Friday, July 29, 2011

Focus Friday: Teaching is Learning

Yesterday, my students and I parted ways after a four-day journey up "Story Mountain."  It was the final day of a Storywriting camp for middle-grade students.

Being back in the classroom, I was reminded of how much I still love to teach!  And, I was also reminded that when we teach, it's a learning opportunity.

During the week, for example, I learned a great deal about how kids talk, what motivates them, and their likes and dislikes.  I witnessed what they were capable of (in a very short amount of time) and became inspired to make middle grade characters in my stories a little more like them.

The entire experience was fantastic (or as they put it - da bomb, and delicious 'like roasted chicken'), and I'm glad to walk away from it knowing that we all learned from the camp.

It reminded me that teaching can help us learn to be better writers–through the research it takes to craft a lesson or activity, the actual teaching of the material, and in the responses from our students.

Do you teach?

Perhaps your blog offers advice, or you offer services as a guest speaker - making you a teacher.  When you teach, do you also find that you learn how to be a better writer through the experience?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Mommy Monday: Upcoming Guest Interviews!

Beginning next week on my blog, we'll have a series of interviews with Author-Moms!  Make sure to stop by my blog during the months of August, September, and October for interviews with mommy-writers such as Kara Froberg, Kelly Hashway, Lynne Marie, and more!

Each Monday, I'll post a new interview with or profile about another "Mommy-by-Day / Author-by-Night/Weekend/Ounce of Free Time!"

See you next week!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Focus Friday: Writing Book Reports

Above: The books I checked out just this week!
Browsing through library checkout slips, it surprised me when I realized that I've checked out more than 100 books already this year.  The majority have been picture books, but some have been chapter books, YA or adult novels, and a few titles were research/reference books.

Even more surprising - I read most of them.  But, if you would ask me to ramble off titles, authors, and the basic premise of each one from memory–I probably couldn't do it.  That's opportunity lost, in my opinion.

I'm disappointed in myself, and I'm sure my seventh grade teacher would be disappointed, too.

I didn't write book reports.  I'm disappointed in myself, and I'm sure my seventh grade teacher would be disappointed, too.

Today, I thought to myself, wouldn't it be nice if I had made even a small book report on each title?  Then I could look up the title when I think,"Oh, that phrase reminds me of that book I read...or what was that nifty device that author used?  Which publishing house released a title on pangolins already?"  Etc. Etc.

Yes.  A million times yes.  It would be very nice.

Now, before I commit myself to a goal of writing hundreds of book reports, reality is already settling in.  I've come to the conclusion that there are twelve pieces of information most relevant to keeping track of what I've read:

One-Sentence Description
Approx. Word Count
Opening Line
Point of View
Author/Illustrator (Y/N)
Did I like it
Most Interesting Aspect / Notes

Sounds like a spreadsheet to me.  Easier than a fleshed-out book report, but enough to refer back to when I've got a manuscript of my own to compare against if I'm considering a similar publishing house, genre, or subject.

What do you think?  Do you keep track of all the books you've read?  How do you organize your thoughts, notes, and studies of other stories?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Worldly Wednesday: Eden Folk Tale Series

Recently, I completed a fun (and challenging) task of editing two African folk tales written by Tokunbo Ifaturoti, also known as Auntie Toks.  She's one of the creators of the hit TV programme “Time Out with Auntie Toks," which airs on weekend mornings in London.  'Auntie Toks' also is the founder of the Lighthouse Children's Workshop Production, an organization dedicated to fostering appreciation of cultural diversity.

About the Books

The Monkey and the Peanuts is a Nigerian folk tale in which King Musa loves everything in his kingdom except for foolish monkeys!  In the story, children will find out what happens when King Musa's path crosses a sneaky monkey out to steal his prized peanuts.
The Elephants Who Always Forgot tells the tale of the Akelo elephants of Kenya.  They are the strongest animals in their village, but they’re also the most forgetful.  So in exchange for their hard work, the Kenyan people constantly remind the elephants of their strength.  That relationship comes in very handy when  hunters spy their long tusks and attempt to poach them.  And their forgetfulness also comes in handy with a surprise twist at the end!

What's especially neat about these books is that they come with authentic cultural recipes, and there are additional workbooks that can be purchased to go along with each book (note:  workbooks and colouring books are in UK English - but still fun and appropriate for American kids).

Both books have very vibrant illustrations, completed by Illustrator Theo Ighodaro.

If you want to learn more or order these African folk tales from Tokunbo Ifaturoti's website, here's the link!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Mommy Monday: Children's Books for Mommies

Who says all children's books are really written for children?

Even before I gave birth to my eldest daughter, I was buying children's books.  Albeit, those titles were mostly about babies and motherhood, but I found them to be entertaining, inspiring, and a great way to start or end a day.

Now with two children in the real world, I buy and read even more children's books.  And I've really come to appreciate children's books that have adult appeal.

Kids' ratings aside, here are some picture books that I enjoyed reading, and hopefully other mothers will too!

 by Regina Doman

I received this book as a gift when I was expecting my first child.  Waterworks, yes!  But it really became sort of a first bonding experience with the life growing inside of me.

by Kat Yeh

This is one grandparents will love, too.  Cryers beware - you might get a little choked up at how beautiful this book really is!

By Liz Garton Scanlan

My kids really enjoyed the photos - and I wondered if they were even listening.  But I really appreciated the poetic text immensely! 

By Chris Robertson

I don't think my kids even understood how humorous this book was as they've never seen the real Statue of Liberty, but parents will surely get a chuckle!  Plus, if you order books from Chris directly he might send free coloring book pages.  My kids enjoyed that!

By Pam Smallcomb

Even with more than 100 children's books on my kids' bookshelves, you'd be surprised how similar many of them are.  This one is fun for moms to read because the structure of the story is fresh and different - it's written in first person, is injected with humor, and isn't overly wordy.  
Bonus: my kids LOVED it.

Readers are encouraged to comment below:  Regardless of what your kids think, what are your favorite picture books to read now, as an adult?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Focus Friday: The Wonders and Woes of Working From Home

Fridays are usually my best working day of the week (hence: Focus Fridays).  It's usually a day where I enjoy the wonders of working from home:  getting to take my lunch break whenever (or having my husband cook something and deliver it within inches of my keyboard), writing barefoot and in sweatpants if I so choose, and choosing which projects to work on (although deadlines occasionally dictate that).

Today, however, was quite short of wonderful.  The 'woes' of working from home found their way into my work day.  An early AM call, for example, in which a family member needed a babysitting favor--because everyone else in the family was 'working.'  A weekly switch in hubby's workschedule, which is less 'flexible' than mine.  "I'm going out, can you please finish cooking that rice right now?" You get the drift.

What's most ironic about the whole situation is that on Wednesday and Thursday of this week I participated in an online Q&A session with children's author Susan Ulhig, and specifically discussed work schedules, etc.  Writers like Susan, apparently, take measures such as not answering the phone, assigning specific work hours, or even going to a coffee shop all day to avoid the distractions of home and family.

On a day like today, I admire their set schedules, especially because I'm a little flustered.  But as I'm writing this post, I'm reminded of why I chose to work from home in the first place.  I like my home.

While I wouldn't say I like being interrupted, I would say that I like knowing what's going on in my household, with my children, and having every resource at my fingertips.

If I assigned very specific work hours, I might be writing when I don't want to be writing––or worse, I might miss the chance write at a time I really feel productive.  If I went to a coffee shop to write, I'd have to type all of my stories on my iPad - which I'm sure would be more frustrating.  And, I live in a small place, so the chances that someone who knew me would start a conversation are really high.

I realize that I actually really enjoy breaks for laundry, dishes, or snacks.  And, I really enjoy getting to be there when the caterpillars emerge from their chrysalises, or my son says a new word.  Plus, I'm a pretty motivated writer and a strict professional, so I know the work will get done.  It just might mean waking up earlier or going to bed later.

So, I guess this week, like most, I'm enjoying flexibility but taking the frustration with it.  Frustration:  I'll have to work on Saturday this week.  Flexibility:  I know I did something really important to help out my Grandfather today.

As for the 'Focus' element - I've decided to be more vocal about my work to my family.  How can I expect them to realize I work too if I don't share it with them?

Here are three concrete steps I'm going to take in showing my family my professional obligations, so that they may realize that writers like me who work from home have real jobs, too!

1) Calendar:  While I have an iCal laced with deadlines and project milestones, it's only on my personal computer.  So I'm printing my project deadline schedule every week and posting it next to the actual family calendar so everyone can see it.

2) Conversations:  I realize that other writer friends of mine and online followers or book fans know more about my current writing projects than my family.  I'm making it a point to discuss one story, article, or book I'm working on every day at breakfast (the meal when all of us are guaranteed to be home), and send out a monthly email to extended family regarding my exciting projects, struggles, and successes!

3) Income Statements:  Every three or four weeks, I assess and update my income from writing in a spreadsheet -- but I don't really update my husband on my earnings which go into a separate bank account.  While I consider myself a part-time writer and author, my income is an important contribution to our household.  I plan to share a printed, monthly account of my revenue and expenditures, so that he might be reminded of and appreciate the 'fruits of my labor' year-round not just once a year at tax time.

How do you help your family focus on your work as a writer from home?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Worldly Wednesday: The Birth of a New Country

As a children's author, I often write stories about new birth.  Stories about younger siblings joining in the family, or about the baby chicks in spring.  I've written action rhymes about the metamorphosis that takes place when a caterpillar is reborn as a butterfly.

But today, I'm writing a story about a different kind of birth.  The birth of a brand-new country.

Last week, just after America celebrated it's birthday, the continent of Africa officially added another name to its list of countries: South Sudan.  I've taken some time to follow the story, considering the implications it has on student learning.  My daughter's one-week old atlas has already become outdated, for example.  But writing for children about the birth of a brand-new country also has opportunity–it's laced with relevancy, and provides an engaging platform to discuss our own history, or even the human condition.

Although I'm not planning a trip to South Sudan anytime soon, the story I'm crafting right now loosely parallels the birth of our country and South Sudan.

Whether or not I'll ever submit it anywhere is another story.  For now, I'm content as a witness from afar penning a tale for my own children about life in another place.

My goal?  That through the story, my children will figure out that despite thousands of miles and across the language barrier that human beings around the world have dreams and hopes in common.

Happy birthday, South Sudan.  Wishing you all the best.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Mommy Monday: Hardcover, Paperback, or Digital?

Over the weekend, I attended a baptism ceremony and, no surprise, gave books as gifts.  As a mother who much prefers hardcover books for children under the age of 8, I gave all hardcover books––two of which were the "sturdy" hardcover books with extra thick board pages. 

I have to say, above all other forms of books, my favorite is hardcover.  Considering the fact that the majority of books that survived my childhood and now sit on my children's bookshelves are hardcover ones, I know they last longer.  But I also realize they are much more expensive.

So, for practical reasons, not every book in our household is hardcover.  There's a variety of hardcover, paperback, and digital books.  And we use all of them.  But the hardcover ones sit nicer on the shelf, and wear better when being read. 

Even my children seem to prize them more–choosing the hardcover ones more often at bedtime or storytime.  If I could, I'd buy only hardcover.  But like any family on a budget, I choose hardcover for the ones that they're likely to read again and again.

But lately, I've been editing more and more children's books that are being released strictly as paperback or digital storybooks...without a hardcover edition available on the market.  What do you think about the future of the hardcover picture book?  Do you like hardcover children's books as much as our family does?  Do you buy exclusively hardcover, or are you practical, like our family?

Thoughts welcomed.  And happy Monday!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Worldly Wednesday: Hungry, Happy Ramadan

This month's online Highlights newsletter includes two Muslim pieces.  One is a Ramadan Mosaic craft, the other a narrative about the daily Ramadan routine of one Muslim family in Oman. 

Since I've edited a few children's books for Muslim authors who say that there are few markets who will publish works about or containing Islam, I thought I would share a link to "Hungry, Happy Ramadan."

Ramadan begins at the beginning of next month and will last approx. until the 29th of August.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Focus Friday: Kill Fees and Writing on Spec

Cover of Laura Van Womer's mystery novel, The Kill Fee
Recently, I wrote a thoroughly-researched article for my local newspaper.  I interviewed four direct sources, and referenced numerous online sources as well.  In all, it probably took more than five hours, (spread out over two weeks) to complete. 

The day it was supposed to run in the paper I got an email from one of my sources (who was SO excited about the article) telling me she couldn't find it.  Neither could I.  I was scratching my head.

I emailed her back, commenting that the editors might have shuffled things around or printed it in a different section (I've worked as an editor before, so I know how jumbled things can get at 2 a.m.).  But I also told her I wasn't sure, so I would check with my editor to find out exactly what happened.

And that's when my editor told me:  my article had been "killed." Not that it deserved it, of course, but apparently not enough advertising came in to run the spread where my article was supposed to appear. 

I felt stupid, but had to ask my editor – was I still going to be paid?

You can imagine my relief when she said YES.  Whew.  The hard work paid off, even if I never see the article in print.

Since the vast majority of my work is work-for-hire, I've realized I'm "lucky" when it comes to being guaranteed payment for my writing.

In the children's market, however, I'm told that things don't really work that way.  There's something called "on speculation."  After hearing the words several times I went back to my Idiot's guide and other books, and Googled the terms "writing on spec," etc.  From what I can gather, it means no guarantee your work will actually be printed and no guarantee you'll get paid for your some cases, even though you've completed it for a specific market or even gotten some form of acceptance.

This morning, I saw another post for "on spec" work on LinkedIn (someone actually wanted illustrators to work on spec).  More and more, I'm realizing that many of the reputable, bigger magazines–in the children's markets and adult markets–are taking articles "on speculation only." 

The only silver lining?  Kill fees.  I'm told the standard is 25-50%, which would cover some of the sweat - especially if it's a higher paying market. 

But doesn't it all sound so dirty?  On spec?  Kill fees? Are we writers...or mob members? 

Just a joke, people. 

But seriously, I hope to break into the children's magazine market soon.  So, it's more than likely I'll have to enter the Realm of Speculation and Killing.  Nearly all of the magazines I plan to submit to want completed articles, not queries.  So that means coming up with an idea, interviewing sources, doing research, and writing the article for a specific market without being guaranteed of any payment. 


My biggest question for those of you who write on speculation or for children's magazines is: how do you approach/contact sources for an interview when you're not even sure the article will be printed?  I just feel silly saying "Hi, I want to interview your son for an article I'm writing....I don't know if it will ever appear in a magazine, but I'm hoping [insert mag. name here] will pick it up." 

Am I silly for feeling silly?

Tell me your story about submitting on speculation, or having your piece "killed."  Did you get a kill fee?  Nothing at all?  Do you only write the first one or two articles "on spec," then take assignments only? 
Thoughts, comments, and opinions welcomed.  I've got a lot to learn and a long way to go when it comes to knowing the children's magazine markets, and your help is appreciated!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...