Nov 22, 2013

POETRY FRIDAY: Thanksgiving Poetry and Creative Nonfiction

Thank you to Katya at Write. Sketch. Repeat. for hosting Poetry Friday today!
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I’ve had lots of fun preparing for a lesson on creative nonfiction poetry I will be leading next week. I wanted to tie this lesson to Thanksgiving, and the historical background of the holiday provided the perfect context. During my research, I was excited to find several books with wonderful poems about Thanksgiving, including:

·        Jack Prelutsky’s IT’S THANKSGIVING, a fun book of poems by one of today’s greatest children’s poets

·        THANKSGIVING POEMS, a book of Thanksgiving poetry selected by Myra Cohn Livingston

·        THANKSGIVING STORIES AND POEMS, edited by Caroline Feller Bauer

·        THIS IS THE FEAST, a stunning picture book by Diane Z. Shore written entirely in rhyming couplets and beautifully illustrated by Megan Lloyd
The collections include both creative nonfiction and fun fiction poems about Thanksgiving, and I highly recommend them all to anyone looking for great poetry about this holiday. And the picture book is brimming with figurative language and imagery that is brought into sharp focus with the accompanying illustrations! (Can you tell I’ve *really* had fun researching this topic?☺)

I also came across another wonderful Thanksgiving poem that I will share below. “The First Thanksgiving” was written by southern poet Margaret Junkin Preston in the 1800s. This is a longer work, but is a great example of creative nonfiction poetry and I was so excited to run across it:

The First Thanksgiving
by Margaret Junkin Preston
"And now," said the Governor, gazing abroad on the piled-up store
Of the sheaves that dotted the clearings
and covered the meadows o'er,
"Tis meet that we render praises
because of this yield of grain;
Tis meet that the Lord of the harvest
be thanked for his sun and rain."
"And, therefore, I, William Bradford
(by the grace of God today,
And the franchise of this good people),
Governor of Plymouth, say,
Through virtue of vested power--
ye shall gather with one accord,
And hold, in the month of November,
thanksgiving unto the Lord."
"He hath granted us peace and plenty,
and the quiet we've sought so long;
He hath thwarted the wily savage,
and kept him from wrack and wrong;
And unto our feast the Sachem shall be bidden,
that he may know
We worship his own Great Spirit,
who maketh the harvests grow."
"So shoulder your matchlocks, masters--
there is hunting of all degrees;
And, fishermen, take your tackle,
and scour for spoils the seas;
And, maidens and dames of Plymouth,
your delicate crafts employ
To honor our First Thanksgiving,
and make it a feast of joy!"
"We fail of the fruits and dainties--
we fail of the old home cheer;
Ah, these are the lightest losses,
mayhap, that befall us here;
But see, in our open clearings,
how golden the melons lie;
Enrich them with sweets and spices,
and give us the pumpkin-pie!"
So, bravely the preparations went on
for the autumn feast;
The deer and the bear were slaughtered;
wild game from the greatest to least
Was heaped in the colony cabins;
brown home-brew served for wine,
And the plum and the grape of the forest,
for orange and peach and pine.
At length came the day appointed;
the snow had begun to fall,
But the clang from the meeting-house belfry
rang merrily over all,
And summoned the folk Of Plymouth,
who hastened with glad accord
To listen to Elder Brewster
as he fervently thanked the Lord.
In his seat sate Governor Bradford;
men, matrons, and maidens fair,
Miles Standish and all his soldiers,
with corselet and sword, were there;
And sobbing and tears and gladness
had each in its turn the sway,
For the grave of the sweet Rose Standish
o'ershadowed Thanksgiving Day.
And when Massasoit, the Sachem,
sate down with his hundred braves,
And ate of the varied riches
of gardens and woods and waves,
And looked on the granaried harvest--
with a blow on his brawny chest,
He muttered, "The good Great Spirit
loves his white children best!"
I know this is turning into a long post, but I have to include one more poem that kept popping up everywhere during my research this week. This poem by an unknown (but very talented) poet gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling and embodies all the holiday has to offer:
Thanksgiving Time
When all the leaves are off the boughs,
And nuts and apples gathered in,
And cornstalks waiting for the cows,
And pumpkins safe in barn and bin,
Then Mother says, "My children dear,
The fields are brown, and autumn flies;
Thanksgiving Day is very near,
And we must make thanksgiving pies!"
Author Unknown
 Happy Thanksgiving, and Happy Writing!

Nov 19, 2013

Industry Spotlight: Joan Y. Edwards, Author of FLIP FLAP FLOODLE and Blogger Extraordinaire

This month’s Industry Spotlight features author and blogger Joan Y. Edwards. I talked a bit about Joan in this post, and asked her to join us today to talk more about her writing, her “Never Give Up” philosophy, and her newest book, which is scheduled for release in 2014. 
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Hi, Joan, and thank you so much for being my guest today!

Hello, Becky. Thanks for inviting me to be a guest on your wonderful blog. It is an honor to be here.
Your picture book, FLIP FLAP FLOODLE, is adorable! What inspired you to write this book, and how did you tackle the task of self-publishing?
When I was pregnant with my first daughter, Lorrie, I decided I wanted to get Flip Flap Floodle published. I made the story up when I was 5 years old. Why did I wait so long? Why didn’t I think of getting it published before 1967?

When I was a little girl we didn’t have picture books. I had thick hardback books of Andersen’s and Grimm’s Fairy Tales with few pictures. I read the newspaper. I didn’t have access to the Golden Books until I was 8. At that time, I was reading middle grade books, like the Bobbsey Twins and Heidi. When I studied to be a teacher, I learned about picture books. I graduated from college in 1963.
While I was pregnant with my second daughter, Mollie in 1976, I started a two-year program to earn a Master of Arts in Education in Intermediate Elementary Language Arts from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, North Carolina. My professor, Sarah Smedman, taught me about children’s literature: picture books, middle grade novels, and I fell in love with the literary world even more. She talked in depth about the hidden meanings behind the text of the writing and the structure and the needs that books meet in children.

I submitted my manuscript to publishers many times. I heard the message: Don’t send pictures. Publishers choose illustrators. A delightful story, but doesn’t meet our needs, etc. With responses like that, I couldn’t stop my day job. I decided I would focus on teaching and write new stories and submit them. I would continue to submit Flip Flap Floodle, too. My plan: Teach, Write, Revise, Submit.
The North Carolina Writing Project chose me to be a participant in 1987 because of my good writing skills. That gave me a wave of confidence. In 1993, I won first place in the Eastern Zone of Parents without Partners organization for The Golden Arm.
I started taking care of Mother in 1995. At first, I thought taking care of her would keep me from getting published. However, it didn’t. I wouldn’t let it. I read in a newspaper article where a lady had gotten a book published while she was caring for her mother. I decided that if she could do it, I could do it.
I promised myself in 1998 when I retired from teaching that if no one had published Flip Flap Floodle in 5 years, I would self-publish it. Since no one said, “Yes,” I followed through with my promise. I self-published Flip Flap Floodle in April of 2004. Lucky for me, BookSurge offered color printing for the first time. I had always dreamed of doing Flip’s illustrations. So I did them. I’ve gotten many compliments on them and on the story. There are many rave reviews on Amazon and my website. Flip Flap Floodle is a self-publishing success and will be 10 years old in April, 2014.

Flip Flap Floodle, the happy little duck who Never Gives Up
Hear Flip's Song here. Flip Flap Floodle is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble 
Hip Hip Hooray! It’s so much fun to read Flip Flap Floodle to kindergarten through fifth graders. They sing along with Flip’s song, and sit on the edge of their seats when he is in big trouble with Mr. Fox. They also enjoy the humor. Children remember me when they see me. It’s a great thrill when they still remember Flip’s song years later. Children and adults tell me when they face obstacles they’re not sure they can handle, Flip’s song bubbles up in their minds. They start singing it. Their fears dissolve. They continue on and do not give up. People who are sick reach out to Flip Flap Floodle, too. It seems to calm them and help them believe everything will be all right. To me, that is awesome.

You have such an inspiring story, Joan! Thank you so much for sharing the story of Flip’s journey to publication with us. You have a new book, JOAN’S ELDER CARE GUIDE, coming out with 4RV Publishing in 2014. Congratulations! Please tell us a bit about your newest project.
Thanks for your congratulations, Becky. I am excited about my first book published by a small, quality, traditional publisher, 4RV Publishing. Joan’s Elder Care Guide: Empowering You and Your Elder to Survive is a resource for caregivers packed with practical day-to-day survival tips from my fourteen years of elder care. It has activities to help caregivers maintain physical health, keep emotionally and spiritually stable and to help the elder do the same. This book will make it easier for caregivers to take care of their own needs and those of their elders at the same time.

This sounds like an excellent resource, Joan. I especially like how you have taken your own experiences and crafted them into a helpful book to support others! And speaking of support, your blog is one of the BEST out there for writers—both in the practical information you share with your readers, and in the encouragement you offer in every post. What provides the “spark” for your blog, and what keeps you so positive?
Golly Gee, you say the nicest things. Thank you for the compliment.

There was a very deep and dark time in my life. It seemed like negative covered me from head to toe. I thought I was worthless. With God’s help, I was able to come out of it. I knew that somehow the negatives had woven their threads around me, not all at once, but little by little.
I credit my parish priest for telling me to seek help. I asked him how I could repay him for helping me. He told me to continue doing what I was already doing...helping those God put in my path.

I started reading all the positive-minded stuff there was, including Robert Schuller’s Tough Times Never Last, But Tough People Do! I set out to change the way I was thinking because it wasn’t working for me anymore.
When I retired from teaching, I didn’t realize how much I would miss being with people. It wasn’t that I talked with every teacher and student in the school every day, but that I could. But after I retired, I couldn’t. Little by little I had to take more care of Mother and although I took her out to eat with her friends, I couldn’t get out and see people. The internet became a way for me to meet my social needs vicariously.

Seeing how Mother was fenced in and not able to get to church every Sunday, I thought many children might not be able to get to church and might enjoy doing puzzles online. I created devotionals, puzzles, and skits for Children’s Liturgy. My pastor let me put them on the church website. People wrote and asked me to do them quicker so they could print them out for the next Sunday. People from all over the world wrote me: United States (almost 20 states), United Kingdom, Scotland, Philippines, and the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
I took an online course and created my own website in 2002: Today it has had over 59,163 unique visitors. It has devotionals and puzzles for every Sunday for Liturgical Years A, B, and C. It has over 12 Gospel-related skits.  

In 2008, SCBWI started suggesting that writers needed a platform, a website or blog. I had a website. I didn’t have a blog. I created the WordPress blog,, on October 9, 2009. I didn’t know if anyone would read my blog or not. I didn’t even know what I would write about. The only thing I knew was that its focus, like the rest of my life, would be: Never Give Up.
The first year I didn’t have very many readers. Probably 25 at the most for each blog post. Then in 2010, I wrote about what I learned from three different writing conferences I attended. It seemed to gain momentum. The numbers have been climbing ever since. I write about writing, emotional, and spiritual things to help people never give up.
If no one ever read my blogs or interacted with me, I probably wouldn’t blog. However, each time someone writes and leaves me a note, it fills a void in my social life, it meets a social need - meaningful interaction with people.

I am proud to say that my blog in 4 years and one month totaled over 375 posts, 81,287 views, 3,197 comments (half are my replies), and 158 subscribers.
I appreciate everyone who reads my blog, visits my website, and interacts with me online, and those who purchase Flip Flap Floodle and read his story to help children (and adults) to Never Give Up.

Over 81,000 views—WOW, Joan! I can’t even imagine. That is amazing! I have said before that you are my “blogging Yoda.” ☺ What advice do you have for writers who are interested in blogging?
·        Choose the blog system that you’re most comfortable leaving comments on—you want one that is user friendly.

·        You don’t have to write every day.

·        You don’t have to write every month.

·        Write when you have something to say.

·        Ask your readers what they would like to read about

·        Write what you enjoy.

Great advice! Can you share a bit about any new projects that you have in the works?
I am currently taking a six-month course in screenwriting from Hal Croasmun with Screenwriting

My purpose in doing this is to improve my “Against the Odds” musical screenplay: When 16-year-old Lisa discovers Todd’s 98% foolproof condom put her in the position to have a 100% baby, she struggles when her parents throw her out and Todd disappears. With the odds stacked against her, will she choose life or abortion? I plan to submit it to producers and agents after its next revision.
I’ll also write another screenplay during this course. I believe that what I’m learning about scriptwriting will enhance my picture books, middle grade and young adult novels, too.

I plan to submit, submit, and submit during 2014.
I believe it, Joan! Thank you so much for sharing with us about your writing journey and philosophy. Attitude is everything, as you have proven quite successfully!  

You’re very welcome, Becky. Thanks for inviting me. It was fun traveling through time to share parts of my life and writing journey. I hope it inspires you and others to keep on going so that you Never Give Up!
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Joan’s picture book, FLIP FLAP FLOODLE, is available from online retailers. Her website is a treasure trove of information, and her blog is full of tips and encouragement for writers. Look for Joan’s newest book, JOAN’S ELDER CARE GUIDE, coming out in 2014 from 4RV publishing!

Nov 15, 2013

POETRY FRIDAY: An Autumn Haiku and Halloween Poetry Recap

With our trip to Florida a few weeks ago, my boys’ birthday party, and juggling many (fun!) writing projects, I haven’t participated in Poetry Friday for the last few weeks. But on Halloween, I did have the opportunity to work with both of my boys’ fifth grade classes on poetry! During our lesson, I read aloud several of the poems from AN EYEBALL IN MY GARDEN (a wonderful book of fun, spooky poetry that I reviewed a few weeks ago in this post), and then we had a lively discussion that included rhyming couplets, stanzas, and rhyme scheme, among other things.

After we were finished, the students wrote their own spooky poems, and they were great! I still hold fast to my theory that kids’ favorite poetic format (at least in elementary school) is the acrostic poem (which I discussed in this post awhile back). About a third of the children chose this format for their own poems, and it was not just because it is an “easy” format—they really put a lot of thought into their pieces, and definitely enjoyed the assignment! It was SO much fun to talk about poetry with these smart, funny kids, and even more fun to see them get excited about writing poems of their own! ☺ 
For my Poetry Friday contribution today, I am excited to share a new haiku. If you didn’t see my earlier posts about haiku poetry, you can read them here.

I have spent a lot of time walking in the woods in my neighborhood over the past few weeks. My puppy has been NUTS, and these walks help clear my mind and also provide Gracie with much needed exercise! The leaves have been beautiful, and are now starting to fade and fall, but late one afternoon I took these photos off of my back deck:

The way the light hit at that particular moment inspired me to write the haiku below. I hope you enjoy it!
Autumn Afternoon
Golden rays slant down,
Igniting leaves like stained glass.
All the world’s aflame.
Enjoy the last little bit of fall, and Happy Writing!

Nov 12, 2013

Making the Most of Every (Writing) Minute

The “busy season” is officially upon me; every year, beginning with my boys’ birthday in late October, time starts ticking at super speed. Before I know it, Thanksgiving and Christmas have whizzed past and I find myself smack-dab in the middle of the “winter slowdown” (this is what I call January and February, two of my favorite months—for this very reason!).
This year, I am determined not to let this time go by in a blur. I plan to enjoy my busy holiday season with my family, and I also have several writing projects to tackle. The main way I hope to accomplish this is by being more mindful of my bits and pieces of writing-friendly time, which has always been a challenge for me.

Over the past year, I have read and heard many writers talk about effective time management. Their main suggestion has been to “use every spare moment for writing”—in doctors’ waiting rooms, at kids’ sports practices, in the car pool line, during bits and pieces of down time at home, etc. But ever since I first began writing seriously, I have been one of those writers who needs a block of free, uninterrupted, perfectly quiet time in order to write. Also, the house has to be clean, all laundry needs to be done, and I need to be in a peaceful, serene mood. (Yeah…you see why this didn’t work too well for me, I am sure… ☺)

This is something I have consciously attempted to change this year. And I think I’ve found at least a bit of success since right now, as I’m sitting at my dining room table writing this post, my dog is barking, my husband is working in the office beside me, and the t.v. is on in the living room while I am writing!! (Those of you who know me personally will get this.) Over the last several months, I have learned to write with background noise (something that is a *major* accomplishment for me), and I have become much more aware of the bits and pieces of “free time” that randomly occur in my life. This has made me a more productive writer and has also taught me to focus much better—two things I really needed to improve upon!
In an ideal world, all of us writers would have hours of quiet writing time every day with the background noise (or not) of our choice and no interruptions. But in the REAL world of kids, careers, and general craziness, this seldom happens unless that time is officially scheduled—like tomorrow, where I have dedicated several hours of quiet writing time.

For the rest of the time, however, here are my suggestions for making the most of all of your potential writing time, both during the busy holiday season and in the new year ahead:
Pay special attention to snatches of potential writing time that pop up on a daily basis. Like I’ve heard many times before, we really DO have much more “free time” than we are aware of—like in carpool line, at doctors’ waiting rooms, at kids’ sports practices, etc. Keep a small notebook handy so you can write down ideas, or keep a draft of a chapter or manuscript with you to edit.

Also recognize small chunks of time you have while you’re at home. Until recently, I needed at least 30 minutes to get into the “writing mindset,” but I have retrained myself to be able to write for 10 or 15 minutes at a time. It is truly amazing what you can get done in a short burst of writing if you just try! (This realization really blew me away—I never believed it before I tried it.)
Schedule your writing time each week and put it on your calendar. Even if you are only able to schedule one “official” writing session a week, put it in there and make it count. (I am starting to add my gym time to my calendar, too—hopefully this method will work for exercise, as well!)
Limit the time you spend on the internet. This is something I am striving to find a balance in, even now. I spend a lot of time reading others’ blogs and perusing writing websites, and I get so much out of this reading time, so I have started scheduling this time, as well. I usually designate an early morning each week to do this. (It is a great reward for accomplishing a writing goal, as well!)

Be flexible about what your ideal writing scenario is. I know that not everyone will need to do this, but for people like me, who think they need a perfectly-quiet-peaceful-serene atmosphere to write in, try writing when it is loud at your house or when the kids are playing in the same room. You just might surprise yourself!

If noise really bothers you, invest in a pair of headphones. You can play quiet music or tune into the Simply Noise website to block out noise around you so your shorter writing periods are more productive. There are also noise-cancelling headphones you can buy, but my husband says they are quite pricey.  

Give yourself some grace when it comes to household chores and other commitments. For me this has meant allowing myself to write when (gasp!) there are dishes to be put away or a pile of laundry to be hung up. Also, I have learned that everything does not have to be *perfect* to have friends over or host something at my house. Don't let a desire for perfection get in the way of your happiness and contentment as a writer, family member, or friend! Balance IS possible!  
Accept that sometimes, life will require us to hit the pause button, and that this is o.k. I’m including this in my list of ways to make the most of your writing time because the pressure that follows such an interruption can sometimes paralyze us as writers. So if you find yourself taking an unexpected break from writing, when you are able to begin again, take a deep breath and be willing to start small. (I share this from experience, and think that this may be the most important advice that I have personally benefited from.)
Be flexible! This goes along with almost every suggestion above, but still is important to remember!

These are just some of the things that I have found helpful over the past several months. I’ve still not mastered these 100%, but am working on it every day. If you have any more tips for effective time management to share, please add them in the comments! Happy writing!     

Nov 5, 2013

November Young Reader Review: ALEX RIDER series by Anthony Horowitz

One of the things I enjoy most about blogging is conducting the monthly Young Reader Reviews. These interviews have served as a wonderful reminder that the people we are writing for, despite their young ages, have opinions and ideas and suggestions that authors would be wise to heed! And time and time again, I have been blown away by what these young readers have to say. Their answers are always fun, and very often surprising!

Today’s Young Reader Review comes to us from Joshua. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do! ☺
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Hi, Joshua! Thank you so much for joining us today. Please tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Joshua, and I’m in sixth grade. I’m 12 years old.

What types of books do you enjoy reading?

I read Middle Grade and YA. Fiction is my favorite, and I read of lot of mysteries, adventures, and books with lots of action. I read nonfiction if I need to study for school or want to learn about something.

Fiction is my favorite, too! What is your favorite genre?

My favorite books have tons of adventure and action.

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

I like the Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz. It’s about a 14-year-old secret agent for the British Secret Service (M16). All the books in the series are different, but Alex gets in a lot of scrapes and helps you figure out a mystery in each book. Spy books are really interesting.
Are there any kinds of books that you would like to see more of?

More action or adventure or spy books would be awesome!

Hear that, children’s authors? Thanks for the insider tip, Joshua! ☺ If you could meet any author in the world, past or present, WHO would it be, and WHY?

I would like to meet Suzanne Collins, the author of the Hunger Games series. I like that series a lot too. It would be cool to ask her where she gets her ideas.

I agree—she is such a talented author! What do you think is important for authors to know about their readers?

If your book has a lot of action or adventure, it’s probably going to attract more boys.

That is great advice, Joshua! I know my boys enjoy those types of books the most, too. What kinds of stories do you enjoy writing?

I like writing all kinds of stories. I draw comics sometimes too. I like to make picture books because you can write and illustrate them, but I like making longer books too.

That is so awesome, Joshua! I would love to read one of your books one day! Is there anything else you would like to share with us about books or reading?

Not really, besides the fact that reading books is fun and lights up my imagination. Thanks for having me, Mrs. Shillington.

Thanks again for joining us today, Joshua. It was such a pleasure to have you with us! Happy Reading (and Happy Writing, too)!