Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Giveaway and Interview with Debut Historical Fiction Novel in Verse Author Lisa Sukenic—by Carol Coven Grannick




The GROG offers a heartfelt welcome to poet, author, and middle grade educator Lisa Sukenic. Lisa’s middle grade novel in verse, Miles From Motown, debuted from Fitzroy Books on August 21. 


Miles From Motown is the story of twelve year-old Georgia, a young poet who, as she struggles with her family’s move from Detroit to a mostly-white suburb and her brother’s deployment to Vietnam decides to enter her poem in the Gwendolyn Brooks Spirit of Detroit Poetry Contest by using her Grandma Birdie’s Detroit address. 


Georgia struggles with difficult issues as we empathize with her transition from her beloved Detroit neighborhood, Aunt Birdie, and best friend Ceci. How will she make new friends? Will her brother return safely—or at all—from Vietnam? Will her deceit about her contest submission be discovered, or will she be able to intercept the announcement before her family discovers what she’s done? Georgia’s coming-of-age story embodies themes of persistence, resilience, and the power of truth that engage and stir readers’ minds and hearts.

 

CCG: Lisa, you grew up in the suburb about which you write. Can you share how Miles From Motown grew out of some of your memories and lived experiences?

 

LS: The seeds of the story came from my memories and experiences growing up in the suburbs of Detroit. My grandparents lived and worked in Detroit. Going back and forth between Detroit and Southfield set a map in my mind for the setting and situations of the story. Even though the physical distance was small, the divisions between the communities and cultures were large. 

 

I used the reference of miles to dive into the vast emotional distance in Georgia’s heart between her Detroit community and the new neighborhood that was not familiar to her. The story takes place in 1967, and I grew up during that time period. I wanted to paint a picture of this era with the internal and external conflicts that weighed on Georgia and her family when they relocated to the suburbs. Although this is a work of fiction, my childhood friendships and relationships played a role in creating the foundation for Miles from Motown.




CCG: You chose to write in verse—and knowing you as a poet as well as a prose writer, I would guess there are multiple reasons. I’d love to hear your thoughts on why you chose verse for MFM, and why you believe it is essential for this particular story (and perhaps for many verse novels?)

 

LS: I think poetry sings to the soul and reaches the inner journey of the characters. Poetry can be emotionally raw and goes right to the core of the emotional arc and to the heart of the story. Poets micromanage words and that can be slow going. I chose to write Miles from Motown in verse after a long process of drafting the story with the first few chapters in prose. I went back and forth, originally moving from prose to verse and then back again and then finally completed the verse.


Rewriting a verse draft as prose allowed me to really see the plot points. But the emotional core was diminished. Only in verse could I deepen Georgia’s complexity. When I returned to verse after the prose draft, my plot was stronger and clearer, and my verse deepened became more powerful. I probably revised the novel at least 50 times if not more. I wrote Miles From Motown as a poet writing in verse as the narrator, Georgia. I also wrote as Georgia the poet, who had a completely different voice than Georgia the narrator. This was a difficult, but truly gratifying process. As I wrote and revised, I began to know how Georgia would respond, and how deeply she felt her sadness about her brother Ty being in Vietnam, her confusion about why her family moved from Detroit, her loss of her best friend, and her guilty feelings about her poetry entry deception. 

  

CCG: Lisa, can you tell us about your writing process? The same routine each day? Different depending on the rest of your busy schedule? Do you write sequentially through a first draft, a scene here and there, or revise as you go? etc.

 






LS: My writing process is messy—very, very messy. I do not always write sequentially and I absolutely need to see the characters and scenes in a large visual format. For Miles From Motown, I had a gigantic mural-sized roll of paper on my wall the length of my bedroom. I needed to see the story every day. I printed out the whole story and then physically cut up the parts and pasted them on the wall. Then I went ahead and color coded all of my characters and themes so I could clearly see the through-line for each character, plot-point, and theme. 


I do my best writing first thing in the morning with no one around, from 7-10 am. My creative brain works best when it comes directly out of a dream state and has not had any interactions with other human beings. I continually think of my characters and my stories as I go about my business. I have been known to pull off at a highway exit and stop at a park to write down ideas that zoom into my head. This can be a character’s big resolution or a small idea that may make a major impact on the story. My downfall is that I am a chronic reviser as I go, but that does unlock critical parts of the story that might otherwise have been missed.

 

One of the most significant things I do is to read, read and read middle grade fiction as part of my job as a 4th grade teacher at The University of Chicago Lab Schools and co-coordinator of The University of Chicago Lab School’s \ Global Reading Challenge. This means that I read at least 10-20 books over the summer. During the school year, I typically read two middle grade novels every week. 

 

CCG: Let’s talk about the wonderful dual opportunity you have as author and middle grade educator! I had the opportunity to participate in your classroom with Reeni’s Turn during your novel in verse unit, where I spoke with young novel-in-verse writers and Reeni’s Turn readers. Can you talk about how you plan to use Miles From Motown in your classroom this coming year, and how it might be used in other middle grade classrooms?

 



 

 

 LS: Miles From Motown lends itself to a broad curriculum, such as:

·      Poetry Study and Novels in Verse study

·      History/Timelines (Gwendolyn Brooks, Muhammad Ali, the Vietnam War): 

·      Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion programs

·      Social Emotional Issues (bullying, loss, transitions, self-advocacy); 

·      Pop Culture/Music of the 1960s

 

I’m excited to share my own work with my class, since I teach reading and writing. I share not only the work, but my author’s journey, and it can be a wonderful complement to student experiences during our yearly novel-writing curriculum that uses the NaNoWriMo Elementary Curriculum Guide. During the year, students write and publish their novels and do readings at a local bookstore.

 

An important note: My Teachers Guide will be available for download on my website soon: https://lisasukenic.com I look forward to educators and librarians using the guide to facilitate wonderful conversations and activities using Miles From Motown. 

 

CCG: Thank you, Lisa, for this wonderful discussion! Thanks for visiting with us, and best wishes for Miles From Motown and your ongoing writer’s journey! 


Enter to win a signed copy of Miles From Motown: 1) share this post at your FB or Twitter account and 2) post the link to that 'share' in the comments below. Winner of drawing will be chosen and announced on September 30 at https://twitter.com/carolcgrannick and https://www.facebook.com/carol.grannick


*  *  *

 

Lisa Sukenic is a poet, author, and fourth grade teacher at the U of C Laboratory Schools. Miles From Motown is her debut children’s novel. Miles From Motown placed First in the 2016 SCBWI-IL Prairie Writers Day Manuscript Contest, and was a Finalist in Fitzroy Books Kraken Book Prize. Her fiction and poetry for adults appear in Everyday Haiku, A Reason to Be Here, and Turning Point. Autographed copies of Miles From Motown are available at https://www.womenandchildrenfirst.com/event/virtual-book-launch-miles-motown-  Visit Lisa at her website: https://lisasukenic.com

 

 

 

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Submission Strategy: Aim for 100 Rejections (or more)

a Roundtable Discussion led by Kathy Halsey
 
Back in 2019 I was commiserating with writing friend, Beth Gallagher about "rejection." As it turned out, she had been having a similar conversation with another author, a friend who happened to be a best-seller. Beth remembers complaining that she “might not be meant to write.” Her friend said that his first book had been rejected 47 times before it was published, and was now being made into a movie. He encouraged her to wallow only after the 100th rejection. 

As we talked, the kernel of an idea began to form. Why not create a group to support each other as we aim to reach 100 rejections? So that’s what we did in January 2019. I announced it on the GROG and invited folks to join.


Now we have 64 members who support and motivate each other. We invited a few of them over to the GROG blog share thoughts about aiming high for rejections. Hanging out at the blog with me today are Beth, Dedra Davis, Patti Richards, and fellow GROGger, Sue Heavenrich.

Kathy: Welcome and thanks for joining us today. My reaction to 100 rejections was, why not? Beth and I wanted accountability and I like doing things in a BIG way. What was your reaction to the idea of 100 rejections being a good thing?

Beth: One of the things I realized was how subjective this business is, and that it truly is a numbers game. And that I needed to get my nose back to the grindstone.

Dedra: I have two words that keep me going—Fail Forward. Sending out 100 queries and, most likely, receiving 100 rejections fall into my theme of failing forward. I’ve sent 90 this year; and I’ve been collecting rejections for over two years now.

Patti Richards 
Patti:
Having been in the submission trenches for many years, the idea of a group dedicated solely to encouraging each other to keep submitting makes me so happy! Having a place to share successes and "declinations," submission opportunities, and lots of "You can do this!” means  everything!

Sue: I thought the idea was brilliant. I could not wait to flip my perspective on the submissions game, and going for rejections would definitely do that. Even though it sounds crazy, I get it: the more you submit, the more chance there is of someone saying YES.

Kathy: By making an outrageous goal, somehow subbing felt less serious to me and gave me freedom not to take the process so solemnly. How did having a goal of 100 rejections change the way you submit?

Beth Gallagher



Beth: Having 100 rejections first made me imagine get enough of them to decoupage an entire wall of my studio. Like Kathy, that goal gave me the freedom to keep on trying without feeling like I’m failing.

Dedra: It’s a challenge I give myself; it keeps me researching and sending queries out throughout the year. I like a challenge. I feel like the ball is in my court when I query and hit send. Then, of course, it’s up to the agent.

Patti: In this business, rejections, no matter where you are on your journey can sting. Seasoned writers develop a thick skin over time, or at least they should. Changing the way you think about rejection really helps with this! Having this "reverse" goal means you've come to a point where you realize that without rejection, there can be no success. 

Sue: Having this challenge spurred me to become more organized. I drew a 10-by-10 grid at the back of my desk calendar and numbered each square. Each time I submitted, I checked off a box. What a feeling of accomplishment! Each check represented a potential rejection! By the end of 2019, I’d gathered more than 90 rejections and four “Yesses” – assignments for articles.

Kathy: The real test is whether aiming for those rejections helped us succeed. For me, I did succeed by accepting every opportunity for a “yes” in 2019. My successes include a #PBChat 2109 mentorship, an opportunity to work for Storyteller Academy, and doing author studies for ReFoReMo. (No “yes” yet, but I feel it’s coming.) What about everyone else?

Beth: Since it IS a numbers game, the aim of getting 100 rejections ensures my odds of achieving either that number or publication! As for success, it’s achieving the goals I set for myself. If we don’t have confidence in our own work, how can we expect others to? I’m thrilled that so many writers both published and nonpublished have joined our merry band FB group! It’s so nice to have a place to vent, chat, share opportunities, and meet new friends.

Dedra: To me, success is having an agent and a book deal – and a career of ongoing book deals. I haven’t succeeded yet. YET! But I will, and the 100 rejections keep the challenge and me moving forward and failing forward. What I really want is kids holding my book. saying, “Read it again!" To that end, I’m participating in Julie Hedlund’s 12 X 12 Picture Book Challenge. So far, I have twenty manuscripts from this year: I’m constantly revising and writing new stories. One day, when the time is right, I’ll have plenty of manuscripts to offer an agent. 

Patti: Absolutely! I've actually lost track of how many rejections I've had since joining this group, even though I have an Excel spreadsheet filled with them. I'm pretty sure I've hit the 100 mark or am close to it! Having this goal has kept me moving forward in the face of some pretty disappointing rejections since we formed the group. "Moving forward" is now how I define success, and it's all due to having something to shoot for besides those coveted contracts! Since this group began, I've sold 3 picture books! MRS. NOAH (Little Lamb Books) releases on October 5th! And I’m still submitting – let those “declinations” roll in!

Sue Heavenrich
Sue: Aiming for rejection put less pressure on me to get a “yes” – and without that pressure the fear of “failure” disappeared. Sending out 5 subs a week gave me a rhythm for submitting. It gave me tons of practice writing query letters. It gave me a tremendous feeling of accomplishment that I’d gotten 90-ish subs out the door. To me, success is all about showing up. Being willing to do the work. And having faith in my stories. One of those potential rejections, a nonfiction book proposal, now has a title and is slated for release in 2022. 

Kathy: I gain momentum and inspiration from being in this group of strong, talented, resilient writers. You can join us at 100 Rejections Are a Good Thing. Start racking up the trail of “nos” that lead to “yes.” You can do it!

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Five Kinds of Nonfiction

Sue Heavenrich with Melissa Stewart

When I look at contemporary children’s nonfiction, I am drawn to the enticing covers and interior artwork and photos. I love the way writers use sidebars and textboxes to highlight fun facts. And I’m a huge fan of back matter and the use of end pages to extend exploration. But if you take a closer look at children’s nonfiction, you might notice something important. Something exciting.

There are different kinds of nonfiction.

Five kinds, says Melissa Stewart, whose new book (co-authored with Marlene Correia) takes readers on a deep dive into what modern children’s nonfiction is. Melissa has been thinking about different kinds of nonfiction for a while. So I was thrilled when she agreed to hang out (virtually) here at the GROG and talk about her book and nonfiction with me.

Sue: The primary audience for 5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Enriching Reading and Writing with Children’s Books is educators, but I think there’s a lot here for children’s book writers too. Did you have writers in mind as you were creating the book?

 Melissa: Yes! The truth is I developed the 5 Kinds of Nonfiction classification system for myself—so that I could better understand the children’s nonfiction market. Back in 2012, when I started thinking about nonfiction classification, I was having a lot of trouble selling manuscripts. I thought developing categories might help me figure out what kinds of manuscripts publishers would be most likely to acquire.

It wasn’t until later that I realized it’s value for teachers and students. When I posted an article describing the system on my blog in 2017, the response was incredible. To date, that original blog post has received more than 500,000 hits.

Because the origin of the system is author-centric, everything that’s come out of it is relevant to us. I’m excited that 5 Kinds of Nonfiction shares more than 150 mentor texts and discusses everything from the history of nonfiction to the differences between expository and narrative nonfiction to nonfiction craft. There are more than 20 activities and most of them are just as relevant to children’s book writers as they are to teachers working with K-8 students.

Sue: I know. I’ve actually been doing some of those activities. So I remember back in 2013 you were trying to develop a nonfiction “family tree.” Over the years, your thinking about this family tree evolved. So can you tell us a little bit about the way you currently classify nonfiction?

Melissa: Sure. We’re used to subdividing fiction into categories like mystery, science fiction, realistic fiction, and historical fiction, but in the past, we’ve just lumped all nonfiction together. The 5 Kinds of Nonfiction classification system brings clarity to the wide world of nonfiction by breaking it down into groups with specific traits.

 




Once readers understand the characteristics of the five categories, they can quickly and easily determine the kind of information they’ll find in a book, predict how the information will be presented, and identify the kind(s) of nonfiction they enjoy reading most.

 And when I say “readers.” I mean kids and children’s book authors as they study books as mentor texts. The system helps to make patterns visible. For example, it highlights why narrative nonfiction is ideal for picture book biographies, books about historical events, and books that describe a scientific process. And why expository nonfiction is a better fit for books about broad topics or specific science concepts.

Before I developed this system, writing every manuscript was like shooting in the dark. I was just stumbling along, reinventing the wheel every time. But now that I understand the patterns of different kinds of books, I can go about my work more intentionally. This has made me a faster, more efficient writer. Now I have general guidelines to get me started, but I also know when and how to break the “rules” so that each book is uniquely creative.

Sue: Which sections in your book are relevant for writers creating nonfiction books for children?

Melissa: That’s a great question. Chapter 1 includes the origins and history of nonfiction, which I think is helpful because it explains some of the things about nonfiction that don’t seem to make sense, such as why folktales and drama are shelved in the nonfiction section of the library and why it’s so hard to pin down a definition for the term “informational book.”

Chapter 2 introduced the 5 Kinds of Nonfiction classification system and provides lots of sample texts. Chapters 3 and 4 are worth a quick scan, but Chapters 5-7 should be incredibly helpful to writers. They look closely at the craft of nonfiction writing. There are interviews with highly-regarded authors, and we’ve analyzed excerpts from a wide range of children’s books. If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you might recognize some of the material, but here it’s expanded and updated, and, of course, it’s all together in one place.

Sue: Those are the three chapters I have been spending the most time with, for sure. I especially like the way you show how text structures are used in different books, and the insight you provide into voice, language and point of view.

 Melissa: Chapter 9 also deserves a close read. It looks at today’s most innovative authors and books and where nonfiction may be headed in the future. 

Sue: What other books would you recommend for children’s nonfiction writers who finish reading your book and are looking for more?  


Melissa
: One is an anthology I edited called Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep: 50 Award-winning Children’s Books. It’s a must have because it features powerful, insightful essays by today’s leading authors.

Sue: I love that book. Not only does it contain essays from amazing writers, but it also includes a treasure trove of ideas for things to do in the classroom – or homeschool – to help young writers develop their own “secret sauce” for writing nonfiction.

Melissa: Another great book is Finding the Heart of Nonfiction by Georgia Heard. Like my books, it’s written for students, so it’s particularly relevant to us.

If you are especially interested in narrative nonfiction, there are three books you may want to take a look at Draft No. 4 by John McPhee; Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers’ Guide from the Nieman Foundation, edited by Mark Kramer and Wendy Call; and Story Craft by Jack Hart.


Sue:
I’m going to add one more to the list: Anatomy of Nonfiction, by Margery Facklam and Peggy Thomas. I find myself referring back to it every now and then.

 A huge Thank You to Melissa for sharing her book and her thoughts on nonfiction with us today. Melissa has written more than 180 science-themed nonfiction books for children, including the ALA Notable Feathers: Not Just for Flying, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen; the SCBWI Golden Kite Honor title Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs, illustrated by Stephanie Laberis; and her newest book Fourteen Monkeys: A Rain Forest Rhyme, illustrated by Caldecott Honoree Steve Jenkins. She maintains the award-winning Info-licious Inspiration blog, and her highly-regarded website features a rich array of nonfiction writing resources.

 

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Night Walking

 By Leslie Colin Tribble

This summer the GROG has written nudges and encouragements to our readers to see the world in a new way in order to spark creativity. We've suggested getting out in nature, learning new crafts, engaging in a new sport or activity, and sharpening your writing by trying haiku or cinquain poetry. All these are designed to shake up the ordinary, get you out of a rut and help you see the world in a new way. 

My take on this is to incorporate night walks into your life.

We are creatures of the day, of light. How often do you go out and truly experience the dark? What I want you to try is getting away from the house and car, away from the lights. Let the beauty of the night envelope and hold you (safely, of course!). 



Behind my house is a city park with a paved, 2 mile path around a couple of lakes. I know the path well, and it's level enough I don't have to worry about tripping over an unseen rock. On one side of the path is the lake and the other side an irrigation ditch - I know the dogs won't wander too far. Once I leaned into the darkness and the cold during winter, I found all sorts of beauty - surprise encounters with a raccoon, owls hooting from trees or silently winging ahead of us on the trail, and more stars and galaxies than I could count. My sense of hearing was heightened in the dark and quiet and I could actually hear the raccoon chortling to itself and the weird, mystical music of lake ice.



If you're nervous about being by yourself, take a headlamp and a buddy. But try to not talk nor use the light - just simply experience the different beauty and creativity of the dark. 



Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Summer! Some Are Writing Haiku by Kathy Halsey

Happy Haiku for You 

Sometimes in summer, we need to lighten or change our routines. I needed to lighten my mood early this summer after receiving a professional critique that made me feel like I was couldn't write my way out of a paper bag. I actually stopped writing, but haiku came to my rescue!

I sat on the back deck pouting with my journal, observing nature - clematis, sunflowers, and kids frolicking with their dad. I doodled with words. The simple, 3 line, 5-7-5 haiku format seemed safe. I couldn't mess that up, right?  RIGHT.  

My journaling flowed, haiku made me happy. BAM! I was writing. I even used haiku to attack a shelved story, now ready to submit. Switching gears and formats made the difference! 

Join Me in Some Haiku

I'm sharing my haiku and some photos as possible prompts. Join in the fun and share your haiku in the comments. Traditional haiku is more contemplative but some of mine are active. (and may fudge a syllable or 2.) Just play and do it your way.

  


Tall purple iris.
Show off your fascinator.
Queen of the garden.



Garden sunshine blooms.
Follows the sun. Petal power.
Stretch to azure sky.



A smooth oblong stone.
A carefree rock skimmer with
perfect form. Skip . . . splash!


Clematis climbs, winds
its crisscross highway of vines
intersect. Find sun.


Here's one just for fun! Can't wait to see what haiku comes from you!






Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Summer Writing

By Suzy Leopold

    Summertime is for reading, writing, exploring, and discovering. It includes a somewhat slower pace with outings, travels, and vacations.

    Many educators and students are returning to school this month. Others will hear the school bell ring in September. Soon students will read and write; learn and grow.

    Let’s create a poetree—a cinquain about a tree.

Welcome to the Illinois Prairie


    A cinquain is five-line poem inspired by nature. 

    Here are the steps to write a cinquain poem:

  • Line 1: One word title, a noun that identifies your topic
  • Line 2: Two adjectives that describe your topic 
  • Line 3: Three -ing verbs that describe action
  • Line 4: A phrase that describes something about your topic 
  • Line 5: A noun that is a synonym or another way to name your topic
    Think about the activities and adventures you participated in during the summer. What memories did you create? Perhaps it was fun in the backyard, a visit to the lake, a museum outing, or even a hike through the forest.

Weeping Willow

    Sharing my example:

Tree

Green, tall

Growing, Cascading, Swaying

Many birds like to nest

Willow

A Robin’s Nest in a Willow Tree 
    If you create and write a cinquain poem, share it in the comments section.

    Happy reading and writing.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Summer Creativity: Get Out & Do Something Unexpected by Tina Cho

 

Golf ball statue in West Des Moines, Iowa

Summer is about over for me, as I head back into my classroom. Every day I have an agenda to make the most out of my summer. But sometimes, taking time to do the unexpected can be a much needed creative outlet for the brain. 

One late afternoon I went with my husband to the driving range. Before we had kids, I used to go quite often with him. But last month, I putted on the little practice greens and enjoyed doing something different. 

Doing the unexpected awakens adrenaline, makes your brain active, leads to new opportunities and passions, can humble you, and improve relationships. 

Doing something unexpected and new can also lead to writing opportunities and new ideas. What's something new you've done this summer? Leave a comment!


The best things in life are unexpected--
because there were no expectations.
--Eli Khamarov