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Celebrate Small Business Saturday!


Saturday, November 30, 2013 is Small Business Saturday – a day to celebrate and support small businesses and all they do for their communities.

Small Business Saturday is an American shopping holiday held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Conceived by American Express, the first Small Business Saturday was celebrated on November 27th in 2010 as a counterpart to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, which target big retail and online shopping. In contrast, Small Business Saturday encourages holiday shoppers to patronize brick and mortar businesses that are small and local.

My favorite small business is Main Street Books in downtown, historic St. Charles, Missouri. Owner, Vicki Erwin, welcomes visitors with a smile and a cheerful greeting, depicting the typical atmosphere of an independent bookstore. It feels like family when you walk in the door.

Check out authors and events at STL indie bookstores, and the STL indie bookstore facebook page.

Find out more about Small Business Saturday on their facebook page.

To find a small business or independent bookstore in your area check your local news station, your local newspapers, or search online.

Happy small business shopping!  Read More 
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Thanks on Thanksgiving

Thanks for—

I’m thankful for turkey
for pie and parades,
for family gatherings,
and football games played.

Give thanks for Thanksgiving!
For bakers and cooks!
But also for magazines,
tablets and books!

Thank you for paper
and pencils and pens.
Thanks for critiquing
and my writing friends.

For artists who illustrate,
authors who write,
Thanks for ideas
that come in the night.

For bold illustrations
that color my text.
For hopes and for dreams
and for what might come next.

Thank you for others,
for all that they share.
For editors, agents,
and blogs, everywhere.

I wish to you all
a day filled with joy!
All of God’s blessings,
and a book to enjoy.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!  Read More 
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Active Vs Passive Writing—‘Show,’ Don’t ‘Tell’


At every conference for children’s writers you will hear the same advice—‘show, don’t tell.’ No one likes to be told what to do. They’d rather have someone suggest what they might do. Then if they do it, it becomes their own idea or decision.

The same is true of children’s books. If the author tells the reader what’s going on, the story becomes dull. If the writer shows what’s happening, it draws the reader into the action.

So how do we ‘show’ what’s going on without ‘telling’ the reader? By using active verbs. Passive verbs lack a ‘doer.’ In an active voice, the subject is doing the action. In a passive voice, something is being done to the subject.

Passive verbs:
was, is, are, am, be, been, was, would

More ‘telling’ words:
like, as if, seemed, told, felt

Look for passive verbs in your writing. But keep in mind that there’s more to it than using or not using certain words. For example, using the word ‘was’ does not always indicate passive voice. It may just be using the past tense.

He was five years old in October. (past tense)

Read the following example of ‘was’ used in active or passive voice:

The pumpkin pie was eaten by Grandpa. (passive)
Grandpa ate the pumpkin pie. (active)

If you find that you’re using words to ‘qualify’ or ‘emphasize’ what you’re saying, you might try to find a more active way to show it instead.

Qualifiers:
really, all, some, quickly, very, so, big/little, a lot, slowly, many, cold/hot, loudly/softly

Look at the following lines:

The turkey ran out of the house really fast. (passive—he didn’t only run, he ran ‘really fast’)
The turkey zipped out of the house. (active)

We often hear that using words that end in ‘—ing’ is a form of passive writing. If you use a word that ends in ‘—ing’ with one of the ‘to be’ words (see the list of passive verbs above), there is no action. For example:

He was studying the picture. (passive)
He studied the picture. (active)

Using adverbs when writing picture books is also discouraged—‘Don’t use them!’ we are told. An adverb can be replaced with active writing.

He looked hungrily at the burgers on the plate.
He looked at the burgers on the plate. His stomach growled. (more active)

Writing for children in an active voice is always encouraged, but sometimes passive voice has a place.

Is something happening while the action is taking place? The clock was chiming might be more clear than The clock chimed if Cinderella was trying to get back to the carriage before the clock finished chiming.

For emphasis, or for poetic or dramatic effect—
‘…was coming closer down the hall’ or ‘huffing and puffing’

Stories that ‘show’ your characters and ‘show’ what’s going on, draw the reader into the story and keep them hooked. Use active verbs along with action or dialogue to accomplish this.

For a look at how well you handle ‘show don’t tell,’ take out that manuscript that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, and highlight the words in your story that you find on the list of passive verbs. Then use a different color and highlight the active verbs. You could even go a step further and highlight dialogue and action with different colors.

There are so many sources on the web that explain active and passive writing better that I do here. You can find more on passive writing at these sites:

RX for Writers
Writing for Children
Writing with Style
Write Now!
Valerie Comer
Bella on line. Scroll to the bottom of her post and do a search on her site for How to Use Passive Voice Effectively.
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Author School visits—It’s About the Kids

Student illustrations—Noodles and Snickers

I love interacting with kids about writing and my books. Recently I visited Carlin Park Elementary School in Angola, IN. For two days, I talked to them about writing poetry and fiction, and about being an author.

Near the end of my talk sessions the students had writing time. “Don’t worry about making it perfect,” I told them. “You can revise later.” At the end, some of them shared what they had written. I was truly impressed!

Students shared poems that made you ‘feel’ something, or that had a twist at the end. Others shared stories using great dialogue, imagination, and ‘showed’ what was happening with action. One boy even wrote some riddles for us to guess.

I’ve also had some recent book signings at Scholastic Book Fairs, where they feature my picture book, NAME THAT DOG. I love the questions kids ask me—at schools or book signings. Younger kids, especially, have interesting questions.

I get the ‘age’ question pretty often. And I’m prepared! On the ‘Kids’ page here on my website, there are clues for them to figure out my birthday and how old I am. So if they really want to know how old I am, they have to do the math.

I always get questions about my dog, Snickers. But I also like hearing about the dogs or pets that the kids have, and their names.

“Do I ever get writers’ block?” someone asked.
"Not usually," was my answer. There are so many things, and people, that inspire me with ideas to write about. And if I don’t expect to have a perfect piece of writing the first time I write it down, it frees me to just write. Sometimes after I write something, it doesn’t seem like a good idea any more, and I toss it out. But sometimes I go on to re-write it, change it and add to it. And it turns into something pretty good.

One boy asked, "How do you get a good idea to write about?"
"Write about something that you really like, something that gets you excited," I told him. If you like video games, then write about something to do with a video game.

I told the kids that many children’s authors also have other jobs besides writing, like teaching, nursing or being a parent. Knowing that I have six children, one girl with great insight asked, “So how can you write, with your kids arguing and stuff in the background? Isn’t that hard?”

“Yes, writing is not an easy job!” I told her. I have friends who get up at 4 o’clock in the morning to write and others who stay up until 2 or 3 in the morning. I would write after the kids went to bed at night, and during naps. But writing is fun, too. Like when you get something finished! Or when someone likes your story or poem. And when you have a book published and get to see how great it looks with the illustrations.

“Do I make my own illustrations?” they ask. Nooooo… And I show them why, with my drawing of a dog. Not a terrible drawing really, but not great either. And all of my dogs in the book would probably look the same. Boring!

At Carlin Park, the students illustrated the poems in my book, too. Each class was given a few of the poems from NAME THAT DOG, without the pictures, and were asked to illustrate them. They were awesome! I can see some budding artists here.

One of the perks of writing for children is being able to interact with them as an author. I love their wonder, and the questions they ask. I love to see the spark in their eyes when they suddenly think of something that they hadn’t thought of before.

No, writing is not an easy job. But what fun it can be! And it’s worth every minute of the work you put into it.  Read More 
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From ? to Children's Agent/Editor/Author/Illustrator


For a writer of children’s books, attending a conference for children’s writers and illustrators is like going to Disney World is to a child. Where else can you find so many other adults who are excited about reading and writing children’s books!? Being involved as a volunteer heightens the excitement even more. This past week-end I attended the MO SCBWI Fall Conference for children’s writers and illustrators at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, MO.

When looking for some inside scoop about Krista Marino, editor at Delacorte Press, for my introduction, I found an interview by newswoman Nancy Churnin who asked the question, “What made you want to be an editor?” Krista’s answer was this:

“I love to read, but more than that, I love to escape. I love the idea that the fantastical could be real, that there’s more to the world than what you see around you, and that a story can take you there. It can transport, it can transform, it can soothe, or inspire. A story and a book can change you. How could I not want to be a part of that??”

Listening to the speakers as they told us how they came to be editors, agents and authors of children’s literature, there seemed to be a common thread among those who were there—they did not start out to be where they are now.

Regina Brooks, founder and president of Serendipity Literary Agency, studied engineering in college and has a degree in aerospace engineering. She wanted to be an astronaut. After taking a publishing class at Howard University she switched to children’s publishing, and later became a literary agent.

Lori Kilkelly graduated from college with a degree in speech communication. She later received her post graduate degree from the Denver Publishing Institute and went on to become one of two agents for children’s authors at Rodeen Literary Management.

Dan Santat, illustrator and author of children’s books, graduated from college with a degree in microbiology and was accepted into dental school before he had the courage to tell his father that he wanted to be an artist, not a doctor. His father was very supportive of his decision and Dan went on to graduate from the Art Center College of Design.

Matt De La Pena, children’s author of Young Adult books for teens and reluctant readers, secretly wrote poetry in high school. He had no goals to attend higher education, and when he was accepted into college on a sports scholarship, he had already succeeded by becoming the first family member to go to college. College was where he became a reader. Having been brought up to feel no emotion, reading gave him a ‘secret place to feel.’

Lisa Yee, author of middle grade and young adult books for children, wrote ads and other things before turning to children’s books. Attending an SCBWI conference for children’s writers and illustrators was a turning point that changed her outlook.

Judy Young, children's author, received her degree in speech and language pathology. She taught in the public schools, frequently using poetry to help her students improve their writing skills in special language classes and regular classes. She continued to work as a teacher while pursuing her writing, and eventually retired from teaching to become a full-time author.

Nancy Polette has been an educator for over 50 years. She has taught students in Kindergarten through 8th grade, and continues to teach as a professor of education at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, MO. During this time she has also had over 150 books published, including two novels for middle grade and two picture books. School Library Journal describes her as “an educator with imagination, creativity, and an appreciation for the intelligence of children.”

My own background is in nursing. My favorite field is pediatrics—and I especially loved being a school nurse. It was not until I had five of my six children that I decided to try my hand at writing for children. I wrote while raising my kids and working part time as a nurse.

Other children’s writers that I know have been, or still are, a doctor, a dentist, a zoologist, a veterinarian, an accountant, a farmer, parents, teachers and librarians.

So what makes a person turn to writing for children? For me, sometimes I think that I just don’t want to grow up! But I imagine that it has a bit more to do with our love of reading, and our love for children.

A book can make a difference. Krista said it so well—“…It can transport, it can transform, it can soothe, or inspire. A story and a book can change you.” It opens up a world of possibilities to a child. And how could I not want to be a part of that!  Read More 
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