Tag Archives: writing

AN OCTOPUS IS BORN

The Benefits of Being an OctopusWe Emus are fluffing our feathers in proud excitement to announce that Ann Braden’s MG novel The Benefits of Being An Octopus will celebrate its book birthday tomorrow, September 4th.  If only we had tentacles to wave in joy as well!

Read on to learn more about the book’s amazing author and her axe-shaped necklace, about how teachers can’t wait to use it to help students expand their empathy, and how librarians can advise patrons on its appeal factors. We’ll also have a whole ‘nother post about the benefits of being an actual octopus!

 

An Interview with Ann Braden

by Anna Redding

Anna: This book is written in first person. To do that, you really have to know your character.  Zoey’s voice comes through crystal clear, illuminating her world

and way of thinking right out of the gate. It’s so well done, I have to ask, was that something yVersion 3ou focused on crafting or did Zoey’s voice come to you with this kind of clarity?

Ann: Zoey’s voice came to me like that. It’s hard to describe, but in my heart I was Zoey when I was writing the book, so I just wrote down what I knew she would say or think.  For me, it wasn’t about craft, it was just about listening.

Anna: When we first step into this incredible story, we step into a Zoey’s fascination with Octopuses (which we learn from her, doesn’t have to pronounced octopi, thank you very much). What is so brilliant, is that you suck us right into her irresistible curiosity, her enthusiasm, her lovable personality. The connection between reader and Zoey is immediate and as deep as when you bump into a new true best friend. Which is important, because this makes it possible for us to really go “there.” And, in this case,you are illuminating a story that often goes untold in America. Tell me about your decisions in crafting this aspect of the book.

Ann: When I was in the very early stages of conceptualizing the book, I read The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery, and I was utterly captivated. I loved that octopuses were so much like us –they form relationships,have different personalities, and are super intelligent – yet they had evolved in such a different way. I think there are parallels of that amongst people, too: we all have different experiences growing up (some vastly different), but at the end we’re all trying to do the best we can. And the more I explored the connection between octopuses and Zoey, the more she became just as obsessed with octopuses as I was. 

Anna: At the same time, this story will be familiar to many readers who see themselves and their families in these pages… and yet their lives and experiences are often not on the subject of books. Have you heard from readers or teachers about what an important story this if for readers to be truly ‘seen’?

Ann – Yes. For kids growing up outside of the white, middle class culture, books that also take place in that culture can be an extra reminder that they don’t belong. (And of course, on the flip side of this, kids who are growing up in that culture can too easily ignore the range of other experiences if that’s all they see.) When I was teacher myself, I taught in several different schools, and I knew that there were kids like Zoey in every single one of them. My gut told me this had to be true on a broader scale, and the feedback I’ve been getting from teachers has confirmed that. And too often those kids have become so good at making themselves invisible that they fall through the cracks. But when we have books that discuss the issues that are central to their lives (but are rarely talked about in school) we are creating an opportunity for those students to see themselves as valued and to potentially connect in a way they hadn’t before. And EVERY SINGLE STUDENT deserves to feel valued and connected. 

Anna: I loved what School Library Journal had to say about THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS in their starred review: “Heartbreaking, beautifully written…Braden’s story raises many thought-provoking and timely questions about the difficulty of escaping poverty and the prevalence of fun violence.” That is such a powerful summary of a powerful book. What do you hope readers will take away from the pages of your book?

Ann: I hope that they come away recognizing their own strength (even if it’s not something that can be seen by others)and realize that how much money someone has has nothing to do with how hard they are working. And that no matter how powerless you feel, you always have the power of your voice.yelling emu

Anna: This is a ‘must-read’ for schools and classes. How can teachers tie this into curriculum and for students, who are inspired to take action in their own communities, what ideas do you suggest or resources can you point them to?

Ann: I’m really excited about the conversations this book has already started. And since the book brings up topics that aren’t often discussed, it can be good to have supports in place. Here is an Educator’s Guide that I put together in partnership with Equity Solutions, a non-profit focused on leading powerful conversations about economic class with people from all kinds of class backgrounds. Besides discussion questions, it includes extension activities, such as analyzing a budget of someone who only gets paid minimum wage and working to find the common ground of a controversial topic in the community. I also created a Flipgrid where educators can reflect on key questions in the books and discuss. Plus, the introductory video on the Flipgrid highlights a few key ways to make sure that discussions of the book are empowering for kids. 

Anna – Lastly, sometimes in life, in the most difficult of circumstances, you can see a lifeline emerge from the fog. For Zoey, it’s joining the debate club. What would you say toreaders about paying attention to those unexpected lifelines?

Ann – We never know where a choice will lead us, and it’s amazing what can happen when we say “Yes” to things. Even a small step forward can shift the ground beneath us in the best of ways. Still, sometimes if your head is down and you’reworking as hard as you can, no matter how many steps forward you try to take it seems like nothing will ever change. That’s when we need to be able to rely on allies who are ready to listen and those who are ready to team up and work to change the  underlying systems that make it so hard for some to make end meet. We all have to look for the opportunity to be lifelines for each other. Because when you’re in that fog, it’s often not possible to do it on your own. We have to remember that we’re all in this together.

Anna – Okay, one more question. For all readers (of all ages), there is a message about taking hold of your own potential, which is why this book is hopeful. What would you say to us about this idea of claiming your own power as your hope?

 Ann – Our own power is the tool that is ALWAYS with us, whether we can see it or not, and it’s up to us whether we wield it. When I was about two years into leading a movement in support of common ground gun laws in Vermont, something that I had never thought I would do and something that taught me I was far stronger than I had thought, I was catching my breath in the midst of months of 60-hour weeks. And in that quiet moment I was reminded that way back in middle school I had also discovered that I was stronger than I thought because that was when I first got into chopping wood. In that moment, I splurged on a small axe charm and I hung it around my neck because I knew there were many more steps I needed to take to help get gun laws passed, and I wanted to make sure I always remembered my own strength – and most importantly, remembered to wield it.Silver-Axe-Accessory

 I kept that necklace around my neck in am-packed statehouse committee rooms and when I was the target of online bullying. And those people who were trying to intimidate me into silence weren’t able to. Because at the end of the day, my eyes were focused on the kind of civil discourse I believed the issue deserved and I had faith in myself that I could help make that happen. That’s why I had hope, and, ultimately, landmark legislation was able to get passed. Zoey’s situation is similar. She had hope because she had memories of what her mom used to be like, and she found a way to keep her eyes focused on what she loved. And when that hope was combined with her courage to use her voice, it shifted the ground beneath her. Maybe all kids get that same chance to find their voice and use it.

 


The Realities Students Face: A Discussion with Teachers

by Kat Shepherd

Ann Braden’s long-awaited debut, The Benefits of Being an Octopus, is a powerful read that is sure to be a staple for schools and libraries for years to come. It received a starred review from School Library Journal, and it’s gone into a second printing before it’s even been released. Following the story of seventh-grader Zoey, it is a deftly-told tale that is both heartbreaking and hopeful. Octopus highlights struggles faced by students living in poverty, and takes an honest and compassionate look at how those struggles play out both inside and outside the classroom. Zoey’s teacher, Ms. Rochambeau, plays an important role in Zoey’s life, so I decided to invite some educators to share their thoughts on this beautifully-written novel.Octopus123

Q: When I read Zoey’s story I so wanted her to have that fairytale ending where everything works out perfectly, but the ending of this book, while hopeful, isn’t that perfect fairytale. Why is it important for kids to have books that don’t always have the perfect happy endings we want for characters?

Erin Varley: There are so many books out there that already have the fairy tale endings, so it’s just as important to have a lot of books that don’t have that ending. Life isn’t fairy tale perfect and kids figure that out really fast. In fact, for kids like Zoey, they figure it out too fast. For a kid to see that life, while not perfect, can still offer hope, well that’s just as important. Kids know when they are being lied to, and sometimes fairy tales can seem like that. They don’t buy the lies. Books like Octopus offer an alternate path that still is positive, but also realistic.

Kristin Crouch: I love the ending and agree that it not being perfectly wrapped up is a strength of the novel. In my school, I have so many fifth graders in transition. I’ve taught children in shelters, children who’ve moved several times through a year, children who move in with friends (resulting in 14 people in one two bedroom apartment), children in houses that have been condemned, children living in hotels until a new apartment is found (and those are just housing transitions!). Ending the book with Zoe in transition shows my students that transition is not, in and of itself, an ending… It proves what the teacher tries to convey to Zoe~ that she is not the product of her circumstance. She can, and will, make more of her experiences, but that doing so is not a quick, easy fix. It will take years of working hard to overcome her challenges.

Jennifer Druffel: I loved that it was not a fairytale ending! Kids need realistic books that mirror their own lives and see characters that can be strong despite their circumstances. Also, for kids who have never experienced such hardships, it helps them put themselves in someone else’s shoes and be less judgmental about their peers’ circumstances.

Cassie Thomas: Real life is not perfect, in any way. It’s so important for kids to be able to relate to stories, and if every student just reads books where everything turns out good in the end then in their life they may feel defeated and unsure. Every year I read Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson out loud to kids and the ending is not happy, it’s not perfect, but it’s real, and it leaves my students with jaws dropped and questions. Then they realize that in life they don’t get happy endings for every single thing. It’s a great message to have discussions over.

Q: Many adults have concerns that books dealing with issues like poverty and domestic violence are “too adult” for children to be exposed to. As a teacher, how do you respond to those concerns?

EV: Well, first I like to make sure each parent is heard. To be honest, I defer to the parent. If a parent tells me they don’t want a certain title being read by their child, I respect their wishes. However, I don’t remove the book from my library. Just because the book isn’t right for one certain child, doesn’t mean the same thing for every child. There might be another child in that same class that finds that book to be a lifeline, as I know Octopus might be.

KC: While I’m on the bandwagon that yes, these topics and concepts are too tough for kids, the fact is the kids who are exposed to it must know they are not alone. They are not invisible, they should not be hiding, and they will get through it.

JD: I would never force a student to read such a book. And if a parent is concerned, I’d ask them to read it first before they let their child read it so they can be the judge for their own child, but NOT for other people’s children!

CT: I teach 5th grade, and this comment irks me in a lot of ways. These students are SO mature and they truly know so much already. If they don’t, they are so eager to learn. When discussing social justice last year I had some outside people say this exact same thing, and my response was Do you know what your child is watching on TV? On their iPad? What the lyrics in their music actually say/mean?  Because they do, they totally know. They are smart and they want to be treated like an adult, especially at this age. I make sure I choose my words wisely, but we do have discussions. The reality is that some kids in class ARE experiencing that life, who are we to act that it doesn’t happen when it is reality for some.

(Name Withheld): When I read Octopus I immediately said… “THIS is what my kids deal with.” Honestly… this book is exactly what some of my kids go through on a daily basis. The trailer park, watching their younger siblings, new boyfriends/girlfriends all the time. Not that this makes any of the parents bad people or bad parents, and I know that everyone is doing the best they can, but I know that some of my students deal with a lot and have a lot of responsibility that I never had as a kid. Which makes this book even more important to include in my library!! It is the first book I’ve read that I really felt MY student’s struggles come through.

Q: When you read this book how did you envision it as a teaching tool in your own classrooms?

EV: I’m not sure I plan to read this book as a read aloud, but def as one to include and book talk in my classroom. I thought perhaps an excerpt would work as a discussion tool. Many tough topics are written with grace and hope, and kids need to see that tough times are not the end of the world, that things can get better, and that sometimes people need help or are doing the best they can in that moment.

KC: I was hoping to use this book to spark a discussion about verbal abuse. What it is, what it can sound like, and how it can affect your own thoughts about yourself and your abilities. From there, I was hoping to discuss negative and positive self talk as well. Even the character of the boyfriend’s father who lived in the house added to the stress. While he was less insulting toward the kids, they were living in a home in which people didn’t adore them~ they barely tolerated them. This affects the psyche, and I want my students to be able to recognize it so they can try to protect themselves any way they need to.

JD: I would book talk this book to my classes and then students can choose to read it if they wish!!

CT: As an educator I can’t even begin to explain to you the quiet importance that Ms. Rochambeau plays in this story. This will be a book that will not only be a very vital window for students to look in, but also a mirror to know they aren’t alone. Ann has touched on topics that I know for a fact students experience, or something similar, on a day in, day out basis, but are not quick to speak up. I feel as though all middle grade students and teachers need to read this book, and soon… One of our school wide behavior expectations is empathy and this book provides the opportunity to teach and understand empathy in Zoey’s life.

Q: I love that Ann views books as means of bridging the divides between people, as is evidenced in her excellent podcast with Saadia Faruqi. One thing I loved about Octopus is that it delves into the the complexity of issues that are often painted as simple black-or-white answers in the cultural narrative. What can educators do to help students find the complexity in these hot-button issues?

JD: It would be awesome to have a book club of students discuss this and their opinions on those issues!

CT: A way that I foresee us bringing up the complexity is giving multiple experiences and then having discussions, constantly. Everyone’s story isn’t the same in real life and Zoey’s story is one that some may relate to in SOME ways but not all ways, or the entire way. Another way is that I love for students to start figuring out solutions. What could we do as a community to help make these situations better.

Q: My husband, who grew up poor, talks often about how profoundly his life was impacted by a teacher who encouraged him to apply to a free Jesuit high school in Manhattan. He is still moved when he talks about what it meant for him to have an adult see him and believe that he had something great to offer the world. Jarrett Krosoczka still remembers being in school and having an author visit from Jack Gantos. Jack complimented Jarrett’s drawing of a cat, and it’s part of what encouraged him to become an author/illustrator. Zoey has Ms. Rochambeau. Who were those adults in your lives that encouraged you, and how do you see your role as teachers in helping kids reach their potential?

Octopus123 EV: I think about coaches first, actually. I was so involved with swimming and my coaches were the ones who stick out in my mind. They believed in me and saw potential in me that I didn’t always see. Encouraging kids and helping them see their good and their successes are what I try to do as a teacher. Always staying positive and helping develop a growth mindset are also things I try to encourage.

JD: I strive to let EVERY child I teach know they are valued for who they are. I notice strengths in each child and point them out often. I listen to let them know their voice is important. I can only hope that this will make a difference!!

CT: One of the educators who played the biggest role in my life was my middle grade creative writing teacher. I was going through a lot. Bullying was unbearable (to the point where we moved my 8th grade year), but Mrs. Ward helped me learn to write, how to escape that reality that I was dealing with and get thoughts out on paper through poetry. I was published. I was proud. I was finally happy. I knew that at that moment I wanted to be that light for students. There were a lot of teachers who weren’t there for me because they were friends with the parents of the students who were being ugly, so they just brushed my stresses aside. I knew then what I did NOT want to be as an educator. I feel that it has helped me significantly in building relationships and also with helping place that heart print book in the hands of a child who needs it. I don’t ever look at myself as a “savior” but an extra mom so to speak. I have told them I wear many hats as a teacher and I want nothing more than our classroom to be a safe place for them. So far it has proven to be just that.

Many thanks exceptional educators like Erin, Kristin, Jennifer, Cassie, and others for taking the time to chat with me and celebrate the debut of The Benefits of Being an Octopus. We are so excited to help welcome this wonderful book into the world!  For teachers who want to join this discussion, please visit Ann’s Octopus Flipgrid.


The Appeal Factors of Being An Octopus

by Christina Uss

Let’s not forget how librarians are going to get this tender, tough, many-tentacled story into the hands of readers. I was lucky enough to get some training as a library assistant last year and learned about successfully matching a reader with their next read as a reader’s advisor.  One of the keys to advising wisely is ferreting out a book’s APPEAL FACTORS, which turns out to be way cooler than solely recommending titles by t

200px-Easy_cheese2

he same author or the pushing the newest thing in the same genre. Thanks to the metadata librarians at NoveList, we’ve got a whole list of potential appeal factors, and I consider it an honor to be the first to point out to all librarians how they might describe The Appeal Factors of Being An Octopus:

  • Character – the main character is believable, relatable, courageous, likeable, spirited, strong, and well-developed. Kids are going to wish Zoey was their big sister, especially those who already know all about the eight-armed juggling that comes with taking on caregiving tasks for siblings (and sometimes parents) at a young age.
  • Writing Style – candid, compelling, engaging, with well-crafted dialogue. The book satisfyingly fills our minds’ eyes with rich details that make Zoey and her friends and family come alive (and our minds’ mouths with the comforting scrunch of Easy Cheese and crackers.)
  • Pace – intensifying. Will everything work out for Zoey and her family? How??
  • Storyline – both plot- and character-driven, mixing uncertainty in plot with Zoey’s determination
  • Tone -often intense with an emotional edge, moving from heartwarming to heart-wrenching, hopeful, sobering, eye-opening, thought-provoking, with a strong sense of place.

I can’t wait until Tuesday when my library system will load in its first copies of this fabulous and I can start advising readers to check it out!


Ann Braden writes about kids struggling to find their voice despite the realities of life, and about cultural divides and possibilities for bridges across.  She writes because even when life is throwing the entire kitchen at you…there is HOPE.  Come chat with her on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.


Ann's schedule

 

 

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Revision—To Quit or To Quilt?

I’m going to give it to you straight.

Writing is challenging enough, but to revise a manuscript—to critically reconsider each element and rework it—takes next-level commitment. Everything matters, from the tiniest detail to a panoramic vision of the whole.

The word revise is of French origin and means, “to see again.” At some point in the creative process, your writing must be seen afresh, and no one can do that like you. You, after all, envisioned your idea and with the barest of materials—imagination, emotion, words—undertook to create something both beautiful and useful. Because of you, a unique manuscript came into the world, and at some point, you will strive to revise it. Your instincts about this prospect are correct, at least in part.

Correct:

-It will be demanding and will require a fresh outpouring of determination.

Incorrect:

-You can’t do it.

You can and moreover, you will. Why? Because you love and believe in your manuscript. Trust me, you wouldn’t have gotten this far if you didn’t. If you didn’t believe in your story and in your ability to tell it, then all the notebooks, colorful thumb drives, or even that pesky laptop would be mouldering in a drawer.

Like my single, sorry attempt at a quilt.

Sure, I bought the supplies. I had coordinating fabrics, the roll-y cutting blade thing, and the self-healing mat. I had templates, thread, and batting. I read the directions. I even had middling good intentions.

I barely got started. Turns out, my heart isn’t drawn to fabric and batting, and I can’t cut a triangle to save my life. I wasn’t committed and before long, I knew it. I put my quilt stuff in a drawer and moved on.

I deeply admire quilters. I’m dazzled by the skill and artistry required to make even a basic quilt. I appreciate quilting’s history, its regional and cultural variations, and its stitch-by stitch manifestation of mathematical understanding and applied color theory. Behold this gorgeous example:

Now that I’ve tried my hand at quilting, I esteem these creators and their profoundly beautiful, profoundly useful, something-from-nearly-nothing coverlets much more. Their commitment to each one is self-evident.

I admire writers too. Their next-level commitment to creating the profoundly beautiful and profoundly useful is self-evident. Which brings me back to revision.

I don’t care if your manuscript is a 15-word board book or a Game Of Thrones-esque monster, you’ve come this far and will persist. With the courage of your convictions, you’ll disassemble your writing as laboriously as you pieced it together. You’ll pull it apart at the seams, tease out the stitches, and cut where you must to shred what was whole into back bright scraps. You’ll re-see it. And then—here comes the magic—you’ll bring it back together. The final result will be soft and strong, colorful, useful, and durable. It will offer comfort and cheer, warmth and inspiration. Born of tireless work and loving patience, of an open mind and a more open heart, it will be a wonder.

And that’s the truth.

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A few picture books about quilting:

Patricia McKissack and Cozbi A. Cabrera’s STITCHIN’ and PULLIN’Stitchin and PullinGeorgia Guback’s LUKA’S QUILT.

Luka's Quilt

Ann Whitford Paul and Jeanette Winter’s EIGHT HANDS ROUND.

Quilt image credit: Soldier’s Quilt, Artist unidentified, Probably United States, Canada, or Great Britain, 1854–1890, Wool melton, 67 x 66 1/2 in. American Folk Art Museum


I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book BABYMOON celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming from Candlewick Press. It will be illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is coming from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka.
I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

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We’re All Crazy Busy, So I Kept This Short.

394 words, to be precise. Here goes:

We are each pulled in a million different directions. Someone or something is always clamoring for our devotion, our time, our finite energy. How are we to balance our responsibilities, our commitments, and our creative needs? How are we to lay claim to the time and space required for writing?

There is only one hope and it’s not easy—core strength.

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Balance, after all, isn’t the product of stasis. It’s born of movement, moment-to-moment adjustments that maintain equilibrium. The muscles required for physical balance are deep within our bodies, particularly our core. They don’t get truly strong unless we make them strong.

It’s the same with our creative energies. The qualities—determination and commitment come to mind— essential to finding the balance between our busy lives and our creative work are found deep within. They are at our core, and they won’t get strong unless we make them strong.

How? You already know the answer. Practice.

When the world wants us to do literally anything other than write, we need to dig deeply into our core, to what we know matters. We need to assert that creative work is essential for ourselves and, incidentally, the continued progress of humanity. We are the purveyors of story, after all, the Pied Pipers of literacy. Our work is a source— a bubbling, life-giving spring—of connection and challenge, hope and healing. The more that we affirm creative work’s importance to ourselves and others, the stronger it will grow.

But don’t try to force balance, hanging on for dear life until you tip over and chip a tooth. It won’t work. It never works. We have to constantly find and re-find balance. Don’t fear the unexpected shifts. Expect to wobble and make necessary moment-to-moment adjustments.

Go to your creative work when you don’t feel like it. Especially when you don’t feel like it. Treat it like a treadmill, set yourself a laughably manageable goal, say 5 minutes of focused activity, and see what happens. You may find that 5 turns into 20. You may find that you begin to take this prioritized time seriously, and if you do, others will.

So deliberately engage. Choose the deep muscles of purpose and passion and use them with intention. If this is hard, good! You’re getting stronger.

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Enjoy the day,

Hayley


About Hayley Barrett

I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book BABYMOON celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming from Candlewick Press. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is coming in spring 2019 from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka. I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

 

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Sentiment and Stakes

I was in New Orleans this past weekend visiting my son and continuing my quest to find the ideal plate of shrimp and grits. The August air was swampy, but the city was packed with what I first thought were tourists. Then I looked again. I saw families sporting brand-new shirts with matching baseball caps. I saw younger kids trailing behind an apparently aloof older sibling.

Aloof

The moms would gaze at my son and turn to me with a small, sisterly smile, eyes often brimming with tears.

Mom crying

The dads were generally hale and hearty as they lugged huge duffles around, but I wasn’t fooled.

Crying

You guessed it. It was freshman move-in weekend at Tulane.

This is a familiar autumnal scene. Whether it’s kindergarten or university, parents dust off and put on their brave faces and launch their children toward growth and change. Hopes and fears alike accompany them. There’s a great deal at stake. After all, lots of time and endless hard work go into the making of a person, and all that time and hard work offer no guarantee. Sorry.

Harry Potter Goodbye

Writers must know about stakes too. There’s a old blacksmith saying that says, “No hoof, no horse.” Well, writers could just as easily say, “No stakes, no story.” Without stakes, a story simply won’t hold the interest of the reader. The genre doesn’t matter. Tiny children know how to care about what a character stands to gain or lose. They know enough to throw a boring book across the room too. A carefully constructed setting peopled by well-developed characters and a masterfully layered plot are all helpful, but stakes—life, death, hello, goodbye, friendship, enmity—are what make any story worthwhile.

If your aim is to pack up your story, to oust it from the cozy confines of home and ship it out into the world, be sure you know what’s at stake for it. Your characters must face step-by-step choices with real consequences. Will they go to the Social Justice barbecue? Or will they swarm en masse like thirsty locusts to the campus bar instead? In the case of Tulane, it’s called THE BOOT. I wish I were kidding. (See? Stakes!)

The Boot

When you’ve done all you can to challenge your character, to test their mettle, to compel them to change and become who they are, when you’ve finally pushed them out of the nest with a quick tap on the “send” button, Wipe your tears and be good to yourself. I recommend a nice plate of shrimp and grits.  You’ve surely earned it.

Shrimp and grits

 


Hayley's Author Photo

About Hayley Barrett

I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book BABYMOON celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming from Candlewick Press. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is coming in spring 2019 from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka. I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

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Purposeful Patience

We each see the world through our own very particular lens and use our inclinations and experiences to help us make sense of life. Most people, I find, have distilled these influences into a sort of personal metaphor, something that can be held up for comparison  to everything else.

I have two such metaphors. I can make anything connect in a logical, natural way to either:

Horses    

Baby horse gif

or Childbirth

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Today’s a childbirth kind of day.

When the idea for a book is…um… conceived by a writer, all things seems wonderfully possible. The future book is soft-focused, as if seen through a dusting of talcum powder and hope. It’s a maybe-baby. chinchilla

 

 

 

 

 

 

But unless the writer has the remarkable talent and good fortune to be an author-illustrator, a picture book cannot be born until it has complementary artwork made by someone else — an illustrator who will create a visual counterpart to the text and bring the whole into glorious being.

In other words, the writer’s adorable book-baby is going to have another parent.Bird gif

I think embracing this truth is one of the first steps to becoming a serious picture book writer. The sooner you understand that both the process and the end result are a shared enterprise, the better. No matter how much time you have put into crafting your (under 500 word) story, when it’s bought by a publisher, it’s only halfway finished.

Illustrations can take — I’m just going to say it — years. That can feel like a long time to wait. Breathless gif

It’s critical to remember that the chosen illustrator has only just begun to nurture the manuscript. To them, it’s still a maybe-baby and needs a lot of time and attention to come to full fruition.

Some things are worth the wait. Like babies. And picture books. As I wait for BABYMOON, I trust the process. Everyone who has taken an interest in my manuscript has its best prospects at heart. I will be purposefully patient. I will keep working. I will wait in talcum powder hope for a happy book-birthday. It will arrive when it’s ready, and I’ll be waiting with open arms.

Book heart gif

Enjoy the day!

Hayley


 

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I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My debut picture book, BABYMOON, is coming from Candlewick Press. Come hang out with me on Twitter @hayleybwrites, Facebook, or in the meadow: http://hayleybarrettwrites.wordpress.com.

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Filed under Advice, Creativity, Discipline, Dreams Come True, Editor, Faith, Illustrators, Inspiration, Patience, Picture books, Publishers and Editors, Uncategorized, waiting, Writing and Life

Writing for Charity: Refugee Benefit Auction

auction

The kidlit community is incredibly talented and endlessly generous, and when those two forces come together, remarkable things happen. In 2012, authors, agents, and editors donated to KidLit Cares (led by Kate Messner and Joanne Levy) and raised over $60,000 for the Superstorm Sandy relief effort. I was fortunate enough to win a critique in that auction from author Julie Berry, and her feedback still guides my revision process to this day–and led to multiple offers of representation within a few months.

Now there’s another opportunity to join together and do something spectacular for people in need, with possible side effects that will greatly benefit your writing.

When authors Shannon Hale and Mette Ivie Harrison (who already run the Writing for Charity conference each spring) asked for donations to an auction to benefit refugees, the response was huge. The result: amazing. Click here (or the image above) to see all the awesome.

You could win countless critiques from top-notch authors, editors, and agents–including query and 10-page critiques from our own agent extraordinaire, Ammi-Joan Paquette. Drinks with Lemony Snicket. A writing retreat for you and four friends in a gorgeous mountain home, with visits from Shannon Hale and Ally Condie. You could be murdered in a book by international bestseller Dan Wells. The list goes on and on and on! There are plenty of budget-friendly items too. The author critiques in auctions like these are incredibly helpful and such a great value.

I’m thrilled to be part of this auction on both ends. I’ve donated a signed ARC of my debut, LIKE MAGIC, as well as a query and first chapter critique. But I’m definitely bidding too, and I’m sneaky and very competitive. You’ve been warned.

Of course, the very best part of all this is that 100% of the proceeds go to Lifting Hands International, a charity that gets life-saving supplies directly to refugee camps. So please, bid/give generously, and good luck! Unless, of course, you’re bidding against me. 🙂

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profile picElaine Vickers is the author of LIKE MAGIC (HarperCollins, October 2016) and loves writing middle grade and chapter books when she’s not teaching college chemistry or hanging out with her fabulous family. She’s a member of SCBWI and represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of EMLA. You can find her at elainevickers.com on the web,@ElaineBVickers on Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram, or generally anywhere there are books and/or food for her consumption.

 

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Filed under Helpful or Otherwise, Uncategorized, Writing and Life

When is it okay to call yourself a writer?

You hear authors say “I’ve been writing all my life” or “I’ve been writing since I was a little kid.” But for many of us I think the moment we actually label ourselves a “writer” can represent a significant step in this journey we’re on. This was true for me. In one of my early journals I wrote the following –

IMG_0152I couldn’t spell (thank the gods for spell check), but I obviously knew I wanted to write. I wrote all through high school, won a statewide poetry award, but then life got in the way. I wasn’t confident that I could make a living writing. I got interested in environmental issues and went a more scientific path. Even so the sneaky writing muse was watching out for me. I didn’t end up in a lab, I became a planner and project manager with significant responsibilities in, you guessed it, technical writing. But the writing I do for work is as far from creative writing as you can get while still using words.

For years I thought I couldn’t write creatively and do the technical work I was making my living at – then after a while (and I mean a decade or two) my thinking shifted. I give huge credit to my parents, they always remembered I was a writer when I forgot, and this helped me admit that since there were always four or five stories gamboling about in my head, I might as well write them down.

For a while it was my little secret. I didn’t tell family or friends. Then over time when people asked “what’s new” I would shyly admit that I was doing some writing on the side. It was well into my second full manuscript, that I realized two fundamental truths. First – if I called myself a writer, not only would others take me more seriously, but I would feel more grounded in the responsibility of putting butt in chair and getting the work done. Second, I’d been hesitant to call myself a writer because I didn’t have an agent and I wasn’t published, but in fact I was a writer. I was putting the words down, reading, honing my craft skills, and becoming active in this amazing world of other writers doing the same thing. So, if you are in that place between “doing some writing” and “being a writer” I urge you to take that leap. Honor your skills and the hard work you’re doing by calling yourself what you are. Print up business cards. Put it on your Face Book page. Then enjoy the journey.

P.S. if you want more in this vein, run don’t walk to pick up Elizabeth Gilbert’s book BIG MAGIC. Empowering – I promise.

DarceyHighResDarcey Rosenblatt’s debut novel will be published by Henry Holt/MacMillan in spring of 2017. KEY TO HEAVEN, an historic fiction, tells the story of a 12-year old Iranian boy sent to fight in the Iran Iraq war in 1982. With her critique group she runs the Better Books Workshop – an annual small deep craft conference held in Northern California. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her fabulous husband and perfect daughter, some fish, and the best dog in the world. By day she is an environmental planner and when time permits she paints and costumes for a 5-8 year old theater.

Find her on Facebook or Twitter @Darcey_r

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Filed under craft~writing, Creativity, Discipline, Dreams Come True, Happiness, rejection and success, Thankfulness, Writing, Writing and Life

In the Nick of Time

Years ago, I used to pride myself on working ahead of time. I used to see some kind of deadline off in the distance and plan out how I would try to get it done a little early–a paper, maybe, or grading some essays, or a reading assignment for a class.

Okay, it was a short phase.

Maybe a year at most.

But I loved it. I loved the feeling of walking to my teaching post, or driving in to a night class, feeling somewhat rested and thinking, yup, that was done a little early. Finished. Finalitisimo. Nada more to do!

And this small bit of excitement gave me a real hunger for more of it (as well as for flour-based bakery items such as: blueberry muffins, banana bread, banana muffins, and blueberry bread).

Even though the phase was short lived, that feeling was pretty amazing.

Fast forward many years, and the reality is very much the opposite. (However, the flour-based bakery items still come along for the ride.) Now, I find myself rushing to complete any task: grading the essays, working on that revision, starting the first draft, getting to the copy edits, putting the kids to bed, putting myself to bed, putting an idea to bed, laying off the flour-based bakery items, and doing the paper for the night class.

All of it happens, pretty much, in the last minute.

Or the last second of the last minute.

For a while, I mourned the loss of the getting-things-done-early kind of life (eating copious amounts of flour-based bakery items was crucially helpful in this stage.)

Then, for another while, I worked vigilantly to get that done-early mentality back (in which case flour-based bakery items were fuel for the drive, pricing energy and courage and chutzpah!).

Finally, I came to a deep acceptance, sat for long periods of time realizing that such a life was not to be had (at least for long time) and proceeded to eat copious amounts of flour-based bakery items to console my heart and stomach regarding this fact.

(Didn’t someone incredibly wise–like Mozart or Oprah or Einstein–remind us of this fact with the immortal words: IF YOU CONVINCE YOUR HEART AND STOMACH OF SOMETHING, THE MIND IS SURE TO FOLLOW THEREAFTER; IF IT DOES NOT, YOU ARE EATING THE WRONG KINDS OF FLOUR-BASED BAKEY ITEMS. BUT THAT IS OKAY BECAUSE ALL OF LIFE IS ABOUT SECOND CHANCES. RETURN TO THOSE FLOUR-BASED BAKERY ITEMS IN THEIR SPLENDOROUS GLASS-SHIELDED DISPLAY CASES AND CHOOSE YE AGAIN!)

So, I am happy (resigned?) to now report that I am coming to a place of peace (giving up?) on getting things done ahead of time and then proceeding with calm confidence towards the due date.

I am coming to an acceptance that, in certain stages of life (maybe thirty or forty years?), getting things done in the nick of time is okay. It is fine. It is fun! The adventure of rushing! The joy of jovial justice that such things still actually DO get done is cool enough! Right on! Right…on? Right?

Or maybe something bigger is at play. Maybe the reality is that all of the goals we make, and all of the hopes and dreams that we seek to accomplish as writers, cannot be completed in a single burst. So we work diligently, we consume our flour-based bakery items, and we pray that we’ll make it on time.

And when we do–instead of feeling guilty for the nick in which we finished, maybe we should eat another banana blueberry muffin bread item and whisper a pray of thanks that we even had the chance to pursue it in the first place. Or, to use much better, more refined words that do not mention anything at all about flour-based bakery items, hear it from Meister Eckhart: “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”

Yes, that sounds much better and saves an awful lot of space.

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Filed under Anxiety, Editing and Revising, Happiness, Writing, Writing and Life

Finding (and Protecting) the Why

emu whyI may be an Emu with a debut coming next fall (!!!), but I’m already a published author. Oh, yes. I am the author of five articles about molecule-based magnets, published in national chemistry journals. They are every bit as riveting as you’d imagine.

Why did I write them? Not for fun, I promise you that. I wrote them because I wanted to teach, and to do that I needed a graduate degree. Those papers were a necessary step in proving that my research was valid and valuable so that I could earn that degree.

But here’s the thing: nobody really asked why I was going to grad school or writing these papers or why I wanted to teach. People somehow seemed to understand. That has not been my experience with the writing I’ve done the last few years.

Why do you write books for kids?

Somebody asked me this recently, and it was hard for me, in that moment, to come up with an answer that satisfied either of us. Even when they don’t ask directly, I feel the why so often, like the vaildity and value of the type of writing I do now are being called into question. If I were a real writer, wouldn’t I be writing for adults? Or writing something academic? There are definitely people who get it, but there are so many who seem totally baffled by the why.

The bigger problem comes, though, when we begin to lose sight of the why ourselves. When we’re faced with that question in another’s eyes or words, as I was, and come up with an answer that’s far short of satisfying, as I did.

So if you haven’t done it yet, or if it’s been a while, take some time to really think about your why. I tried to really articulate mine here, but answers will definitely vary.

Your why may be the stories inside you that just have to come out. The characters who won’t leave you alone until their story is told.

Or the love you have for the craft of writing.

Or the wonderfully supportive kidlit community that you love being part of.

Or the legacy of amazing children’s literature that you want to add your voice to.

Or the kid you once were, or the kids you know now, and the stories you want to share with them.

Whatever your why, take some time to actually put it into words. Then protect it and nourish it and remember it. And whatever your publishing path may throw at you, don’t you dare let go of it.


View More: http://morgansladephotography.pass.us/vickersfamily

Elaine Vickers is the author of LIKE MAGIC (HarperCollins, 2016) and loves writing middle grade and chapter books when she’s not teaching college chemistry or hanging out with her fabulous family. She’s a member of SCBWI and represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of EMLA. You can find her at elainevickers.com on the web, @ElaineBVickers on Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram, or generally anywhere there are books and/or food for her consumption. 🙂

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Writing, Writing and Life

Farewell, Secrets, Memes, Poems, Art for the Sake of Art, Be Who You Are, and Carry On!

The time has come for me to take my leave of this amazing group of debuts, since my Middle Grade debut Foot Davis Probably Is Crazy has been out in the world for several months now! I hope to someday return for a picture book debut, but that may be an impossible dream … (cue wonky music).

imageSo, as I go, I thought I’d tell some not-so-closely guarded secrets. The big one is, writing wasn’t my first love as an art form. No, seriously. It wasn’t! I wanted to paint. I really, really tried to paint. When I was five, I actually had a canvas, and kid paints, and everything, and sat down to copy a Monet, and … well, this went horribly wrong (I think my mother still has lamps with paint flecks on them). I made lots of color blobs, but never anything with a real shape. This type of art, it wasn’t my talent. So, then I took up ballet dancing, and yeah, never mind that, either.

When I did start to wrimageite, it was in third grade, and my first book was of course about horses. The second was about aliens and I still sorta like it, even if it was so totally terrible. In high school, I went through the mandatory poetry and twisty-short-story phase because I absolutely knew everything in the universe and I needed to make ART  (note the big letters, because emo).

I finally came to novel-writing, and young-adult novel writing much later in life, and I have loved it since then. And yet, imagemoments of those earlier artistic dreams sneak in. Lately, I’ve been taking photographs and using quotes from my novels to make memes/posters–not for any reason other than the fact that it makes me happy. Art, for the sake of art. It makes my soul sing. Also–ha–I’m working on a novel that involves horses…funny how that circle comes ’round. Funny, and also wonderful.

So, for all of you coming new to writing, and those of you not new to it, and those of you who are “old heads,” and those of you kind enough to read what we do, I’ll leave you with these oh-so-sage words (excuse the coughing fit as I laugh myself silly):  Come as you are, be who you are–and ART. Just, art.

And, for good measure, here’s a really emo old poem that I used in EXPOSED, in 2007:

AT THE TOP

The rains

Are coming again I can

Feel them

On my shoulders

At my back

Wind

Scrapes my cheek

A cold paintbrush

Stiff

With unknown pictures

Now, carry on with your brilliance, and I’ll see you all soon!

___________________________________________

Susan Vaught

Susan Vaught

Susan Vaught is the author of many books for young adults, such as TRIGGER, BIG FAT MANIFESTO, and FREAKS LIKE US. Her debut novel for middle-grade readers, FOOTER DAVIS PROBABLY IS CRAZY, published by Simon & Schuster, hit the shelves in March, 2015. Please visit Susan at her website, follow her on Twitter, and like her Facebook page.

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Creativity, Farewell