Thursday, March 31, 2016


Around Casa Schindler, March means less basketball, more spring cleaning. Digging through my garage, I found some items that Auggie would have loved to turn into a sculpture of her own!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Madness of Life by Tracy Holczer

This has been a rough week.

Last Tuesday, I received a cell phone call from a number I didn't recognize. What followed was a kidnapping scam complete with a young screaming girl in the background. After being terrorized for almost three hours and wiring ransom money, I finally located all of my children and it came to an end.

Today I am waiting for the results of a biopsy for someone I love.

At the end of the week, I will go to a funeral and face people I haven't seen, by choice, in many years. Maybe. Jury is still out on this one.

It's not that life CAN be madness. Life IS madness. There are just days where we feel it in the marrow of our bones whereas other days we get to float along on the good will of Nature. People die. Other people live. There is suffering and heartache and joy and happiness and there is no rhyme or reason for any of it. Life moves along whether we are ready for it to or not.

People talk about gratitude during times like this. This does not help. Because trauma, it feels like anyway, wipes everything clean, and you have to build yourself from scratch.

I feel that one of my jobs as a writer for children is to lay a path. Not to give a false sense of security, but to show a way through the chaos. I want children (scratch that - everyone) to know that when life swings an ax, you will be okay. And the way to be okay is in connecting to other people. To love as hard as you can and be worthy of the love given in return. This is the goal. This is the only goal. The rest is just stuff.

My daughter, the one I thought had been taken, is teaching herself to play guitar. The first thing she picked out for me was the theme song for Harry Potter. She hates Harry Potter (I know, weirdo), but she knows I love those books. My other daughter has cheerfully stepped in and done some driving so I didn't have to. My third daughter has called almost every day just to talk about random stuff like eyebrow tattooing and Vanderpump Rules. Normal, everyday things.

I suppose, this is how I'm building myself from scratch.

Sending love and pixie dust (because it can't hurt, right?)

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

March Madness by Laurie Calkhoven

For me March is about Women’s History Month not basketball (is that the sport with the big round orange ball or the small round white ball? I know it’s not the ovalish ball with the pointy ends).

Here are a few things that drove me to madness while I was researching WOMEN WHO CHANGED THE WORLD:

After Sacagawea’s months of hard work for Lewis & Clark, she was paid nothing. Her husband (who bought her from her Hidatsa Indian captors when she was thirteen) was given $500.33 and 320 acres of land.

Susan B. Anthony got her start as an activist in the temperance movement. When she stood to speak at a convention, she was told to sit down and let the men do the talking. Not long after, she made her way to the women’s suffrage movement and a partnership with Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Harriet Tubman was just five or six when she was taken away from her parents and hired out to a nearby slave master. She was expected to work all day and keep the master’s baby quiet at night. When the baby cried, Harriet was beaten.

Maria Tallchief was urged to change her last name to Tallchieva when she became a dancer so that people would think she was Russian instead of Native American.

And a few things that made me happy:

Elizabeth Blackwell was admitted to Geneva Medical College as a practical joke. But the joke was on them—Elizabeth worked harder than the male students, aced her classes, and graduated with honors.

Amelia Earhart and her sister built a roller coaster in their backyard after seeing one at the St. Louis World’s Fair when they were kids. Amelia zoomed off the tracks on her very first ride – her first flight!

Julia Child was a disaster in her first cooking course.

Ella Fitzgerald entered her first talent contest at the Apollo Theater as a dancer. Stage fright got in the way and she couldn’t move her feet, so she sang instead—and won.

Coretta Scott King had the word “obey” removed from her marriage vows.

Women change the world on a daily basis!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Writing Advice from a Mad March Tea Party (March theme) by Claudia Mills

When I think of March and Madness, I think of a certain tea party hosted by a certain Hare and a certain Hatter, attended by a girl who fell down a rabbit hole into a most confusing Wonderland.

The world of children's book writing is itself a Wonderland. So here is some advice for us that I distilled from Alice's teatime there.
1. If people tell you there is no room for your stories in today's market, they are probably wrong."No room! No room!" they cried out when they saw Alice coming. "There's plenty of room!" said Alice indignantly, and she sat down in a large arm-chair at one end of the table.

2. The opening of your story is an invitation to your readers. Don't offer what you aren't willing or able to deliver. "Have some wine," the March Hare said in an encouraging tone. Alice looked all round the table, but there was nothing on it but tea. "I don't see any wine," she remarked. "There isn't any," said the March Hare. "Then it wasn't very civil of you to offer it," said Alice angrily.

3. Precision in language matters. "I believe I can guess that," she added aloud. "Do you mean that you think you can find out the answer to it?" said the March Hare. "Exactly so," said Alice. "Then you should say what you mean," the March Hare went on. "I do," Alice hastily replied, "at least- at least I mean what I say - that's the same thing, you know." "Not the same thing a bit!" said the Hatter.

4. Even the best bit of writing may not work in THIS story. The Hatter . . . had taken his watch out of his pocket, and was looking at it uneasily, shaking it every now and then, and holding it to his ear. . . 
"I told you butter wouldn't suit the works!" he added looking angrily at the March Hare. "It was the best better," the March Hare meekly replied.

5. We can do better with time by approaching it creatively than by complaining about how little we have of it. "I think you might do something better with the time," she said, "than waste it in asking riddles that have no answers." "If you know Time as well as I do," said the Hatter, "you wouldn't talk about wasting it. It's him. . . .If you only kept on good terms with Time, he'd do almost anything you liked with the clock."

6. When you're stuck, just keep on moving. "It's always tea-time, and we've no time to wash the things between whiles," [said the Hatter]. "Then you keep moving round, I suppose?" said Alice. "Exactly so," said the Hatter, "as the things get used up."

7. "Why not?" can be as good a question to start a story percolating as "Why?" Pressed for a tale, the Dormouse tells of three girls who lived at the bottom of a treacle-well. "They were learning to draw . . . and they drew all manner of things- everything that begins with an M." "Why with an M?" said Alice. "Why not?" said the March Hare.

8. The most maddening things that happen can be the best ones to write about. "At any rate I'll never go there again!" said Alice as she picked her way through the wood. "It's the stupidest tea-party I was ever at in all my life!" 

Yes, little Alice, and one that readers have been returning to happily for 150 years. May it be the same with the tea parties we host for our readers.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Free Verse is in the world! (Sarah Dooley)

I'm thrilled to announce the release of Free Verse, which is out now from G.P. Putnam's Sons!

This is a book that started with a flock of birds flitting past my office window in 2009. The words came faster than I could get them down. It's such a thrill when that happens! The main character, 12-year-old Sasha Harless, took me with her on a long road of adventure, perseverance, and healing. I'm so happy I can now share her voice with you!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Home Turf, March Theme by Naomi Kinsman

Home turf makes a huge difference for most teams. Watching basketball the other night, I started wondering about my own home turf. (I realize I was supposed to be focused on passes, shots and fouls ... apologies to the true fans out there.) But honestly, if players take their skill sets everywhere, why do they have a distinct advantage when they play at home?

Here are some of the reasons I came up with:

  1. The home crowd. Their support urges the players on when energy lags.
  2. The familiar location. Even though basketball courts are all the same size and have the same layout, being in a home court still makes the game easier to play.
  3. The lack of hostile viewers. Since most people in the stands aren't booing, and definitely aren't cheering at the team's losses, the players can focus on the game.
I know a lot of writers who have places where they can write and places where they can't. I've always thought this was partially an excuse. It's nice to blame low motivation on anything other than one's own self-discipline. If you "can't" write at home, then writing always has to be a special event. If you're not making progress on your draft ... well, that's because you haven't been able to go to your special writing space. But, as I thought about home turf, I realized the words we're using may be misleading. Rather than "I can't write unless I'm ..." maybe what we're truly saying is, "It's much harder to write when I'm ..."

Just as basketball players acknowledge the advantages of home turf, I think writers should acknowledge the truth of our situation, too. On difficult writing days, we might want to plant ourselves on home turf to give ourselves the advantage for our writing session. Why not give ourselves every advantage?

So, the question becomes: What's home turf for you? I asked various writers, and learned that home turf comes in many varieties.
  1. For one class of my middle school writers, home turf is our classroom. Curled up on couches, writing next to friends who are also writing, the girls feel energized and able to get to work.
  2. For one of my writer friends, home turf is one specific armchair with one specific footrest.
  3. For me, home turf is my home office, candles lit, quiet music playing, and twinkle lights glowing. Other times, home turf is in my car, laptop in my lap, watching waves crash on the beach.
What does home turf require? 
  1. A cheering crowd? Sometimes, though you may not want a crowd that's cheering too loudly. For many of my writer friends, knowing someone out there cares is key. I've heard of writers texting friends when they start writing and when they stop, just so they feel the support of one another while their fingers fly across the keys. No matter what, though, home turf is somewhere where you feel safe and supported.
  2. A familiar location? Most likely. You want a place that appeals to your senses, ideally not a brand new place full of sensory information that is likely to distract you.
  3. Lack of hostility? Yes, absolutely. If someone in your space is actively trying to stop you from writing, too much energy will be spent on struggling past the resistance. On difficult writing days, you need as much energy as you can reserve for the actual writing.
Writing is challenging, and some days more so than others. I think we should allow ourselves (and also encourage any writing students we might have) to take advantage of home turf. On easy writing days, we should explore what home turf looks like, so that on the tough days, we have the tools we need.

What about you? When you write, what's home turf for you? Is there a way you can make your home turf even more supportive? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Naomi Kinsman is an author, educator and creativity coach. She is the author of the FROM SADIE'S SKETCHBOOK series and recently collaborated with singer, Natalie Grant on the GLIMMER GIRLS series. Naomi is also the founder and Executive Director or Society of Young Inklings, which offers classes, mentorships and publishing opportunities for young authors ages 6-16.  Society of Young Inklings utilizes WRITERLY PLAY, the improv-based teaching methodology that Naomi developed, as the foundation for all of its programming.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

March Madness by Bob Krech

Think about March Madness as offered up by the NCAA. Why do they call it March Madness? It's sixty-eight of the best college basketball teams in the country playing each other in a very carefully bracketed tournament. On paper it's all organized, calculated, numerical, symmetrical, and scheduled. What's mad about that?

Me, my ball, and my books. Ready for the madness to start!
It's so fantastic to me that within this rigid structure, every year, things do indeed get pretty mad. Within that staid-looking framework, anything can happen, and often does. The little college knocking off the perennial powerhouse. The last minute comeback. The shot from half court at the buzzer that goes in. The bench player who gets hot and has the biggest game of his or her life in the full glare of a national television audience. Every year there is drama, surprise, obstacles, conflict, heroism, mistakes, comebacks, incredible feats, and well, madness. It's true for the fans, the coaches, the players, and even the commentators.

It's a landscape full of stories, big and small, and all of the elements that make for a great story are right there in every game. For the next few weeks, much to the detriment of my writing life and pretty much everything else, I will be watching as many of those stories unfold as I can. I'll have plenty of company too. Everyone likes a good story. And a little madness.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Edits and Deadlines and Gremlins, March Theme by Tamera Wissinger

The end of last month came with the thrill of receiving edit notes for an upcoming book project. It was a big job in two parts with a tight turn around. I got right to work and was tracking to be on time for the first part and even started to work on the second part. I sent the first part in on a Monday morning. I might have been able to push through and complete that second part, but I had a few other things that needed attention, so for the second part I requested, and received, a bit more time. At the end of the day, I saved all my work and I shut down my system.

The next day when I turned on my computer to continue my work, my computer didn't start up as it normally does. There was no chime and the home page didn't properly load. When icons did show up, clicking on them only made them bounce in place. Nothing opened. The computer started chugging and churning. It got extremely hot. It didn’t smoke, but it sure seemed like it could burst into flames. If I owned a panic button, I would’ve been pressing it; all of my writing is on that computer. But I don’t have a panic button, so I tried to remain calm. I have backup, right? Sort of – I’ve been saving my work to an external drive for some time, but it's not automatic. I hadn’t backed up this latest project. Gulp. 

The good news is, I have access to another computer in the house. My husband let me borrow his computer to finish my project. The bad news is, I had to start over with a fresh download. It wasn’t my shiniest moment in writing, but I made my deadline. In hindsight, I see how it could have been a much bigger project and how I could have lost so much more.

I don’t know if it was gremlins, the madness of March, or just the end of the road for my computer. It felt like a close call, though. I’m thinking of emblazoning this quote from Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield somewhere near my refurbished (or new) computer with the addendum from me:

No idleness, no laziness, no procrastination; 
never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.  
(And if you do put off something, 
be sure to back up your work.)

Tamera Wissinger writes stories and poetry for children. She is the author of GONE FISHING and the forthcoming GONE CAMPING from HMH Childrens, and THIS OLD BAND and THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO GOBBLED A SKINK from Sky Pony Press. Tamera is the new owner of a 1 terabyte external hard drive that regularly backs up everything.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

A Different Kind of March Madness by Darlene Beck Jacobson

For me, March Madness has nothing to do with basketball.  The madness is built into the month itself.  So unpredictable.  Unexpected.  As I write this in early March, it is snowing.  Yesterday it was 50 degrees, and three days from now it is supposed to reach 70.   Crocus and daffodils are up in the garden beds.
Water is frozen in the birdbath.  So it goes in March.

What other month can boast a wide contrast of "celebrations"?  St. Patrick's Day, Pi Day, The Ides of March, my own birthday and anniversary, Spring, and this year - Easter.  Lion and lamb days.

March means new beginnings for me.  A time to sweep away dust from old manuscripts, abandon stale ideas or habits.  Open up doors and windows to fresh air, a fresh start and new possibilities.

A new writing adventure doesn't begin with a new year in January.  For me, the ideas spring and bubble up along with the crocuses and seedlings.  Bring on March Madness and let the writing fun begin!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Madness at Work by Jody Feldman

There’s a kind of madness that falls over me when I’m nearing completion of a first draft. I become obsessed with my characters and the mess I’ve put them in. I forget to belabor segues in favor of reaching the finish line. Food, yes, food becomes an afterthought for me. What? It’s 2:30pm? I suppose it may be time for breakfast or this moldy spinach casserole or something.

I can write about this so clearly because that was me last week. On Monday, I clocked in 4,169 words; Tuesday, 3,037 (slacker day, I know); Wednesday, 6,594; Thursday, 7,406 for a total of 21,206 words in four days or nearly 1/3 of my first draft.

I wrote that last chapter, drowning in a puddle of sweat, questionable fashion choices, and less-than-coherent thoughts. And for the first night in two weeks, I slept soundly. I didn’t wake at all hours of the night working on Davy’s arc or finding meaner words for Cheyenne or realizing I had Avalon doing something Bo should do.

The madness had cleared. The skies were blue; the dust bunnies, gone. I spent the weekend remembering how to talk to people instead of holding conversations in my own head.
I’m still working on this desk. I’m not certain why I bother. I start rewriting on March 17, when the madness, even though it may be a different breed, will begin again.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Play On!

By Marcia Thornton Jones

In Central Kentucky, March means one thing: basketball. All eyes focus on the road to the NCAA Tournament. This year, fan expectations were high from the get-go because the Wildcats were ranked #1 before a basketball even bounced on the court to start the season. But the Big Blue Nation became frustrated, disappointed, mad, and lost confidence when <gasp> tallies added up in the losses column.  Good thing our team doesn’t pay much attention to the critics. Instead, they put in hours of practice to improve their skills. They listened to the coach and made adjustments. Most importantly, they NEVER stopped competing. Now, the wins far out-number those pesky losses so whether they walk away with the tournament trophy or not, they still had a winning season.

The same is true with my writing. I’ve been trying to start a new novel for way too long. But after a couple of false starts, I’m disappointed, frustrated, mad, and depleted of confidence because my early attempts fall way short of expectations. I need to stop thinking like a rabid basketball fan expecting perfection at the beginning of the season. Winning at writing is like basketball or any other endeavor. It involves practice, coaching, and continuing on in spite of setbacks, false starts, and even <gasp> losses. It’s time to play on.

So, let’s hear it…give me a W…give me an R…Give me an I-T-E…What’s that spell????

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Madness in March -- by Jane Kelley

No wonder there is madness in March. The sap is running! This is not a political comment, it really is.

Toward the end of last summer, when the sugar maple still had its bright red leaves, it stored a lot of starch in its wood. The leaves fell. So did the snow. 

At the first hint of warmth, that starch is transformed into sucrose. The tree's roots suck up water from the soil. That water forces the sugary sap up toward the dormant buds. The sap will keep running for almost six weeks, until the warm weather causes the buds to open and all the sweet liquid has risen up through the tree.

The Native Americans discovered that if you make a cut in the bark, the sap oozes out. Each tree can spare about a gallon, without suffering too much damage. But it will take anywhere between 40 and 90 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup.

That sounds about right for the writing process.

Ideas accumulate­­ over a long winter. (See all our hibernation posts last month.)

A thaw starts a rush of sugar straight to the head. This surge of inspiration is the madness. 

Then all the sap that has been gathered must be boiled down. Some people use fancy machines. Others, like my brother, put a kettle on an outdoor fire and keep it boiling for hours and hours. The excess water is boiled away––rewriting the story reveals its essence. Then there is a final filtering to get rid of dirt and bugs––otherwise known as editing.

The writer at work -- with her mother and her brother.

At long last, we have made a small amount of liquid gold. 

Which is also called a book

Thursday, March 3, 2016

March Madness for Readers & Writers

Reading has always been
my favorite sport!
I'm not much for sports. I was the kid in elementary school who would volunteer to bang the erasers (yes, I am THAT old) just so I wouldn't have to suffer the humiliation of the recess dodge ball game.

In high school I made a deal with my coach: I would write his bus schedules if he would let me skip out of P.E. I gotta tell you, it was a pretty beautiful arrangement.

And even though I live in Alabama where college football is THE event of the year, I can take it or leave it.

As for basketball? Forget about it. I've got a zillion things I'd rather do!

Which is why I found myself Googling how to somehow bring March Madness to my life as a reader and writer. Here are some things I discovered:

You can use brackets to help decide which writing project should take priority.

You can extend the fervor of March Madness to "reboot" your writing life.

Teachers can use a March Madness format to encourage kids to write opinion pieces about the books they love... leading to an eventual #1 book.

You can use March as an alternate (or another!) NaNo month.

You can go back and read all the poems from the March Madness poetry contests at ThinkKidThink.

However you experience March Madness, I hope you enjoy it!

Irene Latham is a poet and novelist from Birmingham, Alabama. Her books include Leaving Gee's Bend, Don't Feed the Boy, Dear Wandering Wildebeest, and two new poetry collections When the Sun Shines on Antarctica and Fresh Delicious: Poems from the Farmers' Market. Reading has always been her favorite sport.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

March Madness by Ann Haywood Leal

I know next to nothing about basketball, but when March Madness hits, I see people scrambling to predict who will win.  They even put down money to back their frenzied calculations.

It can be like that with that first idea when you are writing.  It explodes in a mad frenzy of possibilities.  All we want is that big win at the end.  And we want to get to the end.  As soon as possible.  Now.  Do not pass Go.  Do not pause to collect the two hundred dollars.

When we are first getting our story down on paper, it may be fragmented.  As my writer friends know, I am a fan of working in coffee shops, and I use coffee shop analogies freely and often.  So . . . imagine a  busy coffee shop—in a big city.  You have just moved to the neighborhood and you are visiting it for the first time.

There is a lot going on, but a great deal of it is just a thin surface layer.  You go into the coffee shop and the customers are all your characters, major and minor.  You see them—you might see what they are wearing, but you really don’t know anything about them yet.

You hear bits and pieces of conversations, but you aren’t interacting with anyone but the barista or the guy at the counter.

You are seated in a corner by yourself, trying to make sense of all that is going on around you.   People are on their laptops, not paying any attention to you.  People are in pairs and groups, having their own conversations.  You are excited about being in this new place, but you really aren’t comfortable yet.

The next day, things get a little more familiar.  You notice some people from the day before.  Someone gives you a recognizing nod.  You start to notice how the customers are interacting with each other.  You sense the tension between the couple by the window.  You notice the woman off to the side appears to have slept in her clothes.  You start to wonder about their stories.

Each day, each revision, you add another layer.

You may think you have your story down pat—especially if you are an extensive note taker or an outliner.  I heard about a writer, who wrote her entire novel in her head while she was gardening.  Finished the entire thing.  Then she went home and put the words down on paper.
We all want to be done.  It’s human nature to want to see a job through to the end.  It is the best feeling in the world to type THE END.  But for a writer, the first time you type those words, it usually just means the beginning.  It’s the beginning of your layering process.  The beginning of your revision.

I used to hate it.  But I look forward to it now.  It means my words are turning into a real story.  So don’t get sucked in by the March Madness.  Slow down and enjoy the ride.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016