Childish Nonsense

Exploring Children's Literature

Back At It

This is unabashedly personal, so read if you want to know about ME.

I knew I hadn’t posted anything on here in a while, so I looked back to see how long it had been. Maybe that wasn’t such a good idea. Four months is quite a moratorium.

I did complete Picture Book Idea Month, and I even got a few workable ideas from that. And I’m working on a couple.

National Novel Writing Month saw a good first week, so I got a good start on one of my middle grade ideas – a hybrid of two ideas I had worked on before. Nothing is ever wasted.

After that, came holidays, a personal writing retreat, a new critique group, the opening of registration for our regional SCBWI next month, and a trip to New York for the SCBWI conference there. Whew!

SCBWIWinter2016

Two different manuscripts found their way to the writers roundtable in NY. I got a lot of great feedback on both, so, naturally, I have even more work to do than before. Many words of wisdom flew around during the main conference. Queries should remain relevant to the work you’re trying to sell. Diversity is good, but not just for the sake of diversity. Common denominators for good middle grade writing include: know your market, know your reader, use an authentic voice, be original, write about things that matter, characters should stand out, include surprises, and leave the reader with something of substance. Endings are also important.

Next, I’m planning to participate in the great Reading for Research Month challenge conducted by colleague Carrie Charley Brown, which involves a lot of note taking and trips to the library for picture books. Yes, I AM a glutton for punishment.

Oh, and the last book I finished was NOT a children’s book. For a book club, my husband and I read Deep, Down, Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine and the Miracle That Set Them Free by Hectór Tobar. It’s a very engaging account of the mine disaster from 2010. All the men survived. I remember being gripped daily by the news stories for the two months they were buried. The author did a great job of putting a face on the men, their families, and the rescue team. Highly recommended.Deep Down Dark

On to the next project.

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Anger May Be Appropriate, But …

The recent events in Charleston are upsetting on so many levels. Understandably, most people are angry. And everyone wants to comment. But most of need to be careful we’re not just adding fuel to an already-raging bonfire.

Yes, much of the media is skewed with rhetoric that favors the white majority. Yes, we need to get guns off the streets, particularly automatic weapons. Yes, the Confederate flag has become a symbol of hate, at least to most people. Yes, we should all pick our words carefully. Words do matter. The discussions too often deteriorate into shouting matches and accusations, though. And nothing is accomplished beyond making everyone angry again.

So, beyond denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, what should we do in response to all the violence and, yes, racism? And beyond making sure that the shooter never again hurts anyone in this manner.

I’m hoping that something positive can come of the latest horrific event. I’m hoping that our acts of kindness are not so random.

Attend religious services at a house of worship you’re unfamiliar with. Go to an AME church or a synagogue or a mosque. Bet anything the usual attendees will “be nice” to you. If you can find out about any outreach program they have, plan ahead and show up with nonperishable food or clothing or supplies for a woman’s or homeless shelter. Go the extra mile to show you care. And take the children with you.

Attend a rally or commemoration for a cause.

Volunteer for a cause.

Pay for someone else’s groceries or meal. Someone struggling with the kids. An elderly couple. Or just someone who looks unhappy. You’d be amazed how much goodwill even $20 will buy.

Read a book or other material (to yourself or with the kids) you might not normally read. Don’t make me outline which ones are available.

Come up with your own solution. One step at a time.

Get to know your neighbor and live with a purpose, for goodness sake.

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Stories, Stories Everywhere

Aunt Mary's 95th

Norma, Mary (95th), Shirley (Mom)

This past week, I traveled to Iowa. What was supposed to be my aunt’s 100th birthday party turned into a funeral when she died suddenly, four days before her actual birthday. I say “suddenly” because, even though we all knew her time was short, she was in relatively good shape and was very much looking forward to the party.

The one good aspect was that most of the family already had travel plans. I saw all my living cousins on that side of the family for the first time in many years.

Even though the minister officiating didn’t know her well, he did an excellent job of gathering stories about the wonderful woman my aunt was. Naturally, there were aspects of her life that were too painful for anyone to bring up, but I’m sure the good memories triggered thoughts in everyone of those other times.

Any family gathering is rife with stories. Not all of them can be easily adapted to the story you’re trying to tell, but taking notes (or at least taking note) is a really good idea for writers.

Aunt Mary was an incredible cook. She learned a lot of what she knew from my grandmother. Borne at least partly out of the Depression and hard times, her meals always consisted of plentiful and basic ingredients. They always had a huge garden, and she canned or froze everything. Green beans, pickles, strawberries, cherries, corn, rhubarb, and horseradish. Although I don’t think I’ve had gooseberry pie since Grandma died. Must not have been a favorite of Aunt Mary’s. Homemade chicken and noodles is as close to heaven as you can get. Nothing like Aunt Mary’s macaroni and cheese. Knowing these flavors can only help a story.

My cousin, who preceded her mother in death, was mentally challenged. She was the closest thing I had to a sister growing up. My aunt and uncle could have chosen to have her institutionalized, but she lived with them well into her fifties. As she aged, Judy developed health problems that also affected her personality. Through it all, Aunt Mary dealt with whatever came. Taught me so much about how to approach people and how to deal with what’s in front of you.

These are just two areas where I feel my aunt’s influence enriched my life and my writing. She was a force to be reckoned with and I shall carry her with me forever.

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Just What Are the Rules?

obey-the-rules-badge-md

Random thoughts.

Cardinal rules for writing almost always start with “Write what you know.” My biggest problem with this is that most, if not all, of us lead pretty boring lives. Was it John Lennon who said, “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans”? This past week has been a whirlwind. May usually is. I look at my calendar daily and still don’t do anything I think would be of much interest in a book. Who wants to read about taking my dog to the groomer? I guess there are moments in everyone’s life that spark something interesting, but you have to think a certain way to see them. And I guess that’s where the mind of a writer comes in handy. We all look at things a little differently than most people. Costumes on the street – no problem. Enjoying standing in the rain – even better. Accidents become an opportunity to meet people.

And this boring life also makes it difficult to come up with the conflict necessary to a story. I kid with my mother that she made my writing life difficult when she gave me a happy childhood. How am I supposed to resolve problems when I can’t even imagine problems? Seriously, though, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Another rule I find really funny is “Just because it’s true doesn’t make it believable.” I think this follows directly from “Truth is stranger than fiction.” This applies to conversation as well as plot points. Can you imagine trying to read dialogue that sounds like a real person talking? “Umm, well, I think maybe yeah” and “Nice weather we’re having” would appear a lot.

So, spout your rules if you must, but mostly just write.

 

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Five, Six, Seven, Nate

Circa 1983

Me — Many Years Ago

In a way, this is a spoiler. But you have to read the book to find out HOW Nate does it.

As you may know, I have a suite of blogs called gradereading.net on which I post book reviews. I try to gear the reviews toward teachers, librarians, and parents — by grade level. We try say why kids would love these books and how the books will fit into what they’re teaching. Recently, I finally got around to reading Five, Six, Seven, Nate by Tim Federle. I adored the other book about Nate (Better Nate than Ever) but just couldn’t seem to fit the second excellent book into the reading pile. My biggest problem with reviewing these is that I love Nate too much. I so strongly identify with Nate that I don’t feel I can do an objective review. You would think that would happen more often, given my love of books, but it doesn’t.  And, being a writer, I have to write what I identify with. Again, Nate is special to me.

Nate is awkward and woefully unschooled in the ways of a Broadway production. But he loves what he’s doing and sticks with it – with the support of those who see his talent. The aspect that I love so much is that Nate ends up saving the day.

I’ve been playing the understudy for most of my life. Those who’ve known me throughout my adult life may have heard about or witnessed the community chorus incident where the cute little soloist got fall-down drunk at the dress rehearsal, leaving the director to beg me to sing the duet for “Tonight” from West Side Story for opening night. But what they may not know is that this is a recurring theme in my life and seems to have slopped over into my children’s lives. When I was in sixth grade, I was put in charge of the music for a skit the entire class did based on our American flag unit. This was mostly due to the fact that I was the only one who knew all the words to all the songs. “You’re a grand old flag…” Imagine a twelve-year-old flopping her arms to keep everyone together. In junior high school, I ended up with solos twice – once because the designated “They Call the Wind Mariah” soloist lost her voice and once because no one wanted to do a song at the graduation. (Anybody even remember “Graduation Day” by the Beach Boys?) At various times, I’ve ended up with various jobs – many at the last minute – because, well, those in charge knew I could do an adequate job. And I usually shine, like Nate did. I considered trying to become a back up singer – my secret dream job. Wish I knew how many times I’ve uttered the phrase “Story of my life.”

So, the long and short of it is. Read this book. Especially if you’re not the star.

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Of Website Crashes and Such

Computer warningYesterday, while the gadget geeks were busy crashing the Apple website because some new doodad was on the market, a mighty group of writers and illustrators crashed a site because the tribe is on its way to Los Angeles. (I wonder if the word “crash” makes Sally Crock cringe since Harrison Ford landed his plane across the street from her house. She was one of the first on the scene and was no doubt grateful he didn’t land it IN their house.) Those gadget geeks have nothing on children’s book creators.

Why? Why did we all have to get on the site right away? Basically, the reasons that we didn’t want to miss the camaraderie, learning, sharing, and inspiration.

Camaraderie: I once told Steve Mooser I’ve never met anyone through SCBWI who I don’t consider to be a friend. It’s true. This is a great group of people. And the regional advisors, who were mostly if not entirely responsible for crashing the site, are a special breed. Physically spending time with them keeps my cockles warm.

Learning: The SCBWI Summer Conference always has some amazing workshops. There is something for writers and illustrators, newbies and veterans, fiction and nonfiction aficionados, self and traditional publishers, and those interested in other issues. SCBWI is known throughout the industry for attention to craft. We all want to give children quality literature.

Sharing: I’ve said it before. This is the most generous group of people on earth. They’ve all been there. There is nothing they won’t share about their journeys. Networking is essential to success. Of course, a good share of them are also introverts, which makes it difficult to initiate the networking. But, once attendees get the hang of it, business cards are out, books are shared, etc.

Inspiration: The keynotes are always fantastic. I go home ready to work and get those manuscripts polished and out the door. Gotta love it.

So, you can have your iWatches or whatever the heck those things are called. I’ll read (and write) my books.

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Pi, Anyone?

piSorry if you’re sick and tired of hearing about Pi Day, but it’s a big deal to me. Once a century, the 14th of March also includes the other base ten digits that represent the transcendental number pi. 3.14159265…

Mathematicians have been chasing the value of pi for at least 4,500 years. In the 1700s, a guy named Euler suggested they give up and just use the symbol π. Not a group to give up, mathematicians Wrench and Smith reportedly calculated π to 1,120 digits using a desk calculator in 1949. Now, it’s a tradition to devote thousands of hours on super computers to set the record for the number of digits.

People who learn calculus quickly learn to use the symbol, since pi is a central feature of calculus. It’s a very important number. Other transcendental numbers are also important but don’t get the publicity pi does. Plus, there is no 71st day of February on which we can celebrate the number e. So, why not pay homage to π?

Another aspect that escapes the notice of most people is that Albert Einstein was born on Pi Day. (Don’t get too excited. He was born in 1879.) Happy birthday, Albert! I’ll be toasting you at 9:26.

 

As I mentioned last week, I’ve been reading an awful lot of picture books. As part of the quest for specific titles, I’ve been looking up titles on my local library’s website. When they don’t have it, I look it up on a network of public libraries. This is very nostalgic for me because I used to something similar back in the early 1980s. Libraries began digitizing their card catalogs long before anyone devised what is now known as the internet. Part of what I was doing was helping my mother-in-law find references for her genealogical search. Velma was an amazing and determined lady. Anyway, don’t forget this extremely useful tool. I spent a couple of hours yesterday in another county just reading picture books.

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Picture Books Everywhere!

Library booksFor the past year or so, I have concentrated a lot of my writerly energy on picture books. I knew when I immersed myself in this that writing picture books was not easy. You must have exactly the right words in exactly the right order to get and hold the attention of creatures who are fascinated by everything, if only momentarily. (“Squirrel!”)

I also knew that picture books are quite different from any other genre. Parsimony becomes not only a passion, but an obsession. Adverbs are more than discouraged. They’re practically verboten. Everything is possible in a picture book.

So, you struggle and revise and try to get it right. Ideas hit you in the shower. (Maybe we need a note pad in the shower.) Fixes hit you while you’re driving. (No, scribbling on a manuscript in heavy traffic is NOT a good idea.)

You participate in Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) and in Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 (twelve picture book drafts in twelve months) and in Meg Miller’s ReViMo (Revision Month). Should you stop there? Absolutely not.

Read. Read. Read. Educate yourself on what’s out there and the various ways those few hundred words can be put together. Not to mention the ways the illustrations help and enhance the story. (Picture books require a strong partnership.) Read aloud. Read to small children. Just read.

So this month, I’m participating in Carrie Charley Brown’s ReFoReMo (Read for Research Month). And it’s been a delight. The guest blogger’s are full of helpful advice and are a wealth of recommendations of good books to read. (Ever gone to the library and said, ”I’ll pick out a few books to look at”? A list is an excellent idea.)

As my list grows, I’ve been spending a lot of time at the library. (I love the library. In true nerdy fashion, that was one of my favorite places to hang out in high school. And I can tell you where the rare books and Chinese language texts are (or were) at the University of Iowa.) I’ve been taking notes and getting some great ideas on how to change the approach in some of my manuscripts.

Plus, I now know how to train a train and why a wooly mammoth makes a great pet.  Very useful information.

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What’s Happening Now

As JL would say, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”Calendar

So, when the orthopedist said, “When do you want to do this?” I immediately jumped to all my plans and counted two months into the future before I got to a stopping place. Of course, friends and family asked if I could wait that long. Why not? We probably should have done this at least a year ago as it is.

What the heck am I talking about? A hip replacement. See, I already have two artificial knees and the other hip twinges from time to time. By the time I’m officially old, osteoarthritis will have destroyed all the joints in my body. And I’ll be bionic.

First, I had to meet my new grandson. Stevie Ray Poduska Adams is now eight weeks old, but he surprised us all by making a three-week early entry into the world. He and Mama are fine now. Daddy and cat are still a little in shock.

Then, I HAD to go to LA again for the annual SCBWI conference. It was fantastic!

The facts about LA that always amaze me:

  • Just how giving and warm all the participants are. We “veterans” are not always able to discern the real newbies. Sometimes, the bewildered look can be on someone who has been there many times and just forgot what they want to do next. But writers – and even a lot of illustrators – are, by and large, very much introverted and have to force themselves to put it out there. The pre-conference newbie meeting is a well-attended event. One funny confession I heard was from someone who claims to be an extrovert.
  • Just how much a person can learn in three or four short days. My head is still spinning. It’s a good thing I took some notes.

 

The next week, my oldest brother visited with us. Interesting times, adjusting to the habits of other people for seven days. Also interesting to see how getting older affects that situation. My brother has Parkinson’s disease, so he has more problems moving around than I do and takes some pretty heavy-duty meds.

We saw The Giver movie one day. It followed the book fairly well, but I wasn’t entirely thrilled with the changes made. Naturally. Are book lovers ever entirely happy with the movie?

Lastly, my region is getting ready for our two-day conference on September 20-21. I’m mostly in charge of the venue, part of the registration duties, the speakers dinner, and transportation for the speakers. A big, time-consuming, and thought-consuming job.

So, these are the main reasons I didn’t have the surgery right away. After September 21, I can concentrate on recovery. Of course, I may have to watch a baseball game or two too. And I keep reminding myself that these experiences can easily show up in a book someday.

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Family Expansion

SRVWith the birth of my latest grandson last week, I’m naturally wondering what kind of person he will be.  I know his parents have their own set of hopes for him, but I’m allowed to hope also. I’m pretty sure our hopes intersect at several points.

Certainly, he will be musical. Both his parents are wonderful musicians. Poor kid doesn’t have a chance. They even named him after a great guitarist. Just hope he doesn’t drive his parents too crazy with the direction he takes, though.

Another thing his mother has already mentioned to me is that he will be a reader. Now, everyone has to develop his own style, and that’s as true with reading as it is with any other activity. But, for my part, I just want to make sure he’s surrounded by people who read and by quality reading materials. It’s up to him to absorb what he needs to be a good person. In our family, that’s easy. Family gatherings inevitably lead to book discussions or movies and how terrible they are compared to the books. Our nine-year-old grandson struggles a bit with reading, but I have faith that he also will eventually learn to appreciate his own efforts.

I do regret that SR will not be among those who discovered some of the great writers of literature for the first time, but I also regret that I won’t be around to discover some of the newer talent with him. I was four when The Cat in the Hat was published. Unbelievably perfect timing – for me. But, to SR, Dr. Seuss will always be that dead guy. But I also know many, many up-and-coming writers who will see to it that quality literature will be there for my grandsons. And it feels great to be able to see that happening.

Welcome, little guy!

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