Best in Show

Writing Is Mining- featuring Beth Anderson

Hello Everyone!

I hope this blog post finds you all having a great summer in our new normal. Today I am thrilled to have Beth Anderson as our featured guest. As you know, she is an accomplished writer focusing on narrative nonfiction and historical fiction picture books. Her quote “Writing is Mining” holds such truth. She describes writing in these genres as digging for those special memories, emotions, and meaning. Beth has wonderful strategies for showing in these areas.

TS: Beth, thank you so much for being our guest today and congratulations on your October release of “Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses: How James Kelly’s Nose Saved the New York City SubwayWhether drafting or revising, how do you know when it is necessary to show action, scene and sensory elements?

BA: Thank you so much for inviting me to share some thoughts on the essential “show vs. tell.”

I believe in action wherever it makes sense – the more the better. Keeping the characters active keeps the reader turning pages. Actions reveal character so it’s a huge part of the emotional arc. But there also has to be the flow in and out, along with weaving in needed context. Constant action for the sake of action is exhausting! 

Scenes carry the emotional arc of the main character as well as the plot. They move the story forward, stepping-stones in the character’s transformation that build to the story’s end. If a scene doesn’t serve that purpose, then it needs to go or be revised to carry a piece of the emotional arc. Sometimes, even “internal” scenes can be active. Here’s an example from Lizzie Demands a Seat with the additional challenge of required context:

She eyed empty seats. Despite being born a “free black” in a “free state,” she’d never been treated as equal. She’d been rejected, restricted, and refused by schools, restaurants, and theaters. Suddenly late-for-church wasn’t as important as late-for-equality. Lizzie stood firm.

Passengers murmured.

Horses snorted.

Pedestrians gathered.

Finally, the driver held up the reins. “We need to go.”

Scenes play out best with action, and if you can use action to transition between scenes, do that, too. “Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses, releasing Oct. 13, was a huge challenge regarding transitions between scenes. There was so little information on James Kelly’s days in the NYC subway, all I had were anecdotes with the potential to be priceless scenes. I had to find a way to organize them with a special “heart” thread and effectively transition between scenes to avoid an “episodic” feel. Here’s an example of an active transition that lets us pause with the character and progress to the next scene:

“Exhausted, he paused and peered through the crowd gathered at the movie poster. Even superheroes needed help.”

And here’s an example from An Inconvenient Alphabet where I used imagery to actively transition. Instead of saying that Noah Webster wanted to reform American English spelling, it became:

“Armed with the twenty-six letters of the English alphabet everyone knew and loved, Noah launched a spelling revolution—ready to turn “rong” spelling into “rite.””

Sensory elements enrich the reading experience by inviting readers into the moment, immersing them in the setting, and connecting readers to characters on multiple levels. As you will see in “Smelly” Kelly’s story, I use sensory elements liberally!

TS: Are there specific strategies, tools or resources you use to incorporate more    showing/descriptive language?

 

I use the online thesaurus a lot. If you can find just the right word, it can make an illustration note or other words unnecessary. For instance, recently I replaced “took” with “claimed.” It made a huge difference—adding attitude.

I can’t resist onomatopoeia. But besides sounds, I also ask myself – What would that look like? In “Smelly” Kelly, there are lots of stinks. Instead of trying to describe the stink in the New Yorker Hotel, it was more fun to show the reaction to the smell.

“Maids pinched their noses. Guests fled. Engineers analyzed and pondered, but they couldn’t figure out where the leak was coming from.”

I also try to “show” emotions, especially what cannot be shown easily by an illustrator. When Kelly realizes he’s not doing enough, I tried to show that feeling of inadequacy:

A broken steam line blasted water pipes.

Kelly shook his head. Someone could’ve been burned. Sniffing wasn’t enough. He needed to listen, to hear sounds no one else heard.

There’s some physical movement there, but mostly I take you inside Kelly’s head. And that’s another powerful way to achieve more showing. Many writers call it psychic distance. Once I learned about it, my writing changed and became more immediate. The example above doesn’t say “he thought” or “he scolded himself” or “he realized.” Cutting the “head verbs” eliminates that filter between the reader and the character. It’s like the difference between indirect speech (He told me to stop.) and direct speech (STOP!). If you go straight to the words or realization or thought, the reader feels it as the character, and it eliminates the “telling.”

TS: Would you like to share an example of a before and after where you needed to show  more and found the right words to paint the image for the reader?

BA: Sure! I looked back at an early version of “Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses. Here’s one line that was very “telling”:

“He settled into an apartment and took a job with the subway.”

Because that involved an action (took a job in the subway) that set off the whole story, I needed to show motivation and the emotion behind that decision. It evolved into a scene with “showing” and delightful illustrations:

James set out to find a job, but, as always, his incredible nose proved troublesome.

Fish market—no!

Sanitation—no!

Meat packing—NO!

He felt a rumble below the sidewalk and peered through the grate. The damp air bristled with mystery.

TS: Writing is about balance. How do you know you’ve got it just right? What tips or suggestions do you have for writers in terms of striving for that balance of showing versus telling?

BA: Generally, I think showing appears in scenes and telling in transitions. Emotion and important action pieces require showing. That’s what keeps your story alive, where you want the reader to connect. Telling can speed up the narrative to get to the good stuff, but too much can bog it down. Showing and telling are intertwined with pacing, characterization, and point of view. It’s truly a complicated dance. When I researched to prepare a presentation on point of view and really examined how it works in a picture book, I found that the “camera” goes in and out—and that in and out is achieved with showing and telling, and also involves “proximity.” Just another reason to read and analyze LOTS of books!

TS: Wow, Beth! You have given so much to think about. Your knowledge and command over the elements are so strong and comes through your writing vividly. Thank you!

 

Beth Anderson, author of Lizzie Demands a Seat, An Inconvenient Alphabet, and “Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses, is drawn to stories that open minds, touch hearts, and inspire questions. A former educator who has always marveled at the power of books, she hopes that voices from the past will help children discover their own. Beth has more historical gems on the way!

Learn more about Beth and her amazing books at:

Website: bethandersonwriter.com 

Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram: @Bandersonwriter

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/beth.anderson.33671748

signed copies of books available from Old Firehouse Books

Uncategorized

Welcome to Debut Author Jolene Gutiérrez

Hello Everyone,

We hope this blog post finds you all safe and healthy during this very uncertain time. Recently, I had the opportunity and privilege to speak with Jolene Gutiérrez about her two debut books. I first met Jolene in the Children’s Book Academy where we both took Mira Reisberg’s amazing picture book course. For both for us, this class has changed our lives. Jolene’s first release is the adorable picture book entitled Mac and Cheese and the Personal Space Invader, releasing on August 11, 2020, with Clear Fork Publishing. Her second is Bionic Beasts, a middle-grade nonfiction book releasing October 6, 2020, with Lerner/Millbrook Press. What an exciting time for this very hardworking mother and full-time librarian who, by the way, is also remotely teaching at this time.

TS: Welcome Jolene! Thank you for taking the time to share some of your writing strategies. Whether drafting or revising, how do you know when it is necessary to show action, scene and sensory elements?

JG: What a great question! When I’m revising my story, if I can’t visualize a scene or if the story is “sagging” in some way, I look at these elements. Action, scene, and sensory elements might show up in my writing when I’m drafting, but I try to focus on them during my various rounds of revision. With middle-grade fiction where I have the luxury of using more words, I work to make sure scenes are very sensory in order to connect readers to the story—so that students who might struggle to visualize things have some sensory connection that will draw them in. With picture books, though, I think some of the scene and sensory elements can be left to the illustrator.

And action is so important! I’m the school librarian at a school for diverse learners and have a large ADHD population. When I’m writing, I think of the action-packed, information-filled, or funny books that hook my students as readers and try to emulate that style. When I’m revising, I tend to set my manuscript aside a bit and work on other projects. When I come back to my manuscript with fresh eyes, I read chapters aloud to myself and try to ensure that there is a purpose to every character, every setting, and every scene—that they are all working together to move the story forward.

TS: Are there specific strategies, tools, or resources you use to incorporate more descriptive language?

JG: I try to put myself in my character’s shoes even if the story isn’t first-person, I try to involve the senses as much as possible, and I like to use dialogue to put the reader (and myself) in the scene. I also use passive verbs a lot in early drafts and try to catch that in revision and switch to active verbs.

TS: Could you share an example of a before and after where you needed to show more and found the right words to paint the image for the reader?

JG: Sure! Our words are so limited and the story is so dependent on illustrations in picture books, so finding an example was a little challenging, but here’s a scene we can compare:

Early draft of Mac and Cheese and the Personal Space Invader:

During snack time, I sit next to Nina. When I lean close to see what she’s eating, she moves away.

Published version of Mac and Cheese and the Personal Space Invader:

At snack time, I sit next to Nina, squeezing in close, just like Mac and Cheese do. Nina frowns and leans away.

We’re in first person for both of the scenes, but I think the published version is more powerful because language like “squeezing in close” puts the reader in the scene. We’re also reminded that Oliver, our main character, gets close to Nina because squeezing in next to a friend is something classroom guinea pigs Mac and Cheese would do. Also, in the old version, Nina “moves away,” but in the published version, she “frowns and leans away,” which is more descriptive and hints at her emotions.

TS: Writing is about balance. How do you know you’ve got it just right? What tips or suggestions do you have for writers in terms of striving for that balance of showing versus telling?

JG: I’d say show us as much as possible—put us in that scene so we feel like we’re experiencing the story! But there are some things you just have to tell us or your book will be unnecessarily long. We don’t need to experience every hour of every day with characters, for example, or showing would become tedious. Telling is a great way to quickly impart information to the reader, and sometimes that immediacy is needed to keep the momentum going in a story.

TS: Thank you so much Jolene for sharing your tips and strategies. I love how writers have such a variety of different techniques to convey their stories.

Below is Jolene’s contact information, bio, and links to preorder her terrific new books! Congratulations Jolene!

Bio: Jolene grew up on a farm in northeastern Colorado and now lives in a suburb of Denver, where she’s been a school librarian for 25 years. She spends her days sharing children’s books and her nights writing them. She’s a wife of 21 years and a mama to two teenage humans and three preteen dogs. Jolene is an active member of SCBWI and The Author’s Guild, a We Need Diverse Books mentorship finalist and a Writing with the Stars mentee. She is the author of Mac and Cheese and the Personal Space Invader (Clear Fork, 2020) and Bionic Beasts: Saving Lives with Artificial Flippers, Legs, and Beaks (Lerner, 2020). Learn more at www.jolenegutierrez.com.

Facebook: facebook.com/writerjolene

Twitter: twitter.com/writerjolene

Instagram: instagram.com/writerjolene

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/writerjolene

Pinterest: pinterest.com/writerjolene

 

Preorder Links:

Mac and Cheese and the Personal Space Invader:

https://www.clearforkpublishing.com/store/p149/personalspaceinvader.html# 

Bionic Beasts:

https://www.amazon.com/Bionic-Beasts-Saving-Artificial-Flippers/dp/1541589408/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=bionic+beasts+jolene&qid=1587390720&sr=8-2

Finding Creativity

Finding Inspiration in Nature

Hi, Wonderers! Thanks for being here as we focus on finding creativity, this time from illustrator Lisa Johnston Hancock. Lisa and I met when our kiddos became friends in preschool–they’re both big into bugs and being creative. Her picture book, YELLOW-SPECKLED BLACKBIRD, written by Dylan Pritchett, released February 18th with MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing.

Candice: Welcome to the Wonder of Words (and today Wonder Of Pictures!), Lisa. You know I adore your nature-infused paintings. Where did you get the inspiration for how you wanted to visually tell the story of the Yellow-Speckled Blackbird? LJH 3.14 pic1

Lisa: I get inspiration from many different sources. I like to visit parks, zoos, beaches or anywhere to see actual birds in action. My children are also great sources of inspiration for poses. They love watching me work and get really excited when I ask them to model for me. I keep a folder of reference photos for birds, children and environment that I use as inspiration. I knew that the bird was going to be a Starling and the story would take place in an urban environment to illustrate how we see nature all around us.

We don’t have to be out in “nature” to appreciate the natural world.

I worked on these illustrations almost 2 years ago and at that time, I was working strictly in watercolor and beginning to explore digital media. The majority of this book was created traditionally with a little bit of digital for editing.

Candice: What is your favorite part of the creative process?

Lisa: My favorite part of the creative process is working through color schemes. I find color to be the most challenging part of illustrating a picture book and I like the challenge. The color palette can visually express the mood or tone of a story so it’s important to get it right. I will try out several different color palettes before I settle on one.

Candice: Color palettes do make such a difference! I don’t think I really understood that until I started studying picture books. Do you have other creative outlets or hobbies? How do they cross into your artwork?

Lisa: I love birds, insects, animals, trees and plant life. Basically, exploring nature whenever I have the chance. We recently moved to California and hummingbirds are EVERYWHERE! We have several species that hang around all year because the climate is so mild. Any extra time that I have is spent with my two children. I would say that yes, they definitely cross over into my artwork. LJH 3.14 pic2

Candice: I enjoy seeing all your California creatures come alive on your social media. Do you have any tips you’d like to share about finding creativity?

Lisa: I would say that if you are struggling, go for a walk or pencil in a coffee date with a fellow creative. What I like most about this area is that the people are so friendly. I think it’s because the weather is so nice. The traffic is not great, as you may have heard. Be that as it may, I have found that other illustrators are ready and willing to meet up for a coffee and drawing session or to talk of creative things. It is incredibly inspirational to have an artist community. It doesn’t even have to be local. With social media, you can reach out to other creatives just to say hi, or ask what brush they used. As creatives we tend to be introverts and I’m somewhere in the middle. I try to put myself out there and I recommend that you do the same.

Candice: I agree, social media has definitely helped me as an extroverted introvert. It’s tough to put yourself out there but the payback is so worth it. The critique group behind this shared blog is my case in point! Creativity usually seems to lead to more creativity. Do you have another book project you’re working on that you could give us a hint about?

Lisa: I recently finished illustrations for “Sophie’s New Song” that will be self-published by author and psychologist, Michelle Whitfield, in April. I’m also working on some promotional material for her.

My goal for 2020 is to complete a dummy for a picture book that I wrote, as well as a few finished illustrations that I can share with publishers. In October, I attended a workshop at the Highlights Foundation and received some really helpful, constructive feedback. I will be working on that this summer and possibly attending the SCBWI conference in L.A. I mean, I’m so close now.

Candice: That’s right! No excuse not to go. I cannot wait for your picture book to be submission ready. Having seen a mock-up dummy I know how amazing it is. Thanks so much for being here today!

Y’all be sure to check out Lisa’s artwork on her website and social media links. You can request YELLOW-SPECKLED BLACKBIRD at your local indie bookstore or online at Bookshop.org which also helps support independent booksellers.

LJH march14Lisa Johnston Hancock is an award-winning studio artist, picture book illustrator, and art educator. She enjoys creating work that focuses on environmental education, encouraging a lifelong positive attitude toward the natural world. Lisa recently moved with her husband and two children from sunny Southern Alabama to sunny Southern California.

www.lisajohnstonhancock.com
www.instagram.com/lisajohnstonhancock
www.twitter.com/LisaJHancockArt
www.facebook.com/LisaJohnstonHancockArt

For this month’s Call to Creativity, go for a walk. Observe the nature around you. Comment with an observation that inspires you and a random comment will win a picture book critique!

Pitch It to Me

~THE PITCH IT TO ME CHALLENGE~

Yes, you read that correctly. The Pitch It To Me Challenge is back and kicking off this WONDERful blog’s new year! But before we view the new round of pitches, let’s take a moment to congratulate Shannon Stocker on her big win in the last round with her pitch for Rinda Beach’s story, SAFETY POWER SUPER STARS. Can “U” say a million thanks to Rinda and Shannon for stepping up to the plate?

This time we have two lovely challengers that I could spend all day talking about (but I won’t since I should really get to the point). The first is author/illustrator Patricia Saunders, whose debut picture book, MOTHER TERESA: THE LITTLE PENCIL IN GOD’S HAND, came out last year with Spork/Clear Fork Publishing. She sends us her pitch for another picture book manuscript, AMY HEARS THE BIRDSONG AIRS: AMERICAN COMPOSER AMY CHENEY BEACH, a story that captured my attention with its soft, poetic flow.

Patricia and I are in for a tough challenge, though, because guess who I asked to be our super guest-star pitcher? None other than the extraordinary Dr. Mira Reisberg, AKA The Picture Book Whisperer, an editor and art director at Spork Children’s Books, and the director/instructor/”fairy godmother” at The Children’s Book Academy. Oh, and she just happens to be an author and illustrator, too! Yes, I really did it this time. I brought in the ultimate challenger.

If you want to know more about Patricia and Mira (and trust me, you do), make sure to check out the photos, information, social media links, and selected book titles below. You might even have time to jump in on Mira’s upcoming illustration course at CBA. Tina and I both assist in the course, and I can’t say enough about what it did for my own writing career.

Now for the challenge! Take a look at the three pitches in the voting box. They are in no particular order so you’ll never know whose is whose (the author’s, mine, or our special guest-star pitcher). Vote for your favorite, and if you are so inclined, leave a comment, too. We love hearing from our readers!

You have until February 1, 2020, to cast your vote. Please vote only once, but feel free to tell your friends about us and get them in on the action.

 

ABOUT PATRICIA SAUNDERS:

Patricia Ann Saunders was born into an Air Force family living and travelling all over the United States, South America and Japan. Today she resides in Texas. Retired from teaching art, she now includes author/illustrator as part of her creativity. What could be more fun than to spend time doing what she loves? Only to spend time with her wonderful family.

Patricia’s Book, MOTHER TERESA: THE LITTLE PENCIL IN GOD’S HAND is available through Amazon, or on the Clear Fork Publishing website.

Connect with Patricia at www.patriciasaunders.com, or on Twitter @writersaunders.

 

ABOUT DR. MIRA REISBERG:

Mira Reisberg has a PhD in Education and Cultural Studies with a focus on children’s literature. She is an acquiring Editor and Art Director at Clearfork/Spork and is also the Director of the Children’s Book Academy. Her students have published over 370 books and won every major North American award. Mira’s 8 published children’s books have won awards and sold over 600,000 copies. She lives in a 100 year-old house in Portland, Oregon with her husband and two cats.

Mira has been instrumental in helping many authors and illustrators get published and teaches many of the courses at the Children’s Book Academy, including the upcoming Craft and Business of Illustrating Children’s Books with HMH Acquiring Art Director & Senior Designer, Andrea Miller. She is proud to have edited and art directed the following books:

 

 

 

 

 

Connect with Mira at www.mirareisberg.com, on Twitter @MiraReisberg, or through the Children’s Book Academy at www.childrensbookacademy.com

CONCLUDING REMARKS:

It’s so much fun to be in another Pitch It To Me Challenge! Thank you, dear readers, for joining in and casting a vote. And thanks to Patricia Saunders and Dr. Mira Reisberg for sharing your time and words with us to make this blog all the more WONDERful. Until next time . . .

Best in Show

Showing With A Main Character Interview

Hello Everyone! For this blog post, I interviewed a very special person. This time the individual was not another author, but the actual character of my debut picture book, WALKOUT. Many times we discuss how showing in writing can be done through our word choices, to carefully show how a scene unfolds, reveal the emotions a character experiences. Another way to accomplish this is to just have a conversation with the character of the book itself, and that is just what I did. I would like to introduce you to a very determined young girl who wishes to make a difference. Please join me in my conversation with Maddie.

 

Character Interview:

Author Tina Shepardson’s Interview with Main Character, Maddie, From WALKOUT, a picture book

Tina: Hi Maddie. Thank you for stopping by today. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Maddie: Oh sure. I go to Walker Elementary School and I am the oldest in my family. The best part about school is I am in the same class as my best friend Stella. I see her every day, all day long.

Tina: What do you like to do when you are not at school?

Maddie: That’s simple. I love to draw with my crayons and markers and play with my friends.

Tina: I heard you were part of a school walkout recently? Can you tell us a little about it?

Maddie: Yea, I was. Our school was having one but it was only for the big kids and I really wanted to walk out with them.

Tina: How did you become a part of it then?

Maddie: Well, it was School Safety Week and I just thought everyone should be included, not just the big kids.

Tina: That makes perfect sense. Did you walk out with the big kids by yourself?

Maddie: Oh no… I asked my friends for some help and everyone got together during lunch to make signs about safe schools. Even our teacher helped us. Only Stella didn’t.

Tina: I am sure she was just busy.

Maddie: Actually, she was scared. Our principal told us it was for the big kids only. He even said so during announcements. She just didn’t want to get into trouble.

Tina: I understand how she felt. Didn’t you?

Maddie: Yes, I did. But I also didn’t want her to feel left out. I really wanted all my friends to help the big kids stand up for safe schools so I kept asking her to see if she would change her mind. 

Tina: And did she?

Maddie: That was a really busy week at school, plus I had homework every night too. If you want to find out if Stella changed her mind and even how you can help schools stay safe, you have to read WALKOUT. Looks like late Spring 2020 you can read it!

Tina: That is a good idea Maddie, and thank you for telling us about your experience.

Maddie: Bye, see you later!

Finding Creativity, Uncategorized

It’s A Blog & Book Birthday!

Happy birthday to the Wonder of Words blog! Today marks our one year anniversary and we couldn’t have done it without our readers and our awesome guests. So, thank you all! Happy birthday Wonder of Words!

Speaking of awesome guests, today’s blog post is about a story I first read on a twitter pitch event. As soon as I read Amanda Jackson’s query and first lines, I knew this would be a real-live book one day.
wowAJ1
Welcome to the Wonder of Words, Amanda! I’m so glad we connected during Study Hall and in the debut group, New in Nineteen. I’m excited about your beautiful and important book coming out. When and where did you get the inspiration for your square-who-wants-to-roll-like-a-circle story?

It was late 2016, during the one year my husband and I lived in Northern California. We moved there for his job, and the circumstances were such that I didn’t work. That gave me the time and brain-space to discover my love of writing for kids. So, that’s actually when I started writing picture book stories altogether. That’s one reason I will always be thankful for that crazy year.

I have a deep hope for a more inclusive and understanding society. That hope was what inspired this story. Sam is for anyone who feels they don’t fit, in whatever way.

wowaj4

Such a beautiful hope and your book captures that sentiment perfectly. I love it. And it’s amazing what we can accomplish when we have the brain-space! What is your favorite part of the creative process?

I have two favorites:
– Inspiration. Who doesn’t love being inspired?? There’s nothing like discovering a new idea for a new story. It feels like falling in love.
– Revision. After the initial excitement of inspiration, drafting the story can feel like slogging through mud. But once I get it on the page, and it has every element it needs, I love all the little challenges that come with smoothing it out and making it shine.

Falling in inspiration is the best. Do you have other creative outlets or hobbies? Do they ever cross into your writing?

I do! I enjoy cooking, crocheting, and crafting. I haven’t seen them cross into my writing yet, but they do play an important role. Sometimes my writing muscles need a break, and they offer other creative options.

Love the alliteration, Amanda 😉 Do you have any tips about finding creativity?

My best tip would be to try to pay attention. Because I really think creative inspiration is all around us, and it’s more a matter of recognizing it. I do my best to be aware of the moments I feel that creative spark—moments that makes me laugh, curious, explore, cry, ask questions, get angry. Those are usually the moments that hold that starts to stories.

The act of paying attention is so important. Creativity usually seems to inspire more creativity. Do you have another book project you’re working on that you could give us a hint about?

Sure! When I began writing, I naturally gravitated toward more serious stories. Lately I’ve been playing with punchier, sillier stories that make me laugh as I write them. Such a fun change of pace!

I love silly stories, can’t wait to read ‘em! Thanks so much for being here, Amanda. I have My Shape is Sam preordered and am looking forward to Sam rolling in! wowaj2

Blurb: “In this debut picture book, Sam is a square who lives in a world where everyone has a job to do, depending on their shape. But Sam doesn’t want to stack like the other squares…

He wants to roll like a circle!”

Published by Page Street Kids, wonderful illustrations by Lydia Nichols

Here’s the link to her author website where you can preorder My Shape is Sam, out September 17th: www.AmandaJacksonBooks.com

What is a hope you harbor that could inspire others? Comment by Sept 13th with yours, or mention your latest picture book work-in-progress, and as a special birthday gift to our readers, one lucky random comment will be chosen to get a critique not just from me, but from the whole Wonder of Words team!

Best in Show

Welcome Laura Roettiger! Celebrating Aliana Reaches For The Moon

 

July 20th marks the 50th anniversary of the moon landing! Here to celebrate and share her beautiful STEM picture book, Aliana Reaches For The Moon, is debut author Laura Roettiger! Her strategies for showing this important and lyrically written story are excellent.

TS: Thank you Laura for joining our blog today!

LR: Thank you for asking me to participate in your blog! I appreciate the opportunity to share about my writing process.

TS: Whether drafting or revising, how do you know when it is necessary to show action, scene and sensory elements?

LR: The common wisdom of show don’t tell doesn’t mean that there should be only showing in your writing. The way I think about it is I’m trying to paint a picture (setting) and demonstrate an emotion or desire (plot and character) with my words. I draft with these things in mind but revision is where the magic of lyrical language, page turns, and showing comes together. I think about how each page needs to move the story forward both with words and illustrations. Imagine a book where every page looks the same. That would be really boring.

TS: Are there specific strategies, tools or resources you use to incorporate more          showing/descriptive language?

LR: I use thesaurus.com to see if there are stronger words when I revise at the word level. I read my work aloud and even more importantly, I have someone else read it for me so I can hear how it sounds. Picture books and poetry are meant to be read aloud. How it sounds (think alliteration, think musical) is very important. I try to get rid of as many adjectives as I can, because most of them can be shown in the illustrations. I read at least ten new picture books each week. I look for mentor texts, books that have something I can learn from as I write mine.

TS: Would you like to share an example of a before and after where you needed to show more and found the right words to paint the image for the reader?

Once upon a time there was a girl named Aliana. She lived in a cabin in the woods near the top of a mountain peak.”

Above was the original first line of what became ALIANA REACHES FOR THE MOON. It started like a fairy tale which wasn’t necessary. It tells you she’s a girl but the illustration and the name can show you that. It doesn’t give you the important information of a specific setting (Rocky Mountains) or talk about the night sky and how the light of the full moon is the inciting incident. After many revisions, the opening words (only one word less and more lyrical with more information that paints a picture of the setting:

Aliana lives in the Rocky Mountains where the night sky holds more stars than you can dream of and the moon shimmers like gold.”

 

BIO:
Laura Roettiger is the author of Aliana Reaches for the Moon, a picture book that draws inspiration from the moon and the curiosity of children. She has enjoyed working with children ever since she was no longer considered a child herself. She was a reading specialist and elementary teacher in Chicago, IL before moving to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado where she worked in Environmental Education and is now a mentor for literacy at a STEM school. Her superpower is encouraging curiosity in children and letting them know she believes in them. She has three children of her own whose curiosity and creativity led them into STEM related professions. Laura is an active member of SCBWI, Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 Picture Book Challenge and a judge for Rate Your Story.
Best in Show

April Is National Poetry Month

Happy National Poetry Month Everyone!

There is no better way to honor this month and continue our journey of showing versus telling than through the eyes of wonderful poets. Here to share her personal experiences and expertise is Amy Losak. I am so excited to feature her unique and special publishing journey.

 

 

H IS FOR HAIKU

I’ve learned that with picture books, the best creative approach is to “show” more than “tell,” and to leave enough “white space” for the illustrator to complete the story.

In many ways, it’s the same with haiku poetry.

Haiku is the briefest form of poetry, yet arguably the most expansive. It’s delightfully challenging to write, and it takes study, practice, and revision. A lot has to be “packed” into few words, to allow the reader to enter the poem as creative collaborators, and “complete” it. Each word matters.

Sydell Rosenberg’s haiku for children do just this. I view them as stories in miniature –“word-pictures” – so young readers can fill in the ideas and images presented in the words with their own imaginations. And Sawsan Chalabi, the illustrator for H IS FOR HAIKU, also had plenty of room to “play” with these piquant poetic texts. Take note of her approach, which complements the words with visual wit, energy, and joy!

Take this award-winning haiku for example (it was first published in 1968, I believe!):

So pale – it hardly sat

    on the outstretched branch

      of the winter night.

Over the years, “So pale” has become one of my favorites. It’s tranquil and mysterious – maybe even majestic. This haiku conjures not just a picture of almost other-worldly repose, but a feeling, I hope, of serenity.

What is “it,” exactly? Ah ha – that’s the whole point. Sawsan’s sweet illustration depicts a friendly-faced moon, which is perfect. But “it” could be anything the reader wants to place on that “outstretched” (arm-like?) branch. Could “it” be an owl or another bird – or a squirrel? A cat? Snow? Raindrops? A child? “It” could be any or all these things – and more. There are no limits. There are no wrong answers!

Another old haiku I’ve loved for a long time is:

Adventures over

     the cat sits in the fur ring

        of his tail, and dreams.

This poem captures a moment in time and place. What has happened earlier to tucker out this sleeping kitty? What “adventures” did he have? Was he gallivanting around outdoors? Or was he inside, observing life through a window from a comfy couch cushion (like our amber-eyed, new young cat, Winnie)? Is he dreaming about his busy day’s antics? What will he do when he awakes? Will his adventures continue? What will they be like?

And is he content? He must be, tucked within the safety of his tail. Indeed, note that “fur ring” rhymes with “purring” – this is a deliberate word choice.

There’s a complete story in this poetic “snapshot” … and it’s one in which readers can have fun figuring out what comes before – and also after. They can make this small moment big!

Syd was a charter member of the Haiku Society of America in 1968 in New York City, and also a teacher. I think she determined pretty early in her haiku writing career that some of her poems would appeal to kids. The language she used is simple but striking (a hallmark of haiku). Her poems are designed to build small worlds for kids to revel in, and they build vocabulary, as well.

My journey to publish mom’s old manuscript (some of which I edited) has been a long and nonlinear one, marked by delays, deviations (some delightful, but others painful), and distractions. She died suddenly in 1996. Her writings had been well-anthologized, and she had a number of accomplishments to be proud of. But her dream to publish a kids’ book – despite several submission attempts – went unfulfilled.

But once I got my act in gear, around 2015, the path to publication was relatively quick! I signed with Penny Candy Books in the latter half of 2016, and H IS FOR HAIKU was released on April 10, 2018 (National Poetry Month).

Along the way, I started to better understand Syd’s restless, and at the same time mindful, approach to life and its daily, sometimes unpredictable, small adventures. When my mom was alive, sadly, I took a lot of her mindset for granted. But I and her loved ones always knew how much her literary life meant to her.

I now write and publish my own short poems – mom’s legacy (and other poets, as well), has conferred this gift. This makes me happy, of course, but it’s the process that is most important. I consider myself an eternal beginner. I always seem to be in a rush, and I’m continually distracted. I am still learning to slow down and linger over little slices of life, so I can enjoy and celebrate them. Each “life-slice” is evanescent and unique. Too quickly, it’s gone forever. There can be magic in those moments, if only we take the time and discipline to notice.

This is the lesson I’ve learned from my mom, and I hope it shines through in H IS FOR HAIKU.

pastel pond …

    the iris of her eyes

       staring back at me

If you would like to get in touch with Amy:

FB: https://www.facebook.com/amy.losak

Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/in/amy-losak-836b686

 

By Amy Losak; Publication Credits: Read, Learn and be Happy blog, April 17, 2017; They Gave Us Life: Celebrating Mothers, Fathers & Others in Haiku, anthology edited by Robert Epstein, 2017

Pitch It to Me

~ THE PITCH IT TO ME CHALLENGE ~

Hello again! Welcome to the third PITCH IT TO ME CHALLENGE! For those of you who missed the second challenge, our special guest pitcher, editor Alayne Kay Christian of Blue Whale Press, captured the most votes to take top honors. It was a close competition, and I want to thank everyone who dropped by to participate.

For this round, Marcia Berneger, author of BUSTER THE LITTLE GARBAGE TRUCK, has sent in a pitch for her picture book manuscript, TASHA AND THE NEW YEAR TREE. What a great story, let me tell you! Or rather, let me pitch it to you, along with fabulous author, Erin LeClerc, whose debut picture book, I’VE GOT A COW CALLED MAUREEN, came out earlier this month. These two ladies are super-talented so prepare to be wowed by their pitching prowess. You can learn more about each of them below.

Here’s a recap of how it works ~ Take a look at the three pitches in the voting box. They are in no particular order so you’ll never know whose is whose (the author’s, mine, or our special guest pitcher). Vote for your favorite, and if you are so inclined, leave a comment, too. We love hearing from readers/voters!

You have until April 1, 2019, to cast your vote. No joke! Please vote only once, but feel free to tell your friends about us and get them in on the action.

ABOUT MARCIA:

Marcia is a retired teacher who lives with her husband and three crazy dogs. She enjoys helping in a classroom and reading with children at libraries, bookstores, and fundraisers. She wrote her picture book, Buster the Little Garbage Truck, to help children overcome their fears. She also has a new chapter book coming in September called A Dreidel in Time: A New Spin on an Old Tale

You can connect with Marcia through the following:

Website: www.marciaberneger.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/marcia.berneger

ABOUT ERIN:

Erin grew up with seven siblings, three ghosts, two eccentric parents, and a multitude of farm animals in a crumbling abandoned hospital in the suburbs. This vastly informed her imagination! She spends her “9 to 5” as a psychologist, and her “5 to 9” writing adventurous tales. Her debut picture book was released by Clear Fork Publishing in March 2019!

You can connect with Erin at:

Website: www.erinleclerc.com.au.

Twitter: www.twitter.com/erinleclerc

Insta: www.instagram.com/erinleclercauthor

Facebook: www.facebook.com/erinleclercauthor

Find I’VE GOT A COW CALLED MAUREEN for purchase at:

USA: Clear Fork Publishing or Amazon

AU:  Amazon

UK:  Amazon

Concluding Remarks:

I think it was Candice who teased me after the first Pitch it To Me Challenge for having a section called “Concluding Remarks,” noting that I just can’t shake the attorney off even if I stopped practicing over two years ago. She would be right (she usually is!), but I kind of like it so it stays. It’s also a great space to thank our lovely authors for joining me in the challenge. Hooray for Marcia Berneger and Erin Le Clerc for lending their WONDERFUL words for you to enjoy and vote on. And thank you all for stopping by. Until next time . . .

Finding Creativity, Uncategorized

Picture Book Debut & How ‘What Ifs’ Inspire Creativity

Hi y’all! We have a special guest on the Wonder of Words blog today—one I’m excited to introduce (though needs no introduction), debut author AND fellow critique group partner, Sandra Sutter. Welcome, Sandra!

Thank you, Candice, for asking me to share a little about my debut picture book and my overall creative process. I love working with you and our other critique partners on this blog, but I have to admit it is a lot of fun to drop by as a featured guest, too.

Where did you find the inspiration for your story?

Like many authors I know, my child gave me that initial spark of inspiration for THE REAL FARMER IN THE DELL. He is one of those kids who will ask a million questions about anything you can possibly imagine. That can be inspiring and, well… exhausting, all at the same time. With this story, I was walking by as he looked up from his iPad to ask, “Did you know the farmer took a wife?” When I explained that yes, that was how the song went, he replied, “Well, I did not know that!” Then I thought… it doesn’t have to go that way, does it? What if the farmer didn’t take a wife? What if the farmer didn’t live in a dell? I ran off to write down answers to these and other questions, and out of this, my story was born. Cover The Real Farmer in the Dell

I have a couple of those Million-Question-Kids, too! Love that your son’s question led to the What-If game in a sense. What is your favorite part of the creative process?

I am an ideas person; my head is filled with them. I like to look at things from different angles, brainstorm, then get it out on “paper” and see a story come to life. This is also one reason I like to do critiques. To see the way someone else tackles a subject or comes up with a completely unique storyline. It is fascinating to think of all the stories already out there and yet to be written.

Do you have other creative outlets or hobbies? How do they cross into your writing?

The short answer is yes, I do. I just wish I had more time to do them. I am not an illustrator, but I love to draw and paint for inspiration. It might be a picture of an animal or the main character in one of my stories, or just colorful lines on a paper. I also like photography and used to do more of it when my kids were babies. It was just for fun, but it was a creative outlet for me when I was working as an attorney before going full into writing as a career. My “hobbies” would be mountain biking, hiking, cooking, yoga, and traveling.

I love yoga too. A few minutes in usually leads to me running for paper and pen. Do you have any tips you’d like to share about finding creativity?

I had to be “open” to creativity before it really took hold in my life. Before I started writing, I was a counselor for four years and then an attorney for ten. With the exception of being able to think outside-the-box and help people re-write their own narratives, I didn’t see myself as creative. I wasn’t very “artsy”, or so I thought. But then these stories started to pop into my mind and I couldn’t shake them. I just HAD to get them on paper even if it scared me to have anyone read them. When I allowed myself to do this, it was like someone opened the flood-gates in my mind and a river of ideas poured into my life. So here I am.

As far as a practical tip, I find it helpful to use time-blocking strategies. Schedule an appointment with yourself to be creative in whatever way you like as if it were a doctor’s appointment or a parent-teacher conference. You can accomplish absolutely nothing during that time, but at least do something you love. For example, I aim for at least one day each month that I draw or paint something. No writing!

Wonderful how you phrased that, being open to creativity, because that’s exactly how one needs to be. Creativity usually seems to inspire more creativity. Do you have another book project you’re working on that you could give us a hint about?

I am one of those writers who tends to juggle a dozen or so projects at a time. I like the variety, and sometimes one project bleeds into another which can also lend itself to unexpected, but beautiful outcomes. One of my newer projects is a picture book about possibilities and probabilities. Again, my son may have something to do with that! I have also started a second middle-grade novel about a boy who has to navigate changing peer relationships and an absentee mother who reappears after his single-parent dad wins the lotto. Don’t ask me where that came from, because I have no clue. The idea just appeared one day and now I have to write the story.

Of course, there have been other wonderful creatives that helped bring THE REAL FARMER IN THE DELL to life. My publisher, Callie Metler-Smith, at Clear Fork Publishing and Dr. Mira Resiberg, my editor and art director, were instrumental in bringing it all together. They found the incredibly talented illustration team, Chantelle and Burgen Thorne, to put the right pictures with my words. I couldn’t have done it without this exceptional group of people!

Thank you so much for having me on the blog, Candice. It has been a pleasure!

Enjoyed our interview, Sandra, and always your insightful critiques. Congrats again on your debut!

Connect with Sandra at:

www.sdsutter.com
https://twitter.com/sandradsutter
https://www.facebook.com/sandrasutterauthor/

THE REAL FARMER AND THE DELL officially releases March 19th but if you’re like me and can’t wait ‘til then, you can ask your favorite indie bookstore to pre-order it, or purchase it from Amazon or Barnes & Noble:

https://www.amazon.com/Real-Farmer-Dell-Sandra-Sutter/dp/1946101885/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1550347017&sr=8-1&keywords=The+Real+Farmer+in+the+Dell

And: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-real-farmer-in-the-dell-sandra-sutter/1130070330?ean=9781946101884

For y’all’s creativity challenge inspired by this interview, play the What-If game to encourage brainstorming. If you have or are around children, listen for prompts they may inadvertently send your way. Let me know in the comments and I’ll randomly choose a winner for a picture book critique by me!