Friday, February 28, 2014

Cheers for Bentonville, Arkansas

Bentonville, Arkansas has chosen The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester for their One District, One Book program.

Here they are giving out thousands of copies to all students in grades K-4.


Thursday, February 27, 2014

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

What a children's writer can learn from Breaking Bad

I think I'm the last human in the universe to just start watching
Breaking Bad.

But I made myself a promise that I would only watch it while on the treadmill.

I think I've probably walked from Boston to Akron and back again and I'm only on Season 3.

It's that good.

Although I'm totally sucked into the story, I'm still aware of the writing. 

I think about it a lot.

There are some noteworthy elements that can prove useful to any writer. (Note: I'm not going to cite examples lest I spoil the story for anyone who hasn't watched and wants to.)

1. The main character is likeable, even though he does terrible, immoral, and unlawful things. Despite his behavior, I still find myself rooting for Walter White. I care about him. I feel bad when he struggles.

Even poor Jesse is someone I care about. He's a total loser, but every time he finds himself in a mess (which is often), I feel sorry for him.

Readers want to like and care about the main characters, even when they are behaving badly (and sometimes, even more so when they are behaving badly).

2. There are coincidences - but they are believable. They don't feel forced for the sake of the plot.

3. There is a steady stream of seemingly impossible situations for the characters to get themselves out of. The viewer (reader) is always left wondering, "How on earth will they get themselves out of this predicament?"

4. There is a perfect balance of viewer (reader) emotion: fright, sentiment, tension, suspicion, worry. Just when you think you can't bear the tension any longer, there is relief in the form of a different emotion.

So, now when I spend so much time watching Breaking Bad, I'm calling it studying.

Addendum: I've been told that by Season 4, I won't like Walter so much. Maybe I'll eventually have to scratch number 1.  

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Things I Love Thursday

I love these quilts.

When my first novel, Beethoven in Paradise, was published in 1997, my sister-in-law made me a beautiful quilt that she called "Martin's Music" in honor of the main character.

It is now falling apart from years of use and love, but I still love it.

For Me and Rupert Goody, she made me "Jennalee's Mountains."

Then, in honor of Moonpie and Ivy, she made this quilt with sunflowers (an important story element).

Since then, she has made us many gorgeous quilts.

I love the birds on this one.

I love them all.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Two Things on Tuesday

Thing One
A big shout-out to Ms. Sager's 5th graders!
Thanks for the gifts, y'all!!
Thing Two

All the kids at this school sat on big bouncy balls. Love that!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Sixteen Ways to Kill a Story

1. Start the story too early.

2. Take too long to set up the story and introduce the central question.

3. Add too much back story.

4. Have an unclear central question (i.e., the reader isn't sure what the story is about).

5. Tell the story with narrative instead of showing it with action and dialogue.

6. Have no turning points (i.e., the story moves from one scene to another in a straight line).

7. Continue on too long after the climax.

8: Have an undeveloped character with unclear (or no) motivation.

9: Tell character traits, tell character feelings, tell setting (instead of showing). 

10: Make sure the character is not active in moving the story forward, is not instrumental in solving the problem, and does not grow or change in the end.

11: Switch points of view.

12: Add too much interior monologue.

13: Add unnecessary words, sentences, paragraphs, scenes, characters.

14: Repeat yourself.

15: Explain yourself.

16: Use too many dialogue tags, tags that explain (e.g., he apologized), tags that don't denote speech (e.g., she sighed; he smiled), or tags with -ly adverbs (e.g., she said harshly).

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Things I Love Thursday

I love these photos sent to me by Mrs. Mroczenski's third grade class at Cushing Elementary School in Delafield, WI.

They noticed a pair of butterfly wings hanging in the Lost and Found at their school.

The wings reminded them of Starletta in The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis.

"Yoohoo! Starletta! Did you lose your wings at Cushing Elementary?"

Thank you, Mrs. Mroczenski's class!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Two Things on Tuesday

Thing One

"Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of."

--Kurt Vonnegut

Thing Two

From the 4th graders at Killam Elementary in Reading, MA


Friday, February 7, 2014

Some pretty cool writing reference books

So, these are kinda cool!

They're thesauruses for writers - but not your usual word thesauruses.

This one is called THE EMOTION THESAURUS: A WRITER'S GUIDE TO CHARACTER EXPRESSION by Angela Ackerman and Becca Publisi.

It has 75 emotion entries, like depression, doubt, indifference, nervousness, and rage.

Then for each emotion, it lists body language, thoughts and visceral responses for each.

For instance, for nervousness, some of the physical signals are pacing, rapid blinking, rubbing the back of the neck, lack of eye contact, clearing the throat, and many more. 

Then there are internal sensations associated with nervousness, like dry mouth, heart palpitations, or quivering muscles.

Next there are mental responses for the emotion, cues of acute feeling of that emotion, and cues of suppression of that emotion.


According to the back cover, the book provides "a vast collection of flaws to explore when building a character's personality. Each entry includes possible causes, attitudes, behaviors, thoughts and related emotions.


Each entry of this one "lists possible causes for why a trait might emerge, along with associated attitudes, behaviors, thoughts and emotions.

Sometimes you're looking for just the right gesture or action or dialogue beat to show an emotion, flaw, etc. These books could come in handy.


Thursday, February 6, 2014

Things I Love Thursday

Oh, how I love Karen Cushman!

Her writing is so much fun to read.

She's all about WORDS.

Glorious, creative words.

And talk about good insults!

I thought Elvis (The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis) was pretty good at insulting.

I mean, bug-brained booger breath is pretty good, right?

But Elvis can't hold a candle to Meggy Swann (The Alchemy and Meggy Swann).

Exhibit A:

wart-necked flap maggot

penny pinching nip cheese

milk-livered minnow

mewling flap-mouthed flax wench

Cease your bibble babble, you gleeking goat's bladder.

And when she isn't busy insulting, Karen Cushman is tossing out words like:

skimble skamble



I love this book.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Two Things on Tuesday

Thing One:

"Other people's books are the greatest teachers of writers."
--Rosemary Wells

Thing Two:

Because I visit 1,245,677 schools a year, I keep records to help me remember them. (I usually return to the same schools each year when working locally).

I make notes about everything from weird parking issues to equipment needs to reminders to stay away from the chicken nuggets on Wednesdays.

I was recently going through my records from past years and came across this one: 

"Parent volunteer brought me a sandwich. Teacher with a hyphenated name was fantastic."

(Goes to show you how much that sandwich must have meant to me. Heh...)