September 2012 Archives

Inspiration from Kate DiCamillo

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Three years ago I got to hear Kate DiCamillo speak in Kansas City. Recently I came across my notes and thought I'd share them here.

At the beginning of her presentation, Kate said she had a speech that would take 18-20 minutes depending how nervous she was and then sheʼd let the audience of almost 500 ask questions. (400 more seats were set up with TV monitors in another room.) Kate began by reading part of a long list of why writers write from Margaret Atwoodʼs book Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing. Then she went on to tell why she writes.

When Kate was 9 she was given a Humpty Dumpty magazine subscription. She thought the magazine smelled of paper, ink and possibilities. A story about a witch spoke to her so much that she wrote it out in her own handwriting. Kate liked it even better in her own handwriting.

She showed it to her mother. Her mother asked if sheʼd written the story. Kate said yes, since sheʼd written it out. Her mother showed the story to a neighbor, and Kate realized thereʼd been a misunderstanding. I want to say something; I need to say something, Kate thought. But she didnʼt.

Her mother showed the story to Kateʼs teacher who, impressed with it, showed it to the principal. Her mother told Kateʼs father who lived in another state.
The snowball was growing.

Kate wanted what everyone believed to be true to be true. Her father traveled to see her because of the story. "I learned, story is power. If I wrote a story, I could become the center of the universe. If I wrote a story, I could make my longed for father come."

Of course, Kateʼs teacher read the story again. In Humpty Dumpty. Kate had to make the rounds and apologize for lying. Her brother told her she was more than a liar, she was a plagiarist.

But she never forgot how writing a story made her feel.

"Story," Kate says, "is the most practical, accessible, frivolous and necessary of all the arts." She believes we need story to survive! Story is the agonized cry of how we wished the world could be.

She remembers how after 9/11, writing stories seemed worthless. She was apologetic about what she did to a man sitting beside her on a flight. She told him that what she did, didnʼt really matter. Later at baggage claim, the man came up and said, "Maybe stories do matter."

Kate came to realize that "stories can save the listener and the teller, too." She said, "We tell stories to keep ourselves alive."

Don't YOU forget the power of story.

Want to know more about Kate? Read this article and watch the video interview.

For up-to-date info on this award-winning author go to her website.

All really good picture

All really good picture books are written to be read 500 times.
Rosemary Wells

A writer's job is

A writer's job is to imagine everything so personally that the fiction is as vivid as memories.
John Irving

Words in the Dust, an amazing story

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

words in the dust.jpgWords in the Dust (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2011) by Trent Reedy is an amazing story inspired by a true story of a real girl in Afghanistan. The author uses sensory details and language to make the reader see Zulaika's world and how many in that culture view us.

Here's a brief introduction:
Zulaikha is forgetting how to write the letters of the alphabet her mother taught her. Boys' call her "donkeyface," shopkeepers look at her in disgust, her father's second wife doesn't like to look at her cleft lip, and she even has difficulty eating. But when the Americans come, they offer to fix her mouth. Zulaikha knows it will change her world if the surgery works out.

You'll definitely want to go to Trent's website to see how he wrote this story "by accident" and who and what book inspired him. There you'll also get to see two other covers of the book--one for the UK and one for Germany.

Historical MG in Verse - Inside Out and Back Again

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

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The Newbery honor book Inside Out and Back Again (HarperCollins, 2011) by Thanhha Lai is written in verse snapshots. Here's a brief summary of the story:

It's 1975, 10-year-old Hà, her mother and 3 older brothers must leave Saigon, Vietnam. Schools were closed a month early, the president has resigned, the communists are coming. They pack up and head for the Navy ships to escape. They end up on the island of Guam and then in Alabama.

Thanhha brings Hà and her family to life. I love the line: "It's hard to be grateful when you feel stupid because you don't know the language."

I also enjoyed the inside story on how the author wrote this award winning story. Read the article here. Read her bio here.

Are Listserves a Service or a Waste of Time?

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It depends on you and on the listserve.

There are usually several types of people on a listserve: posters and lurkers. Posters are the ones that keep a listserve alive. They ask questions. They share information of interest to the group. They answer other people's questions. They encourage others. They share ideas. Lurkers are the people who are reading, but not participating in the conversation. They don't comment, nor start new topics, nor share good and bad news. Does this mean they can't get anything out of the posts? Of course not. They can glean lots of information from what others are saying. But...if they have a question and don't ask it on the listserve, how will they get it answered?

One of my friends had been lurking on a listserve and because I "out"ed that she was there (she had invited me to it), she decided she'd better introduce herself. Nervously, she wrote a post of intro and commented on a topic that the group had been discussing. She asked me to look over her post before she sent it. "Is it okay?" she asked. "Definitely," I told her. "Go ahead and post." She did, and guess who commented?! Andy Boyles of Highlights. Just by making an intelligent comment on a listserve she had a short conversation with an editor.

By chatting with others, I've also made friends on listserves. This Saturday I get to meet one friend face-to-face for the first time. Is that cool or what?

Listserves come in a variety of kinds: regional, topic or genre, general writing, organizational. What's the right group for me, may not be the right one for you. I like trying out a listserve. It's like going to a club meeting. If you enjoy the people you meet and the topics of conversation, you'll come back. If not, you won't. If your focus changes, you may need a new listserve and may let an old one go.

They can become timewasters if you are involved either in ones that are very busy with many many conversations, or if you're involved in too many listserves. I like getting my listserves in digest format versus individual emails. I can scan the topic headers and skip any that aren't of interest to me. It also helps me limit the time spent.

So how do you find listserves? Most of the ones I participate in were by invitation or through a writing organization. But you can also find them by searching yahoo or google groups. Here are some I found that way:

childrensbookandarticlecritiquing - the title says it all

Childrens-FandSF-Writers - the F stands for fantasy and obviously SF is Science Fiction

childrens-writers - a discussion group

childrenswriterstoday - a forum for writers, poets, illustrators, editors and publishers of all genres in the juvenile to teen market to announce their latest news, reviews, columns, books and publication works

fantasyweavers - an online critique group for writers of middle-grade and young-adult fantasy and science fiction

internetchildrensstories - this is a club devoted to writers of children's stories and their readers

Northwest Independent Writers Association - for writers of any kind

When searching make sure you check the statistics (latest activity; members; and if it is important to you, whether the group is moderated or not). Some groups will be open and others closed. Some groups may want to know something about you before adding you; others have no vetting process.

If you've never tried one, ask other writers or illustrators what listserves they like. Then join one or two. Lurking at first is okay, but remember you'll get more out of it, if you post, too.

image courtesy of

A writer is always

A writer is always writing books inside him or herself.  Any idea for a book swirls around in uncounted time in one's head before it takes shape as a book.
Charlotte Zolotow

Hysterically Funny - Fetching

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

fetching.jpg8th grade Olivia has been comparing the groups of kids at her middle school to the dog breeds she's familiar with. And it's hysterical. But when the tormentors go too far and the assistant to the assistant principal won't even listen to her complaint, Olivia has to serve her own justice. But will she go too far herself?

Fetching (Disney - Hyperion, 2011) by Kiera Stewart is a very well written, very funny book. I love the extra text on the cover: Middle School. Unleashed. It's so appropriate. Any kid going in to middle school, in middle school, or who has been in middle school will recognize the setting of this book.

This is author Kiera Stewart's first book, but she has another she sold this March. It's titled: How To Break a Heart. I can't wait. You should really check out her website--I love the middle school hall look to it. Plus, you'll enjoy reading Kiera's bio--she's even funny there!

Light-hearted Story - The Grand Plan to Fix Everything

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

GrandPlan.jpg11-year-old Dini and her best friend, Maddie, love watching Bollywood movies and are big fans of movie star Dolly Singh. When Dini's mother drops the big news that the family is moving to India for two years, the girls are heartbroken at being separated. If Dini and her family were at least going to Bombai where the filmi people are, she might get to see her favorite movie star. But, no, they are going to a little town called Swapnagiri. However, fate has something surreal in mind for Dini. Of course, fate does get some help from Dini herself.

The Grand Plan to Fix Everything (Atheneum, 2011) by Uma Krishnaswami and illustrated by Abigail Halpin is a fun read. I liked a look into a world I know nothing about. I especially like how all the threads of the different people and their stories come together in this novel.

Go to Uma's website to see other books by this prolific author. She also teaches for the Vermont College MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

And if you, like me, enjoy the cover of this book go to Abigail's website and see what else she is up to or go to her blog where she posts sketches.

A writer has many

A writer has many successes...selling the piece is only an exclamation point, a spot of punctuation.
Jane Yolen