Friday, September 30, 2011

Focus Friday: So Many Books, So Little Time

I've said it before and I'll say it again:  Good writers READ.

This week, I'm focused on reminding myself to find time to read -- something difficult for me right now since I'm back in the classroom full time.  No, wait.

If my freshman and sophomores can read material from 8 daily classes, and be in sports, find time for friends, etc., why can't I find the time to read one book at a time (in between only 5 classes and a study hall)?

I don't allow excuses from students.  So I won't make any for myself.  I'll get my homework done.

Now, how?

1.  Set aside specific time for reading - I have a long lunch break that will suffice.

2.  Have a "to read" book list ready and waiting.  At Bat:  Hunger Games.  On Deck:  Diary of a Wimpy Kid (yes, I've yet to read it!)

3.  Set a due date for each book.  I'm giving myself two weeks per book.
4.  Have a reward/penalty system.  If I complete the task, I get to buy a new book at my local independent bookstore, The Reader's Loft.  If I don't, I have to admit it to all of you on my blog.  I'll check back in about 6 weeks (three books) to let you know how I did.

Wanna know my top 3 "to read" list right now?

1.  Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (reading it this week in honor of Banned Books Week)
2.  Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
3.  Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

Cheer me on! Post your comments below.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Worldly Wednesday: A Taste of the Moon

Recently, our family got our first "taste of the moon."  That is to say we had our own mini Moon Festival celebration. 

The Moon Festival (also called Mooncake Festival or Mid-Autumn Festival) is a Chinese tradition - and since my daughter's best friend recently returned from China, and our family's newest member (exchange student) is from China, I made it an after school activity for the kids about two weeks ago.

What did we do?

Well, we tasted mooncakes.  (Luckily, said friend brought back more than a dozen from China). 
Luckily our host son can read all of the ingredients: so we knew which ones were which. :)

Although I was impressed with the diversity of flavors, the kids really didn't care for the exotic choices of mooncakes (pepper and peanuts?).  The fig mooncake was rated "acceptable," but unfortunately they weren't a huge hit overall.  I'm proud my children tried something new, anyway.

After mooncakes, we read the story Round is a Mooncake by Grace Lin.  Fortunately, the book was a big hit!

Lastly, we looked at the full moon through the clouds.  Another hit!

So, did you celebrate the Moon Festival?  Have you ever heard of it?  Post your comments below!

Want to know the story behind the Moon Festival? 

You can read more at publisher and author Claudine Gueh's website, Carry Us Off Books.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Focus Friday: Remembering Why I Write

Last weekend, I spent three days in writing utopia. Although I'm not about to reveal the secret location, I will tell you another secret.

The reason I write is that I have to.

When I write, my world seems in order. I'm a better wife, mother, and human being when I write. Why? When I'm writing, I'm also reading. When I'm writing, I'm listening. I'm researching, learning, considering details.

I like myself better when I am writing.

I write because it's a way of life I don't want to give up. When I wake up and write, I'm making sense of the world and the characters within it. I'm connecting across borders and through time with others. I'm living.

Remembering this allows me to slow down; getting books published isn't my first goal. Living a good life is. In writing, telling a story the right way is my first goal. If I tell a good story, I believe it will get published.

Do you have the same faith in your works in progress?

If not, consider why you're writing them. Everything else seems easier when you do. And there's a lot less pressure.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Mommy Monday: 10 Reasons Why Writing for Children is Easier for Moms

Today is a "glass half full" day.

While there are plenty of reasons why a career in writing is harder for Moms, that's not my focus today.

So, if you're a mom and children's writer, I'm sure you'll find a bit of inspiration in this list of my experiences.

Miranda Paul's List
10 Reasons Why Writing for Children is Easier for Moms

10.  Your house is already "cloudy with a chance of meatballs," etc. - take advantage of being surrounded by great setting ideas and interesting characters.  You don't need an imagination, really, just eyes and ears.

9.  You've got built-in cheerleaders who don't roll their eyes when you jump up and down if there's a bear card from Highlights in the mailbox...they jump for joy with you!  (I'm told these bear cards are a good sign...dunno...first one came Saturday!)

8.  When your kids try to tell you to get out of their rooms, you can simply say you're "doing research."

7.  Hmmm...Isn't that a work expense?

6.  You don't have to make special trips to a bookstore, library, park, etc. to observe how "kids today behave."

5.  When you get a rejection, you've got built in support more than willing to dish you up a bowl of ice long as they get one too.

4.  Bedtime story + quick notes = two birds with one stone.

3.  When you win stickers and book prizes on author blogs and Twitter, your kids are happy (and they'll defend you when hubby says the Internet is a waste of time...).

2.  Motherhood is a time of real "roll up your sleeves" humility; would you really have done so much work on a 300-word story in college?  Take advantage of your work ethic - it's what makes you stand out above other writers.

1.  If you ever feel like giving up, just picture the dedication line of your next book.  Works every time.

Now, your turn:

Why do you love being a mom and writer?  Or grandmom?  Daddy?

Or, if you don't have kids, what aspects of your lifestyle make children's writing easier for you?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Focus Friday: Opening the Door

Stephen King advises to write your first draft with the "door closed."

Then, open the door.

How do you know when you're ready to open the door?  Well, if you've got a beginning, middle, end, and feel as though it's a complete story, you're probably ready. 

Now, to whom do you show it?

For me, the writers in my critique groups are the ones to see it first.  In fact, as this post is going live I'm away in the Northwoods with my writer's group critiquing and getting my work critiqued at a private, in-person retreat. 

For you, it may be a spouse or family member.  But what if you don't have anyone standing outside that door when you open it?  Or a group as lovely as mine secretly meeting in the woods like Dead Poets Society?

I've been working with a lot of new writers lately, and I find that many of them don't have a go-to person or group of professional writers to get feedback from.  That's why I started Rate Your Story, a new website in which you can get a first opinion when you decided to "open the door" and let someone else read your story.

The site, which offers a free rating service by a published author, will be opening for submissions very soon.  Beginning October 1, 2011, you can submit your story to Rate Your Story and get feedback from a professional.  It's confidential, free, and designed to be a first-step in your path to revision (and eventually, publication).

If you've got stories written and you're ready to open the door, consider submitting one or more at Rate Your Story.  There, you'll also find information on how to join a critique group, get a professional critique (with in-depth line editing and so forth), and helpful tips and info on writing, revision, and publishing.

Opening the door to experienced, friendly professional writers will help steer you on the path to publication.  You'll get honesty, and find it easier to "kill your darlings."

If you have no idea what "kill your darlings" means, I suggest Stephen King's On Writing.

Peace out, I've got woods to explore and manuscripts to revise on the beautiful cabin porch.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Worldly Wednesday: Tag...I'm It!

Have you ever played a GLOBAL game of tag?

Well, I'm It

I've been tagged by children's author Kelly Hashway.

Rules (if you're tagged): You must be tagged by someone; list 10 random facts about yourself; tag four more people. 

Ready or not, here I go!

1.  I once ate 13 helpings of mashed potatoes in a single sit-down on Easter Sunday (I think I still hold the record at Whipp's Dining Hall).

2.  My full "Gambian" name is really:  Mariama Sibo Janke Sillah.  Say that ten times fast.

3.  Although I have many stories (40+) published online and/or as apps...I've yet to snag a contract for my own single-author traditionally printed picture book.  I have edited three, though.

4.  Last night I celebrated my son/exchange student's 18th birthday.  It was his first birthday in America.  We ate hot dogs, pizza, and french fries.

5.  Sometimes, I dream in Spanish.

6.  The most hilarious Gambian folk tale I know is one called The Three Men of Tangana.  The heroic trait is foul air seeping from one's bottom.

7.  I have traveled to 11 countries.

8.  I don't have a traditional landline/house phone.

9.  I started Tweeting this year.

10.  My favorite book of all time is The Giver by Lois Lowry.

OK!  Passing it on...

1.  Anne E. Johnson
2.  Susan Manzke
3.  Melissa Gorzelanczyk
4.  Terrie Hope

OK - You four are it!

But I'm copying Kelly -- so the rest of you aren't off the hook. In the spirit of getting to know each other better, I want to know one random fact about you. What's something most people don't know about you?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Focus Friday: Keeping in Good Company

A Night Like Last Night
It's a little hard to focus after a night like last night (and a week like this week), but I'll try.

After all, that's what Focus Friday is for.

(Hint:  Espresso helps.)

Although I was up far too late and have little speaking voice - I sure do have a lot to talk about.  For starters, I was in the good company of 70,555 people last night.  Together, we cheered for a common goal.  We were focused.  We succeeded (Packers 42; Saints 34).

And this morning, as the espresso kicked in, I had a realization.  I'm quite often in good company.

I'm referring to my writer's groups–local and online.  Though the number of my writer pals isn't as staggering as Lambeau Field at full capacity, the quality of my writing 'company' is amazing (and they've never spilled beer on me).

Upon pondering a few recent milestones and successes in my writing, I'd like to pass on my revelation:  to stay focused as a writer, keep yourself in good company -- the company of other focused writers.  The ones who are passionate and share your interests.

I'm glad to say that I've made it a point to be in good company.

Amidst all the chaos and celebration this week, two of my local writer-pals received some excellent news:  Melissa Gorzelanczyk and Susan Manzke were awarded Grand Prize and Runner-Up of this year's Marsha Dunlap Memorial Scholarship from the SCBWI-WI.  I'm proud of and motivated by their passion and diligence.  My 'good company' inspires me.

I also received my first official rejection this week.  No tears.  Only the words of Pat Schmatz, an author whose revision workshop I attended earlier this year: "Thank you, Highlights, for rejecting my unfinished manuscript."  And on I write.  I appreciate the good company, Pat.

I'm also headed out in six days to a writer's retreat, and between now and then have two opportunities to meet with a close-knit group of local writers.  Three days of good, focused company.  And group help in researching markets and getting pieces submission-ready.

You're starting to get the picture.  Good company = way to keep yourself on track.

Now -- if you're reading this post and feeling a bit glum about not having the same 'company' I have, remember that I began alone, just like most writers.

At first, I joined several critique groups.  Two of them never worked out.  The writers weren't focused, or weren't focused on the same types of writing.  Although I wouldn't say those groups were 'bad' company, the groups didn't offer 'good' company.  I moved on and am glad I did.

People who call themselves writers are a dime a dozen.  Find yourself the ones who LOVE writing, study the craft, and actually write.

Also consider that not all writer company is local.  I belong to an online critique group and have several 'virtual' writer friends.  The ones I stay in contact with most are ones who post regularly.  The writers who are not just chatting about being a writer or the books they've published -- but the writers who actually write in their spare time.

So, find some good company.

Critique Cafe is a great place to start (online).

Locally, sign up for your area's SCBWI chapter or Writer's Union.

There are writers in your city, I guarantee.  If you don't have a group that meets in person, start one.  Scan the bylines of your local magazines and send Facebook invites to a meet-up.  Offer your help to new writers, and accept help from experienced writers.

You'll not only find a path to publication, you'll find fellowship and friendship.  It's an amazing thing.

And so is witnessing a Packers win at Lambeau Field.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Worldly Wednesday: Which Comes First, Writing or Research?

First of all, forgive me -- I am blogging from a smart device today...

In a recent online chat, many fellow children's writers were in a "chicken and egg" type of debate. The question -- which comes first, the writing or the research?

The original post suggested to write the story first, then do research. And I just finished reading Stephen King's memoir of the craft, On Writing, in which King suggests a similar approach (write with the door closed).

However, I'm not convinced that there is a right answer to this question (much like the actual chicken and egg debate). And, I even speculate that King would agree -- if you are writing about a subject largely unfamiliar to you, basic research must come first.

Of course, King's experience and advice is rooted in fiction writing. As someone who writes both fiction and nonfiction, I'm inclined to say that research almost always comes first when writing non fiction. The reason? The details you find out often change the entire course of an article or even present the "angle" you'll want to take.

The reason this question resonates with me? I'm working on a few multicultural tales from cultures I'm not as familiar with. Usually, I like to write 'what I know' -- but sometimes, assignments come along that offer the opportunity to explore a setting, culture, or character that's new to me. So, research (at least a little) often comes first.

How about you? Which comes first? Does the process change if you're writing fiction set in New York vs. a short story set in Nairobi?

Let's debate. And pardon me if it takes a moment to respond -- remember, I'm using a tiny keyboard and completely preoccupied with my new son's first day of school in America.

Wonderful world, indeed!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Mommy Monday: New Adventures

First of all – sorry I missed a post on Friday.  We had a nasty storm which blew down trees in our neighbor's yard and the fire department was warning of power surges and cutoffs.  So I stayed far away from the computer.

Instead - I had two new adventures.

First, I helped my husband put up a door.  Yes, finally, a door on the room in which I write.  Hello productivity, goodbye distractions.  Writing adventures await.

Second, I got a new kid.  No, I didn't have a baby – we welcomed a high school exchange student into our home.  Real life adventures await.

If there's one thing about my life I love, it's that there's always an adventure going on.  Be it a storm, a door, a person living with us from halfway around the world (believe it or not, this is a commonality), you'll not find dull moments in the Paul family household.

Now, back to writing...while the door is shut.  See you on Wednesday.

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