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.