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!