Friday, May 29, 2009


I've just finished two memoirs by Jane Bernstein about her daughter, Rachel.

Loving Rachel chronicles the first years of her life, when the family discovers that Rachel was born blind. Rachel suffers from seizures and the prognosis is poor. She could be developmentally disabled as well. It is the most honest book I've ever read about raising a child with any disability. And yet, there is hope and joy mixed with the sorrow of having a child who will not do the same things as other children. I cannot imagine the will it took for Jane to write this book while facing crisis after crisis.

A child with disabilities grows up into an adult with disabilities. Rachel in the World spans her childhood, adolescence and emerging adulthood. Like any 21-year-old, Rachel yearns to be independent of her mother and her numerous rules. I didn't realize how few options there are for adults with disabilities. This book was nowhere near as charming as the first memoir when Rachel was a cute baby and toddler. This book made me face harsh realities. I cannot even imagine the worry of entrusting your adult disabled child to the world. What will happen to them? Can society be trusted to give them the dignity and respect they deserve? The love and care and companionship they crave? Or will they be cast into isolation?

I do believe that as a society we are obligated to take care of those who cannot care for themselves. In many countries, disabled children are often left alone to figure out the world for themselves or worse, left to die. It is heartening to know that in the US, there are social programs to help integrate these children into regular schools, that there are programs for adults as well. But like anything, money is short and the needy many.

If you are interested in parenting a disabled child, I highly recommend these books.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

On Plotting

At our conference, I attended two workshops that both ended up on strengthening plot. Lisa Papademetriou (Don't you just love her last name? I do.), talked about being your own editor. She is an excellent speaker, engaged us immediately and set us to work. She asked us to make sure that our stories have a backbone, a structure.

Is there an inciting incident? What is the problem your character is facing?
Is there rising action? Is your character solving the problems and getting into new ones, raising the stakes every time?
Is there a climax?
A resolution?

You must be able to identify the parts of the story. As storytellers, we naturally place characters in situations where they get into trouble, but the important thing is to make sure the story is logical. It's not always easy to make the ending inevitable, yet surprising. But the paybacks are huge.

She's a huge proponent of outlining. I am too. I find that outlines help me to stay on track.

Michael Stearns also spoke about plotting, particularly on generating tension. Ways to this:
Add a clock. Deadlines of any kind add tension.
Hide the why of the story. Reveal slowly.
Take full advantage of subplots.
Know what's pulling or pushing your characters.
Take advantage of the fact that everybody lies!
Follow through on every action. Action leads to reaction.
Be as mean as possible to your characters. That's right. Hurt the bunnies.

Here's a helpful sheet that Lois Peterson made using The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler, Brent Sampson's Nine Steps for Plotting Fiction and the classic 3-act structure.

Happy Plotting.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Feed Your Genius!

Here I am with Peggy King Anderson. My writing journey begins with her ... she was my very first teacher (as a grown up, when I had forgotten how to write creatively) and I will always thank God for that. She brings out the best in all her students.

Here we are waiting for our wonderful Indian food to arrive, the blueboarders: Rachel, Elissa, Linda, Deb, Jeannie (I hope that's right), Denise, Laurie and Deb. So much fun to meet these ladies and talk shop. Denise has just sold her book, LOSING FAITH, and I'm looking forward to reading it. Thank you all for coming.

Grace Lin was gracious enough to stand with me right after her keynote speech so that I could have this souvenir. My kids are practically growing up on her books and I am so thankful for them and Grace.


Feed Your Genius!

I am certainly very well fed from our local SCBWI conference whose theme was: Feed Your Genius. Thank you to our fantastic RAs and AdCom that do so much to keep the show running smoothly.

I especially enjoy listening to local success stories ... so much heart and inspiration.

Kevan Atteberry wondered why he was even on the panel because his vision of success is to write and illustrate his own picture books. It will happen, Kevan. But it's lovely to celebrate the smaller successes along the way.

Justina Headley reminded us all to: "stop whining and do the work!" Yup, she was speaking to me.

Deb Lund wrote a poem about her inner critic!

Some of the best sessions that I went to were about plotting and deepening our work by Lisa Papademetriou, Michael Stearns and Grace Lin.

The keynote addresses were wonderful.

Adam Rex talked about getting his break in Spider magazine.

Grace Lin told us a story about wanting to be a champion ice skater and while she waited for winter, how she drew ... lovely, lovely presentation. She talked about being labeled as a multicultural author, how insecure she felt by it at first, but how these were the books that touched children. So now she doesn't worry about the label and instead writes the stories that only she can write.

Ellen Hopkins shared how she came to write her first book, Crank.

And Jon Scieszka made us laugh with stories from his childhood. What a knucklehead!!!

The best part was meeting up with old friends and making some new friends. Pictures forthcoming.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Marcelo in the Real World

What an amazing, amazing book. I finished reading it last night. Marcelo will linger with me for a long, long time. The fact that he does see the world in black-and-white makes him at once very much childlike and yet wise beyond his years. Yes, there are absolutes. Absolute truth. Absolute right. As Jasmine says, "The right note feels right." How true.


I hope you will pick up this brilliant book. It is perfect for an older teen, one who is learning about the world, questioning what he knows, the nature of right and wrong, of suffering and redemption ... and love.


I pay attention to who publishes the books I love and I must say that Arthur A. Levine picks books that speak to my heart. A year ago I met him at our local SCBWI conference and thanked him for publishing a little book: The Book of Everything by Guus Kuijer. What a gem! I will urge you to read it as well.


This Easter I splurged on several copies of The Light of the World. Marvelous paintings and a spare text by Katherine Paterson about the life of Jesus. The publisher? You guessed it. Arthur A. Levine.


When I have finished writing my big books, Arthur's going to get them. So I'd best get busy.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Book Reviews

Educational books don't get much press, but once in a while I come across a blog that has reviewed my books. Favorably, I might add :) Usually these happen because a child of a blogger brings home my books.
So imagine my surprise when a book reviewer alerted me to her review on Amazon for my book! Check it out. Five stars! And she's not my mother. Or my sister. Or my kid. Thrilling. It's quite evident from browsing through the books she reviews that she enjoys reviewing educational books.
For those of you who do write educational books, you might want to contact Deb directly at (used with her permission) so that she can have a review copy.
Thank you, Deb. You made my day.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Conference Time

How time flies! I know our SCBWI RAs are working hard to get everything together and running smoothly for the conference next weekend at the Redmond Marriott.

There's an unofficial kidlit drink night on Friday, 7-9 pm. And a dozen or so of us Blueboarders are planning to get together Sat. night at Mehfil's. If you want to join us, let me know and I can increase the count for the reservation. Can't wait to meet you all.

Happy Mother's Day to all you mothers and mother-figures out there! It surely is the most challenging thing I've ever done. Here's a conversation from this morning:

Daughter: It's nice that there is a Mother's Day. You should have one day a year when you can rest and not have to do anything.
Me: Only one?
Son: Well, maybe on your birthday as well.
Me: Gee, thanks.

We had a lovely sunny day and had a wonderful walk in the woods after church. My husband and children made a wonderful supper, with all the works. Ah. Bliss. And no, I didn't not do anything today. I couldn't stand to waste this beautiful sunshine so did several loads of laundry. And a good thing too ... the clouds are rolling in.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


Some outstanding books I've read over the past few months:

What To Do About Alice? by Barbara Kerley, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham.

The subtitle is: How Alice Roosevelt Broke The Rules, Charmed The World, And Drove Her Father Teddy Crazy!

This is a gem of a picture book. The author captures Alice's vivaciousness with the most delicious words that are fun to read out loud. The illustrator brings Alice to life on the page.

If I recall correctly, Barbara took an honor prize for an article in Highlights the year I judged the Magazine Merit Awards. I love watching authors grow! Well done, Barbara.

The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon: An amazing memoir. Brent set himself on fire at the age of fourteen. He was depressed and suicidal, but nobody knew it. The Burn Journals are an honest portrayal of his recovery back to life.

Algernon, Charlie and I: A Writer's Journey by Daniel Keyes: I always enjoy the stories behind the story and Keyes chronicles his journey beautifully. The short story, Flowers for Algernon, made me cry at the end. Again. This is a must read. I prefer the short story to the novel. In the novel, you stay in Charlie's world more, learn about his past, and more of his life when he's intelligent, but the short story has a greater punch. I haven't seen the movie, but I'm compelled to rent it.

Some others that I also enjoyed:

The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life by Twyla Tharp -- the title says it all. Get into the habit.

Teresa of Avila: The Book of My Life (translation by Mirabai Starr) -- an account of a saint-in-progress.

Happy Reading.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

May Days

May brings flowers,


and goofballs.

Wishing you lots of laughter, sunshine and happy May days.