Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Writing Like a Gardener: Staggered Planting for a Continual Manuscript Harvest

by Sue Heavenrich

When I'm planning my garden, I think about how much room there is, what I want to grow, and how much time I have to devote to tending the plants. This involves drawing a rough garden map and a time table noting which vegetables go where, and when to plant the seeds.

I do the same thing with my writing. During January I collect ideas I might want to plant by participating in StoryStorm or other idea-gathering activities. Then it's time to get organized.

As with garden planning, I map out my writing season. How many story ideas can I realistically work on over the next year? Then I create both a digital folder and a paper file folder for each idea I want to explore. That file is where I toss in notes from preliminary research. For example, I check World Catalog to see whether there are books already published on my topic, and how many there are.

Before planting a crop, gardeners check their first frost date. In writing lingo, that's a "hard deadline", a definite harvest-by date. Writers have magazine deadlines, call-for-submission deadlines, or plans for extended leave from the desk. Once you know the deadline for a project, you can count backwards and determine that idea's "planting date".

Gardeners don't plant an entire season's-worth of salad greens all at once. We plant seeds for lettuce and beet greens and spinach every two or three weeks, so some seeds are germinating while others are growing and the oldest are being harvested.

Why not use this same strategy with our manuscripts? Begin with one idea, outline or map the story, and dive into research. Then write. As one gets to the point where it's ready to share with critique partners, plant the seeds for the next writing project. At any one time my writing garden (disguised as a semi-organized desk) has manuscripts at different growth stages: fleshing out the idea; actively researching; writing (flowering); feedback and comments; revising (ripening); and submitting.

Another thing I have learned from gardening: at the end of the season it's time to let the soil recover. That means covering beds with compost and a layer of leaves and letting it rest and restore. How can we do this with our writing? We could head out for regular "artist dates" to refill our creative cups (here are some ideas). Or maybe take a writing vacation - which works for a few days until my fingers itch to start scribbling in my notebook again.

If you're taking a mid-summer "get organized" break, check out this post from earlier this year. Here's another post from a couple years ago that presents more ideas on organizing writing goals.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Lindsey McDivitt, Ageism in Picture Books, and a GIVEAWAY ~ by Patricia Toht

Author Lindsey McDivitt's welcome page on her website sums up the ABCs of a cause that is near and dear to her heart:

As Lindsey says, "I'm passionate about tackling the issue of ageism -- particularly in picture books. Unfortunately (and often unknowingly) we are teaching negative attitudes about older adults to very young children. Kids need realistic and positive images of old. We all do."

According to GeoBase, the estimated life expectancy of a child born in the United States in 2018 is 79.3 years. That's a lot of life! But the American culture is one that places a high value on youth. 

"Negative stereotypes about aging are baked into our culture, and they're harmful to our health and happiness," Lindsey says. "Many books for kids lead them to believe that old = bad or sad. But that is adults socializing them to believe it."

In her own writing, as well as in her blog, "A Is for Aging," Lindsey seeks to promote positive images of growing older. I asked her about her new book, NATURE'S FRIEND: THE GWEN FROSTIC STORY, and her quest to tackle ageism.

PT: Hello, Lindsey, and welcome to the GROG! You are passionate about healthy and positive images of older people in picture books. Do you think the characterizations of aging are improving these days?

LM: I do think it's improved somewhat, particularly with the popularity of picture book biographies perhaps. They often show kids long, satisfying lives and many accomplishments in late life. I love that!

Lindsey's new release, NATURE'S FRIEND, illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewen, is the story of renowned nature artist Gwen Frostic.
Gwen suffered a debilitating illness as a child, but turned to nature and art for strength. Her persistence and independent spirit led her to study mechanical drawing and work in a bomber manufacturing plant during World War II. After the war, she started her own stationery company in Michigan and built the business by creating and selling her own linoleum block prints.

PT: Gwen Frostic worked until a few years before her death, one day shy of her 95th birthday. What do you think might have been her secret for a long, fulfilling career?

LM: Since childhood, Gwen refused to take in society's stereotypes telling her how she should live her life. She stayed focused on her goals and pursued them with dedication. So age simply wasn't a reason to stop.

PT: Her specialty was lovely linoleum block prints of nature. Have you ever tried your hand at linocuts or other art media?

LM: I recall trying linocuts way back in junior high school and enjoying them. They require slow, careful work! My main artistic endeavor is creating mobiles from driftwood I collect on the beaches of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior.

PT: You've mentioned that you're drawn to the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. What do you think attracts you to them?

LM: I believe it's their vastness. There's something about standing on the edge of an enormous body of fresh water. It's awe inspiring, much like the ocean, and gives me a sense of where I am on our beautiful planet. 
Lindsey's photo of Lake Superior

PT: In addition to NATURE'S FRIEND, what books can you recommend that show healthy and realistic examples of aging?

LM: A recent book that I love is HENRI'S SCISSORS by author/illustrator Jeanette Winter. It zeroes in on famous artist Henri Matisse near the very end of his life, when he discovers his art anew and creates some of his most well known works.

Another absolute favorite is HARRY AND WALTER by author Kathy Stinson and illustrator QinLeng. The two main characters are the best of buddies separated by almost eight decades, and this picture book avoids every possible cliche!

Here's a link to five more picture book biographies that highlight older role models -

PT: Thank you, Lindsey! Many happy writing years to you!

As Lindsey says: "Role models matter!" Books that portray vibrant older people who continue to live full lives and pursue their passions are important for young readers. KidLit authors and illustrators can help by being thoughtful in our depictions of aging. 

Find Lindsey's website here and her blog here. On Twitter, her handle is @AisforAging. On Instagram, mcdivittlindsey. Connect on her Facebook page at lindsey.mcdivitt.3.

And now...

** Readers, what's YOUR favorite book with older characters? Comment below for a chance to win a copy of NATURE'S FRIEND! **

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Poetic Ponderings ~ by Christy Mihaly

When I set my writing goals for the year, a big one was to write more poetry. I've dabbled in poems, and published a few. I offered some poetry ponderings in past GROG posts (one is here) but mostly I write nonfiction books. This year I wanted to develop my poetic side. I joined an online poetry critique group, and I've tried to find inspiration for a new poem every day.  I've also started submitting more poems to anthologies and magazines. It takes persistence! Here are some thoughts after a half-year of paying attention to poetry.

What's so great about writing poetry? Consider these points:

 The right words: In a poem, the selection of each word is crucial. Each word affects the rhythm, the meter, the "mouth feel" of the poem. Writing poetry helps strengthen my word choices in other writing.

 Playful words: Poetry encourages the writer to play with words. A poem doesn't need a plot. Its words may simply evoke a feeling, or describe an object or a moment, or entertain. Developing this in-the-moment mindset can enliven your prose writing too.

 A few words: You can easily write a poem in a morning--and it might even be publishable (after a little polishing). Of course you can write a poem just for the pleasure of it. But, if a writer is struggling through year seven of revising a major work in progress, selling a poem--and seeing it in print--can be a big boost. Kids' magazines, in print and online, often seek kid-friendly poems – the Cricket magazines have been particularly interested lately. (Check out their active calls for submissions, here.) 

Plus, a special bonus for aspiring authors: A  series of related poems can become a published collection, like Fresh-Picked Poetry, about farmer's markets by Michelle Schaub, or Rainy Day Poems, by James McDonald -- and so many others that kids love.
And once in a while, a poem grows into an entire picture book. Think of Jane Yolen's How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? It's basically an expanded poem, like many other Jane Yolen books.

The text of Snow Sisters, published this year by Kerri Kokias, is a mirror poem, or palindrome poem, in which the same words are used in the first half and the second half, but in reverse order. Simple? Yes! Hard to write? Yes, to get it right. Brilliant picture book? Absolutely!

My debut picture book, Hey, Hey, HAY! (coming August 14) got its start as a simple rhyming poem about making hay. You never know! 

For more examples of picture books that are poems, check out Marcie Atkins's GROG post, here.

Interested but unsure how to begin? Some writers have a  practice of writing a poem every morning. I can't always make this happen, but when I do, it starts my writing day off with a creative splash. It's a great habit to cultivate. Your morning poem doesn't have to be great literature. It's good practice to just do it. 

If poetry still seems intimidating, try working within the structure of an established poetic form. I've found that experimenting with different forms often helps me get a poem started. Here are a few fun forms to try:


In an acrostic poem, a word or phrase is spelled vertically down the page. This word is the poem's theme or topic. Each line begins with the next letter in your topic word. Rhymes are not required.
(Variations: Each line of poetry ends with the letter of the topic word, or the topic word runs down the middle of the lines.)

Here's a simple example, using "Cat":

Content to snooze
and soak up the sun ...
till Songbird shows up.

© Christy Mihaly

A diamante is seven lines long and is printed so that it forms a diamond shape. Again there are variations, but here's the basic idea: The first half describes one subject and the second half describes a different subject, which is often the antonym of the first but may be a synonym. 

The diamante's lines are prescribed as follows:

1: Starting subject
2: Two adjectives about line 1
3: Three gerunds (or -ing verbs) about line 1
4: Four words, consisting of two about line 1, and two about line 7. (This line sometimes has more words, and may be written as one or two short phrases.)
5: Three gerunds/-ing verbs about line 7
6: Two adjectives about line 7
7: End subject

Here's a quick diamante that I posted one recent sunny day—the end of April—when confronting a persistent pile of snow atop my long-suffering garden: 

Double dactyl
I'm a big fan of the double dactyl, which can produce some very entertaining light verse. (A "dactyl" is a three-syllable word with the accent on the first, such as "holiday.")

In a double dactyl, there are eight lines broken into two quatrains, or 4-line stanzas. Each of the first three lines of the quatrain consists of two dactyls. The fourth line contains one dactyl plus another stressed syllable. The last syllable of each quatrain rhymes with the other.

Other requirements: Line 1 is a nonsense phrase; line 2 is a proper name of a person or place. One of the other lines, usually line 6, is a single word that is double dactylic. (And, technically, it should never have been used in a double dactyl poem before.)

It's easier to see how this works by reading an example. Here's one of mine published in April in Imperfect: Poems About Mistakes, an anthology for middle schoolers edited by Tabatha Yeatts. This wonderful collection contains a broad range of middle-school-friendly poems about making mistakes (and learning from them). I included a factual note with this poem in the book – because, as most GROG readers know, it's nonfiction!

Rejecting Harry Potter

Hippogriff, schnippogriff,
Salazar Slytherin.
Publishers dissed Rowling’s
Sorcerer’s Stone.

“Magic won’t sell; we need
They’d be much richer, had
they only known.

© Christy Mihaly

Of course there are many more poetic forms, including the mirror poem, mentioned above, and one I've been meaning to tackle but haven't yet tried myself: the roundel. Children's writer B.J. Lee wrote about roundels recently over on Michelle Barnes's blog "Today's Little Ditty" recently, and rather than try to repeat what B.J. said, I urge you to check out her post here.

If you are interested in writing more poetry, you can read and listen to poems--in books and online--and talk with others who are writing them. Attend poetry readings and other events, and/or seek out a poetry group to join--or form one. Consider taking a class or two. I learned so much from Renee LaTulippe's wonderful "Lyrical Language Lab" online course. 

For more pointers on poetry resources and how to get started, see poet-author Patricia Toht's  GROG posts here and here. Other prior GROG posts about poetry include guest posts by Margarita Engle and Penny Parker Klostermann. And GROG poetry maven Jan Annino offers ideas about prompts, poetry month, and Lee Bennett Hopkins.

Go forth, poets, and good luck. If you're so inclined, please leave a favorite poem in the comments. And happy writing!