Monday, December 29, 2008

Resolutions and thoughts on the journey

My Writer's Group has a holiday party every year. In the past, we've shared favorite Christmas stories, or created a round robin group story. This year we decided to do something different. First we shared all our writing accomplishments for the past year. Then we made an intention, stating what we plan to accomplish in the coming year.
For me, sharing my accomplishments was the most worthwhile. I'd been feeling barren and unproductive, but when I listed all I'd done, I realized that this past year has been a fertile one.
As for my writing resolutions, I'll be more likely to follow through on them, with twelve other people holding me accountable. So what are my resolutions? That I tip the balance of time I spend teaching and writing more toward the writing side.

Writing is a journey, and I decided to reread one of my favorite "journey" books this past week. THE RAMSAY SCALLOP by Frances Temple is set in the year 1300 AD. It follows young Lady Elenor and Thomas, her betrothed, as they make the pilgrimage to Santiago. I love how the author evokes Elenor in the opening lines, clutching her too-long cloak around her, wrapping her fingers in its edges to keep them warm, and standing on tiptoe in her borrowed shoes to catch a glimpse of a beggar musician. Thomas has been off fighting the crusades, and all Elenor remembers of him is that he once locked her in the henhouse.
I'm fascinated by how the author moves Elenor and Thomas across the channel, through France, and into Spain. She uses an omniscient viewpoint, spending most of her time with Elenor, but dipping into the heads of others along the way, the priest that sends them on their pilgrimage, the people they meet along the way, and of course, Thomas, who thinks of Elenor as "the brat."
The author knows how to use a few short bits of description to get the feel of the swamp, or the dessicated landscape, or the mountains. She even manages to project Elenor and Thomas' journey home, without toiling through the actual journey. She's a master!
Wishing you all good journeys in the coming new year!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Outside Beauty

I recently finished OUTSIDE BEAUTY by Cynthia Kadohata. Kadohata already won the Newbery for her KIRA KIRA. I think she has another contender here. Her voice is unerring and she somehow manages to debunk the notion that "outside beauty" is all-important while following the tumultuously lives of four sisters whose mother believes that men care about nothing else. Main character Shelby adores her narcissic mother, and barely knows her faraway father. But she has her sisters to cling to, and that's all she needs, until catastrophe strikes.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Hannah's Dream

For some reason, I seem to be reading a lot of books about elephants lately. Big topic, I guess. :-)
But I loved Hannah's Dream by Diane Hammond, even if it is an adult book.
The characters are beautifully realized. I loved the subtle ironies, like how one character's ex-wife keeps accusing him of being deadly boring while he's in the middle of secreting an elephant out of a zoo. There is much to learn from this book on the art of crafting a distinctive voice for each character.
The book is remarkable for a literary adult novel--the characters are likable, and the ending is uplifting.
Plus I could believe in the people Hammond creates and the politics that whorl around Hannah the elephant because of the years Hammond spent as spokesperson for Keiko the Killer Whale.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Encore! and my predictions

I was at RI College yesterday for SCBWI and ASTAL's Encore! Event. It was a meaty workshop, offering writers of all levels great tools for improving their craft and marketing skills. I'd thank the wonderful committee for putting on this event, but that would be a bit awkward, since I was part of it. :-) But here's a quick overview.

Act 1: John Bell began with a workshop on plotting, explaining how the powerful and the plausible must be balanced in a plot. He offered techniques for getting past plotting roadblocks. For my work in progress, WITNESS TREE, I'll be looking for ways to make two story problems work against each other....Thanks, John!

Act 2: Mark Peter Hughes led us through character development exercises, defining and shaping our characters through showing, dialogue, and voice. While I can show my character, and get her to talk, I'm going to need to work on that "voice" stuff...

Act 3: Padma Venkatraman taught us how to write a terrific query letter that made an editor want to read more. So now I'm wishing I could snatch back the query I mailed out Friday, and tailor my bio more specifically to match the project...

Act 4: Sarah Shumway, recently editor at Dutton, currently Senior Editor at Katherine Tegen Books, taught us how to make connections between good writing and writing that sells well in pitching our manuscripts to editors.
In speaking about current trends, she feels that vampire books are done, and she's seeing more romances that deal with other supernatural creatures. But she said that those who want to jump on this new trend are probably already too late.

*So here is my prediction for future trends in children's literature. Remember, you heard it first here! After the recent election, we'll be seeing a greater call for multicultural books. And with the downturn in the economy, there will be a move toward sweeter, gentler, even nostalgic children's books.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Missing Keet and Savvy

I've been a bit frantic lately. My parakeet, Kiwi, went missing. He simply disappeared. We've always given him the "fly" of the house, but he usually sticks fairly close to his cage. He's a conservative sort. But Saturday morning I woke up and no parakeet.
He hadn't been looking well lately, sitting on his perch all fluffed up. He is an elderly bird. But where could he have gone? My husband and I searched everywhere. Any ideas anyone? Any similar experiences?
I've had Kiwi for years and years, so the house feels very odd without his cheerful chirp. Even my puppy, Willow, keeps going over to his cage to look for him. Sigh!

On a more cheerful note, I recently finished a marvelous book. It's SAVVY by Ingrid Law. Mibs Beaumont is just about to turn 13, that ominous birthday when a Beaumont's savvy strikes. She doesn't know if she'll have the power to roil up hurricanes like brother Fish or create new ground like grandpa. But maybe her savvy will help her save her father, who was in a terrible accident...Mibs twangy narrative is ripe with surprises and humorous twists in this unique coming of age novel.
Editors tell us that its an author's unique voice that often sells a manuscript. I can certainly see why Dial took this wonderful novel.

Monday, November 3, 2008

New England SCBWI Writer's Salon

Over the weekend, I attended a New England SCBWI Writers' Salon on improving your public speaking. It was led by the dynamic Charlesbridge editor, Yolanda LeRoy. (In her other life, she's a performer.)
Yolanda had all sorts of great tips--keep that mike two fingers away from your mouth! And I even received a personal critique of a speech about THE BLACK REGIMENT OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION that I've prepared for a group of retired Naval Officers.
But perhaps the best part of the event was the chance to meet and mingle with other authors and illustrators looking to advance their careers.
Thank you so much, Melissa Stewart, for organizing these Salons! For a list of future Writers' Salon topics and dates, visit the New England SCBWI website at

And I also have a personal announcement. My new website is up and running. Take a look and let me know what you think at

Friday, October 31, 2008

Nikki Grimes' Barack Obama

'Tis the season for political campaigning, so I decided to check out Nikki Grimes' new picture book, BARACK OBAMA: SON OF PROMISE, CHILD OF HOPE. It's received some wonderful reviews and she covers this man's complex personality and history well, condensing his essence into this picture book's 32 pages.
But one of the things that struck me is that she used a device that I've always been told to avoid in nonfiction--the fictional narrator. A fictional young boy asks his mother about Obama, and the mother tells Obama's story.
And of course, that violates another "rule" of writing children's literature--having the wise adult--in this case the mother who knows so much about Obama--take over and upstage the child.
But somehow it works, perhaps because it takes a man who is larger than life, everywhere you look right now--tv screens, newspapers, road signs, radio, and relates the man's life to this young boy's.

I'd be interested to know how other people felt about this book, and about the "rules" of writing children's literature.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Nonfiction Adventure

I'm currently writing a nonfiction adventure story about a seafaring journey around the world back in the 1700's. There are wild storms, ship wrecks and cannibals along the way. I'm having lots of fun researching and writing it.

Do any of you have an adventure nonfiction book to recommend?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Bear Snores On

Looking for a terrific book for your little one?
BEAR SNORES ON by Karma Wilson is a delightful story told with playful language.
It will put a smile on your preschooler's face and ease them off to sleep.
published by Margaret K. McElderry Books.