Saturday, July 23, 2016

Reading Undercover: Smack-Dab-in-the-Classroom by Dia Calhoun

When I was a kid, reading undercover increased in the summer. It also required greater dedication.

With school out, I read whatever I wanted in great gulps (if only we could supersize reading instead of sodas). By bedtime, I was always, always, always at a place in the book where I simply could not stop reading. And so the book, flashlight, and I all disappeared under the covers. Covers that hid that tell-tale light from snooping parental units.

Yes, this happened all year round. But in the heat of summer, blankets were stifling. A mere sheet revealed too much light. And so I had a choice: would I be breathless for air or breathless for story?

The story always won.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Summer in Gettysburg by Laurie Calkhoven

I realized in trying to come up with something for the summer theme that weather rarely plays a role in my books. Unless it's an extreme weather situation, I don't mention weather.  But here's a short piece from WILL AT THE BATTLE OF GETTYSBURG, 1863:

   About ten thirty, more infantry soldiers marched down Washington Street, heading for the battle. I had forgotten all about going home. Instead I perched on the plank fence around Mrs. Eyster's Young Ladies Seminary to cheer them on.

   Their uniforms were the thickest kind of wool. Most men had wool blankets and knapsacks belted to their backs. Cartridge boxes and canteens hung over their shoulders. They had been caught in the rain and dripped water and sweat in the hot July weather.

   They marched on the double-quick through rows of townspeople handing them cake and bread with apple butter and water. The men would grab a tin cup, drink, and fling it back as they ran.

   They didn't have the easy confidence of the cavalry from the day before. These men were headed into battle. We could hear the shells thundering, the muskets popping. Some of these men would die today. They knew it. Now I did, too.

   Officers urged the people to stop feeding them--we were slowing the soldiers down--but no one wanted to send them into battle without food and water and shouts of encouragement. It was the only thing we could do.

   "There are enough soldiers here to whip all the Rebs in the South," Albertus McCreary yelled.

   My stomach was beginning to fill with dread, but I pretended to share his excitement. "I bet the war ends today," I said. "And we'll win it!"

Monday, July 18, 2016

Vacation? What Vacation? (July theme) by Claudia Mills

When I pondered our theme this month, summer vacations seen through a character's eyes, I realized that in all the 57 books for young readers that I've published so far in my life, I have taken a character on vacation exactly once, and that was in a book published in 1983.


Part of why I never write about vacations is that I specialize in school stories, and well, school is precisely when vacation isn't happening. But I also don't write about vacations because, heretical as this may seem, I don't really like vacations. Depending on how you define "vacation," it's been almost ten years since I've taken one. If a "vacation" is a trip taken just for fun, with no component of work or family obligation, my last was in 2007.

I've come to realize that I'm happiest when I have work combined with play, and play combined with work. I adore getting invited to give a talk at a conference and then savoring all the pleasures of the conference city while I'm there. I'm even happier if I can connect with old, dear friends on the trip or bring a family member along with me. My passion for productivity makes it the case that I really do feel most satisfied if I'm writing while I'm traveling, or researching a book, or giving a talk, or something. Just to stroll around aimlessly looking at stuff? It doesn't thrill me the way that multi-layered trips do.

So here I am, writing on the Great Wall of China on a trip in 2013, where I went to give a talk at a conference of American and Chinese children's literature scholars sponsored by Ocean University in Qingdao.
It wasn't a "vacation," but as far as I'm concerned, trips don't get much better than this.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Take Your Character on Vacation (July Theme by Naomi Kinsman)

For most of us, summer offers the opportunity to live a little differently. Whether for a week or a month, vacations invite us to try things we wouldn't normally try. We can learn a lot about ourselves--noticing the way we engage with new experiences.

This summer, my family took a trip to Bend, OR. During our week away, we boated, hiked, and even visited a mountain climbing gym. The mountain climbing was particularly interesting because it was a new activity for most of our family. We each handled it a little differently. Our approaches to the challenges posed by the climbing walls revealed a lot about our temperaments and personalities. How persistent were we? What goals did we set or not set for ourselves? Did we step back and watch or dive in first? When fear cropped up, did we push past it, pause, or panic?

This summer, I'm revising a novel I drafted during a recent NaNoWriMo. While the fast drafting gave me strong insight regarding plot, my characters still need development. Rather than forcing a revision, I've been writing around the edges of the book, giving my characters room to develop. One strategy I've tried is to write about my characters' ordinary lives, writing scenes that place them in regular situations. This approach has definitely helped me see how they behave from day to day.

However, while thinking about my experiences on vacation, I realized that putting my characters in extraordinary situations might provide key insight. Stories, after all, aren't about ordinary experiences. As writers, we need to know how our characters normally face challenges. Then, when the story pushes our character beyond the ordinary, we have a baseline and can show the character's growth from that point.

Maybe you're writing a story this summer, too. If so, I'd highly recommend you experiment with taking your characters on vacation. How will they react to the adventures offered?

Friday, July 15, 2016

A Long Hot Summer (A Character's Perspective) by Bob Krech

The first thing I thought about…when those black guys got shot by the cops at those traffic stops…and I’m not proud to admit it…but the first thing I thought about was, how is this going to affect the team?

We’ve already got black guys with us who aren’t necessarily crazy about white people and now this? Plus the guys outside the team at school who’ve never been happy with any white guys. And since it’s summer and we’re all in our own neighborhoods, and not really seeing each other or anything, it makes me wonder what’s everybody thinking? I mean, I know what people here in Greenville are thinking–– and it’s not good. We have plenty of cops living over here.

It’s over in Lincoln Park that I’m wondering about. What are Al and Winnie and all of them thinking?

The more mature or whatever part of me thinks that with what’s going on, I should be worried about the big picture. People protesting all over and now cops getting shot. Instead I keep thinking about us. Our team. Is it all gonna be normal when we get together to play summer league next week? Our nine black guys and six white guys. Is it going to do anything to us?

But maybe that’s what I should be worried about, because that’s where it’s all going to come home and not just be something on the news. That’s where maybe I can actually do something about it.

-Ray W. (from REBOUND)

Wednesday, July 13, 2016


            When I tell people I have a manga book out and a Barbie comic book coming out, the response is usually the same, “Oh, so you draw!”
            To which I have to explain with embarrassment, “No, I don’t.”
            This is usually followed by confusion, but I’m not in a rare situation. Many times when there are books that involve pictures, one person writes and another person draws. That’s true when it comes to manga and comic books.
I read comics as a kid, and when I was a teen, I READ them voraciously, especially manga (Japanese comics). From there I started writing about manga for places like MTV, CNN, The Onion, Publishers Weekly and Booklist, and for a while I adapted manga into English for an American publishing company. This background allowed me to sell my first book, Manga Art for Beginners, even though I’m not an artist.
            Here’s how it worked: I sent in a proposal of all the chapters of the book. Because it’s a how-to-draw book, I have it start with basics. Readers learn how to draw eyes, faces and bodies first. Then I move onto common manga character types, like ninja or butlers. I wrote out the book so that it would be very detailed, showing twelve or so steps for each character. This came out of my frustration with other how-to-draw books showing only three or so steps.
            Melanie Westin, the artist I worked with, drew to match what I’d written. We’d talk on the phone maybe once a week and email back and forth with the drawings. After Melanie sent me her drawings, I added more writing, detailing each step as I saw Melanie draw them.
The Barbie comic book was a different experience. I queried multiple comic book publishers and Papercutz, which does comic books for kids, wrote back to me. They were working on Barbie titles, so I pitched a story where Barbie, her sisters and their new puppies throw a party to find homes for the local shelter pets. My pitch was approved by both Papercutz and Mattel.
            Then I wrote a script for it. Comic book scripts general go something like this: You number the page and the panel, then give people lines and describe the action. For instance, you say, “Page 1, Panel 1.” Then you said “BARBIE:...” (or whomever) and put in what she’s saying. Then you give a description of what’s happening in the panel. Next, you would say, “Panel 2" and continue. Page 2 will start with, “Page 2, Panel 1.”
            With the manga book, I worked closely with the artist. With Barbie, Papercutz chose the artist they wanted and the editor has been the go-between for the artist and me. I’ve seen some of the panels, and they look beautiful! Barbie: Puppy Party will be released in September.
I also write books that are purely prose. My Overworld Adventures series is known as “books for Minecrafters” because the main character, Stevie, is an eleven-year-old boy living in the Minecraft world who finds a portal to Earth. They books are aimed for middle grade readers, and four books have been released so far: Escape from the Overworld, Attack on the Overworld, The Rise of Herobrine and Down into the Nether. The final two books in the series, The Armies of Herobrine and Battle with the Wither, will be released in September and October, respectively. People also sometimes assume that because of my work in manga and comic books, The Overworld Adventures are illustrated, too, but that’s not the case. For this series, it’s just me writing! If you’re a writer and not an artist, it doesn’t mean you have to stick to just prose writing . . . there are opportunities for you to work with an artist as well!

Twitter: @DanicaDavidson

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Wine Making MG Style: by Darlene Beck Jacobson

This scene is from a historical MG WIP:

Pa wanted berries so he could make his home made wine.   
             Summer was nearly done and most of the bushes picked over.  A few pea-sized berries were scattered around this late in the season. Not nearly enough to fill even half a bucket.  I was ready to go home.
Until I heard whistling and saw a boy emerge from the trees.  
            “Hi, Joe.”
            “Hey, Helen. What are you doing out this early?”
            “Pa wants these buckets filled with...” I stopped when I saw his pail brimming with plump, ripe berries. “Where’d you get those?  I’ve been out here since the sun came up and this is all I’ve got.” 
            Joe grinned. “I’ve got a special place, not too many people know about. I don’t want people messing it up.”
            “Can you take me there, Joe.  Please?  If I come back with empty buckets, Pa’ll be mad.”
            “How do I know I can trust you not to tell?”  
            I like knowing there’s a special place nobody knows about.”  I could tell by the look on Joe’s face that he knew what I meant by secret places.  I looked him in the eye and said, “It will just be our secret.”
            Joe’s look was so intense, my stomach suddenly felt quivery. I was glad he stopped staring and said, “You have to promise that if you come back here, you come alone.” Joe spit on the palm of his hand and held it out.
             I set my bucket down, worked saliva around my tongue, spitting a glob of it onto a palm. We pressed our palms together and slid them across the sticky surfaces, smiling at each other.
            “Follow me,” Joe said.
            We hiked about a half mile, through the bushes, into the hills.  

I stared with amazement. “There’s enough here to fill ten buckets.”
            “They’re a lot sweeter than the ones down below.” 
            I stuck my tongue out and he dropped the berry onto it. “Yummy.” I dumped out the small, hard berries I’d gotten below, and began filling my pail with the perfect ones.
            “Give me the other pail and I’ll fill it for you.”
            In no time at all we filled both buckets and looked as if we’d barely touched the bushes.   

          “What does you Pa want these for?”
            Joe looked at me, a sudden spark in his eyes. “Do you know how to make wine?”
            “No.” I shrugged.
            Joe set the bucket down and untied his shoes.
            “What are you doing?”
            “Do you want to make wine or don’t you?”
            “How can we make wine here?”
            “Take off your shoes.” Joe laughed when I turned up nose as he wiggled his bare feet.  “I saw this book once about Italy. They made wine by smashing grapes with their feet.” He smiled. “We could do the same thing with the berries. You game?"