Thursday, January 28, 2016


My first short story for young readers is officially live!

Or: The Day Izzy Ashby Removed All the Words from Her Entire School

Do you honestly need me to tell you anything else? 

Fourth grader Izzy Ashby has literally shaken every single word out of its rightful place in each textbook, worksheet, and bulletin board throughout Eastwood Elementary. And it’s a complete disaster. Seriously…

Wordquake offers an imaginative, action-driven short story that's a perfect fit for teachers searching for a new classroom read-aloud--especially well-suited for reluctant readers.

Grab a copy:

Coming soon to B&N


Saturday, January 23, 2016

Developing Metaphorical Muscle: Smack Dab in the Classroom by Dia Calhoun

January. January Darkness. Days that are squeaks of light. We might think this is the time to read about light. And of course it is. But it's also the time for us all, kids and adults, to read about darkness, if only to endure it better by understand its metaphorical role in our inner world.

Two of my favorite books about this are still the classics: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle (a wonderful new audio recording came out in 2012) and The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper. Also beloved is the lesser known The Perilous Gard (Newbery Honor 1975) by Elizabeth Marie Pope, who was one of my professors at Mills College. Finally, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, which inspired the movie Hugo.

Have kids read one of these books and write about the dark and light on all levels--in the outer world, the inner world, the moral world, the mythological world. Use this to teach them about metaphor. Sadly today, with all the emphasis on the science, math, and technology, kids aren't developing their metaphorical understanding muscles. This is a loss, because metaphor--through dream, religion, mythology, poetry--will help them understand their connection to life. and their place in the world.

Friday, January 22, 2016

“INSPIRATION EXISTS, BUT IT HAS TO FIND YOU WORKING,” by Laurie Calkhoven (and Pablo Picasso)

It took me a long time to learn the truth of the Pablo Picasso quote in the headline.  I was one of those people who often said, “One day, I’m going to be a writer.” I wrote fiction all through grade school and high school. I majored in journalism in college, but that’s not really what I wanted to do. I wanted to write novels.

I went to work in book publishing and spent twenty years helping other people bring their books into the world. I was always going to write “one day.” What I was really waiting for was the idea that would transform me into a writer, the Eureka moment that in which I would become the next Anne Tyler, the next Alice Hoffman. Twenty years of not writing anything more than reports and memos—waiting for an idea.  I told myself that when the time was right, it would happen.

Of course it didn’t.

One day I was expressing that wish to a trusted friend. She pointed me toward Julia Cameron’s THE ARTIST’S WAY, a twelve week program to “awaken your creative soul.” One of the most important exercises in that program was to write Morning Pages—three longhand pages about anything that comes to mind, first thing every morning.

I loved Morning Pages. First I thought of them as a brain drain where I scribbled about the dreams that I had woken up with, the difficult meeting to come at work that day, the book I was reading, my argument with my sister.  But pretty soon, I was finding the seeds of short essays. And then a fiction idea –the first one like a BANG while I was reading the newspaper one morning.  And then I discovered I was a children’s writer! Who knew?

I got to work on my first novel, made a career switch to children’s publishing, and four years later left the corporate world behind to be a full-time writer.

After twenty years of sitting around waiting for an epiphany, I learned that all I had to do was show up on the page.  “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Epiphany (January theme) by Kristin Levine

A few years ago, I was getting divorced.  The paperwork had been completed with a mediator, but I had been advised to hire a lawyer to review our settlement agreement to make sure everything was clear and fair.

I made an appointment, and when I walked into the law office, I found the lawyer was a woman about my own age.  She had a beautiful stylish haircut, manicured nails and lovely shoes without a scuff on them.  I suddenly felt self-conscious about my own uncolored roots, chewed nails, and the old pumps from 1992.  

She led me into her tidy office full of shiny, new furniture and offered me a bottle of water from the fridge.  We made small talk.  Her au pair was picking up her kids today; I had been an au pair many year ago.  As we talked, I thought about my old laptop, piles of papers, and file cabinet I had rescued from the side of the road that made up my “office” at home.  I recalled trying to work while my kids played or watched TV.

And as she went to work, reading and examining the papers I had brought along, I found myself consumed with envy.  This could have been my life!!  I could have been a lawyer.  I could have had the beautiful clothes and the fancy office and the nanny to help take care of my kids.  Why had I decided to become a writer?!  Of all the stupid decisions I had made, this was surely one of the worst. 

Half an hour or so later, she was done with the review.  Everything was in order.  I thanked her for her time and stood to go.

“Wait,” she called after me.

I turned around to look at her.  She looked kind of wistful.

“You did say you were a writer, right?” she asked.  Before I could nod, she went on.  “Because that is so cool!!”

And suddenly, I saw everything differently.  She envied me!  Maybe she didn’t want to spend hours in a salon, getting her hair and nails done each week, but felt she had to maintain a certain appearance for the firm.  She was stuck in this office, all day, everyday, while I could work when and where I wanted.  In a cafe.  At the library.  At home in my pajamas.  I had the freedom to imagine stories that I wanted to tell, that were meaningful and important to me.  Her days were filled with paperwork, the sad stories of the end of people’s marriages.  Maybe she wanted to be the one to pick up the kids from the bus stop.

We looked at each other for a moment and smiled.  I told her the names of my books, gave her a card in case she wanted to go to the library and check one out.  If we had met in a different manner, I think we would have been friends.  I thanked her again and walked out grateful, not only for the legal advice, but for the change in perspective, the realization that we both saw the good in each other lives.  

I think this is one of the most important things good writing does for us - it allows us, for a few moments at least, to see the world from someone else’s point-of-view.

Monday, January 18, 2016

"The Moral of the Story" (January theme) by Claudia Mills

One of the most common faults in children's literature has been that it's didactic and moralistic, bent on preaching, bent on teaching. For this reason I've heard many brilliantly successful writers caution against any kind of message-driven fiction. Authors should write to tell a whopping good story. Period. Forget about offering a message or a moral. As Samuel Goldwyn quips, "If you want to send a message, call Western Union."

With all due respect, I beg to differ.

As a reader, I've always loved best the protagonist's epiphany moment, that place toward the end of the story when she finally "gets it," figures out some truth about  her own experience, about the human condition more generally, which allows her to take one small, halting step toward growing up. That's the moment when I get tears in my eyes. I don't read to find out what happens as much as to find out what it all means. That's the moment that matters most to me as a writer, as well.

So how do we offer epiphanies to our readers in a way that doesn't resort to mere preaching and teaching? Let me offer a stab at some tentative guidelines.While we can find examples of wonderful books by amazing authors that violate all of them, here are three I try to adhere to myself as I craft a story that climaxes with my character discovering some universal truth that changes her, and perhaps the reader, forever.

1. Your character should discover this truth herself rather have it delivered to her through the pronouncements of some adult authority. Let it be hard won, and let her have the honor and glory of the winning.

2. This truth should emerge from the story in an organic way rather than feeling imposed upon it. Don't write the book to tell the message, write the book to find the message.

3. Finally, and most important, it should be (even, and especially, in a book for children) an interesting truth, a complex and surprising truth, not something morally obvious and simplistic like "Don't lie" or "It's nice to share" or "Recyling helps the earth."

I value fiction most when it teaches me something I'm in need - perhaps in desperate need - of knowing. And so I try to let my characters uncover truths that I myself am most in need of discovering.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Epiphany Haiku (January Theme - Sarah Dooley)

11th Hour Epiphany

Seven hours spent
staring at an empty screen.
Just before sleep, BAM!

Epiphany Regarding Plot

This is boring, I
should make something happen soon.
Hey, where'd that come from?

Lack of Epiphany

"Why did the author ..."
Who knows? No coffee that day.
Your answer sounds good.

First Line Epiphany

The clouds just parted
and a beam of sun shone down
on my empty page.

Last Line Epiphany

I know how it ends!
Now to figure a way to 
get from here to there.

One Last, Proud Haiku

I can't believe I
spelled the word epiphany
right so many times.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Epiphanies (January Theme) by Bob Krech

My top 10 writing epiphanies over the years:
1. You don't have to know the ending before you begin.
2. You don't have to take writing courses or have a degree in writing to be a writer.
3. Not every editor or agent will want to get behind your work, but all you need is one.
4. As the author, you usually know best about your story.
5. On the other hand, you need to listen to and seriously consider other opinions.
6. Rewriting can be fun and maybe the most important part of the process.
7. Listen to your characters. Give them room to lead the way.
8. Leaving a story alone for a few weeks or even months really does give you perspective.
9. You don't need long, uninterrupted hours of time to write. It can be done in chunks.
10. You have to deliberately make time for writing, but also realize there are some things that are more important (family, relationships) and will always take precedence. Don't feel guilty.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Gifts to Ourselves, January Theme by Tamera Wissinger

Just after the holidays I put away the decorations and began tidying up around the house. Soon I was deep cleaning all of the bookcases. It’s not the most exciting job, but I do enjoy “visiting” my books and keepsakes. This time around the book that caught my attention was BEAUTIFUL GEMS OF THOUGHT AND SENTIMENT. This version has a 1901 copyright and was printed by C.W. Stanton Company, Chicago. I believe it was edited by Henry Davenport Northrop since he’s credited with editing the 1890 version with the same title. This is mostly a poetry anthology broken into sections like THE CHARMS OF NATURE, DESCRIPTIONS AND TALES OF THE SEA, ALBUM OF LOVE, THE SWORD AND THE PLOW. I love it for the poetry and for the way it freezes time and invites a look backward.

This time, though, when I opened the pages I noticed something new. Here tucked inside was a message from the book’s original owner:
These words:

Presented To: Leta ElCrepps 
By: Herself 
Xmas, Dec, 25, 1901 

sent a small tingle up my arms and to my heart. In 1901 sweet Leta gave herself a Christmas present. I haven’t been able to find out any information on Leta ElCrepps, nor am I even certain that’s the correct spelling of her name. But what a gift! This book is over 500 pages, with silver and gold pressed into the cover. I imagine in 1901 a book like this would have been a splurge. Why would Leta have done that for herself? Was she a poet? A student? A romantic? I may never know, but what I believe is that Leta cared for herself enough to give herself a marvelous Christmas present.

And now 115 years later Leta’s note and present to herself are a gift to me – my first 2016 epiphany: Remember to treat yourself. It’s a practice that I’d like to adopt in 2016.

Presented to: Tamera Wissinger 
By: Herself 
New Year, January 14, 2016

…that has a nice ring.

Wishing you a blessed and gift-filled New Year. (And hello from the past if you are a poet reading this 115 years from now in 2131. Go buy yourself a present; Leta and Tamera said it's okay.)


Tamera Wissinger writes stories and poetry for children including Gone Fishing: A Novel in Verse, This Old Band, and There Was An Old Lady Who Gobbled a Skink (out next month!) and Gone Camping: A Novel in Verse (arriving next year!) You can connect with Tamera online at her website, on Twitter, or on Facebook.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Epihanies Big and Small by Darlene Beck Jacobson

Ideas are everywhere.  We writers often discover an idea for a story in a most unlikely place.  In the shower.  On a walk.  Cleaning out a closet.  Discovering a forgotten family heirloom.  Anyone with an over active imagination can come up with an idea for a story.

Ideas are a dime a dozen, as the saying goes.  Just ask any would-be inventor.

Since well before the industrial age, people have come up with original gadgets they hoped would do things better.  Or make life easier.  Provide fun or enhance our lives.  There are hundreds of thousands of patents for new and improved things.  But on the way to these product successes, just as many "flops" go unrecorded.

So it goes with our writing ideas.  That idea that excited us before we went to bed, turned out to be like so many stories already written, once examined under the light of day.  The friendship story?  Done.  Coming of age?  Also done. And done.  So many ideas seem to be anything but original.

My point?  My own epiphany: As someone has often said, when it comes to ideas, there are no new ones. EVERY story has been told.

Except.  OUR OWN STORY.  Our own telling of the universal truths.  Our own spin on the classic tale.  We authors bring a unique experience and perspective to an idea.  HOW we tell the story is what makes the difference.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Who's In Control?

from Jody Feldman

I do not consciously control what, for me, is the sweetest morsel of the writing process. And the preceding statement may be true on two levels. I do not know the if I am capable of controlling it and I've learned not to try. Let me explain with an example.

I’ve just started writing something completely new. By new, I mean, as of this posting, 131–current-words new. The idea came to me in 2011, and I started playing around with it just before I received the green light to write two more Gollywhopper Games books. But that ‘s another story for another day. The point is, for the last month, before I ever thought about writing the first sentence, I hearkened back to what’s been my most successful process. I’ve taken much time and brain power to draw together some of the larger overall ideas that have already made this a book I am very excited about.

Rewind to, oh, four months or more before I’d even remembered I had this story in my idea files. I was just sitting there thinking about who-knows-what when there came to me the thought of using a certain object that could get my characters out of trouble. So as not to include potential spoilers, let’s say this element was a monkey wrench. I was intrigued, and it humored me, but I wasn’t working on anything, whatsoever, where my characters might need a monkey wrench.

Fast forward to this past Thursday when I was researching what I thought might be the perfect occupation for an important adult character. Let’s say, I had decided he’d be involved in the trucking business. I know nothing about the trucking business, so I started to do some research. One website led to another and another then to one about a toolmaker. Suddenly, that occupation seemed to work so much better with the plot I’d been developing, and then ...

I remembered the monkey wrench. Not only had a couple pieces clinked into place, but, together, they put the plot in total synch. And such connections form that sweetest morsel of the writing process.

Is all that the result of intuitive perception? Some otherworldly muse? Hard work?
I don’t know. And does it matter?
What do you think?

P.S. You now have until the end of January to enter for a chance to win for your school (no matter if you’re an educator or parent or otherwise connected to a school) a FREE Skype or school visit. Details in last month’s post; even more in the contest section here.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

By Marcia Thornton Jones

I love it when something clicks. That sudden flash of insight. The sense of ah-ha. It’s as if someone flipped a switch and aligned my brain’s railroad tracks. Unfortunately, those revelations don’t usually happen until after the adrenaline rush of a situation has subsided. Then, what could’ve been ah-ha revelations become what-I-shouldn’t-have-said regrets. I need to learn to pause in order to provide space and time for epiphanies to surface. To take deep breaths, count to ten, meditate, or just take a good look at myself in the mirror every so often.

            The same is true for my story characters.

James Scott Bell, in WRITE YOUR NOVEL FROM THE MIDDLE: A NEW APPROACH FOR PLOTTERS, PANTSERS AND EVERYONE IN BETWEEN, suggests plotting stories by using a character’s midpoint epiphany. A moment smack dab in the middle of the story during which the main character pauses to take a good long look at herself. When she considers the kind of person she is and the odds against her. Where she question whether she has what it takes to survive—or not. Bell calls this midpoint reflection the mirror moment, noting that it is different than the traditional definition of a midpoint plot event.

“Virtually all books on the craft approach it as another ‘plot’ point. Something external happens that changes the course of the story. But what I detect is a character point, something internal, which has the added benefit of bonding audience and character on a deeper level.”(page 25)

According to Bell, this single character epiphany creates a natural structure for outlining character transformation.

“Whether you are a plotter or pantser, just thinking about what the ‘look in the mirror’ might reveal will help you bring depth and cohesion to your novel.
“That’s why it’s a magic moment.
“And that’s a key word, moment. The true midpoint is not a scene. It’s a moment within a scene. It’s like the earth’s core. The true center. Find it in your novel, and everything will radiate from it.” (page 28)

Reading Bell’s gem of a book resulted in my own epiphany. By playing around with possible mirror moments using my character’s own words, I can get a better handle on her transformative growth. Once I know how she feels about herself in the midst of her struggle, I can not only develop scenes that lead to a satisfying conclusion, but I can also work backwards to strengthen the first half of the book.

If you’re interested in learning more about plotting using the mirror moment, I highly recommend reading Bell’s WRITE YOUR NOVEL FROM THE MIDDLE: A NEW APPROACH FOR PLOTTERS, PANTSERS AND EVERYONE IN BETWEEN. As for me, I plan to brainstorm mirror moment epiphanies for my character. And maybe practice a little meditation. And remembering to count to ten. Or at least try to take a deep breath before blurting something I’ll later regret!

Friday, January 8, 2016

Eureka! An Epiphany! -- by Jane Kelley

The story probably isn't true. There's some debate about the validity of the science. But that doesn't matter. Chances are when you saw the word "epiphany," you thought of that Greek guy who made a great discovery in his bathtub and ran naked through the streets shouting "EUREKA!"

(For the record, his name was Archimedes. He was a mathematician who was given the job of finding out whether the king's crown was pure gold. His insight was that, just as his body displaced the bathwater to reveal its true weight, so would a crown dunked in water.)

Now Archimedes figured out plenty of other things––including an approximate value for pi. But we remember him best for that Eureka moment. Why?

Epiphany means a revelatory manifestation. An inspiration so vivid, so amazing that you feel like you're in the presence of the divine. An idea that transports you and makes you feel like running naked through the streets.

Of course, having the actual insight is crucial. As Deborah Lytton pointed out in her post, our characters need to have those revelations too. But if we want to give those moments maximum impact. If we want people to remember them, then we need to make them manifest. Make them transport us from our warm baths.

Then we can cry, Eureka! Because we really will have found it.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Guest Post: Perspective and Intention + GIVEAWAY! (Danika Dinsmore)

First off, I would like to thank Holly Schindler and the other folks at Smack Dab in the Middle for hosting me on the first stop of my Narine of Noe blog tour. 

If you aren’t familiar with my blog, I enjoy using real life events, lessons, stories, etc as jumping off points for writing exercises. Life, as we all know it, can be stranger than fiction. But more than that, if, as a writer, I examine closely what it means to be human, where the messiness of being alive and functioning happens, it helps me to develop “believable” characters and situations, even while writing fantasy in a world where there are no humans!

Due to recent events in my life I have been thinking a lot about both perspective and intention.
My husband is a conflict resolution specialist. He once said, “The source of conflict is any time something that we care about is affected in some way. A consistent contributing factor to conflict is a misattribution of intent.”

If we look at the world (and the people in it) as a place that intends to do us harm, and the people around us as people looking to be cruel and hurtful, then we will often perceive their actions as cruel and hurtful no matter what they do or say. In my house we call this “looking for evidence.” And if we are really stuck in our story, even when someone tries to share their true intentions, we often don’t believe them. The evidence speaks for itself, right? 

(NOTE: this is not to trivialize nor ignore situations in which people DO live in places where they are literally physically at risk.) 

As a writer, this idea of misattribution of intent is useful for plot and character development. I know that I personally hate it when my intentions are questioned or misinterpreted. How can I prove what my intentions were? All the other person has is my word and when someone doesn’t trust my intent, it’s a difficult space from which to untangle a conflict. 

As a reader, I find that I greatly sympathize with characters whose intentions are misunderstood. Especially when the intentions are good-hearted and sincere. For example, your character could give a heart-felt gift to someone that they interpret as rubbing something in their face, teasing them, etc. and the cycle of hurt begins. 

Another use of this idea in storytelling is to place an innocent into a dangerous situation (or humorous one, for that matter) in which they believe everyone’s intentions are good when they are actually not.

In Narine of Noe, I take both of these ideas to the extreme. Narine is fairly innocent. She has no reason not to trust the intentions of those around her, in particular her best friend and the wise World Sages. However, the energetic balance of the world shifts and, save for Narine and a few others who were protected, no one trusts anyone’s intentions any longer. The miscommunication and accusations grow until there are disastrous results. Most heart-breaking is that her own best friend now sees her intentions as selfish, vindictive, scheming – and no matter what Narine says, she cannot convince her otherwise.

So, here’s a fun writing exercise. Take a scene you have already written and play with both the intentions of each character AND the misinterpretation of those intentions. Through a certain lens, have a character see the world as completely against her and each statement or action as proof. Can love look like cruelty? Can generosity appear as mocking? Can an innocent question appear as accusation or blame? What kind of tension and conflict can you create using misunderstanding of intention? 

And if you don’t have a scene try out this timed writing exercise:

1)  Set your timer for 5-7 minutes. Using the start line below, write without stopping and without editing. If you get stuck, just write about being stuck (gosh, I’m stuck, my mind feels like a piece of cheese…) OR just keep writing the start line over with a different response each time.

Start line: My characters had such good intentions when he/she . . .

2)  Set your timer for 5-7 minutes. Using one of the start lines below, write without stopping and without editing.

Start line: My character was completely misunderstood when she . . .

3)  Set your timer for 7-10 minutes. Using one of the start lines below, write without stopping and without editing.

Start line: Feeling misunderstood, my character builds a wall around herself that looks like . . .

Happy writing and Happy New Year!

 Anyone interested in writing a review for any of Books 1-3 can contact Danika at for a free ebook copy of the omnibus edition. Just mention you saw the offer on this site. 

Danika Dinsmore is an award-winning author, performance artist, and educator. Over the past 25 years she has developed content for the page, stage, screen, and web. Danika currently works and plays in speculative fiction with an emphasis on juvenile & young adult literature. Inspired by her children’s fantasy adventure series FAERIE TALES FROM THE WHITE FOREST, she developed her interactive Imaginary Worlds Tours, performing and teaching world-building & creative writing at schools, conferences, and festivals across North America. 

She writes about the creative life and posts exercises on her blog: and shoots her mouth off on Twitter @danika_dinsmore

Also, Danika is hosting a giveaway of a print copy of Narine of Noe! Just fill out the form below;  giveaway ends January 21.

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