Recently, I let my kids watch ALL of the Harry Potter movies before reading ALL of the books. I know some parents don’t allow this.
Looking for comments on both sides of the debate!
Recently, I let my kids watch ALL of the Harry Potter movies before reading ALL of the books. I know some parents don’t allow this.
Looking for comments on both sides of the debate!
This is a post of mini-updates about writing.
2. I was super excited to discover that my local library has an entire shelf full of the Newbery Award winners! The only challenge is that these specific books can’t be checked out.
I’m also working on getting a poster that I saw in the library. Super exciting because I feel like I just discovered a tool to help me reach my goal!
3. I also discovered another thing about myself as a writer. I’m in a writing community right now that’s very focused on pitching freelance articles to online outlets and I have found myself increasing my pitching frequency! But I realize that I’m doing that because I’m responding to the vibe of that group. No one is peer pressuring me, I’m peer pressuring myself. But I think it’s good to be working on a variety of writing types and to recognize this aspect of my personality.
4. I set my writing goals (finally) for this year. One of them is to write a really good personal essay and get it published. I have several topics in mind. Stay tuned!
Let’s say you’re reading a book and the author makes a reference to something and you just don’t get it. It could be a phrase, a symbol, a name. Whatever it is, it doesn’t make sense to you. Some readers might feel confused and give the book a bad review. Some readers might just skip over parts they don’t get, finish the book or story, and go on with their lives. Some intrepid readers might do a little research online to try and understand what they read. I think the worst scenario is the reader who doesn’t even know they didn’t get some understand some reference, finishes the story and says, “huh? didn’t make sense” and then leaves a bad review.
Is the problem bad writing or bad reading? Is it the writer’s fault? When is it the reader’s fault?
I’ve been watching a lot of The Good Wife lately. Yes, I’ve been binge watching. But this is a darn good show. First, I love the focus on female characters. Second, the story line is strong and compelling. Third, it also explores a lot of psychology and motivation of people. Many episodes also explore the concept of blame and responsibility.
(See, binge watching can be good for writers!)
I think it would be really cool to have a courtroom style drama to explore whether bad writing or bad reading is to blame when certain parts of a story are not understood.
“You Honor, the book didn’t make any sense. No writer can expect a reader to understand the phrase Plumtree’s potted meat.”
“Objection, your honor! Any well-read reader knows that a home without is incomplete!”
[the above is excerpted from my not-yet-written one-act stage play in which James Joyce is charged with obstruction of instruction.]
Yes, I’ve been reading Ulysses and learning a massive amount from his densely symbolic writing. Let me just say it’s been quite an education. But seriously, Ulysses is an excellent example.
I don’t have the grounding in the daily life of early twentieth century Dublin to get all of his references, just as much as I didn’t get all of the references in T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland or those short stories by David Foster Wallace.
Is it really Joyce’s fault if I don’t quite get all of the things he has to say in his really excellent, moving, comical, intellectual, insightful story?
Is it bad writing or bad reading? I think in Joyce’s case, it’s not bad writing.
(Here we come to another interesting question. Do symbols really have meaning once they leave the hands of the writer? Once a writer puts a symbol in the story, they are leaving the symbol open to the interpretation of the reader. As a reader, I can imbue those symbols with something that matters to me and that something could be quite different from what the writer intended. I did this recently at my critique group where I applied a much deeper meaning to a condom and a burka than my fellow writer had intended. This is a longer discussion.)
But back to the main question. Let’s say it’s important to the story, When is a failure to understand a reference a problem with the reader’s background, or with the writer’s writing?
At a recent critique group, we faced a problem I often hear when reading someone’s work and we have the chance to question the author.
I used the name “Selene” as the name a Moon base, used the phrase “star sailor” to describe a Greek astronaut, and had a character make a claim to another character that “we are all made out of stars.”
More than one person didn’t get my references and suggested I take them out of the story. But my story is about a child celebrating Christmas in his home on the Moon. Is it my fault as a writer that they didn’t get my carefully chosen words and phrases? And if it is writer error, how can I address that?
This story about Christmas on the Moon is intended for kids and it’s meant to be a short story. I have word limits, and I think adding in things like “the moon base was named Selene because that’s the name of the Roman moon goddess and NASA has a history of naming their space projects after mythological deities” is a bit awkward for story flow.
How else do readers figure out symbols and meanings when they aren’t in English Literature classes writing papers? Maybe they won’t get it. But if they don’t get it, then they might not enjoy my story as much. But is that my problem? It could be, if it gets bad reviews or if people feel I’m a terrible writer because of it.
Maybe it’s question of finding the right audience. But wow does that feel like a gamble.
(P.S. – I just asked my husband about this and he said, “it’s your fault.” Then he said, “know your audience!”)
(P.P.S. – Then he just made a huge claim that not every symbol needs to be gotten! Then I countered that it feels so disheartening to think people would read my story and miss out on some of my favorite little symbols. And he said, “Some will, some won’t. Those that do get it will enjoy a happy accident, a little serendipity.” So I said, “it’s not serendipity when I put it there on purpose.” And he said, “touche.”)
Now what do you say?
Wouldn’t it be great if there was an activity book that helped kids eat healthy foods? Parenting can get so stressful. We want the best for our kids, but we can’t control everything we do. We can’t force feed them healthy food! Remember the old saying, you get more flies with honey than vinegar? When I do talks at parenting workshops and at schools, I always encourage people to add some fun to the dinner time!
That’s why I created Fresh Fun Food Ideas for Kids! This new electronic activity book is designed to change dinnertime from a food fight into a fun event. There are lots of ways to make healthy eating fun. This new book that I’ve created makes it easy for parents to encourage their kids to try new foods in a friendly, not scary, way. In this activity book, I share some silly jokes, interesting facts, easy activities and even some of our favorite fresh food recipes.
Fresh Fun Food Ideas for Kids is available as a pdf and includes six unique activities. Once you buy the activity book for only 5.99, you can print out as many sheets and copies as you need. Use the sheets and re-use the sheets.
My kids have tried the jokes and challenges in this activity book and find them to be fun, too, but I’d love to hear what your kids think. Which are their favorites? Did they try a new food or devour their first Monster Salad?
How do you make eating fresh food fun and healthy? Share your ideas and they might end up in the second edition of Fresh Fun Food Ideas for Kids!
I did it! I won NaNoWriMo 2015! I wrote the first draft of my novel, The First Step, in a touch over 50,000 words. Here’s the day-by-day progression of my word count.
My boys really enjoyed seeing the word counts grow and as you can see, they also enjoyed writing the updates themselves. At the beginning of the month, my husband asked me what I wanted to get out of this month’s work. I thought carefully about my answer. In some sense, I wanted just the sense of completion, like when a runner finishes a huge race for the first time. In another sense, I wanted to write a good story, or at the least the bones of one, like when a runner aims for a personal record.
I think I hit the mark on both counts. I also learned a lot about myself as writer during the process and kept track of some of my thoughts on my Facebook page. I’m recording them here, too, so I can remember them for next year but also so other writers can share their reactions and their own thoughts.
In October, I was made the decision to take the big leap and attend my first Highlights Foundation workshop. The workshop I chose was called “Creating Page-Turning Non-fiction for Middle Grade Readers and Up.” I’ve had a fair number of non-fiction pieces published in really great children’s magazines and I would love to also create non-fiction books for children.
Lucky for me, this workshop was taught by the incredible Deborah Hopkinson, who also has a ton of experience writing page-turning historical fiction, one of my ‘dream genres.’ I love the way a really skilled writer can weave a great story around accurate historical facts.
We also had the chance to hear from and talk with Steve Sheinkin, a two-time National Book Award finalist.
The setting for the workshops is the Barn, a retreat in the woods outside of the small town of Honesdale, PA. It was almost a six hour drive from Pittsburgh, so I chose to fly to Philadelphia, then take a connecting flight to Scranton, then a driver from Highlights drove me the last hour or so to the Barn.
On site there is a lodge and cabins, and I stayed in cabin 10, a short walk from the main building where we had our classes and our meals. The food, by the way, was very healthy and fresh.
In our classes we discussed so much, from standards to research methods to what librarians want and teachers need, to what readers want – but Deborah reminded us that our job is to tell the story. She gave each of us two thoughtful critiques and plenty more listening time outside of class. We learned a tremendous amount from her about constructing a solid non-fiction book proposal. Deborah comes from a grant-writing background and she really knows how to show the value of a project. She’s also a fine writer. I read her book Titanic: Voices From the Disaster in one day.
It was a productive three days. During my time there I read (and loved) several books, including Sheinkin’s Two Miserable Presidents: Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn’t Tell You About the Civil War. At the end of this workshop, I felt like I was in a great place to put together at least one solid non-fiction book proposal. Deborah also coached me through the elements of my planned historical fiction story and a new novel about running. On the flight home, I revised my butterfly story and came away with a very strong new version. The runs on the woods, the walks around the grounds, and time spent with thoughtful writers was really invigorating.
We were also able to take a tour of the Highlights offices and Boyds Mill Press in Honesdale. I enjoyed seeing the “where the magic happens” and connect with some editors.
I have been considering doing one of these since 2012, but they do require a fairly significant financial investment and for some workshops, I’d have to be gone for a full week.
But I knew these workshops also offered significant resources and information. Back in 2012 I thought I might bring my first novel to a “whole novel” workshop, but I’m really glad I did not. I’ve learned a lot in the past three years and I know if I had attended that session it would have been heart-wrenching. Instead, by waiting for the right moment, I think my first Highlights Workshop was a real success.
So a year ago I put out a tweet asking people what story I should work on for NaNoWriMo 2014. I got more votes on the second project and have put the first project aside for awhile (but it’s still in the back of my head).
For this year, instead of waiting until the last minute to write a novel off of the top of my head, I decided on my NaNoWriMo project well before November 1. And I started getting to work on the backstory! My planned project was going to be about two young lovers in Pittsburgh during the Civil War who both want enslaved people to be free and to keep their country whole. But they believe there are different ways of doing this. So are a part of my planning, I started sketching out scenes. I named characters. I described my characters. I ordered books about Civil War era Pittsburgh from the library. I went to the History Center and located original documents and learned how to access records of newspapers from the time period!
WHEW did I plan.
Then I spent October 18-21 at the Highlights Foundation learning how to write page-turning non-fiction for middle grade readers. While it was only a few days, when you’re in a small group workshop all day, for all meals, you learn a lot about people. And the instructor of the workshop, the wonderful Deborah Hopkinson, took the time to listen to my idea for my NaNoWriMo project. She pointed out some flaws and asked good, hard questions. I’m interested in writing a book during NaNoWriMo, but I’m also interested in writing publishable, marketable books. Then she asked me a very important question: why wasn’t I writing a book about running?
I admitted that I felt it would be self-indulgent and selfish. I worried it wouldn’t be marketable. I worried I couldn’t write it in a way that shared how important running has been to me as a woman and writer. She pushed me a little more and we discussed a possible character and the story arc. I felt overwhelmed and emotional. I felt exhilarated. I left the Barn (where we had our classes and meals) and I walked to this spot on the trail and I cried a little, overwhelmed at the idea that I could write this story about a girl who comes of age and unlocks the secrets to happiness thanks to running.
This novel is a lot more of a pantser project than my first idea, which is nice and planned. But maybe this is a good thing! Maybe I write one with emotion and on the fly and I write the second (the Civil War one) after NaNoWriMo when I can really read info and add in the important historical details.
I know I can do this. Thanks to my experience as a runner, I know it’s all about putting in the work daily. And running isn’t just a theoretical part of my writing. It’s a practical part because I think through plot, flesh out characters, and sketch scenes in my brain during every workout. I can write both of these stories. I have already written full manuscripts for The Forest of Dreams, Runner’s Luck, and Dare Club. I have completed two big revisions on Dare Club. I can write both my planned story and my pantser story.
Scrivener is great, isn’t it?
Scrivener is really hard to learn, isn’t it?
I can’t really learn and retain lots and lots of information just by reading it one time. I need to use the information in some way or else I find I have a problem and learn by finding the solution. My most recent problem was that the chapter titles for my novel manuscript weren’t appearing in the Compile document. I struggled with this for awhile. I did Google searches. I asked people on Twitter. I asked two smart, curious people who are good at problem-solving and debugging. I did more Google searches.
(In the middle of researching this problem, I stumbled upon the answer to another problem! How to populate the project status bars!)
Finally, after some continued struggle and putting the question away and then coming back to it, I re-read the block of text at the intro screen within Scrivener. Turns out I needed to not work in folders.
I didn’t want to make multiple scenes. I just wanted to write chapters. So I thought that meant write in folders. But that was wrong. Based on the intro screen info, I needed to create text files and move those text files up to the chapter level.
Within each text file, I also selected the boxes on the far right that said “Include in Compile” and “Page Break Before.”
So I went through every chapter and created a text file, copy and pasted the words into the new file, then deleted the folder. Then I went to the Compile screen. Guess what!
All of the chapter titles I wanted were highlighted in yellow! WOOO!!! I hit Compile. And when I checked out the document, all of my chapter titles were right where they should be!
So my whole problem was answered right in the main screen. For reference, here’s the info:
While I really enjoyed using Scrivener to work on my novel manuscript I am by no means a power user. There are so many features I haven’t even begun to explore. I’m about to work on a non-fiction picture book proposal and I believe I will learn even more about the features of Scrivener as I encounter problems or want things to look a certain way and then learn how to make it happen.
What feature of Scrivener did you learn through problem-solving? Which feature is your most favorite?
I hate being hungry. I can’t concentrate and I’m really grouchy. Imagine if you were a kid who was hungry all summer. But here in Pittsburgh, that’s not an imaginary thing. It’s real. In fact, there are more than 45,000 children in Allegheny County that are considered to be food insecure, and 73,500 children are eligible for free or reduced-rate school lunches or breakfasts.
So when Chris from the Southwest PA Food Security Partnership approached me and my friend Kathy about helping more kids take advantage of the summer food programs in our area, both of us said YES.
Kathy and I had tables next to each other at the 2015 Farm to Table conference, but we’re also both members of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Chris loved the activities we were offering for children that centered around healthy eating but also had a literary and storytelling component. We met in early summer 2015 and he asked us if we could come to summer food sites and provide fun activities for the kids. He hoped that by advertising visits from local authors kids would be more interested in attending. Kathy and I loved the idea and both realized this was a chance to interact with children (something kids’ authors love) and a chance to feed their minds and their bodies.
But we like to think big. So Kathy and I invited all the members of SCWBI Western PA to join us. We had 14 volunteers sign up and they conducted over 10 visits in Allegheny, Somerset and Cambria counties. SCBWI volunteers read books, played games, and told stories while children enjoyed healthy, free meals.
I took my youngest son with me to two of my visits to my old home library, Carnegie Library Woods Run. I used to walk to that library with my young children and we spent many happy afternoons in the children’s section. When my son and I visited in August we found a welcoming staff and adorable kids with incredible imaginations.
For my visit, I brought copies of my book The Bumpy, Grumpy Road to share with the kids. I wanted give them something, a small gift to spark their imaginations. They gave me gifts, too, because in addition to reading stories we played StoryCubes and made up our own stories. And these kids were AMAZING! The little girl in the photo above and another little boy came up with an incredible tale about a boy who had the shadow of a beetle and a beetle who had the shadow of a boy. They traveled together to a castle where they discovered human king…but a beetle queen. You’ll have to use your imagination to find out what happens next.
We definitely plan to continue this partnership next summer so if you’re a local Pittsburgh author or illustrator get in touch and help us feed imaginations while kids get fed.