Tuesday, May 31, 2016


This month's theme is "time," and like all authors with a just-released book, I'd have very little of it lately. SPARK is a YA, but it's also clean, classroom-friendly, and perfect for the younger YA readers. School Library Journal recently claimed it was a great fit for grades 6-10; Booklist said the story "cast a shimmering spell."

Lovely words, indeed. More on SPARK below!

Order SPARK from IndieBound

Monday, May 23, 2016

Smack Dab--Out of the Classroom! The Treasure Hunt for Books, by Dia Calhoun

Summer is almost here! That means, or I hope it does, reading outside--under trees, in trees, in hammocks, on beaches, boats, camp-outs, picnics . . . .

Students always get assigned summer reading. But now is the time to ask them to make a list of three books they WANT to read this summer. This is the time to teach them the joy of recreational reading.

And if you hear the inevitable refrain . . . "I can't think of anything," send the student on a treasure hunt. Take her to the library and turn her loose to browse among the shelves. The only assignment: find three books to read that look interesting. Any books except graphic novels (we want them to READ). We need to teach the joy of random browsing among books. The joy of finding unexpected treasure that opens up your world. 

Happy Summer Reading!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Racing Against the Clock by Laurie Calkhoven

I'm racing to meet a deadline and don't have time to write about time, but I did want to share a trick I use to get myself to write on those days when I really don't want to write.  I tell myself that after a free writing session I can stop for the day. Then I set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes, pick up a pen, and go.

Writing by hand works best for this. Something about the connection between the subconscious and the page. I always find myself racing to beat the timer, not thinking so much about the words as I am about finishing the scene (or whatever) in the allotted time. Usually by the end of the 15 minutes, some interesting, juicy things have bubbled up because I turned off my thinking brain. And because juicy, interesting ideas bubbled up, I want to write. (But not always, and then I honor my promise to myself and stop for the day).

On another note, check out these cute covers for my first Easy Readers (being published in August).

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Words I Won't Say on My Deathbed (May theme) by Claudia Mills

I've always taken issue with this much quoted statement, attributed to Rabbi Harold Kushner: "No one ever said on their deathbed, 'I wish I'd spent more time at the office.'"

This might be true of people with dull, dreary, soul-draining jobs. But I don't think it's true of people who love their work deeply and fiercely, as many writers love writing. I disavow the implication that family always comes first, always, always, always. On my deathbed I'm not planning to regret the time I spent writing my books. I may well wish I had written even more, that I had allowed myself to luxuriate even more fully in the work that gave so much joy and meaning to my life.

Actually, on my deathbed, I'm hoping I won't waste my last moments on regret at all. I hope I'll say, "I'm glad I wrote all those books. I'm glad I spent all that time with my family. I'm glad I spent time reading books I still cherish. I'm glad I spent time walking in the mountains. I'm glad I spent time laughing with friends."

Today, however, is a day where family definitely comes first. Today my second grandchild, Madilyne Jane, is going to be born, via cesarean section, at 12:30. I'll be watching my first grandchild, Kataleya Lee, while her parents are busy with the birth of her little sister, and then Kat and I will go down to the hospital to welcome a new little person into the world. That's a pretty swell way to spend a day.

But dear Rabbi Kushner, I'm also happy I wrote my most recent middle-grade book, The Trouble with Babies, and that I dedicated it to Kataleya, "my favorite baby in the whole world." Now I need to write one to dedicate to Madilyne. I won't start on it today, or even this week, as I'll be too busy savoring every minute of this new addition to my family. But I'll start writing again next week. After all, on my deathbed, I don't want to say, "I wish I had written a book for Madi, too."

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Time a Feeling Takes by Naomi Kinsman

When I re-read my own writing or when I read my students' writing, sometimes I feel a vague sense of disconnect. Intellectually, I may know how a character feels. My heart, however, isn't connected. When I'm working with students, I might ask the question, "Why does she feel that way?" My student will point out how they've already written a sentence or two about the feeling. They may have even included body language or interior monologue to show rather than tell me how their character feels. But while I can see the emotion in the words on the page, I still don't feel it.

I've thought a lot about this puzzle. When you work with students, they ask uncomfortable "why?" questions. It's not enough to explain that a passage isn't working. I have to explain what isn't working in practical terms. I have to help the writer feel the problem herself. The difficulty is that so much of what a character feels already exists in the writer's mind. The writer fills the emotional gaps with her background knowledge to the point where she doesn't see the gaps at all.

In many cases, I've come to realize this disconnect is actually a time problem. Not exactly a story time problem, but more a reading time problem. Writers need to include enough material between one emotion and another to allow their readers time to transition between one emotion and another. Scientists have told us that when we read, we not only imagine the experiences of the characters, but we feel them as though they are happening to us. When we read, the synapses that fire in our brains are the same that fire if we encounter a similar real life situation. Maybe this is why we need time, as readers, to feel each emotion a writer asks us to feel. we can't hop from anger to disappointment, because our brains need time to feel each of those feelings fully. We end up feeling left out if the writer speeds ahead too fast, and our emotional connection to the character is interrupted.

This is not an argument to slow down everything in a story. Sometimes a fast pace is the perfect solution. However, when it comes to big feelings, and particularly a change between one big feeling and another, I find the best way to bring the moment to life is to feel my way, paying particular attention to time. I ask myself a series of time questions, such as, "How much time would it take to feel this emotion?" "How would I react?" "What would change my feelings suddenly?" "How would I react?" and so on.

For me, time is a key factor in making a story feel right. I approach each emotional moment in much the same way that I approach emotional moments as an actor. I think about timing, pauses, action, silence. I find that the most effective way to deepen a story emotionally is to feel my way to the timing that works best. Like many parts of writing, there is no real right or wrong, no way to know if I've allowed my reader enough time. And yet, I do find that by listening to feedback from readers, I gain a better sense of where I've rushed, where I need to slow down, and sometimes even where I need to speed up. I use them as my "audience" and put on my director hat to assess what's working and what may not be, yet.

I wonder how other writers approach emotional timing in their work, and whether people have specific strategies for addressing problem areas. If you do have one, please share! I enjoy gathering additional tools to fill my writer's toolkit, and we can all benefit from your insight, too.

~~~~~~~~~~~~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. www.naomikinsman.com

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The River of Time by Bob Krech

Isn't it interesting how time can be used in stories. I think immediately of stories where time is of the essence! The hero only has so much time to defuse the bomb, save the hostage, score the winning goal, get to the treasure, and so on.

I think of other stories where time is more leisurely. The story progresses at its own pace and the plot develops gradually, even casually. Time does not seem to be much of a factor. It passes, but we hardly notice. Time here seems almost like a backdrop of a play.

Then I remember listening to Richard Peck (A Long Way from Chicago, A Year Down Yonder) talk about writing at a conference. He shared about how since he was writing for children, he tried to think from a child's perspective. For most children, their activities, thoughts, concerns, and lives closely follow the seasons and holidays. September brings school and new teachers, classmates, clothes, books, sports, then comes Halloween and the huge decisions about what to be, where to go, who to go with, followed by Thanksgiving and football and food and relatives, and then, best day of the year - Christmas! Kids then have to trudge through January, February, and March to get to Spring, and baseball and games outside again, and the woods and fishing, and then wonderful summer and vacation!

In Peck's writing, the holidays and seasons, are much more than a backdrop. It seems to me he looks at a child's year like a river that they are navigating with special destinations along the way. These destinations are the holidays, the seasons, and special events like birthdays and weddings. When we write for kids, especially our middle grade readers, I think this is a valuable perspective to maintain.

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Test of Time by Deborah Lytton: May Theme

I think every writer plays with time.  We set up deadlines with word counts and calendar due dates so that we can keep ourselves on a schedule.  My writing time is very limited.  As a mother of two with a day job as an attorney, I write at odd hours either late at night or early in the morning or sometimes even in school pick up lines.  The thing I find most interesting about finding time to write is that if I am truly connected with the story I am telling, then time ceases to be an issue.  I am so excited to get back to writing that I no longer have to carve out moments to work.  I have to carve out moments for everything else.  My best work comes from complete immersion in a manuscript.  And if I'm not finding time to write, then I know that the lack of time is just an excuse.  For the story I am forcing myself to work on isn't the one that is truly in my heart.  The best manuscript is the one that meets my test of time, for when I work on it, I no longer remember how long I have been writing or how many words are on the page.  I am inside the story and living and breathing the characters.  In those moments, I can do the impossible.  I can stop time. 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Stopping Time by Darlene Beck Jacobson

Why does there never seem to be enough time?  As writers we try all sorts of "tricks" to add time to our day.  Get up early, stay up late.  Skip the exercise workout, skip lunch.   In the end, we're not adding any time, we're merely missing out on those things we need.  Twenty four hours is what we get, and nothing we do can change that.

We have no control over time; we can only try to capture bits of it in our stories.  Like a camera freezes a moment of time in a photo, a writer can stop time - however briefly - by recording precious moments through storytelling.

My daughter recently turned 30. To celebrate this milestone birthday, she asked to see her baby book and the journal I kept of her firsts - right up through her toddler hood and elementary school years.  What a joy it was to laugh at her sweet and stubborn steps toward independence.  To smile at her "babyisms" while learning to communicate.  I'd forgotten many of the things I'd recorded all those years ago.  Sharing these "time capsules" together, brought those bits of time back.   I had the delicious pleasure of reliving them, if only for a moment.

Writing is important work.We who put words to paper capture time.  By doing so, we make time travel possible.  When we are gone, our words live on.  For one small moment, time stands still.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

7:11 a.m. ... post from Jody Feldman

I must have some fascination with time. No explanation comes to mind. I’ve never experienced tragedies nor victories due to any timing on my part. I haven’t broken any land-speed records, not in my wildest dreams. I do, though remember, between 4th and 5th grades, shaving 4 minutes off my timed mile run time in gym class, but I can probably attribute that feat to my legs having grown and me having learned how to take advantage of their length..

Maybe it’s just hard-wiring that has me seeing how much laundry I can fold in three minutes or why I feel the need to time myself on my daily walks or why I get some pleasure when I catch a digital clock hit certain numbers. Then again, isn’t 12:36 one of the most perfect times?

But time and again (coincidental phrasing not originally intended), it so happens that time has played some major roles in my books. That’s not surprising in The Gollywhopper Games books, which feature competitions. But I’ve also structure some ticking clocks in The Seventh Level, where my main character must follow instructions to potentially get into his middle school’s secret society.

Then there are my works-in-progress. I’m working on two of them simultaneously. (I do not suggest it. And yes, I could’ve brought you a whole different entry on time management.) But when I started writing this, I realized that both books do, indeed, play with elements of time, very differently, but in ways essential to each character’s journey.

And this all got me wondering why. What is this fascination? Maybe Dr. Freud might’ve had some theories. Maybe it would all come to light under hypnosis. Maybe if I questioned my family, old friends, former neighborhood kids, they might remember something I just can’t right now. But you know what? I’m not sure that it matters. Besides, I don’t have the time.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Story Time

By Marcia Thornton Jones

When writing WOODFORD BRAVE, I wanted to show a small town in 1943. Following are a few questions I asked as I researched and wrote WOODFORD BRAVE, along with examples that appear in the book.

·      What items does Cory naturally interact with in his world?

I laid my comic book on the nightstand, smoothing the bent bottom corner before turning out the light. The air was thick and my sheets were soggy with sweat in no time. I parted the blackout curtains and moved the rocks lining my windowsill so I could lift out the screen…

·      What ‘things’ would a kid notice?

My next door neighbor, Mrs. Springgate sat on her porch, her white hair flopping with every flutter of the cardboard fan in her hand. She was probably getting snookered on beer again. It was hard to tell since beer cans were rationed and she had switched to drinking from glass jars…

Mom was working in her Victory Garden, staking up the tomatoes. Growing vegetables was never going to help us win the war, no matter what Mrs. Roosevelt said. There was no way a bombardment of tomatoes and squash could stop Hitler or his evil spies.

·      What music was prevalent?

The music of Glenn Miller’s Orchestra floated through the screen door, the trumpet’s brass marching over the string.

·      What might be displayed in stores?

Mr. Franklin had plastered the windows with posters advertising defense saving stamps, war bonds, and the government’s price control order…Mr. Franklin looked over the drug counter at us. Ever since Aidan and I knocked down an entire display of citrate of magnesia, he always watched to make sure we weren’t goofing off when we came into his store. I was extra-careful to walk around the pyramid of God Medal Flour and Quaker Oats that he’d built by the front door.

·      What fashions were indicative of the times?

A cluster of girls wearing high heels went inside. One of them had tried to draw a line down the back of her leg to make it look like she was wearing stockings, but the line was crooked…A trio of girls came in wearing cherry rouge and platform shoes. Navy boys wearing caps cocked to one side whistled through their teeth.

Details that conveyed 1943 were easy to find because so much of what I researched seemed romantically unique—especially when I talked to my mom about what it was like to come of age in the midst of World War II—and how she met that handsome young sailor that she eventually married!

But now I’m playing around with a story idea set in early 1970s, and I’m finding it more difficult to weave in details that anchor the story in time and place. I think it’s because I lived those times, so nothing seems unique at all. At least, not to me.

Maybe readers could help! It would be really groovy…far out...cool… if you told me in the comment section what you think of in response to the following five questions!

1.      What early 1970s items might characters naturally interact with?
2.      What ‘things’ would a 1970s teen notice?
3.      What songs, musicians, and bands defined the early 1970s?
4.      What hot items in the early 1970s might be displayed in stores?
5.      What were the must-have fashions of the early 1970s?

While you’re at it, why not use these questions to brainstorm details for your own story in order to naturally anchor your scenes in time and place?

Right on…er…I mean…Write on!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Time Is Relative by Jane Kelley

Time.  Oh what tricks it plays. And we writers exploit them, if we can. 

Manipulating those minutes on the page is a skill I struggle with. Sometimes I simply forget that I can be free to jump to a new moment. Sometimes I forget to take the time (so to speak) to describe events. We have to choose whether to be fast or slow.

We've heard Einstein's quote about how a minute seems different if one is suffering or savoring.

“Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. THAT'S relativity.”

But that explanation is more like what fiction does than physics.

It's our job to make those different kinds of experiences work for our stories. 

We can't completely ignore the ticking clock; that's the reality of our lives. Our own hearts beat at that rate. But we also need to forget that clock. The reader wants to escape from his or her time. Isn't that one of the measures of a story teller's success? To transcend?

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

On Finding Time to Write

Once upon a time I thought in order to write a book I needed big chunks of time – at least a couple of consecutive hours. Not the 15 minute snatches I was able to grab between diapers and soccer practice and groceries.
I thought I needed other things, too, like a room of my own, with a door I could close. Quiet time. The right kind of computer. Hot chocolate. And on and on.
The truth is, I didn’t need any of those things as I set forth on my journey toward Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours. Those ideas were merely obstacles I put in my own way – or as Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art, would say, “Resistance.”
In order to overcome this Resistance, I had to retrain my brain. I turned first to Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer for help on the time factor – after completing her program, now I can access my story any hour of the day. And if all I’ve got is 15 minutes (or 5), I can put a few paragraphs in place, often entire scenes.
More recently (2015), I participated in a 12 week small group in which we worked through Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way program. Morning pages and artist's dates and all the digging into and nurturing of my artist-self has made my writing time sacred and essential. Writing is spiritual practice for me – a way to love the world and feel connected to it. How can I NOT make time for that?
In practical terms, I do write every day. Most often, in the mornings, when the house is quiet. I love the discipline of writing a poem a day. I love how by the end of one week I'll have 7 poems, and by the end of amonth I'll have 30.
Also, when I am writing a novel, what works for me is to block off a 6 week period on the calendar. I look really closely to determine days I'm likely to be busy with other events and family stuff, and then I make a commitment: 2,000 words a day (or whatever number is doable/necessary – some of my books have been written on 500 words a day) – except on those days I know from the get-go will be impossible – school visit days or family travel days or going to the doctor days.
It's like planning for success. Because, really, what is more deflating than setting a goal like that, and then that busy day comes along, and you only have time for 200 words? It can be tempting to throw over the whole plan! Instead, be honest from the start. Stretch, but try not to overreach.
And then, stay the course. It's only six weeks. Having that cap makes it a whole lot easier not to become derailed. When that lunch invitation comes in, I can say “no,” and then schedule it for after the writing block is done. Six weeks is a blink! So, so temporary. Not FOREVER. And if the friend who invited me to lunch can't respect that, then maybe I need a new friend.
Mostly I find the writing lifestyle demands I be a good friend to MYSELF. I'm a much happier person when I'm writing. I NEED to write. It's what makes my life meaningful, it's the place where I feel most myself. Writing every day and setting reasonable goals is a way to treat myself like a precious object. Abundance is borne of that kind of attention.
The words are there. The hours are there. Won't you seize them?
Irene Latham is the award winning author of two novels for children LEAVING GEE'S BEND and DON'T FEED THE BOY. She also serves as poetry editor for Birmingham Arts Journal and has published three volumes of poetry for adults. Her current focus is on poetry for children with the 2014 release of DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST, which was named an SCBWI Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award Honor book, and two 2016 titles: FRESH DELICIOUS and WHEN THE SUN SHINES ON ANTARCTICA. In between writing, she is currently working on accumulating 10,000 hours on the cello.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Time by Ann Haywood Leal

Many of my writer and creative-type friends have just drifted into their REM states when I get up in the morning.  The sun hasn’t even opened one eye, but I stumble down the stairs to feed my cats and open my laptop.

It’s for a pretty simple reason, really.  Time. 

I’ve been doing this for several years now.  I guess I’m trying to stomp on the popular refrain of busy people:  There are only 24 hours in each day.  Here’s my trick.  Getting up before everyone except my cats adds minutes and hours to my day.  No, I don’t have a plutonium-filled DeLorean in my garage (unfortunately!), but I am adding minutes and hours to my writing day. 

It’s the way I have to do it.  I teach first grade, and there’s something  I learned forever ago from my mom who taught six and seven-year-olds before me:  they take more energy than you thought existed in your mind and body.  It’s a wonderful, satisfying type of exhaustion, but it leaves very little for the end of my day.

But if I didn’t carve out that writing time, I’d be a different kind of exhausted – the cranky, shuffle-around-mumbling kind. 

And it’s true, unless you are meeting Dr. Emmett Brown and Marty McFly in the parking lot of the Twin Pines Mall, you’re going to have to give up something to create your own writing minutes and hours.  It might be sleep or a kind-of-favorite TV show.  It could be your surfing time (and I don’t mean on the beaches of sunny California). 

It might be a little uncomfortable at first, like a little pinch or a scrape-your-knee-and-need-your-mother-to-blow-on-it way, but you can push through it.  You should push through it. 

Because when you do, you are left with a book . . . or a poem . . .  or a song.  And that’s worth every bit of it.