be President? by Judith St. George
A recently updated classic with information about all U.S. presidents. Ages 6–8.

Vote by Phillip Steele
Comprehensive look at the voting process. Coming March 2008. Ages 8–12.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

"There Is One Great Book for Each of Us"

So says the gifted author Sherman Alexie in a recent PW essay about why he started writing for the YA market.

Below is a bit more context for the quote. I love the purity of his reasoning, which is rooted in honoring the work and the young people who read it.

"Why have teens so embraced my book? I think it's because teenagers, of every class, color and creed, feel trapped by family, community and tribal expectations. And teenagers have to make the outrageous and heroic decision to re-create themselves.

"Of course, there are certain adults who discourage and even punish teens for their outrage. I met a few of them during my book tour, but I met far more teachers, librarians, writers and parents who actively hope their students, readers, and children will grow beyond them. These adults know a secret: there is one great book for each of us. And that book, whether it is a novel, poetry, history or even an auto repair manual, becomes a sacred and profane how-to manual. So I write because I know there is a kid out there who needs my book. There might be one thousand, one hundred thousand or one million such kids. I want to be their favorite writer, craziest ally and honored guest."

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Editor's Wish List Item Speaks Volumes

While browsing publishing news this afternoon, I came across an editor's comments to a group of writers about the types of manuscripts she's hoping to acquire. Here's an item on her wish list:

"I'm looking for a book that will become a cultural phenomenon."

This has really stuck in my craw.

What are writers supposed to do with that? Should you take your current story and cultural-phenomenon-ize it up? Should you scrap something you are excited about writing to spend the next few months deconstructing the content and structure of (and public reaction to) all the HarryPotterGoosebumpsLemonySnicketBabysittersClubLordoftheRings–type works you can lay hands on . . . and then set to the business of creating something that somehow captures the same-yet-totally-different magic found in all of them in a similar-yet-not-obviously-derivative way?

I mean, really.

I can understand harboring a secret wish to acquire the next cultural phenomenon, or daydreaming a little about writing it. But scanning submissions or writing with that kind of a goal in mind is a lot like trying to create a fairytale existence in the real world. You can't force it.

Perhaps what bugs me the most is that I've seen/heard that same wish so many times before. It's not going anywhere. That it's so pervasive contributes to the chew-em-up-and-spit-em out nature of the business. And the quality of literature suffers.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

New Couple Alert: Fairy Tales and Science?

This article by Chris Gorski (posted on LiveScience) discusses how scientists might pick apart your favorite fairy tale to match nifty fantastical phenomena with equally spiffy scientific counterparts. Fun! Here's a teaser:

Kids of any age love to read fairy tales because the storyline never limits the possibility that anything could happen. Curses, spells, and handsome princes reign in worlds beyond the reader’s imagination.

But are the most magical moments from some of our favorite stories actually possible? Basic physical principles and recent scientific research suggest that what readers might mistake for fantasies and exaggeration could be rooted in reality . . .


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

My Spring Writing Workshop Is On

I'm teaching my online Children's Writing Workshop again this year. It's part of the Editorial Freelancers Association's Spring 2008 Education Program (I'm EFA's education chair), and it runs for 6 weeks starting Friday, April 18. I can't wait — I worked with a nice big group last year, and we had a blast.

Here's the description from the course catalog:

Updated to provide participants with more of the writing time they crave, this class explores the craft of writing for children through reflection, journaling, and focused writing exercises. Fun, stress-free assignments are designed to foster creativity and facilitate the process of writing for young readers. They include readings (recommended children's books and biz resources), daily journaling activities, group discussions, and the completion of one short, polished writing sample. Come ready to share ideas, hone your writing skills, and have a good time!

Check out the catalog (see link above) for student testimonials, registration details, and information about the other terrific offerings on the schedule.

Feel free to forward this announcement!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Tired of the Dots

It's time to try a new template. I'll have to think on it for a day or two.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Celebrity Children's Book Author That Couldn't

Harsh but amusing. The video creator's feelings on the issue run even deeper than mine. The topic clearly strikes a chord — I don't have a big readership, but that one post has generated more hits than any other so far.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Smoke in the Office, No Fire in the House!

Thank goodness!

As I ate lunch and wrote a quick post for a personal blog, I started smelling mac 'n' cheese. Interesting, since nobody else was home. But I didn't pay too much attention. Then I heard an unfamiliar whirring coming from the washing machine. (It's in the basement, about 10 feet from my office.) I did stop and listen for a sec but, again, I quickly got over my curiosity and back to my break. Hey, typing up personal news while eating a ham sandwich takes concentration (not to mention dexterity).

Next thing I knew, smoke was wafting into my office and I was flying around the house to find/shut down the source (washing machine motor), check everywhere for evidence of fire, and make sure my pup was safe. For that last one I ran to every possible hiding spot inside, fearing I'd find her shaking in a corner, but instead I found her outside in the farthest corner of the backyard just waiting for someone to say, "Come on in!" My husband said we should call CNN with this exclusive: GENIUS FAMILY DOG SMELLS SMOKE, SAVES HERSELF. She's no Lassie, that one. But I'm glad — it's good that her instinct was to get out.

Next I opened all the windows, transferred my current work files to a jump drive, shut down my iMac, and unplugged the office power strip. Oh, and I may have tidied up the basement in case any firefighters showed up. I've been airing out the basement and working on my laptop in the living room all afternoon. Not an ideal office, but it's cold and smelly in mine now.

Didn't get a whole big bunch of writing done, but what else is Saturday for?

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Link of the Day: Jacket Whys

If you love kids' books and cover art, check out the addictive new blog Jacket Whys: Children's and YA Book Covers. (I didn't find this one myself — it was mentioned in my SCBWI chapter's email newsletter.) The blogger, a librarian and former graphic designer, calls out exceptional imagery, categorizes cover types, and raises interesting questions about what, exactly, we're all looking at.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Written On the Wind

I wrote the Grade 4 reader The Wind at Work 2+ years ago. Last fall I checked on my author copies with the project manager after remembering the book was supposed to exist and finding it on the publisher's Web site. That took some doing, let me tell you. The program title had changed since my involvement, and I really had to dig. Searching by title doesn't work (*sniff*), nor does searching by author (*double sniff*). In fact, you can't even get to it by selecting "ISBN" in the search field and typing the number straight from a copy of the book in your hand. But, to be fair, the customer is the educator looking to fill a specific yet hefty curriculum need, and titles and authors of the student books in the program meant to fill the void are unimportant.

Clearly, since I have the ISBN, I did finally receive my copies. All 2 of 'em. Thought I'd share a quick peek at the cover and contents here, as I'm still figuring out how to reconfigure my author site.

It's a spare work at just 32 pages, but it touches on a nice variety of windy topics, if I do say so myself. And the photos and illustrations look great. Here's an excerpt from Chapter 1: "What Is Wind?"

Wind is the natural movement of air. But what causes the air to move and the winds to blow? Where does the wind come from?

If you said that wind comes from the sun, you are right! The sun creates wind as it warms the earth. Wind is all about hot and cool air trading places with each other.

First the sun's rays shine on the earth's surface. As land soaks up the rays, it gets warmer. The rays that hit water instead of land are reflected, or bent, back up. This warms the air and causes it to spread out and rise.

As the warm air rises, cooler air moves in. The cooler air fills the space that the warm air left behind. That movement of air is what we feel and what we know as wind.

All in all, I am pleased with the finished product. It was an interesting topic to tackle, too — and the staff is always great to work with — so I enjoyed the process. If you ever see it in person, though, and wonder why I used the wonky verb tense in the introduction's dream-sequence bit, my answer to you is, "I didn't!"