Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy 2016!

Thanks to Mary Lee at A Year of Reading for hosting 
2016's first Poetry Friday Roundup! 

* * * * *
2015 was an interesting year. I traveled to France and St. Lucia in the winter and spring, negotiated my first book contract over the summer, embarked upon an editing frenzy, ushered in my boys' teen years in October, and then learned that my publisher was closing in November. As the emotional dust settled following this news, I found myself in a strange place—no longer tied to deadlines and pre-publishing tasks, I suddenly had a lot more time on my hands. 

Because the holidays were imminent, this extra time turned out to be a huge blessing, and I enjoyed the most stress-free holiday season that I can remember, proving that—surprisingly—even this particular cloud had a silver lining. I’m not sure what 2016 will bring, but I am excited to see. This publishing journey is one filled with ups and downs, and MANY twists and turns (a lot like a great book, actually).

Because it is Poetry Friday, I'm sharing Robert Burns' Auld Lang Syne today. I hope you enjoy it!

Auld Lang Syne
by Robert Burns (1759-1796)

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my jo,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne...


To read the rest of Auld Lang Syne (and a wonderful history) click here

Happy New Year! May your 2016 be a year filled with JOY. HEALTH, and FUN!

Friday, December 4, 2015

POETRY FRIDAY: “Snowball” by Shel Silverstein

Thanks to Buffy at Buffy's Blog for hosting Poetry Friday today!

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As I’ve mentioned before, Shel Silverstein is one of my all-time favorite poets. He had a knack for creating poetry that is smart, engaging, and entertaining—three of the “must haves” for kids’ poetry, in my opinion.

I love all of Silverstein’s poetry, but the poem I am sharing today is extra special because when I taught third grade, one of my students wrote it out on a piece of paper and gave it to me. He loved it and he knew that I would, too. This touched me so much that I’ve held onto it for 15 years. When I came across it a few weeks ago, I knew I needed to share it for a winter Poetry Friday post. I hope it makes you smile today!


Snowball
by Shel Silverstein (1930-1999)

I made myself a snow ball as perfect as could be.
I thought I'd keep it as a pet and let it sleep with me.
I made it some pajamas and a pillow for it's head.
Then, last night it ran away.
But first -- it wet the bed.


Thanks, Alex, wherever you are!☺ Have a wonderful weekend, everyone, and Happy Writing!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

POETRY FRIDAY: Words of Hope from Emily Dickinson

Thanks to Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect for hosting Poetry Friday this week!
* * * * *
This has been a difficult week. A few days ago I received the news that Sunscribe Publishers, the company I signed a 3-book contract with, is closing, which means that my books will not be published anytime soon. My publisher, who has poured so much of her time, talent, and energy into creating Sunscribe, is facing an unexpected and devastating medical diagnosis, and in the interest of her health is closing her fledgling company. I appreciate all of the time she has spent helping me edit and polish my manuscripts, and it is my hope and prayer that she will beat this disease and come through the battle stronger than ever. (You can read the company's announcement here.)

Looking forward, I know what I need to do—start submitting my books again. It feels strange and a bit scary to be back at square one, but I have been here before and know the drill. My favorite part of the submission process was always having “tiny pieces of hope” floating around out there in the world. So I’m holding tightly to hope right now, for my former publisher and for my books.   

One of my favorite poems by Emily Dickinson is about hope, so I decided to share it for Poetry Friday this week. It is a wonderful reminder that, no matter how stormy life gets, HOPE is our faithful friend.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers 
by Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend, and Happy Writing!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

POETRY FRIDAY: Saluting Our Veterans

Thank you to Bridget at wee words for wee ones for hosting Poetry Friday this week!

* * * * *

On our way to school Wednesday morning, my boys and I had a great discussion about Veterans Day and the true meaning behind the holiday. When I was growing up, we always had Veterans Day off of school. I remember talking about this at school each year, and recall the teachers emphasizing that Veterans Day is a special day to honor those who fought for our freedoms. It is sad to me that this is no longer a school holiday (at least where I live), but I am somewhat mollified each year when my boys come home and share how they observed the holiday at school.

In honor of Veterans Day, I am sharing a poem by American poet Joyce Kilmer, “Prayer of a Soldier in France.” This poem is especially poignant because Kilmer was killed in France during WWII at age 31. (For more posts about Joyce Kilmer, click here and here.)

Prayer of a Soldier in France
by Joyce Kilmer

My shoulders ache beneath my pack
(Lie easier, Cross, upon His back).

I march with feet that burn and smart
(Tread, Holy Feet, upon my heart).

Men shout at me who may not speak
(They scourged Thy back and smote Thy cheek).

I may not lift a hand to clear
My eyes of salty drops that sear.

(Then shall my fickle soul forget
Thy Agony of Bloody Sweat?)

My rifle hand is stiff and numb
(From Thy pierced palm red rivers come).

Lord, Thou didst suffer more for me
Than all the hosts of land and sea.

So let me render back again
This millionth of Thy gift. Amen.

I hope your Veterans Day week was reflective and meaningful. Enjoy your weekend, and Happy Writing!

* * * * *

Interesting Veterans Day fact: The correct spelling of this holiday is “Veterans Day” with no apostrophe. Since I am nit-picky about apostrophe usage, I looked this up. Here is the explanation from the website of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs:

Veterans Day does not include an apostrophe but does include an "s" at the end of "veterans" because it is not a day that "belongs" to veterans, it is a day for honoring all veterans. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

SUNSHINE at last!

I am normally someone who enjoys cool, rainy fall days—it’s the perfect weather for settling in and getting some writing done, and encourages me to stay inside and work. However, after days and DAYS of rain, I am so happy to see the sun shining today!

There's some sunshine, and even some blue sky. We really hit the jackpot today!

I love the leaves in the fall, especially with sunlight filtering through, and with a stretch of several cool, SUNNY days in our upcoming forecast, I am looking forward to getting outside and catching up on my Vitamin D. I have gotten quite a bit of writing-related work accomplished over the last few weeks, though. What is your “perfect weather” for making progress with your writing, completing projects, or just staying focused and on task ? I am interesting in hearing what others have to say, so please share in the comments below!

I have another reason for celebrating today aside from the beautiful weather—I just found out that my poem “Monster Bash” was one of the Best Descriptive/Mood Piece winners in Susanna Leonard Hill’s Halloweensie contest, which I posted about on October 30th! Thank you so much, Susanna! For a list of all the winners, including the outstanding top 10 (who won AMAZING PRIZES!!!), please check out Susanna’s post here

Have a wonderful week everyone, and Happy Writing! 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Big News!

Edited on Nov. 19 to add: Please read this post for an update regarding this news. 
* * * * *
I am thrilled to announce that I have two books coming out in 2016 under Sunscribe Publishers' children's imprint, Dancing Squirrel. I wrote the earliest drafts of my picture book  Josephine Abilene, Bona Fide Cowgirl and my chapter book Glory Osky: Perfectly NOT! over 10 years ago when I lived in Fort Worth, Texas, and I am so glad they both finally have a publishing home! Sunscribe is a new South Carolina publisher, and I am honored to be included in their debut list. 

This has been a long, twisting, and sometimes emotional road, but I am happy to finally be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I have learned a lot along the way, but the most important lesson has been to never, ever, EVER give up. I have met so many wonderful writing friends over the years, and am excited to take this next step in my writing journey!

Thanks for helping me share my news, and Happy Writing! 


Thursday, October 15, 2015

POETRY FRIDAY: Fall Poetry by My Childhood Self

Thank you to Amy at The Poem Farm for hosting Poetry Friday this week!

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I have missed participating in Poetry Friday lately! I am happy to be back and thought it would be fun to share some poems I came across this week. Fall has always been my favorite season—even when I was very young, I loved the cooler temperatures, the beautiful leaves, and the anticipation of winter’s cozy embrace.

This week as I was reading through some poems I wrote growing up, I was tickled to realize how many I came across that were about fall. I don’t know if this was due to the fact that my teachers had more creative instruction time in autumn as opposed to spring’s annual round of standardized testing and end-of-year field trips, or if it was because I just liked writing poetry about fall. Whatever the reason, it was fun to go back and read what I’d written so long ago!

Here are a few of the poems that I found. When I typed them, I did edit for punctuation—proving that we will always have the urge to go back and edit our work, even over 30 years later! 

Here is one I wrote in about third or fourth grade (and yes, I grew up with the name "Becky Bookout"): 
Fall

Fall is here,
Winter is near.
The weather is cool,
We go back to school.

The leaves are falling,
Winter is calling.
As red, gold, and brown
Leaves fall all around.


And here is another, written about the same time:

Halloween

Halloween is coming soon,
Halloween, with a bright full moon.
Ghosts and goblins
Everywhere in sight.
And jack-o-lanterns glowing
Brightly in the night.

Halloween is coming soon,
Halloween, with a bright full moon.
Witches flying
Through the air,
On magic broomsticks
Everywhere!

This last one is from second grade, I believe.
Fall

Fall is nice.
There’s a nice cool breeze
As we play in the leaves.
Winter is on its way,
And it’s almost Halloween day.

Do you have any of the poems you wrote as a child? If so, please feel free to share in the comments below. 

Thanks for taking this autumn stroll down memory lane with me! Have a wonderful weekend, and Happy Writing!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Rain, Rain, Go Away

I have always enjoyed rainy days. I love the muted colors of an overcast day (especially in autumn), the cool lift of the air that accompanies a storm, and the quieter feel of rainy mornings and afternoons. There is actually a word for someone who likes rainy days; according to urbandictionary.com, a pluviophile is a lover of rain; someone who finds joy and peace of mind during rainy days. I was happy to find this definition a few years ago!
But the rain this morning is a double-edged sword. After last weekend’s historic flooding in South Carolina, today's rain is not a welcome sight. Although the rain has effectively ended our recent drought, it has caused a glut of new issues. Many bridges are still out, much of the state is under flood watches through tonight, and already-swollen rivers continue to rise and rise. Although my area thankfully came through last weekend relatively unscathed, I am so sad for our neighbors to the south in Columbia, Charleston, and all of the other areas affected by this wet weather.

I have heard such tragic stories this week—and I am sure you have, too, if you’ve watched the news at all. But in the midst of all the BAD, there has been a lot of GOOD. This week my boys’ middle school collected cases of water to send via the Red Cross to the affected areas, and one of my sons' teachers left to serve as a National Guardsman in the affected areas (what a wonderful example for our young men and women!). Donation centers have overflowed with offerings for flood victims. And the welcome that USC is receiving in Baton Rouge for the Gamecocks vs. LSU Tigers game today is touching and profound. Who would’ve thought?  

Since I haven’t posted in awhile, I decided that this rainy Saturday morning would be a great time to jump back in and post a link for anyone interested in helping flood victims in SC. The South Carolina Emergency Management Division’s website has information about how to donate, as well as a link to a list of most-needed items (click here for more information). 

I will have some exciting writing-related news to share very soon! Enjoy your weekend, stay dry, and Happy Writing! 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Eric Whitacre's Musical Rendition of Goodnight Moon

I am a huge fan of modern classical composer/conductor/musician Eric Whitacre. His music is beautiful and ethereal, and listening to his compositions can be as captivating and soothing as getting lost in a really good book.

One of my favorite pieces by Whitacre is his musical rendition of Margaret Wise Brown’s children’s classic, Goodnight Moon, from his 2012 CD Water Night. When my boys were little, we read this book every single night. My memories of Goodnight Moon are intertwined with recollections of baby kisses, nighttime cuddles, and the simple sweetness of my boys as infants and toddlers. The text of the book soars with the melody and wraps the listener in an amazing blend of music, words, and (in my case) poignant memories. It is simply beautiful!

Please check out Whitacre's website here, where he talks about reading Goodnight Moon to his own young son. And here's an excerpt of Goodnight Moon, performed by Whitacre's wife, soprano Hila Pitmann. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.☺


Have a great week, and Happy Writing!

Friday, September 4, 2015

POETRY FRIDAY: A Poem for September

Thanks to Linda at Teacher Dance for hosting Poetry Friday today!

* * * * *
Autumn is my favorite season. Although it is still HOT here in South Carolina, I can see glimpses of fall in the yellowing leaves and occasional cool breezes. On the sports fields around town, soccer and football players hone their skills and the coaches’ whistles mingle with the scent of freshly mown fields. I am eagerly anticipating a visit to my favorite apple orchard, Sky Top near Hendersonville, NC, where apple picking is already in full swing. And although our summer was wonderful, I am really, *really* looking forward to saying goodbye to temperatures in the 90s.

For Poetry Friday today, I am sharing a poem I wrote at my son’s soccer practice last week. I hope you enjoy it!

September
by Becky Shillington

Summer’s deep green slowly ripens to gold.
Mornings are cooler,
Nights come sooner,
And the sky blooms autumn blue.

Whistles and shouts echo across fields,
School bells ring in a new year of learning,
And apples and pumpkins pop up everywhere.

Bands march under Friday night lights and
Life hunkers down for the season ahead,
As fall shouts, “Ready or not, here I come!”
poem and photo ©2015 by Becky Shillington 

Also, I am happy to share some exciting writing news: I’ve started a column called “Word Play” for a local magazine, YC Parenting. Here is the link to my first column, if you’d like to check it out, and here is a link to an article on stretching with children that I also wrote for this issue. I am enjoying this new challenge and looking forward to writing more for my wonderful editor/creative director extraordinaire! ☺

Have a happy Labor Day weekend, and Happy Writing!

Friday, August 21, 2015

POETRY FRIDAY: A Haiku for Back to School

Thanks to Catherine at Reading to the Core for hosting Poetry Friday today
*****
This summer brought a whirlwind of travel and fun for our family—we camped at the mountains and the lake, spent time with family and friends, and finished our “summer tour” with a quick trip to Charleston last week.
One of the sweet turtles at the SC Aquarium's sea turtle rescue

But on Monday, our summer officially ended and my boys went back to school. Although it is hard for me to believe, they are now in the seventh grade! 

My boys on the first day of school

To celebrate back to school, I am sharing a haiku for Poetry Friday today. Wherever you are, enjoy your last few weeks of summer, and Happy Writing!

Lazy summer days
Collide with early mornings
No more sleeping in

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Great Websites for Children’s Writers

I get super excited when I come across helpful websites to use during the writing, editing, and marketing process, so I am sharing a list of my favorite online resources today. Please include any of your favorite sites that are not here in the comments below—I am sure I have missed some, and would love to have as comprehensive a list as possible!

General Writing Resources:

SCBWI (the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) is a wonderful resource, with local groups in many states:  www.scbwi.org

The SCBWI Blueboards (formerly the Verla Kay Blueboards) are a wonderful resource, and access to most of the information does not require membership in SCBWI. Lots of published authors, illustrators, and agents post regularly, and it is such a great support group for the children's/young adult writing community: https://www.scbwi.org/boards

Absolute Write is another great (free!) site for writers of all genres. Check out the forums:  http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums

Rhyme Zone is one of my favorite writing sites! You can look up rhymes, definitions, famous quotes, synonyms, antonyms, etc. for any word. I use it ALL the time! www.rhymezone.com

Visual Thesaurus is also a great tool. There is a small yearly fee, but it has been worth every penny to me!  http://www.visualthesaurus.com

Harold Underdown is an experienced children’s editor who freely shares his knowledge about writing for kids:  www.underdown.org

“Grammar Girl” Mignon Fogarty is a go-to resource for questions about grammar:  http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/grammar-girl

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is observed every November by writers brave enough to tackle a first draft of their novel in 30 days. The whole concept is very inspiring, and the NaNoWriMo community is so encouraging: www.nanowrimo.org

The Poetry Foundation is an excellent resource for poetry lovers: http://www.poetryfoundation.org

The Academy of American Poets also has a fantastic poetry website:  http://www.poets.org

The American Library Association is a great resource for anyone interested in children's books: http://www.ala.org

The Children's Book Council has a fabulous site, as well, and is a handy resource for finding children's books: http://www.cbcbooks.org


Agent and Editor-Related Sites:

AgentQuery is a good agent-hunting site. Click on "Blog Roll" in the left-hand column for a good list of agent and editor blogs:  www.agentquery.com

Query Tracker is a great site for tracking submissions to agents and editors. A basic membership is free, but you can pay $25 for a premium membership:  http://www.querytracker.net

Publishers Marketplace costs $25/month, but is worth it while agent hunting. It has great information on what is getting published these days:  www.publishersmarketplace.com

Publishers Marketplace also has a free weekly children's publishing newsletter called PW Children's Bookshelf. Go to: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/index.html and click "subscribe" if you are interested. 

Writer's Digest editor Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents Blog has super information:  http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents 

The Predators and Editors website lists agents and editors, and has tons of other information:  www.pred-ed.com

Literary Rambles is a website that has a huge list of literary agents specializing in children's literature. Every agent is not listed, but Casey and Natalie add new agent profiles regularly:  http://www.literaryrambles.com

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A Big “Thank You” and a Chapter Book Submission Opportunity

Last week I was thrilled to receive my July “St. George’s Reward” from my writer friend Tabatha Yeatts. St. George's Day was celebrated in Geoffrey Chaucer's time as a day to reward people who worked at artistic endeavors, and this spring Tabatha selected one of her blog readers to be the recipient of her own "St. George's Reward" each month (you can read more about this on Tabatha's blog here). I have enjoyed all of my surprises, but especially love this month’s reward:

These beautiful magnets (created by writer Robyn Hood Black and available at her fabulous Etsy store, artsyletters) are the perfect melding of functional and decorative. I absolutely love them! Thank you so much Tabatha and Robyn!

Also, Sunscribe Publishers, a brand new South Carolina publishing company, is accepting chapter book submissions for their children’s imprint Dancing Squirrel this week. You can find their submission guidelines here.

Have a wonderful week, and Happy Writing!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Summer’s Secret Hours

Every year I wonder at the busyness of summertime at our house. So far this summer we’ve camped, climbed mountains, tubed the French Broad River, vacationed with old friends, slid down waterfalls, baked cookies, chilled out at a water park, made cotton candy and snow cones, eaten lots of watermelon, played games, gone swimming, etc. (I could keep going and going…but I am tired ☺). We are having a wonderful summer, but once again it is flying by. School starts for my boys on August 17, so that gives us only five more weeks of fun before “real life” creeps back in. But such is the rhythm of life!
One of my boys playing in the water.

Although this summer has been just as busy as every other year, I’ve discovered one important thing: the “secret hours” of writing time between when my husband leaves for work and when my boys roll out of bed. Now that they are almost 13, this time has stretched to 9:00 or 9:30, often even later. That means if I can drag myself out of bed and start writing by 7:00, I can have 2 to 3 hours of blissfully quiet time to myself in the mornings!

These “secret hours” have been a tremendous discovery for me. During the school year I have chunks of quiet writing time in the mornings, but this is always *after* the hustle and bustle of making breakfast, getting the kids off to school, exercising, etc. (I am not one of those disciplined writers who can get up at 5 a.m. and start writing before the whole house is awake—not yet, anyway.) It is a fun change to be able to wake up and start working in my PJs, a perk of writing that I’ve heard about forever but have rarely been able to do until now. I’ve used this time to work on a new picture book manuscript, complete some fun magazine assignments, and edit several other projects.

I hope you are all enjoying your summers and finding some “secret hours” of your own to take advantage of! Stay cool this week, and happy writing!
Our sweet puppy Gracie loves camping because she gets to sleep with the boys!
 

Friday, June 19, 2015

POETRY FRIDAY: "One Boat, One River" by SC Poet Laureate Marjory Wentworth

Thanks to Mary Lee at A Year of Reading for hosting Poetry Friday this week
 
* * * * *
In the wake of this week’s heartbreaking events in Charleston, I have been thinking about “One River, One Boat,” a poem written by SC Poet Laureate Marjory Wentworth. In January, Ms. Wentworth was supposed to read her poem at SC Governor Nikki Haley’s inauguration, but was omitted from the program due to “time constraints.” (You can read more about this here.) Since January, the exposure her poem has garnered has been enormous, and the praise is well deserved.

Yesterday, as I was reading online about the beautiful men and women who lost their lives on Wednesday night, one of my boys came up behind me. “Why are you reading about this if it makes you so upset?” he asked. “Because we can’t just ignore all of the bad stuff that happens and pretend it doesn’t exist,” I responded.

I have thought about his question ever since. My children are growing up in SC in a wonderful Norman Rockwell-esque neighborhood that I refer to in my head as a “bubble.” But down the road, in a city where we have family and visit frequently, yet another crime has been committed that is whipping the already agitated social consciousness of this country into a frenzy. I want to protect my boys from this type of thing, but at the same time I know that it is important to share and discuss it with them. They are 12, on the cusp of their teen years, with high standards of justice and a huge capacity to feel everything—love, empathy, outrage, sorrow, the list goes on and on. It is my job as a parent to channel this enormous ability to feel into an attitude of loving acceptance and a desire to BE the change this country needs as they grow and mature. So today our conversation will continue.  

Please take a moment and read Ms. Wentworth’s poem, which I decided was well worth a second blog post this week. The specific references to Charleston’s history are especially poignant today, as we are
“...huddled together on this boat
handed down to us–stuck
at the last bend of a wide river
splintering near the sea.”


One River, One Boat
by Marjory Wentworth

I know there’s something better down the road.
~ Elizabeth Alexander
 
Because our history is a knot
we try to unravel, while others
try to tighten it, we tire easily
and fray the cords that bind us.
 
The cord is a slow moving river,
spiraling across the land
in a succession of S’s,
splintering near the sea.
 
To read the rest, click here.