Thursday, July 29, 2021

Into the Unknown

 By Charlotte Bennardo

Even if you're a stay-at-home, curl up on the couch with a good book or movie with the cat and a cup of tea kind of person, you need adventure. Maybe it's trying out a restaurant with a cuisine you've never eaten before. Or it's leaving the family home to go on a vacation with college friends. Adventures come in all sizes and shapes and experiences, and as writers, we can't help but incorporate them into our writing, sometimes knowingly, other times unconsciously. 

During the pandemic, staying at home lost its appeal and became...well, oppressive. I had to get out. My husband and I got on our bikes and put on our (new) hiking shoes, and hit the trails. We've been exploring new places, many surprisingly close to our home, and discovering nature, expanding our physical comfort zones, and improving our physical and mental well-being. 

Photo courtesy of Pexels, Nina Uhlikova

How has this shown up in my work? I describe outdoor scenes with more precision and detail. I'm not a fan of heavy description (a holdover from my days as a journalist- just the facts, ma'am), but now I can't help but make my outdoor scenes more lush, or threatening, or mysterious. I know the rush of adrenaline before the pain sets in when you crash your bike (yeah, ow. Broken bones and staples). There is a heart pounding moment when the forest suddenly goes quiet and you're not sure why: a bear? A coming storm? Or, in my writer's mind, a human predator? Truly it is different to write something with imagination versus real life experience.


Photo courtesy of Pexels, Murillo Molissani

So it's onto the next adventure. What will it be? Whatever it is, it can't help but sneak into my writing, and that's a good thing. 

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Combining Work and Play (or Not)

I wish I had interesting hobbies, but I don't. I don't ski or rock climb or do anything that involves athleticism, because I have none.

Pretty much all I do, besides working and taking care of my family, is write and read--and more often than not, the writing and reading relate to work.

My husband and kids are always telling me I need to relax more, but I rarely listen.

However, on the rare occasion, I will get together with my cousin Carolyn. This is one of my favorite ways to relax and have fun. Carolyn and I have been best friends since we were teenagers. (This would be a great place to put a photo of Carolyn and me as teens, but we never take pictures. It's sad, really!)

Since our youth, whenever Carolyn and I get together, we do two things: giggle constantly and stay up all night talking. This wasn't a problem when we were young and could recover quickly from an all-nighter, but now, it takes us about three days to bounce back, and we keep saying, "Why do we do this to ourselves?"

The answer is because it's fun. 

I couldn't tell you the things we talk about all night; I've generally forgotten them by the next day. However, most recently, I read Carolyn my current work-in-progress. Yep. She stayed awake all night long to listen to me read my book. Now that's friendship! Of course, she has known me so well for so long that she knows where most of my material comes from, so she has somewhat of a vested interest.

That work-in-progress has since grown significantly. Last night, I wrote "The End" on this manuscript, which now has 59,824 words. Unfortunately, Carolyn was too busy to get together...or was she?! 😂

Even if she didn't listen to my book, I'd still look forward to our next get-together.

You can make new friends, but you can't make new old friends.




Sunday, July 25, 2021

Playin' Around (Holly Schindler)

“I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don't let anybody tell you different.”--Kurt Vonnegut
This might be one of my favorite literary quotes of all time, from one of my favorite authors.
I didn't always like Vonnegut. In fact, he drove me nuts when I was in grad school. We were assigned Breakfast of Champions, and the book just annoyed me. At one point, Vonnegut says, "I am writing a very bad book," right in the middle of the thing, and I scribbled in the margin, "YUP!!!!!" 
 Or, you know, something along those lines.
The thing is, though, I was a pretty--well--humorless thing, in my early twenties. I liked things that were literary  and high-brow and I didn't have time for guilty pleasures. I was serious and driven and...
Well. You get the idea. 
These days? One of my biggest allergies is to taking oneself too seriously. I love meandering walks and comedies. I'd rather eat milkshakes and French fries over anything fancy-pants. I do not trust people who don't like dog kisses (seriously, who was that girl I used to be????) 
The thing is, you can't expect a really great book to follow all the pre-established rules. You've got to experiment. Let certain plot points take meandering detours away from the original plan. Try new POVs. New narrative techniques. You've got to, in short fart around. 
You just plain can't take your work too seriously. Play is the thing. 
Years after grad school, I saw a short video of Vonnegut discussing story shapes and decided to revisit his work. I re-read Breakfast of Champions.
And I loved it.
Holly Schindler is a critically acclaimed author of books for readers of all ages. Her first MG, The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky, recently re-released. A corresponding activity book is also available. Check for details. 

Friday, July 23, 2021

Put Your Trickster Smack Dab in the Imagination by Dia Calhoun

As promised last month, here is one way I have learned to used the three aspects of the Trickster archetype--the sage/innocent/fool--to shake up my creative work. 

Writers are told they must "kill their little darlings," the pieces of prose they most love, usually descriptions. "No, no," the writer protests, thinking her words as precious and irreplaceable as a Ming dynasty plate.

The Fool steps in to throw your sacred plate across the room and shatter into pieces.

The Sage says, "Relax. Don't worry. You you have an abundance of little darlings inside."

Meanwhile, the Innocent blithely sits down in  the middle of chaos and starts turning over the beautiful  shards.

And so a new direction is born. I'm learning to apply this process in bigger ways, not only to passages of prose or poetry, but to entire chapters, poems, even projects. If  I don't cling to an existing form, I am freer to create better ones.

Is a Writing Proverb in order? How about: The less precious you think your work, the better your work will be.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Inspiring Adventures Everywhere

When you have a creative, story-writing-kind-of imagination, inspiring adventures are everywhere. 

I can do something as simple as watch a movie or documentary, put myself in the story, and my adventure begins. 

Years ago, I watched a PBS program about a scientist studying alligators. Where was the documentary filmed? A mysterious place called the Okefenokee Swamp. Seeing that was all it took for me to gain an irresistible interest in the Okefenokee. My inspiring, imaginative adventure began, and I spent the next several years reading about the swamp, taking several trips to see the swamp firsthand, and learning story after story about the life people in the swamp lived. The result? Elsie Mae Has Something to Say, the historical fiction story of Elsie's endeavor to become a hero of the Okefenokee and preserve the unique swamp life and heritage of her family. Elsie Mae's adventure grew from the imaginative adventures I took in my mind; all of which were sparked by the PBS program about alligators.

The same kind of inspiration can happen for me when I read a really good book. I fall in love with a character and am so drawn into her story that it is almost as if the story is happening to me. Often from that imaginative story-adventure I take while reading, my own creative juices start flowing, and I find myself with ideas for a completely different character with a completely different story. 

So for me, adventure and inspiration go hand in hand, and adventures don't have to be something I've experienced myself in order for those adventures to spark the kind of story inspiration that grows into a book.

Happy Imagination Adventuring,

Nancy J. Cavanaugh

Friday, July 16, 2021

Mundane Girl in a Crazy World

Two of my daughters are currently in high school. They're cool. So cool. I mean, really. They are. Way cooler than I ever dreamed of being back in the day, growing up in a small town in interior Alaska in the '70s and '80s, where trends and fashions reached us months or years late. My cool daughters, like all good GenZs, seem to connect primarily through the screen. What they snap, what they insta, what they screenshot, what they stream - this is not just what they do, it is who they are. GenXers like me tend to think that, while expanding their world in some senses, they are also shrinking it, and engaging with it in a much smaller way. But the world is not static; it is ever-changing, and even our very definitions of social life and connection must change too, and we must understand that what is normal and right for us, may not be for others.

Blythe, my way cool 17-year-old, streamed Mortal Instruments: City of Bone just the other night, proclaiming, "I haven't seen this in a hot minute." When it came out, she was nine. Cheesy as it is, I really like that movie, and my girls do too. Blythe and I have both read all the books. And I mention it because of the term "Mundane" which is used throughout the books and movie to reference people who have no connection to the magical world. In those stories, Mundane is almost an insult. They are people who are ignorant; blind to the amazing things around them. Even by our definition, mundane isn't a terribly sexy word - adj., lacking interest or excitement; dull. And yet, I think it's a word that describes me perfectly, and not in a bad way.

We all grow up thinking we will be something special. Our parents, at least most of them, tell us that. You can be anything, become an astronaut, cure cancer, write the great American novel; the only thing holding you back is you. But really, we can't all do that. Some of us have to be stay-at-home parents, custodians, waitresses, shelf stockers, factory workers. The world wouldn't work if we were all as 'special' as we are led to believe.

Being an elementary school librarian in a small town, raising kids, raising chickens, well, that's a pretty mundane life. We don't have a ton of money, seldom go on vacation or even camping trips, live a rather small life. I recall that line from You've Got Mail when Kathleen sends a message to her mysterious AOL pen pal: "Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life - well, valuable, but small - and sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven't been brave?" I've definitely wondered this about myself. And I would say that I definitely haven't been very brave. I often take the path of least resistance. But, I've come to realize, I also very much like my small life. 

We took a vacation in Hawaii this past March, our entire family. My husband and I, and all five of our kids ages twenty-two down to eleven slogged through endless Covid protocols, got on a plane and flew to the Big Island, where my Dad lives. It should have been wonderful, and in some senses, it certainly was. But mostly, it felt like a lot of work. The kids fought a lot, no one could agree on where to go or what to do, people slept in too long, my liberal kids had a hard time holding their tongue around their vocally conservative Grandpa, and when you are staying in a condo, there is still housework, laundry and cooking. Some vacation, right? 

Every time I'm away from home I'm reminded that I don't really enjoy being away from home all that much. I like my home. I like my life. I like my job. I'm boring. Definitely not cool like my kids. Genuinely mundane. And while that definition of myself may have bothered me at one point, it doesn't any longer. I'm fine with being who I am, doing what I do, and loving what I love. I don't need to prove anything to anyone. It's okay if my idea of a big adventure is a three-day camping trip in a well-stocked motor home. It's okay if my idea of fun is my daily solo walks and jogs with my dog, listening to an audiobook. It's okay if I generally prefer staying home and doing a jigsaw puzzle or reading a book rather than going to a concert or a movie.

Soggy spring walk - my kind of 'adventure'

Others may need more. More variety, bigger adventures, and grander fun. For me, life itself is an awfully big adventure and fun is where you find it. May you all find your very own brand of fun and adventure. And if turns out you are a Mundane, like me, hey, that's okay! We can compare (very boring) notes.

Thursday, July 15, 2021


 As summarized perfectly in some tourist commercial, this past year has felt like one long, long winter. Defined by loss and grief, fear and sadness, the year carried with it an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, underscored by a sense of disconnect.  As the old adage goes, “Everyone has a tragedy.”

The pandemic highlighted how we took our connections for granted. Indeed, as another old adage says, we realize the true value of anything only after it’s taken away.

 The internet, and social media, redefined – or revolutionized – the power to connect.  Some connections operated solely to disinform and divide (in a twisty turn of radical mind-puzzling irony of ironies, connecting in order to disconnect). 

Other connections provided a more positive benefit. These connections kept us  … well … connected. It lowered anxiety, softened depression, and created empathy. At its most positive, it offered hope, not just for our own humanity, but for our place in the universe. 

For example, writing conferences and classes have moved online, making them cheaper and more available. Some of the best that I’ve taken (and recommend highly!)  include Harold Underdown's and Eileen Robinson’s Revision Workshops. (See more about their schedule at Kid’s Book Revisions.) 

Free Expressions, founded  by Lorin  Oberweger, offers a slew of interesting, informative webinars by masters of the trade, including Chris Vogler, Donald Maass, and Emma D. Dryden. (See more about their workshop and service schedule at Free Expressions.)  

Photo by Cynthia Cotten (c.2021)

It’s not always about work. Sometimes it’s about taking a virtual hike with friends along the outskirts of San Francisco, or on the Florida beach, or along the river's edge in New York. Or visiting gardens of friends around the world.  Or visiting poodles in Maine, and seals in California. Birding in Montana. Sometimes it’s a ride in the Tardis with a favorite companion. 

Connection is the experience of oneness.Brianna Wiest

I’ve been away for a bit, taking care of life. And now I’m back, grateful for this connection. Now we know, connections reinforce and celebrate the continuity of life.  George Ella Lyons (and thank you for this recommendation, Cynthia!) explores her connections to her family and land in Where I’m From:

... Under my bed was a dress box

spilling old pictures,

a sift of lost faces

to drift beneath my dreams.

I am from those moments--

snapped before I budded --

leaf-fall from the family tree.

--George Ella Lyon 

What connections did you discover -- or rediscover?

Rest in Power, Grandma Dorothy. 

--Bobbi Miller

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Summer Adventures by-- Jennifer Mitchell

 As a teacher, July is typically the month I grant myself time to do things that I consider a little more “fun.”  We typically schedule a family vacation; that is something I always look forward to (I still have a couple of weeks before I set out on this year’s adventure).  I grant myself permission to stay up later than I normally would, and I have been enjoying watching evening movies with my daughter.  I love sitting on the deck in the evening and just taking the time to enjoy nature.  I am not what one would consider very adventurous, but I do enjoy trying new things.  I have lived in Kansas City my entire life and just took the time this week to go to the Jazz Museum.  It was a great way to learn more about history, and something I can always weave into my history lessons for the upcoming school year. 

A summer tradition I started a few years ago was going to the library and checking out the Mark Twain Award Nominee books. I love being able to have the time to read books that might be potential mentor texts, or a read aloud for the upcoming school year.  I am always excited to introduce different books to my students, and it feels like a gift to have the time to read several books.  The book I am currently reading, Shouting at the Rain by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, feels like it will pair well with Because of Winn-Dixie when I teach that unit.  So even though I am reading for enjoyment, I am always trying to connect books to use in my classroom.

For me July is a month to let up a little on the normal daily grind, and take time out for enjoyment that I might not normally pencil in for myself. 

I am a second/ third grade looping teacher in the Kansas City area.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Playing...Adult Style by Darlene Beck Jacobson


 "PLAY is the work of the child" - Maria Montessori

Since our July theme is how we play and what we adult writers consider adventure, I am taking you on a walk through one of the summer activities I enjoy and have enjoyed since childhood.

Going out for a walk...first thing in the morning before I eat breakfast... is the perfect time to tune into nature uninterrupted by lawnmowers or man-made noise. It feels like play to discover something unexpected on one of these walks. It happens whether I walk on a beach, in my neighborhood, or in a woodland setting. Anywhere my feet take me. 

Here are some examples of unexpected treasures on my morning walks:


 On a beach walk. (Give yourself a pat on the back if you know what this is...)




From a walk on a woodland path.








On a sidewalk in my neighborhood: 


What can easily be missed when we don't pay attention, becomes an unexpected gift. I get just as excited discovering these everyday things in unexpected moments now, as I did when I was a child. It reminds me of the simple ways kids engage in and appreciate the world around them.

Walking becomes play when something new is found.

Learning new skills and trying new things also counts as play and it brings to mind the characters we write about and create. They strive to learn new things, solve new problems, become new versions of themselves.

We make our characters come to life in authentic ways when we channel our playful and curious nature. Paying attention to the "little things" that bring wonder and joy to life.

Walking on a forest path outside State College, PA in June 2021. It looks like the fairies had made a recent visit...since these ornaments were not there on the same walk the day before.


When she isn't writing books for children, Darlene Beck Jacobson enjoys exploring the natural world and making unique discoveries. Even though she lives in NJ, she's discovered amazing things in lots of other places as well.

You can find some of these things on her blog:

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Blurred Lines

by Jody Feldman

Long walks.
Lunch with people!

That’s how I’ve played this past week (so far). 
I deserved it. 

Having just met an intense, 10-week, ChapterOne-to-publisher deadline, I kept sane some days by promising myself I’d take time after to do some things I love. 

And yet, while I’ve been walking or driving or finding myself alone, I’ve missed the writing. Not the long hours of sitting and typing, no. I miss occupying my mind with all the play that goes into plotting and character development; even with the challenge of finding that perfect turn of phrase or the task of chopping a single word from a paragraph to keep a chapter from running a couple lines onto the next page.
It’s play to me.
And I can't help but smile...
How lucky am I to have found an occupation that blurs the lines between work and play!

Award-winning middle grade author of The Gollywhopper Games series and The Seventh Level, Jody Feldman may be taking a brief dip to the other (older) side with a YA thriller coming out next summer, but never fear. There’s still MG in her heart.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Finding Adventure With Rochelle Melander -- by Jane Kelley

What comes to mind when we think of going on adventures? Making discoveries? Facing challenges? Battling for justice? Wielding a sword??? 

Rochelle Melander writes about people who have done all those things––with the help of something more powerful than conventional weapons.  Mightier than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World is a middle grade, social-justice book that tells the stories of historical and contemporary writers, activists, scientists, and leaders who used writing to make a difference in their lives and the world. I asked Rochelle a few questions about her inspiring and fascinating book. 


When I started Dream Keepers, my writing program for young people in Milwaukee, I often used stories and poems as mentor texts and writing prompts. We began by reading Langston Hughes––our name is based on his poem by that name. The young people liked reading poetry and fiction, but they loved true stories of people just like them who had used writing to change their world. I looked for a book like Mightier than the Sword that would tell all these stories. I couldn't find one so I had to write it myself.


Whenever I've gone through a tough time, I've used writing to figure it out. Turns out, for years, psychologists have been studying how writing can help people heal. Researchers have found that journaling improves memory and sleep, increases general feelings of well being, and supports people in achieving their goals. I incorporated those ideas into the work I do with young people, giving them fun exercises that help them reap the emotional and intellectual benefits of writing. 

In my book, I created exercises to help readers use writing to explore ideas and protest injustice. For example, after readers learn about Sophie Cruz, a young girl who wrote a letter to the Pope asking for immigration reform, I invite readers to write their own letters to ask for change. I hope the book will inspire young writers to discover how writing can be their own superpower.


You bet! Many of the writers in Mightier than the Sword took amazing adventures. When he was just 21, Ibn Battuta set out on a pilgrimage to Mecca––and traveled for the next 30 years. He was kidnapped and robbed and left with only his pants. Once he got so sick, he had to tie himself to his donkey to keep traveling. The naturalist Maria Merian traveled to South America to study plants and insects. Her pictures and notes focused on the things which most of us walk right by. She discovered new species, including a bird-eating spider, which is named after her. 

Other writers craved adventures. When they stepped out of their routines, they discovered incredible things. Charles Darwin took a five year journey and mined that research for the rest of his life. Nellie Bly went undercover and traveled around the world to find stories. Langston Hughes traveled to Africa and Cuba, writing about both. These stories inspired me to seek out novel experiences––even in my own hometown.


I was writing during the pandemic. After I heard rumors that public places might shut down, I visited libraries and checked out about 100 books. When I got to the end of those books, I needed to get more. I also needed to read scholarly articles I had no access to. Solving those challenges became mini-adventures for me. (By the way, if you ask nicely, most librarians will let you exceed your borrowing limit.)

Researching was also an adventure. I wanted to find a tiny, fun fact about each person that could bring them to life. Whenever I found something, it was as sweet as discovering a cache of wild raspberries on a hike. 


That's challenging for me. I do a lot of work on assignment and I need to make those deadlines. But play is necessary for being creative. I try out the exercises I teach the Dream Keepers. When I work on picture books, I try new ways to approach the story and play with words. Experimenting with other mediums also helps my writing, so I like to bake and do art journaling. 

Rochelle Melander wrote her first book at seven and has published 11 books for adults. Mightier than the Sword is her debut book for children. She's a professional certified coach, an artist educator, and founder of Dream Keepers, a writing workshop for young people. She lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with her husband, children, and two dogs. She blogs about writing at and about teaching writing at Check out both blogs for opportunities to write a guest post. 

And if you want to accompany some amazing people on their adventures, read Rochelle's book Mightier than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Adventure & Play

Happy Fourth of July!

I hope everyone takes a little time to play today :)

I would consider adventure simply trying something new. I find that the best way I come up with new ideas is by going out and trying new foods, visiting new places, and meeting new people. I’ve come to realize that my most creative ideas usually hit me as a sort of osmosis, absorbing little things all around me until they make sense together. In that way, adventure and play inform my life and work greatly. I love to play by reading, writing, getting outside, and playing yard and board games. Anything creatively-oriented is a fun time for me!

About me: I’m a student at Missouri State University studying Electronic Arts (Video Production) and Screenwriting.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

The Way Poets Play

 Hello and welcome to July! Happy firecrackers and independence!

Funny Cide
 (2003 Kentucky
Derby winner)
Playtime for me includes:

1. reading (click here for a recent favorite!)

2. #lakelife

3. travel—most recently we did a tour of the state of Kentucky, including Mammoth Cave, Kentucky Horse Park, The Ark Experience, Churchill Downs, and the National Quilt Museum!

4. playing cello

5. arts & crafts

6. games—most recently: Uno, Mexican Train, Yahtzee

7. antique & thrift shopping

8. home improvements—most recently: I painted a shelf (bought at thrift store) and put it up in my kitchen

Rosie, relaxing.
9. playing with Rosie, our Australian shepherd

10. my ArtSpeak project, which is all about playing with words & art!

11. cooking & eating :)

red velvet cheesecake!

Wishing you a summer of sweet playdays!
Irene Latham is a grateful creator of many novels, poetry collections, and picture books, including the coauthored Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship, which earned a Charlotte Huck Honor, and The Cat Man of Aleppo, which won a Caldecott Honor. Irene lives on a lake in rural Alabama.

Friday, July 2, 2021

Adventures in Time Travel


I’m often asked why I chose to write historical time-travel novels for kids, and a big part of the reason is the books I’ve read over the years that transported me back to other times and places. Vicarious adventures, of a sort.


Among my favorites were the Half Magic books by Edward Eager. They featured regular kids who discovered talismans or magical animals that deposited the kids back in some earlier era. In Knight’s Castle, for example, they found themselves in a medieval castle along with characters from Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. In The Time Garden, their stops included a visit with Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women family. At the same time, the kids’ experiences in their present day—in the case of these books, the 1950s and 1920s—are very well-grounded.


Other time-travel books, including the classic A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle, and Time Cat, by Lloyd Alexander, also sparked my imagination.


As a college student, I majored in history, immersing myself in the past and musing on people in earlier times. How did they think? What did they wear? What vocabulary did they use? Another form of imaginary adventures.


So, years later, after working as a journalist—another set of adventures!—I embarked on my time travel series, which involves a group of present-day kids living in Bethesda, Maryland, who find a magic object (a tricornered hat, for example) that whisks them back in time to meet the early presidents. The characters, both present-day and historical, plunge into adventures that change how they think about themselves. Just as I did when I began my reading adventures as a kid.


--Deborah Kalb, author of various books including Thomas Jefferson and the Return of the Magic Hat

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Smack Dab News

 Holly Schindler's The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky has re-released, with an updated text and new cover:

Available at:





A corresponding Junction of Sunshine and Lucky Activity Book is also now available: