Girls Write Pittsburgh

Remember when we were in school and we had to write essays or copy lines as punishment?

Why do some people make writing a punishment when it’s so redemptive?

It’s like running laps when you messed up in phys ed or on another sports team. Running doesn’t punish me. It saves me.

Girls Write Pittsburgh knows this and right here in Pittsburgh offers writing as a source of inspiration and empowerment.

girls write pittsburgh

Girls Write

When I was a young girl, I didn’t know it was possible to have a job as a writer. I knew that some people had jobs as newspaper reporters, but that wasn’t exactly what I wanted. I wanted to write and tell stories, fiction and non-fiction. Perhaps I wasn’t particularly bright, because while I knew that people authored and wrote the stories I loved, I didn’t put it together that it could be a job.

Nobody said I couldn’t be a writer, but nobody said I could, either. But it’s ok. That didn’t stop me from writing. I’ve written my whole life. It just took me a long time to realize it could be my real-life job.

I always imagined I’d be a teacher. And in many ways in my life, I’ve done that and loved it.

But now, thankfully, I’ve gone and made a life for myself as a writer.

Being a writer is incredibly fulfilling and not just because I get to do what I love, but because I get to meet amazing people like the creator of Girls Write Pittsburgh.

I’m incredibly inspired by Girls Write Pittsburgh and I’m looking for ways to support this project. First, they need donations. Second, they need mentors. They need places to host events and they need authors and writers to mentor and host workshops.

I’m so committed to expanding the voices that are telling stories in our world, and I see Girls Write Pittsburgh as an important way to do that. If you’re an author, illustrator, storytelling, creative, writer, or just love good stories please consider supporting Girls Write Pittsburgh.

Writing Prompt: The Lost Potato

Do you see that? There on the ground? It’s a potato. It’s just sitting there, all by itself, on the sidewalk. How did it get there?

This lost potato is the perfect writing prompt. I can think of lots of stories about how that potato ended up there.

Send me your stories about the Lost Potato. Feel free to change the title. I’ll share them here and someone (or ones) may receive some kind of recognition for their creativity.

Graphic Novels About Growing Up

Graphic novels are so hot right now. When I was growing up, I only remember reading Maus, a story about mice in World War 2. But now graphic novels about growing up are all the rage.

Graphic Novels We Have Loved

My oldest first read a graphic novel version of The Red Pyramid, then dove into a graphic novel version of A Wrinkle in Time. Then we both loved Roller Girl and El Deafo. After that, both boys plowed through all four Reina Telgmeier books: Smile, Sisters, Drama, and Ghosts. For Christmas, my oldest got the first book in the Amulet series. He said it was scary, but wants to read the rest of the seven book series. We also read American Born Chinese, but I think a lot of the elements of that book were over the head of my middle son.

Reading Reina’s books helped my fourth grade identify which kids in his class thought it was ok to make fun of gay people. I love that the majority of the graphic novels they have read have female protagonists. And in some cases, the books don’t tell incredibly grand stories. Instead they highlight the everyday challenges of growing up.

Now I am no illustrator, but for fun I’ve decided to create an graphic novel of my sixth grade year.

I’m aiming for six pages that highlight six things from sixth grade. I know many of my memories aren’t going to be positive, because sixth grade was a tough year.

I don’t have a catchy title yet, so for now I’m calling it 6th. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s honest.

6th

A graphic novel about sixth grade.

(Remember, illustration is NOT my forte.)

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Friendships are hard in sixth grade.

 

graphic novels

So is fashion.

 

If you had to pick one year to make a graphic novel about from your life, what would it be?

New Publication: Highlights for Children!


I’m so excited to share that my first piece for Highlights for Children appears in their January 2017 issue.

Check out the crafts section for some spinning science fun and you’ll see instructions on how to make a Super Spinner. If your child makes a Super Spinner, send me a photo on Facebook or Twitter or by email and I’ll share it on my blog.

Manuscript Goals

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Read. Edit. Revise.

Hello, manuscript. Get ready to work. I have some serious December writing goals. Tomorrow, I will start a new post and update it daily, with notes to myself, in order to be accountable and to reach these goals.

It’s not like I haven’t been writing. I did write in November, I just didn’t do NaNoWriMo. But that’s fine. Honestly, it’s about whether I am writing, not about what or how much. I did NaNo for a few years for confidence and practice and quantity, but I think I need to focus on quality now.

I have three completed novel manuscripts. I’ve submitted one for agent feedback several times, but I’d like to have two others ready to submit. I feel like these two others have good legs when it comes to having strong premises (not just ideas) and interesting, unique characters. They are all middle grade and I feel that’s my sweet spot.

Manuscript #1

So, let’s start with Dare Club.

It has 24 chapters. If I can read, edit and revise 2 chapters a day, that would take me 12 days. I’m already done 5 chapters, so that leaves 19 and I believe I could complete this in 10 days.

Manuscript #2

I don’t have a good title for this manuscript. But the premise is: what happens if a boy who always says the wrong thing finds an iPod that lets him read people’s thoughts?

My pitch is weak. But it’s a start.

“Jace is really good at always saying the wrong thing. When he finds a magical iPod at a flea market, he thinks he has the key to his dreams, starting on the soccer team and getting his first girlfriend. But his life turns into a nightmare when the iPod – and knowing people’s secrets – causes more problems than it solves. Will Jace figure out the real power of the iPod before it’s too late?”

I’d like to 1. write the outline and synopsis. 2. Read, edit and revise. 3. Submit in January.

Also, I need a title. Maybe “iSecrets.” No, that’s dumb. Maybe “Open Mouth, Insert Foot.” That’s my working title. Maybe “Shuffle.” Ha.

Outline should take a day, reading and revising 2 chapters a day means at least 2 weeks. And so just this manuscript plus Dare Club takes up all of December.

Manuscript #3

This manuscript also lacks a title. But the premise here is: What happens if the girl who never finishes anything decides she’s going to run a marathon?

The pitch goes something like: “Nobody ever takes twelve-year-old Whitney seriously, mostly because Whitney doesn’t take life seriously. But when Whitney decides to run a marathon, no one believes her. Will Whitney change who she is in the eyes of others or learn who she really is?”

I’d like to 1. write the outline and synopsis. 2. Read, edit and revise. 3. Submit in February.

Also I need a title. I’m thinking “Finisher.” Or “DNF” (that stands for Did Not Finish).

Probably the same timeline as Manuscript 2. Can I do three manuscripts in two months? Maybe if I give myself a clear accomplishment goal like “two chapters a day.” That feels defined and manageable.

Short Story Manuscripts

I also need to finish revising “Will Call” and “The Hunter Case” and send them in to the ghost story competition before January 2017.

Picture Book Manuscripts

I want to draft the text for “I Really Love You, Mom, and I Mean It” and bring that to critique group. I also want to craft the dummy for “Digit” and send that on to my selected publisher.

Can I get those short stories and picture books done by February?

Only if I don’t do anything else.

Play Coin Capture!

Coin Capture

Coin Capture is a fun game that can be played on a rainy day with easy to find household materials. It also gives the players a chance to do some simple math and can be played over and over again. It’s fun for adults and kids to play together.

Ages: 6-adult

Players: 2

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Object of the game

Players try to push their coins into their Score Zone. Players earn points based on the value of the coins from their team that land in their Score Zone. The player with the most points wins!

Materials

A white board

A ruler

2 different color erasable markers

8 coins (2 quarters, 2 dimes, 2 nickels and 2 pennies)

Game Setup

Use a ruler to find the middle of the white board. Draw a two lines, one of each color, down the middle of the board. coin capture game

 

Use the ruler again to divide the two halves of the board into equal sized zones. Mark off the Score Zone and Push Zone for each color.

coin capture game

 

Play

Each player gets four coins, 1 quarter, 1 dime, 1 nickel and 1 penny.

One player uses heads, one player uses tails.coin capture game

Flip a coin to decide your color and Score Zone. 

Start in your Push Zone and try to push your coins into your Score Zone.

Don’t take coins off the board until the game is over! They will get bumped and pushed around into different zones. 

Coins on the middle line don’t count for points but can be pushed into a Score Zone. 

If your coin stops in the other player’s Push Zone, they get to capture it, flip it to their team, and use it.

 

Scoring

A penny is 1 point, a nickel is 5 points, a dime is 10 points and a quarter is 25 points!

coin capture game

Winning the Game

When all of the coins have been pushed add up the amount of your coins (heads or tails) in your Score Zone and see who wins.

A Little Free Library – Finally!!

We finally have a Little Free Library in Tyler Park! About a year ago, I was in Minneapolis, MN, for a volunteer conference. While I was there, roaming around the very flat city, I walked by my very first Little Free Library. I had heard of these delightful book boxes, but never seen one.

As you can guess, I was incredibly inspired by the idea of sharing books with the community. I promised myself then and there I’d get one in our park. And it happened. Sure, it took over a year, but I never said I’d do it fast.

The Dream

First, I mentioned the idea to my neighbor on the board of our neighborhood association. Then I emailed the info to the board. After they approved the idea, they got approval from the township to install it in the park. Then I selected the design and ordered the LFL. It arrived in early June…and sat on my back deck for several months. I was sad about that, but there wasn’t much I could do. I’m not skilled with digging holes and pouring cement and I did not want this to be installed poorly.

I dreamed of the day the LFL would be ready. My husband and I visited the park often and debated where the best place would be to put it. We settled on a spot near the playground and the driveway. I often looked across the park and pictured it. But every time I tried to line up installation, scheduling or weather got in the way.

So at the bus stop one morning, I mentioned my dilemma to some other families, and a dad volunteered to help me out. And that Friday, we met at the park and dug in!

Installation

We had a little helper who loved to measure.

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While the LFL shipped with basic installation instructions, the steps were a lot more involved than I could implement at the park. We didn’t have electricity for sawing wood. So I purchased the installation materials based on a useful blog post I discovered at Hugs and Kisses and Snot. Their idea was genius in my opinion. All we needed was two mail box posts, cement and screws. I did a very good job holding the mailbox posts in place.

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It was so great learning tips and tricks from my very skilled neighbor. After we leveled the posts, I assumed we’d have to mix the cement in the bucket, but he pointed out it was just as easy to mix it right in the ground. That smoke is like magic!!

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We let the cement set for a day. Bright and early Saturday morning my neighbor secured the LFL onto to the posts with a kind of construction glue and screws. Then the kids, my husband and I hustled over there with our big box of books and loaded it up.

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Little Free Library Opening Day

We didn’t have a huge Opening Day celebration. But the Little Free Library worked like a charm. My kids saw books that looked interested, grabbed them out of the LFL, and cracked them open. Perfect!lfl3It was very hard and very easy to make this dream come true. The Little Free Library is open in Tyler Park. I’ve checked on it every day since it opened. (Yes, I’m over eager) It’s exciting to see that people have taken books and left new ones! We even got a thank you note! It’s pretty thrilling.

Little Free Library

It’s funny, when I saw that Little Free Library in Minneapolis, I didn’t even open it. I remember I gazed at it longingly, but didn’t open the door or take out a book. I could have, of course, because the books in Little Free Libraries are available for anyone. But I realize now I thought those books were only for Minnesotans. So I declare now, if you visit  Tyler Park from you are allowed to take books from our Little Free Library!

When You Love the Story but Not the Writer

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Photo credit Quotesgram.

 

Have you ever fallen in love with a book, a movie, a song? Have you ever felt like it spoke to your soul, or resonated with you so much, you wanted to read more or listen to more by the same artist or author? And then you go and do some research on the author or artist and discover, with massive crushing disappointment, that they are not the person you expected them to be. In fact, you disagree with the writer, very, very, very much.

This has happened to me, and it’s happened more than once. And when it happens I then wonder, “Can I still enjoy the things this person has created, the stories this writer has written, even if I don’t respect their opinions, their perspective, their views on life?”

This happened to me with a singer/songwriter whose music I like, Loretta Lynn, and an author whose books I loved, Orson Scott Card.

Singers

I’m not crazy passionate about Loretta Lynn, but her story is unique and inspiring. Her voice is so unique and beautiful. Truthfully, besides Coal Miner’s Daughter and Sloe Gin Fizz, I don’t know many of her songs. But I would expect to enjoy her music. Until I found out she endorsed Donald Trump. Can I listen to her music and enjoy it anymore?

Authors

Orson Scott Card’s books were a staple of my reading in my teens and early twenties. I loved Ender’s Game and especially The Worthing Saga. I knew he was a Mormon, but I knew lots of Mormons and got along great with them. I did my undergraduate historical research on Mormons traveling to the American West. And I was so proud that one of my first fiction awards came from Leading Edge magazine, a literary journal where his writing appeared. But when I found out he was an open bigot, I couldn’t bring myself to pick up his books anymore.

I’m all for people having their own opinions. I’m all for writers and singers and artists to explore and present opinions that aren’t their own. Not every character in my stories is a version of me. Sometimes they are versions of the worst parts of me, or they are versions of a person I’d never want to be.

But what do you do when you find out a writer or artist who creates works you enjoy holds opinions or beliefs that you could never, ever agree with or understand? Can you still enjoy the products of their creativity? Can you separate the artist from his or her work?

Update…

[Sept 2016] I just learned, to my sorry, that Roald Dahl was an open anti-Semite. A bitter disappointment to learn that someone who told such wonderfully, imaginative stories also claimed “Hitler didn’t pick on them for no reason.” So sad and disgusting.

Is it possible for me, like Ender, to learn to understand my enemy, even love them, through their works?

Details, Details, Details – Details Matter in Novels

“Sometimes I read your stories and I like them, Mom,” said my middle son. “But sometimes, when I read some of your stories, I forget I’m reading. That’s when I know they are really good.”

He’s right. And that’s all thanks to details.

Everyone know the phrase ‘devil is in the details’ but I don’t really like it. It makes details sound like a trick or a scam. Details are super important. And I know that. But sometimes it is so hard to make sure my novel has really good details. Maybe that’s the devil’s fault again, but I think it’s really just mine. It takes a lot of work to check every single detail. But if you love what you do, isn’t it worth it? I think it is, no matter what you’re doing whether it’s writing a novel or building a robot or cooking a meal. The results are worth it.

Details Matter

Here, take a look at these photos from my recent house renovation. These are examples of how our excellent foreman has a keen eye for detail. He takes his time, he does it right, and the results are worth it.

Photo 1 is a close up of the top of some cabinets. The ceiling is sloped just slightly enough that the moulding wouldn’t fit. So the ceiling needed another thin layer of plaster. It took a little more work, but now the moulding will look smooth and clean.

In your story, you want every sentence to read smooth and clean. Where do things slope too far away? Could you add some details to even things out?

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Here’s a photo showing the precise markings of some blocking that will support our floating shelves. The shelves will look like they are just floating magically against the wall, like magic. But it’s really careful math and science.

What parts of your story do you want to feel magical but haven’t given them enough support? Are there details you can add so that the entire plot has a good foundation?

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Here’s an example of some wall outlets. It’s a bad photo, so just trust me. These wall sockets aren’t aligned. Our foreman didn’t put these in and I know he’d never install wall sockets without lining them up.They were put in decades ago, and they look bad. They disrupt the lines of the wall.

What parts of your story just don’t line up? What details can you add to get things into line?

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Here’s a rather amazing example. After laying new floor and installing a new door, our foreman noticed the crew had to chip a tiny hole out of the floor to get the door frame to fit. Our foreman knew right away this hole would bother us every day, since it’s right at the top of the stairs that we use to enter the house. He left a note to himself to fix it.

What tiny plot holes have you left gaping open that you need to close? Is there one detail you can fill in to make the story feel complete to readers?

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Details can be added as you hammer out the first draft, but are also a big part of revising.

Details are connected to our senses, so as you’re revising, think about how things look, but also how they sound, smell, feel and taste. One of my favorite details in my manuscript is the sound of cicadas. That sound is part of the Maryland summer soundtrack. I also want to add in the smell of hot tar on a parking lot, and the taste of honeysuckle.

These are all small examples, but details are small. As you read through your favorite books, take note of the details that mattered and how small they are. Then go back through and add them to your story.

Advice for Writers from an Agent

In May, I attended the SCBWI Western PA Agent Workshop. I learned a lot and got some excellent advice for writers on pitches, storytelling, and revision and I wanted to share it with you!

Pitching Advice for Writers

While they need to be short, they still need to include the main character, the obstacle and some sense of resolution.

This was my pitch and it was well-received.

Short and sweet!

Short and sweet!

Storytelling Advice for Writers

  • Mirror, Mirror. Please don’t use the tired device of describing your character’s physical appearance by having your your character look into a mirror.
  • Too Much Telling takes away from action.
  • Why Should I Care? This is the feeling that readers get when they confront too much backstory. Weave it in, don’t dump it.
  • Bubble Boy or Girl. Or Alien. Make sure your characters don’t exist in a bubble. Describe the setting and use all five senses!

Revision Advice for Writers

More advice for writers covered how to revise your manuscript. Envision your manuscript as a road that your readers will travel on a wondrous journey. The first draft is like that rocky, dirty, bumpy path carved out by construction equipment. Each stage of renovation makes it smoother, easier, more pleasant to travel.

As you read your manuscript, look for places where you’ve left out setting details, where you’ve used passive voice and -ly words, and if your main character is changing. If not, go back and call in that construction crew.

Advice for Writers of Picture Books

Did you know 60% of the story should be told through illustration? That means for non-illustrating writers like myself, I should only write 40% of the tale in the text. This is an interesting way for me to examine my texts, even though I never considered myself particularly mathematical. I like the idea of making sure the larger part of the tale comes through in the art, even if that does make writing harder.