Monday, December 28, 2009

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to all! Thanks for stopping by to celebrate reading and writing and books with me this past year. It's been especially wonderful to share books and authors with you this fall. I'll be doing more of that in the New Year. First up near the end of January will be a new picture book author and her delightful, timely first book.

Many of you will be making resolutions as 2009 winds down. I normally don't. Setting goals and making resolutions is something I do all year long, but as the minutes tick away in this old year, I do resolve to finish the YA I've been working on for over a year now before the vernal equinox. Can I do it? I think I can.

What about you? Do you set goals, make resolutions? What are your dreams and wishes for yourself in the New Year? I'd love to hear from you.

Congratulations to MaryAnn Scott for the publication of her article in Cricket magazine this fall. MaryAnn is an author to watch. I'm sure you'll be reading more about her in the coming months. She is also one of the organizers of the Eastern PA Chapter of the SCBWI's spring retreat. And we all love the SCBWI, so thank you, MaryAnn for your part in keeping this amazing organization vibrant on a local level.

Thank you everyone who left a comment here, sent me an e-mail, commented on FaceBook or Twitter! Thanks for the re-tweets, too. Congratulations to Margo Dill whose name was drawn from my Santa Claus hat for the autographed copy of the RED SLED by Patricia Thomas. (Margo, please e-mail me your mailing address:

Thanks, Pat, for donating an autographed book and for sharing your very special talent with us!

See you in a few everyone . . . Read! Write! Don't give up!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Winter Wonderland fun!

Please join me in celebrating the Winter Solstice by welcoming picture book author, Patricia Thomas! Pat and I met many years ago and have since gone on to speak at conferences together along with Lindsay Barrett George, and to travel together, which is always alarmingly exciting when I'm the driver. About this time last year, Pat's newest picture book (illustrated by Chris L. Demerest), The Red Sled was published by Boyds Mills Press and received a very warm welcome by reviewers. Here are some nice clips from several reviews that will also give you a glimpse of what the book is all about:

* "A quietly exhilarating ride." --Kirkus , starred review

"A dad, a lad, and a red sled are the just-right combination for a story-poem about a father-son nighttime sledding adventure....This romp can be enjoyed by the youngest listeners, beginning readers, and older children learning various forms of writing"--Booklist

"With its evocative mood and tender simplicity, this will be a good choice both for storytime groups and for new readers."--Horn Book Magazine The link will take you directly to Pat's Red Sled. You can learn about her others books, too!

Here's a little bit about Pat's writing journey:

Patricia Thomas discovered the magic of rhyming words about as soon as she could talk, had her first poem published in Jack and Jill magazine when she was eight, and knew immediately that she would be a writer. Her books, stories, and articles cover a spectrum of styles, from the lyrical Firefly Mountain…to Nature's Paintbox: A Seasonal Gallery in Art and Verse, an original poetic approach to nonfiction…to such zany, nonsense verse classics as “There Are Rocks in My Socks,” Said the Ox to the Fox, The One-and-Only, Super-Duper, Golly-Whopper, Jim Dandy, Really Handy Clock Tock Stopper, and “Stand Back,” Said the Elephant, “I’m Going to Sneeze!”, featured on PBS Storytime series and now marking more than 35 years in print.

Pat's most recent picture book, Red Sled, is written in a unique, deceptively simple style, based on an ancient writing form—but perfect for young readers. Her articles and stories have appeared in magazines, including Faces and Appleseeds, covering subjects from Arthurian legends to the Loch Ness monster to Benjamin Franklin. She is an instructor for Institute of Children’s Literature, and has done conference presentations, university guest lectures, and workshops on the art and craft of writing.

Pat shares this about the poetry style of her book The Red Sled:

The structure of this story-poem is inspired by an ancient form of writing called chiasmus. This composition creates a kind of mirror image, with thoughts, words, or even word sounds flowing toward a center point, then reversing to reflect that order as it reaches the end.
The form was used in creating some of the powerful poetry in scripture, especially in the book of Psalms. Pliny the Younger wrote it in Latin, describing his uncle, Pliny the Elder. It was used by such “modern” poets as William Shakespeare, Samuel Johnson, and Alexander Pope. It was heard in famous speeches by Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy.
In an adaptation of this structure, I’ve used rhyming pairs, as one single, two doubles, and three triples, pivoting on one single rhymed word pair, before descending in reverse order. To me, the structure itself formed a “hill,” which seemed a good way to tell a story about a father and son sledding.

Below, Pat has generously shared the entire text of her story/poem, which will allow you to study and possibly create your own. Of course, you'll want to purchase the book to see how it works with the illustrations:

Structure Pattern
Patricia Thomas
Red sled.
Sad lad.
Sad dad.
Fat hat.
Knit mitt.
Still hill.
Far star.
Snow aglow.
Nighttime climb.
Steep leap.
Slide ride
Go! Go!
No! No!
Whoa! Whoa!
Flip-flop stop.
Oh my! Eye-high!
Snowflake shake.
Giggling wiggling.
Roam home.
Hot pot.
Warm-up cup.
Snug hug.
Chin tucked-in.
Sleepyhead abed.
Flat hat
Kittens’ mittens.
Glad dad.
Glad lad.
Red sled.

If you have youngsters of your own who are just beginning to read, this is a perfect winter time pick! You'll enjoy its warmth and story as you climb the hill of your childhood and go whizzing down the hill with the glad lad. That warm-up cup of hot chocolate sure hits the spot!

Thank you, Pat, for your enormous generosity in sharing your entire picture book text and your special poetry form that will surely inspire many of us to try it out. You've certainly shown how a picture book can be written with just a few words!

In addition, Pat will be giving away a personally autographed copy of her book Red Sled to one very lucky reader who writes in and leaves a comment. Don't be shy! If you've already won a book, please feel free to leave a comment! If you're a blogger, you know how much we love to get comments! You might share about your favorite winter-time fun as a child either indoors or outdoors. We'd also love to hear your thoughts about this amazing chiasmus story/poem.

The drawing will be held Christmas Eve morning, and Pat will mail the book to the winner asap.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Debut author Jeannine Norris Talks about Writing

Jeannine Norris and I first got acquainted and then became friends through Twitter. I was drawn to the jacket of her book and thought that she would make a perfect guest for December. We chatted back and forth via Twitter, and now I am pleased to introduce her to all of you. Please join me in welcoming this remarkable picture book author.
Jeannine is the author of Tonight You Are My Baby: Mary’s Christmas Gift (HarperCollins, 2008). She loves to visit schools, and is also a frequent speaker for women’s organizations. Jeannine’s family includes her husband Peter, children Shane and Quinn, and a dog named Harry Potter. She is also the founder of At Least Kids, a foundation supporting pediatric brain tumor research.

Jeannine, please share with us a little about your debut book, Tonight You Are My Baby.
This book, for ages 3-6, takes us to Christmas night as Mary cradles her new-born baby. It's the story of a mother's boundless joy, when Mary experiences the miraculous love that all mothers feel for their babies. My hope is that moms will snuggle with their little ones and read the love story that took place long ago.

Q. How long were you writing before your first book was published?
I was writing sporadically when my kids were babies, but when our youngest went to first grade, I gave myself one year before returning to work. I landed a contract with three months left in that year - whew! My book was on the shelves about 18 months later.

Q. Did you take any writing courses? If so, what were the most important things about craft that you learned?
Years ago, I took a class at the local high school. However, most of the "craft" I learned through my critique group and SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). I learned the technical craft of meter and footing while writing verse, and the importance of a unique voice. Most valuable is the revision process. I learned to be open to revision, and embrace it, because ultimately the book becomes so much better.

Q. What drew you to picture books? Have you considered writing novels for children?
I used to think, "I could never write a novel!", but I’m becoming increasingly intrigued with the idea. Picture books were a natural fit for me, as our children were of that age. I could read to them and do research at the same time!

Q. What can you tell us about the refrain in Tonight You Are My Baby? Was that in the original text or was that added later in the revision process?

The refrain was always in the book, but I think we may have added one.

Q. How much did the story change through rounds of revision?
When the illustrator, Tim Ladwig, started working on the book, we found the book needed several more stanzas. After a momentary panic attack - sure that I would be struck with writer’s block - I realized this would enhance the story. Good thing Tim asked for more stanzas - my favorite illustration is the angels welcoming the baby. That was one of the stanzas that I later added!

Q. Word count is a huge factor with picture book acceptance. Was your original ms longer or shorter. How much did your word count change?
The word count became longer when I added the additional stanzas. While working on current manuscripts, I try to stay under 500 words. The temptation is always to add, but in the world of picture books, less is more.

Q. What part of the writing process do you enjoy most?
I actually enjoy the revision process. It’s amazing to me how much the book improves with advice from my critique group, editorial advice at SCBWI workshops and ultimately, my editor’s advice. Everyone enjoys watching their babies realize their full potential, and a writer’s book is her baby.

Q. What part of writing is the most difficult for you?
Well, the ideas come fast and furious - writing is the difficult part! I have several manuscripts that are written in rhyme, which is quite challenging. Rhyme has to be perfect, and changing a word usually means changing an entire stanza.

Q. What personal writing tips can you share with readers
Don’t write for a fad. Whatever "it" is (vampires, fairies, etc.) will be over by the time your manuscript becomes a book on the shelf. Write what you love - it will shine through your manuscript. I can’t wait to sit at my desk everyday - that’s the excitement we all desire. Writing is a tough business filled with rejection. You must love your work to be successful.

Beyond that, be active in the SCBWI! There are many opportunities to meet with editors, have a first page critiqued and meet other writers. I always feel inspired and energized when I leave a workshop. I would also strongly encourage joining a critique group or starting one of your own.

Q. What are you working on currently?
I am working on a variety of manuscripts. Isn’t variety the spice of life? Works in progress include a book about a kangaroo, animals in nature, a fancy dog, a book for mothers, and several magazine articles. Whew - I better get writing, I didn’t realize I had so much work to do!
Many thanks, Clara, for inviting me to share time with your readers!

Thank you so much for taking time to share your writing life with us, Jeannine. You can learn more about this author by clicking on these links:

Jeannine has graciously offered to personalize a copy of Tonight You Are My Baby to one of you, your family, or a child of your choice and mail it out to reach you in time for Christmas! Simply leave a comment here, on Facebook or direct e-mail:

Comment on some part of the interview, tell us what you love best about Christmas, or share your favorite Christmas book. The drawing will be December 10th, so we'll be looking forward to hearing from you soon. I will personally donate $1.00 to the At Least Kids Foundation for each comment. Now there's a challenge for you!

Along with the drawing, Jeannine will be sharing about the non-profit organization At Least Kids Foundation.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Writing Wisdom from the pen of Deborah Heiligman

To learn more about Deb's latest picture book, click on this very long link! Don't you love that Cool Dog? I do!http://

PART TWO -- Interview with National Book Award Finalist Deborah Heiligman

Thanks for joining us this busy week of Thanksgiving, Deb. Can you share a little with readers about your writing process?

Deb: I want to share a writing story with you. When I speak about researching and writing CHARLES AND EMMA, I explain that because I ended up having to do it quickly, to get the book out in time for the Darwin year, it was the “all CHARLES AND EMMA channel all the time.” That is almost completely true. Except that one day….
I had been wanting to write a sequel or companion to Fun Dog, Sun Dog, my picture book illustrated by the great Tim Bowers, for the longest time. My first idea was to do a book about “sibling” rivalry. It involved a cat, and was called Mad Cat, Bad Cat. I wrote some drafts, but they never quite worked, and my editor agreed. Then one day, when I was in the thick of C & E, I took a shower. (I let myself do that sometimes.) And there it was: the idea for Cool Dog, School Dog. “loves to hear a book dog…” I keep a waterproof notebook in my shower for moments just like this. I often write book dedications in the shower; I wrote the first draft of my acknowledgements for C & E in the shower. So on that day, I wrote the first draft of a picture book in the shower.
Moral of the story: As I read long ago in, I think, On Becoming a Writer by Dorthea Brande, KEEP THE INVITATION OPEN. Keep a notebook with you at all times: in your pocket, in your car, in your purse, by your bed, in your shower. You never know when inspiration will strike. My friend Pamela Jane keeps a mini tape recorder with her.

Me: What is the most important thing to you as you write?

Deb: It’s a toss-up between coffee and chocolate. Also taking breaks with good friends. Oh and exercise. Is this the kind of thing you meant? Or did you mean something like making myself do a crummy first draft, leaving the critical editor behind, and then going back to edit?

Me: Do you do a lot of revising before you submit?
Deb: Yes. Oh yes. But I also love the editing process so I look forward to that. And I always hit a point where I know I can’t do it by myself any more. I call it the point of diminishing returns. I am noodling so much, or I am staring at the page too long, confused. So I surrender the manuscript and ask/plead for help. I learn so much from my editors. I know some people don’t like to be edited, but I really love it. As long as my editors/friends are nice. Which they are.

Me: What are you working on now?
Deb: I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you. No, O.K., I’m working on a YA novel. I’ve been working on this off and on for years. It’s something that just grabbed hold of me and won’t let go. And I’m also looking for two new projects—a long nonfiction book, and a shorter nonfiction book. I want to do another long narrative nonfiction biography, ala CHARLES AND EMMA. I have a contender. It’s also a kind of double biography of two women who lived at the same time but were very different. I’m not ready to say more yet.
I have a picture book biography of a mathematician coming out from Roaring Brook in probably 2012 (it’s being illustrated right now). I would like to write another one of those--a picture book biography about someone kids don’t know about. I love a challenge!

Me: What writing advice would you like to share with readers?
Deb: There’s much advice I could give, but for me it boils down to this: write from your heart. People spend a lot of time thinking about what’s hot, or what’s going to be hot, or what will fit into the curriculum, or what will get you on Oprah (or the next big show when she retires). Basically what will sell. I think all of those things are legitimate to think about (especially, probably, the curriculum piece) but… But… this is a tough business. And completely unpredictable. You could write the perfect book on the perfect topic and then someone else could beat you to it, or a big hurricane could hit on pub day or your book could get one bad review and then…
So you have to do this for love. And the way to do that is to write about something you really care about—whether it’s fiction or non-fiction—and then pour your heart into it. Because then, no matter what happens when you are finished, you will have had a great ride, a meaningful experience, and you will have stretched yourself. Because in the end of the day, we do this for ourselves, don’t we? And if readers like our books, that’s gravy. The best gravy in the world, but still, we have to write for ourselves. Because we’re the only ones who are predictable.
For me it comes down to this moment in writing: you’re working on something, and it’s just not quite right. A sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, a book. It’s not right, it’s not right, and you keep at it, and then CLICK! it pops into place, and you’ve got it. You could take that moment and wrap it up and give it to me as a present any day.
Learn more about Deborah Heiligman at:
Please take time to read this insightful article by Deborah Heiligman! I'd love to hear your thoughts about it or the interview!
I've drawn a name from my Thanksgiving cornucopia and the WINNER IS: Carriann Schultz
Carriann, please send your mailing address to:
Deb will autograph a copy of Charles and Emma and mail it to you direct!
In December, first time picture book author, Jeannine Norris will talk about her Christmas book, Tonight You Are My Baby and her writing process.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

One Writer's Beginnings. . .

Part One -- Interview with author Deborah Heiligman

Q. When did you first decide to become a writer? What was the catalyst?

A. When I was growing up, I didn't know that real, ordinary people became writers. I thought that writers were either old men with really long, grey beards or people who were rich and lived in mansions, like movie stars. So I didn't think that I, a little girl from Allentown, Pennsylvania, could ever grow up to be a real author. I always loved writing, though, and from an early age my teachers told me I was a good writer. (Except for my first grade teacher who humiliated me in front of the class day after day saying I was the worst writer in the room. But she meant penmanship.) So I kept writing and enjoying it. In junior high school, I was editor of the newspaper, and then in high school I was co-editor with a friend. (That newspaper was called The Canary after our school's mascot.) I thought maybe I would be a journalist, one who saved the world like Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (whom I knew about from the Watergate scandal, but mostly from the movie, All the President's Men). Still, I didn't think that I would be an author. When I went off to college (Brown University) all the people there who said they were going to be writers seemed so much cooler than I was--so much more writer-like. They wore all black and smoked cigarettes (something I would NEVER do), drank endless cups of coffee, and used really big words. I didn't get that being a real writer didn't have to do with what you looked like, but how you spent your time. It meant you read a lot and wrote a lot and rewrote--and rewrote and rewrote. It meant you had to sit with a paper and pen or typewriter (yes, this was a long time ago, before personal computers) and work on your craft. My first job out of college was working at a magazine, and even though I had to fight to write even a little bit (my job mostly was to fetch coffee and reject manuscripts), I knew I was happiest when I was writing. So my second job, working at Scholastic News, was all about writing. And as it turned our (kind of by the way), writing for children.

Q. What or whom were your influences?

A. My teachers were huge influences, and my mother, who wanted to be a writer. But I didn't know that until after she died. She encouraged me in ways that I wasn't even aware of at the time. Mom taught me so much about people, and connecting with people, which for me is a huge part of being a writer. And she taught me to people watch, and to be nosy. O.K., maybe that was in the genes, but it came from her. I am so grateful she was around to see my first book published.

Q. Did you have a favorite book as a child? Were you a voracious reader?

A. I loved to read and to be read to. Some of my favorite childhood memories have to do with books, even though I did other things, too. Here are some of the books that meant a lot to me: The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton; Debbie and Her Nap by Miss Frances and the Ding Dong School (don't ask); a book whose name I forget but it might have been called something like The Doll about a little girl who had dolls her dad brought her from around the world, but her favorite one was one that he got her--that looked just like her!; a book about twins who wanted to look different (how I wanted a twin sister!); What is a Butterfly, What is a Tree, What is a Frog, and that whole series; Charlotte's Web by E.B.White; From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L.Konigsburg; The Endless Steppe by Esther Hautzig (who just died); The Diary of Anne Frank. . .

Q. How long were you writing and submitting before you made your first sale?

I was working in that first job, writing very short articles, but it was writing. I had a freelance article published while I was in college, but I don't think I got paid, so maybe that doesn't quite count. But during the first few months after college, a teacher of mine encouraged me to try to get a paper I'd written for school published. She thought it was good enough and gave me the names of a couple of journals to send it to. It was a paper about the writer Cynthia Ozik. So I sent it to one place and I got a phone call from the editor of the journal. He was calling to reject it, but he felt so badly about rejecting it that he wanted to call me and tell me that! I had no idea how unusual that was. He told me they did themed issues and this would not fit in any time soon. He was so encouraging, though, and so I sent it off to another journal. The editor sent me a letter in which he more or less accepted the article, but harshly criticized my writing style. He said that my style of short sentences was too much like Hemingway, and while that might be fine for a college paper, it was not right for an academic journal. So if I would rewrite it to have longer sentences (and he may have even said, "bigger words") he would publish it. I was at once terribly insulted and extremely gratified. He insulted me by comparing me to Hemingway! I was just angry enough, though, that I considered not "fixing" it. My then boyfriend, now husband convinced me to do what needed to be done. So I mulled it over, although it went against what I believed in (clarity, for one thing), and revised it. Guess how I revised it? I took out many of the periods and replaced them with semicolons. He published my article! Little did I know that my Hemmingwayesque style would suit me well as a children's writer.

Years later, I sold my first picture book called, Into The Night. I will never forget the phone call from my husband's then agent who had kindly submitted it for me even though she didn't represent children's books. The phone rang late one afternoon and Tory said, "How would you like to be published by Harper & Row?" I can still feel how hard my heart pounded when I heard those words! We celebrated with ice cream instead of champagne because I was pregnant with our second son.

Q. Are you part of a writer's group?

I have been part of the same wonderful writers' group for many years. We meet in Pennsylvania, where I used to live, and although it is difficult for me to get there every month, I try to go as often as possible. I adore these women, feel very safe with them (which is essential) and value their critiques. I am also in two writers' groups in New York City. I am very fortunate to have many writer friends, but this this may be too many groups! I'm actually rethinking this right now.

Thank you, Deb, for taking all this time for us! I know you just returned from a trip to Japan and are set for an exciting week in New York! We're all cheering for you! Fingers crossed.

Deborah and I both welcome your thoughts. Please share something from your own writing life with us, share the title of a favorite book, or let us know what you enjoyed the most in the interview. Thanks in advance. Leave a comment here, on FaceBook or e-mail me:

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Charles and Emma named a National Book Award Finalist

In Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith author Deborah Heilgiman offers a view of how science and spiritual belief can be reconciled: Charles Darwin's own perspective developed through life with his deeply religious, intelligent, and beloved wife, Emma.
Deborah tells the story of their marriage and how it became the context in which Darwin revealed his world-altering theory in The Origin of the Species. Rather than publishing a broadside that could have sparked backlash, Darwin presented his research with respect and care for the beliefs of others--an approach formed in conversations about faith and fact with his wife. The wide reaction to its publication was civilized discourse and, eventually, acceptance of the breakthrough that underlies modern biological science.
Based on letter, diaries, and notebooks of the couple, as well as writings by their family, friends and critics, Charles and Emma provides a vivid portrait of domestic life in Victorian England. Heiligman humanizes Darwin, showing readers a man as devoted to his children as he was to his work. Two hundred years after Darwin's birth, Charles and Emma can be read as a history of science, a biography, and a romance--as well as proof and a promise that faith and science can co-exist.
"The marriage of Charles and Emma Darwin proves that science and religion not only can exist side by side but can benefit from each other. Emma was Charles's first editor and best reader; her skepticism pushed him to make his argument stronger," says Deborah Heiligman.
At the end of the book at the very end of the acknowledgment page (not to be missed!) Deb wrote this, "And, finally, thank you to Charles and Emma. You two are just the best. I am going to miss you."
After you read this book, dear reader, you, too, will miss this wonderful couple. Charles and Emma will capture your heart. You will laugh and you will weep many times. You'll laugh in the beginning as Charles sets down his list of reasons to marry or not. There are funny moments with the children. You'll laugh at how Charles reacts when he catches one of his sons jumping up and down on a new couch (sturdily made for child wear). You'll be moved by the poignancy of the love between Charles and Emma that never waned. Perhaps you will shed tears over page 100 as I did, and grieve with them over the terminal illness of their good and beloved daughter, Annie.
For me, this book was reminiscent in its good heart and loving spirit of the beloved March family--Jo, Beth, Amy, and Meg and their Marmee in Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. If you love the March girls, you will love Charles and Emma.
Deborah Heiligman's book Charles and Emma received starred reviews from: Publisher's Weekly, The Horn Book, and Booklist
Charles and Emma is a National Book Award Finalist
A New York Times Editors' Choice
A Book Links top 10 Biographies for Youth
A Booklist Top 10 Romances for Youth
More awards will surely be added to this list!
Thank you all for joining me, and thanks for leaving comments here!
You can also comment by e-mailing me:
Joan sent this comment:
"Thanks, Clara. I love biographies and this sounds fascinating! Gotta get it. Besides, religion is my favorite subject for discussion. I'm somewhere between Charles and Emma. What about you?"
Carriann wrote this in an e-mail:
"I will read this month's interview with great interest. I saw what I call a blurb on this book somewhere and thought about reading it myself. Thanks for all your hard work to enlighten and enrich us."
Barbaranne wrote this:
"How very interesting. I will be certain to tune in weekly to read. I look forward to gleaning wisdom as well as being privy to stories of royal adventure."
Next week Debeorah will share her thoughts on the writing of the book along with writing advice and much more.
The lucky winner of the drawing will receive an autographed copy of Charles and Emma directly from Deb!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Welcome National Book Award Finalist . . .

This month, my featured author is Deborah Heiligman whose biography, Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith was recently named a National Book Award Finalist. The book along with thoughts on writing from Deb will be the focus of my November blogs, but this week's post is all about Deborah.

The first time I met Deborah was at the home of a mutual friend and author, Pat Brisson. There must have been close to twenty authors squashed together around Pat's dining room table. We were there to talk about writing and manuscripts, publishing and marketing. At the time, Deb was working on a new biography about JFK and mentioned that she had attended Brown University with his son, John John. I went into silent shock and awe. Could I, a farm girl from Lookout, touch elbows with someone who went to school with royalty? Apparently!

Over time, I've shared many wonderful moments with this amazing author and friend. Deb is brilliant and witty, but also self-deprecating in a way that puts other people at ease. She can even turn a series of trips to the dentist for root canal into something like a comedy, stand-up routine. It is such an honor to share my friend, Deborah Heiligman, with all of you.

Deborah Heiligman majored in religious studies in college. Then she married a science writer and fell in love with science, too. She has written twenty-five books for young people, many of them about science and religion. In Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith, Deborah combines her interests in science, religion, and her belief in the importance of human connection. Deborah was born and raised in Pennsylvania. She and her husband, Jonathan Weiner, winner of a Pulitzer Prize for The Beak of the Finch, now live in New York City.

Learn more about Deb's thoughts on writing, the environment, and more by visiting:

Also, Deb is donating an autographed copy of her new book: Charles and Emma: The Darwin's Leap of Faith to one of you lucky readers. Simply by leaving a comment, your name will be placed in my Thanksgiving cornucopia. The drawing will be just before Thanksgiving.

I'll be back next week to share my thoughts about Charles and Emma followed by an interview with Deborah about the writing of the book along with her Writing Wisdom and Tips just for all of you!

Please join me in welcoming this gifted author: Deborah Heiligman

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Exciting Award News and book drawing!

On September 25th, Kay Winters was in Westfield, Massachusetts to recevie the Carol Otis Hurst Book Prize for her book Colonial Voices: Hear Them Speak. As you may know, Carol was an award winning author herself and edited a newsletter that promoted children's literature and conducted workshops for teachers and parents. The cash prize was awarded by the Westfield Athenaeum, which includes Milton Library, Whitney Library, the Jasper Rand Art Museum, and the Edwin Smith Historical Museum. The presentation was made by Chris Lindquist from the library. After the award ceremony, several residents and actors from the Westfield Theater Group performed a readers' theater of Colonial Voices for the audience. Kay said that when she heard her words come alive as those actors spoke them, she got goose bumps! Congratulations, Kay, from all of us! So happy that your work has gotten this special recognition! Please be sure to visit Kay's web-site:

Thank you everyone for joining Kay and me for this interview series! Thank you for leaving such thoughtful comments as well as the fun comments about candy corn, snicker bars, skeleton costumes and more! It's been a wonderful Halloween treat for me. . .and now, I have treats for several of you! Early this morning I set up Kay's books with my pumpkin head ghost and Trick or Treat jack o'lantern and these are the names I drew. . .

The First name drawn for Kay's new book, Whooo's That? is Audra Everetts.
Second name for The Teeny Tiny Ghost book is Jennifer Swanson
Third name for the book: The Teeny Tiny Ghost and the Monster is Kristin Gray

Please send your mailing address to , and I'll post your autographed book asap.

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Notes about The Writing Life with Kay Winters

Wednesdsay, October 14, 2009 Thanks for writing in. . .

Librarian Audra E. wrote on FaceBook: "Great interview. . .always interesting and inspiring to hear how authors began writing. Whooo's That? just arrived at the library. Can't wait to bring it home and share it with the kids!"

Teacher Barbaranne sent her comment via gmail: "I found what Kay said to be quite encouraging and supportive. She talked about marketing oneself and I would love for her to talk more on that subject, either publicly or by e-mail. It really helps, as I struggle with my writing, to hear paths to success are peppered with rejections. This interview was very helpful. Thank you, Kay!"

Welcome new member: JFHumble

Tomorrow is the drawing for the autographed books. Whooo will win?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Inside the Writing Life -- Kay Winters' Wisdom

12 October 2009 Kay Winters talks about the writing life!

Whether you're an aspiring writer, a published writer or a book lover, it's pretty much a given that you are stimulated and inspired by what writers have to say about the writing life be it about the craft, publishing, rejection. We can never get enough of it. We always want more, more, more--one more bit of advice, one more magical moment of success. Here now in the Halloween season is a little magic and writing wisdom from Kay Winters' pen:

Q. Where did you get the idea for the Teeny Tiny Ghost?
A. We have a dollhouse. One day I came down the stairs and found everything upside down--the Christmas tree knocked over, the forks and knives on the floor, the baby out of the cradle. . . and I thought maybe a teeny tiny ghost lives in the dollhouse. I wanted to write about a character who was so frightened that he scared himself!
My new book, Whooo's That? was my daughter Linda's idea. She works with pop-up books, and came up with the concept. Really fun to do a book together. We are doing a Christmas one for next year!

Q. When did you start writing?
A. I always wrote from the time I was 7. In the 1960's when I was home with the baby, I tried doing it on a freelance basis, but quickly saw that $5. from the Instructor Magazine or a thank you note from a reading teacher didn't buy enough baby food. So I went back to teaching, which I loved. And did that until I took early retirement. I started writing full time the next day. Two years later, I made the first sale to HarperCollins.

Q. Tell us about that first important sale.
A. I was away at a friend's, and my husband called and said, "The Editor at HarperCollins would be very pleased if you would call her back." My hair still stands on end when I tell that story! She offered me a contract for the Teeny Tiny Ghost!

Q. Are you part of a Writers' Group?
A. Yes! We have a great writers' group. All published authors. We've been together for 16 years. We meet monthly at the Doylestown library.

Q. Once you're published do you still get rejections?
A. Of course! It's part of the process.

Q. Does it get easier once you're published?
A. In many ways it's harder today. I don't have an agent, and so many houses are closed to anyone without one. Also, there seems to be less interest in literary picture books--much more focus on block-busters. I try to do a mix of humor and historical fiction.

Q. Can you tell us a little about your writing process?
A. I don't make outlines. I have an idea, and I sit down and see where it goes. I listen to the characters speak. I revise and revise and revise.

Q. What advice or writing tips can you offer aspiring writers?
A. You need to know that it's not easy. So many people think because they were children once that writing a children's book should be a cinch. Guess again. You have to be willing to keep working at it, go to conferences, take classes, read new books constantly, write constantly--regard it as seriously as you would if you were a lawyer or a teacher. Develop marketing skills; you will be the one doing the marketing.

Q. What are you working on now?
A. I am working on the 15th revision of Voices of the Oregon Trail.

Q. Do you do School visits or speak at conferences?
A. Absolutely! Having been a teacher, I love going back to schools and see what's going on now. There's far too much testing now. Can't teach students to love reading, when all they read are workbooks and answer questions in preparation for tests. I do think we are very busy turning students today into non-readers, non thinkers. No Child Left Behind has a lot to answer for! My goal as an author is to show students the magic of story and creating enthusiasm about reading and writing!

Thanks, Kay, for joining us and for taking time out of your busy book signing/conference schedule to share about your writing life!

Thursday is the drawing for three of Kay's Halloween books--The Teeny Tiny Ghost; The Teeny Tiny Ghost and the Monster; and her featured title, Whooo's That? There's still time to leave a comment here, dm me on Twitter or FaceBook, or e-mail me:

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Whooo's That?

WHOOO'S THAT? by Kay Winters
Guess whooo's hiding behind the pumpkin in this interactive lift-the-flap book that's part hide-and-seek, part peekaboo--and all Halloween! Ten jack-o'lantern flaps lift to reveal a host of Halloween creatures, including a mischievous cat, bebopping skeletons, a friendly Frankenstein, and a group of children in costume. Are you ready to trick-or-treat, too? Then lift one more flap for a sweet surprise!
Who wouldn't want this book? It's perfect for your littlest trick-or-treaters, who will meet a smiling pumpkin and Halloween friends on every page. Look closely so you don't miss any of the fun! Illustrations by Jeannine Winston
Praise for Kay Winters' The Teeny Tiny Ghost series (HarperCollins Publisher):
"Get ready for your listeners to give out with boos and whoos, howls and yowls, because this is one ghost they will enthusiastically cheer! (*Starred Review)
--Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
Praise for Whooo's Haunting the Teeny Tiny Ghost: "A lesson in bravery, a spine-tingler and all-out charmer, this is the treat of the Halloween season." --Publisher's Weekly (Starred review)
Who wouldn't want to have a Halloween book autographed by Kay Winters? I love the Teeny Tiny Ghost. He's a perfect Halloween friend for young trick-or-treaters everywhere.
You can meet Kay, hear her speak, and yes, get autographed copies of her books at these bookstores or events:
Farleys Book Store. New Hope, PA October 10th Book Signing
Delaware Valley College October 13th Presentation and book signing
Barnes & Noble at the Promenade Shopes October 14th, Presentation and Book signing
Booktenders Doylestown, PA October 21st Book signing
Educator's Day Souderton, PA October 24th Presentation and book signing
(sponsored by Harleysville Book store)
NJ School Librarian Conference November 14th New Brunswick Presentation/book signing
Natl Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Convention Center, Phila, PA November 21st Presentation and Book signing
Can't make it to one of her events? Learn more about Kay's many books for children by visiting
Leave a comment for a chance to win one of Kay's Halloween books. Post a comment here, e-mail me: and I'll post it for you!
More to come! Interview with Kay Winters is coming up next on October 12th! The drawing for the books will be on October 15th!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Interlude--Publishing News of Members & Reader Comments

Monday, October 5, 2009 A Potpourri of Pleasantries

Member News:

Congratulations to School Librarian, Susan Couture! Her article "Library Games Using Book Jackets" was accepted for publication in the March 2010 issue of Library Sparks magazine. Sounds intriguing, Susan!

Congratulations to Marileta Robinson who writes "The Adventures of Spot" for High Five Magazine (former senior editor at "Highlights for Children"). Marileta was one of the contributing editors commenting on revisions for Writing it Right by Sandy Asher/ Writer's Institute Publications. Highly recommended publication for the revision process.

Big Congratulations to Jennifer Swanson! Her new book, Penny and Rio: The Locked Doghouse Mystery just won the Mom's Choice Award in the Early Reader/JF category! I love Penny & Rio!

Thanks everyone for sharing your good news!

New Comments from e-mail and FaceBook for Part One of KayWinters Interview:

Member/writer Barbaranne e-mailed this comment: "How lovely to read about the happy lives of the authors who tickle our imaginations and help teach them how to relate to the world in which they live. Bravo!"

Author Patricia Hermes wrote on my wall at FB: "Love Kay Winters and her work. Love her smile."

Author/member Laura Lee Wren gave Kay Winters a big thumbs up on FB.

Author/member Deborah Heiligman ( e-mailed this comment: "Yay, Kay! Congratulations on the new book. Don't enter me in the drawing, Clara. I will buy multiple copies of Whooo's That? for my many young friends.

Thanks everyone for writing in. Keep those comments coming. I'll be back tomorrow to share Kay Winters wonderful Halloween books along with her speaking/book signing schedule for the next couple of months!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Welcome Award Winning Author, Kay Winters!

Thursday, October 1, 2009 Whooo's That?
Kay Winters and I first met about fifteen years ago at a wonderful SCBWI spring retreat in the Poconos. When you first meet Kay, you are at once struck by her poise and charm and most of all her warmth. It's always a delight to meet up with Kay at any writing event or conference. Here's a short bio about Kay in her own words to get you acquainted with her too:
"Stories have always been magic to me. My parents read to me every night. I was an only child who moved 11 times and was in 3 first grades. Books were my constant companions. Going to the library was a big adventure. I'd fasten my roller skates, hang the key around my neck, and zoom off holding a big blue bag to stuff with books."
Kay worked as a teacher, reading specialist, elementary supervisor, and college instructor. She also worked as a consultant at the American Intl Schools in Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Italy, India, and Nepal. "I loved it!" Kay writes. "I spoke at many conferences. But always, at every reading or curriculum conference that I attended, I slipped off to hear the authors speak. That dream would not be denied.
When Peter Catalanotto, a local author, came to one of my schools, I talked to him about my dream of writing children's books. He said, 'Give yourself five years to break in.' I thought to myself, I'd better get going!"
Kay left her teaching job and started all over again, writing books full time. She took classes in New York City at the New School, went to conferences, and wrote every day. A brand new career! After many manuscript submissions and an equal number of rejections, Kay got her first contract from HarperCollins for the Teeny Tiny Ghost. Two weeks later, the second contract was offered by Simon & Schuster for Wolf Watch. And a third contract offer for Did You See What I saw? Poems about School came from Viking.
Today, Kay and her husband live in an old farmhouse in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where she divides her working time between writing, schools visits, and speaking at conferences. Kay says, "It's a Lovely life." Learn more about this special author by visiting her website:
Be sure to leave a comment on this post! Kay has generously donated three autographed books: her new one, Whooo's That? and two of her Teeny Tiny Ghost books. To sweeten the Trick or Treat bag even more, simply leave a comment telling us your favorite Halloween Candy, your best ever costume, a spooky or special Halloween moment. How easy is that? Each time you leave a comment, your name will be put in my Halloween pumpkin for a chance to win one of Kay's books. The drawing will be mid-October so the lucky winners will have their books for Halloween!
Stay tuned! Kay's Halloween books and her schedule for Book Signings and Presentations will be featured in my next post!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

And the winner is. . .

Thursday, September 24, 2009 Who won the book, Lizard Love?

Wendy and I met for tea in the charming Cafe Divine on the Delaware River in Callicoon, NY. We came to talk shop, and for Wendy to pick a name written on a green slip of paper out of my straw hillbilly hat. Ten readers posted comments on FB, direct e-mail, or right here on my blog. Some of you posted two, so you got two chances to win. Thank you all for participating. It was an exciting moment when Wendy pulled a name out of the hat! And the winner is. . .
Kathleen Taylor

Congratulations, Kathleen! Your book will be on its way shortly. Please send your address to me via e-mail:

Also, welcome new members, Nancy Eisele, Hilary Wagner, and Albie Hazen.

Barbaranne also sent me this comment via e-mail: "This by far [post of Wendy's writing wisdom] resonated most deeply within me. I found this section to be most encouraging. Thank you, Ms. Townsend, for your willingness to "write the bones".

Thank you again, Wendy, for being so generous with your time.

Coming up next is the author interview with picture book author, Kay Winters, and a chance for three of you to win an autographed book! Check back October 1st for details.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Writing Wisdom & Advice--Author Interview cont'd

Wednesday, September 16, 2009 Don't miss this invaluable final post in the interview with the author of Lizard Love, Wendy Townsend:

I asked Wendy why she became a writer and what were her influences, and I was stunned by her reply. What she wrote is so emotionally honest. I believe that what she says will inspire and encourage all of you to persevere in your writing journeys. In Wendy's own words:

Wendy: Hmmm. . . I hated to write all through high school and into college. I was a perfectionist and scratched out every word I wrote as soon as I saw it on paper. But I had something I really needed to say. Animals, especially maligned reptiles, were dear to me; I loved then and identified with them. I saw iguanas coming into the pet industry by the thousands and then dying horribly because there were no books on care. I rescued a LOT of iguanas. I typed up a two page care sheet and delivered it to pet shops. Then one day, I took an iguana to Dr. Frye (a veterinarian who wrote a lot of books). He read my care sheet and three years later, we had coauthored a book about iguana biology and husbandry. The writing (mine!) was terrible, but it did come from my heart; it was what I desperately needed to say. In the process of working on my part of the book, I learned that I did want to keep writing. I also learned that for me, a story was the best way to say what I needed to say. I stuck with it and wrote a lot of bad stuff. But sixteen years later, Lizard Love was published. I see it as a beginning, not a point of arrival!

Q: What advice can you give aspiring writers?

A: Advice? Well, to quote Harry Mazer: "The way you become a writer is to get a pen and paper and start writing." It really is like that, because if you stay with it, you follow a path that leads you to where you need to go. But, also, you have to be very conscious and aware--you can't just show up at the page and grind out words forever and expect to get published. You have to witness your process. You have to open your eyes and mind and heart. Ask yourself, 'what do I really want to say? What is the story I need to tell? How do I really feel?'

I've worked with aspiring writers and one thing I've seen a lot are writers who have a great idea for a story and are passionate about it. But the writers haven't yet realized that they are avoiding the real story, which usually has to do with something much more personal or deeply buried. The mantra at Vermont College is: "Find the emotional core."

Q: What is your next book about?
A: It's called The Sundown Rule and my editor has the complete draft. It's not a coming-of-age story and there are no lizards in it, but there are lots of animals! And I'm working on a third novel, definitely YA, about the Blue Iguana murders that took place in May '08 on Grand Cayman Island. That one's about coming to terms with cruelty to animals.

Wendy also recommends these books on craft: Writing Down the Bones and If You Want to Write.

Thank you again, Wendy, for sharing with us from your heart! Quick reminder: Be sure to leave a comment this week for a chance to win an autographed copy of Lizard Love.

Author Lindsay Barrett George wrote on FaceBook:
"Loved Loved your interview with Wendy! Write on!"

Librarian Carriann wrote in an e-mail: "You deserve chocolate for your blog!"

Thank you for joining the blog: Please welcome, Barbaranne and Kathleen!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Author Interview with Wendy Townsend

Monday, September 14, 2009 Interview and exciting news about a new publisher!

You've met YA author, Wendy Townsend; you've learned about her book, Lizard Love. This week you're going to get an inside look at Wendy's writing process and writing thoughts.
But first, there's some exciting news you'll want to check out: Wendy's book is now available as an e-book at This is not just any publisher. The president and publisher of Namelos is none other than the highly acclaimed publisher/editor: Stephen Roxburgh (Front Street Books). Stephen has agreed to talk to you about his company in a future post. In the meantime, check out the link above and look around. There's a wonderful article in PW (Publisher's Weekly) posted on the Namelos web-site about his company and his philosophy. Spend some time looking over the Namelos site. It has a lot to offer writers and readers. And now, on to the INTERVIEW with Wendy Townsend.

Q: Is Lizard Love based on your life?
A: Yes, though only the grandparents are real; the mother is based on my mother, but everyone else is made up. Most of the animal characters are real.

Q: Are there scenes in the book that really happened?
A: Most of the Prologue is pretty real. I did walk out of a pet shop with a baby reticulated python who had lost most of his skin. I got a tour behind the scenes at the Bronx Zoo. My iguana friend at Grace's age was a female; Spot came later in my life and he never did bite me. Oh, and I did ride the subway to a friend's school.

Q: What books influenced your work on Lizard Love?
A: The Language of Goldfish and Rascal. In the first story, the girl is struggling so hard with becoming a young woman that she has to go into therapy. Rascal is about an extraordinary friendship between a boy and a raccoon--it is totally autobiographical and the author even uses his own name for the boy character. As with Grace and Spot, the boy, Sterling, sleeps and plays with Rascal.

Q: Are you the protagonist, Grace?
A: No and yes. It's true that first books are particularly autobiographical. Lizard Love started out as a memoir and I wrote the Prologue while I was in the Vermont College MFA Program. Making the leap into fiction was very difficult for me. Grace took on a life of her own, but it was a struggle, and I'm not so sure I really succeeded.

Q: What was the hardest part of writing the book?
A: The fact that I didn't know what it was all about while I was writing it. I wrote the Prologue and then didn't know what to do.

Q: What did you find the easiest part to write?
A: Nothing about the book was easy. But if I had to pick something, it would be working with an editor. I was just so thrilled to get any kind of guidance, anything to go on.

Q: Technically, what was the most difficult part of writing?
A: Getting bogged down in fixing sentences, instead of trusting the images in my head. I had to write the whole novel to learn that that's not the best way to write fiction!

Q: When did you decide to write for children?
A: I didn't decide; it turned out that what I was trying to say had to do with issues around that time in a person's life. When you're a child you see things for the first time and that is charged for me and more interesting to write about than the trials and dramas of adult life.

Thanks for joining us today, Wendy. You'll all be happy to know that Wendy will be back here on Wednesday to share thoughts about writing, including some excellent tips for writers. Don't forget to post a comment this week to be included in the drawing for a free autographed copy of Lizard Love. The winner will be announced on Thursday, September 24th.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Facebook Comments about Lizard Love

September 9, 2009 Lizard Love by Wendy Townsend


Cherie Matthews posted this comment on FaceBook:
"I have her book, Lizard Love. Would encourage all to read! I loved it. . .even have the t-shirt!"

Carriann Shultz posted this comment on FaceBook:
"Nice that you are doing this for us. By the time I am able to take time to get the book, your challenge will be over, but that's okay. As an elementary teacher would say, 'Keep up the good work', if she were writing a note on your paper!"

Thanks readers/writers! Your names are in the "hat"! Post another comment and I'll add your name again. Be back later this week with the interview!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Celebrating Authors & Books -- Lizard Love

Tuesday, September 8, 2009 This week we're going to continue our celebration of authors and books. Last week you got acquainted with first time author, Wendy Townsend; today You'll learn about her novel: Lizard Love by Wendy Townsend, Frontstreet Books 2008
Not long after Wendy and I met, I visited her home and got to meet her unusual (for me) pets. Wendy is conscientious and caring about all aspects of a lizard's life and habitat, and it was a treat to be welcomed into their living space to meet them personally. Getting to touch such exotic reptiles, hold one, and have one take food from my fingers was thrilling!
The depth of Wendy's love and concern for her pets came home even more after I read her book, Lizard Love. Her love for these exquisite creatures is completely realized in the pages of her book. I was especially struck by how well this author developed the thoughts and emotions of a young girl on the cusp of emerging from adolescence, reluctantly shedding the skin of childhood to become a teen who accepts the unwanted changes she sees in herself. I love how seamlessly the author created the metaphor of a snake shedding its skin to the way the character of Grace sees herself. I don't want to give away more of that parallel, but those transformations were incredibly beautiful in both the protagonist and the snake she saves. It is a book about lizard love, and a book about change on many levels--from the physical to the deeply emotional. It's an excellent choice for girls going through the trials of growing up.
Author Beckie Weinheimer (Converting Kate) said this about the book: "To me, Lizard Love is a love story about Grace and her lizard, Spot. I love this book. . .because adolescence is such a hard time, and a time where it is important to feel heard, understood and loved. . . "
Here's the starred review from Booklist: *"In her debut novel, Townsend displays a remarkable narrative gift. . .[H]er language really comes alive when talking about the natural world; her sensuous herpetological descriptions are unflinching, evocative, and positively elegant. Even the minor characterizations are full and complex, and the relationships drawn among them resonate with the honesty of adolescence. Though Grace's naivete seems surprising at first, this story will still find enthusiastic audience among young people walking the daily tightrope between fitting in and growing up."
Lizard Love is a Bank Street College List of Best Books 2009
A quick a reminder that Wendy is donating a copy of her book, and has graciously agreed to personalize it to one of you lucky readers who post a comment. (See last week's post below for details!) The next post will begin the interview. You'll discover why/how Wendy became a writer, and her inspirations, and much more!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Short Short Post & Welcome!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Thanks Jeanne, Jen, and Carriann for e-mailing me with feedback about yesterday's blog post.

Delighted to welcome all of you who just joined us: Author Pam Calvert, Louise who gives free critiques, and SonshineMusic who loves all things writerly. Welcome also recent newcomers Cherie, Mandy, and Kristin Gray. Check out Kristin's blog. You'll find her link by clicking on the link to my profile page beneath my photo.

Back tomorrow with thoughts & reviews of Lizard Love.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Meet YA Author Wendy Townsend

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

As promised, I'm going to interview authors this fall, tell you a little about who they are and introduce you to some of their work, along with the bonus of giving away an autographed copy of the featured book to one very lucky reader who writes in to comment on the interview or the book. I'll put all the names in a hat and have my husband pick. He's a very honest lawyer (don't laugh); it's true. So let's get started.
In the photo above is author Wendy Townsend and friend, Sebastian. No surprise that her first YA novel is titled Lizard Love.

Wendy lives just a few miles across the Delaware River from me. She's been around here for a number of years, and even though we were both writers, we didn't know each other. We met quite by chance in March of 2008. I could meet another author in a lot of places, but Wendy and I met at a library. She was browsing the YA stacks in the Wayne County Public Library and I was there meeting with two other author friends. She overheard our kid lit chat and came over to introduce herself. Magic. Isn't wonderful how birds of a feather find each other? So, I'm delighted to enlarge the circle of friends and introduce her to all of you.

Wendy is a graduate of the Vermont College MFA Program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. She is a lifelong lover of nature [a kindred spirit], especially reptiles and snakes. [Love that we don't all love the same furry pets!]She lives in Callicoon, New York, with her husband, numerous lizards, and at least one cat! Please welcome Wendy Townsend! You learn a lot more about her by clicking on this link:

The next post will be all about her book. I'll share my thoughts along with the starred review from Booklist. I hope you'll drop by to comment. If you have trouble posting a comment (some people say it doesn't work for them), then please send me a direct e-mail: I'll gladly feature your comments in a separate post.
You can also find and follow me on Twitter, and leave me a dm there. Back in a day or so!

Friday, August 28, 2009

What's Coming This Fall

August 28, 2009 Author Interviews coming soon!

This fall/winter I will be focusing on conducting interviews with children's authors.

First up for September will be first time book author, Wendy Townsend.

October will be veteran picture book author, Kay Winters, beloved by me for her Teeny Tiny Ghost books.

Other authors who you can look forward to meeting here are first time picture book author, Irene Bresznak, also Patricia Thomas, Anne Mazer, Lindsay Barrett George. I've really just begun to contact authors, so I'll be updating the list on a regular basis. Also some of these authors have agreed to donate an autographed copy of one of their titles to one of you! Stay tuned for details.

Don't worry, WRITERS, there will be lots of new writing prompts along the way. Write on!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Writing prompt -- sort of

August 6, 2009 Summery whimsy

Deadlines, schedules, appointments, housework, Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, video games, t.v. Who has time to write? Read? Go for a walk? No one. We have to make the time to write or read or go for a walk, which probably means cutting out other things that we enjoy.

So here's a short writing assignment. Keep track of how you spend your time. Can you shave off a few minutes from Facebook time? E-mail or phone talk time? What things can you change to make more time to write? Make a place to write, too. Claim it. "This is my place to write."

Starting today, make your writing goal happen: "I will spend 20 minutes every day working on my book." Then sign your name. Or you can do what I do and set a certain number of pages as your goal. Showing up is 90% of the job. Story develops while you're writing. I'm off to draft some new pages of my own. Little by little the pages pile up; the book gets written.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Dream Time

30 July 2009 A thought to tuck in your heart!

Imagine what you wish to become one day catching up with you! --M. Crystal

I hope you've all been dreaming books or stories and jotting down thoughts and scenes. Maybe this summer you've begun to draft a novel, a short story or memoir or begun to write poetry. A few of you may be so diligent and disciplined that you've finished a draft and now you've begun to revise. Wherever you are in your writing journey, take some time to dream and imagine what you'd like to accomplish. Take a moment and look back to the Fun & Easy Writing Prompt
that I posted in early June. Remember the pyramid? If you drew one, go back and look at it now. How far did you get on your journey to the cheering stick figure at the top? If you didn't make much progress, take heart. Begin at the point you stopped and focus on the next step. Just one step. Happy climbing!

Don't go away! I'll be back next week with a new writing prompt and news of an upcoming event.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Creative Write & Play Shop --Revision Assignment

Friday, July 10, 2009 Seeing Again

Some of you may have been wondering what the delay was all about with this assignment. The truth is partly my new addiction to Face Book, blush, which is already waning, but more a necessary procrastination for this very important final step. Too often we write something and we are caught in the spell of our own words, the wonderful metaphor we dropped in that paragraph of description, and, oh, weren't we witty in that little scene with Great Aunt Prunella? Good as Oscar Wilde! Either we are charmed or we have the opposite reaction. Our words seem flat and boring. We think we can't write at all, wad up our attempts and throw them away. The reality normally falls somewhere in the middle. Occasionally the words flow, we know it, we go with it. It's good all right, but mostly what we've written still needs shaping--later on, not in the heat of the moment of writing. The same holds true for times when the writing seems dead on the page. Maybe it is, but even then it often has the seeds for the precise emotion or insight we're digging for. It needs work, yes, but it's not hopeless. I wish I could remember which poet told me this: "Success lies in the attempt." Molly Peacock, I think. What you have put down in your rough draft of memories will show what is important for you to write, your emotional stories that break your heart, make you weep, or laugh out loud.

If you've had some time away from those drafts of childhood memory, take them out now and reread them with a cool, fresh eye. Be gentle with yourself, and don't worry about the writing. What I want you to do now is look for moments of revelation, epiphanies, times when you had an insight about yourself, about your siblings or parents, or about friendships or life in general. You might also take a second look at your fears and moments of joy. What you're looking for is material for a story or a picture book or the beginning of a memoir or novel.

We often talk about story ideas. We might say that we start with a character or a situation or an action, but to find success in an idea or a character or a situation or an action, we must connect to emotion. It is honest emotion that connects the reader to your work and makes them care. That's why reliving your own personal memories, drenching them with recalled sensory perception will bring you to your emotional center. Start there. If you're writing fiction, feel free to wildly lie. There's a line in the movie, State and Main, that William Macy says to the screenplay writer (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) about a change he wants in the script: "Don't think of it as a lie; think of it as a gift for fiction."

To recap the assignment: Read through what you've written. Look for moments of revelation. Look for conflict. Settle on a few that you think might work for a picture book or a short story, etc. Read those parts again. Put them away. Then go and read and read and read. Look at picture books. Look for the emotion. Read your favorites over and over. Why do they resonate with you?

Stella Luna is a good picture book to study for how emotion is carried through a book. It's a wonderful book. (But feel free to pick a different one.) Read it aloud. Type the first page. Type several pages to get a feel for the words and rhythm of the book. Read it again. Go back to your material and look at it again. I think you may begin to see a form taking shape for your book. I'd love to hear what books resonate with you and why.

I think this might be a good place to add that my short story, "A Spring Coat for Sarah" published in "Highlights for Children" was written from a childhood memory. See, it works!Happy re-vision and happy reading!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Creative Write & Play -- Touch & Sound Discovery

July 1, 2009 Developing our sense of Touch

Several of you mentioned that touch is a hard sense for you to put into your writing. So, of course, I thought about that, and I came up with a fun experiment for all of us to try. Even if we don’t always see the touch or hear the sound, it occurred to me that those two are connected–you can’t have one without the other. At least I haven’t come up with an instance yet, but I wouldn’t mind if someone proved me wrong. I haven’t done a textbook study, so, yes, dear friends, this is physics of the senses ala Clara.

Touch creates sounds. Motion suggests touch and sound. You drop something on the floor and the sound it creates depends on the object you drop and the surface it hits. Crash! Boom! Bang! Thud. Thump. Crackle. Splatter. Boing. Plink. Plop. It’s even more fun to make up our own sound word based on what the object touches. Writers do it all the time. Often we get away with it, and it's really cool to see a word in print that we've made up.

For the rest of the week, right through the sound-tastic fireworks on the 4th of July, keep your notebook handy to record the sensory perceptions of touch and the precise subsequent sound. Touch doesn’t have to be just something you are touching with your fingers. Touch and sound are all around. If you have kids, get them involved, too. If you don't have kids, grab some friends. Can you come up with more touch/sounds than they can? Okay, writing scientists we’re off on an adventure of touch & sound discovery. Have a safe & happy 4th!

Monday, June 29, 2009


Monday, June 29, 2009

Click on the link for a poem by Billy Collins ( America's two-term Poet Laureate) See if it doesn't resonate with your school and teacher experience, and then see what the poet has to say about the writing of poetry. Well said, I think!
What do you think?

Don't go too far away. I'll be back soon with a short short play activity! Then we'll get back to the business of looking at what we've written and mining our gold!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Creative Write & Play Assignment #4

Monday, June 22, 2009 This is a fun interlude between BIG assignments!

A friend was telling me that she was having a hard time recalling anything from her early childhood, so we discussed different ideas that engage one of the senses. Voila! It seems her memories may be connected to the sensory perception of taste. How about that? And that got me thinking--which of my senses is the dominant key to my memories?

This week spend one day with each of your senses, experience one at a time--smell, taste, touch, sound. First, experience each sense in the present and then go back to the past and your childhood. E.g. When I smell wild roses in bloom, I think about my father who loved the wild roses that grew along the farm road that led to the far pond and fields and orchard. They weren't the wild roses we see these days that are taking over all the old cow pastures and meadows, but fragile briar bushes with deep pink flowers like the flowers on the old-fashioned rose bushes my mother grew, and on from there. Naturally, when you think about one sense some of the other senses will be present as well, especially sight. So leave sight as the last sense that you focus on for this writing exercise. Keep a writing pad or small notebook close to your side.

By the end of the week, you will have spent a day with each of your senses. Which one gave you the most pleasurable memories? Which sense gave you the most vivid recall? Think about how your senses shaped your life experience.

This is a fun, but also challenging assignment. How long can you go before your focus goes right back to the visual? Which sense will you start with? I'm going to spend today with the olfactory. I think the sense of smell is a Gillow trait. I'll keep you posted!

I'm sure some of you are still tracking down memories from school days, so keep scribbling away.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

BLOOM DAY plus a Fun & Easy Writing Prompt

Tuesday, June 16, 2009 James Joyce and his behemoth book Ulysses

Today is Bloom Day to celebrate the book most of us haven't read, but most of us know that it's considered one of the best books of the 20th century and that the story takes place over the course of one day in the life of Leopold Bloom. Read more about the book, the day, and author at: You may decide that you must read the book, but then again you might decide that celebrating the day in Ireland would be more fun! Read or celebrate? Both? What's your vote?

I'm working on a novel for high schoolers (YA) and one of the goals I established this week is to finish a draft of the book by the end of the summer, which I think of as Labor Day weekend, but can easily stretch to the actual last day of summer in September. Bets on that anyone? Of course, I also want to sew and draw, pick wild berries for winter pies, go on long walks, read, do fun things with my husband, and have get togethers with friends and family.

Fun & Easy Writing Prompt

For many of you the beginning of summer starts when the school year comes to an end. Most of you know that July and August will seem too short and will be gone in a blink. Before you know it the days are getting shorter and school is about to start. So for the rest of this week leading up to the Solstice think about what you really want to accomplish this summer. What do you really want? Once you figure that out, then decide what steps you must take to realize that goal. Make realistic goals that will challenge you but not defeat you. Brainstorm your wishes & dreams. Write them down. Turn them into goals. Then put down the steps to reach your goals.

For example, draw a pyramid. Then draw yourself cheering at the top (a stick figure works for me) and write your goal at the top, "Yay! I finished the book!" Next work from the top down and
write down the steps you took along the way to reach the top. At the bottom, of course, will be your stick figure looking up at the top, not wishing, but making a plan. Go make your plan. Then begin.
"If you believe in something, begin it. Action has magic, grace, and power in it." Goethe

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Indian Chief Motorcycle & Biker Chick

Saturday, June 12, 2009 Rhinebeck, NY on the Hudson River

Sometimes you just gotta get away and do something out of the rut of everyday life. My husband is a motorcycle enthusiast and has restored a 1929 Indian Scout, so driving (not riding) over to Rhinebeck to spend the day was a nice change from our usual Saturday chores. What a great place to listen and watch and take notes. As I was writing this, I thought of another great Beverly Cleary character, Ralph Mouse. Runaway Ralph and Motorcycle Ralph were two of my sons favorite books from grade school. If you haven't read them, then a fun and heart-warming adventure awaits you. Definitely put them on your reading list.

I hope you've been having fun setting down school memories. I'll be back tomorrow with a short writing assignment, something that everyone will have time to do. Now I'm off...varoom! varoom!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Creative Write & Play Shop! Assignment #3

Monday, June 8, 2009 Write what should not be forgotten!

Good morning, writers!It was nice to hear from so many of you about the writing workshop. Some of you may still be madly scribbling down memories of those early years. As one of you wrote, some of us have a longer way to travel back. Some of you wrote that you were checking out the assignments and planned to work on them once school was out. I hope that you have been having a good journey so far.

I was speaking to my son yesterday and he was telling me about his astonishing experiences with Face Book and how a lot of friends from his grade school days were showing up as friends. It took him awhile to remember who some of them were, but being found by them brought back a lot of memories for him and for me as we talked. Events, people, names do get buried, but not lost if we dig a little. Maybe some of you are on Face Book as well and you have experienced some delight in recovering friends from your early school days.

School brings me to the subject of your next assignment, but first be sure to keep the memories you’ve already written from your first five years in a safe place, because I’ll be asking you to go back to them to hunt for treasure in a future assignment.

Assignment #3. School years. For this assignment you’ll be writing about your elementary through Junior High school years. You may want to refer to the list I gave you in the last assignment, because what we’re digging for in our memories are our emotional experiences. So it won’t just be remembering that special dress for the first day of school, for example, but your whole experience of shopping, how you felt about your new outfit–what did you like or dislike about it? Did it seem perfectly beautiful at home but sort of plain when you saw the amazing dresses the other girls were wearing? You get the idea.

These assignments are about you and about finding your stories, so keep that in mind as you start to set down your school days stories. This time, I want you to write down memories of as many of your first days of school as you can remember. Then move on from there and write down your most evocative memories of special holidays throughout the year–Columbus Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, etc. Go through the school year drawing out the most vivid memories you have of each holiday and each season. Recapture the smells and sounds of school along with the everyday sights. You may want to write some character sketches for some of your teachers and close friends or bullies. Again, be sure to use as many of the senses–touch, sight, sound, smell, taste as you can to make your experience spring to life on the page. Once you have recaptured these special times, I think you’ll begin to see how some of them might be material for a short story, a picture book, a poem or a chapter book.

Take a trip to the library and search out books that involve school. There’s a wonderful picture book by Rosemary Well’s called Timothy’s First Day of School that’s about Timothy’s first few days of school and how things go wrong and how he finally gets it right and makes a new friend. Patricia Reilly Giff’s Polk Street Gang series is perfect for those of you who want to write for younger readers. I especially love the first one in the series, The Beast in Ms. Rooney’s Room. Of course, there are all the wonderful Ramona books by Beverly Cleary that you’ll want to check out. I’m sure every library has well-worn copies of those. Please feel free to send titles of your own favorites to share with the rest of us. Have a fun week writing down your school memories. Write from the heart!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Nationally Syndicated Columnist, Kendal Rautzhan gives Secrets of Greymoor high marks!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Summer books are cool
Sunday, June 07, 2009
Trying to figure out which books will really connect with kids isn't easy. Every year thousands of new children's books flood the already bulging shelves and online offerings.

Fortunately, you won't have to hassle with that. Below, you'll find reviews of several new books from the current cream of the crop -- grouped by age.

Don't forget to also include regular visits to your local library, where you'll find loads of great books available to borrow. Many libraries also have summer reading programs your children or grandchildren might enjoy.

The bottom line is to keep kids reading every day over the summer months. Great books are lots of fun to read, and they keep young minds active and prepared to start the new school year.

Age 12 and older

"Secrets of Greymoor" by Clara Gillow Clark, Candlewick, 2009, 166 pages, $15.99 hardcover. Hattie lived with her grandmother in a fancy house in town. She had come there to get a good education. Her grandfather had lived in the Utica Insane Asylum since before Hattie was born and had recently passed away. No one talked about Grandfather very often, but Hattie had heard the rumors -- Grandfather had apparently squandered Grandmother's fortune and was a madman.

When Hattie intercepts a notice from the tax collector that back taxes are owed, she is desperate to find a way to help her grandmother secure the necessary funds to avoid losing everything. Perhaps Grandfather's notebook, written in a bizarre code, contained the key to a hidden fortune. Hattie sets out to crack the code and save her grandmother, but time is running out.

Beautifully written, with believable characters and filled with just the right amount of suspense, "Secrets of Greymoor" will appeal to girls and have them flipping the pages as quickly as they can.

Nationally syndicated, Kendal Rautzhan writes and lectures on children's literature. She can be reached via e-mail:

Monday, June 1, 2009

Write & Play Shop! cont'd

Assignment #2 Art lies in the details. Observe. Notice. Experience.

Good morning writers! Let's get started on our journey. To begin, you will be going back to your own beginnings and for this assignment you'll be writing down your memories from your first five years. I know that some of you have done this already for other workshops, and if you have, dig out those old notebooks or files and review what you've written. You'll need them for future assignments. For those of you who are tapping into your emotional memories for the first time, read on. (okay, read on anyway!)

The long option is to just start writing everything you remember from your first five years--the years when you experience so many firsts--walking, talking, learning to tie shoelaces, button a shirt or blouse, zipper a jacket. . . Some of those things none of us will remember, but write down the ones that you do. You may start with the anecdotes that always get told at family gatherings. That's fine, but you'll want to move beyond those. Once you start, you'll be surprised how many memories you have. For this option, you can skip around if you want because one memory often leads to another and soon the memories will pour out of you, and you'll simply want to keep writing and writing. When the flood comes, get down the most important details first like a synopsis and go back and fill in later. If it's a memory that was emotionally significant for you, you may want to write the whole event as you experienced it.

Be sure to keep a little notebook with you all the time to jot down those memories that are sure to come when you're showering or walking or driving. Memories really can be fleeting, so write them down.

The next two options involve making a list. I'm offering one here. Look over the list. You may want to add some headings of your own, and you may want to leave several pages or more between the headings. If you're a fiction writer, it'll look a lot like a list for character development. It is! Except this time it's all about you! For the short short option just write a list with a few details under the headings. For the short option, you'll want to add more details. Some of you may want to develop scenes. It's all up to you. Do whatever works best for you.
1. Things I learned how to do
2. Family, friends--write a little about your primary relationships. You can do mini character sketches of them as well if you want, writing something about how they looked and their personalities.
3. Setting--what do you remember about where you lived. You can draw your house, inside and out, a detailed drawing of how you remember your private world and even your neighborhood. For fun, grab some colored pencils or crayons and put some color in your world.
4. Favorite things--toys, books, food, games, and things you hated, and why.
5. Fears. What frightened you? Why? Suddenly discovering that you were alone? Darkness? Shadows? Spiders?
6. Illnesses. Write about how that felt. Not just the physical but the emotional such as feeling left out, the isolation.
7. Trips.
8. Embarrassed.
9. Angry.
10. Ashamed.
11. What is the very best memory you have of your early years. Describe it as completely as you can. Then write about your most traumatizing memory.
12. Holidays.

When you're writing about a particularly emotional memory, try to recall as many specific details as you can. Was it day or night? Was the sun shining? Rainy? Snowing? Cold or hot. Do you remember what you were wearing? Can you recall any smells? Sounds? Think about touch. Try to recapture your experience through your senses. It is through our senses that we remember, so the more specific sensory detail you can add the more you will feel as if you are right there in that moment, and that's where you want to get--to live it as the child, not just look back from an adult's perspective. Once you can do this for yourself, you can do it in all your writing.

If you have any questions, please feel free to send me an e-mail. If you want to share, do the same. Most of all, I want you to enjoy this journey into yourself.

What comes from the heart, goes to the heart!