Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Dear 11-year old Me

Dear 11-year old Jade,

You are a college student now, that's quite the leap from the fifth grade. Life is going well and you have already lived through a historic event and you're not even 21 yet. Pretty crazy, huh? All this great insight is coming from yourself in on a a quick trip to New York so it’s going to be short and sweet:

Keep working hard.

Always try your best.

Be yourself.

Don’t worry about what other people think.

Try new things.

Prepare to be very busy in high school and college.

And maybe sit out the last few minutes of that last indoor soccer game during your senior year (your uninjured self will thank me later).

About me: I’m a student at Missouri State University studying Electronic Arts (Video Production) and Screenwriting.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Dear 11-Year-Old Irene Latham

Dear 11-Year-Old Me,

What gifts your parents have given you—
a houseful of siblings/playmates;
piano, books, and art supplies;
a home on a country road with endless
daylight hours to explore, imagine, dream.

Irene & Cinnamon (& Sugar)

You already know the important things:
     Broken bones heal best with ice cream,
books, games, sisters, and long walks outdoors.
Use this to heal yourself after other breaks
and losses, too.

     You don't need money—only imagination—
to have a good time.

     One devoted companion is worth
more than a million followers
online (you'll find out what this means later).

     Better to be quiet, than to say something mean.

Just as the seasons change, you'll change, too.
For now, savor the scent of hay and sunshine
as you hang out with the ponies in the pasture.

Keep reading and writing.

You won't believe it, but someday
you'll take those poems and stories
out of the drawers.

You'll stand in front of crowds to share your words,
with nary a quiver.

There are more surprises in store—
lessons you'll have to learn the hard way,
miracles, and for every heartache,
a forest-ful of fairy tale endings.

Every twist in the road brings you back
to all the things you value right now—
freedom, imagination, beauty, love.

Remember: You are beautiful.
You are enough.

Keep loving and creating,
and you will emerge
on the other side of every storm.


50-Year-Old Me

Irene Latham is a grateful creator of many novels, poetry collections, and picture books, including the coauthored Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship, which earned a Charlotte Huck Honor, and The Cat Man of Aleppo, which won a Caldecott Honor. Irene lives on a lake in rural Alabama.

Monday, August 2, 2021

10 Things I'd Tell My 11-Year-Old Self


10 Things I'd Tell My 11-Year-Old Self


 Me (on left) at about age 11 with my family

10. Never stop reading! It’s always going to be your favorite activity.

9. Keep your sense of humor. It will stand you in good stead!

8. When you have an opportunity to travel, take it. Learn from your experiences and talk to people who live in the place you’re visiting.

7. Get some exercise every day. You’ll be glad when you’re older! Long walks are always good.

6. Don’t let difficult people or situations stop you from doing what you want to do.

5. More interesting eating options are on the horizon! Just wait!

4. Try to overcome at least some of your shyness. People might actually want to talk to you more than you think they will.

3. Keep on observing. It’s okay to be more of an observer than a participant if that’s more comfortable for you, and it will help you with your reporting one day.

2. Keep writing. Don’t take years-long breaks from your fiction-writing.

1. Appreciate your family and friends. 


--Deborah Kalb

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Into the Unknown

 By Charlotte Bennardo

Even if you're a stay-at-home, curl up on the couch with a good book or movie with the cat and a cup of tea kind of person, you need adventure. Maybe it's trying out a restaurant with a cuisine you've never eaten before. Or it's leaving the family home to go on a vacation with college friends. Adventures come in all sizes and shapes and experiences, and as writers, we can't help but incorporate them into our writing, sometimes knowingly, other times unconsciously. 

During the pandemic, staying at home lost its appeal and became...well, oppressive. I had to get out. My husband and I got on our bikes and put on our (new) hiking shoes, and hit the trails. We've been exploring new places, many surprisingly close to our home, and discovering nature, expanding our physical comfort zones, and improving our physical and mental well-being. 

Photo courtesy of Pexels, Nina Uhlikova

How has this shown up in my work? I describe outdoor scenes with more precision and detail. I'm not a fan of heavy description (a holdover from my days as a journalist- just the facts, ma'am), but now I can't help but make my outdoor scenes more lush, or threatening, or mysterious. I know the rush of adrenaline before the pain sets in when you crash your bike (yeah, ow. Broken bones and staples). There is a heart pounding moment when the forest suddenly goes quiet and you're not sure why: a bear? A coming storm? Or, in my writer's mind, a human predator? Truly it is different to write something with imagination versus real life experience.


Photo courtesy of Pexels, Murillo Molissani

So it's onto the next adventure. What will it be? Whatever it is, it can't help but sneak into my writing, and that's a good thing. 

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Combining Work and Play (or Not)

I wish I had interesting hobbies, but I don't. I don't ski or rock climb or do anything that involves athleticism, because I have none.

Pretty much all I do, besides working and taking care of my family, is write and read--and more often than not, the writing and reading relate to work.

My husband and kids are always telling me I need to relax more, but I rarely listen.

However, on the rare occasion, I will get together with my cousin Carolyn. This is one of my favorite ways to relax and have fun. Carolyn and I have been best friends since we were teenagers. (This would be a great place to put a photo of Carolyn and me as teens, but we never take pictures. It's sad, really!)

Since our youth, whenever Carolyn and I get together, we do two things: giggle constantly and stay up all night talking. This wasn't a problem when we were young and could recover quickly from an all-nighter, but now, it takes us about three days to bounce back, and we keep saying, "Why do we do this to ourselves?"

The answer is because it's fun. 

I couldn't tell you the things we talk about all night; I've generally forgotten them by the next day. However, most recently, I read Carolyn my current work-in-progress. Yep. She stayed awake all night long to listen to me read my book. Now that's friendship! Of course, she has known me so well for so long that she knows where most of my material comes from, so she has somewhat of a vested interest.

That work-in-progress has since grown significantly. Last night, I wrote "The End" on this manuscript, which now has 59,824 words. Unfortunately, Carolyn was too busy to get together...or was she?! 😂

Even if she didn't listen to my book, I'd still look forward to our next get-together.

You can make new friends, but you can't make new old friends.




Sunday, July 25, 2021

Playin' Around (Holly Schindler)

“I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don't let anybody tell you different.”--Kurt Vonnegut
This might be one of my favorite literary quotes of all time, from one of my favorite authors.
I didn't always like Vonnegut. In fact, he drove me nuts when I was in grad school. We were assigned Breakfast of Champions, and the book just annoyed me. At one point, Vonnegut says, "I am writing a very bad book," right in the middle of the thing, and I scribbled in the margin, "YUP!!!!!" 
 Or, you know, something along those lines.
The thing is, though, I was a pretty--well--humorless thing, in my early twenties. I liked things that were literary  and high-brow and I didn't have time for guilty pleasures. I was serious and driven and...
Well. You get the idea. 
These days? One of my biggest allergies is to taking oneself too seriously. I love meandering walks and comedies. I'd rather eat milkshakes and French fries over anything fancy-pants. I do not trust people who don't like dog kisses (seriously, who was that girl I used to be????) 
The thing is, you can't expect a really great book to follow all the pre-established rules. You've got to experiment. Let certain plot points take meandering detours away from the original plan. Try new POVs. New narrative techniques. You've got to, in short fart around. 
You just plain can't take your work too seriously. Play is the thing. 
Years after grad school, I saw a short video of Vonnegut discussing story shapes and decided to revisit his work. I re-read Breakfast of Champions.
And I loved it.
Holly Schindler is a critically acclaimed author of books for readers of all ages. Her first MG, The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky, recently re-released. A corresponding activity book is also available. Check for details. 

Friday, July 23, 2021

Put Your Trickster Smack Dab in the Imagination by Dia Calhoun

As promised last month, here is one way I have learned to used the three aspects of the Trickster archetype--the sage/innocent/fool--to shake up my creative work. 

Writers are told they must "kill their little darlings," the pieces of prose they most love, usually descriptions. "No, no," the writer protests, thinking her words as precious and irreplaceable as a Ming dynasty plate.

The Fool steps in to throw your sacred plate across the room and shatter into pieces.

The Sage says, "Relax. Don't worry. You you have an abundance of little darlings inside."

Meanwhile, the Innocent blithely sits down in  the middle of chaos and starts turning over the beautiful  shards.

And so a new direction is born. I'm learning to apply this process in bigger ways, not only to passages of prose or poetry, but to entire chapters, poems, even projects. If  I don't cling to an existing form, I am freer to create better ones.

Is a Writing Proverb in order? How about: The less precious you think your work, the better your work will be.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Inspiring Adventures Everywhere

When you have a creative, story-writing-kind-of imagination, inspiring adventures are everywhere. 

I can do something as simple as watch a movie or documentary, put myself in the story, and my adventure begins. 

Years ago, I watched a PBS program about a scientist studying alligators. Where was the documentary filmed? A mysterious place called the Okefenokee Swamp. Seeing that was all it took for me to gain an irresistible interest in the Okefenokee. My inspiring, imaginative adventure began, and I spent the next several years reading about the swamp, taking several trips to see the swamp firsthand, and learning story after story about the life people in the swamp lived. The result? Elsie Mae Has Something to Say, the historical fiction story of Elsie's endeavor to become a hero of the Okefenokee and preserve the unique swamp life and heritage of her family. Elsie Mae's adventure grew from the imaginative adventures I took in my mind; all of which were sparked by the PBS program about alligators.

The same kind of inspiration can happen for me when I read a really good book. I fall in love with a character and am so drawn into her story that it is almost as if the story is happening to me. Often from that imaginative story-adventure I take while reading, my own creative juices start flowing, and I find myself with ideas for a completely different character with a completely different story. 

So for me, adventure and inspiration go hand in hand, and adventures don't have to be something I've experienced myself in order for those adventures to spark the kind of story inspiration that grows into a book.

Happy Imagination Adventuring,

Nancy J. Cavanaugh