Apr 30, 2013

First Draft Magic

This weekend, I had a rare Saturday to myself; my boys and my husband were at a Cub Scout camp out, and I was able to write all day long. It was wonderful! I am working on a new book, and the uninterrupted day allowed me to focus on my opening chapters and work through some issues I have had in the planning stages.

With all of this accomplished, I’m now enjoying my very favorite part of the writing process—what I call “First Draft Magic.” To me, the experience of creating a solid story from gossamer threads of ideas is an astonishing thing. At this stage, whenever I have a quiet stretch of time, I can sit down to write and immediately get sucked into the world I am creating and into my characters’ heads. Time often plays tricks on me at this point—minutes can turn into hours in the blink of an eye. And there are moments when I’m truly surprised at what flows out of my fingertips and onto the computer screen. I am not saying that this is all stellar, pristine writing—trust me, it’s not!—but what is so “magical” is how the story takes on a life of its own. And that is so much FUN!

I’ve talked to many writers who understand this, and I’ve talked to others who don’t. For some, the editing stage is where the “magic” happens. For others, the entire writing process is difficult and sometimes painful, but the end result makes up for this a thousand fold. I have had rough writing days in the past, and I’m sure there will be more in my future. But for now, I am in my “happy place,” and enjoying every minute of it!   

Happy writing, everyone!

Apr 26, 2013

POETRY FRIDAY: Making Memories

As I have talked poetry with friends (both writers and readers) over the last few months, I have heard many stories of favorite poems from childhood—poems that remain favorites well into adulthood because of the special memories they recall and their ability to plunge the reader back in time to a specific moment or place. I have always *known* that poetry serves as an emotional link for many people and explored this a bit here, but hearing more of these stories has reaffirmed this on many levels.   

My friend April shared one such story with me. When April was in the 5th grade, her teacher asked everyone in her class to memorize the poem Believe in Yourself by Edgar A. Guest. When the students had committed the poem to memory and could recite it perfectly for the teacher, they earned a special laminated copy of the poem. The first student to memorize the poem had “#1” written on her copy, the second had “#2,” etc.
April worked SO HARD to learn that poem, and really wanted to be one of the first students to memorize it. But even though she ended up with “#19” on her copy, she can still recite the entire poem from memory and values it both for its special message and for the childhood memories it brings back. The poem has such a wonderful message that I will share it here:   

BELIEVE IN YOURSELF                                                                                           by Edgar A. Guest (1881-1959)
Believe in yourself! Believe you were made
to do any task without calling for aid.

Believe, without growing too scornfully proud,
that you, as the greatest and least are endowed.
A mind to do thinking, two hands and two eyes
are all the equipment God gives to the wise.

Believe in yourself! You are divinely designed
and perfectly made for the work of mankind.

The truth you must cling to through danger and pain;
the heights others have reached you can also attain.
Believe to the very last hour, for it's true.
That what ever you will, you've been gifted to do.

Believe in yourself and step out unafraid.
By misgivings and doubt be not easily swayed.

You've the right to succeed; the precision of skill
which betokens the great you can earn if you will!
The wisdom of the ages is yours if you'll read.
But you've got to believe in yourself to succeed.

One of my childhood favorites is “The Cupboard” by Walter De La Mare (to read it, go to my Poetry Page). Whenever I read this poem, I am very small again, mesmerized by the words and fascinated by the picture of the cupboard and “grandmamma” on the page. The old book it’s in sits on my shelf today, always ready to lead me on a fun trip down memory lane!

One last suggestion to celebrate National Poetry Month:
Take some time today to remember an old childhood favorite, and see what memories it brings back. The power of a well-loved poem knows no bounds!

Apr 23, 2013


Today’s Young Reader Review comes from Sarah, who lives in Plano, Texas. Sarah is my first YA reviewer, and I am so excited to post her interview!

Hi, Sarah. Thank you so much for joining us today! Tell us a little about yourself.

Hi, I’m Sarah. I’m 16 years old and am in 10th grade. I’m in band at my school and love music as well as reading.

What types of books do you enjoy reading?

I like all types of books, especially fiction.

What is your very favorite genre?

My favorite genre has to be fantasy because we get to create a whole new world in our heads as we read and we also get to see inside the author’s head and get an idea of their imagination.

I know it is hard to pick a favorite book of all time, but tell us about your current favorite.

Currently, my favorite book is The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. It is written as letters from the main character, Charlie, as he goes through his first year of high school. He meets and becomes friends with some seniors and he learns a lot about himself and the world throughout the year. Charlie is a bit different from all the other students, and the seniors take him in and deem him a “wallflower,” someone who observes the world around them but doesn’t comment or judge. This book is interesting to me because not only does it deal with some topics that could be “taboo,” but the letters are written to you, the reader. It starts out with Charlie telling you that he was told that you could be trusted with his story and it pulls you in. You care for Charlie almost immediately because he is so scared of high school on his first day, and throughout the book you learn about his family, him and his friends, and how he sees the world.

I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower a few years ago and really enjoyed it, too! Are there any topics that you think are overdone in YA books today?

I personally think the topic of vampires and zombies and such are overdone. I know that those are technically fantasy but I stay away from these books because they really are all the same. That’s why I like The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It is different and it makes you think about the people around you and see the world a little differently. I don’t think that there is anything terribly wrong with vampire/zombie/werewolf books, but I see them as all the same and to me they are very typical and boring.

That was a very thoughtful answer, Sarah! Are there any kinds of books that you wish there were more of?

I love it when I come across a book that has a totally original idea in it. I like finding books that haven’t been done before, such as the Pretties series or Maze Runner series (some of my favorites). I know that it is very hard to come up with a totally new concept for a book, so when I come across new stories I really enjoy reading them because they are different and new for me.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Don’t discount the classics when you are looking for something to read. I’m currently reading The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and the stories are so well written. Some of my favorite books are classics that I wish I had read sooner but didn’t because I thought they would be boring. They really aren’t and are a great thing to pick up when you are looking for something to read.

I agree 100%--many of my favorites are classics, too. My all-time favorite book is Pride and Prejudice, and 2013 is the 200th anniversary of its publication!

Thanks again for joining us today, Sarah, and Happy Reading!

Apr 19, 2013

POETRY FRIDAY: Celebrating Earth Day

Earth Day is this Monday, April 22, so today I am focusing on poetry that celebrates our lovely blue planet. 

In 1970, U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson established Earth Day to promote conservation efforts and to make people more aware of the fragility of our natural environment. Today, Earth Day is celebrated by over 500 million people in 175 countries. Thank you, Senator Nelson!

There are thousands of beautiful poems about nature (many more than I could include here), but here are a few that I especially like, with a bit about the authors.
We’re all familiar with the poem Trees, by Joyce Kilmer (if not, scroll down to the bottom of my Poetry Page). But did you know that Kilmer was only 31 years old when he was killed in France during World War II? The Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest in western North Carolina is one of the few remaining old growth forests in the eastern U.S., and was dedicated in Kilmer's memory in 1936. Be sure to visit if you are ever in that area--hiking the forest's trails is an awe-inspiring experience! Although Trees remains Kilmer's best-known poem, there are many others worthy of our attention. Here is just one example:  

Mount Houvenkopf

by Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918)                              

Serene he stands, with mist serenely crowned,
And draws a cloak of trees about his breast.
The thunder roars but cannot break his rest
And from his rugged face the tempests bound.
He does not heed the angry lightning's wound,
The raging blizzard is his harmless guest,
And human life is but a passing jest
To him who sees Time spin the years around.

But fragile souls, in skyey reaches find
High vantage-points and view him from afar.
How low he seems to the ascended mind,
How brief he seems where all things endless are;
This little playmate of the mighty wind
This young companion of an ancient star.

The Victorian British poet Christina Rossetti wrote, "If any one thing schooled me in the direction of poetry, it was perhaps the delightful idle liberty to prowl all alone about my grandfather's cottage-grounds some thirty miles from London." In her childhood ramblings she explored the intricacies of nature, big and small. In Caterpillar, Rossetti's watchful reflection is evident:
Caterpillar                                                                                                               by Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)
Brown and furry
Caterpillar in a hurry,
Take your walk
To the shady leaf, or stalk,
Or what not,
Which may be the chosen spot.
No toad spy you,
Hovering bird of prey pass by you;

Spin and die,
To live again a butterfly.
William Cullen Bryant was one of the most celebrated nineteenth century American poets. Bryant grew up among the the rolling hills of western Massachusetts, and spent many long hours exploring his surroundings. This poem by Bryant is fairly long, but when I rediscovered it this week I was struck by its playful, celebratory mood. In The Gladness of Nature, Bryant captures the spirit of springtime, and paints a vivid picture with with his words:

The Gladness of Nature
by William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878)

Is this a time to be cloudy and sad,
When our mother Nature laughs around;
When even the deep blue heavens look glad,
And gladness breathes from the blossoming ground?

There are notes of joy from the hang-bird and wren,
And the gossip of swallows through all the sky;
The ground-squirrel gaily chirps by his den,
And the wilding bee hums merrily by.

The clouds are at play in the azure space,
And their shadows at play on the bright green vale,
And here they stretch to the frolic chase,
And there they roll on the easy gale.

There's a dance of leaves in that aspen bower,
There's a titter of winds in that beechen tree,
There's a smile on the fruit, and a smile on the flower,
And a laugh from the brook that runs to the sea.

And look at the broad-faced sun, how he smiles
On the dewy earth that smiles in his ray,
On the leaping waters and gay young isles;
Ay, look, and he'll smile thy gloom away.

And finally, here is a poem I wrote that was inspired by a recent Carolina moon:

Crescent Moon

The moon dips low in the sky,                       
scooping up stars,
a silver sliver shining bright. 
 Here are a few more ways to celebrate National Poetry Month:
In honor of Earth Day, write a poem inspired by nature.

Take some time to read about your favorite poet. What were his or her influences? What can you learn that you didn’t know?

Share a favorite spiritual poem with your minister, priest, rabbi, etc., or write your own!

Even if you are an adult with no kids around, find a good book of children’s poetry and read it. There are MANY great kids’ poetry books out there, and you’re missing out if you don’t check them out!

Write your favorite living poet a letter. (And don't forget to send it!)

Apr 18, 2013

Happy Poem in Your Pocket Day!

Don't forget that today is National Poem in Your Pocket Day! To join in the fun, write or print out a favorite poem and put it in your pocket--then share it with your friends as you go about your day. It is sure to make everyone's day a little brighter!

This morning I had the pleasure of celebrating Poem in Your Pocket Day with my boys' fourth grade classes. It was absolutely wonderful to see the kids get so excited about their poems (I passed out poems from Poem in Your Pocket for Young Poets, compiled by the Academy of American Poets). It was difficult walking by other adults and kids in the halls without giving everyone I met one of the poems, but I did share quite a few!

For a fun collection of pocket poems, visit Poetry.org's website: http://www.poets.org/page.php/prmID/409

image courtesy of poetry.org

Apr 16, 2013

With Heavy Hearts...

I had originally planned a different, more upbeat post for today titled "Stranger than Fiction," where I was going to talk about how sometimes life's realities are so much more_________than anything we could ever dream up as writers. (You can fill in this blank with a variety of adjectives: amazing, beautiful, serendipitous...tragic, horrific, terrifying, etc.)

But then yesterday's events at the Boston Marathon occurred. As the news unfolds today we are witnessing the heartbreaking realities of a truly tragic, horrific, and terrifying event that is almost too awful to believe. I added the "almost" here because of all of the other horrifying events that our country has dealt with in recent years. The collective memory of our nation includes some devasting events. Today is also the 6th anniversary of the Virginia Tech shooting, another senseless attack on innocent people, and I know of several people who are keeping those victims in their hearts and prayers today, too. 

So I will save my originally planned post for another day, and keep everyone who was touched by these tragedies in my prayers and close to my heart today. I will be thankful that my friend and neighbor who completed the Boston Marathon yesterday arrived safely home last night along with her husband and two young children, who were there to cheer her on. And I will be thankful that my cousin who is a professor of music at Virginia Tech escaped the violence on April 16, 2007.

And I will pray for peace.

Photo courtesy of K92 Radio

Apr 12, 2013

POETRY FRIDAY: One silly poem, two fun poetry books, and several more ways to celebrate National Poetry Month!

When I was teaching, the #1 thing I dreaded hearing from my sweet students was, “I can’t do this, Mrs. Shillington!” Whenever I heard these words my heart would squeeze a little. “Of course you can!” I would retort (encouragingly, of course), and then I would remind the student that “I CAN’Ts are not allowed in our class!” Usually this would make the kid smile, and then we could tackle the issue together. Whether this was a difficult math problem, a writing challenge, or simply trying something new, 99% of the time the dilemma was solved when the student took a deep breath, talked through it, and then tried again.

After countless reminders, I eventually decided that we needed a sign up in our class that said “No I CAN’Ts Allowed!” But then I thought A sign is SO boring. I’ll write a poem instead! So I wrote a poem on chart paper in multi-colored magic marker, and I’d read it aloud whenever the dreaded “I can’t” showed up in our class. It was silly and fun, but very effective. Here is the poem:

No I CAN’Ts Allowed!
I CAN’Ts are not allowed to step a foot inside this room,                                                                 For if we let them come inside, they’ll fill our class with gloom,                                                   ’Cause all I WILLs, I CANs, and I’LL TRYs will march right out the door.                               
So all I CAN’Ts will be tossed out—of that you can be sure!

Among its many gifts, poetry has the ability to encourage. I found this to be the case with this little poem, simple and silly though it is. As we celebrate National Poetry Month, take the time to read an encouraging poem—or better yet, write your own!
Also, I wanted to share two fun poetry books that I have recently added to my collection. The first is POCKET POEMS, a book of fun kids’ poems selected by poet Bobbi Katz and illustrated by Marilyn Hafner. (I'm giving copies to my boys’ teachers as a “Happy National Poetry Month” surprise!)

The second is a book of poems called POEM IN YOUR POCKET FOR YOUNG POETS, from the American Academy of Poets. This collection of 100 children’s poems has perforated pages for kids to tear out and share—perfect for Poem in Your Pocket Day, which is on April 18th this year!
And finally, here are some more fun ways to celebrate
National Poetry Month:
Write a short inspirational or silly poem and post it in a public place—an anonymous gift to the world!

Write a poem about your pet, and then read it to him (or her).
Read a book written in verse—two great choices are LOVE THAT DOG and HATE THAT CAT, both by Sharon Creech. (If you have never read a book in verse, these are wonderful introductions to the format!)

Write a poem in memory of a loved one, and take time to honor that person privately.
Spend time browsing through a poetry anthology. This is a great way to read a variety of different poems!

Buy a set of refrigerator magnets (or make your own) and post a poem proudly in your kitchen.

Write a “love poem” for your significant other, and hide it where he (or she) will find it.
Get into the spirit of Poem in Your Pocket day on April 18th by carrying a poem in your pocket and sharing it with family and friends!

Apr 11, 2013

Wonderful new play debuting in Charlotte, NC: PETIE, by Lori Fischer

If you live in the Charlotte, NC area, give yourself a gift this weekend and go and see PETIE, now playing at the Duke Energy Theater at Spirit Square. Written by Lori Fischer and presented by Starving Artist Theater Productions, PETIE is a smart and deeply moving play that seamlessly weaves the themes of family, forgiveness, and grace with the difficult topics of mental illness and domestic abuse. Hilarious at some times and heartbreaking at others, PETIE is one of the bravest theatrical productions I have seen in a long time.     

A special shout out to my friend Walker Dixon, who plays the title role of Petie, a young victim of domestic abuse. This is a heavy role for a 10-year-old actor, but Walker pulls it off brilliantly. The rest of the cast is amazingly talented as well, and the black box theater promotes an intimate interaction with the story.
Walker Dixon plays the title role of Petie
The final two showings of PETIE are Friday, April 12 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, April 13 at 8:00 p.m. Following the Friday night performance, there will be a “Spotlight on Domestic Abuse” panel discussion with partners from LoveSpeaksOut and Safe Alliance, domestic abuse survivors, and the playwright.
For more information, visit http://astarvingartistproduction.com. 

Apr 5, 2013

POETRY FRIDAY: It's National Poetry Month!

April is National Poetry Month! To celebrate, I've put together a list of fun ways to celebrate. I will add to this list each Friday in April. Please comment below if you have any great ideas to share!

Some fun ways to celebrate National Poetry Month:

Write a poem every day in April! Here is my poem for today:

Plucking words from the air as they swoop
Over and around her head in a halo 
Eager to find a home, 
The poet 
Remembers her 
Yesterdays fondly.

Write a poem in a format that you have not tried before. (Like the “poetry” acrostic poem that begins and ends with the same letter, above. It was challenging to write, but fun!).
Start a progressive poem, writing one line a day. (See Joy’s posts for this month at www.poetryforkidsjoy.blogspot.com for a wonderful example!)
Submit a polished poem for consideration to your favorite literary or children's magazine.

Get to know the current United States Poet Laureate, Natasha Trethewey, at her agency website: http://www.blueflowerarts.com/natasha-trethewey. The Library of Congress also has a site for Ms. Trethewey: http://www.loc.gov/poetry/laureate.html.

Find the current Poet Laureate for your state at: http://www.loc.gov/rr/main/poets/current.html.
Volunteer to read aloud at a local school, and take along a good book of poetry to share with the kids. Children *LOVE* to hear poetry read aloud, especially by a special guest speaker. (Shel Silverstein poems are especially fun to read aloud—but there are many other wonderful children’s poets out there to share, as well!) 

Visit your closest indie bookstore and invest in a new book of poetry for your personal collection.
Host a poetry party for your friends, family, or neighbors; have everyone bring their favorite poem to share during cocktails or dinner.

There are many wonderful contemporary poets! “Discover” a new poet by researching online, and reading some of his or her poetry. The new poems of today will be the classics of tomorrow!
Revisit your favorite poems—like good old friends, you will be glad to see them.

Some fun ideas for kids:

Write a poem on your sidewalk or driveway using sidewalk chalk.
Take a nature walk and bring along a notepad and pencil. See what kind of poem you come up with!

Research a “new to you” poet on the internet, and read one of his or her poems.
Write a shape poem, using colored pencils to make your words really POP!

Play this game with friends: Sit in a circle. Pick a person to go first, and ask that person to “write” the first line of a poem aloud. The second person in the circle adds his or her own line, and so forth, until everyone in the circle has had a turn. You can write down your group poem, or simply enjoy it aloud!
Write new song lyrics to a familiar tune, or make up your own tune. (Remember, song lyrics are a form of poetry!)

Write a poem for a special teacher, friend, or family member. The best gifts are the ones YOU create!
Write a poem about your favorite game (my boys are working on one about Minecraft!).

Make a cookie cake and write a short poem on it with decorator’s icing. Then have a yummy Poetry Party!
Most important of all—HAVE FUN WITH POETRY!

* * * * *

Here is the 2013 National Poetry Month Poster from www.poets.org, who founded National Poetry Month in 1996.

Jessica Helfand designed this poster, and sponsors include: American Booksellers Association, American Library Association, Dixon Ticonderoga, EBSCO, The New York Times, National Council of Teachers of English, Merriam-Webster, Poetry Foundation, Random House, and Scholastic.

The 2013 poster features the line "Write about your sorrows, your wishes, your passing thoughts, your belief in anything beautiful," from Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet.
You can order copies of this poster and the posters from previous years at www.poets.org.

Apr 2, 2013

The Importance of a Writing Community

To say that writing is a solitary endeavor is an understatement; when I am at home writing, I don’t have to talk to anyone unless I choose to. I can screen my phone calls, take a break from the internet, and just write. When I am fully submerged in a writing project, this solitude can go on and on. This is definitely when I get my best work done—when the house is quiet and I am completely alone and “unplugged.” However, even those of us who prefer quiet need interaction at some point, and this is where a support system made up of other writers is helpful.
Since joining the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in 2004, I have made many wonderful writing friends. I met the women in my online critique group through participation in NE/NC Texas SCBWI events. Linda, Diane, Leigh and I formed our group, the Serendipity Sisters, in 2005, and the intervening years have seen us through first drafts, multiple edits, final copies, submissions, acceptances, and rejections (and all of the emotional ups and downs that come with them). We have also supported each other through personal milestones like moves, job changes, babies, deaths, illnesses—basically, LIFE. Our group “meets” online, exchanging manuscripts and critiques via email, and when I lived in Texas I would see them occasionally at SCBWI events.    
Diane, me, and Linda a few weeks ago in Dallas.
Our fourth member, Leigh, who was sick that day.
We missed you, Leigh! 
My talented and prolific critique partner, Laurie, is another priceless writing friend that I have found along the way. Laurie and I met as members of the Greater Fort Worth Mothers of Twins and Triplets club when our children were toddlers. We both have twin boys (hers are now in 5th grade, mine are in 4th), so we had that in common from the beginning. When each of us discovered that the other was a writer, we began meeting at a local coffee shop in the tiny Texas town where I lived. We shared ideas, edited and critiqued each others’ work, set deadlines and goals together (and held each other accountable for them), and grew to be close friends. Between Laurie and the Serendipity Sisters, I had a strong support group of writers who were also friends!
Laurie (on right) and me in Dallas.
When I moved away from north Texas in 2007, it was hard to leave this wonderful writing “family” that I had found. But my online group is still going strong, and we are now in our eighth year together. Laurie and I continue to meet, as well—this time over the phone. I still miss them all, but several weeks ago I flew from Charlotte to Texas for a visit, and we enjoyed catching up in person. I am so thankful for each of these ladies, and look forward to many more years of writing adventures together!
A year or so after moving to South Carolina I started looking for a writers' group to partipicate in here, as well. I joined the Carolinas chapter of the SCBWI, and was thrilled to discover that another member who lived nearby was interested in starting a monthly critique group. Our group, the Savvy Wordsmiths, had our first meeting in April of 2010, and we will soon celebrate three years together. The Savvy Wordsmiths are a diverse group of authors who write everything from board books to young adult, and we even have an illustrator in our ranks. We provide feedback on each others’ writing and enjoy a mini-lesson each month presented by a different group member, sharing knowledge and helping each other along the way. It is a warm, wonderful group, and I look forward to seeing the SWs every month! Our monthly meetings are also a great motivator for staying on task—I give myself a goal each month so I will have something new to share each time we meet.
I am thankful for each and every one of my writing friends. Although I am definitely an introvert and love my quiet writing time, having friends who understand the writing life and all of its ups and downs is truly a blessing. The path to publication is not always easy, but with good writing friends it’s a lot more enjoyable!
If you are interested in joining a critique group, check out your local SCWBI chapter or inquire on online writers’ boards to start your own (http://www.verlakay.com/boards/index.php is my favorite). Online writers' communities can provide a wealth of support, information, and camaraderie as well…but that is a different post! = )