Wednesday, April 29, 2015

April Theme: Gurfu is Enough by Jen Cervantes

Stories grow, the magician told the gardener. If we give them water and light.
The gardener knew this to be true. But she remembered someone from long ago who said, It had been startling and disappointing to me to find out that story books had been written by people, that books were not natural wonders, coming up of themselves like grass.
"I want to believe such wonder exists," the gardener told the magician. "That stories (the ones demanding to be told) indeed come up like the grass."
Then after a long pause, the gardener asked, "How much light?"
As much as you can hold in your heart.
"And how much water?"
The magician smiled. Enough.
"But how do I know how much is enough?"
Seeing the gardener's confusion, the magician added, It's an ancient word, from an ancient culture.
"What does it mean?"
 The amount of water that can be held in one hand. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

April Theme: Reading to Write by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

Recently, while I was teaching a class, I decided that I wouldn't be able to work on my WIPs while the course was going on. So, along with some freelance assignments, mostly, I read. And read.

And it was glorious! I read old favourites and new releases. I read genres that I don't often read. I inhaled books that had been sitting on my shelves for years, and some, after a few chapters, were set out on the sidewalk to wait for a more suitable reader. (In this neighborhood, free books don't sit for long.)

Now, I'm between teaching and digging back into WIPs--picture books, novels, fiction and nonfiction--and I realize:

I was working on my WIPs all along.

I can't forget that reading opens up creative waterways that expands my thinking, encourages me to innovate and take risks--it makes my writing better.

And books are just so, so good I KNOW RIGHT?!!?!

Saturday, April 25, 2015


The first time you do anything, you look like an idiot. No first kiss ever didn't involve a nose-bump. No first-time driver ever shifted gears perfectly. No writer will ever tell you their first novel was BEAUTIFUL (most of the time, they’re in a shelf somewhere collecting dust).

Here’s the thing, though: the first draft of every book makes me feel like a fool. Doesn’t matter how many books I’ve written and published. The first draft always makes me feel like I’m fifteen again, behind the wheel for the first time. 

Right now, I’m revising my next YA for HarperCollins. As I read my editor’s comments, do I see some wrong turns I made the first time around? You bet. I’ve got a better grip on the wheel, a better sense of where I am in the lane, and I feel great about where I’m headed. I'm working my way toward a book I'm 100% proud of.

...All thanks to the fact that I was willing to look a little foolish the first time around...

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Smack Dab in the Classroom: Let there be Quiet! by Dia Calhoun

I have long believed that schools today emphasize team work and group learning projects far too much. But I thought this merely a reaction of my own strongly introverted nature. But Susan Cain's book, QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking, at last confirmed that I'm not alone.

Yes!" I shouted over and over as I listened to the audio book in my car. "Yes!" This book is an eye-opener.

Over the last century, our society has come to favor extroversion over introversion. Historically, the opposite was true. Quiet people were considered wiser. Moral virtue was more important than personality. Cain shows how with the rise of business culture in the US in the early 20th century, all this began to reverse.

Schools teach group learning because they think kids need this model to survive in the business world. But in both pod-centered classrooms and "wall-free open offices," constant interruptions to thought, reflection, and creativity are a detriment to good work and thinking, not a benefit.

Studies show that most students learn better individually, not in groups. In groups the extroverts take over. Ideas presented with personality and charisma gain credibility, even if they are weaker than ideas presented quietly.  The same is true of the hallowed business brain-storming sessions.

I know this is a rant post. But please, all teacher and librarians everywhere, drop everything and read QUIET. Authors and quiet people everywhere, read QUIET too. It will help you reclaim the power of the introverted nature that our society has, to its own great loss (read Cain's section on how the banking world's preference for risk-taking extroverted personalities contributed to the Great Recession) so marginalized.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

May Flowers by Laurie Calkhoven

Writing fiction is my first love. But I make a living as an author, and I often find myself writing books editors ask to me write. So, when an editor from Scholastic called and asked if I was interested in pulling together a book about the various ways animals have aided the military over the years, I said yes.

As always, I was sorry to be putting aside my novel to work on a nonfiction project, but once I started, I became fascinated with the ways dolphins and pigeons and horses and dogs and even glowworms have become heroes in wartime.

It was a really fun book to write. The photo research team at Scholastic did an amazing job with the illustrations. And then I saw the cover (the book comes out in August), and how cute is this?

The editor was great to work with, and I’ve since sold her another book—a collective biography of 50 amazing American women called WOMEN WHO CHANGED THE WORLD.

So, I started with one book I didn’t really want to write, had a blast, and sold another project. I still haven’t had time to get back to that novel, but I’m learning amazing things and keeping the roof over my head.  May flowers indeed.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Visiting Places for Inspiration (April theme) Kristin Levine

When I'm writing, I love to actually visit the place I'm writing about.  For my first book, The Best Back Luck I Ever Had, it was the mounds in Moundville, Alabama.

The Lions of Little Rock was inspired my visiting Little Rock, Arkansas, with my mother.  Here's West Side Junior High where the main characters in that book go to school. 

Seeing where my father went to the movies and ice skated in the winter sparked many scenes for The Paper Cowboy.

I'm currently working on a new book.  Right now it's called, The Space Between the Pieces, and I'm having so much fun visiting locations near my home town, including the carousel on the National Mall and this cool statue in front of the Air & Space Museum.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Gifts from the Rain (April theme) by Claudia Mills

Our theme this month: April showers bring May flowers.

Our question this month: how do we make our story flowers grow?

Here is one "gardening" technique I use with mine.

Like many writers, I tend to get stuck about halfway through a book, or maybe a third of the way in. The story is well begun, with the presentation of my characters and the establishment of the central problems to be resolved. I have a good sense of how that resolution is going to take place. But now I have the whole middle of the book to fill, the whole dreaded "saggy middle" to navigate.

My most fertile technique here is to go back and re-read the first half or third of the book and note carefully every gift I've already given myself. These are little fun, throw-away moments in the story that I hadn't thought much about as I was writing, details that crept in for their own sake, but that now need to be pressed into full service for the larger story.

For example, in Kelsey Green, Reading Queen, Kelsey is trying to win a school reading contest. But it is only mildly interesting to read about someone else reading. Reading is not inherently a spectator sport. Facing my sagging middle, I looked hard at what I had already provided for my authorial self to work with.

The book opens with a scene intended to show Kelsey as an obsessive reader, as she's reading The Secret Garden under her desk during math time. Then I have her once again reading during math in a subsequent chapter. Doesn't she at some time in the book have to get caught? Of course, she does! This may seem blindingly obvious to everyone else in the world, but I truly didn't realize this until I went on that hunt for first-half-of-the-book gifts. Recall the adage attributed to Chekhov that if there is a gun hanging over the mantel in Act I of the play, it needs to go off by Act III.

The school principal, Mr. Boone, comes by to cheer on the third graders. To give additional encouragement, he mentions in passing that the star fifth grade reader is off on a family vacation, so this may help their chances. Doesn't Kelsey have to have a face-to-face meeting with that star fifth grade reader later in the story when Lindsay returns from her trip?

Kelsey is frustrated by her mother's insistence that she give up precious reading time to attend her older siblings' school events: her mother calls it "being a family." Doesn't Kelsey have to have some kind of big blow-up moment as her irritation accumulates, an explosion that will lead her to a new appreciation of her family, after all?

So, as you try to get your story flowers to bloom, rain and sunshine are all to the good. But also pay close attention to the seeds that you yourself have already planted.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Thursday, April 16, 2015

What you may not know – Insider Look at Extraordinary Sam

When I first set out to write the story of a very ordinary boy who discovers he was destined to be extraordinary, I had a clear image of how the story would flow. The trouble was that I had no idea what I didn’t know about writing. Each draft evolved over time as I attended conferences and worked with my critique group. I felt as if each chapter was a canvas where I started off with finger paints and, over time, ended up with a fine water color brush.
At that point, I was able to find a home for my story at a small press, BookFish Books. Then I realized my fine water color brush was only a crayon and I was still wearing an old dress shirt backward as a smock. There was more work to do.
Of course, these descriptions of the process were totally in my head, a place where the voices tease me with words of wisdom like “you are a great writer” and “you stink!” I was able to silence those voices and dive back into the story another time with fresh eyes and great notes from my editor. It was then I decided my villain needed a slight change.
The bad guy in the story, Lord Cormac, rules over the realm of Ashling with an iron fist, and in that iron fist is a fireball ready to be catapulted at anybody who crosses him. At first pass, Cormac was really bad. Everything he said, every reaction was BAD! When I re-read his scenes, I saw a flat character and decided he needed to be more.
The new Cormac came with one spark and I decided to have fun with it (but not take it overboard). I put myself in the head of a guy who has everybody fearing him, following him. His character tilted a little on the side and the humor spilled out. I wanted to be just subtle enough that it wouldn’t take away from this bad-guyness (is that a word?). I added dashes of spoiled child behind the fierceness and contempt for those who serve him. This all leads to confusion among his henchmen and fear that they are about to meet the business end of a fireball.
In the first book, we have only scratched the surface of the supporting characters and there is much to be revealed. The details about these characters are sometimes enlightening to motivation and sometimes a twist you didn’t see coming. I look forward to sharing more about Sam and the people of Ashling in the sequel to Extraordinary Sam & the Adventurers’ Guild. 

Kevin A. Springer grew up on a farm in Maryland where his imagination knew no limits. As a husband and father, he reconnected with his creativity while telling bedtime stories to his two young boys. One such story evolved into his debut book, Extraordinary Sam & the Adventurers’ Guild (March 2015, Bookfish Books LLC.), which tells the tale of an ordinary boy who finds a hatbox and discovers a world of adventure and self-discovery.

Kevin is a self-proclaimed dreamer and a kid at heart. When he’s not writing or reading, he is coaching soccer or helping with homework. He lives outside of Atlanta with his wife, two extraordinary boys, and dogs. He is a member of SCBWI and a co-founder of the Middle Grade Mafia blog (

He can also be reached at

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April Showers by Danette Vigilante

With each drop of rain a bucket fills, the tide rises, flowers sprout.

With each word, and every sentence, so too, does a story and character grow.

A story blooms, worlds created, hearts filled, friends made.

A storm rolls in fierce and strong-- a story told sweet and true.

In the end, the sun shines, a book closes.

A sigh of beauty. A sigh of beauty.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Policeman Knew My Name (Off Topic) by Bob Krech

Somewhere on the dreaded I-95 in Maryland on the way home to New Jersey Sunday night, my wife and I were listening to a classic rock station and the Who's "Who Are You?" came on the radio. After the beginning with the jangling guitars and repeated choruses of "Who are you?", there comes the first two lines of the story.

"I woke up in a Soho doorway. A policeman knew my name."

For some reason I had my writing hat on I thought, "Yes!" That's all you have to say. What brilliant writing!

If I were writing that scene I'm sure my first draft would have been something like, "He was drunk. He smelled like piss and soot. His raincoat was soiled and crumbled beneath him. He lay half asleep in the doorway of a Soho row house. A policeman poked him with his nightstick. "C'mon, John. Be a good lad. Time to move along."

And I could go on on and on and it would be okay. But those two lines do it so much better. Think what that one line says about a guy waking up in a doorway, "A policeman knew my name."

I know it's a song and we typically think of songs as a different animal than narrative writing, but that's the kind of writing I aspire to in anything I write.

I heard the same sort of brilliance at an Al Stewart concert last month when he sang his incredible "Roads to Moscow."

In this song, a young soldier in WWII manages to get through four years of war and devastation. Finally the war is ending and he is going home on the train with all his fellow soldiers when...

"And now they ask me of the the time that I was caught behind their lines and taken prisoner
'They only held me for a day, a lucky break,' I say;

He sings this quickly. You can feel the rush of the soldier's excitement, the words spilling out and then the next line:

"They turn and listen closer"

"They turn and listen closer."

Don't you feel your neck hairs stick up and the words, "uh, oh," form in your reader brain? What a great and simple way to show (not tell about) the suspicion and paranoia of his superiors. Really? They only held you for a day? Some lucky break allowed you to be set free? You wouldn't be a spy now would you? I wonder what you told them?

I wanted to stuff the words right back in the young soldier's mouth. I'm sure he did too because the the next lines are as follows:

"I'll never know, I'll never know why I was taken from
the line and all the others
To board a special train and journey deep into the heart
of holy Russia

And it's cold and damp in the transit camp, and the air
is still and sullen
And the pale sun of October whispers the snow will soon
be coming

And I wonder when I'll be home again and the morning
answers, 'Never'
And the evening sighs, and the steely Russian skies go on

I hope I can write stories or even just sentences as succinct and telling. I think sometimes it pays to listen to great music and read those lyrics and consider how we can work like that in our own genres.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Writing in the Rain April Theme by Tamera Wissinger

When I was young, my siblings and I used to have a chant: “Rain! Rain! Go away! And don’t come back.” It was a childish subversion of the traditional, “Come again another day,” and it helped us cope with our plans being derailed by the weather.
Rain! Glorious Rain!

Sunset after the rain.
Now that I’m older I tend to roll with the tide – enjoying the sunny days and spending time outside whenever I have the chance. On those days I fill my lungs with fresh air and my brain with fresh images and experiences. And on those rainy days instead of wishing the downpour would disappear, I welcome it as a gentle encouragement to nurture my writing. The storm invites me to stay indoors, make a bowl of popcorn, dip into those images and experiences, and strengthen that story.

Monday, April 13, 2015


Isabel Wixon is weird. Not only does she see dead things, but her list of friends consist of a talkative ventriloquist’s dummy and the gentlemanly spider that lives in her hair. Real friends? Too hard. Inventing friends is much easier.

Inventing the Boatman—a terrible monster that lures kids into a strange sleeping sickness and never lets them go—probably wasn’t one of her better ideas though. 

Kat Hawthorne tends to lurk (somewhat menacingly) in the darker corners of the literary world. In addition to a smattering of published poetry, Kat’s short fiction has appeared in such literary magazines as Underneath the Juniper Tree, Thrills Kills and Chaos, Infernal Ink, Dark Edifice, Shadows Express, Fiction and Verse, and The Rain, Party, & Disaster Society. Her literary novelette, The Oddity, was published by MuseIt Up Publishing on July 11th, 2014. In partnership with Enter Skies Entertainment, Kat wrote the narrative portion of Fearless Fantasy, an online role-playing game published by tinyBuild Games and hosted by Steam. As well as being a nerd of the highest order, Kat is a graduate of Ryerson University’s copy, substantive, and stylistic editing programs and is an acquisitions, line, and copy editor at BookFish Books LLC.

Please visit for more information about Kat’s writing, or to learn about her editing work.

Find her online:

Twitter: @KatMHawthorne