Jan 31, 2014

POETRY FRIDAY: The poetry of Robert Burns and a Snow Day Poem

Robert Burns (1759-1796) is remembered for his poems about traditional culture, religion, and rural life in his native home of Scotland. Commonly referred to as the Scots Bard, Burns is still known today as the National Poet of Scotland, largely because of the country’s language shift from Scots to English in the 1600s and 1700s.
Since last Saturday (Jan. 25) was his birthday, I thought I’d share a few poems by Burns, beginning with Winter: A Dirge, below. In my area of South Carolina, we saw less than half an inch of snow this week. Although my boys got a snow day out of it on Wednesday (the roads were very icy), and a three-hour delay on Thursday, it was kind of disappointing. But I guess we should consider ourselves lucky—reading this poem reminded me of how very challenging the long, cold winters were in Burns’ Scotland, without the heat, insulation, entertainment options, and other modern technologies we enjoy today. It had to be very difficult to stay positive during long months of being cooped up indoors, as Burns explores here:
Winter: A Dirge                                                         

The wintry west extends his blast,
And hail and rain does blaw;
Or the stormy north sends driving forth
The blinding sleet and snaw:
While, tumbling brown, the burn comes down,
And roars frae bank to brae;
And bird and beast in covert rest,
And pass the heartless day.

"The sweeping blast, the sky o'ercast,"
The joyless winter day
Let others fear, to me more dear
Than all the pride of May:
The tempest's howl, it soothes my soul,
My griefs it seems to join;
The leafless trees my fancy please,
Their fate resembles mine!

Thou Power Supreme, whose mighty scheme
These woes of mine fulfil,
Here firm I rest; they must be best,
Because they are Thy will!
Then all I want-O do Thou grant
This one request of mine!-
Since to enjoy Thou dost deny,
Assist me to resign.
Also a farmer, Burns took many opportunities to share his observations about nature with his audience. This poem about a field mouse captured my attention many years ago, for its imagery, emotion, and colorful Scots vernacular. It remains one of my favorite poems by Burns today:
To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough, November 1785.
Wee, sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie,
O' what a panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
                        Wi' bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee,
                        Wi' murdering pattle.

   I'm truly sorry man's dominion
Has broken Nature's social union,
An' justifies that ill opinion,
                        Which maks thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion
                        An' fellow mortal!

   I doubt na' whyles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen icker in a thrave
                        'S a sma' request:
I'll get a blessin wi' the lave,
                        And never miss't!

   Thy wee bit housie, too, in ruin!
It's silly wa's the win's are strewin!
An' naething, now, to big a new ane,
                        O' foggage green!
An' bleak December's win's ensuin,
                        Baith snell and keen!

   Thou saw the fields laid bare an' waste,
An' weary winter comin fast,
An' cozie here, beneath the blast,
                        Thou thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
                        Out thro' thy cell.

   That wee bit heap o' leaves an' stibble,
Has cost thee monie a weary nibble!
Now thou's turned out, for a' thy trouble,
                        But house or hald,
To thole the winter's sleety dribble,
                        An' cranreuch cauld.

   But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men,
                        Gang aft a-gley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
                        For promis'd joy.

   Still thou are blest, compared wi' me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But Och! I backward cast my e'e,
                        On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
                        I guess an' fear!

And finally, in honor of this week’s (barely snowy) snow day, I wrote the following poem to share:
Snow Day
Snow Day!
What snow?
Icy roads--
No go.
Grassy snow,
Green, brown.
Stay home!
Hunker down!
Neighbors north,
Laugh, quip.
Half an inch?
We’ll slip! 
Home safe
Folks stay,
Watching white
Melt away!
The trail behind my house...see what I mean? 
Wherever you are, I hope you are warm and enjoying your winter weather, whatever it may be. Happy writing!

Jan 28, 2014

Writing to a Theme

Many years ago, when I first began writing seriously, I took the plunge and entered the Highlights Fiction Writing Contest. Although I never won, I continued to enter each year for several years just for the little thrill of taking part in such a fabulous contest. It was a wonderful way to flex my “writing muscles,” and each new contest assignment provided an opportunity to write to very specific criteria.

As I started zeroing in on trying to get a book published, however, I eventually stopped entering this contest. What little writing time I had was dedicated to longer projects, and January 31 always seemed to sneak up on me—a chance missed. Realizing that I’ve been missing out on a great opportunity, I promised myself that I would enter again this year. And I am happy to say that my “holiday story” (this year’s contest category) is written, stamped, and awaiting a trip to the post office later this morning. (I know, I’m cutting that deadline really close…)
Writing with a specific theme in mind was really fun for me, and a great writing challenge. Since I don’t want to wait until next year’s Highlights contest to do this again, I’m revisiting other writing opportunities where writing to a theme is required. Below is a short list. If you know of any other “theme writing” opportunities, please post in the comments!

Good luck to all of my writer friends who’ve entered the Highlights contest this year, and Happy Writing!
Magazines that publish theme lists:
Ask   http://www.cricketmag.com/19-Submission-Guidelines-for-ASK-magazine-for-children-ages-6-9

Hopscotch, Boys’ Quest, and Fun 4 Kidz   http://funforkidzmagazines.com/writers

Jan 21, 2014

Stepping Back into the Story

1/25/14: Thanks so much to everyone who has commented on this post--you guys have SO many great ideas! (Be sure to check out the comments if you are just now reading this post!)
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During the busy holiday season I had much less time to write, and that was OK. I looked forward to January as a time when things would slow down and I could return to a routine. But 2014 has proven unusually busy so far, and while I’ve accomplished a lot on shorter manuscripts, I’ve had a harder time getting back into my chapter book revision-in-progress.

This is mostly due to my compartmentalized mind; if I have an hour to work, I will focus on a PB manuscript, short story, or blog entry. But if I have several hours set aside, I will work on a chapter book or middle grade novel. When I sit down to write, it takes me awhile to submerge myself into the mood/characters/setting of a longer w.i.p., which is why I prefer to work on longer works during longer writing periods. But with more short segments of time and less long segments of time lately, my poor little chapter book—who desperately wants me to pay it some attention—is feeling a bit neglected. (I did make some progress today, though!)
So my goal this week is to find simple ways to step back into a longer story, even if I only have short periods of time to work. I am a firm believer that writing can’t simply happen when it is convenient; it needs to happen when I NEED it to happen! So for this post, I thought I’d list what has worked for me in the past and see if anyone else has anything to add. Thanks in advance for any suggestions or words of wisdom!
Ideas for Stepping Back into the Story:
  • Have a story board or idea board that showcases your current w.i.p.: main characters, setting details, helpful reminders—whatever helps you get back in touch with the world you’ve created. (Some writers also create a playlist for each w.i.p., but I need silence to write so I haven’t tried this one.)
  • At the beginning of each writing session, review the last page or so of your previous day's work. 
  • Work on longer projects on as many days per week that you can. (When I only work on longer manuscripts once a week, I spend too much time playing “catch up.”)
  • Another method that helps me to stay on course is to avoid reading novels "for fun" while I am working on a longer manuscript. I have done this before, but can’t do it right now—there are just too many great books out there! When I have done this in the past, though, it has helped me to really focus on my story. I’ve also read some great non-fiction during these times!
  • Realize that you don’t always need longer segments of time to work on longer manuscripts, especially after you’ve gathered some momentum and are settled into your project. (This is the one I really need to work on!)
These are just a few ideas that have worked for me. Please leave a comment if you have more! ☺

And now, some exciting news! Laurie Chance Smith, author of Snapshots: Focus on Nature in the Bible, is hosting a book giveaway! To enter, all you have to do is like her author page on Facebook, which you can do by clicking here. You can read my interview with Laurie here, and for a fabulous Young Reader Review featuring Snapshots, click here.

Good luck, and Happy Writing!  

Jan 10, 2014

POETRY FRIDAY: A Poem from a Friend

Thanks to Donna at Mainely Write for hosting Poetry Friday today!

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This past fall, I signed up to participate in Tabatha Yeatts' Winter Poetry Swap. I’d never done anything like this before, and thought it sounded like fun. It was!
Shortly before Christmas, I received three wonderful poems from my swap partner, Joy Acey, along with some fun goodies. And then early this week, I received another package of poems and goodies from Joy—definitely a sweet surprise! ☺ I was thrilled to be matched with Joy, because she writes a poem every single day and then posts it on her blog. She explores a many different poetic formats and I always learn something when I read her blog. Joy is definitely an inspiration to me, and you can check out her wonderful blog here.
I thought that this poem I received from Joy this week would be perfect to share on today’s Poetry Friday post. It is truly a writer’s blessing, and I hope you find is as meaningful as I do. Thanks, Joy, for allowing me to share it, and thanks for being such a great poetry swap partner!
Happy New Year
By Joy Acey

May 2014 be a productive and prosperous year for you.
May the ink in your pen continue to flow.
May you write more poems than you can know.
May words take you farther than you thought you could go.
And may your good fortune continue to grow.
All good wishes for a grand 2014.
Happy Writing!

Jan 7, 2014

Young Reader Review: SNAPSHOTS: FOCUS ON NATURE IN THE BIBLE, by Laurie Chance Smith

January’s Young Reader Review is by Alex. I am always amazed by what these kids have to say, and this month is no exception—Alex has done a fabulous job! For more about author Laurie Chance Smith and SNAPSHOTS, check out this post.

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Hello Alex, and thank you so much for joining us today! Please tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Alex, and I am 12 years old. I’m in sixth grade. I like playing sports, and I do karate.
What types of books do you enjoy reading?

I read Middle Grade and Young Adult books, and I like fiction books with action and adventure. I also like nonfiction books because I like learning about history and things in nature.
I love MG and YA as well—there are so many great books to choose from in these genres! What is your very favorite genre?

The Bible is my very favorite book, but I also like to read fantasy and adventure novels.
I *love* that the Bible is your very favorite book, Alex! ☺ Please tell us about your current favorite.

My new favorite book is a nonfiction book – Snapshots: Focus on Nature in the Bible by Laurie Chance Smith. This book tells all the stories about nature in the Bible and makes them really interesting. The stories about animals and bugs in the Bible are really cool.
 SNAPSHOTS is definitely a terrific book—my boys and I are reading it together now! Are there any kinds of books that you would like to see more of?
All books are great, and kids are always reading. Some kids read because they like to, and some kids read because they have to for school. To be honest, reading makes you smarter. I like to read all kinds of books so any new books are great with me (unless they’re girly or babyish).

Excellent answer, Alex! Here’s another question for you: if you could meet any author in the world, past or present, WHO would it be, and WHY?

I have already met that person because I got to meet the author of the book I am reviewing – Laurie Chance Smith. This author made the nature stories in the Bible real to me. She does a lot of hands-on activities and includes quirky facts like how many hairs are on our heads.
I am always impressed when authors find creative ways to include information in their writing—this helps make learning fun! What do you think is important for authors to know about their readers?

Authors need to know what age group is reading their books and write for that audience. Boys like a lot of action in the books they read. If it’s a nonfiction book, it’s good to include some interesting or crazy facts for your readers.
This is great advice, Alex! Is there anything else you would like to share with us about books or reading?

Books make your imagination grow and are good for your brain. Thank you for inviting me to your blog, Mrs. Shillington!
Thank YOU for joining us today, Alex! Happy Reading!

Jan 3, 2014

POETRY FRIDAY: Welcoming January and an Antonym Diamante Poem

Thanks to Betsy at I Think in Poems for hosting Poetry Friday today.

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Happy New Year! Every January, as I pack up the last of the Christmas decorations, I breathe a secret sigh of relief. As much as I love the holiday season, by the New Year I am more than ready to settle into the quiet of January and return to our routine. Despite the colder weather and shorter days, January is one of my favorite months of the year.

As we settle into the stillness of winter, I have an antonym diamante poem to share. (I discuss antonym and synonym diamante poems more in depth here, if you’d like to read more.)

hectic, exciting
celebrating, going, eating
parties, presents, movies, nights in
relaxing, staying, refocusing
calm, cozy
Some years we get a bit of snow in our area of SC, but it is rare.
Wishing you a Happy New Year and a serene, productive winter! Happy Writing!