Monday, May 23, 2022

Powerful Writing Embodies Imagination: Smack Dab in the Imagination by Dia Calhoun

Shakespeare's line, "Imagination bodies forth," sums up how to create vivid writing. Here's more of the quote.

The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.

--William Shakespeare, from A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, act 5. scene 1. lines 12-17, in The Riverside Shakespeare

Fiction writers soon learn that specific details create a real world for the reader. Poets take this even further. Ideas, action, are all most vividly rendered when they are dressed in images and metaphor. A poet tells the whole story this way. 

But what kind of details or "bodies? " The last line of the quote hits the mark: " to airy nothing/A local habitation and a name." You can easily name six things you see as you walk out in the world: For example: a streetlight, grocery store, post office, bench, park. While those are all specifics they are generic. They give no clue to the character, the local habitation, of what we see. We could be in Anytown, Anywhere. Depending on the type of street light, we could even be somewhere hundreds of years ago.

To create a local habitation, try this writing exercise: 
--Take the list above or make a list of your own. 
--Create four different story locations with everything on the list. 
--For each location create "a local habitation" by adding descriptive details or phrases to the items on the list.

For example:
Street light: space-age silver
Grocery store: convenience store with a fan in the doorway.
Post Office: A closed sign tipped sideways in the only window of the cinderblock post office.
Bench: Filigreed, black metal bench
Park: A triangle of green squeezed between condos.

What does this backdrop tell you? And some contrast of detail is good--you usually don't want your details to add up to a generic place either.

You can do the same exercise for describing minor/walk-on characters. In fiction, you can't call out everything with this level of detail--the trick is to call out the details that most create the mood or setup you want. Think of a painting. The painter uses composition and color technique to draw the eye to what is most important (the first reading). 

My own early fiction drafts are often laden with generics--you get the story out on the page any way you can, yes? But as I've studied and worked at the craft of writing poetry, I find myself beginning more and more with the specific image. With practice, a writer can create a habit of creating local habitations.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

How to Engineer a Revision


Step One: Divide Points of View

In my current WIP, I am working with two distinct points of view moving through simultaneous timelines against a hefty historical event. The challenge is making these points of view distinct without compromising either  timeline, while still making sure that the event – a coming together of complex social and political systems – is easy enough for young readers  to follow. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.


So how does one weave together all of these elements into a cohesive story? I first came upon the term “story engineering” in Larry Brooks’ excellent book, Story Engineering: Mastering the 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing (Writers Digest Books, 2011). Story engineering is not just about planning or outlining, but certainly that’s a part of the process. In the same way that engineers rely on blueprints to create a structure that bears weight and resists the elements, writers arm themselves with a strategy to create an equally structurally sound foundation upon which the literary elements may rest. It's also a good approach as one begins the revision process.. 

Looking for information on how to engineer two points of view at once, I went to my go-to for information on writing strategies. Lorin Oberweger’s  Free Expressions Seminars .

And –of course – I found the perfect workshop: Non-Linear, Dual-Timeline, And Multiple POV Plotting with Donald Maass. No one does it better than Donald Maass. During the almost two-hour workshop, Donald offered step-by-step instruction, citing examples from ‘break-out’ fiction to support his process.

Returning to my WIP, I begin to engineer my two points of view and their plotlines. (This is a basic step-by- step that fits my particular narrative. For more information, especially as it relates to your project, you really really do need to check out Donald Maass’ workshops at Free Expressions.)

1. I divide the draft by points of view. It’s like having two separate stories. The parallel narratives need to be so tight, and so relevant, that one cannot exist without the other. While the two points of view need to be pronounced, and distinct, they need to be connected by theme.

2. I review the carryovers (transitions) between chapters to make sure the story of each point of view flow.

3. I review both timelines to make sure the scenes connected to the broader plot.  This includes adding research as needed to make sure each scene is complete. 

Step Four: Combine the Points of View

4. I then combine the two points of view into one story, aligning the events to strengthen the timeline and reinforce the causal chain. This means quickly establishing the narrative pattern, in which the points of view shift between the characters. It also means noting where additional chapters might be needed to complete the timeline.

5. To keep the reader oriented, I review each points of view to make sure the characters are distinct, reinforcing certain literary devices. These devices include vocabulary, sensibilities (world views), personality traits, and specific artifacts (such as diaries, pets or songs!).

Now the foundation is set, and the real work of revision can begin!! 


-- Bobbi Miller

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Teachers and students love author visits! by: Jennifer Mitchell

The internet can be an amazing tool in connecting with authors.  Back when I was growing up you had to write a letter to your favorite author, and even then you never really knew if it made it to the person.  Fast forward to the age of technology, just by making a social media post you can get the attention of an author and make a lasting connection. As a teacher, I like to spend the summer reading books and deciding which I will use for a read aloud the next school year.  That summer I brought home several Mark Twain Award nominees to read from the library.  I tweeted to Holly Schindler that I had just finished reading the Junction of Sunshine and Lucky; and that I felt such a connection because I have lived my entire life in Missouri, and I loved that the book was set in Missouri. I knew that my students would love that connection as well! 

That was back in 2016, and we are clearly still connected today!  That year she reached out and offered to Skype with my class so that after we read the book my students could ask her questions.  From that point on she has sent me books to use with my students, and invited me to be a guest here on her blog.  All of this was sparked by a tweet, I love how progressive times have become in connecting with people. For my aspiring writers it is such an amazing way to show them that it is possible to publish books!  Also, we like when authors support how important revisions are to the final product.  Kids don't often believe us. :)

By: Jennifer Mitchell teacher in the Kansas City Area

Friday, May 13, 2022

Finding Magic in the Mundane (Juliana Brandt)

As a child, I always found spookiness tucked away in every corner of life.


I was prone to nightmares, and often, it felt as if those nightmares would bleed into the waking world. Because of this, I became highly tuned into anything my brain might latch onto and drag back into the night. Flickering shadows. Creeping sounds. Scary stories told around a campfire. Anything and everything could be fodder for a nightmare.


While most of that experience was unpleasant (let’s be real, child-me really could have done without the fear of sleeping), it did help create in me an inclination toward finding magic in the mundane.


In my day-job, I teach Kindergarten. I’m constantly shocked by the amount of information students bring to school with them. Part of why they already know so much at five and six years of age is because of how our brains are geared toward categorizing and labeling. It helps us make sense of the world, especially when we’re little and the whole world feels like a giant puzzle. A tree is a tree, no matter how it looks or how it behaves. A car is a car, no matter where it’s going. A person is a person, no matter what sort of character they have.


When we teach kids, we ask them to make greater sense of those categories, to shift elements from one label to another. “A tree is a tree, but it’s also a maple or a pine.” And the beautiful thing about kids is that the majority of the time, they make that shift with ease. They think carefully and create new bubbles of information in their minds, ways categories overlap with one another and ways they might be entirely separate.


Best of all, kids haven’t yet learned to feel shame when they’re “wrong” or when they’re asked to recategorize something. They’re open to possibilities about the world that adults don’t risk considering. I like to believe this is part of the reason why their imaginations are so powerful. A tree is a tree, and it might also be a pine or a maple…but it could also be a plant infused with a magic potion!


When I wrote Monsters in the Mist, I wanted to write a book that would tap into this. What would the experience be like if the normal world turned out to be infused with magic and with spookiness? What if the categories you thought were real, weren’t real at all? What if you were haunted by monsters, but the monsters were once normal people, and what if the key to defeating those monsters lies in your ability to shift labels, to be open to new information, to be willing to find magic in the mundane?


And most of all, what if the mundane wasn’t mundane at all, but was instead, exactly the thing you were supposed to fear?


It’s a powerful question, and it’s one I think a lot of kids consider: what parts of our world are we supposed to be nervous about or scared of? And if we are scared of something, what do we do about it? 


This is where scary books and spooky stories and nightmares come into play. They allow kids to walk through scary situations and come out unscathed, just like I did when I was little. Those nightmares taught me to find magic. They taught me to turn spookiness into a story. Finding magic (and spookiness) in the mundane helped me become the author I am, and it most certainly helped me tell the story that can be found in Monsters in the Mist.


I hope you can find it as well, if you have the chance to read.


Juliana Brandt
is an author and kindergarten teacher with a passion for storytelling that guides her in both of her jobs. She lives in her childhood home of Minnesota, and her writing is heavily influenced by travels around the country and decade living in the South.

When not working, she is usually exploring the great outdoors. Her novels, THE WOLF OF CAPE FEN, and A WILDER MAGIC were both published by SourcebooksKids. Up next is MONSTERS IN THE MIST which will publish in May, 2022. Her writing is represented by Natalie Lakosil of Irene Goodman Literary Agency.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Back to School by Darlene Beck Jacobson

 I enjoy opportunities to share my books with the world. What author wouldn't. But there is something about author visits to schools that really ramps up the excitement. Maybe it's because of the fond memories I have of my own life as a student. Or maybe it's because of the many books I got to share with the students I taught during my own tenure in education. Spending face-to-face time with the kids who read my books is an author's dream.

When these warm, welcoming, wonderful in person opportunities to connect with students disappeared these last two years, it felt like a black hole was created in the author/reader universe. Talking about and sharing our books with thousands of other authors doing the same via Zoom did not have the same spontaneous feel. Reaching out to teachers and classrooms became its own challenge. And trying to spread the word for my book WISHES, DARES, AND HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY - which debuted in 2020 - seemed impossible and exhausting.

For many teachers, adding another "online" event to an endless list of things to do with students during virtual learning seemed challenging and unfulfilling. So, right or wrong. I stayed away from online visits for 2020 and most of 2021.

But, as 2022 began, and kids returned to their classrooms, a funny thing happened. Teachers began to reach out to me, asking if I was able, willing to visit their classrooms. Virtual visits, yes, but ones with real connections since these same teachers had read the book with students. Students who were once again excited to meet the author of a book they enjoyed. 


One visit occurred on WRAD this year with a class of fifth graders in Kenosha Wisconsin who had just finished reading  my book.

I have another such visit on May 10, 2022 with third graders in Pennsylvania. The teacher in that classroom was so excited about sharing WISHES, DARES, AND HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY with his students, he bought copies for everyone so they could read it together.

Author visits are fun again! 

Darlene wasn't lucky enough to meet a book author when she was in school, but she's met many since then and still enjoys watching kids get excited when they talk to authors. She is grateful for all the classrooms she's visited and hopes to be in a lot more next year.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Dear Author Visits

Dear Author Visits,
Oh, how I’ve missed you! The way you generously allow me to interact with readers; even the ones (or especially the ones?) who don’t consider themselves to be readers. How I love connecting with them all. How I love the energy when something I've said visibly rumbles a new thought through their brains and sparks a light in their eyes, however permanent. Or fleeting. That has me floating for days!

And how their enthusiasm feeds my creativity! Their questions and reactions have me creating new ideas, right there where I stand. Even the restless bodies force me to think fast and pivot to new topics that soon have them forget (mostly) their antsy muscles, there on the hard floor.

Virtual visits, you’ve been good, too. But if we’re being honest here, you’re just not the same. You don’t come with the electricity that pings through the air, the kids that hang back to ask one last question, or -- wait for it -- the smells of cafeteria food or active bodies that I’ve, curiously, been missing.

Dear, Dear Author Visits,
I’m ready for you. Just let me know when you’re ready for me.

Jody Feldman

Jody Feldman, author of The Gollywhopper Games series, The Seventh Level, and the forthcoming YA thriller No Way Home is obviously ready to visit schools. For more info, here's her current special offer (2nd paragraph) and her School Visit brochure. She's excited to hear from you!

Sunday, May 8, 2022

I GET TO GO TO SCHOOL by Jane Kelley

Whenever I visit a school, everyone is grateful to me for coming. The truth is I always get more than I give.

Don't misunderstand me. My talks are great. I used to be in the theater, so I read my work well. My remarks are inspirational. I often quote one of my characters, Trail Blaze Betty. "The only way to fail is to quit." I share insider info about the business of publishing. I also sign books or bookmarks––or even scraps of paper if that's all the student has. I pose for photos. And I smile. Because I know I am getting much more than I give.

Contact with humans! Instead of lunch at my desk, trying to keep the peanut butter off the keyboard, I get to have a conversation with actual humans. I can't say enough about how much this means to me. Many many years ago, in what was actually my very first author appearance, a student asked me if I was lonely. LONELY? Of course I'm lonely. Most people are. Especially writers who absolutely must spend most of their lives all by themselves or no words will ever get written. 

The people I meet at schools are the best kinds of people. They're readers! They're curious and thoughtful and often more empathetic because they have spent time inside the world of another person--even if that person was made up by someone like me. 

Spending time with readers who are kids is the best of all. Kids are awesome. They are passionate. They have not given up. They are working hard to solve the problems of the world. And they are also really really imaginative. I am absolutely in AWE of this. Sometimes on visits, kids will start to tell me about the things that they are writing. And I can't wait for their books to be on the shelves. Because they are so eager to write and to publish, they remind me to value what I do.

My visits would not happen without teachers. They have such difficult jobs. I am so grateful that they carve a little time out of the day for an author visit. It's wonderful when students have already read my books. It's wonderful when they want to read my books after hearing me read. But it's amazing when kids have actually STUDIED my books. 

At St. Mary's School in Richland Center, Wisconsin, the kids did a character analysis of Megan in Nature Girl. Their work that lined the hallway was astonishing.

I was so impressed by the details and the insights. Look! Trail Blaze Betty! And Megan, who, as the young reader said, did start out as a snotty and selfish drama queen, but at the end became independent, smart, humble, happy, and grateful.

I truly wish I could acknowledge every single student who ever asked me a question or shared an idea. Every single librarian who put my book in a kid's hands. Every single teacher who made space in the day for reading. 

I owe my writing life to all of you. 

Jane Kelley is the grateful, humble, happy creator of Trail Blaze Betty and Megan who are still hiking the Appalachian Trail 12 years after NATURE GIRL was published.



Monday, May 2, 2022

The Visiting Author


The Visiting Author


My last in-person author visit was on February 29, 2020. It was Leap Day, a Saturday, at my local public library. A few families showed up to hear me talk about my time travel books for. One of my best friends, fresh off a plane from South Africa, turned up to surprise me. It was a fun morning.


Little did I know that everything was about to change. I had hoped to do events that spring, and even more events that fall, when my third middle grade novel was published. But that didn’t happen. Instead, I tried to piece together some Zoom events, which were few and far between. The book came out that fall—and its appearance was like a pebble being dropped into an ocean.


The relationship between authors and readers has been transformed by the pandemic. I’ve been moderating some author visits for the Jewish Community Center about 20 minutes up the road, and they’ve always been on Zoom. We have authors making appearances from the Midwest, the Northeast, even Australia, speaking to readers from Maryland. Everyone in their homes, or maybe somewhere else. I moderated one of the discussions from a hotel room in New York City on my phone.


While it’s been amazing to hear authors who might not otherwise have been able to visit, there’s something missing. Seeing everyone in their squares—or maybe not seeing them, if they choose not to turn their cameras on—has become routine. I’m looking forward to doing some Zoom book talks when my new book—my first novel for adults—is published next spring. But I’m also hoping to be able to pick back up where I left off that Leap Day back in 2020 and—carefully, and possibly masked—brave the world again.


--Deborah Kalb