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Happy New Year’s Resolutions!

I personally think the official new year should start a couple of weeks into January. By then you’ve made your new year’s resolutions and know which ones you’re going to keep. You’ve got your Christmas decorations put away, probably, except for the ones you didn’t see. Holiday visits and parties are over, and you’re ready to settle back into a routine.

As for those new year’s resolutions—how about changing it to ‘new month’s’ resolutions? That way we get to start over, fresh each month! So January is only half over. Here are a few of my resolves that relate to writing.

Read a book, other than a picture book, each month—by making it a resolution I give myself permission to stop everything and read! I read Glen Beck’s THE SNOW ANGEL, and Richard Peck’s A SEASON OF GIFTS. So check that one off for January.

Write at the very least three days a week—this means working on a manuscript of some kind, and does not include blogging or other writing related things. Ok, I’m going to blame this one on the holidays. I’m giving myself a chance to make up the work these last two weeks. I think I can do that. ReviMo is helping me with that, too. (Click on the picture on the right for some great inspiration).

Submit something to a publisher, be it a book manuscript or something to a children’s magazine, once a month—I have two great manuscripts ready to go. I also have quite a few poems polished. So I just have to get them out in the mail. This is a ‘can do.’

Taxes: have them ready by the end of February—that’s a tough one, since although I keep my records and receipts all in one place, I neglect to log them on my computer throughout the year. I am one of those people who is organized by having everything in neat piles, or spaces. It takes me a day or two to organize and categorize everything for the past year! I think I’ll add a resolution—

Organize my writing expenses, mileage, etc. monthly—ok, that can work since this is still January!

Attend at least two events for children’s writers this year—maybe I made this one too easy. I’ve signed up for the Missouri SCBWI program on Learning to Work With the Common Core in March, and I just signed up for the Indiana SCBWI Spring conference in April. I know I’ll also attend the Missouri Fall Conference in September. So this one’s a done-deal.

Work on my website and networking—this one is harder for me, so I’m just going to leave it up as a general reminder. I also want to visit other websites and blogs by children’s writers more often.

I’m a list person. So making a list of new year’s resolutions helps me to stay on track. For some people, this can take a negative turn if it bothers you when you fail at keeping a resolution. Here’s a more positive way to look at it.

1—Make your resolutions things that you will likely be able to accomplish. Make some easier, and some a little more difficult. For example, if I say that I’m going to write every day, I know that won’t happen because there is work to do, and I also like to do things with my family and friends, and I know that sometimes other things will get in the way. So I made it three times a week instead. If I do more, then I really feel good!

2—Reward yourself when you reach your goal. Ice cream, a day out, or a movie night works for me.

3—Don’t let yourself feel down if you don’t accomplish your goal. Every day is a new start! Re-evaluate your goals each month and revise them if you need to—we’re familiar with revision, right!?

4—Instead of looking at how much you didn’t do, look at how much you did do. Maybe I didn’t get my three days of writing in one week, but I did write two days, for a long time!

5—If you reach all of your goals too easily, then you probably need to revise them.

Here are a few quotes to leave you with:

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Lao Tzu

“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

“It’s not how far you fall, but how high you bounce that counts.” - Zig Ziglar

Happy writing 2014 to all!  Read More 
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Christmas Greetings!

December is such a busy time of year for just about everyone. People celebrate the season in different ways. For me and my family it’s about celebrating the birth of the Christ Child, and Christmas. Many of us also tie in waiting for the Christ Child with waiting for Santa to arrive. Santa goes by different names in different cultures. Here are just a few.

St. Nicholas was a kind monk born in Turkey. He is known as a protector of children and sailors. St. Nicholas day is celebrated on December 6th.

Sinter Klass is given by the Dutch, who brought the tradition to America.

Christkind is German for “Christ Child, and was something like an angel that went along with St. Nicholas on his missions.

Kris Kringle most likely came from the Pennsylvania Dutch in the 1820’s. He would ring his bell and give out cakes and nuts to small children, but if they misbehaved, they would receive a spanking with his rod.

Father Christmas came from England. He would come down the chimney and leave treats in the children’s stockings.

Pere Noel comes from France. He puts treats in the shoes of well-behaved children. He is joined by Pere Fouetard who provides spankings to bad children.

Babouschka comes from Russia. One story is that she put off traveling with the Wise Men to see the Baby Jesus, instead opting to have a party, and regretted it afterward. So she set out every year to find the baby Jesus and give Him her gifts. Instead, she does not find him and gives the gifts to the children she finds along the way.

Santa Claus originated in the 1800’s. By 1840 holiday ads featured Santa. In 1890 the Salvation Army began dressing up unemployed workers as Santa and having them solicit donations throughout New York. But it was Clement Clarke Moore, an Episcopal Minister, and Thomas Nast, a cartoonist, that brought us the picture of our modern day Santa. In 1822 Moore wrote a long poem titled, An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas. It is what we now know as 'Twas the Night Before Christmas,

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, or Happy Holidays in whatever way you celebrate! I leave you with an unpolished verse for those of you who are fellow children's writers.

If Santa came to visit
Children's writers late tonight,
Would he leave some magic stardust
To help us when we write?

Would his elves tuck great ideas
in the stockings by our beds,
with words and plots and characters
to dance inside our heads?

Would jingle bells inspire us
and first lines come with ease?
Would action, voice and poetry
await beneath our trees?

May all your dreams become great books!
May ideas soon take flight.
And the joy and peace of Christmas
be with you when you write!
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Don’t just wait—Do something!

We do a lot of waiting at this time of year! Waiting, and wishing, and hoping. There’s a lot of waiting going on for writers, too.

Some writers wait for ideas. You don’t get very far when you do this. You need to make the ideas come to you. Ok, it’s snowing outside. There are stories about snowflakes, snowmen, kids making snow forts, snowball fights, sledding, skating (let yourself get off on a tangent), and much more. All ideas that came from the fact that it snowed.

Other writers wait for time to write. First their house has to be spotless. Then they cook, shop, garden, iron, organize their closets, alphabetize their pantry, watch their favorite TV show, facebook their friends that they just drank a cup of coffee. You get the picture. Writers who write make time to write. They get up at 4 am or stay up until 2 am. They write in the car, waiting in line to pick up their kids, or at the doctor’s office. Their house might be clean but it’s usually messy. They wear clothes that don’t have to be ironed, and they cook once a week (sometimes for the whole week at once). They DVR their favorite TV show to watch next summer. If something happens and they miss a day, or a week, they jump right back in.

Sometimes waiting can be a good thing. Like when we’ve written a first draft that we love, then put it aside, and wait. We forget about it for a couple of weeks, then take it out and read it again, for a fresh look. Because then we can see that it’s not as great as we first thought. And we revise. Because good writing is re-writing.

So finally our manuscript is ‘done,’ and we send it out to publishers. And we wait, and hope for acceptance. But waiting doesn’t mean that we can’t do something else in the meantime. Ok, maybe we’ll celebrate with a piece of chocolate first, or make the bed. But get ready, and start something new! Pick another idea from things going on around you, or from memories. Make it fresh. How will it start? Who is it about? Where will it go?

Woo-hoo! Our manuscript is accepted! And with it comes—more waiting. Waiting for the contract. Waiting for the editor to send her revision requests. Waiting for an illustrator (in the case of a picture book). Waiting to see their sketches and color prints. Waiting for the cover art, and finally the finished book. Done!

But wait! There’s more. We wait for the reviews, and hope that they’re good. We wait to get our books in the mail. We wait to see it in the stores and libraries, and hope that kids (and parents) like it.

Editors (and agents) wait for us, too. They wait for that manuscript that will make them laugh or cry, and that they just can’t put down. They encourage us when they tell us what they’re looking for, on the web or at conferences. And they help us with revisions when we’re lucky enough to have our manuscript accepted.

Like the season we’re in now, we need to do something while we wait. Whether it’s Christmas or another holiday that you celebrate this season, we all do things while we wait for the day to arrive. We decorate our homes, sing carols and songs, light candles, and do things for others.

Writers write new stories, blog, write, read, write, go to critique groups, celebrate children’s books, write…. and wait.

So Happy ‘Waiting’ Times to you! And Happy Stories to all!  Read More 
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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.

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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Picture Book Idea Month Coming Your Way!

It’s Tuesday, October 29th! Only two more days until November! So what’s the big deal? November is PiBiIdMo— Picture Book Idea Month!

For picture book writers it’s kind of like group therapy. During November we’re challenged to write 30 picture book ideas in 30 days. Not a complete manuscript—just an idea. If you can do it, you’ll put writers’ block to shame! Just think about it. You’ll end up with 30 ideas that could spark the beginnings of 30 new picture books! If twelve of those pan out, that’s enough for a rough draft of a picture book for each month of the year. If only one works out, that’s more than you had to begin with.

To make it even better, you’ll have the support of professionals and struggling authors alike. For every day in November, you’ll get inspiration from picture book authors, like Jane Yolen! And more from illustrators, editors and other kidlit professionals who will offer advice and inspiration.

If that’s not enough, when you sign up you’re eligible for prizes. Registered participants will be entered to win some great stuff, like a manuscript consultation with a picture book agent. And when you check out the daily featured bloggers and leave a comment, you could win prizes that some of them offer.

Ideas come at any time—while at work, doing the laundry, driving kids to after-school activities, feeding the baby or just when your eyelids are about to close at night. Sometimes the only challenge is to get to a pencil and paper and write them down. There’s no obligation, and no one will call you on it if you don’t get your 30 ideas. So why not give it a try? You might even find it hard to stop at 30!

Now that you’re fired up, go to Tara Lazar’s blogsite to sign up! Then get a head start with the pre-PiBo blog posts already there. By the time the last trick-or-treater leaves your door, you’ll already be on a roll! Registration is open until November 7th.  Read More 
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Antique vs Classic— Classics in Children’s Literature

My husband likes looking at cars, especially the old ones. “Not antique,” he says. “Classics!” So on his birthday we took a short trip to Staunton, IL to Family Classic Cars where there are five pole barns filled with old cars—oops, I mean classic cars! We saw a 1967 Grand Prix, the model that he had when we first met, though not the same color. And mine, a 1968 Chevy Nova. It was a good day for reminiscing.

My husband’s comment made me stop to wonder what makes a children’s book a classic, instead of just an old book. According to an article from 2009 Horn Book magazine, “The real test of a classic is the individual child’s delight in reading, sharing, and rereading a book again, again, and again.” The books that become classics in children’s literature have “qualities that allow them to endure for generations.”

According to Pauline Dewan, creator of the website Children’s Literature Classics, Discover the Wonder and Magic, “…great children’s stories are powerful, imaginative, and memorable; they resonate with readers of all ages and have a lasting and profound impact.” On her website she lists key themes and concerns in children’s literature, patterns in children’s literature, examples of characteristic patterns, and talks about changes in children’s literature.

Back to the 2009 Horn Book list, it starts with Books for the Very Young, and includes books like Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown 1947 and The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle 1970. It goes next to Picture Books, from The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter 1902 to The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg 1985. Next comes For Beginning Readers (Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel 1970) and Stories (Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor).

Echoes of Times Past: Part One, includes a selection based on works from Ancient Days through the 18th Centuries (Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe 1990), and Part Two, classics from the 19th and 20th centuries through 1920 (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain 1876, and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett 1911).

Next comes Myths, Legends, and Folklore with books like The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle 1968. And finally Non-Fiction, which includes Anne Frank by Anne Frank 1967 and And Then What Happened, Paul Revere? by Jean Fritz 1973.

Take a memory trip back and find the books that you loved as a child. Are they on the list of classics in Children’s Literature? Check out the books on the lists above to find what makes a children’s book a classic, and not just an antique.  Read More 
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