Room for Improvement

room for improvement

Stop here.

Running has a finish line, but with stories, there’s always room for improvement.

Virginia Wolf wrote that it’s essential for women to have a room of one’s own, and I don’t disagree. But there’s another room that’s also essential. Room for Improvement.

I don’t usually write stories for specific contests, but I will revise them. There’s this website, Mslexia, that I like. I like what they say about women and writing. I want to send them a story and get good feedback. They have a contest with a deadline of March 1, 2017. I have a story I think they will like. Their contest has a word count limit of 3000 words. My story is 4719. I’ll have to cut 36% of my story to have it qualify. I worked on it for two weeks and I finally have the story down to 2995.

Is it the same story? Is it better or worse? Who knows.

There’s always room for improvement.

I have another story that meets the word count for the next round of Pen Parentis, in fact, it’s well under. It got great reviews on another website but when I pulled it out to re-read it today, I realized I can rewrite it even better, stronger. I overused the word “too” for example. I can spruce this up, get it proofread, and send it off to the contest, which opens March 1.

There’s always room for improvement.

Back in October 2015, I wrote a 50,000 word draft of a novel for NaNoWriMo, but I didn’t really write the full story. I wrote the fun scenes of a story. Now as I’ve pushed this manuscript through one round of revision, I realized I didn’t have a strong story line and I need a synopsis. So I’ve paused my revision and I’m now telling the story in synopsis form. This is a good exercise because I have to turn in my first 50 pages to the hosts of a Highlights Foundation workshop, and the pages are due March 1. (It’s a busy time.)

Once the synopsis is done, I’ll go back and revise those first fifty pages and make sure they really set up the story I plan to tell, so the workshop hosts know what I’m bringing them. I know my revision won’t be perfect, but that’s why I’m going to the workshop. I’m eager for their advice and feedback.

Because there’s always room for improvement.

 

Wild About Reading Books

We love reading books in this house. We also love reading books outside, on the bus, while we’re walking, and even in the parked minivan in the garage.

reading books

Van Reading

Graphic Novels

The book that has captured the attention of this van reader is a graphic novel in the Amulet series. He got book 4 in his Scholastic order, and the older brother got book 5. They’ve both read both books in one day!! That’s the problem and the benefit with graphic novels, I guess. Easy to read, and too easy to read.

The kids are devouring these books, so if you’re looking for something that interests graders 4-6, get your hands on Amulet soon.

Graphic novels are such a good transition from picture book to the meatier picture-free novel. But novels still work in read-aloud format, like picture books. I think that’s one big problem with graphic novels, they can’t be read aloud. Or, they can’t be read aloud and enjoyed like other books.

And though my kids are all gaining very secure footholds in the reading world, picture books are still a source of enjoyment. Recently, I cleaned out two shelves of picture books with my youngest and we had a chance to notice and comment on our favorites.

Picture Books

I think Wild About Books might be my favorite picture book. The kids love it, but it’s so well-written I think adults love reading it, too. Well, bibliophilic adults do. And my favorite part of the book is the insect zoo haiku part is my favorite part of favorites.

The witty puns, the clever word choice, the clever insect choice! It all comes together so effortlessly that I am willing to bet she spent days working on this part.

I feel a sort of familiar pain when the scorpion delivers the harsh, and sometimes true, critiques of the insect haikus. But to be a writer, one needs a thick skin…or chitin.

I love reading this story aloud.

 

 

New Publication: Highlights for Children, March 2017

I’m so excited to share the news about my new piece in Highlights for Children! Just take a look on the inside cover of the March 2017 issue. It’s a small piece, but the topic is really appropriate for today and I think, is a fun way to get to know more about the people in our communities and around the world.

What are some of your favorite ways to learn about new cultures? One of my favorites that isn’t in Highlights is to read the fairy tales or myths and legends treasured by a culture or community. We have quite a few collections of stories from different places we’ve visited, from the Amish to the Irish, from Pacific Northwest to the desert Southwest, from the islands of the Caribbean to the islands of Micronesia.

Learning about cultures is so important, especially today. My piece offers kids and families a few easy and exciting ideas, so let me know if you try any of the activities. If you do, snap a photo and share your experiences with me and I’ll share them with my readers!

 

Sixth, a Graphic Novel

Here’s the next installment of my foray into the realm of graphic novels. They are super popular in my house and the reading community right now. I only wish I had the ability to convey the awkwardness, the angry, the hopes and plans. But these sketches will have to do.

There’s not a lot of self-confidence going around in sixth grade. Being judged and evaluated on a skill I took so much pride in really took a toll on my esteem. I was pretty darn proud of my fifth grade reading award.

Some of the things that happened in sixth grade still stick with me. I’m not sure why I remember the tough moments so much more than the happy ones, because I’m sure there were happy moments. I was a happy kid, because that’s who I am.

To be honest, I’m grateful for these moments, because no one wants to read a graphic novel about a perfect adolescence, do they? And maybe the awkwardness of the so-called art is the perfect way to convey how rough some of those moments were.

So sixth grade was awkward. And as you can read from my little cartoon, I didn’t take too kindly to being put in the lowest reading group. But you know, I can’t even remember what book we were asked to read. I only remember fixating on the book that the advanced readers were given. It was The Witch of Blackbird Pond. I just read that book in 2016. It was a nice book, but not the most moving story I’ve ever read. It took some time, but I think reading the book gave me some peace.

Seventh

Seventh grade gave me a chance to redeem my literary ambitions. Working with my seventh grade teacher I created the school’s first ever literary magazine. Maybe that humbling experience in sixth grade was exactly what a budding, hopeful author needed.

Emoji Tales

I love writing stories, and today I’m going to write an emoji tale.

Emojis are so fun. Yes, they irritate some people, but not me.

Sometimes I have trouble deciphering them because I rely so heavily on non-verbal communication to really understand what someone is trying to say.

My most popular post on this blog has to do with delivering bad news. That bums me out because I prefer to focus on the positive. I think the real reason the post is so popular because I alt-tagged the image with the word “emoji.”

I’ve been using Upwork to find new clients lately and came across a really fun job listing to create emoji stories. The listing said “if you don’t think it’s possible, you’re not right for the job.”

Oh it’s possible.

Emoji Flash Fiction

Here’s a quick emoji tale about my first triathlon of 2017.

emoji tales

Once upon a time…

Not too hard to decode, right?

What if it were a little longer?

emoji tale three bears

Can you read the story?

If you couldn’t figure it out, it’s an emoji re-telling of the beginning of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

Here’s one way of reading it:

“Once there were three bears. They were a family. They lived in the woods, in a house. They went for a walk. A girl with golden hair came to their house. She saw a bowl of food. It was too hot. The next bowl of food was too cold. The third bowl of food was just right.”

I could add some better detail in there, like numbers to indicate first, second and third. I could probably also format my ‘manuscript’ better and start new paragraphs or pieces of action on new lines. Right now, this tale might be considered an emoji run-on sentence.

It’s just a first draft. But it’s really fun.

Tell Your Emoji Tale

Now it’s your turn. Tell me a story in emojis and I’ll see if I can “read” and it. I’ll share the emoji stories I get here on my blog and see if others can read it, too!

Pennsylvania Books

pennsylvania books

Three rivers, hundreds of stories

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ready for a reading list of Pennsylvania books?

Last summer, I came up with a “Reading Road Trip” article that described the real places in the U.S. featured in some of my favorite books. As a kid, I dreamed of visiting the places I read about, everything from Prince Edward Island to Manzanar and Helen Keller’s Alabama home.

I’ve been shopping the article around and looking for a publication or magazine to buy it, but in the meantime I thought I’d work on a list of books that were based closer to home, right here in Pennsylvania.

I have my own Pittsburgh, PA based stories in mind, but my first two middle grade novels are based in Maryland.

Pennsylvania Books

  1. Maniac MageeJerry Spinelli. Not based in Pittsburgh, but includes a visit to Valley Forge. It also tackles the tough topics of race and class.
  2. Criss CrossLynn Rae Perkins. I picked this up because it was a Newbery winner, and fell in love. It’s so lyrical and really captures a feeling and moments rather than a strict storyline. I loved that style. And it’s based in the steel town suburbs up the Allegheny river, some of my favorite parts of Pittsburgh. I plan to read her first novel, also based in PA, called All Alone in the Universe.
  3. EchoPamela Munoz Ryan. This novel follows three characters and one is based in eastern PA.
  4. Hitty: Her First Hundred YearsVirginia Ann Heyerdahl. Not the best book I’ve ever read. It’s a Newbery but fits into the Gay-Neck category, unfortunately. It’s about a doll who travels the world on random adventures and at one point lives in Philadelphia.

In the comments, my friend and fellow writer Amy suggested two more Pennsylvania books.

Macaroni Boy, Katherine Ayers This book is based in the Strip District of Pittsburgh and is also a period piece and a mystery. My kids read it for school and enjoyed the classic banana explosion story.

I’ve read Macaroni Boy but not her other book Voices at Whisper Bend. 

Any more suggestions?

What real live place from a book would you love to visit?

Pig Out for Reading

I remember falling in love with reading.

I’ve been reading a lot of middle grade books the past year, because that’s what I want to write. I want to write books like the kind I read from fifth to eighth grade, the kind I re-read and re-re-read. They were the books that really stuck with me as I grew older and looked for new books to read. I loved the books, I loved the writers, I loved reading.

I have trouble remembering authors and titles sometimes, but I can remember how my books looked in my room. I didn’t have a traditional bookshelf in my room, but I had shelves in my closet and I can still picture the books stacked in there. I even remember keeping some books in the open shelf on my night stand.

Remembered Reading

I remember reading Dreams of VictoryA Dog Called KittySasha, My Friend, and Six Months to Live. And of course all of the Little House books. And a book series from the grocery store called Grandma’s Attic.

But I have forgotten the titles of other books I loved reading. I could only remember snippets.  I remembered I read about a woman who gets a young puppy as a companion for her older dog and the older dog dies on an adventure. Or something like that. And I remembered reading a book about a girl who’s mother went vegan in an attempt to be happier.The mom had recently gotten divorced. The daughter hated the new diet and tried to sabotage her mom. The two big scenes I remember reading involved the daughter drinking mustard and milk and finding mice eating the junk food she had hidden in her drawer. The mom and daughter finally come to a truce and a healthy balance of good food.

(I think that book may have influenced my current eating habits more than I realized.)

I wanted to find these books. I searched all over the internet using as many descriptive words as I could. I searched websites like BookFinder for out of print and old books, I searched Amazon for keywords. I searched Goodreads.

Buried Treasure

Goodreads was useful because users create lists like “kids books that were popular in the 80s” and that’s just what I was looking for.

On Goodreads, I was delighted to find some covers of one of my favorites!

reading

Six Months to Live was my first exposure to childhood disease. The main character has leukemia. Funny, maybe this book influenced me more than I realized, too, because I worked for the American Cancer Society for eight years before I moved to writing full time.

On a Goodreads list I also found a book that I know I read, but had forgotten. This was like discovering buried treasure.

But I still couldn’t find the book about the mom going on a health food kick, or the young puppy and old dog. I let my search fade while the rest of life took over, but I didn’t forget about it. Every once in awhile when I visited the library or an old bookstore, I’d poke around and see if a title or cover jogged my memory.

Then I got involved in cleaning out our basement. I wanted to get rid of our excess belongings for several reasons. I abhor hoarding. The thought of it gives me anxiety. Also, I wanted to move our workout equipment into our larger storage room so I could get more done. My cleanup was ruthless. If I had kept something in the basement so long I didn’t go looking for it, I didn’t need it. As a means of farewell, I did do a sweep through all the papers before I recycled them, and that’s when I found my real buried treasure. My Pig Out award.

Pig Out on Reading

reading award

I love to read.

In fifth grade, I wrote 86 book reports to help my class win a reading prize. While it was wonderful to win the prize thirty years ago, it was even better finding these book reports today. I was so, so grateful to my mom (and then me) for saving them until just this moment. (This is not a reason to horde things. Only keep stuff related to your passionate dream.)

I found the titles of those missing, beloved books. Here are some of my favorites:

Behind the Attic Wall

A Wrinkle in Time

A Swiftly Tilting Planet

Helen Keller

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great

I wrote reports on tons of Nancy Drew books and way too many Sweet Valley High books. Remember, I was going for quantity.

The Bunnicula series is in here, lots of Beverly Cleary books, some Choose Your Own Adventure and a book that gives me an unsettled feeling called The Twits, by Roald Dahl.

But the one about the mom and daughter and health food? It’s called Fifth Grade Secrets. Did you ever read it? I’ve got to find it.

I didn’t find the new dog/old dog book, but that might have been a story in my classroom SRA box. Did you have one of those?

 

Books to Read on a Visit to the Southwest

At the end of 2016, we took a family vacation to Arizona. Like all good vacations, I prepared a little reading list for the trip.

The Books

While we were traveling, I read Land of Little Rain  by Mary Austin and Turtle Dream by Gerald Hausman. There were little pearls of word wonder in both books. Both books were also collections of short writings, one non-fiction and one fiction. Perfect for vacation reading where you don’t always have large gaps of time. When we vacation, we are usually always on the go, there isn’t a lot of sitting around.

Earlier this year, I also read Waterless Mountain, a Newbery Award book, that was “transportational” in its writing. I felt I was in the Navajo land when I read this book. Code Talkers was also about Navajos, but the geography was the South Pacific, not the Southwest.

Death Comes for the Archbishop  by Willa Cather is a book I read on a twenty-state road trip twenty years ago. I highly recommend this book if you ever head there, but I did not read it on this trip.

I also selected Cuentos: Tales from the Hispanic Southwest: Based on Stories Originally Collected by Juan B. Rael (English and Spanish Edition) to read, but I didn’t have the time. It’s still on my bedside table, ready for me to pick up when I’m searching for stories.

You can find some of these books on my Goodreads account.

Do you put together a vacation reading list based on where you’re going? 

 

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.

New Publication! Aunty Greenleaf and my Encyclopedia Entry

I love encyclopedias.
encyclopedia screenshot

Last year, ABC-CLO accepted my application to write an entry in their encyclopedia on American Myths. The book is now published.

It is pretty exciting to see my name in the list of contributors in an encyclopedia. I remember as a kid sitting down and turning pages in our encyclopedias learning about topic after alphabetized topic.

screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-3-05-08-pm

Through this experience, I got to do something I love doing. I got to research and learn new things! I learned a lot of new American myths and legends I had never heard before. The story of Kate Shelly saving a train really excited me.

The Legend

The legend I eventually wrote was about Aunty Greenleaf. There isn’t a lot written about her, but her story isn’t really unknown or unusual. Here’s a snippet of the end to whet your curiosity.

screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-3-11-28-pm

You can read more about ABC-CLIO here.