Saturday, March 28, 2015

Tips on Writing Suspense Stories for Children, Part 2


Go get the biggest bag you can find. That is, if you want to be a fiction writer. Pack your tools with care. They must all fit. Granted some are large, some small; there is an amazing amount you will need. One of the most important items to pack is your treatment of death. And as we know, writing for the formidable minds of young children under the age of 12, death cannot be taken lightly.

Banned Books
Nowhere is an author's weigh-in on death and other touchy subjects more conspicuous than during Banned Books Week, this year September 27th-October 3rd. The event, sponsored by such reputable organizations as the American Booksellers Association and the National Council of Teachers of English, and endorsed by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, "highlights the value of free and open access to information."

Reasons cited by challengers: offensive language, unsuited for age group and violence. Example: In 2013 there were 307 challenges reported by the Office for Intellectual Freedom for ten of the most challenged books in schools and libraries. #1: Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey, beating out Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James by three, which came in as #4. Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence. But, wait. I remember reading in an article about Pilkey that he realized in third grade that everyone loves to laugh about underpants. The accompanying photo had him wearing fake glasses with a big nose. Isn't that exactly the kind of stuff kids love? To have some fun, go to http://www.pilkey.com/.  You'll see Pilkey's fake facial ensemble and lots more.

What's a Children's Author to do?
Break ground. That's the advice given at every conference and in every class I've taken on writing for children. Editors try to explain why they like a book--love a book--but in the end, they can't pinpoint the reason. They just know a good book when they see one.

So, the burning question for suspense writers for young children is, what's suspense without a death or the threat of one? One example of a banned book that dealt with death that created a crater in kiddie lit is Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson. Terabithia is considered a children's literature classic, published in 1977; awarded the Newbery Medal in 1978. The book is a staple of English studies in many countries, including the U.S.

Terabithia is the story of two fifth-graders who create an imaginary kingdom in the woods named Terabithia; Jess as king, Leslie as queen. Paterson's inspiration came from a terrible accident in 1974 when a friend of her son's was killed from a lightning strike. "I was trying to make sense of a tragedy that made no sense," Paterson says in an interview by Peter T. Chattaway / February 12, 2007 with Christianity Today. Katherine Paterson, whose parents were missionaries and whose husband was a Presbyterian minister, says, ". . . kid lit doesn't have to be 'safe.' After all, the Bible sure isn't."

Paterson's book made #8 on the most frequently banned books list, 1990-1999 and #10 in 2003. As Emily Bazelon put it in an article for Slate, " . . .  somehow the lesson is not that Jess and Leslie should never have swung on the rope to their enchanted spot. Rather, the story suggests how "death is always at the back of risk and beauty," as the friend I saw the movie with put it. That message, of life's indelible tragic contours, helps explain the power of Paterson's story 30 years after it was written and its relevance for our addled child-rearing times. To read the article
go to: http://www.slate.com/articles/life/family/2007/02/sudden_death.html

Investigate Other Treatments of Death
Early on as a budding children's novelist, I decided to go death-lite and not tackle the subject head-on, at least not at first. One of my current WIP's deals with what I consider death-in-the-abstract: a ghost story. Two of my "model" books that I have studied are The Green Ghost and The Blue Ghost, by Marion Dane Bauer. The reading level, RL, which can be found in most children's books on the inside or outside of the front or back cover, for The Green Ghost is 2.0, second grade; ages 6-9, stated as 006-009. Once a writing instructor for the MFA programs at Vermont College of Fine Arts, Bauer's ghost stories at first glance seem simple. Analyze the books, however, and I think you'll be amazed at how the deaths of the ghosts are extremely subtle; moreover in The Green Ghost the main character turns out to be a surprise--not who you might think.

Two other books, which were suggested as additional reading in one of the children's writing courses I've taken, are Prisoners at the Kitchen Table, by Barbara Holland (Clarion Books: 1979), and The Dollhouse Murders, by Betty Ren Wright (originally published by Holiday: 1983), for age 9+, fourth grade and up. I consider these two books to be good examples of psychological thrillers for children.
  • Prisoners deals with kidnapping, no death: A man and woman tell Polly Conover such a convincing story about being her aunt and uncle that she and friend Josh Blake get in their car, believing they're going to Polly's house for a surprise. Instead, the children are taken to a secluded farmhouse miles away from home and are stuck there scared, lonely and bored, until their parents can come up with ransom money. Finally, Josh thinks up a way to escape. The book is lauded by reviewers. In Amazon.com reviews, one reviewer wrote, "I must have checked Prisoners at the Kitchen Table out of my local public library at least once a month, prior to 4th grade." Other reviewers wrote that Prisoners is an exciting book that that involves friendship, teamwork and courage, and is an important safety reminder not to believe a stranger's story and get into a stranger's car.
  • Doll House deals with the past murder of a young girl's grandparents: In the attic twelve-year-old Amy finds a dollhouse that is "an exact replica of the family home," and is haunted. The dolls, representing Amy's relatives, move every time she visits the dollhouse. Her aunt doesn't believe it, but Amy believes the dolls are trying to tell her something. By researching old newspaper clippings at the library, she discovers a family secret: that her grandparents were murdered. A reviewer wrote that Doll House was passed around among her friends in fourth grade. She read it again as an adult and wrote: "What blows me away . . . is that the story is haunting and frightening at any age, but is appropriate for a child. While it deals with murder and ghosts, it's handled with care and without gore. And still, this many years later, I had those spine tingles that I crave in a good book, and find so rarely."
  • My thoughts: I believe young children want to be scared out of their wits just like everybody else. Why not do this for them with great care, understanding and grace?
For more about suspense writing, please visit last month's post:  "Unravel the Mystery of  Suspense, Part 1".

Articles that contributed to this post: http://www.ala.org/bbooks/bannedbooksweek; http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/09/26/banned-books-week-the-10-most-challenged-books-every-year-since-2000; http://bannedbooks.world.edu/2012/11/04/banned-books-awareness-bridge-to-terabithia/



Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, has published over 40 articles for adults and children and six short stories for children. Recently she completed Joyce Sweeney's online fiction and picture book courses. She is currently working on several projects for children. Follow Linda on Facebook.




Friday, March 27, 2015

A Picture Paints a Thousand Words

Originally published March 27, 2014

When I was a child, I lingered with my Golden Books, intently studying the pictures. They were as important, if not more important, than the story. 

We all know how moving a picture can be to help tell a story - whether simple or complex. But how about the picture being the source of inspiration for a story or article?

If you're feeling the late winter slump (particularly those of us who live where spring is in a holding pattern), grab a book of photographs and find a cozy spot to browse and reflect.

Time LifeNational Geographic, and even your own photo albums are chock full of material to get you thinking. Not only that, but it is relaxing and will help take your mind off everything that vies for attention.

I keep my iPhone or camera handy and I'm in the routine of capturing special moments in time. 

I took this picture when I went snowshoeing this winter and it produced several ideas for an article.


When I woke up one morning in my daughter's apartment, this is what I saw:


(That one is tucked away for later).

Here's one from my backyard, just before a storm. As I watched the sky groan with turmoil, it conjured up a plot of the struggles that can come in a relationship.


Finally, some years ago, my 5-year-old made this drawing on our computer. It sparked an idea for a children's book I'd like to write:



If you haven't tried letting pictures help you write, try it!

Whatever your genre, pictures will help you paint a thousand words.  

~~~

After raising and homeschooling her 8 children and teaching art classes for 10 years, Kathy has found time to pursue freelance writing. She enjoys writing magazine articles and more recently had her story, "One of a Kind", published in The Kids' ArkYou can find her passion to bring encouragement and hope to people of all ages at When It Hurts http://kathleenmoulton.com


Photo credit: Kathleen Moulton © all rights reserved

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A-Z Blogging Challenge

Blogging from A to Z April(2015) Challenge



It's almost time for the off in the A to Z Challenge for 2015. I signed up last month, and entered a new blog I'm hoping to expand. And yesterday I declared my intent and announced the subjects and theme of my challenge posts.

Last time I answered the challenge, I only reached the letter G. Even so, my Google rankings soared and I met many other bloggers, found some very useful blogs and learned a lot about what makes a successful post. This time I am determined to do better. 

There is a great camaraderie about working on a blogging challenge. There is the excitement of knowing others are looking at your posts and every day they must be the best possible. There is the inspiration of reading new, unknown blogs both in your own field and in completely unrelated subjects.


Speed up your writing


For me, the challenge is also in commenting on five other blogs per day. I am apt to anguish about writing, Even writing a comment can take me far too long. Doing it day after day speeds me up dramatically.

Nine days left for registration and already 1200 blogs are involved. I spent hours wading through them yesterday. Without knowing where I am on the list, I can't find the following blogs I must visit to leave comments. Panic set in until at last  I found me sitting at 629.


Plan for Success

  • Any challenge is easier with planning. A month of daily blog posts with only Sundays off for good behavior is arduous.
  • My theme--like the name of my new blog-- is Author Support.
As I think of anything that might fit the alphabetical article headings, I set up a draft blog post with the title already there.  A theme is not essential but it ties the posts together and makes it more cohesive and fun for readers.

  • Make posts short and to the point. Bloggers have to visit five blogs a day. There will be no time to read long articles. 
  • Vary content by using clip art, photos, podcasts and videos.
  • Make each post useful and fun.
What do you think of writing challenges? Love them or hate them? Leave an opinion in the comments below and if you register for the A to Z Challenge for April, let me know your registration number so I can visit :-)

Anne Duguid Knol
A local and national journalist in the U.K., Anne is now a fiction editor for award-winning American and Canadian publishers. As a new author, she shares writing tips and insights at her very new Author Support blog: http://www.authorsupport.net
Her novella, ShriekWeek is published by The Wild Rose Press.





Friday, March 20, 2015

Keeping a Jotting's Journal

Every year, when I was a child, my mother gave me a diary. Perhaps she thought if I spent some time writing about my daily life, I would experience some sort of epiphany and change into a better person.

I always loved my new diary. I would stroke its cover and lift it to my nose, inhaling the smell of new leather. Mmm. I'd close my eyes and think of all the wonderful, exciting things I would do during the coming year, and how I would record them in my diary. And of course the knowledge that no one else would read it made it even more exciting.

Every year, my diary started out with, "It's Christmas! Today I got . . . " and a list of all my Christmas presents. Sometimes I made it to New Year's day, or even a few days beyond. Usually my diary ended on about the 27th of December.

I think one of the reasons for my repeated failure in the World of The Diary, was the thought that diaries had to be a record, a very full record, of my entire day. And of course, that was impossible. I spent far too much time climbing trees, rushing to finish my homework (that was in the days when I still did homework) so that I could go and play, avoiding my parents wrath over the latest misdemeanor, and going for long walks with my dog in the monkey-infested bush near our home.

Childhood was great, full of adventures, mainly of the made-up kind. There wasn't time to write in a diary. That felt too much like homework.

I grew up and stopped getting diaries. Mom had given up, and I knew I wouldn't write in them anyway. There wasn't enough time in the day. Then I hit a mid-life crisis of a different kind. I got cancer. I had so many things I needed to remember, I got myself another diary. Only this was bigger, and had the times listed down the side.

In an attempt to get away from the picture of long hours of filling in my day's events which I knew I would soon give up on, I decided to call it my journal.

 I started jotting down thoughts, events, and how I felt, next to the appropriate time. It was incredibly self-centered. Folk that have been through aggressive treatment for cancer know how your entire life concentrates on survival. And that's what my journal was. A survival manual.

Two years after I completed a year's aggressive treatment, I became a published writer. I initially wrote devotions and short articles, and where did I get a good deal of my ideas? My journal.

I hadn't written well. I didn't even write in sentences. When I came to use the journal in my writing, I found a year's worth of quick notes, occasional Scripture verses, a few scrawled prayers, and even some long vents, where I poured out my reaction to my latest crisis.

A few years later, Revell Publishers produced my book, Strength Renewed, based on the devotional notes I had written, some of which were already published, and other jottings from my journal. 

Today, I still jot in a journal when I have something to say. It doesn't need to be every day, nor does it have to be good writing. No one else will ever see the contents of this book, and if they did, they would probably not understand it. Odd thoughts, sentences, writing ideas, and sometimes the bones of an entire devotional message fill the pages, and at the back I keep a prayer list. As a writer, I can turn to my journal whenever I need inspiration.

My adventures in the World of the Diary have finally found a purpose. Thank you Mom! And I didn't have to write my life story after all. 

OVER TO YOU: Do you keep a journal? Do you follow the traditional Dear Diary format? Does it work for you? Or do you give up because it is too time-consuming? Maybe you need to try a Jottings Journal. Please share your experiences in the World of the Diary in a comment below.

SHIRLEY CORDER lives on the coast in South Africa with her husband, Rob. Her book, Strength Renewed: Meditations for your Journey through Breast Cancer, which evolved from her Jottings Journal has brought encouragement and inspiration to a multitude of friends and contacts across the world.

Please visit Shirley through ShirleyCorder.com where she encourages writers, or at RiseAndSoar.com where she encourages those in the cancer valley. You can also meet with her on Twitter or Facebook.

Sign up to receive a short devotional message from Shirley in your inbox once a week.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Spring Clean Your Writing and Your Space

Spring is just around the corner and it is time for the traditional spring cleaning. Consider spring cleaning both your writing and your writing space for a fresh outlook for 2015.


Spring cleaning your writing space can do several things for your writing. A clean desk and uncluttered writing space can actually be inspiring to your writing. It is healthy to de-clutter both the top of your desk and even your files. Pay attention to ideas or partial projects and sort them into two piles. Pile one might be projects that need little attention to finish and submit while pile two might be projects that you want to slush for now. Sorting this information will free you to work on productive projects and open your writing opportunities to those that should be pursued. Other labels to help you sort your files and projects might be:
  • Active vs Dead
  • Submit vs Revise
  • Good vs Trash
  • New ideas to pursue vs Current ideas to finish
Consider rearranging your writing space if you feel blocked. Turning your desk a different direction or changing the view from your current space with a new picture or new lighting can be inspirational and spark new writing for the season. Sometimes a new coat of paint, a new pillow, a bright light, or new file folders and pens are all it takes to brighten your writing space and inspire new ideas.


Other ideas for spring cleaning your space and your writing include evaluating your current progress and productivity. Is what you currently do with your writing getting you to where you want to be with your writing? For me personally the answer this spring is no it isn't... I have had an injury and can no longer work the long hours that nursing requires so my goal is to make my writing more financially lucrative. It requires some discipline on my part to evaluate what has worked the past years and what hasn't so I can take a new approach to my writing as a career.


Maybe it is time to again ask yourself what it is you want to do this year with your writing? Is your writing a hobby or a business? What do you enjoy writing and how can that work into your writing goals?  Do you write as a career or to relieve stress? Do you journal or create characters and plots?


You get the idea. The main thing is to let winter be gone and instill the freshness of spring into your space and into your writing. Giving your writing space and your files a good spring cleaning can be both freeing and inspirational. It can also give your writing new purpose and help you be your best for 2015. How will you spring clean your writing and your space? I would love to hear your ideas.


Terri Forehand writes from her home in Nashville Indiana writing for children, health, and her love of fabrics. Her most recent experience in hand dying wool for rug hooking is leading to another set of writing ideas.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Yoga for Writers

As each of us knows all too well, sitting ourselves down in the chair and working is the only way to find success as writers. Unfortunately that process can also lead to some aches and pains, not only emotionally, but physically, as we hunch over our computers sitting on chairs that may or may not be comfortable.

That's why this month I decided to team up with Janna, from YOGA Joy to discuss how to keep flexible during those long writing periods where the muse is being particularly helpful and our bodies are taking the toll.

"Incorporating yoga stretches at work is particularly important for people whose jobs require them to sit at a desk in front of a computer for long hours. The following stretches can help with neck and back strain and increase flexibility of the fingers and hands," says Jana (RYT).

1. Head & Neck
Keep your shoulders relaxed, inhale and then let your chin drop to your chest from its neutral position, breathe and hold for 3-5 seconds. Lift your head back up to neutral while inhaling and then exhale and turn your head left, breathe and hold, then turn head right, hold and breathe. Inhale and return to neutral, exhale and move left ear toward left shoulder. Keep breathing for 3-5 seconds. Inhale return to neutral and then shift to move right ear toward the right shoulder.


2. Seated Cat-Cow Stretch
Bring both feet flat on the floor. Bring your hands to your knees. On an inhale, tip the tailbone up and arch the back while gazing up - make sure to keep your neck straight. On the exhale, round the spine and shoulders while tipping the chin toward the collar bone. Repeat for 3-5 breaths.


3. Seated Spinal Twist
Turn to sit sideways in the chair. Bring both feet flat on the floor. Inhale and lengthen your spine and then rotate towards the back of the chair. Relax shoulders and take 3-5 breaths before doing the same thing on the other side.

4. Seated Warrior I
Sit on the front edge of a chair. Straighten your spine. Inhale and turn to the right, straighten your left leg behind you while bending your right knee. Place both hands on the bent knee and find your balance. Then when ready lift your arms. Hold for 3-5 breaths.

5. Wrist and Hand Stretch
Rotate hands to the outside of your body so that the wrists face the computer and the fingers face the edge of the desk. Gently lean into the wrists and flatten palms as much as possible. Then open palms and spread fingers. Begin curling pinkie, then ring finger and continue until thumb is curled into a fist. Repeat to relax muscles. Gently fist hands and circle wrists one direction and then the opposite way. 

Take the time to stretch and then enjoy the rest of your writing day!
________________________________

D. Jean Quarles is a writer of Women's Fiction and a co-author of a Young Adult Science Fiction Series. Her latest book, House of Glass, Book 2 of The Exodus Series was written with coauthor, Austine Etcheverry.
D. Jean loves to tell stories of personal growth – where success has nothing to do with money or fame, but of living life to the fullest. She is also the author of the novels: Rocky's Mountains, Fire in the Hole, and Perception. The Mermaid, an award winning short story was published in the anthology, Tales from a Sweltering City.                                                                                              She is a wife, mother, grandmother and business coach. In her free time . . . ha! ha! ha! Anyway, you can find more about D. Jean Quarles, her writing and her books at her website at www.djeanquarles.com                                       You can also follower her at www.djeanquarles.blogspot.com or on Facebook.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

From School Teacher to Business Owner—In 4 Months Flat

Guest Post by  M. Shannon Hernandez

During my 11th year as a public school teacher, I met my husband, who lived in Brooklyn, and I packed my bags to accept a teaching position in New York City. I was well aware I would need to return to college and earn my master’s degree, as this is a certification requirement for NY state. I enrolled in Brooklyn College and began working towards a degree in Biology Education. I also knew that I would be losing the tenured position I had worked so hard to earn during my first ten years of teaching in North Carolina. While I wasn’t thrilled about the latter point, because it meant, once again, “proving” myself to a new school district, I accepted it. Within three years of teaching in New York City, my tenure had been granted to me once again.

It was in October of 2012, when Hurricane Sandy blew through our area, that two pivotal pieces of information were revealed to me, changing the course of my life and career. First, I had just been informed by the New York City certification department that I would lose my tenure, again, once I began teaching under my new biology certification the following fall.

I was livid. I cried. I screamed. I made phone calls. And with each person I spoke to, the news was consistent: Because I was switching from a certification in ELA to Biology, my tenure would be taken from me, and I would have to prove, once again, that I was a teacher worthy of keeping.

The second piece of information that changed the direction of my life was revealed to me in my journal during this same week. Because the public schools were being used as emergency shelters for people who had been displaced by Hurricane Sandy, the employees and students were granted a week off from our normal routine. I have always been an avid journal writer, and I was using my journal as a tool to make sense of the destruction and sadness I was witnessing in our area. Because I was still bitter and raw about the tenure situation, pieces of that were also sprinkled throughout the pages.

I woke up on the fourth day of my unexpected week off and took out my journal. I read the previous day’s entry. What emerged on that page—one tiny sentence—changed my life. I had written, “I deserve to be happy again.” As I read that statement, it lodged itself in my heart, and tears spilled down my cheeks. I was sitting at the kitchen table in my Brooklyn apartment, sobbing, tears streaking the ink on the pages. How had I not realized before now just how unhappy I was in my career?

My husband, who was working from home that day, watched all of this emotion unfurl. He knew that I was sick and tired of working in a system that didn’t appreciate me for the teacher I was, and he knew I was struggling terribly with my personal happiness. I remember walking over to his desk, embracing him in a hug, and saying between sobs, “Babe, I have to find a way out of this career. I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I can’t return to the classroom next fall.” He hugged me even tighter, and said the four most powerful words that still bring tears to my eyes, “I will support you.”

The next three months were a flurry of activity and a combination of deep reflection, creative thinking, and making moves to get my exit strategy together. I decided that I would open a business in the beginning of 2013, teaching business owners how to write better content for their audiences, as well as helping them tell their own personal stories through digital storytelling. I named my company The Writing Whisperer, and brought on a team of people who were successful in various parts of business, so they could help me build my new dream and prepare for my launch in February.

This may have been one of the most stressful and sleep-deprived times in my life, but I knew I was on the right track because I was happy and excited about my future again! Most days I woke up at 3:00 in the morning and worked on graduate school projects until 6:40, when I left my house and boarded the train to Manhattan. Once I arrived in my classroom, I devoted all of my heart, energy, and focus on my students. When the final bell rang at 3:20, I packed my bags, walked out of the building, got on the train, grabbed a quick forty-minute nap, and headed to my evening college classes. When I finally arrived home at 9:00 at night, exhausted by a full day of work and graduate-level study, I devoted two hours to building my business.

When February of 2013 came around, The Writing Whisperer was ready to launch. Somehow, I had also, despite my hectic, sleep-deprived schedule, graduated with a 4.0 grade point average in my master’s program! Deep within my soul, even before I had my first client, I believed at my core I would be a successful business owner, which would allow me to chart my own course in life, and never have to prove to anyone else, ever again, that I was “good enough.” These are the thoughts that fueled me when uncertainty and fear crept into my brain.

In March, the decision was made. I told the administration that I would not be returning the following year. And in June…I turned in my resignation. I have never looked back. I am now a full-time business owner, author, and writer for The Huffington Post. But you know who else I am? I am a fantastic vegan chef, a student of yoga, a runner training for the 2015 NYC Marathon, and a fun-loving, big-ole-ball-of-energy-world-traveler. I am one happy camper once again!

About M. Shannon Hernandez:

M. Shannon Hernandez is the founder of The Writing Whisperer, and her mission is to help heart-centered entrepreneurs and heart-centered authors find their brand voices, share their unique stories, gain more visibility, establish themselves as experts, and create authentic marketing messages, all through the use of smart content strategy and engaging copywriting. The Writing Whisperer was named one of Top 100 Websites for Writers by The Write Life in both 2014 and 2015, and Shannon has been featured as a content strategy and copywriting expert on many prominent podcasts and websites. She is a leading voice in the world of authentic business writing and heart-centered education reform, and she writes regularly for The Huffington Post. Shannon’s memoir, Breaking the Silence, chronicles her exit out of public education, after 15 years, and provides readers an intimate view of her journey to business ownership, finding happiness, and reinvention.

About Breaking the Silence: My Final Forty Days as a Public School Teacher

America’s public school system is broken and M. Shannon Hernandez knows why, firsthand. After fifteen years in the teaching profession, three gut-wrenching realizations forced her to recognize that she must leave the career she loved so dearly. She knew that if she continued to work for a failing system, she would also continue to lose a little piece of her heart and soul every day.

You are invited into Hernandez’s classroom for the final forty days of her teaching career to understand the urgent need for school reform, clearly demonstrated in each story. You’ll witness the intelligence, vulnerability, and humanity of her students, and the challenges teachers like Hernandez face as they navigate the dangerous waters between advocating for and meeting students’ needs, and disconnected education policy. 

This book is not only a love letter to her students, her fellow teachers, and to the reformed public school system she envisions, but also a heartfelt message of hope, encouragement, and self-empowerment for those who feel they are stuck in soul-sucking careers. It is an essential read for each citizen who is seeking a life comprised of more purpose and happiness, as well as parents, teachers, administrators, and policymakers who know our nation’s education system is in desperate need of an overhaul.

Find Shannon online:

https://www.facebook.com/TheWritingWhisperer
https://twitter.com/writingwhisper
https://www.linkedin.com/pub/m-shannon-hernandez/61/98/731

~~~~~
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