Sunday, May 28, 2017


Memorial Day peonies.
So I was taking a picture of our annual peonies, and it suddenly struck me that we never take pictures of a flower bulb. Or seeds. Or dirt in a pot. Or even of a bud about to burst.

We take pictures of the finished product.

Which is also often how we treat any work in progress. We don't celebrate it--not until it's also a finished product.

We celbrate completion. Success. We celebrate the journey after we know the hard work has paid off.

This holiday weekend, though, I want to take a moment to celebrate before the success.

For everyone out there who has taken the plunge, who is writing and doesn't know if anyone will ever want to publish their work--keep watering. Keep the sunlight coming in. Doubt is acidic--nothing can grow there.

You'll get where you want to go. But only if you keep at it, keep at it, keep at it.

And from here on out, be sure to celebrate every little step along the way.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Duke Kahanomoku by Laurie Calkhoven

In this month of fives, I'm celebrating my FIFTH book for Simon Spotlight's YOU SHOULD MEET series.

Duke was a full blooded Hawaiian who grew up on the beach. He took part in four Olympics and broke world records in swimming in 1912 and 1920. Along the way he showed the east coast and Australia what surfing was and became the "Father of Modern Surfing."

And I'm on deadline, so that's all folks.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Divine Mistakes by Claudia Mills

I can't think about the month of May without starting to sing "It's May" from the musical Camelot, a delicious ode to springtime lust, as Guinivere, about to succumb to her fatal love for Lancelot, sings: "Those dreary vows that everyone takes, everyone breaks, everyone makes divine mistakes.. . ." Every time I hear it I want to rush out and make some divine mistakes myself. Isn't that what May is for?

Well, divine writing mistakes, at least.

When it comes to writing, there are those who swear by adherence to writing rules, what Blake Snyder, in his best-selling manual on plotting, Save the Cat, calls "the immutable laws" of storytelling, laws that can't be "discovered" because they "existed way before you or I came along." Then there are those who disavow allegiance to any rules at all, those who insist that "The only rule is that there are no rules." Or, in a variant I encountered of this in an online writing course I took years ago from writing guru Dennis Foley: "The only rule is don't bore the reader."

I have to confess that I fall in the first camp myself. I adore rules.I love writing sonnets in iambic pentameter with rhyme schemes from Shakespeare (ABAB, CDCD, EFEF, GG) or Petrarch (ABBA ABBA CDCDCD). I love writing chapter books because they are so tightly structured. It's a joy to me to bring in a manuscript as close to exactly 15,000 words as possible, with chapters of precisely the same length, drawing comfort from adhering to the constraints given by form itself.

Then there are what I consider my own personal writing rules: laws I impose on myself. Perhaps you have these, too. Here are some of mine.

1. The central dramatic question for the book must click into place in the last line of the first chapter, which I consider to be the most important (and underrated) line of the entire book. This is where the reader is definitively informed what the book is going to be about. So the last line of the first chapter of my recent Cody Harmon, King of Pets, reads: "What kind of pet show would it be if Cody Harmon, king of pets, couldn't enter any pets at all?" The last line of my 7 x 9 = Trouble! reads: One note [sent home from Wilson's teacher to his parents about his poor progress learning multiplication facts] plus ten more times tables would equal three weeks of nothing but trouble." 

2. Anything that happens in the first half of the book should have some direct counterpart in the second half of the book. If in the first half of Kelsey Green, Reading Queen, principal Mr. Boone tells Kelsey's class that they have a chance to win the school reading contest because the star fifth-grade reader is off on vacation, that reader should appear somewhere, somehow, in the second half of the book. If Kelsey has low-grade simmering irritation at her parents' demands on her time that interfere with her reading progress, in the second half of the book that irritation should erupt into a full-blown outburst. If she's surreptitiously reading under her desk during math time in the opening chapter, she has to be caught doing that - with some real consequences - later on.

3. If any character is mentioned by name once, s/he needs to be mentioned (at least) twice.

4. But if any attention-drawing verb of speech (muttered, snarled, snapped) is used once, it should never be used again, unless the book is a very long one. Only one character can snarl per book!

Oh, I do love self-imposed writing rules. And yet . . . it's May. Maybe I should break one?

No! I can't do it! I think I'll make some other kind of May-inspired divine mistake instead. Hmm. Which one?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

May: A Month for Birthdays!

by Naomi Kinsman

For me, May is the month of birthdays. For one thing, my birthday is only a few days away. Also, every time I turn around, another family member or friend is celebrating his or her special day.

As a writer, birthdays are a powerful character development tool for me. Sometimes I'll use a birthday on the pages of a book, but more often, I'll write about a character's birthdays as an exercise to explore personality.

Take me, for instance. Here's a short list of memorable birthday moments from my life:

1. My annual birthday challenge in elementary school to dive into the non-heated pool. If I braved the challenge, my reward was ice cream. Usually mint chocolate chip, because that was my favorite. I didn't recognize the irony of rewarding cold with even colder until I was much older.

2. In middle school, the popular girls finally came to my party. They all piled into one raft when we went out to float on the duck pond, and of course, the rest of us ended up in the other. My glee when their boat sprung a leak and they started to sink surprised me. Who is this stranger inside my skin? 

3. In high school, I planned a progressive dinner for my birthday, with scavenger hunt clues sending teams of friends racing all over the city of Portland. Planning the extravaganza was even more fun than the birthday itself.

We can learn so many things from a character on his or her birthday.

1. What does she love to do?
2. Who does he spend time with? Does he prefer large groups or small ones?
3. Do her friends make her gifts, or are the gifts store-bought?
4. What do the gifts given reveal about him?
5. What does the reaction to the gifts reveal about her?
6. How does he change from birthday to birthday? What remains the same?
7. Does she plan her own birthday? If not, who plans the day? Is this what she would choose, were it up to her?
8. How does he feel about people singing happy birthday, or not?
9. What surprises come up on her birthday?
10. Which birthdays are most meaningful to him?

And, of course, the list could go on. As I write about these pearls of memory, I stockpile ideas that I can weave into my story. Maybe I use one of those gifts that continues to be meaningful far after a birthday is over. Or maybe, I use a memory of the birthday to add meaning to another event. Sometimes, I just use the preferences I discover to figure out what a character might choose to do on a free Saturday.

If you're a writer, I'd love to hear how you use birthdays in your work. If you're a reader (I hope everyone is!), I'd love to hear about your favorite literary birthdays. And if you're celebrating your birthday this month, I wish you happiness, joy, creativity, laughter and lots of adventure on your special day.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Through the Seasons by Deborah Lytton

The first book of my new middle grade series RUBY STARR will be released this August from Sourcebooks. Ruby is a fifth grade student with a big imagination and a love of books. She has even started her own book club at school.

In honor of Ruby, I am going to share my own book club questions each month on my website. The book I chose to begin my book club is ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS by Scott O'Dell. I decided to begin with this book because it is one of my favorites and one of Ruby's favorites too.
Image result for island of the blue dolphins

In reading ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS to prepare for the book club, I was struck as always with the simple beauty and poignancy of this novel. The writer in me was impressed with the clarity of voice and the ability of Mr. O'Dell to transport me to the island with Karana. I was also intrigued by the use of seasons to drive the story. The seasons provide conflict for Karana in the sense that the changing weather brings longer nights or warmer days as well as different food sources. The seasons also provide a framework for the plotting of the book that reveals the passage of time for the reader by showing rather than telling. I will be taking a closer look at my WIP tonight to see where I might add to the story through the seasons. How are you using the seasons in your WIP?

Friday, May 12, 2017

Conflict Challenged by Darlene Beck Jacobson

Conflict.  It's everywhere we look and part of our lives whether we want it to be or not.  But when it comes to creating conflict in a character, my first tendency is to run and hide.  Have the character go to a "safe place".   I like my characters.  I don't want awful things to happen to them.   Why can't they live in ignorant bliss, happily ever after?

    Probably because it isn't much fun to read a story like that.

    It's a struggle for me to write conflict in my current WIP..   Here's where you come in.   What are your tried and true tips/tricks for creating conflict?    How do you throw your characters under the bus for the sake of the story?  Do you have a formula that works for you?

      I want to help my characters in my current manuscript live up to their full potential.  To experience ALL life has to offer, even the ugly, uncomfortable aspects.  Any suggestions?

Thursday, May 11, 2017

5 for 5

What a coincidence that this blog is celebrating the number 5 when 5 is playing quite the role in my work-in-progress. Not that 5 has anything to do with the plot or the characters or the setting, but rather with my writing of this story.

(First), 10 days ago on May 1, I gave myself an ultimatum: Either finish this book in 5 weeks or forever forget about it. Sound harsh? It might not if you knew this MG started as a picture book too many years ago for me to remember. It was based on the neighborhood where I grew up and specifically centered around (second) 5 of us.

I thought it was wonderful, fabulous, publish-worthy. I thought wrong. For starters, I discovered I was too wordy to write PBs. That’s when this story morphed into a chapter book. Revelation! Write! Submit! (*rejection, rejection, rejection, rejection, rejection*) Okay, so it was a cute story but neither the characters nor the plot were special enough for anyone else to get excited about. I still hoped, one day, to give it another look. And I did. I rewrote the thing long before I understood the true meaning of revision. (*rejection, rejection, rejection, rejection, rejection*) Again it went into the drawer.

Fast forward a bunch of years later (after my first novel was published), I was looking for something to work on between projects and I pulled it back out. For about two weeks. Other shiny things then caught my attention.

And now (third) for the 5th time, this book has landed back on my radar. And ta-da! In all these years I’ve actually learned something. I’ve learned to take initial inspiration for a story beyond the truth that started the whole thing. And for the past couple months, off and on between rewrites of other more pressing projects, I’ve been plodding (and plotting) away at this story, one that has had (fourth) 5 different titles and (fifth) whose main characters has had 5 different names.

I’m ending this post here. I’m only halfway through this first draft—I really, really, really want to finish it this time—and the clock is ticking; only 3.5ish weeks more.
Ah, the writing games we play!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A Lesson from May Graduates:
Time vs. Passion

By Marcia Thornton Jones

The days keep filling up. I try to manage time; to make time; to schedule time. But I can’t even find enough space in my schedule to jot down a few words in my journal, let alone devote quality time to creating story worlds and breathing life into characters. When I do have an opening in my schedule, all I want to do is sleep. Or watch TV. Or, a-hem, pay too much attention to social media.

That’s why I am so impressed with this year’s Carnegie Center Author Academy students who receive their certificates on June 1st.

The Carnegie Center Author Academy is a student-driven certificate program that provides writers with support to grow rapidly in their craft as they prepare work for publication. Students receive 75 hours of one-on-one mentoring, have unlimited access to Carnegie Center classes, attend monthly Academy seminars, participate in a weekend writing retreat, attend the Carnegie Center Books-in-Progress Conference, and end the year pitching their work to a literary agent.

It’s an intense 9-month program, and as the coordinator, I know that this year’s class is comprised of writers who are parents, work full-time jobs, and have experienced illnesses and tragedies. And yet, they found time to meet with their mentors, attend classes, and to write and revise and write and revise and write and revise some more. So how is it that they found time amidst busy lives full of family, work, and life’s ups and down--but I cannot?

Perhaps it’s not so much a matter of time but one of passion--of having an intense desire to see characters and their worlds appear on the page. Maybe it comes down to a need to create.

In every class, every workshop, and every conference I attend or teach, the question of how to make time to write always comes up. I can recite plenty of strategies for scheduling time, but what I haven’t figured out is how to teach (and encourage) passion, desire, and need.

Any and all suggestions are welcome!

Until then, I congratulate all the Carnegie Center Author Academy certificate recipients—along with everyone else that is celebrating during this May season of graduation!

Applications for the 2017-2018 Author Academy are now being accepted, and
registration for the June 8-10, 2017 Books-in-Progress conference is now open.
For more information visit

Monday, May 8, 2017

MEET CLINT McCOOL by Jane Kelley

Introducing my new chapter book series --- THE ESCAPADES OF CLINT McCOOL.

Jessika von Innerebner did the fabulous illustrations. I'm thrilled with how she brought Clint McCool and all the other characters to life.

This is my first chapter book series. Writing it presented different sorts of challenges. Clint's a boy! And furthermore he's impulsive, wild, and pretty much the opposite of me. Now it's true that I often asked my husband Lee to suggest some reckless ideas. But I also discovered that I enjoyed leaving my comfort zone and venturing into a world of superheroes, monsters, and alligators.

Here's how Clint McCool does it.

His best friend Marco made this cap to help Clint McCool control his powers. Even with those buttons, his ideas get him into trouble. Zing! zong! zing! It'll take another brain flash to save the day.

I'm a writer. Thinking of things is my job and my joy. Clint McCool is a kid. Unfortunately there isn't always a place for creativity in children's lives. Kids now have academic and social pressures that didn't exist when I was growing up. Luckily more people are recognizing the importance of play and finding ways to make it part of education. 

Imagination is a super power. When we use our brains, we can manipulate time, walk through walls, increase our strength, save lives, and travel to parallel worlds. In fact, imagination can help humans do just about anything.

Except no matter how hard he tries, Clint McCool can't defeat his archenemy -- his baby sitter, Mrs. Brussels. 

Her brain is pretty powerful, too. Only she uses hers to remember all the embarrassing things he did when he was little. And also that his name isn't really Clint McCool. It's Wallie. 

For more information about Clint McCool, visit this link

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Bird by Bird, Word by Word, Stitch by Stitch

Our theme for this month is 5. It's a great number, 5. Seems easy enough to roll off a quicklist of 5. But. After a month of ARTSPEAK! Portraits, my poem-a-day project for National Poetry Month, my mind is ajumble with art and words and images and... quilts.

That's because also during April, my first middle grade novel LEAVING GEE'S BEND was released in paperback! AND: I heard Anne Lamott, author of the beloved BIRD BY BIRD (and 16 other books) speak! (I shared highlights from her talk yesterday at Live Your Poem.) And now, like a good quilter, I will attempt to stitch all of these elements together.

Artelia Bendolph, age 10, photo
by Arthur Rothstein, 1937
(the pic that inspired
Ludelphia Bennett)
1. In LEAVING GEE'S BEND, heroine Ludelphia Bennett who lives in 1932 Gee's Bend, Alabama sets out to find medical help for her mother and winds up in one mess after another. She becomes quite familiar with an adage I learned from my mother, who learned it from her mother: "As you sew, so shall you rip." It's true for any seamstress, and it's true for a writer. Mistakes -- and revisions -- are just part of the process. Why fight it? Just do it.

Meeting readers at
Young Author's Conference
in Mobile, Alabama
2. Books are art, quilts are art, our lives are art. And it's our job to go out and live lives worth writing about (and stitching about). No book I've written has changed me -- and my life -- more than LEAVING GEE'S BEND. I learned so much writing that book. I have often said I feel like I earned an MFA with my Excellent Editor Stacey Barney at G.P. Putnam's Sons/Penguin. I also learned the best part of writing a book is connecting with readers. I never imagined myself a public speaker, but since the release of LEAVING GEE'S BEND, I've given hundreds of presentations. Hundreds. I never thought I would be that person! Just like Anne Lamott never thought she would get up at a book event and introduce her "boyfriend." Yes, Anne Lamott found a match... on!

me with all the drafts
 of Leaving Gee's Bend
3. Writing books takes bravery and vulnerability and TIME. And it helps to break it down. Word by word. Just do a little each day. Five minutes, says Anne Lamott, if that's all you've got. And who knows? Once you get warmed up, you might go ten minutes, or fifteen minutes, or an hour. It's the same with quilting: stitch by stitch. Chickens may produce their eggs all at once, but the rest of us create in bits and pieces. Keep at it, and before long, you'll have a book or a quilt or a lifetime.

quilt by China Pettway
4. Quilting -- and writing -- and life! is about making choices. So many words and fabrics and patterns and genres to choose from! It's all highly individual. Which is why there is no need to worry about others "stealing" your idea. Just write your story, stitch your quilt, live your life. It will be as unique as you are. And okay, maybe your words won't be for everyone, but they will be for someone. Far too much of our energy is spent worrying and comparing ourselves and our art to others... and looking to others to validate our work/life/experiences. Remember this: You are valuable. Your work is important. You are exactly where you need to be.

5. Celebrate! This day, this moment, the May sunshine, the robin dancing on your lawn. Anne Lamott didn't think she'd find love again, but she did. When Penguin let LEAVING GEE'S BEND go out of print, I thought my story was dead. But then another publisher came along and brought Ludelphia back to life! Thank you, NewSouth Books! Life is full of surprises. Unexpected things happen in books and quilts and on the way to the grocery. All the more reason to say "thank you."

And now, a bonus: here is a favorite poem from ARTSPEAK! Portraits, inspired by "Self-Portrait of a Painter" by Vincent van Gogh. Thank you so much for reading!

Irene Latham is the author of more than a dozen current and forthcoming books, including two novels for children: Leaving Gee's Bend and Don't Feed the Boy. Winner of the 2016 ILA Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award, her poetry books for children include Dear Wandering Wildebeest, When the Sun Shines on Antarctica, Fresh Delicious and Can I Touch Your Hair? (co-written with Charles Waters). Irene lives in Birmingham, Alabama with her family where she does her best to “live her poem” every single day by laughing, playing the cello, and walking in the woods.